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Wishful Chance

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Damn Junmyeon and his stupid ideas.

Feeling half angry, half defeated, Jongdae couldn’t help but imagine a hundred different methods of teaching Junmyeon a lesson. Normally Jongdae wasn’t that big of a prankster ― his mischievousness was limited to acts of little to no practical consequence ― but his keen disappointment was making him feel much unlike himself, leading him to seriously consider filling Junmyeon’s shampoo bottles with olive oil, gluing his cellphone to a table with super glue or perhaps even stealing his final papers from the professors’ tables when the time came. These thoughts gave him some personal relief as he pictured each of the situations in his head, although he knew none of it would actually fix what had already taken place.

Jongdae was no fool; deep down, he also knew it was unfair to blame his friend for what had happened. He had been the one to seek Junmyeon for help in the first place, all sweaty hands and fluttery chest, and the older had truly given what he thought were the best possible advices in the specific circumstances. Therefore, as much as Jongdae wanted to place all the blame on a scape goat to get rid of that abysmal frustration that filled him up to his bones, he was aware he only had himself to blame. After all, who else would have gone to Junmyeon of all people for advices on romance?

He should have known from the start how that was going to end up.

So, damn himself and his lack of good judgment for trusting Junmyeon's stupid ideas.

On a second thought, damn Junmyeon too (finding a scapegoat for his anger actually did not seem like such a bad idea at all).

While he was roaming the profusely lit, crowded large avenues of Seoul on the way to his apartment, the memories and feelings that dominated his thoughts were definitely the kind Jongdae wished he could erase from his mind. As it usually happens, however, they were also the ones that seemed to stick to his mind the most. He remembered as clear as day the utmost mix of disbelief and excitement he had felt when, while casually checking his account on a popular dating app about a week before, he had been surprised by a red notification informing him that one of the guys he had swiped right on had right-swiped him back.

He had briefly wondered about all the profiles he had visited on the previous days and which of them could be possible matches: perhaps the cute, timid rounded-eyed part-time librarian he had exchanged a few glances with on a recent trip to borrow some books for one of his final essays (he had found him on the app not long after); the tanned model-like guy with the flashing smile who apparently was a dance major according to his personal description; or then the airhead exchange student from China whom he had already hit on in person but who never seemed to notice even his boldest advances (and hence, a more direct approach appeared to be necessary).

However, it had not been just any random guy as he was expecting, but rather the cute-yet-hot red-haired guitarist-slash-deep-toned vocalist he had developed a profound crush on ever since the last college spring festival. He swiped right on the much popular Park Chanyeol more out of a whim than based on actual realistic expectations; he knew the music major was one of the most targeted guys on campus and had much better prospects than himself if he ever wanted to. Besides, there was nothing on his profile that indicated he was actually into same sex relationships ― but since there was nothing pointing out on the contrary either, Jongdae had made his daring move in hopes of at most being acknowledged and maybe even being smirked at if they ever ran into each other on the university corridors.

For that reason, he could not believe it when the little description box notified him that he and widely-desired hottie Chanyeol were a match. He had waited a few hours to see if it wasn’t just some sort of glitch, and then figured out it was better to sleep on it just to be sure he was not hallucinating due to all the stress he was going through since it was the end of the semester.

When Chanyeol started a conversation with him on the very next day, however ― an excited “Hi” followed by a long string of exclamation points and a smiling big-eyed emoticon that looked an awful lot like himself ― Jongdae simply had not been able to take it anymore and had desperately run to his most available friend for help.

(Looking back in retrospect, this had been his huge mistake. What could he have done though, considering Minseok wasn’t picking up any of his calls? He wasn’t about to take the risk of taking too long to reply and incurring the danger of Chanyeol getting the impression he wasn’t interested.)

Junmyeon was a weird person, with even weirder habits, but he was also one of the most reliable people and one of the most caring friends Jongdae had ever met. Junmyeon greeted Jongdae to his apartment with a cup of hot chocolate and a laptop with an almost countless number of tabs open on its browser. Jongdae had briefed him quickly on the situation over the phone on his way to Junmyeon's, and by the time he finally arrived, Junmyeon started flooding him with a torrent of suggestions almost right away.

In fact, he was so passionate about it that Jongdae decided to trust his opinions for once instead of listening to him cautiously like he usually did (his second biggest mistake). After Jongdae had exchanged a few messages with Chanyeol under Junmyeon’s continuous words of encouragement (the boy had replied immediately; Jongdae couldn’t help but wonder if he was always like that or if ― this made Jongdae's heart skip a beat ― he was really that interested on him), the issue of where they could have their first date seemed the most pressing. Even though Jongdae very meticulously described Chanyeol’s liking for faded-black ripped jeans and plaid flannel shirts ― not to mention his recent fire-red hair dye and the fact he was in a freaking band ― Junmyeon was adamant about picking a chic restaurant in the fancy part of town (“every partner likes to be impressed”) instead of Jongdae’s original idea of going to a nice café he usually frequented just next to campus. Junmyeon had actually already gone through the trouble of filtering what he believed were the best options, and when Jongdae protested that a single meal at any of them would most likely be worth a whole week salary from his part-time job at the publishing company just around the corner from his apartment, his friend had raised an eyebrow at him and questioned him if said godlike Chanyeol wasn’t worth the effort.

Well, he couldn’t say “no” to that.

That was how Jongdae had ended up waiting for Chanyeol in front of an extravagant French cuisine restaurant in one of Seoul’s most chic neighborhoods, with dress pants and a white button-up shirt both borrowed from Junmyeon's closet (“a good impression, Jongdae, a good impression”). Now, while walking down the stairs from the street and into the subway station, Jongdae wished he could literally facepalm himself (if only people wouldn’t think of him as a weirdo) while recollecting the tragic chain of events that had followed. Chanyeol had arrived as dressed up as he most likely had been able to, although visibly seeming as uncomfortable as one can get in such an outfit. He had still made that effort in order to see Jongdae, however, and that thought gave the boy hope that they could still somehow make it work.

It might have worked if some other things hadn’t happened, such as Chanyeol making a huge fool of himself in front of Jongdae by ordering escargot and then not knowing how to eat it. Jongdae himself hadn’t judged him, naturally (to be quite honest, Jongdae didn’t really know how to eat those mollusks either until one of the waiters showed them), but some of the other customers around them were (not so) quietly laughing and, by the redness on Chanyeol’s cheeks, he had felt ashamed and self-conscious as hell. They still had passed through quite an awkward moment when they had asked for the check: Chanyeol had insisted to pay for their whole meal, but when he had actually seen the final cypher, he had had to shyly accept Jongdae’s offer of paying his share. As to throw the last bucket of cold water on any chance of romance between them, once they had left the restaurant, Chanyeol’s stomach had growled at the exact moment he had answered negatively to Jongdae asking him if he wanted to grab a bite somewhere else; and while hastily saying goodbye due to his embarrassment, Chanyeol had tripped over his own feet and had fallen flat on his face on the sidewalk.

Jongdae didn’t really believe his promise of calling him back throughout the week.

With his mind still busy with regretful thoughts of what could have been and what he had lost, he lost his gaze in the swift succession of subway tunnels and stations, all passing too fast and too uninteresting to distract him from his gloomy reflections. During that disastrous dinner, Jongdae had already started wondering why the hell he hadn’t gone over his planning with Minseok at some point on the past week, but right now the thought was even more intrusive. His best friend would very surely have opened his eyes to what a train wreck that date was going to be, and one simple conversation would have prevented so much both emotional and financial strain, not to mention the fact he had almost literally wasted his golden ticket to finally date the boy of his dreams ― or, to put it better, his chance to finally date someone at all in years. After a happy-albeit-short relationship in high school that had ended with him and the boy moving to different places for college, his subsequent dating experiences hadn’t exactly been that positive ― actually, they had almost been non-existent, except for the eventual one night stands or brief casual relationships to which Jongdae succumbed to whenever he was feeling too needy. Jongdae wasn’t ugly nor unfriendly (in fact he was far from it on both cases, or so his friends told him ― hopefully not only out of pity), but somehow dates never turned out well for him, with either something going terribly wrong on the date itself or the people he was meeting with turning out to be major creeps or simply too different from what he had expected.

All the more reason he had hoped from the bottom of his heart that this date would actually go smoothly, and all the more reason he was feeling increasingly anxious by the fact it didn’t.

When he got down on the calm residential neighborhood where he lived, all Jongdae could think of was that he desperately wanted to hide under his bed sheets and not wake up for another whole week, because he didn’t want to give destiny more opportunities to make his life any more miserable than it already was.

(He was aware that perhaps he was being overdramatic, but he believed he deserved to be cut some slack after what he has been through that night)

Realistically though, he knew he had to go to university early the next day and had his part-time job in the afternoon, so his idea of consolation was a warm shower and then some hot chocolate while watching bad TV, and preferably at least 7 hours of sleep afterwards.

Damn adulthood.

He was still thinking about which programs would be airing that night and which ones would be the least terrible to watch when it happened.

A single car was coming from afar. At the same time, a black cat was inadvertently jumping graciously from the sidewalk onto the road.

Jongdae froze where he was on the other side of the street, his eyes fixed on the cat, expecting it to notice the car and either run to where he was or go back to the sidewalk he had come from.

The cat walked unhurriedly on a straight line, too slow, and the car was already almost upon him when Jongdae took action.

He ran, leaping with steps, and crouched down to grab the cat before he clumsily threw himself onto the sidewalk.

The car passed a second after, driving away apparently not noticing what had happened.

Sitting awkwardly on the sidewalk with the cat still on his arms, Jongdae’s eyes widened when he realized what he had done. It’s funny how people can make stupid decisions in crucial times, he thought, taking in that he had actually risked his own life to save a random cat on the street. Seeing a cat die would have been the most depressive ending to this evening, a voice inside his head pointed out, and he supposed he could agree to that.

Either way, Jongdae was not an overthinker. He was fine, the cat was fine, and watching the cat being run over would certainly have been a lot worse, so he most likely had made the right choice.

“I know you have seven lives, but hey, you should be more careful about losing any of them. Keep them for when it’s most necessary,” Jongdae whispered to the cat, releasing him from his grip. Great, he was talking to random animals now (talking to specific animals such as pets wasn't any better, he supposed). “You owe me one of them now,” He said jokingly, gently stroking the cat’s back.

Instead of running away, the cat merely moved a few steps away from him before sitting down and staring at him in a mix of curiousness and suspiciousness.

“What? Do you want anything else?” Jongdae replied naturally, before realizing he really should stop talking to the cat as if it could actually understand him. However, the cat actually meowed. Jongdae raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you want?” He tried asking, although of course the cat couldn’t possibly answer him, meowing impatiently instead.

Putting aside the thought that the cat seemed to understand him, Jongdae thought of all the possible desires a feline could have. It didn’t seem hurt (Jongdae himself had only slightly scraped his pants, not enough to tear them even ― lucky him, or else Junmyeon would have killed him) and it didn’t seem lost either, which led to the only other reason the boy could think of.

“You hungry?”

He smiled when the cat started pawing the concrete. Jongdae realized there was a convenience store next to alley they were at and, after giving the cat a sign to wait there (what the hell was he doing…), he made a quick run to grab a small milk box from one of the shelves. He wasn’t very sure about why he was going to such lengths for that weird cat. He supposed he was an animal lover to some degree, but it wasn’t as if that cat was starving (it actually had quite a large belly), and certainly not as if he always helped every animal he had ever seen roaming the streets for food ― most of the time, even though his heart would ache, he’d simply ignore them. He handed the few coins he had in his pocket to the cashier, coming to a sad conclusion.

He just didn’t want to be alone right at that moment.

“Here you are, kitty”, he said, ripping the box carefully so that it had enough space for the cat to reach the milk. The cat approached the box carefully, but after a bit of sniffing, it started drinking the white liquid in small sips. “Y’know, I’m not really that gentle… I’m just in the mood for doing something good tonight”, Jongdae whispered quietly, crouching next to the feline. “I had a rough night”. The cat didn’t really stop drinking, but its ears twisted slightly. “Maybe this is a sign of destiny and I should just take you home,” he uttered thoughtfully, “I’ll most likely be the neighborhood’s resident ‘cat lady’… or ‘person’”. He laughed humorlessly, scratching the cat’s head between his perked ears. “Since apparently the right person for me doesn’t really exist in this world…”

The cat continued drinking and, for the remaining time it did, Jongdae kept silent, listening to the low slurps fondly. Maybe he should really get some cats, even though he was more of a dog person.

When the cat finished, it lifted its bright blue eyes to Jongdae’s warm brown ones. For a quick second, they just stared at each other.

And then, with a swirl of its tail as means of goodbye, the cat was gone.

 

 

Jongdae really wished he could call Minseok. He partially wanted to tell him about the odd cat and his near death experience, but most of all he just needed a shoulder to cry on, even if only metaphorically. Some encouraging words wouldn’t hurt either. Unfortunately for him though, Minseok had expressively forbidden any calls or texts for that night ― unlike Jongdae, he was always very successful on his dates and the girl he was meeting for that night was quite a hard catch and he was set on not letting anything ruin it.

Well, Jongdae could certainly empathize with that.

He opened the door loudly, not really caring much about discretion since he lived by himself. The whole cat ordeal had taken some time off his night, but he could still catch half an hour of that cooking show he sometimes watched with Junmyeon if he took a quick shower. He closed the door behind his back, listening to the automatic pop from the lock, and was already on his way to his bedroom to put away Junmyeon's borrowed clothes when he saw it.

A pair of naked feet and ankles could be seen lying on the ground from the open door to his bedroom, the (presumable) rest of the body hidden by the wall.

Jongdae suddenly felt a lump swelling on his throat. His legs froze, and he couldn't really feel the rest of his body either except for the strong and fast pumping of his heart.

There was a person ― or a body ― lying down on his bedroom floor.

He wasn't really sure which option would be worse.

Jongdae started sweating cold and a haze of despair threatened to cloud his mind, alongside flashes of scenes from police series he had seen on TV ― strangled victims abandoned by maniacs in the houses of their next targets as a sign, bodies resting in large puddles of blood, dismembered corpses…

Oh god, what if those ankles were not actually connected to a body…

He really needed to call Minseok right now.

He swallowed hard, trying to decide his next move. He had already been very noisy on the way in and the person (apparently a guy, judging by the size and shape of their feet) hadn't woken up, but what if it was all an act and he was just waiting for Jongdae to turn his back to the room in order to come for him? He would need to search for the keys on his pocket and that would be enough of a sign for the guy, even if he could not actually see Jongdae because of the wall. The distance from his bedroom to the front door could be easily covered in less than a second.

Then again, what kind of psycho would invade somebody's house to sleep on their bedroom while being in sight? If that person was really there to kill him or abuse him or rob him or anything of the sort, it was much more likely he would have hidden in a less conspicuous place.

As little fond of the idea as Jongdae was, the corpse theory was that much more likely.

He walked as softly as he could through his minuscule hall, passing by the space he called “living room” and into his tiny kitchen, grabbing a frying pan from the top of the stove on his way before continuing in the direction of his bedroom. He could see the feet more clearly now; long and bony, most certainly a man's (and a tall man at that). Gulping nervously, he tip toed around the door ajar, trying to get a better look at the guy, half hoping he wasn't dead ― and half hoping he was.

Luckily for him, the young man appeared to be both alive and sleeping.

Holding the frying pan cautiously with both hands, he stepped carefully around the guy's feet, moving closer in order to catch a better look at him. He was sleeping soundly with his pinkish lips parted, straight nose with a roundish top fitting perfectly in his narrow face, closed eyes framed by dark straight eyebrows. His hair was blond and a little messy from lying down and he was absolutely one of the most handsome people Jongdae had ever seen in his life.

That, of course, took Jongdae off guard, since no one really expects psychos to be good-looking.

He was still observing the guy with furrowed brows and trying to think of what the hell he was supposed to do in this kind of circumstances when the mysterious man's eyes opened up. Taken by surprise, Jongdae simply stood still, looking at him with wide eyes while he all but jumped from the ground, gluing himself to the wall in only blue boxer shorts and visibly (and worrisomely) looking for some sort of weapon for himself, although his eyes wouldn't leave the pan on Jongdae's hands for more than a fraction of a second.

In the end, the guy was the one to speak first.

"Who the hell are you and what the hell am I doing here?" He asked, eyeing Jongdae uneasily.

"To be honest, I would kind of like to ask you the same,” the shorter replied sincerely, although without lowering the pan down at all.

"I woke up in my underwear at a stranger's house and you want me to believe your shit?"

Jongdae almost rolled his eyes, but he still wasn't sure enough he wasn't being played to be that relaxed.

"I came home to find a random guy lying down in my room and you expect me not to think you're a psycho?"

The guy stopped looking around the room and pinned his gaze on Jongdae instead.

"Ok, so assuming you didn't bring me here and I didn't voluntarily come here either… How the hell did I end up half-naked in your room?"

"Believe me, I would love to know that."

Despite the tension, the guy raised an eyebrow at him.

"Why am I under the impression you're flirting with me?"

Jongdae laughed humorously. He kind of was, but it was more out of nervousness than anything.

"Look," he sighed, lowering the pan for the first time as a sign of truce, "I seriously don't know how you ended up here." Having come to the decision of trusting the guy, Jongdae tossed the frying pan on top of his bed, lifting his hands in the air afterwards in a non-aggressive manner. "I'm just as surprised as you are."

The blond boy studied him for a few seconds before relaxing a bit, folding his arms over his naked chest, the one Jongdae was having one hell of a trouble not to keep looking at. Thank god the guy wasn't actually a psycho or he would certainly be done for at this point. Damn hormones, damn his lack of sexual interactions in the last months. He should not believe the guy just because he was cute… Or hot.

There was something more to that decision though…  A sense of familiarity. Jongdae had a strong impression he had already seen that boy once, but he couldn't recall where…

The guy ran a hand through his hair, slightly irked.

"Okay, whatever. I'm outta here." He looked around and Jongdae followed his gaze. Surprisingly ― or perhaps not so much considering the guy had also appeared out of nowhere ― there were some clothes neatly organized in a stack on the side chair of his writing desk.

The guy dressed up quickly, light patterned shirt, dark blazer, sleek black shoes and skinny jeans (lord, the way it hugged his booty… Jongdae really needed to stop looking), and when he finished he just stood there, uncomfortable.

"Ok, so… Guess I'll get going. I have an import exam tomorrow at S university anyway and I don't have more time to spend on this madness." He stretched his lips and curved them downwards for a second, making a very characteristic face that somehow looked familiar to Jongdae too. "I don't need to explain any of this to you though. Take care... Or whatever."

The boy exited the room decidedly and without sparing Jongdae a last look, but not even two seconds had passed when Jongdae heard him clearing his throat on the other room. Oh damn, the keys, he remembered ― and just as he expected, the blond guy was waiting for him by the entrance door, suspicion not yet having left his eyes. Without much energy to investigate the situation any further (even though he would definitely need to reinforce the security in his apartment on the next few days), Jongdae simply took the keys from his pocket and swiftly unlocked the door, opening it slightly so that the boy could pass.

They briefly looked at each other’s eyes again when the guy motioned to pass by him, and that feeling of familiarity struck Jongdae with full force.

“Are you sure we don’t know each other?” He couldn’t help but ask, staring at the other’s features and being more and more certain by the second that that wasn’t the first time he was seeing them.

“I don’t have the slightest idea of who you are. If this ends up being Donghae’s idea of a practical joke though, I’ll kick both his ass and yours,” he informed drily, leaving right after.

Once he assured the door had been properly locked, Jongdae sat on his two seater sofa and sank into the cushions, bitterly realizing by looking at the clock on top of the TV that the cooking show was already over. He still couldn’t understand any of what had just passed, but more than the confusion itself, what bothered him was his gut feeling that he knew that boy from somewhere. He tried to focus again on his facial features, on what he had said… It all had happened very quickly, but he remembered something the blond man mentioned had sounded funny.

What was that again… “An exam at S university”? Did he mean the University of Seoul by any chance? And a friend named Donghae?

 

Why the hell did that sound so familiar?

Jongdae was pretty sure he didn’t know anyone named Donghae, unless it was one of his classmates ― he really didn’t know the names of them all. Then again, why would a person he wasn’t friends with pull that prank on him, unless he was secretly hated by someo-

Wait.

It couldn’t be—

With a sudden realization, Jongdae ran to his room again, hurriedly pulling a heavy box from its hiding place under his bed. After years of Minseok’s and Junmyeon's continuous teasing about his liking for manhwas, Jongdae had finally decided to get rid of most of the series he had been collecting ever since elementary school the year before. However, he hadn’t been able to part with some of his favored series and had hidden them instead ― specially his all-time favorite, Mr. Catman. The story was somewhat silly from an objective point of view, but for boys love manhwas’ standards it had quite a complex plot which had granted it several prizes in the area. The series had had had quite an impact on Jongdae’s life because it had been released around the same period he was discovering his sexuality in his high school years, and it had been partially responsible for making him accept himself despite his religious beliefs at the time, besides having given him the courage to come out to his parents. He had been so into it that he had even been bold enough to ask his uncle who worked at the same publishing company to get him a signed version of the first volume, which he still kept as if it were a treasure. Additionally, the main character’s romantic partner was yet to this day his ideal type both personality and appearance-wise ― tall with broad shoulders, light hair and a strong gaze that could pierce into your soul, combined with a contained but warm temperament, not too loud or talkative but whose words whenever spoken carried a lot of weight.

A given, but he had never come across such a guy.

His ideal type, Mr. Catman’s lead character Oh Sehun who studied Law at “S University” and whose best friend was called Donghae.

He looked frenetically for his treasured first volume, safely kept below the others within a cloth sack to avoid even dust. With trembling fingers, he pulled the manhwa out of the sack, and even though he was trying to be as fast as possible, his mind processed all his actions in a painful slow motion. He looked at the cover expectantly, the same cover depicting the main couple that was engraved in his brain due to the countless times he had stared at it. His eyes widened.

Only the main character could be seen, the space behind him where his partner was supposed to be completely empty.

He flicked through the pages nervously, finding much to his astonishment that many speech bubbles were floating on deserted panels, the drawings of Oh Sehun having disappeared completely over the detailed backgrounds of urban Seoul. Donghae, the character's friend, was still there on one of the frames, teasing him about his being so worried about a certain exam he needed to take the next day in order to be eligible for a scholarship to study abroad.

Oh, right. That was how the story began.

He scratched his head, undecided about whether that was the most elaborated prank ever to be pulled or if what he was under the impression was happening was really actually happening. Was it possible that his ideal type Oh Sehun had materialized right inside his bedroom only in his underwear? That seemed too much like a poor excuse for a story in some bad porn ― but if it were and he was somehow in an alternate fictional dimension, they would have had sex and that surely didn't happen.

Jongdae brought the manhwa closer to his eyes, inspecting the clean, untouched lines of the background drawings in the panels from which Sehun had been erased. Minseok's and Junmyeon's artistic skills most surely were not enough to have done such a flawless work ―that and the fact he couldn't feel any marks of ink of abrasion on the thin paper which could indicate it had been meddled with. The other option, however, was just as hard to believe. Granted, the boy he had met in his room did seem like the embodied version of Oh Sehun; the characteristic face he had made, even the clothes he was wearing resembled the character's overall style, even though Jongdae couldn't check for sure since all the pictures had disappeared. How could his skeptical self that didn't even believe in ghosts, angels or demons accept that somehow an actual person had emerged from a manhwa?!

It was way too late to bother with such lunacy. At that rate, missing the cooking show on TV was not the only change his plans would be facing ― sleeping 7 hours was gradually becoming an impossible goal too.

Jongdae whined to himself, stomping his feet lightly on the ground in frustration. Why couldn't his life just give him a break after the shitty evening he had had before coming home?

Objectively, he didn't need to do anything. Even if that boy had truly materialized from his manhwa, they had no actual personal connections whatsoever and the blond's attitude upon meeting him just made it that much clearer. No one would hold him accountable for whatever that boy was up to either at that very moment or in the future ― that is, if he was even going to last in that world for more than a day or two. Perhaps that story was a bit like Cinderella's and there would be a time limit after which the magic would wear off that he wasn't aware of. Perhaps he had missed some crucial clue to figure all of it out. One way or the other, he had no direct responsibility.

That was it. He had had an awful night and there was absolutely no legitimate reason for anyone to expect him to take charge of that situation. He refused to think of it any further; he wasn't about to get involved in some mess the size of which was quite frankly unpredictable. Assuming his assumption about that whole predicament was actually true, his heart certainly went out to the guy and he sincerely hoped "Sehun" would find someone to help him out, but ― he decided ― his role in that story had already come to an end.

Quite resolute, he took off his shoes at the hall and then motioned towards the bedroom, opening up the buttons of his borrowed shirt on the way. After he had removed the dress pants and then carefully placed them alongside the shirt on a hanger, he proceeded to get his pajamas from the dresser drawer, all the time making the biggest effort not to think about hypothetical materialized Sehun whenever his eyes glanced over the place on the floor where the boy had slept. However, not even a full minute had passed before he started feeling growingly anxious, his empathy soaring and gradually overruling the side of him that wanted to avoid any trouble.

He threw himself on the bed, burying his face into a cushion, and groaned tiredly.

He knew what he had to do.

Jongdae put on the first set of clothes he could find and quickly dashed out of the bedroom, getting his keys from where he had left them on the way to the hall. If that guy was truly personified Oh Sehun, the whole world he believed he was in, all the people he knew, the shops he used to go to, even his very own past ― none of it had ever existed (honestly, just thinking about it was already depressing). Besides, even if supposed "Sehun" managed to figure that out, nobody besides Jongdae would ever believe him (even he was having a hard time accepting his theory was true). It would be a dick move from Jongdae to simply let "Sehun" fend for himself and pretend he didn't have anything to do with it.

Sighing, Jongdae put on a random pair of sneakers and left the apartment, closing the door behind him.

Why couldn't he be an asshole just that one time and let it go?

 

After not meeting a lost Sehun at the exit of his building like he had expected to, Jongdae had felt at a loss before he decided to check for him at the most likely place he could think of. Since Sehun originally lived in Seoul as well and the author or Mr. Catman had been largely faithful to reality, Jongdae figured as a Seoul citizen himself there was only one place someone would go if they had woken up at an unknown location: the subway.

Rushing down the stairs at the nearest subway entrance (and the only one visible from his building), Jongdae gulped when his eyes met the tall figure standing in front of a map of Seoul's subway lines, looking positively puzzled.

If Jongdae remembered correctly, the station closest to Sehun's house in the manhwa had been made up, so the look on the boy's face was not that surprising to him. Still, how would he break it to Sehun that everything the boy believed in was, well, not exactly a lie but simply the works of some manhwa artist's imagination, and that Sehun himself wasn't quite the dictionary definition of a real person?

"Hey," Jongdae approached the other, almost whispering. The station was quite deserted due to the late hour, and he didn't want to attract the unwanted attention of the few people that were actually there. "Could we, um, talk?"

The blond's head snapped in his direction. Jongdae couldn't decide if he was angry or scared. Perhaps a bit of both.

"Did you follow me?!" he accused Jongdae, glaring at him.

"I swear I didn't, I just need to talk—"

"Where the hell did you bring me to?" he hissed, and even though he didn't appear unsettled on the outside, Jongdae could feel the angriness emanating from him.

"It's really hard to explain", Jongdae led off hastily, keeping as collected as he could. "Please, just give me a chance—"

"Do not follow me, you freak," the guy said with a cold and yet surprisingly calm voice, pointing a finger to Jongdae's chest, "or I swear to God I'll call the police on you."

Jongdae watched quite hopelessly as the taller man gave him one last death stare before he walked away, leaving through the entrance on the opposite side. Should I go after him, the boy wondered, checking the station's clock with dread. If things continued this way, he'd be lucky to even get to sleep that night.

Jongdae couldn't help feeling responsible though, so he merely trailed along after him.

They were out on the streets now, the dark deep night falling heavy on their shoulders. At that hour, there was nobody in sight under the flickering street lights besides them. Jongdae could see the blond boy not more than fifty meters away from him, his long legs propelling him forward fast, forcing the other boy to hasten his pace in order to close the distance between them.

Supposed character-come-to-life Sehun didn't seem to notice him though ― or if he did, he was pretending he didn’t.

Jongdae mildly sped in his direction, still unsure of whether he wanted to be noticed or not.

The sound of his steps on the concrete finally attracted the other's attention and he turned his head back, although he didn't stop walking.

"What the hell," he murmured under his breath, but still loud enough that Jongdae could hear, "I'm serious, I am going to the police and I'll get your creepy ass into jail unless you turn around right fucking now."

"For God's sake man, look at me and look at you. Do you really think I'm trying to kidnap you or something," Jongdae pointed out in exasperation, gesturing to their physiques and the obvious fact he was much smaller and weaker than the other boy was. "I really just need to talk to you. I mean it."

"Well, a shame I don't want to talk to you then."

Jongdae huffed, annoyed beyond words. Why was he going to such lengths for that brat again?

"Oh Sehun, listen to me," he tried, eyeing the taller one expectantly. This time, it did work: the boy stopped on his tracks and turned around, still a good five meters from him.

"I thought you said you didn't know who I was."

"As I said, we need to talk. It's… complicated."

"Bad stories always start with 'it's complicated'," now confirmed Sehun remarked, suspicious. "I think this is most likely the tenth last warning I give you but now that I’m aware you just lied to me, I mean it. If you don't go back to whatever hole you crawled out from, I'm going to the nearest police district".

Jongdae snorted.

"Like you even know where that is."

"Want to try me?"

"That's really not my point." Why was that boy so thick-skulled? Jongdae could easily understand everything was confusing for him at that moment, he could most definitely empathize with Sehun, but was it that hard to be just a tiny bit cooperative? "Just… Let's go somewhere, anywhere, a diner or a cafe or wherever you feel safe."

"So... You're not going to leave me alone?"

"No, not really," Jongdae replied, sincere.

It was obviously the wrong choice of words, since Sehun bolted in the opposite direction immediately after.

The blond might not know where the nearest police district was, but ― much to the shorter's dismay ― he was just as smart as Jongdae remembered him to be. Sehun had spotted a large avenue in the distance a couple of blocks from them, identifiable because of the somewhat heavier traffic, and that's exactly where he headed to. Jongdae was on his heels, slightly out of breath now, managing the distance but never being able to actually get close enough to stop him.

After they arrived at the larger avenue, it was just a matter of seconds until Sehun caught sight of a police district's sign not far from where they were.

Jongdae considered abandoning his crusade at that moment. What if he had got everything wrong? What if, despite all the similarities, this Sehun wasn't actually a character that had magically come to life but rather a real person and everything that happened was indeed a very well elaborated prank? That boy didn't know who he was, his name, most likely didn't remember where he lived either ― if he left now, he could easily walk away unharmed. However, if Jongdae did follow him into the police district… If he happened to have misunderstood it all, he would very likely face criminal charges, perhaps even for kidnapping if Sehun could somewhat prove it.

If that were a prank, now was the time for whoever the prankster was to reveal themselves.

Jongdae had to make a decision.

"Wait, Sehun, don't go in there!" he tried appealing, but it was too late ― the taller boy was already entering the precinct.

Feeling the tension building up on his shoulders, Jongdae gathered all his courage and followed him in.

"I want to report a crime," he heard Sehun uttering to the police officer at the counter as soon as he went it, "perpetrated by this guy," he pointed towards Jongdae, "who obviously can't get a clue."

The police officer took a quick look at Jongdae from head to toes before replying.

"What exactly would this crime be?"

"Stalking, kidnapping and false imprisonment," Sehun informed. Jongdae felt the blood leaving his face.

"Officer, sir, I ask you to forgive my friend here," he intervened weakly, "he had a bit too much to drink, someone challenged him to play a prank on me and... here we are." He glanced sideways at Sehun for a split second, the boy's glare burning holes into him. "He doesn't know what he’s doing," he added quickly.

"Of course I know what I'm doing!" Sehun protested, placing both his hands on the counter.

The police officer stood up from his chair.

"I hope you know that making a false report can get you both into jail," he started.

In that case, Jongdae briefly wondered if he wouldn't end up getting arrested even if he did tell the truth.

"I am not lying," Sehun asserted, "I have no idea who he is but I woke up half-naked in his bedroom, and even after I left his apartment, he kept going after me."

"You woke up half-naked in his bedroom...?" The officer repeated slowly.

Oh-oh. A judgmental policeman was quite literally the last thing Jongdae needed.

"Officer, this is just one huge misunderstanding," he pleaded, "as I said, he's just drunk too much and now he's taking the joke too far."

"I don't smell alcohol on him," the policeman stated. Jongdae could see the things Sehun had mentioned were still floating on the officer's head, biasing the man against him. "You'd better keep to yourself now, boy, before you put yourself in an even worse position." He then turned to Sehun, "please continue your statement."

"As I was saying, I don't quite remember what happened before… I simply woke up in his apartment. Most specifically, in his bedroom. When I opened my eyes, he was standing next to me holding a frying pan in his hands." Jongdae swallowed dryly. That didn't sound good at all. "He let me dress myself and then I left his apartment, but I don't know what he did… When I got to the subway, the line that goes to my house wasn't in the map. I was still trying to figure that out when he reached me."

"He followed you to the subway station?"

"Yes," Sehun confirmed, unwavering. "I was still unsure about whether he was a psycho or not, so I just told him to go away, but even after I left the station, he kept coming after me. Even as far as into the precinct, as you, officer, can see."

Jongdae meant to object, but silenced when the officer sent him another glare.

"Very well. That seems like a legitimate offense." Sehun seemed pleased. Jongdae felt the burn in his stomach increasing by the minute. "Let's get your report then, kid. State your name and address first, if you please."

"Name 'Oh Sehun'. Seoul, X district, Y street, number 94."

The officer raised an eyebrow. "What's that address again?"

"Seoul, X district, Y street, number 94," Sehun repeated confidently.

"Are you mocking me, kid?" The officer was visibly growing annoyed. "What district and street are those? Are you sure you live in Seoul?"

"I was born in Seoul, lived in this address all my life." The blond confirmed, apparently still not getting the issue.

The policeman, now clearly outraged, hesitated to take action (most likely since he wasn't sure how to proceed). Jongdae realized that was going to be his only chance.

"I'm terribly sorry, sir. As I said, he's not in his right mind. I ask you to kindly forgive us." He held Sehun by his arm, hauling him towards the entrance. "We will get going now. Thank you for your understanding."

He had to put some strength into dragging Sehun at first, but when the taller boy finally noticed the look on the officer's face, his resistance diminished considerably. Jongdae kept pulling him until they were almost two blocks away, stopping at the corner of a busy street crowded with nightclubs in order to make him feel safer. When he let go of Sehun's arm, however, the boy didn't really withdraw from him. Rather than angry, the blond now looked confused, eyeing Jongdae with mixed feelings.

Even though Sehun had been a nuisance for the whole night so far, Jongdae was still sympathetic for him. The circumstances he was in indeed weren't easy.

"Your name is Oh Sehun, your best friend is called Donghae, you study Law at S University." He enumerated, seeing Sehun's eyes widening. "You're secretly a good dancer and until you finished high school you slept with a picture of your favorite model under your pillow." Sehun was pretty much dumbstruck, which allowed Jongdae to continue without interruptions. "Before you come up with any lifetime stalking theories, let me tell you there is a good reason why I know all of this. But it's better if we go to a quieter place. Is that OK for you?"

Sehun feebly agreed. This time he voluntarily followed after Jongdae as the shorter started walking down the avenue, moving away from the busy nightlife and back in the direction of the calmer residential blocks. There was a 24/7 diner Jongdae eventually went to whenever he needed to work overnight on his final papers just around the corner of his street, and that’s where he took the perplexed boy, picking his favorite table on the extreme end of the room and ordering two hot chocolates before Sehun could say anything (he was confident because he knew Sehun liked it ― the pros of having read 20 manhwa volumes about him).

At least something that night needed to go according to his previous plans.

When their drinks arrived, Jongdae took one deep breath before he set about telling the other (almost) everything he knew. He naturally couldn’t explain how Sehun had materialized ― that was just as much a mystery for him as it was for the taller ― but he told him about having read about him on manhwas during high school, his tastes, facts about his past, detailed to the point Sehun couldn’t do anything but acknowledge there was no way Jongdae could know all of that unless he did have some type of special access to his life. Jongdae still showed him the page on Wikipedia about the character “Oh Sehun” for good measure, and they both were surprised (albeit to different degrees) to realize the clothes Sehun was wearing were exactly the same as the ones the character used for the first volume.

Jongdae did omit the fact the manhwa Sehun originated from was a 18+ rated though. There was no need for Sehun to know he collected porn manhwas, much less that Jongdae had already seen (even if indirectly) him naked ― or worse: having sex.

That definitely wouldn’t help convince the boy he wasn’t some sort of psycho with an incredibly intricate kidnapping plot.

“So… What do I do now,” Sehun apathetically uttered, breaking the silence between them after Jongdae had stopped speaking. “As I understand, I don’t have a house nor any—” he hesitated for a brief second, fiddling with a napkin quite mindlessly, “...living family or acquaintances.”

“On the bright side, you also don’t have an exam tomorrow.” Jongdae blurted out, receiving a particularly annoyed scowl as an answer. So much for trying to be a little positive. “Seriously though… You can stay at my place if you want to. I don’t know what happened any more than you do, but I want to help you figure it out.”

That, and perhaps the fact Jongdae felt somewhat responsible since Sehun had appeared in his bedroom.

“I don’t really have much of an option, but thanks anyway. I appreciate it… I guess.”

It didn’t sound like he appreciated it that much, but Jongdae was way beyond the point of caring about such minor issues.

“I also had an idea,” the shorter continued. “We could try talking to the author of your manhwa, you know, the person who kind of… created you?” That was certainly not a phrase Jongdae had ever imagined himself verbalizing. “Perhaps they might have some sort of clue about what happened.” Sehun hummed to show he had heard, but he still seemed quite detached. He tossed the napkin to the other side of the table, picking a straw instead. Jongdae sighed. “I know it’s a bit farfetched, but it’s all I can think of right now.”

“I suppose it’s worth trying,” Sehun whispered after several minutes, positively startling Jongdae who had long stopped waiting for a reply. “Can we go there tomorrow?”

Jongdae looked at the digital clock hanging on the wall behind the counter, realizing it was way past midnight. Perhaps ditching classes the next morning was not that bad an idea.

“Okay. We’ll go there tomorrow.”

 

The night had been rough. After their talk, Sehun has more or less accepted Jongdae’s theory as the likely truth, but that did not mean he trusted him at all. As a result, it had been quite hard to figure out an arrangement when they got back to Jongdae’s apartment. The shorter insisted for Sehun to take the bed; the blond, however, felt unsafe to sleep in a room whose door Jongdae could lock from the outside. On the other hand, the couch was too small for Sehun. He had slept directly on the floor when he first popped up in Jongdae’s bedroom a few hours earlier, but now he was adamant about needing a softer, cushioned surface to sleep on.

 

They had ended up deciding that Sehun would take the bed, but every key in the house would also be in his possession as well as Jongdae’s cell phone (bye to his wanting to call Minseok to ask for help after Sehun went to sleep).

Jongdae had woken up to a sore neck and heavy eyes, but at least the night had been peaceful. For a moment, while staring at the spotless white ceiling, he had wondered if he had simply slept in front of the television and all the memories he had about what had happened were nothing but a delirious dream (or nightmare). A noise in the kitchen distracted him though, and when he looked over the couch, his eyes fell on a tall boy’s back, the guy apparently busy with the frying pan from the night before.

He sighed. Apparently his luck still hadn’t changed for the better.

While Sehun was making breakfast (after complaining about the lack of ingredients in his fridge once he noticed Jongdae had woken up), the dark-haired boy made a quick call to his office to get the address of the manhwa’s artist. His passion for manhwas throughout his life had led him to develop a special interest for editing (since his drawing skills were non-existent), and his current occupation happened to be at the same publishing company his most beloved author was also under ― a most lucky coincidence, especially in the circumstances they were in at that moment.

After they had a quick discussion about Sehun making breakfast only for himself (using his ingredients! That ungrateful rascal!), Jongdae hurried themselves to leave. Ditching classes every once in a while was acceptable, but he couldn’t simply not show up to his job.

Fortunately for Jongdae, the author’s studio was not far from his apartment and they could actually go on foot. The night before had had some consequences beyond Sehun appearing out of nowhere, namely his dinner with Chanyeol making him basically be almost in the red for the remaining days of the month, and therefore any opportunity to spend less was much appreciated (and needed).

Thinking about it now, he never expected this would be how he would finally meet his favorite author, the person responsible for changing his life and putting him on the path he was now. That signed first volume was the closest Jongdae had ever dared to get to them, and part of the reason was that he didn’t want his mental representation about someone he admired so much to be shattered. Manhwa authors turned out to be freakish at about 50% of the cases, but within the specific segment of boys love manhwas that rate was a lot higher.

He knew for a fact that whoever had written Mr. Catman simply could not be a bad person deep down, but what about on the surface? He was honestly scared to find out.

The building was relatively new and modern, and they had no issues getting to the right floor after the doorman had ringed the apartment to inform they had visitors. Most likely people at the office called to tell them someone from the company was coming here, Jongdae figured, remembering quite embarrassedly how he had given a very shitty excuse for needing that author’s address. Luckily the people from HR weren’t that smart.

“So… What exactly are we going to say to them,” Sehun half whispered, observing the hall’s decor without much interest.

Jongdae’s answer was simple. “Everything we know.” There wasn’t much else they could do, really. “Maybe they can think of a different explanation or find any clues that we didn’t. Manhwa authors are more likely much better than us normal folks when it comes to thinking out of the box.”

Sehun licked his lips before making his characteristic pout, silently acquiescing to his words (or at least that’s how Jongdae interpreted it). Jongdae knocked on the door twice to let them know they were there.

The response was immediate.

“Heechul, can you get the door?” a boyish voice screamed inside.

“I can’t, I’m adding screentones right now!”

“Then ask Taeyeon to do it!”

“Like I have any idea where she is!”

Since the two voices he had heard so far were definitely from males, Jongdae wondered if that Taeyeon person was the author. For some reason, he always expected yaoi manhwa artists to be females.

“This apartment is not that big at all ― how come you don’t know where she is?!”

“Can’t you stop screaming from the kitchen and just look for her? Or better, open the door while you’re at it?” the Heechul guy answered. “I’m fucking busy right now, I need to concentrate. Or would you rather add the screentones?”

“Oh god, anything but that.” The youngish voice was closer now, and he wasn’t screaming anymore. They both were so freaking loud though. Not like Jongdae was in any position to criticize them (he was also loud most of the time, especially when he was with his friends), but still. “She must be on the balcony adding filters on snapchat or something. Whatever. Coming!” He yelled again, this time towards the door.

Jongdae inhaled deeply, trying to prepare himself for what was coming.

“Hello~!” The boy greeted cheekily. “Are you the guy from the company that was coming by?”

“Ah, yes,” Jongdae answered, a bit awkward. That was a lie he wouldn’t be able to keep going for much longer, “I came to talk to... Park Jihye? The author of Mr.Catman?” he quickly added once he saw the confused look on the other’s face. “Is she here?”

The boy giggled.

“So they didn’t tell you? You’re speaking to her ― or him, more precisely.”

Jongdae’s jaw dropped.

“How’s that possible?!” Looking him from head to toes, there was simply no way that boy was any older than he was. He had droopy eyes, a round nose tip and a mouth shape that clearly resembled a puppy’s, so youthful looking that Jongdae was doubtful he wasn’t even younger. But Mr. Catman had been released when he was back in high school! “How old are you?!”

“Now, now, that’s not the kind of question you go around asking people you’ve just met,” he saucily added, shaking a finger in front of Jongdae’s face. “I don’t mind being visited but we’re really on a tight schedule right now since I was supposed to have handed in the next chapter of Gaia yesterday.” He didn’t seem very worried in Jongdae’s opinion. “The people at the office weren’t able to inform me what you were coming to do here, so could you pleas―” At the moment, he finally noticed Sehun, partially hidden from his view because of how he was angling himself against the door. “Oh!” He stared at Sehun for a moment, apparently mesmerized. “Oh, Heechul, come here, quick!” He sounded super excited.

Jongdae bit his bottom lip, stuffing his hands into his jeans pockets when he felt they were starting to sweat. After that reaction, he was growing increasingly anxious. Is there a chance he actually has a clue about who Sehun is?

“So what’s all this fuss about?” the other guy started saying as he was making his way to the door. He was taller, with longer and darker hair, and something in his way of presenting himself made him a bit intimidating, although his features were quite soft. “I still got lots of screentones to add before the deadline, so it better be go― Oh!” Jongdae felt a strong feeling of dejá-vù. What was that reaction about?! “Is it… Cosplay?”

The author agreed eagerly before both of them drew closer to Sehun, visibly excited.

“It’s been some time since we’ve last seen someone cosplaying as Sehun from Mr. Catman, but besides that… This one is pretty awesome!” The petite author pointed out, gaping at Sehun with no discretion.

“Congratulations man ― amazing job, it really is,” Heechul agreed, nodding his head.

“I must admit, this might be the best cosplay I’ve ever seen for any of my characters,” the author continued, in awe. “I see you chose the outfit for the first volumes… It’s just as the clothes I used as reference. Did you happen to find the same catalogue? It’s been so long though, I’d never imagine any of those clothes would still be for sale.” He stopped eyeing Sehun all over and fixed his gaze on his face. “What’s most striking though is your face… I didn’t imagine a real face for my drawing but somehow I get the feeling you’re exactly how Sehun would look like if he ever came to life.”

Jongdae cleaned his throat, embarrassed.

“Well, that’s exactly what we came here to talk about.” There came the hard part. “Could you try to listen to it with an open mind?”

The author (who afterwards properly introduced himself as Byun Baekhyun) was excited and curious enough to let them in without further questions, leading them to a corner of the room filled with cushions that tentatively served as a couch. Jongdae told the whole story with as much details as he could (Sehun interrupting him every so often whenever he thought Jongdae was painting him in a negative light), at the same time observing Baekhyun’s and Heechul’s expressions change from extreme excitement to a mix of interest and suspicion.

He had finished the story and all four of them had been staring at each other in the heavy silence of deep thoughts when the Taeyeon girl (Baekhyun’s second assistant) appeared from the bedroom, her cellphone in hand. She looked confused for a second, before widening her eyes at Sehun.

“What an amazing cosplay!”

 

They had kept talking until lunch time, when Baekhyun offered to buy them some take-out. After they had filled Taeyeon in the story, she had been the one most prone to believing them. Baekhyun wasn’t as wary as Heechul (who absolutely refused to believe that “tale”), but he had insisted on making a series of questions to Sehun after lunch ― on private ―that he claimed only the true Sehun (whatever that conception of “true” was) could answer.

They had spent about half an hour locked in the bedroom (time during which Heechul had kept a watchful eye on the other outsider over his cutting and adding of screentones) and Jongdae had already started wondering just what kind of inquiring Baekhyun was doing when the two of them finally left the room. Sehun seemed fed up with everyone and everything, whereas Baekhyun looked like a child that had been taken to a candy shop.

Baekhyun was completely convinced (and excited about the fact) that, without even a shred of doubt, the blond boy was in fact Sehun. Heechul, who had started developing his very own ideas about a homophobic conspiracy against boys love manhwa authors forged to threaten Baekhyun’s well-being, had skeptically asked how he could be so sure, to which the author had explained what he and Sehun had been talking about that whole time.

“You see, since Mr. Catman was my first published work, I really delved deep into character development. I don’t do that anymore, but at that time I was worried about contradicting myself during the development of the manhwa if I didn’t think through every single detail and had them all written down,” he revealed, taking a sip of his iced tea. “Of course in the end I only used very little of all that material in the actual manhwa, but the point is I had a full picture of all my characters while I was drawing them. So, I thought… If this guy here,” he pointed to the unimpressed boy standing next to him, “was really my Sehun, he should be exactly as I imagined him to be, right?”

“What’s your point?” Heechul asked, impatient.

Baekhyun shrugged his shoulders smugly, as if he had just made the world’s biggest discovery. “I figured I just had to ask him about specific details of his life in order to assert if he’s the real deal or not.”

“But couldn’t any fan who have read the manhwa have memorized all the details?”

“Honestly, Heechul, have you been listening to me?” Heechul rolled his eyes, but Baekhyun didn’t care. Most likely that was a common exchange in their relationship. “As I said, there’s a ton of things I didn’t get to write about, but I remember them all and asked them to our dearest Sehunnie here.”

“‘Sehunnie’, uh ― he’s totally sold!” Taeyeon observed, more entertained than judgmental about that fact.

“What kind of things, exactly?” Jongdae inquired, slightly curious. Even though Sehun was (apparently) a real person now, the ‘Oh Sehun’ from Mr. Catman was still his all-time favorite character and he was always willing to know more about him. He actually never thought he would get a new opportunity after the series was over.

“Ah, you know, the basic, irrelevant stuff,” a smiling Baekhyun started, “his favorite fruit, his favorite sleeping position, if he prefers dress shoes or sneakers,” well, that seems pretty standard, “what books he read as a child, his conflicting feelings about his mother during his puberty, the name of the pets his grandparents kept in their farm when he was a child,” no kidding! ― he had thought over all of that?! “who his best friend was before Donghae, if he prefer to write in cursive or print, his kinks in bed...” Jongdae almost spat his drink. Baekhyun laughed. “Just joking… Or not,” he added, mischievous.

Sehun rolled his eyes. Jongdae couldn’t remember if that character used to do that or if he had quickly learned it from Heechul.

“So you’re saying that he is,” Jongdae resumed, “without a doubt” he stressed, “the character from your manhwa?”

“Yes.”

“If that’s the case…” Now was the moment he had been expecting the most. “How did this happen?”

Baekhyun looked at Heechul, and then Taeyeon, and then glanced at Sehun before looking at Jongdae again.

“I’m sorry, but I really have no idea.” Jongdae deflated as fast as a punctured balloon, although Baekhyun didn’t seem to notice. “This is so exciting though!” He exclaimed. “Real life magic ― never thought I’d get to experience that!”

Jongdae sighed. Perhaps he should be more positive about that incident too, try to see it through an optimistic lens. He was finally getting to meet his literal definition of his ideal type, a guy that as far as he remembered was caring, sweet, tolerant, patient and a great friend (not to mention super hot ― but Jongdae's better keep his expectations low in that aspect). It could turn out to be a lot better than how he had been picturing it till that moment, if he’d just give it a chance…

He peeked at Sehun, trying to look at him from this new perspective. He had a detached expression on his face as always, but there was… There was something else…

“Shouldn’t we get back to work, boss?” Taeyeon said suddenly, leaning over Baekhyun’s shoulder. “We won’t make it on time if we don’t start now, we wasted the whole morning~ It’s already 2 o’clock!”

The dark-haired visitor jumped from his cushion in an almost automatic reflex, his eyes almost jumping out of their sockets. “2PM?!” He repeated in disbelief. Taeyeon confirmed. “Fuck, I’m late ― hey Baekhyun, you think you could keep an eye on Sehun till I get back? I can’t take him with me to work.”

“S’fine,” the boy replied. “Taeyeon was originally a fan too, I’m sure she’ll love to have him around. What time do you get back?”

“In principle, I should be back around 8… It’s just a part-time job after all. But you never know. I’ll give you a call if anything changes.”

Baekhyun gave him a thumbs up, and Jongdae turned to leave.

His last glimpse of Sehun’s expression, however, was engraved in his mind for the whole afternoon.

 

It was only when he was sitting in front of his computer that Jongdae finally had time to take a look at his phone.

“(10) missed calls | 47 new messages”

Shit.

He looked around at the large room he shared with a handful of other employees. Everybody was working, but his boss was still not back from lunch break.

He hid his phone under the table, pretending he was reading a thick sales report while he skimmed through the messages.

23:20 Minseok: Dinner was awesome, just dropped her home. Next time she might invite me in ;) How did your date go?

23:40 Minseok: Are you not answering me because you’re getting laid already?? Or because you’re depressed it didn’t work out? Either way, call me and tell me everything.

23:42 Minseok: On second thoughts, not everything. I don’t wanna picture my best friend having sex. But do tell me  everything else apart from that.

23:50 Minseok: You alive??

00:20 Minseok: Perhaps you really ARE getting laid. No shade but I didn’t really expect that

00:22 Minseok: I hope you haven’t been abducted or something. Hope you’re getting that ass ― or that dick, idk what you prefer (don’t tell me)

00:26 Minseok: If you don’t show up to class tomorrow I might call the police tho. Good night!

Oh god.

07:40 Junmyeon: I’m at the Humanities Building, are you here yet? Can’t wait to hear how the date went!

07:50 Junmyeon: Where are you? I need to go to my classes but I’m really curious about last night.

07:52 Junmyeon: It all came along well… Right?

07:55 Junmyeon: Oh, did I fuck it all up again?!

07:58 Junmyeon: Sorry Jongdae. I need to rush to the Law Building now. Please call me if you need anything!

08:10 Junmyeon: I’m sorry :(

Jongdae felt slightly sorry for him.

Or maybe not.

08:13 Minseok: Junmyeon just sent me a message saying you apparently didn’t come to class. Should I call the police?

08:20 Junmyeon: Are you okay?

08:30 Minseok: Junmyeon thinks we should try going to your place after class before coming to conclusions.

08:31 Minseok: I’m kinda worried, but he’s got a point…

08:33 Minseok: If you haven’t been kidnapped or something and happen to see this, we’ll drop by around lunch time. Hope you’re ok bro!

08:35 Junmyeon: Minseok agreed to go to your house after lunch. I hope everything’s alright!

08:50 Junmyeon: On second thoughts… Are we going overboard? Perhaps we are. Please answer!!

08:52 Junmyeon: It’s just… Since you live by yourself, I get kind of worried :(

That’s why Jongdae could never be angry at Junmyeon for long periods of time.

10:05 Sunyoung: Jongdae, aren’t you coming? We were supposed to present the final layout for our project today, don’t you remember?

Oh no, he had completely forgotten about that!

10:12 Sunyoung: I talked to Minseok and he said you might have had some problem last night. I spoke to the professor and he said we can send him the final proposal by e-mail!

10:15 Sunyoung: Hope you’re okay sweetie. You know you can call me if you need anything, right?

He’d need to make it up to Sunyoung later.

11:08 Junmyeon: Minseok just texted me saying he saw Chanyeol at the Music Building. Apparently he’s been crying, his eyes are swollen. What the hell happened?

11:24 Minseok: I spoke to Chanyeol and he said you went home early by yourself yesterday, although he ran away from me before I could ask him what’d happened. Why aren’t you answering?

11:26 Minseok: Damn I’m actually legit worried right now.

After that message, there was a long string of messages from Junmyeon ― he had been basically texting him every five minutes trying to get a reply, content varying between “Jongdae?” and “Are you OK?” (plus some minor variations). The messages had stopped around noon, most likely when the both of them met to go to his apartment.

Jongdae honestly never expected that ditching class just once would have such a huge repercussion.

12:21 Minseok: We’re at your building. You really aren’t here?

Since his colleagues at work didn’t mention anything when he arrived, his friends had most likely figured something out when they went to his place… Jongdae wondered what is was.

The next message had been sent quite some time afterwards.

12:46 Minseok: So we were lucky enough to run into one of your neighbors while we were standing in front of your building and we asked him about you.

12:47 Minseok: He said he saw you running after a tall blond boy in the middle of the night. What’s that about?

12:50 Minseok: But he said he’s pretty sure you came back home with the boy again later. He heard the door opening and closing and this morning he heard voices.

12:52 Minseok: Junmyeon says he’s not sure if he’s relieved or angry. I think it’s a mix of both

12:52 Minseok: At least that’s how I feel tbh

12:53 Minseok: I thought you were totally into that Chanyeol guy but whatever makes you happy!

12:54 Minseok: You could’ve warned us tho.

12:56 Minseok: Junmyeon told me to tell you he’s pissed but at the same time he’s happy he didn’t ruin his life… or something like that.

12:57 Minseok: Anyway, do call me later to tell me what’s going on!

Jongdae leaned back in his chair, massaging his temples.

That was going to be a hell of a difficult explanation to give.

He opted not to offer too lengthy clarifications at that point, sending a short “Don’t worry, I’m okay” message instead just to pacify their thoughts. He was quite sure none of them would believe him if he was to send a text telling them a character from one of his manhwas had materialized inside his room, and he couldn’t afford spending any more time away from his tasks at this job in case they called him.

They definitely could wait, and Jongdae really needed to finish all his work load as fast as he could so that he wouldn’t have to do overtime. He felt apologetic about making Baekhyun ‘babysit’ Sehun for the whole afternoon ― even though the situation could be said to be partially his fault since the character wouldn’t exist in the first place had he not created it.

Anyhow, it was useless to ramble about such matters at that moment. For the rest of the afternoon, Jongdae focused on his work, which allowed him ― for at least a couple of hours ― to take his mind off the chaos his life had been since the night before.

 

“Thank you for taking care of him.”

Baekhyun’s eyes creased into a smile.

“Why do you sound like you’re his dad?” He laughed. “Anyway, it was no big deal. He behaved himself pretty decently. Actually...” he sneaked a glance in Sehun’s direction; he was still sitting on the provisional floor couch (that was certainly a fancy way to call it), flipping quite uninterestedly through the pages of some manhwa Jongdae did not recognize, “he doesn’t seem that well. Perhaps all of this has been too much for him to handle.”

“Yeah.” Jongdae felt uncomfortable just thinking about it. “I cannot even imagine what he’s going through.”

“Taeyeon was with him the whole afternoon,” Baekhyun continued, “explaining a little to him about current society and whatever else has changed ever since the manhwa was published. All while she was drawing the backgrounds for my next chapter, of course,” he added, humorously.

“How has he taken it?”

“He was interested in it for some time, but after an hour or so I suppose he got tired of the amount of new information he was being given.” He tapped a finger lightly on his own chin, still smiling. “Such great technological developments as constantly available high speed internet, for example, are too much for his mind to grasp yet.”

Jongdae grinned at the amusing example. “With time he’ll get used to it.” He didn’t know whether he truly believed that or if it was just wishful thinking.

“Yeah, with time…” Baekhyun’s mind was wandering, and he got lost in his own reflections for a couple of seconds before he realized he was still standing at the doorway. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?”

“I’ll just go with the flow for now,” Jongdae admitted. “Honestly, you were the only person I could think of that could perhaps shed some light on this situation. If even you don’t know anything about it, I can’t think of anyone who might.”

“And you can’t really go to the police either since they’ll think you’re mocking them, as it has already happened...” he sighed, folding his arms. “It’s a troublesome predicament for sure. If you or Sehun need anything though, be sure to ask me. I want to help.”

Jongdae could feel his offer was sincere, but he didn’t want anyone to be more involved in that situation than it was necessary ― at least not until they figured out what was really going on.

“Ah, one more thing!” Baekhyun exclaimed, holding Jongdae by his shoulder and drawing closer, his voice lowered and quieter. “I assume you didn’t show him the manhwa he came from, am I right?” Jongdae couldn’t help blushing. “Don’t worry, we haven’t showed it to him either. He’s been surprisingly uninterested in it. But perhaps I should tell you,” Baekhyun’s mouth turned into a devilish grin, “cute petite boys are definitely his type. As you know, you can trust me on this.”

“Why are you telling me this?!” An embarrassed Jongdae whined. “You know it’s not like that!”

“Just saying, just saying~” He seemed far too amused. Jongdae was starting to understand everyone’s need to roll their eyes at him.

“Anyway, I really need to get going,” Jongdae said, looking at the time.

“Okay~ Ah! Forgot something, just wait a minute. Hey, Heechul!”

“What?” The taller guy screamed from some room further inside the apartment.

“Where’s that bag I asked you to sort out for me?”

After Heechul answered, Baekhyun quickly went inside the apartment again to get whatever it was that he was looking for. Sehun glanced towards the door, and Jongdae motioned for him to get up.

“Here,” Baekhyun said when he returned, handing him a sizable bag filled to the brim ― with what, he couldn’t tell. “These are some of the clothing we used as reference for Sehun’s character. The pieces that are not too outdated, at least,” he explained. “At that time, the manhwa was so successful the brands we had taken inspiration from sent us many of the outfits we had drawn… I got many girl clothes too because most of them thought I was a girl, as expected” he chuckled, “But of course the ones that happened to send male clothes didn’t send any my size. Since Sehun’s pretty model-like though, they should fit him.”

“That will certainly come in handy!” Jongdae wasn’t about to reveal he had considered taking a loan to afford getting Sehun some basic outfits, but he was deeply thankful nonetheless. “Are you sure you want to give us these?”

“If you think about it, they’re rightfully Sehun’s anyway,” Baekhyun wittily pointed out. Jongdae supposed he was right.

“Okay then. Thank you again, Baekhyun. See you some other time!” He bowed slightly to Baekhyun before throwing the bag over his shoulder. “Sehun, let’s go.”

The blond boy had been standing close by for some time; he nodded almost imperceptibly in Baekhyun’s direction on his way out, and the left. All the way, he followed Jongdae’s footsteps without a word.

Even though he had stopped complaining, Jongdae found the silence even more unsettling.

 

The following morning, Sehun didn’t get up.

Jongdae was unsure if leaving him home alone was a good idea. Besides the issue of the boy being alone in itself, there was also the fact Sehun didn’t quite know anyone nor had a way to contact to anybody to ask for help in case something happened. Baekhyun and his assistants would most surely be willing to lend him a hand, but Jongdae only had one cell phone and leaving it with Sehun would be six of one, half a dozen of the other ― they would still be unable to communicate. On the other hand, even though Sehun had been in their world for only a short while, the ‘parallel universe’ he had come from was not that different from this one, and he was a grown up man; the chance of something so terribly wrong happening in the span of only one morning was, despite possible, very unlikely, and in the improbable case of a fire or something of the sort, one of Jongdae’s neighbors would be bound to come for his aid.

Leaning against the doorframe, Jongdae quietly observed the lean shape of Sehun’s body covered by his thin blanket, his back facing the door and only his blond locks visible over the pillow. Everything had happened so fast in the last 32 hours: finding Sehun, realizing who he was, convincing him of his theory ― and then looking for Mr. Catman’s author, spending the morning with Baekhyun, going to work, returning exhausted at the end of the day and having to take care of Sehun, making him dinner, washing the clothes Baekhyun had given them, going out to buy a bedroll at the closest market because his neck muscles would not survive another night in the couch. Jongdae had been so used to living by himself ever since he had started college three years before that having another person to take care of threw him completely off balance.

He seemed so peaceful now, his body barely moving as he inhaled and exhaled slowly, rhythmically ― so soothingly. It was a completely different scene from Sehun’s constant expressionless face in the past days that still seemed somewhat annoyed and bothered. Jongdae didn’t really blame him for that ― or rather, he was trying his best not to. As he had spoken to Baekhyun, his heart went out to the boy and the absolute hell he was going through. That night, Jongdae had dreamed (most certainly under the influence of everything that was happening) about finding himself in a world so similar and yet so different from his own that even his very own sense of being himself had been called into question; he had woken up with a throbbing heart and feeling so profoundly out of place it had taken him a full hour to be able to fall asleep again.

He had been subject to that experience only for a short while ― a dream. Having to welcome that hell as your new reality and living it constantly without rest was certainly more than most people could take…

He approached the bed with soft steps, contemplating Sehun’s sleeping face as it came into his sight, his eyes closed, his brows not furrowed as they usually were. He looked so much younger like that ― so vulnerable. Despite his cold façade, if the manhwa character was anything to go by, Sehun was actually a soft, tender, sensible boy. Jongdae ought to remember that.

Whispering a gentle “goodbye”, Jongdae left the room, inwardly hoping everything would somehow settle into place.

 

“I’m going to tell you everything, but you have to promise me you won’t be judgmental.”

Minseok raised an eyebrow.

“That only made me even more likely to be judgmental towards what you’re going to tell me,” he remarked. “You know I’m pretty chill though. I’m not one to judge one night stands either. So unless you’ve moved in with this new boyfriend of yours all the sudden, it will be hard for you to shock me.”

Well…

“Believe me, it is pretty shocking. You have to listen to me with an open mind. Promise?”

“I’m so curious, I’ll accept anything you ask of me at this point. Just say it,” Minseok pleaded, taking a bite of his meal at the same time.

“Okay… Here it goes.” Jongdae inhaled sharply. “Don’t mind my date with Chanyeol, it was a disaster. The point is, when I got home, there was a boy sleeping in my bedroom. That same blond boy my neighbor saw,” he pointed out.

“Wait, so he invaded your apartment?!”

“That’s… That’s not it, exactly,” Jongdae looked down to his own plate. It was so embarrassing to tell it to other people, especially Minseok since he was usually so skeptical about most things. Baekhyun had been an exception because he had his fair share of weird ideas. “Do you remember that manhwa I was really into back in high school? Well, he’s the main character.”

Minseok kept staring at him, barely blinking.

“So what? No punch line?” He eventually asked when Jongdae didn’t continue. “I’m all for jokes but you have to, you know, tell them properly.”

“Minseok, I swear to god it’s not a joke,” Jongdae stated as serious as he could. “I managed to find the author afterwards and he talked to Sehun and everything and he said he’s absolutely positive it’s him.”

So,” Minseok put down his fork, “you’re telling me that you’re sure this guy is a cartoon character that came to life because a pervy manhwa author ‘confirmed’ it?”

“Yes.”

“As in an actual cartoon character? The exact same character from the manhwa you used to read?”

“Yes.”

Minseok licked his lips slowly, his eyes never leaving Jongdae for even a second.

“Okay. Jongdae, I need you to be honest with me. Since I’m a Music major, I know a lot of people are into, let’s say it simply, illegal substances. Did Chanyeol happen to give you something?”

That was not going in the direction Jongdae hoped it would. “No―”

“Did he take you to a party and there’s where you met this blond guy?”

“No, that’s really not―”

“Did you keep your eyes on your drinks the whole evening? Are you sure he didn’t put anything in your drink?”

“Minseok, you promised you would listen to it with an open mind.”

“I know, but―” he sighed. “Jongdae, how do you expect me to believe that?”

“I know it’s hard, but I swear on all that’s dear to me that I’m positive this is the actual explanation,” their food was long forgotten in their plates now, Jongdae hurrying to convince his best friend before their lunchtime was over. He really needed Minseok’s support. “I understand you, I had a hard time coming to terms with it too… But I swear it’s the only answer that accounts for all the facts.”

It took a couple of minutes for Jongdae to get a reply. Minseok scratched his head, looked down at his plate, took another bite, looked around the university dining hall, and then spent quite some time gazing at the ceiling lamps. Jongdae didn’t actually realistically expect it to be any easier: Minseok was one of the most incredulous people he had ever met, and that was a difficult story to believe in. He had decided to tell him the truth despite knowing how hard it was going to be precisely because he was quite sure he’d need Minseok’s support and help given his circumstances. He always did. Junmyeon was a good friend, and Jongdae knew him for almost as long as he did Minseok; but Junmyeon was simply too sweet. It was difficult for him to be harsh or brutally honest even when the situation demanded him to ― and above all, he always expected the best of people.

Jongdae had been told he was a bit like that too, so he needed a friend to ground him, to help him keep it real. Perhaps that was why he and Minseok always got along so well.

“If you are so certain...” Minseok uttered suddenly, taking Jongdae by surprise. “Then ok, I can accept that.” Jongdae couldn’t help but smile; Minseok noticed and smiled too, although still visibly worried. “I hope you’re not making a mistake though.”

“I’m quite sure I’m not,” he appeased, slightly reassured now that he knew he could vent to Minseok about that situation if he ever needed to, “but I appreciate the worry, man. I really do.”

“Stop that, we’re way past those cheesy lines~” Jongdae laughed. He knew Minseok got embarrassed by such things ― honestly, that was one of the reasons he said them whenever he had an opportunity to. “So when do I get to meet this prince charming of yours?”

“It’s not like that,” he clarified flatly. Why was everybody insisting on that point? “I don’t know, I might bring him to campus tomorrow or some other day. I thought I’d better let him sleep in today since he hadn’t really had a break ever since he… Well, you know… Came to life. Or something like that.”

“Okay.” Minseok recovered his fork and started devouring the last bits of food on his plate quickly; he had classes to attend, Jongdae had to go to work and both of them had already spent enough time on that discussion. “Don’t take too long to introduce us though. If it’s a hoax, we’d better find out about it soon.”

Jongdae breathed out, mindlessly agreeing. Making Minseok believe in that story was going to be harder than he had thought.

 

Jongdae ended up needing to vent to Minseok way earlier than he expected.

After talking to him that day, Jongdae had spent the afternoon pondering that perhaps having Sehun as his new roommate wouldn’t be so bad. There were quite a few reasons why ‘Oh Sehun’ had been his favorite character in manhwas for years, most related to how he portrayed almost all features Jongdae considered ideal in a potential partner. Towards the main character ― his lover ― ‘Oh Sehun’ was patient, kind, sensible, perceptive of all the smallest details and changes in his mood or behavior. He was generous, too, at both a shallow and at a deep level ― be it sharing his favorite food despite not wanting to or letting go of some of his life plans so that they could be together. Sehun would spoil his lover too, bringing him breakfast in bed, carrying out most of the other’s household chores whenever he spent the weekend at his place, surprising him by cooking his favorite food for lunch, buying him sweets for dessert that he knew the boy loved.

Combining that perfect behavior with the facts ‘Oh Sehun’ was also very smart, from a good family and a Law student, there were simply no faults to be found.

For a couple of years, that had been one of the reasons Jongdae had had so much trouble dating. He would always set the bar too high, his unrealistic expectations not allowing him to really give himself a chance to get to know the boys he went out with better. It was not to the point he would actually deem them as undesirable, but somehow finding out their flaws would always kill that spark within him and he’d just helplessly lose interest. Maturity had taught him to get over those feelings to some degree, although sometimes he would still daydream about his ideal type and how his life would change for the better would he ever meet his perfect person.

It was not the case that he expected Sehun to fill that role. Of course Sehun was very physically attractive ― Jongdae would be lying if he said his eyes hadn’t wandered across those broad shoulders, that slender body line and that perfectly proportioned face more than they should have. Jongdae was not the type to delude himself, however: he would never allow himself to desire things he knew he couldn’t reach. If he had had any hopes with Chanyeol, it had been only because Chanyeol had also showed interest, but this had been a most unforeseen outcome. It was usually more of a subconscious instinct than an actual rational decision, which is why Jongdae wouldn’t be lying if he said he really had not thought of Sehun that way not even once ever since they had met.

What he did think was that being roommates with someone as ‘Oh Sehun’ was bound to have its advantages. Maybe he wouldn’t be as considerate and accommodating to a friend (or a roommate) as he was to his lover in the series, but any gap (if there even was one) couldn’t be that substantial, could it?

The following days proved him wrong.

When he came home that first day to find Sehun splayed out on the couch watching TV and eating his last pint of ice cream, he had been quite happy the boy appeared to be recovering. When Sehun didn’t want to leave the house again the next morning, Jongdae thought it was OK to give him some more time to think, to decide what he wanted to do.

Walking in to Sehun eating whatever there was in his fridge after spending the whole day home became a routine throughout the subsequent weeks though. Jongdae would leave him sleeping and return to him apparently having spent the whole day in front of the TV, not-so-slowly finishing Jongdae’s monthly provisions in a matter of days. Jongdae tried taking him out of home on the first weekend, but Sehun turned down even his suggestion of paying Baekhyun a visit.

He had spent the first days without ever changing the pajamas Jongdae had lent him; when they started to smell, he got other clothes that fit him from Jongdae’s drawers; and when those also ended (since most of Jongdae’s shorts and pants were too small for him), he began wearing the most basic outfits from the clothes Baekhyun had given them. When Jongdae eventually took a look at the dirty laundry basket, he almost fainted because of the huge heap that had been placed over the lid, some pieces falling on the sides and onto the ground due to the messy arrangement. He had indeed noticed that Sehun had been wearing his clothes, but he had not realized it had been that much.

Jongdae actually had a washing machine home (small, but efficient), and he was pretty sure washing machines were already a thing back in the year Sehun’s manhwa was being published. Why had Sehun not taken at least a moment throughout the week to help him out?

Technology could not be used as an excuse for not washing the dishes either. These would also be piling up on the sink every night when Jongdae got home ― pans from Sehun’s cooking, yoghurt pots, lots of silverware and glasses ― and sometimes Sehun would even be shameless enough to drop dirty dishes into the sink at the very moment Jongdae was washing them. If he’d at least cook for the both of them, Jongdae could consider washing the dishes as his fair share of the chores; but even at night when he was home Sehun would cook only for himself, slurping loudly while eating as if to mock him further.

“You’re too nice,” Minseok would say every time Jongdae called him to complain. At that night, some three weeks after everything had started, too ― that was his first reaction. “I wouldn’t be stressing over someone like him… Would’ve kicked him out a long time ago if I were you. He’s not your responsibility.”

“I know he isn’t,” Jongdae admitted, “but what am I supposed to do?”

“Take him to a hospital, tells them he lost his memory. Or even let him tell the ‘truth’, I bet the effect will be same.” He snickered. Jongdae couldn’t really disagree. “You know I’m still not convinced by this whole story. Perhaps he’s a real psychopath, or perhaps he’s just plain crazy.”

I’m telling you, he’s straight out-the-book my favorite character of all times.” Maybe not that favorite now anymore, but still. “There’s no way he could do this on his own. The manhwa author and his assistants also agreed to this theory, remember?”

“For all we know they could be plotting together against you. This could be a new type of reality show… Or they’re all maniacs and you’re their target for some reason.”

Jongdae sighed. “I think I’d rather believe him for now. If it’s all a sham, then I may be playing a fool or perhaps even be in danger ― who knows. But if it’s true, then wouldn’t Sehun be going through a really difficult moment right now?”

“He doesn’t seem to be taking your feelings into consideration that much.”

“I know… I know.” Jongdae rubbed his face with his free hand, tired. “But I’d feel like an ass if I kicked him out now. Maybe he’s still getting used to everything.”

“You shouldn’t let him walk all over you like he’s been doing though.” Minseok was right, of course. However, it was so hard to talk to Sehun ― he wouldn’t give him a chance to even as much as having a proper conversation. “You know I’m just worried, right? I want you to take care of yourself.”

“I know, Minseok.” His advices, as always, rang deep within Jongdae. He needed to take action. “Thank you, bro.”

 

“Okay, this is it. Sehun, we need to talk.”

Jongdae was standing in front of the fridge, the door open and his hand still holding feebly to the handle. Half a dozen eggs, two chicken breasts, a whole loaf of bread, some ham and cheese ― where had it all gone?!

“...” was the boy’s response from over the couch (as always). Jongdae turned his head to look at Sehun’s nape, his blond hair silky and shiny. That’s right, I’m running out of shampoo and conditioner too.

“Where’re all the things I bought this morning?” Jongdae asked simply, trying to keep his cool. Perhaps there was a good explanation. No need to overreact yet.

“...” It was hard to tell if Sehun had heard him or not by only looking at his back. “I wanted to try making poached eggs like they were showing on TV but... Didn’t work.” So he had heard. “Got distracted while cooking the chicken and it burned. Had to eat sandwiches.”

“Did you eat the whole loaf of bread?” Jongdae asked, ignoring the half-telegraphic answers.

“Kinda, yeah.”

“Did it cross your mind at any moment that I’d also need to eat when I got home?”

“...There’s still rice.”

Jongdae had to summon all his self-control not to throw a (dirty) plate at Sehun or jump on his neck. Sehun had some nerve. Yes, there was only rice… As there had been in four out of seven nights the past week. Unlike Sehun, Jongdae actually did leave the apartment and was a functioning adult ― he needed to fucking eat properly.

“If you’re not going to work or do anything useful, the least you could do is not eat all my food!” he bursted. “I’m trying to be sympathetic, but with you emptying the fridge all the time and ― did you see the energy and the water bills?! You’re making me broke as fuck!”

Sehun moved his head in his direction, staring at him with scorn in his eyes. Nice. At least he had drawn a reaction.

“Well, I’m so sorry if my lack of family, friends, job, past and another place to crash bothers you.” Sarcasm was dripping from his voice, although his tone itself was still quite moderate. “I’ll be sure to ask whoever, or whatever, was responsible for this to give me at least a fucking job next time, so that I can pay you the fucking rent.”

“That’s not the point!” Jongdae exclaimed in exasperation. “It’s just… I’m broke and at this rate all this spending won’t slow down any time soon! I don’t know if my money will last until you―”

Jongdae stopped on his tracks when he realized what he was about to say. However, the message didn’t escape Sehun either.

“Until I what?”

“I mean―” he stuttered a bit while he thought carefully about what he was going to say. Shit. “I mean I don’t know for how much longer I’ll be able to carry on like th―”

“You think I’ll just disappear, don’t you?” Sehun said, disdainful. “You’re just waiting for that moment to come, you’re actually fucking looking forward to it, aren’t you?!”

“Sehun, that was not my point―”

“Fuck your point. Fuck it all. Know what?” He got up from the couch, walking towards the entrance door. “Don’t worry, I’ll make your life easier.” He put on his only sneakers before he turned the key on the lock, popping the door open. He gave Jongdae one last loathing look. his mouth slightly twitching at the corners. “Good fucking bye.”

“Wait, Sehun!” Jongdae dashed to the hall, putting his shoes again quickly before running after the boy. He was already going down the first flight of stairs at the end of the corridor when Jongdae locked the door. “Sehun!” He cried on top of the stairs; he could see Sehun’s blond hair making a turn one floor below. “Where’re you going?!”

His voice echoed down the stairs, but Sehun didn’t answer back. Jongdae started jumping down the steps two by two, worried that Sehun might get to the street too far before him ― Sehun hadn’t ventured out of the apartment a lot, but most likely it was already enough for him to lose Jongdae in the dark streets of Seoul if he wanted to.

Fortunately, when he reached the building’s entrance and looked around, Sehun’s figure was still visible at the corner of their block, his pace fast and steady but at least he wasn’t running. Jongdae was slightly breathless by the time he got to him in the middle of the next block, holding his arm firmly to force him to stop in front of a dark alley. It wasn’t so late yet, so all that action did draw some attention from the people on the street, especially considering there was convenience store just next to where they were; most of them just gave them looks as they passed by, but a few stopped in front of some shops that were still open, eyeing them curiously.

“Where... are you… going?” Jongdae asked through huffs of air, his fingers digging into Sehun’s arm just enough to prevent him from getting away (although that didn’t seem to be Sehun’s plan).

“Anywhere.” He was surprisingly calm. “It doesn’t matter, really. Anywhere where I won’t bother you anymore. Isn’t that good enough?”

“Not, it isn’t. Don’t you see that I’m just trying to help you?!”

“Telling me that you’re anxious for me to leave isn’t quite my definition of help. I’m just trying to speed up the process for you.”

If he was testing Jongdae’s patience, he was getting dangerously close to the limit. “Gosh, are all materialized comics characters stubborn as you?!”

“I’m not stubborn.” Oh, did that hit a nerve? “Why do you even care so much about me?!”

“I…” There wasn’t any deep reason. Jongdae simply couldn’t help feeling that ‘Oh Sehun’ being his favorite character for years and Sehun appearing out of the blue inside his bedroom wasn’t just a coincidence. “I just feel responsible, ok?”

“Why?” Sehun’s voice was trembling a bit now, the first traces of his anger showing. “Were you the one who asked a falling star to materialize me so that you could fulfill one of your fantasies or something? Because you couldn’t get laid, you thought having your personal fuckboy would be easier?”

That did it. “You’re a fucking douchebag, you know that? I’m here trying to fucking help you and all you can do is think about yourself?! Well, guess what ― my life was much easier without you around. Perhaps it really would be for the better if you’d just fucking vanish!”

Sehun was taken aback, and for a few instants the two of them just stared at each other, the hot fury inside Jongdae’s chest quickly subsuming as his rationality returned and he realized what he had said. His grip on Sehun’s arm loosened as Jongdae raised his eyes to meet the other’s, but Sehun kept looking to the ground, his bottom lip trapped under his teeth.

“Sehun, I’m― I’m sorry―”

“I knew these were your feelings, but…” the blond boy interrupted him, paying no attention to what Jongdae was saying, “it’s... different, actually hearing these words.”

Jongdae could see the hurt in his eyes even without looking at them directly. His slightly slumped posture, his fallen arms on his sides, how hard he was avoiding his gaze ― everything pointed out to how vulnerable Sehun was at that moment. He regretted the words he had uttered, but at the same time, perhaps that harshness was what it took to finally make the blond boy open up ― their chance to finally set things straight.

He looked around, realizing there was quite a large group of people peeking at them from inside the convenience store. On one hand, he didn’t care that much; on the other hand, they were quite close to his apartment and he didn’t want to incur the risk of any of his neighbors hearing and misunderstanding them. Inhaling deeply, he grabbed Sehun’s hand, whispering a low “follow me” under his breath before he started pulling him through the street, going back to his place.

It was only when the both of them were sitting next to each other on the couch that Jongdae spoke again.

“Oh Sehun, can you please listen to me?” He could not let Sehun harbor those self-destructive thoughts from before. Even if he did wonder whether Sehun was a permanent or a passing addition to his world, that had nothing to do with their problems at hand. “Listen, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I don’t think like that, I swear. It was just the heat of the moment. You teased me and I fell for it. Ok?”

“Behind every lie there’s a grain of truth,” Sehun remarked, still not meeting his eyes.

“The grain of truth here is that my life was indeed easier without you around. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want you around. Get it?” After Sehun nodded, Jongdae continued. “Listen. I know you didn’t ask for any of this. That your previous existence was something else entirely. That I can’t really get your feelings because I haven’t been transported into a different world where I don’t have friends, family, nor a past. I understand that. But Sehun, I didn’t ask for any of it either. I didn’t ask for you to appear inside my bedroom and mess up my schedules and my budget. I’m not blaming you,” he emphasized when he realized the look on Sehun’s eyes, “I’m just trying to say this situation is challenging for me too. Bottom line being, we are in this together. Can you agree to that?”

“... I suppose.” His voice wasn’t angry anymore, and despite his generally flat intonation, Jongdae had the feeling he could sense a certain degree of content in Sehun’s voice. Had he gotten used enough to Sehun’s way of speaking that he could notice even its small variations or was he just imagining it?

“That’s a good start.” Jongdae smiled. “Now, I’m not blaming you, but I was serious when I said my budget cannot afford this lifestyle for much longer. That doesn’t mean I want you out though. We just have to figure something out. To do that, we need to talk. Do you understand? I really need you to talk to me.”

“...” That time, he could see that Sehun’s silence was not out of rudeness but rather that he was thinking, and so he waited. “About what?” He mumbled eventually, his fingers playing with some loose threads from the couch.

“Everything. What you’re feeling, how your day was, what you need. Where the hell you’ve been stuffing all that food, since it’s not going to your belly.” There was slight twitch of a smile at the corner of Sehun’s lips; Jongdae felt quite satisfied with himself. “Nothing will change if you just keep to yourself all the time, watching TV the whole day. I’m not saying I have a solution, because I don’t... But I want you to seriously think about what you want your life to be like from now on. For better or worse, this is also your world now.” He stretched his arm forward, offering his hand. “Deal?”

Sehun finally raised his eyes to him; Jongdae felt that was the first time he was actually looking at him as an equal: no suspicions, no prejudices, only the mutual desire for a brand new beginning.

The blond enveloped Jongdae’s hand in his, and at that very moment, the shorter boy hoped his proposal of finding an answer to their problems together wouldn’t come to a dead end in the future.

 

“I didn’t actually expect this change to be so immediate,” Jongdae admitted to Sehun while they were roaming the campus side by side, walking in the direction of the Humanities building.

He had woken up that morning to an already washed up and dressed Sehun waiting for him while sitting on a kitchen stool. He briefly wondered if he should freak out about Sehun observing him in his sleep before he remembered that was exactly the way he and Sehun had first met too.

For some reason, Sehun had decided to come to campus with him that morning, Jongdae was not about to complain now that the boy had finally decided to leave the apartment for the first time in weeks.

“I like getting to know new places,” the blond observed plainly, apparently sincere. “Besides Baekhyun said S University was inspired from your university, so I’m curious to see if I can recognize anything.”

“Besides the outer looks from the buildings, I doubt anything else will be similar,” Jongdae remarked humorously. “I don’t think Baekhyun has ever laid a single foot in this place. From the little information I gathered, he avoided higher education like the plague… Something related to his parents.”

“I get it, my parents too―” he furrowed his brows, “Ah, never mind, forget it.”

“What is it about your parents?”

“Nothing. I don’t really have parents, right?” He pointed out nonchalantly (or at least that was his obvious intention).

“Um, I don’t think it works like that. For sure, you don’t have a past in this world… But you have memories, feelings, a personality.” He curved his head a bit, trying to catch Sehun’s eye. “You’re not an empty vessel, so it’s okay if you talk about all these things. They exist inside you.”

Sehun made that characteristic face of his again.

“Deep. I can see you’re a Literature major alright.”

“Are you mocking me?!”

“You do like to whine, don’t you?”

“You’re missing the point!”

“You and your ‘points’ all the time.” Sehun rolled his eyes, as if his opinion was not yet sufficiently clear. “Perhaps you should―”

Jongdae looked at him again, this time trying to understand what had made him stop what he was saying. Sehun’s eyes were gazing in the opposite direction, towards a green field where some boys were playing with a soccer ball.

“Do you like soccer?” He asked tentatively, trying to figure out what was so eye-catching about the boys’ casual kicking the ball around.

“No, it’s just… Do you know that guy?”

“Which one?”

“The one with his hair tied up?”

Since they were close to the Humanities building, it was quite likely that Jongdae could know that person, by sight at least. He squinted, trying to make out the face of the boy Sehun had asked him about; a little taller them himself, soft features in a small face, and a great ability in soccer. Well, it could only be one person.

“I think that’s a guy who used to take some classes with me last year ― he’s a double major in Chinese and Korean studies,” he explained. One of the boys caught them staring and puzzlingly stared at them back; Jongdae looked away shyly, but Sehun couldn’t care less and kept ogling at them ― at the guy with his hair tied up in particular. “Since he started taking more courses from his Chinese requirements this year, I haven’t been seeing him around much, but we used to get along pretty well,” Jongdae continued, even though he wasn’t very sure Sehun was still listening. “His name―”

Jongdae stopped on his tracks because the boy who had seen them was now apparently pointing out that fact to the others. The small group apparently squinted at them briefly before the guy Jongdae knew raised his arm and waved at him. Jongdae waved back, and soon the boy was jogging in their direction, the pineapple-like bun on top of his head bouncing cutely while he drew closer.

“Hey, Jongdae! How are you?” He greeted enthusiastically, handshaking Jongdae in the process. “It’s been quite some time since we’ve last seen each other, haven’t it?”

“Yeah, I’ve been focusing on Literature courses lately. Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to take some of them too?”

“In principle, yeah, but I’ve been taking only classes in Linguistics lately because it’s a lot more fun.” He offered him a teasing smile, but Jongdae was far beyond the point of getting worked up by such weak baits. “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you…?” He said, looking at Sehun expectantly.

“Ah, right. Sorry,” Jongdae nervously apologized. Introducing Sehun to other people was still something new to him. “He’s my cousin, Sehun. He lives in Busan but is thinking about applying here next year, so I invited him to get to know the campus and all.” The two of them had decided on a narrative the night before to avoid contradicting each other, and they had figured their best option was to say Sehun was from some really far place ― they couldn’t risk anyone finding flaws in their story. “Sehun, this is Luhan. We used to study together.”

“Hi,” Sehun’s smile was tiny, but it was already more than he usually bothered to do.

“Hey there,” Luhan friendly addressed him back. “Say, what do you think so far?”

“About what?”

Luhan chuckled. “The campus, of course. Isn’t that what you came to see?”

“Ah… Yes.” Sehun looked to the side, embarrassed. “It’s pretty cool. Just as I remembered actually.”

“... As you remembered?”

“He actually came here with me back in my freshman year,” Jongdae hurried to explain. Damn, Sehun needed to watch that mouth of his. “But it was just a quick visit,” he added to avoid any further questions.

“Ah. Okay.” Luhan fortunately didn’t seem that interested. “Anyway, Sehun, do you play soccer?”

Sehun pondered his answer for a bit. “Kinda. Yeah, I suppose so,” he stated eventually. Jongdae remembered from the manhwa that Sehun had actually been some sort of ace in all sports back in his high school (as most boys love manhwa semes usually were).

“Great! We’re going to the soccer field in a bit but we’re short on goalkeepers. Since you’re tall and all, how about it?” That invitation had been quite sudden, but then again, Luhan had always been very expansive... “Or would you rather watch Jongdae’s boring classes?” He teased again, sticking the tip of his tongue out at Jongdae.

Sehun glanced questioningly at Jongdae; so he wanted to go?

“The only problem is Sehun doesn’t have a cellphone on him,” the shorter of the three intervened. “I think he doesn’t know how to go back to my apartment on his own.”

“Nah, that’s not an issue,” Luhan easily dismissed, flapping his hand in Jongdae’s direction. ”You have my number, right? I promise I’ll stick to Sehun all times. Just call me when you need me to bring him over.”

“Don’t you have classes this morning?”

Luhan scratched his ear, clearly unworried.

“I have to talk to my advisor in about twenty minutes or so from now, but it’ll be something real quick… She just wants to give me some more reference articles she’s found for my bachelor’s thesis. And then I’ll only have classes in the afternoon.”

“Well, if Sehun’s ok with it…”

“Yep. Fine by me.” Jongdae looked at him with surprise. That was a quick response.

“Ok.” Jongdae checked his watch; it was almost time for his class. “I have to go, so… See you guys later?”

“‘Til Later~” was Luhan’s singsonged reply as he pulled Sehun towards his friends, already entwining their arms as he dragged him away.

 

While sitting in his classroom that morning, Jongdae should have been taking notes on 18th century poetry, but all he could do was think about what had happened instead. He was not naive; it was quite obvious what kind of interest Luhan had sparked in Sehun. He partially wondered if Luhan’s interest was mutual ― as far as he knew, Luhan was bisexual (but they had never been that close to talk about specifics) ―, but more than that, he wondered what was so striking about Luhan that had caught Sehun’s attention so immediately.

He’d never deny Luhan was handsome ― what with his delicate face and his beautiful large and sparkly eyes, not to mention his slim, toned body; if anything, the two of them actually resembled each other in their physique and attractiveness. But for Sehun to become so readily interest from a mere glance at someone who was some good 50 meters away? The only obvious connection would be the manhwa, of course, but Jongdae was pretty sure Luhan was an actual person; either that or he was very good at pretending.

Although…

He opened the browser on his phone, quickly googling for pics of Mr. Catman. The results didn’t startle him. Just as he had just conjectured, Luhan was scarily similar to the main character ― Sehun’s romantic partner in the series ―, even more when compared to the anime adaptation. It actually mildly surprised him he had never noticed it before, but perhaps it was due to the fact that when he met Luhan, it had already been a couple of years since the manhwa had stopped being published (he hadn’t really recognized even Sehun at first glance though ― it had been the combination of his name, his appearance and the things he had said that had pointed Jongdae in the right direction). Anyway, that was certainly an interesting occurrence, considering the ‘Sehun’ he knew was the one from the very first volume who had an exam at S university the next day ― as in, the ‘Sehun’ that had not yet met the main character nor had had any involvement with him.

Maybe Sehun still carried his character’s experiences at some deeper level of his conscience… Or maybe Luhan was really just his ideal type.

Either way, even though he and Luhan had never become best friends, he was surely someone pleasant to be around. He was friendly and talkative enough that it was almost impossible to feel awkward next to him, and perhaps that was exactly the kind of person the quiet, reserved Sehun needed, be it as a friend or a boyfriend. Unlike what someone who was reading a story about his life might have expected, Jongdae was not sad or jealous over that situation at all.

Not at that moment, that is.

That afternoon, after fetching an unprecedentedly good-humored and sweaty Sehun from the soccer field and having lunch with him in the university dining hall, he had taken him to Baekhyun, being careful that time to teach Sehun the way between each of those places so that he could circulate freely if he ever needed to. At night, they had Baekhyun-sponsored take-out in the artist’s floor couch again, laughing at Heechul’s antics about his best friend Gunhee who apparently had been trying to use him to attract the attention of some ladies by pretending they were a couple or something.

Sehun had been quiet as always, but at the same time there was something different about him. Baekhyun had noticed it too. “His disposition,” he had commented to Jongdae when the both of them were alone in the kitchen getting some tea cups, “I think he’s willing to give this all a chance now. I don’t know what you did, but it worked, man.”

“The challenges are all still there for him though,” Jongdae replied while leaning against the kitchen counter, four glasses on his hands. “The loneliness, the feeling of not belonging… I hope he can overcome all of them.”

“You’ve grown surprisingly attached to him in such a short period,” Baekhyun remarked, half teasing, half serious, “especially considering how he had been acting around you until now.”

“What’s it that people say again? That ‘Hardships bring people together’? It’s kind of like that,” Jongdae chuckled, and Baekhyun soon followed him. “Honestly though, even with him being so troublesome, I spent so much time feeling sorry for the misery he was in that now that he’s overcoming it… It just makes me so happy, you know? I really hope he can become happier and happier.”

“Awn, there you go, sounding like his dad again~ That should be my line!” The boy punched him lightly on the arm with his empty hand before grabbing the teapot. “But yeah... Even if this is only my second time seeing him, I feel that way towards him too. I’m pretty sure he’ll get there eventually.”

“You did create him to be quite strong-minded,” Jongdae observed, remembering some adversities ‘Oh Sehun’ had faced in the manhwa. Although manhwa characters typically overreact to even the smallest things, Sehun was remarkably chill.

“That’s not the reason though.”

“Then why?”

Baekhyun showed him a playful grin.

“Because he has you by his side.”

“Oh― Gross!” Jongdae whined, kicking Baekhyun lightly on the shin with his foot. “Get away from me with your cheesy manhwa lines!”

“I thought you used to like them~” the cutesy intonation he was using only making it even more annoying. Jongdae would be lying if he said he wasn’t enjoying their bickering though. “Weren’t you my biggest fan?”

“Keyword: ‘used’.” He gave Baekhyun the look, but the boy wasn’t looking at him anymore, having a hard time not spilling any tea because of his laughter. “Besides, there are some lines that should never be used anywhere but in fiction,” he continued after Baekhyun had recovered.

“Alright, alright.” The author placed the teapot over the table again so that he could wipe his eyes.

“Shouldn’t we get going? At this rate the tea will get cold.”

Baekhyun agreed, and after he got the teapot again, both of started walking towards the living room ― Jongdae in front, the other coming slower behind him to avoid any spilling.

“I was joking, but honestly” Baekhyun whispered from behind his ear when they were almost there, low enough that only he could hear. “You’re a pretty cool guy, Jongdae.”

Jongdae smiled, hoping his embarrassment was not showing on his face.

“Thank you, Baek.”

 

Slowly but steadily, everything started getting better.

Sehun would always wake up early so that he and Jongdae could have breakfast together. At first he would only get up early on the days he decided to accompany Jongdae to university; but then one day he changed his mind after eating, and then on another he had woken up naturally because he had forgotten to close the curtains, and then at some point it just fell into routine and became a part of their mornings both of them enjoyed. When Jongdae fixed the meal, he would always cook rice even on days he was having bread because he knew Sehun couldn’t pass a day without it; and when it was Sehun’s turn to prepare the food, he would always make some coffee even though he hated it because he knew Jongdae wouldn’t function properly without it.

His coffee had been terrible the first times he made it, sure, but through time Jongdae taught him to brew it just how he liked it.

The days Sehun went together with Jongdae to university, he would vary between watching some lectures with him, going to the library to check some books or hanging out with Luhan and his friends either on the soccer field (when it was sunny) or in a large covered space theater and dance students usually used to rehearse (when it was raining). Luhan apparently had a secret talent for dancing Jongdae hadn’t known about ― well, not that secret, really ― and after a few tries, Luhan and Sehun had realized the latter was also surprisingly good at that kind of stuff. Luhan was part of a sort of dance crew ― it was not that official, more like something he and his friends did together for fun ― he gradually integrated Sehun to, and therefore they spent a lot of time together.

Jongdae would sometimes think about how that fortuitous meeting with Luhan had sure had some major repercussions in their lives, especially on Sehun’s. Who would have thought taking Sehun to university with him that day would be so important to Sehun’s assimilation to his world? Now he had friends, social interactions and activities of his own, things he could do without depending on Jongdae’s availability or willingness. Minseok said it was fate, but Jongdae didn’t quite believe in that concept; destiny would mean their lives had been decided upon their birth, but how could something like Sehun materializing from his favorite manhwa have been foreseen? He believe in chance, and luck.

Meeting Sehun had been both.

In the afternoon, while Jongdae was working, Sehun would sometimes drop by Baekhyun’s when he was not with Luhan. He would sometimes come back with more clothes ― Sehun would tell him Baekhyun had said they were new donations, but Jongdae was pretty sure it was just Baek’s way of showing them some support ―, and sometimes Jongdae would go there too so that they could all eat dinner together. Baekhyun soon became a close friend of his. It was just inevitable, really; Minseok had been there for all of Jongdae’s life and there was no replacing him, but he couldn’t understand that whole situation with Sehun as much as Baekhyun could ― especially since he still didn’t quite believe it.

He and Junmyeon had met Sehun a couple of times already, of course, on the days Sehun had gone to university and they’d all had lunch together. Minseok had advocated it would be better to keep that secret to as few people as possible, and for that reason Jongdae had told Junmyeon Sehun was also some distant cousin of his. Despite Jongdae’s expectations that Sehun’s natural coldness would throw Junmyeon off, the two had hit off astonishingly well, especially because normally unimpressed Sehun was for some reason able to understand Junmyeon’s particular sense of humor. Minseok, however, had kept his distance, and although he could not pinpoint any flaws in Sehun’s personal narrative, he simply could not believe his story, no matter how much time had passed.

On weekends, Jongdae and Sehun had developed the habit of making small trips whenever their budget allowed it since Sehun really loved to travel. Most times they would just lend Junmyeon’s car and pay him the gas afterwards, but occasionally they would invite him to come along too (he’d always be so happy they felt like crap about not inviting him every time). They’d never go too far both because of expenses and of their limited time, but the trips were enjoyable nonetheless. It was not the case that Sehun was easily amazed, but rather that he saw wonder in things and places most people would have overlooked. Jongdae couldn’t quite feel the same way even if he wanted to, but he appreciated enough the sight of Sehun’s eyes sparkling with interest and his excitement whenever they were about to hit the road.

Jongdae couldn’t really point out when it had started.

Perhaps it had been when, after asking what his favorite food was in the morning, Sehun had greeted him with that dish in the evening ― a look of frustration on his face because it had been the first time he’d made it and it was a bit overcooked. Perhaps it had been when Sehun had insisted on sleeping on the couch “because he wanted to watch TV” precisely on the same night Jongdae was particularly exhausted after having done many hours of overtime at work. Or perhaps it had been on a random Sunday afternoon, when they had stayed home because of the rain and Jongdae had suddenly realized how beautiful Sehun was while watching him absently look out the window, the blurred gray landscape and the trickling water drops on the glass serving as the most graceful frame for Sehun’s ethereal, cold beauty.

It was most certainly a mix of all these occasions, however ― the collection of all these moments together, the big gestures and the small acts of kindness, the gentle look Sehun would have on his eyes whenever they talked, the softness with which he would touch Jongdae to wake him up every morning, the slight smile on his face when Jongdae arrived home from work,the times he had stayed awake to keep Jongdae company when he had papers to write, his careful attention to Jongdae’s every word when he needed to vent about university or work, his proud expression when he showed Jongdae the first full choreography he had been able to memorize.

“You like him, don’t you,” Baekhyun had asked him eventually about two months after Jongdae and Sehun had had their life-changing talk. They were alone in the kitchen again; Taeyeon, Heechul and Sehun were playing some board game that involved lots of laughs and very loud screaming.

“Is it that obvious?” was Jongdae’s simple reply while he held the mug filled with ice tea with both his hands (summer was approaching and the temperature was already starting to get a bit unbearable).

“No, not really. It’s just because I know you too well.”

Jongdae smiled. “Well, that’s good to hear.”

Baekhyun kept looking at him.

“So… What are you going to do about it?” He asked eventually when it was obvious Jongdae was not going to say anything.

“Nothing.”

“Why?”

“Why would I want to ruin what we have? It’s pretty good as it is.”

“Come on Jongdae, we both know that is not true.” Baekhyun came a bit closer, leaning onto the wall right in front of Jongdae. “You don’t want to kiss him, touch him? Be all lovey-dovey and call him by pet names? That’s totally your style.”

“It might be,” he consented, “but my point is I know I cannot have that. So why would I want to lose what I have?”

“How are you so sure you can’t?”

“He’s dating Luhan.”

“Ah yeah? Did he tell you that?”

“No… We don’t talk about it.”

“So how are you so sure?”

“Besides the fact they see each other about 5 out of 6 days a week ― which would already be suspicious enough ―, I in fact have seen them together.” It had been quite some time ago by now; about two or three weeks after Sehun and Luhan had met for the first time. Jongdae had forgotten to leave his apartment keys with Sehun and Luhan’s cellphone was dead, which had forced him to go look for them himself. After asking one of Luhan’s friends, he had found them at one of the dance labs in the Performing Arts building, Luhan half undressed on top of a breathless Sehun and coating his equally uncovered chest with bite marks. Despite the shock, it had been quite a scene. Fortunately he had been able to run away before any of them noticed him there. “I’m quite sure they are a couple.”

“Um, I don’t know…” Baekhyun unsurely replied, lightly massaging his chin with one of his hands. “I think he likes you.”

“How do you know?”

“I just have a hunch... It’s a manhwa author thing. You know us artists are very sensitive people.”

Jongdae rolled his eyes.

“Ok. Does he talk about me?”

“Well... No, not much,” Baekhyun admitted. “But that’s just how he is, isn’t it?”

“Doesn’t he talk about Luhan though? I’m pretty sure he told you about the festival Luhan performed in last week. Heechul even commented about it with me.”

“Um,” he hesitated, “perhaps....” he sighed. “Ok, I have to admit, he does talk a lot about Luhan. Isn’t that just natural though, since they spend so much time together?”

“He fucking lives with me, Baekhyun. Don’t you think that would give him plenty of things to talk about with you guys if he wanted to?”

Baekhyun couldn’t quite evade that question, so he opted to remain silent instead. His silence, however, was enough of an answer for Jongdae. He knew very well he was right ― and, quite honestly, he had already come to terms with his platonic feelings a long time ago.

“You’re really going to do nothing, then?”

The dark-haired boy took a small sip of his ice tea; the ice itself had melted almost completely by now, watering down the taste quite a bit.

“Sehun is… Very precious to me.” He spoke slowly, trying to turn his feelings into words. It was so hard though. “Besides knowing it would be pointless, I know he would feel bad about it. He’s a nice kid with a gentle heart. If I like him, would I really confess just to egoistically make my feelings known, even though I’m pretty sure the only result would be me hurting him?”

Baekhyun bit his lips, slightly nodding his head in agreement. “I can see where you’re coming from.” He left his empty mug inside the sink before he turned to Jongdae again, a tentative smile surfacing on his lips. “What you just said though ― can I use it in one of my manhwas? It’s exactly the kind of cheesy line readers love, you know~”

Jongdae laughed softly, albeit briefly too.

“Shut up.”

“Only if you give me a hug~” the boy singsonged, waving his eyebrows. “I mean it,” he added, once he noticed Jongdae thought he was joking. “I need some human contact, my editor have been so rough on me lately~ Pretty please?”

He chuckled at Baekhyun’s lost puppy expression before he gave in, opening his arms to cuddle the same-sized boy against his chest. Baekhyun gave him a koala hug, squeezing him so strongly Jongdae almost started coughing.

His editor had been rough… Sure.

Jongdae hugged him tightly, dipping his face into the curve of Baekhyun’s neck.

Baekhyun was obviously lying, but he wasn’t about to complain.

 

Some time afterwards, the summer festivals started.

Jongdae was still not done with college; he had more three weeks of classes, exams and deadlines for papers before he was officially off for summer vacation. Still, when a summer fireworks festival was announced in a district in Seoul just next to theirs, Jongdae couldn’t really say no to Sehun’s plead.

Well, perhaps the fact that Sehun had mentioned he was going with Luhan if Jongdae couldn’t make it had also somewhat contributed to his decision.

It was a Friday night. Jongdae went home to take a quick shower and put on a more casual outfit before they left to take the subway. The park where the festival was taking place was mere five stations from Jongdae’s apartment; they arrived considerably early considering the fireworks were only going to be displayed at midnight, but the place was already filled with both families and groups of teens and youngsters dancing to bands or electronic music being played in small stages here and there.

Summer hadn’t actually started yet ― there was yet other two full weeks before the official season change ―, but the heat was already thick during the day, hovering over them like a giant heavy cloud, making their skin sticky with sweat. At night, however, the weather was quite pleasant, the refreshing breeze taking out the excessive warmth accumulated during the day in enjoyable blows. They were both dressed in shorts and T-shirts, Sehun having chosen flip flops while Jongdae had gone with sandals. They had both mocked each other for their respective choices and were still bickering about it by the time they arrived at the park.

“Wow, it’s really crowded.” Sehun was quite impressed, his mouth automatically curving into his characteristic pout. Jongdae couldn’t help but smile fondly at the sight.

“These fireworks festivals are really popular. They started doing this kind of thing about ten years ago, so I guess you don’t have any memories of it, right? The fireworks are amazing, just wait to see.”

“I don’t really have much of an option but to wait to be honest.”

“Stop being so literal~” Sehun grinned mischievously when he noticed Jongdae’s typical whining intonation. “You know what I mean!”

“Yeah, this is something new for me,” he conceded. “You know, there’s something different about new experiences. It’s like… I can’t quite describe it, but it’s like for some things, there are just… Gaps, you know? Like I had never noticed they existed until they were finally there in front of me. The way I see them, the way I feel them… It’s just different from how I experience stuff I have memories of.”

Jongdae bobbed his head in agreement. He and Baekhyun had talked about it ― how, despite Baekhyun’s very careful characterization of Sehun back when he was writing Mr. Catman, there was bound to be things he hadn’t thought about, since a character is never as deep or complex as a real person. Characters tend to be cohesive, while real people are full of contradictions, paradoxes, conflicting feelings that sometimes cannot be explained by a single line of thought. On his transformation from a character to an actual human being, Sehun had been slowly filling all those gaps; finding out new things he liked, experiencing things he hadn’t before, establishing goals and dreams of his own. He had been able to observe that happening from the outside, so it was interesting to know Sehun also noticed these differences too.

“Baekhyun told me recently that you’ve becoming a lot different from how he originally conceived you,” Jongdae confided to him, smiling. “He said: ‘Sehun has been painting himself with his own colors.’” Sehun huffed.

“He’s always so poetic.”

“He’s been practicing his cheesiness a lot lately for his new series. Apparently he’s been writing about a boy who meets his favorite character a day in his room after a flop date. Seems like it’s been a hit so far.”

The taller boy snickered, unimpressed. “Well, we can admit it’s a pretty intense storyline right there.”

“That for sure,” he agreed, chuckling softly.

They walked to a bingsu stand. Even though they had been saving money on groceries lately, the money Jongdae earned from his part-time job alone was still a bit too little for both of them; still, he decided they could allow themselves a small luxury that night, and let Sehun chose one of the largest portions. Since all the benches were already taken, they sat on a relatively free spot on the grass a few meters from where the fireworks were being prepared, the big pot of shaved ice placed between them on top of Sehun’s knee.

They were eating in silence when Jongdae noticed a dark object pending on Sehun’s shoulder.

“Whose camera is that?” he asked between spoonfuls, eyeing the camera curiously.

“Heechul’s.” Sehun answered plainly. “He lent me it some time ago.” Then he added, as if an afterthought: “This is one of these first experiences I mentioned, too. I found out I really like photography.”

“That’s great, Sehun!” Jongdae sincerely reacted. “You can take my pictures today if you like. I know it’s not often that you have some really great models like myself.”

Sehun actually snorted. That brat!

“I’m still not that good at taking pics at night, but we can try, of course,” he said eventually.

“Why did Heechul lend you his camera though? I mean, if you didn’t know you liked taking pictures before you actually started taking them?”

“Um…” He scratched his head, clearly a little awkward. “I didn’t actually expect you to ask me this today...” He licked his lips in an automatic reflex; Jongdae had to force himself to focus on what he was saying rather than on his lips. “So, yeah. Heechul’s been helping me to look for a job.”

“A job??” Jongdae couldn’t help but exclaim. “That’s great, Sehun!”

“Well, it would be great if I had found any, but all of the ones I found asked either for at least a high school diploma or an ID number,” the boy observed, frustration overflowing from his eyes. “Since I don’t have any, Heechul suggested I might try some sort of freelance job, like photography. It wasn’t supposed to be that serious since it usually takes years for someone to become good at this stuff, but… I just really liked it,” he confessed, somewhat embarrassed.

Jongdae sighed. The inconveniences of being a character-turned-real person.

“That doesn’t matter much, really. We’ve been making it on our own, haven’t we? The most important thing is you finding something you really like to do,” he reassured him, slightly squeezing his arm. “You don’t have to rush anything. If you really like taking pictures, then focus on that for now. We’ll be ok.”

“I know that, but I feel bad about what I put you through during those first weeks… And what I still put you through.” They had never really talked about it; about those first weeks when they barely talked and Sehun hid himself under blankets all day. That was a first. “I want to help. Luhan thinks I should, too.”

Oh. Him. “How much does Luhan know about your predicament exactly?”

“He still thinks we’re cousins,” Sehun explained, “but I told him you pay for all my stuff, so he said to me I shouldn’t be taking advantage of you like this and how it was ‘absurd’ that my parents had sent me to your place but weren’t helping you financially.” He snickered. “Of course I couldn’t tell him the truth about that part.”

“Yeah, I suppose you couldn’t.”

“He also told me that if you think I’m bothering you or something, that I could go live with him.”

Jongdae almost choked on the spoonful he had just eaten. “What? Live with him?”

“His parents are really rich, so he lives in a big apartment on his own,” Sehun detailed, apparently not taking notice of the change in Jongdae’s behavior. “He said it doesn’t make sense to keep weighing you down just because ‘we’re family’ if I have easier options.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“Well, of course I told him I couldn’t,” he stated, as if it was obvious. “If we lived together it would be impossible for him not to realize I’m a little weird, but he’d most likely think I’m crazy if I told him the truth.”

“So…” Jongdae bit his lip, feeling a little let down. “Was that why you didn’t want to move in with him?”

“It was obviously one of the reasons, yeah.” Sehun had easily acquiesced at first, but suddenly his expression changed, as if something had just occurred to him. “Wait.” He stared fixedly at Jongdae, a mysterious look in his eyes. “Are you jealo―”

‘Boom’.

For a second, Jongdae didn’t quite understand what had hit them.

Quite literally.

There had been a loud bang, followed by a blinding light and the smell of burned skin. There were tons of smoke, too, making it difficult to see exactly what was happening. In a hurry, Jongdae dropped the bingsu on the ground and pulled Sehun by his arm, trying to drag him away from whatever it was that was happening; they managed to walk only a few meters before they realized something was wrong.

The smoke was dissipating quickly, and before they could understand what was going on, an older man came running in their direction.

“Are you OK?” The man asked, holding Jongdae by his shoulder.

“Yeah, I think so… What was that?”

“They were checking the fireworks but someone stupidly launched one of the sets by mistake,” the man explained. “We’re terribly sorry about it,” he continued. Ah, so he’s staff. “You were close, so I thought you might be― ah, your leg!” He turned to Sehun, taking a look at his right calf.

A large burn was starting to take shape there, long and red and angry. It looked pretty ugly, although most likely Sehun wasn't able to feel the effects yet.

“Ok, don’t worry, we’d already arranged for ambulances in case something of the sort happened. Do you think you can walk there, or would you rather have us get a stretcher for you?”

Sehun tested putting weight on his leg before he answered. “It’s fine, I can walk on my own. Could you point us in the right direction?”

 

Jongdae thought they were only getting some first aid by the ambulance. It turned out, however, that Sehun’s burn was worse than they thought, and they ended up being taken to the nearest hospital for Sehun to to be properly patched up and also to take some antibiotics.

Sehun had already already been treated and medicated and they were just waiting to be sent home in one of the practice rooms when a nurse arrived, clipboard in hands.

“I need you to fill a form,” she notified Sehun. “Name, ID and address.”

Jongdae and Sehun exchanged a look.

“Miss, is that really necessary?” The shorter between them asked, pretending he was not as nervous as he really was.

“The insurance company hired by the event will pay for all the treatment for the victims, but we do need your data so we can bill them,” she clarified. “I assure you it will only take a minute though.”

Jongdae appreciated her concern, but that was not quite the issue.

“Name?” She asked, pen in hand. Jongdae could see from the side of his eyes that Sehun was this close to freaking out.

“Um, could we fill that?” He asked nervously. “We really want to go home soon, so it’ll be easier if we just write it. Faster too.”

The nurse seemed to consider his question for a moment. “It’s possible… But you have to assure me your handwriting is legible.”

“I assure you it is 100% legible,” Jongdae confirmed in a hurry, stretching his hands towards her.

She shrugged, giving him the clipboard. Fortunately she wasn’t too righteous to actually want to do everything by the book.

Jongdae filled the form with his own information, hoping that nurse wouldn’t cross-compare it to his driving license ― or else she would see the blond and model-like ‘Kim Jongdae’ had been quite different when he had gotten his license a few years before.

Happily for them, it seemed they were incredibly lucky and no system cross-checking took place. Soon after they gave her the form back, someone else came to their room to tell them they were free to go ― and also to give them some boxes of painkillers and antibiotics that Sehun was supposed to take throughout the following week, alongside some clean bandages.

The festival staff also paid them a taxi home (most certainly not out of the good of their hearts but to assure no one would sue), which they were informed of on their way out. During the run, both of them stared out the window in silence, adrenaline still rushing in Jongdae’s blood from everything that had just happened. Most likely nothing too serious would have taken place had they not informed Sehun’s ID number, but that occurring made he seriously realize what a problem it was that Sehun actually did not have a past ― which meant no documents, no history, no references, no anything. If Sehun was ever caught by the police, even as a victim or a witness, how would he explain his lack of virtually any comprobation of who he claimed he was?

He didn’t really know who he should talk to about it, but perhaps it was time for forging some documents. Although that would not solve the issue of Sehun not being registered in any system whatsoever… Damn. How the hell were they supposed to solve that?

 

“Are you nervous?”

Sehun kept twitching inside his brand clothes, nervously picking at the sleeves of his shirt.

“Not really.”

“That’s not what it seems like.”

“Why did you even ask, then?”

Jongdae laughed. That was quite an interesting situation they were in, and he didn’t want by any means for Sehun to think he was judging him; he could imagine (to a certain extent) how weird that was being for the boy, and his question had been more conversational than anything else.

A noise came from the other side of the door and attracted their attention ― the lock being popped open. Sehun kept staring straight, while Jongdae couldn’t help but look at him and find his anxiety half cute, half heart-breaking. He could understand the reason for Sehun’s tension (his shoulders painfully rigid, his nails digging into the palms of his hands), but at the same time he knew no positive outcome could really come from what was about to happen. Just as lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, it was unlikely another miracle was about to take place.

It had all started just a couple of days before. Jongdae had been studying for his exams, the last two and a half weeks of the semester ahead of him, when his cellphone rang, vibrating on the table.

“Hello Dae~” Baekhyun had greeted coyly, as he always did. “Studying much?”

“You guess it.” Jongdae had taken the opportunity to lean against the back of the chair, stretching his arms. “Hi there, Baek.”

“So, I know you’re busy and all, but I just had the most awesome idea and I wanted to tell you about it.”

Jongdae had just hoped it wasn’t some other manhwa series inspired in his life. “Shoot.”

“So next Saturday ― and by this I mean the day after tomorrow ― you and Sehun are coming over to my house.”

Jongdae had raised an eyebrow (quite pointlessly, if he was to be honest, since Baekhyun couldn’t actually see him).

“That hardly seems like a very original idea.”

“I don’t mean the apartment I live in, duh,” had been Baekhyun’s answer, as if it was very obvious. “I mean my parents’ house, where I grew up.”

“Ok...” The dark-haired boy had tried to process that information, but he hadn’t been quite able to connect the dots yet. “But how is that such a great idea?”

Because.” Baekhyun loved dramatic pauses. In his manhwas, it usually meant excellent hooks between chapters and volumes, but in real life it was just a pain in the ass. “Ok, I’ll explain,” he had continued after a few seconds. Jongdae could almost see his mischievous smile through his voice. “As you know, I was still a high school student when I published Mr. Catman.” That information had surprised Jongdae quite a bit when he had first heard it. “I put a lot of effort into creating all my main characters, but I was quite lazy about everything else… I basically used the same world, the same bands and novels and stylists that were popular at the time,” which was a good explanation for how big a fan of TVXQ Sehun was, “and I also used real people I knew for supporting characters.” He had paused again, but this time with a sense of expectancy. “So? Can you guess where I’m going with this?”

Jongdae had thought about it for a second. “I’m not quite sure I do, Baek,” he had admitted a few moments later.

“Okay, I will spell it out for you.” Oh, god, Baekhyun could be so insufferable sometimes ― why were they friends again? “I used my house and my parents as direct inspirations for Sehun’s parents and the house he grew in.”

Oh.

“You mean they resemble each other a bit, like Luhan and the main character?”

“No… More like exactly-how-my-parents-would-be-if-I-draw-them-in-manhwa kind of similarity,” he had revealed. “I had them and my house in mind every time I drew Sehun’s parents and their house… So I’m pretty sure that’s just how Sehun imagines them too.”

At that moment, he had been able to grasp Baekhyun’s idea quite clearly.

“I don’t know, Baek…” Jongdae had mixed feelings about the other’s proposal. On one hand, he could see what was appealing about it; for Sehun, whose world had disappeared completely, meeting his parents of sorts could feel like a reunion. At the same time, however, it was also very patent to him that it could easily backfire. “Do you think this is really a good idea?”

Baekhyun had pondered about the issue for a few seconds. “Why don’t we let him chose, then?”

 

… And that had been how Sehun and Jongdae had ended up standing next to each other at that very moment, waiting for what (or who) they were about to see behind Baekhyun’s front door.

“Hello~” A familiar voice had saluted them. Jongdae could almost literally see the tension on Sehun’s shoulders easing a bit when he realized who it was. Baekhyun smiled cutely at them, making way by the door so they could pass. “Come on in! We were waiting~”

For Jongdae, it was the first time he was coming to Baekhyun’s house; it was spacious, the living and dining room all connected, the decoration a mix of old furniture with modern adornments here and there ― the classic case of middle age people trying to keep up to the trends. He had a look around quite carelessly, not really that interested, but when he glanced at Sehun, he could see how his experience was being the exact opposite. Sehun’s eyes were wide and spellbound; he would caress each piece of furniture, grab each portrait, look at each frame hanging on the wall as if hypnotized, seeing more in these objects than most people could realize.

Jongdae did, however, notice the look on Sehun’s eyes ― the wonder, the unexpectedness, the hurt. How many of these objects did Sehun remember, how many were new? Was it the same, remembering them from the manhwa and now seeing how they were in real life? Could Sehun recall their weight, shape, color just the same? How it must feel to see these portraits with Baekhyun in them instead of himself ― a picture of Baekhyun at one of his first birthdays laughing while receiving a huge gift, with his parents at the beach, standing next to a red bicycle a lot bigger than himself, being crushed by his mother in a bear hug, with his friends at a school festival… Had Baekhyun thought everything to such small details or were Sehun’s memories of the portraits just a haze, the feeling there had been frames around his house but he couldn’t really remember what the photos in them looked like?

He wanted to reach out for Sehun, to ask him, to comfort him if that was the case. But at the same time, maybe the boy needed that time to himself ― to learn how to cope with those feelings, or actually to begin understanding them first…

Baekhyun glanced at Jongdae, smiling at him fondly. Baekhyun understood.

“So, guys, I’ll go get my parents, okay?” He said after a few minutes, bringing Sehun back from his daze. “They were just finishing some stuff by the kitchen, they’re most likely done by this point.”

The message was obviously directed at Sehun. When the blond bobbed his head with a tremble, Baekhyun exchanged one last look with Jongdae before he went towards the corridor, leaving them alone. Meanwhile, Jongdae guided Sehun to an empty space in the middle of the living room, where they’d be able to greet Baekhyun’s parents more comfortably. He unintentionally brushed his hand on Sehun’s when he meant to pull him at his wrist. And even from that very brief touch he could tell the boy’s palm was sweaty.

Jongdae stared at him meaningfully until Sehun stared at him back. It will be ok, he tried to say through his eyes.

He hoped Sehun understood.

The sound of a few pairs of footsteps resounded from the corridor. Both of them straightened themselves up, although their feelings while looking at the people coming were radically different.

“So, you are Baekhyun’s friends?” Baekhyun’s likely mother was short and a bit plump, although she was still quite in shape for her age. Her eyes were a bit sloppy just as his, her smile just as bright. “It’s always a pleasure to meet friends of my son, although I must apologize on his behalf ― we know he’s a lot of trouble.”

“Well… Perhaps just a bit,” Jongdae played along, bowing respectfully at her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, m’am. I’m Jongdae.” He glanced at Sehun; he was too awe-struck and didn’t seem the least ready to introduce himself. “And this here is Sehun.” Jongdae added, just in case.

“Hello, Sehun,” she greeted. The blond took a few milliseconds to react, bowing to her. “Dear, you should greet them yourself, too!” Mrs. Byun said to her husband, lightly punching him on the arm.

“Hello there, boys.” Baekhyun had quite clearly gotten his temperament from his mother. She was expansive and lively, just like him; Mr. Byun. on the other hand, was very calm and composed ― not properly unfriendly, although he looked like a man of few words. Baekhyun’s nose was shaped just like his; apart from that detail, they didn’t look alike much. Now that he was paying attention to it though, Baekhyun and Sehun’s noses were a bit similar…

Imagining Sehun being born from the Byun couple didn’t seem as weird as Jongdae had imagined it would. In a way, he actually fit in there, although he’d have taken more after Baekhyun’s father.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Byun,” Jongdae replied, bowing politely. Sehun simply imitated him, not ready for words yet.

Mrs. Byun actually chucked.

“My my, Sehun is not the talkative type, is he?” She joked, not a bit unpleasant; just like Baekhyun, she had a thing for teasing, but it was easily noticeable she didn’t mean any harm by it. “Although I suppose he wouldn’t have to be, considering Baekhyun usually does all the talking even when he doesn’t have to.”

“Hey, don’t badmouth me in front of my friends, mom!” Baekhyun complained cutely (although this time Jongdae wasn’t sure if he had meant it to be cute or not).

“It’s nothing we didn’t know already anyway,” Jongdae mocked him, getting a light punch as retribution.

Their small talk was cut short when Baekhyun’s father suggested they sit at the table (“He’s actually very hungry.” Baekhyun had whispered secretively to Jongdae). The two guests sat side by side while the Byun family went to the kitchen to fetch the food; Jongdae wanted to ask Sehun about his impressions so far, but the blond kept staring at the table with such a lost expression in his eyes that he thought perhaps that was not the best moment to bring up that subject yet. Was that table also a memory from his childhood?

They started dining not long afterwards, the Byun couple sitting right in front of them while Baekhyun sat at the head of the table, enjoying his position of being able to look easily at both sides.

“So, what is it that you two do?” Mr. Byun had asked them eventually during the meal. Jongdae had expected him to ask them that; he seemed the kind of person who worried about such things.

“I’m studying Literature,” Jongdae explained briefly, “I want to work at a publishing company, be an editor. Actually, that’s how I met Baekhyun.”

Mr. Byun uttered an acknowledging sound before he turned to Sehun. “And you, boy?”

“I…” he looked at Jongdae, who encouraged him to continue. “I’m a Law student.”

“Law?” Mr. Byun eyed him more carefully. “With that blond hair? Isn’t it more respectable to keep it black?” Sehun hesitated to answer, so the man continued before he could. “I suppose it does fit you though… Gives you a Western look.” That seemed like a compliment, although it was a bit hard to tell. “Anyway that’s what I told Baekhyun to do!” He beat the table with his fist for an emphatic effect, so strongly that all the plates moved a bit. “I always told my son here to study Law or Medicine. Honestly though, even his being a teacher or a standard office worker would have already pleased me enough. But no ― he became a… a…”

“Manhwa artist, dear,” his wife completed.

“Yes, that.”

“He does earn plenty by doing that,” she pointed out.

“That’s not the issue at hand.” Jongdae looked at Baekhyun, but the boy simply made him a dismissing gesture. “That’s not a proper job. Do you boys believe he didn’t even go to college?”

Jongdae wondered how exactly he should reply to that, since Mr. Byun seemed to be expecting some reaction. He did know for a fact Baekhyun hadn’t gone to college, so the information wasn’t surprising to him; however, he felt like “yes” wouldn’t be a proper answer either…

“Well, it’s true he doesn’t have higher education,” Sehun suddenly said, taking both Jongdae and Baekhyun by surprise, “but I personally think it’s amazing how talented Baekhyun is. He was able to publishing a manhwa while he was still in high school. That in itself is already a very rare thing.”

Mr. Byun seemed a bit taken aback. “... Is it?” he responded after a few seconds. Fortunately, he didn’t seem offended.

“It is. And not only that, but all his manhwas are incredibly successful. Maybe you don’t know since he writers under an alias, but his works are literally everywhere.”

“Are they?” Now he seemed genuinely surprised. “Why did you never tell me that, son?”

“Didn’t figure you’d care, dad,” Baekhyun sincerely answered. The words were a bit harsh, but his tone made the message a lot softer to receive. “Besides, the kind of manhwas I write… I don’t think you’d approve.”

“Now you’ve made me curious,” he remarked, “but on second thoughts, perhaps I really don’t want to know.”

“I assure you you don’t, dad.”

Mr. Byun furrowed his brows for a second, most likely deciding if he should let that go or not. “That reminds me of when I was young, actually. I had a friend who was in the same condition ― he didn’t want to tell his family what he did for a living, although he earned a good amount of money. You see, he was a really handsome fellow, so he would―”

“―pose for Art students for their human drawing classes.” Sehun completed. “I remember that.”

Mr. Byun looked at him, confused.

“You… remember?”

Sehun gasped, realizing what he had done.

“Ah, dad, sorry!” Baekhyun dramatically facepalmed himself, attracting everyone’s attention. “I had told them this story already, so Sehun remembers it. Sorry for spoiling your story telling.”

“Oh… Oh no, son, it’s okay…”

Jongdae squeezed Sehun’s wrist under the table, whispering “Be more careful” when the boy looked at him.

The blond gave him a tiny smile in agreement.

 

About an hour after, when they had all eaten and talked, Sehun and Jongdae were standing together on a wooden deck that extended itself on the back of Baekhyun’s house. Mrs. Byun and Baekhyun had gone to the kitchen to sort out the dishes, while Mr. Byun had withdrawn for the night, leaving both with some time alone for themselves. Jongdae leaned backwards against the railing, and peeked at Sehun with curious eyes.

“Sehun?”

The boy turned his face slightly towards Jongdae, placing his folded arms over the railings right next to him. “Yes?”

“How… How are you feeling?”

“You sure are fast,” Sehun remarked, sighing. Jongdae wondered if he had been too hasty, but Sehun quickly reassured him. “Don’t worry, it’s fine.” He thought for a bit. “I suppose it’s… weird. They have no idea who I am, but I really… I remember them as my parents? I knew how they’d react, the stories they’d tell, their personalities, everything… Except for the stories from the years after the manhwa was published, of course.”

“And how do you feel about it?” Jongdae looked at him, worried. “Does it make you sad?”

“Well, that’s an obvious question, isn’t it? Of course it does, to some degree.” He exhaled again, this time biting his lips afterwards. “But… It’s not that bad. I didn’t really expect it to be any different, after all, so I was already prepared for it anyway.”

“I understand, although, to be honest… It’s kind of sad. They really are your parents, more or less, but they don’t remember you...”

“I suppose.” Sehun bent his head back, looking at the starry sky above them. “It does sound sad, right.” His face was straight, same as always, but… His lips… They were quivering. “Perhaps it is.” Sehuns eyes were glistening, watering at the borders…

Jongdae pulled him by his shoulder, dragging him for a hug.

Sehun embraced him tightly, letting his own head fit itself in the curve of Jongdae’s neck. His skin got wet almost immediately.

It was hard, not knowing what to say, what to do. Jongdae allowed Sehun to hold him as close as he wanted, and of course he also hugged him back just as strongly, but how else could he help Sehun make that pain a little more bearable? Not knowing anyone, or knowing someone but not being remembered back ― which one was worse?

The worst part was actually that Sehun had experienced both: he had been alone, and he also had been forgotten (in a way).

Jongdae felt Sehun’s hands grabbing the fabric on the back of his T-shirt; felt his fingers squeezing it, pinching a bit of his skin by mistake, using the touch as leverage to pull him even closer. Sehun’s tears wetting Jongdae’s neck were already trickling down his skin, running till the cleavage of his tee, the ones that were not absorbed rolling down his torso, making small wet marks on the way. He didn’t mind any of it. Jongdae raised a hand to Sehun’s head, ran it through his locks, caressed his neck, in his somewhat futile attempt to comfort that boy who in such a short span of time had been able to conquer such a large part of his life and heart.

Sehun didn’t deserve that, any of it.

“I’m so sorry that you have to go through this.” He whispered to Sehun’s ear while feeling his soft, silent hiccups against his neck. “It’s so unfair. I wish I could go back in time and change it ― although I don’t know how it happened or who was responsible… But I wish I could go back and prevent it somehow.” He leaned on Sehun’s head, nuzzling against his hair. “I wish you didn’t have to experience any of this pain.”

They were both quiet for a few seconds, Jongdae feeling the Sehun’s grip on his back slowly easing, the wetness on his neck drying up and not being replaced by new tears. It had perhaps been a couple of minutes when Sehun at last let go of him completely, using his hands to wipe up his eyes. He didn’t even seem like he had been crying hard though ― so unfair. If it had been him, his eyes would have swollen to the size of red golf balls by now.

“I don’t,” Sehun said a bit weakly, completely out of the blue. Jongdae looked at him, confused.

“Sorry, Sehun, you don’t what?”

“I don’t wish I hadn’t experienced this.” Jongdae kept staring at him, so he continued. “There are hard parts, I won’t deny that. But there are also good things. In my world, my father had convinced me of doing what he wanted. I was an unhappy Law student who didn’t really have any major dreams besides being successful in my profession and earning a lot of money. Of course that’s a reasonable goal, but… If anything, this experience has shown there’s so much more than that. I know this sounds a bit cheesy,” he laughed softly, “but I mean it.”

They looked at each other in silence, smiles starting to be shaped at the corners of their mouths.

“I’m happy to be here.”

Jongdae rubbed his eyes (he, also, had almost cried) before he beamed at Sehun. The weight that had been lifted from his chest was indescribable; he felt as if he could fly. “I’m happy you’re here, too.”

“If I hadn’t been brought up to this world, I wouldn’t have met you,” Jongdae’s heart skipped a beat, and oh god he hoped his cheeks weren’t blushing (although he could blame it on the crying if it happened), “nor Baekhyun, nor Taeyeon or Heechul, nor my other friends… Nor Luhan.” Jongdae tried to keep a blank expression. Shit, he had been happy way too early. “And now I can’t even imagine my life without all of you.” Sehun paused for a second, thinking. “I mean, of course I liked Donghae too, but… This is just different.”

“I’m honestly happy you were able to make so many friends… I had been worried in the beginning,” Jongdae admitted, smiling.

“Yeah. When I think about it, I think Luhan was a large part of it, don’t you think?”

Well... Jongdae did, in fact. But why was it that he felt a great desire to disagree now that Sehun was asking him?

“I suppose he was a huge influence, yeah.”

“Luhan is just so awesome.” Jongdae started asking himself how they hell they had moved from a deep emotional conversation to talking about Luhan of all people. “I wonder why you two didn’t become close friends.”

“We were kind of close when we studied together,” Jongdae corrected him, “but it just didn’t stick. Perhaps because I’m not that good at soccer,” he joked. “Seriously though, I think we don’t have that many tastes in similar.”

“I’m pretty sure you’d find some tastes in similar if you talked more to Luhan, Jongdae. He’s good at so many things, there’s bound to be one you like in common.”

Jongdae felt a terrible urge to raise his eyebrow ― or more than that, to directly question Sehun if he had any secret agenda with all that Luhan praise. Luhan was a nice guy, sure, but wasn’t that going a bit over the top and even slightly off topic considering their previous exchange? Was he just being delusional due to jealousy or does Sehun have some hidden intentions?

Hard to tell, since Sehun was always so good at managing his expressions.

“Um, don’t you think we should go in and see if they still need any help? We’ve been slacking off here for far too long.”

Sehun grinned impishly for a very brief moment before his face was back to its default blank look.

“Of course. Let’s go.”

 

Jongdae wasn’t sure if he was just imagining things, but it seemed to him that during the following week Sehun talked about Luhan a lot more than usual.

He would mention the Chinese boy during breakfast almost every day. For the previous months, Sehun usually told Jongdae his plans for the day, and since most of the times they included Luhan, that in itself wasn’t uncommon. However, the blond boy started talking about more specific details of their relationships a lot more often ― like how they would sometimes spend the whole night sending text messages to each other (Junmyeon had given Sehun one of his old cell phones some time weeks prior), how Luhan would always take him to his favorite bubble tea shop on the days they couldn’t spend much time together, how Luhan had been teaching him Chinese and had told him he was already able to hold basic conversations despite the short time he had been studying. Sometimes Sehun went even further and talked about how they would usually take off their T-shirts when they were practicing because they would sweat too much (and how hard it was for everybody to keep their eyes off Luhan’s pretty spotless skin then), how he knew by heart how many beauty marks Luhan had on his face, how pretty Luhan looked after he had dyed his hair blond too and how everybody started telling them they looked perfect together after that.

At every occasion, Jongdae wondered if something in their conversation back in Baekhyun’s house that night had somehow set something off between them. Perhaps now Sehun felt more at ease, more willing to share his intimacy with him. If that was the case, of course that knowledge made Jongdae happy ― he wanted Sehun to know he could always rely on him for anything ― but at the same time it was quite hard to keep a straight face hearing Sehun speak of Luhan with such affection. Jongdae wasn’t normally easily swayed by such things (more than being cold-hearted, he had a pretty resigned mentality), but even he had a limit ― which Sehun apparently was trying to cross.

In a way, it was fortunate that he was in his second to last week of school. He had so many papers to finish writing and such hard exams to take that even though Sehun had been (deliberately?) mentally and emotionally assaulting him, he didn’t really have any free time to spend brooding over it. Perhaps Luhan was having exams too, since Sehun stayed home a lot more than usual, especially on the days Jongdae’s classes had already finished and he used the time to focus on the other things he had to do.

Jongdae appreciated the company, but he had to admit having Sehun around was partially distracting ― even more considering the boy’s recent tendency of walking around only with a towel around his waist after showering.

On Friday night that week, Jongdae arrived home completely exhausted. He had been working overtime for the past weeks because he had arranged his vacation to overlap with his time off college (so that he and Sehun could perhaps do something different, travel somewhere farther); however, that meant very little rest during the week, with his exams and papers and all, and for once all he wanted to do on the weekend was rest, rest and rest (although he still needed to study ― but he could think about that later).

Sehun had cooked him his favorite meal that night, and after the both of them had showered, they chilled out on the couch together, watching a season final of one of the model series Sehun enjoyed.

“I’ve been wondering about something,” Sehun said out of the blue, taking Jongdae by surprised (that show was surprisingly entertaining).

Jongdae didn’t take his eyes off the screen. “About what?”

“How small your hands are.”

The dark-haired boy directed his eyes at Sehun. He hadn’t really been expecting a specific answer, but that one had been quite unanticipated.

“Well, I suppose I’m not on the tall side, so it’s to be expected,” he observed simply.

“But aren’t your hands even smaller than Baek’s? And you two are the same height.” Sehun remarked, staring at him. “here, give me your hand so we can compare.”

Sehun didn’t really wait, taking Jongdae hand by himself and placing it against his own.

“Look how short your fingers are compared to mine,” the blond pointed out, pressing their palms together.

“It’s not that much of a difference in my opinion. For a tall guy, you don’t even have such long fingers,” he teased.

Sehun simply grinned at him, interlacing their fingers and squeezing them tightly instead of letting go of Jongdae’s hand.

Jongdae waited for a few seconds for Sehun to loosen his grip, but that didn’t happen ― nor looked like it would anytime soon.

“Um, Sehun ― what are you doing?” He asked eventually, disconcerted. Sehun simply smiled at him. “It’s getting kind of sweaty.” Jongdae pointed out. Summer had just started, after all.

The blond licked his lips, mischief glistening on his eyes.

Instead of answering, he lifted his legs to the couch and then pulled Jongdae between them, making the boy almost fall on his chest, their hands still tightly clasped together.

At that point, Jongdae’s heart was already racing at full speed, his cheeks reddening by the minute. Sehun, however, seemed quite unaffected.

“C’mon, Jongdae.” He said shortly after, their faces distressingly close to each other. “You know what this is about.”

“What is it about, exactly?” Jongdae asked, although of course he knew what Sehun had meant. It was just too hard for him to believe it though.

“You really thought you were hiding it well,” the other continued, ignoring his question. “But it was printed on your face, to be honest. Although I only realized it that night.”

“Realized what?!”

“I want you to say it, Jongdae.” Sehun raised his other hand to gently touch the side of Jongdae’s face, brushing his fingers over his cheekbones. “You know what.”

“If it’s that obvious, don’t you already know your answer?” Was his half-stuttering response. It was all happening too fast; he wasn’t being able to process it all.

“Nah, you know me ― I’m a romantic. I want to listen to you saying it.”

“You’re a sadist,” Jongdae corrected him.

“You know you want to say it too,” he added. Sehun was truly shameless.

Wait a minute. How did this happen again? How did the world take such a 360º turn all of a sudden? Had Jongdae been dragged into an alternate dimension too? He was pretty sure he had gone to college and then to work just as always; Sehun also seemed to be the same Sehun he knew. Still, wasn’t the Sehun he lived with going out with Luhan? Did they have an open relationship? Shouldn’t they be talking about that, then? Sehun didn’t seem like a cheater, but you never know… Should he ask? But what if he really was cheating ― what would he do? He had always stuck by his moral values, amongst which was not being anyone’s illicit lover. Would he be righteous enough to not take his chance with Sehun? He could go around his beliefs that once if at least Luhan wasn’t kind of his friend, too. But why would Sehun be even doing that if he had Luhan ― the almighty flawless Luhan he had been praising all week?

“You’re not really dating Luhan, are you,” was Jongdae’s guess after his minor mental breakdown.

Sehun smirked. “No.”

“But you like him?” And I’m just your second option?

“If you happen to be thinking that I’m here with you because it didn’t work out with Luhan… Well, that’s true,” he declared, “but not for the reasons you must be guessing.” Jongdae kept staring at him inquisitively, so he kept going. “We did date, for some time, until I noticed the attraction I felt for him was just… I don’t know, shallow, maybe? We’re still good friends though.”

“But and him? Does he like you?”

“Said he does,” Sehun shrugged, “But Luhan is fickle. An exchange student from China recently joined our dance crew and they have been all over each other, so I think he’ll have moved on by next week at this rate.”

Well, that felt better. But if that was the case…

“So you’ve been intentionally talking about Luhan just to set me up?!”

“I enjoy your reactions.” Sehun grinned at him half mischievously, half fondly. “You’re very cute.”

That had not been very responsible or mature of him, but Jongdae just couldn’t find it in his heart to reprehend him.

“Aren’t you going to tell me, Jongdae?” Sehun asked again, this time with a soft, kind voice full of expectation.

So it was really happening.

He really was a romantic; Jongdae knew that much was not a lie just to provoke him. And that was not all of it: Sehun was also kind, sensitive, considerate and generous towards others to the point of sometimes putting himself at a disadvantage. He was also loyal: despite his jokes, Sehun kept his promises, was always available to listen to Jongdae whenever he needed to let something out, and never once had told others anything Jongdae had asked him to keep secret.

It was true that he was a bit messy, lazy and sometimes quite stubborn and rude too ― which had led to some conflicts between them in the past. Even after all that time, he would still not do the dishes when Jongdae asked him, and it required the greatest of efforts to convince him to iron his share of the laundry. More than being rude, it often happened that Sehun spoke with no filter, not so much around Jongdae (perhaps because he was being extra careful with him) but a lot towards others ― and that, too, had led to some awkward situations in these past months.

Walking into his apartment and being greeted by a jumble of shoes in the hall instead of his usual organized line-up by the wall, seeing Sehun’s favorite magazines splayed out on the living room table instead of the tidy stack next to the TV where he used to keep his ones, having quite a collection of Sehun’s coats thrown over the couch’s back in a multitude of textures and colors though ― there was a charm in those too. Each of those things was like a physical manifestation of Sehun’s presence; they carried a certain liveliness, a sign to Jongdae that he was not alone.

(Expect for the dirty dishes. These were not lively nor cute nor heart-warming at all.)

Jongdae closed his eyes, feeling his fingers still interlaced with Sehun’s, the slight sweat between their palms no longer bothering him like before. He could sense Sehun’s breathing, in and out, in and out, through the puffs of air that touched his face and also by through movements of his chest. The hand that Sehun wasn’t clasping onto timidly fumbled its way upwards, from touching Sehun’s chest to tracing the lines of his collarbone and then resting sideways on his neck.

Jongdae bent his head forward, leaning his forehead against Sehun’s. Then, only then he opened his eyes, meeting Sehun’s gaze centimeters from his own ― intense, fixed, looking only at him and nowhere else.

“I love you, Sehun.”

On his turn, making his confession in his very own way, Sehun pulled him for a kiss.

 

After an intense make out section full of passion and need, unlike what the natural flow of things could have suggested, they had simply fallen asleep.

It actually hadn’t been the mere consequence of Jongdae being exhausted, but rather Sehun’s conscious decision of not pushing the other’s body even further since he knew what his condition was. Not only was Jongdae already drained, he also needed to wake up early on the weekend and take advantage of as many hours as he could to study and write, so that he could finish the semester without any major headaches. Sehun knew about all of it, of course; Jongdae had been worrying over it for the past month, talking every now and then about how concerned he was for his grades and how some of his preliminary results hadn’t been that great and he’d need to compensate. A few hours or pleasure could seem like a good idea at that moment, but especially after a long time of pent-up sexual frustration, that would most certainly translate into sleeping in and freaking out afterwards.

At least for Jongdae that seemed to be the only reasonable explanation for why, after having exchanged some hot kisses for over half an hour, Sehun had pulled his head against his chest and caressed him to sleep, peppering soft butterfly kisses on the top of his head. He couldn’t really complain, though, since he had slept quite fast and had been able to wake up early and full of energy the next morning.

Throughout the week, however, Jongdae started to get the impression Sehun was actually enjoying making him suffer.

They had started sleeping together on Sehun’s single bed (or rather, Jongdae’s), which meant sharing a rather limited space; still, Sehun wouldn’t touch him, nor even embrace him, sleeping back to back with Jongdae instead. In the mornings, Sehun would greet him with a soft peck on his lips and then send him off to university without any other type of contact whatsoever, under the premise that ‘Jongdae had to focus’. To make things worse, that week Sehun mysteriously had things to do every morning Jongdae stayed at home, and would never return before Jongdae left for lunch; when he arrived from work at night, Sehun would have already showered and prepared all his study material over the table for him, papers and reference books all splayed out on the table waiting for Jongdae to dig in.

The worst part is that Jongdae couldn’t even get things done by himself, because Sehun had hidden the key to bathroom somewhere and he’d pop the door open every once in a while when Jongdae was showering. He couldn’t see anything because of the shower curtains, but still Jongdae felt strangely embarrassed of being caught mid-act considering he and Sehun hadn’t even as much as touched each other yet.

Jongdae understood that to some degree he couldn’t distract himself with a relationship precisely on the last week of the semester, but Sehun was definitely going too far if that was the only reason.

No. Just as Jongdae has guessed before, he was a bit of a sadist. For sure.

The good side was that Jongdae has invested so much energy on his studies instead that he was pretty sure he was getting straight As for all the courses he had taken. The bad side was that by the middle of the week he was already going crazy, especially with Sehun suddenly deciding to wear the extra tight jeans Baekhyun had recently bought him.

He imagined all that teasing would end by Friday night, and for most of the week he had looked forward to it.

Ironically enough, when Friday night finally arrived (and, alongside it, also Jongdae’s vacation from work for two weeks), the boy had been so thoroughly tired he had fallen asleep almost immediately when he sat on the couch to watch a bit of TV.

That saturday, finally free from all his obligations ― at least for a due period of time ―, Jongdae had gotten up as silently as he could because he needed to take one last form he had forgotten to fill in to the office. On his way there, he kept thinking about what they should do now. He was happy for his vacation, of course; but, at the same time, he had gotten so used to his vicious studying routine the previous two weekends that he was at a loss of what they were supposed to do with so much time off. Sehun had insisted quite a bit that they shouldn’t make any big plans and just go with the flow, let ideas come up naturally.

Jongdae quite liked his line of thought, but it started worrying him that no ideas had naturally occurred to him yet.

When he got back to the apartment, slightly sweaty even though he was wearing only a light T-shirt and shorts, he grew a bit suspicious when he didn’t find Sehun in the kitchen or in the living room as he would usually have been.

He approach the bedroom slowly with soft steps, in case the boy was still sleeping.

Sehun was there for sure, although ‘sleeping’ was not he appropriate description.

Jongdae freaked out just a little when he saw the blond sitting on the ground next to the box that was supposed to be hidden where he kept all his manhwas ― including the boys love ones, amongst which… Mr. Catman. Damn.

“I had never been that interest in this,” Sehun suddenly started without much of a prelude, “but a few days ago I got curious about what kind of character I was that you liked me so much. So I got this box out from under your bed ― I hope you didn’t think I hadn’t noticed it was here considering I’ve been using this room for months now ― and decided I would read them just to check it out… But, as you already know for sure, in all your manhwas, the frames were I would be are now empty.”

Jongdae internally sighed with relief. The first volumes weren’t that bad besides some cheesy lines here and there; but, as in all boys love yaoi manhwas, once the action started… It would be very awkward if Sehun saw what kind of scenes Jongdae had already imagined him in ― even if it wasn’t really him. Or it was. Jongdae didn’t know how to define that anymore.

“That was quite easy to solve though ― I asked Taeyeon to lend me hers.” He shook a volume from Mr. Catman high with his right hand… And unfortunately it wasn’t either the first or the second one. “As you know, she’s a huge fan. I could sort of understand why… I read them all in less than three days.” He got up. Jongdae was frozen on the spot. “The storyline felt a bit lacking to me, but I suppose I can understand that since Baekhyun was only in high school at that time. Besides, the great characters make it up for it.” Jongdae would have rolled his eyes if he wasn’t so tense; he knew Sehun wasn’t talking about all of that without any purpose. “But you know what surprised me the most?” That was it: there it came, the reason for all that long introduction. “The sex scenes. I honestly didn’t imagine you’d be into that kind of stuff.”

Jongdae blushed.

The whole issue could be summed up in one simple sentence: Baekhyun was a hell of a kinky bastard.

“So… As you well know… I’m into that, too.” Sehun drew closer and then lowered his head to Jongdae’s level, staring at him with unbelievable intensity. “Do you want me to make you cry, Jongdae?”

Jongdae gasped loudly, dumbstruck.

For Sehun, that was enough of an answer.

He raised his hand and held Jongdae’s chin strongly, slightly bending Jongdae’s head upwards so that he could kiss him easier ― and so he did, pushing his lips harder against Jongdae’s, adding enough pressure that the shorter’s mouth opened on its own, allowing Sehun to lick into his mouth, circle his teeth, tease his tongue, stimulating Jongdae to draw it out so that he could suck on it roughly, leaving Jongdae dizzy and breathless before he moved on to his bottom lip, nipping at it and then sucking it hard, his fingers dipping into Jongdae’s jaw to keep him in place.

It was too much, all too much after a whole week being granted only the lightest of touches, and Jongdae didn’t know what to feel or how to react but there he was just feeling it, his legs going weaker by the minute as a fluttery sensation started filling his stomach and all his body. Sehun kissed him again and again and again, one kiss blending onto the next as his tongue licked Jongdae’s lips before pressing their mouths together, not giving the boy nearly enough time to breath between each round, the air coming from his nose not enough for the rush in his heart.

Still kissing him, Sehun pushed Jongdae backwards step by step until the boy was pressed against the (now closed) door. Sehun spread Jongdae’s legs with one of his own, lifting him slightly from the ground and balancing him on his leg in the process. Jongdae gripped tightly onto the back of Sehun’s shirt to keep his balance, the taller boy hovering over him like a cage, one of his arms braced on the wooden door right next to Jongdae’s face. They stopped kissing for a brief minute during which Sehun’s blazing eyes scanned Jongdae’s panting self from head to toe, devouring him with his gaze.

“Oh god, you’re so fucking hot,” he whispered before attacking the boy’s neck, kissing and sucking his skin down to his collarbone, leaving some love bites on the way. Jongdae moaned low, moving on of his hands from Sehun’s back to his hair, slightly pushing him towards his skin, encouraging him to continue. Sehun’s free hand started tracing the outline of Jongdae’s body over his shirt until it found his waist, enlacing the smaller boy with his arm and pulling him closer. That movement made Jongdae’s crotch rub roughly against Sehun’s leg and he moaned again, a little higher now.

“You’re such a whore for me, I think you can come without me having to even touch you,” Sehun mouthed against his ear, biting his earlobe. Jongdae whined. At that rate, he was going to come sooner than Sehun even imagined. “But don’t worry, I am going to touch you,” he kissed the corner of Jongdae’s jaw before starting to tracing its shape with his mouth, alternating between sucking and kissing. “I’ll leave you so wrecked you won’t be able to walk straight for a week.” He licked Jongdae’s Adam’s apple languidly, humming when he felt Jongdae’s moan vibrating on his tongue. “Do you want me to?” When the boy didn’t answer, Sehun bit his neck harshly, almost to the point of breaking the skin. Jongdae moaned again. “Do you?”

Jongdae stared at him through his long eyelashes, his pupils large with lust. “Fuck yes.”

At the very next instant, Sehun was pinning Jongdae against the door, lifting him even higher from the ground as he straightened a little his leg that was still between Jongdae’s, their crotches almost touching through the fabrics of Jongdae’s shorts and Sehun’s jeans. The blond moved one of his hands to Jongdae’s hair while the other trailed down his body, groping his ass, feeling his muscles clenching under his touch. Jongdae groaned and wrapped one of his arms around Sehun’s neck while his other hand was still on the boy’s hair ― but there wasn’t need for any more support when Sehun was already enveloping him so tightly, their lower bodies pressed together and Sehun’s leg effectively keeping him some fifteen centimeters from the ground.

Jongdae was about to kiss the curve where Sehun’s neck met his shoulder when the blond started thrusting against his pelvis. His slow and powerful movements grazed only slightly on Jongdae’s crotch, but the coming and going of his leg rubbed directly on his cock, the rough texture of the fabric of his shorts making him keen in pleasure. He could feel Sehun’s hard length against his leg every time he moved too, brushing against the dip of his groin, his measured and yet potent thrusts both teasing and spurring him closer and closer to the edge, the indirect stimulation both frustrating and unexpectedly effective ― perhaps since Jongdae hadn’t touched himself (or had anyone touching him) for so long.

His breath gradually became shallower as he felt the tension in belly increasing, Sehun still abusing his mouth with sucking and biting amidst their kissing ― more of him licking into Jongdae’s mouth, really, what with Jongdae’s continuous moaning making him unable to do much else than feel Sehun all over him, taking over all his senses. Sehun suddenly moved both his hands to Jongdae’s nipples at the same time, pinching them hard over his T-shirt, and the pain-coated pleasure, combined with the delicious friction against his crotch, finally made him come in thick spurts followed by a high-pitched moan, leaving a sticky mess in his underwear.

His legs weakened as his mind blanked out in his post-orgasm, but Sehun had no trouble holding him and then picking him up, taking him onto his arms and gently laying him on the bed. Jongdae vaguely felt a pressure on the mattress when Sehun sat down by his feet.

“What are you doing?” He asked lazily, his eyes closed and his head thrown back on the pillow. He sensed some movement around his hips, and then heard the faint sound of Sehun undoing the button of his shorts.

“Cleaning you up.” Jongdae supposed that made sense. It was kind awkward, Sehun’s first time touching him being to wipe his cum.

“There’re some wet tissues in the drawer,” he informed while Sehun removed his T-shirt. Sehun hummed to show he had heard, but made no motion towards the dresser, pulling down Jongdae’s shorts instead. “You know, this was amazing and all, but I’m pretty sure I can walk just fine~” Jongdae teased him, feeling some of his strength returning to his limbs.

Sehun smirked at him with glazed eyes. “Who said we’re finished?” He gave his underwear one last pull and then tossed it on the ground alongside his other spoiled clothes. “There’s a reason why I waited until Saturday morning even though I’ve been wanting to fuck you into this mattress for the whole week.” His hot breath fanned over Jongdae’s sensitive neck as he hovered over him, making Jongdae shudder under his skin. “I was patient because I wanted to take my time with you. I hope you know, Jongdae,” he bit the shell of his ear before whispering, low and dangerous: “I’ll be fucking you all day long.”

Without caring for an answer, Sehun gave his earlobe one last bite before he started going down Jongdae’s body, licking his neck, nipping lightly at one of his nipples and then even lower, getting to the bottom part of Jongdae’s belly that was still sticky from his juices. Jongdae meant to ask him what he was planning but Sehun acted first, dragging his tongue over the dirty skin, swallowing it in, first on his belly and then all over his cock, wiping him clean. Jongdae placed a hand over his mouth to stifle a moan at the sight, slightly embarrassed.

“You’re so cute,” Sehun complimented with his mouth still next to Jongdae’s cock. He gave it one last lick, smiling when it pulsed at the touch and then moved even further down, crouching between Jongdae’s legs and spreading them to kiss the inner side of his tights. Jongdae’s muscles tensed at the stimulation over sensitive skin, his cock already stiffening again despite his recent orgasm, although he hadn’t really gone soft at all in the first place. Sehun went lower, nipping at his calves and kissing the top of both his feet before he retraced his way back up,  ignoring Jongdae’s hard-on on his way to his nipples, taking one of them into his mouth while playing the other between his fingers.

He alternated between the both of them, biting and sucking at one while his fingers pinched and twisted the other slightly, to the point Jongdae started whining feebly from the overstimulation, the pink skin on his buds feeling raw and sensitive against Sehun’s thumbs and teeth.

He trapped Jongdae under his arms again, the look on his eyes blistering as he hovered his lips over Jongdae’s, touching them lightly as he spoke: “Now you undress me.” Sehun sat down at the side of the bed as soon as he had uttered those words, his commanding gaze more than enough to propel Jongdae to do as he was told.

Not that Jongdae really needed an excuse to get Sehun naked.

He took off the boy’s shirt button by button and then his jeans, hesitating briefly over also pulling down his underwear, but the look Sehun gave him was clear. He ran his fingers down Sehun’s toned torso, marveling at the smooth lines of his muscles under his spotless skin, feeling them at the top of his own trembling fingertips.

Sehun stared at him, unfazed. “Now blow me.”

Jongdae shivered at his low tone but kneeled between Sehun’s opened legs nonetheless, the hair on his arms bristling over how dominant Sehun had sounded. He had seen it before, when he was stripping Sehun down, but now he actually looked at Sehun’s cock, longer and thicker than any other Jongdae had come in contact with (well, he was a seme from a typical yaoi manhwa after all), the angry veins jutting from the reddened thin skin in clear lines till the base. It had been so long since Jongdae had last had sex with anyone, much less with someone he actually liked, he couldn’t help but imagine how amazing Sehun’s cock would feel inside him, how heavy it would feel throbbing against his tongue.

Jongdae motioned to touch it with his hand first, but Sehun’s heavy stare at him made him change his mind; he got closer, his hands holding softly onto Sehun’s knees, and he noticed the few glistening drops of precum that had already escaped through the slit. He closed his eyes, lapping the bitter liquid with one languid lick, spreading the moisture throughout the angry red tip, giving it a quick suck.

Sehun held his chin abruptly, lifting his head upwards. “Don’t close your eyes. I want you to look at me while you’re sucking me off.”

The smaller boy felt his cheeks reddening but quickly nodded, decided to make Sehun impressed. Without taking his eyes off Sehun’s, he dragged his tongue slowly from the base of his cock till the head and then again, tracing the veins with the tip of his tongue, sucking at the sides, licking the new drops of precum eagerly as soon as they emerged. Sehun huffed impatiently and Jongdae smiled while kissing the side of his cock; the blond wasn’t the only one who knew how to tease.

He licked his own lips slowly and thoroughly, coating them with spit, making a show out of it for Sehun, who observed him with absolute attention. The boy’s expression was stoic, but Jongdae caught the change in his eyes, his full-blown pupils, the slight hitch in his breathing. Jongdae smiled before he put Sehun’s cock into his mouth, taking him in steadily inch by inch until he felt it almost prodding against the back of his throat.

He began with slow movements, taking it in the most he could before he slowly dragged out and then in again, feeling a certain thrill every time Sehun’s cock throbbed against his tongue, touching the top of his mouth. As he noticed the blush on Sehun’s cheeks, he gradually quickened his pace, pushing his own boundaries, feeling tears accumulating at the sides of his eyes whenever he shoved it in too deep, but not slowing down even when it happened. He could tell Sehun noticed by how his breath hitched whenever he managed to get a further centimeter in, and that only encouraged Jongdae to keep trying to take more and more in.

“Your lips look so pretty like this, all pink and stretched around my dick.” Sehun leaned back on his hands, his voice more ragged and hoarse than he probably intended it to be. “You like it, don’t you? Putting my cock all inside your mouth, sucking at it as if it’s candy.” He ran his fingers through Jongdae’s hair, pulling at the strings on the back. “Is it that good or are you that much of a bitch for me?”

Jongdae whined at his coarse words, his own cock already back to full hardness jumping against his stomach. Instead of taking Sehun’s cock all in again, he hollowed his cheeks and sucked the tip hard, taking Sehun by surprise. He sucked shallowly at the tip a few more times, swirling his tongue around the head inside his mouth at the same time, and Sehun hissed high, his fingers pulling Jongdae’s hair hard, impelling him to suck him deeper. Jongdae did, deep-throating him as much as he could while fondling the tip with his tongue inside his mouth ― and that was when Sehun’s hips started jerking forward slightly despite his obvious attempt of keeping a straight face and Jongdae knew he was losing it.

He managed to suck him only a few more times before Sehun grabbed him roughly by his shoulders and lifted him, throwing him on his chest on the bed.

“I can’t wait to get inside you,” he whispered while still standing up next to the bed, glaring intensely at Jongdae’s naked body, softly running a sole finger alongside his spine. Jongdae shivered, only able to catch partial glances of Sehun in that position, feeling his movements instead of seeing them. “I bet you’ll be so tight for me.” He grabbed Jongdae’s hips and pushed them upwards, making him get on his knees and then positioning himself behind him. He held Jongdae’s ass cheeks with both his hands, pushing them apart so that he could see his hole and then dragged a finger around it, watching it twitch with the stimulation. “Look at you, already so eager for my dick,” he bit one of Jongdae’s ass cheeks, drawing a moan as response, “you would even take me dry right now just for me to fuck you sooner, wouldn’t you?” He leaned over Jongdae, covering his smaller frame with his own. “”But don’t worry, I’ll prep you properly.” He stretched Jongdae’s arms forward and held his wrists with one of his hands, pressing his chest against Jongdae’s back. “I want to have you begging for my dick.”

Jongdae shuddered with expectation. Sehun’s words almost made him not notice the soft touch of silk against his wrists; he looked up the most he could, only to see Sehun dexterously wrapping a long strip of dark red silk around his wrists and then tying them up on the metal headboard.

“What are you doing?” He weakly asked, pulling his wrists tentatively and realizing the knot was pretty tight, although the silk didn’t hurt his skin.

“I think it’s pretty obvious.” Sehun kissed his each of his shoulder blades once before he kneeled behind Jongdae again, groping his ass with both hands a few times, squeezing it with his fingers.

Jongdae heard a bottle being popped open not long after and then the cold stickiness of lube running down his cleft, dripping from his balls. Sehun traced his rim with one of his fingers, spreading the wetness around his hole, watching it taking some of it in.

“So now we’re going to play a game,” he said, pressing the tip of his finger inside at the same time, “let’s see how long it takes for you to start begging me to fuck your legs off.”

Jongdae was already about to start begging, so he didn’t think that game was going to be hard at all.

It took him two of Sehun’s fingers fucking him to the knuckles and brushing his sweet spot every other thrust to start squirming under his touch, his own cock already too hard and dangling painfully untouched between his legs.

“Sehun…” he murmured in a silent plea. He felt the stretch of yet another finger being pushed into him and moaned low, biting his lower lip to seek for some type of release.

Sehun dropped another coat of lube on Jongdae’s ass, humming over the wet sounds of his fingers pumping in and out of his hole and sounding entirely unaffected by what the other had said.

 “Sehun… please,” Jongdae attempted a second time, swooning over the three fingers thrusting into him, the rubbing on his prostate more frequent now, his nerves jolting at the sensation.

“What?”

Jongdae bit the inside of his cheek, a little embarrassed. Well, it couldn’t get any worse than it already was.

“Please fuck me”, he asked, breathing heavily. His legs were starting to tremble from all the stimulation. “Please?” He added pleadingly when Sehun didn’t react.

“Um…” The boy laid down on top of him, pressing his chest against Jongdae’s back, and lightly kissed the bumps of his vertebrae, his free arm coming to enlace Jongdae by his waist. “That’s not the kind of begging I had in mind,” he answered simply, his free hand encircling Jongdae’s cock and starting to stroke it leisurely.

The kind of begging he had in mind only came about thirty minutes later, when Sehun was lying on the bed next to Jongdae with his head resting on one of his hands, the other still pumping in and out of Jongdae with only one digit at an agonizing low speed. Jongdae had his lips permanently parted now, his breathing ragged and heavy and his legs shaking with sharp spasms because of his oversensitivity. Sehun had jerked him off to the brink of coming thrice now, never taking his fingers off his ass, but always stopping when he noticed the muscles on his abdomen tensing for his release. Jongdae’s insides felt almost sore from Sehun’s constant rubbing now, and every time he touched his prostate Jongdae would sob softly, a trail of tears visible on his face.

Jongdae tried pushing himself against Sehun’s finger (even if it wasn’t enough, too little after he had three full digits pumping into him at full force, stretching him wide), but the fabric tying his wrists prevented him from moving any further. Sehun was observing Jongdae’s face with interest, his mouth shaping into a small smirk whenever he heard him whining.

“Sehun, please.” Jongdae begged more vehemently now, as he had done for the past ten minutes. Instead of answering him, however, Sehun removed his finger almost completely and started thrusting only the tip in, using is other fingers to circle Jongdae’s rim, puffy with all the friction.

Jongdae whimpered loudly, missing the last bit of stimulation he still had.

“Please, Sehun, please please please please,” he repeated multiple times in a litany, tears rolling down his face, fresh precum leaking from his slit and falling onto the beadspread. “Please fuck me, please, I want your cock inside me, I need it, please please please,” he trailed off, sobbing, still pulling at the ties on his wrists.

Sehun hummed. “What is it that you want me to do? You have to ask for it.”

“Please fill me with your cock, drive me into the bed, fuck me ‘til I can’t tell left from right, please,” he whimpered, looking at Sehun with watered eyes.

The blond smiled lewdly as he removed his finger from Jongdae’s ass. The boy briefly wondered if that was going to be another section of torture before Sehun held him by the shoulders and turned him over, making him lay with his back to the bed, his arms still stretched above his head, the pretty red silk encompassing Jongdaes wrists.

“You want my dick up your ass?” Sehun asked, his voice rough with want.

Jongdae violently nodded, whispering ‘yes yes yes, please give it to me, please please please’, his own voice ragged from all the moaning and crying.

Sehun coated his cock in more lube and hooked his hands below Jongdae’s knees, bending him in half. Jongdae felt the head teasingly pressing against his entrance and whimpered in expectation; Sehun kept pulling in steadily but slowly, way too slow, gloating at the view of his dick burying into Jongdae’s stretched hole.

“Fuck, I prepared you so much but you’re still so fucking tight,” Sehun groaned, moving tentatively and feeling Jongdae’s walls pressing against his dick. “I wanted to fuck into you nice and easy but I guess I’ll have to change plans.” He leaned forward, biting Jongdae’s bottom lip harshly. “Don’t hold your voice in… I want to hear you scream like the little bitch you are.”

Sehun didn’t waste time in pulling out and rocking into him at full force, his hands holding and squeezing Jongdae’s thighs as he fucked him open, fast and unrelenting. Jongdae moaned at the unbelievable stretch, the throbbing of Sehun’s cock too much against his oversensitive walls making silent tears fall from his eyes again. When Sehun lifted one of Jongdae’s legs and placed it on his shoulder, however, thrusting even deeper than he was before ― that’s when Jongdae screamed sharp and high, seeing stars from the way Sehun’s cock was now driving constantly against his prostate.

The dirty sound of skin slapping skin would normally make him blush, but Jongdae was way past that, his eyes rolling in their sockets from the feelings of Sehun’s thickness snapping into him, the pace faster and faster as Sehun started losing his self-control. Without skipping a beat, the blond placed Jongdae’s other leg above his shoulder and then leaned forward, licking a strip across his chest before sucking one of his nipples roughly, his hands squeezing red marks onto Jongdae’s hipbones, using them as leverage to rock into him deeper, faster, stronger.

Sehun bit hard on one of his nipples as he came, making Jongdae cry loudly, a silent moan trapped in his own throat. It took him only a couple of seconds until he was standing on his knees again and turning Jongdae back on his fours (as much as he could with hands tied up); as weak as he was, Jongdae meant to ask him what he was doing before he saw Sehun positioning himself below him and between his legs, taking Jongdae’s long neglected cock into his mouth.

Only a few bobs of his head and Jongdae was already coming undone, too much on edge to be able to give him a warning. Sehun didn’t seem to mind as he kept sucking every last drop out of him, dragging himself towards the head of the bed when he was done with a sated smile.

He gently unfastened the knot of Jongdae’s wrists, kissed each of them softly and then pulled Jongdae within his arms, petting his head with sweet affection. Jongdae nuzzled against his chest, the buzz from his second orgasm still sounding on his ears.

“So… Want something to eat?” Sehun asked fondly, kissing his forehead. “I’ll cook anything you want for lunch, since I want you full of energy in the afternoon.”

“Well, perhaps Jajangmyeon― wait, what do I need energy for?!” He already kind of suspected what the answer would be.

“I still have lots of things in store for you this weekend.” Sehun ran a finger down his back, smirking. “I had the whole week to plan this through… You didn’t honestly think only one time would be enough, did you?”

Jongdae hadn’t taken it seriously, but perhaps it was true he wouldn’t be able to walk straight that week.

 

His vacation passed way too fast.

He later started suspecting that the reason Sehun had asked him not to make any big plans for his vacation was not because he wanted them to improvise but rather so that he could fuck the hell out of him for two whole weeks. It had been a good thing that he didn’t have any appointments out from home ― it would have been embarrassing to have people looking at him because of the funny way he was
walking.

When he went back to work and the new semester at college began, Sehun’s rhythm became a little more bearable (for his ass); they’d usually do it on the weekend when Sehun could take his time (as in: slowly torture Jongdae into a begging mess), although sometimes they’d also give each other blowjobs in the shower or jerk each other off in bed whenever their cuddling to sleep gave them hard-ons.

Sehun wasn’t a big fan of quickies (since, in Jongdae’s opinion, he was a true sadist), but he had a few exceptions, most of which related to unconventional settings ― like when he had pressed the stop button of the elevator on Baekhyun’s building (he had previously checked if there were any cameras) or when he had accompanied Jongdae to the university library and pushed him against one of the huge shelves, shoving both their pants down amongst Jongdae desperate whispers of “and if anybody sees us?!”.

Fortunately not a lot of people went to the Hispanic Literature section during lunch breaks.

Most of the times Sehun would be rough and dominating, having acquired a taste for props from reading Baekhyun’s latest manhwas and introducing them to Jongdae with lewd smiles; but there were occasions when he would take Jongdae nice and slow, dismantling him piece by piece with soft touches and feathery kisses to his eyelashes, caressing each part of his body with utmost care and devotion, and it was at these times that Jongdae almost felt as if his chest would explode from all the affection he felt, peppering Sehun with kisses of his own and whispering to him the extent of his feelings.

Being in a relationship with Sehun didn’t cause any major changes in their routine besides how the neighbors would sometimes look at them funny now. Jongdae suspected it had less to do with them now and then holding hands in the elevator and more with how he was unable to keep his voice down whenever Sehun was fucking him blind (which happened fairly often).

They would still visit Baekhyun in his studio every week, sometimes even more than once, and Jongdae suspected it was during those times that Sehun got some of his naughtiest (or perhaps, better worded, weirdest) ideas ― he and Baekhyun would keep whispering excitedly on the corners, but would mute whenever he got closer, eyeing him with mischievous expressions. This suspicion of his only grew stronger when he was flipping the pages of one of Baekhyun’s newest manhwas and realized some scenes were strangely similar to his real life experiences.

Not long after he got back to work, Heechul had also helped Sehun get his first jobs ― minor things, like handing out flyers or being a host in car showrooms, but it allowed them to have some extra money and they’d use it to travel to farther places or eat in fancier restaurants for a change.

Junmyeon and Minseok had received the news without surprise, although with different sentiments. Both knew Jongdae’s feelings for the last months and how he had thought they weren’t reciprocated; but while Junmyeon had been thrilled upon hearing the news (most certainly because that meant there would always be someone amongst his friends to laugh at his jokes), Minseok had been… A little less pleased. On one hand, he was aware of how much Jongdae loved Sehun, and how his life had slowly started gravitating around him; through time, he had also become reasonably trustful of the boy, since he was of the opinion no trickster would have been able to keep the same lie for so many months without slipping even once.

He was more worried about other things now ― things only his negative prone mind was able to consider.

“Jongdae, I’m honestly happy for you and all,” he had said upon hearing the news from Jongdae, “but, you know... He’s a character. And I mean that quite literally.”

“That he is,” Jongdae had agreed. “everyone has agreed to that since a long time ago, although it took you a while.” Minseok had grumbled something; Jongdae had laughed. “That’s ok. Just, what’s your point?”

“My point is… He’s not a normal person. Before you say anything, I’m not dissing him, I’m not saying it’s his fault. It’s just… Besides the problems you’ve already told me, like that time at the hospital and how he can’t get a proper job or social services… There’re more basic worries too. We don’t know if he will age like us, if there’s anything he can’t do, if he has any… Special condition.” When Minseok had mentioned it, Jongdae did seem to recall Sehun seemed to have an irrational aversion to erasers. “He came from the manhwas in your house, right? What if they ever get wet, burned, what if you lose them and someone cuts them and destroys them? Will he die, or simply disappear?”

That had been quite a fair observation. “I’ll take good care of them then,” he had said quite defensively, unwilling to give these thoughts any serious consideration.

“Perhaps you really should do that,” Minseok had agreed, “but my point is, we have no idea how this whole… thing… situation… works. At least I don’t. We don’t even know how it began in the first place.” He had sighed. “So what if it’s not a life deal? What if there’s a condition, like, I don’t know, the Beauty and the Beast, but the opposite ― it ends when you fall in love? Or perhaps like Cinderella ― it ends when it rings midnight? Not precisely on these terms, but you get the idea, right?”

Jongdae had promised to give the issue some thought, although in the weeks and months that followed, he couldn’t bear to do it, and Minseok had never brought it up again.

 

It started ― although Jongdae wasn’t aware of it then ― when some strange marks began to appear around their apartment.

Jongdae would open the fridge and his hand would come out with black marks from some substance. It would happen with other objects too ― the handles from the drawers, dressers, the wardrobe. It had puzzled both him and Sehun for some time, but they pretty much ignored it until the signs became stronger: black fingerprints on their clothes, black dripping marks on the ground, black stains on the floor below their shower. They changed their clothes, washed all the bed lining, wiped the whole house clean, but the marks would soon reappear, especially on the places they touched more often.

They could have realized what it was about then if something else hadn’t happened and distracted them from that weird occurrence.

Sehun started forgetting things.

It was mostly trivial stuff in the beginning: different kinds of food he had already tasted, where he had placed his sneakers, how much he had paid for the food. But then it had rapidly gone worse: he couldn’t recall the places he had been to with Jongdae, what he had done in the morning, who had given him his cell phone. He stopped going to his dance crew meetings because he couldn’t remember nor the people nor how the dances were supposed to be, and eventually even the camera Heechul had given him ― and from which he would only rarely part ― was dropped and forgotten at the living room’s corner.

Somehow, he would still remember Jongdae though, only Jongdae ― and that was what scared him (what scared them) the most.

Jongdae took the week off work, missed all his classes, but no one had any idea about what to do. Baekhyun talked to everyone he knew, Heechul spent long hours researching on the internet, but there were no report cases of any similar thing ever happening ― not of a character ever coming to life, much less of what to do in their situation.

When Jongdae grabbed his Mr. Catman manhwa at the end of that week to see if there was any clues in the plot they had missed that could show them how to interpret those signs, his eyes had widened in horror as he saw the faint lines of the drawings of Sehun faintly reappearing on the frames.

Ink.

Baekhyun and Minseok both came over, but Sehun got scared because he didn’t know them, couldn’t remember them, and so they left.

Jongdae hugged Sehun under the blanket in that early fall, kissed the dry trails of tears below his eyes, sang his his favorite lullaby to sleep.

And then, in the morning, he was gone.

 

 

When Jongdae woke up and realized there was no one between his arms, he had to made the greatest of efforts not to let himself fall into despair.

Think, Jongdae, think, he kept telling himself, think of where he might have gone, places he liked to go.

That first night. The subway.

He was calm enough to remember to change his clothes before he rushed towards the station where he had followed Sehun that night, when the boy had just appeared and had no idea what he was doing there, where he was, of all the changes that were about to happen to both of them.

Breathlessly, he stared around the station, looking for that one tall, gorgeous boy, the one that had taken his life and turned it for the better.

There was no sign of him anywhere. Nowhere.

He called Baekhyun, although he knew it was unlikely that Sehun would be there now that he had lost his memory.

“Ah, hey, Jongdae~” The boy had replied happily, way too happily. “What is it?”

“Is Sehun there?”

There was a long pause; when Baekhyun spoke again, he sounded quite confused. “Which Sehun do you mean?”

“The only relevant Sehun, of course!” That was not the time for Baekhyun’s jokes. “Oh Sehun, the one from Mr. Catman.”

Baekhyun actually laughed. “I suppose he’s in the manhwa? Seriously, what has gotten into you?”

Jongdae gasped. Was it possible that Baekhyun actually…

“Hey, Baek― tell me, how did we meet?”

“Say that again?”

“We two ― how did we get to meet each other?”

“You’re weird today,” Baekhyun commented, but he still answered nonetheless. “You’re a fan of my works, came into my studio one day after you had gotten my address with someone at the office. I think I can say it now that we’re friends ― it was a bit creepy, but I’m glad you did that now.”

Oh god.

He called Junmyeon right afterwards, feeling a profound dread creeping in his heart, threatening to take over his mind.

“Junmyeon, hi ― I know this is weird as fuck but I just need you to answer me something real quick: what happened to that old cell phone of yours?”

“Um, that’s a very weird conversation starter, but okay. I hope you’re not coming up with an excuse for having lost my cell phone. It may be old but It still worked just fine, it’s not junk for you to just forget it around.”

“So you mean you gave it to me?”

Junmyeon sounded worried. “You’re really coming up with an excuse, aren’t you?”

“That’s not it, I just… Talk to you later.”

He hanged up nervously, dialing Sehun’s number he knew by heart.

The cell phone rang just perfectly on the seat of his chair… Where Sehun’s clothes had previously been piled up.

Jongdae used it to call Luhan, see how he’d pick up.

“Hey, man~” had been Luhan’s response. Did he perhaps remember?

“Hm, do you know who’s speaking?”

“Who else could it be besides you, Jongdae?” Luhan laughed.

His stomach sank. “Luhan, I know this is a weird question, but do you happen to know Sehun?”

“Well, yeah, of course I know Sehun,” he replied, puzzled. “He’s here with me right now. Do you want to talk to him?”

No kidding, he’s there with you?!” A miracle, at last. “He disappeared from my house, I got so fucking worried.”

“No no no, wait.” Luhan’s disbelief was blatant. “You’re telling me Park Sehun was in your house? I never figured him out as gay!”

Jongdae blinked. “Park Sehun?”

“Yeah, Park Sehun. Isn’t he the person you’re searching for?”

“No, I meant Oh Sehun. You know, the guy you had the hots for a few months ago?”

Luhan actually sounded offended. “Now listen here, I don’t know what kind of rumors have been being spread around, but Yixing and I have been an item for quite some long time now and I haven’t cheated on him, ever.”

“You’re telling me you never had a thing with any guy named Oh Sehun?”

“Of course not ― I don’t even know any! Who told you that?!”

“I― I think I got confused.” Jongdae tried, gulping dryly. “I have to go now Luhan, but thanks for your help.”

“No no, wait, tell me who’s been spreading rumors about me―”

Jongdae finished the call and tossed the cell phone on the ground, not knowing what to do.

He looked at his box of manhwas, the volumes of Mr. Catman on top of all other books.

With a growing fear, he got closer and touched the first volume as if it as some kind of wild animal, turning it so he could see the cover.

Alongside a slightly shorter brown-haired character, a manly blond tall buy with straight eyebrows and a serious expression could be seen, staring blankly at the reader.

 

“Breathe, Jongdae. You have to breathe.”

He took the mug Minseok was handing him, making the best of his efforts to calm his heart. Inhale, exhale. In and out. In and out.

“I don’t understand, Minseok,” he saw himself blabbering even though they had already gone over it a dozen times, “his clothes are all here, his things are all here, but no one seems to remember him besides me.”

“And me, for some weird reason,” Minseok remarked.

“I’m glad for that. I don’t know what I’d do if I was the only one. I’d think I had gone crazy.”

“We’re back to square one… This is either a very elaborate prank or social experience ― real life The Truman Show kind of thing ―, or it was indeed a bit… Magical. I have no idea how to describe it any differently.”

“I think we can rule out social experience and prank,” Jongdae said honestly, “even if Baekhyun had been lying to me, I doubt Junmyeon would play such a role.”

Minseok made a low noise of agreement. “Fair enough. If it’s magic though, how should we proceed about this?”

“Isn’t that what you came here for? To help me figure it out?!”

“Hold it, don’t freak out.” Minseok held him by his shoulders, crouching in from of him. “Breathe, remember? C’mon, do it with me.”

He led Jongdae for a few minutes, inhaling and exhaling slowly, being sure the boy was following him. When he deemed it was enough, Minseok made him take a sip of his tea, observing him closely.

“Okay, so let’s think about all the fairy tales we know. There’s always a start point, something that triggers the magic ― unintentionally praying upon a magic amulet or a falling star, touching a magic object, getting in contact with a witch without realizing.” He looked straight into Jongdae’s eyes, speaking as calmly as he could. “Now I need you to think very carefully, Jongdae. Did anything weird happen that week? Anything that we could interpret as magical?”

Jongdae sighed in exasperation. “I don’t know, Minseok, it’s been so long...”

“Try to remember.” He pleaded, making Jongdae take another sip. “I remember it’s the night I went out with Jimin for the first time. Does that help?”

Focusing as much as he could, Jongdae thought about that night ― how he had wanted to tell Minseok something but couldn’t call him because he was in a very important date…

“I had a date too, isn’t it? With Chanyeol, that music major.” Minseok hummed in agreement. “There wasn’t anything magical about it though… Quite on the contrary.”

“Do you think he could have somehow cursed you or something?”

“He doesn’t strike me as that kind of guy.” He gave it some thought. “Yeah, pretty sure it has nothing to do with him.”

“Let’s say it doesn’t, then. Did anything else happen?”

It had been almost over six months; so much had happened afterwards, so many things to stress about and things to be happy about. Besides, Sehun appearing out of nowhere in his bedroom had been so shocking he had all but forgotten he had even gone on a date with Chanyeol. It was hard to recall the details, what had happened in between…

His date flopped and he had come home earlier than expected. It had just the usual ride ― taking the subway lines from Gangnam to his neighborhood, getting down at the station, walking to his house. Before seeing Sehun, he had been frustrated he couldn’t call Minseok; he wanted to tell him about… Yeah, about his date with Chanyeol ― but also about something else…

“Wait.” His eyes widened. “I remember something. A cat.”

“Cat? What cat?”

“A street cat, black with blue eyes. I noticed them because they were really bright and vivid,” he explained.

“Alright, but that’s not important ― I think. So what about this cat?”

“It was crossing the street but I think it didn’t notice a car was coming? Anyway, I realized it was most likely going to be run over, so I jumped and grabbed it before the car passed.”

Minseok looked shocked. “You did what?!”

“I meant to tell you but so much happened,” Jongdae apologized, his eyebrows falling at the sides in a sorry expression. “Anyway, besides me being stupid, there was something weird about that cat… It was almost like it could understand me? I kind of got that feeling.”

“And you say this cat was black?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright, this seems like our most promising lead. Do you remember what you said to this cat of yours, since you said you got the feeling he could understand you?”

“Um, I think it kind of asked me for food and I bought it a box of milk...” Jongdae scratched his head, embarrassed. “I said something else, but… I can’t remember it.”

“Come on Jongdae, this is important. Focus.”

Jongdae closed his eyes, trying to reproduce the scene in his head: jumping in front of the car, grabbing the cat in his arms, rolling towards the sidewalk to avoid being run over; the cat hadn’t gone far, stopping at an alley instead, and since he was feeling lonely he had talked to the feline… Made a joke…

“Oh.”

“You remembered?!”

“I… I think I told it it owed me one. A life, one of its seven… Since I had saved it and all.” He looked at Minseok with wide eyes. “But it was only a joke!”

“That’s how it often happens in fairy tales too… Misunderstandings are at the heart of every classic,” Minseok pointed out. “But well, that presents us another problem.” Jongdae felt as if his heart was going to explode with all the anxiety that was boiling inside him. “How are we supposed to find a street black cat in Seoul?!”

 

As Minseok had pointed out, even if they were right about the black cat theory, it didn’t make matters any easier.

They first thought about going to the city’s animal center to check if the cat hadn’t somehow been taken in (even if Jongdae was of the opinion it was quite unlikely a magical cat would let itself be taken in into a shelter). Jongdae was sure at first that he would be able to recognize the cat at first sight ― there was just something different about him… ―, but after looking at a dozen of black cats with blue eyes, he was not so certain about it anymore.

They also visited a few other cat shelters around town, but found the same disappointing results.

Minseok accompanied him to that same alley where Jongdae had seen the cat first, next to a convenience store just around the block from his apartment. They went there in the morning, in the afternoon, early and late at night, in case the cat only appeared there at specific times, but never did they find anything besides a suspicious man that made them turn back on their feet and a girl pucking her guts out ― most likely coming back from some unofficially obligatory office meetup at a bar.

Without quite knowing how to proceed from there, Jongdae felt into a heavy slump. Minseok managed to convince him not to miss any more classes and go back to work only after long hours of repeating the same arguments to him over and over ― “he won’t come back if you stay here”, “your life will be even worse if you fail your semester”, “what will you do if you lose your job?”. Jongdae supposed he was right (as always), but it was less of a rational issue and more of an emotional one. For someone as disinclined to sadness as he was, for someone who had always lived through all adversities with a resigned heart, he had opened himself too much, given himself in too much, believed too much. Jongdae had never been as happy in his life as he had been during those months they had been together, but he also had never been as vulnerable.

That acute, penetrating grief was just as new to him as the desolating feeling arising from his loss.

With Minseok’s words still ringing deep in his ears, he strived to keep up his grades, to do his job properly; he learned that focusing his energy on something else was to some degree relieving as it allowed him to keep his thoughts away from Sehun.

Whenever he would get home, however, it would be just inevitable to remember him wherever he looked, from the now again realigned pairs of shoes in the hall to the clean sink in the kitchen or the empty laundry basket. His provisions would take days to end, and some of them would even go bad from how little he had been eating. He couldn’t bother to care any more than that though ― even making noodles at night was already too much of an effort. Minseok would point out to him that Sehun wouldn’t have wanted him to be like that, not taking proper care of himself.

Jongdae’s sour answer was always the same, lifeless and heartbreaking. “Sehun’s not here anymore.”

 

A week after Sehun disappeared, Jongdae developed the habit of standing in front of that fateful alley for hours to end.

He would wake up at least an hour before his classes to sit on the sidewalk across the street, his eyes fixed on the dirty narrow passageway. After leaving work, he would come there again, buy a coffee from the automatic machine at the convenience store and just endlessly stare at the empty alley until all shops would close and it would be too dangerous for him to stay there by himself.

He wouldn’t pick up Baekhyun’s or Luhan’s call anymore, even though both boys had been calling him quite insistently after their weird conversation on that first day.

Jongdae just couldn’t handle being around people who reminded him so much of Sehun.

After he had picked up Minseok’s call one Saturday he was keeping watch all day in front on the alley and had distracted himself a slight second ― but had had the impression he had seen the swirl of a black tail in his peripheral vision ― though, even his calls Jongdae stopped answering.

He spent all of his free time there now, early mornings and late nights and whole weekends, just staring, afraid that if he brought a book or even listened to music, he might end up missing the crucial moment he had been waiting for.

The convenience store employees, after having decided he wasn’t dangerous, even started treating him to food and free coffee every once in a while ― especially after Minseok had paid them a visit and explained Jongdae “had suffered a severe loss.”

Jongdae wasn’t really hopeful anymore; more than three weeks had passed, and the chances said cat was still alive or that Sehun’s situation could be somehow magically reverted thinned by the day.

Still, sitting on that sidewalk had become routine to him, and he felt like stopping coming there would mean giving up on Sehun forever.

 

He hissed, swearing lowly to himself when he saw the small black animal walking leisurely at the corner of the street, more than a month having passed ever since Sehun’s disappearance.

Jongdae hadn’t actually expected that to happen.

Making a huge effort not to blink, he watched the cat with cautious eyes. Ironically enough, he had never thought about what to do in case he did find the feline, and therefore he didn’t know what actions to take. What if the cat ran away if he got too close too soon? What if it didn’t recognize him?

Fortunately it was already very late at night and a there was nobody else in sight. He stood up nervously, clearing his throat loudly to make himself known.

As expected, the cat’s sparking eyes looked straight at him and the animal stopped on its tracks, eyeing him from a distance.

“Um, h-hi,” Jongdae stuttered. His throat felt too dry, his voice too hoarse. “I hope you remember me.”

He didn’t care if anybody thought he was a psycho for talking to a cat; he needed to bet all his coins on the cat being the one responsible, and that meant talking to it. It was his only chance.

“So… I need you to… Do it again. Whatever you did in the first place.” He shifted uncomfortably, anxious about the cat’s lack of reaction. “Not from the beginning, but… Could you bring him back? Please?”

The cat kept staring at him without moving a muscle. Jongdae tried taking a step in its direction, as slowly as he managed.

“I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what started it all, but it was you, wasn’t it?” He was getting closer now, standing in the middle of the street while the cat sat on the sidewalk a few meters from the alley. “Please, you have to bring him back. Please. I’ll beg on my knees if I have to.”

The bright blue eyes felt like they were burning holes into his soul. Jongdae looked right straight back at them, trying to see something, a faint spark of acknowledgement, any indication that he wasn’t going crazy and that the cat indeed understood him, that their theory was right, that the cat was the answer. He had spent so many hours, so many days just waiting for that encounter, for a chance to comprehend what had happened, for a chance to go back to a month ago when his life had finally seemed to gain meaning through Sehun’s presence. It couldn’t have been all a lie, a misunderstanding.

“You want me to knee? I’ll knee,” he prompted when the cat still gave him no response whatsoever.

When he laid his knees on the concrete, however ― that was when the cat ran away at the speed of light, dashing towards the other side of the road.

Jongdae got up as fast as he could, swiftly rushing after him, but the cat had an advantage and was fast, way too fast, getting farther and farther away no matter how much Jongdae exerted himself, how much he tried to make his legs move faster and his steps wider.

His unique opportunity was slipping through his fingers and the worst part was he didn’t even know if that was the right answer.

“You can’t do this to me!” He screamed, breathless and on the verge of crying, already losing steam due to exhaustion. “He was supposed to have been here forever!” His voice was choking, but he forced himself to keep moving even though it became harder and harder to breathe. “You pay a life with a life, not with only a few months! You can’t just discard him like that!”

The cat gave him one piercing look as it turned at a dark corner.

Jongdae followed him closely, wiping his tears.

Bam.

Jongdae found himself falling onto the ground after hitting something hard, larger and taller than him.

“The hell you thinking, running after my cat like that?!” A familiar voice reprimanded him.

That voice, he knew it ― how could he forget it?

But could it really be…?

Raising his eyes was a challenge; his stomach was burning up and he felt too afraid of being wrong, of looking up and seeing a different face connected to that voice. The legs that were in his sight though ― they were quite familiar, long and slim and perfectly proportionate.

“... Sehun?” He mumbled after quite a few seconds, looking up the boy in front of him with apprehension.

There he was, just as Jongdae remembered: the straight eyebrows, the plump pinkish lips, the perfect nose. Only his hair was a bit different, still blond, but with the dark roots starting to show.

“How the fuck do you know my name?!” was Sehun’s (or Sehun’s lookalike?) reply. He was holding the black cat tightly on his arms; its tail was flopping lazily from one side to the other, and it actually seemed… Amused? Jongdae didn’t spare it that much attention though ― how could it, now that Sehun was right in front of him?

“You’re Oh Sehun?”

“What kind of freak are you?!”

“You don’t… Remember me?”

Sehun seemed taken aback. He eyed Jongdae suspiciously from head to toes once, the cogs in his brain visibly turning, trying to decide on how to interpret Jongdae’s question.

“Is this a trick?” He questioned back eventually with slitted eyes. “Even if I know you, why the hell were you running and screaming at my cat like a weirdo?”

 

That felt too much like a dejá-vù…. Perhaps the same approach would be necessary.

Only this time, after Jongdae had mentioned all the details he knew about Sehun’s childhood, likes and personality, they had ended up in the same police precinct as before, the policeman issuing Sehun a restraint order against Jongdae, or ‘the psycho who god-knows-how knows all about my life’.

Well, it was a beginning.

 

It had taken them a couple of weeks to finally get on good terms.

As Sehun told him later, he would have never given Jongdae a call to tell him he had suspended the restraint order if he hadn’t somehow felt an unsettling sense of familiarity towards Jongdae, as if he knew him from a long, long time ago.

There were a few differences, the most striking being that this ‘new‘ Sehun wasn’t a manhwa character: he had been born and had lived in Seoul all his life, had finished high school in a renowned institution and had all the regular social data that would be expected from any normal citizen (as Jongdae had found right at their very first encounter). He had started Law School but had dropped it soon after to become a full time photographer, and lived only a few blocks away from Jongdae, close to that alley.

He was also the ‘owner’ of that mysterious black cat ― a female, apparently, who he fondly called ‘Bibi’.

Another additional factor that contributed to them getting closer was that, as soon as Jongdae ran into Sehun that night, everything changed.

“Everything” as in Oh Sehun happening to be Luhan’s best friend now (even though Luhan had unequivocally told him not even a month ago that he didn’t know any ‘Oh Sehun’), besides also being a close friend of Junmyeon (who now couldn’t understand why the cell phone he had lent Sehun had somehow appeared in Jongdae’s apartment). Baekhyun, who had previously informed Jongdae he didn’t know any ‘Oh Sehun’ and that the ‘Sehun’ in his manhwa was entirely made up, now acknowledged he had taken inspiration from his younger cousin (who he always found incredibly hot), whose mother was a twin with his own. Since neither his parents nor his uncles had ever read his manhwas, they had never gotten angry at him for using even his cousin’s real name ― although he himself admitted it had been kind of reckless of him to do so.

This time, even Minseok had lost any memory of Sehun and of everything that had happened.

For a while, Jongdae had wondered if he had gone crazy and all his memories were nothing but an intricate delusion built up by his own frustrated self. But all Sehun’s belongings were still in his house, the clothes Baekhyun had given him (“I gave them to you because you were a huge Mr. Catman fan and you wanted to collect them, don’t you remember?”), the few items Sehun had bought with his own money ― and, most notably, his photo album, where he stored pics of all the places he and Jongdae had been to together.

Jongdae was pretty sure he had not taken those pics himself.

In any case, he had decided to take a slower approach just to be safe; even if it was the case he was not out of his mind, in practical terms it made little difference considering Sehun didn’t have any recollection of him besides a funny feeling in his chest.

They went out for quite some time as friends, hanged out at Baekhyun’s, had some rendezvous at Junmyeon’s alongside Minseok. They borrowed Junmyeon’s car to travel around again, laughed together whenever they went to some fancy restaurants and had no idea how to eat the exotic meals they’d ordered, spent some mornings together at university with Jongdae studying and Sehun reading tutorials of how to use the new lenses he had bought.

At some point, their going out together changed from a casual friendly meeting to something different. It had been gradual this time, Sehun boldly stretching his arm and holding Jongdae’s hand over the table at the cafe they were in, then a first kiss when he dropped him home that same night, followed by some make out sections wherever they’d go during the subsequent weeks, until one day Sehun had casually informed him, as if it was nothing, that he had told Luhan Jongdae was now his boyfriend.

When Sehun invited him to spend the weekend at his apartment not long after, at least Jongdae already knew what to expect.

 

After they had been dating for a few months, Sehun asked Jongdae, a bit embarrassed, if he’d like them to live together.

“You’re spending so much money paying rent,” he had explained, “and my apartment is so big for only myself. So I figured…”

Jongdae normally wouldn’t have wanted to rush things up, but he missed living with Sehun (even if the boy wasn’t aware of it), and so he had accepted it.

During his moving into Sehun’s apartment, the blond had found his old photo album. Jongdae had observed him with curiosity as the boy had stared mesmerized at the pictures for a long time, tracing the images with the tip of his fingers.

That night, Sehun had remembered everything.

“It’s funny,” was his opening line in the morning, when he was telling Jongdae about it, in equal terms excited and mildly scared, “It’s like I lived a whole other life, but somehow I feel these memories are mine. I took these pics… We were together.” He was playing with Jongdae’s hand, folding and stretching his fingers. “You… You knew about all of it, you remembered... Didn’t you?”

Jongdae smiled in agreement, happy that all those memories weren’t only his to hold to anymore.

 

Jongdae kept still as Sehun ran his fingers from his hair to his face, circling his closed eyes, touching his nose, tracing the shape of his lips, trailing down to his chest, feeling his nipples and the firm muscles on his abdomen.

“That tickles!” Jongdae laughed when Sehun passed his hands on the sides of his body.

Sehun smiled mischievously, storing that information for later and then laying his head on Jongdae’s chest, comfortably snugged on top of him and between his legs on the couch. It was a chilly autumn weekend afternoon and they were just chilling together, although Jongdae had to start studying for his exams.

That is, if Sehun would let him.

“I had a funny dream today,” Jongdae told him while they were both watching a new episode of the newest season of Sehun’s favorite TV show. “There was a woman… She looked very cat-like, somehow.”

“Should I be jealous?”

Jongdae snorted. “Of course not.” He petted Sehun’s head fondly, playing with his short hair between his fingers. The boy had decided to cut his hair and keep it black in its natural color; Jongdae thought it suited him well. But then again, everything suited Sehun. “She was kind of... Apologizing to me? For doing a half-assed work or something. And said she hoped everything was alright now.”

“Perhaps that’s your subconscious talking… About the next papers you have to hand in.”

“If only you’d let me study on the weekends.”

Sehun pouted. “You know your weekends are mine.”

“Well, then don’t come at me for doing stuff half-assedly, you brat~” Jongdae whined, ruffling the his hair. Sehun laughed.

“Talking of weekends...” He pinched Jongdae’s nipple over his sweater, drawing a small gasp from the other.

From the top of the sofa, the black cat purred, satisfied.