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when tigers used to smoke

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Seoul, November 2017

At 20,000 per head, Jongin is convinced that admission to the curiously named Museum of Lost Objects is a scam, but he keeps this thought to himself as he hands his credit card to the pale, stone-faced man behind the counter, who barely looks up from his book as he swipes the card before returning it to Jongin with two tickets.

Truthfully, Jongin’s expectations for the museum weren’t high in the first place, if he had had any at all. He had been wracking his brain for ideas on how to arrest the downward momentum of the date he was currently on—he had shown up late at the restaurant and consequently lost their reservation and had completely misread the movie schedules, which left them with a chunk of dead air after an unsatisfying substitute meal—when he spotted the brass nameplate on a nondescript building and thought why not.

He hands his date a ticket and gestures towards the exhibit hall, ignoring their grimace and hoping that the overbright smile painted on his face masks his own lack of enthusiasm.

The spartan antechamber opens up into an expansive hall where warm wallwashers and angled floodlights mounted on exposed metal beams illuminate monochromatic plinths and glass table cases displaying…nothing. Jongin does a quick pirouette in the center of the room, half-wondering if this isn’t all some elaborate secret camera prank, and stops to shrug helplessly in the face of his date’s mounting bemusement.

“Um, excuse me, sir ?” Jongin’s date says, calling out to the man in the front, “Is the exhibit under renovation or something?”

The man—who seems to be the only other person in the museum—looks up and shoots a glance in their direction. A peculiar sensation frissons through Jongin’s spine and makes him stand straighter in the brief moment their eyes meet before the stranger turns his attention back to his book.

“Nope. That’s the whole exhibit.” The man says, voice pitched low and slightly hoarse, like the first scratch of a record player on an old vinyl that has deteriorated from dust and disuse.

“But, like, where’s all the stuff?”

“It’s all there.” The man doesn’t even look up from his book, but there’s a wry lilt to his deadpan response.

Jongin misses the way his date huffs and folds their arms across their chest when he notices the white, rectangular foamcore placards installed throughout the room. Less out of a sense of genuine curiosity and more out of a desire to wring whatever value he can from the 40,000 he dropped on this complete bust of an evening, Jongin starts skimming through the text on the cards:

Royal Uigwe stolen from the Kyujanggak Royal Library…

Moa skeleton (Dinoris robustus), native to New Zealand…

“Hizendo,” the sword used in the assassination of Empress Myeongseong…

Furtwängler Glacier atop Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania…

A panorama of a Zainichi Korean ghetto in Tsuruhashi, Osaka…

A sharp tug on his sleeve snaps Jongin out of the strangely pensive reverie he had found himself slipping into and back into the reality of a date that has, on all counts, gone very poorly.

“Listen, Jongin-sshi, you seem like a cool guy, but this ‘museum’ full of nothing kind of sums up the way this evening has been going. I think we should just quit while we’re ahead, don’t you?” His date says, and even though Jongin may agree, the sawed-off dismissal still stings his pride as it reverberates throughout the exhibit hall and certainly down to the entrance. “Sorry you had to waste your money on this place. I’ll cover the cost of my ticket on KakaoPay, if that’s okay?”

Jongin can only mutter a meek “sure” before his date is turning on their heel to leave, pattering footballs echoing loudly in the hall and in Jongin’s head. It suddenly seems silly and utterly humiliating to be standing alone in the middle of an empty room and any embers of curiosity that may have flickered earlier have been all but doused. As Jongin makes his way to leave, he almost misses the downward snap of a dark-haired head back into a book like a rubber band.

“Did you hear all that?” Jongin asks, stopping in front of the ticket counter.

“It was hard not to.” The man says, not unkindly, face still trained downward, but his gaze is slanted sideways, not quite looking at Jongin, but in his general direction.

“Oh, uh, sorry about what—well, I mean,” Jongin starts, initially feeling flustered and apologetic for his own embarrassment and his date’s rather damning review of this man’s place of work before realizing he doesn’t owe it to this stranger to excuse someone else’s bad behavior. Jongin trails off and in the midst of him fumbling for a reasonably dignified way of terminating this ill-advised social interaction, the man raises his head and the anxiety-fueled din in Jongin’s head rapidly recedes, like the ocean tide before a tsunami.

For a moment, Jongin can only think of waves: the gentle crest and downward swoop of a pink upper lip, the artful curl of a black fringe on a wide expanse of forehead, the dramatic slope of two of the most symmetric eyebrows Jongin has ever seen framing a pair of dark, whirlpool eyes that draw him in with a depth that belies an otherwise stoic, unmoved countenance.

“No worries. Have a good night.” The man says, after the silences stretches on long enough for it to become apparent that Jongin’s train of thought has completely stalled.

Jongin manages a quick, “you too” before finally making his exit. The brisk autumn air that greets him when he steps outside is bracing and grounding all at once. As he walks home, Jongin promises to himself to put this night behind him as a bad memory that will maybe resurface one day only as a funny story to tell his friends.

That day comes sooner than expected, because the entire experience settles in Jongin’s gut like a hairball he’s itching to cough up. So over their standing weekend coffee date, Jongin forces himself to take three sips of his iced latte before it all comes spilling out to Kyungsoo, who is the perfect sounding board because he has both the ability to read between the lines of Jongin’s unnecessary, evasive bullshit and the grace to not call him out on it.

“Huh, sounds interesting,” Kyungsoo says, after Jongin explains the museum’s concept as best as he understands it. He tries not to think about the man at the museum, because sometimes he thinks Kyungsoo can read his thoughts. “Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you’d normally be interested in though.”

“I resent that implication.” Jongin says, on the defensive for reasons he refuses to examine. “I like art and, like, culture and shit.”

“I wasn’t implying anything, Jongin,” Kyungsoo says, rolling his eyes. “But thanks for telling me about this place. I might go and check it out.”

Jongin hesitates. “I can go with you if you want, hyung.” He says, trying to inject as much nonchalance into his tone and almost certainly overdoing it. “I’m actually free this afternoon.”

Kyungsoo gives him a considering look and Jongin studiously avoids eye contact. “Okay, yeah, this afternoon works for me.” Kyungsoo downs his lukewarm coffee in one go and tosses his cup into the trash. “You’re paying though.”

“Hyung!” Jongin scrambles after Kyungsoo, who is already halfway to where his car is parked.

The ride to the Sangdo-dong side street where the Museum of Lost Objects is nestled among small specialty stores and hole-in-the wall cafes is spent by Jongin attempting to get Kyungsoo to cover both their tickets and to suppress the churning in his stomach he blames on the lactose and caffeine he willingly consumes on the regular despite the intimate familiarity he has with the havoc and hellfire that volatile combination wreaks on his digestive system.

When they arrive, Jongin doesn’t manage to foist off the ticket cost on Kyungsoo, but he thinks he has the bubbling in his stomach under control until they enter the museum and the same man is behind the counter.

“Hi, it’s me again,” Jongin says, casual as anything. “Two tickets please.”

If the man is surprised to see Jongin it doesn’t show, but a spark of recognition flickers briefly in his eyes. “Needed another day to peruse our extensive collection?”

Jongin barks out a laugh that abrades the stillness of the room and the granite-carved expression on the man’s face does not shift as he processes the transaction with mechanical efficiency. “Y-yeah, I guess,” Jongin says, coughing lightly as he takes their tickets and hurries off into the exhibit hall to escape the creeping flush of mortification. Kyungsoo follows behind at an unhurried pace.

“I’m starting to understand why you wanted to come back here so badly,” Kyungsoo says, not raising his voice, but not whispering either.

“Shhh, hyung!” Jongin hisses under his breath. He stops himself from turning his head to check if the stranger overheard. “Now, go look around so you can explain everything to me.”

Kyungsoo smiles at Jongin, exasperated but undeniably fond, and does exactly as he is bid. Jongin trails behind Kyungsoo, who reads each white placard and occasionally comments or murmurs as he contemplates each brief write-up. Kyungsoo, much like Jongin, is a natural introvert, but will talk a chef’s ear off after a satisfyingly complex meal, ask questions about conceptualization, ingredients sourcing, and flavor profiles and Jongin is banking on Kyungsoo’s intrepid inquisitiveness to be stirred by what is either a very committed prank or performance art piece.

When Kyungsoo is done he walks back over to the ticket counter and easily engages the man in conversation. “Are you the museum director?”

“Museum director, curator, owner—however you want to call it,” he says. He closes his book and puts it down. “How may I help you?”

Kyungsoo launches into a blow-by-blow of his thoughts on the entire museum-going experience, throwing around phrases like ‘the corporeality of absence’ and ‘the magnitude of humanity’s collective loss throughout history.” Jongin tries not to pout beside him, as the museum director listens to Kyungsoo with rapt attention. He nods at every thoughtful comment and gives succinct, but respectful answers to Kyungsoo’s questions on the curation process and the provenance of certain exhibits. Jongin tries to find an opening, but doesn’t want to risk saying something that will expose him as an art-illiterate philistine.

“I’m Doh Kyungsoo, by the way, and that’s Kim Jongin,” Kyungsoo says, jerking his thumb over to where Jongin has his arms folded across his chest.

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Oh Sehun,” he says. “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and kind words.”

“Of course. Jonginnie and I are big art lovers,” Kyungsoo says, reaching upwards to wrap an arm around Jongin’s shoulders and flashing Sehun a grin that Jongin can only describe as shit-eating. He’d throttle Kyungsoo for teasing him, but Sehun’s eyes meet his and he’s pinned down by his weighted gaze.

“I can see that,” Sehun says, with that same droll inflection Jongin had heard on the night they first met; otherwise, he remains impenetrable to Jongin. “Feel free to drop by again anytime.”

Jongin knows Sehun only said what said to be polite, but Jongin takes it as an invitation anyway. He tries to get Kyungsoo to come with him again, but Kyungsoo unleashes the full force of his dead-eyed glare at Jongin and tells him that he should just ask Sehun out instead of harassing him at his workplace. Jongin ignores his advice.

“No date this time?” Sehun says on Jongin’s third visit, not even two weeks after the second.

“Date?” Jongin says, thrown off-balance by Sehun initiating a conversation with him right off the bat. He had planned to mumble a greeting at Sehun before puttering around in the exhibit hall, pretending to examine the placards while sneaking glances at Sehun until closing time. Jongin never said it was a very good plan.

Sehun just blinks at him, shrugging in reply, and Jongin inexplicably feels compelled to explain himself. “Oh, Kyungsoo-hyung? No, no, that wasn’t a date, and, well, you saw how the first one went.”

Sehun nods. He opens his mouth as if to say something but seems to think better of it. In the short time that they’ve been acquainted, Jongin has become unfairly familiar with Sehun’s ability to weaponize a loaded silence.

“So, uh” Jongin says, cutting through the silence, “Can I buy a ticket please?”

“Jongin-sshi, you’ve almost singlehandedly doubled ticket sales for the month,” Sehun says, still straight-faced, but (and maybe it’s a trick of the light) there’s a lambent softness to his eyes that sends Jongin’s heart-rate spiking. “This visit’s on the house.”

“Wow, thanks!” Jongin says, wondering a bit deliriously if the persistent blush that blooms on his cheeks in Sehun’s proximity can be passed off as a pesky bout of skin asthma or allergies. “Well in that case, I think I’ll, uh, I’ll just—” Jongin swears he doesn’t run out of the room, but it’s a close thing.

He thunks his head against a floor-to-ceiling glass display case when he’s out of Sehun’s sight. I used to be good at this, Jongin laments, though he isn’t sure what this even is, if it’s anything more than the nothing that it currently is or closer to the something that stirs in Jongin’s chest whenever he catches sight of Sehun, inscrutable, unsmiling Sehun. It’s bad enough that Sehun is the type of handsome that would have turned Jongin’s head on a crowded street, but the mystery of a strange man cloistered in a place dedicated to loss and emptiness appealed to Jongin’s inner romantic and drew Jongin in closer than he had intended until he was caught, however distantly, in the gravity of Sehun’s orbit.

“This was the exhibit that started it all.”

Jongin looks up from where his forehead is pressed against the glass to see Sehun standing next to him, pointing at the white title card on the wall by the display case:

The Korean tiger (panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Siberian or Amur tiger, once roamed the Korean Peninsula in large numbers until it was hunted to extinction in South Korea sometime during the 1940s.

Jongin doesn’t understand why Sehun is here and why he’s talking to him all of a sudden, so he says nothing, lobs the silence back at Sehun for once just to see if he’ll return it, hopes that he doesn’t.

“I always found it kind of strange that the tiger is such an important part of our national identity and culture,” Sehun says, eyes trained on the empty display case. “Strange and kind of sad.”

“How so?”

“I mean, it’s the mascot for the Winter Olympics and the logo of the national football team and tigers are all over Korean art and folklore. They’re meant to symbolize strength and power and act as protectors and guardians, but we have so many myths and folktales that paint tigers in a bad light,” Sehun says. “Are you familiar with the Korean creation myth?”

A flare of recollection from some elementary school lesson sparks in Jongin’s mind before sputtering out. “Tell it to me again.”

“I’m not much of a storyteller, but,” Sehun says, clearing his throat. “The Lord of Heaven, Hwanin, had a son, Hwanung, who came down to earth to live among humankind. A tiger and a bear prayed to Hwanung that they may become human and Hwanung responded by giving them a challenge: for 100 days, they were to stay in a cave and eat only a bundle of mugwort and 100 cloves of garlic. After around 20 days, the tiger gave up and fled the cave.

“Doesn’t that just show that tigers are inconstant and give up easily? That you can’t rely on them? Not to mention the countless other folktales of tigers getting tricked or duped like dumb bad guys on kids cartoon shows. Is that really the animal we want to represent our country?” Sehun huffs at the end of his little monologue and crosses his arms across his chest.

It’s the most Sehun has ever said to him and the unfiltered disdain is layered on thick in his voice. Jongin ponders on how to respond. “When you put it like that…”

“And the fact that there are no wild tigers left in Korea? They’re not even around anymore, but we insist on glorifying these stupid beasts.” Sehun seems to want to say more, but he stops himself.

“It’s not like they had a choice, right?” Jongin says cautiously. “It says here that they were hunted to extinction, so it’s really our fault they’re not around.”

Sehun doesn’t speak for a long while and Jongin worries that he’s said the wrong thing.

“You’re right, Jongin-sshi, it is our fault,” Sehun says quietly, turning away from Jongin to stare back at the empty display case. Jongin wonders what he sees. If it’s an unsatisfying rebuttal to Jongin’s point, he doesn’t comment on it and although he and Sehun are basically strangers, Jongin can sense a deeper meaning rippling beneath the surface of their conversation, just beyond his grasp.

“What happened to the bear?” He asks instead.

“The bear? Oh, right. The bear persevered and made it through the 100 days and was turned into a human woman. She married Hwanung and gave birth to Dangun, who founded the ancient kingdom of Joseon.”

“I knew bears were my favorite animal for a reason,” Jongin says, smiling at Sehun.

To Jongin’s surprise and utter devastation, Sehun smiles back, the warmth in his crescent-shaped eyes thawing out the cold, hard lines of his facial features. “That suits you somehow.”

“Oh wow,” Jongin breathes out, a little planet-struck by how a single smile has transformed Sehun’s face and a little emboldened by the fact that that smile is directed at him. “I was going to suggest another lost object to add to your museum, but never mind.”

“What? What was it?”

“Your smile,” Jongin says, bowing his head slightly to look at Sehun through hazy, lidded eyes exactly the way he’s practiced and perfected. “But I found it.”

Sehun’s face goes through a series of complicated twists and tics as he processes Jongin’s words, trying to rein in his grin as though it’s a wild horse that’s escaped from its paddock. “That was… a truly terrible line, zero out of ten stars,” Sehun says, mouth twitching.

“It’s only a terrible line if it didn’t work.” Jongin says, finds enough courage in himself to tease. “Did it work?”

“I don’t know. Did it?” Sehun says, acid creeping into his voice, as though he doesn’t want to be playing this game.

“Have coffee with me?”

Jongin holds his breath for a moment. Sehun says yes.

They step out for coffee and Sehun doesn’t bother locking up the museum behind him or putting up a closed sign; says that no one is likely to show up anyway.

Sehun’s mood cools faster than it takes for the hot latte in Jongin’s gloved hand to turn lukewarm in the winter chill and he’s back to tight frowns and clipped responses by the time Jongin has upturned the icy dregs into his mouth.

Still, Sehun gives Jongin his number when he asks for it.

From that point on, their interactions consist mostly of Jongin frequently sending Sehun memes and asking if he’s eaten and Sehun infrequently responding with an appropriate sticker. Sometimes, Jongin finds Sehun in a chatty, indulgent mood and gets caught smiling at his phone more than once. Sehun parcels out fragments of his life in measured doses that Jongin commits to memory, but it all feels frustratingly surface-level: likes and dislikes, favorite foods and movies, and sharing playlists for working out and rainy days. Feeling brave one night after an exchange that has his toes curling in his sleep socks, Jongin asks Sehun out on a date. Sehun doesn’t reply.

After a few days of radio silence from Sehun, Jongin feels like climbing up the walls until he gets a call from Sehun asking him to drop by the museum if he’s free. Heart lodged somewhere in his throat, Jongin says that he’ll be there.

When Jongin arrives at the museum, Sehun greets him and maybe Jongin is imagining it, but he looks a little nervous. “Hey, Jongin! Thanks for stopping by.”

“Of course, Sehun,” Jongin says. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to show you something.”

“Here? Is it a new exhibit?”

Sehun laughs at that. “You could say that. This hasn’t been unveiled to the public.” Sehun steps out from behind the counter and leads Jongin into the museum, once again not closing up the museum.

“How do you manage to keep the museum open? I can’t imagine you make a lot in ticket sales. Or do you have a grant or something?” Jongin asks just to make conversation as he follows Sehun up a staircase.

“Rent isn’t really a problem when your parents own the building,” Sehun says, shrugging. “I know how awful that sounds and I apologize for it, but I think lying about my privilege would be worse.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not one to judge.”

“I know,” Sehun stays, stopping in front of a door, palm resting on the handle. “That’s what I like about you.”

Sehun hesitates before opening the door to what looks like a recording studio, but it’s empty, apart from a few wires, a leather couch, and soundproofing panels on the grey walls. The air in the studio is still and stale and spots of dust cover sections of the hardwood floor and furniture.

“You make music?”

“My ex did,” Sehun says quietly. “Does, I guess. I don’t know. This was his studio. I own the building, but I gave him this space. He came up with the layout, painted the walls, bought all the equipment. He even built that bar over there.” Sehun gestures at a black-topped counter in the corner of the room. “We started dating in college, but before that he was my best friend growing up.”

Jongin nods to show he’s listening, but he doesn’t quite understand why Sehun is telling him all of this. “What happened?”

“He left,” Sehun says, staring off into the middle distance and refusing to meet Jongin’s eyes. “I woke up one day and the studio was empty. Everything was gone. We were talking about moving in with each other and he just ups and leaves without even talking to me first? Fuck that, man.” Sehun’s laugh is choked with bitterness, “I—it really fucked me up. I drank too much, ate too little. I stopped showing up at work because I couldn’t get out of bed and deal with the crippling self-doubt and general feeling of worthlessness. It’s pathetic, right? Throwing your life away over a breakup.”

“Hey, Sehun, no, don’t think that,” Jongin says, drawing closer to put a hand on Sehun’s shoulder. To his relief, Sehun does not brush him off. “He didn’t tell you why he left?”

Sehun’s lips curl into an ugly sneer. “He did. He made this recording explaining in great detail why he couldn’t be with me anymore. Said he was living too much for me and not enough for himself and that he lost himself in our relationship. That breaking up was the only way he could begin to find himself, because he didn’t know who he was without me.”

“Sehun, that’s…” Jongin starts, but a discomfiting feeling bubbles up in his chest. “Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m not—I don’t want to overstep and presume, but you have to—” Sehun stammers. “I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: I am over my ex and have been for a while, but…”

“Is this your way of rejecting me?” Jongin says when Sehun trails off, but it comes across harsher than he intended, Sehun flinching away from his touch, “Because you could have just told me to back off and I would have respected that.”

“This is…an explanation,” Sehun says, looking at Jongin imploringly, desperate to make him understand. “I’m a mess, Jongin. I’m hitting my thirties with no career to speak of, and living off my rich parents, who see me as a massive disappointment. I would end up disappointing you too.”

Sehun’s words press on the freshly-fashioned bruise on Jongin’s heart and amidst the dull hurt radiating from his chest, Jongin uncovers a resolute clarity.

“I’m not gonna pretend that all of this,” Jongin says, gesturing at Sehun and the empty studio, “Is getting me hot under the collar, but it’s not like I’m running for the hills either. You’re assuming a lot of things about the kind of person I am and what I expect from you,” Jongin reaches out to Sehun tentatively, grounding himself with a light touch to Sehun’s wrist. “And that’s kind of unfair, because I haven’t exactly figured out either of those things myself yet.”

“Sorry. No, no, you’re right—”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Jongin cuts him off gently, hand now gently circling Sehun’s wrist. “I think maybe I understand and that’s—that’s okay. If you’re not ready for anything right now or ever, that’s fine. I still want to get to know you better, as a friend.”

Sehun casts a doubtful glance at Jongin. “Friends?”

Jongin smiles, swallowing down the lump in his throat and ignoring the way his pulse thunders in his ears. “I can do friends. I promise.”

Sehun looks uncertain, but a small smile appears on his face. “I’d like that.”

“Cool.” Jongin looks at where he’s holding onto Sehun’s wrist and lets go. “Friends can have dinner together, right? Because I’m starving.”

Jongin holds his breath for a moment, wonders if he’s asking to get hurt by pushing too hard, but Sehun says yes.

They go to dinner at Jongin’s comfort beer and chicken restaurant and Jongin feels raw and untethered, like an uncovered nerve ending, overwhelmed by the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions swirling within him. Sehun looks exhausted from the ordeal of having to relive his past and an overriding sense of sympathy surges through Jongin.

“You know EXO? The idol group?” Jongin says suddenly. Sehun nods, raising an eyebrow.

“I used to dance when I was a kid. I was really good, like really, really good,” Jongin says a little too proudly and Sehun rolls his eyes. “Anyway, I knew I wanted to dance professionally, but my dad convinced me to audition at SM Entertainment by bribing me with a Wii.”

“You got in?”

“I did and I ended up breaking the Wii playing too much Wii Sports,” Jongin says, relishing in the laugh that breaks out of Sehun. “I worked and trained really hard and eventually I was chosen to be debut with this new boy group, EXO.”

“What happened?”

Jongin grimaces. “I got injured really badly, my back and my hip. I won’t bore you with the details, but long story short is that I missed my chance,” Jongin says, pausing to order his thoughts. “I was heartbroken, because I felt like I let my dad down, since it had been his dream to see me dance on stage. But my dad? He was just happy to see me walk again, that I was healthy and whole.”

Sehun is quiet and his eyes are downcast, but Jongin knows he’s listening. “At some point, my dad’s dreams for me became my own and I realized that the person I had actually let down was myself.”

Sehun looks up at that and their eyes meet. Jongin says, “But the good thing about disappointing yourself is that you don’t need to ask for forgiveness from anyone else.”

Sehun’s eyes are inky black in the dim orange light of the restaurant as they eat in silence and Jongin feels the same eddying, drowning pull, but instead of a roiling, raging tempest in his irises, Jongin sees an ocean rocking itself to serenity, still draped in the shadow of a long night but mere moments away from daybreak.

Slowly, they do become friends. Jongin is the one to initiate most conversations and meet ups, but after a few months things even out and Sehun starts to seek him out just as often. It’s easy being Sehun’s friend when Jongin doesn’t think about how warm Sehun’s hand feels when it brushes accidentally against his lower back or how his long, slender fingers feel carding through his hair or how, with every passing day, the tightness around Sehun’s eyes seems to loosen and his brilliant, beautiful smile becomes a more and more familiar sight.

It’s easy being friends when Sehun isn’t pressed up next to him on Jongin’s three-seater sofa, radiating warmth as the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics plays on the television. Jongin leans into him, half-dozing and half-watching a solo dance performance by Kai from EXO, who, after bowing to the audience, receives a big hug from Soohorang, the white tiger mascot. Distantly, Jongin hears Sehun snort.

“I wanted to tell you,” Sehun says, snapping Jongin back into wakefulness. “I started looking for jobs the other week. I have an interview next Monday.”

“That’s great, Sehunnie!” Jongin asks, sitting up to sling an arm around Sehun in a half-hug. He feels a rush of pride course through him. “What about the museum though?”

“Decided to close it,” Sehun says. “Jongin, there’s something I wanted to ask you also?”

Jongin hums in response, afraid to say anything for fear of voicing out a hope he hadn’t dared nurture during his budding friendship with Sehun.

“I know we agreed to just be friends, but,” Sehun says, “Do you want to go on a date? With me?”

He hears Sehun hold his breath; Jongin says yes.