It was raining when Kun’s car rolled to a stop in the wrap-around driveway in front of a towering brick building that reminded him of his boarding school years. Letting the engine idle as the rain came down in torrents and the wipers squeaked back and forth across the windshield at whiplash speed, Kun took his phone out of the cup holder at his elbow and pulled up the email Johnny had sent him a couple of days ago.
On his phone screen, ASHTANGA CENTER FOR WELLNESS was splashed across an enticing, scenic photo of a lake at sunrise, a mountain range in the backdrop. Kun tried to look for the lush green grass and trees from the photo in the area surrounding him now but found that what wasn’t gray and wet was mud, and the rain was coming down so hard in the night that he could barely make out the building he was parked in front of, anyway. Light blinked from the windows like murky fireflies in the distance.
“Why do I let Johnny talk me into these things,” Kun mumbled to himself, wondering if he should pull around the building to look for parking. He briefly pondered simply driving away and checking himself into a nice, comfortable, luxury hotel for a week instead. He’d already driven three hours from New York City to the middle of nowhere, so what was another hour on the road to Boston, or back down to Hartford? He could certainly find a place to stay, and still take the week, and at the end of it all, Johnny didn’t have to know that he didn’t spend seven days trapped in the woods forcing his body into uncomfortable shapes and eating leaves for the sake of wellness and “detoxing”.
Just then, something crashed against the driver’s side window, and Kun screamed, his heart rate spiking. A boy was yelling at him with a smile on his face, but his words were muffled by the rain and glass.
“I can’t hear you!” Kun yelled back, hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white. Who was this boy? Why was he out here in the middle of the woods, crashing into cars?
The boy mimed rolling down the window and Kun, after peering surreptitiously around the boy to ensure he wasn't carrying some sort of weapon, lowered the glass a paltry inch. Water splashed in through the crack and all over Kun’s very expensive athleisure track jacket and sweats. The boy was in a poncho.
“I’m Jeno!” he shouted through the slim opening Kun had given him. “I’m with the Center! Welcome! Sorry for the rain. You can follow me for parking!” It was then that Kun noticed the giant flashlight in Jeno’s hand. He waved it around like a police officer’s nightstick, the beam of light glancing off the hood of Kun’s car and dancing through the rain like shattered crystal.
“Great,” Kun said, nodding and forcing a smile onto his face. Jeno beamed at him and scampered ahead of the car in his rainboots, directing Kun to drive the way air traffic controllers directed a plane. “Great,” Kun said again to himself as he inched forward in the mud, thinking longingly of his fully-furnished and tech-infused penthouse apartment in the Upper West Side.
Despite the warm, golden glow of the lights inside the Center and the blast of warm air knocking Kun in the face when he stepped beyond the threshold, and despite the carpeting rolled out under his feet and the lovely, landscape paintings adorning the walls, the Center might as well have been a penitentiary to him. High ceilings and candles burning eucalyptus-flavored aromatherapy scents couldn’t hide the sturdy brick walls or the vast nothingness that surrounded the plot of land the Center sat upon.
Some might call that vast nothingness “nature”, but Kun preferred not to acknowledge it with a name that could give it power. He was not a “nature” person. He planned to spend the next seven days indoors, preferably near an outlet so he could charge his phone and seek out a signal so that he could send and receive emails on his iPad.
Ahead of him, a woman sat behind the front desk. When she tilted her head at him in greeting, the beads at the ends of the braids in her hair jingled together like bells. She beckoned him forward. “Come in,” she said in a soft, breathy voice. “We don’t bite.”
Kun shifted the strap of his duffel bag higher onto his shoulder with a grunt and proceeded down the carpeted corridor. Taped to the surface of the front desk was a poster that listed the Center’s rules. Contemplation Week is a time to experience tranquil spaces, silent meals, and our selection of workshops, Kun read. We ask that you put away all technology during your stay. You may use technology in your room and in our designated spaces.
New plan, Kun thought internally. Look for a tech-designated space and stay there. That way, he could work and say he’d done the week at the Center to appease Johnny’s worries that he was running himself to the ground with stress. Kun was not stressed; he was just busy.
“First time?” the woman asked him when he reached the desk.
Kun nodded and flashed her a smile that he usually reserved for philanthropists and donors. “Yes. Kun Qian?”
“We’ve got you right here,” she said as she scanned a list on the screen of the tablet in front of her. “Hold on just a moment. We’ve also got a welcome package for you.” She smiled at him as she left, disappearing through a door behind the desk.
“Goodie,” Kun mumbled to himself. He took this moment alone to really look around. To the left of the front desk was a staircase that wrapped around as it reached the second floor, and to the right were a pair of elevators. Past the staircase, a hallway stretched all the way to the other side of the building, and doors marked the entrances to the rooms on the ground floor. Beside each door was a low storage unit that appeared to be a space for people to leave their shoes and belongings before entering.
A blast of cold air barreled into the lobby as the front doors opened again. Kun turned, realizing belatedly that Jeno hadn't come in after him from the storm and expecting to see him now. Jeno did come in, but beside him was another shorter, slighter man wearing a bucket hat that was dripping rain water and a dark long-sleeved t-shirt that clung to every inch of skin of his upper body. He was wearing shorts -- also drenched -- and slides on his feet.
"--still excited that you made it!" Kun heard Jeno say. "We were worried there for a bit--"
"It was kind of up in the air."
"It's too bad Sicheng couldn't make it, too," Jeno said. The suitcase rolling at his side was trailing mud onto the carpet, but no one seemed to care.
The shorter man carried a rolled-up yoga mat in a strap under his arm, and his slides squelched with every step he took. "Yeah, but he's got that retreat in Nepal instead. He's fine."
"Jealous," Jeno quipped. They reached the front desk, and Jeno turned to bring the other man into a wet hug before leaving him with the suitcase and running back out into the night and the rain, waiting for more cars to arrive.
"Bring an umbrella with--" the man called behind Jeno, but the boy was already gone. He turned to Kun and shook his head in exasperation, an amused smile on his face. "He's still the same," he said.
"Is he?" Kun raised an eyebrow and wondered why the lady was taking so long looking for his welcome package. He just wanted to gather his things, get the key to his Premium room, take a long hot shower, and climb into bed.
"He's been working here in the summers since he was sixteen. Sweet kid."
"You come here every summer?"
"For a couple of years, now," the other man said, looking Kun up and down. He swiped his bucket hat off his head and held out his hand to shake. Underneath the hat, the man was beautiful, and Kun found himself staring. His skin was sun-kissed and golden, and he’d been blessed with high, sculpted cheekbones, a pointed nose, and eyes that were distinctly feline in shape. The cheeky grin on his lips made his features brighten, an endearing wrinkle forming over the bridge of his nose. "Not much of a hand-shaker?"
"Oh," Kun breathed, startled out of his reverie. He took the other's hand and shook it, marveling at how well their palms fit together. "I'm Kun Qian," he said.
"Ten Leechaiyapornkul," Ten said. Kun's eyes lingered over the tiny peaks that were Ten's nipples, raised under the wet fabric of his shirt. "It's nice to meet you. This your first time?"
"Is it that obvious?" Kun asked, looking down at himself and reluctantly letting go of Ten's hand.
"The track suit," Ten pointed out. "Don't see much of that around here."
"We're here to relax, aren't we? This is my relaxation outfit." When Ten laughed, Kun laughed along with him, feeling that they were in on the same joke. He decided he liked Ten, and not just because he could see the outline of his muscles underneath his top. "Are you rooming--"
"And here's your Welcome." Front Desk Lady was back. "Oh, hi Ten!" She dropped a small wicker basket on the counter and pushed it over to Kun, who felt his spirit leave his body when he saw what was in it.
"Is this your idea of some sort of prank?" he demanded.
"No," she said, shaking her head and frowning. "Didn't you request..." She picked up one of the items that was nestled in the basket among decorative tissue. It was a little pink bullet vibrator the size of a lipstick tube. "Oh, and..." She picked up another item. A travel-sized bottle of water-based lube.
"No!" Kun shouted, face red.
Ten reached over to take the bullet vibrator from her fingers. "Is this what you meant by relax?" he asked, turning the toy over in his hand and examining its length and girth.
"Absolutely not. That's not for me. I don't need that."
"Hm." Ten put the vibrator back into the basket. "Pity," he said. His eyes glittered like black diamonds when he smirked at Kun. He turned the basket around to examine the contents some more while Kun stood frozen, his bag like an anchor on his shoulder and his body going into rigor mortis. This was humiliating. Ten hummed as he picked apart the insides of the welcome package with delicate fingers. And then he said, "Baby, this basket is for Yuqi Song."
"What?" Front Desk Lady turned the basket around to look at where Ten was pointing. Indeed, there was a tag tied to the handle, and on the tag was the name YUQI SONG in pretty, handwritten cursive. "Oh, gosh. So sorry! I must have just picked up the one next to yours. I wasn't paying attention..." She blushed, flustered, and quickly ran the basket back to the back room.
"There was some good stuff in there," Ten mumbled as Kun tried not to pass out from apoplexy.
"This place is a joke," Kun grit through his teeth.
Ten leaned onto the counter with his elbows and looked at Kun with a sigh. "Only if you make it one," he said. "Hey, I'm gonna head up. I'm in room 10 if you want to swing by or anything. It was nice meeting you, Kun."
"Oh, right. You, too," Kun said. He definitely did not lose himself watching Ten's pert, full ass work as he climbed the stairs to the second floor, lugging his suitcase behind him.
Kun declined the tour of the building in order to get into the shower faster. His welcome package, as it turned out, was just a set of travel sized toiletries, a sleeping mask, and a small lavender scented candle. His room, despite being a Premium level room, didn’t provide much by way of luxuries, and was really just a glorified dorm room. There was a full-sized bed covered in passable but slightly scratchy sheets (sustainably sourced bamboo fibers, he saw on the tag), a nightstand, a tiny closet, and windows that looked out over the lake, though the view wasn’t much at this time of night in this weather. It was private, at least, and he also had an en suite bathroom. You couldn’t pay Kun to get into a public shower, no matter how clean.
While he soaked under the spray of scalding water in the shower, he thought about Ten’s invitation to “swing by.” Kun knew what that meant. At least, he thought he did.
It had been a while since he’d had a one-night stand. Or a booty call. Or whatever it was called these days. But Ten’s casual invitation to come to his room that evening definitely meant he was inviting Kun to bang, right?
Or was he being presumptuous? People, Kun had found, were prickly and fickle, and he tended not to involve himself because he didn't need the drama. Or the emotions.
The hot water sluiced down his skin, washing away the remaining chill that had clung to him from being soaked in the rain. He emerged from the shower into a cloud of steam that smelled like lemongrass, brushed his teeth with his towel wrapped around his waist, and imagined what Ten's body looked like under the showerhead. He pictured the little pink vibrator between Ten's fingers, could almost hear the hum it made as the Ten in his head switched it on.
Kun groaned as he spat into the sink and his dick twitched against his thigh. Taking a few deep, steadying breaths, he reminded himself that he wasn't a teenager secretly getting off to a dirty picture under the covers in his bedroom. He was an adult, and Ten was just down the hall.
Maybe Ten wanted to fuck, or maybe he wanted to play chess or something. Whatever it was, Kun had nothing else to do this evening anyway as his phone refused to pick up a signal and he'd been informed there was no WiFi except in those designated rooms, and those rooms wouldn't be ready until tomorrow, when the week-long retreat officially started. Outrageous.
He changed into a pair of soft flannel pants and a t-shirt, ran his fingers through his wet hair to tame it into something artfully tousled, and pinched his cheeks to put a bit of color on them. Stepping into a new pair of slippers that came with the room, Kun headed down the hallway. He was in room 2, near the stairs, and room 10 was almost halfway down the floor.
He knocked, his heart kicking up into his throat strangely and he tried to swallow it back down as he waited for a response.
"Yes?" Ten's voice seemed tight and strained. "It's open."
Kun pushed against the door. "Hey, it's Kun, from -- holy shit." He froze in the doorway, his hand still curled around the doorknob.
Ten was balanced on his forearms and knees in a deep, impossible backbend on his yoga mat rolled out beside his bed. From the angle Kun was seeing him, his hips looked broken, like he'd been snapped in half.
"Hi," Ten breathed. "One sec." In a series of movements that Kun could not comprehend, Ten came out of the backbend into a more shallow one on his hands and feet, then flipped over to standing by kicking his feet over his head and landing without a sound on the mat. "Just getting some practice in before bed," Ten added, slightly out of breath.
"Is that healthy?" Kun asked, unable to keep the look of incredulity off his face.
Ten laughed as he dove forward to touch his toes casually. "Not for the faint of heart," he said. "But anyone can work up to it."
When he straightened again, Kun noticed the flush on Ten's cheeks from exertion, the soft glow to his skin. He was wearing a different pair of shorts and a tank top, and his hair was wet from being freshly washed. It smelled like lemongrass in here, too.
"You came," Ten said. He bent to roll up his mat and shoved it under the bed before sitting on the edge of the mattress with a cute bounce. "Bored?"
"There's no TV, WiFi or signal," Kun complained, stepping into the room and letting the door shut behind him after Ten waved at him to come closer. "What are we meant to do ?"
"I don't know," Ten said. "Meditate?"
Kun's face twisted in mock disgust. "I can't," he said. "Stillness makes me stir-crazy."
"That won't do," Ten said. He patted the spot next to him on the bed. "We're a little short on space. Do you want to sit?"
Now Kun was sure Ten had invited him over to get off. The sly little grin tucked into the corner of Ten's mouth was a dead giveaway. He went over to him and sat, and Ten's eyes flicked down to Kun's lips and back up again.
"Is there anything else we could do?" Ten asked in a low voice.
"You invited me to your room," Kun said. He felt himself being pulled to Ten, sucked in like Ten had become a source of gravity. Their faces leaned closer together.
"No, silly," Ten laughed. "I mean here . At the Center."
Kun almost stumbled forward onto Ten's chest, startled as he was by the abrupt change in atmosphere. Ten shoved at his shoulder in jest, his eyes alight with humor. He was messing with him. The realization made Kun exhale out of his nose like a bull, his lips pursed in a sardonic smile.
"Well, my business partner sent me here to relax. He thinks I'm too stressed and that I'm taking it out on the team."
"So," Ten said. "You're an asshole."
"I wouldn't jump to that conclusion--"
"Only an asshole would say that," Ten said lightly, laughing again. It was weird; normally Kun would have taken offense, puffed up like a disturbed rooster at the insult, but the way Ten said it just made him want to tease Ten back.
"I'm not mean, just direct," Kun said. "Mr. You-Don't-Belong-Here-With-that-Track-Suit."
"Okay, I admit. It was your face that gave it away, not the tracksuit. Plenty of Stepford Goop Wives come up here from the Upper East Side and Westchester wearing the same thing."
Ten cackled as Kun pushed him down onto the bed in retaliation, canting his hips to try to buck Kun off, but the movement only brushed against Kun's lower belly, and Kun settled over him, groaning.
"Mr. Qian," Ten whispered with wide eyes, pretending to be aghast. He arched his back and slowly lowered himself back down onto the bed. God, he was sexy.
"Take that back," Kun said. "That track suit is Gucci."
"Even worse," Ten purred.
Kun brought Ten's wrists over his head and pressed them into the mattress with a grunt. "Is this okay?" he asked, just to make sure.
"God, a gentleman? Please rail me," Ten said. "Lube and condoms are in the nightstand."
Kun's eyes widened. That was a blaring green light. It was possible that this was just a transactional fuck for fun, with no drama or emotions needed. He leaned over and wrenched open the drawer in the nightstand, rifling around in there for the aforementioned lube and condom and taking them out.
“You’re not even gonna make out with me first?” Ten asked, a disappointed pout on his lips.
How could Kun resist? Ten batted his eyelashes at Kun and wriggled his body underneath him, somehow making the bottom of his tank ride up to reveal his flat, smooth tummy. Kun fell onto his lips and kissed Ten with all the ferocity of a bear ripping into fallen prey. He knew he was leaving bruises with how tightly he dug his fingers into the soft, yielding flesh above Ten’s hips, but all Ten did was moan into his mouth and wrap himself around Kun. He felt like a little bug in a Venus fly trap.
“Okay, okay,” Ten gasped, when Kun pushed his straining, hard dick against Ten’s inner thigh for the third time. “You’re a little impatient, aren’t you?”
Kun huffed against Ten’s neck and bit down on his collarbone in response, relishing Ten’s toe-curling moan. He used the distraction to push Ten’s shorts and briefs down, and Ten helpfully kicked his garments off all the way. “Just hands, or--” Kun asked, pushing down his flannel pants and briefs until the soft fabric gathered at his knees on the bed. His question aborted in his mouth when he realized Ten was already working three lube-slicked fingers inside of himself.
Kun’s throat went dry.
“I prepped,” Ten said. “Put the condom on, big boy.”
Ten was like Kun’s wet dream. His arched back accentuated the tightness of his belly. His knees parted so that Kun could see what he was doing to himself without obstruction, and so that he could admire his smooth, hairless skin. Evidently, Ten waxed. Unable to help himself, Kun reached out and stroked his fingers over the soft skin of Ten’s inner thigh and shivered when Ten moaned.
“Fuck,” Kun whispered. He tore open the packet and tugged the condom on with shaking hands, and Ten rocked his hips over his own fingers, his mouth falling open as he panted.
“I’m ready,” Kun said, cheeks heating when Ten smirked at him with hooded eyes. Ten didn’t remove his fingers, but instead sank down onto them more fully, throwing his head back and moaning softly, so Kun jerked at Ten’s wrist and batted Ten’s hand away from underneath him, all to wedge himself deeper in the space between Ten’s thighs. Ten laughed, the sound soft and warm and a little teasing, and then he choked when Kun lined himself up against Ten’s stretched, wet hole and started to push himself inside. “I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this on the first night.”
“It’s part of the welcome package,” Ten said through his teeth. His knees jumped tighter around Kun’s middle the deeper Kun pushed, and Kun rubbed his hand over the side of Ten’s thigh to coax him to relax. He was stretched but still yielding and warm, like a velvet glove.
“Changes how I feel about being here, then,” Kun said as Ten’s eyelids fluttered closed. He could feel Ten making space for him inside of his body, and he sighed audibly when he bottomed out. "You do this with all the first-timers?"
“Just the ones who--” Kun rocked forward slowly, gently, and Ten tightened underneath him like a taut bowstring. “--oh! Fuck. Just the ones who look like you.”
“Me?” Kun thrust forward again, setting a slow and experimental pace, but Ten wrapped his legs around Kun’s torso and urged him to go faster by pushing his ankles against the small of Kun’s back.
“You,” Ten said, the syllable punched out of him as Kun fucked into him. “You, with your Gucci tracksuit. Your luxury car. Your dependency on WiFi.”
“How could you possibly tell that from looking at me?”
Ten rolled his eyes and threw his arms around Kun’s shoulders, pulling him in as Kun started to rock his hips in earnest. “Please. You scream tech startup financier.”
“I do not,” Kun panted. Ten clenched around him and Kun almost cried at the way his balls tightened so quickly. All the blood was rushing out of his head and down to his dick. Ten felt so good. It had been so long since Kun had done something like this. It had been a full twenty minutes since he thought about work, about his and Johnny’s goal of going public early next year. He pushed against Ten’s hold and wrapped his hand around the back of Ten’s thigh and dug in with his fingers. Ten was all long, malleable muscle, but when Kun did that he tightened up around him again and threw his head back. A pleasured scream ripped from his throat.
“You can -- spread--”
Ten didn’t have to say it twice. Kun wrenched Ten’s thighs apart and bore down on him, one knee over Kun’s shoulder and the other flat against the mattress. He was so flexible that the stretch barely even phased him, but to Kun it was incredibly sexy. The angle made it so easy to pound into him, gave Kun unfettered access to his hole.
“I’m close,” Kun grunted. Sweat rolled down his back, down the side of his neck.
Ten reached between their bodies to put a fist around himself and starting to move his wrist in time with Kun’s snapping, brutal thrusts. “Uh huh,” he breathed. “Let go.”
Kun did. He closed his eyes and let himself fall over Ten, hips working fast, the lube squelching between their bodies. Ten’s heat was perfect for him, and then Ten clenched around him again and Kun was gone. He shouted into the mattress underneath Ten as he climaxed, and barely felt it when Ten shuddered into his own hand.
It took a moment for the buzzing in his blood to go away, for the stars to clear his vision. When Kun could move his limbs again, he looked at Ten and found him stifling a yawn.
Ten noticed him looking and snapped his gaze away, cheeks flushed and warm. They were still holding each other.
“Uh, okay,” Kun said in a hoarse voice. Did that bore Ten? He came, too, didn’t he?
“Sorry,” Ten mumbled. “I’m just really tired. I flew in from California this morning and, well, it’s just been a long day.”
“It’s fine,” Kun said stiffly. He pulled out, tied off the condom, and eased himself off the bed. Trying to ignore the sting to his pride was an exercise in restraint. He told himself that he didn’t just have mind-blowing, stars-in-his-eyes sex with Ten because Ten clearly hadn’t had the same with him. “You have wipes?”
“Same drawer,” Ten said.
Kun brought the packet out and yanked off a few wet wipes. “C’mere.”
“Mmm.” Ten’s smile was kittenish and small, amused again. He rolled toward him when Kun tapped his hand on his hip, and shivered when Kun cleaned him gently between his thighs. “Thanks,” he said.
Kun bristled before using a clean wet wipe on himself, too. He pulled up his briefs and pants. “I’m not an asshole.”
“Yeah,” Ten said. “I guess you’re not. You fuck like you’re on the clock, though.”
Kun threw his hands up into the air. “Is everything you say an insult?”
Ten bit down into his bottom lip. “It was nice,” he offered. “I’m glad you came over.”
Kun rolled his eyes even as warm fondness for the other man bloomed inside of his chest. “Yeah. I should...get back to my room, I think.”
“You could stay,” Ten offered, patting the space beside him on the bed.
Kun considered it. He really did. But he knew if he got into bed with Ten again he wouldn’t sleep at all as he’d be too preoccupied with trying not to breathe too loudly or trying to stay completely, utterly still so as not to bother the other man. And he needed to sleep if he were to deal with whatever the morning on the first day of the retreat would bring.
“Not tonight,” he said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Ten flopped over onto his back. His dick was still hanging out, and Kun couldn’t quite wrap his head around how comfortable he was in his own nakedness in front of a near-stranger. As Kun went to the door, opening it just a sliver to sneak out while preserving Ten’s decency in case someone were walking by, he heard Ten say, “Yeah. Meeting adjourned! Good night.”
Kun discovered that if he wedged himself into the corner of his room and held his phone up just above his head that he’d get a single bar of service. Dozens of emails, texts, and chats came in as soon as he was connected, and he spent the better part of his early morning answering them as the sun was coming up over the horizon in the distance.
About an hour into this, he received a text from Johnny in all caps: YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RELAXING. To which he responded with a quick photo of the view outside of his window — the pink, golden sunlight glinted off the surface of the lake, and the peaks of the mountain range in the distance seemed to be crowned by fire. He could relax and answer emails at the same time. That’s what multitasking was.
Promise me you’ll try , Johnny sent over. It’s beautiful up there.
Kun exhaled moodily, knowing Johnny just wanted what was best for him. He should never have shared the results of his annual check up with his physician with his friend. Sure, his blood pressure was a little high and he wasn’t getting enough vitamins most days because he lived on coffee, but that was the price to pay for success at a young age, right?
Apparently, Johnny didn’t think so.
Fine , he promised.
Kun took a closer look at the picture. In the corner, he spotted Ten sitting on a bench facing the lake, his legs crossed on the seat, a blanket over his lap. He seemed to be drawing, and Kun almost groaned at the predictability of his hobby. In Kun’s mind, Ten was quickly turning into one of those granola-crunching, hippie-dippy free souls who vibed with nature and their chakras and cultivated pastimes like crystal cleansing or aura drawing. Ten just so happened to be super hot and eager to get down, but normally Kun wouldn’t waste a second of his precious time in the presence of someone like that.
Kun stomped into his swishy yoga pants he’d bought for this misadventure, slipping his phone into one of the side-thigh pockets, his keycard in another. He threw a hoodie on over his tank and checked his hair in the body mirror by the door before he headed out.
Overnight, someone had posted signs in the hallway pointing in the direction of breakfast. There was also a reminder under the sign that breakfast was Silent to encourage reflection and tranquility.
Kun hated this already.
He skipped down the stairs and mumbled greetings to those he passed. Breakfast was being served in a ballroom-style hall that had been set up like a cafeteria, with a hot food buffet on one side and cold foods on the other. Cruising past the hot food line, he also cut ahead of the line that had formed before the cold food to grab an apple from the fruit bowl at the end. He turned to the woman beside him, who seemed to be glaring slightly at Kun but unwilling to say anything. “Is there any coffee?” Kun asked.
The woman’s glare deepened. She put her finger to her lips and all but hissed at him, and Kun flinched back, surprised and annoyed. “Fine, I’ll find it myself.”
There was no coffee, but there was tea. Kun carried a mug of green tea, his apple, and a handful of napkins out of the side doors of the cafeteria, stepping out onto a flat, concrete pavilion. Beyond the pavilion, Kun saw, was the lake. He spotted Ten on the same bench and strolled over to him.
Kun announced his presence by standing directly in the sunlight in front of Ten, casting a shadow over Ten’s form and his sketch pad in his lap. Ten squinted up at him, already grinning.
“Hi,” Kun said.
Ten’s smile deepened. He patted the space next to him on the bench, holding his other hand with the pen up over his eyes to shield himself from looking directly at the sun behind Kun.
“God, are you doing the silent thing, too?”
Ten nodded, and Kun dropped down onto the bench beside him with a sigh.
“I don’t know if I’ll survive this week,” Kun admitted. He chomped into his apple with relish, staring out onto the lake.
Ten tapped him on the shoulder. When Kun turned to him, Ten closed his eyes and lifted his face toward the sun, inhaling deeply. As he exhaled, Kun swore he could see all the tension leave Ten’s shoulders and back. It felt like a moment of privacy that he was sharing with Kun, and as he breathed, the wind caught his full, dark hair, pushing it back. He was gorgeous. His eyelids fluttered open again, and he caught Kun staring. He pointed at Kun as though to say, now you try.
Kun did not want to try, not with Ten looking at him so intently like that. “I’m breathing just fine, thanks,” he said. Blushing, he averted his gaze and took another bite of his apple. He washed it down with tea.
Soon enough, Ten went back to whatever he was sketching, and Kun finished his apple slowly. Kun leaned back against the bench and felt the sun warming his skin. The grass was still wet from the rain last night, but everything was quickly drying. He noticed how Ten’s tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on drawing the horizon. He closed his eyes with his mug in his hands...
...And jolted back into consciousness when Ten poked Kun in his side to wake him up.
“Breakfast is over,” Ten said. “Have you registered your sessions for today yet? What’s your first session?”
“Shit, I knew I was forgetting something,” Kun grumbled, rubbing his crusty eyes with his fist.
“You still have time,” Ten said. “I have to get ready for mine, so I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” Kun struggled to get his bearings. Even though he’d only napped for maybe twenty minutes, he felt like he’d been asleep for hours. The sun was much higher in the sky by now, and it was getting hot in his hoodie. He shrugged it off as he stood, noticing that his apple core and tea had been taken away, probably by Ten, who was already back up at the pavilion. Gosh, he moved fast.
Registration was at the front desk. Instead of one person behind the counter, there were three, and each was taking down the information of the line of people in front of them, one at a time. Luckily, since it was late in the morning and most people were already on their way to their first session, the line Kun joined moved quickly, and he reached the front in a short minute. The staff behind the counter was Jeno, who beamed a smile at him that was all pearly white teeth.
“Hi! Mr. Qian, right?”
“That’s right,” Kun said, smiling back. Last night after driving for nearly three hours in the pouring rain, Jeno’s endless positive energy had felt like an affront to Kun’s sour demeanor, but now Kun tried to take it in stride, remembering his promise to Johnny. “Good memory, kid.”
Jeno’s cheeks went pink as he pulled up Kun’s information on the tablet before him. “It’s our job to make sure all of our guests feel at home and welcome. Names are important to that. Everyone wants to be Known.”
“Yeah...okay,” Kun said. Kun could tell that Jeno said known with a capital K. He pulled at the collar of his tank and bunched his hoodie up in his arms. “Can I register?”
“Of course! What are you thinking for today? You can even tell me the sessions you want to book for this week so you don’t have to do this every morning.” Jeno’s eyes twinkled as he stared at Kun expectantly.
“Just. Just sign me up for all the beginner yoga classes,” Kun said. “And the Mindful Management Practices one, too.”
“Any of the cooking or nutrition courses?” Jeno asked. “Oh, what about Guided Hiking? Journaling for Gratitude?”
“No, that’s okay.” Kun tapped the toe of his shoe against the floor, starting to grow impatient.
“God, please go on the Guided Hike with me,” the woman to his left said, also checking in with the staff person behind the front desk. “I know Xuxi will wander the whole time like an excited puppy. I could use a pragmatic presence.”
She almost a whole head shorter than Kun but carried herself like she was seven feet tall. Dressed in brightly colored yoga leggings, a sports bra, and a tank what was more holes than fabric over that, she looked more like she belonged in a spin class in Chelsea than here with Kun in the middle of a mountain range. Her bright blonde hair was done up in a messy bun. “Yuqi Song,” she said, sticking her hand out to shake.
“Kun Qian.” Kun shook her hand, trying to figure out why her name sounded so familiar to him. When it struck him, he dropped her hand like a hot coal and sputtered. The vibrator. The lube. That welcome basket. He said, “What’s in it for me, if I join?”
“We can make fun of everything together,” Yuqi said. “I’ll let you borrow my hotspot for an hour. For free. Imagine having the internet at your fingertips...in your own room.”
Kun’s eyes widened. “Deal.” He turned back to Jeno. “Sign me up for that, too.”
Yuqi laughed as Jeno quickly plugged the hike into Kun’s schedule. She latched onto Kun’s elbow as they finished registration and brought him with her down the hall, towards the classrooms. “Oh, I’m glad I met you,” she said. “Xuxi wanted this for us and I love him, so of course I went along with it, but he really, really buys into all of this. And I just...don’t.”
“Yeah. I’m basically here because my business partner said I had to come.”
“Poor you.” Yuqi frowned. “Did you come up from New York?”
“Drove in last night.”
“We got here this morning,” Yuqi said. “Xuxi’s still at breakfast, so I think I’ll go find him before the first session.”
“Okay. I think my yoga class is in here, anyway.” Kun pointed at the door that was coming up on their right. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” Yuqi responded dutifully. “I have to remind my boyfriend not to stuff himself too full because our first session is acroyoga, and I will not have him getting sick on me.”
Kun curled his lip in distaste. “I think you might need more luck than I do, then.”
“Thanks.” Yuqi’s laugh was high and clear. She skipped off, back to the cafeteria, and Kun opened the door to the classroom and stepped inside.
The classroom was rectangular in shape, its long side lined with windows that provided a scenic view of the mountains. Yoga mats sat four across in five rows, and at the front of the classroom was a low platform, a yoga mat atop it, and a thick bronze bowl to the side of it. Calming music played softly from speakers in the ceiling.
Students had already filled about half of the yoga mats, and more students were coming in behind Kun. As the mats filled up, Kun stepped quickly to an empty mat by the window in the second row. He sat cross legged, putting his hoodie to the side of the mat, and looked around cautiously. Some of the other students had foam blocks beside them. Some had towels. Some had long ropes in a coil by the feet.
Kun had no idea what he needed. He hadn’t even thought to bring a bottle of water with him. He sat and tried to imitate some of the stretches the other students were doing but didn’t get very far with that before he heard the door shut and the room go quiet as the music was lowered.
“Thank you for joining me on your mats today,” the instructor said, his voice strikingly familiar. “Let’s all start in a seated position to bring ourselves into our practice and to set our intentions.”
Collectively, the students moved. Kun watched backs straighten and hands fall to knees, palms turned upward. He did the same, and craned his neck back to look at their instructor.
It was Ten.
Ten seemed to sense Kun looking at him, because their eyes met in that moment, and Ten’s mouth shifted to the side in the tiniest of smirks. “You may at this time feel like closing your eyes. I encourage you to do so.” Ten was speaking directly at Kun, but Kun didn’t dare close his eyes. Ten’s drape-style pants flowed with every step he took, but his tank was fitted and hugged his body close. Kun couldn’t stop staring until Ten had made it to the front of the room to take his place on the yoga mat on the platform. “Just breathe,” Ten said, keeping his voice low and smooth as he sat.
Kun breathed. He remembered how Ten’s thigh felt under his hand, the way he sounded when he moaned.
He closed his eyes and hoped a miracle would help him make it through this class.
Kun had been expecting beginner yoga to be a lot of breathing and sitting still as the instructor read catch phrases from a book to help you meditate, but Ten spent about three minutes having everyone breathe together on their mats, coaching everyone to set a goal for themselves for practice today, and then they were off to the races.
Maybe it was because Kun had only been to one other yoga class in his life -- Hot Yoga with Jaehyun -- and was committing a lot of energy, both physical and mental, to trying to get the poses right, but he was dripping in sweat about ten minutes into the session as they settled into Warrior One. When the weather was nice in the city, he liked to go for a jog in the park, and he regularly cycled, so he liked to think he was relatively fit, but yoga seemed to be working muscles he’d never used before in his life. Gritting his teeth to keep himself in a static lunge with his arms stretched out, he followed Ten’s slow, lethargic meandering between the mats with his eyes.
“Pay attention to where there is tension in your body, and work to release it,” Ten was saying. Kun noticed how he’d approach a student, ask if he could correct their posture, and then gently nudge them into the proper shape with his hands. Kun’s wet shirt clung to the skin of his back. “You might be clenching your jaw,” Ten said. “We hold a lot of stress there without even noticing.”
Kun tried to pry his jaw open and keep it relaxed, and was surprised when it did actually feel good to notice and release that. His neck felt looser.
“Breathe, inhale, and on your next exhale, let’s windmill our arms down to the mat, and bring yourself through your flow, just like we practiced earlier. Plank to chaturanga, to cobra or upward-facing dog, and let’s meet each other back in downward-facing dog.”
Kun still had to watch the people in front of him and to his side to understand what he was supposed to be doing, and he thought he mimicked the movements pretty well. However, as he pushed his hips back into his version of downward-facing dog, he felt Ten’s presence beside him and stiffened.
“Nearly there, Kun,” Ten whispered encouragingly. “Can I move you a bit?”
“Uh huh.” Kun shook his head, feeling all the blood rushing into his brain in this inverted position.
“I’ll just use my hands,” Ten explained. His fingers tapped along Kun’s hips before he gripped Kun’s sides lightly and pulled him back into a long, joint-popping stretch. Kun groaned, feeling his hips shift back and the lovely burn starting to warm the backs of his legs. Ten pressed the flat of his hand onto Kun’s lower back, encouraging him to deepen the stretch. “Do you feel the difference?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Kun squeaked.
Ten didn’t linger for long, but Kun swore he felt Ten’s palm cup his ass before he walked to the front of the room to demonstrate the next set of poses they would be moving through together.
Kun didn’t realize he was searching for Ten until his eyes landed on him sitting at a table in the corner of the cafeteria with Jeno and a couple of other staff members. Veggie and grain bowl in one hand and a bottle of freshly-pressed watermelon juice in the other, he marched over to the table, pausing to wave at Yuqi when he saw her out of the corner of his eye. The tall man next to her cradling three bowls in his arms must have been Xuxi. Kun mouthed he’d be right over to meet them before continuing on his quest to Ten’s table.
When he stood in front of it, though, and everyone’s heads swiveled around in his direction, he paused. What had he meant to do? Clearing his throat, he pointed at the chair beside Ten and asked, “Is this seat taken?”
Jeno blinked up at Kun. “The seat...that I’m in right now?”
Kun cleared his throat again and a kind soul in the group jumped up to drag an empty chair over to the table. Ten scooted over to make room as Kun thanked the woman who’d brought him the seat. He recognized her as Front Desk Lady from the first night.
"The more the merrier," she said with a wink that seemed to have a much deeper meaning behind it.
"Kun," Ten said. "Meet everyone. Everyone, this is Kun. He's in my beginner yoga series."
A murmur rose from the group of eight around the table. Introductions were made, but Kun forgot names almost as soon as they were uttered. Front Desk Lady was Joy, though. And of course he already knew Jeno. After getting through the initial small talk of how Kun was liking it so far at Ashtanga, the group paired off naturally, delving into deeper, more intimate conversations with each other. It seemed that everyone had been working at the Center for multiple years. Some of them were year-round employees.
Ten watched Kun with a kittenish smile on his lips as he crunched on his salad, and finally Kun turned to him when he thought no one else would be listening and asked, "Why didn't you tell me you were the instructor?"
"I'm not the instructor," Ten said, inclining his head toward another staff member. "Jongin teaches Acro. San teaches Movement. And we've got a bunch of nutrition and wellness instructors over there, too." He pointed at another table. He joked, "It's very clique-y, as you can see."
"You know what I mean." Kun rolled his eyes. He opened up his veggie and grain bowl finally and drizzled the sesame tahini dressing that came with it all over the mound of barley, quinoa, and brown rice under a nest of spring greens, pickled onions, sliced radish, crumbled feta, and cucumber slaw. It was a huge, filling bowl, with many layers. "Like, last night."
Ten shrugged. "You never asked." He bumped shoulders with Kun and teased him. "You just wanted me for my body."
Reflecting back on the evening, Kun had to admit that Ten was right. He'd seen a beautiful man in the lobby, a man who'd seemingly invited him up to his room, and wanted to explore that. It had been a long time since Kun had been physically intimate with anyone; picking up men in bars just wasn't something he was into, and his last relationship had ended two years ago with a trash can fire. Literally.
Since then, shoring up his and Johnny's startup to prepare to go public has been his entire life.
So someone as beautiful as Ten taking interest in Kun without Kun needing to put in any effort? It would have been a disservice not to follow him last night. Plus, being away from the office in a remote location like this felt like Kun had been transported into an alternate dimension, and this Kun could be a Kun who didn't sleep on the couch in his office three nights a week, who didn't order take-out for every meal of the day, who didn't snap at his assistant for bringing him a latte made with almond milk instead of oat milk.
"Don't you have some kind of code?" Kun asked. "For employees? Like, don't sleep with the guests?"
"This isn't summer camp," Ten said. "We're all consenting adults here. So, what? Now that you know I'm an instructor, you regret what happened?"
"No," Kun said immediately. Because he definitely didn't. He'd have wet dreams about Ten for the whole rest of his life, he was pretty certain. He struggled to articulate what it was that bothered him about seeing Ten walk through the mats in the classroom this morning as their instructor. "I'm just surprised."
"Surprised I have the credentials to be an instructor?" Ten asked.
Kun choked on his spring greens. "What? No. Just..."
"Just surprised that there's something beyond sex for me to offer?"
Kun turned to Ten sharply, his breath coming hot and fast. Why was Ten talking about himself like this? "No! God. I just realized I want to get to know you more. Is that okay?" Kun pressed his lips together after his small outburst, embarrassed.
But that was the crux of it, wasn't it? Ten was interesting to him, in a sea of uninteresting things.
Ten quieted, a little furrow forming between his eyebrows as he considered Kun, who was holding his breath to keep from huffing and puffing like a dragon. "Yeah," Ten said finally, carefully. "Yeah, that would be okay." He turned back to his salad and took another bite, cheeks rosy.
Kun exhaled, mirroring Ten's movements. When the silence grew thick over their heads, he cleared his throat again and asked, "So you flew in from California, huh?"
Ten looked up from his food. "Yeah, LA. You came in from New York, right?"
Kun nodded. "Born and raised."
"I grew up in Queens, actually," Ten said. "My mom's still there."
"Oh, really?" Kun felt his eyebrows go up to his hairline. "What took you to LA?"
A girlfriend, Kun learned. Now an ex-girlfriend, the two still remained friendly with each other and saw each other every once in a while, but she traveled a lot for work, and Ten was pretty stable in LA. He just spent a month during the summers back in NYC, to see his mom, to host workshops, to see how the city had changed. "I bring my kids with me every summer," Ten said. "They love it."
Kun's eyebrows went up again. "Kids?"
"Two boys. Twins, actually. Hendery and Dejun. Want to see?" Ten's whole face glowed when he talked about them, and he was reaching under the table when he paused and wrinkled his nose cutely. "Ah, wait. The no-tech rule."
"Shame," Kun said, but secretly he felt relieved. He had nothing against kids. It's just that for a while, he wanted them, and then his trash can fire relationship happened, and now he couldn't really see himself raising a family alongside all the hours he put in at the office. Children were a topic that pained him to visit. There was no way he could raise kids on his own.
"I can show you tonight," Ten said. "If you...wanna swing by again?"
Kun noticed the open, hopeful expression on Ten's face and couldn't deny him. "I'd like that."
"I might be completely wiped," Ten admitted. "We've got an advanced partner workshop in the evenings that I also teach, but I'll try to freshen up for you. Oh, you could even come by to watch the workshop, if you wanted?"
Kun felt himself smile. Ten was adorable, tilting his head this way and that as he talked, entreating Kun the way a kitten might for its favorite snack. "Maybe, if I make it through Mindful Management Practices."
"You will," Ten said.
Kun's smile widened. "Okay. I will."
Mindful Management Practices was about as exciting as watching grass grow, Kun thought. Their instructor prattled on and on at the front of the classroom about their rise to the top in their professional life and how making mindful decisions helped them make the same gains in their personal life as well. Kun and the other retreat guests were seated on floor cushions in a circle, listening to the long-winded story like elementary students gathered around their teacher who was reading aloud from a book and doing all the voices very poorly.
Kun itched to move, to twiddle his thumbs over the screen of his phone, to check things off of a list, and his mind wandered. He could only imagine how many emails he was missing throughout the course of the day, and so he imagined them. One by one.
By the time the session was over, Kun’s mind was buzzing with white noise from the speed at which his thoughts criss-crossed the front of his mind like cars in traffic. Dull pressure thudded sluggishly between his eyebrows, and Kun pressed the heel of his palm to his forehead to stave off the creeping headache.
The sun was just starting to set, hanging low in the sky and dripping light over the mountains, and Kun had a choice to make: Should he sneak into one of the WiFi-connected spaces to work? Or should he find Ten’s advanced evening class and see where the night took him? The day’s schedule was posted in the cafeteria on a big white board at the front, so Kun checked it out while grabbing a sandwich and fresh smoothie for dinner. Realizing he still had almost an hour to go before the advanced partner workshop started anyway, Kun rationalized that he could spend that time in his room shooting off at least a couple of emails. He’d feel productive if he could just respond to some of the questions and requests coming in from clients that he knew were still coming in. His automatic vacation responder would mean nothing to their clients and investors.
Vacation wasn’t really a thing in his industry, anyway.
There was no one else in the WiFi lounge on the first floor, a tiny room that Kun suspected was originally a large supply closet. One round table large enough to seat two was shoved into the corner, and a worn couch was squashed against the opposite wall underneath a framed print of a mountain range at sunrise. Here in the windowless room, it was the only splash of color against the white walls and grey furniture.
Kun reasoned that they purposefully designed the WiFi lounge to be uninviting and cramped to discourage people from using it, but still he plopped himself onto the couch and took out his phone from his pocket, eyes lighting up when he saw that his phone had identified the network he could connect to already. The password was posted up onto the wall above the round table, and Kun punched in the credentials quickly, eager to see what was happening in his world back in New York again.
He finished half of his smoothie and a quarter of his sandwich while he waited. Then finally, he was connected.
His phone buzzed with notifications that flooded his screen. He responded to some of the texts and group messages from friends and family as they came in. Yes, he was really doing this retreat. No, he wasn’t in the city this week. No, he couldn’t join for a drink tonight. Yes, he was eating stuff other than salty, greasy takeout food. Then there were the news updates, the Instagram notifications, the snaps and shares. Kun swiped through them, clicking into the ones that seemed interesting before swiping them away again. After a couple of minutes of this mindless scrolling, he realized something strange.
No emails were coming in through his work account.
Maybe there was a delay? Curiosity piqued, he tried to open up his work email and almost spat out the bite of his sandwich when he saw that he had to sign into his account again. He typed in his password. It was incorrect. He tried again.
This couldn’t be possible. Had he been hacked?
He felt his heart start to pick up its pace inside his chest as he thought about everything he was missing because of this. Important deals being negotiated. Meetings to be scheduled. Investors to flatter and praise in order to squeeze the biggest contribution out of them as possible.
He texted Johnny.
Hey -- did something happen to our work emails?
Johnny’s response was almost immediate, like he had the answer lying in wait of this question. I made the intern lock you out for the rest of the week. You’re supposed to be relaxing.
A gargling warble fell out of Kun’s mouth. He jabbed his fingers against the screen to call Johnny.
“Hello, dear,” Johnny greeted on the first ring.
“What the hell?” Kun hissed into his phone. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I need you to breathe, and I need you to relax.”
“How is cutting me off from communication supposed to help with that?”
“I’m taking away the things that stress you out.”
“Emails themselves don’t stress me out!” Kun nearly yelled. “Not being on top of emails stresses me out, Johnny!”
“Oh,” Johnny said, sounding sheepish. “Well, Renjun doesn’t come back in until next week anyway, and he’s the only one who knows how to change the single sign-on credentials.”
Kun stopped breathing. Not having access to his account meant not being able to get back to people who were counting on him. Waiting for his response. He hated feeling useless.
“Are you breathing? Are you relaxing?”
Kun clenched his fist so tight over his knee that his knuckles popped. “No,” he growled.
“Well,” Johnny said breezily, “there’s nothing much I can do tonight about it, but maybe I’ll look into it tomorrow, if you promise to relax tonight. Please, Kun. Remember what you said about what the doctor said?”
“The stress I put upon myself increases my risk for developing hypertension…” Kun droned.
Kun sighed and rolled his eyes. “Which can lead to other health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.”
“So you’re there to…?”
“Learn how to decrease stress through mindful decisions and practice,” Kun repeated from memory from the email Johnny had sent him.
“Yeah,” Johnny said. “All paid for by yours truly.”
“This is dumb,” Kun complained. “I can develop healthy habits at home, too.”
“Yeah, but I know you and you know yourself, and you won’t,” Johnny said pointedly.
“You have to tell me if anything major is going on,” Kun demanded. “Send me hourly updates.”
“Uh, no. Maybe daily.”
“Kun,” Johnny threw back in the same, exasperated tone. “C’mon, aren’t you making any friends up there?”
Kun thought of Ten and Yuqi and Xuxi. Mostly, though, he thought of Ten and his taut belly and breathy moans and his palms on Kun’s ass during class. “Sure,” he said.
“Why did your voice sound so weird just then?”
“It didn’t,” Kun protested.
“Oh, I see,” Johnny said. Kun could hear his smirk through the phone. “You met someone.”
The silence was answer enough.
Johnny yelled, “Kun, you dog. You’re up there to de-stress, not get laid!”
“What’s the difference?” Kun asked.
“You’re not being an ass about it, are you?”
That stung like a slap to Kun’s cheek. “No, of course not.” He thought again of Ten and of the evening workshop. He wondered if by now, the class had started. Was Ten looking for him in the space? Was he disappointed Kun wasn’t there?
“You’re an ass when you’re stressed,” Johnny added helpfully.
“Thank you. Thanks for that.”
“I don’t want you to be stressed,” Johnny continued. “I hate seeing you work yourself to the bone, not sleeping, not even really eating. Not going out. It’s not good for you. I worry about you, friend. We started this venture together as friends and it was supposed to be fun. Hard work, but fun. Is it still fun for you?”
Kun tried to recall the last time he’d felt passionate about what he and Johnny were trying to do and could only picture their first office in the city, a tiny single room in a co-working space with glass walls and glass doors and beer on tap in the kitchen, their desks pushed to the center of the room to make space for them to scrawl in dry-erase marker all over the walls. Ideas, images, formulas. Designing their product had been fun.
Since then, they moved out of that little co-working space and into a bigger one, and though their team of twenty was relatively small, they were still an unwieldy group of young creative professionals who needed someone to provide structure so that they could get paid on time. When Kun took over the financial operations, he found it harder and harder to stay involved with the creative side of the company. That’s when it stopped being fun.
“No,” Kun admitted.
“Take a break, Kun,” Johnny said softly. “I don’t care if you use this time to sleep, or meditate, or bang rocks together in the woods. When you come back, I want...I want my friend back. Not the numbers guy.”
“Johnny…” He was surprised to feel that the backs of his eyes were burning.
They were both quiet for a moment, then Johnny cleared his throat.
“Anyway, Jaehyun needs to pay up. I won the bet.”
“Yeah. I bet you’d get laid the first night. I win!” Johnny cackled so loudly that Kun had to hold the phone away from his ear.
“Ugh, I’m hanging up.”
“Me, too,” Johnny said, still chuckling. “Are you gonna see them tonight?”
“You have a bet on that, too?”
“Then I’m not telling.”
Kun hung up before he could hear the rest of Johnny’s complaint. He sat there for a moment longer, the silence ringing in his ears. A warm feeling within his chest expanded into his lungs as he thought about how much he missed Johnny, missed talking to him like that. When was the last time they had spoken with each other as friends and not as business partners? God, when was the last time Kun asked Johnny about Jaehyun-his-boyfriend -- not Jaehyun-the-consumer-insights-manager? Kun’s days usually passed by in a blur, full of transactional conversations without a thought spared for the very human need to be seen, and heard, and felt.
He realized he missed Johnny, too.
Smoothie finished, he disconnected his phone from the network and stood. He was going to find Ten.
People were slowly trickling out of the classroom by the time Kun meandered over, the workshop having ended. Drenched in sweat and glowing with exertion, the students nonetheless looked bright and energized, clutching towels to their bodies or chugging down water. Yuqi and Xuxi stopped Kun on his way in.
“Oh! Kun!” Yuqi’s hand almost slipped right off Kun’s elbow because of how sweaty she was. Beside her, Xuxi was still panting open-mouthed. Though they’d only met each other today, and Xuxi and Kun only at lunch, the two had an easy openness about them that made Kun feel like they were his old college friends.
“Hey,” Kun greeted with a small smile, surreptitiously peeking through the doorway into the classroom to see if he could catch sight of Ten past the stream of people exiting. “Were you in this class?”
“It was brutal,” Xuxi said at the same time Yuqi chirped, “Yeah! It was great!”
Yuqi smacked Xuxi on the bicep and they laughed easily with each other. “I can’t feel my legs,” Xuxi said. “Ten went hard on us.”
“Was he good?”
“ So good,” Yuqi said emphatically. Her eyes twinkled with knowing, and Kun flushed before remembering he knew something about Yuqi, too. Her welcome basket had been full of sex toys. He glanced briefly at Xuxi to find him staring down at his partner with the softest look of fondness, and wondered if they used the toys together. Then he decided he did not want to know.
“I’m going to try to catch up with him,” Kun said. “See you tomorrow at breakfast?”
“Yeah,” Xuxi said. “We have to plan for the hike!”
Yuqi groaned and shared a sympathetic eye-roll with Kun as she dragged Xuxi with her to the stairs.
The room was steamy and dank from class, the lights dimmed. Kun saw that the windows had been cracked open in an attempt to invite some air circulation. While most of the yoga mats had been put away in a pile in the corner of the room, a couple of students remained, either flat on their backs in corpse pose or in deep stretches. He saw that Ten was near the small platform, demonstrating a pose that had him balancing on his hands with one knee wrapped behind his elbow and the other leg pointed straight out in front of him on his mat for another student. It seemed like the way he contorted and held his body shouldn’t be possible, but he was doing it, and then he was unwrapping himself from the position and standing, wiping his hands on his tank as he murmured encouraging words to the student.
“You’ll get it,” Ten was saying as Kun neared. “Don’t push yourself before you’re ready, though.”
“Thanks, Ten.” The student left, giving Kun a slightly haughty once-over as he passed by him. Kun bristled but tried not to think too much about it, especially since at that moment Ten decided to bend over and roll up his yoga mat. His ass looked tight and firm in the athletic joggers he was wearing.
“Good turnout?” Kun asked.
Ten squeaked in surprise, straightening. “Kun,” he let out breathlessly. His smile was like warm honey. “Not bad. Everyone had a partner, at least.”
“So it’s good I didn’t end up making it, then,” Kun said.
“Nah, I could have partnered up with you,” Ten said slowly. He licked his lips. “Show you how it’s done.”
The air grew thick between them, sweet and charged. Kun reached out, his hand hovering over Ten’s shoulder. He thought the heat of Ten’s skin would burn him when he finally touched him, but Ten was just warm, and soft. He chuckled at Kun’s hesitant advances.
“I’d like that,” Kun said. “But I’m a beginner.”
“I’d go easy on you.”
Their bodies gravitated closer to each other, until Kun noticed Ten was tilting his head up in order to keep eye contact with him. He cleared his throat, feeling suddenly like he’d swallowed a spoonful of sugar. “Do you need any help cleaning up in here?”
Ten laughed quietly, his shoulders shaking. “No, Kun.” He looked around the room once. The students had cleared out. Ten bent down again to pick up his mat, holding it under one arm. “Let’s go upstairs. I need a hot, hot shower.”
Kun trailed closely beside Ten up the stairs, hand out just over Ten’s hip when he noticed Ten wobble on the third step. His hair was flat with sweat and his tank was entirely soaked, but even still Kun thought Ten looked gorgeous. Ten asked after his day casually on the short trip to his room, and Kun knew he was responding because they were making conversation, but if anyone asked him what they were actually talking about Kun couldn’t tell them. He was transfixed by the way Ten’s lips moved.
“Do you wanna come in?” Ten asked in front of his door, hand paused on the handle.
“Do you want me to come in?” Kun asked. He stuffed his hands into his pockets; his fingers itched to push the hair back from Ten’s face while he backed him into the wall and kissed him. The image came so vividly into his brain that Kun wondered if it had already happened in some other time, some other place.
Ten quirked an eyebrow and pushed the handle down. The door swung open. He said, stepping inside, “I want to shower. Whether you’re in the shower with me or not is up to you.”
The room doors were all weighted. Ten was halfway inside of his room, the door nearly closed before Kun understood the invitation for what it was. He went inside and shut the door behind him, making sure to lock it before daring to step further into the room.
Ten glanced behind his shoulder when he heard the lock click, his lips lifted into a sly grin. With deliberate care and grace, he pulled his tank off from over his head and dropped it onto the floor in a fabric puddle, then continued on his way to the bathroom, making Kun decide again if he should follow him.
He wanted to. He really, really wanted to. He imagined Ten’s slim, sharp hips under his hands, their mouths sliding against each other under a spray of water. He imagined turning Ten around to face the tiled wall and driving into that soft, tight heat. Would Ten be even more pliant tonight after teaching that workshop? His cheeks and ears started to burn at his own thoughts.
He heard the water splash into the shower basin, then Ten’s light humming echoing off the walls. The curtain dragging back and forth. Kun took off his tank and pants and threw these onto the armchair in the corner of the room. After a moment of second-guessing himself, he stepped out of his boxers as well.
When he appeared in the bathroom entrance, steam had already filled the small room from the heat of Ten’s shower. The curtain swung open.
“Finally,” Ten said, hand outstretched. “Get in here.”
Kun took Ten’s hand and tripped into the tub. He would have fallen if not for Ten’s sturdy support, his fingers scrabbling against the tile. “Hey! Now who’s the impatient one?”
Ten scowled, but the humor had not yet left his face. They shifted until they were both partly under the spray but not so that the water was shooting directly into their faces. Kun allowed himself the luxury of trawling his eyes down the smooth, flat planes of Ten’s stomach to linger over Ten’s soft dick. He found his gaze moving past Ten’s sex so that he could drink in the image of Ten’s thighs. His mouth watered. They were thick, meaty, and Kun knew from experience how strong they were, yet how they yielded under his fingers.
“Wash my hair,” Ten demanded, drawing Kun’s attention away from his lower regions.
“Wash my hair,” Ten repeated. “My arms are sore…”
It was foggy in here, and breathing in too deep made Kun’s head spin. Kun nodded, swallowing thickly. “All right.”
Face brightening with a smile, Ten took the travel-sized shampoo from the corner and held it up. He squirted shampoo into Kun’s waiting palm. “Don’t get it into my eyes,” he murmured. His eyelashes fluttered against the tops of his cheeks as he closed his eyes and waited.
Kun lathered up the shampoo between both palms. He’d only done this a couple of times before and drew on those experiences to try to make it a good one for Ten. First, he kneaded the suds into Ten’s thick hair evenly, all around. Then, he applied pressure. He used his thumbs to massage down the crown of Ten’s head, his fingers gently drawing circles over Ten’s temples. He was careful with Ten’s ears, where studs and tiny hoops lined the lobes. On the second pass, Ten’s knees wobbled and he fell against Kun’s chest and then just stayed there, eyes closed, breathing against Kun’s shoulder and face turned away from the spray.
“That feels so good,” Ten slurred. “Are you, like, a professional?”
“Not at all,” Kun said. “Should I quit my day job?”
“Depends. What’s your day job?”
“What was it you said? Tech startup financier?”
“I couldn’t have been completely right about that…”
“You weren’t far off,” Kun said, now washing his hands free of the suds and gently easing Ten off his shoulder so that he could wash the suds from Ten’s hair also. “Keep your eyes closed. I’m a co-founder. My friend and I own a startup called Tread. It’s for runners. We’re trying to go public in the first quarter next year.”
“Do you like it?” Ten asked. He hummed when Kun cupped his hands under his cheeks to guide him to tilt his head back under the spray.
“I like...parts of it.”
“So maybe quit the parts you don’t like,” Ten suggested.
“It’s not that easy,” Kun said. “That would be like cutting off my own arm or something. I just have to...manage it better.”
Ten’s eyes opened slowly. “And so, you’re here,” he said.
“And so, I’m here,” Kun agreed. His hands were still cupping Ten’s face. He drew him in for a wet, warm kiss, water trailing down their cheeks and chests. He felt Ten’s fingers gliding down his front, over the carved muscles of his stomach, dipping into his belly button playfully. In response, Kun nibbled on Ten’s bottom lip and curved his hand over Ten’s side. Then he pinched him.
Ten laughed, flinching back and getting a mouthful of water for his troubles. Sputtering and coughing now, he buried his face against Kun’s neck again until he was calm, wrapping his arms tight around Kun’s shoulders and holding him so close the Kun felt like he was being zipped up against him. Ten sighed. “This is nice,” he said.
“Yeah." Kun closed his eyes as they swayed gently under the falling water. He allowed himself a moment of peace that seemed to stretch into infinity.
Ten's room was an oasis of connectivity because of the hotspot the staff had designated to him. At first, Kun felt betrayed that Ten had such easy access to the internet when the whole Center was supposed to be disconnected as much as possible, but then Ten explained that he needed it so that his kids could reach him in case of an emergency, and Kun could hardly argue with that.
When they were done with the shower (it took much longer than Kun's usual sprint to clean his body as Ten spent a long time in front of him on his knees), dressed in Ten's pajamas, and warm and dry under the covers, Kun delighted in being able to bring up videos on YouTube as Ten scrolled through his camera roll on his phone to choose the best photos to share with Kun.
"Don't look yet," Ten said.
"I'm not," Kun laughed, tightening his arm under Ten's shoulders to encourage him even closer. Their bodies curled toward each other, Ten's cheek flattened against Kun's shoulder. He could feel where their thighs touched under the blanket, where skin met skin in a line of heat. He wiggled his toes and nudged Ten with his foot. "What's taking so long?"
Ten folded himself over his phone protectively to hide his screen from Kun's view. "Hendery makes a lot of funny faces," Ten complained.
"So? He's a kid. He can look silly."
"I don't want the first photo you see of my kids to be a bad one!" Ten said.
"Aren't you all about authenticity and stuff?"
Ten paused in his search for the perfect photo to purse his lips at him, not amused. "I can be authentic and pretty, and so can my kids." He glanced back down at his screen and scrolled some more. "Aha! Here. We went to Vancouver together. We were actually visiting their mom since she'd just finished an assignment with the Vancouver Art Gallery." Ten held the phone under Kun's nose.
His eyes were drawn to Ten in the photo immediately. Used to Ten's skin and body being on display in his tanks and tight leggings, Kun wanted to coo at the puffy, fuzzy jacket that almost swallowed the man whole in the photo. There was a beanie squashed onto his head and a scarf wrapped around his neck, and the tip of his nose and tops of his cheeks were red with cold, but he looked ecstatic to be there, his boys on either side of him, holding his gloved hands.
The boys were tiny, barely up to Ten's hip, and just as buttoned up as their father. Their round faces were bright with joy, though, and they both had huge smiles on their faces. Kun found himself mirroring that smile. They stood on a rocky beach, grey waves crashing behind them, in front of a tall lighthouse.
"Which one is which?" Kun asked.
Ten took a breath folded his knees up, wedging his feet under Kun's thighs. He pointed to the slightly taller boy. "This one's Hendery." He pointed to the other. "This one's Dejun. They're eight now, but I think this was taken two years ago. Hendery was so excited to see the lighthouse, but Dejun was having a rough day because Hendery kept saying there were sharks in the water...It was still fun, though." He chuckled quietly to himself at the memory and continued to slowly scroll through photos on his phone from that time.
Kun watched him, his heart thumping loudly in his chest. Everything he learned about Ten just made him want to learn more about him, but he imagined he was like a starving man fighting to cross out of a desert into a banquet just on the other side, all the food and drink he could ever want laid out in front of him. He couldn't just dive in, take what he wanted, could he? No, he was afraid of taking too much, of indulging. His own weakness was holding him back.
"You sound like you miss them."
"I miss them, of course I miss them. I know Mom's treating them to pretty much whatever they want and they'll be spoiled monsters by the time I get them back at the end of the week but they're the light of my life. You know?" He looked up at Kun then with the question reflected in his eyes.
"I know," Kun said. For years, he had wanted exactly what Ten was describing. He and his ex had talked about it together, building a home where two babies could thrive. They wanted a house, not an apartment, and so they'd looked at affordable neighborhoods with good schools in New Jersey, close to public transportation. It would have been a couple of years off from buying that house at the time of the breakup, but all the while, Kun had been preparing, researching, and putting away funds and savings for a family of his own.
Now the money was just sitting there because Kun couldn't bring himself to touch it.
He felt fingers stroking gently down his cheek as Ten turned his face toward his and kissed him on the tip of his nose. "Hey," Ten said. "Sorry. You probably don’t wanna hear about me rambling on and on about my kids, right? You okay? Is this okay?"
Kun breathed in deep, in and out. The air filled his lungs and warmed him, and he felt something inside of him give, like an icicle snapping in two after basking in the sun. "This is okay," Kun said. He kissed Ten again, and saw himself walking out of the desert.
The hike was 8 miles there and back on relatively flat terrain. Luckily for the group, the sun was out and the sky was a crisp, clear blue, and there was a light breeze in the air to break up the dry heat beaming down on them. Even so, as they tread through the forest under the cool shadow of the trees, stopping every once in a while for a water break and to wait for stragglers to catch up, Kun was working up a sweat.
It wasn’t that the hike was strenuous, but the trail was rocky in some places, and required concentration, and the heat of the day was building quickly. Their guide wanted them to make it to the scenic payoff before noon so they could meander back at a leisurely pace on a trail that brought them to the other side of the mountain, where the sun would not be grilling onto their backs all afternoon.
He hadn’t brought much with him, just a small backpack for his water and a light lunch they’d provided for the group in the lobby, and his phone to take pictures. The track jacket he’d worn this morning to ward off the chill had been stuffed into his backpack early on into the hike, and his baseball cap was uncomfortably wet with sweat around the bill. Still, it was better on, since otherwise the sweat just trickled straight into his eyes.
Beside him, Yuqi didn’t seem to be faring much better. She was audibly huffing and puffing, her cheeks pink but her eyes determined and focused. The backpack dwarfed her narrow shoulders.
“Do you want me to carry your water for you?” Kun asked. “It’s probably the heaviest thing you’ve got in there…”
“Don’t patronize me,” Yuqi said with a grin.
“Just offering.” Kun held up his hands in defense.
“I hate hiking,” Yuqi said, pouting. “Don’t tell Xuxi, but I’m trying to like it more. It’s just that there are so many bugs, and the weather , and it’s just walking, isn’t it? Nothing special about it.”
Kun tilted his head, amused. Xuxi was up near the front with the guide. There were probably at least twenty paces between him and Yuqi, but Kun could hear Xuxi talking animatedly with the woman who was leading them on the trail. “It’s walking with a purpose...it’s walking in nature.”
“It’s fine. I like this. This is something I can like.”
“Why are you forcing yourself?”
Yuqi paused and peered at Kun like he was a confusing painting in a modern art museum. Kun paused too, facing her. “I’m not forcing myself. I want to try to like it. It’s something Xuxi and I can do together. He started doing yoga for me, you know?”
They began to move again so as not to be overtaken by the pair behind them. Yuqi nodded as Kun helped her over a set of gnarly exposed roots in the middle of the trail. “He did. We just wanted to find something we could do together that wasn’t watching TV and the usual stuff, yeah? So Xuxi loves hiking, so I’m trying to like it, too.”
“How long have you been together?”
“Five years,” Yuqi said, a smile spreading across her face. “What about you? Have you got anyone back in New York, or are you trying to make Ten your man by the end of the week?”
Kun tripped over a root and nearly ran headfirst into a tree, but Yuqi was there, holding him by the hand so he didn't give himself a concussion while trying not to laugh her ass off.
"I'm not -- we're not--"
"Kun, we saw you sneaking out of his room this morning as we were going down to breakfast." Kun's face was overheated and red, and not from the hike. Yuqi patted his shoulder in companionship as they continued on the trail. "Why are you pretending to be embarrassed?"
"I'm not pretending!"
"Then why are you embarrassed? Ten's hot."
"Yeah, I know that," Kun gnashed out bitterly. "Maybe too hot?"
"Wait, don't tell me." Yuqi pressed her fingers to her temples as though she were trying to receive a psychic message from Kun as Kun stared at her with exasperation. "You have issues from a previous relationship and you think you're not good enough for him?" Her eyes brightened. "Oh! Or, you think you're not ready to jump into something new?" She held her breath, waiting for Kun to respond.
If it had been anyone else, anywhere else, Kun would have left the conversation. But something about Yuqi's earnestness, about the safety found in the woods, kept him honest, and he thought about what he wanted to say.
"I'm scared of failing," Kun said finally. "Always have been. And Ten's..." Kun sighed, looking down at his sneakers. The group was resting for a water break, and Yuqi walked them a little ways from the rest of the pack to a set of boulders that marked the side of the mountain. They sat, and Kun found the words to continue. "Ten's the opposite of me. He doesn't seem to be afraid of anything. He brings out this energy in me that makes me feel like anything is possible. But I know that's not -- I have to be real about things. I don't want to set myself up for failure. Again."
He didn't have to say anything about his past relationship. Yuqi could read between the lines. She scooted closer to him on the boulder and clapped her hand on Kun's shoulder again. "Dick that good, huh?"
"I'm kidding! God, you don't have to get married, or do a soul binding ritual or something like that. You like him, don't you?"
"Y-yeah." Kun swallowed, his mouth dry. He took his water out of his backpack and took a huge gulp of it to keep himself occupied.
"And he likes you. So just try. You're not setting yourself up for failure. You're giving yourself a chance at something that could make you happy. I mean, look at Xuxi. Do you think I saw him and immediately thought, that is the guy I'm going to spend the rest of my life with ?"
Kun looked at Xuxi, who was currently approaching them with a skip in his step, cradling something in his hand. Kun looked back at Yuqi, who was watching Xuxi's approach with a mix of adoration and expectation.
"Um, yes?" Kun guessed.
Yuqi shook her head. "I met him for the first time while he was doing a keg stand at a house party. He spent most of the night throwing up in the bathroom. It was not a good first impression."
Xuxi reached them and thrust his hand out under Yuqi's nose. "For you, milady," he said with a truly horrific mock-English accent. He dropped down to one knee. In his palm were dozens of tiny wildflowers, white and purple in color. The breeze picked up a couple and they fluttered to the forest floor.
"What am I supposed to do that those?!" Yuqi shrieked in delight, laughing.
"I dunno," Xuxi shrugged. "But they looked pretty and I thought of you, so... Maybe I can put them in your hair?"
"You can try," Yuqi giggled.
Xuxi took the task seriously, placing each individual blossom with precision in Yuqi's blond locks, while Yuqi kicked her heels against the rock. They were, in a word, adorable, and Kun decided to give them some space and privacy, wandering off toward the front of the group.
Being alone gave him time to think, and he thought a lot about Ten, and how easily he had fallen into feeling with him, and how lovely it had felt to wake curled up against Ten's back this morning, just hours ago. So little time had passed and yet Kun already missed the shell of Ten's ear, his voice before he was truly awake, gently rasping and soft as ocean waves in the distance.
He had come to this retreat to learn how to relax, not to fall in love. And yet how could he not fall in love with Ten, whose touch smoothed the knots in his muscles and whose laughter made butterflies flutter in Kun's belly?
It took two days with Ten to get Kun like this. What would it be like after a week? After a year? He thought about the hours and hours he'd spent caged up in his office running numbers and triple checking his own work and the work of his colleagues. For what? Years ago, with Johnny, they'd wanted to innovate. To create something new. He felt that sort of feeling tingling at the tips of his fingers again, that feeling that he was on the cusp of something never seen before, never done before. He wanted to be unafraid enough to reach for it.
They arrived back at the Center in the late afternoon, exhausted but refreshed, and Kun went straight up to his room to take a shower, after which he took a nap that was only supposed to be an hour but ended being three. He woke when the sun was nearly completely set, and dinner hours in the cafeteria were just about to close.
Kun went downstairs, groggy from his overextended nap, wearing his glasses, sweats, and an old t-shirt, and found Yuqi and Xuxi still in the cafeteria finishing up their meal. They stayed while Kun ate and chatted with him for a bit, and they all promised to meet up with each other once they were returned to their lives in the city. After, Kun headed out by himself to the lake to drink in the sunset.
It was grand, all the saturated pinks and purples and oranges, colors in the sky he never got to see in the city because he never cared to look. The bench he and Ten had sat on that first morning was empty, and Kun thought to himself that he’d very much like to sit with Ten there again, tonight, to watch the stars come out.
He went back inside and trotted up the stairs, his thoughts keeping him buoyant. He was excited by the prospect of seeing Ten for the first time today after leaving him this morning, like a high school student about to ask his crush out for Prom. Kun stopped in front of Ten’s door, raised his fist, and knocked.
There was no response. Disappointment slithered into his belly like a snake. It was late, though. Perhaps Ten was already sleeping. Frowning, Kun knocked again lightly. “Ten?” he whispered at the door.
Silence from the other side. Probably sleeping, Kun thought to himself. That was fine, he’d just message Ten and let him know he’d love to get breakfast with him, or find some other time tomorrow to--
With a start, Kun realized he didn’t even have Ten’s number to text him that he’d come by. Maybe he could slip a note under his door? No, that was stupid. Ten would be here in the morning, and they could talk then. Kun would just have to be patient to release the words waiting on the tip of his tongue.
Ten was not there in the morning. He wasn’t there at breakfast, and his beginners yoga class that morning was taught by San. Kun spent much of the session unfocused and unbalanced, wondering where he was. Maybe he was sick, upstairs in his room? Or what if something had happened yesterday and Kun hadn’t know? Ten taught a few of the advanced workshops and Kun knew from researching some of the poses that a moment of distraction or weakness could result in an injury. Is that what happened?
As they laid there in corpse pose to end the class, Kun resolved to talk to Jeno. If anything had happened to Ten, Jeno would tell him.
When San released them, Kun couldn’t leave the classroom fast enough. He threw his mat into the corner on top of the others and speed-walked out of there, stepping into his sneakers and nearly tripping over the laces in his rush to get them on.
Jeno was the only staff person behind the front desk and brightened when Kun appeared in front of him. “Hi, Kun!”
“Where’s Ten?” Kun blurted. “I’m sorry. I mean. Hi, Jeno. How are you?”
Jeno had the kind of face that reminded Kun of a puppy -- his sparkling eyes were ever innocent but you could just tell there was some mischief he was thinking about or had just gotten up to. “I’m good. Slow morning. How are you?”
“Yes, fine thanks,” Kun nodded. He wanted to hurry up the niceties and small talk. “Listen, I was just wondering if you could tell me -- have you seen Ten around?”
“Sure have.” Jeno smiled.
Kun gestured for him to continue when Jeno paused and cocked his head to the side. “And…?”
“And he went upstairs about ten minutes ago. He just came back from--”
“Thank you,” Kun said. “I just needed to ask him something so I’ve been looking for him.”
“Uh huh,” Jeno said, but Kun was already running up the stairs. “I hope you find him and ask him your very important question!” Jeno called after him.
He made it back to Ten’s door quickly, slightly winded, his fist poised to knock, before he remembered himself and took a few moments to regain his breath. When he felt like he had control over his airflow again (but not his heart, which was beating like he’d just downed two cans of Nitro cold brew), he rapped his knuckles against the door.
“Coming,” he heard Ten’s voice on the other side. Then the door was opening. Ten stood behind it in sweats and a hoodie, his hair unbrushed and hanging in his eyes. “Kun,” he breathed, surprised, blinking like he was trying to determine if Kun was real or a mirage.
“Can I come in?”
Ten bit into his bottom lip, the hesitation plain in his movements, in the hunch of his shoulders.
“Just to talk,” Kun explained, trying to curb the feeling that was his heart being stomped into the dirt at Ten's uncertainty. “I was -- I was worried about you. You weren’t here last night?”
Ten’s eyes widened. He opened the door and allowed Kun inside. “Oh, yeah. My Mom called. Hendery was sick earlier this week and it got really bad yesterday.”
“God, is he okay?” Kun walked forward and held out his arms.
Again, Ten hesitated, but whatever risks and rewards he was weighing in his own head must have tipped in Kun’s favor because he took a tiny step forward and allowed himself to be held against Kun’s body. His chin naturally found and fit into the groove of Kun’s shoulder as he sagged against him. “We almost took him to the emergency room last night, but it didn’t come to that. He’s better now. Kind of miraculously. He scared us, but kids just bounce back from anything.”
“You drove back to New York?”
“I had to,” Ten said, pushing himself from Kun’s chest with his hands on Kun’s shoulders. His gaze wobbled between defiance and exhaustion. “I had to. What if -- what if something had happened to him?”
“You’re right, you’re right. It was right of you to go, and I’m glad he’s okay now,” Kun said sincerely, rubbing a soothing hand down Ten’s back. He could feel how under the fabric of the hoodie, Ten was wound tight as a coiled spring. “I just mean, you must be tired. That’s all.”
The longer Ten that stared at him, the more emotion that piled into his eyes, and Kun kept rubbing between his shoulders, wanting nothing more than to take the stress out of Ten’s body and into his own.
“I’m going to take a nap,” Ten said thickly. “I have some classes to teach later. I’ll be fine for them after.”
“Do you want me to stay, or no?”
“You can stay if you want,” Ten whispered.
“That’s not what I asked,” Kun said.
Ten looked away, shuddering when he inhaled. His hands fisted at Kun’s shirt, and Kun had little time to prepare for when Ten suddenly rocked forward and pressed his lips against Kun’s in a hard, desperate kiss. “Yes,” Ten said when he sank back down onto his heels and pulled away. “I want you to stay.”
Napping with Ten was going on Kun’s list of top ten favorite things to do in the world. In sleep, Ten was a seeker. He searched for every inch of negative space Kun made available with his body and molded himself against him to fill it. Kun, cradled in Ten’s warmth, ended up above him on the pillow, asleep as well, with Ten’s face pressed into his chest and Ten’s torso wedged between Kun’s legs.
He awoke when Ten pushed himself away at the first sound of his alarm, and watched with cloudy confusion as Ten crawled lethargically toward the edge of the mattress and almost fell off the bed.
“Has it already been an hour?” Kun mumbled.
“Shh,” Ten said. “The universe is loud.”
Kun took him by the wrist and dragged him back in against his chest. “You can afford another hour,” he said.
Ten’s eyes were already closed. “Yeah,” he whispered, his breath breaking against Kun’s throat. “Okay.”
The second time Kun awoke, it was to Ten stroking back the hair that had fallen across Kun’s forehead, his eyes shadowed and seemingly gazing at something very far away.
“Wh’ time is it?” Kun slurred, yawning and stretching one arm up and over his head. The other was still squashed under Ten’s body.
“Nearly time for my class,” Ten said. His finger traced lightly down Kun’s cheek, over his sharp jawline, then over his lips. Kun kissed the pad of his index finger and laughed when Ten snatched his hand back in surprise. “I couldn’t bring myself to get up, and now I’m going to be late.”
“Late?” Kun’s eyes widened. The word was like a jumpstart to his system. He bolted upright into a seated position. “How late? Shouldn’t you get ready?”
Ten rose easily, his expression neutral and unbothered. “Only a couple of minutes. It’s the advanced workshop. They’ll keep themselves busy until I get there.”
“Wait. If you’re going to be late, then I’m going to be late!” Kun realized. He tried to kick himself out of the covers but only managed to tangle himself up in the sheets, and he groaned in frustration as he grappled to free himself of them. “Stupid covers--”
“Kun,” Ten said. “It’s fine. It’s really just a couple of minutes--”
Kun threw the blankets off of his lap and rolled out of bed, coming around the mattress to look for his shoes. He was going to be late to his last ever Mindful Management Practices session, and even though he still was finding it hard to glean very much value from the workshop, he hated the idea that he was wasting dollars for every second he wasn’t physically seated in that elementary school circle on the floor. “I have to go. You have to go--”
“Kun,” Ten said again, this time more forcefully.
Kun paused in front of the mirror beside the door where he’d been trying to tame his hair into something presentable with his fingers. He looked behind his shoulder at Ten, who was still sitting on the bed. “What?”
Ten’s throat bobbed when he swallowed. His gaze flickered down, then back up. He sighed. “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing, I’ll -- I’ll catch up with you later, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Kun agreed. “Dinner?”
“Sure.” Ten moved then, slinking like a cat out of bed and scooping up his yoga mat. He didn’t stop to check how he looked in the mirror because he always looked just how he looked, and Kun thought he always looked beautiful. “C’mon, then. Let’s go off to our responsibilities.”
Mindful Management Practices ended, and Kun walked away from the course promising everyone else who attended and the instructor that he'd take lunch away from his desk at least once a week when he returned back to the office. It was both the least and the most he could see himself actually committing to, and it felt kind of validating to hear a resounding chorus of sympathetic agreements from the others in the room. They were struggling, too.
At dinner, he pulled Ten, who had arrived late after washing up after his last classes, to sit with him, Yuqi, and Xuxi, and ravenously devoured his vegan pasta dish while they chatted about what they’d do once they were back in New York. Beside him, Ten was unusually quiet and contemplative, eating slowly and offering Kun slow, reassuring smiles whenever he glanced at him. He was probably still tired, Kun thought, and so he didn’t push Ten to engage when Xuxi launched into a story of this one time he got lost in Prospect Park and ended up meeting Susan Sarandon.
“What about you?” Yuqi asked, her bright eyes on Ten. “You must run into a lot of celebrities in LA?”
Ten played with his bamboo fork on his plate, his elbows on the table in front of him. "Sure, I've seen, like, Kristen Stewart, the Kardashians a couple of times. And we get loads of actors and models and stuff in our yoga classes. But we don't...approach or seek them out or anything. They’re just people.”
“Yeah, famous people,” Yuqi added.
Ten shrugged, withdrawing again from the conversation as it went on in another direction. When Yuqi and Xuxi turned toward each other and their conversation became more private, Kun turned to Ten also and asked, “Wanna take a walk with me?”
Ten raised an eyebrow elegantly at him. “A walk? Where?”
Kun was indifferent to the destination but not to the person. “I don’t know. Anywhere. Around. We can go to the lake? I just want to spend time with you.”
Ten blushed, and Kun grinned at the color that he put onto his cheeks. “You?" Ten asked. "You want to take a directionless, purposeless walk? With me?”
“Who said it’d be purposeless if I’m with you?”
“Smooth,” Ten said in a hushed whisper, tossing his bamboo fork into his bowl in pseudo-exasperation. “So smooth. Ugh. Disgusting how smooth that was.”
Kun laughed as he stood, gathering up his recyclable plates and Ten’s as well. Without thinking about it, he bent to drop a kiss on Ten’s cheek. “Let’s sneak off. It’s like summer camp, and we're the counselors.”
“Didn’t I say the other day that this isn’t like summer camp?”
“Just for tonight, then. Let’s pretend.”
Ten smiled. “Alright, Kun,” he said. “Let’s pretend.” His movements were slow and quiet as he stood and followed behind Kun. Kun tried to match him in pace, but found himself fidgeting like he was holding a timed bomb in his hands, and he was pretty sure he threw all of their recyclables into the wrong bins while Ten looked at the floor and Kun looked at Ten.
They went out to the lake, towards the bench that Kun was starting to think of as theirs, even though he’d only caught Ten sketching out here once. The light glancing off the lake from the setting sun looked like fire, and Kun held Ten’s hand and saw him in the window of his favorite coffee shop in New York, saw him curled up on Kun’s couch in his living room, in a space that still carried his presence whenever he left it.
“What are you staring at?” Ten asked after they’d passed the bench and kept on walking on the flattened path that followed the perimeter of the lake, their hands swinging between their bodies.
“I can’t believe we’ve only known each other for a couple of days,” Kun breathed.
Ten halted mid-step, hand tightening around Kun’s. “I can’t believe it either,” he said. “You’re practically a stranger.” He laughed, but there was no humor behind it.
Kun found it odd, how hollow Ten’s voice sounded, like a bright painting suddenly stripped of color, and he drew Ten over to the side of the path with both hands around Ten’s wrists. “Hey, what’s wrong? Are you still worried about Hendery?”
Ten chewed on his bottom lip, a habit that Kun had already associated with Ten whenever he was overthinking or mulling something over. Ten flicked dark eyes up to meet Kun’s gaze. “Hendery? This isn’t about Hendery. Well, it’s not not about Hendery. You think this is about Hendery?”
“Would you feel better if we went up to your room so you could call him?”
“Do you really mean that, or are you just trying to get us into my room?”
Kun smirked, ready to make a snide comment that they could certainly finish up a call with Hendery quickly to get to other, more adult activities this evening, but the expression on Ten’s face stalled him. He looked perplexed, like he couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing in front of him, like Kun was one of those optical illusions you had to cross your eyes in front of in order to understand the picture. The smirk fell off Kun’s face and he dropped his hands to Ten’s waist, holding him there. “Do I really mean you should call your kid if you’re worried about him? Yeah, of course, Ten.”
“Let’s go, then.”
Kun turned back toward the building, but Ten’s fingers curved over Kun’s wrists then, keeping Kun’s hands where they were on Ten’s hips.
“Wait--” Ten gasped.
“What is it?”
Ten spun Kun around and pressed himself forward, his hand around the back of Kun’s neck to guide him into a scorching kiss that made Kun’s head spin. Kun fell back three steps before he could regain his footing, Ten kissing him the whole time while Kun tried gallantly to reciprocate.
It felt like a star was bursting in Kun’s head, in his chest. When Ten pulled away, they were both breathing heavily.
“What was that for?” Kun murmured. He thought he could see the constellations reflected in Ten’s eyes.
“It was for me,” Ten whispered. Kun didn’t really understand, but he allowed Ten to take his hand as they headed back inside.
“Yes, baby, I remember you telling me about that. Mmhmm. Yeah, I’m not a fan of organic dried goji berries, either. Did grandma make you her soup? Was that good? Oh, tell me…” Ten was a pacer as he video chatted with his kids on his phone. The worry was all contained in the shuffling of his feet, and so none of it showed in his face or voice. Kun sat on Ten’s bed and watched serenely as Ten wore a hole in the floor with his pacing.
He didn’t miss his own phone; rather, he liked eavesdropping on Ten’s conversation, listening to Ten’s voice that was smooth and bright, always lightly inquiring in tone, as he encouraged Hendery to share what he could remember about his day. Hendery, Kun was learning, was much more talkative than his brother Dejun, even though Hendery was the one still nursing a sore throat.
“Daddy, who’s that?” Hendery’s question rang out in the still silence that followed. Kun heard Dejun echo his brother’s question, and Kun froze on the bed, even though he hadn’t really been hiding or trying not to be discovered in the first place.
Ten stopped his pacing and went pink in the cheeks, the color of cherry blossoms just before they fell. “It’s, uh…”
“Are you one of Daddy’s friends?” Hendery asked, holding the phone very close to his face as though that would help him see Kun better. Ten beckoned Kun over to him with a jerky waggle of his fingers, and Kun rose to join him in the frame of the video chat.
“I am,” Kun said. “It’s nice to meet you. You must be Hendery.”
“Yeah, I’m Hendery!” Hendery said. “This is my brother Dejun.” He pulled Dejun over to him, and for a moment the screen went black as the phone fell from his hands. He quickly picked it back up again. “Are you nice?”
Kun coughed, sparing Ten a glance, but Ten offered no guidance in how to respond. Kun said, “I’m trying to be.”
“That’s good,” Hendery nodded seriously. “I think Daddy should only have nice friends.”
“Okay, okay,” Ten interjected. He nudged Kun away with his shoulder, so Kun went back to the bed and sat. “‘Dery, that’s enough. It’s late. You should both be sleeping.”
“But we’re not tired,” Dejun complained in a sweet voice. “Daddy…”
“But I’m tired,” Ten complained back. “Let Daddy sleep, and be good and go to sleep also. I’ll be back tomorrow night, babies. I love you.”
“We’re not babies,” Hendery said. He yawned loudly and Ten chuckled at the screen. “Okay, ‘Jun, let’s go. Yāy wants us to sleep, too. Love you, Daddy.”
It took a couple more rounds of goodnights from everyone before the boys would hang up, and after they did, Ten shuffled to the edge of the bed where Kun was perched, standing so close that their knees touched. Kun let his thighs fall open just for Ten to fit himself between them, and then Ten was pushing him back onto the bed and crawling over him to straddle his waist.
They didn’t kiss. Ten leaned down and draped himself over Kun’s body, his head tucked under Kun’s chin and his arms coming to wrap around the backs of Kun’s shoulders. He was a heavy, solid weight on Kun’s chest, but a comforting and grounding one, and Kun tightened his arms around Ten’s waist.
A minute passed, and then another, and then another. Kun felt Ten’s breathing slow, felt how his heart thumped in his chest, and he felt how paying attention to Ten’s body like this made Kun’s own body react in kind. He softened into the bed and brought his hand up to massage the back of Ten’s neck lightly, and Ten made a small, pained noise.
“You okay?” Kun whispered.
“I’m not sure,” Ten said.
“What aren’t you sure about?”
“You,” Ten said. He lifted his head, propping his chin on Kun’s chest, stripping Kun with his gaze for a long moment before he shifted higher and settled himself alongside Kun on the mattress, still glued to his side. “I like you.”
The smile broke across Kun’s face like a wave crashing against the shore. The happiness that floated up to the top of his chest disappeared like smoke when he saw the shadows of conflicted thoughts in Ten’s eyes. The other was biting into his bottom lip again, gnawing on it so badly that Kun worried he would break skin.
“I like you, too,” Kun said. “I think I like you a lot, actually. I wanted to tell you earlier, but you’d gone back to New York, so...”
He wanted this to have been easier, brighter. A confession was meant to be a happy thing, wasn't it? So why did Ten look so hurt? He reached out and stroked Ten’s cheek with his palm, heart fluttering when Ten melted into the touch.
“When I went back,” Ten said quietly, each word measured and careful. He danced his fingers absently over Kun’s arm and shoulder as he spoke. “I remembered something. You might be here for stress relief, for vacation, but this is just...me. My life and my work. You’ll go back home and forget all about me until you want to have a good time. And so I remembered that I wasn’t on vacation. I almost never am, even when I am . I have two boys who are my world, and I can’t -- I can’t afford to get hooked on you when I’ve got to think about my babies. Because if I have to choose, I’ll choose them.”
“I’m not asking you to choose me over them, or anything like that. I’d never ask that of you.”
“You wouldn't have to. It would just happen. Do you even like kids?”
“I do.” Kun was ready for the flash of disbelief that crossed Ten’s face. He sighed, remembering suddenly his conversation with Yuqi in the woods. He wanted to give himself a chance to be happy, and he could see that with Ten. He just needed to let go a little more. “We were planning to start a family, my ex and I,” Kun continued, letting himself roll onto his back. He felt Ten shift with him, to stay pressed to his side. “We had a whole plan. House in Jersey. A dog. One kid, and then another. We’d adopt. We were saving up for the house.”
“I kept choosing my work for him,” Kun said. He’d only ever said anything like this aloud to Johnny before, but the guilt and anger he'd felt years ago had faded into something much more muted and murky, like a photo out of focus. “I kept thinking about the money we needed. It made sense to me at the time, but it...it didn’t end well.”
“He left you?”
“I left him,” Kun said. “He...cheated on me. The thing is, I can’t even blame him for it now.”
“Yes you can,” Ten said. Kun glanced down at him and chuckled at the little furrow that had formed between Ten’s eyebrows. He bent to kiss him there, and Ten curled even closer. “I’m so sorry. That must have hurt so much.” He paused. “Why are you telling me?”
“Because I don’t ever want to fail the person I love like that again,” Kun said. “And I think you should know that about me if we’re going to try this.”
“This,” Kun confirmed. He cradled Ten’s face with his hands and brought him up to meet him with another kiss, this one soft and full. When Ten’s lips parted, Kun slipped his tongue inside, shallowly exploring him. They slowed together, the kiss coming to a natural end.
“And you’re not just a good time to me, Ten.” Kun needed him to understand; he spoke the words close to Ten’s skin so that they could sink into him that way, become a part of his flesh and blood. “You’ve challenged me. You’ve brought me out of this stagnant, muddy place where I was stuck. Even if you say no right now, if you decide we shouldn’t try, meeting you has changed me, and I’ll always remember that. I want to know you,” Kun said. “I want to grow with you.”
“But -- the distance. You’ll be in New York. I’m in LA…”
“I can travel,” Kun said. “We can video. There are workarounds.”
“We’ve known each other for fewer than four days,” Ten said, but if that was a protest it fell from his lips weakly.
“So? Soon it will be four more days, then a month, and so on.”
The corner of Ten’s lip lifted into a tiny smirk. “This place has changed you.”
“All I'm asking you is to give us a chance. I just want to know you,” Kun said. “And your boys. Your family.”
That cracked Ten open like an egg, the emotion spilling out over his face. There were no tears, but the expression in his eyes was raw hope and yearning, so plain that it was almost painful to see. But Kun looked and felt his heart make space for Ten to crawl inside, if Ten wanted. Kun would keep a safe place for him there.
“Okay,” Ten said finally. He brushed his lips over Kun’s and murmured again, and again. “Okay, okay, okay…”
They kissed so sweet and slow that Kun felt like he was being bathed in honey. He luxuriated in the warm amber glow that Ten radiated and let himself sink fully into the thick, heady pleasure of being close to him like this. When Ten tugged at Kun’s shirt, Kun helped him take it off, dropping it carelessly behind him onto the floor. Ten rolled them both over so that he was on top of Kun, straddling his hips again.
“Take off your shirt, too,” Kun said, unable to keep his hands from roaming Ten’s sides. “I want to see you.”
Ten stripped. First his top, and then he lifted himself from Kun’s body and slid out of his leggings and briefs, also. His fingers played along the waistband of Kun’s sweats, and he peered up at Kun, a question in his dark eyes. Kun nodded, watching Ten from where he was propped onto his elbows. Ten slowly pulled Kun’s sweats down and off of his body.
Kun was growing hard in his briefs, the outline of his swollen dick visible under the thin fabric. Ten’s lips were red and shiny from kissing. When he crawled on his elbows to plant his face against Kun’s crotch, Kun almost spasmed from the image and the sudden pressure. He felt Ten breathe against him, felt him moan. Kun shook, hips trying to buck against Ten’s hands that were on his waist now, holding him down.
“Is this okay?” Ten asked. He pulled at the waistband of Kun’s briefs.
“Yes,” Kun groaned, throwing his head back when the slight movement made the fabric rub against the crown of his dick. He exhaled noisily when Ten palmed him, rubbing him slowly, warming him up.
Finally, he helped Kun out of his briefs and his cock sprung free. Ten bent down to kiss him, right on the tip, a feather light touch that nonetheless made a tingle scorch down Kun’s spine to his toes.
“Is this better than in the shower?” Ten asked cheekily.
“I don’t know,” Kun said. “You haven’t done anything yet.”
It wasn’t meant to be a challenge, but that was just how they seemed to work best. Ten licked him from base to tip with one long swipe and then swallowed him down whole without warning. Kun twitched and clenched his fists as the wet heat of Ten’s mouth, of his throat, engulfed him. He felt the muscles of Ten’s throat fluttering, making space, adjusting to his size, and tried to stay as still as possible as Ten worked past his own gag reflex.
“Fuck, Ten,” Kun moaned.
Ten looked up at him from under his eyelashes, eyes glistening, and swallowed. Once, twice. His steady breaths brushed over Kun’s trimmed hairs and soft skin. He moaned, the vibrations from the sound shooting up to the base of Kun’s skull, and slowly, torturously pulled himself off Kun’s dick. He was breathing hard, his cheeks flushed, by the time his lips grazed the tip, and he coughed once as he fisted Kun’s spit-coated dick with his hand, leisurely stroking him. Kun kicked his heels into the mattress.
“Don’t you dare cum yet,” Ten rasped. God, his voice was hot like this, ruined by Kun’s cock. “I want to ride you.”
“Shit,” Kun hissed as his dick spurted precum in interest. Ten used the slick to make the glide of his palm smoother. “Turn around, then. Have to stretch you open.”
Ten flushed, biting into his bottom lip, and hesitated.
“Don’t be shy,” Kun encouraged him. This, coming from the man who had invited him into his bed that first night, who had prepped himself beforehand even, while he waited for Kun’s knock on his door. It surprised Kun that Ten was hesitating, but Kun supposed things were different now. There was a weight in his chest that hadn’t been there before, one that was not unwelcome, but one that would need tending to. He wondered if Ten felt something similar. “I’ll just use my fingers,” Kun promised. “For now.”
Ten flushed even deeper, the tops of his cheeks dark and wine-stained. But he climbed over Kun obediently and straddled him in the opposite direction, sitting on his chest. He looked behind his shoulder at Kun, rocking his hips down gently. “This is good?”
“Almost,” Kun said. He pulled at Ten’s hips with his fingers and had him raise his ass into the air, so he was on his hands and knees. “Perfect. Go on with what you were doing, baby.”
While Ten’s attention was on Kun’s dick, Kun reached over to bring out the lube and a condom from the nightstand and got to work.
He palmed Ten’s asscheeks and spread him open, digging in with his thumbs near his hole and stretching him. He brushed two fingers over him, from the small of his back to his balls, chuckling when this made Ten pause with his lips around the head of Kun’s dick and moan, his toes curling.
“So sensitive,” Kun teased, his own voice slightly strained. He sucked on his fingers and did it again, leaving a trail a spit in his fingers’ wake, and chuckled when Ten’s back bowed and he sank down onto his elbows with Kun’s dick still in his mouth. He bobbed his head in time with Kun’s gentle petting. When he had worked himself into a trance like this, Kun pushed one spit-slicked finger inside of him slowly.
His finger sank into Ten easily, without too much resistance. Kun let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, and popped open the cap of the lube with his other hand. He squirted the gel liberally over the place where they were joined, so much that it dripped down onto Kun’s chest. Ten clenched around his finger at the sudden shock of cold, but then softened deliberately, and pushed back onto Kun’s finger as he relaxed his jaw further.
“You’re so good, Ten,” Kun whispered in awe. “You’re perfect, you really are.”
Ten moaned, mouth full of Kun’s cock, as Kun pushed another finger inside of him alongside the first. Kun allowed him a moment to adjust before he started to pump his fingers, slowly stretching him open.
When he added a third, he could tell Ten was starting to lose it. He was mindlessly drooling all over Kun’s cock as he rocked himself back onto Kun’s fingers, his dick rubbing against Kun’s belly and chest with the motion, and Kun wasn’t going to last for much longer, either.
“Up,” Kun said gruffly, pulling his fingers out so quickly that he could Ten’s hole gaping around nothing. “Get up. Didn’t you say you wanted to ride me?”
Ten just moaned. So Kun had sit up and move him off of his chest, spin him around. He gave Ten the condom and Ten looked at it like he’d never seen anything quite like it before. “Put it on me, baby,” Kun said.
Ten did, pouting with swollen, shiny lips the whole time. “Wanna ride you,” Ten pleaded while Kun coated his dick in lube.
“I know,” Kun said. “I know. C’mere.” He leaned back against the pile of pillows on the bed and pulled Ten to him so that he could straddle his lower belly. “Slow, go slow,” he urged. With his dry, clean hand, he rubbed Ten’s side; with his other, he held his dick against Ten’s hole and grit his teeth as Ten sank onto him.
It felt incredible to be inside of him. Kun brought his knees up so he could plant his feet against the mattress and rolled his hips just once, and Ten sighed lengthily. When his eyes opened, Kun saw that they were whirlpools of lust, shot through with fire. He ground down onto Kun with a deliberate swivel, moving his hips in a bruising circle. They were both glistening with sweat.
Kun felt like he was slowly being crushed into gunpowder. He could explode with any movement, any spark, but he needed to be ignited, and Ten was the match. He fucked himself on Kun’s dick until sweat dripped from his chin and splashed onto Kun’s chest, alternating slow grinding movements with fast pistoning ones. Never enough for them both to climax but always enough to keep them right along the edge, and that’s where Kun teetered, along a knife’s edge with Ten for as long as Ten could keep it up. He felt like his soul was being carved from his body. He felt both light and grounded, like he was floating, but tethered.
Then Ten put his hand on Kun’s chest and rode him hard, relentless, and Kun was a powder keg. He exploded. His mind went light and then dark.
He was only half aware of Ten, after, curling up onto his chest and kissing his bare skin above his heart.
Summer in New York City was not the wonderland of people sunning themselves and having picnics in the park as movies and television shows made you think. No, it was sweaty, smelly, and awful having to move through the sludge of humidity outside between the tall buildings, and normally Kun shifted from place to place as quickly as possible to take full advantage of air conditioning, but somehow this morning was great, despite the humidity, despite the sun already beaming down on his back.
Probably because Ten was beside him, wearing a flimsy tank and his drape pants, holding his hand as they shuffled down the block to the office building where Kun worked. It was mid-morning, and they’d just had breakfast with the kids at Ten’s mother’s place in Queens, where they’d left them so that Kun and Ten could have some time to themselves before Kun went to work and Ten to guest at another studio in the East Village.
Hendery was a charmer, and easily accepted Kun into their lives. He loved bugs, and aliens, and immediately latched onto Kun when Kun informed him that when he was younger, he wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot. He’d even studied some space stuff in school.
“What space stuff?!” Hendery had shouted during their first meeting -- at a park in Dumbo that had an outdoor bouldering wall for kids. From there, Hendery had decided that he and Kun were going to be Best Friends.
Dejun took longer to come out of his shell around Kun, often holding onto his father’s hand around him or clinging to his pant leg. But once Kun discovered that Dejun loved to sing and was learning to play the guitar, he knew he could win the kid over with their shared love of music. He brought his own guitar over to their house one day and that was that.
“Are you sure you want to come up?” Kun asked as they neared the entrance. “It’s just an office.”
“I want to see where you work, Kunnie,” Ten said sweetly, swinging their hands between them. “And I want to meet Johnny.”
And so they went inside. Kun signed Ten in as a guest, and swiped his badge over the gate to allow them both to enter. There were many companies that worked in Kun’s building, and a couple of startups that worked on Kun’s floor. He brought Ten through the maze of glass walls and sliding doors until they reached their suite. For a second, he was hyper aware of how he was dressed -- in jeans and a t-shirt instead of his usual button-up and slacks -- but then he let it go. Ten tucked his hand into the crook of Kun’s elbow as they entered.
It really wasn’t anything exciting. Just a normal co-working space, with do-it-yourself IKEA-ish furniture, open spaces, and plants in the windows. The treadmill that their company was selling was set up in the corner in front of a window, and someone unfamiliar -- probably a client -- was jogging on it. The employees greeted Kun as he walked by, most of them doing a double take first at what Kun was wearing, and then at the person beside him. Kun ignored the stares in favor of strolling right through to the back where he and Johnny’s offices were.
He knocked on Johnny’s door.
“Hey, it’s me.” He swung the door open and was greeted by Johnny’s tall, broad form.
“Kun! What’s up?”
“I wanted you to meet someone,” Kun said, gesturing behind him.
Johnny’s eyes widened. His look of surprise was quickly overtaken by a beaming smile. “You must be Ten,” Johnny said, throwing his arms open wide.
“You must be Johnny,” Ten grinned, stepping into the circle of his arms. They hugged each other like old friends. “Kun’s said a lot about you.”
“Kun literally won’t shut up about you,” Johnny said. “It’s actually pretty annoying.”
“I am amazing, though, so I understand why," Ten laughed, and Johnny smiled, charmed. As they traded verbal jabs, Kun felt himself release tension that he hadn’t known he’d been holding in his shoulders.
They liked each other. That was good.
“Okay, okay,” Kun pulled at Ten’s arm and held him against his side when the verbal jabs became teasing remarks at Kun’s expense. “Yes, you’re the best friend and you’re the boyfriend, and I’m sure you both have a lot of dirt you can spill about me to the other. But Ten’s got a class to teach, and I’ve got a client call I have to prepare for.”
“Can you work on his ability to lighten up, please?” Johnny stage-whispered to Ten.
Ten said, “I am, don’t worry. He’s making huge strides.”
Kun rolled his eyes and pinched Ten’s side.
Ten squeaked and giggled. “Fine, let’s go. Walk me out?”
They retraced their steps as Johnny reminded them about their dinner plans this weekend in a loud, booming voice behind them.
Alone in the elevator, Ten played with Kun’s fingers in between his hands. “Kun,” he said. “You called me your boyfriend.”
Kun tensed like someone had dropped an ice cube down the back of his shirt. Did he do that? Shit, he did that. It had just come out. They hadn’t talked about it yet, and he’d probably just ruined it for the future. He turned to Ten, eyes stricken and face pale. “I--”
“Is that something you’d like for us to be?”
Kun swallowed and worked his jaw a couple of times. Ten didn’t look angry or upset, but curious. He hadn’t stopped playing with Kun’s fingers. Kun wondered if it was nerves.
“I think we’re really good together,” Kun whispered. The elevator stopped in the lobby, and they walked out before they could be crushed by the incoming rush of people. The busy foot traffic made for anonymity in a crowd, but this wasn’t something Kun wanted to talk about here, like this. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wanted this to be...I wanted to talk about this with you, but not here.”
“Why not here?” Ten tilted his head. “I want to be your boyfriend,” he said plainly.
“What?” Kun asked dumbly.
“I want to be your boyfriend,” Ten said again, slower, as a lazy grin overtook his lips. He had Kun by his elbows and held him close. “I want to be your boyfriend,” he whispered into Kun’s ear. “What do you want?"
“I want that, too,” Kun said. “I -- oh wow. Sorry, I just thought -- I just thought it should be special, when we talk about it.”
“It is special,” Ten said, “because we’re talking about it. Now, boyfriend, give me a kiss so I can leave, and you can go back up to your cubicle.”
“It’s not a cubicle…” Kun kissed him, right there in the middle of the lobby between all these people flowing into and out of the building. It felt amazing.
Ten left, but only after kissing Kun on each cheek and on the tip of his nose, and Kun went back up to his office in a blissful daze. He operated on muscle memory, winding his way through the maze of suites until he deposited himself on a familiar couch, thinking of Ten all the while.
“You look like you just saw a tittie for the first time,” Johnny said. “Why are you on my couch?”
“I wanted to thank you for making me go to that retreat,” Kun said. “Because I met my boyfriend there.”
“Your boyfriend Ten? Who I just met? Yeah, I know.”
“You don’t understand, Johnny.” Kun threw himself back onto the couch dramatically. “I met him there, and you’re the reason why.”
“Who are you and what have you done with my friend?” Johnny laughed. “Seriously though, I’m happy for you. You seem...less stressed.”
“Nicer, you mean.”
Johnny put his hands up in front of his chest, but he was smirking. “That’s not what I said.”
Kun laid there for as long as he wanted, which wasn’t very long at all, but it felt good just to breathe, and to think about Ten, and to let himself sit with the giddiness in his chest. He chuckled to himself, and Johnny looked up from his laptop, grinning.
“So does the yoga...mean...like...?”
Kun groaned and melted off the couch partway, catching onto his friend's meaning. “Oh, Johnny,” he said. “The sex is incredible . But it’s more than that. It’s everything else. It’s him. It’s Ten.”
“You’re lovesick, you idiot,” Johnny said.
Kun thought he was probably right, but he was also many more things, because of Ten, because of himself. His world had expanded beyond his office again, and there were so many things for him to see, to do, to know. He couldn’t wait.