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these streets are yours

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Jihoon pats around his night stand trying to get his alarm to stop blaring this loud, his eyelids sticking together which means it’s too fucking early. He always needs an alarm to wake up, but usually his body lets him know he’s gotten just enough hours of sleep to make it through the day. Today that is certainly not the case, he has to make a monumental effort to keep his eyes two percent open and for a moment he doesn’t get it, when his phone screen comes into focus he realizes it’s 6:30 in the morning, which means he got three hours of sleep, and also that it’s Saturday so why is he awake at the crack of dawn?

The universe provides an answer when his phone starts making noise again, except this time it’s not his alarm, he notices as he looks at the picture of Jeonghan blowing a kiss at the camera that fills his screen. He takes the time to breathe in and out a couple of times only because he knows Jeonghan is impatient and Jihoon might as well annoy him a little bit in return.

“Hello?” he finally picks up, voice with a texture that resembles sandpaper.

“Jihoonie! Did I wake you?” Jihoon hears laughter in his voice and it truly shocks him how Jeonghan can sound so awake this early, then he realizes it’s the promise of being able to make Jihoon miserable that’s giving him this much energy before noon.

“Yes,” he says. It’s not true, but he might as well try to make Jeonghan feel a smidgen of remorse for what he’s making Jihoon go through.

“Good! Just wanted to remind you that you owe me and I’m expecting my due today,” Jeonghan tells him.

“Yes, Jeonghan, I know. I’m getting dressed,” he’s actually barely managed to sit up in bed, but Jeonghan doesn’t have to know that.

“Aw, really? I thought you wouldn’t follow through with it,” Jeonghan laughs at him, and Jihoon knows for a fact that he’s lying, he would never pass up a chance to claim his reward after winning a bet.

“Jeonghan, did you call to make sure I’d wake up? ‘Cause I’m up.”

“Just making sure,” Jeonghan hums into the speaker.

“You’re still coming, right?” Jihoon says after a beat, trying not to let the doubt that he feels creep into his voice. Jeonghan notices anyway.

“I said I’d go down there with you, didn’t I?”

“Just making sure. I’m gonna finish getting ready.”

“Okay. I’ll be there in like twenty minutes, is that okay?”

“Yeah, fine.”

The conversation ends with Jeonghan telling Jihoon he loves him and making Jihoon say it back before hanging up. Jihoon has enough time to wash his face, put on gym clothes, make himself coffee, and think about how the hell he got himself into this situation.

It was actually extremely stupid. They were all hanging out the day before and Jihoon’s hubris made him believe he was capable of winning a bet against Jeonghan, which of course he didn’t. No one ever wins against Jeonghan, it’s just common knowledge, another of the general laws of physics or something. Jeonghan had come up with a good amount of different ways to embarrass Jihoon and he had refused them all, until Jeonghan told him to come with him to a 7:30 group workout session at the gym, and Jihoon told him he knew Jeonghan didn’t even go to the gym, and Jeonghan said he’d come with him. Just for the sake of this punishment. Jihoon decided that waking up early after a night out was better than having to go to ask for the manager at the bar and confess his love to him, so he accepted. And now here he is, pouring coffee into a travel mug for Jeonghan because he’s nice like that. And because he’s thankful that Jeonghan allowed him to skip out on the confession to the bar manager.

All positive feelings towards Jeonghan go down the drain once he stops the car in front of the gym and waits for Jihoon to get out before locking the doors and yelling through the passenger seat’s window.

“Okay! I’ll pick you up in two hours!”

“What? No, Jeonghan, no, you said you’d come with me,” Jihoon replies, eyes wide.

“And I did, didn’t I? I’m here! What I did not say was that I’d take the class with you… anyway have fun!” he says, and drives away laughing his cartoon character laugh. Asshole.

Honestly, Jihoon could leave. He has his phone, could easily call a cab, go back home and sleep for another eight hours, but he doesn’t for two reasons. First, he’s stubborn. He doesn’t want to give up, doesn’t want to make this seem like a double victory for Jeonghan. Hell, Jeonghan could make him do one thousand embarrassing things and Jihoon would do them because Jeonghan is incredibly persuasive, and he’d do them well because that’s just who he is, he doesn’t half-ass anything. The second reason is that Jeonghan would know, because Jeonghan always fucking knows, and he’d come up with a worse punishment for him. And anyway, it’s just a group workout. Jihoon goes to the gym every day. At night when there are fewer people and when he’s slept and when he doesn’t have one of his friends on his ass pressuring him to do it, but still. He can do this.

He walks into the fancier than expected gym and approaches what seems to be a both a reception and a cashier for the gym shop. There’s a fucking gym shop, christ. The guy behind the counter is taller - like everyone else where Jihoon is concerned - and so stupidly pretty he almost seems out of place among the protein shakes and vitamin supplements, or whatever the hell they sell at gym shops. Jihoon thinks he’d look better surrounded by flowers and pastels or something. His skin is tan, his eyes stretch out like a cat’s and his lips are plump, and his delicate features stand out in contrast to his broad shoulders and toned arms. He’s not Jihoon’s type, but he could be. Jihoon is sure he could be anyone’s type if he wanted to.

“Hi, welcome,” the guy says when Jihoon steps further in, and his voice is soft and sweet, on top of everything else. “I’m Joshua, how can I help you?”

Jihoon takes a deep breath to steel himself. For what, he doesn’t know.

“Hi, uh. My friend signed me up for the 7:30 class.”

Joshua frowns a bit. “We have a few classes happening at 7:30, do you know which one you’re taking?”

Jihoon does not know which one he’s taking. He didn’t think to ask since he assumed Jeonghan was going to be doing the talking for them, since he assumed Jeonghan was going to join him. Joshua seems to catch on to the fact that Jihoon doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, so he turns the screen on the counter around for Jihoon to see.

“These are the three classes we have today,” he says, pointing at Intermediate Zumba, Pregnancy Aerobics, and Couple Fitness Challenge. All of them seem entirely not like classes Jihoon wants to be taking.

“Well it’s for sure not Pregnancy Aerobics,” he grunts, making Joshua laugh at how utterly lost he is. “You know what, I’ll just ask my friend, give me a second.”

He pulls out his phone and tries to visualize the gif of an animated cat that he’s seen people use to stabilize their breathing, just to prevent himself from breaking his screen by pressing it too hard or from cursing at Jeonghan once he picks up. The phone keeps ringing, and Jihoon is about to give up when Joshua’s eyes widen and he stretches across the counter to tap Jihoon’s arm. He hangs up and looks up at the other.

“Sorry, is your friend’s name Jeonghan?” Joshua asks.

Jihoon feels relief wash through him. “Yeah. You know him?”

Joshua starts tapping on the screen in front of him, like he finally knows what to do with Jihoon. The corners of his lips curve upwards and he flushes when he replies, “We’ve met.”

And oh, Jihoon knows that look, the glow and the pink ears and the sparkle in the eyes, he knows what boys look like when they’re under Jeonghan’s spell. Suddenly it makes sense why Jeonghan even knows a gym exists in town. Jihoon should’ve known, Jeonghan doesn’t fucking work out and Jihoon is an idiot for ever believing him. The only thing that’s backwards is it’s usually guys chasing Jeonghan around, craving his attention, not Jeonghan crafting elaborate plans so he can talk to a guy on the phone, nevermind calling only to sign his idiot friend up for a group class at the gym said boy works at. Either way, he’s gonna kill Jeonghan the next time he sees him, but for now he settles on shooting him a text.

(7:20) Jihoon: signing me up for a class just to get to talk to a boy on the phone for 2 mins is a new low for u

(7:21) Jeonghan: tell shua i said hi :*

(7:21) Jihoon: dont text and drive

(7:22) Jeonghan: then stop texting me <3

“You’re all set,” Joshua pulls him out of his thoughts. “Are you going to need a locker?”

“No, I’m good. Um, do I have to fill anything in?” he asks. Don’t gyms ask for like, personal information all the time? Jihoon doesn’t know.

“Normally I’d ask you to, but Jeonghan sent in all your info already,” Joshua tells him, sheepish smile on his face.

“Of course he did,” sighs Jihoon.

“It’s the room on the far right, if you wanna get going,” Joshua says. It’s not dismissive, just feels like he’s genuinely giving Jihoon an out in case he’s tired of talking to his friend’s crush.

Jihoon thanks him and walks all the way down the corridor. The last door to the right has a schedule taped onto it, which Jihoon assumes has the information about all the classes that are going to take place in the room for the rest of the day. He doesn’t bother, Joshua’s indications had been pretty clear, so he just walks in the room and sits in the corner. There is no equipment in the room, only a pile of what seem to be yoga mats to one side and a few people who also arrived early sitting down and engaging in conversation. They probably all know each other, which makes Jihoon feel even more out of place. Only five minutes until the class.

Jihoon is about to start sending his friends and acquaintances good morning texts just to look like he's doing something because everyone else seems to be sitting with at least one other person, when he feels someone sit next to him.

“Hi! Are you new?” Jihoon turns to the guy sitting next to him. He seems friendly enough.

“Uh, yeah, sort of? It’s my first time here.”

“Oh, fun. You know, most people find it complicated the first few times, but I think you’ll be okay,” he says, eyeing Jihoon’s arms from his wrist up to the start of his muscle tee.

“Thanks?” Jihoon says, deciding not to dwell on it. “How long have you been coming?”

“To Seungcheol’s class? A few months. My girlfriend suggested it and we’ve been hooked ever since.”

“Sweet,” Jihoon says, not knowing what else to say to keep the conversation going. Can the class just start?

“There he is,” the guy says, nodding at the man who just walked into the room. He looks exactly like someone who would teach a class at the gym, broad, whole body toned and big, wearing a hat backwards. The room keeps filling up more and more, to the point where Jihoon loses sight of him. The guy sitting next to him speaks up again, “The class is about to start, you should probably tell your girlfriend to hurry.”

“My what?”

“Sorry, boyfriend? Either way, you don’t want them to miss the beginning of Couple Fitness Challenge,” he finishes, wiggling his eyebrows like the name is some inside joke before standing up and walking towards a girl hovering on the other side of the room.

Jihoon’s no longer paying attention, though, because he had been preoccupied trying to curse Jeonghan mentally and hadn’t asked what the class he signed him up for was, and now he’s realizing it’s a class for couples and Jihoon is most definitely here all by himself. He takes his phone, sends Jeonghan a text that says “ur dead,” and walks up to the man who had been pointed out as the instructor.

“Hello,” he says. The man turns around and offers him a smile. Jihoon just doesn’t want to be an inconvenience, especially because this dude seems nice. “Um, I’m sorry. My friend signed me up for this class but he, uh, couldn’t come. Is it okay if I just take the class by myself?”

It shouldn’t be a problem, right? Whatever the couples do, he’ll just find a way to do it on his own. He will look pathetic, he’s aware, but he’s already been through so much to get to this point, it almost feels like a personal goal to get through the class. Fuck you, Jeonghan.

“Oh, that’s perfect, actually!” the man smiles at him. “What’s your name? There’s someone else who’s here alone, if it doesn’t bother you he can be your partner for the day. I’m Seungcheol, by the way.”

Jihoon sighs in relief. That shouldn’t be too bad, right? He won’t look pathetic doing things on his own, and no matter how much he embarrasses himself in front of this stranger, he’s never coming back here ever again so it won’t really be a problem. Besides, despite his intimidating image Seungcheol seems like the nicest dude out there, so he’s not too worried.

“It’s Jihoon,” he answers, and watches as Seungcheol disappears among the people filling the room, only to come back dragging a guy by the wrist. They stop in front of him, and god, if all of today’s events hadn’t managed to give Jihoon a headache, this one definitely does. He can’t believe the universe is punishing him this early in the goddamn morning. When Seungcheol speaks again, it’s not directed at Jihoon, but at the guy he dragged across the room.

“Soonyoung, this is Jihoon. He’s also alone, so he’ll be your partner for the day,” he finishes, smiles while he pats both of them on the shoulder once, and then yells at the class to start getting in place.

And Jihoon hates his life, he really does, because he can’t run away. He feels like he’s compromised with too many people already; his friend from hell Jeonghan, the trainer with pretty eyes Seungcheol, fucking Joshua the gym shop guy, the other class attendee he spoke to before, himself, and now Kwon Soonyoung, his ex-boyfriend who he hasn’t seen in years and who is now standing directly in front of him.

Chapter Text

“Jihoon?” Soonyoung says, and it’s been years, whole entire years, but Jihoon still savors the way his name sounds when it comes from in between Soonyoung’s lips. He barely has time to sigh Soonyung’s name in return because Seungcheol starts their warm-up, and suddenly he finds himself standing next to Soonyoung and bending his body this way and the other.

It’s uncomfortable, to say the least. Both because of the stretching and because of his ex. Jihoon has never been a flexible person, has never really cared for it, he just works out and cools down and then heads home. Soonyoung is… different. His dancer background always made him think it was a crime to leave the gym without stretching. Hell, Jihoon had been the direct recipient of his flexibility demonstrations, in a physical way, and the memories don’t help now that he has Soonyoung directly next to him, standing with his legs spread and completely bent over to rest his elbows on the ground. Jihoon can barely touch the floor with his fingertips.

It gets worse when Seungcheol makes them stretch in pairs. They have to sit facing each other with their legs spread again, seriously, can’t they stretch their forearms or something else? They’re supposed to keep that position with their feet against each other’s, hold on to each other’s elbows and pull. Jihoon decides if he actually lets Soonyoung pull him enough they’ll meet in the middle, faces ridiculously close to each other, and he can’t stand it, so he resists, pretends like he can’t stretch down further. Soonyoung looks at him, understanding, and then compensates by stretching himself even further, but he can’t do that while holding on to Jihoon’s elbows, needs to hold onto something else to give himself that better stretch.

“Put your hands on my shoulders,” he says quietly, and Jihoon doesn’t even have time to question it before Soonyoung is letting go of his arms and reaching out to grab his hips instead, face practically buried in Jihoon’s chest. Jihoon promises himself not to bet against Jeonghan ever again.

See, the problem is, Jihoon shouldn’t even refer to Soonyoung as his ex. They were friends who used to fool around in college. Like, a lot. And it was supposed to stay that way, but it didn’t because it never does, and they didn’t know what to do with all the sticky feelings, Soonyoung too scared to commit, Jihoon too scared of being left alone to ever speak his mind, and their relationship just deteriorated like that. By the end they were just fucking because it was routine but they could barely hang onto each other, they had both grown spines and all the things they left unsaid mutated, grew into something dark and tangible, until they decided to call it quits. They both convinced themselves it was for the best, Soonyoung moved away, and that was that.

Jihoon owed Jeonghan his life for playing therapist for months, for listening to him spit out the tangled mess that his feelings had been compressed into. Jeonghan isn’t about temporary solutions, he’s the type of person who needs your help to help you, who wants you to heal, to stitch yourself together instead of patching you up himself without even letting you notice how deep the wounds go. But he’s always there to clean you up. And Jihoon doesn’t think he’ll ever stop being thankful.

It was like that, one day he’d been sitting with Jeonghan and he’d blurted it out like it was suffocating him, burning him from the inside, he’d told him about how he’d fallen in love and wrapped his heart so tight in barbed wire he hadn’t let himself feel, nevermind speak about it, and now Soonyoung was gone and it was too late for any of that. He’d talked his throat raw, ended up feeling exposed and weak, empty. Jeonghan had listened in silence, and then he’d told Jihoon he could finally start to heal but Jihoon didn’t know how, could barely muster up enough energy to go through the motions.

“You have to let parts of yourself die to be able to grow,” Jeonghan had said. “Think of when snakes shed their skin, it’s just like that. But death hurts, Jihoon, and so does birth by definition, because birth is leaving a comfortable space you can’t fit yourself into anymore, and you have to tear it apart to escape it. And right now you’re hurting, but it will stop, and this new space you’ll be born into? Don’t try to rebuild what you had before in it. It won’t hold.”

Jihoon had fallen asleep like that, his chest open and aching, and Jeonghan’s warmth wrapping around his spine like vines.

Here he is now, thankful that they have the fucking couples challenge or whatever the hell it’s called to distract him from feeling everything at once. It proves to be an actual challenge, they’re supposed to use each other’s bodies like they would use regular gym equipment. The issue is Soonyoung and Jihoon are not in tune with each other’s bodies the way they used to be. They both also have a lot more muscle than they used to, Jihoon’s fingers don’t sink into Soonyoung’s arms and sides quite like before. It’s exhilarating in a way, makes Jihoon want to relearn him in his entirety.

Fourty minutes later Jihoon is wiping his sweat and wondering how the hell Seungcheol came up with half of these exercises. He keeps bumping into Soonyoung and Soonyoung keeps bumping into him, like they’re not used to being in each other’s space. It’s close, constant physical contact and once again Jihoon is thankful for the fact that they’re supposed to be focusing on something else, because he doesn’t have enough brain space left to think about wanting to press himself against Soonyoung’s body when he’s trying to keep himself in a stable plank, hands on the floor while Soonyoung holds a deep squat and Jihoon’s feet up on his shoulders.

“You look good,” Soonyoung says five minutes later, while Jihoon lays on the ground and Soonyoung stands above him, both of their hands linked together. Soonyoung is supposed to do a pushup supporting himself on Jihoon’s outstretched arms, then Jihoon is supposed to flex his arms like he’s doing a pushup on his back using Soonyoung’s whole body weight. When both of them have their arms flexed their noses are inches apart and Jihoon understands why this class isn’t called Get Fit with a Randomly Assigned Stranger. There’s a degree of intimacy required, and it’s not only in the proximity, it’s in the trust each person has to put in their partner, trust that they won’t let them fall or hold their dead weight.

“You look good too,” Jihoon says once they’ve both stretched their arms and are as far apart as the exercise allows for them to be. He knows Soonyoung can’t hear him. Seungcheol made sure of that by blasting Carly Rae Jepsen.

“Hmm?” Soonyoung says when they’ve both flexed and are a breath apart.

“I said if you distract me I’ll drop you,” Jihoon answers, strained as he pushes Soonyoung’s weight up once more. Soonyoung’s lips stretch into a smile that disappears quickly and Jihoon almost drops him anyway.

The worst part comes when Seugncheol’s creativity peaks and he asks them to do something that looks like the first person lies down and holds the second person up as they crawl in mid-air. Jihoon can’t think of a different way to describe it. Seungcheol calls it The Machine, and it looks exactly as ominous as it sounds when he says it.

“I’ll go on top,” he says. It feels like it’s the only way they’ll be able to make it work.

“Yeah, Jihoon, whatever you want,” Soonyoung replies, and Jihoon knows there’s a joke in there, can read it in Soonyoung’s raised eyebrow and the small smirk plastered on his face. Jihoon rolls his eyes as Soonyoung lies down and lifts up his limbs, arms straight and legs bent at a 90 degree angle. Since Jihoon is supposed to be the one crawling in mid air, he needs to reach out and grab Soonyoung’s ankles, and then Soonyoung is supposed to hold on to Jihoon’s ankles himself and lift him off the ground.

They almost succeed the first time. Only one of Jihoon’s feet remains on the floor, he’s holding tight to Soonyoung’s ankles as he tries lifting it. Soonyoung pushes it up and it seems to be working, they seem to be stable. But then Jihoon tries to start the crawling motion, and he realizes he underestimated how much of his weight was going to be resting on Soonyoung’s legs. Soonyoung clearly underestimated it too; his legs collapse and fall back to the ground, taking Jihoon with him. It doesn’t hurt, Jihoon manges to put his hands on the ground before he faceplants, but their failure leaves them in a position reminiscent of a stretched out, very uncomfortable sixty-nine. Jihoon’s face is practically in Soonyoung’s crotch and he knows for sure his ass is basically in Soonyoung’s face, their bodies completely pressed together.

It’s, well, awful. Jihoon knows the blood that rushes to his face isn’t a product of physical strain but of embarrassment. Soonyoung’s softly shaking with laughter under him and he can feel it all along his body, and he’s also rubbing circles over Jihoon’s ankles which his hands are still around. It feels nice, so nice Jihoon rolls off and looks back, just because he knows the longer he stays, the longer he’ll miss it. He notices the red tips of Soonyoung’s ears and groans internally.

“Sorry, I should’ve -,”

“My bad, I didn’t -,” they speak at the same time and it makes the situation ten times more awkward. Jihoon lets out a mortified chuckle and thinks if god was trying to pick a moment to bring about the apocalypse it should be now, right fucking now before the skin of his face burns off from how hard he’s blushing. He feels so incredibly stupid, acting like he’s not intimately acquainted with Soonyoung’s crotch, like he’s never had his face against it on purpose and willingly.

Soonyoung is now sitting up, elbow resting on his knee and palm covering his mouth, and Jihoon knows that gesture, knows Soonyoung is equally as embarrassed. It’s endearing.

“Let’s try again,” Jihoon says, because anything is better than their current state. Jihoon needs the class to be over and all he can do is push through. They manage after a few attempts, more aware of each other and of how to correct their mistakes. Seungcheol praises them for it too, mentioning how surprised he is at their ability to build such good chemistry in such a short time. Jihoon avoids Soonyoung’s eyes the whole time.

After a torturous hour and a half, the class ends and Jihoon goes back to the corner where he kept his water bottle, hoping Soonyoung will not follow him. It’s too much to ask, he thinks as he feels his weight settle next to him, both of them still panting a little from the workout.

“So,” Soonyoung starts.

Jihoon lets his head hang, then lifts it up again, getting used to the fact that he’s going to have this conversation and there’s nothing he can really do about it.

“Yeah?”

“You, uh. You told Seungcheol you were supposed to come here with someone but they didn’t show up,” he sounds small, like he’s trying to be careful with his words.

“I did say that, yeah.”

“And, um. Well, this class is for couples, right?”

Jihoon already knows where the conversation is headed and it makes him feel like someone tied his stomach into a knot.

“Yeah, it’s in the name,” he says matter of factly. Is he going to act the fool and make Soonyoung do all the work? Absolutely.

“Okay,” Soonyoung replies, making it sound like he wants to continue speaking, like there’s something else to say. Out of the corner of his eye Jihoon can see him playing with his own fingers, a small frown on his face like he doesn’t know how to word the question that he’s trying to ask. It’s a little bit funny, seeing him like this. Soonyoung usually just blurts things out, is almost never this careful and Jihoon knows it’s because this means something to him. He takes pity on him then.

“I lost a bet to Jeonghan and thought he’d come with me but he dropped me off and left,” and then, to leave no room for doubt, he says, “He only wanted to come to hit on the guy from the gym shop.”

Soonyoung and Jeonghan never properly met when Jihoon and Soonyoung were involved back then, but Jihoon spoke about him enough that Soonyoung knew who he was. The frown fades from his face.

“So you and him, you’re… That is - you’re not -”

“Together? Yeah, Soonyoung. He loves me so much he takes me places so I can watch him hit on other dudes.” Dumb question.

That makes Soonyoung snort in embarrassment, but it also seems to give him the courage he needs to ask the questions he didn’t dare to five seconds ago.

“You seeing anyone, then?” he says. Jihoon almost wants to laugh because it’s obvious Soonyoung’s been trying to figure out how to ask for a while. Jihoon is perceptive in general, but Soonyoung specifically he can read like a book.

“No,” he says, and takes a drink of water, then figures he might as well ask. “Are you?”

“No,” Soonyoung smiles. “Why, you interested?” he says, and tilts his head back to drink water himself, eyes trained on Jihoon’s and smile somehow not leaving his face.

It’s really dumb, so incredibly dumb because Jihoon knows Soonyoung’s flirty antics just as well as he knows Jeonghan’s. He’s been the direct recipient of those, so it’s actually ridiculous how they still work on him. He hopes his post-workout flush still lingers enough to cover up his Soonyoung induced flush.

“You asked first. I’m just being polite,” he says while rolling his eyes. It’s not true. He’s aware he was actually kind of rude to him just now, but it’s what his brain supplies and it’s what he says.

“To me? That’s a new one.”

So am I, Jihoon almost says, but he doesn’t because again, it’s not entirely true. Soonyoung’s basically a stranger to him right now. The thought is sobering.

“Yeah, well. Things change,” he says, and then pushes himself off the floor.

That’s the problem, he realizes. He’d been throwing sharp words at Soonyoung because that’s what he would do back then, when Soonyoung knew for sure he didn’t mean anything by it. But things are different now, and Soonyoung still being unaffected by them makes Jihoon feel like they’re acting like back then, and he can’t. He can’t, he’s a different person, and even if Soonyoung isn’t, he’s a stranger to Jihoon right now just because Jihoon himself has changed. Falling back into friendly banter like that makes Jihoon feel like he’s assuming that role, slipping back into a worn coat that’s too cozy, and he’s scared he won’t be able to take it off again.

He grabs his hoodie and puts it on, trying to ignore how Soonyoung is also moving now, hurrying across the room to grab his things. Jihoon doesn’t spare him a glance, just walks across the room towards the exit. He’s exhausted, has had to deal with Jeonghan’s bullshit all morning and then with Soonyoung, and the issue is that he doesn’t know how to deal with the latter, or what he wants. He decides to ignore every possibility his brain is offering, he can’t spiral in the middle of an unknown gym, and leaves the room with Soonyoung’s eyes trailing him.

Despite the fifty promises he’s made to strangle Jeonghan when he comes to pick him up, all he feels when he sees him is the relief of familiarity. Jeonghan is leaning on the counter, face cradled in one of his hands as the other one holds what Jihoon assumes is an ID card. The ID card is in a card holder which is attached to a lanyard which is placed around Joshua’s neck. Joshua’s focused on the screen in front of him, but there’s a small smile that won’t come off his face as he looks at Jeonghan every two seconds to answer his questions. At least that’s what Jihoon thinks he’s doing.

“Jihoonie!” Jeonghan yells when Jihoon comes closer, keeping the card in his hand as he places the other one on the back of Jihoon’s neck.

“Hey,” Jihoon says, Jeonghan’s presence instantly making him feel better. Not good, but he no longer feels like he’s gonna lose his mind in public.

“Have you met Joshua?” Jeonghan waves the ID card he’s holding in his hand.

“I checked him in,” Joshua says, eyes on the screen.

“How nice of you,” Jeonghan replies with a cheshire cat smile stretched across his face like that’s not Joshua’s literal job. Then he turns to Jihoon again, “How was class?”

“You signed me up for a couples class, asshole,” Jihoon glares at him.

“What do you mean?” Jeonghan says, fake concern in his voice.

“What do you mean, what do I mean? What part of couples class do you not understand?”

“Ooh, no need to be so stingy. I didn’t know it was for couples,” he defends himself.

Joshua speaks up before Jeonghan gets to say anything else, this time looking up at him, “I told you when you called last night. Multiple times.”

Jeonghan seems ecstatic to have been able to regain Joshua’s attention. “You did? Shit. Your late night voice sounds so nice over the phone, I must’ve been distracted.”

Joshua’s eyes move back to the screen, shaking his head a little but with his small smile regaining its place on his face. Jihoon thinks it’s a good thing Jeonghan’s so bad at flirting using his words. God had to humble him somehow after giving him a face like that.

They’re interrupted by someone clearing their throat from behind Jihoon.

“Uh, Jihoon?”

It’s obviously Soonyoung. The knot in Jihoon’s stomach makes itself known once more.

“Yes?”

“You left this in the room,” he says, handing him his water bottle which Jihoon had apparently forgotten in his haste to get the hell out of there.

“Ah, thanks,” he says.

Soonyoung shuffles a bit, looking extremely awkward before saying, “Do you mind?” and gesturing towards Joshua.

Jihoon pushes Jeonghan out of the way, moving with him to the side so Soonyoung can give his locker key back to Joshua. Before Soonyoung can do that, though, Jihoon feels Jeonghan’s nails digging into his skin, and when he turns around to ask him what the fuck that’s about Jeonghan gives him a look that says introduce me or else.

Jihoon groans internally. “Jeonghan. This is Soonyoung,” he says, trying to figure out what a proper introduction for him is. My ex-hookup? The guy I used to be in love with? The person because of whom I had a crisis at age 23, crisis which you had to pull my ass out of? “We went to college together,” is what he settles on.

There’s understanding in Jeonghan’s split second eyebrow raise. “Soonyoung, this is Jeonghan,” Jihoon adds.

Jeonghan offers Soonyoung a friendly smile, not betraying how much he already knows about him, and Soonyoung smiles back. It makes Jihoon think of how things could’ve gone back in the day.

“Weird how you ran into Jihoon in a class for couples of all places,” Jeonghan says after the brief introduction.

“Yeah, I uh, just moved back into town, so yeah. Funny how that happened,” Soonyoung replies scratching the back of his neck. He’s dim and Jihoon doesn’t like it. Soonyoung is always bright, a perpetual light beam, but he’s matte today. It feels wrong. Jihoon reminds himself that that’s none of his business anymore.

The uncomfortable silence stretches on until Joshua decides to take action, “I can take that if you want,” he says, pointing at the locker key still in Soonyoung’s hand. Job or not, it’s easy to tell Joshua’s a nice guy. Jihoon starts to see why Jeonghan likes him so much, out of this world beauty aside.

“Oh, thanks,” Soonyoung replies, having forgotten it completely.

Jihoon won’t stop looking at his shoes, and he notices Jeonghan is starting to feel out of place too when he sees him twisting and rubbing his hands together.

“We’ll get going,” Jeonghan says, and Jihoon exhales in relief. “Soonyoung, it’s been a pleasure. Talk to you later, Shua.”

Joshua looks up but Jeonghan has already turned around and is walking towards the exit. Jihoon isn’t though, and he gets to see the downcast look on Joshua’s face and hear his disappointed, “Yeah, later.” He won’t tell Jeonghan about how Joshua apparently likes to be pestered by him. Let Jeonghan figure that one out on his own.

Jihoon says bye and hopes it’s clear how it’s meant to be directed at the remaining two people in the room. Joshua gives him a smile and a nod in return, but Soonyoung turns around like he wants to chase after him.

“Jihoon, I -”

“I’ll see you around, yeah?” Jihoon looks back at him and needs him to understand how he doesn’t feel like he can have any type of conversation with him right now. He already has a lot to process.

Soonyoung backs off.

“Yeah,” he says.

Jihoon turns around just so he won’t have to keep looking at Soonyoung’s muted brightness, and walks out of the gym.

Jeonghan doesn’t ask him about it, knowing Jihoon will talk to him when he’s ready to. He does stop at a diner and drags Jihoon out to buy him breakfast, and despite everything, Jihoon feels warm.

Chapter Text

Things go back to normal. The initial shock of seeing Soonyoung again wears off, and Jihoon thinks he can go back to living his life the way he was before the whole gym ordeal. He realizes that’s what it was, the combined effect of seeing Soonyoung for the first time in years, finding out he’s moving back to town, being on the receiving end of his careless flirting, and having him warm and giggling under him. He would call it sensory overload, maybe. But now he’s actually thinking logically and understands that it’s fine, Soonyoung is going to live here now, they will probably run into each other at some point and it’ll be fine, they will greet each other and then move on with their lives.

What Jihoon doesn’t expect is to run into Soonyoung this soon. He’s shopping for groceries because sometimes the voice inside his head tells him he’s going to contract a disease from only eating cup ramen, so he decides if that’s what he wants to eat he might as well try to make the damn thing himself. Also, grocery shopping has always been sort of therapeutic for him. He doesn’t know what it is, but there’s something about the multiple aisles and the order of it all that quiets his brain down.

He’s about to turn left into a different aisle when a familiar head of brown hair catches his eye. Jihoon’s stomach sinks when he realizes that the head is attached to a body, as heads usually are, and the body is dressed in a hoodie that Jihoon recognizes very well, since there are only six of those in the world and one of them belongs to Jihoon himself.

Back in college, their friend Junhui used to play roleplaying games as a professional hobby. That’s what he said it was, at least. He had assembled a team for it and everything. One time Jun walked into the cafeteria where Soonyoung and Jihoon were supposed to be studying, and told them his team was competing against another team, which Jihoon didn’t even think was possible. Jun insisted that everything was possible if you made the rules right and winked at him, and Jihoon knew better than to argue. Then Jun said that he had had matching hoodies made for his team, but he had messed up the number when he made the order, so he had two extras. He pulled them out of his backpack and threw them over the table, yelled out a “they’re comfy, take care of them,” and then left just as quick as he came.

The hoodies were burgundy and had something written down the sleeve in Chinese characters. Jihoon never asked what it meant, and to this day he remains ignorant on the matter. The point is it’s easy to recognize Soonyoung wearing his.

Jihoon stops, letting the woman with a baby in her shopping cart stroll by, and considers turning around and walking in the opposite direction. He’s fine, and is definitely not about to have the same reaction he had at the gym, he knows himself well enough to be able to tell. At the same time, supermarket conversations are awkward. He can’t even think of what type of scenario would provide him with a non-awkward conversation with Soonyoung, and he doesn’t have the time to come up with one; all he knows is supermarket conversations are awkward and supermarket conversations with Soonyoung specifically have the potential to be paralyzingly awkward, given the circumstances.

He’s about to turn around and just get everything else he needs and come back later when he hears what sounds like a million boxes falling to the ground. Apparently the two-year-old in the woman’s shopping cart decided the cereal boxes would look better strewn across the tiled floor, and had taken care of that herself. Jihoon notices the woman he assumes is the little girl’s mom is close to crying, phone held between her shoulder and her head, trying to hold up a huge box full of bottles of water by herself, with no free hands to pick up the mess around them or to make sure her child won’t fall out of the cart, which is truly what’s about to happen. Soonyoung moves fast, abandoning his own shopping cart and stepping in front of the kid, making sure to delicately push her away from the edge.

“You can’t reach those, baby,” he says, trying to get her to stop reaching out with her little arms. Soonyoung doesn’t exactly use babytalk, his voice is just soft and sweet as he speaks to her. He throws her mom a thumbs up and then turns back to the kid, “You stay in there, okay? I’ll get them for you.”

In his attempt to keep the girl’s limbs inside the car he ends up having her hold two of his fingers inside one of her little fists. He manages to crouch down while keeping his hand in hers and starts picking up each of the cereal boxes, one by one. And then, to make the whole situation even more disgustingly cute, he covers his face with the box currently in his hand and starts peeking out of it, making the little girl laugh. It’s honestly detrimental to Jihoon’s health. He feels like someone put his heart on the pavement and it’s being flattened by one of those machines that smooth over concrete.

Before Jihoon manages to melt into a puddle completely, he notices the girl’s mom is still struggling with the box and her phone, unable to put one down first without dropping the other, and he’s not a complete asshole, so he abandons his own shopping cart and walks over.

“Can I help you with that?” he says, and watches her shoulders drop in relief when he takes the heavy box from her. He kneels so he can place it in the lower part of the cart and then stands back up.

When he finally looks at Soonyoung, he’s looking back with a blank expression on his face. Jihoon clears his throat and figures, what the hell.

“Hey,” he says, aiming for casual.

“Hi, Jihoon,” the other replies. Jihoon doesn’t know what else to say, so he moves around the cart and grabs the boxes that Soonyoung can’t reach because of the tiny hand gripping his own. When he’s done with that, he turns back to the girl and notices her tiny hand that’s not wrapped around Soonyoung’s fingers is kind of reaching out in his direction.

“Um,” he says eloquently. He’s not good with kids or babies. He doesn’t hate them, and frankly believes people who have the energy to hate on small beings that have never done anything wrong are freaks, the problem is children don’t like him. Half the time Jihoon is too scared he’s gonna make them cry to really try to do anything, and the other half he feels like he doesn’t know how to meet their demands. Kids and babies expect so much from the world and the people around them and Jihoon is not the type of person who can provide.

That’s clearly not the case for Soonyoung, who just nods at him and says, “Come closer, she’s not gonna hurt you,” and Jihoon feels stupid as fuck. Of course she’s not gonna hurt him, she’s minuscule, not a rabid animal.

Jihoon steps closer and offers his hand to the baby, who holds onto one of his fingers for a millisecond before dropping it. See?! They hate me, he’s about to tell Soonyoung, but the baby just reaches up and grabs one of the earphones hanging around his neck instead. Jihoon hopes she doesn’t try to put it in her mouth because gross, that’s been in his ears, but she doesn’t, just seems comfortable hanging onto the two strangers who helped clean up her mess.

Jihoon is standing pretty much like a statue while Soonyoung continues being his sweet self. He doesn’t know how much time passes, the soft lull of Soonyoung’s voice and the baby’s huge brown eyes are hypnotizing, but then he becomes aware of how insane this situation is and god where is this child’s mother?

He looks up and sees her hanging up the call that she was apparently taking, not that Jihoon had realized, mind busy with rotating images of Soonyoung and the baby.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry,” she says, finally walking back to them. “You’re both too nice, thank you for helping.”

“It’s no problem, really,” Soonyoung replies before Jihoon can embarrass himself. “You have the cutest little girl,” he smiles at the woman and then back at the girl, giving them a smile that probably would’ve made Jihoon fall to his knees. He wonders when his brain decided to declare its independence and start coming up with crazy shit like that. He’s fine.

“She’s lovely, right?” she rubs small circles with her hand on the baby’s back. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s let these nice young men go,” she says, trying to pull her daughter's hands away from them, but she’s not having it, she’s holding onto them in a vice-like grip. The idea of being perceived as a nice young man almost makes Jihoon laugh. He currently feels like a fifteen-year-old mess.

The woman keeps trying to pull on her daughter’s little arms but she’s clearly starting to get fidgety, like if they manage to pull her away she will flat out start crying.

“No, don’t cry,” Soonyoung says to her, and looks around them like he’s going to be able to find something to distract her. All he finds is one of those sales pamphlets they give you at the supermarket where they tell you all about the new stainless steel pots and pans you can now find in aisle eleven lying abandoned in one of the cart’s corners. He reaches out for it and says, “Look! Jihoon over here has magic hands, he can turn this into a butterfly!”

Jihoon turns to him, a little bit shocked. First, because it’s impressive that Soonyoung remembers. Jihoon learned origami when he was a kid out of complete boredom and kept folding chewing gum wrappers and receipts even in college, again, out of total boredom and because it was already ingrained in his muscle memory. He would make little animals or boats or flowers and leave them around. It was so unimportant to even him, he didn’t think Soonyoung would remember.

The second reason it shocks him is because Soonyoung used to tell him he had magic hands in a very different context, so this right now is entirely unexpected.

Jihoon doesn’t say anything, just grabs the paper from Soonyoung and shakes it around for the baby to pay attention to it. Soonyoung uses that moment to tell the mother if she needs to get anything else from that aisle, right now is probably the moment. She steps away and starts grabbing the products she needs, looking back at his daughter every two seconds.

Jihoon’s aware that now both Soonyoung and the girl are looking at his hands so he begins to fold the paper the way he’s used to. It’s a bit harder without a flat surface but he can do it just fine and anyway, it’s for a baby, it’s not like she’s going to notice his messy lines. Jihoon tunes the rest of the world out and after a while he’s looking at his pot-and-pan-on-sale colored butterfly. Soonyoung opens up his palm next to Jihoon’s like the butterfly is real and is going to fly and rest on his. Jihoon tilts his own hand so the butterfly lands on Soonyoung’s, noticing how the baby is completely enraptured by it. Soonyoung then takes it in between two fingers and starts twirling his hand around. The reaction is instant: she immediately lets go of Soonyoung’s fingers and of Jihoon’s earphone and reaches out, fingers splayed to try and grab it.

Soonyoung lets the butterfly fly around a little bit longer before placing it in his open palm again and offering it to the baby, who seems to think of it as something incredibly delicate judging by the gentleness with which she holds it. It feels surreal, Jihoon thinks. Like the aisles full of products could twist and transform into large trees, the lights overhead into the moonlight sneaking its way in through the canopy, the hard floor could crumble into soft dirt and he would be somewhere different any second, somewhere quiet and moonlit and with Soonyoung. But it’s not, it’s the damn supermarket and looking at Soonyoung makes Jihoon’s heart hurt.

By then, the mother is back with everything she needed to get, the child distracted. She thanks the two of them in a whisper, maybe worried that she’s going to bring her daughter’s attention back to them, but her face expresses the sincerity that her words can’t. Jihoon smiles at her and waves his hand briefly, and then she turns the shopping cart around and she’s gone, and he’s standing with Soonyoung alone in between boxes of cereal and canned soup.

“Alright,” Jihoon says, not willing to let the awkward silences grow like the last time they met. “I guess I’ll get going,” he says, about to turn back to try to find his shopping cart.

“Wait, Jihoon,” Soonyoung calls him back and Jihoon doesn’t even want to turn to look at him, but at the same time that’s exactly what he wants to do. He does. “Did you walk here?”

Jihoon frowns at the question. Yeah, he walked here, he always walks. It’s not super close to where he lives, but the food is cheaper, and if he were to go to the convenience store right next to his building he’d just end up buying the same cup ramen all over again. So he walks for about twenty minutes to get here and then twenty minutes back, because he doesn’t drive and it’s close enough that he doesn’t feel the need to take the subway.

“Yeah,” he says.

“I can give you a ride if you want,” Soonyoung looks hopeful and Jihoon doesn’t want to let him down, has never enjoyed it with Soonyoung in particular. He also seems like he wants to say something else, maybe come up with a reason why he wants Jihoon to come with him, like I just moved in and I need to carry these bags up to my apartment or I don’t know how to make my way back, but he doesn’t.

Jihoon thinks of the flowchart he had drawn in his head earlier. Run into Soonyoung, greet him like a civilized person, and then move on with life. He thinks about whether adding “let him drive you home” between the greetings and the moving on part would drastically alter the cosmic balance of things. Probably not. Whether it would alter the chemical composition of Jihoon’s entire being is a different question.

Maybe he’s feeling self-indulgent, he thinks as he stares into the eyes of the Quaker Oats man on the box of crunchy oat cereal. He’s looking at Jihoon as if saying “go ahead, dive in, treat yourself,” smiling like Jihoon deserves to be forgiven for doing stupid things that might hurt him in the long run. The Quaker Oats man and his fifty clones on all the other cereal boxes. Jihoon tears his gaze away and thinks maybe it’s not self indulgence, maybe he just misses bathing in Soonyoung’s warmth. Maybe he just misses Soonyoung.

“Okay,” he finds himself saying. A smile lights up Soonyoung’s face. Jihoon has always been good at self-control, and that in turn has made him good at self-preservation. Funny how Soonyoung has always been his one exception.

Jihoon walks down the aisles, quickly grabbing everything else he needs and thinking about how maybe he can even get extra now that he doesn’t have to carry the bags all the way back home. Soonyoung was already done with his shopping when the whole ordeal with the baby happened, so he said he would go line up to pay while Jihoon finished. Jihoon is grateful, he can’t imagine walking around the supermarket with Soonyoung trailing behind him in complete silence.

Soonyoung waits for him while he pays, then reaches out for Jihoon’s bags to put them in his own shopping cart.

“It’s fine, they’re not heavy,” Jihoon says, taking the bags from him. It’s a lie, they are heavy but Jihoon doesn’t want Soonyoung to feel like he needs his help. Accepting the ride back home had already been too much, Jihoon dislikes feeling helpless or looking like he can’t manage on his own. Especially in front of Soonyoung. He realizes he’s being ridiculous, but he doesn’t care. Soonyoung kind of sighs, and then he shrugs and pushes his cart outside, and Jihoon follows.

Once they’re in the car, Jihoon thinks about how he might’ve messed up when he agreed to this because being in a closed, quiet space with Soonyoung can be a recipe for disaster. He doesn’t even want to spend the whole ride in silence because it’s awkward, but he also doesn’t know how to start a conversation, so he’s just looking out the window trying to mentally talk the red light into changing faster.

“Listen, about the gym,” starts Soonyoung, making something squeeze in Jihoon’s chest. “I didn’t wanna make you uncomfortable. I thought I could just… Yeah, it’s been a while and of course things aren’t the same, I’m not really sure what I was expecting. What I mean is - I’m sorry.”

It takes effort, Jihoon notices. Soonyoung is speaking like he’s having a conversation not only with Jihoon but also with himself inside his head simultaneously.

“Turn left here,” Jihoon says, giving himself time. “It’s fine.”

“It’s not. Like, you said things changed, and it made me think - that moment back at the gym was like a first impression, right? And I don’t wanna push you away, that’s the last thing I wanna do, Jihoon. And then you left and I didn’t know when or if I’d see you again, and it scared me.”

“Of course you’d see me again, we live in the same city now,” it's the only thing Jihoon can think of saying.

Soonyoung sighs, “You know what I mean. I - okay. This is going to sound super dramatic, but I don’t wanna live here knowing you’re minutes away and having to act like you’re a stranger.”

“It’s the building right in the corner,” Jihoon is barely managing to keep the dam closed, he's not sure what’s gonna happen if Soonyoung keeps speaking. He parks the car in front of Jihoon’s building and Jihoon knows he can’t walk out. It would be rude. More importantly, he doesn’t want to. “I’m not asking you to act like you don’t know who I am if you see me around.”

“But you are asking me to keep a distance?”

Jihoon chews on the inside of his cheek.

“I don’t know,” he finally turns to look at Soonyoung and it’s a mistake, it’s a mistake because he looks hurt, and Jihoon hates himself for being the cause of it.

“Alright. Well if that’s what you decide then I -,” he pauses. “Then that’s fine and I respect it. But I’m taking the chance to say this right now - you were my friend along with, well, everything else, Jihoon. And right now you might think I’m the guy you used to sleep with who you don’t really give a shit about anymore. But you cared when we were friends, and that’s - really all I’m asking for. I just want to be friends.”

It occurs to Jihoon then that Soonyoung doesn’t know and doesn’t understand. He thinks Jihoon’s reluctance comes from a place of disinterest, he thinks Jihoon doesn’t care to have him in his life. He wants to laugh and cry and scream all at once, of course Soonyoung doesn’t know Jihoon is just afraid that he will care too much, that he already does and doesn’t want that to evolve into something beyond caring.

Jihoon hears Jeonghan’s voice in his head. Don’t try to rebuild what you had. It won’t hold. But this isn’t rebuilding, Soonyoung is not asking him to be his fuck buddy, he’s asking to be his friend. Jihoon can do that, right? He thinks he can.

“Okay,” he says, trying to meet Soonyoung’s eyes. “We can be friends.”

Soonyoung suddenly looks like Jihoon took the weight of the world off his shoulders. “Good,” he says, and It’s like the sun is trying to shine on his face and he doesn’t fully want to let it. He can’t hide the look in his eyes, though. They shine as pretty as ever, Jihoon thinks. He has to suppress a smile himself.

“My milk is gonna curdle if I don’t put it in the fridge right now,” Jihoon tells him. More like he’s feeling every emotion at once and thinks if he doesn’t get some fresh air right now, smoke is going to start coming out of his ears or something.

“Right,” Soonyoung gives him a smile. “You should get going.”

“Thanks for the ride.”

“Anytime.”

“I’ll, um. Talk to you soon?”

“Sure.”

Jihoon gives him a nod and then gets out of the car.

It’s only when Jihoon is checking his email later that day that he realizes he doesn’t have Soonyoung’s number and Soonyoung doesn’t have his. He notices because there’s an email sitting in his inbox where the subject is only about 20 exclamation marks. The message is “forgot to ask 4 ur number whoops. view attached pic jsyk i’m not scamming -ksy.” The attached picture is a selfie where you can only see the top half of Soonyoung’s face, from his eyes up. He only occupies the lower part of the image, because the majority of it is just the facade of Jihoon’s building.

He laughs despite himself. Soonyoung obviously realized he didn’t have Jihoon’s number when he dropped him off. Jihoon thinks about his messed up flowchart, which now goes run into him, greet him, collaboratively help a family with him, let him drive you home, agree to be his friend. He doesn’t think he can add “move on with life” at the end anymore, and the “agree to be friends” holds so much weight it’s throwing off the symmetry, so Jihoon guesses it won’t do much of a difference if he adds “give him your number” right after.

As soon as he hits send, he regrets it. It’s ridiculous, his emotions keep making him act and then regret his actions and at this point he’s kind of terrified of being Soonyoung’s friend. He wants to be, he wants to be able to talk to him and joke around and see his cheeks bunch up when he laughs, but he also wants to take care of himself and he doesn’t want to fall back into old habits. He doesn’t want to want more than Soonyoung can give him, and he’s not sure if he knows how to do that. It’s why he’d tried to keep his distance: it seemed like the easiest way. But now he’d messed that up and would just have to check himself every two seconds to get rid of any unwanted feelings.

He’s frustrated with himself, so he does what he usually does when he’s not feeling great.

(5:05) Jihoon: u busy? wanna come over we can watch rpdr

(5:10) Jeonghan: [attachment.jpg]

It’s a picture of an arcade, and Jihoon recognizes Joshua in front of the claw machine, frown on his face like he’s actually trying to focus.

(5:11) Jihoon: ???? u hate arcades

Jeonghan hates arcades because he can’t manipulate people and turn them against each other as drastically as he’d like since there’s always a machine involved. And also because he hasn’t properly figured out how to cheat the machines.

(5:16) Jeonghan: [attachment.jpg]

The image is basically the same as the last one, except it’s zoomed in and Joshua occupies the whole screen. It’s Jeonghan’s way of telling Jihoon he’s not there for the machines.

(5:17) Jihoon: omg you like like this guy
have fun make him get u a plushie

(5:20) Jeonghan: he did
we’re about to leave bc he has a shift at 6
i’ll come over in an hr

Jihoon sends him the glitter emoji. He can’t believe he considers watching drag queens fight each other with Jeonghan a relaxing evening, but well… he can’t wait for his relaxing evening to finally start.

Don’t try to rebuild what you had. It won’t hold.

He can do friends… he can at least try.

Chapter Text

The first text comes a few days later. Soonyoung says he wants to try out a new restaurant where they sell giant food and asks if Jihoon wants to come. Jihoon tells him the restaurant isn’t new, buying himself some time while he decides if it would be a good idea to go. Then he remembers this is a text conversation, which means he could’ve just taken a while to respond, but now Soonyoung is texting back and Jihoon can’t use that excuse anymore. He ends up saying yes: he doesn’t have lunch plans the next day, and he doesn’t usually eat out, so he figures he might as well.

The next day he has a mild crisis when he realizes he doesn’t know what to wear. Jeonghan video calls him and tells him to just dress as if he’s meeting a friend.

“What do you mean ‘as if’? That’s what I’m actually doing.”

“Well, he’s also your ex-friend with benefits who you fell in love with,” Jeonghan says, face super close to the camera and scratching his eyebrow with his pinky.

Jihoon considers hanging up but opts for staring straight into the camera with a dead expression on his face. Jeonghan is too busy looking at himself on the tiny rectangle at the bottom of the screen instead of at Jihoon’s face occupying the rest of it to notice.

“Say, how did you dress when you two were involved?”

“I just - normally? I wasn’t dressing for him, I was just going to class… when we were together clothes were like, not usually involved,” Jihoon throws his phone on the bed and then throws himself after it.

“Then do that! He liked you enough as a struggling college student to let you get in his pants, you could probably show up wearing a bathrobe and he’d be impressed.”

“I don’t wanna impress, though,” Jihoon mumbles against the pillow.

“And what I’m saying is to just wear whatever! It’ll be fine!”

Eventually Jihoon figures Jeonghan is right, if he’s supposed to try to be Soonyoung’s friend he should dress the way he usually does to meet friends. So he wears black sweatpants with a black hoodie and a cap. Then he stands in front of his closet for ten minutes wondering if sneakers would indicate he’s making an effort, but then he thinks if they end up walking sneakers are better than flip-flops, so he puts on his black sneakers and calls it a day.

Despite his fear that it wouldn’t, his conversation with Soonyoung flows easily. After they’ve ordered their food and Jihoon has managed to stop thinking about how good Soonyoung looks wearing army green, he realizes there’s a lot he doesn’t know about him. Even back when they were friends, their friendship and the things they learned about each other were more of a byproduct of their sex arrangement. As in, Jihoon knows Soonyoung sweats a lot not because he’s seen his dance performances, but because pushing at Soonyoung’s body to flip it one way or another was always hard because of how slippery it used to get. He knows Soonyoung has a scar under his ribs not because Soonyoung told him the story of how he got it, but because he’s licked across it. He knows Soonyoung’s favorite lip balm flavor is cherry not because Soonyoung ever mentioned it in passing, but because he used to be able to taste it on his lips more often than not.

It’s terrifying, he thinks, because it means he somehow managed to fall head over heels for the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot to learn about Soonyoung, and Jihoon doesn’t know how he’ll react to obtaining that knowledge. On one side of the spectrum, there’s the possibility that it’ll show him a side of Soonyoung that he won’t like at all, and maybe their friendship will just end like that and Jihoon will be able to rescue the “move on with life” part of his flowchart. On the opposite end, there’s also a chance he’ll fall irrevocably in love with him and that he’ll have to live with that until he dies of love. Or something. Somehow, both ends scare him shitless.

“You know, planning fundraising events for museums was fun for a while, but it’s not what I wanna be doing,” Soonyoung answers when Jihoon finally finds a way to ask why he came back. Soonyoung is not a dance major, despite how much Jihoon associates him with dancing in his head. He actually studied art history.

“Did it get boring?”

Soonyoung seems to think for a while, tiny furrow between his brows.

“No, not exactly. It was very cool. Especially being able to access all the works at all times, it’s just… I was good at event planning because, like, I have a lot of ideas and I’m good at chatting people up. But trying to convince stupidly rich old men to give away part of their fortune for art’s sake wasn’t really my deal, you know what I mean?”

Soonyoung pouts when he speaks. Even if you can’t see the pout, you can hear it. Jihoon knows because he averted his gaze down toward his gigantic portion of fried chicken so he wouldn’t have to see Soonyoung’s pursed lips, but he can still fucking hear the way they curve around the vowels.

“You wanna be more hands-on,” Jihoon says with a nod before looking back up at him.

“Yeah,” Soonyoung smiles. “It’s why I’m doing exhibit installation here. There’s a lot that I want to learn, and I get to work with museum people who can actually mentor me and stuff… and, I mean - I get to interact with art more than with old people, so that’s a plus,” he lets out an embarrassed laugh.

“I get it,” says Jihoon, stirring the ice cubes inside his glass. Soonyoung doesn’t say anything but the silence is charged, like he expects Jihoon to continue. Jihoon exhales, letting his shoulders drop, and then does. “You have to learn arranging when you learn producing. It’s really important, so when I got offered a job to arrange and mix tracks for small labels I kinda thought this is it.”

“And it wasn’t,” Soonyoung says after Jihoon has finished chewing on a piece of chicken.

“It wasn’t. It was interesting and I learned a lot. But… you can only piece music together for so long before you start wishing it was your music and not someone else’s, so…” he trails off.

“You wanted to be more hands-on.”

“Yeah,” Jihoon finishes, taking another sip of coke.

“So is that what you’re doing now? Writing your own stuff?” he genuinely sounds interested and it makes Jihoon’s chest hurt a little.

“Yeah. Not like, radio music. I um, write music for animators? It’s small stuff, but it’s really fun. They sit down with me and tell me about their projects and about what they want to convey with them. They usually bring storyboards too. So I write demos for them, really short stuff, and if they like what I do they send me their whole projects and, yeah… I make the music,” Jihoon’s not aware of how much he’s moving his hands until he accidentally knocks his fork off the plate and it makes a loud noise when it falls on the table. He apologizes and feels his cheeks get warm, but Soonyoung brushes it off.

“That’s so sick. Creating is a pain in the ass.”

“It is,” laughs Jihoon. “But I think it’s also a release. You get a lot of stuff out when you create shit.”

“You sure do,” Soonyoung says after thinking about that for a while. “I think it would be hard. To sit down and have to come up with something new every day.”

“It is, that’s why I don’t. Some days things just don’t come to you. Or they come to you at the most inopportune moments, like when you’re crossing the street or in the middle of class and you can’t really sit down and chase the thought.”

“You still taking class?”

“No, I -” Jihoon walked straight into that one. It’s not that he doesn’t like to talk about it, it’s just that everyone’s reaction is the same and he’s a bit sick of hearing it every time. He clears his throat and continues, “It’s like you said, it’s hard to come up with something every day, and it’s harder when you have an idea, and it’s like, super alive and vibrant in your head, and you have no idea how to turn it into something physical, right? Like, the metamorphosis of idea into actual sound. They don’t really teach you that in school.”

“Right. So - you take classes on idea manifestation?” Soonyoung looks confused. Jihoon doesn’t blame him.

“I don’t take the class,” he swallows a french fry before continuing. “I teach it.”

Soonyoung blinks a few times.

“Don’t fuck with me,” he says, smile starting to take over his face.

Jihoon sighs. “I’m not.”

“Lee Jihoon teaching? You’re a teacher?! Oh my god,” he finally throws his head back and properly laughs the goofy laugh that Jihoon remembers.

“You’re really making it seem like you have less faith in me than my own parents, and that’s saying a lot,” Jihoon says, embarrassed smile on his face as he bites a fry in half maybe more violently than he normally would.

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Soonyoug finally starts regaining his breath. “You teach kids? That’s so crazy, and you have to teach them about like, materializing their ideas… oh my god, why is it impossible to imagine?”

“It’s, yeah - basically a very long pep talk. Makes me feel like a youtuber sometimes. Anyway, high schoolers who know they want to write music. Some college freshmen show up sometimes too.”

“I’m never gonna get over this. And you’re like… like patient, and stuff?”

Jihoon looks at him like he’s out of his mind. “Fuck you, my kids love me. And believe it or not, Soonyoung, I know I’m not supposed to be an asshole to actual children.”

“You call them your kids? That’s so adorable,” Soonyoung puts his elbow on the table and rests his chin on his hand.

“I can’t stand you,” Jihoon responds, looking directly into Soonyoung’s eyes and biting another fry, even more violently than before.

Jihoon eventually gives up on his fried chicken and Soonyoung gives up on trying to fit an entire sushi roll in his mouth. They order dessert and eat about two percent of it before realizing more than anything it’s stupid to serve portions this big, or maybe they’re just stupid for thinking they’d be able to tackle it on their own. It’s when they’re in Soonyoung’s car on their way to drop Jihoon off at his place that Soonyoung brings up his job again.

“So… a very long pep talk, you said?” he says, looking out the windshield. It’s that time of day where turning the lights on is starting to become necessary but not entirely, like you could push it a little bit if you wanted. The car in front of Soonyoung’s shines a red glow on them, and Jihoon thinks Soonyoung looks pretty in red.

“Are you gonna make fun of me for having a job again?” he says, paying more attention to the slope of Soonyoung’s nose than anything else.

“No, I was actually gonna say I would like to see that.”

“Sure,” Jihoon says after making sure the other is being serious. “It’s sixty an hour.”

“Oh, come on,” Soonyoung laughs, and when Jihoon doesn’t say anything, he turns to look at him. “You’re not serious.”

“About the sixty an hour? No. About making it impossible for you to show up? Absolutely. Like, dead serious.”

“Damn. I wanted to see you with your head in the game, or whatever,” he says, lips pressed together. “How about your music? Any animation with your name in the credits that I can check out?”

Jihoon thinks about saying no, but he’s actually kind of proud of his work, and there’s one specific video he can think of that ended up being pretty well animated. He wouldn’t mind if Soonyoung saw that one.

“I’ll send you a link,” he says, thinking he’d rather die than have Soonyoung listen to his work right in front of him.

Soonyoung parks into the spot in front of Jihoon’s building and says, “I can’t wait.”

Jihoon clears his throat and opens the door of the car. He doesn’t know if it’s just him, but it’s too hot in the small space.

“I’ll see you around,” he says, ready to step out, but Soonyoung’s voice stops him when he calls his name.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for coming with me. I thought you wouldn’t say yes, but - it was nice, catching up,” Soonyoung says, voice soft around the edges and so gentle. He also looks pretty under the yellow light from the lampposts flanking the street. Maybe Jihoon just thinks he's pretty, that's all.

“It was,” says Jihoon. “I’ll see you around, then?” he repeats. He needs to get out of the car, his stomach already feels all weird when he looks at Soonyoung’s face.

“Don’t forget the link,” Soonyoung tells him once he’s gotten out and closed the door.

“Like you’d let me,” Jihoon rolls his eyes, turns around and walks towards the entrance of the building.

He gets a text from Soonyoung as he’s unlocking his door. All it says is link!!!!, and Jihoon knows the other won’t let up, so he looks it up on Vimeo, which he thinks is just glorified Youtube, but artists wanting to be noticed by bigger artists prefer to upload their work there so he doesn’t complain. He respects the hustle. He copies the link and once he taps send on his open texts with Soonyoung, he throws his phone on the couch and proceeds to brush his teeth for like ten minutes. He’s proud of his work, but sharing it always makes him feel uneasy. He puts so much of himself into it, letting other people hear his music feels like he’s stripping naked and baring his soul.

Once he’s sure there can not possibly be any surviving bacteria in his mouth, he walks out of the bathroom and grabs his phone, unlocking it without looking at the notifications. It’s ultimately useless, since he had left his chat with Soonyoung open when he locked it. He suddenly feels like his heart has assumed a new location somewhere in his trachea and he’s going to have to cough it out.

(5:03) Soonyoung: holy shit
ur crazy
u wrote that?????? allll of it??????!!!!!!
jihoon no offense but i expected 3 chords on a piano

Soonyoung is still typing, but Jihoon thinks this might be the best moment to cut in.

(5:04) Jihoon: thank u for ur trust that makes me feel so good -_____-

(5:04) Soonyoung: and i wouldve been IMPRESSED by them
jihoon
this is incredible
how has walt disney not knocked on ur apartment door and demand u work for him

(5:05) Jihoon: well hes dead, for starters

Soonyoung starts typing, then stops, then starts again and then stops again, and then Jihoon’s phone starts ringing.

“Yes?”

“Why didn’t you tell me you’re an animation background music genius?” the crackling of his phone doesn’t manage to hide the wonder in Soonyoung’s voice. It makes Jihoon feel both uncomfortable and like his lungs are oozing molten lava.

“Because I’m not?”

“Jihoon, that exceeded my expectations, you can’t even imagine how much.”

“I mean, I’m sure that wasn’t hard to do, you were expecting three chords on a piano.”

“Yeah, and you gave me like, the full thing. The little details and the sound effects and the way it fits with the art? When the music gets all big, that was crazy,” Soonyoung sounds so excited, it’s not giving Jihoon enough time to do damage control. In this case, damage control means getting his heart rate in check.

“That’s called a crescendo,” Jihoon says, because it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Soonyoung sighs. “Can you just take a compliment? I’m telling you I think you’re amazing. It’s your turn to say thanks.”

“Thanks,” Jihoon says, hating himself because no, he doesn’t know how to take compliments and trying makes him feel like a droid. Thankfully, Soonyoung just laughs into the phone.

“My pleasure,” he says. Jihoon groans at the added formality.

The good thing about Soonyoung is he can’t finish conceiving a thought before starting to conceive the next, his mind going in a hundred different directions at all times, so the topic is quickly forgotten. Eventually, he runs out of things to say, or maybe he gets tired of Jihoon answering in monosyllables. They hang up and Jihoon turns over in his bed, staring at the ceiling with his phone resting on his belly.

He doesn’t want to think about the two sides of the spectrum he came up with before lunch, or about which side he feels like he’s leaning away from. So he doesn’t.

Jeonghan video calls next, asking Jihoon to help him pick an outfit. Once more, Jihoon is not at all fashion oriented, but he’s a man who likes men and who knows when a man looks good. While Jeonghan changes into different shirts, he asks about lunch. He calls it a date, which Jihoon decides to ignore. Then he asks how it went, and Jihoon doesn’t even know how it went himself, so he tells him as much. Jeonghan understands that Jihoon needs to mull things over before sharing, so he fills the silence with stories about whoever or whatever.

“Pink or purple?” he finally asks, looking into the camera and at Jihoon.

“They both look good on you,” he answers truthfully.

“You’re not helping,” whines Jeonghan.

Jihoon sighs and rubs his eyes with the heel of his hand.

“Look, this is for a date, right? Why don’t you ask him? Send him pics, let him choose which one he likes best.”

“Ooh, kinky,” Jeonghan says. “I love it. I’m gonna take them now, don’t put your phone on silent mode because you’re reviewing them before I send them to him. Love you, bye,” he says, and hangs up.

Ten minutes later Jihoon gets two images sent to his phone, and once he opens them he really starts wondering why he does this. Jeonghan has always said his best feature is his face, and he’s not wrong; Jihoon made peace with the fact that Jeonghan is probably the most beautiful person he’ll meet forever ago. The issue is, his face is certainly not the focus of the pictures. They are mirror selfies, Jeonghan made sure to capture his whole body from the neck down. He’s wearing tight pants and his hip is cocked. In one picture his sleeves are rolled up, in the other the shirt is slightly stretched towards one shoulder, revealing more golden skin.

They’re like, stupidly sensual in the way only Jeonghan manages to get perfectly right. Jihoon doesn’t think he even has to try, no one will ever look this provocative in a mirror selfie while fully dressed. Jeonghan has lost his mind, he’s sure. These pictures don’t say “pick your favorite dinner outfit” but “pick which shirt you’d rather take off of me” and Jihoon is so annoyed that he has to be a part of this. He texts Jeonghan back, tells him he’s disgusting and to just send the pictures to Joshua already.

A few minutes later he receives one more image from Jeonghan, this one a screenshot of his conversation with Joshua, which goes something like this:

(7:10) Jeonghan: [attachment.jpg]
idk what to wear
wanna help me pick?

(7:11) Joshua: mmm
purple

(7:11) Jeonghan: that was so fast was the pink that bad?

(7:13) Joshua: [attachment.jpg]
we match

The picture Joshua sent is also a selfie, no mirror this time. All that is visible is a pastel purple scarf, the same color as Jeonghan’s shirt, wrapped tight around Joshua’s long neck. Jihoon is sure either the shirt he’s wearing has an insanely deep v-neck or Joshua just has about 600 of the buttons undone, because he can see the scarf resting against his clavicle and when the screen cuts off there still isn't a ingle button to be seen. The worst part is how Joshua’s whole face doesn’t fit in the image, all he can see are his slightly parted full lips that curl up at the corners at the top of the picture.

The whole exchange is honestly horrific and makes Jihoon feel like he’s watching straight up gore. God, he wishes he was watching gore. His reflex thought is Jeonghan might as well have sent him dick pics, and then he ejects that thought out of his head instantly because no, he would be planning his own death if that were the case. Jeonghan will owe him reparations for the rest of his life. Maybe he's being dramatic but he doesn't care. He texts back.

(7:20) Jihoon: next time ur thinking of sending me softcore porn lmk in advance so i can block ur #
ur both from hell and u deserve each other
use protection
ew

(7:23) Jeonghan: [kiss emoji]

Chapter Text

Jihoon hates writer’s block. He doesn’t have to deal with it too often, there are enough things happening around him to draw inspiration from, but when he does get it it’s a pain in the ass. This time it’s not really lack of inspiration, it’s more like lack of understanding how he’s supposed to come up with something. He doesn’t know where to start because he can’t make sense of what’s being asked of him.

That’s the problem with having to adjust your own art to someone else’s creation. You have to adapt it, file down the edges so it can fit properly, and sometimes you don’t really know how to make it fill all the empty space. Sometimes it’s easy, and Jihoon can write music and make it adapt to the film he’s working with like water, taking the shape of the container it’s poured into. Other times it’s like stone, and he’s forced to whip out chisels and hammers, shape his own art to make it fit. This time there’s not even that, no stone and no water, nothing.

Jihoon is being paid to write music for a short horror animation. The other times he did horror it was very traditional, jump scares and whatnot. He had to study it, of course he did, but there were very specific, established rules, and he just had to follow them while maintaining some type of creative flow. It wasn’t easy, but he pushed through, and the people he was working for were very pleased with the results.

Now, he’s struggling. The film isn’t exactly traditional horror, the artists had described it as psychological horror, which Jihoon has never worked with. He isn’t even sure if he’d be able to tell the difference between that and normal, everyday horror. Isn’t fear hugely psychological? And wouldn’t that make normal horror also psychological? He doesn’t know. Apparently there’s more to it, since someone decided there was enough of a difference to justify splitting the genre there.

Jihoon doesn’t even care about the genres themselves, it’s just the premise of this particular short film is messing with his brain. Basically, the horror in the film is supposed to come from silence. Silence is what terrifies the main character, silence is what brings doom, silence is what she has to run away from. And Jihoon is frustrated because his job here is to produce sound, but he doesn’t know how to produce fear-inducing sound when what actually is supposed to be feared is the lack thereof. It’s paradoxical, or something. He doesn’t know how to start working on something that he’s not able to wrap his head around. He can do the rest, he can do the staccatos, he can throw all that is harmonious into disarray in a jarring way and even add the solo violins, but he doesn’t know how to begin to musically represent absence, emptiness, void, and the fear of it.

He’s been staring at his screen for what feels like forever, and if he’s not staring at it he’s sitting back on his chair and throwing a yellow sponge ball at the wall, catching it when it bounces back. He thinks maybe mundane activity will allow his brain to work it out by itself, have a breakthrough on its own, but then he realizes all he’s thinking about is how if he painted the ball red and kept throwing it exactly towards the spot in between and a little under the lightbulbs, the whole thing would paint a picture of a clown. The mundane activity theory is clearly working out impeccably.

Jihoon sighs and stands up to grab his phone from where he’d thrown it earlier. He has a few unread messages, but he’s not in the mood to check those. Jeonghan is at work so he won’t reply immediately if Jihoon texts him, so that’s off the table too. Soonyoung had texted him the day before but Jihoon hadn’t messaged him back. Jihoon is, in general, a bad texter, he knows that. He doesn’t usually have a lot to say and if he does it’s either really short or really long, in which case he prefers to call. He’s a bit desperate for a distraction now, though, and Soonyoung has the ability to ramble about any topic.

Jihoon doesn’t know how to start the conversation, figures it’s easier to let Soonyoung ask questions. That’s why he takes a picture of his computer screen, program open but completely empty since he hasn’t started working at all, places the most suffering-looking emoji in the corner, and sends it. It hasn’t been ten minutes before his phone starts ringing.

“Hello?”

“Hey. I saw your text but I’m driving and I’m a shit multitasker, and I figured there’s less of a chance that I’ll crash if I’m speaking than if I try to open your text. What’s up?”

Jihoon doesn’t necessarily want to say that he’s having a terrible time trying to come up with something for work out loud, was hoping he’d be able to type it and send it instead. Too late for that now.

“Do you still dance?” he sighs.

“Sometimes. No time to choreograph though, I mostly take classes if I have time. Why, you need something choreographed? I know someone who can do it-”

“No, um,” Jihoon interrupts before Soonyoung loses himself in that tangent. “Before, when you choreographed, did you ever feel like nothing was coming up, nothing really worked and like… did it ever feel like you hit a wall?”

“Like, all the time,” Soonyoung laughs. Jihoon doesn’t know why he finds that so relieving. “Why? You stuck?”

“Badly, yeah.”

“That sucks,” Soonyoung’s drinking something iced, Jihoon can tell from the slurping he hears on the other side of the line. “So, when that happened to me, it helped to talk about it. You know, sometimes you’re too trapped in your own head to figure things out, but if you talk to someone else, they often have like, a totally different perspective. And that helps.”

Jihoon knows this is an invitation to speak, but he doesn’t even know where to start. As always, buying himself time, all he says is, “Okay.”

He stays quiet for long enough that Soonyoung speaks up again, “Which means, if you want to tell me about it I’m listening. I’m on my way to work anyway. It’ll be entertaining, there’s traffic.”

“Okay,” Jihoon repeats. Then he takes a few breaths, and then he starts explaining to the best of his ability.

Soonyoung is, admittedly, a very entertaining listener. He sprinkles ooh’s and ahh’s around every now and then, lets Jihoon know he thinks the premise of the film is sick, makes sure Jihoon knows he’s listening… It’s nice. When Jihoon is done telling him about it, he takes a few seconds to sip on his drink before speaking.

“Okay. Oh, I’m a genius, I know just what you need,” Soonyoung says, making Jihoon roll his eyes. “I’ll tell you what I think. I think you’re underestimating silence.”

“Hmm?”

“Let me ask you something. Are you scared of silence?”

Jihoon almost laughs. “No.”

“What do you, like... What do you associate silence with, in your head, for yourself, what does silence mean to you?”

Jihoon throws the yellow foam ball at the wall and catches it when it bounces back.

“It’s calm. Comfortable. Silence is comfortable,” he doesn’t want to elaborate and isn’t sure if he would even know how.

“Why is it comfortable?” Soonyoung has different plans, apparently.

“Because, you know… there’s nothing else. Nothing distracts me and I can think and no one watches. When it’s quiet it’s easy. Like getting home and taking off a coat that’s soaked and heavy with rainwater.”

He feels like he said too much, but Soonyoung is nice and speaks immediately so Jihoon doesn’t get to overthink it.

“That’s what I imagined. You’re thinking of silence as absence, yeah? Like a lack of something. Silence doesn’t mean fear to you.”

“Well yeah, silence is literally the absence of sound. And just because it’s not scary to me doesn’t mean I can’t imagine why other people are afraid of it.”

“I get that, but listen, I think your problem is you’re thinking of it too, like, not abstractly,” another loud slurp.

“Too not abstractly,” Jihoon doesn’t even try to make sense of it, just waits for Soonyoung to explain.

“Yeah. Silence is the absence of sound. I think being that practical about it is kinda blocking your view.”

Jihoon thinks about it for a moment, then realizes it’s not enough of an explanation.

“Okay…”

“Listen, you know how I said I’m a genius? So like, there’s this exhibit at the museum, it’s been there for a few days. I have nothing to do with it so don’t get too excited,” Soonyoung’s voice regains that melodic tone that indicates he’s thrilled about something.

“I promise I won’t,” Jihoon replies, monotone.

“Mean. Anyway, I think it could really help you with this horror trap you got yourself stuck in.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. So what I’m saying is, I think you should come check it out. I’ll show you around. I can’t pick you up today but I’ll get you in for free because I’m a gentleman,” Soonyoung laughs his short, choppy laugh at himself.

“How nice of you.”

“Right? It is. I’m off at four, so think about it, yeah? Text me if you decide to come,” Soonyoung says like he’s about to get busy.

“Okay.”

“Okay! Talk to you later, bye!” he hangs up the phone.

Jihoon feels like he’s ran a marathon every time he talks to Soonyoung. It's exciting and exhausting and many things at the same time. He realizes he didn’t even thank him and feels like an asshole, but it’s too late to worry about that already. Jihoon just hopes the other didn’t notice.

Zero progress and a few hours later, Jihoon is on the train making his way to the museum and texting Soonyoung about it. He texts again when he arrives and Soonyoung tells him to give him five minutes, so Jihoon walks around the place. The museum isn’t big but it has a good collection, at least that’s what he has heard.

It’s getting cooler, fall has officially started and his shoes make noise when he steps on the dead leaves. It doesn’t take long for Soonyoung to yell at him from the entrance. He looks comfortable in his knit sweater, it’s yellow and it makes him look soft.

Soonyoung gets him in for free as he promised, and then leads him through hallways and staircases until they’re walking into a huge room full of paintings.

“Do you know what negative space is?” he asks. Their shoulders brush against each other as they walk.

“Yeah, like that pic you see in ads sometimes when you’re streaming something illegally. The two side profiles looking at each other, but if you look between them it’s not two faces but a lamp, right?”

Soonyoung throws him a sweet smile. “Yeah. So like, turning empty spaces into other shapes is a type of art. This exhibit is something kind of different. They want you to see that you don’t necessarily have to turn that empty space into something else. Empty space as lack of color or lack of subject doesn’t mean absence, it doesn’t mean there’s something to be filled. It stands on its own. It’s full on its own, you could even say.”

Jihoon has questions, but Soonyoung ushers him towards a painting of a girl wearing a pink dress and lying down in the middle of a field. Grass covers the majority of the canvas, the sky is barely visible at the top, next to two houses. It’s strange, Jihoon thinks, how the main point of the painting doesn’t seem to be the houses, or the sky, or even the girl. It’s the field, he’d say.

“You see, here it’s like, sure, there’s grass, but there’s the girl and there are the houses, which I think emphasize how the rest of the field is empty. There’s nothing there, just a whole lot of grass,” Soonyoung splays his fingers and motions towards the painting.

Jihoon doesn’t particularly like the painting. He thinks it’s dull, but Soonyoung seems like he has a point he wants to make.

“What’s in that empty space, Jihoon?”

“Grass,” he says. It’s quite literally all there is.

“Sure, grass, but what else? Why is she lying down looking at the house? Is she afraid or is she eager? If she returns, is there someone waiting for her? Does she want to run towards or away from it? Will that decision change her life?”

Jihoon looks at the ugly shade of green plastered on the canvas and frowns.

“How am I supposed to know? I don’t know what the artist was thinking,” he complains.

“That’s the thing, you don’t have to. Make up your own story. I’ll tell you mine,” Soonyoung doesn’t look at him, focused on the painting. “She ran away. She was trapped in that house, held hostage, maybe, and she escaped. And she’s running across this field trying to get away, but she tripped and she can’t help looking back. There’s no one chasing her. The houses are empty. The field is empty. There’s no sound of footsteps, no sound of wind cutting through the grass, but she’s looking at this huge, vast field where there’s nothing, and you know what? She’s terrified.”

Jihoon sees it first, and then gets it. She's terrified, of course she is. There’s all this space, all this endless green but it’s not empty because it’s full of her heart beating loud in her ears, of her breath that she tries to keep quiet so as to not give herself away, of the echo of her footsteps that seems louder the farther away she runs, as if alerting the sky of her presence. No, this field isn’t empty, this silence isn’t empty, it’s brimming and overflowing.

“Yeah,” Jihoon says, tilting his head at the painting. “She’s terrified.”

Soonyoung’s eyes are on him, Jihoon can feel them, and he knows they’d be shining if he turned his head and looked at them. He feels a hand on his shoulder, easing him in the direction of a different painting across the room, and he puts up no resistance.

They navigate the exhibit like that, Soonyoung guiding him, standing the both of them in front of different works of art and coming up with horror stories. Jihoon is almost too focused on how his whole perspective on silence and emptiness is changing to think of how ridiculously nice Soonyoung is, how softly he rests his hands on Jihoon’s shoulders, how easy he speaks about art. Almost.

Soonyoung stops them in front of a painting that Jihoon thinks he’s seen before, or if not that one, a very similar one. There are two ballerinas with their legs thrown over those bars they have at dance studios, both in the upper right quarter of the canvas. The rest of the room is empty except for a watering can somewhere to the left. Everything else is empty space.

“You wanna give them a story?” Soonyoung turns to him and asks.

Jihoon doesn’t answer immediately, just stands there looking at the brush strokes. His first thought is that they are in the corner because that is where the barre is, they need to stretch, so they’re not using the rest of the room for the time being. However, he realizes he can think of it in a different way too; it can be more complicated than that.

“They don’t like stretching on that side of the room,” he starts, “because there’s a draft, a current of cold air that they feel on their skin even if all the windows are shut. The old wooden boards creak when they jump and land on them, like they’re protesting, like the extra weight isn’t welcome. The floor is very clean, maybe too clean, like someone made an extra effort to remove a stain and they can’t help but wonder, could the stain have been tar? Maybe wine? Was it blood?”

Soonyoung nods his head and turns his body fully towards Jihoon’s.

“You get it now?”

“Yeah,” Jihoon swallows. “I get it.”

Jihoon is about to say something else when a sound comes out of Soonyoung’s pocket.

“Listen, there’s something I need to do but it’ll be really quick,” he says after taking his phone out and checking his texts. “You can keep looking around if you want, yeah?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Be right back,” he says, and then speed-walks out of the room.

Jihoon keeps looking around, stopping to stare at the paintings that catch his attention, making up stories in his head. Time seems to pass by, he doesn’t realize how long he’s been walking around. He stops in front of a painting, or more like a print, that is the most traditionally “empty.” There are two figures in the middle but there’s no background, just white. He doesn’t know shit about art, but he knows it’s Japanese just because of the style the figures are drawn in. It’s just a couple walking together under an umbrella. It’s snowing, Jihoon thinks that’s snow under their feet and piling up on the open umbrella. To the right, branches of a tree are weighed down by it too, reaching down like spider legs. The rest is empty.

He feels Soonyoung regain his spot next to him.

“So? What’s their horror story?”

Jihoon takes a moment again. “They don’t have one,” he says. It’s final.

“No story for them?” Jihoon thinks Soonyoung is raising his eyebrows.

“No, they do have a story. Just not horror.”

Jihoon looks at Soonyoung and notices him running his eyes all over the print. He doesn’t know what he sees, he must have a thousand different queues indicating a thousand different things that Jihoon can’t even imagine because his thing isn’t to study art. But he has a gut feeling, and that’s what he’s going off of.

“I guess they’re cold,” continues Jihoon. “No, the space around them is cold. Freezing, even, but they’re not. They’re warm, they’re full of life and color together under the umbrella. It’s just, you know, the emptiness might be cold and unforgiving, the trees are dead and the branches look like insect legs. There’s nothing around them, they might be lost in the snow, they might not even survive the winter. But I think they’re not afraid. They’re in love, and so wrapped up in each other that the space around them doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing, because there’s them. Together. Under the umbrella.”

Soonyoung doesn’t say anything, Jihoon doesn’t want to look at him, and the more time they spend in silence, the more self-conscious Jihoon feels. It’s one of those moments where he doesn’t realize he’s saying way too much until he’s completely spilled his guts, and now his thoughts are spreading around everywhere, everyone can see them but they’re too slippery for him to catch.

“Or maybe mister,” Jihoon looks briefly to the label next to the painting, “Suzuki just ran out of ink to fill in the background, I don’t fucking know. I don’t know shit about art.”

Soonyoung gives a short laugh. “Do you know what an ai ai gasa pose is?”

“Nah.”

“It’s when you’re with someone under an umbrella but you’re not only sharing that, you share love as well. Under the umbrella, that is.”

“So I wasn’t completely off,” Jihoon responds.

“Nope. It wouldn’t matter anyway, because the cool thing about art is you get to turn it into whatever you want, since like, everyone sees it differently. But anyway, you weren’t. Some people say the intimacy of the couple on there indicates that they’re going to commit suicide together.”

“Damn… so they also have a horror story.”

“Sure, but it doesn’t matter.”

“Did they teach you about this one in art school?”

“I didn’t go to art school, I did art history, remember?”

Jihoon rolls his eyes. “Okay, did they teach you about this one in art history school?”

“About this print?” Jihoon nods at him. “Nah, I read the label. I’d seen this exhibit before, why do you think I knew to bring you here?”

Jihoon feels kind of ridiculous, knowing he could’ve just read the labels instead of racking his brain to interpret the art around him. Then again, it’s kind of disenchanting. He decides he’s glad he didn’t read. It’s more fun this way.

“What about the whole, like, fill the empty space with your own nonsense thing. Did you just read the exhibit’s description on the museum guide?” Jihoon says, and then regrets making it sound so harsh.

Soonyoung lets out a short laugh, but the sound is muted. Almost self-deprecative.

“No, the woman who came up with this has her own idea about the whole empty space thing. What I asked you to do is… well it’s my thing. I’ve done that since I was a kid. I’m sure many other people do too, I shouldn’t even call it my thing, but you know…”

“Alright,” Jihoon is, generally speaking, bad at talking about his own feelings. Usually there’s a lot of hands grasping at nothing and neck-scratching and face-rubbing. But there are other times when things simply need to be said, and when that is the case, he’s blunt. “Well, give yourself more credit. I have about two hundred ideas battling it out in my mind right now, and when I got here there was nothing. You’re good at this. It helped a lot. I’m - well, I’m very thankful, okay?”

Soonyoung is looking at his feet, but he has this small smile on his face. It’s almost shy, Jihoon thinks. Very pretty. Fits right in with the works of art adorning the walls of the wide room.

“I think you know this, and if you don’t you’ll probably hate to hear it,” says Soonyoung quietly, “but that makes me feel really good. Especially coming from you.”

Maybe it’s the controlled shyness, or maybe it’s something else, Jihoon doesn’t know, but he feels like teasing him.

“What? That I think your idea was genius and you managed to drag me out of the void?”

It goes exactly how he wanted it to. Soonyoung now exhales hard and lets his head hang in embarrassment, Jihoon sees his smile grow wide before he turns away and reaches up to nervously play with the collar of his sweater. It’s delectable, Jihoon is enjoying it immensely.

“Did you just imply I’m a genius? I thought you always thought I was an idiot,” Soonyoung says, trying to keep himself in check.

“I think you’re both things,” I think you’re a lot of things, is what Jihoon doesn’t say. There’s this uncomfortable space separating them, they’re both flushed with embarrassment and Jihoon wants nothing more than to cross it and press himself against Soonyoung, share his warmth, maybe take his face between his hands so he can look into his eyes.

He doesn’t. Instead, he stands there with his hands in his pockets and waits for Soonyoung to say something.

“Are you done looking around? You can take your time, but if you’re done I can drive you home,” is what Soonyoung says.

“I think I’m good. Let’s go.”

They walk back towards the entrance just to realize it’s completely pouring outside.

“Where’s your car?” asks Jihoon. “We can make a run for it.”

“So, normally I can park here at the museum but there’s this place two blocks away where they make this killer chocolate milk, so I parked there and walked all the way here. Didn’t think it was gonna rain this hard.”

“Okay. I mean, we’ll just have to run, right? I obviously don’t have an umbrella and it doesn’t look like you do either.”

Soonyoung tells him to wait a moment and walks towards the reception, where Jihoon guesses people who don’t have a Soonyoung to get them in for free pay for their tickets. He’s holding a medium sized umbrella when he comes back.

“She let me take this one for today. She has another one but I think it’s hers, so I told her it was fine like this,” Soonyoung walks towards the doors and steps out. There’s a small roof right outside so he’s not getting soaked while he opens the umbrella. “You can wait for me here if you want. I’ll get the car and come pick you up. Unless you wanna get under this with me.”

It’s inconvenient. The umbrella isn’t big enough to fit the two of them comfortably, they’re probably going to get wet anyway, and it’s more complicated to avoid puddles when you’re trying to stay under it. But see, the pressure in Jihoon’s chest that doesn’t seem to be letting up, the one that’s making him crave the feeling of Soonyoung’s warmth next to him, is also inconvenient.

Jihoon steps out the doors and under the roof. Soonyoung lifts up his arm and Jihoon thinks fuck it and hooks his arm around it, and then they step out into the pouring rain. The pavement is wet, there are cars driving by, trees lining the sidewalks and buildings all around them, but if Jihoon focuses hard enough he thinks maybe he can conjure silence, and then it’ll only be him and Soonyoung, walking under the rain and sharing an umbrella.

Chapter Text

Jihoon looks at his phone in confusion when Jeonghan texts him to come over at almost 11pm. Jeonghan doesn’t usually invite him over simply because if he feels like hanging out he just shows up at Jihoon’s doorstep. Another text follows, explaining that Jeonghan is about to crack open his third beer, so Jihoon grabs a hoodie and his keys and leaves his apartment.

If Jihoon is honest with himself, Jeonghan texting him like that terrifies him. He’s developed the ability to remain cold-headed until he figures out what's going on, but he’s also aware that Jeonghan hates drinking alone, and if he does drink alone it’s because there’s something troubling him.

Jeonghan opens the door in his pajamas, one hand on the doorknob and the other holding his beer. Jihoon knows him, and he knows he won’t start speaking immediately, he has to give him time, so he suggests they watch a movie.

Jeonghan stops drinking altogether, and when the movie ends he stands up from where he’s lying down practically clinging to Jihoon, and walks to the kitchen to grab snacks.

“Am I insufferable?” he says when he comes back and sits, leaving more space between them but still close.

“What?”

“Yeah,” Jeonghan’s sleeves cover his hands and he makes fists around them. “Like, am I a pain in the ass?”

He’s always had this way of starting conversations that throws Jihoon off, he doesn’t know what to say and he always feels like he might pick something that’ll end up being the wrong answer. But he also tries to be honest, especially with Jeonghan because that’s what he expects from him.

“Define ‘pain in the ass’,” he says, and Jeonghan flinches, like he felt that answer as if Jihoon had flicked it at his face and he’d barely managed to close his eyes. “No, I mean, because you like to play around and like, you know, you make people do things which I guess some would consider a pain in the ass, but I know you and I know you do that when you’re fond of people, right?”

“I guess,” Jeonghan says after staying quiet for a while.

“Jeonghan, what’s going on? Did something happen with Joshua?”

“No he’s - he’s really good,” he says, wringing his long sleeves again. “He’s great, actually. I’m the one who can never do shit right.”

“What’s he like?” Jihoon asks, trying to coax the issue out of Jeonghan.

“A lot like me,” he says, and Jihoon thinks it’s funny how his face softens, how he looks down at his hands almost like he’s embarrassed. “More like me than anyone I’ve ever met, just - nicer.”

“You’re nice,” says Jihoon on reflex.

“You’re so cute,” Jeonghan giggles. “I’m nice once I know I can trust someone. He’s nice just because he’s nice.”

“Damn,” Jihoon doesn’t know him, but every time he finds out new information about the guy he can’t help but think about how he was created to check every single box in Jeonghan’s list of what he likes in a man. He tells him as much.

“Wanna know what I think?” Jeonghan says, “And just so you know, this could ruin my life.”

“What?” Jeonghan has a penchant for dramatics, so his words don’t freak Jihoon out.

“I think he’s perfect,” he admits defiantly, chin tilted up and eyes as hard as stone, as if daring Jihoon to contradict him.

It’s a Jeonghan thing, Jihoon thinks. He’s not good at expressing himself with words, his affection comes in bursts of a million different things, none of them words. It just so happens that when he absolutely has to open up, he ends up presenting himself armed and ready for battle. As if he knows he’s making himself vulnerable, and opts for intimidation to protect himself in his vulnerability.

“Alright,” Jihoon says, probably sounding shocked. Jeonghan has never spoken this way about anyone. “Does he know you feel like this?”

Jeonghan snorts and Jihoon realizes that’s it, that’s what’s been bothering him.

“Obviously not. It was hard enough saying it to you.”

“But you want to.”

“Tell him?” he sighs. “I have to. But I don’t know how, I can never tell him how amazing I think he is because it makes me feel like I’m going to die, and my natural response to that is being a pain in the ass and I’m scared I’m gonna push him away because I can’t stop acting like a twelve-year-old with a crush.”

“This doesn’t sound like a crush.”

“No shit. That’s because it’s not.”

“Wow,” Jihoon, and if he didn’t sound shocked before, he definitely does now. It feels like Jeonghan went from zero to a hundred without Jihoon even realizing, and now he’s lost his footing and he’s got nothing to hold onto. “Any idea how he feels about you?”

Jeonghan starts playing with a loose thread on his sweater, nervous.

“Plenty,” he says. “He tells me all the time. It’s why I feel so awful, Jihoon. He’s… he’s not exactly easy to figure out, but it doesn’t matter because he opens up like a book. He’s always saying it, always being sweet to me, he’ll look me in the eye and tell me these things and he won’t get embarrassed and it hurts because it’s like, I know that shit’s not easy but he does it. He does it for me.”

“Jeonghan,” Jihoon says carefully. “He’s always saying what exactly?”

No answer.

“Jeonghan… Don’t tell me you have the guy of your dreams telling you he’s in love with you and you’re leaving him hanging.”

“Of course not, god, if it were like that I’d be six feet under and you’d be mourning my loss.”

“What you’re saying is you feel like there’s no balance,” he says after a moment, watching Jeonghan fidget. “Like he’s doing all these things and you’re not doing enough, and at this point the gap seems huge. And you’re scared he’s gonna realize and decide it’s not worth it.”

Jeonghan looks at him and smiles, but it’s something sad and short.

“I was eating with him the other day. He eats really fucking slowly. I’m always done before him, so he always asks if I want a bite of his food. He’s not picky, but he’s like - he makes everything on his plate last until the end, like if he has more rice than meat he’ll take smaller bites of meat to make it last. Anyways, he eats really slowly so I get to watch him a lot, you know?”

He reaches out, grabs the beer he’d left on the table before, and takes a sip.

“So I was watching him take these tiny bites trying to get his fucking food to last forever, and I was just thinking god I really fucking like you and feeling like someone cracked a billion glowsticks inside me and I was just gonna blind everyone in the room if I didn’t try to keep myself in check. I felt like I was about to explode.”

“What did you do?” Jihoon expects him to say he either yelled out a confession or heavily made out with the dude in public.

“Balled up the straw’s paper wrapper and threw it at his face.”

Jihoon laughs and Jeonghan laughs with him.

“What did he do?”

“Laughed,” Jeonghan’s smile stays on his face. “And then threw it into my milkshake.”

“Okay,” Jihoon says once their laughter has died down. “I’m getting the feeling that you think you’re not good enough for this guy.”

Jeonghan shrugs. Jihoon knows he hit jackpot.

“Do you love him, Jeonghan?”

His shoulders drop.

“I can’t even think about that. I’m trying not to,” he looks straight into Jihoon’s eyes. “I’m so bad at falling in love, Jihoon.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I guess the way I am about it is very all or nothing. It’s like, if I’m in love it feels like I could die for and from it. I’m just - completely undone, and I can’t help it,” his brows are furrowed, like it takes effort to tear these feelings away from the place where they’ve been stored.

Jihoon tries to make sense of it the best way he can think of: he makes a list.

“So let me see if I’m getting this right. You have three issues here. First, the fact that he’s shared so many of his feelings and you haven’t, which makes you feel like you’re not doing enough and you believe that that bothers him. Second, the way he’s so open with his affection but your love language is being a pain in the ass. Third, you think you fall too hard for people who don’t fall the same way for you.”

“Essentially.”

“Okay, well here’s what I think. This guy likes you. If he didn’t like you he’d stop seeking you out. You feel like you have to be all these things for him because that’s how good he is, but he’s never put that pressure on you. You’re putting it on yourself, Jeonghan, and I know I of all people have no right to be saying this, but stop self-sabotaging. You’ve been this way around him and he keeps coming back, maybe he just likes you like that and doesn’t want you to change.”

Jeonghan purses his lips.

“I don’t know if I believe that, you’re one of the three people who tolerate me.”

Jihoon rolls his eyes. It’s so like Jeonghan to act all cocky and put up a front when he’s actually very insecure about himself. The thing is, Jihoon genuinely thinks he’s great. He wishes he’d stop selling himself short; just because he has the ability to make the people around him do what he wants doesn’t mean that a lot of times they’re not doing it out of love.

“You’re the only one standing in your way to having someone you think is perfect, do you realize that?”

Jeonghan rolls his eyes.

“Guess I should stop doing that, right?”

It’s an awkward thing. It’s awkward for Jeonghan to open up like this and it’s awkward when Jihoon reaches out to hold his hand.

“Just think about it. Don’t miss out on him, Jeonghan, because no matter how nice he is he's not gonna wait forever.”

“Yeah. I won’t. I’ll get my stuff in order and talk to him.”

“Good. You deserve someone nice enough to put up with your shit.”

Jeonghan laughs then, open and honest with his head tilted to one side. The cartoon character laugh is reassuring, it soothes the strain on Jihoon’s jaw, it lets him know that Jeonghan is going to be okay.

***

When Jihoon started teaching, he didn’t think he would be good at it. He was supposed to be able to communicate things clearly, which he struggled with sometimes, and also help young adults grow as artists while managing to command respect. He used to think he shouldn’t be too friendly, should build a reputation that gave him authority, but he was only able to keep that up for a couple of days. He eventually realized that if he wanted to get the kids to materialize the ideas in their heads he had to get to know them, and he wouldn’t be able to do that if he kept the distance he was keeping.

That’s how he ended up being more like an older brother figure, and his class became more like a workshop where people shared ideas and tried to help each other. His kids liked him enough to share their thoughts with him comfortably, they even joked around with him sometimes. He realized that he didn’t have to make an effort to present himself as an authority figure, because he was respected based on his knowledge of music composition.

It had gotten to the point where the kids themselves got to contribute to each other’s projects, and when they started bringing in first drafts and, eventually, final products, Jihoon couldn’t help but feel proud. He got to watch them improve, and, surprisingly, he ended up finding it exhilarating.

When he dismisses today’s class, Hansol, a sophomore who has signed up for the class since he was a freshman, runs over to him.

“Hey, Hansol. It’s weird seeing you in monochrome,” Jihoon says. Hansol is often wearing an explosion of colors, but today he looks almost business casual, wearing slacks and a collared shirt, even a badly tied tie.

“Oh, this? Yeah, got an interview later.”

“You do? What for?”

“University radio. I want them to let me host a show, and I found out one of their spots is clear. They told me to come in today.”

“You know, I know the people in charge. Do you want me to talk to them?”

Hansol makes this face where he stretches his lips over his teeth, almost like a smile except it’s not meant to be one, he uses it to communicate awkwardness. It makes Jihoon snort. Hansol is very expressive.

“Thank you, I think I’d rather wing it. I think I’m… you know, I think I’ll be okay.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” Jihoon smiles at him. Very Hansol.

Jihoon has finished packing up his stuff, but Hansol doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave. He hovers.

“Is there anything else, Hansol?”

“There is, actually. Uh, do you have a moment?” Hansol frowns and looks at the floor, “I wanted to talk to you, if you have time. Um, I was gonna say maybe we can get coffee, but maybe that’s weird, since you’re like, my tutor and everything. Is it weird?”

Jihoon doesn’t see why it has to be weird, not unless he makes it weird, which he has absolutely no intention to do.

“No, it’s fine. Let’s go.”

Jihoon isn’t supposed to pick favorites, but Hansol has always been one of his favorite kids to teach. He keeps signing up for his class despite being a sophomore and having some experience. It has hard for him at the beginning. The way ideas come up in Hansol’s head is different, Jihoon had to make a real effort to try to understand it, to decipher the way things happened up there so he could start teaching him how to turn that into actual music. It’s like music existed in his head, so much of it, but completely tangled. Jihoon wasn’t there to untangle it, he was there to try to help Hansol work with the twists and knots.

They arrive at the coffee shop and Hansol insists on buying his own drink, I don’t want to make it weird, he says, and Jihoon respects it. He gets tea and Hansol ends up getting a drink that looks like it’s 90% sugar and 10% milk, or coffee, or something, and then they try to find a table.

Hansol is a bass player. His work is extremely interesting, the bass lines he comes up with are different, unexpected, never repetitive. He lives in his own thoughts a lot, is always trying to learn about all types of things, and it’s always seemed to Jihoon like Hansol builds universes in his head, and then his music is just their distilled essence.

Right now, though, Hansol is telling him about how he has all of these things that he can’t figure out how to write into a bassline.

“I’ve tried literally everything you’ve taught me and everything the other students have told me, but it just doesn’t feel right. I have all this product that isn’t bad, but it doesn’t feel right. And, from what you’ve said in class, I know honesty is very important to you. Honesty in music. It’s important to me too. I don’t like using all these things that don’t feel genuine. I don’t - does that make sense?”

“Absolutely.”

Hansol exhales, like having someone get it takes weight off his shoulders.

“It feels like when you have to speak in a language you don’t know. Or like you have to translate something, but there’s no direct translation, there’s not really a word in a language you know that can express the same thing.”

“In what direction is it pulling you, Hansol? You say it doesn’t feel like you can put this into a bass line. What about a different instrument?”

“I’ve tried. But I’m not good with other instruments, and anyway, it doesn’t feel right like that either.”

Jihoon chews on the inside of his cheek.

“What if you try going back to the basics?”

“Like, scales and shit - I mean, and stuff?” Hansol’s eyes are wide open, as if Jihoon cares about him swearing. It makes Jihoon laugh again. Something he wasn’t expecting was kids to be so ridiculously entertaining.

“Not scales. I’m trying to rule bass out altogether, since it’s a language you’re familiar with and you’ve said it doesn’t seem to be working. I meant the language that’s inherent to you.”

Hansol nods, and then the nods slow down and he frowns instead.

“I don’t think I follow. Sorry.”

“Have you ever tried writing lyrics?”

“Not really,” the frown stays on his face.

“Why’s that?”

It takes a while for Hansol to answer.

“I guess I never really needed to communicate my thoughts that way. The bass has always been enough.”

“I get that. But it’s not enough now, is it? I don’t know if it’ll help you, but I think you could try. If the bass can’t really speak for you this time, try to speak for yourself. Say the things you want to say, give them a beat, a melody, whatever they need.”

“Okay,” Hansol says, frown smoothing out. “Yeah, okay, I think I want to try that.”

“Good.”

“Yeah. Thank you. You’re a good teacher.”

Jihoon takes a large sip of tea so he won’t have to speak actual words in return, and just waves his hand and shakes his head. It’s embarrassing to receive compliments from students, especially from Hansol, who is nothing but constantly earnest.

“You see those?” says Hansol once they’ve decided to grab their drinks and walk around instead of sitting, pointing at the clouds above. “They look all delicate and wispy you’d think it’s like, water vapor instead of tiny water droplets, but they’re actually made of ice crystals.”

Jihoon looks up at the thin clouds that look like stretched out cotton and nods.

“There’s something else I wanted to ask you,” says Hansol.

“What is it?”

“They invited us to play a show. Seungkwan, Chan, and I. It’s at this bar next Friday. We want you to come. Because like, we were thinking of a setlist, and we realized the only reason we have a setlist at all is because of you. So like, it would mean a lot, you know… for you to be at our first show.”

“Of course I’ll come,” Jihoon says. He’ll have to bribe Jeonghan to come with him, but he’ll be there. The three of them met in his class and they hit it off immediately. Watching them work individually was fun, but the amount of accumulated talent when they came together still amazed Jihoon.

“Sweet.”

“What time is your interview?”

Hansol pulls out his phone to look at the time.

“I got just over half an hour. I should get going.”

“You taking the train?”

“Yup.”

“I’ll walk you to the station,” Jihoon says, only because he wants to ask Hansol for music recommendations. He always finds the weirdest music but Jihoon thinks it’s fun.

They’re almost at the station when Jihoon hears his name being called somewhere. He looks around and sees Soonyoung running towards him waving a rolled up magazine. Jihoon’s chest feels light looking at the way his hair flops around as he jogs over. It’s very dumb and very endearing.

“Hi,” Soonyoung says, smile splitting his face. Jihoon almost wants to cry.

“Hi. You on your way home?”

“Yeah, I just got off the train, actually. Saw you over here so I crossed the street. What are you up to?”

“Walking him to his train,” Jihoon says, gesturing at Hansol. Soonyoung seems to finally realize that Jihoon is not there alone.

“Oh,” he says, smiling still but maybe less blindingly. “Hi, I’m Soonyoung.”

“Hansol,” the other says, charming grin on his face.

Soonyoung nods at him and then turns back to Jihoon, looks him up and down.

“You look nice today,” he says. Jihoon tries to stop blood from rushing to his face. He doesn’t really dress up for work; then again, he guesses wearing what Jeonghan would call smart casual pants and a white shirt is dressing up when it comes to him.

He feels so out of place. There’s a way he behaves when he’s with his students, a way he behaves when he’s with his friends, and a way he behaves when he’s with Soonyoung. Right now he kind of feels like the blue X-men chick if she got stuck mid transformation. He doesn’t really know how to act.

He mutters out a thanks as he rolls his eyes, and after that everyone stays silent. Jihoon figures as the person who properly knows the other two, he should be the one to speak. He just doesn’t know what the hell to say. He sighs and looks up at the sky.

“You know,” he starts, “those clouds over there are made of ice crystals.”

“... Cool,” Soonyoung says, looking up. Jihoon turns to look at Hansol, who’s got that awkward, bared teeth not-smile on his face again. Jihoon wishes he’d just dematerialize, he’s going to die if he lets this situation go on.

“I gotta go,” says Hansol, and Jihoon thanks every god he can think of. “Thanks for your time. And for walking me here. Yeah. Thanks for everything.”

“Anytime,” Jihoon says. “Good luck today.”

“Thank you,” Hansol shoots him a smile. “See you Friday?”

“Wouldn’t miss it. Bye, Hansol.”

“Bye,” he says, patting Jihoon on the shoulder before nodding at Soonyoung, and jogging down the block.

Jihoon doesn’t say anything, and after a while Soonyoung speaks up.

“He seems nice.” There’s a tiny frown on his face.

“He’s a sweet kid. Very talented,” Jihoon starts walking down the street.

“So… so you’re seeing him again on Friday?”

“Yeah. He invited me to a show,” now that Jihoon thinks about it… “You wanna come with?”

“I - thanks,” what’s up with Soonyoung frowning again, Jihoon was hoping to see more of that huge smile he had on his face when they ran into each other. “I wouldn’t want to interfere.”

“Interfere with what? It’s a show.”

“Jihoon,” he stops in his tracks. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but all of this makes it seem like you’re asking me to crash your date.”

“My what?” oh, Jihoon wants to laugh, he wants to laugh hysterically like a hyena. “That’s - Jesus, Soonyoung, that kid’s like half my age.”

“He looks old enough.”

“He’s at least five years younger. He’s my student, I can’t even -,” the hysterical laugh finally escapes, and suddenly Jihoon is bent over, unable to walk from how hard he’s laughing.

“Stop, how was I supposed to know?” now Soonyoung’s voice has gone all high-pitched and squeaky. “You’re all dressed up walking around with a very good looking dude who’s also all dressed up and all I get to see and hear about is how you’re meeting him on Friday, and the way he looks at you like you’re the reason the sun rises every morning.”

“Oh my god. I wear this to teach class because I can’t show up in sweatpants. He had an interview today, he dresses like a walking rainbow every other day. He wanted advice so he asked if I had time. And his band is playing a show for the first time and I’m literally their music composition teacher, which is why they want me to come on Friday.”

Soonyoung won’t meet his eyes.

“So I might’ve jumped to conclusions.”

“Might have?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Make it up to me by coming to the show,” Jihoon tries to keep walking but Soonyoung isn’t moving, so Jihoon reaches out, grabs him by the wrist and pulls him forward.

“You really want me there?”

“Nah, I just don’t wanna go alone,” Jihoon keeps walking. When Soonyoung doesn’t reply for a while, Jihoon turns back and laughs out loud at the confused look on his face. Soonyoung looks up at the sound of his laugh and suddenly breathes out, an exhale that ends with a soft smile.

“Fine, I’ll go,” he says, and Jihoon lets go of his wrist. “Oh, now that I said yes you’re gonna stop manhandling me?”

“You like it when I manhandle you.”

Jihoon doesn’t know where that came from. Hell, he doesn’t know where his good mood came from either. They hadn’t joked about sex since that day at the gym, and for a second Jihoon thinks maybe he crossed a line.

“Not in public, though,” Soonyoung licks his lips.

“Liar,” says Jihoon, looking him in the eye and narrowing his.

“Don’t give me that, like it’s not your thing too,” there’s this lovely flush on Soonyoung’s cheeks. It’s so good, Jihoon thinks, it’s always been his favorite thing to tease and embarrass him, and now that they’ve crossed that threshold he doesn’t think he can help himself.

“I never said it wasn’t.”

Soonyoung shakes his head, and then they continue walking. It’s bizarre, Jihoon thinks, how it feels like they melted the ice between them. He doesn’t know when or how, maybe it was a few days ago, together under an umbrella, or maybe it was a few minutes ago when Jihoon said he wasn’t dating Hansol. It’s dangerous territory, Jihoon is aware of it, but he can’t help it, it’s addictive; they keep meeting each other’s eyes and looking away, Soonyoung places his hand on the small of his back sometimes, Jihoon keeps grabbing his wrist and pulling him along every once in a while… Jihoon doesn’t even know where they’re going and neither does Soonyoung, they just know they’re done with work for the day and that they’re enjoying each other’s company.

They eventually decide they’re not hungry enough for proper dinner, so Jihoon offers to get them a big box of popcorn at a tiny street shop while Soonyoung tries on cheap sunglasses outside a store.

The woman in charge of the street shop is older than Jihoon and very, very flirty. She keeps calling him cute, and ends up giving him sweets for free. It’s just two marshmallow hearts on a stick, so Jihoon bites one off and pushes the other one forward with the edge of the popcorn box to hand to Soonyoung.

When he finally looks up and finds Soonyoung in the crowd, he’s staring directly at Jihoon. It’s a look that’s almost hungry, like he’s undoing the buttons of Jihoon’s shirt with his eyes, and it makes Jihoon’s blood heat up. Soonyoung is not wearing anything extravagant, just black jeans and a hoodie under a denim jacket, but he’s leaning against the front of the store, his head tilted back enough to make him look like he’s narrowing his eyes, and Jihoon gets the desperate urge to bite at his jaw.

He doesn’t know what to say when he’s standing in front of Soonyoung, mainly because he stops leaning against the store but is still looking at Jihoon with dark eyes. He decides to lift up the remaining marshmallow heart to Soonyoung’s mouth.

“Open up.”

Soonyoung obeys, bites into the marshmallow and pulls it off the stick.

“I thought you didn’t like sweets.”

“I don’t usually. She thought I was cute and gave them to me for free,” Soonyoung looks back at the street shop as they start walking away. Jihoon offers him the popcorn.

“I don’t blame her. You look good today.”

“I’m literally just wearing different pants.”

“Well you look good in those pants.”

“Were you checking me out?” Jihoon knows the answer to that question, but again, making Soonyoung flustered is his favorite pastime.

Soonyoung shrugs. When he speaks again his voice is high-pitched, just like before.

“You look like a librarian,” he says as an excuse, like that clears things up.

“You got a thing for librarians?”

Soonyoung swallows a mouthful of popcorn before answering.

“I got a thing for people who could school me in their area of expertise.”

“So everyone. Or anyone whose area of expertise isn’t the same as yours.”

“I guess it could be… I don’t know. When someone’s able to speak about something like there’s no one who knows better, I think that’s fucking sexy.”

“That’s so like you,” Jihoon tells him, looking at him out of the corner of his eye.

“My turn now,” Soonyoung says, smile on his face.

“What do you mean your turn, no way.”

“You started with the sex questions, it’s only fair.”

There’s a degree of truth to it. Jihoon didn’t ask a sex question, but he has brought up adjacent subjects more than once.

“All I asked was if you were into librarians, it’s not my fault you interpreted that as librarian kink.”

“Weirdest sex dream, go.”

Jihoon hums while he thinks about it. He might as well play along.

“I time traveled from the future and had sex with myself.”

“So you’re into the whole fucking your clone business?”

“I’m not against it. Who’s gonna fuck me better than me?” Soonyoung looks like he might argue, and then decides against it. Jihoon goes on. “Most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you during sex.”

“Oh, like, very embarrassing music coming on. Had to stop and get up and change that shit immediately.”

“That’s it?” for some reason Jihoon expected something worse.

“I’m embarrassing on the daily, not that much during sex though,” Soonyoung stops to think before asking his next question. “You ever faked an orgasm?”

“No,” Jihoon isn’t even sure how he would. “I’m good at making sure people make me come.”

“You are.”

Jihoon’s blood rushes to his face again.

“Okay. Would you ever film a sex tape?”

“Of myself?”

“Obviously.”

“Mmm, depends. If there were no risks involved, yes. If it was a video with someone else, I’d have to trust them with my life. I’d do solo videos, though.”

“For real?”

“Sure. Burn a DVD and send it to someone for Christmas,” Soonyoung says through giggles. In all honesty, Jihoon would watch the hell out of that. He could try to imagine it, sitting on the couch to watch Soonyoung getting off, and how he would inevitably end up with a hand down his pants. Thankfully, Soonyoung interrupts that train of thought. “Favorite sex position.”

“If I’m getting fucked I like to be on top.”

“Ah shit, I knew that, why did I waste a question on that?” Soonyoung scratches his nose.

“Not my problem,” Jihoon tells him through a smile.

He doesn’t know what happens after that, but it’s like a switch turns off. They're no longer asking awkward sex questions, they’re asking questions with answers they already know. It feels like they’re asking just to remind each other of what sex together was like. Again, it’s dangerous territory, but Jihoon threw caution to the wind hours ago.

“Tying hands or pulling hair?”

Soonyoung had onced shown up to Jihoon’s dorm room all dressed up after a performance. He was wearing a tie, and Jihoon didn’t know shit about knots or anything, but one of Soonyoung’s hands had ended up tied to the headboard. It was very fun, Soonyoung was impatient and restraining had made it even easier for Jihoon to tease him.

“Tying,” Soonyoung says, looking away. “You can only eat ass or suck dick for the rest of your life, which do you pick?”

Jihoon shakes his head at the ground. He wouldn’t say he has an oral fixation, he just loves the weight of a dick in his mouth. Soonyoung is more than aware of that, he just wants to hear Jihoon say it.

“Eat ass.”

“You’re lying!” Soonyoung widens his eyes when he looks at him.

“Fine. I love dick. Sue me,” Jihoon says, and cringes at the elderly couple who walks past him and looks at him like he’s disgusting. Soonyoung laughs, loud and charming.

Jihoon doesn’t realize Soonyoung is walking them in the direction of his apartment until they’re around the corner. He throws out the empty popcorn box and decides he might as well go in for the kill.

“Best head you’ve ever gotten,” he asks, and it’s purely, completely self-indulgent. “Where, when, who.”

Soonyoung groans.

“Fuck you.”

“Yeah?” Jihoon looks into his eyes, one eyebrow raised.

“Sophomore year. Disgusting club bathroom,” Soonyoung says with resignation, like when the villain in a movie gets caught and is forced to reveal their evil plan.

Something Jihoon remembers vividly is his jeans getting wet in the knees, and not knowing what the hell the liquid was, but knowing for sure it was something revolting. He also remembers not caring, he remembers staring at the poorly drawn dicks amongst love declarations and bad jokes written on the peeling walls of the bathroom, remembers the noise Soonyoung made when he pushed him against the counter, and the noise his zipper made when he pulled it down.

“That’s a really gross place to get your dick wet, you know,” Jihoon says. He’s having fun.

“Oh, believe me, I know. The guy I was with wouldn’t wait for us to get home, and it’s not like I was gonna say no.”

“Sounds impatient.”

“We both were,” Soonyoung breathes out. Jihoon can see his building now, they’re very close.

“What was it like?”

“Good. He has the prettiest little mouth, I still sometimes wonder where the hell he learned to use it like that.”

He learned from an ex-girlfriend, back when he used to date girls. She was older, literally taught him how to get a girl off. She used to tell him he’d look good with her strap in his mouth, and so Jihoon ended up picking that up as well. It wasn’t exactly like the real thing, Jihoon had to work his way around his gag reflex and having someone come directly down his throat when he started having sex with men, but it was pretty much the same principle.

“Should’ve asked him,” is what he says, despite the proper explanation replaying itself in his head.

“We, um. We didn’t talk a lot about that, him and I.”

They’re standing in front of Jihoon’s building now.

“Was that really my best? I thought you’d pick something else,” Jihoon says truthfully.

“If not the best, then for sure the most memorable,” Soonyoung turns around to face him.

Jihoon punches him in the stomach softly, and then doesn’t remove his hand. He holds onto the front pocket of Soonyoung’s hoodie instead.

“You wanna come up for a drink?”

He’s not thinking, and he knows. He doesn’t have flow charts or restrictions floating around anywhere in his head. Right now, he just wants. He wants to push his hands up under Soonyoung’s hoodie, wants Soonyoung to pull him so close there’s no space between them, wants Soonyoung to just lean down and kiss him and never stop.

Soonyoung steps closer.

“I’d love to,” he says, placing a hand on Jihoon’s cheek, “but I have to be at the museum at the actual crack of dawn to help.”

“Okay,” Jihoon looks down at where his hand is grabbing at Soonyoung’s hoodie. He’s pretty sure Soonyoung isn’t lying, but the whole thing still tastes like rejection.

“Don’t make that face,” Soonyoung says, pouting around his words like Jihoon knows he does frequently.

Jihoon exhales, and when he looks up he gives Soonyoung a closed-lip smile.

“Have fun at work.”

“Thanks,” his thumb rubs across Jihoon’s cheekbone. “I’ll call you tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Jihoon is glad he removes his hand and steps away, otherwise he’s sure he would’ve asked Soonyoung to kiss him.

Chapter Text

Jihoon can’t sleep. He’s been awake all night and there’s too much noise in his head, he can’t get comfortable, and when he checks his phone and sees it’s five in the morning, he decides to give up altogether. It happens sometimes, and it’s mostly fine because it just means the following night he’ll sleep for at least ten hours. He usually takes walks when this happens, and that’s what he chooses to do this time. It’s too cold to wear only slides, so Jihoon wears the next most comfortable thing: slides, but with thick socks. He knows a coffee shop that’s already open; he might as well get something to drink.

When he walks in he realizes there are already way too many people for how early it is. It’s by no means full, but there being over four people there is still bizarre. Jihoon orders himself coffee and scans the place while he waits for it to be ready, surprised when he recognizes a familiar face.

Joshua the gym guy is sitting on one of the tables, drinking something warm and reading a newspaper - who the fuck reads the newspaper? Jihoon was initially just going to grab his coffee and go on with his morning stroll, but now he’s wondering if he should talk to him. It’s not in his nature to meddle, that’s Jeonghan’s thing, but he thinks maybe this time he should.

He grabs his coffee once they call his name and heads towards Joshua’s table, noticing the deep V of his sweatshirt - seriously, it’s cold as fuck outside, who wears shit like this before six in the morning? Then again, Jihoon would wear flip flops in this weather, so he can’t really judge. He respects the struggle for comfort.

“Uh, hi. Joshua?” he cringes at himself.

Joshua looks up at him with his gigantic fucking eyes, truly, Jihoon doesn’t know how Jeonghan doesn’t feel scrutinized when he’s with this guy.

“Hi, Jihoon,” the corners of his lips tilt upwards, and all lack of comfort is overridden by how kind Joshua looks. It’s ridiculous. Jihoon is also surprised he remembers his name.

“Mind if I sit here? If I’m interrupting you can tell me to fuck off.”

“No, please sit, I was just reading the horoscope,” Joshua gestures towards the chair in front of his, and Jihoon appreciates the fact that he didn’t look around at the other empty tables before telling him to sit.

“Anything interesting?”

“Apparently I should take time to nurse my wounds and seek the comfort of friends,” Joshua pauses to take a sip of his drink. “What’s yours? I’ll tell you what it says.”

“Oh man. Honestly? I don’t know.”

“Seriously? I thought everyone was a bit into astrology. Jeonghan wasn’t sure about his either when I asked, so maybe not.”

“You guys still going out?”

“Yeah,” Joshua’s eyebrows twitch like he was going to frown and then decided not to. “He’s been busy lately, though. Haven’t seen him since last week.”

Busy trying to sort his shit out, Jihoon is sure. Joshua looks kind of bummed and it makes Jihoon feel bad for him.

“He’ll come around after he gets his stuff in order. I don’t think he’ll make you wait long,” it’s not a lie, technically. It’s just Jihoon knows the stuff Jeonghan needs to get in order isn’t really work-related, but more like his feelings for the dude sitting in front of him. Joshua doesn’t need to find out. Not from Jihoon, at least.

“Can I ask you something?” Joshua says, leaning on his elbows.

“Not sure I’ll be able to answer, but yeah.”

“Nah, it’s an easy one,” Joshua smiles sweetly at him. “Does he ever talk about me?”

“Jeonghan?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, dude,” Jihoon thinks about meddling again, about whether he should, about whether he’s violating Jeonghan’s trust. Then he thinks about what Jeonghan would do if he was in his position, and realizes he probably shouldn’t worry. “Like, all the time. He’s never not talking about you. I’ve met you once but I know way more about you than you know about me.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Joshua says, smile wider on his face. “Jeonghan talks a lot about you too.”

If it was anyone else, Jihoon would say only good things, I hope, but this is Jeonghan. Obviously it’s not only good things.

“Yeah? That’s what he does when he likes people.”

It’s the truth. Jeonghan is not sure Joshua’s aware of how much he likes him, and so Jihoon is somehow trying to reassure him that that’s the case. Why, he doesn’t know. Maybe because Jeonghan has left the dude hanging for a whole damn week.

Joshua doesn't say anything, just moves his paper cup in circles. Jihoon belatedly realizes he might’ve sounded like he was implying Jeonghan likes him more than Joshua. See, this is why he doesn’t meddle.

“Look, he…” he doesn’t know how to word this or how much he should say. Jeonghan still needs to talk to Joshua, but Jihoon wants to give him something to hang onto, something that will convince him not to move on with his life before Jeonghan can pull his head out of his ass. “I know he’s acts like a middle schooler sometimes and that he can be very annoying, but that’s - this is gonna sound cliché, but it’s really only because he likes you. Like he’s - he’s shit at speaking but very good at making people develop headaches, if Jeonghan ever gives someone a headache it means he wants them to stick around,” Jihoon inhales, readying himself for another nonsensical explanation, when Joshua reaches out and grabs his wrist over the table.

“Jihoon,” he says, looking into his eyes.

“Yes?”

“I know. All of this that you’re saying I already know.”

“... Oh,” Jihoon deflates. “You know?”

“Yeah. Jeonghan is… he thinks people don’t understand him, or maybe that people aren’t willing to make that effort for him. I think I get him better than he thinks I do. And you know, the pranks and the jokes and the rest of it? I play along because I know there’s something behind that. I know he likes me. He’s not as mysterious and subtle as he thinks he is,” Joshua rolls his eyes and smiles down at the empty sugar packet he’s fidgeting with.

Jihoon throws his head back and scratches his jaw. Jesus, Jeonghan is such an idiot and Jihoon wants to beat his ass. He remembers telling him maybe Joshua liked the fact that he was a pain in the ass, maybe Joshua found that charming and liked Jeonghan just like that. He couldn’t have imagined the levels to it. Joshua doesn’t like the fact that Jeonghan is a pain in the ass, he understands it. Jeonghan is putting himself through hell because he thinks Joshua won’t get him, when in reality Joshua already does. Jihoon wants to rub at his fucking temples, if Jeonghan lets this guy go Jihoon will absolutely strangle him.

“Anyway, that’s what I thought, but now he hasn’t spoken to me in a week, so…” Joshua starts ripping the empty sugar packet into tiny squares. Not harshly, just as a distraction.

Jihoon is thinking about strangling Jeonghan whether he lets the guy go or not. What’s pushing Joshua away isn’t the fact that Jeonghan is not verbally expressive, or that he fools around too much, it’s the fact that Jeonghan is physically not letting him get near because he’s too wrapped up in his own bubble of unnecessary worry.

“Look, I spoke to him the other day. There’s something he wants to talk to you about, it’s nothing you should worry about. It’s just whenever he realizes he actually has to verbalize his feelings he has to take some time to literally extricate them from wherever the hell he keeps them hidden. Especially when it’s about someone he cares about, which, believe me, he does. He likes you a lot, so much it’s kinda giving him a crisis.”

Jihoon thinks about the hypocrisy of hearing himself talk about having to extricate feelings, but well… he’s trying to help a friend here. He’s allowed.

“I’ll wait for him fore - well, for a long fucking time,” Joshua says. “I just wish he’d tell me to.”

“I’m sure he will, soon,” I’ll make sure he does, Jihoon thinks.

“Okay. Hey, I don’t wanna ditch you but I do open the gym today, so I should get going,” Joshua says, standing up and grabbing his now empty cup.

“No, that’s fine, don’t let me keep you. I’ll see you around.”

“I sure hope so. It was nice talking to you. Bye, Jihoon.”

As soon as he leaves, Jihoon pulls out his phone. When Jeonghan picks up, his voice is so raspy Jihoon knows he woke him up.

“So I just finished drinking coffee with your boy,” Jihoon says after greeting him.

“Joshua?” Jeonghan sounds more awake now that Jihoon brought him up. Maybe out of stress.

“Do you have another boy that’s not him? Of course Joshua.”

“Why?” Jeonghan groans.

“Not important. He said you’ve been ghosting him for a week.”

No answer.

“Jeonghan I mean this, if you end up completely pushing this guy away I swear I’ll feed you to the sharks.”

“Shit, I thought you were my best friend.”

“I am, that’s what I’m threatening you. Anyway, I told him you’d call today,” he lies.

“Jihoon!”

“Jeonghan, we talked for a while. I know you already think the sun shines out of this dude’s ass, but like, you have no idea…”

“Ah shit, what did he say? What did you tell him?” Jihoon feels bad for waking him up and stressing him out now, but he’s got to stick to his plan.

“Nothing he doesn’t already know, and wouldn’t you like to know? Jeonghan, just… if you need more time then tell him. Don’t just ignore him, tell him. He’ll understand.”

Jeonghan sighs again.

“I was gonna tell him to come over today anyway.”

“Good. Let me know how it goes.”

“Look at you, meeting up with my boyfriend behind my back to try to intervene. It’s not like you at all. I taught you well.”

Jihoon rolls his eyes.

“Yeah, anyway. I gotta go, but please be honest with him, yeah? I know he’s good for you.”

“Yes, alright, I don’t remember paying for couples counseling, god.”

“Bye, Jeonghan.”

“Love you.”

“Me too,” Jihoon hangs up before Jeonghan starts laughing at him for saying it back so quickly.

***

Jihoon knows how to dress for bar shows solely because he was a music composition major and as a student he went to his fair share of those. He’s wearing skinny black pants that look like leather but aren’t leather and a sleeveless loose black shirt with white music notes. It was a gift from his mom, but actually picked out by Jeonghan. He thinks he looks good, he’s not full of himself like that, but he can appreciate the way he looks right now. Then he remembers he’s there to watch the kids he’s teaching, so he picks out a jacket that’s kind of like a blazer except less formal.

He agreed to meet Soonyoung at a restaurant to get dinner before the show, so Jihoon waits for him outside under a lamp post. He’s underdressed for how cold it is, he doesn’t regret his outfit because he knows it will be hot in the bar later, but he’d be lying if he said he isn’t freezing.

It’s gotten to the point where he’s discreetly hopping on one foot and then the other to try to keep the blood from freezing inside his veins when he feels warm hands pressing on his shoulders and then sliding down to rub at his upper arms. Fucking Soonyoung has always been like a furnace.

“You’re freezing, why didn’t you just walk in?” he laughs

“Was waiting for you,” he turns around and steps closer. He’s practically leaning against Soonyoung’s chest, just because he’s cold, not because this is what he’s been wanting to do for at least a week. Don’t get it twisted, he rationalizes with himself.

Soonyoung pulls him closer until Jihoon is actually pressed against him, then wraps his arms around him and rubs his back trying to warm him up. Jihoon could fall asleep standing up here, that’s how comfortable he is. That warm feeling in his gut turns into panic when he realizes he shouldn’t be doing this, so he steps away.

“Let’s get some food,” he says, pushing Soonyoung ahead of him and into the restaurant. Now that he has him walking in front of him Jihoon can appreciate Soonyoung’s frankly upsettingly tight black pants. He takes a moment to think about how perhaps inviting Soonyoung to an event where they’ll most likely be hot and sweaty wasn’t his most brilliant moment. Too late.

They get to eat and leave with enough time to make it to the show and stand in a spot not too close to the stage but also not too far, more towards one side. The place is packed, Jihoon knows his boys are the openers and that there are quite a few groups performing afterwards, but it’s still exciting to see how many people are going to see them play. They’ll love them, Jihoon is sure. They’re the youngest performers but they’re so good, Jihoon wants the world to fall in love with them. He’d never say that out loud, though.

It doesn’t take long before Hansol, Seungkwan, and Chan step on stage and go to their instruments. Jihoon thinks they look microscopic holding them; Hansol and Seungkwan seem like they’ll collapse under the weight of their bass and guitar respectively, and the drum set seems to tower over Chan. Which is fucking ridiculous, the instruments are normal sized and so are the boys, and that only means one thing: Jihoon is nervous for them.

“You nervous?” asks Soonyoung, reading his mind.

“Is it obvious?”

“It’s like, you’re always fidgeting but right now you look like if you start vibrating any faster you’re gonna fly off.”

Jihoon swallows. He didn’t even get this nervous when he performed, why does he feel his stomach churn when he thinks about the three kids on stage?

Seungkwan introduces the group, which Jihoon is thankful for; Hansol hesitates a lot while speaking and Chan is way too enthusiastic, but Seungkwan is a good combination of excited and funny and polite. It’s good. Before starting their set, he somehow manages to find Jihoon’s eyes in the crowd and shoot him a wink. It’s grounding. It tells him they know what they’re doing, it tells him to trust them.

The group’s set isn’t long, they only have a few original songs after all, and they didn’t want to perform too many covers to the point where the crowd forgot what their original music sounded like. Just like Jihoon knew they would be, they’re fantastic. Their music is so different, they all have different backgrounds and musical interests and it really comes through, it’s enjoyable, not too fast and not to slow, has people having fun but also paying attention.

The crowd cheers for them when they’re done, they’re really loud, and Jihoon doesn’t realize there’s a smile splitting his face in half until he turns to Soonyoung, who also won’t stop whooping and howling, and catches him looking right at him, equally large smile on his face.

“What is it?” Jihoon asks.

“I don’t know if you’re aware, but you’re like, totally beaming.”

“Ah, shit,” Jihoon looks down at his feet. So what if he’s, like, beyond proud of his students? That’s his business.

“It’s adorable.”

“Shut up.”

“You really like them. I know this isn’t your music or whatever, but in a way you got them here. They were really good,” Soonyoung keeps speaking to Jihoon, who keeps looking at the floor and nodding his head. “Congratulations. You should be proud of yourself, too.”

“Thank you,” Jihoon says, finally looking up and into Soonyoung’s bright eyes. “It was all them, though.”

The next group walks on stage, and Jihoon watches them attentively until he can’t anymore because Hansol’s head is blocking his view. His face is calm, just like it usually is, but his hair is still a bit sweaty and his eyes brighter than usual. He’s dragging Chan, who has a huge smile on his face, and who is dragging Seungkwan, who looks like he’s been crying. They stand in front of Jihoon and he promptly forgets every word he knows.

“Holy shit,” it’s Soonyoung who speaks in the end. “That was so good! You guys were incredible, I really enjoyed your songs, Jihoon wasn’t lying when he said you’re all like, prodigies. You almost made him cry, by the way.”

Jihoon turns to glare at him, hoping it’ll make him shut up, partly because he’s embarrassing him and partly because Seungkwan looks like he’s on the verge of tears again. The three of them thank Soonyoung politely, and he nudges Jihoon with his elbow.

“How does it feel to have played your first show?” Jihoon says when his tongue remembers it needs to move for him to speak.

“So crazy,” says Chan. “I’m so glad a lot of people came. I mean, I know they didn’t come for us, but I’m glad we weren’t playing to three losers who had nothing better to do,” his eyes widen when he realizes what he just said. “Three losers I would’ve been thankful for.”

“It’s like a dream,” Hansol nods at his group members and then at Jihoon.

“You were spectacular,” Jihoon tells them. “Everyone loved you. I can’t wait for you guys to play for a full house of people who came to see you and no one else.”

Jihoon suddenly finds himself holding a weeping Boo Seungkwan in his arms. He keeps trying to speak between sobs and Jihoon can’t help but laugh; he pats Seungkwan’s back and tries to tell him to breathe, and to get him to stop thanking him. Chan’s smile has gotten impossibly bigger, and Hansol’s arm is around his shoulders now. Jihoon looks over at Soonyoung, intending to non-verbally ask him for help, but when he turns to him Soonyoung is pointing his phone at him. Jihoon gives him the finger, which makes Hansol laugh his hiccupy laugh, and then Chan pulls Seungkwan back by his collar.

Jihoon, for some reason, feels unstable on his feet. He’s going to lean back against the bar, but somehow, somehow he ends up with one of Soonyoung’s arms around his waist, hand resting on his hip.

“We should get going,” says Hansol when he’s done laughing, staring intently at Soonyoung’s hand. Jihoon feels blood rush to his face. Hansol’s not discreet at all, and it makes Jihoon feel self-conscious.

“You guys aren’t staying?”

“Mom said she’d get us pizza.”

“Oh, alright. Have fun, guys. Congrats on a great first show.”

They all thank him, and Lee Chan nods at Soonyoung’s hand before looking into Jihoon’s eyes and telling him to have a good night. Jihoon doesn’t understand when he became the butt of a joke instead of their respectable tutor, but now he’s here and that’s that. He watches the back of their heads as they exit the venue.

***

Jihoon and Soonyoung sit at the bar while the other groups finish their sets, ordering drinks and snacks. Soonyoung has a better view than Jihoon, sightly. Jihoon doesn’t realize he’s leaning into Soonyoung to be able to see until the last set is done, when Soonyoung uncrosses his ankles and crosses them again, and Jihoon’s whole body moves with him. He looks down and realizes he’s been holding himself up with his hand on Soonyoung’s thigh. Soonyoung is sitting with one elbow on the bar, his body completely turned towards him. Jihoon stares at where he’s been tapping on Soonyoung’s leg and removes his hand, apologizing softly. He doesn’t know how long Soonyoung has been looking at him for, but now he’s kind of embarrassed. First, because he dragged Soonyoung all the way here and now he’s been ignoring him to pay attention to the bands on stage, and second, because he knows he makes faces when he enjoys music, and Soonyoung’s just been fucking looking at them without Jihoon realizing.

Soonyoung dismisses his apology by shaking his head, expression indecipherable and never taking his eyes off Jihoon.

“Stop that.”

“What?”

“You’re staring.”

“You’re interesting to look at,” Soonyoung has this look on his face that is making Jihoon nervous. If he had to describe it, it’s like the world could blow up behind Soonyoung’s back and he wouldn’t notice, because that’s how attentively he’s looking at Jihoon.

“I’m literally just me,” that doesn’t make sense, Jihoon just needs to come up with something that’ll make Soonyoung to look away.

“That’s the only reason I need.”

“Okay, Soonyoung,” Jihoon rolls his eyes and puts his hand right over Soonyoung’s face, pushing it to the side. He laughs at that, grabs Jihoon by the wrist and lowers his hand back to his thigh.

“Did you know you like, transform when you listen to music?”

“I’ve been told…”

“It’s very cute.”

Jihoon pinches his thigh. A mistake, because Soonyoung gasps and grabs his hand on reflex, and suddenly they’re kind of holding hands over Soonyoung’s leg.

“Stop making fun of me.”

Soonyoung doesn’t answer, just takes a sip of his drink. Then he stands up, and Jihoon gets terrified that he managed to piss him off for a second, but Soonyoung just tells him he’s going to the bathroom and steps around him, poking his side when he walks past.

Jihoon rests his elbows on the counter and buries his face in his hands. He’s reached the conclusion that it’s exhausting; it’s exhausting trying to keep everything he feels locked away, especially now that Soonyoung is kind of his friend and he has to see him often. And it’s his choice to see him often, somehow Soonyoung has become part of his life again. Jihoon had prepared himself for battle, had armed himself and readied the knights and the artillery, but the problem was Soonyoung wasn’t the type to bring out the big guns. Soonyoung didn’t fight with spears and arrows, Soonyoung crawled like shapeless smoke and buried himself under his nails, crawled under his skin, completely infested the air Jihoon needed to live. It feels like some vital part of him is being torn apart every time he looks at Soonyoung, every time Soonyoung looks back at him with kind eyes and a touch light like summer breeze, and Jihoon has to force himself to think about how he can’t have this, this isn’t his and never was.

He’s dragged out of the hole he’s about to drive himself into by the sound of shot glasses hitting the counter. Out of the corner of his eye, he can tell that the hands aren’t Soonyoung’s, and they’re holding three full glasses, what the fuck. The man says hello, asks him what his name is, tells him his own, and Jihoon forgets it. He looks up at him; he’s definitely younger and attractive in a very boring way, like no one would ever deny that he’s handsome, but no one would keep their eyes on his face for over five seconds. He takes Soonyoung’s seat and Jihoon kind of wants to die.

“Your glass is empty. I thought I’d get you something else,” he says. First of all, Jihoon doesn’t even know what type of alcohol is in the shot glasses. Second, his head is already swimming pleasantly from his own drink; if he takes three shots he’ll black out.

“How nice of you, but I’m gonna have to pass. If I take those you’ll have to drive me to the ER,” he says, and the man lets out a boisterous laugh. For some reason, it annoys Jihoon.

“Oh, it’s fine. Actually, it’s more like… I got one for you, and one for me, and one for your friend,” he runs his hand through his hair. Jihoon doesn’t know why, but everything he does solidifies his conviction that he’s just a cocky asshole.

“My friend…?”

“The one with the pretty eyes and cute nose.”

So Soonyoung. Jihoon doesn’t know what to say, so he takes a moment to look around the bar. The college sophomore crowd has, for the most part, dispersed. The place is now full of slightly older people pressed together on the dance floor, already moderately inebriated, and a DJ behind his booth has replaced the bands on stage. A full club transformation.

“I’m sorry if this is too forward,” the kid continues, pulling Jihoon out of his reverie, “but I was thinking maybe we could grab a few drinks and, I live close by. You two could come over… it’d be fun.”

“You want us to… come over to your place?” Jihoon is majorly confused. Come over to do what?

“Yeah, I have a big bedroom. There should be enough space.”

Jihoon is so bewildered he almost laughs in his face. Did this kid bring them shots to invite them over for a threesome? Is he talking about there being enough room in his bed? Who the fuck does that? Jihoon finds it hilarious, he respects the guy for having the guts to come over.

He even thinks about it. Again, the guy is attractive. If Jihoon was a different person in different circumstances he might’ve said yes to a quick fuck, but he’s not. He’s Jihoon, and being Jihoon means he wouldn’t look at this guy twice if Soonyoung was within reach. The only thing the dude would be able to do would be to sit and enjoy. The idea of standing back and watching as someone else touches Soonyoung doesn’t even fill Jihoon with disgust because that’s how unrealistic and deranged it is. It’s so far-fetched he can’t even take it seriously.

Jihoon is scratching his eyebrow and trying to keep a smile off his face when Soonyoung comes back.

“Hey,” he says, turning around on his bar stool to face him. Soonyoung looks confusedly at Jihoon, then at the dude sitting next to him, then at the three drinks on the counter. His emotions show clear on his face, so much it adds to the hilarity of the situation. Jihoon can no longer hold back his smile. “So my friend over here,” he can honest to god not remember the dude’s name, “bought us drinks, and he has a proposal.”

“Umm… what?” Soonyoung looks horribly puzzled, it makes Jihoon feel slightly bad that he’s joking about the whole thing. He wants to reassure Soonyoung that he’s not blowing him off for some stranger at the bar, and he’s not exactly sober, so he decides that the best way to do it is to extend his leg until he can hook it around Soonyoung’s, and to pull him close in between his legs.

“Well, he bought us drinks,” Jihoon repeats. Soonyoung is still frowning. “And he wants us to know his bed is big enough for the three of us, if we’re down.”

For a second, Jihoon thinks Soonyoung won’t get it, but eventually the wrinkles between his eyebrows smooth over, and the sparkle returns to his eyes. He grabs two of the shots on the table, hands one to Jihoon and keeps the other one for himself.

“Cheers,” he says, prompting the guy to throw back his shot with the two of them. Jihoon doesn’t know what Soonyoung’s plan is, and as he swallows the bitterness in his mouth, he allows himself to be scared that he might actually be down to fuck this stranger. “Sorry, kid. Maybe next time.”

He then turns too Jihoon and gets all up in his space, his thighs framing his hips.

“That’s too bad. You’re hot,” tall guy looks Soonyoung up and down. Jihoon’s buzzed brain is telling him he should be enraged by the comment, but the other side of his buzzed brain thinks it’s enough that he has Soonyoung literally between his legs and four inches away. “It’d be fun to watch you with a pretty little thing like him,” he says, turning to Jihoon.

At this point Jihoon doesn’t even have the energy - what type of freak says something like that? It reminds him too much of ex-hookups who only wanted him because somehow his height complemented their weird kinks.

“You’re right, it is too bad. Thanks for the shots,” says Soonyoung, eyes like stone. Then he turns back to Jihoon and steps even closer, nose brushing against his cheek when he leans in to say, “Dance with me.”

It’s not a question, but even if it was, Jihoon wouldn’t have said no. It feels like the perfect way to put the dude in his place. Or maybe Jihoon just really wants Soonyoung’s hands on him, but those are minor details he doesn’t want to dwell on. He takes off his jacket and throws it in the general direction of where Soonyoung had thrown his a while ago, and jumps off the stool.

He follows Soonyoung until they’re both pressed among other moving bodies. Jihoon is not a dancer, but he’s a musician. He can move to the beat, he has rhythm, he can step out to the dance floor knowing he won’t embarrass himself. Soonyoung, however, is a dancer. All his moves are more than just following a beat, everything is more deliberate, everything has more purpose. It’s club dancing, it’s not fancy or complicated, but Soonyoung makes everything look so smooth, so effortlessly right.

It’s somewhere then, under purple lights, surrounded by bodies in movement, watching Soonyoung’s disheveled hair and the thin sheen of sweat around his collarbone, that Jihoon allows himself to feel and rationalize how alarmingly into him he is. Before, it felt like he was tiptoeing along the shore, barely getting his toes wet, knowing he could take a step back anytime and the sun would dry them. Now, he feels like he jumped into shark-infested water.

Maybe it’s the heat making him come up with crazy shit like that, or maybe it’s Soonyoung’s tight jeans. Maybe he just hasn’t drunk enough water, or maybe it’s the way Soonyoung tilts his head back and smiles at him. He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know why, but he does know Soonyoung is constantly lit up from the inside and Jihoon wants to exist there, wants to bathe in his warmth, wants him all for himself.

The music slows down, less synth and more bass, and the crowd’s movement becomes lethargic. It’s not for everyone, Jihoon thinks. He feels the bass in his lungs, like he’s breathing it in and it’s telling him that this song is for those who are with someone whose skin they can touch. As if following an implicit rule, the couples on the dance floor step closer together; if there was barely any space between them before, now their molecules are undoubtedly joined.

With Soonyoung, where there was a lot of hand holding and spinning around, there’s now hands on hips and hands on waists. Jihoon finds himself being pulled closer, until their hips and torsos are pressed together. He lifts his arms almost on instinct and locks them around Soonyoung’s neck, and suddenly he’s too close, he can feel Soonyoung’s breath on his face.

The music guides the whole dancefloor into a slow grind, Soonyoung’s hips are moving against his and Jihoon wants. He wants Soonyoung to shove his thigh between his own, wants to slide his hands under Soonyoung’s T-shirt, wants Soonyoung to make him look up at him, with his fingers under his chin or his hand in Jihoon’s hair, it doesn’t matter, Jihoon is not picky. Ideally, Soonyoung would pick him up by his thighs and make out with him for a while before fucking him against a wall. Ideally. Jihoon feels like he’s losing his mind, and in an attempt to clear it he disentangles himself from Soonyoung and turns around, pressing his back against his chest instead.

It’s not like he expected it to work, he just didn’t expect it to not work so drastically. As soon as he turns, Soonyoung is sliding one of his arms around his waist and the other across his chest. Jihoon lifts his own arms to hold onto his wrists, noticing how every single time they move his ass rubs against Soonyoung’s crotch. There’s something about feeling the warmth of his chest against his back, Jihoon doesn’t even think it’s about the warmth itself, but the immediate awareness of Soonyoung as a being of flesh and bone who’s making the conscious decision to have Jihoon as close to him as possible.

What is shocking about the whole thing is how yes, Jihoon wants, but more than he wants his head between Soonyoung’s thighs, he wants the intimacy. His inner voice is making him sound like a clingy, needy bottom, and Jihoon has never considered himself as someone who fits into any of those particular categories. He almost resents himself for not thinking with his dick this time, things were simpler when all he wanted was Soonyoung to shove his hand down his pants, and not Soonyoung to shove his hand down his pants while Jihoon pants against his mouth and kisses him slowly over his shoulder.

“You’re a good dancer,” Soonyoung breathes so close to his ear.

Jihoon shakes his head and then leans it back against Soonyoung’s chest. “I just know how to count beats.”

“You’re good at counting beats, then,” his thumb rubs across Jihoon’s hip bone.

Jihoon doesn’t know for how long they dance, he just knows that at some point he’s on the verge of getting hard in his pants, probably has the smell of Soonyoung’s cologne imprinted in his mind, he’s burning up, and he can feel his own lips swollen from biting on them to keep himself from doing something crazy. If he wasn't focusing this hard on trying to keep himself in check, he probably would’ve realized that Soonyoung’s lips are cherry red because he keeps swiping his tongue over them every time he looks at Jihoon. But he is focusing that hard, so all of it goes unnoticed.

Eventually the music picks back up, and Jihoon feels like he can finally unglue himself from Soonyoung. Honestly, he’s exhausted. He feels like he just spent too much energy trying to contain every emotion within himself, and now that he’s able to unclench his muscles he notices he can’t possibly keep doing this tonight. He feels like those gas station inflatable dancing men when the power is turned off and they just fall on the ground, limp.

“I wanna leave.”

Soonyoung searches his face for a few seconds.

“Is everything okay?”

“Fine. Everything’s fine. Just had enough of hot and stuffy.”

“Whatever you want. Give me a second, I’ll get our jackets.”

“I’ll wait outside,” Jihoon says. He doesn’t know why he’s being an asshole, which makes him even more frustrated with himself. He doesn’t want to be an asshole to Soonyoung of all people, but tonight has proven he needs to keep some distance.

He walks out the door and it feels like the cold air pierces his skin and reaches his bone marrow. It helps clear his head, he thinks. For a second, he considers just leaving. Then he realizes it’s no use, it won’t help. Because his problem is that he likes Soonyoung, and he allowed himself to build this friendship that he doesn’t know how to rip himself away from anymore, but remaining friends with him seems like constantly walking across a minefield.

Usually, Jihoon thinks he would take whatever he could get. He would walk the blurry line between friendship and whatever the hell they’ve been doing, because that would be better than locking Soonyoung away from him. But if he’s learned something from heartbreak, it’s that keeping all that shit inside only allows it to rot and decompose within him, it eats at him from the inside out, and he won’t let himself go through that again.

The problem is, cutting Soonyoung off would have the same effect. No, Jihoon can’t allow all of this to grow roots inside him. On top of that, Soonyoung has been nothing short of wonderful this whole time they’ve been hanging out, and Jihoon is somehow sure the guilt would devour him alive.

There’s only one thing he can do, he thinks, and it’s to tell him. It seems insane, he knows, but he’s done hiding himself away. Jeonghan had talked about it before, about how if there’s pain, we need to let ourselves experience it. He used to tell Jihoon he had crafted this small box inside where he managed to shove everything he felt, and it had grown so heavy Jihoon could barely move anymore. He made him open it and go inside and it was hell, but Jihoon had learned from that. And he had to try his best to not get to that point again.

So, he figures, he’ll tell him. Maybe not today, today he’s exhausted, but he’ll tell him.

Soonyoung chooses that moment to come out of the bar. He’s already wearing his own jacket when he comes closer and wraps Jihoon’s around his shoulders, rubbing his arms like he did earlier when he arrived and Jihoon was freezing. Jihoon notices his lips when he turns around, wishes he’d been the one to bite them red.

“Do you want to walk?”

Jihoon shakes his head. “Too cold and too far.”

“I’ll get us a cab then,” Soonyoung says, pulling out his phone.

The ride back is uneventful. Jihoon is busy with his own thoughts, and Soonyoung’s hand on his thigh only manages to slightly derail him. When the car stops in front of his place, Jihoon is already feeling guilty for being shitty company. He’s about to offer to give Soonyoung some cash to pay for the ride, but surprisingly he gets off the car too.

“Um.”

“I’m not gonna intrude, just wanted to say something real quick,” Soonyoung says after shutting the car’s door.

Jihoon doesn’t necessarily want to invite him upstairs simply because, again, he’s being shitty company, but Soonyoung doesn’t seem to be expecting an invitation either.

“You shouldn’t walk home in this cold.”

“I’ll get another cab.”

“Fine.”

“I just -,” Soonyoung pauses and frowns at his feet. “I’m not super sure what happened back there, but I’m sorry if I somehow made you uncomfortable. You can tell me to back off if I’m being too much.”

“Nothing happened. You didn’t do anything. I just…” Jihoon doesn’t know how to finish the thought. “Yeah. It’s me, alright? You didn’t do anything. I just need to clear my head.”

“So you promise you won’t disappear on me now?”

Jihoon gives him a tiny smile, just the corners of his lips bending upwards. Maybe Soonyoung knows him. Maybe he knows him well. Either way, Jihoon already promised himself he’d try to talk things out.

“Yeah. Promise.”

That seems to be enough reassurance for Soonyoung. His shoulders drop. “Okay. You should go inside. It’s cold.”

“Right. Um, have a good night?” he’s frowning, and now it’s Soonyoung’s turn to laugh at him. It’s so absurd, the way he shows his teeth and his eyes grow smaller and his cheeks bunch up, it’s all so perfectly assembled to make Jihoon feel like he got kneed in the stomach. “I mean, thanks for coming. It wouldn’t have been fun without you.”

Is it weird to thank the boy you like for grinding on you for hours after watching your students’ first show? Jihoon doesn’t know, and he did it already anyway.

“Anytime,” he places his hand on Jihoon’s cheek just like last time. Jihoon grabs his wrist, tries to communicate affection by rubbing his thumb against Soonyoung’s pulse, and then brings both of their hands down before letting go.

He does say good night, he says it quietly before turning towards the entrance to the building. He punches in the code and the door is loud when it unlocks. He walks in, but makes the mistake of looking back instead of just waiting for the elevator. Soonyoung is sitting on the steps a few feet outside the door, looking at the street. Jihoon guesses he’s calling himself a cab.

He doesn’t know why, or maybe he knows exactly why, but he doesn’t want to leave him alone in the cold. Especially after having acted weird for the last portion of the night. He opens the door again and takes a few long strides until he’s standing in front of Soonyoung, who looks up at him in confusion.

“What’s wrong?”

“Did you call a cab?”

“Yeah. Shouldn’t take too long.”

“Okay.” Soonyoung watches on as Jihoon crouches right in front of him, holding onto his knees for balance. “Scoot back.”

“What?”

“Come on,” Jihoon pushes until Soonyoung is positioned further back on the step, and then, in one swift movement, turns himself around, sitting in between his legs and with his back against Soonyoung’s chest.

“What are you doing?” Jihoon can hear the smile around Soonyoung’s words.

“Keeping you warm,” Jihoon says in a deadpan voice. In actuality, he’s probably the one using Soonyoung as a heater, not the other way around.

“I told you, my taxi will be here soon. You should keep yourself warm,” Soonyoung says. That’s exactly what I’m doing, Jihoon thinks. Idiot.

“I can leave if you want me to.”

“Don’t,” Soonyoung breathes against his shoulder, and Jihoon feels his arms snaking around his waist.

It’s cold in Jihoon’s apartment when he walks in, but he’s warm; there’s something golden and sticky and bubbly threatening to spill over from the middle of his chest and onto the rest of his vital organs, and he falls asleep wondering if it’d be so bad to let himself be painted gold.

Chapter Text

“Oh my fucking god, what is it?”

Jihoon has been on a video call with Jeonghan for a few minutes and he keeps looking to the side like he’s trying not to laugh every two seconds instead of getting to the point. Jihoon is getting sick of it. Jeonghan does this thing where he calls Jihoon while he’s watching TV and he keeps getting distracted by whatever the hell is on, and stops paying attention to what Jihoon is trying to say.

Then, out of nowhere, Jeonghan starts making frantic gestures, raising his eyebrows and waving the hand that’s not holding the phone. Jihoon wonders what the hell is on TV that’s got him flailing around this much. Then something happens, and suddenly the screen goes black, which makes Jihoon guess Jeonghan dropped his phone.

“Ugh, fine, do whatever you want,” Jeonghan says, and Jihoon has no time to be confused because the person that shows up on the screen next is not Jeonghan, but a very shirtless Joshua with soaking wet, very ginger hair. It’s kind of a light orange color. Jihoon can’t see his whole torso, there’s just a towel around his neck and his bare shoulders are visible where the towel doesn’t cover him.

“Um,” he says eloquently.

“Hi, Jihoon,” says Joshua, smiling to the side at what Jihoon would’ve guessed was the TV, but now knows is Jeonghan.

“Can you tell him it looks okay? I think it’s fine but he wants a second opinion. This is my masterpiece and he’s saying if this were a salon he’d ask for a refund,” Jeonghan says off camera, fake annoyance in his voice. Jihoon can tell he’s still laughing.

“You dyed his hair?” asks Jihoon.

“Bleached it first. It was disastrous,” Joshua is now running his fingers through it, looking at himself on the screen like he can’t believe it’s him.

Jihoon thinks Joshua is pretty enough to look okay no matter what color he dyes his hair, but he’s not about to say that to him, nevermind to him and Jeonghan.

“You gotta admit, it was kinda funny,” Jeonghan says. The angle switches and now Jihoon can see both of them on the screen.

“Oh, yes. My favorite part was when you said there were tufts of hair falling out from the back,” Joshua still has his hand in his hair, pulling it to one side and the other, completely serious. Jeonghan has almost totally lost it, he’s got this enormous smile on his face, the one that scrunches up his nose, and he’s laughing so hard he’s gone silent. “Or this blond patch over here? Love it,” Joshua is now lifting one side of his hair to reveal an actual lighter toned patch, and at that Jeonghan is gone, his eyes scrunch shut and it’s like he can’t hold his head up anymore, so it falls on Joshua’s shoulder.

Jihoon feels like he’s watching National Geographic, he doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.

“Why would you let Jeonghan of all people dye your hair?”

Jeonghan composes himself at that, glaring at Jihoon through the camera. “What the fuck, what do you mean ‘of all people?’”

“I lost a bet,” answers Joshua.

“I’m so sorry,” Jihoon says a beat later. He has experienced the consequences of losing to Yoon Jeonghan firsthand. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think you look bad.”

Joshua smiles that sweet smile of his. “That’s so exaggeratedly nice of you. Thanks.”

Jeonghan now has his chin on Joshua’s shoulder. He reaches for one end of the towel to wipe at the drops of water sliding down his neck.

“I’ll fix it, promise,” he says. It’s so earnest and quiet, Jihoon feels like he’s intruding just by looking at his phone screen. He’s never heard Jeonghan speak this softly. Maybe that’s what love does to you.

“You want breakfast? I can make French toast,” Joshua’s eyes are so full of adoration when he looks at Jeonghan, Jihoon might throw up.

“It’s noon,” Jeonghan answers in a deadpan tone.

“So no breakfast for you? Got it,” Joshua makes like he’s going to stand up but Jeonghan pulls him back.

“That’s my bread you’ll be eating!” Jeonghan says, pouting.

Joshua laughs at him, and then presses a kiss to his cheek, just to shake his head like a dog a second later, using his hair to splash him with cold water. Jeonghan practically yells and Joshua laughs, loud and melodic. Then he stands up and walks out of frame.

“Fuck, it’s cold, why do you hate me?” Jeonghan says, drying his face with his sleeve. Joshua doesn’t answer, which brings Jeonghan’s attention back to Jihoon.

“You got yourself a boyfriend who can cook?” Jihoon asks. Out of all the things he’s seen today, that one is, to him, the most outrageous.

“I know,” Jeonghan’s smile stops being mocking and morphs into something bashful. He turns the whole phone around instead of just flipping the camera, all just to let Jihoon see Joshua, still wearing only pajama pants and a towel around his neck, reaching into one of the cupboards of Jeonghan’s kitchen. “I’m like, so smart.”

Jihoon decides not to say anything, he just thinks it’s funny how Jeonghan is taking credit for Joshua’s culinary skills, when he can barely pour himself cereal without causing a minor accident in the kitchen.

“You guys are gross. What was the whole hair thing all about?”

“Oh! Right, we’re going to this Halloween party and we want you to come.”

“It’s November.”

“And?”

Jihoon sighs. “You dyed his hair for a not-Halloween costume? What is it?”

“It’s a surprise. We’ll be matching… sort of. Anyway, promise you’ll come.”

“And watch you two make eyes at each other all night? No, thanks. I’ve seen enough to last me a lifetime.”

“Hold on,” Jeonghan says, and then proceeds to yell at Joshua to make French toast for him too. I’m making for both of us, you think I don’t know you? Joshua yells back. “Anyway, Soonyoung is coming and I told him you’d be there, so you better come.”

“What the fuck, Jeonghan,” it feels like a punch to the gut. Jihoon still hasn’t found the right time to talk to Soonyoung. “You two talk now? Since when?”

“Not really. You said he worked at the museum, right? I took Joshua there a few days ago, let him walk around while I spoke to Soonyoung. He’s very sweet.”

Jihoon wants to die. He can’t believe he ever thought drinking coffee with Joshua was meddling, Jeonghan has given the word a whole new meaning.

“Fine,” he says. There’s no way he’s leaving Soonyoung alone with Jeonghan ever again.

“You’ll come?”

“Yes.”

“Lovely. Alright, I’m hungry, gonna go eat my boyfriend’s breakfast. You think of a costume, and don’t make it boring, okay?”

Jihoon grunts back.

“Okay, bye Jihoonie! Shua, say bye to Jihoon.”

Joshua yells from across the room, and then Jeonghan is hanging up and Jihoon is left there, staring at his phone with quite a few more problems than he had when he woke up two hours ago.

(12:18) Jeonghan: forgot to tell u but all the costumes are supposed to be female characters

(12:18) Jihoon: ill kill u

(12:18) Jeonghan: come on!!!! even if u pick someone who wears a miniskirt u dont have to wear one just make sure ppl understand thats who u are

(12:19) Jihoon: (rolling eyes emoji)

(12:19) Jeonghan: (kiss emoji)

***

Jihoon opts for Catwoman because he is an unoriginal superhero lover. And because he can find most of the things he needs in his closet. Mainly, however, because he was going to pick Black Widow, who he likes better, but he figured it was easier to get a mask and cat ears than Black Widow’s belt. Also, her red hair is half of her look, and there’s no way Jihoon would ever take this seriously enough to dye his hair.

He doesn’t have a catsuit, but he does own tight black faux leather pants, and he was able to dig up an old leather shirt out of a drawer. It’s good because he wore that about once back in college, and now he’s most definitely bulkier than he was back then, so the shirt is tight enough that he can undo the first few buttons and tuck it into his pants and it will still be a half-assed Catwoman, but a recognizable half-assed Catwoman, which is all Jihoon cares about. Hell, at least he got the black and the leather and the uncomfortably tight clothes down. He also owns black boots from when he cared about his feet getting cold in the winter, a black utility belt, and fingerless gloves. All he was missing was the whip, the mask, and the cat ears, which he ended up buying at the first party shop he found.

Among the plethora of things that are stressing Jihoon out, there is the fact that he hasn’t talked to Soonyoung yet. In fact, he hasn’t seen him since that night at the bar. He’s been busy, and he hasn’t been able to come up with a proper speech that communicates everything he needs to say in a way that makes it clear and as minimally tortuous as possible. To top it all off, he misses Soonyoung’s company. Jihoon doesn’t know if he should feel relieved or anxious that Soonyoung asked if he could arrive at Jihoon’s place earlier when Jihoon told him about how they were planning on taking a cab from his apartment. He doesn’t get to overthink it, though, because the day goes by quicker than he was expecting, and suddenly the doorbell is ringing and Jihoon has ran out of time.

He opens the door to Soonyoung wearing black and green plaid pants that go just below his knees, purple socks, and big black combat boots. The purple socks are stretched way above the boots, but not enough to hide under the pants. He just has a black hoodie on and is carrying a backpack.

“Oh god,” is the first thing Jihoon says.

“Don’t laugh, I’m only wearing half of it so far.”

“Did you dye your hair black?” Jihoon is terrified that Soonyoung is giving this the same importance Joshua and Jeonghan are.

“Yeah. But I’ve been thinking about doing that for a while, stop looking at me like I grew an extra head.”

Jihoon breathes out and steps away so Soonyoung can walk in. “Who are you going as?”

“Guess. I’ll give you a hint. She’s a cartoon with a crazy diet and the main dude in the show has superpowers.”

“Oh my god, you’re the goth chick from Danny Phantom.”

Soonyoung looks disappointed that Jihoon guessed it that quick. “You’re no fun.”

Jihoon laughs. “I used to have a crush on her when I was a kid, I thought she was badass. And you gave me too many hints.”

“What’s yours?” Soonyoung shrugs and asks. Jihoon is still wearing sweats.

“Mine’s boring,” he answers. “No, really, I got the entirety of it from my own closet, so don’t get your hopes up.”

Jihoon leaves Soonyoung in the kitchen and goes to his room to change, taking a while to look at himself in the mirror when he’s done. His clothes are so ridiculously, stupidly tight it’s like, borderline obscene. He doesn’t even have the choice to undo the first few buttons of his shirt, it won’t close over his chest anyway. This is what he gets for working out his pecs. He wishes he knew who is throwing the party and where, just to assess the situation, think about if it would be disrespectful to show up looking like he only came to find someone to take home. It’s too late to change costumes too, he’ll have to make do with this.

“Soonyoung, help me tie this,” he yells out his bedroom door.

When Soonyoung walks into the room, Jihoon is too busy staring at himself in the mirror to notice his reaction. It doesn’t matter, Soonyoung lets out a breathless wow anyway, which makes Jihoon roll his eyes.

“Shut up, help me tie this,” he repeats, trying to get Soonyoung to help him with the mask. He watches him step into the room and stand behind him, taking the mask from him and attempting a knot.

“How do you look better in leather than the girl in the movie?” Jihoon sees his frown in the mirror. It’s like Soonyoung is trying to tie the mask at the back of Jihoon’s head and look him up and down through the mirror at the same time, which is simply not working out for him.

“First of all, this isn’t real leather. Second, there’s more than one girl who’s played Catwoman,” Jihoon has clearly mastered the craft of brushing off compliments.

“Fine. How do you look better in fake leather than every girl in every Catwoman movie ever made?”

“I don’t,” Jihoon is not into women but he’s pretty sure Catwoman is supposed to be like, a sex symbol of some sort… or something. Over ten seconds go by and Soonyoung still isn’t done, how hard can tying a knot be? “You’ve been working on that for a decade.”

“You ever tried to apply your fine motor skills with a hot guy in leather standing one inch away? ‘Cause let me tell you, it’s a challenge.”

Jihoon wants to say yes, actually, just a few nights ago he was in a bar, expected to coordinate dance moves while having a hot guy wearing tight pants exactly zero inches away. He’s glad the mask partially covers his cheekbones, that way there's less surface to expose his flush.

“All done,” says Soonyoung, dropping one of his hands down and leaving the other one on Jihoon’s nape.

Jihoon looks at himself in the mirror and decides that yes, he does look like he has a neon sign above his head that reads I OWN A SEX SWING, but also, he thinks it’s impossible not to get what his costume is, and that’s all he was hoping for. The clip-on cat ears really complete the look.

There’s nothing else he needs Soonyoung’s help with, so he turns around to tell him he’ll give him space to change, which is a mistake on his part because Soonyoung still has his hand on his neck, and he wasn’t lying when he said he was one inch away.

Jihoon looks up at his face as Soonyoung slowly slides his fingers from his neck to the collar of his shirt, down the line of undone buttons, following the movement with his eyes. It’s intimate in a weird way, part of Jihoon wishes Soonyoung’s pulse would falter so he’d end up running the pads of his fingers down his chest instead. It’s suddenly suffocatingly warm in the room.

It’s an unconscious thing when Jihoon grabs the pocket of Soonyoung’s hoodie just like he’d done some time ago in front of his building, and it’s also an unconscious thing when his gaze drops from Soonyoung’s eyes, still focused on Jihoon’s shirt, to Soonyoung’s lips. It’s conscious when he licks his own.

Jihoon feels Soonyoung’s fingers finally reach the first done up button on his shirt, which is his queue to look back up so as to not get caught totally staring at the shape of Soonyoung’s mouth, except when he does look up it’s too late, Soonyoung’s eyes have been on his for a while. A while is what it feels like, at least, it’s like time slowed down and is moving thick and slow like a gel around them.

They stay like that, gazes blatantly on each other, hands holding onto each other’s clothes. Jihoon remembers the definition of potential energy from a physics class that he dropped in college. It’s the energy caused by something’s position, not active but stored, about to be released. He guesses that’s how they are right now, positioned in a way where everything could happen but hasn’t, teetering on the edge, they’re almost vibrating from held back advances.

Jihoon’s brain is about to start rewiring itself, making him think maybe pressing his lips against Soonyoung’s for a quick second wouldn’t be too bad, maybe it’ll satiate him, maybe it’ll be cleansing and he won’t have to want like this anymore, when the doorbell rings. They spring apart from where they’d been leaning towards each other, time starts flowing at its normal speed again, Jihoon wants to die because he almost kissed him, and he wants to die because he almost kissed him.

He walks out of his room, Soonyoung trailing him, and opens the door.

“Oh, fuck no,” he takes a look at Jeonghan and Joshua’s costumes, and promptly shuts the door in their faces. He hears Jeonghan whine a drawn out why?! and Joshua’s loud laugh through the door.

Jihoon opens it only a little bit and presses close, not looking out, just making sure they’ll hear him.

“I’m sorry, why do the both of you look like someone threatened to kill you if you didn’t outdress every other loser who’s gonna show up to this party?”

“Go big or go home, I guess. Open the door, Jihoon,” says Jeonghan.

Jihoon does, and then leans against the wall and narrows his eyes at them as he takes in the details.

They’re both Tim Burton characters, both look long and pale and almost like they crawled straight out of the grave. For starters, Jeonghan’s hair is black, but blue hues show up when the light hits it, which already shocks Jihoon to his core because he’s been blond for long enough that Jihoon learned to take it in as his natural hair color. His skin is all painted blue, but his lips are pink and his eyelashes look longer than ever, which is saying a lot.

Joshua and Jeonghan are both wearing dresses. Jeonghan’s is a long, torn up wedding dress. He looks beautiful in it, but he usually looks beautiful in anything, so that’s not out of the ordinary. There’s just something about the way the flower crown sits on his head and the way the veil falls down his back. His makeup makes his cheekbones even more pronounced and his face looks sunken. He makes a breathtaking corpse bride.

Joshua’s hair is no longer faded orange like it was when Jihoon video called them the other day, now it’s a bright reddish orange, and pushed back away from his face. He himself is also bluish, with lines all over his skin like he was stitched together, just like the different types of fabric of his also torn up dress. His lips are painted dark red. Jihoon thinks he captures Sally’s delicate and in some way sinister aura.

They’re a sight to behold, there’s a horrifying beauty that permeates their attire. Jeonghan holds a bouquet in one hand, and Joshua’s hand in the other.

“Wow,” Soonyoung says from where he’s standing behind Jihoon. “You two must have the biggest eyes I’ve seen in my life, what the fuck.”

“You’re gonna freeze to death in that,” Jihoon says, gesturing towards Jeonghan’s entire person. Jeonghan purses his lips and squints at him. Jihoon is not wrong.

“I’ll keep him warm,” says Joshua, and Jeonghan makes a visible effort to stop a soft smile from replacing his grimace.

Jihoon finally moves away from the door and lets them in.

“How long did it take for you to get all that stuff in order? Help yourself, by the way,” Jihoon rolls his eyes as Jeonghan leaves his bouquet on the kitchen counter and starts looking for snacks.

“It took Joshua like, a few hours, right?”

“What do you mean Joshua?

“I do makeup,” Joshua says, matter of factly.

“What do you mean you do makeup?” Jihoon is confused. He thought Joshua worked at the gym.

“I do,” he says when Jihoon tells him. “But I went to college, you know. And I do makeup.”

“That’s sick, do you have a YouTube channel?” Soonyoung asks, so genuinely interested.

“No,” Joshua laughs. “I like doing fantasy stuff better than regular makeup. So that’s what people usually pay me to do.”

“Can I see it sometime?” Jihoon swears he does not find Soonyoung’s fascination endearing.

“Yeah, absolutely,” says Joshua before turning to Jihoon. “You got Catwoman down pat.”

“I did not, everything came out of my closet, but that’s nice of you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jeonghan says, opening a packet of gummy worms and putting one in his mouth. “Your ass looks good in those pants.”

Jihoon flips him off, making Jeonghan throw his head back in laughter.

The whole night is already starting to be too much, Jihoon thinks when he somehow ends up letting Joshua do his makeup. Not like he needs a lot of it, his character wears a mask after all, but Jeonghan has his way of simply getting what he wants, and so Jihoon ends up with like, dark eyeshadow and eyeliner, as far as he can tell, and his hair parted to the side and pushed off his forehead.

What he thought was too much was not too much, he realizes a few minutes later. No, the way Soonyoung looks when he steps out of the bathroom, having changed and allowed Joshua to do his own makeup as well: that is too much. Jihoon is already developing a headache, what with his own tight fucking clothes, Jeonghan and Joshua looking like they stepped out of a horror coded fairytale, and the prospect of the party looming over his head, but seeing Soonyoung like this makes him feel like his brain is knocking desperately against the inside of his cranium, begging to be let out.

See, his whole costume from the waist down was never a problem, the real problem is that Soonyoung is wearing a black sleeveless shirt, which means his arms are out, and they’re big and toned and Jihoon kind of wants to try to wrap his fingers around them and feel the muscle under the skin. But that’s not it, because clearly Soonyoung thought it’d be a good idea to cut the stupid black tank top right above his belly button with fucking scissors, and now it hangs loose around his waist. Jihoon wants to claw the skin right off his own face. To top it all off, Soonyoung is wearing a black choker that matches the bracelets around his wrists, and he tied up the top strands of his hair to make it look like the half ponytail the goth chick from Danny Phantom whose name Jihoon still can’t remember wears.

He can’t stop thinking about how maybe if he hadn’t sat with Joshua that day at the coffee shop, Soonyoung wouldn’t currently be wearing sparkly lilac eyeshadow and lipgloss, but alas. This is what he gets for trying to be a good friend. When he manages to tear his eyes away from Soonyoung’s toned stomach, which he’s been fantasizing about leaving bite marks on, Jeonghan is raising an eyebrow at him, looking dead and terrifying, and Jihoon has seriously had enough.

They call a cab, and Jihoon takes a breath and braces himself for whatever the rest of the night has in store.

***

Hours later, Jihoon is sitting on the staircase by himself, having just thrown out a red solo cup. At some point in the night he lost Soonyoung, and then later he found him playing beer pong with three dudes dressed like the Powerpuff Girls, which he decided not to get involved in. He’d also realized Jeonghan and Joshua are the type of people who go to parties to be looked at, eat snacks, and sit together in a corner to talk and make out. Jihoon stopped paying attention the third time Joshua had to fix his lipstick.

Despite all that, if he’s honest, he’s had an overall enjoyable night. The house is well decorated and people are actually dressed up, it was well planned out. It allows Jihoon to zone off while he examines the details of all the Halloween going on around him. The decorations are not what’s made the night bearable, though. Jihoon has been having a good time mostly thanks to a certain Wen Junhui who he hasn’t seen in years, but ends up running into at some point. Jihoon doesn’t know what his costume is; it involves light, flowy clothes in pastels, and Junhui has this regal air to him despite being a buffoon, in Jihoon’s opinion. He’s always fun to hang around, comes up with shit Jihoon wouldn’t be able to conceive by himself.

Jihoon stands up and climbs up the stairs, walking down the hallway and opening the door to a balcony that looks out to the back of the house. Again, he’s been enjoying himself, he just reached that point where he’s exhausted his own social skills quota, so he needs a breather before he can step back into the party.

The noise from inside is muted once he closes the door after himself. The air feels cool against his skin, he was feeling too warm inside. He takes off his gloves and manages to attach them to his belt. He then loosens the knot of his mask and pulls it down so it’s hanging around his neck, and leans his elbows on the rail of the balcony. His hand goes up to push his hair back on instinct, and then he remembers it’s already pushed back and stiff with hairspray, so he lets it fall back down.

There’s too much light pollution to be able to see stars, but the night is clear, and Jihoon admires the vastness of the dark. He thinks he sees something bright zooming past somewhere up above, but he doesn’t know if it’s a shooting star or a satellite. He kind of hopes it’s a satellite, that way there’s no pressure from the universe to make a wish. He never knows what to wish for. He considers the possibility of it being a meteor, and then the possibility of that meteor completely changing paths last minute and colliding against the Earth. They’d all burn to ashes, and decades or centuries or millennia later, some archaeologist would find his bones and they’d have markings on them, like all bones do. And all they’d be able to know about him would be what they could read from the markings on his bones. Maybe. He doesn’t know a whole lot about archaeology, but that’s how he’s always thought about it.

There’s something he read somewhere once, it explained how all the markings on bones come to be. Fissures indicate there are blood vessels entering the bone, and such. What would his bones look like, he wonders. Because sometimes he feels like certain events, certain places, certain people get under his skin, bury themselves so deep in there Jihoon thinks maybe they’re somehow imprinted in his skeleton.

“There you are,” he hears Soonyoung walking out onto the balcony, the sound of the party rising and falling when he opens and closes the door. “Thought you left for a second.”

“Nah, you seemed like you were having fun. Didn’t wanna interrupt.”

“You wouldn’t have. Interrupted, I mean.”

Jihoon shrugs slightly. “Did you talk to Jun?”

“A bit, yeah. He had other stuff to do, but it was nice. Hadn’t seen him in so long…” Soonyoung steps closer to Jihoon, stands beside him and rests his elbows on the rail just like him. “You know, I used to think he was into you.”

Jihoon laughs at that. “I’m like, the opposite of his type. He just likes to bother me because apparently there’s something funny about seeing me annoyed.”

“To be honest with you, I thought you’d end up with him.”

“You’re joking.”

“Nah, really,” Sooynoung plays with his own fingers.

“He’s not… I couldn’t think of Jun like that.”

“Why not?”

“Can’t pin him down at all. I’d feel like I’m in limbo constantly, I think.”

“What type of people are you into then, Lee Jihoon?” he turns to the right to fully face Jihoon.

“I could ask you the same question,” Jihoon hasn’t decided what to make of this situation, so he doesn’t feel like giving anything away. Yet.

“And I’d tell you that I’m into people that I can learn from.”

“There goes your librarian fixation again.”

“I don’t have a librarian fixation, I just think you made your pants look good that day,” Jihoon has now turned to face Soonyoung as well, which means he notices when Soonyoung drags his gaze from Jihoon’s eyes down to his feet, and then back up. “You make your pants look good today too.”

“Thanks.”

They both look out into the night, and Jihoon steps closer.

“You didn’t answer my question,” says Soonyoung. Jihoon hadn’t noticed when Soonyoung turned back to look at him.

Jihoon reaches up to flick the tiny ponytail at the back of Soonyoung’s head, and then before dropping his hand, he moves away the hair that’s starting to poke into Soonyoung’s eyes.

“I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously. And who make me not take myself too seriously.”

“So like Jun,” Soonyoung jokes, and Jihoon exhales harshly.

Jihoon pokes him in the stomach with his knuckles like he usually does, forgetting the lower half of Soonyoung’s upper body is not currently covered by anything. His fingers meet warm skin and he leaves them there for a beat too long before letting his hand fall.

“Like a lot of people.”

They’re impossibly close, Jihoon doesn’t know how or when they stepped this close together, but he thinks if Soonyoung had freckles, he’d be able to count them. It’s like the air around them is charged with electricity. Jihoon is the ground, familiar, attainable and mundane, charged with positive electricity, and Soonyoung is the clouds in the sky, looming and dangerous, otherworldly and unstoppable, carrying a negative charge. Sky and earth before lightning.

“You have an eyelash on your cheek,” says Soonyoung, removing it softly and showing it to Jihoon on the pad of his thumb. “Make a wish.”

“I’m shit at making wishes.”

“Make it anyway. Even if it’s boring, come on. Eyes closed.”

Jihoon closes his eyes and thinks of nothing. The only thing he needs badly right now is Soonyoung’s lips on his, and he doesn’t want to wish for that. He opens his eyes again.

“I can’t think of a wish, you make it.”

“It’s your eyelash.”

“Don’t care. Come on. Eyes closed,” Jihoon repeats Soonyoung’s words.

Soonyoung closes his eyes and Jihoon thinks he looks so at ease, so relaxed. He bites his lip. Soonyoung opens his eyes and blows at the eyelash on his finger. It doesn’t fly off.

“That sucks,” says Jihoon.

“What?”

“If it doesn’t blow off, the wish isn’t coming true.”

“Seriously?” there’s a spark in Soonyoung’s eyes, this determined start of a fire that can spread and either bring warmth or burn the world to ashes. Jihoon can feel his breath on his face, the heat radiating off his body mere inches away. “Then I’ll make it happen on my own.”

Soonyoung places one hand on the side of Jihoon’s neck and leans in until his nose is touching his cheek, so softly it’s almost imperceptible. Jihoon feels him breathing against his skin as he slides his nose up, following a path parallel to his jaw and then north. He’s frozen in place himself, almost holding his breath, as if moving even a millimeter will make the moment shatter like glass. That’s how delicate it feels. Once Soonyoung has reached the point high on his cheekbone, he starts making his way back down, except this time it’s not the tip of his nose sliding across Jihoon’s skin. This time it’s his lips.

Soonyoung makes his way down so, so slowly. He stops in the middle of Jihoon’s cheek and leaves a kiss there, then leaves another one in the corner off Jihoon’s mouth. Jihoon can literally feel his heart hammering in his chest like it wants to get out. It’s taking him so much effort to remain still, he has to close his eyes to try to regulate his breathing. He feels Soonyoung move away then, so he opens them again.

Soonyoung didn’t move too far, all he did was lean back to tilt his head the other way. He looks at Jihoon with such intensity, eyes dark and full of untamed emotion, and uses the thumb of the hand that’s still resting on Jihoon’s neck to press under his jaw and up. Jihoon lets him lift his head, obeys, there’s simply nothing he can do at the present moment except to go wherever Sooyoung takes him, but Soonyoung stops again, looking into his eyes.

And Jihoon can’t stand it anymore. He doesn’t know what Soonyoung wants, he doesn’t know if this is a game to him, he doesn’t know and he’s petrified where he stands, like he has no control over his limbs and wouldn’t be able to move even if he tried. He looks back into Soonyoung’s eyes and tries to somehow tell him what he’s feeling, tries to communicate it. Take it, he wants to say, take it all. It’s yours, it’s always been.

But Soonyoung doesn’t move, he stays still and stares, and Jihoon starts feeling like a fish in a tank, trapped and powerless, being looked at by some freer and much more capable being.

It’s like a dam inside Jihoon starts to crack. He can’t wait anymore, there’s something wound tight in his stomach and he doesn’t know how much strength he still has to keep it from unraveling. He exhales, lets all of the air out of his lungs at once, and breaks eye contact to look at the ground.

“Soonyoung,” he starts, and doesn’t finish. Everything happens at double speed, and in a fraction of a second before the dam collapses, Jihoon becomes aware of how he just said the second half of the name directly against Soonyoung’s lips.

They kiss and it’s like lightning strikes. It’s a flash of blinding light first, not exactly unexpected but still shocking, and just like the flash heats the air, Jihoon suddenly feels like he’s burning up. Then there’s thunder, this deafening roar that drowns everything else out, and just like that, there’s nothing else in the universe except all the points where their bodies are connected. There’s no dam, no fish tank, nothing but Soonyoung. The knot in Jihoon’s stomach melts like wax, and suddenly he’s pushing forward, wanting nothing more than to lick into Soonyoung’s mouth.

His tongue tastes like beer and his lips taste like cherry, just like Jihoon remembers from forever ago. He doesn’t stop himself this time, hooks his fingers on the belt loops of Soonyoung’s plaid pants and pulls him closer, and then slides his hands up his sides. Jihoon’s hands are cold and he can feel Soonyoung shiver when he settles them on his waist. Soonyoung turns them around and presses Jihoon against the rail, and Jihoon lets go of him for long enough to push himself up and sit on it. It’s big enough that he doesn’t feel like he’s in danger of overbalancing and falling backwards to his death.

Soonyoung comes closer and Jihoon lets him step in between his legs. He places his hands on Jihoon’s thighs as Jihoon pulls him closer by his neck and presses their lips together again.

“These pants, dude,” Soonyoung breathes out when Jihoon has detached their mouths. Jihoon almost laughs. It’s such a mundane phrase compared to the transcendent nature of what just happened.

“If you like my pants so much, just ask where I got them,” Jihoon speaks right against his neck, making him shiver again.

“I don’t care about the pants, I care about the way you look in them.”

“Say that instead, then.”

“Fine. Wear tight pants more often Jihoon, your ass looks delicious in them.”

“I can’t stand you,” Jihoon says, and kisses him again.

They make out just like that until it becomes not enough, until they need to be closer and their current position isn’t allowing them to do so. Jihoon pushes Soonyoung away so he can jump off the rail and drag him inside to the first room they can find, but Soonyoung ends up picking him up from under his thighs and attempting to walk across the balcony and into the house.

“I can walk,” says Jihoon against his lips. Soonyoung ignores him and keeps attempting to move, so Jihoon does the next most logical thing to him at the moment, which is to bite Soonyoung’s neck, hard.

“Ah, fuck, why are you so stubborn?” Soonyoung hisses and drops him.

“You’re taking too long,” Jihoon says then, leaning in to press a soft kiss against the skin he just bit, and then grabbing his wrist to pull him into the house. The next room down the hallway is locked, but the one after that isn’t. It’s a bathroom, and a fancy one, at that. It’s got a fucking bathtub. Jihoon turns on the light and then slams the door shut by shoving Soonyoung against it. He puts his hands back where he had them before, where he wanted them, against Soonyoung’s skin and slightly under where his badly cut shirt ends. Soonyoung slides one of his legs in between his as he undoes the rest of his buttons, and the pressure against his crotch knocks all the air out of him.

Jihoon sucks on Soonyoung’s tongue, pulling him forward and sitting him on the edge of the bathtub. He takes a second to look at him. Soonyoung’s lips are swollen and bitten red, a pale pink bruise on his neck where Jihoon bit him earlier, and barely anything remains of his tiny ponytail now. His eyes are so dark when he stares back at Jihoon, so clouded over with lust. There’s something about it, though; something about the soft, pale purple makeup around Soonyoung’s eyes that melts Jihoon from the inside, and when he comes closer and straddles Soonyoung’s lap, makes him look up with two fingers under his chin, he kisses him with none of the urgency from before. He kisses him with time, letting himself remember the exact shape and texture of his lips.

Soonyoung seems to relax when Jihoon slows down, stops desperately pulling at his shirt and circles his waist with one arm instead, bringing him closer, always closer. He completely undoes the knot of the mask that hangs around Jihoon’s neck and throws it somewhere, buries his face against Jihoon’s pulse point. Jihoon can feel Soonyoung hard in his pants already, he rolls his hips once, twice, and listens to Soonyoung’s breath hitch right against his clavicle.

Jihoon is considering just getting on his knees already, taking what he wants. And then, it’s like that glass he was trying so hard not to break earlier shatters into a million pieces. It’s something about that thought, something about the noises Soonyoung makes against his skin, something about the way the light overhead hits the tiles, something about the drain on the floor and the sink and the mirror. It’s like Jihoon’s dicklust had completely clouded over his senses, but not anymore. The memories come tangled together, trying to smooth themselves out in front of Jihoon’s eyes.

He’s in that dirty club bathroom again, years ago, he’s on his knees with Soonyoung’s undone zipper in front of him. His jaw aches slightly, but it’s something pleasant, he can taste cum on his tongue, he can hear Soonyoung panting above him. There’s a hand on his cheek, a thumb rubbing the corner of his lips. Jihoon remembers kissing Soonyoung’s thumb, and then tucking him back into his pants.

It’s a memory that had become irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, which is why Jihoon had stored it somewhere in the corner of his mind and let it exist there, out of sight. But now it’s not, because some time after it happened, when Jihoon was trying to rebuild himself as a person, he had turned that memory around in his head, flipped it one way and the other, and he’d realized that that’s when it happened. Or when it should’ve happened. It was then, with the knees of his jeans soaked in something disgusting, and his aching jaw, and Soonyoung looking down at him like his mouth was the eighth wonder of the modern world, that he should’ve realized that his feelings went beyond lust. It was then that he should’ve realized he would never find himself in such a situation for someone he wasn’t head over heels in love with.

Again, the memory had become irrelevant, simply because it stopped mattering where and when. Ultimately, he was a hopeless fool in love trying to make himself into a functional human. But now, in this annoyingly fancy bathroom, that memory crashes into his mind like a train, and it feels like someone upended a bucket of ice water over his head. He was supposed to talk to Soonyoung before letting any of this happen. He was supposed to tell him, and this, now, is way too similar to how it was years ago, and Jihoon promised himself that he’d never let that happen. He doesn’t have time to give himself anymore, he fucked that up for himself when he kissed Soonyoung back in the balcony. If he talks, he talks now.

“What are we doing?” he says. While Jihoon was having an epiphany, Soonyoung managed to unbuckle his belt and unbutton his pants.

“You want details?” Soonyoung whispers against his ear. Jihoon is just as hard as Soonyoung now, which makes it so much more difficult to try to communicate. His body and mind are on different pages.

“I’m being serious.”

Soonyoung leans away from him. “Hooking up, I guess?”

“Hooking up,” Jihoon says, the words fading into a breathless moan when Soonyoung thrusts his hips up. “We said just friends. Do friends hook up?”

Jihoon knows he’s not being clear, but he can’t really think right now. Everything that’s coming out of his mouth are fragmented pieces of the proper speech he had been planning out in his head for days now.

“They can,” says Soonyoung, hands grabbing at Jihoon’s ass as he mouths at his jaw. “It doesn’t really mean anything.”

And that, right there, is Jihoon’s queue to turn his emotions off. He promised himself he wouldn’t do that anymore, but right now it’s survival. Of fucking course it doesn’t mean anything, why would it? This is all they’ve ever been. And that’s the real issue, because to Jihoon this means quite a bit. It means a lot, and even worse, he wants it to mean everything. As he unbuttons Soonyoung’s pants and takes him in his hand, he thinks about how Soonyoung has just been a good friend. A wonderful friend, really. So it was always stupid of Jihoon to think their relationship might be any different than it was in the past. But it doesn’t matter now, does it? Jihoon is here, Soonyoung is here, and they’re friends hooking up. Jihoon can compartmentalize. He’s been radically compartmentalizing since he was a teen.

He rests his forehead on Soonyoung’s shoulder as he rolls his hips, enjoying the feeling of a warm body beneath him. Jihoon thinks he’d usually kiss Soonyoung, but he’s done doing that, that’s not a need anymore. Right now he responds to lust and lust only, except it’s almost surgical; he needs to get out of here, and the path with less side effects is the one where he gets this over with as fast as possible.

He licks a stripe across his hand and wraps it around the both of them, hears Soonyoung moan into his ear. He moves his hand up and down, rehearsed, familiar, allows Soonyoung’s stuttering breath to get to him, to start building pressure in his stomach. It feels good, Soonyoung’s skin against his feels good, the way Soonyoung bites as his neck and tries to pull him closer with his hands on his ass feels good. Soonyoung has always been vocal, he’s kissing his chest and muttering words against it, but Jihoon lets those go right over his head. Soonyoung lifts his hands and they burn Jihoon’s skin when he slides them under his open shirt and around his waist. Jihoon moves his hand faster and it builds, everything builds until it can’t anymore.

It’s over rather quickly. Soonyoung comes into his hand, Jihoon comes mere seconds later, and Soonyoung tries to chase his lips once their breathing has slowed down a bit, but Jihoon steps away to wash his hands and clean himself up. He throws the roll of toilet paper at Soonyoung, who catches it easily and sorts himself out as well.

“I’m gonna get something to drink, you want anything? I’ll get it for you,” says Jihoon, buttoning his shirt and buckling his belt as best as he can, not bothering to pick up his mask off the ground. He lost his whip ages ago and doesn’t care for it either.

“Um, sure,” says Soonyoung, maybe a little bit thrown by the change in mood. “Whatever you’re getting, get me some of that too.”

“Got you,” Jihoon turns around to open the door, when he feels his arm being grabbed, and suddenly he’s being turned around and pulled towards Soonyoung again. Soonyoung leans down and presses a chaste kiss to his lips, one that Jihoon isn’t quick enough to avoid, and then lets him go.

The thing is, Jihoon has no intention to come back. His phone is in his boot where he put it earlier, he takes it out and calls himself a cab, and everyone at the party is too busy to realize when he leaves. He does text Jeonghan about it, telling him not to worry, and once he puts his phone down and the house is out of sight, he allows himself to feel.

It’s a new thing for him, the rationalization to allow himself some vulnerability, but he guesses right now he needs it. He’s hurt, there’s no doubt about it, but this isn’t really heartbreak, more like disappointment and disenchantment. He can deal with that. He’s dealt with years and years of repressed emotional turmoil, and he came out of it alive, so he’ll be okay this time around too. The thought doesn’t take away from the fact that he feels about a million bricks piled up on his chest, making it hard to breathe. There’s no rationality right now, he comes to understand. Rationality comes later, when time has finally allowed it some space. For now, there’s the weight that threatens to make his ribcage cave in. And that’s what he’ll deal with.

As the taxi approaches his apartment, he mind drifts to a thought he was mulling over earlier. Kwon Soonyoung seems to have pushed his way under his skin, carved in a space for himself so well hidden and so deep that Jihoon still hasn’t been able to get rid of it; it’s like every once in a while he goes back and he finds remnants, like vestiges of a shipwreck. How funny would it be if, in a million years, archaeologists dug up his bones and found Soonyoung’s name carved into them? They’d see the lines and wonder, is this a fissure? Did blood vessels go there? And somewhere in the universe Jihoon, in whatever form, would become aware of that, and if he could communicate with them he’d say no, those weren’t for the blood vessels, I got those because I loved.

Chapter Text

Jihoon doesn’t realize how much time he was spending with Soonyoung until he isn’t. It comes as a slow realization too, kind of like going a few days where he wonders why am I eating by myself or why do I suddenly have all this free time at home, and then after those days are over he thinks back and realizes, of course, it’s because he was spending a considerable amount of time with Soonyoung, or on the phone with him, or doing something that involved him in some way.

What’s funny is, they haven’t stopped talking, exactly. Soonyoung tried calling him a lot, but Jihoon never picked up, so he switched to texting. Jihoon only replies to his texts to tell him he’s busy, he can’t hang out, he’s been working a lot, and things of the sort. After a lot of thinking, Jihoon decides he does want to try to be Soonyoung’s friend. He does, the time they were friends was enjoyable, Soonyoung is a very good friend, that much Jihoon can objectively say. But he needs time. He can’t go back to acting like nothing happened, both between them and within himself. Soonyoung apologized for the party, Jihoon told him not to worry about that and cut the conversation there, saying he had a deadline and needed to focus.

Soonyoung doesn’t bring it up again. At first he texted Jihoon about his day, about things he saw that reminded him of something, but at Jihoon’s lack of response, he ends up texting him only when he wants to invite him to do something. Again, Jihoon makes up excuses, and Soonyoung always says it’s okay, maybe next time. It tugs at Jihoon’s heartstrings to read that maybe next time, especially when it’s Soonyoung inviting him to an exhibit that he put together. He feels horribly guilty, like he should make an effort to be there, but when he thinks about it too much he realizes he can’t really do that right now. Once more, he needs time.

That’s another thing that he had to learn the hard way. At first, he was convinced he’d been through worse, this shouldn’t take too long to get over. Plus, he isn’t hiding from himself anymore. It should work like immunity; like once you’ve had a virus it can’t really hurt you badly anymore if you get it again because your white blood cells remember it and know how to take care of it. So why the hell won’t it go away?

“Because people don’t work like that,” Jeonghan tells him on the phone one night. “It’s not like you get to experience sadness for two seconds and then wipe your sweat and go ‘well that sure sucked!’ and move on with your life. It takes time, Jihoon. You need to give yourself time, and I know it’s hard because you’re just as impatient as I am, but it’s something you need. And it’ll go away, that much I can tell you, but the only way out is through, and you really have to put yourself through it, there’s no shortcut when it comes to this.”

“I hate that.”

“It sucks. But if you want to be his friend again, you need to let that wound heal first, until you’re sure he’s not going to pick at it anymore. Don’t feel bad for not being able to go see him at work, or whatever. You need time. When you start feeling okay again you’ll realize it, and then you can do whatever you want. But take care of yourself first, okay? Promise.”

“Fine. Promise.”

Some days are bad. He doesn’t even blame Soonyoung for anything, how can you blame someone for not reciprocating your feelings? It’s not Soonyoung’s fault. It’s harder to understand that it isn’t his fault either. He gets mad at himself for letting it get as far as it got, thinks maybe if he’d actually spoken to him like he was planning to, he might’ve been able to face the disappointment without the memory of Soonyoung’s lips against his fresh in his mind. Maybe that would’ve made it easier. He gets mad at himself for not being someone Soonyoung could think of in that specific way, and for not realizing that sooner, when their history had provided enough clues. He gets mad that he’s hurting so much, because they weren’t even in a relationship, he never even got to experience that type of thing with Soonyoung, so why does it hurt like he did? It’s ridiculous, it’s all ridiculous.

So, Jihoon throws himself into his work. It’s not like he’s actively running away from his feelings, he’s just keeping himself busy to make everything more bearable. Staying home to work doesn’t really do it for him these days, it’s comical, how he usually cherishes the silence but recently he can’t stand it. He brings his laptop to coffee shops, restaurants, even to food courts, and works with other people’s quiet mumbling in the background. If he’s choosing to take on projects for which he has to write sadder, slightly more soul crushing music than anything else, well that’s just his way to process what he’s feeling. He’s not an expert or anything, but he thinks it’s good to let things out in the best way he knows. And that’s what he tries to do. He works out for longer, even starts jogging outside. He works for longer too, meets more deadlines, finishes more projects.

He doesn’t realize he’s isolating himself until the day he walks into his apartment after a late night jog and finds Jeonghan sitting in his living room, his kitchen counter covered in what seem to be cooking utensils.

“Don’t tell me you want us to cook,” he starts. He’s not sure how Jeonghan broke in, but it doesn’t surprise him and he doesn’t really care.

“Nope,” says Jeonghan, and as Jihoon is about to sigh in relief that he won’t be burning his apartment to ashes tonight, he continues, “I want us to bake.”

“I know you know that’s a terrible idea,” Jihoon says after waiting for Jeonghan to say he’s joking, just for him not to say it at all. “We’re us.”

“You’re right, but I have a not-useless-like-us boyfriend and access to FaceTime, which means we’ll make it work.”

And they do. Their brownies are either too fudgy or basically have the composition of a brick, and they have to use Jihoon’s tiny oven, so they end up staying up until dawn to bake the last batch, but they do end up tasting decent. Or maybe it’s stockholm syndrome, and they’ve been at it for so long that they’ve started to think that the food they’re baking is kind of okay tasting. Jeonghan jokes about Jihoon taking some of them to give to his students the next day, and Jihoon says he doesn’t have the money to pay for a lawyer who will get him out of a lawsuit for accidentally poisoning his kids.

Speaking of, his students are finally on winter break, and Jihoon doesn’t teach at a university, which means he still has kids coming to class, but it also means that many of them go back home for the holidays, and many of them just want to rest. Hansol went back home, so Jihoon hasn’t heard from him beyond whatever comments Seungkwan and Chan make about him during class, until he gets an email from him one day. There’s no written text, only a link to a playlist and a thumbs up emoji.

Jihoon listens to the entirety of it, which lasts over an hour, and then replays it. It’s Hansol’s taste, his typical type of music, but Jihoon finds it so different and interesting, he can’t help his mind from going in a billion different directions when he hears it. That was very fun, thank you. What’s the occasion? he replies to Hansol that night. He doesn’t get a reply until the next morning, when Hansol emails him back saying your recent heavy rotation albums on Spotify are kind of tragic. Thought I’d share some stuff with a different vibe.

Jihoon doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. For starters, he didn’t even know Hansol followed him on Spotify, which is funny considering the amount of embarrassing pop Jihoon listens to. Then there’s the fact that Hansol checked his profile, how he probably does that semi regularly, how he decided Jihoon was having some sort of crisis because he’s only been listening to sad music, and how he took the time to make a playlist to try to take Jihoon’s mind off of it. It’s interesting how Hansol and him both find music to be the easiest way to express anything. He decides the whole thing makes him want to cry. Somehow, anyone displaying any type of kindness towards him lately makes him want to cry. He figures his emotions are just all over the place.

That proves to be right a few days later when the kids bring him a cake to class for his birthday and he has to press his lips together and clench his jaw for what feels like an eternity just to stop himself from bursting into tears. He tells them as much, says “Stop that, I’ll cry, I mean it,” but they brush it off with laughter and think he’s joking.

Jihoon doesn’t really like to celebrate his birthday, it’s not a major thing to him and he’s not really into being the center of attention. That, and he never knows what to say when people congratulate him or give him presents and compliments. Jeonghan won’t leave him alone, though, he ends up showing up to his apartment again, this time with Joshua in tow. They bring him cake and then Joshua makes dinner, which is delicious, and then Jihoon sets his phone timer so he can take a picture of the three of them with the cake to send to his mom, because she worries that he’s spending his birthday alone even though she knows for a fact that Jeonghan wouldn’t let that happen.

Soonyoung texts him on his birthday too. It’s a simple message, and Jihoon replies with a simple answer. There’s nothing much to it.

He never runs into him, which is bizarre, since they frequent a lot of the same places, or at least Jihoon thought they did. At the beginning he thought it was for the best, and he still thinks it’s for the best, the difference is his own internal struggle has finally evolved to the point where he misses him. It’s not strong enough to override the feeling that he’ll go back to step one if he even sees him again, but it’s there. He wants to see him, and he also doesn’t. That’s the most annoying point to reach, he thinks when he’s in the middle of it. It’s not being able to fucking understand himself, it’s not knowing what he wants, having opposing feelings at all times. It makes him want to tear his hair out. But it’s part of it, Jihoon guesses, it’s part of the whole thing, so he deals with it and gets used to it, and tries to keep everything moving along.

Jihoon even considers the possibility of dating, just to completely change things up for himself, but he doesn’t think anyone deserves to deal with his bullshit currently. He meets someone on accident, though, a guy with a gigantic smile and a high pitched laugh who asks him to watch his dog while he gets coffee one morning. The guy sits with Jihoon once he’s gotten his drink, which Jihoon isn’t super pleased about because he knows he’s not the best company recently, but it doesn’t seem to matter to him. He talks and talks and talks to Jihoon even if he doesn’t say anything back. Jihoon thinks he reminds him of Soonyoung a bit, in the way he seems to emit light from within and in his adoration and wonder towards everything around him.

He’s gorgeous too, has light brown messy hair, and a sharp nose, and the craziest bone structure. Jihoon would never point out someone’s bone structure, that’s how immaculate this guy’s is. He asks if Jihoon wants to join him for a walk along the river and Jihoon accepts, since he has nothing better to do.

“Oh damn, I feel like we’ve been hanging out for a while and I’ve been doing all the talking. Sorry! Your turn, go ahead, Jihoon,” he says when they’ve been walking for a good while, and Jihoon is kind of disappointed that he has to come up with something to say. The dude’s rambling managed to get him out of his own head for a while.

“Um. You never told me your name,” says Jihoon while he thinks of something to say.

“I didn’t? That’s so shitty of me, wow, I apologize,” he says, his eyebrows tilting in a way that makes him seem like he just committed a crime. Jihoon wants to tell him to relax, it’s just a name.

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not, I don’t know why you agreed to hang out with someone whose name you don’t even know.”

Jihoon shrugs. Lack of self preservation. They keep on walking. “So… are you gonna tell me what it is?”

“Oh, right! Sorry, you make me nervous,” he says, and it blows Jihoon’s mind how this guy wears his heart on his sleeve and just says what he’s feeling, like that, no filter. “Seokmin. Is my name. I’m Seokmin.”

Jihoon thinks, fuck it. Watching this dude spill his guts like that is kind of inspiring. Jihoon doesn’t know him, he doesn’t have to hang out with him ever again, he can tell him whatever he wants and the guy probably won’t judge him because he doesn’t know shit about him. Jihoon thinks, maybe he wants to act like a whole different person today.

“Okay, Seokmin. I’ll tell you a story, and then you can decide if you still wanna hang out. I do have to warn you, it doesn’t have a happy ending.”

Seokmin shoots him a gigantic smile and says, “I’m all ears,” and then his face transforms and he looks terrified. “Wait, you’re not gonna like, kill me by the end, right?”

Jihoon cackles at that. Seokmin has to be around his age but he carries himself with the innocence of a toddler. How can you ask a stranger if he wants to hang out and only realize he might be a serial killer like, hours later?

“No, I’m not,” Jihoon laughs.

“Okay!” Seokmin’s megawatt smile reappears on his face. “I’m all ears, then.”

And Jihoon, in true not-Jihoon fashion, completely spills his guts to this stranger while they walk along the river. He doesn’t spare a detail, it’s such an uncomfortable thing to do, it feels like those icebreaker games professors try to get college kids to do, except an upgraded version. Seokmin is such a pleasant listener though, makes it clear that he’s paying attention, asks questions, is overall so much nicer than Jihoon. When he’s done, Jihoon almost feels lighter on his feet, kind of like he transferred all his burden to this unsuspecting stranger.

“Wait, but,” Seokmin is frowning, “I don’t get it. You never told this guy how you feel. Wasn’t that like, your priority?”

“Well yeah, but I mean, there’s no use for that now, right? I already know how he feels.”

“I guess… What I thought was, you said, when you were talking about the night at the bar, you said you decided to tell him because cutting him off wasn’t gonna make you feel any better, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, sorry if this sounds rude, but what happened with that? I mean, you never told him. And you might be feeling slightly better with your own heartbreak, but have the feelings for him gone away at all? Do you feel better in that way?”

Jihoon takes his time to answer. Honestly, lately he’s been so focused on trying to get over his own tragedy, he hasn’t really considered how he feels about Soonyoung specifically. He does it now, really thinks about Soonyoung in a way he has kind of been avoiding, and realizes that no, his feelings aren’t gone and they haven’t changed. As pathetic as it sounds, and to put it simply, he still very much wants Soonyoung to be his boyfriend and kiss him and lend him his warmth.

“No,” he says. “I don’t. I still have feelings for him.”

“But you’re not thinking about telling him anymore?”

“I…” Jihoon hadn’t thought about that either. “I just can’t think of how that would help. I mean, imagine I seek him out and tell him I have all these feelings, and then he says ‘thank you, but I don’t feel that way about you,’ and then what do I do? I’d just be in the same position I am right now.”

“You wouldn’t,” Seokmin says. “Or, maybe it’s just me, but telling people things makes me feel better.”

“I kinda noticed,” interrupts Jihoon.

“I’m sorry,” Seokmin apologizes, but Jihoon was just joking. He gives Seokmin a tiny smile and shakes his head, dismissing his apology. “But yeah, you had all this turmoil inside the whole time, and it kinda got minimized by this other turmoil. It doesn’t mean the first one went away.”

“Yes, but the whole point of telling him was,” Jihoon cuts himself short, because what he’s about to say is a revelation even to him. “It was that he’d feel the same.”

Seokmin seems to realize that this is also unexplored territory for Jihoon, and it makes his voice quiet down slightly.

“You thought he felt the same,” he ends up saying.

“Fuck,” exhales Jihoon. “I guess I somehow did.”

“Well,” Seokmin never seems to take too long to think about what he’s saying, he’s fast with his responses. “You know, I’m constantly spilling my guts to people, and it’s mostly because I’m really bad at keeping things inside. Like, if I don’t say it out loud, people can usually just tell, and I’m a shit liar. But I guess something I’ve learned from having a terrible poker face is like… I don’t hold onto those things, right? And I guess what I mean by all this is, and you can make your own choices because I’m not you and I barely know you, but once you get over this heartbreak part, you’ll still have the rest to deal with.”

“You think I should still tell him?” Jihoon says. His reflex response is to assume doing that would kill him.

“I don’t know. But you have all this stuff going on, even if he doesn’t reciprocate it might help you feel like you finally got something off your chest that wasn’t letting you move on. But that’s not the main thing, you know what I think the main reason is?”

“What?”

“That you still want to be friends with him at some point. And from what you’ve told me, correct me if I’m wrong, having unresolved and unaddressed feelings for him was making it hard to be his friend. And that hasn’t changed. So this friendship…” Seokmin frowns at the ground and then at Jihoon. “Well, how are you gonna make it work if you still haven’t addressed the elephant in the room?”

Jihoon hadn’t thought about it like that. He’d just assumed once he got over this part, his system would be mostly cleansed of Soonyoung, but there’s actually no reason for that to be the case. He’d fused the two issues together, thinking if he focused on solving one it would all go away, but now that Seokmin has said it, he doesn’t know how it could. Yes, he might get over the fact that Soonyoung doesn’t like him like that, but that doesn’t mean he’s getting over the fact that he still likes Soonyoung. And he guesses one way to deal with that would just be complete separation, the same thing he’s been doing so far; at least he guesses with enough time he’d logically have to stop liking him. But then all his feelings would remain unaddressed, and it’d be just like all those years ago. Perhaps this is way more complicated than he initially thought.

“If that didn’t resonate with you at all, you can ignore it,” says Seokmin, and when Jihoon turns to him, he looks a bit nervous. Jihoon has known him for mere hours, but he seems like the type of person who gets hurt easily, because he doesn’t attack or set up barriers. He’d probably let anyone just charge at him, and something tells Jihoon that that’s not right. Hurting someone like Seokmin is probably punishable by international law.

“Nah, it resonated quite a bit,” says Jihoon. “Thank you.”

Seokmin smiles very bright, like being able to help made his whole entire week. It’s very sweet.

They end up grabbing lunch together at some place that’s pet friendly. It’s a weird thing, but being with Seokmin makes Jihoon feel like someone put a spell on him and he’s kind of just floating around. There’s just so much unabashed love being expelled by him at all times, Jihoon wonders if it’s exhausting to give so much and expect nothing in return. He enjoys his company, gets used to his blabbering, realizes he’s bright and funny and naive, laughs at him for a good portion of the afternoon. They split the bill and walk out of the restaurant as the sun is starting to set.

“So, listen,” starts Seokmin, “I’d love to hang out, but I have to take the dog back to my sister’s place, and then go grocery shopping.”

“That’s no problem,” says Jihoon. He feels out of his depth because he doesn’t know how to thank Seokmin for everything he did for him today. He wouldn’t know how to put it into words. “Thanks for your company.”

“Can I be honest with you?” Seokmin seems nervous again, Jihoon expects him to start speaking at the speed of light.

“I’d be surprised if you weren’t.”

“Okay,” Seokmin looks around for a second. “I would ask you out if I didn’t know anything about you.”

Jihoon openly laughs at that. He knows Seokmin doesn’t mean it that way, but it sounds like a backhanded compliment, kind of like if I didn’t know how much of a mess you are I’d ask you out, but I do know, so never mind.

“Nonono, I don’t mean it like that,” his eyes grow twice in size, he looks scandalized and it just makes Jihoon laugh harder. “I meant like, you’ve got someone… you’ve got someone and you’re dealing with a lot of stuff, and I mean, dating can be a lot of pressure. I wouldn’t want to add to the amount of things you’re putting up with. If the circumstances were different, I’d ask you out. Wow, that sounds a lot better.”

Jihoon doesn’t exactly have someone, but he understands what he’s trying to say. He also thinks Seokmin deserves better than what Jihoon can give him right now. Again, he hasn’t even known him for a day, but he wants the best for him, he thinks he deserves the best of all, and Jihoon is not that.

“I got what you meant,” Jihoon says when his laughter has died down. “I’ll be honest with you too. If the circumstances were different, I would love to go out with you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Seokmin’s smile stretches across his face, it brightens him up and it brightens Jihoon and probably everyone within a 40 mile radius up. He blushes too, and Jihoon thinks it’s lovely. It feels so weird, so foreign to say what he thinks and feels just like that, but it’s so refreshing, and Jihoon is a bit scared that the moment Seokmin leaves he’s gonna bounce back into place like a rubber band.

“Hey, um. I had a good time. It would be cool to hang out again,” he says. He can’t imagine Seokmin reciprocating the feeling, Jihoon thinks it’s only because Seokmin is sunshine personified that he didn’t get sick of Jihoon killing the mood with his gloom.

“If you want my number you can just ask,” he says, making Jihoon raise his eyebrows and laugh. It’s so much more assertive and confident than what he’s gotten used to from Seokmin. He continues before Jihoon can answer. “I’m just joking, I was gonna ask for yours anyway.”

They exchange numbers and part ways, and Jihoon doesn’t stop feeling floaty even when he’s back in his apartment. It’s weird, he guesses, but the validation that comes with someone else enjoying spending time with you isn’t at all unwelcome. Especially lately, when Jihoon feels like Jeonghan might only hang out with him as an obligation because Jihoon is his best friend who is going through some shit, and Joshua only hangs out because he’s Jeonghan’s boyfriend. They both would deny it, and Jeonghan would give him a speech about how he’s offended that Jihoon thinks he wouldn’t kill for him if he had to, but still.

He has a lot to think about and many things to consider, but right now he feels okay. Good, even. And given the emotional rollercoaster the past weeks have been, he feels grateful for it, and realizes Seokmin is already part of the small group of people he feels protective over. Jihoon goes to sleep like that, more at peace than he’s felt in a while.

***

Jihoon is on his way to the museum. He’s not sure if Soonyoung is there today, but he’s not going to see him. The last time he was there he accepted to receive email updates from the museum when trying to connect to their WiFi network, and he was eating lunch checking his email to see one with information about a particular exhibit focused on bodies of water. Jihoon doesn’t know any of the artists mentioned, and he knows he probably won’t recognize any of the actual artwork, but in his attempt to keep himself busy, he ends up getting dressed and taking the train to the museum. He hopes there’s at least one painting of the beach.

He walks in and pays the entrance fee, aware of how last time he didn’t have to because Soonyoung could simply get him in, and immediately takes the stairs to the upper floor where the exhibit is supposed to be.

The first thing he realizes is that the room is very, very long, and very much blue. He should’ve expected it, since bodies of water are obviously usually seen in shades of blue, but he simply wasn’t, just like he wasn’t expecting the lack of warmth. He guesses blue is a cold color, right? Jihoon thinks he heard Hansol say that one time. There’s a fair amount of people in the room, it’s not silent like some art museums are, there’s a quiet mumbling that serves as background noise.

Jihoon walks around for a while, stands in front of numerous paintings and tries to pay attention to the details. It’s, again, not like the last time he was here, since this time he’s not trying to decipher the paintings, or make up stories to fit them. Some of the artworks catch his attention for no particular reason. One of them is a huge wave crashing, there’s foam everywhere, with a piece of gray sky at the top. Jihoon comes closer, and realizes that it’s not a painting but a collage. The wave is made of torn maps, carefully positioned and pasted together to make every single shade of blue and white necessary. Jihoon can read the word ATLANTIC from where one of the maps was cropped. He thinks what is interesting is the imminence of it. There’s nothing anyone can do, the wave will crash.

He moves to the next one which is also the sea, but it seems to be closer to the shore, there seem to be rocks and the waves crash against them and form whirlpools. Surprisingly, this one is not as blue, it has yellow shades, and for some reason Jihoon thinks there is a type of violent quality to it, to the angry sea.

It’s interesting, he thinks, how most of the artworks give off that feeling. The sea, monumental, unknown, unchained. Violent and unforgiving. It’s interesting because to Jihoon, the sea is home. It’s weird to see endless interpretations of it as monstrous, because Jihoon couldn’t possibly fear it, could never feel anything other than comforted when surrounded by it. Then again, he understands why people fear it. They’re powerless against it, the ocean does what it wants. Jihoon is far from home.

He stops and stares at one of the pieces that isn’t about the sea. It seems like rain at first, there’s a black background and water is falling down in white strands and colliding against wet rocks at the bottom. After staring at it for a while, he realizes that it’s not rain, but waterfalls. Many of them, actually, stemming from unknown places and falling down like curtains. Jihoon thinks there’s strength, some type of prowess in the way the water hits the rocks at the bottom, but it’s not the overwhelming omnipotence of the ocean, it’s something more tame. He likes it better.

Finally, when he arrives at the other end of the room, he finds himself standing in front of three images, again, of the sea. There’s a museum bench right in front of them, so he walks backwards and sits while he examines them after taking a second to look at the label next to them to confirm it’s not photography even though it looks like it. They’re actually made in pastels. Jihoon thinks they’re completely different from everything else he has seen in the exhibit so far, because the sea is not angry, not wrathful at all. It’s just the shore. The waves hit and crash, but it’s something calm. The shore being the one thing that’s somewhat able to act as a barrier and it’s not even good at it. Water goes everywhere.

It’s the artwork of the shore that makes him miss home the most. Maybe he sees himself in it. The shore is sand that’s never able to dry. It’s somewhat solid and in a certain way it holds its shape, but it’s receptive. It takes in, it buries things within itself, maybe to never be found again. But then the waves come, the unrelenting ocean comes and takes over, and unearths all those long forgotten things and takes them away, and brings others back. The shore is never able to get used to anything, is never able to hold anything within itself for long enough. The only thing it can probably get used to is its own shifting shape, its constant wetness and impermanence.

Jihoon thinks maybe he’s like the shore. And wouldn’t it be funny, wouldn’t it be right if Soonyoung was the ocean? Wouldn’t it be right if Soonyoung was those huge waves, not monstrous, because they could never be, but imminent, powerful, all-encompassing? Coming back and blowing dust off of everything Jihoon had kept inside, soaking him completely and leaving him unable to do anything other than remain drenched? Altering Jihoon’s own shape, taking from him, and giving him something different this time?

Or maybe not, because ultimately what he brought back was the same heartache he had brought back years ago. Except that’s not true, Jihoon realizes. Maybe he hasn’t been thinking about it properly, because this time Soonyoung brought back a lot more. Jihoon isn’t sure how long it’s been since they reunited at the gym, but he knows way more about Soonyoung now than he did back then. He knows him this time, and he didn’t know him before. They used to get together for sex only, but this time it wasn’t like that at all. Maybe, Jihoon thinks, despite the similarities, he should stop thinking of this as a part two. Maybe it’s not part two, but something else, something new entirely. He doesn’t know if the idea makes him feel better or worse.

“You were born in the beach, right?” he hears to his left. To be honest, he’s not surprised that Soonyoung is here. Part of Jihoon thinks maybe he came here to find him, he knew deep inside that there was a huge chance that he would.

“In a beach city, yes.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Sometimes,” says Jihoon. “Right now, I do.”

Soonyoung sits next to him on the bench, close but not enough to make contact. Jihoon wonders if it’s on purpose. They sit in silence for what feels like an eternity, but it’s a silence that is full. Jihoon doesn’t know if he’s hyper-aware of that because he had to be the last time he was here, or if it’s a memory engraved in his brain to the point where that’s just how he thinks about silence now. Either way, it’s brimming with tension, with things left unsaid.

“Why did you come here?” asks Jihoon. Soonyoung should be the one asking him that.

“I work here, remember?”

“You know what I mean.”

Soonyoung doesn’t reply for a while. “Because I miss spending time with you. The lady at the entrance said you came in. She’s the one who lent me her umbrella last time. Anyway, she said you came in, so I tried to find you. ‘Cause I text you a lot but you’ve been busy, I guess, and it’s just… been a while.”

Jihoon doesn’t say anything for a while. He doesn’t know what he’s going after, doesn’t know what there is for him to gain from this interaction. He thinks of Seokmin, and how Seokmin said maybe it would be liberating to say what he’s been holding back. Because it’s true, dealing with the emotions that he has buried within doesn’t mean he’s said what he wants to say. Perhaps that’s the thought that has been in his head all along, and perhaps that’s what brought him to Soonyoung’s place of work today. He breathes in and then out, and then starts it off.

“Do you know why I left? That day at the party?”

“No,” says Soonyoung. “Well, kind of. I have my theories. The only thing I know for certain is it was because of me.”

“Alright. Easier one,” continues Jihoon, not knowing for sure what the best way to proceed is. He’s kind of making it up as he goes along, they don’t teach you about this shit anywhere, there’s no manual to follow. “How did you think of me when we were in college?”

“How?” he asks. Jihoon nods without looking at him.

“Well, I… I guess I’ve always looked up to you. I used to think it was shocking that you’d want to hang out with someone like me,” by hang out he means have sex with, and Jihoon doesn’t even know what he means by that. It’s not the answer he’s searching for anyway.

“Let me rephrase the question. How did you feel about me?”

“Feel?” Jihoon can tell he’s frowning just from the way his voice sounds. “I don’t… I don’t think I know. College was a whirlwind. There was so much going on and so much I didn’t pay attention to.”

The next thing Jihoon says comes from that place of frustration that pulls out his blunt side, and also desperation for Soonyoung to understand. He’s kind of starting to wish for this to be over already.

“Are you aware that I was in love with you back then?”

Soonyoung is taken aback. Jihoon isn’t looking at him, but Soonyoung expresses with his body. Jihoon can feel it.

“Well… well, no, I wasn’t. I’m sorry. You were in love with me?” his voice has gone quiet, it loses color. Jihoon can’t make sense of what he’s feeling. “You never said anything.”

God, if that isn’t the most ridiculous thing Jihoon has ever heard.

“I didn’t realize until after you left, and by then it didn’t matter. So don’t apologize.”

“But it did… it did matter because it means - did I put you through hell because of that? Shit, Jihoon, it matters because I never wanted to make you feel like I was stringing you along, and I’m kinda realizing now that’s most probably what I did,” Soonyoung is facing him now, but Jihoon is looking down at his own lap, very focused on his fingernails.

“Which means you had no feelings for me back then,” Jihoon concludes. It’s fine. It does feel like his lungs shrivel to a third of their size for a second, but Jihoon realizes it doesn’t matter how Soonyoung felt or didn’t feel years ago because nothing ever came of that, so he’s able to stretch them out to their regular size again.

“I just,” Soonyoung starts, and Jihoon kind of wants to tell him not to give him excuses. “I never thought of that as an option for myself. It’s like, the inside of my brain is constantly going a million miles per hour, when I get to assimilate that something is settled I sort of just leave it behind and think about it in passing only. And we agreed on that, on being friends with benefits, so that conversation was over and done with and I never took the time to like, explore how I felt about it. All I can tell you is leaving you sucked.”

‘I was in love with you’ and ‘leaving you sucked’ express two very different degrees of affection. But it’s okay, like Jihoon thought before, nothing came out of what they had in the past, so it’s not worth stressing over.

“What about now? How do you feel about me now?” Jihoon feels like an idiot asking these questions, he knows he’s stalling, but he feels like Soonyoung won’t give him much if he doesn’t ask, so he has to. Not like Soonyoung is giving him a lot even with the questions. Once more, he’s glad for the quiet mumbling of the museum visitors around them.

“You confuse me,” Soonyoung says, this time with no hesitation. “Sex with you was very easy. I was able to match you and it was easy. Being your friend is different. You throw me off all the time. Sometimes I feel like you want me closer, and when I try to get close you push me away and then pull me back in. I don’t know, Jihoon. I don’t think I understand you, but I do know I want to. I want to be your friend. I want to be in your life, but I can feel you slipping away and I’ve been trying my very best not to let myself panic over that.”

“You want to be my friend.”

“Which I thought I made clear.”

Jihoon looks back at the artwork of the shore. It’s like that when the wave crashes, and the water covers your feet and you can feel the wet sand slipping out from under them. That’s another thing about the sand in the shore: the waves always take handfuls of it with them.

“That’s too bad,” says Jihoon. “At the party, when you said friends can hook up and it doesn’t have to mean anything, that fucking hurt. You know why?” Soonyoung doesn’t say a word, so Jihoon continues, even though it basically has started to feel like putting his heart through a meat grinder. “Because that’s not enough. I really tried to make it enough, but it isn’t, and I got tired of acting like I don’t want you all the time. But that’s unfair to you, isn’t it? Because you want to be friends, and the problem is that despite it all, I still want to be friends too. But then I’m gonna need time, because just looking at you makes me feel all weird inside, and I don’t see how I can possibly be a good friend to you while trying to deal with my own shit.”

Soonyoung shakes his head like he’s trying to clear it, and then rests his elbows on his knees and buries his face in his hands. Jihoon is about to start to feel like an asshole for being the direct cause of Soonyoung’s current state, but he speaks up before Jihoon can get to that.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he mumbles from in between his fingers.

“I was going to, that night at the party. Things just… worked out differently.”

“Jihoon,” he drops his hands but lets his head hang there, looking at his shoes against the museum floor. “When we were in my car and I promised you friendship, I didn’t think it would be this fucking hard. It’s hard not to compliment you all the time, and not to hold your hand, and not to make a fool of myself, and not to want more from you. But I promised friendship, so I held back as much as I could. I’m really bad at it, which I think you probably realized. The party was… yeah. I’m really sorry. When you asked, I remembered friendship was what I was allowed, and so that’s what I said. I didn’t think it would be a problem, not for you, because I thought that’s what you wanted, and not for me, because I decided there, that night, that I’d take what I could get.”

Jihoon feels like he should understand, he should get it, but it almost feels like his head is filled with fog.

“Don’t tell me we’re both stupid idiots too worried about respecting each other’s space to get our shit together.”

“Look at the silver lining,” says Soonyoung, straightening up and placing his right hand on Jihoon’s left elbow, “at least it’s proof that we care.”

Jihoon’s heart is starting to burn, slow and permanent like a candle. He thinks at any moment it’s going to start oozing out things.

“I didn’t need proof in the form of weeks of feeling dejected as fuck. I’d rather just tell you.”

“Then tell me,” says Soonyoung.

Jihoon thought he already had. But whatever, he’s tired, there’s something constricting around his lungs and making his ribs hurt. He turns to look into Soonyoung’s eyes for the first time since he sat down, and kind of feels like it gives him courage to keep going but also makes him want to recoil back into himself and never say anything again.

“I hated walking away from you. I don’t wanna do it anymore. My days are better when I’m with you. I’m better when I’m with you,” he’s about to continue blurting out disjointed sentences, but there’s a knot in his throat and he can’t swallow it down, so that’ll have to do.

“Well, here’s what I have to say,” Soonyoung slides his hand from Jihoon’s elbow to his wrist, circling it with his fingers. “I want to make you happy. I’d love it if you’d let me.”

It’s funny, Jihoon thinks, how he felt like his heart was being crushed before, and how it still feels like that, except it’s almost like it grew claws and is trying to fight back. He feels like he’s being pulled in all directions at once. He’s Icarus and he loved the way the sun felt on his skin and now he’s free falling.

Jihoon looks directly into Soonyoung’s eyes, knowing full well that if he tries to speak his voice is going to shake. He can’t, he doesn’t want it to, so he nods his head and prays to every god that Soonyoung manages to understand how much weight and meaning it carries.

“Yeah?” says Soonyoung, looking back at him with bright eyes. He unwraps his fingers from around Jihoon’s wrist and turns his hand, slides them down his palm and intertwines them with his.

And Jihoon, gathering strength from the warmth Soonyoung’s gaze shoots into his veins, offers a quiet, choked out, “Yeah.”

After that, he can’t keep looking at Soonyoung because he feels like he might turn into stone. It’s too much, like something is taking over him and he can’t take it, he’s powerless against it, it’s like the ocean but wild in its entirety, uncontrollable and unstoppable, a cyclone inside his lungs. Before it manages to tear him apart from the inside, he does what he does best, which is to hide. Except this time he’s not hiding inside himself, but burying his face in Soonyoung’s shoulder.

And Soonyoung, just to alter life as Jihoon knows it and tilt the world even further on its axis, turns his head and presses a kiss to Jihoon’s temple. Jihoon feels like he’s shedding a hundred layers of himself at once, looking at the artwork of the shore, his hand in Soonyoung’s, Soonyoung’s hand in his, Soonyoung’s smell on his clothes, the ghost of Soonyoung’s kiss against his skin.

He brings their joined hands up and kisses the back of Soonyoung’s hand, letting them fall back down onto his thigh immediately after.

And god damn, is he happy.

***

Soonyoung took the train to work, so they don’t have a car to drive back in, but Jihoon kind of wants to walk. It’s not exactly a short way, but the train is crowded and Jihoon doesn’t feel like being in close proximity with people who aren’t Soonyoung right now, so he insists they walk anyway. It’s too cold to walk, is the problem. They’re holding hands inside Soonyoung’s pocket, their hoods are up, but it’s still freezing cold. There’s something beautiful about it, though, Jihoon thinks. It’s the sky’s darkening shade of blue that always makes him feel nostalgic, and the fact that it’s started to snow ever so lightly, with flakes that disintegrate just before making contact. There are very few people out today. Perhaps that is why Jihoon likes it; the train belongs to everyone, but the streets don’t, not when Jihoon and Soonyoung make their way down and across together. These streets are theirs.

They walk and talk, and there’s that feeling, the feeling that things are right and exactly the way they are supposed to be. Jihoon apologizes for missing the exhibit Soonyoung put on, and the latter tells him not to worry about it. Soonyoung apologizes for missing Jihoon’s birthday despite Jihoon telling him he didn’t. It’s relaxed conversation.

“I met this guy,” Jihoon starts at one point.

“Are you gonna tell me about your conquests when we just got together like, an hour ago?” jokes Soonyoung.

“You don’t even know what I’m gonna say, how can you be sure it’s a conquest?”

“So he didn’t try to ask you out?”

“He did,” says Jihoon, laughing at the way Soonyoung opens his eyes wide at him as if saying see?! “But that’s not what I wanna tell you about, be quiet and let me finish.”

“What will I gain?” says Soonyoung, and Jihoon is done with him being annoying, so he reaches up with the hand that he’s been swinging around in the cold and puts it against Soonyoung’s neck, making him jump back. He pouts, and it makes Jihoon smile even wider.

Jihoon tells him about Seokmin, and about how nice and bright and cheery he was, and what they talked about, and the advice he got from him, and how maybe that’s the reason he decided to go to the museum today. When he finishes Soonyoung is frowning.

“You shouldn’t have told me that, now I want to be his friend and thank him for giving you an epiphany while also knowing you could be dating the nicest guy in the world.”

“I don’t wanna be dating the nicest guy in the world.”

“Are you implying I’m not the nicest guy in the world?”

Jihoon scrunches his eyes shut and shakes his head a little.

“Idiot, I’m implying I wanna be dating you.”

“You are,” smiles Soonyoung. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” replies Jihoon, knowing exactly what to do. “I’m the luckiest.”

“Nooo, don’t be sweet when I’m trying to annoy you,” Soonyoung whines, and Jihoon is pleased to know he knows how to work him. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world, you don’t even know. Like, you truly have no idea.”

Jihoon just shakes his head again and squeezes Soonyoung’s hand, delighted when Soonyoung squeezes his back.

They eventually arrive in front of Jihoon’s building, which seems to be the place they’re always walking towards. It’s almost completely dark now, the snow is falling heavier, and Soonyoung thinks the whole thing makes a pretty picture with the lamppost right in front of the building, so he takes his phone out to snap one. Jihoon watches him bite his lower lip because unlocking a phone with freezing fingers is not as easy as it seems, especially when you’re Soonyoung and things with screens give you a hard time on the regular.

He releases his lip when he’s finally able to open the camera app, leaving it pink and wet and making Jihoon want to bite on it again, just to leave it red proper. Instead of fidgeting, Jihoon turns around to the snow that’s been piling up on the leaves of the bushes to the side of the street.

“All done,” says Soonyoung, turning around just to receive a fistful of snow directly to the face. Courtesy of Jihoon, of course.

It stays on there for a second before it slides off like in the cartoons, just to reveal Soonyoung’s face, full of betrayal. Jihoon can’t help it, he’s bent over laughing at Soonyoung’s open mouth, but then he shakes it off and takes three long strides until he’s standing directly in front of him, grabs Soonyoung by the hood of his parka and pulls him in until he can finally trap his lower lip between his.

He could write his whole life’s discography about the way Soonyoung sighs into his mouth, Jihoon thinks. His face is damp from the snow but it doesn’t matter, Jihoon kisses him anyway until Soonyoung kisses him back and wraps his arms around him. Jihoon feels warm inside, but it’s not a bushfire incinerating everything it touches like at the party, it’s more like a fireplace during the winter, comforting and cozy; like home. Jihoon presses closer and deepens the kiss, bites at Soonyoung’s lip before licking into his mouth.

They stop because it’s too cold outside. Jihoon’s hands are freezing holding onto the fake fur of Soonyoung’s jacket and he’d just shove them inside the hood and warm them up with the heat radiating off of Soonyoung’s neck, but he doesn’t want to make him cold again, he’s been doing that all afternoon. He also thinks they’re close but not close enough, Soonyoung is like a heater but Jihoon can’t feel him because their winter jackets are too big, he can’t pull him as close as he wants to.

Soonyoung’s eyes follow his mouth when he pulls away, and when he finally looks up they’re so bright it looks like they sparkle. His cheeks are flushed and his lips are red, and Jihoon is immensely satisfied at the knowledge that he’s finally the cause of that. In an instant of self-indulgence, Jihoon steps close again and pecks his lips for a nanosecond.

“Are you gonna leave?” he asks.

“Not if you don’t want me to,” Soonyoung says, eyes still wandering around Jihoon’s face.

“I don’t want you to.”

“Okay. Then I won’t,” Soonyoung smiles, clearly delighted at having Jihoon bluntly stating that he wants him near.

“Good,” says Jihoon, finding Soonyoung’s hand again. “Come upstairs then.”

A few minutes later Jihoon has Soonyoung stretched out on his bed, he’s kneeling over him with his tongue in Soonyoung’s mouth. He’s not sure how they got here, Soonyoung had taken off his coat and then stood behind Jihoon, helping him unwrap a scarf from around his neck, and that led to Soonyoung pressing kisses against his pulse point, and now they’re here.

Jihoon slithers down Soonyoung’s body, kissing his neck, then his clavicle, then pushing up his sweater so he can kiss down his chest. He leaves a kiss on his ribs, another one next to his belly button, all the way to where his jeans start. He presses against Soonyoung’s crotch with his hand as he sucks bruises on his stomach the way he’s been wanting to since the Halloween party, and Soonyoung chokes out a grunt.

When he’s done with the bruises and also done getting Soonyoung fully hard, he crawls back up his body and lets himself be pulled in, lets Soonyoung kiss him and slide his hands down his back until they’re completely on his ass. Soonyoung pulls him closer and thrusts his hips up, and it’s then that Jihoon becomes aware that he’s fully clothed and very much hard in his jeans. The way Soonyoung presses down with his hands and rocks up against his crotch has Jihoon gasping into his mouth, and making it even harder for Jihoon to focus on him only and ignore his own wants and needs.

“What do you want?” Jihoon says once he manages to detach his lips from Soonyoung’s without him reaching up and pressing them together again.

“You inside me,” he says, burying his face in Jihoon’s neck and leaving soft kisses on his skin.

And Jihoon can do nothing but deliver. He reaches into his nightstand to pull out lube and condoms, which his overall college experience taught him to always have somewhere in his bedroom whether he’s in a relationship or not, and positions himself between Soonyoung’s thighs once he’s pulled off both his pants and underwear.

“Pillow,” he says, and Soonyoung is a little bit too eager when he throws the one under his head, making it collide against Jihoon’s face.

“Sorry! Sorry,” he laughs, and Jihoon doesn’t mind at all, but he figures he might as well kill Soonyoung’s laughter by taking the head of his cock into his mouth and swirling his tongue around it once, just to pull off again. “I take it back, fuck you, I’m not sorry,” Soonyoung swears under his breath. Jihoon is already having so much fun.

He grabs the pillow and places it under Soonyoung’s hips, then pushes his knees even further apart and slides his hands up his thighs. It’s one of his favorite things, he thinks, how sensitive the insides of Soonyoung’s thighs are. He slides the tips of his fingers from his knees up to his hip bone, then back down except pressing softly with his nails this time, and watches his skin break out in goosebumps.

Jihoon uncaps the lube and pours some on his fingers, rubbing them together to warm it up for a few seconds while he licks a stripe from Soonyoung’s knee all the way to where his leg joins his torso. He pushes one finger inside Soonyoung and feels him inhale sharply, so he presses an open-mouthed kiss against the base of his cock, feels him let out a harsh exhale and relax around him. He sucks small bruises on Soonyoung’s inner thighs as he moves his finger around, waiting for Soonyoung to get used to it.

“You good for another one, babe?” he asks, his breath against Soonyoung’s wet skin making him shiver.

“Yeah, come on,” Soonyoung says, totally breathy.

Jihoon pushes a second finger halfway in and stops, waits for Soonyoung to relax around it before he shoves the rest in, and then waits again. Soonyoung’s chest is rising and falling quickly, he reaches down and hooks two of his own fingers under Jihoon’s chin, pulls him up to around his navel.

“What is it?” says Jihoon, looking up at him. The way Soonyoung is grabbing his chin leaves his thumb right in front of Jihoons mouth, so Jihoon reaches forward, kisses it, then takes only half of it into his mouth but doesn’t close his lips around it. The very tip of it is resting against Jihoon’s tongue, the rest against his lower lip.

“Shit, Jihoon, your mouth,” Soonyoung’s voice has dropped about a hundred octaves.

“That’s what you want?” Jihoon mumbles against the pad of his thumb, then in a swift movement pushes himself back down and takes the head of Soonyoung’s cock back into his mouth, very softly, barely exerting pressure against it, just enough for Soonyoung to feel it. Jihoon thinks it’s funny how Soonyoung’s voice is super deep when he speaks, but the little whimpers he lets out are in his normal pitch. He starts scissoring the two fingers he has inside him, making a conscious effort not to push them in as deep as Soonyoung wants them. It wouldn’t be Jihoon if he gave him everything at once. Soonyoung is impatient, and Jihoon enjoys making him wait.

“Another one,” grunts Soonyoung, “baby, please.”

Jihoon obliges because he’s not evil and because he’s also not the most patient person in the world. He has to find balance between his desire to make Soonyoung wait and his desire to get his own dick wet.

Soonyoung starts panting when Jihoon finally has three fingers inside him and his mouth loose around the head of his cock. Jihoon knows he’s ready, but he’s kind of waiting for Soonyoung to tell him himself, except that’s not coming, maybe because Soonyoung is stubborn, or maybe because he’s too wrapped up in what’s happening. It only means Jihoon has to make him say it. At the same time, he pushes his three fingers as deep as he can inside Soonyoung, properly wraps his lips tight around his dick, fists the base with his other hand and slides it up until it meets his lips.

“Enough, fuck me, I’m ready, fuck me,” Soonyoung chokes out as his back arches off the bed.

“Thought you’d never ask,” Jihoon says, pulling his fingers out of Soonyoung and crawling up, sitting basically on his ribs.

Soonyoung takes off his sweater as Jihoon unbuckles his own belt and unbuttons his pants. Then he slides his hands under Jihoon’s sweater, pushes it up while he splays his fingers over Jihoon’s chest, and then Jihoon helps with the rest of it. He stands up to take off the rest of his clothes, grabs the condom from where he left it on the bed, and is about to rip it open when Soonyoung says, “Can I?”

Jihoon laughs at the request, but doesn’t deny it. He throws a leg over Soonyoung’s torso, sits where he was sitting before, feels Soonyoung place one hand on his thigh and the other on his hip, burning hot while he rubs circles with his thumb on Jihoon’s hip bone. Jihoon shuffles up until he’s sitting close enough, and gives Soonyoung the condom. It’s dumb, but it feels almost like a ritual when Soongoung rips open the package and rolls the condom on Jihoon’s cock. Jihoon himself is finally completely aware of his own arousal, gasps when Soonyoung pours lube on his hand and wraps it around him, sliding it up and down before he removes it.

He leans down to kiss Soonyoung as he positions himself between his legs again, pressing his tip against his rim and pushing inside until only the head is in. Now he’s the one panting harshly against Soonyoung’s mouth, it’s so warm and slick and just too much considering he hasn’t been touching himself this whole time. He’s wondering how to properly keep himself in check while he waits for Soonyoung to adjust, but he doesn’t need to, since Soonyoung just tells him he’s good and to move.

So that’s what Jihoon does, he starts moving inside Soonyoung and it feels so fucking good, Soonyoung looks so good like this, spread out on Jihoon’s sheets, his chest and neck and stomach shiny with sweat, his lips bitten red, his eyes the darkest they’ve ever been. Jihoon sort of wishes he could take a picture, but there’s no time for any of that, and a picture wouldn’t capture the way Soonyoung’s body is shoved a millimeter up the bed every single time Jihoon thrusts in. He pushes in from a different angle and Soonyoung whimpers, his stomach clenches and Jihoon can feel it because he has his whole palm pressed against it. And then Jihoon doesn’t stop, starts hitting Soonyoung’s sweet spot every time and it’s so incredible, the way Soonyoung tightens around him, the way he heaves.

“Come here, come here,” pants Soonyoung, seemingly too lost in his own pleasure to coordinate his limbs and drag Jihoon where he wants him, so Jihoon slows down his thrusts and leans down until he’s hovering directly above Soonyoung’s face. He’s grabbed by the neck and pulled close into a messy kiss that’s mostly just them breathing against each other’s mouths, their teeth even knocking together.

“You okay?” asks Jihoon, regaining one percent of his composure and kissing Soonyoung’s face, leaving kisses wherever his lips land.

“Never better,” says Soonyoung. “Just want you closer.”

Jihoon kisses him properly then, lips lingering, tongue lazy against Soonyoung’s, and Soonyoung moans into his mouth but it’s so different, it’s not really heady and tinged with lust only, it tastes like longing and finally finding completion.

Soonyoung wraps his arms tight around Jihoon, one around his waist and the other around his shoulders, and pulls him as close as possible, then tangles his legs around Jihoon’s whole body, ankles crossed on his lower back. Like this, there’s no way for Jihoon to fuck him fast and hard the way he was before; like this, all Jihoon can do is grind and roll his hips in slow movements, and he’s so deliciously deep inside Soonyoung, can feel him everywhere. He angles his hips differently again until he’s right against Soonyoung’s prostate, hears Soonyoung’s breathy moans as he rocks up and grinds against it, slowly, like he has time, even though his own stomach is tight and he feels like he might just tumble over the edge at any second.

He’s so close now, and he knows Soonyoung is too, because he’s getting completely incoherent speaking into Jihoon’s ear. Jihoon manages to shove a hand in between their bodies and grab Soonyoung’s cock, and it only takes him rolling his hips and moving his hand up and down a couple more times for Soonyoung to come between their bodies, painting his stomach and chest white, and logically Jihoon’s too. And that’s all it takes, really, Soonyoung clenching tight around him, his closed eyes and the shape of his open mouth when he throws his head back, that’s enough to have Jihoon’s orgasm crashing into him. He buries his face in Soonyoung’s neck, bites at him as they shake together, and then kisses over the bite as they try to regain their breath.

Jihoon pulls out of Soonyoung, but the latter doesn’t let him stand up or go anywhere. He unhooks his ankles from around Jihoon’s hips, but his arms remain strong and tight around him, keeping him close. It’s a bit gross, maybe, the way there’s drying cum basically sticking them to each other, but Jihoon can’t bring himself to care. He kisses the sharpest point of Soonyoung’s jawline, kisses down to his chin, and then up to his mouth. Now it really is lazy, their movements are lethargic and slow, barely separating for air before diving back in.

Jihoon doesn’t know for how long they kiss. At one point Soonyoung releases his grip on Jihoon and starts sliding his hands up and down his back. He reaches down and squeezes Jihoon’s ass in his hands, making Jihoon laugh into his mouth.

“I missed this,” says Soonyoung quietly.

“My ass?”

“Yeah.”

Jihoon bites his neck. “I was joking.”

“Ah, so was I,” Soonyoung hisses at the pain, then a smile starts taking over his face.

“No you weren’t.”

“I wasn’t,” Soonyoung laughs a bit, now rubbing Jihoon’s ass with his palms. It actually feels nice, Jihoon won’t complain. “No, but really. I missed you.”

Jihoon reaches behind him and removes one of Soonyoung’s hands from his ass, brings it all the way up and tangles their fingers together.

“I missed you too.”

And then they’re kissing again, Soonyoung pushes Jihoon over until he’s on his back and Soonyoung is hovering over him. Jihoon kind of just lets himself be kissed, stretches both of his arms above his head on the pillow and lets Soonyoung lie over him, one hand warm on his ribs. This time they’re interrupted by Soonyoung’s growling stomach. When Jihoon gets over making fun of him for it, he tells him to go wash up in the bathroom while Jihoon orders food, and then goes wash up himself.

Soonyoung borrows pajama pants from Jihoon, and Jihoon himself wears only sweats when he opens the door to pay for the food. He tips the kid extra for perhaps traumatizing him by looking thoroughly fucked out, and then brings the food to the table. They eat straight out of the boxes and almost in silence, but it’s not uncomfortable. Jihoon wouldn’t classify it as a comfortable silence either. Young. Playful. Inviting. Come-hither. That’s what it’s like, and it’s fun to feel like that, to not feel weighed down around Soonyoung, but uplifted. It’s completely new, and Jihoon relishes it. He dips a piece of chicken in sauce with his fingers and reaches out to feed it to Soonyoung, who not only decides to envelop Jihoon’s whole finger with his mouth, but also cleans the sauce dripping down said finger with his tongue.

“You’re so gross,” Jihoon beams at him. Soonyoung blows him a kiss.

Then they decide to watch a movie, and Jihoon stands it for a good fucking while, but eventually he ends up kissing Soonyoung’s neck open mouthed, which leads to Soonyoung sitting up and letting Jihoon straddle his lap, which in turn leads to Jihoon riding Soonyoung’s dick on the living room couch, basically in front of the window where anyone could see if they wanted to.

They take a nap after, and when they wake up Jihoon decides he feels and smells disgusting, so he drags Soonyoung into the small bathroom and gives him one of those shitty toothbrushes you get at hotels. They brush their teeth and then step into the shower together, which is a terrible idea because they end up making out against the wet tiles, and then they’re too busy exchanging handjobs and the water gets cold, and they just end up having to shower with freezing cold water in the middle of the winter. Things would be easier if Soonyoung was less irresistible, but he isn’t, so they make do.

After, they lie back down on Jihoon’s bed and talk for hours about anything and everything, no matter what, holding a conversation with Soonyoung has never been hard. Soonyoung asks to see the projects Jihoon worked on during the weeks where they weren’t talking, and Jihoon asks to see pictures of the exhibit Soonyoung set up. Soonyoung tells him he ended up at the gym class for couples because when he moved back he wasn’t given the keys to his apartment for a couple of days, so he stayed with his friend Wonwoo, whose roommate is Choi Seungcheol. Soonyoung, with nothing better to do for a week before he could start working, decided to join Seungcheol for his class.

Just like that, hours go by, and then they’re making out again, because for some reason they can’t keep their hands off each other, and they’re both half hard in their underwear but too tired to do anything about it. Jihoon’s head is resting on Soonyoung’s shoulder, and he’s looking out the window. Soonyoung’s eyes are closed, he’s probably about to fall asleep. Jihoon kisses his cheek and then moves to his own pillow, thinking about the art he saw at the museum. He remembers thinking of himself as the shore, calm, safe, predictable, and of Soonyoung as open waters, wild, uncontrollable, powerful. It occurs to him that maybe when they come together, when they allow themselves to be with each other, they’re like the waterfalls. Strong and unyielding, but still unmoving and expected. Right before sleep takes over, he thinks, just like he did at the museum, that he definitely likes waterfalls the best.

Chapter Text

5

Jihoon never cared much for visual art, it wasn’t something that he was ever particularly into. His parents care about it way more than him, they’re the type of people who go to museums when they travel, not that they like to travel a lot. Jihoon visits his mom for the holidays, and though he’s happy to be with his family and close to the ocean once more, leaving Soonyoung proves to be one of the hardest things. He tells himself to get over it, it’s only a week, but still…

He doesn’t mope a lot while he’s home, not really, but he does spend a considerable amount of time locked up in his childhood bedroom on the phone with Soonyoung. He doesn’t even care if there’s not much to talk about, just being able to watch Soonyoung eat calms his spirit, which is ridiculous. His mom figures out that there’s something going on and forces Jihoon to tell her everything, and after he does she forbids him from taking food into his room ever again because you chew like a wild animal, Jihoon, no one should have to witness that, especially not your boyfriend, unless you’re trying to drive him away. Jihoon doesn’t disobey, something about implicit rules and filial piety and the fact that it’s his mom’s house makes him feel like a little kid. Even though he’s in his twenties and Soonyoung has not only seen him eat several times, but has also done dirtier things himself, like shove his tongue up Jihoon’s ass. So really, Jihoon doesn’t think eating like a wild animal would be a problem, but he obeys anyway.

Soonyoung picks him up at the train station when he goes back home, doesn’t kiss him until they’re in the car and Jihoon kind of wants to melt into him. They’re in Jihoon’s apartment when he remembers to give Soonyoung a tiny little red bag with a tiny little red bow that his mom said to deliver as a Christmas present, after scolding him for not telling her he had a boyfriend sooner so she could’ve prepared something decent.

“My mom sent you this,” Jihoon says, kind of reluctantly. It’s embarrassing for some reason, he doesn’t know what is in the bag but he knows for sure that if he doesn’t give it to Soonyoung, his mom will find out. She’s a lot like Jeonghan, in the way she likes embarrassing him and always seems to know more than she should. That’s why they get along. His mom adores Jeonghan, always sends him socks for Christmas, and Jeonghan, in return, sends her several Christmas cards with pictures of both him and Jihoon, which she frames and hangs above the chimney, much to Jihoon’s chagrin. Jihoon doesn’t even know when Jeonghan takes them. The fact that when he arrived she already had a picture of Jeonghan and Joshua framed only gave her ammo, how come I found out about Jeonghannie’s boyfriend and not yours? My own son!

Jihoon sits on the couch while Soonyoung opens the bag, pulls out whatever is inside, and his eyes instantly scrunch up in delight, he covers his mouth with his other hand as he laughs.

“What? What is it?” Jihoon stands up and walks over, but Soonyoung refuses to show him what it is, still laughing away, until Jihoon threatens to tickle him, which is when he hands it over.

Honestly, Jihoon doesn’t know why his mom hates him. He doesn’t even have to look at the details, one glance at it and he knows what it is, and he’s handing it back to Soonyoung with an eye roll and a promise to never show up at his parents’ house again.

It’s a picture of Jihoon when he was about six years old, smiling wide and throwing peace signs at the camera while in front of a famous painting Jihoon doesn’t remember the name of. It’s from one of their long trips, he doesn’t remember where it was taken either, he just knows his parents are museum-type tourists and the painting is famous. He does remember his mom asking him to pose with it. It’s an awful picture, Jihoon had a gigantic head as a child and a terrible haircut. To make it worse, his mom printed multiple copies of the image and had them made into fridge magnets, which she has a stash of and keeps handing out to close friends, and that’s exactly what Soonyoung is holding in his hand currently.

“Promise you’ll keep that in the bag and never take it out,” Jihoon groans at Soonyoung.

“Hell no, are you crazy? This is my favorite thing ever. You as a baby and art, that’s pretty much everything I like about life. It’s going on my fridge.”

Jihoon would put up a fight if he thought it would get him anywhere. For now, he’s glad his mom knows Jeonghan well enough to know what to get him as a present, that way she doesn’t have to use the fridge magnet cop-out. Jeonghan would never let him live it down.

2

Yes, Jihoon has a thing for Soonyoung’s bare skin. No, it’s not sexual, nor is it about getting him naked. It’s weird. He doesn’t know how to explain it. It’s like his hands have a mind of their own, and just choose to slip under Soonyoung’s clothes until they’re skin to skin. Sometimes, on the weekends, he walks into Soonyoung’s apartment and he’s lying down, watching a movie and wearing soft clothes. Jihoon walks over and positions himself right on top of him to steal his warmth, shoves his hand up his oversized sweater, and breathes him in.

6

Soonyoung and Jihoon shop for groceries together because they’re a gross couple like that. Jihoon doesn’t go to his usual grocery store anymore, he goes to the one that is in between Soonyoung’s apartment and his own, and even though it takes him longer to get there, he likes it better because there is a pet shop next to it and sometimes Soonyoung just tells him to go look at the kittens while he transfers all the bags from their shopping carts to his car. Soonyoung is sweet like that.

Jihoon drags Soonyoung with him this time, holds his hand while he takes his time looking at the kittens through the window, when he hears someone call his name, turning around to none other than Seokmin’s ultra bright smile.

“It’s been a while, oh my god, it’s good to see you!” Seokmin says as he approaches, his dog walking next to him on its leash. Once he’s close enough, Jihoon can’t help but reciprocate his smile, and Seokmin kind of throws himself at him, hugs him tight and one-armed.

“It’s good to see you too,” Jihoon says, and he means it. Seokmin detangles himself from him and Jihoon realizes he’s still definitely holding his boyfriend’s hand. “This is Soonyoung, by the way.”

Seokmin opens his eyes really wide, looking shocked like he’s doing the mental math, and then his mouth falls open in pleasant surprise. After that, he’s throwing himself at Soonyoung as well.

“Oh my god! Oh my god, I’m so happy for you,” he exclaims, and Jihoon feels his heart hurt a little bit. He hung out with Seokmin once, and to see him so genuinely happy at Jihoon’s own happiness reminds him that he’s probably the best person in the world.

Jihoon is a bit scared to see Soonyoung’s reaction, not because Soonyoung would be outwardly mean to Seokmin, because he wouldn’t be… it’s just Jihoon doesn’t want to make his boyfriend uncomfortable under any circumstance. So it’s a relief when Seokmin pulls away and Soonyoung is smiling bright at him.

Jihoon’s heart stops hurting, now it just melts.

4

One of Jihoon’s favorite things, he’s finding out, is straddling Soonyoung’s lap and rolling his hips while they make out until he can feel him get hard under him. He doesn’t know what it is, maybe it’s just the knowledge that he has that ability that gets him going. Jihoon would explore it, what if he’s like, one of those people who likes to feel in charge and have authority in bed. He’d look into it if he cared.

But he doesn’t, this is enough, he thinks. It’s enough to feel Soonyoung fully hard in his sweatpants against his ass when he sits on his lap, and it’s more than enough when he gets to hear him whine and thrust his hips up in order to get any kind of friction. Jihoon will sit up then, all his weight on his knees, and Soonyoung will pout at him for removing the weight on his dick. And then Jihoon will bite Soonyoung’s lower lip, pull it into his mouth, and give Soonyoung what he wants, because above all he’s a weak man who will give Soonyoung anything.

And that’s something to mull over. The way his heart and body and soul are aligned with the sole purpose of making Soonyoung happy. That sure is something to mull over.

3

Jeonghan and Joshua throw a party when they move in together. It’s not actually a party, more like a get together with their close friends. Jihoon and Soonyoung both feel like they have to bring presents, because isn’t that what people do? The issue is, neither of them knows what to get. They decide to join funds and get them something better together, and that something ends up being a shelf.

Jihoon walks into his apartment one night to find Soonyoung sitting in the living room surrounded by empty small plastic bags and staring confusedly at a sheet of paper.

“Oh, no,” he says.

“Okay babe, don’t get mad,” Soonyoung says sheepishly.

“Why is Jeonghan and Joshua’s present literally strewn over my floor?”

“Because I thought it would be cute to assemble it for them?”

Jihoon lets out a noise between a sigh and a tired laugh.

“And it didn’t occur to you that it’d be cuter to assemble it, you know, in their own apartment?”

“It did, actually. It just occurred to me when I had already opened all the little bags and taken out the pieces.”

“You do realize we’re probably gonna have to disassemble it to fit it in your car, right?”

Soonyoung stares back in disbelief, clearly not having thought about that. Jihoon takes off his shoes and walks up to him, kisses his cheek, and then sits down next to him so they can figure out how to assemble a fucking shelf together.

Two hours later Jihoon is starting to think maybe Soonyoung and him are just plain stupid. They have made basically zero progress. The diagrams in the instructions paper are simply incomprehensible, Jihoon is starting to develop a headache, and he doesn’t know what to do anymore. They don’t even know which pieces went in which bags, which sucks because they were labeled and now they’re all mixed together.

Jihoon decides they did their part when they actually paid for the shelf, and now it’s Jeonghan and Joshua’s responsibility to deal with the rest. They put all the small pieces in the same bag and pack everything as best as their exhausted brains allow them to.

Jeonghan laughs at them for what feels like hours when they get to his place and explain the story after handing him the box. Then he unpacks it and assembles the whole thing in fifteen minutes because he’s clearly god’s favorite child and not only does he have a perfect face, he’s also smart and good at abstract thinking and building puzzles.

When he’s done, he stands up and walks over to where Joshua is, sits on his lap and looks back at Jihoon and Soonyoung with a pleased little smile as Joshua’s arms circle his waist. Jihoon would roll his eyes at his cockiness if he wasn’t actually relieved that the whole thing turned out okay.

11

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Who’s gonna kill the bugs if we ever move in together?”

“Not me.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Why ask, then? We got it all figured out.”

“Exactly. So do you wanna move in together?”

There’s silence for a brief moment.

“Did you ask about the bugs just to lead into that question?”

“Obviously.”

“Of course you did.”

Another silence, this time slightly longer.

“So… about the moving in thing…”

“Mhm?”

“You’re making this so hard… do you want to move in with me or not?”

In the darkness of the room, the only sound is their breathing and sheets rustling.

“I’d love to.”

8

Jihoon thinks the general population is still for the most part unaware of the benefits of having someone rub your ass, and he feels sorry for them. The sole benefit being it feels nice, but still. Jihoon enjoys lying down in whichever position leaves him within reach of Soonyoung, and having him reach out and just basically massage his ass. Which he always does, Jihoon has noticed Soonyoung has a hard time keeping his hands away from his ass or its general vicinity. If they’re in public it’s his hips, sometimes his waist, like clockwork.

And just like Jihoon’s thing with touching Soonyoung’s skin under his clothes, it’s not necessarily sexual, it doesn’t have to be anything more than a massage, really. Unless it is, and Jihoon ends up with two fingers up his ass, breathing heavily against Soonyoung’s neck. That happens. Often. And right now, Jihoon is kind of in the mood to be taken care of, and Soonyoung is so good at that, so good at opening him up slowly and pressing right where Jihoon wants him but soft and lazy, dragging the whole thing out.

Jihoon doesn’t get in this mood frequently, usually he doesn’t like to be kept waiting, but right now it’s okay, and he’s content with the slow pace, he’s content with dragging it out and building up the pleasure slowly while he sucks hickeys on Soonyoung’s neck. He has to break away a few times, when Soonyoung twists his wrist a particular way and has Jihoon clenching around him, thrusting his hips forward because he can’t help it, letting out these noises against Soonyoung’s skin that should be embarrassing but Jihoon can’t bring himself to care.

It’s such a switch up, he thinks, to feel like he could stay like this forever when normally they’re both rushing, but it’s exactly how he feels. He lets it build up and it doesn’t stop being slow, it just becomes more desperate. Soonyoung’s fingers seem to be deeper inside him, literally a millimeter away from his prostate, rubbing around but not quite there, and Jihoon has been grinding down against Soonyoung for a while just to get some friction. He doesn’t want to rush but he’s so close, when Soonyoung places his free hand on his hip and asks if he wants it, Jihoon says no, it’s fine just like this, sometimes it’s okay to get off like teenagers, grinding against each other.

And that’s what they do, Jihoon keeps moving his hips back and forth against Soonyoung’s and suddenly Soonyoung is pressing his fingers deep where he wants them, rubbing steady and constant until Jihoon feels like his vision goes white and he comes in his pants - which he never managed to take off - shaking against Soonyoung.

So, yes. Ass rubbing. Jihoon recommends it.

7

Jihoon meets Wonwoo and instantly takes to him, he thinks they’re similar in many ways, in how quiet they can be, in their interests, but mostly in their ability to make fun of Soonyoung. They like ganging up on him for no reason, just to see him get frustrated, the difference is once they’re done Wonwoo kind of retreats back into silence, and Jihoon takes Soonyoung’s face in his hands and kisses his nose. You know, as an apology.

Soonyoung ends up inviting their friends over one day, it’s not like there’s many of them, but enough to come up with games and engage in interesting conversation. Soonyoung is playing Mario Kart with the friend Jun brought over, and they’re both so terrible at the game, they’re constantly in 11th and 12th place. Jeonghan is somewhere in the kitchen trying to convince Joshua to ingest a concoction Jun prepared, and Jihoon just came back from the bathroom and is looking at everything going on in amusement.

In the midst of the loudness going on, Jihoon sees Seokmin and Wonwoo standing next to the window chatting. They look kind of awkward, in a way, but Wonwoo seems to be talking more than usual, and Seokmin is wearing his huge smile as always, and everything he says seems to make Wonwoo laugh. Jihoon thinks it’s sweet; Wonwoo, so interested in acquiring knowledge about absolutely everything, and Seokmin, already finding everything that exists fascinating just by virtue of existing.

It’s weird, how Jihoon keeps to himself and enjoys his time alone, but moments like these make him feel so warm, so where he’s supposed to be. It’s chaotic all around him, but it clicks.

“You okay?” Soonyoung says, suddenly standing in front of him.

“All good,” he says, and Soonyoung nods at him and leans down to press a kiss against his cheek, and then another one against his lips.

It’s chaotic, Jihoon thinks, but there’s nowhere he’d rather be.

9

Jeonghan and Joshua call each other “love.” Actually, they seem to call each other a variety of names, including extremely cheesy nicknames, other people’s names, and insults, but the one word they keep coming back to is “love.” Jihoon is working but got distracted by the images he’s taken on his phone, and when he’s trying to write music he tends to overthink things more than usual in order to get inspired. That’s how the pictures of Jeonghan and Joshua he has saved get him thinking about their nicknames.

It doesn’t necessarily have to mean something transcendental, but if you think about it, maybe it does. It could mean something, Jihoon thinks, to go from feeling love for someone, to that person being your love. The first is a feeling, an abstract thing that exists in the space between two people and flows either in both directions or in only one. The second is different: this feeling has materialized, it has taken the shape of someone else. It’s something huge, perhaps, when love stops being defined as yours, as something you experience like that, and morphs into someone else. Your definition of love is a person. You have transferred all of those qualities to another human being, and now they define love in your eyes.

And that’s immense, thinks Jihoon. To have something as impermanent as a human being define something as powerful as love.

He swipes left and looks at the next image, this one of Soonyoung in Jihoon’s bathroom, brushing his teeth with his eyes closed and toothpaste running down his chin.

It’s immense, Jihoon has no doubt about it.

1

When Joshua checks them in for their second fitness class for couples, Jihoon takes a minute to feel anxious about showing up, but then Soonyoung squeezes his hand and he feels okay.

Surprisingly, they’re worse at it than they were the first time. Before it was awkward and they weren’t used to each other, but they were both making a huge effort to get it together. This time, there’s nothing like that. Sure, they’re more than used to each other’s bodies, but there’s no tension to keep them in check, no common goal to get it over and done with.

They keep tripping and falling, and whenever it seems like they finally got one position down, they make eye contact and burst into laughter, and collapse into each other. Seungcheol is extremely patient, especially when they fully decide to stop taking it seriously and are just trying to make each other laugh.

When they leave, Jeonghan is behind the cashier with Joshua. They’ve printed name tags with Jeonghan’s name and stuck them to Joshua’s chest. His right pec says JEONG and his left one reads HAN. Jihoon wonders for a brief moment how Joshua hasn’t gotten fired, and then remembers Jeonghan is a good luck charm.

He shakes his head and pulls Soonyoung towards the exit, thinking about how the last time he left it was frustrated and with Jeonghan, and how now he’s leaving Jeonghan behind with his boyfriend and holding Soonyoung’s hand in his. A glow-up, he’d say.

12

Soonyoung sets up another exhibition, and that basically means he’s busy all the time. Jihoon wasn’t really aware of the amount of things that need to be done to set up an exhibition, but then Soonyoung explains it to him and Jihoon gets why he’s barely getting any sleep and why he’s stressed out and not taking care of himself. Jihoon tries to not interrupt at all, to be anything but a nuisance. He brings Soonyoung lunch when he has the time, and if he doesn’t he texts him to remind him. He listens to Soonyoung rant about how someone hasn’t replied to his emails, someone’s work is coming in late, he still has to figure out something about the drinks, his photographer cancelled last minute and he feels like pulling his hair out strand by strand…

Opening night comes, and Jihoon insists on paying for an entry ticket and tells Soonyoung to mingle with the art crowd, he can read the pamphlets and walk around by himself. He sips on the red wine he was offered when he arrived as he steps into the room. It’s huge, Soonyoung told him it’s way bigger than what he was given for his first exhibit, and Jihoon thinks that’s exciting.

He always wants to know Soonyoung, know all of him, and sometimes he thinks about how they speak different languages in certain aspects, like their favored type of art, and how there’s a language barrier there and the best they can do is try to share ideas through it. There are some things they’ll never get, though, just because his brain isn’t set up like an art historian’s, and Soonyoung’s isn’t set up like a musician’s. That’s the reason why coming to this means the world to him, because even if Soonyoung isn’t the one making the art, this space Jihoon is standing in is art in itself, and it’s a reflection of something Soonyoung came up with, literally the materialization of an idea that was once innovated in his brain. If Jihoon’s product is music, Soonyoung’s product is this.

Soonyoung had told him the exhibit was about love, but it’s so different from what Jihoon expected. Once more, he doesn’t know shit about art. He thought it would be a bunch of artwork of people in love, but it’s far from that. It’s love in contrast. Soonyoung, apparently, wanted to show how self love can be, although literally contradictory, selfless, and how love for the external, selfless love, can be selfish. Jihoon’s first thought is that that doesn’t make any sense, but once he walks around, he gets it. Not only in the artwork, but in the way things are placed, the opposition created in the space itself.

He’s standing in front of a sculpture, trying to make sense of it because so far it seems like something entirely amorphous, when Soonyoung comes and stands next to him.

“You like it?” he asks.

“Of course. You did a good job. It looks like a lot of work.”

“It was,” Soonyoung says, taking the empty wine glass from Jihoon and handing it to the paid staff. “Wanna hear something interesting?”

“I do.”

Soonyoung reaches out to push Jihoon’s bangs away from his eyes. “You’re the reason for all of this.”

Jihoon doesn’t know what that means, and he’s not sure he’ll ever be ready to understand it. It doesn’t matter, though, because Soonyoung will tell him whether it gives him cardiac arrhythmia or not. He might as well ask.

“How so?”

“I was thinking, one morning. About you, and about how I love you. And I guess I realized I could love you very selfishly.”

“Selfishly how?”

“I think you’re special. I’ve never felt this way about anyone, ever. It’s… inconvenient sometimes, because you’re everything. You're in everything, I see you everywhere, everything reminds me of you. I was kind of thinking about how busy I am with work, and how you still manage to sneak into my mind when I least expect it.”

Jihoon has a feeling that he has a lot more to say, so he stays quiet. If he had to speak, he probably wouldn’t be able to anyway. Soonyoung goes on.

“I never really wanted to be famous, but I was thinking about the things that I’m good at, and I realized I’m excellent at having you causing all kinds of trouble inside my head. Wouldn’t that be something bizarre to become famous for? What if that’s what people recognized me for? For being in love with you…”

It’s a funny coincidence, how well that matches with something Jihoon thought once; something about bones and carvings and the end of the world.

“I know you in a lot of ways and I love you in all of those ways. And other people know you and love you in other ways. But - this might sound deranged to you - I love you the most. Out of everyone, I love you the most. I have no doubt about it.”

And Jihoon understands, and wants to tell him that he does, he knows what that’s like, because he’s known for a while that his love for Soonyoung is so huge and constantly expanding, it’s impossible for anyone else to love him like Jihoon does.

“And then I thought about how that’s a fact that I’m proud of. I want to be the one who loves you the most. But I realized, isn’t that selfish? What if someone else can love you more? If I’m number one it means no one else is number one, and doesn’t that imply not wanting other people to love you as much as I do? And who am I to stop that love from getting to you?”

Jihoon gets where he’s coming from, but again, he doesn’t think Soonyoung is selfish, and has never felt held back or kept away from anything or anyone because of him.

“Anyway, I eventually realized that I’d never do that, you know? I’d never keep you to myself, I want the whole world to see how amazing you are, and I want them to love you accordingly. And it’s fine how much they do, because I know deep inside that I love you the most.”

Jihoon doesn’t really know how to answer to something so vulnerable. He doesn’t know if he deserves it, but he knows he wants it.

“Sometimes I wish,” he starts, “I wish you could just take a dive into my brain and see what it looks like in there. It would be so embarrassing, but you’d know I got you plastered on every surface.”

Soonyoung smiles at him so sweet, so calm and sincere and full of love. Jihoon hasn’t finished speaking.

“I don’t think you could be selfish. It’s one of my favorite things about you, wanna know what?”

“What?”

“Your ability to make everyone feel loved.”

Soonyoung is bad at hiding initial reactions. Jihoon looks at him and rejoices at the red of the tips of his ears, and at the smile he still can’t keep from spreading across his face. He knows he must be looking pretty much the same himself.

“I find it crazy,” Jihoon continues, wondering why he’s picking words that make him sound like an online translator, “how much loving you adds to my life. It feels biological to me. It’s like I love you and everything changes, and I've been looking at the world through pink tinted glasses since I learned you love me back. And I don’t know if that’s selfish, to want to love you because my whole universe seems to be better because of it. But even if it is, the only thing I can do is love you harder.”

Words flow easy in the museum. Jihoon isn’t good at expressing himself in the most conventional ways, but he feels so much, that’s bound to come out of him somehow. At the museum, it’s like being surrounded by pieces of other people’s souls in other people’s art makes him feel like it’s okay to take his out and display it, maybe leave parts of it splattered against the walls too.

“I’m scared that you don’t know sometimes. It scares me to think that I’m not good enough at telling you how much I love you. But I do, so terribly. That’s all I can really give you.”

“And it’s enough. I know you, Jihoon, and I know how you tick and I know you love me.”

“Good,” says Jihoon, pulling Soonyoung closer by the lapels of his blazer. “Run away from me now because I’m about to kiss you, but I think that’s not something you might wanna display right here right now.”

“I don’t care. Performance art exists, even when you don’t mean for it to be performance art.”

“We’re surrounded by the critical art crowd, though.”

“I don’t care,” Soonyoung repeats. “I’m selfish like that.”

So Jihoon shakes his head and kisses him, letting himself melt into his love.

13

Jihoon thought after the exhibit Soonyoung would be mostly free again, but he’s not. He has to clear the place, send the artwork back, send in pictures for the website, and a bunch of other things. It’s less work than before and he’s under less pressure, but he’s still very much busy. On the last day, he’s invited to a dinner party with the people involved, and Jihoon doesn’t come with, insisting it’s his moment and he should celebrate with his team.

He does miss him like a limb, though. It’s one of those nights where Jihoon is feeling clingy as hell, and all the time Soonyoung hasn’t been able to spend with him seems to have built up. Now he’s kind of desperate, waiting for him to come home feeling equal parts lonely and horny.

(10:19) Jihoon: i miss u

(10:22) Soonyoung: [attachment.jpg]

It’s a picture of him with more people in the back. His hair is messy, his cheeks flushed, his tie pulled loose around his neck and he’s smiling so big. It’s so stupid, but the balance instantly tips more towards horny and away from lonely.

(10:22) Jihoon: drunk?

(10:23) Soonyoung: nope im driving remember?

And that just means the flush on his cheeks and the hair and everything else is just a product of Soonyoung being happy, exhilarated, full of life.

Jihoon doesn’t bother him anymore. He does, however, wait for him on the couch, and when he hears him unlocking the door, he makes sure he’s close enough to kiss him against it, hearing it slam shut from their combined weight.

Soonyoung is always so responsive to him, hugs him around his waist and pulls him closer and lets Jihoon manhandle him however he wants. Jihoon slides his fingers through his hair and kisses him until they’re out of breath before pulling away.

“Hey, gorgeous,” he says, punctuating the greeting with a kiss to the upward tilted corner of Soonyoung’s mouth. He’s just as disheveled as he looked in the picture he sent earlier.

“Hi,” Soonyoung giggles a bit. “What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing,” says Jihoon, coming a bit closer. “I told you, I missed you.”

“I’m here,” Soonyoung runs his palms up and down Jihoon’s back.

“You are, finally. Which means…” he lowers his hands from Soonyoung’s hair, starts unbuckling his belt and unbuttoning his pants. He realizes Soonyoung is still wearing a jacket, so he shoves it off his shoulders and says, “Tell me about the party,” before dropping to his knees.

“There’s not much to tell,” says Soonyoung, sighing when Jihoon pulls his pants off and starts palming him through his underwear.

“Sure there is,” Jihoon kisses above the waistband, biting a little bit when he feels like it.

“Everyone was just really nice. They brought cake.”

“What flavor?” Jihoon doesn’t care, really, all he wants is to hear Soonyoung lose his train of thought and the way his breath hitches when Jihoon presses his hand firmer against him.

“Chocolate caramel,” says Soonyoung, the last word drawn out into a long exhale.

Jihoon replaces his hand with his mouth, pressing it against Soonyoung through the cloth and breathing warm, feeling his dick get harder under it. “Was it good?”

“Yeah,” Soonyoung does that thing he does when he starts getting impatient, he reaches down and cards his fingers through Jihoon’s hair, pushing it away from his face even though it falls right back into place.

Jihoon stands up and connects his lips with Soonyoung’s once more, licking into his mouth as he turns them around, making sure he’s the one against the door, and then pulls away and drops to his knees again. This is what he wanted from the beginning, to be trapped between Soonyoung and a solid surface. Jihoon knows some people are into feeling used during sex, but that’s not his thing. This isn’t really about him liking to feel used, it’s more about making Soonyoung feel like he gets to enjoy this however he wants. No one makes the rules but him. Jihoon is fine with relinquishing that authority, the prospect of having a dick in his mouth in the near future is more than enough for him.

“There was this other thing,” Soonyoung says as Jihoon pulls down his underwear and wraps delicate fingers around him.

“Tell me,” Jihoon answers, and then proceeds to swipe his tongue down the sides of Soonyoung’s dick, getting it as wet as he wants it.

“There was this critic there. All the people who hung around after opening night were invited and he showed up. Important guy,” Soonyoung’s voice is strained, like it’s taking effort to keep it from shaking as Jihoon licks him up and down.

“Mhm,” Jihoon mumbles, trying to get him to continue. He’d comment, but his mouth is busy.

“He liked the exhibit a lot. Asked who it was about.”

“What did you say?” Jihoon speaks right against the head of his dick and feels Soonyoung’s thighs tense.

“That it’s not about - shit,” Jihoon takes the head into his mouth for a quick second, letting it make sound when he sucks and pulls it out. “I told them it’s not about anyone, but it is inspired by someone,” Soonyoung breathes out quickly, as if trying to get the words out before Jihoon makes him forget them again.

“Cute,” Jihoon says, and repeats the move. Soonyoung’s breath comes out quicker, more erratic.

“He asked if you’re my muse,” Jihoon mouths around the base of his cock, then starts pressing open mouthed kisses all along the underside until he reaches the head again, and rejoices in the way Soonyoung’s thighs shake. “Fuck, fuck - I told him I’m not an artist so I don’t know how you could be.”

Jihoon keeps toying with him, doing whatever he wants with his mouth but never letting it wrap fully around him.

“He,” Soonyoung takes a breath, “he said it doesn’t matter. Said if someone’s inspiring you to - ah - to fill a room with art that matches a feeling, that’s huge and that’s what a muse is,” Jihoon thinks it’s so cute, the way Soonyoung keeps talking without Jihoon asking any questions. It’s not because he’s eager to tell Jihoon about this, it’s because rambling is so natural to him that when he’s in Jihoon’s mouth, he doesn’t make any effort to be anything other than natural, like he doesn’t have the concentration required to organize what he says and doesn’t. Cute.

“So if that’s the case, I guess you’re that,” Soonyoung says and swipes his thumb across Jihoon’s cheekbone. “You’re my -,” and then he chokes on the word because Jihoon decides to be an asshole and swallow him down when he’s about to say it. Soonyoung swears under his breath, and Jihoon’s lips are finally stretched around a mouthful of cock just how he likes it.

He keeps his fingers around the base and sinks down, then sucks as he pulls off and does it again. Soonyoung has one hand on the door and another one in Jihoon’s hair, and Jihoon reaches out with the hand that’s not around Soonyoung’s dick and grabs the back of his thigh.

“You should see yourself, you look so good like this, do you have any idea?” Soonyoung pants, and it makes Jihoon laugh around his dick, which in turn makes Soonyoung twitch inside his mouth. He doesn’t think watching himself suck dick would be as interesting to him as it is to Soonyoung, that’s it.

He pulls off and holds Soonyoung in his hand as he leans forward to suck his balls into his mouth. Soonyoung is a mix of completely tense and completely boneless above him, the way he whines goes straight to Jihoon’s dick, which is already painfully hard in his sweats.

Jihoon never notices when exactly during the process it starts getting so messy, but it always does, and all of a sudden he realizes there’s spit all over his chin and even on the tip of his nose. It’s what he likes though, he doesn’t necessarily know what it is but there’s something about getting his mouth even more wet and slick that’s so delicious to him. He moves back to the head and gathers the leaking precum on his tongue, swallows it down because he enjoys it.

Soonyoung is close, Jihoon can feel it just because of how he’s mumbling incoherencies and because of the desperate way his hands move around Jihoon’s head. He sinks down again, so deep he can feel Soonyoung against the back of his throat, takes his hands off his dick completely and lets them drop to his own thighs, and looks up at him. Jihoon’s back is against the door, he couldn’t go anywhere if he wanted to. He realizes he might look entirely submissive, which is funny considering how much he enjoys being the one setting the pace. It’s just all he wants is for Soonyoung to decide how he wants to come. He can provide the illusion of it, he guesses.

Their eyes meet and Soonyoung twitches inside his mouth again. He raises his eyebrows, as if asking Jihoon if it’s okay, and Jihoon nods. This is his. He can do whatever he wants with it. If he wants to fuck his throat it’s up to him, if he wants to pull out and come on his face it’s also up to him.

Soonyoung starts it off by only thrusting into his mouth, deep but not hard. He caresses Jihoon’s face, runs his fingers down his cheeks while he’s at it.

“Can you swallow, baby?” he asks. He says it so sweetly, it almost makes Jihoon laugh how careful Soonyoung is with him sometimes. Jihoon makes sure Soonyoung’s cock is as deep in his mouth as it can go and then swallows around him, takes a second to breathe through his nose so he doesn’t choke and then swallows again. Soonyoung almost pulls out then, except not really, just leaves the tip of his cock inside Jihoon’s relaxed mouth and jerks himself off, and then he stops looking at the way his dick is resting on Jihoon’s tongue and looks up, their eyes meet again and he’s coming, spilling into Jihoon’s eager mouth.

Jihoon doesn’t swallow immediately, because again, he likes messy. He keeps the cum on his tongue and takes Soonyoung into his mouth again, making the slide impossibly slicker. He only bobs his head a couple of times before Soonyoung starts whining, oversensitive, and then he pulls away and properly swallows, licking around his mouth to get whatever might’ve gotten there.

Soonyoung pants until he somewhat regains his breath, then offers his hand to help Jihoon stand up.

“You know,” he says, “cleanup would be so much easier if you weren’t so nasty.”

“Would you prefer it if I just gave you boring blowjobs?” Jihoon leans his head against the door and smiles.

“Nope,” Soonyoung comes closer, presses Jihoon against the surface and kisses down his jaw.

“You like me like this,” Jihoon undoes the buttons on Soonyoung’s shirt, surprised at how they’re still done up, and slides his arms around him, hugging him inside his now unbuttoned shirt.

“I love you like this. Don’t change a thing,” Soonyoung says, and then he’s kissing Jihoon’s reddened lips, sucking his tongue into his mouth and surely tasting himself on it, as if trying to provide evidence that he accepts and supports Jihoon’s tendency to make a mess.

Then Soonyoung drags him into the shower and makes him come with a hand around his cock and two fingers deep inside him, and Jihoon thinks about how good it is to have him close, to have him home and warm and relaxed, to melt into him and fall asleep and to know that when he wakes up Soonyoung is going to be right there.

10

Jihoon always thought being in love had to be this huge boisterous thing, and it is, it can be extrapolated, it can be life-altering. But being with Soonyoung made him realize that love can also be bare bones, that all of that flamboyance can be stripped down, the layers can be removed and it the end what remains is something easy, something simple.

He doesn’t realize when he falls in love. He doesn’t know how long he’s been in love. Maybe it was before they actually started dating, maybe after. Jihoon doesn’t know. He never becomes aware of the moment when he fell, he becomes aware of the state of being. And maybe because of that, it doesn’t come as a surprise.

They’re at the fucking supermarket again, because they seem to spend so much of their lives in the supermarket for no good reason. Jihoon is walking down the cereal aisle wondering what to get, and the thought just manifests inside his head. A voice in there says you’re in love with Soonyoung, and in his mind he turns around to where the voice came from and shrugs, and says of course I am. That’s how easy it is. It’s as if someone had come up to him and said you’re Jihoon. Like, absolutely, of course he is.

At that moment Soonyoung comes back, holding a loaf of bread in each hand.

“So what I think is, it’s cheaper to get this one because it expires soon. But I don’t know if you’re gonna be eating this much bread. And also, this other one seems healthier and doesn’t expire so soon, but it has no crust, and I know you like crust. There’s all the other brands too but you like this one, so I’m giving you options.”

And Jihoon has just the thing to say.

“I love you, you know?”

“And I love you,” Soonyoung smiles beautifully, and Jihoon smiles back. It’s strange, but it doesn’t feel like a heart-jumping-out-of-your-chest moment. It’s like telling a devoted preacher that god is real. It’s not life altering because they already knew, they had faith in that and firmly believed it. That’s what the moment feels like, like confirmation of a well-known fact. Jihoon’s heart beats in his chest, comfortable and at ease, bathed in knowledge that’s not new, but common culture.

“So…” Soonyoung continues. “Cheap or no crust?”