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“Boring,” Kyungsoo echoes, frozen with shock and disbelief.

Junmyeon sighs. “It’s not just you,” he says. “Well. Don’t get me wrong, Kyungsoo-ssi—your writing is so dry I can practically see it flaking”—Kyungsoo flinches—“but I think the paper’s hit a collective rut. We need a big story to pull us out of it. Something groundbreaking.”

Kyungsoo sincerely hopes his editor isn’t asking him for suggestions for the newspaper during what’s supposed to, in theory, be something resembling a performance review. Especially after he had to sit through being told his articles are lifeless and dense and belong in a political science textbook, and have only gotten duller since he started working here. He just waits, trying to look as impassive as he can, fists clenched loosely in his lap as he resists the impulse to jump over Junmyeon’s desk and strangle him.

It’s not that Kyungsoo isn’t open to criticism. He welcomes it, most days, when it’s constructive and specific and can help him improve. But boring? It’s vague and cutting, almost impossible to do anything with. What he’s meant to get from that is ostensibly that he just isn’t cut out for beat journalism at all, that he should go back to school for a doctorate, become a dusty and irrelevant academic who rambles at indifferent kids in lecture halls for mandatory courses and grades papers all day, largely ignored until he sinks so far into obscurity he ceases to exist. Boring. He can’t remember the last time he felt so degraded.

Actually, though, he can. It was in this same goddamn office, with Junmyeon giving him the same goddamn patronizing look. And as much as Kyungsoo tries to forgive and forget and put the past behind him, this puts them at two strikes now. The strangling impulse gets harder to resist every second.

“Luckily,” Junmyeon continues, “we might have an opportunity to get that story. But it’ll have to be you who does it.” He folds his hands in front of him on the desk, fixes Kyungsoo with a solemn look through his stupid half-rimmed glasses. “It’s different from your usual assignments. I wouldn’t normally ask you to do something like this, to be honest, but no one else is really qualified. We’d be doing each other a favor: I get my story, you get to keep your job. I think it’s a fair trade.”

Something only Kyungsoo is qualified to do. He perks up a little, interest piqued. “What is it?”

“Well—”

 

 

 

“It’s not going to work,” Kyungsoo says for probably the dozenth time, caught somewhere between annoyance and hysteria while he changes clothes at Chanyeol’s apartment. He wouldn’t be here broadcasting his misery if not for the simple fact that it’s closer to where he needs to be than his own place. Lucky thing they both work half days on Wednesday. “Does he know real life doesn’t work like a plot in a drama? He’s lucky I didn’t have to sign a non-disclosure—”

“They already gave you the job, though,” says Chanyeol. “So. Not a lot you can do except try not fuck it up.” He taps his foot on the floor, tips his chair back with a loud squeak, sighs and lets the legs hit the floor heavily. “Almost done? Can I look?”

“I’m ready,” Kyungsoo grumbles. He glances at his reflection again and grimaces. “But I don’t like it.”

Chanyeol turns around and immediately barks out a laugh, then claps his hand over his mouth. It doesn’t hide the gleeful smile that’s spread to his eyes, or the amusement in his voice as he says, “Sorry, sorry. It’s—you look—”

“I look ridiculous.” Kyungsoo frowns down at his outfit, picking at one of the sleeves of his frumpy grey uniform. “Is the apron really necessary? The rest is already bad enough without it.”

“It’s cute,” says Chanyeol. He swings around fully to sit backward on the chair, folding his arms and hunching down to rest his chin on them. It makes him look less like the giant he is and more like a delinquent child. “You’re like a little old man who works at a stall selling fish.” At Kyungsoo’s withering look, he beams.

The whole idea of trying to go undercover to get dirt on an idol is stupid. Kyungsoo’s going to take one step into that apartment and immediately get tackled by Byun Baekhyun’s personal security, if he even gets that far. Or a camera will catch him sneaking around on his first day, and they’ll hunt him down and sue his ass and the entire newspaper and probably Junmyeon. Well. If he’s honest, he isn’t really bothered about the Junmyeon part right now, but. The rest of it isn’t ideal.

If Kyungsoo’s entire job weren’t riding on this piece, he would have turned it down on the spot. He’s a journalist, for fuck’s sake, not a paparazzo or obsessive fan. Shady undercover jobs should be beneath him. He can practically hear his degree crying at the injustice of it all. At the same time, though, he can hear his wallet crying far louder at the prospect of unemployment. Sacrifices have to be made sometimes.

“You’ll be fine,” says Chanyeol. “I mean, probably.”

Kyungsoo just gives him a look.

“Listen, I can almost guarantee you won’t even see him when you’re there.” Chanyeol starts bouncing one of his legs restlessly. “He’s an idol. Their schedules are crazy. I bet he’s never even home.”

“True,” says Kyungsoo. “At least there’s that.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to snoop around in his shit. Job’ll be done in a week or two. Easy, right?” The smile he offers now is reassuring. “Seriously, this is gonna be a cakewalk for you, Kyungsoo. Then you can get back to just writing that dull political shit you like so much.”

Unable to think of any retort that isn’t a derisive comment on sports journalism, Kyungsoo just presses his lips together and says nothing. Either way, Chanyeol’s probably right; if nothing completely terrible happens, it should be a straightforward job. Everyone has secrets, and the golden boy of the pop industry certainly won’t be an exception. He’ll get the dirt he needs, publish it, and throw someone’s career and reputation under the bus to save his own. Simple.

He bites the inside of his cheek. “No time for second thoughts anyway,” he says. “I have to head over there soon.”

“Already?”

“Yep.”

Chanyeol raises his eyebrows. “Didn’t you literally get the job today? Wow.”

“What else would you expect from SM?”

“Okay, fair. But hey, good luck.”

Kyungsoo narrows his eyes. “You just said I won’t have any trouble.”

Chanyeol lets out another too-loud laugh, then, “I meant with the cleaning. Guy probably doesn’t even know how to wipe his own ass without a manager telling him what to do.”

Somehow, with every other terrible thing about this job, Kyungsoo didn’t even consider the actual, well, job aspect of it, the part where he has to clean for some slobby twenty-something whose company pays people to take care of his messes for him. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and reminds himself that he doesn’t want to be fired.

“Fuck everything,” he mumbles on the exhale.

 

 

 

It’s a fourth-floor apartment, which seems kind of bizarrely close to the ground, considering. Even Kyungsoo’s place is higher up in his building than that. It’s possible SM is stingy, or Baekhyun is just lazy and doesn’t like having to deal with long elevator rides. Kyungsoo supposes he should be grateful, though, for the incredibly short trip from the lobby to the apartment, and for the fact that he doesn’t encounter anyone along the way.

When he gets to the door, he hesitates for a second, wondering if he should’ve rung the doorbell first. He could knock now, maybe, but that seems wrong. More awkward than just going straight in. And like Chanyeol said, the chances of anyone being home are fairly low; there’s probably nothing to intrude on, and he’d be wasting his time standing here uncomfortably. He shakes his head, tells himself inwardly to get his shit together, and punches the key code into the door.

The first thing he notices as he’s slipping out of his shoes is that it’s… fairly tidy, actually. Everything within sight looks neatly organized, no piles of junk by the door or in the hall or in the part of the living room he can see from the entrance. The second thing is the smell of meat and spices floating through the air, like someone’s just cooked a late lunch or early dinner. It fills him with sudden trepidation, because freshly-cooked food means—oh no. He clutches his bag of cleaning supplies and tiptoes slowly, carefully into the short hallway.

Empty kitchen. He takes just one small step in to investigate, far enough to see a sliver of the living room beyond the counter space, but not far enough to see the entirety. There’s cookware and dishes on the drying rack—still dripping, too, he notes. That doesn’t bode well, either. He looks behind him and sees a closed door, which could be anything; he has no idea what the layout of this apartment is like in the slightest.

A loud squeak from the next room catches his attention. He briefly considers just continuing further into the kitchen to catch a safe glimpse from there, but decides against it, instead steeling himself before going to find the source.

There’s someone in the living room, lying on the leather couch and facing away from Kyungsoo, laptop balanced on their abdomen. And while all Kyungsoo can really see is reddish-brown hair, casual clothes and bare feet, he realizes with dread who it is. Never home my ass, he thinks bitterly. The body shifts and there’s another squeak from the leather cushions.

He clears his throat. Nothing. Then he notices the cord dangling from the laptop. Headphones, probably. Holding back a sigh, he slowly walks closer, just until his shadow falls over the figure on the couch, then tries again. This time, the head turns.

Up close, Byun Baekhyun looks a fair bit different from the guy whose face Kyungsoo’s seen on TV and in too many ads. Without makeup, he looks younger and older all at once, a little rough around the edges with his flaws and blemishes and tired eyes, but it’s still undeniably the same person. The sight is so jarring that Kyungsoo just stands there, staring blankly, not knowing what to say or do as Baekhyun takes out his earbuds.

“Oh. Hi,” Baekhyun says, looking surprised and confused and curious. “You’re the new cleaning… person?” The pause makes Kyungsoo think he had to search for a second for a word other than lady. Fantastic.

Kyungsoo manages to snap out of his trance to bow, pull his mouth mask down to his chin, and give his name. Then, “Sorry, I didn’t think you would be home. I can—”

“Do you need me to leave?” Baekhyun cuts in. “I can, if you think I’ll be in the way. Or, y’know, you don’t want me hovering.”

Kyungsoo squints a little. “Um.” This is already so weird. “This is your apartment, so it’s… your choice.”

“Yeah, but you’re my guest.”

That makes Kyungsoo squint a little more. “I’m an employee.”

All Baekhyun does is give a friendly smile, upper lip thinning until it disappears, then say, “You don’t live here, right? That makes you a guest by default.”

“Okay,” says Kyungsoo, not wanting to openly contradict the guy he’s (kind of) working for. “Well. You’re fine where you are? If I need you to go somewhere else, I’ll say so.”

Seeming pleased with this answer, Baekhyun nods, picking up his laptop and turning to sit up properly on the couch with his legs folded in front of him. “Lemme know if you need anything,” he chirps. He pops the earbuds back in and starts typing away on his keyboard.

Kyungsoo takes that as his cue to get to work. He’ll go to the kitchen first and work his way back, he supposes. Might as well start with something he knows will be easy. He starts to turn back around, then pauses, a thought occurring to him.

“Um, actually,” he says. Luckily, Baekhyun seems to hear him, and stops what he’s doing to look back up at Kyungsoo. “Are there any rooms you don’t want me going into? For the sake of privacy?”

Baekhyun glances up at the ceiling, lower lip sticking out in a thoughtful pout. “I don’t think so,” he says after a moment. “I mean, any room’s fair game, honestly. Do you know where everything is, though?”

Kyungsoo shakes his head.

“Okay, so. Bathroom’s to the left.” Baekhyun points down the short hall on the other end of the living room. His arm, Kyungsoo notices, isn’t entirely straight, bending at kind of an odd angle when he extends it. A lightning bolt. “Bedroom’s across from it.” Then he gestures back behind the couch. “Balcony’s back there, but—actually, you don’t need to go out there today.” He chuckles. “Unless you wanna maneuver around all my laundry.” He lets his arm drop. “And the kitchen and walk-in closet are back behind you.”

Nodding, Kyungsoo says, “Alright. I’ll leave you alone now.”

The warm smile Baekhyun gives him throws Kyungsoo off a little, but he quickly composes himself, pulls his mask back into place, and heads off to start on the happy task of cleaning the kitchen.

It’s odd how tidy Byun Baekhyun’s apartment is. It takes little effort to clean the countertops, stove and sink, and even less to clean the floor. What’s more noteworthy than the painlessness of sterilizing the room, though, is what he notices perched on top of the refrigerator. A camera. It’s more or less what he’d expected, but it’s still troubling. He pretends not to have noticed it—not just because of the camera itself, but also the fact that Baekhyun could very easily be watching him from the other side of the counter.

After he finishes up with the kitchen, he heads back through the living room, deciding to skip it for now, and down the short hall on the other side to start on the bathroom. More effort than the kitchen, but not by much. Then the time comes to do the bedroom, and Kyungsoo hesitates a bit.

Until he knows for sure what other cameras there are in the apartment, he can’t risk sneaking around just yet. He’ll have to be careful. Analyze every room as casually yet meticulously as possible. Plus, he can’t rifle through Baekhyun's things when the guy’s in the next room. That would just be profoundly stupid. He enters with a feeling of solemn determination.

Surprisingly and unsurprisingly, Baekhyun’s room is the messiest space so far. Unmade bed, clutter on every piece of furniture—including, he notes, a musical keyboard—and a visible layer of dust on his desktop monitor. Kyungsoo had been hoping for material that would fuel a dating scandal, since those are so easy to spin as a betrayal of the fans, but something tells him the room he’s looking at is that of a bachelor, a place the occupant doesn’t expect any human other than himself to set foot in. A place Kyungsoo will have to do his best to tidy without disturbing the array of things scattered everywhere. He finds himself sighing heavily.

When he gets back to the living room at last, he sets down his bag of supplies and kneels to rummage through it. As he’s doing this, he hears, “So how old are you, Do Kyungsoo?”

Kyungsoo holds back a groan, all hopes of polite silence dashed. He pauses in his search to look up at Baekhyun, who’s closed the lid of his laptop and is looking over at Kyungsoo expectantly. Kyungsoo pulls his mask down again and says, “Twenty-eight. Why?”

“Oh. Huh.” The way Baekhyun cocks his head to the side makes him look like a curious puppy. It’s something about his face, his teeth, the shining almost-black of his irises. “So you are older than me. Not by much,” he adds. “But still.”

“How old did you think I was?” Kyungsoo asks.

A shrug. “I had you figured for late twenties anyway. But I dunno. You have an ambiguous face.” At Kyungsoo’s raised eyebrows, he quickly goes on to say, “I mean that in a good way! You could be younger but mature-looking, or older but aged well.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’m glad, though, that they hired someone closer to my age this time,” says Baekhyun. “It’s more comfortable this way. Before you, there was this stern old granny who was really passive-aggressive and had some kind of grudge against me. Like I was some kid she was stuck playing nanny to. And every time I said anything, she gave me this look like she wanted me dead for interrupting her while she was working.”

“Did you stop bothering her?”

“Nah. Just did it more.”

Kyungsoo snorts. Baekhyun grins.

“You seem okay, though,” says Baekhyun. “Or. I don’t get the immediate vibe that you hate my guts, at least.”

“We’ll see,” says Kyungsoo. He keeps the mask off, but goes back to digging through the bag. “We’ve only just met. There’s still time for me to hate you.”

“True, true.” There’s a brief pause—in which Kyungsoo finally finds what he’s looking for—before Baekhyun speaks up again. “Anyway, that’s why I asked if I should leave you alone. The old lady always wanted me gone. Said she couldn’t hear herself think when I was watching her. But she was really rude about it, and you seemed nicer, so I thought I should offer.”

Always wanted me gone. Implying he was there fairly often. Kyungsoo stops, narrows his eyes a little. He looks up at Baekhyun. “Were you here every time she came around?”

“Just about, yeah.”

Fuck. “You’re an idol, though,” says Kyungsoo. “Aren’t you… busy? With schedules?”

“Not really. I’m a soloist who’s between releases.”

A wave of dread washes over Kyungsoo. “And you don’t go out?”

Another puppyish head tilt. “On a weekday afternoon? Nope, not usually.”

Double fuck. This is going to be harder than Kyungsoo thought.

“I’m kind of a recluse anyway, though,” Baekhyun continues, oblivious to Kyungsoo’s inner turmoil over how his career is officially going down the fucking drain. “Ask anyone. Most of the time I stay home and play video games. Sometimes I go across the hall to piss off my manager, but.” He shrugs. “Can’t do that too often or he’ll probably kill me.”

“Well.” Kyungsoo struggles to find something to say, but all he can come up with is, “There are worse ways to spend your time, I guess.”

“Right? It’s not like I’m—oh.” Baekhyun blinks, then looks sheepish. “Sorry, you can get back to work. I’ll stop distracting you.”

“It’s fine,” Kyungsoo finds himself replying, even though he really should do his actual job. Then he realizes this could work to his advantage, and says, “You can keep talking at me if you want, as long as you don’t expect a response. If you’re bored, I mean.” After all, what’s true with politicians and people held in police custody must undoubtedly be true for celebrities, too: the more you keep them talking, the more likely they are to reveal something incriminating.

“What, just gonna assume I like to hear myself talk?” Baekhyun sniffs. “Well. I mean. I do.”

What a surprise, Kyungsoo thinks. He tries to convey as much through a dry glance. Baekhyun’s answering laugh comes out in distinct ha ha ha’s, like there’s a comic book speech bubble hanging over his head.

For the rest of the time, Baekhyun does just ramble at him. Mostly stories about the lady who had the position before Kyungsoo, but also comments here and there about things around the living room as Kyungsoo moves about. It’s all useless information, at least at face value, though Baekhyun somehow manages to make it entertaining. Kyungsoo almost resents that. He doesn’t need Baekhyun to engage or amuse him; he needs him to slip up and reveal something helpful, something Kyungsoo can follow up on.

At one point, Kyungsoo has the terrifying thought there might not be anything scandalous about Baekhyun at all. He might have a dull, ordinary life, despite his fame. If that’s the case, Kyungsoo is ten kinds of fucked. He’ll have to either get inventive, or find some way to fabricate an entire scandal. And he’s not crazy about the latter, really, but it might prove to be his only hope for keeping his job.

No. He can’t give up so soon. Even if Baekhyun seems like a normal person, idols aren’t allowed to be normal. The most outwardly tame and inoffensive thing could prove to be his downfall. Kyungsoo just has to find out what that thing is and exploit the hell out of it.

There is still, he tells himself, a chance that this will be easy.

 

 

 

“But the thing is, I can’t just look through his stuff while he’s talking my ear off and being friendly.” Kyungsoo glumly takes another bite of his apple, staring at the sad potted plant in Chanyeol’s cubicle. Amazing how the man’s killed four succulents in a row. He swallows, then says, “I need to figure out how to get rid of him.”

He went to Baekhyun’s again yesterday, and was met with even less luck than the first week. All he learned was that Baekhyun is apparently really good at Overwatch, really bad at League of Legends, and kind of mediocre at everything else he ever does. Apart from singing, of course. And possibly martial arts.

“Or you could make friends with him,” says Chanyeol, clicking his mouse repeatedly.

“That’s the opposite of what I need to do, Chanyeol.”

“Not really, though?” Chanyeol shrugs. “People spill all kinds of shit to their friends. Get closer to him and he’ll be more likely to tell you secrets than if you just sit around hoping he gets dumb enough to say something he shouldn’t.”

Kyungsoo frowns. “Whatever happened to ethical journalism?”

“You’re stabbing him in the back either way with this story, right? This is just twisting the knife a little.”

“The boss has made you merciless,” says Kyungsoo. “Careful, or you’ll end up like him.” It’s a joke, mostly, but one rooted in real concern; it can be so easy to compromise on integrity in their field, and Chanyeol isn’t the type of person that should be allowed to happen to. Even if his ambition seems to cloud his judgment from time to time.

Granted, it’s not as though Kyungsoo’s never had to do anything shady or morally questionable before as a journalist. He writes about politics. It comes with the territory. And it’s not as though he isn’t working on a shitty and more-than-questionable assignment right now. But everyone has to draw their line in the sand.

Chanyeol looks away from his screen to give Kyungsoo a wry smile. “Hey, anything for the story,” he says, maybe ironic and maybe not, before turning back and practically assaulting his keyboard. “That’s how it always goes, isn’t it?”

Kyungsoo hums and gives a noncommittal, “Yeah. That’s true.” He takes another bite, mulling things over while he chews. “Still, I can’t just force friendship on him. That’s not how it works. It would all need to happen organically. And even then, it’s mostly a matter of luck.”

“You’ll figure something out,” Chanyeol says, reaching over blindly and patting him on the arm. “Just be as approachable as possible. Make him like you. Easy.”

“You think everything’s easy,” Kyungsoo mutters.

Ignoring Kyungsoo’s annoyance, Chanyeol says, “You know, if real life were like Inception, you could just go into his head and make him want to be friends with you and think it was his idea.”

“That’s not—” Kyungsoo can already feel a headache coming on. “That would be overkill. I could just do a regular information extraction, without even needing to befriend him in the first place.”

“Not if SM trained all their idols for shit like that. Lee Soo Man would have their brains all militarized, I bet.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” says Kyungsoo. “Remember the entire introduction with Saito and—never mind.” There’s no point in arguing with Chanyeol about things from movies. Even if Kyungsoo’s logic wins over, Chanyeol will just laugh and call him a nerd anyway.

“You’ve seen that too many times,” Chanyeol says, predictably.

Five times is nowhere near too many, in Kyungsoo’s opinion. He just gives Chanyeol an unimpressed look. “Just like you’ve spent too many hours playing One Piece: Pirate Warriors 3.”

“No I haven’t.”

“You’re playing it at work right now.”

“I’m on my break,” Chanyeol says defensively.

Kyungsoo laughs. “No you aren’t.”

“Well.” He keeps playing in silence for a moment, not seeming to have a response. Then, “Look, it’s a good game, alright.”

“Junmyeon’s going to kill you if he finds out, you know,” says Kyungsoo.

“Nah. He wouldn’t.”

He sounds completely, undeterrably certain of this fact. If only Kyungsoo were half as confident in his own ability to keep his job.

 

 

 

“Hey. What kind of music do you listen to?” Baekhyun calls from across the hall.

Kyungsoo glances back over his shoulder, but from his current position he can’t see very far into Baekhyun’s bedroom. “Mostly R&B,” he says.

“Yeah? What singers?”

“A lot of different ones. Why?”

“Just wondering. You can tell a lot about a person based on what they listen to.” Footsteps, then Baekhyun says from the bathroom doorway, “So you’re pretty mellow, huh?”

Kyungsoo continues scrubbing the sink, not bothering to look back. “Did you need to know my musical tastes to come to that conclusion?” he says.

“Nah. General observation, I guess.” A pause. “You know, you don’t have to clean so much.”

That gets Kyungsoo to stop and turn, brows raised incredulously. “I don’t know if you noticed,” he says, “but that’s my job. It’s the entire reason I’m here, in your apartment, every week.”

Baekhyun stands with his hands on his hips, looking as pouty as ever, since that’s just how his mouth seems to set most of the time. His hair is mussed from having napped right before Kyungsoo showed up, his face slightly puffy. There are people who would pay to see him like this, Kyungsoo thinks distantly. How bizarre.

“I keep it pretty clean, though,” says Baekhyun. “There’s barely anything for you to do, right?”

He’s not wrong. Kyungsoo does have to search around for new tasks a lot of the time, just to have something to work on. He doesn’t even know why he comes here at all, really, when most of the mess seems to be contained to Baekhyun’s room—which, frankly, he should just learn to deal with himself. “What are you trying to say, then? Should I just go home early?” asks Kyungsoo.

“We could talk.”

“Talk,” Kyungsoo repeats, not entirely sure he heard right. “About what?”

“Anything. We could sit down and have an actual conversation, instead of me just bugging you.” He relaxes his stance, a self-conscious smile spreading across his face. “I just feel bad about you having to work so hard.”

Huh. Kyungsoo blinks. “There’s nothing to feel guilty about,” he says. “Like I said, it’s my job. I get paid to do all of this. You aren’t forcing me into slave labor, I promise.”

“But you’re working harder than you need to,” says Baekhyun. “Come on, just—take a break, at least. You’re getting paid the same amount no matter what.”

Kyungsoo relents, figuring this is probably a good way to start on that whole friendship angle, and finds himself sitting with Baekhyun on the couch shortly after that, gloves and mask set aside, ridiculous apron thrown over the back of the cushions. Taking that off was a relief; he feels less like a strange caricature of a homely maid now.

“I’d offer you something to eat or drink,” says Baekhyun, “but they started monitoring my eating this week. And I don’t think ‘I was getting something for the cleaning guy’ would go over well, y’know?”

“That’s fine,” says Kyungsoo. Before he can think to stop himself, he asks, “Monitoring your eating?”

“To prep for my next comeback. They have a camera on the fridge and someone watching my card balance and everything, just to make sure I don’t cheat on my diet.”

Well. That explains some things—like why Kyungsoo hasn’t seen any other cameras around the apartment so far. It makes sense if the surveillance is only aimed at Baekhyun and his dietary habits. “That must be tough.”

“It’s tiring,” says Baekhyun, a slight whine in his voice. “And I have to work out every morning on top of that. I’d kill for a day where I can just eat fatty garbage and not get up from my bed.” He sighs. “Guess I shouldn’t complain, though. Pretty sure the girls have it worse. And the fans like abs, so. Nothing I can do.”

“Have to give the people what they want,” Kyungsoo says dryly.

“Well. Kinda, yeah.” He smiles a little. It makes his eyes look that much less sleepy. “They’re the ones paying my bills.”

“Actually, I think a multi-billionaire is the one paying your bills,” says Kyungsoo. “The fans just incentivize him to be a little more generous.”

Rather than arguing, Baekhyun just smiles wider and says, “He pays you, too, though.”

“Not based on whether crowds of teenage girls think I’m pretty, luckily.”

Baekhyun laughs. “My fans aren’t all teenagers,” he says. “Some are adults. Middle-aged, even. Actually, probably more of them than you think. And men,” he adds. “Not as often, but they’re there.”

“Still,” says Kyungsoo. “You do appeal to a certain demographic.”

“Of course.” Baekhyun gives him an appraising look. “But speaking of being pretty,” he says, “you know you don’t have to wear the uniform, right? I’m not gonna make you, and there’s no one else here to make sure you do. Unless you really want to, I guess.”

Kyungsoo takes a moment to digest this, then says, “You couldn’t have told me that before now?”

“Nah. That wouldn’t’ve been as fun.” The slightly mischievous way Baekhyun grins exposes the bottom row of his teeth, long and white and a little pointy. “Besides, I’m telling you now. Isn’t that what matters?”

“You’re such a pest,” Kyungsoo says without any real feeling. “I’ve been wearing the world’s ugliest and most uncomfortable apron, and the only reason I couldn’t take it off sooner was because you thought it was funny.”

“Hey, if it makes you feel any better,” says Baekhyun, “I never told the lady she didn’t have to wear it.”

That pulls a short, unimpressed sound out of Kyungsoo. “If she was even half as stern and uptight as you’ve made her sound, she probably would’ve been insulted by the offer and kept wearing it anyway.”

“She definitely would have,” Baekhyun agrees, “but that’s not the point.”

They chat for a little while longer, mostly about nothing, until Baekhyun finally lets Kyungsoo get back to work. The apartment quiets down for a while, as though Baekhyun’s finally gotten all the noise out of his system. Kyungsoo half wonders if he has some kind of quota to fill on relative noise pollution. Soon enough, though, the sound of whistling drifts through the rooms. The tune sounds a little like that Akdong Musician song that’s always on the radio these days. Bright, cheerful, nice. It’s a pleasant background noise, even if he sometimes goes off-key.

After Kyungsoo finishes tidying up Baekhyun’s perpetual disaster zone of a bedroom to the best of his ability, he returns to the living room—already cleaned, since he’s developed the habit of saving the worst for last now—to gather everything up before he leaves. The apron, though, has disappeared from the place where he left it on the back of the couch. He frowns, peering around in search of it.

He looks over at Baekhyun, who’s lying on the couch with his eyes glued to his phone. “Have you seen—?”

“Nope,” Baekhyun says immediately, which is incredibly suspect. That answers that question.

“Right,” says Kyungsoo. “Well, I hope you enjoy your hideous new item of clothing, I guess.”

“I will. I’ll hang it up somewhere, and every time I look at it I’ll think about the look on your face when I said the uniform was optional.”

“Whatever makes you happy.”

Baekhyun’s only response is a smile, one that Kyungsoo finds himself returning all too easily.

 

 

 

Junmyeon’s disappointment is almost palpable. “Still nothing? It’s been weeks already.”

“With all due respect, it’s not like we could expect an idol to give up his secrets to a stranger so easily,” says Kyungsoo, putting significant effort into not being terse or impolite. “I’m doing what I can, but I can’t work miracles.”

Junmyeon sighs. “You’re right,” he says. “I guess it’s not your fault he’s dull and barely has a social life.” He drums his fingers on his desk. The sound of fingers tapping on wood doesn’t normally irritate Kyungsoo in the slightest, but Kim Junmyeon has this way of putting him on edge with everything he does these days. “Is there anything you could do to earn his trust faster? Anything he’s mentioned that you could take advantage of?”

Like what, he wonders—some mystical test of camaraderie to show that Kyungsoo’s on his side? “Unless I can convince the higher-ups to let him off his diet,” Kyungsoo says wryly, “there’s nothing I can think of.”

“Hmm.” A frown, then the drumming stops. Junmyeon’s eyes widen. “Maybe you can’t do anything about the diet itself, but you can get food into his apartment.”

Kyungsoo has a protest on the tip of his tongue, but he pauses, contemplating the idea. “That might work. He doesn’t seem to care about following rules anyway. Might even appreciate the act of rebellion.”

“You’ll have to be careful, though,” says Junmyeon, disposition turning abruptly somber. “If he thinks you have any ulterior motives, it could jeopardize the entire plan.”

Kyungsoo nods. “I’ll do what I can.”

Junmyeon nods as well, leaning back in his desk chair. It’s easier to respect and get along with him when he isn’t treating Kyungsoo like he’s completely inept. Really, if not for the fact that Junmyeon is his boss and kind of a dick sometimes, they could almost be friends. Almost.

As though picking up on the vaguely positive atmosphere, Junmyeon says, “Your dedication to this story has been really impressive, Kyungsoo-ssi. I know you didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for it in the beginning, but you’ve done well with it so far.”

That’s a twist. “Thank you. I appreciate—”

“It’s just too bad you can’t show that same passion in the articles you’ve written lately,” Junmyeon continues. “If anything, they’ve gotten even more stale. Hopefully things turn around after you do the exposé on Byun.”

Oh. Not much of a twist after all, then. “Yeah,” Kyungsoo says, unable to keep himself from wilting a little. “Hopefully.”

He stops by Chanyeol’s cubicle on his way back to his desk, with half a mind to ask him if he wants to get drinks after work so Kyungsoo can drown his sorrows, but Chanyeol greets him with, “Man, your life would be so much easier if you just had to write about how nice that Baekhyun guy is.”

All Kyungsoo really wants at that moment is to be struck down by some divine force, immediately killed on the spot so he doesn’t have to suffer through his day—or week, or life—getting any more hopeless. He sucks in a deep breath. “What happened? Do I want to know?”

“Word got out that he privately donated a few million won to this foundation for single mothers,” says Chanyeol, fingers laced behind his head as he stretches. His dying succulent has recently been replaced with a new one, still fresh and alive. Probably full of hope for the future and completely unaware of what fate has in store. “Someone tried to get a statement from him, but a company rep said it was done in secret because he doesn’t like using charity as a publicity stunt. Which could just be a publicity thing in and of itself, obviously, but it could also just be that he’s a literal angel.”

“Hello, unemployment,” Kyungsoo mutters.

“It’s not the end of the world, dude.” The smile on Chanyeol’s face is far too bright for how dismal everything is. “Who knows, maybe he did it ‘cause he’s fathered one or two illegitimate kids and has a soft spot for that kind of stuff.”

Don’t be a dick, Kyungsoo almost says. Instead, he goes with a hollow, “Yeah, maybe.”

“Hey, so how’d the meeting go, anyway?”

“Fine,” says Kyungsoo. “Pretty much how I expected.” He glances up at the wall clock, pretending to look at the time without really seeing the numbers at all. “I should probably get back to work. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Sure,” says Chanyeol. “Keep me updated.”

With that, Kyungsoo makes his way back to his own cubicle, tidy and familiar and a little sad. There’s a small cactus in the corner of his desk that a coworker got him as a joke (“Prickly like you,” they’d said with an obnoxious sneering grin) but that he’s been taking care of diligently for several months now. At least he has that going for him. At least that, unlike his future as a political journalist, hasn’t shriveled up and died.

Well, not yet, anyway.

 

 

 

For once, Baekhyun isn’t just lounging about on the couch when Kyungsoo arrives. A glance through the sliding glass at the end of the living room shows that he’s out on the balcony, lying down on a blanket and pillow, the clouded windows that separate him from the outside world opened just a few inches. When Kyungsoo approaches, Baekhyun turns to look at him and waves lazily, but doesn’t get up from the tiled floor.

“You’re wearing normal clothes,” Baekhyun greets after Kyungsoo slides the door open.

“That’s what I do when I’m not being forced to put on a hideous uniform,” says Kyungsoo. “What are you doing? Getting some fresh air?”

“Started to feel too stuffy in here, but I didn’t have the energy for a walk,” says Baekhyun, eyes shut peacefully. His hair’s parted messily. Roots are growing out quite a bit, too, Kyungsoo notices. “I heard birds earlier. It helped me trick myself into thinking I was out experiencing nature.”

“Do you have the energy to sit up?”

One eye opens and fixes on Kyungsoo. “Why?”

“I have a present for you,” says Kyungsoo. “I can give it to you out here, if you want.”

As Baekhyun moves into a sitting position, Kyungsoo sets his bag down, unzips it, and pulls out the takeout box. The smell of fried chicken immediately fills the small space. He hears Baekhyun let out a small noise of surprise, like a startled animal.

“Is that—? Holy shit.” Baekhyun gapes at the box, then at Kyungsoo. It’s the first time Kyungsoo thinks he’s heard him swear. “This isn’t a trick, is it? Did Minseok-hyung send you here with all this as some kind of trap to get me to cheat on my diet?”

Kyungsoo has to laugh at that. A trick. The irony is too absurd. “He didn’t,” he says. “I just thought you could use a break.” He takes in Baekhyun’s awed expression with amusement. “Do you want it, or should I keep it for myself?”

“Don’t you dare,” says Baekhyun.

They sit together in the enclosed space of the balcony, Baekhyun stuffing his face and Kyungsoo just sitting quietly. It’s a little funny at first, the way he practically inhales the food, but after a moment the sight just turns saddening. God knows what kind of food the guy’s been eating the past couple of weeks, or how much.

Partway through the meal, Baekhyun slows down, chewing leisurely and licking his fingers clean every so often. Taking the time to savor the taste now that he isn’t so hungry. He even pauses once between bites to smile and let out a quiet sigh of contentment.

Once he’s done, Baekhyun grins widely at Kyungsoo and says, “God, you’re my hero, you know that?” He laughs, then flops back onto the makeshift bedding and groans. “That was the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life.”

“You look better now that you’ve had something to eat,” says Kyungsoo, because it’s true. More energetic, more cheerful. Glowing.

Looking satisfied, Baekhyun pats his tummy, where he still looks worryingly thin. The action makes his shirt bunch up slightly, exposing his belly button. “Finally back to my natural state,” he says. Then, “Hey, so—thanks for doing that, even though it could’ve cost you your job.” He pauses and chuckles. “That didn’t really sound sincere, did it? Sorry. I’ll try again after I’m done digesting.”

“It’s fine,” says Kyungsoo. “And the job doesn’t really matter that much, so don’t worry.” That isn’t even a little bit true, but Baekhyun doesn’t need to know that.

“It’s your job,” says Baekhyun, eyeing him strangely. “Of course it matters.”

Kyungsoo shrugs. “It’s not the only one I have. I’ll be fine either way.” Another lie.

Once again, Baekhyun looks at him like an inquisitive puppy, eyes shiny and bright and expressive. The fact that he’s lying on the floor makes the comparison even more apt. The image of a wagging tail pops into Kyungsoo’s mind, unbidden. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“How’d you end up doing this job in the first place?”

“Ah. Well.” Kyungsoo starts picking at his cuticles nervously. “Things… weren’t going well with my other job.” That, at least, is true. And the more he sticks to vague truths, the easier things should be for him. “But someone offered to help me get this one, and since it just meant using skills I already had anyway, it seemed like a good choice. I don’t know. It’s work, just like anything else.”

“So you would be in trouble if they fired you,” Baekhyun correctly deduces.

“Not necessarily. I could…” Kyungsoo bites his lip. “I’d figure something out.”

Baekhyun sits back up, furrowing his brow. “You shouldn’t risk it,” he says. “It’s only—I won’t die if you don’t feed me. And it’s money out of your pocket, too. That isn’t fair to you.”

“You were so tired when I got here that you fell asleep on the floor,” says Kyungsoo.

“That’s—”

“If your company won’t let you eat enough to compensate for the work you’re putting in, then I’ll help make up the difference. I’m helping you out, whether you like it or not.”

His own aggressive sincerity here catches him off guard. He doesn’t know how this went from an act of manipulation to a genuine effort to try to improve Baekhyun’s quality of living, but that’s just where they are now. And when he thinks about all those stories of idols fainting onstage from exhaustion and undereating, thinks about that happening to Baekhyun, it triggers an almost visceral response in him.

Baekhyun narrows his eyes for a second, then softens. “Anyone ever tell you you’re way too nice?”

“Not really,” says Kyungsoo. “Usually they just say I’m boring.”

“You’re not boring,” Baekhyun says, sounding almost offended at the idea. “I like talking to you.”

Kyungsoo snorts. “Our conversations are practically one-sided. I’ve barely said anything to you.”

“That’s how my conversations with most people go anyway,” says Baekhyun. “I talk a lot. I’m used to it. Besides—” He reaches over and grabs the takeout box and closes it. “You not saying much doesn’t mean anything. You just don’t waste words. Like, you get your meaning across without needing to ramble.”

“Succinct,” Kyungsoo supplies.

Baekhyun laughs, standing up with the box in hand. “Yeah, exactly,” he says, grinning brightly as Kyungsoo gets to his feet as well. “I won’t complain if you decide to talk more, though.”

That infectious smile again. The corners of Kyungsoo’s mouth twitch. “We’ll see.”

 

 

 

“How long has it been since the last time you had a burger?” Kyungsoo asks between gulps of his soda. It feels wrong to drink it from a can instead of a to-go cup, but for the sake of discretion, he’s had to make some compromises. Couldn’t risk having something spill.

“Too long,” Baekhyun mumbles through a mouthful of food. At Kyungsoo’s look of disgust, he chuckles. “Sorry.”

“The bright side is that no matter how disgusting you act, your fans will still love you,” says Kyungsoo. “Or maybe that’s a downside.” He takes a few fries. Baekhyun had insisted on Kyungsoo eating with him so that he can feel less like a pig. It isn’t much of a hardship, really.

“’M not disgusting,” Baekhyun protests, swallowing at last. “Does this look like the home of someone disgusting to you?”

He has a point there, at least. “Surprisingly, no,” says Kyungsoo. “I’m actually impressed with how clean you are. Aside from your room,” he adds, “which, just so you’re aware, is such a mess it almost gives me depression every time I go in there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my room.” Baekhyun takes another large bite. Kyungsoo cringes and looks away. Unfortunately, this does nothing to stop him from hearing Baekhyun’s obnoxiously loud chewing. “Everything’s where I can find it.”

“That’s something messy people say to justify being messy,” says Kyungsoo. “Apart from the bedroom being a disaster zone, though, I’m surprised you need a cleaner. Like you’ve said, there isn’t that much for me to do.”

This time, Baekhyun actually takes the time to chew and swallow his food like a normal, dignified human before speaking. “Well, the thing is,” he says, “I kind of suck at being self-motivated, so if I’m not accountable for my messes, I just… don’t really bother, I guess.” He has the decency to look sheepish. “But since I know there’s someone who has to deal with my shit, it helps make sure I actually do something about it. Otherwise I feel guilty.”

“Wouldn’t living with someone also solve that problem?” says Kyungsoo.

Baekhyun shrugs. “Probably. But that person would end up being my manager, I think, and I don’t—” He pauses, licking his lips. Something changes in his expression. “The nice thing about being kind of on my own,” he says, “even though it’s a little lonely, is that I can do what I want and not feel like someone’s babysitting me, y’know? And—Minseok-hyung’s great, and I didn’t hate living with him, but. I dunno.”

“It was stifling,” says Kyungsoo.

“Yeah. A little bit.” Baekhyun’s hands twitch, the wrapper around his cheeseburger crinkling loudly. “I always knew being an idol meant I couldn’t live like a normal person. But sometimes it’s suffocating, you know? Having to live a certain way and being coddled.”

Kyungsoo watches Baekhyun chew through another too-large mouthful, then says, “But those are just the sacrifices you have to make to do what you love, aren’t they?”

More chewing. The way Baekhyun’s cheeks bulge as he eats is a little endearing, and his always-pouting lower lip sticks out cutely. “Yeah. And I mean, people ask me a lot about what I’d do if I wasn’t an idol,” he mumbles, mouth still filled with food. “But honestly? I dunno. Singing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.” He chuckles. “Guess it’s pretty lucky that worked out, huh? Otherwise I’d be fucked.”

Kyungsoo doesn’t say anything. He looks away to stare dully at the floor, feeling like a profoundly selfish asshole. This whole plan is bullshit. He’s an awful person, and so is Junmyeon, and their contact within the company, and Chanyeol, and whoever hired Kyungsoo without doing a thorough enough background check. Everyone in this equation but Baekhyun, who’s done nothing but love singing and playing video games and making people happy, who doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone, who seems to think Kyungsoo’s motives for being nice to him are entirely altruistic.

“What would you be, if you could be anything?” asks Baekhyun, drawing Kyungsoo’s attention once again.

A successful journalist with some job security, he wants to say. Or just a decent fucking person. But no, neither of those is the right answer. He should be honest about this, if nothing else. “A screenwriter. I’ve always liked the idea of writing something and seeing it come to life.”

“Yeah?” Baekhyun perks up. “What genre would you do?”

“I don’t think genre is what matters,” says Kyungsoo. “Not to me, at least. I think I’d just want to make something that people identify with. Something meaningful. With the right story, details like that wouldn’t be important.”

The interest in Baekhyun’s gaze now is so earnest it’s unnerving. Maybe because this is the most sincere, heartfelt, real thing Kyungsoo’s admitted to in the time they’ve known each other, the most revealing, and the fact that Baekhyun is focusing so intently on it is discomfiting. His eyes, though, are soft as he asks, “Have you written anything yet?”

“A couple of things.” Self-conscious, Kyungsoo sets his soda can down, scratches his neck, reacquaints his eyes with the floor. “But I haven’t had time to finish anything in a while. Work keeps me occupied.” And miserable, of course. Always miserable.

Baekhyun does his signature head tilt, asks, “Did you ever study screenwriting or anything?”

“No.”

“How come?”

Kyungsoo laughs, even though it isn’t really funny. “It wasn’t practical,” he says. “And I might not have been good at it anyway. I had to stick with something I knew I could do. Or thought I could do,” he amends. “It seemed like a safe bet at the time.”

“So you’re stuck doing something you aren’t happy with, and it’s not even going well,” says Baekhyun.

It’s true, but hearing someone else say it somehow makes it sound that much worse. “Yeah.” He feels himself sag. “I’m about to lose my job, actually. My other job,” he clarifies. “Obviously.”

“That’s—” Baekhyun’s expression turns unexpectedly morose, lips turning down, eyes also a bit droopier than usual. “Is there anything I can do? That’s a stupid question, isn’t it. Sorry. I just don’t—you’ve been really nice to me. Nicer than you have to be to some bratty entitled celebrity. At this point, you’re more like a friend to me than someone hired by the executives. So—I don’t wanna see anything happen to you.”

The entire situation is just laughable. Baekhyun calling him his friend, offering to help when he’s the only one who can help. Maybe a week ago, it would’ve gotten the wheels turning in Kyungsoo’s head, made him start devising ways to profit from this newfound friendship. Or maybe not. He can’t be sure anymore. He doesn’t know exactly when things changed; or, to give himself the benefit of the doubt, can’t say for sure if he would have been capable of it at all, even from the beginning.

“I’ll be fine,” he says. “I have some money saved up. I’ll be able to get by until I find something else.”

“I could help get you a job here,” says Baekhyun. “At the company, I mean.”

“Technically, I already have a job under SM.”

“No, but—a job-job. Full time. Something that isn’t just about cleaning up my garbage.” Kyungsoo tries to interrupt, but Baekhyun continues, “Something that’ll make you happy. Or at least something you don’t hate. You deserve that.”

“I’ll be fine, Baekhyun-ah,” Kyungsoo says again, because he doesn’t know what else to say, and because if he says it aloud enough times it might become true somehow. “But thank you.”

“Once I’m off this diet,” says Baekhyun, “I’ll treat you to samgyeopsal. As payback for everything.”

“You don’t owe me anything. Really. I did it because I wanted to.”

“Don’t be stupid, hyung.” Kyungsoo doesn’t even have the chance to react to that before Baekhyun moves right along: “Hey, have you ever tried dipping fries in your milkshake?”

Kyungsoo makes a face. “Why would I do that?”

“It’s good, you should try it.” Because Baekhyun apparently doesn’t learn, he takes another bite, saying with a full mouth, “Strawberry’s the best flavor for it, but you look like a chocolate kind of guy.”

Dipping fried and salted potatoes into blended ice cream sounds disgusting to Kyungsoo, but he doesn’t have the heart to say so. “Okay. I’ll try to remember that.” He risks a glance at Baekhyun now that he knows his mouth is closed. “Oh—you’ve got something there,” he says, gesturing to the area on his own face.

Baekhyun swipes a thumb over the spot on his upper lip, then sticks it in his mouth. It draws Kyungsoo’s attention to the mole just above his lip, something he’d never noticed before and isn’t even sure why he did now. Unsettled, he tears his gaze away and takes a drink of his Coke, determined not to think too hard about what just happened.

 

 

 

It’s a too-busy-and-stressed-to-take-care-of-himself kind of weekend, which means his friend Jongdae’s come over to make sure he eats and bathes and maybe sleeps eventually. It feels like university all over again, except instead of hurrying to write last-minute research papers he’s combing over notes from interviews with his sources to throw together an article, wishing his shorthand were a little clearer and regretting his stubborn refusal to record audio. (He also regrets giving up smoking after university, because fuck, he would kill for a cigarette right about now. He can almost taste the tobacco on his tongue just from the thought of it. But his mother would never let him hear the end of it if she found out he’d picked it up again. Neither would Chanyeol or Sehun, for that matter.)

Jongdae wordlessly replaces his long-empty coffee mug with a fresh one. There’s a faint smell of vanilla, because Kim Jongdae is an absolute angel who just does things like make vanilla syrup and add it to someone’s coffee without being asked, because it’s a nice touch and makes the drink special. Kyungsoo gives him as sincere a thanks as he can manage, then takes a sip and discovers, too late, that it’s still no less than scalding. But instead of giving in to instinct and spitting it back out, he holds it in his mouth to let it cool so it doesn’t burn his throat going down.

“I would’ve told you it was still hot,” says Jongdae, “but y’know, I guess I made the mistake of assuming you weren’t completely stupid.”

“All my mental processes are focused on this article, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo mutters. “I don’t have enough brain power left for common sense.”

“Mm.” Jongdae joins him at the table, the surface of which is covered with notes and cut-out sections of newspaper and wrinkled post-its. Half of it doesn’t even need to be there. “Wow. This is a fucking mess.”

“I know.”

“And you look like hell.”

“I know.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

Kyungsoo sighs, pushing his glasses up to try to rub the bleariness from his eye. “Just stressed about deadlines,” he says. There’s a moment of silence, and he looks up to see Jongdae with his eyebrows raised skeptically. “Really. It’s just stuff with work.”

“Chanyeollie told me you might lose your job. You don’t have to pretend, Kyungsoo.”

Pursing his lips, Kyungsoo looks back at the document on his laptop, away from Jongdae’s sympathetic frown. “It’s fine,” he says for what he thinks must be the fiftieth time this month. Then another lie: “I’m handling it.”

“Bullshit,” says Jongdae. “If you were handling it, you wouldn’t be practically pulling your hair out on a Sunday night over some policy piece you’re—” He cuts off at the buzzing sound from somewhere in the pile of miscellaneous papers. “Are you gonna get that?”

“No. If it’s important, they’ll text or leave a voicemail.”

The buzzing continues. Jongdae sifts through the stacks, then finally pulls Kyungsoo’s phone from the depths. “Not from one of your contacts,” he says. “Are you expecting—”

“No,” Kyungsoo says curtly, focusing on the words on the screen.

“Just so you know, you’re acting like a tool,” says Jongdae. The buzzing stops. Out of the corner of his eye Kyungsoo can see Jongdae holding the phone up to his ear. “Hello? …No, no, you have the right number. He’s busy right—oh?” Pause. “Uh, I can see if he has a second.” Then, to Kyungsoo, “He says he’s a friend of yours?”

“Who?”

“Dunno. Just said to say it’s your favorite dongsaeng.”

Kyungsoo finally looks up, brow furrowed.

“He sounds kind of drunk,” Jongdae adds.

“Here,” says Kyungsoo, motioning for the phone. When Jongdae hands it over, he puts it to his ear and says, “Hello?”

“Remember how I was in that drama last year that kinda flopped because they cast two idols and the main romance plot sucked and the advertising was obnoxious? I was thinking about what you—”

“Wait,” says Kyungsoo, cutting off the person’s rambling. “Who is this?”

With an audible pout, the voice says, “Baekhyun. Who else would it be? I mean, how many people do you actually know who’ve been in dramas?”

“Baekhyun-ah?” Kyungsoo echoes, ignoring Jongdae’s questioning look. “Why—how did you get my phone number?”

“I asked the staff for it.”

Why?”

“So I could talk to you,” Baekhyun says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “But listen, this is more important. The drama, hyung.”

Figuring there’s no point in trying to make sense of any of this, Kyungsoo says, “What about it?”

“So I’m friends with some of the people I filmed with, right, and I was talking to one of them last week, and I asked if he knew someone I could talk to about recommending my friend as a screenwriter—that’s you, by the way, you’re the friend—so he gave me this director’s number, and long story short, if you can send in a sample of your work, like a spec script or whatever, you might get hired on as one of the writers for this series SBS is shooting in the fall!” It all comes out in a rush, like he said it in one breath. The excitement in his tone is clear, even if his words are a bit clumsy. “That’s cool, right?”

“I’m…” Kyungsoo doesn’t even know where to begin. He stares blankly at his laptop screen. All the stress over work has probably driven him insane, or he’s fallen ill and this is some kind of fever dream.

“I know it’s not the same as making movies, but it’s better than nothing, isn’t it?”

Kyungsoo licks his lips. His immediate impulse is to tell Baekhyun he’s being ridiculous, because there’s no way he’ll land a job like that when he has no relevant experience and might not even be a good writer, but Baekhyun’s eagerness makes it hard for Kyungsoo to shoot him down. It has very little to do with him being interested in the opportunity. Mostly he just wants to humor Baekhyun. “The series—what kind of show is it? Do you know the details?”

“A crime drama or something. I dunno. Sounded gritty. Lots of… murder and stuff.” Baekhyun goes quiet for a few seconds, then says, “Actually, maybe that’s not your thing. Um. Ha. Never mind, I’ll call them back tomorrow and—”

“Baekhyun. Stop. It’s fine,” says Kyungsoo. “You don’t have to call anyone. I’ll—I can throw something together, if I have to.” Kyungsoo glances briefly at Jongdae, who looks more curious than ever. “When do they need it by?”

“Sometime next month? Um. I can send you the info,” says Baekhyun. “There’s a whole PDF or whatever. I can’t remember everything. I’ve had maybe, uh…” Another pause, like he’s trying to remember something. He chuckles. “Too much to drink. Sorry.”

Without meaning to, Kyungsoo finds himself smiling. “That’s okay.”

“You don’t have to do it, you know,” Baekhyun says suddenly. “If you don’t actually wanna go for the job, you can just—I dunno, you can tell me to shut up and mind my own business. I know I didn’t ask and I’m kind of. Forcing this on you. But I thought you should know about it, at least.”

“You’re not forcing anything on me,” says Kyungsoo. “I appreciate it.”

“Okay. Well. I’m—I should go. I’m at a thing.”

“Alright. Drink some water.”

Baekhyun laughs his weirdly cartoonish laugh. “I’ll try to, Kyungsoo-hyung.”

Once the call ends, Kyungsoo sets his phone down, lets out a big whooshing breath, and goes back to typing up his article. After a moment, though, Jongdae says, “What was that?”

“A friend with some information on a possible job,” says Kyungsoo. “It’s a long shot, though.”

“But you seem excited about it,” says Jongdae, a hint of suspicion in his voice.

Kyungsoo blinks. “Do I?”

“You’re smiling.”

Oh. So he is. He quickly forces his expression into something neutral, then says, “It’ll just be nice if it works out, I guess.”

Jongdae watches him for a moment, a shrewd look in his eyes that almost makes Kyungsoo squirm. “You’re secretive these days,” he says.

“Is that bad?”

“It’s different. You don’t normally hide things.”

In truth, he doesn’t normally have anything to hide. But the business with Baekhyun and his job and everything that’s been going on has been… complicated. He doesn’t want people to know about it. Better to keep it to himself and not suffer through the shame of admitting to what he was willing to do for his pointless, dead-end career. Better to let himself pretend he has some semblance of human decency.

And maybe some small part of him wants to keep Baekhyun a secret anyway. He doesn’t want to think about why, though he does have his suspicions.

“If I need to tell you about it, I will,” he says. “Or Chanyeollie will, apparently.”

There’s another brief staring contest before Jongdae says, “’Kay. If you say so.” Then he adds, “Drink your coffee before it gets cold.”

“Alright, I will.” Kyungsoo reaches for the cup, then pauses. “Thanks for worrying, Jongdae.”

“You’re a dick and I’m missing out on spending time with my girlfriend because of this,” says Jongdae, “but you’re welcome.”

Kyungsoo sighs and takes a drink of coffee, still slightly too hot. He doesn’t bother complaining.

 

 

 

Baekhyun texts him every day now. Multiple times, even.

He must be bored, Kyungsoo figures. Or lonely. But it isn’t too much of a bother for Kyungsoo to reply most of the time, and the exchanges are often short, rarely even long enough to be conversations. There are complaints about getting up early to shoot his MV, updates on movies he’s watched, requests for Kyungsoo to eat well on his behalf, reminders for him to get plenty of sleep. It’s kind of cute, in a way. Charming enough that he doesn’t sigh or frown when his phone vibrates in his pocket every few hours.

He’s replying to Baekhyun’s latest text at his desk (You listen to the Beatles, right? You seem like a Come Together kind of guy to me) when Junmyeon shows up out of nowhere and asks to see Kyungsoo in his office. He gives Kyungsoo’s phone a faintly disapproving look, making him feel like a kid who’s been caught texting in class. Flushed with embarrassment, Kyungsoo follows him once again to the room he’s come to hate, wondering if this will be the day Junmyeon finally kicks him to the curb for being a waste of a paycheck.

Once he’s seated across from Junmyeon at the desk, he braces himself, knowing his last piece was rushed and messy and he’s been on thin ice this entire time as it is. What a sad way to end a career, he thinks. Sad and anticlimactic.

“I wanted to talk to you about your last article,” says Junmyeon.

Here it comes. Kyungsoo straightens his back. He’ll at least go out with dignity. He owes himself that much.

“I was surprised,” Junmyeon continues. “The quality wasn’t at all what I expected from you, Kyungsoo.”

Kyungsoo tries not to wince. Falling short of expectations again. Of course.

“I think it’s safe to say that was the best piece you’ve written since you started working here.”

The best—? Kyungsoo can’t help but gape. “I—it was?”

“I really got the sense that you cared about the subject this time. It didn’t seem like you thought of it as a chore.” Junmyeon’s smile is pleasant, which makes Kyungsoo that much warier. “I don’t know what changed, but it’s a definite improvement.”

Kyungsoo flounders for a moment, then manages, “Thank you.” He hesitates. “Did you… just want to congratulate me on a job well done, or was there something else?”

“Well, while we’re here, I wanted to check in with you about your other assignment,” says Junmyeon. “How are things with Byun? Is the friendship angle working out for you?”

Kyungsoo feels his phone buzz in his pocket. Speak of the devil. “Progress has been slow,” he says, “but I’m definitely getting somewhere. He’s said he thinks of us as friends now.”

Junmyeon’s smile brightens. His teeth are so square and flat and white that they’re a bit mesmerizing to look at. Enviable, even. “Good! Then you can move on to the next phase.”

There’s a pause. “The next phase?” Kyungsoo echoes.

“Spending time with him outside of your job, obviously.” When Junmyeon cocks his head to the side, it’s not the same endearing mannerism that Kyungsoo’s come to associate with Baekhyun. It feels horribly judgmental, if anything. “Or hadn’t you thought about that?”

“Oh, I—” Shit. “I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate. Or… wise?”

“How much did you expect to learn from him if you only see each other once a week in the context of you working?” Junmyeon clucks his tongue reprovingly. “A little forethought, Kyungsoo.”

God, fuck. He’s right, of course. “Sorry. I’ll, um. Look into it.”

Looking horribly unimpressed, Junmyeon just says, “Sooner rather than later?”

Kyungsoo gets back to his own desk, where he takes a moment to sit and do absolutely nothing, trying not to let the sudden buildup of stress overwhelm him. He contemplates his cactus, still green, and glances around at his notes and schedules, all neatly organized and undisturbed. Then, after a long moment of nothing, he gives up on brooding aimlessly and checks his phone.

Really? I Want to Hold Your Hand?? Ooh. Didn’t peg you for the straightforward and upbeat love song type~

Kyungsoo stares for a moment at his screen, long enough for it to go black. Why, he wonders, does everything have to suck so hugely and profoundly? He stares at the black screen for a moment longer, full of dread, then unlocks it again to send a reply.

It’s simple and gets its point across. I like things that are uncomplicated.

When the time comes to take his lunch break, he sits with Chanyeol, tells him about the meeting, pretends that the idea of spending more time with Baekhyun is an inconvenience rather than the death sentence to his sanity that it really is. Chanyeol does a lot of grumbling and sympathetic frowning, and for just a moment Kyungsoo entertains the idea of telling him the truth, of telling him what he’s been afraid to admit to even himself. But the impulse passes, and he sits there just thinking silently about Baekhyun and the SBS gig and samgyeopsal and all these strange and sudden (or maybe not-so-sudden) feelings he’s been trying so hard not to have.

Chanyeol’s going on about some documentary he watched about how guitars are made, or something similarly uninteresting, Kyungsoo only halfway paying attention as his eyes wander. Something’s different, he thinks. It takes him a moment to pinpoint just what it is, and then he realizes the last little succulent’s gone, replaced by a small ceramic vase full of vibrant gerbera daisies.

“Why the flowers?” he asks, interrupting a ramble about nylon filaments.

Chanyeol blinks, looking over at the vase with wide eyes like he only just realized it was there. “Oh, I—the plants kept dying, so it seemed… smarter to keep something around that was already dead?” His smile is a little too wide, a little too full of teeth. “Lower maintenance. And they’re pretty, right?”

“Right,” says Kyungsoo, realizing he isn’t the only one keeping secrets these days. He doesn’t have the energy to question it, though. “Anyway, what were you saying?”

 

 

 

Baekhyun isn’t alone this time. He’s leaning against the wall just outside the kitchen, arms crossed, facing away while he talks to someone Kyungsoo can hear but not see. He glances over his shoulder and gives an easy smile, not even pausing in his sentence. His hair is honey blond. It’s a good look on him. And he’s wearing a tank top, emphasizing the shape of his arms and shoulders. Also a good look on him.

“Minseok-hyung isn’t staying long,” he says after Kyungsoo’s taken off his shoes. “He’s almost done giving me advice about strength training that I didn’t ask for.”

Minseok. The manager. Kyungsoo’s never met him, never even seen what he looks like. He expects someone stern and imposing, with an air that says they’re perpetually done with Baekhyun’s shit. But when Kyungsoo comes up behind Baekhyun and looks into the kitchen, he sees a man even shorter than he is, soft cheeks and alert eyes and a sort of mild look about him. Not intimidating at all, in Kyungsoo’s opinion.

“Do Kyungsoo, right?” says Minseok, smiling pleasantly. “Baekhyunnie talks about you a lot.”

“I talk about him a normal amount,” says Baekhyun. Then, to Kyungsoo: “This is my manager, Kim Minseok. He lovingly calls me the bane of his existence.”

“Not always lovingly,” says Minseok. “Nice to meet you.”

Kyungsoo nods. “You too.”

Minseok looks him over scrutinizingly, then says, “Don’t you have a uniform?”

“I told him not to wear it,” Baekhyun says before Kyungsoo can even open his mouth. “It’s offensive to look at. He kept trying to insist on being professional, though, so I stole his apron.”

Eyebrows raised, Minseok echoes, “Stole his apron?”

“Yep!”

“…Right.” There’s an implied why am I surprised in his tone. “Anyway, I’ll get out of your way now.” Minseok makes to leave the kitchen, and both Baekhyun and Kyungsoo step aside to let him through. He pats Baekhyun on the shoulder as he passes, then stops in his tracks, brow furrowing. “What’s that smell?”

“I dunno, what does it smell like?” asks Baekhyun. He glances sideways at Kyungsoo, who’s frozen in place from nerves.

“Like…” Minseok sniffs. “Pizza?”

“Oh, that’s probably me,” says Kyungsoo, forcing himself not to move his arm in any way in case it draws attention to his bag. “I was cooking in these clothes earlier. Italian food.”

“Oh.” There’s a contemplative look on Minseok’s face before he says, “Actually, if you can stand spending more time with this guy, we could probably hire you on to teach him how to cook.”

“I know how to cook,” says Baekhyun.

“You can make two things. That doesn’t count as being self-sufficient.”

“I don’t need—”

“I’ll think about it,” says Kyungsoo, relieved that the lie passed. “Thank you.”

Minseok and Baekhyun bicker a bit more before the former takes his leave. After the front door closes, Baekhyun turns to Kyungsoo, amusement tugging at his lips. Something about that look makes Kyungsoo oddly flustered. He almost wants to turn away, avoid Baekhyun’s gaze, but he knows that would come off as suspect.

“So,” says Baekhyun. “Pizza?”

They’re back at the balcony again, sitting on the floor with the boxes of pizza between them—enough for two this time. Kyungsoo tries to focus on enjoying his food, since this one was as much for him as it was for Baekhyun, but finds himself constantly distracted by the broadness of Baekhyun’s shoulders, the lines of his collarbones, the way his hair looks a bit like spun gold in the sunlight. Further proof that spending more time with Baekhyun is the worst possible idea. There’s no need for him to dwell on what he can’t have.

The thing is, Kyungsoo’s had years now to come to terms with himself and the things he wants. Most days he’s fine with it. But that doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean it’s okay for him to want Baekhyun. Not like this. Not with things the way they are.

“No comment on the hair, huh?”

Kyungsoo tears his gaze away from the grease-stained box he’s been burning holes in, looking reluctantly back up at Baekhyun. “What do you want me to say? It looks good.”

“Better or worse than the auburn?”

Better. “About the same,” Kyungsoo says, shrugging.

Baekhyun narrows his eyes, cheeks puffing out. Cute in a kind of juvenile way. Life would be so much simpler if that were how Kyungsoo always saw him. The petulant look quickly softens as Baekhyun stuffs more pizza into his mouth. “Ever thought about dyeing yours?”

“Not really.”

“You’d look good with brown,” says Baekhyun. “Not too extreme, but still something different.”

Not knowing what to say to that, Kyungsoo just hums in acknowledgment, looking away again.

“I could help you do it if you ever wanted to try it out. I bleach my own hair most of the time.”

The thought of Baekhyun coming anywhere near Kyungsoo’s scalp makes him anxious, though not because he doesn’t trust him. He carefully avoids looking at Baekhyun’s hands, worried that if he does he’ll somehow be able to feel them combing through his hair. “I’ll think about it,” he mumbles.

There’s a moment of silence, of stillness, before Baekhyun breaks it by saying, “You’re quiet today. You feeling alright?”

No. “We’ve been over this,” says Kyungsoo. “I don’t talk much, remember?”

“Yeah, but—” Baekhyun seems to falter, going quiet for a moment himself. Then, “Okay, well, I can just talk enough for both of us.”

He does. Kyungsoo listens, keeps his eyes averted, reminds himself over and over that any sort of fondness toward Baekhyun is dangerous at this point. Tries to will his heart not to throb painfully at the sound of Baekhyun’s laugh.

Fails.

 

 

 

“I can’t,” Chanyeol says when Kyungsoo invites him to grab drinks. He won’t meet Kyungsoo’s eye, very obviously staring at his shoulder instead. Hands are fidgeting, too, tapping along the sides of the mug of tea he just made, so small in his gargantuan hands. “I have, um. A date?”

“Oh.” Kyungsoo blinks. “With who?”

“Just—someone. I can’t really—um. It’s. Sorry.” Chanyeol’s gaze flickers to something behind Kyungsoo. “Anyway, I have to go, I have a thing to—uh—yeah. But some other time, alright?”

“Um. Sure, yeah. That’s—” Chanyeol’s already gone, disappearing quickly from the break room before Kyungsoo can say fine. Kyungsoo stares after him for a second, then lets out a heavy sigh and goes back to stirring packet after packet of sugar into his shitty watered-down coffee.

Maybe he’ll text Jongdae. Or—no, Jongdae’s probably busy with his girlfriend. Things are getting pretty serious with those two, from what he’s heard. In a big way. Best to just leave them to whatever they’re doing. He could ask Sehun, or Jongin, or even Yixing, but they’re all terrible drinkers at best, and Kyungsoo doesn’t feel like having to babysit a lightweight while he drowns his sorrows. There’s also Soojung, he supposes, but he still isn’t sure if she hates him or not, and doesn’t much feel like finding out.

He’s back at his desk and contemplating asking that one wide-eyed intern Kim Dongyoung—who gets a deer-in-headlights look whenever Kyungsoo so much as breathes near him, though he’s been informed it’s because the kid admires him, and not because he fears for his life—when his phone buzzes. It’s Baekhyun. He knows without checking. If it’s the middle of the day and he’s not expecting to hear from anyone else, it’s always Baekhyun, without fail.

Are you busy tonight?

Yes, Kyungsoo thinks immediately. Busy trying to forget the existence of a guy he has complex and arguably inappropriate feelings about. A guy who’s currently texting him with the possible intention of seeing him tonight, in what may be the cruelest twist of fate the universe has thrown at him yet. He takes a deep breath before replying.

Depends, is it important?

After that, he immediately texts Jongdae to ask if he and Sunyoung are available, because he’s a selfish and incredibly mediocre friend. Just after he sends the message, Baekhyun’s reply arrives.

Hmmm… well, depends on your definition of important?? It’s not urgent, if that’s what you mean

Kyungsoo responds, I might have plans with friends. I’ll get back to you, which is not strictly untrue. He really might have plans with friends, ultimately; they’re just plans that he’s purposely trying to orchestrate right now so he doesn’t end up letting Baekhyun persuade him to hang out, or whatever his aim is.

Then, luckily, he gets an answer from Jongdae: I can’t, but Sunyoungie wanted to go out tonight. You should ask her.

Kyungsoo’s never spent time with Jongdae’s girlfriend one-on-one before, but he does have her Line info from when they planned something for Jongdae’s birthday last year. Since his break is technically over now, he messages her quickly before setting his phone down and pretending to be productive, skimming through an article on his computer without really looking at it. The screen of his phone lights up with a new notification. He tries to glance at it as inconspicuously as possible.

Park Sunyoung
Sure, I’ll be done at the clinic at 4!!

Well. That was easy enough.

The rest of the work day goes by without incident, apart from a few vaguely disappointed texts from Baekhyun. Kyungsoo gets home, changes into an outfit he hopes is at least halfway nice-looking, then calls a cab to go meet with Sunyoung at the restaurant, so that they can have a nice, stress-free evening and just unwind and enjoy each other’s company.

 

 

 

“…which is why I’m here, trying to drink my problems away instead of spending time with someone I’m too afraid to confront my feelings for.” Kyungsoo lifts his shot glass, then, finding it empty, sets it back down with a scowl. “It’s a fucking disaster. I knew I should’ve quit instead of taking that ultimatum. Then at least I’d just be unemployed, and not imminently unemployed and… pining. Or whatever you’d call this.”

“So he doesn’t feel the same way?” Sunyoung mumbles, a sleepy-looking level of tipsy, eyebrows knit in a sympathetic frown as she refills Kyungsoo’s glass. What a saint. She and Jongdae deserve each other.

“Probably not,” he says. “And I’m not going to embarrass myself by asking.” He knocks back the shot, grimacing at the taste.

Sunyoung hums. “Getting rejected by an idol would be pretty terrible, I guess,” she says, gazing thoughtfully into the distance. “Dating one probably wouldn’t be much fun, either.”

Kyungsoo nods. That’s something he’s spent a decent amount of time throwing an internal pity party over, too. “Especially a popular one with hordes of defensive fans who don’t want anyone going near him,” he says, thinking back to the controversy surrounding all the dating rumors he found.

“And you’re both men,” she says.

He sighs. “And that.”

“Maybe you’re just… you know.” She gives him a meaningful look. When he just stares at her uncomprehendingly, she says, “It’s been a while since you dated anyone, right? So… you could just be…” She raises her eyebrows significantly.

“Lonely?” he says slowly.

No, just.” She leans in, eyes wide, cups a hand around her mouth and stage-whispers, “Horny.”

Kyungsoo chokes on air. All he can do for a few seconds is gape. “Um.”

“Have you tried working off some of your… stress?”

“Have I what?” he asks, faintly horrified.

You know,” she says emphatically. Then, after glancing around, she makes a quick jerking off gesture.

“I’m.” He sits for a moment, dumbfounded, then gets unsteadily to his feet. “Sorry, bathroom.” He makes a quick escape to the men’s room, face red with mortification.

Coincidentally, he does have to pee. He takes a moment to relieve himself at one of the urinals in the empty restroom. Then, hands washed, he leans against the wall and pulls out his phone.

I’m being punished for turning you down earlier and now my friend’s girlfriend is asking weird questions, he carefully types out.

The almost instantaneous reply: What kind of weird questions?

Weird questions about my dick.

…should your friend be worried???? Baekhyun texts back.

Kyungsoo huffs. Not those kinds of questions, idiot. Just concern about my sex life I guess. Or lack thereof, he almost adds, before realizing that might be going too far. He only belatedly considers that even the information he did provide might have been too much.

There’s no response, which just cements Kyungsoo’s suspicions that that might have been the wrong thing to say. He slumps a little, cramming his phone back into his pocket before heading back out into the restaurant.

They pay not long after that, and he helps Sunyoung into a cab, even offering to get in with her to make sure she gets home safely. She laughs, declines, pats him on the cheek cheerfully.

In his own cab, he pulls his phone out again, bored and distractible in his drunken state. New message from Baekhyun. He opens it, spending a few seconds trying to make out what it says.

Okay, this probably isn’t what you meant at all but without much context it sounds like she’s worried you have an STI. Hopefully you don’t?? I’ve heard they’re uncomfortable. Then: That doesn’t really address why she would be talking about your dick, but who am I to judge.

Just friendly concern. And no, clean bill of health, Kyungsoo replies. After that, he decides to continue, I’m not sure why this conversation about my dick is happening either. I’m too drunk.

Sounds fake. You’re too coherent to be drunk. And you haven’t made even one typo.

Kyungsoo glares at his phone, then hits the call button before he can actually think about what he’s doing.

It takes a few rings for him to get an answer, but soon he hears, “Hi, hyung.”

“The reason there aren’t any typos,” says Kyungsoo, “is because I take my time and reread my messages before sending them.”

Defensive drunk,” says Baekhyun, tone riddled with amusement. “Interesting.”

“I’m not defen—”

“Where are you, anyway? I hear background noise.”

“Heading home.” Kyungsoo glances out the window, watching the buildings and crowds and lampposts fly by. “Hm. It’s later than I thought.”

“Time flies when you’re getting shitfaced, huh?”

Kyungsoo chuckles. “I guess,” he says. “So what did you want to see if I was available for, by the way?”

“Oh, I got to have a cheat day on my diet now that the MV filming’s over,” says Baekhyun. “Just wanted to see if you were up for the samgyeopsal I promised.”

A pang of guilt strikes Kyungsoo. Baekhyun just wanted to treat him to dinner, and Kyungsoo turned him down because he’s an asshole who can’t properly sort out his own feelings. “Oh. Well, next time?”

Baekhyun laughs. “Sure. Next time,” he says. “Anyway, want me to stay on the line with you to make sure you get home and don’t end up in a ditch somewhere?”

“That’s insulting. I should throw myself into a ditch to spite you now,” says Kyungsoo. “I don’t even know where I’d find a ditch near here, but I’ll look for one. I’ll even bury myself in it, and it’ll be all your fault.”

A pause, then Baekhyun says, “You’re… really something when you’re drunk, hyung.”

“Sorry,” Kyungsoo says reflexively.

“Not in a bad way. You’re just…” Another laugh. “Different. Kind of weird. Good weird, though.”

“Well. You’re always kind of weird, so it’s only fair.”

“Good weird?”

Huffing out a laugh, Kyungsoo says, “Mostly.”

“Eh, I’ll take it,” says Baekhyun. “Hey, if I hang up, do you promise not to throw yourself into any ditches, hyung?”

“No,” says Kyungsoo. And, because he’s an idiot: “You’ll just have to stay on the phone with me, I guess.”

“What a hassle,” Baekhyun says dryly. “Having to hold a conversation with a person I like talking to. What did I ever do to deserve this.”

They chat for the rest of the cab ride, then continue even after Kyungsoo’s stumbled into his apartment, all the way until it becomes obvious Kyungsoo’s having too much difficulty focusing to carry his side of the conversation. The call ends, sooner than he would’ve liked—ideally, he supposes he would’ve wanted Baekhyun’s voice to follow him all the way into sleep, even though that wouldn’t have been possible—and he’s left feeling oddly out of sorts.

“Too drunk for feelings,” he tells himself, rubbing an eye drowsily and scowling at his wall. “Too tired.”

He strips down to his underwear and crawls into bed, then spends a long moment just staring up at the ceiling, restless and agitated. Maybe she was right, he thinks. Maybe he does need to… work off his stress. It could be a completely stupid idea, but it’s worth a shot, at least.

With his level of inebriation, it takes more effort than usual to get his dick to show any interest—more stroking, more care to focus on just one train of thought without getting distracted by entirely unsexy ideas. Once he manages to get himself fully erect, it’s almost a relief. He turns over to lie partway on his front, bracing himself with one arm to reach the other between himself and the mattress. He slides his hand down into his underwear, wraps it loosely around his cock, rolls his hips as steadily as he can manage.

It’s straightforward enough. He fucks his hand, tells himself he isn’t thinking about Baekhyun at all, bites down hard on his lip to keep from making any noise as he fantasizes about not-Baekhyun and what he feels like, how he tastes, how he sounds. The image in his head of not-Baekhyun is startlingly, shamefully vivid. Kyungsoo comes messily, and the afterglow lasts only a short time before he feels guilty and strange and not really better about much of anything.

By morning, at least, he’s managed to convince himself he was right, and it wasn’t Baekhyun he was thinking about at all.

 

 

 

Another day, another failed idea for a script. Or nine. There’s a small pile of balled-up outlines on his floor now, one sheet of paper wasted for every failed idea. Trying to write about crime and violence and suspense doesn’t come easily when all he can think about is how much of an idiot he is and how much his feelings have fucked over both his career and his entire life.

“What if,” he mutters to himself, frowning up at a spot on the ceiling, “the detective’s partner is the killer?” He pauses, frowns harder. “No, that doesn’t make sense.” A sigh. “This isn’t going to work, is it.”

He tries again, this time only getting one bullet point in before resorting to writing This is a waste of time over and over. Then he morosely doodles a small cartoon figure on fire to represent himself, and, after that, a gravestone. Here lies Do Kyungsoo. Failed journalist. Sham of a writer. Terrible friend. Mourned by very few. He tears out the page, crushes it into a ball and tosses it somewhere in the direction of the growing pile.

At a loss as to what else to do, he shoots off a text to Baekhyun about how he’s hit a series of dead ends with the script, and maybe, possibly, this wasn’t the best idea. He makes sure to tack on a But don’t worry about it, I’m still glad you told me at the end, just in case.

Should’ve started off with something easy, he thinks, staring at the fresh page in the notebook. It was a mistake to think he could immediately churn something like that out when he’s so out of practice, especially when he can’t even be sure if he was any good at this kind of thing to begin with. Genre writing, that is, not just screenwriting in general—though that’s also something of an issue, of course.

His phone buzzes moments later. We’ll think of something else, Baekhyun’s reply reads. Then another comes: What’s the status with your job?

There isn’t much point in sugarcoating it. Just hanging on by a thread until they finally decide to get rid of me.

There’s nothing for a few minutes, and finally Baekhyun replies, mgr threatening to take phone if I keep texting sry.

Right. He’s probably off doing… idol things. Going to events and whatnot. That’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow.

He gets up, puts water on for tea, paces around the kitchen for a bit. The more time he spends in his apartment, the emptier each room starts to feel. Empty and quiet. Or maybe it’s because Baekhyun’s place feels so much livelier, never silent for a moment because its tenant won’t let it be. Kyungsoo steeps his tea and sighs. Maybe he should get a dog or something, like Jongin’s always suggesting.

When he gets back to his desk, tea in hand, there’s a new message from Baekhyun.

I almost forgot!!! You can’t come tomorrow, I’m gonna be at a birthday event with my fans. Could you come over on Saturday instead?

Surprised, Kyungsoo sends back a Sure and immediately looks up Baekhyun’s birthday. May 6th. He quickly does the math, realizing that’s… Saturday. Well.

He could just play dumb and pretend he didn’t realize it was Baekhyun’s birthday. The alternative is to figure out a gift for him, and he wouldn’t even be sure where to start with that. Or—maybe he could be upfront and admit he didn’t know what to get him, then offer to make it up to him later. That would probably be the best option, really.

He decides to text Chanyeol, What do you do to overcome chronic writer’s block?

The response arrives halfway through Kyungsoo’s cup of tea: Do something fun for a while. Get laid.

Letting out a heavy sigh, Kyungsoo replies, Not really an option.

I mean, Jinri’s on the rebound.

Another sigh. It’s not about the lack of prospects. He considers elaborating on that, but just leaves it as it is. Chanyeol can draw his own conclusions.

Then comes Chanyeol’s spectacularly unhelpful suggestion of Have you thought about getting a dog or something? and at that point Kyungsoo gives up. He’ll either solve the problem on his own or… well, more likely, it isn’t getting solved at all.

God. He should’ve been an accountant or something.

 

 

 

One minute, he’s having a sort of anxious dream about being late to his brother’s wedding, going to the wrong venue entirely and not being allowed in once he gets there. It’s a recurring dream, and one that doesn’t even make sense; Seungsoo’s wedding was two years ago, and it all went perfectly fine. Then, abruptly, he’s lying awake in bed, squinting blearily at his surroundings in the still-dark room. He peers at the glowing numbers of his alarm clock. 1:14 AM. Fuck. Why the fuck is he awake at—

Oh. His phone.

He reaches for it clumsily, almost knocking his glasses off his nightstand in the process, and brings the screen up close to his face so he can see who the ungodly fuck is calling him at one in the morning on a Friday night.

Incoming Call
Baekhyunnie

Groaning, he swipes to answer. “Hello?” he mumbles, tongue still thick with sleep, throat full of gravel.

“I need help.”

Kyungsoo sits up immediately, fully awake. “What’s wrong?”

“Me.” Baekhyun makes a miserable noise. “I almost told my ex I wanted to get back together.”

Despite Kyungsoo’s relief that there’s no emergency, something sinks in the pit of his stomach. Which is silly, because it’s not like he didn’t expect this. Of course Baekhyun’s dated people the public doesn’t know about—people Kyungsoo doesn’t know about. But the idea of him still wanting to be with that person is… difficult for Kyungsoo to deal with.

“Okay,” Kyungsoo says slowly. “So what do you need?”

“Just—tell me I’m an idiot or something,” says Baekhyun.

“You’re an idiot,” says Kyungsoo. “Anything else?” He doesn’t mean to be curt, but the middle of the night isn’t when he’s at his most sympathetic. Especially with things like this.

“Could you, um.” Baekhyun’s voice gets smaller. “If I asked you to meet me somewhere, would you?”

Kyungsoo glances at his clock again. 1:16 AM. He hates the fact that that doesn’t especially matter to him.

“Yeah,” he says. “Of course. Where?”

After pulling on pants and a zip-up hoodie—no reason to change out of the shirt he was sleeping in, even if it is a little wrinkled—he grabs his keys and wallet, then stops in the kitchen to grab coffee from the fridge on his way out.

The place Baekhyun told him to go to is a spot with a view of the river, separated from the water by railing and shrubbery and a bike path and then more railing. There are sets of benches on the platform, all empty save for one. But even if the other seats had been occupied, Kyungsoo still would have been able to pick Baekhyun out immediately. The hood covering his hair doesn’t even matter; it’s the posture, the set of his shoulders. Kyungsoo makes his way over, stepping loudly to announce his presence, and takes a seat at Baekhyun’s side.

Neither of them says anything for a moment. They both stare out at the river, the only noise the ambient sound of cars nearby. It’s peaceful, in a way. And the air is surprisingly clear for spring, the temperature pleasant. A nice night, even if it’s late and Kyungsoo’s gotten maybe two hours of sleep.

“I come here at night to think sometimes,” Baekhyun says eventually. “No one ever bothers me. No fans to deal with.”

When he doesn’t go on, Kyungsoo says, “It’s nice.” Then, “Why did you want me to come here?”

“I was at this party earlier, kind of. A thing with other people from the company.” Baekhyun pushes his hood back and runs a hand through his hair. “I’d been thinking about some things a lot recently, and I wondered if… maybe my life would be easier if I got back together with my ex-girlfriend.”

It isn’t immediately obvious how the things are connected, until Kyungsoo realizes: “Another idol from your company?”

“Yeah. Um.” Baekhyun laughs a little. “There were never any big dating rumors about us, I don’t think, so you probably wouldn’t guess, but she—”

“You don’t have to tell me who it is,” Kyungsoo cuts in quickly. “For the sake of respecting her privacy.”

Baekhyun finally turns to look at him, expression blank, then looks away again. “Yeah,” he says. “Just—she’s from the company. We can leave it at that, probably.”

“So you talked to her?” asks Kyungsoo. Baekhyun nods. “Had you been drinking at all?”

“No. Sober and stupid.” Baekhyun leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees, chin on his hands. “I don’t think she would’ve said yes anyway. I kind of realized that before I even talked to her. But I thought—fuck. I dunno. It was worth a shot. Or. I thought it was.”

He goes quiet again. Kyungsoo hovers for a second, uncertain, then reaches out to lay a comforting hand on Baekhyun’s shoulder. Rather than relaxing, though, Baekhyun hunches down, curling in on himself. Kyungsoo frowns, but doesn’t pull his hand away. Just waits.

“We broke up for a lot of reasons,” says Baekhyun. “But I thought maybe if I could convince myself I still felt that way about her, things wouldn’t be… like they are. I wouldn’t—” He pauses, shakes his head. “I’m telling this wrong.” He straightens again and looks briefly at Kyungsoo, traces of fear in his eyes, then back at the river. “The thing is, I like… men. Girls too,” he adds quickly. “But that’s… not as important right now.”

For a span of maybe three seconds, Kyungsoo forgets how to move or breathe, forgets how to exist entirely. He sits, frozen and wide-eyed, before pulling his hand away from Baekhyun’s shoulder. From the corner of his eye he sees Baekhyun turn quickly to look at him, but he has to put all his focus and energy into grabbing his phone with an unsteady hand and quickly scrolling through his contacts.

“Hyung?” he hears Baekhyun say questioningly as he dials a number and puts the phone to his ear. Then, more alarmed, “Kyungsoo—”

Kyungsoo ignores him. The phone rings, and he shoots to his feet to immediately start pacing, intent on getting rid of the sudden and frantic energy buzzing in him before it—

“Hello?” answers a voice that is decidedly not Kim Junmyeon, but something low and vaguely familiar.

Kyungsoo quickly checks his screen to make sure he dialed the right number, then narrows his eyes. “Who is this?”

“Um,” says the voice. “Park Chanyeol? Who is—”

“Chanyeol,” Kyungsoo echoes. He almost doesn’t know what to say. He feels a surge of hysteria ready to burst out of him. “Park fucking Chanyeol, why are you answering our boss’s phone at two in the morning.”

“Our—oh, fuck.” There’s another voice in the background, then some muffled conversation. “Shit,” Chanyeol says after a moment, audibly alarmed. “Listen, I can—”

“I don’t care,” says Kyungsoo. “Put Junmyeon on. I need to speak with him.”

More conversation, followed by a slightly groggy, “Kyungsoo-ssi? Is this impo—”

“I quit,” Kyungsoo interrupts sharply. “You can expect a letter of resignation next week, but I’m telling you now, upfront: I quit. I’m done.”

There’s a beat of silence. “You—Kyungsoo, what’s—”

“And by the way, I’m telling him everything,” says Kyungsoo, “so good luck getting your fucking story after this, sir.” He hangs up, shuts his phone off, stuffs it in his pocket and lets out a heavy, calming breath. It does little to soothe his nerves.

When he glances back at Baekhyun, he’s met with a look bordering on panic, eyes big and round and mouth hanging open. And okay, admittedly that was probably not the most sensible move, but it was something Kyungsoo needed to get out of the way as quickly as possible. He moves to stand in front of Baekhyun, and for a moment they just watch each other, Kyungsoo with his hands in his pockets and Baekhyun wringing his fretfully. Kyungsoo wonders what his face must look like right now, what sort of emotion he’s conveying.

“I’m a journalist,” he says. “Or I was one, but I was kind of shitty at it. I was assigned to go undercover and try to find dirt on you. If I did, I could keep my job.” He turns his gaze to the ground so he doesn’t have to see the shock in Baekhyun’s expression. “I couldn’t do it. Not after getting to know you. I know that’s still terrible, and I should never—”

“You could’ve sold me out to save your job,” says Baekhyun. He doesn’t sound angry in the slightest, though by all rights, he should be. If anything, the fact that he isn’t is sort of maddening. “But… you didn’t?”

“I couldn’t. I don’t know if I could’ve done it in general, to be honest, but. Especially not to you.”

“Why?” asks Baekhyun. “Why me especially?”

“Because I care about you,” says Kyungsoo. “Why else?”

“In what way?”

Kyungsoo stays silent, eyes fixed on the wooden platform under his feet. His heart is pounding away so fiercely it’s almost nauseating.

Abruptly, Baekhyun gets to his feet, the movement so sudden Kyungsoo flinches, almost taking a step back.

“The problem I was trying to solve, hyung,” Baekhyun says haltingly, “was that I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Kyungsoo looks up now, into Baekhyun’s terribly vulnerable, earnest eyes. There are confusing and painful and alarming things happening in his chest. He knows he should say something. He licks his lips, searches for words, comes up with absolutely nothing.

“I knew it was stupid to even think about it,” says Baekhyun. “Not just because you’re a man, but the circumstances, and. Just everything, I guess. I knew it would fuck things up if anyone found out. So… I told myself I wouldn’t say anything unless you did first.” He smiles a little. “But then I figured you probably wouldn’t want to say anything, either. If you even felt that way. I mean, I probably wouldn’t bother if I were you. Or—if our positions were switched, I still would, because it’s worth it, but—you know what I mean.”

“Not really,” Kyungsoo says, slightly dazed. “But you’re right, I didn’t want to risk it. Even now, I don’t know if we—I don’t know if this is a good idea, Baekhyunnie.”

“It definitely isn’t.”

“I lied to you.”

“You did,” Baekhyun agrees. “But you didn’t do anything. You could’ve. But you didn’t.”

“But—”

“Because you like me.” He says it almost like a question, self-conscious and unsure, possibly a bit hopeful in spite of that.

Kyungsoo nods. "I do.”

“Then we’re fine,” says Baekhyun, as though none of the things Kyungsoo’s been dwelling on for weeks now even matter. He moves closer, so much so that Kyungsoo almost stumbles back instinctively to give him space, but doesn’t. A grin lights up Baekhyun’s features. He tugs on Kyungsoo’s forearms, pulling his hands out of his pockets, then takes hold of both of them, skin soft and cool and grip gentle. “Because I like you, too.”

“I don’t understand why,” says Kyungsoo. He’s amazed he can still string words together into coherent sentences when Baekhyun’s this close, when he can practically count individual eyelashes. “I’m not that special.”

Baekhyun squeezes his hands and says, almost too tenderly, “Shut up, yes you are. You cared. And not the way most people do—not because I’m famous or whatever. You never gave a shit about that. You were just nice when you didn’t even have to be.”

“Of course I had to,” says Kyungsoo. “I don’t think anyone could get to know you and not—” Not care about you. Not want to protect you and make you happy. Not fall in—no. He shakes his head slightly. “You’re important to me,” he says instead. “I didn’t mean for it to turn out that way, but that’s how things are.”

Without saying anything, Baekhyun loosens his hold and guides Kyungsoo’s hands to his waist, then winds his arms around Kyungsoo’s shoulders and removes all space between them, his breath warm against the skin of Kyungsoo’s neck where he's buried his face. For a brief moment Kyungsoo doesn’t know how to react, because he never had time to prepare for the possibility of any of this, and Baekhyun holding him so closely and intimately is the most bizarrely wonderful thing. Then his brain has time to catch up, and he tightens his hold, feeling Baekhyun melt into him as he does. The body wrapped around him is soft yet solid, smells like something floral and lightly sweet. There's a whole whirlwind of thought and feeling going on inside of Kyungsoo in this moment. He just closes his eyes and breathes, ignoring the amazed and disbelieving laughter starting to bubble up in him.

“Can we go somewhere where I can kiss you?” Baekhyun murmurs moments later.

“I thought you said no one bothers you here,” says Kyungsoo.

“Yeah, but. Just in case?”

“Okay. Any—”

“What about your place?” Baekhyun says suddenly. “No risk of creepy fans waiting outside.”

“That’s—” Kyungsoo hesitates. "Isn’t that taking things a little… fast?”

Baekhyun barks out a laugh. “I’m not propositioning you for sex. Jesus.” He pulls away a bit, enough to fix Kyungsoo with a look. “We’re adults, hyung, I think we can handle innocently sharing a bed.”

“I never said we—” Kyungsoo sighs. “Fine. Where’s your car?”

“I walked.” At Kyungsoo’s reproving look, Baekhyun adds defensively, “I’ve done it a hundred times without getting murdered, alright? And I figured if it was gonna happen before I confessed to the guy I liked, then obviously that would be a sign.”

Kyungsoo just sighs again. “Come on, let’s get going before all your talk about getting murdered causes fate to intervene.”

 

 

 

“Your apartment is too high up,” Baekhyun grumbles once they get out of the elevator.

“It really isn’t,” says Kyungsoo. He starts walking down the hall, Baekhyun following just behind him. “Yours is just too low to the ground.”

“I’d be on the first floor if they let me. But I guess that would look bad for them, and a lower level makes it easier for people to—”

“Are you afraid of heights?” Kyungsoo cuts in, only just having thought of the possibility.

“Hm? Yeah. Little bit.” Baekhyun chuckles. “More than a little, but. Y’know.”

Kyungsoo stops at his door, Baekhyun coming to a halt behind him. “Well, you’re probably not going to like the view from here, then.” He enters the key code. “Just don’t look outside and you should be fine.”

Inside, Baekhyun slips out of his shoes quickly and starts looking around at once, every bit the curious puppy Kyungsoo had him pegged for from the beginning. He pauses at the top of the steps leading into the rest of the apartment, glancing back at Kyungsoo with a sheepish look.

“I was gonna ask you to give me the grand tour,” he says, “but it’s… kind of late, huh?”

Half past three in the morning only qualifies as kind of late to Baekhyun, apparently. What a surprise. “There isn’t much to see anyway. You aren’t really missing out,” says Kyungsoo. He hangs his keys by the door and crosses the small distance to Baekhyun.

“Show me in the morning,” says Baekhyun, taking hold of Kyungsoo’s hand. “Or the afternoon.”

“Of course. Whatever you want.”

Kyungsoo leads him to the bedroom, and even though Baekhyun promised before that they aren’t fucking, it’s still nerve-wracking. Before he has the chance to say or do anything stupid out of worry or trepidation, Baekhyun closes the distance between them once again. He leans in like he’s going for a kiss, but stops, instead resting his forehead against Kyungsoo’s, brushing their noses together, laughing softly. One of his hands comes to rest on the back of Kyungsoo’s neck.

“Why do you make me so nervous?” he says quietly, just above a whisper. “It feels like my heart’s about to explode if I kiss you.” He closes his eyes. “Is it like that for you, too?”

“No,” says Kyungsoo. “But it feels a little bit like mine will if I don’t.”

He presses their lips together gingerly, tentatively, still not sure how or why this is happening—not fully convinced it is happening, because maybe it’s some kind of strange delusion and when he comes to it’ll all turn out to be in his head after all—but not strong enough to really question it. Then it’s Baekhyun pushing back firmly, kissing his mouth open, sighing into him. A deep kiss, but not a dirty one; just tender and full of feeling.

“I know we should both sleep,” says Baekhyun, pulling away very slightly, “but what if we just kept kissing for hours instead?”

“I’m prepared to give up on ever sleeping again,” says Kyungsoo. He remembers something then, and moves to kiss the corner of Baekhyun's mouth.

“What are you doing?” Baekhyun asks when Kyungsoo does it a second time.

“You have a mole there that’s really cute,” says Kyungsoo. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a while.”

Baekhyun snickers. “I have a few. On my thumb and by one of my eyebrows. And some other places. You gonna kiss those, too?”

“Eventually. I’ll save them for later.”

“You’re adorable,” Baekhyun murmurs, fitting their mouths together again.

They part long enough to strip out of their hoodies and pants and fall into bed, where they spend a long moment just lying down on their sides, gazing into each other’s eyes wordlessly. Their hands are held in the space between them on the mattress, fingers laced together comfortably.

“When you asked me about your hair,” Kyungsoo says after a while, “I lied. The blond does look nicer.”

A slow grin spreads across Baekhyun’s mouth. “Oh yeah?” he says. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“You looked really good. I was afraid I’d say something too honest and give myself away.” Kyungsoo runs the pad of his thumb along the side of Baekhyun’s hand, from the base of the thumb down to the wrist, stroking lightly. “Your perfect hair and naked shoulders almost gave me a heart attack.”

“Glad it didn’t. Then you could’ve died and we wouldn’t’ve been able to have our first date.”

Kyungsoo blinks. “What date?”

“This,” says Baekhyun.

“This isn’t a date,” says Kyungsoo. “That’s… weird.”

“The date can start when you make me breakfast, then.”

Kyungsoo raises his eyebrows. “Who says I’m cooking for you?”

“You’re the one who’s obsessed with me eating properly, hyung,” says Baekhyun.

“I’ll show you to the kitchen and you can cook your own food.”

“I’ll burn it and ruin all your cookware.”

“On purpose, or by being a terrible cook?”

“Both,” says Baekhyun. “I’m awful at cooking but I’ll be even worse at it than usual just to make you regret telling me to cook my own food when I’m your guest.”

Kyungsoo can’t help but giggle. “You’re obnoxious,” he says. “How about this: You can help me make breakfast.”

“Good plan,” says Baekhyun, “except the food might still get ruined from me getting distracted and trying to grope you in the kitchen.”

Kyungsoo’s retort is interrupted by a yawn, which Baekhyun responds to by shifting closer and pecking him lightly on the lips, smiling at him fondly.

“Argue more in the morning,” says Baekhyun. “You’re an old man who needs his rest.”

“I’m only two years older than you,” Kyungsoo mumbles. He pulls Baekhyun back in for another kiss. Then, “Oh, speaking of—happy birthday.”

After a pause, Baekhyun says, “Oh. Huh. I forgot all about that.” He laughs. “Guess I had a lot on my mind.”

They kiss again, and again, and finally even Baekhyun’s yawning. One more kiss, then he rolls over to face the other way, which Kyungsoo takes as his cue to drape an arm over him and fit their bodies together. He buries his face in Baekhyun’s hair—honey-gold and somehow even softer than it looks—and breathes in.

“G’night,” Baekhyun mumbles, already sounding halfway asleep.

Kyungsoo just hums in reply, content.

 

 

 

Kyungsoo’s clearing out his cubicle when someone clears their throat behind him. He doesn’t bother turning to look, just pauses and says, “Yes?”

“I think we need to talk,” Chanyeol says in hushed tones.

Kyungsoo purses his lips. “About what?”

“About the other night.”

“Why? Your personal life is your business. And since I don’t work here anymore, the fact that you’re fucking the boss doesn’t—”

“Don’t,” Chanyeol says sharply. “Just—come on. Let me walk you to your car or something, we can talk there.” When Kyungsoo doesn’t say anything, he softens his tone. “Kyungsoo-yah. Come on. We’ve been friends longer than we’ve been working at this shitty paper.”

Kyungsoo snorts. “Don’t let Junmyeon hear you say that.” Still, Chanyeol’s right; they’ve been friends a long time now, and that’s more important than whatever problems Kyungsoo has with Junmyeon or this place in general, or the fact that Chanyeol’s been hiding so much from him.

They head to the parking garage, Chanyeol carrying the box of Kyungsoo’s things while Kyungsoo carefully transports the potted cactus. The box gets shoved into the backseat of his car, the cactus set in the cup holder where it just barely fits. He really should replant it soon, he thinks as he shuts the car door, or it’ll never grow.

“So, uh.” Chanyeol scratches his head. “This is awkward, huh?”

“You could’ve told me, Chanyeol,” Kyungsoo says, folding his arms and leaning against the side of the car. “What would’ve happened if I hadn’t called that night? Was I ever going to find out? Or were you going to hide it until the two of you broke off whatever it is you have going on?”

“Maybe. Probably. God, I dunno. I’ve been trying to figure everything out, but it’s—complicated, you know?” Chanyeol shrugs helplessly. “And I wasn’t sure how you’d react, since he’s… yeah.”

“Since he’s your boss, and that’s both illegal and ethically questionable?”

“He’s a man, and I didn’t know how you felt about… that.”

Kyungsoo stares blankly for a few seconds. “How I felt—? Chanyeol, you’re joking, right? I’ve dated men.”

“What?” Now it’s Chanyeol’s turn to gape. “When?”

“I had a boyfriend in grad school. You met him a few times. Remember?” When Chanyeol continues to look lost, he says, “Seokjin?”

“Wait, you two were dating?”

“I introduced him to you as my boyfriend, Chanyeol.” Kyungsoo sighs. “How far up your own ass were you?”

“Um.”

“So there’s your answer on how I feel about men being in relationships with each other,” says Kyungsoo. “If that was the only part you were worried about, you wouldn’t have had to if you’d been a little more observant.”

Chanyeol winces. At least he has the decency to look guilty. “Okay, well. That’s fair. Sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” Kyungsoo shifts uncomfortably. “I’ve been hiding things from you, too. I guess I shouldn’t judge.”

“Things that have to do with you quitting?”

Kyungsoo nods.

“You probably have reasons for not saying anything, so hey, no worries,” Chanyeol says with a shrug.

“Thank you,” Kyungsoo says sincerely. “I’ll tell you about everything when I can.” There’s a brief pause. He coughs into his fist. “So how did you two, um. Get together?”

“Oh god. Uh.” Chanyeol laughs, a little too loudly. “It’s a long story. But he’s not taking advantage of me as an employee or anything, don’t worry. I was the one who started it.”

“Oh, good,” says Kyungsoo. “I don’t have to fight him, then.”

Another laugh. “Yeah. You’d probably win if you did, though. He’s actually kind of a softie.”

Kyungsoo eyes Chanyeol carefully, taking in his smile and the soft look in his eyes. “You really like him, don’t you?”

“Maybe,” says Chanyeol. Then, “Yeah, I think I do.”

“Good. I’m happy for you, Chanyeollie.”

“Is this the part where we hug it out?”

Giving him an unimpressed look, Kyungsoo asks, “When was the last time you washed your clothes?”

“You know what,” says Chanyeol, “that’s a fair point. So no hugs, I guess.” He scratches his nose. “Anyway, I’ll let you go, but. You should probably talk to Junmyeon. Not now, but sometime. Eventually. I dunno what you said, but he seemed pretty bummed after your call.”

Probably because he wasn’t getting the story he wanted, Kyungsoo thinks cynically. That probably isn’t fair of him, though. “I’ll get around to it. I have a lot to deal with.”

Shortly after that, Chanyeol heads back and Kyungsoo climbs into his car. He pulls out his phone to text Baekhyun before he leaves.

Is your offer to dye my hair still good?

He knows Baekhyun is busy with comeback preparations, so it’s no surprise that the reply doesn’t come until Kyungsoo’s already home.

YES!!!

I’m picking the stuff up when I’m done here, gimme your address and I’ll drive over later

Unless you’re busy

Kyungsoo has to laugh at that. I’m unemployed now, he replies. I’m never busy.

Not unemployed yet~ You’re still getting paid to pretend to clean up after me ^^

Now you have added incentive to tidy up, Kyungsoo tells him. If your room keeps looking like a disgraceful mess, I’m never coming over again.

Baekhyun texts back with a crying face and broken heart, then, Fine fine okay I’ll clean up when I have time.

Kyungsoo responds with, Good.

Baekhyun’s reply is just a dozen hearts. Kyungsoo can’t wipe smile off his face, and doesn’t bother trying.

 

 

 

The sink is a mess. Kyungsoo can see it from his spot on the lid of the toilet. When he says as much, Baekhyun just airily replies, “Necessary sacrifice. Why do you think I brought towels? The dye destroys everything it touches.”

Kyungsoo pulls one of said towels off of his head to survey the damage, managing only a glance at the discolored mess before Baekhyun takes it away from him. He makes a face. “How can there be any left in my hair?” he mutters.

“You’d be surprised,” says Baekhyun. He runs his fingers gently through Kyungsoo’s hair, making him shiver. “Hmm. Still a little damp. But the good news is that I can tell I definitely haven’t ruined your hair.”

“Does it actually look good, or is ‘not ruined’ the best you can say?”

“Trying for humor, hyung. If it didn’t look good, I’d be freaking out and running out the door so you couldn’t kill me.”

Baekhyun doesn’t let him see it until after it’s completely dry and he’s taken a number of pictures. Then he covers Kyungsoo’s eyes with his hands, shuffles them both over to the mirror, and pauses.

“Ready?” he asks.

“It’s just hair, Baek—” Baekhyun’s hands fall away. Kyungsoo stares. “Oh.”

Baekhyun lets out a nervous-sounding laugh. “Good ‘oh’ or I-regret-giving-my-boyfriend-control-over-my-appearance ‘oh’?”

“More the first one.” Kyungsoo pushes back his fringe, runs his hand through his hair. “It’s not bad, just… different.”

“I like it,” says Baekhyun. “But I’m biased. I’d even think you looked good bald.”

“That’s sweet. I think. Or disconcerting.”

Baekhyun hums. “Downside is that you’re gonna smell like chemicals for a little bit, and you can’t wash it too often or all the color’s gonna bleed out, but if you get tired of the upkeep we can just go back to black. Messier, but takes less time and no bleach.”

“I’ll try to keep it for a little while,” says Kyungsoo. He turns to Baekhyun, who’s wearing a pleased smile and has spots of hair dye on his forearms where the disposable gloves didn’t cover his skin. Kyungsoo smiles back. “Thanks. I needed a change.”

“No thanks necessary,” says Baekhyun. “But if you were grateful enough to wanna spend an extended period of time making out on your couch…”

They do just that. He straddles Baekhyun’s legs, presses him into the back cushions, does his best to kiss him senseless. Baekhyun responds enthusiastically, teeth nipping and hands roaming, soft and low noises escaping every now and then. He holds Kyungsoo close, draws him back in every time he starts to pull away.

When Kyungsoo finally manages to break away, laughing, he starts kissing down Baekhyun’s jaw and neck, pausing to feel the rapid thrum of his pulse. He sucks lightly on the skin there, not hard enough to leave a mark, then keeps trailing down.

“Would now be a weird time to mention that I might’ve found you a job so you can quit pretending to clean for me?” says Baekhyun. His hands start creeping under Kyungsoo’s shirt.

“Yes,” Kyungsoo murmurs. “But tell me anyway.”

“It’s not as exciting as the last one.” He takes hold of Kyungsoo’s waist, thumbs stroking his skin. “But there’s a copywriting position open, and it’s a pretty sure thing.”

Kyungsoo pauses again. “More realistic,” he says, pressing his lips to Baekhyun’s throat for a short moment. “I’m actually qualified for that.”

“Thought so. That’s what it sounded like from what Minseok-hyung said.”

Kyungsoo pulls away to sit up, looking Baekhyun in the eye. “Does he know?”

“No.” Baekhyun visibly hesitates. “But I’ll have to tell him eventually. It could be more trouble for both of us if I don’t.”

“Yeah. That’s understandable.” He leans in and kisses Baekhyun chastely on the mouth. “Should I be there for that, or would it be better if I wasn’t?”

“You probably should. Just so he can form a game plan and get everything figured out, tell us what to do and how to act.” Baekhyun grins. “The way we’re doing things now is kind of stupid and reckless.”

“Mm.” Kyungsoo kisses him again. “So should we stop and wait until we’ve been lectured?”

“I just said it’s reckless,” says Baekhyun, “not that we shouldn’t do it.”

They keep at it, stopping only when Baekhyun says he’s too horny to take any more of this if they aren’t going to fuck, immediately adding that they don’t have to, he doesn’t expect them to, it’s fine. Kyungsoo laughs, and Baekhyun kisses him on the cheek, and they curl up and watch a stupid movie that neither one of them pays much attention to.

 

 

 

“I think you have a fan club,” says Baekhyun, staring down at his phone.

“Here, taste this.” Kyungsoo holds out a spoonful of hot stew, waiting as Baekhyun blows on it and then sips carefully. “What do you think it needs?”

Baekhyun looks thoughtful. “More chili flakes?” he guesses. Then, almost immediately: “No, I’m already pretty sure that’s wrong. I dunno, what?”

“Trick question,” says Kyungsoo. “It’s ready.” He sets the spoon aside and grabs his potholders to move the stew off the element. “What were you saying about me having fans?”

“Oh, the comments on the picture I posted,” says Baekhyun. “A bunch of people keep calling you ‘the guy with the pretty smile’ and things like that. There’s a lot of Oppa, who’s your handsome friend?

Right. The picture Baekhyun took when they went out to eat after one of Baekhyun’s music show recordings. Kyungsoo had been reluctant to have it posted online, since any actual evidence of them knowing each other could potentially be incriminating, until Baekhyun pointed out that there were more romantic-looking photos on his Instagram of him with Heechul from Super Junior.

“What did you caption that with?” Kyungsoo asks as he starts spooning stew into their bowls.

“‘Lunch with my favorite hyung,’ then a bunch of stupid hashtags like I always do,” says Baekhyun. He pockets his phone and sets about serving the rice from the cooker. “Anyway, hiding in plain sight’s always the best way to do this kind of thing, I think. As long as we don’t overdo it, no one’s gonna know you’re anything but some random non-famous guy I hang out with.”

“I still think a little more discretion couldn’t hurt,” says Kyungsoo. “But it’s your career, I guess. And you haven’t had any dating scandals yet.”

“Exactly!” Baekhyun chirps, stopping what he’s doing to lean in and, craning his neck, plant a kiss on Kyungsoo’s temple. “It’ll be fine.”

They bring their food to the table, where Baekhyun shuts up in favor of happily stuffing his face. This is the only time he’s ever quiet, sitting at Kyungsoo’s table with an array of foods in front of him, only speaking up to give too-generous praise to Kyungsoo’s cooking but without any acknowledgment that he helped, too. And sometimes he does things like brushing bits of food from around Kyungsoo’s mouth, or lightly knocking their ankles together under the table, and it’s all just so incredibly domestic and easy and nice.

After his initial excitement over eating dies down, Baekhyun will sometimes say something, maybe ask about what Kyungsoo’s been doing, or about something to do with Kyungsoo himself. Tonight it’s, “Oh, didn’t you meet with your old editor today? How’d that go?”

“Pretty well.” Kyungsoo pauses to take a drink of water, then continues, “We had an honest talk about my history with the paper, and he apologized for making me take on a job that wasn’t my responsibility. He offered to let me come back, but I said no.”

Baekhyun furrows his brow. “Why? You worked so hard to keep your job before, don’t you want it back?”

“To be honest, it wasn’t a good fit for me anyway,” says Kyungsoo. He stirs his spoon around idly through the half-empty bowl in front of him. “I fought to keep my job because I’d had to fight to get it in the first place. But it wasn’t meant to be in the end.” He smiles wryly. “He was right. As a journalist, my writing is really dull.”

“Well.” Baekhyun sniffs. “I still think he’s a dick.”

“You probably have more of a right to think that than anyone,” says Kyungsoo. “I don’t think he’s that bad of a guy, though. He just gets a little ahead of himself, maybe.”

“He’s a dick, and your friend has bad taste.”

Kyungsoo laughs. “I won’t argue with that.”

They finish eating, and it’s nearly time for Baekhyun to leave for his evening schedule. He stays long enough to kiss Kyungsoo dizzy, humming against his mouth and pressing him against the doorframe with his entire body. All Kyungsoo can do is clutch at Baekhyun’s shirt, kiss him back just as emphatically, then watch him go.

 

 

 

“You’d have a better view if you were higher up,” says Kyungsoo, peering out over the balcony railing before moving back and closing the clouded glass window once again.

“A better view of a fall that would kill me if leaned out too far,” Baekhyun replies as Kyungsoo exits the balcony area, sliding the door shut behind him. “If you want a good view, go to your own apartment.”

Kyungsoo frowns over at Baekhyun, who’s sitting on the couch, facing the muted TV. “Everything okay?” he asks. “If you’d rather be alone, I can—”

“No!” Baekhyun bursts out, looking at him with alarm. “No, sorry, don’t leave, I’m just.” He glances away. “Nervous, I guess.”

Kyungsoo’s frown deepens. “About me spending the night?” he guesses. “I told you, Baekhyun, we don’t have to do this if you aren’t comfortable with it.”

They’ve been together over a month now, making time to see each other as often as possible—which, with Baekhyun’s comeback schedules, has been less and less frequently—but there hasn’t been much opportunity for anything beyond light foreplay that doesn’t lead anywhere. Tonight, though, they’re both free, and Baekhyun doesn’t have any commitments until tomorrow afternoon, and they’d agreed it seemed like the right time.

“Not that kind of nervous,” says Baekhyun, scoffing. “Look, it’s not a big deal. Let’s just… finish watching this dumb and predictable drama, then go to my room and fuck. Alright?”

It takes several seconds of Kyungsoo saying absolutely nothing and just watching Baekhyun impassively for Baekhyun to turn and notice he’s being stared at. When he does, he groans, hitting his head back against the top of the couch.

“It’s fine,” Baekhyun insists. “Stop looking at me like that. I’m not afraid of sex, I promise.”

Kyungsoo moves closer, stopping in front of the couch without sitting down. He looks Baekhyun over, seeing the way his lips are pressed together tightly, his arms crossed over his chest. “Baekhyun-ah,” he says as gently as he can, “turn off the TV.”

Baekhyun does so, then says, “What, so we can skip straight to fucking, or?”

“No.” Kyungsoo holds out a hand, which Baekhyun takes, tugging slightly as he gets to his feet. Kyungsoo doesn’t let go, but takes hold of Baekhyun’s other hand, too, and pulls him close. “If you say you’re ready, I believe you, but we have to be on the same page about what’s going on.”

“It really isn’t a big deal, hyung,” Baekhyun mumbles. “I was—”

“Kyungsoo.”

Baekhyun stops and stares.

“If we’re going to be sleeping together,” says Kyungsoo, “you can just call me by my name.”

“Well, Kyungsoo-yah.” A smile pulls at Baekhyun’s lips. “Like I was saying, you don’t need to worry. The only thing I’m nervous about—” He lets out a laugh, then leans in and ducks his head, resting it on Kyungsoo’s shoulder. “This is so stupid,” he mumbles. “Just—I want you to fuck me, and I’ve never—yeah.”

“You’ve never done that before?”

Baekhyun shakes his head.

“And you’re worried about how it’ll go.”

“Kind of? I mean, weren’t you worried before the first time y—oh, I guess I shouldn’t assume, huh?” Baekhyun straightens and looks at Kyungsoo curiously. “So have you—?”

“I’ve been on both ends of it,” says Kyungsoo. “And yeah, I know how you feel.” He lets go of Baekhyun’s hands and takes hold of his hips instead, squeezing gently. “We’ll take it slow.”

They make it to Baekhyun’s room—which is, mercifully, clean at last—but clumsily, attached at the mouth and not paying as much attention to where they’re going as they should be. Then they tumble onto the bed, laughing giddily. Baekhyun breaks away to pull his shirt over his head, and Kyungsoo follows suit. He stops Baekhyun in the middle of undoing his belt to drag him in for another kiss, sweet and lingering.

It takes a bit, with all the kissing and grabbing and touching, for them to get all their clothes off. And this is the part, Kyungsoo supposes, where he should probably look at his boyfriend’s toned muscles and slim waist and feel faintly self-conscious about his own too-soft, unimpressive body. Except Baekhyun’s hands are all over him, and his mouth, and there’s very little room for insecurity when Baekhyun’s touching him so reverently, making soft little sounds as his lips trail over Kyungsoo’s neck and chest and shoulders.

Kyungsoo rests his hands on Baekhyun’s thighs, asks, “Can I touch you?”

Baekhyun hums, nips at Kyungsoo’s jaw. “God, yes,” he breathes.

Sliding a hand up, Kyungsoo takes hold of Baekhyun’s cock, fingers curling around it while his thumb rubs the head. Then he moves his hand slowly down to the base, tightening his grip somewhat, and loosens it again as he pulls back up. Repeat. His other hand massages Baekhyun’s inner thigh, pressing and kneading and stroking while he jerks him off languidly. Kyungsoo almost wonders if he could get away with just doing this, touching him softly and teasingly until he’s ready to come. But then Baekhyun lets out a low moan and murmurs against his skin, “Fuck, Kyungsoo,” and okay, maybe teasing wouldn’t be altogether fair.

They break apart temporarily so Baekhyun can stumble over to his dresser and rummage through his underwear drawer for lube and condoms (muttering, “Fuck, why didn’t I have this ready, what the fuck”). He tosses the former onto the bed, then pauses.

“I think,” Baekhyun says slowly, “I forgot to pick up condoms.”

Kyungsoo raises his eyebrows.

“Okay, well, uh.” A sheepish laugh. “Change of plans?” Baekhyun glances around at the clothes on the floor. “Or… I could get dressed and go—”

“Just come back,” says Kyungsoo. “You don’t have to go anywhere.”

“Oh.” Baekhyun falters. “Are we just—I mean I don’t mind, I just feel like that’s not as… clean?”

Kyungsoo refrains from rolling his eyes. “We aren’t doing it bare,” he says. “Come here.”

Once Baekhyun’s back on the mattress, Kyungsoo instructs him to lie down, then grabs one of his pillows and asks, “Do you care if this gets dirty?” Baekhyun shakes his head, and Kyungsoo has him raise his hips to set the pillow underneath him.

“So, um,” Baekhyun starts hesitantly as Kyungsoo picks up the lube. “What’s gonna happen now?”

“I was thinking about fingering you and sucking you off,” Kyungsoo says, squeezing a dollop of lube into his hand. “Does that work?”

“Yeah,” says Baekhyun. “Wow, yeah, that—that’s fine.”

Chuckling, Kyungsoo warms the lube between his palms, then slicks up his fingers and stops. “You’ve done this to yourself before, haven’t you?”

“Not recently, but yeah.”

“Good,” says Kyungsoo. “It’s different when someone else does it, but you’ll adjust.”

With that, he touches his fingers to Baekhyun’s rim, rubbing over it carefully, applying the slightest pressure without pushing in. Still, there’s already some resistance, an obvious tension in the muscles.

“Relax, Baekhyunnie,” he murmurs. “Just breathe.”

He sees Baekhyun’s chest rise, then hears him let out a long breath and feels the tension under his fingers disappear. He strokes the outside a bit longer before sinking his fingers in.

Baekhyun tightens around him immediately, then relaxes again. “Sorry,” he says. “Reflex. Keep going.”

“How does it feel?” Kyungsoo asks once he’s pushed in all the way to the knuckles.

“You really… weren’t kidding about it feeling different,” says Baekhyun. “But it’s—ahhh.” He pushes his hips up when Kyungsoo pulls out and thrusts his fingers back in. “Okay, fuck, yes. Yes yes yes. Don’t stop.”

That’s interesting. “I couldn’t have hit your prostate from this angle,” says Kyungsoo, obliging by continuing to fuck Baekhyun with his fingers, moving in a slow but steady rhythm.

“You didn’t,” says Baekhyun, “I’m just—” He cuts off with a groan. “Fuck.”

“Shh.” Kyungsoo rubs Baekhyun’s hip soothingly, leaving it shiny from the lube on his palm. “Neighbors,” he says.

“Fuck the neighbors,” says Baekhyun, but quiets down nonetheless, whimpering softly.

Kyungsoo keeps going for a moment, then pauses to reposition himself, moving back a bit. He takes Baekhyun’s cock in hand, leans down with his mouth open and lays the head flat against his tongue before wrapping his lips around it. He hears Baekhyun swear quietly as he goes back to fingering him while moving his tongue against the underside of Baekhyun’s cock.

It’s been a while since Kyungsoo gave anyone a blowjob—he can remember exactly when the last time was, too, though only because the circumstances were noteworthy—so he’s cautious at first, not taking in too much of Baekhyun’s dick in one go, just sucking it into his mouth millimeter by millimeter, pulling back, repeating, going a little further each time. He has a faint, passing worry that Baekhyun might buck his hips up again and choke him, but there’s been only stillness since the last time. He glances up from where he’s been staring at the tensed muscles of Baekhyun’s abdomen, and sees Baekhyun watching him, eyes glazed over slightly, fingers stuffed into his mouth in a way that looks so much like his usual habit, but filthier. Kyungsoo thinks that oral fixation will be the death of him one of these days.

Kyungsoo pulls away from Baekhyun’s dick, the action resulting in a wet, obscene noise, and says, “Let me know when you’re getting close. I’m not a fan of swallowing.”

Baekhyun nods jerkily, and Kyungsoo maintains eye contact as he takes Baekhyun’s cock back into his mouth, earning a soft moan. The salty taste of precum hits his tongue.

After some adjustment and experimentation, Kyungsoo’s fingers finally hit just the right spot inside of Baekhyun. He knows this because after one especially hard thrust, Baekhyun lets out a muffled cry, jerking suddenly and making Kyungsoo gag on his dick before he can pull back, coughing.

“Sorry, sorry,” Baekhyun says breathlessly once his fingers are out of his mouth. “Oh, fuck. Please, please—fuck—”

Kyungsoo huffs, but doesn’t bother rebuking him. He tries to replicate what he just did, approximating the curl of his fingers, and Baekhyun practically wails, the sound cutting off when he snaps his mouth shut.

“Baekhyunnie.” Kyungsoo fights to keep from grinning. “I know you have to be vocal for your job, but now’s not the time to show off.”

“I hate you,” Baekhyun says miserably. When Kyungsoo goes back to sucking his cock, he yelps, “No, I love you, god, I love you.”

That’s the second and third time Baekhyun’s said he loves Kyungsoo. Physical affection is easy to get with him, but verbal takes more work. Has to be drunk or close to orgasm, apparently. That’s fine. Kyungsoo’s a bit easier, the type to give out “love you”s at the end of phone calls or before bed or just as a quiet reassurance, or for no reason at all. It had surprised Baekhyun at first, because Kyungsoo hadn’t struck him as someone so sappy or romantic—which is understandable, really—but he said it was sweet and nice and made him feel kind of shy, in a good way, and that he’d try to work on actually saying it aloud more often, too. Kyungsoo assured him he didn’t need to. It’s fine like this. It doesn’t matter.

Soon, Baekhyun’s groaning, “Shit. Gonna come,” voice strained and breathing labored. Kyungsoo pulls off of Baekhyun’s dick again, then holds it away from him and starts quickly jerking it off as he increases the pace of his fingers thrusting in and out of Baekhyun’s asshole. With a final shudder and moan, Baekhyun comes all over his abdomen and into Kyungsoo’s hand, head thrown back and one arm covering his eyes.

When it looks like Baekhyun’s finished, Kyungsoo pulls his fingers out and sits up. “Hand me the tissues?” he says huskily, looking to the box on the nightstand parallel with Baekhyun’s head.

Baekhyun lowers his arm, opens his eyes, looks up at Kyungsoo dazedly. “That,” he says, “is the sexiest voice I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“Wonderful,” says Kyungsoo. “I’ll keep that in mind. Tissues?”

Baekhyun grabs the box and holds it out. Kyungsoo takes a handful of clean tissues and wipes off his hands first, then Baekhyun’s torso and softening cock, as well as the not-quite-dry lube around his rim. He crawls across the mattress to the side he knows the trash bin is on and only just manages to throw the used tissues away before arms snake around his waist and pull him back, right onto Baekhyun’s lap.

“You’re my favorite ever,” Baekhyun murmurs, nuzzling the back of Kyungsoo’s neck. “Once I’m less shitty at songwriting I’ll dedicate one of my title tracks to your mouth.”

Kyungsoo sighs, fondly exasperated as always. “Because that wouldn’t be conspicuous at all.”

“It’ll be poetic,” says Baekhyun. He presses his lips to Kyungsoo’s neck briefly, then, “Okay, I’m—I don’t have a ton of experience with giving head, but. Can I?”

“You can do whatever you want,” says Kyungsoo, leaning back against Baekhyun, who holds him up with one arm across his ribs and trails his other hand down to Kyungsoo’s flagging erection. Kyungsoo lets his head fall back against Baekhyun’s shoulder, closing his eyes and biting down on his lip as Baekhyun strokes him in a tentative, exploratory kind of way.

“You’re probably not one for dirty talk, huh?” says Baekhyun. “I mean, I feel like you’re probably pretty quiet in bed in general.”

“What makes you think that?” Kyungsoo asks dryly.

“And it’s too bad,” Baekhyun continues, “‘cause you have such a nice voice and everything. Like. A radio DJ voice.”

Kyungsoo is only halfway paying attention to the conversation, more focused on how Baekhyun’s slowly, carefully stroking him back to full hardness. This whole topic feels like kind of an aimless tangent to him, so he just hums noncommittally.

“So phone sex is probably never gonna happen, then.” Baekhyun sighs. “What about when I’m traveling? What am I supposed to do, just jerk off alone in my hotel rooms?”

“Weren’t you already doing that before?”

“That’s not th—whatever, lie down so I can blow you.”

That’s how they end up, with Kyungsoo lying back and petting Baekhyun’s hair while Baekhyun goes down on him. It’s a slightly awkward and unpracticed blowjob—sloppy from inexperience, not lust or enthusiasm or anything intentional—but still good, still wonderful. And because Baekhyun asked for it, sort of, Kyungsoo gives quiet praise every now and then, lets himself go a bit more than usual. Baekhyun makes it easy, really, by just being a generally overwhelming person and sometimes making Kyungsoo forget what he’s supposed to do or how he’s supposed to act. Kyungsoo doesn’t even have to force it; the words come more or less instinctively when he pushes some of Baekhyun’s hair back from his face and says, “God, you look so good like this.” And Baekhyun glances up at him, the flush on his face making him look sort of shy, and grins brightly before giving a broad lick to the side of Kyungsoo’s cock.

When he comes, it ends up mostly in Baekhyun’s hand, though Baekhyun seems to change his mind at the last second and wraps his lips back around Kyungsoo’s dick to catch the last of it in his mouth. The sensation of Baekhyun sucking at the head makes Kyungsoo groan.

“Not that I’m complaining”—Kyungsoo hands the tissue box to Baekhyun now—“but what made you do that?”

“Just curious,” says Baekhyun, wiping the cum from his hand. “I dunno, your precum tasted good, so I just wanted to see.”

“And?”

Baekhyun lets out a loud, barking laugh as he disposes of the tissues. “Oh, fucking terrible,” he says, lazily tossing the box aside. “You should eat more fruit or something. Drink some water.”

“I think semen just tastes inherently disgusting,” Kyungsoo says tiredly. “And I doubt there’s any way to change that fact. Please don’t start talking about pineapple,” he adds when Baekhyun opens his mouth.

“Your stubbornness is just gonna make oral messier for us, but fine.” Baekhyun crawls on top of him, body caging him in. “Will you still kiss me when my mouth’s had your nasty spunk in it?”

Kyungsoo answers by craning his neck and pressing his lips to Baekhyun’s. Then he takes hold of him, rolls them over, pins Baekhyun down and kisses him again and again—on the mouth, on the cheeks, on the chin and nose and forehead—until Baekhyun’s a soft, giggling mess, saying, “God, you’re like a puppy.”

At that, Kyungsoo just laughs. “Good,” he says, “then we’re a perfect match.”

 

 

 

“So, not to seem like I’m taking advantage of my best friend dating a famous singer or anything,” Jongdae says while they’re carrying the last of the boxes up from the car, “but is there any chance Baekhyun could sing at the wedding? It wouldn’t have to be for free, if that’s a prob—”

“He would never let you pay him for that,” Kyungsoo cuts in. He hits the button for the elevator. “I’ll ask him if his schedule’s clear.”

“Thanks.” Jongdae shifts the box in his arms a bit. “It’s not a big deal if he can’t. But. Well. He has a good voice, and it would be hilarious to see everyone’s reaction to a world-famous idol showing up.”

Kyungsoo chuckles.  “Imagine how my family reacted the first time I brought him with me for dinner.”

They take the elevator up to the tenth floor, and very literally run into Chanyeol as he’s walking out of the apartment. Luckily, he grabs the box from Kyungsoo’s hands before it falls to the floor. Or maybe unluckily, actually, since Kyungsoo suspects this is the box with all the stupid One Piece figurines, and it would’ve been better for everyone if those had taken a fall.

“Oh, hey,” Chanyeol says cheerfully, like he didn’t come close to bowling Kyungsoo over just now. “Anything left?”

“Nope,” says Jongdae. “Last ones.”

“Yeah? Nice.” Then, to Kyungsoo: “Your turn for dog duty.”

The process of moving all of Chanyeol’s things to Junmyeon’s apartment has been an enormous fucking hassle. Kyungsoo had to help Chanyeol pack his things, because the guy has the organizational skills typical of people who are smart in very specific ways—which is to say, fucking appalling—and then, joining forces with Jongdae, who brought along his parents’ minivan, they hauled everything over to Junmyeon’s building across town. The elevator rides going up and down ten floors weren’t too terrible, but once they actually got to the apartment, there was Junmyeon’s dog to contend with. Byul, excitable and pampered and fairly solitary, isn’t used to having strangers come in and move things around in her home. They’ve had to trade off on comforting the dog in her owner’s absence.

“There’s a good girl,” Kyungsoo coos as he holds the anxious Yorkshire terrier as delicately as possible in his arms. He rubs between her ears. “Almost done. Just hang in there.”

Byul stays quiet and still and just lets Kyungsoo pet her. It’s a little satisfying, given the fuss she made when Jongdae held her earlier.

“Hey Kyungsoo,” Chanyeol calls from across the room, repositioning a shelf to make room for god knows what. “Have you thought about getting—”

“Shut up, Chanyeol,” Kyungsoo says without any bite.

“He can think about pets once he and Baekhyun move in together,” says Jongdae. He’s standing in the doorway, arms folded, not even pretending to be productive at this point.

Kyungsoo snorts, startling Byul slightly. “Yeah, that’s a realistic possibility.”

“Listen.” Chanyeol continues frowning at the shelf and scooting it over maybe a centimeter at a time. “Just ‘cause it’s a forbidden romance doesn’t mean you won’t get your happy ending. I mean, look at me. I fucked my editor over his desk one day, and now I’m moving in with him and suddenly have a dog and a shiny new job.”

“First of all, what the fuck,” says Jongdae. “Second of all, you have a new job because you had to quit your old one because you weren’t supposed to be fucking your editor, idiot.”

“That’s not important.”

“Like hell it—”

“I don’t need things like that anyway,” says Kyungsoo, interrupting their bickering. “I’m happy with how everything is.”

“Yeah, but imagine if you could be public about your relationship,” says Chanyeol.

Kyungsoo shrugs, continuing to pet Byul softly. “What’s the point? It would just make things harder on him.”

The two of them have talked before, entirely in hypotheticals, about what would happen if Baekhyun came out to the public. But all the inevitable stress and pressure and heartache didn’t seem worth it to them at any stage; keeping things quiet is easier, less painful, more predictable. And Baekhyun had scoffed at the idea of likely throwing his career away in the name of “being true to himself.”

“I know I like dick, and you know I like dick,” he’d said. “That’s the complete set of people in the world I need to be honest with about it. Past that, why the hell should it matter?” And that had been the end of that, more or less.

Now, Kyungsoo adds, “And either way, I think it would be too soon to talk about things like living together, even if we could.”

Chanyeol laughs. “Is that your way of saying I rushed into things?”

“Of course not. Everyone has a different pace.”

“And for some people, that means moving in with their sugar daddy after seven months of officially dating,” says Jongdae.

“Oh my fucking god,” Chanyeol groans. “Will you stop calling him my—”

Kyungsoo’s phone starts buzzing. He sets Byul down on the floor, watches her dart away to Junmyeon’s bedroom, and answers the call without glancing at the screen. “Hello?”

“So here’s something that’s kind of fucked up: I’m standing in your apartment on a Saturday afternoon and there’s no one here.”

To put some distance between himself and the squabbling pair in the living room, Kyungsoo heads out onto the balcony, closing the door behind him. The late October air is slightly chilly. “What are you doing back in Seoul?” he asks. “You were in Taipei this morning.”

“Was I?” says Baekhyun. “Hmm. Maybe you’re confusing me with your other boyfriend. I flew in last night.”

Kyungsoo sighs, but can’t hold back his grin. “You’re a filthy liar, Byun Baekhyun.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Baekhyun whines. Kyungsoo can practically see him pouting. “I thought we could order takeout and eat off of each other and then shower together when the whole trying to eat off each other’s bodies thing went wrong. It was supposed to be romantic.”

“I was helping Chanyeol move today, remember?” says Kyungsoo. “And my car’s at Jongdae’s, so it might take a while for me to get home. If you want us to spend time together, you’ll have to wait.”

He hears Baekhyun groan. “Kyungsoo-yah,” he says, sounding quietly miserable. “When am I gonna see you? It’s been more than a week.”

“Wow, an entire week,” Kyungsoo teases. “I know it’s been hard, but I’m sure another hour won’t kill you.”

“Yes it will,” says Baekhyun. “I’ve been wasting away without you. The light could leave my eyes at any moment.”

“Well, try not to let that happen.” Kyungsoo leans against the railing, gazing out at the city. “I’d be sad if you were gone.”

“See, I was just joking around and complaining, but now you being sincere just makes me feel like a dick.” Baekhyun lets out a loud whoosh of breath, then he lowers his voice to a mumble, saying, “But hey. Joking aside. I miss you, you know? A week isn’t very long, sure, but. I still miss you whenever you’re not there.”

It always leaves a funny feeling in Kyungsoo’s chest when Baekhyun gets sentimental. Light, feathery, warm. Mixed with kind of a stabbing pain, too, sometimes. It’s an entirely overwhelming kind of fondness.

“I miss you, too,” he says softly. “I’ll try to get back as soon as I can, okay? Then we can do whatever you want.”

“Okay. Drive safe.” A pause. “I love you.”

Kyungsoo absolutely doesn’t smile like an idiot as he says, “Yeah. You too.”