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~*~*~

Baekhyun sinks down into his chair with a heavy sigh, frustrated but not surprised that his vacation request was denied. Logically, he knew he wasn’t going to get a full week off of work right before the release date of their newest game, especially not the one he was an assistant project manager for. He’s back in his cubicle to pout now.

“Wow, I heard that.” Baekhyun jumps slightly at the sound of Victoria’s voice, spinning in his chair and giving her a sheepish smile.

“Caught me,” Baekhyun says, forcing his mouth into a surer smile despite the lingering disappointment at not being able to be with his family this Chuseok. It isn’t surprising though, it isn’t like most companies take into consideration that not all of their employees follow the same preset cultural holidays.

“Are you coming out tonight?” Victoria asks, placing the updated report in his plastic tray, another hour’s worth of work added on top of the stack waiting for him.

“What was tonight?” Baekhyun scratches his head. Was someone leaving? Joining? He can’t keep up with what is going on here; too many people joining and leaving.

“Mr. Tsukamoto is heading back next week,” Victoria reminds him, “His going away dinner at Black Crow?”

“I’ll be there,” Baekhyun says, reaching out for the report, flipping through the slides after Victoria leaves him alone to his thoughts, her heels clacking as she disappears back into her own cubicle. He doesn’t mind going out, having a few drinks and sending the visiting project lead back to his hotel drunk and entertained. It’s how this gaming company works after all: headquartered in Japan and all about building connections through drinking parties and making ties outside of the office.

If he wants to progress further than being a glorified data entry monkey and report wrangler then he should go. In truth, part of him doesn’t mind the opportunity to get out and let loose, drinking his disappointment away after breaking it to his mom that he is the only one in the family that can’t go next month.

~*~*~

“Baekhyunnie,” his mom’s happy voice greets him and he feels himself relax, shoulders falling as he holds his cellphone up against his ear. He can hear a few pots and pans bang in the background, his dad probably assigned to dinner duty. He finds himself wishing not for the first time that the distance between Seattle and LA wasn’t so far.

“Hey mom,” Baekhyun smiles, leaning against the pillar outside the brewery, the air still warm and hot against his skin even as the sun dips down towards the horizon topped with evergreen trees.

“Did you hear back on dates?” Baekhyun can hear the tentative excitement in her voice, hopefulness in the intonation, and he already feels the tendrils of guilt in him at letting her down even if she won’t show it.

“I tried,” Baekhyun apologizes. “I can’t get enough time off.”

“It’s okay,” she says, and he can see her smile if he closes his eyes, fine lines spreading from her eyes and the laugh lines around her mouth that she complains about. The kitchen timer beeps incessantly in the background.

“We’ll miss having you, Baekhyunnie, but they’ll understand,” she adds, voice warm. Baekhyun knows they’ll understand. They always do, when work takes precedence and he misses a phone call or is late sending birthday cards or misses Mother’s Day weekend. It still doesn’t make the awkward rolling in his gut any less but he can’t slack at work, not when it is clear he is not being looked at for a promotion any time soon. He needs to prove himself first.

“I’ll miss you too,” he says quietly, glancing over at the entrance to the brewery, knowing he doesn’t have that much time. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Stay safe,” she says just like every time and he smiles, feeling marginally better and up to facing a night out. He can’t drink that much, since he drove and is a lightweight any way but he does want to try an IPA and maybe watch Mr. Tsukamoto transform into a human tomato. He pushes the heavy oak door open and finds their table, sliding into the chair next to Victoria and grabbing for the menu to order.

It’s loud enough that Baekhyun has to struggle to hear over the din of other patrons talking, the music turned up a little too high. But he doesn’t mind, it gives him an excuse to throw himself into the conversation that Victoria and the new temporary transfer from Japan are having.

~*~*~

Baekhyun’s bed greets him, sheets cool against his skin as he flops down on it face first and lets his eyes fall closed, debating whether or not it is worth checking his phone when he feels the vibration of an incoming message on his palm.

Not yet. He sighs, turning his head to the side and trying in vain to pull his socks off just using his toes. It doesn’t work and he rolls over onto his back, pulls at his clothes until he’s comfortably down to just boxers.

Llamama 11:24: Hey, calling Bisexual Batman. Text me.

Baekhyun squints down at the screen of his phone, text blurring as sleep tugs at his eyelids until he gives in.

The mid-morning sun urges him awake hours later. He realizes he slept on top of the comforter, not even bothering to crawl under the sheets. His room is cool with the promise of a crisp autumn while Baekhyun yearns for summer as the remnants of it cling desperately in the air during the warm afternoons only to give way to evenings that require jackets.

The ceiling of his room is not all that interesting as he rolls over to stare up at it, muscles tense and pulled taut, body dully aching from being stuck all day at the office in front of a computer.

Beep.

His phone protests as the battery bar dips down into the red. Baekhyun leans over the bed, stretching as he grabs at the cord for his charger, plugging it in before scrolling through his social media blankly, not really looking for anything. He’s doing it more out of habit. He finally gets to Amber’s message and snorts. He’s definitely more of an Iron Man or maybe Spiderman… just as long as there are no real spiders involved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Baekhyun absentmindedly strokes over a gouge in the table top, fingernail sliding into it as he glances at Amber and then stares—not creepily—at the refreshing drink of water in his stupid black t-shirt and tight jeans as they wait for their drinks at the bar. Baekhyun isn’t looking though, tearing his eyes away towards the large screen TVs playing the Mariners game. He can’t even pretend to be invested in the game when his eyes keep unwillingly sliding away from the game to them, catching when Amber says something that makes him laugh, audible over the crowd.

He’s hot and loud; it’s a problem… even if Baekhyun wants to crush his ugly aviator sunglasses in the palm of his hand. It is tempting since they’re sitting, folded up on top of the polished table top.

His phone lights up giving him something to focus on, setting it back down quickly when they return minutes later and Baekhyun’s hand migrates to the offered drink, curling around the chilled glass.

“Thanks,” he says, grinning at Jongdae. Amber introduced him earlier as the Gay Robin to his Bisexual Batman resulting in Jongdae and Baekhyun simultaneously yelling, “Not a Robin!” and “Bisexual Iron Man, thank you very much.” The fact that Jongdae only denied part of that was not lost on Baekhyun at all. His hand was also warm, firm when he shook Baekhyun’s hand, just a little smaller than his own.

Regardless, Baekhyun was told that there was a reason for this introduction beyond Amber saying that he was just the only Korean male in his late twenties that is dumb and single she knows.

“Alright, you’re on your own,” Amber says, picking up her glass and slipping away to talk with Luna at the bar, abandoning them.

“Um. How much did she tell you?” Jongdae asks wryly, hands circling his drink. He looks a little nervous and Baekhyun is torn between making it worse, teasing him, and being nice for now.

“Her exact words were ‘My friend needs a fake Korean boyfriend but he isn’t a weirdo, I promise, not more than you anyway.’” Baekhyun feels his mouth twitch, relaxing slightly when Jongdae laughs once, a nice warm sound.

“Not too far off,” Jongdae says, still looking amused, taking a sip of beer before setting it down.

“You’re looking for a fake Chinese boyfriend?” Baekhyun asks. Jongdae raises an eyebrow at him.

“I need a temporary fake Korean boyfriend,” Jongdae adds when Baekhyun brings his drink up to his lips in lieu of answering. They should’ve ordered a snack, cheesy potato wedges, mini pizza something. Alcohol makes him hungry.

“It’s stupid but I can’t go home this year without a boyfriend,” Jongdae says. That’s vague but there is discomfort in the way he has his shoulders tensed, brought in on himself. His body language begging Baekhyun to not touch on the reason why.

“Where is home?” Baekhyun asks. He hasn’t gotten time off to travel that far and needs to know exactly how much of his time would be spent pretending to date Jongdae, if he decided to help. Right now, he is here mostly out of curiosity. Why would someone need to pretend to have a boyfriend?

“Bellingham,” Jongdae answers, relaxing slightly. “Now, anyway, extended family is coming up from LA.”

Baekhyun files that away, not completely surprised, but feeling a little comfortable, a sense of comradery with him, knowing that their families both came from the same city even though Jongdae gives off valley vibes and he can picture high school Jongdae in Abercrombie shirts and boardshorts year-round. It might be because of how he’s tucked his sunglasses into the collar of his v-neck shirt or maybe his general fuckboy vibes. He’s wearing a black v-neck shirt for fuck’s sake. Baekhyun is on the fence.

“So, let’s say I decide to help,” Baekhyun starts carefully, “what do you need this boyfriend to do?” He doesn’t know if he’ll take him up on it, even if he is cute and it seems like they could get along.

“A few dates for pictures and to get to know each other….and then meeting my entire family for Chuseok, you know, casual stuff,” Jongdae says, scratching at the side of his neck.

Baekhyun snorts, amused. “I’m not a doctor or a lawyer, I play games for a living, you sure you can bring me home?” It isn’t quite true, he is a data-entry monkey and wrangler of ‘all your base are belong to us’-esque mistakes while being the actual project manager’s minion. He does very little game playing at work…after work is a different story.

“My nephew would put a good word in for you if you bribe him with a new game console,” Jongdae responds back without missing a beat. Baekhyun laughs at that and Jongdae grins slightly before his face relaxes, fingers playing with the edge of a napkin as he talks, like it is giving his hands something to do. He probably one of those people that talks with their hands, large gestures that get worse and more emphatic in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed, Baekhyun muses.

“You’d be helping me out a lot but I also get if it is too weird.” He’s doing a thing where he leans forward just slightly, his gaze flicking up to meet Baekhyun’s to hold eye contact briefly. If Baekhyun were Superman (he is definitely not, only slight shade to DC) then cute boys like Jongdae would be his Kryptonite. As it stands, he is Iron Man with a protective layer of humor and deflection and a smidgen of biting sarcasm.

He is finding it hard to say no to free meals and something to distract him from his life of work-home-work routine.

Jongdae has a dimple in his cheek, too, and an Adam’s apple that deserves hickeys, so maybe Baekhyun never stood a chance in the first place. Jongdae in all of his nerdy but still fuckboy-ish glory looks nervous but perhaps a little hopeful since Baekhyun hasn’t outright laughed him out of the bar.

“Sure,” Baekhyun says after taking a purposefully long drink of beer to give himself a few more seconds to chicken out. “I’ll do it for the Chuseok dinner.”

“Breakfast, too,” Jongdae says carefully, watching for Baekhyun’s reaction and it doesn’t seem like he is bothering to hide his disbelief. “I can try to get us out before lunch.”

“I don’t put out on the first date even if I am meeting your entire family first,” Baekhyun says cheekily. His bravado runs out of steam, quickly escalating into a ramble that he can’t stop, like a semi-truck with no brake lines careening down a hill, “so, I hope we can also get to know each other too. Otherwise I could accidentally mention your undying love for raisin cookies when you would rather douse your tongue in gasoline and then it will ruin everything.” Jongdae’s lips twitch, eyes crinkling as he waits for Baekhyun to stop, calm down.

“Dates can be arranged,” Jongdae concedes, flipping his phone over and opening up a contact page.

“Also, I don’t mind raisin cookies,” Jongdae adds after handing Baekhyun his phone. Baekhyun wrinkles his nose up in exaggerated disgust.

“I changed my mind. I can’t pretend this,” Baekhyun gestures between them, “is a thing.”

“Don’t be a hater,” Jongdae says, pouting slightly. Baekhyun is still putting in his contact info, though and debates for a few seconds before lifting Jongdae’s phone up, taking a selfie for his contact page. It’s not his best but it will do.

“Even if he’s fake, you need a picture of your boyfriend,” Baekhyun answers Jongdae’s unvoiced question.

“Thanks.” Jongdae laughs shortly, taking his phone back and a few seconds later Baekhyun’s phone lights up with an incoming text.

“Should I make it my home screen or am I not that whipped yet?” Jongdae asks, looking up from his phone.

“You’re fake dating me,” Baekhyun grins, “There’s no way you aren’t whipped.”

Jongdae snorts into his beer. The rest of the night passes by quickly, a pleasant blur of conversation and then Baekhyun is back home, curled under his comforter and falling asleep easily.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Baekhyun receives a ‘thank you’ text from Jongdae the next day but there’s nothing after that for the next few days. Not that Baekhyun is necessarily upset about it, his to-do list at work and his matrix of urgent-important tasks square is overflowing. It keeps his mind off of Jongdae and his curly smile for the most part, until he has his takeout bag back at his desk, absently clicking through his Outlook inbox and remembering how easy it was to talk to him.

Out of some uncanny ability the universe has, the moment he opens the chat with Jongdae, the little three-dot icon pops up.

Happy weekend, I know it’s last minute but are you free for our first date?

Baekhyun is just relieved he doesn’t have to play hard to get and pretend to be unattainable to get the upper hand or power. They’re not actually dating after all and he doesn’t care that much if Jongdae knows how empty his calendar is, how he doesn’t have plans (and doesn’t mind it that way) when Jongdae is the one looking for a fake boyfriend. They are both lonely fuckboys on an even playing field.

I finish work at 3, are you getting me coffee or dinner? ;)

“You’re in a good mood,” Wendy comments, looking at him suspiciously and Baekhyun’s head jerks up from his phone. It is, after all, Saturday morning and he’s working overtime instead of at home on the sofa with a box of pizza and Overwatch to entertain him.

Baekhyun shrugs. “My first Saturday sans Tsukamoto-san breathing down my neck about the deadline. Who can blame me?”

Wendy just hums like she doesn’t quite believe him and sits down heavily in the workstation across from him with a sigh as she sorts through the stack of printed off renderings, meticulously checking each one. A few of the other section’s group members are in the lounge too but they’re huddled around a computer, not paying anyone else any mind.

Baekhyun’s phone lights up again and he glances down, swiping to get to Jongdae’s latest message.

How about coffee then dinner, I’m whipped after all.

Right answer, boyfriend. You’re allowed to date me still. Baekhyun types back quickly.

Jongdae sends him a heart.

I’ll pick you up at 3.

~*~*~

Baekhyun slides into the leather seat of Jongdae’s Lexus, not even a stray piece of trash or floor mat out of place, and feels himself sit up straighter like he doesn’t quite belong. He makes enough money to have his own, rather small, place but not enough for a Lexus.

His discomfort is only momentary and is relieved when Jongdae easily starts up a conversation about his day at work and then he laughs, his eyes crinkling in the corner, when Baekhyun recounts his week at work dealing with mishaps and the email that went around warning against eating other people’s food from the refrigerators.

“Not a Starbucks guy?” Baekhyun asks, when they pull into a small cafe, Mercury’s Coffee, and park out front, the Bruno Mars track abruptly stopping when the car’s engine turns off.

“I go but the coffee here is better,” Jongdae says, waiting for Baekhyun up on the curb in dark jeans that have Baekhyun’s eyes lingering on his thighs. Baekhyun doesn’t have a type… although it isn’t as bad as the time he semi-dated that guy from a semi-professional rugby team. That was a lot of thigh to chew on, maybe a little too much.

Jongdae opens the door for him and he stands off to the left, looking over the menu for something sweet and less-coffee flavored even though it was his suggestion to get coffee. He prefers his coffee as least coffee-like as possible.

“So,” Baekhyun starts, hands curling around his cup as Jongdae sits in front of him with his own cup in hand. Baekhyun is pretty sure the barista emptied half the caramel bottle into his drink, not that that is a complaint, as he takes a sip and tastes nothing but sweet.

“So,” Jongdae replies, “obligatory awkward first date conversation?”

“Hmm. I guess… Is it too early to ask if you want kids?” Baekhyun asks, leaning forward. Jongdae’s lips quirk up.

“Only if it isn’t too early to tell you about my sex dungeon,” Jongdae says without missing a beat before laughing, relaxing into his chair and his shoulders fall just a little, enough that Baekhyun can see he’s a little more relaxed and it has him breathing a sigh of relief too.

“It’s always the innocent looking ones,” Baekhyun sighs, “And to think I was almost deceived by your jeans and plaid button up.” Dark and medium greens that suit him well and Baekhyun didn’t notice the studs before but can catch a slight glint when the light hits them now.

Jongdae shrugs his shoulders, the amusement lingering in the corners of his mouth as he straightens out the cuff of his shirt.

“Why are you looking for someone to bring back?” Baekhyun asks, not missing the way Jongdae freezes for a second, expression clouding. It is no doubt a sensitive subject but Baekhyun can’t help but wonder why Jongdae is willing to take a near-stranger home to his parents. All jokes aside, he works at Microsoft and has social skills (they aren’t as mutually exclusive as people joke about).

The pause is telling. “My family is just concerned and I’m tired of dealing with questions.”

“They want you to settle down? Stop your plaid-wearing ways?” Jongdae snorts, still looking uncomfortable and Baekhyun doesn’t feel like pushing more. He can understand feeling pressured to settle down, his relatives in a roundabout way ask him if he’s met anyone new since his last girlfriend. Even if he thinks, personally, that faking an entire relationship is more work than just telling family to stop talking about it… he can’t speak on how Jongdae’s relationship with his family is. Everyone has their issues, after all.

“Something like that,” Jongdae says, “It’s an anti-plaid household.” He seems to have recovered a little, sipping quickly at his coffee before he takes a deep breath and starts talking more about not bringing home anyone for the past few years and how they’re worried. Baekhyun hums.

“It’s a lot of time to ask from you so I want to pay, too,” Jongdae says, voice a little stilted like he isn’t sure how to bring this up.

“I--you don’t have to.” Baekhyun wrinkles his nose, feeling like receiving payment doesn’t sit right with him.

“I can’t just ask you for that much of your time and not repay you,” Jongdae insists. He catches the stubborn glint in Jongdae’s gaze.

“How about... payment in food?” He lifts his drink in gesture. “Otherwise we’ll be discussing if I charge extra for holding your hand.”

Jongdae’s lip quirks. “Doesn’t that mean you spending even more of your time with me, which means I then owe you more food?”

I wouldn’t mind spending more time with you, Baekhyun thinks.

“You’re a smart one,” Baekhyun coos at him and Jongdae snorts, eyes narrowing across the table. “Caught me. I’m going to send you into food debt.” Baekhyun can’t stop the grin from spreading across his face, tugging at the corners of his mouth as he tries in vain to contain it.

“I figure we should go out a few times first, hang out just so we’re not awkward during Chuseok,” Jongdae says, steering the conversation back on track.

“Good plan. So, how did we meet?” Baekhyun asks. “When did you fall for me?” He flutters his eyelashes at Jongdae who just shakes his head.

“The moment I saw you,” Jongdae croons, reaching a hand out to cover Baekhyun’s on his cup and Baekhyun, despite himself, feels the skin of his neck flushing warm.

Jongdae jokes with him so easily, his hand sliding back over the table and giving Baekhyun reprieve before he pretends to gag.

“I don’t know what I saw in you,” Baekhyun sighs, “Such a cheesy flirt.”

“Hey,” Jongdae protests, “I’m a romantic!” The corners of his mouth pulled down in a frown that has Baekhyun cackling into his drink, a drawled, “Sure” masking the lingering tingle where Jongdae’s hand covered his. Despite the odd start, they’ve settled into a comfortable back and forth conversation and Baekhyun’s reasons for hesitating to help are slowly fading away until his misgivings are just barely lingering, buried away in the back of his mind.

“How about we just say our mutual friend introduced us, we got coffee and then went out on more dates, and discovered we both had an appreciation for Chris Pine,” Jongdae suggests after.

“That works, shouldn’t we make it Facebook official?” Baekhyun asks. Jongdae’s face twists.

“I don’t have a Facebook.”

“Wow. Cute couple pics on Instagram then?” Baekhyun tries.

“I thought that was for just for pictures of food,” Jongdae quips back, scratching the back of his head.

“You don’t have any social media?” Baekhyun doesn’t know if he is more impressed or surprised.

“I read Reddit sometimes and had a Pinterest once,” Jongdae says, eyes squinted, “Maybe my high school MySpace is out there somewhere?”

Baekhyun’s social media-addicted mind can’t quite wrap his head around that. How is he going to passively Facebook stalk Jongdae now and try to find out why he is single?

“Oh, I have LinkedIn!” Jongdae adds helpfully. Baekhyun sure as hell isn’t going to find pictures of college!Jongdae bent over a puke bucket on there. He hopes, at least.

Once past Jongdae’s odd lack of social media (is he a murderer, should Baekhyun be worried?), Baekhyun finds himself enjoying the coffee too much, talking and then showing Jongdae a few videos on his phone and grinning at how he laughs, hunched forward to get a better look. Their conversation flows easily after that with Jongdae asking more questions about his work, the upcoming project and Baekhyun can’t help but grin, pleased, when Jongdae remembers one of the coworkers he mentioned before. He also gets to learn more about Jongdae and his work, too, that he applied and is under review for another position, a move upward.

Dinner is even better, Jongdae taking him out to a comfortable Italian restaurant, splitting pasta and pizza between them. Baekhyun tries, probably fails, not to moan around the fresh mozzarella while Jongdae shoves more pizza into his mouth.

“Thanks, for tonight,” Baekhyun says when Jongdae’s brought him back to his apartment, stomach full and lethargy from eating too much making his eyelids feel heavy.

“My pleasure,” Jongdae says with a small grin. “I’ll text you again?” Baekhyun smiles back, closing the car door and waving as he walks backward to the door, he grins once as he looks back to see Jongdae’s car pull out of the driveway after he steps into the entrance.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The week after their date, however, begins with Baekhyun missing his last bus home and spending a good forty minutes walking home with the evening chill biting at his fingers while regressing to skipping breakfast and eating like shit for every other meal. Tuesday isn’t much better; he forgets he has plans with Chanyeol and feels like a huge asshole. By the early 6AM Wednesday video meeting with Japan, he’s ready to fall asleep at his desk and not even the promise of overtime pay on his next paycheck seems worth it.

“What happened to taking a vacation?” Kyungsoo asks, standing in Baekhyun’s neglected kitchen as he shakes the simmering contents of the frying pan. He can hear Kyungsoo’s dissatisfaction in that one question. Baekhyun leans against the counter and watches, finally done washing the dirty dishes and reaching out for the sliced carrots.

Kyungsoo’s hand slaps his away, his eyes never leaving the frying pan. Baekhyun pouts, rubbing over the back of his hand.

“I couldn’t get enough time off to travel, so I’ll be a break-less slave for a while longer,” Baekhyun grumbles, waiting until Kyungsoo turns around to the refrigerator to pull something out before he snatches a few carrot sticks and shoves them into his mouth.

“Stop trying to sneak food,” Kyungsoo says, poking his stomach with one side of the Tupperware, “They can’t just not give you time off.”

“Would you tell them that?” Baekhyun mumbles, eyeing the seasoned meat and swallowing as his mouth waters. Kyungsoo dumps it into another pan, the oil sizzling and popping. He flips the vegetables again, adding some more seasoning and hip bumping Baekhyun out of the way when he pulls open the drawer, digging around for tongs.

“You haven’t had a vacation for over a year,” Kyungsoo reminds him, turning down the heat on the vegetables and carefully turning the meat with the tongs.

“You’re forgetting influenza-cation week,” Baekhyun jokes, watching as Kyungsoo snorts, rolling his eyes as he pulls down plates for the both of them while the meat finishes sizzling, plating up and scooping out rice from the rice cooker that Baekhyun’s mom insisted he have, even though it only sees use when Kyungsoo comes over to pity cook for him.

“You should try for at least one day, just a three day weekend somewhere, get out, leave the apartment,” Kyungsoo says and Baekhyun wants to point out the hypocrisy in that when Kyungsoo was in college he wouldn’t even leave their dorm room during finals week, trying to stay caught up in courses, before he dropped out. He’s doing well for himself now, co-running a winery and art studio.

“Just one more day and then I’ll have the weekend off, at least,” Baekhyun says, grabbing both of their plates, mouth still watering. He wouldn’t mind his last meal being Kyungsoo’s home cooking… he’s unfortunately still sharing custody with Kyungsoo’s wife.

“Are you able to come over for dinner Saturday?” Kyungsoo asks. “Jihyun wanted to make sure.” Baekhyun freezes as he sets his plate down on the coffee table in front of the Netflix queue, the couch shifting as Kyungsoo joins him.

“I can’t,” Baekhyun says, hesitating just slightly before he continues, “I kind of have plans this weekend.” Kyungsoo turns to look at him sharply. Baekhyun doesn’t have plans normally outside of staying at home playing Overwatch or being forced out of the house by Kyungsoo or Chanyeol or both. Chanyeol is also going to dinner at Kyungsoo’s this weekend so they both know he should be free but he has a “date” with Jongdae.

You have plans?” Kyungsoo’s questioning eyebrow raises, judge-y things, and Baekhyun stabs at a piece of meat and shoves it in his mouth to stall for time.

“I am meeting up with a friend,” Baekhyun clarifies, juice and spice and deliciousness playing over his taste buds. He could moan.

Kyungsoo hums, clearly suspicious, but he doesn’t press further, arm resting on the edge of the table as his focus switches to eating and, to Baekhyun’s relief, he seemingly drops the subject. For now, at least. Kyungsoo doesn’t forget. This is certainly not the last time he’ll be talking about this.

Baekhyun taps the play button, Kyungsoo’s pick lined up because Baekhyun failed to win at rock-paper-scissors for the fourth week in a row and Kyungsoo just grinned, looking pleased with himself as he continues to indulge in his fixation for Viola Davis and murder.

“Wake up.”

Baekhyun jerks, cheek smarting from where Kyungsoo had pinched it. The end credits just finish rolling and the queue goes back, suggesting one more episode.

“Sorry.” Baekhyun rubs at his eyes, willing himself to be awake.

“Sleep in your bed,” Kyungsoo orders, picking up their plates and disappearing into the kitchen while Baekhyun yawns so wide his jaw pops. Baekhyun stands up, hovering while Kyungsoo starts to wash.

“You can leave them,” Baekhyun says, suppressing another yawn, “I’ll wash them tomorrow.”

Kyungsoo gives him a look, just a raise of his eyebrows. It’s deserved, after all, they both know that Baekhyun will let them soak for more than just one night… he probably won’t get to them for another 48 hours, best case scenario.

“Add it to the bank of favors you owe me,” Kyungsoo adds with a smirk. At this rate, Baekhyun is going to owe Kyungsoo his firstborn… but Baekhyun wonders if Kyungsoo would actually consider that repayment. Probably not. Baekhyun balks just slightly at the idea of children; he can’t imagine having to take care of little people when he can’t even find matching socks or put his clean laundry away.

“Your goal for this week is one day leaving the office on time,” Kyungsoo says, eyeing him, coat on and halfway out the door but turning around slightly to give Baekhyun one last piece of his mind.

“Define on time,” Baekhyun jokes and tries and fails to side-step Kyungsoo’s fist. It lands lightly on his shoulder and Baekhyun exaggerates his gasp of pain while Kyungsoo just rolls his eyes.

“I mean it, and have fun on your date,” Kyungsoo says so nonchalantly that Baekhyun forgets to tell him he is wrong until it’s too late and he desperately shoves Kyungsoo out the door with a rushed Goodnight, goodbye, Kyungsoo’s laughing cut off. Kyungsoo knows too much, Baekhyun thinks grumpily. There’s also only one more day to listen to Kyungsoo’s command to leave early and Baekhyun rejoices in there being only one more day before an actual Saturday where he doesn’t have to go in for a few hours to catch up on things.

Instead he gets to go practice being someone’s boyfriend and probably get a free meal out of it. That was their deal after all.

Baekhyun does sleep in his bed that night. He isn’t that last one in the office on Friday either and it is two hours earlier than he normally throws in the towel, so he’ll take it as a win even if Kyungsoo might not. One out of two isn’t that bad, however.

I’ll pick you up at 10? :3

On a white steed with flowers, please.

Anything for you, babe, lol

Sounds sarcastic. Babe. :/

Me? Sarcastic? Never! See you tomorrow, sweetheart <3

Baekhyun sends him a long line of eye emoji before closing out of his phone, lingering amusement not allowing his eyes to fall shut right away; he distracts himself with random youtube videos until he’s fallen under.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What is that?” Baekhyun asks as he spots what Jongdae is holding in his hands. His shoulders are already shaking with barely suppressed laughter. He slides all the way into Jongdae’s car anyway.

“My white steed? And a rose?” Jongdae offers with an eyebrow raised and a beat later he adds, his smirk looking pretty damn sleazy, “Babe.”

Baekhyun takes the small plush horse and fake flower with disbelief, mostly at Jongdae’s willingness to go through with a stupid joke but also a little in awe of his dedication to it.

“Thanks, sweetheart,” Baekhyun snorts. “Did you really go out and buy this?”

“I was picking something else up at the store,” Jongdae shrugs, amusement shining in his eyes. “Seemed too good to pass up.” Baekhyun lets the horse sit on his lap while he buckles in and Jongdae pulls smoothly away from the curb outside of Baekhyun’s apartment. Baekhyun hadn’t thought to ask what they were doing, just followed Jongdae’s vague instructions of wear comfortable tennis shoes and layers. Baekhyun is all about comfort.

What happens next does not bode well for his levels of comfort at all. After they leave the city, past farms and slowly head toward foothills covered in trees, Baekhyun realizes that either Jongdae is taking him out into the wilderness to kill him intentionally or he is taking him out into the wilderness to kill him unintentionally.

Baekhyun stares up at the sign for Wallace Falls, wondering why in the hell he’s all the way out here in the middle of literal nowhere. Buried inside meth-land, there’s a state park with a waterfall, apparently, and Jongdae and his camera are intent on capturing it at the expense of Baekhyun’s underworked legs which are about to see more action than they have in the past… Baekhyun doesn’t want to think about how long it has actually been.

“It’s a beginner course, we won’t go up to the lake this time,” Jongdae says, no doubt trying to sound reassuring. It doesn’t work. He does notice that there are a few children already back, running down from the trailhead followed by families… so maybe he’ll only half die.

“You say that like I’ll fall for this a second time,” Baekhyun says grudgingly. He had wondered why Jongdae wanted him up so early. Jongdae is laughing though, throwing on a small backpack that he pulled from the trunk of his car and handing Baekhyun a bottle of water.

“It’ll do you good to get out of the bat cave,” Jongdae teases, “see some sunlight.”

“Iron Man,” Baekhyun corrects.

“Sure are,” Jongdae says and Baekhyun narrows his eyes, trying to see if Jongdae’s subtly jabbing at the soft arm muscles and slight, very slight!, roll of stomach that likes to pop out over his belt and say hello.

“We don’t have to?” Jongdae says carefully, a flicker of hesitation in his voice that has Baekhyun folding like a piece of tissue in a typhoon.

“I expect brunch and lunch after this,” Baekhyun says.

“There are donuts waiting for you after,” Jongdae says. He is a good negotiator, extinguishing some of Baekhyun’s desire to complain. Why does that work so well? Jongdae starts walking then, shoes crunching over the gravel underfoot and Baekhyun resigns himself to a day of outdoor-ness with Jongdae.

Baekhyun follows him, glaring at his butt as he walks the trail, now a slight incline ahead of him as they walk the open path up to the trailhead where it disappears into thick bushes and tall trees stretch up and fade off into a thick forest.

The walk up the trail isn’t that far or strenuous and it’s relaxing, quiet, and the tree cover gives them some reprieve from the sun and keeps the temperature comfortable. Jongdae is considerate and he always seems to be aware of when Baekhyun needs to stop for a quick break. Baekhyun pretends to be looking at the river rushing along their right side and taking pictures of the forest around him while he catches his breath.

Baekhyun eventually spots a large covered area, relieved when Jongdae steps off the trail towards it, and he can plop himself down on the wooden bench watching with great interest as Jongdae pulls out a few snacks. The soft rushing of the river is no longer faint, they must be close to the falls.

“We’re at the top?” Baekhyun asks, tentatively hopeful but not surprised when Jongdae shakes his head.

“We’re almost there,” Jongdae answers, handing Baekhyun his share of food.

“Still not convinced you’re not planning on killing me and burying me out here,” Baekhyun mumbles. Jongdae is too busy cooing at two dogs dragging their owners down the hill to respond.

“You’re close!” One of them calls out. People are too friendly in this state, Baekhyun thinks.

“Death is near,” Baekhyun mumbles into his peanut butter power bar. Jongdae bumps their shoulders together, water bottle sloshing as he shoves it back into the side of his blue pack.

“You ready to die?” Jongdae asks brightly, a huge grin on his face.

“Always,” Baekhyun responds, standing up and stepping down to the fence, leaning against the dark logs as the faint roar of the falls is more pronounced, he can see the base of the white falls hitting the large pool of river in the distance.

Baekhyun’s hope for an easy ascent to the top ends when he sees the switchbacks cut over the hillside. It smells nice at least, like pine, relaxing nature-y things. Jongdae’s started humming, stopping to step aside for the people on the descent and saying hello like a friendly psychopath.

Jongdae keeps him distracted at least, they talk about their work some more, about how Jongdae is almost finished with a customer implementation project and how Baekhyun’s project has been sent back for revisions again. On a switchback, they stop while Baekhyun rehydrates, feeling the burn in his legs, and they talk about family, Jongdae going into who will be there at Chuseok while Baekhyun tries to commit it to memory.

Finally, the roar of the falls returns and Baekhyun can see a break in the trees ahead, opening to a small observation point. It’s empty, luckily. They’d gone up later than the peak hiking time, according to Jongdae; all the better to commit murder, he joked.

“You’re one of those happy hiking people, aren’t you,” Baekhyun says, when they stop, his eyes narrowed at him. Jongdae’s finished snapping a few pictures of the falls, leaning against the railing and looking out. He looks good, only a slight sheen of sweat at his brow and Baekhyun goes to stand next to him, admiring the view. It’s not that bad, he thinks, maybe it is even worth it.

Jongdae laughs, “For the past few years, I guess, before you wouldn’t have been able to convince me to give up sleeping in on the weekends.”

“Hmm, so you didn’t come out of the womb hugging a tree.”

“You don’t hate it that much, come on,” Jongdae says, raising an eyebrow.

Baekhyun hums, “It’s pretty, not the worst way to spend a day off.” It is probably what Baekhyun needed really, a step outside of the city and work where he can’t seem to focus on anything else but going through the motions. Something like this, not having to think, just focusing on walking and talking with Jongdae was a nice break.

“I’m glad,” Jongdae says, looking down at his sneakers then, crossing his arms and leaning on the rail like that.

“Should we take a picture?” Baekhyun asks, regretting it when he realizes he’s going to look sweaty and gross.

Jongdae takes a few seconds to get it, tilting his head before it clicks.

“You know, plant fake evidence in your phone,” Baekhyun adds. It’s kind of awkward, he’s trying not to stand too close to Jongdae and the first few they take have them both laughing, shoulders shaking as they look at Baekhyun’s stretched smile and the gaping space between them.

“Just,” Baekhyun mumbles, a flash of self-consciousness flashing through him, “Like this,” he adds, pulling Jongdae’s arm over his shoulder and leaving his hand hovering over Jongdae’s waist (surprisingly thin) as they both smile up at Jongdae’s camera.

There is barely any waterfall in the picture but it’s probably good enough. Jongdae calls it a wrap, pulling his backpack back on and leading the way down while Baekhyun follows him, knowing his thighs aren’t going to be happy with him tomorrow.

It’s quicker going back down and Baekhyun doesn’t need as many stops, following diligently while he and Jongdae chat then fall into a comfortable silence, Jongdae filling it occasionally with unintelligible lyrics half-sung under his breath.

 

“I was promised donuts?” Baekhyun says after his seatbelt clicks, secured and he grins winningly at Jongdae.

“I don’t go back on promises.” Jongdae laughs, leaning forward slightly before turning out onto the main highway, letting the steering wheel slide back. It’s not that far and the local bakery on their way back to civilization isn’t empty of donuts, having an acceptable selection left when they pull in. Baekhyun eyes a few huge bear claw shaped maple donuts and then smaller cinnamon apple cups through the glass as Jongdae pulls out his wallet and pays.

Baekhyun’s pleasantly surprised when real food also appears on their table, hash browns and eggs and bacon. Fake dating Jongdae isn’t bad and they both eat more than that hike could ever have burned off. Baekhyun finds himself feeling comfortable in this new… friendship, maybe, that’s developing between them. It’s easy to joke around with Jongdae, they have the same sense of humor, like most of the same shows and Baekhyun might even overlook the fact that Jongdae is an outdoor person.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Is the boyfriend bringing you to his birthday party?” Amber asks him at work that next week, changing the subject once Baekhyun’s coworker stands up to head back to it, taking his place across from him.

“I don’t know?” Baekhyun answers truthfully. Jongdae hadn’t mentioned there was a party. Is he meant to give Jongdae a present? A real boyfriend would… but does a fake boyfriend and kinda of new friend need to? He doesn’t mind the idea but what would Jongdae like. Then again, Jongdae had been pretty busy, their text conversations spaced out and not as frequent as before.

“If you’re going to trick his family into believing you are dating, you probably should do a test run with friends at least,” Amber adds. “It would be entertainment for us, too.” She grins, tilting her bag of Cheetos towards him and he grudgingly takes a handful and shoves them in his mouth, wiping the orange off onto the corner of his napkin.

~*~*~

Hey… so can I ask for another favor?

Baekhyun sits up straighter, a grin unconsciously stretching across his face. It’s a Wednesday night, there’s no reason he should be feeling this… pleased at one text from Jongdae.

At this rate, I’m never going to go hungry… sure.

Jongdae’s response is quick, three dots popping up briefly before there’s another bubble of blue.

Knew I could count on your stomach. I thought a practice run might be good? You know, meet some of my friends, see how we do?

Baekhyun isn’t opposed to it. He is, however, slightly surprised that Jongdae is so open with his friends and doesn’t seem shy that he’s faking an entire relationship. He guesses they know something.

We’re having it that Friday, so it would be your entire weekend and then some with me…

Sounds like a good time
And like I will be eating good for a while ;)

That first message felt too honest, Baekhyun rolls over onto his stomach and pokes at the stuffed horse.

~*~*~

“I can?” Baekhyun asks, unable to hide his surprise.

“Yes. It’s approved.” His boss says it easily, handing him back his signed leave form, waving him away from her desk. “I can’t give you a week but one day is fine.”

Baekhyun texts Jongdae that it was approved, slightly relieved that it went that smoothly but also frustrated because he could be going to Seoul, too, that week with his family but three days off in a row are not enough time. If given the choice, he would take that week-long family trip over pretending to be someone, admittedly a cute someone’s, boyfriend for a weekend in a heartbeat.

Jongdae drags him out for quick dinner that night at Red Robin, still looking guilty while Baekhyun is unbothered, pouring a generous amount of ketchup over his wedge fries.

“I really should pay you,” Jongdae tries again. For the third time that night. Baekhyun gives him a look.

“Listen,” Baekhyun sighs, popping a fry into his mouth and regretting it when it’s too hot and burns the roof of his mouth. He reaches for his water, wiggling in pain and fanning at his mouth. Jongdae’s frown is now twitching at the corners like he’s trying not to laugh.

“I’m listening,” Jongdae teases.

“I’m not taking money from you,” Baekhyun says, rather firmly. “I was supposed to take that week off anyway to travel with family but they couldn’t give me a full week. I have enough vacation unused that one day isn’t going to make a difference.” That, at least, seems to have Jongdae pursing his lips together but Baekhyun is stubborn.

“I don’t actually need to you to pay each time for dinner either,” Baekhyun adds, fiddling with the napkin on the table before he goes in on his burger, pressing down on the bun before picking it up and taking a large bite, sauce clinging to the corner of his mouth.

“I feel… bad that I’m taking up so much of your time,” Jongdae adds, still not quite accepting Baekhyun’s response.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t mind,” Baekhyun says, still chewing, swallowing as he hesitates just a second before adding, “I have fun when we hang out.” Jongdae looks relieved, a soft smile on his face as he picks up his own burger.

“Me, too,” Jongdae says, shoulders relaxing, before he takes a bite, his slice of tomato falling out and flopping onto his pile of fries. Baekhyun wipes the sauce off of his mouth but his grin stays behind, an occurrence that happens more and more often when he is around Jongdae.

~*~*~

“Don’t stay too late,” Amber says with narrowed eyes, “That report will still be there tomorrow.” Wendy’s head is also peeking over his shoulder. Baekhyun eyes the unread emails on his screen and runs a tired hand through his hair, blinking under his glasses as the words blur in front of him.

“I’ll be done soon,” Baekhyun says, spinning around to give them a reassuring smile. Once left alone, he wonders vaguely why he wants this promotion so much when it just means more responsibility and only slightly more money.

Working for a gaming company was not as glamorous or as fun as he thought it would be, even if it pays well enough.

Three more days, Baekhyun mutters to himself, giving himself another thirty minutes before he, too, gives up and heads home. He drove today, knowing that he wouldn’t make the last bus out and didn’t feel up to walking all the way home.

Baekhyun clicks through a few more emails, the announcement of the tentative dates for the training in Kyoto also released. Baekhyun hasn’t been selected, yet, being passed up for his now section leader two years ago and then by another former team member last year who was moved to another group.

He finds himself glancing down at his phone, he needs to set up his make-up bro beer night with Chanyeol… and also get back to Jongdae on tomorrow. Kyungsoo’s welfare check he replied to, at least, after some careful sidestepping of his probe into who he went out with. Kyungsoo won’t let him avoid for long, especially not when he gets Baekhyun in person…

It has been a while since Baekhyun has dated anyone and he generally doesn’t mention dates or dating anyone unless it looks like it might be long term. He’s had his fair share of short time flings and isn’t the type to share details, not that Kyungsoo would ever want to know or hear about them. Baekhyun snorts at the thought. His last relationship….maybe Taeyeon and before that his college boyfriend? Wait, unless his failed attempt at dating Chanyeol’s now ex-roommate Sehun counts. No one involved mentions it; it’s for the best anyway, he and Sehun work better as friends with cuddle privileges.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You cleaned,” Kyungsoo notes, impressed when he steps inside Baekhyun’s apartment for bro night, Chanyeol is running late which just means that he’ll be arriving just when Baekhyun expects him to.

“I can do it when I want to,” Baekhyun says, frowning at the way Kyungsoo’s eyebrows are raised in surprise. It’s like Kyungsoo thinks he isn’t capable of being an adult… Baekhyun pauses. Maybe Kyungsoo is right.

“You never want to,” Kyungsoo teases before he disappears into the kitchen to put away groceries, paper bags rustling vaguely as he pulls them out, while Baekhyun sets up the game console and pulls out spare controllers.

His phone pings on the kitchen counter as Kyungsoo pads back into the room.

“Could you get that for me?” Baekhyun asks, bending over the TV screen and trying to find the right auxiliary cords. Chanyeol would want him to drag out the PlayStation for Final Fantasy. Again.

“Have fun at boy’s night, babe. Flirty-emoji.”

Kyungsoo’s voice, deadpan, rings loud clear in the living room; Baekhyun curses under his breath and dies a little inside at how quickly he feels warmth creep up his neck.

“My Brofriend JD?” Kyungsoo definitely sounds amused, passing Baekhyun his phone.

“It’s not what you think,” Baekhyun says and realizes how silly that sounds, like he’s been caught cheating on Kyungsoo. If the amused tilt to his head is any indication, Kyungsoo feels the same way too.

“What do I think?” Kyungsoo asks quietly, untangling one of the controllers and helping Baekhyun set up while Baekhyun has an internal meltdown. It might actually be nice to have someone know about it other than Amber, considering she’s Jongdae’s friend. They are friends too but were coworkers first and there are some things he just doesn’t want to share.

Baekhyun closes his phone and grabs for another controller, unraveling the cord and avoiding Kyungsoo’s piercing gaze.

“I’m not dating him for real,” Baekhyun starts. “It’s a long story but he needs a fake boyfriend for Chuseok and I am up for free food, but he’s actually kind of cool so we hang out and are friends.” It’s a lot of words to say at once and Baekhyun.

Kyungsoo.exe is processing, processing, loading data, sync complete. Baekhyun pulls out his game cartridges and blows carefully into the spine.

“Your fake,” strong emphasis on the word fake, “boyfriend calls you babe and sends kissy faces?” Kyungsoo sounds totally convinced.

“He’s horrible,” Baekhyun says casually, pushing the power button. “You’d hate him.” Baekhyun knows that is a fucking lie, Jongdae would easily charm Kyungsoo. Jongdae is nice and charming and sweet like that to a fault. Baekhyun could easily see Jongdae joining the three of them for their boy’s nights and fitting right in. His fingers itch with the sudden urge to invite him but his brain, sometimes it kicks in, realizes that is definitely a horrible idea. Especially since he is already having trouble… Baekhyun shakes his head. Not thinking about that now.

“I’m sure he can’t be as bad as you,” Kyungsoo teases, kicking at his side. “Seriously though, why would someone need a fake boyfriend?”

Baekhyun pouts and Kyungsoo pokes at his side. Ow. Baekhyun jerks away.

Baekhyun bites at his bottom lip, he probably shouldn’t share too much since this is Jongdae’s business but he also really does want to talk to Kyungsoo about this.

“Family issues,” Baekhyun says, “His last relationship didn’t end well I guess and they keep asking about it, wants them to stop worrying I guess?” He’d heard that from Jongdae at least, very briefly. Jongdae had looked stiff, an arm over his stomach and the other hand curled around his coffee cup when he told Baekhyun. It didn’t seem right to press for more than that when it took a while for Jongdae’s demeanor to brighten after, like tentative rays of sun peeking out between storm clouds.

Kyungsoo gives him one last look, nodding and going back to their first round while they wait for Chanyeol to arrive with the booze. He does and Baekhyun eats well, a spread of burritos and chips and a few hours of gaming.

Kyungsoo doesn’t spill his secret to Chanyeol that night but he does shoot Baekhyun a look when he catches him looking at his phone after he’s been killed off, out of their game for one round, his thumbs poised over his phone as he replies to something stupid Jongdae sent. Maybe Baekhyun realizes that his cheeks don’t hurt just from laughing at how vehemently upset Chanyeol gets when Kyungsoo silently and easily beats him but it is in part because Jongdae’s texts and shared memes keep him laughing.

~*~*~

 

Should I get my fake boyfriend a birthday gift?

By the time he thought about it, it was too late to order something online like a normal sane person and so Baekhyun finds himself at the mall. It’s loud and he’s not sure he can find anything Jongdae will like anyway.

Jongdae has a nice camera but doesn’t post his pictures anywhere. Jongdae likes hiking but Baekhyun doesn’t know his shoe size or what gear he actually has, frowning at the displays as he goes into REA.

Kyungsoo’s reply comes while Baekhyun is staring forlornly at a shelf of all-weather tents.

If you want to, why not?

Whaaaaat do I get hiiiiiiiiiim?

Baekhyun trods back down the stairs, back to the first floor and past the wall of shoes. He could get him a few small things maybe? Baekhyun picks up a pair of thick hiking socks, pulling his phone out of his pocket when it buzzes. He doesn’t have much time before the stores close.

An engagement ring? A sex toy? Both? Kyungsoo’s sarcasm is dripping through his phone, it’s probably going to short circuit it and then Baekhyun won’t be able to talk to anyone about his dilemma. He’d sent Amber a message a few hours ago but she hasn’t responded yet.

Baekhyun sends back a stream of crying emoji.

Your fault for asking when I don’t know him, just go with your gut.

Baekhyun’s gut says pizza but that is just him being hungry. He hates shopping on an empty stomach. He doesn’t care for shopping, in general, to begin with. He’s screwed.

Amber’s reply comes after he’s left the mall.

Jongdae will be happy with whatever. Don’t worry about it.

Baekhyun knows that because Jongdae is nice, way too nice. It was slightly off-putting at first (maybe that’s a lie). Then Jongdae started teasing him, being sarcastic and Baekhyun knew that they could be friends. Baekhyun wants to make sure that his gift, now sitting in a bag on the passenger seat of his car, is something Jongdae will genuinely like.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s just a birthday party and then an entire weekend with Jongdae’s parents and family. He has a lot of reasons to be nervous but he steals himself, knocking on Jongdae’s apartment door with his overnight bag and present in hand.

Jongdae looks nice, dark denim and black button up, and Baekhyun’s eyes focus on the bob of his Adam’s apple as he tells him to come in.

Baekhyun whistles, impressed at how nice his place is with dark wood floors in the kitchen that turns into plush carpet as it connects with the living room. There are stairs, even, and the living room has a vaulted ceiling and large windows that give them a view of the city lights. Baekhyun doesn’t live in a dump, by any means, but his apartment pales in comparison to Jongdae’s place in one of the nicer buildings in town. Redmond’s reputation for being expensive to live in is around for a reason.

“Your place is nice,” Baekhyun says and Jongdae waves him off. The place probably even has a shared pool and gym; neither of which Baekhyun’s place has. There are small touches of decorations but it’s rather bare, a few pieces of odd art. It is immaculate. Baekhyun can clearly recall his pile of laundry in the hallway, waiting to be done. He’ll get to it, eventually.

“Ah, the bedroom is upstairs,” Jongdae says, taking Baekhyun’s bag. “If you want to put your things there?”

“Sure.” Baekhyun nods, rubbing his hands against his jeans and enjoying the squish of the carpet under his socks. Baekhyun follows a few steps behind Jongdae, stepping into the room as Jongdae sets his bag down on the bench at the foot of the bed.

Baekhyun realized he forgot to clarify the sleeping agreements, just that Jongdae said he had room and didn’t think to ask further.

“Bathroom is downstairs but you can sleep here tonight.” Jongdae’s finishes explaining just as Baekhyun checks back into the conversation. “I’ll show you where the towels and stuff are if you want a shower later.”

“Thanks,” Baekhyun says, scratching at the base of his neck. The tour ends rather quickly. While nice, his apartment isn’t huge, by any means, and they still have a few minutes before they’re supposed to leave to meet Jongdae’s friends at the restaurant.

“Before we go, uh, Happy Birthday,” Baekhyun says, grabbing for the gift bag he’d left by the couch earlier and half shoving it into his hands. Jongdae looks surprised and then pleased, asking if he can open it before he digs in, pulling out the socks and finally the camera strap, one of the ones with padding that looked like it would match his camera bag well enough.

“Yours was fraying,” Baekhyun explains. The bag still rustles, something stuck at the bottom as Jongdae goes to set it down, before he pauses and his hand disappears back inside.

“Momma Bee said if you like it, you should put a ring on it,” Baekhyun says cheerfully when Jongdae stares down at the ring pop, shoulders shaking as he laughs.

“Thank you, you didn’t have to get me anything,” Jongdae says, smiling at him. “I’ll definitely use them well.”

“I wanted to.” Baekhyun grins back at him.

~*~*~

There aren’t that many people there, thankfully, and he has one familiar face in Amber. He meets Jongdae’s coworker Junmyeon and Minseok, a college friend from the same fraternity as Jongdae. Baekhyun is still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Jongdae is a frat boy. There’s still an empty chair left; Jongin, Jongdae leaned in to tell him.

“So, Baekhyun,” Junmyeon says, grinning at him and sharing some odd eye contact over his shoulder with Jongdae. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Jongdae groans next to him.

Baekhyun grins. He doesn’t find himself bothered by the attention, not when he can tell the focus has shifted to the purpose of teasing Jongdae.

“He likes me that much, huh?” Baekhyun says with an exaggerated wiggle of his eyebrows, leaning his head on Jongdae’s shoulder and cackling when he shoves it off and shoots him a betrayed look. Junmyeon just looks amused, adding with a wink, “You know it.”

“It’s my birthday, you’re supposed to be nice to me,” Jongdae whines. Baekhyun leans against his shoulder again and Jongdae doesn’t push him away this time, just sighs heavily.

“Look at that, so cute,” Amber says, stage whispering to Minseok, “They should just actually date, instead of fake dating.”

“We’d be too cute for the world to handle,” Baekhyun says solemnly, sitting back up to drink more. They laugh and that turns into a pleasant mix of conversations that Baekhyun listens in on and occasionally chimes in with his own comments.

Jongdae squeezing out of the booth to give Jongin, probably, a hug and introduce him to Baekhyun. His handshake is firm.

Baekhyun is already halfway through his second drink and putting a dent in the appetizers, admiring the mozzarella stick in his hand before dipping it in sauce, popping it in his mouth, as Jongdae bumps his shoulder when he sits back down, their thighs pressed together in the booth as they squeeze in again.

“You’ve got the cuddling down,” Minseok says, from next to Jongdae, pulling a slice of pizza to his plate.

“Convincing enough for my parents?” Jongdae asks and his tone is joking but there’s underlying nerves in the way his smile falters and Jongin’s fork pauses midway to his mouth for just a moment.

“Your mom will just be happy you brought someone new home,” Amber says. “Don’t worry so much.”

“If you want to be convincing, maybe you should come up with some nicknames…. Sweetheart…Rice-cake cheeks?” Junmyeon seems pleased with himself and Jongdae tells him to shut up starting a short bickering match between them while everyone else turns away and falls into conversation. Baekhyun ends up talking to Minseok for a while about Jongdae’s frat days as Jongdae pretends to be ignoring them.

Baekhyun hears Jongdae swear and looks up to see Jongin laughing into his drink as the waitress sets a shot glass down in front of Jongdae.

“Really? You want me to black out again?” Jongdae grumbles but his fingers are already around it. Jongin taps their glasses together in lieu of answering and Baekhyun can’t help but watch as Jongdae downs the shot, tilting his head back and then immediately reaches for water, chasing it down.

After Jongdae opens a few gifts, Baekhyun leads them in an obnoxiously loud rendition of Happy Birthday while Jongdae covers his face, shoulders shaking, in front of a dessert plate. He smiles for the picture, holding up his cake while Baekhyun, pressed closely against his side, leans his head on Jongdae’s shoulder. Their night is winding down, the alcohol getting to Jongdae who is now leaning heavily on Baekhyun, his hand resting comfortably on Baekhyun’s knee as he laughs at one of Junmyeon’s jokes.

Baekhyun gives Jongdae one more present that night, asking for his phone and holding it up above them to snap a picture of themselves in the booth, cheeks pressed together. He sets it as Jongdae’s home screen and presses his phone back into his hands with a smug ‘you’re welcome.’

~*~*~

“Thank you for coming,” Jongdae says, still half-hanging off of Baekhyun as they stumble out of their Uber.

“You certainly had fun,” Baekhyun comments, amused, a little tipsy but he wasn’t plied with drinks. Jongdae is drunk, humming, and leading them back through the main entrance of the apartment complex and then immediately leaning against Baekhyun again once they’re in the elevator.

“Didn’t you?” Jongdae asks, eyes obviously trying to focus on Baekhyun, drunk worried.

“Duh,” Baekhyun replies with a roll of his eyes, “Now unlock your door.”

Jongdae does, brow scrunching as his key misses the hole the first time. Baekhyun follows him in, toeing off his shoes and setting down a few of Jongdae’s gift bags on the kitchen counter while Jongdae fumbles through his cupboard, pulling down two glasses and then methodically filling them with water.

“Here,” Jongdae says as he holds one out to him, glass-half-full, leaning against the counter. Baekhyun takes it and leans back next to him, the apartment is so quiet in comparison to the restaurant earlier, the silence ringing.

“I drank too much,” Jongdae mumbles between sips of water. Baekhyun tries not to laugh at him and he can see Jongdae staring at him, turning to meet his gaze.

“I guess we’re doing it tomorrow,” Jongdae says absently, eyes flicking down to his glass, breaking eye contact. Baekhyun didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he takes a deep breath. He should be more nervous but it doesn’t really feel like this is going to happen.

“Only if you want to,” Baekhyun says, “You can still tell them the truth.” Jongdae grimaces at that, a shake of his head.

“That will just make them worry more, they think that I’m not—that I haven’t been trying to get over my ex and—” Jongdae’s rambling cuts off. “That I’m still waiting but I’m not because I know it is over but they won’t.” He groans again. Baekhyun isn’t sure what to say, figuring that maybe Jongdae just needs to talk…let it out, so he keeps sipping at the water.

“Since they don’t believe I’m fine without someone. I just need them to see I’ve moved on in a way they understand.” Jongdae turns, flipping the tap up and refilling his glass.

“Alright, I’m not backing out, you know,” Baekhyun squeezes his shoulder and lets his hand slide down his arm.

Jongdae nods, giving him a small smile, finishing his water and refilling Baekhyun’s empty one. “We should sleep, it’s late.”

Baekhyun comes out of the shower, pajamas pulled on and sees blankets and a pillow on the couch.

“Want aspirin?” Jongdae asks, yawning, sitting up on the sofa and stretching. Sure enough, there is a bottle of aspirin sitting on the kitchen counter.

Baekhyun frowns. “I’ll take the couch.” He doesn’t want to let Jongdae who is not only hungover but also driving tomorrow take the couch.

“I’ll be fine.”

Baekhyun breathes in. “Tomorrow we’ll probably be sharing your old bed anyway so really what is one more night, consider it practice.” Baekhyun wants Jongdae to respond before he loses his nerve, worry creeping up inside him that he’d pushed and made it weird (weirder than it could be pretending to date Jongdae).

Jongdae opens his mouth, hesitating, but he seems to be either too tired or too tipsy or maybe a mix of both to insist.

“Okay,” Jongdae says.

Baekhyun was the one that insisted but it is his heart that starts beating faster when Jongdae crawls into bed next to him, mumbling out a soft goodnight as the bed shifts while they both settle in. He buries his face further into Jongdae’s pillow, smelling like it’s been freshly washed, closing his eyes and willing himself to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nervousness doesn’t hit him until Jongdae makes a stop an hour from Bellingham, pulling over to refill on coffee, and he hears Jongdae talking to his mom on the phone, letting her know they’re almost there.

“You okay?” Jongdae asks when they’re back on the highway, glancing over at him quickly before turning his eyes back to the road.

“Wondering if my boyfriend’s family is going to like me, normal nerves,” Baekhyun laughs dryly a few times, twisting the seatbelt in his hands.

Jongdae snorts. “They will, babe…or wait, was it rice-cake cheeks?” Baekhyun pokes his cheeks, he has gained a little bit of weight. He’s been eating too well; Jongdae is in part to blame.

The caffeine doesn’t help his jitters and he’s using Jongdae’s music as an excuse to tap his fingers along the door handle, watching as evergreen trees fly by. It’s raining lightly, just enough for Jongdae to have the wipers on the lowest setting.

The rain doesn’t let up even as they pull up into the driveway of a large house, perfectly pruned shrubs and a happy frog holding up a ‘Welcome’ sign out front. It’s missing the white picket fence but Baekhyun can see it and isn’t surprised. Jongdae seems like the type to be raised in so-called perfection: church on Sunday, prayers before supper, good grades, and an even better college education. It’s different from Baekhyun’s habit of gaming more than worrying about his grades, listening to his parents bicker over money, and taking courses at a local community college before transferring.

Baekhyun can’t help but feel out of place again, like he first felt when Jongdae picked him up in a Lexus and for those first few minutes when he stepped into Jongdae’s apartment.

“Now or never,” Jongdae says, giving Baekhyun a feeble smile.

“Don’t look sick, unless it’s lovesick,” Baekhyun jokes, grabbing their bags from the backseat and following Jongdae up the entrance.

Jongdae’s mom is short, petite and has the same smile as Jongdae when she opens the door for them ushering them inside and hugging first Jongdae.

“And you must be Baekhyun,” she says before pulling him into a quick hug. It explains why Jongdae is such a hugger, at least.

“Nice to meet you.” Baekhyun says, relaxing marginally now that friendly contact has been established. From here all he needs to do is keep friendly conversation and cuddle up to Jongdae while enjoying good food. He breathes out once, following Jongdae up the stairs and down the hall, to one of the bedrooms at the end of it.

Jongdae’s room feels like a time slip back to high school with the Destiny’s Child poster and a bookshelf full of manga that Baekhyun crouches down to peruse.

“Nerdy, R&B loving frat boy. Who are you, Jongdae Kim?” Baekhyun asks while Jongdae pulls out his clothes, hanging them up immediately.

“Your worst nightmare.” Jongdae’s Batman impersonation is horrendous and he knows it, face scrunching when Baekhyun gives him an emphatic two-thumbs down. There isn’t much to unpack for Baekhyun, he’ll live out of his suitcase, but he finds entertainment in watching Jongdae finish, sitting on the edge of Jongdae’s comforter. Even his shoes are in plastic ziplocks. It’s a new level of adult organization that has Baekhyun silently promising himself that he will not unzip his own duffel bag, full of clothes haphazardly jammed into it. Not while Jongdae is watching at least.

The hallway is lined with family photos that Baekhyun points and coos at while Jongdae threatens to shove him down the stairs which Baekhyun skips down, dancing out of reach of Jongdae’s half-hearted punches, spotting safety in the kitchen.

Baekhyun straightens up, holding out a hand when Jongdae stops trying to punch at him and instead introduces his dad, apron tied around his neck. He’s slim like Jongdae which Baekhyun envies, to be blessed with genes that mean you don’t gain weight easily.

“Thank you for having me,” Baekhyun says and is relieved when Jongdae’s dad doesn’t seem to be in the mood for small talk or questions, attention caught between what he has going on the stove and them.

“We’re glad you were able to come,” he says, “Jongdae told us it was hard to get off work.”

“It’s nothing, I wouldn’t want to miss it with the way he talked about your ribs,” Baekhyun says and gets a small laugh out of Jongdae’s dad, followed by a pleased smile.

“There’s plenty,” he gestures and a timer starts beeping. “Grandma is in the living room, you should go greet her,” he says over his shoulder, stirring at a pot, “Send your mom in here if you see her.”

They are banished quickly to the living room. Baekhyun is grilled by Jongdae’s feisty grandmother.

“You doing okay?” Jongdae asks him a few hours later after his brother and family finally arrive and there are cute great grandchildren to provide a distraction. Baekhyun forces himself to relax when Jongdae’s hand squeezes his shoulder. The hand stays there, a burning touch that he leans into.

“I’m good,” Baekhyun says, smiling and then leaning forward to help Jongdae’s niece, Mina, turn on her mini microphone set. Her older brother is engrossed in his game, kindle propped up on his lap while he leans against great grandma.

The dinner table isn’t quiet, rather it is full of conversation and chatter and Jongdae’s mom every so often, turns to him, asking him, clearly trying to include him. Of course, Jongdae’s family would be as kind as him. He relaxes, feeling better, and only jumps slightly when Jongdae’s hand squeezes over his on his knee and he smiles at him after one of his jokes has the table laughing.

~*~*~

“One day is done,” Jongdae sighs, closing his door and leaning against it while Baekhyun snorts, teeth brushed and in soft pajamas, all ready for bed under the comforter. Baekhyun is stuffed full of ribs and birthday cake. He sends a quick reply to his mom, wishing her a safe flight the next day and pushes away the remaining regret he has. He’ll just have to go home for Christmas this year.

His heart flips dangerously in his chest when the bed dips with Jongdae’s body weight and he busies himself in his phone.

“I’m sorry,” Jongdae says, a frown on his face.

“Stop apologizing when you don’t need to,” Baekhyun says, pushing at his shoulder. “I’m having a good time, everything is delicious.”

“I know you wanted to be with family,” Jongdae says, resting his head on his elbow and from this angle it’s like he’s looking down at Baekhyun. They really don’t fit on a single bed, legs already bumping against each other.

It is already different from yesterday when there was room between them and Baekhyun could pretend he wasn’t sleeping right next to Jongdae, not understanding why it was getting to him so much. It seems a little clearer now, how he feels so relaxed and comfortable around Jongdae, getting along so well, those little moments where he just wants to touch him to be close.

“Not your fault,” Baekhyun says sternly, “if you keep apologizing then I’m going to push you out of bed.”

Jongdae bites at his lip, eyes searching Baekhyun’s face and he’s too close for this, it’s making Baekhyun want to lean up, eyes flicking down to his lips.

“I’m glad you brought me, it would’ve been lonely otherwise,” Baekhyun says, sitting up and running a hand through his hair. “Could you plug it in for me?” He’s changing the subject and breathes out in relief when Jongdae drops it, leaning over to plug Baekhyun’s phone into the charger.

“Good night,” Jongdae says, turning off the lamp and Baekhyun mumbles it back, settling in and focusing on the sound of Jongdae’s breathing slowing until he nods off.

~*~*~

Morning comes quickly and Baekhyun wakes up warm, almost too warm, with a weight over his waist and Jongdae’s nose pressed against his shoulder, soft puffs of breath as he sleeps. It’s uncomfortable but Baekhyun doesn’t want to move.

He stays like that only pulling away when he feels Jongdae lift his head, groaning, his arm slipping from Baekhyun’s waist and the bed frame creaking as he sits up.

“Morning,” Jongdae mumbles, rubbing at his face and blinking. Baekhyun sits up, pushing his hair back from his forehead and yawning, jaw popping. The sounds of breakfast and people moving downstairs signal the start to another day.

“Morning,” Baekhyun says, stretching, catching Jongdae look at him before gives him a quick smile, turning away and pulling clothes from his closet.

“Dad will probably bring out the board games tonight,” Jongdae warns him, “it’ll get bloody.”

Baekhyun’s weekend passes by too fast. The board games do come out and he doesn’t have to act, really, laughing along as Jongdae and Jongdeok get into a heated argument over railroads, ending in Jongdae whining. Jongdeok’s son, however, is the most ruthless and ends up bankrupting Baekhyun who takes up residence over his shoulder, giving him insider information while Jongdae makes a show of glaring over his stack of depleting money.

“Forgive me,” Baekhyun says after, fluttering his eyelashes as they clean up the table before dinner.

“Never,” Jongdae says darkly, then laughs when Baekhyun pouts, leaning forward and pinching his lips together when he pouts.

“Not in front of the children,” Jongdeok teases even though both the children are in the living room playing. Baekhyun can’t help but be flustered, he wasn’t expecting it and Jongdae laughs, pulling away.

“Like you aren’t all over your wife,” Jongdae rolls his eyes, “already on your third. You’ll be buying that minivan soon.”

“Talking back, huh,” Jongdae grumbles, grabbing Jongdae into a headlock, his free hand roughly messing up his hair as Jongdae yells, struggling to pull away as they bump into chairs and a large plant, sending it wobbling dangerously.

“The children are better behaved than them,” Jongdae’s grandmother says, leaning in conspiratorially to Baekhyun, patting his shoulder as she slowly makes her way to the table. Baekhyun agrees just to see Jongdae mouth ’traitor’ at him jokingly, hands fixing his hair as best as he can.

Baekhyun, still laughing, stands up, gesturing for him to lean forward as he helps him, pushing down on some of the strands still sticking up, brushing his hands through his hair lightly and avoiding meeting Jongdae’s eyes and ignoring the quickening of his heart.

The cuddling at night doesn’t let up either and Baekhyun isn’t sure of what to do with this new found realization that he is possibly not just objectively attracted to Jongdae but might actually be treading on dangerous ground. Baekhyun isn’t sure if the ice he’s stepping out on is solid, stable enough or if he’ll just end up plunging into freezing water.

~*~*~

“Take some leftovers home,” Jongdae’s mom insists that Monday afternoon, giving them both hugs as they stand near the door of Jongdae’s car, bags already loaded up. She’s straightening Baekhyun’s jacket for him, patting it down.

“Bring him around more often,” she turns to Jongdae, squeezing his shoulder before stepping back with a sad smile. “You can come too.” His father adds, joking.

“Already replaced me as your favorite son, I see,” Jongdae complains. “Maybe I’ll send him up alone.”

“If Mr. Kim makes ribs again, I wouldn’t be opposed,” Baekhyun says with a wink, squeezing back when Jongdae takes his hand and he can see Jongdae’s mom’s gaze flick down to it, before she looks back up. Jongdae’s hand is warm, soft and Baekhyun doesn’t want to let it go.

“You’re welcome anytime,” Jongdae’s father says with a smaller but not less warm smile on his face. They’re the last ones to leave and grandma, sans hearing aids, who had ended up taking a liking to Baekhyun, telling them rather loudly that they made a good couple and to be kind to each other when they said goodbye that morning.

“That’s done,” Jongdae says, sighing and his entire body relaxing as Baekhyun turns back around from waving.

“We didn’t do too bad,” Baekhyun adds. “Your grandma thought we were cute.”

Jongdae chuckles at that. “Thank you.” He leans forward, blinker ticking as he makes another turn out onto the road that will lead them to the highway entrance, merging easily with the minimal traffic.

“Thank you for one of the more interesting weekends I’ve had,” Baekhyun responds, adjusting his seatbelt and setting in for a long drive back. Jongdae’s relieved smile doesn’t leave him and Baekhyun finds himself having to tear his eyes away from Jongdae’s side profile to look at the small towns passing by to give room to lush green as they finally get on the highway back home.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Baekhyun’s four days at work pass by quickly and he manages to make it out with Chanyeol and even take a few suits to dry cleaning so it is a win for adulting. His Friday evening, compared to the last few weeks feels kind of empty. It isn’t like Jongdae has stopped texting him, they still talk but there isn’t really an excuse or a pressing need to meet up with each other.

It’s odd how he misses seeing Jongdae. It wasn’t like they were actually dating; they’d been out a few times, held hands for practice, but it’s surprising how easily and seamlessly Jongdae fit into his life.

“Mr. Kojima and Wade want to see you,” Wendy says. Baekhyun feels ice race up his spine. He didn’t do anything bad? He doesn’t even google or use his phone at work as much as some of the others. What could they want with him? The entire walk to the director ’s office is long and he uses the time to brush imaginary lint off of his jacket, making sure his buttons are straight before he knocks on the door.

His section manager is there too and Baekhyun feels sick to his stomach.

“Do you know why you are here?”

Baekhyun pushes down his initial response of 'couldn’t you say something that won’t give me a heart attack' and says, “I’m not sure.”

“Well, it’s good news, so you don’t have to be so stiff.” His manager looks pleased.

Baekhyun blinks, the rushing in his ears slowly slightly.

“Good news?”

“We’d like to send you to Kyoto this November for our management program,” Mr. Kojima says, his severe expression breaking into a smile.

“I-what, really?” Baekhyun splutters. Shocked would be an understatement and it doesn’t fade throughout the meeting as he listens, nodding, as they explain the program and confirm that he is indeed interested. There’s another project that they want him to lead when he comes back, starting in April and if all goes well then he’s promoted.

“You in trouble?” Amber asks when he comes back to their section, renderings and project reports spread out over the shared table. His face is probably pale as fuck. Baekhyun mentally runs through the list of things he needs to prepare next week. He has to give his passport scans and book a flight and there are still a mountain of things he needs to do for the current project he’s assisting with.

“Baekhyun?” Amber sounds a little concerned now, waving her hand in front of his face, and Baekhyun snaps out of it.

“Fine. It was just fine,” Baekhyun dismisses her concern. “Could you show me the original text again?” He pushes the slowly bubbling excitement down, focusing on the work in front of him instead.

~*~*~

I owe you a dinner. Jongdae’s name pops up on his phone that weekend in the middle of his scheduled outpatient check-in with Kyungsoo and Jihyun (also known as dinner).

He brought wine even, in a bottle, not in a box. He adds on a few points to his mental adult scorecard for this week. He doesn’t get full marks because he forgot to ask if dinner paired better with red or white but his gamble on red won out: Kyungsoo’s made lasagna and Baekhyun could die happy.

Kyungsoo comes back out of his kitchen, small basket of fresh bread in hand, and it’s all set.

“Paws off the bread,” Kyungsoo drawls, swatting at his hands when Baekhyun goes to lift the cloth, wisps of steam wafting up when he succeeds, only to pull them away quickly.

“Sorry, Dad,” Baekhyun says, obediently letting his hand slide into his lap while Jihyun sighs something that suspiciously sounds like children under her breath.

“I’m glad they finally let you out of your cage at work,” Jihyun says, teasing, grabbing his plate and serving a generous helping of lasagna on it. She’s his favorite, definitely, Kyungsoo picked a good one. He likes it when she teases Kyungsoo the most, he goes a rare shade of red in the neck; there are few people that can get the upper hand on him and she is one of them.

“It’s nice to stretch my legs, go for a walk in the park and pee on bushes, lick my ba—ow,” Baekhyun yelps.

“Gross, we’re eating.” Kyungsoo sitting up straighter as his foot retreats to its side under the table. Jihyun isn’t phased, dishing up for herself and adding a warm piece of bread to Baekhyun’s plate. It’s time for the wine, he needs to have Kyungsoo’s walls and buffer down more if he’s already being censored like this.

“There isn’t even salad, doesn’t that give me a free pass?” Baekhyun asks and Kyungsoo almost laughs, face straightening at the last minute. Jihyun does it for him.

There is actually salad on the table and it is Kyungsoo’s, since he made it, so maybe he does have meme rights and can be upset about theoretical ball licking (okay, ball licking jokes) in front of his salad. He didn’t reference it though, so Baekhyun’s logic is solid, and the opportunity is wasted.

“You’d only get a free pass if you started making out with that boyfriend of yours that you ditched us for in front of my salad,” Jihyun adds casually as she tears a piece of garlic bread in half, brushing the crumbs off the tips of her fingers. Kyungsoo’s looking amused, relaxed now.

“Speaking of, how was meeting the parents,” Kyungsoo adds.

“Have some wine,” Baekhyun says, voice raising in pitch, as he stands up and grabs for the bottle. She covers her empty wine glass with her hand. Kyungsoo pries the bottle from Baekhyun’s fingers easily.

“Don’t change the subject, how was it?” she grins. Kyungsoo pours a glass for Baekhyun and himself, setting the bottle back down when she waves it away. Kyungsoo is a traitor for spilling his secrets so easily to his wife. He didn’t say it was a secret or make him do their embarrassing pinkie promise, so it is his fault. Baekhyun didn’t think Jihyun would take that much of an interest in his fake boyfriend except maybe she worries about Baekhyun just like Kyungsoo does. She’s usually the one inviting him over, trying to make sure that Kyungsoo gets to spend time with his friends with and without her.

“First, he’s not my boyfriend. Second, it was fine.” Baekhyun doesn’t know why he fiddles with his fork, distracted, but Kyungsoo who has known him since middle school will not let him live.

“You sure?” Kyungsoo asks.

“His parents were nice, I had a good weekend,” Baekhyun says with emphasis. He’s probably convincing. He hopes.

“I meant the first part.” Kyungsoo is staring at him and Baekhyun laughs, a little bubble in the back of his throat that dies out quickly.

“The whole point was I am his fake boyfriend,” Baekhyun says and then proceeds to shovel food in his mouth. The lasagna is delicious, so good.

Jihyun is used to their silent conversations, and is likely subject to Kyungsoo’s odd ability to catch people who are not being one-hundred percent truthful.

“You don’t have a crush on him at all?” Kyungsoo asks. The lasagna tries to make an escape down his windpipe. Baekhyun coughs into his fist.

“No,” Baekhyun says adamantly after clearing his throat, reaching for the wine because he needs it. Kyungsoo looks like one of those cartoon wolves whose backed their prey into a corner.

“Alright, alright,” Jihyun says, smiling. “You’re too fun to tease, Baekhyun.”

He thinks he sees Jihyun’s hand touching Kyungsoo’s elbow and he, thankfully, drops the topic. It doesn’t leave Baekhyun though, clinging sticky to the corners of his mind. Was he really that convincing of an actor, does he still have a shot in show business? He couldn’t possibly have a crush on Jongdae his fake boyfriend, could he?

Baekhyun slathers butter on the bread, taking large bites and isn’t sure if he wants to choke on it or not. Jihyun turns the conversation to the movies out and Baekhyun takes it, eagerly joining in and ending the night pleasantly full and slightly tipsy.

“Are you sure you don’t need a ride?” Jihyun asks and Baekhyun waves her off, holding up his phone.

“My Uber will be here—oh, now! Magical app,” he says with a grin, hurriedly pulling her into a quick hug. “I’ll see you both soon.” Kyungsoo gives him a hug after Jihyun pulls back.

He looks down at Jongdae’s message and all of a sudden doesn’t know how to respond.

 

“It’s too expensive,” Baekhyun hisses into his phone. He looks in the mirror and frowns at the high waisted nightmare that could rival Kylo Ren. November is in two weeks, his trip is in four and Baekhyun hates shopping for clothes with a burning passion of a thousand suns. Suit shopping is not an exception, it is probably what he hates the most in this world.

Amber’s disinterested sigh floats through the airwaves.

“It’s a voucher, he isn’t paying for it,” she tells him. “His client gifted it to him. Just go.”

“It’s Canlis. Will the voucher even cover it?” Baekhyun is stalling, waffling and trying to find an excuse not to go. It’s not because he doesn’t want to see Jongdae but this is so much like a date that it’s getting his hopes up… even if he knows it couldn’t be like that between them. Jongdae is so anti-dating that he has a fake boyfriend.

“It will but even if it doesn’t, dude, he works for Microsoft,” Amber reminds him. “It’ll be fine.”

“But-”

“Baekhyun. If you don’t want to go to dinner with him then you should be up front and just tell him. This isn’t just about the money is it?” She sounds more sympathetic now, tone softer.

“No,” Baekhyun hesitates. “We get along well it’s just-”

Baekhyun can hear someone in the background and Amber’s voice is a little distant, muffled when she responds.

“I’m so sorry, I have to go. But if you get along, then just go as friends. You aren’t obligated to fake date him anymore, you know?” Baekhyun struggles one-handed with the buttons of his dress shirt.

Baekhyun sighs. “I know.”

“I’m sorry, text later if you still need to talk. ‘Kay?”

“Will do.”

Baekhyun hangs up, dropping his phone on top of his pile of clothes. The dress shirt is nice but the only way he’d be caught dead in these pants is if he was actually dead and someone replaced his burial clothes in an attempt at one last good prank.

~*~*~

“Hey, are you okay?” Jongdae sounds worried, glancing over. Baekhyun feels a slight stab of guilt. He’d taken a while to respond to Jongdae’s text after he’d be slapped with an invite to a restaurant with a dress code, the kind of places you take people to when you want to propose or celebrate anniversaries or attend fancy work parties. It’s not someplace you’d take your fake boyfriend but Jongdae hasn’t been playing according to the universally acclaimed fake boyfriend rule book.

“I’m fine,” Baekhyun says, pulling a smile. “I’m going to a restaurant that costs half my rent, definitely fine.”

Jongdae barks out a laugh but still doesn’t seem convinced, like he wants to say something else and they fall back into a lull of silence that not even Bruno can fill.

There’s already some traffic, red tail lights stretching out in front of them. It’s not unexpected since it is a Friday night heading into Seattle, the commuters heading in the opposite direction have it worse.

“Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving?”

Jongdae wouldn’t want to have him come over for another holiday, would he? Baekhyun doesn’t know whether he wants to go or doesn’t. He’s confused.

“Kind of, not really?” Baekhyun says with a shrug. “I won’t be in the States then anyway.”

Jongdae turns sharply. “Really, is that for the Japan training thing?”

Baekhyun feels his stomach flip because of fucking course Jongdae would remember something he talked about weeks ago. Like he’d randomly text him to have a good day or to tell him good luck in his meeting, or send him a well timed picture just to say it reminded him of Baekhyun.

“Why do you remember that,” Baekhyun laughs it off but he’s smiling now, unable to control just how …pleased it makes him to know Jongdae cares even if he’s not sure that Jongdae cares for him in the way Baekhyun hopes (does he hope that now?).

“Of course I’d remember. It’s not often my overworked-”, Jongdae hesitates, “friend is up for a promotion.”

“It’s not guaranteed, I mean, it’s just the training so they could decide not to,” Baekhyun explains, the renewed excitement about finally getting into the program outweighing the odd way ‘friend’ lingers between them. He’d definitely consider Jongdae a friend… just one that he really wouldn’t mind kissing.

“They’re not going to spend thousands of dollars to send you over there if they weren’t serious,” Jongdae says and he sounds so excited for Baekhyun, like this is just as much his promotion as it is Baekhyun’s.

Baekhyun realizes he hasn’t told anyone besides his family about possibly being up for promotion? It’s almost guaranteed as long as he doesn’t do something stupid or slack off. Jongdae’s now the first…

“We’re definitely celebrating today,” Jongdae says firmly, glancing over his shoulder as he merges, only a few cars in front of them as they take the exit ramp.

“I haven’t even got it yet. It’s too early,” Baekhyun replies, distracted as the late evening sun reflects on Lake Union and it shimmers, peeking through the tall pine trees. When it isn’t raining, it’s beautiful. He misses summer when the line of moored boats dot the lake.

The restaurant, sitting on the hillside overlooking the lake, with full ceiling-to-floor windows is even more daunting in person. Baekhyun pulls on his jacket, watching Jongdae’s shoulders bunch as he does the same; he looks too good in his suit, it isn’t fair. Baekhyun kicks a pebble away with his shoes.

Valet. A valet driver takes Jongdae’s car keys. It just gets worse when they’re inside, soft music playing in the background, classical and there are centerpieces with candles all over and when they sit down it makes Jongdae’s face look softer.

“How does this work?” Baekhyun whispers over his menu. There’s a lot of French. Please, for the love of God if Jongdae speaks French…

“It’s a preset course, just pick from the main entrees, I guess. Dessert too,” Jongdae says, flipping his menu to show Baekhyun.

“Don’t ask me to read the names though,” Jongdae says under his breath, nose crinkling. Baekhyun would like something to drink because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to fake-it-till-you-make-it through this dinner when he has to sit directly across from Jongdae in a suit and styled hair, his black strands tamed and pushed away from his forehead. Why is he trying to look so good, this isn’t a date? Baekhyun isn’t even his fake boyfriend right now.

“I’m glad you came along,” Jongdae admits later after their drinks come and the small salad-like appetizer is set down in front of them. Jongdae’s wine remains mostly untouched. Baekhyun watches which fork and knife set he picks up and follows along.

“You won’t be saying that when I jump up on the table and start stripping,” Baekhyun says with a grin, deflecting. Great, he can do this.

Jongdae snorts into his soup. “Good thing I brought a lot of ones.”

“Hopefully those bills have two more zeros at the end. This is a high-class establishment, sir,” Baekhyun snaps back and they start snickering, the tension slowly melting between them. They’re in the corner and Baekhyun turns his head, glancing out at the lake, stained a mix of orange and pink blending into coral and only broken by the wind making small blue waves over the surface of the water.

“You sure you didn’t want to save this dinner for an actual boyfriend?” Baekhyun asks later, after the final entree is out, small puck of meat with decorative sauce swirled over the white plate.

Jongdae’s knife pauses. “I’m sure.” There’s something in his expression there that Baekhyun can’t read, eyes not leaving Baekhyun’s but he’s not confident enough to press further. The chance is gone, slipping through his fingers, when Jongdae asks him about his Halloween plans.

Jongdae is good at deflecting maybe on par with Baekhyun, a winter road dusted in powdered snow but hiding slippery black ice beneath it. It feels like with one wrong step, Baekhyun will lose his footing and isn’t sure how scratched up he’ll be in the aftermath.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

He thought he’d left behind pub crawls after college but apparently, he did not. He’d upgraded, at least, to breweries. The pacific northwest has too many bad beards, craft beer and (now legal) weed. Baekhyun can smell it on the college students around them and Zombie Kyungsoo is realistic, A+, best costume award winner for sure. He isn’t wearing a costume, in jeans and layers. It’s the lifeless eyes that complete the look. It’s just Kyungsoo in a bar, enabling Chanyeol whose Deadpool costume is so good that he keeps getting stopped for photos. He perks up when there is beer put in front of him though.

“You’re on bathroom break duty,” Kyungsoo informed Baekhyun, foam on his lip which Jihyun wipes away. Now he’s a flustered, sickeningly in love zombie. Baekhyun coos at them and Kyungsoo scratches between his eyebrows with his middle finger.

“Was better than last year’s costume, he can at least sit down now,” Baekhyun says, resigning himself to it. He doesn’t mind at all, tongue pressing up against his canines again. It feels like they’re going to come loose and he’ll end up drinking down fangs instead of blood.

“I’ll get the next round since Dead Yeol is lost in a sea of admirers,” Baekhyun says.

“Ginger ale, please,” Jihyun says.

“Same one,” Kyungsoo adds.

“We can always Uber if you want to drink, too,” Baekhyun offers but she shakes her head. “I’m good, don’t worry about it.” Kyungsoo, ever fine-tuned to her, just holds her hand in his. They’re too cute, Baekhyun grins at them. He’s glad she’s feeling better since Kyungsoo said she’d been sick off and on the past few weeks.

“Two vampires walk into a bar,” a familiar voice says from behind him at the bar. Baekhyun jerks his head around and is pleasantly surprised to find Jongdae there.

“I feel like there’s a joke about sucking things in there but it’s not coming to me,” Baekhyun says, arms easily finding Jongdae’s back and patting there a few times while Jongdae laughs in his ear. He sways slightly and Jongdae’s slow to pull away, hands lingering and slowly sliding down his arms. One hand stays pressed at the small of his back as he leans against the bar waiting for his drinks.

“I didn’t realize you’d be here,” Jongdae says and he’s smiling, fangs pressing into his lower lip.
He looks good, white shirt opened a few buttons at the top and large black cape wrapped over his shoulders. His hair is pushed back again.

“I’m enabling Deadpool with some friends,” Baekhyun points over in the direction of their table. “You’re here with friends, too?”

“Junmyeon and some other coworkers,” Jongdae says and Baekhyun’s drinks are on the bar. He could probably carry them all but Jongdae offers to help, eyes bright, and Baekhyun can’t find it within himself to deny him.

Kyungsoo blinks at the both of them. “One Baekhyun leaves and two come back, is this a nightmare?” Jihyun elbows him but he doesn’t even budge. Zombies don’t feel pain, after all.

Jongdae is social and friendly being with an unfortunate lack of social anxiety, smoothly introducing himself before Baekhyun can. Kyungsoo’s dead eyes light up when he hears the name and Baekhyun realizes his mistake.

The Jongdae,” Kyungsoo repeats, eyeing Baekhyun, “Kyungsoo, and this is my wife Jihyun.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Jongdae says grinning.

“You too, Baekhyun has mentioned you more than a few times,” Kyungsoo adds as Baekhyun tugs at Jongdae’s arm as he laughs. His bicep is upsettingly thick; he doesn’t even budge.

“That’s cute, you both came as vampires,” Jihyun says.

This doesn’t bode well for Baekhyun. Kyungsoo knows too much and Baekhyun teased Kyungsoo too much when he was dating Jihyun to be on the receiving end of any mercy from Kyungsoo.

“Great minds think alike?” Jongdae asks, voice lifting at the end.

“Take a seat,” Kyungsoo says, “I never get to tell Baekhyun’s real boyfriends any embarrassing stories from middle school, so his fake one will have to do.”

Jongdae laughs out loud at that, turning to give Baekhyun a look, like he’s checking if it is okay and Baekhyun is nothing if not a masochist. He waves his hand and then brings them back to cover his face, groaning when Kyungsoo starts talking about the class field trip to the zoo, face already heating up at it.

It just gets worse when Chanyeol comes back and Baekhyun has to leave them unsupervised while he helps unzip Chanyeol so he can go pee.

“The zoo?” Baekhyun whines later, when Jongdae excuses himself to go back to the party. He ends up with Kyungsoo’s phone number though, they’d gotten along too well in the ten minutes Baekhyun was gone. Who knows what they talked about.

Kyungsoo grins and shrugs at him, standing up and putting a soft hand on Jihyun’s shoulder, looking so soft for her. “I’ll grab us more drinks. Babe, what do you want?”

“Another beer,” Baekhyun says and Jihyun shakes her head, amused. Chanyeol makes a gagging sound next to him.

“I don’t think your crush is one-sided,” Kyungsoo says after tugging Baekhyun’s ear. Baekhyun splutters, unsure of how to respond to that except to tell him to stop picking on him, ears turning red for reasons that he doesn’t want to acknowledge.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s raining, drizzling, meaning that Baekhyun takes his car to work more often than not, preferring not to get wet and sloppy on his way to work. He’s counting down the days, anxiety in his stomach, until his trip.

His part of the project is wrapped up, at least, it’s only following up on other’s work and making sure the final revisions are done. He was touched, pleased, when his teammates took him out for dinner after they announced the training trip participation, warm pats on his back saying he deserved it.

Baekhyun doesn’t really have time to think about Jongdae and his unsettled feelings, he’s booked his flight home for Christmas to spend in LA with family. He wonders if Jongdae has told his family that they broke up or if he just hasn’t found the right timing.

He hasn’t seen Jongdae since Halloween, both of their schedules not allowing for it. The conversation flows, a steady stream in the morning, restarting during lunch break and Baekhyun thought they’d run out of things to talk about but they don’t.

Kyungsoo comes over the night before, knowing that Baekhyun will probably need someone to rant to in person, to help him calm down and pack his things. He’s sitting carefully in front of Baekhyun’s suitcase, thick rimmed glasses on as they share Chinese take out.

You’re flying out tomorrow, right? Have a safe flight

Thanks :) Almost all packed!

Send me pictures.

“You’re doing it again,” Kyungsoo says, folding his shirt.

Baekhyun looks up from his phone. “What?”

“The Jongdae face,” Kyungsoo explains, “You get all smiley when he texts you.”

“I—” Baekhyun is going to deny but he knows he’s be talking in circles and Kyungsoo won’t let him escape. He knows Baekhyun too well for that.

“I like him, alright, but he’s not interested in a relationship,” Baekhyun says, “And I’m not either.” He pulls out his dry-cleaned suit, leaving it on the bed among the other piles of things he needs to pack.

Kyungsoo makes that noise, a low humming sound in the back of his throat, when he doesn’t agree with what is being said.

“I think you’re both just scared to take that first step, to test it out,” Kyungsoo says as he helps organize Baekhyun’s toiletries into ziplock baggies.

“You don’t need a relationship to be happy,” Baekhyun replies, “we’re fine as it is.”

“Of course not, I didn’t say that,” Kyungsoo says, eyebrows pinched together, “but you—if you’re only saying that you don’t want something because you’re convinced he doesn’t, that doesn’t seem fair to yourself, to deny that you feel something for him that’s more than friendship.”

“Shit. I need a converter,” Baekhyun groans.

“Walmart, we’ll get one later,” Kyungsoo says, “I mean it, Chanyeol even commented on how you were looking at each other. I talked with him, he seems like a good guy.”

Baekhyun bites his lip, packing his sneakers in a ziplock bag, suddenly remembering Jongdae’s ridiculously organized bag, fondness bubbling up in his stomach.

“I’ll think about it, okay?” He wants the conversation to end and Kyungsoo seems to get it, still looking at him with concern.

“You should weigh it, you don’t want to go over,” Kyungsoo says and Baekhyun groans. He and his scale are going through a separation right now. He doesn’t want to be in the same room as it, let alone use it.

~*~*~

Baekhyun’s taxi, company money thank god, picks him up as the ass crack of dawn, driving him down the thankfully clear highway to SeaTac. Business class is a new experience and one that he enjoys but would only want if given to him for free. He’s only met his other four travel partners a few times at company events, all of them from different sections.

His phone pings again once he’s boarded, places his overhead luggage in the bin and settling down in his seat.

Eat some good ramen for me :3

I will eat all the good ramen for you, be jealous

Baekhyun smiles down at his phone, on a whim taking a quick selfie with his corgi print neck supporter. He’s going to try to nap.

Cute <3 Is that business class, you bougie bastard?

The cabin attendant passed him a warm towel and Baekhyun thanks her.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game

Announcements ping in the background as everyone finishes boarding, the doors closing.

lol. Did you need a ride when you get back?

Nah. They’ll reimburse my taxi fare

He doesn’t want to cause Jongdae any inconvenience or take advantage of his kindness.

Ok! We should grab dinner when you’re back, I want to hear about your trip

You’ll be the main recipient of my picture spam, you know that right?

I want to hear in person though
:(
If you’re up to it that is

Always up for seeing you
fake-boyfriend
…<3

The plane lurches, rolling backward and Baekhyun buckles, pulling out the small pillow from behind his back and trying to get settled.

haha
Good, sweetheart <3

The announcement for no electronics chimes in and he quickly texts Jongdae, reluctantly switching his phone to airplane mood and leaning back, relaxing into his seat.

~*~*~

10 hours, 3 hours of sleep, and a combined almost 4 hours on trains later, Baekhyun is in a hotel in Kyoto, collapsed face first on his bed and wondering how he’s going to keep himself awake long enough to survive jet lag.

He stares at his luggage and reluctantly sits up, stretching and then peeking out through the window, his hotel and residence for the next almost two weeks, overlooking Kyoto station and the people milling about, shopping and some groups of tourists lugging huge suitcases.

Their first day here is a Sunday, so they’ll be on their own tonight, picked up in the morning by one of the group members assigned to be their babysitters this trip. Baekhyun almost wants to make a trip to Osaka and revisit his old places but he still has the coming weekend for that.

His first picture to Jongdae is of his first bowl of ramen and double sides of gyoza. He wakes up to an I’m jealous and a picture of Jongdae’s pasta dinner.

~*~*~

Baekhyun gets the full tour, from the concept team to the engineers to sales and marketing. He spends part of the morning in each section, before being partnered with an older man, Maruyama-san, who looks severe at first glance but is kind, dragging him out to eat after work on some days, complimenting his Kansai dialect.

There is training on the Nintendo concept, an older manager that goes over their core beliefs, his voice flat and threatening to send Baekhyun to dream land. He focuses though, not wanting to give his group a bad image or look ungrateful. He tells them that they’re expected to apply what they’ve learned and keep it in mind when taking on upper management roles back home. Baekhyun does participate, shows he is listening, but it seems like a lot of it won’t translate well.

He sends Jongdae a selfie with the Nintendo headquarters sign and then his curry lunch from the cafeteria later and then maybe a video of their group in karaoke while he sings Bruno Mars, empty beer glasses spread out on the table.

You’ve got a great voice, Baekhyun Mars. I’m a fan. :3

When I get back, let’s go out for dinner.
My treat this time.

He hits send.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The resolve Baekhyun had back on that side street in Osaka is pushed to the back burner when he lands at SeaTac airport with aching joints and no voice.

“Fuck,” Baekhyun mouths, voice a rasp as he falls down in bed with all of his clothes on, jacket included. His phone buzzes in his pocket and it takes Baekhyun a solid minute before he’s able to struggle, wiggling on to his side so he can pull it out.

Welcome back. Still up for dinner?
Not tonight since I imagine you’ll want to sleep and everything

Baekhyun wants to see him, has Jongdae’s gift and everything.

Yeah. I should be good in a few days
caught something nasty while I was there
fml

He needs to get up, at least order something for dinner and find medicine. He should have something somewhere from his influenza-induced vacation.

Baekhyun groans, head foggy and sniffs, feeling sweaty and cold at the same time.

Ouch. You just got back
Are you okay?

Baekhyun closes his eyes to sleep and wakes up to his phone ringing. That doesn’t happen and his curse turns into a hacking cough.

“Hi,” Baekhyun rasps, pressing the phone against his ear.

“Holy shit, dude, you sound like death.” Jongdae called him.

Baekhyun laughs and then coughs, belatedly remembering to muffle it in his elbow.

“I’m fine,” Baekhyun mumbles, wincing because it feels like he’s swallowed sandpaper. He sits up and it’s already dark outside, he didn’t mean to sleep that long. He has to get his internal clock set back or he’ll be fucked come Monday.

“Do you have meds? What about dinner?” Jongdae sounds so much like his mom right now, Baekhyun wants to crack a smile, laugh, but it will just hurt so he refrains. His mouth is dry, throat burning and his lips crack, stinging when he moves his mouth.

“They’re here somewhere,” Baekhyun says but he hasn’t moved any further, body lurching when he tries. He’s thirsty.

“Do you have a fever?” Jongdae doesn’t sound convinced but Baekhyun can’t muster up the strength or energy to pretend to feel okay when he’s this bad.

“I don’t have a thermometer.”

There’s a long pause. “I’m not that far away, let me bring you a few things so you don’t have to go out,” Jongdae says and then another pause before he sighs and adds, “I’ll worry.”

Baekhyun’s stomach does that weird flip-thing it does when Jongdae does something nice or kind for him, so at least that part of him is functioning normally. It also doesn’t seem like he’s going to puke… probably… hopefully. Baekhyun hates puking.

“I….” Baekhyun could tell him not to, could push him away but he’s a weak. He missedhim.

Baekhyun puts on Iron Man, willing himself to stay awake. He manages it, eyes burning for sleep. Jongdae is quick, not even twenty minutes in and his doorbell is ringing and Baekhyun pauses the movie, body aching as he stands up again.

“Hi,” Baekhyun croaks, when he opens the door with blanket bunched up around his shoulders.

“Hey, welcome back,” Jongdae says, looking him up and down. Baekhyun’s too exhausted to care right now what he looks like; he’s sure he’s a mess, but it’s only Jongdae after all.

“Go lie down,” Jongdae orders. Baekhyun just thinks he looks soft in his puffy winter jacket and beanie, very huggable.

“Kitchen’s on the right,” he says, sniffling as he shuffles down the short hallway. Jongdae slips off his shoes, the plastic bags he has in his hands rustling as he quickly makes his way to the kitchen. Baekhyun can hear his fridge opening, closing again, and then some cabinets, finally the crinkle of packaging and running water.

Jongdae, still in his jacket pads out into the living room.

“Take this, don’t sleep yet,” Jongdae says when he comes back into the living room, a glass of water and pills in hand. A thermometer is pressed into his hand and he doesn’t protest, pulls off his coat and leaves it bunched around himself, while he shoves the thermometer under his arm shivering when the cold end hits his skin.

Jongdae’s fixes the blankets.

“How are you feeling?” Jongdae asks, pulling off his jacket and beanie, tossing them on the opposite end of the sofa and then fixing the blanket, pulling it up around Baekhyun’s shoulders.

“Like death, so great,” Baekhyun jokes.

“Sore throat?” Jongdae asks.

“Stuffy nose, achy joints, my head hurts,” Baekhyun says carefully, slowly, wincing as he swallows down the pills and his throat burns. The water doesn’t feel great either but he keeps drinking in small sips, letting it slide down his throat. Jongdae is sitting there, watching.

“I have soup,” Jongdae says, “take out. So, you know it’s safe to eat.” He jokes and Baekhyun wish he wouldn’t, snorting and then rubbing at his throat.

“Pears and honey if you think you can swallow,” Jongdae adds.

“I always swallow,” Baekhyun says with a wink because he can’t help himself. Jongdae laughs, pressing the palm of his hand on top of Baekhyun’s head before he smacks the back of his own hand, so gently that Baekhyun barely even feels it. He does feel the way Jongdae lightly brushes his hair into place after with the tips of his fingers, his expression softening and laugh ending in a smile as he keeps looking at Baekhyun.

Baekhyun doesn’t want Jongdae to stop touching him like this, holding himself still so he doesn’t end the moment. Maybe, just maybe, Kyungsoo wasn’t wrong when he said Baekhyun isn’t the only one with…

beep beep beep

Jongdae’s hand pulls back and he shifts, looking away, while Baekhyun pulls the thermometer out through the collar of his shirt and he looks down at it. A soft hand brushes over his, pulling the thermometer out of it and frowning, setting it down on the coffee table in front of them next to the half-empty water glass.

“You have a fever, you should go to a doctor tomorrow if it doesn’t go down,” Jongdae says, standing up again to go back into the kitchen. Baekhyun falls back against the back of the sofa, pulling at the comforter until he’s covered, rolled up like a burrito. Baekhyun lets his head fall back, letting his eyes fall closed, just resting his eyes, as he listens to the soft sounds of Jongdae moving around in his kitchen.

Jongdae’s hand, softly shaking his shoulder has his eyes fluttering open again. There’s a bowl of chicken soup and another small bowl of pears sitting next to it and the couch squeaks when Jongdae sits down next to him.

“There’s another container in the fridge and some porridge too for tomorrow,” Jongdae says, picking up the bowl and handing it to Baekhyun who takes it, managing a soft ‘thanks’. He carefully spoons some into his mouth, ginger bursting on his tongue and steam tickling his face.

“You went to Stone,” Baekhyun complains, touched and mad at how wonderful Jongdae is being, getting takeout from the good Korean place in town. He probably doesn’t realizing how much he’s messing with Baekhyun’s feelings, weakened by the cold demon that’s tearing up the back of his throat, right now.

“Oh there’s Gatorade, too. Finish that, then go sleep in a real bed, I’ll clean up real quick.” Jongdae stands up.

“Why aren’t you my actual boyfriend?” Baekhyun asks, going for joking, but he’s afraid that Jongdae realizes he means it. Jongdae’s back straightens, tensing just slightly, before he turns around laughing. Baekhyun brings another spoonful up to his mouth, swallowing despite the pain.

“Alright, flirt, finish your soup and stop teasing,” Jongdae says, smiling at him and Baekhyun can’t read what he’s thinking, another wall up. He’s too tired to try and break them down tonight; the medicine finally kicks in around the time he finishes the soup and is ready for pears, slices in smaller bites with honey drizzled over them.

“Take more when you wake up and text me if you need anything.” Jongdae has the box of tissues from the living room, setting them down on his nightstand along with a bottle of Gatorade, medicine and the thermometer. It’s the first time someone has taken care of him like this with the exception of Kyungsoo who is obligated to because he’s Baekhyun’s dad. He wears the wide-leg fit jeans. Baekhyun doesn’t make the rules, that is how it is.

Jongdae stays long enough to clean up a little, putting his bed together and is kind enough not to mention the pile of clothes in the corner or the mess of mail and magazines on his dresser. He even pulls down another blanket from Baekhyun’s closet when he asks, spreading it out over his comforter.

“Thanks for not letting me die alone in a pool of my own snot,” Baekhyun says.

Jongdae’s mouth quirks up, amusement in his eyes and a little… fondness, Baekhyun thinks.

“Rest well, you owe me that dinner,” Jongdae says with a grin, teasing. “Maybe we can go to Palisade.” He’s definitely teasing now.

“I’m not made of Microsoft money, like some ex-frat boy I know,” Baekhyun says, voice a rasping whine. Jongdae’s laughing at him now, shoving at his shoulder at the frat boy comment. They linger in his entryway and Baekhyun bites down on the urge to invite him to stay, he doesn’t want to get Jongdae sick.

“Jongdae, wait there,” Baekhyun says quickly, remembering he had a gift, walking back to his suitcase and digging through it. He hates the chills, wiping his nose on his sleeve as he digs through the bags and pulls the wrapped box out.

“Here, open it at home,” Baekhyun says, neck feeling a little warm.

“This is the second time you’ve gotten me a gift, I haven’t given you anything,” Jongdae protests, sounding guilty.

“You’ve paid more in dinners and coffee and cold medicine, don’t be ridiculous, take it,” Baekhyun says. He doubts he sounds or looks threatening right now but Jongdae backs down.

“I haven’t—You’re too sick right now, I’ll argue with you later about this,” Jongdae says, giving him a look that says go to bed, stepping into his shoes, pulling down the beanie over his head, just above his eyebrows and he looks cuddly and cute again.

“I look forward to it,” Baekhyun says, waving as Jongdae leaves, locking the door behind him and crawling back into bed immediately. He’s still sick and feeling like shit but he saw Jongdae for the first time in weeks so it can’t all be doom and gloom. Positive thinking; Baekhyun can do it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So, um, this is… kind of going to up my dinner debt,” Jongdae says halfway through their dinner, not at Palisades (Baekhyun’s wallet can’t handle that), scratching the back of his neck.

“More free food for me, yay,” Baekhyun says, loading guacamole into his taco and sprinkling more cheese on top. His appetite is back.

“My brother invited us on a ski trip,” Jongdae says quickly, scratching the back of his neck. “The pass opens in two weeks.”

“Huh?” Baekhyun asks, half of his taco spilling out of the end back onto his plate when he jerks back. “He thinks we’re together still?”

“I..well—yeah, I mean… I just haven’t mentioned,” Jongdae says, “that yet.”

“Oh.” Baekhyun isn’t really sure what else to say.

“I can tell him you’re busy with work or that we’re fighting or something if you think that’s best,” Jongdae adds quickly, “but I thought it might be fun to go together.” Baekhyun hasn’t seen Jongdae this nervous, tentative. Baekhyun thinks about it and knows it would be fun, a way to spend more time with Jongdae. The only thing he doesn’t like about the idea is he has to be a “fake” boyfriend and act the part when he wants it to be real.

“It’s okay,” Baekhyun says, laughing even though he doesn’t feel like it, “it’s probably better if you wait until at least after Christmas to break the break up news to them.”

“I’m sorry, I should have talked about the timing first,” Jongdae apologizes.

Baekhyun shakes his head. Neither talked about it or set a date, he doesn’t have reason to be upset. He doesn’t mind them thinking that way? It isn’t like he’s in danger of Jongdae’s parents seeing him out on dates with other people when the only social interactions he has are his coworkers, a few friends and… Jongdae, his fake-boyfriend friend.

“I’ll just let him know you have work.” Jongdae picks up his burrito, the sleeves of his sweatshirt pushed up and elbows on the table as he bites into it.

Baekhyun thinks it over for a few more seconds as he rebuilds his taco.

“Count me in, actually,” Baekhyun says with finality. “I want to go.”

It’s strange, Baekhyun thinks, holding a taco in the middle of their local Mexican restaurant that one smile can make his heart twinge like this and lift his mood.

Maybe it’s the fresh guacamole though. The jury is out on that one.

~*~*~

“You did good,” Jongdae praises him, his smile lifting up in the corners. They’re standing in the cold and thick snowflakes land on Jongdae’s eyelashes before melting away in seconds. Baekhyun feels warm with the praise despite the cold around them, his breath puffing out in translucent white clouds.

“Despite the instructor I got stuck with,” Baekhyun goads, grinning at him and then gasping, his laughter carrying across the snowy hill as Jongdae gets him in a headlock, and complains at him. Baekhyun wriggles out of his grasp, twisting until he’s free with only one foot strapped into his board as his balance pitches precariously on the snow while he and Jongdae both wobble dangerously. Baekhyun’s cheeks flush when Jongdae leans forward, pressing into his chest as he loses his balance and Baekhyun braces himself, digging his free foot into the snow further, his arms going around Jongdae’s waist automatically.

Baekhyun’s traitorous eyes slip down to Jongdae’s lips and there’s that pesky urge again, that overwhelming desire to kiss him, tugging at his insides and sending temptation swirling through him in a frenzy that could rival the snowfall that coated the ski resort they’re at.

He could just lean in, it isn’t like Jongdae is moving, rather he’s staring too, his mouth just slightly parted as they stay frozen in place, arms around each other.

Baekhyun goes to lean in and his board slides again, sending him into the beginning of an impromptu split as Jongdae laughs, holding at his arms to steady him. The moment is sufficiently broken but regret lingers in Baekhyun’s stomach until they both make their way the rest of the way down and back to the lodge.

“How’d it go?” Jongdeok asks. He’s braiding Mina’s hair into pigtails in front of the lodge fireplace.

“You’re a better teacher than Jongdae, for sure,” Baekhyun says loudly over his shoulder, pleased when Jongdae complains at him and Jongdeok just says, “Duh.”

“If you both want to go for a run, I’ll take them over to the tubing area?” Baekhyun offers, tentatively, a little shy. Jae perks up from where he’s stretched out on the couch, game back in hand.

“Can we?” He asks, and there are the Kim family sparkly eyes that no one can say no too. Jongdeok is going to fold, Baekhyun thinks, or maybe its hypnotic powers are ineffective on blood relatives….

“Yeah, can we?” Mina joins, parroting and bouncing on the ground while Jongdeok fumbles with the hair tie.

“If you’re on your best behavior and listen to Baekhyun, and, Jae, you need to watch out for your sister,” he says sternly while Jae pumps his fist in the air, jumping off the couch and sprinting to the room with Mina running after him, giggling down the hallway.

“Come back with your gloves and hats,” he yells after them from where he’s sitting on the floor.

“Are you sure you want to take the hellions out?” Jongdeok asks. Jongdae’s staring at him and Baekhyun thinks he catches surprise, maybe even gratitude in his expression before it slips away.

“Trying to find an excuse not to race me, bro?” Jongdae says slyly, giving his brother a smug look.

“I’ll have my phone on,” Jongdeok says, patting the pocket in his chest, “Call if they’re out of hand. I need to go kick your boyfriend’s ass.”

“I’m quite fond of it, so no permanent damage please,” Baekhyun says just to see Jongdae’s ears flame and mouth go agape.

Jongdeok shakes his head, reluctant laughter forced out of his chest.

“No guarantees.”

Jongdae narrows his eyes at Baekhyun as he zips up his jacket and pulls his gloves back on.

“Have fun.” Baekhyun waves them out, blowing Jongdae a kiss just to see him bat it out of the air and stomp on it after. Baekhyun snickers, trying to force a pout but ends up with a wobbly smile instead.

Baekhyun ends up helping Mina with her jacket, zipping it up and helping her pull on her Elsa gloves and bright yellow hat, pulling it down snug over her ears.

“You ready?” Baekhyun asks Jae, who nods frantically, running and pushing the door open as he tries to run through the snow ahead of Baekhyun who’s holding Mina’s hand.

The tube sledding area isn’t that far from the lodge and Baekhyun spends the better part of an hour walking up the huge hill only to slide down it in a large tube, Mina’s giggles turning into pleased screams as they fly down the hill, spinning around and catching air on some of the bumps as Baekhyun holds her so she doesn’t go sailing.

Jae is fearless, sliding down backward, yelling until he’s hoarse and throws himself face first into a snowbank only to roll over on his back and say he’s dead, arms flapping uselessly.

“You want to go back?” Baekhyun asks, amused at his lackluster snow angel and then laughing when he nods, standing up, with bits of snow clinging to the back of his coat. They do well for a while but get tired halfway there. Mina clings to his shoulders when he picks her up, carrying her back while Jae trails behind them rather than sprinting ahead in front of them like he did on the way there.

Jongdae and Jongdeok arrive some twenty minutes after them, stomping off the snow on the porch before they come in, smiling as they peel off layers of clothes and talk about the run. Jongdae’s nose and cheeks are red and Baekhyun refrains from the Rudolph jokes for now.

“They’re so quiet,” Jongdeok says under his breath to Baekhyun, “What did you do?”

Baekhyun looks back at them over his shoulder, Mina’s curled up on the sofa, her legs folded under her as she watches a show, and Jae is stretched out, reading.

“They wore themselves out?” Baekhyun tries. “I’ll send Jongdae some pictures from today, so you can share when you get home.”

“Good find, Jongdae,” he says, clapping him on the shoulder and then leans in to say something that Baekhyun can’t catch but has Jongdae punching Jongdeok half-heartedly in the shoulder.

~*~*~

This isn’t the first time they’ve slept in the same bed, they’ve slept together a lot considering the circumstances but now that Baekhyun thinks about it, it means something a little more when Baekhyun can put a name to what he’s feeling.

Baekhyun leans forward, spitting away the toothpaste and slips around Jongdae who is flossing, hair looking silky and slightly fluffy from the hair dryer. He wants to run his fingers through it so instead, he runs away into their room, pulling the comforter of their bed back and slipping in on the left side.

Jongdae flips off the bathroom light later, climbing into bed and sliding in next to Baekhyun without any hesitation. If they dated for real, then maybe it could be like this… sleeping in bed together, vacationing together.

“All good?” Jongdae asks, eyebrows pointing up, one arm bent back, resting under his head.

Baekhyun looks away. Stretching his arms above his head before sinking further into the blankets, burying himself up to his nose.

“Great. Tired though.” His body is worn out from all of the falling (lots of falling, more falling than snowboarding) and walking in gear that makes him feel like he suddenly became Baymax.

Jongdae hums, flicking off the side lamp but his face is light up by the light of his phone for a few more moments before he rolls onto his side to plug it in, the bed rustling as he gets settled in. Baekhyun stares up at the ceiling, swallowing and tries not to focus on how Jongdae is right next to him.

“Baekhyun?” Jongdae asks, voice soft, tentative, like he’s dipping his toe in the water to test out the temperature. It isn’t necessary with how warm Baekhyun’s feelings for him are.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you,” Jongdae says. “I am really—happy that you came along.”

“It’s too bad we couldn’t stay longer,” Baekhyun says and the I want to spend more time with you. remains unsaid, swallowed down.

He can hear Jongdae’s soft agreement. “I like,” Jongdae pauses and Baekhyun’s heart does too, “spending time with you.” Only for it to return to normal, calming in his chest.

“Me too,” Baekhyun says, not hesitating at all, turning his head to the side to look at the lines of Jongdae’s face in the dark.

“G’night,” Jongdae murmurs, pulling the blankets up over his shoulder as he settles in.

“Night,” Baekhyun repeats back, turning on his side and settling in.

~*~*~

Baekhyun wakes up to eyelashes and Jongdae curled up next to him, his arm over Baekhyun and their legs tangled together. It isn’t anything new, Baekhyun is Jongdae’s fleshy teddy bear, it seems. Kind of creepy when he thinks of it like that but, well, it also isn’t that far off.

“Jongdae,” Baekhyun sing-songs under his breath, wanting him to wake up so he doesn’t keep staring at his face like a creep. His eyebrows pinch together and he scrunches, lips brushing against Baekhyun’s shoulder as he tries to burrow into the pillow.

“Jongdae,” Baekhyun tries again, mouth suddenly dry as Jongdae’s thigh pushes between his as he shifts around. Baekhyun pulls back and Jongdae groans, slowly blinking his eyes open and staring up at Baekhyun as he boots up. Baekhyun can see the spinning wheel, when he reaches 75% he sits up, thick blankets falling down to his waist.

Jongdae rubs at his eyes. “Morning.”

“Morning. You cuddled me, buy me breakfast,” Baekhyun says, recovered now.

“It comes free,” Jongdae mumbles, stretching.

“Buy me second breakfast,” Baekhyun amends and Jongdae throws a pillow at him, missing by a mile.

Baekhyun chats with Jongdae in the car, waving at Jongdeok when he pulls out ahead of them from the parking lot, the snowboarding gear tied to his SUV’s roof and kids waving frantically from the backseat as they head for home.

It takes a few hours, conversation flowing until it turns into impromptu car singing and Baekhyun’s cheeks hurt from the time he’s having. It dims though when they pull up to his apartment and Jongdae parks in front.

“I’ll get your stuff from the trunk,” Jongdae says and Baekhyun grabs his wrist, the pop of the trunk unlocking loud.

“Jongdae, wait, I,” Baekhyun licks his lips, voice shaking with sudden nerves. He thought about this for the past hour of the drive, about how much fun they had and how natural it was. Baekhyun is going to try.

Jongdae does wait, patiently not saying anything but looking at him with the same kind expression, encouraging him to say go ahead. Baekhyun steels himself.

“I like you,” Baekhyun says, turning to Jongdae, making sure he meets his eyes. He sees the surprise in them, Jongdae’s mouth fall open and then close again, lips pressed together.

“…I want to take you out on a real date.” Baekhyun’s sure that his heart is going to hammer out of his chest and his palms feel sweaty, gross as he holds onto his knees.

“You—I’m,” Jongdae says, then cuts off. He’s still surprised but Baekhyun’s heart drops the minute he sees guilt worm its way across his face, his lip pulled between his teeth.

“I’m not looking to date,” Jongdae says. “Anyone.”

Baekhyun tries not to but he can’t help but flinch, glancing down at the backs of his hands.

“It’s not that I don’t. I—really care for you but I’m not in a place where I can date,” Jongdae explains.

“You said that before but I don’t understand why not,” Baekhyun says honestly, forcing himself to look up at Jongdae and seeing him look down at his lap.

“I spent six years with someone, planned a future with them, and was going to buy a ring—” Jongdae pauses, speaking carefully, there isn’t anger only residual hurt, “they had to go home for family reasons for a while and that while turned into a permanent move. I thought of following them but I—they told me they didn’t think we’d work.”

Baekhyun can’t say anything, heart aching.

“I’m not in love with them anymore and I’m over it but... I’m not ready to date again, to invest myself in someone like that,” Jongdae says firmly. “I’m sorry,” he adds a little softer.

“Okay,” Baekhyun says, trying for a smile. “I’m sorry you were hurt.”

He licks his lips, voice shaking. “I also,” he pauses, hesitating and staring at his hands again. “I—don’t think I can pretend… to be your boyfriend… anymore.” He runs his hands through his hair quickly and then gathers his things, hand on the doorknob because the mortification is catching up with him and he wants to be out of here now.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae calls him softly and he might as well have grabbed Baekhyun’s wrist and held him back, because it has the same effect, holding him in place.

“I’m really sorry.” It’s not what Baekhyun wants to hear but he nods anyway.

“I’ll be fine,” Baekhyun shoots him a smile.

“We’re still okay right? Friends?” Jongdae asks, eyebrows pulled together.

“Friends, yes, just,” Baekhyun hesitates but isn’t able to hold the words back, “don’t be too nice to me. I’ll get the wrong idea.”

He pushes the door open, he needs to get out of here, back inside his apartment so he his brain can replay that entire conversation over and over again. He hears Jongdae’s car door open too but can’t look up at him, lifting the trunk and pulling his duffel out while Jongdae watches, helping him lift it. An odd silence passes between them and Jongdae’s mouth opens then closes, his lips pressed thinly together.

“Thank you for the fun weekend,” Baekhyun says, “Drive safe.” He ruined it and pushed and look where it got him.

He doesn’t look back, dropping his bag in his apartment entryway and lets his forehead gently knock against his front door as he groans. So stupid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The smell of burning onions drags Baekhyun into the kitchen to check on progress. He’s in his pajamas now that Kyungsoo forced him to shower, something rude about him smelling like the garbage dump outside.

“It’s under control,” Kyungsoo says, quickly turning the burning off and trying his best to pick out the burnt pieces. The pan is still sizzling.

“Did something happen?” Baekhyun asks, Kyungsoo may be able to read Baekhyun like an open book but Baekhyun has a degree in Kyungsoo.exe programming and he can tell there’s something on his mind, he hasn’t been this distracted since he first started dating Jihyun.

“You’re not fighting, are you?” Baekhyun presses when Kyungsoo tries to say no and he’s fine.

“No.” Kyungsoo laughs, shaking his head. “It’s—we’re here to eat your feelings. There’s even ice cream.” Baekhyun frowns at that, he already told Kyungsoo about the Car Conversation(tm) a few days ago, calling Kyungsoo and scaring the crap out of him because he knows how much Baekhyun hates phone calls. He couldn’t really type though, his eyes were malfunctioning, a bad leak. He’d return them but he doesn’t have the receipt.

“I’m fine,” Baekhyun says, “You’re glitching, though. What’s up? Did someone spill water on your motherboard?” Kyungsoo’s mouth pulls down in a frown, eyes blinking quickly, as he chops another onion.

Baekhyun isn’t quite fine but he will be. Jongdae hasn’t texted him and he hasn’t texted Jongdae either, and that makes him a little sad. Baekhyun is the one that made things awkward, though, so once he is up to it, he’ll make them not awkward. Later. After he’s had ice cream and feels better about breaking up with his fake boyfriend. Yeah, he thinks, that’ll make a good joke later.

“Kyungsoo,” Baekhyun says. “You can tell me anything, right? I’m your best bro. I stopped you from getting that dick pier—” Kyungsoo’s hand covers his mouth and Baekhyun, out of past knowledge and experience, wisely chooses not to lick it.

“We don’t talk about that,” Kyungsoo says, groaning. He’s made up his mind though, nervousness making him jittery again.

“Jihyun is parents. We’re going to be pregnant,” Kyungsoo’s voice is shaking, tumbling out in a rush of nerves. A pause. “Jihyun is pregnant. We’re going to be parents.” He’s smiling, though, looking relieved.

“Holy shit,” Baekhyun’s breath whooshes out of him before he hugs Kyungsoo who returns it, a laugh bubbling up and pressed against Baekhyun’s neck.

“Congratulations.” Baekhyun is excited for him, squeezing him harder and patting his back.

“I’m scared,” Kyungsoo admits, “Excited, nervous. Her first ultrasound is next week.”

“It’ll be fine,” Baekhyun says, ” but I don’t think dinner is.”

Baekhyun smells burning onions again and Kyungsoo swears.

“Let’s just order in?” Baekhyun suggests, looking at the blackened edges of the second attempt at dinner.

~*~*~

Merry Christmas
I hope you’re having a great time with your family

The familiar excitement of seeing Jongdae’s name in his phone fizzles out quickly, diluted down by the lurch in his stomach and the reminder that they haven’t talked at all. It hasn’t been two weeks yet but it feels like it has been forever.

Merry Christmas to you too!

Baekhyun doesn’t know what else to add or to say starting and then erasing, missing the time when he didn’t have to think so much with Jongdae. He thinks they’ll get there, once he can remove his feelings… he’s working on it, but it is taking more time than he’d like.

Jongdae’s speech bubble pops up again and Baekhyun leaves the room, he needs to get dressed, his brother and girlfriend of seven years will be over soon. Baekhyun looks forward to hearing his mom’s subtly placed hints at marriage even if, from what he can see, they both seem content without it.

When do you fly back?
I’ll pick you up.

Baekhyun doesn’t know how to respond to that.

Thanks for the offer but Chanyeol’s already on it

Jongdae’s reply pings back immediately.

I would really like to pick you up.
I’ll get lunch..?

He doesn’t open the thread right away, leaving Jongdae on unread. He’s insisting but Baekhyun can’t imagine what for.

Remember that thing about being too nice…lol
But if you insist, I’ll tell Chanyeol not to bother

He sends Jongdae a screenshot of his flight info and shoves all thought of Jongdae and fake dates to the back of his mind to be with his family, opening presents and eating until he’s stuffed full. His mom shows him all the pictures from Korea and talking about her cousins and Baekhyun sits back on the sofa, huge and soft, as he sips at his mom’s spiced wine (a recipe from her book club friend).

The weekend passed by too quickly, as it usually does and he feels sad, a little mopey, when he hugs his mom goodbye and squeezes her tightly, enjoying how she still calls him her little Baekhyunnie even though he is a good head taller than her.

His brother drives him to LAX and they catch up. It isn’t awkward with his brother but they’re far apart in age, and while they have common ground, Baekhyun can’t help but compare it with how close Jongdeok and Jongdae are.

“Have a safe flight,” Baekbeom says, pulling him in for a hug and purposefully messing up the back of his hair. Baekhyun laughs, feeling loved and waving at Baekbeom’s car for a few moments before he heads to departures, wishing he’d brought his suitcase instead of a duffel bag as it cuts into his shoulders.

~*~*~

The flight is nothing like the one he took last month. After only a few hours, he can see the thick patching of dark green and sparkling lakes out of the small window, watching as the plane slowly descends towards the ground.

The landing is the worst part but that’s not why Baekhyun’s stomach is in knots. He powers up his phone and sees another message from Jongdae.

I’m by baggage claim

Baekhyun takes a deep breath, letting Jongdae know he’s on the way and stands up, head bent down to avoid hitting it on the overhead bin as everyone shuffles towards the exit.

He’s back home, in a sea of NorthFace jackets and dark colors. Everyone looks colder, bundled up, and Baekhyun’s body isn’t ready for it. He’s also wondering what Jongdae wants, hand tapping against the escalator handle.

Carousel 9 has most of his flight huddled around it and he looks around, searching for Jongdae.

“Baekhyun.”

He jerks around and nope, his heart still doesn’t know what’s good for it, dancing around like a drunk white girl in his chest. Jongdae’s in that stupid puffy jacket again, red scarf around his neck and Baekhyun’s eyes make their way down he sees he’s holding a paper Starbucks bag.

Baekhyun is having a hard time remembering that he shouldn’t like Jongdae.

“Thanks for picking me up, is that for me?” Baekhyun asks, pointing at the bag. Jongdae laughs, opening it and pulling out a cup for him. The baggage carousel beeps loudly behind them, jerking as it starts up. Baekhyun should turn around, watch for his bag but he doesn’t, there’s still something odd between Jongdae and him, tense. Baekhyun isn’t going to break it again.

“Can we talk in the car?” Jongdae asks, searching Baekhyun’s face who just nods. It’s Jongdae that spots Baekhyun’s duffel, grunting when he pulls it off the belt. Baekhyun tries to grab it from him but Jongdae turns away from him, walking ahead of Baekhyun in the direction of the parking garage.

It’s quiet before Baekhyun tentatively asks Jongdae about Christmas and they fall back into an easy conversation, Jongdae laughing as he tells Baekhyun about Jae and Mina’s antics and how every year Jae is determined to wait up for Santa but keeps falling asleep on the sofa. This year Mina joined and the Santa stakeout didn’t make it past ten at night.

“They asked about you,” Jongdae says after they’ve thrown Baekhyun’s bag into the back of his car, carefully shutting the trunk. Baekhyun didn’t realize “later” meant in the almost full parking garage but, well, he hates the anticipation of waiting. He’d rather Jongdae just rip the bandaid off.

“What did you say?” Baekhyun asks, keeping his voice neutral but the only thing stopping him from drumming his hands nervously on top of Jongdae’s car is that he has them clasped around the coffee.

“I couldn’t tell my family,” Jongdae says, and Baekhyun doesn’t realizes he’s frowning until Jongdae is telling him to wait, to listen.

“At first, I thought it was because I just didn’t want to worry them but—Jongdeok asked what happened and—I. I told him everything… and,” Jongdae’s voice shakes but he’s looking at Baekhyun, meeting his eyes and there is determination in the set of his jaw.

Baekhyun doesn’t say anything, waiting for Jongdae to finish, something like hope rising tentatively, terrifyingly in his chest.

“I realized that I liked being with you and I miss you, so much,” Jongdae’s voice softens, “I like you, Baekhyun. A lot. I want to hold your hand, take you on dates, kiss you.”

Baekhyun can’t help it, breaking eye contact and failing to hide his smile, lost for words. He can’t leave Jongdae hanging like that so he sets his coffee cup down on the trunk of the car and reaches for Jongdae’s jacket, curling his hands in it and pulling him close for a tentative press of their lips.

Jongdae lets out of breathless laugh of relief, arms going around Baekhyun, kissing him back. Baekhyun can’t do anything else but fall further into it. They stay like that, slowly making out behind Jongdae’s car and Baekhyun doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Are you leaving?”

They jump apart, an irritated looking older woman with her window rolled down is staring at them.

“Yeah, just a minute,” Jongdae says, hurrying to the driver’s side while Baekhyun slides into the passenger’s seat, holding his coffee between his legs as his lips tingle.

“So,” Baekhyun starts as they go round and round, circling down to the exit ramp of the parking striation and to the highway. “We’re actually dating now?”

Baekhyun can see Jongdae smile, his shoulders relaxed.

“If you still want to, then I do,” Jongdae says and then his face scrunches up, “I still have things I’m working on—trying to work through but I hope—or what I mean to say is, I’ll try…”

“First step is to not worry so much, we’ll figure it out,” Baekhyun says and reaches out to squeeze Jongdae’s knee, pulling away immediately because, you know, driving down the highway, but he hopes it gets the message across.

Jongdae catches his hand, squeezing it and then bringing it up to his mouth, pressing a kiss to the back of it. It’s disgusting and sappy and Baekhyun wants to die. It’s just for them, though, and he smiles knowing that they don’t need to pretend anymore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You’re both gross,” Kyungsoo says, passing Jihyun her sparkling cider and hovering around her. The ultrasound picture and slightly, barely noticeable, curve of her stomach seemingly make the fact that he is going to actually be a dad (not just Baekhyun’s pretend dad) real.

“They’re cute,” Jihyun corrects and it is nice to have one person on their side. Jongdae’s chest shakes with laughter and Baekhyun lifts his head from Jongdae’s shoulder to ask Kyungsoo for champagne. He is well aware of the way Jongdae’s hand keeps rubbing at the side of his arm, up and down. Baekhyun loves his friends but he’ll be glad when they’ve finished watching the space needle blow up so he can take Jongdae home and do another version of blowing.

“Thank you,” Jongdae says and then he’s doing that thing where he charms all of Baekhyun’s friends and makes Baekhyun like him even more. It’s horrible. Kyungsoo is even fond of him and it took him approximately one percent of the time it took Baekhyun to worm his way into Kyungsoo’s heart.

They count down along with the TV, Chanyeol grabbing a party horn in one hand and alcohol in the other, is not the loudest person. That award goes to Jongdae, whose reign as Last Noise King lasts until 12:00 sharp. Baekhyun doesn’t need excuses to kiss Jongdae but he isn’t going to miss an opportunity to make out with him.

~*~*~

Jongdae’s bed is just as comfortable as Baekhyun remembers, stretching out on it, pulling off his last layer of clothes as he watches Jongdae strip down to his boxers. He wants to reach out and touch, he hasn’t been able to stop. Jongdae is just as bad and he’s already learned how to rile Baekhyun up, putting it to practice as he crawls into Baekhyun lap, cups his jaw and kisses him.

It’s nice, Baekhyun’s hands rest on top of his legs, sliding up over the material of his boxers, dragging it with him before sliding them back down over his bare thighs. He keeps up the motion, grounding himself, trying to touch all of Jongdae.

Jongdae kisses him deeper, opening his mouth into it and flicking his tongue over the seam of Baekhyun’s lips until he opens his mouth, too, hands finding Jongdae’s ass and squeezing, pulling him closer.

“Great start to the new year,” Baekhyun says, eyes fluttering and heart rate picking up as Jongdae’s lips move across his jaw, a laugh puffing against it, followed by a soft kiss. He could let Jongdae kiss him for hours, and he probably would. He keeps finding an excuse to kiss Baekhyun, soft kiss pressed against his neck while he’s brushing his teeth, or leaning in to press a chaste kiss when he picks Baekhyun up, it’s a lot. Baekhyun isn’t complaining. Even if he still turns pink which just makes Jongdae laugh and call him cute.

“Agreed,” Jongdae says softly, propping himself up on one arm and staring at Baekhyun with too much fondness before leaning in, their lips sliding against each other. It’s slow, relaxing, filling Baekhyun with warmth from his toes to the tips of his ears. Then Jongdae’s mouth opens again and he steals what was left of Baekhyun’s breath, kissing him like he needs Baekhyun to breathe.

He wants more, always, of Jongdae, hips rolling up, searching for friction, hands pulling his ass down. He loves how it is soft, warm under his palms.

“What do you want?” Jongdae asks, picking up on Baekhyun’s rhythm, mouth parted and lips swollen and looking well kissed, while his eyes flick over Baekhyun’s face. He’s probably getting off on how easily he’s working Baekhyun up, already half-hard just from some kissing and grinding.

Baekhyun’s hands pause on Jongdae’s ass as he thinks about it.

“Take these off,” Baekhyun says, snapping the waistband and cackling when Jongdae yelps.

“Jerk,” Jongdae complains but he rolls off Baekhyun, falling back against the white comforter, lifting his hips as he pulls them off and kicks them to the floor.

“You won’t be saying that later,” Baekhyun says, grinning and enjoying the split second strip show.

“Not convinced yet,” Jongdae says dryly. Baekhyun looks at him, touching himself once before he rolls onto his knees and leans over Jongdae, kissing him quickly before immediately pressing his lips down against his neck, sucking at briefly at his Adam’s apple and grinning against Jongdae’s skin when he groans.

“I’m very convincing, also good at this,” Baekhyun says, and Jongdae just laughs breathlessly, his hands rub encouraging circles on his shoulders, and Baekhyun looks up every once in a while as he makes his way down Jongdae’s chest. He tastes the skin there, tongue flicking quickly at his nipple and pleased at how his muscles twitch, jerking under his touch.

Baekhyun takes his time exploring, knowing that it’s getting to Jongdae and even though Baekhyun isn’t a patient person, he finds himself taking his time, working his way down to Jongdae’s flat stomach. Like his chest, Jongdae’s muscles tense, jumping, when he presses his lips there and then sucks at the skin, leaving a mark. Jongdae’s breathing hard now, licking his lips when Baekhyun sucks a hickey onto the thin skin stretching over his hip bone.

It’s cute, how Jongdae whines, eyebrows pinching together when Baekhyun finally touches him. He leans over to grab lube before curling his fingers around Jongdae’s half-hard cock and slowly strokes, the slide easy. Jongdae’s breath wheezes out between his lips, hips jerking as he hardens, growing in Baekhyun’s hand.

“Fuck, I’ve been thinking about this all day,” Baekhyun admits, hand still curled at the base as he leans down, glancing up to watch as Jongdae’s face goes slack with pleasure when he slides his mouth over him.

“Don’t say—that,” Jongdae moans, fingers finding their way into his hair and Baekhyun bobs his head, Jongdae thick on his tongue. He ignores the taste of lube, pulls back to suck at the tip, and presses his tongue under the head. Jongdae sighs softly, a low moan that has Baekhyun answering, his own cock twitching at how good Jongdae looks spread out under him like this.

“You weren’t kidding,” Jongdae groans out as Baekhyun’s tongue curls around the tip, cheeks hollowing as he slides down, nose pressed against Jongdae’s skin. He could keep it up, watching as Jongdae’s thigh tense, fingers tugging at Baekhyun’s hair.

They’ve been building up to this for a while and Baekhyun isn’t that surprised when Jongdae tries to warn him, pushes at his shoulders. But Baekhyun doesn’t budge, just pulls back slightly, lips still curled around Jongdae’s dick as he jerks, gasping and chest heaving as Jongdae comes hot over Baekhyun’s tongue.

Jongdae swears, hands covering his eyes, upper arms catching Baekhyun’s eye. He wipes the corner of his mouth, swallowing down as Jongdae catches his breath.

“Good?” Baekhyun asks knowing the answer, smug.

“I thought the ‘I always swallow’ thing was a joke,” Jongdae says, teasing, but then pulls him closer, “That was hot, felt so good.” Baekhyun preens as Jongdae kissing him softly, licking into his mouth and Baekhyun falls on him, groaning as he rubs against Jongdae.

“You only asked what I wanted, didn’t tell me what you wanted,” Baekhyun complains between kisses.

“I want to make you feel good,” Jongdae says, practically a whisper in his ear, his hand sliding down between them to palm at Baekhyun, curling around his dick. Baekhyun shudders, thrusting into his hand. Jongdae doesn’t have to do much, and he isn’t really, just a hand job that could use a little lube, but Baekhyun is so turned on from sucking Jongdae off that any contact is a relief right now.

“Jongdae,” Baekhyun groans, biting softly at his shoulder. He’s worked up and isn’t able to focus on anything other than how good it feels to have Jongdae like this, to be able to kiss him, sleep next to him and feel Jongdae’s hands on his body. He handsome, and Baekhyun presses a kiss to his skin this time, his hips still pushing forward into Jongdae’s hand. The contact stops abruptly and Baekhyun whimpers, rolling off of Jongdae when he pushes at his shoulder.

“Why would you throw it,” Jongdae grumbles at him, turning over on his side, hand searching the comforter for the lube that Baekhyun recklessly tossed away.

“I was in the moment,” Baekhyun says, indignant.

His self-control dried up during the three some months they were fake dating; there’s nothing left. Baekhyun lets his hands trail down the muscles of Jongdae’s back and then palms his ass.

“Why is your butt so cute,” Baekhyun groans, squeezing it and Jongdae makes a cute squeaking noise, then reaches a hand back to smack Baekhyun’s leg.

“If that’s what you want, you can,” Jongdae says, offering him the lube, the flush on his chest creeping up his neck. Baekhyun swears under his breath; he can’t be this hot, it isn’t fair. He fumbles, almost dropping the tube after taking it from him and they both laugh, nerves getting the better of them. They haven’t done this yet, they’ve made out and there’s been rushed hand jobs and a few blow jobs but they’ve both been too busy or too tired for anything more.

Baekhyun sits up with Jongdae, balancing a hand on Jongdae’s folded leg, kissing him because that’s all he can seem to do, the lube clutched tightly in his other hand. If Jongdae is offering, he isn’t going to say no.

“If you’re sure,” Baekhyun murmurs against his mouth.

“I want it,” Jongdae says, his hands sliding over Baekhyun’s chest, touching him like he’s something precious. Jongdae is looking at him with something more than just lust, his lip quirked up in the corner. Baekhyun grins, pushing him back onto the bed, laughing when Jongdae flails, flopping back with a bounce.

Jongdae leans up on his elbows, hair askew and glares at him. It’s amusing, seeing as he is completely naked. In the next moment, Baekhyun’s not laughing anymore, unable to tear his gaze away from the sight of Jongdae spreading his legs, knees bent, and his tongue flicking out to lick over his lips.

“Are you done messing around?” Jongdae drawls, slowly touching himself and Baekhyun groans.

“Stop being so hot,” Baekhyun says, remembering he is supposed to be doing something, uncapping the lube and spreading it over his fingers hurriedly.

“Sorry, not possible,” Jongdae laughs then his breath hitches, his stomach caving in as Baekhyun’s slick fingers press against his rim. He watches, enraptured as Jongdae pulls him in and the way his head falls back and exposes the long column of throat.

Jongdae is enthusiastic, responsive and not listening on the whole stop-being-hot front, rocking back eagerly when Baekhyun pushes two fingers in. It’s wet, messy, Baekhyun being generous with the lube each time he pulls away to add another finger. The sight of Jongdae’s body yielding to him is almost as erotic as the sounds it makes when he thrusts in and out, a wet and filthy accompaniment to Jongdae’s low groan, deep in the back of his throat when Baekhyun curls his fingers up, searching.

“You’re hard again,” Baekhyun murmurs, in awe.

Jongdae’s thighs tense again, breathlessly saying, “Good observation, fucking me might help.”

“Oh,” Baekhyun says, feigning innocence, “That’s what we are doing.”

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae groans. “Stop being a dick.”

“And give you my dick?” Baekhyun asks, cheekily, sacrificing the clean sheets in the name of being able to open the condom box, wiping his hands on them before leaning over Jongdae and grabbing them, yelping when Jongdae pinches his side.

“Sorry,” Baekhyun says with no remorse at all, kissing Jongdae softly, hoping he can tell how much he likes him. It’s odd that he’d suddenly feel shy, focusing on opening the condom and rolling it down but Jongdae’s still smiling at him, heel pressing against Baekhyun’s ass and urging him closer.

More lube, some fumbling and giggles pressed against lips, and then Baekhyun sinks in, engulfed in tight warmth as Jongdae’s fingers dig into his shoulders. It’s overwhelming and Baekhyun needs a few seconds, bracing his arms on either side of Jongdae’s head and their faces so close that it’s easy for Jongdae to lean up and kiss him, hot and open-mouthed, as his hands slide down Baekhyun’s back to his ass, pulling him, urging him to move.

Baekhyun figures he’s not going to last long no matter what he does and he doesn’t feel like waiting or denying himself pleasure now. His hips snap quickly, the sound of their skin hitting and bed frame creaking softly filling the room. It’s too good, Baekhyun watches Jongdae’s face, sees his mouth fall open as Baekhyun keeps that same pace.

“Touch yourself,” Baekhyun says, leaning up just a little so there’s room between them and Jongdae doesn’t hesitate, clenching even harder around Baekhyun and moaning when he starts jerking himself off. Baekhyun groans, stomach clenching and heart beating out of his chest. It’s too much but he wants Jongdae to come first, wants to take care of him twice before he comes.

“Fuck, you look so good like this,” Baekhyun compliments, fucking Jongdae harder, hand pressing against his chest, feeling Jongdae’s own erratic heartbeat and the soft little noises he makes. He flicks his nipple, unable to laugh and settling for a low groan and refocuses on the roll of his hips, seeing Jongdae’s arm shake as he frantically jerks himself off, getting noisier.

Baekhyun can feel sweat trickle down his spine, stomach clenching, a rush of pleasure and his balls clenching as he feels himself on the brink. It’s Jongdae though that comes first, crying out and shaking as he comes between them and Baekhyun commits it to memory so he can replay the way Jongdae’s eyes squeeze shut and his back arches, mouth falling open as he comes and strokes himself through it.

Jongdae grunts, gasping as Baekhyun thrusts into him a few last feeble times, stilling as he comes to finally. He collapses against Jongdae after, making even more of a mess out of them both, and only leans up when Jongdae starts kissing his temple, cheek, because he’d rather make out with him instead of catching his breath.

The will to move is zero but Jongdae, horribly perky even after two orgasms, makes him do it. He’s so gentle cleaning Baekhyun up that his heart physically hurts and he hates how much of a sap he’s turned into.

“I’m the little spoon,” Baekhyun announces once they’re clean, pulling Jongdae’s arms around them once they’re back in bed. Jongdae’s laugh is something Baekhyun doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of hearing it, smiling as he’s indulged, Jongdae’s arms, thick with muscle, wrap around him and Baekhyun can feel Jongdae’s chest inflate with each breath he takes with their skin pressed together like this.

“Sleep well, rice-cake cheeks,” Jongdae says, a finger poking him, and now Baekhyun can feel Jongdae’s chest shaking as he laughs at his own joke.

Baekhyun groans, hating that his ears feel so hot now. “You’re the worst.”

Jongdae just presses the curve of his mouth against Baekhyun’s shoulder and holds him closer. Baekhyun nods off to sleep. He knows that things are still new but he has hope that they’ll figure it out.