Hyunwoo likes the smell of acrylic paint. Oils smell quite nice too, but the turpentine makes him dizzy. Watercolors smell weirdly earthy, which isn’t necessarily bad until it becomes uncomfortable. He has never taken a liking to pastels nor charcoal — they remind him too much of his piles of failed sketches and paintings from his sophomore year of art school.
Acrylic is nice. It’s a little rough, and colors never transition right, but that’s fine. It allows you to make mistakes, and, though it might not look as sophisticated as oil, or as dainty as watercolor, it’s forgiving. Just like me, he chuckles to himself.
But not everyone likes the smell of paint. It’s overwhelming, and invasive, more so to his customers who certainly aren’t used to it when they first step into his shop. So he invests part of his monthly revenue on fresh flowers. They’re high maintenance, but it gives him something to tend to while he waits for his pieces to dry on the rooftop. And they smell much nicer than air fresheners.
The little gold bell over his door rings as he finishes watering the pots on the shelves behind the counter. Hyunwoo puts the watering can down and takes his apron off. Pink hair and salient cheekbones come into his field of vision as he turns toward the sound. A young man, looking a little distraught, eyes darting all around the shop as they look for something familiar to land on, until they do land on Hyunwoo’s.
The most striking thing about him isn’t the way his light pink hair subtly fans over his forehead, nor the way his camera hangs so satisfyingly taught off his shoulder and over his tote bag, it’s the blue. The robin’s egg blue.
Hyunwoo has always seen colors around people. He never questioned the normalcy of it, until his mother pointed out that he did every birthday portrait of her in dark blue ink.
“You have so many other inks, why is it always blue for me?” She asks one day, hands wrapped tight around a warm cup of tea as she watches her son paint. He always painted his father in dark crimson, because he respects him, and her in dark Prussian blue, because he loves her.
“I… don’t know? I never noticed until now,” he replies, fully concentrated on not messing her hair up with a misplaced stroke, his Achilles’ heel. “I always saw you in blue. It’s a comforting color.”
“You know, how when you look at someone when they move, you can see they leave behind them a trail of color? Yours is dark blue and dad’s is dark red.”
“Sweetie, no, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She looks at him, curious, for a couple beats before going back to sipping her drink and watching him mix a little water into the ink. “Comforting?” She echoes.
“Yeah. Blue is… a very comforting color. I don’t know. Sometimes I meet people with a blue, a blue…” he hovers over his watercolor paper before bringing the wooden tip of his brush to his lips, pensive. “An aura?”
She nods, and he can tell she doesn’t quite understand what he means, and that maybe this whole colors thing isn’t normal. But she tries and always accepts even the weirdest ramblings he goes on, lips always curled in affection and pride, and he loves that about her.
“Some people have a blue aura, and I immediately know I’ll like them.” He bends a little farther over the table, pouting in concentration to get this last strand of her bangs just right, until he feels a hand squeeze his shoulder, telling him to adjust his position before he injures his back again. Working at a table without an easel, truly a painter’s worst nightmare. “Because you have a blue aura too, and you’re very nice and level-headed, so I figured they must give off that impression as well.”
With a small sigh, he sets his brush on the edge of the porcelain saucer turned ink palette and rolls his shoulders. He looks at his mother, expecting a reaction to the finished portrait. He can’t help the warmth that spreads in his chest when she smiles fondly at it. “Happy birthday, mom.”
Hyunwoo came to learn a little later that he has synesthesia, by pure strike of luck as he randomly stumbled upon an article on migraine paintings. Reading through it, he asks himself a lot of questions, ranging anywhere between how do they even know what a migraine looks like and why on Earth would you paint if your head hurts. A whirlwind of quickly skimmed through Wikipedia articles at 2 AM later, he lands on “synesthesia,” and the fact that people can paint music and hear colors blows his mind, until he realizes that maybe seeing people as orange or green isn’t all that different.
He could never wrap his head around the concept, nor the science behind it, not that it changes the reality of it for him. He still sees colorful auras around people, whether that aura has a name or not.
“Ah, hello,” the young man takes a few strides towards Hyunwoo, a light curl decorating his lips, and extends a small, warm hand that he takes in his, as they both bow to each other. So small. “Are you the owner?”
Up close, Hyunwoo catches so many details — the moles by his lips and hairline, the twinkle in his eyes, the slight tone difference from his roots to his ends, the few strands of hair straddling his metal frames. He swallows dry, and nods. “Anything I can help you with?”
“Yes, I uh…” he struggles a little to pull something out of his tote bag without the camera folding it. “Here. I saw your flyer for painting classes at the coffee shop down the street. Can I ask what you’ll be teaching?”
Hyunwoo spontaneously drags the flyer over the counter towards him and absent-mindedly tries to smooth the dog ear on it. “Basics. Sketching and painting techniques, color theory. Maybe a little perspective.” The other nods, mouth ajar and eyes fully zero’d in on Hyunwoo’s. He feels himself blush a little. “Are you… interested in anything in particular?”
“Well, I took up photography a couple months ago,” his hand reflexively pats his camera lens, “and I want to gain some theoretical background, but courses are expensive and don’t really offer what I want, so I figured I’d check your workshop out…”
He breathes in sharply when he notices Hyunwoo probably blankly staring at him — which he only lightly chastises himself for. You have really pretty eyes. “Ah, sorry,” he waves an apologetic hand, “I meant— will you be delving into composition? And lights and shadows?” Hyunwoo wasn’t staring because he looked cute when he rambled. He really wasn’t staring because his attentive face was adorable. Blue really suits you.
“I was going to get input from attendees for what they want to learn. It’s my first time doing this, so I don’t know what the people want.” He attempts a little smile, leaning over the counter on his forearms. “You seem to know your way around art, though.”
“Ah, well, it’s just,” the other chuckles a little, reaching for his earlobe in flusteredness, “I did a little research beforehand so I wouldn’t come off as too uninformed.” Hyunwoo swears he can see a tinge of red on his cheeks.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s supposed to be open to everyone. But… it’s good that you know what you want.” The words pain Hyunwoo as they make their way past his lips, but he deems them worth the slight embarrassment when the young man’s face lights up with a smile. The blue around him starts to fizzle a little.
“Glad I could give you that impression, but I don’t actually know much about painting at all,” he finishes his sentence in a little throaty laugh. “I have no idea what any of this is supposed to be used for,” he points a little everywhere around the store.
And if Hyunwoo’s heart somersaults in his chest when he sees his bottom lip catch underneath his incisives in a wide smile, he doesn’t look the part. Or, at least, he tries not to. What am I even supposed to say to that?
“I can give you a little rundown of all the supplies, if you’d like?” His suggestion comes out like a question, and he tries not to belt out an awkward laugh when he gets a “yes?” in response.
Hyunwoo likes Wednesday afternoons. They always tend to be sunny. They’re quieter than the rest of the week, too, for whatever reason. And it’s in the quiet of this sunny Wednesday afternoon that he finds joy in perusing the different sections of his store and explaining the use and utility of every different type of paint to—
“Kihyun, my name’s Yoo Kihyun,” he extends an arm to shake hands again, as if officializing their encounter now that he’s not a stranger anymore. Kihyun. His name rings in the air and his aura pulses, clicking together in the most perfect of ways. His name now bears a color, a color Hyunwoo promises to himself he won’t forget— he doesn’t want to forget.
“Son Hyunwoo.” It comes out almost like a whisper, muffled behind a tinge of fear, unwilling to break the heavy but warm blanket of silence that surrounds them. He’s afraid if he speaks much more at all, his brain will pour out of his mouth in an endless litany of Kihyun Kihyun Kihyun, hard at work trying to carve his name behind his eyelids. But not just his name.
The crease of his crow’s feet when he politely smiles at him. The curious twinkle of his eyes as he learns about something new. The shy wave of his hand as he exits the store.
That vibrant shade of robin’s egg blue.
Silence is comfortable. It feels like sitting on your bed with a fluffy blanket, knowing that nothing will come between you, your dinner, and your fifth Francis Bacon documentary in a row. That’s why Hyunwoo likes silence.
And that’s why he is shooting laser eyes at the round clock hanging by the door of his store right now. Because it leaves him surrounded by anything but. Ticking seconds and minutes away, he watches the arms jerk clockwise, the metronome-like sound sharpening the already jagged and prickly edges of his anxiety.
He wants time to freeze so he never has to deal with any of this, but he also wants it to speed up so he can get it over with and go back home to his fluffy pillows and Youtube recommendations marathon.
It’s his first time teaching art, yes. It’s a little stressful to think that he might mess up and say the wrong thing, yes. But it’s art, it’s meant to be messy. Hyunwoo knows he can eventually help recover a sketch that goes askew, or a dad joke that lands terribly. After all, he managed to defend a very touchy analysis of the fact that Post Impressionists weren’t differentiating themselves for the sake of being a hipster movement, and his highly opinionated Art History professor only grimaced twice through the half-hour presentation.
He can handle teaching a small group of beginners how to properly shadow an apple, right? Right.
Maybe not when one of them is a certain Yoo Kihyun.
It’s been three days but he still hasn’t gotten over the way his heart skips a beat all over the damn place, and he still hasn’t given in to the temptation of admonishing himself for freaking the fuck out over a stranger. Blue! It’s so blue! He doesn’t understand why it boggles his mind, nor why he should even be so hung up on it to begin with.
Plenty of people he meets have a blue aura, he likes and trusts them, and that’s that.
But it’s the first time he meets such a bright yet calming color, like a handshake between turquoise and aqua blue, agreeing to the fact that ‘yes, we are obnoxiously loud colors and you hate working with us but we’re not that bad when we team up.’
He should really stop talking to his paint tubes. Just because the turpentine fumes mess with his head doesn’t mean the pigments are suddenly sentient.
If he spent the past two evenings mixing all his whites and blues and yellows together in varying ratios to replicate that exact same shade, he tells no one about it (and he hopes no one walks into his study before he gets the chance to clean up either, because, good lord, a hurricane would have made less of a mess out of the scattered and discarded watercolor paper).
He still has about ten minutes before he expects anybody to come in, so he checks one last time that there’s enough space between the shelves on the wall and the chairs, spread out before him in a semi-circle, should he need to peer over anybody’s shoulder. Hyunwoo towers over most people, and his body takes a little more space than he’s aware of, so to err on the side of caution, he simply makes sure he doesn’t set himself up for a mess.
The door bell chimes, and a full head of pink hair walks in, wide toothy grin au rendezvous. And he didn’t just imagine it, the blue really is just as striking as when he first saw him. Hyunwoo waves back at him in short, timid wiggles.
“You’re early,” he starts, happy to hear his heart is still in his chest and not stuck in his throat, even if it’s still too loud. He gestures for Kihyun to sit anywhere, secretly hoping he chooses to be right in front of him. He knows it will distract him to no end, but some things are worth bending work ethics over.
“Good, I hate being late.” Kihyun smiles to himself, small and contented, hanging his tote bag on the back of the chair right across from him.
Hyunwoo gulps. He looks up at the clock and away from Kihyun, who’s now absorbed in reading the workshop info pamphlet. Still seven minutes until we start… He’s got about five other people signed up that he really cannot wait for to start trickling in through the front door. The temptation to look at him is one he has to fight, hard, and he sees that bright blue shine and throb in his peripheral vision, his cross legged posture taunting him.
Kihyun is quite short— shorter than him, at the very least, but his proportions are just shy of making the golden ratio look like lopsided guidelines. His bangs drape over his forehead, and Hyunwoo could swear they formed a heart between his side part and his left eyebrow whenever he bent down. His pinky curls slightly up and outward as he hovers a pen over the paper, and his nails are just a tad longer than a clean cut to the base. His hands are so, so, so small.
I could study you forever and barely jot down half the details that make you you.
“Coffee? Tea?” Hyunwoo looks away and coughs, a little louder than one would to clear their throat, and points behind him where the espresso machine and tea kettle sit underneath the counter. Kihyun is about to answer when the door opens and a group that Hyunwoo vaguely remembers but is immensely grateful for walks in.
Kihyun looks at him and lightly shakes his head, almost with an apologetic smile that says ‘I’d love some but you’d have to serve everyone else if I say yes so I’ll spare you the trouble.’ Or something. It takes a moment for Hyunwoo to unglue his eyes from him, but soon enough, he’s got everyone settled and ready to draw some cliché still life.
A couple attendees are whispering away in the corner, probably laughing at each other’s sketches, as Hyunwoo takes a little stroll behind them to stretch his legs. He, of course, stops behind Kihyun, and leans a little over him. Not without reason though, because “that looks quite good!”
“What? You think so?” Kihyun looks up at him, a growing hint of— not doubt, but maybe suspicion in his eyes, mixed in with an ounce or two of pride.
“Yeah, the… you got the shape right, and the shadows,” Hyunwoo swallows again, “the shadows just need a little fixing, but this, this is good.”
“Beginner’s luck, probably.” Kihyun laughs it off and goes back to cross-hatching an orange leaf.
“No, no, I can tell what you did on purpose, you seem to have a talent at making out natural shapes,” Hyunwoo insists. He tries to keep himself from noticing the faint, floral scent of jasmine coming off of Kihyun’s hair. And then his mouth decides it doesn’t need to talk to his brain anymore.
“If you want, I could give you extra drawing classes, if you—” and his brain finally catches on, “think… you might… need them.”
“That, uh… I’ll see about that, thank you,” Kihyun smiles, and it actually reaches his eyes. Which, you know, only reassures Hyunwoo a tiny bit that he didn’t come off as too enthusiastic. He wants to linger around him, stay by his side just a little longer, but he’s got no excuse or reason to. So he simply looks over his shoulder at his sketch again, until it verges on being uncomfortable and decides to move away, glad to notice the giggling pair of attendees from earlier waving for him.
“Could you please help me figure out th…”
Even if his body suddenly reacts on autopilot and his mouth forms words he doesn’t hear, he does not catch the full sentence as it fizzles away in the white noise inside his head. He’s looking down at a few wobbly circles, curling around the creases of a page that’s tired of being erased at, and his hands move about the paper as years of habit dictate but his eyes are trailing up and elsewhere. Hyunwoo keeps stealing glances, a head of pink hair here, a concentrated pout there.
His mouth goes dry when Kihyun catches him the one time he takes too long to look away, and his heart drops to his feet and further below ground when he sees the slightest curl form at the corner of his lips.
Hyunwoo is really, really glad the other attendees keep asking for help, because he has to do his job, no matter how much he doesn’t entirely want to. It offers a distraction, if anything. A small one, granted, but nonetheless a chance to think about anything but freckles and small hands.
The workshop ends without any hiccups, the only things that Hyunwoo trips over being his words, and, to a certain extent, his feelings.
“Did you know American robins lay bright blue eggs?”
Hyunwoo nearly breathes in a sip of iced coffee. “What?”
“Here,” Kihyun shows him a picture of a bird’s nest on his phone, within which are cradled a handful, blue eggs. “There’s even a shade named after them, robin’s egg bl—”
“Robin’s egg blue.” Hyunwoo glares at him, wide eyes. Is the universe trying to make fun of him or something?
“You know about it?” Kihyun raises a surprised eyebrow, and Hyunwoo doesn’t take offense in the fact that he underestimated him. Not at all. “Wait, shit, of course you do. Sometimes I forget you have a Fine Arts degree.” He only lightly pushes at Kihyun’s ribs, which in Hyunwoo’s vocabulary means he almost throws him off the bench they’re sitting on. At least it manages to take that smug smirk off his lips.
“Excuse you, I’m an Art History doctoral candidate.” Hyunwoo raises a pointed eyebrow and index finger in emphasis.
“Okay, okay, fine, you have two Fine Arts degrees and you’re a doctoral candidate.” He raises two defeated hands in retort, lips beginning to curl at the corners. “You know, for someone who paints such delicate sceneries, you really don’t know how much of a brute you can actually be.” Kihyun lightly scowls at him. “Hercules would feel small next to you.” He pats the condensation from his drink dry with a paper towel, frowning at his broken straw as if it had personally offended him.
“Since when are you interested in eggs anyway? I thought your thing was portrait photography, not bird watching.”
“I’m only trying to be adventurous with my hobbies since I can’t do that with my job, but thanks for the support.” Kihyun snorts and squeezes his bendy straw down, in hopes that the contracted ridges can make up for the break through the plastic. He loudly clicks with his tongue when no coffee makes it into his mouth.
Hyunwoo still remembers the face he made when Kihyun told him he was a journalist. To be able to juggle his career, his personal life, and his hobby on top of painting classes he started taking on a whim while still looking this well-adjusted and responsible is nothing short of remarkable. Well, Hyunwoo himself is balancing writing his doctorate memoir with making time to workout, to visit his family every weekend, to tend to an art store and to give a weekly workshop, but, still. Effort is effort, and it should be praised regardless of apparent struggle. Kihyun didn’t seem to agree with him, for whatever reason, not that it’ll stop Hyunwoo from commending him anyway.
When he hands Kihyun his own intact straw, he is met with a look somewhere between hesitance and… disgust?
“It’s just saliva, and I only took one sip out of it, come on.”
Kihyun pauses for a beat, before taking the straw and almost reluctantly sticking it in the lid hole and drinking from it. They fall into a sort of quietness, somewhere on the verge between natural and uncomfortable. They’ve known each other for long enough for that not to be weird, though some would argue that two months isn’t that long, but to Hyunwoo’s heart, it sort of feels like forever and a half.
Despite years of repeated trial and error, Hyunwoo still ends up smudging the paint on occasion. Acrylic is for the impatient and the messy, it dries fast so you can paint over it quickly to cover any mishaps. However, sometimes, a fat glob on the brush becomes a bulging streak on the canvas, and it takes one inadvertent thumb swipe to undo all his back-breaking work of precision.
Much like how he feels when he breaks the wall of silence between them and asks Kihyun out — for dinner, nothing more. Just dinner at this new fried chicken restaurant. Because he knows Kihyun likes chicken. No big deal. But his heart is beating in his ears instead of his chest, and he doesn’t properly hear him apologize. He only hears that Kihyun “can’t make it, I have a conference to cover tonight.”
He rubs his fingers together, looking for dried paint by force of habit when he messes up a painting. Except, right now, the only mess here are his feelings.
Hyunwoo sees the regret twinkling in his eyes, furrowing his brow, and nothing would make him doubt the sincerity behind Kihyun’s pout. His adorable, little pout, and that walnut chin…
“Oh, that’s okay.” Hyunwoo runs an awkward hand on the back of his neck, trying to stave off the redness coming up to his ears.
“I’ll make it up to you, though. How’s tomorrow sound?” Kihyun says. He raises two hopeful eyebrows, his smile a little nod from Hyunwoo’s head away. “I really want to check that restaurant out with you.”
And so Hyunwoo does nod, after his stomach attempts a backflip, and Kihyun smiles, and they sit on the bench for a little longer, watching birds hop from branch to branch in comfortable silence.
His heart is still beating hard, back down in his chest now (at least), when he walks back home, lips still caught in a curl he can’t shake off as he leans against his front door.
Is this a date?
Kihyun turns up with a work colleague. And it pinches, just a little. At least until Hyunwoo notices the stolen glances, the subtle change in his smile when he looks at him, and how Kihyun laughs just that much louder than he should at every pun Hyunwoo makes, especially at the bad ones.
It soothes his heart, and it promises him that it’ll be okay if he falls, except he’s already falling, and he can’t help but think if Kihyun will be there to catch him.
Hyunwoo knows he’s not the most subtle guy in the universe. Whoever looks at his works could argue otherwise, but he knows the truth. He never tells anyone about the myriad of canvases he punctured through with his brushes out of frustration, or the forever ruined pairs of pants and shoes (and linoleum) from dropping an unfortunate tub of paint on the floor.
Point being, he knows what subtlety isn’t. Which is why it strikes him as weird, on a Sunday at 3:00 AM, that he only then realizes Kihyun’s repeated little escapades to his store over the past few weeks, during his lunch break or on Saturday mornings, aren’t really all that smooth.
Nobody needs that many 2B pencils, do they?
On a following, particularly sunny Tuesday, Kihyun prances in looking quite giddy and oh my god is that a sleeveless shirt.
Hyunwoo swallows hard, unable to take his eyes off of yet another couple beauty marks he finds on his forearms. “Kihyun, hi,” he smiles and leans over his counter. “Here for another 2B?” He picks a pencil from the stand near him and waves it in his face with a little smirk. “Or is it gonna be an HB this time?”
Kihyun rolls his eyes a little, no doubt trying to deter from his reddening cheeks. “Oh, shut up, I actually came to give you your book back.” He fishes for it in his tote and hands it to Hyunwoo, who could swear on his own grave that it looks newer than when he had bought it. Is this the real power of having your shit together?
“It, uh… my cat spilled my glass of wine over it, so I ordered a new one.” Kihyun pouts. “I’m sorry.” His aura looks dull and washed out, as if covered in a thin sheen of shame and regret.
Right then, Hyunwoo realizes he would probably be fine with a wine-stained art book, if the stain came from Kihyun. At least he now knows he has a cat.
“Don’t worry about it,” he smiles. “I hope you kept the other copy, though.”
“Yeah, I did, it was really useful. Speaking of which,” Kihyun raises an inquisitive eyebrow, passively folding his fingers over one another, “I… kinda need your help with a photography project.”
Hyunwoo deadpans. “Kihyun. I’m a painter.”
“I know, but it’s—” he sighs. “Never mind, you’re right.”
“No, no, tell me.” He has to stop himself from reaching for his hands and untangling his fingers. So instead, he settles on playing with his own. “How can I help?”
Kihyun looks at him for a second or two, churning the thought within his mind before voicing it. “I want you to model for me.”
“You want me to what now?”
Hyunwoo has this reflex of rubbing at the skin underneath his jaw. Out of boredom, nervousness, or simply by force of habit while he’s thinking. On more than one occasion, he ends up with a few streaks of acrylic on his chin for a few days, because he never notices the paint riding up his brush and smearing over his fingers while he’s working.
His hands are almost always covered in paint and chapped from repetitive washing, he spends most of his awake time wearing an apron at home or at the store because he “should be careful about getting paint on good, expensive clothes, sweetheart,” his mom tells him constantly, especially after a particularly dreadful incident involving his graduation suit. His hair routine consists of running his fingers through it until it gives up and vaguely obeys him for the remainder of the day.
So, not exactly a natural model, to say the least.
Kihyun probably needs a new prescription for his eyes.
“I know, I know, it’s sudden, and maybe even out of place but—” Kihyun interrupts himself, squeezing his lower lip between a hesitant thumb and index finger, and Hyunwoo probably imagines the subtle pink that tints his cheeks, “you know what? Let’s go talk this over a bagel or something.”
“You do know that I have a shop to tend to, right?”
“What’s ten minutes at the coffee shop down the street gonna do? Bankrupt you?” Kihyun looks strangely imposing with his arms crossed over his chest, driving Hyunwoo into a fairly strange sense of submission. Or fear. Sometimes fear comes in all sorts of shapes, including when they’re three feet shorter than you and have pink hair. “I’m starving and I really want to pitch my idea to you.”
And as it turns out, Hyunwoo’s hunch at the back of his mind was right: Kihyun does look even cuter when he eats, cheeks puffed up like a hamster as he happily chews his sandwich. He lets out a few contented mewls between sips of his coffee and loudly smacks his lips as he sets his eyes on Hyunwoo’s.
“Okay, so,” he starts, fiddling with his napkin, “I’ve been thinking about it while eating and maybe you modeling for me isn’t exactly what I want to do, but—”
“Oh thank god—”
“But,” Kihyun frowns lightly at Hyunwoo interrupting him, “I do still have a request to ask you. Or a favor, call it what you will.”
Hyunwoo finds he has become better at breaking the spell Kihyun’s freckles hold over him. He is certainly no pro at looking away from his face after realizing he’s been spaced out gaping at him, especially not when the soft afternoon sun reflects on his cheekbones and lights his dark brown eyes in wispy streaks of chocolate and caramel. But he can keep a poker face until his brain realizes he’s being talked to, at least.
“And?” Hyunwoo cocks an eyebrow.
“I’d like to use your rooftop to take pictures of the city skyline?” Why it comes out as a question, Hyunwoo doesn’t know, and he doesn’t dwell on it. If he says yes, it means he’ll get to see Kihyun more, spend actual time with him that doesn’t involve a countertop and the smell of sketchbook paper. And so he does say yes.
“I know it’s a weir- wait, yes? That easy?”
“Mhm.” Hyunwoo shrugs. “I have no reason to say no. Plus, I know my rooftop is one of the highest viewpoints of the city this side of the river. How did you know that, though?”
Kihyun shrugs back. “Just a guess. You don’t even know what I want to do with those pictures yet,” he pouts and looks down, poking at a few stray sesame seeds on his plate. Hyunwoo smiles, resting his chin on his palm.
“Tell me.” Kihyun’s face immediately perks up and Hyunwoo has to make a conscious effort to breathe. And he manages not to choke on air as he listens to him explain something about Photoshop, time lapses and sun cycle sequences — and consequently puts Kihyun’s cute lisp into his mental drawer of things he never wants to forget about. Halfway through his explanation of whatever the hell a sun diagram is and why he wants to try photographing that too, Hyunwoo snorts and takes himself out of his reverie.
“So you’re telling me you’re also a physics nerd?”
“What do you mean, also ?!” Hyunwoo swiftly dodges a crumpled napkin and throws it back, delighted to see it only makes Kihyun smile. Even in the cramped, noisy heat of the coffee shop at 2 PM, he finds he can still clearly hear his laugh twinkle around them. “I’ll need your rooftop for at least 16 hours or so, though, I don’t know how that’ll work out for you…”
“How about Sunday?” Hyunwoo suggests, voice laced with a little too much hastiness for his own taste. “I could use a few hours to do some spring cleaning downstairs and work on my dissertation at the same time. We’ll order takeout and make a day of it.” He shrugs, hoping a nonchalant façade will make it seem like it’s not big deal.
“That’s awesome!” Kihyun’s lips stretch in a wide smile and proves Hyunwoo wrong when he thinks he will ever run out of endearing things Kihyun does to put away for safekeeping in his mental memory box. “I’ll check the weather forecast and let you know what weekend works for me, yeah?”
“Sure,” Hyunwoo’s smile almost falters when Kihyun reaches for his hand and squeezes it, just a bit.
“Give me your phone number, then.”
“How is it?” Kihyun asks after a few moments of concentrated silence as he sets his tripod up. “To tend to an art supply store, I mean.”
“It’s… fine, I guess. Gives me time to work on my memoir and stuff.”
Hyunwoo sets down the two chairs he just brought up the staircase and walks over to the parapet to look at the city. It’s a little chilly, and a few shivers run down his back as he makes a note to ask about details next time he accepts to help someone with their photography project, because none of his mental short films about how the day would go could have prepared him for the reality of waking up at the ass crack of dawn before 4 AM on a Sunday to set up a camera for long exposure shots.
“Oh, is that why you always close on Thursdays?” He nods and wholeheartedly accepts the scalding cup of coffee that Kihyun hands him. “Must be fun, having that kind of freedom.”
Hyunwoo chuckles to himself and he makes his way to one of the chairs and slowly plops down on it, careful not to crack any of his stiff old man joints. “It has its downsides, but this is probably the coziest anyone’s ever worked with two art degrees.” Kihyun laughs, and Hyunwoo thinks that it’s enough to make up for being torn away from his warm bed by the freezing claws of the early morning. He burrows deeper into his seat and the heat of his wool jacket as Kihyun joins him.
“Any plans after you’re certified?”
“Teach? Curate?” He starts, eyes suddenly focused on nothing but Kihyun’s hands tightly holding his own cardboard cup of hot liquid in hopes that it’ll undo some of the cold prickliness of the breeze. “Don’t know. Haven’t thought that far ahead, I just know I have viable options and that’s good enough for me.”
“I wouldn’t be able to risk things like that,” Kihyun says, quiet, and it sounds like he’s reminding himself more than he’s telling Hyunwoo. They sit in silence for a while, watching some steam rise up through their lids and out their mouths.
“What would you do, if you could quit your job?”
Hyunwoo turns around at Kihyun and stares as a sigh leaves his chest. “Go back to school. Get a degree in political science, work my way up to chief editor,” he shrugs. “Maybe.”
“What about photography?”
“Nah, that’s just a hobby. I’d rather it stay that way, makes it more enjoyable,” he smiles against the plastic lid, small but genuine, and Hyunwoo can only believe him right then.
Their day goes by in comfortable silence, punctuated by a few karaoke outbreaks on Kihyun’s behalf that Hyunwoo doesn’t have the heart to interrupt, so he just listens behind the rooftop door instead. Now I want to know what your voice looks like.
And he pretends not to notice when Kihyun sneaks a few pictures of him on a disposable camera, when he’s putting pencils and notebooks away or wiping the countertop, under the guise of capturing the golden hues of the afternoon sun filtering through the wide storefront windows. He hears the shutter click whenever he looks away or gives him his back, so he teases him a little, lingering a tad too long on a stain already long gone, just to see Kihyun fuss and pretend to suddenly be interested in potted plants before giving up.
He smiles to himself, and for once, Hyunwoo doesn’t mind getting his picture taken. Not if it means Kihyun will be holding them, looking at them, and — maybe in a hopeful turn of events, cherishing them.
(18:58) Hey. Have you had dinner yet?
(18:59) nope, still at work
(19:03) Me neither.
(19:04) When do you get off?
(19:05) I have two hours left to go
(19:06) in case someone desperately needs red gouache for their spaghetti sauce
(19:12) Pffft, yeah right.
(19:13) I hope you like beer and jjajangmyun, then
Hyunwoo doesn’t have the time to answer, or even ponder that last text when his door opens and the bell chimes take him out of his Friday afternoon exhausted daze.
"Special delivery for Mr. Son Hyunwoo,” Kihyun strides in, camera hanging by his side, a bulky plastic bag in one hang and a tall plastic bottle in the other, full with what looks like… piss.
“Fried chicken shop beer?” Hyunwoo pouts and Kihyun’s smile quickly subsides to make way for a frown. “What, is there something wrong with their beer?”
A lot of things, in fact. The acrid taste of it for starters, not to forget that a chicken place has no right to brew their own liquid poison, but Hyunwoo doesn’t say that. Instead, he shakes his head and motions for Kihyun to climb up the stairs to his rooftop as he flips his door sign to ‘closed.’ Kihyun waits for him in the staircase.
“I just prefer beer in glass bottles, is all,” he adds as he makes his way up. “Wait, I thought you said you were bringing jjajangmyun,” Hyunwoo says as he takes the plastic bag from Kihyun and the smell of popcorn chicken wafts up his nostrils.
“I never said I was only bringing jjajangmyun,” he smirks and grabs the rooftop door keys from underneath the flower pot, the same way he saw Hyunwoo do a month ago when they’d began setting up for his photography project. Hyunwoo’s heart catches in his throat, and it shouldn’t really move him that he remembers where the key is, or that he reaches for it as if it was an old habit, but it does.
The early June sun gets ready to hug the horizon behind the silhouettes of Seoul’s skyscrapers as Hyunwoo lays a mat on the floor for them to sit on, the hum and white noise of the city buzzing in the distance away from them, and they eat their food in cozy, snug silence, every now and then punctuated by chewing and gulping sounds. They both drink straight from the bottle, too tired to bother fetching any cups. Kihyun accidentally burps, and it sends them both into a laughter frenzy, clutching at their stomachs as they heave their chests for a few breaths of relief.
Hyunwoo steals a few glances of Kihyun here and there, and his eyes fall on his small hands as they delicately break the chicken apart, on his eyes as they stay ajar when he tips his head back to take a swig of beer, on his soft hair as it flails with the warm breeze of an early summer evening. Taking those details in is all he can do before he realizes that he hasn’t touched his food yet — an alarming sign for him, really; and hurriedly swallows a clump of noodles that kinda goes down his throat the wrong way and threatens to make his chest seize up and explode.
It turns out that there are many things greater than nearly choking while drinking cheap beer on the dusty rugged floor of your rooftop, and Hyunwoo finds that one of those things is doing exactly that, but with the added perk of a pink haired boy exhaling loud sighs of relief after teetering on the edge of laughing too much. Kihyun is absent-mindedly toying with the cap of the now empty bottle, stifling down a few burps with a scowl, and Hyunwoo can’t help but find it endearing.
“I have some soju downstairs, do you want some?” He says, a straightforward attempt at keeping him around for as long as possible. They were done eating for a little while now, the sun was nearly all set and Hyunwoo had run out of excuses to spend more time together before he even began to draft them out. “I feel greasy and I think it might help.”
“Ugh, yes, please,” Kihyun hiccups as he turns to him. “Do you have a blankie by any chance? I’m getting cold,” he adds, pouty lips and walnut chin in full effect as he brings his knees up to his chest.
Hyunwoo nods and staggers down the stairs, and his heart starts beating in his ears again. Did Kihyun really accept to stay longer without giving himself so much as a second to think about it? He tries not to think of it too much, or of any of the implications of it either. There just so happens to be a tipsy boy he likes crouched on a mat on his rooftop waiting for him to come back with a blanket, and he thinks that maybe the boy likes him back because he has bought a truly ridiculous amount of pencils and notebooks from him and thought he was being subtle while taking pictures of him when he wasn’t looking. Maybe. Perhaps. Who knows.
When he walks back up the stairs with a bottle of soju and two shot glasses, it’s not a blanket he’s holding under his chin but his own corduroy jacket, because he doesn’t have a blanket. And because he’s always secretly wanted to see how Kihyun’s tiny frame would fit in his own, much larger clothing. But he doesn’t tell him that, because that’s a little creepy, Hyunwoo, what the hell.
He pulls the door open with his knee and is met with the sound of mellow rock tunes, playing from Kihyun’s phone. Hyunwoo wants to say it’s the Beatles, but he errs on the side of caution and of not making a fool out of yourself because you can’t recognize one of the world’s most famous rock bands. He crouches on the mat to drop the soju and covers Kihyun’s shoulders with his jacket.
“Didn’t have a blanket, sorry.”
“S’okay,” Kihyun smiles and pulls it over him by the lapels, face snuggling into the collar, and Hyunwoo forgets how to inhale and exhale when he sees him breathe the remnants of his cologne in with closed eyes. “It’s June, shouldn’t have expected it. This is perfect anyway.”
Kihyun reaches out to pour him a shot and extends a hand over Hyunwoo’s around the neck of the bottle before the latter shakes his head in refusal and his nervousness away. “Let me, you just focus on warming up,” Hyunwoo says with a small smile, and that’s all he can mumble before his throat suddenly closes shut as he uncaps the soju and nearly spills half of it all over himself. Kihyun stares at him for a beat longer than necessary, then turns around and looks at nothing and everything in front of him.
When the truth is found
To be lies
And all the joy
Within you dies
They knock back a few shots in silence, because Hyunwoo doesn’t want to ruin it by asking what song just started playing, and he doesn’t want to take away from the sight of Kihyun stretching his neck to look over the parapet and enjoy the wisps of soft orange and pink that the dusk paints over the skyline, only to give up and look at the dark blue hues of the nascent night sky over him instead.
Don’t you want somebody to love
Hyunwoo thinks it might be the liquor now coursing through his veins that makes him feel warm and makes his fingertips tingle, or it might be the fuzziness he feels in the pit of his gut when he looks at Kihyun wistfully gazing up in search of the first freckle of light up above, features softened in contemplation by his full stomach and the wool around his shoulders.
Don’t you need somebody to love
He doesn’t immediately notice when Kihyun’s eyes detach themselves from the dusky sky to look into the dark brown of his own irises, nor does he notice when a warm hand sneaks its way over his where they lay between them on the mat, starting with a tentative pinky until they interlace, snug and comfy. He’s too entranced counting every mole and freckle on Kihyun’s face to notice the latter’s eyes jumping all over his face to inevitably land on his lips, every time.
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love
Hyunwoo doesn’t really know if it’s him or Kihyun who leans in first, if he cupped Kihyun’s jaw first or if Kihyun beat him to it by grabbing at the collar of his shirt. He doesn’t care.
You better find somebody to love
Their lips don’t so much clash as they gently meet between them, locking and parting slower than Hyunwoo’s heart is beating in his chest, in his ears, in his throat. All he can hear around him, pulsating through him, is Kihyun Kihyun Kihyun. It’s dizzying and grounding all at once, and he has to remind himself to exhale when he feels Kihyun’s gentle breath on his upper lip, when he feels Kihyun’s fingers daintily grazing over his neck and underneath his jaw with a feather’s touch.
Kihyun pulls away, not without lightly biting and pulling at Hyunwoo’s lower lip and smiling at the staggered breath it draws out of him. They’re barely a hair’s breadth away from kissing again, foreheads and noses touching and nuzzling, both of their eyes unsure if they should open or stay closed, and Hyunwoo doesn’t need prodding when they both lean into each other again, this time cupping Kihyun’s face with both hands and soothingly rubbing at his cheeks with his thumbs. The bright, subtle blue light of his aura fizzles behind Hyunwoo’s eyelids down to his chest, and he feels a yearning for him, to have him closer, to hold him tighter. He pulls Kihyun towards him ever so slightly, and Kihyun curls underneath him ever so earnestly, smiling into the kiss.
They part again, a little farther from each other this time, and Hyunwoo jots down all the details of Kihyun’s flushed cheeks and blissful smile to keep at the back of his mind, maybe for a rainy day when he needs a little pick me up. Kihyun reaches for Hyunwoo’s hands again to intertwine their fingers, and he has stars in his eyes.
“I guess three months of pining and drilling a hole through my wallet was worth it,” Kihyun says, breaking the quiet with a chuckle, throwing hesitant glances between the ground and their hands.
Hyunwoo snorts, loud, and hangs his head low as he feels a warmth spread over his face and down his neck. This time, he’s sure it has nothing to do with alcohol. “Exactly how many pencils do you have right now?”
“Probably enough to open my own art store and rival your business.” They both laugh, a little at each other and themselves, over the ridiculousness of it all, and Hyunwoo’s glad it helps to ease his nerves a little, especially when Kihyun takes to rubbing the back of his hands with his thumbs. Right then, he finds it easy to lock eyes with him, a silent unsaid conversation coursing between them, as if for the thousandth time and more. Looking at Kihyun feels like a habit, a good one, repeated over and over again like it’s second nature to him.
“But… they’re actually perfect for sketching.”
“Sketching?” Hyunwoo cocks his head to the side. “You’re telling me you’ve actually been using the stuff you bought from me?” And that earns his shoulder a tiny punch from a tiny fist.
“Shut up,” Kihyun looks away, lips still sporting a contented curl. “But, uh, yeah, I… remember those pictures I took of you last month?” He finishes his question with an exaggeratedly high pitch, and Hyunwoo would think Kihyun is choking on something if it weren’t for the crimson tinge of his ears and his insistence to look anywhere but at his face.
And then it dawns on him. “You’ve been practicing? M-me? Sketching me?” He points at himself, dubious. “Why? Uh… I, can I see the—”
“No! I mean, sure, maybe… someday,” Kihyun chews at his bottom lip, still adamant on not looking up. Someday. Hyunwoo feels nothing short of elated at the promise of a future encounter, of more chances to see him, tease him, be around him.
“You do that a lot,” Hyunwoo says, after half a moment of simply staring at the other’s lips.
“Nibble your lips.”
“Oh,” and with that, Kihyun finally looks up at him. “Force of habit, I guess.” His eyes are glassy and a little glazed over, pupils dilated. That half of a bottle of soju finally caught up to him.
And it probably also caught up to Hyunwoo as well, because by the time he manages to say “wait, let me do that for you,” he’s already kissing him again and softly biting and pulling at his bottom lip, just so he could pay him back for earlier. And it brings the exact same reaction out of Kihyun — his breath catches in his throat, and Hyunwoo religiously studies the fluttering of his eyelashes against his cheeks before he opens his eyes.
“Kihyun, please, I’m not a punching bag,” Hyunwoo pleads, trying to avoid the sudden onslaught of small but explosive punches that he unleashes on his chest. He comes to the conclusion that they definitely do not deal with embarrassment the same way, Kihyun’s ‘technique’ involving a lot more physical violence than is really necessary. Tiny, but mighty.
“Then what are you?”
The words leave Hyunwoo’s mouth before he’s even realized he’s said them, much less thought them, and a growing sense of panic settles behind his ribs as he waits for Kihyun’s reaction.
“I-if you want me to… be…” he tries to throw himself a rope and save the situation, but he still seems frozen in place. Hyunwoo doesn’t know if he’s thinking about either punching him more or bolting out the door and down the stairs. Except Kihyun doesn’t do either of those things.
Instead, he simply and slowly nuzzles his face against Hyunwoo’s neck, where the latter can feel the burning of skin against skin. Still not a very conclusive answer, and at this point Hyunwoo might vomit his heart out if he opens his mouth, but he still keeps it down, to the best of his drunk ability.
“Kihyun?” “Shut up. Yes.”
Hyunwoo is left dumbfounded, a hand hovering over Kihyun’s back without the slightest idea what to do or where to land. He settles for gentle petting that quickly turns into rubbing up and down the length of his back when Kihyun doesn’t pull away.
“I can’t believe you just did that, Hyunwooooo…” Kihyun slurs, somewhere between a whisper and a moan, as he nuzzles deeper against Hyunwoo’s shoulder. He can feel Kihyun’s eyelashes lightly flutter against his neck.
It takes him a slow, intoxicated while to really understand what’s going on: the boy he’s been crushing on since the moment he set foot in his store is in his arms, drunk and happy and snuggled up against him after they’ve just had their first (three) kiss(es), and even if it’s not a completely sober ‘yes’, Kihyun didn’t run away when he accidentally suggested that maybe he would perhaps like to be his boyfriend. Emboldened by whatever sense of courage he feels from the light hand toying at his collarbones and, quite frankly, the four shots of burning soju bubbling in his stomach, Hyunwoo reaches his arms around and locks him in a soft, gingerly embrace.
Kihyun’s hair still smells faintly of flowers, now resting against and tickling his chin, and Hyunwoo adds that to his ever-growing list of things that make his heart skip a beat or two. “But, do you… want? Me to be your boyfriend, I mean…”
He falls silent, as does his heart all the way down his stomach when Kihyun doesn’t answer, until the latter pulls back and meets his eyes, hand almost conveniently rested over Hyunwoo’s erratic heartbeat.
“Like I said,” Kihyun coughs, and Hyunwoo can almost taste the temptation of his gaze to waver and look away, but he still manages to hold steady, “yes, yes I do.”
His face breaks into the brightest, widest and most genuine grin Hyunwoo swears he had ever seen on anybody. And it does nothing to tame the thunder and rumble in his ears when he finds two subtle dimples forming at the top of his cheeks. Something warm and fluttery blooms in his chest, and he can’t help the curl of his own lips when he feels small hands squeeze his own.
Kihyun lays back against Hyunwoo’s shoulder, and they sit like that for four more songs, one hand busy carding through hair, the other tracing patterns on a thigh. It’s simple and quiet, and even when Hyunwoo feels like he is about to burst at the seams from joy, he’s content with sitting in silence doing nothing. Because now they’ve got all the time they might need to do anything they want, or nothing at all, for that matter.
As they get up to go back down the stairs and part ways for the night, Kihyun stops at the rooftop door and points a finger at Hyunwoo’s mouth.
“You have a beauty mark right here, that’s so cuuuute,” he slurs a little, poking above his top lip, and Hyunwoo is surprised he notices that at all, what with his own sobering brain telling him the world is only slightly less dizzying now than it was ten minutes ago. It also tells him that he should definitely kiss his index finger, and so he does. Once, twice, five time, until Kihyun giggles enough that he has to hold on to Hyunwoo’s shirt so as not to topple over backwards.
“What are you doing?” He asks with a laugh when Hyunwoo starts to prod at one of Kihyun’s many, many moles and then cups his face to better kiss each and every one of them, starting with that one right by the corner of his mouth and cascading up his cheekbones to his eyebrows to his hairline and down to the tip of his nose.
“Kissing your sun kisses,” he says, and chuckles because he knows what he’ll say next will either get him a laugh or a punch in the shoulder. “You’re Son kissed, now.”
Kihyun deadpans at him for a good second before snorting and throwing both of them into their second laughter fit of the evening. “Who would have thought that you were so cheesy,” he says, cheeks still adamant on staying red underneath Hyunwoo’s thumbs.
“I know,” he grins. He can’t help but feel just a little bit proud of himself for thinking of it on the spot. “You have no idea how long I wanted to do that for,” Hyunwoo adds, leaving soft strokes over a few freckles.
Between silence and a whisper, Kihyun smiles, and his eyes catch the light of a thousand sunsets.
Hyunwoo sees the world in colors. A lot of the time, he forgets that he sees them around people, too. Every now and then, an aura twinkles, and he is reminded of it, until the next moment when he forgets about it again.
Slowly, he peels his eyelids back, still heavy from sleep and unwilling to forgive his alarm for breaking the promise of a lazy Sunday morning. His sheets are light gray, Kihyun’s sleepy head of hair is now dark brown, his slightly parted lips a light pink.
The streets are colored white, adorning their most breathtaking winter coat, and his eyes still catch the most vibrant, the most comforting robin’s egg blue.