Jongin waits by the kettle until the water boils, popping a tea bag into his mug and fills it up to the brim before shuffling back to his desk. It's a mess of papers and scattered books, cluttering up his workspace. Not that he even works here often; not in a long time anyway.
It's 3AM again. He keeps waking up at sporadic hours of the night, unable to go back to sleep easily. Watching crappy reruns on TV usually helps after a while, even if it means waking up at an awkward angle on the couch with a painful crick in his neck.
He foregoes the couch and TV this time though, slipping into the desk chair and blinks at the screen of his laptop, dimly lighting up his apartment. The blank document stares back at him, the blinking cursor as uninspiring as ever. Taking a sip from his tea, Jongin poises his fingers over the keyboard, praying that tonight is finally the night he has a sudden, miraculous breakthrough.
No such luck. He writes all of four words in ten minutes which he deletes moments later, hating all of it. He should've known. Frustrated, Jongin runs a hand through his hair roughly and shuts his laptop off. Tonight is no different from every other night for the past year. He's at a complete standstill, his inspiration to write having fizzled out months ago after he was hit by a sudden slump, deadline be damned.
Jongin glances at the time again and sighs. He can't be late for work again. The new job at the coffee shop around the corner became extra important when writing stopped paying the bills. After nearly being evicted, he realized he needed something else. The income from the rest of his books in the series was only enough to live on for a while. Jongin is still endlessly grateful for the popularity it garnered in such a short period of time.
Jongin pushes his chair away from the desk, padding over the the bookshelf where he's got a hardback copy of the first three books of his novel series. Pulling one out, he traces over the golden lettering of the words at the bottom, "best-seller". Something heavy sets in his chest, tasting his own disappointment on the back of his tongue. He used to keep up with the public's reviews and comments on online forums, flushing happily at the comments and words of praise.
He stopped when the comments begging him to continue the series increased, feeling too ashamed and disappointed in himself that he can't deliver what they're asking for.
At the very least, he's still got his privacy to hold onto. His pseudonym, Kai, makes him feel more at ease; it used to help him write more freely. Kyungsoo, his editor, tried suggesting an online social media account to appease the fans for a while, insisting that it would help him too but Jongin shot it down, realizing he would only struggle to respond to people's comments and compliments. Especially now when he has nothing to offer.
Pushing the book back into its place on the shelf, Jongin goes back for his mug, dumping the rest in the sink after it's already gone cold. He's suddenly feeling worn out, heading back to his room to collapse on his bed again where he can forget about his looming deadline. Sleep comes soon enough, blissfully taking his ruminations with it.
"Rough night?" Minseok asks lightly, swooping in with a wet cloth to clean up the counter after Jongin spills some coffee for the second time.
Jongin flushes apologetically, bowing his head sheepishly. Chuckling, Minseok pats his shoulder and waves him off, nudging him forward when another customer shows up.
"I'd like a caramel mocha, extra syrup, extra cream please," the man grins up at him, leaning an elbow on the counter.
"Right away," Jongin says, pulling a cup out from the stack. "Who do I write it to?"
"Hmmm," the man brings both elbows onto the counter and drops his chin on his linked fingers.
Jongin freezes. "I- What?"
"Kai," the man says again, his grin stretching wider. "That's the name I want on my cup."
Jongin swallows past the sudden dryness in his throat, giving a jerky nod before heading to the back to get the coffee machine going. Kai isn't a common name around here. It's why Jongin picked it as his pseudonym in the first place. For a heart-stopping second he wonders if he's been recognized somehow. There's no way; no one knows who's behind the name except for Kyungsoo.
"Here you go," he says quietly, setting the capped cup on the counter and turns to the cash register.
The man beams at him in thanks, dropping the right change into his waiting palm before taking his coffee but he doesn't leave just yet.
"Uh," Jongin starts nervously, hiding his fidgeting hands behind the counter. "Is there anything else?"
The man stares at him a little too intently for comfort, and Jongin has half a mind to call Minseok back in but the man finally straightens up, looking satisfied.
"Nope," he says cheerfully, turning away with his drink in hand. "Have a great day!"
Jongin doesn't have time to mull over what the hell that even was before another customer steps forward in the line, placing their own order. He shakes himself to focus and plasters a smile back onto his face.
When he trudges back home, his front door is wide open. The blood drains out of Jongin's face as he inches closer, peering inside the apartment. His stomach drops with dread, thinking about everything he's left scattered around. There's nothing at hand that he can use to defend himself against intruders, so he settles for his keys, wielding them like a knife.
Upon first glance, everything appears to be untouched. Even his laptop is still sitting on his table where he always leaves it, half buried under all his papers. He sticks to the walls of the room, keeping his back pressed against them so he can't be taken by surprise from behind. He makes a quick dash towards his bedroom, checking that all his valuables are still there, and they are. Everything is where it should be, untouched, unmoved. He does a full house check and finds no one, even after checking in the closets and under the bed. In fact, he can't find any evidence that there was even anyone there at all.
Jongin relaxes his muscles, dropping his keys on the kitchen counter and scratches his head. Maybe he'd left it open himself that morning. He's usually so careful with locking up properly before he leaves. Maybe it's because he had a bad night, he's been a little out of it since the minute he woke up.
Sighing, Jongin crosses the apartment to close the door again, double checking the locks properly. Grabbing the remote off the coffee table, he flicks the TV on and slumps down on the couch tiredly, belatedly kicking off his shoes.
He's right in time to catch the next episode of the drama he's been keeping up with lately, bringing his legs up onto the couch comfortably.
The drama starts and Jongin's face pinches at the character opening the episode, glaring at the douchebag second lead he can't stand.
"He's gonna ruin everything again," Jongin mutters under his breath, pulling his knees up against his chest.
"Yeah, he's a real asshole isn't he?"
"Mhmm- what the fuck?" Jongin whips around so fast he falls right off the couch, smashing painfully into the coffee table. There's a man standing right behind him, resting his arms on the back of Jongin's couch and pillowing his cheek on them.
"Who are you? What the hell are you doing in my apartment?" Jongin scrambles to his feet, staggering backwards as he looks for something to defend himself with. He opts for the umbrella propped up by the mantelpiece, brandishing it in front of his face.
"You've already forgotten me? I'm hurt," the man says, pressing a hand over his heart with a wounded expression on his face. Jongin is terrified.
"I'm going to call the police!" Jongin yelps, even as he spots his phone sitting on the coffee table.
"Now, now," the man says, rounding the couch and taking a step closer to where Jongin is standing, trying not to let his trembling knees look too obvious. "Can't we have a nice civilized conversation?"
Jongin spares a moment to look incredulous. "You broke into my house!"
He suddenly recognizes him, the man from the coffee shop that morning, the one who wanted the name 'Kai' on his cup. The blood drains out of his face.
"Nonsense!" the man laughs, looking far too smug for the situation at hand. "I teleported here! The door was for dramatic flare. My name's Baekhyun, I'm-"
"You're crazy," Jongin splutters, cutting him off. "I swear if you don't get out of my house right now I'm going to use this!"
He brandishes the umbrella again, taking a step forward for good measure. He's never really been much good at looking intimidating.
"No you won't," Baekhyun grins, clasping his hands behind his back. "Look, I just- ow, wait. No, wait, ow!"
Jongin lunges forward and whacks him in the shin with the umbrella, yelling at the same time as Baekhyun before whacking him again, forcing him backwards. Baekhyun stumbles and falls back, smashing his elbow hard on the wooden floor and he yelps in pain. Jongin advances on him, raising the umbrella in the air threateningly.
"Okay, okay, wait!" Baekhyun throws his hands up over his face protectively and promptly dissolves into a cloud of black smoke. Jongin blinks in shock, frozen with the the umbrella over his head. He disappeared, he just...vanished. But that's not possible.
Jongin entertains that thought that he might not have even woken up that morning, that he's probably just trapped in some sort of nightmare. That, or he's losing his mind.
"I'm just here to discuss something with you!"
Baekhyun's voice comes from behind him and Jongin yells, springing back in shock. He loses his balance over the corner of the carpet and smashes his head against the edge of the table. The explosion of pain ricochets in his skull until he finally blacks out completely.
Jongin nearly passes out again just as he comes to, opening his eyes to find Baekhyun’s face hovering over his own. He tries to sit up but a sudden balloon of pain erupts at the base of his head and he groans, collapsing back against the pillows. He registers dimly that he’s lying on his own bed instead of the floor, seconds later.
“You’re not real, none of this is real,” he mutters under his breath, squeezing his eyes shut. He presses the heel of his hand against his forehead. “I’m still dreaming, please, let me be dreaming.”
“You’re not dreaming,” Baekhyun pipes up and Jongin groans again, letting his hand fall back against the sheets.
“Look give me a second to explain,” he says, helping Jongin sit up against the headboard with a pillow behind his back. The bizarreness of the whole thing is making his head spin. “I run the underworld, I just popped up here to talk to you about something.”
Jongin feels like crying. “So I really have lost my mind then?”
Baekhyun rolls his eyes and promptly disappears in a cloud of black smoke again right before Jongin’s eyes. He reappears seconds later on the other side of the bed, grinning at him like this isn’t frying Jongin’s mind with the absurdity of it all..
“Well fuck,” he chokes out when Baekhyun rounds the bed to stand beside him again, his arms folded against his chest. “You’re really…?”
“Yup,” Baekhyun says, preening.
“Right,” Jongin nods, sucking in a deep breath and stares at the wall ahead of him. He’s honestly a little surprised at himself for not completely freaking the fuck out, even through the disbelief is still clouding over him. Maybe it’s because Baekhyun just showed him what he can do again but still hasn’t made any move to hurt him. Not deliberately at least. Maybe it’s also the fact that Baekhyun’s not as untouchable as he would expect seeing as Jongin got in a few good whacks with an umbrella. He seems almost harmless. Jongin swallows down the slight guilt rising in his chest, reminding himself that Baekhyun did technically break into his house.
“You’re bleeding,” he mumbles, nodding at Baekhyun’s elbow when he notices the blood trickling down his skin. It must have cracked when he smashed into the floorboard. He slides off his bed, slightly unsteady with the headache still pounding in his skull. Pulling out the first aid kit he keeps in his closet, he sits down on the edge of the bed and beckons at Baekhyun to join him.
Baekhyun, to his credit, sits beside him obediently, holding out his arm quietly when Jongin reaches out for it. It hits Jongin when he’s smoothing a bandage strip around his elbow how bizarrely normal this feels, all things considered.
“So, being the ruler of the underworld doesn’t give you any self-healing perks or something?” Jongin asks only half joking at this point. He swallows, trying to rein in the hysteria.
“No, but it gives you a nicer house and a bigger pension,” Baekhyun’s grin turns apologetic when Jongin presses down a little harder on his elbow. He’s still struggling to wrap his head around the whole thing without the jokes he can’t even be sure are jokes.
He tucks the end of the bandage in a fold and Baekhyun takes his arm back.
“Thanks. And uh...sorry. About all this,” he sounds sheepish enough that Jongin breathes out a sigh, relaxing marginally.
“What exactly is ‘this’ about anyway?” he asks despite himself. There’s still a ten percent chance he’s dreaming, but in meantime - he’ll humour them both. He gets up before Baekhyun answers, deciding the kitchen is a better place to discuss this than his bed. He could use an ice pack from the freezer anyway.
“How’s the Jewel Sword series going?”
Jongin blinks. “What.”
“You know; Taemin and Wonshik? The battle of the Mountain? It’s been almost a two years since the last installment,” Baekhyun says excitedly, eyes wide in anticipation.
“I’m confused,” Jongin says, for lack of anything better to say. “You’re here because of my books?”
“Well. Yeah,” Baekhyun says, looking at him like it’s completely obvious. “Everyone loves Jewel Sword, Kai is a hotshot name down where I’m from. Your last one left us all hanging!”
Jongin struggle to process everything but Baekhyun keeps going eagerly.
“The forum said the next official release is in December. Any change there will be sneaks peaks like last time?”
Jongin is caught somewhere between flattered and completely bewildered. Still, he flushes at the praise, dipping his chin and scratching the back of his neck.
“So,” he starts again, trying to piece everything together. “You’re...a fan?”
“Absolutely,” Baekhyun puffs out his chest with a grin. “So anyway, my book club had a meeting-”
“Wait, you have a book club?” Jongin asks, feeling dizzy when he pictures horned demons sitting around hellfire with his book in their hands.
“Don’t discriminate,” Baekhyun chides him, placing a mock affronted hand on his chest. “We took a vote and I was sent up here.”
He looks almost grumpy at having been the one sent on the errand, or whatever this even is. Jongin almost cracks a smile.
“You said you run the place, couldn’t you just send someone else?” Maybe someone who would actually knock first.
“Oh, you know how it is. Rule of the majority,” Baekhyun says with a long suffering sigh. “Damn democracy.”
Jongin’s starting to feel sorry he asked. Dazed, he thinks over everything before something hits him.
“How did you even know it was me?” Jongin asks finally. “I’ve never told the public that I’m Kai.”
Baekhyun shrugs, taking an apple from Jongin’s fruit bowl and takes a giant bite out of it. “I’m not the ruler of the underworld for nothing.”
Jongin thinks about the blank document taunting him every night and the constant buildup of frustration.
“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint but it’s not going too great,” he says a little gruffly. “I’m stuck, so the story’s not going anywhere.”
“Hmm,” Baekhyun strokes his chin thoughtfully, undeterred. “Jackson mentioned something about Spirit Journeys for writers in our last meeting. Have you tried that?”
“A what?” Jongin asks confused.
“A spirit journey! You know, taking a trip, getting a change of scenery to clear your thoughts and re-motivate your mind.” Baekhyun explains, wiggling his fingers for dramatic effect. His face lights up with a sudden idea. “I could help with that.”
“Hang on, what are you even- “Jongin shakes his head and waves a hand to stop himself. He frowns crossly. “Look, I appreciate the offer but I can’t just snap my fingers and magic myself a new book.”
“I know that,” Baekhyun waves him off. “I’m just saying I could help with the change of scenery bit. Get you back on track. Wouldn't want you to miss your deadline now would we?”
Jongin swallows, thinking about the looming date and Kyungsoo’s face leering at him crossly.
“How exactly are you planning on doing that?” he asks skeptically, shocked at himself for even humouring the idea.
“Well. You could come meet my book club for starters. Maybe a little fan love will get the juices running,” Baekhyun says. “We meet on Thursdays, I’ll pick you up!”
Jongin tries to protest but Baekhyun claps his hands together, looking pleased with himself.
“I’ll see you at seven, then.”
“Great, I’ll be back then. I promise I'll come through the door next time.”
He disappears in a puff of smoke again leaving the apartment in total silence and Jongin blinks at the nothingness, the protest dying in his throat.
Luckily, it’s his day off the next morning so he doesn’t have to crawl out of bed and head over to the cafe for his shift. Frankly, Jongin’s not sure how he’d go about explaining to Minseok why he’s so shaken up. Trying to convince someone when he’s barely even convinced himself sounds almost impossible.
He loses hours deep in thought, cleaning the same spot on the floor over and over again until he realizes that the varnish might start to peel off and the skin of his hands with it. The apartment is spotless by the time he’s done with it and there’s nothing more he can do.
The underworld. Jongin sits back in front of his laptop, doubtful as he types the keyword in the search box. He’d expected it of course, but all the images that show up in the results are graphic and gory depictions of horrific scenes from a fiery hell and grotesque faces of demons and devils. There’s nothing anywhere about a regular, playful guy who runs the underworld and a bookclub, of all things. Jongin closes all the tabs and sighs at the thought of Thursday looming in so close. He still can’t decide if the twist in his gut is fear or anticipation.
The cloud of black smoke materializes right in front of him and Jongin nearly drops the towel from his hips, trying to cover his chest. He hasn’t even dried off from the shower yet.
“Oh, wow. Sorry,” Baekhyun grins, not sounding the least bit sorry and Jongin flushes so hard his face almost bursts into flames. At the very least, Baekhyun turns around and waits until Jongin finally emerges from his bedroom fully clothed. It took him a good few minutes to decide what to wear for a trip to the underworld. Jeans and a cardigan will have to do.
“You said you were coming in through the door this time,” he mumbles grumpily, smoothing down his hair.
“But it’s so much more fun this way,” Baekhyun chirps, beaming.
Jongin rolls his eyes, exasperatedly. It feels almost unreal that’s he’s just rolling his eyes at the guy who runs the underworld. Somehow he hasn’t taken off running and screaming yet, feeling a lot calmer than the first time. He wonders if maybe that should be a sign for something.
“Ready to go?” Baekhyun asks.
Jongin takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess.”
Baekhyun holds out his hand and Jongin eyes it warily, hesitant to take it. Baekhyun waits patiently though, his grin softening to something safer.
Swallowing, Jongin takes his hand and the black smoke immediately engulfs them both. He squeezes his eyes shut, praying that he doesn’t inhale any of it.
It’s like he’s on the sharp drop part of a roller coaster ride, feeling his stomach rising in his chest and his ears popping. He’s probably yelling but he can’t even hear himself.
His feet touch solid ground and Jongin tentatively cracks one eye open.The smoke is gone and then it sinks in that they’re somewhere else entirely.
“This is. Not what I expected,”Jongin blurts out, staring around in awe. Everything looks almost exactly the same as what he’s used to. Definitely greener though, with a lot more pastures stretching out in the distance and giant arching trees surrounding them. The buildings and houses look completely normal, towered over by skyscrapers and bordered by roads and sidewalks.
The sky is different. The sun has already set and the stars are out, bigger and closer than Jongin has ever seen; beautiful.
It takes him a few minutes to come back to himself and realize that he’s still nearly crushing Baekhyun’s hand. He lets go quickly and clears his throat awkwardly.
“So, why do they call this the underworld?” Jongin asks, hugely relieved not to see any pits of hellfire anywhere. Frankly, he expected a lot more screaming.There’s so much he’ll need to reevaluate after this.
“We run a different line of business,” Baekhyun answers simply, leading him along a path running down the side of the hill they’re on.
“Different from who?”
“Heaven, obviously,” Baekhyun says, waving his hand dismissively.
“Ah,” Jongin says weakly. “Of course.”
He decides he doesn’t really want to broach that particular topic right now. They come onto a cobbled path when they reach the bottom and Jongin can see the large gates up ahead.
“Is this the library?” Jongin asks when they step through, taking in the pristine walls of the giant estate in awe.
“Library? No, this is my house,” Baekhyun grins proudly, jingling his keys for emphasis. The cobbled path leads all the way up to the massive front door and Jongin just gapes silently at everything, lost for words.
The foyer inside is no less magnificent. Jongin could probably fit his entire apartment into it. He hears the humming chatter coming from a room somewhere and his palms start to sweat, suddenly feeling nervous and mildly terrified. He can’t be sure if it’s because they’re all demons or because they all know exactly who he really is. Being in the spotlight has always been something he’s had trouble with; it’s one of the reasons he started using the pen name in the first place. The pressure is too intimidating. He's never done this before but it’s too late to back out now because someone peers around the corner and yells, ‘They're here!’
A small group of people emerges through the doorway and before he knows it he's surrounded by people and Baekhyun’s going through introductions. There’s Jongdae, Seulgi, Wheein, Jackson and a slew of others whose names Jongin doesn't catch.
He’s being ushered into Baekhyun’s parlour and sat down on the couch. The seats around him are all immediately occupied, and a plate of food is pushes into his hands.
“Hey, whose house is this?” Baekhyun grumbles when he’s left without a seat, perching on the armrest of the couch instead.
Jongdae ignores him, piping up with an excited question about Jongin’s completed books. Everyone looks at him attentively and Jongin flushes hard, dipping his head like that would change the intensity of everyone's scrutiny. They take it in stride, suddenly sparking a discussion about one of Jongin’s first installment from years ago. It’s fascinating to see first hand how interested people actually are in his work, even if their excitement towards him is overwhelming. Answering the questions they throw at him about the plot so far is easier than he thought it would be. He’s confident about this at least and he’s not too far off from his comfort zone even through his flushed, fumbling awkwardness around praise. They’re quite the outgoing bunch for - well - demons. If Jongin didn’t know any better he wouldn’t have known they were demons at all. Though maybe that’s the whole reason why Baekhyun brought him down here. They don’t look it, or act like it but they’re still demons at the end of the day and he doesn’t know how to process that. He barely registers Baekhyun’s voice cutting through the chatter, scolding them to calm down.
Someone finally pops the question about the next installment and Jongin’s cheeks burn, feeling a pang of disappointment in himself that he has nothing to offer after all their praise. It’s hard not to feel like a failure.
Baekhyun covers up for his silence hastily, ending the meeting there and sends them home because it’s late. Silence closes in on them once everyone has left and Jongin is left to his thoughts, suddenly feeling a spike of anxiety about being down here. His confidence was never high to begin with and the wave of self-doubt takes him over.
Baekhyun seems to notice that something’s wrong, frowning when he sits down next to him.
“I can’t do this,” Jongin says hoarsely. He’s running away from his problems again and he knows it but he panics. “I want to go back.”
Stunned, Baekhyun nods and clasps Jongin’s shoulder tightly, dissolving them both into the smoke. When it clears, Jongin breathes a little easier at the familiar sight of his apartment.
“I’m sorry i couldn't help more,” Baekhyun says quietly and Jongin hears the apology ring sincerely.
“Here,” he says, pushing something cold into Jongin’s hand. It’s a polished rock with a symbol he doesn’t recognize carved into the centre.
“Just in case,” he explains when Jongin looks confused. “It lets you move between the realms without me if you ever want to come down here again.”
Jongin thumbs over the etched lines doubtfully, silently kicking himself for bailing on his issues again.
“I’ve read up on it too,” Baekhyun adds, giving him a small smile. “That maybe a big change of environment could help inspire you out of a block.”
He turns to leave, the black smoke already rising around him.
“It was nice meeting you,” he says before he disappears.
Jongin goes for his shift at the coffee shop in the morning as usual, trying to push everything else into the back of his mind and forget about it. It doesn’t do much for the unsettled feeling constantly hanging over him, like an itch under his skin fighting against him when he tries to restore a sense of normalcy in his life again. Baekhyun’s words stick with him, and his mind is back on the book club when he boots up his computer, pulling up the document he’s been working on. He gives it a shot but the words fizzle and die after barely half an hour, as stuck as always and he feels that lump of frustration and tiredness rising in his throat again. None of this is working, no matter how much he wants it to.
He keeps at it night after night, training his eyes on the blinking cursor before his focus tapers off the empty document yet again, begrudgingly glancing over at the rock he’s left on his table every now and then before finally throwing his hands up in defeat. Before he’s even thought the whole thing through, Jongin snatches it up and pulls on his coat.
He’s freaking out a little but he remembers Baekhyun’s instructions, and before he can get cold feet, he presses his thumb into the carving on the stone. His stomach swoops sharply again just like the first time Baekhyun brought him down here. Somehow it feels even more bizarre than the first time, looking out at a whole different world before him. Now that he’s down here he realizes that he has no idea where to even go; what is he even doing-
He whirls around and Baekhyun is standing there behind him, blinking in surprise.
“You changed your mind?”
“How did you even- never mind. I uh-” Jongin blunders, clearing his throat and pulling his coat straight. “Yeah. Wanted to stretch my legs.”
It’s feeble but Baekhyun beams at him, approaching him slowly like he’s afraid Jongin will flinch away from him and maybe he would, but Jongin reins it in.
“Wanna join me for dinner? It’s beef tonight,” Baekhyun offers and Jongin just nods and accepts the invitation because what else would he even do down here by himself anyway. Besides, Baekhyun offers to give him a tour of the city later, which sounds great in his book.
“I just can’t believe how normal everything looks,” Jongin muses aloud when Baekhyun takes him to a small cafe after dinner for dessert. He looks at the display of ice creams, a spread of all the regular flavours he’s familiar with.
“I could show you my tail, if you’d like,” Baekhyun says seriously and Jongin whips around to stare at him in shock.
Baekhyun’s mouth twitches and he bursts out laughing, clutching his stomach as he wheezes. Jongin takes a few seconds to catch on to the joke, laughing weakly.
He settles for two scoops of chocolate while Baekhyun goes with strawberry, handing a couple of bills over to the cashier behind the counter. Their currency is different, Jongin notes. The cashier dips his head respectfully at Baekhyun and Jongin remembers his rank down here with a jolt.
They find a table by the window, overlooking the street where the cars are zooming by. Upon closer inspection, Jongin realizes that the cars are actually hovering a few inches off the ground. This place may not look entirely other worldly but there’s definitely a lot that’s different from his own world.
He asks Baekhyun about it, too curious to let it slide by. Baekhyun’s only too eager to oblige, even pulling up pictures on his phone to show him. Between the merpeople and the talking trees, Jongin has to pinch himself to make sure he’s actually awake.
“Wait, that’s real?” Jongin exclaims at the picture of an actual food printer that Baekhyun pulls up.
“Got the latest model back home,” Baekhyun grins, amused at Jongin’s reactions. Jongin slumps back in his chair, overwhelmed but amazed.
“Is there even anything we have that you don’t?” Jongin asks, wondering if that’s even possible for a world with fortune wells.
“Snow. Can you believe it?” Baekhyun grumbles indignantly.
At this point, Jongin can probably believe anything.
Somewhere along the way they go back to talking about Jongin’s books. Baekhyun doesn’t push him on the block, asking about his pseudonym instead.
‘Guess it just helps me write more freely,” Jongin says, pushing his spoon around in the melting ice cream. “Though I suppose it’s mostly self preservation, like a safety net for when I lose my confidence; like now. Not the healthiest reasoning I guess..”
Running away from his problems so he doesn’t have to face the disappointment in himself. Baekhyun nods, nibbling on the tip of his spoon thoughtfully.
“Well, I know a couple of people who’d be very excited to help with that, if you’re up for giving it another shot,” he says and Jongin chuckles, thinking he could probably handle another session with Baekhyun’s book club. They’re actually a nice bunch once he stops freaking out over the fact that they’re demons and that they’re all focused on him.
The whole thing is still bizarre from top to bottom when he thinks back on everything but he doesn’t even feel all that unsettled anymore when he slides in between the sheets of his own bed that night.
It’s like a dam breaks after that, and once Jongin gets over the whole underworld and its ruler business, Baekhyun is easy to be around. Even with his rank, Jongin starts to wonder how this snarky guy with a sunny smile and endless jokes ever struck him as terrifying and intimidating.
Baekhyun takes it slow for his benefit, breaking him in and treating him to a few more lunches and cafe visits until Jongin doesn’t even flinch at the floating menus anymore. In retrospect, as a fantasy writer, Jongin probably should have eased into the whole environment a lot quicker than this.
Baekhyun brought him down here to give him a hand with the change of scenery, but it’s hard not to befriend him in the process. The demon overlord image finally shifts to the backburner in Jongin’s mind and the pressure and discomfort abates as quickly as it rose. He gives it a try some days, booting up his laptop when Baekhyun is waiting in line to order food for them and opens the usual document. As expected, the words still don’t come to him, but he has a better feeling about it this time, hopeful enough to give it another shot soon enough. Kind of ironic how uplifting the underworld feels.
The book club convenes in Baekhyun’s living room again a week or so later, carrying enough snacks to feed a hall of people. Jongin notices Jaebum’s graphic T-shirt sporting a stylized title of one of Jongin’s books, awed.
They keep the session a lot less spotlighted on Jongin even if they include him in everything they discuss, seeing as they are his books after all. The conversation is a lot more reciprocated than the straight up interview he’d have been uncomfortable with; Jongin gives tidbits about himself and they give back.
Jackson draws him into a conversation about a book the club had discussed a while back, one Jongin is actually familiar with, to ask his opinion. They’re all talking over each other at this point, tossing snacks around and not bothering to keep the babble down.
“Oppa, who would you pick?” Wheein cuts in, turning to him from her argument with Hoshi. “The female lead actress for a hypothetical movie of your book. Jung Soojung or Lee Hyeri? It’s obvious, right?”
“Hang on, that’s baiting!” Hoshi complains and Jongin barks out a laugh, never having even considered the idea of his books turning into a movie. He looks across the room and catches Baekhyun’s eye, grinning wider when Baekhyun throws him a thumbs up.
Some days, Jongin forgoes his laptop and takes his moleskine out with him to find a grassy patch by a shady tree when it’s sunny enough to stay outdoors. Baekhyun had shown him a couple of nice spots the first time he took him around the city, and Jongin settles for one that overlooks the city. It’s nice and quiet, not unlike his own apartment he realizes, but there’s a different vibe here. It helps in its own way.
Most days though, Baekhyun offers his house up whenever Jongin wants a quiet place to stay with wi-fi stronger than the cafe in town.
“Sauron 2.0? Really?” Jongin scoffs as he clicks on the server to connect.
“Thought it was fitting,” Baekhyun shrugs. “Besides, Lord of the Rings is a legend in any universe and dimension. You know how the story goes.”
Jongin says nothing to that, shifting guiltily though he manages to hold a straight face.
“You don’t...you’ve never watched them- how could you?”
Baekhyun looks personally insulted by Jongin’s outrageously limited knowledge of movies, gawking at him like it’s a betrayal.
“How did you know who Sauron was in the first place then?”
“Uh. A meme on the internet?” Jongin offers meekly, aware that he spends way too much time on Reddit when he can’t write.
Baekhyun looks like he’s actually been stabbed in the chest. So, the next time Jongin hits a wall again, Baekhyun decides against taking him around another part of the city to clear his mind, opting instead to rope him into marathoning the entire extended version of the lord of the rings trilogy with him, all three hobbit movies included.
“You need to try something different anyway,” he says seriously, pointedly jutting his chin out at the abandoned moleskine on the coffee table. “Change it up, break the cycle. Think outside the box.”
“Plus, you need Lord of the Rings in your life,” Baekhyun adds, pushing the popcorn bowl into his hands. Jongin sighs but pays attention, knowing that Baekhyun’s absolutely going to grill him on every detail afterwards. Besides; he’s grateful for it.
“What do you even do during the day?” Jongin asks curiously when Baekhyun ambles past him, plopping down into the garden chair next to him. He’s still taking shifts at the cafe in the mornings so he’s never around to see what Baekhyun does in that time.
Baekhyun plucks an uprooted flower from the grass, twisting the stem between his fingers idly.
“I run a music school,” he says, plucking the petals out. “I give singing lessons to kids and sometimes the older teens.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“What? Just cos I'm the Dark Overlord himself doesn't mean I can't have the voice of an angel,” Baekhyun says smugly, puffing out his chest.
Jongin rolls his eyes and settles back into his seat, pulling his knees up closer to his chest.
“Maybe you should let me hear you one day and I’ll be the judge of that.”
Baekhyun gives him a sunny smile and heads back to the kitchen to get more tea.
Baekhyun pops into the cafe during Jongin’s morning shifts every now and then, insisting that he loves the coffee here anyway. He brings his work with him sometimes and Jongin sees music sheets and lists scattered all over the table in his booth when he brings his order over.
“The annual performance is coming up,” Baekhyun explains, digging through the pile of papers to show him a colourful flyer. “It’s a huge event, most of the city turns up to come watch the show.”
Jongin smiles behind his hand at Baekhyun’s proud tone. Minseok calls him away when a large group of customers come in and Jongin promises to be back when he’s on break as usual.
He finally gets around to visiting Baekhyun’s school a week later, using the visit to clear his head when he hits a rut in writing again. The secretary at the entrance points him in the right direction when he asks for Baekhyun and he finds the class easily enough.
The voices sailing out through the door harmonize beautifully and Jongin silently peers through the window in awe, not wanting to interrupt. Baekhyun is sitting in the middle of the students, coaching them on their notes and high fiving them with a huge grin when they nail it on the spot. Jongin feels his insides melt to see him like that, as enthusiastic and charismatic as always. He doesn’t knock to announce his presence, leaving them to it instead and heads back to Baekhyun’s house. His laptop is still open on the table, the cursor blinking on the white background on the document when he brings the screen to life. Sucking in a deep breath, Jongin’s hands hover over the keyboard for a brief moment before he starts to type.
He makes it a rule never to let Baekhyun read what he’s typing no matter how much he whines and grumbles. His attempts to try and butter Jongin up are all shot down.
Being down here; it’s not magic. Jongin still keeps hitting the same ruts he did before, coming up against just as many walls. Down here though, he’s opened up to more ideas, from different angles he’d never even considered. He feels freer, like taking a breath of fresh air over the stifling confines of his apartment. Deep down, he’s aware that he’s probably endorsing the escapism aspect of this place too much but there’s not much harm to it. It’s working enough to help him piece through the ruts gradually.
Baekhyun learns to gives him space eventually when his hovering gets too much. He sticks around till Jongin boots up his laptop or flips his moleskine open and then busies himself with something else. Trying not to add to the pressure, he’d said once.
This afternoon is no different. Baekhyun heaves himself to his feet and starts heading back inside but Jongin nearly drops his laptop in an effort to reach out.
“Wait!” he says quickly, swallowing. “Stay?”
Baekhyun blinks at him uncertainly.
“I mean...you said I should try something different since everything else wasn’t working right?” he says feebly, hoping the heat he can feel rising in his cheeks isn’t too obvious.
Baekhyun shrugs, looking pleased and sits back down.
It doesn’t always go smoothly. His frustration peaks one afternoon in Baekhyun’s garden after he rewrites the exact same scene ten different ways and none of it comes out right. Baekhyun catches him about to shove his laptop off the table and stops him with a soft hey easy and a warm hand on his shoulder.
He closes Jongin’s laptop and pushes it away, tugging Jongin to his feet instead. Baekhyun pulls him along, leading him back into the house by his hand and heads up the huge staircase. There’s still tons of rooms up here that Jongin hadn’t even known about apparently and Baekhyun pushes open the door to one of them, flicking on the lights.
“I don’t believe it.”
Jongin gapes at the room incredulously, coughing out a laugh.
“You actually have a karaoke room in your own house.”
“How could I not?” Baekhyun grins, pushing a microphone into Jongin’s hands and sets up the forty inch LED TV. “Here. You get to pick first.”
Jongin laughs as he takes the control tablet, scrolling through the long list of songs. He settles on the first one he recognizes, a fun, upbeat track by Red Velvet. It snowballs quickly from trying to follow the lyrics seriously to a raucous session of fooling around and jumping to the beat. Jongin feels the tension in his shoulders and his earlier frustration gradually ebbing away, letting loose and blowing some steam. He slumps back on the couch tiredly while Baekhyun scrolls through the list of songs again and presses play.
It’s a slower tune this time, a ballad that Jongin doesn’t recognize. He picks up his microphone uncertainly but Baekhyun starts off the first note, his voice is smooth and strong. He holds every note faultlessly, with perfect vocal control and it’s absolutely beautiful to listen to. Jongin sits back motionlessly, completely enthralled. The lyrics are poetic and wonderfully written, artistic in a way Jongin can appreciate.
When the song finishes, Baekhyun looks a little flushed, waiting expectantly for Jongin’s reaction because he’s just sitting there completely stunned.
“That was incredible,” Jongin manages finally, staring up at him in awe. Baekhyun’s face breaks into a huge smile and gives a theatrical bow, looking pleased. He plops down on the couch in the space beside Jongin, catching his breath. Jongin waits for the usual snarky remark or the smug pat on the back joke, but Baekhyun just keeps smiling widely, still flushed; radiant. His eyes are twinkling when he looks up at him and Jongin is so transfixed he can’t even move.
“Ready for another round?”
Jongin only realizes how close their faces are when he feels Baekhyun’s breath on his face. The charged moment dissipates some but it still takes an enormous effort to pull himself away with a nod.
In a bid for another change of scenery, Jongin invites Baekhyun over for dinner at his place this time. He’s startled into nearly dropping the salad bowl when Baekhyun actually knocks on the door. He’d been expecting him to poof in the way he’s always done and never had a problem with. Jongin has long since grown accustomed to it now.
“That was weird,” he says, closing the door behind Baekhyun. “You usually just, you know. Pop in.”
“I thought that bothered you,” Baekhyun answers, a strange look in his eyes.
Jongin swallows, staring down at the floor.
“It’s fine,” he manages and stops there because ‘it’s fine if it’s you’ suddenly sounds too out of place.
Instead he ushers Baekhyun to the table and serves their food, a smile finding its way back to his face when Baekhyun compliments his cooking.
“Actually, I took a cooking class just so I could write that scene with Taemin and Wonshik in the kitchens,”Jongin tells him, helping himself to another serving of mashed potato.
“Woah, seriously?” Baekhyun sets his fork down to stare at Jongin. “Just for that scene?”
“Guess I’m a slave to the details,” Jongin shrugs. He prods Baekhyun’s forehead with his finger when he won’t stop staring at him with awestruck eyes. Somehow, even more than having dinner with the underworld’s ruler, it’s sitting with someone who is an avid fan of his books in person that he finds gives him the strangest feeling. Jongin just flounders, not knowing what to do with himself when he’s showered with praise the way Baekhyun and his book club do. Even now, his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth, not knowing what to say or do with Baekhyun’s admiration focused directly at him rather than his pen name. He’s been writing under ‘Kai’s’ name for so long now, wanting the freedom the anonymity offers him and so scared of disappointment that he’d forgotten how good it feels just to be acknowledged.
He beams at Baekhyun, pushing another chicken leg onto Baekhyun’s plate.
It’s slow progress but the words start coming to him gradually. Jongin is left to his own devices when Baekhyun is busy during the week, but he makes up for it in the weekends when he has more time on his hands. Sometimes Baekhyun stretches out flat on the grass and props his head on Jongin’s lap, uncaring of the way his hair fans out all over Jongin’s scribbles in his moleskine.
“You do realize we’re out here so I can actually write, right?” Jongin says, trying to sweep the hair aside.
“Speaking of, maybe I should take a look and help you out with that-”
“Not a chance.”
Baekhyun huffs and wiggles petulantly in his lap at Jongin’s determination to keep every detail of the new story from him. He folds his arms over his chest, closing his eyes to shield them from the sun. His long, dark eyelashes fan across his cheekbones, his slow breathing making him looks soft and peaceful like this. Jongin figures later on that maybe he should have given a little more thought to it before combing his fingers through Baekhyun’s hair but it's too late now. It’s soft too, just like his hands and Jongin spares a moment to the thought of whether all the rest of him is soft before snuffing it out. Baekhyun doesn't open his eyes, sighing quietly instead and nudges further into his hand contently.
They’ve come a long way from when they first met and Jongin whacked him with his umbrella out of fear. Maybe it should feel worrisome how well he’s adjusted to being down here so quickly, easily getting along with everyone else. When he thinks of Baekhyun now, he can’t articulate how he feels; rather ironic for a writer.
“What are you smiling at?’’
Baekhyun’s eyes are open now, staring up at him upside down.
Jongin smiles wider and pats Baekhyun’s cheek.
Movie night is always at Baekhyun’s place, not that Jongin has any complaints about the giant plasma TV stretching across the wall. Tonight is his pick, choosing a recent movie he’s heard of about a group of friends.
“How did you even get this on dvd?” Jongin asks suddenly, halfway through. “It’s only just hit the theaters.”
“Perks of the underworld,” Baekhyun grins around the straw of his soda. Snorting, Jongin sidles closer into Baekhyun’s side for warmth when the blanket over his legs doesn’t do much. He spends most of the movie with his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, settling into the crook of his neck comfortably and Baekhyun simply shifts to accommodate him. After a while, Jongin feels the light pressure of Baekhyun leaning his cheek into his hair.
When the credits start rolling, Jongin straightens up and stretches his stiff limbs with a groan.
“I should probably get going,” he says, glancing at his watch. It’s late.
He reaches into his pocket for the stone but Baekhyun suddenly latches onto his hand quickly, looking up at him from the couch.
“Don’t go,” he breathes, eyes glistening in the dim light. Jongin feels his heart stutter in his chest.
Baekhyun doesn’t wait for him to sit back down, just gets to his feet instead and shuffles closer, still clasping Jongin’s hand in his own.
Jongin steps back into his space slowly, holding the look in Baekhyun’s eyes. He licks his lips and catches the way Baekhyun follows the movement, his throat bobbing when he swallows. His eyes are intense but soft when he looks back up at him, their faces so close that Jongin can feel his warm breath fanning across his skin.
He leans in when Baekhyun tilts his head up, bringing their lips close, just short of brushing together.
“Isn’t there some sort of rule against this kind of thing?” Jongin asks, hovering a hair’s breadth from his mouth. Them being from different world’s and all.
“I make the rules,”
“Thought you said this was a democracy.”
“Shut up,” Baekhyun breathes and kisses him, sliding his hands up to cup Jongin’s face.
His mouth falls open to let Baekhyun lick inside, flicking his tongue along the roof of his mouth to make him shiver. Jongin pulls him closer by his hips, angling his head and kisses back with vigour. Baekhyun’s lips are soft on his own, pushing and pulling against his mouth, slotting together again and again.
They stumble through the house, and Jongin feels the familiar swoop in his stomach when Baekhyun tries to take them directly into his room through the smoke but keeps missing the mark, too distracted by Jongin’s mouth.
Jongin pushes him down when they finally get to the bed, tearing at each other’s clothes but Baekhyun flips him over when he’s worked his pants off, straddling his hips. He kisses a line down his bare chest, taking his time around his hips, pressing his mouth into the dip of his stomach. Jongin laughs at the ticklish feeling even as he shivers in anticipation when Baekhyun’s fingers curl around his thighs. His cock curves against his stomach when Baekhyun works his underwear off, hard and aching but Baekhyun doesn’t touch him, mouthing along the inside of his thighs instead, just short of where he needs him .
“Fuck, Baekhyun,” Jongin groans, flushed and strung tight when Baekhyun moves a little higher again and pulls away.
“I’ve got you,” Baekhyun grins against the bend of his knee, dropping a kiss on his kneecap.
He picks up the pace, coating his fingers with lube quickly but he still pushes them in achingly slow. Jongin whimpers and cants his hips off the bed when Baekhyun scissors him open, desperately needing more.
Baekhyun gets the message, pumping his fingers a little longer before pulling them out and crawling up the bed, hovering over him.
The blunt push of his cock inside knocks the breath of Jongin’s lungs and he squeezes Baekhyun’s arm to give him a second. Stilling, Baekhyun shifts slowly to let him adjust, and dips down to capture his lips again.
Jongin sighs into his mouth, letting the distraction wash over him and nudges his hips down to get Baekhyun to move again. Baekhyun obliges him, rolling his hips in deep and slow, filling him up and brushing against the spot that makes his eyes roll back again and again. Jongin’s mouth falling open soundlessly, barely remembering how to even breathe. He tries to keep his eyes open, to look at Baekhyun and see the way he’s flushed, his mouth hanging as he gasps out a staccato string of moans.
Baekhyun slows the pace, shifting and dipping down to capture Jongin’s lips again before lifting Jongin’s leg over his shoulder. He presses down, folding Jongin in half and fucks into him again, the sound of slapping skin lost between their groans. Jongin feels his cock push in impossibly deeper with the new angle, filling him up and fucking him so good he can’t even think straight. It feels like his veins are on fire around the orgasm burning in his gut. He barely recognizes himself from the moans being ripped out of his throat when Baekhyun thrusts in harder. Jongin focuses on the sounds Baekhyun makes, the moans, the quiet whimpers, letting it ground him. He clings to Baekhyun’s shoulders, digging his nails into his skin to press them closer together.
Baekhyun comes first, his hips stuttering as he goes rigid, blissed out. He drops his head on Jongin’s collarbones, panting tiredly against his skin. Jongin pinches side, and feels Baekhyun grins right before he curls his fingers around Jongin’s cock and strokes. He cries out at the white hot touch, already so hard and sensitive and desperately needing to come in the next few seconds before he explodes. Baekhyun kisses him quiet and pumps his fist quickly, bringing his burning release closer until Jongin comes so hard he can’t breathe for a few seconds.
He feels Baekhyun pull out, disappearing for a moment before returning with tissues to clean them both up. He clambers back onto the bed beside Jongin with a shiver, smiling when Jongin pulls the sheet over them both.
Shifting closer, Jongin draws him in with a finger under his chin and kisses him, long and languid, winding down from the high to the softness of his lips. Baekhyun grins into it, slipping a hand under the sheet to settle on the curve of Jongin’s waist.
They lie on their sides facing each other, settling into the drowsy aftermath. They’re both worn out but not enough to sleep just yet. Baekhyun ghosts the tips of his fingers along the length of Jongin’s bare arm, pressing the tips into his skin lightly like he’s pressing down the keys of a piano.
“I’m almost done with the book,” Jongin says suddenly, grinning at the way Baekhyun lights up.
“Do I get a signed copy, author-nim?” he bats his eyelashes and Jongin shoves him lightly. It’s been tough, churning out so much content in such a limited timeframe, even with several chunks of the story having been ready for a while, just waiting for him to piece them together properly. Still, somehow he managed it and he’s feeling pretty damn good about it.
“I want to use my real name this time,” he says quietly after a moment. Baekhyun raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“Are you sure?” he asks and there’s a smile already starting to inch across his lips. “What’s changed?”
Jongin shrugs. “No reason for me to hide anymore, I guess.”
It’s been a long time coming but he’s come to terms with his own insecurities. He can handle it now, to stop escaping and hiding behind a different name. He can be confident in his own work.
“Is that what you really want?” Baekhyun leans forward and presses a kiss to Jongin’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” Jongin smiles, finally feeling more sure of himself than he has in a long time. “It is.”
Baekhyun beams at him, his eyes crinkling happily and Jongin leans in to kiss him again.
“So, now that you have some time on your hands,” Baekhyun twists around, reaching for something in his dresser. Two tickets. “Will you be my date to my school’s show?”
Jongin nods with laugh and Baekhyun throws the tickets aside before rolling on him again, skating a hand down under the sheet.