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Part II: As The Fog Lifts

The world feels numb. It's quieter, subdued, the issues that used to nag and dig into the mind quieter and just less important now. Waking up with his alarm isn't a hassle, the shower taking too long to get hot doesn't matter, the soft rain falling outside isn't an inconvenience. Nothing that used to be a problem is a problem.

Everything has dulled to a faint static as Chanyeol's mind instead roars in numbness at the surge of information. There just is more, so much more to everything than he'd seen before. The customers in the cafe that complain about the weather, the newspapers that talk about stock markets and the latest celebrity scandals, they're all nothing. The same things that might have his heart leaping in his chest, a familiar favorite tune on the radio or catching sight of a cat on a windowsill, are nothing but a small flicker.

It's hard to feel anything when Chanyeol is so busy trying to sort out what he's feeling.

It leaves him tired. Since Friday evening when he'd watched Jongin walk from his apartment, lips bruised and a face-shaped wet stain in the front of his shirt, Chanyeol has felt too much to feel anything at all. It's too quiet, and he doesn't know how to step forward or do anything. Truthfully, he knows that he shouldn't do anything, that doing something would not actually be good.

It's not his turn. It's not his position to do something, to make a move, to walk back into Jongin's life. As much as he doesn't want to be taken out of his world, he knows it's not up to him.

If Jongin is okay with him being in his life, if he's okay with Chanyeol in his world, then he'll be the one to say it. Chanyeol can't make that decision for him. He can't make Jongin accept him and let him in. Jongin has to do that, and Chanyeol isn't sure he even knows what to do if Jongin does that.

It's hard to wrap his head around the idea that Jongin had thought that Chanyeol just wanted to be around him for sex. It's hard to ever imagine that someone would use another person like that, especially someone in such a hard place as Jongin, to just use them and throw money at desperate shaking hands. Moreover, Chanyeol struggles with thinking of how bad things must have been for Jongin before they’d met, but slowly, all of the pieces do being to fit together.

Jongin shies away from touch, skirts away from stares and treats everyone with caution, reading between lines and hesitant. He's almost afraid, like he's waiting for someone to just use him and leave him dry, protecting himself by never getting too close. It makes Chanyeol sick when he thinks of what he must have experienced to be that scared of other people, of trusting anyone.

Does time heal those wounds or are they too deep for someone to ever really heal?

It's hard to think through, the muddle in his mind blocking out anything else as Chanyeol blunders through the weekend. Showing up earlier than even Minseok at his cafe the next day, he'd only garnered curious looks at his abnormal silence. Fake cheerful smiles were easy to put on, a happy exterior as Chanyeol covered for Minseok tried to interview people for a new barista position. It was taking some of the stress off, using Chanyeol as a cover for the cafe. It's not hard work, and the current intern, Sooyoung, is as sweet as she is playful.

If there was anything significant from their conversation that morning though, Chanyeol doesn't remember it. Everything feels put on mute, silenced to a dull murmur of the real world as his mind spins things over and over.

In one aspect, Chanyeol realizes that Jongin knows now. Jongin knows how Chanyeol feels to some extent. There was no point in the whole mess where Chanyeol had denied what he felt, and Jongin implied he knew.

It's out, and Chanyeol can't bring himself to deny it.

Jongin knows, and Chanyeol can't hide from it.

He has feelings for him, feelings that are stronger than a simple attraction. It feels almost reversed, whereas before, romance and feelings developed after an initial physical attraction, now it feels like Chanyeol is pulled for other things than Jongin's physical appearance.

It's more than that, and perhaps that's what makes it scarier for him.

It's twisting tighter and tighter into his head, where right now he doesn't want to touch Jongin, especially not after what he's just learned. If anything, he's afraid to approach him, to be near him, to have Jongin touch him like he had pushed to do the other night.

Chanyeol doesn't want that, and he's not sure he can see Jongin right now with those images and the visceral feelings still subdued but waiting to flare to life.

It's a processing period, where Chanyeol pulls back into the numbed whiteness of sorting through what happened, what he feels, what this means, and figures things out. It's a period where he doesn't push for Jongin, doesn't ask for him, and can't.

It lingers, pulsing with a soft stream of thoughts that Chanyeol sorts through as he goes about tasks, agreeing to help Minseok on Sunday as well, and then again after work on Monday. The office is loud and busy on Monday, and Chanyeol barely pays full attention to the weekly meeting before returning to his desk. The update of the week from Jongdae falls on half listening ears, and he tries to come up with a suitable story of Minseok's cafe to fend off Jongdae's curious pestering and Junmyeon's polite inquiries. As much as he appreciates his friends' interest in his world, this is something he can't talk about.

There aren't words even he has himself to explain what's going on, even if he wishes he had them. Then maybe it would make more sense to him.

By Monday night, when Chanyeol stays later to help clean up after the interviews are over and Minseok emerges from the back, some things are a bit clearer, but not many.

"Any luck?" Chanyeol asks, casting a hopeful smile at Minseok's tired expression.

"Maybe," Minseok says, letting out a sigh as he runs his fingers through his short hair. "How has it been out here?"

"Quiet," Chanyeol tells him, looking around the cafe and the few customers still around. Sooyoung had gone just a little earlier after checking in with Minseok. "Not too many people come in at nine thirty on a Monday."

Minseok offers him a smile, stepping behind the counter and pulling an apron around his waist. "I'm glad you were here though," he says, casting a glance to Chanyeol. "Remind me to try to woo you out of magazine editing to work for me."

"You probably can't afford me," Chanyeol teases, and Minseok laughs, his eyes bright. "Plus, you'd get sick of me after a while."

"I couldn't get sick of you," Minseok says, and punches him gently in the arm, an old familiar gesture. He's been doing it since they met, Minseok grinning with gums showing and lightly bumping his fist to Chanyeol's bicep playfully. "You're too much fun."

"I suppose," Chanyeol says, the words listless.

"Everything alright with you?" Minseok asks casually. There is a hint to his voice though, and the catch of his eyes when he looks at Chanyeol that says he's noticed. There aren't many who can tell when something is on his mind, but Minseok is one of the few exceptions.

"Yeah," Chanyeol says slowly. Letting out a soft sigh, he leans against the counter and just lets himself be still for the first time all day. There are many things that aren't 'alright' with Chanyeol, but overall he's 'alright'. He's healthy, has a good place to live, friends that care about him, a family that loves him, a job that supports him, and has never had a dark past to look back on. Chanyeol has never really suffered, not like he's seen others do, at least not this close.

He's never really been exposed to it, and now that he's seen more of a window into it, he doesn't know quite what to do with it. Jongin isn't made by his past, and he isn't his past, but it is a part of him that Chanyeol knows about now, and cannot and will not forget about him.

"Are you sure?" Minseok asks, almost pushing as he keeps his eyes on Chanyeol. "You know," Minseok continues, stepping back from the counter to lean his hip against it instead, facing Chanyeol. "If you need anything, I'm here. To listen or help with whatever."

It makes Chanyeol smile, even as a part of him wants to cry. It's irrational, but also perfectly logical. This is the sort of thing that is right, that is okay, where friends offer to support and help each other for nothing, but just because they care.

Chanyeol knows Minseok is a little worried about him, but he doesn't feel bad about it. It's kind of nice to know that at least someone worries about him, because it means they care. To have that worry seen as something else, where even the caring behind it can't be recognized under too much fear of getting too close, that just hurts.

It's so much unspoken pain and Chanyeol can't imagine what Jongin's world has been like.

That's the real thing. Chanyeol can't imagine Jongin's world. Even being exposed to it, Chanyeol still can't fully grasp what it is, what it's like, or how he can live in it. It's beyond his comprehension and he feels unsettled and strange and too raw and open now he's seen what it really is.

Reality is almost too much even if Chanyeol thought he was already living in the real world. The truth isn't kind, it seems.

But to Minseok, he doesn't say this. Instead, he smiles, pushing down the crack of emotions that begins to bleed into his chest. "I know," he says, and smiles around the sadness.

Minseok lets out a sigh before he walks to stand beside Chanyeol. He's one of the few that actually watches, observes rather than interact and usually reads people. He's always been able to read Chanyeol, and as much as Chanyeol can sometimes be offset by it, Minseok never pushes. It's more comforting, knowing in a way that Minseok is a constant, always there to offer support and who is always grateful with a smile when Chanyeol steps up when he needs him to. It's healthy, and Chanyeol is always thankful for their friendship.

Looking at his world, Chanyeol is thankful for all his friendships.

"If you feel like telling me what it is that's actually on your mind, I'm always here, you know," Minseok tells him, looking up at him with a sort of soft wisdom he's always held.

"Thanks," Chanyeol tells him, and that's all that needs to be said.

"In the mean time," Minseok says with a sigh, pushing himself from the counter. "Get out of here. It's late and I don't have the same energy kids like you have."

"Of course," Chanyeol teases, taking up the running joke. Baekhyun had started it, calling both Minseok and Junmyeon 'old men' back when Minseok had talked about how he missed having the 'sleep of the dead' Baekhyun and Han could still pull off. "Wouldn't want to keep you past your bedtime."

Minseok laughs, waving him off as Chanyeol steps from behind the counter. It's not large, but the warmth from Minseok's words stays with him, settling amid the worry and confusion and conflicted feelings that swim through him. The soft ebb and flow between his thoughts begins to settle, and Chanyeol imagines that nothing will stop this from being hard right now.

Nothing will make what happened in Jongin's past, and now in their past, better. It won't go away, and Chanyeol can't be happy with wanting it to not exist. That's not going to change anything, and he doesn't wish it never happened. It's better that he knows, that he understands this part of Jongin that isn't wonderful.

The world isn't kind, but Chanyeol figures then it's all the more reason to think of the good things and do good things. It's not his feelings that are the most important, he can live with being upset.

It's just a matter of waiting to see if Jongin will trust him to not make this the end of whatever it is they have. A friendship, a companionship, or just a tentative amicability that might grow into something.

What's important is that no one pushes, and Chanyeol is alright with waiting, keeping this quiet, not talking about it if it's not ready, if he's not ready, and waiting for Jongin when he's ready.

All things take time, growing up, healing, recovering, and acceptance. Amid the bustle of an intense time schedule and the fast pace of the world around them, Chanyeol realizes that he has just as much time as he did standing out on the mountain with Junmyeon, when time seemed to stand still out under the stars. He just has to remember that and be there when time needs him to be.

*

It's a week of silence. A week of muddled thoughts and stifled emotions as they calm down from the torrent that wouldn't settle. It's a bit like acclimation, where Chanyeol lets himself get used to the reality and the truth and the new levels of the world he'd not been aware of. It has him looking at people differently, looking at himself differently.

It's the first weekend in a while where Chanyeol stops by the library and watches the children around him for reading hour. It's when he looks, really looks at the parents. He talks to them for the first time, a few single mothers and a few fathers who look too tired to be there but who are there anyway. He watches as older siblings pick up younger brothers and sisters, and wonders where their parents are. Chanyeol finds himself less doing, and more watching.

The world is different when he just sits and looks at everything, taking in the whole picture rather than what he just encounters while doing things. It's quieter, but the sounds that filter in to him are clearer and stay with him. It's not as pretty, but it's also not as harsh. Overwhelming at first, Chanyeol doesn't quite know what to do when he first comes home and can't believe how tired he is just from spending time at the library to volunteer for a few hours.

It's exhausting though, and it's only when he admits that to himself that he understands. Reality is exhausting, and while he's just experienced it for the first time, the people he saw today feel it constantly. This isn't just their occasional world, this is their world.

Yet they smile, laugh, and Chanyeol realizes what strength really is. The feeling of being weak, small and insignificant in the world around him couples with how he's still a part of it. It makes it easier to breathe, to think over his own feelings, thoughts, and what is happening in his life.

When his phone buzzes close to nine at night on a balmy evening mid week, Chanyeol doesn't hesitate when he recognizes the number. "Are you sure?" Jongin asks him on the phone, his voice hesitant and quiet through the short conversation.

"Of course," Chanyeol says, surprised at how calm he feels. He's missed Jongin, despite the rush of sensations in his chest at hearing the other man's voice. Chanyeol has missed Jongin, and Sehun. Both of them.

The cafe near Chanyeol's work is just as he remembered it that first day when Chanyeol had met Sehun. It feels so long ago, even if it's only been a little over two months, that he watched Sehun skitter into the shop holding his Pororo book and hiding behind his father's legs.

Jongin looks less confident today as he walks into the cafe, alone, and pauses just inside the door when he sees Chanyeol. It takes a moment before his face tries to relax, like he's not sure if this is allowed, before he takes a seat opposite Chanyeol. They don't touch, hands on the table top and sitting opposite each other, Chanyeol holding an iced coffee and Jongin's fingers tugging at each other.

"I don't think I can return to the tupperware," Jongin says in a rush of breath, startling Chanyeol.

Eyes wide in surprise, Chanyeol asks, "why?"

"Sehun," Jongin says, and then clears his throat, a soft pink cresting over his cheeks. "He, um, he expanded his garden."

It takes a moment before the meaning of this sinks in, and then Chanyeol is laughing, unable to stop as he sits back and just laughs and laughs. It's too loud, shaking through the little cafe as Jongin watches him with wide eyes, but Chanyeol doesn't stop.

It helps, and he realizes he needed this.

Finally, when it's calmed down, Chanyeol shakes his head, still smiling as he looks at Jongin and feels balanced. Jongin looks slightly less apprehensive now, relaxed and the nervous line of his shoulders dissipating somewhat. "I'm pretty sure that's a better use for them than what I had for them," Chanyeol says, smiling happily. "Besides, it works perfectly for my gift for him." Jongin's lips press together. "You saw it didn't you? The garden set?" Jongin's fingers twist on the table. "I had it set out on the table the last time you were over."

"I remember," Jongin says, voice quieter. "I wasn't sure-"

"I'm glad that hopefully he'll still be interested in it," Chanyeol continues, keeping his voice warm as his beating heart. "I bet those vegetables were happy to be transplanted into something better than just pudding cups after all. Sehun's becoming a real gardener."

"I'm not sure what he's becoming," Jongin says, and there is a soft hint of a smile on his face now. "He fixed the stove the other day before I could tell him not to touch it. Scared me to death." He sighs, relaxing more into his chair. "I swear, he speaks to technology in ways no one else can."

"Well, they do say children understand languages and learn them faster than adults," Chanyeol says, leaning back and slipping into the comfortable space between himself and Jongin. "Perhaps Sehun is just pushing that to include machines as well as human tongues."

"That sounds a bit extreme," Jongin murmurs, glancing up at him.

"For Sehun? I thought nothing was too extreme for Sehun."

"Scary stories," Jongin replies, and startles a laugh from Chanyeol. "But I understand that. Neither of us do well with scary stories."

"Not even around a campfire?"

"Not even with all the lights on," Jongin says, and Chanyeol laughs.

This is fine, and despite the days of churning thoughts, Chanyeol doesn't find that things are that different. Not much. Jongin is still the same person, with the same son and the same full mouth and too thin shirts from being worn so many times. He still has the same dark brown eyes and the same fingers that tug on each other nervously and the same soft deep voice that got itself stuck in Chanyeol's head months ago.

"I'll remember that then," Chanyeol says, and grins as Jongin looks slightly surprised. "I was thinking of taking him out camping or something this fall. I hoped you might get a weekend off, or a Saturday night, perhaps, and we could all go."

"Is that-"

"I have a mountain a friend and I go up. He and I just went out the other weekend and it's stunning," Chanyeol continues. "I have most of the gear, and I thought Sehun might enjoy it. I thought you might too, both of you could do with some fresh air that's not just from the park."

"But-"

"You don't have to though, it was just a thought," Chanyeol finishes as Jongin's face remains in half open shock.

"You want to take us camping?" Jongin finally asks, and his voice sounds guarded again.

"Like I said, you don't have to," Chanyeol reminds, fingers wrapping once more around the coffee. It's not the same, but it's still okay. If anything, it just means he notices more about Jongin. Perhaps he's already noticed these things about him, the worn skin of his fingers and the way he bites at his lip sometimes, but it's the first time he's really looking at him. The soft warm flutter in his chest isn't unknown or unfamiliar, but Chanyeol doesn't push it down this time.

It just exists.

"Are you sure?" Jongin asks. The tone in his voice suggests he's not just asking about the camping offer, but something more, about everything. About their friendship, about Jongin in Chanyeol's life, about them and if Chanyeol is still there. If Jongin is going to stay or run.

"Would I offer if I wasn't?" Chanyeol says, and breathes out when Jongin's expression flickers.

"No, I mean-"

"I know what you meant," Chanyeol says softly, and lowers his eyes to the table, to Jongin's fingers as they twist nervously.

He doesn't want me to go flashes through his mind. Whether it's true or not, Chanyeol doesn't want to linger on. It's better not to, not when he can still feel his feelings still fluxing so high.

"Then why?"

"Why do I want to go camping with you?" Chanyeol teases, looking up at Jongin. He's greeted with a soft frown that almost pouts at him. It makes him smile though, softer and less casual, but just as much for himself as Jongin. "I'm your friend," Chanyeol says, and doesn't let himself shy away from the word. This time, Jongin doesn't negate it, and it helps. "Friends don't leave each other because of silly misunderstandings."

"I wouldn't really call it a misunderstanding," Jongin murmurs, his eyes falling to the table.

"I wouldn't call it something more severe than that," Chanyeol points out. "It- well, I don't see it as a reason to stop being friends. I like spending time with you and, I hope, you like spending time with me. What happened, it's in the past, and that's where it will stay."

"And you," Jongin presses, pausing to swallow as his eyes flicker up to Chanyeol's. They stay, fixed and flickering between Chanyeol's. "You're doing this for me."

There. The question Chanyeol knew would be coming, at some point, where someone asks him about his feelings. It had been an accident the other day, but this isn't an accident. "I like spending time with you," Chanyeol says, still not sure if he can admit it. It feels imposing, like pushing his feelings on Jongin. "And I like you," he continues as his heart flutters slightly. "And I like spending time with Sehun, and I like Sehun," he continues, and grins as Jongin almost startles at him. "But my feelings for you aren't the reason I'm still here, they're just a part of how I feel overall."

"But they are a part of it," Jongin confirms.

"They are," Chanyeol admits. "But they're not what's going to determine whether I'm here or not, or whether I think of you as a friend or not. You're my friend regardless, and how I feel about you doesn't obligate you to do anything for me. It doesn't mean you ever have to feel like you need to repay me for something, or that you have to act a certain way around me."

"Except I can't apologize," Jongin reminds, almost like he's teasing but it feels more like testing the waters. Just to make sure.

"Unless you break my toilet," Chanyeol confirms, and finally Jongin lets out a soft laugh, relaxing in his chair. "Then you definitely have to apologize, and then I might make you help me install a new one, but that's all dependent on how bad the damages are."

"And if Sehun breaks your toilet?"

"He just has to apologize," Chanyeol says, and Jongin laughs again, his face lighting up. He still has dark circles under his eyes, but he looks better than the last time Chanyeol saw him, without tears down his face and looking hollow. "If I ever see him again."

That seems to catch Jongin off guard, and he frowns, looking confused as he watches Chanyeol. "What are you talking about?"

"It's up to you," Chanyeol tells him, and Jongin's expression turns thoughtful. "I like spending time with you and Sehun both, and whatever I do is because I want to, because I care, not because I feel like I want something from you or because I pity you." Jongin's mouth tightens at "pity" but he looks thoughtful. "So, it's up to you."

"If we're friends or not?" Chanyeol hums to confirm and Jongin tugs his hands into his lap, eyes fixed on Chanyeol as he bites at his lip. "Well," he says finally, as Chanyeol keeps the beating of his heart at bay. "I suppose you need at least one friend who will remember your name, Chanyeol."

It's simple, so simple, but it has a wide grin spreading over Chanyeol's face none the less, and he almost reaches across the table. Staying in his chair and watching Jongin, it spreads warmth though, happiness at staying and keeping this alive simmering through him gently. "I do."

"I still think you need better friends," Jongin says, and in his eyes lingers a subtle light that spreads through Chanyeol like the glow of the sun.

"That's what I have you for," Chanyeol tells him. This time, Jongin smiles for real, and it's all that matters.

*

"What's got you all zen?"

It's not exactly what Chanyeol thought he'd hear in the morning, and especially not from Jongdae. Usually, the one making comments like that would be Han, or Baekhyun after a particularly long diatribe over the world issues that Chanyeol isn't paying attention to. Jongdae is typically the one to make the quips after things are said and done, his snappish comebacks startling laughter or, in Han's case, a few slaps for besting him as 'Troll King'.

Also, Jongdae usually needs at least three more cups of coffee in the morning before he can make statements like that in the office.

"What?" Chanyeol blinks, looking across the desk divide at his friend.

"Seriously, this is the fourth day in a row you've come to work and looked like you finally achieved some sort of weird enlightenment, what's up?" Jongdae is hunched over his keyboard, squinting at him behind a new pair of glasses, and he’s cradling a coffee like his beloved child. He certainly doesn't look awake enough to be making profound writing achievements, but apparently he is awake enough to make observations about Chanyeol out loud.

"I'm not zen."

"Then what's up?" Jongdae asks, and takes a slow calculated sip of coffee. His eyes narrow further. "Did you get laid?"

Chanyeol, while not the one drinking coffee, manages to choke on something anyway, and sputters into coughing, cheeks flaring as Jongdae's eyebrows rise high on his forehead. "No," he says swiftly, and the excitement he'd seen begin to build flattens in Jongdae's composure. "No, I didn't- I'm not even seeing anyone."

"Are you sure?" Jongdae asks. "I still haven't heard you say yes to spending time with me on weekends. Not since over a month ago."

"I've been busy," Chanyeol hedges.

"Doing what? Or doing who? Whom?" Jongdae scrunches up at his nose. "I hate mornings."

"Jongdae, stop trying to use me to procrastinate," Chanyeol tells him, reaching over and pushing lightly at Jongdae's shoulder. His friend whines softly at him as he spins his office chair back to his keyboard. "I promise, as interesting as you may find me, researching and writing about me won't get you a paycheck."

"I could write a book," Jongdae says. "Make a killing."

"The only way it would sell is if it had my face on the cover," Chanyeol teases.

"With a lot of photoshop," Jongdae adds, and laughs, dodging as Chanyeol throws his post-its minis at him. He's laughing himself though, the comment rolling down his skin like nothing, and he doesn't mind. It's nice to have people at work who want him to be there, that care about him. It's not like Chanyeol couldn't tell, even if his own mind is other places these days, how he's more aware somehow.

It's a bit odd because as soon as he stepped back and started watching, it felt like he was more involved, more in tune with everything else. He began to notice the different days that Juhyun arrives late to work and the new manicures she gets. She prefers simple designs. He's also noticed just how much she and Junmyeon do actually talk. It's a little different from the prospective matchmaking he and Jongdae used to tease about, because now it's easier to see them as people. It's easier to see how Juhyun is fond of Junmyeon, but how she doesn't act interested, if anything just amused by him.

The two of them are funny though, sharing the same slightly obscure sense of humor.

It makes Chanyeol smile.

He's begun to notice that Jongdae looks longer at the screen of his phone where Sunyoung's picture is still his background. The look in Jongdae's face is more and more serious, less excited and more settled. It also looks more nervous, like he's trying to decide on something and can't figure out what it is.

Other times, if Chanyeol saw stuff like this, he'd step in, try to figure out what was going on and what he could do to help. Now, there's none of the urgency, the need to fix it and help and find out what might be wrong. There isn't the drive to make things better, he just is happy to sit and watch other people, to give them space.

A large part of it he accredits is because of Jongin, because he can't hold the reigns or control things with him. Pushing had taught him his lesson, that trying to help incessantly without understanding the full situation has consequences. It leaves Chanyeol more thoughtful about what he does now and how he does it.

It makes him think before he speaks, weighing his words and his actions before he does anything. It's not about him all the time, and he doesn't have to fix everything, just be there to help if he's needed.

"Seriously, what happened?" Jongdae asks an hour later. Editing has become easier, faster and less hassle. The summer intern he's been working with has become so much better. Today would actually be a good day to ask Hoseok if he wanted to get lunch together rather than just drop off the edits to his articles. The undergraduate student has looked so eager to do his best, always listening to Chanyeol's corrections and tips, and he probably deserves a bit of recognition at least.

"What?"

"You're just," Jongdae makes a strange sort of wiggling hand motion. "That." Chanyeol arches one eyebrow at him. "Different."

"I'm not," Chanyeol says, trying to push Jongdae off the topic as he sits back. "I'm just-"

"Not the same," Juhyun answers for him over his shoulder and has Chanyeol swiveling in his chair. "And don't look at me like that, I have eyes, Mr. Park."

The smile on Juhyun's face is pretty, her eyes dancing as she looks down at Chanyeol and cradles a stack of paperwork against her chest. She's wearing her hair down today, brushing past her shoulders and she fixes him with a pointed look, as if challenging him to argue with her.

"I'm still me," Chanyeol defends, sitting back in his chair. "No idea what you're on about."

"Lunch," Juhyun says, and brushes her long hair over her shoulder. "Jongdae and I haven't seen you at the cafe or a few weeks now."

"Because I pack my lunch," Chanyeol says. "It's healthier."

"Live a little?" Juhyun suggests, glancing back towards Junmyeon's office. "Plus, we miss you. Jongdae won't stop talking about how sad he is about how he only gets to pester you about office stuff at the desk."

"I do not-"

"And maybe if you come, then I can get Junmyeon to not work through his lunch hour again," Juhyun finishes, talking over Jongdae.

Grimacing, Chanyeol glances back towards the office. "Again?"

"I'm convinced he's going for a new record," Juhyun sighs. "Two weeks straight this time." Chanyeol winces, and his mind flickers for a moment to wondering if Jongin ever takes lunch breaks. If there's time. Chanyeol hopes he's eating. Maybe if there's time, he can meet Jongin for a lunch one of these days.

"See, this is what we're talking about," Jongdae interrupts his thoughts.

"What?'

"The sudden lapses into silence," Juhyun explains.

"And the weird contemplative adult faces," Jongdae adds. "We need to talk to you about them."

"Because Jongdae is afraid he's not doing his proper job as future brother in law," Juhyun teases and Jongdae makes a soft squawking whine from beside Chanyeol.

"I'm an awesome almost brother in law."

"I was going to ask my intern to lunch today," Chanyeol explains quickly.

"Invite him," Juhyun says brightly. "You have Hoseok, right? He's a good kid, and funny. It'll be nice to have him join us, especially since he usually is stuck with the other interns who look hesitant to laugh at his jokes."

Despite the warmth in Juhyun's voice, Hoseok looks positively terrified to be sitting down at lunch at the local cafe with them. It's a bit unfair, Chanyeol supposes, that he's almost using his intern as a way to avoid getting hammered for details by Juhyun and Jongdae about his personal life, but there could be worse situations. For example, Hoseok could be Heechul's intern, and have been 'required' to have lunch with his 'mentor' every day for the last few months, which usually entails making lunch for Heechul as well.

Hoseok looks around with nervous smiles though, greeting Juhyun and Jongdae with hand shakes and smiles before he fumbles a hand shake and an almost bow when Junmyeon arrives. "I don't think we've met before," Junmyeon says, looking confused.

"This is Chanyeol's intern," Juhyun explains quickly, motioning to the two of them. "We thought we might invite him to lunch with us today, rather than have him cooped up with the other student interns."

"I didn't realize I'd be having lunch with one of the supervisors of the department," Hoseok says, looking a bit overwhelmed and excited as he shifts into his chair, timidly unpacking his lunch. "If I'd know, I might not have said yes when Chanyeol asked."

"Oh?" Junmyeon raises an eyebrow.

"Not because I don't like you, or anything, but I just-" Hoseok looks apologetic and teasing at the same time. It has Chanyeol biting down a laugh, recognizing the look from the many times he'd talked to Hoseok about his articles. "It's just usually I didn't think I'd see you unless I was in trouble." He laughs, glancing sideways at Chanyeol. "Am I in trouble?"

"Yes," Chanyeol tells him flatly, and stifles a laugh as Hoseok's face drops to look positively horrified.

"Chanyeol, be nice to the poor kid," Juhyun chides as Jongdae snorts laughter into his purchased burger from the cafe menu. "We don't need one of our most promising interns keeling over from trauma. It makes us look bad in front of the other departments."

"Am I really-" Hoseok's face is doing something that, Chanyeol realizes belatedly, his probably does too when he's unsure and skeptical but also tremendously excited.

"No, you're not in trouble," Chanyeol tells him, and Hoseok lets out a loud exhale as he sags into his chair. "I'm just teasing you."

"Funny, boss," Hoseok laughs, perking right back up.

"It's so strange to hear anyone call you boss," Jongdae comments. "Is that why you've been acting so weird?"

"Weird?" Hoseok parrots, leaning into the conversation eagerly.

"I'm not weird," Chanyeol defends, giving Jongdae a pointed look.

"No, if Chanyeol were letting that get to his head, he'd be acting more imperious," Juhyun says, tapping Jongdae's wrist with her salad fork. "This is something else. Chanyeol, dear," she leans forward and places a soft pretty hand over his own. "Are you sure you're not seeing anyone and just not telling us?"

"Whaaat?" Hoseok turns big eyes on Chanyeol.

"No," Chanyeol deflects, opening up his tupperware of left overs. "I told you already, I'm not-"

"But then why are you acting so differently?" Jongdae presses.

"He's acting differently?" Junmyeon asks, eyes wide as he looks up from his spaghetti. "You're acting differently?"

"Apparently," Chanyeol sighs, sitting back into his chair. "Though really, I don't know how differently, because in my opinion, Jongdae has shown the most obvious character shift so far."

"I'm dating someone," Jongdae defends. "It's called being in love, Chanyeol." He narrows his eyes.

"I'm not-" He kind of is. His lunch sticks in his throat as his chest gives a soft lurch. "How have I been acting differently?"

"Zen," Jongdae says.

"Quiet," Juhyun answers.

"You think a lot more," Hoseok says and then looks guilty when Chanyeol turns to him, wide eyed. "I'm just saying," he mumbles. "You used to talk a lot more and explain things three times."

"Maybe I'm just actually becoming an adult," Chanyeol proposes. His attention wanders, looking over the food at the table. Of all of the arrays of food, his eyes catch on Hoseok's, who looks like he's eating the dregs of a low budget and food he could grab last minute from a kitchen. In other words, a struggling student's diet.

"Chanyeol, we all know adults don't really exist. We're all just children trying to pretend we're not children anymore," Jongdae scoffs into his burger.

"I'm an adult," Junmyeon says tartly over the table and Juhyun delicately eats a bite of salad.

"You're the exception," Jongdae says, and reaches out to gently grasp Junmyeon's hand in compassion. "Chanyeol isn't though. He's not old enough yet."

"I'm twenty seven," Chanyeol reminds.

"Exactly," Jongdae chirps. "So, what's her name?"

"There isn't-" Chanyeol's stomach turns over and he puts down his fork to level a look at Jongdae.

"We're just curious," Juhyun says, dabbing at her mouth carefully. "I mean, we're your friends, and we feel concerned when you don't talk to us and let us know what's going on with you. Maybe we can help."

"This is helping?"

"I'm just his intern," Hoseok says quietly, and shrinks back into his chair, taking a bite of his apple. Hoseok's lunch looks so strange on the table, a jar of peanut butter and an apple and string cheese between the cafe selections and Chanyeol's packed lunch. It makes Chanyeol's chest tighten as he thinks of Jongin's lunches, wondering if his are the same, if he eats lunch.

"See?" Jongdae says, turning to look at Juhyun. "There it is!"

"What?" Junmyeon asks, finally paying attention again.

"That look he keeps getting," Jongdae says, pointing at Chanyeol's face.

"Jongdae," Chanyeol says, slowly and pointedly over the table. "I'm beginning to get concerned about how much you apparently pay attention to me. Are you sure there isn't something you need to tell me?"

Sputtering, Jongdae sits back with a huff. "I'm dating Sunyoung," he says defiantly. "You've seen her."

"Not in person," Chanyeol points out.

"Only because you won't come out and meet her when she's around!" Jongdae protests. "Which is weird. Remember when you told me I had to vet all my dates with you just to make sure I wasn't dating the kind of women Baekhyun-"

"Lunch is almost over," Chanyeol interrupts him, swallowing and looking down at his plate. That was a long time ago, and it wasn't serious. It sends a sick twist in his chest as he remembers what he had thought, even months ago, about the 'kinds of people' Baekhyun dated. It wasn't his business, and he doesn't like to think about how easily he could have heard about Jongin from a stranger and have thought the same rude things.

What makes him clench his jaw in silence is how he knows if he tried to actually talk to anyone about what's going on, they'd think far worse of Jongin. It's wrong, and they don't know him, not like Chanyeol knows him. But judgement is something that always exists, in how people think about others and without really having reason for it.

That's why Chanyeol doesn't want to tell his friends about Jongin. He doesn't want to watch them judge him without actually knowing what's happening, without knowing him or understanding anything about him. Even if it's not directed at him personally, Chanyeol doesn't want to see more people hurting Jongin or treating Jongin the way Chanyeol knows he's been treated.

So, maybe, he is protecting him.

"Chanyeol," pulls him from his thoughts as a light touch has him turning on the way out of the cafe. Juhyun smiles at him, almost in apology as she looks up at him. "Why don't we all go to Minseok's after work tonight? It's been a while since we all went after work, and I bet if you go, Junmyeon will too."

Taking in a deep breath and catching the faint look of concern on her face, he smiles and rests his hand over her's against his arm. "Alright," he agrees. "And, though I know it wasn't intentional, I think we did traumatize my intern."

"I think he had fun," Juhhyun says, her eyes brightening.

Before Chanyeol can settle back into his work that afternoon, he gets a new email from Hoseok.

Can I have lunch with you guys again tomorrow? You're fun :)

Chanyeol almost sighs, but ends up smiling and typing back an affirmative reply before letting work sweep him away and pull his mind from thoughts of judgement.

"Hey," has him looking up around closing, and Jongdae smiles faintly at him. "Minseok's?"

"Are you going to pester me about being zen?" Chanyeol asks, one brow raised as he begins to pack up.

"Maybe," Jongdae shrugs. "I'm just wondering about you. I mean, you're never this quiet." He waits as Chanyeol shakes his head at him in disbelief, gathering up his things. "Does Baekhyun know?"

"No," Chanyeol says, and grins as he pulls Jongdae into a head lock. It's not office protocol, but Chanyeol almost doesn't care, grinning as Jongdae yelps. "He doesn't, because there's nothing to know."

By the time they get to Minseok's, Jongdae still hasn't given up, resorting to trying to catch Chanyeol off guard as he asks random 'prompting' questions, trying to surprise information out of him. "Is this the new friend you had a few weeks ago?"

"Just order coffee," Chanyeol sighs, pushing Jongdae towards the bar.

"But really, is it him?"

"Jongdae-"

"What's up?" Minseok asks, stepping up to the bar with a polite confused frown.

"Chanyeol won't tell me what's got him all-" Jongdae repeats the hand gesture from earlier. Minseok simply raises one eyebrow at him and Jongdae sighs. "He's so distracted and quiet, it's like he's entered a zen world or something."

"And this is a bad thing?" Minseok asks, his eyes flickering to Chanyeol. He smiles softly, reassuring. "It's Chanyeol's business if he has something or someone that he doesn't want to tell you about, Jongdae."

"Why? I keep great secrets," Jongdae pouts. Turning to Chanyeol, he narrows his eyes. "So who is the girl?"

"There is no girl," Chanyeol answers resolutely, eyes on the cafe menu even if he's already memorized it. The soft twist in his chest winds tighter.

"Then, who is the boy?" Jongdae fires back with and it has Chanyeol's throat drying, his chest seizing as he keeps his eyes trained on cafe macchiatto.

"Go away," Chanyeol tells him lightly, trying to brush him off as Jongdae steps closer, as if to prod the information out of him.

"He probably just doesn't trust you," Minseok tells Jongdae simply. "Go rescue Juhyun. Han just got here." Immediately, Jongdae is turning away and a moment later, Chanyeol pushes down a grateful smile as Jongdae's yelp of "Han!" rings through the cafe.

"Thank you," Chanyeol tells Minseok sincerely, looking at him over the bar.

"He's not alone, you know," Minseok says.

"Not you too." Chanyeol swallows down a dry throat. It's too personal, too close, not his world to tell and he doesn't want to risk judgement before it's due.

"I'm allowed to be curious," Minseok tells him. "I'd expect you to pester me if I acted like you have been."

"And how is that?"

"Preoccupied," Minseok tells him, a faint smile on his lips. "Like you can't get something, or someone, out of your head. It's no wonder Jongdae picked up on it, considering he's doing almost the exact same thing all the time. Of course he'd pick up on it easily." It makes him nervous, wondering if Jongdae will lay off or keep this up, digging at him to try to know until Chanyeol cracks. Part of him wants to share Jongin, to admit that he's found someone that makes his heart beat too loud, but overall he wants to protect him, to keep Jongin out of prying eyes that don't understand.

"What about you?"

"I trust you," Minseok tells him. It's reassuring, and Chanyeol lets out a slow breath he didn't realize he'd been holding as he relaxes. "I trust you to know what you're doing and be wise about it." Minseok smiles and casually drums his fingers against the counter. "You're old enough to make your own decisions, and I've always thought you were one of the smarter ones."

"Thank you," Chanyeol tells him sincerely.

"If you really want to thank me, you'll go and pry Jongdae off of the chair he's trying to steal from Han," Minseok says, his mouth quirking. Looking across the cafe, he lets out a tired sigh, shaking his head. "Those two," he says, almost under his breath as Chanyeol follows his gaze to where Han and Jongdae are bickering over the chair next to Juhyun as she laughs.

"They'll never learn," Chanyeol sighs, pushing himself from the counter.

"I wish they would." Minseok sighs, and Chanyeol pauses for only a moment, his eyes on the flicker in Minseok's expression, before the turns to go and steal the chair from his two friends and end the argument.

The nice thing is that Han's arrival has distracted Jongdae from pestering Chanyeol, and it leaves him to his thoughts. However, rather than dwell further on the man that seems to endlessly wander in and out of his mind, Chanyeol sits back and simply stays with his friends, letting himself be with them. It earns him a smile from Juhyun, and a grin from Junmyeon as the lights on the wall cast a warm glow over them all.

It's warm, like the summer evening outside, and Chanyeol finds himself happy to be here.

*

It's not entirely surprising to Chanyeol when Hoseok ends up becoming a semi-permanent fixture at their lunch table. A few of the other interns begin to drift into their vision, though Junmyeon's and Jongdae's keep a wide berth from them.

"They know I can smell their fear," Jongdae answers idly as Chanyeol looks at him curiously. "They know better than to approach during feeding time."

"Because?"

"They may become the prey," Jongdae answers brightly before licking the foil of his yogurt snack happily. "Simple."

It's a nice addition though, and Hoseok ends up being enough of a distraction that Chanyeol doesn't feel examined during lunch. It's returning back to his old routine, where he catches up with Junmyeon and learns that he's finally seeing someone again, a new girl living in the southern area of the city. She sounds nice from what Junmyeon says and he sounds happy, enough that he grabs Jongdae's attention and they end up showing each other photos of their girlfriends on their phones.

"It's not a competition," Juhyun reminds them with a laugh as Jongdae begins rattling off the many talents Sunyoung possesses.

"I never said it was!" Jongdae protests as Chanyeol laughs and Hoseok watches with wide curious eyes.

It's nice to be back in the routine, and it has him pushing the folder of potential new employers in his email to the back of his mind. It's foolish to think of leaving the crew and his friends at Everyday Cuisine when he has such a place here. Even if the article spreads and suggestions he keeps making are rejected, at least he has a job, makes enough money to support himself and sometimes even treat Hoseok to real lunch that isn't just 'doritos and cola'.

"That's not lunch," Chanyeol had told him the first time he'd seen Hoseok sit down to lunch with it.

"Sure it is!" Hoseok had laughed, though it had sounded nervous.

It had taken both his and Junmyeon's combined efforts as his 'bosses' reminding that he worked at a food magazine and therefore should at least try. Chanyeol had stepped back though when he'd seen the sort of nervous desperation in Hoseok's eyes, knowing that to 'try' might mean more than he was able to afford. Peeks of reality sneaking in where Chanyeol hadn't initially noticed. The others don't see it, Junmyeon rattling on about the latest healthy diets and exercise programs as Jongdae pokes fun at them. Juhyun laughs and keeps to her strict food plan that Chanyeol knows would be impossible on a limited income and food budget.

Chanyeol notices though, the way Hoseok looks at the purchased lunch for him of fresh foods like they're too much, like he's not sure if he should eat a little and then take the rest home. It's not quite like Jongin, but it reminds him of him, and Chanyeol just hopes that Jongin is eating.

Lunch times like this are for eating, to get energy to get through the rest of the day, and Chanyeol finds himself wondering more and more as the days go on if Jongin even takes a break mid day. He gets his chance to ask when Jongin calls him early one morning on the commute to work and asks if he's busy.

It's convenient, Chanyeol carrying his old computer from his grandfather with him to work that day. Despite the multiple efforts from Han and Chanyeol's faith in it, the machine had finally passed on. It had been days since it would start up, and Chanyeol had finally admitted defeat on it and resigned to turn it in for a new one.

It lands him in the city that afternoon, and he waves off Jongin's claim of possible inconvenience saying he's already downtown for the evening.

"Am I keeping you?" Jongin asks, as he catches up to Chanyeol when they meet at the outskirts of one of the local park sections. The park here is smaller, not like the one closer to where Chanyeol lives or the one in the center of the city, but here is still pleasant, a small green and a nice walking path.

"Please, keep me," Chanyeol says, smiling and feeling a soft rush of warmth at the slightly taken aback look on Jongin's face. He doesn't take back what he said though. It doesn't seem fair, to himself or to Jongin to lie about himself. "I haven't seen you in a while, so I'm glad to meet up."

"I've been busy," Jongin says, and smiles faintly. He still looks tired, and he's wearing clothing clearly set aside for work. His hair is combed back, parted and kept from his face in simple styling that makes him look handsome, baring his face rather than hiding it behind the fall of soft locks.

"Job?" Chanyeol asks, hopeful.

The soft hum in return has Chanyeol smiling in excitement, grinning at Jongin. "It's nothing much," Jongin tells him. "Just a different position at the other place. They ended up having someone suddenly quit on them so they asked if I still needed work."

"That's great," Chanyeol exclaims happily, and reaches up to clasp Jongin on the shoulder. For a moment, he wonders if it's too much, too close, before he just lets it rest. Jongin doesn't push him off or pull away, and instead a soft smile plays about his lips, like he's also happy. "I'm happy to hear that. After not hearing from you-"

"I promised, didn't I?" Jongin reminds, and though his voice, the words surprise a small brush of satisfaction into Chanyeol's chest.

"You did," Chanyeol hums, and lets his hand drop, brushing on the way down against Jongin's back. He's still too thin, but his skin doesn't look as sallow or sunken around his too prominent bones. "I just wasn't sure you'd keep that promise."

"I have to set a good example for Sehun, don't I?" Jongin says, and there is a soft tease in his voice. "Never make a promise that you might break."

"Promises are forever," Chanyeol answers and smiles when Jongin's mouth twitches into a soft grin. "How is he?"

"Wishing for autumn," Jongin sighs. "He's not the only one." Looking up over the park, squinting in the sunlight, Jongin lets out a soft sigh. "He's missed you, over the last few weeks." There's a soft quiver in his voice, and when he glances at Chanyeol, something about his words suggest he's not only talking about Sehun.

It sends a soft flutter back into Chanyeol's chest even if he knows it shouldn't be there. This thing, what he feels for Jongin, is his. It's not about them, and Jongin has more than he can handle with Sehun and all of his many jobs than to think of Chanyeol on top of it.

But he does whispers a tiny part of him as he watches Jongin's hair stir in the light summer breeze.

"I miss him too," Chanyeol says, and when Jongin looks at him, he knows he hears the full meaning in the words. I miss you.

It's selfish to miss Jongin when he sees him as often as he does, but even then it's been weeks since he properly spent time with Jongin, not since before he went hiking with Junmyeon. Not since the 'incident' in his apartment when everything had come falling into the open and it felt like they were stepping forward and starting over at the same time.

It's not the same, but it's not completely different, and Chanyeol's still getting used to it. The reality remains though that he misses spending time with Jongin, with Sehun, with both of them.

There isn't really a part of this where Chanyeol can fit easily into their world like he might fit in with Jongdae or hang out with Jinri. There isn't the regularity with Jongin like there is with his other friends. But somehow it makes the time with Jongin and Sehun more precious, more valuable. While it's possible to go up for an entire weekend with Junmyeon hiking, just grabbing an hour with Jongin, like now, isn't easy.

That doesn't mean that Chanyeol doesn't enjoy the time he gets, but he sometimes wonders about Jongin.

But then, if Jongin didn't want to spend time with him, Chanyeol is pretty sure Jongin wouldn't contact him.

But he does, repeats that voice in his mind and Chanyeol can't help but let his eyes linger on the man walking beside him.

"I was wondering," Jongin asks, breaking the silence that's drawn between them. "Since it's been a while, and I- I thought you might like to come by for dinner."

Eyes widening as he stops walking, Chanyeol takes Jongin's hand without hesitation, frowning. "Jongin, if this is-"

"This isn't about paying back," Jongin says quickly. "Well, it is, but-" Jongin closes his eyes and lets out a long breath. "Sehun would like it if you dropped by."

I would like it.

"You don't have to-"

"Then it makes it easier," Jongin continues, his words rushing as he looks steadily into Chanyeol's eyes, holding on. "Then I can give you back the tupperware and finally be the one making dinner in my own home when you're there."

"You don't-"

"I want to," Jongin says, cutting Chanyeol's words off before they can finish and he smiles. It's not the guarded smile, or the forced smile, but rather a kind of smile that looks timid, but no less real. "It's all I can do right now." The breath that Jongin takes in has him closing his eyes, and Chanyeol watches with warring sentiments as he feels Jongin gently squeeze around his hand. "It's not- I don't want to give you the wrong idea," Jongin finishes, hand still firm in Chanyeol's

"Which is?"

"It's only dinner," Jongin tells him. The way he says it gives Chanyeol the impression that he's telling both of them, reminding himself as well as telling Chanyeol, that he's building himself up. Stronger.

"Fine," Chanyeol tells him, and smiles as Jongin relaxes, a real smile finally blossoming on his face. "But I get to have you over for dinner next time."

What this is, what this means, or what it could mean is all gray area, undefined but somehow, the feeling in Chanyeol's chest and the hold of Jongin's hand around his tells him this isn't like before. This isn't the tentative tendrils of a hesitant friendship with confused messages. It's not much more than that, but it might be.

It has Chanyeol smiling enough that he can't stop, the grin wide on his face to match Jongin's as he gives his hand a final squeeze. It leaves his hand tingling when he lets go, traveling up his arm and into his chest.

"Okay," Jongin agrees, the old hesitancy and refusal still lingering, but not brought up.

"Then I can give Sehun his garden kit properly," Chanyeol says and Jongin's eyes widen before he laughs.

"You don't really have to give him stuff like that," Jongin tells him.

"I want to," Chanyeol presses.

"You make me look bad," Jongin almost pouts at him, and Chanyeol doesn't bite down a laugh this time.

"Jongin, I don't think anyone could make you look bad in Sehun's eyes," he says, and Jongin's eyes catch a flicker of pleased hope. "No one could love you more than Sehun does."

"You'll still make me look bad," Jongin pushes, his brown eyes sparkling in the evening sun.

"I could never make you look bad," Chanyeol says. "I'm just trying to win over your son." Jongin's cheeks round up as his grin widens, his teeth flashing in a grin. "I have to keep up the illusion that I'm an angel somehow. I kind of liked that."

"I think he knows better now," Jongin teases.

"Why's that?"

"He's met you," Jongin says matter of factly and then laughs, loud and genuine as Chanyeol lets out a dismayed sound and turns to him with a dramatized look of hurt. It doesn't last though, a smile breaking out over his face at the sound of Jongin's laughter, at the way his whole face lights up, and the way that warm glow in his chest just seems to get bigger with every pulse of his heart.

*

There is something to be said about siblings.

For some people, like Junmyeon, they keep a cordial relationship with their older or younger siblings. Junmyeon and his brother get along, but Chanyeol doesn't hear Junmyeon talk about him with the same sort of closeness or fondness that he hears Jongdae talk about Jongdeok. He doesn't hear Baekhyun talk about Baekbeom like he sees Minseok share fond stories of his sister. For his whole life, Chanyeol has known he's been lucky with his older sister.

Since he was a boy, Yura has been his loving older sister. They did so much together, she looking out for him and he helping her as he got older. Despite the few years between them, and a years of childhood arguments and fights, they've always been close. It used to be Yura that Chanyeol would go to when things got hard or scary. And it used to be Chanyeol that Yura would call up when she needed help. For years, Chanyeol made sure he met every boy Yura dated and made sure to give them 'the talk'.

In university, Yura would often times find a way with Chanyeol and his busy student schedule to see him at least once a month. Weekly dinners were normal. They always got along, and spending time with Yura was something Chanyeol always looked forward to. She was his confidant, his stable rock, his role model, and his open ear when he was struggling and he did all he could to be the same for her.

Then, about four years ago, Yura met Jongdeok, and things began to change.

It's been four years since Chanyeol snooped on Yura's phone and asked Jongdeok out for lunch for 'the brother talk'. It's been four years since he stopped just hanging out with Yura and it became him backing off to let her have time with her boyfriend.

It's been four years, and the weekly dinners together have dissipated. Chanyeol moved to the big city, and Yura took a position in a larger town an hour away where she and Jongdeok live together. Now, it's less of Yura and Chanyeol seeing each other for fun and instead them reconnecting on the phone or when they both go to see the family together.

And Chanyeol doesn't realize how much he misses his sister until nights like this, when he finally has caught her when she's in the city for dinner.

It's just like old times, and Chanyeol had made sure to reserve a table for them at one of the downtown restaurants he remembers Yura liking. If anything, Yura looks even better than usual, her hair cropped short now and a big smile on her face as she immediately pulls him into a hug.

It's like stepping back into comfort, even if Yura's laugh vibrates against his shoulder when she almost has to stand on her tip toes to get her arms around him.

"I still can't believe you grew into such a giant," Yura is laughing as she takes her seat. "Remember when I used to carry you around in the laundry basket?"

"How could I forget?" Chanyeol laughs, stepping back to get a look at his sister. "Too bad I can't fit anymore."

"I bet if we took a few things off you could make it," Yura teases and laughs when Chanyeol frowns pointedly at her. She looks stunning, dressed simply in a sundress and with a large floppy straw hat on to protect her from the summer sun.

Over appetizers, she tells Chanyeol all about the new things she's been doing, about the business she's opened up a branch of in the city, the apartments she's been looking at, and the summer trip she and Jongdae made the other weekend. "I'm still sorry I didn't get to see you while you were home," Yura says, and sighs, picking apart a piece of bread from the appetizer basket. "I never get to see you."

"You're seeing me right now," Chanyeol reminds her.

"Only because I had to hunt you down," Yura sighs, and then laughs as Chanyeol scrunches up his nose at her. "This is why I'll always call you a kid."

"Why?"

"Because you act like one!" Yura laughs, and laughs more as Chanyeol flinches when she flicks a piece of bread crust at him. "Still, I'm sorry I haven't seen you in so long."

"You've been busy," Chanyeol says, watching as his sister sighs and softens across the table from him. "You have your own life and you can't keep running around after me all the time. You have to accept that I'm all grown up now and now just your baby brother."

"You'll always be my baby brother," Yura tells him fondly. "Too scared to give out valentines in class you made yourself because you think you forgot someone."

"I never forgot anyone."

"Which is what makes you so special," Yura says.

"That's it?"

"Pretty much," Yura answers and laughs at the look she gets. "How is work? Has mom pestered you about asking for a promotion yet?"

"Every time I call," Chanyeol sighs. "I guess it's the same as when she asks if you're engaged yet." Yura picks up another piece of bread, a soft smile on her face as she carefully tears off a piece. "How is that going?"

"Talking to mother?" Yura asks, looking up. "The usual. She cares a lot and I'm already thirty I should be married by now." She laughs, sitting back in her chair. "At least, according to her."

"You've been busy," Chanyeol says, not sure if he's telling Yura or reminding himself, if he's even talking to Yura. He's twenty seven and has nothing in his future aside from himself and... something better. It's all gray space and he's still trying to figure out the shapes. "The world we live isn't the same as what she grew up in."

"She just cares a lot," Yura says, and smiles reassuringly. "Both she and dad care so much about us, they just want what's best for us."

"Don't all parents?" Chanyeol poses, his mind flashing to Jongin trying to get a pouting Sehun to eat his broccoli.

"They mean well," Yura sighs. She opens her mouth, about to say something else, when the food arrives.

At first, they get too wrapped up in eating, and Chanyeol finds himself once more distracted by running thoughts of his own life. Parents who mean well, when he truly tries to put it in perspective, end up clashing in his head. It's hard to imagine his own parents like he sees Jongin, trying his hardest to make sure Sehun is healthy and has his needs met. The same scoldings he got as a child from his parents are different to watch when Jongin delivers them to Sehun.

Perhaps it's different because the situations are so different, because Jongin isn't Chanyeol's parents, because how they parent is different, but Chanyeol finds himself running up against walls.

It's hard to see Jongin ever pestering Sehun to find a wife and settle down at a proper job that earns substantial money. It's hard to imagine Sehun feeling like he can't talk to his father about what's happening in his life, like he won't be accepted, like it isn't okay. It's hard to ever see Jongin pressuring Sehun to be something other than what he wants to become.

What does Chanyeol really want?

"How have you been?" Yura asks, cutting through his thoughts.

"Busy," Chanyeol answers automatically. It's true, he has been busy. Extremely busy, on top of work and his friends and the minimal community work he still does sometimes and spending time with Jongin, Chanyeol hardly has much free time. Whatever free time he ends up having, he makes. Like tonight.

"Obviously," Yura laughs. "Considering it took forever to nail down time for this dinner."

"You'd have seen me if you were home the other weekend," Chanyeol teases. "But you were off with Jongdeok having fun."

"I was," Yura says, her fork twining slowly into her pasta vongole. "He proposed."

"What was it you two were-" Chanyeol stops, his eyes widening as he realizes what Yura's just said. "What?"

"Jongdeok," Yura says, and sits up properly. She's smiling, but there's something unsure about it, wavering at the edges of her eyes and lips. "He proposed to me."

"When?" Chanyeol can feel his heart, shaking in his chest in excitement, surprise, and slight concern. Somehow, despite the news, Yura doesn't look as happy as Chanyeol thought she would. "Have you told mom?"

"She doesn't know," Yura says, her voice slightly softer. She takes in a deep breath. "He asked me that weekend, actually. The weekend we were away and you went home." Chanyeol can't tell what's going on, the smile on his sister's face anything but the happy smile he'd expected. She almost looks scared, upset.

"Yura?" That was weeks ago that Chanyeol went home to see his parents.

"I-" Yura lets out a long breath, her eyes closing. "I didn't answer him yet."

The air halts around them, and the candle on the table catches in Yura's eyes, making them shine. "What?"

"Jongdeok," Yura says, and finally looks up to meet Chanyeol's eyes. It's like she's waiting for the outcry, the disappointment, the reaction. Chanyeol feels numb. "I didn't answer him yet."

It doesn't make sense. Chanyeol has spent the last four years watching Yura and Jongdeok together. It's such a familiar thing that he doesn't even think of them separately much, at least not on Jongdeok's part. It's Yura and Jongdeok, the other man already immediately assumed to be a future part of the family. Even Jongdae is already ready to move in and team up.

But as Yura sits across the table from him, Chanyeol knows that's not what's important. What's important is his sister, who looks small and expectant and unsure sitting across from him with her hands tucked into her lap, watching him with flickering eyes.

"Well," Chanyeol says, putting down his fork and sitting back. "I'll have to tell Jongdae to stop trying to schedule us in for matching tuxes." It was a poor attempt to be funny, but at least Yura seems to relax slightly.

"I didn't say no," Yura admits.

"But you didn't say yes," Chanyeol finishes for her, watching his sister, trying to read her, to find out what's really wrong. She shakes her head. "Why?"

Taking in a deep breath, Yura holds it before she shakes her head, as if getting herself in order. "I just- froze, I guess." She breathes out. "I guess it's just become such a big thing that I didn't know what to do when it actually happened. I wasn't shocked and happy when he asked, and it was beautiful. He was so sweet and thoughtful and it surprised me but I didn't-" she lets out a loud sigh, eyes pressing shut. "I just felt scared, like I didn't know if it was real and if it was the right decision."

Looking across the table at his sister, Chanyeol suddenly feels like he's looking into a mirror. The anxiety, the nerves, and the self doubt that's written all over his sister's pretty face are like his own conflicting feelings the last few months. Yura and Jongdeok have been dating for years, already live together and act like they're married. They're just one legal contract away from being that married couple that everyone wishes to be.

It's almost reaffirming, to see even his perfect darling sister, who Chanyeol has always tried to live up to and felt he'd fallen short, to have a moment just like himself. "Do you love him?" he asks.

"What?" Yura asks, and sniffs slightly as she looks up at him. Her eyes are slightly red and her nose has begun to pink.

"Do you love Jongdeok?" Chanyeol asks simply.

"Of course," Yura says in a rush. "That hasn't changed, but it's just- this whole big thing about waiting and waiting and waiting for him to propose had me wondering again and again when it would happen, and what would happen after that, and I just- I couldn't say it." She grimaces and looks down at her plate. "I couldn't say yes."

"Is that it?" Chanyeol asks, and finds himself laughing. Yura's head jerks up to look at him, eyes wide. "If that's all that's keeping you from saying yes, then don't scare me like that."

"Hey," Yura frowns, huffing at him a bit. "This is-"

"Forget about mom," Chanyeol says, and reaches across the table for his sister's hands. She hesitates, but reaches out to him a moment later and he smiles at her, trying to put all the reassurance and confidence he feels in Yura into his voice. "Forget about what people keep telling you to do and what you're 'supposed' to feel when someone proposes to you. No one can really tell you what to feel, and if you want to be scared, then be scared." Yura swallows, sniffing at him again. "Just do what you feel is right."

"I don't know though," Yura says, voice quiet. "What if I say yes and it's the wrong decision?"

"Yura," Chanyeol calls to his sister. "If you don't say yes, will you regret it?"

Yura is silent, just watching him with her lips pressed tight. She's always been the strong one, protecting Chanyeol from things and being the buffer between him and his parents and their overzealous enthusiasm for him. Every now and then, Chanyeol has to remind himself she can get scared too and he can help take care of her for once.

Just like he used to when he'd scare off her old boyfriends and come back telling her they weren't worthy of her.

Jongdeok never left, and Chanyeol knows how he looks at her. It's like how Jongin looks at Sehun. Chanyeol knows how Yura looks at Jongdeok too, like he's her happily ever after, her other half and the beginning and ending of her smile.

"I have an idea," Chanyeol says, and sits back, digging into his pocket as Yura's eyes widen. Her eyebrows rise high when he smiles and pulls out a coin. "Heads is yes, you say yes to Jongdeok, and tails is no, and that's that."

"You can't be serious," Yura scoffs, looking slightly insulted. "Chanyeol, this isn't just a flip a coin decision."

"Trust me," he says, even as his heart beats faster in his chest. "Ready?"

"Chanyeol-!"

Tossing the coin in the air, Chanyeol catches it, and flips it to land flat on the back of his hand. Holding it out to Yura, he smiles and takes away one hand, revealing the coin face. "Tails," he says, and listens to the sharp intake of breath.

"Chanyeol, you can't just decide by a coin toss if-"

"Is it wrong?" Chanyeol asks, and watches his sister closely.

"Of course it's wrong!" Yura says, huffing as she grabs the coin from him. "If I flip it again, I'll get heads and-"

"Did you want heads?" Chanyeol asks.

"I-" Yura's voice falters, and for a moment she just stills, frozen in time as she looks at Chanyeol across the table. Then, as if she's been flipped herself, she shifts, the color returning to her face and the light back into her eyes as a smile begins to spread over her face. "Thank you," she says, and finally she looks like Chanyeol had thought she would.

This is the Yura he'd thought he would see when he found out Jongdeok proposed to her. This is the bright and glowing and happy to burst sister that he pictured in his head, her smile so big it threatens the limits of her face, her eyes so full of joy it flows out into the world around her.

"See?" Chanyeol says, and can't help the smug smile on his face. "So," he prompts, watching as Yura laughs at him happily. "When are you going to tell him?"

"After I get home," Yura says.

"Are you sure you want to wait that long?" Chanyeol asks, picking up his fork again to go back to dinner. "I mean, the poor guy has waited for this long for an answer from you."

"He made me wait years before he asked me," Yura laughs. It's free, light and happy and empty of the nervous flutter it had earlier. His sister is back. "He can wait until I get home. I have to have dinner with my amazing brother, just like I promised." She sits up, returning to her meal with a new light to her that seems to build from the inside out. "Thank you," she says again, and Chanyeol simply smiles at her.

"I'm your brother, that's what I'm here for," Chanyeol tells her.

"And I'm lucky to have you," she says, and bumps his foot under the table. "Now it's just you that's left."

The energy behind Chanyeol's smile falters, flickering away and it almost falls. He catches it, holding it tight in place as Yura turns back to her meal, oblivious.

As happy as Chanyeol is for his sister, he isn't who she is. Chanyeol doesn't have a girlfriend from the last few years, or one that he wants in the next few years, to propose to. There is none of the goal and type A characteristics that his sister shows. As much as they've both been called similar, determined, hard working, and outgoing, Chanyeol wonders about his job, his future, and where he will be in five years.

Yura isn't that person, and though she's faltered just now, that's not her norm.

In five years, Chanyeol may still be single. In five years, Chanyeol may still be spending as much time as he can with Jongin, watching him for smiles he can coax out of him, watching Sehun grow up and learn new things, and feeling his world grow bigger than he can understand. In five years... he will never be Yura.

It scares him, probably more than Yura was ever scared of being asked to spend the rest of her life with Jongdeok. Yura could answer yes or no and both answers are fine, where as Chanyeol knows so little about his own future and still doesn't know which side of the coin he doesn't want.

Yura, deep down, knew she didn't want to say no. Chanyeol, in all of him, still doesn't even know the questions to ask the coin.

It's too much for tonight though, and Chanyeol pushes it down, as deep down as it can go, and pushes his smile bigger on his face, letting the happiness for his sister wash over him for now. It's easiest to be happy for other people and help them, and Chanyeol silences himself in the sound of his sister's joy.

*

Somehow, despite the apartment having probably the worst air circulation Chanyeol has ever seen in structural design, when he walks into the unit, it's not that bad. The air is still heavy and the hair at the nape of his neck is wet with perspiration, but it's not the same muggy heat that it had been the last time he'd been here. It's a weekend, which Chanyeol had initially thought would mean Jongin might have plans, or that he himself might have plans. He may have, if Baekhyun had anything to say about it, except, at least in Chanyeol's mind, Jongin got to him first.

First come, first serve.

"You made it," Jongin says, a smile that is less hesitant every time Chanyeol sees him on his face. "Sehun was beginning to worry."

"You take forever!" Sehun half yells as he comes bounding down the hall in surprisingly quiet leaps. "Did you get lost?"

"No, I just had to make sure I looked nice when I saw you," Chanyeol tells Sehun and earns a bright giggle. "Do I pass?"

"I don't know," Sehun says, and looks up at his father. "Daddy?"

"He passes," Jongin says, smiling down at Sehun with a brief glance at Chanyeol.

Sighing loudly in exasperation, Sehun rolls his eyes and trundles back into the apartment. "You can't say that, you didn't even look at him. You have to look at people, Daddy."

"I did look," Jongin says, and shares an amused smile with Chanyeol as they walk together. "Besides, since when did we have a dress code?"

"Sehun told me I had to look nice," Chanyeol reminds, and gets an almost conspiratory grin from Sehun when the boy flops onto the living room floor. "Sehun, why do I have to look nice?"

"Because," Sehun says, and then rolls onto his tummy, bursting with laughter.

Letting out a quiet sigh, Jongin looks up at Chanyeol. "If you're uncomfortable-"

"I'm fine," Chanyeol reassures him, smiling and feeling it spread through him. Jongin looks relaxed, at home and content, like he doesn't feel on edge here. It's like he's taken away layers, defenses and walls built up around himself before he walks into the world. It's nice to see them coming down, Jongin slowly unfolding with him, showing himself and letting Chanyeol in.

A soft flutter that Chanyeol has begun to just expect shifts in his chest, catching his breath.

"I'm still wrapping up dinner," Jongin says.

"About that," Chanyeol begins. He falters at the pointed look Jongin gives him, so familiar to the stern look he gives Sehun when he's pulling 'father rank'. "Jongin-"

"I'm making dinner, and that's final," Jongin tells him.

"He spent so long trying to figure out what to make, Chanyeol, you can't say no," Sehun says, rolled onto his back, his hair fanning about his head like a black silken halo. "If you tell him it's bad he'll cry and then I'll hate you forever."

"Why would I ever tell Jongin his cooking is bad?" Chanyeol asks, astounded.

"Because you never stay for dinner!" Sehun clammers, slapping his tummy. "You always disappear, like how Daddy does at night."

"Like-" Chanyeol's blood goes cold, and when he turns to Jongin, fearing the worst, he's met with a definite flush to his cheeks.

"Three of my jobs are at night," Jongin explains quickly. "It's not- not that."

"Three?" Chanyeol repeats, eyes widening in shock.

Giving an almost jerking nod, Jongin takes in a deep breath. "The other three are during the day," he says, and then closes his mouth, bottom lip pulling between his teeth, waiting.

Six. Six jobs.

It's so many, and a lot of running around. Chanyeol has heard of people pulling three in extremes but six? It makes him feel uneasy. "Oh," he says though, trying to not put too much pressure or weight on it. Just from how Jongin is watching him, it's obvious that Jongin hasn't had a good response from talking about this. It's strange, intense, and almost absurd. Having six jobs makes Jongin look unstable from the outside, like he can't just hold onto one properly.

It's probably the farthest from the truth, just another judgment Chanyeol is loathe to make.

No expectations.

"I got tonight off though," Jongin continues, and the tension is gone, the only trace of it in his red bitten lip. "Actually all Saturday nights are off for the rest of the- until something happens." He smiles, and turns when Sehun pushes himself up, easily catching his son when Sehun jumps up and into his arms.

Arms around his father's neck, Sehun is nothing but a beaming smile. "We get to have real weekends!" he crows.

It's been going on for a long time then, Jongin working the nights after Sehun has gone to bed.

No wonder he's exhausted all the time.

"Actual weekends," Jongin confirms with a laugh, and it's still in his eyes when he looks back to Chanyeol. "For the most part."

"Good," Chanyeol says, trying to find a way to speak without knowing what to say. "Real weekends are the best. Is this your first one this year?"

"The first ever!" Sehun says, and slips to the floor when Jongin makes to put him down. Jongin flashes Chanyeol a smile before stepping to the kitchen. It pulls at Chanyeol to go follow him, to ask to help, to stay close, to do something. Instead, he turns and lets him be, bending down to talk with Sehun and smiling at the huge grin on the boy's face. "And you're here. So it's like a super celebration. We should do something special."

"Like what?" Chanyeol asks, walking with Sehun to the couch. There is a deck of cards on the table, a game of hearts laid out in mid play.

"We-" Sehun trails off, looking around before he hops onto the couch to join Chanyeol. "Well, we could listen to the radio, or play cards, or we could play chess."

"Are you sure you don’t want to play something that all three of us can play?"

"But in chess one person can always watch," Sehun says before sliding off the couch. The box he tugs out from one of the bookshelf is dusty and beat up, and when he opens it to reveal an old chess set and fold out board, it looks well used. "And daddy is cooking so we can play right now!"

"I’m not sure if you’ll find much difference since the last game we played. I haven’t had anyone else to play with, and I maybe forgot some things," Chanyeol admits, slipping down to the floor by the couch as Sehun kneels on the other side of the table. Glancing over at the kitchen, Chanyeol catches sight of Jongin watching them as he cooks, a delighted and fond smile on his face. It's beautiful.

"That's okay," Sehun says, already setting up the board. "I’ll remind you. I'm getting better at it, and one day, I'll be able to beat Daddy when we play and then I'll be the one who can make all the rules."

"I thought you were already king," Chanyeol teases, smiling as he helps Sehun set up the pieces.

"I am, but I still have to follow the rules," Sehun explains, wiggling a bit. If Sehun is anything, it's motion. He never sits still, and Chanyeol chuckles softly as he ponders if the only time Sehun is motionless is when he's sleeping.

It wouldn't surprise him if he wasn't.

"What kind of rules would you make?" Chanyeol asks.

Humming, Sehun juts out his lower lip as he thinks, tilting his whole head to the side. "No one has to go to work at night," Sehun says. "And the scary ladies can't come here anymore."

Frowning, Chanyeol watches as Sehun makes the first move. "Scary ladies."

"Just some of the neighbors," Jongin brushes off, walking up to them and sitting down on the couch beside Chanyeol.

Looking up and affronted, Sehun frowns at his father. "But Daddy, they-"

"Won't come here again, I already talked to them," Jongin says, his voice stern but calm.

Sehun doesn't look convinced though, huffing a bit as he settles back to sit on his feet. "It's your turn," he tells Chanyeol.

"Can I help with anything?" Chanyeol asks, looking to Jongin after he moves, letting Sehun play.

"No," Jongin tells him, but there is a slight quirk to his mouth. The warmth in his eyes is almost addicting, and it's hard to look away from. "I hope you don't mind lasagna."

"I love lasagna," Chanyeol says with a large smile.

The game of chess is interrupted half way through Sehun's winning streak and decimation of Chanyeol's pawns when Jongin calls them for dinner. Dragged to the bathroom, Sehun continues to just talk, like he had done through most of the chess game, and it has Chanyeol biting down a laugh. Sehun teaches Chanyeol everything, from how to play chess, what moves are good or bad, to how to wash his hands properly.

"I didn't know I was doing it wrong," Chanyeol says, holding down a laugh.

"That's why it's such a good thing I'm here now," Sehun says, marching into the main room again. "Now you know though so you don't ever have to do it wrong ever again!"

It's a simple dinner, just a lasagna with homemade garlic bread and a salad but still, Chanyeol sits down with the gratitude of a feast. Beside him, Sehun lets out a whoop of delight. "No broccoli!" Sehun cheers and it has Chanyeol bursting into laughter.

"I'm saving the broccoli for tomorrow's breakfast," Jongin says, and lets out his own laugh as Sehun pulls a disgusted face.

"That's not funny, Daddy," Sehun tells him, heaving a huge sigh at his father.

"I never said I was kidding," Jongin tells him, raising his eyebrows in mocking shock. The smell from the lasagna when he places it on a hot pad on the table is wonderful, and Chanyeol finds himself impressed at the spread. It's not a simple dish to just throw together. Jongin had to have been in the kitchen for a while today.

"Blegh," Sehun says, pulling another face. He stops when Jongin quietly reminds, "manners," and sits up straight in his chair.

"Thank you for the food," Chanyeol says sincerely, and the pleased look he gets from Jongin makes him smile.

"Don't say that until you try it," Jongin tells him.

"But don't tell him it's bad," Sehun adds quickly, holding his fork with determination. "No one gets their feelings hurt in our house."

The food is, in fact, delicious, and Chanyeol wastes no time in telling Jongin so. It's worth it for the pleased and proud smile on Jongin's face. The food is wonderful and it's nice to just be at the table with Jongin and Sehun. Mostly, it's Sehun talking to Jongin or Chanyeol as he pushes cucumbers around his plate to avoid eating them and avoids the pointed looks from his father. There are a lot of things Sehun has to talk about. School is going to start in a few weeks, and he'll be starting second grade, learning new things and already excited to meet his teacher and see if his friends are in his class.

What few friends he has though, considering there are only a few names he lists, and he doesn't elaborate on them.

"But I'm most excited because we get to start to really read," Sehun is saying. "Last year they kept us reading all these baby books and it was so boring but maybe in the first week they'll see how I can read and I can take third grade."

"Sehun, you don't have to go straight into third grade," Jongin says kindly, looking up from his plate as Sehun takes a big gulp of milk from his pink sparkly cup. "No one is rushing you."

"But what if second grade is boring?" Sehun sighs loudly, slumping in his chair. "I don't want to spend the whole year bored, Daddy."

"What about your friends?" Chanyeol asks.

"They'll be fine without me," Sehun brushes off easily. "They never wanted to come over to play anyway. I’ll meet new friends, better friends, friends who won’t care that they can’t come over and watch TV because we don’t have one. TV is stupid anyway, and none of them could play chess or read books without pictures in them." He spears a cucumber with his fork, scowling at it. “Pictures in your head are better anyway, even if they made fun of me.”

The words put a saddened look on Jongin's face, even as Sehun appears completely unfazed by it. "You didn't tell me that," he says, putting down his fork slowly.

"It's okay," Sehun says and looks up to smile at his father. "I don't really care. None of them could play chess or anything, so we didn't do much anyway." Still, the dimmer shade to Jongin remains until the subject changes as the food is slowly finished. It's a little strange how quickly time flows, the few hours that Chanyeol has spent already vanishing into nothing.

"Don't worry about it," Jongin catches Chanyeol before he can try to help clean up. He smiles, and even if he looks less exhausted, even if he's not working tonight, it's clearly been a long day, a long week, month, year, life, and he has tired settled into the corners of his lips and the shadows under his eyes. "I'll take care of it later."

"Are you sure?"

"I asked you over for dinner," Jongin reminds him, pushing Chanyeol out of the kitchen and back towards the living room. "I didn't ask you over to do my dishes."

"I love doing dishes," Chanyeol argues, even as he lets Jongin shove him to the living area. "They're my favorite thing. Didn't I tell you that? It'll be fun for me. I can wash and you can finish my game of chess with Sehun."

"You can lose all by yourself," Jongin laughs, not giving in as he pushes Chanyeol back to where Sehun is waiting expectantly at the game. "You'll get no help from me. You have to beat Sehun all by yourself. House rules."

"See?" Sehun says, perking up. "I told you I didn't make the rules."

"One day, Sehun, you can make all the rules you want in your own house," Jongin says, settling back on the couch to just watch the game. "Then whenever I visit you, I'll have to obey all of them."

"First rule is no scary ladies," Sehun says, and takes Chanyeol's rook with a triumphant hiss.

"Alright," Jongin says. When Chanyeol looks back at him, the lines of his face are less smiling and heavier. He wants to ask, but isn't sure if it's okay. Perhaps when the game is over.

It's twilight when the game ends, Sehun winning with at least half his pieces and Chanyeol running around the board to escape him with only his king. It had Sehun in stitches with laughter as every time Sehun put Chanyeol in check, he'd make a little distressed sound in a high voice that would send him into giggles again. Apparently, the way to Sehun's heart is through silly voices. About half way through the second half of the game, Jongin had wandered back to the kitchen, returning as Chanyeol's last knight was taken to sit back onto the couch and watch Chanyeol's demise.

"You tried," is all he says when Chanyeol gets put in check by three different pieces.

"I did," Chanyeol sighs, sitting back in defeat as Sehun grins in victory.

"Again!" Sehun cheers, all bright enthusiasm and excitement.

"I don't think there's time for another game," Jongin says, watching Sehun collapse into a pout.

"But I want to spend time with Chanyeol," Sehun says, his lower lip jutting out in a definite display of misery. "I haven't seen him in ages-"

"Sehun-"

"-and you got to see him last week but I never get to see him and I missed him," Sehun finishes in a rush, his voice wavering slightly. "Why does he have to go?"

"Sehun-" Jongin looks tired, so tired.

"Why can't he just stay here tonight and we'll play chess and then we can all have a sleepover," Sehun interrupts and then gasps loudly, perking up and turning to Chanyeol with wide excited eyes. "We should have a sleepover!"

It's been many, many years since Chanyeol had what he might refer to as a sleepover. Sleepovers stopped when it became about dating. Just sleeping at another person's house for the sake of sleeping there to spend time together...

Sounds nice, actually.

"Sehun-" Jongin's voice is tight.

"Why not?" Sehun asks, looking pleadingly at his father. "I never get to have sleepovers because you're always out working and the other parents don't like it because there’s no adults at night but Chanyeol is an adult and you're going to be here tonight so it's extra safe and it would be so much fun! Daddy, please?"

The line of Jongin's jaw is tight, and Chanyeol watches as emotions begin to fight just under the surface. "Sehun," he says quickly. "I don't really think having a sleepover is the best idea. I have my own house to go back to and-"

"But it would be so much fun," Sehun insists, his eyes big and shining. "We could stay up late and tell stories and all play cards and listen to the radio and then tomorrow morning we can have pancakes for breakfast with strawberry sauce."

"I just came over for dinner-"

"But then you can stay and wear pajamas and we can have a pillow fight!" Sehun bounces on his knees before turning pleading eyes on Chanyeol, giving soft little huffs of desperation. "I've never ever had a pillow fight in my whole life, Chanyeol."

"No pillow fights," Jongin says sharply. When Chanyeol looks at him, he looks worn, and arguing with Sehun, who apparently has his heart set on a sleepover with Chanyeol, isn't helping. "None."

"What about scary stories?" Chanyeol asks, and Jongin jerks his head to look at him, eyes wide with shock. "Ah, I forgot, you hate scary stories." Jongin's cheeks turn pink.

"Because they're so scary!" Sehun yelps, and rolls over to flop onto the floor. "They're no fun and they make it so hard to sleep because you have to check everywhere for monsters! Why don't we tell fun stories? Or read out loud? We read out loud before, and Chanyeol, you're so good at it. You do all the voices and make funny faces, it's so much fun."

"Are you sure there isn't someone else you'd rather have a sleepover with?" Chanyeol asks, and watches Jongin as much as he watches Sehun. It might make it easier, to just stay a while, perhaps until Sehun has to actually go to bed and then just help tuck him in. Fighting like this, when Sehun is so revved up, is just pushing things a little.

There is also that part of Chanyeol, the selfish part, that wants to stay, to spend more time with Jongin and Sehun. It's so nice to be with them, laughing and playing and watching them smile.

It's not for him though, he just has to remember that. He's never the number one priority, and he probably never will be.

"Nope," Sehun says, nodding severely. "Just you. I wanna have a cool sleepover with you because you're cool."

"I am?"

"You got the Sehun seal of approval," Jongin chuckles softly, and Chanyeol inhales sharply at the feel of his hand resting on his shoulder. "Not many people get that."

"I'm super picky," Sehun confirms with a significant nod.

Glancing back at Jongin, half confused and half hopeful, Chanyeol watches as Jongin mouths the word 'broccoli' and, rather than feeling a nervous roll in his stomach, he fights down a laugh.

"So it's okay?" Sehun chirps, perking up and looking between his father and Chanyeol.

"I don't have anything for a sleepover," Chanyeol reminds, even if he wants to ignore that. "No toothbrush or pajamas or-"

"You can borrow Daddy's pajamas," Sehun says quickly. "And we have an extra toothbrush just in case. So you're okay. You don't have to worry. It’ll be great!"

"But-"

"Chanyeol might not want to sleepover with us, Sehun" Jongin says, and his hand squeezes gently over Chanyeol's shoulder.

"Is that true?" Sehun asks and Chanyeol opens his mouth for the words to answer. They don't come. "Chanyeol?"

"It's up to your dad," Chanyeol finally blurts out, and realizes a moment too late that this isn't supporting or helping Jongin. The problem is... he does want to stay. It's not right, he knows that, and it's not appropriate per se, and he's certainly imposing, but at the same time...

"Fine," Jongin says, and it surprises Chanyeol enough to turn to him. The hand is still on his shoulder and Jongin doesn't look upset, just tired, like he doesn't want to argue anymore. When he catches Chanyeol's shocked look, he throws him a look that almost says you asked for it.

It sends his heart to skip about in his chest even as Sehun lets out a delighted yelp and immediately gets up to get all the games they can play together for the night.

As Sehun runs off to get something from the bedroom, Chanyeol turns to push onto the couch with Jongin. "I don't have to stay," he says, watching Jongin's face carefully. "I'll stay to get him tucked in and then-"

"It's okay," Jongin says, and the smile he offers is a little weak, fragile and hesitant. "Then we'll really be even." At Chanyeol's confused look, he pokes him gently in the arm. "The first time we met I had a sort of sleepover at your house."

Chanyeol frowns. "You were unconscious," he points out. "That's hardly-"

"You don't have to stay," Jongin says, interrupting him even as he watches him with those warm dark eyes. "It's getting late anyway so-"

"But we were going to have a sleepover," Sehun's voice chimes in, the boy stepping into the living room with a crestfallen look. "I thought-" his lower lip begins to shake.

Taking in a filling breath, Chanyeol smiles at him. "We are having a sleepover." Even if Chanyeol can tell himself he imagines it, he thinks he hears Jongin let out a sigh of relief beside him. It's followed almost immediately by Sehun's excited talk of what games to play, what things to do, and the sound of the radio being turned on to the local classical station.

By the third game of cards, Jongin isn't the only one looking tired, and Chanyeol himself can't hold back a yawn or two. Outside is dark, the sounds of the city fading as Sehun blinks sluggishly at his hand of cards. "Alright," Jongin says. "That's enough fun for tonight, boys." He catches Chanyeol's eye when he stands, and shares a small smile. "Sehun, pajama time."

"And then stories!" Sehun cheers, jumping up to run ahead to the bedroom. The spare pair of pajamas Jongin hands Chanyeol are worn, but soft. "They're probably too short in the arms and legs," Jongin says. "Especially for you."

"They'll be fine," Chanyeol says. "Are you sure you-"

"It's your choice," Jongin says, running a hand absently through his hair, ruffling it up. "Are you sure you are okay with sleeping on a couch and not a bed? I know your bed is more comfortable than both, so..."

"What are the odds Sehun is going to cry if I leave?" Chanyeol asks, grabbing a blanket from one of the set up lawn chairs.

"Oh, absolute," Jongin says. "Water works, sniffling, the whole thing." He lets out a soft laugh. "I told you he missed you. You're his new favorite person."

"Pretty sure you're always going to be his favorite," Chanyeol says, smiling as Jongin shakes out a blanket and arranges it on the couch. It might be a little too short for him, but Chanyeol has slept on worse. He could easily sleep on the floor, truthfully.

"You're rising pretty high in the ranks, though," Jongin says. "He loves having you here, and I don't really-"

"What are you doing?" interrupts them, whatever Jongin had been about to say dying in his throat as he stills. Turning, Sehun is watching them in shock, one hand clutching a huge book and the other holding a pink teddy.

"Getting ready for bed?" Chanyeol tries, watching as Sehun frowns at the couch.

"It's bedtime, Sehun," Jongin says, straightening and holding another blanket as he looks at his son with tired circles under his eyes. "We all need to go to sleep. We can't play all night."

"I know," Sehun says, and almost gives his father an exasperated look. "But I mean, why are you making the couch all weird? It's a sleepover. You can't make Chanyeol sleep on the couch. Our butts go there."

Realization sinks heavy into Chanyeol's chest, his heart beating faster under the pressure as he looks to Jongin and sees the same understanding flicker over his face. "You were perfectly happy to take a nap there earlier," Jongin reminds his son. "Our butts also go on the bed but you never mind sleeping on it."

"It's fine, Sehun," Chanyeol says, smiling in reassurance as he crouches down to Sehun's level. "I'll be okay on the couch. And we're still having our sleepover."

"But I wanted to sleepover and sleep with you!" Sehun protests, voice rising loudly and Jongin's eyes close. He looks exhausted, taking in a deep breath as Sehun begins to hiccup breaths. "It's not a sleepover if you're out here and I don't wanna be that far away and you have to sleep in the big bed with me and Daddy won't mind he never cares anyway even if I kick him on accident, and he likes you anyway! This isn't fair! I thought-"

As Sehun protests, his voice rises in pitch, wavering as tears begin to gather in the corners of his eyes while he looks between his father and Chanyeol. Slowly, he gets himself worked up, short stuttering breaths as he clutches his teddy to his chest and looks miserably at Chanyeol. At a loss, Chanyeol looks up, trying to figure out where to go from here. Staring down at him, Jongin's face is sporting a slight blush but he smiles weakly and looks slightly apologetic. "Sehun, Chanyeol doesn't need to sleep with us. He's a big guy who needs his space."

"Then you can move over!" Sehun throws back at his dad, dropping his book and his bear and grabbing Chanyeol's hands in his own, yanking on them. "Our bed isn't tiny and he's not huge; you're just being mean! Daddy, you're so insensitive!"

"Where did you even learn that word?" Chanyeol asks, looking at Sehun in slight awe.

"I listen to the radio, okay!?" Sehun's voice is wavering and there are angry tears in his eyes now. "I wanna have a sleepover and you two are ruining it for me!"

This isn't just a sleepover with Sehun. This is a lot more than just dinner with Jongin and a visit. This is more than just sleeping on Jongin's couch to appease Sehun and maybe spend a bit more time with Jongin. This is personal space, with the possibility of putting himself into the same space that Jongin lives in, sleeps in. This is sharing a bed as well as a friendship, or this gray space that isn't quite that, but it's new territory of pressed into a bed together. Jongin would be so close, finally spending the full night at home for the first time in what is probably months, and-

This is a sleepover with Sehun, not Jongin.

There is a big difference between the two, and the issue is that it somehow just became both. It’s already pushing things probably to be staying over. While Sehun may not see an issue with it, Jongin is Sehun’s father and Chanyeol is…

Chanyeol is…

Jongin's cheeks are still dusted faintly pink as he looks at Sehun with his lips pressed together like he's stuck on what to say. "Sehun, I'm not sure-" Chanyeol begins.

"It's stupid! Our bed is fine, and you'll be comfortable. I sleep there all the time," Sehun tugs on Chanyeol's hands, letting out soft little fitful whimpers. "I never get to have sleepovers except with Uncle Xing Zhang and you're the first person I really, really, really-"

"Okay," Jongin startles them both with. His eyes are closed, composure held.

It has the shuddering flutter in Chanyeol's chest stilling, shivering slightly. "Daddy?" Sehun prompts, little voice hopeful.

"If it's okay with -"

"Please, please please, please, please, please, Please!" Sehun explodes at his father, bouncing on his toes.

"Alright," Jongin repeats, and looks up at Chanyeol in a mix of apology, defeat, and something too faint to catch. Immediately, Sehun lets out a whoop of victory, yanking Chanyeol to the bathroom as he crows in delight. "But brush your teeth properly!" he calls after his son as Chanyeol is tugged away from the living room. Chanyeol catches one last glimpse of Jongin, a tired amused smile on his lips as his eyes linger before Sehun is whining at him to hurry up and shoving him into the bathroom.

"You can change now," Sehun tells him, hopping onto the stool in front of the sink and snatching his toothbrush. "We have to clean our teeth or they'll fall out and corn will grow instead," Sehun says, grabbing the toothpaste, standing on his tip toes to reach the sink.

"Really?" Chanyeol asks, pulling his shirt over his head to change. He watches as Sehun carefully squeezes a small pea dollop of toothpaste onto his toothbrush. "Where did you hear that?"

"From Puppy," Sehun says, sticking his toothbrush into his mouth.

"Puppy?"

"He works with Daddy at one of his jobs," Sehun explains, brushing his teeth vigorously. "Sometimes he comes over and visits Uncle Xing Zhang when I'm there and they do music stuff together. He tells me lots of stuff."

"Like what?" Chanyeol asks, pulling Jongin's shirt over his head. The material is thin, pleasant against his skin in the summer weather, and soft. It smells like him too, which has Chanyeol closing his eyes for a moment when he realizes it. Don't be selfish his mind whispers even as he realizes this is absolutely a self indulgent evening.

Yet Jongin hasn't stopped it.

He asked, whispers and Chanyeol pushes it down deep.

"About stars and stuff," Sehun explains. "He was the one that told me all about Beethoven and Mozart and explained about classical music. He also knows a lot about animals. Like, all the animals."

"What job does he work with your dad?" Chanyeol asks, curious. He knows Jongin has a lot of jobs, just not what they are.

"He works at a food place," Sehun answers around his toothbrush. "Like for lunch and stuff? They make really good sandwiches." Spitting into the sink, Sehun rummages in a box stacked in the cramped space by the sink. Holding up a toothbrush wrapped in plastic, Sehun grins at Chanyeol, a few mostly used up tubes of toothpaste in his other hand. "Which one do you want? Peppermint, blegh, or Super Power Berry Blue?"

Chanyeol does his very best not to laugh as he accepts the toothbrush and unwraps it. "Which one is the best?" he asks, looking very seriously down at the little boy.

"Super power!" Sehun crows before giving it happily to Chanyeol. "It tastes like space."

"Awesome," Chanyeol says, squirting a bit of the radioactive looking blue toothpaste onto the toothbrush. It has silver sparkles in it. "I love space taste."

Sehun giggles, leaning forward and spitting into the sink again. "You're so weird," he says, grinning happily up at Chanyeol with toothpaste foam all over his mouth.

"I know," Chanyeol says, winking down at the kid before he sticks the toothbrush into his mouth. It's fun, in an almost sweet and silly way, to be doing this. If someone had asked him a year ago if he would have a sleepover with a six year old, he'd have laughed at them. Now, he can't actually think of what he'd rather be doing on a Saturday night.

This is right where he wants to be.

The lights in the apartment are all turned out by the time Chanyeol finally manages to get Sehun to stop showing him the artwork he put up to cover up exposed pipes in the front hall as Jongin washes up. They end up walking to the bedroom with Sehun upside down in Chanyeol's arms, hair standing on end and giggling wildly as Chanyeol hobbles them forward as per giggled instructions. The bedroom is bathed in warm yellow light from one of the lamps and Jongin is yawning as he turns to them. Already in a soft gray sleep shirt and pajama pants, Jongin flashes them both a tired smile. It melts seamlessly into a laugh as Chanyeol tosses Sehun onto the bed with a shrieking laugh and Sehun flops about, laughing and rolling about to look up at them.

"Sleep over!" Sehun chirps happily, before crawling swiftly up the bed to burrow into the blankets, still giggling.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Jongin asks quietly, looking up at him with a final flicker of hesitancy. He has a small bit of toothpaste lingering at the corner of his mouth that begs to be wiped away with the pad of Chanyeol’s thumb. The ends of his hair around his face are slightly damp, shining clean from washing up. He looks so real, so raw and close standing there and watching him in worn and faded pajamas and bare feet.

"It's fine," Chanyeol says, smiling and pushing his nerves to the side. This is impromptu, but Jongin is just as much the same Jongin that Chanyeol saw when he arrived for dinner. Nothing has changed, he's just staying longer. He's here as Sehun's sleepover guest, as a friend of the family, a friend even if what he feels for Jongin has careened beyond that. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't. I'd be on the couch, or headed home, or-"

"You guys sure do talk a lot," Sehun says, head poking out of his burrito of blankets and hair standing up everywhere as he looks between Jongin and Chanyeol. "I thought it was bedtime. Why are you guys still talking when you should be getting into bed?"

"You," Jongin says, with a final look at Chanyeol before he's diving to the bed, wrapping around Sehun and wrestling with him to loud laughter. "Are one to talk. You could talk the ears off a statue!"

"Escaaaape!" Sehun giggles, flailing as his father captures him and flips him in the bed. "Chanyeol! Save me! Assist!"

"I don't know," Chanyeol says, even as he steps forward to the bed. "I don't know if I can do much. Your Dad looks really scary."

"No!" Sehun yelps in laughter, reaching for Chanyeol and dragging him down to the bed with a few hard tugs. "He's just bigger than me! You're bigger than him. You could totally pick him up."

"You want me to pick up your Dad?" Chanyeol laughs, maneuvering to not squash them on the bed and looking up only when he feels Jongin still against him. When Chanyeol looks at him, meeting his wide eyed gaze, he realizes what he's just said. It only manages to invigorate that flutter in his chest to press higher and more insistent.

This is about Sehun, not Jongin.

It's both.

"No," Sehun laughs, pushing his dad off and sitting up. "He really likes hugging though, even if he says he doesn't. So you could do that. He really, really likes to cuddle."

Sputtering, Jongin's face flares with color and Chanyeol bites his lips to keep down his laughter.

Sehun sniffs. "It's really weird. Sometimes, he rolls on top of me!" He coughs. "It's like he wants to crush me in his sleep."

"No, I just want to be closer to you," Jongin says, tugging Sehun to lie with him bed, shaking his previous expression away as it replaces with a smile. "That's why I always cuddle with you."

"You're really mushy," Sehun tells him, sticking out his tongue at Jongin. Jongin scrunches up his nose and pokes out his tongue in return, getting a loud giggle from Sehun.

"I'm king," Jongin says, trailing off into a yawn as Sehun props up and looks at him.

"No," Sehun says, poking him in the chest. "I'm the king. And the king says it's time for bed."

"I thought you were all about staying up all night," Chanyeol reminds, watching as Sehun pops up and rolls to the end of the bed, grabbing his book and pink teddy. "Did you change your mind?"

"Yep!" Sehun says. He pushes his book onto one of the crates near the dresser carefully before he shuffles over and tugs on the light cord. "I decided we should sleep now so we can wake up tomorrow and have more fun!"

"You're sure?" Jongin asks, rolling over to look at Sehun.

"It's a sleepover," Sehun says, and hugs his teddy close to himself. "You're supposed to sleep, right?"

The smile the spreads over Jongin's face is soft, sweet and loving as he reaches out and gently ruffles his hair. "Right."

"Lights?"

"Lights!" Jongin repeats, and the next moment the room is cast into darkness. The bed dips as the sheets rustle, and Chanyeol can make out through the dim light filtering in from the blocked up windows the shape of Sehun clambering onto the bed beside him. On his other side, Jongin lets out a tired sigh and settles down, barely touching Chanyeol as he lays between them.

"We can't stay up all night," Sehun whispers, leaning in to Chanyeol as he keeps his voice down.

"Why not?" Chanyeol asks in a whisper. He may not sleep for a while, may try to slip away even if the thought of just lying down and drifting off nestled between the two of them is tempting.

"Daddy is really tired," Sehun answers, his breath hot against Chanyeol's ear. "He worked extra this week and he really needs to sleep. So we have to make sure he sleeps, okay?"

"Okay," Chanyeol says, his heart hurting even as he tries to keep his voice lighter. "Good night, Sehun."

"You're on the wrong place," Sehun says, louder this time.

"I am?" Chanyeol asks, trying to see better in the dark as Sehun pulls away to jostle about in the bed.

"No, not you, Daddy," Sehun huffs, and Chanyeol holds back a grunt as Sehun suddenly pushes at him, shoving him back into Jongin. Jongin lets out a dissatisfied groan and Chanyeol bites down the urge to catch Sehun and just hold him still. "You can't sleep there, Daddy, you always sleep next to me."

"Sehun," Jongin's voice sounds heavy with exhaustion. "It's fine."

"But it's the rule," Sehun complains, and Chanyeol can feel Jongin sitting up beside him, brushing against his side and letting out a loud sigh.

"No more rules, Sehun," Jongin says a bit louder, voice stern. "It's time for bed."

“But you have to switch with Chanyeol!” Sehun half whines, sitting up to look up at his father. “Otherwise it’s weird!”

“Sehun,” Jongin warns, leaning over a bit over Chanyeol towards his son.

“It’s fine,” Chanyeol interrupts, reaching up to both of them. Sehun goes down easily, trapped under Chanyeol’s arm to flop to the bed with a loud ‘oof’. Jongin lets out a soft sound, and it creeps under Chanyeol’s skin as his hand comes to rest against his chest, fingers just brushing against Jongin’s thigh. It’s warm. Swallowing down the flutter that rises from his chest into his throat, Chanyeol turns to Sehun, feeling Jongin settle down beside him. “Why don’t you switch with me? Then he doesn’t have to move?”

"But all the monsters are on that side, and I always keep a look out on this edge to make double sure we’re safe," Sehun whispers back, little fingers curling into Chanyeol's shirt. "That's why Daddy always sleeps on that side. To protect me from them on the other side of the bed."

"So why does he have to switch with me?" Chanyeol asks as his heart aches for the man beside him, who does so much just for the sake of his son. "Doesn't that mean I'm closer to the monsters?"

"Sehun, it's time to go to sleep," Jongin murmurs beside him and Chanyeol's throat tightens.

"Yeah, but now you can protect Daddy from the monsters," Sehun says in a loud whisper.

"Sehun," Jongin repeats firmly.

"He needs someone to protect him too, sometimes," Sehun finishes in a hasty whisper before he flops down into bed.

It's hard to see Sehun in the dark of the room, but he can feel his hands release from the front of his shirt, hear his soft breathing next to him in the bed. Beside him, he can feel Jongin, warm and solid under his arm, and in his chest he can feel the steady beating rhythm of his heart, too fast and too hard as his skin feels live with attentiveness. Even if he'd been yawning earlier, he feels wide awake now, leaning in and whispering to Sehun, "okay," as his heart drums in his ears. He needs someone to protect him too. "I'll protect him. I promise."

"A promise is forever," Sehun whispers, his voice impossibly soft as those words carve into his bones.

"I know," Chanyeol assures him, and confirms for himself. This is where he wants to be, here, now, and however long he can be, however he can be. That's what he's wanted to do since Jongin woke up and stood crying before him, opening up this world, and Chanyeol knew there was no going back.

Whether it's from monsters or the anonymous judgement of strangers, Chanyeol wants to protect Jongin from it.

Carefully, so as not to disturb Sehun too much as the boy settles down finally, Chanyeol shifts, turning to Jongin in the bed. For a moment, Jongin doesn't move, still with slowed breathing beside him and Chanyeol is almost loathe to move him. Every beat of his heart feels too big in his chest, the pull at him to move closer, to this man who cares so fiercely for his son, who works so hard. Moving his hand, shaking Jongin gently, Chanyeol swallows down the feeling of Jongin under his touch.

Still thin, there's at least more than there was the last time Chanyeol was this close. At least he appears to be eating more now, a full serving to match Chanyeol and Sehun at dinner tonight, and he looks stronger, more color to his cheeks. He breathes in sharply as Chanyeol's hand shifts to his waist, turning under his touch.

Pushing up, Chanyeol shifts to lean over him, swallowing down when Jongin stills under him and lets out a soft gasp. "What?" he whispers, voice low and guarded.

"We have to change spots," Chanyeol whispers to him, and slips his hand to the other side of Jongin's waist. Pulling slightly, Chanyeol tugs to show what he means rather than explain, fingers pressing into warm skin where Jongin's shirt has ridden up.

"Why?" Jongin shifts anyway, pushing up and into Chanyeol's space to move, letting out a soft grunt. It almost makes Chanyeol laugh, how Jongin went from sleepy and guarded one moment to compliant and petulant the next, pliant under his guiding touch.

"Because I said so," Chanyeol teases, keeping his voice quiet as he slips to the edge of the bed, settling down as Jongin shifts into the space he's just left. "And Sehun wanted it."

"You're like a puppy around him," Jongin quietly laughs, turning to him with sleep heavy in his voice. His hand nudges against Chanyeol's hip and has the pound, pound, pound of his heart loud in his ears. "Sehun gets upset and you want to fix it, to help." He lets out another soft laugh, ending in a sigh. "Thank you."

"For what?" Chanyeol hums, shifting slightly closer. To hear over the soft filtering sounds from the street and the world outside.

"Staying," Jongin murmurs in a slow sigh.

"I think Sehun would have started sobbing if I didn't," Chanyeol replies in a low whispering laugh. It startles short when he feels Jongin's hand move, and then slip into his own.

"You didn't have to stay," Jongin says, and it sounds deeper. There is more there, and Chanyeol doesn't push it down this time when the swell in his chest threatens to spill over. It's worse, but Chanyeol can't keep ignoring this, what he's feeling, what it means, what this means.

"I stayed because I wanted to," Chanyeol tells him. "I made a promise, too."

"You keep making promises," Jongin whispers, his fingers resting gently around Chanyeol's hand. It feels so secure there, natural and soft and right. "You have to be careful."

"I'm not going to break any of them," Chanyeol says, and carefully squeezes around Jongin's hand, a reminder. "Like right now. I'm protecting you from the monsters."

Jongin's soft laugh fans against his cheeks, brushing against his mouth and Chanyeol smiles, watching as the shadow of his form settles close. "My hero," he whispers into a sigh. It fades into silence, the last word weighing heavily as Chanyeol listens, waiting for the next soft whisper of words to hold onto.

The soft breathing of Jongin beside him begins to even out, slow and as his hand relaxes, Chanyeol realizes he's fallen asleep. On the other side of the bed, Chanyeol can hear the soft breaths of Sehun, can just make out the shape of him curled up against Jongin's side.

This is what is important.

It's been months, years actually, that Chanyeol has been asking himself over and over what's important. It's easy to find the answers in the headlines, in the news and in the greater picture of the world. That's what he'd always walked towards, worked for, thought he was supposed to do to actually understand what he was meant to do. Volunteering and helping in the community and reading to kids in the library and donating and wanting to write series in a magazine about what is really in food that everyone eats and never finding the answer.

It's here.

It's not Jongin, and it's not Sehun, and it's not entirely both of them, but it is here. This, finding meaning by being with people, being something for them, with them, is what is important. With the soft hum of the fan in the window trying to stir the air and the gentle sigh that Jongin lets out as he shifts, leaning into him as he sleeps, this is what is important in Chanyeol's life.

This is what matters to him, being here, and not letting go.

It's not about wanting this, and it's not about being here because it's what he should do, but it feels like things are fitting into place. There isn't a part of him that wonders if this is wrong, if this isn't his place, but instead it's like it settles, the thorn of uncertainty has been plucked out and he can heal.

There is only the soft fluttering beats of his heart, insistent and certain in his chest when Jongin shifts closer in his sleep. There is only a dull warm hum that spreads through him, weighing gently on him to drift slowly into the night as the quiet touch of hands ghost over his side, as the subtle scent of toothpaste and warm smiles settles against him. A faint smile spreads from him and down, pressing his face into the warmth that sighs and settles, holding onto him and keeping him.

I promise, flutters gently at the back of his mind as Chanyeol slips to sleep and contentment.

*

It's a different kind of warmth than the summer heat that lays against Chanyeol's side as he slowly wakes. It's more solid, more comforting and defined, soft gentle glides of air against the skin of his neck and the weight against his arm. The subtle scent of laundry, clean soaps and a familiar smell that is smiles and soft touches and deep warm browns pulls at Chanyeol, filling him in. Comfortable and warm, it's almost too pleasant to wake up from, nicer to just stay in this space, this perfection, wrapping his arms around the soft warm body beside him and-

Cracking open his eyes as his mind slowly churns through to waking, Chanyeol looks down into his arms and is met with a mess of black hair nestled into him with an arm draped heavily around his waist. The edge of the bed is right beside him, blankets pushed down to his waist as Jongin is curled up right against him, soft sleeping breaths fanning against his collarbones and sending little tingles of sensation over Chanyeol's skin. At some point in the night, he must have rolled over and into Chanyeol. It almost makes Chanyeol laugh, thinking back to how Sehun had called him a 'cuddler' the night before.

Apparently, he wasn't kidding. Indeed, Jongin is all curled up, tucked into him and sleeping so softly that it feels like a crime to disturb him.

It's not the first time Chanyeol has seen him when he's asleep, but it is the first time he's seen him look so relaxed. Curled up and tucked in his arms, Jongin looks so calm, all of the lines in his face, the weight that seems to constantly press down on his shoulders, is gone, lifted. It makes him look so much younger, probably years younger, and he looks, for lack of a better word, beautiful.

The way his messy hair falls about his face, his eyelashes lie dark against his cheeks, finally holding a little color in them, and his lips part, full with soft breathing, has Chanyeol captivated. It sounds sappy in his own head, but lying here in the dim light of morning, Chanyeol knows he's never woken up to anything more wonderful in his life.

It feels too strong to think about, but a part of Chanyeol, the part that speaks in reminding whispers and soft encouragement, knows what the feeling is that's flowing through him. It's not scary, like it had been so many times before, and Chanyeol doesn't think about pushing it down this time. It won't do it any good, as it's impossible to pretend it's not there.

Affection is too weak of a word for it, and he doesn't want to push what he is fairly sure this is just yet, content for now to just lie in this moment. He just wants to be there, do what he can for Jongin, and support him. It's all he can do.

It's moments like this though, caught in between the rush and the intensity of everything else, that Chanyeol finds himself wishing it were simpler, that there wouldn't be so much space between them. If it were simple, if Chanyeol could just push aside the worry, the concern, and if it were only this moment, Chanyeol wouldn't be worried about Jongin waking up. It if were simple, Chanyeol would wake him up, carefully brushing his hair from his face and tracing the lines of his face, mapping out the slope of his neck and the curve of his shoulders. This would be the quiet waking touches as Chanyeol walked his hands down Jongin's side, sliding closer to whisper words of rising against Jongin's forehead, watching the flutter of his eyes as he laced their fingers together.

If it were simple, Chanyeol could watch as Jongin slowly blinked open his eyes, warm with sleep, and he could smile, could lean in and press that same smile to Jongin's parted lips to give it to him.

It wouldn't be the first, but this is different. When Jongin kissed him a few weeks ago, it hadn't been real. It had been desperate, upset, frantically searching for a way out amid confusion. This time, while Chanyeol might have thought a few times of it, it's more about just wanting to be closer, to kiss him because...

The rolling flutter of emotions in his chest rises, catching at his breath and stealing it away as Chanyeol looks down and feels deep in over his head and yet wanting to go deeper.

This is where he wants to be.

A soft rustle from the other side of the bed pulls Chanyeol from his thoughts, looking up to see Sehun slowly pushing himself up. Rubbing at his eyes, Sehun squints around the room, hair sticking up stubbornly at the back of his head, before he turns and looks over at Chanyeol. For a moment, Chanyeol feels like he's been caught, but then Sehun looks down at Jongin, curled up in Chanyeol's arms, and Sehun smiles. "Is he still sleeping?" Sehun whispers as quietly as Chanyeol has ever heard. He nods, rather than speak, feeling Jongin's fingers gently clench in his shirt by his waist.

"Don't wake him up," Sehun whispers pointedly, giving Chanyeol a very serious look. "He never sleeps like this."

As Sehun slips over the bed, carefully and practically silent, Chanyeol thinks, not for the first time, that Sehun is the most exemplary six year old he's ever known. Or heard about for that matter.

Okay he mouths back and Sehun flashes him a thumbs up, carefully and quietly shifting to leave the bed. "Where are you going?" Chanyeol asks, shifting as Sehun moves and immediately freezing as Jongin stirs in his arms. Biting his lip, he glances down to see Jongin pull closer, letting out a soft sigh.

Sehun is giving him an almost exasperated look when Chanyeol looks back at him. "I have to pee," Sehun whispers emphatically with a few very exaggerated hand gestures to his lower half.

Okay Chanyeol mouths and nods as Sehun tip toes off to the bathroom. Settling back down, he chances a glance back at Jongin, catching a small frown at the corner of his mouth he itches to smooth away. Careful not to wake him, Chanyeol lets Jongin shift, pushing himself into all the empty spaces Chanyeol has left. Biting down a smile, Chanyeol just accommodates, letting Jongin curl up into his chest, fitting his head just under Chanyeol's chin with a soft snuffling sound.

He's cute, in a stronger sort of subtle way where it is all the more endearing. It tempts to just hold him like this, never let go and keep him content and resting and safe. It would be simple, like this, for Chanyeol to just never let him go, smoothing away the lines of worry and stress and age before his time as Chanyeol kept his promise to protect him.

I promise.

For a moment, Chanyeol lets his eyes close and just lies in this, taking away the covered up windows, the peeling wallpaper and the room, the apartment, and everything else. For a moment, it's simple, just him and Jongin and Sehun, together. It's just morning, waking up on a Sunday to the soft sleep of Jongin, warm as Chanyeol absently lets his hand drift up and down his side. It's just simple, where Sehun doesn't have to ask him to sleep over because he's there already, where the pipes don't leak and the radiator isn't broken and the floors don't creak. It's simple, a different morning when Chanyeol can press a kiss to the top of Jongin's head and not worry about it, where Jongin isn't afraid to smile and Sehun doesn't worry about his dad not sleeping.

Opening his eyes, the room and it's faded light from windows covered in cardboard boxes greets him, the loud hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen and the ceiling that shows water damage above has the brief lightness in his chest twist into a sharp ache that doesn't stop. It presses hard, and Chanyeol doesn't think before pulling Jongin closer, holding him and just wanting that world.

The world where they all have a happy ending.

A soft sound has Chanyeol stilling, pulling back slowly and looking down as Jongin's eyes blink blearily up at him in hazed confusion.

"Good morning," he says gently, smiling as Jongin blinks and looks at him with gradually returning focus.

"Morning," Jongin says, voice garbled with sleep as he smiles, eyes closing and letting out a small sigh, as he settles back. If he finds it at all strange to be in Chanyeol's arms, he-

Jongin stiffens, breath pausing before he's pushing up, the sleep quickly fading from his face as he looks around the room, Chanyeol's arms falling from around him. "Where is Sehun?" he asks, and Chanyeol blinks.

"I had him for breakfast," Chanyeol says, faking serious. Jongin blinks, face still caught between worry and waking before he bursts out laughing, voice low and gorgeous. The tension is gone, Jongin practically collapsing back onto the bed and Chanyeol can't help but smile as he rolls out of his arms, mirth on his face amid the fading sleep.

"How did you sleep?" Chanyeol asks, moving back as Jongin pushes himself up, running a hand over his face, still chuckling slightly.

"Well," Jongin says, hands dropping to his lap as he looks at Chanyeol. He bites his lips, eyes flickering over Chanyeol as his face creases. He doesn't focus and Chanyeol feels his heart shiver. "I slept really well." He lets out a small breath of a laugh. "I haven't slept that well in ages."

"I should clearly just sleep over more then," Chanyeol jokes, reaching over and resting his hand gently on Jongin's thigh. It's supposed to be a friendly gesture, reassuring to tell Jongin he's here, he always will be but as Jongin's eyes slide to meet his, it feels like it's more than that. The look in Jongin's eyes isn't telling him to leave, to stop, or that this is okay for now. It's almost like...

"Oh!" comes the sudden cry from the doorway. Both of them barely have a second to turn before Sehun is launching onto the bed, landing on top of Chanyeol with a loud yelp and getting a grunt from him. "You weren't supposed to wake him up!" he scolds, sitting on Chanyeol's chest and poking him in the face with a scowl.

Laughing, Jongin grabs Sehun off of Chanyeol, wrapping him in his arms as he rolls them into the bed. "He didn't wake me up, Sehunnie," he says, wrestling with the boy as Chanyeol watches them fondly. "I woke up all by myself."

"But you were so tired!" Sehun protests, laughing as he fights to free himself from his father. "Besides, you two looked so nice together! You looked so happy, Daddy."

Stilling, Jongin stares at his son, his grip going lax as Sehun pulls himself free to pounce on him. Jongin lets out a grunt, before he seems to shake himself of the brief stupor and looks at Chanyeol, the question in his eyes making Chanyeol ache.

"That's because your Dad and I are so close," Chanyeol tells Sehun, speaking through the knot in his throat as everything he'd been feeling this morning rises inside him. "And he didn't have to fight the monsters last night."

"Chanyeol needs to stay over more," Sehun declares, looking down at his father imperiously. "So he can protect you from the monsters like you protect me from them."

Jongin's eyes are wide and the smile on his face teasing as he looks back at Chanyeol, "Is that what you were doing all night?" he asks, voice almost playful.

"I scared them all away," Chanyeol says and Sehun giggles. Jongin's eyes speak his laughter for him and Chanyeol thinks that this is the first real full unguarded smile he's ever seen Jongin give him.

And Chanyeol loves it.

*

The sun is shining high and hot in the sky, but it does nothing to dampen the twin smiles the women opposite him are wearing. Despite the distant location, the small bistro that Baekhyun works at is bustling with activity on the Sunday afternoon. Almost every seat is taken, the tables filled, and the deck completely booked with patrons sitting under full white umbrellas, shading them from the harsh summer sun. Yet even in the shade, the light catches against the stone that rests in gold on the fourth finger of Yura's left hand. It's not hidden, and Chanyeol keeps smiling as Yura laughs, shifting her hand to catch the sun so the diamond flares in brilliant light, showing it off.

The smile on her face is just as bright, if not more brilliant, that the diamond on her finger.

"My poor girl," Chanyeol's mother is saying, reaching over to hold onto Yura's other hand as her smile threatens to take over her face. "You waited so long."

"I think it was the waiting that made it worth it," Yura laughs, and Chanyeol bites down his own comment, hiding it behind his water glass as he takes a drink. "But now the wait is over."

"My little girl," their mother sighs, looking at Yura in her sun dress and pinned back short hair. "All grown up and getting married. I could cry."

"You are crying," Chanyeol reminds her, and his mother laughs, sniffing as she turns to him and waves him off. It gets Yura laughing again as their mother wipes at her face with a happy sigh. "It's okay mom, we all knew you'd cry."

"I still can't believe you told your brother before you told me," their mother says. "I thought I'd be the first to know."

"You know how close we are," Yura says, her eyes flickering to Chanyeol. It had been after saying farewell over a plate of second pancakes to Jongin and Sehun that he'd come home to a message on his answering machine. It had been a day that had started in one world and tossed into the next as Yura picked up and told him 'I said yes' in a rush of breath before he could say hello. Yura's eyes are dancing, full of happiness and love as she looks at him now from across the table. "And besides, I promised both of you that you'd be the first to know."

"Your poor father," their mother sighs and then laughs, Chanyeol and Yura joining her. "Oh but this is so wonderful. I'm so happy for you, so happy that you can finally do this. You're getting married, Yura."

"I know, mother," Yura laughs, and Chanyeol watches her, his wonderful sister. Yura sits so pretty in the Sunday sunshine, her hair pulled back from her face and the fine sun dress fitting her perfectly, the ring on her finger worth...

A part of Chanyeol wants to know, to ask all the questions people usually ask each other when they get engaged. How did he ask? When is the wedding? How many people do you want? Did you cry? Let's see the ring, let's see the rock, let's...

Yura is set on a spring wedding, something she and Jongdeok both agree on without question. A spring wedding to show the beginning of life and the start of their marriage together, of living to a happily ever after as the flowers bloom and everything is young and green. There will be flowers, hundreds of flowers, music, food, guests, cake, wedding gowns and champagne and everything that dreams are made of.

It's going to be perfect, outdoors and stunning in the spring sunshine, Yura already laughing as their mother talks of white bone china and a registry. It's all things that Chanyeol feels a little odd to be listening to, not because he doesn't care, but because it all feels so...

"-and you'll have to book a venue soon, Yura, those don't just stay open forever. The sooner the better," his mother is saying, carefully stirring cream into her coffee.

Excessive.

The whole point of a wedding, for Chanyeol being excited and happy for his sister, is to celebrate two people being in love. It's not about the perfect china that was set up at the event, and it's not about what shows good taste, but about the people who are promising to stay with each other until they die.

A promise is forever.

While it had seemed like Yura was right there with him, the other day last weekend when she'd looked on the verge of tears trying to understand what her heart wanted, today it feels like she's lost it again. It's the same sort of lost feeling Chanyeol has grown used to with his family, where it's more about everything rather than the specific details. The engagement, Jongdeok and Yura finally getting married, the promotion, if Chanyeol gets something better despite the semantics behind what that involves, the title, the name, the event, the label rather than what the ingredients are.

"Chanyeol."

Jerking from his thoughts, Chanyeol shakes his head, looking at Yura's expectant face as his mother frowns at him slightly. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Food," Yura says, and her eyes dance in amusement. It's then Chanyeol notices Baekhyun standing beside his sister, holding a pad of notepaper and giving him a very poorly hidden inquisitive look. He looks like he's done one of his turnarounds, where the styling from clubbing last night ended up recycling today covered up by a waiter's uniform, Victoria's concealer, and Han's hair cement.

"Right," Chanyeol says, doing his best to ignore Baekhyun's slowly increasing look of teasing inquiry that is swiftly morphing to look ridiculous. With the best of luck, his family won't notice. They'd only heard stories of Baekhyun, and it's enough that his mother somehow was convinced he was some sort of vagrant despite Chanyeol insisting he wasn't. "Do you know what you want?"

"We've already ordered," his mother answers, and laughs a bit at Chanyeol's sheepish grin. "Goodness, I think your brother is more shocked at the news of your engagement than I am. I've never seen him so quiet."

"What can I say, there are just too many good options on the menu and I couldn't decide," Chanyeol tries to laugh off and ignore Baekhyun while looking at the menu. Whatever it is he ends up ordering passes vaguely from him, his mind lingering more on the prices on the menu than what the food is.

"Do you cater?" has Chanyeol looking up in mild shock to see his mother catching Baekhyun by his apron.

"You know, I'll ask," Baekhyun says, flashing her a brilliant grin. "As far as I know we don't, but who knows, I'm sure for such a lovely group we could manage something."

Chanyeol internally grimaces as Baekhyun turns smiling eyes on him before positively flittering away as his mother sighs. "What a nice young man," she says, and Chanyeol pushes down the urge to snort. "Honestly, I can't believe some people's attitudes at work these days. Is it so hard to be polite and genuine like him?"

The taste at the back of his throat is bitter, and Chanyeol takes a sip of water to wash it down. "Everyone works though, and it doesn't make them more or less than others for whatever they're doing."

"But it's not like they couldn't try a little harder sometimes," his mother says, pulling her napkin into her lap.

"How do you know if they're trying or not?" Chanyeol asks, feeling annoyance flare in his chest. Guilt follows a moment later, and he sits back at the shocked look on his mother's face.

"Well, how they behave for one," his mother retorts, Yura watching with her face falling slightly. "You watch people around here and you can see from how they act if they're working hard or not. And having a good work attitude makes for easier work." She picks up her water glass and frowns at Chanyeol, imperious.

Ignorant.

"Hard work is hard work though. Having a good attitude doesn’t make it less work," Chanyeol tries, knowing even as the gnawing of anger in his chest builds that this isn't the conversation for now.

"And he's working hard," his mother retorts, nodding her head back at where Baekhyun disappeared to. "If more people worked like you did, or like Yura or-"

"Mom," Yura begins, her voice gentle and coaxing as she lays a hand over their mother's wrist. "Mom, you-"

"Not everyone has the kinds of jobs we have," Chanyeol retorts, not being able to hold back. "They can't just-" He cuts himself off, closing his eyes and breathing in, trying to calm down. The apartment with water stains on the ceiling, six jobs and a window fan that is half broken in an apartment with whistling leaking pipes and cardboard covering the windows burns in Chanyeol's mind and heart. It's not like that, and it's not fair. "Never mind." When he opens his eyes, his mother looks shocked, Yura slightly concerned.

"I think," his mother says after a long pause, her voice calm and definite. "This is overexposure." At the confused look from both of her children, she sighs and reaches out for Chanyeol's hand atop the table. "You've been working too hard, trying to get the magazine to work and you expose yourself to all of that hardship in the volunteer activities."

"Expose?" It's hot enough to have Chanyeol's shirt sticking to his back, but he feels suddenly cold.

"All of those people who are struggling, and while I know it means something to you, that you do good things, it can wear on you," his mother says. She's worried, trying to be caring, but it still has Chanyeol feeling numb with displeasure. "Being around that much pain and suffering can't be good for you, Chanyeol. You need to take care of yourself, too."

"I do take care of myself," Chanyeol tells her, a bit stiffly. "And those people, they need-"

"But it's not your job to take care of them," his mother says.

"Chanyeol," Yura says, and even if Chanyeol wants to pull his hand from his mother right now, he doesn't. The twisting in his chest is hard to breathe around, to try to fight through, to accept that someone he loves, someone so important to him, can't even understand.

This is what Chanyeol wants to protect Jongin from, to keep Sehun safe from. People who don't see them as people, who can't understand that what they live with isn't something to shun and ignore and move away from, that they need help just as much as any other person.

But now is not the time to talk about it with his mother, and it's not the time to fight about what he does and what other people turn a blind eye to.

"Chanyeol," Yura repeats, and smiles at him imploringly, her eyes softer and almost apologetic as she reaches for his hand. "I wanted to ask you something."

There's no point in talking about it, in trying to defend his choices. Not now. "Go ahead," Chanyeol says, reaching out and taking his sister's hand. Today is for Yura, not for Chanyeol, and it's easier to focus on her than to dwell on the ways he still can't express himself.

"I wanted to know if you would help me," Yura says, and between them their mother lets out a soft gasp. "With the wedding and everything. Usually I would ask a bridesmaid, but I know that Jongdeok is asking Jongdae to be one of his men of honor and I'd like you to help out with things." It's hard to feel excited when it clashes with the rancid taste of disappointment and frustration from moments before. Yet, as Yura laughs, Chanyeol tries. "Plus, I trust your judgement and taste more than I trust Sandara."

"So I'm your man of honor?" Chanyeol teases, slipping easily into the role he's played so long with his sister.

Laughing as the atmosphere lightens, Yura's eyes dance. "Something like that. Except I don't really think you'd look great in a dress."

"I could try," Chanyeol teases.

"Just as long as your date matches," Yura replies, and the sudden swoop in Chanyeol's stomach is unexpected. The unbidden image of Jongin in a tux, his hair styled back and standing tall, handsome and smiling hits into him hard and Chanyeol chokes on his own laughter.

"I just hope you can find a nice girl to bring with you before the wedding," their mother says, and the image sinks, falling as Chanyeol empties. Across from him, Yura's smile has flickered, almost like she's not sure to speak up or not.

Or a nice man, pushes feverishly against the back of his throat, but as Chanyeol turns to look at his mother, the hope in her eyes has his lips pressed close.

"I'm sure Chanyeol will bring someone wonderful," Yura cuts in as Chanyeol sits back, Baekhyun stepping up with the food and separating the conversation. "Besides," she says quickly. "It's just one day, and one date, and as long as I get married to Jongdeok, that's really all that matters." She sighs, smiling down at her plate of food with the soft beautiful and pure happiness Chanyeol recognizes. "That's all I want."

"And we'll give you the wedding fit for it," their mother says, her voice flooded with affection.

It's love, another kind of love, and one that may not understand everything, but it's still love that Chanyeol watches between his family. He reminds himself of it as his mother turns to Baekhyun and asks about catering, and he reminds himself of it as Yura looks up at him over the table and winks.

It's love, but it's not unconditional, and there are so many requirements for it to exist and to be okay. It's tiring, and Chanyeol sometimes wonders why he tries when it might just be easier to do what his family wants.

But sitting here, in the beautiful Sunday sunlight with the people who love him and he calls family, it's not the same comfort and feeling of belonging and wanting that Chanyeol understood just the day before. This is his family, and they love him, but what they want isn't what he wants. He doesn't want the extravagance, the extras and the talk of gossip and fawning over the things rather than the people and what's important. Seeing it all now, it's a bit ridiculous, excessive, knowing that the ring on his sister's finger could easily make it possible for Jongin to take one less job and not pay the consequences.

While Chanyeol loves his family, his sister and is happy for her and everything that has gone well and good in her world, this isn't where he wants to be ultimately.

This happy ending that is spinning itself into formation before him isn't the happy ending he wants.

Perhaps it's time to finally admit that. Just not today.

*

From: Baekhyun - Does Jongdae know you guys are finally going to be brothers yet?

The message arrives when Chanyeol is just finally saying goodbye to his sister and his mother. Do you want to tell him or should we wait until his actual brother tells him?

From: Baekhyun - I’m happy for you. And Yura. And Jongdae. All of you. Congratulations on your now enormous family.

The smile that crawls across Chanyeol’s face isn’t whole, but it does ease some of the previous irritation he’d felt earlier. They’re still his family, and nothing could ever be the same as family.

Thank you.

Not everyone understands, even he didn’t understand always, and there’s no reason to get angry or annoyed at someone for not knowing what they don’t know. And as much as Chanyeol looks at the course of today and feels it’s overdone, extravagant and excessive, it’s also about his family, and he wouldn’t trade his family for anything.

It’s a kind of love that’s hard to imagine his life without, and when he gets the emoticon message back from Baekhyun in the shape of a heart, he keeps smiling.

*

It used to be that Friday nights were the premier nights. Fridays are the beginning of the weekend, the onset of plans when the next morning isn't occupied by work or school. Friday nights were sleepovers, going out for movies, staying up late and no homework. Friday nights were play time, with breakfast leisurely the next day and a chance to unwind. As time went by and school wasn't just school, but part time jobs and extra activities, sports games and contests, Friday night began to morph into other days.

Summer jobs made other days 'Friday' rather than actually Friday. Weekends changed up, split up, and disappeared.

Two years out of university, Chanyeol got his Friday back properly and Friday was always where it should be; right before Saturday. Sometimes, he wasn't where he should be, out with Baekhyun or Minseok or trying to meet over candlelight and feel something more than hesitancy. Friday became less of the day to play and more just the day that was sought after, the last day of the work week.

Work where the day seems to drag, fluxing between deadlines and articles and projects that lose their meaning when they're just made to take up space, following fashions and fads. It just became time that had to be filled up with something, but the enthusiasm, the excitement of Friday night, was gone.

Tonight is probably the first week where Chanyeol has been excited for a Friday night.

"Date?" Jongdae asks, with an imploring look over the desk divide.

"Just meeting up with a friend," Chanyeol brushes off as he packs up quickly. The smile on his face is unrestricted as he skips out of work at the time he usually saw Jongdae scurry out of the office to avoid rush. All his stuff is wrapped up for the weekend, the last minute emails sent off and an extra encouraging email to Hoseok wishing him good luck on his interview that weekend, and Chanyeol is excited.

They'd agreed, before Chanyeol had even gone over to Jongin's for dinner, that this wouldn't be just a one time thing. At first, it had tugged at the back of his mind that Jongin would say no, step back and tell Chanyeol he couldn't do it. He'd been pleasantly surprised when Jongin had agreed when he'd suggested dinner at his place next, getting affirmation from Sehun when he'd offered a movie night. Chanyeol had laughed without thinking when Sehun asked him if he had a theater in his house, Jongin looking almost embarrassed and quiet.

It's not for the whole evening, and Chanyeol isn't about to delude himself into thinking that Jongin might go a step further and stay. Jongin has to work later this evening, already telling Chanyeol on the phone earlier that week when Chanyeol had called, letting him know they can't stay late. Chanyeol pushes it down though, the worry he has at the sheer number of jobs Jongin seems to be holding down just to get by, and the way he refuses to rest.

That's not the focus tonight. Tonight is about movies and pizza and a night off, where Chanyeol can finally give Sehun the gardening set and hope that this isn't the last time Jongin and Sehun visit him.

Chanyeol has barely finished settling back in, feeling oddly nervous, like he had the last time Jongin had come over, when there's a soft knock on the door. Opening the door, Jongin and Sehun are standing in the hall outside Chanyeol's apartment. While Jongin is wearing a shy sort of smile, Sehun has his jaw hanging open as he stares up at Chanyeol.

"You live in a mansion he says, voice thick with awe.

"I what?" Chanyeol asks, thrown as Sehun gasps and looks around before gesturing at Chanyeol's home.

"It's huge," he says. "The whole everything is so big and clean and you even have an elevator."

It leaves Chanyeol fumbling before he realizes that to Sehun, this is luxury. Of course it's luxury. "Well, are you just going to stand there or are you going to come inside?"

"Is it okay?" Sehun asks, peeking into the apartment with big eyes.

"Your dad's been here before," Chanyeol says, watching as Sehun tip toes into the unit with Jongin following him, keeping quiet with small glances up. "It's about time you came to visit me. Come on, I'll give you a tour."

"A tour?" Sehun asks, making sure to take off his shoes, excitement beginning to shine on his face.

"Yeah," Chanyeol tells him, and grins at Sehun's yelp of delight as he hoists him into his arms. Looking back to Jongin, he pauses. "You can just rest in the living room if you want or-"

"And miss the tour?" Jongin asks, and some of the hesitancy fades from his expression. "You're not trying to leave me out, are you?"

"No! Daddy has to come along!" Sehun demands, reaching out for his father with one arm curled securely around Chanyeol's neck. "We have to stick together! Or we'll get lost!"

Biting down a laugh, Chanyeol smiles, stepping into the apartment with his guests. When he'd first procured this apartment, he knew it was nice. He can afford it, the spare bedroom converted to a small home office that he rarely uses, and most of the unit seeming enough. It's not a mansion, like Sehun had called it, but as Chanyeol walks from room to room with Sehun in his arms, he quickly feels like royalty.

"You have everything," Sehun keeps saying, eyes wide as he looks around. Of course, Chanyeol plays it up a bit, elaborating on the rooms and giving them more extravagant names than they are, but somehow playing it up makes it more comfortable. Sehun ends up laughing, Jongin relaxing and laughing as well as they start to play. Sehun positively shrieks, wiggling to get down when Chanyeol opens the balcony off of his kitchen. "You're like a princess!" Sehun declares, on his tippy toes and looking out over the park view outside of Chanyeol's apartment.

"A prince," Chanyeol corrects. "Plus, whoever my prince is will have to climb up the fire escape to come get me. My hair isn't long enough." Sehun's laughter gets almost carried away as it echoes over the area, loud and happy and wonderful. "I'm not much in the business for being rescued though. I like to think of myself as the hero prince anyway."

"You're too silly to be a prince," Sehun laughs, scampering back into the kitchen and gasping when he sees the oven. "You have a whole big oven!."

"Tell you what," Chanyeol tells him, watching as Sehun's eyes go big at practically everything. "Why don't you go into the great hall and look on the table near the television. There's something for you."

As Sehun's eyes widen even bigger, his loud gasp disappearing as he runs from the kitchen, Chanyeol hears Jongin give a soft sound. "You didn't have to get him something, really." Turning to him, Chanyeol feels a delayed sense of shock as he takes in Jongin holding up a few containers of his tupperware to him. Laughing, Chanyeol takes them, leaning against the counter as Jongin smiles at him carefully.

"I already had it," Chanyeol says, just as the yell of "a garden set!" shrieks from the living room. "I hope you don't mind that I ordered pizza for tonight. I figured a night in for movies should be a real treat, but I can make something else if that works better."

"One night of pizza won't hurt him," Jongin says, looking around the kitchen. "You better be careful or Sehun will try to move into that spare room you have."

"I wouldn't mind," Chanyeol says. It's not intentional and he doesn't realize he's admitted it until he's said it, but he doesn't want to take it back. The slightly shocked look on Jongin's face doesn't make him want to take it back either. "He and you are both welcome any time."

"You're too nice," Jongin tells him.

"I'm just nice enough," Chanyeol corrects him. "How are things with work?" Jongin's expression falters. "I know you've been working more," he tells him, looking at the darker circles under Jongin's eyes and the way he doesn't quite stand up straight. "I can tell."

Rather than arguing with him, Jongin lets out a soft sigh, leaning back against the counter as well, arm brushing against Chanyeol's. "It's nothing," Jongin says. "Just a heavier week than usual. They had some people drop shifts and I'm always happy to take on more hours."

"What about Sehun?"

Opening duller eyes, Jongin swallows as he looks at the ground and into his own thoughts. "He's asleep usually."

"And you're not," Chanyeol concludes, trying not to frown at how Jongin is working through the night and clearly not sleeping. It's only a matter of time if he keeps it up like this before he might collapse again.

"I can take more work during the day soon," Jongin tries to explain. "Once Sehun goes back to school next week, I'll be working while he's at school and-"

"Is there any way to-"

"I'm looking," Jongin cuts him off, wetting his chapped lips. They're always flaking and cracked, from when Chanyeol had met him to when he'd felt them press against his own. "It's not- it's hard to find something that will work."

"Because of Sehun?" Chanyeol asks, frowning.

For a long time, Jongin just looks at him, his dark eyes blurred with words he doesn't seem to know how to say. It's hard to know what to say exactly to help when he's not sure what a solution might be to a problem he's not explained. There's still so much about Jongin he doesn't know, even if Jongin is slowly opening up to him. It's like Jongin is still scared to ask, to reach out to him, even if he'll curl closer and Chanyeol knows what his smile does to his heart.

Both of them jump when the doorbell rings, and Sehun comes scampering into the kitchen, a new unwrapped tiny trowel in his hand and excitement on his face. "Pizza?"

"Pizza!" Chanyeol answers, and with a final glance at Jongin, lets it drop. It's something he can bring up later, hopefully, after he races Sehun to the door amid laughter. Unlike other kids, Sehun doesn't look annoyed that Chanyeol doesn't have a large collection of new animated Disney movies, or the latest releases. Instead, Sehun gasps and sits in conflict over what movie to watch of the classics Chanyeol had gathered over the years.

"This is amazing," Sehun says, sitting up in his chair at Chanyeol's dining table, all his pepperoni's picked off his pizza. "Chanyeol, you live in a really nice place. I really like it here."

"Good," Chanyeol tells him, smiling even as he catches Jongin's eyes flicker. "My house is your house."

"Are you saying that in a real way or in the kind of way where you're saying things you don't mean but it's a special way of saying things?" Sehun asks, squinting at him.

"You mean," Chanyeol clears his throat, squinting back at Sehun. "Am I being serious?" Catching Jongin watching him out of the corner of his eye, Chanyeol smiles. "Of course I'm being serious. I'm always serious."

"No, you're not, you’re always silly," Sehun tells him immediately and then giggles, biting his lip. "But then Daddy or I can come visit whenever?"

"Absolutely," Chanyeol tells him, and smiles at Sehun, keeping himself from looking at Jongin's face. "In fact, if you want, you can leave the gardening kit here and keep it on the balcony. Then you don't have to worry about taking it home and it'll always be here waiting for you when you visit."

"Really?" Sehun gasps, and this time when Chanyeol does look at Jongin, he's watching Sehun with a sort of sad happiness.

"Of course," Chanyeol says, and laughs as Sehun begins to just stream thank you's over and over with an enormous smile. "Maybe you can come by and visit with your dad on the weekends."

"Especially because I'll be starting school soon so I can't come over during the week," Sehun agrees. "And it'll be fun to come see you. Even if it's kind of strange being around rich people."

"Rich?" Chanyeol jerks at the work, almost choking on his pizza.

"Sehun," Jongin says, voice slightly reprimanding as he looks at his son. "You shouldn't-"

"Daddy, you should marry Chanyeol," Sehun says. Chanyeol's heart slams into his throat, his own cough startled to a halt. Beside him, Jongin's eyes are wide, staring at his son as his face swiftly reddens.

"What?"

Chanyeol isn't sure if he asked or Jongin asked, his whole head filled with numb buzzing.

"Then we could live here and we wouldn't have to travel to see Chanyeol and it's so nice here," Sehun says, smiling widely at his father. "It's perfect!"

Clearing his throat, trying to shake off the shock at the sudden statements from Sehun, Chanyeol sits back. Despite the air conditioning in his apartment, he feels hot, skin sensitive under his clothing and he almost doesn't want to look at Jongin. "I see," Chanyeol says, trying to play it off as a joke. It's not real. "So you just want your dad to marry me so you can live here, huh? That's mean," Chanyeol tries to tease, to smile around the insistent pounding of his heart, to ignore the look Jongin is giving him. It's not real.

"But then we don't have to travel to see each other," Sehun says, poking at his picked off pepperonis as he looks up at Chanyeol. "And we can watch fun movies any time we want."

"Sehun," Jongin's voice catches, strained and stringent. "You can't say things like that."

"But it would be easy," Sehun says. "Isn't it easy to marry Chanyeol? Then you don't have to work all night and do what Mr. Han asks when he puts notes on the door. Chanyeol doesn't have any notes on his door!"

"Sehun-"

"That's why you want your dad to marry me?" Chanyeol has to joke it off, to try to pull away, to stop. Sehun probably doesn't understand. "That doesn't seem very fair. You can’t just tell people to get married, it doesn’t work like that. It's like the only things you like about me are the things I have."

"But-" Suddenly Sehun's eyes go wide, and he drops his pizza slice with a look of horror on his face. "No!" he says loudly, and puffs up. "I want you to marry Daddy because I like you and think you're really nice and you listen to me and Daddy and play games with us and don't get angry and Daddy is always happy when he's with you and that's what's really important because I just want us to be happy." He takes in a huge breath, shaking with his wide eyes fixed on Chanyeol. "Isn't that what matters?"

Throat tight and heart beating too loud, too fast as he stares at the young boy in front of him and can't label what it is that's filling into every inch of him, Chanyeol fights to swallow. "Yes," he says, voice quiet and holding back from shaking. "I guess that is what's important."

I just want us to be happy.

"Plus, then we could have a sleepover tonight instead of having to go home later," Sehun adds and casts a sheepish look at his father. Swallowing down the feeling in his throat, Chanyeol turns to look at Jongin.

Jongin is looking at his son with a flush to his cheeks, a frown on his lips, and the sort of tension around his mouth that suggests he's not sure how to fully talk to his son. Chanyeol has only seen it a few times, in the moments when Sehun acknowledges how they live, the aspects that he knows Jongin is trying to make better, to find ways around staring reality in the face. He knows how much Jongin hates knowing how much Sehun knows. Seeing it now pushes something hard against all the things Chanyeol has been pushing down, forcing to be silent and suppressing.

"Sehun," Jongin says, and the edge of his voice is less scolding as it is tired, holding back what he wants to say.

I just want us to be happy. A child who cares as much for his father as his father cares about him.

"I'm just saying," Sehun puts, slumping into his chair and poking at his pizza. Poking out his lower lip, Sehun frowns and huffs at his plate, the epitome of frustrated with an adult. "I don't get why you can't just be happy and Chanyeol makes you happy." Sehun huffs again and then adds quietly under his breath, "dummy."

"Sehun," Chanyeol says this time, watching as Jongin stills. Jongin stays quiet, staring at his son with his jaw taut and silent. He doesn't deny it, whispers loudly in the center of Chanyeol's self, and it rushes even as he tries to slow down. Not now. Not yet. "You can't call your daddy a dummy," he says instead, reaching out with his foot to tap against Sehun's.

"But he's-"

"We're only nice to each other in my house," Chanyeol tells him. "Nice and silly and no one gets hurt," he adds. "And no name calling." Sehun looks up at him, still pouting but looking less dismayed in general at the consequences of being precocious. "You're not the king in my house."

"Who is?" Sehun asks, and looks thoroughly offended.

"Me," Chanyeol says. "It's like your dad said," he continues, glancing to Jongin and finding Jongin staring at him, eyes dark and too deep to linger in without drowning. Swallowing, he turns back to Sehun and stops himself, pulls back. "You can't make the rules until you get your own house and then we have to listen to all your rules."

"All of them?" Sehun asks, and looks a bit less put out.

"Yep," Chanyeol says. "But my number one rule is no name calling. Right after the rule that says take your shoes off when you come inside." At the small return of a smile from Sehun, Chanyeol grins at him, tapping against his tiny feet with his socked toes and getting a few taps back. "Besides, you don't really want me to marry your dad."

"Yes, I do," Sehun defends, brought back to defiance.

"Don't I get a say in this?" Jongin asks, finally joining into the conversation. His voice is like water on a burn as Chanyeol breathes out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Or are you just going to decide everything for me from now on, Sehun?"

"You won't listen to me even if I try to tell you," Sehun sighs loudly at his father as he throws him a look. "You never go to bed on time when I tell you to, or let us each chocolate for breakfast."

"That's because if you eat chocolate for breakfast, all your teeth will fall out," Jongin says, and when Sehun scrunches up his nose, Jongin snaps his teeth at him, eyebrows raised pointedly. "No more chomp chomp."

Letting out a heavy sigh, Sehun nods and sits back up. "Because I'm not a shark," he says conclusively.

"Exactly," Jongin says quietly, and watches as Sehun grabs his glass of milk. He's still not back to himself, the flush lingering on his cheeks and the unsure and guarded look still in his eyes, but it's less prominent. 


Daddy is always happy when he's with you.

Whether it's true or not, Chanyeol doesn't know. To dwell on it is more than he can afford, pushing getting places that's bad for everyone, but still, the words remain in his mind as he watches Jongin while he cleans up after the pizza. While before, Jongin had looked uncomfortable in his apartment, now he looks less intimidated, sitting beside Sehun as they pick out a movie and he slowly relaxes into himself. The smiles on his face grows more and more sure as Chanyeol watches, and he doesn't pull away from Chanyeol when they all settle on the couch.

"You have such a big couch," Sehun whispers in awe before climbing onto it with Chanyeol's nod of permission. He lets out a big sigh of contentment before splaying over it, spreading out with arms and legs as long as they can go and giving a little giggle of excitement. "It's like a big bed!" Sehun proclaims, rolling onto his back with a huge smile.

Sehun ends up sprawled on the couch, his head in Jongin's lap as his father slowly combs his fingers through his hair. The movie they'd chosen, The Swiss Family Robinson, has Sehun riveted, eyes on the screen of Chanyeol's television. Settling in beside Jongin, Chanyeol breathes out as he doesn't pull away, just glances at him with a faint smile before settling back onto the couch.

"I've never actually seen this," Jongin tells Chanyeol as the opening credits begin, showing the storm of the ship and the movie titles.

"It's a classic," Chanyeol tells him, smiling faintly as he watches some of the tension slowly ebb away from Jongin. "Everyone should see it at least once in their life."

"Should I be thanking you for making sure I do?" Jongin asks him, a small tug to the corner of his lips as he glances to Chanyeol.

"Only if you feel like it," Chanyeol tells him. It's hard to watch the movie with Jongin right there, beside him and when he'd rather just- "I won't mind."

There are tired lines on Jongin's face, dark shadows under his eyes even if he has more color to his skin, and there's a very pale flush to his cheeks. Even looking tired, he's still hard to look away from, and Chanyeol swallows down the urge to reach out and wrap his arm around Jongin's shoulders and pull him closer.

"Shh!" Sehun whispers, rolling over to look up at Chanyeol and his father. "You can't talk during a movie or you miss it!"

"Sorry," Chanyeol says, making sure to look sufficiently guilty as Sehun rolls back over towards the movie. Jongin's silent laugh shakes beside him, creasing his eyes up in amusement as he looks down at his son and smooths a hand through his hair.

"We'll be quiet," Jongin whispers.

It's nice, listening to Sehun's quiet little reactions to the movie as it goes on, the sounds of the film slowly filling the room. It's easy to settle into this, to relax like this after a long day, a long week, and just sit quietly for the evening with the soft sounds of Sehun and a film playing on the screen. Despite knowing they're watching a movie, Chanyeol finds his attention wandering. There's only enough time for a movie with them, and soon after Jongin will have to leave, taking Sehun home to put to bed before his night shift. From the way that Jongin had spoken earlier, it makes Chanyeol worry that even this is pushing it, taking out of time Jongin might use better.

He's happy, tugs at his mind and he closes his eyes for a moment. Still, there's the lingering warning in his mind that whatever time he does have with Jongin is taking away from time Jongin might use better for himself, for Sehun. It might be better if rather than with him, Jongin was-

A soft brush against his shoulder has Chanyeol startling slightly, turning to his side. Beside him, eyes already closed, Jongin softly lilts closer, nodding before trying to shift, only to sag back. Breath catching in his chest, Chanyeol watches as Jongin fights sleep and is clearly losing, leaning against Chanyeol. Carefully, cautiously, he shifts, watching as Jongin lets out a soft murmur, and pulls his arm up. As if a half meant to fit perfectly, Jongin slides easily into his side, head dropping to his shoulder and breathing slowed as Chanyeol's arm curls around his shoulders.

Looking down at him, Chanyeol wonders if he can hear the beating of his heart. It's loud in Chanyeol's own head, and it feels like it's filling up the room, loud enough to drown out the movie that's barely truly begun. A soft sound has Chanyeol stiffening, looking down and seeing Sehun's eyes looking up at him from Jongin's lap, taking in both Chanyeol and his sleeping father.

"I told you," Sehun whispers, a tiny smirk on his face. "He sleeps better when you're around." Then he grins, so wide and big as he squeezes his eyes shut, showing Chanyeol happiness. "Don't wake him up, okay?" Sehun asks as the movie continues to play, forgotten. "He's working extra hard these days and he needs to sleep."

"Okay," Chanyeol whispers back as quietly as he can, watching as his breath gently moves Jongin's hair.

"Chanyeol," Sehun adds, his face turning sincere as he looks up at him, eyes lingering on his father. "I'm sorry about my dad."

"Why are you apologizing?"

"Because he's so scared," Sehun whispers. "But it's okay." He smiles, and reaches up to tug on Chanyeol's fingers that are wrapped around Jongin's shoulder, holding him carefully close. "Maybe next time we can sleep over?"

"Next time," Chanyeol whispers with his heart beating hard in his throat. "I promise."

"Okay," Sehun says, smile bleeding into his eyes before he adds with the same depth to his voice as his father, "thank you."

Would it be too much to ask for this to stay? To want for more nights like this? It feels so selfish to want this, to want to keep Jongin and Sehun here, to know they might be his welcome home on a Friday night after work, or to know that Jongin won't be going back to an apartment with cardboard on the windows and a late night shift and a list of jobs.

Would it be too much to hope that this could work? It doesn't feel like pushing, not when Jongin blinks open his eyes half way through the movie to look up at him, offer a small smile, and then return to sleep, never pulling away. It doesn't feel like Chanyeol asking too much, but instead like he's trusted, slowly being incorporated. No longer is it the push and pull, trying to push open the doors and see how much he can see from the cracks Jongin lets him see.

Instead it's like a slow welcoming hug, getting closer and closer as Jongin sleeps against his side in soft breaths and warm fingers resting against his thigh. It feels like a gentle touch with Sehun's fingers wrapped around his thumb, his eyes on the movie as he slowly fades, and it feels more than just a casual night with friends.

Friday night isn't a night out, facing for excitement and bursting through after a long week. Friday night is like a warm welcome back and the teasing taste of what Chanyeol can feel beating gentle in his chest in flutters of happiness. It's the warm soft sleepy smiles, the tiny sighs, and the slow gravel of Jongin's voice when the movie ends and Chanyeol wakes him with a hand gently brushing his hair from his face.

It's the 'thank you's that sound like more than just gratitude, like they're more words than exist, and that settle into him and glow long after the door is closed and the apartment has fallen silent.

Though even the silence is full, and the smile on Chanyeol's face doesn't fade, his skin still warm from Jongin's presence and the prospect of hope.

*

"You're getting dinner with me tonight," is the first thing Jongdae says to Chanyeol when he gets into the office on Monday morning.

"I am?" Chanyeol asks, raising his eyebrows at his friend as he drops his workbag onto his desk. "Are you sure? I thought I was-"

"No, we're getting dinner," Jongdae tells him and sits down into his chair with a grumpy grunt and yelps a second later when it earns him a slosh of coffee into his lap.

"Alright," Chanyeol says, watching Jongdae as he sets up his desk. At his own desk, Jongdae is frowning, his hair less perfect than his usual styles mess and his large older glasses on his face as he pulls out his notebook full of pink post-its and stickers. "It's not like I was doing anything tonight."

"Were you?" Jongdae asks, casting him a look that is slightly apologetic but trying hard to hide it.

"No," Chanyeol says, taking a bit of pity. "Is something up?"

"Can’t I just want to hang out with my future brother in law?" Jongdae asks, sitting back into his chair and letting a half smirk drag over his face. "You can't avoid me forever, we're almost family now."

"Almost," Chanyeol teases and laughs as Jongdae gives a little protesting whine of a yelp at him. "Do you want me to talk to Baekhyun and -"

"No." The haste in which Jongdae says the word has Chanyeol raising his eyebrows at him, pausing as he unpacks. Jongdae sits back, coughing slightly. "Just us. Is it so bad to spend time with me one on one?" He grins in a winning manner. "I've missed hanging out with you."

"Dinner for two then," Chanyeol says, smiling at him with a bit more softness in it. It's not often that he sees Jongdae with that edge to him. It's only happened a few times in the span that Chanyeol has known him, once when he broke up with Liyin and a few days in some other circumstances related to his family. Jongdae isn't really the type to show when he's down or upset. Perhaps that's why Chanyeol ends up dragging him to lunch and buying him something that afternoon, sitting with Hoseok and Juhyun and Junmyeon and some of the other interns and listening to him talk about the latest fashion with new completely flourless baked goods.

It had seemed to cheer up Jongdae some, but he's less of the same joking loud laughing presence than he usually is, letting others talk and just listening.

"Hoseok reminds me of you," Jongdae tells Chanyeol as they pack up for the day, a little after the usual closing time.

"Me?" Chanyeol asks.

"Except like, a weirder you," Jongdae says. "Less overbearing and more coordinated with his limbs."

"Thank you for that splendid blow to my self esteem," Chanyeol says dryly, all the same smiling at Jongdae as they walk to the elevators. "He's a good kid."

"He calls himself a ‘happy virus’ too," Jongdae reminds, and Chanyeol pauses at that, feeling slightly quieted as Jongdae presses the down button. "I remember when you used to do that."

"I figured people could figure it out on their own from now on," Chanyeol says, watching as Jongdae's eyes go distant. Back then, when Chanyeol had been a lot more like his intern, he'd been a bit more excitable about life. That was when he'd just started at the company, when he was just getting to know Jongdae, and he just wanted a job where he could work. Work was work no matter what you did and Chanyeol was just happy for work, the chance to do something.

That was when Jongdae was still dating Liyin and before Minseok's rehab finished up. There's a lot that has changed in the last few years, and suddenly Chanyeol recognizes the faint smile that's not truly a smile on Jongdae's face.

Waiting until they're out of the building, instead asking Jongdae about his family and Jongdeok, Chanyeol waits to really bring anything up. "So what did you want to see me for dinner for?"

Jongdae looks up at him, squinting in the late afternoon sun. "You're going to be my new brother, I want to hang out with you. Isn't that what friends turned brothers do?"

"I'm not sure, I've never been a friend turned brother before," Chanyeol teases him and Jongdae gives him the sort of look Chanyeol is positive Sehun might aspire to one day. It's the kind of look that says 'I'm so done with you even my done can't deal with showing itself'. "Are you sure it's not just because you've realized how great I am?"

"I've been trying to spend time with you for the last few months," Jongdae points out.

"You've been trying to get me to meet your girlfriend for the last few months," Chanyeol corrects and watches as Jongdae's expression falters and then closes off.

"Yeah, well, now I just want to hang out with you," Jongdae sniffs, switching his glasses off for a pair of aviators. "Deal with it, brother in law."

Chanyeol doesn't bring up how Jongdae hasn't once brought up Sunyoung all day, how he noticed that her picture is still on his phone but he doesn't spend time looking at it anymore, only glanced at it at work and looked briefly subdued. There's no point in bringing it up, not until Jongdae wants to talk about it. Jongdae has never been the type to talk about things unless they're on his terms, his time, and he's ready to get them out in the open, otherwise winding and twisting around topics until they're lost amid the scramble.

It's not until they've managed to find a table at a local pub style restaurant and Jongdae has ordered them both beers 'just because' that Jongdae lets out a long breath and Chanyeol knows what's coming. "Sunyoung and I broke up," Jongdae says, speaking to the napkin under his beer with a small scowl.

"You and the tennis woman?" Chanyeol clarifies, trying to maintain a posture of ease. The thing with Jongdae is that he commits to people. Just like he's done with Chanyeol, pressing on family and supports his brother in everything he's doing, Jongdae is about the people in his life. As much as Chanyeol may not miss the constant updates about Sunyoung, it's part of who Jongdae is, being happy and celebrating the people around him.

"Yeah," Jongdae says, voice quiet before he seems to shake himself. "Summer love, right?" He smiles, and it looks faded and weak at the corners of his usual happy mouth. "Never lasts."

"I'm sorry," Chanyeol says, and means it.

"Why? You weren't the one that broke up with me," Jongdae says, and though he smiles the sharpness in his voice doesn't go unnoticed. Every time, somehow, Jongdae ends up being the one to get dumped. Despite how hard Jongdae wants to make things work, will hold on and hold up more than his half of a relationship, Chanyeol has watched other people walk away and leave him holding nothing. It's a bit unfair.

"No, but I can still try to console you," Chanyeol tells him, and Jongdae laughs, sitting up a bit straighter in his chair.

"It's kind of pathetic, you know?" Jongdae says, leaning over the table top. "How we keep doing this?"

"Sitting at tables?" Chanyeol asks.

"Striking out," Jongdae corrects and clicks his tongue. "It's you and me, you know? We're the last ones left that are still looking for people and haven't settled down." Chanyeol's heart flips in his chest uncomfortably. "We've got to stick together, you know?"

"Since when?" Chanyeol asks, trying to push down the feeling that begins to crawl up into his chest and twist there unpleasantly.

"Since before you started making new friends and running off and I met-" Jongdae cuts himself off, shaking his head and sitting back as their waitress delivers their food. "Anyway, who says we have to find someone right away? The whole dating thing is so blown out of proportion."

"Is it," Chanyeol says, watching as Jongdae sticks a french fry into his mouth with purpose.

"We keep running around trying to find people to date and go on all these excursion and there's so much pressure to just find someone and settle down and it's just-" he sighs before taking a long sip of his beer. "What I'm saying is, now it's just us, you and me, future brother."

Swallowing down the unease at Jongdae's words, his spiraling into plans and conclusions because of a short painful heartbreak, Chanyeol raises an eyebrow. "What about Baekhyun?"

"Baekhyun?" Jongdae says, frowning. "What about him?"

"Isn't he part of our singles posse?" Chanyeol prompts. This will mean being thrown back into clubbing, into going out to 'meet people' as a support, knowing he's too soft to say no because he knows Jongdae won't go alone.

"Isn't he dating, like, five people constantly?" Jongdae asks, and Chanyeol chokes at the absurd number. Despite his antics, Baekhyun has never been known to date more than one person at once. Except one small miscommunication in university that Chanyeol never lets him live down, he's been good about that. "Or no people," Jongdae continues, sighing and dropping the fry he'd just picked up. "I can never keep track with him anymore."

"I stopped trying," Chanyeol admits and Jongdae makes a soft hum across the table. Honestly, it would probably be better for both of them if Jongdae and Baekhyun just went out on this endeavor together. Baekhyun would be able to talk things up, bring people around and socialize while Jongdae would keep him grounded. They'd work well together.

"So, I haven't seen you in way too long," Jongdae is saying, smiling over his dinner plate at Chanyeol.

"You just saw me at work all day," Chanyeol points out. If Jongdae and Baekhyun go out and play date roulette then Chanyeol doesn't have to admit that he has no interest in dating anyone at all and trying to meet new people.

"But that's different," Jongdae says. "Work is like quiet organized cordial behavior. Plus, you went hiking with Junmyeon the other weekend and you haven't hung out with me in months."

"You've been busy," Chanyeol reminds before wincing, watching as Jongdae's own expression falters. "But I might be free on Saturday," he adds, and gets a beaming smile in return.

The truth is, Chanyeol doesn't want to get wrapped up in the new games that Jongdae wants to play, meeting people and trying to find connection. It's not like Chanyeol can say he is dating anyone, that he's anything but single, but he's not available. At least not by his standards.

"We need a guys weekend," Jongdae says with a happier smile than he's worn all day. "Just us, gotta get this whole brothers thing down, you know?"

By his standards, Chanyeol's head is too full of thoughts of Jongin and the excited chatter of Sehun to let anyone else in. There's not another person he can come across who can make him look at the world the way he looks at it when he's with Jongin, the way he listens and understands and is careful like he is with Sehun.

It would be unfair.

"You're on," Chanyeol says though, smiling as he raises his glass to Jongdae. It would be unfair to another person, but Jongdae is coming to him for help, and Chanyeol knows that he can't really say no. It's not entirely about him, and he can keep details silent and out of the spotlight while being there for Jongdae and supporting him.

The truth is that Chanyeol just wants to be there for people, to help them and see them happy, better, full in the people they want to be. It's easier to take care of them than look at the confusing mix of things he wants and is slowly putting together. At least for now, he'll stay quiet.

*

Things begin to change. Slowly, with the progression that it's not easy to see them changing, but Chanyeol notices it. Beside him at the desk, Jongdae stops checking his phone all the time, instead talking with Juhyun and Minah when they walk by doing coffee rounds, calling his interns up for assignments. The office gets busier, the magazine running the usual schedule of new issues and articles and orders from people higher up filtering down. Junmyeon's desk in his room begins to fill with photographs, pictures of himself and a woman Chanyeol hasn't met before but who smiles prettily standing with Junmyeon doing various things.

It makes Chanyeol smile, looking around at the people around him and feeling like he's watching their lives slowly unfold, their stories weave themselves together. Watching Hoseok as his articles improve, sending Chanyeol not only emails about new and interesting food information he's managed to dig up, but random videos he's found on the internet he thought were funny. It's watching his own work pick up, move faster, his old routine that he'd begun to get stuck in, dragging, shifting back into the swing of productivity.

"You're not even trying," Jongdae had laughed at him before the weekend, his eyes on Chanyeol as he searched on his work computer through the local classifieds to print out. "I hope those aren't for you," Jongdae added, eyes on Chanyeol's screen.

"A friend," Chanyeol had answered, and smiled before stepping from the desk to grab his papers from the copier.

Perhaps it's because he has something to look forward to, real plans and smiles and something solid that isn't people he'll meet and hope will change. That's still something he finds happiness in, swinging by the library and signing up for events and various programs at the community centers, but there's more now.

There's the familiar phone call he looks forward to every week, whether it's just a short hour of walking in the park or a couple hours stolen somewhere, it's all settling in slowly that it's real. This is a part of Chanyeol's life.

Jongin and Sehun are a part of his life now, and Chanyeol wants them to stay there, to keep them.

It's not just about protecting Jongin from his friends finding out and possibly making judgements, it's about wanting to keep Jongin and Sehun in his life and just waiting for the time to ask. It's watching as the time flows past him, marking it in the slowly dropping temperatures and shortening days in sunlight and the homework assignments Sehun brings home calling 'baby stuff'.

It's watching as Jongin smiles more around the tired lines of his face and doesn't pull away when Chanyeol reaches out for his hand, taking it instead. It's following the steps he takes slowly to do something and watch how it helps, realizing where he wants to be, and watching as the world moves around him and not feeling left behind.

It's more than just him, and while it used to be work would end with Chanyeol picking up extra things to do after he finished his usual materials, now he has other things to do.

Not for himself, but that's kind of what makes it fun.

"You're early," Jongin says, opening the door and wearing his apron.

"Not a lot of traffic," Chanyeol answers, stepping into the apartment and smelling onions and chicken. "Something smells good."

"Dinner," Jongin answers, walking into the apartment. "I didn't know if you were going to stay or-"

"I'm meeting a friend for a late dinner," Chanyeol tells him easily, watching as the line of worry fades from Jongin's face. Cutting corners, blinks through his mind and Chanyeol nearly sighs, wishing for a way to make it stop.

There is a way.

"Well," Jongin says, turning towards the kitchen. "If you change your mind, you're always welcome to eat with us."

"Daddy is making chicken noodle soup," Sehun says, bounding up to Chanyeol happily. Today, he's wearing a bright red snapback, a bit too big on his head as it hangs over his eyes and shades his big grin. "Do you notice anything different?"

"Hmm," Chanyeol says, ducking around Sehun in playful search. "Did you get a haircut?"

Giggling, Sehun answers him, "no," before standing up straighter.

"You got new socks," Chanyeol tries.

"Chanyeol!" Sehun half whines and half laughs, reaching up and grabbing his hand. "I got a new hat!"

"Oh!" Chanyeol plucks said hat off Sehun's head, earning a shriek. "Oh, there you are," he says and Sehun sticks out his tongue playfully. "And I can see you didn't get a haircut after all."

"Next bath time," Jongin says, walking back to them and brushing sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. "Yeah?"

"I like my hair long," Sehun pouts. "I don't want you to cut it again."

"Would you rather have uncle Taemin cut it?" Jongin suggest and Sehun scrunches up his whole face in distaste.

"He's not even a real adult, who would give him scissors?" Sehun half whispers before pulling a face.

"He is an adult," Jongin defends, but there is laughter in his eyes. Turning to Chanyeol, he explains, "my best friend from growing up. He sometimes-"

"Not anymore!" Sehun jumps in, physically jumping as well as he tries to get his snapback back from where Chanyeol has casually put it on top of his own head.

"-he used to look after Sehun on some weekends when I had to work," Jongin corrects himself before throwing Sehun a look. "Then Sehun called the police on him."

"He set toast on fire," Sehun says with a scandalized look at his father. "How is he supposed to take care of me if he can't even take care of a toaster? I was in danger."

"Of course you were," Jongin sighs, and Sehun lets out a shriek the next moment as Jongin lunges to grab him into his arms. "Anyway, Taemin is now terrified if Sehun stays with him Sehun will call the police again. But you won't, right?" Jongin adds to his son.

"No," Sehun sighs loudly, looking at his father before turning to Chanyeol. Without warning, he tries to lurch from Jongin's arms and to Chanyeol, reaching for his hat. Laughing, Chanyeol takes a wiggling Sehun from Jongin's arms and lets him finally reclaim his new accessory. "Because if I do the scary mean ladies will come back."

Chanyeol's laugh falters, fading a bit as he looks up at Jongin. This isn't the first time Sehun has mentioned these 'ladies' that he so dislikes, and Chanyeol still isn't sure what they're from or why Sehun doesn't like them. They seem to be the most important thing Sehun wants to avoid though, so Chanyeol assumes it's something unpleasant.

Jongin's expression gives him no answers, as instead of continuing the conversation, he smiles to Sehun, ignoring Chanyeol's look, and says, "why don't you show Chanyeol your set up?"

"Oh!" Sehun yelps, before twisting to be released. In the living room, which looks like a battlefield of blankets and cushions, Sehun pounces and picks his way through the mess to the couch, where he's set up a few crates and all of his stuffed animals. "What do you think?" he asks, looking exuberant with pride.

"I think it's impossible to get over to you," Chanyeol says, looking down at the network of objects carefully placed about on the floor.

"It's a jungle!" Sehun tells him. "Just like the Swiss family lived in, right? And those are all my traps for the tigers and elephants and stuff so they can't get to me."

"That's amazing, Sehun," Chanyeol tells him. "But how can I get over to you?"

"Hold on," Sehun says, and carefully slides off the couch. "I'll come and get you." Picking his way across the living room, Sehun finally grabs Chanyeol's hand and directs him across to the couch, explaining all his methods and traps and designs to keep out the 'bad guys' and 'tigers' that might attack him in his 'treehouse' on the couch. Listening obediently, Chanyeol nods along, gasping at all the right places and falling into the game.

It's something Sehun and Jongin do a lot. Most of the time it's Jongin who starts it, turning something that might usually be boring or unpleasant into a game and pulling Sehun into it with him, distracting him. Sehun does it as well, his own powers of imagination getting him into long winding stories that he'll tell Chanyeol when he visits, and clearly now he's latched onto The Swiss Family Robinson as his latest inspiration.

The living room is no longer just a room, but a jungle full of tigers, bears, sharks in the salt water pools, pirates, bandits, and snakes that can attack them and Sehun has devised an intricate defense system to keep them out. "If you need me to come save you," Sehun says, pushing two chop sticks into Chanyeol's hands pointedly. "Just hit your emergency sticks together and they'll send up a flare. Then I'll come and find you."

"Are you sure you'll be able to see me in the jungle?" Chanyeol asks as seriously as he can.

"Of course, I'll be in the lookout," Sehun tells him, and grins happily as he clambers on top of the crate closest to him. "You have to go find Daddy. He's down by the beach collecting food for us but it'll be dark soon so he needs to come back to safety."

"I'm on it," Chanyeol reassures him, and holds back his laughter as he carefully picks his way out of the 'jungle' and to the kitchen. "You're wanted back at the treehouse," Chanyeol tells Jongin, stepping up quietly beside him and watching as Jongin turns to him in fading surprise. "Orders of Sehun."

"I'm sure he can wait a bit for dinner," Jongin says, a smile still on his lips as he glances out to the living room. "He's been having so much fun since we came over, he keeps talking about it." The smile tugs at Chanyeol when it turns to him. "Thank you for that."

"It was really fun," Chanyeol admits. If he only watched half the movie, it doesn't matter. It was fun, and he means it when he says he'd want both Sehun and Jongin back again. "We should do it again. When you're free, or when you can make time."

Laughing, Jongin turns back to his cooking. It looks like it's enough to feed more than just one night, and Chanyeol watches as he cuts up the meal of random vegetables to drop into the pot of soup as rice cooks on the back burner. "I wish I could just make time," he says, eyes tired as he works. "That would make everything easier."

"No luck looking into something else?" Chanyeol poses the question lightly, but still Jongin turns to him with a heavy look.

"Chanyeol," he begins before halting, letting out a sigh. "It's not- I don't just have the-"

"I had some extra time today," Chanyeol cuts him off, before Jongin can get too wrapped up in what he 'can't' do. "I thought they might help." Digging into his work bag, Chanyeol pulls out the advertisements for jobs he'd been looking at. Most of them are local, and none of them will ever pay as well as Chanyeol's job, but it's something better than what Jongin is already doing hopefully. "It's not a lot, but I thought it might be worth a shot, rather than working six jobs and-" his throat tightens "-it might be easier on you." Jongin slowly, almost cautiously, accepts the papers as Chanyeol hands them to him, a furrow between his eyes. "And Sehun."

"Chanyeol," Jongin begins, his voice not the happy sound Chanyeol's quivering heart had hoped for. "Chanyeol these-" he sighs, flipping through the papers. "Thank you," he says, closing his eyes on the last page and looking up. He doesn't look relieved though, he just looks more tired, and the tug in Chanyeol's chest pulls harder.

"But?" Chanyeol prompts. He knows it's there, he just also knows Jongin won't say it unless he's given the small push to do so.

"You shouldn't do this," Jongin tells him, flipping through the pages again. "These- I can't-"

"Why not?" Chanyeol asks, feeling a bit disheartened. It's hard to really understand this sort of thing, when he's not sure why Jongin isn't looking for better work than what he has, or why Jongin keeps saying what he can't do rather than what he can. "Why can't you do this? I'm only trying to help."

"Stop," Jongin says, and though it's only one word, it hits with the force of many. Jongin closes his eyes, letting out a sigh as he puts the papers down on the table and glances into the living room, checking on Sehun. "It's not as simple as just finding a job that has better hours or pay," he begins, stepping closer and deeper into the kitchen.

"Then what is it?" Chanyeol asks, watching Jongin carefully. "There are jobs out there-"

"Almost all of those jobs will want more than just a high school diploma," Jongin tells him, eyes heavy.

"They don't have it listed as-" Chanyeol begins.

"But they will want it," Jongin answers firmly. "They won't want a single father asking for full time wages and benefits with a basic work visa. They want part time workers who they don't have to pay higher, give benefits, and can recycle when they're not useful anymore."

"Not all-" Chanyeol begins, feeling uneasy at the sure note in Jongin's voice. He's been there, whispers a sad voice in his mind. This has already been his world, is his world.

"They want someone who won’t be up for possible deportation, a foreign worker who isn't asking for the same wages," Jongin continues, and his voice hardens.

"But you're-"

"Korean," Jongin says, and there's no give in his voice. "I came here when I was fourteen to go to high school and never left. I've been living here on borrowed time and luck."

"Luck," Chanyeol repeats the word, feeling numb as he watches Jongin's expression pull back into itself.

"Yes," Jongin says. "I'm lucky to still be here. With Sehun." The note in his voice has Chanyeol quieting, just waiting for Jongin to talk to him. Let him come to you, whispers and Chanyeol swallows as Jongin leans back against the counter, eyes on his hands as they slowly twine together. "I met Sehun's mother when I was in my first year of university here," Jongin says.

It's not the story Chanyeol expects, but he isn't about to stop him. Carefully shifting so as to be closer to Jongin, Chanyeol keeps space between them, letting Jongin talk. This isn't the time for him to talk, but to listen.

"I suppose you could call it young love," Jongin says, and a mix of happiness, a warm fondness, and grief passes over his face quickly. "A lot of people did, at least." He swallows, fingers knitting together. "I didn't." The way he says it sounds deeper, closer to something more than Chanyeol could ever touch. "It wasn't really an accident, but it still shocked us both when she got pregnant." A soft smile before he looks up, meeting Chanyeol's eyes. "I was eighteen, then."

"That's-"

"Young, I know," Jongin says. "I didn't really care that I was young, or that we were young. It was our lives, we were going to go with it and have a family. I figured if I dropped out then, I could finish my degree later, after the baby was born and we would be okay. After things got better." His eyes drop back to his hands, and his voice tightens as he says, "that was the plan, at least."

"What happened to her?" Chanyeol asks. All Chanyeol ever knew was that Sehun's mother was dead, but nothing more. He hadn't realized this, that there was so much of Jongin that still looks... in love with her.

"Things got hard," Jongin says, taking in a deep breath. "My family wasn't really happy about my dropping out, especially when they found out why. They- well they didn't agree with my decisions. They made things harder, right up until Sehun was born." He lets out a laugh that sounds harsh, bitter as he grimaces. "Then they backed off, gave up on me I guess," he sighs, breathing in deeply. "It might have worked, and for a while, I thought it would. Two jobs wasn't so bad and she was happy. Sehun was healthy." He chuckles. "He was the cutest baby, so full of energy."

"Just like now," Chanyeol murmurs, watching as Jongin looks over at his son, jumping about the 'jungle' in the living room.

"Just like now," Jongin repeats, his voice distant and the lines about his face deep, etched with hours of ages of exhaustion and strife. "I wish she could see him."

"What was she like?" Chanyeol asks. A part of him doesn't want to know, to pretend she wasn't such a huge part of Jongin's heart, that she still might be, but at the same time, it feels cruel to her. At least her memory. A woman Chanyeol has never met, the mother of the boy who Chanyeol adores, who never lived to see him as he is now. That’s something Chanyeol has, and he wouldn’t without her.

A slow, warm and sweet smile spreads over Jongin's face. "She was beautiful," Jongin says softly. "In the way that caught you as soon as she walked into a room. It just poured from her, inside to out. And she didn't even realize how beautiful she was, didn’t even care, she just wanted to enjoy the world, make things work. She believed everything would work out. That even if we didn’t have enough to really get married back then, we would some day. She believed that’d we’d find our happy ending." Jongin pauses, breathing in again before he looks up at Chanyeol, some of the warmth still lighting his eyes. "You're a lot like her in that. Both of you don't seem to give up hope."

It's hard to know how to reply to that, so Chanyeol just stays silent, taking the compliment and letting Jongin continue. This isn't his story, and he would rather listen, to finally understand. "She had that hope the day it happened," Jongin says. "They had to do some tests, they did it for all of the people going into the job she had. Just a few things, blood work, heart checks." His eyes fall, fixing to gaze into nothing, darkening with the past. "She was allergic to one of the dyes they injected into her blood to check her heart."

Silence falls, Jongin's eyes clouded over as he stares into nothing. The smile and light gone from his eyes, his face fallen into age far beyond his time as Chanyeol watches him revisit the memories of years ago.

"I'm sorry," Chanyeol murmurs, not wanting to break the silence but not wanting it to linger too long.

"They had no idea," Jongin says, and clears his throat of the grating tightness left. "It was fast, and there wasn't anything they could do. Sehun was just about a year old." He breathes in deep. "And then it was just us." Jongin looks back towards the living room, to his son, and the light slowly fades back into his eyes, the smile once more dancing to his lips as he watches his son. "Just me and Sehun."

For a long moment, nothing but the sounds of the food simmering gently on the stove and Sehun playing in the living room are heard, silence falling between them. In Chanyeol's mind, he tries to imagine what it might have been like. Working, young, trying to keep a small family afloat and keep his head above water and suddenly getting a phone call like that.

Whatever Chanyeol can imagine will never be what Jongin went through, and Chanyeol swallows down the ache in his throat, in his chest, in his heart as he looks at Jongin.

"It wasn't bad at first," Jongin says, finally picking up as Chanyeol watches him. So much. "I thought it might work out, that I could keep my two jobs and take care of Sehun." He grimaces, turning away from watching Sehun play. He’s been through so much. "Then her family got involved, wanted to take Sehun, thinking he wasn't okay with me." He sniffs, frowning at his hands. "They never really liked me."

"Their loss," Chanyeol says.

"Those are the ladies Sehun keeps talking about," Jongin tells him, and the small moment Chanyeol had struck falls dead. "They came after us two years ago, right around when-" he closes his eyes, a full grimace on his face, twisting in pain. "When I was really struggling. Back when I-"

"You don't have to say it," Chanyeol reassures.

"I wasn't home," Jongin says, his voice tight and straining. "I was out, with a customer, and they came and found him alone. I-" his voice cracks. "I almost lost him." It's hard to watch, to see Jongin close his eyes, watch the beginnings of what Chanyeol knows is years of grief coming to the surface, struggling for release. "They wouldn’t give up, saying that I was hurting him and he wasn’t safe with me, and I just was trying to, to-"

"Make ends meet," Chanyeol answers for him, trying to understand and feeling like he's getting there, even if it's only a little.

"I can't lose him," Jongin whispers, whether to Chanyeol or himself, Chanyeol doesn't know or care. Jongin's eyes stay closed, his hands twisted together as they shake slightly, holding back. "If I could get a full time job, if they had- if they were hiring, but they never are, and if they found Sehun home alone before I could get there-"

"They'll take him from you," Chanyeol finishes for him, watching as Jongin takes in a sharp shuddering breath. It may be overstepping, breaking whatever fragile balance has settled between them, but Chanyeol ignores all of that as he steps forward and carefully wraps his arms around Jongin. Immediately, he hears Jongin gasp, loud and wet as he jerks away. A moment later though, as Chanyeol stays and just holds, arms wrapped gently and lightly around Jongin in case he wants to pull away, hands fist themselves into the front of his shirt. There is only a short pause, a shiver, and then Jongin is leaning into him and pressing his face into his shoulder. Closing his eyes, Chanyeol just breathes, arms around Jongin and feeling him shake in silent sobs as it all is relived.

Slowly, as he holds and just lets Jongin hold onto him, as Jongin lets himself be held, finally, Chanyeol counts back all of those years. Sehun is six, romping around in the living room, which means...

Jongin must be only about twenty five years old.

Twenty five years old and to already have seen so much, to have suffered through the things that Jongin has suffered through, seems enough to almost break him. It's impossible to imagine, and Chanyeol knows no matter how much he might try, he'll never understand. He'll never be able to comprehend what it was like for Jongin. There's more to the story, more to Jongin's life, but Chanyeol isn't going to ask. When the time comes, perhaps he'll know.

It doesn't feel like it's long enough before Jongin is pulling away, still shaking and sniffling softly, his eyes reddish and nose pink, hastily wiping his eyes. "I'm sorry," he says in a harsh half whisper, stepping back.

"Don't apologize," Chanyeol tells him firmly. "I asked."

"You didn't ask me to cry on your shirt," Jongin tells him pointedly, looking up with red rimmed eyes and a poor look of retribution. "I'm sorry, I always-"

"Stop apologizing," Chanyeol tells him firmly

"-I can't seem to be able to stop when it's you," Jongin continues, ignoring him. "And it's so- I'm, I'm just sorry, I didn't-"

"Jongin," Chanyeol tells him sharply, and Jongin's voice cuts out as he looks up at him. "Stop apologizing," he says firmly.

Jongin sniffs, but he doesn't look away from Chanyeol. "Or what?" he asks, voice thicker even as he keeps his gaze steady.

"Or I'll kiss you," Chanyeol says, barely even thinking about it but the moment the words leave him, he's pleased with them. The stunned look on Jongin's face is certainly worth it. "Stop apologizing to me, you have no reason to ever apologize to me for anything. So the next time you do, I'll kiss you."

"That's-" Jongin presses his lips together, standing in his kitchen and just staring at Chanyeol like he's not sure how to respond to him.

"Look at it this way," Chanyeol continues, stepping back and leaning against the counter, looking away as his heart begins to pump at a faster pace. "The next time you apologize to me, I'll just consider that you're asking me to kiss you."

"But what if I wasn't," Jongin says, voice still thick but it holds none of the same heart aching sadness.

"Then you'll never forget it," Chanyeol says simply, and even if his heart flutters in hope that Jongin will just apologize, that he'll pull him in, that's not why he's doing this. Jongin has been through proverbial Hell, had greater loss than anyone Chanyeol knows, and he shouldn't be apologizing to anyone. For anything. "I promise I won't."

He still hasn't said it, but it's almost better that way, the small reality that exists between them in the gray space that isn't quite yet ready to be defined, just waiting. It's better this way, where Jongin can let go in the rare moments when he lets Chanyeol hold him, crying and shedding some of the layers of his stress. Though he looks no less tired or thin standing before Chanyeol, there are small signs, the way he stands just a little taller, the way his eyes seem just a little bit brighter, that make Chanyeol think it helps.

"Okay," Jongin says, and smiles at him to show that they're okay. This is okay. "Are you sure you don't want to stay for dinner?"

"If I don't see my friend, he's going to send out a search party fairly soon," Chanyeol tries to laugh off. It might surprise him that Baekhyun hasn't been texting him telling him to hurry up, that he's hungry, but Baekhyun is working and therefore can't use his phone. It's better that way, meaning Baekhyun can't do something stupid, like drop the device into a customer's soup.

One time was more than enough.

"Another time then," Jongin tells him. "Perhaps when the living room is less of a-"

"Is supper done?" Sehun asks, coming skidding into the kitchen between them. "You should come and see. I have a new trap set up!"

Jongin has to work tonight, after dinner and Sehun is in bed, heading out to one of his night jobs to pay the bills to keep them afloat. Chanyeol watches the tired lines in his face as they all sit in the living room in Sehun's fortress that he's made on the couch, playing with him as he spins an elaborate tale of survival on this deserted island. Chanyeol finally leaves when Jongin pushes him off of the couch, laughing as Sehun yells that Chanyeol is going to get eaten and wheezing soundlessly as Chanyeol dramatizes his own imagined death.

"Chanyeol, tigers don't bark," Sehun criticizes as Jongin struggles for breath beside his son, still laughing.

"The tigers here do," Chanyeol tells him, pushing himself up from the floor. "You have some strange tigers here, Sehun. You have to watch out." He smiles, ruffling Sehun's hair when the boy leaps off the couch to hug him goodbye.

Jongin is still flushed with laughing as he sees Chanyeol to the door. "Thank you," he says, smiling as Chanyeol steps out of the apartment.

"Am I going to find out what these lists are next time I visit?" Chanyeol asks, nodding to the new paper tacked to Jongin's door.

"Next time," Jongin tells him, and his smile looks tired, but it's still a smile. Still in place, and still for him. "How else would I get you to come back?"

"Just ask," Chanyeol tells him, honestly. "And I'll be here whenever you need me." Jongin's eyes flicker, filling slowly. "For anything." It would be so easy to reach out, to pull Jongin close into one more hug, hold him close and hold him safe.

"Thank you," Jongin says, voice quiet, but sincere.

The jobs didn't work, and Chanyeol isn't sure what else to do aside from just be there. Maybe, right now, that's all he needs to be though.

"You're late," Baekhyun says when Chanyeol picks him up from his job, smiling at the bag of food Baekhyun props on his lap.

"I'm on time, you're being particular," Chanyeol says, smiling none the less as he pulls out into traffic.

"And you're smiling like you just got laid," Baekhyun says, propping his feet up on the dashboard.

"Feet down," Chanyeol scolds and Baekhyun gives a half apologetic grin as he takes his feet from the car. "And don't be crude."

"What else am I supposed to be then?" Baekhyun asks, feigning distress. "But I'm glad," he adds. "For whoever it is that made you smile like this." Chanyeol glances over at him, watching his face as they sit at a red light and feeling a bit curious at the way he looks almost contemplative. "I hope they deserve you."

They do, Chanyeol thinks, keeping his mouth shut as they pull through the light and smiling as Baekhyun breaks the silence a moment later with singing one of the pop hits from back in university.

*

It was only a matter of time before this happened. Standing in the darkened room with music loud and too many people, Chanyeol keeps the smile on his face as he looks around. It's been about a week since Jongdae had pulled him out for dinner, and Chanyeol had known it wouldn't be long before their whole group of friends was dragged out.

It's not entirely how he'd envisioned it happening, with Hoseok joking that they should all go out after work so he could see if they were as different outside of work as Juhyun claimed. That's how it all spun together though, Jongdae jumping on the idea, and no one had the heart to tell him Thursdays weren't a good night to go out on principal. It had been intended to be a company group, with just the interns Hoseok was more than excited to drag along to watch them suffer embarrassment, but it had ended up becoming a bit more.

"Come on," Baekhyun is laughing, pressing a bottle of beer harder against Chanyeol's face as he continues to laugh. "Everyone else is having a second, thir- I don't know Han has had like nine beers, so I guess we'll have to count with deca somethings for him, the asshole."

"Baekhyun," Chanyeol says, trying to take the bottle of beer Baekhyun is trying to meld onto his face. "How many drinks have you had?"

"More than you," Baekhyun slurs. "Which is unacceptable."

"You're drunk," Chanyeol informs.

"Obviously," Baekhyun snorts and then grins. "That’s the point. Come on, even your intern child is more giggles than you are."

Indeed, Hoseok when he's drunk apparently tends to just be... a more emphasized version of Hoseok when he's sober. Chanyeol isn't really sure if he should mention this, or if he should follow Jongdae's earlier advice as a good 'mentor' and document everything with his phone camera to send Hoseok tomorrow morning. While Chanyeol knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of that, it's still tremendously tempting.

"Yeah, but I'm driving home," Chanyeol reminds Baekhyun. "And judging by how many drinks Han keeps giving Jongdae, I'll be driving him home too."

"You're such a good almost not actual brother," Baekhyun hums, leaning back against the bar and smiling out over their group of people. As much as Chanyeol doesn't like having bottles of beer pressed into his face, he's glad Baekhyun is here. Initially, Jongdae had looked unwilling when Juhyun had invited him, but in the end, it was Baekhyun who got Jongdae to stop moping into his second glass of beer. It was Baekhyun that had dragged him out to laugh and talk to people, and it was Baekhyun that had shoved a giggling Juhyun down to sit and 'supervise' Jongdae while he 'socialized'.

"Thank you, Baekhyun," Chanyeol tells his long time friend, watching as Baekhyun grins out over the bar. "That means so much to me."

"You're so welcome," Baekhyun informs him, and pats him firmly on the thigh, resting his hand there and rubbing slightly. Once, Chanyeol might have thought too much about it, wondered about it, fought with himself for thinking about it.

It's been a long time since he just stopped thinking of touches like this as something else. It's been a long time since he was too at war with himself to just be at peace with the rest of the world as it passed with him. In some ways, he has Baekhyun to thank for that.

In other ways, he doesn't, considering it was because of Baekhyun that his parents are probably less inclined to the idea of Chanyeol marrying a man instead of a woman.

"How many is that?" Jongdae asks, walking up with a few unsteady steps as he frowns at Chanyeol's... two beers. "You're double fisting? On a Thursday?"

"Living the Wild life," Baekhyun says emphatically. "Get with it, Jongdae, you're behind the games."

"I'm acting as Baekhyun's human cup holder," Chanyeol says, holding up the fresh beer Baekhyun had literally shoved on him earlier. "This is my second."

"He's such a good cup holder," Baekhyun says, patting Chanyeol's thigh affectionately as he reaches out, pulling Jongdae under his arm. "Everyone needs a Chanyeol in their life for their cup needs."

It feels a little strange to think that just a year ago, he'd probably be the one right along with Baekhyun in terms of drinks (or double, possibly triple, considering Baekhyun's inability to hold his alcohol under pain of death). Somehow, despite Baekhyun calling him out on it, he doesn't really mind it. While once the pressure to drink along with everyone else just to be doing the same things, it's almost gone now, and Chanyeol finds that just as with other things, he's happier to just watch.

Also watching as Jongdae sighs, leaning immediately into Baekhyun's arms and resting his head on his shoulder, tells Chanyeol that he needs to be sober and sentient for when he has to take people home. Baekhyun may not be able to see it, but Chanyeol can see the vague way that Jongdae's expression doesn't hold back all of his lingering sadness.

"I don't get why you get to have a Chanyeol and I don't," Jongdae is grumbling under his breath. "S'not fair."

"You get him as a brother soon enough, I'm just trying to get my fill before you steal him away to go bro bond or sing guitar songs together," Baekhyun says, and when Jongdae whines softly, Baekhyun kisses him firmly on the side of the face. He grins, delighted with himself, when Jongdae sputters and pushes back, face red and grimacing.

"You're gross," Jongdae protests, and in trying to walk away from Baekhyun, ends up sitting on his lap instead as he stumbles. "Awful."

"You're welcome," Baekhyun chirps happily, resting his chin on Jongdae's shoulder. "I just don't want you to feel left out. You know, unloved and all that stuff, because you're not." Jongdae, who has just pulled out his phone and is frowning at the familiar picture on the lock screen, turns sharply at Baekhyun's words. Chanyeol wants to sigh, to pull Jongdae off of Baekhyun and just stop him from going down that road. To his credit, Baekhyun looks suitable ashamed of himself and grins apologetically. "I love you?" he prompts and gets Jongdae's hand over his face, pushing him off.

"I'm going to go see Han," Jongdae grumbles. "See if your roommate is nicer to me."

"I'm amazing to you," Baekhyun calls after Jongdae. "I treat you so well, Jongdae, no one can treat you better than me, baby." Jongdae flips him off. At the look one of the other men at the bar gives him, Baekhyun grins and sways slightly, saying a vague, "hiya," before he turns back to Chanyeol. "Drink that, or my job isn't even remotely successful."

"Your job?"

"Happy person maker," Baekhyun says resolutely, squeezing Chanyeol's thigh in emphasis.

"You should retire," Junmyeon says, slipping up to Chanyeol's other side and plucking the extra beer from Chanyeol's grateful hands. "You're losing your touch."

"Look, just because you made yourself happy without me doesn't mean I'm not still great at my job," Baekhyun defends, scowling at Junmyeon.

"Make yourself happy first," Junmyeon suggests, and winks up at Chanyeol as he settles beside him. "Then go and make other people happy. That's my advice."

"Fine," Baekhyun says, standing up straighter. "I will." Looking out over the bar, he squints into their group, all clustered at one of the standing tables and chattering. Han and Jongdae are arguing over something again, Juhyun laughing at them both as Jinri teasingly goads them on. Watching Baekhyun walk over to their group, Chanyeol lets out a sigh he'd been holding for longer than he realizes, the warmth of Baekhyun's hand fading from his thigh.

"Aren't you going to join them?" Junmyeon asks, taking a sip of the beer Baekhyun had given Chanyeol.

"I think it's safer to watch from here," Chanyeol chuckles. "Baekhyun's been goading Jongdae all night. It's only a matter of time before he gets hit. Or Jongdae starts crying."

"Han won't let that happen," Junmyeon says, though he doesn't sound entirely confident in himself. "There's too much happening tonight for Jongdae to really be pushed that far."

"I wouldn't put it past him though," Chanyeol sighs, watching as Jongdae turns from Han to talk with Juhyun, his phone in his hand once more. "You know how he can get."

"Have more confidence in him," Junmyeon assures. "He's been growing up too, just like you."

"Me?" Chanyeol blinks, finally looking away from his friends to look at Junmyeon.

"I suppose Juhyun would be proud of me," Junmyeon says, glancing at Chanyeol with a small smile playing about his mouth. "Saying I've finally noticed something that isn't two feet from my face." Chanyeol blinks, not sure what Junmyeon means, or what he's saying. "You've changed."

"Have I?" Chanyeol tries to brush it off, to not think about how true it is. But it is; he's not the same man he was back in spring. It's a little strange to think of how much he's changed in such a short time, though he can't take all the credit.

It's because of Jongin.

"You've- I don't want to say grown up, because you've always been grown up, in your own way," Junmyeon hums in contemplation.

"Does this mean I get to join the ranks of you and Minseok?" Chanyeol asks, not feeling the edge that he had a few months ago to deny it. It feels safer, and he knows he doesn't have to say anything he doesn't want to. It's okay to say no.

Laughing, Junmyeon shakes his head. "It'll be a while before you're old men like us."

"You're still not even thirty," Chanyeol reminds.

"Blame Baekhyun," Junmyeon says. "He says he keeps us young, but we all know the truth."

"He keeps you on your toes, that's for sure," Chanyeol chuckles, looking back over at the table of friends. His smile falters as he watches Juhyun laugh, tucking her hair behind her ear prettily as she talks with Baekhyun and Jongdae watches, his phone held limp in his hands.

"If there's any changes," Junmyeon says, pulling Chanyeol's attention back to him. "Let me know, okay?"

"Changes?" Chanyeol frowns, not sure what Junmyeon is talking about.

"In your world," Junmyeon elaborates, taking another long sip. "I know I'm your supervisor, but I'm still your friend. And I'd like to think that will come first if things happen." At Chanyeol's frown of confusion, he adds, "I know it must be frustrating to keep getting those proposals rejected. I know I get annoyed when they come back, knowing that they're decent and should be approved, so I can't imagine it's any easier for you."

"Oh," Chanyeol says, realizing what Junmyeon is saying, what he might be hinting at. "I know I should have stopped a while ago, but-"

"Why give up?" Junmyeon asks, a laugh in his voice. "It's not that the proposals aren't good and that they're not important, it's just maybe they're going to the wrong place." Chanyeol looks up, frowning at what he thinks Junmyeon is implying. "Whatever you choose to do, I just wanted to make sure you know you can tell me."

Breathing in and feeling it settle in his chest, calming and full, Chanyeol smiles at his friend. "Thank you," he says, sincerely. "For understanding."

"I know I don't always understand much, like Hoseok's obsession with emoticons for his emails," Junmyeon says, sighing as he looks back at the group. "But I like to think I at least try."

Junmyeon stays with Chanyeol, chatting and catching up with him, telling him about the girl he's seeing and making Chanyeol smile with his stories. It's nice to talk with him, separate from the usual yell and bustle of the group, all trying to race drinks and keep the energy just on the edge of tipping over. It feels more settled, balanced, and it's Junmyeon calling it out, naming it, that has Chanyeol less wary of it. It's okay to be here and not there, and even if he knows Junmyeon is keeping him company, he appreciates it.

A part of him couldn't go and just forget in the group anymore, his mind too aware of himself, his actions and distracted, flickering back to Jongin. Absently, Chanyeol wonders if Jongin has ever had alcohol, at least like this. Probably not, and as Chanyeol watches a flushed and giggling Juhyun let herself fall into Baekhyun's side as Jongdae's face falls, he doesn't think Jongin is really missing out.

He doesn't miss waking up to texts and pictures of the night before with a burn in his stomach and a pounding in his head, dragging to work to feel half awake all day. He doesn't miss being Jongdae, walking over to him and handing him his phone, and telling him, "I can't be trusted right now" before he turns and makes a beeline to Han and Jinri.

There still isn't a clear path of where Chanyeol is going to go from here. In one year, Chanyeol has no more idea of where he will be than he did a few months ago. There's no concept of if he'll still be at Everyday Cuisine or somewhere else, if he'll still have the same apartment, or if he'll have someone beside him at Yura and Jongdeok's wedding. All he knows is that he doesn't have the same sense of urgency that he did before, the rushing to find the answer, the solution to not knowing.

For the first time, Chanyeol can sit and just watch his friends and not feel like he has to do something, to make it better, to make himself better, to fix the problems. He knows Jongdae will come and find him at the end of the night, ask for his phone back and whisper a soft complaint before saying "thank you" when he finds his background changed from Sunyoung's picture.

For the first time, Chanyeol doesn't feel unbalanced, just grounded. Perhaps that's what Junmyeon had meant, and when he realizes it, Chanyeol doesn't find himself shying away from it, just happy.

It's not perfect, still so many questions unanswered, but it is okay. It's okay.

*

It's just after lunch when Chanyeol's phone starts to ring. Lunch had been an interesting affair, mostly consisting of Juhyun and Hoseok playing 'keep away' with Jongdae's phone as he grumbled at them over the 'healthy salad' that Chanyeol had bought for him. Jongdae had turned up at work hungover, red eyed, and had dropped a muffin on Chanyeol's desk with a weak smile.

"For last night," he'd said, referring to how Chanyeol had physically carried him into his apartment after the bar as Jongdae rambled into his neck about how he didn't need anyone else in his life. "Thanks."

Of course, it was only after Chanyeol had eaten the muffin Jongdae had realized he'd forgotten both his lunch and his wallet on the way out that morning.

"You don't even need a girlfriend," Jimin, Jongdae's intern, had teased his mentor as they sat down for lunch after hearing the story. "You can just date Chanyeol."

"I'm going to be his brother," Chanyeol says easily as Jongdae gets a sort of hungover look of delayed disapproval on his face. It's understandable when Jimin cowers moments later under Jongdae's stare, considering that Chanyeol has seen even Jongdeok cower under that look. "He has to find another nice boyfriend."

"Not my type," Jongdae had grumbled into his salad. "And no, Chanyeol is not your type either and he won't buy you food," he'd added when Jimin had opened his mouth hopefully.

Chanyeol is still chuckling at a joke that Jimin, who seems to be the only other intern that isn't completely intimidated by Jongdae, was telling earlier when he digs his phone out of his pocket. The day is going well, and Junmyeon flashes him a quick smile as he leaves first, dragging Jongdae away before he can pester.

Smiling as he sees Jongin's number, Chanyeol answers. The weekend is still free, and he'd hoped to see Jongin and Sehun, even if it's just for a little while.

"I wondered if I'd be hearing from you," Chanyeol says, smiling into the receiver. "I-"

"Chanyeol!" Jongin's voice is frantic, high and tight and Chanyeol's smile immediately falls, steps faltering. "Chanyeol, I can't find Sehun."

"You-" It's cold, suddenly everything is cold and there isn't enough air. "What?"

"I just got back from my morning shift and he's not here, he's not home." Jongin speaks in a rush of words, tightly strung together in panic. "Chanyeol, I don't know where he would be. The keys aren't here but- he knows not to leave and-"

"Shouldn't he be in school?"

"They had early release," Jongin says, and Chanyeol shakes his head as Juhyun pauses, looking back at him with her eyes turning worried. "We talked about it before I dropped him off this morning. He was supposed to come right home, and I took off work to make sure- Chanyeol he's not here, I don't know where he is, he's-"

"Maybe he's late," Chanyeol suggests, trying to calm the racing pounding of his own heart.

"He was supposed to be home an hour ago," Jongin says, and his voice cracks. "I've- Chanyeol, we have routines for this, he never leaves home without someone with him. Yixing was supposed to walk him home today but what if something happened? Why would he leave?"

"Would he do that?" Chanyeol asks, not sure who Yixing is and that certainly doesn't help the increasing beats of his heart. Shaking his head at Juhyun when she steps closer, turning away and walking back into the cafe. "Jongin-"

"I called him already and he said he dropped Sehun off outside the apartment." Over the phone, Chanyeol can hear Jongin's breathing start to get faster, his voice shaking and it makes Chanyeol's decision for him when he hears a muffled whimper. "He's out right now with a client downtown and can't- I don't know what happened, he knows not to leave home."

"Where are you?" Chanyeol asks, turning and walking back towards the office, stepping past Juhyun and ignoring her questioning look. "Are you home?"

"Yes," Jongin says. "I didn't want to leave in case he came back, but-"

"Stay there," Chanyeol says, stepping into the elevator as it arrives and motioning for Juhyung to follow. "It's going to be okay."

"What if something happened to him?" Jongin asks, and Chanyeol can hear the tears in his voice, panic and desperation building. It's going to be okay, I promise. "I can't do this alone."

"I'm leaving work right now," Chanyeol says, and there is no gasp of shock, no stammer of refusal from Jongin's end of the phone, just the cut off of breath. "Jongin?"

"Chanyeol-"

"We can look for him together," Chanyeol tells him. "We'll find him. I promise."

"Don't make promises you can't keep," whispers brokenly over the line and Chanyeol clenches his jaw to keep from letting his emotions surge through him.

"I never break a promise," Chanyeol says, wishing he were there now, wishing he could get there faster. "I'll be there soon."

"Okay," Jongin says, and his voice trembles. "I'm so sorry, I just didn't know-"

"That's one kiss," Chanyeol says, and steps from the elevator when it arrives on the floor, ignoring the gasp from the phone and the startled look on Jongdae's face when he walks into their cubicle.

"Chanyeol-!"

"I'll be there soon," Chanyeol repeats, quickly grabbing his work bag to pack up. "Call me if anything happens, okay?"

"Okay," shudders back, followed by a soft, "thank you," before Chanyeol hangs up with purpose.

"I have to leave," Chanyeol tells Jongdae's befuddled look.

"You don't say?" Jongdae says, watching as Chanyeol hastily packs his work materials. "Everything okay?"

"Family emergency," Chanyeol says, not even bothering to answer Jongdae's startled look. "Tell Junmyeon for me? And keep an eye on Hoseok. He can take my desk for the day if he needs to."

"Alright," Jongdae says, nodding and looking more alert than he has all day. "I hope things work out," he adds and Chanyeol pauses, looking back at him and the worry, concern, and reassurance in Jongdae's eyes. "Good luck."

"Thanks," Chanyeol says, offering a weak smile as he slings his bag over his shoulder.

"Call me if you need anything," Jongdae calls as Chanyeol strides away, walking from the office with his heart racing and his blood pumping cold. "Seriously! Anything! I got you, bro!"

The rush to Jongin's apartment is a blur, cars and sounds and Chanyeol's heart beating too frantic in his chest to breathe steady. Images he never wants flash through his head, of Sehun lost, Sehun hurt, Sehun upset, crying, calling for help, stranded and unable to get home. Images of Jongin alone, of Sehun found by the wrong people, of him being taken away. It doesn't make sense for Sehun to not be home, to not have done what he knows is the rules of the house. Sehun may be a child but he's not stupid, far from it, and while Sehun may complain about rules just like any other child, or adult really, Sehun knows why they're important.

The last thing Sehun would want is to risk being separated from Jongin, so the fact that he's missing is all the more worrisome. From Jongin's reaction when he called, this is not something that happens. Ever.

It makes Chanyeol more scared than he's ever felt in his entire life, his heart pounding and body moving almost automatically, following through the steps to get to Jongin as soon as possible. To fix this, to help, to find Sehun.

The sounds of him knocking on the door have barely resonated in the grimy hallway of Jongin's apartment complex, a new list of things tacked to the door, when there is a loud thump from the other side and it's opening wide. Jongin stands there, face pale as death and eyes wide with fear.

"It's okay," Chanyeol says, trying to put comfort around the lie. It's not okay, but they'll make it okay. "It's okay, we'll find him."

Somehow, as if a switch has been tripped inside, like just hearing another person speak, has Jongin wavering, and the next moment the tears Chanyeol knows he's been trying to hold back spill down his face. "What if-" he begins but Chanyeol stops him, reaching out and grabbing his hand firmly, pulling him into the apartment quickly.

"We'll find him," Chanyeol says, turning Jongin to him once the door is closed and they're safe. Jongin is taking fast frantic gasps, looking up at Chanyeol. "We're going to find him, okay?" Eyes shining as he looks up at him, Jongin just nods. Swallowing a second later, Jongin sets his jaw, taking in a shivering breath before he clears his throat.

"Okay," he says, and nods once.

It takes about seven minutes, Jongin working with him quickly with his face dead set, explaining all the areas locally where Sehun might be. They work out a time schedule, Jongin drawing a hasty map of Baker Hill that he gives to Chanyeol with hands that shake.

"Should we call the police?" Chanyeol asks, and the look on Jongin's face is nothing but a shade from broken.

"I can't call them," Jongin says, shaking his head as his voice wavers. "I can't-"

"Jongin," Chanyeol tries, feeling heavy as his breath sticks in his throat.

"If I call them, they'll call child services, and they'll take Sehun away," Jongin lets out in a rush, his eyes wide. He's shaking, his hands, his voice, his whole body shivering as his eyes shine. "They'll- they'll finally have enough to say it's unsafe for him to be living with me, and they'll take him." He shakes his head fervently when Chanyeol opens his mouth. "I can't lose him, I can't."

This could be serious, and Chanyeol doesn't know what has caused Sehun to go missing, but a part of him knows it might be safer to call the police. At the same time, he knows doing so would break Jongin. It's giving up, giving Sehun up, and Chanyeol can't make him do it.

And there's nothing he can say to make that reality fade.

"I'll meet you back here in thirty minutes," he says instead, and before Jongin can protest, Chanyeol pulls him in for a swift strong hug, feeling him shake with a gasp. Heart pounding, Chanyeol pulls away to leave first, map clutched in his hand.

Somehow, while Chanyeol had first been a bit intimidated by Baker Hill, the occupants and people around here less friendly than the people up in Highland Circle and North of the city, that nervousness is gone. Running between shops, talking to people behind counters and some of the vendors on the street, showing pictures of Sehun he's had on his phone, the wariness is gone. Despite how they may glower, they're helpful, almost all of them recognizing Sehun as 'Kim's boy', but offering no insight as to where he might be.

Returning to the front of Jongin's building, breathless and with his shirt sticking to his skin, Chanyeol finds Jongin already there, looking around nervously and alone. "Nothing?" he asks, voice tight.

"We'll keep looking," Chanyeol tells him, gripping his hand briefly and squeezing, trying to put hope, some of his own confidence in that they'll find Sehun through the gesture. The vague squeeze back has him smiling, the words it's okay flooding him as he looks at Jongin before turning and running back into the streets. It's almost three o'clock now, meaning Sehun has been missing for three hours.

A lot can happen in three hours.

Chanyeol's heart pounds heavier and harder in his chest, barely even offering formalities as he talks to people, meeting familiar names. Mr. Kim, Mr. Choi, Mrs. Meng and Mrs. Lee all finally matching names to faces. It feels like he's wrapping in circles, the same street shop names, the same faces and no Sehun, only the pounding of his heart matching the pounding of his feet on the tarmac as he begins to run.

It's hard to keep up the hope when he keeps looking and Sehun is no where, when checking in with Jongin again has him with a sense of urgency. If they can't find him. . .

"Sehun?" says a young woman, stepping into Chanyeol's conversation with some of the old men outside the grocery market he'd gone to with Sehun. The old men had taken a long time to recall up Sehun, looking up from their game of chess to frown at him.

"Yes," Chanyeol says, feeling both relief and shock rush through him. It turns over his stomach hard enough to make him sick. "Do you know him? He's-"

"Jongin's boy, right?" the woman asks. "I saw Yixing bring him by earlier today and drop him off. What's wrong?"

"We can't find him," Chanyeol says, trying to keep his panic contained, from crawling out of his throat. They'll find him, they'll find him, they-

"He's missing?" the woman asks, and rather than look shocked, she looks confused. "But I just saw him."

"You did?" Chanyeol nearly falls over his own words.

"Yeah," the woman says, before some of the urgency, the worry that Chanyeol feels overrun with, flashes over her face. "I- Jongin is usually working all the time so I thought he'd asked-"

"Where is he?" Chanyeol demands, his voice rough as the woman falters, looking at him in answer to his fears.

"Follow me," is all she says, turning swiftly and grabbing his hand, pulling him along behind her. The sun doesn't reach down the alley she pulls him down, just across the street from the market. For once, Chanyeol can't even speak, any words he might have, asking who this woman is, how she knows Sehun and Jongin, anything all stopped in his chest as he just moves. "How do you know Jongin and Sehun?" the woman asks, glancing back at him.

"I'm a friend," Chanyeol says numbly, barely taking in the back wash of the walls and the trash littered on the ground. Why would Sehun be back here? "I've known him since this spring. Jongin asked me to help."

"Are you the guy that showed Sehun The Swiss Family Robinson?"

Chanyeol almost falters, staring at the woman as she looks at him expectantly. "Yes."

Suddenly, she smiles. "He wouldn't stop talking about how he was going to make a tree house of his own in the park for over an hour, you know that?" she says, and Chanyeol's breath halts in surprise. "If he falls out of a tree next week, it's totally your fault."

"I just want to find him first," Chanyeol says, trying not to let the mixed thought settle too deeply into his mind.

"I wish I'd known, I would have-" she stops herself, shaking her head. "He's with Mr. Han."

"Who?" Chanyeol asks, frowning in confusion as she tugs him along still.

"Jongin's landlord," the woman answers.

It's not often that Chanyeol gets angry. He can usually count the number of times he's been angry in his life on one hand and even then still have a few fingers. While saying I never get angry is always a fool's statement, Chanyeol knows he doesn't like being angry. It's an awful feeling.

Right now though, it's anger that surges through him, burning hot through the numb cold that had been building like ice the longer and longer they looked for Sehun.

"What?"

The woman must notice, and when she turns to him, he can tell she's angry as well, her own face dark. "I thought because he was Jongin's landlord and Jongin might be working, he'd been asked to watch Sehun." She gives a short sort of angry sigh. "I should have known better."

They turn a corner, Chanyeol feeling heat surge as his temper grows with every pound of his heart. The woman with him doesn't even knock as she practically slams her way through a door, startling a man and-

"Sehun," Chanyeol says in a rush, watching as the boy turns to him with wide shocked eyes and dropping the box in his hands.

"Chanyeol?" Sehun asks, sounding a mix of surprised and confused. "What are you doing with Seulgi?"

"Sehun, sweetie," the woman, Seulgi, says, smiling kindly down at Sehun as she walks into the room. The man in the room, who Chanyeol assumes is Mr. Han, stands up, a frown on his face. "I need you to go back with Chanyeol."

"What's going on?" Sehun asks, looking up at her in confusion before he looks over at Chanyeol. As soon as their eyes meet, Sehun inhales sharply. "Is Daddy okay? Is he hurt?"

"He's fine," Chanyeol says, reaching out for Sehun, watching Mr. Han out of the corner of his eye. "He's just worried. We've been looking for you."

"You have?"

"Sehun, go with Chanyeol and go see your dad, okay?" Seulgi says, her eyes now on Mr. Han. The frown on her face is not something Chanyeol wishes to ever have directed at him. Right now, he'd rather stay, ask what the Hell this man was doing with Jongin's son, but it's not what's the most important thing, and Seulgi seems far more intent on having a 'talk' with Mr. Han. "I have to talk to Mr. Han about something."

"But-"

"Go," Seulgi says, looking down at Sehun with a sharp look.

Sehun doesn't say another word, instead scrambling up and over to Chanyeol, looking up at him in worry as Chanyeol hurries them out of the room. Sehun stays silent as Chanyeol picks him up as soon as they're outside, heart hammering in his chest as anger, fear, and relief flood through him, Sehun safe in his arms. A loud sniff from beside his ear has him looking over, catching Sehun with tears rolling silently down his face and his lower lip trembling fiercely.

"What's wrong?" he asks, stopping at watching as Sehun tries to wipe at his eyes, giving little hiccups of breath as he holds onto Chanyeol. "Sehun?"

"Did I do something wrong?" Sehun asks him, his voice wavering as he cries, looking at Chanyeol in worry. "Is Daddy mad at me? Am I in trouble? I only was listening to what Mr. Han said and-"

"Oh Sehun," Chanyeol says, and his voice cracks as he wraps Sehun close, hugging him tight and closing his eyes. Sehun cries, clutching at him as he shakes and whimpers. "You didn't do anything wrong, we were just really scared."

"You were?" Sehun asks, his voice quiet and timid. "But-"

"We didn't know where you were, and we couldn't find you," Chanyeol explains, rubbing small circles on Sehun's back as he walks along the alley, careful and fast as he can. He has Sehun, they found him. Sehun is safe.

For how long? whispers at the back of his mind, and Chanyeol pushes it down, focusing on the here, the now, on Sehun holding onto him and sniffling slightly.

"But Mr. Han said he talked to my dad," Sehun says, his voice quiet and confused. "He said that my daddy couldn't come home until late, that-" he sniffs loudly "-that I shouldn't stay at home alone and that it wasn't safe." Sehun gives another big sniff before finally sitting up a bit, wiping at his face. "Chanyeol."

"Yes?"

"Is Mr. Han in trouble?"

"With me?" Chanyeol asks him, and Sehun licks his lips before biting the bottom and tugging it between his teeth. "Absolutely. With your dad?"

"Daddy?"

"Definitely," Chanyeol tells him and Sehun gives a small hiccup of a giggle. "I'm glad Seulgi found me, we were so worried."

"Were you really looking for me?" Sehun asks, still looking confused. "But I thought-"

"Mr. Han didn't tell you the truth," Chanyeol says, and feels the anger that had abated in his chest flare again as he steps back into the main street, back into the sunlight. "You're not in trouble, Sehun, he is."

"Are you going to call the police?" Sehun asks, his eyes wide as he looks at Chanyeol.

"Maybe," Chanyeol says. He wants to. He wants to do something, to drop Sehun with Jongin and go straight back to Mr. Han and find out exactly what he was doing and make sure it never happens again. He wants-

"Is Daddy okay?"

The concern on Sehun's face has the fire faltering, Chanyeol's anger fading slightly as he looks the boy in his arms. Sehun is safe, he's not hurt, and that's really all that matters. "Yes," Chanyeol tells him, and smiles as best he can. "He's okay, he’s just worried about you."

It's not far from the grocery market to Jongin's apartment, and Chanyeol catches sight of Jongin waiting outside, looking anxious as he looks around, clearly searching for a sign of Chanyeol. He turns, head whipping to the side when Chanyeol calls his name and watches as Jongin's steps falter, recognition and relief crashing into him. "Go get him," Chanyeol tells Sehun, putting him down and smiling as he watches Sehun sprint to his father with a loud yell and leap into Jongin's arms.

Jongin has his face buried into Sehun's neck, just holding his son as close to him as he can when Chanyeol walks up to them. Chanyeol knows he's trying not to cry, hiding himself and can hear him murmuring into Sehun. "You're here, you're okay, you're safe, you're here," repeats until Chanyeol feels like his heart is breaking through his chest.

"It's okay, Daddy," Sehun is saying, patting Jongin on the head gently as he holds onto his father. "I'm okay, I'm sorry."

"He was with Mr. Han," Chanyeol says, watching as Jongin pulls away, face dry, but the emotion and very clear fear still in his eyes. "I ran into a woman named Seulgi who had seen him. She's still with Han."

Jongin looks at him, breathless and his eyes flashing through thoughts and emotions as Sehun turns to look at him. "What were you doing with Mr. Han?" Jongin asks, turning back to Sehun. "I thought we talked about you staying at home with Yixing after he picked you up?"

"Mr. Han said he'd watch me so Yixing could go get work done," Sehun tells his father, his voice tiny as he looks at Jongin apologetically. "He said it wasn't a problem and we could play chess and that you could talk to him later about it."

Stiffening, Chanyeol tries to keep from curling his hands into fists, swallowing down the fresh surge of anger. Face darkening, Jongin frowns, turning to look at the pawn shop beside them, the first floor of the building he and Sehun live in. "But-" Something dark passes over it before he closes his eyes, shaking his head and letting out a sigh. "It's okay," he says.

Chanyeol wants to yell 'no it isn't,' but knows now is not the time. This isn't his battle, even if his nerves are still shivering and he can still feel his heart pounding faster in his chest.

"But-"

"You're safe now," Jongin says, cutting off his son, and pulls him closer to press a soft kiss to Sehun's hair. "That's all that matters." There is more, so much more, that Jongin wants to say. It’s flickering in his eyes when he opens them again, glancing at Chanyeol. They stay silent, Jongin with his mouth pressed closed as he carries Sehun into the apartment building, up to their flat, and Sehun for once is completely quiet, his head resting on Jongin's shoulder.

The apartment looks untouched, not as clean as Chanyeol has seen it before, but thankfully Jongin doesn't apologize for it this time. Instead, he turns to Chanyeol as soon as Sehun is inside and has Chanyeol faltering as he takes his hand.

"Thank you," Jongin says, voice tight once more as Chanyeol watches his walls crack, the mask of stability that he'd worn with Sehun beginning to crumble.

"Daddy?"

"You," Jongin says, taking a huge breath and Chanyeol watches in numbly as the mask slams back down, covering the raw fear and emotion. He turns from him, looking back at Sehun and putting his hands on his hips. Chanyeol can imagine the look on his face, watching the line of his shoulders and rather than laugh, it just finally seems to pull the release on his own anxiety. "Where is your backpack?"

"I left it at home today, remember?" Sehun says, looking up at his father. "We only had art and reading and math, so I didn't need to bring it and Uncle Xing Zhang took me to lunch when he picked me up."

"You're right, I forgot," Jongin sighs, acting like he's fine, like it hadn't been hours ago that he'd been scared half to death.

It's still there though, it's not gone and Jongin isn't over it yet.

"Do you have to work again today, Daddy?" Sehun asks, looking up at his father as they walk into the apartment. "I know usually you do."

"I called the Center and told them I couldn't come in today," Jongin tells Sehun, bustling him into the apartment. Chanyeol steps to follow them before a knock sounds on the door behind him. "They told me to say hi to you."

"Hi Center!" Sehun yells as Chanyeol turns to open the door carefully.

"I swear, I'm not the cops," says a familiar voice and Chanyeol lets out a breath as he sees Seulgi, the woman from before, standing in the hall with a sheepish smile. "Hi."

"Thank you," Chanyeol says, opening the door fully. "For earlier."

"I should have stopped them when I saw them earlier," Seulgi says, her face still holding lines of anger and frustration. "I talked to Mr. Han. Well," she pauses, letting out a huff. "Talked is a bit of an understatement."

"Discussed?"

"Threatened," Seulgi says. "’Verbally intimidated to not pull that sort of shit again’ I think might be more fitting for what happened."

Somehow, it makes Chanyeol feel a bit better, that even if he wasn't the one telling someone off for the panic that Jongin (and himself) just went through, at least someone did. It takes a second before he realizes that he's calmer, reassured to know that Jongin isn't alone. He's heard of other people in Jongin's life before, mostly through Sehun talking about 'Uncle Xing Zhang' and 'Uncle Taemin' but this is the first time he's actually seen someone else there for him.

"Do you want to come in?" Chanyeol asks, stepping aside. "I'm sure Jongin would want to see you."

"I'm surprised he's home," Seulgi sighs. Catching Chanyeol's look, she offers a small smile. "Surprised, and relieved. I feel like he's never home these days."

Chanyeol isn't really sure how to answer that. It’s hard to determine if it means Jongin is making time to spend with him, or if he's becoming one of the burdens Jongin shoulders in his daily life. Seulgi doesn't seem to need him to answer, stepping past him into the apartment and calling for Jongin. In the living room, Chanyeol can hear Jongin's surprised greeting and Sehun's excited yell of 'Auntie!' as he pulls the door closed.

Sehun is safe. Sehun is home, alive and unharmed. What stays with Chanyeol though is that this could happen again, that it's not unlikely that Sehun probably comes home alone more often than not, that not only is Jongin juggling his schedules, but his friends are too.

This could happen again, whispers at the back of his mind, and it makes it hard to walk into the living room again.

He's scared, he realizes, not for himself, but for Sehun. It’s a greater fear for Jongin if he loses Sehun. If something were to happen.

"Hey," pulls him from his thoughts, startling the slowly downward wind as he stands just inside the door. Jongin almost looks timid, stepping in the hall as the sounds of Seulgi and Sehun chattering together drifts through the air. It's like being thrown back in time, back to when Jongin stood in Chanyeol's living room with tears pouring down his face, afraid to even look up at him. The want to reach out and hold him, to smooth away that apprehension is stronger now, and he watches Jongin swallow as he steps closer.

"It's okay," Chanyeol says, the words thick on his tongue. "He's safe."

A short stuttering breath is all the warning Chanyeol has before the mask begins to shatter. Jongin has said it before, how somehow it's different with Chanyeol, how he can't keep it together around him, but this is the first time Chanyeol has really seen it. It's the first time he watches as Jongin's walls come crashing down, the feigned composure replaced by the overwhelming fear, insecurity, worry, and relief that all seem to flood through him, pouring out of him as he chokes back the sounds of sobs that wet down his face. It's like watching the pieces of his own heart crack, splinter as they fight to hold together, to keep up for the man before him.

When Chanyeol reaches for him, Jongin doesn't even resist, instead catching into Chanyeol's arms and slipping into him, pressing his face into Chanyeol's shoulder with his hands coming up to hold on tight around his shoulders. Cradling broken sobs, Chanyeol holds them both together, eyes closed and breathing in, letting Jongin cry for both of them in fear, in torment, and in relief.

"I'm sorry," Jongin says, and Chanyeol just closes his eyes tighter, breathing him in, breathing in after the storm. "I'm sorry for calling you at work when you were busy, but-"

"I'm glad you called me," Chanyeol tells him, tightening his arms around Jongin, wishing that his arms could protect him from everything in the world. Jongin's hands clench, fingers twisting the fabric of Chanyeol's shirt. "I told you that you could call me for anything, right?" Jongin lets out a shuddering wet breath. "At least this way, I can stop worrying that I won't hear from you if something is wrong. And I was right, wasn't I?" Pulling back, Jongin looks up at him with red rimmed eyes and a confused tilt to his lips. "We found him, just like I promised."

The laugh that breaks from Jongin's throat is struggling to be happy, but finally some of the pain, the fear that clung to him, fades away as he calms down. "You found him," Jongin half whispers, sniffing softly. "His guardian angel."

"I told you he was right about me," Chanyeol teases gently. Jongin laughs, short and halting mixed with the remnant of sobs and he doesn't resist as Chanyeol pulls him back. Even as his heart aches, eyes closing as he just lets Jongin rest against him, taking gasps of calming breaths, Chanyeol can't help but feel a sort of happiness.

It wasn't how Chanyeol could have envisioned it, but Jongin had called him, him, when he needed help. A month ago, that never would have happened, and something in that makes Chanyeol smile.

"It's going to be okay," Chanyeol murmurs to the man in his arms, running a hand soothingly up and down Jongin's back to calm him. "Things are going to be okay."

"You know," Jongin says thickly, his breaths finally returning to normal even as his hands still hold on. "I'm beginning to believe you when you say that."

"That's because I'm right," Chanyeol tells him, and smiles as best he can when Jongin pulls away this time. Jongin lets out a soft sort of hiccuping laugh as Chanyeol reaches up to brush the wet tracks of tears from his face, wiping away the pain and the sadness from Jongin's tired face. "You should learn to trust me by now."

"I do trust you," Jongin says, and stills, eyes slowly rising to meet Chanyeol's. There is no hesitancy in them, no lie, no wavering conflict. "I trust you."

"Good," Chanyeol says, and smiles, even as his chest fills too thick, threatening to spill. He smiles even as his fingers linger wet from Jongin's tears and his hands still shake from the fear of losing Sehun that is still carved into him. He smiles as the sounds of Sehun and Seulgi laughing drift over to them from the living room because Jongin is here. There isn't the worry this time, where Chanyeol's thoughts linger that Jongin doesn't want him here, that he's making it worse. "It's about time."

There may have been times before this, where Chanyeol didn't even realize it himself how uncertain things were, how he didn't know if Jongin would push him away or let him stay. All the times when it wasn't clear to him if his presence was good or was making things harder for Jongin, another worry on his mind and another stress line in his skin. Now, as Chanyeol looks at Jongin's face, listening to him taking soft recovering breaths as the panic of an hour ago fades into a memory, he realizes that this will not change.

Chanyeol isn't going to leave, not unless Jongin asks him to. There isn't a part of his world where Jongin doesn't exist, where Sehun can't fit and doesn't take up a corner of his heart. There isn't a future that Chanyeol can see where he isn't there, where he doesn't have Jongin written into his thoughts and dreams, where he isn't sure about wanting to be here, with them.

This is where he wants to be, where he needs to be, and that isn't going to change any time soon. It's not scary, or surprising, like Chanyeol has always imagined this intensity to feel like, but it's more like resurfacing after a long time underwater. It's taking a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding back, and the feeling in his chest isn't too big anymore.

It's just the right size, where Jongin and Sehun fit.

"Do you need to go back to work," Jongin asks, his voice catching as he sniffs slightly. "I know you left early and-"

"Work would almost be over by now anyway," Chanyeol tells him. "They don't need me, and I can spare an afternoon to make sure you and Sehun are okay."

"Good," Jongin says, the urgency gone from his eyes. His breathing doesn't shake as much, and when he closes his eyes and breathes out again, it's smooth. "That's good." The smile he gives Chanyeol is shaky still, but it isn't guarded. "Thank you," he says again. "I don't know- I'm glad you were here."

"I'll always be here," Chanyeol tells him, and Jongin doesn't pull away when he reaches for him. There isn't any resistance when he twines their fingers together, and Jongin only lets out a soft sigh as Chanyeol reaches up to brush away the last of his tears. "You just let me know, and I'll be here. For you, and for Sehun."

"Sehun's going to start calling you a hero again," Jongin chuckles, wet and cracked but it brightens his face.

"I never did get to hear him call me a hero," Chanyeol muses, resting his hand against Jongin's face, carefully running his thumb at the corner of his cheek, softening the sadness from him. "This will be a new thing for me. I kind of like it." Jongin's gentle laugh brushes against the inside of his arm and Chanyeol smiles as he leans in ever so slightly to his touch.

"I'll have to tell him to watch it around you," Jongin says with a quirk of his lips. "And I'll have to talk to Mr. Han," he adds, voice lowering.

"I'm pretty sure Seulgi already did that," Chanyeol says, holding back a frown.

"But it won't mean anything if I don't confront him," Jongin sighs, and reaches up to take Chanyeol's hand from his face, holding it tightly before dropping it. "Sehun is my son, and he's not going to only listen to Seulgi."

"We should have called the police," Chanyeol says, the lingering burn at the back of his throat rising again. "We-"

"No," Jongin says, shaking his head and stepping back. "We found him, and I'll talk to Mr. Han, and I'll- I'll figure out a way to make sure this never happens again. Sehun shouldn't be coming home after school like this anyway." He swallows, eyes closing for a moment. "I never wanted him to come home to an empty house."

A soft flicker alights in Chanyeol's chest, and the soft sigh from Jongin as he brushes his hair from his face makes it grow. "What if he doesn't have to?"

"I can't ask Seulgi and Yixing to-"

"What if he stays with me?" Chanyeol asks, and Jongin's words falter as his mouth opens in astonishment, eyes widening. "I mean it," Chanyeol says, the thought grown into his head to something he won't give up. "I can easily pick him up after work. I usually would leave work early anyway, I'm done before three, and then I can watch him before you get off work."

"But-"

"I wouldn’t offer if I didn't want to do this," Chanyeol reassures him. "And I bet Sehun would love it. Coming over a few hours every day to play works great. In the worst case scenario, I'll ask Junmyeon to take work home. He probably won't mind."

"I-" Jongin's voice falters, still looking too thrown, worn from the day's excitement and the exhausting torrent of emotions that he just let through. "I'll think about it."

Seulgi smiles as she passes Chanyeol on her way out, Jongin already back in the living room, his face dry from tears and smiling as Sehun calls for him. "Thank you," Chanyeol tells her, catching her wrist as she makes to leave.

"For what?" she asks, and then smiles almost teasingly. "You're not the only one who cares about them." The look she gives him almost suggests that she knows who he is. "But I'm glad you were here today, and I'm glad you caught me." Glancing back into the apartment, her smile widens. "I'm glad he has you."

"Sehun?"

"Both of them," Seulgi says, and winks. "I hope to see you again, Chanyeol."

It isn't until he's sitting down on the floor with Sehun in the living room that Chanyeol realizes he never told Seulgi his name. It makes his head spin, questions of how she knew spinning too fast for him to follow, wondering if it was Sehun who told her, or Jongin. Of course, he doesn't get to dwell on it for long before Sehun is jumping on him, tackling him to the floor in a loud excited yell.

"Can I really?" Sehun asks, breathless with a massive grin. "Can I really come over after school and see you?"

"Well, if your dad says it's okay," Chanyeol answers, eyes wide and laughing a bit in surprise at Sehun's enthusiasm. "I think it'd be fun."

"Daddy!" Sehun yells, rolling off of Chanyeol enough to just sit on him, facing his father. "Daddy, I have to go and stay with Chanyeol after school! I love spending time with Chanyeol and we can play games and practice chess and I can use my garden and please say yes, Daddy, please, please!" Jongin is fighting to keep a straight face, his eyes flickering to Chanyeol for a moment as Sehun almost writhes on Chanyeol's abdomen.

"Well..." Jongin begins.

"I already told you I'm happy to do it," Chanyeol reminds him. "All the more time I get to have with Sehun and keep him to myself." Sehun shrieks into laughter as Chanyeol sits up quickly and wrangles him into his arms, trapping him to his chest as the boy giggles loudly, his eyes still on his father.

"Daddy," Sehun almost whines and Jongin bites his lip, feigning disapproval. "Daddy, I have to go see Chanyeol after school or I'll die."

"You're not going to die, Sehun," Jongin says, bordering on exasperated but he smiles anyway, laughter seeping into his voice.

"Well, maybe not die but almost!" Sehun protests, clutching onto Chanyeol's hands around him. "Please? Please!"

The long sigh Jongin lets out seems to last forever, as he looks at Sehun and his eyes flicker up to Chanyeol's one last time, and for the first time, Chanyeol can see the hope in them. "Okay," Jongin says, and his eyes begin to dance as he smiles.

*

Initially, the prospect of leaving work after lunch had been more intimidating after Chanyeol said he could. It had seemed easy, when Sehun had been a room away and Jongin looking fragile and shaky in front of him. As the weekend rolled on though, and Chanyeol spent one day at the library and the other out with Han and Baekhyun, he'd realized how much this might be asking. While he knows it's possible, watching Boa take part time and stay part time in the office when she'd come back from her maternity leave last year, the prospect that the supervisors will be as understanding with Chanyeol might be less of a possibility.

"I don't see why not," Junmyeon says that morning when Chanyeol steps into his office. "You always submit your work before lunch anyway, and usually do catch up in the afternoons."

"I just know it's a special circumstance," Chanyeol says, trying to keep from pushing his hands into his pants pockets to wipe the sweat off. "Especially with us from the editing department."

"Well, the truth is I can't let you go earlier than three," Junmyeon explains, finally turning to him fully and dropping his notebook of the latest edition draft on the desk. "Mostly because that's when I'll need you to check in with the writers, like Hoseok and Seokjin to make sure they're on target."

"But after that?" Chanyeol swallows down his nervous excitement. He didn't want to come back with a negative reply to Jongin, but it feels almost like he's being handed a golden ticket with Junmyeon right now.

"You can head out," Junmyeon says, and smiles. "I could actually use you this way."

"Use me?"

"I'm taking one of your last submissions to the heads," Junmyeon explains, and Chanyeol feels a part of his heart lurch. "The last edition about children's cooking and opening up a kid's cooking section in Everyday Cuisine to appeal to a greater audience."

"Really?" Chanyeol asks, half in disbelief.

"I told you, I think your ideas are great, they just need a little push." Junmyeon smiles at him behind his square framed glasses. "And consider your two hours out early to be research time. Finding stuff to add to the proposal. I figure it'll be more productive than you throwing caramels at Jongdae or having Hoseok come and bother you for tips on writing and dating."

Laughing softly, Chanyeol shakes his head, the apprehension finally fading from his chest. "He doesn't come to ask me for advice with dating."

"Really?" Junmyeon says, sounding surprised. "Well, regardless, it'll be better use of his time to not come up and bother you during his afternoon intern hours." Junmyeon smiles, picking up the draft folder once more, signifying the end of the conversation. "And Chanyeol?" he adds as Chanyeol turns to leave. "Good luck," Junmyeon finishes with a smile.

"Thank you," Chanyeol says, as sincerely as he can, and smiling as it feels like things begin to lock into place.

*

The first day that Jongin and Chanyeol agree on for Chanyeol to watch Sehun is pouring rain. It has Chanyeol waiting under a huge umbrella in the chilly September rain for Sehun's bus to drop him off. He's been labeled, according to Jongin who called during his morning break to explain to Chanyeol the typical procedure. Sehun had been labeled with the correct bus to take with it pinned to his backpack to make sure he didn't forget and his teachers knew. He would arrive around the same time as Chanyeol would get home, hopping off the bus about three blocks from Chanyeol's apartment.

Despite how many times Chanyeol told Jongin it would be fine, Jongin kept repeating the instructions, his nervousness showing through.

"Jongin," Chanyeol had said when Jongin repeated the arrangements for pick up for the fourth time. "It's going to be fine. I'll see you at six."

When the bus comes, the headlights blazing through the downpour, Chanyeol smiles and waves, watching as it slowly comes to a halt and the doors open. Sehun is wearing a full yellow rain coat when he hops off the bus, his backpack tucked under the jacket to keep it dry.

"I made it!" Sehun cheerfully informs Chanyeol, grinning up at him as he steps under the umbrella and reaches for his hand.

"You did!" Chanyeol says, happily wrapping his hand around Sehun and pulling him away from the bus stop. "And in such terrible weather. You're very brave."

"I like coming up here," Sehun says, bouncing as they walk back to Chanyeol's apartment and hopping around larger puddles. "There aren't a lot of cars zooming around and I know your house won't leak." Chanyeol swallows, pushing down the ache that comment inspires. "Plus, the kids on that bus don't poke and ask too many questions! I didn't have to bite anyone today!"

"You bite people?" Chanyeol asks, a little surprised and holding back the reprimand that wants to jump from his throat.

"Only if they bite me first," Sehun explains, peering up from under his rain cap. "Or if they try to steal my backpack. But even then it's only in special times that I have to bite them. Daddy says you shouldn't bite anyone unless you really, really have to bite them."

"He's right," Chanyeol confirms, nodding his head and feeling both a mix of ease and also concern. It's strange how those two mix in his chest, battling each other. "You shouldn't bite anyone unless you absolutely have to."

"Absolutely!" Sehun repeats, and laughs, tugging on Chanyeol's hand as he jumps around puddles. "Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely!"

Sehun is still telling Chanyeol about the bus ride when they walk into the apartment building Chanyeol's unit is in, shaking out the umbrella and Sehun physically shaking himself off. "Where did you learn to shake like that?" Chanyeol asks, laughing as Sehun sprays him with a bit of water flung from his coat.

"The dogs at the park," Sehun declares happily, stomping his feet on the matt. "They're really good at getting water off, and it's easier than trying to take your coat off first and then shaking. No water down your shirt!"

"I guess you're right," Chanyeol smiles, tugging Sehun to the elevator.

"Of course I am!" Sehun chirps. "Because I'm Sehun!"

It's not the first time Chanyeol has looked after a kid, more than familiar with it after all his time at the library working with the children's program. Still, there are noticeable difference with Sehun when he stays that afternoon. Sehun talks, just as much as he usually does, but it's less questions and more stories. He takes his shoes off at the door, hangs up all his items, washes his hands immediately, and carefully places his homework on the dining room table. Sehun asks Chanyeol before he uses the bathroom, and waits for Chanyeol to sit down with him before he has a snack of veggies and cheese.

It takes Chanyeol to coax him around the house for him to fully settle in. Despite his talkative nature, Sehun is hesitant still in the house, masking it with an endless stream of conversation. Chanyeol catches him glancing again and again at Chanyeol's balcony, and finally reassures Sehun that he put the gardening kit in the spare room.

At first, Sehun is reluctant to spread newspaper all over the dining room table, but finally jumps up with a happy smile when Chanyeol pulls out a small bag of soil. With the rain lashing against the windows and the inside of the apartment warm against the early fall chill, Sehun and Chanyeol spend most of the afternoon planting small seedlings into the little pots from the kit.

It's pleasant, the soft chatter between them as Chanyeol carefully helps Sehun plant the little seeds for herbs and a few vegetables. It takes Sehun a little time before he consents to planting at all, worried that the plants are going to die with the swiftly approaching winter. Of course, this makes sense regarding where he's grown up and where he calls home, the apartment in Baker Hill anything but insulated.

"So," Sehun says, carefully patting down the soil on another little basil plant. "I can keep them here? And they'll be okay?"

"I promise, you can come and check on them every time you're here," Chanyeol tells him. "So every day after school, you have to check on them. I'll keep an eye on them on the weekends when you're not here."

"I hope I can be here on weekends," Sehun sighs, and his whole form sags a bit before he sits up straight, a faint flush on his cheeks. "Not because I'm using your for your house, like, no. But I like it here."

"Oh?" Chanyeol prompts, recalling the last time Sehun had been here and the subsequent conversation.

"I like spending time with you," Sehun chirps, smiling winningly. "It's fun, and I promise I won't get in the way and I'll help around the house. I'm really good at fixing things, just like Daddy."

"Can you help me fix dinner?" Chanyeol asks, and Sehun gives him a brilliant smile.

It ends up working out perfectly, where Chanyeol can watch Sehun, playing with him and making sure he does his homework, while at the same time do 'research' for his work. Junmyeon had suggested the kids section being hashed out, and Chanyeol almost laughs as Sehun scrambles up onto a stool beside him in the kitchen to help make dinner.

Food for family, healthy, fun, and kid approved.

Of course, there is the constant input from Sehun, who makes faces at some ingredients and smiles at others. It makes cooking a game, more fun than Chanyeol already considers it, somewhere along the line finding it just a monotonous process rather than an adventure with every meal.

"You know," Sehun says, as they wait for the chicken broccoli casserole to cook in the oven. "You're a better cook than Daddy is."

"Really?" Chanyeol asks, raising his eyebrows at Sehun across the table. They're setting each place. Of course, whether Jongin will actually stay for dinner or not is unclear, but it's getting close to pick up time, and Chanyeol can hope he might stay.

"Just don't tell him that," Sehun says, folding a napkin carefully. "But you definitely make better soup than he does."

"Maybe some time I can teach him how to make Chanyeol style soup," Chanyeol suggests, as the doorbell rings.

"Just don't let him know I said anything!" Sehun whispers loudly, scurrying into the living room.

"I promise!" Chanyeol yells with a laugh. He's still laughing when he answers the door to Jongin's waterlogged look of perplexity. "You look like you could use a towel."

"Or a hot bath," Jongin half laughs, stepping inside. He follows the exact same method as Sehun, removing his shoes, hanging up his things, and carefully stepping in the unit.

"You're welcome to-"

"Chanyeol," Jongin says, catching him by the wrist with a small smile. "I was joking."

"You're still welcome to my bathroom," Chanyeol tells him, and smiles at the soft flush he sees on Jongin's cheeks. Whether it's from his comment or the chill outside with the rain, he's not sure, but it still has his smile growing. "You're also welcome to stay for dinner," he adds, leading into the apartment. In the living room, he can see Sehun curled up on the couch with a book tucked in his lap.

"You already made dinner didn't you," Jongin says, and though the expression he throws to Chanyeol is tired, it's not rejecting.

"I can eat the same thing for the next four days, or you can eat dinner with me and Sehun, it's up to you," Chanyeol tells him. "Sehun is already staying because he helped me cook."

"He did?"

"I'm actually kind of sad you have to take him home, I liked having him around here," Chanyeol says, watching as Sehun listens into their conversation keenly from the other room. "I'm going to miss all the help he gave me this afternoon. Are you sure you can't just let me keep him?"

"You can keep me!" Sehun shouts from the other room before Jongin can fully open his mouth. "Just as long as you keep Daddy too!"

"Sehun, are you just going to decide everything for me?" Jongin asks, feigning disapproval as he looks in the living room at his son.

"Well, don't you want to stay with Chanyeol?" Sehun asks, slipping off the couch to patter over to them. "Plus, my seed babies are here, and it'll be easier to check on them and make sure they don't mutate or something."

"That was my first concern too," Chanyeol says very seriously as Sehun slips into his own designated chair at the table. "So, dinner for three?"

"Do I have a choice?" Jongin asks weakly, looking between his son and Chanyeol.

"But I helped make dinner!" Sehun protests. "I want to eat it!"

"I guess that answers my question," Jongin sighs, though he casts a small smile at Chanyeol before he walks to his son.

Listening to them talk in the living room, Sehun chattering about school and his new garden, Chanyeol smiles as he slips back into the kitchen. There's still a few things to prepare for dinner, and considering this is truly the first dinner he's cooked for Jongin and Sehun in his apartment, he'd like to at least do a proper job.

When there's about fifteen minutes left on the casserole in the oven, Chanyeol steps out into the quiet living room and pauses, kitchen towel suspended in his hands as he takes in the scene before him. Sehun is curled up on one end of the couch with a book in his lap, Jongin slumped beside him, clearly asleep. Catching sight of Chanyeol, Sehun carefully closes his book and slips from the couch, padding over to him.

"See?" Sehun says in a whisper when he reaches Chanyeol, pointing to his father. "He sleeps better when you're around."

"Are you sure he just doesn't like my couch?" Chanyeol asks in a hushed voice.

"Nah," Sehun says in a hushed giggle. "Definitely you. Though your couch is also awesome." Sehun sighs as he looks over at his father. "He really does like when you're here."

"In my own house?"

"No," Sehun says, and looks at him in abject exasperation. "I mean, with us. He likes you."

"Well," Chanyeol says, pushing down the immediate response that statement rises in his chest. "I like him too, and you."

"Yeah, but with me it’s not, like, in the way that you're gonna marry me," Sehun tells him, scrunching up his nose as he tries to explain. "That would be weird. But for Daddy..." Sehun trails off, and Chanyeol just breathes, watching him. "I just wish it could always be like this, like-" he takes in a huge breath "-Daddy wouldn't have to come and pick me up because he'd just be coming home. We'd already be home when he got here because-"

"Do you want this to be your home?" Chanyeol asks, and keeps his voice as even as he can. That world, the world where Sehun and Jongin are safe, under his roof, where it's a home. "You like this place that much-"

"No, I mean with you, silly!" Sehun almost yelps, but catches himself at the last moment. Biting his lip, he looks back at his father with minute conflict on his face, unable to decide how to explain. "I just want us to be a family. And so does Daddy."

The feeling of his heart is hard in his chest, stuck amid the emotions he can't let leak into his voice. Sehun is too young to truly understand, but a part of Chanyeol wonders if it could happen. If Jongin really...

"Well," Chanyeol says, reaching out and ruffling Sehun's hair. "We can't make any decisions about who lives where unless we eat dinner. No big decisions on empty tummies."

"But my Daddy-"

"My house, my rules," Chanyeol interrupts him, smiling around the reality. Jongin has gone without food and had to make big decisions, and Sehun knows. "Think he'll be grouchy if I wake him up?"

"No, he'll just want to apologize," Sehun sighs. "He owes you four kisses." Chanyeol actually drops his kitchen towel, staring at Sehun in shock as the boy grins widely up at him. "For saying 'sorry'. He keeps a tally on the top of the fridge that he thinks I can't see."

"And you can?"

"I got a stool; I'm not dumb," Sehun giggles. "But I'll wake him up because you're nervous."

"Okay," Chanyeol says, and realizes he is, indeed, thrown. As much as he'd begun to notice it, the way Jongin leans into his touches and lets him get closer, he'd hadn't actually thought that Jongin might...

That it wasn't primarily one sided.

The soft sounds of Sehun waking up Jongin drift in from the living room just as the timer for the casserole goes off. Busying himself in the kitchen, Chanyeol pushes all of his rapid shifting thoughts about what this is, what this could be, to the back of his mind. It's not the time to let them run rampant when Jongin sits at his side over dinner and the rain patters outside the windows.

It's not the time. Not yet.

*

If there is one thing Chanyeol has learned about Jongdae in the years he's known him, it's that he's not specifically good at being single right after a relationship. Of course, Chanyeol can't exactly say he's great after a break up, and the only person he can think of who is almost unaffected after a break up is Han. Considering usually Han is always the one leaving his relationships though, Chanyeol can't really say whether he'd do well after being left.

"I literally went out to dinner with you on Sunday," Chanyeol says, leaning back in his chair at work. It's almost lunch, and Jongdae is already antagonizing him to go out later.

"Yeah, but that's just one time I got to see you this week," Jongdae needles at him, pulling a pout that, admittedly, looks cute in his large square glasses.

"You can see me right now."

"You also keep leaving me earlier and earlier and that's definitely less Chanyeol time in my life than I had before." Jongdae's pout is growing now, as well as the soft whine in his voice. "I don't even have my usual quota anymore."

"Jongdae," Chanyeol says evenly, giving him a pointed look over their desks. "Stop talking about me like I'm a drug."

"But you are a drug."

"And you're acting like a child," Chanyeol tells him. Despite Jongdae's offended scoff and Chanyeol knowing he can't stay at work, that Sehun will be meeting him at the bus stop later, a part of him still gives in. That night is a short night, Jongin picking up Sehun earlier than usual and Chanyeol sighs at his empty apartment before picking up his phone.

Once, his apartment had been just the right size. Now it feels too quiet, too big and too much without Jongin and Sehun's voices filling it up.

"I knew you missed me too," is what Jongdae says gleefully as soon as he picks up.

The cafe is still just as stunning when Chanyeol walks in, the autumnal decorations bringing a soft warmth to it. The new artistic writing with fall leaves and artwork on the menus has Chanyeol smiling, impressed, as he orders from one of the girls behind the counter. 'Wendy' smiles at him and winks, stepping back to make a drink as Minseok walks out from the back.

"Finally," Minseok says, a pleased surprised smile spreading over his face. "I thought I'd never see you here again, that Han might have scared you off."

"Han?" Chanyeol asks, frowning in question as Minseok steps around the bar to him.

"He wanted to pick up some side work, and incidentally, learn about coffee, so he's here after work with me," Minseok tells him with a sort of tired smile. At Chanyeol's raised look, Minseok laughs and says, "save me?"

It's the kind of remark where Chanyeol can't really tell if Minseok is being serious or not, and doesn't really have a proper answer. He's spared answering though when Minseok asks him why he's here, and Jongdae finally arrives to answer the question.

"We're having brother bonding time," Jongdae states firmly.

"Brother bonding," Chanyeol repeats, gesturing between himself and Jongdae as Minseok stares at them. "To get to know each other, you know? Considering it's our families getting married and we don't know each other and we figured we'd try to make this less awkward."

"You're not funny," Jongdae tells him flatly as Minseok laughs and Wendy hides her own laugh behind one of the espresso machines.

"Minseok thinks I am," Chanyeol says with a pointed look.

"Chanyeol is funny," startles them, Jongdae turning like he's been stung as Han leans into the group. "You just have a terrible sense of humor and only like your own jokes."

Unlike most times, when Chanyeol sees him, Han isn't dressed in his formal and clean cut suit with his hair slicked back, looking the figure of polite manners and soft speaking. Now, Han is wearing one of the usual uniforms from Minseok's staff, black slacks and a white button down, his hair barely styled and he looks-

"You look like a high school student," Jongdae interrupts everyone's thought processes as he stares at Han. "What are you doing in an apron?"

"Do you like it?" Han asks, grinning cheekily at Jongdae.

"Why?"

"Because I value your opinion," Han says, with the half sincerity that makes Chanyeol have a hard time trusting him sometimes. "It's very important to me." He holds a hand carefully over his chest, right over his heart.

"Bull shit," Jongdae scoffs. "Seriously, why are you dressed like a Coffee Prince?"

"To serve you."

"Seriously," Minseok mutters, leaning into Chanyeol's side. "Save me."

"I don't think a straight jacket could restrain Han from doing what he wants," Chanyeol murmurs, watching as Han and Jongdae start in on their favorite activity together: arguing.

"You might be surprised," Minseok murmurs, rubbing at his lips as he watches the other two bicker. "So," he says, sighing and turning to Chanyeol. "Did you order? Or can I get you something?"

"Wendy is taking care of me," Chanyeol says with a smile at the barista who gives him a bright grin. "I'll just take a seat for a bit and wait for Jongdae to find his way over to me."

It ends up that all four of them, Han, Jongdae, Minseok, and Chanyeol end up at a table together. Minseok takes time away from the counter, leaving Wendy and the other barista to take care of the bar while he visits. "I haven't seen you in a while," is his explanation as he sits down with a smile.

"None of us have," Han adds, propping his feet up on the table in front of them and earning a glare from Minseok. "What have you been up to? Finally finding someone to live in that apartment with you?" Chanyeol's stomach turns gently, though nothing like it used to, and it's easy to laugh.

"If you're looking to move into that spare bedroom, the answer is still no," Chanyeol tells him, taking a sip of his autumn latte. It's warm, spiced with gentle warm hints of cinnamon and cardamon. "Compromise with Victoria to give you the bigger room."

Han grimaces, retracting his feet from the table when Minseok smacks his shins. "I'd like to keep my hands, thanks," Han grumbles, slumping down into the chair.

"Shouldn't you be training with Wendy and Yoongi at the bar?" Minseok asks Han, throwing him a pointed look.

"I'm taking a break," Han tells him. "You don't actually pay me," Han reminds and laughs as Minseok seems to sag at the truth.

"Why are you here then?" Jongdae asks.

"I wanted to learn how to make perfect coffee," Han says simply.

"For yourself?"

"For my lovers." Han grins.

Throwing him a slightly disgusted, and somewhat envious look, Jongdae turns from him and looks to Chanyeol. "Anyway-"

"Hey!"

"What I was going to say before is we need to make a schedule," Jongdae finishes, ignoring Han's protest at being exiled from Jongdae's attention.

"A schedule?" Chanyeol repeats, frowning as Jongdae grins at him.

"For what?"

"Well, just setting aside days of the week that we can go out," Jongdae explains.

"Go- what?" Chanyeol frowns at him, not following where Jongdae is going with this and feeling a small knot of unease forming in his gut.

"I mean," Jongdae sighs and looks down at his hands before breathing in, looking up with new shining determination on his face. "We should go out together?"

Staring at him in shock, Chanyeol takes a moment to make sure his jaw isn't hanging open, glancing briefly to Minseok and seeing a matching look of confused shock on his face. "Jongdae," he says slowly, taking in his future brother in law's eager expression. "I hate to break this to you, but-" he reaches out, patting Jongdae on the knee gently. "You're not my type."

"What?" Jongdae says, immediately frowning as Han positively bursts out laughing beside them. "Wha- No! Oh God, no!"

"No?"

"I meant we should double date!" Jongdae corrects, coloring spectacularly and shoving at Han when the other man tries to shake his shoulders, still laughing hideously. "No, seriously, you're going to be my brother."

"I know, that's why I was so shocked," Chanyeol says, as Han apparently tries to calm down and Minseok fights to hide a smile. "This is something new about you, Jongdae, I had never known before."

"You wish you were my type," Jongdae scoffs, and throws him a look.

"No, not really," Chanyeol says nonchalantly. "I don't mean to destroy your ego, but you're definitely not my type."

"So you'll do it?" Jongdae asks, and some of the light in back in his eyes. The knot that had begun in Chanyeol's gut grows, and he knows this won't be easy to back out of. It's not that Chanyeol is bad at saying no to people, but it's more that he's bad at saying no to people he cares about. The issue is that usually pertains to a large number of people, and his family, or soon to be family, are very hard for him to refuse.

"Do what?" Chanyeol hedges, wrapping his hands tighter around his coffee cup, letting the warmth seep comfortingly into his palms.

"Double dates," Jongdae says happily. Beside him, Han is looking far less happy with the topic and Minseok is frowning.

"Jongdae," Minseok begins, and puts a hand on Han's knee to stop him from interrupting. "I'm not so sure this is a good idea."

"Why?" Jongdae asks, sitting back. "We both need to get dates for the wedding next spring, and it would be fun. Plus, we're the last bachelors, so we might as well stick together."

"And what am I?" Han scoffs, poking Jongdae in the shoulder. "Dried meat?"

"Yes," Jongdae tells him flatly.

"That's cold," Han says, wincing and once more placing his hand gingerly over his heart. "I'm hurt, Jongdae. So hurt. Stabbed right in the heart."

"Okay," Jongdae says, completely ignoring Han's antics and grinning when Han frowns at him in frustration. It's welcome though, the constant distraction from Han letting Chanyeol try to think of something, a way at how he can say 'no' without explaining why.

It's been months now, and Chanyeol doesn't want to go on dates. He doesn't want to go out with Jongdae and meet people to date, to spend evenings with someone when he already has a person he wants to spend time with.

Whether or not Jongin wants to be what Chanyeol imagines and wonders about isn't important, it's that Chanyeol knows going out and meeting other people isn't fair. It's not fair to himself, to the other person, and it's not fair to Jongin.

A part of him wishes Jongdae would just give this up, like he had pestering Chanyeol for information on his ‘new friend’, but he knows Jongdae probably won’t. Jongdae is lonely, his brother moved out officially and with no girlfriend. . .

"-and get a cat and then stop badgering other people to go and set you up on dates," Han is saying, plucking at Jongdae's shirt sleeve. "Then you can snuggle with Mrs. Tabatha Twitchet on date night and show everyone pictures of a cute cat instead of some random girl on your phone all the time. I guarantee you, most people are more interested in kitties than they are-"

"I am not going to get a cat in substitute for a real live person!" Jongdae protests loudly, finally letting Han get to him. "I'm not that pathetic."

"Almost," Han teases.

"I hope you die alone," Jongdae grumbles and snaps with a loud annoyed yelp when Han tries to lean over him again. "I will pour water on you."

"I've tried that, it does nothing," Minseok sighs, looking between Han and Jongdae, his eyes lingering on Chanyeol. "Why not ask Baekhyun to go out with you on double dates instead?" Minseok proposes.

"But Chanyeol-"

"Is busy," Minseok interrupts before Chanyeol can answer for himself. It has him staring, mouth half open as Minseok flashes him a quick look before turning back to a shocked Jongdae. "He's already said no before and his schedule is different than yours. Have you thought about what he might want to do on dates rather than what your ideas are?"

"What are you-?" Jongdae looks confused, slightly hurt as he glances at Chanyeol. Then, like something has finally clicked in his head, his eyes widen and he lets out a soft sound. "But I thought-"

"Don't think," Minseok tells him firmly.

"Bad things happen when you do," Han adds unhelpfully and Minseok hisses sharply and smacks him on the leg. Hard.

It's not common that this topic comes up. While Chanyeol's friends are all relatively open about themselves, it's not a topic that Chanyeol often jumps on. While Baekhyun may talk about the dates he's had, the women he meets in clubs and the few men he ends up home with, and while Han generally has a policy of ‘everything okie dokie’, Chanyeol doesn't like to broadcast it about himself. The only people who really know were those that knew him in university, like Minseok, Junmyeon and Baekhyun.

Jongdae hasn't known him as long, and hadn't been around when it was something he struggle with. Jongdae hasn't really been prone to that subject of his life, and Chanyeol has a hard time bringing it up.

Just like with his parents.

Maybe it's because family means more, and Jongdae has somehow always been more in the family category with how Jongdeok has been with Yura for as long as Chanyeol has known Jongdae.

"We-" Jongdae falters. "This was a bad idea," he finishes finally, and looks nothing but apologetic towards Chanyeol.

"Yeah," Chanyeol says honestly. "But you were so excited about it-"

"You could have told me to stop," Jongdae says, looking apologetic and worried now.

"Jongdae," Minseok says with a soft laugh. "Let's face it, there aren't many who can get you to stop when you get invested in something. You're too stubborn."

"I find it an admirable quality in you," Han comments and grins when Jongdae sighs loudly at him. "I'm being entirely honest with you."

"Sure," Jongdae scoffs at him.

"I'll go double dating with you," Han suggests with a glance in Chanyeol's direction. "What other couple were you thinking of asking to go with us?"

"I-" Jongdae gapes at Han's grinning face, cheeks slightly flushed and Minseok snorts softly into laughter beside Chanyeol. "That's not funny." Han continues to grin. "Asshole."

"You need another coffee," Minseok suggests, tapping Chanyeol's wrist with a pointed look at his empty mug.

"I shouldn't have more caffeine," Chanyeol says, but still stands up. "What else would you recommend?" he continues, stepping away from Jongdae as he and Han argue over if Jongdae should ask Baekhyun to double date with him.

"Something mild then," Minseok says, and slips behind the counter, nodding to Wendy as she steps aside for him. "I'm sorry about-" he nods over to Jongdae with a sympathetic look.

"He's just-" Chanyeol begins, trying to find the best words.

"Thick," Minseok finishes for him. "Stubborn and thick headed." He lets out a long sigh. "Sometimes I wonder if working so close with Junmyeon is healthy for his already stubborn attitude. The two of them are as stubborn as they come."

"I know someone worse," Chanyeol chuckles, mind immediately flashing to Jongin's resistant looks and stubbornness, his lower lip pushed out. It eases the knot in his belly, letting some of the tension release from before. Perhaps Jongdae will let up on him now, back off from the whole thing and let him alone.

"I can't imagine," Minseok sighs, and steps back to sift through the tins of tea he has. "Someone worse than Jongdae? They must be a bear to deal with."

"He's not," Chanyeol says, and shocks himself with how the words just simply leave him. It's not guarded, and Chanyeol finds himself stilling as he realizes how calm he is, how he doesn't feel fiercely protective and worried. He just feels balanced. It's okay. "He's wonderful, actually."

A part of him knows this might be too soon, that he shouldn't talk about Jongin, but another part, the part that settles just behind his heart, whispers calmly it's time and breathes out with him.

"He is?" Minseok asks, and his voice is quiet, tentative.

Breathing in deep as he turns to Minseok, Chanyeol finds himself smiling slowly. It's not a big smile, not like the one Yura had when she told him she was dating Jongdeok, but it is a smile that stretches through all of him. "Yeah," Chanyeol says. Some of that nervousness, the suspense just before the drop is there as he looks at Minseok.

If there were anyone he could tell, it would be Minseok. All secrets are safe with him, and he doesn't judge, just holding people's information quietly until they're comfortable with seeing it in the open.

Minseok had been the one Chanyeol had told about his problems in university, and it feels no different now.

Minseok is watching him, patient and silent, waiting.

"I've found someone," Chanyeol says, and Minseok's eyes widen minutely.

"Oh?" Minseok says, cocking his head to the side in inquisitive shock but none of the loud blatant response Chanyeol fears from the others. "You have?"

"Yeah," Chanyeol says, and rather than a drop, it's like being swept out to sea. The soft rush away as his breath supports him when it releases and he's not hiding from the waves any longer. "It's not serious, but-"

"But you like him enough to definitely not want to go on double dates with Jongdae," Minseok finishes, easier and simpler than Chanyeol could manage.

It has him laughing slightly, feeling calmer now that it's out, that he doesn't have to explain it. It's just enough, and even if it's only Minseok, it takes some of the weight off. "It's probably not fair to the other person I'm trying to date if I'm already-"

"In love," Minseok finishes, and smiles when he catches the look on his face. "You always were terrible at hiding how you feel when you're being honest."

"I'm-"

Chanyeol hasn't called it that, and inside screams too soon even if the words feel right against his ears.

"I can't say I'm not surprised," Minseok says, sighing and fixing a cup of tea for Chanyeol. Glancing over where Han and Jongdae are talking quietly now, Jongdae seeming to have calmed down and Han with a perpetual soft smile, Minseok's own smile softens. "Because you kept this one very quiet."

"Not everyone is Jongdae," Chanyeol says, accepting the tea thankfully.

"No," Minseok says, and glances to him with a crook to his smile. "Thank goodness."

"I heard that," Jongdae snaps, twisting around in his chair to frown at the two of them. Rejoining the group, Chanyeol knows Minseok won't say anything, and it's more comfortable. The knot that had started in his gut is gone, and some of the tension he hadn't been aware he'd been let wind over his shoulders and down his back loosens with every laugh from Han, every smile from Minseok, and every chuckle from Jongdae.

They don't ask, and Chanyeol doesn't need to tell them, but there is some security now he hadn't had before that at some point, he can.

*

There is something about the fall weather that always ends up in rainstorms. It's not the same as the spring showers or some of the thunderstorms that roll over them in summer. These are the remnants of the hurricanes that blast from the south, lasting for days of rain that lashes against the streets, the buildings, with wind shaking the windows and whipping under umbrellas. These are the storms that have power outages flickering over parts of the city, and have flood warnings flashing on the notification bar of Chanyeol's phone when he's halfway through work.

It's nothing to really worry about. Long ago Chanyeol learned that water couldn't hurt him, whether from rain or falling into rivers as a kid. It could be scary, but overall storms don't frighten him much, not like others he knows. There are other things to be afraid of, and a thunderstorm isn't going to keep him from going about his day.

It is a good day anyway.

After work, it's only a fifteen minute drive from Everyday Cuisine through the Downtown area and then another few to get parking before he can spend an evening with Jongin and Sehun. About a week ago, Jongin's schedule had shifted and he'd been able to take Thursday's off earlier. It makes Thursday all the more of a good day. It's a soft ending to the last half of the week, and where he can stay a bit later at work to help out Hoseok and Jongdae on last minute work. It’s a nice welcome after a long week to see Jongin, when he'll have him, and Sehun.

It's been a while, but Chanyeol doesn't miss the nights of going out, of having no plans. This is a much better schedule, where he smiles at the idea of leaving work rather than staying late as the office empties. Now, he's almost running out the door, heart pounding for faster, faster, faster! as he goes.

Tonight, they were going to try to go to the park for a picnic dinner. Looking at the rain lashing against the windows and the dark skies, Chanyeol figures he'll pick up dinner instead, maybe coaxing Sehun to help him cook again. While Jongin's kitchen is only large enough for one person really, somehow it's more fun to get them all crammed in and laughing.

"I swear, I don't know how you and Hoseok do it," Jongdae lets out in a sigh as he returns from getting his second cup of coffee that afternoon. He's been more subdued lately, ever since the evening at Minseok's cafe. It's almost like he's not sure what to ask Chanyeol about now, but is trying still to shove into all the spaces he's not sure if he should be or not.

"Do what?"

"Get so happy when it looks like that outside," Jongdae sighs, looking out at the rain whipping against the windows of the floor. "I am not looking forward to going home in that."

"Well, you could have to walk home in it," Chanyeol prompts, sitting back. He's mostly done with his work for the day, just puttering around in his emails and sending Heechul whatever articles about cats that come up on his feed. "Consider that."

"I take the train," Jongdae almost pouts. "That's pretty much walking home."

"Except not," Chanyeol points out. "Besides, the earth needs it. What would this place be like without rain?"

"Not wet," Jongdae says flatly.

"It could rain on the weekend," Chanyeol points out and Jongdae almost rolls his eyes at him. "Speaking of which, did you finally end up with plans?"

"Are you offering?" Jongdae prompts, almost looking hopeful before he gives a small shake of the head. "I'm doing stuff with Junmyeon. His girlfriend ended up asking a friend of hers to come along." He gives a hesitant smile. "We're going apple picking."

"How adorable," Chanyeol drawls, grinning as Jongdae lets out a long sigh. "What? I thought you wanted this whole double date thing with people?"

"I do," Jongdae protests, and frowns as he stares listlessly at Chanyeol's computer screen. "I do." Shaking himself, he turns and glances back out the windows. "I'll just hope we don't have a repeat of this on Saturday."

"I'll be crossing my fingers for you," Chanyeol says, holding up both hands with crossed fingers and grinning at Jongdae.

"Thank you," Jongdae says, almost as if he isn't sure if Chanyeol is being a dick or not. It probably comes from spending more time with Han.

"What else are future brother in laws for?" Chanyeol almost laughs and finally gets a smile from Jongdae.

The weather doesn't let up, rain pouring down as thunder rolls ominously over head. Still, Chanyeol doesn't find his mood to be dampened, laughing as he checks on Hoseok before leaving to find his intern trying to give 'motivational coaching' to his desk partner to little avail. It's one of the few days Chanyeol had driven to work, braving the morning traffic knowing his evening plans and the weather forecast.

Even then, the short walk from the company to his parked car ends up with him half drenched, ducking into his car to see a missed call flashing on his phone. It's from Jongin. Pressing the call button, he gets no answer, the phone ringing out over and over until it goes dead. Frowning, Chanyeol tries again.

By the third time, he sighs before just hanging up. He'll ask Jongin when he sees him in a little bit.

Baker Hill looks half gutted with the rain, the usual street vendors missing and anyone walking around outside hidden under umbrellas. Chanyeol ducks under his own, winding quickly to Jongin's apartment under the rain and feeling rain water sling against his pants. They stick to his legs as he hikes up to Jongin's apartment, half soaked and ducking in the darkened hallway. It's darker than usual, the hall lights in the building off. In the dim light, Chanyeol can just make out another list of things tacked to Jongin's door, half of them crossed off.

The door to Jongin's apartment opens after a few bangs inside and voices to reveal the flushed and flustered face of Jongin. "Oh no," Jongin says, looking dismayed almost immediately.

"Oh no?" Chanyeol repeats, some of the excitement in his chest fading quickly.

"I'm sorry," Jongin says, and Chanyeol's smile falters at the word. Another kiss his thoughts jump at him, but he pushes them down, focusing on Jongin. "I tried to call you, but our power went out and the phone is dead, but-"

"Is everything okay?"

"I-" Jongin lets out a sigh, and Chanyeol can hear Sehun shouting something from the bedroom. "I have to cancel tonight." The apartment is dark, none of the lights on save for a flashing light in the bedroom, probably from Sehun holding a torchlight. "We don't have power, the whole building is out, and-" He sighs, stepping back and running a hand through his hair. "I'm not really in the best shape to have company over." When he looks up, he flashes Chanyeol an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry."

"That's two times, Daddy!" Sehun yells, poking his head out from the bedroom and waving his torchlight, streaking the wall with light. He's wearing his rain coat, the hat snug under his chin. He's soaked. "Two times, two kisses!"

"Sehun," Jongin starts, turning to his son with a disapproving look on his face. "That's not-"

"He's right," Chanyeol says, pushing down the nervous burn in his chest. "That's two kisses. No apologies."

"Not you too," Jongin says, sighing and slumping. "Can I just get a rain check on today? Literally?"

"You're already canceling on me for dinner-" Chanyeol begins as Sehun leans out of the bedroom and his torchlight illuminates the ceiling. Glancing up, Chanyeol can see multiple water lines streaking over the plaster, watching the water that's running down the walls from the ceiling. "Oh."

"Yeah," Jongin says, and winces. He lets out another sigh and shakes his damp hair back from his face.

"Can I help?" Chanyeol asks, frowning as he looks at the state of the apartment. He wants to step inside, to check out what's going on and maybe see what he can do.

Jongin laughs, though the humor is lost in it. "Unless you know how to repair a roof and have an extra window, then probably not."

"You-" Chanyeol's eyes widen, staring at Jongin's resigned expression.

"I'm dealing with it," Jongin says, shaking his head and stepping back. "It's just-"

"Are you safe in here?"

"I can take care of it," Jongin says, but he looks away after only a moment, the confidence leaking from him. "I just can't be good company tonight."

"I don't really care about whether you're good company or not if your house is leaking," Chanyeol tells him, and makes the decision for both of them by stepping into the apartment.

"Shoes on," Jongin says, and Chanyeol raises his eyebrows. Jongin swallows and winces, not meeting Chanyeol's eyes. "I'm not sure if I got all the broken glass in the living room. I don't want you getting hurt."

Sehun is confined to the bedroom, where the cardboard on the windows had kept them from shattering inwards when the wind rattled them too hard. However, the same isn't said for the living room, which has a large broken window near the couch that's clearly still being patched up. There is a camping lamp on the coffee table, making it easier to see, but overall the room looks a wreck. Bowls from the kitchen line the hall and all the rooms for the leaks dripping from the ceiling.

"How long will this take?" Chanyeol asks, frowning as he looks at all the chaos from the storm that has somehow made its way inside.

"A few hours," Jongin says, his hand in his hair, keeping it back from his face. "Maybe more? It's hard to say without the power being back on. But I'd rather it be off than screw up the whole building if the basement floods."

"If the-"

"That happens sometimes," Jongin says with a wan smile. "I can handle it." He drops his hand, stepping back to look at the window, half covered and still letting rain in. "I just need to call work tonight and-"

Chanyeol doesn't let him finish, just pushes his phone into Jongin's hands. "Call," he says, and reaches with his other hand to gently cup around the back of his neck, holding him reassuringly. The ends of Jongin's hair are still wet from the rain water, but he gives Chanyeol a small smile none the less. "I'll go check on Sehun."

Sehun is crouched near the far wall of the bedroom, his torchlight flashing all over the walls when Chanyeol walks in. He flinches when another boom of thunder shakes through the building and squeezes his eyes shut, nose scrunched up.

"Don't like thunder?" Chanyeol asks, walking over to crouch down beside him, folding into himself.

Sehun's lower lip juts out as he pokes at his knees. "I don't really like it when the sky people get angry and have fights," Sehun says in a small voice. Glancing up at Chanyeol, he lets out a big sigh. "I know it's just clouds, but Daddy and I always play when there are storms." He flinches as another crash of thunder flashes through the room. He sniffs. "Now we can't play because the storm broke the house."

"What kind of games do you play?" Chanyeol asks, watching the outline of Sehun as he listens to Jongin talk quietly from the other room. This doesn't seem like any place to spend the night, let alone stay. Broken windows and glass, leaks from the ceiling, the sounds of the storm so close, it's almost as bad as being outside.

"Well," Sehun says, pointing the torchlight to the bed. "We'd always make a big fort on the bed with blankets and pillows and stuff and crawl under it and play that the big sky people were having a war and tell the stories of it. And every time there was thunder-" a sudden crash outside has both Sehun and Chanyeol jumping, and Sehun hiccups a small giggle "- it was because someone fired their cloud canon." Sehun bites his lip. "Or we'd play that they were two people lost in the clouds, and they'd fire big bangs to find each other."

"Then when the storm was over?" Chanyeol asks, leaning a little closer. If Sehun and Jongin stay here, they're probably not going to be able to get dinner, and getting food would be even more of a nightmare.

"It meant they'd found each other again," Sehun says, the smile evident in his soft voice. He sniffs a moment later. "But the bed is wet tonight because the ceiling keeps dripping on it, so we can't really make a fort on it."

"Does you have to be here to make a fort on the bed?" Chanyeol asks. It's not a great solution, as the problems of the apartment will still be here if Jongin and Sehun leave, but staying here overnight sounds like a nightmare. Chanyeol has space, and would never mind having them over.

Sehun turns to him sharply. "No?" he says, and then his eyes light up. "I can do it anywhere. I used to try to play at school, but the teacher didn't like it when I'd climb under the desk and sent me to Mrs. Cho."

"Mrs. who?"

"The guidance lady," Sehun says, and waves his torchlight about a bit. "But it doesn't matter. As long as-" they both jump as another crash of thunder sounds over head "- as long as you have your imagination, you can play anywhere."

"Could you play at my house?" Chanyeol asks, and watches as Sehun's eyes shine even as he bites his lip.

"I could," Sehun begins before his eyes stray towards the door to the bedroom. "But-"

"I'll go ask," Chanyeol says, and ruffles Sehun's hair before pulling back with a serious look. "Are you going to be okay here while I talk to your dad?"

Sehun smiles up at him. "I'll be okay. I'm not allowed in the living room right now anyway because there might be sharp things to step on. So you be careful too."

"I will be," Chanyeol says, with a firm nod, pushing himself up.

"And Chanyeol," Sehun says, making him pause. "I'm glad you got less nervous." Sehun grins widely and flashes him a thumbs up.

"I took the night off," Jongin sighs, handing Chanyeol's phone back to him.

"Excellent," Chanyeol says, smiling. "Now go pack an overnight bag."

Jongin frowns immediately at him. "What?"

"You and Sehun are coming over with me for the night," Chanyeol says, sounding more confident than he feels, his heart shivering as he realizes how much he's asking. Jongin's frown increases in the dim lightly.

"Chanyeol, I can't just leave," Jongin says. "Look at this place, it's-"

"Not a place to sleep," Chanyeol finishes. "Not for you or for Sehun. Look," he sighs, and steps back, holding Jongin's gaze as best he can. "I know it feels like running from the problems, but it's dark, and trying to find broken glass and fix leaks in the dark isn't doing yourself a favor. You can come back and deal with the damages when the storm is over and call the manager about the leaks." Jongin's expression falters, and he lets out a sigh.

"I can't just-"

"What are you going to do about dinner?" Chanyeol asks quietly and Jongin closes his eyes, a furrow appearing between his brows. Stepping forward, Jongin doesn't move away, nor does he flinch when Chanyeol carefully rests his hands against Jongin's arms, just holding him. He feels him jump and shudder at the sudden crash of thunder that sounds from outside through the broken window.

"I don't know," Jongin finally says. "I'm still trying to figure out how to get that window covered."

"If I help you get it covered, will you and Sehun come stay with me?" Chanyeol asks softly, and with eyes still closed, Jongin gives the smallest of nods.

It's past seven by the time Chanyeol finally gets them all back to Highland Circle and into his apartment. There are a few trees down, some blown over by the wind, and the rain is still coming down strong, but Sehun is probably the brightest thing as he runs into the apartment building with a loud excited yell. It had taken about an hour to get the broken window covered enough that Jongin would leave it. Sehun had ended up packing his own bag, and after a brief moment of argument, Jongin had left his apartment and followed Chanyeol.

Finally stepping under the lights of Chanyeol's warm and lit apartment, he looks exhausted, skin pale and dark circles under his eyes. All of them are half drenched, still not dry even after the car ride back with the heater blasting, and immediately Sehun is sent off for a warm bath.

"You can take one after," Chanyeol suggests, shaking out their drenched clothing and pulling out a drying rack.

"I may," Jongin says, voice quiet. Despite being in the warm apartment, Jongin looks uncomfortable.

"I know you're worried about your apartment and-"

"It's not that," Jongin says, shaking his head. "Thank you," he adds. "For letting us stay. I keep forgetting that I can say yes to you."

"I'll keep reminding you then," Chanyeol says, a smile spreading over his lips as he watches Jongin finally look at him with a hint of a smile. "I'm not asking you to stay over because I expect something."

"Are you sure?" The way Jongin says it is almost teasing, but there's a note behind it that Chanyeol knows is still his uncertainty, his distrust in kindness.

"Well," Chanyeol says, finally stepping back and sighing. "Actually, I was hoping to build a giant fort on the bed and tell stories about the sky people fighting and finding each other," he says, giving Jongin a played up guilty look as Jongin lets out a surprised laugh. "That's the real reason I wanted you to come over, I felt so left out."

"You should have just been honest to start with," Jongin says, his mouth twitching teasingly.

"I'll remember that for the next time your house decides to break down," Chanyeol says, and Jongin, surprisingly, laughs.

"I shouldn't have left," Jongin sighs.

"Yes, you should have," Chanyeol corrects him.

"But the-"

"You can get to it later," Chanyeol tells him. "We'll take care of it this weekend."

"We?" Jongin repeats, blinking at him.

"Yes," Chanyeol says. He hadn't even realized he'd said 'we' but he doesn't take it back. It hadn't crossed his mind that he wouldn't help Jongin. "We. I'll come over this weekend and we can fix up the apartment."

"You don't have to."

"But I want to," Chanyeol tells him, and smiles as he reaches to take one of Jongin's hands and squeezes gently. "You should be here tonight, with Sehun." With me. He swallows down the words, knowing it's not the priority. He doesn't have Jongin, he may never have Jongin, who cares more about his son than anything in the world and still looks in love when he takes about the mother of his child. Chanyeol may never have that happy ending with Jongin, even if he wants it.

It's not the priority, and it may never be, which is why he's okay with what he has for now. It's better to be happy with what he has that what he doesn't.

"You don't understand," Jongin says, his eyes flickering between Chanyeol's.

"What don't I understand?" Chanyeol asks. "I thought I got a pretty good sense of why you shouldn't stay in that apartment. It wasn't safe." Jongin's lips press together at his words and Chanyeol stops himself, letting out a small breath to calm down. "You can talk to your landlord, maybe get him to help with some of the repairs."

"I can't," Jongin says, and his eyes lower to rest somewhere around Chanyeol's collarbones.

"Sure you can," Chanyeol says. That's what landlords do. They help maintain the buildings, take care of damages, they-

"Do you know those lists of paper stuck to my door?" Jongin asks, catching Chanyeol off guard.

Blinking and taking a moment to think back, Chanyeol nods. "What about them?"

"They're all jobs for me," Jongin says, and still doesn't meet Chanyeol's gaze. "I worked out a deal with the landlord when I rented the unit."

Chanyeol's shirt is still damp, sticking to him and cool against his skin. It's nothing compared to the chill that runs under his veins as he looks at Jongin. "What kind of deal?"

Wetting his lips and taking in a soft breath, Jongin's hand twitches in Chanyeol's hold, but doesn't pull away. "He'd take off a bit off of my rent and overlook how I had Sehun with me, living in a single unit with a family. In return," Jongin glances up to finally meet Chanyeol's eyes. "I cover half the maintenance of the building."

The air in the apartment had been warm and welcoming when Chanyeol had walked in before, and yet now it feels cold, empty and pitiless. "So that list is half of the maintenance from the building."

"All of the maintenance," Jongin says, and steps back, hand slipping away as he puts distance between them. "He raised the rent, and I took on the rest of the work to keep our home."

"But-"

"What else would we do?" Jongin asks him, looking up sharply. "I don't exactly have time to run around for apartments and I didn't want to uproot Sehun, not after-" his voice catches. "It's not easy to find rent that low. Where else would we go?"

Here, jumps to the tip of Chanyeol's tongue, but he holds it back. He didn't know Jongin when this happened, has no idea how long this has been going on, and can't just decide his life for him. Today was an extreme case, but overall, it's Jongin's life. Chanyeol is only here because Jongin lets him.

Sometimes it's hard to remember that when Chanyeol wishes that if something went wrong, Jongin wouldn't slip away from him faster than he could hold on.

"Well," Chanyeol says quietly, just watching Jongin as he runs his hand through his damp hair once more, looking even more tired and put upon. "That explains why you're so good at keeping that apartment functional. I never knew you were so good with your hands."

Jongin lets out a soft sort of laugh, letting his head drop for a moment. "It's not always a lot of work, not usually, but it adds up after a while. And after a storm like this-"

"And if you talk to your landlord about this?" Chanyeol proposes, trying to give hope to this situation.

"You've met Mr. Han," Jongin says, his voice sounding tired now as well. "You know what he's like."

Remembering the last time he'd met Mr. Han, bursting into that room with Seulgi and seeing the shocked look on Sehun's face and the angered look on the other man, Chanyeol swallows down his anxiety. "I have," he admits. "You can take a night off," he tries gently, watching as more worries pile onto Jongin's shoulders.

"The longer I'm away the worse it will be," Jongin sighs.

"But you can't do anything tonight," Chanyeol reminds him, and smiles even with the half frown Jongin gives him. "Seriously, going back tonight won't be smart, and worrying about it will do what?" Jongin doesn't say anything, just keeps looking at him like he wants to argue, but never opens his mouth. Finally he lets out a sigh, and his shoulders droop in fatigue. "What's the worst that could happen?"

Letting out a hoarse laugh, Jongin looks back up at him. "I get another unexpected visit from child services and they see the unit," he says. It's only one sentence, but it rips through the air of the apartment. The smile on Jongin's face is cruel, bitterness lingering in his eyes. "You try to tell me that apartment looks child safe and secure right now."

"They wouldn't-"

"They would," Jongin says darkly. "The last time I fell through on my agreement with Mr. Han, he called them, and I almost lost Sehun. They already have enough pressure from Sehun's grandparents to take him away from me."

"His grandparents?" Chanyeol repeats, frowning. "I thought your parents-"

"Not mine," Jongin says and his eyes flicker, flashing towards the bathroom where Sehun is still in the tub. "Her's." He sighs. "It's a long story."

"We have all night," Chanyeol says, and smiles even if he doesn't feel happy at all. "Or at least until ten. I want to make sure we all get some sleep before the morning."

Jongin shakes his head with a whisper of a chuckle. "I usually start work at ten."

"Well, not tonight," Chanyeol tells him, and holds Jongin's gaze.

Jongin doesn't bring up more on the matter, shuffling back behind his walls as the bathroom door opens and Sehun bounds out wrapped up in one of Chanyeol's large towels. Sehun scrambles into his pajamas as Jongin takes a turn in the bathroom and Chanyeol changes out of his work clothes. Sehun is yawning, big yawns with his hands rubbing at his eyes as he does his best to help Chanyeol in the kitchen with a quick dinner, his usual stories quieter as he pads around the apartment.

"Chanyeol?" Sehun asks, looking up as he grabs the silverware to set the table.

"A few more minutes," Chanyeol says over the stovetop, the stir fry almost done. "Then we can eat as soon as your dad gets out of the bath."

"Okay, but where are Daddy and I are going to sleep tonight?" Sehun asks, and Chanyeol pauses. "Usually we sleep in the big bed together, so I was wondering where we're all gonna sleep."

"Well," Chanyeol says, turning to him. "I can set up a bed in the living room. I have some sleeping bags and the couch is pretty comfortable to sleep on." Sehun bites his lip, frowning slightly. "Unless you had another idea."

"Well," Sehun says, swaying a bit as he walks around Chanyeol towards the table. "I was thinking that since last time we had a sleep over, we all got to sleep in the big bed, then-"

"Sehun, we're not all sleeping in Chanyeol's bed," Jongin says, stepping into the kitchen. He has a towel draped around his shoulders, his hair damp and looking fresher, but no less tired. He glances up at Chanyeol. "We don't need to do that."

"But what about the storm?" Sehun asks, tugging on his father's shirt, a small pout on his face. "What if I get scared? What if you get scared?"

"Then we'll compromise," Chanyeol finishes. "But right now, we have to eat. Way more important than arguing about beds."

In the quiet of dinner, Chanyeol watches as the two guests in his house both flinch slightly. Every time lightning flashes through the windows, Jongin will give a small flinch, masking it quickly as he continues to eat only to tense when thunder rolls through the walls. With every boom of thunder, no matter how loud or soft, Sehun jumps, looks up, and then hunkers into his chair for a moment before going back to his food.

It's been years since Chanyeol had been startled by thunder, watched as his friends in school were afraid of the storms. In University, Baekhyun had been the one to crazily drag him out into one of the storms, laughing and yelling as half the campus united in throwing themselves down one of the campus hills in a man-made mud slide. After University, it had been Han and Jongdae and Junmyeon all together one day that had ended up going out hiking in the storm, Jongdae laughing with every crash of thunder and Junmyeon smiling in the rain.

It's been so long Chanyeol had almost forgotten that people still get scared of these storms, each roll of thunder jumping the heart and every flash of lightning sending the nerves buzzing in alarm.

It's right when they're cleaning up, Jongin hiding a yawn behind his hand, when Sehun finally sits back in his chair and jumps when another crack of thunder rings through the room. Looking immediately to his father, Sehun says, "do I really have to sleep in the living room?"

"I'll be there too," Jongin promises, reaching out with a soft smile and brushing Sehun's hair from his face. "You'll be safe."

"But what if you get scared?" Sehun asks, watching his father as Jongin brings his dishes to the kitchen with Chanyeol.

"I don't get scared," Jongin tells his son, a brightness in his voice that has Chanyeol's attention lingering on him.

"But then what if Chanyeol gets scared?" Sehun persists, scooting out of his chair to hover by the fridge. "Then what?"

"I don't get scared either," Chanyeol says, taking the dishes from Jongin and giving him a pointed look. "And you're not doing those. You've had a long day."

"So have you," Jongin counteracts, giving him his own look, but it's too tired to stay strong for long. He doesn't resist when Chanyeol nudges him gently by the hip, pushing him from the kitchen.

"But what if?" Sehun presses. "You can come spend the night with me and Daddy if you get scared, okay?"

"Sehun, I'm sure Chanyeol doesn't-"

"That's very kind of you, Sehun," Chanyeol says, and wraps an arm around Jongin's waist. He can hear the exhaustion, the slowly slipping patience in Jongin's tone, and can see it in the droop of his shoulders. It's been a long day for all of them, and Chanyeol doesn't want it to end in an argument. "But I have an idea."

"You do?"

"Have you ever been in a tent?" Chanyeol asks him, smiling as big as he can as Jongin's head whips to him, eyes suddenly wide. Before both of them, Sehun lets out a huge gasp, his tired eyes suddenly shining and wide awake.

Of course, once they set up the small camping tent in the living room, furniture pushed aside to make room and Sehun has climbed in, the boy is so tuckered out he falls asleep almost immediately. With Jongin tucking him in, running fingers soothingly through Sehun's hair and murmuring stories of storm people as Sehun's eyelids flutter closed, Chanyeol busies himself with cleaning up the kitchen.

In the quiet of the kitchen, water running over his hands as he cleans up, Chanyeol is able to clear his mind back to the talk earlier. It doesn't seem fair, any of it. Though, Chanyeol realizes as he washes the pans and pots from dinner, nothing about Jongin's or Sehun's lives seem fair. They're good people, hard working, kind, and honest people, who have had horrible things happen to them. Especially Jongin.

To have Sehun taken away, for someone to come and not see Jongin as the hard working and devoted father that he is has something terrible twist in Chanyeol's gut, flaring high and he frowns, trying to keep it calm. It's not his place to get angry, but still the thought of it has him flaring.

A soft sound has him looking up from the sink, turning to the entrance to see Jongin leaning against the doorway. "Thank you," Jongin says, his voice quiet as he offers a small smile.

"I couldn't walk out of that apartment and leave you behind," Chanyeol says, turning to look into the sink, at the water swirling down the drain. "I couldn't."

"Why?"

"Because I care too much about you," Chanyeol says, turning back to Jongin as he says it. To see the look on his face. To see Jongin. To stop hiding. Jongin is watching him, staring back into his eyes as if he's not sure if he should believe him or not. "I care too much about you, both you and Sehun, to just leave you like that."

"But-"

"That's not going to stop being true, Jongin," Chanyeol tells him, pulling back from the sink and grabbing a towel. "If I see that you need something, or that there's any way I can help, I'm going to do what I can for you. That's what I do."

"Because I'm your friend." Jongin is providing answers, he's trying to understand, to test to see if this is real. Chanyeol can see it in his eyes, the flicker in them of wanting to hope, to believe, but being afraid to.

"You know it's more than that," Chanyeol says, and it comes out quiet. He can feel the shiver of his heart in his chest as he looks at Jongin, still tired and soft from the bath earlier. He can feel the writhe in his gut and the tremor in his hands and the shudder in his breathing as he looks at Jongin and feels so much for him.

Jongin just stares at him, lips pressed together and silent, his eyes flickering as he watches Chanyeol take one, and then another step closer, and doesn't pull away.

"I do," Jongin admits quietly. The sigh he lets out brushes against Chanyeol's neck as he lets Chanyeol pull him into a soft hug. It's been so long, but Chanyeol still waits, half expecting him to flinch or stiffen or curl away from him. It's a relief, even if a small one, when Jongin just leans into him, letting himself go just a little and lean on Chanyeol. Accepting him.

It's not a confirmation, or a return, but it's enough for now. Chanyeol isn't the number one important thing in Jongin's life, but he's okay with that. "I also hope you know what even if you were just my friend, I would still care," Chanyeol says quietly, feeling Jongin tentative hug back, hands warm against his back. "It doesn't matter how much I do, or what you ask from me, there isn't anything I expect from you in return. That's just how it works." Jongin fits so well in his arms, and Chanyeol can feel his heart beat in his chest, wondering if Jongin can feel it too.

"You're really hard to get rid of," Jongin says, though the joke is tight, like Jongin is still trying to run.

"Are you trying to get rid of me?" Chanyeol asks him honestly.

The warm hands on Chanyeol's back shift, gripping at his shirt and holding him closer. "No," Jongin answers him, voice even softer. "That scares me."

"Why?" Chanyeol asks, tightening his arms around Jongin slightly. "Is it because you really did want to have a sleepover?" Jongin lets out a soft laugh, relaxing further into him. "We can still let Sehun know we can all share the big bed. Or I can come and sleep in the tent with you two."

"Chanyeol-"

"I've not been in that tent for a while though, and I feel like it'll be too small for all three of us," Chanyeol continues, feeling Jongin chuckle and pull away from him. Even without Jongin pressed against him, he still feels warm, wrapped up as Jongin looks up at him with a faint smile on his lips. "And I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to."

"You're unreal," Jongin tells him.

"Last I checked, I was pretty real," Chanyeol tells him, and earns another small smile from him. It's hard, at times like this, to not just lean in, close the distance, and feel that smile against his own lips. It's hard because a part of Chanyeol isn't sure if Jongin would push away, the part that knows Jongin keeps track of how many kisses he owes him, and how Jongin relaxes and can sleep when Chanyeol is near.

"No, I mean-" Jongin lets out a sigh, and closes his eyes. "It's hard to believe you." He quiets, and Chanyeol lets him, waiting for him to talk. "There's not a lot of people like you." It's tempting to say something, but Chanyeol holds back, just watching, letting Jongin put together what he wants to say, waiting. "I'm so used to having to pick up the pieces or do things on my own, it's hard to think about trusting someone else."

"But you do?" Chanyeol asks carefully.

"I don't know why," Jongin says slowly, and his brow furrows. "But you feel safe." A soft warm curl spreads through Chanyeol, starting in his chest and flowing out, gentle and making him smile quietly. "That's hard to understand," Jongin admits. "Or to accept. I haven't had a lot of people that have felt safe."

"Not even your friends?"

"Well, you heard how safe Sehun feels around Taemin," Jongin tries to joke.

"Sehun isn't you," Chanyeol reminds.

"But he feels safe with you too," Jongin says, and takes in a shuddering breath, eyes still closed. "He trusts you, and he likes you a lot. He always wants to come over and spend time with you and has so much fun with you. It's like when he's with you, there's none of the worry, and he just feels happy. None of the bad things exist anymore."

Somehow, as Jongin begins to ramble, Chanyeol wonders if Jongin is talking about Sehun, or himself, or both. As Jongin's hands tighten in his shirt, tugging slightly, he feels it's both, and Jongin is just struggling to admit to himself any of this.

"It's like, with you, yes or no doesn't mean another lost job, or less time or more time and he can just forget and be happy. The world isn't against-" Jongin breaks off, and takes in another short breath, and presses his lips closed. Shifting carefully, Chanyeol pulls his arms from Jongin and instead slips their hands together.

When he pulls gently, Jongin doesn't resist, instead nodding slightly when Chanyeol nods towards the tent, where Sehun is sleeping, and lets himself be pulled into Chanyeol's bedroom. "We can go to the spare room if-"

"This is fine," Jongin says quickly, shaking his head. He doesn't let go of Chanyeol's hand. Glancing around, a phantom smile passes over his lips. "It's been so long since I was really in here."

"You saw it on the house tour I gave when you and Sehun first came over," Chanyeol reminds him.

"Yeah, but then it was called 'the master chamber' and it wasn't the same," Jongin reminds, brightening slightly.

"Well, I hope that no time is ever the same as the first time you were here," Chanyeol admits honestly. "I hope you never have another time like that. Ever."

Jongin's face slowly darkens, not in doubt or anger or sadness, but in memory. Some of the lines that grace his face, showing how much he's been through, what he's seen, are cast into sharp relief in the soft light of the room. "I never wanted anything like that to happen," Jongin admits quietly. "If I could change it-" He pauses, and Chanyeol watches from where he's sat just on the edge of the bed as Jongin walks closer and sits down beside him. "I don't regret it."

"Nothing?" Chanyeol asks.

"I wish it were different," Jongin says, eyes on his hands as they twist in his lap. "That Sehun could have had a mother, that Sehun lived differently, in a home that was whole, that we had a real family that wasn’t broken and separated, where I didn't have to worry constantly about him, about if he's okay or not, of if he'd be taken away every day that something goes wrong."

"You won't lose him," Chanyeol says, reaching over and laying a hand over Jongin's, holding them carefully. "If anything happens, if someone comes after you, there are people who can stand up for you."

Jongin laughs bitterly, looking up at him finally. "You don't understand."

"Then help me," Chanyeol asks. It hurts, aching to watch Jongin hold all of this inside himself without letting anyone take some of the load off his shoulders for him. To support him when he's stumbling under the weight of his world.

For a long moment, Jongin looks at Chanyeol, his eyes flickering and Chanyeol wonders if he's going to shut down, close him out and that will be it. Then Jongin takes a long, deep breath, eyes closing as he turns. Eyes opening, he looks down to his hands, and begins to speak in a soft smooth voice, telling Chanyeol, letting him in.

It's like listening to a story, but rather than a story, it's a life time. His thumb gently pressing and rubbing a pattern over the back of Chanyeol's hand, Jongin tells Chanyeol about how he moved from Korea, about how his family had pushed for it to get him to a better school and a better chance at university. Jongin tells Chanyeol about how he found a school, found a girl he fell in love with, and how happy he had once been, how he knew what hope felt like. He talks about how scared he was when he found out he was going to be a father, but how happy he was.

That happiness that still is so alive in him when he looks at Sehun, when he talks about Sehun, is what has kept him together.

It kept him together when Sehun's mother died and Jongin, already struggling with the weight of two jobs, was left alone in a world that already had begun to turn cruel. It kept him together, giving him strength to fight back when the grandparents had first started to come after him.

"They hate me," Jongin says, mouth curling into a bitter smile. "They always did. They said she could have found someone so much better. That I was the reason she died. That Sehun-" his voice catches. "That it was hurting Sehun to be with me, that-" he breaks off, eyes closing as he struggles to keep composure, lip bitten as he begins to silently cry.

"They still won't give him up," Jongin continues after a long pause.

"But neither will you," Chanyeol reminds, squeezing around Jongin's hand, shifting to wrap his arm around Jongin's shoulders when Jongin shifts. Jongin stays like that, letting Chanyeol pull him closer to lean against him, as he continues talking. It's listening to it all get pulled out of him, like poison from an old and covered wound, and Chanyeol listens in silence as Jongin explains how many times he's been gone after.

About how many times he'd been pulled out of jobs to go to court, to face legal charges of child neglect and abuse from a family that hates him for something he isn't responsible for. About how tired Jongin always is, how many times he's hit rock bottom and how hard it is every time to dig himself back to the surface. About how desperation feels, doing anything and everything to stay afloat, including selling himself to those who wanted him and hating himself for it. He's shivering when he explains the terror of coming back from a customer and finding Sehun gone, a legal notice on his door, and almost losing Sehun for good.

"If I lose him," Jongin begins, and stops, shivering slightly and he doesn't resist when Chanyeol pulls him closer, pressing his face into Chanyeol's shoulder. It takes a while for him to calm down, slowly relaxing as Chanyeol rubs small soothing circles on his back and holds him.

There's so much, a history laden with strife that is almost too much, impossible to image that Jongin has been through so much in such a short time.

The story doesn't elaborate, Jongin instead explaining about work, the exhaustion, finding a home, how it's hard enough to keep his schedule and work straight. How when Mr. Han had raised the rent, there wasn't the energy to fight with him about the maintenance issues and Jongin had just agreed. Anything to get by, to keep them alive, to keep Sehun safe and healthy.

"What they always say," Jongin says quietly, voice tired and soft as he leans mostly into Chanyeol. "About how once you have a child, your whole world changes. How your priorities change and nothing else is as important as they are, including yourself, it's true."

"Jongin," Chanyeol tells him quietly, and gets a soft hum from the man in his arms. "Anyone could look at you and understand that nothing in the world matters to you as much as Sehun does." Jongin shifts, turning to look up at him. It's almost like he's guilty, expression apologetic but not at the same time, and Chanyeol can't help but smile. "I've known that since you woke up in my apartment. I was pretty sure you could have lost a leg and I still couldn't have taken you to the hospital if it meant being away from him."

"I-" Jongin begins and then stops, lips pressed together and almost pouting as Chanyeol chuckles slightly, reaching up and brushing his hair from his eyes. "I have to put him first," Jongin tells him, quietly but definitely.

"I know," Chanyeol says, still smiling as Jongin watches him, tired eyes flickering between his own. "I've always known that. No one can ever expect anything else for you, no matter who they are."

"Not even you," Jongin phrases it like a question, but it's actually a statement, the edge in his gaze waiting for Chanyeol to push.

"Especially not me," Chanyeol says firmly, and smiles as Jongin's eyes widen. "That's why I've been trying to win over Sehun, of course," he teases, and Jongin doesn't laugh. "Kidding," Chanyeol admits. "I'm happy just like this."

"Are you?" Jongin asks him. He looks exhausted, and it would be so much easier to just tell him to put it aside, to worry about it another time, to just rest for now after such a long talk. It won't stop though, and Chanyeol knows by now that even if Jongin doesn't voice his worries, they're very real as they eat away at him.

"No," Chanyeol admits. "I would be happier if you didn't have to deal with all of this." Jongin looks taken aback. "I would be happier if you had a home that you didn't have to worry about losing, if your family supported you instead of harassing you, and if you would let me help you sometimes without thinking I'm looking for something else from you." Jongin's jaw tightens as he swallows. "I'm not," Chanyeol tells him firmly. "So stop thinking I am. Whatever you're comfortable with, I'm okay with. This isn't about me."

"It is," Jongin says, and pulls away when Chanyeol stiffens in surprise. Sighing, Jongin leans away, pushing his hands through his hair as he curls into himself, Chanyeol's arm falling from his back to rest by his waist. "It is about you because-" Jongin takes in and lets out a deep breath. "Because I don't feel as scared when you're here. I'm not as worried about Sehun if he's with you, I'm not scared of coming home, I'm not afraid of saying 'yes' or 'no' and I-"

"Jongin," Chanyeol says softly, staring at him as Jongin rambles, voice wavering as he continues on and on, each word another firm pulse of Chanyeol's heart. It makes him feel too big, too sensitive as Jongin slips his hands to cover his face.

"I don't want things to be different, to have changed the past, I just want Sehun to have a better life, to be safe," Jongin continues, voice tight. "I wouldn't be where I am now, I wouldn't have Sehun if things were different, I wouldn't have had as much go wrong, but then I wouldn't have met you and-" Jongin shivers, and takes in a shuddering breath that ripples through Chanyeol. "You make me happy," Jongin says so quietly it's almost fearful, but Jongin looks almost relieved after, dropping his hands from his face. He looks drained, completely exhausted, but not unhappy as he turns to Chanyeol and offers a weak smile. "That scares me the most."

"It does?" Chanyeol asks, almost afraid to push, to understand why when his heart feels too big, too close to the edge of 'what if?' and 'what is'.

"Pretty much everything that makes me happy ends up being the things that I lose," Jongin admits, voice even softer. He closes his eyes when Chanyeol reaches for him, wrapping him closer and letting out a soft sigh as he leans into Chanyeol's arms, burying his face into the crook of Chanyeol's neck.

"I'm not going anywhere," Chanyeol tells him firmly, mouth pressed into Jongin's hair as he holds him close. There is no resistance from Jongin when he pulls him back, letting Jongin rest against him to lie together on the bed, Chanyeol just holding him. It's quiet like this, quiet but fine, as there are no words Chanyeol could say that would change things or make it better.

It's too early to say what he feels, what he's sure of with Jongin nestled against him, face still damp from tears earlier and arms wrapped tentative around his waist. It's too early and too much for Chanyeol to say anything more, to pull Jongin down into his own emotions when Jongin has just taken such a huge step towards him.

It is a huge step, not just having Jongin this close, but knowing how Jongin feels. It brings Sehun's words brighter, where Sehun explained in his own ways how Jongin was happy with him, how Chanyeol wasn't the only one slowly falling deeper.

That's not the thing that Chanyeol wants to focus on, but it ends up milling around amid all his other thoughts, filtering through Jongin's flood of words earlier, sifting under his skin in the soft puffs of breath from Jongin. Months have gone by, memories of each day with Jongin between stretches of time that feels so much longer.

There isn't a world now that Chanyeol knows where Jongin isn't. Finding a place where he doesn't think of Jongin, the years before feel so far away, dull and listless compared to the last few months. They've been the hardest, dips and falls but it's like a lifetime away from where he was to where he lies down, Jongin's slower breathing ghosting against his neck.

Under it all, Chanyeol keeps circling back to the same ending, breathing in the smell of Jongin and adding another beat to his heart. "I don't want to lose you either," he murmurs, lips pressing into Jongin's hair as he tugs him gently closer.

Jongin doesn't answer, breathing already slowed into sleep that is so badly needed. It would be easy to say their talk earlier had worn him out, but Chanyeol knows better. Life, it's life, years or pressure, weight, and worries that exhaust him. Long nights that never end and take their toll. Sleepless nights and grueling days and the constant anxiety of it going wrong take their toll, lines in Jongin's face and the dead tired that always lingers in his eyes.

If there were anything Chanyeol could to do make it better, to find some solution, he would. If he did though, it wouldn't be fair either. It's not that simple, and Chanyeol knows even if he figured out how to fix one thing, it wouldn't make everything better. Yet while he's still trying to figure out what to do, the most he can do is what he's been trying to do, helping in small portions when he can. When Jongin lets him, leaning on him and letting some of the weight slip off of him so he can breathe.

This close, this wrapped up, it's hard to figure out where he stands with Jongin. If he's just a friend, someone who helps and visits, or if it's something more. With Jongin's arm draped around his waist and listening to him earlier, it feels like more, and it's so tempting to jump closer and hope.

Don't push, whispers up Chanyeol's arms though in the soft breaths Jongin puffs against the skin of his neck. Pushing gets no where, and Chanyeol knows by now that just letting this go it's own course, it's own speed, is better for all of them, especially Jongin.

Until tonight, Chanyeol hadn't quite realized how scared Jongin is, how much he worries constantly and is afraid of things going wrong. It's strange to think that Jongin is also afraid of him, not for hurting him, but for what he means to him.

It's not enough to feel warmed by it, hopeful, but instead Chanyeol has to remember what that means. Don't push means understanding that, that despite how Jongin admits, it scares him now. It's best to stay just as they are, letting things go at their own pace, even if Chanyeol could slip easily and hold him closer, press a soft kiss to Jongin's forehead and whisper against his skin everything that pulses with every beat of his heart.

Not yet curls through him as he carefully shifts Jongin onto the bed, trying not to wake him but make sure he sleeps. Everything feels heavy, Jongin's grip on him, his own limbs so ready to settle against Jongin once more, and his heart as it rests in his chest. The words Jongin had let go of earlier are still heavy in Chanyeol's mind and in the air, but Jongin looks lighter, their weight finally off his chest and out of his closely held silence.

It almost makes Chanyeol laugh as he tucks Jongin in, his mind flashing to so long ago when he did this for the first time without knowing anything. Looking at the man in his bed, it's hard to not want to keep him there, realizing he's afraid of losing him. While Jongin may be afraid of losing Chanyeol, it goes both ways, and Chanyeol fears for both Jongin and Sehun after hearing everything, fearing for the family he's come to think of as part of his own.

His world.

Not yet skitters almost cruelly into him, that constant reminder, and he sighs, carefully smoothing his fingers through Jongin's hair once more and resigned to leave him. But to stay with Jongin...

Under his touch, Jongin stirs slightly, eyes cracking open blearily as he blinks up at Chanyeol. "Go back to sleep," Chanyeol urges gently, sitting down carefully on the bed beside him. Jongin doesn't answer, just lets out a soft sound and nods, lilting back into sleep as he shifts, reaching up to hold at Chanyeol's wrist. Even as Chanyeol tries to pull away, to let him rest, Jongin doesn't let go, fingers tightening around him

"Don't leave," Jongin murmurs, voice low with sleep and Chanyeol stops. "Please," follows in a whisper.

Whether Jongin is aware or too far into sleep, Chanyeol battles before finally giving in. Maybe he's selfish, maybe he's over eager, maybe Jongin means it, his guard fallen in his exhaustion. Whatever the case, Chanyeol closes his eyes at how Jongin doesn't let go, curling closer to him as he slips under the covers, settling against him.

Some people define happiness as a thing, some as a place, some as a time. Some people define love as a feeling, an emotion, a state of mind or a metaphorical device. Lying with the soft lamp light and listening to the rain falling softly outside, the storm past, Chanyeol knows that love isn't a single term, happiness isn't specific. It can encompass many things, and he wouldn't be wrong to use it in multiple cases. But this, right now, is everything.

This is happiness, even if his heart aches and he can't tell if the pain is from worry or sorrow or bursting joy in his chest. This is love, even if he's scared and tentative and unsure. This is his world, and whether Jongin loves him too or not isn't what's important, it's the fact that he's here. Love isn't something Chanyeol needs to have returned for it to be real, and he can love Jongin without needing anything in return.

Chanyeol can love Jongin, can love Sehun, and it doesn't have to be more or less than that.

That's all he wants. It's all he needs.

Lulled by the soft sounds of Jongin beside him, the beating of his heart, and the sounds of rain outside, Chanyeol is just drifting off to sleep when a soft sound by the door has him shifting. Peeking into the room, Sehun is blinking sleepily as he holds onto his pink teddy in his too large pajamas. "Chanyeol?" Sehun calls in a soft tired voice.

"Hey," Chanyeol says quietly, sitting up a bit and careful not to wake Jongin as he gets a soft moan in return. "Couldn't sleep?"

Padding over to the bed in dragging steps, Sehun peeks up and lets a triumphant smile spread over his lips. "I knew he was with you," Sehun says, crawling onto the bed, his eyes on his father. Grinning wide up at Chanyeol, he flops down into bed. "I told you he sleeps best when he's with you. I told you he likes you."

"Well, let's not wake him up then," Chanyeol whispers, smiling at Sehun as Jongin lets out a soft sound, eyelids fluttering. "Get under the covers, yeah?"

"Sehun?" Jongin murmurs softly, shifting in bed.

"Goodnight, Daddy," Sehun whispers quietly, worming his way under the covers quickly as Jongin shifts and rolls over to his son. "Go back to sleep."

"Love you," Jongin says, warmth in his sleep laden voice as he settles back down again. Chanyeol smiles, blinking his own tired eyes as he turns off the light on the bedside lamp, watching as Sehun curls up in Jongin's arms. At first, they all lie still, Sehun's soft breathing slowing back to sleep as Chanyeol lies with his eyes on their silhouettes, the gentle patter of rain a soft soundtrack floating through the room.

"I told you," whispers Sehun, his voice muffled just as Chanyeol begins to drift back to sleep. Jongin hums in question. "They found each other."

It takes a moment, as Sehun settles down, slipping off to sleep, before Chanyeol realizes what he's talking about. The sky people, lost in the storm, struggling to find each other with each crash of thunder. It makes him want to laugh, and he smiles at the soft sounds of rain proving Sehun's happy ending. As he feels fingers brush against his own, folding their hands together as Jongin reaches for him, Chanyeol wonders if they can find theirs.

If Jongin's story from tonight does have a happy ending, and if Chanyeol is part of it. It might be too much to hope for, but if Jongin needs anything, it's hope.

In the meantime, Chanyeol will hope, for both of them, that their story could end as happily, finding happiness and love at the end of such a long and intense storm.

*

Monday arrives as one of the few mornings that Chanyeol actually brings coffee to the office with him. The weekend had been long and exhausting after the storm. Sehun had stayed with him on Friday and Saturday night while Chanyeol got a first hand taste at Jongin's real work schedule. The one night that Jongin had slept with them on Thursday felt insignificant compared to everything else, and Chanyeol almost feels sick for ever complaining about long work days before watching as Jongin is dragged back and forth between maintenance repairs, work shifts, and fixing up the apartment.

It had taken until Sunday afternoon before the unit had been habitable again, the windows fixed, leaks repaired and patched up. Sehun had pouted, obstinate about leaving Chanyeol's apartment and going home despite Jongin's exhaustion. "You don't want to leave either!" Sehun had finally thrown at his father before looking scandalized with himself and burst into tired tears.

It had been a rough few days, and Chanyeol isn't looking forward to the coming week of deadlines for the new project he's been doing with Junmyeon on the children's section to petition it's inclusion to the board.

"Coffee?" Jongdae asks, staring at Chanyeol as he sits down heavily. "Seriously?"

"It's not for you," Chanyeol tells him, powering up his computer. With luck, he'll have an email from Hoseok telling him that he finished all his assigned work over the weekend and Chanyeol won't have to come down on him again.

"No, I get that," Jongdae says, still looking surprised at the large cup of coffee on Chanyeol's desk. "I'm just surprised you brought one at all when I know-"

"What?" Chanyeol asks, looking over at him.

"You know what, I'm going to practice being silent," Jongdae says, snapping his mouth shut. "I apparently need to do more of that anyway," he adds, a note of grumpiness in his voice.

"Says who?" Chanyeol asks, raising one eyebrow as his email loads.

"No one," Jongdae sighs, shaking his head distractedly as he sets up his own workspace. "Just- people."

"The date didn't go well?" Chanyeol asks, reading between the lines.

Dropping his papers, Jongdae lets out an agitated sigh, flopping back into his desk chair and glaring at his computer. "I don't get it," Jongdae says gruffly, scowling. "I thought talking to people was a good thing, but apparently it's annoying and-"

"So not so good," Chanyeol surmises.

"I should just be single," Jongdae groans, taking off his glasses and running his hands down his face. "Like yo-" he chokes himself off, and looks apologetically over the desk divide. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Chanyeol asks, tight lipped and with his stomach clenching.

Eyes wide, and hands frozen on his face, Jongdae quickly mumbles, "nothing," before turning quickly to his computer and busying himself with work. "Enjoy your coffee. Let me know if you need another one, I'm bound to need seven."

"Your poor stomach," Chanyeol calls to him, though it's half hearted. He doesn't have the energy to banter with Jongdae about dates, about food and health. Not today.

"Chanyeol?" startles him as he's working through the second article from Hoseok (which looks like it was written drunk) and he turns to Juhyun's apologetic smile. "Junmyeon wants to see you," she says and steps back with a nod to Junmyeon's closed door.

"Am I in trouble?" Chanyeol asks, frowning as he stands.

"No," Juhyun sighs. "But I think he is."

Frowning, Chanyeol walks hastily to Junmyeon's office, knocking swiftly before Junmyeon calls for him to come in. "Close the door," Junmyeon tells him, giving him a half sincere smile that looks more like a wince. Alarm rising, Chanyeol closes the door behind him. Rarely does Junmyeon ever have his door closed.

"Am I being fired?" Chanyeol asks, confusion and apprehension rising. He does not need this today.

"What?" Junmyeon says, head snapping up and looking stunned. "Oh God, no." He sighs, reaching up to push his hair back and catching himself before he messes up the styling. "No, you're not getting fired. I might be, but that's my issue."

"What?" Chanyeol asks, breath caught as he stares at Junmyeon in shock. "You-"

"Not your problem," Junmyeon waves him off, giving him a weak smile.

"Hell, it is my problem," Chanyeol counters, annoyance flaring as he stares at his friend and superior. "If you get fired then I'm getting a new boss. I don't want a new boss, Junmyeon, and no one else is fit for this job more than you. Who do I talk to so you can stay? The whole floor-"

Junmyeon is laughing, and some of the tension slips a bit off of him. "It's fine," he says, waving off Chanyeol before he can protest. "Look, it's nothing I can't end up fixing. It's just a- they think I've been too lenient and aren't that happy."

Slowly, Chanyeol settles, beginning to connect things. "This is about the section we're working on."

"They're trashing it," Junmyeon says, giving him a wan smile. "Technically, that's what's got the fire under me, considering I didn't get full permission to run work on it anyway. They don't like how it's technically disobedience from 'trusted staff' and they're pulling it completely."

"I'm sorry," Chanyeol says. He hadn't fully realized what Junmyeon was doing when they started working on the children's section in the magazine. "I didn't-"

"Of course you didn't know," Junmyeon laughs. "You never would have agreed to do it if I'd told you everything."

"You still should have told me," Chanyeol tells him, frowning at his friend. "I'd rather have had you tell me about this than put your job on the line."

"I'll figure out my job and you worry about your own work," Junmyeon tells him with a lightness to his voice but a sharp stern flash in his eyes. It has Chanyeol clenching his teeth together, knowing better than to press him. They may be friends, but here, Junmyeon is still his boss, and doesn't hesitate to pull rank on him when it's necessary.

"So," Chanyeol says, swallowing down his earlier apprehension. "What now?" Junmyeon lets out a soft half hearted laugh. "Back to the same old grind?"

"You're back on the regular schedule," Junmyeon says, and smiles when Chanyeol presses his lips together. "At least in terms of material covered. I know you can get everything done earlier, so I'm keeping you on the same early release schedule." He gives a dry laugh. "The higher up's didn't have a problem with that at least, just the content. You'll be working with the interns and new writers more, if that's okay."

"I like them," Chanyeol admits, thinking of Hoseok and Jongdae's interns as they work in the lower floors of the writing team. "I don't mind doing that."

"You're good with them," Junmyeon tells him with a soft smile. "They all listen to you too. Which is more than I can say with Jongdae."

"Jongdae just doesn't know how to talk to them," Chanyeol says.

"You mean discipline," Junmyeon laughs, and laughs more at Chanyeol's expression of surprise. "They run him around all the time, haven't you noticed? It's why I switched Hoseok to you so early on. I knew Jongdae wouldn't be able to handle him. You can."

"I thought-"

"Just because Seokjin and Jimin listen to you and behave doesn't mean they do the same for Jongdae," Junmyeon says with a faint smile. "It's like watching another Heechul and Kyuhyun situation."

"Didn't-"

"Kyuhyun drive Heechul nuts?" Junmyeon finishes for him.

"Not exactly the words I would choose," Chanyeol admits. "But I suppose that works."

"Some people are good at being a mentor and helping people grow into themselves," Junmyeon tells him, leaning back in his chair. "Jongdae just doesn't have that innate ability." Chanyeol stills, watching Junmyeon as something stirs in his chest. "You do."

Shifting in his chair, Chanyeol lets that sink in for a moment and reflects briefly on how he and Hoseok have been working together over the last few months. "So," Chanyeol asks, wetting his lips. "Does this mean I'm getting Seokjin and Jimin as well?"

"Just Seokjin," Junmyeon says with a grin. "Jongdae can handle Jimin. Then I can sleep at night without worrying who I'll find having a nervous breakdown in my office."

"Deal," Chanyeol says, smiling and feeling less worried and almost reassured.

Stepping from Junmyeon's office, it settles back into him the loss of the article run, and he frowns, sitting back a this desk and looking at the article sections he'd been working on for the last few weeks. Jongdae looks over as Chanyeol erases them from his computer, letting out a sigh of futility.

"Everything okay?" Jongdae asks tentatively.

"That depends," Chanyeol says, staring at the 'trash' icon on his screen. "I'm taking Seokjin from you."

"You're what?" Jongdae asks, double taking and almost knocking over his own coffee.

"Junmyeon is putting me in charge of Hoseok and Seokjin both. Them and possibly Jinyoung and Chansik." Chanyeol runs his hand through his hair. A part of him is excited, taking on such a large group of writers and mentoring them, both Chansik and Jinyoung new transfers from a partner company. The other part of him...

"Thank god," Jongdae wheezes, and Chanyeol looks over only to burst out laughing as Jongdae sags into his desk, laying his cheek on his keyboard. Giving Chanyeol a weak smile, he lets out a soft whine. "I wasn't sure I could take another day of both of them."

"They're not that bad," Chanyeol laughs.

"You can say that," Jongdae gripes at him. "You’re not me. They actually listen to you."

"Yeah?"

"Jimin called you 'dad editor' the other day," Jongdae grumbles, sitting back up before glowering at the computer. "He called me mom, and I'm trying to bleach that memory from my mind."

"Mom?" Chanyeol asks, laughing.

"I don't want to know," Jongdae grumbles under his breath, shaking his head and looking pained. "I just don't ever want to know."

It's almost surreal to be in the elevator to the lower floors that afternoon, Hoseok's surprised but cheerful email reply to him earlier when he sent the news still floating in his head. Stepping onto the lower floor and the cubicle layout, Chanyeol can almost smell the stress of Monday morning in the thick aroma of coffee. Hoseok and the other group of new writers and interns are on the far wall, farthest from Kyuhyun's office and the copy machines.

"Are you really going to be taking care of all of us?" Hoseok asks, the first to stand up in his small pack of writers. Seokjin and Jimin are with him, and a few others on the team that look up at him.

"Apparently," Chanyeol says, looking around at the new writers and seeing both excitement and panic. "Should be interesting looking at all of your work and not just Hoseok's."

"Please be nice," Seokjin asks, and then laughs.

"I will if you submit quality work," Chanyeol tells him easily. "Otherwise, it goes right back to you and it's on your head." Seokjin's laughter stutters to a stop and he colors slightly. Chanyeol smiles, and feels a new confidence in his chest as he looks at all of the upturned faced.

It reminds him slightly of being back in university and tutoring in his junior and senior year, watching as his peers would listen and grow as he went over biology, chemistry, and corrected errors easily. "Work hard," Chanyeol tells then with a look before motioning to Hoseok to follow him. "You realize this means more work for you."

"No more crap articles and fun email trains," Hoseok teases, and then laughs at the look Chanyeol throws him. "Nah, I know. Plus, I think this will be more fun."

"Fun?"

"Well," Hoseok says, and clicks his tongue as he thinks for a moment. "I mean, I don't think this will be as frustrating."

"You were frustrated?"

"No," Hoseok says, shaking his head and letting out a laugh. "No, not me. You."

"Me," Chanyeol says flatly, though a part of him quirks. He wasn't aware Hoseok knew he was getting frustrated with work.

"Yeah," Hoseok says. "I mean, it's not hard to tell that you're getting tired of doing, well, what it was you were doing earlier. I think you'll have fun working with us. If anything it gets you moving around between floors rather than stuck upstairs."

"I didn't know you paid so much attention to me, Hoseok. It's kind of creepy," Chanyeol tells him, teasing slightly as Hoseok grins at him.

"I can't help it," Hoseok throws back, and then laughs awkwardly, shaking his head. "No, but-" he sighs. "It just seems like work bothers you a lot."

"It does," Chanyeol means for it to be a question, but it isn't. At Hoseok's inquiring look, Chanyeol sighs and lets a part of himself go. "I had an article section rejected again," he admits. "It's just a bit annoying when I could be doing a lot more at this company and they keep holding me back."

It isn't what he'd initially meant to say, but it is the truth. Somehow, despite how telling it is, revealing and almost not allowed, Hoseok just smiles at him, going as far as to lay a hand on his elbow in a comforting gesture. "Yeah," Hoseok says. "I can tell."

"So, now I get to watch over you kids," Chanyeol says, brushing off the odd feeling in his chest.

"Yeah, but do you really want to be taking care of us?" Hoseok asks.

"You're not all that bad," Chanyeol admits. "Well, maybe Hyeri-" he breaks off as Hoseok laughs, loud and unabashed. It has Chanyeol smiling.

"She's not so bad, just intimidating," Hoseok grins, glancing back at the group of writers, most of them his friends. "You have to get used to her."

"I'll just stick with you four," Chanyeol says, nodding to the small group that he's now in charge of.

"Is that really what you want to do?" Hoseok asks, and Chanyeol knows from his tone that he's not just talking about the immediate.

"No," Chanyeol admits, the initial restraint to admit it faded. It could be because he's not talking to someone closer, guilty about admitting change to Jongdae or Junmyeon upstairs, letting them down. Hoseok isn't that close, even if he has become something of a friend to Chanyeol. It's not the same, and it's oddly comforting. "I'd rather do something that actually meant more. Not just for me, but overall. I'm kind of tired of doing something that doesn't really help other people unless they can buy a ice cream attachment for their kitchen aid."

"Then do it," Hoseok says, rather than laugh or close him down or defend the magazine. He says it so casually that it's like it's the obvious answer.

It is the obvious answer. Chanyeol's just too stubborn and wrapped up to actually accept that. It has him staring a bit, looking at Hoseok's complete casual manner about it as he shrugs up at him. "I mean, isn't that the simple answer? If you want to do something else more, then do it."

"That's easier for you to say," Chanyeol tells him, hands slipping into his pockets.

"Not really," Hoseok says, letting out a short sigh. "I mean, Seokjin is here because he loves to cook and wanted to share that with people. Jimin is here because he loves weaving words and Hyeri is here because she loves research and food and is a closet anthropologist even if she never wants to talk about it."

"And you?" Chanyeol prompts.

"I'm here for the free coffee," Hoseok answers and laughs at himself before Chanyeol can. "It's doesn't make you bad for doing something you want to. Or doing something you don't want to. If you want to keep doing this just for the job, then do it. But wanting to do something you actually want to do doesn't make you an asshole." Hoseok frowns. "Unless you really want to rob banks or something. Then you're an asshole."

"There go my hopes and dreams," Chanyeol says and Hoseok laughs again, just as loud and getting Jimin's attention as the group looks over. "I'm serious," Chanyeol adds and Hosoek chokes.

"You scare me sometimes," Hoseok tells him, narrowing his eyes even as he grins. "In a good way."

"Yeah?"

"You have to be careful though, or soon all of them will start calling you 'dad'," Hoseok warns him. "Jimin alone is enough."

"You can all just call me 'sir' instead," Chanyeol suggests and Hoseok flinches and makes a completely disgusted sound.

"Ya, that's just-" Hoseok shakes his head, grimacing. "That's too far."

It still has Chanyeol smiling though, after leaving the group with his contact information and the standards he's already given Hoseok. It's a little interesting to watch how Hoseok interacts with the others, almost on the same level, teasing and playing around but still serious just under the surface.

It has Chanyeol thinking later, sitting at his desk and sifting through the sudden influx of emails from his new 'kids' (as Hoseok refers to them), checking over their material. It's a little different, hearing it from Hoseok. Whether it's uncomfortable or not, Chanyeol can't really label when he realizes that Hoseok is telling him to do what he himself might advise other people to do.

Being told to listen to his own advice is a little sobering, but it's also helpful. If Hoseok had approached Chanyeol with the same situation, he would have told Hoseok to do what he wants and is the most comfortable with.

Now, it's just Hoseok telling him to listen to himself, spitting the words back at him.

Honestly, it's pretty damn good advice.

It doesn't make Chanyeol a bad person for wanting to do something that's meaningful to him, whether that's writing children articles about food, or starting a reading program at the library for the children of foreign families. Just because he'd be leaving a job where he has friends and stability doesn't make him selfish or wrong, it just gives him the freedom over his own life.

Perhaps that's all Chanyeol needed to hear, his mood settling before lunch. It doesn't mean he has to decide immediately, still not sure exactly what he wants aside from hope for the people he cares about, and the seed planted that this isn't his endgame.

Chanyeol doesn't need the answers, but it's kind of nice to be moving towards them one step at a time. It has him smiling when he goes to lunch and realizes for the first time that the other interns aren't wary of Jongdae, they're trying to set him up with Juhyun.

"Why not me?" Chanyeol asks Hoseok after lunch.

"You've already got a boyfriend though, right?" Hoseok asks, and laughs at Chanyeol's shocked face. "I'm kidding," he laughs and then quails under Chanyeol's half faked glare.

It still leaves him buzzing though, wondering when he'd become obvious, or if he is at all. Wondering when he'll have the answers to give when someone asks him 'what do you want in your life?' and he can give them all, or when he can simply say, "nothing, I have it all."

*

It keeps getting later and later, and even if Chanyeol knows that technically he's still seeing Jongin almost every day of the week, it's more like brief glimpses of fatigue. Sehun is quieter that afternoon, holding Chanyeol's hand and wearing a new thick scarf that Chanyeol learns Jongin had made him a year ago.

"It was my Christmas present," Sehun says, petting the scarf with a sort of fond reverence. "I made him cookies and helped fix the oven."

Sehun looks more tired, and Chanyeol learns about how much he's doing in school. Sehun, because he 'wants to', has joined the gifted and talented programs. For third grade. "And your dad is okay with this?"

"Daddy hasn't been able to come into the teacher's meetings 'cos he's always working," Sehun explains, lower lip jutting out as he looks through the advanced reading material. "It's okay though, he read the form and signed that I can do the classes. It's more fun anyway."

Sehun's small garden has been moved inside, sitting just on the mat near the balcony door of the kitchen and Sehun spends at least an hour every day taking care of it. Today he'd ended up doing most of his homework in the kitchen, chatting with Chanyeol as he cooked a dinner to take over when Jongin gets home, making an extra batch of muffins. Of course, with the muffins Sehun helps, mixing in nuts and dried berries before they go in the oven.

It's past six when Chanyeol finally uses the spare key to let himself and Sehun into Jongin's apartment to find the lights still off. Lately, Jongin has been working later and later at his jobs, taking extra hours as Chanyeol looks after Sehun and doing what he can to be there through the night. Though Chanyeol understands why, knowing it's better if Jongin is there during the night for Sehun, he still finds himself sighing as he looks into the darkened apartment.

"It's okay," Sehun says, carrying the basket of muffins Chanyeol brought with him into the apartment, careful to take off his shoes. "He'll be home soon." It's easy to just make himself at home, sitting on one of the embellished lawn chairs with a book in the living room while Sehun reads on the couch, occasionally asking him what a word means. It's comfortable, and Chanyeol realizes that he's already used to this, made it his own routine.

When the door opens, echoing down the hall, both Sehun and Chanyeol get up, Sehun scampering to his dad as Chanyeol smiles and heads to the kitchen. He'd stuck the stuffed green peppers he'd made earlier in the oven to keep them warm and turns the temperature up, turning as he hears Jongin step into the apartment.

Just as he has every day this week, Jongin looks tired, worn and fraying at the edges as he lets Sehun tug him into the living room. Yet Jongin still is smiling, his eyes warm and soft as he listens to his son tell him about his day, about classes and school and his garden at Chanyeol's house. Sehun doesn't mention how it's almost seven and Jongin has been working later and later. Sehun only smiles up at his father in adoration and happiness to have him home.

"Sehun," Chanyeol calls, watching as Jongin sinks down into Chanyeol's vacated lawn chair. "Can you help me set the table?"

"Forks, knives and spoons?" Sehun asks, running to the kitchen to look up at him expectantly.

"Everything," Chanyeol tells him. "And remember, spoons on the-"

"Outside!" Sehun chirps happily, hurrying to the utensil drawer before he calls over to his father, "Chanyeol taught me the right way to set a table."

"Did he?" Jongin calls from the living room, still in his chair, eyes closed. Even from this distance, Chanyeol can see the dark circles under them, the fatigue.

"I told him he was wrong, but he showed me a cool video online all about the different kinds of napkins you can make and how to set a fancy table," Sehun explains, carefully laying out the table. "Did you know you can fold napkins into animals?"

"No."

"I have to learn," Sehun declares. "I'm gonna practice every day until I can make all of the cool napkin patterns. Then we'll all have swans to wipe our faces with."

"I look forward to this day," Jongin calls from the living room and Chanyeol bites down a laugh as he pulls their dinner from the oven.

"Well, it's not today," Chanyeol says, nodding to Sehun. "Wash up. Dinner's ready."

Sehun whoops in delight, running to the bathroom to wash his hands as Chanyeol sets down the hot pan. He almost startles as he feels a soft touch at his shoulder, Jongin stepping up beside him. "You didn't have to make dinner," Jongin tells him, looking down at the food with a mix between appreciation and guilt.

"Well, I did," Chanyeol tells him, leaning a bit into the hand still on his shoulder. "And you're going to eat it, provided you don't fall asleep in it first." Jongin lets out a soft laugh, finally looking up at him and meeting his eyes. "I love you, Jongin, but I'm not spoon feeding you."

It comes out so easily, naturally, that for a moment Chanyeol doesn't catch it. It isn't until Jongin's eyes have widened and he's been quiet that Chanyeol realizes what he's said.

"I can feed myself," Jongin finally says, and there isn't any question, any pushing away, the hand still resting on Chanyeol's shoulder. If anything, Jongin's pale cheeks are slightly pink, the corners of his mouth twitching up.

"Wash hands first," Chanyeol reminds, pulling down bowls to serve dinner.

"Yes, dear," Jongin says, tone teasing even as it sends a warm pleased curl into Chanyeol's stomach. Looking up, startled, Chanyeol catches the smile on Jongin's face, almost playful but it still tugs at him, filling him up and spreading warmth through him. It stays, simmering just under his skin as they sit down for dinner, conversation flowing around the table. Chanyeol keeps catching Sehun avoiding eating his pepper, and gently reminds him to finish it as they eat, smiling softly when Sehun begrudgingly eats it slowly, catching a soft approving grin from Jongin.

"He listens to you," Jongin says, coming up to help him do dishes when he's sent Sehun to go wash up for bedtime and stories.

"Hm?" Chanyeol asks, turning to him.

"You don't have to do dishes," Jongin sighs, stepping in and pulling Chanyeol's hands from the sink. "You made dinner. I'll take care of them."

"But it's my baking dish," Chanyeol points out and Jongin's cheeks pink again.

"Then I'll bring it over tomorrow when I pick up Sehun," Jongin counters, and then smiles, some of the tired slipping back over him when he'd held it at bay through dinner. "He listens to you now."

"Didn't he always?" Chanyeol laughs, leaning against the counter.

"It's different now," Jongin says, looking thoughtful as he leans beside Chanyeol, nudging against his side. "It's not like how he listens to Yixing or Seulgi, but more like-"

"Daddy?" Sehun calls, poking his head in from the hall. "Can Chanyeol read to me tonight?"

"I think you have to ask Chanyeol that," Jongin says, and the laugh in his voice hums against the warmth in Chanyeol's chest.

"Can you read to me tonight?" Sehun asks, looking slightly exasperated he has to ask twice.

"You're missing a word," Chanyeol tells him, feeling Jongin slip closer against his side, leaning on him.

"Please," Sehun adds, looking both annoyed and amused.

"Of course," Chanyeol tells him with a smile, watching as Sehun grins in delight. "Go pick out a book."

"See?" Jongin murmurs, voice laced with tired. "He listens to you." He doesn't even try to lean away when Chanyeol drapes an arm around him, letting himself settle against Chanyeol's side warmly, head resting against his shoulder.

"I feel like a parent," Chanyeol teases, expecting Jongin to laugh. Instead, Jongin lets out a soft hum, and it slowly settles in Chanyeol that Jongin is right, to some extent. While Sehun doesn't listen to him like he does his father, it's not the same as when Chanyeol first met Sehun. "Or old."

"Being a parent doesn't make you old," Jongin says, almost defensive.

"Sure it does," Chanyeol tells him and grins when Jongin slaps him lethargically on the stomach, laughing a moment later when Jongin grumbles at him. "I'm kidding."

"Jerk," Jongin mumbles, but doesn't pull away, instead slipping closer as Chanyeol's hand settles at his waist.

"I feel like I should tuck both of you in," Chanyeol teases, turning to speak into Jongin's hair.

"I thought I was old."

Laughing, Chanyeol pulls back, stepping so Jongin can shift to look up at him, and for a moment as Jongin faces him, leaning up slightly, Chanyeol's heart jumps. The look in his eyes, though tired, is almost...

"No," Chanyeol tells him, swallowing at the look Jongin gives him. It's warm, full and warm and open, adding to the smile on his lips and the curl in Chanyeol's stomach that grows and pulses gently. "You are exhausted though," he adds, wetting his lips. It's like Jongin is waiting.

Jongin sighs, eyes closing and it breaks slightly, some of the catch in Chanyeol's chest fading. "I'm fine," Jongin says, though the fatigue in his voice is incredibly unconvincing.

"Sure," Chanyeol says, and lets out a soft laugh as he reaches up to brush Jongin's hair from his face. Jongin leans into the touch, and it pushes against Chanyeol's breath. "You look completely worn out."

"I forgot what sleeping was like," Jongin tells him, voice softer as Chanyeol continues to absently run his fingers through his hair. Jongin keeps sighing, and it's almost like he's purring at the touch. "I forgot how nice it was."

"You should sleep tonight then," Chanyeol tells him. From the corner of his eye, he sees Sehun poke his head into the living room again and nods to him, earning a grin, a nod, and a last minute thumbs up before Sehun disappears again. "I'm already tucking Sehun in, it'll make my job easier if you let me do the same to you."

"I'm not a child," Jongin reminds him, and it almost sounds petulant before Jongin opens his eyes and fixes Chanyeol with a stare. The laugh never bubbles up Chanyeol's throat, as instead it catches in his throat, pulling his breath back at the intensity directed at him.

"I know," Chanyeol says, words feeling as weak as his knees under that stare. Not yet, pounds through his veins even as his eyes flicker to Jongin's mouth for just a moment. "You're an adult, who is refusing to go to bed because you're being stubborn."

"I'm not-"

"I'll carry you if I have to," Chanyeol tells him, and though it's a joke, there's a brief second where he thinks Jongin might actually say yes.

"Daddy!" yells from the bedroom, and the suspension drops. It breaks as Jongin turns from him and slips from his side, walking towards the bedroom.

Reaching forward, Chanyeol stops him with a hand around his wrist, earning a small frown. "You wash up," Chanyeol tells him softly, thumb caressing the inside of Jongin's wrist briefly. "I'll get him settled down until you can join us."

For a moment, Chanyeol thinks Jongin will argue, but then he sighs, nodding and smiles at him, wandering to the bathroom as Chanyeol heads to the bedroom. Sehun is already nestled into bed, looking eager with a large library book in his lap, his pink teddy tucked against his side. "You have to sit on this side," Sehun says, wiggling over a bit to make room for Chanyeol on the edge of the bed.

"Why?" Chanyeol asks, even as he takes a seat and opens up the book to the page Sehun has bookmarked.

"Daddy always sleeps on that side," Sehun explains, patting the other half of the bed. "To-"

"Keep away all the monsters, right," Chanyeol says, nodding as he remembers.

"Yeah," Sehun says, and wiggles down further into the bed, nestling against Chanyeol's side as he looks at the book with him. "Except when you're here."

"Then I keep them away," Chanyeol says.

"You keep both of us safe," Sehun says, and something about how he says it sends that warm flutter though Chanyeol once again. "Okay, you can start," Sehun continues, pointing to the passage in the book for Chanyeol to being with. Other nights, Chanyeol has done voices, livened up the text with sounds and effects that send Sehun into giggles. Tonight it's quieter, softer as he reads and watches as Sehun's eyes get heavy. When Jongin slips into the room, face fresh and just as tired in his pajamas, he gives Chanyeol a soft smile before slipping into bed beside his son and listening along.

They barely make it to the end of the chapter before Sehun is almost asleep, yawning as he lies nestled between the two of them. "Your turn," Chanyeol says, looking over at Jongin whose eyes are also drooping. "It's late."

"I'm fine," Jongin says, voice mumbled as he blinks up at Chanyeol before shaking himself slightly. "Not tired."

"Yes, you are," Sehun points out in a garble as he blinks up at his father sleepily. "Cos you keep working so late and won't let Chanyeol stay over."

"I can't stay over every night," Chanyeol says, smiling gently as he smooths back Sehun's hair gently.

"But you could if we all lived together," Sehun almost pouts, wiggling under the covers as he blinks up at Chanyeol with sleepy eyes. "Then you could just stay here."

"All in the same bed?" Chanyeol asks him, and catches Jongin staring at him.

"Then no one has to sleep and feel lonely," Sehun murmurs, before turning to look up at his father. "And we'd all be happy."

When Jongin looks at his son, it's sweet, his fingers reaching out when Chanyeol's fall away to brush Sehun's hair back from his face. "Maybe one day," he says, and thought it just soft reassurance, it catches Chanyeol off guard. Staring at Jongin, Chanyeol feels his heart begin to beat faster, that warmth flooding thicker through him as he watches a soft pink rise to Jongin's tired face.

Jongin doesn't look at him. He also doesn't take it back when Sehun slips off to sleep and he ignores Chanyeol's insistence than he go to bed. "I'll walk you out at least," Jongin says. "It's the least I can do."

"You'd be doing me a favor if you just went to bed," Chanyeol tells him, even as he lets Jongin follow him, carefully closing the door to his bedroom to keep it quiet while Sehun sleeps. "Then I wouldn't worry about you not going to bed after I leave."

"I will," Jongin tells him, a hint of amusement in his voice. As if to prove this to Chanyeol, he turns off the lights in the living room after Chanyeol has fetched his book and things. "I promise," Jongn adds, pushing Chanyeol into the hall again with a soft laugh.

"A promise is forever," Chanyeol reminds him, turning as he shifts to get his shoes on. It's late, past Sehun's bedtime and Jongin looks dead on his feet. "You're pushing."

"I've done worse," Jongin admits, arms crossed over his chest. He's back in sweaters again, the colder weather bringing them back over his shoulders, the sleeves dangling over his hands and brushing his fingers. They make him look smaller, almost delicate.

"I hope that's not supposed to reassure me," Chanyeol says, standing straight again now his shoes are on.

"I'll be okay," Jongin tells him, shaking his head slightly. "It's nothing I can't handle." At Chanyeol's lingering look, Jongin smiles faintly. "I promise."

"That's two promises in one night," Chanyeol says, reaching up to brush Jongin's bangs from his face. They keep falling into his eyes, his hair getting too long again. He pauses as Jongin's eyes flutter closed and lets his hand rest on Jongin's shoulder as he wets his lips. "Promise me you'll go to bed after I go?" Jongin looks up at him, almost exasperated. "If you don't, I'll just have to stay."

Jongin still doesn't bring up what he'd said earlier, correcting himself to say it wasn't true, to push that feeling of anticipation back down. For a moment, as Jongin looks at him and his eyes shift in soft browns and sleepy fog, Chanyeol almost thinks he'll ask him to stay. "I promise," he says softly.

"Good," Chanyeol says, and pulls away. It's not time, his too eager heart jumping too hopeful in his chest, pushing forward too fast at every step Jongin lets him take closer. Don't push hums through him, echoing as he looks at Jongin and his heart aches to stay. "I'll see you tomorrow, and I'll check with Sehun to make sure you slept."

"Or else what?" Jongin asks, mouth quirking.

"I'll make you sleep with me," Chanyeol says, and then bites his tongue. "Sleep over. Sleep-" he sighs, stopping himself before it sounds even worse, feeling his face heat even as Jongin laughs softly. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I know," Jongin chuckles, and even if he's tired, the lines in his face pronounced and his eyes accented with shadows, he still smiles and it's warm. The walls are gone, the doors faded when Chanyeol looks at him and doesn't meet resistance to see who Jongin is. "You too." Before Chanyeol can pull away, knowing that goodnight has to come and it keeps dancing away from them, Jongin is stepping closer and pulling Chanyeol into a hug.

It's happened before, when Jongin is the one pulling him in, but it's not often, and for a brief second Chanyeol freezes, feeling Jongin's arms wrap around him as he fits almost perfectly against him. It's never been this smooth before, not this purposeful and with Jongin this open and soft. It has Chanyeol's already excited heart pounding harder, leaving him breathless as he hugs back, folding around Jongin and feeling the soft sigh of ease ghost against his neck.

And it's not even a hug, a brief hold before goodbye. When Jongin shifts and Chanyeol turns to press his nose into Jongin's hair, it's too long to be just a hug, and Chanyeol waits for Jongin to pull away to let go. He doesn't.

"You know, I can't leave if you fall asleep on me like this," Chanyeol finally tells him. Even if he'd prefer to stay like this, breathing in Jongin and with the warmth of Jongin against him, Jongin needs to sleep. That's more important to Chanyeol. When Jongin pulls back finally, it's almost reluctant as he looks up to Chanyeol, his eyes heavy. "Even if you can rest easier if I'm here."

"Another night," Jongin tells him, and it jumps into Chanyeol's chest and burns too warm.

"Don't tease," Chanyeol tells him, trying to brush off the embers before the fire builds in his heart.

"I'm too tired to tease," Jongin tells him, and Chanyeol stares and feels too warm as Jongin's eyes flicker to his mouth for a moment. His eyes are dark, with tired and something more when they meet Chanyeol's again, catching his breath in the back of his throat. "Goodnight," Jongin tells him, the words wrapping into Chanyeol's ears and seeping through him.

"Goodnight," finally manages to unstick from Chanyeol's throat and he smiles, turning and leaving the apartment before he can delay any further. Heart beating too fast as he closes the door, Chanyeol doesn't linger, instead walking back out in the cool night air to calm the warmth that spiders under his skin. He focuses on the cold, keeping his legs moving to push down the urge to turn around and run back, to pull Jongin into his arms and kiss him, giving into what he'd thought he'd seen.

It's hard though, shaking his head clear even in the cool air, his heart still beating too fast in his chest even after he's back in his car and driving home. It's hard to push down and clear his head when Jongin has never looked at him like that before. Like he wanted him, and only didn't know how to ask.

Even as he finally pulls himself into bed, Chanyeol still doesn't know if he would have said yes tonight if Jongin had. It leaves him buzzing, too alive to sleep as he lies in the dark and rolls the words maybe one day and another night until they're a blur in the faint light and shadows spread over his ceiling.

*

The rain is pouring down outside in another storm when Chanyeol's doorbell rings. He's just put on water for tea and smiles as he walks down the hall to his door to let in his guest.

Yura is laughing, looking up as she shakes out a large floral patterned umbrella, a kerchief wrapped around her hair. "Can you believe this rain?" she asks, stepping into his apartment with a shake of her head. "I swear, it's coming down so hard outside I thought for a minute that it was hailing, the drops are so big."

"What else do you expect?" Chanyeol asks, laughing as he watches his sister wobble, taking her shoes off. "It is the season for storms like this."

"And every year, I'm never ready for it," Yura sighs, finally pulling her kerchief from her head and shaking her chair out from where it's been kept up. "You wouldn't happen to have something warm to drink?"

"Just put on water for tea," Chanyeol says, smile widening as Yura practically beams at him, her eyes dancing.

"My darling brother," she coos, reaching forward to gently cup his cheek. "So thoughtful."

"I only have black and green tea though," Chanyeol says.

"Hot chocolate?" Yura prompts and Chanyeol laughs, leading her into the apartment. For a long while, Yura just admires his place like she’s never been there before, musing over the decor and praising him for keeping it so clean and nice. "Whoever ends up with you is going to be so lucky," she teases, her eyes dancing again. "You're such a catch."

"I know," Chanyeol says and Yura laughs, accepting the cup of hot chocolate Chanyeol passes her as they settle on the couch.

As much as Chanyeol wants this to just be catch up time with his sister, she's not here without a reason. Even if it's months away, Yura and Jongdeok have already selected a date, a weekend that works for everyone in May for their wedding. Today is a siblings visit, but also the day that Yura has cut out of her schedule to go over their invitation list with Chanyeol. Who they should invite and who shouldn't come.

"So," Chanyeol asks, watching as Yura opens up the large book of people she's been gathering to write down. "Did you finally decide on what kind of wedding you wanted?"

"A nice one," Yura tells him, her mouth quirking. "Jongdeok and I didn't really want to go all out," she continues, leafing through the pages of notes she's made. Chanyeol can see both hers and Jongdeok's handwriting, and smiles, watching as their two scripts loop around each other. "I know mom wants to do a more traditional style, the big show and make it ‘a day to remember' but I figure, I'm getting married and I'll remember it no matter what."

"So you're not going to do the huge wedding?" Chanyeol asks, hands wrapping around his hot chocolate and letting the warmth seep into his hands.

"Nothing too big," Yura muses, turning another page. "I was thinking of about one hundred people."

"And you said not big," Chanyeol grumbles, and laughs as Yura huffs and shoves at him beside her. "Kidding."

"It's mostly Jongdeok's family, and then our friends and our family," Yura sighs, looking down the list as she finally turns to it. "Is it too many?"

"It's your wedding," Chanyeol reminds her. "You also have to factor in people's guests."

"I was," Yura says, her mouth quirking.

"So how many invitations are we sending?"

"Probably around seventy?" Yura muses, tucking her hair behind her ear. "I'm not sending you one because you already know."

"Rude."

Yura laughs as she shoves at him, giggling as they grapple playfully on the couch, Chanyeol finally giving up as Yura wraps her arms around his head and toppling them over. "I win," she says, sitting back up, her hair mussed but looking delighted.

It takes the majority of the afternoon between the two of them to narrow down all the invitations, cross checking who is where and addresses. Jongdeok had left sticky notes on most of the pages, explaining about his family. He's at a work conference this weekend, away and unable to really do much. Both Yura and Jongdeok have been working more than usual, trying to catch up as the finances of the wedding begin to add up and they begin to think about what to do.

In many ways, Chanyeol admires his sister and her fiance. They're splitting the wedding costs between them. There had been a huge argument between Yura and their mother when Yura insisted that she and Jongdeok decided to pay for the wedding together rather than putting the pressure on their family. Their mother hadn't been happy about it, at all, but Chanyeol suspects the main reason Yura is taking all of this on is to make sure it's her wedding, not their mother’s.

It had also helped that she'd gotten the support of their father first, explaining how she and Jongdeok were going about this to make sure that they wouldn't be stretched too much but could still have a nice wedding. It's a big step, pulling away from their family so much when their mother is so invested in her children.

It may not be the wedding their mother had dreamed for her daughter, but it will be what Yura wants and what makes her happiest. Chanyeol watches as she works, the responsibility weighing on her shoulders that she chose, and smiles, feeling warm and proud of her for doing this.

"Thank you," Yura says when they take a break after looking through all the names to invite. She's 'booked' him for the whole of Sunday, meaning Chanyeol had done all of his catch up work with Hoseok and his 'writing kids' the day before while Sehun came over for the afternoon to watch a history documentary he'd taken out of the library. Jongin has been working Saturday's again, his job schedule fluxing as he tries to juggle all his work.

"For?" Chanyeol prompts, looking up as he and Yura put together a snack. Yura had brought over apples, fresh from the farm just outside of the city, and is cutting them up as Chanyeol makes a pot of tea.

"Doing all of this," Yura explains, a soft smile on her face. "I know you don't have to, and it's a lot more work considering I'm not-" she pauses, and sighs.

"Asking mom to help?" Chanyeol prompts, catching the look on Yura's face.

"I love her," Yura sighs. "And I know she loves us both so much, but sometimes I feel like she forgets that she's not the one getting married."

"You are," Chanyeol reaffirms, and Yura nods. "She just wants you to be happy."

Yura laughs, looking up at him over the sliced apples. "I'm marrying the man I love," Yura says, her voice full of love. "How could I not be happy?"

Something about that sinks into Chanyeol's chest, and he finds his own smile less full as he looks at his sister. "I don't know," he says honestly, and pushes his smile brighter as Yura's eyes flicker, picking up on him. "I'd say it's pretty hard to beat that. Though I do think having the wedding you want is pretty important."

Yura blinks, laughing a bit as she looks down and continues cutting up the apples. "Then mom will have a whole new set of things to worry about," she says. "Like grandchildren, and finding you a wife," she teases. "She'll start trying to set you up on blind dates soon." Chanyeol lets out a soft groan, his chest filling with lead at the idea.

"I hope not," Chanyeol says, and it's hard to smile and tease back. "Maybe she'll just be too distracted sending you pictures of baby clothing to think about me."

"You know she just wants you to be happy," Yura reminds him gently.

"I am happy," Chanyeol tells her.

"But in the long term," Yura continues. "When you finally meet someone and settle down with a g-"

"I'm not going to find a nice girl and settle down." The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them, and he hears them ringing around the kitchen as Yura stares at him, her pretty eyes wide. That's the truth though, and Chanyeol is tired of hiding it from his family. Perhaps Hoseok is right, and Chanyeol needs to take his own advice and just be honest about what he wants.

If it were Hoseok, Chanyeol wouldn't have a problem telling him that he's not going to marry a woman or start a family like that. Yes, Chanyeol has wanted a family, wanted that reality for so long, but had never had a specific way of how it would play out.

It was just assumed, and perhaps it's time to set the record straight. If Chanyeol is going to be honest with himself, then he needs to be honest with those who care about him and he keeps closest to him too.

"I didn't-" Yura's voice is apologetic, and she puts down the knife as she looks at him. "Chanyeol-"

"I'm not ever going to find a wife and settle down with her," Chanyeol says, reminding both himself and his sister. It's not a bad thing, and it feels calmer to just say it. He's smiling before he realizes it. "That's just not what works for me. That's not what I want."

"But-" Yura beings and Chanyeol shakes his head, cutting her off.

"It's not objective," he says, feeling the parts of him that writhe against the confused apology on his sister's face calm as he finally admits to something he's held inside for years. "I know it's hard, because I never really made it clear to the family. So let me make it clear now." Yura swallows, and turns to him, listening. "I explained years ago that it didn't matter who it was, man or woman, that I fell in love with. How that doesn't determine what love means for me."

"I remember," Yura says gently, listening to him.

"But right now," Chanyeol's heart skips, and he takes a breath to calm down, to keep going. "I'm tired of the assumption that I'll just end up with a woman, that this was a phase."

"I never thought it was a phase," Yura says gently, and concern lines her face. "Chanyeol, I'm sorry that-"

"Let me finish," Chanyeol says. If he stops, he's worried he'll lose himself, nerves already twanging as he voices everything. "Please."

"Okay." Yura doesn't push, just stands back and watches him, waiting.

"I do want a family," Chanyeol pushes on, and drops his gaze to his hands. He can still feel Yura's eyes on him. "But if I want a family, it doesn't matter who I have it with, and I want it with-" he swallows down the stick in his throat. "I want to be with him."

Names are too close, when still Chanyeol has no idea where he and Jongin stand, or where they may end up. Whether they'll be the family he already feels like he has with them or just forever out of reach.

"I'm glad," startles Chanyeol to look up at his sister. Yura is smiling, the apology still on her face but she's still smiling, warm and welcoming.

"What?"

"I never was sure," Yura explains, and leans against the counter. "I kept thinking that you probably would end up with whoever it was you wanted to be with, but you never corrected mom, or me, or anyone. I'm glad you told me, and I'm glad. For you."

"Even if it means mom will just focus on you for grandchildren?" Chanyeol asks, still tremulous as he looks at his sister.

Yura laughs though. "We both know she'd focus on me most anyway," Yura reminds, her eyes warm and comforting. "This way she doesn't have to pretend not to choose favorites." Chanyeol scrunches up his nose at her, and Yura laughs again. Chanyeol doesn't resist when she steps forward and her arms rise in a hug. It's gentle, soft and sweet, leaning into her embrace and letting go of some of the constant apprehension.

"So," Yura says, stepping back with a bright teasing smile. "I should add two for your name under the wedding list?"

Chanyeol laughs, the sound pulling out and surprising even him as he looks at his sister and feels clearer, lighter. "Not quite yet."

"You haven't asked him yet?" Yura asks, and squints at him. "Or you haven't met him yet?"

"I'm-" Chanyeol pauses, swallowing as he tries to think how to phrase it. "I'm not sure if he'll be open to the idea."

"I see," Yura says, nodding slowly as she steps back from him, taking him in. "He doesn't like weddings."

Chanyeol is laughing before he realizes it, watching as Yura's smile widens, her eyes alive with her own laughter as she looks at him. It's warm, that sudden rush of comfort that only exists with family, that gentle acceptance where Chanyeol knows he's safe, he's supported, and Yura still loves him no matter what. "Not quite," Chanyeol says, breathing easier, as if releasing a coil around his lungs.

"Well, I hope he looks good in a tux," Yura says, letting out a heavy sigh. "We have a dress code, you know." Chanyeol smiles, even as his mind flashes to Jongin, out of his worn slacks and jeans and sweaters, instead a crisp black and white tux fit around him, hair pushed from his face. Even if the image is only in his mind, Chanyeol's breath still catches and he feels a soft flush of heat course through him.

"If he says yes," Chanyeol says softly. "I'll take care of it."

"Yes to going to the wedding or," Yura lets it hang, not asking or implying, but just waiting for Chanyeol.

"If he says yes," Chanyeol repeats, and leaves it at that. Moving too fast isn't what he wants, but Chanyeol does know he'll ask. He'll ask Jongin and wait for him, for as long as it takes for an answer, and Chanyeol can wait. Chanyeol will wait.

"Do you love him?" Yura asks later, as they're buried in pages of flower designs for wedding invitation cards and curled up on the couch. It has Chanyeol stilling, staring at the invitation before him without really seeing it. In his mind flickers Jongin's smile, the sound of his laugh, the warmth of his hand against Chanyeol's and the soft look in his eyes when he listens and looks at Chanyeol like it's all he sees. The feeling of how Jongin rests in his arms, the sound of his gentle breaths when he's tired or fading to sleep, and the way his hair falls into his face even after he pushes it back countless times.

Without trying to think of a way around it, to say and answer he thinks Yura might want to hear or what will make her happy, Chanyeol says what is real, what makes him happy even if it's still undecided where he will end up. "I do," he says, and it leaves him with a contented hum in his chest. "I really do."

"Chanyeol," Yura murmurs, her hand laying to rest over his knee as she leans into him. "I'm really happy for you." Glancing around the booklet of invitations, Chanyeol catches Yura's wonderful smile as she looks at him, and knows she's sincere. "I mean it."

"I know," Chanyeol says, because he does.

"I hope he realizes what a catch you are," Yura teases, and taps him on the knee. "Or I'll have to have a sister talk with him." Chanyeol burst out laughing, unable to stop himself as Yura scoffs and frowns at him, teasingly indignant. "I'm serious!"

"He's worth it," Chanyeol says, and the warmth in his chest gets thicker, heavier, more sure.

"And he loves you too?" Yura asks, her eyes fixing as she looks at him. There isn't an answer, and Chanyeol quiets, just staring at his sister and struggling how to answer when he's never asked, and when there's still so much that is unknown between him and Jongin. Questions and points that leave Chanyeol wondering, but never knowing what the look in Jongin's eyes might mean, or if Jongin himself knows or wants to run before he finds out, before Chanyeol gets too close.

Yura doesn't push though, instead letting out a soft hum as she watches him, her fingers tapping against his knee as a slow sweet smile spreads over her face. "I see," she says, a sort of teasing wisdom to her voice as she looks at her brother. "He will."

"You don't know that," Chanyeol tells her, even as his heart swells between beats.

"Sure I do," Yura says, warm and supportive and sincere. "You wouldn't tell me about this if there wasn't a chance."

They don't bring it up again, and Yura never asks for more, prying for a name or about the man her brother has admitted to being in love with. Instead, they just slip back and forth between bantering, debating over the hundreds of invitations to choose for Yura's wedding to show to Jongdeok later. All the while, as the rain patters down outside in a soothing pattern, Chanyeol breathes easier as Yura sits with him and smiles, loving and supportive even as she leans on him every now and then, exhausted from all the wedding details.

Even if Chanyeol is here now to support his sister in her own decisions and future, it feels like she's here giving him support this time, just being there and loving him no matter who he loves or what he chooses. As they thumb through designs, penmanship and decor, a soft whisper lingers in Chanyeol's mind from his sister's words.

They've always been close, but his sister's wisdom and advice sticks as Chanyeol realizes he knew before she said it. There is a chance, or Chanyeol wouldn't be here, now, sharing this with those he holds closest and most dear. There is hope, and it makes Chanyeol hold tighter, heart beating strong, to the will to keep it alive.

*