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A Year Ago

It's raining.

Donghyuck frowns up at the sky. He nudges his camera bag closer to his body, angling the umbrella so it shields the bag more than it does him. He can dry off. Thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment, however, does not.

The cafe he wanted to visit is just across the street, the rain blurring out the afternoon traffic lights, washing them gray and muted, the sun long gone, shrouded behind the clouds. Donghyuck considers just walking back to his apartment and cutting his losses, but he's here now. He might as well just swallow his pride, pay an ungodly six dollars for a cup of coffee, and try to find his inspiration.

Try, futilely, to dig it out from whatever mossy dark cave it had hidden itself in.

The sign flickers to green, and Donghyuck gets swept up in the crowd around him as he steps off the sidewalk. For a brief moment, there's people wrapping around him, a crush of damp raincoats and umbrellas jostling each other for the same space, but then his feet hit the sidewalk on the other side and in a second - less, even - the crowd around him melts away, dissipating into a sparkle of cut off conversations and rushed breaths. Donghyuck stands there, strangely caught in that gossamer strand of a second, staring at the ground for a moment, before he pulls himself together and walks to the cafe door.

Donghyuck has never been inside, but has walked by the cafe several times before. It's on the way to the office and the atmosphere always looks inviting, large open windows with curly golden lettering, a chalkboard with the specials scribbled on out front, and inside is no less beautiful. The black and white linoleum gleams, summoning nostalgia of a different time, and when Donghyuck steps in, he almost regrets it. Tarnishing the floor with his muddy sneakers feels like a crime.

The place is crowded today, but Donghyuck is too intrigued by the ambience to consider going anywhere else. Besides, he’s hungry, and the chalk drawings of the sandwiches offered look too good to turn away.

He finds an unoccupied corner with a large, delicious sandwich and pops on his headphones, opening his laptop and readying himself for a grueling afternoon of editing and answering emails. Donghyuck doesn’t have much else to do nowadays; his creativity has been dead for a while, and whenever he can summon himself out of the house long enough to take pictures, he ends up deleting them in a fit of pique moments later, unsatisfied and unhappy with the results. His muse is dead, resting in her shallow grave, and Donghyuck doesn’t know what he can do to pry her back out.

It’s been this way for a while.

His last exhibition had gone okay - well, as okay as someone in Donghyuck’s standing could be. He won’t pretend that he doesn’t sound a tad bit ungrateful because there are hundreds of thousands of photographers that would kill to be in his place, but Donghyuck just wants it all to stop for a bit. He wants to stop being terrible, wants to stop hating his work, wants to feel something when he picks up his camera.

It’s been nearly three months and nothing’s changed.

Renjun had sent him on a forced vacation for a week, had threatened to steal all of Donghyuck’s cameras if he didn’t go, and so Donghyuck had trudged around the Blue Ridge Mountains for a week, grumpily hiking through muddy trails and staying up well into the night to get a shot of the night sky, a thousand stars stretched out on the wide blanket of the sky, unmarred by pollution and light. It had helped, but only a little. As soon as Donghyuck had returned to the city, back to his home, he’d deleted everything again, irritated at the lassitude that clouded his mind.

(There were copies of course, of the Tennessee night, of the flicker of campground flames, of a couple sitting in deck chairs, their hands linked loosely as the fire spit sparks in the background, the glow of a mysterious animal’s eyes as it stared out at Donghyuck from hidden brush, but Donghyuck doesn’t acknowledge them. He’ll destroy them all if he thinks about it, and the pretty things in his life are scarce nowadays.)

“Excuse me.”

Donghyuck jerks, glancing up in surprise. There’s a man standing in front of him, saying something, and Donghyuck squints before he realises he still has his headphones in. He pulls them out. “Say that again?”

“Can I sit here?” The man asks, pointing to the free chair across from Donghyuck. He’s not wearing a jacket, Donghyuck notices, just a threadbare cardigan thrown over a faded shirt. It doesn’t look nearly warm enough for the stormy, chilly weather that had overtaken the city in the last week. “Pretty much every other seat is taken.”

Donghyuck looks around. In the short time between arriving and demolishing his sandwich, the cafe has only gotten more crowded, and the baristas at the till have a pinched look in their eyes. “Yeah,” he says, clearing a space on the table and gesturing for the man to sit. “Of course.”

“Thank you,” the man smiles at him, and Donghyuck blinks. Really looks at him.

He has pale gray blue hair, obviously box-dyed going by the way it’s fading, but it suits him. A bit younger than Donghyuck, if the university sticker on his laptop is any indication. There's dried paint on his wrists and fingers, splashed between tendons and crevices, and Donghyuck feels himself staring for longer than he should before the man picks up his cup and his wrist vanishes back into his cardigan.

He tears his gaze away and forces himself to stare back at his laptop screen, blinking furiously until Lightroom occupies the center of his mind. The headphones go back on and the music starts back up, volume high as possible without damaging his ears, and Donghyuck bends down over his work with the intention to focus.

It doesn't work.

Every time he blinks, the man moves in the corner of his vision, leaning over his work so his shirt dips down, exposing sharp collarbones. He stretches back in his chair and the arch of his neck comes into full focus, cutting into the sun's rays that spill across the table, clouded and tinged with blue from the stained glass windows and the clouds. His eyes, large and brown, widen when he notices Donghyuck looking.

Donghyuck feels like he's losing his mind and gaining dizzying clarity all at once. His palms itch crazily, and his muse is suddenly up and awake for the first time in months, shattering through his focus with all the force of an elephant in a china shop.

Suddenly, he can see it all stretching out in front of him. The arch of that neck, twisted against precisely placed shadows, the colours he could play with, those hands - god, those hands-

"Are you okay?"

Donghyuck startles badly, nearly knocking his water bottle off the table. "I'm fine," he says hurriedly, straightening his things, his cheeks flaring red. God, he was gorgeous. "I'm just - what's your name?" He blurts, looking down at his keyboard before forcing his gaze up. He was famous and revered, goddammit. He would not let this stranger, no matter how pretty he was, ruin his composure.

The man stares at him. "Jaemin," he says slowly. "Jaemin Na."

Donghyuck swallows and decides to bite the bullet. Opportunities like this rarely came around. "This is going to sound really, really fucking weird, Jaemin Na, but I have a question for you."

Jaemin raises an eyebrow and Donghyuck's heart stutters for a second, images flashing through his mind of what he could create with that face, before he regains his grip on himself. "Are you going to kill me and dump my body in an alleyway?" Jaemin asks, a wry twist to his mouth. "Because if you are, please consider doing it after I have to turn in my final projects because I'd rather die than see those grades anyway."

Donghyuck laughs before he can stop himself. "No," he snickers, forgetting his nervousness for a second. "Though I can relate." He fumbles around for his wallet. "Um, no, I'm a photographer. Do you want to do a shoot for me? I can pay you for it and everything."

Going by the surprise on Jaemin's face, he clearly hadn't expected that. "Oh," he says. "Huh." His gaze sweeps up Donghyuck's body and it feels like a lover's hand, soft and heavy. Lingering. Donghyuck tries not to flush again. "I didn't peg you as a photographer, to be honest."

"What did you peg me as?"

Another considering glance. "A hedge fund manager."

Donghyuck splutters and Jaemin bursts out laughing, his hand coming up to cover his mouth as he leans away from the table. He garners a couple curious looks but doesn't seem to notice them, too busy grinning in amusement at Donghyuck.

"That's the worst thing a stranger has ever said to me," Donghyuck says, stunned. "Like, easily."

Jaemin smirks. "First impressions matter," he says. "Are you a student?"

Donghyuck shakes his head. "I graduated a few years ago," he says, and slides a business card across the table. Jaemin picks it up and lifts his eyebrows up at Donghyuck again. His expression is unreadable. Donghyuck adds, "Seriously, there's no pressure and you don't have to tell me now. I get that it's strange."

"You mean you don't proposition strangers in cafes on a daily basis?" Jaemin asks dryly, turning the card around in his fingers. Donghyuck thanks his stars Renjun had talked him into making them when he'd first started his business, even though Donghyuck still feels like a tool handing them out.

"Only biweekly," Donghyuck says, grinning when Jaemin laughs again.

"Why me?"

"Why not?" Donghyuck shrugs, and at Jaemin's look, smiles placidly. The tablecloth is lacy, the strands smooth when Donghyuck twines his fingers through it. "I like taking pictures of pretty things," he says, finally. "And it's been a while since I saw something worth taking a picture of."

A faint mist of pink steals across Jaemin's cheeks and a pleased feeling curls into Donghyuck's chest.

 

Present

Jaemin is waiting for Donghyuck when he pulls up to the curb.

“You’re late,” he calls, a smile glimmering at the edge of his mouth.

Donghyuck peers drolly out the window. “When was the last time you were on time for a shoot?” He asks as Jaemin throws his backpack in the back seat and climbs into the passenger side. They get a couple of curious looks because the university might be huge, but the art school is small and everyone knows everyone. And people know Donghyuck.

“I’m your muse,” Jaemin says airily, stretching out in his seat. Donghyuck glances over to see a splash of paint flashing on the thin strip of his exposed stomach. “I can do whatever I want.”

Donghyuck snorts and pulls out of the university, merging into the traffic that is already gathering despite it just having dipped into mid afternoon. “How do you manage to get paint under your clothes?”

Jaemin smirks over at him. “Painting without a shirt on will do that.”

“Hedonist.”

“Prude.”

“You’re calling me a prude?” Donghyuck scoffs. “Me?”

“Hmm, true,” Jaemin hums thoughtfully. “Exhibitionist?”

Donghyuck laughs. “Would that be the right word?”

Jaemin suppresses a yawn. “I suppose.”

Donghyuck glances over at him. “Go to sleep,” he says, turning up the heat in the car, watching Jaemin snuggle down into his seat. “I’ll wake you when we get there.”

“Okay,” Jaemin sighs, his hand landing on Donghyuck’s thigh. Donghyuck looks at him again and Jaemin smiles at him sleepily. His hand stays there.

 

They’re doing a shoot at an old museum today.

It’s just the two of them - just as it usually is, because Donghyuck loathes having a crew around, and he usually can’t be fucked to take the time to hire one given that his company is a grand total of two people - and when they enter the wing they’re shooting in, Jaemin strips off his clothes to change, uncaring of how in the open they are.

“Cameras,” Donghyuck reminds him. The doors to the wing are shut, but there are still security cameras situated in every corner of the wing.

“Yours are right there,” Jaemin points out, responding with a cheeky smile when Donghyuck narrows his eyes at him. He’s shirtless again and Donghyuck allows himself a brief look - just one, he tells himself - his eyes sweeping over Jaemin’s taut muscles, the easy way he leans against the chair they had brought in, his hair falling in his eyes, gorgeous as ever, untouchable as ever. It’s a long moment before he forces himself to look away and busies himself with setting up his equipment.

The paintings on the walls behind Jaemin are beautiful, large oil canvases set in gold frames, looking royal and expensive. Like statues of kings of old, commanding respect by their presence alone. Jaemin is a direct contrast to them, his bare skin unornamented, the paint being an exception, and despite it all, he still looks inexplicably gorgeous. Still compellingly magnetic. Donghyuck gestures him closer.

“So,” Jaemin drawls as Donghyuck dips his hands in the bucket he’d brought, trying to gather up as much of the ash as possible, and pressing his handprints on Jaemin’s chest. They come away streaky and patchy, and Donghyuck considers redoing them before dismissing it and choosing to move on. It’ll fit better with his idea anyway. “What made you think of ash?”

Donghyuck hums thoughtfully, less focused on Jaemin’s question and more on the slight jump of Jaemin’s chest when Donghyuck presses his hands to his skin again. “Was watching a documentary,” he mumbles. “About old eastern royalty and religion.”

Jaemin waits a beat. “And how does ash come into it?” He prompts when Donghyuck doesn’t elaborate.

Donghyuck blinks. “Oh, um,” he feels himself pinken a little. “Renewal,” he says quickly. “Rebirth. Fire is a symbol for a lot of those ideas and ash is the end of it. I kind of thought we could do a rebirth kind of thing - like contrast of you,” he waves his hand towards Jaemin’s worn trousers, a thrift store piece that looks like something out of the 16th century, but is really just a discoloured old thing that was left out in the sun for too long to fade. “And these paintings. Opulence of royalty versus the common man.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then Jaemin says quietly, a slight edge of wonder to his tone. “You’re really brilliant, you know that?”

Donghyuck dares to look up, and his heart skips a beat when he finds Jaemin’s eyes fixed on his own, gaze intent and warm. His cheeks burn. “Did it even make sense?” He asks, unable to tear his gaze away. A wry smile plays at the edge of his mouth. “I thought I sounded deranged.”

“Very tortured artist,” Jaemin agrees, a small smile blooming to life. Donghyuck’s hands are still on his chest. He can feel Jaemin’s heart pounding, loud and hard. “I can’t wait to see what you do with them.”

They still haven’t looked away from each other.

Donghyuck swallows.

 

Donghyuck has a very good imagination. He needs one, for his job; it’s how his photoshoots come alive. It’s why he’s as widely known as he is. Without his imagination, Donghyuck’s work is nothing.

But this…

“Tip your head back a little more,” Donghyuck instructs and Jaemin complies, though it must be a strain on his neck. His arm is suspended by a single rope, tied to a ladder that Donghyuck will edit out later, and he’s sitting sideways on the elegant chair, body arched up, up, up and his head tossed back.

Donghyuck’s imagination never comes close to the real thing when Jaemin is involved.

There’s quiet classical music playing and Jaemin follows Donghyuck’s instructions as easily as water flowing over an already worn down rock - smooth and slippery, body arching in beautiful curves, the planes of his face dark and pronounced as Donghyuck turns the lights down lower. He’s in a league of his own - the gold glitter of the paintings nothing compared to him.

When he’s shooting, Donghyuck thinks about nothing else but the subject and his art. It’s like the whole world vanishes, narrowing down to the pinpoint that is just his camera, and Jaemin. Nothing else matters in that fleeting moment of serenity.

But when it’s over, Jaemin opening his eyes fully and sitting up in the chair, his arm still bound by the rope and exhaustion clear in his gaze, then Donghyuck is forced to confront the truth. When the barrier of his camera is gone and all that is left is the open plane between them, just a couple of steps before he hits Jaemin’s warm body, before he has to untie him again, Donghyuck is left with the unshakeable knowledge that nothing will ever be as beautiful to him as Jaemin.

Jaemin looks up at him through his lashes when Donghyuck slips the knot from around his wrist. “You look tired,” he mumbles, other hand coming up to poke Donghyuck’s cheek.

Donghyuck carefully lays Jaemin’s hand down. “You look worse,” he says, but there’s no bite to his tone. Jaemin scrunches his face up at him regardless.

“Are you getting sleep?” He demands.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “Yes,” he says, handing Jaemin a packet of wet wipes. “Go clean yourself off in the bathroom, I don’t want you getting ash all over my car.”

Jaemin gets up. He’s standing too close, close enough that his chest brushes Donghyuck’s when he breathes. He doesn’t move away, and his gaze feels like a brand on Donghyuck’s skin. Hot and heavy.

Donghyuck looks back at him, as steadily as he can. “Yes?”

Jaemin smiles and lifts his hand to Donghyuck’s cheek, swiping under his eye. His thumb ignites Donghyuck’s skin, leaving trails of fire and brimstone behind. “You had some ash,” he says quietly.

Donghyuck doesn’t move until he hears the gallery doors shut behind Jaemin and only then does he let out a shaky breath, the burn in his chest blooming forth full and strong.

Fuck.

 

A Year Ago

A week and a half later, Donghyuck is in the middle of cleaning up his studio for the first time in months when Jaemin calls him.

"I can do it."

Donghyuck frowns, turning around to stare out of his window, and it takes him a pathetically short amount of time to place the voice. "Jaemin?"

"Oh - yeah, it's me," Jaemin coughs, sounding embarrassed. "Sorry, I should have led with that."

Donghyuck snorts. "It's fine." As if he hadn't spent the last week thinking about Jaemin and the arch of his fingers, the splashes of paint that had trailed behind his ear, down his neck. Dreaming about the art he could make - about the art Jaemin was. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," Jaemin says. "I don't mi- I'd like to."

Donghyuck swallows. "Great," he says, softer. "I'll send you my details. When are you free?"

After they hammer out the details, Donghyuck hangs up and drops down onto the couch in his studio. It's an ugly shade of pastel pink, a temporary backdrop that Renjun had found at an outlet for a shoot Donghyuck had that season when he was doing a slew of summer weddings to fill in the gaps in his bank account. But there had been no way to return it, and here it sits, still in Donghyuck's studio, still insultingly pink. Donghyuck sneers down at the fabric before adjusting the grey blanket he usually has draped over it so the colour vanishes.

you

i got a job

renj

congratulations

pay me

you

bitch

you already get paid

whether or not i get money

renj

yeah

whose idea was that?

you

yours

renj

that's right

im a genius

you

im going to go clean my studio

renj

you do that

im going to go give myself a raise

 

There's a knock on Donghyuck's door on Sunday afternoon. Donghyuck rubs his face and groans, stumbling to his door. He'd woken up only an hour earlier and he's still not awake enough to deal with another human being. But he has a job to do, for the first time in forever, and he's going to get his fucking muse back to work. No matter how lazy it's being.

"Hello," Jaemin says with a bright smile when Donghyuck opens the door. He's even less wrapped up than before, and Donghyuck frowns at his thin hoodie as he lets Jaemin past him before glancing out the window, where there's a thin layer of snow dusting the thin sill.

"Hey," Donghyuck yawns, trying for a smile. "Sorry, I'm -" another yawn. "Still tired."

"I can tell," Jaemin says, before shifting his backpack around in his hands and glancing up at Donghyuck hesitantly.

Donghyuck frowns at him. "What?" He asks. "Do I have something on my face?"

Jaemin shakes his head. "I looked you up," he says, tentatively. "Online."

Donghyuck raises his eyebrows, suddenly feeling much more awake. "Ah," he says. He knows exactly what his body of work is portrayed as online, and he can say for certain he knows what collections Jaemin had stumbled upon going by the look on his face. "Are you uncomfortable with it?" He asks.

A look crosses over Jaemin's features, and Donghyuck wishes he could parse it out. It flits away too quickly for that, though. "No," he says. "No, I'm not."

There's an unsaid question hovering between them and Donghyuck sighs. "I need coffee before we can have this conversation," he says. "Make yourself at home." He waves Jaemin towards the couch in his living room before turning to his kitchen. He doesn't really have rooms - not really. Donghyuck's whole loft is divided into three spaces - a massive studio at the corner of the apartment with huge floor to ceiling windows for all of the natural light he can coax into the room, a living space, and his bedroom.

"There's no need," Jaemin protests, but Donghyuck flaps his hand in the air behind him, signalling for the conversation to hold off until he has his coffee clutched in his hands.

"Okay," Donghyuck says finally, dropping down onto the only other armchair he owns, finally feeling awake enough. Jaemin has rid himself of his hoodie and Donghyuck sees more paint on his arms, leading up to the edge of his sleeves. Gold and silver, a splatter of black on the back of his hand. He forces himself to look Jaemin in the eyes. "We should have had this conversation before. That's my fault, and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable because you didn't know what to expect."

Jaemin shakes his head. "I'm not," he says. "I've done stuff like this before. I mean, not exactly like this, but I’m comfortable enough with being naked on camera."

That catches Donghyuck's attention. "Have you?" He asks curiously.

Jaemin shrugs. "Yeah. I go to an art school, it's not unheard of. A lot of projects need models."

Donghyuck considers this. "And you're... You're okay with it? You don't have to be fully naked if you don't want - you probably won't be, if I'm being honest. It's just kind of where things lead me." He waves his hand in the air, a helpless attempt at trying to convey exactly how unpredictable his work was.

Jaemin nods. "I just wanted to know what exactly you - you want." He shifts, shivering a little, and Donghyuck can see goosebumps pricking up over his arms and ghosting over his neck. A splash of gold sits on the side of his neck like a tiny birthmark. "I just - don't want to disappoint. You're like... famous."

Donghyuck blinks. Disappoint him? Donghyuck? Jaemin turns a little pink under his stare. “Me?” He asks. “You - I’m practically a stranger.”

Jaemin smiles, leaning against the couch. “I like to do my job well.”

Donghyuck bites his lower lip. He gets up, and Jaemin follows him with a curious gaze as he turns up the heating before turning back to level Jaemin with a steady look. "You don't have anything to worry about," he says, finally, trying not to flush at that. Who is Donghyuck to disappoint? It’s more than a little flustering that a practical stranger can have such an impact on him. "I haven't had a job in over six months because I haven't found anything I want to photograph. If you're okay with it, I'd love to take pictures of you."

"Tied up." Jaemin's gaze is steady.

Donghyuck returns it. "Yes," he says. "Partly."

Jaemin looks down at his hands and Donghyuck follows his gaze. They're beautiful hands; he can just see the rope winding around his fingers, twining those delicate wrists together. He takes a breath and then glances back up at Donghyuck. "Okay," he says. "I'm in."

 

Donghyuck did not think this through.

Not at all.

It doesn't really hit him until he's sitting on the floor of his studio with Jaemin in front of him, his wrists held out for Donghyuck to finish the last knot. He's dressed still, at least from the bottom down, clad in jeans, chest bare. Donghyuck can see every rise and fall of his breath. He looks away.

"Are you nervous?"

Jaemin sighs. "Only a little," he says, before something mischievous comes into his gaze. "Are you?”

Donghyuck narrows his eyes at him. "No," he says shortly, and Jaemin's lips twist into a gorgeous smile.

"Wait," Jaemin blurts suddenly, and Donghyuck drops his hands instantly, panicking.

"What? What's wrong?"

"No, nothing," Jaemin says quickly and blushes as he holds up his tied wrists. "It's just - shouldn't I wash off the paint?"

"No," Donghyuck says before he can stop himself. "No, don't, it's - it looks better this way."

The look that twinkles in Jaemin's eye is infuriating. And ridiculously intriguing. Donghyuck doesn't understand him; not even close, not yet, but god, does he want to.

The camera always affords him a different look at people, their souls coming alive under the glare of the lens and the flash of the lights, and Donghyuck always walks away from a session knowing more about the person than he had going in. He can’t wait to step behind one this time, to watch Jaemin unwind for him.

"Okay," he says finally, letting go of Jaemin and pushing back, surveying his work. “Okay, I'm going to set the camera, just give me a second."

Jaemin nods and arranges himself comfortably on the floor, watching Donghyuck as he fiddles with his equipment. He tries not to stare at Jaemin too much - there would be plenty of time for that post-shoot when Donghyuck was left with his thoughts and his computer and the fading rush of adrenaline that always came with shooting a pretty person.

The ropes are simple, this time, just winding around the paint on Jaemin's wrists, up his forearms and stopping just at the swell of his biceps. His arms are held out in front of him, the tightest knots at his wrists, and loosening incrementally up his arm. The rope still cuts into Jaemin's arms, already turning the skin around it a flushed red.

"How do you do this?" Jaemin asks, as Donghyuck angles his camera at him.

"Hmm?" Donghyuck hums, peering through the lens. "What do you mean?"

Jaemin looks self conscious for a second before he straightens, as best he can. "I mean - what do you want me to do. I can hold my own in a photoshoot but..." He trails off for a second, looking at Donghyuck who's popped up from behind his camera, waiting for him to finish his sentence.

Donghyuck waits a beat longer, but it seems Jaemin has run out of words. "I'll give you instructions," he says gently. "Music will be on too, but don't feel as if you have to confine yourself to what I say. You're the art here, I'm just trying to capture you."

A semblance of that previous confidence twinkles back into Jaemin's eye. "Capture the art?" He echoes. "Are you that confident?” The unsaid question sparkles between them. Can you capture me?

Donghyuck smiles. "I'm very confident," he says, squaring his shoulders before turning on the music. "I'm the best."

 

The pictures turn out gorgeous. Donghyuck sits right there, on the floor, in the middle of his studio after Jaemin leaves, and flicks through the hundreds of images, throat dry as he considers the graceful arch of Jaemin's body.

Somewhere, buried deep, deep below his heart, in a locked wooden chest, something stirs, aching and pulling with such a strong force that Donghyuck has to close his eyes and take several deep breaths, so as to not let his chest cave in on itself.

Well finally, he thinks, as his muse crawls out of the hidden cavern it had stubbornly stayed in for months. There you are.

 

Present

"I'm thinking of another photoshoot," Donghyuck says, by way of a greeting, when Jaemin walks up to him.

Jaemin laughs. "Hello, Donghyuck, how are you doing? How was your day?"

Donghyuck twists his lips playfully, a little embarrassed, and slides his phone into his back pocket. "Hi," he says, bumping shoulders with Jaemin as they walk into the restaurant. It's a cozy French bistro Jaemin had wanted to go to, and even with the craziness of the last few weeks, the whirlwind of preparing his return to the photography world, Donghyuck had carved out time for this. Food was important, sure, but food with Jaemin was doubly so. "I'm good, how are you?"

They get led to their table, weaving around the busy restaurant before sitting down by the window. Snow is falling lightly outside, gathering on the thin sill, and Donghyuck wishes for a moment that he could reach through the window and trace his fingers through it.

Jaemin's eyes crinkle up into a fond smile. "Tired, bored," he says, answering Donghyuck’s previous question while shrugging off his coat and hanging it up on his chair. "Finals took a lot out of me but now I have nothing left to do."

"It all looked gorgeous," Donghyuck says. Jaemin had sent him pictures of his final submission a couple of nights ago. "You're so talented, Jaemin."

Jaemin shrugs. "I'm just glad I'm done," he says. "One more semester and I'm out."

"That's exciting," Donghyuck says and Jaemin hums in agreement.

They catch up while they wait for their food to come. With Jaemin's finals and Donghyuck's hectic schedule, they hadn't seen each other in a while - nearly a month and a half had passed since their shoot at the museum. It's odd for Donghyuck to have become so close to one of his models, but Jaemin has lasted longer than all of his other subjects put together and at this point, Donghyuck doesn’t think him of as a job more than he does… Other things.

"So," Jaemin prompts when their food arrives. "Your idea?"

Donghyuck lights up, remembering. It was so easy to forget around Jaemin, and it's a little terrifying when he thinks about it. "Yeah," he says. "A continuation of last time’s, though it's not fleshed out."

"Really?" Jaemin asks, lifting an eyebrow as he steals a potato wedge off Donghyuck's plate. Donghyuck, too busy flicking through his phone for the concept pictures he'd found, lets him. "You're getting lazy, Hyuck," Jaemin teases lightly. "You used to come all prepared, and now I'm doing half the work for you."

"You already did that," Donghyuck says, without a trace of embarrassment. Jaemin's face did do all the hard work in his photographs, Donghyuck was just clicking the camera. "Besides, I had to impress you before."

"I was already impressed," Jaemin laughs quietly. "You didn't have to try all that hard." And before Donghyuck can think to react to that, he asks, "This is following the museum one?"

"Yeah, I'm thinking we keep going off that," Donghyuck says, momentarily distracted by the pout of Jaemin's lips as he considers the idea. "But make you more opulent and keep the surroundings blank. Flip it around this time." Donghyuck finds the correct picture and turns it in Jaemin's direction. "This is kind of what I was thinking."

Jaemin flicks through the pictures and Donghyuck notices his fingers are spotted with paint - orange and yellow this time. "I like it," he hums. "You have a specific location in mind?"

Donghyuck makes a face as he considers. "Not really," he says, finally trying his food. "I was thinking we could do a mini trial at my studio, it's pretty bare bones already. And if it turns out well, I can rent a space and flesh out the idea more."

Jaemin agrees with a little smile. "Sounds good to me." He hesitates, opening his mouth before seeming to decide against it, taking a sip of his wine.

"What's up?"

Jaemin bites his lower lip before looking up at Donghyuck. He looks almost shy - a nearly unbelievable thought, because Jaemin had lost his shyness pretty much after their second photo shoot. "My program is holding an end of the year exhibition of all the art pieces they chose, and I'm - my painting is in it. Do you want to come see it?"

Donghyuck smiles brightly. A soft heat is spreading up from his chest, enveloping him like a warm hug. "I would love to," he says before repeating in a quieter tone, as if Jaemin won’t believe him if he doesn’t insist. "I would love to come see your art, Jaemin."

Jaemin ducks his head a little, a tiny pink spreading up the ends of his cheeks. "Good," he breathes, meeting Donghyuck's gaze.

Donghyuck can't help it; he leans over the table and holds onto Jaemin's hand. Jaemin clutches back, and the warmth in Donghyuck swells and swells, until it surrounds the two of them, their own little bubble of quiet intimacy.

The rest of the world falls away.

 

 

A week later, Jaemin knocks on Donghyuck’s door. Donghyuck sweeps his gaze around his apartment for any stray pieces of embarrassment before he opens the door - not that it matters, really, Jaemin’s seen it in much worse disarray.

“Come in,” Donghyuck says, quickly waving Jaemin in past him. He casts a glance at Jaemin’s hair and winces. “God, you’re soaking.”

“I’m just damp,” Jaemin says, shrugging off his coat and turning around. Donghyuck promptly loses all the air in his lungs. "It's raining a lot."

“Oh.”

“What?” Jaemin says, glancing down at himself and then looking back up at Donghyuck, a glimmer of anxiety in his tone. “Is it - does this not work?”

He’s wearing a sheer shirt - more of a blouse, really - with sweeping sleeves that balloon out before firmly clasping at the wrists in a shining pearl shaped button and the waist tucked into his pants. It’s incredibly sheer and Donghyuck feels his mouth go dry when he traces the arched curve of Jaemin’s waist with his eyes.

“No, this is - this is fine,” Donghyuck manages, swallowing painfully around a dry throat. He’s followed Donghyuck’s vague instructions to a T. “You look… Really good.”

“Oh.” It’s Jaemin’s turn to fall silent, and Donghyuck watches, still standing dumbstruck in the doorway of his apartment, as Jaemin’s cheeks turn a pretty pink, the rest of his neck and chest following, blushing deep. Donghyuck wants to lick his chest with his tongue and he internally flinches away from that thought. He's not allowed to think like that - not about Jaemin, not anymore. “Thank you,” Jaemin says finally, looking up at him, his eyes crinkling into a sweet smile. “Are you ready?”

He starts to head into Donghyuck’s studio but Donghyuck stops him, blurting out on instinct, “No, let’s do it here today.” There’s an idea nagging at the back of his head, something about Jaemin on his nicer couch, by the windows, in that shirt. It hasn’t formed quite yet, just bits and pieces of shot ideas flickering into his head the longer he looks at Jaemin, but it’s there. It might not go with the original idea but Donghyuck has long given up on trying to steer his brain away from other interceding thoughts. It makes for poor craftsmanship.

“Okay,” Jaemin says. “Do you need help with the lights?”

“Ah,” Donghyuck pauses, glancing through the doorway at the large studio lights. He had not thought this through, and it’s not bright enough outside to just use natural light. “Yes, please.”

They get the lights moved into the main room and Donghyuck spends the whole time trying not to stare at Jaemin’s waist, the faint line of his abs clenching when he picks something up.

“Okay,” Donghyuck says quietly when everything is set up. The sky is overcast, gloomy clouds rolling lazily in, puffing tendrils of gray out and Donghyuck’s walls are mostly windows, so it creates a cool tone effect, casting a faint shadow over everything. “Music?”

“Your choice,” Jaemin shrugs and arranges himself on the sofa they’d pushed over by the windowsill before shooting Donghyuck a small smile. "You hate my choices anyway."

"That's because you have bad taste," Donghyuck shoots back, setting up his tripod. "Okay, you know what to do."

"I do," Jaemin agrees and Donghyuck lets the music play and watches and shoots quietly as Jaemin does his thing.

As art comes alive in his very own living room.

 

11 Months Ago

"How old are you?" Donghyuck asks abruptly.

Jaemin raises an eyebrow over at him. Today's shoot is a bit more traditional - in whatever sense of the word applies to Donghyuck's job - and the rope work is intricate. They've just graduated from Jaemin being half naked to being fully naked, and it's a lot to take in.

Donghyuck is a professional, however, and he keeps his eye on the ropes. They're bright red, thin and long, already wrapping around the length of Jaemin's legs and torso and slowly winding up his whole body.

"Twenty three," he says. "Why? Were you afraid of something?"

Donghyuck narrows his eyes over at him and Jaemin smiles, cheeky. "You're younger than me," he says, instead of the first thought that had sprung to his mind.

"Of course I am," Jaemin says as if it’s a silly statement. "I'm still in college. How old are you?"

"Twenty six," Donghyuck mutters, gritting his teeth as the rope slips painfully against his palm. "You don't act like you're younger than me."

Jaemin's lips twist mischievously. "Should I be acting like it?" He asks, leaning forward, bracing his hands on the floor in between Donghyuck's legs, asking breathily, lashes dropping, hooding his eyes, "Should I be calling you hyung then?"

Something rips through hard and deep in Donghyuck at that, and he chokes on nothing, hands clenching momentarily around the rope. "Hyung?" He repeats, mindless for a beat.

Jaemin's lips twitch. "Yes?"

Donghyuck stares at him. Blinks. Then looks down at the rope. "Shut up," he says. "Don't call me that."

It feels like losing and they both know it. Jaemin laughs, tossing his head back. "You seemed to like it, though?"

"I will leave you here," Donghyuck threatens, pulling the next knot extra tight, but Jaemin's amusement only seems to grow.

"Oh," Jaemin drawls, the words lilting, light. "Keep talking dirty to me, baby."

Donghyuck flinches, shocked. The rope falls from his hands. Fear thrums through him, strong and painful, and Donghyuck slides back, putting space between them.

"What?" Jaemin asks, the smile falling off his face. "What’s wrong-"

"You can't say things like that," Donghyuck says tightly. "That's not-"

"Why not?" Jaemin asks, but it doesn’t seem to be combative. Just curious. He doesn’t look hurt and Donghyuck’s jaw clenches tightly.

This is not the right place to have this conversation, nor the right time. Donghyuck doesn't want to ever have this conversation, but there's no way out.

He swallows. "This is supposed to be professional," he says quietly, unable to meet Jaemin's gaze. "I can't - it's unethical and I just -"

"I'm lying naked on your studio floor," Jaemin points out. He's leaning back on his hands, and Donghyuck watches his nails dig into the floor for a second before they relax. His fingers are practically covered in light blue - fingerpainting, Jaemin had explained with a grin. "There's a point that the lines blur."

"But I have to keep a certain distance," Donghyuck says, almost desperately. He can’t risk losing his creativity again - not after so many months of nothing. Jaemin is the first project he’s been excited about in a very long time and he can’t throw that away - no matter how beautiful Jaemin always looks. How eager he always is. "I'm - this is my job, Jaemin. I love my job, and I have to keep a certain distance from the people I - people I work with. It doesn't work otherwise. The lines can't be blurred."

He sees too much through the camera - it exposes the subject, but it exposes Donghyuck as well. It's a vulnerable position for both of them to be in, and Donghyuck can't allow himself to get pulled into whatever this might be - even if it's just harmless flirting.

"Okay," Jaemin says and his voice is soft. "Okay, I get it. I understand."

Donghyuck looks at him, then. Jaemin's gaze is soft and knowing and he’s watching Donghyuck, expression startlingly open. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "I just - I can't."

Jaemin nods. "I know," he says. "I understand. It won’t happen again.”

Somehow that twinges more than the initial shock had.

Donghyuck closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Okay." He picks up the rope again. "Are you okay to keep going?"

"Are you?" Jaemin asks carefully. "This isn't only about me."

Oh, that hurts like a motherfucker. Donghyuck huffs a tired laugh. "Yeah, I’m fine.”

He has to be. His art requires it.

 

"What's the theme?"

Donghyuck pulls the last knot and steps back. Red trails all over the warped wooden floor of his studio - the ends of the strings spreading out like blood, tiny rivers running down to Donghyuck's feet, where the camera sits. "Red string of fate," he says quietly, unable to keep his gaze from Jaemin. He looks gorgeous, unspeakably so, and Donghyuck's mouth dries at the sight that greets him.

Jaemin's suspended from the ceiling, red wrapped around him, dripping off like blood. His eyes are closed, neck arched.

He sighs and the rope digs into his chest. "Pretty."

Yes, you are, Donghyuck thinks. He says nothing, however, and turns on the music, camera at the ready.

Fate, indeed.

 

 

8 Months Ago

"I have an idea," is the first thing Donghyuck says when Jaemin comes out of his class. Jaemin raises his eyebrows down at him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and tugging him to the side as the rest of the class floods out, chattering amongst themselves. No one pays the slightest bit of attention to Donghyuck and he prefers it that way. Besides, Jaemin's unwavering attention is more than any one person could handle.

"So you texted," Jaemin says, amused. "Did you even sleep last night?"

Donghyuck waves his hand. "Who needs sleep? I have an idea."

"I thought I told you I was busy," Jaemin says, half apologetic as he winds them through the hallways. "I have a painting due on Monday, and it's nowhere near being done, I wish I could -"

"I know, I know," Donghyuck says excitedly. He really hasn't slept, but sleep doesn't matter - not when he got the idea before heading to bed and spent the rest of the night figuring out his plans, too revved up to go to let his mind calm down. "That's the beauty of my idea."

They exit out into the sunshine and Donghyuck looks around the grounds. The university is beautiful and milling with people. A runaway frisbee flies over his head, and Donghyuck internally snorts at it.

"Tell me your idea, then," Jaemin says, steering him over to the coffee shop across the quad.

"You're going to do your thing, just paint, work on your assignment, whatever, but I want to shoot you, while you do that." Donghyuck looks up, as Jaemin ushers him through the door. The shop is crowded and Jaemin pushes Donghyuck in front of him, bracing his hand on his shoulders. "If you're okay with that?"

Jaemin hums, looking down at him. "I'll paint and you'll take pictures?"

"Yeah. Will it distract you? Because I don’t want to pull you from your work.”

Jaemin thinks. “I could work with that, I think.”

“I can make it quick, and then leave you alone,” Donghyuck promises. “You can have my studio to yourself for the whole weekend if you want.”

"Where does... Your side of it come into it?" Jaemin asks, dipping his head down so that his lips brush Donghyuck's ear. "Do I have to be naked? Because while I don't mind, I think the school would have a problem with me being unclothed in their studios."

Donghyuck laughs, despite the shiver that runs down his back. Jaemin is so close, his whole front pressed against Donghyuck's back so that Donghyuck can feel his heartbeat, thumping loud and steady. "You don't have to be naked," he says, amused and glad his voice comes out normal. "I was just thinking of using flowers, some rope wrapped around your back. But we can do it at my studio, I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"Flowers?"

Donghyuck hums. They shift up a couple of spots in line. "Running up your spine? Same colours as you're using, I think it would be pretty."

Jaemin's hand slips in between their bodies and his finger traces up the knobs of Donghyuck's spine. "Like this? Right here?" He trails his fingers up over Donghyuck's shoulder and they come to a rest at the base of Donghyuck's throat. Lingering.

Donghyuck's eyes flutter shut for half a beat. "Yeah," he says quietly. "Like that."

"How do you think of stuff like this?" Jaemin murmurs, and there's an undercurrent of awe running through his voice. Donghyuck tries not to let it swell his ego.

"Well," He sighs, fighting down the flush that rises to his cheeks. Jaemin's hand is still there. "It helps that I have a gorgeous muse to keep me going."

Jaemin laughs and rests his chin atop Donghyuck's head. The line scoots forward until they're standing at the cashier and Jaemin unwinds from Donghyuck to order. Donghyuck tips his head and stares at the arc of Jaemin's shoulders, spreading wide and steady. The universe built Jaemin prettily - not too slim but not too bulky either, just swells of muscle straining against the fabric that led the imagination to do most of the work - not that Donghyuck had to rely on his imagination with Jaemin - long curving lines down the arches of his body. A work of a art all on his own.

Jaemin glances back at him. "What do you want?"

Donghyuck blinks, startling out of his thoughts. "What?"

Jaemin tips his head at the cashier and repeats. "What do you want?"

"Oh, I don't need anything," Donghyuck says hurriedly. The cashier looks half dead, though given the crowd currently in the cafe, Donghyuck doesn’t blame him.

Jaemin rolls his eyes. "You've been awake all night, and now you want to have a photoshoot which will take hours. You're getting some coffee, what do you want?"

"Um - Americano," Donghyuck says, glancing at the snack case and then reconsiders when his stomach rumbles in warning. "And uh - a sandwich too, please."

Jaemin shoots him a pleased smile and then turns around to order. He hands Donghyuck his coffee when they exit the cafe and frowns when Donghyuck tries to hand him cash.

"What? No, it was my treat."

Donghyuck looks at him disbelievingly. "You're a college student, I'm a world famous photographer."

"I'm the pretty muse of a world famous photographer," Jaemin says cheekily. "I can afford it."

Donghyuck rolls his eyes and takes a sip of the coffee. "So, where's your studio?"

 

There's rock music pouring through Donghyuck's studio, the windows rattling with the force of the bass, and Jaemin hasn't looked up from his painting once. Donghyuck had stepped away for a bit after they got all of his stuff moved in, to let him work, but as the light inches into the early evening, and the sunshine starts pouring in from the high arches of the windows, deep gold and bronze filtering in over the floorboards, Donghyuck steps back in.

Jaemin looks gorgeous in the sunlight. He's inexplicably painting without a shirt on and Donghyuck can't help but stare as his back muscles shift with the motions of his brushstrokes. He lowers the music, just enough, so that he can speak without screaming.

"Hey," Donghyuck says tentatively, fearing the interruption will break Jaemin out of his concentration. "How's it going?"

Jaemin turns around and Donghyuck raises his eyebrows. His front is completely spattered with paint, white and blue and tiny flecks of pink. "Hey," Jaemin says, breathless. He runs a hand through his hair, leaving behind a white streak as he grins at Donghyuck. "You wanna shoot now?"

"Only if you're ready," Donghyuck says. "I don't want to break your concentration."

"I'm good," Jaemin waves his paintbrush around. He shoots Donghyuck a cheeky grin. "I need my music though."

Donghyuck sighs. He intensely dislikes this type of music and Jaemin knows it. "I suppose you can have that," he says wearily, and Jaemin laughs, stepping away from his painting.

It's a massive thing, a nearly six foot tall canvas, the rough outline of a ballerina arching her fingers back over her head. She looks like Jaemin, a little bit, when he’s suspended by Donghyuck’s ropes, one long beautiful line.

Donghyuck had headed down to the corner store earlier to find flowers that matched Jaemin’s painting and he brings them over now, nodding at Jaemin to sit on the stool.

"What's the theme today?" Jaemin asks quietly as Donghyuck leans in front of him, setting the flowers down on his desk nearby.

"Hmm, I don't really have one," Donghyuck hums thoughtfully. "It just came to me while I was working last night. You with flowers, and paint. It just looked really pretty in my head - you looked pretty in my head."

"I always look pretty," Jaemin says haughtily.

Donghyuck narrows his eyes up at him. "Don't be impertinent," he says lightly, tapping Jaemin on the nose with the end of the rope. It's a rough one this time, proper manila rope, thick and large with strands fraying at the edges. "This is going to be rough on your skin," he warns quietly. "Is that okay?"

Jaemin runs his hand over the rope and nods consideringly. "Yeah, it's fine."

"It'll leave a mark."

Jaemin nods and glances up at Donghyuck through his lashes. "You'll still find me pretty though, won't you?"

Donghyuck can feel his fingers slacken for a second and Jaemin's eyes widen, opening his mouth, probably to backtrack, but Donghyuck shakes his head. "I do," he admits quietly. "I always do."

 

The pictures turn out beautifully. Donghyuck spends the whole evening taking shots of Jaemin in the setting sun, the paint splashed over his skin, the rope twining over the shifting, beautiful planes of his back, flowers intertwined into the rope.

He looks so gorgeous it takes Donghyuck's breath away. He looks so gorgeous, Donghyuck has to pause more than once to catch his breath when he looks at Jaemin over the lens of his camera, through his camera. He looks so gorgeous, so ethereal, Donghyuck can't believe he's real. Can't believe this is his art. That Jaemin is his art.

"These are just the rough cuts," Donghyuck tells him when he shows Jaemin the previews on his computer. Jaemin leans over his shoulder to peer at the pictures. "I have to edit them later, fix the lighting and everything but-"

"They're beautiful," Jaemin says in a hushed tone as if he doesn’t want to disturb the quiet stillness that’s collected around them. Their own pocket of dizzying dust warping around the sunlight, the flower petals that had fluttered down to the floor, the thrum of the air conditioning, perfectly heard now that the music was off. He tucks his chin on Donghyuck's shoulder, still covered in paint and wrapped in rope, but Donghyuck doesn't flinch. "You're so amazing, Hyuck."

Donghyuck turns slightly to look at him. They stare at each other for a second, and Donghyuck's heart skips a beat, two, three, when Jaemin's eyes flicker down to his lips, the pupils widening. He’s close enough to see.

"I should - I should get you out of those," Donghyuck says suddenly, feeling too hot. "The rope must hurt."

"It's not too bad," Jaemin shrugs, but he steps back to let Donghyuck gently tug at the knots until it all loosens and falls to a crumpled heap on the floor, flowers spilling across the wood, intertwined with the ropes.

The marks are vivid across his chest, and Donghyuck lifts his hand to trace across it before he realises what he's doing and pulls back. A thought flickers through his mind, almost too quick to catch, but Donghyuck chases it, staring at the rope marks.

"Did you just get another idea?" Jaemin asks, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

It takes a beat for Donghyuck to register the question, still winding around in his thoughts and another moment to pull his gaze away from Jaemin's chest, but when he does, Jaemin's face is amused and fond. "What makes you think that?" He asks.

"You get a certain look in your eye when you get an idea," Jaemin cups Donghyuck's cheek, tracing under his eye with the pad of his thumb. "You get all serious and you pout." He smiles. "It's cute."

Donghyuck blinks. Swallows. "I did," he admits quietly. "Um - but I should, let you rest. I'll worry about it later."

"I'm not tired," Jaemin says quickly.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. Jaemin had spent most of the day painting and half of that time under the sharp glare of Donghyuck's camera. Any sane person would be tired. "Of course you're not," he says, sufferingly. "But, I still need to work out specifics and I'm not going to bother you with it until I'm done."

Jaemin pouts exaggeratedly but relents. "Fine."

Donghyuck clears his throat and steps back further, putting space between them. "Do you want to keep painting?"

Only then does Jaemin seem to realise how late it is. "Oh, no, I should go," he says quickly, glancing out the window. "It's really late, I should-"

"You can stay," Donghyuck offers and Jaemin falls silent. "I mean, if you want to keep painting, you can stay. There's no point in moving everything back to college this late anyway."

"Is- is that okay?" Jaemin asks uncertainly. He steps back a little as if to put more space between them. "This is your house, I mean."

"I hadn't noticed," Donghyuck snorts, and when Jaemin scrunches his nose at him, he grins. "Yeah, I'm sure. Stay. Paint, have dinner here."

"Dinner?"

"Yes." Donghyuck turns to his laptop and saves everything three times before starting to transfer all the files to a backup drive. He glances at Jaemin who's still standing there, looking a little lost. Uncertain. "I dragged you away from your work and you helped me a lot today, so I'm going to make you dinner and you can paint as long as you want. The studio's yours for tonight."

"Oh. Okay." Jaemin blinks, still seeming a little thrown off. Donghyuck wonders at it. "Thank you."

 

Donghyuck doesn't like editing as soon as he's done with a shoot.

He likes to take a step back, let the ideas percolate, let his mind go crazy in the back of his head while he does something else. Something that is not at all related to his job.

And cooking is the perfect release.

He's not great at it - not like Renjun who went to China one summer back in college and came back a culinary master for some reason - but Donghyuck can hold his own in the kitchen. He decides on making fried rice and soup, turning on the radio as he cooks. The music thuds loudly from his studio and Donghyuck's just glad his apartment is at the end of the building.

He pokes his head through the doorway to his studio as the rice finishes cooking and throws a towel at Jaemin as he looks up.

"Go shower," he yells over the music. "I'm not having you sit at dinner with paint all over you."

He turns away before Jaemin can respond and heads back to the kitchen where he stares at his rice cooker and watches the sides bubble with starch and steam. He doesn’t know exactly why he’s letting Jaemin stay, why he asked in the first place. There are lines. But…

But it’s hard to keep those lines drawn with Jaemin. Jaemin who is so warm and kind, who works so hard - for himself and Donghyuck - whose smile manages to trip Donghyuck up every single time. It’s hard. Jaemin is a good friend, a comforting presence and Donghyuck just… He just doesn’t want to redraw whatever has been blurred quite yet.

Jaemin comes out of the shower wearing a shirt that belonged to Donghyuck's ex, his hair dripping. He looks clean for the most part, but Donghyuck catches several stubborn streaks of paint on the sides of his neck and wrists.

"It smells so good," Jaemin says brightly, sitting down.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. "Just sit," he says. "And eat."

Jaemin's eyes brighten when he takes a spoonful of the soup. "It tastes amazing," he says. "Oh my god."

Donghyuck snorts. "It's basic," he says but Jaemin shakes his head.

"It's way better than anything my roommates come up with," Jaemin sighs, propping his chin up on his hand, his eyes sparkling prettily over the table at Donghyuck. "Creative and a good cook, what can't you do?"

Donghyuck opens his mouth and then flushes. "Shut up," he says. "Just eat."

Jaemin smiles at him and takes an obedient bite.

 

"You can sleep over," Donghyuck offers quietly when they finish dinner. Jaemin helps with the dishes.

"Are you sure?" Jaemin asks quietly.

Donghyuck swallows. "Yes," he says. He doesn't want to let go of Jaemin, not yet. They've spent practically all day together and he still doesn't want to let him go. "Seriously. You shouldn't have to leave your painting behind and I don't wanna push you out into the cold." He twitches a smile. "Wouldn't be very nice to do that to my muse, now would it?"

Jaemin looks quietly pleased. "No," he agrees. "No, it wouldn't."

 

Jaemin stays the whole weekend.

Neither of them intend for it to be that way - Donghyuck doesn't intend for it to be that way - but it just. Ends up that way.

Jaemin stays and paints and Donghyuck takes more pictures of him - watching from his desk as Jaemin paints.

"You're staring," Jaemin says, amused, and Donghyuck snaps a picture as he glances over his shoulder. It's a film camera and Donghyuck can just tell the final effect is going to be stunning.

He hums. "I'm taking pictures."

"What for?" Jaemin asks. "I'm a mess." Well, that's certainly not a lie. Donghyuck's glad he had the forethought to put down a tarp before Jaemin got started. His studio would have been damaged irreparably otherwise.

Donghyuck snaps another picture. "Just felt like it."

He watches Jaemin paint and takes a breath. The lines are blurring - they have been blurring for a very long time now, and Donghyuck can't bring it in himself to pull back again, to redraw the boundaries. He should, he shouldn't let himself fall for Jaemin, shouldn't let Jaemin grow too close.

It's hard, though.

Jaemin is his art. It's hard to let your art go.

 

Present

The art exhibition is being held in one of the major art buildings and it's completely packed when Donghyuck enters. Snow is building steadily up outside and the heat hits him in the face when he pulls off his coat.

He doesn't see Jaemin over the crowd and considers texting him, but before he can, a leaflet gets shoved in his hand and then all of a sudden Donghyuck's coat is out of his hands. A waiter comes by with a fancy platter of hors d'oeuvres, and Donghyuck's stomach growls too loudly to be ignored. He chooses to wander around the edge of the room to look at the portraits displayed instead of bothering Jaemin so early.

The art is stunning, like something Donghyuck would see out of a Renaissance textbook. Some of the faces are solemn, eyes staring straight at him, but Donghyuck's favourites are the ones where the subjects look happy, their smiles stretched broadly, creating lovely, well worn creases in their faces.

Donghyuck wanders around, looking carefully at the art, marvelling at all the incredible talent, and then he stops right in the middle of the crowd when he sees it. He knows, as soon as he looks at it, that the painting in question is Jaemin's. It's the only one Jaemin had refused to show him, insisting it was to be a surprise, but Donghyuck knows it's his regardless.

The painting is smaller than Jaemin's previous ones, only a couple feet wide and tall, but it's gorgeously detailed. It depicts fog weaving around a camera and the hands holding it, a shadowy figure behind it. Donghyuck feels his heart rise into his throat when he sees the fluffy caramel hair peeking out through the fog - very similar to his own hair.

"Donghyuck!"

Donghyuck turns to see Jaemin weaving through the crowd, a bright grin on his face. He reaches Donghyuck and immediately sweeps him up into his arms in a tight hug.

"You came," Jaemin breathes, sighing happily into the hug before he draws back.

"I promised I would," Donghyuck says, his hands automatically coming up to smooth down Jaemin's clothes when they step back. He looks strikingly put together, in a silky green button down and fitted trousers. "You look great."

"Thank you," Jaemin says, granting him a soft smile. "You found my painting."

"I knew it was yours as soon as I saw it," Donghyuck says, turning back to look at the painting. "It's amazing, Jaemin."

"Do you really think so?" Jaemin asks, standing beside him. Their shoulders brush and Donghyuck has to shove away the want to lean into it.

He nods. "I don't - I can't think of the right words to even describe it, but you're so talented."

Jaemin looks pleased. “Thank you,” he says quietly, before proudly saying, “I got a lot of offers, already. Some commissions."

Donghyuck grins at him. "That's awesome," he says sincerely. "Any favourites?"

Jaemin hums, nodding. "A couple," he considers. "I just spent the last month painting nonstop, but I already want to start again."

"That's art," Donghyuck laughs. "Why do you think I'm always bugging you for another photo shoot? I always have ideas."

"You could try getting another model," Jaemin suggests, and there's a note of something in his voice that Donghyuck knows. He doesn't regard it though, turning fully to focus on Jaemin.

"Would you be okay with me getting another model?" He asks frankly, and a look of panic fractures over Jaemin's face. Donghyuck immediately feels bad, because this is Jaemin's exhibition and they shouldn't be talking about this here, shouldn't be talking about it ever because they’d made a decision - Donghyuck had made a decision, and it's not okay to be pushing this on Jaemin again not when they both know how they feel -

"No," Jaemin says. His expression is pinched, pained but still so open, and Donghyuck gets the distinct feeling that he's standing over Jaemin while he lays on a table, his chest flayed open on either side of him. Donghyuck can see his heart beating under snow white ribs, and he can see every single one of Jaemin's emotions in that brief moment. Then Jaemin blinks and the mirage vanishes. "No," he says quieter, less firm. Almost tentative, as if he regrets saying it in the first place. "I don't want you to."

"Good," Donghyuck replies steadily. He doesn’t realise, until then that he’d been afraid that Jaemin would say yes, that Jaemin would start drifting away and Donghyuck would have had to find someone else to fill his shoes. "Because I don't want to either."

I want you all to me, for as long as I can have you, he thinks as Jaemin swallows. He looks so hopeful in that moment that Donghyuck wants to say it, wants to bridge what little space is left between them - that still feels like a chasm yawning open further with every waking moment, every shuddering breath - but he doesn't. Instead, he turns back to the painting and observes it again.

"I like your painting," he repeats quietly. “A lot.”

"It's you."

Donghyuck eyes the tuft of caramel hair, the shadows and fog obscuring the face of the subject. "Is that how you see me?" He wonders out loud. "When I'm behind a camera?"

"No," Jaemin says. "It's how I used to see you, months ago, when we first started working together. You were... You were difficult to get to know, then."

Obscured, shrouded. Hiding behind the shiny glare of a camera lense.

"And now?"

Jaemin sighs and he steps closer to Donghyuck. Their sleeves brush. "Now, I feel like I know most of you."

Donghyuck's voice is wry when he asks, "Do you think so?"

"I know so," Jaemin says and their eyes meet. It feels like a brand on the back of Donghyuck's neck, hot and searing. Eye-opening. "I know you - most of you anyway," Jaemin continues, and his hand comes up to brush Donghyuck's cheek boldly. The look in his eyes is fearless when he asks, "Why won't you let me know the rest?"

At this point, Donghyuck has no idea.

 

6 Months Ago

Donghyuck has been quietly vibrating with excitement all day. He’s been watching the clock every five minutes, just waiting for the time he can get in his car and go pick up Jaemin without being too awkwardly early.

“This is pathetic,” Renjun sighs.

Donghyuck doesn’t even look up at him, flicking over to his email. “I’m excited, sue me.”

“You’re obsessed with him,” Renjun mutters, flicking through the prints Donghyuck had brought over. He raises an eyebrow as he pauses on a particularly disrobed picture of Jaemin. “Though I can understand why - he is very pretty.”

“He is,” Donghyuck agrees in a mumble, crossing his legs under himself. “This is a good experience - for both of us.”

“This is a vacation,” Renjun snorts. “Don’t get it twisted. You’re jetting off to a vacation - still without holding a proper exhibition, mind you - and you’re taking your pretty boyfriend with you.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Donghyuck mutters. He refreshes the page and another twenty emails pop up. Donghyuck sighs and closes out of the browser. He can feel a headache burgeoning at the forefront of his mind already and he does want to deal with it. "And this is for the exhibition. I’m getting variety."

Renjun purses his lips over at him. They're sitting in Renjun's office in his apartment, and Donghyuck is always amused at how different it is to his own. Renjun's rooms are smaller than his and far more traditional - though there are far more of them - a perfect brownstone with large bay windows, warm lighting, and model furniture. It's a far cry from Donghyuck's industrial mess, with lights and photography props scattered around. Even messier these days now that Jaemin's stuff has inexplicably started gathering around his things, latching on and staying there with all the force of his smiles.

"You better be ready for one when you get back," Renjun says flatly. "You need to be ready to get back into the real world again. The tidbits you've been scattering on your website and socials aren't enough anymore - you need to have a proper exhibition."

"I know," Donghyuck says. "I will, I'll be ready. I have..." He swallows. "I have hundreds of shots, I'll have them ready for you."

Renjun considers him. "I'll start planning one for the beginning of December?"

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at him, surprised. "Six months from now?"

Renjun shrugs. "I want you to be prepared. Besides, it’s not that easy, getting people to show up - especially when you haven’t shown your face in public in over a year.”

“You make it look easy,” Donghyuck says teasingly, pacifying Renjun.

“I do,” Renjun agrees haughtily.

Donghyuck's phone pings with the reminder notification and he glances down at it. It's time to go pick Jaemin up. He shuts his laptop and grabs his things. "I have to go."

Renjun heaves a giant sigh. "Have fun fucking his brains out halfway across the world."

Donghyuck chokes on nothing and nearly drops his bag. "I'm not- we're not fucking!"

"Why not?" Renjun asks, eyeing him. His gaze is knowing, and Donghyuck bites down on the urge to run away. "You like him, don't you?"

Donghyuck flushes. "That's not- professionalism, Renjun. I have to have it!"

Renjun stares at him flatly. "You've been photographing him naked for the better part of a year."

"And that's exactly why I need -" Donghyuck cuts himself off, clutching the straps of his bag tightly in his hand. "There are lines," he says finally. The lines are always there. "I see too much, I take too much, every single time I take a picture of someone. There are lines that I shouldn't cross. I shouldn't-" he cuts himself off, not wanting to verbalise what's coming next.

Renjun looks at him and then sighs, placing the prints down on his desk. "You aren't taking advantage." Donghyuck opens his mouth to argue, but Renjun cuts him off. "No, listen. If he likes you - and from how much you've been gushing about him to me, it's a wonder you two haven't fucked yet - then you aren't taking advantage. You're a talented, creative, brilliant mind, and you are allowed to have fun. And if you want to fuck him, then please, for the love of god, do so and put yourself out of misery. And by extension, me, because I can't stand listening to you anymore."

Silence falls in the space between them and Donghyuck stares at Renjun, wordless. "I think," Donghyuck says falteringly, awed. "I think that's the nicest you've ever been to me, Jun."

Renjun face flattens and he glowers at him. "Oh, shut up," he says, batting at Donghyuck. "Get out of my house."

Donghyuck blows him a kiss. "Bye, Junnie."

Renjun crumples up a piece of paper and flings it at Donghyuck who darts out of his office, laughing.

 

Jaemin hasn't said anything in a few minutes and it's worrying Donghyuck. He's just staring at the paper Donghyuck handed him, mouth slightly parted. The ice in his coffee is melting, condensation pooling on the table, and he still hasn't moved.

"Is it too much?" He asks quietly, anxious. "It's too much to ask, isn't it? I shouldn't have assumed, I just - you told me you had a couple weeks free this summer before you went back home and-"

Jaemin looks at him and Donghyuck falls abruptly silent. Jaemin opens his mouth, shuts it, and then opens it again. "Just..." He blinks, staring at Donghyuck. "Exactly how rich are you?"

Donghyuck sputters out a laugh, bringing his hands up to cover his face. "Oh my god," he breathes. "I thought you were going to yell at me."

"You want to take me on a vacation-"

"A trip for a photoshoot-" Donghyuck tries.

"To the Maldives and you thought I'd yell at you?" Jaemin asks incredulously. "Are you insane?"

Donghyuck wrinkles his nose. "Some people would find that insulting."

"Who?" Jaemin waves the paper around his head. His eyes are wide. "Who are those people and what's wrong with them?"

Despite himself, Donghyuck laughs. "Is that a yes?"

"It's a fuck yes," Jaemin says intensely. "Holy fuck yes."

Donghyuck looks at him, taking in the way Jaemin grins back at him, gorgeous even after spending the last three days locked up in his studio painting, and can't help the way his heart flutters, stutters, skips a beat.

"Thank you," he says finally.

"What?" Jaemin splutters, leaning over the table to grab at Donghyuck's hand. "Thank you. This is the trip of a lifetime, Donghyuck. Thank you. I owe... I owe so much to you."

"Don't," Donghyuck says quickly, flustered. He looks down at the table, at their hands, still joined together. Their hands were so different, yet so similar. Jaemin had tiny dots and flecks of yellow paint all over the back of his hand, his thumb coated in blue. Donghyuck’s were clean but the calluses on his hands were hard and rough. Both weathered in different ways. "You really don't, you've done more for me, for my career than any one person has. That's - all I've done is just take pictures of you and your beauty."

Jaemin's hand tightens around his, and he ducks his head until Donghyuck meets his gaze. "And you, you've given me experiences I never thought I would get to have, and helped me get my art out into the world and you've become a...." He falters, swallows. His eyes are dark, so, so dark and so earnest. "A friend," he finishes finally, and it hurts. God, it hurts. Donghyuck can't look away and Jaemin licks his lips before finishing, "One of my closest friends. So, I mean it, when I say thank you."

"You're welcome," Donghyuck breathes, and his fingers tighten around Jaemin's unconsciously.

 

When they arrive at The Maldives, Donghyuck feels as if he's landed in another world.

The water is blue; the type of blue you see on documentaries about space, when they pull back to survey the Earth from afar; the type of blue that coats the Arctic sea, but so much warmer; the type of blue that is intrinsically otherworldly.

Jaemin pushes up his sunglasses as they walk down the walkway to their villa. The wind blows, cool and light across the water, and when Donghyuck peers over the wooden railing, he can see right down to the bottom of the ocean, all the way down to the shifting sands.

"This place," Jaemin starts, before his voice falters.

Donghyuck nods. "I know," he says quietly. "It's gorgeous." Jaemin's white shirt flutters open to reveal the dip of his chest and Donghyuck looks away, taking a shaky breath. It’ll be a wonder if he manages to survive these two weeks, with Jaemin. Though, chances are, he's going to come out of it completely destroyed.

Despite Donghyuck's fears, the first week actually doesn't go that badly. Their villa dips right into the open ocean, and both of their bedrooms open right up into the pool area. Donghyuck spends most of his days taking lazy pictures of Jaemin by the pool and in the ocean.

They've come during rainy season, but surprisingly the skies stay clear and they both welcome it. The first time Donghyuck gets in the ocean, he feels a rush of peace and serenity like nothing before and he just floats there in the water, staring up at the blue skies, feeling Jaemin float beside him.

Jaemin's hand slides - dances - over the water to link their pinkies together, anchoring them together, and Donghyuck desperately wants to pull him closer, aches with the want to wrap his arms around Jaemin and kiss him, feel him against his skin.

He looks up at the sky and closes his eyes instead.

 

On the fourth day, when Jaemin has inexplicably tanned, bronze and gorgeous, they have a proper photoshoot. No rope this time, no props, just Jaemin lying on the wood beside the pool, the same white shirt completely unbuttoned on either side of him, his brown hair fluttering and his golden skin glowing.

He looks beautiful. Hands stretched out over his head, fingers dancing on the floor, gaze sultry as he stares right into Donghyuck's eyes through the camera lens.

He's beautiful. Jaemin twists around, head tipping back onto the ground, neck arched up to the heavens, lips parted.

He's so beautiful, it feels like Donghyuck could say it again and again until his mouth was full of blood and it still wouldn't be enough.

 

On the fifth day, Jaemin flops into his room while Donghyuck is editing, a grin on his face.

"What?" Donghyuck hums without looking up.

"Stop working," Jaemin says, poking him in the arm until Donghyuck looks up to meet his mischievous gaze.

"You know I have to prepare," Donghyuck starts, and Jaemin rolls his eyes, rolling onto his back to tip his head up at Donghyuck. His eyes look bigger from this angle.

"For an exhibition in six months," Jaemin sighs. He waves the champagne bottles in his hands in the air. "Unclench. Have a drink with me. Relax. We're on vacation on a beautiful island. You should not be spending your time on your laptop."

Donghyuck purses his lips at him. "I'm supposed to be working."

Jaemin sits up and shuts Donghyuck's laptop, looking up at him through his lashes. "Work later," he says softly, tipping his head to the side and smiling a little at Donghyuck. "Enjoy your time here, with me."

Donghyuck stares at him and then slides the laptop onto the side table. He is a weak, weak man. "We're drinking?"

Jaemin's smile is victorious. Gorgeous. "We're drinking."

 

Half an hour later, Donghyuck is lying on the bed staring up at the lazily spinning fan. His bottle is halfway to being empty and he feels vaguely tipsy, like he's floating on a cloud, though that may have been the extremely comfortable bed.

Jaemin is laughing a little beside him, champagne bottle dangling from his fingers.

"What are you laughing about?" Donghyuck hums, twisting a little. There's a giant mirror sitting on the floor by the bed and he can see Jaemin beside him, cheeks flushed and pretty.

"This feels unreal," Jaemin sighs, and Donghyuck looks down at him. Jaemin's eyes sparkle when he meets Donghyuck's gaze. "You feel unreal, to me."

Donghyuck laughs a little turning to face him. “Yeah?” He asks, slowly. “How?”

Jaemin sets the bottle down and pushes up, just close enough that their faces are inches apart. His breath is sweet, despite the alcohol. "You feel... " Jaemin whispers, before taking a steadying breath, eyes flicking all over Donghyuck's face. "You tell me I'm beautiful, but you have no idea what it feels like to look at you, to be near you all the time. It's like I'm looking at the sun, when I look at you."

Donghyuck takes a sharp breath. He wants so badly. He wants and wants and he-

"Jaemin," he whispers and the words feel like thorns sitting on the edge of his tongue. "We can't. I can't."

"Just for this week," Jaemin says, and there's an edge of desperation twisting around his tone that Donghyuck hurts to hear. "Just - while we're here, across the world. Just while it's the two of us. When we go back - it'll all go back to normal. Just while we're here."

Donghyuck takes a shaky breath. "I -" he starts faintly. A million different reasons, a million different excuses, all of them flash across his mind. A million different thoughts, but all of it, every single one of them spark out in a blinding flicker, like the last remaining sparkles of a firework, when he meets Jaemin's gaze.

Donghyuck drops the bottle on the floor, uncaring of whether it shatters or not, and kisses Jaemin.

Kissing takes practice. It's not something one can grasp right away, even if they've kissed a thousand people. Every single person is a whole new experience. Kissing can be awkward and awful the first time; it can be bumped teeth, bruised lips, too much spit, and generally is not a fun time. It takes practice to learn someone like that, to figure out what makes them gasp, what makes them moan, just with the barest brush of a tongue. To learn a person just by their lips - it takes practice.

Kissing Jaemin is effortless, as if Donghyuck has spent the last half year learning him perfectly, through the lens of a camera, down to exactly how his lips move and his tongue feels against his own.

Jaemin makes the loveliest noise when their lips meet, and the way Donghyuck's heart stops in his chest when he feels Jaemin's mouth pressing sweetly against his, is the best sensation in the whole goddamn world. His nerve endings spark, fizzing at the edges, and he feels faintly as if he’s sunk into a tub of soda - his skin bubbling and effervescing all over.

"You-" Donghyuck murmurs against Jaemin's mouth. He tries to summon the right words, but his mind fails on him and he just sighs, eyes fluttering shut. "Jaemin."

Jaemin lets out an answering moan and pushes Donghyuck flat on his back, their kisses intensifying.

In his fantasies, whenever Donghyuck allows himself to think about this, whenever he allows himself the small pleasure of thinking about Jaemin like this, it's always different. It's fast and hard, Jaemin pinning him to the bed and taking and taking until Donghyuck has nothing left to give. It's quick and dirty, Donghyuck pushing Jaemin up against the wall of the bathroom in whatever random location they were shooting in and blowing him until Jaemin moans, hands knotting tightly in Donghyuck’s hair, controlling the pace. It's slow and so good, they both lose their minds a bit.

His imagination is nowhere close to what reality feels like.

Jaemin ruts down against him, messy and fast, and it's all Donghyuck can do to hold onto him, to rip at his shirt until the buttons pop, clattering onto the floor along with the rest of Jaemin's clothes.

"I want, I want you," Jaemin pants, fingers scrabbling at the tie on Donghyuck's loose pants before he's pulling them off, shucking up Donghyuck's shirt in the same motion. "God, Donghyuck, I want you to fuck me so badly."

"Yeah?" Donghyuck asks, voice cracking roughly. He can't tear his eyes away from Jaemin.

"You don't know how long I've been dreaming about it," Jaemin gasps, falling back on the bed and yanking Donghyuck on top of him. Donghyuck's hands land on either side of Jaemin's head and he wants so badly to kiss him, but Jaemin is still talking, breathlessly. "Every single time you put your hands on me, it's all I have, all it takes, not to beg you right there, to just touch me and hold me and fuck me until I can't breathe."

Donghyuck's head spins. "Jaemin," he pants. That's too much - all too much, the feeling of Jaemin under him, the words running through his mind, it's all too much. Donghyuck has dreamed about this forever, but that's all they were ever supposed to be - just dreams.

Jaemin looks at him, lips bitten pink and gorgeous. "I need you," he whispers, and it's so quiet and vulnerable all of a sudden. The storm around them ceases in a blink and Donghyuck stares down at him. Jaemin swallows. "I want you," he adds. Corrects. Donghyuck doesn't know the difference.

"I- I want you too," he admits, pleads. He doesn't even know what he's pleading for, when Jaemin is here. Right under him. Maybe he’s begging for more time - it already feels like it’s running too fast, the sand grains slipping through Donghyuck’s fingers as he desperately tries to turn the hourglass back, tries to buy them more time.

Jaemin feels like a kind of heaven that Donghyuck never imagined he would be able to feel, to touch, to kiss. The way his body arches, fingers clenching the silky sheets when Donghyuck pushes inside him is nothing short of bliss - the kind of bliss that seems unreachable, until you actually achieve it. The kind of bliss that sinks in when you're in paradise with the gorgeous man you've desired for ages.

"God," Donghyuck gasps. It seems that’s all he's able to say and Jaemin is similarly wordless, breathless.

His fingers dig into Donghyuck's waist, his arms, licking his lips, trying to breathe. He looks so beautiful.

"I want to take a picture of you like this," Donghyuck blurts without realising what he's saying. His hands shake a little, where they're pinned into the sheets beside Jaemin's head. "Just for me, I want to keep this sight forever." He wants this image burned into his head, the way Jaemin's staring up at him, eyes dark, lips glossy and bruised.

"Oh," Jaemin breathes, heaving a gasp, as he clenches around him for one dizzying second. He wraps his legs around Donghyuck's waist, pushing him forward. "Move, Hyuck. Move, please."

And who is Donghyuck to disobey? He couldn't possibly, not when this slice of heaven was this close to him. Not when Jaemin was asking it of him so beautifully, so prettily.

It takes a moment, a minute, to get used to each other, to figure out exactly what kind of twist of his hips makes that pretty, broken moan slip from Jaemin's lips. Where to press his mouth to make Jaemin clench tighter around him. It takes a minute to figure out how to make Jaemin crumble for him, but when he figures it out, it's the sweetest taste on the back of his tongue.

Jaemin falls apart for him, burning hotter and hotter, the sweat coating his bronze skin and Donghyuck tumbling in along with him. He leaves the print of his mouth on the curve of Jaemin's tilted neck, leaves the tattoo of his fingers in the spaces between his ribs, drinks him in, fucks him slow and hard, and leaves a piece of himself in Jaemin. Leaves all his best pieces behind in the curve of his ribs, the bow of his lips, the warm gaze of his eyes.

It's paradise.

"You feel so good," Jaemin gasps, his voice shattering at the end. A shiver runs down the length of Donghyuck's spine at his voice and he rolls his hips deeper, harder. Jaemin lets out a wretched noise, tossing his head back, mouth parted, meeting every single thrust with ease. "Fuck."

It's still so slow. Neither of them have tried to pick up the pace and it's still so slow. Achingly so. Jaemin's fingers run into his hair, clenching tightly when Donghyuck brushes against his prostate. His whole body locks up, muscles straining, and Donghyuck abruptly wonders if he can make Jaemin come for him while he's tied up in front of a camera. His cock twitches and Jaemin feels it.

"What are you thinking?" Jaemin exhales.

Their eyes meet and Donghyuck has nothing left in him, no resistance, no strength, not when it comes to Jaemin. He says honestly, just as he rolls his hips into Jaemin. "You tied up for me."

"Oh," Jaemin gasps and he shudders. "Oh, fuck. Fuck."

"You into that?" Donghyuck teases, though the effect must be lost with the way his voice shakes. Jaemin feels incredible around his cock, hot and tight. Like bliss.

"So into that," Jaemin promises, a wicked glint lighting up those big eyes, and Donghyuck has nothing left to do kiss him. Picks up the pace and presses his mouth to the pulse jack-rabbiting at Jaemin's neck until it feels like they're both about to fall apart.

Jaemin kisses him when he comes, moaning loudly against Donghyuck's lips. Donghyuck is close behind, only one, two rolls of his hips before he's burying his face in Jaemin's chest and chasing his orgasm, falling apart in Jaemin's arms.

 

Imagination has nothing on the real thing.

Donghyuck slumps down beside Jaemin and they lay there on their sides, staring at each other, the afternoon sun still shining brightly into their room, illuminating Jaemin until it looks like he's glowing, the sun's personal jewel.

"You're beautiful," Jaemin says hoarsely, his hand coming up to cradle Donghyuck's cheek. "You're so beautiful and unreal.”

Donghyuck doesn't tear look away, just leans into Jaemin's touch. He can have this. For nine more days, he can have this. Just for himself.

"I adore you," he confesses quietly into the space between them. It's a step down from what he really wants to say, but no matter how far they are from the other side of the world, no matter how isolated they are in their tiny island villa, floating in the middle of the ocean with no one else around, no matter how much right now is for them - he cannot say those words. Those words he won't be able to take back, won't be able to push down when they go back. When this dream ends. "Every part of you."

Jaemin's eyes flutter shut and he leans into Donghyuck's space, presses their foreheads together. Donghyuck’s whole body sings out at the proximity. At the feeling of Jaemin so close to him.

Imagination really has nothing on the real thing.

 

5.5 Months Ago - Interlude

The door to the roof of Jaemin’s apartment is always cracked open. Jaemin’s sure it is in violation of about a dozen city codes, but no one ever says a word and the landlord doesn’t care even if people throw parties on it, as long as they clean up after themselves.

Jaemin takes advantage of that ambivalence now, as he slides the brick back in between the door before walking to the edge of the roof. There are a couple of deck chairs out here - no one knows where they came from, and surprisingly they haven’t been stolen yet, but they’re relatively clean and Jaemin sits on one, cracking open the case of beer he’d brought up with him.

He’d just gotten off a plane two weeks ago, and in two days he was set to be on another one, heading back home for the summer. The jetlag has long gone, but something still lingers around Jaemin, heavy and inexorable.

It’s not difficult to figure out what it is; in fact, it’s almost laughably easy.

Jaemin takes a sip of his beer and tips his head back against the top of the chair. It’s a cloudy night, but in between the wisps of clouds, the stars glimmer brightly in the distance. There’s still traffic rolling down the road despite the late hour, and the sound of horns sound terribly close, as if the cars were right beside Jaemin’s ear.

Jaemin takes a deep breath.

He misses Donghyuck. He misses him so much it feels like he’s about to shatter apart at the seams; like each and every single one of his individual cells are rattling apart, trying to escape the bounds of his body and fly to land beside Donghyuck, to bask in his warm presence. His beautiful smile.

There hasn’t been a span of minutes, of seconds, of any continuous time where Jaemin hasn’t thought about his time with Donghyuck. He hadn’t expected anything when he’d left; it had hurt like hell, of course, to look beside him, to see Donghyuck fast asleep in the seat beside him, the circles under his eyes dark and pronounced from working nonstop. He wasn’t going to say anything either, had planned on spending the whole trip enjoying himself and trying not to fling himself into the ocean at the sight of a sleepy, sun-kissed Donghyuck stumbling out of his room. But then… Then Donghyuck had looked down at him, those perfect lips glossy and his eyes shimmering from the champagne and Jaemin had just broken and begged like an utter fool-

Jaemin throws the rest of his beer back, grimacing. It hurts at the center of his chest, like a bubble swelling and swelling until it threatens to crack his ribcage open.

Kissing Donghyuck had been the culmination of six months of pining and crushing like a goddamn teenager, and Jaemin feels so utterly stupid to miss it. To miss him. As if he hadn’t loved - liked someone before. But that was the thing, wasn’t it? Jaemin’s not sure he’d ever liked someone like this before - not this way. Not so all-consuming and encompassing that it seemed to fill every spare moment of his days. Not so desperately and exposed that Jaemin was sure it was written across his face every single time Donghyuck looked at him.

Jaemin misses him.

Two weeks. That’s all it had taken for Jaemin to fall completely for him. He’d liked Donghyuck before, of course, but that was partially superficial and partially the hard-on Jaemin had for Donghyuck’s creativity and talent. No one at university, no one he’d ever modeled for, worked with, held a candle to the way Donghyuck worked, to the passion and intense single-minded focus he brought to his subjects. Every single time Jaemin had been under his camera, it had felt like he was under a microscope instead, pinned to a slide and pressed down to be magnified and exposed.

But as time wore on, Jaemin had felt himself sliding little by little down the mountainside, falling for him little by little, and no matter what Jaemin had done to stop, it hadn’t worked.

Two weeks. He’d asked for two weeks and Donghyuck had given it to him. And Jaemin couldn’t even fault him for pulling away afterwards because he knew what it was like. Jaemin could relate to the overwhelming feeling of being so involved with your art that it was difficult to pull away - to be so scared of looking away even once in fear that your passion would leave you.

Two weeks.

He misses Donghyuck so much.

Jaemin picks up another bottle and cracks it open.

The stars seem impossibly far away.

 

6 Months Ago

Suddenly, it’s impossible to tear himself away.

It's like they've been dousing themselves in gasoline the whole time. Like Donghyuck has been showering in gas and oil since the first time he met Jaemin and now a match has been lit, both of them shooting up in fire, the flames licking higher and higher with every passing second they spend apart.

On the sixth day, Donghyuck wakes to his brain being sucked out of his cock by Jaemin and comes so hard, it's a wonder he can breathe, let alone pin Jaemin to the bed and enthusiastically return the favour.

On the evening of the sixth day, they spend the whole afternoon and evening sliding in and out of the pool, teasingly running their fingers underwater over sensitive skin. And afterwards, Jaemin fucks Donghyuck on the side of the pool, in the setting sun. He's warm and soft all over and he looks down at Donghyuck with the most beautiful gaze, holding him close like he's something delicate.

Donghyuck closes his eyes when he twines his fingers in Jaemin's hair, and kisses him. Jaemin is warm and Donghyuck doesn’t want to let go. Not quite yet.

 

On the seventh day, they have another photoshoot. It doesn't go exactly as planned - not this one.

There's no space for suspension here, and Donghyuck hadn't thought there would be. He'd planned for it, though.

"That's pretty," Jaemin murmurs when he sees the rope Donghyuck pulls out of his bag.

"I thought so too," Donghyuck hums. He didn't want to bring something heavy and thick, not in a place like this. Jaemin is sitting on Donghyuck's bed, leaning back on his palms, and Donghyuck sees the way his eyes sparkle with amusement and anticipation.

The rope is gold and delicate and long enough to wrap around Jaemin's body.

"You ready?" Donghyuck asks.

Jaemin nods. "Yeah," he whispers, and the air around them turns a little thicker, hotter. The tension pulls at Donghyuck’s sternum, tugging him to where Jaemin sits.

Donghyuck swallows. "Okay," he says, and steps forward to pull Jaemin down off the bed until he's kneeling before Donghyuck. Donghyuck glances down at him, taking in the sight that greets him for a beat longer before he follows, dropping down to his knees and pulling the rope taut in his hands. "Let's do this."

It takes a while, as it always does. Rope work is intricate, especially the knots Donghyuck favours. There are certain designs that look best on Jaemin and Donghyuck pulls them all out.

The rope twines around his chest, around the tops of his arms, knots twining down his sternum, until it reaches the base of his stomach.

Jaemin usually never sits this quietly. After they got more comfortable in each other's presence, Jaemin would crack jokes, tease Donghyuck, make conversation, and Donghyuck did the same. But tonight, he sits there silently as Donghyuck loops the rope around and around, tying the knots, securing Jaemin in place. Donghyuck doesn't notice at first, too focused on his work, but he begins to note the goosebumps flickering up on Jaemin's skin, traced by the path Donghyuck's fingers make.

Jaemin's hands are trembling, eyelashes fluttering, and when Donghyuck peers at him, Jaemin swallows, loud enough to be audible.

"Are you okay?" Donghyuck asks, his hands falling off in momentary concern.

"I'm- I'm fine," Jaemin swallows. "Just..." He looks up at Donghyuck through his lashes and that familiar flicker of fire comes back around his lips, playing into those eyes. "Just thinking about what you said."

There's no need for further elucidation. Donghyuck understands right away. But still, Jaemin adds, "What you said when - when we fucked. The first time."

Donghyuck tips his head at him. "You want me to do that?" He asks slowly, almost consideringly, and revels in the way Jaemin blushes, pink misting over the apples of his cheeks. "You want me to tie you up and fuck you and then take pictures of you?"

"Yes," Jaemin says steadily, despite the red flushing down his chest. "I do."

Donghyuck smiles and then leans forward. "What if I want you to beg for it?" He asks quietly. "What then?"

Jaemin straightens a little and Donghyuck smirks at the fire coming back into his gaze. He pushes into Donghyuck's space and parts his lips, breathily. "Hyung," he whispers, and a hot white heat shoots down Donghyuck's spine, consuming him in an instant. Jaemin's smile widens knowingly. "Please tie me up and fuck me. Please, I want it so badly, I want you, hyung-"

Donghyuck drops the rope and slams their mouths together. They fall against the side of the bed in a messy heap and Jaemin opens his mouth, licking messily into Donghyuck's mouth.

"Oh, you're so easy," Jaemin sighs and Donghyuck snarls wordlessly, pushing Jaemin against the bed so hard it shifts, scraping against the floor.

"I told you-" Donghyuck hisses, wrapping his hand around the back of his neck tightly and pulling him in.

"You liked it," Jaemin laughs in his face, so easily, so full of confidence. "You like it when I call you that."

Donghyuck feels as if he’s on fire. His whole body is sparking, tingling, and Jaemin feels so fucking good under him, so alive and responsive. He twitches up when Donghyuck drags his palm over his chest, his nipples catching in the rope and Jaemin’s mouth falls open, in a soundless moan.

"I'm going to do exactly what you want," Donghyuck promises, the flames licking up him, consuming him completely. "I'm going to fuck you until you're crying and I'm not going to stop until you're crying my name."

"Promises, promises," Jaemin sighs, before leveling Donghyuck with a look. "Are you going to keep them, though?"

Donghyuck looks at him and then wraps his hand around the ropes on Jaemin's chest and pulls him in hard, slamming their mouths together. They're going to bruise tomorrow.

 

Jaemin ends up on his knees in front of the large mirror on the side of the room. He's still tied up and he looks gorgeous with the gold wrapping around the breadth of his chest. Donghyuck thinks he looks even prettier with half his hand in him.

"Are you going to move at any point?" Jaemin pants, his hands clenching on his thighs. He doesn't have much range of movement, especially with how his hands are bound, but Donghyuck can see the way his fingers dig into the taut muscle of his thighs.

"No," Donghyuck says casually, twisting his fingers in harder. "Not until you're begging."

"You're going to be waiting a while then," Jaemin laughs, the sound falling into a moan when Donghyuck pulls out abruptly.

"Is that any way to talk to your hyung?" He teases, pressing his lips to the shell of Jaemin's ear.

"Oh, now you're embracing it?"

"You started it," Donghyuck says. He slicks his fingers up and grips one of the large rope knots on the curve of Jaemin's spine, holding him steady as he presses four fingers in. "Watch yourself," he orders.

Jaemin takes a heaving breath and keeps his head up, staring straight at himself, and Donghyuck takes a moment, tracing the edge of Jaemin's rim before he tucks his chin on Jaemin's shoulder, taking in the view. Jaemin's cock is standing up proud and red, already weeping, and given that Donghyuck has steadily been opening him up, it's no surprise. His whole upper body is braided with gold and the edges pressed against the rope flushing red and white. He's sweating a little, a light sheen covering the tops of his collarbones and chest. He's the most gorgeous thing that Donghyuck has ever seen.

His own piece of art, gilded in gold and red.

Donghyuck leans forward to press a kiss to the curve of Jaemin's cheekbone before he whispers, orders, "Don't look away. I want you to watch yourself the whole time I fuck you. I want you to see what I see and you are not going to look away. Understand?"

Jaemin nods, panting a little.

Donghyuck smiles. "Say 'yes, hyung'."

Jaemin swallows and Donghyuck watches in quiet pleasure as goosebumps spark up his arms. "Yes, hyung."

"Good." Donghyuck watches Jaemin's face closely when he pushes four fingers in. It's like watching art happen in slow motion. Jaemin's mouth drops open and a shuddered gasp leaves his lips and his lashes flutter shut for half a second before he's forcing them back open. "Good job," Donghyuck whispers. He pulls them out slowly and then fucks Jaemin slowly with his fingers, increasing the pace until Jaemin is close to crumpling in his hold. He keeps his eyes open though. Keeps his gaze fixed.

Donghyuck finds Jaemin’s prostate and again and viciously twists his fingers into it, relishing the way Jaemin cries out, jerking in his hold. His cock spits out more precome, landing on the floor between his spread legs.

"Please," Jaemin begs. "Please, Hyuck-"

"That's not what you're supposed to call me," Donghyuck hums.

"Hyung," Jaemin gasps brokenly. "Please, fuck me, I can't take it, I need you in me -"

Donghyuck pulls his fingers out and Jaemin chokes on nothing, head falling forward and his chest heaving. "Look up," Donghyuck reminds teasingly, watching as Jaemin struggles to obey. "I got you, baby, I'm going to fuck you so well."

Jaemin sucks in a ragged breath and shifts minutely on his knees.

"Does it hurt?" Donghyuck asks, bracing a hand on Jaemin's waist. "We can stop - if you want."

Jaemin shakes his head and his hand twists backward, as much as it can and latches onto Donghyuck. "Don't stop," he says hoarsely. "Fuck me."

"Okay, baby," Donghyuck sighs as he wraps a lube-covered hand around his own cock, fisting himself. He hasn't paid attention to himself all this time, too focused on Jaemin, and his orgasm rushes up into him in just with a few lazy strokes. Donghyuck forces himself to hold back though, suppresses his own pleasure ruthlessly - this isn't about him. This is all about Jaemin.

Donghyuck can't tear his gaze away, nor does he want to, when he finally pushes into Jaemin. The way Jaemin looks, the sound he makes, will probably live in Donghyuck's head forever. The way he feels, clenching tightly around Donghyuck, vise tight, his whole body shuddering.

"God," Jaemin groans and his head drops down, fingers digging into his thighs, the skin flooding red. "Oh, fuck, fuck, you fill me up so well."

"You feel so good," Donghyuck sighs, dropping his head against the back of Jaemin's neck, letting him adjust. He kisses the side of Jaemin's neck, kisses the knobs of his spine, waiting until Jaemin is twitching back onto his cock, aching and eager. Donghyuck gives him a moment and then slowly trails his hand up to Jaemin’s chin, before forcing it up in an iron grip. "Keep watching, okay?" Donghyuck sweetly reminds him, clocking the way Jaemin’s pupils blow out in his reflection, before he draws his hips back and in one long motion, thrusts in.

Jaemin sobs, his voice cracking in the prettiest way, and his hands tremble where they're clenched on his thighs. Donghyuck sets a slow, hard rhythm, pulling back, far enough that he almost slips from Jaemin's tight heat before shoving back in, hard and vicious. Jaemin responds to every movement, every roll of Donghyuck's hips with grace, with ease. He struggles to spread his thighs apart further and Donghyuck understands. The angle they're in is uncomfortable, forcing Jaemin to be entirely upright, his back bowing under the force of his thrusts, meeting every single one without giving out. That doesn't mean Donghyuck wants to change it, though.

Jaemin does look oh, so pretty like this.

But Donghyuck wants more. He wants more, he wants all of it. He wants to see Jaemin break for him, wants to hear him beg. Want to hear his gorgeous voice give out for him.

He picks up his pace, drilling into Jaemin, the noise absolutely filthy in the quiet room. Jaemin's mouth falls open further and he whines, moans. His cock is dripping onto the floor and sweat is pasting his hair down, flat to his forehead. His abs clench with every thrust and Donghyuck drinks it all in.

"You're so gorgeous, Jaemin," Donghyuck says, wrapping his arm around Jaemin's torso and pushing him back on his cock at the same time as he fucks into him. "So, so pretty on my cock."

"Love it when you fuck me," Jaemin whimpers and it's so headying to hear that. To hear that from someone who doesn't ever allow their walls to be broken down, even when they're stark naked in front of a camera. It's the sort of power Donghyuck never imagined he would have, never imagined Jaemin would ever let him have. "It feels so good, every single time. I can't stop thinking about it."

Jaemin begs him to go faster and Donghyuck obeys, snapping his hips up again and again, watching Jaemin the whole time, watching the way he trembles for Donghyuck, the way Donghyuck's cock sinks into his heat, the way he pants, mouth shaping Donghyuck's name like a breathless prayer.

"Hands," Donghyuck orders when it gets too difficult in this position and Jaemin immediately obeys, tipping forward to brace himself on his hands and knees. They adjust positions and it's disappointing that Donghyuck has lost most of his view, but this way feels so much better and he can't help the groan that slides out of him when he pushes back into Jaemin's heat. He lets his head fall back as he falls into the pleasure, giving himself into the want thrumming through his whole body.

Donghyuck notices when Jaemin stops watching himself in the mirror, when the pleasure clearly gets to be too much for him and his head drops, whole body arching under the pressure, the heat.

"Keep your head up," Donghyuck reminds but Jaemin moans, back bowing further, trying to rolls his hips back onto Donghyuck's cock, not listening.

Donghyuck leans forward and yanks on the rope, pulling his chest up in the same movement that he grips Jaemin's hair and tugs his head up. "Keep your head up," he orders.

Jaemin nearly sobs. "I can't -" he whimpers. "You're fucking me too good."

"Nice try," Donghyuck laughs, despite the madness coursing through him. He feels like he's about to lose his mind.

To his credit, Jaemin tries. He picks his head up, glancing up at Donghyuck through tear-filled eyes and Donghyuck smiles, victorious. Though in the next snap of his hips, Jaemin is back down, and a sob cracks through him. "I'm going to come," he gasps, fingers scrabbling uselessly at the shiny wood. "Hyuck-"

Donghyuck hauls Jaemin up, forcing him back upright, until his back is plastered to his front. Tears are dripping down his face, and his lips are bitten plum red and he still looks so fucking - "Look at yourself," Donghyuck purrs. "You look so fucking gorgeous, like this, Jaemin."

"Please," Jaemin gasps, head dropping back onto Donghyuck's shoulder, hips twitching uselessly into the air. "Please, hyung, please let me come. Please-"

Donghyuck wraps his hand around Jaemin's cock and watches him as he falls apart in milliseconds. "Come for me," Donghyuck sighs prettily, eyes locking onto Jaemin’s reflection. "Come on, Jaemin, don't you want to be good for your hyung?"

Jaemin's hands dig into Donghyuck's thighs, his sides, as he shatters apart for him, a sob cracking out of his throat as he shoots all over himself, crumbling in Donghyuck's arms. He looks so gorgeous, it takes Donghyuck's breath away.

Jaemin slumps against Donghyuck, panting hard. Donghyuck kisses the side of his neck, watching him.

"Can I keep going?" Donghyuck asks, softly.

Jaemin nods rapidly. "Yeah - yeah, keep going."

Donghyuck presses his mouth to the pulse point on Jaemin's neck and picks up his pace again. It's nowhere near as slow as before, Donghyuck too desperate and Jaemin whimpering in pain, trying so hard to keep steady for him. It only takes seconds, Donghyuck holding onto Jaemin tightly, sinking his teeth into his shoulder as he comes, a desperate noise ripping out of him. He comes harder than he's ever come before.

They slump to the floor together in a crumpled, sweaty heap and Donghyuck just barely has the mental acuity to turn Jaemin around, both of them panting hard. Jaemin looks so beautiful, destroyed and shattered like this. Donghyuck's whole body sings of aching satisfaction all over, for him, because of him. It's all for Jaemin, all the time.

"Are you okay?" Donghyuck asks through heavy breaths. "I-"

"I think you destroyed me," Jaemin groans, letting his head thump on the floor. He smiles up at Donghyuck. "It was fucking amazing."

Donghyuck laughs and Jaemin kisses him. It's soft, slow. Fond. They sink into each other, coming back to normal, their hearts slowing down from that frantic, galloping pound, matching each other until it sounds like one being, one sonorous heartbeat.

"You're so good," Donghyuck murmurs, curling his hand around Jaemin's jaw. "God, Jaemin. You're so, so good."

"I adore you," Jaemin whispers, an echo to days ago. Sweetness pours from every crevice in him and Donghyuck shuts his eyes and kisses him harder.

 

"Weren't you going to take pictures?" Jaemin asks later, when they're on the bed and Donghyuck has finally managed to find the strength to untie him. They're both curled under the covers, exhaustion overtaking them and Jaemin's eyes already slipping shut.

Donghyuck groans at the thought of having to get his camera. At having to walk. His legs feel like jelly. "'M so tired," he mumbles, pressing his face into the comfortable swell of Jaemin's pecs.

"Thought you wanted to shoot me like this," Jaemin teases even as his arm curls around Donghyuck, holding him in place. He doesn't have the rope on anymore, but the lines left are stark and beautiful. Donghyuck could shoot him, could make something out of the art he's currently laying on, but he's just too fucking exhausted.

"Guess we'll just have to do it again," Donghyuck sighs, a mischievous smile curving over his face.

Jaemin laughs. "Guess so."

 

On the ninth day, Donghyuck sneaks out of bed, extricating himself carefully from a clingy, still asleep Jaemin. He knows he only has a short amount of time before Jaemin wakes up and he wants to hurry, to get everything set up in time.

He just makes it under the wire, setting up the food and plates on their second-floor balcony overlooking the sea and their pool when Jaemin wakes up.

"I thought I heard you up here," Jaemin mumbles, coming through the door, rubbing his eye.

Donghyuck takes in Jaemin's mussed up hair and bleary gaze with a fond smile. "I made us brunch," he says brightly, waving at the set up table before scrunching his nose. "Well, I got us brunch, from the main hotel."

"I love it," Jaemin says, sounding genuinely fond. "I'm going to run down to brush my teeth, wait for me?"

"You're on a time limit," Donghyuck warns and Jaemin laughs, bounding back downstairs.

The sun is bright and warm, hovering over him while Donghyuck fiddles with his phone, waiting for Jaemin. Jaemin comes back quickly and presses a kiss against Donghyuck's temple before he sits down.

"This looks really good," Jaemin says with a tiny smile. "What brought this on?"

Donghyuck shrugs. "No particular reason," he says before amending, "I like eating with you. We don't do it often."

"We should do it more then," Jaemin says. "When we - when we get back home."

A quiet pall falls over them and Donghyuck suddenly finds it hard to breathe. He chooses to ignore it though and pushes it aside. "We should," he agrees, injecting happiness into his tone, and is grateful when Jaemin smiles at him.

The rest of the days pass by in a blur of easy sex, perfect, full kisses and a handful of careful avoidance.

It's so easy to fall into Jaemin, even with the inevitable gloom of the future hanging over their heads. Donghyuck spends the whole time kissing Jaemin, tattooing the print of his lips and his hands onto every available inch of skin on Jaemin's body. If anything, Jaemin seems to find it just as hard to let go of him as well. He holds Donghyuck close and kisses him and they just... Live in each other's presence.

It's so easy to forget that there's a whole world out there, that time is moving around them, that everything else is stepping forward while they exist in their peaceful bubble, focused only on each other.

On the fourteenth day, Donghyuck wakes up to Jaemin stroking his hair and watching him.

"You're awake," he says quietly when he notices Donghyuck peering up at him, gaze lightening into something fond and less intense.

"How long have you been awake?" Donghyuck yawns.

"Not a long time," Jaemin sighs, and he tips Donghyuck's chin up into a slow, easy kiss.

Donghyuck sighs into it, placing a hand on Jaemin's chest to press up into it. "We're leaving today," he says quietly, not pulling away.

"We are," Jaemin agrees and he kisses Donghyuck again. "When's our flight?"

"Three pm," Donghyuck says. "We need to be at the airport at two."

Jaemin pulls away and Donghyuck's eyes flutter open to watch him. "Okay," Jaemin says, nodding decisively. "Okay, we still have a couple of hours then." And he pushes Donghyuck flat against the sheets and kisses him, full and open, licking into his mouth.

"You really want to spend our last hours in paradise doing this?" Donghyuck asks, around a little laugh as Jaemin attaches his lips to his neck, trailing down his chest, over the hickies left over the last week, all varying shades of red, blue, and green.

"Yes," Jaemin says, peeling away to lock eyes with Donghyuck. "I want to spend our last hours together like this. Is that okay?"

Everything is there in Jaemin's gaze - all the feelings, the words, the hurt neither of them dare to say out loud, and Donghyuck is sure he is no different. Jaemin's fingers trail up the side of Donghyuck's ribs, leaving fire in their wake, sparking and burning, and Donghyuck feels like he's spent the whole time, these last two weeks, burning up in flames for Jaemin and Jaemin alone. And now, that fire was finally starting to die down. Starting to sputter out, flickering away into nothing from a lack of fuel. The gasoline drying out until there was nothing left but ashes in the wake.

Donghyuck takes a steadying breath and nods. "That's perfect," he breathes, almost soundlessly, and the rest of the world falls away.

 

Present

Donghyuck’s barely come home when his phone rings. He struggles with the lock, trying to shift his groceries to one hand as he grapples around for his phone.

The lock has just given way, door swinging open, when Donghyuck gets a hand on his phone, answering the call before it cuts off.

"Hey," he pants, kicking the door shut behind him.

There's a pause and then Jaemin says in a suspicious voice, "What are you doing?"

Donghyuck frowns, heaving his grocery bags onto the kitchen counter with a groan. "I'm answering my phone while carrying half a metric ton of groceries, what are you doing?"

Jaemin snorts, and his tone is lighter when he replies, "I was just checking my mail."

"And that required a phone call?" Donghyuck inquires dryly, opening his fridge and organising his groceries.

"Don't be a dick," Jaemin says. "I was all excited about your invitation arriving in the mail, because that's old and adorable, but now you're derailing me."

"What invitation?" Donghyuck asks, frowning at the calendar hanging on his fridge. The magnet pinning it in place is from his and Renjun's trip to Chile at the end of university, right after they finished their first big exhibition together. Donghyuck remembers hiking a lot, sweltering hot days, bitterly cold nights, and all of the stars. Hundreds of thousands of them, blinking and sparkling overhead, and the warm presence of Renjun under it all, beside him.

One of Donghyuck's favourite shots, of everything he's ever done, is from that trip: the silhouette of Renjun's body, the outline of his profile as he looks up to the stars, just the last fragments of the sun's rays still remained at the edge of the sky. The picture in question hangs in triplicate; one in Donghyuck's living room, one in Renjun's office in his apartment, and one in their company office.

Jaemin tsks. "You're supposed to be the responsible adult artist," he scolds lightheartedly. "How can you not remember your own exhibition coming up?"

"I took you on a vacation halfway around the world because I felt like it," Donghyuck reminds him dryly before he flinches. There's a dead silence from the other end, and Donghyuck closes his eyes. That was a mistake. "Besides," he rushes on. "Renjun does all the proper adult stuff for me." He frowns. "And what do you mean old?"

Jaemin laughs, but there's a definite strain in his voice that hadn't been there before. "Who sends out mail invitations anymore?"

"It's elegant," Donghyuck shoots back.

"If you say so," Jaemin hums. "I like it, though. It's pretty."

"Are you coming?" Donghyuck asks, picking out the wine bottles from the bag and turning to the wine fridge he has in the corner of his living room.

"Of course I am," Jaemin says, offended. "I'm the main character. Your exhibition would be dead in the water without my marvelous presence."

"I am the photographer," Donghyuck reminds him, amused.

"That means nothing," Jaemin says mock haughtily and Donghyuck huffs a laugh. He feels so fond of Jaemin in this moment, the affection clinging to him like candy, sliding to the back of his throat and lingering there, sweet and sticky. "I'm the art."

"Yes," Donghyuck agrees, softly. He wants to see Jaemin all of a sudden - for no reason. He wants to be there, right next to him, and just look at Jaemin, as his eyes sparkle prettily, lips stretching into a wide smile. He wants to be beside Jaemin so badly and so suddenly it hurts a little. Takes him by surprise. Donghyuck leans against his fridge, aching quietly. "Yes, you are."

 

"Are you sure about this?" Donghyuck asks, as he lets Jaemin into his apartment. He grimaces when he considers what's about to come.

Jaemin gives him a droll look. "I'm very excited about this," he says. "Why aren't you? You're the photographer."

Donghyuck makes a face. "Exactly," he says. "I hate being the one in front of the camera for a reason."

Jaemin rolls his eyes. "Well, suffer," he says, pulling off his coat and hanging it up by the front door. "I want this - you can make this my birthday present."

"I got you a birthday present!" Donghyuck says, outraged. "I got you a coat, you're wearing it today!"

Jaemin ruffles his hair, sending the last fluffy bits of snow that hadn't melted fluttering to the ground, and sends him a bright smile. "And you know I love it," he says sweetly. "But I want this too, and you're going to let me do it, aren't you?"

The silence spreads between them for less than a second, stretching and stretching. Jaemin's smile is gorgeous and Donghyuck is so weak for him. "Fine," he mutters grudgingly, giving in. "We can do it."

 

Donghyuck helps Jaemin set up his equipment, pointing out all the easy settings, how to change the lights if he wants, before he steps back, letting Jaemin take over.

He has no idea how he even landed himself in this position, just that Jaemin had brought it up curiously when they were out at dinner together.

"Have you ever modeled for someone?" Jaemin asked. They were at an all you can eat sushi place, and both of them had managed to put away enough sushi to turn the waiter's eyes slightly pinched as he came back to get their orders again.

Donghyuck grimaced. "God, no," he said, shuddering before reconsidering. "For a painting? Because if you want to paint me, Jaemin, you should know that my prices are very high -"

"Oh, shush," Jaemin said, laughing. "No, I don't mean for a painting. Though, you and I both know you would do that for free for me."

Donghyuck pouted but didn't refute his statement. "Then what?"

"Like, for a shoot," Jaemin said, eyeing him consideringly. "You in front of the camera."

Donghyuck made a face. "No," he said. "I don't like having pictures taken of me."

"You're a photographer!"

"And that was a wise career choice, I think."

Jaemin leaned over the table. "Would you let me take pictures of you?" He asked.

Donghyuck stared at him. "Why would you want to do that?" He asked.

Jaemin shrugged. "I want to see what you see. I want to try, anyway."

Donghyuck sighed. "I'm not," he pressed his lips together, trying to figure out the right way to phrase this before he shook his head. "Fine. We can do it."

Jaemin's lips curled into a pretty smile. "Thank you," he said.

Now though, Donghyuck is beginning to regret every single one of his choices.

"How do you want me?" He asks, and instantly regrets it when Jaemin looks at him, his eyes dark. He swallows and tries to backpedal instantly. "I'm not getting naked for you."

Jaemin snorts, a tiny smile playing around his lips. "No," he says quietly. "I just wanted to try shooting you. What do you want to do?"

Donghyuck shakes his head. "It's all up to you," he says. "I'm not saying anything."

Jaemin nods and then levels a critical look at Donghyuck's studio. "Can we bring the couch over?"

They strip off the blanket, and Donghyuck helps Jaemin adjust the settings before he lays down on the couch. It's raining outside, and the studio, despite being the largest room in the apartment, feels warm and cozy.

"Okay, I'm going to start now," Jaemin says quietly. "Just - do whatever, okay?"

Donghyuck nods, unable to stop the heat that paints his cheeks. It's awfully awkward for the first few minutes; he doesn't know what to do with his hands and he can't look up at Jaemin, but Jaemin says nothing, just lets him be.

It feels awful to be under that pinpoint glare, so acutely aware of his own camera, and Donghyuck wonders at how Jaemin does it all the time for him. How he manages to do it naked and vulnerable.

The music shifts to something quiet and slow, and Donghyuck tips his head against the back of the couch, swallowing hard. He looks at Jaemin through his lashes and watches him focus. Jaemin's lips are pushed out a little, his eyebrows crinkled together as he leans into the camera. He looks so beautiful, so careful.

"What are you thinking?" Jaemin calls over the soft sounds of The 1975 pulsating through the wooden boards, up into the ends of Donghyuck's fingers, until they tremble.

Donghyuck blushes and summons the courage to look at him. Jaemin is peering over the top of the camera, his eyes wide once they lock gazes. "I'm just wondering how you do this all the time. I feel like an idiot."

Jaemin smiles. "Well, I see how you do this now," he says quietly.

Donghyuck tips his head at him. "What do you mean?" He asks.

Jaemin smiles and ducks behind the camera again. "I get how you do this - it’s.. headying, I mean. You can see a person, really see them. You look-" he sighs, loud enough for it to be heard over the music, and Donghyuck can see the tips of his ears turn red. "You look so beautiful. I mean, you always do, but like this, especially - you just look... Magical."

"Magical?" Donghyuck echoes, his voice cracking a little.

"Yeah," Jaemin pulls back and looks at him. Just looks, long and steady, and Donghyuck looks back at him. He can't tear his gaze away, doesn't want to, either. Jaemin smiles and it's full of words that Donghyuck has already heard, full of feelings Donghyuck already knows, and despite it all - despite all the rules and the heartbreak and the heartache, he wants to hear them again, wants to feel them again. "You're magical, Donghyuck."

 

5 Months Ago

It's quiet.

Donghyuck looks out the window of their office to the busy, sweltering street outside. Summertime has come in full heat and it's particularly strong this year, sticking to every crevice and sliding into every open crack. It's hot and humid, and even in the cool air conditioning of the office, Donghyuck is slightly sweating.

It's too goddamn quiet.

Donghyuck hates it.

"What about Fulson?" Renjun asks, breaking Donghyuck out of his faintly loathsome reverie.

Donghyuck looks over at Renjun, who's scratching out names on a legal pad, too annoyingly set in his archaic ways that don't match his age to use a computer. He wrinkles his nose at the thought of the stuffy art director he'd met a couple of years ago. "No," he says. "I hate him, he's so boring."

Renjun lifts an eyebrow over at him. "He loves your work."

Donghyuck makes a face. "That's the one sliver of good taste he has. Have you seen his productions, Jun? They're hideous."

Renjun flicks a check mark beside something. "I'm inviting him," he says blandly as if Donghyuck hadn't even spoken. When Donghyuck opens his mouth to protest, Renjun points his pen at him without even looking up. "You like his money, so shut up."

Donghyuck falls back against his seat and pouts. "Why even bother asking me to come in when you don't take any of my suggestions?"

"Because," Renjun says drolly, turning over to his computer and pulling up a frighteningly detailed Excel sheet. "You were starting to fuse into your couch and I thought I'd let you be a stupid fool in the office rather than be a stupid fool at home."

"I have wine at home," Donghyuck sulks.

"Exactly my point."

Donghyuck sighs and then slides off his stool to the comfy chairs they have by the entryway where the receptionist usually sits. Given that it's a Sunday morning, they're technically closed and Donghyuck has no qualms about shoving the armchair over to the desk where Renjun sits and flopping down on it, willing to wallow loudly in his misery.

He retrieves his laptop and tries to do some editing before quickly giving up, the sight of Jaemin's face making his heart pull in ways that's probably not healthy.

"Why did you break it off?" Renjun asks quietly and Donghyuck looks over to see Renjun watching him, his gaze flicking from Donghyuck's now blank screen to his face. "You liked him a lot."

"There was nothing to break off," Donghyuck says, slumping lower in his chair.

"Right," Renjun observes. "And that's why you came back from a two week vacation looking like you'd gone through the worst breakup of your life."

Donghyuck flushes.

He'd known it would be hard to leave Jaemin. As soon as they kissed for the first time, Donghyuck had known it would be the hardest thing in the world to go back to what they were before. But, as always, his imagination had nothing on reality - not when it came to Jaemin.

They didn't speak the whole plane ride, had just held hands and dozed off against each other, and when it came time to part at the airport, Donghyuck had looked up at Jaemin and seen a perfect reflection of the misery cracking his lungs at the seams in Jaemin's warm eyes.

Nothing had been said; Jaemin leaned in, still so warm and golden and gorgeous, even when Donghyuck was breaking them both apart, and hugged him. And Donghyuck had thrown his arms around him and held on for as long as he could, sinking into Jaemin's arms before he pulled away.

"I'll see you in a few weeks," Jaemin said, stepping back and putting a respectable distance between them.

Donghyuck had nodded, a lump the size of a grapefruit in his throat, and it had taken everything in him to not let his voice shake when he said, "Take your time. I'll understand if you don't come - I'll understand if you don't want to come back."

And Jaemin just shook his head, a soft laugh tumbling out, low and wry. "Don't be silly, Donghyuck," he said, meeting Donghyuck's gaze. "I couldn't ever leave you."

And that had been that.

"Donghyuck?" Renjun prompts and Donghyuck slips out of the memory. It feels like coming up for air after being underwater for a very long time, his lungs just on the edge of pain, his head starting to spin with the lack of oxygen, the last few bubbles floating up to the surface, far, far away.

"He asked me for two weeks," Donghyuck says quietly. "And that's all I could give him."

"There's no rule that says you can't be in a relationship, you know," Renjun points out. "I get that it's your job, but he made you happy -"

"Jaemin's my muse, Renjun," Donghyuck says flatly. Quietly. He's already thought about this, whatever argument, whatever reasoning Renjun throws at him, Donghyuck has already run it around and around in his head until he felt nauseous. He’s thought of it all. "He's my art. It's all just him at this point. And I can't risk ruining that, no matter how much I... No matter how much he means to me. I can't risk it."

Finding Jaemin had been like waking up after a very long dream. After months of hating every single thing he took a picture of, after months of hating himself and his work, Jaemin had stumbled in. And the world had slid back into definition again. The bleariness had vanished and the fog had lifted, and Donghyuck had found a reason for his art to exist again.

If Jaemin decided to come back, that was it. Donghyuck couldn't take that step again, he couldn't let those lines blur again. His art demanded his full attention, his whole and Donghyuck wasn't willing to risk it falling away from him again.

 

Present

Donghyuck and Renjun arrive at the gallery hours before the actual exhibition is set to start.

“Damn,” Donghyuck breathes when he sees his pictures all over the gallery. The prints are glossy and large, stretched over huge canvases and illuminated with golden lights. “This is the best exhibition you’ve ever put together, Renjun.”

Renjun tips his head at the gallery. “I know, right?” He muses and the two of them stand there in silence, looking at the last year of their work splashed out on white and grey walls. “You did good too, Hyuck. I think this might be your best work yet.”

Donghyuck nods. “I know,” he says quietly, eyes locking onto Jaemin’s face in one of the photographs. “I didn’t do it alone, though.”

“Well, that’s true," Renjun says brightly, and the room seems to lighten up a couple of degrees in response to his cheeriness. "You are incredibly lucky to have me."

Donghyuck snorts but doesn't refute it. "I'm going to see if the caterers need anything," he says. "You'll check in with the director?"

"Yep," Renjun heads off in the opposite direction. "See you soon."

 

By the time the doors are open and the gallery is swarming with people, Donghyuck already feels exhausted down to each one of his individual toes.

"Go mingle," Renjun says, sliding up to him. "You cannot hang out in this corner, that is not how we get clients."

"I'm taking a break," Donghyuck all but whines. "I've been mingling for an hour."

Renjun fixes a shark's smile up at him. "Go mingle more," he says through gritted teeth.

"Fulson's over there," Donghyuck pleads, casting a surreptitious glance across the room to where a huge, old man stands. He cuts a ridiculous figure, standing a head and a half taller than every single other patron in the room with a beard braided down half his chest. "I don't want to speak to him - he'll corner me the whole night, I won't ever get away."

"It's better than hanging out in this corner all night," Renjun says tightly. "And making us both no money."

Donghyuck heaves a giant sigh and plucks a champagne glass off a passing waiter's tray. "Fine," he says, draining it. "I'll go-" He cuts himself off when he catches sight of Jaemin entering the art gallery, brushing snow off his coat. "Um."

Renjun rolls his eyes. "Go," he says, taking Donghyuck's empty glass and shoving him away. "Go say hi, I'll go get us our next quarter's money."

"Thank you." Donghyuck blows him a kiss and winds around the crowd to reach Jaemin just as he's handing his coat over the counter to the coat check. "Hey."

Jaemin turns around and Donghyuck's heart stutters hard at the sight that greets him. Jaemin looks so stunning, in a crushed silk shirt, his hair fluffy and dusted with snow, it takes Donghyuck's breath away.

"You made it," Donghyuck says softly, pulling him into a hug. He tucks his chin over Jaemin's shoulder and takes a deep, steadying breath. All of a sudden, he doesn't feel so tired anymore.

"I promised you I would," Jaemin replies and it's a fond echo of before. His grip tightens around Donghyuck for a moment before they step apart. He smiles down at Donghyuck. "A lot of people showed up."

Donghyuck sighs through his nose and surveys the crowd. "Yeah," he says, trying not to let the anxiety he was feeling seep through his voice. "They did."

Jaemin nudges him, and when Donghyuck glances at him, he smiles prettily. "Wanna show me around so you don't have to talk to anyone?" He asks.

"God yes," Donghyuck sighs, and starts leading Jaemin around the gallery.

 

Jaemin seems to remember nearly down to the exact day they shot each picture.

"This is mildly terrifying, you know," Donghyuck comments after he listens to Jaemin wax poetry about the sandwich they had after they shot at the botanical gardens two hours away.

"It was the best sandwich I've ever had," Jaemin insists. "We need to go back one day."

"Sure," Donghyuck laughs, turning back to the picture of Jaemin that day. It's not particularly naked, given that they were out in public, but there's something erotic about the way Jaemin is staring out at the viewer, the sun shining behind him, his lips parted and fingers resting on the bottom lip, his shirt opened low enough and dipping far down enough that you could see all the way down his abs.

"It's a date," Jaemin agrees cheekily, but before Donghyuck can even react to it, Jaemin sweeps them along to the next photo.

 

"Is this him?" A new voice says. A voice he knows.

Donghyuck turns around to see Johnny grinning widely at him.

"You came?" Donghyuck asks with a laugh and throws his arms around Johnny's neck. "I didn't think you'd make it!"

"Got out on the last flight out," Johnny says with a broad smile. "I couldn't miss this one, now could I? Your big comeback into the family business?"

Donghyuck notices Jaemin hovering behind him and he twists, tugging Jaemin forward by the elbow. "This is him," he says to Johnny, answering his earlier question. "Jaemin, my..." He falters for a second, wondering how to describe him. Model sounds too impersonal, and friend just doesn't sound right.

"Muse?" Jaemin offers with a raised brow, an expression that looks faintly challenging.

Donghyuck smiles to himself and even Johnny looks amused. "Jaemin," Donghyuck says. "This is my older brother, Johnny. He works in Chicago and just barely made it in time."

"Came right off the plane," Johnny says with a little laugh. Donghyuck can tell; Johnny's still wearing torn jeans and ugly mud-covered boots.

"Oh," Jaemin says, faintly, looking abashed. He holds out his hand for Johnny to take. "It's nice to meet you."

"You too," Johnny agrees, casting Donghyuck a knowing look to which Donghyuck says nothing. "You go have fun," Johnny says, waving them off. "I'm going to try and steal some of your admirers from under your nose."

"Good luck," Donghyuck calls, and watches Johnny wander off before he turns back to Jaemin, who's looking more and more sheepish by the second. Donghyuck wrinkles his nose at him. "Come on," he says, offering his arm to Jaemin who links it with his own with a tiny laugh. "I have about ten more minutes with you before Renjun kills me for not schmoozing with the moneymakers."

"Let's make the most of it," Jaemin agrees, a smile stretched out over his pretty face.

 

After regretfully leaving Jaemin, Donghyuck spends another two hours mechanically mingling with people until Renjun appears at his side like an apparition.

"Excuse me," Renjun says brightly to the couple Donghyuck's talking to. "I need to borrow the star for a second."

Donghyuck smiles at the couple before letting himself be dragged away. "I'm your star?" He asks Renjun in a low tone, delightedly.

"You're a big noxious giant sucking all my energy, certainly," Renjun snorts. "It's time for you to give a speech."

Donghyuck panics. "A what?" He asks, too loudly, if any of the glances he gets indicates.

Renjun shoots him a droll look. "A speech," he says dryly, leading Donghyuck over to the center of the gallery where Donghyuck's favourite pictures of Jaemin sit. "You've been out of the game for over a year, and despite it, all of these people showed up. You need to give a speech."

Donghyuck nearly whines but Renjun shoots him a warning look. "You're going to give a good speech," he says, shoving a glass into Donghyuck's hand. "Be charming, be friendly, be funny, and most importantly, get us money."

"Pleasant as always, Renjun," Donghyuck says sarcastically. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "Let's do this."

"Here," Renjun kicks the little box over that a waiter brings over for Donghyuck to stand on and Donghyuck narrows his eyes at him.

"Adding insult to injury," he mutters before hopping onto the box.

Renjun calls for attention and Donghyuck starts off slowly, awkwardly, shifting under all the eyes on him. He catches sight of Jaemin standing near the back of the gallery by the doors with a smile on his face and takes a deep breath, steadying himself.

"Um, I guess, I just want to say thank you to everyone for showing up tonight," Donghyuck continues. "A year and a few months ago I was wandering around the Blue Ridge Mountains, feeling quite... Unmotivated. Lost. But somehow, somewhere..." He looks at Jaemin. He’s still watching him, his arms wrapped around his body, as if shielding himself from something. "Someway, I found it again. And I want to thank you all for being here, even months later. I don't want to delay anyone, I know we have another round of food coming out soon." A small ripple of laughter flows through the room and Donghyuck smiles at it. "But finally, I just really want to say thank you to two very special people. Um, Renjun," he glances down at Renjun, who hides behind his champagne glass and makes a face up at Donghyuck, who laughs a little. "Thank you for being with me from the beginning. We've been through so much, and I'm really grateful you're still by my side, even after all the grief I've put you through."

"And, uh, the other person," Donghyuck continues, looking down at his glass before looking over the room of people, straight to where Jaemin stands. "Obviously, is Jaemin, my muse... My art. Everything I've created in the last year is all because of you. So, thank you. So much."

Jaemin smiles, and something in it, in his gaze, cuts Donghyuck to the core from all the way across the room. Donghyuck opens his mouth to say more before he swallows and pauses. Jaemin tips his head to the side before sliding behind the crowd and exiting out a side door into the dark courtyard, like an apparition, here one second, a wisp of shadows and smoke the next.

"Um, thank you," Donghyuck says, directing his gaze back to the crowd. "Really. I'm going to turn it over to Renjun now, because he put this whole thing together and I figured I should give him a chance to shine in the spotlight."

Renjun laughs, shooing him off the box before hopping up there himself. "Thank you for coming, everyone," he starts brightly, and Donghyuck slips away as he continues.

Everyone is focused on Renjun's speech, and no one glances at him as he slides around the edge of the crowd before following Jaemin outside.

Jaemin is standing in the middle of the yard, staring up at the falling snow. His profile is gorgeous, even in the low light of the lamps wrapping around the edges. His shirt sleeves are carefully folded up his forearm and Donghyuck can see, even from this distance, the gooseflesh prickling up his arms.

"Why do you never wear a coat?" Donghyuck asks, and Jaemin turns around with a beautiful, heartbreaking smile and says -

 

4 Months Ago

jaemin

we're meeting at 5 right?

Donghyuck stares down at his phone, taking in a deep breath before putting his phone down and closing his eyes.

He hasn't seen Jaemin in nearly two months and to be honest, he didn't think he ever would again. It had hurt like hell in the time between. To Donghyuck, it hadn't even felt like time passing; more like limbo, like floating in an endless sea. Wondering if he would have changed his mind if he had the chance to go back.

It had been a complete surprise - though not an unwelcome one - when Jaemin texted him a week ago, asking when Donghyuck was ready to go back to work.

He hadn't brought up the past and neither had Donghyuck, and just like that - they'd moved on.

Now, they were supposed to meet in the park for a small photoshoot, and though Donghyuck ached at the chance to shoot Jaemin again, he was half dreading, half anticipating seeing Jaemin.

His phone pings again, the second notification of Jaemin's message and Donghyuck picks his phone up.

donghyuck

yeah

see you soon

Donghyuck considers texting more before he sighs and drops his phone away from him, falling back on his bed and throwing his arm over his eyes. He doesn't have much time and he doesn't want to spend it panicking with the black and white negatives of Jaemin's gaze flashing behind his eyes.

 

"Happy birthday," Donghyuck says in greeting when he nears Jaemin in the park. Jaemin is sitting on a chequered blanket under a tree and watching a group of children running around with a football, smiling as he watches them play.

Jaemin twists around to direct the smile at him and Donghyuck's breath freezes in his lungs when he sees him. Jaemin's hair is dark now, and longer, curly in the humid August afternoon. His smile is still just as bright, and Donghyuck wonders if this is the same person who left him at the airport two months ago - if this is the same person he left.

"You remembered," Jaemin says, scooting over to allow Donghyuck onto the blanket beside him.

"Of course I did," Donghyuck replies, quieter now. He's not sure how he should act around Jaemin and the hesitancy stings. Donghyuck pushes a smile onto his face and hands over a bag. "For you. Happy birthday, Jaemin."

Jaemin's lips twist into a wry smile as he takes the bag. "You didn't have to get me anything," he says. "I mean... You already got me -" he clears his throat, ducking his head. The tips of his ears are red and Donghyuck tries not to feel too fond over it. He's not allowed anymore. "You didn't have to."

"I wanted to," Donghyuck says.

Jaemin pulls out the wrapped box and carefully tugs the tape apart to reveal a tan, woolen winter coat, long enough to fall to Jaemin's shins. Donghyuck had checked.

"You never dress properly for the weather," Donghyuck says by way of explanation. The stars in Jaemin's eyes are huge when he looks up at Donghyuck.

"Thank you," Jaemin says. His hands tighten around the fabric before he carefully folds the coat back up and puts it back in the box.

Donghyuck puts his hands in his lap and ducks his head. "I didn't think you'd come back," he says. It's not without thinking - it's been rattling around in the back of his head all week, since Jaemin first texted him, but Donghyuck hadn't expected he'd bring it up so early. Open the wounds so soon after they'd just barely stopped bleeding.

"I promised you I would," Jaemin replies, and the sincerity in his voice is so strong it makes Donghyuck look up at him, his heart in his throat. "I like working with you, I like being your friend. No matter what happened in the past, I-" he swallows, fingers clenching momentarily in the straps of the bag before he smiles, perfectly mirroring the awful feeling in the pit of his stomach. The awful feeling that's churning around with the same butterflies that have lived in the cavern of Donghyuck's stomach since the first time he met Jaemin.

"Me too," Donghyuck says quietly, breaking in before Jaemin's vulnerable expression can break him any more. "I like working with you too."

The clouds shift over the sun, the whole world momentarily darkening before it floods with light again. They sit there in silence, and Donghyuck tries so hard not to stare at every inch of Jaemin. It's hard.

"So," Jaemin says, briskly, sitting up straighter. "Are we shooting today?"

Donghyuck blinks. "Uh, not a proper one," he says, a little regretfully. "My good camera needed repairs, but I have my film one."

Jaemin brightens. "I love the film pictures," he says. "Can I try?"

"Yeah," Donghyuck says, surprised. "Of course you can." He digs around in his bag, retrieving the camera and scooting closer to Jaemin so he can explain the basics. It's not just a point and shoot, and unless they want all the pictures to come completely washed out, Jaemin needs to at least learn how to work with the exposure.

It feels like they fall back to normal from one breath to another, just slipping back into the intrinsic rhythm of each other effortlessly. It's not the exact same as it was before, not really. Donghyuck subconsciously notes every hitch of Jaemin's breath when he moves closer, counts the lashes that flutter against Jaemin's cheeks, how many times he licks his chapped lips. Everything is heightened, like he's just come out of a sensory deprivation tank; the whole world is several degrees brighter and Jaemin is the focus his gaze automatically narrows in on. It's not the same, but it's close enough.

Jaemin takes a couple of pictures of the trees, the sun, the expanse of the park with couples and families milling around, and Donghyuck watches him the whole time.

It's not the same, but Jaemin had come back and that was enough. That was all.

 

Present

"I'm fine."

"You're not," Donghyuck disagrees, disdainfully. "You're freezing."

Jaemin hums, tipping his head back up to the sky. "It was pretty out here, I wanted to come see before it all melted."

"It's almost Christmas," Donghyuck says with a tiny laugh. "I don't think the snow is going anywhere. You left before I finished my speech."

"You weren't mentioning me anymore, I had no reason to be there," Jaemin teases, a pretty twist to his lips.

"I had more to say - about you."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," Donghyuck agrees, shoving his hands in the pockets of his pants as far as the tight, fancy fabric will let him. "It didn't seem right, to say it then. With everyone watching."

Jaemin turns around to look at him and god, he looks so ethereal, standing there, surrounded by white and gold, snow resting gently in his waves. He looks so gorgeous, so perfect, it takes Donghyuck's breath away and it doesn't come back.

Donghyuck stands there frozen, unable to move, and he knows. He just knows.

"Do you want to say it now?" Jaemin asks. "It's just the two of us here."

Donghyuck stares at him. Jaemin looks flawless, not a splash of paint on him, not a glimmer of the hurt or pain Donghyuck had put him through. He was here, still here even after everything. He'd asked for two weeks and then he'd come back.

Jaemin wasn't flawless though. He was snarky and a pain in the ass to work with sometimes, and a workaholic, almost more than Donghyuck himself was. Donghyuck knows all of his flaws, knows his heartaches, has caused it himself on one particularly memorable occasion. He knows most of Jaemin, just as Jaemin knows him. And he wants to know the rest, just as Jaemin does him.

"I don't want to do this anymore," he says, and it's almost wondering. Though it shouldn’t be wonderment, not anymore.

Something painful fractures across Jaemin's expression and he flinches. "What?"

Donghyuck steps forward, then takes another step and another, until he has closed the space between them. His footsteps trail back into the gallery, intermingled with Jaemin's but Donghyuck has no intention of going back. Not anymore.

Donghyuck is inches away from Jaemin when he stops. Jaemin doesn't move back.

"I don't want to do this anymore," Donghyuck says steadily. Jaemin opens his mouth but Donghyuck keeps on going, because he knows now. "I don't want to wake up every morning thinking about how the memory of you sleeping beside me felt. I don't want to touch you and remember what it felt like when I could touch all of you. I don't want to keep living those two weeks again and again because it's stupid that I am when I could be living in the present, now, with you."

"Donghyuck-" Jaemin says hoarsely, and there's a streak of wild hope in those gorgeous, warm eyes, but Donghyuck keeps speaking, the words falling out of his mouth at a terrifying pace, a frantic honesty.

"And my reasons for not wanting a relationship with you are still so real, because you are my work, I can't lose you, you know? But-" he sucks in a desperate breath and stares up at Jaemin. "But you came back. I hurt you and strung you along and I hate myself for it, but you still came back. To me. And you're my work, yes, but you're my everything as well, and it hurt so goddamn much when you left me. It hurt so fucking much when I let you go. I let you walk away from me because I was scared of losing you in every single way but… But it would hurt more to give up what I could - what this could be and I just can't let you go again-"

Jaemin's hands come up to cradle Donghyuck's cheeks and Donghyuck falls silent, the wind and the words knocked out of him. Jaemin's hands are warm but Donghyuck's cheeks are freezing, and it burns. His touch burns.

"Donghyuck," Jaemin says wildly, intensely. His eyes are wide, and Donghyuck feels as if he's drowning in them. It's a good kind of drowning though. "I'm going to kiss you now, okay?"

"Oh." Donghyuck says and he’s oh so completely gone for this man. "Okay."

Jaemin nods. "Okay," he agrees, a helpless laugh spilling out of him as he kisses Donghyuck.

Donghyuck swallows Jaemin's laugh when their lips meet and it's the sweetest taste in the whole world.

They don’t kiss nicely, not like the first time, where Donghyuck was still hopeful and shimmering with the glow of Jaemin wrapped around him. Jaemin presses down against him, mouth parted open against his, and Donghyuck’s back arches with the force of it. They fall into each other and Donghyuck gives as good as he gets, knots his fingers in Jaemin’s hair and tries to say everything he wanted to say, all the words he’d shoved down and pressed back with his tongue when they tried to come out at the quirk of Jaemin’s lips or his smile, or the way his cheeks bunched up under the bright sun, tries to say it all with the pressure of his lips and his body and his hands.

Jaemin kisses him again and again and again, a barely controlled urgency flickering around them, his hand wrapping around Donghyuck’s waist until they’re both breathless, panting into the space between their lips.

“I love you,” Donghyuck spills out before this moment is gone. He wants to catch it before it flits away, like trying to grasp at the edges of a butterfly’s wing, and hold it close to his chest, so he can feel the flutter flicker in time with his heart. “I love you, I’ve loved you for a very long time and I was a coward for not saying it before, and…” Donghyuck falters, biting his lip. Jaemin’s hand is still cradling his cheek and Donghyuck feels ever so safe in his hold. He huffs a quiet laugh. “And I don’t know what else - I just- I just love you.”

“I love you too,” Jaemin says, and his gaze is warm, full of wonder. “I’ve loved you for so long, it’s-” he shakes his head and kisses Donghyuck again, tipping his chin up so he can close his mouth over Donghyuck’s.

The snow falls harder, fluttering down around them, but Donghyuck can scarcely feel the cold. How could he? When he’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted, after all this time. After all this longing and heartache. After all this waiting.

“You’re my art,” Donghyuck confesses in the space between their lips. He’s never said that to Jaemin, not out loud, because it’s the most important thing he could ever say. Jaemin is everything to him, he is the living embodiment of the passion that illuminates Donghyuck’s soul. “You’re the most important thing to me, but that isn’t why I love you. I love you because you’re you and even - even if you stop being my art, I’ll still love you. I don’t think I could ever stop loving you.”

Jaemin laughs softly and closes his eyes, pressing their foreheads together. “You make me so happy,” he replies. “Happier than I ever, ever imagined I would be.”

“Even after I hurt you?” Donghyuck asks, throat stinging.

“You didn’t hurt me,” Jaemin disagrees, and when Donghyuck shakes his head, Jaemin leans in, insistent “You didn’t. I knew exactly what I was asking for and I didn’t think I’d get it. You gave me those two weeks and that was more than I ever dreamed I would get.” Jaemin huffs a quiet laugh. “I came back because two weeks weren’t nearly enough - six months weren’t nearly enough. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t have you in the way I wanted, because I got to be with you - just standing next to you was enough.”

“And now?” Donghyuck asks hesitantly. “Now is this - am I enough?”

Jaemin looks at him, disbelief warring with adoration. “Donghyuck, you are everything. You made me happy long before you made me fall in love with you and you…” Jaemin swallows. “I would give you all my weeks - I’ll give you my forever because you’re it for me.”

“You are too,” Donghyuck says, and then he says it again, because it is the one thing he can say that encompasses it all. And he knows Jaemin will understand; they are cut from the same cloth, the same bleeding hands and bursting hearts, aching for their craft in a way no one else would understand. “You’re my art, Jaemin.”

Jaemim’s smile is bright and beautiful. It’s as gorgeous as it was the first time Donghyuck had seen it - blooming and magnetic. “You’re mine too,” he says, whispers, confesses, and when they fall into each other once again, the kiss tastes like sweet, sticky love.