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The Photographs He Left Behind

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That familiar flutter of excitement tingled inside Junhee’s chest. He ignored the flock of girls around him, all pointing lenses in the same direction, and raised his own camera to the doorway. Poised, he waited.

Flashes lit up around him like a bursting firework, but Junhee waited for his moment. Staff members left the building first and they glanced only briefly at the photographers waiting nearby. The people everyone was waiting for followed soon after. A couple of the girls called out, still taking a photo-a-second – but still Junhee waited, until Han looked up. The idol brushed his fingers through his blonde hair, glanced up at the cameras and gave his oh-so-familiar half-smile.

Click.

Han’s teammates followed close behind, and the girls’ cameras followed them. Most fansites were like this – frantic to capture every movement, every member, petrified of missing the opportune moment. They would go home later and sift through thousands of photos, deleting almost all of them for being too blurry or capturing an awkward moment.

But not Junhee. Since he’d held his first DSLR between his fingers at fourteen, he’d had a sixth sense, one that told him when that most beautiful moment could be pinched out of the ethers and captured for eternity. Now twenty-one, thousands of people in Korea and beyond waited anxiously for photos uploaded under his moniker: Summer Storm.

You never disappoint! Summer Storm and Diamond Frost are the best fansites ever.

Your photos are the most beautiful, omg.

She’s such a talented photographer, we’re so lucky she’s in our fandom.

Of course, they always assumed Summer Storm was a ‘she’. Why would a male fansite be taking photos of a boy group, after all? As XF11 climbed into their awaiting van with a final wave, Junhee let his camera return to its place hung around his neck. He readjusted the mask covering his nose and mouth and pulled down his beanie. Two hours of waiting for less than a minute with Han – but it was worth it every time.

As he turned to leave, he was already deep in thought about the minimalist ways in which he could edit his photos that evening. He was snapped out of his thoughts, however, as he spun around straight into someone so hard that their foreheads bumped.

“Ow! Hey, careful, airhead.” The obstacle clutched their forehead, a scowl crinkling their eyes.

“Sorry!”  Junhee turned away automatically and raised an instinctive hand to cover his eyes. But before he could hurry away completely, he hesitated. That voice was-

He glanced back, curious. The other person narrowed their eyes too. No, narrowed his eyes. He wore an identical mask and a bucket hat shaded the rest of his face, but his voice had been unmistakably male. And that boy was appraising him, like he knew…

“You’re a he?” The boy peered closer as he spoke, and Junhee flushed.

“I… Er… I’m a n-new fansite, I-”

“Ha. Nice try, Summer Storm.”

The heat from Junhee’s face disappeared and was replaced with ice. He said nothing, but the boy smirked in victory. He nodded at Junhee’s camera.

“That raincloud sticker. You posted a photo of your camera on Twitter a while ago.”

“That’s… creepy of you.”

“And you’re a fansite, so you’re one to talk, creeper.”

Junhee glared at this boy. He could make out nothing but dark brown eyes that turned down at the edges and gave him a strange sense of sadness.

“I’ve not seen you before, are you new?”

The boy sniffed. “Something like that.” He shrugged, flicking through the photos he’d taken on the camera he carried.

“Which member?”

“Han.” He didn’t look up from appraising his photos. “But I’m not some kind of superfan so don’t get me wrong. I’m not really into this kpop thing. It’s just for my portfolio.”

Junhee resisted rolling his eyes. “Right. Well, I need to go and edit my photos.” He stepped around the other boy pointedly, keen to be away so he could let down his guard and peel back his mask.

“Your secret’s safe with me!” Junhee hesitated at the words that followed him away. “And your photos – they’re good, you know.”

Junhee snorted quietly and carried on walking.

 

~

 

Home was Junhee’s haven. The apartment was bijou, to say the least, but it was the space he could be himself, indulge in his passions, and let go of the tension that crept into his shoulders from always hiding in plain sight. Here, he could put on his favourite music, sit in his oversized jumpers and work on his photos. It might not sound like much, but it was all he needed to be happy.

He sipped at the glass of wine on his desk, studying the photos a final time. His critical eye judged them ready. Two he would post now, and two in the morning – he wasn’t one to spam followers with dozens of photos. No, perfectionism was his niche, and only the very best photos got released into the virtual world.

These two – the photo capturing the second Han’s eyes had met the camera, a ghost of a smile catching the very corners of his lips, and the photo as he’d looked back over his shoulder for his members, his hair falling into his eyes and the breeze catching the scarf tied to his beltloop and sending it rippling out behind him. Junhee’s heart fluttered. It didn’t matter how many times he saw him – he was always caught by the love that washed through his veins at the sight of his favourite boy.

It only took seconds for the likes and comments to come flooding in. That’s not why he did it – he wasn’t here to score virtual points – but he was always happy to see the fandom react with happiness. After all, so many of them didn’t get a chance to see XF11 in person, let alone several times a week. Sharing these photos was his way of bringing to them the happiness he was lucky enough to get from the boys in the flesh.

He propped his chin in his hand, humming along to the song playing from his speakers. Out of curiosity, he opened his phone and scrolled through Twitter. The other fansites had been much faster than him, and he went through their photos in turn. A set of three photos made him pause – posted by Diamond Frost. It was one of the newer kids on the block, but her photos were beautiful. Like his own, they captured the little details, focussed on the tiny moments that others would miss. He dropped a heart in the comments and went with a yawn to prepare his things for tomorrow’s fansign.

 

~

 

Junhee looked over the top of his camera, a smile breaking out on his face. The XF11 boys were in high spirits today, performing their latest songs with crazy headbands over their hair. They joked with the fans, who all giggled and called their names in response.

It felt like the nearest thing he would ever have to a boyfriend. Or at least – it would while he was living here in Seoul, with his conservative family breathing down his neck. These boys made him feel… accepted. Like he was part of a community, emboldened by these six men who worked so hard and told their followers that they, too, could achieve anything. They filled him with hope and happiness, every single day.

He looked around the room. He might be biased, but the girls of X-Heart – their fandom – were the cutest. They wore dresses in the sky blue of their official colour, their pretty faces lit up in bright smiles. He might not be able to show himself around them, but they were a family that he felt a part of, nonetheless.

Someone leaned against the wall that didn’t fit with the crowd. Black skinny jeans rolled up above white sneakers, an oversized Gucci shirt drowning his skinny frame as he held his camera to eye level. Junhee raised an eyebrow. A male fansite, and he was dressing in Gucci? Who was this kid?

As if sensing he was being watched, the boy looked over at Junhee, who immediately turned away and busied himself taking photos. I’m not here to suss you out. I’m here for Han and the boys.

 The fansign was over all too quickly, as always. The boys said their goodbyes and everyone began to file out. Junhee packed up his kit and slung it over his shoulder.

“They’ll be leaving from the backdoors!” A group of girls reacted excitedly behind him.

“Go, go!” The hysteria spread quickly, and a large group began to run. Junhee tried to step out of the way, but in doing so stepped right into the path of another group sprinting to catch the boys as they left. One girl ran into him, hard, sending him stumbling. His camera bag flew from his shoulder and span across the tiled flooring.

“Sorry!” Her apology was thrown over her shoulder before she disappeared with the whirlwind of girls.

“Shit, shit, shit…” Junhee knelt on the floor, yanking open the zip on the bag. “Please be okay…” He hit the power button and the DSLR beep-booped into life. “Oh, thank god.” He turned it over; it appeared unscathed.

“Is it alright?” Junhee looked up to find Gucci kid stood looking over him. He nodded, his face flushed. “And… are you alright?” The boy held out a hand, and after staring dumbly at it, Junhee took it and got to his feet.

“Yeah… Thank you.”

“Saesangs, right?” The boy rolled his eyes. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Junhee replied, but winced as he flexed his ankle. The rest of the hallway was deserted as the last of the girls made their exit. His wariness thawed a little. “Thanks for stopping to check.”

“It’s okay. We’re colleagues, right?” Junhee stayed mute, watching the boy’s smiling eyes with confusion. “You like my photos, after all.”

“I… do?”

“Mmmm-hmmm.” The boy pulled his phone from his pocket. His thumb scrolled through his notifications, stopping on one and holding it up for Junhee to see.

Summer Storm and 634 others liked your post.

Summer Storm commented on your post: “<3”.

Junhee stopped in his tracks. “Wait, you’re Diamond Frost?!”

The boy laughed, pulling down his mask to his chin. Junhee blinked in surprise – his face was handsome, and the smile creasing his eyes was genuine.

“Yeah.” He pulled off his hat and scraped fingers through his wild hair. “I’m sorry if I came off a bit… y’know, yesterday. Defence mechanisms.” He smiled again, this time in apology. “I probably got over-excited that I wasn’t the only guy in the room and… Well, I know my humour can be a bit sharp. I’m sorry.”

Junhee studied his face, and then shrugged. “It’s okay. I get it. I mean – I’m very used to being the only guy.”

The other boy held the door open for him as they left. “Which is why you hide your face?”

Junhee sighed. “Which is why I hide my face.”

They stopped on the steps outside. Junhee looked up at the sky; autumn had sapped it of colours and Seoul was shrouded in slate grey. He shivered as a chill wind tickled his neck.

“Well.” The sad-eyed boy turned, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat. “Do you want to grab a coffee someplace?”

Junhee faltered in surprise. Naturally, he never got talking to the other fansites – he couldn’t, because they’d hear his voice and the less questions asked, the better. This was new. And he couldn’t quite push away his curiosity over the boy behind the Diamond Frost site, when their pseudonyms were so often mentioned in the same breath…

“Sure.” He was glad of his mask as his cheeks betrayed him by turning pink. “There’s a cute place just around the corner.” He smiled. “And I know none of the girls tend to lurk there.”

It was a tiny little café, overflowing with plants and wonky picture frames. Junhee hesitated as they found a table, one hand halfway to his mask. His pause didn’t go unnoticed.

“It’s okay, you know…” The other boy had discarded hat, mask and coat on a spare chair, and pushed up his sleeves with a shrug. “I do get the whole ‘hiding your identity’ thing. It’s cool, if you don’t want to show your face. I respect that.” He took his seat. “Oh, I’m Donghun, by the way.” He picked up a menu. “But you don’t have to tell me y-”

“Junhee. It’s Junhee.” Donghun looked up in surprise, and Junhee took his seat. Wary, he unhooked his mask from behind his ears and pocketed it. He felt a wash of nervousness as Donghun watched him curiously.

“Anyway,” Donghun said breezily – had he sensed his nervousness? “What do you want – it’s on me. Got to show respect for the best fansite in X-Heart, right?” The naughty smirk was back on his face, but this time it made Junhee feel a little more at ease.

Donghun didn’t take long to return with their drinks, and Junhee eyed the one that Donghun wrapped his hands around. The other boy raised a pierced eyebrow over the cup.

“What? Coffee milk is the best!”

“Uhhh-huh? And… how old are you?”

“I’m twenty-three, thanks for asking.” Donghun laughed nonetheless. “Just because I’m in my twenties doesn’t mean I have to drink my coffee black.” He took another sip. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Twenty-one? And you’re already one of the best photographers in the business?” Junhee made a face that he hoped settled somewhere between modesty and disbelief. “How did you learn to take photos like you do?”

“Oh… They’re really not… There’s no big secret…” He looked up to find Donghun propping his chin on one hand, listening as though… interested? He was used to the creeping expressions of boredom that crossed the faces of his family and friends when he talked about photography, but right now he seemed to be met with genuine enthusiasm.

And so, slowly, he explained how his grandfather had brought him his first camera shortly before he passed away. How he used to walk through the countryside in the evenings after school, learning to feel for composition, lighting – and most importantly, hone his timing to capture the perfect moment. The more he talked, the easier it became, and before he knew it he found himself propped on his hands, gazing unseeingly out the window while he talked.

“I’m so sorry,” he stuttered as he returned to the room. “I’m literally talking at you.”

Donghun was already smiling. “Don’t apologise. Your passion is captivating.”

Junhee would grow accustomed to the butterflies that danced in his stomach, the sharp flutter that made his toes curl and his breath catch in his throat. But this was the first time he felt it, and he immediately clamped down on the emotion. No. Stop that.

They talked about photography as the amber sun set outside the window, until they were the only ones in the room and the waitress approached their table.

“We’re closing up soon, boys.”

“Ah, thank you,” they said in unison, both ducking a quick bow of their heads. Junhee collected his things, deciding against re-masking.

“Do you want to get a drink somewhere?” he asked, playing with his coat sleeves. “If you drink anything harder than coffee milk, that is.”

Donghun laughed, but shook his head. “I can’t.” Junhee cringed immediately and regretted asking. “I need to go home and upload these pictures.”

“Oh.” Junhee smiled guiltily. “Yeah, I need to do that too.”

“But I’ll be at the Arirang schedule next Tuesday if you’re going to be there? I’ll be around after that. You can buy me a whiskey to make up for talking my ear off today.”

Junhee snorted. “Alright, Grandpa. Who drinks whiskey?”

Donghun laughed. “Watch your mouth, Summer Storm.” He pushed through the door and turned back to Junhee. “Catch you Tuesday, then.”

“Yeah, later.” Junhee watched him walk away, and then shook his head and went to fetch his bike. As he cycled home through the early evening, he felt lighter than usual – like there was some hidden wind at his back. For him, friendship wasn’t a part of his expectation from the fandom. But a little blossoming hope in his chest told him that maybe, he had found a new friend.

 

~

 

Facemask, pyjamas, decaf coffee, check in on XF11, nose at the other fansites – that was Junhee’s bedtime routine. He tucked his feet up onto the armchair as the message notification pinged.

Diamond Frost: reckon I should post this one

Diamond Frost: [image]

Junhee eyes widened as the username popped up in his Twitter inbox, and he opened it immediately. He snorted – the photo was unflattering, to say the least, catching Han mid-blink and open-mouthed. His fingers hovered over the keypad before replying.

Summer Storm: Poor Han.

Diamond Frost: He’d find it funny

Summer Storm: You’re talking like you know him…

Diamond Frost: Pfft, he has a sense of humour. It’s us Lees, we can laugh at ourselves…

Diamond Frost: Better sleep, all this Y/N life is tiring me out *upside down smiley*

Diamond Frost: Hang about tomorrow for that drink?

Summer Storm: Yep, see you then.

Diamond Frost: *thumbs up emoji*

Eyebrow raised, Junhee closed the chat and opened Instagram. He paused once, and got that creeping feeling that steals over a person who is snooping into someone’s private life, even knowing they are alone. He repressed the fleeting guilt and tapped into the search bar: Lee Donghun. Dozens of profiles sprang into the search results, but he didn’t have to scroll at all to find a familiar face.

Junhee let out a whistle. The grid of photos was beautiful. Every picture was rendered in warm colours, calming the visually overwhelming app into a retro palette. Three subjects competed for prominence: well-worn books, crystal glasses with amber contents, and the twisted dark shapes of woodlands. The curator had an eye for capturing the unusual in the everyday.

His curiosity flared ever more, however, at the photos in between, that showed a familiar face. Donghun looked just as comfortable in front of the camera as behind it, consistently dressed in designer labels, often a pair of glasses framing his eyes. Junhee opened a photo from the seafront – an invisible wind tossed Donghun’s hair across his tanned face, his smile so wide his eyes were nearly shut, his sandy hands holding two hermit crabs up to the camera-

“Who are you obsessively stalking?”

Junhee leaped out of his skin, nearly dropped his phone and then turned a scowl on his flatmate.

“Jesus, Sehyoon, why are so silent? When did you get in?”

“About ten minutes ago. You’ve been on the same profile the whole time – so who are you stalking.”

Sehyoon threw him a beer and sat down on the sofa, eyebrows raised expectantly.

“I’m not stalking anyone.” Junhee rolled his eyes. “It’s one of the other fansites.”

“A guy?”

“A guy.” Junhee handed him his phone; he knew Sehyoon would only pester.

“Oh. A very attractive guy.” Sehyoon stuck out his bottom lip as he scrolled. “Who likes fashion and literature and walks in the woods? And photography?” He looked up. “Well, now I see why you’re stalking him.”

“I’m not stalking him,” Junhee drawled, exasperated. “And you think everyone’s attractive.”

Sehyoon shrugged. “Everyone has their own beauty.”

“Whatever.” Junhee took a mouthful of beer. “It’s just nice to have someone to actually talk to. After all this time…” He trailed off, his tone turning sincere.

“That is nice for you.” The teasing note dropped from Sehyoon’s voice. “Does he know who you are?”

Junhee nodded. “He worked it out. We went for coffee the other day. Gonna grab a drink tomorrow.”

“Oh? A d-”

“It is not a date.” Junhee got up, chucking down the pillow he had in his lap. “You’re insufferable. I’m going to bed.”

Sehyoon’s sniggers followed him from the room.

 

~

 

“Okay, so, I have something to ask you.”

The evening had drawn late, and the room was filled with conversations across glasses of wine. Junhee and Donghun sat at the bar, several hours later than Junhee had expected to be here. Donghun, it transpired, was incredibly easy company – surprisingly bright with a joke always flitting around the edge of his smile. He was a literature graduate, with no formal qualifications in photography. That was a skill he’d taught himself.

Laughter punctuated the chatter, and Donghun leaned a little closer to listen, his fingers absently tracing the base of his wine glass.

“Go on.”

“Why are you a fansite?” Junhee watched his face for a reaction. “You said you aren’t big into the music scene. So why take photos of an idol day in, day out?”

Donghun leaned back, his lips pursed, absently emptying the contents of his pocket onto the bar: keys, wallet, an SD card. He played with a keyring as he answered.

“It’s good practice. And it gets me a big audience.” He shrugged. “And I like Han, it’s not like I don’t care about him.”

“You’re a weird one.” Junhee narrowed his eyes.

“And you’re not a sober one.” Donghun laughed, his signature raised eyebrow in place. “Okay. So it’s something like this. I love passion in people. I don’t care what someone is passionate about, but when people’s eyes light up and their voices get excited – that’s the most beautiful a human can be. And that’s what I love capturing, and being around. Han is… passionate, the whole group are. And even being around the fans. The energy that radiates in those rooms… It’s my favourite thing.”

The butterflies made their second appearance.

“So there you go,” Donghun said, breaking the silence. He nudged Junhee gently. “Even more weird than you thought, huh?”

“Not weird at all,” Junhee managed, playing with the SD card as a distraction.

“Anyway, come on, it’s late.” Donghun raked his fingers through his hair. “Probably time to head off.”

A frost clung to the outside air like static, and Junhee shivered as soon as they stepped outside. Donghun watched him pull his hands inside his hoodie.

“How are you getting home?” he asked.

“Cycling.”

“Hey, what? You’ll freeze! Here-” He shrugged off his coat, holding it out to Junhee, who immediately protested. “I live like two minutes away. Take it!”

“It’s fucking Valentino, absolutely not.”

“Oh, what?” Donghun pulled a face. “That stuff doesn’t matter. It’s just a coat. Please, I don’t want you to be cold.”

Junhee hesitated, crinkling his nose in indecision, and then sighed. “Fine. Thank you.” He pulled on the coat; it smelled of florals and patchouli. But as touched as he was by the gesture, a smile tugged at his mouth. “Hang on… Do you have a tattoo?” He looked incredulously as Donghun’s forearm. “Of a snowflake?”

“Oh, yeah.” He raised his arm up to the street light. It was small and finely traced in white ink, but it was unmistakably a touch of frost on his arm.

“So… what came first, Diamond Frost or the frost tattoo?” Junhee couldn’t help but smirk, and Donghun turned away with a laugh.

“’Night, Summer Storm. Hey,” he called, turning back as Junhee headed in the other direction. He turned, waiting expectantly. Donghun nodded at him. “You look good in that.”

Junhee was grateful of the darkness for shielding the smile he had to bite away.

 

~

 

Watery sunlight filtered through the curtain and woke Junhee up mid-morning. He yawned, rubbing his face and pushing his tangled bangs off his forehead. A trace of a headache pulsed at his temples.

“Park Junhee.” The door opened without a knock, and Sehyoon made his way into his room and sat on his bed without bothering to ask permission. “Would you care to explain why on earth there’s a two-million won Valentino varsity jacket hung in our hallway?”

“Oh. It’s Donghun’s. Winter Frost’s. I had to cycle home so he leant it to me.”

Sehyoon stared at him, incredulity lifting his eyebrows. “How’s a fansite affording Valentino? No offence. Is he a drug dealer?”

Junhee laughed, pulling the duvet up to his chin. “I mean, maybe. I have no idea, I didn’t ask.”

“Well, tell him he has excellent taste.” Sehyoon yawned. “I’m making coffee, it’ll be in the kitchen.”

Junhee rolled over, scrolling sleepily through his phone. The usual stream of Twitter notifications he deleted, but among his texts, one from Donghun: Hey. Did you happen to pick up an SD card? I had it in my pocket but I can’t find it, I need those photos

Junhee frowned, thinking back on the night before. Hadn’t he been playing with an SD card at one point? He reached down to grab his jeans from the floor, and sure enough, he emptied one pocket to find the little black square in among some spare change.

Yeah, so sorry – must have pocketed it by accident. I’ll keep it safe.

He was about to put his phone down when it vibrated immediately.

Can I meet you somewhere today to get it back? Sorry, need it asap. Can drive over to yours if that’s easiest

Yeah, sure, here’s my address…

Junhee tapped it out and tossed his phone down onto the duvet. What could possibly be so urgent about collecting an SD card? Donghun had all the photos from the last fansign – Junhee knew that, he’d seen his posts online.

He turned over the SD card in his fingers and waged an internal war. No, he couldn’t look at it, that was wrong. But… He was so curious to see Donghun’s unedited photos. And after all, Junhee was an XF11 fan, first and foremost – and he loved seeing pictures of the boys.

He knew he shouldn’t – he absolutely knew he shouldn’t – but Junhee pulled out his camera and slid out the SD card, replacing it with Donghun’s. His fingers moved quickly, like the faster he was, the less guilty it would make him feel.

He loaded the first photo and nearly dropped the camera.

The Donghun in this photo didn’t wear his trademark smile. His eyes burned through the lens, his collarbones prominent, another white-ink tattoo creeping across his ribs.

Junhee looked up and stared at the wall, a hot flush tipping down his neck.

That… was not a fansite photo.

He looked back at the image preview with every intention of turning the camera off immediately. But something made his thumb pause. There, behind the smouldering gaze – a unicorn plushie, one eye pink, one eye blue. Junhee stared. That plushie – that was exactly the same as the one Han had. Junhee had seen it in the background of Vlives. No, more than that, he’d seen it on that shelf in the background of Vlives…

He moved to the next photo, and his world flipped.

Donghun’s smile was back on his face. A duvet around his shoulders concealed his skin. But this time, someone leaned their head onto his shoulder, one hand curled around Donghun’s knee. Junhee’s shock produced a sudden lump in his throat.

“Han..?” he whispered.

He knew it was a gross invasion of privacy. But his shaking fingers pressed through the pictures. Photo after photo of Donghun and Han, in a bedroom Junhee recognised from broadcasts, beautiful, carefully composed, aesthetic photos that betrayed a strong intimacy between the two subjects.

Junhee didn’t realise he was crying until a tear dripped from his chin.

“Park, I told you, coffee, I-” Sehyoon stopped dead in the doorway, and finally Junhee slammed the power button on the camera. “Hey, are you-”

“I’m fine.” He swung his legs out of bed and swiped the treacherous tear from his face. “Absolutely fine.” He forced a grim smile. “Let me dress.”

His hands shook as he pulled on a t-shirt and jeans, a storm of feelings circling his stomach. It was fine, completely fine. He knew idols dated, of course they did, they were grownups – they just did so away from the public eye and that was the way things were. He’d always known Han would probably have a girlfriend – but a boyfriend? Donghun? One of his own fansites – did that mean Junhee had ever stood a chance? Had Han ever spared a second glance for him?

No, stop. He wasn’t delusional. He didn’t follow XF11 to try and date them. He was twenty-one, for Christ’s sake, not some teenager playing out a fantasy.

But Donghun. Donghun had lied. Hadn’t he? He’d certainly omitted the truth. But he could date whoever he damn-well pleased, so why, why did it feel like toxic sickness rising in his chest and choking his throat and-

The doorbell rang.

He breathed in, long and hard, and let it out shakily. Sehyoon appeared in his doorway once more, an eyebrow raised in question. Junhee waved him away and went to the front door.

“Hey! Man, I thought I’d lost it, I-” Donghun stopped, whatever he had to say evaporating from his lips. Junhee held out the SD card, but Donghun stared instead at the tears that rose in Junhee’s eyes. The colour in his cheeks evaporated. “You looked at it, didn’t you.”

“I didn’t know it would be…”

“How fucking dare you, Junhee?” Donghun’s voice rose with each word; he snatched the SD card from Junhee’s fingers and took a step inside, slamming the front door and trapping them in the hallway. His eyes lit up with fire. “That’s absolutely-”

“I know, it’s a massive invasion of privacy, I didn’t think, I just thought it would be photos for your fansite, I didn’t think-”

“Didn’t think you’d be going through private photos of me and Han? Well, are you happy now? Wanna go to Dispatch with this one?”

“What?! No!” Junhee said aghast. “Why would you say something like that? I’m just… I just…” The tears rose again in his throat, and he lost the fight against them.

Donghun rubbed his face with his hands angrily. “I don’t know why you’re the one getting upset.” He shot him a desperate look. “Is this because of Han dating? See, this is exactly why idols can’t breathe near someone else, it’s so unfair-”

“No!” Junhee looked at him desperately. “I’m not delusional. Han can date, he can date whoever the hell he wants. Get married. I don’t care. It’s not that.”

“Then what is it?!”

Junhee stared at him. How could he tell him why it scolded his heart like hot water to see those photos, when he didn’t know himself? He wasn’t lying – it wasn’t about Han dating. It was…

“Um, is everything alright?” Sehyoon appeared with his bed-hair and mug, looking at them both with incredulity. “It’s just you’re arguing really loudly and I’m quite hungover.” He appraised Donghun swiftly and gave him a quick nod. “Guessing you’re Donghun?” Donghun nodded. “Sehyoon. You have a great eye for fashion, by the way.” He turned away, drifting back to the living room.

Donghun watched him leave, and then sighed, keeping his eyes shut for a long moment. When he opened them, the anger had been replaced by resignation. “Look, I’m sorry for shouting at you. It’s not surprising you were shocked. I lied, and I shouldn’t keep photos like that knocking around on an SD card in my pocket anyway.”

“No, please don’t apologise.” Junhee looked at the floor. “I should never have looked on that card. And I have no right to be getting upset about it.”

“That’s okay.” An awkward silence bridged the space between them. Without a word, Donghun raised a hand to Junhee’s face and brushed away a tear with his thumb. The butterflies were confused, this time.

“I didn’t mean to lie to you.” Donghun touched his arm, and his fingers lingered there. “It’s just a really hard thing to tell someone. I mean first, a guy dating guys in Korea, right? And fans of idol groups… Jesus, I’ve seen fans turn on musicians who announce they’re dating and they can be visceral. I didn’t know you weren’t going to be like that. And… And…” He searched Junhee’s face, words failing him. “It’s… Things are complicated. Yeah. Complicated.”

“I understand.” Junhee touched his hand briefly. “I guess I hadn’t thought of that, to be honest.” He smiled ruefully. “Are you two properly dating, or..?”

“Yeah…”

“So now I know why the anti-kpop kid is a fansite, huh?” he teased, trying to lighten the tone. But Donghun swallowed and looked away.

“It was my only way to be around him. It was Han’s suggestion. He wanted to keep… You know. Have me around.”

Junhee smiled wistfully. “Wow, you’re lucky.”

Donghun’s eyes stayed down. “Yeah.” He cleared his throat quietly. “Anyway, I should get going, I’m late and I can’t… Yeah. But I’ll see you at the next schedule?”

“Of course. And I’m sorry again. This was my fault.”

“Don’t.” Donghun seemed trapped between two thoughts, and then reached to hug Junhee. Junhee wrapped his arms around his narrow waist, pushing away thoughts of the tattoos he knew resided there – and for the first time, instead of pushing the butterflies away, he let them flutter. He spared no thought on why they were there, but he simply accepted their dance.

“Thank you for understanding.” Donghun pulled away. His trademark grin appeared on his face. “Now go and tell your housemate I’m not a psycho, please.”

Junhee returned the smile as Donghun let himself out, but it fell as soon as he closed the front door behind him. He padded back to his bedroom and wordlessly climbed back into bed, letting the duvet drown him in darkness.

A quiet rustling announced a second presence in the room. Junhee moved over soundlessly, allowing them to lie next to him. Sehyoon also said nothing, just leaned his head on Junhee’s shoulder, a gesture that said: you don’t need to tell me. I know. Junhee leaned his cheek against his friend’s hair, and began to cry.

 

~

 

To Junhee’s relief, he sensed no change in Donghun’s attitude towards him. Over the next couple of weeks, the boy in the mask and bucket hat always came and sat cross-legged next to him at events and placed an extra coffee in front of him. A shrewd eye might have noticed that Summer Storm and Diamond Frost’s photos were almost always from the same angles, but their distinctive styles kept their pictures apart.

And Junhee had to hand it to him. He wouldn’t have been that forgiving. He felt a creeping sense of unease whenever he thought about what he’d seen; he should never have gone through Donghun’s photos in the first place.

But luckily, it hadn’t deterred their friendship. Junhee was notably grateful for this, waving to Donghun now as his car pulled over to let him in.

“Hey,” Junhee said, passing him his coffee milk. “Thanks so much for driving.”

“No problem,” Donghun waved it off, taking a sip and pushing his sunglasses up his nose. “Can’t have you cycling to Incheon.” He pulled out, chucking his phone into Junhee’s lap. “You can pay me back by looking after music.”

“The pressure…” Junhee opened Spotify on Donghun’s phone and began cycling through it. A message notification flashed up: Ko-han-gi, a play on the word ‘cat’. Junhee tried to ignore it but two more messages flashed up.

I’m sorry, Bambi. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.

Let me know when you get to Incheon.

I’m going to miss you.

Junhee quickly settled on a playlist and locked the phone. He’d done enough prying into Donghun’s private life and he wasn’t about to make that mistake again.

“Have you taken airport photos before?”

Donghun nodded as he drove. “Yeah. Once or twice. They’re kind of weird to me, they’re a bit much. But y’know… Han and the boys know I’m going to be there so it’s not really the same.” He glanced over. “Sorry if you go to the airport for photos.”

Junhee shook his head. “I only take pictures at official schedules.” He skipped through the playlist again. “So they fly out tomorrow? Are they staying in the same hotel as us tonight?” Junhee repressed the ripple of silly excitement in his stomach as Donghun nodded.

“Yeah – well…” He glanced at Junhee. “I’ll be staying with Han.”

“Oh. Yeah, of course.” Junhee flushed a little.

“They fly out super early tomorrow. Anyway, get some airport photos, see them off, head home first thing?”

Junhee nodded. “Do you miss him, when they go overseas?”

“Yeah.” Donghun glanced in the rear-view mirror. “It’s only a couple of weeks though this time. I’ll survive.” He took one hand from the wheel and propped his elbow against the window. Junhee frowned.

“Ouch, those are some bruises you’ve got.” Purple stains marked Donghun’s upper arm where his sleeve fell back. “How’d you get those?”

“Hm? These?” Donghun glanced at his own arm. “Committed to my craft – got to get the perfect shot, even if it means falling out the odd tree.” He grinned. “I’m an artist.”

The vibe was different, when they arrived at the airport. The fansites here were hardcore – they had found the flight information from god knows where, waited for hours on a hunch that the boys would arrive. When they did, the girls scrambled, pushing each other for an unobstructed view, shutter lenses popping. All for two minutes of capturing faces covered by masks and raised collars, and then the boys disappeared for their hotel rooms.

“Right. Well… Are you alright checking in and kicking around for the evening? I’d better go let Han know I’m here.”

“Of course.” Junhee shooed him away. “Go find your boy.”

 

~

 

It was far too early when Junhee woke up. He slapped away his alarm and rolled out of bed, his hair a wild nest and his eyes fuzzy from sleep. He’d never been a morning person. He glanced at the time – 6am. The XF11 boys would be well on their way, and Donghun would be waiting around somewhere for him to head back to Seoul. As he brushed his teeth, he wondered if he’d got up to see Han off, or if Han had left him sleeping with a kiss.

He changed quickly and headed downstairs to the foyer of the hotel. He spotted Donghun, sat with his back to him, a coffee already sourced between his sweater paws.

“Morning!” he called cheerfully.

Donghun turned, his eyes crinkling. “Morning.” He had a mask over his nose and mouth and a beanie pulled down, pushing his bangs down where they caught on his eyelashes. “Sleep okay?”

“Yeah, did..?” He trailed off. Donghun stood up, making to leave, but Junhee grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Donghun!”

Shadows fell over his concealed face. Junhee put two fingers under his friend’s jaw and pulled his face up. His stomach dropped.

“It’s nothing…” Donghun pushed his hand away, but Junhee grabbed his fingers in return.

“Donghun, what happened?” He reached again and this time, Donghun gave up on pushing him away. Ever so carefully, Junhee traced the edge of the dark bruise under his left eye. Donghun winced. His stomach turning, Junhee pulled his friend’s mask down to his chin. Dried blood caught in a crack on his bottom lip.

“Honestly, it’s nothing,” Donghun said firmly. “Don’t worry. We just had a bit to drink and… Well, I’m extremely clumsy, you have no idea.”

“You gave yourself a black eye?”

“Uh-huh.” Donghun’s grin was in place. “I’m an idiot.”

Junhee’s fingertips left Donghun’s cheek reluctantly. The boy returned his mask and made to leave, but again Junhee caught him and stopped him from turning. For a moment, he said nothing. Donghun struggled to hold his gaze.

A nagging worry whispered in Junhee’s subconscious as he studied his friend’s face. Eventually, he let out a long breath. “I… I care about you, okay?” He took Donghun’s wrist in firm fingers. “We’re friends and… I just want you to know I care.”

Donghun’s eyes widened, accentuating their sadness. For a long moment, he said nothing, but as Junhee thought Donghun was pushing away his hand, he instead caught his fingers with his own and squeezed them hard.

“Thank you.”

It felt like a very long moment that Donghun looked at him, his hand in his own. But there was no room for butterflies when clawing concern filled his stomach instead. Junhee pulled away and sighed. He knew he wouldn’t get anything else out of his friend.

“Come on, then. Let’s get on the road.”

 

~

 

“No, no, no!” Junhee shouted out and chucked the controller on the floor with a curse, flopping onto his back. Next to him, Sehyoon sniggered.

“I told you you’d be no match for Byeongkwan.”

Junhee rolled his eyes, sitting back up. “God, why did you have to start dating a gamer? I’m used to being forever victorious around here.” He threw a smirk at Sehyoon, but the smile he turned on Byeongkwan was genuine. “I mean, it’s nice to have someone put up a good fight for once.”

“Shut up, Park.” Sehyoon glanced at the phone next to him as it pinged for the fourth time in quick succession. He tilted the screen towards himself. “God, Donghun’s keen for attention.” The phone pinged again. “Relentless!”

“Don’t read my phone, dickhead.” Junhee swatted him playfully and took the phone. “I think he’s bored being by himself. Han’s been gone a week and he’s got no one to keep him entertained.”

“Who’s Donghun?” Byeongkwan asked, playing with Sehyoon’s toes with his own.

“This other fansite. He’s a friend.”

“Does he game?” Byeongkwan shrugged. “Ask him to come over?” He looked at Sehyoon, who nodded in response.

Junhee paused. “I mean… Yeah. Alright.” He opened the messages and ignored Donghun’s rambling.

You free? My housemate and I are hanging about ours today. Video games your thing?

Donghun replied straight away. You want to lose?

Junhee rolled his eyes. “He’s coming over.”

Sure enough, an hour later, Donghun lay on his front on their living room floor, kicking Byeongkwan in the leg in an attempt to distract him and make him lose. Sehyoon watched with his usual mild-tempered amusement, while Junhee bit away laughter at seeing this side of Donghun. He face-planted the carpet as Byeongkwan’s character finished off his own.

“Goddammit.”

Sehyoon nodded at his empty bottle. “D’you want another beer? Go help yourself.”

“Thanks!” Donghun sprang to his feet and padded out of the room. Both Byeongkwan and Sehyoon watched him leave.

“Well he’s an extremely pretty boy,” Byeongkwan mused.

“That’s what I said.” Sehyoon nodded in agreement. “Also, he’s fun.”

“Right?” Byeongkwan grabbed his own beer. “Are you two..?”

Junhee snorted. “No, no. He’s got a boyfriend. We’re just friends.”

Donghun returned and the game resumed, long into the afternoon. When they eventually tired of shouting at each other and issuing bold threats, they swapped their game for a film, and their beers for wine.

“I know my face is going red.” Donghun pressed his hands into his cheeks. Then bruising around his eye had died down in the past week. “I swear, two beers and I’m super pink.”

“Me too,” Junhee agreed. He snorted and nodded at his friends. “At least we don’t fall asleep.” Byeongkwan and Sehyoon had their heads together, eyes closed. Junhee shook his head, entertained.

“This was really fun.” Donghun smiled, tapping – as was his habit – the base of the wine glass. “I actually… don’t have a tonne of friends, other than Han and the boys. I sort of stick to them. And sometimes we don’t have a load in common. But this was really fun.”

Junhee looked away from the film, a little surprised. “Well, you’re welcome here any time.”

They returned their attention to the film. Junhee finished his wine and left his glass on the coffee table, curling his feet up. He pulled a blanket from the floor and spread it out, and nodded at Donghun. “Cold?”

“Mmh.” Donghun moved up, pulling the blanket up to his chin.

Junhee’s eyes grew a little heavy as on-screen, the characters planned their elaborate heist. He was watching the camerawork in a scene when he felt a soft weight against his shoulder.

He didn’t dare move, because he didn’t want Donghun to ever stop leaning against him.

But Donghun only shifted to make his head more comfortable. Carefully, Junhee adjusted himself to make room, and after letting his hand hover awkwardly for too long, he rested it on Donghun’s hair, smoothing it back from his face.

What are you doing? What the fuck are you doing?

The fearful voice hushed as quiet fingertips brushed against his own. They stayed there for several minutes, and then shy fingers coiled with his. Junhee could feel Donghun’s pulse through his thumb.

Seriously, stop this. He has a boyfriend. His boyfriend is Lee Han, your Lee Han. This isn’t right.

Self-disgust lost the fight. Donghun lifted his head to look up at Junhee. His eyes searched his, so close he could see the shades of gold and brown in his irises, so-

Donghun’s phone pinged and they both jumped. Donghun pulled away, the spell broken, and pulled his phone out of his pocket.

Ko-Han-Gi: Bambi, you said you’d call. Where are you?

“Oh shit.” Donghun looked up at the clock on the wall. “Shit, I need to go, I didn’t realise it was so late, I-”

“It’s okay.” Junhee smiled, his heart still thumping. “You need to call Han?”

“Yeah, I-” Donghun looked back at him, halfway to getting up. He flushed. “Yeah, I don’t want him to get… I promised I’d call.”

Junhee dithered, and then followed him to the hallway. Donghun pulled on his coat and sneakers, and paused, his eyes not meeting Junhee’s. His phone vibrated and with a look of apology, he answered it.

“Han? I’m sorry, can I call you back in two seconds? Yes, I-I know I promised…” He shot a glance at Junhee. “Two seconds. I promise.” He hung up, a grimace crossing his face.

“Go, it’s okay.” Junhee said, fighting the niggling worry that had reappeared in his stomach at the unnecessarily apologetic tone that had crept into Donghun’s voice.

Donghun reached into his pocket. For a moment, he paused, his face unreadable. When he withdrew his hand, he held a small, blank envelope.

“For you.” He pressed it into Junhee’s hands, and said no more. With that, he ducked his head and hurried out the door, already redialling Han’s number.

Junhee let out a long and slow breath, trying to regain composure now that he was alone. His hand still tingled from where Donghun’s fingers had held it, like his friend’s fingers had been capable of leaving some permanent imprint. Forcing himself to move from the spot, he headed for his bedroom, shutting the door quietly and falling gracelessly onto his bed. The butterflies that had once fluttered, now pirouetted.

Sitting up, he turned over the envelope in his hands. It was unsealed. With a cautious thumb, he lifted the flap. A few photos? He tilted the envelope and they dropped into his hand. On the back, in black marker: I realised afterwards that I took these for you. So it’s only right they belong to you.

He turned them over. Like the photos he had seen on Donghun’s SD card, these photos were private, the kind of intimacy captured for lovers and no other eyes to see. This time, Han didn’t make an appearance.

Junhee looked through them once, returned them to the envelope and dropped it onto the dresser without a sound.

It felt like his heart was on fire, and red heat had flooded his veins.

 

~

 

Junhee had tried to edit this photo a hundred times. On any other day, carefully adjusting the levels and contrast was his little slice of zen, but right now focus eluded him. He knew the photos were well-taken, but no matter how he played with them, he just couldn’t make them perfect.

He shoved his laptop back and pushed the heels of his hands into his forehead.

Even looking at Han made him feel guilty.

Han was his greatest inspiration, the man he looked up – and XF11 were his greatest source of joy. Their music filled his every day; he’d spent many tireless nights voting for their music show victories; and his life factored in every schedule, every event, every concert. That was what he saw whenever he sat editing photos of Han, the love and pride. Now, whenever he looked at that familiar handsome face, all he could see: I think I nearly kissed your boyfriend.

The shameful voice whispered away constantly, but another talked over it. You’re overreacting. Maybe it was nothing. He just leaned on you, it doesn’t mean he wanted to kiss you.

But the photos, the first voice retorted triumphantly. He gave you bedroom photos and you think that means nothing? They were ‘taken for you’ – what does that even mean?! That behind that sultry stare, he was thinking about you?

Does that make him a cheater? Is that the kind of person he is? A third voice, small and scared, joined his inner monologue.

In among the warring emotions, a prickle of fear flared up. Junhee couldn’t refute the wrongness – it was wrong of Donghun to give him those photos behind his boyfriend’s back, but… memories of Donghun’s bruised face swam into his mind. Junhee shifted uncomfortably, playing with his mouse -mat. Uneasily, puzzle pieces were clicking into place, but he refused to acknowledge the picture they painted-

“You’re doing the overthinking thing.” Sehyoon looked up from his place flopped on the sofa, reading a book. Junhee jolted from his thoughts and smiled guiltily.

“I’m fine.”

“Hm.” Sehyoon still watched him carefully. “You better not keep anything from me, Park. Or I’ll hurt you.”

Junhee snorted. “You’re the gentlest person I know.”

“Well, I’ll hurt you spiritually.” Sehyoon went back to his book.

Junhee watched his friend. A part of him wanted to tell him everything – but he was scared of what Sehyoon would tell him in return. He was perceptive and honest, and Junhee didn’t want to hear voiced what he already feared: that he needed to talk to Donghun about what had happened; that there was an obvious reason why the other boy had those bruises; and, that which he feared most of all, that his reaction to the first photos was not jealousy over seeing someone else with Han, but of seeing someone else with Donghun.

 

~

 

Throughout the time XF11 were in Japan, Junhee kept himself busy. When his phone lit up with messages from Donghun, they were as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened – just the normal patter of conversation. Privately, Junhee was relieved to be kept busy by his photography class assignments – it was a chance of respite from thinking about the conflict in his chest.

However, the time passed swiftly, and soon airport photos scattered across social media from the boys’ return to Korea. Their first schedule was set for a variety show in central Seoul the very day after their return: ever was the hectic world of idols.

Junhee found himself taking that little bit longer getting ready that morning. He fussed over his hair, discarded three outfits before settling on a fourth, and consulted the mirror far longer than he normally would. He refused to dwell on the reasons for this.

He grabbed his keys and wallet from the dresser and his fingers paused. The photos sat there, in their envelope. With a guilty glance over his shoulder, he slid them out. God, the subject was unfairly beautiful. It made his chest ache; he wanted nothing more than to reach out and trace the tattoos on his ribs.

Stop doing it again.

He shoved the photos back inside their cover and made to leave.

The building where the show was filmed was well-known in Seoul. The full-length windows allowed people to watch the recording, and they encouraged fans to gather outside and appear in the background of the show. Junhee found his spot early and sat cross-legged on the floor, knowing exactly where to sit to get good angles of the boys and avoid the glare of the lights in the window.

The XF11 boys ran to the windows to wave, and Junhee started to capture those little moments. As they took to their stools for the show to begin and the MC appeared with a jolly nod to each of them, Junhee glanced around the crowd. He spotted a familiar figure, his hood pulled up against the cold and almost meeting the black mask across his nose. He was at the other end of the windows; he must have been running late.

Over the two hours of filming, cold settled into Junhee’s fingers and he wrapped his coat tighter around himself. The end of the show brought him some relief, and he stretched his protesting knees with a grimace as he stood.

The crowd began to disperse, familiar fansites flicking through their prized photos as they walked away. Junhee craned his neck to find Donghun – but he was already walking away.

“Hey!” he called, breaking into a jog in an attempt to catch up as Donghun turned down the side street that led behind the studio. “Wait up!” He caught up with him and touched his arm. “Didn’t you hear me?”

Donghun turned, but kept his face tilted away. Suddenly the world felt very unstable underneath Junhee’s feet.

“…Fucking hell.”

He could only see a fraction of Donghun’s face, but a huge blue bruise leaked across his pale skin like patchwork. Junhee took an involuntary step to the side as shock and fury slammed into each other in his heart.

Donghun’s eyes were emotionless. “I have to go, Junhee.”

Junhee took his arm firmly. “Tell me what happened.”

“It’s a long story,” Donghun said with a shake of his head. He turned away. “Some other time.” Junhee let his fingers slide from his sleeve as he turned his back on him.

He gathered his courage. It had to be now.

“He hurts you, doesn’t he?”

Donghun stopped dead in his tracks.

Junhee tried desperately to find the right words. This was not about him, or the way he felt. This was not about what had happened. He just had to get this right.

“You don’t have to answer. I know. I worked it out.” His hands trembled. Please, please let him say the right thing. “Donghun, I don’t know your life and I definitely don’t know your relationship. And I don’t know Han – no more than the public image he presents. But I do know that you don’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this. Especially not you.”

When Donghun turned back to him, his sad eyes brimmed, for the first time, with tears.

Taking slow steps as though he was afraid he might scare Donghun away, Junhee walked up to him. Seeing the marks on his face, the tears in his eyes, the defeat in his expression… Junhee’s heart broke. He wrapped his arms around Donghun and cradled him tight as he began to cry.

“He’s not a bad person,” Donghun choked, clutching onto Junhee’s clothes with childlike hands. “He doesn’t mean to. He just drinks sometimes and gets these red mists. It’s an anger problem and it’s not his fault, I just happen to be in the way.”

Junhee pressed his cheek against Donghun’s head, wrestling back tears. It wasn’t his time to cry.

“Listen to me.” He pulled away, even though Donghun’s hands clung to him like he was scared that by letting go, he might be left to drown. “You aren’t an object that gets in the way, Donghun. You’re a really beautiful soul and you deserve to be loved.” He cupped Donghun’s face between firm hands. “This isn’t love.”

Donghun’s tears leaked into his mask. “This is why I don’t want people to know. No one else can understand. He does love me. Please don’t tell me he doesn’t.”

Junhee searched his eyes imploringly. “I’m not… I don’t want to upset you…”

“Han is just this special and talented boy. I’m lucky someone like him wants to be with someone like me.” Donghun pressed his hands to his eyes, and took a deep breath. “It doesn’t happen often. The… the red mist.” His tears finally stopped falling. “I can work through this for him. I mean without him… I owe him a lot. When we met I was such a loner. He made me blossom.”

The words cut Junhee. He watched Donghun, unable to stomach the way this made him feel. Every single word was so utterly toxic, but he knew that standing here, right now… he couldn’t fix it.

“At least tell me that right now, you’re safe. If I let you go back to him.”

Donghun nodded. “He’s not a crazy person, we don’t even live together, I… I’m safe.”

“Okay.” Junhee’s voice was quiet; he swallowed hard. “If he hurts you again… I don’t care who he is. If he lays another finger on you, I’ll… I’ll make him regret every second of pain he’s caused you.”

Donghun looked up quickly. His eyes searched Junhee’s, like he was trying to see into his soul, and took a step closer. It looked like he was searching for words but still, he said nothing. Quietly, he leaned his forehead against Junhee’s.

Junhee shut his eyes, trying with all his strength not to cry. When he reopened them, Donghun touched his nose with his own, and smiled.

“You don’t have to worry about me.” He stepped away, fixing his mask. “Y-”

“Bambi?” Junhee jolted at the new voice. A blonde boy appeared from the side entrance of the studio, a bright smile lighting up his face. He jogged over, and Donghun’s face immediately crinkled in a smile.

“Hey. I was just coming to find you.” Donghun turned back. “This is Junhee. He runs a fansite.”

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” Han said, ducking his head into a respectful bow. “And thank you for your support.”

“I… Of course.” Junhee stuttered – not that Han looked surprised, no doubt used to the sudden awkwardness of fans in his presence.

“Well, are you coming? Minjung has something to show you.” He grinned, and both boys turned back towards the studio.

Junhee watched them leave. Like moving through a dream, he started in the other direction, but he looked back over his shoulder long enough to see Han wrap an arm around Donghun’s waist and guide him, and to see Donghun glance back at Junhee before disappearing inside.

 

~

 

Three days came and went, and Junhee heard nothing from Donghun. On the first day, he saw photos appear under Diamond Frost’s moniker, but his phone didn’t flash a notification message from his friend. As for himself, he simply posted a short apology on his own feed: friends, I’m missing schedules because of an illness. Don’t worry! I’ll see you soon.

But how could he go back? For so many years, he had idolised Han, with no idea of what he was capable of in his private life. How could he follow him, photograph him, when all he could see when he shut his eyes was the deep stains that he had left on Donghun’s skin?

He cooped himself up to work on his assignments. On the fourth day, Sehyoon and Byeongkwan had given up trying to coax him out. He had told them, briefly, what he had uncovered, before shutting them firmly out. He needed space alone.

When his phone finally rang, lighting up with Donghun’s name, warm relief washed through his entire body. He’s okay.

The moment he picked up the phone, the relief evaporated.

“What the hell have you done?” Donghun shouted so loud that Junhee jerked the phone away from his ear. “You called the fucking police?!”

“Whoa, what?” Junhee stared at the phone incredulously, then put it back to his ear. “Call the police? I haven’t done anything…”

“But…” Donghun’s voice was desperate, but it came down a level. Junhee heard him take a shaky breath. “You didn’t?”

“No! What are you talking about?”

“I have to go.”

The phoneline clicked.

Junhee stared at the phone. What the fuck? The police? He stared at his desk, unseeing. The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind. Of course he wanted Donghun protected, but he had no idea what was going on in that apartment – no idea how volatile it was, and there was no way he would have risked putting Donghun in danger by calling the police.

He stood up, paced the room, replaying the brief phonecall over and over, until-

The doorbell rang. Junhee knew who it was before so much as opened the door.

He looked very small and very frightened. The eyebrow piercing was missing, his hair scraped back in a headband that somehow made his face paler. The bruise had faded to a muted grey, but with no mask to conceal it, it stood out on his cheek. He held his hands in little sweater paws.

“I left Han.”

The second he spoke, his bottom lip trembled, and he crumbled.

For a moment, Junhee was frozen. He just watched Donghun push his fingers against his eyes, watched his shoulders shake. Then he took his elbow and pulled him inside.

Sehyoon and Byeongkwan looked up in shock as Junhee brought Donghun into the front room, jumping up to make room for him to sink onto the sofa. Junhee shot them a look, his heart thumping and a lump sticking in his throat. He suddenly didn’t know what to do.

“Donghun?” It was Sehyoon who knelt in front of him as he sobbed, taking one of his hands with firm fingers. “You’re safe here. In every way. And you can cry as much as you need to. You don’t need to talk but you can and we’re all here to listen. Whatever you need.”

Junhee felt a rush of gratefulness. You’re my closest friend for this reason.

Donghun looked up at him, tears making little rivers towards his chin. “I just… I think I’m in shock, a little bit…” He choked on his tears and his lip quivered again. “I’m relieved to be here with you guys and it’s bad that I feel th-that…”

Sehyoon shook his head. “Whatever you feel is okay. Let yourself feel it. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.” Donghun hung onto his every word. Magically, the tears began to slow. “You’re probably going to feel a whole tonne of things at different times. If right now you feel relieved to be here, then that’s alright.” He tilted his head. “You’ve been through a lot.”

A hundred different emotions passed across Donghun’s face. He quivered as though freezing cold. After a long pause – “I told him last night that I couldn’t be with him anymore. I thought he was going to react more but he just sort of… he was just resigned to it.” Leftover tears trickled out the corners of his eyes. “I think deep down he knew he couldn’t expect me to stay when he’s drinking more and getting more…”

“More violent?” Sehyoon didn’t break eye contact the entire time. Donghun gulped down tears and nodded.

“But all of today I felt so lost and I thought I’d maybe made the wrong decision and… I went to their dorms because I wanted to talk to him and…” He raked fingers through his hair. “But there was a police car outside. I thought…” Donghun’s eyes flicked up to Junhee. “But I just spoke to Siwoo on the phone and it seems like neighbours overheard a load of shouting and banging and so they… It was them.” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t know what to do so I just… came here.”

“You did exactly the right thing.” Sehyoon put his free hand on Donghun’s knee. “I’m not saying I understand exactly how you feel, but it must be conflicting. You did the right thing coming here. And you did the right thing leaving him, Donghun. Whatever his problem is – drinking, anger management… That’s not for you to be the brunt of. People have all kinds of demons, but it’s not the place of the people who love them to bear the brunt of them.”

Donghun’s face broke again, the sob from his throat raw and painful. He looked at Sehyoon desperately. “I don’t think… Sehyoon, I don’t even think I loved him. I’ve not loved him for a long time.”

This time, Sehyoon didn’t try to find words to comfort him. He simply hugged him hard, and let him cry.

Junhee’s chest hurt. He just watched, feeling utterly helpless, when Byeongkwan nudged him gently. The redhead’s eyes were kind and sympathetic: this must hurt you too. It’s okay not to know what to do. Junhee felt a wave of gratitude.

“I feel stupid.” Donghun pulled away eventually, fighting tooth and nail with his tears. He swiped his face with his too-long sleeves. “I should have done this a long time ago.”

“It’s easy to stay in a relationship that isn’t right for you.” Sehyoon sat back with a shrug. “We’ve all done it. You felt dependent on Han, so you made excuses.” He smiled. “But you made the right choice now, and that’s what matters. We’ll fix you up from here.”

“Thank you.” Finally dry-eyed, Donghun gave Sehyoon a wobbly smile; it was a relief to see.

Sehyoon got to his feet. “You hungry? When I’m sad, it makes me hungry.”

“I mean, you’re just always hungry.” Byeongkwan smirked in his direction, and it raised a smile in Donghun.

“I don’t want to put you out…”

Sehyoon swatted away his concerns. “None of that. We were going to make some food anyway.” He nodded to Byeongkwan. “Come on, it’s about time you did something useful around here.”

“Hey..!” The two trailed off towards the kitchen, leaving Junhee hovering anxiously.

For a long moment, he hesitated, unsure of what to say. Sehyoon was quiet – but when it came to it, he always had a soothing word of advice, a gentle way of reassurance. Junhee had a lot to say – too much to say – and as all the words mixed in his head, he ended up unable to say anything at all.

He settled instead, for sitting next to Donghun, and wrapping his arms around him like he alone could shield him from the entire world.

“Do you want to get some fresh air?” he said simply. “We can talk. Or not talk. But maybe some space to breathe would be good.”

“Yeah.”

Junhee began to lead him up to the roof of their apartment block. “Actually, go on ahead. I’ll be two seconds.”

When Junhee stepped out onto the little roof space, he found Donghun sat on the wall, watching the Seoul night grow darker. Junhee sat beside him wordlessly, and held out his offering.

“Coffee milk?” Donghun said in surprise, taking it from him. “I thought you didn’t like coffee milk?”

“Well, I’ve got to keep a stock in.” Junhee smiled. “Just in case.”

For a while, they just sat quietly, watching the stars brighten across the sky and the stream of car taillights make journeys through the city streets. Little squares of light turned on here, off there, as Seoul went through its cycle of human life.

“I’m sorry I shouted at you on the phone earlier. That was really uncalled for.”

Junhee looked up at him. “Don’t apologise, I don’t want to hear it. I understand how you must have been feeling.”

“Well, still. Just because I was hurting doesn’t make it okay to take it out on you.” Donghun gave a fleeting smile. “I’ve just learned that one.”

Junhee played with the empty coffee cup. “I’m here for whatever you need, you know.”

“You’ve done more than enough.” Junhee looked up in surprise and Donghun met his gaze, unwavering. “What I said to Sehyoon was true. I… I haven’t been in love with Han in a very long time. I wonder… I wonder if I ever loved him at all, or just thought it was love. But for years I’ve just… depended on him. Despite what happened, he did bring me out of my shell, there’s no denying that. And he helped my photography. And he was generous, and helped me move into my apartment, bought me almost everything I wear…” He snorted, looking down at his Balenciaga hoodie. “Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve had all those things, and I felt lucky because someone liked the awkward, sarcastic kid who didn’t have a lot of friends.

“But then I met you. You just liked being around me for who I was. And suddenly I wasn’t keeping up a front. I was just being my normal, obnoxious self, and you still wanted to be my friend.” Donghun let out a breath of laughter. “Just… being around you. And Sehyoon and Byeongkwan too. People who are kind, good people.” He looked up, his expression mixed. “I think it gave me the strength to realise that I couldn’t keep living the way I was. So, thanks.”

Junhee shook his head. Once again, he couldn’t find the right thing to say. He settled on reaching out and taking Donghun’s hand.

“What do you need most, right now?” Junhee asked, after another stretch of quiet.

Donghun shrugged. “I think I’m okay. Just tired.”

“Sleep here. You can take my room. At times like this, just knowing someone is in the room next door… Well, it might be a small comfort.”

“Thank you.”

Their knees protested as they stood up, stiff from the cold night air. Junhee showed Donghun back down to his room, threw him some spare pyjamas. “Get comfy. I’ll see whether food is ready.”

Junhee shut the door behind himself, and went to the kitchen. He smiled as he found Byeongkwan leaning against Sehyoon’s front as he stirred a pot around him.

“Sickening,” Junhee jested with a mocking eyeroll. They both looked up.

“How’s he holding up?”

“Okay.” Junhee leaned his elbows on the worksurface. “Better than I thought, really. I think he’s mainly exhausted.”

“I can understand that.” Byeongkwan pushed his glasses up. “I guess you’d never know what that feels like unless it’s you in that situation.”

“I hope you’re never, ever in any situation like that,” Sehyoon kissed the top of Byeongkwan’s ear, making him grin.

“Well, I’m going to be stuck with you, so I’m in the safest hands.”

“Jeez,” Junhee commented. “Get married already.” He smiled. “Is food ready? I’ll go get Donghun.”

He knocked on the bedroom door but was met with no reply. For a fleeting moment, his heart skipped – had Donghun left? But he opened the door and found Donghun was still there. His Balenciaga hoodie and expensive jeans were thrown gracelessly in one corner of the floor, replaced with Junhee’s old pyjamas that were just a little too big. He lay on top of the duvet, fast asleep, clutching the huge tatty old chow-chow plushie that usually lived by the side of the bed.

Quietly, Junhee fetched the blanket from the living room and returned, draping it carefully over Donghun and tucking it around his shoulders. He smoothed back a curl of bangs that hung across the bruised side of Donghun’s face, turned out the light and left him to sleep.

~

It was early afternoon when Donghun appeared in the living room where Junhee was working on his assignment. His hair stood up on ends and his face was puffy, but it only made Junhee’s heart warm all the more.

“Morning. No, afternoon. Did you sleep okay?”

“Mmmh.” Donghun sat down, his lips pursed and his eyes still full of sleep. “I don’t think I’ve ever slept for so long in all my life.”

“You needed it.” Junhee tidied the notes spread on the desk around him. “You can stay as long as you need. Sehyoon’s at work – not that he’d mind in the slightest.”

“It’s okay, I should get home. I need to change and, like, shave my face.” Having drawn attention to it, Junhee noticed the faint line of hair that darkened Donghun’s jaw. He played with his phone. “You don’t happen to want to come back with me? You’ve never been to mine, and… some company would be nice.”

“I would, I just really need to finish this bit of my assignment,” Junhee said. “Unless you don’t mind me working at yours?”

“Yeah! Fine with me,” Donghun replied. “On one condition: I’m going to drive to mine in pyjamas and you can’t laugh at me.”

Junhee chuckled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

If Junhee and Sehyoon lived in a suburb of Seoul known as a ‘little rough around the edges’, Donghun’s apartment was definitely in one of the nicer parts of the city. Junhee’s curiosity flared as they walked up to the entrance of a tall building fronted with glass and surrounded by trees.

“I hope you’re not scared of heights.”

Junhee faltered. “Erm, actually…”

Donghun laughed, nodding him into the elevator and pressing the button for the 14th floor. “I’ll look out for you, I promise.”

Apartment 27 was a space that instantly made Junhee feel at home. It was the perfect level of messy – books piled on the coffee table, scarves and hoodies hung on the back of doors. But long windows doused the open-plan space in light and a hodgepodge of plants and cacti, and colourful prints on the walls, turned it into a little urban refuge.

“Anyway, this is me,” Donghun said, chucking his hoodie on the breakfast bar along with his keys. “I think I’m going to take a shower - feel free to work wherever you want. Mi casa su casa.”

Junhee set up his laptop and notebooks on the breakfast bar, but couldn’t resist wandering through the apartment. The kitchen was all modern slate and jars of ingredients, giving away an unexpected love of cooking from their owner. He ran his fingers down the side of the bookshelf in the living space – the shelves were crammed with photography collections, and well-thumbed works from Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D Salinger, Orwell, Virginia Woolf…

“Alright, nosy.” Junhee jumped and looked round to find Donghun hung in the doorway to the bathroom, an eyebrow raised as he smirked. Junhee flushed guiltily.

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Browse away.” Donghun rubbed his wet hair with a towel, another tied round his hips; Junhee tried hard not to look at the white tattoos across his ribs as he walked to his bedroom and shut the door.

The butterflies were there again, but this time, they were different – instead of dancing, they lurched, and left him feeling a little dizzy.

Shaking away the intruding thoughts, Junhee settled down to work. He was soon immersed in his essay, tapping away as he spilled his ideas onto the page. He didn’t even notice when Donghun returned to the room, and looked up a while later to find him lay on his back on the sofa with a book.

“What are you reading?” Junhee took off his glasses to rub his nose, watching Donghun finish the sentence he was on.

“Dorian Gray.” He pushed back his hair. “I mean I’ve read it about ninety times, but I still find something new every time.”

Junhee worked into the early evening, and Donghun stayed glued to his book, moving into various improbable positions every half an hour or so. When the sun had started to set outside, he made his way over to the breakfast bar.

“You’ve been working so hard. I wish I had your focus.” He leaned his elbows on the countertop. “What’s your assignment about?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of boring you like that.” Junhee stretched his arms above his head to ease the tension in his shoulders.

“Try me.”

“Well… The title is ‘Some people don’t trust paintings but people believe photographs. Using at least three examples, discuss the ways in which images play a part in constructing ideas.’” He looked over his notes, thinking. “I think it’s so interesting. Throughout history, people have accepted that paintings or drawings leave room for artistic interpretation. That they might not be an accurate representation of the truth. But photos – people assume they capture things just the way they are. But there’s so many ways a photographer can manipulate the truth, edit a version of reality.” He explained some of his ideas for his assignment. “Anyway, I know it’s nerdy but y’know… I enjoy it.” He looked up at Donghun, who was smiling, his chin propped in his hand. “What?”

“Nothing. It’s nice to hear about the stuff that excites you.” He stood up straight. “You hungry? I can cook for us.”

“You sure?” Junhee looked through his work. “I only need like, twenty minutes, and I can wrap this up.”

“Go ahead. If you don’t mind me cooking around you.”

Junhee carried on writing while Donghun cooked, and gradually the kitchen filled with the smells of spicy food simmering away. Junhee shut his laptop with a satisfied click.

“Can I help?”

“No, you can stay out of the way.” Donghun shot him a grin. “I get tetchy when someone gets in my way cooking.”

“Yessir,” Junhee laughed.

They sat side-by-side to eat, with Donghun pulling up something on his phone to show Junhee. Junhee laughed through his food, suddenly feeling a lot warmer and happier than he had done in a long while.

“This is super good.” He finished off the last of his bowl. “No offense, but you didn’t strike me as the culinary type.”

“Full of surprises, me.” Donghun stood up to clear their plates. “My parents run a restaurant, I learned from them.” He pulled a bottle of wine from the rack in the corner. “Red?”

Junhee followed Donghun out onto the balcony, his stomach lurching from the height. But fear quickly gave way to awe; the view from up here was beautiful. Lights twinkled in the darkness, and solar lights lit the space in an amber glow.

Junhee wasn’t aware of time passing as they talked. He listened to Donghun share stories about growing up, his time getting into trouble in school, discovering photography and feeling as though he finally found his path in life. In return, Junhee talked about his own childhood, about his grandparents who nurtured his creativity.

“I think I’m lucky, to have found my ‘thing’.” Donghun leaned his chin on the balcony rail, his eyes looking out over the Seoul cityscape. I think a lot of people find their passion late in life, or never find it at all. I’m glad I have something that I just know is what I’m supposed to do. Something that no matter what is going on in life, always makes me happy.”

Junhee watched him, the glow from the lamps throwing light onto his face, strands of hair catching on some night-time breeze. The butterflies gave him a gentle nudge, and this time – for the first time – he let himself think about them. A slow warmth crept through his body. Whatever Donghun had to say, he wanted to listen. Whenever he was happy, it made him happy; whenever he hurt, it broke Junhee’s heart. Everything about him was so completely brilliant – if there was a way to make his every day happy, Junhee knew he would do it in a heartbeat.

“Anyway, that’s enough of my life philosophy.” Donghun played with his empty glass. “Bed? I mean, I presume you’re not going home.”

Junhee nodded. “I can stay.”

In the bathroom, Junhee pulled on Donghun’s pyjamas and washed up with the products scattered on the sink. He watched water droplets drip from his face in the mirror, feeling weirdly at home.

“I mean, you could sleep on the sofa, but it’s not very comfy, so you can just crash with me.” Donghun shrugged. “But I will steal all the duvet, and that’s a guarantee.”

Junhee laughed. “Great. Thanks for the advance notice.”

If the living room seemed to have a lot of books, Donghun’s room was flooded with them. Junhee raised an eyebrow as he got into bed. “How do you have time to actually read this many books?” he asked dubiously.

“Insomnia.” Donghun climbed into bed and flopped down with a sigh. “Sometimes I don’t sleep much at all. So I read.” He shrugged. “Plus I’m smart so I can read fast.” Junhee rolled his eyes as Donghun sniggered, reaching for the light.

Junhee turned his back on Donghun, his eyes already heavy. “Goodnight.”

“’Night, Junhee.”

 

~

 

Junhee was flat out the second he closed his eyes, but his peaceful sleep was interrupted in the early hours of the morning. Behind his back, Donghun tossed and turned, like he could never get comfortable. Junhee could tell he was awake.

“You okay?” he murmured, dreams still playing on the edge of his consciousness.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Go back to sleep.”

Junhee nodded dozily, reaching out a hand to pat Donghun on the arm. “Don’t worry if you can’t sleep. As long as you close your eyes and rest.”

“Easy for you to say, sleepyhead.”

Junhee opened one eye and turned to glare at Donghun. “You’re even annoying in the middle of the night. Be nice.” He raised a tired hand and scratched Donghun under the chin like a cat. An amused smile caught on Donghun’s lips.

“Stop that.”

Junhee laughed, turning away again and letting his eyes close once more. Dreams had begun to slowly close in on his vision when Donghun wrapped an arm over him and nestled himself close.

Junhee’s impending dreams vanished.

Donghun’s breath tickled the back of his neck, and his fidgeting stopped. Junhee smiled in the darkness. He laced his fingers through Donghun’s.

Junhee faded in and out of sleep. He wasn’t sure how long they lay like that, but the rest of the world melted away – the sleepless nights of late, the nagging worry over what to do with his fansite… He felt at peace. At last.

At some point, Donghun withdrew his fingers, and placed his hand against Junhee’s stomach, finding the skin beneath his t-shirt. His fingers traced small circles. Junhee hesitated, and then took his fingers and moved them away.

“I’m sor-”

“No, no,” Junhee cut him off. “I’m just super sensitive.” He pushed away the wildness of the butterflies in his stomach as he rolled over to face Donghun. They didn’t listen though, only twirled harder. Their faces close, he reached up a hand and pushed back Donghun’s hair, nervously leaving fingers tucked behind his neck. In return, Donghun’s hand rediscovered its place on his waist.

“Donghun?” he whispered. The other boy watched him closely.

“Mh?”

“Can I ask you something?”

“’Course.”

“Why did you give me those photos that day?”

Surprise crossed Donghun’s face, but he seemed to carefully consider his answer. “I think we all owe it to the people around us to tell them how we feel. Even when that’s hard. You made me feel things I’ve… not felt in a long time. And you made me feel ways about myself I’ve not felt in a long time.”

Junhee’s heart fluttered. He pulled Donghun in closer, like he was afraid that letting him go could mean losing what he had said. Donghun stroked his face with the edge of a thumb.

Quietly, Junhee pushed the duvet away, and with gentle fingers pulled Donghun’s shirt up to his ribs, revealing the tattoos he’d traced on those photos a dozen times. Donghun watched him as he ran one finger along the patterns.

“Do you hate them? People think it’s weird to have white tattoos.”

“I like them.” Junhee continued his tracing. He frowned. “Do you have your nipple pierced?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Donghun grinned, pulling his shirt up to prove it. “I ran out of space on my ears.”

“So… you pierced your tit.” Junhee snorted with laughter. “Why does that not surprise me.”

Donghun grinned, pushing his shirt down and pulling Junhee closer again. The feeling of his legs tangled in his own made Junhee’s heartbeat double. He shut his eyes as he shifted against him.

“I don’t want to do anything that isn’t right, right now,” Junhee whispered.

“I know you don’t. And I don’t want you to think I’m doing anything just because of what happened.” Donghun looked at him with sincerity. “I’m not.”

The last of his arguments beaten out of him, Junhee drifted closer, and finally let their lips meet.

The static from the butterflies’ wings ran a current round his bloodstream. He felt nothing, just the fingers digging into his ribs, the hair that brushed his forehead, the tongue exploring his mouth. Every hair stood up on his skin and for just a fleeting moment, nothing else in the world mattered. Just this boy. Just his happiness. Just him staying here, in his arms, and never letting go.

A smile tugged at Donghun’s mouth the second they broke apart. Junhee couldn’t help but return it. He pressed his nose against Donghun’s.

“Now go to sleep.”

Dreams closed in on them both, but neither one let the other go.

 

 ~

 

“Park Junhee!”

The voice was commanding, and Junhee winced. He thought he’d come in quietly. Resigned, he trailed into Sehyoon’s room, where his friend was painting, his forearms covered in splashes of blue.

“Yes, Mom?” Junhee tried to keep a straight face and failed.

“You weren’t here last night.” Sehyoon raised a questioning eyebrow, also fighting away a smile. “And those are not your clothes.”

“Busted.” Junhee flopped down on his friend’s bed, found an unfinished bag of candy, and began to eat them. “Am I grounded?”

“So how was it?”

Junhee blinked. “How was what?”

Sehyoon let out a long sigh, taking his time to pointedly set down his paintbrush and remove his glasses. He fixed an exasperated look on Junhee. “Well, I presume it was Donghun. And I presume you slept with him.”

“No! Well, yes. We shared a bed. And kissed. That’s all.” He tried to bite away the smile. “It was nice.”

“Uh-huh. I can tell, you look like a dizzy schoolgirl.”

Junhee wrinkled his nose. “I mean… The only thing was this morning. Well, this.” He opened his phone and held out a news article to Sehyoon.

Questions surface over XF11 police callout.

Junhee couldn’t forget the look on Donghun’s face when he’d checked his phone that morning. He had visibly blanched, scrolling through the fandom’s Twitter feeds.

It’s a stitch-up! Our boys are angels, who is doing this to them?

If I find out who is trying to cause trouble for XF11 it’ll be on sight

I think it’s probably some jealous bitch, if we find out who you are X-Heart will hurt you

“That’s not ideal.” Sehyoon sighed, handing back the phone. “Especially for someone who we’re trying to help realise is a victim in all this.”

“Yeah…” Junhee bit his lip, hoping his words that morning had been a little comfort, at least.

“Junhee?” Sehyoon came and sat next to him on the bed, picking away some of the paint on his hands. “What do you want from this thing between you and Donghun?”

Junhee felt his face go warm. “I mean… I guess… I want what he wants. I definitely want him to be happy and-”

“-I get that, but what do you want?” Junhee stayed mute as Sehyoon gave him one of those looks that felt like he was seeing into his soul. “Are you hoping for a relationship out of this?” When Junhee didn’t reply, he continued, his voice gentle. “Just be careful with your heart, Junhee. Donghun’s been through a lot, but his healing is only just beginning. Everyone comes away from trauma differently, so I’m certainly not going to speak for him, but he might need some time to process things, work through things…”

“I-I know that. I didn’t pressure him…”

“Of course, I know you didn’t.” Sehyoon put a hand on his shoulder. “But I love you like a little brother, and I know how much you care about Donghun. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

Junhee nodded. “You’re right.” He looked away, anxiety beginning to gnaw at his stomach.

“Hey, don’t be down though.” He stood up. “Come on, I’ll make us some food. Tell me everything.”

 

~

 

Junhee pulled his gloves tighter against the bitter wind that swept down the street. It was a quiet Sunday morning, most of the city had yet to make about their days. He hopped up the steps to the little café, the one with the fairy lights and paintings, and smiled as he saw a familiar face.

“I’m so cold.” He smiled, shedding his outer layers as he joined Donghun at the table he sat at.

He had been glad to be asked to meet. He had been caught up in the cycle of refreshing his social media accounts, simultaneously ignoring notifications of fans fretting over when Summer Storm would start posting photos again, and neurotically absorbing all the escalating rumour over the brewing XF11 scandal. Snippets of information had been swept up into the speculative maelstrom: there had been a fight, someone had heard screaming, someone had attacked someone else…

“How are you doing?”

Donghun propped his chin in his hands. “Yeah. I’m okay, I guess.”

Junhee stopped, his hand halfway to taking off his scarf. A familiar gnawing worry seeped through his chest. “Something’s wrong.”

When Donghun looked up at him, his eyes were bright. “Junhee, I’m leaving Seoul.”

The words sank over Junhee, slowly.

“Leaving..?” he echoed. “Where to?”

“You know I have family in Daegu?” Junhee nodded faintly. “I’m going to head back there. Not move in with them, god no, I’ll get my own place…” He paused, waiting for a response, but Junhee struggled to think of a single thing he could say. When Donghun continued, his voice was thick. “All this stuff online… The media circling XF11… It’s really hard to be around…”

“Yes, of course it is.” Junhee finally wrenched some words from his throat. He searched Donghun’s sad eyes. Pull it together, Junhee. “That’s completely understandable.” He took a breath. “And that can’t have been an easy decision for you.”

Donghun shook his head, his lip bitten. “It isn’t. I think I… I need to take time and… Agh, why can’t I express myself right now…”

Junhee touched his wrist, looking at him plainly. Sehyoon’s words rang in his head. “Your healing is only just beginning. You need space to get over what happened. Any relationship coming to an end is sad, no matter the circumstances. And it’s an upheaval – your life changes. Let alone it being tied up to the media.” He nodded slowly. “Getting away will give you a fresh start.”

Donghun pressed his thumbs against his lips, not looking up.

“I…” He stopped, his voice catching. He cleared his throat. “I don’t want you to think I regret the other night. Or any of the things I said. Because I don’t.” He blinked quickly. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. And all those ways I feel about you… It’s not that I misunderstood myself, or they don’t still stand…”

“But it’s the wrong time and the wrong place? I know.” Junhee smiled, even as the tears trickled down Donghun’s cheeks.

“I was with Han for so long because I hadn’t learned how to be on my own. I think I need to spend some time learning that now.” He smiled through the tears. “But I’ll miss you.”

“It’ll be okay.” Junhee squeezed his hand. “I’ll see you again soon.”

He said the words to heal his own aching heart. He couldn’t possibly have known, right there in that café, that he wouldn’t see Donghun again soon. That Donghun would let their connection dwindle, afraid of pulling Junhee into a mess he didn’t deserve. That by giving Donghun space to heal, their contact would quickly fade, and that in a few months’ time he would be left wondering, on those quiet mornings over breakfast, about how the boy with the sad eyes was holding up.

“Guess I better head off. I need to pack.”

They headed out into the cold, wrapped up in their coats. As always, they were to head in different directions.

“I guess this is bye, for a bit?” Junhee turned to Donghun, trying with all his might to quash the bubble of sadness in his core. Donghun nodded.

“Bye, for a bit.” He wrapped his arms around Junhee, and for a moment, all the sadness faded to silence, his aching heart stopped hurting, and he could believe, just for a second, that the crushing sorrow wasn’t going to come flooding back.

But after a long, long moment, Donghun pulled away.

“Look after yourself, okay?” Junhee said. “Find your happiness.”

Donghun stood without speaking, and then pulled Junhee towards him, put a firm hand on his neck and kissed him.

The wind blew, and caught their scarves, sending them dancing out behind them. Leaves fluttered in a spiral. And as the gust dropped away, Donghun broke free.

“You too.”

Junhee watched him walk away, until he rounded a corner and he could see him no more.

 

~

 

Diamond Frost: [closed]

 

~

 

Summer Storm: [closed]

 

 

 

。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆ End of Part I  。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆

Chapter Text

The ninth floor of Building One in Dongdaemun crackled with creative static around the clock. No matter the time of day, young artistic types tapped out articles, edited photos, sat in circles of armchairs to discuss ideas and drained black coffees. Plants bloomed in every spare inch of space and wide windows filled the rooms with light in the day, and allowed a view of the stars at night. And from all this, once a month, Flash was published, to be snatched up by the eager hands of music-lovers.

The winter sun had long since set, leaving one young man paining over the saturation levels of a recent photograph. He leaned back, pursed his lips and cast his most critical eye over the picture in front of him. Finally satisfied, he saved his work, slid the USB stick from his laptop and stood up, his knees clicking.

“You all done?” A woman in her forties looked up from her own computer screen as he entered her office. Her smile was warm, and she accepted the USB with an incline of her head.

“Yes, Director. Hope it’s all okay.”

“I’m sure it will be. Now you head off and get some rest before the next week of schedules, okay?” She shooed him from the office. “I hope it all goes well – I’ll see you back here in a week. Oh – and Junhee?” She smiled as he turned back. “You’re doing a great job.”

Junhee ducked a respectful bow. “I’ve learned a lot in the three years I’ve been here.”

He gathered quickly the things he would need for the upcoming week – he slotted all the right lenses into their respective pockets in his camera bag along with his laptop. He checked through it once, and then zipped it and grabbed his coat and scarf. Pushing his glasses up his nose, he looked around his desk, satisfied that he had everything, and made his way towards the elevators.

Seoul’s night air hit him immediately upon leaving the building. Turning his collar up in defence, he hopped down the steps and made his way swiftly to the subway. It was just a few stops, but he was already running late.

As he waited for the next subway train, he pulled out his phone. A message lit up the screen. Not sure what time you’re finishing today but up for grabbing a drink? Junhee rolled his eyes. Ever since Namkyu had joined the team as a junior, he had trailed after Junhee, trying to get his attention. Junhee thought it came from a desire to get in the good books with a senior photographer; some of his friends were suspicious that his interests were more personal than that. Despite his exasperation, Junhee remained polite. I can’t, I’m sorry. I’ve got to head off early to Busan tomorrow.

Once the subway train reached his destination, he jogged down the street, partly from lateness, partly to fend off the cold. The restaurant drenched him in welcome warmth as soon as he opened the door.

“Hey! I’m so sorry I’m late, I had to finish up something at work.” He smiled, pink-faced, and immediately peeled off his coat and scarf, ditching them on the back of a chair.

“Your permanent inability to be on time would be annoying if you didn’t love your job so damn much.” Sehyoon smiled up at him with a wink. “It’s good to see you, Junhee.”

“Who cares about how punctual you are,” Byeongkwan interrupted from next to his boyfriend. “Is that scarf in your beltloop Alexander McQueen? My, Mr Park, how you’ve changed.”

“Fuck off,” Junhee laughed. “Just because I’m not flat broke anymore. I work in music photography, I’m hardly rolling in it.”

“Mmmh, I live with him - he has Ted Baker pyjamas, can confirm.” Sehyoon and Byeongkwan snorted with laughter, and Yuchan turned a teasing grin on his housemate. “Sorry Junhee, we’re just jealous that you’re fashionable now.”

“Why’d I move in with this little rat?” Junhee lamented playfully, taking his seat with his friends. “It’s your fault I had to find a new housemate, Kwan. Thanks for stealing away my best friend.”

“You’re welcome.” Byeongkwan winked at Sehyoon, playing with his fingers under the table. “So, how is work? Chan was telling us you’re going away for a week?”

Junhee nodded as a waiter came and took their order. “Yeah, shooting at three concerts – Busan, Daegu and Jeonju. All upcoming idol groups. Should be fun.”

“You’re becoming far too cool for my liking, Junhee.” Sehyoon smiled – and Junhee knew that beneath the teasing, his oldest friend nurtured a genuine sense of pride. “Travelling all over the place going to concerts, doing cover shoots… Who’d have thought a little fansite would come so far?”

Junhee smiled. “That was a long time ago.”

Food was brought to their table and they dug in. Only as he shovelled rice did Junhee realise how painfully hungry he was – he’d barely eaten today, so absorbed in finishing his editing.

“I sort of forget you were a fansite once.” Chan swigged his beer. “Just before I knew you, wasn’t it?”

“Mh.” Junhee nodded. “I met you just after I wound that down. Never had a day of quiet since.” He ignored the protests from his younger friend. “That must mean you two have been together what… Three and a half years?”

“Nearly.” Sehyoon looked at Byeongkwan. “You’d think I’d be sick of him by now, but…” He ignored the swat in his direction. “Excuse me a sec, just going to the bathroom.”

Byeongkwan watched Sehyoon walk away, and sighed. “Three and a half years and I can’t imagine life without him. Weird to think that I was younger than Chan is now when I met him.”

Chan’s eyes widened. “That is wild. Do you think this is it? Like… for good?”

Byeongwan’s eyes searched the table as he thought, lips pursed. Eventually, he nodded. “I think I’m going to propose to him.”

What?!” Junhee dropped his chopsticks, his eyes round. It only made Byeongkwan snigger.

“Yeah. But don’t breathe a word – I want it to be a complete surprise.” He shrugged. “I’m an old softie.”

“Kwan…” Junhee suddenly found his throat very sticky and he blinked hard.

“Stop your crying, he’ll see!” Byeongkwan hissed, but he reached out a hand and squeezed Junhee’s. “Thank you though. It means the world to have your support.”

Sehyoon returned to their table, and the rest of the food was polished off. As the others talked, Junhee drifted away into his own thoughts. Byeongkwan was going to propose! None of his friends had ever mentioned marriage before – not in a serious way. He was filled with warm love for the both of them, and an eager excitement. That would be one hell of a wedding. Beneath it, too, he felt a small sadness: he had grown up thinking marriage was just some inevitable part of becoming an adult. That he, too, would hit his twenties and as a given, a wedding would be something on the cards. But he had to meet someone, love someone, for that to happen – and that, he had come to realise, was far from a given.

“How about you Chan? Are you still dating that girl?”

Yuchan blinked at Byeongkwan, his face blank. “Which one?” The three other boys all snorted with laughter. “Hey, no, I didn’t mean it like that! There hasn’t been that many! You mean Maria? The Italian girl? That was just a short thing…”

“It’s always just a short thing.” Junhee accepted the punch that landed on his arm.

“What about you, Junhee?” Sehyoon leaned his arms on the table and rested his chin in his hands, his eyes hopeful. “I’d expect you to tell me immediately if there was… but I never know with you.”

“Oh, no, you know there isn’t.” Junhee looked away, flushing and waving a hand. “You know I don’t have time for any of that.” He played with a serviette. “I work crazy hours, travel all the time – and in my free time I obsess over photography too.” He laughed. “Who’s going to put up with that?”

“Is there no one at work..?”

Junhee shook his head, but it was Yuchan who answered for him. “Ugh, no, don’t shit where you eat.”

Byeongkwan laughed hard. “You’ve got such a way with words, Chan.”

 

~

 

Junhee was accustomed to life on the road. Most weeks, he travelled off to different cities – and sometimes overseas – to capture musical moments on camera. Shadows had taken up permanent residence under his eyes, and his waist had shrunk from so many missed meals. But despite the hard work, he wouldn’t change it for the world. Absorbing music for a living – and sharing it with those not fortunate enough to be there in person – was the most satisfying job he could dream of.

The trip to Busan was a blur – another snatched nap on the bullet train; another cream hotel room; another band of promising young girls grappling for their place in the fierce kpop market. Another night of not-enough sleep and a too-early start – and then he was in Daegu. He often found himself, these days, waking up and struggling to remember where in the country he was.

Today brought a short respite. He was shooting photos for an interview piece, and it was a daytime schedule. Fuelled by three cups of coffee and a hastily shovelled pastry, he directed the girls in front of him to capture their most flattering angles. He loved this part of his job, getting to chat to the artists, put their nerves at ease and shoot photos that captures little snippets of their personalities.

“Thank you so much,” their leader gushed as their shoot wrapped up. She gave a low bow, her platinum hair falling over her face. “We were really nervous but you’re so kind.”

“That’s okay.” Junhee smiled. “It takes a little while to get used to these things. You did a great job – the article will be perfect, don’t worry.” He started to pack away his kit. “I’ll be cheering for you guys and your debut.”

“Thank you!” The six girls left the room with a giggle, and it warmed Junhee’s heart. So much promise, and so much hope.

Returning to his hotel room, Junhee fell face-down on his bed and fell immediately asleep. When he woke, some time in the evening, he was utterly disorientated. Where was he? What day was it? He rubbed his face as he sat up, blinking away the drowsy remnants of dreams. He glanced at the time – only seven o’clock.

Unwilling to relent entirely to his sleep deprivation, he showered quickly and got dressed in fresh clothes, taming his hair into some semblance of style. His hotel was centrally located in Seomun, and it would be a shame to pass up on the night market while he was here.

The winter night was frosty, but it didn’t deter tourists and locals alike from flocking around the sprawling array of stalls in the market. Junhee wandered through the crowds, hands in pockets, dividing his attention equally between the goods on offer and the people who surrounded him. Families walked hand-in-hand with little kids, and hundreds of couples giggled and flirted as they shopped. It was the kind of place he felt the most at ease – invisible among a thousand people.

He always kept his camera around his neck on nights like this. It was a way to relieve the stresses of his day: taking explorative photos, capturing whimsical moments, for no reason other than the joy it brought to him.

He raised his lens now, closing one eye as he squinted through the viewfinder. A scuffle behind him brought his attention away from his photo.

“Hey, watch where you’re running!” A middle-aged man grumbled as a boy bumped into his wife, brandishing a skewer of chicken in his direction. The boy raised apologetic hands.

“Sorry!” he gasped. The boy’s cheeks were flushed pink, his hair waving from its place pushed back with a headband.

Junhee went to raise his camera again, but stopped, dead. That voice… He turned to look back.

The running footsteps came to a stop in front of him. Junhee lowered his camera.

“…Junhee..?”

His heart stopped. It was a voice he hadn’t heard in years, but one he’d never forgotten. Three years had added to that face the same shadows that Junhee wore under his own eyes, and either stress or discipline had whittled his frame down tinier than before. But there was no mistaking those sad eyes, shining hopefully bright as he caught his breath.

Donghun?!” Junhee dropped his camera to hang loose around his neck, staring dumbly at the boy before him. Those sad eyes disappeared into a beaming smile.

“I knew it was you! I thought I saw you but the crowds… I thought I might be wrong but I ran… I… How the fuck are you?”

“Holy shit, it is you!” Junhee stared at him dumbly as they held each other’s forearms. “What are you doing here?!”

“Me? I live here, remember? What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for work.” Junhee’s head span. Donghun? Here? He’d long since given up hope of ever seeing him again; when their texts had dwindled, he had let go of the hope of keeping in touch, afraid that he would somehow hold him back from the recovery he so desperately needed.

“Work? What work?”

“I… Have you heard of Flash? The music magazine?” Donghun nodded. “I’m a senior photographer.”

“You’re what?” Donghun gawped at him, still holding onto his sleeves. He seemed to think quickly. “Okay, what are you doing this evening?”

“I mean… Wandering around here and eating takeout..?”

Donghun laughed weakly. “Do you… want to grab a drink? Or food? Whatever, just… catch up?” He gave a grin, and Junhee looked into his face. It had been so many years, so long since the feelings, the pain, the fight to forget…

“Yeah. I really do.”

“Okay.” Donghun’s face crinkled into a smile again. “Okay, come on. I want you to tell me everything.”

 

~

 

“So I’ve been working there since.” Junhee absently played with his glass of wine, a smile twitching on his lips. “It’s crazy hard work. I mean, I travel so much. But I’m doing photography, so I couldn’t be happier. I just love trying to do better every single shoot. Even learning stuff from the others, every day… I was so scared that growing up would mean settling for some dull job where I didn’t spend each day learning. I’m happy to be tired, like, all of the time, when it means I learn and grow each day.” He flushed. “Sorry, I’m rambling.”

Donghun watched him, eyes shining, from where he sat with his chin cupped in his hands. “You know I would never get tired of you talking about photography.”

Junhee went warm – and immediately pushed it away. “What about you? What are you doing?”

Donghun played with his own glass, smiling. “I’m… also still in photography. Fashion photography.”

“Fashion photography..?” Junhee echoed, his eyes wide.

“Yeah. Shoots for brands. It’s… I mean, it’s pretty great. You know I love photography and clothes. I’m up in Seoul quite a bit – I was up for Fashion Week. But yeah, I’m surrounded by the things I love, so I really can’t complain.”

Junhee couldn’t fight the smile. “Well, I did notice you’re still in Gucci…” He raised an eyebrow at Donghun’s outfit, making him laugh.

“Hey. Some habits die hard.” He raised an eyebrow at one of the barman, and upon gaining his attention, pointed at Junhee’s empty glass. “Same again?” Junhee hesitated. “Same again, then. I’m buying your time.” He shot a smirk sidelong at Junhee. “Just don’t get drunk.”

Junhee raised his hands in mock protest. “I can honestly make no promises.”

Junhee prised more about Donghun’s work from him, and spilled stories from his own life as they drank. It was as though, he thought, no time at all had passed. He could easily be sitting in that café in Seoul, catching up after a few days apart. All the tension from deadlines at work, all the worries about whether he was where he should be at twenty-four, melted away to nothing. For an hour or two, he was freed from all the worries that normally clustered in the back of his mind.

“How’s Sehyoon doing?” Donghun asked eagerly. “And Byeongkwan?”

“Still together. They’re good. Actually, Kwan told me he’s thinking of proposing to Sehyoon soon.”

Donghun’s eyes lit up with excitement. “You’re kidding! That’s amazing!” He took a sip of his drink. “So, are you living with both of them?”

“No, no,” Junhee said. “Absolutely not. I moved in with a guy called Chan, he’s a bit younger but it’s fun.”

Donghun nodded, looking down into his glass as he swirled it. “Is he… Are you guys..?” He trailed off pointedly.

“Are we..? Oh what, me and Chan? God, no! He’s straight.”

“Oh, got it. Wait,” Donghun interrupted his own questioning, looking at Junhee. “Did you eat?”

Junhee shook his head. “I did not. I am… I’m feeling this wine.”

Donghun threw back his head laughing. “Okay, let’s get you something to eat. Daegu’s nice at night, anyway.” He bit away a smile, putting an affectionate hand on Junhee’s knee. “You haven’t changed one bit.”

For a long time, the butterflies in Junhee’s stomach had been in stasis. At the touch of those familiar rough hands on his legs, they broke free of their chrysalises.

Donghun showed Junhee the best food stalls in the market, and he realised just how hungry he was. They kept talking all the time they walked, ending up sat on the grass in Dalseong Park. Donghun flopped onto his back, looking up at the sky.

“It’s super pretty here in summer. The cherry blossoms come out, and the whole place is covered in pink petals.”

Junhee smiled, laying down next to him. “Do you like living in Daegu?”

“Yeah.” He shuffled. “At first, I was just here to be somewhere that wasn’t Seoul. And my family’s here, and it was nice to be able to go to my mom’s for dinner.” He smiled. “But I like it here. It’s still a city, but it’s different to Seoul. You can breathe a little easier. And see the stars.”

Junhee followed his eyeline; the velvet sky was scattered with little white lights.

“I wish I knew what I was looking at,” he said. “Seoul boy through-and-through. Never see the stars.”

“Well.” Donghun raised a finger to point. “These ones here that look like a saucepan? That’s The Plough. And that’s Orion. You see his belt? The three stars close together in a line?”

“…No?”

“Here.” Donghun yanked on his sleeve, and Junhee moved up close to him. Donghun tilted his chin against Junhee’s shoulder to see his perspective. He took Junhee’s own outstretched finger to guide it. “These ones.”

“Oh yeah! I got it.” Junhee smiled, one eye shut from tracing the stars. He lowered his hand eventually. “You’re right. It’s easier to breathe out here.”

For a little while, they said nothing. Donghun didn’t move away; his sharp chin stayed rested on Junhee’s shoulder. For a moment, it felt like they hadn’t been apart for three years. Like it was just a single day after that night they had spent together in an apartment in Seoul…

“I’m not staying here though.” Donghun did shift away a little now. Junhee frowned at him.

“No?”

“No. Actually… I’m moving. To Canada.”

“Canada!” Junhee propped himself up on one elbow. “For real? When?!”

“… The day after tomorrow.”

Junhee looked across the park, stunned. Canada was… well, it was thousands of miles away. Thousands. He was, for a moment, at a loss – he couldn’t fathom moving half the world away.

“Why?”

Donghun sat up, brushing grass from his jeans. “I visited a couple years ago and I love it. I mean, you think the stars here are beautiful? You should see them there! And it just has this feel. It’s just so calm, and everyone is more liberal there. When I was there, I felt like I could be myself. And that there was a chance everyone around me would like me for that.” He looked at Junhee. “Does that sound crazy?”

“No.” Junhee touched his hand. “It really doesn’t.” He hesitated as they stood up together. “But I’m… I’m sad you’re leaving so soon. When we’ve just run into each other like this.”

They headed back through the park and the market, and Donghun offered to walk Junhee to his hotel. As they approached the glass-fronted reception, Junhee turned to Donghun.

“This was… super ridiculous. I can’t believe you spotted me.”

“I thought I saw your face and… well, I think I took out about ten people trying to see if it was you.” He laughed, embarrassed. Junhee’s heart twisted at the sound. His face was so handsome when he laughed.

“I guess… I guess good luck in Canada?” It wasn’t nearly as much as he wanted to offer, but Donghun looked equally as stuck for words.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Junhee turned to head inside, when Donghun called his name. He stopped.

“Wait!” He held out a hand uncertainly. “Come to Canada.”

Junhee stared at him.

“I mean, come and visit. Soon. Just come out and stay for a few days. It would be fun and… I don’t want to just leave you at your hotel now and not see you again.” A red flush spread across Donghun’s nose. “What do you think?”

A hundred thoughts crossed Junhee’s mind all at once. Canada! It had been so long since he’d taken a trip. It would do him good to get away from work. But to visit Donghun? Was that crazy? But why was it crazy – it was hardly ground-breaking to visit an old friend. Was that all it was? What would Sehyoon say when he told him?

Donghun looked at him, expectantly.

“Do you know what,” he sighed, and raised his shoulders. “Okay, sure. I could probably get some time off from work in a few weeks.” He laughed at the ridiculousness of what he was agreeing to. “I’ll come to Canada.”

“Yes! Ah this is so amazing!” Donghun beamed, and pulled him into a hug. “Okay, go and sleep and stuff and I’ll… I’ll see you in Canada? I’ll text you – your number still the same?” Junhee nodded. “Okay. See you soon, Junhee.”

 

~

 

As the plane wheels lifted off from the runway, Junhee wondered for the thousandth time in five weeks whether this was, in fact, utterly ludicrous. He adjusted the mask and watched Seoul fade away below the clouds.

He tucked his headphones over his ears and settled on a playlist, replaying the conversation with Sehyoon the day after he had booked his flights. It was always to Sehyoon’s great amusement that Junhee placed so much stock in his opinion – but throughout his life, he had yet to guide him wrong, so he placed his trust in his oldest friend. Which is why he had been so nervous when he blurted out what had happened at that night market in Daegu.

“And so I’ve booked flights to Canada. In a few weeks.”

Sehyoon had said nothing, just watched him over his coffee, eyebrows raised.

“You think it’s crazy, don’t you?” Junhee had said, his stomach sinking. To his surprise, Sehyoon had shook his head.

“No. I don’t think it’s crazy.” Junhee had waited expectantly for more. “It’s not like I ever had anything against Donghun. The opposite – you know how much I liked him. What I warned you against, at the time, was racing into a relationship with him at a bad time for him.” He had shrugged, taking a sip of his coffee. “That was a long time ago, it’s different now.”

“Yeah.” Junhee had felt a flush of relief. “I mean, that’s not why I’m going, I’m not… It’s just an old friend, and I wanted to go on a trip anyway. He lives a million miles away now anyway – not that that matters, it’s not like I have feelings for him or anything. Or ever did.”

“You… definitely did.”

“Well that’s not important.” Junhee had flopped back grumpily, his ears pink. “Now I’d just like my friend back.”

And now he found himself here, settling into a twelve-hour flight to Toronto. A flight attendant smiled at him and spoke as he removed his headphones. He looked at her, blankly.

“I… No English.” He flushed, and the lady waved away his concerns.

“Would you like a drink?” she said, transitioning to Korean, and he nodded with relief. A gin might take the edge off the inexplicable fluttering in his belly.

 

~

 

“Why didn’t I pay attention in English at school, why…” Junhee trailed through the airport, pulling his suitcase by his side. The familiar Korean faces from his flight began to disperse, and suddenly he felt very out of place in a facemask and bewildered by the snippets of English flying around him. Overseas trips with work were usually to Japan, but here he felt a little small and swallowed by the tall Canadians striding around him.

He followed the flow of people down a corridor, passport still clutched between his fingers. He pulled out his phone, which switched over automatically to some unfamiliar network.

JH: Please tell me you’re here, I am so very lost and so very Korean.

Donghun showed online straight away.

DH: Hahahaha. I’m here, don’t worry! How wrong can you go? Ask for Arrivals.

JH: No, please don’t ask me to use the English ‘R’ in any word

DH: *laughing emoji* I believe in you, you can do it

Eventually, the corridor opened up to a wide space; groups of people waited, scanning the emerging faces for family and friends. Junhee looked around anxiously and his heart skipped as he spotted Donghun in a long, checked coat and bright white sneakers, standing on tiptoes to wave at him.

“I thought I was going to lose you before you’d even made it out the airport.” He smiled as Junhee walked up to him. “Welcome to Canada.”

“Thanks.” Junhee hesitated, and suddenly had no idea how to greet him. Donghun solved the problem by swamping him in a hug.

“Oh, and why can’t you say arrivals?” Junhee rolled his eyes, and repeated the word; but as ever, his tongue struggled to separate the ‘r’ sound from the ‘l’ sound used in strange English pronunciation. Donghun burst out laughing. “Amazing. I’m going to make you talk English everywhere we go.” They fell into step, and Junhee felt relieved to have a tour guide. “How was your flight?”

“Good, I like flying. And that was the longest flight I’ve ever been on.”

“It was?”

“Mm. And I had some gin and a nap and honestly, I think I’ve needed those things for some time.”

The sky outside was a brilliant blue, and his breath plumed in front of his face. Donghun lead him to the carpark, telling him about the move, and how his first month had gone. He stopped, halfway through his retelling, and looked at Junhee.

“I’m really glad you’re here.” His eyes, usually full of roguish humour, were sincere.

Junhee smiled, his heart warm. “Me too.”

 

~

 

“Of course you know this song! Come on!” Donghun clamped his hands over Junhee’s eyes tighter, making him laugh.

“I do! Please don’t tell me! Is it… Vixx?”

“Yes! Of course it’s Vixx, you dumbass. I can’t believe you didn’t recognise them straight away.”

They sat cross-legged in the middle of Donghun’s living room, empty plates pushed to the side, beer bottles in-hand. Junhee wasn’t quite sure why time appeared to be stuck on fast-forward in Canada. They had headed back to Donghun’s place from the airport, and suddenly – between swapping stories and firing questions at one another – the evening had ticked into nighttime.

“I meant to ask,” Donghun said, peeling the label from his bottle. “Did you keep following XF11, after..?” He trailed off, leaving his sentence hanging.

“No.” Junhee’s response was firm. “Are you kidding? No… It’s not against the others, but I couldn’t bear to even look at them after… I was sort of relieved when they disbanded.”

“Mmh. Me too. Although, one good thing – being a fansite was great experience.” Donghun pushed back his hair, which as always, waved on end before falling straight back over his face. “I was surprised that fashion jobs would care about that kind of thing. Thought they might think it was a bit, y’know, immature or something. But I guess photos are photos. It formed a part of my portfolio that meant I could get work. Everything happens for a reason, I guess.”

“Yeah, I had exactly the same thing. It was weird telling everyone I had been Summer Storm though.” Junhee snorted. “Felt like coming out a second time.” He thought. “Could I see some of your photos from work?”

“Of course!” Donghun bounced up and fetched his camera. “I’ll show you from my recent shoot.” He lay back down on his belly, and Junhee joined to look at the screen. Photos of beautiful models in bright streetwear flashed up one after the other, and Junhee raised his eyebrows.

“Is this for Off-White?!”

“Yup. And no, I sadly didn’t get any freebies.” Donghun laughed, playing with his hair again. “It was a really cool shoot. Every piece was gender-neutral – so we shot each item on a male and female model. I thought that was insanely cool.” He suddenly replaced his camera with his phone. “I have some stuff on Instagram too. Do you follow me?” Junhee shook his head and Donghun looked up, affronted. “Hey what, did you unfollow me?”

“I never followed you in the first place. Jeez, sensitive ego or what?” Junhee pushed him in the head with a smile tugging at his lips. He took out his phone, found Donghun’s profile and clicked the blue follow button. “Happy now? Glad to be one of the thirteen-and-a-half thousand people stalking you.”

“Yup.” Donghun clicked on the notification that lead to Junhee’s profile and followed him back, before scrolling through his photos.

“No don’t go through-” Junhee tried to swat the phone from his hands but Donghun held it out of reach, leaving him to watch in exasperation.

“Aw.” He held up a photo of Junhee with his mom. “Cute. Hang on.” He stopped, a smirk flitting around his mouth. He held up another picture and Junhee’s cheeks went warm. Why had he posted that shirtless black and white photo, his face concealed by the camera he held up to the mirror in his room. Had it been when he was dating some boy? Trying to impress someone?

“Stop judging me,” he whined, feeling flustered.

Donghun laughed. “I’m not. Anyway, I’ll stop embarrassing you and do this on my own time.” He went back to his own profile. “This is what I wanted to show you. I went to New Zealand last year. It was stunning – look at this.” He showed Junhee spectacular photos of landscapes like which he’d never seen and started regaling him with details of how he had managed to capture each moment. As he talked, a happy spark lit up in his eyes.

Junhee watched Donghun lying there on his belly with his feet in the air, his hands pulled into the sleeves of his jumper, spilling excitable stories while he went through photos on his phone. The butterflies in his stomach flitted, and he welcomed them home.

He had meant what he said to Sehyoon. Regaining Donghun’s friendship was the reason he had spent his savings on a flight, and dropped his work to be here. But from the second Donghun had called his name in Daegu night market, his heart had started beating with a giddy happiness that he’d long since forgotten. Donghun was still effortless gorgeous – it was more than the way he dressed, his tiny waist, his dark eyes. It was the way he tripped over his words when he talked about photography, too excited to get them out. It was the way he smiled so hard his eyes disappeared when he was gently mocking Junhee. As soon as Junhee was in Donghun’s orbit, every colour in the world seemed that little bit brighter.

It seemed that in three years, he had managed to push his feelings away from the surface. But they had never faded away.

“Hey, airhead, come back to the room.” Donghun waved a hand in front of his face and he snapped out of his reverie. “Earth to Junhee?”

“Sorry.” He scowled. “I had a long flight, go easy on me.”

“Oh, yeah. Good point.” Donghun smiled. “Let’s get some sleep so we can explore Toronto tomorrow. My spare room is all yours.”

Junhee wheeled his suitcase to the room at the end of the apartment – and smiled. Most of the little room was taken up by the bed, but fairy lights hung around the walls and plants tumbled from shelves. He called back over his shoulder.

“Why’s your spare room so cute already? Isn’t most people’s spare room just a place to chuck all their stuff?”

“Yeah, well. Couldn’t have you staying somewhere messy.”

“Lemme see your room.” Junhee peeked his head around the second doorway, ignoring Donghun’s protests. “Your apartment is so nice, jeez. They’ve been paying you enough, clearly.” He stopped, looking at the desk that was set up in a nook by the window. A few printed photos were stuck to the wall above it, but one caught his eye.

“You have this up?” He looked at the picture of Donghun and himself, both masked with their cameras half-way to their faces. Another fansite had captured the moment back in Seoul, a few weeks after they had met.

“’Course.” Donghun shrugged. “Now stop snooping on my stuff and go to bed.”

Junhee changed into pyjamas, scraped his dark hair back in a headband and washed up his face. On his way back from the bathroom, he crossed paths with Donghun.

“Goodnight,” he said, and Donghun caught his arm.

“Night. I’m really glad you’re here.”

Junhee smiled. “You keep saying that.”

“Well, it’s true.” Donghun hesitated. “I was a little nervous coming out to Toronto alone. But knowing you were visiting soon after, well, it made me less afraid.”

Junhee turned away with a smile. “You softie. Go to bed.”

 

~

 

Junhee was starting to regret this. His hands were way past shaking, his heart was in his throat. Next to him, Donghun looked utterly unphased. The queue in front of them dwindled and Junhee grabbed Donghun’s sleeve.

“Hey, you know I said I wanted to do this?” He heard the catch in his own voice as he spoke. “I do, but also… Okay, I’m petrified of heights.”

When Donghun had suggested that morning, as they set about their day of adventuring through Toronto, that they visit the CN Tower, he had genuinely lit up with excitement. In his Google searches before his trip, Junhee had seen pictures of the spectacular views from the viewing platform. Only, it seemed he had forgotten his own crippling vertigo.

“It’s okay.” Donghun turned to him with sympathetic eyes. “We don’t have to do this, you idiot! You should have said.”

“No, no, I do want to. I do.”

“Well, only if you’re sure?” Donghun appraised him. “I’ll be right here, okay?”

Junhee nodded, a little soothed. They were called forward into the elevator along with a small group by a cheerful woman. She began talking a hundred miles an hour in English.

“She said it’ll take about 58 seconds to get to the top,” Donghun translated. “You okay?”

“Yeah.”

The doors shut and Junhee swallowed hard. Why, why did it have to be glass-fronted? He just wanted to be at the top, not in some glass box moving very quickly and-

Donghun pulled him close by his waist, and kept stable arms around him. Junhee didn’t hesitate in putting his forehead on his shoulder and closing his eyes.

“I used to be scared of heights too.” Junhee heard a woman speak to Donghun in English, and he just about caught the words.

“It’s cute. He’ll be okay.”

It was an alien feeling, holding onto a boy with members of the public around. He definitely wouldn’t do this in Seoul – god, he wouldn’t even do this in front of his own parents. Was this what Donghun had meant by feeling he could be himself out here in Canada – that he could date in public, like anyone else, and not be made to feel any shame?

By the time he’d contemplated the idea, they had reached the top, and the doors of the elevator opened with a ping. Junhee peeled himself away from Donghun in relief.

“Sorry,” he said, embarrassed. But Donghun took his hand and smiled reassuringly. “Not sure you want to do that either, I have super sweaty palms.”

This made Donghun laugh. “I don’t mind. I said I’d look after you.”

The fear in Junhee’s stomach began to ebb away as awe took its place. The city stretched out in a thousand shades of silver – high rises and skyscrapers slotted together like a Tetris board. A vast lake stretched away and met the sky at some indiscernible point of mutual blue.

“Woah,” Junhee suddenly forgot his phobia, pressing his hands to the glass, eyes shining. “Donghun, look at the view!”

“That’s not the view they’re looking at.” Junhee looked dumbly at him, and followed his gaze. Three girls were watching him and, spotted, turned away in a flurry of giggles. Donghun smirked. “Popular in Canada, Mr Park.”

“Doubt it.” Junhee continued to drink in the skyline.

“Reckon you could get insane photos from here? Or think it would be tough?” Donghun leaned on the glass next to him.

Junhee considered it. “With the right kit. Like a 25-35mm.”

“You’d need to think about leading lines too – otherwise it’s just a mess of buildings.” Donghun squinted with one eye and held up a finger. “That tall building, the one with the billboard. Cuts through the chaos.” He pulled out his phone. “Let’s get a photo. Seeing as you got here without fainting.”

Junhee rolled his eyes but obliged as Donghun held his phone up to take a selfie. Junhee scoffed at him immediately.

“Why the hell don’t you smile properly?”

“I am smiling,” Donghun said around his carefully closed-lipped pose.

Junhee started to shake with laughter, unable to contain himself for the sake of the photos. “Honestly, what is that?”

“It’s my photo face! Fuck off, Junhee!”

They laughed until Junhee could hardly draw breath, and Donghun wheezed and set Junhee into creases again.

Eventually, wiping away tears, they regained some sense of composure, heading back for the elevators. So filled with happiness, Junhee didn’t even mind the whooshing feeling in his stomach as they descended.

He was still smiling when they walked out onto the street below, a cold wind catching his hair, when Donghun suddenly stopped dead.

“You-” The words disappeared from his lips. Donghun stared at some indefinite point over Junhee’s shoulder, his eyes wide with fear, suddenly breathing like he’d run up a flight of stairs. “Donghun? Hey!”

Donghun put his hands to his face, turning away with a stumble. A little noise of fright escaped his lips.

“Donghun, what is it?” Junhee hurried to take a hold of him and was shocked to find him trembling from head to toe. He could hear him snatching his breath. “Hey, hey, shush, it’s okay…” He cupped his face, and those big scared eyes found his.

“Panic attack,” he managed between gasps. “I’m so scared, I feel like my heart’s gonna burst, I…”

“It won’t hurt you.” Junhee enveloped him in his arms. “I’m here, and I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.”

Streams of people passed around them, but Junhee just held Donghun tight.

After a long moment passed, Donghun gradually pulled away.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, his eyes down.

“Don’t say that. Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah… It always passes. It just… Yeah. It feels like you’re dying.”

Junhee held his hand tightly. “It must be awful. Are you okay now?” He nodded. “Did something trigger it?”

Donghun’s eyes disappeared over the crowds. “I thought I saw someone…” When he offered no more, Junhee chose not to push him. Could it have been Han, he thought he saw? His stomach turned. Were those demons still following him?

“Jesus.” Donghun wiped the sweat on his forehead. A pink mottle crept over his nose. “I’m really sorry. That’s super embarrassing.”

“Enough.” The firm tone in Junhee’s voice was enough to make Donghun look up in surprise. “Don’t be ridiculous. Mental health isn’t something to be embarrassed by.” He gently tugged his hand, and they fell into step with the crowds. “Now what do you need – ice cream, or a shot..?”

 

~

 

By Junhee’s third day in Canada, he was starting to feel at home in this strange country. The English shop signs, the way everyone dressed, it began to feel less unfamiliar. He had even stopped automatically ducking a bow when he greeted people.

But while he had loved their day in the city, it was this side of Canada that took his breath away.

They had walked until both their faces had turned pink, and as the city dwindled away, Lake Ontario only got more beautiful. Its calm blue surface stretched away to the horizon, and it filled Junhee’s heart with an inexplicable sense of peace.

“I wish you were out here longer. We could have gone to Niagra Falls. Imagine the photos.” Donghun rubbed his gloved hands together. “I still haven’t had a chance to go down to them.”

“I think this is pretty enough.” As Junhee spoke, he jumped, startled by the sudden cold on his nose. Looking up, the grey clouds began to shed their first snowflakes. Junhee’s entire face lit up. “It’s snowing!”

“Agh. We’re miles from home, we’re going to freeze.” Donghun scowled up at the sky.

“I love snow so much.” He smiled, giddy. “It’s my favourite weather.”

“I’ll give it a free pass then, just this time.” Donghun rolled his eyes with a grin. “We should start to walk back though. It’s already coming down heavy.”

Every step they walked, the snow fell thicker and faster, and began to spread white and fluffy on the ground. Donghun grabbed Junhee’s hand and they ran, both laughing as they tried to outrun the winter.

“It’s no good,” Junhee gasped, shaking snow from his sneakers. “We can’t run in this. Look how deep it is already!”

And true enough, a pristine blanket of white had already settled over the grass and tree branches, sapping the world of colour. It was as though the world was sparkling.

“You’re right.” Donghun put his hands on his hips, snowflakes caught on his eyelashes. “Guess there’s only one thing we can do.”

Junhee turned back to his face him. “What’s th-”

He was stopped as Donghun threw a snowball clean in his face.

“What the fuck!” He swiped at his face, laughing incredulously. Donghun was already springing away, his mischievous laughter ringing out in the cold. “Lee Donghun, you little shit!”

He scooped up a pile of snow and flung it, hard, where it smashed over Donghun’s back. He ran after him, and infuriated by his cackling, hauled him back by his coat, scooped up snow and shoved it down his collar.

Junhee!” Donghun yelled, squirming with cold. They grappled in a playfight, until Donghun was shoved onto his back in the snow, and Junhee was yanked down on top of him.

Donghun was still smiling, crystals of snow caught in his hair, as he looked up at Junhee. His nose was bright pink, and tears from the cold made his eyes bright. Junhee’s heart skipped.

In a frozen moment, he lay on top of Donghun, searching his face. Then, unable to stop himself a second longer, he put his hand to his face and kissed his bottom lip.

The very second he tried to pull back, Donghun’s hands were on the back of his head, and he kissed Junhee harder than anyone had kissed him before.

The butterflies kicked fiercely. The moment gave them wind under their wings. He needed this, he didn’t just want this, he needed it. He needed to run his fingers through Donghun’s hair like this; needed to feel Donghun’s freezing hands push under his coat to find the bare skin of his lower back; needed to feel this boy reaching for him as frantically as Junhee reached for him in return. He was so desperate to feel that warm tongue fill his mouth, feel those hands that couldn’t stop searching for new places to touch, feel him getting hard against him-

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Donghun pulled away, staring up at Junhee with wide eyes. He let out a breath of laughter and stroked Junhee’s neck. “I kept wanting to kiss you,” he blurted out, “but I didn’t know if I was just being crazy…”

“Yeah, me too.” Junhee felt a shy smile seep across his face. “And I didn’t want you to think I was just coming here to try to… to try something… I…”

Junhee peeled himself off Donghun and held up a hand to pull him up. An impish smile curled the corners of his mouth up.

“You’re so cute.” Donghun held tight to his hand, and kissed his knuckles; Junhee’s head swam. “The only issue…” Junhee looked up. “I am about to die of hyperthermia.”

Junhee snickered. “Yeah, I can’t feel my feet.”

“You tipped ice down my back! I’m soaked!” Donghun shoved him with a laugh, before they pulled their coats tighter and made back towards the city.

 

~

 

By the time they arrived back in Donghun’s apartment, both of their bodies were shaking from the cold, teeth chattering. Donghun’s hair hung wet in his eyes as he turned to Junhee.

“F-fresh c-clothes…”

Junhee nodded and trembled his way to the spare room, pulling off his wet items and replacing them with ones that were dry and warm. He heard the sound of Donghun switching on a hairdryer and ran to his room. He sat cross-legged in front of him and pointed at himself with sad eyes. Laughing, Donghun turned the hairdryer on Junhee.

The pinkness faded from Junhee’s ears as he found himself wrapped in a warm jumper at the kitchen table, clutching a coffee, his body thawing out at last. Outside, the snow still bleached the world white.

“Well. That was an adventure.” Donghun finished stirring his own coffee and joined Junhee at the table. “I’ve seen snow in Korea but nothing like this.”

“It was fun.”

“It was.” Donghun raised an eyebrow at Junhee, a smirk on his face. He pulled out his phone. “Am I allowed to stalk your Instagram yet?” He didn’t bother to wait for an answer, but began scrolling through Junhee’s profile.

“Don’t judge my pose-y photos.” Junhee pushed back his hair, embarrassed. “I was probably trying to impress someone, at the time.”

“Did you meet anyone?”

Junhee shook his head. “Not really. I mean I’ve dated, but it was always just a couple of months here and there.” He thought back on the times he had tried desperately to make something work with the entirely wrong person. He had always ended up crying with Yuchan, crying with Sehyoon, or sitting in his room, unwanted. He looked up at Donghun, not sure if he really wanted to know. “Did you?”

Donghun looked down at his coffee. “Mh.”

“You did?” Junhee felt a little pulse of anxiety, then immediately berated himself – Donghun was a grownup, he could have whatever relationships he wanted.

Donghun was quiet for a long moment and then sighed quietly. “I met someone. Back in Daegu. Myungdae. He was an illustrator for a streetwear brand and was at a runway event that I was photographing. I’d been in Daegu about… nine months? Anyway, we got talking, one thing led to another, and we got involved with each other pretty quickly. He was seven years older than me so he wasn’t really messing around.”

Junhee nodded faintly. “How come… Why didn’t it work out?”

Donghun looked away again, drawing his feet up onto the chair. He was quiet for so long that Junhee nearly asked if he was alright, when-

“So you know what happened with Han?” He met Junhee’s eyes. “It happened again with Myungdae.”

It took a beat for the penny to drop. “What..?”

“Yeah. Turns out it’s true what they say that people who get into bad relationships often have it happen more than once.”

“Jesus, Donghun…” Junhee sat back, feeling sick. Not again. Not someone else putting a finger on him, hurting him… Intense self-disgust rose up – all this time he hadn’t been there, he hadn’t been part of Donghun’s support network that he clearly desperately needed, he-

“But anyway, it’s in the past. And trust me, this time, I won’t ever get into that sort of mess again.” He shrugged, sipping his coffee. “So when that ended, I made my decision to come to Canada. And here I am. Fresh start.”

“So that ended a couple of months ago? You moved here because of that?” Junhee felt something poisonous spreading through his veins. It bubbled like lava, and he could neither identify it nor control it. “Donghun, did you move your entire life just to escape a boy? Again?”

Donghun looked up at him quickly. “What do you mean, ‘again’?!”

“When you moved to Daegu, after Han. And now Canada, after Myungdae.” The poison rose in Junhee’s throat before he could stop it, his voice catching. “Why do you keep falling for people who treat you horribly and then have to run a thousand miles away – and wonder why you’re not happy?!”

Junhee’s voice cracked on the last word. Two pink spots appeared on Donghun’s face like he’d been slapped.

“Why the hell are you getting angry at me?”

“I don’t know.” Tears swam in Junhee’s eyes. “Because I hate this more than anything I’ve ever hated? Hate knowing you went through that not once, but twice?

“I’m sorry!”

“No don’t fucking apologise, Donghun!” Junhee didn’t know when they’d both got to their feet, but he was aware of the tears the splashed down his face. “Why didn’t you tell me this week? It felt like you were really opening up to me but you missed out this?

“I’m trying to open up to you, Junhee!” Donghun made an exasperated noise. “What should I do? Take my heart out and hand it you on a platter?”

“I’m not saying that! But-”

“You know what, you don’t fucking know my life!” Donghun stalked past him and out the room, but Junhee followed him immediately.

“No, I don’t, because you shut me out of it three years ago!”

Junhee’s words rang out in the living room and fell dead. Instantly, he wanted to snatch them back, but like a kite string slipping from his grasp on a windy day, it was too late.

“Maybe I tried to protect you!” Donghun’s voice rose dangerously now as he threw out a desperate hand. His eyes blazed. “Maybe I didn’t want you to know, Junhee, like I didn’t want anyone else around me to know. Maybe I’m ashamed of the way I keep ending up getting treated like I’m worthless.” His words cracked. “Maybe I don’t know why people I give my heart to choose to crush it, and make me feel like I’m nothing.” His voice was high and dangerously close to breaking. His shining eyes burned into Junhee’s, and when he spoke his voice was trembling. “I thought I saw Myungdae in the crowd yesterday. When I had a panic attack. That’s where I’m at. So pathetically afraid of someone who was supposed to love me, even thinking I see his face and I break. Maybe I don’t want you to see me that way.”

The poison in Junhee evaporated. His voice, when he spoke, was a soft whisper. “Donghun, I had no idea…” His heart filled with pain. “But if you want to talk to someone… You never have to keep things from me. You don’t need to protect me from this, okay? I want to be around you for all the bits of you, even the messy parts.” Tears wobbled on Donghun’s lash line, and he fought a visible battle to keep them from falling. “I’m sorry, I’m handling this horribly. I’m not… I’m not angry at you. I’m fucking furious at him. I’m furious at the way this world is treating you. I would kill him, kill Han, for what they did to you. I think…” He pushed the heel of his hand into his forehead. “I’m sorry. I just… I’m projecting that onto you. I just care about you.”

“Why?”

“Because I-”

Love you.

“-want you to be happy. Donghun…” Donghun turned away, and Junhee crossed the room and placed firm hands on Donghun’s hips, wordlessly asking him to face him. “Don’t ever call yourself worthless. You’re worth so much in this world. You’re kind, talented, you’re scarily intelligent-” He cupped Donghun’s cheek with a shaking hand. “-You’re creative, and you’re brave. I don’t really know how to make you believe that but I’ll keep trying.”

“Junhee…”

“Don’t push me away. If you can find a way to let me in, I’ll keep trying to find ways to make you believe it.” He searched Donghun’s face. “I’ll never hurt you. And if I don’t get something right, I’ll always apologise and try and fix it. Just let me try.”

Donghun’s fingers crept onto Junhee’s waist. “I do trust you.” He spoke in barely more than a whisper. “I don’t think for a second you’d hurt me.” His grip grew tighter. “But you’re right. I… run away when I’m scared.”

“I understand.” Junhee pulled him ever closer. “Or, I don’t. I don’t understand because I’ve not been through it. But I want to-” He shut his eyes as Donghun kissed him. “-I want to try and understand.” He kissed him back. “If you can let me.”

He gave in to another mouth against his own. Donghun’s fingers traced down his spine, and Junhee let his own hands explore. He ran his fingers across his shoulders, down to the small of his back; the lower he trailed his fingers the deeper Donghun kissed him. He desperately pulled Donghun against him, wanting to press closer to him than was possible.

“Fucking hell, Junhee,” Donghun moaned in his ear as Junhee’s mouth found his neck. His fingers scratched at his hips beneath Junhee’s shirt, and dizziness washed through Junhee. It felt like he could get drunk off just the taste of his skin. He needed him, needed to show him how he felt, needed to prove to him that he was wanted – and fuck, Junhee wanted him.

 With rough hands Donghun pulled Junhee’s shirt over his head and yanked off his own.

“Come here,” Junhee managed around kisses, wrenching Donghun towards him by his jeans and fumbling for his belt. He stumbled back onto the sofa, letting out a breath as he pulled Donghun down on top of him. His entire body felt like fire.

“Wait,” Junhee gasped, grabbing Donghun’s wrist as he pulled Junhee’s jeans off his legs. He looked up into his face. “You’re okay with this? You want to do this?”

“Fuck, Junhee, I’ve wanted to do this for three years.”

Junhee nodded, and then arched his back as all at once, pleasure burned through his body and his mind went blank.

 

~

 

The sun filtered through a gap in the curtains and a slice of light fell across Junhee’s face, causing him to stir. He frowned and shuffled inside the duvet. Did he have a concert to photograph today? Which city was he in? Was it-

He opened his eyes to the pretty room filled with books. And his memories caught up with him.

The stream of sunlight lit a bright slash across Donghun’s bare shoulder as he slept. His lips were slightly pursed, his eyebrows knitted together by a dream. Junhee reached out and pushed a strand of hair back from where it fell into his eyes.

He traced the little snowflake tattoo on Donghun’s forearm, feeling quite a lot like the luckiest man alive.

He regretted his reaction to Donghun’s confession last night – he wished, not for the first time in his life, that he had been able to react with Sehyoon’s level-headed empathy. It just felt like sickness gnawing at his stomach to think of anyone harming Donghun, of anyone wanting him to hurt, to be the brunt of their anger…

Junhee just wanted life to be soft and gentle to this boy. He reached out a hand to stroke his hair ever so carefully. He wanted him to dream big – and he wanted to be there when he achieved all those dreams. He wanted him to sleep well, every night. He wanted him to know that people cared about him, even when he was alone.

“I love you so much.”

It was barely even a whisper, and Donghun didn’t stir, but it made the butterflies in his stomach soar.

Junhee had dated boys before. He’d had relationships – albeit short ones – and he’d met boys late at night only to crawl out of their beds the next day hungover. He’d met people throughout his life who he idolised, admired and crushed on – but he knew this time was different.

“Mmh.” Donghun made a quiet noise as he stirred, the pillow rustling against his hair as he moved. He opened his eyes and looked tiredly at Junhee. His lips curled up into a sleepy smile. “Morning.”

“Morning.”

Donghun reached out a hand and grabbed his wrist. “Come here.”

Obliging, Junhee shuffled up close, and leaned his head on Donghun’s shoulder. He smiled as Donghun yawned loudly.

“Alright, sleepy.”

“Mh. Well, you didn’t let me get much sleep last night.” He laughed as Junhee punched his arm, and started to stroke his head. Junhee smiled, the feeling of fingers playing with his hair sending tingles down his back. “I’m sorry we argued last night.”

“Don’t say sorry, you idiot. It was my fault. My reaction was crazy. You were brave opening up to me and I just didn’t know how the hell to handle it. I’m sorry.”

He could sense Donghun smile. “That’s okay.” For a long moment, he was quiet. He smoothed back Junhee’s bangs. “You’re going to make someone a very happy man one day, you know?”

The butterflies, gently fluttering, suddenly stopped, like they had been shot from the air.

Someone?

Someone else?

Emotion zipped round Junhee’s veins instantly. But he wanted to make Donghun happy, surely he knew that..?

Self-loathing followed in hot pursuit. Of course Donghun felt he would make someone else happy – because he didn’t see them as ‘them’. Why had Junhee been so stupid? Yes, this was fun, while he was here – but Donghun lived here, now, and Junhee would fly home that evening and be six thousand miles away. And he was just Donghun’s friend, and an old friend at that. They’d only just rekindled that friendship – Donghun wasn’t going to fall in love with him after a few weeks of messaging, and a few days together. They’d slept together – but so what? It just meant they had a level of attraction to one another, it didn’t mean they loved each other, it didn’t…

Junhee shut his eyes tight, glad that Donghun couldn’t see his face. In all his life, he had never fought so hard not to cry.

He had been such an idiot, so careless with his heart. He took a silent, deep breath, and propped himself on one elbow, turning to Donghun with a smile.

“You will too. I hope you know that. That you’ll meet the right person, some day.”

Never before had words tasted so much like acid. Donghun looked away, clearly thinking no more of it. And Junhee realised, that if he’d ever had an opportunity to tell Donghun how he felt – he had long since missed his chance.

 

~

 

Arriving at the airport to fly out had felt so exciting; arriving at the airport to fly home was a burden. Junhee missed the safe sense of home, he missed normal food, but he wished he could turn back time and spend these few days in Canada over and over again.

“Well, guess I better leave you here.” Donghun had his hands in the pocket of his long black coat, his face wistful. Junhee nodded, but every atom in his body fought against it. Don’t leave him. Don’t leave him, I don’t want to leave him…

“Yeah. Better get through to my gate.”

“Yeah.” Donghun tapped the toe of his boot on the floor. “I wish we didn’t live so far apart.”

Was that why he didn’t entertain the idea of the two of them together? The distance? Junhee’s heart twinged.

“Mh. I wish I didn’t have to go.”

“Yeah.”

Donghun seemed to struggle for words, and then he laughed, his ears pink. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to say bye to you. Like do I..?” He wrung his hands and Junhee looked down with a wry smile.

“Nor do I.”

With an out-of-character hesitancy, Donghun stepped closer, and planted the gentlest of kisses on the corner of Junhee’s lips.

It hurt. Because all he wanted was something more.

“S-sorry,” Donghun stuttered, backing away, but Junhee waved away his concerns.

“No. No... It’s okay.” He shifted his backpack and looked at the gateway for departures. “Hey, Donghun?” He smiled. “Remember everything I told you, okay? About yourself. And when you can’t remember it, let me know. I’ll remind you.” He smiled, a small but hopeful sense of peace settling over him as he turned to walk away.

He got eight steps before a hand pulled him round and he was lifted off his feet in a hug. Donghun span him round twice and held him tight. Junhee smiled, resting his face against his friend’s hair.

“Thank you.” Donghun lowered him to the floor again and let him go. “Bye, for a bit?”

A sudden, hard lump formed in Junhee’s throat. More than three years had passed since he first heard those words but this time, they were no less painful.

“Bye, for a bit.”

“Yeah. And eat more. You’re too light.” Donghun scowled and pushed him, before turning around and walking away.

 

~

 

The spirit of the cold weather had followed Junhee home, and a bitter wind chased him down the street with the first splashes of raindrops. He cursed the clouds looming over Seoul, and cursed himself for forgetting his umbrella.

A bell jangled as he opened the door, ushering him into the warm. With relief, he pulled off his gloves and smiled at the familiar face in one of the coffee shop’s armchairs.

“What are you sketching?” His words made Sehyoon jump, and he raised an eyebrow.

“Junhee, sneaking around unnoticed is my thing.” He put his iPad on the table next to his coffee. “Just doodling this and that.”

“Well you say that, but your doodles are still a hundred times better than anyone else’s efforts. Gimme one sec, I’m going to get a drink.”

He returned with an Americano steaming between his hands and thawing his fingers. He sat down opposite Sehyoon.

“How are things?” he asked.

“I’m good.” His dearest friend leant his chin in one hand, looking happy as always. “Busy but good. When we’ve not been working on the house we’ve been working on these dance school plans.” He chuckled. “I’m still torn between whether it’s a brilliant idea, or a crazy one.”

“I’m glad you’re going for it.” Junhee leaned forward eagerly. “You and Kwan are the best dancers I’ve ever seen.”

“Thanks,” Sehyoon laughed. “Byeongkwan’s been a bit weird though, lately. I think he’s up to something.”

“Oh?” Junhee said, feigning ignorance as best he could and knowing that he was horrible at lying. But he couldn’t let on that he knew anything, not now.

“Yeah. I don’t know. It’s nearly a year since we moved in, it crossed my mind that he might want to celebrate that.” Sehyoon sipped his coffee. “But as long as it’s not a party. Tell him you know I hate surprise parties.”

“I’ll pass it on,” Junhee laughed. Sehyoon pushed back his hair and watched him.

“But enough about me. How are you? How was Canada? Your texts were… vague.”

“Mmhh.” Junhee pursed his lips, swirling his coffee, and then taking a mouthful.

“Well this is the first time I’ve ever seen you this quiet.” Sehyoon raised an eyebrow. “What is it? Are you dating Donghun?”

“No, no…”

“Ah. Okay. Did you sleep with Donghun?”

“…Yeah.”

Sehyoon’s eyes widened and a smirk caught the edges of his lips. “Thought so. Well, how was that?”

Junhee said nothing, went red, and hated the smile that betrayed him by creeping onto his face.

“Oh, that good? Well, I’m not surprised, it’s been long enough coming. If you’ll excuse the pun.” Junhee spluttered into his coffee and choked. When he was done coughing, Sehyoon continued. “All joking aside… How are you feeling?”

Junhee sat back, thinking. “Do you mind if I tell you everything? I just haven’t actually said it all out loud and I think it might be helpful.”

“Hey. Of course. Start from the top.”

And so Junhee retold his trip, from the moment he met Donghun in the airport, the night spent in his apartment, their sightseeing in Toronto, their walk in the snow, their argument, and the night they spent together.

“And I think that’s when I realised it.” Junhee crossed his legs, looking into his coffee with unseeing eyes. “I don’t think I’ve been in love before now. But I just looked at him sleeping and kind of… just knew. I’d literally take a bullet for him.” He wrinkled his nose. “Is that weird? He was just… sleeping, but I looked at him and just… yeah.”

Sehyoon, who hadn’t interrupted the entire time, smiled gently at him. “Not weird at all. When I realised I was in love with Byeongkwan, he was just on my bed reading a comic. He does this stupid thing where he lies and puts his feet right up on the headboard, almost like he’s reading upside down, and he was just doing that dumb thing in his Kirby pyjamas and I just thought… that’s the man I love.”

“Yeah. That’s exactly it.”

“It takes a lot to acknowledge your own feelings sometimes. I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah. Well. That’s not the point of it.” Junhee went back to watching his coffee slowly swirl. “When he woke up he told me ‘one day, I’ll make some guy a happy man’.” He ignored the grimace Sehyoon didn’t quite cover up in time. “And I sort of realised he doesn’t feel the same. So I just said the same to him. I didn’t want to spill my feelings on him and just make him awkward, or feel like he owed me something.”

“I’m sorry, Junhee.” Sehyoon reached across the table and put a hand on his knee. “Everything he showed you, the way he was with you… It’s not surprising you thought he would feel the same. Are you sure..?”

“Yeah.” Junhee shrugged, looking up at Sehyoon with a resigned smile. “He said at the airport about me living so far away and whatever. Things like that. And he had plenty of chances to come out and tell me. But… You know, I think it’s okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He played with the sleeve of his jumper, plucking a stray thread. “I think what happened was meant to happen. Donghun has been treated horribly by people who didn’t love him, even when they should have. I think… maybe my role in his life has been to show him that he is wanted, by someone who does love him. I mean, maybe he doesn’t realise that,” he added, “but if these few days was just me playing a role in his heart mending… I’m okay with that.”

Sehyoon didn’t say anything, but his eyes showed a trace of sadness.

“You know, it’s crazy we even crossed paths in Daegu. Must have been for a reason.” Junhee smiled again. “I think I worked it all out. And you know… If you love someone, and there’s nothing to gain, that doesn’t matter, does it? All you want is for them to be happy. No matter what role you play in their life.”

Sehyoon took his hand, and squeezed it hard.

“You’ve grown into a remarkable man, Junhee.” Junhee looked up into his face in surprise. “I’m proud of you.” He gave a wistful smile. “And also, a little sad for you, if truth be told.”

Junhee smiled. “Yeah. I’m a little sad too.”

“Come here.” Sehyoon gave him one of his crushing hugs, the ones that felt like a safe space, ever since they were teenagers.

“Thanks for listening to my speech.” Junhee resumed drinking his coffee as he pulled away.

“Anytime, you know that. So, what now? Will you stay in touch with Donghun, or..?”

“Yeah. I don’t want to cut ties again, that’s for sure. I think he needs me, even as a background character in his life. You know, we have each other on social, I’ll chat to him on text and stuff.” He narrowed his eyes, thinking. “But… I think I want to start dating. Actually look to meet someone.” He gave Sehyoon a frank look. “I think maybe I… waited three whole years hoping I’d end up with Donghun.”

Sehyoon gave a small smile. “I think you might have done, too.”

Junhee sat back. “So that’s the plan.” He sighed. “I’m sure Chan will help.”

“Oh god.” Sehyoon laughed. “I’m sure he will.”

 

~

 

It was as though checking the mirror for the twentieth time could somehow reveal a different appearance. It didn’t, but Junhee continued to fret over the way his hair looked, chewing on his lip.

“Dutch courage for you.” Yuchan appeared in his room, two shots of tequila in his hands. He set one on Junhee’s dresser. “I swear by it. Never been on a date without a lucky shot first.”

“Thanks.” Junhee raised an eyebrow, amused. “What’s the other one for?”

“Morale support.” Yuchan shrugged and downed the second drink. Grimacing, he eyed Junhee up and down. “You look very high fashion. Y’know, like just the right amount of expensive.”

“Thanks, Chan.” Junhee stepped away from the mirror, sick of his own appearance. “I’m heading off in a minute. Good job, otherwise I might throw up – I forgot that first dates are utterly terrifying.”

“You’ve got this. You’re a handsome bastard with a cool job.” Chan headed back down the hallway. “Have fun!”

Junhee sighed again, sat on his bed and pulled up Instagram on his phone. A quick search and he found the guy he was meeting – Akemi, a Japanese boy a couple of years his senior, who was working in Seoul on an independent clothing line. He was undoubtably attractive, and his profile was littered with beautiful designs and patterns. They would have things in common, surely.

He clicked the app’s homepage and, just as he went to close it, his thumb stopped. DHLee93’s username was at the top, above a photo that twisted Junhee’s heart.

It was one of the pictures from their trip to CN Tower. Junhee could hear Donghun’s laughter just looking at the photo – they were both caught mid-giggle, the cityscape visible through the glass behind them.

#836. Blue sky.

A simple caption, but Junhee paused over the post for a long moment. That day – those few days – had been the happiest he could remember for a long time. Captured here, in a picture of his own smiling face, lines creasing around his eyes.

Junhee ‘liked’ the photo, and opened his text thread with Donghun. For a long moment, he just looked at his name, looked at the last few messages from the weeks since he had returned home from Canada. It crossed his mind that if Donghun so much as texted him right now, or asked if he was free for a call, he would cancel this date in a heartbeat.

He began to type. It was not the first time he had typed this out. Words, sticky at first, began to flow from his fingertips.

I think we got this wrong. I want to be the person who treats you the way you’ve always deserved to be treated. I want to be that someone special, I want you to be the man I make happy.

It felt like opened floodgates; he rushed to say everything at once.

I know the distance is far. But I think you and I can overcome that. We have our own lives, careers and passions – we don’t depend on having each other close by. My feelings for you can overcome that, they can overcome anything. Because I’ve never felt like this about anyone. There’s no one else like you in my life and I’m afraid that there never will be. If you even think there could be some way of trying out ‘us’, then I want to. I know this might seem crazy b

He stopped. Those last words hung on, refusing to flow into the rest. I know this might seem crazy. The floodgates had been jammed shut, the word stuck fast once again. It was crazy. It was a crazy thing to suggest. These were crazy feelings to admit. They risked jeopardising their friendship; risked making Donghun feel guilty or bad for not returning them; and they risked Junhee having to hear what he already knew: that this wasn’t what Donghun wanted.

Junhee held down the backspace button, watching as the words were washed away.

The message deleted, he closed his phone, got to his feet, and picked up the tequila Chan had poured out for him. He grimaced as it burned his throat, but he welcomed the alcohol to his system as he shrugged on his coat and made to leave.

Little did Junhee know, as he left his bedroom that night, that his nerves about meeting Akemi on their first date would resurface, one day. He would feel equally as nervous on the day - around two years later - when he would propose to Akemi after months of deliberation. He would feel those same pangs of anxiety that day as he holds out a ring with shaking fingers, only to be relieved by Akemi accepting it and lifting him off his feet in tears.

But he didn’t know what lay ahead in the future. For now, he turned up the collar of his coat against the winter, and set off into the evening alone.

 

~

 

Snow flurried past the window, the Canadian winter outside at a cold and stark contrast to the amber warmth inside.

Donghun sat under the glow of a lamp, curled in the corner of the sofa beneath a furry blanket. His hair was pushed back in a headband, his eyes tired from a long day working a shoot. His t-shirt hung a little too big from his shoulders - but then, it didn’t belong to him. He played with the edge of it with absent fingers. Ever-so-faintly, Junhee’s scent still clung to the material.

But that wasn’t at the front of his mind right now. He watched the chat screen on his phone, unmoving. Junhee is typing… It had been that way for over five minutes now. He barely dared to breathe, didn’t dare to wonder what he could have to say that was so long. Was everything alright? Had something happened? Did he need to tell him something..?

Then, it stopped.

Donghun waited – one minute, then two. But the typing didn’t begin again, and Junhee didn’t reappear online. He realised his heart was beating quickly – and he was reluctant to acknowledge it as hope.

For the hundredth time in the weeks since Junhee had gone home to Seoul, he replayed his leaving again and again. And he replayed all the things he had said, the desperate little hints and dangled lines he had hoped would land a catch. He knew that saying ‘I wish you didn’t live so far away’ was a vague and hopeless hint to drop – of course Junhee had simply seen it as a confession of friendship. Even though, of course, all Donghun had wanted to hear in response: distance doesn’t matter to me. We can make this work.

He didn’t know when he’d become so scared, all he knew was that he had done.

When another minute passed and Junhee didn’t reappear online, he began to type himself.

Hey, Junhee. This might come a bit out of the blue and I hope it’s not at a bad time. I saw you were typing and if there’s something up, let me know. But… I guess it’s made me think about writing this message.

To say things plainly, I see you as much more than a friend. Of course, you’re one of the best friends in my life as well, but my feelings run so much deeper than that. When I look at you, it feels like home. And when we talk, you’re the best part of my day. I want to talk to you every day about photography, hear about your shoots, listen to your favourite music, know when you’ve had a bad day. And I want to share all those things with you too. I’ve never had that feeling before. Not with any relationship in my life. I’ve realised I just want every part of you.

I’ve spent a lot of time agonising over sleeping together when you were here. I’ve been scared you think I did it out of convenience, that I see you as some kind of friend with benefits. That’s not the case. Sex with you felt so different, it felt so good, and when I see you I do want to rip your clothes off because you are the most attractive person in my world. But I want to do it every day, only to you.

I kept dropping hints when you were here but I got it all wrong. I wanted you to be the one that told me what I wanted to hear, so that I didn’t have to say it first. Because I’m scared. When I told you you’d make someone a happy man one day, I hoped you would tell me that you wanted it to be me. I know that that’s crazy stupid, but it’s because I’m not a brave man. I feel like I’ve grown more and more afraid as I get older, and so I just kept saying these things hoping you’d somehow give me the answer I wanted to hear.

I guess what I’m saying in this super long way is that I want to be with you. I don’t know if you feel the same but even thinking of calling you my boyfriend makes me want to die of happiness. I’m scared because I feel like all I’m offering you is a messy heart, with all this baggage and all these broken bits, to someone who is so strong, and beautiful, someone with so much to offer. But I think you’re the only person who might understand those things, the only person who’s ever accepted all the dark bits that come with me and hasn’t run away.

I’m worried you’ll read this and think I’m crazy. You don’t have to reply. You don’t have to do anything. I’ll understand. But I wanted to tell you, if nothing else – you’re the most beautiful human, and you light up the world in a special way. And you’ve really stolen my heart.

I guess all I’m trying to say… I think I’m crazy in love with you.

As he stopped typing, the message filled the screen like a love letter.

The cursor blinked in question – have you said all you need to say? The send button waited expectantly.

Donghun read it through four times. It was everything he felt. It would catalyse a response, it would prompt a conversation. It could bring him Junhee.

But it could also cause his own heart to break, if Junhee didn’t feel the same.

There it was again, the fear. Years ago he believed with all his might that people owed it to others to tell them how they felt. But these days – after Han, after Myungdae – his honest heart was shrouded in self-doubt and fright.

He hit the backspace repeatedly. It erased the words in love with you. And then he held it down, watching the cursor jerk back through his sentences, tearing them apart until once more, nothing remained but a blank page.

 

。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆ End of Part II  。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆

Chapter Text

Rain hammered on the windscreen, swept in on a fierce wind, and the windscreen wipers beat a frantic metronome. Just as fast, Junhee tried to blink the tears down his face – he could barely see, this was insane, he shouldn’t be driving – but they just kept coming. The world was a blur of watery grey, but he kept his foot down, knuckles white on the steering wheel. He sobbed. Maybe he would die, maybe driving like this was crazy and he would die, and perhaps that wouldn’t even be such a bad thing…

But no sudden darkness swallowed him. Somehow, through his tears, his entire body trembling, he turned onto that familiar road and pulled up safe. For a moment, he simply leaned back against the headrest and wept. How was he supposed to tell them? How was he supposed to say it out loud?

Legs shaking, he got out the car, rain pouring over his head. Autopilot took him to the front door, and he stood, crying, as the doorbell chimed out its call. Tears and rain flooded his face as the door opened.

He saw shock and fear cross over Sehyoon’s face before he crumbled, sobbing into one hand.

“Akemi left me for someone else. He’s been cheating on me all this time.”

The pain was so violent he didn’t even feel Sehyoon pull him inside, didn’t hear the door shut, didn’t register being taken into the front room where Sehyoon let him sink onto the sofa. He just turned his face against Sehyoon’s chest, and wept, feeling nothing but one pair of arms around him – then two pairs – and the darkness as he squeezed his eyes tight shut.

He had no idea how long he stayed there, consumed by grief.

After a long, long time, he ran dry of tears to cry. The burning pain rotted into a dull blackness wrapped around his heart. He peeled himself from Sehyoon and Byeongkwan, and opened his eyes, staring numbly at their living room.

“Junhee, I’m so sorry.” Byeongkwan was crouched in front of him, his eyes full of sadness. “What happened?”

Junhee swallowed, taking the hand Sehyoon offered him for strength. When he spoke, it sounded high and shaky. “When I came home tonight, someone messaged me on Instagram. S-someone who has worked with Akemi. He told me… there has been something going on between Kemi and this… this Yejoon guy, this fucking model who works with Kemi’s brand…” Oh, the tears were back. “He said he thought I should know because he knew we’re getting married next year and-” Sehyoon pressed away Junhee’s tears and stroked his hair. “When Akemi got home I didn’t know what to do. So I checked his phone when he showered.” Two more tears made their escape, and he looked at Byeongkwan beseechingly. “I would never normally do that. I’m not like that, b-but…”

He trailed off. For a long moment, the three of them sat in silence as Junhee grappled with his composure.

“I’ve felt like something has been wrong for months, but I never checked his phone. Because I know it’s a violation-”

“You don’t have to justify yourself.” Byeongkwan put a hand on his knee. “Honestly.”

“So… So I looked and there were all these messages. And calls, and photos and…” He choked on a sob. “And if it was just photos or smut that would hurt but it wasn’t, he was telling him he loved him, and talking about having to get time away from me so they could be together, all this stuff…” His face broke again. As he cried, Byeongkwan let out a hiss.

“I’m going to fucking kill him.” He glowered up at Sehyoon. “I’m going to fucking kill that arrogant little cu-”

“Kwan.” Sehyoon shook his head to silence his fiancé, and turned to Junhee. “Does he know that you know?”

Junhee nodded, his bottom lip quivering. “You know I can’t lie. As soon as he came out the bathroom and saw me, he knew I knew. But he didn’t even try and pretend. I just kept asking him to tell me it wasn’t true, but he didn’t. And I asked him if he still loves me, and he… he… he couldn’t say it.”

“Junhee…”

“He’s the only person who’s ever loved me, and he’s gone.” Junhee leaned forward, putting his head in his hands and crying in earnest. “He walked out of our house to go to him. To go to Yejoon. He just left me there on my own…”

“He’s a bastard, a soulless bastard, Junhee.” Byeongkwan sat back on his heels, anger turning his sharp features callous. “You’re his fiancé, what kind of heartless monster is he to leave you like that?”

“But it’s what he wanted, isn’t it?” Junhee looked up hopelessly. “He didn’t want to marry me. He’s been fucking Yejoon for the last ten months, barely a couple months after I proposed to him.” He shook his head feebly. “He loved him, not me, and now I’ve found out he can just go and be with him.” He laughed, tears dripping from his chin. “And why wouldn’t he? Yejoon’s a rich, tall, beautiful 21-year-old model, how would I have ever competed with that…”

“Don’t say that!” Sehyoon and Byeongkwan spoke in unison.

“Well anyway, I didn’t know what to do, so I just drove here.” Junhee swiped his face with his sleeve. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t apologise.” Sehyoon smoothed his hair gently. “You should have called me, I could have come and picked you up. You drove like this?”

“Yeah. I know it was stupid. But do you know what, I wouldn’t even care if it had killed me-”

“Junhee, no.” Junhee looked up in shock at the tone of his best friend’s voice. Tears stood in Sehyoon’s eyes – and it was the first time in many years that he had seen them. “We’re going to do whatever you need and be here for you in whatever way will help, but you will not talk about yourself that way.”

Junhee searched his face. There was nothing but fierce love there. “Okay,” he whispered.

“Good.” Sehyoon shifted, keeping his hand in Junhee’s. When he spoke again, his voice softened. “Jesus, I can’t believe it.” He looked at Junhee frankly. “You know I could say a lot of things to you right now, and try to be of comfort, don’t you? But I think right now… It’s not the time for trying to cheer you up or help you understand things, is it?” Junhee shook his head.

“No, it isn’t,” Byeongkwan agreed. “That can come tomorrow.” He put an affectionate hand on Sehyoon’s waist. “I love you, honey, but I’m going to take it from here.” He looked at Junhee sympathetically. “Sometimes there’s nothing else for it than getting blind drunk.”

And that was how Junhee found himself, four days after his twenty-seventh birthday, drinking whiskey on his friends’ living room floor on a Tuesday night.

He took another swig from his glass. The pain was still there, but it had been drenched by alcohol until it sat heavy at the bottom of his stomach, as opposed to running riot on his heart. The edges of everything seemed slightly blurry, and the pounding of his head had stopped.

“The stupid thing is,” he said, the contents of his glass splashing to one side as he gesticulated with it. “I’ve known something was wrong. He never let me go near his phone. He always had to work weird hours and stay late, and if I asked about work too much he yelled at me.” Junhee pushed back his tangled hair. “And he told me I was crazy if I brought it up. Said I was being a psycho, that I was interrogating him and causing him anxiety.” Junhee gulped and looked down.

“You mean he was gaslighting you?” Byeongkwan drank from his beer.

“No, I..”

“That’s gaslighting, Junhee. He lied and mistreated you, and then manipulated you into thinking you were the crazy one.” Byeongkwan growled. “I hope I never see that jumped-up little prick…” He began issuing his hundredth threat of the night.

The doorbell rang and interrupted their drinking. The familiar face that appeared behind Sehyoon made Junhee’s heart warm.

“Hey, bro.” Yuchan deposited the bags of food and bottles he carried, and wrapped Junhee in a crushing hug. “Sorry I’m late – I came as soon as Sehyoon texted me.” He clapped one hand on Junhee’s shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, you know that, right?” Junhee nodded, angry at the tears that rose yet again in his eyes. “Right. But until then – wine.”

Junhee had always been in awe of the way Yuchan brought a sparkling energy to any room he entered – and even now, when the atmosphere was heavy, he lit it up without trying, his smiling eyes and infectious laugh a balm for Junhee’s hurting heart. He watched the three of them, a glow of gratitude forming in his chest.

A couple of hours passed, and Sehyoon, Byeongkwan and Yuchan managed to keep the conversation away from the very reason they were gathered here. But as Sehyoon and Byeongkwan finished telling stories of decorating their house, Junhee couldn’t help the wave of fear rise in his throat.

“Where will I even live?” He hadn’t even thought of it before, but as his head swam, the thought intruded. “All my stuff is at our house…”

“You come stay with me.” Chan, drinking straight from a bottle of wine, raised it vaguely in Junhee’s direction. “As long as you need. The boys back together.” He grinned. “We’ll have fun, I promise.”

“Really?”

“’Course.”

“And about your stuff,” Sehyoon added. “Don’t worry about that right now. Kwan and I will go and fetch it all, right Kwan?”

“Of course. And I’ll burn all his precious hipster clothes while I’m there.”

And so the four of them drank, not worrying about the hangovers tomorrow would bring, or the heartbreak that would rise with the sun in the morning.

 

~

 

The image of the room swam in and out of focus. The rest of the house faded to black; nothing remained but the bedroom. Junhee was looking down on an image of himself. He was sobbing, his face screwed up. Begging.

Please, please tell me it was a mistake. Please tell me you still love me. I can forgive it, we can get past this, just tell me you still want to be my husband.

Another figure stood in the room, his angular face blank. He said nothing, just watched Junhee plead.

What did I do? Did I do something wrong? I thought I was doing everything right, I just wanted you to be happy, and I tried to do everything I could. You still love me, don’t you? Please tell me you still love me…

A third figure appeared. He was less substantial, the details of his face were hazy, but he was beautifully handsome and watched Junhee with pity. This final figure wrapped an arm around the second, his lips curling into a smile-

No!” Junhee sat bolt upright in bed, flinching from the shriek that escaped his own mouth. Gradually, the last tatters of the dream faded from the sides of his vision. His heavy breathing was loud in the dark room.

“Y’kay?” A puffy face appeared around the bedroom door, eyes squinting from sleep. Junhee looked up at Yuchan.

“Yeah.” He swallowed. “I’m sorry, just a bad dream.”

“Mh. You wanna sleep in my room?”

“It’s okay. Thanks, Chan. Go back to sleep.”

“Mh.” Yuchan trailed away, closing the door quietly behind him.

Junhee wiped cold sweat from his temples with the corner of the duvet. A glance at the clock told him it was 4am; he was desperately tired, but fear ran through him at the thought of sleep bringing with it yet another reliving of that evening last week.

Weary, he turned on the lamp beside the bed, and pulled out a book to read.

 

~

 

By eight o’clock, Junhee felt like he’d been up half the day already. He shuffled to the kitchen in his pyjamas, where he found Yuchan rushing around getting ready for work.

“Hey.” He smiled. “You okay? Did you get any more sleep?”

“A little,” Junhee lied. “Have a good day at work.”

“Thanks.” Yuchan paused in the doorway, chewing his lip. “You sure you’re okay, Junhee?”

Junhee knew what he meant. Are you going to leave the house today? Are you going to do the editing you need to do for work? What have we got to do to snap you out of this bleakness?

“I’m fine, Chan.” Junhee rubbed his forehead. “I’m sorry, I’m being such a raincloud. I’ll lighten up, I promise.”

“Hey, no. I didn’t mean that.” Yuchan gave him one of his famous smiles. “I’m cheerful enough for the both of us. You take the time you need.” He glanced at the clock. “Gotta run, I’m late!”

As the front door slammed, Junhee sighed, and went about making himself a strong black coffee. He really should snap out of it. People went through breakups all the time, it wasn’t something to shut down over. But a whole medley of emotions crushed together in his chest, and they made it a little hard to breathe. Sadness. Anger. Guilt. Helplessness. Fear. Jealousy. Confusion. And, hidden beneath them all, a tiny, shameful glimmer of relief, after so many months heading towards a wedding with someone he wasn’t completely convinced was his soulmate.

The coffee fuelled him enough to shower, and he tilted his face up, droplets gently stinging the skin on his face. Normally, he would sing, but today he couldn’t summon the energy.

He managed a little editing, enough to send to his sympathetic boss, who had shooed him away from coming into the office for as long as he needed and cancelled his shoots. He felt a twinge of gratitude towards her as he edited from the sofa – but he needed to go back soon. He wasn’t in the sociable mood, but staying cooped up at Yuchan’s wasn’t going to help – and photography would always be his solace.

When Yuchan returned in the evening with friends from work, Junhee politely excused himself to his room. He knew Marco and Euijin and enjoyed their company, but together the three were so high energy and he didn’t want to bring down their mood.

He lay on his front, scrolling through Instagram, as the night closed in. The endless stream of square photos was soothing – posted by artists and friends alike. He could almost forget everything, just mentally noting composition, colour palettes, contrast… He stopped on a post from Byeongkwan and smiled. The fledgling dance studio he had set up with Sehyoon was going from strength to strength. Junhee looked at the photos from their latest classes, and clicked through to his friend’s profile.

He felt an unexpected pang as he scrolled. Between the images of daily life and dancing: photos of wedding planning, cake-tasting, floral arrangements. When Byeongkwan had proposed to Sehyoon three years ago, he had beaten Sehyoon to the question by a matter of days. Both had planned to ask the other – and since then, they had renovated their home and planned a beautiful wedding. In the hard work and long hours of the studio’s set-up, the date had been set not until next year, but still Byeongkwan’s feed was filled with all the plans they had made.

Junhee felt a wash of sadness. Until last week, this is how his life had looked too. And now, that was all up in smoke.

Immediately following the sadness was guilt. God, he hated himself for even thinking it. How could he begrudge his two best friends their happiness?

Keen to distract himself from such unsettling thoughts, he began to browse the app again. A few friends had posted stories, and he tapped through them. KimHW_Photo, KawaiiAttack18, DHLee93… He paused, keeping this image in place. It captured a sunrise creeping through tall city buildings, casting long shadows onto a road that had yet to be filled by human life. Small italics captioned the photo in English words, and below it in Korean: Waking up before Toronto does.

Junhee clicked through to Donghun’s profile. He still followed him, and they sent messages from time to time. But once Junhee’s relationship with Akemi had grown serious, he had stopped messaging Donghun quite so much, had let the phone calls come to an end, feeling somehow that it just wasn’t quite right.

Now, he scrolled absently through his pictures, raising an eyebrow. Donghun’s had recently lightened his hair to a honey brown, occasionally caught up in a little knot on top of his head. He had grown up in the three and a half years since Junhee had seen him last, his face somehow more mature. It hit him with a pang that Donghun would be turning 29 on his next birthday.

He opened up a photo from six months ago of spectacular waterfalls surrounded by snow, impressed by the technique. Without thinking, he ‘liked’ the picture, then immediately undid the action. For god’s sake.

Almost immediately, a message notification appeared at the top of the screen.

DHLee93: Hey there, creeper.

Junhee scowled at his phone, not a little embarrassed. He opened the message and thought.

ItsParkJunhee: Do you just sit there waiting for people to accidentally like your old photos?

DHLee93: Of course, have to be on the alert for weird stalkers

DHLee93: How’s things?

ItsParkJunhee: Long story. How’re you?

DHLee93: WhatsApp?

Junhee read the message, closed Instagram and clicked the little green icon. Donghun’s name and picture pinged to the top of his chat logs.

Donghun: I’m really good. It’s been ages, can’t remember what was going on last time we talked.

Donghun: But yeah. Working for myself, drowning in maple syrup, giving Gucci too much of my paycheque. What’s new *laughing emoji*

Junhee’s mouth flickered into a half-smile.

Junhee: God, in a world of change, you’re a constant. How vaguely reassuring.

Junhee: And still in Toronto? No plans to move?

Donghun: I’m happy here. I’ve got my job, I’ve got friends (don’t be too shocked)… No plans to move for a bit. Guess we’ll see.

Donghun: What about you? What’s your long story?

Junhee hesitated.

Junhee: Well, it’s less long… It’s more… A bit depressing.

Donghun: ?

Donghun: Is everything okay?

Junhee sighed, looking with unseeing eyes across his room. Over the past week, he hadn’t really talked to anyone. Yuchan joked to cheer him up, Byeongkwan offered wine and threats of violence, Sehyoon waited patiently until Junhee was ready for his wisdom and counselling. But no one to just talk to.

Donghun: Junhee?

Junhee: Actually, can I call you?

Donghun: Of course. Where are you – shall I video call you?

Junhee: Yeah, but a word of warning – I look like hell

Junhee waited a moment, and then his phone buzzed. He sat up, propped his phone on the dresser and sat in front of it.

“Hey!” Donghun’s face creased into a smile as the connection turned green. “Good to see you, stranger.”

“Yeah, you too.” He frowned. “Wait, are you in bed? Shit, I didn’t think of the time difference, what time is it?”

“It’s okay, it’s eight in the morning here.” Donghun pushed a hand through the wavy caramel hair that fell tousled over his brows. “I got up super early to catch the sunrise. Then picked up some pancakes and coffee and came back for breakfast in bed.”

“That sounds so nice…” Junhee said wistfully, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. “I could kill for some pancakes right now.”

“So… What’s going on with you? How’s wedding planning?”

Junhee glanced away. The mix of emotions returned.

“Junhee?” Donghun’s smile had faded, concern filling his eyes.

Junhee sighed. “My fiancé left me for someone else and isn’t coming back.”

Silence.

Eventually-

“Junhee… No…” Junhee risked a glance at the screen, and saw Donghun’s face filled with disbelief and sadness.

“Yeah. I found out a week ago. It was some model from his work. Been having a whole other relationship for ten months, and now he’s gone to be with him. So… No more wedding planning.” He gave a wry smile.

“Junhee… I’m so sorry.” Donghun scraped fingers through his hair again, looking pale. “That’s absolutely heart-breaking. I…  I can’t believe it. Are you okay?”

“I mean…” Junhee looked at him honestly. “I keep telling my friends I am, but I’m not really.” He smiled sadly. “I know I will be. But not right now. Right now, everything hurts.”

“It will.” Donghun’s sad eyes brimmed with sympathy. “It will hurt like hell. And yeah, you will be fine, of course you’ll be fine. But it’s okay to not even think about that right now and just be consumed by how fucking shitty you feel.”

“Yeah.” Junhee felt a rush of relief, hearing those words spoken by someone else. “Thanks. I mean, I’m not interested in throwing a pity party, but I’m just… tired. And sad. And finding it really hard to fake it.”

“I get that.” Donghun gave a small smile. “Well, I give you permission to feel like shit. So, wallow and listen to sad songs and forget to shower for as long as you want.”

Junhee grinned. “I’ve showered like, twice this week.”

“Gross.” Donghun laughed around a mouthful of pancake. “Wouldn’t want to be in the same room as you, then.” He sipped his coffee. “Where are you?”

“I’m at Chan’s. I’m staying with him for a bit, until I get something sorted.” Donghun nodded, still eating his breakfast. “You’re making me so hungry.”

“You been eating?”

Junhee shook his head. “Not much.”

“Mh.” Donghun shook his head, wagging a finger. “Eat, you gotta eat. When everything else is shitty, look after the simple things. If all you can manage is to eat some convenience food, drink some water and get some sleep, that’s a good start.” Donghun raised an eyebrow. “Go. Now. Fetch food. I’ll hang up unless you get some.”

Junhee laughed. “Fine.”

He made some ramen and returned to his room, sitting back in front of his phone. Donghun flicked through a magazine but looked up and smiled as Junhee came back.

“Good. Noodles can mend hearts. It’s science.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Professor Lee.” Junhee slurped up a mouthful and spoke around the edges. He nodded at Donghun through the screen. “That’s new, on your arm.”

The snowflake tattoo stood alone on one forearm, but on the other, a blazing trail of watercolour flowers were etched into his skin: dusky oranges, flushed pinks, soft blues.

“Yeah!” Donghun held up his forearm, running his thumb across the patterns. “Got this a few months ago. And-” He tilted his bare foot into shot; a daisy chain ran along the side. “This. And-” He pulled his t-shirt down. “This.” Cherry blossom petals swept beneath his collarbone, caught on some imaginary breeze.

“Jesus,” Junhee laughed. “A walking canvas.” For just an instant, seeing Donghun’s chest, that night in Canada flashed into his memory: bare skin, and sweat, and fingernails raking down his back in the dark… He shook himself mentally, angry at himself for still remembering. That was a long time ago. A whole other lifetime.

“So d’you wanna talk about things?” Donghun adjusted his position, lying on his front and sipping his coffee. “You don’t have to, but if you want me to be your international therapist, I can be.”

And so, Junhee began to talk. At first, the words stuck a little, but the more he spoke the more they snowballed, and he found himself unloading everything: the way Akemi would get angry over the littlest thing, and the way Junhee shirked away, afraid of confrontation. The way he felt humiliated by all this, embarrassed to have to tell people at work and friends, like this reflected on him as some kind of useless person. The way his future had been blown wide open – from marriage and a plan to move to Japan, to staring ahead into a future of emptiness. What if? What if he had never found out? Would Akemi have left him? Married him? Would the affair have naturally fizzled out if Junhee had simply pretended he didn’t know?

And Donghun listened, never once showing signs of boredom. He added his thoughts here and there, and swore in disgust at the details of Akemi’s behaviour. He didn’t pussyfoot around him, he didn’t speak to him in that gentle voice everyone kept using – the one that made Junhee feel like he was isolated in the centre of a circle of eggshells. They simply talked.

After an hour, Junhee ran dry of all the things he wanted to say. Suddenly, and starkly, his chest felt lighter. He nodded slowly.

“So that’s it. And I guess… I guess I know that I need to start rebuilding things now. It’s just not easy.”

“It’s not.” Donghun looked at him, his face filled with empathy. “I don’t know what it feels like to be cheated on like that. And I’ve never been engaged. But I do know how it feels to crash out of a long-term relationship and feel lost.” His voice was gentle. “But remember, just because it feels like you can’t see your way right now, doesn’t mean you’re not on the right path.” He smiled. “We all get a little lost sometimes.”

Junhee nodded, tears rising quickly in his eyes. “It was the right thing for you to come out of those relationships, even though it was hard.”

“It was.” Donghun watched him. “And maybe this was the right thing for you too, Junhee. If he was able to do this to you… Then maybe this is for the best.”

A tear made its bid for freedom to Junhee’s chin. “I think that’s exactly the thing. If he was capable of this… I don’t think I ever really knew him. So the past three years… What I thought I had found was all just an illusion. I was never loved the way I thought I was loved.” A second tear, and then a third. “And that’s the hardest thing to accept right now.”

He couldn’t keep the tears back, he put fingers to his eyes and began to cry. Why did speaking the truth out loud feel like blisters were bursting in his chest?

When he pulled his emotions into check, he found Donghun waiting patiently, letting him take his time.

“I’m sorry,” he sniffed. “It just keeps catching me off guard.”

“Stop saying sorry, you idiot.” Donghun smiled. “You can cry all you need. Sometimes the only way out of these things is through them.”

“I guess.” Junhee sighed, weary. “I’m exhausted.”

“Get some sleep. Things will be a little brighter after some rest, you’ll see. And Junhee?” Junhee looked up at the screen. “I’m here. Anytime you need me, okay?”

Sleep once again came fitfully. Dreams stalked his subconscious, and Junhee woke up feeling just as tired as when he had fallen asleep. He rubbed his eyes, groping for his phone. A message notification sat waiting on the lock screen.

Donghun: I hope when you get this you managed to get a little sleep. Here – I made this for you.

Junhee unlocked the phone and squinted through sleepy eyes. A link opened up a Spotify playlist: Happy Songs for Sad Days. Touched, Junhee scrolled through the long list of songs, some he recognised, others he didn’t.

Junhee: This is really kind of you. Thank you. I’m going to listen this morning.

Donghun: No problem. Chin up, kid.

 

~

 

In the early afternoon, Junhee took the subway over to the office. He needed to drop in, and it was high time he showed his face and got it over and done with. And besides, today his steps felt just a little lighter.

The summer sun baked Seoul and the blue skies shone bright. Junhee kept his mask up and pushed his glasses up his nose, listening to Donghun’s playlist on his headphones. By the time he walked up to the office front door, any residing anxiety had melted away.

“Hey, man, it’s good to see you!” One of the juniors raised a hand as they crossed in the hallway. “Make sure you sneak by Chunha’s office, she brought back a tonne of sweets from Europe.”

Junhee laughed and ducked his head, pushing the door open into the main office. Sure enough – everyone treated him the same. The looks of pity he had dreaded so much never appeared, nor the awkward questions or obvious avoidances of his eyes. They simply looked happy to have him back.

He only stuck around for an hour to check in, and then headed out into the nearby park, filled with relief that from tomorrow, a small slither of normality could come back into his world. A routine would be good, he felt. And he could spend time concentrating on his work projects, instead of reliving his emotions on repeat.

He sat under a tree, appreciating the sunlight on his face. He pulled out his phone and paused. He was reluctant to message Donghun so incessantly, but when he thought over last night’s conversation, Donghun had just got it so right. It felt like he understood, and knew how to say the right things without even trying. Junhee did a quick backwards count and wondered if Donghun would already be asleep. He tapped out a message anyway.

Junhee: Didn’t have you down as a Red Velvet fan.

The ping came straight away.

Donghun: Peek-A-Boo is a masterpiece, I regret nothing

Donghun: I’m just going to sleep, but you okay? Wanna gimme a call your tonight/my morning?

Junhee felt a rush of relief.

Junhee: If you’re not sick of me.

Donghun: I am, but I’ll put up with it

Junhee: Fuck off, talk in the morning. X

Donghun: Hahahahaha night x

 

~

 

“How was going into work?” Donghun sat at his kitchen table, shovelling cereal, while Junhee held his phone next to him in bed.

“You know what, it was okay. Good, even. Just a little bit of normality.” He yawned. “No one asked anything. I’m going to go back in tomorrow and I’m actually looking forward to it.”

“Good for you, I’m proud of you.” Junhee yawned again, his eyes watering and Donghun frowned. “You’re super tired, why don’t you get some sleep?”

“I will…” Junhee bit his lip. “I’ve just been… getting some bad dreams. Every night.” He played with his chow-chow plushie, picking at the bits of fluff that poked from its belly. “I just relive everything over and over again. And now it’s making it hard to fall asleep because I’m anxious.”

“I got that too,” Donghun said. “Especially after Myungdae and I split. I’d wake up crying.”

“Really? Do you… still get that?”

Donghun shook his head. “No.” He looked away, thoughtful. “I’ve done a lot of healing in the last few years. And I’ve been through a lot of counselling.” He shrugged. “At home, counselling and therapy isn’t a big thing. Like it exists, obviously, but not like it does out here. It’s much more normalised. And it helped me. So yeah, I think I healed to a point where I’m not afraid of the past anymore.”

“That’s reassuring.” Junhee smiled. “And I’m really happy to hear that, too.”

“But anyway, you still need to get some sleep. Do you… do you want me to stay on the phone?”

Junhee felt his heart twinge. He looked at Donghun with surprise, but saw nothing but sincerity behind his words. “Really?”

“Yeah. Of course. I can start my work for the day whenever I want, own boss and all that.” He smiled. “I’ll turn off the video, one sec.” The screen cut out. “Can you still hear?”

Junhee nodded, reaching for the lamp switch. Even the sudden darkness lit a spark of fear inside him. “I hate feeling like no one is here,” he said, more to himself than Donghun.

“I’m here. And I won’t go until you’re asleep.” He heard rustling on the other end of the line. “Wanna story?”

“Huh?”

“A story. I’ll read to you until you go to sleep.”

What he wanted to say, in response to that, was that sometimes he found it hard to believe Donghun was a real person. That after knowing him for more than six years, his golden heart still caught Junhee off guard. That despite pushing him away for years, and being pushed away by Donghun when he left Seoul, he was so very grateful to have somehow kept him in his life.

What he actually said, was much simpler.

“Thank you.”

And so, he closed his eyes and pulled the duvet up to his shoulders, and listened to Donghun reading the first few pages of a novel, until his voice grew distant and sleep claimed him.

 

~

 

Junhee hopped up the stone steps, fanning his shirt against the midday heat. God, it was beautiful out here. Grass stretched out until it met trees, and at the centre rose a beautiful stone house. But unlike so many other spaces he had seen, this one didn’t have that air of precision, that overly-cultivated false perfection. Flowers grew wildly across the space and the grass was long and filled with thistles and dandelions. It was pretty, in an eccentric way – and he could imagine no better space for Sehyoon and Byeongkwan to have their wedding.

He jogged the rest of the distance to the entrance despite the heat – aware that he was running late. Inside, he heard voices through the door to his left, and he let out a breath as the space opened up into a huge, light room framed entirely by large windows.

And talking to a middle-aged man, his two friends, their fingers linked.

“I’m so sorry I’m a little late,” Junhee gasped as he joined them, and Sehyoon and Byeongkwan looked at him in surprise.

“No worries at all.” The man ducked a bow. “We’ve only just started talking plans, you’re just in time.”

“I didn’t think you’d make it,” Sehyoon whispered as Byeongkwan and the man resumed chatting, his face oddly emotional. Junhee put a hand on his arm. He knew what he meant: I didn’t think you’d be up for talking about weddings.

“You know I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

For the next hour, they walked around the house and its exterior, discussing their day, the running order, the way things would be decorated. It suddenly all felt very real, and very exciting.

At the end of their tour, Byeongkwan nodded inside. “I forgot to ask one last thing, you two go ahead.”

Sehyoon and Junhee headed back down the steps, and sat on the wall outside to wait. Junhee smiled at his best friend.

“This is super crazy. I can’t believe you’re getting married here.”

“Well,” Sehyoon said, a playful smile on his face. “We’re not, technically.”

Junhee raised an eyebrow and made a noise of frustration. He knew what he meant. Sehyoon and Byeongkwan couldn’t legally get married – not here in Korea – so that was going to take place abroad. But nothing stopped them from bringing all their loved ones into a big house and celebrating with them.

“I know what you mean though,” Sehyoon continued. “Thank you for being here today. I know this can’t be easy.”

“Don’t.” Junhee smiled warmly. “Honestly, I’m doing okay. You don’t need to worry about me.”

Sehyoon watched his face. “I’m really glad. And actually, I wanted to talk to you.” He paused. “Obviously, what we’re doing here isn’t a legally-binding wedding, but to us, it’s all that matters. So we want to do it however we want to do it. We’re filling this house with the people we love and the things we love, and that to us is a wedding, regardless of what this society chooses to recognise.” He gave a small smile. “And we’re going to give vows the way we want them, saying the things we want. To be honest, neither Kwan nor I feel overly attached to Korean tradition. So I was wondering.” He took a breath. “The person who goes through our little ceremony, reads our vows to us to repeat… We want it to be you.” Sehyoon took his hand. “We’ve thought about this for a while. But we do know that it might be too much to ask of you now, after everything. So you can say yes or no, and either is completely okay.”

Junhee stared at him, entirely stunned.

“Are you serious?” he croaked, and then he cleared his throat, blinking rapidly to clear the tears. “Yeah… Yes, of course I will. I’ve never been so honoured in my life.”

“You will?” Sehyoon’s face filled with relief. “Junhee, thank you so much. That means so much to us.”

Junhee looked out over the long swaying grass. Suddenly, just like that, it felt like he had something to aim for again.

 

~

 

“Hey, Park, do you-” Yuchan stopped, halfway through the door to Junhee’s room, pausing as he found Junhee on the phone. “Oop, sorry! Was gonna ask if you want some of this food.”

Junhee sat up. “Yeah I do.” He threw his phone down and sniggered at the muffled noise of protest that followed him as he left the room with his housemate.

“Who you talking to?” Yuchan arched an eyebrow pointedly. Junhee busied himself getting bowls.

“Oh… Just Donghun.”

“Uh-huh.” Yuchan watched him closely. “How many nights in the last few weeks have you phoned each other?”

Junhee stopped, looking up at Yuchan and the impudent smirk spreading across his face. With a tut, he smacked his younger friend on the back of the head.

“I don’t know what you’re getting at you, you strange child.” In truth, he had spoken to Donghun almost every other night since that first conversation three weeks ago. He had grown to find comfort in going to bed as his friend ate breakfast, grown to need to hear the words of a story read down the phone as he drifted off to sleep.

“I’m getting at,” Yuchan carried on – impressively willing to push a subject, as always, “is that this is the same guy you massively fell for when you were like, twenty-one, right? The same guy you’ve slept with…” He raised his eyebrows meaningfully. “And you’re talking to him all the time.”

Junhee couldn’t help but laugh. “Make your point, Chan.”

“Do you still have a crush on him? Maybe you need to get laid.” Junhee stared at him, and then burst out laughing. Chan watched him with innocently wide eyes. “What!”

“Not where I thought that was going.” Junhee served them both a portion of rice with a shake of his head. “That’s not what this is. Donghun’s a friend. If I wanted to just get laid to feel better, it wouldn’t be with someone I actually cared about.”

“So… You wouldn’t want to sleep with him, if he didn’t live so far away?”

Junhee smiled and shook his head again. “Chan, all joking aside… I don’t want to sleep with anyone right now. I was engaged, like, a month ago.”

“Okay, okay.” Yuchan raised his hands in defeat. “That’s very fair. Anyway, go on, go and talk to your friend you’ve left abandoned.”

When Junhee picked up his phone, the line was still connected but Donghun wasn’t in frame. He called his name, and Donghun reappeared, his glasses perched on his nose, doing up the last buttons of a well-fitted floral shirt.

“I’m glad you’re looking for a new place,” Donghun said, continuing the conversation as though it had never paused. “It’ll feel good to move back into your own space.”

“Mmh. Oh,” Junhee said, rolling his eyes. “Something I sort of forgot. I was supposed to be going to Bali in three weeks. Have everything – flights, this Air B&B, the lot. With Akemi, I mean.” He sighed. “I’m just watching all my money go to nothing.”

“Woah, what?” Donghun stopped dressing and looked at Junhee incredulously. “Whose name is the booking under?”

“Mine.”

“Then go!” Donghun looked at him like he was mad. “Take your goddamn flight and go to Bali.”

Junhee thought. It hadn’t even crossed his mind – Bali had been a trip the two of them had planned, some getaway for a few days to escape work. But go alone..?

“Look, you deserve that holiday. So go. Listen to music, go for walks, take photos, drink wine – you have to. It’ll be just what you need.”

“You might… be right,” Junhee admitted. A little flurry caught in his chest. “Do you know what, I think I might.” He grinned, and watched Donghun thread a belt through his jeans. “You look expensive today.” Junhee raised an eyebrow. “What’s the occasion?”

“Well,” Donghun said, finishing off his last bite of toast. “It’s the first day of a three-day shoot.”

“For..?”

“For McQueen.”

Junhee sat blinking. “McQueen? Donghun, do you mean Alexander McQueen? Oh my god,” he continued, not even allowing Donghun to speak. “Steal everything, and send it to me. I’m begging you.”

Donghun laughed. “Anything for you, Junhee.”

Junhee, reaching for his glass of water, stopped.

“But maybe not anything that means losing my job, right?” Donghun stood up, suddenly clearing away his things. “You’re not that special.” He laughed again. “Listen, I better get going. I’m sorry I can’t stay while you sleep tonight.”

“It’s okay, go photograph beautiful people in beautiful clothes.” Donghun picked up his phone from where it was propped up on the table. “Hey, Donghun?” Junhee hesitated, watching him look up. “You look really good today. I really hope you have a fun day.”

Surprise passed across Donghun’s face, but a smile curled up the corner of his lips. “Thanks. Sleep well. Sweet dreams.”

Junhee hung up and put his phone down on the dresser. Yuchan’s words whispered in the back of his mind.

This is the same guy you massively fell for when you were like, twenty-one, right?

Memories of the cocky boy in the mask and bucket hat, a camera round his neck. Photographs in an unmarked envelope. Coffees, and late conversations, and wrapping himself up in borrowed coat that smelled of patchouli.

The same guy you’ve slept with…

Canada. Laughter and music and photos and snow. And rough hands, pulling off his clothes. Teeth biting his bottom lip, his neck. Drifting between sleep and sex over and over until he felt high.

And you’re talking to him all the time.

“What am I thinking..?” He turned off the light, making a great show of being angry with himself. Akemi had left him barely more than a month ago. He lay down under the covers, praying for sleep to stop this thought process, guilt seeping through his body.

Anything for you, Junhee…

Tired of being ignored for so many years, the butterflies in his stomach kicked.

 

~

 

Junhee loved flying – there was something about that split second when the plane wheels lifted from the runway that felt like leaving all your worries behind and heading into trouble-free skies. He watched Incheon disappear and soon a soothing blue water stretched out as far as he could see.

He was glad he had decided to do this. He had wondered if he would feel somehow sad, coming to Bali alone when he was supposed to travel with Akemi. But in the past seven weeks, his grief had morphed from crushing sadness to a seething indignance. Screw Akemi, this was his vacation and he was going to enjoy it.

It was a little over an hour by taxi once he had exited the airport on the island, and it was barely enough time. It was beautiful here. He leaned his head on the window, drinking in the rich green forests and turquoise sea. This place was like a watercolour.

Junhee found the key to the house in a little padlocked box and let himself inside. His eyes wide, he trailed through the rooms. This was insane. It was not unlike a treehouse, nestled among soaring palms and looking out onto the rice fields that in turn ran down to the gemstone sea. The garden burst with colour – tropical flowers tumbled around the edges, fighting for space with great leaves in a hundred shades of green.

“Oh my god,” he whispered to himself, unable to stop smiling. “I need this so much.”

He pulled out his phone, a warm wind playing with his hair as he checked his messages.

Sehni: Flight okay? x

Donghun: Land safe? You there yet? How’s Bali – PHOTOS PLEASE

BK: Let us know you arrive alright!

Channie: How’s Bali?!?!?!

Junhee smiled. Those four had been the only thing dragging him through the last few weeks – and even the knowledge that they cared about his safe arrival warmed the wounds on his heart. He sent quick messages to them all to reassure them.

For an hour, he simply sat with a coffee in the garden, feeling knots in his back untangle. But soon, curiosity got the better of him and he got changed, fetched his camera and set off down the little path that ran between the trees.

He quickly found Bali to be the most stunning place he had been. The colours here seemed more vibrant than anywhere in the world; the sun was quickly baking his skin a darker brown but it felt so nice, he didn’t mind; and all he could hear was the wind running through the lofty trees, insects whirring, and the distant sound of the ocean waves breaking lazily against white sand.

And for the next four days, life was simple. He ate what he wanted to eat – for the first time aware of just how anxious Akemi’s judgemental glances had made him whenever he ate a lot. He found tiny little cafes to shelter from the midday heat with a book; and outdoor bars in which to drink wine and look through his photos from each day. He trawled through markets, lost, and climbed up to vantage points that took his breath away.

On the evening of the fourth day, he watched the sun sink into the sea, the sky broken into spectacular shards of rose and gold. He wriggled his toes in the sand, lost in his thoughts, his eyes out to the horizon.

My life has changed completely overnight. Everything I saw in my future evaporated like smoke. And now I don’t know where I’m going. When I go home to Seoul, I have to face Akemi and settle everything – our finances, our belongings. And then I have to begin walking a new path, and I don’t know where it goes.

But maybe it’s okay to not know where I’m going. Seven weeks ago, it felt like I could barely stand on my own two feet. I thought I would never be able to breathe easily again. But it’s getting easier each day – especially with the boys there to help. Things still hurt, but I’m already moving forward. It might be slow, but I’m at work again. Taking photos again. I thought that maybe I’d lost a part of me in my breakup, but I’m still whole. A little broken, but all the pieces are here.

His own tears surprised him. But this time, they weren’t tears of fear, or failure – they were tears of relief. He was going to be okay. It was just going to take a little time.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he looked at it with a smile.

“Hey,” he said, dabbing the last of the tears from his cheeks.

“Morning! Evening. Whatever it is.” Donghun’s voice was sleepy. “Are you busy?”

“No, I’m good.” Junhee glanced at his watch with a frown. “But it’s 5am for you. Why are you up?”

“Can’t sleep.”

“Where are you?”

“Bed.” Junhee smiled; he could hear the rustle of the pillows and a soft yawn. “But more importantly, where are you?

Junhee watched two seabirds making arcs over the waves. “I’m sat on a really beautiful beach, watching the sunset.” He smiled. “I wish you could see it. It’s like something from a movie. I can’t take photos that even come close to doing it justice.” He paused. “Aren’t you gonna be tired without getting rest? You’ve got a flight tomorrow?” Donghun was starting a shoot in Singapore the day after next; it crossed Junhee’s mind that even fifteen hundred miles apart, it would be the closest they had been in a long time.

“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. Coffee will keep me going. And I’ll sleep on the plane.”

“Good.”

“You okay, Junhee? You sound… a little choked.”

Junhee was in awe of his perception. “I’m fine. I was just thinking about how… I dunno. Just that things are going to be okay. Coming here, and just being by myself and enjoying it… It made me realise I’m going to be okay.” His voice wobbled a little at the end, and he could hear Donghun’s smile down the phone.

“I’m really glad to hear that. We all know how strong you are, I’m just glad that you realise it, too.”

“Mh.” Junhee wiped his eyes and took a breath. He wished more than anything that Donghun could be here with him, that they could sit and talk and he could see his smiles, instead of hearing them down the phone. “I miss you.”

“Hm?” Donghun seemed surprised. “Miss me?”

“Yeah.” Junhee hesitated. “Three and a half years since I last saw you and it feels like a long time. I just… I miss you.”

“I miss you too, Junhee.” The audible smile was back. “A whole lot.”

 

~

 

Junhee rolled out of bed late on his sixth day. After weeks of restlessness, hour after hour of dreamless sleep was bliss – something he would never take for granted again. He no longer woke up feeling like he needed another night’s worth of sleep. He combed fingers through his wild hair, threw on a t-shirt and shorts and pulled open the door to the garden. The sun was already high in the sky, and he turned his face up to the warmth.

He yawned as he made himself a coffee. He felt lazy today, compelled to lounge around this little house, eat snacks and read the day away. He grabbed his book from the side, returned to the garden and sat cross-legged on the decking. He could get used to this life.

He was so absorbed in the story, he didn’t notice the time passing. Didn’t notice the cicadas grow louder as the midday sun lit their trees. Didn’t notice the distant crashing of waves. Didn’t notice someone quietly sit down next to him.

Wait.

Someone sit down next to him?

He looked up.

Donghun smiled.

“Fucking hell!” Junhee leaped out of his skin, dropped the book and banged the back of his head on a tree.

He stared, open-mouthed. Reality didn’t register. Bewildered, he stayed stock-still, as though moving might break him from this dream. “What the fuck?” His hands were trembling. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Donghun laughed, hard.

“What a charming welcome.” He grinned at Junhee, looking far too amused at the open-mouthed shock Junhee was staring at him with. “Hey.”

Junhee leaned forward, reaching out a disbelieving hand to check he was real. “Donghun? W-what..? How are you here..?”

“Well, I told a small lie,” he said. “I don’t have to be in Singapore for my shoot tonight. I have to be in Singapore tomorrow night.” He smiled. “I made a little detour, just for a day. I fly over tomorrow afternoon.”

Words completely failed Junhee. He barely dared to breathe. But his breath got shaky and tears rose in his eyes and-

“Hey! Hey, no no no… Junhee…” Donghun reached out as Junhee burst into tears. Overwhelmed, Junhee wrapped shaking arms around his friend, crying into his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to make you cry! Did I get this wrong?”

Junhee pulled away sharply, sniffling. “Wrong?!” He swallowed a sob. “You’ve come to see me in Bali for a day. This is… the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“Good.” Donghun grinned. He wiped away tears on Junhee’s face with his thumb. “I figured in six years, I’ve seen you for a grand total of… four days.” He laughed. “And you were there for me both times when I was healing.” He shrugged simply. “No way in hell I’m not going to be there for you.”

It took Junhee a few minutes for it to sink in. That Donghun was here, in Bali, in person after so long… It was surreal. So many evenings talking on the phone, so many nights falling asleep as he read to him, so many messages…

Donghun made himself quickly at home, wandering into the house with an eyebrow raised. “God, this place is nice.” Junhee trailed inside after him. “I’ve always wanted to come to Bali.”

“Yeah, same. It’s so beautiful.” A hundred thoughts crossed Junhee’s mind. “I mean, what do you wanna see? You wanna go out? Shall we go to the beach?”

“Yes and yes.” Donghun looked over his shoulder at him, and then bounded across the room like a puppy and picked him up, shaking him until he laughed. “Ah, I’m so excited to see you!”

Junhee laughed into his hair, that long-forgotten scent of patchouli and flowers tugging at old memories. “Come on,” he said as Donghun put him down. “Get changed and let’s go for a walk. We have some lost time to make up for.”

 

~

 

A tranquil ocean surrounded the island today; the faintest breeze couldn’t raise big waves so it stretched out like a faceted opal. Junhee took a deep breath as he walked along the path that led up the low cliffs running adjacent to the shore.

“And so we get together and play whenever we’re all in Toronto – which can be tricky when we all travel.” Donghun re-rolled his t-shirt sleeves as he talked to Junhee about his band. “But it’s just nice to get together and play music.”

“I can’t believe you never told me you can sing,” Junhee said.

“It was one of those things that fell off the radar, you know? My mid-twenties really swallowed up a load of things I enjoyed. But the last few years… I’ve remembered all the things I love.” His face creased in a smile as Junhee watched him.

“You seem so happy.” It was true – there was something different about Donghun. His steps seemed lighter, his aura happier – that smile was on his face so much more often.

“I am.” Donghun pushed his hands in the pockets of his shorts and sighed. “I’m even happier on an island that actually feels like Paradise. Imagine living here.” He shot Junhee a grin. “Let’s give up on Seoul and Toronto and move here.”

Junhee rolled his eyes, fighting the smirk that came to his lips. “God, live with you? Insufferable. I need that good six-thousand mile gap, thanks.” He laughed as Donghun shoved him.

“Pfft! I’d be a great housemate – I’d cook so you aren’t living off ramen all the time.”

“I can cook!” Junhee feigned offence. “I’m a functioning adult, thank you.”

“Not sure,” Donghun pinched Junhee’s chin, his annoying grin etched on his face. “Look at you, just a baby.”

“God,” Junhee lamented. “I said I missed you but I’ve already had enough.”

“I can go…”

“No, you can’t.” Junhee pulled him back and put his arm around his waist as they walked, then felt suddenly self-conscious and let him go. His face went warm, and he could have sworn he saw a familiar pink flush across Donghun’s nose.

The path dwindled into dirt and rocks, and Junhee began to pick his way to the edge of the cliffs. They jutted out over the water, and the breeze brought on it the tang of sea air carried across the waves.

“I dare you to jump in.”

Junhee turned with an eyebrow raised to Donghun. “What now?” He peered fretfully over the edge of the cliff; his stomach lurched from the height. “No thanks.”

“Come on.” Donghun nudged him. “This trip is about you reclaiming your life, isn’t it? So do something you would have been afraid to do before. Show the world you’re not scared anymore.” He pointed to the rocks further down the path. “We can leave our stuff here, it’s easy enough to climb back up.”

Junhee snorted. “Nice try, I’m not falling for your bullshit, Lee. I don’t give in to peer pressure.”

“Suit yourself.” Junhee watched incredulously as Donghun kicked off his sneakers, tucked his watch into one of them, and pulled his t-shirt over his head. He reached up and scraped his caramel hair back into a knot with a band from his wrist, showing off the white tattoos on his ribs and the cherry blossom petals on his chest. He looked at Junhee and gave an impish grin. “You sure about that?”

Junhee watched him for a long moment, and sighed. “Fine.” He removed his shoes and t-shirt and left them in a pile with Donghun’s. He played with the chain around his neck, peering again over the edge and feeling a little weak at the knees.

“On three?” Donghun crept his toes to the edge. “One… Two…” Junhee grabbed his hand. “Three!”

Junhee had just enough time in the air to kick his legs twice and pinch his nose. Then the sound of his own squeal was drowned out by the sea.

Bubbles rose up in front of his face as he let out his breath five metres below the surface. He kicked hard and swam to the top, gasping the second he surfaced. His heart was racing and he pulled for his breath as he wiped sea water from his eyes. Exhilaration lit up his bloodstream and he laughed.

Donghun appeared in front of him, his eyes screwed shut against the water that ran down his face. Junhee laughed again, just as a wave pushed him back under water. He spluttered, choking on salty water, his bangs hanging in his eyes.

“You okay?” Donghun was still laughing. He held Junhee’s arms as he choked. “Don’t drown!”

“I’m okay,” he managed, grinning. “I can’t see!” Donghun pushed back his sopping bangs for him as he blinked his vision back. “Okay, you were right, that was really fun…”

“See!” Donghun laughed, still holding onto Junhee. His eyelashes were all clumped together from water, stray curls escaping their hair tie and sticking to his forehead. The sun had already started to catch his cheekbones and nose, turning them bronze.

Junhee was only aware of how close they were when he caught Donghun looking at him the same way.

For just a second, the ebb and flow of the waves pushed them closer, and Junhee tilted his head ever-so-slightly-

A wave broke unceremoniously against his face and he spluttered, coughing up water. Donghun burst out laughing, ducked his face into the water and spat a fountain at Junhee.

“Ugh, you little shit!” Junhee screwed up his face in protest, but Donghun had already turned to swim back to the shore. He wiped his eyes, laughing, and followed.

 

~

 

The sunset filtered through the trees that surrounded the house, sending long shadows across the garden and bathing the rest in an amber glow. Against a slowly darkening sky, stars began to light like a thousand oil lamps on a velvet canvas.

Junhee refilled his glass of wine from the bottle next to him where he sat, watching Donghun with a trace of amusement. The other boy hadn’t even heard the last thing he said – he made his way around the edge of the garden, searching for the prettiest flowers. When he found one that fit his unknown requirements, his eyes lit up, and he plucked it to add to the growing bundle he clutched in one hand.

“These are so pretty, I’ve never seen flowers like these before.” Donghun returned to Junhee, joining him cross-legged on the grass. He laid out the petals, all excited. “I think this one is some kind of frangipani. It’s so pretty and they smell so nice. I don’t know what those little pink ones are.” He played with one of them, and then reached out to weave it into Junhee’s hair.

“Are you… putting flowers in my hair?” Junhee smiled, as Donghun placed a second. He laughed at his friend’s concentration and relinquished to being decorated. “Are you not jet-lagged?”

Donghun shook his head. “I’m pretty sure I crashed out the second we took off and woke up the second we reached Bali.”

“I still can’t believe you’re here.”

“Well,” Donghun said, concentrating on his flower arrangement. “I meant what I said. I look back on what happened to me, and you had my back both times. Even though I wasn’t exactly easy on you.” He sighed. “I pushed you away, and you still came back the second time.”

“Well, if I could even help a bit.” Junhee played with an orange hibiscus.

“You did.” Donghun sipped his wine, and went about decorating his own hair absently. “But how are you feeling? About everything?”

“Me?” Junhee sighed, looking down towards the sea, unable to make out the shoreline in the rapidly darkening evening. “Okay. Every day I sort of process something new. It’s like… like my brain is filtering through it all, but it just takes a while to drip through.” He ran his fingers across the petals in his hand. “I proposed to Akemi to fix my relationship.” Heat washed onto his face. It was the first time he’d admitted it to himself – let alone anyone else. Donghun watched him quietly. “We argued a lot. He was very quick-tempered and I hate confrontation, and I used to end up saying things or apologising to make the arguing stop.” He paused. “And when we argued, and he was pissed off, he would make digs. And everyone snaps sometimes, I get that, but he would… Y’know, put me down about my outfits, or my job, or even what I was eating.”

“What the fuck.” Donghun wore a look of disgust, and Junhee took a daisy and began pulling off the petals one by one.

“Yeah. So anyway, I proposed because I knew things weren’t great and I wanted to magically fix everything. And ever since then, I had doubts. So, I guess… I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised by what happened, when you think about it.” He snorted.

Donghun looked at him sympathetically. “None of this is on you. You tried really hard to make it work. You were just trying with the wrong person.” He smiled. “Trust me, I know what that’s like.”

Junhee looked at him. “I’m… really grateful for you being here for me. Not just here here – I am, it’s insane that you came here – but the last couple months too. It’s nice to talk to someone who has been through something and gets it.” He put a little pink flower in among the petals in Donghun’s hair and drank from his glass. “Anyway, on the bright side – I don’t have to move to Japan now.”

Donghun laughed. “You couldn’t have moved to Japan anyway.” Junhee raised an eyebrow in question. “Moving countries for the wrong reasons, that’s my thing.”

Junhee laughed, and then froze. He pointed up at the sky. “Look!” Donghun’s gaze shot up to follow his finger. “Did you see?!”

“Shooting star!” Donghun swatted at him. “We have to make a wish.”

“Do you bel-”

Wish.”

Junhee watched him screw his eyes tight shut and clasp his hands together. Smiling, he did the same.

“Okay, I’m done.” Donghun reopened his eyes and grinned.

“Me too.” Junhee sighed. “I hope it works.”

“It will.” Donghun played with the flower behind his ear; Junhee’s heart twisted as he looked at the petals nestled in his curls. “I believe there’s something in the universe. Call it magic, call it whatever you want.” He took a daisy and twirled it between his thumbs. “The world can be cruel at times, but there’s some things we just don’t understand – powers that bring us luck, grant wishes, bring people together.” Donghun glanced up with a smile. “And you deserve a little bit of magic.”

Junhee looked at him – his deep brown eyes sparkling with hope, his nose and cheeks browned by the day’s summer sun, the blossoms in his hair matching the ink on his arm.

The butterflies in Junhee’s stomach were still, like they were waiting.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Donghun asked, looking at Junhee curiously.

“…You’re perfect.”

It was only a whisper, but Donghun stopped moving.

“What..?”

Junhee shook his head, lost for words. “You. You’re…” He searched for what he wanted to say, but he just couldn’t find another word. “You’re just perfect.”

For a long moment, Donghun said nothing. His sad eyes were wide with surprise – and something unreadable. “Junhee?” Donghun searched his face. “Can I kiss you?”

Junhee nodded faintly.

Six years ago, they had been just kids, snatching kisses under a duvet and trying not to think what it meant. Three years ago, their lives were mutual chaos, their kisses filled with desperation and confusion.

Their kiss now, as Junhee closed his eyes and put up a hand to Donghun’s neck, was tender, and gentle. A familiar mouth - god he had missed it – but this time was different. He wasn’t a kid, he wasn’t confused, he knew love and heartbreak and what felt wrong and what felt right, what felt so right…

Donghun broke their kiss by smiling. Junhee gave him a questioning glance, and Donghun leaned his forehead against Junhee’s. “You make me crazy happy, that’s all.”

Junhee grinned, and then pushed his hands into his cheeks and flopped back on the grass with a high-pitched noise.

Donghun burst out laughing. “What was that?”

“I don’t know.” He kept his face covered with his hands but kept smiling. “You make me feel like I’m sixteen and I’ve got my first crush.”

Donghun sniggered, and lay down next to Junhee, nestling in against his chest. Junhee stroked his hair, still filled with petals.

“Hey, look!” Donghun raised a finger. Another streak of white crossed the skies and disappeared just as quickly. “Can make another wish.”

“You know what,” Junhee said, narrowing his eyes. “I think my last one already worked.” Donghun made a whine of disgust and Junhee laughed.

“Eugh, I hate it, I hate you being cute but also… I love it.” He rolled over, leaning on Junhee’s chest and looking down into his face. “Junhee?”

“Yeah?” Junhee looked up at him as the smile slid from his lips.

“When you left Canada, there was… there was a lot I didn’t say.” Donghun bit his lip and Junhee’s heart beat faster. “I guess… After this, can we not drift apart again?” Donghun’s eyes filled with fear, to Junhee’s surprise. “I’m not asking anything of you, that’s not what I mean. You have a whole load of your own stuff to work through and trust me, I know what it means to need time to rebuild things. But… Promise me you and I won’t lose touch? I don’t want to lose you. Not again.”

“I promise, Donghun.”

“Good.” Donghun smiled. “I’ve gotten too used to reading stories to you as you fall asleep now.”

Junhee looked up at him with affection. “Do you know how much I love that?” He mused. “I also want to find out what happens to Toru.”

“I have the book with me.” Donghun sat up, and held out a hand. “Come on, before it gets cold. I can read to you in person this time.”

Junhee hung in the doorway as he came back from washing up his face. Donghun sat cross-legged on the bed, looking at his phone. He had missed a couple of petals from his hair. Junhee smiled. Years before, he had been filled with so many mixed emotions around this boy – so much energy spent on what things meant, what words to say or hold back… But now, watching him scroll through Instagram, just being near him felt a lot like home.

“Come here.” Donghun pulled him close as he climbed into bed, planting a kiss on Junhee’s forehead.

“What time do you have to leave tomorrow?”

“Late morning,” Donghun replied.

“Don’t go.” Junhee pulled him down, kissing his cheek. “Just stay…”

“I can’t…”

“Just one more day…”

“I wish I could…” Donghun groaned. “I really, really do.” He brushed back Junhee’s hair. “Come on. Get comfy.”

Junhee settled against Donghun’s chest, nestled under his arm and curled a hand around his thigh. As Donghun began to read from where they had left off, a deep, warm glow radiated through Junhee’s chest. After weeks of feeling lost, he finally felt happy. And after months of being afraid of being around the wrong person, he let contentment wash through him at the feeling of lying against someone he knew was right.

 

~

 

Everything was dark. Junhee breathed heavy, scared. He had to get out.

Light.

Akemi watched him, a sneer on his face.

“You’re really going to come dressed like that, Junhee? It’s a fashion thing…”

Junhee looked down at himself. He suddenly felt very uncomfortable, very aware of all the parts of his body he didn’t like…

“Are you sure you should eat that?”

“I’m sorry…” Suddenly, he was hungry, starving hungry. It was a familiar feeling. He just wanted that scornful look on Akemi’s face gone.

They were in a room of people. No one acknowledged Junhee. A tall, young man draped over Akemi. They kissed, and Junhee choked.

A flash of hope – he saw an open door. Through it – Sehyoon and Byeongkwan, and Mom and Dad, Yuchan…

“Sehyoon!” he shouted, but a thick pane of glass stood in his way. He hammered on it, growing desperate. The noise of the chattering behind him got louder. “Sehyoon! Chan!”

They didn’t hear him.

He tried another door. His heart jolted. Donghun looked up at him.

A blue bruise marked his cheek.

“No…” Junhee felt ice flood his veins. “No, this can’t be happening again…”

Han stared at Junhee with cold eyes as he put a commanding arm over Donghun’s shoulders.

“Junhee, come.” Akemi yanked the back of his jumper, and Junhee screamed out. He tried to get to Donghun, tried to pull away.

No, Han, get away from him, don’t touch him-

“No, get off me, no!” Junhee shrieked. “No!”

Junhee, wake up!”

Junhee jolted awake with a yell. Everything was dark. He pushed himself up, gasped for breath. Tears drenched his face.

“It’s okay, angel.”

Junhee spun around. Donghun knelt next to him in bed, his eyes wide, holding out a hand. Junhee stared at it, a sob breaking free from his chest.

“Oh Junhee…” Donghun took him in his arms as he wept. “Hush, baby.” Junhee clung on tight, willing away the shredded remnants of his dream. It had felt so real.

“Sorry…” he gasped between tears, and Donghun simply shook his head.

As the dreams always did, the visions faded. Junhee pulled away, wiping his face with shaky hands.

“Whatever you saw can’t hurt you, okay?” Donghun held his waist. “Junhee, look at me. I won’t let the demons hurt you.” He cupped Junhee’s face with tender fingers. “I’ll fight every last one.”

Junhee searched his face, found nothing but honesty there. Donghun meant it – he was there, he always would be there, whenever Junhee needed him. He accepted the demons and was willing to walk through the darkness with him, as long as it took.

Junhee kissed him. Donghun pulled him closer, kissed him harder, and only pulled back to look at Junhee in the darkness.

“You know I said that I left things unsaid before?” He wound his fingers through Junhee’s hair. “I don’t want to let that happen again.”

Junhee’s arms tightened around Donghun.

“Then don’t.”

Donghun met his eyes, brushed back his hair, and held the back of his neck.

“I love you.”

The rest of the world faded away. Donghun watched him, his eyes wide with apprehension – but filled also with resolution, and passion, and tenderness. Junhee knew. But then – he had known all along:

“I love you too.”

Donghun kissed him hard, pushing him down onto the pillows. Junhee reached back. He wanted every bit of him. Donghun’s lips found his neck, his chest, his stomach – then Junhee writhed, winding his fingers into Donghun’s hair with a gasp. Why, why had it never felt like this before with anyone else? Why had Akemi’s mouth on him never felt like this, why had a man he was planning to spend his life with not been able to send fireworks dancing across his skin with his fingertips? His fingernails scratched at the bedsheets, unable to stop the moans escaping his throat.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve missed this.” Donghun came back up, searching Junhee’s face. Junhee reached out a hand, ran a thumb along Donghun’s bottom lip, traced fingertips down his throat. His life was chaos, everything was changing, but this madly beautiful boy loved him?

Donghun pulled him up and turned him against the wall. Junhee shut his eyes against that first moment of slight pain and heavy pleasure, the room swimming around him. Their bodies blurred together, and nothing else mattered.

 

~

 

Light streamed through the windows as Junhee woke up. He shifted, comfortably wrapped in the duvet, not wanting to open his eyes yet. Like honey trickling through him, memories returned from the night before. The butterflies soared in his stomach.

Junhee reached for Donghun. He stopped. Opened his eyes. The bed was empty. He sat up, still confused from sleep – the clothes that had been discarded on the floor were gone. The suitcase in the corner was missing. No. Junhee scrambled out of bed and ran to the living room – but all of Donghun’s things were gone. He looked up at the clock on the wall.

Eleven thirty.

“No…” Junhee said, staring at the ticking hands in horror.

He returned to the bedroom, and saw a note on the bedside table. A lump rose in his throat.

Even the sight of Donghun’s writing made him well up. With shaking hands, he began to read.

I couldn’t bring myself to wake you up. You looked so peaceful and you need rest. So I’m leaving you with a kiss and heading on my way.

You have a lot to sort when you go home. Be brave. I know you can do it.  And don’t worry that I expect anything. We live so far apart, you have a new life to grow into, and that’s okay. I’ll wait for you.

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” – A.A. Milne

Bye, for a bit.

I love you.

- Hun

A tear dripped from Junhee’s chin and splashed on his pyjamas. He read the note a second time, his bottom lip wobbling as his eyes passed over the quote Donghun had written out, and he touched the final words with his thumb.

So much uncertainty lay ahead. He had to find somewhere to live – was he staying in Seoul now? Should he move somewhere new? What were his goals now? What was his future? He was stood on the cliff-edge, no longer able to see the ground below.

And, more than that, he had to meet with Akemi and tie up those loose ends. No doubt that would bring with it a fresh wave of heartache, fresh emotions he had to process. He was on his way to healing, but while the wounds had scabbed over, the scars would take a long time to fade.

He just had to keep strong.

He got to his feet and took a deep breath. He folded Donghun’s note quietly and pocketed it. He knew, somehow, that he had found the strength he needed.

And maybe it had been there all along.

。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆ End of Part III  。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆

Chapter Text

Important days have a habit of feeling unremarkable. All that excitement and anticipation in the leadup, so when the sun rises on a day just like any other, the feeling is surreal.

And so Junhee contemplated as he looked in the mirror, knotting his tie with deft fingers. Today just didn’t feel real. And, he thought with a flutter of nerves – he would feel the same tomorrow, without a doubt.

He stood back, satisfied with his appearance for once. The grey suit he had picked out fitted him well, tortoiseshell glasses framed his eyes and his hair was tamed, for once – recently bleached out to a honey blonde.

“I don’t even like boys but may I just say, you look smoking hot.” Yuchan walked into the room with two glasses of champagne, handing one to Junhee. “For real.”

“Thanks, Chan.” He raised an eyebrow, assessing his younger friend in a similar manner. He was dressed in a floral button-down shirt and slim navy trousers. “Who are you and what have you done with Beggar Chan?” He grinned. “Never seen you scrub up before.”

“Even I make an effort for a wedding.”

They toasted their glasses and Junhee sipped at the contents. He had to be careful – he couldn’t really drink, not until after the ceremony. He couldn’t risk messing this up.

“Okay, I think I’m ready..?”

Junhee and Yuchan looked up and their faces split into matching smiles. Sehyoon hovered in the doorway, immaculately dressed, hair teased artfully over his forehead, a flower tucked into his buttonhole.

“You look perfect.” Junhee put a hand on his shoulder, and Sehyoon bit his lip.

“You think? I… feel sick.”

Junhee couldn’t help but feel surprised, and his heart warmed all the more towards his best friend. “Here, drink this.” He sacrificed his champagne. “Now, all you’ve got to do is go say a few words to the love of your life. That’s all it is.” Sehyoon smiled weakly. “And I’ll be right there with you.”

Surrealism hit Junhee once again. Sehyoon – his old school friend, his housemate of many years, his anchor – was going to get married. The boy he used to swap lunches with, who had sang karaoke with him on too many late Friday nights, and spent so many Saturday mornings with him, hungover under a blanket and watching trashy TV. The boy who used to make him coffee in the morning without having to be asked, and one of the only people who understood the time Junhee had spent as a fansite. He had been his role model, and the one who had given him strength to accept his feelings the first time he had developed a crush on another boy. He had been there as Junhee cried, and laughed, when he was sick, when he had got engaged and when he has crashed out of it.

Watching him walk into a lifetime of happiness was almost more than Junhee’s heart could take.

“I love you very much, Sehni.” He blinked back tears. “I’m so happy this day’s finally come.”

Sehyoon looked conflicted. When he did speak, he was quiet. “I’m going to really miss you when you’re gone.”

But Junhee waved away his words. “Nope, now’s not the time for any sadness. Now, drink that up, and let’s go and get you a husband.”

 

~

 

Junhee took a deep breath, and found he wasn’t nearly as nervous as he had feared he might be.

A room full of eyes watched him, but every happy face shone with love and excitement, and it gave Junhee courage. And, most of all, he looked at Sehyoon and Byeongkwan in front of him. And if he had ever for a second wondered whether soulmates existed, in that moment, he hadn’t a single doubt.

“On behalf of Sehyoon and Byeongkwan, thank you everyone for being here this afternoon.” Junhee glanced down at the careful written words that he had pained over for so many weeks. “For making the journey, and for all the effort you make – not just to be a part of today, but to be a part of their lives, as friends, and as family.

“Throughout time, people from many cultures, countries, and societies have gathered to celebrate their love for one another, and promise their commitment. Here in Korea, society might still be a little sleepy and it’s taking a little time to catch up. But that makes this day all the more special. Today is a celebration of all the people and memories these two boys hold dear, and this day is the day they’ve dreamed of, just the way they like it. And what is a wedding, if not that.” He paused, smiling as he caught Byeongkwan’s eye. “So let’s not waste any more time.”

He looked at Byeongkwan.

“Byeongkwan, do you promise to do your best every day to create a loving, healthy and happy marriage?”

“I do.”

“Sehyoon.” His voice wobbled oh-so-slightly. “Do you promise to do your best every day to create a loving, healthy and happy marriage?”

“I do.”

“Cool.” Junhee grinned, and laughter chimed out around the room. “We’ve come to the time for you to read your vows to each other. Sehyoon, can you read the vows you’ve written?”

Sehyoon took the leather-bound book Junhee handed him, open to the page with his own hand-written words. A lump stuck in Junhee’s throat as soon as Sehyoon began to talk.

“I, Kim Sehyoon, take you, Kim Byeongkwan, to be my husband, my best friend, and my only love. I promise to work so hard to make you happy. I promise that every day, I’ll find a new way to make you smile, because I want to see that goofy grin as much as possible. No matter what you do, no matter what paths you take, I will always be the voice cheering for you the loudest. I promise that on the good days, I will be there to celebrate, congratulate and share happiness with you. And I promise that on the bad days, I will always dry your tears, I will always listen and help you, and I will always do what I can to make the rainclouds disappear.” He took a breath, squeezing Byeongkwan’s hand. “I promise that I’ll never get tired of you clambering into my lap when I’m trying to read. I promise that I’ll always let you borrow my jumpers and I won’t complain when they always look better on you. I promise I’ll always help you find room for one more Kirby plushie in our home.” He smiled. “But most of all, I promise to love you fiercely, every single day, for the rest of my life. You… took a chance on this eccentric, weird kid and you really… made me blossom. And for that I owe you my heart. You truly are the kindest, bravest, boldest, most passionate and positive person I’ve ever been blessed to know. And I love you today; like I loved you yesterday; and like I will love you tomorrow and every tomorrow after that.”

Junhee took a very deep breath to force the tears down. “Thank you, Sehni. Byeongkwan, can you read the vows you’ve written?”

Byeongkwan accepted the book. “I, Kim Byeongkwan, take you, Kim Sehyoon, to be my husband, my best friend and my only love. I promise to stay by your side, even when the road gets hard, even at the times you feel a little bit lost. I promise to accept you for exactly the way you are – because the way you are couldn’t be more perfect. You are brilliantly beautiful, and beautifully brilliant, and I promise to cherish you and be proud of you forever. I- stop.” Everyone smiled as Sehyoon turned away, running a finger under his lashes. “No, you can’t cry, because you’ll set me off. And you promised you wouldn’t.” Junhee laughed with everyone else, but two tears splashed down his face regardless. Byeongkwan held Sehyoon’s hand, his smile warm. “I promise to be everything you need me to be – a best friend, a husband, a lover, a cheerleader, a counsellor, a partner in crime, a home. And I promise to work hard to be the best version of me I can be – both because you inspire me to be a better man, and because you deserve to be with someone who tries every day to be the best version of themselves. So I promise to love you – even when you sing in the shower, even when you sleep through that alarm of yours and wait for me to turn it off.” He laughed. “I love you, Sen, and I’ll be with you every step of the way through this adventure we’re having. I promise.”

Junhee accepted the book from Byeongkwan, and waited as they gifted one another a plain silver ring.

“It makes me so, so happy to say that Byeongkwan and Sehyoon,” he smiled, “you’re now married. So you can kiss, or whatever.”

Everyone in the room clapped and whistled as the newlyweds kissed. As they broke apart, both boys grinned at Junhee, and then pulled him into a hug.

From then on, the afternoon past in a blur of delicious food, laughter, more than enough wine and so many happy faces. The April sun shone down uninterrupted, and people spilled out into the flower-filled gardens. Junhee and Yuchan stuck together, but they caught up with dozens of familiar faces, old friends and Sehyoon’s family. Junhee felt weightless – so delighted to see two of his dearest friends so happy, so warmed by the love that radiated through this beautiful place.

The evening brought music, and dancing, and more to drink. As the stars littered the sky, Junhee and Yuchan were joined by the grooms as they sat outside.

“Hey there’s our boys!” Yuchan held up his glass in a toast, his cheeks pink.

Sehyoon laughed. “You having fun?”

“Fun? This is the best wedding I’ve ever been to.” Yuchan hiccupped. “I swear normal weddings are dead boring. This is great. I want one of these.”

“We’ve got to find you a wife, first, Chanshine.” Junhee mussed his hair playfully.

“Oh. Yeah.” Yuchan looked suddenly sober. “Didn’t think about that.”

“You were so great today, Junhee.” Byeongkwan hugged him; Junhee grinned as he unbalanced a little. “Honestly, it was like you’d done a dozen weddings before.”

“Might start a side-hustle,” he said. “But no, joking aside, I’m so glad you thought I did a good job.”

“No one else I’d rather have had,” Sehyoon replied, and the four boys clinked their glasses.

“I can’t believe you’re actually leaving for England tomorrow.”

Junhee looked up. It was Yuchan who had spoke, and his drunk eyes were suddenly sombre. Sehyoon and Byeongkwan’s expressions matched. He looked away.

It was nearly a year since he had split with Akemi. With a pang, he thought about how his own wedding had been planned for just a few weeks’ time. When he had returned from Bali, there had been a lot to sort through – practically and emotionally. And in that time that it took to come to terms, Junhee had needed to choose a new direction in life. For a few months he had wandered, lost, suddenly feeling distinctly unhappy in Seoul.

But then he had been approached by one of the biggest music magazine names, offering his dream job. And with it, relocating to London.

He remembered the nights anxiously fretting about whether to take it. It had been that comforting voice on the phone that had told him: Junhee, you have to go for this. I believe in you…

“Can I say something,” Byeongkwan commented, peering at Junhee with narrowed eyes, “that I wouldn’t normally say, only it’s my wedding and I’m drunk so I’m allowed.”

Junhee laughed. “Go on.”

“I always thought you’d end up with Donghun.” He looked at Junhee simply. “I always thought you’d choose him.”

Junhee felt a creeping warmth pass over his face.

“Yeah, same.” Yuchan nodded blearily.

Junhee had never told them the details of what happened in Bali. He glanced at Sehyoon. He’d told him the details of what happened in Bali, and that’s why Sehyoon watched him now, an eyebrow raised, unreadable. He’d told him about that trip, and how Donghun had supported him afterwards through sorting finalities with Akemi. Told him about the daily messages and the calls they still had, most nights. Told him about the I-love-yous that came out when they had been drinking, but never got talked about the next day.

“I thought if you were going to up sticks and move to another country, it would be Canada, for him,” Byeongkwan said.

Junhee looked up, cringing a little. “I don’t know why you thought that…”

“Because,” Sehyoon said, surprising Junhee. “He’s smart, funny, insanely hot, loves all the things you do, would and has flown across the world for you, and makes you smile whenever you mention his name..?” The other two sniggered and a small smile appeared on Sehyoon’s face.

“Yeah…” Junhee looked down into his glass. “I mean, you’re not wrong.”

Byeongkwan made an over-exaggerated gesture of frustration. “Wait, you agree?”

“I…” Junhee swallowed. “Yeah. I mean… I do. But Donghun’s like… he’s not just another boy. I cannot fuck it up with him. I’ve been messy this last year, you know that. I’ve been spinning about with my life all changing and that’s not the time to be with anyone. I’ve needed that time. And Donghun knew that.”

“Wait, so you’ve talked about this?” Yuchan sat up.

“Mh.” Memories of Bali, of flowers in his hair, of arms holding him in the night, of the note left behind in the morning. “And only in the last couple of months things have started to look brighter for me and… Well, I’m moving to England.” He shrugged helplessly. “I couldn’t not go for this job. Even he said that. And I want a new adventure. A fresh start.”

“So… That’s it?” Yuchan looked sad. “He’s really going to always be the right person at the wrong time?”

A familiar jab of confusion hit Junhee’s chest: I don’t want that to be true. But he smiled nonetheless. “Guess so.”

“Man, that’s tragic.” Yuchan swigged from his gin.

“Anyway,” Sehyoon said gently. “Come on. It’s our last time together, for a little while, let’s not dwell on anything sad.”

And so they partied into the night, and forgot about what the morning would bring.

It was late when Junhee stepped outside for some air by himself. He pulled out his phone as he sat on a wall, squinting a little to read it.

Mom: I hope the wedding is fun. We’ll be round first thing – let us know if you need anything else.

Instagram notification from DHLee93.

Junhee opened the app and found Donghun’s comment under a photo of Yuchan and himself suited up that morning.

DHLee93: Yes, these outfits YES, a thousand times yes

Junhee smiled, found his name in the top of his ‘recently called’ list and dialled him.

“Hey, you’ve reached Donghun’s voicemail, sorry I can’t catch you right now, leave a message and I’ll buzz you back!”

The beep sounded, and Junhee smiled. “Heeeey, sorry if you’re asleep.” Junhee didn’t even know what time it was. “I’m… I’m pretty drunk.” He rubbed his face. “I feel weird that you’re so close but I’m not with you. Like we’re in the same country for the first time since Bali and I hate that you’re not here.” Donghun was visiting family in Daegu for a couple of nights after a shoot in Japan, before heading back to Canada. With the wedding and Junhee’s move, there had been no chance for them to meet. “I think I’m a bit scared that I’m moving… tomorrow. It feels weird. I’m going to be so far away from anyone I know. What if English people don’t like me?” He swallowed, looking out over the dark gardens dotted with tiny tealights. “Anyway, I don’t really know what I’m here to say, but I wanted to tell you I miss you, and I really wish you could be here right now, I really want a hug.” He sighed. “Goodnight, Hun.”

 

~

 

Junhee woke up and scowled at the headache around his temples. He had always known planning his flight the day after the wedding was going to result in this – but it didn’t stop him from resenting himself for drinking so much.

He found his phone discarded on the floor among a pile of clothes.

Donghun: What a message to wake up to.

Donghun: And English people will love you, you idiot. Everyone loves you.

Junhee raised an eyebrow. Message? He checked his call log and groaned at the outgoing call at 1am.

Junhee: Sorry, I was wasted. I don’t even remember what I told you.

Donghun: *laughing emoji* You’re a mess, Park.

Junhee showered and dressed, before wandering slowly through his house with a coffee. For the second day in a row, he felt surreal. All his things were packed into labelled boxes, ready for the moving company to fly out next week once he had settled into his new place. It was hard to imagine right now – that soon these belongings would be in an apartment eight thousand miles away. It felt like a dream, the trip he’d taken a few months ago to see how he felt about England. London was both exhilarating and terrifying – and for all he had desperately studied English, the whole experience had been scary, all by himself. But he had also seen a charm in the city – the people seemed somehow free. Art and music and history were crammed into every street corner; the atmosphere had been more liberal. He had sat in a café and watched as two girls his age giggled their way through a date, their faces filled with piercings and tattoos covering their arms. I want to look that happy, he had thought.

He sat down next to an open box, picking up the tape and scissors, ready to seal it up. His fingers brushed the contents and his heart twisted. One by one, he started to take things out.

The ‘best’ mug from his and Yuchan’s apartment, the one they always fought over. He remembered so many evenings with that boy – no matter how hard work had been, how tired he was, he would always come home to a beaming smile and instantly feel his spirits lift.

A video game for a console he didn’t even have any more. Byeongkwan had leant it to him the second time they met – and it had become Junhee’s favourite game. Seeing how much he loved it, Byeongkwan had never asked for it back. He remembered those early days, watching this new boy his housemate was bringing home, and having a hunch that they might be perfect for each other. He would have been unsurprised even back then to know that they would one day get married.

His high school diploma. Tacked inside the frame, a faded photo of Sehyoon and himself, looking very young and very fresh-faced, on the day of their graduation. His own grades had always been average at best, but Sehyoon had graduated at the top of their class. He remembered how proud he had felt – happier for his friend than if it had been himself.

An old XF11 t-shirt, wrapped around a set of albums, photocards in a rubber band and a slogan that read: Summer Storm, for XF11’s Han. It felt so long ago, all those days trailing after the group, going to schedules, cultivating an online following. Since the group’s disbandment, the end of the fandom… It had felt like it had all been simply a dream. New groups had risen up in their place, new fandoms forged, new fansites claiming their online thrones – and so the cycle would always continue.

Tucked into a clear folder, his plane ticket to Canada from four and a half years ago.

A beautiful book made from his team at Flash magazine, of the best photos he had taken in his years there. He had cried, the day he left. Those people were his family, and without them, there was no way on earth he would be about to embark on this adventure.

And finally, his fingers hesitated over the last item in the box. He carefully took out the blank white envelope and tipped the photographs inside into his hand.

His heart twisted. It was more than seven years since Donghun had left behind these photos, the ones he had pressed into Junhee’s hand before running off to call Han. Junhee had never forgotten that night. On the back of one photo, the scribbled writing remained: I realised afterwards that I took these for you. So it’s only right they belong to you.

Junhee spread each photo on the floor. God, Donghun was gorgeous in those photos. So young – his cheeks a little rounder, his hair shorter, many of his tattoos yet to join his canvas. The butterflies in Junhee’s stomach fluttered painfully, and he put a hand to his chest as intense emotions hurt his heart. The photos made him think of the two nights they had slept together in the years since, of course, but more than that – it made him think of all they had been through together since then. He ran a thumb over one of the photos gently, a lump sticking in his throat. They had both grown so much, and every day Donghun had grown more beautiful.

The doorbell rang, announcing his parents’ arrival. Junhee tucked the photos back in their envelope, replaced the items, and closed the box.

 

~

 

Junhee pulled his case through Incheon airport as he glanced up at the departure boards. He pushed back his blonde hair, found first his own flight, and then glanced at the others listed. His heart panged. Flight IXB7593 Incheon to Toronto; scheduled 16:47; estimated 18:11; please proceed to gate.

So Donghun’s flight was delayed – and he must have just missed him. He sighed, a little deflated that fate couldn’t have pushed that flight back just another half an hour.

He checked in his suitcase and wandered slowly over towards a coffee shop, plenty of time to spare. Better find somewhere to sit down and read.

His heart nearly stopped when, across the space, their eyes met.

Junhee stopped dead. Donghun stared back, his face unreadable, frozen for a moment.

Feeling light-headed, Junhee began to pick his way through the people rushing towards flights. As he stopped in front of Donghun, the butterflies somersaulted.

He didn’t even speak. He just kissed him.

Donghun’s arms circled him, oblivious to the streams of people around them, uncaring of the dozens of glances in their direction. Junhee was lost in the moment. He needed him, and on a day when he was scared, and alone, and about to take a leap – he was here.

“I… I can’t believe I caught you… I’ve missed you so badly.”

“I’ve missed you too…”

Junhee held him tight, a smile playing on his lips. “Of all the days I needed to run into you, today was it.” He leaned back in, savouring the taste of Donghun’s mouth.

But Donghun pulled back, shaking his head, a frown pulling together his brows.

“Junhee…” he started, and there was a tone in his voice that sparked instant fear in Junhee’s heart. “When my flight got delayed, I promised myself that if by any weird chance I saw you, I would say something.”

Junhee’s heart skipped, afraid. “What is it?” Donghun said nothing. “Hun..? You can tell me anything…”

Donghun searched his face. “I know.” His voice was quiet, and Junhee desperately tried to work out if it was sadness or fear that laced his words.

“Donghun…” Junhee accepted the fingers that coiled into his own; they were shaking. “Whatever it is, just tell me. You can be honest.”

Donghun took a deep breath.

“Back in Bali, when we talked,” he started, looking up into Junhee’s face. “I told you how deeply I understand that when someone comes out of a bad relationship, they need time and space to recover, and that hearts can’t transfer quickly to someone else after they’ve been broken. I truly did and do understand that.

“I’ve… I’ve given you time and space. But I’m waiting for it all to mean something… waiting to understand what will happen. I know it’s selfish… but I don’t think I can keep waking up every day desperately wanting you to be with me, desperately wanting to call you and I an ‘us’… desperately wanting to believe that when you say you love me, you mean it.”

Junhee’s heart stopped, and then restarted at twice the speed. The sounds of the airport melted to nothing. “Do you mean it when you say you love me?” He heard fear in his own voice.

Donghun’s gaze didn’t waver. “I’ve been in love with you for seven years, Junhee. I’ve been madly in love with you since the day I goddamn met you.”

What Junhee wanted to say was: me too. He wanted to tell him how, back in that café the first time they had spoken at length, he had felt himself falling into some dizzy attraction he had never climbed out of. Tell him how he had found him so magnetic the second he first saw him – and every time he saw him since.

But words stuck in Junhee’s throat. He couldn’t speak. Back when Donghun had left Seoul, he had loved him? Back in Canada, when Junhee thought he didn’t reciprocate his feelings, he had loved him? Those days spent thinking about confessing, writing out messages only to delete them, he had loved him? So he had moved on, met Akemi, forcing himself into the arms of someone else because he had given up hope of being with Donghun… All that time, he had repressed all those feelings, convinced they were one-sided.

“Love isn’t everything, I know that,” Donghun continued. His eyes were sad. “And I get it, you’re moving, you’re starting fresh, and maybe there will never be a right time for us. But I’ve waited, and I’ve never asked what this all means, never asked what these feelings and the things we’ve said mean. In Canada, I didn’t ask what it means. In Bali, I didn’t ask what it means. I never asked if you saw something in this, if you felt like one day, this would lead to us… to us being together properly. Whether we’d keep up this… whatever it is, or if we would really be together, one day. All this time I’ve not asked but I’m asking you now, Junhee. I’m asking you to finally give me an answer about who I am to you.”

His words weren’t angry. They were sad, scared, desperate.

And Junhee, at the worst time he could have lost his words, was silent.

Donghun searched his face for a long moment. Junhee felt stuck, the lump in his throat wouldn’t let the words past, he didn’t know what to do, he couldn’t move. What if he fucked this up? What if he didn’t have enough to offer Donghun? What if Junhee wasn’t enough and Donghun left him and this… this person who was his everything walked out of his life? What if this was not their moment, what if this was the wrong time-?

Wasn’t it just better to never take the risk, than to risk it all and lose him?

“I… I’ve clearly said way too much.” Donghun took a step back, letting go of Junhee’s hand.

“N-no… it’s not…” But he fell silent again, tears filling his eyes as hurt splashed over Donghun’s face. “I care about you so much, but-”

But?” Donghun’s voice rose. He stared at Junhee, incredulous. “There’s a ‘but’ on the end of there?” He scraped his nails through his hair in disbelief. “You’re fucking kidding me…”

People glanced at them as they passed.

“Donghun, I’m sorry, I’m just…” Junhee trailed off, looking beseechingly at Donghun.

“I get it.” Angry tears stood in Donghun’s eyes. He pulled his hands into sweater paws, and even the sight of it made Junhee’s heart twist. “I’m going to make this extremely plain.” He swiped a tear away from his cheek. “Don’t tell me you love me again. Ever. I don’t want to hear it.” His lip trembled. “I just spilled my heart to you and you can barely look me in the face. Or even reject me with any kind of dignity. You can’t call someone every day, tell them you love them, sleep with someone – the lot, if you don’t even… even…” He shook his head incredulously. “And you don’t have anything to say when I ask what I am to you?”

“You just said yourself, love isn’t enough…” Junhee flinched at his own words, and at the look of disbelief that crossed over Donghun’s face. Those were the words he was going to manage to speak?!

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry, I didn’t think it would go like this.” Tears bubbled up in Donghun and spilled. “Maybe I’m overreacting, okay? I’m sorry! You’re right, I did just say that. It’s just I… I really thought you wanted the same thing. I knew it would take time but I didn’t think you’d treat me this way if you didn’t see me as… as someone special to you…”

Junhee tried really hard not to cry, but he lost the battle.

For a long moment neither of them said anything.

“So I guess… I guess you said you loved me just because I was there for you after Akemi, right?” The tracks down Donghun’s cheeks caught the light. “Because I filled a space? Well… That’s not how this is for me.” The cry that caught in his throat was high and childlike. “I really love you, Junhee, I really meant it…”

“That’s not what you are to me, far from-”

“Look, I get it.” Donghun’s voice cracked, but he angrily dried his tears as he glanced up at the boards. “I’m… gonna miss my flight if I don’t go.” He pulled his bucket hat down and replaced his mask over his nose. He suddenly looked like Diamond Frost again. “Have a safe trip to England, Junhee. I guess… I’ll probably run into you in a few years, or something.”

And so Junhee watched Donghun walk away, until he disappeared into the crowds.

He pressed his hands to his eyes and took a long, shaky breath.

Why, why when it mattered most, had he frozen up?

A deep, intense self-loathing flushed through his heart. He had made Donghun cry. God, it was the worst feeling in the world.

He’s my angel, and I just let him go.

Is that who Junhee was? A coward? Someone too afraid to speak when it mattered, to take risks, to allow someone to ever hold his heart again just because someone had broken it in the past?

And worse – was he someone capable of breaking someone else’s heart? That man – who had taken care of him, given him nothing but honesty, support, compassion - had held his own damaged heart out and Junhee had shattered it. Even with his eyes shut, he couldn’t rid that image, Donghun crying with his fingers pulled inside his jumper, looking at Junhee, desperate for him to say something, anything of comfort…

He would go and catch his flight now. Twelve hours, alone, no one there for him while he was sad… Pain, physical pain hit Junhee’s chest. No, he couldn’t, the idea was beyond devastating… He needed to hold him, needed to dry his tears, needed to make sure he was okay and that he understood he was loved…

“What am I doing?”

It was a whisper to himself, but he turned towards the crowds and broke into a run.

People cursed him out as he jostled them, but he darted down the terminal regardless. He cast around desperately, looking for that slim boy, looking for a mop of curly hair, a Gucci t-shirt, where was he…

He skidded to a halt at departures. Through the glass division, beyond the security checks, he saw him collecting his bag from the scanners and fix it back on his shoulder, before walking away towards the gates.

Junhee looked at the entrance to security. Long queues wound their way back.

He was too late.

For a moment, Junhee couldn’t move. Eventually, he raised a hand to wiped the tears from his face. Ignoring the curious stares from strangers around him, he managed to force his legs to take steps. And he went to catch his flight.

 

~

 

At 35,000 feet, sleep came fitfully to Junhee. The plane was buffeted by turbulence; it shook him in and out of his dreams. A few rows behind, a baby screamed at the top of its lungs. He pulled his headphones over his ears and started the playlist: Happy Songs for Sad Days.

No, fuck, he couldn’t listen to this, not now. Not Donghun’s playlist for him.

He shut the app, and once again closed his eyes.

Sleep slowly crept in.

Waves lapped at the shore, and Junhee wriggled his toes in the sand. Bali.

He loved the ocean so much; his heart was happy. But all the happier for the boy sitting next to him, teasing fingers through his wild hair that had sprung into curls from where they had dived into the sea from that cliff edge.

But their conversation was serious. Memories slotted back, fragments of conversation from that time.

“…I never asked. I know it’s not my place to ask.” Junhee said it because he didn’t want to drag up memories for Donghun, but he was also scared to hear what those questions could uncover.

“Han just hit me. I say ‘just’, he had a hell of a good aim.” Donghun drew circles in the sand. Talking about this didn’t seem to upset him, not anymore. Jesus Christ, Junhee thought, he was so strong. “But Myungdae…”

Junhee watched him, watched the way the ocean sent a galaxy of stars sparkling in his eyes. “You can talk about it.” He touched Donghun’s hand. “It’s okay, if you want to say.”

“I’ve never told anyone this.” Donghun held Junhee’s gaze, looking thoughtful, hesitant… “So, he only hurt me once. Not like Han - it was only the one time… But… when he did, he… hospitalised me.”

Junhee was glad he was sitting down. He felt suddenly faint.

Donghun sighed. “That’s why I started to be so scared of thinking I was going to see him. I never told anyone… not even my family. But when I was in hospital, I remember wishing I could reach out to you and Sehyoon. Just this weird feeling like I wanted to tell you.”

“You should have… We’d have been there.”

“Well you’re here now.” Donghun smiled. “I’m glad I’ve told you. I hate keeping stuff from you. It’s weird, I just have this compulsion to tell you everything.” He went back to drawing flowers in the sand. “So I give a fifth of my paycheque to a domestic abuse charity now. Every month. Oh, and I’d like to get together all the creatives I know to do a campaign to help other guys who have been through this.” He gave Junhee a determined smile. “I could have let it break me, or I can use what happened to me to change the world. And I plan to do the latter.”

There was no way for Junhee to tell him how he felt about that.

“You… are the most remarkable human being on the planet.”

Donghun laughed. “Hardly.”

Junhee took his hand; their fingers slotted together comfortably. “I know we don’t see each other much,” he said frankly. “But you’re my best friend.”

Donghun looked surprised; more surprised than if Junhee had just given him a love confession. He spoke slowly. “…No one has ever said that to me before.”

Junhee smiled at him. “Well it’s true. And I won’t let anyone hurt your heart again, okay?” He shrugged simply. “I don’t ever want anyone to make you cry.”

He woke up with a jolt as the plane juddered once more. The dream faded, but the memories of that conversation were real, and Junhee’s heart twisted.  

I won’t let anyone hurt your heart again.

And yet here he was, the one who had done just that.

 

~

 

The evening sun warmed Junhee’s skin, warming away the aches from so long on a plane. Around him, this city thrived, so far away from his home. He couldn’t quite believe he was here.

Chatter in English flitted around him and he tried to block it out long enough to read street signs. Having visited once, occasionally he saw buildings he recognised, but still he was led by the map on his phone. His footsteps were uncertain, and he hoped he wouldn’t have to stop and ask someone.

But as he walked, his thoughts were on the conversation from those few hours ago.

I’ve been in love with you for seven years, Junhee. I’ve been madly in love with you since the day I goddamn met you… I’m asking you now, Junhee. I’m asking you to finally give me an answer about who I am to you.

And how was he supposed to verbalise an answer to that?

Donghun had been so many things to him over the years. At first, he had come into his life when he had few friends, when he felt isolated as a fansite. He had been a confidant, someone to delicately draw him out of his shell. And, in quick succession, he had been a crush, someone who filled Junhee’s daydreams – not to mention the dreams at night that he woke up from with a guilty flush.

When they ran into each other in Daegu, in that moment of chance, he had become Junhee’s hope. In Canada, he had become the reason Junhee fell in love for the first time in his life.

He had been there since, a friend, a mentor for his photography… He had been there to congratulate Junhee on his engagement. God, he had congratulated him on his engagement… Junhee realised it now with a pang. If he had really been in love with him even then, how had that felt..? Junhee thought of the elated messages Donghun had sent him at the time, and his heart broke.

And, when everything fell apart, Donghun had been the one to pick up the pieces again. Then, he had become Junhee’s strength, his rock, his counsellor. He had become his favourite voice on the end of the phone, his favourite smile, the one person in the world who truly knew everything there was to know about Junhee and still loved him regardless.

Junhee’s phone beeped at him. Destination reached.

He looked up at the little house, all foreign design and windowsills filled with plants. A shimmer of electricity ran around his body. He walked up the path, swallowed hard, and pressed the doorbell.

Donghun opened the door and froze.

“Hey,” Junhee said simply.

For a long moment, Donghun just stood staring at him, his hands frozen on the door. As Junhee gave a shy smile, Donghun peered closer, his face bewildered.

“But… you’re… in England…”

The Canadian breeze blew gently on Junhee’s back as he stood in Donghun’s doorway. Before he could even speak: tears threatened his eyes, his heart pounded, the butterflies soared.

“I… I went back and bought a different ticket,” he said simply.

Donghun stared. “You… you bought a…”

“You were right,” Junhee said. A single tear made its escape. “Right to ask me what all this means, right to say we can’t just stay in this stasis we’ve been in. But I was just afraid. You mean more to me than I can even understand myself, let alone express… And the thought of fucking it up and losing you was crippling. I’ve been so caught up in fear about getting the timing wrong, or giving it a go and me not being in a good enough place to offer you something good. Our lives have kept changing and I feared the timing would never be right. But I can’t stay afraid forever. And if not now, when?”

Still Donghun didn’t move a muscle.

Junhee took a deep breath.

“It’s always been you.” He smiled, despite the wobble in his lip. “It’s you I come back to. Always. It’s you I want and only you. It’s you that makes these butterflies in my stomach come alive.

“You asked me what you are to me? You’re… you’re a star whose orbit I can’t get out of. You’re a place I can go, when I’m scared, to feel safe. You’re the most ridiculously, stupidly gorgeous man I’ve ever seen and you make it literally impossible for me to crush on anyone that isn’t you. You’re… the first thing I think about every morning and you’re the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. You’re my inspiration, and I want to be there for every tiny thing you achieve. You’re the one I want to fall asleep holding, you’re the one I want to kiss to wake up, you’re the one I want to watch grow and blossom. You’re my best friend. You’re home. And I love you, and I always have loved you… and I always will.” He blinked two tears down his face. “So please can you forgive me for not being able to say all this before, please can we just be together?”

Tears glistened on Donghun’s cheeks, but his eyes reflected Junhee with so much love, it was enough to make him burst.

And then he pulled Junhee into his arms like he planned to never let him go.

Junhee closed his eyes, burying his face in Donghun’s shoulder. The softness of his skin, the scent of patchouli, the way they fit together like jigsaw pieces. He was Junhee’s only choice.

And that was what had hit him as he stood in the airport. Fear had kept him trapped, fear had held him back from a future with this man. But fear was not his ruler – he had a choice. And he chose to silence that voice of doubt and chose to go to his happiness. With trembling hands, he had gone to ask for the next flight to Toronto that he could book onto and bought his ticket. He had watched his flight to England leave, and boarded instead that later plane. It was now or never, and Junhee had chosen now.

“Junhee…” Donghun cupped his face, still watery-eyed, but his face split into the biggest smile. “I feel like I’m dreaming.” He brushed his face with one finger. “Are you really here?”

Junhee nodded tearfully. “I’m so sorry I froze up on you back in Incheon. I panicked, and I’m not good with words…”

“You were just very good with words right now.” Donghun let out a breath of laughter. “God, they might be the best words I’ve heard in my whole life.”

Junhee kissed him, savouring the way his lips felt against his own, savouring the way Donghun’s hand always subconsciously curled around the back of his neck. For the first time, he didn’t feel desperate – didn’t feel like this kiss could be their last, as all the kisses before had felt. This was his future now, and it felt like a thousand flowers had blossomed on the path before him.

“Come on.” Donghun tugged his hand, pulling him inside. Junhee smiled as they walked into Donghun’s house, the one he had moved into six months before and Junhee had yet to see. He recognised rooms from his video call tours and smiled, his heart happy.

“So you… You just bought a plane ticket?” Donghun still watched him, as though if he looked away Junhee might disappear.

Junhee nodded. “Yeah. I booked the next flight out here…” He grinned sheepishly. “My luggage was already checked into my flight to England, though, so… I have absolutely nothing with me.”

Donghun laughed, holding him close again. “That’s okay. I’ll get you whatever you need.” He kissed Junhee’s cheek. “You really are the love of my life, you know. I was just so scared I’d never have you.”

Junhee smiled, smoothing back Donghun’s hair. “You always had me. From the second you walked straight into me at that schedule.”

“Oh, you walked into me…”

 

~

 

For a couple of hours, Junhee and Donghun did nothing but lie on the sofa together and talk. Everything was so much better in person for Junhee – those wide smiles, that excitable story-telling, that impish grin whenever he gently made fun of Junhee. They talked about how Junhee would head to England next week, ready for his new job, and how it wouldn’t really be all that hard to do long distance – not when they had already overcome so much already.

As they watched something on Junhee’s phone, Junhee felt his eyes flutter shut. He tried forcing them open.

“Hey.” Donghun played with his hair. “Come on, you must be exhausted. Let’s get you to bed.”

“M’fine…” Junhee protested, but he didn’t put up a fight as Donghun easily picked him up and carried him to the bedroom. He undressed Junhee, and gave him spare pyjamas, before carrying him to bed and climbing in to cuddle him.

“Thanks for looking after me.”

“Thanks for flying to an entirely different continent than you were planning to.” Donghun pulled the duvet up to their shoulders. “Crazy boy.” Donghun traced Junhee’s arm, playing dot-to-dot with the freckles. “I’m sorry if it seemed like I was guilt-tripping you earlier at the airport. I really didn’t mean it that way.”

“I didn’t take it that way.”

“Mh.” Donghun shrugged. “But it could have seemed like it. I think it just all came spilling out, the second I saw you.” He looked embarrassed. “I’ve never felt like that before…”

“I’m glad you did.” Junhee traced his tattoos with his little finger. “One of us needed to fucking well say something.”

Donghun snorted. “That’s true.” They were both silent, tracing each other’s skin. “Can I tell my friends I have a boyfriend now?” Donghun’s voice was jokey, but Junhee still caught the excitement in his eyes.

“You can.” He laughed as Donghun made a silent celebration. “Can I meet your friends now?”

“You can!” Donghun grinned. “Fuck it. You can meet them this week.”

“My lot will be happy, too,” Junhee said. “Sehyoon, Kwan, Chan… They’ve all been cheering for you for a long time.”

“Really?” Donghun looked surprised.

“Yeah. They wanted us to be together and laid into me at the wedding for not being with you.”

Donghun smiled and cuddled him close. His fingers played with his hair, and Junhee couldn’t in all his life remember being this happy.

“I love you, Junhee.”

The butterflies flitted with excitement as he felt Donghun’s tongue against his own, and Junhee pulled him on top of him. Donghun shut his eyes and sighed as though in realisation.

“What?” Junhee asked, stopping his hands from exploring.

“I just realised,” Donghun groaned. “This means I get to fuck you all the time.” A devilish grin passed over his face. “I am so happy about that.”

Junhee laughed, and bit his lip as the friction of Donghun moving against him made blood rush down his body. “Right?!” He kissed his throat. “Now stop talking for once in your life and put your money where your mouth is.”

 

~

 

“I feel like I’ve said enough goodbyes to you to last a lifetime.”

Donghun raised an eyebrow over his coffee milk, making Junhee smile. Another goodbye, another airport… Only this time, Junhee’s heart wasn’t splintering in silence.

Over the past five days, they had filled the time with simply being together. Technically, it had been the first days of their relationship – but to Junhee, it didn’t feel like some big new start. It felt like clicking the last of the pieces into a puzzle, and he just felt relieved, and peaceful.

He had met Donghun’s friends, an unfairly cool group of fashionable boys and girls who loved art and music as much as he did. The anxieties Junhee had felt when meeting Akemi’s friends – and the gnawing worry that he didn’t fit in with them – were nowhere to be seen. And god, he had drunk in the way it felt to see Donghun look so proud and excited to introduce him.

In return, Junhee had video called Sehyoon and Byeongkwan, catching them completely off guard.

“Hey!” Sehyoon’s face had lit up as he’d answered Junhee’s call. “Kwan, come here, it’s Junhee.” Byeongkwan had joined the call with a grin.

“Hey! How’s England?”

“Well,” Junhee had said, trying not to let the smile creep across his face. “I haven’t actually got to England yet…” Donghun had joined him in-shot with a grin, leaving Sehyoon and Byeongkwan staring in confusion. Junhee had laughed hard at their reaction. “I realised I… need this one. So… I came to Canada. And we’re finally together.”

“Jesus Christ, fucking finally!”

But, above all that, above seeing the excitement in their friends’ eyes, above eating dinner together and shopping together and waking up with each other – on the second morning, Donghun had looked up at Junhee over breakfast.

“I was thinking…” he had started, playing with his cereal coyly. Junhee had raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t hurt yourself thinking too hard,” he teased. “Go on?”

“Well… Can we go on a date?” Donghun had looked up, his nose turning a little pink. “Like, a proper date. Our first proper date.” He smiled, looking uncharacteristically shy. “We’ve hung out together, slept together, talked on the phone for about a million hours… But I’d like to go on a date with you.”

A smile had slowly curled Junhee’s lips. “Lee Donghun, you’re a soppy old romantic, aren’t you?”

Donghun had laughed. “I am,” he conceded. “You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

And so as Donghun had spent the afternoon out at a shoot for work, Junhee had gone into the city to find something to wear. The butterflies had fluttered when he headed out to the address Donghun had told him to meet him at. They only intensified when he found that handsome boy sat on a wall waiting for him.

“This way,” Donghun had said with a smile, pulling him by the hand down a narrow path between two buildings. Up some steps, down another alleyway, and up some steps again. Junhee had been about to ask where on earth Donghun was taking them when the path opened up. Up high on a vantage point, they had looked down over Lake Ontario, which glowed a dazzling russet as the sun set beyond. And nestled here, in this pocket of the city, an open-fronted restaurant spilling with cherry blossoms.

“I found this place the first week I moved here, when I was exploring and taking photos.” Donghun had raised his shoulders simply. “I always wanted to bring someone special here.”

They had sat out, looking right down over the lake, and eaten delicious food and drank good wine and talked. And occasionally, Junhee had lost what Donghun was saying, too busy watching the way he absently coiled a finger through his bangs as he talked, too busy looking at the way his dark eyes lit up in the sunset.

“I told you, I’m bringing you here!” Donghun had argued, holding the check out of Junhee’s reach.

“Hun…” Junhee had yanked on his arm, narrowing his eyes. “Hun, I will bite you.”

Donghun had cocked an eyebrow, a smirk on his face. “I mean… I’m into that.”

They had left hand-in-hand, still laughing. As they had walked along the lake, the happy sounds of people playing had caught on the evening breeze.

“Is that an ice rink?” Junhee’s eyes had widened, and he’d spun around to Donghun before he could answer. “Oh my god, please…

Donghun had laughed. “Why do you think I walked us this way?”

And Junhee would remember, always, holding onto Donghun’s waist as they skated. Always remember the way Donghun’s nose went pink from the cold, the way he laughed when he almost tripped, the way he held him, and kissed him, in the middle of that frozen lake, like there was no one else in the world but them.

The airport tannoy brought Junhee back to the present.

“Well, I best leave you here.” Donghun turned to face him. “I’m gonna watch your plane leave from the terrace.”

Junhee nodded, playing with the front of Donghun’s coat. “I’ll see you really soon.”

“I’ll book my tickets to England as soon as I’m home. It’s just a few weeks.” They both smiled, and Donghun tucked his hand behind Junhee’s neck and kissed him. “Now, get out of here, Summer Storm.

Junhee laughed as he pulled up his mask. “Why would you call me that…”

Donghun nudged him and replaced his own mask. “It’s funny. Now get on your way. Bye, for a bit?”

Junhee’s heart warmed. It was the first time that those words hadn’t made him sad – now, all they did was make him look forward to the next time. “Bye, for a bit.”

When Junhee was called to his gate, he headed out to board the plane to England. As he walked with the other passengers across the runway, he glanced back to the terrace, filled with people watching planes leave and arrive. A familiar figure raised their hands above their head to wave, and blew him a kiss.

Junhee smiled. He had found his home. Now, he thought, turning back towards the plane, it was time for an adventure.

 

 

 

 

.:~ Epilogue ~:.

 

Junhee glanced at his watch, conscious of running late. He stood up on his pedals, weaving through the London traffic to make it home in time. The night time wind caught his hair and his scarf fluttered out behind him.

As he made it to Shoreditch, he turned into the shortcut that took him away from the meandering tourists and wandering revellers. As he thought about his day, English words invaded his Korean inner monologue, but he was used to it by now. After six months of intensive usage, his brain had adopted English as a second language.

He slowed to a halt and quickly chained his bike up outside his apartment, before rushing inside and taking the steps two at a time. The streetlights outside filtered into his home, and he quickly made a cup of tea before flopping down on the sofa in time for his phone to ring.

“Hey.” He smiled, finally letting the tension out of his shoulders.

“You’re out of breath.” A pierced eyebrow was raised, making Junhee laugh.

“Yeah, well, I just cycled home. Dinner took way longer than I expected and I was running late.”

Donghun tutted. “Don’t be silly, I don’t care if you get caught up. Don’t go rushing like crazy.” He snorted. “Although I remember those London cyclists. You’re becoming one of them, aren’t you?”

Junhee grinned. “I think so.” He shifted to be more comfortable. “How was your day?”

“Good.” Donghun changed as they talked, peeling off expensive clothes and ditching them for t-shirt and sweatpants. “That apprentice started today.”

“Oh yeah!” Junhee stopped rummaging for his glasses. “How was that?”

“Good.” Donghun’s lips twitched. “You’ll never guess. She’s Korean - an Ulsan girl. Moved to Seoul when she was eighteen. You know why?” Junhee raised an eyebrow in question. “She was a fansite.”

“No way. Who for?”

“KInJ. Some rookie boy group. It brought back a lot of memories.”

“She must have been really excited when you told her about you?” Junhee switched to English, and Donghun followed suit.

“I didn’t tell her. Maybe some other time,” he said with a smile. “Also, look at you, separating your Ls from your Rs…”

Junhee shrugged proudly. “Getting a little better every day.”

They spoke every day, unless one was out with friends or caught up with work. And it was easy. Every day, Donghun made his day a little brighter, and the happy glow that filled his chest hadn’t at all faded. Then only thing that had evolved was the way he felt entirely comfortable with Donghun now – happy to let him see his tired eyes at the end of a long day, unafraid to show his pale face when he was sick.

Today, like always, they talked easily, Donghun making dinner as they talked, Junhee getting ready for bed. It was almost as good as having him here with him at the end of his day. Almost, but not quite…

“Hun?” Junhee snuggled further into bed, turning out the light and leaving just his phone to light his face. Donghun came back to his phone where he had left it on the kitchen table.

“Yeah?”

Junhee looked at him, his heart twisting. “I really miss you. Like… quite a lot.”

Donghun’s eyes softened. “Yeah, same.” He played with his hair absently. “I was thinking about it on lunch. It’s only been four weeks since I saw you but… it’s getting harder, isn’t it?” Junhee nodded, biting his lip. “Like it’s started to hurt, physically hurt, what’s that about?”

“Yeah…” Junhee sighed, pulling the blanket around his shoulders. “I’d give anything to even live in the same country.”

“Well…” Donghun watched him, his eyes narrowed. He played with a bracelet on one wrist. “I was thinking, actually. Perhaps it’s time I move, one more time. Only this time, instead of running away from something, I run towards something.”

It took a beat for his meaning to register with Junhee.

And then he fumbled his phone.

“Wait, what?” He sat up in bed, the covers falling to his waist. His heart started to pound. “Do you mean move here?”

“Yeah.” Donghun ran fingers through his hair, a small smile flittering about his face. “I mean, I’ve been thinking about it for a little while. I love England, I love English fashion, and… well, I love you. A whole fucking lot. But that’s not meant to be any pressure.” He looked more serious again. “I only want to do it if it’s absolutely what you want too, I don’t want to push you for something if you don’t want to…”

“Hun… Hun, stop talking.” Junhee searched his face on the screen, trying and failing to stop excitement rising through his heart like a catherine wheel. “I want literally nothing else more in the world. You mean… You mean you’d live here right?” He flushed. “Or you could get your own place, I’m not saying you have to live with me, obviously… I mean you’d still be so close and that would still be so perfect I-”

Donghun interrupted him by laughing. “Yeah… I would like to live with you, Junhee.”

They both broke out into an identical grin, and Junhee threw his phone down and lay back on the bed with a squeal, covering his face with his hands. He could hear Donghun laughing.

And so, seven weeks later, as London lit up with Christmas lights and shining frost, Junhee followed Donghun’s flight on his phone for the final time. Time crawled by, he couldn’t set to doing anything, he just flitted around his apartment until the doorbell finally rang.

Junhee couldn’t even say anything. No words would do, nothing he could say could even express half the feelings brimming in his heart. He just beamed, his eyes creasing, and hugged Donghun quietly. For a long moment, they just held each other in the doorway, Donghun’s cold cheek against his neck, his hair tickling his face.

“Welcome home,” Junhee said simply. He pulled Donghun inside. “You’re so cold, come on.”

“I lived in Toronto for nearly five years, this is tropical.” Donghun hung his coat up and chucked his hat and scarf down, coiling a finger around Junhee’s to pull him close. “Hey.” He kissed him, and Junhee could feel the way he smiled through it.

“Hey…” Junhee scrunched his nose. “I sort of can’t believe you’re here and you never have to leave.”

“Yeah. Me too.” Donghun looked down, his lip bitten. “I have something for you…”

Junhee raised his eyebrows in surprise. “For me? You idiot, you’ve just moved across the world, you don’t need to give me anything…”

Donghun said nothing, he just looked at him, his eyes searching for something in Junhee’s face. It made his stomach flip nervously, and he looked down as Donghun held out a blank envelope.

“For you,” he said simply.

For a moment longer, Junhee studied Donghun’s face, and then tipped the envelope upside down. His heart jolted, hard. A dozen photos fell into his hand, and he turned them the right way up to look at them. His throat constricted: the photo another fansite had taken of them both, back in their XF11 days, their cameras halfway to their faces as they waited for their moment.

To the next: The photo from CN Tower, laughter crinkling their eyes.

A photo of their walk along Lake Ontario, right before it snowed.

A screen capture, from one of a thousand nights video-calling when they had rekindled their friendship.

A photo on the beach in Bali, both of their hair damp and curly from sea salt, their shirts clinging to their wet bodies.

And then photos from the journeys made from England to Canada and the other way round – exploring until they were lost; clambering up hills and watching sunsets, pink-faced; breakfast in bed with Donghun’s floral-etched arms never far from Junhee’s waist.

The final photo was blank.

Junhee frowned. It was just white, glossy, like ink had yet to seep into it and capture a memory for the rest of time. He turned it over.

Handwriting marked the back of the photo in black ink. Junhee’s heart stopped.

Marry me?

“We’ve both been through so much.” Trembling, Junhee looked up at Donghun as he spoke. “And we’re both still working through things and growing together. But I want to grow with you forever. I want to… wake up to your bed hair every morning of my life. I want you to show me every photo you ever take. I just… want to be yours, always.” He took a shaky breath. “I don’t believe anyone is perfect. But you are, to me at least, completely and utterly perfect. And I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that I want to be with you, and make you happy, every single day for the rest of my life.” He gave a nervous smile. “So what do you say?”

Tears trickled from the corner of Junhee’s eyes. For a moment he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, he just looked at Donghun, his heart full of love.

“I want all that too.”

“Are you saying yes?”

“Of course I’m saying yes, you idiot.” Junhee fell into Donghun’s arms, bursting into tears.

He wrestled his tears into composure, and Donghun cupped his cheek, a happy grin splitting his face. “I love you, Junhee.” He shook his head. “And I’m going to be grateful forever for finding you.”

“And I’m going to be grateful we held on, somehow.” He wiped a stray tear with shaky fingers. “Never thought I’d end up marrying that weird Gucci fansite.”

Donghun laughed, holding him tight. “I was weird? Watch your mouth, Summer Storm. You were the weird one.”

“Whatever. Two fansites marrying each other, let’s just accept that that’s weird.”

“I know right.” Donghun rolled his eyes with a smirk. “Sounds like a crappy Ao3 fic.” His face grew a little more serious. “Really, Junhee… You make me insanely happy.”

“And you do the same to me.”

Donghun kissed him, and Junhee savoured all the little things – just as he had done for so many years before, and just as he would every day moving forward.

As they broke apart, his sad-eyed boy creased into one of those perfect smiles, and - as they would do for all the years ahead in his life - the butterflies in Junhee’s stomach danced.

 

 

 

。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆ The End  。・:*:・゚★,。・:*:・゚☆