“I’m sorry hyung, I really wish I could help.”
“I know, it’s just. Are you sure it’s going to take all weekend? I can even forego the makeup and only shoot the fit, I just need like, an hour max, I promise.”
“They won’t get back til’ next week,”
“Yeah. Hey, what about. . . your roommate?”
“My roommate? What about him?”
“Could you ask him?”
“Could I— Hongjoong? No, uhm, no I can’t. I don’t think he’d be comfortable— I mean, now that I think about it, he does have a similar build so it could work but. . . the look may not be for him? Besides I think he kinda hates me. Or dislikes me. I dunno,”
“That’s ridiculous,” Yeosang scoffs, “who could hate you? It’s criminal. I would kill to have you as my roommate,”
“That’s because you love me.” Seonghwa sighs.
“No, because you’re a free live-in housekeeper and right now Wooyoung is my benchmark. No brainer.”
Seonghwa exaggerates a gasp, “Stone cold. I’m heartbroken,”
“Maybe,” Seonghwa chuckles, “anyway, I’ll figure something out. Talk later?”
“Yup, keep me posted. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“It’s not your fault, Sangie. Thanks for trying. I still owe you that drink.”
“Don’t worry about it, hyung. But I’ll hold you to it. Bye,”
With a sigh Seonghwa tosses the phone to the other end of the sofa and flops backwards, wincing as his head catches the armrest and static explodes behind his eyelids at the burst of pain.
Eyes squeezed closed, hand running frustratedly through walnut locks, he lets out another sigh, deeper, worn out. What has he done to aggrieve the universe like this? The project had been assigned two weeks ago. He’d taken a day to determine what he’d do and the materials were supposed to arrive in three, leaving him with ten days to work tirelessly into making his vision come to fruition.
But there was a mix up with the several bolts of lace he ordered and had to painstakingly negotiate the rectification. All in all it took nine days, nine infinite days where Seonghwa slowly unraveled at the seams, for all the right fabrics and materials to arrive. Then he was down to four days to work with, less than a business week.
At some point, around day five, part of him wanted to jump ship to a different design where he was already in possession of the necessary fabrics but the more stubborn, experienced part of him knew if it really came down to it he could make it in a day, hours, if he had to, if only provided with the materials he required. He had the (detrimental) will, the focus and the skill. Ten days was soothing to the perfectionist critic throned in his brain, a gracious margin to obsess over details and errors and altercations, maybe get second opinions from trusted friends. It would have been smooth sailing. It should have been.
Murphy’s Law, however, favoured those already struck by adversity. The semester had only just begun but a few weeks in and the workload piled on gluttonously until Seonghwa woke up one morning and felt nauseous under the mountain of amassed assignments and projects. Between the deadline for this class and all the other imminent ones, how would he manage to find a balance that wouldn’t completely skew his progress in two or more classes and leave him in the dust?
Giving up wasn’t an option, though, so he clenched his teeth and bore it through sleepless nights, running on a volume of sugary energy drinks that would have him aghast in any other scenario and the fumes of obstinate refusal to fall off this early in the year (or, who was he kidding, fall off at all).
He’d finished making the outfit with six hours to spare and here he was, left without the very model he’d tailored it for. He met Yeona in first year, bumped into her during noon rush hour in the cafeteria. Her tray had been heavy with spaghetti and cranberry juice, both of which ended up embedded in her cashmere Saint Laurent sweater.
She’d been graceful about the ordeal but Seonghwa hadn’t been able to sleep soundly. A couple weeks later he tracked her down to present a handmade sweater, cashmere like the one the amatriciana had rendered unwearable, but sequined and her name embossed in gold on the label, measurements approximated.
It fit beautifully. They made fast friends.
When the end of the semester dawned and he’d been in search of a model for his final project for his portfolio, the tutor-designated one atrociously flakey and thorny to work with, Yeona had stepped in and offered to be his model. It was supposed to be a one-off arrangement, but the experience had been so pleasant and Yeona pulled off his designs so impeccably that it became a fixed thing. In exchange, Seonghwa had to show up at her house a weekend or two in the semester for dinner to convince her parents that yes, she had male friends, no she was not a lesbian. (She is).
As always, Yeona was ready to model the garments Seonghwa had made in her measurements. But she had a terrible collision on the ice rink this morning and had to be rushed off to the hospital before the hockey match had even ended. She’d fractured her forearm in two places and would stay the night, and all of Seonghwa’s academic worries had momentarily gone out the window.
“Seonghwa lovey, If you value your fingers don’t you dare come here. I’ll be here tomorrow but that deadline won’t. Find someone and finish your damn project, I’m a big girl.”
Yeona was affectionate and kind and solemn as a heartattack in her dispense of threats. There wasn’t a single time she failed to make good on a promise or threat. With her, they were essentially the same thing. No matter the bludgeoning guilt or gnawing concern, Seonghwa was not about to test her.
Besides, she was right. The excruciating past weeks would all be for nothing if he couldn’t find an appropriate replacement. He would still get marks for his flats but they’d moved past the stage where flats would suffice and this project was twenty percent of his final portfolio. If Seonghwa has learnt anything, it’s that it’s easier to score higher on a big project than continuous assessments bearing smaller marks and he needs to showcase all the skills in his arsenal.
“I hate you?”
A disembodied voice appears over Seonghwa, sounding eerily like his roommate.
“Great, now I’m going crazy too.” Seonghwa sighs and rubs his temples, eyes still shut.
“I could’ve told you that last week. You scrubbed the kitchen floor with a lint roller. At three am. And neatly rearranged relocated the last shelf in the pantry. To the fridge. Tell me, Mr. Seonghwa, why would flour need to go in the fridge?”
Seonghwa opens his eyes to his bespectacled, crimson haired roommate peering down over the sofa back, disorientingly close to his face. With a yelp, Seonghwa starts and tumbles to the carpeted floor.
The shock paralyzes him as he watches with bulging eyes as Hongjoong comes around and plops down cross-legged across him, closer than he has ever voluntarily come to Seonghwa.
“Didn’t mean to startle you,”
“It’s fine,” Seonghwa gulps, unsettled beyond the shock.
“You look like you’re about to pass out,”
“Uhm, sleep deprivation?” Seonghwa offers, unsure why his roommate is expending so many words on him today. He has only just begun getting used to Hongjoong leaving the room when he enters.
“Yeah,” Hongjoong says, wry, “you should definitely get some sleep and if you knew me you’d know it’s not looking too good for you.”
Seonghwa wonders what he means by that but he doesn’t linger on the thought. He shrugs and mumbles, “Got work to do,”
“I know,” Hongjoong inches closer, “but you’ll die if you don’t sleep soon,” he reaches out, fingers coming a hair’s breadth close to Seonghwa’s eyes and traces the air around the plum divots that shadow beneath them, “and frankly I can’t keep this place without you. Besides, what did your friend call you? A free live-in housekeeper. It’s a pretty sweet deal I’ve landed.”
Seonghwa groans inside and makes a mental note to never have calls on speaker outside his personal space again.
“But my deadline—”
“How long you got?”
“Six hours,” Seonghwa answers, reluctant. Why is this Hongjoong’s business? What is he playing at? More than anything, he is puzzled.
“How long will it take to finish?”
“An hour, maybe two,”
“And you need a model,”
“You told your friend I would do,”
How much of his conversation did Hongjoong catch? Why didn’t he make his presence known earlier? Did Seonghwa say anything embarrassing or incriminating or unkind that’s slipping his mind? No, not the latter. While Hongjoong seemed to dislike him (honestly, what on earth is happening right now? Is the sky falling?) Seonghwa never returned the sentiment.
In the last month of summer when he’d returned to the apartment to make preparations for a new roommate as the old one had (thankfully) graduated and moved out, he’d been elated when one of the applicants turned out to be an agemate.
He wasn’t hurting for friends, he had a few, good and loyal ones, sometimes more than he thinks he deserves, and he’s good at networking, having mastered the art of indulging people who think the biggest problem a person could face is a delay in their morning kombucha, but he simply isn’t a socialite, is never going to be and he thought ah, this would be an opportunity to befriend someone whom he’d be seeing a lot of and would have no obligation to interact with besides the fact that they’d start sharing a space.
He wasn’t sure that his compulsive cleanliness and forsaken-hour baking-bugs weren’t a burden to previous roommates, making him less ideal than his friends think him to be, but he knew he wasn’t a complete fiend of a person and would try his best to accommodate anyone who chose to live with him.
Since he and Hongjoong were close in age, he thought there would be one less barrier to getting on well and becoming friends but there was one problem. Right from early August, the week he moved in, Hongjoong was absent. Always absent. Absent for so long that it was like Seonghwa was living with a ghost whose only proof of existence was a front door occasionally banged too hard on departure or a wet sink in the morning before Seonghwa’s use, the room at the end of the hall a closed, preserved gallery of someone departed.
His patterns of coming home were erratic and Seonghwa couldn’t even try and catch him at routine times to get a better sense of the person he shares a space with. And Seonghwa thought fine, so he has things to do, perhaps multiple jobs, fiery social life, a rosy romantic life, consuming hobbies, the city’s secret vigilante, some other absorbing commitment? and he’s not interested in me. Seonghwa could live with it. After all, regardless of him barely living at the apartment, rent was paid in full upfront and unlike his previous roommate, there was no legitimate issue Seonghwa could complain of like excessive messes, noise (if you don’t count the music floating from the end of the hall from time to time and perforating Seonghwa’s dreams— Seonghwa doesn’t), or disrespect of any kind. That stood until classes began and Hongjoong was around more, albeit absent enough still to almost make Seonghwa feel like he was living alone.
“Yes,” Seonghwa answers now, slowly, more hesitant, “but—”
“Then I will. Do, that is. Whatever you need. Now, sleep. Three hours. I’ll wake you.”
“Shh,” Hongjoong touches his own lips to gesture silence and Seonhgwa hushes at once, surprising himself at the automatic compliance, “lie down on the couch if you don’t want to get too comfortable. I won’t let you oversleep.”
Perhaps it’s the surprise of Hongjoong treating him like a human being after a bizarre two months of Seonghwa feeling like a mildly inconveniencing ghost, or that there’s something compelling about him, his soft assured smile like he knew from the moment he starting speaking that he’d have his way, the steady gaze, the slight tilt to his head like Seonghwa is something he has studied and solved (and is pleased by the results), the praline of his cadence that coats his words and sticks his persuasion to Seonghwa, yes, yes, Seonghwa wants to do whatever he’s suggesting, yes, yes, Seonghwa is pleased to see him content.
“Okay,” Seonghwa whispers, ceding, “three hours. Not a minute more. Promise?”
A quiet laugh is startled out of him when his roommate extends a pinky.
Kim Hongjoong, huh. What an enigma.
Three hours and not a minute more later Seonhwa is woken, not by the alarm he’d seen Hongjoong set as assurance or to the sound of his name or a shake by the shoulders or anything along those lines. He wakes to fingers in his hair, lightly scratching his scalp, carding through in a soothing massage and a drift of something minty in the room. Tingles break out over him and the drag of comfort and sleep deepen. He snuggles into the blanket and surrenders to it.
“No, I don’t think so,” an amused voice says over Seonghwa and Seonghwa deems it unimportant, trying to get back to the undisturbed peace.
“Come on Beauty, that’s enough sleep.” The fingers get a tad more insistent in their ministrations but gentle enough still that they keep Seonhgwa dreamily afloat and the voice gets louder, “Well, actually nowhere near enough but I made a promise and I intend to keep it. Come on, up up pretty boy,”
Then, as Seonghwa is about to lose himself again, he hears in his ear, “Truth is, I forgot the time. Thirty minutes til’ the deadline,”
It takes a moment or two but when the words register, Seonhgwa jackknifes up, eyes wide and bloodshot, heart hammering, head thudding, frantically scanning the room for a clock. He stumbles up, blanket tangling in his legs but the klaxon of panic going off in his mind overpowers caution or fear of injury. Turning, he spots his roommate perched on the arm of the sofa, close to where Seonghwa had been lying moments ago.
Besides the hint of remorse in his slight grimace, Hongjoong is calm, collected, in the wake of Seonghwa’s frantic alarm. “Did anyone tell you you have the softest hair?” Hongjoong says conversationally, “Do you mind if I steal a bit of whatever you use in it?”
Bewildered, Seonhgwa demands. “What time is it?”
“Plenty enough to submit your work. Sorry I had to wake you like that.” He stands and picks up the mug on the coffee table, offers it to Seonghwa, “Forgive me?”
Disoriented, disgruntled, dizzy from rising too fast and still trying to get his bearings, Seonhgwa accepts and cradles the mug’s warmth. “How did you know?” he says, taking a deep whiff of the peppermint tea, His favourite.
“We live together.”
Seonhgwa raises a brow.
Hongjoong smiles, sheepish, “Okay, yeah, its package was missing the most tea bags,”
“I guess I can forgive you,” Seonghwa sighs, this time out of momentary serenity from gaining a little rest and inhaling a lungful of his favourite scent. “You are doing me a huge favour after all,”
“Please,” Hongjoong waves a hand, “I think we both know who’s been doing who favours,”
Occasionally restocking Hongjoong’s side of the pantry, labelling leftovers from special meals with his name (“leftovers”, really, because Seonghwa had Hongjoong in mind from the start, just in case. Just. In case.), setting his laundry to dry when he forgets it in the washer and leaving the basket of clean clothes at his door, emptying the bin in his room and leaving him different bags of potpourri every couple days or so, grabbing his body wash and soap during monthly shopping runs when he notices it running low— little things that are beyond Seonghwa’s subletting obligation.
He’d decided that Hongjoong didn’t notice most of it and if he did, he didn’t care, because after all he’d never asked Seonghwa for any of it. Which, fair, whatever. Seonghwa wasn’t being nice to be thanked and some of it was for his own peace of mind anyway.
“Yeah,” Hongjoong says, watching Seonghwa come to the realization, “I’m kinda not sorry to have eavesdropped. I’ve been thinking of ways to make it up to you,”
Seonghwa drains the last of the tea and sets the cup on the table. “You don’t need to,”
Hongjoong says decidedly, “Sure, but I want to.”
Something belies the determination he gives Seonghwa, something Seonghwa can’t decipher but almost makes him blush under the fixed, scientific gaze.
“Okay,” Seonghwa clears his throat, makes for the door, “come with me.”
Seonghwa’s room is headache inducing with the disorderly state of it; strips of fabric decorating the floor, clothing articles strewn about, a questionable quantity of scissors lying here and there, balls of paper scrunched up and piling in the general vicinity of the bin, tape measure hanging from the edge of the curtain pole, markers and colouring pencils buried in the covers, the carpet, the desk, like an inadvertent game of egg hunt, shavings, shavings, god, the eraser and pencil shavings everywhere.
Seonghwa is going to have a mini stroke. Right after he’s submitted his work.
Despite the clockwork weekend parties in the block and constantly faulty lift (their apartment is on the eight floor for goodness sake), among other nuisances, there’s a reason Seonghwa has stuck with this place for going on two years. His room is gigantic, huge enough to comfortably transform half of it into a small workshop that saves him long treks to and from the campus workshop on days he doesn’t need to be there for anything else. The two sides are separated by lacquered black and gold folding screens—currently drawn apart— and the outfit for today is displayed on the only mannequin that’s dressed.
“This is it,” Seonghwa says, standing next to the mannequin. “Are you, uhm, okay with going through?”
Hongjoong studies it, silent. Seonghwa can’t read him.
“If I say no?”
“Then you say no.”
“You’d be fucked.”
“Don’t be a saint,” his face is pulled in a frown but his voice is so light, a cradling scold, “no one likes saints. Always taken advantage of. Meet their end tragically too.”
“I’m not a saint.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” he murmurs and Seonghwa isn’t certain if he should be indignant or flattered. “But alright, hand me the goods,”
“Do you mind if I put makeup on you?” Seonhgwa says, fingers wringing as Hongjoong takes the clothes, “Nothing heavy, just to complement,”
A delicate sense of dread coils low in Seonghwa and he’s uncertain until. . . until he interprets the lopsided low-lidded look on Hongjoong’s face for what it is. An insidious brand of biohazard.
“Sure, I’m all yours for today. I’ll let you do whatever you want with me,”
Lazy smile intact, Hongjoong clutches the collar of his sweater, “Want me to strip here?”
“Seonghwa? Have I broken you?” Hongjoong is laughing, the bastard. “Oh no, this is not good,” he pokes a finger under Seonhgwa’s chin and snaps his jaw shut, “I’ll be back in a sec, please retrieve your cognitive abilities in the meantime,” with that, he saunters out, leaving Seonghwa rooted on the spot with his fractured functionality.
Be careful with the clothes, Seonghwa wants to call out after him, delicate material. But it’s far too late when he snaps out of it.
Was his roommate trying to unsettle him? Kill him? Or perhaps, least likely, was he flirting with him? With him or is Hongjoong just, Like That? Seonghwa has no clue and hates it.
The worst part is the epiphany that has just barrelled into him.
Hongjoong is attractive. As in, Seonghwa is attracted to him. Attracted like he hasn’t been to anyone in so long he forgot this headiness, this too-short-of-breath too-full-of-thoughts too-enthusiastic-heartbeat devastation.
“So,” Hongjoong’s returns startles Seonghwa who hasn’t budged an inch, “is it a look?”
The white floral lace skirt, frilled in two places, brushes Hongjoong’s kneecaps. Semi translucent, it flaunts the black lace pantyhose on Hongjoong’s toned shapely legs where they end in chunky platform boots halfway up his calves, waistband snug at his navel.
The bodysuit, faux stretch Chantilly, hugs his small waist. It teases honey skin under the nets of lace and accentuates hips that were previously buried in a large t-shirt, currently slanted from the uneven pose he’s striking— pelvis cocked, torso casually resting back on an invisible wall, one foot placed slightly ahead of the other as if he’s about to launch into ballet.
The gold chain of the small garnet drop necklace rests in the dips of his clavicles, offsets the red of his hair and Seonghwa thinks yes, red, for danger, for fire, for heat in one’s belly. And the colour Seonghwa will paint Hongjoong’s kiss-wanton lips and over his eyelids with their mile-long sable lashes that allow him to hat allow him to give Seonghwa such effortless sultriness that he’s too tired and high-strung to even begin setting up defences against.
Seonghwa turns away and busies himself with. . . camera, he goes to fetch the camera. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me?”
“I meant on me, is it a look on me.” Hongjoong clarifies, though he doesn’t need to, Seonghwa understood him perfectly. He goes to the full length mirror propped against the wall next to Seonghwa’s closet, skirt swishing gently on his skin with his strides. He embodies the outfit like it was made for him, hypnotic in his serrated self-position and Seonghwa has to wrench his gaze away.
When he glances up again, Hongjoong is watching him watch him through the mirror.
“I’ve never worn anything like this,” he confesses. “I feel. . .” the calculating playfulness dissipates as he studies himself soberly in the mirror.
“You feel?” Seonghwa prompts, curious as he goes to stand behind Hongjoong.
Striving for innovation and creativity, mastering fabrics and patterning, learning the ropes of the production process, honing his technical skills, and everything that comes with it, they’re one branch of satisfaction and most of it what it requires is Seonghwa’s toil and tenacity. He doesn’t always enjoy it but there isn’t anything else he’d rather do in this lifetime.
And it's all is a stepping stone for the life blood of his motivation, the soul-rocking satisfaction he’d first tasted when he was twelve and tried his hand at a princess costume for his devastated cousin who’d accidentally destroyed her original for Halloween. It had been terribly done, a shoddy job of ragtag taffeta and sparse sequin with an odd fit but that didn’t matter. It had patched up the five-year-old’s broken heart and made her just as happy as the other kids when the morning came to dress up for her school party. She’d adored it so much she insisted on wearing it for a month straight, even to bed, and Seonghwa couldn’t remember a more precious or rewarding feeling.
What he’s truly striving for is to bring the same joy and confidence to those who would wear his creations. There is no doing without clothes, it’s as essential as shelter and nutrition but Seonghwa hopes, dreams, seeks to make people feel beautiful in his designs, to love what they see in the mirror, because everyone deserves that as much as they deserve a home and a warm belly. In the face of this ultimate goal, his opinion is unimportant, his satisfaction null if unachieved.
He watches Hongjoong pause, run a hand over his torso, palms mapping out his own lines and curves before they rest just below his torso. He twists to catch the angle of himself from behind—shoulders, arms, waist, legs— eyes roaming with such slow scrutiny, dread pools in Seonghwa.
Does he hate it? Want to take it off?
"Feel like. . . like. . .” he meets Seonghwa’s eyes over his shoulder, marvel in his own voice, “I’ve come into a skin that was always meant to be mine,”
“Oh,” Seonghwa breathes. The echoes of Hongjoong’s emotions wash over him, his own surge of joy rising up to meet it at the notion of someone discovering an uncharted part of themselves in something of his making. They stand there for a moment, beaming quietly at each other. The moment stretches into timelessness, into a velveteen softness where Seonghwa finds the courage to whisper, “You look beautiful.”
“Thanks,” Hongjoong whispers back, silver light in his eyes.
“Uhm,” Seonghwa says, clearing his throat as the moment starts to feel infinite, “makeup?”
Hongjoong goes obediently to Seonghwa’s dresser.
“So,” Hongjoong waits until Seonghwa is blending colour on his eyelid, “you never did tell me why you think I hate you.”
Seonghwa who has been trying his best to not be so obvious about holding his breath pauses. If Hongjoong was attractive from across the room. This. Well. Seonghwa needs to keep spinning to stay on axis. Motion, motion, motion. Brush, product, colour. What suits? What flatters? What next? No absorbing details, no acknowledging flutters, no processing of urges (how fragile, the distance between delirium and a kiss).
“That,” he says, resuming his work, “I don’t know about hate. But, dislike, maybe. More than disinterested. For starters, you always leave the room when I enter,” and Seonghwa had spent a week wondering if there was a miasma to him he was unaware of. It was his ritual to shower twice a day, the second one usually more for comfort than zealous cleanliness, but he’d considered adding a third.
Before he did that, he wondered if it was his diet that was affecting his body odour but when he asked his friends if he smelled weird Yeosang stared blankly and Wooyoung and San cackled at him like hyenas. Hyung you peel off your skin in that shower, what the hell do you mean? That was the end of that theory.
“Two, you act like I’m not speaking to you if it doesn’t pertain to rent or the apartment, et cetera.” This one Seonghwa isn’t quite certain about, owing to the first point. Does his abrupt departures prevent him from hearing Seonghwa? Is it a genuine misunderstanding? He lets his point be, at least if he’s wrong there’s time for clarification now instead of living in his head indefinitely.
“Three,” he says, moving to eyeliner, “hm, I don’t really have a third point besides it feeling like I’ve done something to put you off? My instincts are usually right,”
“Sorry to inform you they’re wrong this time,” Hongjoong says sympathetically, “I haven’t encountered anything to dislike about you—don’t smile, I haven’t been looking for flaws but I’ll be on the lookout from now so this is just a placeholder opinion,”
Seonghwa’s smile grows as he lets out a strangled laugh, “I’ll try to keep the scarier stuff under wraps.”
“How considerate,” Hongjoong snorts. Seonghwa puts the last touch to his lids and Hongjoong’s eyes flash open as he lifts away the brush. “I’m just. Busy. Really busy. I have my assignments and then I have a part time job in my dream career so I’m either in class or at the studio and, you know. Trying to make both work.”
“Oh, I thought music was your major,” Towering guitar cases propped on the wall by his window, keyboard set up along the adjacent wall, a box of cymbals, tambourine, flute, ukulele and a bunch of other handheld instruments, a mini drum kit next to the keyboard, electronic drum pads set up next to his desk along with a sampling pad, there are so many instruments in his room it could qualify as a music room. It had occurred to Seonghwa that perhaps he was living with a famous musician and he was the only one he didn't know. It would certainly explain the protracted absence.
“I wish,” he sighs, wistful, “it’s computer engineering.”
“See,” Seonghwa halts, lightly slaps Hongjoong’s shoulder in scolding, “we’ve lived this long together and I don’t even know your major!”
“When you put it like that. . .” he grimaces, “When I’m not working I’m exhausted and that makes me grumpy and. . .” he pauses, something indecipherable passing over him before he swallows and says, “not much fun. But I’ll be around more often.” He looks at Seonghwa in the mirror, offers a smile so charming Seonghwa would return it if he just revealed his intentions to murder him in his sleep. “If that’s what you want.”
“I’d like that,” Seonghwa can’t keep the glow off his face. “I’d like for us to get to know each other. Keep still, I’m almost done,”
With the reflectors, lighting and background set to go, the shoot takes five minutes that give Seonghwa all the necessary shots for his portfolio. Hongjoong is stunning, a natural, and Seonghwa is indebted to the time crunch that disbars him from fixation or making a general fool of himself.
“Get everything you need?” Hongjoong comes to stand by Seonhgwa as he clicks through the images.
“Yeah. Hongjoong, I don’t how to thank y—”
“Get some sleep. That’s how you’ll thank me.”
Seonghwa nods, sighs. “I need to clean this up first, I won’t be able to sleep otherwise.” He sets the camera down and assesses how much needs to be done before he can collapse in peace once and for all. (For this weekend anyway, a semester is just a series of averted crises.)
“Do you,” Hongjoong says as Seonghwa turns to his desk to clear away the clutter before he can start downloading the photos and make the finishing touches to his portfolio, “want to sleep in my room? I won’t be sleeping any time soon.”
“Just to sleep. Unless you’re thinking of more, of course, you’re welcome to that.” He grins and Seonghwa wants to laugh it off but a flush goes through him.
“Are you sure?”
“I am.” Hongjoong squeezes his shoulder.
Seonghwa blinks quickly. It could be the fatigue seesawing his emotions or the relief of narrowly avoiding failure, but Seonghwa’s eyes prickle, gratitude threatening to take his knees out from him.
“I can work in the sitting if you’d be more comfortable with—”
“No,” Seonghwa interjects quickly, “please, it’s your room. I don’t want to impose more than I am. I could snore through an apocalypse with my exhaustion so don’t hesitate to do whatever you need to.”
“Cool, come down when you’re ready. And if you don’t mind, send me a copy of the photos you took.”
“Of course, they came out really well.” Seonghwa sits down, starts his Mac and twists around to smile at Hongjoong, “Did you ever consider modeling?”
Hongjoong leans on the edge of the desk and peers down at Seonghwa suggestively, “Looking to hire?”
“Maybe,” Seonghwa glances back swiftly at his computer, grateful for the distraction as he enters his password.
A shadow appears over him as he opens a document, breath tickling his hair. “You don’t have to get me under a contract to get my nudes,”
Seonghwa hopes his swallow is not audible, the light shiver imperceptible. “Leave.”
“Yes, sir. Let the record show that I, Hongjoong, am leaving begrudgingly,”
His laugh echoes in the hallway. Seonghwa plants his face on his desk.
Hongjoong’s sheets are black and smell strongly of strawberry and lily. Seonghwa’s body sinks into the mattress and soaks up the comfort—given that they share a fabric conditioner, the one Seonhgwa stocks in their utility room, the one Seonghwa’s mother has been using in his sheets since he was a child, his olfactory sense has classified the scent as peace, as home.
The last thing he sees as he closes his eyes is Hongjoong at his desk, changed into an oversized black hoodie, headband underneath the small ponytail of red hair and the questions pops into Seonghwa’s mind, what would it be like to play with Hongjoong’s hair and would Hongjoong wake him up the same way he did earlier?
He wakes eleven hours later as first light plays behind the shutters and Hongjoong isn’t home. But Seonghwa’s room is spotless and he stands in the aftermath, far different from the last time he’d been in it, staring himself in the full length mirror with a raw form of terror swooping in his belly. He may have begun a journey of edging towards a precipice named for a certain teasing, red haired, Houdini of a man.
Hongjoong makes good on his promise. He doesn’t exactly become a hermit but Seonghwa definitely starts to feel his presence, even when he’s not around and and as someone who has always had a sibling, parents, endless extended family coming in out of their house and then roommates and has never quite lived alone, it’s nice to not feel like the lone custodian of an enormous gallery.
Hongjoong starts stopping by the kitchen or Seonghwa’s room or wherever Seonghwa is located when he gets home if it’s not blasphemously late and thinks Seonghwa is asleep. Sometimes he’s leaving just as Seonghwa is rising and when Seonghwa waddles blearily into the kitchen, the kettle is steaming and a mug has been set out for him as well as a peppermint sachet.
They learn Sunday evenings are mutually free and where Hongjoong used to spend it on personal projects and Seonhgwa spent on winding down with skincare and film noirs, Hongjoong takes to plopping down on the couch and multitasking with mixing music and following the movie with one eye (Seonghwa on more than one instance informs him that’s not how relaxation works. The dismissive grunts are not promising but he finally cedes to his idea of a compromise, which entails allowing Seonghwa to put a charcoal mask on him and Seonghwa allowing him to paint his nails. Seonghwa takes the victory).
They manage to share more meals and go on grocery runs together and speak on the phone often enough when they’re apart for Seonghwa’s friends to start making distasteful faces accompanied by indecent gestures at him.
Seonghwa swears up and down that no, there’s nothing here, they’re just roommates (fingers crossed behind his back as he suppresses the mental image of Hongjoong walking down the hallway with water dripping out of his hairline, kissing a slow line down his spine before it disappears into the towel wrapped around his waist, suppresses Hongjoong fixated on his work, solemn next to Seonghwa and unjustly attractiveness in oversized t-shirts that swallow his bare legs, suppresses Hongjoong flirting with him from time to more frequent time, diving in ruthlessly to undo Seonghwa and taking off before Seonghwa even has the chance to know what hit him, fleeting, playful, harrowing.).
One Thursday the week before Halloween Hongjoong comes to Seonghwa’s room pretty early in the evening for him and grunts in greeting before wordlessly flopping down on the bed. Seonghwa’s sketchpad is abandoned, worry rising. Hongjoong’s favourite greeting is hello stranger, to which Seonghwa echoes in his head hello danger.
“Don’t mind me,” Hongjoong mumbles into the covers, “carry on.”
Seonghwa could do that but he could also find out why the shadows under Hongjoong’s eyes are longer than usual, why he seems off, either in sickness or a result of an unfortunate event in his day. He shifts down until he’s horizontal on his side too, a skecthpad’s width separating them.
“Yes,” Hongjoong says tiredly, pillowing his head on one arm, the other sprawled next to him, “work. One too many thing going wrong. That kinda day.”
Seonghwa pats Hongjoong’s outstretched hand, “Good to step away on days like that. Recharge.”
“Mmh,” Hongjoong hums, snuggling into the crook of his arm, “‘s what I’m doing.”
Seonghwa narrowly refrains from making a noise at the back of his throat. Hongjoong coming to him for chats or even the occasional rant, it’s normal by now. Hongjoong coming to him for revival? Seonghwa’s heart could break.
He relegates the internal tumult to the back of his mind and trails his fingers over Hongjoong’s knuckles, over his chunky rings, up to his painted fingernails, hoping it’s soothing.
“Wanna talk about the work thing?”
“No, it’s- ‘m working on a track that won’t go my way. Need to stop thinking ‘bout it for a bit.”
Hongjoong doesn’t move away and Seonghwa thinks it’s safe to assume the affirmative. Today his nails are a cornflower blue that’s chipping at the edges, uneven edge pointing to fresh biting. His nails are always kept short and Seonghwa worries if he keeps this up he’ll bleed himself to the quick. His fingers are so short in comparison to Seonghwa’s, his hands so small, almost belonging to a miniature person, and Seonghwa can’t help but compare their difference with absent marvel as he asks, “Do you sing?”
“No,” he murmurs with closed eyes, “just make stuff for others to sing to. Write what they sing, too. That’s my place.”
“Ah,” Seonghwa picks at an azure acrylic crystal in one of the rings, “behind the scenes magic. I understand.”
“Shame.” Hongjoong’s eyes flutter open slowly and despite the weak smile he gives, drowsiness monsoons in their midsts and Seonghwa almost fists his hands to dispel the need to fetch him blankets and tell him to hush and just sleep. “Face like yours belongs on billboards and runways and pages of luxury magazine spreads.”
How did Seonghwa become such an expert in crafting his own demise? It would have been nice to receive a heads up about this when he pushed for Hongjoong being around more. Perhaps a warning popup: Proceed to endless heart stirring flirtation and fatigue drunken softness, yes/no? He would’ve appreciated being given the opportunity to think twice, though he’s not sure the outcome would be vastly different.
He coughs, clearing his throat and hoping the blood burning in his cheeks can be explained by something lodged in his windpipe limiting his air and not his roommate’s heady words.
“Generous,” Seonghwa taps the sketchpad, open on the half done flat of an ornate shawl he was working on, “but this is my place.”
Hongjoong hums in understanding. He falls silent, breathing evening out. Seonghwa is about to pick himself up and tiptoe to the drawer for a blanket for Hongjoong as he gets some much needed rest, then he can go and start on dinner but a sluggish whisper rises out of the silence and roots him to where he is.
“I like this,” Hongjoong murmurs, almost too faint to hear, “talking to you. I dunno. . . helps me a lot lately. You. . . make me wanna tell you things.”
Seonghwa lays back down, pillowing his head on his own arm in mirror of Hongjoong and asks back in a whisper because a hitch louder feels illicit for the delicacy that has ensconced the inches between them, around them. “Things like what?”
“Just. . . things.” He opens his eyes, looking a little more awake now, “Stuff I don’t usually share because haven’t got it all figured out myself. Those kinda things.”
Seonghwa traces the daisies printed on his cover, “Anythin’ special on your mind today?”
“Mmh, I was thinking,”
“Clothes. . . skirts.”
“I see. What do you think?”
Hongjoong moves the sketchpad out of the way and shifts slightly closer, tired-looking still but definitely awake, “Wanna explore more. I’ve been thinking about. . . how good I felt, like a different person but not in a bad way? Like I could conquer new things because I felt new. I. . . don’t really have a certain style, I like what I like and then I wear it. This is kinda different.”
Seonghwa nods in understanding. “Daunting?”
“It’s no one’s business what you wear or don’t wear.”
A slow smile spreads over Hongjoong. “Is this an encouragement to roam around naked? Is that what you’re hinting? It can be arranged.”
“I’m not hinting anything.” Seonghwa says quickly, scowling a little, hating how easily Hongjoong does that— get under his skin with jokes and remarks that would normally from other people just make him roll his eyes or feel a spark of joy or gratitude instead of a whole damn gushing ocean of it. “But you can try and when you ring for bail I’ll hang up.”
“Here I was thinking you were a saint.”
“Anyway,” Seonghwa says in a prolonged, conclusive way, “what did you have in mind? Do you have anything you can wear, start exploring with?”
“No actually, that’s what I wanted to ask you.” The mirth is swallowed by hesitancy as he explains, “I want new outfits like, ehm, the one I modeled for you? You have a good eye and I would— would feel better if you were there, so I was wondering if you have time to come shopping with me tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow,” Seonghwa says, brain turning, “I’m sorry Joongie, that won’t work for me. I have an appointment I can’t reschedule. Is there a hurry or. . .?”
Hongjoong half nods. “There’s this party on Saturday,”
“Yeah,” he says, surprised, “you know Chris?”
“No but Wooyoung is friends with his friend and so we’re all going.”
“My friends and I are going too,”
“Oh,” Seonghwa says with excitement as an idea sparks, “do you want to invite them here? We can have a few drinks here before we head out together. Chris only lives down the block.”
“You wouldn’t mind? They can get. . . a bit wild,”
“Sweetheart,” Seonghwa laughs, mouth unfiltered by his amusement, “I’m betting my friends can do ten times worse.”
“Yeah?” Hongjoong challenges, cheeks faintly rosy, “What are you willing to bet?”
“Just a figure of speech, gambler.”
Seonghwa sighs and takes a moment to remember what the focus of the conversation was before it got derailed. “And you’d wear one of those outfits to the party?”
“Oh Hongjoong,” the honour he feels at having been chosen and trusted tenders his voice, “I would love to. But I can’t do tomorrow, unfortunately and— oh! I have an idea! Can you trust me?”
Hongjoong replies without pause, “I trust you.”
“I’ve got you. Make sure you’re home at least two hours before we leave for the party. Then we can see about planning a trip to the mall for next Sunday. How does that sound?”
He smiles languidly, reaching out to poke Seonghwa’s shoulder, “Sounds like you’re the best person I know,”
“I never said I’d be your stylist for free.” Seonghwa says indifferently, trying not to swallow his tongue.
Hongjoong is not deterred. He wiggles closer and throws his leg across Seonghwa’s calves, “I can pay you with service. Do you prefer kisses or—”
“Be quiet.” Seonghwa shoves Hongjoong away, certain he’s overheating from his ears to his toes.
“Are you sure you don’t want a kiss? I’ve heard I’m good with my tongue.”
“Okay, I’m kicking you out now.”
“I’d be very good for you, though.” He laughs, voice still husky from weariness, fluttering his lashes and uncrossing his legs suggestively.
“Scratch that,” Seonghwa puts more space between them to give himself swinging room, “I’m kicking you off this bed in three, two. . .”
“If you weren’t so adorable when you blush and get shy. . .” Hongjoong says defensively but backs up in alarm and quickly exclaims when he sees Seonghwa gearing up, “but fine! Let me stay, I’ll shut up.”
He does so promptly, demonstrating his solemnity as he closes his eyes and sleeps into his arm again. Seonghwa lets out a thankful sigh. He’s not sure how much more of Hongjoong’s brazen mouth he can endure.
It’s getting dark outside and the last of the sun spills butterscotch light into the room, splashing shadows on the walls and catching the bed in a gentle glow. Dinner, Seonghwa reminds himself firmly as he finds he thoughts veering to something stupidly dangerous, something as foolish as envisioning a drawing of Hongjoong as he is right now—yielding, light-fuzzed, soft like a sigh you can hold in your hands. kiss worthy—a drawing by his own hands.
“Did you eat?”
“No,” his voice is fading again.
“When did you last eat?”
“Lun— breakfast? I’m not sure.”
“Hongjoong. How do you even function? I’m going to start setting alarms on your phone, you better not ignore them. Do you want to end up in the hospital? Maybe worrying about you will put me there before you,”
Seonghwa waits for the dismissive reply, like always, but it doesn’t come.
“Yah, are you ignoring me?”
But he’s not. He’s sound asleep.
He doesn’t know what level of doom this is, the relief instead annoyance that courses through that, finally, Hongjoong is getting what he needs for his health, but Seonghwa reckons it’s pretty steep.
'Hongjoong?" Seonghwa knocks lightly.
"Yeah, can I come in?"
There's a brief silence. The door opens a crack. Seonghwa pushes in slowly with a degree of nervousness he has no right to.
"Joong?" Scanning the room, he doesn't see him at first. Then, there, sequestered behind the door and wall.
"Well?" Hongjoong shuts the door, putting himself in full sight, "What do you think?"
Seonghwa thinks. . . Seonghwa thinks a contingency manual for breathing should exist, he thinks every inch of Hongjoong was made for gossamer kisses and eyetooth impressions and mulberry clusters, thinks he’d like to raise Hongjoong’s thigh to his shoulder and take him in that skirt, thinks he’d love to be the one to hold his hips and fuck him deep, thinks he’d like to invent a textile out of their pleasure and sew them in it, thinks he’s so dizzy he can’t think a god damn thing.
"What do you think?" he says, putting on an encouraging smile, trying to function through the very loud internal malfunction. "Are you comfortable? Do you feel good?"
Hongjoong shakes his head and pouts. "I asked first."
"I think," reflex kicking in, Seonghwa finally takes a deep breath, masking a shudder, "pretty. Uhm, really pretty. Can you. . .” he makes a gesture for twirling as the ability to form speech flees him and is instantly flooded with regret as the big slit in Hongjoong’s mini skirt flashes the tender insides of his thighs when he obeys.
“Wow,” Seonghwa says, breathless, honest, all acting abilities abandoning him the minute he entered the door.
“Cat got your tongue?” Hongjoong chuckles and for the second time, he strolls to Seonghwa to click shut the mouth he didn’t even realize was hanging open. The platform boots bring him to roughly the same height as Seonghwa but somehow the playful tilt of his head and the veil of fatally long lashes over his eyes make it seem like he’s gazing up at a Seonghwa who’s so much taller.
His lips are closer at this height, level with Seonghwa’s. No need to bend or do much. Just close the distance straight forward. Hongjoong’s smile has been persistent ever since Seonghwa visibly lost his breath and Seonghwa doesn’t want to linger too long on the implication of Hongjoong glowing from his approval but it does make the urge to take him into his arms and kiss him stupid (and more) that much harder to resist.
“I take it you like it.”
“Actually, I haven’t seen myself in it yet. But I do feel comfortable. . . feel good. Your reaction was nice.”
“But?” Seonghwa prompts, trying to swallow the slew of happiness and butterflies fluttering in from Hongjoong confirming his thoughts.
“They’re. . .” Hongjoong throws a glance at the door. His smile dims a little and Seonghwa can see the nerves riddled on him behind the composition. “They’ve all arrived?”
Seonghwa nods, standing a little closer. “They’ve invaded the kitchen, the living and my room. I don’t know if we’ll ever get it back.”
A commotion that sounded like a raucous army trying to break into the apartment had brought Seonghwa to the door. He went cautiously, armed with a baseball bat and the emergency number keyed in and ready to be dialed on his phone. When he put his eye to the peephole, his shoulders dropped in successive measures of relief, confusion and amusement.
Half a dozen people were gathered outside, barking around two central figures with passion, amplifying their volume to three times the amount of people present. He recognized three of them, one of which was Wooyoung whom they were all gathered around. He was tapping his phone rapidly, a lanky, unfamiliar boy standing opposite him with his own phone held horizontally and tapping on it just as rapidfire. A game, then, Seonghwa had concluded.
He let them in before a noise complaint could be filed against him (rich), but not before taking a moment to appreciate how his friends and Hongjoong's had already taken to each other and that neither of them had been exaggerating about their riotous nature. He was assaulted by hugs from each and every one of them when he opened the door, even the two unfamiliar tall boys and their shorter friend who made Seonghwa’s ribs ache from the strength of his embrace before apologizing when he realized and shuffling away shyly.
The dress code for the pre-Halloween Halloween party was ‘spooksy, AKA if spooky and spicy had a baby’, which Wooyoung helpfully translated for them as ‘slutty’. Seonghwa didn’t understand why they couldn’t have just said that, nor could he understand why a pre-Halloween Halloween party was necessary when they’d get dumbsloshed all over again in five days, but if he voiced any of those questions his friends would simply chalk him up to being ancient— despite only a year being between them— so he pretended it all made perfect sense.
No one had come in scandalous levels of nudity but Seonghwa could admit if the party lacked anything tonight, it wouldn’t be beauty or sexiness or an adherence to dress code. Plunging necklines and epidermis-like leather and shortsleeves and outrageous tears and fishnets and chokers and studded vests and mesh tops, they’d covered it all between them.
Wooyoung guided one of the tall boys, whom he learnt was Mingi, in descending on the two six-packs in the fridge like he owned the place and Seonghwa didn’t bother reprimanding him today— though he suspects he, and Yeosang and San never heed his scoldings because they’re aware he doesn't really mind. He likes that they feel comfortable enough at his place to treat it like their own but heaven forbid he ever tells them that, three extra roommates on top of Hongjoong is a bit much even for him.
Meanwhile San and the other tall boy, whom he learnt is Yunho, had raided his room to do San's makeup while Yeosang and the crushing hugger who is Jongho chilled on the sofa with the cans Wooyoung tossed to them. Again, between the six of them spread out in various rooms they manage to generate enough racket to imply there’s a packed party underway right here.
“You don’t need to worry, Hongjoong,” Seonghwa says, tentatively taking Hongjoong’s hand and squeezing it in both of his. “Your friends don’t seem like judgemental people and full disclosure? My friends will definitely flirt with you and try to get your number. I apologize in advance.”
“I look that girly, huh?” Hongjoong smiles, slightly sardonic.
“No,” Seonghwa exclaims and rushes to explain, words tumbling out of his mouth before he can filter them, “they don't- they’re gay. All three of them. And if anyone hits on you it won’t be because you’re dressed feminine. You’re hot. Like, gorgeous. And dressed up like this? Show stopping. Really. You need to see for yourself.”
The full radiance of Hongjoong returns, lighting him silverbright, almost painful to behold in this happy, dazzling beauty of his. And it’s that which causes Seonghwa to back up as Hongjoong continues forward, this candid delight at Seonghwa’s opinion and not his usual smirk or boldness when he’s flirting with or teasing Seonghwa.
“And you, Seonghwa?” Hongjoong says when he’s got Seonghwa against the wall, arm braced next to his shoulder trapping him in, “Am I hot enough to hit on for you?”
Seonghwa almost whimpers. The question, the sultry look, the closeness, it flushes through him from head to toe and he sees god— or satan— in the mortification of blood rushing to his dick.
“I’m only kidding.” Hongjoong says, his expression falling after the prolonged silence where Seonghwa stands like a mouthless scarecrow. “You don’t have to look so terrified.”
Seonghwa wants to bury himself, for so many reasons but starting with missing the moment and ending at making Hongjoong think he is not comfortable with his flirtation.
Yes, Seonghwa is terrified but only because flirting wouldn’t just be flirting for him. He wants to clarify for Hongjoong, wants to admit that if he flirts with him it would only mean he’d want Hongjoong to be his to flirt with, his to follow through the flirtation with, his to date, his for the entire eight hundred yards or however far they get. Is there anything more terrifying than that?
And the words to admit all that wouldn’t come easy but Seonghwa thinks he owes Hongjoong a little of the same, a little of the open heart that’s been allowing him to let Seonghwa see him, understand him, trusting to Seonghwa pieces of himself far more deserving people should be privy to. It’s not that Seonghwa has to, but shit. He really wants to.
It’s dangerous, this; opening the floor for something further, even if that further is simply sex— which, in Seonghwa’s experience, has never been that simple, he’d done his share of experimenting and the conclusive answer to all his trysts was that casual is not for him—sex with someone whom he is somewhat bound to, legally at the least, for the foreseeable future.
But there’s a yell from the hall before he can speak, Wooyoung demanding something like Seonghwa come out from hiding and locate his eyelash curler for them. Seonghwa is certain if he doesn’t comply Wooyoung will come marching in here in two, maybe three seconds max with San in tow.
“Let’s. . . “ he tries to catch his breath, which is still terribly difficult when Hongjoong hasn’t budged, “I’ll go change and then do your makeup?
Hongjoong nods, takes a small step back.
Hongjoong takes a deep breath. His smile is easy now, no trace of whatever disappointment he’d worn a heartbeat ago.
It’s as they exit that Seonghwa realizes their fingers are still tangled, that, through all that, he hasn’t let go of Hongjoong’s hand yet. Hongjoong hasn’t let go of him, either.
“We need to talk.” Wooyoung says, he and San trail Seonghwa to his room like lost puppies.
“Talk.” Seonghwa states, opening his wardrobe. “Good talk, you may leave.” He waves over his shoulder without sparing them a glance, dismissing them before they can open their mouths again.
“Hyung.” Wooyoung deadpans, pausing his tinkering at Seonghwa’s dressing table.
“Pass me that shirt,”
Wooyoung groans and tosses him the sheer black blouse draped over the chair. “When were you going to tell us?”
“Tell you what?” Seonghwa looks everywhere but the direction of his nosy friends as he begins to undress.
“That your roommate’s hot!” San says as Wooyoung simultaneously blurts, “That you’re in love with your roommate!”
“I only hear one truth,” Seonghwa says calmly, buttoning up the slim fit slacks, “He’s hot. There, I told you.”
“Hot?” Wooyoung squawks, “A stove is hot. The sun is hot. Hongjoong is like, walk into a pole because you were too busy staring at him hot. Slice off your thumb while you’re cutting up fruit because he walked by hot. And not once did you think, hey I’ll share this info with my best friends. The betrayal. Who are you, honestly?”
“Please,” says Seonghwa exasperatedly as he straps the leather harness on over his blouse, “I know you do Theatre but this is not the stage. Let down your histrionics for a sec.”
“Let down my— babe, do you hear him?” he demands in San’s face before redirecting his grudge rightfully back to Seonghwa, “I can’t believe you. The way you literally walked in holding hands and you’ve been going on about oh Hongjoong hates me, Hongjoong never comes home, my existence must annoy Hongjoong, what did I do? this that Hongjoong woe is me and you walk in hand in hand? He gushes about you to his friends, with you in the room? Meanwhile you kept me, San and Sangie in the dark the whole time? I don’t think I even know you anymore.”
Seonghwa lets San get the buckle at the back he can’t quite reach. “Well,” he address Wooyoung through the mirror, “do you want me to shed some new light or are you too busy having the time of your life being the personification of a butt clench?”
Wooyoung wants to give more lip at the colourful likeness Seonghwa has attributed to him, Seonghwa can see his internal battle raging, tongue ready to fly. But ultimately seeing San’s curiosity piqued too, he sighs, “Fine,” and bites, “what are you on about?”
“I think. . . I think he’s flirting with me? And maybe hinted more? But I’m not sure? And maybe. . . I kind of turned him down? I didn’t mean to.”
“What did he say?” San says, nudging Seonghwa towards the dressing chair and sitting him down.
As his two friends work expertly on his makeup, Seonghwa gives a brief recount of Hongjoong’s switch up ever since that fateful day of Yeona’s accident.
“Hyung,” San drops the lip brush in a groan when Seonghwa gets to the part about his most recent inadvertent rebuff and what Hongjoong could have possibly meant anyway. “Wooyoung tried to work his magic the minute he laid eyes on him and I kid you not, the man said to him, you’re cute, when Wooyoung told him he’s welcome to his bed for free if he ever got tired of you. He didn’t even look at Wooyoung, his eyes kept going to you.”
“I am cute,” Wooyoung pipes up indignantly from behind Seonghwa where he’s styling his hair.
“Yeah,” San pauses to cup Wooyoung’s chin and stroke his cheek, “but you’re ravishing too. And they all have like maybe five seconds immunity when you try.”
Wooyoung melts. “I see your point,”
“I don’t.” Seonghwa scowls, distilling the thick air of intimacy that has suddenly rolled in.
“Because you’re a fool by profession.” Wooyoung says helpfully, both of them going back to work on Seonghwa’s appearance.
“Hey,” Seonghwa sulks.
“Hyung,” San says gently as he faintly brushes carmine onto Seonghwa’s cheekbones, “you sound like you’re in denial. Like you’re afraid Hongjoong might actually like you back. Why?”
Seonghwa squirms, the sense of being thoroughly read writhing unpleasantly beneath his skin.
“I guess. . . I guess you’re right. It’s not as simple, you know? We live together. I think I’m just afraid of things going south and then being trapped in the same living space. I’m hardly going to throw him out if things go bad, however bad, and where would he go in October? Almost November? It’s too late to lease anywhere that isn’t ten miles from campus.”
“God,” Wooyoung sounds positively ready to fling himself off of something high, “Seonghwa hyung of the big ego and bleeding heart. So you’re saying you might possibly have feelings for him and you don’t trust either of you.”
“I’m saying I’m just being cautious.”
San hums thoughtfully, bent in front of Seonghwa as he paints his lips dark cherry. Wooyoung finishes the carefully tousled, half-up half sweeping the eye look he was going for and chooses to drape himself at Seonghwa’s back, arms around his shoulder, head resting against Seonghwa’s as San puts the final touches to his face.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” San meets Seonghwa’s eyes as he continues with the quietest earnesty, “Would it be so bad to get your heart broken after giving it a go? Is that worse than not going anywhere, just staying stagnant with your feelings and fears when it could possibly be the greatest relationship to happen to you? Would the potential hurt be greater than the potential happiness, and I mean massive potentials of happiness, you’d sacrifice?”
Seonghwa swallows the rocks in his throat and smiles a little wryly, a lot fond. “Potentially or talking from experience?”
“Yeah,” Wooyoung mumbles against Seonghwa’s cheek and reaches over to caress San’s head, “look at us.”
“I’d rather not.”
“You don’t have to marry him today, or like, any day,” Wooyoung says as San straightens and steps aside next to him so Seonghwa can see the result of their handiwork. “We’re just saying to stop thinking so much for once and just go with it. Whatever it is, wherever it leads. I know casual isn’t your thing but it doesn’t have to be deep from day one. And who knows, maybe he’s having the same fears and thoughts as you.”
If he does, Seonghwa thinks, examining himself in the mirror, he’s a much better actor than Seonghwa will ever be.
Smoky and bold with a hint of sparkle. He snakes his hand around San’s forearm and beams up at him as he squeezes. “Thank you, Sannie.”
“Hey,” Wooyoung protests, his lax arms going to twine around Seonghwa’s neck in a strangle, “where’s my thanks? I took part in creating this masterpiece too!”
“I can’t,” Seonghwa wheezes as he chokes, “thank you— from— the grave!”
“Oh right,” he drops away, “my bad,”
“You’re right,” Seonghwa admits, standing, “you’re both right. I got a little too in my head but- I’ll try— I’ll ‘go with it’.”
Yunho finds them staggering around the room in a threeway hug when he barges in.
“Uh,” he stammers, puzzled, possibly wary, “I was offered ‘bedazzling’?”
“Yes!” San cranes his neck, “It’s still on the table but first- come here,”
And Hongjoong finds them staggering around the room in a fourway huddle-hug, Yunho’s arms almost spanning the three of them, all yelling unintelligible things at each other in mawkish hyperness.
“Hi,” Hongjoong says hesitantly from the doorway, “is the zookeeper on their break?”
Cackling, San and Wooyoung break away to deliver their promise to Yunho, placing him in the position Seonghwa was in a short while ago.
“Why?” Seonghwa says, slowly making his way to Hongjoong. Perhaps it’s the faint tipsiness from the beer Yeosang had shoved into his hands, or it’s the energy from the renewed resolve liquidated into him by his friends, but there’s a giddiness in Seonghwa that makes him twitch to do, to say, to experiment— to take Hongjoong in his arms and touch their lips. “Looking for a new home?”
“Already got that offer today,” Hongjoong comes closer even when Seonghwa stills.
“And you said?”
“I said,” Hongjoong’s voice drops. He raises an index finger to Seonghwa’s chest, staring him dead in the eye as he drags his finger down the sheer blouse while Seonghwa tries to refrain from imploding on the spot, “I like where I am. Right here.” He stops past Seonghwa’s navel, applying the slightest pressure so his nail digs a crescent through the cloth. Seonghwa almost buckles to his knees.
But he stays upright and doesn’t go completely dumb and that, in his humble opinion, should count as an Olympic victory. “Little different from what I heard.”
Hongjoong steps closer, so close he’s tucked between Seonghwa’s feet, noses millimetres from grazing, “I wouldn’t lie to you, would I? Especially when you made me so pretty and so nicely promised to doll me up for nothing.” He starts trailing his fingers over Seonghwa's chest again.
This time he snags on Seonghwa’s navel and Hongjoong pushes lightly, that assessing-all too knowing gaze of his tinged with something akin to viciousness. Seonghwa tingles from his cock to his toes. His hand shoots out to grab Hongjoong’s wrist but he only circles it in caution and doesn’t push Hongjoong away as every last instinct is screaming (but the flip side of those instincts is also aching to encircle Hongjoong’s waist and eliminate all humanly space between them, so it could be sage of him to disregard).
“Not for nothing,” Seonghwa says, subconsciously rubbing the inside of Hongjoong’s small wrist, only noticing when Hongjoong bites his lip and steals a glance at their hands.
“Oh?” Hongjoong angles his head and god, how nicely their lips would fit like this.
The distance, Seonghwa thinks again, between delirium and a kiss. How marginal. But he’s going with it, like he promised. So he barely thinks when he murmurs, “Remind me the offers,”
Hongjoong lights up in that way Seonghwa can’t bear, triumph curling in on seduction like an Ouroboros when he throws a nod at the direction of their friends and whispers back, “Sure you wanna hear them here, baby?”
Baby. Seonghwa’s heart springs, his knees turn to plasticine. Then his mind follows in the disintegration, whirling at the insinuation- at the possibility of what Hongjoong wants to do with him that can’t be uttered aloud in the presence of their friends.
“What’s taking you guys so long,” Yeosang wanders in, rescuing Seonghwa from his open-mouthed glitching, “we need to leave.”
“We’re almost done here.” Wooyoung pats Yunho’s head and looks over at Seonghwa and Hongjoong, a smirk blooming on his face when he sees the position they’re locked in, “Hyung?”
“Uhm, yeah- I’ll do Hongjoong’s quickly, give us fifteen,”
“Okay, but hurry up.”
Seonghwa goes to retrieve the products he needs. Despite what Wooyoung said, it seems they still have some way to go before they’re done with Yunho and Seonghwa wracks his brain for options.
“It’s either the bed or the kitchen table,” he says to Hongjoong, to which Hongjoong shrugs and gestures to the bed.
It’s a mistake, a perilous one, Seonghwa can feel it in the atoms of his bones. But there isn’t much time left and he doesn’t want to do a sloppy job of Hongjoong’s makeup when every other aspect of his outfit tonight is stellar. He considers the best angle for the process and realizes the bed is too low and he too tall to have Hongjoong sit up as he bends in front of him with comfortable control. Getting an idea, he piles his pillows in the centre of the bed and looks to Hongjoong apologetically.
Hongjoong crawls across the bed without comment and lies on his back, skirt falling around his thighs, stretches of bare creamy midriff where the crop top doesn’t cover prominent.
This is the worst mistake Seonghwa has ever made but the emergency exit is miles behind him.
He climbs on next to Hongjoong and sets out with a primer, ignoring the pointed way Hongjoong is watching him, ignoring the questions lingering from before they were interrupted, ignoring the atmosphere that’s so thick only a Sabatier could cut it. Soon, though, it’s evident this angle is too awkward and just won’t work.
“You know it’ll go quicker if you hop on, right?” Hongjoong comments as Seonghwa is about to apologize and suggest they move elsewhere. He pats his lap when Seonghwa croaks a weak what and waits patiently. “Don’t be shy, I only bite pretty boys if they ask nicely.”
“Oh,” Seonghwa is so struck and so lost for words he just. . . goes. Does as Hongjoong suggests. While everything inside him disintegrates. “I’m sorry, is this—” he stammers awkwardly, holding a tentative straddle over Hongjoong’s hips, knees spread wide at Hongjoong’s waist, “I just need to— is this okay?”
“Did you hear me complain?” Hongjoong slowly trails a hand to Seonghwa’s thigh, stroking reassuringly before coming to rest there. He melts impossibly into the mattress, an idyllic image of contentment, like lying under Seonghwa is a position he’s at home in, like Seonghwa is what his lap was made for. “Get comfortable, sweet boy.”
“H-Hongjoong-” now, Seonghwa has never legally been declared dead, but truly? Death is easier than this, he’s never been more certain of anything.
“Need to focus,” he busies himself with the task at hand, working swiftly.
“I’m sure you do.” he says with ample sympathy. But the lazy stare and the fingers wandering carelessly on Seonghwa’s thigh undermine any sincerity. “And what’s distracting you?”
Seonghwa huffs exasperatedly but replies nothing. Perhaps if he doesn’t bite, Hongjoong will cease throwing bait, desist from trying to drain the life out of him, one loaded unrepentant word after another.
“Gonna answer me, baby?”
When Seonghwa doesn’t reply, instead of tutting disappointedly like Seonghwa expected, he laughs airly, as if he won anyway. And didn’t he? Seonghwa can barely breathe, barely keep a steady hand as he darkens his waterline, barely bear the full body workout trying to keep absolutely still or risk Hongjoong finding out how much he’s beginning to win.
“What colour do you want?” Seonghwa asks, holding up the colourful lipstick rack, nearly there at last.
Hongjoong weighs his options, humming in thought. He lifts an arm, as if making to point to the one he wants but drops it suddenly. Looking back at Seonghwa, he smiles sweetly. “Whichever one would make you want to kiss me.”
Seonghwa groans. The sound rattles in his throat, travels to his chest, a knell for his wit's end. In the end, it’s the delirium that gets him first— grabs for him with satin and bliss tipped fingers, heavier than gravity, a supernova predestined for ruin as all the forces in the universe tug him down, down, down, into the abyss, quicker than light and exploding louder than a collision in his heart when his lips at last, long last, press to Hongjoong’s.
Hongjoong moans, surprised, pleased, quick and greedy as he grasps Seonghwa’s face and drags him closer. The kiss is brief but urgent and slick as Hongjoong thrusts his tongue into Seonghwa’s mouth like he’s been dying to get a taste, and Seonghwa lets him take what he wants, lets him take all his breath away, until he aches for more but definitely can’t breathe, by then his brain catches up and he pulls away but not without grazing his teeth over Hongjoong’s bottom lip, wrenching another moan out of the man beneath him, his body arching into Seonghwa as he tries to follow his mouth.
“None of them.” Seonghwa says breathlessly, not giving Hongjoong a chance to get a word in, “Every single one of them. Will you let me work now?”
“As you wish,” Hongjoong sighs. Soft, flushed, demure. Every inch the threat: I'm far from done with you.
Since Hongjoong cannot be trusted— nor Seonghwa himself— he learns from his mistake and decides to pick for him. He’s spinning the rack, trying to envision different colours on Hongjoong’s lips without glancing at the enticing reality just a glance away when it dawns… the lack of chatter, the stillness, the utter silence in the room.
Wooyoung, San and Yunho are staring at them with a gamut of expressions, ranging from smug, amazed, shocked (respectively).
“Oh we’re not here.” Wooyoung holds his hands up, backing towards the door, “Carry on, please.”
“No— don’t go— it’s—”
“Yeah, we have— that thing. . . in the other room bye!” San grabs Yunho’s arm, pulls him out of the chair and before Seonghwa can finish his sentence, it’s just him and Hongjoong.
“I—” Seonghwa starts, but he’s not even sure what to say. Hongjoong, calm as ever, doesn’t share his sudden self-consciousness. He hoists himself up, Seonghwa jostling in his lap but he secures an arm around his waist to keep him from falling.
This new position. . . Seonghwa doesn’t dare breath or twitch. Either way, it’s no use. There isn't space for an iota between them and Seonghwa has the solid proof of Hongjoong’s reciprocation nudging into his own.
Hongjoong’s fingers come to thread in Seonghwa’s hair, sending a shivering comfort through Seonghwa that he’s only been indulged once before and has missed dearly.
“Scared of me, baby?”
Petrified. Of the power he holds over Seonghwa, of how easy Seonghwa wants to succumb to him at the most minimal inducements.
Seonghwa shakes his head.
Hongjoong doesn’t even acknowledge the lie. “You don’t have to be.” He coos, scope of his caress expanding to Seonghwa’s neck, shoulders, arms, voice dandelion, touch feathery, like he’s soothing a skittish animal. “I won’t do anything you don’t want me to.”
“I know,” hoarse, Seonghwa clears his throat.
Hongjoong nods, satisfied with Seonghwa’s answer. He rolls his hips shallowly, catching Seonghwa off guard and making him gasp. “You want me?” he asks in that soft, cooing voice, arching pointedly so as to pose zero ambiguity.
Of course. Desperately. Immediately.
But self-consciousness flushes through Seonghwa again and he wonders, was Hongjoong just having fun? Is he taking pity on Seonghwa’s blatant interest? Did Seonghwa make it weird?
“Why are you apologizing?” Hongjoong cuts sharply. Then, softer again, with that ruinous radiance, now a little subdued, warm, intimate, “This is for me, right?” he cups Seonghwa through the material and Seonghwa whimpers, canting into the touch helplessly, “I don’t mind. Do you?”
There’s no playfulness, no smugness. Only a sincere keenness to him as he waits for Seonghwa’s answer, like Seonghwa could say anything other than ‘no’ and he’ll respect it. Something in Seonghwa loosens, flutters, detonates.
“I don’t mind.”
Hongjoong nods and asks with an understanding gleam as he rubs Seonghwa’s erection, “Want me to help you?” Once again Seonghwa’s hips move reflexively, bucking into Hongjoong’s hand against his desperate wishes to stay still. He is so, so embarrassingly close to finishing in his pants.
“We have to go,” he whispers, knowing if they don’t stop now, he won’t object again and they won’t leave this room. It’d be a shame for them to have to gotten dressed up for nothing, especially for Hongjoong who’d been anticipating this, who had more to remember this night than just a party. Though, if it got them here, it wouldn’t be for nothing—
“We don’t have to do anything. But okay, tell you what. We’ll go and we’ll enjoy ourselves awhile. You’ll dance with me and kiss me again.” The notion seems to weaken him just as much as Seonghwa. His eyes are glassy like he’s already far away, but his grip on Seonghwa’s cock is tight enough that Seonghwa is utterly transfixed to the moment. “And then, we’re gonna come home and you’re going to take off all my clothes, maybe except this skirt, and well. . . I don’t need to tell you what kind of fun we’ll have then, do I baby?” he smiles roguishly, “How’s that?”
“Good,” Seonghwa exhales. Perhaps daydreaming isn’t so impossible right now, his mind is already at the denouement of the fantasy Hongjoong has painted, the part where they are wrapped breathlessly in each other.
“Good?” he finds Seonghwa’s hair again, the gentleness of his touch stark in the wake of the salaciousness that he’s outlined for them.
“Good.” he leans forward, as if to peck Seonghwa’s lips. But he seems to think better of it and sticks with a familiar lazy stare as he lies back in the pillows again. “Now, choose for me.”
Seonghwa uncaps neon crimson.
Seonghwa would like to say he’s having fun. Chris' place, within the same complex and therefore similar to his, is filled to capacity, an overflow of guests spilling into the hallway and stairwell where Seonghwa’s group had passed through, stepping over empty bottles and solo cups and junk food remains and condom wrappers and glowing cigarette butts and tipsy, handsy, scantily dressed people, indicating how late they’d arrived. Despite the volume of bodies, a friendly face appears all around Seonghwa; a pleasant acquaintance from a project last semester here, a distant friend he spots at shows there, his friends’ friends that treat him as their older brother everywhere, and it’s nice to see those his schedule keeps him from seeing often.
It’s not his favourite kind of party but the music verberates in his ribcage and the red haze from the fairy lights casts a familiar spell of intimate anonymity to lose yourself in. And he’d be in there, between those bodies writhing on the makeshift dance floor, letting the verve of the room and thud of beats ebb him through the night, dancing between his friends, moving till his feet ache, laughing till his throat is raw.
Not tonight. Not when he’s so on edge it would take a faint gust to send him plummeting over. San and Yeosang have tried placing drinks in his hands on separate accounts but he turns them down, abysmally, too wound up for drinking. So they keep him tethered to them, dragging him from one conversation to another, making sure he’s not left behind.
It’s just. How is he meant to relax. After all that? After Hongjoong stitched himself in Seonghwa’s every blood vessel, after he’s left him spinning wildly on his axis, his capacity to function abandoned behind in tatters somewhere on his bed.
After he flattened himself to Seonghwa in the elevator that was a tight squeeze with the eight of them in it, plastering them together in the far corner, holding Seonghwa’s hips purposely to his where they were both still evidently aroused. After leaning up ever so slightly to quietly say in Seonghwa’s ear, “Rude of me, isn’t it, to forget to tell you how delicious you look baby.”
Thoroughly cornered, Seonghwa had muttered his thanks and thought perhaps tonight was the night bathroom hookups would enter his history, because going back wasn’t an option anymore and there was no way he was going to make it back home without breaking, one way or another. If one thing was evident, it was that Hongjoong had no intention of letting Seonghwa live in peace with the knowledge of their mutual attraction, how Hongjoong would ultimately have him— and destroy him.
That was before they arrived at the party, before Hongjoong had squeezed his hand and told him be good, my baby, have fun then disappeared with Mingi into a crowd of strangers. Baffled, Seonghwa had watched as Hongjoong was received with exclamations and praises audible from across the room.
He was swallowed from crowd to crowd, like he knew every single person in the room, Seonghwa occasionally catching a burst of fiery hair or the swish of a slitted skirt before he was gone again. At times he would resurface close by and Seonghwa’s skin would prickle with the discomfiture of surveillance but when he’d glance at Hongjoong, Hongjoong would turn his head just then, catching Seonghwa watching. And he’d raise a single brow high and pack a mountain of taunting into such a small gesture it’s borderline derisive, need something, baby? so vivid in Seonghwa’s mind he may as well be saying it in his ear.
“Okay, I think we need to get you off your feet,” Wooyoung declares when Seonghwa spaces out for the fourth time in the same conversation. He grabs Seonghwa’s hand and navigates them through the throng. “Hey darling,” he says sweetly to a jittery looking boy seated at the end of the couch, “off please,”
The boy takes in Wooyoung’s smile, the menace thinly gilded with saccharine, and bolts. He shoves Seonghwa into the vacated space and leans down. “Now, I’m going to castrate Hongjoong for whatever he’s done to break you not even an hour after we gave you all that pep talk, but before that I’m going to get you some water before you pass out on us and you’re going to stay put. Capiche?”
Seonghwa’s eyes shut as he leans back and tries to empty his cluttered mind. It feels impossible at first, a million questions on his mind, Hongjoong at the crux of every one of them, but as the party takes its course around him he sinks into a vacuum of relative calm.
“Hello stranger.” A whisper in his ear, a touch on his leg. “This seat taken?”
Yes, Seonghwa is about to say. Until his eyes open and he registers the very face that’s been haunting him.
“What’s it gonna be?” he taps his foot, head cocked, “Am I welcome to this pretty boy’s lap?”
Dazed, Seonghwa nods and opens his arms. Hongjoong settles right into him, pillowing on his chest with the same sigh he lets out when he arrives home and something in Seonghwa, relief, gladness, makes him squeeze Hongjoong a little tighter, a little closer.
Hongjoong chuckles but squeezes Seonghwa back, “Miss me?”
“Uh huh,” he can’t think with Hongjoong’s apricot scented hair in his nose, with Hongjoong nestling into him like truly, more than mere words, he’s content to be in Seonghwa’s arms again.
“I missed you too. Just needed to get work acquaintances and whatnot out of the way.”
Hongjoong sits up slightly to get a look at Seonghwa’s face, balancing being in Seonghwa’s lap and holding the solo cup in his other hand straight, “Did I leave my baby too long? Don’t wanna talk to me anymore?”
“No— just thought. . .” Seonghwa trails off, squirming as he considers whether to be truthful or brush it away.
“Whatcha think?” sensing Seonghwa’s discomfort, he threads his fingers in Seonghwa’s hair again, stroking softly, tucking longer strands behind his ear and soothing over his lobe gently. Seonghwa’s heart expands in a beat, thrice its size, so bulky it feels like it’s about to fracture and crumble. When did Hongjoong learn all the lead in Seonghwa’s bones turns to melted wax when he’s touched like this? How transparent has Seonghwa been?
“Thought- thought you didn’t want to do this anymore.”
“Didn’t want to do this? Do you?” he breaks into a smile and it’s like nimbus clouds rolled apart to unveil burning rays of sun. He hooks a finger under Seonghwa’s chin so their gazes lock, “I’ve wanted to ‘do you’ for some time now. Why would I pass that up?”
And just like that, he manages to diminish Seonghwa’s apprehension into insignificance— not dismissively, but like Seonghwa is sort of out of his mind for not seeing how much Hongjoong desires him.
“Sip for me baby,” he raises his cup to Seonghwa’s lips, “you look faint.”
The beverage smells sweet but Seonghwa turns his head. “Sorry, don’t want alcohol.”
“No alcohol, just cherry cola. That okay?”
Seonghwa opens his mouth and lets Hongjoong tip the cup, giving him small sips. Occasionally he takes a sip too so the rim is stained around in different shades of lipstick.
A while of sharing the drink in silence and Seonghwa regaining clarity passes when Hongjoong speaks up over the rim of the cup. “Wanna know something, Seonghwa?”
Maybe it’s the way his voice lowers, or that he used Seonghwa’s name instead of the various nicknames he’s assigned him— funny that, how readily Seonghwa took to them— or it’s that for the first time he doesn’t quite meet Seonghwa’s eyes, gaze focused somewhere over Seonghwa’s shoulder, but Seonghwa snaps to attention, scans Hongjoong’s face for clues that would help him feel out what the sudden shift in mood is about, what Hongjoong is about to reveal that disrobed him of the playfulness, the ever present assertiveness Seonghwa has come to adore (despite the multiple accompanying heart attacks).
“You were kinda right at the start. I didn’t hate you but. . . I was avoiding you.”
Seonghwa’s heart drops but he tries to keep a neutral expression,“Did I do something?”
“Yes-no. Yes. If being yourself counts. It was— I was soft of afraid, you see,” he laughs wryly and Seonghwa gets the urge to hold him to his chest. Not quite that, he circles his thumb over Hongjoong’s hips where his hands were resting and sits straighter, bringing them closer, hoping his touch does for Hongjoong what Hongjoong’s does for him.
And yeah, a little bit, the worry lines don’t leave Hongjoong’s forehead but his shoulders decompress and he swings his legs up and splits them at Seonghwa’s sides, creating a small dome around them as the party continues around them, Seonghwa listening intently.
“You were so nice from the day we met, so considerate.” Hongjoong says, leaning in to allow Seonghwa to hear his lower tone over the noise, “You might not know, but I’m good at reading people from my first impression and I knew I’d find out you were wonderful and I wanted to know you and well, I’m not blind. You’re really beautiful, you know that? We were going to live together and I’d sworn off boys for a while. Uhm, haven’t had the best luck in the relationship department. I mean, it’s been over a year since my last one but- it was kinda awful and I’ve been trying to focus on myself.
“But I could see myself wanting you the first time we met, I don’t know, some pull, and I thought of looking for someplace else but it was quite late by then so I—”
“Buried yourself in work, pretended like I didn’t exist.”
Seonghwa nods, taking a moment to absorb. He hadn’t been without his own reservations as well, not only because of the delicacy of their living arrangement but that Hongjoong looked like the type of person who could fracture him indelibly.
Because Seonghwa knows his heart too well to do halfway. The force of his own emotions terrifies him sometimes, his openness a gateway for people to seep into the composition of his marrow and he's not without being singed. The darkness that exists within him prompts him to see other people’s as shadows of their greater, more powerful light, because it's what he'd like for himself, what he's learnt to believe in. Giving up or letting go, whether it’s dreams or dear ones, is never an option, even when his palms start to chafe and it’s obvious letting go is easier than holding on at that point. He knows what he wants but he can't always say the same for the people his heart aligns itself with and it's just never easy.
With Hongjoong’s candor, Seonghwa glimpses a layer of humanness that brings him hope. Perhaps he was so consumed with protecting himself from his growing feelings that he didn’t take a moment to consider he could be wrong, that Hongjoong is not the infallible one, that neither of them are. At the end of the day, both their hearts can contuse from hurt. And anyway, regardless of appearance a bruise is a bruise on any human skin and maybe Seonghwa doesn't need to tread in caution alone.
“Did you drink?”
“No,” Hongjoong gives a small smile, “I want to remember it when you rail me tonight.”
Seonghwa falters as desire coils and throbs inside him but he shrugs off the mental imagery before his mind and body can really take off with it. “I want to make sure you remember this conversation in the morning. And won’t regret it.”
“And you’re sure you’re okay with. . . this now?”
“What changed, Joong?”
“I guess. . . “ he hums as he considers his words. Seonghwa waits, lightly caressing his hips, “I got to know you better. I haven’t met anyone so sweet and thoughtful and made me feel so much in. . . so long. I want to be good to you, too. If you break my heart, I know you won’t mean it. And honestly? I want you too much to care.”
“I won’t.” Seonghwa shakes his head, rushes to vow, “I won’t break your heart.” He isn’t a fan of making promises he can’t be certain he’ll keep but an overwhelming protectiveness kicks up his gut. He’ll keep him safe. He’ll show him all he deserves.
“I believe you,” Hongjoong curls his arms around Seonghwa’s neck and tucks himself under Seonghwa’s throat, pressing his glossy lips to the tender skin there, whispering earnestly, “I believe you.”
He kisses Seonghwa’s neck again and again and again, all over, pulling back the lace choker to print his lips there, too, marking every inch of Seonghwa’s skin in sticky neon crimson imprints and Seonghwa starts to dissolve rapidly.
When Seonghwa is sure his neck looks mauled by several creatures daubed in Chanel Carmen Rouge Coco and he’s forgotten exactly where he is and who is and what year it is, pliant and unable to mask all the gasps and noises the devil mouth on his skin pries from him, Hongjoong pulls away with a cattish grin, red smeared around his mouth like blood.
“Shall we dance?”
“Please-” Seonghwa breathes, resting his forehead on Hongjoong’s shoulder, “please don’t move,”
Hongjoong is silent for a moment. Then, a discreet hand is feeling out Seonghwa’s groin, coming to cup him. “Oh baby,” he coos in Seonghwa’s ear, petting him over the pants, shielding him from unwelcome eyes with his body, “can I make you cum?”
Seonghwa groans, cock aching, no longer mindful of who hears.
“What is it? You can tell me,”
He lifts his head and gets the words through his mouth, against all the instincts that urge him to accept Hongjoong’s generous, shameless offer, to just rut into Hongjoong until he finds the sweet relief he’s been aching for, “I wanna wait ‘til. . .”
“— we get home. I understand. Shall we pour this cold drink on your crotch then?”
The question hangs before Seonghwa’s hazed mind catches up and he huffs out a surprised laugh. “No, that’s not necessary.”
“Okay well,” his eyes meld into sympathy, “I know it might not be the best time to tell you but I just remembered this and need to tell you before I forget again. We have mildew growing in the utility, right behind the washer.”
“Yeah, I saw it last night,”
Seonghwa’s blood runs cold.
“Why didn’t you say something, oh my god!”
“I was going to but you lost that boner so fast,” he chuckles heartily, “so I can come clean and admit I’m lying to you,”
“What.” The whiplash makes the room oscillate for a second.
“It worked,” Hongjoong shrugs.
“You—” Seonghwa’s groan this time is more I want to strangle you than I’m going to die by you, “ Hongjoong.”
“You don’t joke about mildew,”
“Sorry baby,” he doesn’t sound sorry at all. He sounds terribly amused, in fact, because he is terrible and Seonghwa wants to fold him into the sofa and kiss him madly anyway.
“Let’s go dance.”
They squeeze their way to the heart of the dancing mass. The current song is poppy, upbeat and they move wildly, exaggeratedly, enthusiastically, without trying to hurt anyone within arms reach. It’s difficult but they bump on each other’s toes from time to time, giggling an apology, drunk off each other’s energy and the bond that’s wrapped around them and created a tether that feels sturdy and tangible between them.
A few people try to come between them, a looming muscled boy with his shirt undone to the end of his sternum sliding between them and grinning at Seonghwa, a girl dressed similarly to Hongjoong plastering herself to him and grinding, but they easily sidestep back into each other and the third time it happens, Hongjoong hugs Seonghwa’s waist and instructs lowly don’t let go, baby boy.
Seonghwa doesn’t. As if he could.
Seonghwa’s experimental private collection is a mishmash of divergent styles, inspired by various subcultures and interests, a series of designs that weren’t meant for anyone but him, not yet anyway. Most of them are still flats, thin graphite and pulp dreams that await manifestation. However, last summer his internship had fallen through and he’d found more time on his hands than he anticipated. Several pieces of his collection had come to life and this soft gothic-grunge outfit he’d created after a short lived infatuation with 90s media and fashion had been among them.
When Hongjoong had shared his desire to further explore with his fashion, it had instantly come to mind and Seonghwa was right, he’d known he would be but it would be nice if being right wasn’t so annihilating.
The pleated plaid skirt, dark green and high waisted, covers a good portion of Hongjoong’s midriff where the moulding short sleeve crop top leaves uncovered. It ends at the apex of his thighs, leaving miles of beige skin open. A sizable slit runs up the skirt on his left side to the waistline, exposing the barely there shorts underneath and strapless heart garter circling his toned thigh. The silver chain swinging from the eyelets of his canvas belt draws attention to its region as it follows the sway of his hips as he dances, glinting ruby in the lighting.
Seonghwa is glad he’ll have proof this night wasn’t an elaborate fever dream, glad that Wooyoung had insisted on a group photoshoot and then shoved Hongjoong and Seonghwa together. Hongjoong hadn’t been afraid to really lean into Wooyoung’s directions of don’t be shy! closer please, look at each other for god’s sake, smile! now show off what your mama gave you! Which in his words meant show off everything.
The dancing and proximity of so many people on the dancefloor slicks Hongjoong’s hair with sweat and his parted bangs brush his highlighted cheekbones. The red and black makeup accentuating his dewy eyes have smudged progressively through the night and the flush in his cheeks is stronger, more than the light blush Seonghwa had applied on him. He’s tempting and sinful and from the half smirk on his bright lips, he knows it, knows what he does to Seonghwa.
The music transitions to something slower, smokier, and Hongjoong presses closer. “Keep your eyes on me,” he whispers, lips brushing Seonghwa’s as he speaks, “like you did when we arrived.”
Embarrassed, Seonghwa opens his mouth to apologize, to explain away the irrational twinges of jealousy that kept coursing through him as he watched Hongjoong with everyone but him, but Hongjoong’s eyes shut and he hums as he briefly touches his lips to Seonghwa’s. “Felt so pretty. So good. Like I could do anything. Be anything,”
“Oh,” it comes out breathless, achy.
“Perfect for you. So,” Hongjoong opens his eyes, pupils dark and enlarged, the unbridled desire taking Seonghwa aback, “don’t stop.”
As if Seonghwa could.
He breaks away and Seonghwa immediately misses him. But he doesn’t go far, only puts enough space between them so he can turn around and start rocking his hips slowly from side to side with his back to Seonghwa, hands raised above his head as he moves like the song is dancing with him, through him.
When Hongjoong starts teasing his hands over his body, fingers skimming over his throat, shaping from his shoulders to his waist, neck bent as if in pleasure, Seonghwa’s mesmerized patience comes to a sharp end. He slides flush up to Hongjoong’s back, an arm strapping around his chest, another wandering lower, into the skirt, mouth pressed behind Hongjoong’s jewel studded ear as he murmurs, “You’re killing me.”
The vibrations of Hongjoong’s laugh seep into his chest.
Hongjoong locates Seonghwa’s hand on his thigh, fingers wrapping around his wrist and Seonghwa thinks he might remove it, but he nudges Seonghwa’s hand upwards, dangerously indecent and arches back into him. Then do something about it.
Yes, Seonghwa thinks, yes I will. He feels Hongjoong’s gasp more than he hears it, feels the way his body goes lax against him as he traces the soft, warm skin of Hongjoong’s inner thigh, creating a light trail to his perineum where a soft stroke breaks his body into a beautiful angle.
Earlier he’d wanted all the people to disappear so they could be left alone but he’s never been gladder for the cover as Hongjoong lets him siphon out his bones with touches.
Frankly, Seonghwa doesn’t think he could stop at this point. Bed, he’d thought. The night would end in a bed, closed doors and all the privacy to be loud, all the privacy to be obscene. Privacy seems trivial now, when he’d get on his knees right here for Hongjoong if he so much as indicated he wanted it with a sigh.
The universe decides for him that that level of scandal won’t be permitted here tonight.
Hongjoong is wretched from him as the song transitions again, a screeching techno that shakes the floorboards comes on and the crowd goes from sensual slow dance to animated jumping and arm swinging. Seonghwa glimpses a feline grin over Hongjoong’s shoulder. Too stunned to do anything, he watches San lead him away until they’re engulfed out of sight.
He doesn’t notice Yeosang right before him until Yeosang knocks on his temple and says, “Hyung,”
“Hey!” Yeosang greets chirpily, taking Seonghwa’s hand and guiding him in the opposite direction of San and Hongjoong. He takes them off the floor, past the seating zone where the air is more breathable and people are more engaged in conversation than trying to get laid on the spot, down the hall, bypassing the line and into the bathroom where, in eerie semblance to Wooyoung, he smiles sweetly at the couple making out before they go scampering out.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Yeosang says, leaning against the counter, arms folded, “just timeout. Checking in,”
“Things looked. . . intense out there and you didn’t look so good last time I saw you.”
I must have been really out of it, Seonghwa thinks guiltily. “I’m fine, Yeo. Sorry for worrying you.”
“Woo told me about your conversation. But hyung, we don’t really know Hongjoong. Whatever decision you make, it’s okay. We just want you to be happy. You don’t have to force yourself.”
“I’m not,” Seonghwa rips off a coil of toilet paper and dabs it at the sheen on his forehead, “it’s not like that. I’ll be okay.”
“If you’re sure.”
Seonghwa tosses the paper. Turns around and gives his friend a sincere smile, “I’m sure.”
Yeosang studies his face quietly for a moment. Then, satisfied by whatever he sees, eases up.
“But I think we’ll head home now. You still good to stay behind with them?”
“Yep,” Yeosang sighs, “I don’t even know why I ever volunteer DD. Woo threw up near my feet. I think we’ll head out soon, too.”
“Shit, why did he drink so much?”
“He didn’t,” Yeosang snorts, “someone accidentally dropped a cigarette butt in his cup and it made him retch. We were out on the balcony and it just fell out of nowhere.”
“Some luck,” Seonghwa chuckles, “If you don’t feel like driving, my door is always open, okay?”
“Really?” he raises a brow, “We won’t be interrupting anything?”
“Shush you.” Seonghwa flicks Yeosang’s forehead, making him flinch dramatically.
He grasps Yeosang’s shoulders, squeezes with love, “No matter the time,” he reiterates, “just knock.”
“Mine, pretty boy,” Hongjoong calls out after Seonghwa as he locks the door behind them. Seonghwa veers to the left, heading for Hongjoong’s room instead of his. It takes some effort but his walk is measured, breathing even, despite feeling hongjoong’s gaze in his spine, in his knees, in his cock.
The frigid night air as they walked back side by side in companionable silence had cooled them down and the ease of being in each other’s company made it feel like they’d done it a million times. Back in their building, the minute the elevator door dinged closed, Hongjoong’s fingers brushed against his and without glancing at him Seonghwa had known it wasn’t accidental. His faint chuckle at Seonghwa’s feigned nonchalance had only confirmed it and Seonghwa has been feeling weak in the knees ever since.
Hongjoong takes his sweet time entering his room, closing the door. Seonghwa, alone together like he wanted, finally on the same page with what they’re after, has a good mind to close the distance between them and toss Hongjoong onto the bed. An intelligent part of him has the inkling he’ll combust the minute he lays hands on Hongjoong and he heeds that part, waits for Hongjoong to make his way to him.
With their shoes removed by the door, Hongjoong returns to his actual height but Seonghwa feels two feet tall as Hongjoong stalks to him with slow, assured purpose.
His legs hit the edge of the bed before he registers he was inching back and Hongjoong needs only to nudge the centre of his chest with one finger before he is flat on the covers. His view of the ceiling is soon replaced with a smiling, formidable face.
“Nervous?” Hongjoong asks, straddling Seonghwa’s hips and giving him a flash of déjà vu, except Hongjoong is nowhere near shy about getting comfortable. He spreads his legs either side of Seonghwa’s hips, sitting on Seonghwa’s hardening cock, skirt fanning around them.
“‘m not a virgin,” Seonghwa says, trying not to squirm.
Hongjoong lays his palms flat on Seonghwa’s chest and leans forward to hover over Seonghwa’s face.
Seonghwa swallows his gasp as the shift in position grinds Hongjoong on his cock and a burst of pleasure shoots through him, making the room spin.
“That what I asked, sweet boy?”
“Not nervous,” Seonghwa concedes, knowing Hongjoong will extract the answer from him one way or another, “just don’t think— don’t want to— I feel like I’ll finish before we do anything."
“And that’s bad because…” Hongjoong raises a brow.
Is he serious? Seonghwa is too disoriented to tell.
“Don’t wanna disappoint you,”
“Darling boy, do you hear yourself?” Hongjoong braces either side of Seonghwa’s face, hunched over him as he ruts on him lightly, face filled with something frightening, something akin to awe, “You’re telling me I can barely do a thing to you and I’ll have you falling apart for me? And I’m supposed to be disappointed by that? Do you know how powerful I feel right now?”
“Knowing that makes me wanna put your dick in my mouth, baby. Not the opposite.”
“I’d like that,” Seonghwa jokes, his nerves steadily dissipating at Hongjoong’s reassurance.
“I know you would,” Hongjoong laughs sweetly, “but you never kissed me properly tonight, did you? Kiss me, pretty boy. And don’t be shy to cum from that.”
Seonghwa’s not as nervous anymore but he does flush as he lowers Hongjoong’s head to press their lips.
He kisses the amusement off Hongjoong’s mouth, unreserved as Hongjoong melts into him, kissing him back with the same fervour, the same need, bringing them to the terminal destination the trajectory of their meeting had set them on.
Hongjoong tastes of sweetness, of cherry cola, of something narcotic Seonghwa’s already hooked on. Their moans fill the room as they taste each other, wet, hungry, thorough. He pushes Hongjoong’s hair out of his face, eliciting an appreciative moan when he underestimates the strength of his tug.
He can’t explain why his cock twitches in its confines but he learns how pliable it makes Hongjoong and the next time he pushes his tongue into Hongjoong’s mouth, he tugs harder on his locks, enjoying the way Hongjoong’s moans lengthen, how for all his teasing and dismantling Seonghwa, he’s falling apart just as quickly.
“Fuck,” Hongjoong gasps when they break for air. His red hair is tousled madly, lipstick kissed off with faint streaks left somehow high on his cheeks, his eyes glassy and so, so wild. “Fuck, Seonghwa,” he curses again before diving down and shoving his tongue in Seonghwa’s mouth, hardly giving them a moment to catch their breaths.
Seonghwa doesn’t mind. There are worse ways to bite the dust.
Like Hongjoong reaching into his pants and grabbing his cock as they kiss. That is infinitely worse.
“Please,” he whimpers into Hongjoong’s mouth, “please.”
What is he even begging for?
“God, baby,” Hongjoong grunts painedly between rapid, wet kisses, squeezing Seonghwa’s cock, “you’re so fucking big,”
Seonghwa honest to god whines and oozes wave after wave of cum on Hongjoong’s tiny fingers.
He arches off the bed with ecstasy, mouth wide open, hips chasing the pleasure as Hongjoong keeps stimulating him until he’s in sensitive knots and he’s once again begging.
“Please, what? Don’t want me to touch you anymore?” Hongjoong asks innocently, pecking Seonghwa’s open mouth, licking his tongue, making it impossible to focus.
“No, touch me? No, don’t touch me? Words, sweet boy.” Hongjoong coos, an image of divine compassion.
“Please- too much,”
“Good boy,” Hongjoong praises when Seonghwa chokes out the three words and mercifully slips his hand out.
He brings his slick fingers to his mouth as Seonghwa watches and smears them over his lips, smacking them like he just applied lip balm. Then, he takes his lips into his mouth and hums like he’s sucking on something tasty as he swallows Seonghwa's cum and Seonghwa—
Terrible, Seonghwa thinks, so terrible, so terrifying, as he surges up and takes Hongjoong’s lips into his own mouth.
There’s a renewed urgency, a spike of desperation that Seonghwa who has just cum half fuels as he kisses Hongjoong deeper, longer, indulging weeks of pent up frustration and newfound adoration.
Their clothes start to disappear between kisses, crop top tossed to the floor, sheer blouse and slacks and shorts and underwear joining it.
“No-” Hongjoong flies to the waistline of his skirt where Seonghwa has just undone his belt and was aiming to shimmy off the skirt next, “want to ride you in this, remember?”
“Hongjoong,” Seonghwa groans, mentally praying for death if it won’t voluntarily come to him at this point.
“Yes, darling boy?” he climbs into Seonghwa’s lap and blinks harmlessly.
“Can I— I want you so bad, please,”
“Yes,” he answers Seonghwa’s unstated plea, “Get the lube, second drawer.” He lets himself drop onto his back, in nothing but his skirt and high black socks, fingers vanished up his own thighs.
Seonghwa doesn’t need any other incentive.
When he procures the strawberry lube, Hongjoong’s skirt is riding his stomach, legs spread wide, fingers lightly teasing his own entrance, eyes shut, absorbed.
“Fuck,” Seonghwa curses softly, freezing.
“Mmh. Don’t let me be the only one putting on a show. Touch your pretty cock for me, sweet boy.”
Seonghwa thinks there isn’t a cell in his body that’s wired to refuse Hongjoong.
He squeezes a thick dollop into Hongjoong’s waiting hand and pours some onto himself.
The slick residue from his previous orgasm is soon covered up as he grips himself despite the lingering sensitivity.
It’s unimportant, what he feels or doesn’t feel, when Hongjoong is rubbing his hole wet, when he’s easing a finger in, when he’s biting his lips from his own touches, airy, sharp gasps stealing through anyway, when he’s adding more fingers and struggling to keep his legs open, when he is flushed deeper than before, down to his smooth chest and his eyes go distant as he touches on something delicate that makes him shudder and gasp loudly, when Seonghwa is wetter than before, dribbling thick precum as he strokes himself to the sounds and visual of Hongjoong laid almost bare and pleasuring himself for Seonghwa to watch.
When Seonghwa's whimpers become too loud to ignore, he glances over.
“There again, baby?” he asks, eyes soft, cheeks so rosy Seonghwa wants to press his lips on them endlessly.
Seonghwa shakes his head. He wants to. God, he’s dying to. But he needs to be inside Hongjoong when he cums again. He wants to be the one pulling those noises from Hongjoong, the one to make him writhe and transcend himself.
“Look at you,” Hongjoong murmurs, glancing at Seonghwa’s cock for the first time, “do I want that in me or in my mouth?” He muses to himself, fixated, like Seonghwa isn’t there and it makes Seonghwa burn. “Take away your hand,” he instructs, “let me see you properly.”
Seonghwa falters. Take away your. . .? Is he meant to sit like this? Hands by his side, bare as the day he was born, cock erect in the air by itself?
Apparently so, as Hongjoong drives his fingers deeper in himself, eyes never leaving Seonghwa’s cock like he’s mesmerized, little gasps of rapture escaping his mouth.
Seonghwa’s still burning. With embarrassment, with self-consciousness, with arousal, with understanding of what Hongjoong said to him earlier, how mercurial, the power and elation of Hongjoong getting whiny from just looking at him, how intoxicating, how he withers and blooms perennially every second under the magnitude of the attraction and need he sees in Hongjoong’s eyes.
“C’mere baby,” Hongjoong says at last, removing his fingers with a dirty squelch. Seonghwa can’t act fast enough.
“Okay?” he asks when he’s positioned between Hongjoong’s legs, a thigh bracing his sides and Hongjoong pushes impatiently onto his cock in reply.
Seonghwa sets a yielding pace, easing in and out of Hongjoong testingly. It’s a test of patience unlike any other before, Hongjoong is so small, so tight, so hot and gloriously wet with the copious lube he slathered on, and Seonghwa’s not averse to being rough but he doesn’t know what Hongjoong’s limits are, doesn’t want to hurt him or displease him so Seonghwa grits his teeth, focuses on the beauty splayed beneath him instead of pounding away like he so badly needs to.
“Scared of hurting me, sweet boy?” Hongjoong asks, a hint of frustration in his tone. “Don’t be,” he says tenderly when Seonghwa nods, “I’d like it anyway. Make me feel it.”
Nodding, Seonghwa clutches Hongjoong’s thighs and snaps his hips. “Good?”
“Better,” Hongjoong smiles lazily, taunting, “more— oh. That’s it, knew you could-good boy, ahh fuck, like that,”
Slow and deep, they rock in rhythm together. Hongjoong’s nails dig into Seonghwa’s thighs as he pulls Seonghwa back to him after each thrust and Seonghwa’s hips slap so hard against Hongjoong it stings. He can already see both their skins turning splotchy with the force but Hongjoong’s taking it blissfully beneath him and he doesn’t dare stop. With each drag of Seonghwa's cock Hongjoong’s body seems to open up to him, greedily sucking him in deeper, clenching on him vice-like with every pull away.
“Cl-close,” he gasps when Hongjoong squeezes around him extra hard, voracious, wanton, “fuck,”
“Not yet,” Hongjoong says, sitting up and pushing Seonghwa back into the pillows. Their bodies disconnect for a second before the air is knocked out of Seonghwa like a sucker punch. “I’m not done with you,” he says as he reaches behind him to give Seonghwa's aching cock a few strokes, making Seonghwa cant up into him with a whine as tears enter his eyes.
Lining up their bodies again, he sinks down swiftly and gives a small wiggle on his perch, extending Seonghwa’s whine into a hiccuping groan, “I’ve been kind, haven’t I? Now you’re going to be nice for me and finish when I say, ‘kay? Be very, very still for me.”
No, please no, but he nods, hoping compliance will bleed mercy from Hongjoong, he needs it, he needs it.
Hongjoong fucks himself fast, fucks shallow, punishing for them both. He bounces himself on the tip of Seonghwa’s cock like Seonghwa isn’t there, like he’s just a toy for him to get off on, grinding and humming, hips rolling prettily in the skirt that conceals too much and not enough.
Yearning to touch, explore as his, Seonghwa snakes a hand under the fabric, fingers barely making contact with the tip of Hongjoong’s wet cock before Hongjoong slaps him away.
“No,” he takes Seonghwa’s hands and places them on his waist, “just you. Just like this.”
And if that isn't flattering. Maddening.
“Please,” Seonghwa whimpers again as his cock throbs in Hongjoong, “please Hongjoong can I cum?”
“I’m sure you can,” Hongjoong replies, bending down press a dirty, too-swift kiss to Seonghwa, “but you won’t. Do you know,” he rasps, screwing himself wetly, “how much I've wanted this?”
He rides Seonghwa into what feels like forever, switching up pace from pounding-quick then easing into smooth, heavy, encompassing grinds when he loses energy, so deep it feels like Seonghwa's in his stomach, then switches up again, throat bared to the sky in pleasure, face twisted and lost and beautiful. Seonghwa can do nothing but give into the ride, mesmerized, anchoring himself on Hongjoong’s hips so he doesn’t disobey, disappoint, letting himself be used in the sweetest, cruelest way he has ever been used.
The pain of holding in his orgasm blends so sharply with the rapture tears blur Seonghwa’s vision again and he thinks shit, shit, he’s going to cum, he’s going to finish in Hongjoong before Hongjoong is ready and he’s going to be bad and mess up when all he wants is to make Hongjoong feel good, for Hongjoong to tell him he's doing good, but Hongjoong lets go, sinks so deeply on Seonghwa Seonghwa stops thinking, breathing, feeling in any way human and not a mere heap of neurons and hormones. A splatter of warmth spoils Seonghwa’s groin and Hongjoong goes inhumanly taut over him before he collapses bonelessly.
“Now, pretty boy,” he says, winded, rolling onto his back like a contented feline, “have your way with me.”
He’s covered in a sheen of sweat, entire body glowing like he’s been dipped in oil, hips riddled with harsh red marks and shallow punctures, evidence of a needy, tortured grip, skirt riding up around his navel to reveal the mess at his spread legs, cock limp and wet, hole gaping from Seonghwa’s girth and still twitching like it misses and needs something inside it.
Who is Seonghwa to disobey?
Seeonghwa holds Hongjoong’s legs apart again and pushes forward eagerly but he’s too desperate for focus, too needy for aim, and ends up missing, again and again several frustrating times. He wants to cry, grunting with embarrassment as his sore cock flattens on Hongjoong’s buttcheek instead of going in and it’s nothing short of humiliating- and thoroughly igniting- when Hongjoong reaches down to help him guide his cock in, cooing, “there, there baby, I know, just a little dumb but you're good, so good, there you go,”
And it’s not about retaliation for being teased and denied so long, Seonghwa thinks, watching Hongjoong hiss with sensitivity and pounding in him anyway. It’s the way Hongjoong looks like he yearns for roughness, like he was made for it, like he meant every word when he told Seonghwa to have his way, how he doesn’t ask Seonghwa to slow down or stop, absorbing every thump with an encouraging hum, like Seonghwa is doing something that makes him proud, makes him whole, makes Seonghwa reverence worthy. And he doesn't need to be told he's good when he's being rewarded for it like this, nothing has ever felt better.
It doesn’t last long before Seonghwa grows spasmodic and he’s burying himself inside Hongjoong and Hongjoong who wraps his legs around him, pushes Seonghwa in deep and Seonghwa moans long and deep and pained with relief as Hongjoong milks him.
Boneless and worn out with the brutalizing force of his orgasm, he collapses to the side so he doesn’t crush Hongjoong but he only succeeds in making them both groan as he slips out and thick ropes of cum gush out.
They lay side by side, chests heaving, catching their breaths, aftershocks echoing through Seonghwa in small bursts that make him shiver and sigh quietly in his throat.
“Hwa?” Hongjoong says after their heartbeats have readjusted and their skin is cool.
“Nothing,” he says, rolling onto his side, bringing them face to face, “just checking if you’re alive.”
“Don’t worry,” Seonghwa murmurs, spent to his soul, “you definitely killed me.”
“That’s a shame,” Hongjoong murmurs back, shifting closer, pressing himself to Seonghwa’s side like he already misses the contact, “who’s going to tell the tale of my unmatched prowess?”
“I’ll ask god if I can come back just to testify for you.”
“My sweet boy,” Hongjoong snorts and nuzzles Seonghwa’s neck.
Seonghwa leans into him, tingling all over as he warns, “Don’t get comfortable. We’re going to wash.”
Hongjoong shakes his head and plants a firm hand on Seonghwa’s chest as if to keep him planted there. “No. Stay with me for a bit. Let’s nap.”
“I’m here,” Seonghwa settles his hand over Hongjoong’s, lacing his own fingers through his. “I’m not going anywhere. But I, unfortunately, don’t share your sleeping superpower. Can’t sleep like this.”
“Not even if I do this?” Hongjoong says, dangerously close to sounding sulky as he hoists himself entirely onto Seonghwa and hugs him like a body pillow.
Seonghwa considers it. Comes dreadfully close to yielding. But that’s all he does. “We’ll be quick,” he promises and carries Hongjoong off to the bathroom like a bride. Hongjoong makes a point of grumbling (more like whining, very devastatingly in Seonghwa’s opinion) every step of the way.
“Go on a date with me.”
It’s abrupt, ruptures from Seonghwa’s mouth like his tongue belongs to a stranger and cuts off the song he was humming under his breath as he lathers his own lavender vanilla shampoo in Hongjoong’s bright hair.
Pliant and relaxed as he received the soothing scalp massage, Hongjoong stood under the spray with Seonghwa, eyes shut, faint smile on his lips as Seonghwa sang and Seonghwa’s heart kept contracting, a happiness he hasn’t felt in longer than he can remember prickling all over him like a million micro meteor showers.
The smile slips off Hongjoong now. His eyes remained closed, his entire body tenses. For a second there’s only the droning pitter of the water, like the hanging question shot them into space and sealed them in a vacuum.
Seonghwa starts to think, fear whirling noisily inside him, starts to wonder when it was between now and before the party that he misread what’s between them, wonders if they weren’t seeing identical words on the page they’d reached together, wonders how Hongjoong could have fucked him like that and expected him to move on unscathed after this.
“Where?” Hongjoong whispers, eyes still shut, a trace of thickness in voice, and Seonghwa lets go of the breath he didn’t know snagged in his throat.
“Seonghwa,” Hongjoong whines, standing at the foot of the bed with his arms crossed, bare footed, drowning in an oversized heart printed sleep shirt.
“Just a sec, I promise,” Seonghwa mutters, gathering the sheets and running out before Hongjoong can continue whining and make him give in by guilting.
He returns with an armful of new linen and this time, Hongjoong decided he’ll hasten the process by helping. When it’s done he throws himself onto the mattress and pats the space beside him.
“Sorry,” Seonghwa smiles apologetically, gathering their discarded clothing, “I’ll just go throw these in the basket,”
“It’s almost three a.m. please,”
“Be right back,” he promises again and flits out.
Hongjoong’s mid-yawn when Seonghwa returns, phone in hand. He’s curled into himself, the oversized baby pink tshirt sweeping his knees like a nightgown, longish locks splayed in a halo around his head. His lips are swollen from Seonghwa’s kisses, like Seonghwa’s are from his, and the shower glow clings to him, highlighting the hickeys already forming around his throat, collarbones, bruises on his thighs from Seonghwa's grip. Perhaps the fatigue adds to it but he's so tender-looking, unguarded, like Seonghwa can pry apart his ribs and find all his secrets, find him stuffed with wool and flowers and marzipan.
Besides the other day, Seonghwa’s only seen Hongjoong like this a rare few times, either really early or really late and he’s always averted his attention because the urge to sidle up to him and hug him close has always been too alarming to acknowledge.
He doesn’t have to anymore, though. He’s welcome to Hongjoong’s bed, welcome in his arms, welcome to behold him at hours and states no one else is.
Hongjoong doesn’t seem surprised when Seonghwa buries his head in his chest.
“Feast your eyes, baby?” He asks quietly into Seonghwa’s hair.
“Nuh uh,” Seonghwa says, raising his head when he realizes it’s muffled, “didn’t get enough.”
Hongjoong blinks, taken aback momentarily. “Cute,” he says, and kisses Seonghwa’s nose.
Seonghwa frowns. His legs slip between Hongjoong’s, tangling them as he asks, “Cute like you told Wooyoung or. . .?”
“Why,” he goes for his teasing devilish eyebrow raise but he just looks endearing and huggable when he’s this sleepy, “jealous?”
Seonghwa turns up his nose, “Why would I be.”
“Exactly.” he says, tapping the spot he just kissed, “You have no reason to be. Because, cute like you fucked my brains out and I want you to hold me all night before we wake up and do it again.”
“Insatiable,” Seonghwa comments, something itchy at his throat.
“Like you didn’t almost cry for it.”
Seonghwa groans and grumbles into the pillow, “I’ll bring out the Halloween mask next time so I don’t inconvenience you, your Highness.”
The grin is audible voice as Hongjoong pokes Seonghwa’s cheek, “Next time, huh.”
“So the date,” he says, ignoring Hongjoong’s deafening smugness. He rises on his elbows, Hongjoong staring up at him.
“We have plans for next weekend, right?”
“That’s right,” Hongjoong ghosts his knuckles over Seonghwa’s cheek like he can’t help himself.
“How about dinner afterwards,” Seonghwa asks, quiet, leaning into the touch, “that place with the jukebox?”
“Yes,” he answers without hesitation.
“How’s your pool?”
“I’ll teach you,”
“I like that,” he cups Seonghwa’s face and Seonghwa lets him pull him lower inch by inch.
“And we’ll come home,”
“Sleep,” Hongjoong halts, Seonghwa’s face centimetres from his, palms now squishing his cheeks more than cupping.
“Sleep, a cute word for. . .?”
Seonghwa knows he’s playing with fire but he answers anyway, “When your consciousness says ‘I’m tired of your shit’,”
“I’ll bite you,” Hongjoong says darkly.
“I didn’t ask nicely.” Seonghwa replies, solemn, “I didn’t ask at all, actually,”
“So mouthy,” Hongjoong sighs and tosses Seonghwa to the side like he’s nothing, “was gonna show you something but I guess my consciousness just decided it’s tired of my shit.”
Seonghwa scrambles onto his elbows again and shoves his face into Hongjoong’s space, “Show me,”
He rests his forehead against Hongjoong’s with a pout but it’s clear Hongjoong has no issue falling asleep like this, snuggling down and sighing contentedly into Seonghwa’s mouth.
“Sleep,” Seonghwa says in defeat, throwing himself onto his back melodramatically, arm over his eyes, “a cute word for ‘letting Joongie make Seonghwa cry’.”
Suddenly he’s tucked into Seonghwa’s side again, nudging away his arm. “Better, much better.”
“What’s this?” Seonghwa says, glancing at the screen Hongjoong holds up for him.
“My studio,” he replies, quieter, almost shy.
The photo is of a dimly lit room, the only apparent light source three large garish monitors that display several sets of soundwaves. Speakers and devices with a colourful tangle of cables sit to the sides of a massive control surface that glows blue. There isn’t much else to be seen from the angle, a pair of glasses and a biro on the monitor stand, a phone sitting between two control surfaces, an unlit jar of Yankee cherry blossom and next to it. . . a bowl of allspice potpourri.
“Oh,” Seonghwa says, a stupid smile breaking out over his face. “I’d wondered what you did with those,”
“I. . .” Hongjoong starts, leaning back a little as he picks at the bedspread, like he needs space to think clearly, to get these words off his chest. “Sometimes I leave while it’s still dark out and after classes I go straight to the studio and stay there well into the night and such long hours can be isolating. But then I’d look up and see the little thing you left me and I. . . just feel less alone, you know? Comforted. We were strangers and you got nothing out if it but you still thought of me and took care of me in your ways and it started meaning a lot to me. So, thank you baby. You are glorious.” he finishes, fingers creeping into Seonghwa’s.
“‘s nothing.” Seonghwa murmurs, locking their fingers tighter, an armada of butterflies amok in his belly, “I like doing it.”
“I know,” he lies on Seonghwa’s shoulder, “my awful saint,”
“Just saint will do.”
“Patron Saint of Perfect Cock.”
Seonghwa chokes on a snort. “You are. Impossible.”
Hongjoong hums in agreement and pulls the covers over their heads, letting Seonghwa hug him close.
“But Seonghwa?” he says when they’re almost gone in slumber.
He sounds so small Seonghwa is immediately pulled back awake, “Hmm?”
“Do you really want to date me? I can’t promise I’ll always be around. I’ll try. For you. But… you deserve someone who can be with you properly.”
Awful, Hongjoong had said, he'd described his last relationship as awful. He won’t ask the details, not tonight at least, but the focusing on himself, swearing off relationships, the pause in the shower when Seonghwa asked him out, Seonghwa thinks he’s starting to get a picture. He smiles and forces the brightness in his voice so the crack in his heart doesn’t go all the way, doesn't give himself time to be angry at whoever instead of focusing on what matters most right now; the boy in his arms, “Afraid I’ll miss you too much?”
“Yes.” Hongjoong says without a trace of mirth, “And then we’ll break up.”
Seonghwa turns Hongjoong over so they’re facing each other in the dark. “If I miss you," he starts, cupping Hongjoong’s cheek and pressing gently, "I’ll text you. Call you. FaceTime, post you a letter, even. I don’t need miracles or magic, Hongjoong. You do what you need to do. I just want to know you care, and that you’re trying. If you can do that, we’ll be okay.”
Hongjoong mirrors Seonghwa, cups his cheek, whispers delicately, “Yeah?”
He pecks Seonghwa’s forehead, “Saint.”
“Of?” Seonghwa prompts, glad to hear the lightness return to Hongjoong’s voice.
Hongjoong scoffs, “Thought I was impossible?”
“I don’t know, I thought about it and it might be growing on me as we speak.”
“Shut up.” he bites the tip of Seonghwa’s nose, then follows it with a kiss, “G’night, sweet boy.”
They’re almost gone again when a shrill sound pierces the quiet.
“The fuck?” Hongjoong mutters, voice already rough with sleep.
“Sorry,” Seonghwa says, sitting up tiredly, “I think I know. Sleep sweetheart, I’ll take care of it.”
“Back quickly,” Hongjoong’s voice fades as he reluctantly releases Seonghwa and sinks into the pillow, “need you.”
Getting out of bed is the hardest thing Seonghwa has done in a while.
Indeed, it’s Yeosang with a dozy Wooyoung and San hanging off either side of him. And behind him, Jongho balances Yunho and Mingi who cling to him with giggles.
“Come on in.”
“Morning,” skinny arms twine themselves around Seonghwa like lianas and a warm head rests between his shoulder blades.
“Morning Yeo,” Seonghwa greets over his shoulder as he continues peeling carrots, “sleep well?”
“My neck is crimped in eleven different places.”
Seongha chuckles quietly. “I did offer you a bed,”
“Yes,” he says petulantly, “with you and your roommate.”
“Now boyfriend,” he tries for nonchalance but he knows it came out a smidgen too enamoured. He can’t help that word feels like glitter on his tongue.
“Be happy for me,” he shrugs a chastising shoulder blade into the koala at his back, “I’m happy.”
“Ugh. Don’t manipulate me like that,”
“Words mean things Yeosangie.”
“I have no choice but to be happy when you put it like that,”
“Do you want to see some tears then?” Seonghwa demands with a pout, “Tell me again, what was it you said last night?”
“Forget it. I was intoxicated. . . by the stupidity around me,”
“Leave my kitchen.”
Yeosang hugs him tighter, more to annoy at this point than gain or give comfort, and rubs his cheek between Seonghwa’s shoulders like a kitten. Seonghwa doesn’t put much stock in his grumbling. Yeosang’s code of protection when it comes to those he loves is maim first, seek forgiveness later. Besides, if he really had an issue with this development there would be less raillery and more detailed argument presented with PowerPoint. Hongjoong will get the initial prickly treatment but Yeosang will come around.
“Your real slyness is actually this.” Yeosang says, peeking at the stove over Seonghwa’s shoulder, “You couldn’t wait an hour more before waking up my stomach?”
“Are you complaining?”
The warmth at his back disappears fleetingly before it returns.
“I’m not.” a new sleep-husky voice says, lips pressing to the freckles starring Seonghwa's nape. “Morning, stranger.”
“Hongjoongie,” Seonghwa pauses briefly to lean into his boyfriend, “good morning.”
“Morning Yeosang?” Yeosang, cast to the side, glares at Seonghwa’s back, “Sorry for bulldozing you?”
Hongjoong shrugs, busy coiling himself around Seonghwa and nuzzling into his nape to spare Yeosang much of a glance. “Boyfriend privileges.”
“Hyung, I don’t like him. Take him back to the store,”
“Park Seonghwa,” Hongjoong gasps lightly, “why does he think I’m a toy to you?”
Seonghwa rolls his eyes and murmurs, “Be nice if you both couldn’t speak.”
“What’s that, baby?”
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes,” he steals under the apron, into Seonghwa’s sweater to press his palms to Seonghwa’s abs. “Dreamt of you. Of us.”
“Hmm.” It takes more effort than it should for Seonghwa to keep a steady hand. “What did you dream?”
“Let me show you?”
Seonghwa throws a glance to the other side of the kitchen where Yeosang’s obscured behind the open fridge door.
“No,” he wiggles out of Hongjoong’s hold, giving rise to a gruff sigh, “Yeo, go leave this on my nightstand for those poor idiots,” he takes the tray from the table and hands it to Yeosang who was preparing to sit down with OJ.
“Could you all stop bossing me around for like one second?” Yeosang scowls but he forfeits his seat to accept the tray of glasses and jug of homemade lemon water, ice clinking as he retreats.
“And take a glass to your friend in the sitting room, too.”
Seonghwa smiles to himself as he catches something like not my friend muttered under Yeosang’s breath as he exits.
They’d lined up Wooyoung, San and Yunho in Seonghwa’s bed, a tight squeeze for three sprawling drunken boys but they managed. The three of them were in the worst state out of all of them and Seonghwa had figured they’d have enough of an aftermath to deal with without adding aches from rugged sleep.
Jongho had taken the sofa while under him Mingi spread the sleeping bag Seonghwa had fetched, Yeosang in the one next to him. When Seonghwa had tiptoed out to start on breakfast, he’d craned his neck around the sitting room door to check if anyone had awoken, particularly Yeosang since he hadn’t drunk and Seonghwa knows him to be an early riser. But they were all snug and snoring in sleep, and somehow the throw pillow Seonghwa had last seen Mingi grab down from the sofa to snuggle was replaced by a blonde bundle.
Seonghwa is no mind reader, nor is he psychic, but Yeosang’s senses are bestially sharp, even in sleep. Nothing he doesn’t allow would occur.
As soon as Yeosang is out of sight Seonghwa heads straight for Hongjoong and hoists him onto the counter before taking his mouth. He cups Hongjoong’s neck with both hands and kisses him deep, kisses him like it’s been weeks instead of hours, hello, good morning, I missed you, I’m happy.
“Mmh,” Hongjoong moans in approval, mouthing at Seonghwa’s jaw, “now that is a good morning.”
“Can you guys not make me throw up before breakfast? I’m not even hungover.”
“Maybe you should’ve been,” Seonghwa replies, regretfully pulling away from Hongjoong to resume cooking.
“There is no love for me in this house, none.” Yeosang says woefully, reuniting with his juice.
“You’ll make it,” Seonghwa rebounds Yeosang’s favourite dismissal at him, “Joong honey, can you grab some milk? I don’t know how I forgot, I went to the shops yesterday morning.”
“Sure, baby.” Hongjoong runs a hand through his hair and hops off the counter, “Anything else we need?”
“My star.” Seonghwa sighs appreciatively, a number of things they could do without but he’d rather have flashing in his head. “Hold on, I’ll make you a list. Take that idling grouch with you, he can help you carry.”
“I’m literally right here, hyung.”
“And in a few seconds you’ll be out of my door.”
Sleeping bags cleared, the sitting room floor is adopted as a temporary dining area. The grocery trip had taken longer than anticipated and Seonghwa had to bribe San and Wooyoung, who’d risen before Hongjoong and Yeosang’s return, with endless fresh carafes of coffee to wait out his cooking and not order in the greasiest foods they could come up with.
Seonghwa had employed Mingi’s eager help in laying down the bowls and plates of food; egg rolls, roasted vegetables, kimchi, yachaejeon, avocado toast, honeyed fruit salad, cream cheese bagels and last but not last, Seonghwa’s secret weapon that induced perfect silence save for cutlery scraping and blissful groans; chicken noodle soup.
The recipe had been in his family for generations and the best thing Seonghwa did was letting his grandmother bully him an entire weekend to immaculately replicate it. It had never failed him those early days when he was figuring out his alcohol limit and woke up with an echoey skull or simply needed a pick me up in the form of savoury warmth at the bottom of his belly, and it hasn’t failed him now, watching friends— old and new— eat like the only thing between them and hammering death is what Seonghwa has laid before them.
“Maybe you should start a restaurant,” Hongjoong whispers next to Seonghwa on the sofa, cradling his own bowl of heaped food, “you’d get rich from these ones alone.”
“If this fashion thing doesn’t work out. . .” Seonghwa whispers back in agreement.
Hongjoong nods and extends his foot the short distance Seonghwa is sat opposite him to bump their feet. “I’ll even produce some elevator music for you to use,”
“Why not your own music?” Seonghwa says, bending to set his cleared plate on the mat they’ve spread over the carpet and doing the same for Hongjoong, “Free publicity,”
Hongjoong creeps to Seonghwa’s side and rests his head on his shoulder. “You haven’t even heard what I make.”
“And who’s fault is that?” Seonghwa says, reaching out to massage Hongjoong’s pyjama clad thigh.
Seonghwa’s heart did a funky thing it’s never done before when Hongjoong came back out to the kitchen after his return, swimming in Seonghwa’s oversized t-shirt that was gifted to him by Wooyoung only because it read it’s an Aries thing, you wouldn’t understand. Hongjoong had raised a brow and solemnly said, what? Am I not an Aries thing? and Wooyoung, gagging from the table, hid in San’s bicep.
“True. . .” Hongjoong’s hand crawls over Seonghwa’s, fingers slipping through the cracks, lacing, applying the lightest pressure, “Shall we make it a date?”
“It’s a date.”
Yunho, unruly haired, rosy cheeked, eyes alive if not completely bright, and much different from the towering zombie that couldn’t even manage to lift his head when he first awoke, glances up at them from the floor, “Does this thing work?”
“No,” Hongjoong says pleasantly, “we have a busted sixty-five inch plasma screen on display for no reason at all.”
Seonghwa rolls his eyes and with a sigh, he stretches for the remote controls on the coffee table that’s been cast to the sofa’s side, “Here,” he offers, “put on whatever you like. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, they’re all logged in.”
“Sweet,” he beams at Seonghwa. Then, turning to Hongjoong, he whispers indiscreetly, “Hyung, I see why you like him,”
“Yes, for the streaming services. Not for his, I don’t know, amazing personality or friendship or anything like that.”
“Hongjoong,” Seonghwa says, flusteredly squeezing their joint hands. Somehow the vocal and unapologetic affection in front of their friends feels like an elevated intimacy and Seonghwa knows they're on the same page about what they are but this public praise appeals to an innate part that dizzies him. Belonging.
“Keep it in your pants, hyung.” Mingi says mildly before returning to his conversation with Yeosang. Yeosang doesn’t even raise his head to make a sarcastic remark or fake gag. Seonghwa isn’t certain what transpired on that grocery run but Yeosang has been glaring significantly less at Hongjoong since their return, even smiling when he passed him the kimchi earlier and Seonghwa sends a quick thank you to his lucky stars for the expedited thawing process.
“If it helps, I also like your monster cock.”
Seonghwa, busy being amused by the passionate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors deciding whose Disney pick is to be watched first, is startled out of his skin by the whisper in his ear.
“More like love, really. Adore it.”
Seonghwa frantically scans the room, scandalized, making sure no innocent ear caught it. “Hongjoong.”
“Yes, sweet boy?”
“Okay,” he says, genuine, “but only because you’re mine the moment everyone leaves.”
“Shh,” Seonghwa covers Hongjoong’s mouth but quickly pulls away when a tongue starts lapping at his palm, “they can stay as long as they want.”
“Appalling plan.” Hongjoong says, shoulders vibrating with laughter at Seonghwa’s pinched expression, “I’m kicking them out once it’s six p.m., just so you know.”
“You will not.” Seonghwa says with finality and lesson learned, he uses his sleeves to cover Hongjoong’s mouth. “Shush and watch the movie.” Hongjoong says something against his hand but it’s muffled and gibberish and after a few tries he gives up with a sigh and lets himself fall into Seonghwa’s side to be cuddled as Tangled begins, courtesy of the RPS champion, Yunho (and San, Yunho playing for the both of them since their pick was the same).
“Oh wait, it’s Sunday.” Seonghwa says, surprising Hongjoong by his abrupt change in position as it comes to him, “I’m going to get the masks.”
“No, Hongjoong,” Seonghwa stands, already having an idea what Hongjoong will say, like he does every week before Seonghwa wins out, “you can not opt out.”
“Don’t want to,” he grabs Seonghwa’s wrist before he can move to the door, “actually I was going to remind you to get my nail kit so I can do your pretty hands.”
“Oh.” Seonghwa says, “Yes, I can do that.”
Hongjoong smiles and tugs Seonghwa down for a kiss. “Come back to me quickly, pretty boy.”
“So clingy,” he tries to say disapprovingly but his lips are stretched helplessly wide against Hongjoong’s.
“That’s right.” Hongjoong murmurs, squeezing his hand, “I’ll hang on to you.”
“Fuck.” Seonghwa says softly, dumbfounded and in danger of falling to his knees.
“Well done hyung,” Wooyoung cheers without turning, “you broke him again.”