Retrospectively, Heechul thinks that the knee-jerk instinct to smile at Kyunghoon should've tipped him off sooner, but for several months after the new year, Heechul still chalked up the excitement he felt to friendly affection.
When Ask Me Anything began filming, there were early warning signs that the show might fail, but luckily they found their concept and their groove as a cast and as the weeks passed, the ratings go up.
As the months pass, they develop a relationship much like a family, and though they squabble and tease one another, that's simply part of their dynamic.
It's around the time that they're promoting their show and new song that Heechul senses a shift between him and Kyunghoon, however. Heechul is self-aware, and he knows that his friendship with Kyunghoon hasn't progressed in the same way as his relationship with the other members. He supposes that it must be because they're more similar in age, so the older-younger brother relationship is missing. They're equals in the family of Ask Me Anything, seen as the kids in many ways, and though they're close in the way of co-workers...
After they go on the Taxi show, Heechul realizes that although they still haven't quite become brothers, they've nonetheless bonded and their friendship has deepened. An affectionate but still somewhat distant friendship has warmed into something greater, and when filming for Taxi is over, the realization that they don't hang out more outside of Ask Me Anything stays with Heechul for days.
Two weeks later, he asks Kyunghoon if he's up to anything after shooting for the show wraps up.
Kyunghoon, in the midst of wrapping a scarf around his neck, stops for a moment and blinks. "Oh," he says. He shrugs. "No. Are you?"
"We should get lunch together," Heechul says, zipping up his coat and then looking at Kyunghoon.
He doesn't seem surprised by the suggestion, but nods thoughtfully, pressing his lips together so that they look puckered. It's a cute expression, one that is particular to Kyunghoon.
It tugs at the corners of Heechul's lips.
"Yeah, okay," Kyunghoon says. He sticks his hands in his pockets and they head out together, piling into the car that's been called for Heechul.
There's something very comfortable about spending time with Kyunghoon because there isn't the need to search for something to talk about and when they aren't saying anything, their silence is companionable. It's as if they go out like this often, even though it's really just their first time to hang out without anyone else around.
Their time spent together is a success and as they're walking out of the restaurant later, Heechul says, "We should meet up again soon."
Kyunghoon shrugs a little but nods, and if Heechul begins to feel slightly disappointed by Kyunghoon's seemingly blasé attitude, that changes when a dimpled smile suddenly blooms across his face. "Sure, okay," Kyunghoon says, and these simple words seem to lodge themselves in Heechul's heart.
It's a curious thing –and he doesn't think much of it at the time –but for a moment, he feels like he's wrapped up in a warm bubble, ready to float up into the air.
Kyunghoon doesn't whisper in Heechul's ear as much as he did before.
He once confided to Heechul that he really hadn't thought he would last long on Ask Us Anything, even if the ratings did get better. He's naturally gained more of the confidence to speak his mind, though, and now when they film, he'll say whatever outrageous thing comes through that strange mind of his.
Sugeun teased them, back when Ask Us Anything was starting off and Kyunghoon spoke more to Heechul than the other hyungs, but now that Kyunghoon has warmed up to them all, it's no longer an issue.
It makes Heechul glad to see Kyunghoon, a variety show rookie, come into his own on television, and anyway, there are still some times, when Kyunghoon leans in close, breath tickling Heechul's ear, and whispers something just to him. Those little jokes, those quiet observations that are for his ears only –those are the words that begin to stain Heechul's mind.
He's in the dressing room in between filming one day, putting on his Heemi costume for a skit, when he abruptly remembers the day that they filmed the princess skit with Kim Heesun.
They had all dressed up as women that day, putting more effort into it than usual.
Waiting on the other hyungs to finish in the makeup chairs, Heechul had been standing in front of a floor length mirror, smoothing out his dress and wig. As was his opinion for any outfit, there was no point in not trying to look his absolute best, and he looked beautiful as Nip Siu-Sin.
He was leaning close to the mirror to inspect his makeup when a figure moved into his periphery; it was Kyunghoon, wearing a blond wig and cherry red lipstick.
He looked pretty, Heechul's observed with a startled feeling. Pretty in an absurd way.
"I'm pretty aren't I? I'm the fairest in the land?" Kyunghoon said, batting his fake lashes and striking a pose reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe.
"Wow," Heechul's said, feeling a grin spread across his face, "Impressive!"
Kyunghoon spun, skirt lifting a little, and then he snickered. "Look," he said, pulling up a corner of the dress. He was wearing nude leggings all the way up, but there was a garter belt design printed around the thigh, right before the legging color turned darker. "Even these leggings are women's clothes."
"Yah!" Sugeun called, passing nearby and wearing a red wig and a bathrobe. "Min Kyunghee, quit lifting your skirt."
Kyunghoon dropped it, ducking his head as if rebuked, though he was smiling wickedly. "You don't need to fuss in front of mirrors, Nip Siu-Sin," he whispered to Heechul, his tone somewhere between charming and jokingly lecherous, "Some things are a given."
Heechul felt his cheeks grow warm and he let out a shocked laugh and shoved Kyunghoon away, but this put him in a unique position because as he stood back, head thrown back in laughter, Heechul was oddly reminded of the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe.
He blinked, surprised by the vision.
"There they go, whispering," Youngchul teased, his voice naturally carrying even though he was talking to Sangmin across the room.
Heechul smiles at the memory and smooths a hand over his skirt, checking his costume in the mirror.
"Heemi," comes a familiar, booming voice, and Janghoon appears in the doorway, peeking in. "Aigoo," he gasps jokingly, "What a vision. Please, allow me to escort you to the soundstage,"
Heechul makes a face, but walks over to take Janghoon's arm, sighing loftily.
The rest of the brothers are waiting around off stage of the set that the producers have ordered for the skit of the week, and Janghoon and Heechul go over to join them, listening to direction from the writers and receiving their initial cue cards to review.
Kyunghoon walks up to Heechul's side while he's looking down at his cards and he doesn't totally notice the new presence until Kyunghoon is leaning over to look at his card, chin resting lightly on Heechul's shoulder. "Does it bother you that the writers always make you the woman?" he says, curious, as he reads over Heechul's cues –proclamations about finding a lost love through a series of tests, yada yada, the usual.
"Not really, all things considered," Heechul says,"Someone has to play the role, and it's part of my image."
"I'm pretty, too," Kyunghoon mutters.
There's a hint of petulance in his voice that makes Heechul laugh. "No," he says, "You're boyishly charming. Besides, given time, you'd probably give the censorers an aneurysm."
"I'm not that bad," Kyunghoon says, poking Heechul in the side.
It half tickles half hurts and he yelps, dodging away from the potential of another attack,
"We're rolling in three!" the A.D calls.
Now facing Kyunghoon, Heechul can tell that he's about to say something, but just then, Janghoon lumbers by, giving Kyunghoon a playful warning about bribing Heemi, and everyone is distracted as the A.D ushers them into places.
They're a minute to rolling when Kyunghoon stands close to Heechul, whispering even as the A.D is calling for everyone to settle; "Lunch or dinner?" he says.
"Dinner," Heechul replies, without really thinking about it, and Kyunghoon nods, moving away because he's in the first group to enter the set.
Later, Heechul realizes that it's been about three and a half months since he and Kyunghoon began meeting outside of work as friends, and though they've periodically gone out for lunch, both with each other and with the other hyungs, they've never gone for dinner. Ask Us Anything finishes filming a little after noon each Thursday, so lunch is the ideal meal to share. Anything later than that feels like an occasion.
And though Heechul messages Kyunghoon in the evenings sometimes, agreeing to dinner feels different. Heechul finds himself dwelling on the logistics of it –do they part after the show and meet up later? Do they hang out for the afternoon and then get dinner?
He's still wrapped up in those thoughts as he follows Janghoon out of the dressing room. Their path crosses with Youngchul and Kyunghoon, emerging from the other dressing room, and Heechul meets Kyunghoon's gaze. They smile at about the same time, and Kyunghoon hangs back as Youngchul easily jumps from chatting to him to talking to Janghoon.
They walk away, leaving Heechul and Kyunghoon to trail after them at a slightly slower pace.
"So, I know a place near my house that's nice," Kyunghoon says, "I can give you the address for dinner..."
"Yeah, we'll meet up," Heechul responds quickly, "Are you up to anything else today?"
Kyunghoon waves a hand. "Some recording, maybe. Re-dos for a song. It depends. They may not need the vocals..." He purses his lips together for a moment, thinking about it, and then shrugs, refocusing his gaze on Heechul.
"Then… you're going home for now?" Heechul asks, just as they reach the doors and emerge to the early spring day.
"Unless I get a call about the recording session," says Kyunghoon. "I'll see you later." But rather than simply walking off to the car that's waiting for him, he pauses and darts in to give Heechul a brusque, one-armed hug.
It takes him by surprise, and he doesn't have time to do anything but go rigid before Kyunghoon leans away, smiling strangely, and heads off.
Heechul recovers enough to call out a "Yah –you charmer!" as Kyunghoon gets into his car, and he knows him well enough to tell from the line of his shoulders as he disappears that he's laughing.
He checks his messages in the car and ends up receiving an invite from Dambi for a quick lunch, as she's in the area and doesn't have a schedule for another two hours.
The whole thing ends up being distracted and chaotic. Dambi gets a series of frantic texts from her manager about an audition just as the tea they've ordered arrives, and just at that's sorted out, Heechul receives a sudden message from Kyunghoon.
Don't dress too casually.
He's contemplating the meaning of such a remark and Dambi notices his wavering attention. The next thing he knows, she's quirking an eyebrow at him and crossing her arms over the table.
"Well?" she says, "Won't you at least tell me who it is?"
Heechul shakes his head, "Don't get the wrong idea," he says, "It's not like that."
She shrugs. "Sure, but you don't deny there is a someone."
"Do you remember Min Kyunghoon from my show?" Heechul says, "We're having dinner later, and he's just said to dress nicely, that's all."
"Oh, him. Oh, he's funny," Dambi says, expression lighting up. "Is that all?"
"What else would there be?" Heechul blurts, and Dambi stares at him for a moment with an inscrutable expression.
Finally, she picks up her ice tea and sips from the straw. "Well, you'd know more than me."
Heechul sighs, and is about to insist that she's fishing in an empty sea when Dambi's phone begins buzzing off the hook again.
They both groan.
"Sorry, sorry," she says, "I wanted to see you, but there's this movie audition…"
"You're going to do a movie?" Heechul says, impressed, and from there, the lunch gains a steadier footing. They talk a little bit about their work, then switch to more general topics –gossip on the web, news among their friend circles.
The topic of Kyunghoon is laid to rest, despite an itch that stays in the back of Heechul's mind that makes him want to talk more about it. He ignores that itch, because he was the one to end the conversation in the first place, and despite his urge, he doesn't know what there is to say.
They part ways when Dambi has to rush off to a photoshoot and Heechul goes home for the afternoon. He spends the time playing games online, and then sometime around six o'clock, he emerges from the haze when a text comes from Kyunghoon with a street address.
Heechul puts on something nice –a long black-and-white longsleeve shirt and dark jeans –and stops at the door, looking down at himself. After a moment, he goes back to the closet and changes into gray slacks and a maroon sweater.
He leaves before he can reconsider again, and takes a taxi to the address given.
The restaurant Kyunghoon has picked is tucked between a ramen shop and a boutique and seems unassuming. Inside the tone is warm, cozy like.
Heechul spots Kyunghoon sitting at a small booth in the corner of the room and feels a grin burst across his face before he knows what's happening. "Is there a dress code here?" he asks, sliding into the seat across from him.
Kyunghoon is wearing a cotton button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, not a serious departure from how he normally dresses going out, except that the color is a soft, pale blue that stands out against his skin. He smiles when he sees Heechul and says, "There's no dress code, but the manager doesn't like it when people come in too casually. She's old-fashioned."
"Do you come here with people often?" Heechul wonders, looking around. "It's nice."
"I've been here before with my other members…" Kyunghoon says after a moment, "and my parents."
"You order, then," Heechul suggests, "Something you like."
"Sure." Kyunghoon says, picking up a menu card and filling it out. "So what did you end up doing?"
"Actually, I met up with Son Dambi for lunch. Are you ordering cold dishes?" Heechul wonders, peering over.
Kyunghoon makes a noise out of his teeth and gives him a warning look that is more cute than menacing. "You told me to order," he reminds.
"Alright," Heechul leans back again, laughing.
"Son Dambi, the singer, right?"
"Do you know of her?"
"I know of a lot of singers," Kyunghoon insists, before admitting, "Well, you've mentioned her before. I remember 'Queen'."
"What about you? Did you do the recording session?" Heechul asks.
"They didn't need me," Kyunghoon replied, shaking his head. "Okay." He puts down his pencil, finished ordering, and calls over the waitress, an ahjumma who appears to be the manager as well.
She speaks warmly to him, maternally, and comes back in a few minutes with the cold dishes and two bottles of soju for them.
Despite the later time, the meal passes in the same easy manner that is the norm between them. They talk a lot about pop culture despite their different levels of knowledge on any given subject. They fill each other in on what the other doesn't know, and sometimes Heechul let's Kyunghoon explain the plot of a webcomic to him even when he already knows it, just because it's amusing to hear Kyunghoon's perspective on the crucial elements of the story.
They order liquor, too, because neither of them have a schedule in the morning, and two bottles later, everything is pleasantly rose-tinted.
As they split the bill, Kyunghoon mentions something about having grown up in the neighborhood, and before they know it, they're stumbling through the dark, moving in the direction of a city park Kyunghoon is certain used to be nearby.
"You made it up in your dreams, didn't you?" Heechul complains, taking Kyunghoon's arm because if they're going to be unsteady on their feet, it'll be easy if they can lean against each other.
The night is cool, refreshing after the stuffy warmth of the restaurant.
"I didn't," Kyunghoon insists, then pulls Heechul along at a quicker pace. "Look, there's a park there."
It's the sort with light tree cover that ahjummas and ahjussis take morning strolls through, exercise equipment near the entrance and everything, but they go in anyway and find their way down the barely lit path.
"It's nice out tonight," Kyunghoon observes quietly when they've come to a stop by a small, man-made fish pond. They watch the water shimmer black and blue in the night.
"You know what's strange?" Heechul suddenly finds himself saying aloud, "I felt nervous about this earlier." He gives a laugh. "You know, because we usually met for lunch? And then you said to not dress too casually, and I started feeling strange about it. I even changed twice before I came over."
"Did you?" There's fondness in Kyunghoon's voice and although he remains staring out over the pond, he imagines the look on Kyunghoon's face. He imagines that he's smiling faintly in that quiet way he has, where the smile shines more in his eyes than it plays across his lips.
A night breeze rustles through the tree leaves overhead and the wind feels refreshing against Heechul's flushed cheeks so he turns his face toward it, and when he opens his eyes, he sees Kyunghoon looking back at him, and he can tell Kyunghoon is watching him, even through the darkness. They're at an angle where the moonlight gleams against the whites of Kyunghoon's wide eyes.
A beat passes, and Heechul sees Kyunghoon lean in, but his mind is just hazy enough where he doesn't know what to make of it until Kyunghoon's lips are on his, and Kyunghoon is kissing him with a mouth that still tastes lightly of liquor.
For a moment, Heechul takes the kiss for what it is: the firm press of lips, a breath hot against his, a tongue licking into his mouth. They kiss slowly, gently, in a way that feels like only exists in fiction.
And then it's like Heechul has been doused with an ice cold bucket of self-awareness and a voice in his head begins chanting can't can't can't can't. He grips Kyunghoon's shoulders tight even as he rips himself away. "Stop." The word cuts between them like a dagger, harsh in the spring night, ringing sharper than Heechul ever intended.
He feels Kyunghoon's body tense under his grip. "We can't," Heechul says, his thoughts in a scramble. Even his halting attempt at an explanation sounds unbearably cold. He can't properly see Kyunghoon's expression in the darkness anymore, but the rigid silence in the air between them speaks volumes.
"My mistake," he says quietly, but he doesn't move, and neither does Heechul. He bows his head. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," he says, suddenly speaking formally.
It stirs up a nauseous feeling in the pit of Heechul's stomach. "Kyunghoon," he tries again.
"No, no," Kyunghoon says, reaching up and taking Heechul's wrists, gently removing hands from shoulders. "I know."
Heechul feels unbalanced, heart thumping in his chest, and Kyunghoon's grip is still on his wrists and the contact is all he can think about. "We…" But he doesn't know what to say. He's found himself in similar situations in the past, and he's always been firm about drawing the line. Now, the words won't form. He forces them out the best he can, anyway, but it's vague. "We should be friends," is what he ends up saying.
"We are friends."
He swallows. "Yes," he says, softly. He thinks he can see a sadness creeping into Kyunghoon's eyes and he wants to say something, he wants to say it's alright, you did nothing wrong, but he doesn't.
Kyunghoon takes his arm again, and Heechul flinches involuntarily when he comes closer. It's followed by another tense silence, but Kyunghoon doesn't move away, and that's something. "Let's go back," he says shortly, "I'll get you a cab."
Heechul just nods and lets Kyunghoon lead the way, dazed. He feels on the verge of tripping the whole walk back, and he suspects it's not the alcohol. A feeling of unease seeps into skin, and even though Kyunghoon keeps a light grasp on his arm to guide the way, the night feels colder.
At home, Heechul blinks wearily against the bright lights of his apartment. The effects of the soju began to rapidly wear off while he sat uneasily in the taxi on the way home. Before he'd let gotten into the cab, he stopped at the door and turned back to Kyunghoon. "I'll message you."
Kyunghoon bit at a corner of his lower lip. "Get home safe," was all he said.
Now back home, Heechul goes to the bathroom and splashes water against his face. He dabs it dry with a towel, staring at himself in the mirror, and checks the time. It's nearly midnight.
He fidgets at his phone, turning it over in his hands as he paces his empty kitchen.
The fact is, Kyunghoon has kissed him.
And Heechul knows the sort of person Kyunghoon is, and he knows that despite his flirtatious nature on TV, Kyunghoon is not casual about acting on his affections. He's only dated a handful of times, all long term.
He chews on the inside of his cheek and texts Kyunghoon.
I'm home ^^. Dinner was fun—
He stares at what he's written. Too nonchalant, he thinks. He doesn't want to act like nothing happened, that could hurt Kyunghoon, couldn't it?
He bites his lips.But wasn't that what they were supposed to do? Act like nothing happened?
I'm home safe.
He sends this and waits.
Good night, Heechul.
It's a straightforward message with no feeling, and it triggers Heechul flight instinct. He turns off his phone and goes to bed, but sleep doesn't come for a while. He ends up staring up at his ceiling at a time he'd normally have given up on sleep and gone to his computer instead.
Starting the next morning, Heechul goes through his week with a weird feeling, like there's a haze following him everywhere he goes, or like he's always missing something except that he can't remember what it is. He has a break in his schedule where he stays in and completely zones out, playing games online without having to think about anything, but eventually regular life comes knocking.
He conducts himself with the enthusiasm and energy expected of him, because he doesn't want to let his fans down, and he's had enough experience of performing or going to meet-ups while feeling under the weather to be able to mask the hollow feeling that's eating at him.
He doesn't think his various cast members notice much because of this, and even if they do sense a dip in his energy, that's normal for performers every once in a while. His manager surely notices something amiss, based on the looks he keeps getting in the car between schedules, but for whatever reason, Heechul isn't questioned, and he's grateful for it.
And anyway, Heechul is almost surprised by his own ability to carry on, as he films his shows and goes out with friends, and plays online games. All the while, a part of him is left wondering… what.
He doesn't even know how to finish his own question.
Kyunghoon doesn't message Heechul again in the meantime and Heechul doesn't know what to say to start a new conversation. He thinks that if this were somebody else, he wouldn't worry as much, because he'd want to give them space anyway, but the thing is Heechul… he doesn't know what he wants.
Logic dictates one thing, but the current product of that logic is crushing Heechul with the sense that he's done something wrong rather than right.
On the day before he has to go in to film Ask Us Anything, Heechul stares at his phone for minutes on end, looking at a blinking cursor with an empty mind.
When did you know? He types, and immediately deletes the line.
He forces himself to put his phone away and goes to sleep, passing the night with fitful dreams of the moon glimmering over dark waters, of a gentle breeze through his hair, of warm lips on pressed against his...
He feels like a ghost walking into the JTBC building, like he's not really present. It's as though he's walking to his doom, and yet a part of him is still looking forward to it. This has been what feels like the longest week Heechul has experienced in a while and it's this nervous excitement to be back on set that leaves him puzzled by his own behavior.
He makes a beeline for the dressing rooms and finds that he's late, that the other members have already started trickling onto set. So he changes quickly and walks quickly, rubbing his hands together in a gesture that feels less about moisturizing and more due to his anticipation.
Everyone but Hodong is already present when he walks in through the door, and he looks right past Janghoon, who is arguing with Sugeun, and straight toward Kyunghoon's seat, where his back is turned to the back of the classroom as he talks to Youngchul. He half turns as Heechul approaches, and the moment he looks at Heechul, it feels like a weight has suddenly been lifted.
Kyunghoon doesn't look at Heechul with distant eyes or a strained expression. No, his gaze is normal, warm, and friendly, and it makes Heechul break into a smile instinctively.
It's as though the turmoil of the past week has been wiped away, and the weight of his own reaction to Kyunghoon hits Heechul like a freight train.
Yes, he thinks dazedly, he probably should've noticed it all a bit sooner.
Kyunghoon raises a self-conscious hand to his face. "What?"
"Oh, Heechul-ah," Youngchul says, "How was your week?"
He replies evenly, and although he's turned toward Youngchul, he can't help but let his gaze flit back to Kyunghoon again and again.
When he sits down in this desk –sideways as he often does, so he faces the first row and the cameras –his eyes sweep over Kyunghoon's desk and he sees the half-smudged marker. He looks up and his gaze locks with Kyunghoon's, which is absolutely blank of emotion.
Just then, the door of the set crashes open and Hodong stalks in and marches right up to Sangmin, and while everyone turns to focus on that spectacle, Kyunghoon takes the opportunity to turn away, sliding his arm over his desk to cover the writing there.
Heechul looks over, too, but he's watching Kyunghoon's profile and not the members yelling in the back of the room. He can't do anything -not now as the cameras are already rolling and they have a show to film -but as the morning passes, he wonders if it shows, if he seems different because now he knows.
He knows he trashed his own chances, and now it's up to him to do something to fix it.
When it all gets going, and the show is in full swing, it's like nothing has changed. They joke, they trade witty banter, and when Heechul looks back, he sees the laughter shining in Kyunghoon's eyes and his heart jumps into his throat.
It's another story when they go to break, because then Kyunghoon ducks away before Heechul has an opportunity to do anything, and then Janghoon comes over to talk to Heechul, so he leaves it be for the time. With each minute that ticks by, though, Heechul feels a restlessness grow inside of him.
"Are you feeling alright?" Youngchul asks as they head back to the soundstage for the skit portion of the show.
Again, Kyunghoon raced ahead, then kept himself occupied, talking to his stylist.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Heechul replies at once, startled.
Youngchul raises his eyebrows and doesn't say anything, but his shrug is one that conveys his doubt.
Heechul walks a bit faster.
In his imagination, he finds Kyunghoon and grabs his arm and he says, "I was wrong," and that's all he needs to do.
By the time Ask Us Anything wraps for the day, Heechul feels like he's going a little crazy, and perhaps that's what leads him to dodge most of the staff and other members in an effort to get back to the dressing rooms first, change, and then wait.
He's hanging up his uniform when he hears footsteps behind him and Youngchul and Janghoon appear, and luckily they're deep in conversation so Heechul slips by them and heads to the next room.
He doesn't actually have to go far, though. Just as he walks out into the hall, Kyunghoon turns the corner. He's still wearing his school uniform, and when he spot Heechul, it's like they have the same automatic impulse to smile. A moment later, Kyunghoon's smile wavers, and because of the way his cheeks dimple, the slight grimace is fairly obvious.
"Hey," Heechul calls out, though there's still a distance between them. He can see that Kyunghoon means to turn into the second dressing room and escape, but he needs to guarantee more time. "Do you want to go out?" he blurts, and then adds quickly, "For lunch." He shuffles to a stop, mere steps in front of Kyunghoon, and feels unexpectedly vulnerable.
"Lunch?" Kyunghoon repeats, raising his eyebrows.
"Well, I need to talk to you," Heechul says, stammering. "And I thought –I mean, I would understand if you didn't want to, but… you see, I was wrong." He blinks, puzzled by the jumble of words coming out of his mouth, and then groans loudly with frustration.
Kyunghoon's lips twitch. "You… what?" he says, expression a mixture of amusement and growing confusion.
Heechul looks around, feeling at a loss, and reaches out to grab Kyunghoon's hand, even though he can feel Kyunghoon stiffen against the touch. "I was wrong," Heechul says and swallows hard. "Last week. In the park."
Kyunghoon stares at him impassively for a moment and then it's like the words sink in and his eyes widen dramatically, his gaze drops down to their hands clasped between them, and his grip on Heechul tightens. When he looks back up, his lips have part like he means to say something but he doesn't know what.
Before he has a chance to figure it out, the hall is suddenly flooded as Janghoon and Youngchul emerge from the first dressing room and Sugeun rounds the corner further down the hall with Sangmin.
"Yah, Heechul, we thought you left," Janghoon says, approaching.
"Did you two just close a deal?" Sugeun teases, noticing their frozen position, coming by them to take Heechul's other hand. He shakes it vigorously, earning chuckles from the onlookers.
With the new crowd gathering in the hall, there's no way to continue the conversation.
Kyunghoon pulls away, turning to follow Sugeun and Sangmin into the dressing room. "Heechul-ie," he calls out, stopping at the door, "Lunch. Wait for me."
Heechul's heart jumps and he can't stop the smile that breaks across his face. "Yes," he says, "Lunch."
They each linger for a moment more, until Janghoon remarks, "I had lunch with Psy the other day, we…"
"Aigoo," Youngchul complains loudly and shoves Janghoon along, which gets everyone else moving again, too.
Heechul goes with Youngchul and Janghoon to the floor lobby, but sees them off once they reach the elevators. He stands there, waiting, feeling like he might drop to his knees, he's so worked up, but it turns out he doesn't need to wait long.
When Kyunghoon arrives, he's still pulling on his jacket, walking as fast he can, and the moment he appears, Heechul grins so broadly his cheeks start to ache a little.
"Hey," Kyunghoon says, stopping next to him.
"Hey." They stare at each other in an odd way, a way Heechul would probably find awkward any other time, but right now he's somehow satisfied to just look at Kyunghoon.
"Yah, you're serious, right?" Kyunghoon says abruptly, narrowing his eyes.
The elevator arrives with a chime.
"Honest," Heechul says, as earnest as possible. He leans in, even though they're close already and there's no one around. "And… it's just lunch," he says in a low voice, "but you know I'm asking you out, too, right?"
Kyunghoon blinks and his lips quirk upward for a moment before he scoffs and pulls Heechul into the elevator. "I know," he says as the doors slide close. The elevator begins its descent and Kyunghoon turns to Heechul, moving within kissing distance before he stops. He looks at Heechul plainly, expectant, and Heechul gets the message; he closes the distance himself this time.
When they kiss, it's not just different because they're both sober. They're wary that the elevator could stop at any moment, so they kiss softly, but underneath it is a thrill of anticipation and a sense of promise. They have time, and that knowledge makes the gentle kisses between them even sweeter.
Kyunghoon pulls away first, but there's a fond smile on his face. He turns to the doors just as they slow to a stop in the elevator, and he asks, "What changed?"
Heechul pauses a bit, thinking of how to put it. "After... you know... I felt like I did something bad," he says, "Then when I saw you today, I knew I was an idiot."
There's a beat and then Kyunghoon says, "Yes, well, the idiot pays for the date until he is forgiven."
"Is that a proverb?" Heechul says, a grin pulling at the corners of his lips.
"It should be," Kyunghoon replies, smirking, and they glance at each other and snicker to themselves.
When the elevator doors slide open, they emerge into the lobby grinning from ear to ear, unstoppably blissful. Together.