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The Sheets I Bought You

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Code: SAH782


Prompt:
"Jongin’s phone malfunctioned mid sentence during a reply to his sworn enemy, Chanyeol.

Fuck.

You. (not sent)

Do not. (not sent)

Text. (not sent) Me.

Now he’s nervous at what the reply will be."

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction and none of the characters are owned by Swords and Hearts. All creative rights and ownership of this particular work of fiction lie with the respective authors.

Author's Note:


I’ve always wanted to write this trope. After how many times I read it, I thought it would be easy.

But it wasn’t.

I dedicate this effort to my bob, who kept my soul alive thorough it all, and who deserves more than I'll ever be able to give. I really, really hope you like it.

 

 

 

 

Part one

 

 

 

It’s Wednesday.

“Caramel mochaccino,” he says to the girl behind the register. “Jongin.”

She scrawls it on the paper cup. Red marker. Illegible.

“I don’t know what that is,” he whispers to himself, stapling closed the bottom of his denim jacket. He moves to the waiting line.

Chanyeol is up next. “Ice Americano. Mario.”

She doesn’t bat an eye as she scrawls it on the cup. Tomorrow, he will give Hermione. And the next, he will be Sonic. And the next, he will be Messi. And she will never notice.

That is, if he comes back.

Chanyeol takes his coffee, finds a seat, and takes a sip. It’s coffee. It will do nothing to thin the thick of his jet-lag. A week in the Netherlands will be hard to recover from. Eyes closed, he sucks through the straw. Continuous. Unfaltering.

“Can I sit here? There’s an outlet and more light.”

It’s the guy he saw at the register a few minutes ago. Wireframe glasses – dirty – chapped lips, books, a laptop, bulky and scratched, and a backpack on his shoulder, swaying open, about to spill more books.

Chanyeol is sitting at a table for two, next to the window. “Yes.”

He splays his belongings until there’s only a border of space left around Chanyeol’s drink.

“Ajeossi, what’s 6 to the 7th?”

The rim of Jongin’s glasses cuts through his gaze, which has blankness to it despite the aurum of his irises glowing.

“Sixteen.”

“Forty-two.” Then, eyes over a book – this is a mask; eyes over a book, eyes over something, veils and enigmas – he says, “You didn’t reach very far in life, did you?”

Chanyeol lets out a titter, sips his coffee, and huddles into the buzz of the café, unwinding with his drink until it’s time to leave. The boy doesn't look up from his textbook again.

 

 

 

 

 

More Wednesdays strewed about falling leaves and falling rains, three in the afternoon, until about six, when he has to leave for his last class. 

It’s the only day that has such a big hunk of downtime in the midst of it.  

Chanyeol arrives first, usually, and keeps the table - the one with the perfect light, height, and the power outlet just right for the short charging cable of Jongin’s laptop.

“Ajeossi, what’s that new thing on the menu? I forgot my glasses.”

“Ajeossi, can I use your phone? Mine just died.”

“Ajeossi, what the fuck does Nyquist even mean. I swear I knew.”

“Ajeossi, do you have a pen? Left my pencil case in the classroom.”

“Ajeossi, is it supposed to rain today?”

A late summer, and a whole fall later, Jongin sits, and over the cusp of his turtleneck, he asks:

“Ajeossi, what’s your name?”

Chanyeol turns his cup until the writing on it faces Jongin. Obama.

“Thought it was Naruto.”

“It’s Madonna.”

He can’t tell if it’s a game Jongin plays or not. But there is curiosity on his face. So far, Chanyeol has learned the look of interest, frustration, satisfaction, and sleepiness. It’s mostly sleepiness.

“Park Chanyeol,” he introduces himself.

Jongin cringes. “If I had a name like that, I’d rather introduce myself with Picasso as well.”

There’s not a single person who didn’t tell him he has a beautiful name. 

Chanyeol snorts, and Jongin, from behind his book, snorts as well. 

After this moment, and until the end of time, Jongin is all Chanyeol can think about. 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a scarf, the first thing that he left Jongin. Not gave. Just left there for him to take at the end of the day.

Chanyeol saw him wearing the same turtleneck, the collar of it loosened from where it was drawn up and up over his chin. Though thick on the inside, his jacket is short, barely by his hips, the small of his back often exposed, and the sleeves are wide. Their table for two is small enough that Chanyeol is close enough to see the goosebumps on his forearms when he comes in.  

He’s not bundled up enough.

“You forgot this,” Jongin says, pointing with his pen towards the scarf as Chanyeol hurries to leave – Junmyeon needs him immediately. He puts the pen in his pencil case, zips it up, and chucks it in his backpack.

He turns back towards Chanyeol. “I didn’t.”

“What?”

“It’s for you.”

“What?”

“I got it for you.”

Jongin, who was always placid, was only a ball of nerves, was rustled textbook pages, was the whirr of an outdated laptop, was the intermittent happy hum of a sip of sweet coffee stretched to last hours, gives him the filthiest glare imaginable.

“What the fuck.” 

Chanyeol’s hand falters on the button of his coat. “If you get a cold, you can’t study.”

“That’s not how colds work,” he snaps. Realization breaks through the brume of infuriation. “Oh my God, you’re a creep.”

Chanyeol is at a loss for words. “No, it’s just a scarf.”

“No, fuck you. It’s not just a scarf. You’re pulling shit on me.”

He pushes past Chanyeol, and in a blink, he’s gone. He left the scarf and his notebook on the table. A small notebook. The everything notebook, where everything goes: random notes, email addresses, phone numbers, business cards, coupons, that one lucky 10 thousand won bill, to-do lists, grocery list, his professors’ observations. A notebook he would never leave behind.

Chanyeol grabs both items and goes to the register of the café, asking the staff to keep them safe until Jongin, without a doubt, comes back for it.

 

 

 

 

 

The next Wednesday, the barista gives Chanyeol the scarf back.

 

 

 

 

 

The first time Jongin takes from him, it's a sandwich. Because Chanyeol bought two.

“They’re the last chicken ones.”

Rarely, he got one. Rarely. And happily, ate.

“So, are you some chaebol?” Jongin asks, mayo on his lip. He licks it off, but not all is gone. A white streak amid cerise slivers. He licks again, and it’s still not gone. There’s no third lick. 

That title sounds foreign to Chanyeol. “No.”

“You are.” Another bite, crisp bread crumbs hailing down the front of his shirt. “The fuck are you even doing here?”

“I just like it here.”

“The coffee isn’t even that good.”

 “It’s not. But it’s not like I’m all that picky about it.” 

Nothing is that good here. At best, covers basic hunger and basic thirst. Inoffensive enough. 

“Why did I expect Shrek to have good taste,” Jongin mutters, mouth full, a skirt of lettuce draping over his lip. 

Chanyeol notices that green goes well with his skin, which has a richer quality. It bodes well with strong colours. But so does red – his sweatshirt last week – so does blue – his new cardigan – so does ochre – his cable sweater, loose-knit – so does his glee over finishing a chapter, so does the relief on his face once he presses send to an assignment, so does the sunset, so does the smear of tomato at the corner of his mouth, so does -

Chanyeol takes a bite of his sandwich. It’s a sandwich.

Jongin is way halfway through his. The clock is close to striking six.

“You are a chaebol,” he says.

“Maybe.”

Jongin just finishes his sandwich, packs his bags, and breezes out of the café.

 

 

 

 

 

The days are short now, gone in a blink. There are candles on the table that Jongin puts on the window sill. He’s already burned off the corner of one of his binders on it.

It’s been over two months since that first Wednesday.

“Ajeossi, who are you?” Jongin asks, knees propped on the edge of the table, eyes down into his textbook. On his thumb, a papercut, dry wine. He licks it and turns the page.

Chanyeol has nothing. Out of everything he does, out of everything he owns, there’s no selfdom. All there is to him is his name and the clothes on his back.

“Whoever you want me to be.”

Jongin scoffs. “Fuck off.”

He keeps reading, mechanical pencil in hand, underlying as he skims.

The mechanical pencil Chanyeol gave him.

 

 

 

 

 

“How much is that?” Jongin asks, dog-earing a book and closing it. His head tips to the window, outside, where after a flank of short buildings, a taller one starts peeking. The bulk of it is erected by now, but the cold will soon hit, and the construction will halt. He’s not going to watch another demolishment just because they rushed through the winter.

Jongin knows exactly who he is. Or what he is. As if he’s not just anyone or anything, but he’s of a different pedigree.

He looked him up on Naver right in front of Chanyeol, only because his name sounded familiar.

Then he didn’t show up at the café for the week.

“Couple billion,” Chanyeol says. The full, exact sum is somewhere on a contract. Chanyeol didn’t read all the digits.

“And it’s yours?”

There is a single name for the beneficiary. “Mine.”

Jongin doesn’t like this answer. He expected it, for the transition between aloofness and nausea is a smooth one. “What does it feel like to have so much?”

Chanyeol doesn’t know how much he has anymore.

It’s not money. Not skyscrapers of bills in a single room. He has estates, mortar and glass, people, and his name signed on specific papers. When he began taking on responsibilities in the company, working his way up through performance, he was ecstatic about each concluded deal, about the growing revenue. 

Now, he’s lost track of it.  

“It doesn’t feel like anything,” Chanyeol says. This is just his normality.

Jongin spares a glance through the window. Then mutters, “Bullshit.”

 

 

 

 

 

The first exams of the semester are coming up.

Jongin is here, but not quite here.

There is a violaceous nuance that haunts his skin, passing blue at sundown. Chanyeol doesn’t like it. Chanyeol likes the cinders, the stardust, when his eyes glow vividly, and when his smile is the reddest red. The Jongin that is clothed with flesh, not with weathered strips of exhaustion.

“Ajeossi, move a little to the left,” Jongin says.

Chanyeol complies until his back is to the window, and it cuts the sun from hitting Jongin’s eyes. Jongin looks back down and reaches to the table without looking from his test sheet. He takes Chanyeol’s coffee instead of his own, sucks, and sucks in until it gurgles empty.

“You only have two left,” Chanyeol says, eyeing the stack in his hands.

“I know how many I have left. Now, don’t move.”

Chanyeol doesn’t move.

 

 

 

 

 

When he meets Jongin, all he has for him is vitriol, bruises. “Ajeossi, came to get your quota of creepiness?” Head tilt. “That guy over there looks like he could use a Gucci pillow.”

Essays, he said. Three of them are due in two weeks. 10k words minimum each. That’s the culprit.

Chanyeol doesn’t bother looking at that guy over there. It’s probably another Jongin. A relic of a youngling, neck broken over a book.

“What’s that?”

“Mechanics.” Annoyance. Prickly. Sour. Jongin reaches for his cup. It’s empty. He puts it back down. “I got like another 2k left on it.”

“That’s not a lot.”

Jongin looks at him. It’s rare that he looks to see. Mostly, he looks just to do something to Chanyeol. Judge him, punish him, belittle him, ask him answerless questions—anything but to see.

Chanyeol knows that Jongin’s looking to see when he doesn’t say anything.

 

 

 

 

  

He’s observed various degrees of gladness on Jongin, but never true, unbridled happiness.

He squirms jolly in his seat, brandishing the coupon from a kalbijjim restaurant that just fell out of his library textbook.

It’s buy-one-get-one-free, and it expires: “Next Friday!” Jongin gasps. “I’m pretty sure I’ve used up all my luck for the year on this. I can’t believe it’s not expired. I’m going today!”

He will take one home, which means fifteen thousand per meal. Which is a steal.

Chanyeol can’t take his eyes off him. “Do you know this place?”

“No,” Jongin admits, patting out the corners of the coupon. It’s small, about the size of a business card, but made of way thinner paper. Judging by that, it’s probably nothing upscale. A family business. “But it has to be good. Not like I tried everything in the city. There’s just too many of them. But I’ve yet to eat something that’s shit.”

He puts the coupon back in the book to be kept safe and, reluctantly, picks up where he left off reading the chapter. Lunate eyes, pen pirouetting on his fingers, the pages turn fast.

Chanyeol keeps looking over at him. He understands nothing of the reports Junmyeon forwarded – reports he has to have a stance to present on this evening in front of the board of directors. He goes back to the beginning when Jongin claps his hands and begins gathering his things.

“What subway line was it that I had to take?” He mutters, looking for his phone in the pocket of his jacket. It’s not there. It’s in the pocket of his backpack – he keeps it there when he really needs to focus.

“I can give you a lift.” 

Chanyeol speaks before he can catch himself. But he doesn’t regret it. He doesn’t want to take it back. After sitting across each other for days on end, sitting beside each other shouldn’t be all that different.

Jongin seems to think otherwise. “Shakespeare ajeossi,” he sneers, Chanyeol holding the cup up to his lips for a penultimate sip. “I’ll fail my exam if I get kidnapped.”

“What would I kidnap you for?”

“My kalbijjim coupon!”

It’s funny because Chanyeol laughs, and it must also be sad because his heart squeezes, spasms with ache for a moment. He goes back to the presentation. One of the bells of the opening door must be Jongin, to not be seen again for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

“Is that building a real-life representation of how big you think your dick is?”

Jongin is highlighting over some printed notes, which already have highlighter on them.

“Does it look like a dick?” Chanyeol inquires, eyebrow up.

Maybe it does. There are some curves and arcades on the façade. The edges have been rounded out. But to him, all buildings are sort of dick-like, if tall and thick enough.

Jongin’s highlighter scratches, the colour faded and broken. It will die before he even finishes the page. “I don’t know anyone who can take fifteen stories worth of dick.”

“It’s going to be forty.”

“Is that how big you feel?”

“No.”

The highlighter dies. Jongin doesn’t curse. “Sure.” He puts away the notes, opens up his laptop, and within the minute, he’s settled in a constant rhythm of typing - the second essay due in a few hours. Without looking away from the display, he takes the coffee Chanyeol places next to him.

Chanyeol’s phone is lighting up constantly – he has a dinner party to attend. He doesn’t have his suit, but Junmyeon will take care of that. Despite it, Chanyeol stays. Stays until Jongin finishes his essay, sighing, stretching back in the chair, smiling huge, dimples abyssal. 

Chanyeol waited just to see that. 

 

 

 

 

 

Jongin climbs in his car for the first time sooner than Chanyeol expected. Which was close to never

They’re now the highway to Ansan.

Jongin mentioned craving seafood. As he was looking up the bus schedule to go to the fish market, Chanyeol offered him a ride. Again. Inside a sneer, Jongin replied with an eye-roll and a deep growl of his stomach. Not one of just any hunger, but a specific craving.

Chanyeol promised that he could take them there in record time. There’s no sleet yet on the roads. It’s clean. Speed isn’t an issue.

“How did you get this?” Jongin asks, tinkering with the screen on the dashboard, dialling the radio up and down. Trot to trap. Then back to trot. He seems to like it.

This meaning the car. And the car meaning the freedom to just go whenever, wherever. And whenever, wherever meaning how the fuck is Chanyeol so stupid rich.

“Nepotism,” Chanyeol answers. It is what it is, and Chanyeol would never tell otherwise. 

Jongin’s sigh dovetails a sob in the song. 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s dark again. It’s always dark nowadays.

Chanyeol goes just under the speed limit to account for low visibility. The fog is thick.

Jongin is turned away in the passenger seat, forehead to the window. The moment he finished his meal, tiredness hit, and with that, an onslaught of yawns. He stumbled back into the car and promptly fell asleep.

“I don’t owe you sex just because you treated me to a couple of octopi and a bowl of rice,” Jongin says, gruff but low. 

Blackness outside, blackness inside – the words consume Chanyeol.

He digs the nail of his thumb into the leather of the steering wheel. Doesn't nick. “You don’t owe me anything.”

Three songs later, Jongin replies. “I do. You just don’t know it yet.”

Chanyeol drops him off in front of the café – just where he picked him up from. Jongin refused to give him the address of his dorm.

Once the car stops, Jongin lingers. It’s silent—the kind that oxidizes between them, gloopy and caustic. At last, Jongin doesn’t say anything. Just checks his phone and tumbles out of the car with, “Shit, I might lose the subway.”

Chanyeol looks after him in the rear-view mirror, jogging, hair fluttering, scarf fluttering, jacket fluttering. An assemblage of waves and rush until it vanishes behind the corner, the last wisp being of his backpack.

Chanyeol doesn’t pull from the curb for a while. The air in his car has changed. Timorous. Climbing in vines over and into him.

In the morning, it will be covered by Junmyeon’s cologne – the one he’s been wearing for over a decade now, linden and dependability. 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m not a celebrity,” Chanyeol says. 

They’ve changed the table. They’ve changed the café. Just the one across the street, which happens to be a bookstore café. This is new scenery, and with it, a new Jongin, brandishing aggrandized spite.

“But you’re known.”

Known in the sense that if he looks Chanyeol up, a lot will come up about him. But it’s boring stuff like stocks, assets, subsidiaries. They don’t even have his height right – he’s more than 182 cm. Occasionally, they speculate about his love life, in a column more insignificant than the fucks Chanyeol isn’t even giving about it.

“But not a celebrity. Things about me aren’t exciting.” His name doesn’t make it to the news. He makes it to interviews, to analytics, name-dropped when deals big enough are made.

“They could be,” Jongin hums. 

His hair is unwashed, glistening at the roots. His jawline and his upper lip are dark, powdered uneven with stubble. On his cheek, a pen smudge that was there two days ago, too. His eyes – manic, but blank, trenched with debilitation.

He’s beautiful. 

Chanyeol’s heart prickles as if dunked in a vinaigrette made of ardency and hopes unnamed. 

“How?”

“Like you grooming a boy toy to fuck. Sounds scandalous enough.”

There’s not even a bite to it as there usually is. It flows liquid, a poison of kind. Too thin to catch and effloresce into the ache Jongin wants it to.

“Am I doing that?” Chanyeol questions. He doesn’t have his phone with him. His schedule is cleared.

Jongin has him all.

“You’re doing something,” Jongin stammers, at last. A stammer of confusion. Chaste confusion, wide eyes, but tight lids. He’s gazing at Chanyeol as if he’s far away, through a lattice of distrust and suspicion. He rubs his eyes and makes to pick his coffee. 

This café works only with ceramic cups, no to-go. At the bottom of it, a dry, dark bruise of the coffee long gone.

Just three more weeks, two big exams, and Jongin will be finished with his third year.

Chanyeol pushes his own coffee towards him. Still hot. Untouched.

Bullshit. It’s not his own. It’s Jongin’s. He ordered one more while Jongin was deep under into his textbook.

Jongin takes it, brings it close, and hugs the cup between his fingers.

“No one can say anything about me,” Chanyeol speaks. 

On a closed notebook, Jongin’s glasses are dirty. Extremely dirty. So much so that they’re opaque. 

“Of course, they can.”

Jongin picks them up and makes to wipe them with the stiff, crunchy tissue sitting on the saucer. 

Chanyeol grimaces. Jongin grimaces.

“They can’t. There is nothing the press has to gain from saying something bad about me.”

“You got them with something?” Jongin asks, insisting on the lens. The grime just smears about. “So they don’t dare defame you?”

“Rather, they got something from me.”

“What?”

“Shares.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere.”

Jongin stops fiddling with the glasses. He puts them back on the textbook, dirtier than they were. He picks up the coffee, now cool enough to sip. “Fraud ajeossi,” he whispers over the lip of the cup.

Chanyeol cracks a smile. And that crack grows. Spreads far beyond the verge of his mouth until he’s barely bound together.

 

 

 

 

 

“Do you feel unsafe with me?” Chanyeol asks. 

They’re in another bookstore café. Turns out Jongin likes those. It's more hushed voices and fewer menu items.  

He's is reading a textbook that he doesn’t want to buy to make a killer reference in one of his essays. It’s what will take from it from a good grade to an excellent grade. He’s shaved, unevenly, patches of grey on the ledge of his jaw. His hair, though, is up, pinned with a pink clip. 

Chanyeol wonders about the provenience of that clip.

“Surely, you got a band of hooligans to knock me out in case I piss you off.”

No, this isn't what he asked. “Do you feel unsafe with me?”

Maybe not unsafe. Maybe cornered. Maybe overwhelmed. Maybe something. Something that makes Chanyeol doubt the reason Jongin isn’t running away from him even though he often speaks and acts as if Chanyeol is the plague. As if he couldn’t be more discommoded by Chanyeol’s existence.

He knows why. They know why.

But maybe it’s not like that.

Maybe that pink clip—

“I don’t trust rich people.”

Chanyeol nods. “They suck.”

Jongin fiddles with the corner of the page, nearly folding it, before he catches himself, and lays his palm flat on it. “I don’t.”

Short, thrown to drift until it catches on the initial question: he doesn’t feel unsafe with Chanyeol.

Jongin uses his finger to read the textbook. He doesn’t read like that. He studies like that, itching to note down references – on that tiny notebook, fat and bursting.

“You can underline.”

“They’ll make me pay for it.”

“It’s paid for.”

Jongin looks up at him. With disdain. Hard, ossified disdain. An armour.

“Ajeossi,” he seethes, low, “fuck you.”

But he picks up the pen and underlines.

Chanyeol leans back in his chair, reading his book.

 

 

 

 

 

One week left of the semester. At dawn, the asphalt is glassy. Now, mid-morning, it’s finally washing away.

Jongin has a lecture at noon. Chanyeol has a meeting at noon.

They’re standing at a food stall, vats of simmering broth impaled with fish cake skewers. An inferno of ddeokbokki burbling away, akin to murmurs of hearsay. In his paper cup, inferno sauce, diluted with broth, until it’s manageable spice. He sips, fishing the rice cakes out with a skewer. They’re short, stubby, and Chanyeol prefers these to the longer ones.

“Two cups of broth doesn’t get your dick sucked, ajeossi,” Jongin chants, moving from one foot to another as he eats. He’s wearing trainers, paper-thin soles, and timeworn canvas.

Chanyeol picks something off the tray with fried goods – all camouflaged by the golden crust, so he doesn’t know what it is. Maybe a mini kimbap roll.

“Do you want sex?” Chanyeol asks, taking a bite. Crispy, greasy, messy. It crumbles, and he barely manages to catch part of the shell. “I’ll get you sex.”

He counted. It’s the seventh time Jongin alluded that he does this to get sex out of him. The number of times he’s called him creepy – countless. 

Yet he told Chanyeol two days ago that he has an exam this morning, and he needs a food stall feast to pass. Chanyeol had to pass by the office first, for which he woke up earlier. Minho floored the fuck out of it to get him here in time.

“You mean you wouldn’t be the one to fuck me?” Jongin asks, his eyes round with derision. A gasp blown into his broth. “Why did you do all this shit for then?”

He has no qualms talking about it when he’s elbow-to-elbow with another customer, and the ajumma serving them is only a ladle and a keen ear away.

“If you want it to be me, you can just ask, you know,” Chanyeol replies, throwing the other half of the roll in his mouth.

“Ha,” Jongin says, dry, “You wish, erectile-dysfunction ajeossi.”

Jongin fills another cup with broth and puts it on the small counter space in front of Chanyeol as he coughs from the dryness of a battered sweet potato.

 

 

 

 

 

“So, like, what the fuck are you doing?” Sehun asks, each word flung at Chanyeol like a rock. Chanyeol flinches, making to hide behind something. There’s nothing—only the open space of his office, an endless desk, and a chair. Chanyeol doesn’t need more than that.

“Courting?” Chanyeol chances. “Flirting? Wooing? Pursuing?”

Sehun swivels in the chair, merry-go-round, eyebrows set. “A kid?”

“How is 23 a kid?”

Sehun plants his feet on the floor and paddles himself with the help of his legs all the way to Chanyeol, who is standing by the window. He looks batshit ridiculous, but Chanyeol can’t bring himself to be amused when Sehun is all gravity and daggers. He looks up at Chanyeol. “It’s a fucking kid.”

“He’s not.”

“Compared to you?”

Chanyeol hesitates. He manages to look away from Sehun and back at the window. At the end of the skies, a storm is brewing, scum through withering blue. Should start pouring within the hour. Does Jongin have his umbrella with him today?

“I’m only twelve years older,” Chanyeol mutters.

“You could be his father.”

“Who has children at twelve?”

Sehun purses his lips. He leans back, arms crossed.

Unlike Jongin, Sehun isn’t judging him. Sehun is looking out for him. Sehun is baffled. He knows this rigidity; this apparent dispassion is how Sehun’s worriment shows through.

“Not like…I always do this. Do I?” Chanyeol asks. It needn’t be a question. “Not like anyone ever caught my attention before.”

Sehun’s brows relax a fraction. He reels in the chair. “I don’t even remember a time when you had crushes.”

Crush. Chanyeol has a crush. A big, fat crush. A crush so fat it comes with all the health risks.

Maybe because it’s overdue that it’s hitting him so hard. A crush should be fleeting, evanescent, one wrong move, and it goes poof into rust and sawdust. But what Chanyeol is feeling is sturdier than that, vining into a chassis within him. Soon, it will replace his bones.

It should be frightening.

He watches Sehun spin a few more times. “I thought your heart was defective or something.”

Chanyeol scoffs. “I thought so too.”

“Plot twist.”

Chanyeol sticks a leg out, braking Sehun. He complained about a headache all morning, and he will complain about it even more through their lunch if he keeps at this.

Sehun glares. Cutely.

“What’s so special about the kid, though? You just vanish throughout the week, and no one can get a hold of you. Junmyeon hates it – he might not be saying anything to you, but I caught him checking for grey hairs. Which would be your fault.”

“It won’t even compare once he goes on paternity leave,” Chanyeol says, a bit defensive. He makes sure to clear as much of his schedule as he can before ‘vanishing’ to Jongin. Still, the brunt of that falls on Junmyeon, and all Chanyeol has for him is an apology and a raise.

“Watch him never come back.”

“I can’t possibly be worse than an infant.”

Sehun kicks his leg away and spins. “Debatable.” Another spin. “And I asked you something, Mr. Park.” His brows are back at work, now with a vengeance. “What’s so special about him?”

Everything and nothing.

The way he treats Chanyeol. He doesn’t treat everything the same. He’s heard him talk to colleagues, to his mom, to the cashier. He’s sweet to everyone but to Chanyeol.

To him, Chanyeol is a curtain. Is a wallet. Or a card. Is a calculator. Is a recorder. A taxi.

That only works because Chanyeol is putting himself at his disposal.

“Maybe you’ll see for yourself.”

If possible, Sehun’s frown intensifies. He glances incredulously at Chanyeol. “Yep, I’ll be having my private detectives on him.” With that, he gets up.

 

 

 

 

 

Jongin is studying mechanical engineering. He’s in his second to last year. He’s from Chuncheon. He goes back home once a month or so and comes back armed with side dishes to last until he goes again – his mom makes ones that freeze well.

He did his military training straight out of high school. Has two sisters, one of which has given him a niece – she can do more push-ups than me. How is she so strong at three years old? It makes no sense. He’s on his own because his father got injured at work and has been laid off. When he can, Jongin helps pay for his physiotherapy sessions.

Jongin hates school, but he will be damned if he doesn’t graduate with flying colours. Jongin likes two slices of cheese in his ramyeon. Jongin prefers black pens over blue. Jongin gets annoyed at the mention of anything political, at anything economics – all of it is a lost cause. Jongin fears dramas – I’ll never stop if I start

Jongin can’t sleep because of the noise the mini-fridge in his gosiwon makes. Jongin wants to set his algebra professor on fire. Jongin likes stir fries, anything with different bits and pieces in the same place. Jongin watches puppy videos in his timed, 3-minute study breaks; he watches at least two more videos after the break time is up. Jongin says his legs have run away when they fall asleep under him. Jongin doesn’t like alcohol, except those dumbed down with soda until he can’t taste it anymore. 

Jongin is trying out a new essence to help the acne scarring below his cheekbone – it cost like two weeks of groceries, it better fucking work. Jongin wants new glasses. Or contacts – but they’re such a hassle. Jongin thinks going to the fish market is as fun as going to the zoo. Jongin takes pictures of everything he eats to send to his mom, because look, mom, I’m eating well, stop nagging me.

Chanyeol knows all of this because through the despisement, through the jabs, through the scabs, Jongin talks to him. Flung in snippets, impasse, through the cracks in his mockery – I have a lab overlapping the last train to Chuncheon on Friday, fuck.

Through the same cracks, he asks Chanyeol for his phone number. He names him Pringles ajeossi. 

 

 

 

 

 

They’ve decided to change the chicken place.

The bigger the queue, the better it should be. After 45 minutes in line - time in which Chanyeol was off to the side, on the phone, talking to the manager of a branch – he barely kept himself from also ordering some beer. The wait was worth it, it seems, as neither he nor

Jongin look up from their wings once, though that didn’t stop Jongin from commenting how Chanyeol eats un-millionaire-like.

In the car, when Chanyeol is about to swerve on the street leading to the café, Jongin says, “Seorim-dong.”

He yawns then, a portal to slumberland, and rubs his eyes. Today was his last test. Tomorrow, at 8:30, is his last class. What they had wasn’t just any chicken. It was celebratory chicken. Now, belly full and work over, Jongin free falls into exhaustion.

Chanyeol bites a smile – another sliver of trust earned. He keeps them all safe in his breast pocket. Soon, it will grow into something substantial, something he can consign himself to.

Jongin mumbles the rest of the directions until Chanyeol stops the car in the thick of a disfigured neighbourhood, buildings battered and streetlights scant. At the corners, the trash bags rattle, alive with vermin. 

Despite the gloom, there’s a homeliness to it – maybe it’s in the laundry hung to dry from fence post to the other – underwear from small to big, one stained blood - perhaps it’s the music blared through a crippled radio, the shouts of a quarrelling family in tow, cry over cry.

Maybe Jongin knows exactly what they’re fighting about. Maybe Jongin knows the full story. Maybe Jongin tunes into it as a weekly telenovela. Maybe. 

“Don’t say a word,” Jongin grumbles, getting out of the car.

Chanyeol turns towards the building signalled gosiwon. 

A huge sticker put directly on the glass of the entrance door. That is peeling. Soon, the S will go missing. Looking up, the windows are close together, the light beyond sallow. Not all of them are glass, some are plexiglass, or some kind of plastic – obviously broken once and fixed for the cheapest. 

Chanyeol can’t help asking. “Is it warm?”

Jongin is patting his pockets, at last reaching into his backpack for his pencil case. From there, he procures a key. 

“I told you to not say anything.”

He leaves. There are a boy and a girl at the door. One of them is sitting on the stairs, tipping the ash of her cigarette on her shoes. Jongin doesn’t salute them on the way in.

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol tarries, taking a few steps off the corner until he can sort of see in one of the units on the ground floor. It’s…small. Very small. The main elevator at the headquarters is bigger than that.

He doesn’t know if all units are the same, Jongin’s could be different. But isn’t that unlikely. Even if it’s bigger, it still wouldn’t be enough to be comfortable.

Chanyeol reaches for his phone before he gets back into the car. He turns the car around as it rings.

“Send him bedsheets, blanket, pillow, slippers, and pyjamas,” he lists as he swerves out of the alley. “Set. Silk. Dark colours.” 

Bed sheets go on the bed, and the bed - the mattress. The mattress can’t be too nice. Even if it’s new, it’s not the best. It has to be the best. 

“Send him a new mattress. A new bed.” Chanyeol rubs at his eyes. There’s a blur at the edges, narrowing his field of vision. He takes his agitation on the gas pedal. “A new fridge. A new dresser. Get him a room.” He barely brakes in time for a roundabout. “A house–buy him a whole house. A building.” 

Finally, a voice is heard from the other side. “Sir?”

It’s his turn. Chanyeol sighs. And sighs again. “Nothing, Jongdae. I’m sorry for disturbing you.”

Jongdae doesn’t sound convinced. “Sir, are you sure?”

There are no after-hours for his secretary – Chanyeol can ask him of anything, at any moment, and it will be delivered in a time above means. Jongin could have all of that at his door before he even goes to bed. 

But is it worth dismantling everything Jongin has entrusted him with?

No. Absolutely not. 

“Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m sorry again.”

“No, problem, sir. See you tomorrow.” 

It takes him a while to get home.

 

 

 

 

 

At four in the afternoon, Jongin is finished with his third year. Within minutes of that, it snows. The first snow of the winter. 

They’re having to-go coffee as they amble through the campus, one hand in their pocket, the other tight around the hot paper cup. It’s not that cold, though. Chanyeol doesn’t regret leaving his gloves in the car. 

“I hate this shit,” Jongin murmurs, slurping the liquid loudly through the lid.

For the first time in a while, his backpack doesn’t sling heavy on his shoulder. It’s light, slipping off constantly. He readjusts it with a grin.

“What shit?”

“Coffee,” Jongin answers. The streetlamp catches and brightens the glance he throws at Chanyeol.  

“I’m sorry?”

“You thought I drank it because I liked it?” 

“You lured me here by ordering a three-pump vanilla latte,” Chanyeol emphasizes, incredulous. 

That’s the text he got. From an unknown number. 

 

three pump vanilla latte

im out at 4

 

Chanyeol couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw. He doesn’t get many texts on his personal number, and there’s only a single person that he knew would speak to him that way. 

Jongin lets out one laugh. He was careful with his drink at first as it was full and he risked spilling it. Now that he’s had some of it, he skips ahead occasionally, nose into the air, trying to get kissed by snowflakes. 

“It’s sweet as fuck and so vanilla that I feel like I’m drinking air freshener,” he says. “I thought I could still like it if I didn’t taste the coffee flavour, but no.” He stills, shaking his head to of the few flakes that caught in his hair. “The moment I don’t need it to survive, I can’t stand it anymore.” 

Chanyeol gets that. “There’s a trash can over there,” he points. The roof of it is already blanketed white.

“I’m not gonna waste it.”

“But you hate it.”

“It’s passable. And hot.”

Chanyeol smiles. He smiles a lot when he’s with Jongin, though, most of it is hidden. It feels like a taboo, to be kept under the cloak at all times. He doesn’t know how something as innocent as a smile became of such heft that he can’t allow it to mean what it means. It's regrettable.

“Is there a celebration?” Chanyeol asks. It’s not lost to him that Jongin is walking towards the subway station. The one that ties with line 6, which goes to Insa-dong.

“Yeah.” He nods. “A gathering with a few friends. Not the whole class or anything. Might end up at an arcade, if not bar hopping. Or both.” He frowns. “Likely both.”

Jongin has friends. Chanyeol knows them, names scattered about. A Yuna, a Minji, a Kyeongjae, a Seolkang, a Yerim, a Daehyeon, a Jihun, a Chaeyeong, a Munkyu. Munkyu he mentions most often, garnished with a simper instead of a frown. Yerim sends the best memes.

His tone doesn’t exactly augur celebration, but there is joviality to the crimps of it.

Chanyeol drinks the rest of his small latte – decaf, though, it’s never decaf enough, hopefully tonight will be merciful with him – and bins the cup.

Jongin throws his head back and gulps down the rest of his, squashing, and binning. His face curdles. “Looking forward to not having that for a while.”

They’re at the subway already.

Chanyeol’s phone vibrates incessantly. He has to leave. Junmyeon is using honorifics all the way to the king to him, which means he’s royally pissed. He only speaks that nicely to Chanyeol when he wants to bang his head with a whole folder of files he should have read before the gathering that is in less than half an hour. He shares his location with Minho to come to pick him up – he’s not making it back to the campus parking lot to take his car in time.

When he puts his phone in his pocket, Jongin is just about to dip below into the subway.

But he doesn’t. He takes a step back and looks at Chanyeol.

“Ajeossi, is duck chicken?”

There’s a bench adjacent to the wall, and the heavens up in flames. Snowflakes fall lambent. Jongin sits. Chanyeol sits an arm length away from Jongin. It’s wet.

“Duck is duck.”

“But is it chicken?”

“It’s duck.”

“But if you can eat it exactly like chicken, isn’t it a chicken?”

“Is it defined by how it’s eaten?”

“It should be.”

“I’m sure there must be a fried duck place around.”

“That makes it chicken.”

Chanyeol balks. Because Jongin, in his own way, just asked Chanyeol to stay. Just a little longer.

Maybe it’s goodbye. Jongin won’t be studying anymore. Chanyeol has no idea about his plans for winter break. Things could change a lot. He might never see Jongin again.

His phone buzzes in his pocket. He sees Minho pulling into the curb in front of them.

“Have fun at the party,” Chanyeol says.

“I don’t know if I know how to do that.”

It’s warm enough that the flakes dissolve on the ground, adding to the grey porridge under their feet. Jongin dips his toe into it, risking it soak. He’s wearing the same canvas shoes.

Chanyeol wanted to get him shoes, but no way he would’ve gotten his size correct. He mourns that now – he should’ve just sent five pairs of different sizing; one was bound to fit.

“I’m sure there was a chapter in one of your textbooks about it.”

“Ajeossi, that word is forbidden while I’m on break.”

He has three months of break. The next semester begins on March 1st.

God, that’s a long time. That might stretch into forever.

“Eat a lot. Not drink a lot.”

“It’s on my bucket list to get better at drinking.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Sounds like a life skill.”

Chanyeol looks back on how many times he had to get blackout drunk with associates. Back then when no one believed in him. Back then when his name meant nothing. When Junmyeon had to scoop him up and sleep next to him just in case he got sick. It’s unreal how many deals are signed with a liquor glass. But for Jongin’s field, this isn’t as necessary.

“It’s not.”

Jongin’s phone buzzes as well, and when he brings it out, Chanyeol notices it has a new crack along the edge. He answers it. From the other end of the line, a clamour of voices blare, We’re already here! Hurry your ass, Jongin!

“But I’m on time. You said—"

“Screw the time! Kyeongjae will tear my head off if he doesn’t get his food right now!”

Jongin gets up, holding his jacket closed as he makes his pace towards the subway exit. He takes a few steps, and then, phone to his ear, he turns towards Chanyeol.

He just looks. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t sign anything. A gaze tattered by snowflakes.

Jongin pivots on his feet – Chanyeol sees his sole soaking, the green of them turning darker, then he descends into the exit.

Chanyeol sits on the bench until the snow turns into rain, and he has to blink it out of his eyes.

Junmyeon doesn’t even shout at him when he sees the state he’s in. 

 

 

 

 

 

For three months, before he closes his eyes to sleep, Chanyeol checks his messages. 

 

 

 

 

 

Part two

 

 

 

 

 

He sees Jongin again on the last snow of the winter. Yet again, slush. Yet again, that café. Yet again, the backpack. The books, the turtleneck, and, when he notices Chanyeol, the scoff.

Chanyeol didn’t think he could miss abhorrence this much.

“You didn’t find anyone else to creep on in the meantime?” Jongin asks.

Turns out, he missed his voice even more.

“No one to be worth it.”

Jongin rolls his eyes. They’re beautiful. He’s beautiful. 

Chanyeol didn’t forget anything. But the margins of it faded from yen, Chanyeol’s memories trying to twist him close.  

There’s no reset. No redo. Jongin sits at their table, and Chanyeol joins him.

Then, if it’s as if the three months didn’t even happen. 

 

 

 

 

 

“I take it your boy is back in town,” Sehun starts, two plastic-gloved fingers holding a crab leg. He’s reaching for Chanyeol’s crab as well, and Chanyeol lets him because he doesn’t even like crabs. He’s only here to witness him in getting marinade all over his face. It’s cute.

“He is.”

And remembers you? Shocker.”

And didn’t ignore me.”

“Shocker.” Sehun doesn’t even bother wiping the sides of his mouth between pieces. Then, he looks up. “Oh, my God. Don’t make that face in front of my innocent crabs.”

“What face?”

“The smitten face.”

Chanyeol makes an even more smitten face. 

Sehun can’t pretend to gag with his precious crabs in his mouth; that would insult them. Big no-no.

Chanyeol doesn’t let him eat in peace, though. He’s quite incensed. “When someone else gets a lil' crush on a cute guy he sees in a café it’s all dandy, but when I do it, it’s creepy and gross, and I should be jailed.”

Sehun puts the leg down. He wants to reach for his drink except he will dirty the glass if he does so without taking his gloves off, but taking his gloves off is annoying – and this is not only what Chanyeol is here for, but the sole purpose of his entire existence.

He pushes the glass of club soda towards Sehun, and Sehun catches the straw with his lips.

“First of all, Minseok wouldn’t allow you to get anywhere near a jail. That looks bad on his portfolio.” Small burp. “Second of all, “lil” crush my ass.” He sucks out the very last piece of crab he can find, then leans back, taking off his gloves. “Tell me one thing about this peacherino other than the fact that he makes fun of you on the regular, looks down on you, insults you, and probably wishes every day that you break your leg, your dick, or something. Preferably both. At the same time.”

Protective Sehun is a mean Sehun. Chanyeol will treasure this friendship forever.

Chanyeol looks down at his own plate. Sehun emptied it for him. Though, he doesn’t think hunger is at fault for the growing chasm in his stomach.

He has a hard time connecting to people. They are but a sum of body parts with a slight variation, only extras in his life, flowing in and out of importance. Has a hard time just liking them, for any reason. He’s benumbed to social interactions once they became a means to an end. 

But he won’t forget that late afternoon last autumn—caramel mochaccino and the gentlest eyes.

Chanyeol thought everything he’s gathered will be wiped out. Just when they barely progressed. When Jongin asked him to stay on that bench.

“He’s…there, though,” Chanyeol answers.

They never agreed on a time, yet Jongin is in that café even though he doesn’t like the drinks, doesn’t like the pastries, doesn’t like the table height, doesn’t like the fact that he’s cut off Wi-Fi within 3 hours of purchasing something. He’s waiting for Chanyeol at the library. He makes plans – chicken tomorrow after my test.

He’s there. He spits on Chanyeol, yet he’s there. In this enormous city, with their messy schedule, he’s there. Without fail, he’s where Chanyeol expects him to be.

“So what? He’s an asshole. A cute asshole, you claim. But why would you be happy that an asshole is there for you?”

“He’s not an asshole.”

“He is. And he’s there because he’s leeching. He found this dumbo who spoils him. You think he’d want to lose that?”

Chanyeol is aware they stand in very different places. But so what. “Why is it that you sound exactly like him?”

“Fantastic. Like me instead.”

“You’re straight.”

“I’ve taken Jisoo’s strap before. Same thing.”

“Would you put it up my ass?”

Sehun shrugs. “An ass is an ass. Won’t complain.”

 “Would you let me suck your dick?”

Another shrug. “A mouth is a mouth.”

“Would you suck mine?”

That’s what cracks it, Sehun making that gagging face he couldn’t make earlier. With his features, especially his brows, the expression is sensational.

“Thought so,” Chanyeol laughs.

Sehun takes a while to iron himself back to normal. “You were born with everything but good taste.”

Chanyeol’s stomach yowls. Definitely hunger now. “Give him a chance.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m also giving him one.”

“That’s an awful reason.”

“Yeah, but you can’t do anything about it. Now, come watch me eat cockle bibimbap.”

“I love that shit.”

“Exactly. And you’re full.”

Sehun curses. 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing changes. Jongin speaks the very same to him – half-words, peeled of any respect. When Jongin doesn’t call him ajeossi, he calls him whatever comes to mouth. Windex, Vivaldi, DiCaprio, Kitkat, Mercedes – but you probably have one of those.

“Not just one.”

Jongin nailed him with a sneer.

Jongin asks him to pass him a notebook from the edge of the table, drawled, distracted, and bare

Chanyeol doesn’t intend not to. But when he grabs it, he can’t help but chortle. He hands in the notebook, and Jongin takes it without a word.

“There are exactly four people in this country who I ever allow to talk informal to me,” Chanyeol says, still smiling. “My mom, my sister, Junmyeon, and Sehun.”

Jongin wasn’t reading. He was zoning out. Chanyeol wouldn’t speak over his concentration, especially since he was right here to see how hard it was for Jongin to get into it. He doesn’t like this subject at all.

“And me,” Jongin says, somewhat taken aback. 

What he’s taken aback by, Chanyeol can’t tell, but surely it’s not his own impoliteness. He doesn’t speak to anyone else informally, save for his friends of the same age. Not to the café staff. Not to distant colleagues. Not to anyone but Chanyeol.

“And you.”

“Why?”

Jongin, who has new teachers and doesn’t know how to please them, doesn’t understand the materials, who frowns and frowns, who is very much here and cosy.

Chanyeol just looks back to his tablet, skimming through the contracts Junmyeon rerouted him – even though he shouldn’t be doing that. The only thing he should be sending him are pictures of his baby.

In the distance, the building is growing steadily. The construction restarted two weeks ago as it’s warm enough to pour.

“You can speak like that to me too, you know,” Jongin says later.

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want to.”

“Why?”

Chanyeol knows the answer to that. It’s somewhere in there, sludge at the bottom of his thorax, but he can’t shape it into words yet.

Instead, he wonders. “Does it bother you?”

Does he read distance into it? Like Chanyeol is keeping him away? That’s the wrongest way it could be taken.

Jongin’s lips pull to the side, stretching all the way into the ulcer of misdoubt. “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?”

Turns out there is a worse way to take this. 

“How could I?” Chanyeol answers.

“Well, you have no reason to speak formally to me,” Jongin says, nail hooking on the lip of the coffee lid, and it snaps rhythmically, a whip in the air. “The fuck am I?”

“You’re just younger.”

“Uh-uh,” Jongin mutters. That ulcer deepens, caves vermilion – smile of the joker. “You’re not looking down on me at all.”

Chanyeol’s thumb spasms – he must replenish his magnesium prescription. “I’m barely taller than you.”

Make it about height, which is not what it’s about. “Would it put you at ease if I stopped?”

“Do whatever you want.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol doesn’t wonder what they are. A definition is a limitation.

 Though sometimes, Chanyeol feels like he’s holding something. Material, but not quite solid. Only keeping together when Chanyeol squeezes it hard in his hand.

Other days, it falls between his fingers. One fuck off, ajeossi, and it pours torrential from his embrace. When he comes and goes, there is so much silence. So much distance. Dark-years. Light-years.  

Only when they meet, random or premeditated, Jongin gives him a snicker, briny and spinous, but sits next to Chanyeol anyway. Then they fall, soon enough, into the cradle of just good companionship. And there it is that glint, tucked into the penumbra of his denial, vivid, and Chanyeol commits it to memory, knows he will rely on it for the upcoming days of not seeing Jongin.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not the same as last year. It’s all over the place. No longer something that resembled routine. No longer that café, and the chicken sandwiches with too-crisp bread. His classes, though, fewer, are more hectic, disproportionate in the work they demand.

His schedule is irregular. He has a part-time job now as a help in a bakery at night when it’s time to clean everything up. It’s just four hours a day, dusk to moon shine. Under his nails, caked flour, off-white, and he picks at it between chapters, making a face. Snow of labour.

Jongin texts him once, half past ten, an address. Chanyeol arrives at the bakery just as Jongin was jogging down, branded tote bag on his shoulder. He opens the car door.

“Goodies,” he says, throws it in, slams the door shut, and walks away.

Chanyeol opens the bag. Bread. Buns, sweet and savoury, mini-baguettes freckled with olives and basil, puff pastry in a puddle of its own feathers.

Chanyeol munches on them that night – they’re never good the next day – and all throughout, he rejoices, buttery lips taut with felicity.

 

 

 

 

 

From then on, Jongin calls

“Where the fuck did I leave my keys? The landlady said I gotta pay, like 50 thousand won if I lose it. Fuck, have you seen it?” His panic is followed by rustle. More rustle, the world turned over, and, “Shit, there it is.”

The line goes dead.

“What day is it tomorrow?”

Was Chanyeol closer than the calendar? The very calendar on the phone he called Chanyeol with?

“Have some ibuprofen on you? My head is killing me.” When later that afternoon, they met at the doors of the library.

Chanyeol never calls. It’s on Jongin. Everything is on Jongin. Chanyeol can mould himself to his schedule. He can cancel any meeting. Return any associate. Cancel any event.

 

 

 

 

 

When he found out Jongin was living in the same gosiwon - he saw his keys, with the same room number plate - Chanyeol couldn’t help himself. He had everything packaged non-descript – no brands, no nothing.

Spring should be of promenades and dumbledores, of sun-prickled skin and verdure. But Jongin is dressed just the same as if it’s winter. Streets glimmering frozen as if he didn’t even notice the warmth and the life.

Jongin is wearing none of it.

Chanyeol hopes the things that are not to wear, he uses, though. He sent tonics, vitamins, a diffuser, noise-cancelling headphones, orthopaedic pillows, a lamp with warm light to get the blue out of his eyes. A Nintendo Switch to kill intermissions and work out the kinks in his temples.

Now, among the study materials Jongin spreads out on, he also slams a box. Chanyeol takes in the size of it, and ransacks for what it could be. A wallet. Right. Leather with a zipper all around, compact. Because he noticed Jongin has a thing for making sure his wallet is closed properly – I’ve lost shit before.

He opens his notebook. “I don’t think I’m majoring in gold-digging. I’m not your student, ajeossi.”

Like Chanyeol sees him as a pauper, threadbare, toes worming out of his shoes. It’s not that. Or it is that, but this incentive is far from the actual fundament of it.

“I don’t think I have any gold.”

Jongin gives him a look.

“I can buy you a mine, though, if you feel like digging,” Chanyeol continues.

Jongin’s disinterest only grows. “Come take those back.”

“Taking away something that’s not mine is theft.”

“I’ll sell them back to you for the low price of a fuck you.”

Chanyeol knew this was coming. He bites his lip. He feels like cowering—snapping his spine until he can furl into the ustulation of reprimand.

“You’re getting me things as well.”

“I don’t think stale croissants compare to gold-plated pens,” Jongin bites back. “I looked that shit up. Good couple grand.”

Chanyeol has one of those himself. He doesn’t take nearly as many handwritten notes as Jongin does, but they can be incredibly comfortable. Chanyeol saw Jongin shake his cramping wrist so often. Fingers spread out, pushed and twisted only to return to scribbling with the very same frown.

“You liked it when you used mine,” Chanyeol says. That was the pen he passed him when in need.

“Still, it doesn’t compare to croissants.”

“They’re worth as much to me.”

Because they’re from you. Because you’re thinking of me. Because I get to see you.

“Not much difference going to you than going into the trash.”

That’s mean. That’s brutal. That spears through Chanyeol swiftly, comprehensively leaving him at the mercy of the coals.

It’s so mean that Chanyeol begins laughing. A crazed monstrosity of a spectacle, peals thrown about the room like shrapnel, turgid with sorrow.

“Is that how you truly think of me?”

Chanyeol is trash. Chanyeol is nothing more than trash. His very own marionette, stuffed with hay and surrender.

The thing is that while it hurts – not because he truly believes Jongin. He’s kinder than that. He’s much kinder than that. Chanyeol doesn’t believe for a second that he could be this smitten with someone who wasn’t of character – but the fact that Jongin could just say it like that—flung to him like it weighed nothing.

“No, I—” Jongin swallows. He looks lost. He’s in a body he doesn’t know. “Sorry.”

A page turn later, Jongin takes the box, and it disappears into his backpack.

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t you have friends?” Jongin asks a month later. He’s munching on a cream bun from the bakery, a globule of filling on his chin.

Chanyeol hasn’t thought about this. There are a lot of people in his life, most of which are sustained with drollery and signatures. But the close ones are not just close. They have a function adjoining.

“I have family, allies, and staff,” Chanyeol answers after a moment. Junmyeon is all of those together, and then some.  

Jongin slurps from his milk box, washing down a bite.

“What’s Sehun?”

He mentioned him in Jongin’s presence enough that he must have an inkling.

Sehun is also many things. His COO. His uni classmate. By all accounts of the definition, his best friend. But that doesn’t suffice.

“Sehun,” Chanyeol replies.

“That’s…sad.” He belts out a laugh. One that wants desperately to be derisive, but it transitions into a moan as a clump of custard gushes over the wound in the bun.

“I don’t think it is.”

“You don’t even know better.”

Chanyeol eats his own bun. It’s buttery – fake butter flavour, but comforting all the same. The custard is airy with cream.

“Don’t you have friends?”

“I do.”

“Then why are you not having a bun with them?”

Chanyeol doesn’t want to ask this. He’s setting himself up for something.

“They’re busy.”

“And I’m not?”

Jongin breaks off a part of the dough and dips it into the filling. “It doesn’t seem so with the way you’re always—” Another dip, and now he gets it on his fingers. He licks them clean. “—making time for me.” A pause. “Desperate ajeossi.”

Chanyeol stops chewing. That’s not wrong.

There isn’t a bigger turn off than desperation. Not like Chanyeol doesn’t realize he’s a properly lovestruck puppy, but—

“Okay, I won’t be making time for you anymore.”

The paper wrapper crinkles in tune with Jongin’s scoff. He gets up, wiping away the crumbs from his lap—one of which turns out to be a nugget of cream, and it smears whitish on the dark wash of his jeans. He curses.

“Yeah. Yeah,” he says. “It's chocolate buns the day after tomorrow. Be here.”

He throws the crumpled wrapper between Chanyeol’s slightly parted legs and skips back into the bakery.

 

 

 

 

 

When there’s an interstice among the slabs of routine – same things done at the same time over and over – life seeps back into Jongin and puppeteers him into a child who likes everything.

Then, one day, instead of an order, a place, or a time, Jongin texts him a comic with a corgi.

Chanyeol thinks for hours what to reply with. 

What’s not too cheesy? What’s not too forward? What’s something to let Jongin know it’s appreciated, and, more so, just how happy it made Chanyeol that he sent it at all? It’s possible that it wasn’t even meant for him—that he just sent it accidentally, but what if Jongin saw that and thought of him?

I’m so happy you sent this. Wish that was me. Heart emoji. Happy emoji. I’m happy you thought of me. You’re cuter than the dog.

“Oh my God. You’re pathetic,” Sehun moans.

“Is that news to you?”

“No, but it’s entertaining.”

“How does one reply to a meme?”

“I don’t know. Assemble the board directors in a meeting, and ask them.”

Chanyeol rolls his eyes and kicks Sehun’s shin, but he does think of asking Junmyeon. A million times over had he saved Chanyeol’s ass. Maybe he could help with this, too. He’s just about to dial him when—

“Just send one back. Eye for an eye and meme for a meme. So is the law of the universe.”

 

 

 

 

 

The rawness of Jongin’s mien accentuates, plucked out of dormancy and dumped where he doesn’t belong. His hair is three days’ worth of bed hair stacked on top of each other. This isn’t the usual. A weary, tattered Jongin is the usual. But not one a hair's breadth away from the scythe of the reaper.

Before Chanyeol gets to ask, Jongin spills.

He’s looking to get an internship at an engineering plant. Which they nearly never accept because it’s the kind of industry that has no time caring for newbies unless they’ve been hired and are trained to keep. And for that, they demand finished studies. 

Another few days of this later as Jongin is breaking his brains over composing yet another cover letter whilst also writing an essay, Chanyeol puts his tablet down.

“You know,” he starts, “it would take one word from me to—”

Jongin’s eyes widen. “Don’t you fuck with me,” Jongin interrupts him, embittered, “Don’t you dare pull anything in my name. I’m doing it on my own. On my merit.”

That got shot down so fast. Chanyeol grimaces.

“Do you really think it only works on merit?” He asks, soft, disembodied as not to ruffle Jongin more – he’s just on the brim of fizzing out anyway.

“If I get it, anywhere, it has to be.”

Chanyeol retreats.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Monday morning after breakfast, and Chanyeol is sitting at the kitchen table watching Jiyeon cook. She’s not a chef, just a home cook. Her recipes are never innovative, just good ole’ classics. She’s so methodical and organized; Chanyeol finds it soothing to watch.

He’s waiting for Minho, who is passing to pick up Sehun first.

Jongin’s on his mind again, and how he is to see him tomorrow. He fears he will see the same wreck of a person. Twiddling his phone, he ponders what to say. Ultimately, it’s simple.

I can do something for you.

He puts the phone down. Jiyeon asks what he would like to have for the rest of the week – she always does the grocery shopping Monday afternoon. Chanyeol never gets tired of what she does best, which is soups and stews. He wants food at home to be homey, and nothing compares to having a whole pot of comfort just for himself. Something with a lot of green garlic and spinach, since it’s in season, she suggests. Chanyeol is already looking forward to it.

His phone lights up. Chanyeol glances at it.

The screen goes dark under his eyes.

 

fuck me

 

He looks away. Then looks back at it, and the fuck me is still there. Chanyeol didn’t misread. But if he didn’t misread, where does he begin understanding this—is Jongin—

Another notification arrives, and it’s an attachment. A picture.

 

fuck

you (not sent)

do not (not sent)

text (not sent)

me

 

He stares at the screenshot for a while. Talons of discomfort puncture his stomach. Relief and disappointment make for the most hideous amalgam of feelings possible.

He never knew. And it was better left that way.

Jiyeon has moved onto making the shopping list for housekeeping items, pressure cooker left to hiss on the burner. Minho texts him. He’s downstairs.

Chanyeol grabs his things, and he’s ready to go out the door. Comfy clothes today - they’re going onsite the building to check on the construction.

His phone rings in the elevator, and Chanyeol thinks it’s Sehun asking him to hurry his ass. It’s not.

“I was in fucking class,” Jongin spews.  

The icon for mute wasn’t on in the screenshot. Chanyeol will take the brunt of that, too, sure.

“Are you really that mad at me? All I did was suggest a recommendation.” He already has people pulled up in mind for it.

“You don’t understand what no means? Should I get you a dictionary?” There are voices in the background; students in the hallway. Suddenly, it turns quiet. “I don’t want you to fuck me.”

Seven floors to go. “Figured,” Chanyeol says. “But can I text you?”

“Do whatever you want.”

 

 

 

 

 

On the second week of Jongin looking even worse, batter on bones, Chanyeol presses yet again, “You’re really not going to make use of me.”

“The only use you can be of is telling me if this sounds right,” he says, and he cites the summary of his resume. He has a way with words that sells him beautifully.

“It does.”

In a break through his phone conference – just a four-way call with two managers down at the southern warehouses – Chanyeol asks, “Don’t you like it that I am who I am? Don’t you like it that I’m rich?”

Chanyeol never had anyone so vehemently dislike who he is, and what he can do for them. It was the opposite. Always. He had his ass kissed raw for favours, for please, put in a good word for me. Always after his connections and affluence. Never for his person.  

No,” Jongin spits out, so much violence crammed in that little word. “No. It’s the thing that I dislike the most about you.”

 

 

 

 

 

Only one light is still on in the bakery. Through the bell, Jongin is sprinting out, nearly hitting Chanyeol in the face as he approaches.

Jongin is manic—eyes afire, lashes of tinsel, smile bounteous. His fingers grasp onto Chanyeol’s sides, at the fabric of his shirt, and he pushes half a step until Chanyeol’s back is pressed to the wall.

Chanyeol came for today’s croissants, and to bring Jongin a book. To see him – though, that’s not part of the official reasons. To get him home. 

Not to be met with this.

“I got it,” he says, deranged with happiness. “I got that fucking internship.” His hands shake on Chanyeol’s shirt with emphasis. “I got it.”

Chanyeol finally comprehends. When he does, he dissolves into a smile. A smile that is only the tip of the iceberg, expressing only the smallest fragment of the elation he feels—waves over waves of it frothing thick and dense below. Chanyeol doesn’t remember ever being this happy for himself.

“You got it,” he says, dumbstruck.

“I fucking got it.”

“Oh my God.”

Chanyeol was right there for most of his search. Helped him figure out the maps to get to the plants themselves, or the ateliers when an email or a phone call didn’t suffice. Rejection after rejection, we've decided to move forward with another candidate. Even those with a PhD are having a hard time. 

But Jongin got it.

“Which one?”

“I forgot the name, but the one with testing and proposals and stuff in Daechi-dong.”

Which is the one Jongin wanted most. Not the brute work of the industry, but the creative part. The analytical part. The development part. Jongin can finally get to work on the air conditioner of his dreams – he has an odd vendetta against them.

Chanyeol is just so proud. He honestly didn’t think he would make it. And while that one is not as big or strict as the others he’s aimed for, this is still amazing. “You got it,” Chanyeol repeats.

“Fuck, yeah,” Jongin exclaims. The roundness of his eyes hasn’t lessened, his smile hasn’t lessened. Nothing lessened save for the grasp he has on Chanyeol’s shirt.

His gaze suddenly drops to it, and when that happens, he takes in their positioning – close. So close that the distance between them could be measured in heartbeats.

Jongin is wearing a white tee. Just cotton, a small blue tag at the hem. A tee from Chanyeol.

It’s not that his expression slips, but it moults—the skin of the happiness left behind as something more complex takes its place. Heftier, labyrinthine. He doesn't let go. His fingers shuffle, the soft wool moulding to it. 

“I didn’t even call my mom yet,” he mutters, and this is a voice Chanyeol never heard before. Belonging to a Jongin he hasn’t met yet. “I call my mom first for everything.”

He does. Mom, what kind of soap do we have at home? He takes care of his homesickness by using the same toiletries and food brands as back home.

“But it was…you I called first.” He looks up, and the whole ensemble is new. “You.”

Chanyeol doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know what to feel. Because Jongin is so obviously not happy about this while Chanyeol is so decidedly happy about it. They clash.

“Does this mean that you won…” Jongin steps back. He shakes his head. Shakes the thoughts out of his head, and the words out of his mouth.

What do you mean—”

“I’ll go call mom.”

Chanyeol came here to pick him up, and drop him home.

His I’ll go doesn’t mean to the side so Chanyeol won’t hear his conversation. No. When he turns, he disappears into crepuscules. Steps odd like they don’t know if to be big or small, jumpy or tardy.

Chanyeol watches him until he’s out of the yard of the bakery. He stays there, debating if he should go after him, until the bell of the bakery chimes and a woman steps out of the door with a key in hand. Hyoju, the owner herself.

“Ah, Jongin’s friend,” she greets. She peers through the window at where even Chanyeol can see the security system blinking.

Jongin’s friend. Is he really? When Jongin ran away like that?

What did he win?

 

 

 

 

 

After that, Chanyeol counts—eight suns and seven moons of silence from Jongin. It’s grit in his ears, between his fingers.

For Chanyeol, doing it himself feels off-limits. It’s Jongin who is the one in charge, who Chanyeol is bending to. Which is why this stresses him. He went without Jongin for three months when ahead laid an uncertainty bigger than the seas.

It’s been nine days. And Chanyeol misses.

“Mr. Park is busy weeping over the kid who hates him. Sorry,” Sehun tells Jongdae when he lets him know there is someone who wants to meet him urgently enough that they didn’t even get to make an appointment. 

Jongdae has seen so much that Chanyeol doesn’t even bother being embarrassed after Sehun’s betrayal.

“He’s not a kid,” Chanyeol says, still flipping through one of the clipboards that topped the tower of them placed on his desk. Soon, they will overtake the skyscraper he’s building.

Sehun makes an offended sound. “Instead of refuting the hate part, you refute the kid one.”

“I’m refuting both of them.”

Sehun sucks in a cheek. “Okay, let’s say he doesn’t hate you. He’s just…tsundere. A species I thought went extinct the past decade, but turns out there’s a specimen left.”

Tsundere. Chanyeol chuckles. He used to watch a lot of anime when he was in high school – his favourite brand of escapism.  

“I don’t think we’ll get to the dere dere part anytime soon.”

“Bullshit,” Sehun quips. “Have you considered that maybe this contact thing – which is childish as shit, but I’m not expecting more of you, so it’s fine, I’m judging you to my heart’s content – makes it feel pretty one-sided? Why the fuck does he have to be the one to contact you all the time? You have a mouth, too. And fingers. And that sounds sexual because it is.”

As intense as it is, the way he talks has got them countless deals. Chanyeol respects that.

This is going somewhere, he just doesn’t know where. “So?”

“You know where he lives.”

“And?”

“You go there and talk it out. Like, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, adults.”

Oh, he has a good disciplinary dad tone, too.

“He’s gonna’ call me a creep.”

“And? He called you that before a million times and it didn’t deter you.”

“But that makes me a shit person doesn’t it?” Chanyeol questions. Chanyeol is the male hero who can’t take a hint, and who thinks perseverance will prevail until the love interest falls in his arms. 

Except Jongin’s hints are…mixed. And confusing. And Chanyeol asked, point-blank, do you wish to not see me again?

And Jongin waited, impassive until he said, “Quiz me on this,” and handed him a sheet with 50 questions attached to another one with all the answers. “Pick random. I learned them in order.” By the time they made it through all 50, Chanyeol took that as a no.

Maybe it wasn’t a no. Chanyeol doesn’t know anything anymore. Glances, laid, passim—some fast, some long-lingering. Growing roots into Chanyeol’s skin with others cutting blades of query and others caressive, placed gently over where it hurts Chanyeol the most.

“Just show up with food,” Sehun suggests, his tone now lined with tenderness. “No one’s gonna’ shoot a messenger showing up with food. You know his schedule, don’t you?”

“Yeah. Kinda’, yeah.” It’s approximate, but enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol arrives at the dorm.

The clothes are still on the line, left to dry. Now it’s from long pants to shorter ones, one of them a pair that has been there last week as well. Chanyeol came here often enough to even remember the clothes of the neighbours. On the radio: Amor Fati, and the bouncy tune of it calms his nerves, even if plagued with static.

He checks his phone again. He sent Jongin a picture of the boxed fried chicken. 

i bought too much duck to eat it alone

Chanyeol hopes to get an answer before the song changes. It arrives at the third song.

come up to the roof

There’s no security to the entrance, actually. There is a big, industrial lock at the door, but it’s broken. A few corridors and flights of stairs later, he’s on the roof. Jongin is laid out on the daybed. 

“Is it cold?” he asks. The plastic bag crinkles. 

“Not yet,”

“Then hurry your ass.”  

Chanyeol hurries his ass. Jongin is wearing sweats and his uni hoodie. The hood is pulled over his head. 

He doesn’t look at Chanyeol and he doesn’t speak to Chanyeol until he’s already gone through two wings. 

“Is this what you were craving?” Chanyeol asks. There are cornflake crumbles all over his suit. He doesn’t pick them off.

“It’s chicken,” Jongin says. His voice is flat. “It’s always chicken. It’s never not chicken.”

It’s pretty cold outside. Chanyeol is little moonstruck with the rosiness of Jongin's cheeks.

“You have to eat healthy too. Youth doesn’t last forever.” He sips his coke. It tingles in his throat. 

“You’d know better, heard you huffing coming up here.” His fry drowns in ketchup. “I’ll eat healthily,” he says. He uses another fry to rescue it. “I'll take care. Later. Later, after this is over.”

This. This time that confines him to a single identity and single activity: a survivor surviving in a world build by people who never wanted a world like this. 

“I want to sleep for a hundred years,” he confesses with ketchup-y teeth. “But what do you know, I have tutoring tomorrow at nine.”

“Who?”

“That kid in Apgujeong.” Grimace. “Watch me fall asleep in the subway.”

“You can wake up late.”

“Why? Gonna send me a limo, ajeossi?” Rascality works better when spoken around a drumette. 

“Yep.”

“Send me a plane.”

“Deal.” They have two of them, which are borrowed by a commercial airline when not in use. A helicopter could work better, though. 

They keep eating. By the last bite, the chicken is cold and no longer crispy. 

“When are you starting the internship?” Chanyeol asks. 

“In almost two weeks.”

“Are you excited?” 

“Not anymore.” He squashes his soda can. “Maybe.” 

Jongin stares at him, lidded, stellate. And stares, nothing changing on his face, the night flowing around them. Then Jongin picks a bone and throws it at Chanyeol. “Go home. Go, go, go home.”

Jongin gets up, walks away. Then comes back, steals the last wing, and paddles out. “Go home!”

Chanyeol huffs. He looks down at the packaging. Jongin always gathers his bones on a tissue, the other used tissues and other paper wrappers left in the box. 

“Are you still mad at me?” 

Jongin stops with his hand on the door. “I shared my ketchup with you, didn't I?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Can you buy something like a death note?” Jongin asks. No hellos. Never any hellos.

Chanyeol can’t help smiling.

“I can get something more realistic. Like a hitman.”

“I can’t tell if you’re serious.”

“I can’t tell if you’re serious either.”

There is a lag, a stretched, translucid moan. “It’s to write my name on it. I think I flunked this test. He was testing our knowledge from the previous semester, and I forgot almost everything. They were right when they said cramming doesn't work.”

“Shouldn’t you write the name of the teacher, then?”

“No, it’s me who doesn’t know the material.”

“Is it even useful?”

A scoff, gathered lips and ballooned cheeks. “Barely any of this is.”

Chanyeol learned about money. When he already had money. He learned that other things make money, too, but nothing makes money like money does. “I know.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Have you cut your hair?” Jongin questions, squinting at him a Thursday later.

Chanyeol didn’t even get to sit in the plastic chair yet.

“Two days ago.” He forgot about it. No one else said a thing.

Jongin makes a noncommittal sound and goes back to his food. One hand on the chopsticks in his bowl of instant ramen, the other on his phone.

Chanyeol peeps. “Why are you looking at jobs?”

“It’s not a paid internship,” Jongin says. Eye roll, double until they return to focusing on his bowl. His lips are red. By his side is a two-pack of boiled eggs, but they’re empty—flakes of yolk floating in broth. “The bakery isn't working for me anymore. I still don’t understand why tutoring doesn’t count as credit. Why wouldn’t it count? I’m taking pedagogy as well. I could get double the score while getting paid, but nooo.” His head disappears in the paper bowl as he drinks the soup.

When he puts it down, the noodles are left dry. 

Chanyeol unwraps his triangle kimbap. He only got a taste for this stuff in his thirties. Now, he craves it at least twice a week. “What other jobs have you had before?”

It’s unexplainable why he likes the feeling of dry rice going down his throat. He doesn’t even feel the need to wash it down.

“Cashier at the convenience store back home. It’s my mom’s cousin which—” He frowns. “I don’t know what that makes her to me, but anyway. It was enough reason to get paid actual money occasionally while it was mostly in tofu near the expiration date.”

Chanyeol did notice that he shies from tofu whenever it appears in a dish. “I’ll take you won’t go back.”

“Hell, no,” he says. He puts his glasses back on. Sunlight hits them – they’re clean. “I need something part-time. Weekend nights or something. I’m still tutoring some kids.”

“So, like, what?”

“A bar? Maybe it will feel a little like the party life I deserve.”

Chanyeol has to swallow the boulder of rice in his mouth first. “Are you much of a party-goer now?”

“I still don’t know.”

Then, cup over his face, he sucks in all the remaining noodles. They looked soggy.

“I liked it better long,” he gestures towards Chanyeol noncommittally, pushing everything away so he can make space for his phone and notebook.

Why does he have an opinion about Chanyeol’s hair. Better is a form of good. Is a form of I pay attention to your appearance.

It’s not a realization that should scorch the way it does. “It will grow back.”

“It better hurry up.” 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol will never admit to looking up treatments for growing hair faster.

 

 

 

 

 

Jongin does land a bartending job. It’s easy enough as long as he’s not put upfront to juggle shakers and build empires of glasses.

“I can cut up lemons and pour soda into whiskey just fine,” Jongin says, just out of the interview.

It’s a dingy bar with walls of fibreboard, repurposed Christmas lights, and, of course, metal barrel tables. Despite the dinginess, it’s a hot spot for the youth. Perhaps exactly because of the dinginess. And the music; the DJ’s are pretty good, allegedly.

“Is the ear damage worth it?” Chanyeol asks. And the sleepless nights. And the difficult patrons. And the possible harassment.

“The bar itself is pretty far from the dancefloor,” Jongin replies, but it’s still with a grimace.

“Stop before tinnitus.”

“Did I ask you for advice?”

 

 

 

 

 

Turns out Jongin isn’t going to be stacking crates and cutting lemons all evening. Drunk people shouting over blaring music of all kinds of brands and off-names doesn’t help when he doesn’t know any of those things. What even is a batida. They only shout it once, Jongin gets the drink wrong, the customer spills it and asks for another one, and Jongin has to pay for it out of pocket.

“I don’t think that’s legal,” Chanyeol mutters, grabbing his phone to shoot a text. Minseok, the head of his legal team, will have it all sorted in an instant.

“It’s true that I get it wrong, though,” Jongin groans. He’s used to acing stuff. Not bumbling around like an idiot.

Somehow, someway, Chanyeol mentions going through their drink menu items together, and Jongin agrees to do it at Chanyeol’s apartment.

It is the quietest, safest place – doing it directly at the bar won’t look good to his boss. Not to mention, Jongin doesn’t wanna’ step in there outside the days he works. Only two weekends in, and he already hates it.

“Don’t be weird about it,” Jongin says, sending him the PDF with their menu so Chanyeol can have all they offer prepared. Chanyeol forwards it to Jongdae who replies with a yes, sir.

The boxes are already in the pantry when Chanyeol gets home.

 

 

 

 

 

“Well, this is underwhelming,” Jongin comments, looking around.

“What were you expecting?” Chanyeol puts down slippers in front of Jongin’s feet.

“More.”

Maybe a castellated estate that is all his. Towers and bridges and water fountain statues. He has acquaintances who do live like that, who prefer to sleep in a different room every day. Not to flaunt, but to luxuriate in what their money can buy them.

Chanyeol only has an apartment. Technically, it is a penthouse as it spans the entire top floor, but the building itself isn’t that fancy nor that big. 

That’s exactly what Chanyeol likes about it. He moved here almost ten years ago, and, yes, in the meantime, he could’ve moved to a better place. But it took all of those ten years to make it feel like home, so he has no reason to uproot that. Chanyeol owns few things, and those that he has, he’s possessive of.

“Sorry to disappoint.”

Jongin is still looking around, though, subtly. Chanyeol takes a look at him in his space.

He nearly cannot believe his eyes. Jongin is here in what is, without question, the highest level of trust Jongin has ever bestowed upon him.

It didn’t take convincing – Chanyeol didn’t want to have to convince him to come over. That would’ve been just in line with all this creepiness Jongin assigns to him. Jongin just said that he’s not used to drinking yet—that last year it was pretty awful. Chanyeol shot a blank, try it with me, and Jongin said, okay.

It’s early, the evening unripe. Jongin has a laboratory class tomorrow morning; he can’t risk a hangover. He’ll have a sip of each at most, but they’ll add up.

“Letting Munkyu know where I am in case you decide to do something,” he mumbles, tapping on his phone. Chanyeol catches a glimpse of his shared location before he pockets his phone.

He’s nervous. Jittery, wary. But so is Chanyeol.

Once they step into the kitchen, he seems relieved to see Jiyeon there. 

She’s been working on some lunch boxes, hand-carved wood—traditional cuisine because Chanyeol’s father insisted he must get those ancient investors on their side. It’s later than she usually leaves. She seems to be at the finishing touches, so he guesses that she will clock out soon.

“Kim Jongin-ssi,” Chanyeol introduces plainly. He doesn’t have to add more than that, and Chanyeol thinks that even if he had to, he wouldn’t know what.

Jiyeon bows, and introduces herself in return.

They move to the dining table, which is long, but narrow. It’s in front of the curtained window – this one doesn’t face the prettiest view. He’s got low lights installed, and the incandescence blazes warm between them. Jongin looks good in this light, as he does in all of them, but especially in this, all his undertones coming alive.

“What would you like first?”

“I have no idea what’s good.”

Chanyeol picks at random. “Probably none of it.”

“Great,” Jongin says, eyeing the bottle cautiously. “Fantastic.”

Chanyeol smiles, and pours. 

 

 

 

 

 

“Aren’t you going to have some?” Jongin asks, at his fifth sip of the fifth drink. He has his notebook on the side where he notes the name and the taste. Chanyeol thinks that will be discarded before he makes it to the tenth. 

“No.”

Jiyeon brings snacks as well, sweet and salty and in between, then bids her goodbyes for the day. “Have a nice evening.”

“You too,” Jongin chokes out quickly. He tasted one that he definitely didn’t like – and who would, Chanyeol doesn’t understand how 50% volume is tolerated by anyone. Even so, he doesn’t forego politeness.

It’s only with Chanyeol that he does.

Chanyeol smiles a farewell, and she bows out.

“Why do you want to get me drunk? Pretty sure you can cover up a murder no prob.” He takes a few gulps of water, then pushes aside the offending glass.

Chanyeol puts another one in front of him. “You want to get drunk and learn.”

“Yeah, but it’s supposed to be fun as well.”

“First, make it safe. Then, make it fun.”

“No part of this is fun,” he grumbles, grimacing as he’s opening up another bottle, and writing down the name. His sips, then notes nasty. The highest rating on the list has a passable.

Chanyeol titters. “Let me get you something nice,” he offers, taking out a bottle of wine. It’s a sweet rose wine, the one that Chanyeol always has when he feels like drinking. It’s fruity and smooth.

Jongin sips and his eyes light up ever so slightly. “It’s not offensive.”

“You can say it’s good.” Chanyeol rolls his eyes. Of this, he pours himself, too. Just a little, as he would a liquor. “I have to be up early tomorrow to greet some partners at the airport.” Sehun has been out of town for a few days, so he can’t go. It’s not something that can be done by anyone lower.

“It’s not good,” Jongin replies, taking another sip. “And don’t look for pity from me. I’m out.”

Chanyeol relaxes against the backrest. He’s sat at a table with Jongin so many times, but this is special—a touch of magic to it that sparks fulfilment.

He makes it to the thirteenth drink before he closes the notebook and puts it away. It took so long until Jongin actually slackened, leaned back, divested the chainmail, and became one with the plush, tall chair.

“What is it that you even do?” He asks. “You seem to have so much free time that you’re on my ass almost every day.”

Chanyeol did pour himself a second ‘shot’ of wine. He’s not loose from it, but because of how delightful it is to have Jongin here. Outside, he would’ve kept it at bay, but in his own home, he’s comfortable being comfortable.

“HR,” Chanyeol answers.

“Aren’t you the money dude? What do you mean HR?”

The only bottle he reached out twice for is the wine one. Chanyeol pushes it towards him.

“You’ve looked me up,” Chanyeol says. “I have…a lot.”

“Ha,” Jongin bursts. “You’re awful at trying to be modest.”

“I wasn’t trying, I just don’t keep tabs on the extent of it.”

Jongin rolls his eyes, though, it’s skewed—a broken loop. He’s flushed, cheeks alight.

It’s supremely endearing. Chanyeol manages to go on. “It’s HR because I have to delegate all of that to the right people. I invest in recruitment the most.”

“Can’t say it doesn’t make sense.” He’s holding his glass of wine like he holds tea, fingers wrapped warm around it. He also brings it to his mouth with two hands. “Is this why you’re meeting with everyone?”

“I trust the people closest to me to make good decisions when it comes to new hires or appointments, but I’d rather be there in person as well. I prefer preventing incompetence than having to fix it.”

“So, you’re really picky.”

“Not necessarily to begin with. The trial periods are pretty long.”

Jongin sits in silence for a moment. He looks at the unopened boxes on the table. There are at least twenty other drinks to go through.

“You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a greedy motherfucker.”

“Oh, I am a greedy motherfucker,” Chanyeol laughs. It doesn’t seem Jongin meant it as an insult. Just his candour.

“Bold of me to expect shame from you.”

Chanyeol grabs a pretzel from the bowl. “I’m greedier of time now than I am of money.”

“You feel like you’re running out, old man?”

“Everyone is running out.”

His eyes lancinate. “But do you feel it?”

It’s hard for Chanyeol to admit. He’s made himself think that he’s buying time, but he’s not. It’s running away from him at top speed. “A little.”

Jongin nods, slow and long. He’s tipsy. Even more than tipsy. “I don’t even have the time to have a crisis like that. What I have is…a laboratory class tomorrow for which I have to complete a quiz tonight.”

Chanyeol hates it when he’s like this – wistful for the future. Just wishing for the present to pass already, so he can be someone else—doing something else. “It’s for the better.”

“Yeah.”

He excuses himself to the bathroom, and when he comes back, he has a question. “Do you want a bath, too?”

Chanyeol only discovered them when his doctor recommended that he picks up vigorous exercises – walks just don’t cut it anymore. It was the only thing that put away the soreness.

Jongin’s mouth falls open. “That’s not creepy at all.”

“It’s really not,” Chanyeol says. “Juggling class, an internship, and a part-time job isn’t easy on the body.” The worst thing is that it’s visible in his posture, his back in an exacerbated slouch, and his knees aching either from sitting too much or standing too much.

“I’m not doing it, ajeossi,” he says, fake smile huge. “Fuck off.”

Chanyeol expected that. He accepts his defeat.

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly, painfully, he makes it through the whole list. Simply because he doesn't want to go through this ever again. One session of awfulness was enough. At the end of it, he's only on the edge of being drunk, not quite over it. 

What he discovers, though, is that it makes him very sleepy—yawns on top of yawns. He closes the notebook, patting it. "Okay, done.” Yawn. “I'm gonna’ go."

“I'll check for Minho,” Chanyeol says. It’s gotten late, almost eleven.

“No, let him be.” He rubs his eyes. They blink blearily. “I'll see. I think if I rush, I’ll catch the subway if not a bus.” He finishes up what's in his glass. "I can't even feel this. Or I couldn't feel the past, like, seven of them. Watch this be totally useless," he says, suddenly overtaken with giggles.

“You decide how useful it is.”

Even through another giggle, he can’t keep his eyes open. “It won't help with me not being able to hear what they order.”

“But you can give them something close enough that they won't notice.”

“Mm,” he hums, nodding, his head lolling on his shoulder. “Yeah. Yeah. And it was also for...myself. It took 30 bottles of shit to confirm that I really hate this. I hate drinking. It’s final.” He takes a pretzel which has big flaky salt on it. On a tissue to the side is a small mound of all the salt he picked off them. “Wait. No. I like some of it with meals. Jeonga taught me about pasta and wine. She takes me out sometimes.” Giddiness breaks through, nose scrunch and curved eyes.

“I like that, too.”

Jongin’s scowl is interrupted by a yawn.

Chanyeol twitters. “The guest room is yours.” 

“Did you put my name on it?” He snorts. Pig-like. Cute. So cute. 

“No.” Chanyeol smiles. “Not yet.”

“Ajeossi,” Jongin begins. The way he is lucid right now, head cocked forward, he’s gorgeous. He’s stupid, stupidly gorgeous. So much so that Chanyeol feels like he would give him anything—starting with himself.

How did it even get to this stage?

But maybe it doesn’t matter. Chanyeol doesn’t care about the sense. For once in his life, it’s not about the sense. Everything is so new to him. It’s so amazing to feel this.

Jongin doesn’t say anything. It looks like he does while also resigning himself that, at last, it will all be silence.

“Show me to this room that I own.” He’s wobbly on his feet when he gets up.

Chanyeol, by reflex, tries to steady him. 

“Nuh-uh.” Jongin shakes a finger in front of his eyes. “Just show me.”

The apartment is all open space, all rooms connecting to the main living space containing the kitchen, the living room, the dining area, and the balcony. It’s a short journey.

“Huh,” Jongin breathes, leaning on the jamb. “I’m locking this door. And putting a chair behind it. Don’t you try anything funny, ajeossi. Okay?”

“I’ll try to not be a predator,” Chanyeol replies, and it would be funny if it wasn’t sad.

“Very good,” Jongin murmured, ambling in. His goodnight is the sound of the door locking.

“Good night,” Chanyeol whispers.

 

 

 

 

 

After his bath, as he's in the kitchen for some water, he hears it unlocking.

 

 

 

 

 

do you know if i get jail for bribing a prof?

Chanyeol is in a meeting with fifty people, which coincidentally make 50% of the economy of the country. He made his proposal. Now the hags are left to drone until they reach consensus. It’s rather their loss if it doesn’t go through, but Chanyeol doesn’t hold grudges. The offer will still be on the table when they change their minds.

They’re not paying attention to him right now, so Chanyeol smiles—unabated, unprofessional—and replies to Jongin single-handedly. He’s not rude enough to appear to be tuning them out completely. 

I can make sure you don’t

His gaze stays on the presentation. And stays. And stays. And stays.

jail doesn’t sound too bad actually

Chanyeol felt that. As a fugitive from the brutal education regimen from here, it doesn’t mean over there it was easy. He remembers his tongue not pronouncing what he asked it to pronounce, gaffes, trouble with time management, having to beg teachers to extend his deadlines even at the cost of deducted points. In between assignments, he piled himself with the other students in nooks of the campus where he killed a platoon of cigarettes per litre of beer. For dessert, coffe. Hot water thrown directly into the jar of instant granules. Then, doled out as ‘shots’ into the cap of a soda bottle, the bitterness waking him more than the caffeine itself.

Chanyeol learned what he needed to, didn’t put up with the rest. He left behind smoking, and came back holding a diploma that has no contribution to him sitting in this chair right now.

He doesn’t have to find it relatable, though. Jongin’s experience is Jongin’s experience, and Chanyeol sympathizes with that.

I can do the bribing.

Junmyeon wouldn’t be pleased to hear about this one, but as long as the right mouths keep shut, it should be a clean job.

Another 12 slides pass. 31 left out of 142. That’s too long of a presentation. They probably made a starry-eyed, overachieving intern do it.

Three slides to last, the reply comes.

no

 

 

 

 

 

“Who’s Junmyeon?”

Jongin is holding, for the first time, not a textbook, but a bartending brochure.

He knows who Junmyeon is. Chanyeol mentioned him so many times. He saw him in person, too when he came to pick Chanyeol up from one of their escapades.

But maybe that is not an answer to Jongin.

“My...” Chanyeol starts. His post, on the contract, is Personal Assistant. But he owns too many shares in the company, and just altogether does too much. Is too much. “Everything.”

“So you fucked,” Jongin whistles.

“Jesus Christ, no. I’m just looking at present options for his child.”

Ohhh,” Jongin hums, a near theatrical quality to it, but his face lights up. He lowers the booklet in his hands below his nose. “How old?”

“100 days.”

“A baby!”

“A baby.”

Junmyeon isn’t the kind to send pictures and stuff, but he has to admit he’s enjoyed all the media he’s been incessantly sending. From his mutilated, gooey pacifier to just him sleeping, just him being, just him red in the face, gummy mouth wide with cries – this one reoccurs, and Junmyeon lets him know it’s still not nearly as annoying as Chanyeol could be. 

Chanyeol responded with hearts and blushes.

He turns his phone towards Jongin to the latest 3-second video of Kihyeon just wiggling his little feet. They’re too little to fulfil their duty of feet.

Jongin deflates, and ducks behind the brochure again. Something about the deep aubergine of the cover and the gold text makes it decorative, an accessory in his hands.

Chanyeol opens another “Top 10 Baby Gifts!” article and closes his eyes at the assault of ads. He clicks out of it. No amount of money can rid him of this experience, but then again, at least one ad there was from a company he’s affiliated with to some extent. He doesn’t get to complain.

“I wouldn’t say you’re bad with presents.” There’s a tinge of something in his tone, synthetic.

Chanyeol doesn’t even know what kids nowadays like. 

To his parent’s chagrin and despair, he was an outdoorsy one, sneaking out as soon as his legs worked in his favour. He could play with a stick and a rock, stomp into a puddle of mud, go out and collect snails or other tiny animals – he had a pet lizard once, which he found lost in the garage and went missing within the week. Chanyeol is still thinking about her from time to time. He was home as little as he could be, disappearing to climb the highest tree on the property just when the piano tutor rang the gate – of course, he did piano. What sort of rich snob of a kid doesn’t get force-fed piano lessons. Please.

All of that got beaten out of him by the corporate by now. Still, there’s nothing like discovering the world muddy fingers-first. And yes, he still hates piano.

He’s closing the nth page by now, and he’s starting to lose hope. Toys, yes, of course, but which toys? He has to take into account personal preference. Though, Kihyeon is barely a person yet. All there is to him is ineptitude, snot, and bum leakage.

“Nothing that makes noise. Or sings. Or anything like that.” Jongin sounds so bored.

“But they like it?”

“The parents don’t.”

“Oh.”

Junmyeon is already noise-sensitive as it is. He doubts paternal love will make up for the head-splitting annoyance.

“Soft things that they can hug and squeeze, but not plush because he will put it in his mouth, and you don’t want him ingesting those fibres,” Jongin recites. “I don’t have to teach you about choking hazards, do I?”

“You do.” He hasn’t been exposed to children much. Yura said maybe she will have a child in the next two years, but if it doesn’t happen in this timeframe, then it never will. He was also not involved enough with his extended relatives – he did send gifts to his nieces, of course. Though they weren’t personally picked—his secretary picked them. But Junmyeon is special. “Do they really try to eat everything?”

Jongin couldn’t sound more done. “The warning is literally on the packaging.”

“Oh, thank, Lord,” he sighs. Something about the nausea on Jongin’s visage is endearing. As opposed to Chanyeol, he’s an expert with children and a big lover of them at that. There’s no greatest fondness to witness than when he watches videos of his niece that his sister sends. He’s looking forward to them, forward to Jongin dropping everything and rewatching the clips a million times until his laughter is mushy with bliss.

Those moments do unspeakable things to Chanyeol’s feelings for him.

“Are you just going to shop online?”

“No, I’m sending Sehun. He’s hoping to freeload on my suggestions.”

“On mine.”

“He’ll compensate you. Don’t worry. I give credit where it’s due.”

“How is he gonna’ compensate me?”

“A card, most likely.”

Jongin’s lip pulls. “You unhinged snobs really think the world only revolves around money.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“You failed your astronomy class, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t even have one.”

“Well, get one now.” He rolls his eyes, the bottom of it having him land back on his brochure.

Chanyeol writes back to Sehun. Not with what to buy, but what not to buy. Which narrows the options considerably, he’d say.

“I’m majoring in rocket science and a Mojito is too complicated for me.” Between mouthing liqueurs, Jongin shoots him other ideas to note down.

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol and Sehun barge into the party brandishing a metric cube of diapers. Among many other things.

Junmyeon sighs. “Have you considered storage?”

At which Juhyeon immediately tuts, “He’ll shit his way through them in a blink. Don’t worry.” Then she turns to them. “Much appreciated. Welcome!” 

The dress she’s wearing, laced with red and green motifs, compliment her joyous mood. She’s always been a joy, party or no party. Chanyeol is always happy to have her in attendance to any event. 

And Junmyeon…Junmyeon is glowing with exhaustion. He already looks like a dad. A very good dad. 

He recognizes most of the other people gathered – their families. He’s met them at their wedding. Some other faces, one of which he suspects is Juhyeon’s best friend. Sehun still believes she has the hots for him – and he disappears to check. 

After he makes a round with the guests, Junmyeon takes him by the elbow. “Come meet the new guy.”

His room is upstairs, away from the noise. It smells baby-ly before he even enters – like warmth, both staleness and freshness. Home-y. Junmyeon doesn’t stay with him as Juhyeon calls back for him. “Don’t teach him curse words,” Junmyeon warns as if he even makes other sounds other than puking ones. 

Chanyeol approaches the crib. 

Kihyeon is small. And soft. Chanyeol touches his blobby cheek with a finger, and the skin is so silken he cannot believe it’s real. It’s fresh skin, barely worn by life. How else would it be. 

Communication doesn’t really happen even though Chanyeol tries. He applies the same techniques he applies on Toben, Yura’s dog, which isn't not very successful as it is, but it’s even worse with Kihyeon. He manages to high five his useless tiny foot and that brings a smile to Kihyeon’s face that’s made of nothing but bare gums and rivers of saliva. Chanyeol smiles back, and high fives his other foot. 

“Be a good son,” Chanyeol says, “you rascal.”

Kihyeon shakes his head no, kicking his feet. 

Chanyeol laughs. Something is magical about this moment, and Chanyeol captures it by taking a picture. “Smile,” he encourages Kihyeon, who only gushes out more saliva while flapping his arms about. Chanyeol makes a peace sign that frames his little face perfectly. 

 

 

 

 

 

Downstairs, drinks and conversations flow. 

Chanyeol catches up with Junmyeon. He missed him. He missed him dearly. He’s proud of him. He’s happy for the happiness he’s experiencing. 

My everything

It’s a good description.

“I was so excited for this,” Junmyeon whispers. “I anticipated it to be great, and hard.” He’s always been a realist. “But it’s just-” He purses his lips in a tight, abounding smile. “Amazing.”

Juhyeon slides next to him just then, a glass of champagne in hand. “The only downside is that when I call him daddy now, it’s weird.” Junmyeon doesn’t even bother blushing. He reaches for her glass. 

She slaps his hand away. “I’ve been a saint for nine months. And then for another three just making sure that goblin keeps kicking. I didn’t even think of alcohol. I’ll be damned if I let you take this away from me,” she argues, then promptly downs her drink. She’s flushed, and the splash of colour makes her that much prettier. “I’ll go talk to the other guests before I’m dubbed rude and our free diaper supply chain is broken.”

The party is over when a cry of bloody murder comes from the nursery. “He makes about ten victims a day,” Juhyeon says before going up. “We’re already running out of space for all the bodies.”

“Where did you find this woman?” Sehun wonders aloud, as he does every time.

“One day, I’m gonna sue you.” Junmyeon rolls his eyes.

“Having a crush on your wife is not illegal.”

“It will be. I know the right people.”

Chanyeol doesn’t doubt that for a second. 

 

 

 

 

 

The first picture Chanyeol sends to Jongin is the picture with the baby.

He wanted to share it with someone, but whom with? Sehun was right there. His family doesn’t care. Jiyeon would only smile politely.

But Jongin might care. Maybe.

Jongin opens the image immediately, but no reply comes.

For five days, no reply came.

Chanyeol regrets sending it. 

 

 

 

 

 

where are u?

do I have to get my own chicken?

Chanyeol is in the elevator when he reads the texts. He had no intention of taking his phone off aeroplane mode until tomorrow, but he wanted to order something—something unhealthy. Surely, Jiyeon left him something substantial. Maybe even one of his favourites. But all he’s been thinking about is an enormity of a burger so tall and so fat that it’ll ruin his mouth.

And Jongin. He’s been thinking about Jongin, too.

He steps in, the door unlocking automatically once it senses his phone. It’s quiet, just some electronics going—the fridge, the colour-changing diffuser. Sandalwood. Chanyeol is so winded for a few moments after taking his shoes off that he just stands in the hallway, watching the coloured lights turn until he sobers himself out of tiredness to at least make it to the end of the night.

He intends to detour by the kitchen for some water, then go turn on the water in the tub.

Except Jongin is in his kitchen. Under the chandelier. Fingers crimson, lips crimson, eyes crimson, spicy wing in his mouth.

Chanyeol wasn’t expecting this, but he’s not startled or surprised. He’ll put on tiredness how natural this feels.

He looks at his phone again, and then he sees, under his thread, Jiyeon telling him he has a guest. She let him in, and if it’s okay to leave him inside. Then the last text with sorry, but I had to visit my sister tonight

“Where were you?” Jongin asks.

Chanyeol is seven-years-old, and he’s snuck back into the house through the basement window. His mom and dad have their arms crossed across their chest, feet tapping and eyes wrinkled with rage.

That’s what Jongin takes him back to.

Chanyeol takes his blazer off – a tweed one. He’s always cold in the plane – and flings it over the back of the chair opposite Jongin. He sits in the other, diagonal. Pythagoras said this is just a little bit farther – and Chanyeol needs all the farness he can get for he is awfully jittery, shamefast at his own kitchen table. In his own home. 

Yet, it’s pleasant. A most welcome thrill.

“I was somewhere,” he answers over the crunch of a peanut.

Jongin sucks his saucy thumb into his mouth. “No shit.”

Chanyeol slouches, no longer having the energy to keep his back straight. Nervousness be damned. “Hong Kong.”

To look away from the zealous way Jongin is eating his chicken, he pulls out his phone to write back to Jiyeon. It’s fine, and hopes everything is well. Her sister is chronically ill, in a care facility, and she visits her three times a week. Chanyeol funded the renovation it underwent last year, including an extension of the garden, and Jiyeon’s visits got that much longer when the weather was nice.

He yawns after he puts his phone down.

“All you had to do is sit your ass on a plane.”

Chanyeol laughs into another yawn. His jaw pops. “Private plane.”

Jongin scoffs, peppery as his lips. With his other hand, he rips the high wall of the box and lets the chicken spill. Then, he doles out the remaining pieces.

To Chanyeol, the meatiest drumettes. He doesn’t reach out yet. This is better than that burger he craved. This is better than anything.

With a tut, Jongin suckles expertly between the bones until the tender cartilage, clean bones stacked on a napkin. “It’s cold now, but the spice makes up for it. Hurry up.”

He hurriedly goes to wash his hands before sitting back down with two glass bottles of soda water as well. He grimaces when he sips as it doesn’t play nice with the garlic. He still downs half of it.

“The baby is cute,” Jongin says, wiping to his mouth.

“Wha—oh.” Chanyeol is going through the wings like the hungry man that he is. “Yeah, he apparently managed to roll out of the crib today. Junmyeon almost called an ambulance.”

He kept Chanyeol company through texts. It’s not the first trip he took alone, but he hopes he’ll be back before he gets to get used to them.

“Their bones are still soft at this age,” Jongin says, frowning, eyes big and shiny.

“You love kids.”

His nod is enthusiastic. “Kids are great.”

“Junmyeon thinks the same.”

“A wise man,” he comments.

Chanyeol has one drumette left, which he puts in his mouth whole. Jongin gets up before he gets to swallow. “I have a few chapters to read,” he says. He pushes his chair back under the table.

“Wait, I’ll get Minho for you. He’s not far.” It can't be too long since he dropped Chanyeol off. He scrambles to get his phone. He’s disappointed that Jongin is leaving so soon. He wants more. More time with him.

“Spare your tired ass.” He waves. “I need this walk. Otherwise, I’d be reading for nothing.”

“But—”

“Shut up.”

He’s out. Chanyeol is alone.

Someone waited for him. Someone who wasn’t paid to.

From a bad tired, Chanyeol is a good tired. In the foggy mirror after his shower, he tried—he tried not to smile so hard, but he laughs. Out loud. A smile to his ears and his heart jolly. 

Jongin waited for him. 

 

 

 

 

 

He starts both jobs at the same time. The night before, Chanyeol waits downstairs in his dorm, just off the corner and away from the outpour of students. Jongin complained about how eye-catching it is to be seen with him in front of this gossip hellhole.

Jongin is in slippers, sweats, and a button-down shirt. Which is wrinkly. And ill-fitting around the collar.

Chanyeol nips a smile.

“What,” Jongin throws, tart, as usual. He doesn’t even look at Chanyeol, but somewhere over his shoulder. Nothing’s there - just a wall.

“I’ve come to congratulate you,” Chanyeol answers. “One last time.”

“You’ve already done that.”

Chanyeol only forwards the bags in his hand. “One last time,” he repeats.

For a split second, Jongin gazes at the bags. Then, immediately, point-blank, on Chanyeol. “I’ll spit in your mouth.”

“And you’ll accept this in exchange? Deal.”

Jongin turns impossibly murderous, grumbling, “Crazy motherfucker,” before he snatches the paper bags from Chanyeol. He opens them right then and there. He takes the two boxes out and, balancing them on his forearm, opens the lid.

“They’ve no brand names on them,” Chanyeol quickly mentions. They’re both white, though, different shades—one pure neutral, one leaning warm cream but not quite. Jongin has a single white tee that he knows of, and Chanyeol adores the way it looks on him.

“Are they, though?” Jongin eyes them warily.

“No, just…custom.”

“How did you even check?”

“You’re about the same stature as me. If they’re tight on me, they should be just right for you.”

“So you’ve tried them on.”

Chanyeol can’t tell if that means anything, but he shrugs. "Yeah."

It’s a structured, but soft wool-cotton blend. A panel goes down the front, midway the shoulder seam, to the shore of the waist. For the other, short crop, just under the belly button, mandarin collar, and wide sleeves and fitted cuffs. “I don’t know if they’re to your liking. But I chose what I knew best.”

“Whatever's on sale and good fabric is to my liking,” Jongin replies. He pulls down the side of the shirt is currently wearing. “Get lost,” he sighs out, dropping everything unceremoniously into a single bag. He turns around. “I’m not in the mood now, but I didn’t forget that I owe you spit.”

Chanyeol thinks about that for hours.

 

  

 

 

 

Chanyeol’s father calls. He asks him out to golf. Chanyeol scoffs, outwardly disdainful – he learned it from Jongin. “If you want to talk business, you can just swing by my office.”

Chanyeol put a lot of effort into distributing shares and attributes so that he would have little to none to do with his father. Still, there are some tangents.

“Just spend some time with me.” His voice sounds almost sunny. Almost. “With how many of your colleagues you actually get to polish up your skills? Just one afternoon.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol regrets agreeing to it when not a point in, his father asks, “Are you really not going to settle down?”

He kicks the ball with all his strength and watches it fly into nothingness. It’s freeing. He’s more of a baseball man than golf. Though, no sixty-year-old whose land Chanyeol wants to buy is too keen on baseball. “You should be looking at the billions I’ve settled down in profit for the company.”

His father is in full gear. Even his socks are made specifically for golfing as if that’s not complete bullshit. He’s always been one for appearances. Or rather, deceit.

He takes the stance. “You say you’re…” He can’t even say the word. He can’t. Jesus Christ. “But not like you really are. I haven’t seen you with a woman. But I haven’t seen you with a man, either.” The club swings. The ball doesn’t make it to the hole.

“Would they even be welcome if I brought them home?”

“Depends.” A swallow, salt and pepper stubble, the canyons of his eyes.

“On what?”

“What it usually depends on. You aren’t a nobody. We are a reputable family. We’re The Parks.”

Chanyeol sends another ball flying. Two can play dirty. “Family?” He asks. “I thought we’re a company.”

“Both of which are reputable.” He opens his arms wide, smiling as if in a commercial. Chanyeol is so unimpressed.  

They will ask Jongin how much he owns, and he will reply in notebooks and textbooks. Plus the pennies reserved for cup ramyeon. He’d pay to watch this shitshow.

“I would prefer you keep your concern out of this. You’ve got no say in what I decide for myself,” Chanyeol cuts off. They’ve had this conversation yearly. Last year’s excuse was gardening on the property of his late grandmother whose last wish was to keep the petunias thriving. He let it go on for too long then. Now he’s truly out of patience for it.

“So, there is someone,” his father says. He swings the club slowly, measuring. He misses.

“There is.”

“Is it a man?”

Chanyeol laughs, out loud, and hits the ball. It flies out of the universe. “No, it’s a curtain rod,” he spits out sarcastically. “I think we’re done for today. Learned a lot beating you, dad.” He takes his cap off – not one made specifically for golfing. “Don’t contact me about this ever again.

 

 

 

 

 

He tosses in bed until the wee hours of the morning.

I’m sorry, he texts Jongin.

How dare he. How could he. They’re nothing. Yet when he answered that there is someone.

There is, indeed, but not in the sense Chanyeol agreed to. This doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right to pronounce a meaning and trajectory to it without Jongin’s agreement.

If they’re not on the same page, Chanyeol has no right to speak about it.

Chanyeol sees Jongin’s answer at noon when he wakes up.

?????

Later that evening, Jongin sends another lone ?

if that day ever comes, I’ll tell you 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Saturday. Yesterday, Chanyeol was worried sick about whether, how, and when Jongin got home. Is he safe. Is he sound.

“There’s no subway at this hour. There’s no bus,” Chanyeol says as Jongin shuts the car door so hard something cracks. 

“There’s taxis.” His stare overflows with rancour, gloopy in his waterline. It’s one in the morning, and everything is amplified. What he sees. What he smells. What he hurts. 

He’s fuming.

“You’re never going to take one.”

“I have legs. Two of them, even.”

Chanyeol glances at him – his bartender uniform. Black cotton jeans, straight cut, and a white button shirt with an embroidered collar. Not one from Chanyeol. That one he keeps for the internship, the workplace he cares about. “I’m aware.”

“Creepy ass old man,” Jongin whispers under his breath.

A thorn, small, tip of venom. Or an arrow. 

“If you’d prefer to walk—”

The safety belt clicks in place.

Chanyeol takes him home.

 

 

 

 

 

He’s gone. For most of the day, for most of the night—morphed into the sporadic bubbles in their chatroom. Sometimes it’s mis-sent texts - hey what’s the drive where the prof uploaded the course? ^-^ - which he just deletes, no ado. He’s nice to everyone. Saccharine, on occasion, but not plasticky. Well-spoken. Kind-spoken. Generous, even from the little that he has. Be it a crumb, and he would share.

He’s in denial for a couple of weeks. It’s just hectic for now. It will settle down soon, and there will be cracks big enough to allow them a meeting over coffee. Just like the old days. A dinner with or without a trip to another city. Drink left unfinished. Rice in the bowl as Jongin scrambles to another class.

But it doesn’t. This is just how it is now. Chanyeol can only catch him at midnight, at the end of his shift, when he’s dead tired, somnolent, made more of yawns than face.

Yet, it’s him who Jongin waits for at the curb of the bar, pretending he isn’t actually waiting, and rolling his eyes before climbing in. Sometimes he’s not there at all, though. Nor at the bar. Nor at the office. And Chanyeol stares at their dead chatroom wishing he would’ve asked, where are you? how are you? before pulling from the curb with the passenger seat empty. 

From the bar to Jongin’s dorm, it takes seventeen to twenty minutes of driving. Chanyeol gets seventeen to twenty minutes maximum three times a week, and this is them right now.

 

 

 

 

 

“Ajeossi,” Jongin starts, sunken into the passenger seat, a splatter of black and eyebags, “is it ‘cause you’ve never had kids? Am I your kid?”

“Does it feel…parental? What I do for you?” Red, yellow, green, spills over the dashboard. Chanyeol looks over just in time to catch the flicker of yellow fire in Jongin’s eyes.

“Or a brother?”

Chanyeol is tired himself tonight. The last time he slept was two days ago – he gets these random, short bouts of insomnia sometimes; so it’s hard to beat around the bush now.

“You know exactly what it is.”

“It can’t be that, though,” Jongin mumbles. He’s not awake, but not asleep.

“It is that.”

“Shouldn’t you have a wife? Don’t you need kids? Who’s gonna’ inherit all of this?”

“I didn’t die yet.”

“You could die any time.”

“It’s set up for charities.”

Jongin’s snoozy scoff barely makes it past his lips. “You get off on playing God.”

He’s said this before in many ways—the words different, yet the same. Chanyeol isn’t bothered anymore.

“I don’t need a wife,” he says. They’re at the last light before it turns to the street of Jongin’s dorm.

“Then what do you need?”

The car comes to a stop. Click, the seatbelt, click the door handle, click, the door shut. Jongin didn’t stick around to hear his answer.

 

 

 

 

 

You.

 

 

 

 

 

One late afternoon, not five yet, finds them in a dakgalbi restaurant. The dakgalbi restaurant. It’s family-run, so there’s an ajumma to call out to, but it also has a handful of waiters. The interior is less living-room-y and more commercial – but still a patchwork of furniture pieces. The crockery is also mismatched. Even his two chopsticks are mismatched, the steel of one rounder and duller to the overhead lamp.

The stew itself is mad delicious. Chanyeol has dreams about it.

Their favourite table is along the wall, which has a bench – the only one. Jongin, as usual, piled his backpack and jacket on one end. He always has a jacket on hand nowadays. No matter how warm it gets approaching summer, at night, it’s always cold.

Chanyeol is only here because it’s Friday night, and he has a car. Jongin profiteered off his resources to get them here before the rush hour set in – no way they’d find a table here past six. It’s also not like Chanyeol fears speeding tickets. They fear him. 

Chanyeol has his back to the entrance, but he does notice how much noisier it is. Not full to the brim, but close. Jongin sags against the back of the bench, chewing with his mouth open. Short snaps of his jaw for the chicken piece is very big and very hot, and I can’t feel the deliciousness anymore if I burn my tongue off. 

It’s only moans and blowing sounds until there are only some veggies left in the thick broth, mites of melted cheese throughout.

Jongin looks at the laminated menu stuck to the table and hisses when he sees that rice cakes are two thousand won extra. Until Chanyeol pours him soju. Then, he orders two portions.

While Jongin stirs the pot to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom, Chanyeol texts Minho his location, asking if he can reach them in about two hours. The answer is yes, as always.

Sober, prime, and proper, they’ve eaten so many times, they’ve spoken so many times—close but never truly close. Tonight, over the lamp on the pot, steam billowing, and with chopsticks dipped in sauce, suckling, Jongin looks like he doesn’t hate him. He’s fuzzy, glazed. The armature of his person softened, pappy. 

Chanyeol has to drown his glee into the sauce. Scalding sweet potato half-moons dissolve sweet in his mouth.

 

“Do you know what somaek is?” Jongin asks, already arranging the glasses, a bottle in each hand.

He's acting like he didn't have a whole drinking marathon at Chanyeol's place. 

“I was raised in a mansion. Not in a cave.”

Chanyeol tends to the cakes adrift in the broth. It thickened almost instantly, so he added a bit more water.

Jongin rolls his eyes. “Same shit.”

“You’re right.”

“Don’t agree with me. It’s not gonna’ get you laid.”

It doesn’t hurt as it usually does. There’s no smoke because while his eyes are spiky, his mouth is blooming with a smile.

Chanyeol just snatches one of the glasses, gulps down half, and sighs wistfully. “I love this.” Then downs the rest.

Jongin doesn’t believe him. “You’ve never had this before.”

Chanyeol falters. His stomach, despite being full, gapes, parts, twists, seeking to mend an emptiness that claws from his spine out. “Do you really think that?”

Jongin plops two rice cakes in his mouth, poking out like fangs.

“You…you know me. You know me so well,” Chanyeol says.

He’s had everything Jongin ever wanted. They met at a shabby café for students. Chanyeol ate from all the food stalls with questionable ingredients. He knows bits of it align, but is Chanyeol that stuck up to him?

He’s left in thought, gaze intent on the small bubbles rimming the pot, the sauce turning maroon on the walls of it as it reduces. “I don’t know if I do.”

Chanyeol watches as he’s trying to fish out another wiggling rice cake. He has mismatched chopsticks too. It’s hard. He ends up stabbing it and puts it whole in his mouth, cheeks stretched wide for a second. When he sips his somaek, a red lip imprint is left on the glass.

“You have to want something back from me,” he says, asudden.

Chanyeol hears I don’t trust you. It hurts. Being with Jongin is equal parts of joy and pain.

They’re here, months and months later, and Jongin still doesn’t trust him. 

Chanyeol picks up his glass and bottoms it up, to have the last droplet trickle down into his mouth. “Is there anything that you have that I could want?”

Jongin stills, and the floppy cabbage square falls back in the pot. “Nothing is ever free.”

“Sometimes it is.”

“This can’t be one of those times.”

Just then, the waitress puts a saucer of marinated green peppers, coins in a bath of soy, chirping, “Service!” from behind her mask. It’s nine slices. About two small peppers. How generous.

Jongin’s odium remains unhindered. “That’s included in the price of something.”

“This is not a loss for them,” Chanyeol says, “because you’ll be coming here again.”

“Well, I bloody won’t.”

“The stew is amazing.”

“It’s not the only amazing stew in this damn city.”

“But it is a special kind of amazing.”

Jongin sights. He reaches over the table to take Chanyeol’s glass. He doles out another round of somaek with the last of their bottles.

“There’s nothing I want from you,” Chanyeol murmurs in exchange for his drink.

Jongin’s huff chokes in the glass. “If I walk away now, you won’t feel cheated? Like you invested and it ended up in loss? I’ve seen how you act when you get reports of loss. You avenge it by investing more.”

Chanyeol can’t frown enough. “You’re not…you’re not business. And yes, you can just walk away. Any time.”

“You won’t throw a tantrum? Have your bodyguards or whatever secret services under your foot come to abduct me or something?”

After so many months, he still thinks like this. Lord, he still thinks like this. “I’ll miss you. A lot. Is that a tantrum?”

Jongin pauses in his hunt. He settles for a piece of green onion, brown in the spice. “You’ll miss me,” he repeats. It’s flat instead of sceptical, and it unnerves Chanyeol all the more.

“A lot,” he emphasizes.

Jongin finishes his beer.

At the end of the meal, just after Minho texts him that he’ll arrive in three, Jongin ambles to the counter near the entry and asks for the bill. “I got paid today,” he explains as the ajumma does a little run to give someone a platter of shrimp. “Got tips, too. Don’t think this is gonna happen again, okay? I’m not gonna’ let you freeload on me.”

She’s back, and he hands in the sum cash. He picks a candy from the jar next to the till, and throws it to Chanyeol. “Dessert.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Minho-ssi,” Chanyeol whispers in the car, a while after he dropped Jongin off. “Someone treated me to dinner today.”

“Is that rare, sir?”

They’re usually a cover-up for a plea, a bribe, gratitude, persuasion. It’s never because they just…want to have dinner with Chanyeol. 

With Jongin, it happened more than once. The chicken back then. All those goods from the bakery. “Very, very, rare.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Ajeossi,” Jongin starts with spittle, and antipathy, “you didn’t come yesterday. Be a little consistent before or I fire you. What kind of driver only shows up sometimes?”

Chanyeol laughs. A jesting Jongin is rare and precious.

Jongin doesn’t laugh with him. He sighs, sinks, a puddle of tar into the seat. He used all his energy on the joke.

The car moves, and a few blinks later, Jongin giggles. One singular, estranged giggle throttled on the sill on his lips.

Chanyeol’s heart flips. His foot falters on the acceleration.

“I talked to the kid next door who kept making noises all night long and keeping me,” he starts. It’s been a good few days ever since Jongin had been cursing out this kid. “He came to my room to apologize that he has nightmares, and he’s sorry if he was noisy. Poor kid. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. But…but my sleep. He’s only here for another month or so, though. I’ll survive.”

Chanyeol is about to plug him another suggestion to move out when Jongin beats him to it. Again. “It’s close to uni. It’s close to a lot of things. Do you even know how much transit costs? Privileged ass.”

“I’ll get you a hotel room.”

“And to hear people fucking? No, thanks. I’d rather hear screams of terror.”

“Can hardly hear anything in a master suite.”

Jongin doesn’t come near it. “No.”

It takes courage this time. A whole two red lights before he manages. “There’s another room on your name,” Chanyeol says.

He looks over and Jongin is asleep. Or not awake. “Okay.” It’s not even a whisper.

Dead tired, Chanyeol takes him home. Once he enters, he doesn’t even say anything. Doesn’t even wander. Just slips into the guest bedroom, and shuts the door. 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a rose in a glass on the counter. Peach petals, and a little plastic bow. The thorns towards the end have been removed. 

“What’s that?” Chanyeol asks, sitting down in the kitchen island. He could move to the dining table, but it’s just him and his five little bowls. Plus, he would deprive himself of Jiyeon’s company. 

Jiyeon wipes the sauce smudges off the lip and sides of the glass container, patting it neatly down. It’s radish kimchi, which will be perfect in two days. Chanyeol stops her from putting the lid on it by stealing a piece. Then one more. Then she puts it away and looks at what Chanyeol asked about. 

“Jongin-ssi gifted it to me, for tomorrow,” she says, smiling. She’s stopped dyeing her hair black year ago. The grey fringing her face makes her softer. 

“He came by?” Surprise dominates his voice.

“Yes, I hope it’s alright I let him in, as I did the last time,” she says.

“Yes, I— Did he ask about me?” Jongin didn’t tell him anything about coming by.

At this, Jiyeon chuckles. “Pardon me, but he said, and I quote, ‘Is Pringles ajeossi around to disturb my peace?’”

Chanyeol lets out a chuckle himself. That’s so Jongin.

Jiyeon gives him a subtle wink. “He didn’t look all that happy when I told him no.”

Chanyeol takes his time assimilating this. One more idiosyncrasy. The meaning of it is obscure to him, but he’s just glad that Jongin did this. It’s a step forward.

“How did he know about your birthday?” It’s a pretty flower. 

“I'm not sure, maybe he heard me mention it on the phone the other day?” She laughs, “I was surprised too.” 

It’s Jiyeon’s birthday tomorrow. Chanyeol has already arranged her gift to arrive at her apartment by the afternoon. She has the day off. 

Chanyeol picks at the spinach, bright green, shiny with sesame oil. 

“But he didn’t say it’s for my birthday, but because he’s grateful for teaching him how to pleat dumplings.”

His spoon stops halfway to his mouth, stew spilling back in his bowl. Chanyeol saw them in the freezer, arranged neatly on three trays. She always makes a big batch with different fillings. 

He thought the three on his plate were from the last batch, not new ones. 

“He seemed frustrated with something he was studying, as he kept repeating formulas to himself?” 

“Did you ask him for help?” He puts the spoon down and picks some meat from the soup with his chopsticks. It’s unbelievably tender.

“Of course not,” she says. “He’s the one who said he’d like to do this for a living. I said it’s not as easy as it seems. Then he wanted to try it out.” She leans in, to whisper conspiratorially. “You know I don’t have that much patience, the prettiest ones are the ones he pleated. He stayed to do them all.”

He must’ve been here for a while. Chanyeol was gone the whole day. 

“Did he take any with him?”

“No. He only tried the test one with me.” Her sigh is of pity. She never serves him anything she hasn’t personally tested and tweaked. “Then he said he has to run.”

It’s Tuesday today, he has that late lab. Right. 

Chanyeol isn’t hungry anymore. But he keeps eating. “You have to run as well.”

“I have an hour left on the clock.” 

“No, you don’t,” he says. “Happy birthday!” 

She giggles. “Please, I have one day of youth left.” 

“Forgive me.”

“I’ll try.” 

Chanyeol looks at the rose. “Minho is downstairs for you. You should hurry.” 

She lingers for a few seconds, something in her gaze as she regards Chanyeol. He’s known this woman ever since he was young, and yet there’s still so much unknown. “Thank you,” she says. 

She grabs her things and is out the door before Chanyeol finishes the spinach. 

Chanyeol looks at the dumplings. They really are prettier than usual. One of them stands out as uglier. So maybe two out three are Jongin’s work. He gets to eat Jongin’s work. 

He doesn’t though. He gets up, grabs some from the freezer, and begins frying them up. Jongin likes things crispy, so he adds slurry to the pan, for extra crispiness. 

In the lunchbox, he also adds sliced fresh cucumbers, a little cup with sauce, and on top, a few of the cookies Jiyeon baked this morning. 

On the tissue, he writes. “From Confucius Ajeossi”

Minho is back in the time it took to finish the box. He calls him to the door. “Don’t take longer than ten minutes to get to him. They’ll get cold.” 

Chanyeol sits back down at the table, and waits for Minho’s text. He’s got it. 

Then he tries the dumplings as well. It didn’t feel right to do it before Jongin. 

 

 

 

            

 

Half a year after going on paternity leave, Junmyeon is waiting for him in his office.

“You’re late,” he taps his watch. 

Despite the admonishment, he’s too happy to have him back to feel bad. “You know I can give you a year,” he says, coming in close. He knows he’s wearing that manic smile. “What if you don’t catch his first-time cursing?”

“Then I better catch the second time.”

Junmyeon looks up at him. He’s smiling too. He’s dimply. He can see that smile on Kihyeon as well. “Hyeong.”

“It’s good to be back,” Junmyeon says. “I have to get out of the house and be something other than a dad for a few hours a day, or I’ll go mad.” Burnout happens with everything. He touches Chanyeol’s elbow. “Shorter hours would be nice though.”

“Of course.”

Junmyeon switches to business in an instant. He takes the chair next to Chanyeol’s desk - it’s his seat, and his seat only. “Okay. Anything new I should know about? Assets? Partners? Have you confessed to Jongin yet?”

“Jongdae has the files for that. He’s done amazing while you were out.” He’s definitely getting that raise next quarter. 

Junmyeon hums. “And?” 

Chanyeol falters. “How do you even know about it?”

“Who do you think Sehun ran his mouth to?”

Fucking Oh Sehun. “No. No I haven’t.”

“You know I've dealt with you in many instances, lost, failed, when you decided to be cocky and not listen to the investors and nearly ran us into bankruptcy, that time Minseok almost couldn’t save you from charges, but love sick you is the worst of them.”

“How can it even be worse? All I do is…mope.”

Junmyeon has that fatherly aura to him. Maybe he always had it, and it’s only now that he realizes how much he esteems his words. “You know what’s even worse than lovesick you?” 

The pause is long. He expects a real answer. Chanyeol doesn’t have it. 

“Heartbroken you.” 

 

 

 

 

 

On accident, Jongin barges in on Chanyeol just as he finished showering.  

“Shit, sorry,” he exclaims, and shuts the door. Chanyeol laughs, startled. 

It’s the bathroom closest to the kitchen, where Jongin usually studies. It’s also the least fancy of them all, and it urges Chanyeol into getting done faster with it. It’s the shower he uses when he doesn’t have the time to spend hours in there unwinding under the hot water.

When he’s out, towels still on his head, Jongin is back at the kitchen table. He is scribbling down in his notebook, too hard, and the two glasses rattling in their tray.

Chanyeol is too old for this, but while he is somewhat embarrassed, Jongin seems to be even more so.

“Don’t fret,” he says. Things happen. The door has sound isolation, it’s hard to hear the shower running. 

He expects Jongin to brush it off. But when cornered, he does what he always does – attacks.

“For all that fanfare to you, I thought you’d pack more,” he comments, still scribbling furiously. “I’m pretty sure money can buy you a bigger dick. Have you tried that?”

Out of everything, he wasn’t expecting a comment on his penis. “I don’t have to be big to—” he trails off. That’s not quite the right response, but what is the right response. This shouldn’t even be happening.

He turns a page. He’s frowning. This is new. This situation, and this Jongin. Chanyeol doesn’t know how to handle it. His hand stills, now hovering over text. He sticks and unsticks a slim sticky note on the incipit.

“I’ve been told that size matters.”

A sex conversation. Out of all people, he’s doing it with Chanyeol. “Who told you?”

Porn, likely. For and by men whose sense of masculinity resides in illusory superiority. 

Chanyeol finishes towelling his hair, and Jongin hasn’t said anything yet. 

When he does, it’s not even a whisper. “One of them.”

Chanyeol sits down, three chairs away from Jongin. Don’t corner him more. “What did he say?”

Jongin doesn’t answer. Jongin just keeps reading, making notes in the high school booklet. For the kid he’s tutoring tomorrow. Chanyeol has to dressed – he has a meeting with the board directors this evening, one that will spill into a restaurant, into alcohol. He’s not looking forward to it. And it can wait. 

“He told me he could barely feel me.”

He saw one dick and now he’s spiralling into insecurities. Chanyeol never asked, would never be so rude, not even to be curious about it. But if it’s something that hurts him, it is Chanyeol’s concern.

It’s fucking brutal to say that. He hasn’t felt anger of this calibre in a long time. “What about the others?” 

He scribbles some more. “The other didn’t say anything.”

Other. Singular.

Chanyeol combs fingers through his wet hair. His phone is on silent, and it keeps lighting up with notifications. He turns it around. 

“It was,” Jongin murmurs, “two…people. Two times.”

“Total?”

“Yeah.”

Chanyeol is infinitely grateful that Jongin is speaking to him about this. Out of the people in his life, he can’t tell if there’s anyone else he would share it with. Damage like this has to be shared. 

“Did you like it?”

Jongin turns the page in his notebook. “It wasn’t what I hoped it would be.” 

Chanyeol waits. He doesn’t need to prompt Jongin to talk. “I bottomed for the other. And I didn't like it, but I felt it was the better option. But maybe it just wasn’t done right.”

The thing about Jongin is that it’s obvious that he doesn’t have the experience, and it's obvious he doesn’t have the confidence, but it doesn’t define him, because there are layers upon layers of spirit to him. Some of it has to be on those two people. 

“I don’t know who that was, but give me a name, and I’ll make a few calls and soon it will be like they never existed at all.” Maybe he can hear the anger in his tone. Maybe not. 

Jongin cracks a smile. “You can just do that? I have an applied physics TA that is just asking for it.

“I can put him on the list.”

“I’ll find out his name.” He returns to his textbook. The topic seems broken. Chanyeol is about to get up. He has to get ready. “Does it really not matter…”

He chances a glance towards Chanyeol. He immediately takes it back. 

Chanyeol’s heart squeezes. “It doesn’t.”

Jongin heard it. There is no reaction. 

Chanyeol leaves for his wardrobe. He hears Jongin let out a heavy sigh. His heart squeezes once more. 

 

 

 

 

 

Before leaving, he goes back to Jongin. He’s right where he left him. 

Chanyeol squats before him, vulnerable, and waits for Jongin to meet his eyes. “Don’t regret this,” Chanyeol implores. “Don’t regret that you’ve talked to me about it. Don’t regret…trusting me.” 

Jongin’s fingers turn white on his pen. “Aren’t you late?”

“No.”

Jongin fights, and all there is to it is a bitten lip, an avoidant gaze, and him turning back to his textbook. And the tiny, tiniest nod, but a flitter of his head. 

 

 

 

 

 

“If I lose the scholarship for the next semester..." Jongin runs his hands through his hair, aggressive. Then drags them over his eyes, the skin splitting. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck that fucking exam. Fuck.” 

They're in front of the office and Jongin is wearing one of the white shirts from him—the one with the panel down the chest. He moves from one foot to the other, folds and unfolds the sleeves, jittery. “Fuck,” he whispers. “Fuck!”

This is the angriest Chanyeol has ever seen him.

He failed his applied physics exam. Not by a little. By a lot. Chanyeol saw the note the professor left him on the test: Take this as a push to get you back on the right track.

That’s not the way to go about it. A conversation would've worked. One that didn't pull his livelihood from under his feet. 

“You won’t,” Chanyeol disagrees. “You’ve aced so many of them. One isn’t going to negate all your knowledge. You won’t.”

“But if I do?!” He shouts. Not loud in volume, but it’s crippled. “I could. I haven’t really aced any of them the past months. Above average—yes. But I am on the verge of losing it.” He paces. Stubby steps, but fraught with distress. "If I take on another job with longer hours for the pay, I'll have even less time to study and I'll fail even more."

He looks back at the building. Wistful. He has another two months to spend here. Chanyeol witnessed how hard it was for him to get in. “I’m not sure I even want to leave this.”

"I'll get you sponsored—"

Jongin doesn’t even let him finish. "No. Fuck you. I gotta’ get this."

He turns on his heels and meanders back through the rotating doors. 

 

 

 

 

 

Usually, it’s only Jiyeon who takes care of the house. But every two weeks, she hires help to deep clean the whole place. It’s two middle-aged couples, sharing jokes as they swarm around with spray bottles in hand. Jiyeon doesn’t cook on those days and has them ordering whatever they feel like, or going out for dinner.

They’re almost done when Chanyeol gets home. He can tell by the scent of cleaning products in the air.

Jiyeon steps out of his dresser with a hanger in hand - the dry cleaning came in. They greet each other. 

“How soon are you done?” He asks. He’s not in a good mood today. He had to make too many decisions, hear too many inputs, a catfight nearly broke out in his office, someone got fired.

He wants silence.

That wasn’t a not-rude way of asking, but Jiyeon understands him. She’s been with him long enough by now. “Half an hour at most,” she says. “There’s only the guestroom left.”

There’s three of those – his aunt from overseas likes staying with him whenever she’s back in the country. And Sehun, too, randomly crashes over. Though, he hasn’t these days for Jongin reasons that he wiggled his eyebrows at.

But the third one— 

“No. That’s his. Don’t touch it.”

Jiyeon nods as if she expected that. “I’ve also left his things where they were.”

“His things?”

“Oh,” she lets out a subtle chuckle. Her eyebrows tip with mischief. “Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed.”

The truth is that he has. He has noticed all of them individually, and each one felt like victory.

He just hasn’t realized how they amassed. His uni hoodie. His pencil case - he has two, a slim one just with pens that he takes on lectures, and the one with highlighters and coloured pens, for study days. If the fat one was left behind, it meant he was coming back to study here. The game console Chanyeol got him. The side-dishes his mom send him this week are in his fridge.

His packs of ramyeon – bought with his own money – on their own cabinet self. This brand that isn’t popular, but Jongin swears it’s so good it’ll be the next big thing. He spent already two dinners raving about how it is superior and Chanyeol just sat there and slurped his noodles.

“Are you even allowed to eat this though, aren’t you at risk of hypertension or something?” Jongin asked.

“Everyone is at risk of hypertension.”

“You’ll just buy yourself a new heart, it’s fine.”

Chanyeol looks back at Jiyeon. “Leave them as they are.”

In the middle of the night, he realizes that being alone with Jongin’s things make him feel lonelier than being without.

 

 

 

 

 

He doesn't speak to Chanyeol for 8 days. On the 9th, he sends Chanyeol a picture of a test. 100 points, which is surely enough to overthrow the bad grade from before.

Chanyeol sends him a new jacket, a leather one with tiny flower embroideries on the back, for summer nights.

Proud of you, he writes on the note. 

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday and Friday, Chanyeol couldn’t get a hold of him, didn’t find him at the curb. But on Saturday, or rather, Sunday morning, he got a text at 1 in the morning.

come

Chanyeol is awake, browsing through Netflix for a light-hearted show after he watched a whole documentary about a murder. He’s trying to ease himself off sleeping pills and closing his eyes to the imagery of severed limbs isn't going to help. 

Or maybe Chanyeol waited for a sign from him and deliberately put on something that would keep him up. Mayhap. 

When he pulls in, there he is by the curb, bundled in his new jacket.

“You really came!” Jongin shouts the moment he climbs in. He reeks. He continuously reeks of alcohol, skin, smoke, and that sulphuric scent only nocturne debauchery has. But this miasma is different—intense and vinegary.

“And you’re not sober.”

“Nope. Definitely not. I can’t believe you came,” he repeats, putting his hands close to the car vents and grunting with displeasure. He dials the heat up. He knows his way around this car. Not so much the others as he’s been in this one the most.

“I wasn’t up to anything,” Chanyeol says. It’s bogus to his own ears. “Are you feeling sick?”

Jongin can’t seem to find his place. He keeps twisting and groaning. “No, I don’t think so. I didn’t drink that much.” Then he blurts. “I kissed someone.”

Chanyeol’s hand twitches on the wheel. He glances over at the red light. Chrome lashes and frothing oceans. He’s in the midst of it, asea pitch-black confusion. “Someone?”

“I don’t know who. Some guy…some guy. He got his hands under my shirt, got his tongue in my mouth, then he was gone.”

Fifteen seconds left. “Damn.”

“Yeah, he got me horny for nothing.” 

It burns. “What a jerk,” Chanyeol says. 

“Exactly!” Jongin’s laugh is drunk as well, looping off-tape. He keeps groaning for the rest of the ride, beating his nape and shoulders with his fists as his spine cracks. 

Chanyeol pulls up in front of the dorm. Save for two, all lights are off in the building.  

“Ajeossi,” Jongin calls, thorny into the sky. “Are you going to fall for me?”

Or maybe he’s not that drunk. “Can I?”

“Can you?”

Jongin rolls away from him, off the seat, off the car, off the following week.

 

 

 

 

 

That boy from that night. The one who kissed him. He’s courting Jongin. He comes up in conversation every weekend after they meet. It’s already the third one. 3 days of seeing each other per weekend. 

For some reason, Jongin can’t shut up about him. 

“He wanted to do it earlier, but didn’t know if swing that way.”

“Do you?”

That would be a turn of events. When he hurts Chanyeol the most, he entertains that thought. He knows about his two experiences that didn’t go that well. Confusion can be there, and Chanyeol is just a provider Jongin could never be attracted to. 

He wouldn’t mind. In theory, he wouldn’t mind.

“Then go out with him.”

“As if I have time for that.”

“So, it’s only a time problem.”

The road ahead is empty – they’re on the highway. Jongin wanted a little detour to clear his head. Chanyeol always sleeps well after a long drive. At night, it’s even more exhausting, which is what he needs. 

“Are you jealous?” Jongin asks. 

Chanyeol closes his eyes, and imagines, imagines everything he shouldn't imagine. He nearly doesn’t see the needle of the odometer anymore. “Like mad.”

Jongin’s exhale is shaky.  

 

 

 

 

 

Another three weekends of that charade, Chanyeol can’t take it anymore. He expresses the frustration this boy brings out in him so often. He starts things and leaves them dry. 

Jongin is at his place. Just out of the shower, towel around his neck. He has a shift at the bar tomorrow as well, and he will be there. “Maybe it’ll finally be the day,” he says absently. 

It’s not like this is all Jongin talks about. In fact, he’s such a small percentage of his rants, he doesn’t even make an appearance if it’s not the weekend. 

It’s Chanyeol who fixates on it. He suspects Jongin does it wilfully, because he’s been less and less capable of controlling his reaction to it. Last week, he outright shut Jongin down. But what would be the motive of it? Chanyeol can’t fathom. 

Something about that sentence is the last straw. 

“If you’re so horny,” Chanyeol snaps, cobwebby in his broken throat.

He drops to his knees. Finally, he’s surrendering. Deboned of patience, he wilts into a heap before Jongin. He leans in until it’s clear what he’s doing there. Until Jongin’s wide eyes turn from baffled to comprehending.

“Ajeossi, no.”

Chanyeol stops. He fixates on Jongin’s crotch, where all this horny he can’t stop talking about is located. Behind pants and underwear and frustration. And something a little musty, erring vicious.

It’s beautiful. Of course. There’s not a single arch. Not a single eminence. Not a single concavity. Not a single texture to him that isn’t beautiful. Chanyeol is continuously, relentlessly, harrowingly heady with it.

“Then I don’t know what else to do for you,” he says. His voice is still lost, orphan of sound. “It seems to be bothering you so much, and I don’t know how to—"

Jongin takes a step back. The tiniest step. Barely a step.

He might as well have kneed Chanyeol in the face. His jaw aches.

“You don’t have—I didn’t mean it like—” The other foot joins the step. His toes press to the floor a couple of times. “Ajeossi, no.”

It’s not a harsh no, but while plumose in intonation, it’s resolute. It’s not a no that he doesn’t want it. It’s a no for why Chanyeol would do it.

At this point, is he surprised that Chanyeol would be a fuckhole for him? Chanyeol lets out a lone chuckle. “Jongin, you know I would help you with anything.” Then, louder as he looks up at Jongin towering above him, “Anything.”

He is surprised. He truly is surprised, unadulterated astonishment crisp on his face. All acute features, forehead tight.

“I don’t need help with…that.”

Chanyeol swallows, and it pours tar back into his lungs. “You sounded like you did.”

Jongin has nothing more to say, lips sealed.

Chanyeol gets up and meanders to the kitchen island to grab his phone. It’s neither ringing, nor buzzing. But it lights up, over and over with notifications. He opens them, reads through.

“You really would’ve just—” Jongin cuts himself off. He’s sitting in front of his textbook, glasses low on his nose.

They meet eyes, so much spanning between them. Chanyeol turns to his phone. He’s not sure if Jongin catches his nod.

 

 

 

 

 

The boy only lasts for a month. He was only staying with some relatives for a while, but he’s from the south and scored a job in his hometown. Chanyeol waits. Tense, every night, for Jongin to keep mentioning the courtship. To go madder and madder.

“He’s gone,” Jongin says, nose out the window, looking for the warm breeze.

The stress in him snaps, and he barely manages to shut out his sigh. “Are you sad?”

He doesn’t think for long. “Nah.” He turns away slightly from the window as the car picks up speed. “Are you happy?”

Unbelievably so. Frighteningly so. “I’d crack open a champagne.”

Jongin scoffs, but laughingly, and mixed with the billowing winds, it’s a magnificent sound. “Share it with me.”

 

 

 

 

 

Not for a second has Chanyeol thought that he made a mistake. But it turns out not to be like that when he hears knocks on the door. Ugly ones—fists and thuds reverberate.

Once he opens, there is Jongin, completely pissed. A downpour of hisses and serration.

“Who the fuck is she?” He asks.

Chanyeol is taken aback. His fingers clench around the handle of his mug of tea. He didn’t even get to put it down. That’s how rushed he was to get to the door.

“A driver.”

He was afraid tonight, like many other nights, he wouldn’t make it to pick up Jongin. He has sleep problems, and on the nights he manages to fall asleep early enough, he can’t wake up again. And even if he does, he’s never alert enough to drive safely.

He’s missed a few nights indeed, and he would rather have that covered than worry. Minho is already busy enough just with him, so he got one just for Jongin alongside a less flashy car. For there’s apparently been chatter about what rich motherfucker is flocking around me.

“Her name is Yeonha,” Chanyeol continues.

“Yes, I know. She introduced herself. She also waited for me there for two hours.”

“You stayed overtime.”

“Helped the guys do inventory.”

All of this envenomed, through teeth, through the pyre of his mouth. It seems to pause, the characteristic softness returning to his face for a second. Before it’s gone, and it’s back to an uproar.

“Why did you get me that? What do you want?” He steps in, and Chanyeol steps back. And back. And back. “Just what do you want?”

From here on, there’s no time to think. 

“Do you just pity me?” Jongin pushes. “I would pity myself too. Are you looking to get your good Samaritan quota? Make you feel good about yourself that you’re helping some broke kid? But there are others, much more pitiful than me.”

“I donate anonymously to over fifty charities every month.”

“Do you want sex? Are you looking to buy sex from me? Wanna make me feel so indebted to you that I’ll turn into your whore?”

Chanyeol can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Have I ever come onto you? Have I ever touched you?”  

“Then why!?”

Chanyeol’s thighs hit the edge of the couch. He doesn’t sit. Jongin cages him in. He’s rabid. 

“Why do you think?”

“This?” he asks, cruel, endlessly cruel, joining two hands on Chanyeol’s cheeks and breaching close. 

How does he still find new heights to hurt him? 

"No. Not this.”

“Then what?”

“I’m not toying with you, but you are toying with me right now. The shallowness you assume of this is the farthest thing from what I want.”

He’s tired. He’s tired of being thought of this way. Maybe it’ll just never be. 

Jongin’s breathing evens out. His hands drop from Chanyeol’s face. “What is it?” 

“I like you.”

It’s so easy to say it. It’s synonymous with his existence by now. 

“Is that all?

“Yes.”

“It can’t be all.”

“Why?”

He seems to want to talk, because there’s so much, so much written in his eyes, in the ripple of his lip, in the bobbing of his throat, as if he would speak, but it’s hard to articulate.

Chanyeol wants to know though. He wants to know why, after all this damn time, Jongin thinks of himself that way. They’ve had this conversation in slightly different versions a million times.

Jongin steps back. “Don’t fire her, she’s excited about the job. Give her to someone else.”

Chanyeol doesn’t sleep that night. He stays on the couch, movies auto-playing one after the other on TV, and he wonders if this was the rejection he expected all along.

 

 

 

 

 

There are no apologies. Instead, there is Jongin with two hamburgers in tinfoil. One for Chanyeol, and the other for him to stick his face into the moment he climbed into the car. With spicy mayo on his fingers, he says, “You could have anyone you want.”

Chanyeol counts the blocks to Jongin’s dorm.

“Clearly, I don’t.”

He’s left to clean the mayo smudge on the side of the door.

 

 

 

 

Part three

 

 

 

 

 

Some days, Chanyeol comes home to find Jongin there.

Some mornings, he wakes up to Jongin padding out of the guestroom.

Some nights, they’re both at the kitchen island—Chanyeol on call with Junmyeon for things left unfinished, or just to hear Kihyeon yell something that sounds suspiciously like a curse. Having chamomile tea because his physician advised him to give himself a ‘trigger’ for bedtime.

Sometimes it’s cooking, because although Jiyeon always leaves him the best dishes, it’s still something he likes doing himself. In between scribbles, he asks Jongin to taste for seasoning since he’s tasted it too many times himself to be able to tell what it’s missing.

Some days, it’s going so well.

Because above all else, what charmed Chanyeol the most is the companionship. He’s never found a space, or a time that was better with the presence of someone, no matter what he was doing. Chanyeol is independent enough. But Chanyeol is now unsettled to live without the screech of a highlighter on paper.

Other days, Jongin is angry. Jongin insults him. Jongin ignores him. Jongin looks him straight in the eye and hurts him.

And other days, Jongin is supremely sincere. His dreams, his wishes, his frustrations, his delights—all laid out as he snatches Chanyeol’s cup of chamomile tea. “I want to buy them a house. My father can’t work anymore. The physiotherapy might never be enough, and the pension is barely enough. My sister can’t help because of her kids. Don’t say you’ll help. I don’t want help. I fear if I get help, I won’t be as driven to work hard. This is motivation for me.”

Then other days, Jongin seems to…want him there. He’s coming over to Chanyeol’s place because it’s close to his university, and not that far from either of his workplaces. Because it’s quiet. Because he can study undisturbed. Because Chanyeol buys him fried chicken.

But sometimes, outside technicalities or cold reasons, Jongin sits close to him. Closes his textbook and noses into the stew Chanyeol is reheating. He sniffs an assortment of bath bombs with Chanyeol, quarrelling with him over the top five ones, and it gets so heated over number three that Chanyeol just throws it in the sink then and there. 

Sometimes he looks at Chanyeol. He lingers on the couch where the credits are rolling after they watch some bullshit on TV. 

He peers at his phone to see the time, and curses, “fuck, the subway closed,” with incrementally declining amounts of regret. Until he doesn’t say it anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, it’s nine at night, and as Chanyeol steps into his home and sees the kitchen lamp on, he wonders what kind of Jongin he will get today.

He’s in pyjamas. One of the first pairs Chanyeol ever sent to his dorm when he didn’t quite know him yet. Didn’t know his style, but he found out silk—silk is his favourite, the luscious colours and the weightless cream on his skin. He said he could never wear those at his dorm given how cold it was. He had to bundle up, the next day hair flattened out from the beanie.

It’s hot enough out now, but he didn’t know he’d even wear them. His hair is still damp and pulled slightly behind his ears.

Jongin is just pouring himself a glass of seltzer. He pulls up another glass when he sees Chanyeol approaching. He comes to a standstill before him.

Jongin looks like everything Chanyeol could wish to come home to.

“Hey,” Jongin mouths slowly. He pushes the other glass close to Chanyeol. The cobalt of the silk shouldn’t go with his skin tone. Shouldn’t bring out the lively pinks of his lips and cheeks. Shouldn’t glamorize him beyond Chanyeol’s understanding.

“Can I—” He starts, still keeping distance. “Can I hug you?”

 Jongin is taken aback. There’s no hissing, though. “Did you fuck up something?”

Chanyeol lost two deals because Sehun didn’t manage to gather his paperwork in time. Yura fought with her husband so bad she nearly called up their lawyers. A keeper had an accident at work. He needs hospitalization, and might sue for improper work conditions—not that there are improper work conditions, but if one sees an opportunity to milk them, they aren’t going to pass it up. Then, a protest broke out, other keepers rising with the same voice, and it got noisy enough that the press had to show up at the headquarters.

“No.”

“Are you tired?”

He hasn’t slept in twenty-five hours. He hasn’t eaten in fifteen.

“No.”

“Then what?”

“I just saw you standing there.” Despite it all, it’s the naked truth.

“Just a hug?

“Yeah.”

Jongin gazes below Chanyeol’s neck, taking in his torso. The site where the hug will take place. He deems it harmless. “Okay.”

Chanyeol doesn’t hesitate – he wants this. The movement is cautious, restrained, as he brings his arms up, and around Jongin. Jongin stands. Still. They drape over Jongin’s shoulders, appended. His hand is curled, so only his fingertips touch Jongin’s shirt, not his entire palm.

Jongin lets out a smothered exhale. Chanyeol feels it against his chest. Then he steps in, properly, his own hands coming to sit on Chanyeol’s waist. 

It’s awkward. So awkward. But there’s no recoiling. Only the aim to perfect it. 

Chanyeol locks his elbows, brings him just a little closer, so they’re chest to chest. Jongin comes. No resistance. 

It’s him who puts his head on Chanyeol’s shoulder. He’s that increment shorter that has his chin just level with it, and it fits as if it was meant to be there. 

For a moment that started out with such high tension, it readily transcends into tranquillity. 

He’s downy, weightless, a presence that is so light, Chanyeol’s skin struggles to feel it. The meaning of it is immense. It’s liberation. Heartsease.

Chanyeol sighs, and he feels Jongin’s nose rubbing in the crook of his neck. He’s boneless at the whim of Jongin’s fingers, who have now lowered to his hips. 

“Between us, I really am the beggar,” Chanyeol says. This is either the worst moment or the best to say it.

It’s an allusion to that day when Jongin stormed in furious and asked the vilest things. Chanyeol didn’t forget. And won’t. 

Jongin’s hold falters. He doesn’t let go. “Why are you letting me speak like this to you? I can see that it hurts you, yet you never shut me down.”

Chanyeol leans back into him. Like this, they support each other. “Why are you speaking like this to me if you know it hurts me?” His hair smells of the shampoo in the giftset got him after his finals. 

“I don’t know how to speak otherwise.” Sigh. “To you.”

“Maybe you can be more honest with me. I think, at times, you’re insincere.”

“Like at what times?”

“The times that aren’t like this.”

Jongin flinches as if he got burned. “Hug over,” he says, stepping out.

Chanyeol expected to miss the contact immediately, but he missed it before it was even broken. 

 

 

 

 

 

“Chanyeol,” Jongin says with a lucidity belonging to countless nights worth of thought, “I’ll never feel like your equal.”

The ultra-quiet of the midnight roars between them. Jongin’s eyes are low, where they shouldn’t be, where it zaps Chanyeol: his lips.

He should look elsewhere. Look at his eyes, pupils bloated with affection. Look at his limbs as he’s a puppet on Jongin’s cords. Look at his chest where the tossing of his heart is breaking his ribs.

“Jongin,” Chanyeol whispers. Finally, the S sticker on the door of the gosiwon disappeared. “How do I look at you?”

The dome light is on, a feeble yellow, barely seeing them. Though details are lost, the big picture is there. All the thick strokes. All the essences.

Adulation stands front and centre, the showpiece - Chanyeol has long lost the ability to contain it. It reigns free and mighty.

Jongin is held captive within their gaze, fettered by prehension. He sees. Surely, he sees.

His exhale cuts the chain. “Okay.”

It’s left at that.

 

 

 

 

 

He has this oscillation in his eyes. From spite to hearth. In the past, it was mostly a middle ground, looking a second away from designedly vomiting on Chanyeol, but sparing a smile here and there. Three teeth and a dimple.

Now, it goes between extremes. The hatred so incisive that it tears, but when it mellows, candlelight and toffee, he delays on Chanyeol. Pushes his textbook to the side, and, head in hand, asks him about his day just so he can shit on the board directors on Chanyeol’s behalf. Chanyeol laughs because Jongin is nothing if not spectacular with insults.

Then, the odd in-betweens when Jongin stops whatever that he is doing – it’s never just zoning out; Jongin, intentionally, seeks out his face. And looks at his lips.

Jongin is looking at his lips. Looking at his lips. Looking at his lips while his own are smeared with acrimony.

Chanyeol pretends not to see it, and when he doesn’t, when he just holds Jongin’s gaze, he never looks away. Not as if caught, not as if struck, but as if angry. As if frustrated—a curse and a head shake, his pen ripping through paper.

 

 

 

 

 

It finally, finally happens after they break into the six pack of beer Sehun left at his place. It was intended for a baseball tournament, but it didn’t happen anymore because he forgot his mom arranged another blind date that night. The unusual thing is that the blind date went well. Ish. He’s on another date with her tonight. It’ll be the decisive one. 

It’s Jongin, though, who hates beer, that takes the pack out. He keeps taking swigs off the bottle, face puckering each time. “I don’t know what came over me, don’t ask,” he says, handing Chanyeol a bottle.

Chanyeol was supposed to work tonight. He’s too weak for Jongin - he could never refuse. 

This is how they end up on the couch, tipsy, as they scroll through Netflix, and Jongin is making a list of things to watch for the upcoming break. Then it skips from topic to topic, errant. Sehun’s date – I wanna meet Sehun so bad, he seems so much cooler than you. The building is almost all up – You should come onsite, it’s pretty cool. Jongin got a taste for folding things ever since he made those dumplings with Jiyeon - he shows Chanyeol a teeny, tiny boat, no wider than a fingernail, that now lives in his pocket rent-free. How he noticed that out of all the clothing Chanyeol got him, he always liked the Gucci ones the most – which is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to me, I’m not supposed to like that stuff. Chanyeol can only beam proudly. 

It goes to the weather. Projects Chanyeol has lined up. Toben pics. Jongin’s latest favourite songs – it’s all R&B.

Beers go down until they only have one left each. Chanyeol cracks them open, and they clink the bottles. 

“I see you as my equal,” he says. It changes the atmosphere at once. 

Jongin takes an extra-long swig. “Sure.” Moiré darks in his eyes, shivering belief. “Is this why you treat me like I have nothing?”

“Not nothing, just—” His fingers keep looking for un-burnt kernels in the bowl. Microwaving popcorn is harder than it seems. “ It’s that I want you to have nice things. I want you to be well. Do well.” 

Jongin is silent. Rapt, but edged with impassivity. 

“It pains me when you don’t have the best of something. If I can give, I want to give it all.”

“Can you really say there’s no pity to it?”

“It’s not because I feel bad for you, it’s because I—” he bites his tongue, cusping. “I feel for you.” There’s been countless confessions. This only adds to it. “I can’t even imagine not having your wellbeing and your comfort as my main concern.” 

“Could’ve sworn I’m a joke to you.”

“Jongin.” This is that call-out that he asked about. Being stopped when he hurts Chanyeol. That hurt. “I think every day of what I can give you. You deserve more.”

“My room is already full of things, no thanks.” 

“Not only objects now.” He remembers that day way back then when he took Jongin for seafood in Ansan. That was nice. They should travel again, not only for food. “Is there anything that you want to do?”

Chanyeol expects him to resist it. Another scoff. An eye-roll. Something. Just not Jongin beginning to spill it all. The beer did a number on him. “A musical? I’ve only watched movie musicals, and I really wasn’t a fan, but I heard they’re something else entirely in a theatre with real singers.” 

“They are. They’re special.” Jongdae is also a fan, he could recommend him something. 

“And bungee jumping. Heard it’s the closest thing to a near-death experience.” Chanyeol doesn’t get to comment on this one as Jongin goes on. “And a massage. The closest thing I’ve got to it was the dude scrubbing me down at the jjimjilbang.” 

“Seeing the little bits of skin is pretty satisfying.” He likes the culture of those places. Junmyeon introduced him to it. He should go again soon. With Jongin, maybe. 

“It’s gross.”

“Satisfyingly gross.”

Jongin makes a face uglier than after his beer sips. 

“And…and...I don’t know. Other things. I’ll think about them more once I’m free.” His bottle is halfway finished. His hands are in the popcorn bowl along with Chanyeol’s. “I think I want to do so many things, and I keep pretending I didn’t have the chance. Or the time. But it’s not only that.” 

He comes under the bulb. A spark on the tip of his nose. “And you…” He’s drunk, swaying, gloss and roses. “I would’ve jumped your bones, you know. If only…if only—”

Chanyeol anticipated the breach of this subject for so, so long, that when Jongin throws the key, he jumps it.

“If only what?” Chanyeol wants to know. “If only I wasn’t a rich old fart?”

“Ajeossi,” Jongin says, shaking his head. His hair bristles, flows with his dissent. “No. No. No. You got it wrong.”

Chanyeol puts his bottle down. He can’t tell if it’s empty or not. “It’s what you tell me all the time. That, and that I’m creepy. That I’ll assault you.”

And it hurt. Every single time even if he ignored it. It hurt like a bitch.

Jongin keeps shaking his head. “It doesn't matter how old you are. I don’t care how rich you are.”

Jongin takes his bottle. Turns out there was some left. He melts off the couch, a spineless clump on the carpet. “You were supposed to be an old fart of an asshole. A cocky fuck of a predator. Lure poor me in with fried chicken, then scout me for my organs.”

Chanyeol leans on the edge of the coffee table. “So you do care about how old and rich I am.”

“Well, yes, but because…” Disgruntlement, all directed at Chanyeol. His eyes are rusty, a bagginess to his mien. He seeks support on the seat of the couch. His lips move, pull aside. Then the other, pursing. “I’m too young. I feel too young. Not a kid, but I know if I’m not careful, you could make anything of me.”

Chanyeol doesn’t speak because he has yet to understand.

“I’m stupid,” Jongin blurts, slushy. “I’m really fucking stupid.” He hugs a pillow close, fuzzy coral against his cheek. “I have friends, or no—my sisters’ friends. They would come over sometimes. A whole living-room of women who were then my age now, and they would talk about the men in their lives. Sometimes, it was older men.”

Jongin’s face is blank, lest he belongs solely to the memory, no longer to the present. “Overlook the whole age thing, and say it doesn’t matter if there’s compatibility. Yeah, okay.” He shakes his head, brings the pillow in closer. “But then they turn out controlling. They turn out too jealous. Suddenly, you can’t wear that out because I don’t like it. Suddenly, you need to ‘grow up’ about whatever you’re feeling ‘cause it’s dumb. What I say is the law. You can’t meet certain friends. You can’t—I forget. Things like that. To me, at that time, it was amusing. But now…”

He’s back to the present. “Why were they even looking at women that much younger? Because they’re stupid, no? Because they’re gullible. Because a woman their age wouldn’t have their bullshit.” His foot reaches over, toe into Chanyeol’s thigh. “Isn’t that so, ajeossi?” It pokes. “Isn’t that why I’m here? Because I’m so, so stupid, and so easy to take advantage of?”

He will never stop hurting Chanyeol, will he. “What… What advantage have I taken of you?”

There is a silence—one that quivers within the charge of the air. There are the fumes of alcohol, and the spirits of secrecy – ghosts frolicking between them. Chanyeol wipes them away with his hand, and gets up to his knees, shimmying on the carpet until he can look at Jongin. “Am I being controlling with you? You have to tell me, if I am. I’ll listen. I promise I’ll listen. Because I don’t mean it. I don’t mean to undermine you in any way.”

He wants to hold his face while saying this, to make sure each word is delivered properly. To make sure Jongin hears crystal clear, not a word misconstrued.

Jongin blinks when it’s due. Again. And again. And again. There is not more of a reaction than this.

“Why are you single at 35? Why haven’t you had anyone?”

Chanyeol, on his knees before Jongin, avows. “I never liked anyone.”

“No fucking way.”

“Right?” A smile does its best to pull at his lip. “I’m stupid, too. More than you. I thought at first that I wasn’t interested because of school, and then, because I had to work in the company to build all of this.”

Chanyeol has nothing extraordinary to gesture to. “This” can only be the couch Jongin is against. The pillow he’s holding. The gold light he’s under. “It wasn’t easy.” Jongin doesn’t snort at that. “It took so much time, and so much effort that I thought it was all because of that. The things I went after were so grand that wanting something as measly as a relationship just couldn’t compare.”

Chanyeol wanted oil rigs. Chanyeol wanted to build a hospital. He wanted to take over an airline. He wanted to open a restaurant franchise. He wanted to get research into nuclear energy. Chanyeol was thinking about things like that, not of heart quakes and amour. Not of kisses and devotion. Not of forevers inlaid in the syrups of cherishment. None of that was desirable to Chanyeol. Not when there were much bigger things to want.

“It made sense until even when work let up, and I had so much more time on my hands. Still, no one caught my eye. No one made me want anything.”

Jongin’s eyes are lidded, sparks asleep, but it’s obvious his attention is rapt.

“At most, I wanted sex. Maybe that could lead to something. But it didn’t. It just wasn’t bad, so I wanted it the same way I’d like a piece of cake once in a while.”

“Am I that cake?”

“No,” Chanyeol says. “You’re way more than that. I really never wanted—”

“Until me.”

“Until you.”

“Ajeossi,” he calls out, “how the fuck? Just how in the fuck?” They’re curses of cotton, lacking fire. Lacking teeth.

Chanyeol’s ankles hurt, crushed under his weight.

“I am stupid as I said, but I’m not stupid enough to believe this shit.”

Chanyeol was never deceitful with Jongin for him to think so. “Why?”

“There’s gotta’ be something else. It’s cute when kids like me are new to it. But when they’re like you, gotta’ wonder if there’s something wrong. I can’t just believe that there’s something that special about me that I got the attention of a man who never liked anyone.”

He puts the pillow down, resting his elbow on it. “Where am I so special, huh? I’m not even anyone right now. I’m so lost. I don’t even have a personality outside of underlining and throwing tantrums over tests. And you’re telling me I am the one to crack you?

Chanyeol shakes his head, ransacking. “You’re not seeing what I’m seeing.”

“And that is?”

Lord, if words would ever be enough. “Everything.”

“That’s not an answer. You think you can just bullshit your way with this until I’m yours? Maybe you are. Maybe you’re winning because here I am.”

He’s angry now. Ferine in conduct, words hitting like lashes. “Why am I here? I have homework. I have a project—group project to finish. Minji I swear to fuck if you don’t get your shit together and send in your part — and to write a cover letter for this place that started taking in interns. And I should try to get another shift at the bar because I have new textbooks to buy, and yet!” He shouts. “Yet, I’m here on your couch wearing socks worth a kidney.”

He climbs back on it, taking the pillow. He sits on the edge. “Why am I here? Ajeossi,” he drawls, long till the hells, “why am I here?”

Chanyeol, still on his knees, worms closer to him. He opens his mouth to speak—to answer, but nothing comes.

“Why… Why don’t I wanna’ go home?”

“Jongin,” Chanyeol gasps. His heart is breaking. For what reasons, he doesn’t know. He can’t pick it apart now, but part of it is held in joy.

Jongin looks him dead in the eye. “I don’t want to go home.”

Chanyeol looks back. “I don’t want you to go home.”

This is home.

Jongin exhales, his anger rekindled. “See? I’ve been the meanest I could be to you. I have to hate you. I have to despise the living daylights out of you. Not pace around in front of your apartment building trying to time it to when you get home so I don’t have to wait around for you too much.”

Chanyeol’s back caves. “That’s… That’s why you’ve been mean? How much of that was sincere? Do you really think I’m trying to take advantage of you?”

“I did,” Jongin looks down. “At first.”

Chanyeol inches even closer. Just until personal space is ruptured. This conversation needs the privacy of their frankness. “When did it stop?”

“I don’t remember. Probably when you texted me back that time.”

“When—”

“Yes, when I asked you to fuck me because these damn satellites work all the time but decided to fail then.”

That was already a fond memory but it became even fonder.

“That was quite long ago. And you hated that I offered to help you.”

“I would’ve sucked anyone’s dick right then and there just to get me in a damn internship. I would’ve done anything.”

But why did he fight it so hard. Why did he refuse it so vehemently. Why— 

“Is that also when you stopped hating me?”

“No,” he says. “Even now I’m trying to hate you. It was so easy back then.”

“And now?”

“Now…”

His fingers reach out – they don’t have to reach far, Chanyeol isn’t far – blind until they find skin. Then, they sink, accusatory, in the summit of Chanyeol’s cheek. It’s both aggressive and plumose, and Chanyeol memorizes. Memorizes. Memorizes, timeless to remember.

“Fuck you,” he spits out.  

Chanyeol heard this one plenty before. As it went along, it made him smile more and more. Jongin pokes his cheek harder, frown on his brows, as if to deflate it. “Fuck you, you’re totally my type. Like spot fucking on. It’s like you jumped outta’ my dreams. You’re perfect.”

The poke, slowly, morphs into a caress. Chanyeol leans into it, helpless. Enslaved. The touch so soft. So warm. So tender. “What the fuck, ajeossi? Are you sure you’re real?”

His thumb travels to his brow bone, to the incline of his nose, contours the bridge, and hesitates—hesitates as Jongin’s gaze clears out. Then, he touches Chanyeol’s lips. Just right in the middle, his nail against the crimp of his cupid’s bow. Left to right, and right to left, it dandles. Still tender until Jongin’s own lip goes behind his teeth, bitten. 

From a caress, the touch turns into a push, into rejection, until Chanyeol can’t resist the force anymore, and leans back, out and away from Jongin’s personal space. His hand falls, caught by the pillow, and dissolving into the fuzz.

“After those three months you were gone from winter vacation, why did you speak to me again?”

Jongin chuckles, bitter as the beer he despises. “I should've never returned, right? I think so, too. If only you weren't on my mind whenever I didn't have to ring up that Goddamn cash register. And when I came back, if you weren’t still there at that stupid café.”

“I went every day”.

“No. Fuck, don’t tell me that!” Jongin bursts. “I don’t know why I talked to you again. Why I let myself get to know you.”

“What did you find out?”

His chin drops into his chest. His head lolls to the side. “That there’s so much to want in you,” he admits. “Why are you so kind? Why are you so soft?” He closes his eyes. “Don’t be like this. I don’t like it.”

The next thing he hears is the door of Jongin’s room falling shut. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol places two frappes on the table—one of them towering with whipped cream. Jongin despises that shit, but Chanyeol luxuriates in aerated hydrogenated vegetable fat.

“Ew, you’re on a date,” Sehun says when Chanyeol mentions the frappes. His disgust rings loud and clear through the receiver, not a spittle lost.

“No,” Chanyeol counters blankly. “No.”

“I know you don’t call them that because of semantics or whatever, but all the things you’ve been doing have been date-y as fuck.”

He’s being crass and pushy again, but Chanyeol knows Sehun is his biggest cheerleader about this. He set up a whole trip to the Bahamas for them in case this doesn’t turn out well and Chanyeol will have to nurse a smashed, pulverized, shredded heart. Nothing cures that like palm trees and an ocean of rum on rocks. It's on standby. 

“Well, yes, but it also has to be considered a date by both parties to be a date.”

“You think he…doesn’t?”

“Don’t make me think about it, Lord,” Chanyeol groans, closing his eyes. 

What he wants to do is dive into his mound of whip cream, not look back on all the meetings Jongin initiated that verged on…pursuit. He takes his long teaspoon and nips off the tip of it. He was waiting for Jongin, who should arrive in a few. Right after he puts it in his mouth, he goes to smoothen out the mount as to seem like he didn’t touch it.

Starting on it before Jongin is here is rude.

“I don’t really care what it is,” Chanyeol says, pulling the phone closer to his ear. “I just like him. I just want to be with him in some way. In any way. It’s only difficult because I’m older, and richer.”

“Richer is an understatement,” Sehun snickers.

“I just wanna’ love him.”

At last, the feeling is self-same. There is no background. No setting. No details to it. Chanyeol likes Jongin. A lot. And maybe Jongin can like him, too.

“So, you’re saying if it wasn’t for those two, he’d be all over you?”

Chanyeol fights to keep his smile at bay, but when it breaks, it erupts straight into laughter. “He kinda’ said that.”

“Oh, my God!” Sehun yells, so loud the professional chatter around him stills for a second. Trust Sehun to be all for gossip in the middle of office hours. “Oh, my Gooood.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” Chanyeol says, and despite it coming through rambunctious laughter, it’s soft. Downy.

“Oh, my—” Sehun begins yelling again when Chanyeol cuts him off.

“He’s here. Shut up.” He immediately hangs up as he sees Jongin just making his way through the entrance. It’s too hot now to sit outside on the terrace, but they might move there as the sun sinks.

Only when he’s fully in Chanyeol’s eyesight does he notice what he’s wearing.

It’s a new tee, and in the middle of his chest is spelt in huge letters, “Eat the rich,” complete with tacky acrylic exclamation points, stars, and coins.

Chanyeol when he sees, and how obvious it is intended for him to see it, bursts into laughter. The bad kind. The one where he loses himself into it and has to hit something. It ends up being the chair next to him, banging his fingers on the backrest so hard his finger bruise.

Jongin sits, takes Chanyeol’s frappe, and buries his mouth into the cream. He emerges with white lips that are desperately trying not to grin back.

When Chanyeol calms, though, still in tremendous cheek pain, he gazes back at Jongin's shirt.

“Are you flirting with me, Mr. Kim?”

Jongin slurps loudly from the frappe, all air bubbles as he sucks the straw out of the glass. “Wouldn’t you like that.”

Chanyeol, another time, would’ve been silent. Would’ve dodged when Jongin is needling him. “Very much.”

When the apples of his cheeks splash rouge, a sputter in his throat of, “Shut the fuck up,” Chanyeol wonders if this could, would, should be a date.

                                                  

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol pads into the kitchen, vial of eyedrops in hand as he puts some in both his eyes, dripping down his face, then his chest. He’s startled when he finds someone there. “When did you—” he starts, but doesn’t finish.

He’s been in his bedroom since early, which is pretty far from the entryway. Of course, he didn’t hear Jongin come in.

“Um, a while ago, I guess,” Jongin says. He looks haggard, shrivelled eyes in blue sockets. Highlighter in his hand, crouching over his textbook. He’s washed, changed, a pencil behind his ear. Neon pink sticky notes.

Chanyeol’s estimation of time relies solely on the amount of turns he took in bed, the number well into eternity. The air zings with a silence that only comes to life when everyone is dead to the world. “It’s,” Chanyeol glances towards the microwave clock, “almost four in the morning.”

His voice comes out gruff and low, words scraping his tongue. He clears his throat.

“I accidentally skipped a chapter for my final tomorrow. I only realized after I got in bed.”

Chanyeol grimaces. “Shit.”

“Yeah.”

A moment passes, when Jongin glances over at Chanyeol. Who is not wearing a shirt. There’s not much to gawk at, Chanyeol is doing his best, but his body doesn’t work the same it did when he was twenty. He’s comfortable though, this kind of insecurity is so last decade for him.

He goes towards the cabinet next to the fridge. It’s where he keeps the meds, next to the water dispenser.

“What’s that?” Jongin asks.

“Sleeping pill.” He kept the supply low so he wouldn’t indulge. So he would really only use them for the worst nights. If he takes this one, there will be just one left.

“You can’t sleep?”

“The tea doesn’t always work.” He’s had two cups the past few nights, for maybe that will double the effect, but all it did was get him out of bed to pee.

“Oh.”

Chanyeol turns to his glass of water. He takes a few sips – room temperature water, not cold. “One unread chapter isn’t going to fail your exam, but losing sleep like this will.”

Jongin sighs. “I know, but it kept nagging me. Even if I don’t remember a thing, I have to know I tried.”

“What time is it at?”

“Ten. At least I can sleep in.”

“I’ll make sure it’s quiet.” Chanyeol plops the pill into his mouth and washes it down with half a glass of water. Hopefully, it’s not enough to wake him up to pee again.

“As if this place isn’t insulated like a bunker.”

“I could be the noisy one.”

“Aren’t you gonna sleep in as well?” He looks up at Chanyeol without lifting his face, and darkness pools under his eyes. Yet they’re cordial, only embers.

“First, I have to sleep at all.”

Jongin doesn’t look away and doesn’t say anything. Chanyeol washes his glass and puts it on the drying rack. It’ll be at least a half an hour until the pill kicks in. He could re-wash all the glasses in the cabinet at this time. He opens the door of it, considering doing just that when he hears Jongin closing his book and his pen clacking on the hardcover.

He turns around when the chair screeches back, and Jongin pads towards him. The sound of his footsteps is dull, blunt, socks on stone, and for some reason, it makes Chanyeol tense.

He stops an arm-length away from Chanyeol. Closer to the light source, he looks even more tired. The acne on his right cheek is flaring up again in septic hues of red. Chanyeol makes a mental note to have something sent in from the dermatologist.

“Do you want one too?” Chanyeol asks, head tipping towards the water dispenser.

Jongin stays still, but there’s both intent and hesitation in his body. Chanyeol doesn’t know how to read any of this. Maybe if he wasn’t so sleep deprived and bordering on a migraine, he could’ve, but as it is, he’s coming up blank.

“No.”

Jongin lifts his arms from his body. Just a little. And keeps them suspended, palms towards Chanyeol.

Chanyeol frowns, before he gets it. He gets it. “You just want to feel me up,” he says.

He gets to see Jongin stutter, see the wannabe ire that would consume him had he not been dead sleepy. Chanyeol just can’t believe he got to turn the tables on Jongin.

“It’s a limited time offer,” he says through his teeth.

“I’ll take it.”

Chanyeol, walks into it straight on. He’s been here before. He’s craved this. A hug is built of limbs, a torso, pressure, will. It’s all the little things that turn into the biggest comfort Chanyeol could feel. 

Jongin’s hands don’t touch. His elbows do, his forearms, where he is clothed. His fingers look for another part of Chanyeol to touch and they meet his hips, almost his ass, and he recoils from there too. 

Calibrated contact, polite skin. Chanyeol chuckles and pulls Jongin in a little closer. Lets him know that it’s okay. It’s okay. 

Jongin’s hands span on his back, over his shoulder blades. They’re hot, slightly damp. Makes it easy to memorize. 

Chanyeol has so many sighs to let out. But it’s all forgotten, all drowned into the incommensurable peace he finds in Jongin. This is how he knows. This is how he confirms that there is something in Jongin that’s invaluable to him.

“It’s so easy to be proud of you,” Chanyeol whispers.

“No, shut up,” Jongin groans. Or whines. It’s high-pitched, but nettled. It fogs right on Chanyeol’s pectoral. “Shut up.”

“But it’s true.”

“Shut up.” Jongin pokes a finger right between Chanyeol’s ribs. Instead of jumping out of the embrace, Chanyeol makes a point to cling onto him harder, fake yelp in his throat.

“No.”

Jongin sighs. It’s drawn out, robust with gayety. Chanyeol relates to it, sighing out himself. He would never let go. Jongin entrusted him with comfort, and he doesn’t want to part with that.

When Jongin sighs again, there’s a piquancy to it. “Why are you so big?” Jongin utters. “Why are you so warm?”

He rips away, pushing Chanyeol. His following sigh is close enough that it grates at Chanyeol’s collarbone. “Don’t be big. Don’t be warm.”

He watches Jongin gather his things off the table and put them in his bag for tomorrow.

Then he scurries off, not once looking back.

Chanyeol climbs into bed, and he falls asleep before he gets to recount Jongin’s touch on his skin.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Saturday, and for once, it’s his own. Sehun didn’t even insist he join him to some baseball game or whatever, and Chanyeol has a hunch it has something to do with Junmyeon’s new assistant, Minyeong, but he will not comment on it yet. Junmyeon isn’t amused. At all. He keeps all the amusement for when his son cries startled by his own farts. Chanyeol can confirm, it’s hilarious.

 “What’s so funny?” Jongin jumps in, snatching his phone from his hand. Chanyeol joins him to watch it again over his shoulder. It’s one of those videos that never stop cracking him up.

“Farts are peak comedy,” Jongin says, bringing out his own phone to scroll. “I have a video of my niece being startled too, wait.”

That was three years ago. He has to dig deep into his cloud folder for it.

Chanyeol gets to cooking in the meantime. The steak he ordered arrived this afternoon, express from Japan.  

He’s had wagyu in restaurants a few times, especially on the treat of a few people who wanted to impress him, and he was indeed impressed by it, but he couldn’t show it, because that’s not how politics work.

There was the chance he ruins this, but he’s seen it cooked in front of him, and it seems pretty straight forward. Cut it into strips that are as wide as the steak is thick, so it can be cooked uniformly on all four sides. Season it generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then sear on high heat for one minute per side. 

Jongin finds the video just when Chanyeol transfers the steak to the board. For sides, just pickles and fresh bread. Simple. 

Chanyeol ends up watching the video five times. It’s Jongin who laughs harder and harder. He loves his niece so much. Chanyeol is softened by how soft Jongin is.

“It’ll get cold." He has to attract his attention back to the food. There are four logs on the board, and he could’ve portioned it, but it’s nicer to have it in the middle of the table, between them. 

“Oh, right,” Jongin says, putting his phone away. His smile stays, though. And it gets even bigger once he eats the first piece. “Holy shit.”

Chanyeol chews his own, and holy shit, indeed. He immediately cuts another. 

“I think this is the first thing I’ve ever eaten that tastes like money.” 

“It tastes better than money.” Chanyeol has had dinners that were so outrageously expensive, they were made of numbers. This is just good. Very good. 

Jongin picks up his phone and snaps a few pictures. It looks better now, after they dug in. It looks like enjoyment. 

Chanyeol keeps chopping the log. He makes eight pieces. 

Suddenly, the smile slips off Jongin’s face. He locks his phone. “I wanted to show mom,” he says. He reaches for a pickle, sour as the mood. Then bread. “I wonder what she’d think.”

He talks to his mom pretty often. And sisters. And dad. In this order of frequency. Though he talks to his dead the least often, he talks the longest, usually passing an hour. He used to decline calls from him in Chanyeol's presence, now he doesn't even keep the volume down. Chanyeol doesn't listen in, but he hears

He lies a lot. When asked where he is: at the library, out, home, all said whilst at Chanyeol’s place. When she asked where he got that shirt from that she was in his insta post for his first day of work. When she asked if she should send him more money for textbooks.

It’s not like he doesn’t tell them about other friends. Munkyu gets mentioned a lot, as they’re asking about him - they went to high school together; he's like a son to them. 

It’s just Chanyeol who’s kept a secret.

“Would you ever tell her about me?”

Jongin cuts off a cube of meat – a small bite, so he can savour it for longer. “Would you tell yours about me?”

Something about this question gladdens Chanyeol, and it trills ruddy in his cheeks. “Mine aren’t to me what yours are to you,” he says. He can’t recall a single instance when he spoke to a family member in Jongin’s presence. He’s spoken about them, to Jiyeon, mostly. “But I would, if I had something to tell them.”

Jongin indulges in a few more bites. “There was an article two days ago that called you the most eligible bachelor in the country.”

“Even I don’t keep up with my press.” A few years ago, he’d want it on his desk in the morning, alongside his schedule, but he’s long past caring.

“I happened to see it, I didn’t look you up, okay,” he says, plopping a cornichon in his mouth. Crunchy, crunchy, crunchy. “I really have no idea what they’d think. My sisters would be suspicious of you.”

“As you were.”

Am,” Jongin corrects, cutting off another piece. Chanyeol promptly steals that one. He doesn’t remember this tasting so good off the hands of veteran chefs. Maybe it’s the company, the ambient. “But even if they don’t trust you, they trust me.” He smiles, helplessly fond. “They raised me well.”

“They did.” Chanyeol’s smile is equally fond. Very well. Chanyeol would kiss the hand of each and every family member that shaped him into who he is today.

Jongin scrunches his nose, and cuts another piece that he eats before Chanyeol gets to steal again. “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know.”

For a moment, Chanyeol considers keeping it to himself. “It means a lot to me that you’re even thinking about this.”

Jongin stills. His lips flatten, eyes downcast. It looks like discomfort, but Chanyeol isn’t sure it is.

He cuts off another piece that he pushes towards Chanyeol with his fork. That’s an answer. And a better one than he’d ever hope for. In exchange, Chanyeol rolls a cornichon towards his fork.

Suddenly, Jongin chortles, mouth full. “Yours would hate me, wouldn’t they? Your mom would slide over an envelope of money and order me to not see you ever again, or else.”

Chanyeol laughs as well. This isn’t a drama, but Chanyeol can’t deny it is very much a practice in his family. His cousin was denied marriage to the man she loved like this, and she ended up eloping, never to set foot in the country again. She’s doing well now, according to her social media posts and the letters they exchange on new year’s.

Jongin laughs harder when Chanyeol laughs harder. “Oh my god, I’m right.”

“How much should be in that envelope for you to not use me as a fried chicken coupon ever again?”

Millions – his family would spend millions to de-gay him. It could be the most powerful man in the world to stand next to him, and it still wouldn’t be as good as standing next to a woman of any status. Being gay and single is less culpable than being gay and having someone. They think homophobia is cute as long as it’s vested in diamonds and psalms about the glory and sanctity of a real family. Chanyeol has no patience for that shit.

Jongin hums, breaking off a corner of bread to dip in the juice on the board. “Hard to tell, I’m a wagyu beef kinda’ man now.”

Maybe it’s because Chanyeol is drunk on deliciousness and Jongin’s good mood, but to him that sounded a tad coy. “I’ll let her know.”

Jongin huffs, amused. Chanyeol can see how he bisected the puddle of juice on the board, leaving the other half for him. Chanyeol takes the invite. “I’d like to meet your sisters,” he professes.

“Oh, they’d be brutal. They have only one baby brother, they’re even keeping tabs on my classmates.”

“As they should be,” Chanyeol nods.

“Maybe I’ll tell them about you when I have something to tell.”

Chanyeol offers him the last piece.

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol is abroad for five days this time. Australia, where someone is proposing to build a complex in a place with few resources, and the plans are all about renewable energy and bringing life to lifelessness.

It’s fascinating, but it’s five days too long to be abroad.

Jongin has two weeks left of his internship, and two weeks of the semester.

He didn’t stop working at the bar, however, and the internship report, on top of finals, is a recipe for a Jongin that is so tired he’s hysterical.

He climbs into Chanyeol’s car, and the first thing he does is deliver a hard punch to Chanyeol’s shoulder. He yelps.

“Don’t send Minho-ssi for me.”

“Why?”

“Am I part of his job description?”

“His job description is to drive whenever and wherever I want for a maximum of 30 hours a week, including weekends. And including you.”

“I don’t want that.”

“You were fine with it before.” Not with Yeonha, which was a new addition entirely, but Minho drove Jongin around plenty of times. Minho even told him, in his gruff but reserved tone, that Jongin even refers to him as his friend, since they’re not that far in age.

“I wasn’t.” As if pained to say. “it’s either you come or no one.”

“Why?”

“Can’t curse Minho-ssi.”

When Chanyeol laughs, Jongin hits him again.

He missed Jongin. So much.

 

 

 

 

 

Jongin threw his textbook in frustration after sitting for since morning in the library – he has to prepare the topic for his thesis over the summer, and it would be best if it was decided and approved now by his supervisor. But not today. He’s sick of it today. 

So, he drags Chanyeol out for a walk. “It’s so good to be moving,” he groans as he stretches. He bursts into a light jog that soon turns into a chase, one that ends once Jongin nearly body slams someone. 

They make it to the park. It’s Sunday afternoon, and it’s packed. Jongin slows down. He looks much better now, blithesome, spirited. He’s in pastelated cottons, the hair at his nape curled with sweat. A glimpse of a Jongin that isn’t a student anymore. Chanyeol is giddy for it. Both for the current Jongin and the future Jongin. 

The flow pushes them onto a tight alleyway along the periphery of the park. The trees are tallest here. Breeze and shade, foliage bountiful. In the distance, two dogs playing fetch under the cheers of a small group of people. One of them gets distracted by other things it finds, bringing back a clump of grass or a stick instead of the ball. 

Chanyeol’s suddenly yanked to the side, over the brim of the alley. 

“Look where you’re going,” Jongin says. His tone is strained. 

Chanyeol now realizes that Jongin is holding his hand. He grabbed his hand and pulled him away from oncoming people. He clears his throat. “Dogs are more entertaining.”

It could’ve been his elbow, it could’ve been his forearm, it could’ve been his wrist, but his hand, Jongin clutching over all of his fingers. Their thumbs are interlocked.

Jongin sports a look of loss, because he cannot argue with that. “Still, watch where you’re going.” 

He lets go and begins jogging again, this time through the grass, going off-track. 

Chanyeol looks at his hand. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol slides forward an invite to a six-hour massage session, dated for the day the semester ends. It’s not the only gift he has prepared for it, but it’s certainly one to look forward to for now.

“I can’t even tell my friends that I’m being courted by a millionaire,” Jongin sneers, pen fast. He’s plainspoken - phlegm and fray, despite the smile playing only by the very corners of his lips.

“Billionaire,” Chanyeol corrects.

“It’s so easy to be embarrassed of you,” he groans, hiding his face in his book.

 

 

 

 

 

Jongin is sitting on the kitchen counter next to the stove, where Chanyeol is making lunch. Jiyeon is visiting her sister again today. It’s not that she couldn’t leave something for him – the fridge is full of side dishes anyway – or that he couldn’t order in or go out. It’s that he’s been finding an appreciation for cooking the past few years, around when he started prioritizing free time. 

He’s making a stir fry. Jongin passes him little bowls of pre-cut vegetables to add to the pan. Given he’s sitting in the middle of the ingredients, he has to navigate around him for one thing or the other. 

He reaches for garlic powder. It’s to finish the dish as it intensifies the flavour of fresh garlic he added at the beginning. It has to be on hand.  

But the tub is in the cabinet above Jongin, and that has his nose grazing by Jongin's hair. 

“Did you just get….shy?” Jongin whispers once Chanyeol steps back in front of the stove. 

Shy. Chanyeol looks back into the pan, waiting to add the red peppers, so they're not too soft, not too fresh. Any second now. 

“Ajeossi.”

“Mm?”

Jongin looks at him, a thorough scrutiny. “You’re shy.”

“Why are you asking if you know?”

“I can’t believe it.”

Chanyeol just looks back at the pan. He’s burning hotter than the sauce. It’s not all shyness. It’s just gladness as well, the spumes of it roiling in his chest. He’s beyond shy.

“Chanyeol,” Jongin says, in a breathy, purposely seductive voice. 

Chanyeol looks towards him. “Now you’re just pushing it.”

“I haven’t even pushed it enough yet.”

Chanyeol sighs. He loves this. He hates this. It’s time for the peppers. 

He glances back towards Jongin, at his cheek. “The treatment seems to be working,” he says. It’s been around two weeks since he started using the products from the dermatologist. What were once furious pustules are now merely pink splotches.

“Yeah, it’s doing a lot.”

Chanyeol is already close enough to take a close look, which is why he doesn’t even detect Jongin surging to kiss his cheek. 

It’s the sound of it that alerts him, not the touch. An explicit chuu, not even a millisecond long. 

“Shy Chanyeori,” Jongin cheeps, pulling away. 

Chanyeol swallows. He’s feverish. “You just wanted to confirm that you make me shy?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I wanted to do that.” His defiance is underlined by a shrug. “The chicken’s gonna get dry.” 

Chanyeol’s so flustered that he forgets to add the garlic powder at the end.  

 

 

 

 

 

There’s meaning to it all, but it’s not certain. It’s interspersed with the same nubbins of repugnance, ages of evasion and absence, jabs and uppercuts aimed above the neck.

There are changes that boil Chanyeol in the obsession of hope. The stakes are too high to let himself believe in such volatility when it’ll leave him invalid.

Still, Chanyeol lets himself enjoy it, even if it might be pulled from his feet.

 

 

 

The following Thursday, moon old, Jongin climbs into his car reeking of cigarette, then promptly spills everything. 

“The daughter of the boss came, and he couldn’t tell her no like he would to normal patrons. They had a whole party near the bar, smoking their lungs out,” he spits. Then he changes his tone, clearly impersonating his boss. “’ It’s her twentieth birthday, she’s allowed!‘’ Nya nya nya!” The mockery is deafening.

Chanyeol pulls out of the curb chuckling. “And then?”

Jongin was waiting for this question. “And then I called the cops and quit on the spot once they arrived.”

“Oh my—”

“He said he’ll get me blacklisted. Blacklisted?” he laughs. “With what power, huh? He has massive debts to the distributors. With what power are you gonna’ blacklist me when you can’t even afford to buy water, huh!?

Jongin has spite down to an art. It’s even more entertaining when it’s not directed at Chanyeol.

He doesn’t get to reply when Jongin exclaims, “Wait, stop!”

Chanyeol startles and obliges, the impact of the brakes hurling them forward. When he looks out the window to where Jongin’s attention is, he chortles again. 

It’s a pungeoppang stall between other bars. It’s always been smart to profit off drunk, hungry people. Jongin jumps out of the car. “Come on.”

The man is just stirring the last of the batter into the jug. While tired – obvious by the stack of instant coffee paper cups – he welcomes them chipper.

It’s four of them for a thousand won. “I can’t make it to four,” the man quips. “If only you arrived a minute earlier.”

“However many you can get is fine,” Jongin replies. Only post-exam Jongin is more ravenous than post-bar-shift Jongin.

“You have the option of two fat ones or three skinny ones.”

“Three!”

It only takes a few minutes for them to cook. The third one doesn’t end up having a tail, and the filling is a little stretched out.

They eat out of the bag right there as the seller begins gathering up to close the stall.

It might just be the best pungeoppang Chanyeol has ever had. “Why did you choose three?”

His words are distorted by his burnt tongue.

“More crispy bits,” Jongin deadpans as if it’s obvious. He’s done with his first one before Chanyeol even gets halfway through.

He splits the tailless one lengthwise in half. Then decides he’s going to keep it all for himself. Chanyeol isn’t that hungry anyway. 

“I can shut the bar down,” he offers casually.

Ooo, revenge,” Jongin says, eyes sparkling. “It’s sexy, but only in movies.”

“It’s sexy in real life, too.”

“Nah, I don’t have to do it. His own stupidity will bring him down one day. Too bad I won’t get to see it, though.” His nose scrunches.

Behind them, the seller pulls the blinds and begins pushing the cart away. Jongin wishes him a good night. Then he turns to Chanyeol, dabbing his mouth with the tissue he ate the pastry out of. “We should go home, come on.”

Chanyeol follows, and only after a few steps he realizes.

Home. Home.

“Home,” Chanyeol repeats to himself.

“Let’s go.”

Home.

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol is on his tablet, going through a preliminary financial report since the quarterly one is coming up. It’s not even half of all the sums that should be on it, but it’s already twenty pages long. His glasses are sliding down his nose. Chanyeol dislikes wearing glasses, but he has to give his eyes a break from contacts. He might be up for another surgery soon.

"Chanyeol," Jongin whispers. He’s only at the other end of the table, but sounds far as if through the phone.

"Mm?"

"It's late."

"Jiyeon changed your bed to the new sheets today. Go."

It’s all numbers. Numbers that are an assessment of their activity, but what Chanyeol is more interested in are the net profits so he can calculate the funds he can allocate for new investments. In the drafts, there are some projects that Chanyeol is very much looking forward to getting into motion.

“Chanyeol.”

Seven more pages pass. He might have to let go of a few branches given they've invested two quarters into getting them back on their feet, and there’s barely any growth.

“Chanyeol.”

They will have to go through rebranding, relocation, or they will have to let go of it entirely. The profit of it will be at a loss as opposed to the initial expenditure. They might not even get to keep the people.

“Do you need to see this now?”

Chanyeol snaps out of it. He doesn’t know for how long he’s been standing there, only leaning on the edge of the counter, but suddenly he feels an ache in his heels. “No,” he says, tapping the screen for the top bar to show. It’s almost one in the morning. “I only go through it at the office so things can be discussed.”

He nearly phoned Junmyeon to note all of that down, but he’s learned that he can’t talk to Junmyeon any time now – what if the baby wakes up? It takes an eternity to get him to sleep. If he called at this hour, he wouldn’t see the end of it with Junmyeon.

“Then stop doing it now,” Jongin presses.

“Okay.” Chanyeol sighs and puts the tablet down. He rubs at his eyes under his glasses before he takes them off entirely. “Why?” Jongin has hopped on the table, side to side with him. His feet dangle in the air. “Is there something wrong? Do you need anything?” He looks over his face, assessing. Maybe another stomach ache from eating too fast. Maybe a fever from the stress and anxiety after he turned in his thesis as he’s awaiting feedback from his supervisor. “Jongin?”

His hair is frizzy from the shower, combed behind his ears, parted in the middle. It’s both cute and silly, which makes it mostly cute. He’s wearing silk pyjamas again, cream-coloured, champagne shimmer at the seams. Around his neck, earbuds, on which he listens to podcasts – it’s the only way he gets to learn things that aren’t part of the curriculum. Things that round him out.

Chanyeol wonders if he listened to another disturbing topic; he’s listened to one about the biology of death a couple of days ago and he had a lot to say about it.

He's is about to prompt him again when Jongin slides on the counter, just so he’s directly in front of Chanyeol. Then, he puts his hands on Chanyeol’s shoulders.

It’s a lax hold, fingers barely curled, but it’s weighty.

He seems troubled. Confusion and reluctance. It's akin to when he's blocked on a question on his mock-tests, drifting in anguish.

"What's on your mind?"

His thumbs find Chanyeol’s collarbones and align with them. Press. His gaze pendulates from one to the other. "You."

"Did I do something?" Chanyeol hasn’t forgotten a single instance where he upset Jongin. There were a lot of them. What’s one more added to the tally.

"Not yet."

Confusion turns into clarity in a flash when Jongin leans in. He knows what’s coming. 

The thing he kept himself from dreaming of. From wanting. Now that he has to discern it, he’s incapable of it. 

Jongin’s breath is hot on his lips. A heat that commands him, singes within.

He’s not giving Chanyeol time to pull away, but to lean in. 

The first one was never an option. 

Jongin kisses him. 

It’s not its anatomy – the misfit. The warmth. The barely-there movement – that subjugates Chanyeol, but its value and signification. Jongin doing this with him. Jongin wanting to do this with him. Unadulterated euphoria. 

It’s short, though. Jongin breaks the touch before Chanyeol has the chance to respond to it. But he doesn’t go far. The ripple of his breath is balmy on Chanyeol’s cheek.

Now Chanyeol realizes that this was a test of sorts. A trial. A taste.

Or maybe an invitation.

“If you’re going to run away again, run now,” Chanyeol murmurs.

He expects as usual—as always—that Jongin will vanish, and as usual—as always—his only answer and consolation will be the sound of the guest bedroom door closing. And maybe locking.

Chanyeol opens his arms so Jongin is no longer caged as he gripped the counter on either side of him to steady himself. Jongin is free to go.

He bites his lip. Chanyeol doesn’t follow the gesture. He fixates on his eyes, where the decision is being made.

It doesn’t take long. Perhaps Jongin skipped thinking about it entirely, judging by the way he upsurges, leaving Chanyeol only to his reflex, which is, of course, to give himself to it.

He was prepared for it this time. Or rather, expectant. Desirous.

Chanyeol wanted this so much. So much that sometimes it was all he could think about, and he had to stop himself lest it devastated him. Now, that he’s allowed to break out of suffocation, he pours it all.

It manifests in a gentleness—a slowness that doesn’t leave out any details. That is so much intention behind if, sentiments within each glide, each veer. He can't devour Jongin when he's devoured by his own feelings. He has this chance and this chance only to prove how much Jongin means to him.

Jongin settles against him properly only when Chanyeol steps in closer. There’s no longer a gap of limbs, elbows tight to set them apart. Their arms spiral, chests tethered. Wrought tongues and tattered lips. Hips athwart. Jongin’s heels hitting against the cabinet doors, magnets clicking in and out.

Jongin groans. His fingers evulse in the dales of Chanyeol’s waist, trotting in place until the tissue caves, and he is a sculpture of Jongin’s impatience. Which is unerringly, undoubtedly affection. Right there in corners and edges and curlicues, not a grand spectacle.

The silk does nothing to protect him from Chanyeol’s touch. Iterant squeezes of his digits. Nails in, spearing. Then caressing, spearing. Then caressing, making sure Jongin doesn’t go anywhere. There will be scratches of enmity and bruises of amour, watercolour figures on his hips that will take, hopefully, at least a week to go away. Chanyeol wants him embossed so this moment is never forgotten.  

A thinned, wispy exhale goes blind in the stifle between them. When Chanyeol seeks again, Jongin’s lips aren’t where he left them. Cheek against cheek, Chanyeol waits for him to compose himself.

“You can’t kiss me like that,” Jongin says. He’s panting, hard, and Chanyeol gets even dizzier.

His fingers are just shy under the collar of Jongin’s shirt. His earbud cord fell off one shoulder. “Why can’t I?”

Jongin looks down, down until his forehead comes in contact with Chanyeol’s shoulder, then he snaps back entirely. “Because it makes me want more.”

 Lord, he’s going to be the death of Chanyeol. How does he say the most wonderful things like there is no greater agony. “It’s not a finite resource.”

Jongin shakes his head. “It is.”

“It can’t be.”

“Can I run away now?” Jongin asks. It’s verging a plea.

Chanyeol realizes the position they’re in, with Jongin’s knees on either side of his thighs, almost his hips. His hand on Jongin’s nape.

But Jongin also hasn’t let go, his fingers tight on Chanyeol’s sweatshirt.

Chanyeol steps back. Jongin is yet again free to go.

A few seconds later he hears the bedroom door shut. 

Chanyeol is left there with tingling lips and tingling hands and tingling eyes.

 

 

 

 

He doesn’t see Jongin for the rest of the week. It’s the last week of the semester; he has a lot of things to take care of. His supervisor is being a pain in the ass, sending him back and forth with the thesis proposal.

That’s the reason for his absence, Chanyeol wants to believe. Not the other night. When Chanyeol allowed him to run away, he didn’t mean for good.

He doesn’t want to be home when Jongin isn’t home. Thankfully, his week was busy as hell. Two overseas trips thrown in there, too, and a domestic flight – the conference in Jeju was beautiful, if only Chanyeol was in the right space of mind to appreciate it.

Chanyeol washes the jet lag off. At 8, he pops a pill. 9:13 is the last time he sees the clock on his phone.

 

 

 

 

 

“Ajeossi,” he hears. “Ajeossi, you couldn’t afford to pay for heating this month?”

Chanyeol is awake, but his eyes are closed. He pretended he’s asleep for a while.

He thinks he must be asleep now, and dreaming. Jongin is talking to him. This could only be a dream.

“Ajeossi!” Jongin whisper-screams even louder. “Why is it so cold? You owe me a new set of toes. Cheap ass.”

Chanyeol opens his eyes.

Jongin is standing at the foot of his bed, bedsheet a cape over his shoulders. The glow of nightlight barely reaches him.

“W-what,” Chanyeol mumbles. “When did you get here?”

“While you were asleep,” Jongin answers. His voice is as soft as the light. “Then I heard you tossing.”

The door to his bedroom was left open. Chanyeol doesn’t like closing the door when he’s by himself. Which he has always been except since Jongin entered his life.

“And you’re…cold?”

“Yeah. Freezing,” Jongin confirms, moving from one foot to the other. 

It’s summer.

“Um—”

“Move over,” Jongin orders, sitting on the bed. Chanyeol hurries to comply, lifting the thin duvet to make space.

Jongin lays down on one end of the bed with Chanyeol on the other. He’s drugged by both sleepiness and sleeplessness. It’s hard to assimilate what is happening.

Other than the fact that Jongin is in bed with him.

“You’re really ignoring me just like that. I’m going to go bed someone who actually appreciates m—”

“Don’t.” Chanyeol springs. He moves to the centre of the bed, right against Jongin.

God, is he warm. A warmth that is of its own kin. “Don’t go anywhere.”

Jongin sighs. “Since you asked nicely.”

 

 

 

 

 

He spent today at the dorm, cleaning out for summer break. He tends to latch onto every scrap of paper because what if. Then he remorselessly throws everything away. That, and a few of his colleagues moved in there in the meantime, and he had a gathering with them—cheese puffs and soda and badmouthing their teachers.

Chanyeol hasn’t talked to him since yesterday when he picked him up from the massage. I feel like liquid, was his verdict. And a whispered, thanks.

He’s at a charity convention right now, auctioning architectural projects for hospices, schools, and other institutions. 

Sehun is feeling competitive tonight; he already won three bids. Chanyeol isn’t nearly as good as him at making smart decisions on the spot, so he’s happy to support him via thumbs up each time he nails one. There’s no other currency that works on Sehun the way thumbs up does.

His phone is face down on the table. When it buzzes, Chanyeol is in no rush to check on it. He only picks it up after another presentation is over, and the starting point is called from the lectern.

fuck me

The two words previewed on the lock screen make Chanyeol shiver. This happened before. And it was bad. Really bad.

The phone buzzes again, and it’s not a picture. Not a screenshot of a mistake. But an even worse:

come over

Another buzz.

come over right fucking now

It doesn’t occur to Chanyeol to ask why. He wouldn’t ask this of Chanyeol if it wasn’t serious. His legs are Jongin’s, aren’t they.

He leans over to whisper into Sehun’s ear that he’s leaving. Sehun sputters, but just then he has to say his bid. Chanyeol sneaks out behind his back – Sehun will blow up his phone soon enough.

It takes twenty-one minutes to get to Jongin’s, and through them all, Chanyeol wonders and wonders just what could be wrong. Scenarios conceived and overturned by each red light. Could be a needle in a haystack as Jongin has sensitivities that Chanyeol has yet to discover. The hard way, of course.

Nonetheless, he’s preparing an apology because irrespective of what it is, regardless of his aim, if he made Jongin feel bad, he will take all the means to make it up to him. Caught up by thoughts, he nearly misses Jongin standing at the curb, a turn before the alley to his dorm.

He slides into the passenger seat the moment Chanyeol hits the brakes.

“What’s wrong?” Chanyeol asks. His airways burn, skinned raw by breaths aghast.

He undoes the seatbelt to take a look at Jongin in his chequered pyjama pants and long, red hoodie, pilled around the pockets. It’s the one with the university logo on it, coming to look like a representation of Jongin’s mental state throughout the years. Sworn to wear until it falls apart.

Jongin exhales and pulls the hood off his head. “Park properly.”

The street is so narrow that his car has to be up the curb to be out of the way. As it is, he’s blocking traffic.

He pulls out and finds a spot just a little ahead, tucking it in properly.

“What’s wrong?” Chanyeol prompts again.

A fight was among his scenarios – you never know what happens in a den crammed chock-full with scoundrels junked-up with stress and homesickness. They’d bring out the baseball bats over who gets the shower first if dibs weren’t called beforehand.

As Chanyeol takes in his appearance, he seems fine. No cuts. No bruises. No ruffles.

“Ajeossi,” he starts as Chanyeol is about to lean over to take a better look, “I can’t believe I have to fucking do this.”

“Do what?”

Jongin scoffs.

Chanyeol’s frown only grows, branches out until he’s wrung tight with worry and confusion because Jongin looks pissed—so absolutely pissed. How has he angered him. How has he hurt him? Or is there something else at fault. “Are you alright?” He presses.

“Oh, my God. You’re actually panicked.” He turns towards Chanyeol. “Good. Very good.”

Chanyeol is at a loss of words. “Jongin, wh—"

“Did you change your mind?” His tone is even more pissed than his expression. 

Chanyeol’s gut sinks.

“About what?”

“Me.”

He reels from the ridiculousness of the question. “No, I—”

“Have your feelings about me changed?”

“N—"

“Then, are you playing dumb?”

“I don’t und—”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Jongin curses.

The leather of the chair creaks, grazed fabrics, and a squeeze—a maelstrom in Chanyeol’s chest as Jongin kisses him.

It’s not a capture, but a press, fluttery from suddenness. Soft—so soft. Unctuous, titillating, and all things Chanyeol yearned for in the span of the few seconds their lips touched.

“That’s what’s wrong,” Jongin explains, pulling away a little. Chanyeol dares to open his eyes. “How much I wanted you to do that, yet you fucking didn’t.”

“Jong—"

“You’ve been on my ass for months, yet yesterday you sent me home with a goodbye. Shove that fucking goodbye up your ass, Goddammit,” Jongin fumes before he grabs onto Chanyeol’s elbow and pushes. “Get out. Get out of the car.” He turns away, to the door. “Get out!”

Out where, Chanyeol doesn't know. But Jongin moves before he does, a blink later, opening the back door. Chanyeol scrambles to follow, sliding next to him on the seat. There’s no armrest between them now.

Jongin’s tirade continues, though it's mellower. “Why did you let me run away after I kissed you?” He asks. He turns his body towards Chanyeol completely. “You were supposed to break that bloody table with me.”

Chanyeol chokes on his spit. Yet again, he doesn’t get to say anything.

“You should’ve kissed me when we were in bed. Or yesterday before I left. Or literally any time. I gave you so many occasions. Instead, I have to break my neck to kiss you in this fucking car ‘cause you couldn’t grow some balls and kiss me proper-fucking-ly when you should’ve.”

An exhale follows, a rattle of air that pelts on the side of Chanyeol’s face. He waits for another bout, but it doesn’t come.

Processing it all, Chanyeol is…elated. Supremely so. Maddeningly so. “I’ve never been so happy to be scolded,” he giggles into his chest.

He can’t believe this is happening right now. He cannot believe that their culmination is in this format: the loveliest aggression. When their confidence maturated within the quietest moments. Measured words and measured touches only peppered with outbursts that, at last, were proven to be phony.

Jongin lets out an unwilling titter as well, feeble yet brimful. It sings in Chanyeol’s ears. “Were you really not playing dumb?”

“No, no, of course not,” Chanyeol says smilingly. He turns towards Jongin as well. Their knees touch, and upon contact, he jerks away, only to lower it back. This should be spoken kneecap to kneecap if not forehead to forehead. “You’re confusing, you know. Sehun once called you tsundere.”

Darkness makes his scowl grotesque. He doesn’t address what Sehun said. “I thought I gave you some clues that were pretty damn clear. I don’t go sleeping in just anyone’s bed.”

 “I’m pretty new at this flirting—” Pause, to include not only his own advances, but the interpretation of what’s done unto him. “—courting thing.”

“Well, I am, too, but look at me trying.” The sarcasm is one for the history books.

Chanyeol titters – he’s happy. He’s just really, really, happy – and takes a good look at Jongin. He’s of a beauty that mars so that no one else could compare ever again. “I was—” He swallows before continuing. “—waiting for this. You must know I wouldn’t risk it with you. How I would hate nothing more than to push you.” He repeats the part that says the thousand words. “You must know.”

Jongin’s leg bounces. Could be nerves. Could be impatience. But Chanyeol is sure it’s not anger. The anger was left in the passenger seat. “Do you realise that you won?”

Chanyeol dislikes the sound of that. “I don't remember being in a competition.”

“It was for me.” A note of a hum. “I lost at hating you.”

Chanyeol barely keeps the wiggles of joy at bay. “You put up a good fight.”

“Shut up!” Jongin exclaims, punctuating it with a jab of his knee into Chanyeol’s thigh. Chanyeol is too happy to yelp.

“When was it? When did I win?”

It’s possible it wasn’t a specific moment, but a collection; which would still have to begin dating somewhere.

Jongin doesn’t think for long. “When you kneel before me ready to suck me off just because some other dude made me horny. I knew where you stood with me but that…that was so much.” Another jab, but this one is softer, almost a nudge. “Don’t do that ever again. For anyone.”

“I’d only ever do it for you anyway.”

“Not even for me.”

“At least it made it clear how whipped I am for you.”

The answer is a groan and a leg thrown over Chanyeol as he clambers over him, astride his thighs. It’s dark—too dark only Jongin now being in the way of the streetlamp—but Chanyeol doesn’t need to see anyway; he only needs to feel Jongin pressing in close and broad under his blazer, palms open to span as much of Chanyeol’s chest as possible.

“I’m not gonna’ say sorry,” is the last thing Chanyeol hears before Jongin kisses him.

Jongin deflects a nip and conquers his whole mouth for a second before it tips into the game, lips riveting, jammy with longing and gluttony. They’ve kissed before, but it wasn’t like this – that one sought assurance. This one seeks satiation. Carefulness is out the window, and they move in the liberty of sensualism, gliding thick between their lips.

Jongin is panting within seconds. “I thought you wanted me,” he breathes and Chanyeol adores how obvious it is that this is a demand in the costume of a challenge. 

Give me your all.

Chanyeol never disobeyed him. For Jongin, he only knows servility. Their lips meet, twine, and twist. His moans, off beat, off lick, whistle through Chanyeol’s teeth. The motion is harried, but speckled with all things nice, with the slows and sweet, then sloping, tricksy, teeth grazing.

“You won,” Jongin breaks again to say. “You fucking won.” As if this, their intimacy, boner on boner, cemented his decision even further.

Chanyeol takes a look at him, up-close. How is it of a renewed beauty each time. There must be a spell to it, for it has so much to do with how each feature, pane, and delineation incites reverence. A presence that imparadises him.

"What do you want to be?" Chanyeol asks. He palms Jongin’s cheek. This is finality. The change. This is what he wanted.

"I don't care about what you call me." Chanyeol lets him falter. Get back to the truth. Vinous lip stuck between teeth. "Something yours."

"My equal?"

They have age and status and experiences and so many things between them. And they also have absolutely nothing. 

"Somehow I find that cuter than boyfriend." 

Incardinating cheeks on either side of a pleased grin. Chanyeol soldiers on and kisses one of those cheeks. “You’re my equal. And more,” kiss to the other cheek. “Much more.”

Jongin whines, and brings him into another kiss, dirtier than the previous ones. They’re getting comfortable, they’re syncing, then breaking the rules. The flesh of Chanyeol’s lips is worked until it builds resistance, turns insensate, and needs more and more of Jongin. “Jongin,” Chanyeol whispers, pushing him back. His head almost hits the roof of the car. “Jongin.” He guides them to the side, until Jongin is lying down across the seat, shoulders propped on the other door. Chanyeol drapes himself over him. 

“Why did you start your text like that?” Chanyeol asks. “ With—"

“With fuck me?” His hands are in Chanyeol’s hair. Which is long. He kept it so ever since Jongin commented about it. He seems to enjoy it a lot, indeed. 

“Yeah.”

“Back then, it wasn’t it, it really wasn’t it what you might’ve thought it is,” he says laughingly. Chanyeol has no trouble believing that.

“But now?”

Jongin pulls on his hair, then gathers it at the back of his head with a few pats. “Now I'm so sorry I insulted your dick. It's all I can think about sometimes.”

“Was today one of those times?”

“Yeah, yeah it—" he glides forward, and there it is, distinct as ever, his erection against the arch of Chanyeol’s, “was.”

Chanyeol collapses over him. “So you don't think I’m small.” That must’ve been the awkwardness but the most heartfelt conversation they’ve ever had. 

“It was flaccid. And I don’t care. I don’t care— it’s you. It’s you,” another glide, the moan unbridled. “And it’s definitely not small anyway.”

“That remains to be seen.” 

“Oh, I can’t wait to see it.”

Now Chanyeol quails, because lord, lord, Jongin’s been the death of him from the beginning, but is this what he will have to live with from now on?

“I have a whole teenagehood of unfulfilled hormones to take care of with you,” he pants. They’re straight up rutting now. 

“I’ll manage,” Chanyeol vows, helping his hips up with each swipe. “I’ll break the table with you.”

“As you should, it’s the ugliest thing in your house.” 

Chanyeol kisses him. Jongin is moaning and thrashing so much already. He must be close. As splendid of a view it is, Chanyeol can’t let it conclude. “Not like this,” he gasps into Jongin’s neck. “Not like this.”

“What,” his eyes squeeze shut. “you wanna get the rose petals and gold plated condoms out or something?”

“Yes.” He holds Jongin down. He fights the hold, tries to throw him off, even tries to head-butt him, which Chanyeol fends with kisses across his face. 

“You won,” Jongin heaves, relaxing. “Again.”

Chanyeol cracks a smile. His mouth, his lips, taste of Jongin. “Is this how you imagined us at it?”

“Oh, imagined us everywhere,” Jongin says, his tone giving away the fact that there’s probably not a single surface left out of the question. 

He always thought there’s a straightforwardness to sexuality that will always beat the nuances of romanticism. Chanyeol never noticed, though, anything to veer sexual in Jongin’s behaviour. “Since when? Since when were you attracted to me?”

It feels surreal to even say it. 

“Ugh, the day I met you?” 

“What.” 

Maybe if he didn’t just keep Jongin from orgasm, he would be at least a little bit sheepish admitting the thing that just turned Chanyeol’s world on its ass. “Yeah.”

“How.” 

“Wanting to bang you didn’t override the alarms ringing in my head about how dangerous it would be to get involved with you.”

So Chanyeol didn’t notice it because it was there from the beginning. It was a constant. But it was a background to the things playing upfront. He’s liking this. A lot

“And look at you now,” Chanyeol says. “So involved.” Chanyeol’s sitting in his lap. Jongin’s hands are still in his hair. 

He’s happy. He can tell Jongin is very, very happy. It’s flooring, to share happiness with him in this capacity. Chanyeol leans, devout, into Jongin’s embrace. The kiss picks up, goes on. And on. 

“Jongin, I love you,” Chanyeol gasps. It doesn't sound rehearsed because he never thought about it. Never acknowledged it to himself in words. It's all sincerity, the blood of his heart on his lips. "And I've loved you for a while." 

Jongin stares at him. His eyes are turbid. “If I’m coming in too strong—”

“You’re not,” he cuts off. “And I know. I could tell.”

Chanyeol thinks back to all the instances where he caught Jongin looking at him. He must’ve seen it all. “You knew before me.”

“I think so,” he nods. “I like you, too, if it wasn’t clear. And soon, I'll be in love with you. I know I will.”

Chanyeol cannot believe the man underneath him is his. His equal. His lover. His boyfriend. His everything. “How soon?”

“Well, first I have to get the dick appointment out of the way—” 

Chanyeol pulls him up. “Okay, let’s go. Let’s go.” 

Jongin scrambles to slide back into the passenger seat. “Floor it.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Jongin,” he whispers, on the way home, “Move in with me.”

Jongin laughs. “Haven’t I already?”