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Garoto de Ipanema

Chapter Text

Xiah is poetry in motion.

He's everything Changmin came here hoping to find in the palm trees and the sea, on the beaches in between and the quiet, shaded streets. The gentle, rhythmic sway and the sigh that keeps time with it—the sweet saline scent of sweat-slicked skin—bare skin, hot and smooth under his fingers, with nothing to hide, and dark eyes that give nothing away.

He's the inspiration Changmin hasn't been able to find in Rio, let alone capture on paper.

Xiah whispers music, he moans music, he moves music as rolls his hips in deep, intense waves. Whether riding Changmin's cock, or when Changmin first spotted him, body undulating under fitted clothes and the tiki lights of a crowded party on Ipanema not that long ago. A party Changmin had sworn he wouldn't go to, that wasn't his scene, that he's glad to have left far behind when he comes inside Xiah harder than he's come in such a long time he can't even remember when it was.

He wakes up the next morning and has to laugh, because the young man beside him, the one who struck him as confidence and sex incarnate last night, has contorted and stretched and spread himself out all over two thirds of Changmin's bed like a puppy who's spent all night chasing rabbits.

Changmin gets up, puts on some clothes. He would rather have the real deal, but all he has left in the apartment is instant coffee, so he makes a pot of that, unwilling to risk leaving and finding Xiah gone when he gets back.

He sits down at his keyboard and computer to pass the time until the other wakes up, headphones over his ears, but none of the notes and chords his fingers restlessly tap out does anything for him. He can't pin anything down, can't capture the feeling of last night, the feeling of this morning, the thrill and the pull and the sense that this isn't like him at all. The peace that comes with the realization that he doesn't care. Almost as if—

He grins to himself.

Almost as if he's been bewitched.

Xiah rolls onto his stomach in the corner of Changmin's eye and Changmin knows he's awake, just trying not to be.

He takes off the headphones. "Morning," he says in Portuguese.

A pillow-muffled groan is all he gets in response.

"You want a cup of coffee? I'm afraid I only have instant, but if you'd like, get dressed and I'll buy you an espresso across the street."

I wonder if he even likes espresso. It doesn't really occur to Changmin until then that the things he knows about Xiah, including his name, can be counted on one hand.

No, not like him at all.

"Can I use your shower?"

And that's how he ended up here, Changmin thinks, smiling to himself over his coffee. That voice. Even groggy and small, it reaches in and grabs a piece of him, and tugs hard. "Of course. Minha casa. . . ."

Xiah stretches like a cat, rolls his head from shoulder to shoulder and rubs the sleep out of his eyes. He seems embarrassed by his nakedness this morning but does nothing to cover it up as he pads into the tiny en suite bathroom.

After a moment, Changmin can hear singing. Wordless, nonsensical, clear, rich singing, and a melody that gives him goosebumps. For the first time since he moved into this place he's grateful for the thin walls. He forgets about the computer and headphones. He forgets he should probably be jotting this down for later until he hears the water shut off and shakes himself out of his trance. He reaches for his coffee cup.

Xiah emerges with a towel around his waist, still humming under his breath—something sultry and mysterious that prompts Changmin to ask, "What are you singing?"

"Just something that came to mind."

"Who's it by?"

"No one. It just came to me."

What, just now, Changmin wants to ask, but Xiah is opening the wooden shutters and the morning light comes rushing in, blinding him to the point of tears.

When his sight recovers, he watches Xiah pick his clothes up from the floor piece by piece. His back is golden, like something from a song, and glowing under the sunlight, sprouting wings of dust motes. Changmin's sad to see it covered up.

"So," Xiah exhales, grinning, "does the offer for that espresso still stand?"

It's a strange name, Xiah, and Changmin isn't hesitant to tell him, hoping it might wheedle something more out of the young man about who he is.

He gets a laugh in response. It's loud and brassy and unabashed, and it makes Changmin look self-consciously around the shady street.

"I could say the same thing about yours," Xiah teases him, "Chang-min."

He says it a few more times, thoroughly butchering the pronunciation, but after a moment Changmin is convinced it's on purpose. After all, he had it right the first dozen tries.

"What kind of name is Xiah, anyway?"

"It's mine."

"Yeah, I know that. I mean, what does it mean? It doesn't sound Portuguese."

"What does Changmin mean?"

Then it's Changmin's turn to laugh. "Okay, fair enough." He clears his throat. "Tell me, honestly. It doesn't bother you that some stranger you just met takes you home to their place, and all you get for it is a cup of coffee?"

"And a hot shower, don't forget."

Changmin chuckles politely, but he can't tell if the other is serious.

"Changmin. I went back to your place with you not because of what I might get out of it, but because out of all the people at that party, you were without a single doubt in my mind the one I wanted." Xiah flashes a smile that is pure impishness. "But, if it will put your doubts to rest, I honestly think there are few things in life better than sex, coffee, and a hot shower. Well, great sex, great coffee, and a nice long, hot shower."

"I can think of one."

Xiah glances over.

"Well? What about music?"

"Music, hm?" Xiah appears to think hard about it, and Changmin muses, if he says it's overrated, with his voice, I might as well give up right here and now. "I guess that comes in an easy fourth. If I've got this right, you came to Brazil to write music."

"That was the idea, anyway."

"And you can't do that in . . ."

"Korea," Changmin supplies.

"You couldn't do that in Korea?"

Technically, Changmin wants to say, he can't seem to do that here either. "I thought a change of scenery might help get the creative juices flowing. Lose myself in a different culture, in its music. Something new and unfamiliar. But so far—"

He sighs.

"Nada," Xiah fills in the blank.

"Bingo. You know that song, 'Girl from Ipanema'?"

"Moça do corpo dourado, do sol de Ipanema/ o seu balançado é mais que un poema/ é a coisa mais linda que eu já vi passar," Xiah sings, all sweet, lilting voice and soft vibrato, and Changmin swears he almost forgets how to breathe. Xiah shrugs. "Everyone knows it."

"Uh, yeah. Well, it probably sounds crazy, but I wanted to see the country that could inspire a song like that, see if it would do the same for me. It seemed like a good plan at the time, but sometimes I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, to leave everything I knew and everything I had going for me back there on—what? An artistic impulse?"

Xiah hums. "Maybe, but these things always have a way of working themselves out. You'll see. You'll find what you're looking for. When you're meant to."

And Changmin wonders if it's too soon to say he thinks he might already have.

They can't see it from here, but Xiah looks out toward the sea and says, "I have to go." It's the only warning he gives that their time together is coming to an end.

Of course, it had to end sometime, so Changmin doesn't know why he should feel as taken aback as this. Like he's being robbed of something that's rightfully his. It certainly wasn't his intent last night, but now he finds he doesn't want to let Xiah out of his sight. And they've known each other not even 24 hours.

Definitely not like me at all.

"Can I—can't I call you?" Changmin trips over his Portuguese in his hurry to get the words out. Anything to keep Xiah there even one minute more. But Xiah's already shaking his head. "Well, can I contact you at all? I will see you again, won't I?"

"Of course," Xiah assures him. "I'll find you."

Which he does, a couple of long, tortuous days later, showing up on the street outside Changmin's building with takeout in one hand and a bottle of soju in the other. Alternately calling and singing up his name and waving to get his attention, and Changmin isn't sure whether to be proud or mortified knowing everyone on the block can hear Xiah and his flawless pronunciation.

They make love first, eat afterwards. That isn't the original plan, but Changmin gets so busy kissing him before Xiah can even close the door behind himself, they forget about the food until they're done and panting and so famished they don't care that it's grown cold.

The soju is second-rate, bottom-shelf, but it's a taste of home and he has Xiah to share it with him. He'll smell it on the sheets later where Xiah spills some after he starts prodding Changmin with his foot, not expecting Changmin to prod back a lot harder. But Changmin can't complain. He can't complain about any of it. Xiah is brash and loud and obnoxious and everything Changmin has ever avoided in his private life, and he can't get enough. More than once he has to shake himself out of his stare.

They put themselves back together enough to venture out for a late dinner at a touristy dive a few blocks away, where a live guitar band plays "Girl from Ipanema" halfway through their set. It's so right, so just on his mind, Changmin has to wonder if Xiah set it up.

When he looks over, the young man is staring at him with mischief in his eyes, mouthing along the words. And Changmin finds he would much rather hear Xiah's voice than settle for the whine of this electric guitar. Even though they're sitting right next to each other, it's unbearable, how much he wants that.

He gets his wish when they return to his place. Though not everyone would call it singing, what Xiah does, it is music to Changmin's ears—to his heart, body, and soul.

If Changmin were a painter, he would put Xiah—tall, tan, young and lovely—to canvas. A poet, and he would immortalize the young man in words in his own Portrait of Dorian Gray.

But no, he had to choose the most ephemeral of media as his own, the most intangible and the most temporal. The one that passes through the air, constantly changing its shape as it does so, until it's gone, with nothing but an unfaithful echo, a snatch of melody running through your head to prove that it was ever there at all. To remind you of what it was like when it was.

So perhaps, when it comes down to it, there is no other medium that can do Xiah the justice he commands, always disappearing without warning and reappearing just when Changmin doesn't think he can stand his absence another hour. Goethe said that everything temporal is but a metaphor. But so far, Changmin hasn't found any chords or lyrics to satisfy the metaphor that is Xiah.

One thing is for certain. He hasn't had this much sex since his freshman year at college.

He hasn't felt so much hair-tearing frustration, either. He avoids the keyboard for days at a time, pacing his little apartment and staring down the bench, knowing he'll have to sit and try to compose something sooner or later and putting it off as long as possible. If Changmin's friends back home could see him like this, they'd wonder what's gotten into the rational, methodical, smart-alecky young man they knew, if he's contracted some sort of bug while he's been down here or been possessed by some local spirit. In a way, maybe he has. But whatever spell Xiah's woven over him, he's caught in it good and tight and isn't sure he wants to get out.

He teaches Xiah Korean, which he takes to like second nature.

And Xiah listens to his work, nodding his head while he holds the headphones to his ears and Changmin sits close by on pins and needles. Hanging on every knit of brow or twitch of lips, on every note that Xiah hums along to and every burst of laughter that tells Changmin he's on the right track.

Yet somehow Changmin finds himself babbling when it's over: "It's still unfinished. I'm not completely happy with that one part yet. I'm probably gonna change it."

"You're being modest," Xiah tells him, but Changmin doesn't quite think so.

He sees and he hears how naturally inspiration comes to Xiah. Jealousy is always nearby to stab him in the gut, every time Xiah opens his mouth to sing and Changmin's reminded once again that the best he can do is an imitation, and a sorry one at that.

"But alright. If you want to know what I really think—"

"Ah-ha. What you really think, now."

"What I really think," Xiah ignores him, "is—I think it could use more pain."

". . . Pain."

"What makes art art is pain. And pleasure. Okay, maybe 'pain' isn't the right word. What is it. . . ." He switches back to Portuguese. "Passion. Intense feeling. It's how you know you're alive. It's how you know you're human."

Changmin snorts. "Then you must have been put in my life for the express purpose of making a great artist out of me."

Xiah knits his brows. "How do you mean?"

"Ever since I met you, my life has been nothing but long, slow suffering. Because I adore you. You're like an addiction to me—a religion. I worship you, Xiah, and I'm in constant agony, body and soul, every minute I'm away from you—starving for you."

"That!" Xiah snaps his fingers, waving them at him. "That's what I'm talking about!"

"I'm serious! Do you have any idea what you do to me? I can't stand this, this disappearing for days on end and not knowing when you're going to show up again, or if you're going to show up again. It kills me, Xiah. I need you right here. I can't write when you're not here."

"You can't write when I am here. That's the problem."

"No, I— That's not it at all."

Irritated, Changmin gets up to pace. But instead of heading for the door, instead of using this chance to sneak out again, Xiah hooks an arm around his waist and draws him back. Changmin's body melts into it, even if he keeps his brow stubbornly knit and his lips pressed together in a tight pout.

They soften a bit under Xiah's mouth, but not much. Not as much as Xiah would like.

"Maybe I can help you out," he murmurs against them. "But you're going to have to trust me, and do as I say. No cheating."

Think of it as an exercise, Xiah bids him as he guides Changmin back to the bed and onto his stomach. With arms folded under his cheek, the warm insides of Xiah's thighs brushing against his waist and cool fingers sliding up the small of his back, sliding up underneath his shirt, Changmin has some idea where Xiah is heading with this. And he's determined to enjoy it. To put his troubles with scale and tempo aside and just lose himself in Xiah's sure and lazy touch.

Unable to do anything to guide that touch, it draws a shiver up Changmin's spine. Xiah laughs at him for it.

"You're making this so much harder than it has to be," he says as he rolls Changmin's shirt up slowly, hands lingering over the flex of muscle over Changmin's ribs. Xiah might be out of his field of vision, but Changmin can hear the quiet swipe of his tongue across his lips. He can see it peeking out like a kitten's tongue in his mind's eye and longs for the feel of it on his bare skin.

What he does feel is Xiah's breath, strained with anticipation and desire as it ghosts over the back of his neck, and it sends the blood rushing straight to his cock. "You can't force the music to come."

Changmin smiles at his choice of words. "What do you suggest I do then, O great and wise master?"

"First of all, stop talking," Xiah chides him, murmuring low against his ear in such a way that Changmin is thankful he's already lying down, because he doubts his knees would have been able to support him if he weren't. "And then . . . just feel it. That's all."

He traces a leisurely line of kisses down Changmin's throat to his shoulder. His hand runs heavy and flat down Changmin's side, clinging to the curve of his waist, and Changmin can't help himself. His body arches at its silent command, against the mattress trapping him on one side, Xiah on the other. When Xiah goes for his fly, Changmin is only too obliged to lift his hips, anything to help Xiah work his trousers down off them faster.

"There's music in everything," Xiah says all the while, "begging to be heard. If you just let it take you. Open yourself to it completely."

If Changmin weren't busy biting back a moan, he'd tell Xiah he's preaching to the choir.

Because Xiah is his rhythm and harmony, and he has Changmin under his thumb, literally and figuratively. Completely and willingly. And has ever since that first night.

Changmin's own breathing echoes back to him hard and heavy from the shell of his folded arms. It washes over his eardrums like ocean waves across the sand, the wet sound of Xiah's kisses stroking him like the slow, sun-warmed suck of the tide, lapping down lower over his body each time it drifts in to shore. Closing his eyes, Changmin lets it pull him farther out to sea. Xiah's mouth brushes over the curve of his ass and it's all he can do not to roll his hips under the young man, just for a little relief.

It doesn't seem to matter in the end. Xiah wants him helpless, and that's what Changmin is under the force of his nature. All it takes is a kiss to the inside of his thigh and its mere suggestion, its promise of Xiah inside him, rolling with him, and Changmin's had it. He comes with a shudder and a shout, surprised by the intensity of his own orgasm. His heart racing. His ears ringing. His limbs feeling like Jell-O left out in the sun.

Not realizing until he hoists himself onto his side that Xiah is achingly hard, and none too happy about it.

Maybe the great sex, great coffee, and the long, hot showers afterwards are the only reason he's here after all, the thought springs suddenly into Changmin's head; but just as quickly as it came, he shakes off his doubt as a trick of the afterglow. Nothing more.

"Sorry," he says, sheepish, as Xiah helps him free his arms from his shirt. "But you did tell me to give myself up. Technically not cheating."

"I didn't mean so quickly," Xiah matches snark for snark, before Changmin pulls him down for a long, deep kiss.

As his freed hands start ridding Xiah of his own clothes, he trusts Xiah won't hold it against him for long.

Good news comes in the form of a ring from Changmin's agent, telling him they might have someone to sing his song. Someone with name recognition, and a label.

"They have some issues with the demo," Changmin relates it all to Xiah, "and there are some pretty significant changes they'd like to make . . . but it's worth considering if I want to make a name for myself in the industry, right?"

"Whatever happened to 'Girl from Ipanema'?" is all Xiah wants to know.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean—" Xiah exhales, rolling onto his stomach across the wrinkled sheets of Changmin's bed so he can better watch him at the keyboard. "I thought you were going to write good Brazilian songs. That's why you came here in the first place, isn't it?"

"Something rambling and wistful and tortured." Xiah nods, and Changmin laughs. "Maybe you should sing it. Your voice would bring me so much fame and fortune, we could have champagne every afternoon."

He already knows what Xiah's reaction will be. Changmin can all but mime along by now. A vehement shake of the head, protests that no, no, he doesn't think that would be such a good idea. Though not because no one would want to hear him sing.

He's more worried too many will once they hear his voice.

"You could sing it, Changmin. It's your song. Don't change anything just because some fat cat with a label wants you to."

"But they do have a point. The track is far from perfect the way it is right now. Besides, my voice isn't right for this kind of music."

"You'd have better luck fine-tuning it if I weren't here."

"That's not even funny." Changmin glares up at him, but Xiah's tipped-back champagne glass puts a quick end to that old argument. "Anyway, they've asked me to come up to Brasilia for a few days to talk things over—"

"You've come too far to sell out."

You mean I've been in this country too long. But his chance has to come sometime, even if it isn't all he dreamed it would be.

"We're just going to talk." But Changmin has to lower his eyes, and his voice, clear his throat before he can work up the guts to add: "You could come with me, you know. Then you could weigh in on everything before I have to make a decision. At the very least, I could use you for moral support."

"You know I can't."

Of course, he won't say why. Xiah never says why he has to leave, either, or why Changmin can't record him singing his song, or why he even keeps coming back to see Changmin in the first place when he's always so convinced he shouldn't be there.

"You can tell me how it went when you get back into town," Xiah amends, as if reading his mind. "I know you'll make the right decision whether I'm there or not."

"I don't see why I can't just call you."

"I told you. I don't have a phone."

"Sometimes I wonder if you just say that so I won't find out there's someone else."

Changmin isn't sure where that comes from, and he hates himself for it before it's even all out. It doesn't sound or feel anything like the joke he meant it to be in his head.

The humor's doubly lost on Xiah. He glowers. "It's the truth!"

"I know. I'm sorry. I didn't mean— Well, what about e-mail or instant message?"

"I don't have Internet."

"But you could check your mail at an Internet cafe. Better yet, if you told me where you live, I know a little bit about this stuff, I could get you hooked up."

He isn't expecting the look of horror that suddenly appears on Xiah's face. He jumps off the bed and starts gathering his things, and Changmin wonders if he isn't going to bolt. Again. Over something as nonsensically insignificant as this. But the point remains, after all this time, Changmin has never once been back to Xiah's place. It's never even come up in conversation.

"What?" he snaps. "What did I say now?"

"Why do you want to know so much?"

"I'm just curious." Because when it comes down to it, Changmin still doesn't know jack shit about Xiah. The insanity of the whole thing makes his head spin. Maybe the champagne was a bad idea. Too much, much too soon. For his music, and for them.

Besides, Xiah looks as though he's going to cry, and as much as Changmin tries, he can't imagine how what little he's said could cause that.

"Aren't things good enough the way they are?" Xiah stammers. "Why—why do you need to know everything about me? Can't you just be happy with this?"

"Of course I'd be happy—if you could just trust me like you know I trust you. If you could just give me a straightforward answer for once in this relationship. Or whatever this is." Just tell me you're coming back for me every time you leave. Just tell me these past few months have meant something. "Are you ashamed of me or something?"

A snort, a shake of the head. "No. Nothing like that—"

"Am I just a diversion to you—some shiny toy you can just put away when you're done playing? Is that all this is?"

"Changmin, please."

"Then . . . what? I don't get it. What's so terrible you don't want me to find out?"


"Then why are you acting like this?"

Xiah doesn't answer. He just says he's going to take a shower and slams the bathroom door behind him.

When he comes out a good half hour later, neither is in the mood to press the issue. So much easier to just pretend those words were never spoken. Easier to trade a little curiosity for what is certain—that Xiah is here, now, flushed and damp and smelling like the sea at Ipanema, and it's easier than the apologies they both owe. Easier to fuck than to fight, because there's always next time, and maybe by then they'll have forgotten what they'd thought was so important.

But it can't last like this. Changmin knows. The closer he gets to completing his song, the farther away Xiah drifts. He might be within arm's reach now, but someday soon, no matter how tightly Changmin tries to hold on to him, he's going to leave and just never come back.

The deal with the label doesn't go through.

Changmin returns to his Brasilia hotel room with a hollow feeling in his gut, as if it's not just his song that's been stripped of everything that made it what it was. He tosses and turns, and is on the phone way too early the next morning with an agent too tired to argue him out of what they both know is a big mistake.

Just not as big a mistake, Changmin thinks, as he would be making if he signed his song away.

The only thing he wants to do when he gets back is talk to Xiah, tell him he didn't sell out and he doesn't care what chances he might have missed because of it, just kiss him like old times until they're both breathless. But a week passes, then two, and Xiah never shows.

In the meantime, Changmin writes.

He writes and he drinks and he drives himself half crazy, and somewhere in the middle of it all he gets to talking with the young woman who plays piano at a jazz club he went to with Xiah once or twice. They talk about the passion they share, and she listens patiently as he plays and sings in his awkward, accented voice what he's written. She seems to know instinctively what's wrong with it, knows like he never did, because in her hands it becomes everything Changmin was trying so hard for it to be. She hardly knows him, but when she plays his song, it's everything loud and obnoxious and mysterious and gentle and teasing and distant and inexplicably sad that is Xiah. He would be an idiot not to listen to fate when it's screaming at him so loudly.

So he hands it over.

The song is a hit at the club. It makes the patrons sigh. It makes them come up after the set and ask what the name of that tune was. And when the band records it onto their self-published CD, the pianist sends Changmin a check. One struggling musician to another. She makes promises of royalties when they hit it big—if they ever hit it big—but he doesn't want them. It would feel unnatural.

Because what he can't seem to find the words to make her understand is that the song was never his to begin with. Not really. He might be the one who struggled to give birth to it these past months, but it was never meant to be his to keep. From the beginning, it had a life all its own.

The old widow who lives in the apartment under the stairs asks about that young man Changmin used to have coming around, but after a while of getting the same tired response, she stops asking.

The keyboard taking up precious space in Changmin's tiny apartment doesn't get as much use as it used to. He makes espresso at the cafe across the street now instead of music—tangible things to be consumed and savored only once. When they're gone, there's no playback, no repeat, no restart button. No metaphor.

Changmin can't say he's happy, but he is content. And maybe, he thinks, that's all anyone really has the right to ask for.

It ends like it began, at a beach party on Ipanema.

Only Xiah's not to be found among all those tall, tan young party people out on the sand, swinging his hips to some hard, rough electronic beat just as naturally, just as easily as a gentle bossa nova.

This time, Xiah finds him first.

It's the humming that makes Changmin's heart stop in his chest and his body spin in his seat at the bar. And for a moment, he can't figure out if it's a phrase he wrote himself, or part of that old familiar song Xiah assured him everyone knew even while he kept it like a secret Changmin had told him from his soul. "Xiah—"

"I heard your song," he says as he sidles up. "They were playing it on the radio."

So it's come to this, Changmin thinks. After everything, all Xiah can come up with now is this small talk. His half-smile doesn't quite let on, but if Changmin knows one thing about the young man after all this time, it's that if Xiah lets this facade fall for even a moment, he might just slip away completely.

"It's beautiful. And it seems to be popular."

"It's full of pain, anyway, just like you wanted."

"It's human. And what greater compliment could you give a song, really, than that? But then, I always told you you had it in you."

Changmin matches his quick smile. You were the one who planted it there, he wants to say. You were the model; all I did was sketch some pitiful reflection. "You did tell me that. Between the two of us, you were the one who never had any doubts. Even when you didn't even know whether or not I could compose for shit."

Xiah laughs. "See? And it paid off to listen to me, right?" he teases, his voice rising brassy and confident over the music the way it did back then, if just a little emptier. A little sadder even before the bob of his Adam's apple betrays him.

He sobers.

"Where were you?" Changmin asks him. "I waited for you, I looked for you everywhere, and you never came back."

And this time Xiah doesn't run away.

"I went home." He sighs, his gaze turning faraway, turning out toward the pitch-black sea, as if he were traveling there in his mind's eye at that very moment. "I'd been away too long, I think. Let myself start forgetting who I was. I needed to go back where I belong."

Where he belongs. As if Changmin needs it stated any more clearly that was never with him.

"Right. Home. Of course. But you still won't tell me where that is, will you?"

"I don't know why you even care—"

"Because I care! That was the whole point."

"I'm sorry, Changmin, but I can't. No, you have to trust me," he starts when Changmin opens his mouth, turning those intense eyes on him that shut him up better than Xiah's words, "even if I wanted to explain, even if somehow I could, you wouldn't understand. It's not—it's not somewhere you could ever follow me."

I could try. But if Changmin's honest, he's not sure that's something he wants anymore.

He just wants Xiah back. The way it used to be. Back when it didn't matter that he didn't know anything about Xiah but his name, and that he liked the ring of his own when Xiah turned it over like it was a sweet brigadeiro melting on his tongue. He just wants to do it all over again. Even if he had to wait weeks to get his next fix of Xiah, just the promise that he would would be enough.

"I should have been honest with you," Xiah says, once again as if reading his mind, "but I wasn't even honest with myself. You asked me if you were just a diversion to me."

"I was hoping you'd reassure me I wasn't."

"So was I. But no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I wish I could give you what you deserve, it just isn't possible for me to feel what you feel. It isn't in me, and it never was. And how is that fair?"

It isn't. It isn't fair at all. But it takes all Changmin's effort to keep his hand from shaking around his glass and the tears inside that he misses his chance to say so. Have I already given up?

"Anyway." Xiah rouses himself. "I just came to tell you that. I really thought I could make myself into anything I wanted to be—anything you wanted me to be—but in the end . . . you were right. It was nothing more than a game. And for that— You don't know how sorry I am."

"I don't know what I'll do without you."

"Go home," Xiah tells him. "You deserve to be with people who understand you. This really isn't your scene anyway. What's keeping you here?"

Besides you?

But he can't keep Xiah there with a melody or a line any more than he ever could. And when Xiah's gone and nothing's left but the warmth of his hand on Changmin's shoulder, and the party is over and packed away, the music faded away into the sound of the waves on Ipanema in the darkest hours of the morning, the first song to come back to him is the first song he brought with him to this foreign place. The only song that could possibly wound him as much as it does right now.

The lines he used to think were the most beautiful in the world now sound so bitter. And yet, even in their bitterness, they're more beautiful than ever. Maybe it shouldn't be that way, but it is.

He sings them quietly to himself, as though he might convince himself of something he'd long given up believing: "Ah, se ele soubesse que quando ele passa/ o mundo sorrindo/ se enche de graça/ e fica mais lindo por causa do amor."

Oh, if he could only see that when he passes by the world smiles, filling with grace, and turns more beautiful because of love.