“I’ve been on the booze with Brahms. He is tremendously nice—not at all as proud as I’d expected, but remarkably straightforward and entirely without arrogance. He has a very cheerful disposition, and I must say that the hours I spent in his company have left me with nothing but the pleasantest memories.” -Peter Tchaikovsky, 1888
It’s shit. It’s such shit. If shit could shit, then this is what it would sound like.
Chanyeol snatches his iPod off the center console in his car and presses the pause button with much more strength than necessary. The recording comes to an abrupt halt, Jongdae’s voice cutting off at an angst-driven love and hanging in the air.
Five hours spent stuffed recording in the studio—the huge walk-in closet at Jongdae’s house that they padded with egg crates and musty old blankets—and nothing. Chanyeol had been hunched over his laptop the entire time, coaching Junmyeon through a revamped bass line while simultaneously telling Sehun and Minseok to either stop sucking face or get out of the closet. Chanyeol’s microphone is cheap and picks up sound easily, and the last thing he wants is the nauseating slurping noise of his bandmates in the background of the recording.
Chanyeol should have listened to Jongdae two weeks ago when he told him the track wasn’t working. There are times when Chanyeol’s stubbornness pays off, and there are times like now, when it feels like he’d rather listen to this shitty track every minute of every hour for the rest of his life instead of admit that Jongdae was right.
With a sigh, Chanyeol leans back in his chair. The parking lot to his apartment complex is quiet, everything blanketed in the deep blue of night. He feels so defeated that he can’t even find the energy to unbuckle himself.
That’s when he hears it.
A boom, boom-boom, the same bone-vibrating sound that Junmyeon’s bass makes when it comes through an amp. His apartment complex is mostly rented out by students at Chanyeol’s school, University of Michigan, and it’s not uncommon for Chanyeol to be woken from his slumber on some nights, the windows vibrating as someone pulls into the parking lot with their bass cranked to the max.
The noise comes closer, and closer, until Chanyeol can feel the bass through the cartilage in his nose and someone is pulling into the empty space beside him. Chanyeol glances over, nerves pricked easier than usual from spending so much time being crammed next to Sehun as Sehun crammed himself against Minseok. The lamps from the entrance to the complex give him enough light to see a boy in the driver’s seat, fumbling with a cigarette and a lighter.
Chanyeol grits his teeth and finds the motivation to get out and go upstairs. He grabs his things—bags layered on his back and in his arms, with a guitar case strung around it all—then swings out of his car just as Bass Boy rolls down his window.
Chanyeol had been expecting hip-hop. R&B. That dubstep that feels so fucking good when you’re drunk but headache-y when you’re sober.
Instead, the music pumping out of the boy’s speakers is—Chanyeol stops at the hood of his car, stares.
The boy’s eyes are closed, his bangs flopping with every jerk of his head as he keeps time to the beat. Violins and cellos pulse around a heavy drumline, while horns blare like a second heartbeat Chanyeol can feel thudding through his chest. He watches as the boy stops head-banging long enough to take a drag from his cigarette, the tip glowing orange, then he blows the smoke out the open window.
Then, like he can feel he has an audience, the boy’s eyes shoot open. Chanyeol startles, using a tired glare to combat the instinct he has to embarrassedly hightail it into the building. The boy receives it with a smirk as he takes another drag. He holds it in as he closes his eyes again.
All the noises come together to blare on the quick beat, the drums louder, and louder, until there’s a pause, a flutter of flutes, then one final thud of the drums.
At that, the boy turns off his car, opening his eyes before he leans his face out of the window. Chanyeol can see his disheveled copper hair a little more clearly, the shape of his sharp jaw.
“It’s Stravinsky.” The name is breathed with another plume of smoke.
“It’s loud,” Chanyeol says, to which the boy raises an amused eyebrow.
“Yeah. That’s the only way to listen to The Rite of Spring.”
“I wouldn’t know.” There’s an itch at the nape of Chanyeol’s neck with how Bass Boy is looking him up and down, so he adds, “You might want to chill with the bass this late at night. People have class tomorrow.”
The boy pulls his keys out of the ignition, sticking his cigarette between his lips as he opens the door to his car and steps out. He’s wearing a pair of skintight black jeans, along with a wrinkled shirt with the top buttons undone and the sleeves rolled to his elbows. Bass Boy speaks out of the corner of his mouth when he says, “It’s not that late. Besides, I’m doing them a cultural service.” Chanyeol rolls his eyes and turns to go when he hears, “Say, tall, dork, and handsome, you mind giving me a hand with this?”
Bass Boy has opened up the trunk to his car, and expectantly looks at Chanyeol as if he can’t see all the bags Chanyeol has loaded over his torso.
All Chanyeol wants to do is go upstairs and crash into his plush bed—bags and all—but sometimes it’s like he’s a genie who can’t deny anyone’s request. Even if that anyone is an inconsiderate jackass. “My…hands are full right now, but—”
The boy flutters a hand in his direction. “Then hurry up and go drop it off. I need help. I can wait.”
“I’m Baekhyun. I moved here today. And you’re the stud who’s going to help me carry the last of my things to my apartment. So go! Run along little puppy, then come back.”
Two minutes later, after Chanyeol has dumped his things in his studio apartment on the fourth floor, he can practically hear Jongdae in his ear whining you’re too nice, stop being so fucking nice, you can’t make everyone like you as he heads back downstairs. Baekhyun is finishing up his cigarette when Chanyeol reaches him. He breaks into a grin, teeth glinting menacingly against the light, then flicks the nub to the concrete.
Chanyeol strides forward and picks up the trash before the boy can even lift his foot to stomp it out. There is a cigarette pole just ten feet away.
Chanyeol ignores him and throws it away, trying to brush the ashes from his thumb and forefinger as he joins Baekhyun by the trunk of his car.
“What’s your name?” Baekhyun asks, having to tilt his head back to look at Chanyeol. His eyes are slightly droopy, cute, but shine with a calculativeness that Chanyeol recognizes from being friends with Jongdae and has learned to be wary of.
“Chanyeol. Chanyeol Park.”
“Chanyeol.” Baekhyun slowly rolls the name off his tongue, deepening his voice in a way that makes the tips of Chanyeol’s ears feel hot. “Come here and I’ll load you up.”
Somehow he makes it sound sexual. Chanyeol is still trying to figure out if it’s actually double entendre after Baekhyun stacks his arms with heavy boxes (carrying nothing himself), and leads him up four floors while commenting on Chanyeol’s “unattractive wheezing noise.” But then, Chanyeol doesn’t care about load you up because Baekhyun has stopped in front of the door right next to Chanyeol’s apartment.
“What?” Baekhyun asks as he fishes a key out of his pocket with the room number tag still attached to it. He unlocks the door.
“I—nothing, we’re neighbors. I’m next door.” Chanyeol had lucked out by getting the room at the end of the hall, only ever dealing with one neighbor at a time. He’s been out so much these past couple weeks that he hadn’t even noticed the room had been emptied.
“Neighbors, huh? Feel free to come by and ask for a cup of sugar any time you want.” Okay. Chanyeol knows that was entendre. Baekhyun swings the door open, revealing a bare studio apartment. It’s the same size as Chanyeol’s, split only by the kitchen counters. “Bring the boxes over there.”
Chanyeol follows him, noting only a couple boxes here and there, and a Casio piano in the middle of the empty living room area. On the floor next to it is a closed violin case.
In order to know which time, exactly, he should avoid the apartment tomorrow, Chanyeol asks, “You getting a moving truck or something tomorrow?”
“Nope,” Baekhyun says, flicking on the light by his bed—a mattress on the ground with blankets dumped over it. “This is the last of it. Put them down here.”
Chanyeol obediently does as he’s told, gritting his teeth as he lowers the weight, using his chin to dig into the top box so the three stacked in his arms don’t fall over. He bends to carefully place them on the old wooden floor, and when he looks up, he sees Baekhyun thoughtfully appraising his ass.
Chanyeol jolts up, fighting the urge to place his hands over his butt.
“Thanks, babe,” Baekhyun says, unruffled from being caught checking him out—or what would have been checking Chanyeol out if he hadn’t looked slightly disappointed. The smell of smoke and outside still cling to him as he passes Chanyeol to head to the bathroom. “I need to shower. Unless you want to stick around and join me so I can show you how grateful I am for your help, neighbor, you can show yourself out.”
He doesn’t wait for Chanyeol’s reply, deftly unbuttoning his shirt then pushing it past his shoulders. Not like in that moment, Chanyeol could have said anything even if he wanted. Because Baekhyun is not wearing an undershirt and he is hot but he is also terrible and all Chanyeol wants to do is dissolve into the floor. When Baekhyun reaches for the button on his jeans, shooting Chanyeol a challenging raise of his eyebrow, Chanyeol finds it within himself to scuttle away, practically throwing himself at the door before tripping over his own feet in the hall.
He can hear Baekhyun’s full, raspy laughter, even after he’s safe inside his own studio.
In the hallway the next morning, Chanyeol is still half-asleep when he fumbles with his keys. The lock on his door always needs a special little jiggle for the key to fit all the way in the hole, and he can’t seem to coordinate both of his hands when his brain is operating on so little rest.
Of course it would be seven a.m., Chanyeol with his forehead pressed pleadingly against the door, when Baekhyun makes his appearance again.
“Problem, Puppy?” Baekhyun asks, closing his own door behind himself and locking it without a hitch. Chanyeol has never heard someone say puppy like Baekhyun does.
“No,” Chanyeol mumbles, wiggling the key with a little more fervor. When he doesn’t hear Baekhyun leave, he peers over his shoulder. Today Baekhyun is wearing an oversized U of M hoodie. He looks almost soft, innocent.
“You play guitar?” Baekhyun peers at the bags Chanyeol has strapped across his back, the neck of his guitar case sticking out from the array. “Or are you just toting that thing around to add to your aesthetic?”
“I play. I’m the drummer in a band with my friends.” Usually it’s Chanyeol’s go-to pickup line, something he knows that when paired with his Cheshire grin makes him floppily irresistible. But right now he’s not aiming to impress. He’s aiming to lock his door and catch the bus, all while not thinking about last night and the moles that had dotted across the smooth skin of Baekhyun’s chest and back.
“What kind of music?”
“Oh. Too bad.”
Chanyeol looks up. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” Baekhyun lightly replies. Finally, finally, Chanyeol manages to lock his door, but when he starts walking down the hall, Baekhyun follows. “I play, too. Violin.” He lifts his arm, holding his sleek violin case in the air. Chanyeol keeps walking, hoping to out-stride him, but Baekhyun’s short legs double their speed. “Piano, too. Some cello. But I did violin at Juilliard precollege, and played there my freshman and part of my sophomore year.”
When they reach the main stairwell, Chanyeol flatly says, “That’s cool.”
Their footfalls echo sharply against the walls, Baekhyun having to raise his voice above the noise. “Well I mean, mastering the Sibelius Concerto sure isn’t the same quality as doing Green Day covers in my friend’s basement, but yeah, it is pretty cool.”
“We cover Goo Goo Dolls and it’s not in his basement it’s in his closet—” Chanyeol bites his tongue. “We play a lot of our own music. At gigs.”
“I’m sure,” Baekhyun says with a saccharine smile.
“We have an EP coming out next month, with seven original songs.”
Chanyeol winces. It sounds different coming from someone else’s mouth. But as he slows his pace, trying to think up some way to tape together Baekhyun’s fragile feelings, Baekhyun speeds up, skipping down the last few steps then pushing through the entrance doors to leave Chanyeol in his dust.
Just as Chanyeol breaks into the warm September day, he sees Baekhyun sitting in his car, lighting up a cigarette. Baekhyun watches him through the windshield, not breaking eye contact as he uses his free hand to start up his car. Sorrowful violins cry across the parking lot—a continuation of last night’s orchestral piece.
Then Baekhyun is backing out of his parking spot, leaving Chanyeol standing, staring after him.
Jongdae deletes the track off of Chanyeol’s laptop with a flourish. He does it so easily, like Chanyeol hadn’t been spending the past three months trying to perfect it. Like he hadn’t pulled his bandmates into their studio for countless hours, making innumerable minute changes in hope that somehow it’d pull together, all while making his friends hate him in the process.
“There. It’s gone,” Jongdae says, wrinkling his nose then opening up a new, empty track. Chanyeol blinks, thinking of all the nights spent with that song playing through his headphones like some despicable lullaby. The song was so close to being something good, something memorable that they could put on their EP. “Thank God.”
When his band had scraped together enough cash to rent a chunk of recording time in an actual studio, they had planned to do ten songs. That was two months ago. Two months of anxious waiting that resulted in them picking apart every track. Chanyeol lost all sense of judgement. Were the tracks crappy or was he second/third/fourth-guessing himself?
Now, they’re down to seven—six tracks.
Panic bubbles up Chanyeol’s esophagus at the thought. He reaches to undo the delete, a quick ctrl-z that would bring the monster roaring back, but at least it would turn the daunting space of nothing into something.
“No!” Jongdae snaps, slapping the back of Chanyeol’s hand. Chanyeol sullenly pulls his hands into his lap, staring longingly at the computer. “This is for your own good. The track wasn’t working. It was never going to work.”
“But maybe if we had kept a couple parts—”
Another slap, this time to the back of his head. “Get a grip. It’s over.”
Chanyeol whines, wiggling down in his foldable chair and flopping against Jongdae’s shoulder. His best friend is too boney for it to be comforting, but at least Jongdae doesn’t elbow him away.
“What are we going to do, Jongdae? We’re down four tracks.”
“It’s not the end of the world. EPs are supposed to be short, anyway. We got too excited when we rented out enough time to record ten songs. Besides, if you’re really that upset about the number, we can always throw in a couple of our best covers—”
“No more covers,” Chanyeol quickly says, sitting upright. “This EP is supposed to be ours. A reflection of The Penis Mightier.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. A reflection of The Penis Mightier would be a track of Minseok and Sehun making porn noises.”
Chanyeol tries to resist, but grudgingly adds, “Yeah. And Junmyeon cutting the baseline like every other verse to give unsolicited life advice.”
“Then you breaking into a guitar solo that lasts ten minutes, eventually giving way to ten minutes of silence and loud mouth-breathing as you take selfies.”
“Hey,” Chanyeol says, “Then the vocals will be you trying to sound ‘edgy’ by singing like a screeching pterodactyl.”
There is no dignified way to fight when in a closet, but Chanyeol likes to think that there’s a certain manly quality to the way he and Jongdae break into a slappy-fight. Except Jongdae always fights dirty, making him yelp as a chunk of his hair is grabbed and yanked. Chanyeol has just managed to palm Jongdae’s face, struggling to push him away, when the door to the closet opens and Junmyeon lets out a long, tortured sigh.
“I know this is another piece of unsolicited advice but maybe you guys should stop pawing at each other in the closet. We’re supposed to be dropping off our demo at The Yellow Flamingo in like, half an hour.” Junmyeon checks his watch, because yes he’s the type of guy to wear an analog watch, and impatiently taps his foot.
The Yellow Flamingo—Yellow for short—is a nice step above the slummy bars The Penis Mightier usually gets gigs at. It’s a bar that doubles as a concert venue on weekends, with a cover charge that’s set at eight dollars and the place is still packed every night with eager college students. Along with being a sick bass player, Junmyeon doubles as the band manager, and he somehow made a connection with the new entertainment director at Yellow. Chanyeol has seen the way that Biyah or Boa or whatever looks at Junmyeon, and is pretty sure that she’s willing to do anything to get into Junmyeon’s pants.
Anything like, say, give The Penis Mightier one of their sets on Thirsty Thursday. Chanyeol suspects that dropping off their mix is arbitrary; the director will pretend to make a big deal about it, lament that there’s so many great bands out there she could give the spot to, but soon enough she’ll be trying to use her power to swindle a drink out of Junmyeon.
“Hold on,” Chanyeol says, leaning toward Jongdae’s hold on his hair to alleviate the sting. “You shouldn’t have heard me say that. The studio is supposed to be soundproof, I did it myself.”
Jongdae gives one more painful tug then lets go. “Consider it a metaphor for the payoff you should expect from getting your degree in audio engineering.”
Chanyeol goes in to attack Jongdae again—his future employment opportunities once he graduates this spring is a tender subject—but Junmyeon grabs his ear and lugs him out of his chair. He stumbles into Jongdae’s messy room, blinking at the sunlight that’s streaming through the window.
“Ouch,” Chanyeol whimpers. The look Junmyeon shoots him makes him shut his mouth so fast his teeth clack.
“Get out of there, Jongdae,” Junmyeon orders, to which Jongdae emerges like a sulky toddler. Under Junmyeon’s sharp eye, the three of them work together to pack up all of their equipment. Chanyeol takes a moment to burn a shiny new mix CD on his laptop. It has their six best songs on it: sixteen minutes and twenty-three seconds of music that Chanyeol has personally composed, produced, and arranged with Jongdae over the past two years. His best work can be listened to in under seventeen minutes.
He tries not to think about that too much as he hands Junmyeon the CD and watches as he puts it into a shiny case, The Penis Mightier artfully scrawled across the front in Sharpie.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jongdae says to Chanyeol after they’ve packed up all of their things and piled into Junmyeon’s rickety Ford Fiesta. Chanyeol is stuffed in the back, always letting Jongdae sit up front even though his knees end up crammed against the seat. “That track is gone. Stop being an obsessive crybaby.”
Junmyeon elbows him from the driver’s seat, only relinquishing his 10 and 2 hold on the wheel for a moment. His voice is kind, optimistic, when he says, “You really tried, Chanyeol. I know you loved pieces of it, but the song didn’t come together. That’s how it works sometimes. We have plenty other material that we can build on before the EP release.”
Before Chanyeol can complain, Jongdae expertly segues, “Speaking of, what about the EP release party, which we still need to secure a venue for.”
“Did you have something in mind?”
Chanyeol can’t see Jongdae’s face but he can hear that cat-like smile in his voice when he says, “I was thinking The Yellow Flamingo.” It’s an excellent idea, guaranteeing that even if the small collection of The Penis Mightier fans isn’t enough to fill a venue, the loyal crowds of Yellow will maybe drunkenly buy a dozen or so EPs.
Junmyeon snorts. “I’m not even sure if I can get us a first gig there. Boa said that ever since she got the job, she’s been swimming in demos that people have dropped off. The only reason she can consider us for next week is because one of the bands cancelled.”
“Well I’m sure if you let her dive into you then we’d have a secure spot,” Jongdae says.
Chanyeol’s barking laughter is cut short as Junmyeon temporarily forgets he’s driving and almost drives them right off the road.
“Jongdae—that’s not—she’s—no,” Junmyeon sputters, righting their car as the person behind them honks and flips him off. His neck turns an interesting shade of pink as he takes a couple deep breaths. “This is business.”
“Right. Business. Because Boa wants to be up in your business,” Chanyeol lamely adds, but Jongdae cackles and gives him a high five anyway. That’s what best friends are for.
By the time they reach Yellow, Junmyeon is still pink and giving the two of them the silent treatment.
And by the time they say goodbye to Boa and leave through the back office of the bar, The Penis Mightier has a Thirsty Thursday gig and Junmyeon is as red as a lobster—a lobster with a date.
Fun Fact: Baekhyun is a classically trained violinist.
Not So Fun Fact: Baekhyun likes to loudly play the violin at four in the morning.
The Least Fun Fact of All: the walls at Chanyeol’s apartment complex are distressingly thin.
Chanyeol is so, so tired.
The first couple nights of Chanyeol being woken to the sound of Baekhyun’s fervent playing, he grit his teeth and put on his headphones, hoping that the familiar sound of his rock god heroes would drown out the wail of Baekhyun’s violin. He’d been avoiding Baekhyun like the plague—his hectic school and band schedule certainly helping—leaving early in the morning only to quietly sneak in around ten or eleven at night. The last thing he wants to do is have to confront his new neighbor and feel like a pinned bug beneath his stare again.
But tonight—tonight Chanyeol can’t take it any longer. The crooning of Anthony Kiedis is only creating another layer of noise to Baekhyun’s violin playing, and the anger and frustration that Chanyeol usually does an exemplary job of brushing off has built to a breaking point. Before he knows it, he’s shoving off his headphones, stalking out of his apartment, then rapping his knuckles against the door like it’s Baekhyun’s face.
The asshole keeps on playing, only stopping after a drawn-out final note. Chanyeol clenches his jaw. He tries his best not to lose his nerve as he hears Baekhyun walking to the door. A click, the door opens, and a scowling Baekhyun appears, wearing nothing but black boxer briefs and a muscle tank. His eyes are dark with exhaustion, hair thoroughly disarrayed, and the skin on his neck and left clavicle are a splotchy pink from the violin.
“What, Park?” Baekhyun sharply asks, making Chanyeol almost forget that he’s supposed to be the angry one. But then Baekhyun takes a deep breath, blinking out of some kind of fog as he takes Chanyeol in. He relaxes, the line between his eyebrows smoothing over as he leans against the doorframe. “What is it, Chanyeol Park?”
Chanyeol opens his mouth, but everything that he’d spent the past half hour shouting in his head turns into a whisper.
“It’s three-thirty,” Chanyeol says, his voice scratchy and low from the lack of sleep. “Why are you playing the violin. Loudly. At three-thirty in the morning.”
Baekhyun shrugs. Chanyeol resolutely stares at his eyes instead of the way his muscles shift with the movement. “Why not?”
“People are trying to sleep. I am trying to sleep. So please. Stop playing your violin so I can sleep. Please.”
“Not like I’m adverse to you showing up at my door all bed-heady and begging, but can’t you just get some earplugs or something?” Baekhyun deeply tilts his head to one side, stretching his neck while waiting for an answer, but unfortunately, he’s rendered Chanyeol speechless again. “After midnight is always when I play my best.”
Chanyeol takes a deep breath. He can do this. He can. “If you don’t stop playing your violin during ungodly hours, then I’m going to take it as a complaint to the landlord.”
Unfortunately, while Chanyeol has been going for a take me seriously I’m very serious about this serious thing look, all it does it make Baekhyun simper.
“Aw, Puppy. No need to cry.” Baekhyun stands up straight, grabbing the edge of his door. “You’re the first person I’ve had complain about it.”
“There’s no way that no one else—whatever, I don’t care. Just stop playing. I barely get enough sleep as it is and don’t need your screeching violin making it worse.”
The amusement on Baekhyun’s face drops. “I was playing Tchaikovsky. My favorite. That’s far from screeching.”
Tchaikovsky. Chanyeol gulps down a sigh, relenting, “You’re right. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. You actually sound great, you really do, but can you please stop playing toni—this morning? I have to be at band practice in four hours, and then I go to work. Then class. Then more band practice.”
Baekhyun drags his gaze from Chanyeol’s face, down his v-neck, and lands somewhere around the vicinity of Chanyeol’s crotch. He looks back up, but the sharp smile that stretches across his lips is very disconcerting.
“Sure, sweetheart. Sorry I kept you from your beauty rest.”
Chanyeol only feels those shivers because he’s standing in the drafty hall in nothing but his boxers and worn t-shirt. No other reason. He clears his throat. “Uh. Thanks.” It feels too easy, but the next thing Baekhyun offers up is, “You said you’re in a band, right?”
“Well.” Baekhyun raises an eyebrow. “Those boxers certainly aren’t very punk rock of you.”
Chanyeol looks down, embarrassment slamming against him as he looks at the array of Rilakkuma and hearts on his boxers. His favorite pair.
“It’s not—punk—we’re—Rilakkuma is—”
“Goodnight, Puppy.” Not waiting for a reply, he steps back and firmly shuts the door in Chanyeol’s face.
“Why do you keep fucking up, Chanyeol?” Jongdae says into the microphone, his voice coming sharply from the speakers and echoing through Sehun’s parents’ garage. No one leaps to Chanyeol’s defense. They have to keep the garage door shut and it’s sweltering—spending two hours in an oven together can test even the best friendships, especially when one of those friends continues to flub the most simple of his parts. Their first big gig at Yellow is in three days and they’ve been putting in double the work.
“You look sick,” Junmyeon gently says as he eyes Chanyeol at his place behind the drum set. When Junmyeon is on stage with his bass, he looks like a rockstar, but when he’s standing with it in the garage, he looks like a kid playing with his big brother’s toy. The tucked-in polo doesn’t help his look. “Are you doing okay?”
Chanyeol hangs his head, fingers nervously twirling his drumsticks in a way that’s become habit. “I haven’t been getting much sleep.”
“Getting bombarded by a lot of homework?” Minseok asks, combing back his wet bangs. His hair is the same creamy lavender color as his guitar—something uncharacteristically indulgent and kitschy for their lead guitarist. Then again, he is dating their backup guitarist. Sehun dreamily stares at his sweaty boyfriend, completely checked out of the conversation.
“No. It’s—I have a new neighbor, and—”
“It’s because of Asshole Violinist?” Jongdae cuts in, pulling his mouth away from the microphone for the first time tonight.
“Which asshole violinist?” Minseok perks.
“He’s just this guy—” Chanyeol begins.
“There’s this prick who moved in next door to Chanyeol and Chanyeol thinks he’s unbearably hot but he’s also unbearably dickish. Is he still playing his violin at ungodly hours?”
“I don’t think he’s ho—”
“Your ears turn pink every time you talk about him. The only time I see that happen is when I catch you watching porn or during those zit cream commercials with D.O.” Jongdae points a very short but very accusing finger at Chanyeol.
“Zit cream commercials,” Sehun tonelessly says, choosing this particular moment to start paying attention. As if anyone working with such an embarrassing middle-part like his could have the authority to judge.
Chanyeol grumbles, “You guys know how I feel about D.O. He’s really cute. And has nice thighs.”
“Does Asshole Violinist have nice thighs?” Junmyeon earnestly asks.
Chanyeol purses his lips and Does Not Think About how Baekhyun opened the door in nothing but his tank and briefs.
“Your ears look like they’re on fire.”
Chanyeol says, “Can we get back to practice, please? I won’t fuck up this time, I promise.”
Everyone sags, fiddling with their instruments. Minseok petulantly plucks at the first opening notes of the song they’re working on as Sehun tunes his guitar for the umpteenth time. Humidity is a bitch on the strings.
Chanyeol almost feels bad for ending the fun, even if it had been at his expense. He takes a deep breath, wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans. He’s done these songs a million times—the muscle memory is ingrained in the movement of his arms, his foot against the bass drum. Chanyeol has always had the steadiest sense of beat, something that comes as natural to him as breathing, so why can’t he play properly today?
When everyone is ready, Chanyeol counts them in. Their music blares through the garage and catches on the terrible acoustics.
Chanyeol’s drumsticks fly across his set. Banging on the drums and whopping the cymbals usually feels so cathartic. Not right now. He feels the beat through his chest, his whole body following it, but there’s something imbalanced. If he could just go into that brainless mode where everything else is left behind—
Chanyeol’s foot slips on the bass drum pedal. Any other day, that would be no problem. Minor catches in the set happen all the time, but it’s fine as long as he keeps playing. But like slipping down an ice chute, he can’t find the beat again.
“Dammit Chanyeol.” Jongdae stomps his foot. It makes Junmyeon cuts the bass, Sehun’s guitar slowly petering out as Minseok grits his teeth and frustratedly twangs the last note.
Chanyeol flinches as Jongdae stalks up to him, then past to grab Chanyeol’s car keys off the mini fridge. “We are going to your apartment right now and I am fixing this.”
“No, no no no I talked to him last night and he said that he’d—”
But the rest of Chanyeol’s sentence is drowned out by the mechanical whir of the garage door being opened. Jongdae only waits long enough until he can duck through, Chanyeol trying to follow quickly behind him only to bump his head.
The whole ride to the apartment complex, Jongdae ignores Chanyeol’s begging. Past the fear of having to witness a confrontation, Chanyeol watches with a bit of jealousy as Jongdae’s anger remains undeterred. That’s what he needs to be like. Someone who can stay angry, who doesn’t second-guess themselves in the face of doing something uncomfortable.
Jongdae whips the car into a parking spot, not bothering to wait for Chanyeol as he stomps through the entrance doors.
“He might not be home—” Chanyeol says, chasing after his best friend. When the two of them reach Baekhyun’s door, Jongdae aggressively knocks. Chanyeol holds his breath.
Jongdae knocks again.
“We should go,” Chanyeol says. “Like I said, we talked last night, and if he plays again tonight, I can go to my landlord and—”
“No you won’t. You’re scared of your landlord. You said he looks like bigfoot, like you have any room to talk. And I don’t even think you’re telling me the truth about talking to Asshole Violinist in the first place. You never confront people. You let them walk all over you.”
“Shut up and sit down. We’re waiting until he gets back.”
Chanyeol clamps his mouth shut and sits right in front of the door. When he looks up, Jongdae is sadly shaking his head.
“See what I mean? You’re like a goddamn golden retriever.”
“I need to make new friends.”
“Too late. You’re stuck with me.” Jongdae reaches down and pats the top of Chanyeol’s head, but the gesture feels more condescending than soothing.
“Just—can you not be too mean to him?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jongdae says in a light voice that means he knows exactly what Chanyeol is talking about. He sighs. “Look, all I want to do is politely tell him to fuck off, okay? You’re overworking yourself and it pisses me off to think that someone is taking away what little sleep you barely get.”
Chanyeol’s eyes widen, but just as he’s about to get all sentimental, Jongdae narrows his eyes warningly. “No.”
Eventually, as the minutes drag on, Jongdae sits beside Chanyeol. The two of them lean with their backs against the wall and their legs stretched across the hall. Chanyeol dinks around on his phone as Jongdae ferociously hums under his breath.
Twenty minutes later, Baekhyun has yet to appear.
“What time is it?” Jongdae asks, a low growl. At this point, Chanyeol almost feels sorry for Baekhyun.
Jongdae’s jaw twitches with agitation. “I swear, if Asshole Violinist doesn’t get here in—”
Baekhyun’s door opens. “Asshole Violinist? Who summons me?”
Jongdae and Chanyeol scramble to their feet as Baekhyun enters the hall. He has on his backpack, along with his violin case, and he takes in Jongdae with the same unnerving full-body scan he did of Chanyeol that first night.
Jongdae, however, is never affected by things like that. He’d probably be insulted if someone didn’t do that to him. “You Baekhyun?”
“Me Baekhyun.” Baekhyun’s eyes flick to Chanyeol before he turns to lock his door behind himself. “What is it, Puppy? So upset about last night that you brought reinforcements?”
“I was the one who wanted to come talk to you.” Jongdae steps forward, almost protectively in front of Chanyeol. Baekhyun stutter-blinks, it’s the first time Chanyeol has ever seen him look mildly ruffled.
“We knocked on your door,” Chanyeol says, “You didn’t hear us?”
“I was studying. Had my headphones in. And—” Baekhyun says, looking at Jongdae, “babe, what’s your name?”
Chanyeol grabs Jongdae’s wrist. His friend doesn’t have much patience for things like babe and puppy, so he answers for him. “Jongdae.”
“Well, Jongdae, I can tell you’re about to chew me up for keeping your crate mate up last night, but can you maybe do it while we walk to my car? I’m running late.”
“What’s with the dog thing?” Jongdae asks with a curled lip.
Baekhyun gestures to Chanyeol. “Isn’t it obvious?”
That seems to catch Jongdae off guard. Instead of cutting into Baekhyun like Chanyeol expected, he looks up at Chanyeol and mumbles, “See? You barely know this dude and even he thinks you’re like a big dumb dog.”
“I didn’t say ‘dumb,’” Baekhyun says, “He’s slobbery and adorable.”
Jongdae snorts, and when Chanyeol gives him an offended look, says, “What? He has a point. You’ve had the same four t-shirts on rotation since high school.”
“It’s not a bad thing. It’s a part of his whole look,” Baekhyun says, “but I’m still unconvinced he knows how to play that guitar he carries around.”
Jongdae scowls again. Chanyeol braces himself for the first lash of Jongdae’s tongue, but what comes out is, “He doesn’t. That’s why we put him on drums.”
Baekhyun chuckles, and Chanyeol feels his eye twitch. What…what is going on?
“This has been nice and all,” Baekhyun says, “but I really need to get going. So either yell at me while we walk together, or we’ll have to reschedule.” He turns and starts walking down the hall, Jongdae and Chanyeol flanking either side of him. “I can’t say I’m not a little surprised, though. I told Chanyeol I’d stop playing so late, and then—oh, is this about the underwear thing? Are you his boyfriend, or something?”
Chanyeol wishes that Jongdae would stop looking so insulted when people asked him that. “No. But underwear thing? What underwear thing?”
“The boxers, Rilakkuma,” Baekhyun says, looking over his shoulder to smile at Chanyeol. “Pink. Adorable. Very short.”
“Oh god, Chanyeol. We got you those as a gag gift,” Jongdae groans.
“They’re comfortable.” Chanyeol hurries to turn the attack back to Baekhyun. “But what about you? You were only wearing a tank and tight little briefs!”
“And for that, you’re welcome.”
Thoughtfully examining Baekhyun’s legs, Jongdae slowly looks up with that gleam in his eye, giving Chanyeol’s gut enough time to sink before he says, “I’m sorry I missed out on that. You have great thighs.”
“Not like I don’t appreciate the compliment,” Baekhyun says, pausing in front of the stairwell, “but weren’t you here to scold me? Slap my wrist or something?”
Chanyeol expectantly looks to Jongdae, wondering if flicking his friend’s forehead will bring back that anger and he’ll finally get some justice, but all Jongdae says is, “I want to make it clear that there will be no more keeping my drummer up at night.”
“I will no longer keep Puppy up by playing the violin.” Baekhyun lifts his hand, three long, pretty fingers raised. “Boy scout’s honor. Not like being reprimanded by you doesn’t sound appealing.”
Jongdae barks a laugh, “Like you could handle—”
“Can you guys please not?” Chanyeol mumbles. “Weren’t you leaving, Baekhyun?”
“Ouch.” Baekhyun opens the doors, tilting his head at Jongdae. “Next time, then. You thought my thighs were great? Watch me walk away and you’ll see how great my ass is, too.”
And then he winks. Chanyeol thinks it’s so repulsive and cheesy and so Baekhyun, but when he looks over at Jongdae, his friend is nodding his head in some kind of approval as Baekhyun disappears down the stairwell.
“What?” Jongdae asks when he sees Chanyeol glaring at him.
“I thought—you were supposed to tell him to fuck off?”
“You told me to not be ‘too mean,’” Jongdae says, lowering his voice to mimic Chanyeol.
“You could’ve been a little meaner than that.”
Jongdae shrugs. “I like him. He seems cool.”
Something like betrayal burns deep in Chanyeol’s stomach. “Of course you do. He’s almost as much as an asshole as you are.”
Being best friends with Jongdae since freshman year has equipped Chanyeol with the reflexes to dodge the ensuing swipe of Jongdae’s hand.
The next morning, Chanyeol has enough time after work to stop in the library’s café to grab his third cup of coffee for the day. He’s employed by the library’s offices, receiving and shipping out books to the University of Michigan’s multiple branches for students who request them. It’s boring work, but at least his supervisor lets him have his headphones in while he does it. Yesterday to his great shame, he bought an album on iTunes called The Very Best of Tchaikovsky and has been listening to it nonstop. His curiosity is going to be the death of him.
He’s waiting in line to order when he hears it.
Chanyeol looks up to see Baekhyun waving at him from one of the tables. It’s so weird to see him outside of their apartment—like he’s some mythical creature that Chanyeol wasn’t sure truly existed, an apparition that shows up to hit on anything with a heartbeat then disappear. But he exists. He’s sitting in the crowded café, the table in front of him loaded with his laptop, textbooks, and a venti coffee.
Chanyeol’s returning wave is twitchy, unsure, and then he does a terrible job of looking away, pretending to be preoccupied with his phone. He starts a group chat with The Penis Mightier, reminding them all of their recording schedule for next week in the studio, but he’s still thinking about how strange it is to see Baekhyun in the Real World when he orders his coffee.
“That’ll be $3.66,” the cashier says. Chanyeol innerly grumbles about how expensive the university’s house brew is when it tastes like shit. Just as he pulls out his wallet, someone reaches in front of him, handing their credit card to the cashier.
“I got this one,” Baekhyun says from his side, making Chanyeol flinch in surprise. Baekhyun’s eyes crinkle when he smiles, deceptively sweet, making the mischievous violin of Tchaikovsky’s Dances of the Swans playing in the back of Chanyeol’s mind.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Chanyeol says.
“Consider it an apology for keeping you up,” Baekhyun replies, taking his card and a receipt from the cashier. The feeling of his steady gaze is disconcerting, so effortless on his part but so heavy on Chanyeol. “Make sure to tell your friend Jongdae how I helped caffeinate his precious drummer.”
“Uh, thank you. Could I maybe get you like a muffin or—”
“Do you not understand how the concept of being treated to something works?” Baekhyun gently grabs Chanyeol’s elbow, steering him away from the register so the next person can order.
“The coffee’s expensive, and you already apologized, even when Jongdae called you Asshole Violinist.”
Baekhyun shrugs, dismissing it. “It wasn’t the first time someone’s called me that, and you can bet your nonexistent ass that it won’t be the last.”
“You’re too kind,” Chanyeol tonelessly says, very aware of Baekhyun’s hand as it slides up from his elbow to wrap around the curve of his bicep.
“Look, if you really want to thank me for treating you to three whole dollars worth of coffee, come sit with me while you drink it.”
There’s something unnerving about Baekhyun. Just being next to him makes Chanyeol’s heartbeat erratic, but he can’t tell if it’s out of nerves, annoyance, lust, or maybe a mix of all three. Chanyeol constantly feels like he’s tottering on the line of something, never able to relax, and always bracing himself when the violinist is around. So he’s thankful that it’s not a lie when he says, “I have to head to class.”
Baekhyun’s hand slides off of Chanyeol’s arm. He doesn’t seem to believe him. “What class?”
“What time does it start?”
Baekhyun checks the digital clock on the wall—Chanyeol has to be in class in twelve minutes. “Oh.”
“But I mean, thank you for the coffee,” Chanyeol says, smiling his thanks at the barista as she hands him his cup over the counter. He’s already retreating, trying not to run into anyone as he walks backwards through the crowd. “If we run into each other again, I’ll buy the next round.”
“That’s too vague. How about tonight? Buy me a drink, Puppy.”
Chanyeol’s stomach twists at the intimate thought of being pressed next to Baekhyun in a crowded bar. Very ungracefully, he blurts, “Can’t, sorry!” Chanyeol waves and leaves, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder and see if Baekhyun is still standing there, the nape of his neck tingling.
That night, Baekhyun brings someone home with him.
Chanyeol is finishing up his homework, sitting hunched over his textbook at his desk, when he hears the clunking of Baekhyun’s front door opening and closing. There’s two voices, the words distinguishable but muffled through the wall.
Chanyeol checks the time, it’s almost eleven. Just as he reaches for his headphones, there’s a thunk and the whole wall that separates his studio from Baekhyun’s vibrates. Drunken laughter follows, not Baekhyun’s, but it’s sharply cut off by a long, drawn out moan.
Jesus, Chanyeol thinks, his body going still. Maybe Baekhyun’s friend lost his balance and ran into the wall, and it hurt.
Another groan that sounds something like, “Oh god.”
Maybe…maybe Baekhyun’s friend really likes running into walls.
He hears Baekhyun talking, the low, smooth tone enough to send goosebumps down Chanyeol’s back. It’s appealing. Baekhyun has one of those voices that would make the reading of a grocery list sexy.
There’s rustling, little thumps and noises of something moving against the wall. The One Piece figurines on Chanyeol’s desk jiggle. It’s when Baekhyun lets out a ridiculously musical so good that Chanyeol snaps out of his daze and understands what he’s listening in on.
His throat feels very, very dry as he scrambles to put on his headphones, digging his heels against the ground to roll his chair away from the wall. The wheels catch on a discarded sweatshirt, and before Chanyeol knows what’s happening, he’s tipping back, letting out a very undignified yell as he crashes against the floor with his feet above his head.
Chanyeol manages to sit up, extracting himself from the chair like a survivor of a car crash, dragging his body across the floor. His headphones have fallen off, and thankfully are not broken or bent. He’s so consumed by checking them over that it feels like ice water is being poured over his head when he hears, “Are you okay over there?” coming through the wall.
Chanyeol winces, getting to his feet and inching closer to the wall. “Yeah. I’m fine. I—I dropped—something.”
“Careful, Puppy.” Baekhyun laughs, but it peters out. He and his friend must be going back to their regularly scheduled programming as Chanyeol hears their footsteps taking them further away from the wall.
Probably toward Baekhyun’s bed.
Chanyeol doesn’t want to think about it. Doesn’t want to think about what it would be like to topple to that mattress on the floor. What Baekhyun’s dexterous fingers would feel like grabbing his shoulders, smoothing over his chest. Baekhyun’s pink lips and sharp teeth. Would Baekhyun’s gaze feel even heavier if Chanyeol was pinned beneath him?
“Shit.” Chanyeol gulps. He grabs his jacket, his phone, and his headphones, not bothering to track down his keys before he leaves his studio. No one’s going to try breaking into his place if he leaves the lights on.
He practically runs down four flights of stairs, breaking into the cooling night and taking in deep lungfuls of the outside air. Unfortunately, no matter how many loops he walks around the park by his apartment complex, he can’t stop thinking about Baekhyun asking him to buy him a drink earlier today, the way his overwhelmingly confident expression wavered when Chanyeol said no.
Minseok was the one who found the van. It had been sitting in the parking lot of an abandoned restaurant, a big red For Sale sign in its dashboard window. The exterior is the color of melted strawberry ice cream, with rust corroding across the weld lines of the doors and windows.
It’s huge, one of those conversion vans that can seat up to eleven people. It makes terrible noises when its engine is running, and no matter how many times they’ve cleaned it, the upholstery still smells dank with weed. But it only cost $2,000, and after they took out the two back seats, The Penis Mightier finally had a way of carting all of their gear from gig to gig.
Well, more like from Sehun’s parent’s garage, to gig, back to the garage for another couple weeks.
Junmyeon manages to pull into the narrow brick alley behind The Yellow Flamingo without busting off the sideview windows, the van groaning miserably as he presses on the brakes then puts it into park.
Boa is waiting for them at the back entrance, along with Sehun and Minseok who drove separately. The metal double doors are propped open, ready for them to bring their gear through.
“What the fuck is that thing?” Boa asks after Junmyeon, Chanyeol, and Jongdae squeeze through the alley to the back of the van and open its trunk.
“What do you mean? It’s our van,” Junmyeon says with a smile, so earnest that Boa bites her lip and doesn’t dig deeper. Chanyeol thinks she looks beautiful tonight, her dress short and sparkly, hair sleek, and eye makeup heavy. Even wearing her heels, she helps the five of them unload their van, bringing their gear through the backstage area and into the main room of the bar.
Yellow is getting ready for the night, its staff prepping the bar, shuffling tables around on the floor to make room for standing space in front of the platform. The venue doesn’t open for another hour, and it looks like a completely different place with all of the overhead lights on. Chanyeol has never seen so much of Yellow’s floor at once, terribly scuffed up and so old that the wooden planks creak with every step. They haven’t turned on the yellow neon lights behind the bar yet, and their setup looks old and unpolished without it.
“Stop gawking around and start hooking things up, Audio Engineer Boy,” Jongdae calls from the platform, wiggling one of the cords from their speakers at Chanyeol. With Junmyeon and Minseok’s assistance, Chanyeol connects all of their instruments in, working with Yellow’s audio techs in the sound booth at the side of the room.
Chanyeol ends up sitting in the booth with one of the techs, looking over the soundboard as Minseok goes from instrument to instrument to double-check its sound. The tech is patient with Chanyeol, talking him through the layout of the board and allowing Chanyeol to fiddle with its settings. The tall tech is wearing a tight yellow polo like the rest of the staff, the name Yunho written on the back in big, black letters.
“You nervous or something?” Yunho asks, his gaze on Chanyeol’s shaking fingers as he presses up one of the sliders. Chanyeol quickly retracts his hand, hiding it at his side.
“Yeah,” he admits. Chanyeol calls for Minseok to check Sehun’s guitar again, listening to the sound as he reaches for the board. “Excited, mostly. We’ve never played at a place as nice as Yellow before. I’m used to playing at people’s backs as they try and not let the live music ruin their night out at the bar.”
“That won’t be a problem here, things get really busy on Thursdays. The floor gets packed—we have to double our security.” Yunho laughs as Chanyeol audibly gulps. With a whop, Yunho pats Chanyeol on the back. “Tell you what, kid, go to the bar, tell them I sent you, and have them make you a drink on the house.”
Chanyeol quickly takes him up on that offer, ignoring Junmyeon who flops around him like a mother hen to make sure he doesn’t have more than one drink before their set. It helps to take a little of the edge off, and when Yellow’s lights drop, the neon flamingos casting the bar in an otherworldly glow, The Penis Mightier does one last check before Boa leads them to the backstage area.
“This is nice,” Chanyeol says, looking around the dressing room. It’s a little bigger than Jongdae’s closet, the brick walls crumbling and graffitied over with the names of other bands who have played at Yellow, ranging from terrible to mediocre. The threadbare couch looks like something that had been sitting on a curb for weeks, waiting for trash pickup, and Yellow had decided to drag it into their dressing room.
“It smells like something’s rotting in here,” Jongdae replies, but he’s smiling, too. They’ve never played somewhere with an actual backstage before. Even a shitty little room makes them feel like they’re getting the star treatment.
“That’s because a squirrel got caught in the vent behind this room and died. We didn’t know until the air conditioning broke last week and the little thing’s corpse bloated and exploded from the heat. The smell hasn’t gone away yet.” Boa explains it like she’s talking about the weather, scribbling something on her clipboard. Junmyeon’s face pales.
No one else seems to care, though. The bad smell and cruddy furniture makes it seem more rock ’n’ roll.
Boa looks up from her clipboard. “You guys are going to play the seven slot. Make sure to leave enough time after your set to have your shit off the stage so the next band can start connecting up their gear at eight.”
As the lowest band on the totem pole, that gives them a lot of time to kill. So even though it feels terribly un-rock ’n’ roll, Chanyeol pulls out his homework. He puts on his headphones, catching back up on Tchaikovsky’s Valse from Swan Lake.
Minseok and Sehun head back to the floor to sit at the bar and watch the Happy Hour traffic, while Boa convinces Junmyeon to help her unload the next band’s gear out of their trailer. Just the two of them left in the room, Jongdae cuddles up at Chanyeol’s side, playing Clash of Clans on his phone and helping Chanyeol through his math homework without having to look away from his screen.
Chanyeol’s nerves are lulled, only to come bursting back with a vengeance when Boa sticks her head into the dressing room to tell them they have twenty minutes before going on. Everyone gathers, Chanyeol stretching as Jongdae runs through his vocal warmups. There’s a mirror by the door, and Sehun uses it to do his hair, using so much hairspray that Chanyeol is thankful for the little high it provides.
Five minutes before going on, The Penis Mightier gathers in a circle, putting their arms around each other’s shoulders and knocking their heads together in the center. It’s a ritual where they’re supposed to check-in one last time, encourage each other, but usually they throw insults back and forth until someone gets so annoyed they break the circle.
“Sehun, your hair is stabbing me,” Jongdae hisses, trying to pull his head away from Sehun’s only to knock his forehead against Junmyeon’s.
“Which one of you has the bad breath?” Minseok asks, “It smells like onions—”
“Sorry, Boa treated me to some chili fries,” Junmyeon guiltily says as Chanyeol feels someone’s fingers skating across his lower back then cupping his butt.
Chanyeol sighs. “Sehun. You undershot Minseok. Let go of my ass.”
“Oh.” Sehun gives one last squeeze before moving his hand. “You need to start doing squats or something, Chanyeol.”
“Guys, please,” Junmyeon weakly says.
“I’m sorry to break up such a cuddly moment, but you need to head to the stage. We’re ready for you,” Boa interrupts from the doorway. Everyone straightens, excitement palpable in the air as they share one last group gaze.
Chanyeol is in a bit of a daze as they all enter the bar area, file onto stage and take their places. There are a couple people curiously lingering around the edges of the dance floor, a steady flow of customers coming in through the front entrance after paying their fee and having their licenses checked. Chanyeol settles behind his drum set, blinking against the stage lights.
His heart thuds against his ribs as they run through a quick soundcheck, and then Jongdae is leaning forward with his lips against the mic, his smooth voice coming through the speakers as he says, “Hey everyone, it’s about time we get this thing started. How are you guys doing tonight?”
There’s a couple sarcastic whoops from a group of guys by the bar, but other than that, the crowd is relatively quiet. There are some people inching forward, drinks in their hands as they toe at the dance floor.
“We’re The Penis Mightier and we’re really psyched to be here tonight,” Jongdae says, “Just to get things going, here’s one of our favorite covers.”
It’s a cheap trick to get the crowd excited, but as soon as Chanyeol counts them in and Jongdae belts out the first lines of No Diggity, the resulting cheers are more than worth it. Keeping the beat on the drums, Chanyeol can see bargoers come even closer, their faces catching the light. They’re smiling, nodding their heads along.
No Diggity is easy on the drums, but it’s a perfect warm up for their next song, and by the third, the crowd is pressing forward, hands reaching out for Jongdae as he leans over the edge of the stage.
The bar fills, the crowd thickens, and The Penis Mightier has never played in front of so many people before. And they like the music. They’re bouncing and dancing and when Chanyeol breaks into his drum solo, people scream their support. Chanyeol feels the adrenaline surge through him, like an injection shot straight into his spinal cord.
Chanyeol doesn’t even care that they have to mix a couple covers into their set. Jongdae has never sounded so good, smug and sweaty as he lifts up his shirt to reveal the little ridges on his stomach that he calls abs. Junmyeon goes full Flea, Minseok sweats out Lake Michigan, and even Sehun—who wrongly thinks his noodle-like impartiality is his best stage presence—gets into it.
The yells, the bright lights, the music thudding through the speakers, it all puts Chanyeol into sensory overload until all he can think and feel is every bash of the cymbals, thud of the drums. He rides it like a wave, feeling each crest break after a song only to have the current pick up speed as they start another.
When their last note of the night reverberates across the crowd, Chanyeol’s breath catches in his throat. He raises his head, breathing deeply, and then the bar breaks into applause and cheers that almost reach the same decibel of Sehun’s guitar.
Chanyeol can’t help but laugh, a drunken sound that is lost in all the noise. He can’t believe it—can’t find a way to hold on to this feeling before it slips right through his fingers. There’s already regret that it’s over, that they couldn’t squeeze one more song in.
Jongdae closes their set, his voice scratchy from singing so hard. His last line is, “So thanks again, Yellow. You’ve been amazing. Once again, we are The Penis Mightier. Goodnight!”
Everything in the half hour after that is a blissed-out haze of movement and exchanging can you fucking believe what just happened exclamations between members. Never before have they played and gotten such an electric reaction. It keeps Chanyeol charged and buzzed as they take down their setup.
Junmyeon is so elated that after their last piece of gear has been loaded into the van, he hands Chanyeol his credit card and tells him to buy the guys their first round of shots.
“You’re coming back after dropping the van off at Sehun’s, right?” Chanyeol asks him, pressing against the wall in the alley so Junmyeon can walk past him and get into the driver’s seat. Junmyeon nods. “I’m DD tonight, I’ll drive my car back. Try not to get into too much trouble while I’m gone.”
The other band is going through their soundcheck when Chanyeol gets back into the bar. As he navigates through the heavy crowd, people recognize him. They pat his back, compliment the set—a few even ask to take a picture with him. Chanyeol flushes, craving more and more and more. By the time he finds where Sehun, Minseok, and Jongdae have set up camp, his face hurts from smiling so hard. They cheer when Chanyeol thrusts Junmyeon’s credit card into the air, opening up a tab.
One shot and his second beer into the night, Chanyeol and Jongdae are hanging out by one of the air conditioning vents. Chanyeol is playing wingman as Jongdae chats up a trio of girls who all have long, dyed blonde hair. They’re probably part of a sorority, all wearing little tennis skirts and pastel tops.
Jongdae is a bit of a serial dater. He goes through boyfriends and girlfriends like a sleeve of Oreos—some of them end on good terms, most of them don’t. Chanyeol looks from face to face of the three girls, wondering who is going to be the one to punch Jongdae in the dick in about two week’s time.
One of the girls actually looks interested in Chanyeol. She’s gorgeous, so much so that Chanyeol knows it’s not a trick of the lighting or the rise of his buzz. She crowds against Chanyeol’s side, standing on her tippy toes even as Chanyeol leans down for her to clearly say her name over the music. Wendy.
“I saw your set,” she says, leaning back so Chanyeol can see her dazzling smile. “You guys were awesome! Do you have any other gigs coming up?”
“We have one at a bar called Beeker’s,” Chanyeol says. Her hand is so small, resting on the crook of his elbow as he takes a sip of his beer. “Then we have a release party for our first EP.”
Wendy is nice, bubbly. She inflates Chanyeol’s pride with every compliment, reaching up to brush her fingers against the short hairs at his temple and telling him how much she loves the ashy gray color he’s dyed it.
Chanyeol finishes his beer and offers to buy her a drink as he hits up the bar again. It’s not until he’s got a beer in each hand and is tunneling back to their corner, the second band’s music pounding through his head, when he sees—
Baekhyun. Sitting on a stool at one of the high tables, his legs not long enough to reach the ground. And he’s staring right at Chanyeol, lips curved tauntingly. Chanyeol is so struck by him—hair messily styled, eyes dark and glittery, his tight black shirt catching the yellow glow of the neon—that he almost misses the boy that Baekhyun is sitting with. Baekhyun has his hand on the boy’s shoulder, thumb stroking against the bare dip of his collarbone even as he looks at Chanyeol.
Chanyeol gulps. He tries to give a nonchalant bro-nod of his head but knows it probably came out as more of a spasm. Feet on automatic, Chanyeol pushes through people, eager to escape Baekhyun’s gaze. He accidentally runs into Wendy when he reaches their little pocket, spilling beer on her pretty mint top. In sync, all three of the girls squeal from surprise.
“What’s your problem?” Jongdae plays knight in shining armor, grabbing napkins from a nearby table to hand to Wendy as Chanyeol profusely apologizes. She smiles anyway, waving off Chanyeol’s constant string of sorry I’m so sorry.
“Baekhyun is here,” Chanyeol says, sheepishly taking the wet napkins from Wendy and handing her a beer.
“Oh, he made it out?” Jongdae tries peering above the heads of the crowd, a very difficult feat for someone of his stature.
Chanyeol pauses with the bottle raised to his lips. “What do you mean?”
“I invited him. I saw him near the practice rooms at Earl right after my Post-Tonal class. It’s funny, we’ve probably even had a few lectures together, but I’ve never—”
“It’s not funny,” Chanyeol strongly says. “Why would you invite him?”
Jongdae rolls his eyes. “He’s into you. You think he’s hot. I’m trying to help you out.”
“He’s into everyone,” Chanyeol replies, stress-chugging his beer only to see Wendy looking at him wide-eyed when he tips his head back down.
“Well he asked me about you. You should have heard the guy go on and on about how weird it was that you were so nice, how someone so bowlegged like you shouldn’t be so hot, asking me how long I’ve known you for, your dick size—”
Chanyeol violently chokes, spilling more of his beer to have it splatter on the floor against Wendy’s white shoes.
“I’m kidding, he didn’t ask about your dick.” Jongdae evilly laughs, but it soon comes to a stop as soon as the three girls wordlessly communicate something, all turning to leave at the same time. “Hey, wait!”
At least Wendy politely waves goodbye before they disappear into the crowd.
“Look at what you did,” Jongdae gripes, pouting.
“I didn’t do anything, you started it.”
There’s a touch at the small of Chanyeol’s back. He doesn’t even have to look down to know who it is.
“Hey boys,” Baekhyun says, his voice so steady and clear over all the noise.
“Chanyeol told me you were here. Glad you could make it out.” Jongdae throws a dirty look at his best friend. “I’ll leave you two alone.”
“Uh—” Chanyeol says as Baekhyun says, “Perfect.”
Jongdae wastes no time leaving, probably headed somewhere to hunt down the blonde girls again. Baekhyun looks up, Chanyeol’s stomach twisting when he sees that Baekhyun has eyeliner on, smudged around the outer corners of his eyes. He looks great. Really, he always does. It’s horrible.
“I need to go out for a smoke, come with?” Baekhyun asks. Chanyeol thinks that smoking is a very unhealthy life choice and that following Baekhyun may also be a very unhealthy life choice, but he agrees. He knows it’s ridiculous, but part of him still feels guilty for turning down Baekhyun’s offer for a drink.
Baekhyun leads him outside, the night air refreshing after being in the bar for so long. Baekhyun wanders away from the other smokers who have congregated beneath a streetlight. He finds an empty stretch of wall and leans against it, half obscured in shadow. Chanyeol watches Baekhyun’s hands as he pulls a cigarette from the packaging in his jeans’ pocket, placing it between his lips as he nimbly clicks his lighter, cupping the flame as he lights up. When Baekhyun’s keen eyes look up, Chanyeol hurries to drink his beer to wet his throat, says, “That’s a bad habit.”
Baekhyun puffs smoke out through his nose, more for theatrics than anything. “Listen Puppy, you keep illegally drinking your beer on the street and we won’t dive into which one of us is worse.”
“Shit.” Chanyeol’s heart jolts in panic as he looks both ways down the street, like the police are going to jump him at any second. “I didn’t even think—didn’t realize that I took it out with—” Chanyeol spots a trash can and all but chucks his bottle into its opening, belatedly remembering he’d spent five bucks on that thing and he didn’t get to finish it.
Baekhyun laughs, his cigarette between his middle and pointer finger. “Relax. I swear, you’re more wholesome than white bread.”
“I am not.”
“Mmm,” Baekhyun hums, taking a drag as he thinks. “Maybe not. You get a look in your eye when you’re pounding on the drums that makes me think there’s more to you than Chanyeol Park, Rilakkuma lover and polite neighbor.”
“So you saw the set?” Chanyeol asks, putting his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t want to seem too interested in Baekhyun’s opinion, but he finds himself almost holding his breath until Baekhyun says, “Yeah, it was okay.”
“Okay? Just okay?”
Baekhyun nods, the deep shadows across his face shifting with the movement. “Don’t want to pump your ego too much.”
“Yeah, I’m the one with the ego problem,” Chanyeol grumbles, kicking at a crack in the sidewalk. Baekhyun suddenly straightens, making a show of walking to the cigarette pole to dispose his cigarette. Chanyeol wonders why he threw it away when he still had about half of it left, but it quickly becomes clear that Baekhyun wanted his hands free as he approaches Chanyeol again. There’s a glint in Baekhyun’s eyes, corners of his mouth curved up, and Chanyeol doesn’t realize he’s taking steps back, being herded, until his back is against the wall.
“Look, Chanyeol, you want the truth?” Baekhyun lowly asks, crowding so close that Chanyeol can see clumps of mascara in Baekhyun’s eyelashes.
Chanyeol doesn’t want the truth, he doesn’t. No truth for him.
“Sure.” Damn it. All of his muscles tense as Baekhyun’s eyes trace down his face, his chest, his hips. Baekhyun smooths his pretty hands around the curve of Chanyeol’s waist, testing, Chanyeol’s mind unable to think anything but oh, oh, oh at how nice it feels, how there’s something perversely hot about the way Baekhyun’s kohl rimmed eyes look at him with unguarded want.
“I was so preoccupied with how fucking good you looked sweating behind your drum set that I could barely hear the music.”
Chanyeol wants to say something along the lines of that’s not very constructive feedback but his spine fizzles with heat and all he can manage is a throaty, “Hungh,” Then one of Baekhyun’s hands is coming up, a cool touch as it smoothes over the back of Chanyeol’s flushed neck, and he's being pulled down so Baekhyun can kiss him.
Baekhyun is greedy, fingers digging in at Chanyeol’s waist. The press of his lips against Chanyeol’s is harsh, so demanding that Chanyeol’s breath is stolen as Baekhyun tugs his bottom lip between his sharp teeth, presses his tongue into Chanyeol’s mouth without much preamble. He tastes like ash and vodka.
Chanyeol’s stomach plummets in a way that’s more terrified than pleasant. Because it feels good. Baekhyun is so raw and eager and the way he presses himself against Chanyeol’s body is full of intent. It has all of the rush and aggression of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4—the fourth movement that made Chanyeol feel like he was being hurried, pushed along the edge of a cliff when he listened to it.
Chanyeol is so easily pulled in by Baekhyun’s force, licking back against him and feeling a jerk of arousal in his abdomen at the grunt Baekhyun makes. He does it again, finally starting to catch up, drawn into the addiction that is Baekhyun’s mouth, hips, hands.
But then Baekhyun slightly pulls away, Chanyeol too dazed to do anything but stare at his slick, red lips as Baekhyun breathily says, “You disappeared for a little while after your set, is there—” he tilts his chin up to suck on Chanyeol’s lip, “—is there a backstage area?”
“I—” Chanyeol momentarily loses his train of thought as Baekhyun’s hand trails down from his neck, over his chest, his stomach. “—yeah, there is, we had a, um, dressing roo—”
Baekhyun’s hand suddenly drifts between them, pressing, finding, palming Chanyeol through his jeans.
“Take me there?” Baekhyun asks, looking at Chanyeol through his eyelashes. Chanyeol chokes on his next breath as Baekhyun strokes against him. And Chanyeol wants. Wanting Baekhyun is so easy, it curls and licks up inside of him like a flame. “Well, Puppy?”
At puppy, Chanyeol is able to take his first full breath since Baekhyun pulled him under. The nickname makes him break the surface, taunting, like Chanyeol isn’t Chanyeol and he’s just another thing for Baekhyun to play with. It makes Chanyeol think of the way Baekhyun had flirted with Jongdae. How he’d tried to get Chanyeol to go out for a drink but brought the moaner home with him that night. That boy fifteen minutes ago who’d been looking at Baekhyun with hooded eyes, leaning into his touch.
Chanyeol’s hand is still shaky from the rush as he lifts it, uses it to gently push against Baekhyun’s shoulder until the shorter boy has to take a step back. Baekhyun blinks at him in confusion, his hands falling away from Chanyeol.
“I’m sorry.” Chanyeol clears his throat. “I can’t—sorry.”
He can’t look at Baekhyun, instead focusing on straightening, breathing deep in an attempt to clear his head.
“What’s the matter?” Baekhyun asks, “The way you played on stage made me think you wouldn’t have any kind of public performance anxiety. Would you rather take me home?”
He’s still so teasing, voice slick like it had been the first moment they met. When Baekhyun steps forward, reaching out, Chanyeol edges away from him. It would be too easy to let Baekhyun touch him again, forget any unease and sink back against his warmth.
“I don’t—I’m sorry,” is all Chanyeol can summon up to say, shaking his head. “Sorry.”
“Sorry about what?”
“I’m going to head back inside,” Chanyeol says, still avoiding Baekhyun’s eyes. His knees wobble as he takes his first few steps away, like the heat of Baekhyun’s mouth had effectively melted all of his joints. “My friends—I should go.”
Baekhyun’s hand shoots out and grabs Chanyeol’s elbow, letting go when he’s stopped. “Hold on. What’s your problem?”
“I’m a little confused. A minute ago you were lapping into my mouth like a tactless labrador.”
“Stop fucking apologizing and tell me what’s going on.” Baekhyun chuckles, but when Chanyeol finally manages to look up, the violinist is frowning. Some of his hair has been ruffled out of its styled mold, falling over Baekhyun’s forehead.
Chanyeol chews on his lip. “I’m not—I don’t want to hook up in the dressing room.”
“God you’re like the opposite of punk rock,” Baekhyun taunts. He reaches out for Chanyeol, tugging at his arm to try and bring him close. “You don’t want me to blow you, fine. But come back and let me kiss you again.”
Chanyeol’s stomach swoops at the thought of Baekhyun kissing him for the second time, but it’s not enough to to stop him from extricating himself from Baekhyun’s hold.
“I’m going back inside.” Chanyeol takes a few steps back, unable to not tack on a, “Sorry.”
Chanyeol practically jogs back into the bar, barely managing to flash the bouncer his wristband before pushing past him. It feels like if he spent ten more seconds out there with Baekhyun, he’d gladly let himself be pushed back against the wall.
He finds Junmyeon and Boa at the side of the stage, Boa tactically leaning close to him to whisper something in his ear, her chest pressed against his arm. Junmyeon giggles, covering his mouth with his hand like a little schoolboy. When he sees Chanyeol approaching, the smile slides off his face. Chanyeol thinks it’s because he interrupted them, but when Junmyeon has tugged him to their dressing room, away from all of the noise, he asks, “Chanyeol, you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You look a little shaken—”
“I’m good, I’m just—tired. I think I’m coming down from the high. Maybe dehydrated.”
And because Junmyeon is Junmyeon, he pushes Chanyeol to sit down on the couch and orders him to stay put. As he waits, Chanyeol looks around the dressing room, listening to the thud and boom of the music coming muffled through the brick walls.
Baekhyun wanted to come back here with him. Baekhyun probably would have pushed him to the couch, kneeled between Chanyeol’s knees.
Chanyeol gulps, tries his best not to think of Baekhyun’s wet lips and dark eyes. It doesn’t seem to work, because when Junmyeon reappears with a bottle of water from the bar, he says, “You really don’t look good. Maybe I should take you home, come back for the other guys later.”
But even home isn’t a place that is safe from Baekhyun.
Chanyeol hears Baekhyun entering his apartment at two in the morning. Not like Chanyeol hasn’t been able to sleep and has been waiting, ears straining, listening for his neighbor. He sure hasn’t been wondering if Baekhyun had a safe way to get home after drinking at Yellow, and he’s definitely not relieved that all he can hear is one pair of footsteps—one person clunking around before there’s nothing but silence.
On Sunday, Chanyeol is the last person to arrive at Sehun’s garage. He throws his bags on one of the lawn chairs by the mini fridge, about to apologize for being late when he looks up and sees his bandmates huddled around something. Chanyeol pulls his drumsticks out of his backpack, fingers subconsciously twirling them around as he peers through the gaps of their heads to see what they’re looking at.
“You guys,” Chanyeol groans, “Why? Why?”
Sehun is holding Jongdae’s phone, Facebook mobile pulled up on the screen. Baekhyun’s smiling selfie stares up at him.
“I friended him yesterday, the guys were curious,” Jongdae lightly says, like it’s no big deal. Chanyeol should have never told the guys what happened against the brick wall of Yellow. “It’s your own fault for coming late today, of course we’d talk about you while we waited.”
Chanyeol tries to take the phone away from Sehun, but Minseok blocks him, wrapping his arms around Chanyeol’s arms and waist and tugging him away.
“He’s really cute,” Minseok says. “The way you talked about him, I expected horns or something. Maybe scales.”
“Horns, no. But don’t let that face deceive you. I’m pretty sure he’s learned to cover up his scales with makeup,” Chanyeol says, trying to free himself only to have Minseok grip him tighter. Stupid tiny Minseok with his stupidly strong body.
“So why didn’t you let this guy do you?” Sehun says, flipping through more pictures as Junmyeon and Jongdae watch over his shoulder. “It’s been forever since you and Yixing broke up and you haven’t been with anyone since. You need to get back out there—get back out there with this hot guy, who for some godforsaken reason actually wanted to put your dick in his mouth.”
Jongdae snatches his phone from Sehun. “Shut up, dough face.”
“What? You were saying the exact thing two minutes ago!” Sehun flinches as Jongdae raises his fist threateningly.
“Thanks, Jongdae,” Chanyeol lifelessly says. It’s been almost six months since he’s last talked to Yixing, but the mention of his name still settles unpleasantly in his chest. He hates how Minseok squeezes him a little tighter in something resembling a hug, how Junmyeon’s eyes turn a tad too pitying for his liking.
It’s not like Yixing ruined him. Sure, he may have crushed Chanyeol’s heart in the sweetest way possible because Yixing is the sweetest person on Planet Earth, but Chanyeol has moved on. He has. Just not with someone else.
“I didn’t mention Yixing,” Jongdae hurries to say, “All I said was that Baekhyun seems really interesting, and that maybe you could use a little…interesting fun. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you get all flustered over someone else.”
That may be true, but Chanyeol doesn’t operate like Jongdae. Not like there’s something wrong with Jongdae’s preferred style of production-line dating, but it takes a while for Chanyeol to get comfortable with someone. As much as Baekhyun’s attention thrills him, it also gives him the sensation of being used—his neighbor barely knows him and has made it clear his only interest is getting into Chanyeol’s pants. And that’s fine. That works for some people, but Chanyeol doesn’t like how it feels.
“Well whatever you think,” Chanyeol says, feeling Minseok’s arms loosen before he steps out of his hold, “it’s too late. Baekhyun’s been ignoring me in the hall. I think I insulted him.”
They’d actually ran into each other in the parking lot this morning. Chanyeol had tentatively waved, but Baekhyun shot him a look so icy cold that it froze him in his spot. He hates that his instinct is to feel guilty for upsetting someone else, even if he had every right to say no.
“That’s fine,” Junmyeon says, walking to where his bass is propped on a stand. “Maybe now he’ll leave you alone. If that’s what you want, that’s a good thing. Right?”
Minseok pats Chanyeol’s back before picking up his own guitar. “Right. If he keeps on bothering you, let me know. I’ll take care of it.”
Chanyeol cringes. “It’s not like he’s a bad guy.” Why is it so hard for him to explain?
“We know,” Jongdae says, tucking his phone into his back pocket. “Now shut up and get behind the drumset. We have work to do.”
It’s a dreary Monday when The Penis Mightier carts their gear into the recording studio. The air is heavy with an impending storm, wind threatening to blow their little bassist right off his feet as he walks from the van to the front door. They all gather in the lobby inside, hair and clothes a mess but grinning like idiots.
The first recording session is rocky, everyone unsteady with nerves at the sight of all the nice equipment, the bored efficiency of the two audio techs who work the soundboard. Chanyeol watches the techs like he’s starved—eating up every move the professionals make as they tweak the soundboard, help Sehun set up his guitar, talk to Jongdae about the composition of their first song.
The process is a little tedious, recording one musician at a time with multiple takes of each verse. On top of that, they have very limited time to record all of their songs this week, so the pressure to do well and wrap up their individual parts is stressful, to say the least.
The Penis Mightier leaves the studio with a feeling of accomplishment; of being an actual band that used an actual recording studio so they could release an actual polished demo. It doesn’t matter that it’s pouring rain outside, or that it’s past eleven o’clock at night and none of them could calm themselves enough to do their homework while they rotated through their turns.
When Chanyeol gets home, he’s soaked, shivering. He takes a long shower, waiting until the water runs tepid before he turns it off and dries himself. The storm outside rages on, rain charging against the roof, wind making the walls creak, thunder rumbling through the windows. There’s a particularly sharp crack of lightning and the resounding boom that follows it has Chanyeol jumping in surprise, his towel flopping to the floor.
He chuckles to himself, still riding the excitement of their first session. It doesn’t matter that has to be up to get ready for class in six hours, he can’t seem to make himself calm down. Just as he’s pulling on his shirt, there’s another flash of lightning, and a roar of thunder that Chanyeol can actually feel through the floor.
The power snaps off.
Chanyeol blinks against the darkness. He chuckles lowly to himself. Somehow the storm makes him feel better, like nature is lining up with all of his charged energy and hashing it all out.
He casts the light from his cell in front of himself, using it to locate his flashlight. Not having power isn’t all that bad, especially when he’s about to turn in for the night.
Just as Chanyeol has crawled into bed and pulled the covers over himself, lulled into a trance by the sound of rain against the building, he hears another rumble of thunder. Only…it’s not thunder. It’s coming from his door. He sits up. Someone is knocking on his door.
Warily thinking of his scary bigfoot landlord, Chanyeol gets out of bed and walks to his door, unlocking it. He only opens it a sliver, looking up only to see dead space. Lowering his eyes, he sees a smudge of a shadow, and when he opens the door the rest of the way, his eyes better adjust and he can see that the smudge of a shadow is Baekhyun.
“Hi?” Chanyeol says. Baekhyun has a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, his features hard to read in the dark.
“Hi there, neighbor.” Baekhyun’s voice sounds tight. “I was taking a walk around the area and thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing.”
“It’s almost midnight,” Chanyeol says.
“Ah, so it is. Right. But how are you doing?”
“Baekhyun, what are you—”
Then there’s another powerful flash of lightning, illuminating Baekhyun’s face, and all Chanyeol can see are his wide, terrified eyes. The violinist actually jumps at the following crack of thunder—he squeaks.
“You’re scared?” Chanyeol incredulously asks.
“No,” Baekhyun snaps, pulling his blanket tighter around his shoulders. He rambles, “I thought you would be scared because it’s dark and the whole building feels like it’s going to crumble with all the wind and thunder and you’re a puppy and it made me feel bad to think of you sitting in here alone.”
“Huh. So you’re not scared.”
“Didn’t I just say that?”
“I’m not either,” Chanyeol says. He steps back, beginning to shut the door to try a little experiment. “So thanks, but you don’t have to worry. You can go back to your place.”
Baekhyun pulls his arm out of his blanket impossibly quick, palm whacking against the wood to stop the door. He hunches, unable to look up at Chanyeol. “Well played.” He sighs. “I’m only going to say this once, okay? I hate storms. They freak me out, always have. I hate the dark. I hate having to sit through storms alone in the dark when this shitty building is shaking.”
There’s silence, and Chanyeol’s heart actually squeezes a bit as light flashes through the room and he can see Baekhyun grit his teeth and wait for the thunder.
“You want to come in for a bit?” Chanyeol lowly asks after the noise has passed, Baekhyun’s shoulders slowly easing back down from his ears.
“Only because you asked so nicely.” Baekhyun slips right past him, into his apartment. It’s a hard concept to handle—Baekhyun, in his apartment—as he watches him inspecting all of Chanyeol’s things with the light from his own cell phone. He easily makes himself at home on Chanyeol’s futon, patting the empty space beside himself. “Come here, Puppy.”
Chanyeol hopes that Baekhyun can feel his glare through the dark, but he relents, sitting beside Baekhyun with his back straight, hands in his lap.
“You got in late tonight,” Baekhyun says, “Out with your boys?”
“Yeah. Today was our first day of recording our demo.”
“Your band actually rented studio time?”
“Eighteen hours of it. Took us forever to save up.”
Baekhyun makes a hum of approval, barely heard over the onslaught of rain. “I’m sure the money you spent on it will feel like peasant change when you guys make millions with this demo.”
Chanyeol’s neck is pricked at the sarcasm. He knows they aren’t going to make any profit off of this demo—knows that when they all graduate, year by year, The Penis Mightier probably isn’t going to stick together. “That’s not the point.”
“Yeah right. You’re in a punk rock band. You can’t tell me you don’t have any illusions of fame and fortune.”
“We play alternative—are you trying to be an asshole?” It slips out before Chanyeol can stop it. But before he can apologize, Baekhyun laughs like he’s entertained.
“I can’t help it. I like it when you get riled up.”
Push the button, watch the toy do tricks.
At Chanyeol’s silence, Baekhyun nudges him with his elbow. “Come on, don’t be a pouty puppy.” The nudging gets more insistent, Chanyeol can hear Baekhyun shuffling on the futon, feel the warm skin of Baekhyun’s arm brush against his. “Chanyeol.” His voice has lowered, fingertips brush against Chanyeol’s thigh. Goosebumps break over Chanyeol’s skin. “I was kidding, are you really upset?”
“Want me to make it up to you?” Something about his voice feels so intimate, especially since Chanyeol can’t see his face very well. It’s warm, a low flame on burning firewood. Baekhyun’s hand curls high, over the upper curve of Chanyeol’s thigh. Squeezes.
At that, Chanyeol jerks away and stands, taking a big step back. “Shit. Why is everything some come-on with you?”
This time, it’s Baekhyun’s stunned silence that fills the room. It’s easier for Chanyeol to talk in the dark, where he can barely see the shine from Baekhyun’s eyes. Chanyeol feels like he’s in some sort of halfway world, and it gives him the courage to say, “All you’ve ever done since I’ve met you is hit on me, play with me. Even tonight when you’re—you can’t let up for five minutes.”
“What? Are you insulted that I like you or something?” Baekhyun asks.
“You don’t like me. You don’t even know me.” Chanyeol can already feel his bravery fading away.
“I’m trying to get to know you,” Baekhyun says, words clipped.
“You’re trying to hook up with me. There’s a difference.” Chanyeol nervously twists his fingers. He wants to retreat to his bed; hide beneath the covers and pretend like this isn’t happening. He’s thankful for the cover of darkness—Baekhyun can’t see the way his whole face is probably bright red in an embarrassed flush.
“Jesus I’m practically throwing myself at you. Do you need me to make you feel like a special snowflake or something? Like you’re one in a million?” Baekhyun snaps.
It’s a jab to Chanyeol’s ribs, giving him enough fire to say, “No. Because I don’t want you. Everything that you’ve ever said to me is some calculation. It never feels real—another way to play with me. I hate that.”
A flash of lightning fills the room, giving Chanyeol enough time to see Baekhyun sitting with his knees up to his chest, curled tight beneath his blanket. For the first time since they’ve met, he seems small. Terribly small. His eyes go wildly wide before the light is gone, then the thunder cracks like a whip against the building. Chanyeol can barely hear the small oh god Baekhyun whimpers.
Just like that, all of the fight drains out of Chanyeol. The quiet of his studio feels so empty after the thunder has passed. He takes a deep breath, shuffling over to Baekhyun.
“Give me your hand,” Chanyeol says.
“Give me, your hand.”
Chanyeol can see enough of Baekhyun’s pale skin to grab his hand as it raises. Chanyeol pulls him to his feet. He starts leading Baekhyun away from the futon only to feel Baekhyun slightly tug against him, toward the door. He probably thinks Chanyeol is kicking him out.
A gentle tug back makes Baekhyun right himself, his fingers uncertainly sliding across the back of Chanyeol’s hand. Chanyeol leads him to his bed, letting Baekhyun’s knees knock against the mattress before he lets go.
“Get on,” Chanyeol tiredly says. “You can sleep here tonight.”
“I don’t need your pity—”
“Please, Baekhyun. I’m done with that, okay? Just lay down.”
Baekhyun moves slowly, Chanyeol feels his stare on the side of his face. The violinist climbs into Chanyeol’s bed, settling into the blankets until all Chanyeol can see is the dark outline of his shoulders and head against his sheets.
Chanyeol grabs his headphones off the side table, lays them on Baekhyun’s chest. “Put these on, it’ll help block some of the noise. I’ll sleep on the futon.” He goes to take a step back, but he feels Baekhyun’s hand whack against his hip in a blind grab before Baekhyun’s fingers tangle in his shirt.
Baekhyun whispers, “Could you, maybe…” Chanyeol waits, but he can’t seem to finish his sentence. Rubbing his eyes, defeated, Chanyeol sits on the edge of his twin bed. Baekhyun doesn’t let go of his shirt, absentmindedly fiddling with the hem of it.
It’s strange to think that the chorus of rain falling against the roof is calming to Chanyeol, but scary to Baekhyun. Chanyeol listens to it, feeling Baekhyun’s fingers eventually still after a while of silence. He figures Baekhyun has put on the headphones and somehow fallen asleep, until Baekhyun murmurs. “You’re so fucking nice.”
Chanyeol twists to peer over his shoulder. “What?”
“Why are you so nice? I don’t get it. I don’t understand—” Baekhyun pauses, squirming beneath the blankets, tugging at the back of Chanyeol’s shirt. He sounds muffled, like he’s pressed his face against the pillow as he continues, “From the moment we met—you looked at me, and at Yellow…I thought—” He gives a long sigh. “Never mind. I’m sorry, okay?”
“Baekhyun, I don’t—”
“Can we please not talk anymore?” Baekhyun says. “I am dying of embarrassment right now but I’m too fucking scared to leave. This is an impressively low moment.”
Chanyeol nods even though Baekhyun can’t see him. Finally, something real. “That’s fine. Put the headphones on.” More rustling, Baekhyun still not letting go of Chanyeol’s shirt, and then silence.
Sleepiness starts settling in around the time the storm begins to calm. The lightning has died down, thunder drumming further and further out in the distance.
Another Fun Fact: Baekhyun snores when he sleeps. But even that doesn’t keep Chanyeol from carefully laying on his side, balancing on the edge of the mattress to not disturb him, and falling asleep.
Baekhyun is gone when Chanyeol wakes the next morning, his phone’s alarm going off from where it’s still sitting on the futon. Last night would have all felt like a weird dream had Baekhyun not accidentally left his blanket behind, tangled in Chanyeol’s sheets. He pulls it out, choking on a laugh as he takes in the pattern of Kiiroitoris against worn, dirty blue fabric. It wasn’t visible last night—but no wonder Baekhyun liked Chanyeol’s boxers.
Later that day after Chanyeol’s classes have ended and he’s sitting in the studio, Jongdae comes to join him on the leather couch behind the soundboard. Junmyeon is recording his bass solo for their third song, standing in the glass booth with the big clunky headphones sitting lopsided on his head.
Their session is going better today, now that they’re starting to get the hang of it. It certainly helped that Manager Junmyeon brought in coffee and muffins for the techs. The two of them have a lot more patience, and after Chanyeol finished his part for the third track, one of them actually looked up from his computer to compliment him.
“So I happened to run into Baekhyun between classes today,” Jongdae says, feinting nonchalance.
“Oh. Cool.” Chanyeol pretends to be more focused on Junmyeon practicing through his segment, the deep noise coming through the speakers crystal clear. It’s much different than recording in Jongdae’s closet.
“That’s it? That’s what you want to say about it?”
Chanyeol slowly looks at Jongdae, squinting. Today has been a constant battle of fighting against the encroaching thoughts of last night—Baekhyun looking petrified in his doorway, Baekhyun’s hand on his thigh, sharp words and then a soft grip on the back of his shirt. And Chanyeol actually said something; what he felt, when he felt it. Yeah, it helped that Baekhyun looked like a blob of darkness, but it doesn’t cancel out the fact that Chanyeol had finally spoken up for himself.
“So you saw Baekhyun. Why would I—”
“Fine, I won’t even try and segue into it to tiptoe around your delicate Chanyeol feelings.” Jongdae huffs. “He slept. In your bed. Last night.”
“He told you?” Chanyeol’s voice cracks, both of the techs glancing his way before getting back to work.
“Of fucking course he told me. The guy shows up at your doorstep, makes a move on you, and you end up wrapping him in blankets and sitting with him until he falls asleep. What is it with you and picking up strays?”
Chanyeol frowns. “It’s a little different. The cat that I rescued over the summer did not try and sleep with me.”
“Gross, Chanyeol,” Sehun says from where he’s sprawled across Minseok’s lap, the two of them sitting on the floor. What’s actually gross is how his shirt is rucked up, and everyone in the studio has to watch as Minseok traces his fingers across Sehun’s pasty pale stomach.
“Yeah, but it gave you a terrible allergic reaction and you almost died trying to live with it until your classmate found it a home.”
“What are you saying, Jongdae?” Chanyeol says, voice quieting as one of the techs signals to Junmyeon that he’s recording.
Jongdae looks at Chanyeol, long and hard. “I like Baekhyun. I think he’s funny, and cool. But I need to know how you feel about him, so I can either tell him to stay the hell away, or give him advice on how to make it up to you.”
Chanyeol is acutely aware of his bandmates staring at him, Junmyeon’s bass reverberating through the studio. It should be an easy thing to discern, whether Chanyeol likes Baekhyun or not. But there’s something beneath all of the annoyance and attraction that pulls Chanyeol to him. That small moment where Baekhyun apologized last night still has its grip on Chanyeol—maybe he really does have a problem with taking in strays. Like it’s not about Baekhyun, but about Chanyeol’s need to be nice, take care of people around him.
“I don’t know,” Chanyeol honestly says. “He’s…confusing.”
Later that night, when Chanyeol has gotten home and changed into his pajamas, there’s a light knock on his door. He opens it to see Baekhyun, chewing his lip. The violinist instantly straightens, resolutely tilting his chin up. “Hey.”
“I left my blanket here last night.”
“Right.” Chanyeol retrieves it from the counter, folded neatly. When he turns back around, Baekhyun is still hovering outside his doorway. His arms are behind his back, fidgeting.
It’s so awkward. It’s ridiculously awkward. Chanyeol wonders if he’s walking weirdly or holding the blanket strangely, because at the sight of Baekhyun his body goes into a confusion of overthinking and he can’t remember how he usually operates. When he hands the blanket over, Baekhyun reaches out. There’s a plastic bag in one of his hands.
“Trade you,” Baekhyun says, searching Chanyeol’s face.
“What is it?” Chanyeol asks, unlooping the bag from Baekhyun’s fingers and giving over the blanket.
“Donut holes from that bakery down the street.” Baekhyun hugs his blanket to his chest. “Jongdae said you like them. That maybe if I bought you one-hundred dozen, that could begin to, you know. For. Last night.”
Chanyeol gulps, feeling his ears get hot. “This doesn’t feel like one-hundred dozen.”
“It’s going to be a slow process.”
When Chanyeol risks a look at Baekhyun’s face, he can see him chewing on his lip again.
“Listen, Puppy,” Baekhyun suddenly says. Chanyeol braces himself. “I shouldn’t have done that, on your futon. You let me in your apartment, and I—I know I can possibly maybe take things a little too far. Sometimes.”
“Sometimes,” Chanyeol echoes.
Seemingly gaining a little bit of traction, Baekhyun leans against the doorframe. “You don’t want me. I get it. I’ll stop.” Chanyeol innerly cringes, remembering the way he’d roughly said that last night. “But I’d like it if we could still be okay with each other. I mean, we’re neighbors after all.”
Chanyeol peeks into the bag, the smell of sugar wafting from it. The donut holes from Stella’s Bakery really are his favorite. He treats himself to them after every big test.
“I don’t know. We’ll see how I feel around the fifth dozen you give me.” When Chanyeol looks up, he sees Baekhyun’s eyes flicker with uncertainty. He can’t help but smile, Baekhyun’s shoulders slightly relaxing. “Really, I’d like that. We’re cool.”
Baekhyun shakes his head. “So fucking nice.”
“I am,” Chanyeol agrees. “Like right now, I could totally make fun of you and your Kiiroitori blankie, but I’m not going to.”
Baekhyun’s eyes narrow as he possessively smooths his hands over the fabric. “Watch yourself, Puppy. I’m trying to play nice with you today.”
“Thanks,” Chanyeol says. “Do you…do you want to come in and share some donuts with me?”
“No thanks. This whole apology thing is humiliating enough.” Baekhyun steps back, giving Chanyeol a wink. “I need to go catch up on some beauty rest. Night.”
“Goodnight,” Chanyeol says, shutting the door once Baekhyun goes back inside his studio. He shoves two donut holes in his mouth—frosted pumpkin, his favorite of all favorites—and hears the low whine of Baekhyun’s violin through the wall. But just as he pauses, wonders if Baekhyun is really going to go back to playing at night, the sound stops.
Chanyeol pictures Baekhyun smiling to himself, putting his violin away. Anything to get the last word of the night.
On Wednesday, their third and final day in the studio, they don’t finish their eighth song. All of their six original tracks have been recorded—ready to be mixed—but the two covers that The Penis Mightier collectively decided to do are not finished. Luckily for them, the techs have warmed up to their band, offering to come in for an early session on Thursday morning for only $100 dollars more.
Chanyeol, Jongdae, and Sehun end up having to skip a class to make it, but none of them mind when they’ve wrapped up the last piece. Chanyeol almost feels like crying as they pack up their things for the last time. A good kind of cry, because he’s so excited, proud, and scared—itching to share the demo with everyone he knows.
In Jongdae’s haste to catch the next bus and get to his second class of the day, he accidentally leaves one of his bags in the studio. Chanyeol spots it before he clears out, grabbing it before saying goodbye to the techs. One of them hands over his business card, “Shoot me an email with your schedule, kid, and maybe we can work something out.”
Chanyeol grins so hard his cheek spasms. When he’d been talking with the techs about his major, he’d mentioned needing an internship as part of his cornerstone senior project. The techs said they may be able to hook him up with one of their friends at another studio—he hadn’t been expecting them to offer him a spot here.
When Chanyeol packs up the van, his arms are sore from going at the drums so hard these past few days, and his brain is frazzled from all of the excitement mixed with so little sleep, but his heart feels so fucking light with happiness, like it could rise right out of his throat if he opened his mouth too wide.
Chanyeol’s car is waiting for him at Sehun’s house. He’s the only member of The Penis Mightier who doesn’t have class for the rest of the day, and his work schedule is clear for the week because he wanted to have time off for recording the demo. So it’s up to him to park the van and unload their gear back into the garage.
Mrs. Oh pops out of the front door, graciously helping Chanyeol move everything with that Magical Mom Strength all mothers seem to have. When they’re finished, she talks Chanyeol into staying long enough to finish a cold glass of milk, patting his head and telling him that handsome boys need it to grow. Usual Mrs. Oh stuff.
Jongdae replies to Chanyeol’s text about his bag, telling him to bring it to the Earl V. Moore Building. It’s the headquarters for music, theater, and dance majors, and Chanyeol has spent many days over the past few years hanging around there while waiting for Jongdae to finish his classes.
When he makes it to Earl’s café, he sees Jongdae sitting at one of the tables, messing with his phone. Chanyeol takes a seat across from him, handing over Jongdae’s heavy bag.
“You should buy me a coffee for bringing this to you,” Chanyeol says, to which Jongdae snorts. “I’m practically your savior, I know all of your homework and textbooks for your next class are in there.”
Jongdae remains quiet, his lips slightly curved up. Chanyeol raises an eyebrow. “What?”
Then an arm is reaching in front of him, placing a cardboard cup of house brew on the table.
“Hey there, Puppy.” Baekhyun hands the second cup in his hand to Jongdae, who is grinning at the dumb look on Chanyeol’s face. “Great timing. Jongdae said you were coming so I figured I’d get you something as part of the one-hundred dozen donut hole thing.”
Chanyeol points at Baekhyun as he takes a seat. “Why are—you here?”
“We’ve been hanging out between classes.” Baekhyun looks at Jongdae. “You didn’t tell him?”
“Not explicitly,” Jongdae drawls. Chanyeol knew they’d been seeing each other every now and then, but didn’t know it had…developed like this. Baekhyun pushes the cup of coffee on the table toward Chanyeol.
“This—this is for me?”
“Isn’t that what I said? Do you not want it?” Baekhyun thoughtfully looks at the coffee. “That’s what you ordered the last time we saw each other at the library.”
“No it’s perfect. I mean, did you not get something for yourself?”
Baekhyun holds out one of his pretty hands. “No. I’ve scheduled time in one of the practice rooms. Too much coffee makes my hands unsteady.”
“You should go listen to him play,” Jongdae says to Chanyeol, blowing on his own steaming cup. “You’ve constantly been listening to all of that Tchaikovsky on your iPod—”
“I don’t—not.” Chanyeol presses his lips together.
“Really? You don’t not?” Jongdae asks.
“So cute,” Baekhyun murmurs. There go Chanyeol’s ears again, doing that fizzling hot thing.
“I was curious, that’s all.” Chanyeol tries his best to fight against the current of embarrassment. “You said he was your favorite. I’m actually—it’s pretty great.”
“If you’re really that curious, go listen to Baek play,” Jongdae says. Baek. That sounds way too much like a budding friendship. “I have to head to my next class soon, and I know for a fact you don’t have anything else you have to do today.”
“I think the last thing Puppy wants right now is to be shoved in a tiny practice room with me,” Baekhyun says. “Not like I would mind having someone keep me company for a little bit,” he adds, his pink lips going pouty as he rests his chin on his hand. His hair, as usual, is a mess, possibly as an ode to Beethoven or maybe because he’s too lazy to brush it during school. Too late, Chanyeol realizes that he’s staring. “I’ve been cooped up in there for hours by myself, practicing for the concerto competition for a solo. Talking with you guys has been my first actual human interaction today.”
Chanyeol’s speaking before he’s put much thought into it. “I wouldn’t mind, actually.”
Baekhyun’s eyes widen in surprise, but then he breaks into a grin that makes Chanyeol feel as if he’s been walloped in the chest.
“Thanks, Puppy. I’ll make it worth your while,” he purrs. Chanyeol’s eye twitches, but Baekhyun seems to catch himself. “I mean, if you’ve been studying up on your classical music, you’re really going to enjoy listening to me play. Not to brag, but I’m a musical genius.”
“Yeah.” Jongdae rolls his eyes. “But not to brag or anything.”
“If I was bragging, I’d say something about how I’m the concertmaster of the orchestra this year.” The way Baekhyun looks at Chanyeol is full of expectation, waiting for some reaction.
Chanyeol blinks. Jongdae explains, “Basically it’s a big fucking deal and kind of prestigious but thank god Baekhyun doesn’t let shit like that go to his head.”
The last part is very, very sarcastic, but Baekhyun doesn’t seem to mind.
“We’ll go when you finish your drink,” Baekhyun tells Chanyeol, practically wiggling in his chair with excitement. “I’m going to blow your mind.” Again, he catches himself. “With my piece. My violin piece. I’m only going to be touching my violin, I swear.”
“Okay then. This is where I leave you two,” Jongdae says. He gathers his things, Chanyeol poking at the rim of his cup with his thumbnail.
Once Jongdae has disappeared into the crowd, Baekhyun says, “It’s okay if you really don’t want to come hear me play. You don’t have to be nice to me because Jongdae guilted you into it.”
“He didn’t guilt me into it.”
“Well, he wasn’t exactly being discreet.”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol says, taking a sip of his coffee. “That’s a skill neither of you seem to have.”
“I’m working on it,” Baekhyun mutters. Then suddenly, “You’ve really been listening to Tchaikovsky?”
Chanyeol nods. “Yeah. I’ve stocked up on a couple hours of his music.”
“What do you think?”
“I mean, I’m no concertmaster, but I’ve really been enjoying it.”
“Ha.” Baekhyun’s whole body is shaking from the way he’s wiggling his leg beneath the table. He stares at Chanyeol’s full coffee cup with all the patience of a four year old.
“What?” Chanyeol asks, slowly swishing the coffee around. “Do you want me to hurry up, or something?”
“No. I really enjoy watching you nurse your coffee like an eighty year-old at a breakfast buffet.”
Chanyeol raises the cup to his lips, hesitates, then puts it back down.
“You are terrible,” Baekhyun says, but there’s no bite to his words.
When Chanyeol has finished the last of his drink—“Fucking finally”—he follows Baekhyun to the practice halls. Most of the doors are shut, only some noise managing to bleed through as they pass students playing piano, saxophone, flute. Carrying his violin case, Baekhyun pauses in front of a door, entering his student ID into the keypad to make it unlock.
The room is cramped. There’s enough space for Chanyeol to sit comfortably on a folded chair in the corner, but with Baekhyun remaining on his feet, the angle to look up at him is strange.
“Okay,” Baekhyun says. His movements are fluid as he opens his violin case and begins to prepare his bow—it’s obvious he’s done this a million times before. “Quick rundown, Puppy. I know this is a small room, and that once I start playing violin I’m irresistible, but you have to do your best to restrain yourself from trying to jump me.”
Baekhyun runs a small chunk of something that looks like darkened amber across the hairs of the bow. Chanyeol is momentarily transfixed until he remembers to reply, “Yeah. I’ll try my best.”
Baekhyun pulls his violin from the case. It’s a beautiful color of chestnut, slightly reddish in some tilts of the light. It shines as Baekhyun fiddles with it, pulling it to rest beneath his chin.
“Just so you know,” Baekhyun says, slowly dragging his bow across the strings to test the tuning, “this is an honor. Not a lot of people get a private show from the concertmaster.”
“Does the concertmaster ever stop bragging about being the concertmaster and actually play?”
Baekhyun’s hand stops. He glares over the veneer of his violin. “You are awfully mouthy lately. And here I thought you were six feet full of marshmallow fluff.”
When Baekhyun starts to play, it takes a couple minutes for Chanyeol to recognize the song. It’s Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, but without the supporting orchestra. Only Baekhyun and his violin. The sound comes through clear even in the cramped quarters, striking through Chanyeol like he was in some actual music hall.
Baekhyun’s hands are mesmerizing. His fingers blur as they jump up and down the neck in one section, bow flying back and forth across the strings to create sharp high notes, only to slow into something longing and sweet in the next. Baekhyun moves with the sound, shoulders dipping and head jerking with every flurry of sound. The violinist’s eyes are closed. Beneath the cheap overhead lights, his bangs and eyelashes drag shadows across his face that shift with every movement he makes.
On a particularly passionate sway that Baekhyun makes, Chanyeol startles and presses his back against the chair, realizing he’d been leaning closer and closer. Baekhyun seems oblivious to it. Chanyeol wonders if Baekhyun remembers he’s still in the room—would notice if he tried slipping out.
Not that he wants to. Chanyeol has no idea what a concertmaster is; if Baekhyun is doing Tchaikovsky any justice; how truly complicated or easy this song is, but he knows that he’s captivated. The music feels good. It tugs against him, pulls him insistently into the undertow of notes.
Impassioned, Baekhyun slightly crouches only to rise with the sound, crouch then rise, shoulders twisting as he speeds up again. The notes come frantically from his bow and fingers, making Chanyeol straighten in his seat and feel his heartbeat accelerate along with the pace. Then he slows, the swaying lessens, and there’s a final, drawn-out slide of his bow across the strings.
Baekhyun’s eyes slowly open as he lowers his violin, looking at Chanyeol through the bangs that have fallen in front of his eyes. Without the music, the silence between them feels so much emptier than before.
Against all odds, Baekhyun was right. There is something irresistible about him when he plays. Chanyeol doesn’t know if his mouth is dry because Baekhyun is that hot or if his jaw had dropped sometime during the performance and he didn’t shut it again.
“What?” Baekhyun says in a low voice, “No standing ovation? No flowers at my feet? What a shitty audience.”
Chanyeol is still tangled up—can still clearly hear the violin ringing in his ears, see Baekhyun leaning into the music—and can only say, “That was amazing.”
Baekhyun studies him. “That’s it?”
“Really fucking amazing.” Chanyeol flinches as Baekhyun lifts his bow and points it at his face.
“I’ll let the lack of proper feedback go this time, but only because you’re so goddamn adorable when you’re flustered.” There’s sweat glistening at the edges of Baekhyun’s sideburns and at his hairline. He tilts his head at Chanyeol, the corner of his mouth curling up. “Careful with that face, Puppy. I told you that you had to do your best not to jump my bones in here.”
“Shhh, I’m trying to remember you as you were two minutes ago. Before you opened your mouth and ruined this moment.”
Baekhyun is puts his violin back into its case, resting the bow inside. Chanyeol doesn’t know what’s going on as Baekhyun approaches him, spine stiffening as Baekhyun leans down.
Then promptly shoulders against Chanyeol’s side, pushing him slightly off the chair.
“Scooch, I’m tired and you’re hogging the only chair in here,” Baekhyun says, wiggling closer against Chanyeol. Both of them are slightly turned away from each other, so it doesn’t feel too intimate, but Chanyeol’s nerves still go all wobbly at the press of Baekhyun against his side, the warmth that bleeds through their shirts.
“There’s the floor,” Chanyeol replies.
“Do I look like someone who sits on the floor?”
Chanyeol studies the side of Baekhyun’s face. “Let’s not get into that. I don’t feel like being stabbed with a bow today.”
Not like Baekhyun’s sharp little elbow feels much better being jabbed against his ribs.
“Hey, before I forget…” Baekhyun says. His face is turned away from Chanyeol, like suddenly he’s entranced by the chipping wall paint. “Jongdae invited me to a party tomorrow night, at the blue biggie, or something.”
“Yeah?” Chanyeol can’t bring himself to be surprised about Jongdae’s enthusiasm, at this point. Tomorrow there’s a party going on at Minseok’s house—a dilapidated two-story they call The Big Blue because its previous owners had painted it cobalt.
“I thought I’d stop by. If that was okay with you.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
Baekhyun looks at Chanyeol out of the corner of his eye. “I wasn’t sure you’d want me to be there.”
“I don’t think that would stop you from coming, anyway.” Chanyeol meant it as a joke, but the way Baekhyun frowns makes him want to take it right back. “I mean, of course it’d be okay with me. I want you to be there.
“You don’t have to say that just to be nice, you know,” Baekhyun says.
The way Chanyeol quickly jumps to say, “I’m not!” probably doesn’t add to the believability. Baekhyun turns his face to eye Chanyeol over, doing a scan like he can somehow see into the inner recesses of Chanyeol’s brain.
“So it’s okay, if I come?”
“It’s fine?” Baekhyun flatly says, “Well if it’s fine then I shouldn’t go because I wouldn’t want to make you tolerate me—”
“You should come, okay?” Chanyeol interrupts. There is no winning with this guy. “Come to the party. It’d be cool if you were there. I’d like it.”
All of the unease Chanyeol had picked up on seemingly melts as Baekhyun scratches his chin, shrugs. “Meh. Maybe. Since you’ve begged so nicely.”
Chanyeol braces his feet against the ground and shoves his weight sideways, pushing Baekhyun off of the chair. His goal wasn’t to make Baekhyun faceplant it against the wall, but it’s a nice bonus.
For that, Chanyeol is kicked out of the practice room. The huffy violinist even chases him down the hall, Chanyeol chuckling as Baekhyun verbally nips at his ankles like a pissy terrier. It’s not until Chanyeol breaks into the lobby that Baekhyun relents. He gleefully waves goodbye as Baekhyun gives him the double middle-finger.
Chanyeol is still smiling fifteen minutes later as he gets in his car to go home.
Minseok has about a million friends, so parties at The Big Blue are always a little too crowded to be comfortable. A person can’t move a foot in any direction without rubbing against someone else, always having to choose between butt-or-crotch contact. As Chanyeol makes his way from the kitchen to the living room, he can’t tell if half the hands he feels dragging across his torso, waist, and butt are people steadying themselves as he shoves past or taking the opportunity to cop a feel.
Music is bumping in the living room, the speakers set up by one of the kegs. Some people have made an impromptu dance floor by Minseok’s beer pong table, and there’s a group crowded around the wii playing Super Smash Brothers.
Jongdae is saving Chanyeol’s place on the loveseat. Chanyeol has to edge past the coffee table—red cups gathered in the center for a game of Boom—then plop down against the cushion, right between Jongdae and some guy named Heechul who graduated two years ago but always magically appears at parties. On the other side of the coffee table, Soojung and Qian are still filling up cups with beer, explaining the rules to a very wide-eyed sophomore named Jongin sitting between them. Apparently, the poor guy has already been chosen as the girls’ prey, tonight.
“Two empty cups are passed clockwise around the circle,” Qian says, her voice coming out sharp and thin to speak over the din. “When a ball and cup get handed to you from the person on your right, you have to bounce the ping-pong ball off the table then have it land in the cup. As soon as you do that, you have to pass the ball and cup to the person to the left of you, and then they have to get the ball into the cup.”
“But,” Soojung says, snatching the beer can out of Qian’s hand. She adds more to the cups. “If you’re going and the person to your immediate right lands their ball in the cup before you can, and shoves their cup into yours—a Boom—then you have to chug one of the cups in the center, here.” With a flourish, Soojung dumps the rest of the can into the cup closest to Jongin. “It’s a fast game, try your best to keep up.”
“Don’t let yourself be intimidated by them,” Jongdae says to Jongin, leaning over the coffee table. “Qian has a shit shot and even if Soojung looks like she’s going to murder you when you Boom her, she secretly likes an excuse to get wasted.”
“Shut the fuck up, Jongdae.” It’s Soojung’s only comeback, but she delivers it so goddamn well that she doesn’t need anything else. Chanyeol’s not even on the receiving end of her glare and he can feel the burn of it. Soojung doesn’t look away from Jongdae’s irritating smile as she reaches for another beer.
“Soojung, I think that’s enough—” Qian starts, but Soojung pops it open and adds more to each of the cups. Squished between the girls, Jongin watches everything in silence.
Funnily enough, Chanyeol is the only one who hears Baekhyun, looking up to see him peering over the top of the girls’ heads. Chanyeol nods as Jongdae looks up, his smile widening. “Hey, Baek’s here!”
The rest of the circle curiously looks at Baekhyun as he waves hello. He says, “You guys have enough room to fit me onto that couch?”
They don’t, not really, with the way Jongdae’s hipbone is digging against Chanyeol’s and Heechul’s thigh is pressed tight against his. Chanyeol opens his mouth to offer to sit on the floor so Baekhyun can take his seat, but Heechul beats him to it as he says in a sugar-clotted voice, “There’s enough room right here, sweetheart,” while patting his lap. Chanyeol frowns. Who even invited this guy? Is he even friends with anyone here?
“Wouldn’t you love that,” Baekhyun says, raising his eyebrow. “But instead of us reenacting the Princess and the Pea, I’m going to squeeze in here between Puppy and Jongdae.”
Soojung and Qian cackle, both leaning against Jongin who cracks a pleased smile. Chanyeol isn’t too worried about him, anymore. He obviously got himself into whatever’s going on between the three of them. Something that feels a little too close to relief hits Chanyeol as Baekhyun makes his way over. Chanyeol manages to push over a bit more, the guy at Heechul’s right having to move to the floor and kneel at the coffee table as Baekhyun literally squeezes his ass between Chanyeol and Jongdae’s legs.
Baekhyun lightly scratches his fingertips against Chanyeol’s knee, fingernails tickling through his jeans. “How’s it going tonight, Puppy?”
“Good.You know how to play Boom Cup?” Chanyeol asks him.
Baekhyun flips his hair like a boy-bander. “Of course I do.”
As it turns out, Baekhyun not only knows how to play Boom Cup, he kicks ass at it. It’s quite unfortunate for Chanyeol, who is sitting at his left. If he doesn’t sink his shot within the first or second try after Baekhyun receives his cup, then he’s a goner. Baekhyun Booms without mercy.
Chanyeol had only done one shot with The Penis Mightier before people started arriving at the house, but after the second round of Boom Cup, he’s tottering on the edge of drunk. The point of playing with beer was to stave off being wasted so early in the night, but it doesn’t work when he’s drinking half of the cups on the table. His shots get sloppier, and eventually, Soojung starts handing him cups of beer in anticipation of Baekhyun Booming him.
And Baekhyun is laughing. He seems so fucking pleased with himself every time he shoves the stacks of cups into Chanyeol’s, leftover beer spitting out from the edges of the used ones. Chanyeol finds himself laughing, too, leaning against Baekhyun’s warmth and burying his face in Baekhyun’s shoulder as he pleads for him to take it easy.
“Puppy, don’t play if you can’t keep up,” Baekhyun says, his breath stirring Chanyeol’s bangs. At the end of the second game, their group breaks up. Jongdae goes to take a shot with Qian and Soojung, the girls telling Jongin to stay put and wait for them, while Heechul disappears into the crowd.
“I need to have a smoke,” Baekhyun says, leaning away from Chanyeol. “Be a good boy and grab me a shot of whatever Jongdae brought. I’ll be right back.”
“Uh, okay?” Chanyeol says. Baekhyun gets up and adjusts his leather jacket, giving Chanyeol a long view of his ass in dark skintight jeans before he starts weaving through the crowd, toward the front door. He’s quite stupidly hot.
When Chanyeol has made his way to the kitchen, he finds Jongdae and the girls by the counter, pouring cheap vodka into impromptu shot glasses—the cap of a sports bottle, a plastic champagne glass, and a tiny bowl Minseok uses to pour soy sauce into when he’s having sushi. Their shot glasses always have a way of disappearing during parties at The Big Blue.
“Joining us?” Jongdae asks, already searching the cupboards for something to pour vodka into.
“Just—grabbing something for Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says.
“Baekhyun Byun,” Soojung says, not waiting for the others and tipping back her shot in the sports bottle cap. Qian makes a sound of disapproval that is ignored. “Finally I have a face to match up with the name.”
“I didn’t expect him to be so cute,” Qian says, barely managing to snatch her shot away from Soojung’s reaching hand.
Chanyeol whirls on Jongdae. “Have you been telling everyone about—”
“No,” Jongdae says. He places a Kellogg’s collector cup on the counter and pours a dollop of vodka into it. “Listen, guys, how about—”
“How do you know him, Chanyeol?” Soojung asks, hand inching toward Jongdae’s champagne glass. “You two looked…cozy.”
“He’s my new neighbor. We’ve hung out a couple times.”
Soojung snorts. “Jongdae, I can’t believe it. You’ve been letting your precious Chanyeol hang out with Baekhyun Byun?”
“Come on, Soojung,” Jongdae says, “You know most of what trickles through the music department is shit and piss. He’s actually a really cool guy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Chanyeol asks, looking at his best friend.
“Nothing,” Jongdae replies. He nudges the glass into Chanyeol’s hand. Chanyeol looks between the three of them. They’re all part of the same program: Qian and Jongdae major in Music Education, while Soojung is in Music Theory. Sometimes it’s like they’re speaking in their own language. “Don’t worry about it.”
“What does he mean, Soojung?” But Soojung is too preoccupied with downing Jongdae’s shot.
“He means that there’s always a ton of rumors going around the music department, and they’re rarely true.” Qian jumps in, her voice rising as cheers erupt from the beer pong table. “Baekhyun’s been one of the centerpieces in the orchestra ever since he transferred here from Juilliard last year, which means he’s been a centerpiece for people talking shit about him.”
Soojung leans in closer to Chanyeol, over-exaggeratedly whispering, “They say he got kicked out because he fucked one of the instructors.”
“Don’t listen to her, Chanyeol,” Jongdae says, grabbing the back of Soojung’s shirt and pulling her away from him. She laughs, leaning against Qian. “She knows it’s pure bullshit.”
“I may know it’s pure bullshit,” Soojung says, “but I like to believe that it’s true—especially now that I’ve seen him. To think that cute little concertmaster has screwed his way through more than half of the orchestra—”
“Which, you have to admit, speaks volumes of my stamina. I’ve only been here for a year and a half.” Baekhyun appears at Chanyeol’s side, grabbing the glass out of Chanyeol’s hand and making him jump in surprise. Chanyeol can still smell the smoke on him as he knocks the drink back, wincing through a sharp grin. “Don’t pretend like you’re not impressed.”
“I am impressed,” Soojung says, “I’ve heard a lot of things about you, Baekhyun. Even if only half of it is true, I’m a big fan of yours.”
“If you’re really the infamous Soojung Jung, then the admiration is likewise.” Baekhyun doesn’t look insulted at all that they were talking about him while he was gone. His comfort with it makes Chanyeol’s guilt come through a little sharper, clearer.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Chanyeol asks Baekhyun when the other three have cleared out of the kitchen. His head feels fuzzy and warm from all the beer, it makes it easier to look Baekhyun in the eye when he talks. “That people talk about you like that? Nasty rumors?”
Baekhyun crosses his arms and leans against the counter, edging away from where people are crowded by a newly opened keg. “Not really. It’s not exactly a nasty rumor if it’s true. I mean, I haven’t been with more than half of the orchestra. But.” Baekhyun chews his lip. His eyes are steadily trained on Chanyeol. “A lot.”
Chanyeol doesn’t know why he feels disappointed—doesn’t know why he dislikes the idea of Baekhyun with other people, giving them the same kind of attention that he’s given Chanyeol. The jealousy is ridiculous.
“What?” Baekhyun says, “It’s not like that changes your opinion of me, right? It’s not news to you that I’ve been around. That’s why you—you got angry at me, during the storm.”
“That’s not true,” Chanyeol says. He’s going to need another shot for this. He reaches into the cupboard, where Jongdae stashed his vodka behind some bowls. “I got angry at you because you wouldn’t stop hitting on me. I mean, you could sleep with the whole orchestra, and I wouldn’t think less of you. As long as you weren’t a jackass about it.”
Baekhyun takes the vodka bottle out of Chanyeol’s hand, pouring two shots. There’s a pink tinge to his cheeks, and Chanyeol doesn’t know if Baekhyun is actually blushing, or if it’s really starting to get that hot inside The Big Blue. “Well as you know, it’s very hard for me not to be a jackass.”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol grumbles, but he can’t help and smile as Baekhyun hands him the Kellogg’s cup. The two of them toast, the clink of their glasses impossible to hear over the noise of the party. After they’ve downed their shots, Baekhyun stares at Chanyeol, his eyes glittering with silent laughter.
“What?” Chanyeol asks, using the back of his hand to wipe his mouth in case there’s something on his lips.
“Nothing,” Baekhyun says, “It’s…I’ve been on the booze with Brahms.”
“Don’t worry about it, Puppy.” Baekhyun reaches up and pats Chanyeol’s cheek a little harder than necessary.
Later that night, when Chanyeol has accepted too many shots and played a few rounds of Flip Cup, the crowd has thinned by half. He tries to go upstairs, to pass out on the air mattress that Minseok always blows up for him, Jongdae, and Junmyeon when they party at his place, but he finds that Minseok’s room is already filled with people—he can’t sort out who is who in the dark, and ends up going back downstairs. He trips over his feet on the last step, only to have someone grab a hold of his arm and steady him.
“Whoa, easy there, Chanyeol,” Junmyeon says, even though he looks as unsteady on his feet as Chanyeol feels. Junmyeon’s face always turns a brilliant shade of pink when he drinks, and right now he looks like a naked mole rat wearing a black wig. “Where are you going?”
“Minseok’s room’s—is stuffed,” Chanyeol says. He’s so drunk, his eyes feel like they’re floating around his head. His limbs don’t feel like they belong to him anymore. This is always the part of the night he wishes he could skip—when he’s riding the last plateau of drunkenness but is exhausted, and only wants to sleep the rest of it off. “Want to sleep. I want to see—sleep, Jun—mye—mom.”
The music is still going strong, and there’s a group of people huddled on the couches playing some variation of drunken strip poker. There’s no way that Chanyeol would be able to sleep downstairs, and he likes to think that he’s past the days of settling down with blankets and pillows in the tub.
“Boa’s picking me up after she gets off work in an hour,” Junmyeon says. “If you can wait.”
“Uuuggggghhhhhh,” Chanyeol groans. “So tired. I wanna bed. I wanna sleep in a bed. Where’s Minseok? Kick those other—people—inturders—out.”
“Inturders,” Junmyeon repeats, amused.
“I’ll walk,” Chanyeol says, wrapping his big hands around the curve of Junmyeon’s lithe shoulders, “I’ll go—strolling.” His apartment is about ten blocks away, and maybe the night air will not only sober him up a little, but bring him back from the brink of falling asleep while standing up.
“No, you shouldn’t go by yourself. Just wait an hour, Chanyeol, then—”
Chanyeol’s second groan is much longer, and louder. But when he’s finished, he hears someone say, “I’ll walk him home.”
Baekhyun. Of course. Suddenly, Chanyeol has room for one more thought in his brain other than sleep: how hot Baekhyun is. The way his hair is styled and the tightness of his leather jacket is a huge contrast to the plushie aesthetic he rocks at school. Chanyeol means to reach down and run his fingers through Baekhyun’s hair to muss it up, but all that happens is his palm wallops the side of Baekhyun’s head.
Apparently, Junmyeon and Baekhyun have met some time during tonight, because instead of exchanging pleasantries, Junmyeon asks him, “How much have you had to drink?” while eyeing Baekhyun up and down.
“About a can of beer and two shots, but that was like two hours ago. I have a long session with an instructor tomorrow—today—and I don’t like going into them hungover.”
Junmyeon scowls. “I don’t know.”
“Jongdae trusts me, just ask him,” Baekhyun says. He reaches out a hand to grab Chanyeol’s bicep when Chanyeol sways in his spot. Both boys have a hand on Chanyeol, staring each other down.
“Jongdae left with one of those blonde sorority girls half an hour ago.”
“I’ll only walk him back to our apartment, I swear. Tuck him into his bed then leave. No funny business.”
Chanyeol can’t tell how long it takes until Baekhyun convinces Junmyeon to let go of him, but the next thing he knows, cool night air is breaking across his face and he feels like he can breathe for the first time in a million years. He loses his balance, limbs flailing, and Baekhyun easily fits himself beneath Chanyeol’s arm to support him.
From that point on, Chanyeol can only remember a couple things when he wakes up the next morning.
The way Baekhyun had grunted and complained as Chanyeol put more and more weight on him as they walked. How Chanyeol had fallen over at one point, pulling Baekhyun down with him and feeling so warm and cozy against the wet grass, Baekhyun cradled in his arms.
When they reached their apartment complex, the stairs took them eons to climb. Four flights—it might as well been four hundred.
How Baekhyun had reached into Chanyeol’s pockets when they reached his door, Chanyeol giggling at the way Baekhyun’s fingers wiggled against his thigh.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me Park, where are your keys?”
But then Chanyeol remembers going into Baekhyun’s apartment, heading straight to the bathroom, and puking out his guts. Baekhyun’s smooth hand against his cheeks, a wet cloth against his mouth, Baekhyun chanting, “Oh god so gross you’re so disgusting I hate you,” as he helped clean Chanyeol up.
Then cool, cool sheets, and a plush mattress. Just after Chanyeol felt Baekhyun take his shoes and socks off—the best-feeling thing that had ever happened to him ever in his life—he remembers a voice coming from beside him on the bed.
“Earlier tonight, they probably said something about…”
Just enough silence, Chanyeol feeling himself slowly drifting away to sleep, until, “It’s not true.”
“About the instructor, at Juilliard.”
And Chanyeol remembers finding one last burst of energy, using it to turn on his side and blearily peer up at the three Baekhyuns sitting on the edge of his mattress. “Believe you.”
Pounding. A pounding head is what Chanyeol wakes up to. He groans, curling in on himself as his head thuds thuds thuds. It’s not until the tenth or eleventh pound that Chanyeol realizes it’s not his brain making all of that noise, someone is hitting—the door?
“Jesus fucking Christ what the fuck is that shit—”
Chanyeol blinks at the foul-mouthed pile of blankets on the floor next to the mattress, watching as it wiggles and Baekhyun’s head pops out. Baekhyun’s eyes are squeezed shut and his hair is currently defying gravity with the way it sticks straight up from his head.
Oh God, that’s right. Chanyeol peers around the room—mostly empty save for his piano and a few boxes with clothes spilling out of them. Baekhyun’s apartment. Baekhyun’s bed. He can’t—he can’t remember—did he—?! His brain feels crusted over, bits of it barely chipping away as he tries to hack back into his memories of last night.
Still swaddled in blankets, Baekhyun gets up and stomps to the door, unlocking it and wrenching it open. “What?” He is not a morning person.
“Where the fuck is—Chanyeol.” Jongdae pushes past Baekhyun, his feet making more obnoxious noise as he walks over to the bed. Chanyeol can’t bring himself to even sit up, wincing as the echoes of Jongdae’s footsteps hammer against his head. Jongdae whirls to face Baekhyun, seething. “I fucking trusted you. Junmyeon texted me and asked if I thought it’d be okay for you to take him home and I said yes.”
“You said that you were going to stop. That you weren’t going to try and do anything and you felt like shit for making him angry.” Jongdae’s voice is getting a tad too loud for Chanyeol’s poor ears. He squeezes his eyes shut, groaning as he hears more thuds. “Chanyeol was wasted last night and I can’t believe you took him back to your place and—”
And then it’s cold, freezing. Chanyeol whines and blindly reaches for the blankets that have been wrenched off of him.
“Exhibit A,” Baekhyun lowly says, “Fully-clothed Puppy.”
“Exhibit B,” Baekhyun says, louder, “or, should I say lack of Exhibit B, Puppy’s keys. After literally lugging him up four flights of stairs, we discovered that he didn’t have them. What was I supposed to do? Leave him in the hall as I went back and looked for them? Do you know how many times Chanyeol tried sleeping on the street last night? Those things could have fallen out of his pocket at any point.”
“Seriously, Chanyeol?” Jongdae dryly asks.
Chanyeol opens his eyes to see Baekhyun and Jongdae looking down at him. Baekhyun takes pity and places the blankets back over him, straightening them under his chin.
“And Exhibit C. Park, did I make any moves on you last night?” Baekhyun crosses his arms.
“I don’t…I don’t remember.” Okay, so Chanyeol’s throat is crusted over, too. “For all I know, I made a move on you.”
“Unfortunately, no moves were made,” Baekhyun says. “Unless you count the move Chanyeol made to my toilet, where his puking effectively ruined all the squishy feelings I’d been developing for him during the party.”
“Squishy feelings?” Jongdae asks.
“You saw when he stood on the couch, took off his shirt, and helicoptered it around his head while singing Sweet Home Alabama.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t say it was endearing.”
“Wait,” Chanyeol says, “I really did that?”
Baekhyun smirks. “Yeah. Not very punk rock of you.”
Chanyeol didn’t even know that he knew the lyrics to Sweet Home Alabama. “Guess not.”
“So nothing happened?” Jongdae interrupts.
“Nothing. I think Chanyeol is the only person who has gained access to my bed in the past two years without touching my dick.” Baekhyun grandly gestures to his mattress like it’s the Taj Mahal.
“Ew,” Chanyeol pathetically murmurs, but not even the thought of Baekhyun having sex with other people in this same exact spot is enough to make him want to get up.
Jongdae sighs, reaching into the pocket of his jacket and pulling out Chanyeol’s phone. He drops it to the mattress. “You left this at the party, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Minseok had me pick it up so I could bring it over to you. I freaked when you didn't answer your door.” He turns to Baekhyun, “Sorry, Byun. After everything we’ve talked about, I shouldn’t have assumed—”
“It’s okay,” Baekhyun mutters. “After last night, I’m getting used to the idea that there’s a Puppy Protection Squad in place.”
“Yeah, I saw that Minseok cornered you, how’d that go?” Jongdae pleasantly asks. Chanyeol frowns, how did he miss that? He felt like he’d had a Baekhyun radar all night, aware of where the violinist was at all times even when they were doing their own thing.
“Scary. It went scary.” There is no humor in Baekhyun’s voice. “He is very small but very powerful and I do not wish to fuck with him.”
“What’d Minseok say?” Chanyeol manages to ask. He’s ignored. Baekhyun glances at him, then walks over to his kitchen area. When he returns, he’s holding a glass of water. Chanyeol has to sit up to grab it, his whole body protesting any kind of movement, but it’s worth it as he chugs it down.
When Baekhyun and Jongdae manage to get Chanyeol up and moving again, the three of them go out to breakfast. Chanyeol has never felt so starving and so nauseous in his life. he alternates between annihilating his omelet and wondering if he can make it to the bathroom in time for his next upheaval.
Baekhyun doesn’t have much time to stick around. He says goodbye then heads to his practice session, and it’s only then that Jongdae and Chanyeol realize Baekhyun left his bill for one of them to take care of.
“Come on,” Jongdae says when Chanyeol begrudgingly forks over the cash, “We have to go buy you some Gatorade and grab your spare keys at my place. Practice tonight, remember?”
“Oh God.” The last thing Chanyeol wants to do right now is bang on his drums.
“It’s not my fault that you went overboard. The rest of us took it easy last night.” Jongdae pushes his chair back and stands from the table, Chanyeol following suit. The two of them leave the restaurant, Chanyeol fumbling to put his sunglasses on to keep his eyes from feeling like they’re melting from the sun.
“What did Baekhyun mean by Puppy Protection Squad?” Chanyeol asks.
“Between the two of you doing terrible duets and you following Baekhyun around like the puppy he claims you are, The Penis Mightier may have each gotten some one-on-one time with him.”
“Anything too scarring?” Chanyeol asks. Jongdae shrugs as an answer, but the devious upturn of his lips make it seem anything but nonchalant.
On Sunday, Chanyeol gets an email from the studio The Penis Mightier recorded at, asking if he and Jongdae wanted to come in and be a part of the final mixing. Chanyeol gives all of his shifts at the library away, and it takes some friend-parenting from Junmyeon to keep him from skipping his classes, too.
Jongdae and Chanyeol arrive at the studio on Monday, after their morning classes, and are taken into one of the back editing rooms. The studio may not be very big, but its equipment is up to date, and Chanyeol feels himself going all glassy-eyed as one of the techs shows him around the computer program they use.
“It’s Avid,” Chanyeol worshipfully whispers to Jongdae, to which Jongdae says back a sarcastic, “Holy shit no way.”
The two of them settle on either side of the tech as he clicks through their recordings. Chanyeol can’t help but squirm in his seat, the quality is so nice. Every time he hears a new piece it makes him so gleeful that he can’t suppress the giggles bubbling up his throat. Luckily, the tech seems more amused by that than annoyed.
Everything feels professional as Chanyeol and Jongdae work with the tech to fine-tune their sound. They tweak some of Sehun’s sloppy guitar lines; add the tiniest effect to Jongdae’s vocals to make them sound more resonating over the music. They listen to runs of Chanyeol’s drums, breaking every beat apart until they pick out the best one to use.
When the tech goes to take his break, he lets Chanyeol and Jongdae stick around in the editing room and listen to what they have so far. Chanyeol plays their first track. He’s enamored with the sound.
“Junmyeon texted me,” Jongdae says over the music as he looks at his phone. “He says he’s on his way to meet with Boa. She mentioned that she may be able to have Yellow host our release party in two weeks—but it’s probably going to have to be on a Tuesday.”
Tuesday—the day of rest for bars. Chanyeol winces. “I’ve never been to Yellow on a Tuesday. Do you know what its crowd is like?”
“Not really. I know the cover goes way down, so that $30 we made in profit at our last Yellow show isn’t going to happen.”
Not like that’s anything new to The Penis Mightier. They usually make measly cash from playing at bars. Enough to cover the price of gas from lugging their gear back in forth in their van, but nothing that they can directly put into their pocket.
“I get it, though. The only way we got our last Thirsty Thursday gig was because someone dropped out of the lineup.”
“And because Junmyeon agreed to go on a date with Boa. If only he’d have very polite sex with her, then maybe we’d get a Friday or Saturday to release our EP.” Jongdae wistfully sighs. He pockets his phone. “But noo, he wants to take things slow, and—what?”
“What do you mean, what?”
“You’re glaring at me.”
“Oh.” Chanyeol presses his hand against his cheek. His face can be very traitorous sometimes.
“What’s the matter?”
“I, uh,” Chanyeol tries to find the right words to say. “You shouldn't give Junmyeon a hard time about that. Sometimes you have a way of—pushing people at things because you think it’s a good idea. Instead of, um, thinking about what they really want.”
Jongdae rolls his eyes. “You know that I’m joking, though.”
“You’re only kind of joking,” Chanyeol says. “Admit it.”
“Do I think Junmyeon’s the only reason we got our last gig at Yellow? No. I know Boa’s good at her job and for some godforsaken reason she likes The Penis Mightier’s sound.” Jongdae leans back in his chair, grinning. “But do I think that in Junmyeon’s ironed jeans, he may hold the final key to us having our EP released on a high-traffic day? Yes.”
“Even if that was the case, don’t you think you should back off him? He really seems to like her.” In Chanyeol’s opinion, they’re perfect for each other. Boa may be five years older than Junmyeon, but she’s so classy and actually thinks that Junmyeon’s dad-going-on-a-grocery-run aesthetic is attractive. “Don’t give him shit for wanting to take his time.”
Jongdae studies Chanyeol. He’s not smiling anymore.
“Okay,” Jongdae slowly says, “I’ll take it easy, if it really bothers you.”
“It does. A little,” Chanyeol sheepishly admits. He scratches at the nape of his neck—confrontation is so hard, so uncomfortable, so itchy. Even when it’s with Jongdae, who would never get angry at him or be too irrational.
“So. Is this really about me pushing Baekhyun at you?”
The suddenness of it makes Chanyeol jerk in his chair. “I—no, why would you—”
Chanyeol wilts. “A little. I guess I’m still confused why you tried so hard to get me to hook up with him.”
“You don’t know?” Jongdae asks. His raised eyebrows look like two sloped pieces of a bascule bridge. Chanyeol shakes his head. “God, you’re about to make me get all feel-y. You know I hate having these little heart-to-hearts.” Jongdae has to slightly turn his chair away from Chanyeol, unable to look him in the eye when he says, “I get that you don’t like randomly hooking up. It’s not your thing. Sure, whatever. But you have to admit, Chanyeol, you’ve been—” Jongdae grits his teeth. “—closed off, since Yixing.”
“Just because I haven’t dated doesn’t mean—”
“It means that you always do whatever it takes to make people like you, but then when they try and get closer, you stiff-arm them. You still want to be liked and needed, but don’t want to have to put yourself out there any further than that.” Jongdae is facing the wall now, his voice bouncing off the plaster. “It’s a little fucking worrying, okay? Honestly, when I met Baekhyun, it was obvious he liked you. I’d always heard about him being some Sex God, and I thought hey, Chanyeol could use a good fuck to get himself out of his slump.”
The back of Chanyeol’s neck fizzles with heat. “Just because you operate like—”
“I know I know,” Jongdae interrupts, whipping around in his chair. “I get it, okay? But then I started hanging out with Baekhyun and we’re something like friends now, so it didn’t go exactly as planned. And call me a big fucking softie, but I like the idea of you two becoming friends, too. Okay? Is that a good enough answer?”
Jongdae’s lips have thinned into a line with little curves at each end. Chanyeol knows that talking about feelings is Jongdae’s number one enemy, so he can’t help but be touched by his effort. Not like he’d say that out loud and have Jongdae scuttling back beneath his shell.
“Careful, buddy. I think that big vein in your forehead is going to pop.”
The sound Jongdae makes is like a bird of prey being strangled, but it gives Chanyeol enough warning to push his wheelie chair away from Jongdae’s clawing hands.
After Chanyeol has gotten out of class on Thursday, he sees that his phone has been blowing up with texts from an unknown number. He slowly walks out of the classroom, thumbing through them.
hey jd gave me your number
is that okay?
this is baekhyun
remember me i’m your hot neighbor next door who plays the violin
the neighbor who walked you home on friday and let you puke in his toilet and sleep in his bed even though you were all sweaty and disgusting and who gave you a glass of water the next morning because he is a very kind and caring person
speaking of huge favors that i have done for you
i am also in need of a tiny favor
can you call me?
The texts were only sent about half an hour ago. Chanyeol can’t bring himself to be bothered that Jongdae gave his number to Baekhyun. Seems about right, at this point.
Chanyeol finds a quiet section of hall and calls Baekhyun, who answers on the first ring.
Baekhyun doesn’t bother to say hello. “Can you make it back to our apartment complex right now?”
“I mean—I’m done with my classes but I was going to head to the studio. What’s going on?”
“I need help.”
“Help with what?”
“It’s a really long story, one I’ll reward you with if you can make it here. It’s basically like unlocking a special Baekhyun Level that will score you extra Baekhyun Bucks. A once in a lifetime opportunity. But please, please meet me here, first.” There’s urgency in Baekhyun’s voice, a strain that makes his joking sound tight.
“Are you okay?” Chanyeol’s legs are already moving on automatic, zooming around slow walkers and leaving them in his dust.
“I’m fine. I’m not missing an arm or in bodily danger.”
“Then what’s happening?”
“Chanyeol, please don’t make me explain it over the phone.”
Chanyeol. He doesn’t know why, but the use of his name instead of Puppy gives him a greater sense of urgency. “Okay. I’m on my way.”
A bus ride later, Chanyeol jogs up the stairs of their apartment complex. When Chanyeol gets to Baekhyun’s room, he dumps all of his bags in the hallway. He reaches up to knock on the door only to have Baekhyun wrench it open before his fist can make contact. In a thin voice, Baekhyun says, “You really came.”
Chanyeol places his hands on Baekhyun’s shoulders, leaning down to look him over. He palms Baekhyun’s cheek to tilt his head up, inspect his face for any kinds of cuts or bruises. “Are you hurt?”
Baekhyun blinks, a little stunned before he shrugs out of Chanyeol’s grip. “I’m not. I said I wasn’t. I—”
Chanyeol pushes past him, searching around the studio. He’d been thinking of what could be wrong his whole way over, but he doesn’t see any mobsters holding Baekhyun hostage, or a colony of rats scuttling around the floors. Baekhyun’s piano is still there, as is his violin case, and Chanyeol looks up at the ceiling to check for a humongous man-eating spider but sees only cracked paint.
“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says, “Stop freaking out. I know I was vague but you don’t have to—to do what you’re doing.”
“Over the phone you sounded—not good.” Chanyeol walks back to Baekhyun, still sweeping his eyes over the violinist to double-check. “You’re not hurt, but what’s wrong? Do you need me to do something for you?”
Baekhyun shakes his head. “So fucking nice.”
“I need to borrow your stuff,” Baekhyun blurts. He tugs at the hem of his worn hoodie, shoulders fidgeting. “My dad is coming, in three hours. He’s flying into Detroit for business and wanted to swing around to Ann Arbor. To see me. In my apartment. And he can’t know that my apartment looks like this.”
Chanyeol glances around, “Looks like what?”
“This empty.” Baekhyun grabs Chanyeol’s hand, tugging him toward the door. “My dad doesn’t know I’m…living like this.”
“I still don’t understand, living like what?” Chanyeol lets himself be pulled into the hall, then Baekhyun leads him to his own door.
“Living with a mattress on the floor. Boxes instead of a dresser. Nothing but three cans of beer in the fridge. Can you open your door?”
“Wait so you literally want my stuff.”
“I want to borrow your stuff. Just for today. Your futon and your bed frame, possibly your shower curtain.” Baekhyun keeps chewing on his lip, anxiously looking between Chanyeol and his closed door.
“You don’t even have a shower curtain?”
“What, will your dad freak or something?”
The next thing Chanyeol knows, Baekhyun’s hands are fisting the fabric of his shirt, and he’s being pushed against the wall next to his door. Baekhyun’s eyes flash with desperation as he looks up. “Yes. It’s complicated and I don’t expect you to understand because it must seem so fucking strange right now, but I don’t have much time. My dad will freak when he sees my apartment, and he will try and make me go back to New York. And I can’t. I can’t go back there right now. So can you please open your door and let me borrow your futon?”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay,” Chanyeol stutters, getting his key out of his pocket. Baekhyun lets go of Chanyeol’s shirt, running his fingers through his hair.
They start with the futon, which is thankfully very cheap and very light. Baekhyun is so short that Chanyeol can only see a tuft of his hair sticking up from the other end. After that, Chanyeol tugs his mattress off of his bed frame. He and Baekhyun maneuver it through the door, across the hall, and into Baekhyun’s room.
“Do you have sheets?” Chanyeol asks, looking at Baekhyun’s mess of blankets in his apartment.
“Uh. Not fitted sheets.”
Chanyeol pulls the sheets and matching blankets from his mattress and places them on Baekhyun’s as Baekhyun brings a lamp and side table from Chanyeol’s room. It takes the two of them to carry Chanyeol’s bookshelf into Baekhyun’s room. While Chanyeol fills it with books and trinkets from one of Baekhyun’s boxes, Baekhyun walks past him with Chanyeol’s shower curtain, bathroom mat, and matching toothbrush holder.
“This is so strange,” Chanyeol says.
“I know,” Baekhyun calls from the bathroom. “I’ll explain more later, I swear.”
“What about now? Now seems like a good time.” Chanyeol pulls a dusty frame out of the box. It’s a picture of a chubby-cheeked Baekhyun clutching on to a mini violin. He can’t be more than five, so sweet and adorable. Little innocent Baekhyun looks so familiar yet so foreign.
“I haven’t quite worked up the courage, yet. Can’t we do that later then pretend it never happened?”
It takes two more trips—moving Chanyeol’s desk, barstools, and the curtains his mother sewed for him—before Baekhyun starts talking.
“My dad is a Senior Associate Dean at Juilliard,” he says, pulling the curtains down the rod before handing it to Chanyeol, “and my mom is on the board of directors for the New York Philharmonic.”
Chanyeol stands on his tippy-toes and places the rod back back in its grooves above the window. Baekhyun’s fingers gently straighten the fabric as he continues, “Needless to say, they were very stuck on the idea of me continuing my education at Juilliard, even when I studied there for precollege. You probably don’t know this, but it’s normal to switch things up from precollege to college, or even during college. Just for a change of pace and scenery—to work with different instructors.”
“Right, I heard that you transferred here from Juilliard last year,” Chanyeol says. They walk back to Chanyeol’s room. Baekhyun pokes through his kitchen and piles hand towels, a cup of utensils, and a bag of apples on a drying rack.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun lowly says. “I um, I started out my freshman year at Juilliard, like they wanted. Then at the end of the year, some things happened, and I—I had to get out of there. They weren’t the most understanding.”
Baekhyun ignores him. “It led to the whole nine yards of me throwing a temper tantrum, cutting myself off from them, and applying to transfer to U of M because one of my favorite precollege instructors had gone here for her Masters. My parents froze my accounts so I didn’t even have enough to pull together a plane ticket to get me and all of my stuff out here. I lucked out because a friend of mine is spending time abroad in Europe and let me take his car.”
“How could they freeze your accounts?” Chanyeol rolls up his rug and tucks it under his arm, then the two of them walk back into Baekhyun’s room.
“Technically,” Baekhyun says, “It’s their money, my inheritance that they’re holding until I graduate. Mr. and Mrs. Byun are loaded, and I never had a job because I was always studying, practicing. They thought that would be enough to make me stay.”
“How do you have the money for this place, then?” Chanyeol asks without thinking. He realizes what he’s said, then clamps his mouth shut. “Never mind. That’s none of my business, sorry. Sorry.”
“It’s no big deal. I worked all last summer at Willow Run? That old GM factory. Twelve hour days where I stood on a line and did the same dirty shit over and over again with my heavenly fingers, but it paid really well. Enough to hopefully last me until next summer.”
Chanyeol knows about the factory. It employs lots of students during the summer—kids who are more desperate for money than worried about slicing off their fingers in terrible conditions. The job doesn’t seem like the best thing for a violinist to take on.
“I mean,” Baekhyun continues, “I missed out on spending the summer at Northwestern because of it, but I’m happy I can stay. Focus on school and violin during the fall and winter without having to work.”
They walk back into Chanyeol’s room, double-teaming to lift the old scratched dresser in the corner. Chanyeol can feel it shaking as they shuffle their way back to Baekhyun’s studio. Baekhyun may seem fierce but he doesn’t have a lot of strength.
“But your dad—”
“This is the first time he’s come to Ann Arbor since I transferred a year and a half ago. I guess I’m worried that…that he’s coming here to make me come back. That if he saw my empty apartment, how much I’m struggling, he’d somehow make me go back to Juilliard.”
“Whatever happened must have been something big, at Juilliard,” Chanyeol quietly says, watching Baekhyun as they set the dresser down. Baekhyun shrugs, expression trained and neutral.
“I fucked up a lot. Did a ton of stupid shit. I wasn’t always the angel you admire me for being now,” Baekhyun tries to joke, but it comes out flat. He runs his fingers against a long scratch in the wood. “The problem is that when it wasn’t actually my fault, when there actually were nasty rumors going around, my parents didn’t believe me. So I kind of did this to myself. It didn’t help that my dad works at Juilliard, so he had to side with—”
Baekhyun catches himself, scoffs. He says, “Jesus, Puppy. When did we get all serious?”
“Right about when we were putting up the curtain rods,” Chanyeol replies. He’s so, so curious about the pieces Baekhyun has left out. Obviously he doesn’t have the best relationship with his parents, but he’s still concerned to the point of asking for help—carries some belief that his mom and dad still have the same power over him that they used to.
Baekhyun rolls his eyes and gives a full-body shake, like he can wiggle the conversation out of himself. “Well that’s enough of that. Usually this crybaby shit is reserved for very drunken nights with equally drunken strangers.”
“I’m glad that you feel like you can talk to me about things like this,” Chanyeol says, “I don’t know the whole story, but it couldn’t have been easy to go through.”
Baekhyun softly smiles, Chanyeol’s heart expanding in reply. “Aw, Puppy. I’m touched. If you hadn’t already asked me to back off, I would be sticking my tongue down your throat this very moment.”
“Alright,” Chanyeol patiently says, “I get it. You have effectively ruined the moment. You win. No more sentimental stuff. Fine.”
But when the two of them walk back into Chanyeol’s room, Baekhyun momentarily grabs his hand, fingers squeezing against his in a wordless moment of gratitude.
It takes them another hour to perfect the look of Baekhyun’s room, and by the time they’re finished, Chanyeol has to admit that their things blend well together. He doesn’t want to think about all of the effort it’s going to take to put his stuff back when this is all over, so he flops face-first against his futon. It’s in the middle of the room, facing Chanyeol’s TV with its back to the barstools at the counter.
“What about you, Puppy?” Baekhyun asks. He’s shuffling around his closet, Chanyeol can hear the rustle of fabric being removed. “Any tragic backstory you can give me so that this feels more like an even trade?”
“Baekhyun, almost all of my shit is currently sitting in your studio. How is that not an even trade?”
“Fine, fine,” Baekhyun mumbles. “Just trying to get to know you. Whatever.”
Chanyeol groans. “No tragic backstory. I have a big sister, and parents who divorced when I was four. Probably the most scarring thing that ever happened to me was when my mom put me in overalls when I was in the first grade, and one day I couldn’t get the clasps undone when I had to go to the bathroom and I ended up peeing my pants.”
Baekhyun’s laughter is impossibly full and boisterous. Chanyeol hears him walking over before he sees Baekhyun looking down at him from the other side of the futon. “How can you say that’s not tragic? I’d rank that right up there with Batman’s origin story.”
“Even worse was how the nickname they gave me followed me through—”
“Nickname?” Baekhyun gleefully asks. He bends over, hanging over the back of the futon so he’s directly above Chanyeol. “Do tell.”
“I think I know you too well by this point to give you that kind of ammo,” Chanyeol says with narrowed eyes. But now he’s thinking about how close Baekhyun is. How nice he looks after changing into a pressed white shirt, his hair swept back into some semblance of order.
He knows what Baekhyun’s lips feel like. How soft they are, how well he can use them. That bottom lip—he’s sucked that lip into his mouth. It certainly doesn’t help when Baekhyun pouts at him, saying, “Come on, please? I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
“No,” Chanyeol says. Is his mouth going dry? It’s arid in here. Maybe he should have also brought over his humidifier.
Baekhyun tilts his head, eyes sparkling. “Chanyeol Park—” He has to know how good his voice sounds, all low and warm. “—you’re thinking about kissing me, aren’t you?”
Chanyeol rolls off the futon, onto the floor. He scrambles to get up. “No!”
“You were!” Baekhyun grins. He bounces on the balls of his feet, acting far too cute for what Chanyeol had been thinking about. “You were staring at my lips all dazed and your ears are bright pink!”
All Chanyeol can think to do is hide his ears beneath his hands. “No.”
Baekhyun laughs again. “There is nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of people are attracted to me. It’s not like you’re the first person who’s wanted a piece of this.”
“I don’t,” Chanyeol says. He stomps to the door, feeling the spark in his ears travel all the way from his face to his neck. He must look like a blushy, soupy mess at this point. “This has been fun and everything but I think it’s about time that I—”
Baekhyun’s phone rings, cutting him off. It’s Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, the same song Baekhyun had played for him in the practice room. The mirth slides off of Baekhyun’s face as he hurries to answer it. Chanyeol knows he should leave, but he waits.
“Hello?” Baekhyun says. There’s a pause. “Yes. I will send it to you.” Baekhyun gnaws on his lip as he listens. “Yes. I will do that. Okay. See you soon.”
Chanyeol hadn’t noticed how tightly wound Baekhyun had become until he hangs up and his entire body sags. Baekhyun looks up at Chanyeol, holding up his phone.
“He finished getting a rental car. He’ll be here in a little more than half an hour.”
“When was the last time you saw him?” Chanyeol asks, slowly lowering his hands from his ears.
“Last Christmas. We had a kind of momentary truce because my mom broke down and bought me a plane ticket so I could come.”
Chanyeol awkwardly thumbs at the doorknob. “Do you want me to stay with you? Until he gets here?”
“No, but thanks, Puppy,” Baekhyun says, attempting a smile. “I’m going to play a little bit, calm my nerves.”
“Okay, but you know if you need anything, I’ll come.” Chanyeol starts inching his way out of the open doorway.
“Yeah. I know.”
Chanyeol shuts the door after himself when he leaves. He peeks into his empty bedroom one last time to deposit his bags. There’s clothing scattered everywhere and all of his trinkets are on the floor. Just as he locks his door and starts making his way to the stairwell, he hears the long whine of Baekhyun’s violin, and ignores the lump of unease in his own stomach from seeing Baekhyun so un-Baekhyun like.
When Chanyeol gets home later that night, he walks over to the wall that adjoins his and Baekhyun’s apartments. He saw that Baekhyun had a light on, shining through the crack between the door and the hallway floor, but didn’t want to disturb him. His thoughts had been tangled in Baekhyun for the rest of the day, hoping that everything worked out okay.
Chanyeol raises his fist, hesitates, then sucks it up and gives what he hopes are two questioning knocks against the wall.
It takes a moment, but then very close to where Chanyeol is standing, he hears one knock, then two in succession.
He hopes that means yeah, I’m fine.
“Let’s talk money,” Sehun says. He reaches across the table that The Penis Mightier is sitting at, dragging the tablet away from Jongdae and back toward himself. His big hand covers the screen of it, hiding the last picture he’d been showing everyone. Their group has managed to squeeze a meeting into everyone’s schedules—gathering in the library’s café on campus.
Jongdae raises an eyebrow at him. “You aren’t getting any money for this.”
“Why not? You expect me to hand over my goods and services for free? I’m a highly demanded digital artist around here,” Sehun scoffs, but when he looks to his boyfriend for support, Minseok shakes his head.
“You made one commission a month ago, and that was a graphic picture of D.O making out with your client,” Jongdae says. Everyone looks at Chanyeol.
“Yeah.” Chanyeol straightens in his seat. He refuses to feel embarrassed about this. “And I haven’t even gotten the finished product. I paid you thirty dollars for that, man.”
Sehun examines his fingernails. “I don’t know what to tell you. True art takes time.”
“I wouldn’t call you fine-tuning the color of Chanyeol’s tongue in D.O’s mouth ‘true art,’” Minseok says. At least he smiles when Sehun pouts at him, thumbing at his boyfriends bottom lip and murmuring a barely heard, “Stop that.”
“Sehun, you’re a part of The Penis Mightier,” Junmyeon interrupts, the only one still focused.
“So?” Sehun says.
“So you’re asking The Penis Mightier to pay you for creating the album artwork for the EP.”
“He’s not confused, Junmyeon,” Jongdae says, crossing his arms. “He’s being a dick.”
“Hey! An artist’s gotta eat!”
“You live with your mom! She feeds you for free!” Jongdae bangs his fist on the table.
“Okay,” Sehun relents, “An artist’s gotta buy himself a new pair of 7 For All Mankind skinnies.”
While the others argue, Chanyeol manages to pull the tablet from beneath Sehun’s palm without him noticing. Chanyeol thumbs through the different pieces of artwork that Sehun created for the EP. They may give him a lot of shit, but he’s actually a very talented artist. That thirty bucks that Chanyeol forked over for his yet-to-be-completed commission still feels like a good choice.
“I like that one,” Junmyeon says to Chanyeol, having extricated himself from the squabble. Minseok is left to mediate between Jongdae and Sehun, practiced and patient as he keeps them from clawing each other’s eyes out.
“Me too.” Sehun painted a picture of the five of them. It’s a swirling of bright colors and lines, the shapes had to make out at first but discernible with some focus. Chanyeol can see himself in the slump of his shoulders, and beside him is Sehun’s noodle body.. There’s the wiggles of Jongdae’s curly hair, and Minseok’s small but sturdy stature is next to where Sehun has perfectly captured the essence Junmyeon’s default hand-on-hip pose.
“Can you hurry up and email me the file?” Junmyeon asks. “Before they finish fighting. I have to add the name to it in the font we chose, then I can send it over to the guys who are printing the cover sleeves for us.”
Chanyeol quickly taps through the options. “Done.”
“This is actually turning into something,” Junmyeon says, patting Chanyeol on the back. “All we have to plan now is the EP release.”
“How’s that coming?” Chanyeol asks, placing the tablet back on the table.
“I’ve secured a spot for us two Tuesdays from now. It took Boa a lot to convince her manager to let us rearrange the bar floor for a night they don’t usually do live music. And actually…” Junmyeon trails off. The bassist rapidly taps his hand against the table to get the others’ attention. It takes Minseok literally grabbing Sehun by the back of his neck to get him to stop talking, but then Junmyeon has everyone’s attention. “For us to have our EP release at Yellow, Boa told her manager that we’d bring in double the customers that they usually expect on Tuesdays. You guys have to invite everyone you know to our release, and make sure they come ready to buy the bar out.”
“No one’s going to want to drink on a Tuesday,” Sehun grumbles.
“You’d better hope they do, or else we’re never going to get to play at Yellow again.” Junmyeon wrings his fingers. “And Boa’s kind of sticking her neck out for us, so.”
“She must really like you,” Jongdae says, to which Junmyeon fervently shakes his head.
“Boa was psyched by the response we got at our last gig, and she likes our music. That’s her job, to take chances on bands like us that will get her more revenue.”
Jongdae thoughtfully tongues at his teeth. “That has to be the opening for some kind of dirty finance joke, but I’m coming up empty.”
“Thank god,” Minseok says. He moves on, “Sehun can design some flyers and we can start handing them out. I can pass them around the gym, and Junmyeon, you have your whole web of friends in the marketing sector.”
“How much are you guys going to pay me to design—”
Jongdae palms Sehun in the face to make him shut up. “We also have that gig at Beeker’s tomorrow. We can leave some flyers with them.”
“I don’t think they’ll want them,” Chanyeol says. “You remember what happened the last time we played there.”
Beeker’s is a tough bar to play at. They have live music almost every night, but there’s no coordination between the bands that they use to fill the slots. At The Penis Mightier’s last gig there, they’d been thrown between a screamo band and a Vampire Weekend wannabe group that only had one guy on guitar and another on drums.
There’s always a clashing of tastes between the crowd. Last time, it resulted in the screamo band’s fans trying to boo them off stage, then someone had drunkenly rushed the platform and threw Junmyeon over his shoulder. He never got to the next step of whatever the fuck his plan had been, because Minseok kicked the asshole in the knee and he had to be carried out of the building.
“You never know,” Junmyeon says. “I think it’s a good idea. I can also take the flyers around to other venues we’ve played at, see if they’ll let me set some up near the bar.”
Junmyeon helps them organize somewhat of a marketing plan, consisting mainly of flyers and begging everyone they come across to come to their show. He gathers the cash for everyone’s share of the printing fees—Minseok paying Sehun’s portion—and then lets everyone head off to their next schedule.
When Chanyeol goes to the back offices of the library to start his next shift, he puts on his headphones. He’s moved on from Tchaikovsky to Sibelius, another composer that Baekhyun mentioned when he was moving all of his stuff into Baekhyun’s apartment.
Chanyeol and Baekhyun haven’t had the time to put everything back, yet. Not like Chanyeol cares all that much. Sure, it’s weird for him to be taking a shower and have to practically hug the wall to keep the water from splattering all over, but a shower curtain is something he can temporarily live without.
At least, that’s what he tells Baekhyun when the violinist knocks on his door a little before midnight, minutes after he’d gotten home.
“You sure?” Baekhyun asks. He pushes past Chanyeol to walk into his apartment, gazing around at its emptiness. “What about tomorrow? I have a string sectional, but I’m free after that.”
“I’m working a double at the library, then The Penis Mightier has a gig at Beeker’s. You ever been there before?”
Baekhyun shakes his head. “But if it’s a place that allows bands that are named things like The Penis Mightier to play there, then it must be classy.”
“I’m going to ignore your sarcasm and invite you to come out anyway. The show starts at seven. I’m not sure what slot we’ll end up playing. They’re a little disorganized.” Chanyeol shoves his hands in his pockets. For some reason, he feels a little bashful asking Baekhyun to watch him play.
Baekhyun stares at him, and Chanyeol prays to God that his ears aren’t turning red right now.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, “That sounds like fun, as long as you buy me a drink, or five.”
“It’s a deal.” Chanyeol feels a yawn creeping up his throat, unable to hold it back.
“Poor Puppy, all tired,” Baekhyun teases as he starts backing out of Chanyeol’s room. “I’ll let you go to sleep. If you start missing your bed frame too much, you’re more than welcome to come into my studio and crawl into bed next to me.”
The old bite isn’t there, and instead of anxious, Chanyeol feels warmth at the thought of cuddling next to Baekhyun. The violinist seems like a cuddly person, past the sharp teeth and just-as-sharp gaze. Chanyeol gulps, mentally backing away from that thought. “Tempting, but not tonight.”
Baekhyun smirks. “Goodnight, Chanyeol.”
“Night,” Chanyeol replies, leaning against the frame to his open door. It’s not until Baekhyun pauses before going back into his own studio, glancing back at Chanyeol, that Chanyeol realizes he’s still staring. “Just—uh, wanted to make sure you got home safe.”
“What a gentleman,” Baekhyun softly says. Then with one last wave, he shuts the door after himself.
He probably hogs the covers, Chanyeol thinks, trying to fight against the fuzzy feelings that are popping their cute little heads into his conscious, He snores really loudly, remember? I bet he kicks in his sleep, too, and that he gets hot really easily and complains if you so much as accidentally nudge him.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well, and as Chanyeol lays on his mattress and stares at the wall between their apartments, his last thought before he falls asleep is how cute Baekhyun probably is when he sleeps. Soft and unguarded.
Beeker’s is a big block building made entirely of crumbling brick. It’s slightly separated from the popular downtown scene, with a parking lot made of mud and gravel. The Penis Mightier’s van gets stuck in a sloshy hole after they pull in, but at least they’re still close enough to bring in their gear.
There is no backstage area. They have to keep half of their things on stage, crammed with the other bands’, and the rest has to be kept behind the pool tables in the back. Along with a missing backstage area, Bleeker’s does not have an actual ceiling. Chanyeol looks up as they enter through the back, and all he sees is the guts of the ventilation system and wires from the lights.
The crowd is like a puddle, compared to the other night at Yellow. Chanyeol sits at the bar as the first band plays, drinking water out of a smudged glass. The walls are plastered over with posters and flyers from bands past—everything is peeling, crusty. Not even the shitty lighting can cover up all of the stains on the floor.
The first band is an interesting soft rock group with a lead singer with a plugged-in acoustic guitar. Their fans crowd to the front of the dance space, a few of them have whole pitchers of beer that they sip while bobbing their heads to the music.
Baekhyun arrives after the second band starts playing. They’re much louder, amped up with an electric keyboard, and remind Chanyeol of Motion City Soundtrack. Not too bad.
“Park. You didn’t tell me that the cover for getting in was twelve fucking dollars,” Baekhyun yells over the music as he takes a seat next to Chanyeol. He’s scowling, but that’s soon solved as Chanyeol buys him a vodka cranberry.
“Sorry,” Chanyeol says, having to lean in close to be heard. His nose brushes the shell of Baekhyun’s ear. “They technically count this as a show, since there’s five bands playing, so they charge it like a concert.”
“I’m going to need a lot more of these for you to make it up to me.” Baekhyun shakes his drink then takes a sip, watching Chanyeol with his black-rimmed eyes.
“That’s fine. How did your, uh, meetings go?”
“They went awesome, because I am the most awesome concertmaster of all. We have a concert coming up in a couple weeks so it’s only going to get more and more hectic.”
“You said something about—” Chanyeol starts, but Baekhyun frowns and points at his ear as the band playing breaks into a particularly passionate explosion of noise. Chanyeol leans closer again, placing his hand on Baekhyun’s thigh to brace himself. By the time he realizes what he’s doing, it’s too late, and he can’t pull away now. “You talked about practicing for a solo, the day you played for me in the practice room. Is that for the concert you have coming up?”
Chanyeol doesn’t pull away, so when Baekhyun turns to reply, Chanyeol can feel Baekhyun’s breath on his face. He almost goes crosseyed looking at him. “Yes.”
“Um. When will you find out if you get it?” Baekhyun’s thigh feels inexplicably good beneath Chanyeol’s hand.
“I already know,” Baekhyun says, making Chanyeol’s stomach jump when his eyes flick down to Chanyeol’s lips. “If you really want to find out, you’ll have to go to the concert.”
Oh God oh God, Chanyeol finds it within himself to pull away from Baekhyun.
“Drink up,” he all but yells at the violinist. “You’re going to need one or two of those in you to enjoy the acoustics in here when we finally go on.”
The disconcerting thing about playing at compact venue with a small crowd is that it feels a lot more personal. When The Penis Mightier gets on stage, there are some of their most loyal fans/friends up at the front, but they don’t block out the random guy who looks like Cousin It who is trying to mosh to their music. Some of the guys with the pitchers are still hanging around, on their second or fourth round, and they’re standing in the middle of the dance floor, trying to yell over The Penis Mightier’s set. Baekhyun is leaning against the wall with a drink in his hand, looking mightily amused at the girls in front of him who are grinding on each other, wearing fanny packs and tube tops.
No matter the crowd, The Penis Mightier plays hard. Jongdae sings like there’s millions of people in front of him instead of a few very creepy men with mullets hanging on the edge of the platform. Minseok is a little less focused tonight, probably because of what happened the last time they were here. He watches everyone with a careful eye.
During the last song, some of the guys with pitchers start up a ruckus, trying to dance with the girls with fanny packs only to be pushed away. That doesn’t settle well with them, and it gets worse when one of the bartenders comes around to tell them to back off or be kicked out. Ignoring it, The Penis Mightier finishes up their set.
Honestly, no matter how small the crowd, any kind of positive feedback always feels really fucking nice. Cousin It gives Chanyeol a very uncoordinated high-five, and some of the fanny pack girls circle around Junmyeon and take him to the bar to buy him a drink. Minseok is complimented by the mullet men—they’re actually part of the band that’s setting up next, and Jongdae and Sehun are swarmed by their regulars.
After helping to pack away their gear, Chanyeol goes over to Baekhyun and leans against the wall next to him.
“So? What do you think?” Chanyeol asks. Between sets, it’s much easier to talk over the soft 90’s music playing over the speakers. Baekhyun takes his time replying, watching one of the mullet men wallop Minseok on the back as they laugh together.
“I think that you were made to sweat behind a drum set,” Baekhyun says before he tips his head back and finishes the last of his drink. “You look so good up there that it physically hurts me.”
Chanyeol momentarily forgets what it’s like to breathe. “Yeah—but—music what about the music?”
“You know it’s not really my thing, Puppy,” Baekhyun says. His words are like a small prick that deflates Chanyeol’s chest. “But, I must say, if punk rock—”
“—was my thing, I think that your set was pretty fucking awesome.”
“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not.”
“Don’t hurt your pretty little head trying to overthink it.” Baekhyun hands Chanyeol his empty glass. “So are you going to buy me another one of these here, or are we hopping to another bar?” The two of them move out of the way as some of the mullet men walk by with their electric guitars, on their way to set them up on stage. “I kind of hope it’s the latter.”
“Another few here,” Chanyeol says, beginning to lead Baekhyun back to the bar. “As crappy as Beeker’s can be, they always give us steady gigs. We try and stick around to keep our fans here, keep the crowd going for the other bands. Common courtesy.”
Baekhyun squishes his nose in distaste, but doesn’t try and argue. They find an empty set of chairs by the bar and Chanyeol orders the two of them shots of tequila, per Baekhyun’s request. No sooner have they toasted and knocked back the shots when someone plops in the empty chair next to Baekhyun’s.
It’s a guy who Chanyeol recognizes from the last band that’s playing tonight. He’s the lead singer, somehow more glitzy and smarmy than Jongdae. The guy’s band actually is punk rock, but they have similar fanbases that gets them playing the same venues as The Penis Mightier. He and Chanyeol have crossed paths a lot.
“Nice set, Park,” the guy says with a wide grin. He has on a sparkly black muscle tee, and his complicated eyeshadow reminds Chanyeol of twilight. It’s always funny to see Jonghyun all done up when Chanyeol knows he graduated last year and is training to be a Pediatrician.
“Thanks, Jonghyun.” Chanyeol quickly introduces him to Baekhyun, their hands staying clasped over the table a little too long for Chanyeol’s liking. Jonghyun is ridiculously fit, and Chanyeol watches his arm muscles bulge as he gives Baekhyun’s hand one last squeeze before letting go.
“So tell me your deal,” Jonghyun says to Baekhyun, “Are you dating Mr. Knobby Knees or are you two just friends?”
Baekhyun is doing that full-scan thing with Jonghyun, his eyes taking their time as they trace over his muscular shoulders, sharp jawline, plump lips. “Half of his things are are my place and we’ve slept in each other’s beds. You tell me.”
“We’re friends,” Chanyeol says, cutting Baekhyun’s game short.
Jonghyun raises his eyebrow. “Yeah. Sounds like you guys are pals.”
“Unfortunately,” Baekhyun sighs, “Puppy, here, has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to date me.”
That’s not exactly true. Chanyeol didn’t want to hook up with Baekhyun, they’d never talked about anything else. But before Chanyeol can linger on the unfairness, there’s a gross twist in his chest that happens when Jonghyun’s smile grows wider. “What a great loss for him, then.” He looks at Baekhyun’s empty shot glass. “What are you having? Can I get you another?”
“You can get all three of us another. Tequila.” Baekhyun scrunches his nose in a way he knows is cute. “Thanks, babe.”
Jonghyun rises and makes his way to the bar, not without sending a nauseating wink to Baekhyun. Jealousy rises in Chanyeol’s throat, thick and caustic and completely unnecessary. He has no right to feel possessive of Baekhyun.
To counteract that feeling, Chanyeol says, “Jonghyun’s really cool. I think you’d like him a lot.”
“I already like him a lot,” Baekhyun replies, peeking over at him through the crowd. He pokes at his bottom lip with his fingertip. “That is a fine specimen of a man.”
“Are you interested?” Chanyeol says, the words like ash on his tongue. “If you want, I can go—”
“Puppy, are you trying to push me off on your sparkly friend?” Baekhyun laughs. The way the top three buttons of his shirt are undone gives Chanyeol a nice view of the way his neck muscles move, how his collar bones shift. “Already? So soon into the night, you’re done with me?”
“No, no no no,” Chanyeol quickly says. “I thought that—”
“Chill, Chanyeol. I came out to see you. You’re my date tonight.” Baekhyun nudges him with his elbow, eyes in little amused half-crescents.
When Jonghyun returns, they drink. Neither Jonghyun or Baekhyun mess with salt and lime, but when Chanyeol follows their lead, he regrets it instantly.
Chanyeol doesn’t miss the way Jonghyun pulls his chair closer to Baekhyun’s, leans over to say something in his ear even though the next band hasn’t even started playing yet. And Chanyeol keeps waiting for Baekhyun to play back, to flirt with the same tenacity he did with Chanyeol that first day, but Baekhyun seems subdued.
Jonghyun smoothes his hand over Baekhyun’s shoulder, thumbing at the crook of his neck. Chanyeol can’t tell if the way Baekhyun leans away from his touch to peer over at the stage is deliberate, or not, but Jonghyun’s hand falls away.
When the mullet band starts playing—gritty country, of course—the three of them join the crowd, settling in next to Minseok, Sehun, and Jongdae. Apparently Junmyeon already headed out to take the van back to Sehun’s, then is probably going to Yellow to hang out with Boa while she works.
Chanyeol tries to focus on the band playing, ignoring the pitcher-boys who keep knocking against his right side as they push each other. It’s not much better on his left, where out of the corner of his eye, he can see Jonghyun’s fingers creeping across the small of Baekhyun’s back. It doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t it doesn’t. It especially doesn’t bother him when Jonghyun’s hand curls around Baekhyun’s waist and pulls him close—
—there’s a burst of wetness against Chanyeol’s left shoulder, quickly bleeding through his shirt and plopping against his shoes. Great. One of the meatheads laughs, licking the spilt beer from the edge of his pitcher. “Watch it, kid.”
“Cool, awesome,” Chanyeol says, mostly to himself. He makes to edge around the crowd, but suddenly feels someone grabbing his wrist. It’s the guy who’d ran into him. He must have seen Chanyeol’s lips moving—must have thought Chanyeol was talking back to him—because he leers in Chanyeol’s face and says, “The fuck you say?”
“Nothing, man.” Chanyeol manages to wrench his arm out of the guy’s big bear paw before anyone notices. He pushes past the others and clears to the bathroom. As he’s cleaning himself up, pressing cheap paper towels over his wet shirt and pants, he hears the bathroom door open. Chanyeol tenses, expecting one of the pitcher guys to come in, but it’s Baekhyun.
“Hey Puppy. You good?”
Chanyeol gestures to his shirt. “Yeah. You know how it goes, some people can’t hold their liquor. Literally.”
Baekhyun leans against the door, studying Chanyeol. His eyes are dark, and the way he’s reclining back lets Chanyeol take in the shape of his pretty hips, strong thighs. Chanyeol continues, “You didn’t have to come check on me, I’ll be out in a second.”
“Nah,” Baekhyun says, edging his way over to the sink. Chanyeol feels like he can breathe again when Baekhyun turns his attention to the mirror, inspecting his eyeliner. All of the graffitied dicks on the walls and stall are reflected twice over, making Baekhyun look like an edgy piece of pop art. “Your friend Jonghyun is hot and all but he’s getting a little handsy. Kid can’t seem to take a hint.”
The fluorescent light above them flickers. With as much nonchalance as Chanyeol can muster, he asks, “What hint? I told you, I wouldn’t be offended if you wanted to head out—”
“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun sharply says, dropping his hands to the cracked countertop, “I get that being perfectly dense sometimes is part of your whole charm, but I’m trying really hard, here. I’m not interested in him. Or anyone else in Beeker’s, or anyone else in any other bar. I’m here with you, okay?”
“Honestly it’s kind of a jerk move to assume that I’m going to ditch you to go get some ass.” Baekhyun turns his attention back to his reflection, smoothing down his hair. “I mean, sure, I get that I have the track record. But you really can’t see the effort I’m making?”
“The effort you’re making for what?”
Baekhyun gives a long, suffering sigh. He turns to Chanyeol, and even past the slightly drunken wobble, the steps are slow and deliberate. Chanyeol suddenly can’t feel the wetness of his shirt sticking to his skin, or the scratchy paper towels in his hands. He watches as Baekhyun worries his lip with his sharp teeth; watches as Baekhyun’s hand lifts to his face.
Then sharply pats his cheek. “Stop staring at me with your mouth open like that. You look like an idiot.”
With that, Baekhyun turns around and strides out of the bathroom, leaving Chanyeol in stunned silence.
Chanyeol cleans himself up to the best of his ability then goes back to the bar. He buys himself a drink, and when he turns around, he sees Baekhyun and Jongdae hanging around behind him. Before he can say anything, Baekhyun moodily snatches the drink from his hand and takes a gulp. His ears and neck are flushed, but other than a slight sway, there’s no other clue to how much he’s had to drink.
They watch the rest of the set from the bar, and when it quiets down again, Jonghyun turns to Baekhyun. Chanyeol pretends to be very, very interested in the wet paper coaster that was left on the bar’s counter.
“Are you guys sticking around to watch my band’s set?” Jonghyun asks.
Baekhyun’s eyes flicker to Chanyeol’s in question. “I’m not sure.”
“If you stay, I’ll take you out after,” Jonghyun says. Chanyeol hates how Jonghyun is so confident. He’s charming and hot and doesn’t have weird giraffe legs with a mind of their own and—
“Thanks doll, but I already know who’s taking me home tonight.” Baekhyun hands his drink back to Chanyeol. “This tall drink of—” He looks at Chanyeol in mock-disgust. “—something.”
Jongdae looks between the two of them. “Right, then. I’m gonna go set up, it was nice meeting you, Baekhyun.” He grabs the wet coaster that Chanyeol had been poking at, then uses one of the pens by the counter to write his number down. Jonghyun hands it to Baekhyun. “Text me sometime.”
Baekhyun ends up tucking the paper into his pocket without much art. When Jonghyun leaves, Baekhyun turns to Chanyeol. “I need a cig.”
It all feels terribly familiar when they get outside. Baekhyun leans against the wall and reaches into his pocket to procure a cigarette and his lighter. Except this time, Baekhyun’s drunk, and he can’t coordinate the movement it takes to hold his cigarette between his lips and operate the lighter at the same time.
“I really shouldn’t be supporting your habit, but,” Chanyeol trails off, chuckling as he takes the lighter from Baekhyun and lights it for him. Baekhyun keeps his eyes on Chanyeol as he breathes in, burning the tip. He doesn’t know what to say, so he babbles, “You’ve had a lot to drink.”
“What?” Baekhyun asks. “Don’t think I can handle it?”
“I think you can handle it fine.”
Baekhyun blows smoke in his face, “Good answer, Puppy.”
There’s a burst of noise from the front entrance. Chanyeol looks over in time to see one of the pitcher boys being bodily thrown out of the building, pitcherless for the first time tonight. It takes two bouncers to haul him away from the door as he struggles. His throaty yells echo down the street.
“What a fuckwit,” Baekhyun lowly says. “Those guys have been hitting my nerves all night. They were being asses during your set, and anyone who is still wearing trucker hats like that needs to be punched in the face.”
As the man stumbles down the street, still shouting profanity, Chanyeol recognizes him as the asshole who spilled beer on him earlier. Chanyeol huddles closer to Baekhyun as he approaches, giving pitcher guy more space on the sidewalk to lumber by.
Somehow, that’s still not enough room, because Chanyeol suddenly feels a shoulder against his back and he stumbles against Baekhyun. The butt of Baekhyun’s cigarette singes the skin of his forearm as he reaches out to steady himself, but it’s a fleeting thought before the man yells, “The fuck, bro? What the fuck you push’n me?”
Great. Great great great. Chanyeol grits his teeth and turns around, subconsciously edging in front of Baekhyun as the violinist asks him if he’s okay. “I didn’t. I’m not trying to mess with you.”
“Then th’fuck you push me?” The man smells like he’s been dunked in beer. All of his skin is cherry tomato red, like a huge piece of raw meat right in Chanyeol’s face. “Huh? Little bitch.”
Chanyeol is able to dodge the sloppy swipe of the guy’s hand as it reaches for his head.
“Calm down, okay? We’re leaving, we’re going, it’s okay.”
“Chanyeol—” Baekhyun starts, putting his hand on Chanyeol’s back.
“Don’t fuckin’ tell me to calm down. Pussy ass—” This time, Chanyeol isn’t quick enough to dodge the next shove. It lands like an open-fisted punch against his chest, knocking the air from his lungs. Chanyeol barely has a moment to register the blow when there’s a flash out of the corner of his eye, and little Baekhyun has reared back and punched pitcher guy right in the nose.
It sends the man stumbling back on his ass, probably more from drunkenness than Baekhyun’s strength.
“Holy shit,” Chanyeol gasps as Baekhyun lets out a long wail, cradling his hand. Chanyeol crowds forward, leaning down and lifting Baekhyun’s clasped hands up. “Are you—” It’s still hard to catch his breath. “—okay? What—are you hurt?”
“Of course I’m fucking hurt!” Baekhyun cries, his voice cracking, “My hand—I need—how the fuck—”
“Come on,” Chanyeol says, wrapping an arm around Baekhyun’s shoulders. He tries to get Baekhyun walking down the street so they can hail a cab, but Baekhyun tugs him in the opposite direction. It’s only when they get close enough to the groaning lump on the ground that Chanyeol realizes what Baekhyun’s doing: the violinist practically hisses as he tries kicking at the pitcher guy, his short leg not long enough to reach as Chanyeol stops him just in time.
“You fucking motherfucker!” Baekhyun screeches, his voice cutting clearly through the night. He thrashes his leg as he pulls against Chanyeol. Baekhyun is slightly off-balance and it looks more like he’s trying to do the hokey pokey than beat the guy’s ass. “Fuck fuck fuck you laying a fucking hand on—goddammit, Chanyeol, let me go so I can—”
Chanyeol all but lifts Baekhyun to pull him away as he raises his hand to signal for a taxi. Luckily, a cab pulls up, Baekhyun still spewing ineloquent venom at the guy he knocked out as Chanyeol opens the door then hauls him inside. After telling the cabbie his address, Chanyeol pushes on the overhead light in the back seat.
“Show me your hand,” Chanyeol says. Baekhyun is shaking bodily, like a stressed out chihuahua. Tears stream down his face, but Chanyeol doesn’t know if it’s because he’s in that much pain, or that pissed off. Either way, it makes anger rise like bile in Chanyeol’s stomach. He half wants to go back and give the guy a couple good kicks, himself.
Baekhyun pulls his hand away from where he’d been cradling it by his stomach. The knuckles are bright red, but Chanyeol can’t tell in the bare lighting if they’re starting to swell, or not.
“Can you extend your fingers?” Chanyeol asks, gently dipping his fingertips beneath Baekhyun’s to help uncurl his fist. Baekhyun actually whimpers and it feels like Chanyeol has been hit in the chest all over again.
“No fuck fuck fuck I can’t that hurts, it hurts. Oh my God what if I broke it?” Baekhyun whines, fresh tears rolling down his face. “I can’t, what if—what if—”
“I don’t think you broke it,” Chanyeol says in a shaky voice. He’s managed to extend Baekhyun’s fingers, and when he tells Baekhyun to try and move them, Baekhyun holds the form without Chanyeol’s support.
When they reach their apartment, Chanyeol pays the cabbie and takes Baekhyun to his apartment. He sits Baekhyun down on his mattress on the ground, then pulls an ice pack out of his freezer before wrapping it in a towel. Baekhyun holds it against his knuckles as Chanyeol gets him a glass of water in an attempt to calm him down.
Chanyeol sits beside him, lets Baekhyun lean against his side as he wraps what he hopes is a comforting arm around Baekhyun’s shoulders. Baekhyun’s sniffles sound extra pathetic in the small room. For being such a tenacious guy, he sure is a baby when it comes to hurting himself. The more Chanyeol thinks about it, the more ridiculous everything seems.
“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says as Baekhyun presses his face against the front of Chanyeol’s shoulder.
“Hm?” Baekhyun mournfully hums.
“You punched a guy. In the face.”
“He fucking deserved it. He deserved to have his penis cut off and attached to his forehead to forewarn everyone what a dick he is.”
Chanyeol looks down, mostly getting an eyeful of Baekhyun’s hair. “Whoa, there.”
“He pushed you. You, an actual puppy. Didn’t that piss you the fuck off?” Baekhyun starts vibrating again, so Chanyeol hugs him tighter. He can feel more wetness bleeding through his crusty beer-dried shirt.
“Not enough to break his nose. What the hell were you thinking? He’s three times bigger than you, and now your hand—”
Baekhyun hiccups. “I was drunk. Am drunk. And don’t take that tone with me, I valiantly defended your honor and have shattered my hand and will probably never be able to play the violin ever again.”
“Your hand isn’t shattered,” Chanyeol murmurs. He gently lifts the ice pack, peeking at the top of Baekhyun’s hand. It’s even more red, maybe a little swollen, but thankfully it doesn’t look too bad. “We can go to the ER, if you want.”
“No,” Baekhyun says, burying his face harder against Chanyeol’s chest. His voice comes through muffled as he says, “If I knew the secret to cuddling in bed with you was to punch a jackoff in the face, I would’ve done that weeks ago.”
“You’re lucky you’re extra pitiful when you cry, or else I’d be kicking you off my bed.” But Chanyeol rubs his hand up and down Baekhyun’s arm, glad when he feels Baekhyun begin to relax against him. “You call me Puppy but I think you’re the one who fits the nickname better.”
“Let’s not get too wild, now,” Baekhyun warns. “I’m the one who punched a guy while you wanted to back away quietly.”
Chanyeol relents. “You’re right. You’re the tough guy. Your tactics ended up working so much better than mine.”
As they sit, Baekhyun asks Chanyeol if he can have any ibuprofen. Over and over again. Chanyeol says no every time, he’s had too much to drink, but eventually Chanyeol gets so annoyed that he grabs some Tic Tacs out of his backpack, tells him they’re aspirin, and has Baekhyun swallow them down with some water. Chanyeol youtubes how to wrap Baekhyun’s hand, and Baekhyun manages to make minimum doctor-patient innuendo as Chanyeol carefully applies the compression. Eventually, Baekhyun falls asleep on his mattress, his fist still held against his chest.
He’s so tiny.
Chanyeol doesn’t mean to lay down next to him. Or let his eyes close. Or fall asleep.
But suddenly, he’s opening his eyes and seeing sunlight and tufts of copper hair. Chanyeol looks down. Baekhyun’s sleeping face is within inches of his. His little pink mouth is hanging open. His top lip is slightly asymmetrical, and there’s a smallest of small beauty mark beneath his nose. Chanyeol finds himself staring at it, even with the drool shining at the corner of his mouth. Baekhyun’s eyeliner is smudged all over the place, streaking down his face and staining his eyelids like smokey watercolor.
Baekhyun does hog the blankets, but he’s clutching onto Chanyeol like a starfish. Their legs are locked together, and Baekhyun’s non-hurt hand is tangled in the fabric of Chanyeol’s shirt, near his stomach. The violinist’s breath is rancid, blowing in his face, but Chanyeol can’t bring himself to get up.
So for a little longer, he closes his eyes. Lets himself sink back into the warmth and the blankets and the golden morning. Just for now, he’s not going to think about anything other than how good it feels to be close to Baekhyun.
The swelling in Baekhyun’s hand goes down in two days, and by the fourth, there’s only a mottling of sickly yellow and blue edging around his knuckles. Chanyeol asks if it impedes his violin playing at all, and through all of Baekhyun’s complaining and exaggerations, he figures that it’s not too bad. Baekhyun punched the guy with his bow-holding hand, and luckily it doesn’t need the dexterity that’s required of of the fingers on his left hand to contort around the strings.
On Thursday, Baekhyun’s even feeling well enough to meet at Sehun’s garage, helping The Penis Mightier fold their printed EP jackets. Junmyeon somehow whittled a deal out of the printer that they used, and paid a little extra for sticker labels that they could place over the top of the CDs the recording studio made for them.
It’s getting late. The night sky has settled in and the yellow light of the garage spills out across the driveway. October has brought a chill with it, and soon they’ll be bringing out the space heaters to keep themselves warm while they practice.
Sehun proudly shows Minseok the back of one of his folded jackets. He taps his fingernail against the very tiny print near their credits. “Look what Junmyeon included for me.”
“Album art done by Sehun Oh, backup guitarist and best looking member of The Penis Mightier,” Minseok reads.
“That’s disgusting,” Jongdae grumbles at Junmyeon, “Why would you indulge the kid?”
Junmyeon happily shrugs, focusing on folding his current jacket with perfect precision. He’s only finished three of them while everyone else is building up a stack at their sides. “Since we didn’t pay Sehun for his artwork, I thought this may make it up to him.”
Already crowded close, Baekhyun flops against Chanyeol’s side. The two of them are sitting on the floor by his drum set, on top of a dusty blanket that they found by Sehun’s old wagon. Baekhyun has been getting increasingly needy ever since he hurt his hand, always trailing after Chanyeol, tugging on his shirt to get his attention. Every day, Baekhyun has been waiting for him in the café between his shifts at the library and his classes, and every day, he finds himself working on his homework in one of the practice rooms at Earl, Baekhyun practicing and toeing at his shin if he looks at his textbook too long.
Chanyeol supposes that they’re friends, now. That’s what friends do. Spend time with each other, tuck in each other’s shirt tags when they stick out, share earbuds when they ride the same bus home. Except when he and Jongdae sit at the same table and play friendship footsie, it feels different than when Baekhyun’s feet knock against his, playful at first then with more vengeance. When Chanyeol checks his phone and sees Jongdae’s name across the screen, it certainly doesn’t evoke the same kind of clunky moths in Chanyeol’s stomach that come when he sees Baekhyun, instead.
And when Baekhyun is leaning against him like now, his cheek warm against Chanyeol’s bicep, it certainly is nicer than when Jongdae uses him like his own personal body-sized pillow.
“What?” Chanyeol asks Baekhyun. “Bored?”
“Yes. I’m disappointed in The Penis Mightier,” Baekhyun says. “I thought hanging out with a band would be a lot more exciting than this.”
“What? Do you want me to grab one of the beer bottles from the Ohs’ recycling and bash it over someone’s head? Yours?” Jongdae asks, taking the wrapper from one of the stickers and throwing it at Baekhyun.
“Someone at least needs to throw a chair through the window.” Baekhyun picks at a string in the hole of Chanyeol’s jeans, right by his knee, his fingertips brushing against bare skin. “I expected this out of Puppy but the rest of you have no excuse.”
When Chanyeol looks up, he sees everyone’s eyes on him. Minseok’s eyebrow is raised, and Jongdae’s expression is insufferably smug. Suddenly, Baekhyun’s weight against him feels awkward. He can’t remember how to move his hands to fold the jacket.
“You heard the man, Minseok,” Sehun says. “Take off your shirt, put on a show.”
Baekhyun makes a high-pitched sound of interest, pulling his head off of Chanyeol’s shoulder. “Now we’re talking. I saw a glimpse of what Minseok’s working with at your last show. Congratulations, Sehun.”
“Thank you,” Sehun smugly says, undeterred even as Minseok glares at him.
Chanyeol loses track of the conversation at that point, watching as Baekhyun’s pointer and middle finger trace the hole in his jeans. Baekhyun dips his finger beneath the edge, his fingernail scratching and sending shivers down Chanyeol’s spine. Baekhyun jokes with Jongdae, teases Junmyeon, but his finger continues to trace little infuriating patterns against Chanyeol’s leg.
Chanyeol wonders if Baekhyun knows what he’s doing—knows that he makes Chanyeol’s gut feel all different kinds of wonky from one small touch.
Of course he does. He must. Baekhyun is nothing if not self-aware.
The problem now is that he likes it. He wants to grab Baekhyun’s hand. He wants to know what it’s like to wrap an arm around Baekhyun at a show, pull him close and feel the beat vibrate through both of them. He wants to thumb Baekhyun’s lip when he gets pouty, like Minseok always does to Sehun. Chanyeol needs to touch Baekhyun in the same way and make him experience even a fraction of the unsteadiness Chanyeol feels every time Baekhyun so much as looks at him.
But all of that comes with a territory that Chanyeol hasn’t experienced since Yixing. Yixing, who was so sweet and kind and always treated Chanyeol like something delicate. Baekhyun is almost the polar opposite. He’s uncharted territory, and that’s scary. Intimidating.
All of that swirling in Chanyeol’s mind, Baekhyun’s touch gets to be too much. Chanyeol suddenly stands, mumbling something about be right back as he stomps through the garage. Chanyeol goes inside the house and hides in the bathroom. He stares at the decorative seashell on the counter as he smacks his leg where Baekhyun had been touching him, as if he could beat away the tingles.
A knock at the door makes him jump. “Yeah?”
“Need help in there, cowboy?” Jongdae.
Chanyeol rolls his eyes and opens the door. “What’s with ‘cowboy?’”
“Baekhyun has all those nicknames for you, I thought I’d try one out.” Jongdae frowns, his mouth twisting like he’s bitten into something sour. “Didn’t work out that well.”
“No. Did you need to use the bathroom or something? You know the Ohs have like three more—”
“I wanted to make sure that you were okay,” Jongdae says, shoving Chanyeol back into the bathroom then shutting the door after himself. Chanyeol wonders why he’s friends with so many small, pushy people.
“I’m fine. I had to pee.”
“Chanyeol, you got up so fast that Baekhyun practically face-planted it onto the blanket.”
“I really had to pee.”
Jongdae lightly punches Chanyeol’s shoulder. “You are like, the most transparent person, ever. Plus, you didn’t get the knee-wiggles that usually happen when you really have to pee.”
“We spend way too much time together,” Chanyeol says, closing the toilet lid then sitting down on it.
“Which is why I know you’re freaking out.” Jongdae turns away from him, looking very interested in the beach painting on the wall. “Can’t you chill for like ten minutes?” Chanyeol opens his mouth, but Jongdae shushes him. “You’re obviously into him. Stop overthinking it. Just because you like him doesn’t mean you have to date, or you have to fuck, or anything.”
“It’s Baekhyun, though,” Chanyeol says, at a loss of any other way to express himself.
“Is it because of what Soojung said?” Jongdae asks. “About him being with half the orchestra?”
“No, not at all,” Chanyeol quickly says. He pauses for a breath. “Well, I mean, maybe? He could sleep with the whole orchestra and that wouldn’t change how I—um—” Chanyeol whispers the next word. “—feel about him. But I can’t help thinking about the possibility that I’m just another on the line, you know? That maybe I like him in a different way that he likes me. I don’t want to be with him in any kind of way if that means that he’ll be moving onto the next one once he’s bored with me.”
“What if he’s been persistent because I said no? Maybe he’s not used to that. Maybe this is kind of like a game to him—”
“Because you’re right.” Chanyeol can’t stop, now. “I’m into him. I think I could really, really be into him. But I don’t know Baekhyun that well. I mean, I knew Yixing as well as I know you, and it still felt like a surprise truck came out of nowhere and smushed me to the ground when he broke up with me.”
“Man, Chanyeol.” Jongdae grabs one of the seafoam green hand towels and whacks him with it. “I’m not telling you to marry the guy. I’m saying relax, which is the opposite of what you’re doing right now.”
Chanyeol hangs his head, sulky. “I can’t help it.”
“I know,” Jongdae says. He straightens the towel and hangs it back up. “This was supposed to be a gentle reminder for you not to freak the fuck out but as usual, it ended up with me hitting you.” Jongdae holds out his hand to Chanyeol to pull him to his feet. “All I’m saying is don’t overthink things too much. He obviously likes you. He’s being sweet to you and you get all starry-eyed when you’re together. Let yourself enjoy it, you know?”
There’s another knock on the door. Chanyeol opens it to see Baekhyun standing there with his arms crossed, looking suspiciously between Jongdae and Chanyeol. “Did Puppy need help holding his dick while he peed, or something?”
Jongdae sharply laughs as Chanyeol represses the urge to explain no no it’s not like that at all. Jongdae says, “Yes. But now that you’re here, it’s a job I’ll happily bequeath to you. Congratulations.” With one more look at Chanyeol, he leaves the bathroom.
Chanyeol doesn’t like how Baekhyun is frowning at him—that little line between his eyebrows.
“Okay, I know this is super ridiculous but I have to ask,” Baekhyun says, “is there anything going on between you two? I know that you guys are friends, but is there something that I’ve missed? Because—”
“Nothing,” Chanyeol says, “There’s nothing. Jongdae has zero understanding of boundaries.”
“So you guys have never hooked up?”
Chanyeol nervously chuckles. “Why does that matter?”
He tries to walk out of the bathroom, but Baekhyun reaches in front of him to grab the doorframe and cut him off. Baekhyun fixes an eyebrow-burning glare on him. “Just tell me.”
“No. Not even a little bit,” Chanyeol says. Baekhyun lets go of the door, but jumps when Chanyeol continues, “Well wait, we kissed one time freshman year, playing spin the bottle. Jongdae gagged for like an hour afterwards.”
“And that’s it?”
“You two are really close. Have you ever wanted to—”
“Baekhyun, jeez,” Chanyeol says, trying to keep his voice light. It’s a joke, it must be some kind of joke. “I swear, there’s been nothing. Are you jealous, or something?”
“Yes.” Baekhyun crosses his arms, still some immovable force in the doorway. Chanyeol feels his smile freeze, turn awkward on his face. He’s serious. He’s not playing with Chanyeol, using this all for some kind of joke.
“Well don’t be,” Chanyeol says in a soft voice, unsure how to proceed. “He’s my best friend.”
Chanyeol wants to ask what right Baekhyun has to be jealous, but isn’t that how he had felt last week when Jonghyun had put his hands all over the violinist? They don’t have any claim on each other, whatever relationship they have.
“Well,” Baekhyun says, “Jongdae has bequeathed all handling of your dick to me, so next time, don’t call your bff to help you out.”
“I didn’t call—” Chanyeol starts, but Baekhyun grabs his hand and pulls him forward, back down the hall. When they reach the garage and join the others, Baekhyun lets go, but even as they sit together on the blanket again and pick up their jackets, Chanyeol can still feel the strength of Baekhyun’s fingers around his.
A week and a half after Chanyeol loaned Baekhyun all of his things, the two of them finally find the time to put everything back.
Something about Baekhyun is a little on edge. He doesn’t say anything to Chanyeol after opening the door, only turns on his heel to stomp back into his room. Baekhyun had a long session with the orchestra today, then headed off for another string sectional. The violinist must have been playing for hours on hours today, and ever since Chanyeol googled what a concertmaster is, he can understand any grumpiness on Baekhyun’s part.
A concertmaster is basically the representative for the orchestra—the first chair violin. It’s such a Baekhyun job. He gets to be in charge, gets to be important as the mouthpiece between the orchestra and the conductor. The string section looks to him for guidance, especially with things that Chanyeol didn’t understand in the article, like bowing, articulation and phrasing. On top of that, Baekhyun is in charge of tuning the orchestra before every performance, and he gets to be the showiest member on stage. The concertmaster gets to walk out by himself, acknowledge the audience by himself, and shake the conductor’s hand before they begin.
Baekhyun was made to be concertmaster. Chanyeol can’t wait to watch his performance at the end of the month.
As soon as Chanyeol gets over Baekhyun’s overcast expression, he notices a huge box of donut holes from Stella’s on the counter.
“Are those for me?” Chanyeol asks, watching as Baekhyun haphazardly takes his sheets off of the mattress. The violinist is so huffy with the mess of blankets that it would be cute to watch him struggle if he wasn’t so agitated.
“All forty of those are for me. Don’t touch them.”
Chanyeol figures he’s joking, but he doesn’t dare test it. “Do you need help, Baekhyun?”
“No,” Baekhyun snaps, “In my spare time I like wrestling with impossibly big sheets I don’t need your help at all so keep standing there and doing nothing with that dumb look on your big dumb face.”
Chanyeol purses his lips and walks over. As Baekhyun holds up one side of the tangle of blankets, trying to find an edge, Chanyeol grabs a hanging chunk. Before Baekhyun can figure out what’s going on, Chanyeol tugs and wraps the blanket around him, twice, “Hey—what—” cocooning his body so that all that’s poking out is his head.
Somehow Baekhyun’s glare still makes him look very menacing. Luckily the blankets are tight and they make it impossible for him to move—take a swat at Chanyeol.
“What the hell are you doing, Park?” Baekhyun growls. He tries to wiggle and break out of the restraints, but he ends up looking like a squirming pupae. Chanyeol holds fast to the edge of the sheets with one hand as he pulls Baekhyun closer to him with the other. It’s only to keep him from tottering off balance: not like that reasoning stops his heartbeat from stuttering as Baekhyun tilts his head back to look up at him. The blankets ruffle around his neck and the back of his head.
“Making a Baekhyun Burrito. You seem stressed out.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me.” Another wiggle, Chanyeol’s grip tightens around Baekhyun’s back.
“Rough day?” Chanyeol asks. When he stares down at Baekhyun, he suddenly gets the urge to be very protective of his dick even though Baekhyun’s knee couldn’t possibly get him with the way they’re standing.
But then Baekhyun’s droopy eyes soften the slightest bit. He looks away before Chanyeol can make much of it. “Terrible. The worst. Today I came very close to gouging out the eyes of my assistant principal with my bow, and those things are worth thousands of dollars. Even thinking about misusing my bow is…” Baekhyun trails off, shuddering.
“Do you need me to hit the assistant principal for you? I owe you a punch.”
Baekhyun sighs happily at the thought, Chanyeol’s heart jerking when Baekhyun rests his forehead against Chanyeol’s shoulder. “As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I need my assistant principal in his best shape. He’s a jackass, but he’s a talented jackass.”
“What else?” Chanyeol asks him.
“The cellos weren’t listening to me today. I corrected them like five times and they still fucked up during the last run,” Baekhyun says. “Everyone is getting tense and stressed out. I was playing babysitter all day today, nursing people like whiny newborns.”
“I’m sorry,” Chanyeol lowly murmurs.
“And my hand still hurts.” Speaking of whining…Chanyeol can hear the extra pout in Baekhyun’s voice, put there for his benefit. “I stopped wrapping it as I played a couple days ago, but there’s this twinge that it still gets.”
Chanyeol plays right into it. “We don’t have to move my stuff back today. If you need to rest—”
Baekhyun’s breath is muggy and hot through the fabric of Chanyeol’s shirt as he chuckles. Chanyeol gulps. “I’ll be fine, Puppy. All I want is some pity points. Feel sorry for me, I had a bad day.”
“I feel sorry for you,” Chanyeol says, slightly rocking the two of them back and forth. “Poor Baekhyun, concertmaster to the babies of U of M’s philharmonic.”
“I’d stomp on your foot for being so sarcastic, but I don’t even care at this point. Being hugged by you is like being hugged by a giant teddy bear.”
Oh. Chanyeol supposes he is hugging Baekhyun right now. Instead of letting go, he squeezes Baekhyun tighter. Baekhyun continues, his voice soft and mournful, “I’m sorry that I said you had a dumb look on your big dumb face. Your face is not dumb.”
“Just your ears.”
“Right. This was nice and all but we’re done,” Chanyeol says, letting go of Baekhyun. At least Baekhyun smiles as Chanyeol helps unwrap him. The two of them work to straighten the sheets, Chanyeol throwing them over his shoulder to take back to his room.
When Chanyeol gets back to Baekhyun’s studio, feeling slightly overwhelmed at the idea of all the work they still have to do, he sees that Baekhyun has opened his laptop on the counter and is playing music.
“Hey Baekhyun,” Chanyeol calls to him, sitting on his barstool to peer at Baekhyun’s computer. He doesn’t recognize the orchestral piece. “Don’t worry about taking down the shower curtain. I bought myself a new one a couple days ago.”
“Really?” Baekhyun asks, his voice echoing strangely off the tiled bathroom walls. “Puppy, you absolute sweetheart.”
“It’s no big deal,” Chanyeol says, even as his ears go hot. The music is Brahms, something Chanyeol hasn’t delved into yet. He scrolls down Baekhyun’s iTunes, looking at Beethoven, Sibelius, Back—
“Goo Goo Dolls?” Chanyeol says out loud. He doesn’t believe it at first, but even when he leans closer to the screen, it’s written right there. Chanyeol clicks on the genre tab, bringing up alternative and his jaw drops when he sees all of Red Hot Chili Peppers albums, along with Modest Mouse and The White Stripes. Chanyeol plays Dashboard, the sound drifting through the studio.
Baekhyun sticks his head out of the bathroom. “Hey, stop poking around my computer.”
“Why do you have some of my favorite groups on here?” Chanyeol asks, pointing at the screen. Had someone abducted Baekhyun’s laptop? “I thought alternative music wasn’t your ‘thing.’”
Baekhyun shrugs. “What, you really thought you were the only one who could be curious?”
Before Chanyeol can reply, Baekhyun ducks back into the bathroom. For a moment, all Chanyeol can do is stare at the laptop, tracing the cursor over the plays column. Goo Goo Dolls, the band he mentioned the day after they met, has the most—Black Balloon has been listened to over forty times. He double-clicks on it, grinning when he hears Baekhyun humming along.
Chanyeol is a mess of nerves the day of their EP release. He can’t focus in class, everything unrelated to his EP feels blurry and dull. Even worse, going through the menial work at his job is like a slow death. Minutes drag by second by goddamn second, and eventually, his supervisor peeks her head into the room and dismisses him.
“Just go. I’ll take over.”
He’s so happy, he could kiss her.
The Penis Mightier meets at Sehun’s house. All of their merch, along with their freshly created discs, has been safely packed away into boxes. No sooner have they sealed the last box when Qian and Soojung pick them up—they’ve agreed to run the merch table as long as they get into Yellow for free and The Penis Mightier funds all of their drinks.
Boa is waiting for them at the back alley entrance to Yellow as Junmyeon pulls the van up. The woman is pocket-sized when she’s not wearing stilettos, but she still manages to heft the biggest hunk of gear out of the back while helping them set up.
After playing at Beeker’s last week, Yellow feels like a VIP club. First and foremost, it has a ceiling. Inside, there still seems to be a little confusion among the staff as to why they’re setting up the stage area on a Tuesday, but Boa and another manager order all of the tables moved away from the dance floor.
Yunho is there like last time, letting Chanyeol help him set up the soundboard. The booth’s lights flicker and flash, temporarily putting Chanyeol into a technicolor trance that does not help his nerves at all.
“How much are the EPs selling for?” Yunho asks as Chanyeol revs up Junmyeon’s bass.
“Five bucks. Basically like sixty cents per song.”
Yunho digs into his pocket, pulls out his wallet, then hands Chanyeol a ten dollar bill.
“Grab me two of them, would you?” He laughs as Chanyeol’s jaw drops. “I used to play in a band. I know how there’s barely any turnover of profit with things like this, consider it my good deed for the week.”
Chanyeol doesn’t know how he feels when he takes the money and goes to where Qian and Soojung are setting up their booth. He’s thankful for the support, but it’s weird being reminded that everything The Penis Mightier is doing tonight will eventually be something of the past. Soon enough, either a year from now or five years down the road, Chanyeol is going to be one of those sound booth guys, handing over cash to support some younger kid at a show.
I used to play in a band.
Qian and Soojung are wearing shirts that the band made in bulk last year. The Penis Mightier is written across the front in a font that Sehun designed, with the words, “Gussy it up however you want,” beneath it. The girls look great in them, even though Chanyeol knows that they could wear a trash bag and he’d still think the same thing.
“Nice alteration you made, there,” Chanyeol says to Soojung, handing over the cash and grabbing two albums from the table. Soojung fingers at her shirt where she cut off the bottom half of it, flaunting her midriff.
“It’s a business tactic, Chanyeol,” she cooly replies. “Do you want me to sell your shit, or not?”
“Did I sound like I was complaining? You look great.”
Soojung’s smiles are kind of few and far between, so it feels like a little victory when he sees her mouth curl up before dropping again. “Stop flirting with me. Save it for that little Byun violinist.”
“Does Jongdae tell you guys—”
“Everything,” Qian says, vibrant. “But that’s great! I think you and Baekhyun looked really cute together at the last Big Blue party. You guys sang that Frozen song when Minseok dumped fresh ice into the tub to keep the drinks cold.”
There is no urge for Chanyeol to explain himself, to tell them that he and Baekhyun aren’t a thing and that it doesn’t matter if the girls think they make a cute couple. In the absence of the need to backtrack, Chanyeol graciously accepts it with a tentative smile. “You think?”
When he returns to the booth with two albums in hand, Yunho thanks him and checks out the back of the jacket. He says, “I have a nephew who would love your sound.”
Minseok calls from the stage for Chanyeol to focus, and before they open the doors to Yellow at four, the first soundcheck is done.
Chanyeol goes to help Sehun hang The Penis Mightier banners and signs around the bar—gifts that the Ohs paid for. The whole band is trying their best not to think about the fact that all of their parents and siblings are going to be in Yellow tonight. It’s hard to be a Rock God when your mother is standing by the wall and nursing a cup of sangria, listening to you play songs about things like fucking a super tall girl in the backseat of a car.
“My parents are not going to be happy with me. This is the first time they’ve seen me play, and ever since I joined you guys last year, I’ve been telling them TPM stands for The Post Man. Like, the bringer of news. They thought it was very witty and appropriate,” Junmyeon murmurs after Sehun answers a phone call from his mom, whining, “Please, Mom, don’t bring your camera. This isn’t the first day of Kindergarten.”
Chanyeol’s Dad and sister are both coming tonight, and his Mom is bringing the woman she’s been dating for a little over a year now. When combined, Chanyeol’s family can play really well together, and it’s a relief that Chanyeol doesn’t have to worry about things like catering to his parents separately or being anxious about them getting along.
It’s just. There’s that song he wrote about the time he and Yixing got high back when they lived in the dorms. The first time they kissed, Chanyeol was buzzed off cheap pot cookies, and everything was a mixture of warmth, ease; the taste of earth and chocolate and Yixing. No lyrics could ever truly relay what he felt in that moment, but he had tried his damnedest. And now his dad, a children’s librarian, is going to listen to Jongdae sing about it.
Chanyeol is not worried about his mom. He saw those old pictures of her in college with that massive bong.
When the lights go down and the doors open at four, there’s a handful of people who come in. They peer at the stage that’s been set up, intrigued, obviously not there for anything The Penis Mightier related. Chanyeol hangs out with his friends, trying to gather funds for Junmyeon to go on a pizza run.
As expected, even Happy Hour on a Tuesday is somewhat dead. There’s a steady flow of customers coming in, but the room barely fills past twenty people at any given point. Boa is sitting at the bar with Junmyeon, tapping her acrylic nails against the counter.
“I hope you boys did your legwork this week,” she says when Chanyeol approaches, handing over a wad of cash to Junmyeon. “If you don’t fill this place tonight, I’m in big shit.”
“It’ll be fine,” Chanyeol says, even though he doesn’t quite believe his own words. He’s been doing everything in his power to talk people into coming to their release, from chatting up his classmates to sliding flyers onto people’s desks as they studied at the library. Every friend he’s ever made has been invited—begged, to attend.
“We’re not technically on until seven,” Junmyeon says. “Our crowd probably isn’t going to start coming in until six, a little less than two hours. Have a little faith, B.”
The way Boa and Junmyeon start looking at each other feels a little too intimate to stand by and watch, so Chanyeol makes his way back to where Minseok is on the phone with his little sister, a freshman. “Stop trying to sound all innocent, I saw that you posted on twitter you were coming to Yellow tonight. Where did you get the fake license? Who gave you one? I swear, if I see you here, I will stop right in the middle of playing and kick you out. It’s Tuesday, anyway, you should be home studying.”
Chanyeol feels his phone buzz in his pocket, seeing Baekhyun’s name across the screen.
ill be there around seven. how many shows do i have to go to and how many times do i have to take my shirt off to be considered a groupie? good luck setting up.
True to Junmyeon’s maketing savvy-guess, a lot of their crowd shows up around six. It’s strange, to say the least, to see Junmyeon’s khaki-polo-chic parents sitting at the scuffed counter, pointing at the yellow neon behind the bar and taking pictures of it with their phones. There’s Chanyeol’s friends from his audio engineer major mixing with Jongdae’s big brother, who apparently has brought some of his coworkers from the eco nonprofit he works at. Many of the people who stream in are a part of Minseok’s massive harem—boys and girls from the gym he works out at, guys he plays soccer with, and friends from his classes who look at Minseok Kim like he is the creator of all things good.
And there’s Heechul, too. Who the fuck invited him? How does he always show up?
Chanyeol sees his parents come in. He goes to say hi to them, thanks them for driving an hour to come.
“I haven’t paid a cover to get into a bar for years,” Mr. Park says, gazing around Yellow like he’s been transported to another planet by walking through the front door. His mustache is graying, and all of his wrinkles are much more noticeable in the yellow glow from the bar.
“Are we hip, yet?” Mrs. Park asks after kissing Chanyeol hello. Chanyeol hugs her partner, repressing the urge to say anything to fuel something she could use against him. “Should we try and fit in? Or should we let loose and embarrass you to the fullest?”
“How about you follow me to where the Ohs and Kims are, and maybe you guys can have a conference about parental embarrassment tactics before making any decisions,” Chanyeol says. He leads them over where the parents have set up camp, pushing a couple tables together.
Half an hour before going on, The Penis Mightier groups together in the dressing room. Everyone goes through their routines, Jongdae breaking his vocal warmups long enough to say, “There’s not a ton of people out there, and I don’t think Junmyeon’s mom and dad are going to buy the bar out.”
“It’s a sizable crowd,” Junmyeon says, “and we still have time.”
“Minseok, any last-minute invites you can squeeze in?” Sehun asks, plucking Minseok’s phone from his pocket to look at his endless feed of contacts.
“I’ve texted almost everyone in there and invited them,” Minseok says, taking his phone back. “It’s rough, expecting people to come out on a Tuesday night.”
“I haven’t seen Baekhyun yet. Is he coming?” Jongdae says before he gargles his water.
“Yeah, around seven. He has practice, tonight.”
“Well tell him to get his ass over here, and bring the whole orchestra with him,” Jongdae grumbles. “This is our release party, for God’s sake.”
Ten minutes before seven, The Penis Mightier forms a circle, bringing their heads together. Everyone is fidgety, nervous. Sehun doesn’t even try and cop a feel of Minseok, and Jongdae remains quiet when Junmyeon accidentally bashes their foreheads together.
This is it. Ever since The Penis Mightier formed when Jongdae and Chanyeol were freshman, they’ve dreamed about releasing an EP. Back then, the thought of renting out studio time, or even playing at a place like Yellow felt like something insurmountable. Expensive and too time-consuming, like kids trying to play an adult’s game.
But now they’re here. They’ve done it. And yeah, maybe this will be the first and last EP that The Penis Mightier ever releases. Maybe when Jongdae, Chanyeol, and Minseok graduate next spring, they aren’t going to get to play together as much as they do now. Chanyeol is going to be some kind of audio engineer, and he’s going to turn into a tech who watches other bands like The Penis Mightier work their asses off only to meet the same eventual demise.
That’s okay, though. At least Chanyeol has tonight, this EP, this moment where it doesn’t matter how many people are going to be in the crowd when they walk out—this moment with his four closest friends, arms wrapped around each other.
Every penny, every minute has been worth it. Looking from face to face, Chanyeol knows the others are thinking the same thing.
Instead of saying any of that, though, Jongdae breaks the silence and says, “Let’s go fuck shit up.”
Boa comes to get them, and as they wait by the entrance to the bar area, Chanyeol can hear Qian’s voice coming through the speakers. “Everyone here knows that these boys have been working on this EP for a while now, so this release party has been years in the making.” She reminds people to stop by the merch booth she’s running with Soojung, some people cheering solely for the girls in the crop tops, and then she says, “Now, the reason we’re all here tonight: here’s The Penis Mightier!”
Boa opens the door to let The Penis Mightier through, but Jongdae, who is leading the way, comes to a dead stop as soon as they’re hit with the deafening cheers echoing through Yellow. Chanyeol cranes his neck to look through the doorway, dumbly staring as Sehun appropriately says, “The fuck?”
Yellow is packed, like the last time they played. People are already crowded up against the stage, a sea of dark heads through the dim lighting. Every corner has been filled with customers, and they’re all looking at The Penis Mightier.
“Get going, boys,” Boa says, pushing Junmyeon at the end to create a domino effect of the five of them stumbling to the stage.
The members take their positions with their instruments. Chanyeol sits on his stool, testing out the bass drum and grabbing his drumsticks from the collection of spares he keeps by his feet. He tries looking through the crowd, but the lighting is set up in a way where he can only see the edge of people at the foot of the stage, the rest of the bar dissolving into black. No Baekhyun.
As Minseok, Junmyeon, and Sehun spend a little time tuning, raising can you believe this shit eyebrows at each other, Jongdae leans into the microphone.
“Wow. There’s a fuck ton of you here,” he says. Cheers and chuckles, one whoop that sounds very similar to Mrs. Oh’s voice. “Tonight really means a lot to us, so we’re so, so happy you all came out. I know it’s Tuesday, and I know most of you probably have to be up early tomorrow morning, but let’s forget about that for a little bit and have a good time. Buy a drink and party with us. We’re The Penis Mightier, and we’re going to start off the night with an original song, Backseat Bandit.”
Then Chanyeol is counting them in, the clack of his sticks over his head giving the beat, and with a clash of sound, it begins. It’s the same headiness of that first night at Yellow, the same sensory overload of lights and sound mixing with the strain of Chanyeol’s muscles, the hits against his kit reverberating through his bones, his skull. This time, though, almost the whole crowd is there to see them play.
The spectators are loud, encouraging. People crowded on the dance floor raise their hands, jumping to the beat, and Chanyeol has never been on the other side of that, watching them move like the choppy cuts of waves during a storm. The people in the very front know the words to their song—Chanyeol can hear their voices rising over the music, even when it feels like it’s coming loud enough through the speakers to blast them all away.
There’s a rush, a hit of adrenalin, and Chanyeol feels like he’s being wrapped in sound, music. No matter how lost he gets, there’s always a steady part in the back of his mind, keeping track of the beats, remembering when to accelerate, how Jongdae asked him to cut a measure and replace it with something else.
And Baekhyun. That little piece of his mind thinks about Baekhyun, wonders if he’s here.
Chanyeol’s hand hits one of his cymbals wrong, sending it off balance. He has to miss a couple beats with his right hand as he straightens it, keeping his left hand and foot working through it. A little slip-up, nothing big.
Soon enough, they’re breaking into their second song, and then their third, and after that when the electricity of the room seems too much to handle, Chanyeol steps out from behind his drum set to grab his acoustic guitar. Jongdae pulls a stool to the center of the stage then walks to the edge to get a drink, rest his throat for a couple minutes. Their set tonight is longer, with a lot more covers mixed in with their original music, and they’ve had to break it up into sections.
Junmyeon takes the mic to sing, and with Chanyeol playing guitar, the two of them launch into an acoustic version of Riptide. Able to see a little bit further, Chanyeol can’t help but look over the crowd, taking in all the faces, familiar and unfamiliar. Still no Baekhyun. No boy with a smirk, watching him play from the edge of the room. He does see his sister, who’s recording him with her phone, and it’s impossible to miss the way that Jongdae’s big brother has sidled up to her. At that, Chanyeol almost feels his finger slip against a fret.
After that, there’s another roar of applause. Chanyeol puts his guitar away then gets back behind the drums, rolling his eyes as Jongdae says, “What hunks, right? We’re going to pick up the pace again with another original, a song Chanyeol and I wrote last year when I almost got arrested for a MIP.” Jongdae pauses, his grin all different kinds of mischievous as he waves at a corner of the bar. “Also, I’d like to thank my mother for coming out. Thanks Mom. I love you. We’ll talk after the set.”
Over the laughter, Chanyeol counts them in again, and then that rush overcomes him all over again.
The set continues like that, working the crowd up until their energy is like sizzling static in the air, then bringing them back down. Between their sections, Minseok and Sehun have their duet, Jongdae sings a cappella to the squeals and cheers of a group of people up front, and Junmyeon and Chanyeol play a song together that they picked up from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
It’s over all too soon, Chanyeol using every last bit of energy to kill their last song. He feels the end coming like something slipping through his fingers, beat by beat. He never wants this to end, wishes he could find a way to preserve this exact feeling. But then he’s hitting the drums one last time, the sound settling over the crowd, and thunderous applause drowns out the last note.
Chanyeol stands as Jongdae wheezes into the mic, more to show off his sexy labored breathing than anything else. He says, “Thank you everyone for coming out tonight. I can’t express how much it means to each of us that we got to celebrate our EP release with so much support. We weren’t expecting such a crowd, and because of you guys, we’re going to remember this night for the rest of our fucking lives.” More applause, cheers. The towel at Chanyeol’s feet became soaked long ago, but he wraps it around his neck to keep any more sweat trickling down his nape. “Really, guys, thank you so fucking much. Stick around for a while longer and hang out with us, buy a couple drinks from the bar to thank Yellow for being the best venue we could have ever hoped for and allowing us to have our party here. We’re going to go clean up then we’ll be right back out. Again, we are The Penis Mightier, thank you.”
One last wave to the crowd, then the lights on the stage flash off, the rest of the bar relighting. Some people are still clapping, cheering as The Penis Mightier walks off the stage. Boa tells them not to worry about their gear, she’s having Yellow staff pack it back up for them. She follows them to their dressing room, and before Junmyeon can enter, she grabs his arm and lugs him into a passionate kiss.
Jongdae makes a face and shuts the door so they don’t have to look at that. He turns to Chanyeol, wraps a sweaty arm around Chanyeol’s neck, then lugs him down for a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “We did it!”
“Blegh,” Chanyeol grumbles, wiping the towel ferociously against his cheek. Jongdae doesn’t care, he’s already moved on to kissing Minseok’s cheek, Minseok patiently waiting for it to be over as Sehun tries wedging himself between them.
“Jongdae stop kissing my boy—no don’t you fucking kiss me too—ugh.”
Junmyeon opens the door and joins them, fifty kinds of dazed as he walks into the room. Boa’s lipstick is all over his mouth, garishly red against his flushed skin. It’s like he doesn’t even notice as Jongdae grabs his face and lays the wettest kiss on his cheek with a theatric muah.
“You guys, we fucking did it,” Jongdae says.
Chanyeol laughs, still in some phase of disbelief. “Where did all of those people come from?”
“I don’t know, there were a lot of people I didn’t recognize,” Minseok says.
“Do we really have that many friends?”
Minseok shrugs. “Possibly? It’s weird that we had so many people come out. That’s more than half of what I expected to see.”
“Why are you guys questioning this? We need to get back out there and celebrate.” Jongdae reaches for Chanyeol. “Don’t make me kiss you, again.”
That gets them all moving. Junmyeon uses one of Sehun’s makeup wipes to get the lipstick off as the others change into dry shirts, wash their faces. Together, the five of them share one last moment in the dressing room, settling into the silence and letting themselves soak in what happened.
Then they’re off, being unleashed into the bar.
Chanyeol makes his rounds, constantly being stopped by family, friends, classmates. His sister insists on taking a selfie with him, he has to bend down to get them both proportionately in the frame. All of the praise sings through him, pleasant and comforting. Kids he doesn’t know come up to him to compliment his set, his guitar playing, his solo. Some of them have The Penis Mightier shirts slung around their necks of the crook of their arm, are holding albums in their hands. Chanyeol has the greatest urge to tell every person he comes across I made that, I wrote the music and played it and edited it and helped create the album and folded the jackets and put that sticker on the disc, I made that, with my band. Somehow, he refrains. It’s enough to see them holding it.
The parents of The Penis Mightier combine their forces and get the guys to pose together beneath the banner. Everyone is still riding the high of the night, and not one of them complains, even as Mrs. Oh busts out an expensive camera and spends five minutes adjusting the settings.
Chanyeol hugs his parents and gets his mom to buy her partner and his dad a round of drinks. He leaves them at the bar after helping them order, still trying to sift through the crowd and find—
—Yixing. Yixing is wearing one of The Penis Mightier’s shirts, but he bought his a long time ago, when they were still testing out the design. It’s worn, stained, but it fits him like a glove and Chanyeol suddenly has flashes of times that he helped Yixing take off that shirt as they undressed each other.
“Hey,” Yixing says with a soft smile. His hair is short and black, eyes clear and dark. He hugs Chanyeol, and Chanyeol finds himself hugging back on some kind of automatic before Yixing pulls away again. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah,” Chanyeol replies, nodding. All he can do is nod. Stare at Yixing. Yixing who was sweet and giggled at things like a caterpillar moving across a branch and who broke up with Chanyeol by telling him he really liked him, he did, he wasn’t in love with him, sorry.
“I wanted to come out and show some support.” Yixing holds up a stack of albums that he must have bought, and there’s another shirt with its end tucked into the back pocket of Yixing’s jeans. “I saw a flyer when I was out on Saturday, but I didn’t know if I should stop out, or not. I brought some friends, made them buy some things.”
“No, of course I’m happy you made it,” Chanyeol says, unsure if he really means it but not wanting to make Yixing uncomfortable. “Thanks, we really needed the crowd. Even though we don’t—you know—talk much, I’m glad to see you. You look—good. Really, like, uh, good.”
There’s a hand at his waist, fingers clenching against muscle, and Chanyeol looks down to see Baekhyun at his side. He’s not frowning at Yixing, but his eyes are doing that laser thing as he tilts his head. Without looking at Chanyeol, he says, “Puppy, take a deep breath. You barely got that sentence out, don’t hurt yourself.” Baekhyun gives Yixing a smile that’s not really a smile. “I’m Baekhyun, who are you?”
“Yixing.” If Yixing understands the stiffness radiating from Baekhyun, he doesn’t let it show. “Chanyeol’s ex.”
“We haven’t seen each other in a long time,” Chanyeol says. He hesitates only a fraction of a second before bringing an arm up to wrap around Baekhyun’s shoulders. “But Yixing brought some people out to see us play.”
Baekhyun’s grip of his waist tightens, it’s possessive and showy but Chanyeol lets himself enjoy it. “Huh. Where are those other people? Why aren’t you with them instead, Yixing?”
“I wanted to say hi to Chanyeol,” Yixing cheerfully says. “The Penis Mightier sounded the best I’ve ever heard them. You’ve come a long way, I’m proud, man.”
From Yixing, that means a lot. He was there when the band first started out, when they played at preteen’s birthday parties and at bowling alleys. Always in the front row, smiling.
“Thanks, Yixing,” Chanyeol says. “I’m glad you’re here. If you want, I’ll buy you a drink—ouch.”
Baekhyun really has strong, sharp fingers. Yixing laughs, but Chanyeol doesn’t know if it’s because he noticed Baekhyun stabbing his side or if Yixing simply wanted to laugh. He’s like that. “That’s okay. I want to go find Jongdae, tell him congratulations.”
Baekhyun doesn’t let go even when Chanyeol and Yixing hug goodbye, Baekhyun sulking as Yixing gives one last beatific grin before disappearing into the crowd.
“Park, what was that?” Baekhyun asks, pulling Chanyeol to the side of the room so they aren’t crowded in on every side.
“What?” Chanyeol asks. Tonight Baekhyun isn’t wearing any eyeliner, and his hair is its usual floppy mess. He must have not had time to do anything between practice and Yellow. But he looks so soft, so touchable in his plain white shirt and zip-up hoodie. Chanyeol can’t help but reach out and tug at the zipper.
“You were asking your ex if you could buy him a drink.”
“So? He came out to support us—”
“I came out and you didn’t offer to buy me a drink—”
“—and he brought his friends and bought a whole bunch of merch. I wanted to thank him. We dated for almost two years, he’s been with The Penis Mightier for a long time. It felt full-circle.”
“Full circle,” Baekhyun scoffs. He shakes his head, all of the agitation settling on his face, stilling. “You’re so fucking nice, even to your ex.”
“You keep on saying that,” Chanyeol says, “like you’re still so surprised that I’m a nice guy. It’s how I am, you know? If I wasn’t a nice guy, then I wouldn’t have helped you carry the stuff up to your studio on the day you moved in. Then we wouldn’t have become friends.”
“I know.” Baekhyun frowns. “You didn’t even like me, then, but you were nice.”
“It’s how I operate.” Chanyeol goes to tug on Baekhyun’s zipper again, maybe ask him why he’s being so frowny, but Baekhyun grabs his hand, holding it in both of his.
“Can we talk? Somewhere with not a lot of people?” Baekhyun reads Chanyeol’s stunned silence as hesitation, so he quickly says, “I’m not trying to get into your pants, I really want to talk.”
“Sure, we can head back to the dressing room.” Chanyeol leads Baekhyun through the crowd, feeling Baekhyun clutch at the back of his shirt so they don’t get separated. When they reach the dressing room, the door is closed. Just as Chanyeol goes to open it, Baekhyun stops him.
“Wait, don’t you hear that?”
Chanyeol pauses, listens. It takes a moment, but the moans and low words are very familiar to him. Too familiar.
Sehun and Minseok.
“You guys are shameless,” Chanyeol calls through the door, giving it a good couple whacks with his palm. “Who knows what’s happened on that couch.”
Baekhyun laughs, tugs on Chanyeol’s hand to get him moving again. They go to the back entrance, past the security guard at the double doors and into the alley behind Yellow. Baekhyun walks up to the van, taking in all of its pink rusted splendor, then leans against it.
“Your music may be mediocre,” he teases—Chanyeol knows he’s teasing, now, “but The Penis Mightier sure knows how to arrive in style.”
Chanyeol stands in front of Baekhyun, admiring the way Baekhyun’s eyes glitter in the light of the lamps, like they’re actually sparkling as they look at him.
“She’s a faithful hunk of junk,” Chanyeol fondly says. “Is…is everything okay?”
“No,” Baekhyun answers, “Not really.”
Alarms go off in Chanyeol’s mind. He reaches out to grab Baekhyun’s hand only to have him pull away. “What? What’s going on?”
A dry laugh, Baekhyun shaking his head. “That, exactly what you’re doing right now. You’re nice. You’re super nice. To everyone. Even your ex boyfriend, you hugged him and you wanted to buy him a drink. You were nice to me and you hated me, when we first met.”
“I didn’t hate you.”
“You didn’t like me,” Baekhyun mumbles, and Chanyeol can’t really argue with that. “The thing is, do you even like me now?”
“What do you mean? Of course I do,” Chanyeol says, confused.
“Because sometimes I think…” Baekhyun trails off, chewing on his bottom lip. “I think that you’re nice to me because we’re neighbors. Even though I’m an asshole, you help me out, because that’s what really fucking nice guys do.”
“Maybe at first, yeah. But that’s not the case anymore.”
“Chanyeol, you make me so disoriented, because I can’t tell if you like me the way that I like you, or if you’re being nice. Just being Chanyeol, letting me hang around you, cuddle up to you, spill my guts out.” Baekhyun’s shoulders curl forward as he looks away, making Chanyeol want to grab him and hold him close. “You said that you could never tell what was real with me because I constantly came on to you, but I feel the same way about everything you do for me. After you got really angry with me, I’ve been thinking a lot, and watching you, and I still can’t tell—”
Baekhyun takes a deep breath. When he looks back up, Chanyeol feels his stare like a physical press against his face. Baekhyun continues, “Here’s the thing, Chanyeol. I like you. A lot. I’ve never—I don’t think I’ve ever met someone like you before.”
Chanyeol’s lungs forget how to work like lungs are supposed to. He manages to weakly say, “I like you, too.”
“I mean I want to be with you,” Baekhyun says, building up some kind of resolution as he straightens. “In every way. You said you didn’t want me, in fact, I remember it pretty fucking clearly, but lately it feels like something has changed. Am I seeing what I want to see, or is there something happening?”
All Chanyeol can do is open his mouth as Baekhyun babbles, “Because I’ve been trying so hard, Chanyeol, to make you see that I’m not interested in anyone else, only you. I know what you think of me, I know what you’ve heard about me, but I’m not playing with you, now. I’m not trying to hook up with you.”
“No?” Chanyeol’s voice is scratchy, barely heard.
Baekhyun affords a wane smile. “Well, yeah I want to hook up with you, but I’d like it to be kind of like a regular thing. If you need more time, if you need to get to know me better, that’s fine. I—I wanted to let you know how I felt. I wanted to ask you to let me take you out sometime, on a date. Most of all, I really want to know how you feel about me. So, can you tell me, am I crazy, here? Or do you romantically like me even a fraction of much as I like you?”
Of all the moments to be frozen, at a complete loss of words. Chanyeol knew this was coming, in some form or another, but nothing could have prepared him for this. Even when Baekhyun looks so open, nervous, and every piece of Chanyeol wants to reach out to him, he can’t find the memory of how to make his mouth work again.
“You can let me down gently,” Baekhyun quietly says, “It’s okay. You don’t owe me anything. Any kind of explanation. You can say no, Chanyeol, and I won’t hate you. I would understand, and we can still be friendly neighbors.”
Chanyeol gulps, incapable.
Baekhyun sounds the slightest bit annoyed as he continues, “Or, you know, if the best thing you can do right now is walk away, then—”
“Okay,” Chanyeol blurts. Baekhyun’s back stiffens, and it takes Chanyeol a second to realize that Baekhyun thought he was saying okay to walking away without saying anything. Chanyeol taps his fingers against his thighs, energy pent up and squirming out of him. “I mean, okay as in, let’s date. Let’s—let’s go on a date, together, and date.”
“Are you saying that because you don’t want to hurt my—”
“No.” Chanyeol vehemently shakes his head, suddenly hit by a whirlwind of images. Holding hands with Baekhyun. Cuddling with Baekhyun on his futon. Bringing Baekhyun flowers after his concerts, kissing Baekhyun in the practice room, kissing Baekhyun in his car, kissing Baekhyun on the mattress, against the wall, against the pink van. “I’m not saying it to be nice, or even saying it because of some shit like giving you a chance, because—you’re right. Lately I’ve been—liking—been thinking—”
Baekhyun tentatively grabs the bottom of Chanyeol’s shirt, pulling him a step closer. His mouth is parted, patient for probably the first time in his life as he lets Chanyeol try and find the right thing to say. A gust of wind dips into the alley, ruffling his disarrayed hair.
“I do want you,” Chanyeol finally says. “Like you said, in—in every way. I do. Want you. And I’m not saying that to be polite.”
“Fuck,” Baekhyun breathes, the word so low and heavy that Chanyeol feels it in his abdomen. “I really, really want to kiss you right now.”
It’s like he’s asking for permission. Hoping that it’s enough of a reply where Baekhyun will never, ever have to ask again, Chanyeol grabs Baekhyun’s face in his hands, tilts it up, then kisses him, fully, wholly.
None of the aggression of their first kiss is there, just Baekhyun pulling their bodies together and melting against him. Their mouths move slowly together, a soft press, a breath, a tilt. Tchaikovsky’s Romance flutters around them, powerful and sweeping and heart-swelling. When Chanyeol slightly pulls away, lips still brushing, noses touching, Baekhyun’s eyes flutter open and the violinist gives a shaky breath.
Shaky. But Chanyeol feels so, so steady as he reaches around Baekhyun’s head and tangles his fingers in Baekhyun’s hair, crowds so close against him that Baekhyun’s spine has to bend to accommodate the curve of the van. He kisses Baekhyun with more tenacity this time, the heat of want stirring in his gut and overcoming any feelings of disbelief, of nervousness.
Chanyeol does everything he’s been daydreaming of, biting Baekhyun’s lip, licking over it before pressing his tongue into Baekhyun’s mouth, both of them shivering with Baekhyun moans in the back of his throat. He tastes minty, sweet. Pinned beneath Chanyeol’s weight, all the violinist can do is tilt his head back, dig his fingertips against the strong planes of Chanyeol’s back.
“Oh God,” Baekhyun whimpers as Chanyeol kisses at the corner of his mouth, drags his lips across the slant of Baekhyun’s pretty jaw. It’s wet and sloppy but Baekhyun doesn’t seem to mind when Chanyeol licks beneath his ear before sucking against his neck, Baekhyun jerking against him. Baekhyun’s breath comes out ragged even though they’ve barely started, echoing against the walls of the alley. “Okay, okay, Chanyeol, please.”
Chanyeol hums his question against Baekhyun’s pulse point, then blows gently against the wetness to feel Baekhyun shudder again. He feels Baekhyun let go of his back, his hands moving to Chanyeol’s waist to squeeze.
“Chanyeol, I want to eat you alive right now.” Baekhyun sounds gritty, raspy, like he’s inhaled ten cigarettes at once.
“How is that a bad thing?” Chanyeol asks, slowly moving his open-mouthed kisses back up Baekhyun’s neck, nipping at his ear.
“I’m warning you,” Baekhyun says, “If we don’t cool it right now, then—”
Chanyeol laughs, his hot breath breaking across the side of Baekhyun’s face. He’s warning Chanyeol. The little yippy violinist who cried for half an hour after he punched someone, who had made the cutest Baekhyun Burrito a couple days ago as Chanyeol held him there.
But then Chanyeol feels Baekhyun’s grip tightening, Baekhyun pushing away from the van with surprising strength, and suddenly Chanyeol’s vision whirls as he’s being pulled, turned, his back slamming against the side of the van. Dazed, he blinks down to see Baekhyun grinning, wolfish, teeth catching the light. His lips are red, red, red, cheeks flushed, eyes looking liquid black in the bad lighting.
Chanyeol gulps. Oh.
Baekhyun presses his hands against Chanyeol’s chest just to make him bend back, then he drags his palms down Chanyeol’s rising falling ribcage, to his stomach, pushing harder when the heels of his hands reach Chanyeol’s abdomen. Chanyeol feels Baekhyun’s thumbs teasing against the buckle of his belt.
Baekhyun looks down where his hands are, taking in the shape of Chanyeol’s dick pressing against the front of his jeans an inch away. Chanyeol suddenly feels very self-conscious, even though he knows he’s having the same effect on Baekhyun.
“Look, Puppy,” Baekhyun says, taking a deep breath in through his nose before looking back up. “I really want to devour you right now, but I meant it when I said I wanted to date you.
You’re—you were so good to me, without any kind of expectations of what you would get back. No one has ever treated me like that before. I want to do the same. A chance to show you that I can be good to you, too, and you don’t even have to fuck me as some sort of exchange.”
“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol gently says, cupping his cheek.
Baekhyun shakes his head, like he’s trying to fling the corniness away. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore, okay? So can you please kiss me one last time, and then we can go back inside and you can preen under everyone’s praise about how hot and punk rock you are.”
Punk rock. Chanyeol slides away from Baekhyun’s grip, trying to look as insulted as possible, but it doesn’t work. Baekhyun happily tilts his face up, his lips curvy and cute as he waits for Chanyeol to kiss him.
Chanyeol is too weak to resist. He leans down and catches Baekhyun’s bottom lip between his. When Chanyeol pulls away, Baekhyun’s smile is dazzling, and it takes a lot of self restraint not to back him against the van again.
The two of them make their way back into the bar, hand in hand. As soon as they break back into the crowd, Jongdae finds them. Jongdae takes in their swollen lips, messy hair, the splotches on Baekhyun’s neck, but all of that is forgotten when Jongdae points a finger at Baekhyun and says, “I can’t believe it. You really brought the whole fucking orchestra here.”
Chanyeol looks down at Baekhyun so fast that his neck twinges. “What?”
Baekhyun shrugs, happily looking through the crowd behind Jongdae. “There are some perks to being the concertmaster. I can be very persuasive when I want to be.”
“I can see that,” Jongdae says, pointedly looking at Chanyeol.
“Lots of them owed me a favor, anyway.” Baekhyun’s grip tightens on Chanyeol’s hand. “And, yeah, maybe for some of them, I had to bribe them and promise to talk something over with our composer for our next concert.”
“You—the whole orchestra?” Chanyeol dumbly asks.
“Part of the orchestra,” Baekhyun corrects, “and lots of people I know from Ann Arbor’s Suzuki program. Also some of the people I worked with over the summer at the factory, we have like a Facebook group and get together every now and then to drink, anyway. I told everyone to bring a friend.”
“You little, amazing shit,” Jongdae says, like he’s not smaller and shittier than Baekhyun.
“I wanted you guys to have a crowd. Puppy was worried,” Baekhyun says. Stunned, all Chanyeol can do is look at the busy bar, watching as three bartenders in yellow polos run up and down the length of it as they take orders. He feels Baekhyun tugging against him to regain his attention. “Happy EP release day, Chanyeol. You’ve earned it.”
There, right in the middle of the crowd at Yellow, Chanyeol kisses Baekhyun again.
“Thank you,” he breathes against Baekhyun’s mouth.
“Fucking gross,” Jongdae says, “You guys are terrible. Go away.”
Baekhyun’s solo is breathtaking. There’s something otherworldly about him as he stands while the rest of the orchestra sits, front and center a couple feet away from the conductor. The overhead stage lights catch in his hair, slightly falling out of its swoop from the way he’s begun to sweat, and his bangs move with every dip and twist he makes as he plays.
It reminds Chanyeol of the very first moment he saw Baekhyun, when his hair flopped as he jerked his head to the beat of the concerto. But this time, Baekhyun’s eyes are open, flicking from the conductor to his violin. Hill Auditorium has a camera system set up, so Baekhyun’s beautiful concentrated face shows on a screen near the wing, broadcasted for all 3,000 people to see.
The wrap around the stems of the roses Chanyeol bought sticks against his sweaty hands. He’s so nervous, so in awe, listening to Baekhyun’s Tchaikovsky solo fill the humongous auditorium. Every now and then, the orchestra plays louder, blending in flawlessly with Baekhyun, only to fall into the background as the concertmaster’s sound takes the focus again.
The theater is dark, massive, but Chanyeol can feel everyone’s attention on his boyfriend. Quiet, no one so much as stirring, the energy in the air so captivated with the boy in the tuxedo on stage.
Boyfriend. That was a new development, today. He’d woken to Baekhyun poking around his kitchen this morning, wearing Chanyeol’s threadbare Blink 182 t-shirt from high school and a pair of those infuriating boxer briefs. They haven’t slept together yet, but Chanyeol has a feeling that’s going to change very soon if Baekhyun keeps insisting on wearing his clothing around and flashing his thighs at him.
“What are you doing?” Chanyeol had asked after blearily checking his phone. “You don’t have to start getting ready to leave for another two hours. Come back, sleep more.”
Baekhyun looked over his shoulder, grabbing an apple off the counter. “I’m too nervous. Can’t sleep. I’m really hoping that my boyfriend has something in his kitchen that I can eat without feeling nauseous.”
Boyfriend, boyfriend, boyfriend. Suddenly Chanyeol was wide awake. Baekhyun walked back over to the bed, climbing onto the mattress and beneath the covers. He cuddled back against Chanyeol, who was still turning the word over in his brain, inspecting every inch of it. Chanyeol thought he was going to kiss him, their faces within inches of each other, but then with a smarmy smile, Baekhyun lifted the apple between them and took a big, juicy crunchy bite out of it.
Boyfriend, Chanyeol thinks now, listening as Baekhyun’s violin goes all soft and sweet, the violins and cellos behind him humming lowly.
The piece is almost twenty minutes long. Chanyeol is so familiar with it now that he knows when it speeds up, when it turns sorrowful, when the pace picks up again and Baekhyun’s fingers turn into a blur over the strings. Baekhyun plays it perfectly, at least in his opinion, and when the last final note is drawn out and blankets over the auditorium, Chanyeol accidentally drops the flowers in his haste to clap as loud and hard as he can.
The applause is deafening. Chanyeol feels pride inflate in his chest, like he had anything at all to do with Baekhyun’s playing, his talent. On either side of him, Junmyeon, Boa, Jongdae, Minseok, and Sehun are clapping, Jongdae nudging Chanyeol and mouthing, “Holy shit.”
Holy shit is right. Shown on the screen, Baekhyun grins, his hairline sweaty as he bows to the conductor. The applause grows even louder as Baekhyun primly bows to the crowd, all business.
Chanyeol is ridiculously, strangely turned on right now. He picks the flowers back up, grimacing at the petals that flutter down, before placing it in his lap.
Then Baekhyun goes back to the first chair, and the concert continues. The music is beautiful, it is, but even as they move on to new pieces, Chanyeol can still feel the Tchaikovsky solo burning through him. It’s equally dark and bright, steady and choppy, sharp at times but with such an underlying sense of sweetness—just like Baekhyun.