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Even when we're not together (will you stay with me)

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“I’m going home this weekend.”

Minho turns from where he’s stirring something on the stove to face Changbin, plummeted face-first into the sofa after mumbling his sentence. Minho frowns, pours his concoction into the two bowels he had set out earlier, before turning off the stove and bringing dinner to the coffee table.

“Why?” He asks gently, almost as gentle as the hand he begins to card through Changbin’s hair. Changbin huffs, a sound of exhaustion or irritancy, Minho can’t tell.

“Family barbecue.” Changbin responds eventually. He turns over so his back is to the couch, then catches Minho’s hand in his own. Minho smiles at the way Changbin grips onto him- firm and secure, “I don’t know why we do this.” He continues, muttering into his bowl now. Minho catches him by the hand before he can put the steaming contents into his mouth and burn his tongue (again.) Changbin barely notices as he drops the spoon back into the bowl with a splash before continuing his rant, “I really don’t get it. We just go and see people and smile at their face and pretend to like them, then talk shit behind their back. Unless you’re my uncle who talks shit all the time.” Changbin rolls his eyes, “Homophobe.”

Minho snickers, pretty accustomed to his roommate’s rants about his family- particularly his homophobic uncle. Little did Changbin’s uncle know, he had become the bane of many jokes in Minho and Changbin’s tiny apartment, despite Minho never even having met the man.

“Just don’t go.” Minho suggests, pushing Changbin’s dinner back towards him, indicating it’s safe to eat now. Changbin raises an eyebrow at Minho’s suggestion, then pulls a face- at the dinner or Minho’s suggestion again, Minho isn’t sure.

“Is it that bad?” Minho winces, watching Changbin’s expression carefully. Changbin grins wickedly,

“It’s better than the pasta last week.”

“You-” 

Within the span of a second Minho is climbing on top of Changbin to punch him anywhere he can reach. Changbin is still giggling when he finally manages to push Minho off him, tiny titters falling from his lips as he continues to sip at whatever Minho is calling this dish.

“I told you to stop talking about that pasta.” Minho huffs eventually. Changbin giggles,

“It was funny.”

“Yeah funny tasting.” Minho sniffs.

“Hyung.” Changbin attempts gingerly, “You’re getting better.”

Minho rolls his eyes like Changbin is chatting shit (he is) before flipping his middle finger at him. Changbin flips his back, and then shrieks when Minho leans forward to bite it.

“Don’t salivate over my fingers.” 

“Don’t kink shame me.”

“Oh my god.”

Changbin stops pretending the dinner is edible, abandoning his bowl and spoon on the table before standing from the couch.

“I’m ordering takeout.”

 

The topic comes up again on Tuesday night- four days before The Dreaded Day.

Minho asks Changbin if he wants to see a movie on Saturday night, and Changbin is almost agreeing before he catches himself,

“I won’t be here for the weekend,” He reminds the older boy. Minho frowns, lifting his head from his laptop. His glasses slip down his nose as he does so, and Changbin watches the way Minho’s tiny fingers push them back up again. There’s chipped purple nail polish on Minho’s index finger, where Hyunjin had wanted to try a new colour out on someone- chipped because Minho had a bad habit of picking at polish when he was stressed. With back to back dance classes that didn’t even contribute to his major, Changbin knew his roommate was currently more anxious than ever.

“I thought we agreed you weren’t going?” Minho says, undivided attention on Changbin now.

“No,” Changbin responds slowly, “We agreed that your cooking tastes like ass and you shouldn’t be allowed to experiment in the kitchen anymore.”

“Hey,” Minho defends, “Some people like ass.”

Changbin throws a pillow at him, which hits more of Minho’s laptop than his face, but it still manages to throw him off guard a little. Changbin smiles smugly.

“So, the movie.” Minho attempts to steer back to the topic.

“Barbecue.” Changbin cuts in.

“Movie.” Minho insists, “Who wants to go to a boring barbecue?”

“No one! But who has a choice?”

Changbin feels like Minho really doesn’t get him sometimes. With the way Minho’s family are as carefree as he is, whether it be about his sexuality or his (totally false) excuses about not being able to make it to social events, they really don’t seem to be bothered about what Minho does with his life, as long as he’s happy. Changbin’s family on the other hand are the opposite- sociable and sensible, they need to know what Changbin is up to at all times. Moving out of home felt a little bit like a fresh breath of freedom for Changbin, yet he doesn’t live far from his childhood home, and often finds it difficult to make excuses to miss out on family gatherings.

“Okay so you don’t have a choice.  Just do something utterly outrageous so they estrange you forever.”

Changbin snorts, flopping back so his head falls into Minho’s lap. It hits the corner of Minho’s laptop, and Minho’s laptop is old and bulky so it actually hurts. 

“Come with me.” Changbin says eventually. Minho’s eyes widen,

“With you?”

“Yeah.” Changbin flickers his eyes up to where Minho is staring at him in wonder. He grins. “Wear that purple glitter shirt Jisung bought you as a joke with the denim shorts.”

Minho swats at the boy in his lap, though he can’t help the laugh that follows,

“You trying to get me to seduce your hetero uncle?”

“Minho!” Changbin squawks, but he’s laughing. He reaches a hand out to hit Minho’s bicep, which the older catches with ease. When Changbin happily squeezes Minho’s fingers, something in his chest tightens. “I’ll tell mom you’re coming.”

Minho simply holds onto his hand as he finishes his project.

 

There is no reason for Minho to drag Changbin to the mall with him two days later. Changbin has three assignments due Monday, which he was planning on finishing before the weekend kicked in- knowing he’d be far too occupied with his chaotic family to concentrate on an essay. But Minho had thrown him his signature puppy dog look, as well as a jacket, and Changbin had no choice but to follow him out the door.

“What do you think about this?” Minho holds up a green shirt, and Changbin hums, barely looking at it. The mall always makes him anxious, and Minho is well aware of this. With Changbin’s college being only an hour’s distance from his home, and the mall being a thirty minute drive, it puts it right in the middle of the journey- meaning Changbin is always prone to bumping into anyone from his hometown, whether that be family, or friends from high school. Minho is also well aware that Changbin likes keeping his very homo college life as distant as possible from his closeted life back at home, where he’s only out to his close family.

“Relax, Bin.” Minho says, setting a hand on Changbin’s arm. When Changbin doesn’t flinch, Minho moves his hand down so their fingers are laced together. It gets Changbin’s attention immediately,

“Hm?”

“I said relax.” Minho says, turning back to the rack of shirts. He puts the green shirt back, and then proceeds to browse through some others with his free hand. “If we see anyone you don’t want to we can leave straight away.”

Changbin gives him a look,

“Can we get food before we leave?”

Minho laughs, dragging Changbin over to a jeans aisle. There are shoes stacked to one side, and Changbin has half a mind to go and take a look, but that would mean letting go of Minho’s hand, and he decides it isn’t really worth it.

“Sure, what do you feel like?” Minho asks, eyes scanning over various pairs of jeans. Changbin himself eyes a pair of black jeans, that have more rips in them than actual material. Some of the rips are extremely high up, and Changbin’s brain short circuits when he thinks about Minho wearing them.

“You should get these.” He says in a moment of confidence. Minho laughs when he sees them,

“You just want my thighs on display.”

“You shouldn’t let your hard work on those go unnoticed.” Changbin shoots back. Minho laughs some more and shakes his head, but begins to look for his size anyway.

“You never answered my question.” Minho says as he browses, “What do you want for lunch?” 

Changbin’s reply is cut off by someone from behind them calling his name, and he freezes. No. Nope no no way is he doing this right now-

Minho’s grip on Changbin’s hand tightens as they turn around, both aware of who they’re going to have to face when they do.

Changbin’s mother is looking as bright as ever, in a white skirt and neon pink sweater. Her eyes are wide with excitement as she approaches them hastily, and Changbin wants to die because his mother is not someone he was ready to have an unexpected encounter with right now. It had taken Changbin the whole day for a mental preparation to give her a simple phone call last night and tell her he was bringing his friend- Lee Minho- along to the barbecue. And now he thinks that it was all pointless anyway, because here she is, in the flesh, eyes gleaming and lips stretched into a huge smile at the sight of her son.

“Mom!” Changbin bares his teeth into a fake smile, though he can feel his palms getting sweatier against Minho’s. He wants to let go, but Minho’s hand in his is currently the only thing keeping him grounded, so he simply grips on.

“Changbin, darling! It’s so good to see you!” Changbin’s mother presses a kiss to his forehead, and he has to resist the urge to grimace- never one to be comfortable with public affection.

“You too.” Changbin gives her an embarrassed smile. Minho offers him a look of pity, which he struggles to ignore.

And here it is in black and white. Changbin doesn’t despise his mother, not at all, he just feels like she doesn’t really get him. She’s never forced him to study what she wants, or pick up hobbies that don’t interest him, but he always feels so small in her presence. Much like the rest of his family, Changbin’s mother is big with expressions and affection, she likes large hugs and emotional speeches and Changbin, well; Changbin is the complete opposite. It’s not that he finds his mother humiliating, more so that he just feels like they’re on opposite sides of the personality spectrum.

“And who is this?” Changbin’s mother smiles at Minho, and Minho returns it easily. Changbin wishes he could be as comfortable as Minho is around bubbly people.

“I’m Minho.” He answers, “Changbin’s roommate.” 

Mrs Seo looks puzzled for a moment, and Changbin can see the gears turning in her head, before he watches her eyes flicker down to their clasped hands, followed by her smile getting even wider. Oh shit.

“Minho? Lee Minho?” She clasps her hands together excitedly, and Changbin wants to die for the second time within the last ten minutes. “You didn’t tell me you were dating! Oh Binnie baby, I’m so happy!” 

Changbin tries to protest- he really, truly does, but his mother has him pulled flush to her chest making his hand slip out of Minho’s, and he finds his arms wrapped around her hideous sweater instead.

When Changbin pulls back he sees the expression on his mother’s face, and it’s strange, because for the first time, it feels like his mother is actually seeing him. Changbin’s mother has looked at him many times, of course she has, but before that moment, he feels like she’s never truly seen him at all. 

Changbin gives Minho a look, a look that only holds meaning in a friendship like theirs, and Minho is suddenly looking at Mrs Seo and shaking his head,

“He never told you?” He laughs, glancing at Changbin, “Baby, how could you not tell your mother?”

“It slipped my mind!” Changbin rushes to reply, and he’s glad his mom barely knows anything about him, because even he can tell his tone sounds incredibly fake. Luckily, she buys it.

“How typical.” She scolds, but she’s still smiling. Before she can open her mouth to say anymore her phone is ringing, and she sighs, plucking it out of the bag that she has balanced on her forearm,

“Ah, that’s your father, darling. I’ll see you both this weekend, it was nice to meet you Minho!” And with that, she bustles away just as fast as she appeared.

Minho and Changbin stand in silence for a moment, before finally Changbin gathers the courage to look Minho in the eyes. To his surprise, Minho is already looking at him.

“I think,” Changbin says slowly, “I want bulgogi for lunch.”

 

“Okay, let me get this straight.”

Changbin sighs as he squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t see Jisung, but there’s definitely a smirk on his face right now. Probably even a raised eyebrow accompanied by an eavesdropping boyfriend. Changbin knows Jisung, and he knows all his habits too. Ten years of friendship does that to people.

“There is nothing straight about this situation.” Changbin grits out, ignoring Minho’s snickers from next to him. Minho is leaned over a pot of- well, something, whilst Changbin lounges on the counter top next to him, phone resting on his thigh, on speaker.

“Right- right, sorry. Let me just- your mom thinks you and Minho are dating. But you’re not. And if she asks me, I just pretend it’s real?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how bad your mom will kill me if she finds out I knew you were dating and didn’t tell her?”

“What the heck.” Changbin mutters, more to himself than to Jisung. “How often do you talk to her that she’ll be mad if you don’t keep her updated? About me?”

Jisung laughs, and Changbin swears he hears another laugh mingled in there. Definitely Hyunjin.

“Hyunjin mind your business!” Changbin yells, which only makes Jisung laugh harder.

“Wrong boyfriend.” He cackles, “Felix babe, go see if Jinnie’s ready.”

Changbin hears the laughter on the other end fade out and he sighs. Minho shoots him a sympathetic look, offering him the spoon of-whatever- that he lifts from the pot. Changbin braces himself and allows Minho to feed him his concoction. 

“Where are you guys off to?” Changbin asks, gesturing to Minho for the bottle of water that sits on his other side. Minho offers him a look of apology this time before sliding the bottle over. Changbin takes a few gracious gulps, before tuning back into whatever Jisung is prattling on about.

“…at the diner that’s opened down the street.” Changbin catches him say, “Unlike you guys, we’re not broke.”

Minho snorts, making his presence known for the first time since the call started,

“You’re all broke.” He corrects him, “It’s Felix’s parents that aren’t”

“Details.” Jisung snaps, but it already has Changbin laughing. “Don’t laugh at me!”

“You laughed at me!” Changbin shoots back, accepting the high-five that Minho offers. “Okay so you get this right? If mom asks-”

“Yeah yeah just tell her you both realised you’re in love with each other.”

Changbin rolls his eyes,

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Figure it out, dumbass.” Jisung says, and then hangs up. 

Changbin turns back to Minho who is throwing an excessive amount of salt into their dinner.

“Hyung,” Changbin starts, and Minho looks at him guiltily. 

“Was it really that bad?”

“It was salty.”

“Well shit.”

Changbin laughs and picks his phone back up, this time to find the food delivery app,

“This,” He says as he scrolls through various restaurants, “Is why we’re broke.”

 

Changbin sighs as he ruffles through his drawer, throwing underwear out and onto the floor as he does so.

“You done Bin?” When Changbin doesn’t answer, Minho calls out for him again, “Binnie?”

“Here.” Changbin falls against the ground in defeat, and Minho finally sees him in the mess of his room. “I can’t find my allergy tablets.”

Minho walks timidly into the room, like the clothes strewn all over the place will turn into some monster and eat him alive- Changbin suspects he’s been rewatching Stranger Things for the eighth time.

“Well why the heck are you looking for them in your underwear drawer?” Minho snorts as he falls back onto Changbin’s bed.

“Because it’s the only place I haven’t searched!” 

Changbin stands and walks over to his desk, not even needing to pull open the drawers to look through them, as he never closed them when he was rifling through them twenty minutes ago.

“Have you tried the kitchen?” Minho suggests, “I swear I saw them lounging on the counter this morning.”

Changbin almost hits his head with how fast he stands,

“Seriously?” He pouts, “And you didn’t even tell me?”

Minho rolls his eyes, 

“You never asked.” Minho pauses and then narrows his eyes. Changbin can feel the way Minho is seeing through him right now. He doesn’t even feel exposed, he feels completely transparent, like there’s absolutely nothing within him he could currently have the capacity to be concealing right now.

“You’re way too worked up over tablets.” Minho points out as he walks closer. Changbin hangs his head, feeling trapped, like a deer caught in headlights. “What’s going on in there?” Minho raps his knuckles gently against the side of Changbin’s head, who scowls and moves away, but doesn’t deny there’s shit eating away at him inside.

Changbin is bad at this- at confrontation and spilling his worries. Minho understands him like no other and yet Changbin still sucks at telling him how he’s feeling. It’s not that he’s afraid of telling Minho, neither is he afraid of judgement, because Minho is the least judgemental person he’s ever met, it’s just that the idea of looking weak and vulnerable in front of his roommate makes his skin crawl, and the pits of his stomach flip upside down. Talking to Jisung is easy, because he’s known Jisung his whole life. Jisung is a kid, a great listener, even if he sometimes gives illegal advice, Changbin could never be more grateful for the way Jisung is always all ears for any of Changbin’s troubles- he just wishes he could feel the same way with Minho.

“Just,” Changbin starts, with a sigh, “It’s been a while since I went home.”

Minho looks at Changbin for a moment, before he opens his arms and Changbin finds himself in them a mere second later, like a magnet drawn to a fridge. This is what Minho is good at. Physical comfort. Hugs. Cuddles. Soothing back rubs and sympathetic shoulder pats, because maybe Jisung is good with words and good with advice and good with his ears, but Minho is good with his arms, good with his heart, and Changbin is so, so glad to have the combination of both in his life.

When Changbin finally pulls away from the safety of Minho’s embrace, he touches his cheeks to find a stray tear or two and it makes him chuckle. Minho grins too, although slightly confused.

“I’m a wuss.”

Minho snorts shaking his head, 

“That’s why we’re fake dating.”

Changbin has no idea what that means, but he barely dwells on it, chooses to accept it, and continues to pack his stuff into a duffel bag.

 

Saturday comes too fast and too slow at the same time. Changbin feels like the morning goes by in a blur. One minute Minho is leaving for his morning class and the next it’s four pm and he’s throwing their bags into the back of his car.

Changbin sighs as he looks out the window. They drive past things he grew up with his whole life, the sports store he purchased his first basketball from, the bowling alley he and Jisung spent every weekend at, determined to beat one another- things that seem so trivial now that he’s an adult in college. They pass the mall where Changbin remembers kissing a girl for the first time. He’d climbed the sidesteps to reach her height and she’d giggled against his inexperienced mouth, but something about it had thrown a hurdle of butterflies into his stomach.

There’s the café where Changbin got his first job, only to be fired less than three weeks later because he couldn’t stop falling asleep on the job and spilling coffee all over the place. The library was a much better workplace for him, because books didn’t spill when he dropped them. Clumsy as he is, working at the library was a great experience. When they pass it, Changbin points it out to Minho, way too excited about a crumbly, hundred year old building.

“We should say we had our first kiss there.”

Changbin blinks.

“Come again?”

“The library is where we had our first kiss.” Minho says casually, and Changbin momentarily racks his brains for a time where he may have kissed Minho at the library. Or kissed Minho at all. Minho laughs at his expression, “I’m making things up!” He cackles, “Your family’s going to ask and all we have is that we’re dating and Jisung knows too.”

“Oh right, yeah okay, the library.” Changbin snaps back to reality. “What about our first date?”

“It should be somewhere less lame than the library.” Minho snickers.

Changbin wants to suggest something lamer like the bench on their university campus where he waits for Minho to get lunch together every Wednesday after Minho has lab, but it sounds too specific, too much like Changbin has daydreamed about it one too many times whilst in that situation, so he’s grateful when Minho points out a cute looking dog they drive past and ultimately the conversation is forgotten about.

There’s barely a half hour drive left when Changbin starts whining about needing caffeine in his system. Minho argues that Changbin isn’t even driving, but Changbin pouts once and so Minho has no choice but to immediately turn into the next Starbucks they see.

When Changbin says he needs to get out and stretch his legs, Minho doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything once Changbin has walked around the perimeter of the parking lot and then suggests they go and eat inside the café rather than buying drinks and risking spilling them in the car. Minho only speaks up once they have their drinks and they’re seated at a table.

“You’re stalling, aren’t you?”

Changbin blinks, takes his time in replying. Behind Minho, through the glass window, Changbin can see the sun beginning to go down- not exactly setting, but more like the process of getting ready for bed before going to sleep. It hasn’t started slipping into all its pretty reds and purples just yet, but there’s the unmistakable orange the sun is slowly seeping into, like a steady preparation. 

“I think so.” Changbin sighs, barely persuading himself to look away from the dipping sun.

“Why?” Minho pauses to stir his drink and take a sip from it. When Changbin only looks at him, Minho stretches his hand out to hold Changbin’s fingers in his palm. They’re barely holding hands, but it’s a comfort Changbin needs. “You’re going to have to see your mom, your dad, your family, whether we reach now or we reach tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. The longer you drag it out the more you’ll dread it.”

Changbin sighs again, shakes his head like he doesn’t really understand his procrastination tactics himself, and he doesn’t, not really. Because that’s his mom, his dad, his family, like Minho had said, he’d spent his whole pre-uni life around them, so why was seeing them now such a big deal?

“It’s not that I’m dreading it.” He starts slowly, “Not really. I just don’t like- having to jump into things, you know? This whole dumb barbecue thing seems like something I’d be prepared for because it happens every damn year, but I never am, instead I just hate it more the more it happens.” Changbin bites his bottom lip before meeting Minho’s gaze, steady and soft, like always, “Sorry.” Changbin says, “I shouldn’t have dragged you here and got you involved in my shit.”

“Bin,” Minho is looking at him intently now. Changbin couldn’t look away even if he wanted to. (He doesn’t want to.) “Don’t call your shit, yours. It’s our shit now. Your problems are mine; this whole thing was my idea. Don’t apologise. It’s okay.”

Changbin feels ready to protest, ready to tell Minho he has no need to attach himself to Changbin’s burdens and make them his own, but it’s been a long time, a very long time, since someone has cared enough to tell Changbin that his problems matter and that he doesn’t have to struggle alone, and the feeling is so nice, he can’t find it within him to tell Minho he’s wrong. 

There’s barely a five minute drive left when Changbin thinks that maybe he can do this. His mother had phoned them ten minutes ago and Changbin had lied, told her there was traffic, instead of admitting that he and Minho spent twenty minutes in a Starbucks playing arcade games. Changbin’s mother tutted at them anyway, told him she was hoping they could all have dinner together. Changbin apologised, though he barely felt sorry. Dinner with his whole family and Minho was not something he wanted to deal with tonight.

“Wow.” Minho whistles when they pull up into Changbin’s driveway. Changbin glances at the house, like it’s a daunting castle from a fairy story, and there’s an evil witch waiting inside to lock him up, instead of it being just a normal, comfortable-looking family house.

“What?” Changbin mutters as they exit the car.

“You never told me your family’s rich.”

“Because they’re not.” Changbin bites, aware that he’s clearly lying, but also not caring in the slightest.

Before Minho can make any more comments on the luxurious nature of Changbin’s house, his mother comes to the door, as if she’d been keenly awaiting their arrival.

“Changbin!” She exclaims, like she hadn’t come across him in the mall just the other day. Changbin accepts the hug she pulls him into, awkwardly patting her back before pulling away so she can go through the same procedure with Minho.

As she leads them through the house, Changbin realises how good Minho is with distractions. He compliments the family pictures on the wall, comments about the colour of the living room walls, the softness of the carpet, Changbin’s mother heavily preoccupied with answering him. Changbin is grateful, so grateful for Minho’s presence. 

Eventually, Changbin’s mother allows them to go upstairs, once Minho convinces her they really aren’t hungry, and Changbin leads them to his room.

Changbin’s room is untouched, from the books on his shelf to the pop figures on his desk. There’s still an old hoodie thrown over his bed, another one draped over his chair (which he’s pretty sure belongs to Jisung) and the door to his en suite slightly ajar. 

“Wow.” Minho breathes, as he steps into the room. Changbin watches from the corner, like he’s the guest, and none of these things belong to him. As Minho delicately traces his fingertips over the figurines on the window sill and the comic stacked neatly in the corner, Changbin thinks about how detached he feels to everything in his room. It’s ridiculous, how he spent years collecting this stuff, years maintaining it all and kidding himself into believing he actually had an interest in it all. But looking at it now, twenty years old, two assignments due Monday and a test the following week, it all just looks like stuff in Changbin’s eyes. Stuff that has neither importance nor relevance in his life. 

“Shit’s cool.” Minho says when Changbin doesn’t move. Changbin flickers his gaze towards where Minho is lounging in his desk chair, Jack Sparrow figurine between his fingers, and Changbin simply shrugs.

“I guess.” He sighs, lying back on the bed.

Minho is silent for a moment, and then he comes to rest next to Changbin, head resting on Changbin’s arm that he has bent for his hand to rest behind his head.

Finally, Minho turns to face him,

“Are we sharing the bed?”

Changbin stares straight at the ceiling when he answers.

“Hm?”

“Well I can sleep on the floor…”

Changbin snorts and jostles Minho a little in the process,

“Don’t be an idiot.” He mumbles, “We’ve shared a bed before. You’re not sleeping on the floor.”

“I don’t know… your rug looks pretty comfy.”

“It’s expensive and I’m not letting you drool on it.”

Minho only stares at him, and Changbin can tell he wants to ask questions, but he really doesn’t want to answer anything just yet, so instead he rolls over Minho to get off the bed and stand up.

“I’m going to take a shower.” He says, and then proceeds towards the bathroom.

The bathroom is even weirder. Changbin can see all his soaps and bath bombs untouched on the tiny shelves, and if he strains his memory hard enough, he can see fifteen year-old him drawing letters into the fog on the shower screen. 

Slowly, Changbin removes his clothes and hops into the shower, turning the heat all the way up, even though summer is just around the corner and the temperature is clearly way too high for it. 

When Changbin emerges from the bathroom fifteen minutes later, Minho is still lounging on the bed, phone in his hand now.

“We’re forecasted rain tomorrow.” He says casually, as Changbin scrambles for clothes. Changbin decides Minho has seen him naked one too many times and drops his towel once he finds a pair of boxers, then throws a large t-shirt over his head. 

“We were forecasted rain today too.” Changbin reminds him. Minho settles his phone down and stands from the bed, stretching his limbs out like a cat. “It stayed pretty dry though.”

Minho hums, before walking over to his bag and unzipping it, pulling a few things out before announcing he’s going to take a shower too.

“Don’t rot the bathroom.” Changbin teases, but it falls flat and they both hear the hidden connotation within it. Don’t take too long. 

 

“Stop thinking so much.”

Changbin jumps at the sound of Minho’s voice. He had been zoned out, his phone in front of his face, but he was barely looking at it, mind wandering elsewhere.

“I’m not.” Changbin mutters as he picks up his phone that he dropped upon being startled.

Minho raises an eyebrow but doesn’t reply to Changbin’s obvious lie. Instead he gets changed and flicks the lights off before crawling into bed next to Changbin.

There’s the tick of the clock, the drip of the condensation in the bathroom, Minho’s warm breath on Changbin’s neck, and they’re all catalysts for the thoughts gnawing away at Changbin’s brain.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Minho sighs after a few minutes have passed. Changbin wants to pretend he has no idea what Minho is talking about, but he does, he so painstakingly does.

“I don’t know.” He mumbles eventually. 

Minho only continues to look at him, with an expression that says he won’t take I don’t know for an answer and so Changbin bites his lip and tries again, hopelessly praying that he won’t start crying any second.

“When I left here I kind of wanted to leave all this behind, you know?” Changbin turns onto his back so he can look at the ceiling instead of Minho’s piercing eyes, unblinking and wide in the dark. “Like, lots of people in school thought I got good grades, got on the teachers’ good side through money and through my parents’ connections,  but mom and dad barely cared about what I did in school.” Changbin wrings his hands together before removing them from behind his head and placing them on his stomach, “And I felt like I needed to prove something to them- to my family, that I can make it on my own.”

“Bin.” Minho sighs, and when Changbin barely glances at him he reaches across him to squeeze his shoulder, “You know you don’t have to prove shit to anyone? If you spend your whole life trying to prove things… you’re not going to get anywhere.” Minho pauses for a few seconds before he continues in a quiet voice, “It doesn’t- it sounds more like you’re trying to prove things to yourself than to anyone else.” He says eventually.

Changbin narrows his eyes,

“What do you mean?”

“All this stuff, with your ability to be independent, show everyone that you’re capable, it sounds like you’re just trying to prove this to yourself. You are capable, you can do this, but no one’s going to believe that shit until you do.”

Changbin groans, then squeezes his eyes shut, accepting the hug that Minho pulls him into. He buries his face into Minho’s chest, warm and sturdy, before mumbling,

“I guess you’re right.”

 

Much like Minho guessed, it does indeed rain the following day. Changbin wakes up to the splash of raindrops on his window pane, the morning sun teasing him through a crack in the curtains, and Minho’s arm slung over his waist. Changbin can’t decide which of those things confuse him the most.

When Changbin finally manages to extract himself from Minho’s arms and quietly get dressed in the dim room, he trudges downstairs, hoping against hope that his entire family will have left the house already. Much to Changbin’s terrible luck, his parents and his older sister are all seated at the kitchen table, gloomily watching the rain fall outside.

“Good morning.” Changbin says, in an attempt to sound cheery. It comes out sounding just as dreary as the weather, but it does catch his family’s attention. 

“Morning!” His mother chirps back, “Did you sleep okay?”

“Hmm,” Changbin says vaguely as he busies himself with bread and the toaster. He isn’t quite sure how to admit to his mother that the only reason for the good sleep was probably the boy that’s currently still passed out in his bed. He’s also not ready to admit that to himself yet, at least, not out loud, so he attempts to steer the conversation elsewhere. “Do you think it will dry up for the afternoon?”

Changbin’s mother shakes her head, and the look of grief on his father’s face has him feeling sympathetic. The annual barbecue was an event his family looked forward to a lot. Despite himself not being much of a people person, Changbin knew for a fact his parents loved gatherings like these, especially ones that they could host, and unforeseen weather cancelling their plans probably doesn’t feel great.

“Doesn’t really look like it’ll let up.” Mrs Seo sighs, “I’ve already phoned around and cancelled.”

Changbin bites his lip, guilt washing over him. He spent the whole week hoping the plans would get cancelled, that something would come up last minute and the barbecue wouldn’t be possible, but now that it’s actually happening he can’t help but feel especially contrite. 

“I’m sorry.” Changbin mutters, “Sorry we… had to cancel.” He amends upon the confused glances being passed around, “I’m sure it will be clearer tomorrow.”

Mrs Seo smiles at her son before speaking,

“Hopefully.” Before she can say more she becomes distracted by movement near the kitchen door, “Good morning Minho darling!” She coos, all sadness dissipated upon the sight of him. 

Minho stands in the gap of the open door, looking as put together as possible, but Changbin can tell he’s only run a hand through his hair and just barely washed his face. Minho becomes easily embarrassed over things like a dishevelled morning presence, and Changbin feels honoured knowing that he’s one of the very few people who knows what a completely dazed, sleepy morning Minho looks like.

“Good morning.” Minho parrots before moving over to where Changbin’s toasts have just popped. He pulls one out of the toaster, grinning at Changbin’s scowl before taking a bite, “Thanks babe.” He mumbles around a mouthful of toast. When Changbin only glowers further, Minho presses a kiss to his cheek before taking a seat next to Jihu at the table.

“Aren’t they cute.” Mrs Seo smiles happily, clasping her hands together. Changbin wants to scream, but he holds it in, in favour of his dignity. 

“Do you have any plans for today then?” Changbin’s dad asks him as they begin to pile the plates away. Changbin is still seated at the table, on the other side of Minho. Minho has a hand on Changbin’s thigh, a finger tracing patterns on the fabric of his jeans, and it tickles, so it’s a struggle to stay still. “Now that the barbecue’s off you may as well show Minho around. Don’t let the rain stop you.”

Changbin turns to face Minho, who is incredibly close already, before asking,

“Would you like that hyung? Want to explore?”

Minho has been messing around the whole time they’ve been having breakfast, with his teasing touches and sly smirks every time Changbin attempted to retaliate. Even Jihu had become somehow personally offended by her brother and his (fake) boyfriend’s weird displays of public affection and retreated to her room with a bowl of cereal. Changbin knows Minho finds fun in things like this; riling Changbin up in situations that he has no control over. So Changbin is pleasantly surprised to find pure sincerity in Minho’s eyes when he replies,

“I’d love to.” 

“That was reckless.” Changbin pants, pulling Minho’s jacket off his own head. Minho cackles from next to him, eyes filled with mirth, a mischievous smile tugging at his lips when he speaks.

“Live a little, Bin.” He says before settling against the warm seats of the taxi. “Where are we going next?”

Changbin raises an eyebrow,

“You’re not tired out?”

Minho shakes his head vigorously, like Changbin had just asked something utterly absurd. What Changbin asked is most definitely not absurd- at least, not in Changbin’s mind. 

Minho had barely given him time to pull on a jacket and grab his wallet, before Changbin was being dragged outside and into the heavy rain. They managed to quickly flag down a taxi before they could get completely soaked through, and Minho had insisted that Changbin take him somewhere cute. Despite the weather being stiflingly humid, the pouring rain didn’t leave them many choices, so Changbin had asked the driver to take them to the nearest theatre. Minho had rolled his eyes but only teasingly- well aware of how much Changbin enjoyed theatre productions.

The play they settled on was some Shakespeare thing that Minho struggled to stay awake for, until he turned his head to watch Changbin next to him instead. Changbin watched the actors with a strange intensity, like the production had completely drawn him in, and he no longer existed within reality. With furrowed eyebrows and slightly parted lips- his signature look of concentration- Minho couldn’t help but feel strangely endeared by the look on Changbin’s face. It’s a beautiful thing to see Seo Changbin within his element, focused yet intrigued, and Minho briefly thinks that in another lifetime, where Changbin is more confident rather than shy and reserved, he could have been someone on the stage, rather than a simple member of the audience. 

When they finished with the play Minho dragged Changbin outside once more into the pouring rain, holding his hand as they both race down the busy streets, recklessly attempting to find another taxi that would save them from the heavens’ wrath. 

“Okay, where do you want to go then?” Changbin asks, smiling when the taxi driver gives them a funny look. He realises they haven’t actually told the driver a particular place, rather they seemed to be kind enough to just shelter two insane young adults from the pouring rain. Changbin hopes Minho can quickly make a decision, to compensate for the way they’re dripping all over the poor driver’s cab.

“Take us to the closest arcade.” Minho says after a short minute of silence. Changbin feels like decomposing.

 

“This is not fair!” Changbin whines, “You know I suck at these.”

Minho cackles as he clicks the option to start a new game, ignoring Changbin’s pleads to play something else.

“Of course you are Bin,” He grins, “You don’t even have your license.”

Changbin huffs, gripping onto the wheel as the game starts up,

“I’m trying.” He scowls, at both, Minho’s words and the way he’s automatically put into last place.

Much like Changbin said, he does indeed suck at racing games, and ends up in eighth place to absolutely nobody’s surprise. Minho has almost finished all their tokens within the hour they spend at the arcade, way too happy over the fact that Changbin seems to get ID’d at random intervals.

“I’m totally not that tiny.” Changbin huffs once Minho slips his last token into a claw machine. 

“You are tiny, Binnie.” Minho says absentmindedly, “Which one do you want?”

“Oh my god none of them, these things never work- what are you doing-”

“You like the blue thing right?” Minho ignores Changbin in favour of aiming for the teal toy in the corner of the box, tongue sticking out in concentration.

“Munchlax.” Changbin mutters, hoping that Minho doesn’t hear him- although the smile that flickers on his lips after he’s said the word shows he most definitely did hear him.

“We’re gonna get you a Munchlax.” Minho says adamantly. 

It takes more than a single try, in fact it takes a good seven or eight, and Changbin wants to die in a hole every time someone passes them, clearly amused by the way Changbin tugs at Minho’s shirt and tells him to just forget it, but eventually Minho lets out a whoop, and a plush Munchlax tumbles out of the machine.

“Oh my god you did it.” Changbin rushes to collect the prize, Minho still slightly dazed that he actually got the toy.

“I did it.” Minho repeats, and then suddenly his normal expression returns, cocky smirk and all. “I told you I’d get it.”

“Yeah, yeah loser, let’s go and get food.” Changbin rolls his eyes, but he’s holding the toy so close to his chest, his insults mean nothing at all. 

 

They find the cheapest eatery they can, having blown all their money on shitty theatre tickets and arcade tokens. It’s only rice and sprout salad, but the meal tastes delicious, especially accompanied by the ramen that Minho also orders. There’s something about eating hot soups indoors, whilst it pours with rain outside, that makes a person feel funnily cosy and warm. 

“I’m glad it rained today.” Minho says once they’ve finished devouring their meals. Changbin raises an eyebrow as he puts down his glass of water.

“You are?” He asks, confusion etched on his face.

“Yeah,” Minho smiles, taking his hand from across the table. It’s warm in Changbin’s cold one, smaller and a lot cuter. “I’m glad we got to spend today just touring where you grew up.”

Changbin shrugs, using his other hand now to drink his water. He speaks once he settles the glass back on the shiny table top,

“I’ve only ever been to that arcade once.” He mumbles, “But I used to go to the theatre a lot.” He pauses, “Sometimes Jisung would come with me but- but well, usually I’d go alone because Jisung is fidgety and I know he only ever came so I wouldn’t feel like a loser.” 

Minho smiles,

“As long as it’s not Shakespeare, I’d love to keep going to theatres with you.”

Changbin snorts as he shakes his head,

“I’ll hold you to that.”

 

It’s rapidly getting dark when the pair return home. The rain had cleared up an hour or so before sunset so Changbin had suggested they visit the park near his house. He’d shown Minho the climbing frame, the lake with the ducks, and after wiping the seats clean, they’d swung back and forth on the swings and just talked whilst the sun set in front of them. 

“Had a nice day boys?” Changbin’s father smiles at them from the living room when they enter. Minho swings their linked hands for him to see before smiling brightly,

“A great day.” He confirms, before Changbin drags him up the stairs.

 

“I should be tired…” Minho sighs as he exits the bathroom. There’s a towel over his shoulders, chest bare and a pair of boxers settled on his hips, “But I’m really not.”

Changbin snorts, already snuggled up in bed, clearly exhausted from their day out.

“Well it sucks to be you but I am so sleepy.”

“Weak.” Minho throws his towel at Changbin’s face, laughing when he struggles to avoid it. “I want to watch a movie.”

“Hyung…” Changbin groans, desperately hoping Minho is joking. He’s not, because ten minutes later, Minho has convinced Changbin to watch the same movie about magicians for the tenth time, both of them curled up in Changbin’s bed. Changbin had whined he couldn’t see the screen properly only minutes into the movie, and Minho had barely hesitated before pulling him into his lap, and then resting his chin on Changbin’s shoulder.

Changbin can feel his heart thundering in his chest as well as his skin flushing a deep red, but he does everything in his will power to ignore it.

They’re only thirty minutes into the movie, the plot has barely started to piece together when Minho feels Changbin’s head fall like a dead weight against his chest. He’s about to dramatically groan out loud until he catches a glimpse of Changbin’s face- eyes closed, serene and calm. Changbin’s chest rises and falls in his slumber, and Minho feels something in his own chest squeeze and then release, like a sudden burst of fondness followed by tranquillity. Minho wants to move, his arm is falling asleep and he’s pretty sure there are pins and needles starting to form in his left foot, but he can’t bring himself to do so when Changbin looks so at peace. So he sucks it up and watches the movie instead, taking odd glances at the boy in his lap every few minutes to make sure he’s still undisturbed. 

Minho jumps slightly when the door to Changbin’s bedroom swings open and his mother walks in. She smiles, so softly, at the sight of her son fast asleep in Minho’s arms, the look any mother would undoubtedly give upon the vision of their child so at peace. 

“I came up to see if you had a good day, but it seems you must have done something exciting if he’s that knocked out.”

Minho laughs softly at her words, careful not to jostle Changbin’s head that still rests on his shoulder.

“Yeah,” He grins, “We had fun.”

Minho is too busy looking at Changbin to notice the way Mrs Seo is watching them with total fondness when she speaks her next words,

“I’m so glad he has you Minho.”

Changbin begins to stir when his mother leaves the room and shuts the door a little too hard.

“What was that?” Changbin asks, voice muffled and heavily laced with sleep. He rubs his eyes as he attempts to sit up, his fringe falling into his face as he does so.

Minho gently brushes Changbin’s hair away from his forehead, grinning when Changbin’s full face comes into view, all sleepy and cute.

“Just your mom.” Minho answers, “She came to check in on us- on you.”

Changbin sees the time on his alarm clock, it’s barely hitting eleven, and now that he’s napped he’s feeling very awake.

He sighs as he fiddles with his fingers in his lap, mind wandering to his mother’s kind gestures ever since they arrived.

“What is it?” Minho asks gently. Changbin looks up at Minho with wide eyes, a look that’s foreign on his face. Changbin’s expression screams honest and vulnerable, like he’s about to completely strip naked in front of Minho and reveal all his darkest secrets.

“I want to tell her.” He says eventually. Quietly. There’s only the two of them in the room, Changbin’s voice the only sound, yet it feels like they’re keeping secrets from the bathroom across the room, from the four walls that surround them. “I can’t lie to her about something like this.”

Minho studies Changbin for a minute, before nodding. 

“If that’s what you want, Bin. You can even tell her it was my idea.”

Changbin laughs softly, shaking his head as he does so,

“No, I’ll take the blame- but thanks hyung.”

Changbin stands from Minho’s lap, slipping off the bed as he does so and gently pads out of the room. Minho focuses his attention back onto the laptop in front of him, the movie he started over an hour ago completely forgotten. 

Changbin finds his mother in the living room, settled in an armchair next to the French doors that are wide open, the nets blowing in the breeze. The weather has cleared up considerably, despite the sun having set over two hours ago; it’s still pleasantly warm with a gentle wind. 

“Mom,” Changbin says as he walks into the room. His mother looks up from the book she was reading and smiles brightly,

“Binnie!” She coos, like he’s a five year old child all over again. Changbin can’t help but smile back. He always hated the way his mother greeted him, loud and excited like he’s a kid, but hearing it now, something inside of him shifts and makes him feel guilty for hating his mother’s joyous nature his whole life.

Gingerly, Changbin walks over to her chair, before he settles on the arm, his tiny physique making perching on the edge easy enough. 

“I’m glad you came down, I actually wanted to speak to you.” She says, and Changbin is pleasantly surprised, though he tries his best not to show it, “When I came up to speak to you earlier you looked very comfortable in Minho’s arms.” She teases, and Changbin can’t help but laugh, feeling his cheeks heat up at the joke, 

“Mom,” He whines, making her laugh lightly,

“Okay, sorry- but Bin, Changbin sweetie, I just want to tell you how proud I am of you.” She reaches out to ruffle his hair, though she doesn’t move her hand away once she’s done, only settles it at the side of his head by his ear, like she’d do when he was young, “You were so… introverted as a child, and you still are, but…  Minho- he, well, he seems to bring out the best in you. I don’t know where he came from, but it’s been a while since I saw you this happy.” Her eyes are shining when she speaks her next words, and Changbin has to try very hard to swallow past the lump forming in his throat, “Don’t lose him okay?”

Changbin stands, shakily so, barely able to see what’s in front of him.

“I won’t.” He whispers, before he slips out of the room, and somehow makes it back up the stairs.

Minho is lounging on the bed when Changbin returns, feet in the air as he plays on his phone, laptop abandoned next to him.

He sits up when Changbin enters the room, hope shining in his eyes.

“How’d it go?” He asks.

Changbin watches him for a moment, takes him in. Minho in pyjama shorts and an old shirt, face stripped of everything except his night time lotions, eyes wide and expectant on Changbin’s answer. Changbin thinks back to his mother, how she told him to never lose Lee Minho. Changbin manages to force his lips into a wide smile.

“I didn’t tell her.” He says eventually. 

 

Changbin tells Minho he couldn’t stand to see his mother upset, especially considering how proud she said she was of him, and surprisingly, Minho buys it. Changbin supposes it isn’t a whole lie, it’s just not the complete truth.

Both boys lie awake until a ridiculous two in the morning, Changbin high off his nap and Minho high off his general energy.

“Would you kiss me?” Changbin asks, to the moonlit room. He can feel Minho shift next to him, and he can’t bring himself to look him in the eye.

“Kiss you?” Minho repeats. Changbin wishes he could decipher his tone, understand what he’s thinking at least, but Minho’s voice remains light and expressionless. 

“Yeah like- like if we – I don’t know it’s stupid.”

Minho rolls over so he’s facing Changbin, then takes one of his hands in his own and laces their fingers together. Minho rests their linked hands against Changbin’s stomach, feeling his pulse beating steadily.

“Tell me.” He whispers.

“Just like- we’re supposed to be dating, but we haven’t really done anything boyfriendy?”

Minho snickers at Changbin’s awkward tone and it soothes him, makes him feel less uncomfortable about the topic,

“Are you saying you want to take the next step in our relationship?”

“Oh my god.” Changbin groans and buries his face into the pillow, not missing the way Minho giggles uncontrollably next to him.

“I’m joking, Binnie.” Minho continues to giggle, “Yeah I’d kiss you if you needed me to.”

Changbin lifts his head from the pillow, fluffy hair falling into his face, and Minho can’t resist pushing it away from his forehead, fingers resting in the dark strands,

“Okay good,” Changbin  huffs, “Just checking.”

 

Mrs Seo wakes the boys up bright and early the next morning, yelling something about family arriving in the afternoon and how everything has to be prepared and ready. 

Changbin begins to feel the effects of five hours of sleep, something he hasn’t had to face in a long time. Minho is up and energetic, his endless stamina allowing him to do so. Changbin barely speaks a word the whole morning, communicating in grumbles, grunts and various noncommittal sounds that Minho somehow manages to decrypt. 

When they return home from getting last minute food items for the party, Minho notices Changbin’s sister waiting by the mudroom, looking like she wants to say something, but before she has the chance, her mother is ushering them into the kitchen, barking orders left and right. 

Jihu finally manages to corner Minho ten minutes before the guests are set to arrive. Mrs Seo had left him and Changbin in charge of slightly cooking pieces of meat on the grill, so they wouldn’t be completely raw when placing them on the barbecue. Changbin had scoffed at the idea of Minho around food, but Minho insisted that whilst his cooking tasted like ass, he wasn’t a total disaster at grilling meat.

“Where’s Changbin?” Jihu says when she saunters into the kitchen. 

“In the bathroom.” Minho replies, barely glancing at her. He expects her to leave then, sure that she had only come to speak to Changbin, and would no longer linger once she knows her brother is absent. Instead, Jihu closes the door that leads to the back garden as well as the one that leads into the hallway, and juts out a hip so she’s leaning against the kitchen table. Minho only raises an eyebrow at her.

“What’s your deal?” She says eventually. “What do you want?”

Minho feels his jaw drop in pleasant surprise,

“My deal?” He repeats, turning away to flip the meat over, “I don’t know what you mean.” He continues, back still turned.

“Oh don’t pull that bullshit.” Jihu snorts, “I know my brother and I know exactly what he looks like when he’s lying. What have you got against him that’s making him pretend to be in love with you?”

Minho chokes a little,

“Pretend?” He repeats her words once more, utterly shocked at how twisted she has the whole situation. “Nothing is pretend.” Minho says eventually turning to face her, “Changbin is my boyfriend and I love him very much.”

Jihu rolls her eyes,

“Cut it out.” She hisses, “I know he’s lying. I’ve seen Changbin with boys- you guys haven’t even done anything except hold hands the whole time you’ve been here!”

“What do you want me to do? Fuck him in the hallway?” Minho spits, aware that his words and tone are equally crude, but there’s rage building up inside him and he doesn’t know why. Something about being told that he doesn’t care about Changbin as much as he does, that it’s all fake, makes something ugly twist within him. Sure their whole relationship is fake as shit, but there’s something horrible about being told that he’s only doing this for his own sick pleasure. 

“Don’t be disgusting.” Jihu says, standing up straight. “Maybe if you acted more like boyfriends you could have made this more believable.”

“Binnie doesn’t like PDA.” Minho mumbles quietly. He turns back to the meat, aware that if he gets riled up too much, he’ll end up saying something that he regrets, or worse- something that could potentially harm Changbin.

“Then why-”

Before Jihu can finish her sentence the door from the hallway opens and Changbin strides into the kitchen, bright smile on his face faltering once he notices the strained tension in the room.

“What’s going…” He barely manages to get out before Minho is abandoning the meat on the grill so he can walk over to Changbin and kiss him square on the lips. Changbin blinks in shock, and Minho uses his left hand to caress Changbin’s cheek and ultimately hide his expression before leaning back in, making sure to linger for longer this time. Changbin hesitantly kisses back, soft and confused, but sincere all the same. When they pull back there’s a wonderful blush coating Changbin’s cheeks and Minho smiles, satisfied.

“Missed you.” He says, before tugging him back over to the grill. Minho hears Jihu huff behind them before the back door slams shut.

They’re silent for a few minutes and Minho is afraid he’s overstepped way too many boundaries, before Changbin wiggles himself out of Minho’s grip and tangles their fingers together instead.

“What was that for?” Changbin asks quietly.

“She was getting suspicious.” Minho returns, equally quiet. There’s only the two of them in the kitchen, no sound except the gentle sizzle of meat on the grill, yet Minho feels no need to raise his voice over it. 

“Okay.” Changbin says simply, and they leave it at that.

 

Guests come flocking in as soon as it hits five o clock, and Mrs Seo is bustling all over the place, greeting everyone and ushering them all into the huge backyard. 

Changbin’s parents busy themselves with a barbecue each, and Minho can’t help but keen under their praise when he brings them trays of half-grilled meat.

“You really are a full package aren’t you dear?” Mrs Seo says fondly, petting Minho’s hair. Minho only smiles and bows his head before scurrying away.

“My mom likes you too much.” Changbin observes when Minho makes his way back to his side. Minho grins, easily accepting the praise,

“Everyone likes me.” He shoots back, “It’s inevitable.”

Changbin rolls his eyes at that, nudging Minho in the side,

“I hope you know how much of an asshole you sound like right now.”

Minho mock flips his hair over his shoulder before answering,

“I take pride in my asshole tendencies.”

Changbin looks all prepared to shoot back with something harsher and incredibly ego-deflating, until his whole demeanour shifts and strangely looks as if he’s shrinking in on himself. Minho turns to see Jihu leading a man into the garden, smiling at him politely, though it’s obvious, even from a distance, that it’s forced.

“Is that…” Minho trails off, though it’s apparent from Changbin’s expression that it’s exactly who Minho thinks it is. 

Changbin’s uncle looks exactly like what Minho imagined him to be. Middle-aged and tall, big, a leering smile and mean eyes. It’s obvious as soon as he enters the premises that everyone grows wary of his presence, and a strange sort of tension fills the air. Minho feels Changbin fingers tug at the back of his shirt, and Minho is confused until he realises Changbin is hiding. Because his uncle’s eyes are not only mean, but also searching, maybe not for Changbin in particular, but just for a target. The way his eyes sweep over everyone has Minho gulping, as well as desperately avoiding his gaze. 

“Hoon!” Mrs Seo breaks the silence by rushing over, embracing her brother in a big, exaggerated hug. 

Mr Seo watches nervously from the other end of the garden, making no move to greet his brother-in-law. Guests begin murmuring amongst one another again, clearly about the scene that just unfolded in front of them, but it’s a relief that they’re no longer staring in silence.

“Wow.” Minho whistles lowly, extracting Changbin from his back. Changbin shrinks further into Minho, once he’s attached to his side, making himself look impossibly small.

“Please don’t let him see me.” Changbin murmurs, “I’m really not ready to face him yet.”

Minho squeezes their hands together, resting their intertwined fingers against the side of Changbin’s flushed face,

“Do you want to go inside?” He asks gently. Changbin hesitates for a moment, before he shakes his head,

“I’ll be okay.” He says eventually, “Maybe he’ll stay distracted.”

 

Changbin’s uncle does not in fact stay distracted. Once dinner is over with and Changbin’s parents are busy handing out drinks and cooling down barbecues, Uncle Hoon walks over, slightly tipsy if his clumsy footing is anything to go by.

He leers when he reaches the chair that Minho is seated in. Changbin sits on Minho’s knee, leisurely until he sees his uncle approaching. Then he sits up straight, stoic, and looks ready to leave Minho’s lap altogether. Minho barely grips him by the hip, fingers digging in as a silent comfort when Changbin’s uncle stands fully in front of them.

“What’s this, Bins?” He asks, words mushing together so it’s difficult to make out what he’s saying. Changbin looks away, fingers tangling with Minho’s, 

“What’s what?” He responds stiffly.  

Uncle Hoon gestures towards Minho with the hand that carries his drink, and it sploshes over the side of the cup, barely missing Changbin’s foot and dripping onto the grass instead. Changbin barely notices.

“I thought your gay stuff was just a joke.” He sneers, and Changbin stares at him for a moment, before he responds coolly,

“Yeah? Well I thought your asshole personality was also just a joke.” He pauses, leaning back into Minho’s chest before he says his next words, “I guess we both disappointed each other being here today.”

It’s dangerous. His words are very, very dangerous. This is Changbin’s uncle, his mother’s blood, his own kin, yet suddenly Changbin doesn’t seem to care. He’s tired of his uncle’s jabs and unnecessarily bold claims. 

“You should watch your mouth kid.” Uncle Hoon says, voice low, then he turns to Minho, who had been watching the whole ordeal with nothing short of amusement in his eyes, “And you.” He jabs a finger in Minho’s general direction, “Stop corrupting my nephew.”

Minho stretches his lips into an innocent smile, and subtly grips Changbin’s fingers harder against his own to stop his hands shaking when he speaks,

“I think you should stop harassing your nephew.” He says. Minho gently tips Changbin off his lap and when they’re both standing, he tugs him away, not giving in to the urge to glance back at the man’s expression.

“I’m going to throw up.” Changbin says once they’re inside. Minho quickly steers Changbin over to the couch, placing a hand on each of his shoulders to steady him,

“You’re not. You’re fine. Breath, Binnie.”

Changbin looks at him with a whole lot of disbelief and uncertainty, but abides anyway and takes in huge shuddering breaths before releasing them. Minho squeezes his shoulders every time he exhales, keeping in time with his breathing and Changbin feels like he’d probably be a crumpled mess if it wasn’t for Minho’s security.

“Better?” Minho asks, voice so soft, so sweet in the empty room. Changbin nods, unable to form words, but knowing Minho needs confirmation.

“Good.” Minho says before he releases Changbin to sit next to him, taking his hand instead. 

“We need to go back outside.” Changbin says after a short silence, “Mom doesn’t like it when I hide away from the guests.”

“You’re not hiding.” Minho scoffs, refusing to allow Changbin back into the peril that was his back garden, “You’re… seeking refuge.”

Changbin laughs at that, and Minho feels relief wash over him, knowing that Changbin now feels comfortable enough to laugh. 

He turns to face him, fingers still laced together, and suddenly becomes aware of how close they are. Minho could kiss Changbin from where he sits, and it could be a proper kiss, that means something and isn’t just a sign of public affection to get Changbin’s sibling off their back. He could kiss him with all the feeling he wants to, pour his emotions into affection, and maybe- just maybe- Changbin would kiss him back with the same intentions.

Minho licks his lips, and he’s not sure if he’s hallucinating, but it seems like Changbin moves too, a small fraction- when suddenly the French doors fly open and Changbin’s mother bustles in, bringing a strong gust of wind with her.

“Boys!” She says, and Minho feels like he sees movement by the hallway door, but Changbin’s mother is speaking again, so he pays no notice to it, “Can you come outside?” She continues, still smiling, and Minho suddenly understands all those times Changbin had told him his mother just didn’t understand him, “We need help with clearing up. People are starting to leave.”

Changbin stands from the couch and smiles at his mother brightly, nodding as he answers,

“Sure mom.” He says before he follows her out the door, not even bothering to check if Minho is behind him.

 

The sun sets quickly; they’ve only just finished cleaning everything up when it finally slips below the horizon, leaving the yard in a pitch black hue, the only light coming from the dim fairy lights strung around the perimeter of the fence.

Minho watches the way the lights add a pretty illumination to the sprinklers, streaks of light spreading over the patches of grass.

“It’s pretty isn’t it?”

Minho turns from his position in front of the French doors to see Jihu behind him, smiling.

“It is.” Minho agrees, turning back to the garden of lights and water droplets.

“It was Changbin’s idea.” Jihu continues, coming to join Minho by his side, “He said fairy lights would look nice around the garden. We all mocked him till they were put up and we realised he was right.”

Minho scoffs softly, 

“Of course you did.”

Jihu frowns but doesn’t comment on his reaction. Instead a guilty look takes over her face as she looks at Minho earnestly,

“Will you come outside with me?” She says after a short silence. Minho’s eyes flicker over her, trying to figure out what she wants, and when he can’t, he wordlessly follows her outside.

They settle into two chairs on the patio, and another silence stretches over them for a while, the only sound in the garden the rush of the sprinklers at the other end, before Jihu speaks up again. 

“I’m sorry for doubting your relationship.” She says, “I saw you bring him in here earlier and try to make him laugh and I just.” She pauses, “It was so… genuine.” Jihu looks away, up, at the sky, avoiding Minho’s scrutinising gaze, “You really care for him. I’m glad you do.” And then more quietly, “I’m glad he has you.”

Minho wants to laugh, the situation all too serious for his liking, but he holds it back, opting to lean back in his chair and avoid Jihu’s gaze too,

“Thanks.” He says simply, and when Jihu realises that’s all she’s getting she stands and whispers a soft good night before padding back inside the house.

Minho is about to stand up and head back in himself, when he hears shuffling behind him, all too aware of the sound of those familiar footsteps.

“What are you doing out here?” Changbin asks, voice hushed. Minho shrugs as he turns to face him, breath catching in throat when he sees him. Changbin is looking all soft, his tough demeanour scrubbed away by the shower he just took, instead rocking a look of wet hair and a large shirt. 

“The lights look pretty.” Minho shrugs, turning back to watch them.

Changbin joins him soon enough, taking the seat Jihu sat in only minutes earlier.

“They were my idea.” Changbin says after a few minutes, and instead of telling him he knows, Minho only nods, “Everyone made fun of me.” Changbin snorts, “Then I bought a bunch and hung them up and they looked great and they couldn’t say anything.”

Minho smiles softly, and he’s not even watching the lights when he speaks his next sentence,

“They’re beautiful.” 

 

They oversleep. Minho doesn’t know how it happens, but he has a class at 12pm, and he groans when his eyes open at eleven. It will still take them a whole hour to drive home, not to mention getting ready and getting all their shit together.

“Bin,” Minho groans, gently coaxing  the sleepy boy out of his slumber, “Wake up. It’s eleven.”

Changbin’s eyes flicker open slowly, blearily, before they suddenly widen in realisation.

“Shit.” He says, sitting up, “Your class-”

“It’s fine.” Minho sighs lazily, “I’ll just skip.”

Changbin gapes. Minho never misses class.

“Are you sure? You can go if you want I’ll catch a train with all our stuff or-”

“Binnie,” Minho cuts him off, “It’s fine, don't worry about it.”

Changbin studies him for a moment before he slumps back into bed,

“Then I guess we can stay for longer than we planned.” When Minho nods in agreement, Changbin grins, “So what do you want to do?”

 

“I can’t believe you dragged me back here.”

Changbin smiles brightly, dragging Minho over to the token machine, barely able to conceal the excitement buzzing through him,

“I need  to beat your ass at Dirty Drivin’ just once.”

Minho laughs, the loud chatter of the arcade drowning it out slightly,

“Just give it up, babe.”

They have no reason to pretend anymore. They’d waved goodbye to Changbin’s family half an hour ago, promises of visiting again soon dying on their lips once they shoved the last bag into Minho’s car and drove off. They don’t need to keep the act up, pretend they’re in love for other people, yet the pet name slips off Minho’s tongue unconsciously. 

Changbin fights the blush that threatens his cheeks.

“Never.” He says, competitiveness taking over his embarrassment, and he can only thank every deity that it does so.

Minho beats Changbin at the game four times in a row before finally Changbin takes the lead and just about scrapes into first position, a belated shriek leaving his lips when he does so.

“Yesssss!” He screeches, “I told you I’d do it!”

“Finally.” Minho mutters, and Changbin shoves him in the ribs, before he grins wide.

“Give me a prize.”

Minho raises an eyebrow,

“A prize? Who said you deserve a prize?”

“Don’t I?” Changbin grins cockily as he jumps down from his chair, “I think I deserve one.”

Minho watches him carefully for a moment, in wonder or scrutiny, Changbin isn’t sure,

“Okay.” He responds coolly, “What do you want?”

Changbin stops fiddling with the last two tokens left in his hand and instead looks at Minho with some sort of determination in his eyes,

“A kiss.” He says, and it’s so soft, so quiet, that Minho thinks he may have heard wrong. “Kiss me.” Changbin says again, and it sounds more like a plea this time, than anything else.

Minho blinks.

“Kiss you?” He says, like the two times Changbin repeated the request wasn’t enough. Changbin only nods, the courage he had mustered to ask the question crashing down on him like a ton of bricks. Hearing Minho repeat his plea back to him sends a rush of embarrassment through him, all the way down to his toes, and he’s suddenly wishing he had just kept his mouth shut.

“If- if you want to.” He decides to tack on uselessly. Minho cocks his head to the side before he shrugs,

“Okay.”

Changbin is filled with confusion at the simplicity of Minho’s response, but he isn’t able to ask any questions, because Minho gives him exactly what he asked for.

The kiss is nothing like the one they had shared earlier, which was far too fleeting and insincere for Changbin’s liking. This time when Minho kisses him, Changbin feels something hot flush through him like a blazing fire- not the burn of it though, just its general warmth. When Minho tugs Changbin closer by his hips, Changbin melts against him, stretching onto his tiptoes to tangle his fingers into Minho’s thick hair. 

Minho pulls back first and Changbin is glad he does, as he’d completely thrown the concept of inhalation out the window and would have most likely died pressed against Minho like that. Minho giggles at Changbin’s flushed expression and presses another small kiss to the corner of Changbin’s mouth, and Changbin thinks even that is more passionate than whatever they did back at his house. 

“Come on.” Minho says eventually, pulling away only to tangle their fingers together. Changbin only watches him, too dazed to respond, “Let’s go home.”

The drive home is quiet, but not stiflingly so. Minho turns the radio on, some soft beats playing as he drives. Changbin’s head is loud, however. He wants to know what’s going on in Minho’s mind, where they stand, what he thinks. Minho isn’t a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve, in fact he barely wears them on his face, and usually Changbin is thankful for the non-judgemental looks that Minho can so easily pull, but at times like this they work against him.

“Stop thinking so hard.” Minho says when they’re about ten minutes from home. Changbin turns to him, a protest dying on his lips when Minho shoots him a knowing look, “I can practically hear you thinking, Bin. Please stop.”

Changbin sighs, but turns his head out the window anyway, trying to distract himself with thoughts of the trees they pass, the apartment buildings, the shops and the odd people, until Minho is pulling up and they’re parked outside their own block. 

Minho wordlessly leaves the car and Changbin follows, helping him out with the luggage that they groggily drag inside and into the elevator. They’re standing in silence, side by side, when Minho releases the grip he has on his duffel bag and takes Changbin’s hand instead. He squeezes it, ever so gently, and Changbin feels the worries within him dissipate at the simple touch. 

 

They talk about it eventually. A week later, but it happens eventually. Nothing changes between their dynamics. Minho still makes awful food and Changbin still pretends it’s worse than it actually is. Jisung comes over and laughs too loud and leaves their apartment a mess and Minho smiles and helps Changbin clean up, not an ounce of irritancy showing in his expression when he does so. They have breakfast together, watch movies at night together, their soft banter filling the apartment when they complete assignments together. 

Changbin’s mother calls, tells him to bring that Minho boy over again soon, and Minho makes a face across the room, and Changbin has to fight the smile on his face before telling his mom he definitely will and then hangs up. 

“I hate you.” Changbin mumbles into Minho’s chest where he’d tackled him after putting the phone down, “I hate you so much.”

Minho laughs, all pretty and innocent and it stutters something in Changbin’s chest, maybe his heart or his lungs or his whole damn circulatory system because Minho has that effect on him.

“You don’t hate me.” Minho smiles before he pulls Changbin down for a kiss and Changbin melts against him. Because they don’t change- they haven’t changed- not really. Minho makes terrible food but Changbin is there to kiss the pout off his face now instead, and they clean up together with kisses as unspoken rewards, and they do basic everyday tasks whenever they manage to pull their mouths away from one another. 

“Hyung,” Changbin says, voice barely above a whisper. “You know the next time I visit my parents? Can you come as my real boyfriend instead?”

Minho’s lips form a pretty little o shape of shock before they stretch into a wide smile, so wide that it’s almost blinding.

“Seo Changbin,” He murmurs, “I would go anywhere with you as your real boyfriend.”