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Half Crazy Crumpets

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“Why is Min Seok crying?” Wu Fan didn’t need to look over shoulders unlike the others. He just opted on staring at the man currently bawling into his arms.

“Maybe he’s finally come to realize da menz is where it’s at,” Luhan perked up, clapping his hands together in victory.

“You loser, he’d be dead then.” Luhan and Joon Myun rose their respective eyebrows. Wu Fan stared intently at the figure wiping snot off his face with the sleeve of his shirt. “I mean, if he had switched sexualities, he’d be in the hospital right now. Mi Lee would have beaten him in front of her kids.”

Luhan gasped. “She wouldn’t.”

Wu Fan nodded his head. “She would. She definitely would.”

“Tao-Tao’s rubbing off on her.” Luhan poured himself another glass of water as he watched Min Seok blather pathetically into his arms.

 “He definitely is,” the tallest of the three agreed.

“Shouldn’t we ask him?” Joon Myun asked, scratching his head. “He looks sad.”

“Captain Obvious is right,” Luhan declared. “Plus, folks shouldn’t be crying in my cafe. They should be purchasing my overpriced drinks and staring at my fabulously shaped bum.”

“The things Yixing-shi would do to you if he heard that,” Joon Myun tsk’ed.

“Leaving you would be the first thing,” Wu Fan whistled, and ducked out of the way in time from a random fist that came barreling for his head.

Once the three men had reached their fourth friend, he was well on his way to drowning in his own salty tears. It became so disconcerting to watch that Joon Myun couldn’t help but rub Min Seok’s back and tell him that he still had faith in him regardless of whatever sexual identity crisis he was currently going through.

“It’s alright, man,” Luhan assured. “It’s OK to be gay. Perfectly fine. In fact, it’s a pretty awes-”

“-what he means to say,” Wu Fan growled, punching the doe-eyed cafe owner roughly in the arm, “is that we’re here for you. I’ll talk to Mi Lee. She’ll forgive you and might actually leave you at least a quarter of your assets before running off with the other three. I’m just sayi-”

“-this is why none of you will ever have nice things. Ever.”

All the men except that wailing lawyer snapped their heads towards the new voice.

“Mi Lee-shi!” Joon Myun gasped.

“You’re not here to kill him, are you?” Luhan asked. “Because I can’t allow that. I love ya, gull, but you can’t have our Baozi.”

Wu Fan gave her a pout. “We’re good friends, Mi Lee. For the sake of our bro-ship, let him go.”

At that point, the woman shook her head in disgust and faintly glimpsed at the man who seemed to be drawn only to his tears and nothing else. But then the discontent faded and turned into melancholy, so she sat down in the empty chair in front of the lawyer and caressed his hair as he sobbed into the crook of his arms. Soon, tears began to pool into her eyes.

“… OK. This is not what I was expecting from an aftermath regarding sexual awakening.”

“Talk to me, Min,” she soothed, but the lawyer didn’t seem to hear her.

Wu Fan was at a loss for words. “Seriously,” he griped. “It can’t be that bad finding out that you’re ga-”

“He’s not gay, Wu Fan,” she interrupted.

Luhan narrowed his eyes while Wu Fan promptly shut his mouth while attempting to flee the scene, only to be held back by a tutting Joon Myun.

“Well shit,” the hipster-frames wearing man drawled. “Then why is he dehydrating himself?”

“Did something happen at work?” Joon Myun asked. “Mr. Huang didn’t look so angry this morning.”

“He was passionate this morning,” Wu Fan deadpanned. Luhan threw him a nasty look. 

Min Seok’s wails became quieter, but he seemed to bury his head deeper into his arms, refusing to pick himself up.

“Min,” Mi Lee enunciated firmly. “You need to talk to me. You can’t keep cr-”

“What the actual fuck happened?” Luhan demanded, and the other two furiously nodded to his question.

“It’s…” Mi Lee bit her lip, but kept her fingers buried in Min Seok’s hair, massaging his scalp while attempting to coax him into rising his head.

“It can’t be this bad,” Wu Fan griped. “Seriously, what the hell can possibly break him this bad?”

“Jong Dae’s leaving.”

All but Min Seok stiffened.

“… what?” Luhan blinked. “What?”

“His father called last night. Told Jong Dae that he missed him. Jong Dae booked a ticket online while telling Min about it on the phone. He’s been crying since last night.”

Wu Fan rubbed his temples. “… you can’t be serious.”

Mi Lee gave him a blank look, her hands still caressing Min Seok’s hair. “It’s been over a month.” She sighed and let her eyes drift to her husband. “I mean… we knew he’d be leaving, but this abruptly? I certainly don’t like it, but circumstances like these can’t be avoided.”

“Well, then tell him to stay,” Luhan demanded.

“You can’t just tell a guy to stay in a foreign country when his dad’s asking him how he’s doing,” Wu Fan sighed. “I guess it was bound to happen.” He looked at the people who surrounded him. “Let it be known that I never truly hated the guy; he just rubbed me the wrong way. But I guess he ended up being a good brother regardless of my feelings.”

“He has broken Baozi,” Luhan said. “I won’t forgive him.” He shook his head vehemently. “My foot will meet his crotch in due time.”

Mi Lee smiled warily. “He’s a good guy,” she agreed. “But I guess we’ll see him over the vacation in a few months. And there’s always Skype, and the phone, and so many other things to go by until then.”

“He and Yixing are civil now,” Luhan added. “It’s… nice to see.”

“And he really is a good person,” Wu Fan finished. “I hope he finds a nice gi-”

The loud thud next to Wu Fan even startled Min Seok out of his reverie, causing him to frantically dart his head about. The other three croaked while Mi Lee’s hands flew out of Min Seok’s hair and slapped down on the table as she rose to look at their fallen comrade. Luhan started praying.

“Oh my god,” Wu Fan gasped. “Shit, I didn’t think, oh my god.”

Kim Joon Myun had passed out cold.

***

Amidst the howling and jeering, a man with ruffled, light brown locks and a sleepy smile approached the lone man sitting at the end of the counter.

Hello.” He spoke softly as he usually did, with just the tiniest lull to add to the silent melody. He smiled.

Astonished eyes turned his way, and something began to beat rapidly within the man who’d listened to his employer and approached the man in the leather jacket and block colored jeans and shirt.

Hi,” he replied amiably with a kind smile.

Can I have your number?” The awestruck man blurted, unable to cap his mouth in time.

The stranger stared at him for a few seconds with a confused look before breaking out into another smile. He breathed heavily and took a light sip of his water before turning towards the man who stood stiffly next to him.

I’m afraid I can’t,” he replied carefully.

The man with the perpetual smile cocked his head to the side in genuine confusion. “Why not?”

I don’t see what you’d be able to get out of it,” the man at the counter said honestly.

A date,” the flighty man replied truthfully.

And the man who sat alone for so long smiled sadly. “I guessed. But I’m afraid I can’t help you with that.”

Huh?” Now the man with the perpetual smile was utterly confused. Why wouldn’t the handsome stranger with the pretty lips and the warm grin want to date him? He couldn’t be that ugly, could he?

It’s not what you think,” the stranger said, as if picking up on his thoughts. “I just don’t… you wouldn’t want to date me.” He finished lamely. But I would, the man with the everlasting smile pondered sadly. Sensing his confusion once more, the stranger pursed his lips and looked at his glass of water before turning back to the man with the weariest smile. “I’m straight. You wouldn’t want to date me because I wouldn’t be able to appreciate you.” He laughed hesitantly. “Guess that makes me a douche for saying that out loud? I’m sorry if I’ve off-”

No,” the man replied. “I’m not mad. Thank you for being honest.”

The stranger nodded hesitantly. “Thanks.”

And he turned away and back to his group, the beating within his chest picking up speed while something else broke. He didn’t turn back to look at the stranger’s expression towards his abrupt leave.

He’s straight, he thought. But I tried, he thought.

That should have been the end. That could have been the end had the man with the perpetual smile accepted fate like he always did.

But for the first time in his life- he didn’t.

***

Kim Joon Myun had learned to take things with a cautious gaze and a lingering smile ever since the night his father clasped a hand over his mouth and told him to stay in the cupboard until he was told to come out. He had learned to take things as they came and make the best of them no matter how detrimental they were to his well-being. As long as his smile remained and the walls guarding his fragility prospered, he was in his safezone.

Kim Joon Myun liked his safezone. It had taken a better part of twenty years for him to build and maintain them. They were his shield and sword. As long as the grin and the flightiness remained, nothing could touch him. Fate would always win, but he wouldn’t let it trample him like it did before. He was wary now, conscious of his predicament. As long as he was aware of the circumstances, the ending would be inevitable, but at least then he’d be ready. He’d always be ready. Always.

He’d failed in preparing the first time. His first failure had led to dire consequences, so Kim Joon Myun found it imperative that he always be prepared. For anything. A fire extinguisher in his quaint apartment, a savings account he never even dreamed about withdrawing from, best friends who more often than not liked to dote on him. These things were important. These things needed to be present in Joon Myun’s life in order for him to be well equipped against the horrors that lied ahead. And like before, he wouldn’t fall short this time. No matter how hard life tried, it wouldn’t trample over him like it did before.

If a small blaze puckered up, he’s blow it out with an extinguisher. If he lost his job, he’d delve into his savings until he found another and filled it to its brim again. If he felt sad, he’s tell Kyu Hyun he was a little under the weather, and they’d go for ice cream while the prince of Cho Industries babbled about his latest high score while Joon Myun felt the weariness in his bones fade away. Or he’d join Wu Fan in one of his rants regarding a particular drama, and he’d watch him rage until he tired himself out and they finished the night by falling asleep on the couch, feet in each other’s faces with limbs strewn carelessly about. The little things always mattered in the end. Kim Joon Myun would always be prepared.

He hadn’t been when the home invaders held his father down and beat him to his death while he peered out from the slit in the cupboard. He hadn’t been when he decided his nine year old fists were sufficient enough to take down the bad man that was making his mommy cry and his father garble nonsense and spit blood through his nose and mouth. He hadn’t been when he decided that his father’s words were useless because he was his own man now and old enough to make his own decisions. As a nine year old, he thought he had the right to barge out of the cupboard and go flailing towards the men who tore the ring from his mother’s finger and knocked her out cold against the counter. He thought he had the right to kick and scream and preserve whatever was left of the bloodied kitchen floor and his parents, he’d thought, expression angry and thought process out of his mind. He’d thought.

He’d thought wrong.

Of course, life taught him his lessons almost immediately. A few broken ribs, a bruised face, and a bullet hole in his torso were enough to staunchly encourage him to take heed of his words, his thoughts, his actions. The six years he spent in a government care facility before Kyu Hyun’s parents took him in were enough to enforce those lessons. The physical therapy, the countless warnings that things weren’t his fault (even though he knew fully well they were), the reassuring words that said that things would get better- Kim Joon Myun knew the last would be true if he disciplined himself. And so he did.

He wasn’t crazy, by any means. Only halfway, by the time they let him out, he’d admit. He’d still admit it, because he knew he was still wonky in the head. He always would be. The remnants of his psychosis didn’t just teach him a thing or two about the way things worked in the world- they reminded him of his weaknesses and his refusal to take heed of fate’s signs and ultimate answers. Like how he wasn’t the center of the universe, and how he wasn’t the hero in the story, and how he was the reason why his father and mother had died crying.

He wasn’t crazy, by any means, just half crazy. There was a difference, he’d argue, between the half crazies and the full maniacs. Kim Joon Myun had learned to moderate himself because of it. Life had said so, he’d also argue, and he wouldn’t let it destroy him like it did before. He wouldn’t leave with a gaping wound, numb legs, and swollen eyes this time around. And so he’d paid attention to the signs and ran when he had to, refused when he was supposed to, accepted when he was meant to. Because that was life, and it would always win, but Kim Joon Myun wouldn’t let it run him down and leave him to die like it did before.

Not this time around. After all, not too many nine year old were given second chances when at death’s wonderfully bleak doorstep. Kim Joon Myun guessed most would probably pass away just weeping from the physical pain itself, but he prided himself in being one of the few who’d taken the other way out. He’d kept quiet and learned to smile that fake smile- that perpetual fake smile that kept unwanted beings at bay and his mind sharp. He’d learned the hard way, but he learned. He learned, so he continued to smile.

So many lessons, and just twenty years to account for their understanding and application. Kim Joon Myun was rather proud of himself. People, he noticed with his everlasting smile, didn’t learn from their mistakes because they were just too not insane. They were paranoid, not cautious. They were judgmental, not calculative. They counted by the number of eggs, not by the number of hen able to produce viable offspring. They saw what they saw and thought ahead and went ahead and did their business while he saw, calculated, stepped back, and let the parade march by before slipping into the final ranks.

Because the people he’d encountered didn’t accept like they were meant to, so they were trampled and crushed and some killed themselves while others drowned in misery. Kim Joon Myun merely accepted because he’d seen it coming, like they all had. Shame that, unlike him, they refused to take it as it came.

And that’s how Kim Joon Myun wanted to remain. The mirror in the morning reminded him of why. He always made a note to fleet his fingers over the scar that looked like someone had extinguished a cigar on his lower chest. Kim Joon Myun wanted to remain as he was because everyday he’d see Kyu Hyun once and his face would remind him of all the other people in the world who pitied him because of his flightiness and half-insanity. And then so many other things. So, so many other things.

But in short, that was Kim Joon Myun’s way of life. One needed to have certain things on hold for when things became heavy. When situations went awry, there had to be back up. Money, friends, a job. Had Kim Joon Myun known these things at his nine year old stage, he could have listened and learned silently instead of suffering the wounds and mental damage to go with it. And had he listened, he may have just gone off with three years of mental care and been shipped off to his parents’ close friends’ house even earlier, and Kyu Hyun would end up doting on him even more.

But instead, he hadn’t, so he paid the price. But that was OK, because it was better late than never. And Kim Joon Myun had learned in the end that life would always win and that the individual could not. He learned that you had to listen and understand the signs and prepare so when fate came around to reap the riches, you could just float on by without being noticed. Kim Joon Myun had learned, and so he accepted. He’d accepted, and for twenty years, that was enough.

That was enough, but it wasn’t anymore. Because when the man had told him that he’d never be able to appreciate him like the way Joon Myun wanted him to, Joon Myun should have understood like he always did. He should have accepted.

He could have accepted, had the man not sparked the flame that sent his heart beating again. He could have, had the man not sent him into a frenzy and reminded him that he wasn’t half-mad like people thought he was, because he wasn’t.

Kim Joon Myun was insane. Completely, utterly, insane.

***

“I know you’re awake. As interesting as your back is, I think I’ve had enough for one night. Mind turning around now?”

Joon Myun blinked, his eyes fixed on the open window that let a gentle breeze trickle into his room. It was warm outside and the fan was only on low speed, but it felt cold. Joon Myun felt cold.

“You know I hate being ignored,” Wu Fan grumbled behind him. “If you were Tao, I’d punch you, but since you’re Joon Myun, I’ll just settle for this.”

Joon Myun felt a heavy hand clasp his shoulder and forcibly turn his body towards the older man. He noticed that the grimace on Wu Fan’s face was gone, and was instead replaced with a hesitant smile. Joon Myun blinked.

“Wanna talk about it?”

Of course, Joon Myun wanted to say. Of course I want to talk about it, he wanted to shout. I love a straight man, he wanted to cry. I love a man that won’t love me back, he wanted to screech.

“No,” Joon Myun answered blankly. “I’m fine, just tired. I’d like to sleep.”

Wu Fan gave him a skeptical look, but nodded. “Yeah, you need sleep. Lots of sleep. I had Kyu Hyun give you a lookover before he went back to work. He’ll be back tomorrow morning though. Expect burnt eggs and a small housefire.” He laughed at his own joke while the smile that was the bane of Joon Myun’s existence crept back into his features.

“Of course,” he said lightly. “Thank you for your help. I’ll be sleeping now.” Before he could see Wu Fan’s expression change, he turned away quickly and curled up against the sheets.

Joon Myun heard heavy footsteps shuffle about and the squeak of a chair being pulled away before the lights went off. He sighed. It was a long sigh. Joon Myun didn’t know when he’d last sighed this heavily.

He didn’t expect the arm that curled around his waist after a few minutes of silent contemplation. Joon Myun blinked.

“Didn’t say I was leaving,” Wu Fan murmured and let out a yawn afterwards. “Tao was a bitch, but Luhan put a cap on him.” Joon Myun felt something inside him break. “We’ll talk tomorrow,” he murmured. “Now, sleep.”

And he dozed off against Joon Myun’s back. Joon Myun’s eyes stayed fixed on the open window that let the gentle breeze moved his curtains softly.

He didn’t sleep.

***

He knew he was wrong the second he decided he couldn’t accept it.

Scratch that- he could definitely accept it, he just chose not to. He chose to take the high road after twenty years of playing it safe. There were no more signals or signs- there was blatancy involved. Joon Myun had known from the very beginning that the man was unattainable. He was unattainable because he was straight, because he had better things to worry about, because he was just about the most humane person Joon Myun had ever met.

He was brash, the way Joon Myun was not. He was kind, but his kindness wasn’t conveyed the way Joon Myun conveyed it. He was complete, now that he had his brother back, while Joon Myun was broken and would remain so for the rest of his life.

But he couldn’t accept it. Fate had told him to let it go, and he should have because that was the logical answer. He should have. He could have.

But he didn’t.

He’d hurt Zhang Yixing and made Kim Min Seok cry. He’d angered Wu Fan and almost cost Luhan his business. He had unintentionally, almost ruined lives when he prompted Luhan to push the dimple-cheeked man away, and almost made it worse when he’d demanded they let Yixing think it over. He was a terrible person. A terrible, uncouth human being. He was Min Seok’s opposite. He could never be their friend. He didn’t deserve it. He almost ruined their hard-earned lives, so that automatically made him the devil in their eyes.

At least, Joon Myun thought it did. But then he soon came to realize that it didn’t.

Joon Myun didn’t know when he’d actually fallen in love. Was it when the man had offered to drive him home one evening after a rather long night at the cafe? It had been a tiresome debate regarding whether or not Kim Min Seok was returning to his coffee hovel. Wu Fan had threatened to knock teeth out and break limbs, and would have had their boss not made a surprise appearance and dragged the hulking male out before he pounced on the younger Kim brother.

Or was it that time when they sat in silence and sipped their water as the latter received silent treatment from the cafe owner? The puffy cheeked lawyer had tried his best that day to convince him that his brother was not the devil incarnate and that everyone deserved a second chance. That had been a long day as well, and Joon Myun had spent the majority of the time marveling the well defined jaw, and the sharp eyes, and the sad frown that touched his lips every time his older brother plead for mercy against the relentless cafe owner who wouldn’t budge for the longest.

Or, perhaps it was the night when he caught the man silently crying outside after a verbal disagreement with the lawyer?

Joon Myun always had the most awkward timing, and that led him to the most fascinating of discoveries that made him understand the inevitable loss of humanity against its biggest enemy- fate. It wasn’t their fault, really. They just weren’t trained in life like Joon Myun was. He should have remembered that and gone home, because the younger Kim was just another victim caught in fate’s web. Joon Myun should have just pitied the man like people pitied him. That should have been the end of it.

Yet that night on the street, all Joon Myun saw was a person so broken that he thought he himself was complete for the slightest second. And this man could smile so well, Joon Myun noted. He could smile so well, and it was so broken a smile, and so sad that Joon Myun remembered that this smile was also his own smile. And whilst crying, he smiled, and while he cried, he cried his heart out without a peep, so those who walked by simply assumed he was crying because he’d stubbed a toe far too harshly. They didn’t think that something had just been crushed inside, but Joon Myun had disciplined himself in this for twenty years, so he knew. He knew as soon as he saw and that’s when it happened, he thought.

And that’s when Joon Myun realized that he wouldn’t accept it. He just wouldn’t. And when he went home that night and fell asleep, he dreamed of days where he would bring a real smile upon Kim Jong Dae’s sad lips. He dreamed of days where he’d kiss away the tears that he’d shed and bring droplets of joy to his eyes. He dreamed. He dreamed of things he hadn’t thought about twenty years, things that his defense mechanisms refused to let through his walls. He dreamed. He dreamed of love.

***

“So you’ve stopped. Finally. Thought we were about to lose you to a clinic with an IV attached to your arm.” Tao tapped his foot impatiently.

Min Seok huffed. “You have no idea. I didn’t think I’d cry this much after thinking I’d drained my reserves after Yixing disappeared.”

“You have, like, infinite reserves,” Luhan deadpanned.

“And you cry over everything,” Yixing puckered. Min Seok gave him a dirty look while the dimple-cheeked man went away sipping his drink.

“I’ll admit, I’ll miss him,” Luhan drawled. “He was a douche, but he was an interesting douche.”

“He punched me,” Yixing said, “but at least he apologized.”

“I still don’t fucking understand how Joon Myun of all people decided to fall for him. All Tao did was tell him to go get his phone number.” Luhan clucked his tongue. “Well, it’ll all be in the past, eventually. As soon as he goes away, I’m setting Operation KyuMyun in motion, whether or not Wu Fan approves.”

“You do everything without Wu Fan’s approval,” Mi Lee jibed. “Say, is he still with him right now?”

“Since last night,” Tao replied.

“It’ll blow away,” Luhan assured. “Puppy love. It happens. He’ll get ov-”

“He won’t,” Min Seok cut in.

No one noticed Tao’s sudden stiffening. Luhan rose an eyebrow in interest as Yixing continued to sip his drink.

“He could,” Mi Lee tried.

“He won’t,” Min Seok countered. “He’s fallen too deep. He should have stopped himself when he had the chance.”

“You can’t stop the heart,” Tao said, his tone deathly solemn. The others turned their eyes towards him, curiosity and astonishment lurking in their eyes. Something raw began to hang over his head, and the only two people familiar with it were Yixing and Min Seok. But Min Seok knew what lay behind the words while Yixing did not.

“Things are different,” Min Seok insisted. “This is true love. This is bad.”

“Why does it have to be bad? “ He replied calmly, sending Min Seok back a step. But Huang Zi Tao didn’t seem to notice. “And who said that the past wasn’t also true love? Should it be undermined just because the initial stages were shortlived?”

“It doesn’t have to be undermined,” Min Seok snapped. “This is different.”

“Only in the sense that Joon Myun tried.” Zi Tao smirked, but it was the kind of smirk they’d seen at trials when Zi Tao worked to crush those who threatened him. It invoked fear, and it did it’s job so well that Luhan had gone strangely quiet along with the others.

“And look where it’s led him,” Min Seok pointed out. “Would you have preferred this instead of the original outcome?”

“Perhaps,” Tao said. “Perhaps I would have. At least then I would have been honest with myself.”

Mi Lee grabbed Min Seok’s arm before he could open his mouth.

Zi Tao smirked again. “I could have done what he did. And perhaps I’d have won. Perhaps things would be just a tad bit more ruthless had I tried and failed. Would you have liked me then?”

What the fuck.” Luhan gagged.

Yixing cleared his throat. “I don’t know what happened and I don’t want to know how it happened or what it even is.” He turned towards Mi Lee. “Do you want to know?” She shook her head. He nodded. “Then it’s settled. We find a way to rectify this Joon Myun problem before Jong Dae’s flight. Contrary to popular belief, I like him very much. He’s a quaint soul. There’s no need for him to cry over something that could never be obtained in the first place.”

“Yet you stole his brother and ran off when times got rough,” Zi Tao said casually, examining his perfectly manicured nails.

“Shut up, Tao,” Luhan growled. “You need to get laid. Get the fuck out and go get laid. Come back when you’re done being a dick.”

Tao ignored them both. “Anything can be achieved. If Joon Myun tried, he could win out in the end too. I could have.” He peered into Min Seok who glared silently from behind his wife. “I would have won,” he finished.

“You wouldn’t have,” Min Seok replied. “Because you aim too high, and would have fallen just as fast. You seek possession, not compromise.”

“I sought love,” he spat, eyes ablaze and suddenly, just like that, the snide commentary had transformed into raw hatred. “I sought love, and received nothing but contempt. I tried love again, and won the second time around because I endured.”

“Everyone endures,” Min Seok said solemnly. “It’s a given if you want to live long. And Joon Myun has to endure if he wants to survive. But moreover, he has to let go. Like you did.”

Tao grit his teeth as the others breathed heavily. Mi Lee moved out of Min Seok’s path and pulled Yixing up and towards the exit. Luhan got the hint and drifted off towards the counter, leaving just Tao and Min Seok.

“No.”

Min Seok lost it. “What do you mean no? What do you plan to do? Slip Jong Dae pills that will magically turn him gay?”

He shook his head, a cruel smile playing on his lips. “I intend to help Joon Myun win, like I could have. He doesn’t have to suffer.”

Min Seok shook his head. “He doesn’t have to. We’re his friends. We can help him through this. We can get him he-”

“He doesn’t need help!” Tao snapped. “He needs love, and he loves your brother. So you either agree to help, or back off.”

“And let you hurt him even more?” Min Seok let out a dry laugh. “Joon Myun’s not one of of your toys Mr. Huang. You can’t fiddle with his emotions and expect to receive the proper response. He’s a human being.”

“Because to you, I’m nothing but a monster,” Zi Tao laughed. He laughed long and hard, earning queer looks from the customers around him. But Min Seok only glared. And Tao laughed. “I’m a monster,” he concluded. “Always have, always will be. In your eyes, of course. But I guess I can deal with it. Just know that I’ll have Joon Myun succeed. What he feels is true and utter love. Your brother doesn’t need to screw him to know that. He can listen and he can understand- something you were never capable of.”

Min Seok froze and Zi Tao smirked. “It’s sad,” he chuckled. “Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone looking for you,” he mused, stabbing it where it hurt. “Perhaps you were better off living in your fantasies than accepting the truth, because that’s what Jong Dae did, didn’t he? Accept that he was a horrible human being to you and attempt to fix it? And what did you do when Yixing broke? Cry it off until you had one of your epiphanies?”

Min Seok looked into blankness. Tao smirked, edging closer until his lips were near Min Seok’s ear.

“At least he ceased being a coward, your brother. And so did Joon Myun. So there’s a chance, because it’s true love and I was lucky enough to experience it twice in one lifetime whereas most people don’t even get the chance to see it once. And I’m not taking that chance with Joon Myun because he deserves better- he deserves Jong Dae. I deserved better than you, and so Wu Fan walked in. See the pattern?”

They brushed shoulders and Tao disappeared with the growing crowd and out the exit.

And Min Seok stared into blankness.

***

Kim Joon Myun realized that he had fallen in love, and so he’d woken up the next day thinking Kim Jong Dae was beautiful.

It was bad, he’d known. Not bad that he thought Kim Jong Dae was exceptionally handsome, not at all, but the fact that he assumed that he deserved to have someone that wonderful by his side. That was his mistake, but it was a mistake he was aware of. He decided it couldn’t end that badly. He wouldn’t let it.

So he began planning.

His first course of action was to keep the battle plan all to himself. The second rule was to do everything as planned. There would be no slip ups. There would be no room for fate to stick its grubby nose into and ruin things. It wouldn’t win this time, he decided, going against every known principle he’d accepted the past twenty years. He wouldn’t let fate get the best of him, so he’d go about it as meticulously as possible.

It started off with the little things. Instead of slipping in random comments during crucial moments of conversation, he opted to stare at the man with the sharp jaws and sharper eyes. Instead of sipping his water and batting eyelashes kindly at whomever noticed, he kept his gaze on the man who observed all those around him. Little things, Joon Myun noted. He noticed all the little things about the man by taking part in the little things set in motion. By gazing he’d learned that Kim Jong Dae wasn’t as much of a coffee fan as he let on, but for the sake of his brother and his brother’s friends, he endured a hot cup whenever he came in. Otherwise, he was content with a cup of hot chocolate masquerading as a cup of tea.

Joon Myun noted that his eyes crinkled whenever he smiled, because it was the little things that mattered, so another little thing Joon Myun took part in was to make the man smile at his jokes. His terrible jokes, of course, but in the process, Joon Myun also learned that Kim Jong Dae didn’t judge unless he found absolute need to. So when Joon Myun said something that would usually earn open mouths and risen eyebrows, Kim Jong Dae merely smiled and told him that he hadn’t heard of that one before when he probably did.

Little things. Joon Myun liked that he started off with the little things.

Then he began to get adventurous. Of course he had been mentally jotting everything down, and knew he couldn’t go on to more dangerous territory till the obligatory month of childish flirting had passed, but Joon Myun caved on the second week. His meticulous planning took the highway to oblivion.

And so on the second week, he slipped on the marble floor that specifically stated, by use of a little cone and sign, that the floor was wet. But Joon Myun, being the utterly insane fellow that he was, purposefully made the trip.

Kim Jong Dae hadn’t caught him. He guessed he wouldn’t, and Joon Myun pouted as he rubbed his sore bum. As he clambered to get up, he saw a hand reach out. He looked up and blinked.

Kim Jong Dae smiled sweetly down on him, and without another word, he took his hand.

***

“Where the hell did everyone go?”

Joon Myun peered from behind Wu Fan to find a cafe devoid of all his favorite people. He spied only the baristas behind the counter.

“Are you sure it’s coffee break?” He asked, rubbing his sore eyes.

Wu Fan nodded. “Yeah.” He waved one of the waiters over. “Where is everyone?”

“Mr. Kun said he had to go handle something, and the others left before him.” And with that, the waiter drifted back to his tables with the tray full of glasses.

“… how do they just leave without it being post-coffee break?” Wu Fan breathed, utterly baffled at the state of events.

Joon Myun scratched his head and sighed listlessly. “I’ll just go home then. You should too.”

Wu Fan shook his head. “Screw them,” he huffed. “We’ll fix this ourselves.”

Wu Fan grabbed his wrist and ushered him out of the cafe without another word.

***

“Hey, hyung? I know it’s a bit too early for sappy messages, but I wanted to send this to you anyway. I… I lied. I’m not going home because dad called me. We were texting the other day and he told me not to come back until I had enough photos to fill up twenty albums. Judging by the amount of candid shots alone, I think we’ll be able to fill at least half of one. Dad will probably be disappointed, but I have ways to cheer him up. There’s always Skype, isn’t there? Yeah. Haha. I’m so funny.”

“Well, where was I? Oh, yeah. I lied. I’m sorry. I know, it was a pretty trashy move, but it was the best one I could come up with. I wish I was eloquent. I’m not. But that’s not really the point, and I need to stop going off on track before my stupid phone dies.”

“So, I lied. I’m not going home because of dad. I’m going home because… because I’m a douche. That seriously has to be the best answer that can describe the situation. When Yixing left, I was excited. Does that make me a bad person? I bet it does. But yeah- farting rainbows kind of happy. I had my big bro all to myself and I had bonding scenarios in my head that I’d been concocting for years, and I was ready to put them into action. When he left, I felt as if though I’d been relieved of a burden, and that he’d finally redeemed himself in my eyes. He did. I mean, I never really hated him to begin with, but I did hate that he’d replaced me. But since he left, I felt as if he’d paid me back for my suffering by taking the suffering upon his shoulders for himself. I was glad.”

“But then I saw that you were changed in a fortnight because of it, and I began to understand that I’d never be the brother you’d depend on. At first, I thought that it was perfectly logical, but then I realized how much I despised that notion and settled for you and your friends being in a perpetual state of clinginess. So I tried to get you to open up and accept me while he was gone, but it only made things worst, and once you realized that you were getting him back- I lost.”

“I don’t think I had a chance in the game to begin with, but I guess that’s what I get for losing all my cards at the very start. I’m a terrible player.”

“But, I just wanted to say that I was sorry. I don’t intend to break whatever it is we have right now, but I’ve realized that I can’t take Yixing’s place either. And you have such supportive friends- all I have is dad.”

“So I’m going back to him. I called him and told him that you’d visit in a few months. He was excited. I have so much to tell him, hyung. About how much you’ve changed, about how pretty your wife is, about how happy you are. Don’t worry about me. I’ve always been a loser, so I guess I’m used to doing the loser-like stuff. But I miss dad. I miss him a lot. I miss not being able to tell him about my day, and I miss him telling me everything would be OK. I miss having what you have.”

“So that’s why I’m going home. And I just wanted to tell you that. I’ll be leaving on the proper flight, don’t worry, I’m not going to run off a day earlier and send you into a frenzy. I just… I’m too much of a coward to say it in front of you, so I opted for a voicemail instead. I hope you ge-”

Jong Dae blinked as the line went blank. He licked his lips and sighed deeply before tucking the device into his pocket and walking away from the crowded cafe he didn’t even think to enter.

***

“You’re not curious?” Min Seok drummed his fingers against the wooden table as the woman continued to read her magazine.

“Not particularly.”

Min Seok gave her a long look before sighing. “You shouldn’t be so easy going with me. Punching me right about now would do us both some good.”

She let out a small chuckle, and that instantly brought a smile to Min Seok’s face. “… context clues,” she admitted. “And maybe the past few years with Tao as a friend. Some things are more obvious than others.” She flipped to the next page.

“And you’re not mad?” He was genuinely surprised. “He was baiting you. He was baiting everyone.”

“Zi Tao has a tendency to bait himself,” she sighed. “I’ll speak to him later.”

“Do you know what he told me?”

“I already know what he told you, and I completely agreed.”

Min Seok choked on air. “What? What do you mean?”

She closed the flimsy bindings and placed it neatly on the table. She gave Min Seok a small smile. “Zi Tao’s a romantic at heart, of course he’s going to take aim for the happy ending instead of the inevitable.”

“He’ll be hurting people along the way,” he said with exasperation, unable to stop himself from rubbing his temples. “He can’t be serious.”

“But you know he is,” she pointed out, “and with good reason. If it were a schoolboy crush, then we’d slap sense into Joon Myun if we had to. But it’s not. Don’t you see? He’s really in love with him. What are we going to do? Tell him to get over it?”

“He’ll get rejected,” he griped. “And then what? I mean, he was already rejected once. Twice will kill him.”

“Or it could make him stronger,” she tried. “And it’s not like it’s our last resort. If it fails, then it fails. And maybe someone better will walk in and replace him. But we can never be sure.”

Min Seok buried his head in his arms and groaned. “I hate everything.”

She smiled. “I love you too.”

“I refuse to go along with your evil plans,” he mumbled.

“I think Tao would be able to handle it on his own,” she admitted. “But being the wonderful person that I am, he has my full support.” Min Seok’s phone buzzed. Mi Lee looked at the name on the screen and the three missed calls and voicemails underneath. “It’s Wu Fan.” She blinked. “And Jong Dae.”

“Tell them I can’t live under these conditions and have retreated to a cave somewhere on Jeju.”

“I’ll tell Wu Fan you’re free for dinner.”

“I hate you.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“… wait. Jong Dae called?” He picked his head to look at the phone in Mi Lee’s hand.

She nodded. “He left a voicemail too.”

“Could it be about the flight,” he murmured. “Put it on speaker.”

Needless to say, that was a rather terrible idea. About five minutes later, he was out the door and off to throttle a throat or two after telling Mi Lee to cancel the dinner.

Or, as Luhan would eloquently put, bitches were about to be put in their places.

***

Joon Myun didn’t know when “Oh Mr. Jong Dae oooohhhhh” became an integral part of his daily vocabulary. In fact, he didn’t even think to say that whenever Kim Jong Dae participated in something extra manly, or utterly dashing, or wonderfully generous.

He wanted “oh, Jong Dae, you sexy beast, oooohhhh.”

But he opted for the latter. A good move, his inner crazy would tell him.

The sexual attraction didn’t start until afterwards. True, he was a handsome man from the very beginning, but Joon Myun was a sheltered man, even if he was crazy. He had no intention to bump uglies with the younger man when he’d first laid eyes on him, but he did have countless scenarios in his head where they’d meet for coffee in a quieter part of the district and share stories about their day and hold hands. That was in the beginning.

Then Joon Myun had fallen in love, and he still didn’t feel the need to strip down and swoon. He was perfectly content with swooning in his sweater and snug jeans. Because once he’d fallen in love, ever gesture, every word- they were suddenly beyond incomprehensible in Joon Myun’s eyes. They were no longer just words or just movements- they were signs that Prince Charming had found his way into Joon Myun’s shell and broken it to bring out the real Joon Myun.

The real Joon Myun who had a severe case of swoonery. Because, at times, he felt as if though the heat that traveled to his face whenever the man turned his way or smiled was enough to send him into a coma. Once, he almost actually did pass out when everyone had run after someone he couldn’t quite catch and just left him there to deal with the man’s beautiful face and kind smile and lilting words. And at the time, Joon Myun still hadn’t felt the carnal bits yet, so when he was finally dropped home and tucked in, he thought that maybe it was an aftereffect of being in Prince Charming’s presence for too long. He fell asleep dreaming about his smile.

And woke up thinking about his hands on his bum. Needless to say, the screech that resounded throughout the apartment did not bode well for the traipsing maid who Kyun Hyun had sent over to cook for him. When the woman came in to ask him what was wrong, he sobbed into his pillow, telling her he was finally a man.

A very awkward, a very crazy thirty year old man.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t known he was gay, because he did, but it wasn’t because of the icky stuff. Joon Myun was sheltered, he was a pure man. He wouldn’t let his mind in the gutter, except for those times when he watched too much television and the MCs on certain variety shows were just too alluring to ignore even in his sleep.

But thirty was different from sixteen, and fantasy was not the equivalence of reality. And now he wanted all the things that others wanted. He wanted coffee with Jong Dae, when they’d actually be drinking hot chocolate. He wanted long days talking about work, about friends, about anything that could come to mind.

And then he wanted nights where tanned hands would knead the knotted muscles in his shoulders and travel down the length of his back until they reached his hips. And then those hands would rub slow circles into the pliant skin underneath, and then soft lips would attach themselves to his neck and hum songs as Joon Myun found it more difficult to breath. Then he’d willingly show him his arms, his legs, his chest, his wounds. He’d let those hands run over the mound of discolored flesh on his lower chest where the bullet entered, and let him run his hands up the ribs that had once been crushed underneath some demon’s boot.

Then Joon Myun would let him take him, because then they would become each other’s. And then their love would be complete, and then Joon Myun would cease to remain broken and become whole once more.

***

“I’ve given up, hyung,” he said softly.

Wu Fan gawked. “What?”

Joon Myun smiled lightly. “It’s OK. I was just a little shocked about the news, but I’m fine now. It was… overwhelming, but I had the night to think things over. It’s not worth the pain,” he mustered. “I’m a grown man, so I should have been more sensible about my actions.”

Wu Fan smiled sadly. “… it’ll pass, right? I mean, was he your first love?”

Joon Myun nodded. “But it’s in the past now. Let’s just bid him a safe farewell.”

Wu Fan nodded. “Sometimes, that’s the best way to go. I could tell you otherwise, but then I’d be lying. It’s better this way, Joon Myun-ah. Trust me.”

But by then, Joon Myun had already stopped paying attention and was looking blankly up at the sky.

***

Jong Dae found himself cornered in a bar that seemed to know his brother too well.

“You guys can go for now.”

Jong Dae shuffled back shakily as Min Seok waved away the barkeep and remaining customers. It ended up being just the two.

Then his eyes met Jong Dae, and Jong Dae froze.

“We need to talk.”

***

“I’m sorry.”

Mi Lee calmly sipped on her juice. “I’m not mad.”

“I humiliated you… kind of. Anyway, I’m sorry.”

“Are you, Zi Tao?” She pondered out loud. “Are you really sorry?”

The man gave her a pained look before averting his eyes, but her abrupt chuckle drew him back.

“Loser.”

His nostrils flared. “What?”

“We have business to get to,” she batted her eyelashes innocently. “You know, lives to best befit the way we want them to. Isn’t this your forte? Overlording over innocent people?”

“I told you I was a demon,” he clipped back. “Where’s this going?”

“I’m here to help you, silly.” She gave him a pointed look. “Mutual goals. Joon Myun’s happiness. And also that I like Jong Dae-sshi very much and would like for him to stay a bit longer.”

He gulped. “Is Min Seok-”

“-I have no interest in your pseudo-gay romance,” she dismissed. “Though, it would be uncanny if Wu Fan found out. I can handle knowing you were trying to get into my husband’s pants, once upon a time, but can he?”

“I’d end up in a bodybag,” he deadpanned.

She smiled. “Then let us forget that ever happened and move on to more pressing matters, shall we?”