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The heat in the room is oppressive all of a sudden, the moment Kun becomes aware of the rivulets of sweat streaming down his neck. He’s panting almost audibly. He closes his eyes, lets his head fall back and his hips roll one last time. Johnny’s grunt sounds beneath him. Kun barely has the strength to smile, his chest heaving, his body buzzing with the overwhelming sensations of everything that went down. All he wants at this very moment is to pass out and not wake up all weekend. Then again, the kids are away until Monday, so maybe he shouldn’t sleep through all the glorious adventures his boys are about to put him through.

Kun feels a hand on the small of his back and opens his eyes slowly. Jaehyun has moved up onto his knees and leans in for a grateful, appreciative kiss. Kun hums into it, winding a hand around the younger to slide down his toned back. Jaehyun kisses his cheek and climbs off the bed.

“I’ll get some towels.”

Kun takes a breath to find his voice, “I left some on the chair over there, but feel free to bring more.”

He exhales loudly, grunting. Exhaustion is crashing over him.

“You good, baby?” he drags a gentle hand down Johnny’s back. The younger responds with the most tired hum Kun can imagine and he laughs to himself fondly. Gently, he pulls out of Johnny and they both sigh. Johnny just about collapses on his side, but Kun holds him up. “Wait, baby, wait. Let’s clean you up first. You don’t wanna take a shower? Oh, look at you, you’re so pretty, you’re opening up so nicely. Oh, Johnny…”

Kun swipes his thumb through the semen trickling out of Johnny’s wrecked hole, pushing it back inside, and grins at Johnny’s whine.

“Here,” Jaehyun says as he returns to the bedroom, AC remote in one hand, damp towel in the other. Kun gets to gently wiping Johnny’s backside.

“So. You boys ready to do this all weekend?”

 

***

 

Johnny wipes his face with a towel after pulling his shirt on and exhales. He looks around the room to make sure everything is in order, then smiles at Allison who is standing by the door with her purse in her hand.

“All good?” Johnny asks and Allie gives him a thumbs up.

“I’ll see you around, Johnny. Text me some time,” she says, opening the door.

“Oh, wait, let me walk you out--”

“It’s alright, I’ll see if Kyle is down in the common room and hang out for a bit,” she says and walks down the hallway towards the stairs, waving at Johnny.

He waves back and makes his way to the other end of the hallway where the house’s little library is located. A couple of his brothers are sprawled around the old armchairs, including Jaehyun who looks up from his phone.

“Hey, there he is!” Jaehyun yells out, joining the few hoots Johnny gets from the other guys. “I can finally have my room back! Am I gonna even be able to walk in or is there nuclear waste everywhere?”

Johnny shakes his head, waving them all away, “You should be used to it by now, Jae, I’m the only one who ever gets laid in that room after all.”

“Oof!”

Jaehyun gives him a light kick in the shin, “Too much head gets to your head, buddy.”

“I’m gonna walk over to CVS, anyone wanna come with? Just getting some ice cream,” Johnny asks.

Ten minutes later, Johnny and Jaehyun are strolling down the sidewalk towards the corner CVS. It’s only early September, but the weather is throwing a fit and it’s unusually windy and overcast. People are bundled up in sweatshirts, some even wearing scarves. Johnny and Jaehyun have no time for that kind of silliness and are only wearing basketball shorts, flip-flops and deep-cut tank tops.

“Dude, my hair has been sooo soft ever since you gave me that shampoo,” Johnny says, running his fingers through his brown locks. “I guess that’s why my mom always wanted me to use shampoo and conditioner at home, it pays off!”

Jaehyun laughs and nods, “Yeah, man, I’m glad my ex made me start using shampoo, it just feels better. It’s good to treat yourself sometimes.”

“Totally,” Johnny agrees, shaking his hair out of his face. He cracks his neck and sighs in relief as they round the corner. “Man, coach needs to ease off. I really feel like trashing us with work outs before the game won’t help at all, we’re not lacking in stamina…”

“I know, right? I don’t really know what he’s thinking, he’s been so stressed about this game since the year started and it’s not even in-season. Makes no difference.”

They cross the street to the next block, still chatting about their soccer team, until Jaehyun pauses and points across the road.

“Oh, I meant to tell you, we should check out that bakery some time. I grabbed a coffee there the other day on my way to work and it looks like a terrific place. What’s it called?” Jaehyun squints and it crosses his mind that he really does need those glasses he adamantly refuses to wear. “Main...Main something? What is it?”

Johnny squints as well. “Mian Bao, I think. Is it an Asian bakery?” he asks, eyes on the Chinese characters on one side of the bakery’s sign.

“Uh, didn’t look like it, they looked like they have a mix of pretty much everything, but they do have some like, classic East Asian stuff, I guess. They sell bingsoo!”

“For real? Is it new, how come we’ve never gone in before?” Johnny frowns in surprise. Their college town is not necessarily lacking in “ethnic” locations, but it’s usually hard to find anything authentic so close to downtown. Being the only two Asian guys in their fraternity, Johnny and Jaehyun are often each other’s culture buddies, bonding over their shared traditions and similar upbringing.

Jaehyun shrugs, “I don’t know, honestly. I feel like I’ve been seeing it there for a while, I just don’t pass by very often, so I never thought to go in before, but it’s on my way to work now. Wanna go in on the way back? The cashier was pretty cute too when I went the other day.”

Johnny grins as they enter CVS, “Ah, so it’s not just the coffee. Hold on-- should we see if they serve ice cream? Or just check out what they have, I guess. Don’t want my ice cream to melt while we’re in there.”

The two of them make their way across the street and back to the bakery Jaehyun pointed out. Everything looks just as delicious as it smells once they’re inside. They’re fawning over a two-tier cake covered with an unbelievable number of layers of fruit, when someone approaches behind the fridge.

“Can I help you guys pick out something? This berry-vanilla cake is only for sale whole, but we do sell it by piece too, if you’d like. Unless you’re picking something out for an occasion?”

Behind the counter fridge is a middle-aged Asian man smiling softly while wiping his hands on a towel. He’s wearing a dark shirt and has an apron tied around his waist. For some reason, Johnny feels a little bit like he’s home.

“Oh, we’re just looking, just browsing,” Jaehyun smiles back.

“Sure! Take your time. I will say, I personally don’t think you need an occasion to buy a whole cake. Feels great to come home and know you can have a slice or two ready, just waiting for you in the fridge,” the man says, shrugging, and starts wiping the counter with the towel. Johnny laughs at his remark and the man smiles again, pleased, “But anyway, I’ll let you browse. Let me know if you need any help.” 

They’ve got several baked goods each in the little baskets they picked up by the entrance, but everything around this place looks enticing, and Johnny is in such a good mood - especially after his lovely afternoon with Allie - that he’s happy to stick around the bakery drinking coffee and enjoying some good desserts. While Jaehyun chooses between several kinds of sweet rolls, Johnny scans the drinks menu on the wall. A somewhat sparse, but nonetheless interesting selection of coffee choices.

“Did this place open only recently? My friend and I go to school nearby and live close, but I’ve never noticed it,” he asks, in the mood for conversation.

The man behind the counter shakes his head, hands on his hips, “No, no, not at all! We’ve been open at this location for four years now at least. We’ve got two more branches in town and one in Asheville, that’s the one that opened this year.”

“Huh! Well, it’s a shame I never knew to come in here before, I’m just amazed by all the variety,” Johnny gestures at the sun-lit space and shelves overflowing with baked creations. A whole franchise! He’s happy to hear the chain seems to be so successful. 

The man smiles wider and a dimple appears in his cheek this time.

“I’m glad you like it! We’re always happy to see students come by, you probably saw we have some Dempsey themed cookies over there.”

“Definitely, I think my friend got one,” Johnny turns and is surprised to find Jaehyun right behind him. “Oh, hey. Ready? I’m getting an iced cap.”

“I’ll tell you what, let me treat you guys,” the man behind the counter says. He brings out two small plates. “It’s your first time here, you should get to taste our cakes too. I hope you’ll like this one, I made it this morning. The berries are fresh too, I had some time to swing by the farmers’ market.”

“Oh, no, you don’t have to! We can--”

“No, no, my pleasure, my pleasure!” the man waves a hand, then continues arranging the perfect slices of berry cake with his obviously skilled fingers. Johnny can see his fingernails are neatly trimmed through the transparent gloves the man put on before serving them. “Let me know how you like these! I hope they get you to come back some time.”

After some more thank-you’s and pleasantries, the man behind the counter who is, apparently, also a baker, slides the slices of cake down to the cash register and disappears into the kitchen, while Johnny and Jaehyun make their coffee orders and pay for all their purchases. No hot girl behind the counter, just a pleasant dude Jaehyun thinks he vaguely recognizes from their Friday night party, but that’s okay. Maybe she’ll be around another day.

“What a nice guy!” Johnny says, as he sets down the tray with their cakes and drinks. “I wonder if he’s the owner. He was so sweet.”

Jaehyun throws the man a glance, then hums in agreement and slides Johnny’s paper bag of baked goods across the table. Johnny keeps looking over at the counter where the man who treated them is fretting about, ringing out customers or preparing drinks or bringing out more trays of food. He looks focused on his tasks most of the time, but never fails to smile warmly at a customer. His messy black hair is pushed back from his sweaty forehead, and Johnny notices a subtle streak of flour above his ear. 

What a sweet dude. You don’t run into people like him every day.

Accompanied by a chorus of pleased groans and hums and ooh’s and aah’s, Jaehyun and Johnny finish their cake, then proceed to sit in the comfortable booth, sipping their cold drinks in comfortable silence, occasionally broken by mild chatter about this or that. Jaehyun bites on a scone out of his bag as they clean up their table to leave, and Johnny steps up to the counter.

“Hey, is the gentleman who was here earlier and treated us to cake still around?” he asks the guy behind the cash register.

“Kun? He’s the owner. Yeah, do you want me to go get him?”

“I’d really appreciate that, just want to thank him again,” Johnny says. He straightens out his shirt while he waits and watches Jaehyun happily eating his scone. “It’s good?”

“Oh, so good,” Jaehyun mumbles through crumbs.

“Hey! Hi again, just wanted to let you know we loved that cake,” Johnny exclaims as soon as the man, Kun, steps out through the doors.

“Ahh, I’m so happy to hear that,” Kun says, clasping his hands and smiling, eyes closing for a moment. His dimples make a brief appearance and Jaehyun spots them this time, too. Good to know maybe his own dimples will continue to look as adorable twenty-thirty years from now. “You could tell how fresh the berries were, right?”

“Oh, yes, they were amazing.”

“Definitely. Everything was delightful, thank you so much,” Johnny smiles back just as warmly. It feels so good to go out of your way to be nice to people. “We’ll be back for sure, right, Jae?”

“Absolutely. I pass by on my way to work, so I’m gonna be coming in for coffee for sure.”

“Ah, that is great, we would love to have you. Hey, I’m Kun, thank you guys for stopping by today, it’s been great to meet you,” the baker adds as an afterthought and holds out a hand that Johnny gladly squeezes.

“I’m Johnny, and this is Jaehyun.”

“Nice to meet you, and thanks so much for the cake!”

They say their goodbyes and leave the store with two more mini-cookies on the house.

“That was great. I’m glad you pointed out this place, that was awesome,” Johnny says as they cross the street, and he mulls over the fact that kneading bread must take a lot of muscle because Kun’s arms sure looked extra defined in that dark tee.

 

“I saw that,” Taeyong sing songs when Kun gets back to the kitchen. He’s got frosting on his cheek and a spatula in one hand. “I saw that, buddy, I saw what you did there!”

“What? Shut up, Yongie,” Kun dismisses him with a hand and sets up the mixer again.

“Hey, I agree, they’re hot, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the around here either…”

“What? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kun denies with a little smile on his lips.

“You want to see hot twenty year olds around the store more? That’s infidelity, Taeyong,” Doyoung quips from the walk out freezer.

Taeyoung laughs, “It’s not infidelity if they’re hotter than your own spouse.”

“What?! Hotter?! That’s--”

Kun tunes their bickering out with practiced ease, humming to himself. Why are they even here today? Anyway, no harm in treating his attractive customers well.

 

***

 

Another week comes and goes. The semester begins to ramp up. Jaehyun stops by “Mian Bao” twice on his way to work, and one of those times happens to bump into the sexy barista again. He flirts very casually, satisfied to just elicit a smile. There’s no sight of Kun either time, but perhaps that’s normal given how busy mornings tend to be. 

On Saturday morning, Johnny and Jaehyun wrap up their early soccer practice and, sweaty, exhausted, and still somewhat hungover, head down to the bakery for some refreshing iced coffee. Jaehyun walks shirtless right until they’re in front of the establishment, when he pulls his jersey on. No matter how disgusting it is with sweat, he’s not enough of an asshole to walk in half naked for the sake of showing off his wonderfully shredded stomach and firm pecs.

It’s busier than last week, and more employees are behind the counter this time. When the two boys make their way over there, Kun steps up to take their order. He’s looking more frazzled than last time, but it suits him. Another tight black shirt with flour streaks, hair messier, smile just as warm as last time. Skilled fingers working the cash register, then the coffee machine. All while making sweet, pleasant conversation with Johnny and Jaehyun.

“Ah yes, I’m not always around, I work out of our other locations sometimes. But I usually do work from here though,” Kun explains when Jaehyun mentions he stopped by during the week but didn’t run into the baker. He sets down Jaehyun’s drink and turns around, bending to pull out a scoop of ice from under the counter. Johnny’s eyes slide over his ass. Kun throws them a glance over his shoulder as he makes Johnny’s coffee, “So do you guys play soccer? You’re not on Dempsey’s team, are you?”

Johnny laughs humbly, “We are, actually. I’m a goalie, Jae is a forward. We just had practice this morning and we thought what better way to cool down than some great coffee!”

The happy grin on Kun’s face (and the dimples) are worth it.

“Happy to provide! That’s awesome, I’ve seen you guys play then! I took my kids to a few of your games last year. You guys are good!”

“Ah, I don’t know about good, but we give our best,” Johnny continues to be modest, watching Kun work the coffee machine.

“No, no, you’re--”

“He’s just being being humble, we’re really good, it’s true. We’re very good,” Jaehyun interjects, winking, and the three of them laugh together.

A little more chit chat, and Kun sends them off with a fresh, warm taro bun on the house.

“Hm,” Jaehyun shrugs when they’re back on the street. He takes a thoughtful pull of his coffee, “You’re right, he’s really sweet.”

And if they’re both feeling a little inexplicably warm and fuzzy in the stomach, they certainly keep that to themselves.

 

***

 

Another week and some trickles by. Jaehyun continues stopping in for coffee, Johnny joins him once or twice, and the sweet owner/baker is there almost every time. He supplies the most pleasant of exchanges and the two boys are happy to reciprocate.

On a Wednesday evening, after a hearty meal at one of the University’s cafeterias, Jaehyun, Johnny and their friend Ten drive out to the nearest Whole Foods. While Ten goes into the next door Michael’s, grumbling about how overpriced everything is going to be, the two athletes peruse organics. Whole Foods is way outside their standard price range, but every now and again they like to treat themselves to higher quality protein shakes.

They check out chatting happily about the good fruit they bought (and less happily about what a scam Amazon Prime is anyway). As they are about to step out the sliding doors, Johnny pauses mid-sentence.

“Hey, wait, is that-- Is that Kun? From the bakery?”

Jaehyun looks back at the check out lanes and spots him immediately. His appearance is very different from how they usually see him, but it’s Kun. He looks taller in his fitted suit, and it’s probably because of the slight heel his shiny black shoes bear. Jacket slung over one arm, tasteful blue button down with the sleeves rolled up. His golden tie is loosened around his neck. His hair is pushed out of his face again, but this time it’s carefully styled. Kun looks...intimidating. And wealthy. And his waist is so outstandingly narrow and little.

Jaehyun fights the urge to swallow thickly.

“Should we say hi?” he meeps out.

“Sure, why not, right?”

Just as Kun is placing a sizeable watermelon into his cart along with his groceries, the two step up to the check out lane.

“Is that you, Mr. Qian?” Johnny quips, squinting as if to see if he can recognize the man. Jaehyun grins next to him.

Kun looks up from his wallet. 

“Oh! Hello! What a coincidence, what are you guys doing here?”

They make room for him to push his cart out of the lane and over to the little packing area.

“Jae and I come here once in a while to get better fruit for our protein shakes. Kind of a treat, every now and then.”

Kun smiles and nods warmly while putting away his change, “That makes sense, that makes sense! I was gonna say, when did Whole Foods become a go-to for college kids?” he chuckles and Johnny and Jaehyun respond in kind.

“It’s good to experience how normal people live every now and then,” Jaehyun jokes, gesturing out at the store. “What about you, what are you doing here all...all dressed up?”

“Oh,” Kun breathes a pleased laugh, dimples out. He looks down at his stellar outfit, “It was parent-teacher’s conference night at my kids’ school. Usually...usually, teachers like to think of me as the friendly baker dad who always brings croissants and muffins to school events, so I like to look the parent part for these. Gotta have them take me seriously. Plus, it’s nice to dress up sometimes, isn’t it?”

Johnny makes a sound of understanding, “Ahaaa, got it. Absolutely, you look sharp ! I love the pattern on your tie.”

“Thank you,” Kun straightens out his tie and smiles. “I don’t get to wear ties often, so I always take pleasure in it when I do.”

“Do you pick your ties yourself or does your wife?” Jaehyun smiles.

Johnny cringes inwardly, then outwardly when Kun waves his fingers side to side, “Oh no, it’s just me and my kids. No wife. So, I do pick my own ties.”

“Jae, you can’t just assume like that!” Johnny says good-naturedly, clapping a hand over Jaehyun’s shoulder. He turns apologetically to Kun then, “My moms get that all the time, everybody’s always asking about the husband!”

They chuckle at Johnny’s remark and Jaehyun says, “Sorry about that, didn’t mean to assume. I guess your taste in ties is just that good!”

“Thank you, thank you,” Kun smiles, smoothing down his loosened tie. He reaches into his jacket pocket then, bringing out a little glasses case. He slips on a pair of round-rimmed glasses on his face and Jaehyun thinks he looks even more handsome like that. Kun pulls the receipt out of his reusable bag of groceries, “Okaaaay. Let me see if this place is starting to be outside of my budget too… I get my face moisturizer from here and it was more expensive this time, so I wanna see if I maybe I misread the label and got the wrong one. Hmmm...no, that looks right. I guess they upped the price. Well, anyway,” he stuffs the receipt back into the bag and waves a hand, then looks through his bag. “I got my rosé, got my face masks, my body scrub, got some watermelon...I’m all set for a relaxing night!”

Jaehyun meets Johnny’s eye. Interesting purchases.

“Well, don’t let us keep you! It was good running into you,” Jaehyun says, quickly smiling and stepping aside so Kun can roll his cart out. The man waves as he leaves.

When Kun is a safe distance away, Jaehyun shuffles the paper bag in his hands, “Maybe he’s gay.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

They take another few steps in silence.

“I mean, face masks, body scrub...Ten does that kind of thing.”

“Right.”

Ten is sitting on the curb when they walk out, still doing the gay math in their heads, and Johnny prods him with his foot.

“Did you find what you were looking for, Bob Ross?”

“Did you find what you were looking for...Lebron James?”

Jaehyun laughs while Johnny makes a disappointed noise, “You can do better than that, Tennie…”

Ten throws his hands up in defense, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but all sports are the same.”

They walk towards Jaehyun’s car and Johnny asks, “Ten, is it gay to use face masks and body scrubs and drink rosé?”

Ten whirls around, face contorted in confusion, and almost runs into Jaehyun’s solid chest.

“Huh???” 

“I mean--”

“No, taking care of your skin and not wanting to be a crusty chapped sponge loaf of bread doesn’t make you attracted to men. What??”

Jaehyun laughs and Johnny spares a giggle too, before swatting at Ten, “Stop, that’s not what I meant. I just meant...like, gay guys are more likely to do it, right?”

Ten shrugs.

“Sure, I mean, I guess we definitely take better care of ourselves than cishet guys do. Why? Your frat bros won’t think you’re gay if you lotion your legs every once in a while, Johnny.”

Jaehyun laughs louder this time and Johnny just shakes his head.

“He’s asking cause we just ran into this bakery dude that Johnny’s been flirting with,” Jaehyun says once they’re in the car.

“Hey! I haven’t--”

“He’s the owner of this Asian bakery a few blocks from the house. And yes, you have, you’re always extra nice to this random dad, do you think it’ll earn you free scones or something?”

“What! I would not disrespect the man like that, he’s so much older than us--” Johnny protests loudly, but he knows Jaehyun is just teasing in good spirit.

Still, as they drive back to drop Ten off at his apartment, Johnny can’t help but feel a little bit odd about Jaehyun’s joke. Is he really flirting ? No way. He can come off as flirty sometimes when he’s just being extra nice. And why would he flirt with the probably-gay owner of a bakery who is like thirty years older than him and has kids?

He can’t deny he has been going out of his way to chat with this guy and be nice to him. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but why? Johnny can’t help but think that it has to do with the fact that Kun could be his dad. Just a kind, gentle Asian man who has an entire bakery franchise and is ridiculously personable and sweet to customers. The kind of father figure he never quite had.

It’s not like Johnny feels like he’s missed out on having a dad, it’s not like his moms have ever been anything short of the most amazing mothers in the world, and it’s not like he thinks he needs a male figure to look up to in that way. He had both of his grandfathers, and an uncle, too - and he would have been fine without them too! But he does wonder sometimes.

 

***

 

Friday night, at last. 

Kun pours himself a glass of water out of the pitcher in the fridge, eyeing his bottle of wine with a promise. He tries not to think too hard about how early he’ll have to get up tomorrow. It’s okay. It’s good for him and the kids. And he’ll get to sleep in on Sunday.

“Maria!” he calls out, catching a glimpse of his daughter zooming past the kitchen.

“Yeah?” she answers while her feet pad up the stairs.

“Are you getting ready for bed?”

“Yes!"

“Did you help your brother with the laundry?”

“Yes!”

“It’s done, dad!” Xiaojun calls from the laundry room and a moment later zooms up the stairs too.

All this energy...Kun can’t relate.

“Alright, thank you both, now make sure you’re getting ready for sleep!”

Kun waits for a response for a few seconds, blinking at the stairs. Then, hands on his hips, surveys the kitchen. Xiaojun has done a pretty good job cleaning up, with the exception of the bundled tablecloth he always forgets to shake the crumbs from. Kun is pretty sure it’s intentional, but he lets it go.

Ten minutes later, the dishwasher is on, a scented candle burns on the table, and Kun can almost feel the phenomenal bath he’s about to take. He heads up the stairs to check on the kids, one tired leg after the other. Their dog, Benny, is but a shadow curled up on the bathroom mat, his black fur blending with the darkness in the hallway. Kun flips on the light and gives him a few good ear rubs.

“Daddy?” Maria pokes her head out of her room. She’s got her canvas explorer hat on her head. “Daddy bear, I’m really excited about tomorrow!”

Kun smiles widely despite his tiredness. Maria’s enthusiasm over this is more than worth getting up early and dragging himself and a whining Xiaojun to a local park for a bird wak.

“I’m excited too, honey. I’m sure we’ll learn a ton!”

Maria nods, doing a happy little twirl.

“Daddy bear, can you promise me though, can you please buy me my own binoculars next week? They don’t have to be very fancy and expensive! But I need my own binoculars since I’ll be birdwatching so much from now on and I can’t always borrow from the park. Please, daddy--”

"I didn't say you can't have binoculars, you don't have to beg! All I said was that we have to see how your grades come along next week and then decide--"

"I know, I know, but you have to promise , okay? You have to promise you'll think about it, dad. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease, daddy, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeee--"

Kun puts his hands over his ears, yelling over his daughter's whine and fighting a grin. He knows at this point she's being obnoxious on purpose. He sweeps her up and carries her giggling self to Xiaojun's room.

"Dejun, are you getting ready for bed?" he asks, setting Maria down, a stern note in his voice when he sees his son is playing a video game and hasn't even changed into pajamas yet. "We have to be up so early tomorrow, c'mon."

Xiaojun pauses his game and sighs dramatically, rolling onto his back.

"Why do we have to go again? Why do we have to get up at ass o'clock to listen to birds? We have birds in our backyard! They're right there all day!"

Kun's eyebrows shoot up.

"Dejun! Can you be nice? We're going because your sister really likes nature and wants to see what it's like being an explorer! Can you be nice to her? Can you be nice to your sister? It costs nothing to be nice to your sister!"

Xiaojun rolls his eyes, pretends like he doesn't care, but whenever Kun spits out words so fast, it definitely gets to him.

"Sorry, Maria..." he says like he's being forced to.

Maria pays him no mind. Unfrazzled by how much her brother is just another stupid boy sometimes (and you can't expect boys to get why nature is the most exciting thing in the world), she gently unfolds the mesh of one of the insect nets propped against the wall. They're brand new, used only once.

"If we stay at the park a little bit after the bird walk, maybe we can see the dragonflies come out and we can try to catch some, what do you think, daddy bear? I really want--"

Bless his heart, Kun nods through some more enthused chattering and coaxes the eight-year-old out of the room. He gives Xiaojun a pointed look before closing the door, expecting him to be in bed within ten minutes.

When he first realized how much he wants children, Kun knew there would be tough moments. Especially if he goes down the adoption or foster route, the odds are that some difficult situations will come about and he'll have to go through painful learning and trying times. All these years later, he's had his fair share of those, but what truly gets to him the most are the ordinary things. Like not losing his cool when Maria is still chattering fifteen minutes later and the light in Xiaojun's room is still on. He's had a long, tiring week, his muscles ache, his brain is drained, and it's really damn difficult to not just walk into his bathroom, close the door, and let the kids sort themselves out. Or, what would be worse, raise his voice.

Finally, finally , he kisses Xiaojun’s forehead for good night, and five minutes later, drops his underwear into the dirty clothes hamper and relaxes into the hot bath. 

His eyes slide shut. A quiet, drawn moan slips out between his lips. The smell of lavender fills the moist air. Chopin spills from the small speaker on the counter in soothing, quiet wafts. Kun runs a wet hand through his hair and counts his breaths.

One...

Two...

Three...

Kun draws a hand down his chest, kneading into the sore muscles of his thighs, pressing into his aching feet.

Six…

Seven…

Eight...

Yukhei has been on his mind a lot this week. 

They haven't seen each other in a few months, not since they went on vacation together with their families back in late June. The Wongs travelled a lot the rest of the summer, and then with the school year starting back up, Kun was too busy with the bakery and the kids to arrange time for anything.

It's been, of course, even longer since they've seen each other like that , just the two of them. He makes a mental note to text Yukhei after his bath.

The reason Yukhei's been on his mind so much is, obviously, all these jocks he keeps running into. In the bakery, on the streets around the college, at freaking Whole Foods . When does sports season end again? They need to put on some clothes. Kun is a whole forty-four years old, he shouldn't be getting so worked up over their toned bodies, but he's been single for the last...ten? twelve? years, so there's only so much he can help.

Some of them are really nice, of course, like the two that keep stopping by the bakery. Frat bros aren't all bad nowadays, he supposes. Jaehyun and Johnny remind Kun so much of a young Yukhei. Tall, broad, muscled, all huge captivating grins and irresistible charms. Body to die for. A startlingly warm personality. A gentle, kind soul.

Kun rolls his head, feels the hot water lap at his scalp, pull the tension out of his body.

When they first started going out, Kun thought Yukhei must be a dream, a mirage, a product of his imagination. Years later, eyeing engagement rings in store windows, he knew Yukhei was one of the most phenomenal people he'd ever meet.

And even though it all broke down for some time. Even though there was hurt and painful goodbyes. Things came back together. He and Yukhei couldn't stay apart, they knew each other inside and out, needed to be there for each other. Yukhei married, and Kun was there to help Yuqi plan everything down to the color of the invitations. Kun fostered kids for the first time, and Yukhei was there to be the clueless but fun favorite uncle.

Yukhei is still as toned and sexy as ever, Kun thinks, thoughtfully bringing his hand to his crotch. And it's been too long since Kun has gotten to explore that in person. And all these damn frat boys all around with their chiseled jawlines and knee-buckling smiles and strong, deft hands...

After a satisfying orgasm, Kun lets the water drain out and washes up under the shower spray.

It’s a warm evening outside, so he towels off, spends a few minutes scratching and cooing at Benny, then settles into his favorite porch armchair with a glass of white. Benny patters out and drops on the wood next to him a few minutes later. Kun is shirtless under his silk robe. His bare chest sits teasingly exposed. His damp hair is slicked back from his forehead and temples. It’s getting long, maybe even due for a trim, but Kun likes it for right now. It makes him feel attractive. Handsome.

He breathes in the aroma of freshly cut grass coming from Taeyong and Doyoung’s yard. The wine settles warm in his stomach. He fiddles with his phone and texts Yukhei. A response comes in quickly, and they agree to chat on the phone tomorrow and make plans for some fun time together in the coming weeks.

After responding in kind to Yukhei's heart emojis, Kun swipes through his app menu and opens Grindr. He visits the app an average of three times per year - it takes so much energy to sift through all the people he's not into or couldn't have a chance with, and Kun has so little time to deal with that, that it's just not worth it. But every once in a while, it's good to try. He decides to change his profile photo and fiddles with his apps some more until he manages to switch his camera from video to photo mode.

The glow of the living room lights filtering out through the drapes casts attractive shades over Kun and he takes several selfies he’s very pleased with. You can even see the faint droplets of water over his chest in one of them. But he decides to save that one for himself. Maybe he’ll send it to Yukhei some time.

While his photo is pending approval, Kun opens a chat with a good looking thirty-year-old and starts to type when he hears the typical Friday night drunk crowd approaching from up the street.

 

***

 

Seven P.M. is just about the perfect time to start pre-gaming on a Friday night after a long week. Johnny isn't in the mood for party, but his frat is throwing one, so he figures he might as well make the most out of it and get pleasantly smashed.

He's got his arm up around the back of the couch, feet propped on the coffee table, a beer in his hand, and Ten next to him. They're finishing the first season of "Queer Eye" and Johnny is honestly glad Ten made him watch it. It's fun, and somewhat enlightening too. He sort of feels like he gets Ten better now.

Ten crunches on a tortilla chip loaded with guacamole and Johnny is about to whine about how loud it is when Jaehyun bursts in with another case of Bud. They pause the show for a few minutes while Jaehyun updates Johnny on the set up for the party in the basement.

"I got this whole thing," Jaehyun smacks the eighteen-pack, "but it's more to share, honestly. Alexis texted me she's coming to the party."

Johnny makes a surprised sound, "Oh yeah? Is she finally gonna let you smash tonight?"

"I don't know, but she's been texting me all day, sooo..."

"My boy! Getting your dick wet tonight, huh!" Johnny laughs loud and obnoxious and they slap hands. Next to him, Ten makes a retching noise.

"Can you guys be any more crude?"

They ignore him and Jaehyun cuts through the paper wrapping of the beer case with his keys, pulling out a can for himself.

"And if she doesn't, I got you to come back to and smash!" he says, shrugging at Johnny.

"Oh, so I'm just your second choice?"

"You know I can't resist Alexis, bro! Besides, you're always around, the thrill is gone!"

They laugh at their own banter and clunk cans together before Jaehyun drops on the couch to watch the show with them. Ten eyes them curiously. This is definitely a new layer to their obnoxious straight broeyness.

Half an hour later, Mark, a freshman recruit that is probably going to rush and is currently too tipsy for his own good, crashes into the room to tell Johnny they're asking for him in the basement, since he's the jungle juice master. 

“That was fun,” Jaehyun comments as Ten exits his Netflix account. He nods at Johnny, “Makes me think of your man, Mr. Qian.”

Johnny just snorts and leads the way down the stairs.

And so begins a pretty typical Friday night in a basement illuminated by blacklights that highlight all of the questionable spills. Johnny somehow manages to get a bunch of Ten's friends on his side during beer pong, and Ten gives up and goes to make out with a hunky sophomore who's been giving him starry eyes since the week before. Jaehyun spends all his time chatting and laughing with Alexis, until she offers that they go get food from one of late night food trucks by the dorms.

Five minutes later, Johnny finds himself leaning a little too heavily on Ten's tiny frame as they saunter down the street to campus in a noisy group of at least six. Jaehyun is riding an odd kind of high, a mixture of being excited that Alexis is taking him to her room, and whatever buzz Johnny’s jungle juice has got him on. The clamor their posse creates is half giggles and incredibly loud talking, half them shushing each other constantly before erupting into more giggles. Johnny feels a little bit bad about all the people whose houses they’re passing, but hey, it’s Friday night. Everyone should live a little.

Johnny head snaps up, startled, when Jaehyun belts out, “Is that Mister Qian? Johnny! It’s Mister Qian! MISTER QIAN! HOW ARE YOU, DUDE?”

A few of their friends try to shush Jaehyun, but Alexis is giggling, and that’s all the encouragement he needs.

“MISTER QIAN, it’s me, Jaehyun! How are you doing?” Jaehyun continues yelling, borderline screaming. Johnny squints in the dark towards the house they’re stopped in front of. Sure enough, Kun is sitting on the porch, a halo of soft light framing his small, regal figure, and a confused-looking dog next to him. Johnny starts to also shush Jaehyun and apologize to Kun at the same time, but Jaehyun pays no mind to his stutters. “MISTER QIAN, sorry to bother you! It’s Friday night, we’re just-- we had a party and we uh-- Alexis, this is Mister Qian, he’s a very nice baker. He uh--”

Kun finally responds, after also squinting through the dark to make out the faces of the drunk kids on his sidewalk.

“Ah! Jaehyun?” he chuckles, “Yeah, it’s Friday night, but my kids are asleep so you gotta keep it down, okay?”

His words are very lighthearted and he’s clearly not upset, but Jaehyun begins to apologize loudly and obnoxiously.

“--don’t mean to wake your kids up, Kun, we’ll get going, I’m so sorry--”

Johnny steps up to Jaehyun and all but presses a palm over his mouth.

“Sorry, Kun!” he calls out, plastering the most charming smile he can muster all over his face. Words come a little hard, but he pushes through, “We didn’t mean to disturb you, we uh-- we had a party and we’re going for a snack now. Are you also having a good Friday night?”

While Johnny takes in the deafening awkward silence that, to his drunk ears, stretches over minutes, and wonders why the hell he asked that, Kun chuckles again, taking a sip from his wine.

“I’m having a great Friday night, thank you, Johnny. Enjoying the last of the warm weather,” he tips his glass up towards the…weather surrounding all of them. What a fucking odd encounter. Kun is amused and a bit tickled that these damn drunk jocks are seeing him looking this good, but he also wishes he’d sat on his back porch instead.

More drunk whisper-yelling comes from the group, before Jaehyun calls out again.

“Okay, we’ll go now, we’ll leave you alone! Sorry, mister Qian! You look good, though, I’m glad you’re having a good night! Hey, you know-- you know what? You should come to our game on Sunday! Johnny and me, we have a game on Sunday, come watch us play! Bring your kids too, we’re gonna win just for you, Mister Qian!”

After assuring Jaehyun he’ll try his best to be there and accepting his earnest goodnight wishes, Kun finally breathes a sigh of relief as he watches the group walk away down the street. Drunk college kids - and especially drunk frat boys - will never not make Kun shudder in disgust. (Except for Yukhei...who always somehow managed to be much more endearing than obnoxious when smashed.) Still, there’s something satisfying about Jaehyun recognizing Kun in the dark, drunk-yelling at him about their upcoming game… Maybe Kun’s head is just muddled by memories of those rippled arms.

He finishes his wine in the dark, phone abandoned, listening to the crickets and Benny’s soft snores with peace in his heart.

 

***

 

Nothing is ever simple and easy around kids, Kun has learned over and over, and is reminded the next morning.

Maria is, of course, up bright and early to wake her father and brother who, bleary eyed and with feigned excitement, listen to her chatter through breakfast about all the things she's excited to see at the park. The bird walk goes smoothly and is actually entertaining for Xiaojun too, so Kun allows himself to also enjoy the crisp air and natural sounds.

Kun's big mistake, however, is letting Maria return to the nature center to check out their indoors exhibit...where she also happens to come across dozens of brochures and guides and booklets. They leave with a stack of pamphlets on topics ranging from "Guide to spring wildflowers" to "How to build our own backyard insect hotel". Maria is particularly interested in a tri-fold titled "A native yard: your gift to nature", and by the time Kun pulls into their driveway, she has made an executive decision that they will be re-doing the landscaping of their yard and populating it with native flora.

It's not that Kun minds the idea. It sounds like it would be nice to do some landscaping and make their yard more interesting; and he loves making Maria happy. But between everything else going on in their lives Kun is...tired. Simply tired.

He relents of course. Maybe he can stall on the insect hotel till next summer, but Maria's excitement for getting their yard ready for the winter is way above the taming threshold. Kun just accepts his fate.

Still, he's able to placate her and put things off until next weekend, and so the rest of Saturday is blissfully uneventful. Kun makes some pasta, brings out some popsicles for the three of them to enjoy in the afternoon sun, and thoughtfully books them tickets for tomorrow's University soccer game.

Sunday is hotter than expected. Rummaging through his carefully curated dresser, Kun decides he both doesn't care enough to put together an outfit for this, and would like to look the hot dad part for once. He throws on a pair of black shorts that reach just past mid-thigh, a loose beachy white button down whose sleeves he rolls up, and his favorite pair of sandals. Sigh. If only there were more (more like any) single queer dudes (that he is even remotely into) his age in this town...

Xiaojun is more than happy to abandon his homework for the game, and Maria agrees only if she can bring her book. The small stadium is half empty, but enough people trickle in through the gates that the audience has spirit. Once he settles the kids in some decent seats among other adults from the neighborhood rather than rowdy college kids, he pops his black sunglasses back on and heads off to the concession stands.

He's satisfied to see a couple of moms giving him meaningful glances as he makes his way through the stands. It puts a little more confidence in his stride, and he starts to hum to himself as the smell of grilled brats and burgers and fries and popcorn, so much popcorn, fills his senses.

Armed with a tray of hot dogs, fries, sodas and a small bag of kale chips (a balanced meal), Kun happily heads back to the stands when he hears his name being called in a deep honey voice.

"Oh! Hey dude, what are you doing out here, aren't you playing today?" he says to a mildly sweaty and extremely hot Jaehyun who's giving him a smile that looks more like a smirk. Is this about Friday night? Does he even remember Friday night?

If he does, he doesn't bring it up.

"I am, of course, I just had to run back to the locker room. We're starting in a few," Jaehyun says. The smirk stays on and Kun thinks it's less of a smug expression and more a part of Jaehyun's signature charms. "You made it to one of our games, huh! Good to see you here!"

"Yeah, I told you I liked watching you guys play last year, you're a really good team!" Kun smiles, shifting the food tray in his hands. Jaehyun looks really fucking fine in his uniform. "My son, Xiaojun, he's in middle school and he likes playing soccer with his friends, but he hasn't decided if he wants to join the team yet. I think it could be fun for him, but I don't want it to be too demanding."

Jaehyun props his hands on his waist thoughtfully. His jawline is ridiculously carved.

"Hmm, yeah, it can be a lot before the season starts. But hey, me and Johnny wouldn't mind kicking a ball with him some time if he wants to get better!"

Kun tries not to stare at Jaehyun's perfectly styled hair, or his muscled thighs. He smiles a dimpley smile at him.

"That would be great! Thanks, I'll let him know to keep it in mind."

Jaehyun smiles back and a mesmerizing dimple appears in his cheek too. He's trying to keep his brain on the game, but there’s something oddly comforting about seeing Kun here. He almost feels like he’s more motivated to show off on the field now. And sure, it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that it’s an important game and that there are a lot of chicks from Delta Rho in the crowd, but bumping into the baker warms his heart.

“I’m gonna head off now, but I hope you enjoy the game, Mr. Qian!”

“Alright, have fun out there, I’m sure you guys will do great!”

“Yes, sir!” Jaehyun calls over his shoulder, jogging off onto the field.

Huh. Sir.

Kun ponders that as his feet start to move on their own, and it takes him a few seconds to realize he’s walking towards the wrong section. He turns around and almost drops the entire tray in his hands.

These damn jocks, man.