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“WHAT THE HELL DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING!?”

Yixing pursed his lips and continued to press the ice bag against his jaw.

“If he’d cracked your face open, you’d probably be dead before the ambulance even arrived!”

He fiddled with his thumb, flicking his nail and scratching the keratin surface.

“And you did it in my workplace. I’ve lost customers! Someone almost called the police! Fuck. You’re not even listening to me, are you? Do you even care!?”

To be perfectly honest, Yixing did not. He didn’t care about Luhan’s business, or Luhan’s worries about his troublesome disease, or Luhan’s general judgment regarding the current state of events. He was listening, but just because he was didn’t also mean that he was obligated to care.

So, in short, he didn’t give a shit. At all. So he merely grunted in response and licked his lips while continually pressing the bag against the bruise.

 

Then he felt Luhan still behind him. He blinked. That never ended well for anyone. And especially not for him. A hand forcefully gripped his shoulder and roughly turned him around. Yixing yelped, a sting of pain ringing up his neck and down his abused shoulder. The ice bag slipped out of his hand and landed on the floor, exposing his entire visage to the seething man facing him. Luhan growled. Yixing licked his lips again.

“You ruined that kid’s life, didn’t you?”

And suddenly, a fuck was given. Yixing narrowed his eyes. “Wha-”

“-you did, didn’t you?” He accused. Luhan’s grimace faltered, and a look of realization overtook his features. “… you did.”

Yixing’s mouth dropped. His eyes systematically widened.

“Did Min Seok beg to go back? I bet he did.” Luhan threw his head back and laughed, letting go of Yixing’s shoulder in the process. He locked eyes with Yixing again, and Yixing gulped.

They’re faces were inches apart, and this time, Luhan’s grip was on the armchair he was sitting in. “Min Seok wanted to go back,” he enunciated. “He probably wanted to patch things up. But you- you probably stopped him.”

Yixing tore his eyes from man spitting out the accusations. But Luhan was worse than him when it came to persistence and ruthlessness. He felt fingers squeeze his chin and sharply turn his head, sending a jolt of pain through his bruised jaw. His eyes watered at the sudden sting, but Luhan’s eyes were glassier- his were warped.

“You ruined his life so you could get by on your own terms. They would have fixed things and moved on. But you. You, with your mother and father and grandparents- you selfish bastard. You made him cut off contact for good, didn’t you? You made him leave behind his baby brother. I don’t even have the type of family willing to come find me. But he did. Despite what you did to keep them apart, he still came back.”

Yixing growled and shoved the man away from him. “You don’t know anything about me,” he glared, afraid his mask would slip.

And at that, Luhan took a deep breath and then his lips curved into a vicious smile. “I know enough,” he admitted, and Yixing knew that to be true. “I know enough to understand that you’re pathetic, Zhang Yixing. My cafe wasn’t your fucking fight club. Your job is not permanent because your boss was right there.”

Luhan swept a hand through his hair and gave Yixing a long and contemplative look before smirking again. “I knew you were weak, but that was fine with me. Brittle bones, brittle temper, and an even flimsier conscious. But this- this is beyond your regular pettiness. It’s deplorable. You’re a shameless bitch, you know that? No consideration for others but yourself. Forget Min Seok and Jong Dae. How about Zi Tao? And Joon Myun? Wu Fan? My baristas and waiters? Me?”

Luhan walked to the door and pressed his hand against the knob. His back was towards Yixing’s. Without turning back, he spoke to him.

“I didn’t think you were this pathetic, though,” he admitted honestly. “I always thought there was something special- some hidden treasure. But all I see now is a miserly being with beauty on the outside and nothing at all desirable on the inside.” He emitted a broken laugh. Yixing’s head dropped and he watched the melted ice spread on the linoleum beneath his feet.

“You don’t even care what the others thinks. It’s all about you in the end. Can I tell you something, Yixing? You’re as useless as you think you are, but no one’s ever told you that because you’re such an accomplished pretender. And you know it. Jong Dae probably knew it from the very beginning. Min Seok sees it but never complains because he’s just too nice. But I see you. I see how you move, breathe, sleep. And it’s always the same.”

Yixing wanted to ask if that’s all he saw in him- a moving, breathing machine. But then again, he knew the answer. He always did.

“You’re not anyone’s brother here, Yixing.” He said finally. “You’re not on anyone’s specialty list either. You don’t share blood, and you’re not considerate enough to be deemed as such. You’re just a pathetic, tall and lonely man who was probably a pathetic, tall and lonely boy while growing up. That’s all you’re ever going to be if you don’t change. Or, at least, try.”

Luhan clicked the door close behind him as he left. Yixing blinked and then thought for a short while. Actually, he thought for a long while. The ice bag on the floor melted and spread liquid all over the floor beneath his feet. He grabbed a washcloth and cleaned up the mess before sitting primly down on his couch.

Then he thought for a while longer. As the minutes turned into hours, he dozed off in his seat, his jaw purple and tender, his face streaked with tear stains.

~*~

“Where’s Min Seok?”

“He came in, sat down, and went straight to work. Didn’t even have his morning glass of water.”

Wu Fan sighed discontentedly. Joon Myun pouted.

“… I saw Yixing-shi,” Joon Myun said carefully. “He looked sick.”

Wu Fan’s eyes widened. “What kind of sick?”

“Unhappy sick,” Joonmyun noted. “And his bruise was really unpleasant to look at. And it looked like he had trouble sleeping.”

Wu Fan guffawed but then his face fell. “Luhan was quiet when we picked up our coffees.”

Joon Myun nodded. “Some of his morning regulars were gone. And two of his staff quit.”

“This isn’t going to end well,” the head accountant growled.

“It can if they all work at it,” Joon Myun suggested. But then he pouted again. “But people aren’t the type to talk things out.”

Wu Fan knew better than anyone about how true that statement was.

~*~

“You have a missed call, Min Seok,” Zi Tao deadpanned.

Min Seok cleared his throat. “I apologize, sir. I’ll turn my pho-”

“-just pick up the damned thing,” he snapped. “I need you focused right now. Hostile takeovers, raw credit crunching, unlimited cash source- that’s what I do here. This is an investment firm. I work to make people’s lives a living hell- you’re not suppose to return the favor. Now, pick up the damn phone and fix your shit before you come back to work tomorrow.”

The moody-eyed CEO shoved the files into Min Seok’s chest and turned on his heel, slamming his office door shut behind him. Min Seok looked warily down at his phone and pressed the button to light the screen up.

Seven missed calls.

He shook his head.

Twenty-two messages.

No one texted him that much. Not even Mi Lee.

He sat quietly staring out his ceiling-to-floor windows, marveling the beauty of the Hong Kong skyline before him. He noted other skyscrapers rivaling Zi Tao’s, and smaller complexes meant to be living spaces for professionals who worked in the towering giants of steel and concrete.

When his phone ringed again, he yelped. He fumbled with the smartphone and gave himself ten seconds before looking at the screen.

Unknown caller.

Yet he knew exactly who it was.

~*~

“I saw Min Seok leave after sir went off on him,” Joon Myun whispered frantically to a glowering Wu Fan.

“What do you mean he “went off on him?”

“He means exactly as he says,” Luhan drawled lazily, pouring a customer a glass of water before sauntering over to their table. “Tao-Tao has a violent temper.”

“You’re worse,” Joon Myun scolded. “All three of you.”

“Oh, please.” Luhan rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t that bad.”

Joon Myun’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped. “Based on what you told me, you were the worst. The absolute worst, Luhan-nie.”

Wu Fan threw Luhan a distasteful look. “What the hell happened?”

Joon Myun shook his head. “Luhan hyung said mean stuff to Yixing-shi, and they haven’t talked since the day of the fight, and that was three days ago!” Joon Myun looked at Wu Fan with pleading eyes. “And you saw him this morning! He didn’t even say hello to me! And he almost always says hello to me.”

Wu Fan agreed, but Luhan merely rolled his eyes again. “He’s being a drama queen again,” the cafe owner deadpanned. “He’ll black out on me, and I have to be the understanding one and let it go. But I make the mistake? I say the stupid stuff? Oh, noes. I’m going straight to hell. I don’t deserve any sympathy.” Luhan huffed, crossing his arms across his chest. “I’m not apologizing until he does.”

“You have two restaurants and a cafe. Your regulars came back, and it looks like business is doing better.” Wu Fan growled.

“People are mean,” Joon Myun noted. “The drama just attracted more floaters.”

“And Tao-Tao didn’t fire him, which he should be thankful for,” Luhan grumbled. “Either way. I’m not sitting down for a peace session until he admits he was in the wrong for attacking some stranger and putting my passion at risk.”

“But you’re supposed to be the bigger man,” Wu Fan stated.

“And more mature,” Joon Myun added.

“I don’t feel like being mature!” Luhan snapped. They other two gave him questioning looks.

“… fine. Forget about that. How about Min Seok? He hasn’t shown up here since the fiasco.” Wu Fan rubbed his temples. “I should have knocked out Jong Dae the second he rejected you, Joon Myun.”

Joon Myun patted his knuckles. “It would have happened either way,” He sighed. “Some things just happen because they’re supposed to. I mean, fourteen years? They’ve been apart for that long?”

“It still doesn’t excuse his childishness,” Luhan countered. “Or any of their childishness. I’m only holding off on a lawsuit because he’s Min Seok’s brother. That’s it.”

“Did anyone even know that Min Seok had a brother?” Wu Fan asked.

Joon Myun shook his head. “It’s always been Yixing-shi. Whenever they attend corporate gatherings, they’ll refer to each other as brothers.”

Wu Fan nodded. “And most of the corporate world thinks they’re brothers.”

“Except the stalker companies,” Joon Myun added.

“Except the stalker companies,” Wu Fan agreed.

“They should have worked it out,” Luhan drawled, twirling a straw in an empty glass. “Fourteen years is too long.”

“Some people go without it for their entire lives,” Wu Fan admitted.

“Forever,” Joon Myun agreed. “… but they’re probably working it out now.”

“Are they?” Luhan asked.

Joon Myun nodded. “I saw him leave after sir yelled at him.”

“Are you always creeping on the higher ups?” Wu Fan asked, utterly astonished.

“He just happens to be at the right place at the right time,” Luhan chuckled.

“And poof,” Joon Myun finished. “He just left.”

“… who do you think it was?” Luhan asked carefully.

“It’s not Mi Lee,” Wu Fan noted. “I spoke to her this morning. She didn’t say anything about being mad at Min Seok or anything.”

“And Yixing-shi was still working when we came out.” Joon Myun sighed.

“Then it has to be Jong Dae,” Luhan calculated. “If all goes well, at least the most important part of this problem can be resolved. Like, nowish.”

“Contract renewals are coming up,” Wu Fan agreed. “This can’t affect the new quarter’s performance. Zi Tao won’t let it. Knowing him, he’ll scheme a botched attempt at bonding and force them to fix their differences- all for the sake of the company.”

“He would,” Joon Myun nodded. Luhan agreed.

They sat in silence for some time. Luhan played with the straw as Wu Fan took long sips of his iced coffee. Joon Myun stared out the window.

“… did you know that Min Seok-shi hasn’t spoken to Yixing-shi since?”

Wu Fan stopped drinking and Luhan cleared his throat. “What do you mean?”

Joon Myun pouted. “I mean… they’ve had problems before. Over the wedding preparations. When Yixing-shi was moving in with you. They almost clawed each others eyes out over who would present the new credit report at the gala two months ago. But they usually let it go… like ten minutes later.”

“It’ll take time,” Wu Fan nodded.

Luhan scoffed. “As soon as he gets the stick out of his ass.”

“Luhan hyung, stop!” Joon Myun flushed.

“What the hell did he say, anyway?” Wu Fan demanded. Luhan slid back in his seat as the other two ignored him.

“The meanest things! About him being weak and petty and lonely.” Joon Myun shook his head rapidly.

Wu Fan rose an eyebrow. “He’s petty, though.”

Luhan jolted up. “Exactly.

“But he’s not weak,” Wu Fan assured. “He and Min Seok work at the same pace, and they do their job right. They made Leader in their respective departments for a reason. And how the hell is he a lonely bastard? Min Seok’s on his ass about almost everything, and vice versa.”

Joon Myun nodded and threw Luhan a judgmental look. “The nerve, Luhan hyung. You just had to play the blood-card, didn’t you?”

Wu Fan choked on his coffee. “W-what? You played what card?”

“The blood-card,” Luhan uttered sheepishly, twirling his straw faster.

Wu Fan looked aghast. “You did what? Why? Why would you do that!?”

“He was pissing me off!” Luhan tore at his hair. “He was pissing me off,” he began again. “And he succeeded. So I told him he had no blood relation to Min Seok and that Jong Dae was right and that’s why he was a lonely bastard and some other shit.”

Wu Fan’s eyes narrowed. “… does Min Seok know?”

“I don’t think they’ve spoken,” Joon Myun admitted. “So, no?”

“This… really isn’t going to end well,” Wu Fan sighed.

“You need to apologize,” Joon Myun prodded. “Yixing-shi looked so sad- and Min Seok-shi was ignoring him. He’s hurting right now, Luhan hyung. Go fix this.”

“I can’t fix it,” Luhan replied, thoroughly exasperated.

“Try,” Wu Fan said. “You have to try.”

“And apologize,” Joon Myun agreed.

Luhan rubbed his temples. “I’m not caving into his whims,” he grumbled. “He needs to stop being so-”

“-so what?” Wu Fan questioned. “What’s he being? A bitch? I’m a bitch. Zi Tao can fucking deal.”

“And if sir can do it, then so can you,” Joon Myun explained.

Wu Fan squeezed on his shoulder. “You can crash on my couch tonight. Tao’s going to be up all night running up the new year’s contracts in the office, so you can come down and we’ll formulate a plan, OK? Joon Myun-ah. You’re coming too.”

The lunch bell chimed for its end, and almost immediately, people rose to leave. They left after giving Luhan reassuring pats on the shoulder.

~*~

“Wait, what the hell?”

The barista blinked.

“Where’s Luhan!?”

The young woman cleared her throat. “Sir called to say that he was sick.”

Tao narrowed his eyes. “Wu Fan and Joon Myun also called in sick. Is there something I should know?”

The young woman behind the counter retreated. “N-no, sir. Only that Lu-Luhan-shi said that he would be back later, if he felt better,” she finished meekly.

Tao didn’t bother. He slapped down the money, grabbed his coffee, and quickly exited the cafe and into the street. He checked his watch. Only eleven in the morning. Only eleven and he was already short two accountants and his daily coffee-bro, and the object of his platonic affections, the puffy cheeked lawyer, was no where to be found after his outburst the day before.

Once he walked into the building, he trudged over to the elevator and hit the button for the finance department- the floor right underneath his. He ignored all the secretaries, the head administrative assistant of the floor, and even the lunch noona who bowed politely. Without a single knock, he walked straight into his office.

Zhang Yixing looked blankly up at him from his papers. Tao breathed a sigh of relief.

“At least there’s you,” he clipped. “Diligent, as always. Boring, as always.” He slammed the door shut behind him, and a beat began to resound to his steps as he clicked the elevator open and entered it to be taken to the topmost floor- his floor.

“At least there’s someone who cares about their job,” Tao scoffed, settling into his leather chair. He put his legs on the table, opened his laptop, and began to type away.

~*~

“You can do this,” Mi Lee whispered.

Min Seok groaned. “No, I can’t. I can’t live under these conditions. Can’t we just skip it all and just take a day off to watch a movie?” He pleaded nonsensically as the woman chuckled.

“Zi Tao’s called me three times since this morning,” she informed him. “He’s getting clingier. Fix this before he comes to my school and demands your presence in front of my students.”

“He wouldn’t,” he gasped horror.

Mi Lee shook her head morosely. “But he would.”

Min Seok sighed. He would, he knew. Zi Tao definitely would.

“… ugh. Why’d it have to be the beach?” He whined.

“I suggested it,” she chirped. “Jong Dae-shi asked politely if there was any place familiar to you that you could meet at, so I gave him the number to the hotel we visited. He’ll be waiting on the six bench, right next to the eastern rock formations, with a blue t-shirt.”

“Everyone’s against me,” he muttered.

She giggled and placed a kiss on his nose before shoving him out the door. Min Seok fell to the floor with a thump. He groaned. He cursed. He checked his phone to see the time. He sifted through his messages quickly to see that three were still unread- all from Yixing.

He shoved the device into his pocket before picking himself off the ground and making his way to his fate.

~*~

Wu Fan wrapped his knuckles on the door.

“Come back later!” He heard someone rasp from inside.

Wu Fan rolled his eyes. “I’m here to hand in the end quarter’s results.”

The door flew open, and Wu Fan stepped back to see a disheveled Tao with deadly, slit eyes. He felt hands wrap around his collar before dragging both him and the reports inside. Tao slammed the door shut with his foot before attacking Wu Fan.

Wu Fan clicked his tongue when Tao ground against his thighs. “You. On my desk. Right now.” He growled. Had this been a different day instead of this particular day, he would have already been naked and rutting against the shorter male.

But more important things were at hand.

“Your report,” he deadpanned.

Tao nuzzled his neck. “Put it on the floor,” he demanded huskily, his hand crawling downwards.

Wu Fan grabbed his wrist tightly. Tao’s eyes snapped up. He glared. Wu Fan scoffed. “How about no.” Wu Fan was bigger, therefore stronger, therefore able to forcibly remove the CEO from his private space.

Tao sputtered. “W-what?

“How about no,” Wu Fan repeated, fixing his collar. “My friends need me. I just came to hand in the reports so you wouldn’t chew Joon Myun out tomorrow. Toodles.”

And he was gone. Tao wailed.

~*~

“How did it go?” Joon Myun asked. Luhan and he were snuggled underneath covers on Wu Fan’s couch, the radio on a low volume while two tins of ice cream sat primly in front of them.

Wu Fan shrugged. “He’ll get over it.”

Luhan cleared his throat. “Was…”

“Yixing was there. I saw him walking towards Tao’s office with some bound papers and an envelope before I left.”

Luhan nodded. Joon Myun sighed.

Wu Fan straightened his collar. “Mi Lee called me. Said Min Seok’s already on his way to fix his part.”

“And now, all Luhan hyung needs to do is fix this part,” Joon Myun pointed out.

And Luhan groaned.

~*~

There were many things Kim Min Seok believed in. He believed in sunny mornings, lazy days eating chicken and drinking beer, and he believed T-ara was still the best. They always would be.

And he believed in second chances. Had he not, he would not have gotten this far. He wouldn’t have apologized to Mi Lee for their failed first date, and asked for a second one. He wouldn’t have made it this far without believing his failed life had a meaning- that he did deserve a happy ending. Second chances led him to grow up and grow out of. Second chances led him to befriend Zhang Yixing.

And now, second chances were leading him to say hello to someone he’d forgotten about over the years.

Any other person would feel guilty inside for fogetting their own flesh and blood. But for the past fourteen years, that wasn’t the case with Min Seok. He was content letting their memories drift from his mind. Things around him began to replace the things he used to have. His small room in the mansion turned into a medium-sized hovel in a comfortable apartment above a grocery mart. A few years later, that apartment transferred to an apartment on the tenth floor of a living complex. His daily milk at the counter and away from the family dining hall became his daily milk with his best friend on their tiny table. His daily milk eventually turned into his daily coffee over the years. His former school became a social sciences school on the outskirts of Seoul. His first university choice- some struggling college with slashed funds on the northern part of Pusan- turned into probably the best university in the country- and he got in. His days ducking bullies became his days ducking professors who wanted him in their classes, or under their tutelage, or that odd man who seemed to have a rather unhealthy infatuation with his cheeks.

His days counting ways to apologize to his mother became his days counting ways to turn down men and attempt to score dates with women. His hours spent on chewing his bottom lip and trying to finish his homework turned into days spent chewing his bottom lip, trying to finish his homework, and making sure his best friend didn’t pass out while trying to finish his own. His mother, his father, his brother- all eventually became the very embodiment of Zhang Yixing.

So it still surprised him to feel himself walking towards someone who he’d safely locked away from his life for so long. All these years, he hadn’t mattered because he didn’t have to. Other things began to matter. Otherpeople began to matter. A brother, a wife, a boss, a circle of coffee-break bros. Life had substance, and Min Seok liked that.

“Hi.” Jong Dae’s smile was warm- inviting. He thought back to when they were children- back in the days where he used to piggyback him around the playground because he was small and the other kids laughed. Even then, the smiles weren’t this bright- weren’t this meaningful. They were harsh, or crude, or quick, or judgmental. Not kind- not loving.

“I didn’t think you would come,” he admitted. “I… I wanted to apologize for my behavior the other day. I wanted to go back to the cafe, but I don’t think the owner there would enjoy me coming in uninvited.” He ruffled his hair and grinned sheepishly.

Min Seok blinked, beating right to the point. “What do you get out of this, Jong Dae-ah?” He asked. It was a simple question- the question he frequently asked Zi Tao whenever he had a company in mind to take under his wing.

Jong Dae was taken back for a second, but composed himself momentarily. The sky above them darkened, threatening rain. Min Seok sat down on the bench overlooking the water.

“Forgiveness,” he answered. It seemed honest enough, Min Seok decided. “I’ve been looking for you ever since I graduated high school. I found out where you were a student in, but you’d already graduated by then, and so had Zhang Yixing.”

“No one asked you to look,” Min Seok stated. “It was a part of our deal- what was to end was supposed to stay that way. You took it upon yourself to break the conditions.”

He felt Jong Dae nod. “I did. I broke my own promise. I… I don’t even knowwhy I made the promise, but I know I did, and then I broke it. But you didn’t break yours. You just aren’t the type,” he chuckled dryly.

Min Seok stared at the gray waters splashing against the rocks. It would get cold soon.

“And then I had to start college,” he resumed. “So I couldn’t search immediately, but I tried keeping tabs. I used her money.” He laughed. “I looked and looked, and found the apartment you shared with him. During a two-week break, I drove down and knocked on the door. The lady across the hall then told me you and he left the month before.”

Min Seok remembered that day when they were moving. He had a girlfriend back then. She’d offered to help them move. She brought her brother. Her brother made Yixing blush. It was an interesting day.

“And then I graduated. Mediocre grades, but enough to pull through. Then she put me to work in her company. I gave up for a little while.”

Min Seok wanted to tell him that he should have given up altogether.

“But then Father began to change. He stopped crying. He moved around more. He wandered around the mansion as if he was looking for something- for someone. I asked him after work one day. He asked me where you were.”

Min Seok remembered that man. He was shorter than him. He was thin, almost gaunt of figure. Min Seok looked almost nothing like him except for the birthmark on his left leg that looked almost identical to the older man’s.

Min Seok had forgotten that man as well.

“I thought it was dementia, at first,” he chuckled. “But it turned out he was sound of mind- he always was. But now he had money of his own. The inheritance he’d been waiting for- he finally received it. The house in Seoul, the two twin businesses. Everything was his. He could have left, but he didn’t. He’s with her right now, but she doesn’t have the same power. Never again.”

That woman’s face had faded from his memories as well. He was glad.

“And then I told him I’d find you, and he told me I didn’t have to. He would do it himself. He had a car and his checkbook ready. He was going to get driven to the airport, flown over to Seoul, and then spend the rest of his days trying to find you. He made it his mission in life.”

Min Seok tried to imagine that same man. He couldn’t.

“But I told him no. I was old enough. I was making my own money. So we kept quiet and I worked, and eventually, we moved to Seoul with her. She moved headquarters to there. Bought out an entire skyscraper. Our living quarters were at the very top. Father indulged her. I kept my mouth shut.”

A skyscraper in Seoul sounded nice. Min Seok lived in a villa-esque place with Mi Lee. It was quaint. Not so quiet, but nice. But a skyscraper? That would be Zi Tao indulging Wu Fan.

“And then, I finally found your apartment in south Seoul. And there I was, outside your door again, but when no one opened, a child tugged at my sleeve. Told me the nice men there had left for another country. I asked him if he was joking. He said no. He told me he and the others had thrown a farewell party for them. The tall man and the short man. The tall man was shy. But the short man was funny. He was really nice. Exact words from the kid. I asked him which country. And he told me China.”

That party was a good party. There was chicken, but no beer. But one of the ajhummas knew Min Seok’s attraction to chicken and beer, so she bought him a beer glass set as a farewell gift. He still had it after three years. When Yixing crawled in with Wu Fan and Joon Myun and Luhan in tow- the glasses were ready. And one would always be filled with orange juice.

“So I investigated, and found out it was Hong Kong. And the firm’s leader- a prodigy that studied in our country. It was odd, but understandable. And I was ready to find you then, but then I remembered what the boy said- you left with him.” Jong Dae sighed, looking at the dark waves crashing against the rocks that helped spray water that touched them the slightest. “I felt that the closer I was getting to you- the farther you were pulling away. I was on one side and he was on the other. You were in the middle, and he was pulling and pulling and pulling. And I couldn’t pull back. I wasn’t strong enough. Never mind that I already hated his guts- but the thought of learning that you changed countries because of him.”

Jong Dae was silent. Min Seok’s phone vibrated.

“You’d forgotten us,” he admitted. “You’d forgotten us entirely. We were just a fleeting thought in your head. He was everything to you now. And so I told Father, and Father understood. He wanted to thank him for protecting you when he failed to do so. He wanted to find him and tell him that he didn’t deserve to be your father, because a child did a better job than he did. But I hated him. I… think I still do. But, then again, I don’t. Look at you now, hyung. Power, money, a family. You have everything she wanted you never to have. And you did it with someone who isn’t even your flesh and blood. And you did it with a smile. You were so happy when you came into the cafe that day, and the ones that jumped on you were even happier. I knew. I knew you’d forgotten about us.”

“I did,” he admitted. “I’d forgotten about you.” Min Seok’s phone vibrated again, but no one paid attention. He felt something sting his eyes. Was it saltwater? Rain? Tears? Min Seok didn’t know.

“But I want you to remember.” His voice cracked. “I want you to remember that for just the shortest time in our childhood, Father loved you. I loved you. We still love you. And we want you to come back with your wife. So we can be a family again.”

The rain started and the clouds rolled. Min Seok took a deep breath.

“I came because forgiveness is all I could ask for. And Father’s waiting in Seoul. He bought an extra apartment. Six bedrooms. Enough to fit all of us and a few more. He’s waiting for you to forgive him. And if I can’t bring you back… he’ll come himself. And he’s sick, and brittle, and breaking. But he’ll come if he has to. Because we haven’t given up on you yet.”

“I wish you had,” Min Seok admitted. “I have a family here now. I can’t just leave them for you.”

And Jong Dae sighed. “I know.” Jong Dae produced a dry mobile phone from a his jacket pocket. “I know, hyung. That’s why I told him you’d speak to him once. You don’t have to forgive us, or come back. But just… tell him you’re still alive.”

That much, Min Seok could do. Jong Dae dialed the phone. It took a minute for them to connect, but once they did, Jong Dae handed the phone over to Min Seok. He took it in his hand and put it to his ear.

He heard a soft voice he remembered. Even in his childhood, the man was always soft spoken. Like a leaf in the wind.

“I’m here,” he replied. The old man let out a dry chuckle, and Min Seok couldn’t help but let one out as well.

And then he found himself talking as the rain began to pick up. But they sat, Jong Dae staring at the roaring waves and beating rain as Min Seok spoke frantically with the man over the phone. And then Min Seok tugged on Jong Dae’s sleeve and they both raced back into the hotel. Min Seok’s phone vibrated, still alive despite the water’s abuse.

And Min Seok knew his tears mingled in with the rain, and he didn’t even care. He hung up eventually and shakily handed the phone back to Jong Dae. They were in the empty lobby. It was only eight.

“… give me time,” he said finally. “Can you do that?”

Jong Dae gave him a pained smile. “Of course.”

Min Seok’s phone kept vibrating, but he didn’t care. He hugged the younger male and held onto him for dear life.

~*~

“Is it Zi Tao again?” Joon Myun asked.

Luhan tried to peek, but Wu Fan slapped his hand. “Finish it,” he threatened. Luhan groaned. Then he looked to Joon Myun. “It’s him.”

“… pick it up now?” Joon Myun suggested.

“It’s been hours,” Luhan drawled, finishing the card. “He can’t possibly be calling to tell you how much he wants to tap that ass of yours. It’s just too late for that.”

Joon Myun gasped. Wu Fan glared.

“Check his text messages, at least,” Joon Myun suggested.

“No,” Wu Fan declared. “This is more important. Lives are at stake here.”

“Money’s at stake here,” Joon Myun agreed.

“Has Mi Lee called?” Luhan asked.

Wu Fan shook his head. “No dice there yet. But there will be. Things might just-”

“-end nicely,” Joon Myun finished.

The three nodded and went back to work.

~*~

Jong Dae shivered and he chuckled. “We’re almost there,” he promised. His phone vibrated again. He fumbled to get it with his hands on the steering wheel.

“Just drive,” Jong Dae soothed. “You can get it at a red light. Or pull over if you have to.”

Min Seok wanted to but decided against it. The vibrations regarded snugly against his leg, and he laughed. It must be Mi Lee, he thought.

“… you have to promise to get along with Yixing,” he said after a while, when the phone had died down. “He’s an integral part of my life. I’m not leaving him behind for anyone.”

Jong Dae remained silent. Min Seok sighed. “It’s my condition,” he declared. “Otherwise, I’ll have to pass on the offer.” He chewed his bottom lip. “I haven’t spoken to him since. I know he’s hurt. I have to fix things with him before I tell him I’ve…”

Jong Dae squeezed his shoulder. “Don’t worry. I won’t lose my temper again. I’ll apologize to him like Father asked. And I’ll… give it my best shot.”

Min Seok scoffed. “Your best shot is not what I want. I want a guarantee you can control yourself around him. And I can handle him. He won’t budge unless I ask.”

“I swear,” he replied instantly. “As long as you give us a chance, I swear.”

Min Seok nodded. “That’s all I needed to hear.”

~*~

“Ready?” The latter two asked in unison.

“I’m ready.”

“Surprise him. From behind. By now, he should be home.” Joon Myun noted.

“Then hold him for a little while. Just like they do in the dramas.” Wu Fan advised sagely.

“And then kiss him. And when he kisses you back, hold him some more,” Joon Myun smiled.

“And then the flowers.” Wu Fan glared.

“And the card,” Joon Myun chirped.

“And for god’s sake.” Wu Fan rubbed his temples. “Do not fuck this up, Luhan. Please.”

Luhan shook his head. “I won’t,” he promised. “I’m getting laid tonight, and tomorrow morning, I’m getting laid again. This won’t go wrong.”

“It better not,” Wu Fan added. “Or else.”

“Or else,” Joon Myun agreed.

And then they kicked him out.

~*~

When Min Seok opened the door, two angry faces stared back at him and his brother.

Why the fuck didn’t you pick up your phone?” Zi Tao screamed so loud, Min Seok jumped. Jong Dae’s eyes narrowed.

“Keep your voi-”

“Shut the fuck up!” Tao cut Jong Dae off instantly. “Shut the fuck up, and stay the fuck out!” He turned to Min Seok, teeth gritted and seething.

“Why didn’t you pick up?” Mi Lee asked coldly. Min Seok blinked.

“I-I was talking to-”

“You only had to pick up once,” she said. He saw her expression break and her tears water. “Just once. We’ve been calling you for hours now.”

Min Seok grasped for strings, but found none.

He then turned to Tao. Tao who was seething and purple and angry. Mi Lee turned away from him and sat down on the couch, burying her head in her hands.

Tao neared Min Seok. Jong Dae went to step in between. Min Seok held him back as Tao met him face to face.

He went into the inside of his frock coat and produced a white envelope. “Do you know what this is?” He asked.

Min Seok blinked and rubbed his eyes before peering at the opened slip. It was pure white- not the office stationary white, but a pure and a gentle white. An off-white.

“Wha-”

“It’s a resignation letter,” Zi Tao snapped, and shoved the envelope towards Min Seok’s chest. He stumbled back and hit Jong Dae in the process. Min Seok knew. Tao’s volume dropped, though the anger in his voice still permeated the air.

“Zhang Yixing handed it in with his final report.”

~*~

The oiled hinges prevented any creaking noises as Luhan carefully opened the door. The hall was dimmed. He took off his shoes and fixed his collar before closing the door behind him and moving forward.

It smelled like warm vanilla. Luhan blinked and smiled warily. That was his favorite smell. As he came into the den, he saw that one of the artificial air freshners plugged into the wall was systematically blowing puffs of incense every ten minutes. Luhan chuckled.

But the den was empty. He pouted, but then chuckled again. The bedroom was a good place to start off. He brought the flowers and card closer to his chest and he tip toed towards their shared bedroom.

When he opened the door, he looked puzzlingly at the state of their bed. He didn’t remember setting it, for one, in the morning. And Yixing’s plushy wasn’t on the cover. Knowing Yixing, he usually left the crumpled mess to itself and moved on with his business.

But the bed was clean and proper, and the plushy was gone. Along with that, the room seemed bare.

Luhan put the flowers and the card on the table next to him. When he looked to the side, he realized the table also looked a little lost.

“Yixing?” He called carefully. No answer. He trudged over to the bathroom and swung the door open. It was empty.

“Did he go outside…” He scratched his head. No. The past few days of their little war did not change their routines. Yixing was still home before nine. He was still attempting to make food that wouldn’t burn. They didn’t talk and didn’t have sex, sure, but everything else went the way it usually did.

His phone rang, and he ignored it. He looked around their bedroom and spotted the vanity table. It was missing Yixing’s colognes and tubes of chapstick. He looked some more and found the twin chests on the sides of their bed, pressed snugly against the headboard. His papers and envelopes were gone too.

His nostrils flared and he finally went to their walk-in closet. He almost tore the two doors off its hinges as he stared at the clothes inside.

All of it was his. Yixing’s pressed and ironed suits in their plastic bags were gone. So were his assortment of shoes, sandals, and umbrella.

He closed the doors and walked over to the chests. He opened cabinets and found files with the name of his cafe printed nicely on it, but none of Yixing’s random files. He opened the underwear drawer, and the sock drawer, and the drawer with the wristbands and necklaces and other random accessories they almost always wore. His share was present. Yixing’s was not.

Luhan’s phone rang and he ignored it.

He walked numbly out of his bedroom and into the den. The vanilla smelled bitter now. He walked to the kitchen and looked for a sign.

And then he saw it.

He sat down in front of a pure white envelope with Luhan written in fine script. Yixing’s script. Yixing’s flawless, determined script.

He shakily opened the envelope and produced a handwritten letter. Before he read it, he let his fingers ghost over the ridges created by the writing. He tried to sense some moisture- to see that the ink wasn’t dry yet and that it wasn’t too late. But it was.

He wiped away quivering tears and began to read.

~*~

“I do care,” he recited, word-for-word. “I’ve always cared. It’s just that I get a little overwhelmed sometimes and pretend I don’t. Sure, I think I don’t, but in the end, I do. I care a lot.” The sky darkened and the words that rolled off his tongue were the ones scripted neatly on the paper.

“I was always the selfish one growing up,” he admitted. “But I was cute, so they let it pass. Soon, the older I grew, the more they indulged me. The best food, the best toys, the best gifts. Always the best. Just for me. But I still felt lonely. They couldn’t give me a sibling, so I made them up. Toy soldiers, toy cars, toy cooking pans. They were my friends- my enemies. I was too smart, so I didn’t make friends. So smart that even the bullies stopped caring. And I was strong. I could fight, but I was diseased so no one would challenge me. Especially not the older boys, because they knew that one scratch could put me on life support, and then their parents would be blamed for it and punished. I was selfish and I was sick, so I wanted more. So I got more.”

He fiddled with his shoulder strap. “I asked them to send me to a foreign country so I could expose myself to better things. They agreed. I passed an exam and scored a scholarship in South Korea, and there I craved for even more. I wanted to make friends- friends that didn’t judge my intelligence or my disease. And it was hard because they moved so much faster there, so no one really paid attention to me. But then he came along.”

He let out a dry chuckle and sighed. “He blew me off at first. Most people did, so I forgot about it and moved on. But then he came back and apologized. Not many people did that to me, so I was shocked. And then he asked to be my friend and I said yes. I wanted attention. I wanted companionship. And the fat, little senior was willing to offer it, so I took it. And we became friends.”

“As the years passed, I stopped clawing for others, and started clinging to him. Because yes, I was a lonely boy, and I probably will be for a very long time. And I saw that he was lonely too, so I thought, we don’t have to be lonely anymore. I told him, let’s be together so no one has to tell us we’re lonely people. And he agreed, and for fourteen years, that’s how it stayed.”

The terminal bell ringed. Only ten minutes remained.

“I knew I did a grave wrong when I hindered him from speaking to Jong Dae. I mean, I was selfish, but that was low. I admit it. But I truly believed at the time that I deserved to be happy, and that he deserved to be happy, and that we deserved to be happy together. We would be brothers because I never had one and the one he had hated him. So we would fill each other’s emptiness and everything would be OK. And that’s what I believed. And for a long time, that’s what he believed- I think.”

“But I wanted to tell you that out of all of us- you were the one who was right, Luhan. I ruined Jong Dae’s life because I only cared about how I’d reap the benefits. He did want to go back. He did go back, eventually, but a fight happened, and I decided Jong Dae didn’t deserve him. I, someone who has no relation to this man, decided his own brother didn’t deserve him. So I pulled him away. And I kept pulling until he realized I was all that he had left- because my thirst for someone to depend on me was so strong. Because I just didn’t want to be lonely anymore.”

“And then, I met you. I found someone who wanted to take care of me. Someone who wanted to tell me that I was beautiful and adorable and flighty and all the other fruity adjectives. It felt nice to be accepted. It felt nice to be loved and cherished. I didn’t even have to steal you from anyone to get that kind of treatment, so thank you. Thank you for your kindness.”

“But you’re right- I am pathetic. I climbed too high, so I fell too hard. But I get it now. I don’t belong in places that I’ve weaseled myself into, so I don’t have any obligation to stay. I owe everyone an apology. Especially Min Seok. No. More so, Jong Dae. He deserves the truth. I should tell him the truth. Tell him that I’m sorry for what I’ve done to ruin his life. And the best way that can go is if he gets Min Seok to himself. Now they can catch up, and I can repent for fourteen years worth of sin.”

The bell ringed and the intercom called for the passengers to line up for boarding.

“I love you, Kun Luhan. And I love Kim Min Seok. And Mi Lee. And the others. But you- you showed me what I’ve been hiding from all my life. You don’t deserve damaged goods. I wish you the best of luck, and tell the others to take care. I didn’t mean to anger you or cost you. I was being selfish, and forgot that there were others who mattered more. So thank you. I love you.”

Last call for flight 497.

Zhang Yixing poked his plushy in the nose before tucking it underneath his arms and wheeling his luggage behind him. He felt sad but accomplished. He was dressed in snug jeans, a white shirt with a checkered black and red shirt above it. He had on worn tennis shoes, and a simple watch. The plushy underneath his arm was worn as well, but he hugged it close nonetheless.

He felt like a child. He thought he looked like one too. But maybe he didn’t. It didn’t matter now. He was going back home.

Zhang Yixing boarded the flight just like the rest of the passengers. The rain had stopped, so the night sky was clear. Except no one cried in their cabins, but Yixing did. Yet no one saw, and even if they did, they did not care. And Yixing was fine with that.

He stared out the window as the wheels began to move and take him away from all those he knew in his heart he’d never forget.

~*~

“It’s all my fault.”

Luhan scoffed. “If both our faults.”

“Rip up the letter.”

Luhan waved his hands dismissively. “I already burned it on the stove. I’m going to pretend I never got it and demand an explanation as to why he left me when we find him.”

“Do you remember every word?”

“Of course.”

“So do I,” Min Seok said solemnly. “So do I.”