"So. The asshole is here again," Jongdae says, as Joonmyun comes out of the staff-room, tucking his striped short-sleeved button-up into his jeans. "I nudged him toward table seven."
"That's the table with the leak above it, Jongdae." It's a sunny day, but the weather report had predicted rain as Joonmyun had wriggled into his jeans this morning. He bets if he were to look out the window, he'd see slowly encroaching storm clouds.
Jongdae grins wolfishly, and Joonmyun tries not to smile back, because a customer is a customer, but the guy really is an asshole.
"Maybe he won't come back," Jongin says optimistically, tossing glasses and barely catching them, and Joonmyun puts both hands on his hips and purses his mouth. "What? Like you weren't thinking it."
"Last week he left his gum stuck to the credit-card tray," Jongdae says. "I want to set him on fire." Jongdae is eyeing the guy up with the kind of malice that means hot-sauce in the raspberry sauce of the chocolate cake he orders every Thursday when he comes in.
"Just… Be polite," Joonmyun says, as he notes a couple walking in the front door with two small children. "Jongin, I'm going to need a high chair at table nine."
"On it, leader," Jongin says, and disappears around the corner. Joonmyun picks up a couple of their kids' coloring menus and walks toward the family with a smile.
"Welcome to the 'Black Pearl'," Joonmyun says. "Table for four?"
Joonmyun has been working at the 'Black Pearl' ever since he'd needed to pick up some part-time work to pay for his textbooks during his fourth year of university.
'I'll just do this for six months' had turned into three years, and now Joonmyun is the manager of the small frozen yogurt shop, and his graduate studies are just as much on the backburner as the rest of his life.
"Jongin, can you pick up an extra shift this weekend?" Joonmyun asks as he looks down at his clipboard, glaring at the blank space in the scheduling. "I know you have your summer class, but…"
"Sorry, hyung," Jongin says. "You'll have to ask Jongdae. I have an exam on Monday morning and Sehun and I are devoting the weekend to rote memorization. I have to pass this class." He sprays the counter with cleaner, and then mops up the solution with a clean cloth. "I have to pass this semester or my dad will kill me."
"Jongdae is out of town this weekend," Joonmyun says. His roommate is headed to Jeju with his most recent girlfriend, and that means it's Jongin or nothing. "Your dad won't kill you."
"That's what you think." Jongin slams the spray bottle down on the counter, startling the high school girl reading at the end of the main counter into looking up in mild fear before she catches sight of him, flushes, and then looks quickly down at her book. "Then you'll read about me in the newspaper. 'Second year university student found dismembered in Gwanak! He had a bright future, but he was completely incapable of passing his math class. He'll be fondly remembered by about forty percent of those who knew him—'"
"You're overreacting," Joonmyun says, reaching up to ruffle Jongin's hair. Jongin huffs and pulls away, and Joonmyun laughs, not offended. "I'm sure you'll pass this time. Second time's the charm?"
"Sehun says he'll help me," Jongin says. "That's why I can't come in on Saturday. Sorry."
"That's okay, Jongin. I'm sure I can manage it."
"Hyung, we really need to hire someone else." Jongin pushes his hair back from his forehead. "It's been way too hectic since Minseok-hyung left in March."
Ideally, Joonmyun should have sought a new employee as soon as he'd found out Minseok was graduating. It had been easier to live in denial, up until Minseok's last day when Minseok had patted him on the shoulder and said "good luck with everything" before walking in the direction of the subway and leaving Joonmyun with the sinking realization that you can't run a shop with only three people.
Well, you can. It just really sucks, and weekends feel just like weekdays. It’s also impossible to find time to do his laundry or clean his kitchen or learn the names of Jongdae's rotating cast of girlfriends that seem to come and go as frequently as customers at their yogurt shop.
"I know," Joonmyun says. "You know that I know that."
"Well," Jongin says. The high school girl is still surreptitiously watching Jongin. Joonmyun finds it adorable. "If I know that you know that I know that-- fuck, this is too hard. Can we just hire someone?"
"I'll get to it," Joonmyun says. "Go ask your secret admirer over there if she'd like another soda, on the house."
"Stop trying to set me up with jailbait," Jongin hisses. "You are the one that needs dates. Go on your own dates. Whatever happened to that girl Jongdae introduced you to? Luna?"
"She's not my type," Joonmyun replies, as Jongdae pushes open the shop door with his back, arms laden with summer fruits. "Let me help you!"
"I've got it, I've got it." Jongdae's shirt sticks to his back with sweat. "This is my last day for, like, five days, so I can afford to throw my back out."
Joonmyun grabs a case of berries from the top of the pile and takes them back toward the refrigerators. "Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm worried about your back," Jongdae says, giving Joonmyun the once over. "The supply truck is coming Sunday morning and no offense, hyung, but there's a reason we hired Jongin even though his head is basically filled with ground hamburger."
"Hey!" Jongin throws the wet cloth at Jongdae's face, and it is only Joonmyun's quick thinking that keeps the other two boxes of fresh berries from hitting the floor. "I'm bad at math. Give me a break."
"I don't give breaks," Jongdae says. "I give truth." Jongin throws the spray bottle next, and the high school girl giggles. Jongin flushes red, straightening his back and leaning onto the counter like he hadn't just thrown the spray bottle like an angry toddler. "Worried your little friend over there won't think you're cool anymore?"
"Shut up," Jongin says, and then he's smiling charmingly as two college girls walk in. "I'll go show them to a table."
"No, allow me," Jongdae says. "Help leader here with the berries."
"You're not that much older than me," Jongin says with irritation, but he takes the boxes from Joonmyun anyway, stacking them on top of the other one next to the sink. "So, hyung, I'll come in for an hour on Sunday morning to help with the truck unload." Joonmyun is about to express his thanks, but then Jongin wags his finger. "Ah, ah, ah. On one condition. You start looking for someone to hire."
"It's a deal," Joonmyun says, and Jongin smiles at him triumphantly before filling up an empty glass with Coke to take over to the high school girl in the corner.
Jongdae leaves for Jeju on Friday afternoon. Joonmyun is heading out of their apartment at the same time, only he's going to work, and Jongdae looks at him a tad mournfully as he hefts his full travel bag down the stairs.
"We should take a vacation together sometime."
"Yes, it is my most secret desire to be third wheel on one of your romantic getaways."
"Just me and you," Jongdae says, looping an arm around Joonmyun's shoulder. "We can go to Gyeongju and look at all those temples and shit. I know you're into that, future history professor."
"I'd actually have to go back to school to become a history professor," Joonmyun says. "And that's not financially feasible at the moment."
"You'll be back in next semester," Jongdae says. "You know you can't just give it up."
"I'm not giving it up," Joonmyun says. "It's just until things are better at home, you know?"
"Yeah," Jongdae says. There is a heavy silence between them for a few moments. It's not awkward, because Joonmyun has seen Jongdae in women's underwear and Jongdae has seen Joonmyun cry, but it is heavy. "I have to go. Min will be angry if I'm late."
"Go, go," Joonmyun says. "Have a safe flight."
"I'll call you when I get there," Jongdae vows, even though they both know he'll forget until he's in the shower tonight and then he'll text Joonmyun a message filled with typos that says something like not dead yet so don't get excited111!!!!!!
"I hope you have a great time," Joonmyun says, spinning around to lock the door as Jongdae stomps down the stairs in 173 centimeters of uncoordinated glory, and then he follows, heading to the shop.
It is with trepidation that Joonmyun fixes the 'Now Hiring' sign in the window. He should put something online, but he'll try this first, because he'd like a local. Preferably a student at Seoul-dae that comes in this direction on their own.
To say that he is surprised when a tall, lanky guy walks in on that Saturday afternoon, less than twenty-four hours after he's put up the sign, with a mop of curly hair and sunglasses perched low on his nose, would be an understatement. He has a backpack on his shoulders, but it looks empty, and Joonmyun pauses from mixing a banana smoothie to grab a table menu when the man hesitates at the edge of the counter.
"Can I help you?" Joonmyun asks. "A table or something to go…?" He takes a moment to study him. He's wearing a tank shirt and a pair of jeans so tight Joonmyun worries for his circulation, and he has a full mouth. The lower lip is dry, like he chews on it constantly.
"Actually," the man says, and Joonmyun startles at his voice. It's low and soothing, and nothing like what Joonmyun expects. "I'm here about the sign in the window?"
Joonmyun startles again, and feels kind of silly and flustered. "R-right," he says. "The hiring thing? Are you looking for a job?"
"Maybe," the man says. "I was wondering if I could talk to the manager?"
"That's me," Joonmyun says, turning back to the mixer and letting it run for another ten seconds as he collects himself. He pours the smoothie into a yellow glass, and sticks two cute swirly straws in it for the couple that ordered it at table five. "Just give me one second."
He takes the smoothie to the table, and when he comes back, the man is watching him with curious eyes. "You don't look old enough to be the manager." Joonmyun thinks he's teasing, with the way one side of his mouth lifts. Joonmyun is relatively used to being teased, about all manner of things, so he takes it in stride.
"Trust me, I am." He scrunches his nose. "Are you over eighteen?" The man's arms flex. He looks strong. It would be nice, to have someone else strong around besides Jongin, who is constantly showing off, lifting his shirt just enough to tease and saying oops unconvincingly when Jongdae glares at him.
"Yes," the man says. "My name is Chanyeol. I'm a student at Seoul National."
"Can you work evening shifts, Chanyeol?" Joonmyun busies himself with rinsing out the blender, and Chanyeol's voice is low and clear enough that he can hear it despite the running water.
"Yes," Chanyeol says. "I do an internship for half the day for the next two months, some boring business thing, but I'm free after five in the afternoon, and—"
"The pay isn't terrific," Joonmyun continues, and he peeks at Chanyeol out of the corner of his eye. Chanyeol is smiling at him, and his sunglasses have slipped lower on the bridge of his nose, revealing an enormous pair of eyes framed with long, thick lashes. "And it's not particularly exciting." He turns to look at Chanyeol completely, and he's struck, suddenly, by how tall the other man is. "Jongin is grumpy and Jongdae is a strung-out med student and I'm—"
Chanyeol's grin just gets wider. "Cute," he says, and Joonmyun doesn't know what to say to that. "You're very cute. Can I have the job?"
"You start on Monday," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol sighs happily and slides onto a stool. His long arms stretch across the counter as he settles.
"Great," Chanyeol says. "I'll be here at five." He looks up at the menu for a moment, and just as Joonmyun had suspected, his lower lip is captured for gnawing by his big, square teeth. "Can I have a chocolate and strawberry smoothie to celebrate?"
He sounds adorably excited, and Joonmyun likes the way Chanyeol seems to be tapping his feet to an inaudible beat, head bobbing along as he looks around the shop. Joonmyun likes happy people, but he's pretty sure Chanyeol will drive Jongin up the wall.
"Coming right up," Joonmyun says, and he definitely doesn't feel a strange spark when their fingertips brush as he hands Chanyeol the full glass.
"I hired someone," Joonmyun says, halfway through unloading heavy boxes from the supply truck early Sunday morning. Jongin is huffing as he tries to show off and lift two boxes at once. Joonmyun's knees are glad he's grown out of that already.
"What?" Jongin pants, as he pushes in through the side door with his shoulder, Joonmyun at his heels.
"I hired someone. He starts tomorrow afternoon."
"Another guy?" Jongin sets the boxes down and pouts. "I was hoping for a hot girl." He wipes his hands on his dirty sweatpants and pulls down on his baseball cap. "At least tell me he's painfully mediocre looking. I don't need competition."
"He's…" Joonmyun's not sure how to describe Chanyeol to Jongin. He's pretty sure Jongin is not interested in Chanyeol's large hands or Chanyeol's pretty lips. Half model, half Labrador might work, but Joonmyun doesn't want to give Jongin any weird preconceptions. "Tall."
"Taller than me?"
"Most definitely," Joonmyun says, and Jongin swears. "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll still get about half of the teenage girl hearts." He gingerly pats Jongin's shoulder, and Jongin pouts, briefly, before beginning an intense and involved inspection of his Pumas that seems to preclude meeting Joonmyun's gaze.
"If it means you'll take more days off," Jongin says, still averting his eyes, "you could hire a trained circus animal and I wouldn't complain."
Ahhh, Joonmyun thinks. Feelings.
Jongin's never the sort to admit to emotions, but he's obviously (unnecessarily) concerned for Joonmyun, and that makes Joonmyun smile at him reassuringly, even if Jongin is kind of refusing to look at him.
Sometimes, Jongin can be pretty adorable.
"He's not quite a trained circus animal." He thinks about the way Chanyeol had laughed, as Joonmyun had explained the shifts, using his usual silly jokes, the ones Jongdae describes as 'heartbreakingly lame' and that Jongin refuses to acknowledge as having been uttered. Chanyeol had clapped his hands really loudly and laughed with his whole body like they were the funniest things he'd heard all day. Then he'd sloshed smoothie all over his arm and sheepishly mopped it up as Joonmyun watched with trepidation. "I'm really on the fence about the trained part."
"The look on your face right now worries me," Jongin says, and Joonmyun smiles.
"It'll be fine," Joonmyun says. "I hope."
"I'm glad that we have a future doctor on staff," Jongin says, as Chanyeol slices his hand open on a piece of broken glass. Three attractive twenty-something women immediately produce bandages from their purses, and Jongin's scowl deepens. "And this is immensely unfair. All he does is trip, giggle, and bounce around the shop getting people's orders wrong. How is this possible?"
"Don't be jealous, Jongin," Joonmyun says with a smile, straightening the collar of Jongin's shirt. "It's not the 'tall, dark, and brooding' thing you've got going on, but you must admit his cheerfulness is rather contagious."
"I'm sure the low 'sex-me' voice doesn't hurt," Jongin says grudgingly, and Joonmyun shakes his head, either to clear the thought or to chide Jongin for mentioning it.
"Don't kill him while I'm not here," Joonmyun tells him, and Jongin spins his baseball cap sideways, until the Kia Tigers logo turns into nothing more than a set of teeth from the front view. "And for goodness' sake, don't let him use the blender again."
Even if Chanyeol had enthusiastically insisted on doing the entire cleanup by himself, Joonmyun still doesn't want a repeat of the strawberry smoothie incident from last Wednesday.
"He's only been here two weeks and the girls have figured out his schedule. This is ridiculous. He walks like a newborn deer, all wobbly bow-legs and bumping into everything."
"His hair is stupid!" Jongin says desperately, as Joonmyun walks away. "Don't leave me alone with him!"
The door cuts off Jongin's protests, and Joonmyun is hit with a wave of dreadful Seoul humidity as he steps out onto the street.
It's nice, Joonmyun thinks, to be able to leave the shop on a weekday afternoon. It's a luxury he hasn't had since Minseok left at the beginning of March. He hadn't realized how big the difference between four employees and three would be, when Minseok had first announced he was leaving, but having Chanyeol on staff, even if Chanyeol is an accident that is constantly happening, is a load off Joonmyun's shoulders.
The walk is sweltering so when he enters the hospital, the air conditioning sends a shiver down his spine. He jams his hands into the pockets of his shorts after he self-consciously brushes his sweaty bangs off of his forehead.
He is headed to the third floor. His sneakers squeak on the clean linoleum, and he nods to the nurses and goes to room 315.
"Joonmyun," says the woman in the bed, and Joonmyun rushes to her side, pushing back her hair from her brow. "You're here."
"Yes, yes," Joonmyun says. "We got a new guy at work, so I was able to come during the day before the end of visiting hours."
"It's good to see you," she says, as Joonmyun slides a chair up next to her bedside, before taking her hand between his own. It's cold, so he rubs up and down her fingers in a gentle massage to improve the circulation.
"You too, mom." He smiles at her. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," she says. "I know you're working hard." She laughs, and it turns into a cough. "The nurses say you call everyday to check on me. They all want to know how old you are and if you're available."
"Mom," Joonmyun squeezes her hand, and she laughs again. They favor each other, in that smile. Joonmyun has a picture of them both, with fading colors and worn edges, that he keeps in the left pocket of his wallet along with his social security card and his student ID, just to remind himself of that fact.
"You're going back to school next semester, aren't you, dear?" she asks, and Joonmyun nods.
"If I can, I will," he says. "But don't worry about that." The air in the hospital is thick. "You should focus on your health. I can take care of myself."
"You've always been able to do that," his mother says. "You're far too hard on yourself, Joonmyun." She closes her eyes. "I wish you'd find someone to take care of you."
"Everything is fine, mom," Joonmyun says. Most of the time, he truly believes that, but his mother has a way of making him question whether or not everything really is fine, which makes him feel guilty, which then makes him more resolute to work harder and be stronger.
Joonmyun might not be able to lift two heavy boxes at a time from the supply truck like Jongin, but in the past seven years he's figured out how to be strong in a million other ways.
"If you say so," she says, and she smiles again, only this time the ends are brittle, like Joonmyun's when there are a bunch of things he wants to say but he knows he never will. They favor each other, in that smile, too.
Joonmyun, in a perfect world, would be three-quarters of the way to a PhD in the early history of Western civilizations. Instead of making sure there are enough chocolate chips in the refrigerator to refill the trays, he'd be sitting, bespectacled and sleep-deprived, in the basement of a library, writing about the battles with the druids for control of the British Isles.
This is not a perfect world. Joonmyun rolls up his sleeves, putting aside thoughts of the first aqueducts and successions of Caesars.
It is not so much that Joonmyun chose history, as that history, with its memorizable dates and systematic timelines and cause-and-effect ratios, calls out to him like the siren-song that sends Odysseus crashing into the rocks.
"When you say it like that," Jongdae says, "it's kind of like how I was drawn to medicine with the promise of seeing a lot of boobs."
"Jongdae," Joonmyun says, as he tries to sort the trash so they can take it outside for the first time in a week, "you don't become a doctor to look at boobs."
"I'm sure that some people don't," Jongdae says. "But I am not one of those people."
"I bet you see more of blood and guts in lab than you see of breasts." Joonmyun pulls out another aluminum can from the regular trash and looks between it and Jongdae before dropping it into the recycling.
"Well, I know that now," Jongdae says. "When I was a first year in undergrad, though, I wanted to be a plastic surgeon." He winks at Joonmyun, before walking over to help knot the trash bags. "Hindsight is twenty-twenty. The truth is, I should have gone into Italian Renaissance art if I wanted to look at naked ladies all day."
"I think you see enough naked ladies in your personal life." Joonmyun sighs. "The bag with the green writing is for trash, not cans, Jongdae."
"When it is five in the morning and you have an organic chemistry test that you are completely unprepared for in three hours," Jongdae says, "somehow all the bags become the same color." He lifts one bag. "Besides, I'm a changed man. I have settled down. Min is the only girl for me."
"If you say so," Joonmyun teases, lifting the recycling and food trash. Joonmyun actually does believe him. While he's, understandably, a firm proponent of 'history repeats itself', he has also seen the way Jongdae looks at Min, and thinks she might be his Helen. (Jongdae's grades, of course, are his Troy.)
"You could afford to see a few more naked ladies." Jongdae moves toward the front door of their apartment, the hem of his pants dragging along the kitchen floor. Joonmyun doesn't have the energy to protest, today.
"Mmm," Joonmyun says, and they don't talk again until the trash is safely out at the dumpsters and they're back into the fan-cooled living room, Jongdae pulling off his tee and leaving himself in only an undershirt.
"You're quiet," Jongdae says. "Jongin says you took off this afternoon?"
"I went to see my mother." Joonmyun washes his hands as Jongdae lurks behind him. He turns around to his best friend's stare.
"How is she doing?" Jongdae asks.
"Well," Joonmyun says, and he doesn't want to worry Jongdae, so he doesn't mention the furrow between the doctor's brows or the way his mother's eyes hadn't quite focused. He will keep those worries for himself. "How was your day?"
"The new kid," Jongdae says. "Joonymun, I went into work, and the new kid."
Even thinking about Chanyeol makes Joonmyun smile. When he'd left work that afternoon, Chanyeol had just learned how to mix the yogurts in the stainless steel machines. Joonmyun hasn't laughed that hard in a long time.
Chanyeol isn't clumsy in everything, but it always seems like his limbs are longer than he expects them to be when he's trying to learn something new. This makes him more menace than aid sometimes, but Joonmyun has plenty of patience, and he's always liked teaching. "Like this," he'd told Chanyeol, and Chanyeol had carefully copied his posture, adjusting for the height difference as he poured milk into the industrial mixer. The smile Chanyeol had given him when he'd said "good job" had sent tingles all the way down to Joonmyun's toes.
"You're smiling. You probably think his chaos is delightful, or something ridiculous like that."
"I do," Joonmyun says, his smile only growing wider as he thinks about all the strawberry pulp on Chanyeol's face last Wednesday, and the way Chanyeol had silently cleaned up after Jongdae, too, because he had noticed that Joonmyun was constantly wiping down the counters.
"Then I like him," Jongdae says. "I may even deign to learn his name."
"Just like that?"
"You don't smile as much as you used to, Joonmyun. I'm a big fan of anything that makes you happy." Jongdae shrugs as Joonmyun flushes. "If that means accepting a sasquatch into my work life, well, there are some sacrifices I am willing to make."
"He's not a sasquatch," Joonmyun says. "He's… Chanyeol." There's a flutter in his stomach, but it is a simple enough thing to ignore.
It is a quiet day at the 'Black Pearl'. It always is on Mondays, which is why Joonmyun has never hated going into work on the first day of the week.
Chanyeol is frowning into a book. Joonmyun hadn't caught the title, earlier, when Chanyeol had first fished it out of his backpack, but he knows it's for school by the way Chanyeol occasionally narrows his eyes and rereads sections, or turns back to previously finished sections with a searching gaze. Not that Joonmyun is watching him.
Chanyeol looks so big in the small chairs of the shop, which were designed more for teenage girls than larger than average men. His glasses are sliding down his nose and his lower lip juts out in a pout.
"Do you need me to do something?" Chanyeol asks, setting his book down and looking in Joonmyun's direction.
"No," Joonmyun says. "It's fine." He sets down the last of the clean glasses and walks over, sinking easily into the chair opposite Chanyeol. Chanyeol looks mystified at how easily Joonmyun fits into the seat, before he grins in welcome.
"I know he's like, one of the classics," Chanyeol says, stretching his arms above his head and revealing a slice of belly, "but it's really hard to read Kim Manjung." He crosses his arms. "I identify with the theme of this novel, you know? The transience of pleasure and wealth. But not so much with the thick, winding prose. It actually reminds me of my best friend. He switches from one topic to another without even taking a breath."
"Are you reading it for a class assignment?"
"Yeah," Chanyeol says. "I'm a Korean Literature major. Third year." He pushes his thick fingers into his hair, knuckles immediately swallowed by the bouncy curls. "I regret my decision very rarely but Kim Manjung is always one of those times." His face is twisted up in that lopsided smile that Joonmyun is growing increasingly fond of, and his other hand comes out to land on top of Joonmyun's. Chanyeol's hand makes his own look so tiny.
"Is another 'Lady Hyegyeong'?" Joonmyun teases, careful not to let his surprise at Chanyeol's touch show, and Chanyeol's eyes light up with pleasure.
"You know about—"
The door jingles, and Joonmyun springs up, pulling his hand free, already making a lunge toward the menus. "Hello, welcome to 'Black Pearl'… Oh, Zitao!"
"Hyung," Zitao says. He looks over at Chanyeol curiously, and Chanyeol waves. "New?"
"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Chanyeol." Zitao blinks, and then his lips twitch. He studies Chanyeol for another moment before shrugging, turning his attention back to Joonmyun and switching to his native language.
"You didn't come to registration."
Joonmyun takes a moment to catch up, but then he nibbles lightly on his top lip. "I'm not coming back next semester."
"We were all expecting you to," Zitao says, and Joonmyun licks his teeth. Expecting is a word that Joonmyun carries heavy on his back, because he feels constantly inadequate beneath it.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you," Joonmyun murmurs, looking down, careful not to let his shoulders drop, because he knows Chanyeol is watching.
"No," Zitao says quickly, "that's not what I meant. I meant that we missed you. Professor Lee asked after you."
"I can't spare the time yet," Joonmyun says.
"Will you ever be able to?" Zitao asks, and he doesn't mean it cruelly. His face is open and he's looking at Joonmyun like he wants Joonmyun to reassure him that of course he will, so Joonmyun does.
"Yes, yes, Zitao," Joonmyun says, and Zitao smiles. "Make sure you volunteer to TA my favorite undergrads."
"You got it, hyung," Zitao reassures him, before pulling him into a hug that mashes Joonmyun's nose into his chest.
When Zitao has left, Chanyeol is still watching him. "What?"
"I didn't know you spoke Mandarin."
"You don't know a lot about me," Joonmyun replies, going being the counter to get himself some water. "Zitao is a classmate of mine."
"You go to school?" Chanyeol stands up, and walks over to Joonmyun, before sitting down on the same stool he'd perched on that very first day. "What do you study?"
"History," Joonmyun says. "And I'm on leave. For personal reasons."
"You're so full of secrets," Chanyeol says, leaning across the counter until his face is way too close to Joonmyun's. Chanyeol has no concept of personal space. Joonmyun's stomach does a somersault.
"Not really," Joonmyun replies, but it's not exactly true. Chanyeol's eyelashes are even longer when he can see them up close. "You just don't know me yet."
"Joonmyun-ssi," Chanyeol says, catching Joonmyun's forearm in his hand. His thumb and middle finger almost touch, making a ring around his thin bone. "Can you get me a glass too?"
Joonmyun takes a shaky gulp of air. "Sure." He pulls free to grab a second clean glass.
"I'd like to," Chanyeol says, when Joonmyun is facing him again, pressing the glass against the water dispenser tab. "Get to know you." His eyes are so bright. The only thing brighter is his smile. Joonmyun has to blink to clear the dancing lights from his eyes.
"You can call me hyung," Joonmyun says, and then he hands Chanyeol his water.
Chanyeol claps his hands delightedly. "You're the cutest hyung I've ever had," he says, and Joonmyun has to cover his mouth with his palm to hide his own laughter as a customer enters the shop.
Minseok comes to town in the middle of September. It isn't hard for Joonmyun to be talked into lunch with him, Zitao, and Lu Han at a restaurant right outside campus that they used to frequent as undergrads.
Joonmyun does think he should have worn a warmer jacket. Every year, he forgets the way autumn slips right between his fingers and turns to early winter before he can close his fist to hold onto it. He settles for tightening his scarf and curling forward into himself as he gets off the bus.
"Hyung!" he hears, and he looks left to see Chanyeol, waving wildly at him from the other side of the street. Joonmyun can't control the way his cheeks pull whenever he hears Chanyeol's low voice. It's like reflex. See Chanyeol, smile.
As soon as the crosswalk light turns blue, Chanyeol bounds across the street, dragging a friend.
"Good afternoon, Chanyeol."
"What are you doing on campus, hyung?" Chanyeol's coat is completely unbuttoned. Joonmyun immediately steps closer and starts to fasten them.
"It's cold today, Chanyeol, and exam week is coming." Chanyeol laughs and lets Joonmyun do up all the buttons, and it is only when Joonmyun is finished that he sees Chanyeol's companion's incredulous gaze.
"I didn't think of it," Chanyeol says, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "This is my best friend, Baekhyun. Baekhyun, this is Joonmyun-hyung." Joonmyun figures he'd meet the infamous Baekhyun while dressed inappropriately for the weather and treating his friend like a toddler.
"It's nice to meet you," Joonmyun says, hoping the red in his cheeks gets blamed on the wind instead of his embarrassment. He realizes his hands are still smoothing out the collar of Chanyeol's coat and hastily drops them to his sides, hiding them in the pockets of his jacket. "I'm on my way to meet some friends for lunch, and um, I didn't think I'd run into you."
"The world is always smaller than you'd think!" Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun shivers even as he laughs. Chanyeol's hair is hidden away under a baseball cap, but curly pieces have snuck out onto his forehead and in front of his ears.
"No wonder Chanyeol always talks about how cute you are," Baekhyun says, slugging Chanyeol in the arm. "Chanyeol, you should have told me you weren't exaggerating." Joonmyun wonders if Chanyeol just collects small people to boss him around, or if he and Baekhyun are exceptions and not the rule. "Are you sure you're older than us?"
"Most definitely," Joonmyun says, over Chanyeol's indignant squawking. He tries not to dwell on the fact that Chanyeol has told his best friend that he thinks Joonmyun is cute. Chanyeol tells him that to his face all the time, and it means just as little in this context as it means in the other.
"I don't always--" Chanyeol starts, but Baekhyun snorts.
"Chanyeol's girlfriend keeps joking with him that maybe she should be jealous," Baekhyun says.
Joonmyun hadn't known Chanyeol has a girlfriend. It makes sense that he does. Chanyeol is tall and confident and smart and good-looking. Guys like that usually have girlfriends. Joonmyun hadn't really thought about it.
"There's no need for that," Joonmyun says. "It was nice to meet you, Baekhyun, but I've got to go." He shivers again, because it's so cold. Chanyeol frowns at him, before swinging his backpack in front of him and digging in the front pocket until he emerges with a pair of gloves.
Joonmyun is already opening his mouth to protest but Chanyeol snatches his wrist and shoves them into his hand, using his other hand to curl Joonmyun's fingers around them. "Give them back to me tomorrow," Chanyeol says, before hugging him quickly and bouncing backwards. "Have a good lunch, hyung!"
Joonmyun puts the gloves on. They're far too big for his hands, and that, too, makes him smile. Maybe Chanyeol's girlfriend has small hands too.
By the time he gets to lunch his smile has faded, but seeing his friends brings it right back. "Sorry I'm late," Joonmyun says. "I ran into a friend."
"Whose gloves are these?" Jongdae asks when he gets home.
"Chanyeol's," Joonmyun says. "I ran into him on campus when I was meeting Minseok, Zitao, and Lu Han." Lu Han had laughed and told Joonmyun that with his big gloves and blue lips, he looked like a Smurf.
"You always forget how quickly it turns cold," Jongdae says.
"Did you know Chanyeol has a girlfriend?"
"There are people attracted to men who look more like ostriches?" Jongdae laughs at his own joke. "No, but I did. She even came into the shop once. Her name is Sooyoung. She's a bit stiff, but she seems sweet enough."
"I didn't know," Joonmyun says. "I mean, I didn't even think to ask."
"Are you finally ready to take the leap?" Jongdae is gleeful. "I know a girl-"
"No," Joonmyun says. "This is not an invitation to set me up with someone."
"You'll want someone someday," Jongdae says. "Even human ostriches have girlfriends, and you're falling behind."
Joonmyun makes himself a cup of cocoa and tries to warm up his chest. His hands are already warm enough.
"Go out with her once," Jongdae says. "It's not going to hurt you."
"Yes it is," Joonmyun says automatically. "I don't want to go out with anyone." He puts his hands on his hips and glares down at Jongdae, who is sprawled legs-spread on the couch of their living room with a huge bag of cookies between his thighs.
"Your glare is completely ineffective on me," Jongdae says. "We both know you aren't going to stay mad."
"I'm serious, Jongdae. You have to stop with this." He picks up Jongdae's coat off the floor and sets it over the arm of the sofa. "Don't you have enough work, between first year med classes and the shop, to keep you too busy to meddle?"
Jongdae looks at him as if to say obviously not, and Joonmyun sighs.
"Do it for me?" Jongdae pleads, doing that thing with his eyebrows that makes Joonmyun want to give in every single time. "One date, Joonmyun. That's all I'm asking."
"Fine," Joonmyun agrees. "But this is the last time, Jongdae." He finds himself wearing 'one of his less repulsive shirts' and sitting across from a college junior named Jinri at a popular Japanese shabu shabu restaurant just outside of Gangnam exit 7.
She's nice. Pretty, with short nails and full lips and stylish boy-cut hair. Joonmyun likes her dress, with its puffy sleeves and full skirt. Joonmyun likes her laugh, too.
She would have been a good pick, if he were interested.
"No, it's not anything about you…" Joonmyun sighs. "I'm not really trying to date right now, and Jongdae keeps…" He shrugs uncomfortably, and puts a bite of radish into his mouth stop himself from rambling.
"I see," Jinri says, looking at him carefully. "I understand."
There's a knowing look in her eyes that makes Joonmyun want to go home and curl up under his covers until morning. "You probably do," Joonmyun replies.
"You should tell your friend," Jinri says, tightening her coat around her shoulders as they walk out of the restaurant. The air is brisk with encroaching winter. "So he stops… doing this."
"I know," Joonmyun says, and she smiles at him again, implying that there are no hard feelings, before she walks away toward the bus stop. Joonmyun watches her go, then heads down in the opposite direction to the train.
Joonmyun realizes that he's actually gay, and that it's not just a phase, when he's in his third year of high school. His mother's only beginning to get sick, spending more time in the hospital than at home, and Joonmyun drowns himself in school work and extra music classes and anything he can to keep from thinking about it.
That's when he meets Kyungsoo, who giggles when he laughs and kisses Joonmyun like he's scared Joonmyun is going to run away if he's too insistent. Kyungsoo is probably right about that, so Joonmyun doesn't blame him.
There are so many things about Kyungsoo that Joonmyun finds delightful, and no girl has ever made his heart trip like this, running and stumbling out in front of him as he tries to keep it from falling and splintering on the ground.
"I don't know what this is," Joonmyun says, and Kyungsoo shakes his head and smiles.
"Me neither," he replies, and they hold hands, and Joonmyun does know that he's never, ever wanted to kiss any girl as much as he wants to kiss Kyungsoo.
In the end, it doesn't work out. Joonmyun is too scared to go to college with a boyfriend, and Kyungsoo doesn't fight him when he says he wants to break up. "We're in high school," Kyungsoo says. "High school isn't supposed to be forever anyway. I hope you learn to be happy with yourself, though, Joonmyun. I really do."
Joonmyun hopes that too, but it's so low on his list of priorities that he doesn't have the time to devote to it.
When Jongdae starts setting Joonmyun up on dates, it's on the tip of his tongue. Theoretically, "I don't like girls," is not a lot of words, but in practice, Joonmyun finds them impossible to say to his best friend. The longer he waits, the more impossible it seems.
"How was the date?" Jongdae asks as soon as he walks in the door.
"She was nice," Joonmyun says, slipping out of his shoes and stepping into the living room.
"Nice?" Jongdae frowns. "You're not going to go out with her again, are you?" He looks so disappointed. Joonmyun guiltily sits down at the kitchen table in the chair next to Jongdae's.
"It's enough, Jongdae." Jongdae opens his mouth to protest. "No more dates."
"I don't get it," Jongdae says. "She's into history, and she's got legs like a model and she likes all the same foods as you. Why didn't you like her?"
Joonmyun grips the edge of the table, and contemplates telling Jongdae right here and right now that his type is a little less Jinri and a little more, well, Chanyeol, but courage fails him, and instead he stares down at the tabletop.
"Good night, Jongdae," he says, and retreats to bed. It takes him awhile to fall asleep.
Fall strikes with a vengeance. No one wants to eat frozen yogurt in the fall, but plenty of people still come for Joonmyun's hot chocolate recipe and Jongdae's coffee. They also still come for Chanyeol's over the top cheer and Jongin's lack of common sense—he's still wearing shirts that slide off his shoulders to reveal stretches of his collarbones.
Today, the shop is bustling. In between carrying orders to tables and mopping, Chanyeol is pleading with Baekhyun.
"But I need your help," Chanyeol says. Baekhyun looks at Chanyeol through slit eyes as he sips on his favorite—Joonmyun had mixed it up especially for Baekhyun, the first time he'd come into the shop late at night 'just to see Chanyeol's cute boss.' Joonmyun is pretty sure that Baekhyun is a sadist who enjoys making people blush, but he's equal opportunity with his harmless jibes so Joonmyun doesn't mind. He likes the way Jongin gets flustered, too, when Baekhyun asks him when he's going to start dressing for the weather.
"You've been dating Sooyoung for almost two years now, Chanyeol. Are you telling me you can't find anything she'd like?"
"You know I'm hopeless with gifts," Chanyeol says, and Jongin, who is walking by with a tray of empty mugs from table three, laughs.
"Don't you mean hopeless with everything?" Jongin says, and Chanyeol grins.
"How's math coming along, Jongin?" He tilts his head, and opens his eyes as wide as they'll go while Joonmyun keeps himself out of the conversation by helping a little girl choose flavors for her yogurt while her older brother holds her high enough to see beyond the glass. "I hear you're passing now that you've corralled your first-year roommate into helping you out."
"Oooh, he bites," Jongdae says, before walking past Joonmyun to pick up the two chocolates that Joonmyun had just finished preparing. "Jongin, you'd better scurry on over to the sink and get those cups clean before the four o'clock rush." He smirks, and Jongin pouts before he keeps walking.
"I'm really sorry, Chanyeol, but you should know how important my family business dinners are. I can't get out of it. You should have asked me last week. Did you forget?"
"No, I've been busy." Every spare moment for the past few weeks, Chanyeol's had his head buried in books. Joonmyun had been amused to see that one of them had been 'Lady Hyegyeong'. "Essays, some essays, and, oh right, more essays." Chanyeol sighs, heavy enough that his bangs blow up with the force of it, and Joonmyun's chest clenches.
"I can help you," Joonmyun says. He's doing that thing where his urge to be helpful overpowers his reticence. "I'm not so bad at shopping for girls." He's helped Jongdae do it enough that he should be able to at least offer a solid second opinion. It's better than nothing, probably. "We both get off at five today."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Chanyeol chants. He waits until Joonmyun hands the young girl her yogurt with a smile before he pulls him into an embrace. Joonmyun wriggles a little, to free his face so he can breathe more than the scent of Chanyeol's cologne, which smells like the high-end side of the first floor perfume counter at the 'Shinsegae' in Chungmuro.
"Sure," Joonmyun says, when Chanyeol steps back to give him enough room to breathe. "It's no problem."
Baekhyun looks distantly amused as he readies himself to leave. "Have fun," he says to Joonmyun like he knows something Joonmyun doesn't, and Joonmyun wonders if Chanyeol's actually as horrible a shopper as he thinks he is.
At five, he slips into the back to put on his coat, and Jongdae gives him one of those looks.
"You're going to go shopping with Chanyeol?" He feigns a heart palpitation. "Who are you, and where is the Joonmyun I thought I knew?"
"He needs help," Joonmyun says, counting the cracks in the tile beneath his feet instead of meeting Jongdae's stare.
"Interesting," Jongdae says. "Foolish ostrich needing help ranks above 'but-Jongdae-I-haven't-done-my-laundry' and 'I-need-to-go-to-the-grocery-store-or-we'll-starve.'"
Joonmyun wraps his scarf twice around his neck and searches for his umbrella. He finds it tucked beneath Jongin's sweatshirt. "He does bring clothes!" Joonmyun says, to distract Jongdae. It works, and Jongdae stares incredulously at the article of clothing.
"That little tramp," Jongdae says. "'Hyung, I was in a hurry this morning so I had no choice but to wear this blouse I bought from the little girls' section at Lotte' my ass."
"I'll see you tonight, Jongdae," Joonmyun says, slipping out as Jongdae clutches the sweatshirt with a combination of fury and mirth.
Chanyeol is waiting at the entrance to the shop, peering outside with dismay etched on his face. Joonmyun likes the way that Chanyeol's face is so open, like a child's. Joonmyun is often unsure where he stands with people, or if he's saying the right thing, but he never feels that fear with Chanyeol, whose emotions are so plain on his countenance. "What's wrong?"
"I forgot my umbrella," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun nudges Chanyeol with his elbow.
"Mine is pretty big," he says, and Chanyeol looks down at him, eyes confused. "You lent me your gloves. I'm sure I can share my umbrella."
They barely fit beneath it. Chanyeol ends up holding the umbrella, wrapping his arm around Joonmyun's shoulders and pulling him into his side. Joonmyun's right arm is soaked in seconds, but he barely notices in the warmth of being held in so close.
"You're so tiny," Chanyeol says. "A baby bird."
"I'm your hyung," Joonmyun says firmly, and Chanyeol's chuckle is loud enough to be audible above the rain.
"My tiny hyung," Chanyeol amends. "You're really endearing."
"So you keep saying."
"I mean it." Joonmyun tilts his head back to look at Chanyeol, who is scanning street signs even as he speeds up his steps, forcing Joonmyun to take twice as many to keep up.
"I can't walk that fast!" Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol grins.
"We're almost there," he says, pointing to the bus stop. "This bus is the fastest way to get to where we're going."
"I forgot to ask where we're going," Joonmyun says, after they've ducked under the bus stop. "I know you're picking an anniversary present but…"
"She has a charm bracelet," Chanyeol says. "From a specific designer. I need to pick, I don't know, a good charm." He sighs. "Or three."
"Or three," Joonmyun muses. "Is it that hard to pick a charm?"
"You don't understand," Chanyeol says. "I have excellent taste for myself. But as soon as it's for Sooyoung, I pick out the most hideous things." Chanyeol shakes out the umbrella, and gets his jeans even wetter in the process. Joonmyun holds out his hand for it and expertly gets the water off as Chanyeol sheepishly grins. "I'm a mess?"
"You are," Joonmyun says, and it's Chanyeol, he thinks, that is endearing. "I'll help." He might still be able to make it to the market when they're done, after all.
On the bus, Joonmyun takes the window seat, and Chanyeol leans into him, resting his head on top of Joonmyun's as Joonmyun watches the rain-slick streets out the window. He feels damp, but he's not cold. Not with Chanyeol's arm on his thigh and Chanyeol's breath in his hair.
No, Joonmyun tells himself, when his pulse quickens. He has always been very good at telling himself no, and this is not the time for an exception.
"This is our stop," Chanyeol says, into his bangs, and Joonmyun swallows and follows Chanyeol off the bus. He puts his umbrella up, but Chanyeol just shakes his head and gestures toward a small shop about five meters away, and they make a run for it. Once they're in the doorway, Chanyeol runs a hand through his sopping hair and smiles. "I know the owner of this boutique. He helped me pick the bracelet out for Sooyoung in the first place."
"I'm sure he could have helped you," Joonmyun says. "Not that I mind. At all." His tongue is thick.
"I was really happy you offered," Chanyeol says. "It's also just nice to talk to you like this, without the interruptions from the customers. And you're always so busy…"
"You never come out with me and Jongdae and Jongin," Joonmyun says. "We always invite you."
"The timing is… I have things I have to do, on the weekends. Family stuff." Chanyeol pushes open the door. "After you."
The owner does, indeed, know Chanyeol. He leaves them alone to look at the charms beneath glass, and Joonmyun quizzes Chanyeol about Sooyoung's hobbies and interests. Chanyeol has plenty of answers, and no price limit, (which has Joonmyun raising his eyebrows) and eventually they settle on two charms that Joonmyun, from Chanyeol's lengthy descriptions of her, thinks she'll love.
Chanyeol points them out to the boutique owner, and the man wraps them up as Chanyeol hums under his breath, a soft pop tune that reminds Joonmyun of being in high school. It also reminds him of Kyungsoo, and other times he had had to push down unfortunate feelings.
When Chanyeol takes the wrapped packages, Joonmyun having missed the transaction entirely, Joonmyun assumes that the smile on Chanyeol's face is in anticipation of Sooyoung's delight.
The girlfriend is someone Joonmyun's known about for a while now. Buying her a gift makes her no more or less real.
"Thanks for everything, hyung," Chanyeol says, when they get back to the bus stop they'd left from two hours ago. Night has fallen and Joonmyun will walk home quickly in hopes of catching his favorite fruit vendor before she closes up shop. "I couldn't have done it without you."
"Any-" thing for you is strangely on the tip of his tongue. "Anytime," he says instead, and Joonmyun knows it is night but for a second, Chanyeol's bright smile makes him forget it isn't dawn.
"You're so kind," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun likes that word. Wants to keep it. "And handsome, too, but when I think of you, I think of kindness."
"You're kind, though." Joonmyun has seen Chanyeol drop to his knees with a fresh bowl of yogurt when a little boy has dropped his, carefully wiping the mess from the little boy's face and hands and smiling the whole time. Among other things.
"Not like you are," Chanyeol says. "Not so selflessly."
"I picked up vegetables," Joonmyun calls out when he gets home, but Jongdae's shoes aren't in the doorway and the apartment is empty.
Sooyoung comes into the shop that Friday. She finds Chanyeol immediately with her eyes and they have a hushed conversation that Joonmyun can't make out over the sound of the five college girl hearts breaking in the back of the shop. He sends Jongin over with a complimentary bowl of small donuts, and takes Chanyeol's place behind the yogurt counter while he talks.
He can't stop staring.
Joonmyun doesn't like the way their hands fit so well together, or how pretty she looks when she's smiling at Chanyeol. It makes him… well, he's not sure. There are dishes to be done.
"So she's your type?" Jongin says, and Joonmyun snaps his attention away from Chanyeol and Sooyoung to look at his friend.
"No," Joonmyun says, licking his lips, hand coming up to comb through his bangs. "Definitely not."
"Then why do you look so jealous?" Jealousy is an ugly word. Joonmyun does his best not to do things associated with it.
"I'm not jealous," Joonmyun says. "Don't be silly." He rubs his hands together. "Help me take all these dishes to the sink."
"Then why are you staring at her like that?" Jongin says. "She is awfully pretty."
"She is," Joonmyun says, because that's true. "She's not my type." That's true too.
"Something is off," Jongin says. "It's really like you're…"
"Everything is fine," Joonmyun snaps, and Jongin is bewildered. Joonmyun softens his tone. "You're reading something into nothing."
"If you say so," Jongin says, and lets it go. Jongdae wouldn't have let it go, but Jongin is private enough himself that he never pushes on the rare occasions Joonmyun puts his foot down.
Joonmyun feels like more of a liar than usual as he stops himself from looking up at Chanyeol's laugh and not-so-selflessly wishing he could have it all to himself.
"Happy Thursday!" Chanyeol says when he comes in at four, and Jongdae growls.
"You're only saying that because you've never worked a Thursday before."
"What's… wrong with Thursdays?" Chanyeol asks, and Jongdae sighs as Joonmyun tries to hold back his laughter.
"The asshole," Jongdae hisses, and Joonmyun can't stop the peal of laughter that escapes before he schools his face into an innocent smile. "I bet Jongin switched with you this week solely to have a break from the lord of misery."
"Jongin switched shifts because he has a math exam tomorrow," Joonmyun says. "He's studying with Sehun."
"Studying," Jongdae snarks. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days." He stacks a few laminated menus that had been abandoned on the counter and returns them to the larger pile at the end. "Back when I was an undergrad, we called it 'let's skip class and play video games'."
"The asshole," Chanyeol prompts, as he returns from the back, stripped down to his sweatshirt and too-tight jeans, and Jongdae grimaces.
"Yeah," Jongdae says. "The guy we put at table seven."
"The table with the leak? He can't be that bad." Joonmyun fiddles with the cash register and decides not to involve himself in this conversation.
Jongdae gives Chanyeol a sweet grin. "Why don't you handle him today, then?"
"All right," Chanyeol says. "I will." Chanyeol grabs a menu and heads for table seven.
The asshole looks up just as Chanyeol approaches, and they both freeze.
"Changmin-hyung," Chanyeol says haltingly, as the asshole raises one impeccably arched eyebrow to take in Chanyeol's hands around the menu.
"Is this what you've been doing with your free time lately?" The asshole, Changmin as Chanyeol had called him, is clearly amused. "My, my, won't your daddy be surprised."
"Stop it," Chanyeol says. He's visibly ruffled, and Joonmyun doesn't think he's ever seen Chanyeol's mouth drawn so tight, the corners turning down with displeasure and his muscles taut. "Not here."
"Aren't you going to take my order, Chanyeol-ah?"
Chanyeol nods, stiffly. "What can I get for you today, sir?"
Joonmyun doesn't want to see Chanyeol like this. It feels too personal, and Chanyeol hasn't welcomed anyone into this part of his life. Jongdae seems to have no such qualms, enraptured with the mini-drama unfolding at table seven.
Chanyeol comes back and bites out an order. "You were right," Chanyeol tells Jongdae, after a moment, "an asshole at table seven." Chanyeol's shoulders slowly ease. "One that's a… family friend, of sorts."
"Chanyeol, why don't you do the dishes for me," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol nods. "I'll take over table seven."
"Thank you, hyung," Chanyeol says, and even though Joonmyun takes over, Chanyeol keeps sending nervous glances in the direction of the asshole until he leaves, stopping by the counter to pay and waving a personal, smirking goodbye to Chanyeol. Chanyeol visibly deflates when he's gone.
"Not close to him?" Joonmyun murmurs later, as they dry dishes side by side in the late afternoon lull, while Jongdae flirts shamelessly with a fifty-year-old woman who stops by at least three times a week for coffee.
"He works for my father," Chanyeol says. "Which is not something that I want to do. Literature major and all." Chanyeol tosses his dyed hair. "I'm not cut out for a cookie-cutter job. I'm too pretty and too fun to staple myself into a gray suit day after day. Changmin-hyung doesn't really… agree with my choices."
"I see," Joonmyun says, and he doesn't ask any more questions. Chanyeol seems grateful for that.
"I'm reading Kim Manjung again," Chanyeol says, after five minutes of easy silence, Joonmyun catching two dropped glasses before they hit the floor. Chanyeol doesn't like the quiet, but Joonmyun doesn't mind his noise. "'Lady Sa's Trip to the South.'"
"Tell me about it," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol does, his low voice gaining enthusiasm as he spins the tale out to Joonmyun's welcoming ears.
They close the shop early for Chuseok. Joonmyun volunteers to take everyone out to dinner. He's surprised when Chanyeol agrees, considering a previously mentioned dinner with his father.
"He cancelled," Chanyeol explains as they walk, and something in the set of his shoulders doesn't invite further questions.
They end up at a western style restaurant, ordering giant hamburgers and laughing at Jongdae, who cuts his into pieces so he can eat it with a fork. Chanyeol takes massive bites out of his and gets the sauce all over his face. Joonmyun resists the urge to wipe it off.
"Did your girlfriend like her present?" Jongin asks, and Chanyeol nods.
"She did, she did. It's all because Joonmyun-hyung practically held my hand through the selection." A warm smile that has butterflies coming out of their cocoons in the wrong season to fly around in his stomach. "I'm glad he came to help."
Jongdae grins. "If only he'd stop rejecting the girls I pick out for him, and actually go steady with one of them." Jongdae eats an onion ring. "He'd be such a good whipped boyfriend."
Jongin snorts into his soda. "I totally agree," he says. "He should have a noona, like Chanyeol. 'Noona, let me do everything for you. Noona~'."
"I know just the girl, too!" Jongdae puts his hands flat on the table.
"Jongdae, we agreed—"
"But, Joonmyun, you'll love her!"
"What if I don't want to date anyone?" Joonmyun asks. It's almost rhetorical, at this point. Fending off Jongin and Jongdae is not a battle worth fighting, because it's two against one.
"I think Joonmyun-hyung should do whatever he wants," Chanyeol says. "Date if he wants, not date if he wants." Chanyeol is drawing a smiley face with ketchup on the remains of his hamburger bun, but he looks up to smile at Joonmyun, whose chest feels heavy with the warmth, now.
"Thank you, Chanyeol. It's funny how you've only known me a fraction of the time that these guys have, but it is you alone who can see I'm an adult capable of dating or not dating on my own."
"It's because he doesn't know you that well yet," Jongdae says. "He hasn't seen your depressing hermit-like tendencies or your even more depressing collection of winter sweaters—"
"There's nothing wrong with my sartorial choices," Joonmyun says stiffly, and Jongin chokes on his sandwich. "And even if they were, Jongin would be the last person to talk."
"Fair enough," Jongdae says. "But that doesn't mean you aren't tragically anti-social—"
"I'm here right now!"
"With your co-workers!"
"With my friends," Joonmyun corrects, and Chanyeol's hand comes to rest on Joonmyun's knee for a moment beneath the table, squeezing. Joonmyun's throat goes dry.
"Joonmyun-hyung is able to choose for himself," Chanyeol says firmly. "It's not up to you guys what he does with his time. He's really nice, and good-looking," and Joonmyun blushes, "so I'm sure if he wanted a date, he could get one."
Joonmyun fusses with his bangs and keeps his eyes fixed on the table until Jongdae coughs, breaking the moment. When he glances up, Jongdae looks… chastised, which Joonmyun isn't used to. "You're right," he says, and Jongin looks at him, betrayed.
"Let it go, Jongin," Jongdae says. "Or I'm going to start talking about your boyfriend Sehun—"
"Roommate," Jongin says insistently. "No one accuses you and Joonmyun-hyung of dating just because you guys spend a ton of time together—"
"Because I actually have girlfriends instead of fruitlessly parading half-clothed around my place of employment," Jongdae retorts.
"Thanks," Joonmyun says, quiet beneath the sound of Jongin and Jongdae's bickering, to Chanyeol, whose hand has retreated from Joonmyun's knee to his own lap, his other hand stabbing at his french fries with a fork. He chews with his mouth open. It's not attractive. "For sticking up for me. Minseok used to just laugh and let them set me up on dates."
"You didn't seem very excited to meet this girl." Chanyeol leans forward to sip at his soda through his straw, before leaning back and looking at Joonmyun pensively. Joonmyun doesn't think he's ever seen such a serious expression on his face. "Plus, I know what it's like to not be able to make your own decisions." His lips pull downward.
Joonmyun wants to ask, but something tells him Chanyeol wouldn't answer.
Joonmyun silently lifts up his plate and dumps the rest of his fries onto Chanyeol's. "Guess you were a good hire, after all."
That prompts the return of Chanyeol's signature smile, and Joonmyun doesn't bother to suppress the wobble of his heart in his chest.
Joonmyun tries to pay the bill on the way out, but the hostess is surprised. "It's already been taken care of," she says, and Chanyeol is grinning at him when he turns to look at his friends.
"Didn't I say it was on me?"
Chanyeol shrugs. "Should have been faster, then," he says, and he pulls down on his baseball cap and winks. At least, Joonmyun thinks he's winking, because sometimes Chanyeol's left eye squints when he smiles.
"Thank you," Joonmyun says. "Again."
"Anytime," Chanyeol says, echoing Joonmyun's words from Wednesday, and he ushers Joonmyun out the door with a hand to the small of his back.
"I made a new friend," Joonmyun tells his mother as she strokes his cheek. "His name is Chanyeol."
"Is he a nice boy?" she asks, like Joonmyun is in primary school, still, and not twenty-three years old. Joonmyun's father, who lurks behind him, laughs tiredly as Joonmyun nods.
"Very," Joonmyun says.
"Meet a nice girl, Joonmyun," she says, and the lump in Joonmyun's throat makes it hard to breathe. "I want to know you'll be happy before…"
"Before what?" Joonmyun says with false optimism, and he redirects the conversation to the Chuseok decorations up at Gyeongbeokgung.
As he's leaving the hospital, his father grabs his arm. "Come home for dinner next week," he says. "It's been a long time since you did. Bring Jongdae."
"I'll see if he's free," Joonmyun says, and he hopes he is, otherwise it will be Joonmyun and his father and his mother's empty chair.
The first snow of the year finds Baekhyun and Zitao hunched together over Baekhyun's tablet, watching a drama. They can't understand each other, but they've struck up an odd friendship composed mostly of laughter and hand motions and Korean dramas with Chinese subtitles.
Joonmyun watches them bemusedly. Chanyeol comes up behind him and rests his chin on Joonmyun's head. "I've never heard Baekhyun say so few words."
"Friendship isn't always in the things you say. Sometimes it's in the things you don't say."
"You sound like a children's afternoon special." Chanyeol's hands squeeze Joonmyun's shoulders. "I wish you'd say more, sometimes."
"What do you mean?" He shifts free of Chanyeol's grip and shuffles down to check the trays. They're low on sprinkles.
"You're so full of secrets," Chanyeol says. "Everything I learn about you is by accident. Like that you're a history student on leave, or that you're good at choosing gifts for other people's girlfriends."
"Isn't that how it's supposed to work? I think you have more secrets than I do."
"You know the important things," Chanyeol says. "The rest of my life is stuff even I'm not that interested in."
"What is it, that you want to know?"
"I'm not sure," Chanyeol says. "What if you tell me everything?"
Joonmyun goes under the cabinet and pulls out the big bag of sprinkles, refilling the tray with careful pouring. Chanyeol is watching instead of helping, since the last time Chanyeol had turned the whole counter into a rainbow spectacle. "You wouldn't want to know."
Chanyeol is about to say something else, but then Jongin walks over and clings to his shoulders. "Chanyeol, help me with the supply boxes."
"Yeah, yeah," Chanyeol says, and when he's gone, Joonmyun takes a deep breath.
Joonmyun never used to keep secrets. He learned how to do it during high school, between stolen kisses with Kyungsoo and trying to avoid telling his teachers or friends about his mother. After that, it became second nature for Joonmyun to keep his worries to himself.
As he sets the stew to boil on the stove, Jongdae walks in and sits at their kitchen table. There's the thunk of a book. "Exam?"
"Always," Jongdae says, and Joonmyun nods. "I'll do the cooking next week, since you've been taking care of me this week."
"I don't mind," Joonmyun says.
"You never do," Jongdae says. "But that doesn't mean I'll take advantage of you."
Joonmyun silently continues stirring the stew.
A few minutes pass comfortably, and Joonmyun breaks the quiet. "Am I secretive?"
"Yes," Jongdae says quickly. "I don't know why, but you always have been."
Joonmyun turns down the heat and looks at Jongdae, who is looking at him quizzically. "Chanyeol told me I was secretive."
"He's one to talk," Jongdae says. "Look, I don't know what has made you think you have to take care of everything on your own. Maybe it's your mom, or maybe you've always been like this, long before we met."
Joonmyun leans back against the counter.
"But…" Jongdae scratches at his cheeks. "I guess you're entitled to your closet skeletons, even if I wish you'd let me in."
"I'm sorry," Joonmyun says. "It's not that I don't trust you, it's…"
Jongdae scoots his chair back. It scratches along the tile. Joonmyun should put pads on the feet of the chair.
Jongdae comes to stand next to Joonmyun. "I'll watch this. Why don't you go take a shower. You haven't stopped moving since you got home."
"Your exams—" Joonmyun says, and Jongdae snorts.
"Can wait twenty minutes. Let me worry about myself. You don't have to hold everyone's worries on your own shoulders. We have shoulders too." Jongdae bumps him with a hip. "Shoo."
In the shower, Joonmyun lets the day run off him and down the drain, and tries to imagine telling anyone the things he thinks about every day. It is impossible, so he balls his secrets up and hides them in between his ribs, behind his heart.
Most of them manage to find time on a Tuesday to catch a film at the local theater. It's predominantly empty seats, which is fortunate because his friends are loud. Lu Han calls to beg off at the last moment, which disappoints Sehun, who harbors a bad case of hero worship for the older man.
Sehun is sitting on his right and Zitao is sitting on his left. "I can't remember the last time I came to see a movie," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae nods sagely.
"Ah, yes, Joonmyun, we call this 'having fun'," Jongdae says. "People do this when they aren't constantly worrying about anything and everything."
Baekhyun laughs. "Poor Joonmyun-hyung," Baekhyun says. "So cute even his status as oldest can't protect him."
"I have fun," Joonmyun says. "I might worry too much but you don't worry enough!"
Jongin, who is half curled onto Sehun and looking at the blank movie screen with sleepy eyes, scoffs. "I hear Jongdae is having trouble with school. Does this mean I'll stop being teased about math?"
Jongdae grins, about to fire off a quip, and Min puts a calming hand on his arm.
"No," Baekhyun says, and then he's turning his attention back to Zitao. Joonmyun feels really bizarrely alone, even though he's in the center of their line of friends.
Even more bizarrely, he thinks it is Chanyeol that he misses. Joonmyun needs to stop thinking about Chanyeol so much.
The theater lights start to dim, and Baekhyun leans across Zitao's lap.
"I'm sure Chanyeol will make it next time, so stop moping," Baekhyun whispers, and Joonmyun flushes like a teenager and tugs at the sleeves of his sweater until his hands disappear beneath the knit. "Chanyeol was disappointed too."
"He likes you more than he likes me," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun can't see his eyes. "I'm getting as jealous as Sooyoung."
"It's really unnecessary," Joonmyun says, as the previews start. "I'm no one."
"You're someone all right," Baekhyun says, as Zitao pushes him back and gestures for quiet.
Joonmyun has trouble focusing on the movie. He would very much like to be someone to Chanyeol, and that, he thinks, is a problem.
The fact of the matter is, Joonmyun knows better than to crush on straight boys. His first year of undergrad, Joonmyun had looked at Lu Han and known he was in trouble. Lu Han had the kind of careless ease in himself that Joonmyun had envied.
Since Lu Han, Joonmyun has managed to avoid letting himself get caught up in feelings that will never amount to anything. Until Chanyeol, who wants to know all of Joonmyun's secrets and tells him at least once a day how adorable he is.
Joonmyun has always liked people who really like themselves, and Chanyeol is everything that he finds appealing, all in one warm and affectionate package, sunshine despite the gray winter skies.
It's early December, and they're importing their fruit now. Jongdae has claimed a box of blueberries for himself.
"Chanyeol, do you want to go ice-skating with us this weekend?" Jongdae tosses a blueberry up into the air and catches it with his mouth.
"What?" Chanyeol looks up from where he's diligently organizing salad forks and dessert forks into separate piles.
"You've been here for six months, and you've begged out of almost everything," Jongin says. "That is deeply and intrinsically unfair, as I'm never allowed to beg out of anything."
Jongdae cuffs him on the ear and grabs another handful of blueberries. "Bring your boyfriend-"
"Roommate," Jongin corrects, viciously tugging the blueberries back toward himself. "He's my roommate, and if you say that to his face-"
"He'll laugh awkwardly, and I'll be so very sorry," Jongdae says, and Joonmyun sighs, running a hand through his bangs.
"Guys, are you really-"
"I can come," Chanyeol says, and all three of them turn to look at him. He's grinning, and Joonmyun likes the way his hair falls curling into his eyes today. "If you're going on Sunday, I can come. Saturday, I have a date with my girlfriend and her parents, but Sunday is free."
"Sunday is fine," Joonmyun says. "We hadn't picked a day, yet, but Sunday is just as good as Saturday, and-" It is unfortunate that the mention of Chanyeol's girlfriend makes him a bit queasy.
"You're rambling," Jongdae says. "Sunday is fine. Okay, Jongin?"
"Yeah, it's fine," Jongin says, nodding at Chanyeol. "As long as Chanyeol is finally coming along to 'bond'."
"You act like this is an mandatory employee get-together instead of a group of friends having fun on the weekend." Joonmyun gently slings an arm around Jongin's shoulders, and he's gratified when Jongin doesn't shrug him off, too busy shoving as many blueberries as he can into his mouth so Jongdae can't eat them.
Chanyeol finishes up with the forks and then adjusts his glasses, still grinning. "I'm sorry I couldn't come before, Jongin," Chanyeol says. "I know you missed my beautiful face lighting up your free days as much as it does your work days—"
Jongin's mouth is too full to speak, but he grabs a handful of blueberries and slips off his stool, walking up to Chanyeol and mashing the blueberries into his face. "Now you're as pretty as a picture," Jongin says sweetly, after he swallows, as Chanyeol and Joonmyun stare at him with wide eyes as he retreats back to his stool.
"Picasso's Blueberry Period," Jongdae says, and then Chanyeol shudders once, twice, before exploding with laughter, eye twitching and teeth gleaming. Joonmyun, torn between amused and scandalized, finds himself laughing along too, and Jongdae is slapping his knees.
"Is this what I have to look forward to on Sunday?" He's got purple streaked across his pale cheek, and there are blueberry skins in his hair and blueberry drips on his white button down. Joonmyun thinks, in a strange way, it suits him.
"I would say no," Joonmyun says, smoothing his shirt out of habit, "but I would be blatantly lying."
Chanyeol walks over to the counter and grabs a napkin, wiping at his face, and Joonmyun hurriedly shuffles back behind the bar to wet a paper towel.
He means to hand Chanyeol the towel, but instead, he reaches up and grabs Chanyeol's neck, pulling him down closer, and dabs at the mess. Chanyeol's eyes are wide with surprise, but then he smiles and shrugs, leaning into it.
Joonmyun's brain only catches up with him when he's almost finished. "Sorry," he murmurs. "I can't help it." Chanyeol's neck is warm under his palm, and his hair is soft. Chanyeol's lips are still stretched in that increasingly familiar grin, and Joonmyun's stomach is tied into knots so big they're stretching out his insides.
"I know," Chanyeol says. "The first time we ran into each other outside of work you were buttoning my coat up even as you shivered."
Jongdae ineffectively hides his laughter behind his hand, and Jongin shakes his head. "Mama Bird taking care of his hatchlings," Jongin says, and Joonmyun drops the hand holding the paper towel away from Chanyeol's now mostly blueberry-free face.
"It's fine," Chanyeol says. "You probably cleaned it up better than I could have." Joonmyun lets his hand slide away from Chanyeol's neck. The skin is silky beneath his fingertips as he withdraws. "And it was cold, that day."
Joonmyun flushes, and looks down at the counter in time to see Chanyeol quickly grab his own handful of blueberries. Before Joonmyun can blink, Chanyeol's pulled out the collar of Jongin's shirt and dropped them down into the gap between skin and material. Jongin yelps and shifts forward, and Chanyeol follows him with a fist, mashing his knuckles into the small of Jongin's back right above his belt. They all hear the berries squelch.
"See you guys on Sunday," Chanyeol says, stepping back and waving jauntily.
The door chimes as he leaves, and Joonmyun can still feel the heat of Chanyeol's neck on his palm. He feels silly, and he squeezes the now-blue paper towel in his fist.
"I like that ostrich," Jongdae says, as Jongin pulls his white shirt and undershirt over his head, getting caught in it as berries fall to the floor and presumably down his pants.
"I hate him," Jongin says, voice barely intelligible through the fabric of his shirt.
"That's what you get for wasting my blueberries," Jongdae says, grabbing the last few and popping them into his mouth. Then he looks at Joonmyun, eyes gleaming with curiosity at Joonmyun's still red cheeks.
Joonmyun spins around and throws the dirty paper towel in the trash.
Jongin is staring at him, when he turns around, with a pensive look on his face, and something in his expression makes Joonmyun feel exposed.
The skating rink is cold. "Of course it's cold," Jongdae says as he laces up his skates, angrily tightening the tangled strings. "It's a rink. Made of ice."
"There's Chanyeol," Jongin says, already gracefully easing out onto the ice. "Joonmyun-hyung, go hover."
"I don't hover," Joonmyun says to himself, watching as Chanyeol leans forward to joke with the girl behind the counter as she looks for a pair of skates big enough for him. He's wearing a stupid furry hat, with fleece on the insides and ear flaps. "I just…"
"Do you prefer the term lurk?" Jongdae sits up straight, moving his feet in circles to test the ties, and then setting his feet back on the ground with a sigh. "I wonder if Chanyeol's any good at skating."
"You're hoping he isn't, aren't you?" Joonmyun says, and Jongdae is looking out on the ice, to where Jongin is effortlessly circling the rink. "Poor 'skating machine' Jongdae…"
"It was a joke!" Jongdae is flushed. "That was three years ago, give me a break!"
"The sound of your tailbone hitting the ice was no joke, Jongdae," Joonmyun teases, before he jumps as a big, warm hand lands on his shoulder.
"Chanyeol, Joonmyun is picking on me," Jongdae says, batting his eyelashes.
"I can't really imagine Joonmyun-hyung picking on anyone," Chanyeol rumbles, and his hand slides down Joonmyun's arm before falling away from him completely. "Jongin, on the other hand…" He says the second bit louder, because Jongin is stepping off the ice with an impatient look on his face.
"Are we going to skate, or what?" He shakes his hair out of his eyes. Joonmyun stuffs back the urge to remind him it needs cutting. "I wish Sehun could have come."
"Boyfriends," Jongdae says, and Jongin rolls his eyes.
"You two go ahead," Chanyeol says, pushing at Joonmyun's back as Jongdae stands on wobbling legs, and Joonmyun should really be used to Chanyeol's touchiness by now. "I'll catch up."
"But," Joonmyun starts, but Jongdae gestures him toward the rink.
"I'll wait with Chanyeol," Jongdae says. "I'm sure delaying my humiliation a few more minutes won't hurt anything."
Joonmyun wants to protest, but instead he lets Chanyeol shove him toward Jongin.
The two of them skate around slowly as Joonmyun warms up, talking about Jongin's physics professor and about how Sehun had blown up the kitchen at their hasukjib again last night trying to make popcorn. Joonmyun's eyes keep shifting over to Chanyeol and Jongdae. Jongdae is frowning at the ice like it's going to bite, and Chanyeol is bouncing at his side, excited as always.
"You're weird about Chanyeol," Jongin says. "Always watching him." He slows, so he and Joonmyun are skating closer to each other, side by side.
"He's clumsy," Joonmyun says. "What if he hurts himself on the ice?"
"He's not being clumsy right now," Jongin replies, and he isn't. Joonmyun tucks his hands deeper into his coat pockets as Chanyeol's large hands wrap around Jongdae's small, thin wrists. He's skating backwards with considerable skill, pulling Jongdae along carefully. They're laughing at something together, and Jongdae doesn't look nearly as nervous as he'd looked the last time they'd all gone ice-skating together last year. "But I don't just mean today."
"Chanyeol's different," Joonmyun says, and even that is too much, so he stops more words from tumbling out of his mouth. "I mean…"
Jongin looks uncomfortable. "Hyung," he says, and Joonmyun looks down at his toes, where the blades of his skates scar the ice beneath him, "I've been wondering."
"Before, when I thought you liked Sooyoung…" Jongin halts, and Joonmyun laughs awkwardly.
"I told you I didn't."
"I believe you, now," Jongin says. "I think I might have been a little off."
"Off?" This isn't good. The word 'off' is another of those words Joonmyun doesn't want to be connected with.
"Hyung, are you…"
"Am I what?" Joonmyun asks. His ears are too cold. He should have worn a hat, too. His face, though, is hot, and if he's shaking, it's not from the chill in the air. The reality that Jongin might suspect--
"Hey!" Jongdae says from behind them, and then laughs as Chanyeol tugs him past them. "Chanyeol is way better than you two at this. Next time, I may even let him hug me." Jongdae's eyes are lit up with pleasure at not being ass-to-ice, and Chanyeol's smile is eating his whole face.
"A small victory," Chanyeol says. "I'll take them as they come." His face screws up with amusement. "What's wrong?"
"Joonmyun is surprised you're not eating rink," Jongin says, avoiding Joonmyun's gaze.
"I'm not always clumsy," Chanyeol says, mysteriously, and Joonmyun swallows and skates ahead.
"Follow me if you can," he shouts behind him, and Jongdae squawks as Chanyeol pulls him along faster and Jongin swears and tries to keep up.
They lose themselves in games of cat and mouse. Chanyeol catches Joonmyun once by throwing an arm about his waist, laughing too loud into his ear, and Joonmyun relishes the warmth of him for only brief seconds before he slips free, chasing after Jongin and ignoring the heat pooling in his stomach.
Jongdae retires to the sidelines with a coffee and shouts obscenities at Jongin every time he's in earshot until they all stumble off the ice laughing and tired. "Can we get something to eat?" Jongdae whines, and Chanyeol digs into his pocket for his phone.
"I have another hour before I have to go," Chanyeol says, hat sliding down on his forehead. Joonmyun itches to straighten it.
Jongdae ends up pulling down on the back of it, mussing Chanyeol's curls, and he raises his fingers to comb through them. It must be nice, Joonmyun thinks, remembering the way his heart beat faster at the warmth of Chanyeol's arm around his waist, to take simple touches like that for exactly what they mean and nothing more.
Chanyeol scooting over until their elbows brush is unexpected. "Are you sure you're all right?" he whispers.
"You've looked out of it since Jongdae and I interrupted your conversation with Jongin." He leans his head on Joonmyun's shoulder. The fur of his hat tickles Joonmyun's cheek and jaw. "I just wondered…"
"It's really nothing," Joonmyun says.
"Then smile," Chanyeol says. "I really like your smile, hyung."
Joonmyun pats Chanyeol's knee gingerly, not allowing himself to linger. "Not as much as I like yours."
They end up buying sausage on sticks from street vendors, Jongdae and Chanyeol debating over whose sausage is bigger until Jongin slyly interrupts with "mine has more girth," and Joonmyun just laughs and eats.
"You've got a bit of mustard-" Chanyeol says, and reaches up with his thumb to wipe it off; Joonmyun steps back, out of the range of Chanyeol's long arms.
"I've got it," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol blinks at him owlishly a couple of times before shrugging and checking his phone again.
"I should really head out," he says, waving goodbye to all of them. His eyes hold onto Joonmyun's for a moment, and then he's walking away.
"I should go too," Jongin says. "But as always, this was fun." He seems to realize he's admitted to liking something. "Like going to the dentist."
"We won't tell anyone you can feel true happiness, Jongin," Jongdae says. "Your secret's safe with us." Jongin makes a rude gesture with his hand before taking off toward the subway, leaving Jongdae and Joonmyun standing at the crosswalk. "Ready to go home?"
Joonmyun's phone beeps. It's Chanyeol. 'I had a blast today', the text says, and Joonmyun's heart thuds loud enough that he's sure Jongdae can hear it. 'we should do it again sometime. ❤ maybe just me and you?'
"Yes," Joonmyun says, clicking off his phone. "It's cold out here."
"Come to my parents' Christmas party," Baekhyun says. "Chanyeol will be there, anyway, but the rest of you should come."
"When is it?" Jongin asks.
"Christmas Eve." He grins. "The dress is semi-formal and no one should drive."
"Sounds interesting," Jongdae says.
"And as a bonus, Chanyeol's parents won't be around," Baekhyun says. "They're going on holiday, and Chanyeol has declined to attend."
"On holiday?" Jongin asks. "You make it sound like they're super rich."
"Um," Baekhyun says, "of course they are?" He shrugs, and turns his attention to his phone. "Don't you know what they do?"
"Chanyeol's a man of mystery around here," Jongdae says, and Joonmyun suddenly finds the beds of his nails more interesting than Baekhyun's face.
"I see," Baekhyun says. "Well, you can meet some of our friends from high school if you come. Say yes."
"Yes," Jongdae says, and Jongin quickly agrees too.
"I'll pass," Joonmyun says.
"He'll come," Jongdae says. "I'll convince him."
At home, later, Jongdae catches Joonmyun halfway through brushing his teeth.
"Why don't you want to go to the party?" His hands are on his hips. Joonmyun rinses his mouth and takes his time answering.
"It's not somewhere I belong," Joonmyun says.
"Why not? You're friends with at least six of the people there. Baekhyun is sure to ask Zitao, and Jongin is bringing Sehun. Baekhyun and Chanyeol and me… Why wouldn't you belong there?"
"It's…" Joonmyun plays with the hair in front of his ears. "I don't expect you to get it," Joonmyun says, "but I feel like I don't belong even on normal days. Putting myself in a situation where I'll be surrounded by people who know what they're doing with their lives or don't have worries like mine is…"
Jongdae shakes his head. "Money isn't—"
"It's not just money," Joonmyun says, and then looks down at the sink bowl. "It's… other things." He tries on a smile in the mirror, and when it doesn't fall, he looks at Jongdae. "Don't worry about it."
"It wouldn't kill you to let me worry about you," Jongdae says. "This is why you need a girlfriend. To pry these things out of you. Also I know I'm more talkative after sex, so maybe you are too."
"I know, I know. No more matchmaking." He clicks his tongue against the back of his teeth. "In other news, don't you wonder what a rich kid is doing with a yogurt shop job? It's not like he has a ton of free time to kill."
Joonmyun does wonder. "He's entitled to his secrets," he says, and starts spreading facial moisturizer across his cheeks.
The tale of how they end up in a cabin in the woods the week before Christmas is one that starts with Chanyeol's unexpected invitation and ends with Joonmyun looking incredulously at a massive lodge house in the middle of nowhere.
"Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, "is this your family's property?" Chanyeol climbs quickly out of the car, and Joonmyun out of the passenger seat. ("Ride with me, hyung," Chanyeol had said, and Joonmyun had complied, even as Jongdae had gotten into Baekhyun's car with Jongin, Zitao, and Sehun.)
"Hmmm," Chanyeol says. "Not exactly." He offers no more information, and Joonmyun follows him to the trunk to grab their bags.
"I can't believe you got me to take three days off work to come to this abandoned mansion in the forest," Joonmyun says. "This is a horror movie waiting to happen."
Chanyeol had looked directly at Joonmyun when he'd asked them, and Joonmyun had been too busy trying not to melt to say no. Now he's here. When he'd called his father to let him know he'd be out of town, his father had seemed pleasantly surprised. "You've got the rest of your life to be an old man," he'd said. "Nothing is going to fall apart in three days."
"It's not abandoned," Chanyeol says. "There are a few guys that live here year round. Think of this as like, I don't know, an MT."
Joonmyun hasn't been on a bonding retreat since he was a third year undergrad. He doesn't remember it though the haze of alcohol. "Hopefully a little more sober than that."
"I don't know," Chanyeol says. "Baekhyun can be a little hard to tame."
"Color me surprised," Joonmyun says.
"Relax," Chanyeol says, as he leads the way up to the lodge door. The other car isn't here yet, so it's just them and their bags. "For three days. Relax. The shop is closed, so nothing's going to go wrong there. Why is your brain still back in Seoul?"
Joonmyun considers telling Chanyeol about his mom.
"I'm relaxed," he says. "Let's get inside, it's cold."
Ryeowook is waiting inside, waiting to show them to their rooms. He's funny, and clearly an old friend of Chanyeol's, the way they banter. Joonmyun expects Chanyeol to get caught up in conversation, but he sticks to Joonmyun like glue, sprawling out on Joonmyun's bed and asking him random questions about anything and everything.
"What's with the inquisition?"
"I want to know you," Chanyeol says. "And we rarely spend time, just the two of us."
Joonmyun finds himself answering questions about his elementary school uniforms and his favorite foods, and Chanyeol vows to cook fish soup for him one day.
When the others arrive, the lodge is filled with noise, and Joonmyun forgets to be worried and enjoys the playful atmosphere of their holiday respite.
Joonmyun is cooking dinner when Jongin and Sehun come into the kitchen, rooting through the cabinets until they find the chips. They pour them into a bowl and throw the bag on the counter. Chip crumbs scatter everywhere. Joonmyun sighs.
Chanyeol's head comes up from his book at the sound. His glasses are sliding down his nose. "Don't leave that there," he snaps at Jongin. "You're creating more work for Joonmyun-hyung."
"It's okay, Chanyeol—" Joonmyun watches in awe as Jongin picks up the bag and carefully pushes the crumbs into his hand, throwing them away. "Thank you, Jongin?"
"Sorry, hyung," Jongin says, and Baekhyun is cackling while Jongdae whistles low.
"We should start calling Chanyeol 'shadow leader'," Jongdae says, and Jongin crosses his arms. "Getting all riled up on leader's behalf."
"I'm not listening to Chanyeol," Jongin grouses. "I don't want to make more work for Joonmyun-hyung."
"I appreciate that." He goes back to cutting the carrots.
"Cute-hyung is Chanyeol's favorite," Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol balks, chasing Baekhyun out of the kitchen as Joonmyun focuses on cutting even sized pieces.
"Aww," Jongdae says. "Chanyeol likes you as much as you like him. That's so adorable."
Joonmyun is pretty sure he doesn't, but it's a nice thought.
Chanyeol comes back into the kitchen, winded and smiley, and Joonmyun is a little winded himself. "Can I help?" Chanyeol asks, and Joonmyun directs Chanyeol to separating the spinach, because that doesn't require any knives.
Late nights, when he's alone, are when Joonmyun allows himself to think about the things he loves. He curls up into the end of the couch, and in the warm overhead light, the pages of the book are a gentle cream.
Joonmyun had read the first part of this book to his mother, last week. She hadn't been able to stay awake through most of it. Joonmyun had kept reading anyway, letting his voice fill the hospital room until it had been time to leave. He'd kissed her on the forehead and tucked the book under his arm. "You'll be a good professor someday," she'd said, startling him, and he'd smiled down on her. "Goodnight, Mom."
Julius Caesar has just named Augustus his successor, but Augustus still must fight for his position. History is better than fiction.
"What are you reading?" Joonmyun almost drops the book as Chanyeol's low voice cuts through the room.
"Nothing," Joonmyun says, moving to slide it under one of the cushions as Chanyeol approaches. Chanyeol sinks onto the couch, close, close.
"You don't have to be embarrassed about doing something indulgent, Joonmyun-hyung." Chanyeol laughs. His eye twitches. Joonmyun likes that so much. "No one is going to tell you you're wasting time."
"I should be going to bed, though." Joonmyun says.
"Stay up with me, a little while?" Joonmyun can't say 'no' to the hopeful look on his face. "I can't sleep."
"All right," Joonmyun says.
"Tell me about your book," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun does, one great battle at a time, until Chanyeol's gentle snores interrupt the flow of his words. Joonmyun pushes the hair out of Chanyeol's face, and his heart feels laden with a lot of feelings that he fears putting into words.
Chanyeol's face is angelic in sleep. Joonmyun doesn't want to disturb him, so he leans his head back on the sofa, and sleeps sitting up.
Joonmyun wakes up in his bed. He's under the covers, trapped there. There is an arm around his waist, and he traces it to a long lanky figure on top of the covers. "Chanyeol?"
Eyelashes flutter. "Hyung," he says. His voice is lower than usual, rough with sleep. "I didn't want your neck to hurt, so I carried you in here." Chanyeol laughs, and finally opens his eyes. "But then I was too lazy to go find my own bed."
"That's all right," Joonmyun says, feeling the morning stickiness of his mouth and the weight of Chanyeol's arm.
"You're even cuter when you sleep," Chanyeol says. "And you're so light."
"I'm not light," Joonmyun says, sitting up. "You're just so big."
"My tiny hyung," Chanyeol hums, before rolling onto his back and sitting up himself. "Do you want to take a walk with me today?"
"Sure?" Joonmyun doesn't mind keeping all of Chanyeol's attention today. They're only here for three days. It can be a break from denying how much he enjoys Chanyeol's company, too. "That sounds nice."
"Do you think the others will mind that I'm monopolizing you?" Chanyeol has a bit of drool dried on his cheek, and his hair is flat on one side. He is still incredibly handsome, with his bright white teeth and shining eyes.
"Why would they?" Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol grabs his arm.
"Then let's get ready to go, before we miss the afternoon warmth."
"We're lost, I think." Chanyeol doesn't seem very bothered, but Joonmyun is a natural worrier. "Completely lost."
"I can't get any signal on my phone." Joonmyun shivers. It's getting dark, and his coat, which had been almost too warm at three in the afternoon, is now not warm enough. The cold is seeping into his chest, through his sweater, and Joonmyun wishes he had worn a second sweater over it after all.
"Are you okay?" Chanyeol asks, and Joonmyun nods quickly.
"F-fine," he says. In the fading light, he can see Chanyeol frown. "It is a bit chilly," he adds, and then looks down at his sneakers. At least there isn't any snow on the ground.
Suddenly, a pair of long arms wrap around him, pulling him back into Chanyeol's chest. Chanyeol's breath is hot on his ear, and Joonmyun isn't sure, for a moment, that he can even remember the cold. "I'm sorry," Chanyeol says. "I'll keep you warm."
They find a large tree to block the wind, and sit beneath it, Chanyeol's back to the tree and Joonmyun between his legs. "You'll get cold," Joonmyun protests, and Chanyeol shakes his head, moving his whole body with the force of it.
"You're so small," Chanyeol says. "Let me take care of you." Chanyeol's arms around him do keep the evening ice bearable, but Joonmyun is painfully aware of Chanyeol's legs pressing against his outer thighs and Chanyeol's cheek smushed against his own.
To distract them both, Joonmyun starts asking questions of Chanyeol this time. About Chanyeol's father's business and about Baekhyun. Even questions about Sooyoung, and how Chanyeol's father had introduced them when Chanyeol was still in high school. "My parents love her," Chanyeol says. "Her father is a business associate of my father. It's nice to date someone I've chosen." There is an implied or they would have chosen someone for me in that.
"She seems like the perfect match," Joonmyun says. It is not what he wants to say, but it is true.
Chanyeol doesn't respond immediately. When he does, it is quietly. "Do you ever think to yourself 'man, I've gotten everything wrong'?" he says, and Joonmyun laughs.
"Often enough," Joonmyun says into the fabric of his scarf. His voice is muffled, but he's sure Chanyeol hears him.
"I think it a lot," Chanyeol admits. Joonmyun closes his eyes.
"I have moments of rebellion," Chanyeol says. "But in the end, I'm still living a lie."
"What's the lie?" Joonmyun says. "Rich boy with an inexplicable yogurt shop job and a beautiful girlfriend, who is studying what he loves."
"The lie…" Chanyeol says. "The lie is—"
"Hyung! Hyung, can you hear me?" It's Jongdae's voice, and then he sees a light. He pulls himself free of Chanyeol's arms, and the sudden rush of cold is secondary to his relief.
"We're here, we're here!"
"Jongin is pretty sure you're dead and I think Zitao gave him a cigarette and an Ambien in the hopes that you'd be back before he wakes." Jongdae sounds relieved.
"I hope you gave him the Ambien after he'd finished the cigarette," Chanyeol says. "Otherwise the lodging house is probably on fire." His hands are back on Joonmyun's shoulders.
"I think we have it under control, shadow leader," Jongdae says. Next to him, Ryeowook is looking at them both, bemused.
"This is all good, but we should head back."
"How did you know to look for us?" Joonmyun asks. "My phone doesn't get any reception, so when I realized we were lost—"
"It was your turn to cook dinner," Jongdae says. "And you're never late for responsibility. So I called Ryeowook-hyung because he knows these woods best, and we tracked you down."
As they walk back to the lodge house, Chanyeol grabs Joonmyun's wrist and holds on. "What were you saying earlier?" Joonmyun asks. "About lies?"
"Nothing," Chanyeol says, and for the first time, Joonmyun thinks Chanyeol's grin is a little dim. He blames it on the shadows.
The ride home is quiet. Chanyeol raps along with the radio, and Joonmyun puts his walls back up, brick by brick.
By the time they get back to Seoul, he's already thinking about work.
"Do you think I'm honest?" Joonmyun asks his mother, and she frowns up at him.
"I think you lie to yourself a lot," she says. "You're just like your father."
Joonmyun's father still thinks Joonmyun's mother is getting better, and that they'll have Christmas at home next year. Joonmyun isn't quite so bad.
"I think if I tell the truth to myself it will hurt more," Joonmyun says. He thinks about the acceptance in Kyungsoo's face when Joonmyun had said "this is the end of the line for us."
"It might," she says, and then she coughs. Her thin, gaunt body shakes.. "But the lies hurt too."
Baekhyun's parents' Christmas party is fun. Joonmyun is shocked at the opulence of the apartment, but Jongdae just raises both eyebrows and gives a low whistle as they walk in. Baekhyun and Chanyeol are bickering about something as they walk into the main room after hanging up their coats, but they stop when Jongdae pokes Baekhyun in the stomach and Baekhyun's too busy slapping Jongdae's hand away to bother with whatever they were arguing about.
"You made it!" Chanyeol's grin stretches from ear to ear. His blazer is well fitted, sitting nicely on his broad shoulders, and his hair is combed straight, so his ears stick out. "I thought you'd find a way to back out last minute. You look nice, hyung."
"So do you," Joonmyun says, before turning to greet Baekhyun.
"Let me introduce you to my parents," Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol's hand wraps around Joonmyun's bicep to drag him deeper into the room.
"We're being herded," Jongdae whispers to him, and Joonmyun chuckles even as he's pulled along.
The atmosphere is relaxed despite the stuffy dress code, and it is easy to see where Baekhyun gets his gregarious personality from when his parents are teasing both him and Chanyeol until they're laughing so hard they cry.
"My parents are old-fashioned," Baekhyun says. "They think people should have the opportunity to get dressed up every once in a while." He shrugs. "The girls in the family always like it." He winks. "And Chanyeol, too, because he's as vain as a show-pony."
"I've never..." It's such a foreign concept, Joonmyun thinks, to see a wall lined with champagne bottles that altogether probably cost as much as his mother's medical bills. "My parents are a different kind of old-fashioned than yours are."
He tugs at his tie, and thinks about his dad, who is probably at home right now eating a convenience store dinner.
"Lighten up," Jongdae says, straightening Joonmyun's lapels, "it's just a party." He slips away to talk to someone he knows from his med-school class, a tall, severe-looking man Joonmyun thinks is named Kris. At Kris's side is a smaller boy that Joonmyun definitely knows, because he's a friend of Lu Han's, but he can't remember his name. He thinks it's Yixing.
Joonmyun uses the opportunity to check up on everyone else.
Jongin, who'd gotten here a little after Joonmyun and Jongdae, is already drunk, halfway to sleep on one of the couches in the corner. Sehun is watching him with a contemplative expression, and Joonmyun guesses there will be embarrassing pictures on me2day tomorrow when he checks his timeline.
There are a lot of strangers at this party. Chanyeol seems to know everyone, though, fluttering from guest to guest, looking more comfortable in his suit than Joonmyun would have expected. He's still himself, face contorting in laughter as he downs glass after glass of red wine, his hands far steadier than they are in the shop. He grins whenever he catches Joonmyun's eye, and Joonmyun smiles back, pleasantly buzzed.
"Look at him," Jongdae says. "It's like he suddenly developed grace."
"What?" Joonmyun tears his gaze away from Chanyeol to study his roommate. Jongdae hands him another glass of champagne when he has Joonmyun's attention.
"Chanyeol. He looks like he's in his element. It's weird." He laughs, and loosens his tie. "And look, Sooyoung just got here."
She's already making her way to Chanyeol. Her long black hair hangs loose down her back, and the skirt of her dress brushes just below the knee. When they stand side by side, they look like one of those celebrity couples in gossip magazines. His arm fits perfectly around her waist.
"I have to go to the restroom," Joonmyun says, handing the full flute back to Jongdae.
Down the hallway, a little past the restroom, is an empty parlor room. Joonmyun sits down on a loveseat that looks like no one ever sits on it, hunching in on himself.
He takes a deep breath and tries to make sense of his thoughts.
He calls his father, but there's no answer. He checks the time on the phone, and he realizes it's already past midnight. "Merry Christmas," he says to no one.
"You don't look so happy." Chanyeol is leaning heavily on the doorframe. The outward curve of his legs is less pronounced in his dress slacks. "It's a Christmas party. Turn that frown upside down."
He walks into the room. He doesn't close the door, the way Joonmyun had. He sits next to Joonmyun on the loveseat, and Joonmyun stares at his knees. "You didn't leave your pretty girlfriend alone out there, did you?"
"Sooyoung's known Baekhyun as long as I have," Chanyeol says. "We all went to high school together." Joonmyun files that away, for later. "That is not the answer to my question."
Joonmyun isn't drunk, but he's had enough alcohol to loosen his tongue. "Then no, I'm not happy."
"At the party, or in general?" Chanyeol is talking with his hands again. It's always dangerous, but more so when Chanyeol's hand-eye coordination is lowered. He hits Joonmyun's arm with his elbow when he sweeps out his arm.
Hesitating, Joonmyun runs his tongue along the back of his teeth. "In general."
"Why?" Chanyeol's doing that thing he does, where he devotes a hundred percent of his attention to Joonmyun, like Joonmyun is the only person that matters in that moment. It's not something Joonmyun is used to, and it's one of the many things he likes about Chanyeol.
"There are lots of reasons." He would like to explain it like a history textbook, and tell Chanyeol that like the Spartans at Thermopylae, Joonmyun is fighting a valiant battle but the odds are so against him that eventually, he'll fall.
"If you aren't happy with your life," Chanyeol says, "you should change it." He hiccups, and Joonmyun doesn't have to look up to see the red of alcohol across Chanyeol's cheeks or the glassiness of his eyes.
"It's not so easy." Joonmyun mashes his face into his hands. "I have responsibilities, and other people that are depending on me."
Chanyeol falls into him more than sits down next to him, but either way, Chanyeol's lips are brushing Joonmyun's ear and his arms are tightly hugging. "Jongdae said family problems?"
The curl of inescapable attraction sends Joonmyun's stomach into fits. "Yes," Joonmyun says. "My mother is…" Chanyeol's breaths are hot and sloppy, and Joonmyun doesn't know how to put distance between them when Chanyeol is clinging like a baby koala. "Ill." Dying. "I'm helping to pay the…" impossible "bills."
"I didn't know that," Chanyeol says. His nose presses into the skin just under Joonmyun's jawbone, and Joonmyun's hard-pressed to remember the thread of conversation. "I... might not know that, again. Tomorrow."
"That's okay," Joonmyun says. The smell of expensive aftershave is more intoxicating than the champagne had been. "I don't expect--"
"No, I mean... Joonmyun-hyung, you should raise your expectations of people. You should tell me again. You should tell me lots of things. I always want to know more about you, but I don't want to ask." His words are slightly slurred. "Because I can't offer you very many truths in return."
"What do you mean?"
Chanyeol makes a low, disagreeable sound, between a grunt and a hiss, and clutches Joonmyun even closer.
"I've never had anyone depend on me," Chanyeol says. "And my life has only been hard when I didn't fall in line." He moves his head away, and Joonmyun wishes he were more drunk, so he wouldn't notice his own too-shaky breaths and the hammering of his heart as he turns to look at Chanyeol directly. "But you could depend on me. If you wanted to."
In the dark room, Chanyeol's eyes gleam. His mouth is plush. Joonmyun swallows and looks away. "I'm not used to depending on other people."
"I can tell," Chanyeol says, and he releases Joonmyun from his embrace. Joonmyun closes his eyes and tries to calm his rapidly beating heart. Chanyeol stands up, wobbling, and holds out his hand. "We should go back to the party."
"Yes," Joonmyun says. "We should."
Chanyeol smiles, and Joonmyun wants to shout out to the world how unfair that smile is. Instead, he takes Chanyeol's hand, and together, they walk back out into the noise.
Chanyeol lets go of his hand at the end of the hallway. "I could be dependable for you," he says, and maybe it's the liquor, but Joonmyun lets himself float.
When Joonmyun sees Chanyeol at work on Monday, he doesn't mention anything at all. Joonmyun assumes Chanyeol's recollection of their encounter in the parlor room is fuzzy at best, and though he's disappointed, he thinks it is for the better.
"I'm surprised you agreed to come with me," Joonmyun says. He's straightening his bow tie as Chanyeol checks his hair in the compact mirror. "I can't believe you carry make-up."
"I want my face to look nice in pictures," Chanyeol says. "Even if they are a stranger's pictures."
It's just after the new year. Jongin's oldest sister is getting married, and Joonmyun hadn't really wanted to come to the wedding, but social obligations. He had asked Chanyeol to accompany him on a whim, and Chanyeol had agreed. "You're giving me plenty of notice," Chanyeol had said. "I'd love to keep you company."
Chanyeol has. Chanyeol's much better at not being completely awkward than Joonmyun is, and he charms a lot of the older women with classical Korean poetry and large smiles. Jongin is too busy to hang out with them, but he and Chanyeol do pull faces at each other at any given opportunity, and Joonmyun wishes he could have pictures of that.
"This isn't so bad," Joonmyun says. "Because of you."
"Happy to be of service, hyung," Chanyeol replies. "Wouldn't miss the chance to see you being so cute in a bow tie."
Chanyeol laughs, and smoothes an imaginary wrinkle from Joonmyun's jacket with a flat palm.
"I'm only teasing," he says, but his smile is soft and sincere.
"Joonmyun?" It's a voice that cuts straight through Joonmyun's laughter and has him spinning around to face its owner. "I didn't expect to run into you here."
"Kyungsoo," Joonmyun says. "Hi." He grips his glass of spring water tighter as Chanyeol puts a hand at the small of his back. He glances up quickly at Chanyeol in surprise. Chanyeol is smiling at Kyungsoo, but it's tight at the edges. "I'm a good friend of Jongin's. The bride's younger brother."
"I'm a friend of the groom's," Kyungsoo says. He licks his lips and smiles at Joonmyun. "Is this…?"
"No," Joonmyun says quickly. "This is a friend of mine. Chanyeol. Chanyeol, this is Kyungsoo. He's a friend of mine from high school."
Kyungsoo's wide eyes are even rounder, and his smile, Joonmyun thinks, is a little sad. "Yes," Kyungsoo says, "a friend."
"Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, "can you get me a glass of wine?"
"Of course," Chanyeol says. He hesitates, looking between Joonmyun and Kyungsoo for a moment, before stopping on Joonmyun.
"You still haven't…"
"No," Joonmyun says. "I… tried, but my mom, and then…" He fixes his hair.
"You still have the same nervous habits," Kyungsoo says. "The hair thing. Messing with your sleeves." Kyungsoo tilts his head. "You're still not being fair to yourself, either."
"What do you mean?"
"You deserve to like yourself," Kyungsoo says. "Let him like you, too." He nods behind Joonmyun, and Joonmyun looks over his shoulder to see Chanyeol weaving his way back through the crowd, precariously holding red wine in both hands. His suit is white, so Joonmyun hopes he doesn't spill it.
"He has a girlfriend. He'll probably propose to her soon." Baekhyun had mentioned it. That he'd overheard his parents talking about preparations for Chanyeol's engagement at the Park household. Joonmyun had turned on the blender to drown it out.
"Oh really?" Kyungsoo says. "Hmm." Chanyeol is pressing the wine into his hand, and Joonmyun thanks him with a smile. "Well, I have to pay my respects to the family, so…"
"It was nice to see you," Joonmyun says quickly, and Kyungsoo grins, so Joonmyun can see the pink of his gums and the sparkle in his eyes. "I mean… yes. It was nice to see you."
"It was nice to see you, as well." Kyungsoo pulls on his lapels. "Be happy, Joonmyun. Whatever that means for you."
"I'll try," Joonmyun says, and he turns to Chanyeol as Kyungsoo walks away. "Wanna get out of here?"
"Okay," Chanyeol says, still looking between Joonmyun and Kyungsoo's retreating figure. "Where to?"
"We can go to my place," Joonmyun says. "If that's all right. I'm sure it's not—"
"If you say anything about it not being good enough because I come from money," Chanyeol says, "I won't be held responsible for my actions."
"Then let's go," Joonmyun says.
Chanyeol's shoes look like they could swallow Joonmyun's shoes whole in the doorway to the apartment. They are white leather, and they look like sharks. "You're so big," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol snickers, which has Joonmyun shoving Chanyeol as they step into the apartment.
"So this is home," Joonmyun says. "Sorry for the mess, but…"
"But you live with Jongdae," Chanyeol finishes, and they both laugh. This isn't so bad. "This apartment is as cute as you."
"Do you want to watch a movie?"
"I'd love to," Chanyeol says.
When Jongdae comes home later, finding Joonmyun with Chanyeol's head in his lap on the couch and looking bewildered as the younger boy snores, he cackles.
"Cute-hyung is his favorite," Jongdae says. "His legs don't even fit on the couch."
Chanyeol stays the night, and when he leaves the next morning, hair askew and dress pants wrinkled, he takes another piece of Joonmyun's heart with him.
He gets sick at the end of every February, as predictable as clockwork.
In the haze of his fever, he slides in and out of awareness. "Hyung," he hears, and he forces his eyes open.
"Why?" is all he can say, and Chanyeol laughs.
"I heard you were sick, and Jongdae sounded so tired on the phone, so I'm going to look after you for a little while."
"No," Joonmuyun says, even as Chanyeol reaches for the history book on Joonmyun's bedside dresser. "I'm sure you…"
"I have nothing more important to do right now than read you…" He opens the book to where Joonmyun's stuck a post-it, "chapter seven of this book. As long as it's not Kim Manjung, we won't have any problems."
"I like Kim Manjung's writing," Joonmyun admits. "I really do."
"All this time, you've been holding back secret favorable opinions of 'Lady Sa's Trip to the South'? I'm scandalized."
"Full of secrets," Joonmyun teases, before he's beset with shivers.
"I know you are," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun tries to focus on his face but he can't. Chanyeol is pulling Joonmyun's blanket up until it tickles under his chin.
"Do you remember?" Joonmyun asks. The words are hard to get out. Joonmyun is so cold but he knows he's hot to the touch. Chanyeol's hand is still touching his cheek, and it feels good. "That time we talked in the parlor?"
"I do," Chanyeol says. "I do remember." He laughs, carefully, like he doesn't want to hurt Joonmyun with the force of it. "You were drunk, so I didn't want to bring it up, in case…"
"You make me want to tell you things," Joonmyun says. "Things I've never told anyone else." It feels like he's underwater.
"Tell me when you aren't sick," Chanyeol says. "Please tell me."
"I don't know if I can," Joonmyun says, and he drifts to sleep.
When he wakes, it is Jongdae at his bedside. "Hey, sleepyhead. Feeling better?"
"Much," Joonmyun croaks. "Did I imagine…"
"No," Jongdae says. "Your favorite person was here until about an hour ago, when his girlfriend called. She sounded pretty angry, and he left in a hurry."
"I hope he's not in trouble because of me," Joonmyun says. He's still hoarse. He never should have brought Chanyeol to his apartment because now Chanyeol can come and waste his time.
"That's not your problem," Jongdae says. "Get well, and then worry."
Joonmyun is exhausted enough that he agrees. He sits through Jongin and Sehun doing math assignments at the foot of his bed while Jongdae is at the shop, and Zitao dropping off library books and making it through an entire conversation in Korean, using all the Mapo-gu slang that Baekhyun is so fond of.
Chanyeol comes back later, with rice-cake soup, and Joonmyun eats it slowly as Chanyeol reads, and this time, he can see every expression on Chanyeol's face.
"I don't know why you're all coming here," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol closes the book.
"I can't speak for anyone but me, but… I think we're all here because we want to be. I want to be," he says, and Joonmyun feels a surge of heat that is nothing like his fever, and everything like an emotion he isn't supposed to know.
"You're…" Really important to me, he concludes in his head, but Chanyeol beams like he's said it aloud.
"Me too," Chanyeol says.
Joonmyun is greeted with a solemn atmosphere at work a few weeks later when he comes in to take over for Jongin. "What's wrong?" he asks Jongdae, who is frowning down at the counter like it has personally offended him.
"I don't know," Jongdae says. "All I know is that Jongin and Chanyeol just finished midterms but it feels like finals week in this place."
"I think it's even going to rain outside in sympathy," Jongin says. "To match Mr. Doom and Gloom back there." He points to the rear of the shop, where Chanyeol is slowly and unenthusiastically wiping down a recently vacated table. "I hope not though, because I don't want to be soaked when I get home. It's not quite warm enough for me to wish for rain."
"He's more likely to talk to you than either of us," Jongin says. "Besides, I do not want to venture into the darker corners of Chanyeol's psyche." He waves a jaunty goodbye, leaving Jongdae still staring at the counter and Joonmyun to figure out what's wrong with the man that their customers have nicknamed 'sunshine.'
Joonmyun sidles up to Chanyeol, bumping his hip against the other man's, and Chanyeol snaps his head up in surprise. "Hyung." The skin beneath his expressive eyes is a bruise-colored purple, and his usually bouncy hair is limp.
"I'm fine," he says curtly, which has Joonmyun taking a step back, before he gathers himself and sets a hand on the small of Chanyeol's back, the way Chanyeol had for him at the wedding, when Kyungsoo had appeared. Chanyeol freezes, and for a sickening moment, he wonders if Chanyeol's figured it out. About Joonmyun, and that Joonmyun might like him, or something like that. Then Chanyeol is sighing and the tension drains out of him, leaving him limp as he rests both hands on the counter and hangs his head.
"I am allowed to have a bad day," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun's stomach twists.
"You are, but I'm—"
"That's all," he says. "I'm going to go help that couple at the door to a table."
"Right," Joonmyun says.
He calls Baekhyun, slipping out front and pretending to take a call from his father. "Chanyeol and Sooyoung broke up," Baekhyun tells him. "That's all I know. He's being very tight-lipped about it." Baekhyun hums in the back of his throat. "I thought he was going to marry her." Baekhyun sounds as confused and worried as Joonmyun is.
"I'll try to talk to him," Joonmyun promises, and Baekhyun gives a relieved sigh.
"Chanyeol is my best friend," Baekhyun says. "But I still find him very confusing. He trusts you, though. I know that."
When Chanyeol goes onto his break, he doesn't stop to talk to anyone on his way out the side door to the alleyway.
Joonmyun steels himself and walks out after him. Chanyeol is squatting down, back against the dirty brick, elbows on his knees and the heels of his palms pressing into his eyes. He drops his hands onto his knees and leans back as the door shuts behind Joonmyun.
"Chanyeol." It's a nervous greeting. He wishes he could turn off the butterflies in his stomach for a few minutes. Chanyeol's hand pressing against his hot cheek is still fresh in his mind.
"Hyung," he says, and it's disconcerting how Chanyeol won't smile at him. He clenches his hands nervously in his loose jeans, but pushes on. He'd practised this speech in his head since his talk with Baekhyun.
"Baekhyun told me what happened," he starts, and Chanyeol laughs, low in his throat. It's a pleasant sound.
"The only person who talks more than I do," Chanyeol says. "I don't know why I tell him my secrets anymore. He's been spilling them since middle school."
"He's worried about you," Joonmyun says. So am I, he mentally adds, but he thinks that's obvious, since he’s always worried about something.
"He shouldn't be." Chanyeol leans back, and Joonmyun goes to squat next to him, close enough that their arms brush.
"Everyone gets dumped, Chanyeol-"
"I didn't get dumped. I broke up with her," Chanyeol admits, interrupting Joonmyun's hastily prepared consolation speech. "She threw things. She's got a better arm than I do."
"I don't love her," Chanyeol says. "We've been dating for two and a half years and I still don't love her." Joonmyun rests his hand on top of Chanyeol's larger one.
"You're still young," Joonmyun says carefully. "Maybe you need-"
"No," Chanyeol replies. "You don't understand."
"What don't I understand?" Chanyeol's skin is so warm, and Joonmyun thinks he would like to slip his fingers in between. He doesn't, because Chanyeol needs his hyung and not Joonmyun-who-sometimes-thinks-about-how-soft-Chanyeol's-mouth-looks, or Joonmyun-who-would-very-much-like-to-wake-up-to-Chanyeol's-wide-grin-every-morning.
"I know for certain that I don't love her." Chanyeol is staring down at the asphalt, and now Joonmyun can see the dark circles under his eyes and the faint shadow of stubble that Chanyeol gets when he's woken up too late to shave. "I never will."
"How can you know that?" Joonmyun rests his chin on Chanyeol's shoulder, and waits for Chanyeol to sling an arm around him and pull him closer. He doesn't.
"Because I'm in love with someone else," Chanyeol says quietly, and Joonmyun hears it as well as if Chanyeol had shouted it across the empty shop, hands around a mop and headphones in his ears.
It doesn't feel good, Joonmyun decides, to be so hopelessly hung up on Chanyeol that every word Chanyeol says feels like another loaded weight dropped straight down into his stomach. "Oh," he says. "Yes, that is a good reason to break up with someone." He smiles, and sits up straight, putting space between himself and Chanyeol's addictingly warm side. "You should, you know, be honest about your feelings."
Chanyeol finally looks at him, and Joonmyun can't read his expression. Chanyeol is always so easy to understand, but he has no idea what to make of the look in Chanyeol's eyes. "I can't," Chanyeol says, and he opens his mouth to say something else before swallowing it back down. "I have to go." He stands up quickly, and Joonmyun has to crane his neck to see his face. "Thank you for listening, hyung."
"Anything for you," Joonmyun says, and hopes he doesn't sound as hopeless as he feels.
There are few things as disconcerting as being watched. Joonmyun knows that Chanyeol stares at him when he isn't looking, but as soon as he turns in Chanyeol's direction, Chanyeol pretends like he'd never been studying Joonmyun at all.
It's disconcerting, and also frustrating. "I must have said something wrong," Joonmyun says to Jongin, and Jongin puckers his mouth like a goldfish.
"But you never say anything wrong," Jongin says. "Sometimes you're oblivious, but you never say cruel things, and Chanyeol would never suspect you of that because as far as he's concerned, you walk on water."
"Don't be absurd," Joonmyun says. "He does not think that." He tugs at the collar of his sweater. "Right now, he won't even look at me unless he assumes I'm not paying attention."
It has been three weeks since their chat in the alleyway, and now Chanyeol treats Joonmyun like he's afraid to touch him. Joonmyun should view this as a relief from the ceaseless downpour of feelings that follow every errant stroke of the back of Chanyeol's hand across his arm or press into his side, but he doesn't. Instead, he finds himself feeling unbearably cold even as winter thaws into spring.
Jongin sighs. "I can barely even understand the things Chanyeol does talk about. Do you think I understand, magically, the things he doesn't?"
"I am not a Buddha," Jongin says. "I have no answers for you, and no helpful clues."
"You look like you're going to snap," Jongdae says later, when he comes into replace Jongin. "Do you want me to kick Chanyeol in the head?" Joonmyun stops wiping at the same clean patch of counter and looks at Jongdae. "Or in the kneecaps. Don't look at me like that, you're as short as I am."
"Chanyeol's alone in the back right now," Jongdae says. "If you were wanting to corner him and make him talk about his feelings again."
Chanyeol is alone. He's putting the rice flour that Joonmyun uses for ddeok on the top shelf of the food locker, where only he can reach. His T-shirt, thick white cotton with the word SWAGGER emblazoned across the front, rides up to reveal the Calvin Klein logo on his briefs. "Chanyeol?"
Chanyeol almost drops the flour, and Joonmyun rushes forward to steady him. His skin feels hot under Joonmyun’s palms, and Chanyeol stills. Joonmyun looks up to see Chanyeol's Adam's apple bob, before he sucks his lower lip into his mouth to bite it. "Did you need something, hyung?"
"I'm sorry," Joonmyun says in a rush. "Whatever I said, I'm sorry. Please don't be mad at me anymore."
He stops talking, to catch his breath, and Chanyeol's arms wind around him in one of those bear hugs that Joonmyun has come to savor. "Hyung, no," Chanyeol says. "I'm not mad at you. Not at all."
"I'm kind of confused right now," Chanyeol says, into Joonmyun's hair. Joonmyun will never admit it aloud, but he loves the way he fits right under Chanyeol's chin. "I'm not sure what to do. I'm scared you'll stop being my friend."
"It would take a lot for that to happen, Chanyeol," Joonmyun says. "So don't push me away."
"I'm the one who's sorry," Chanyeol says. "I can't believe you apologized to me for my behavior."
"I didn't know what else to do," Joonmyun says. "You're acting so strange."
Chanyeol releases him, and Joonmyun moves out of Chanyeol's space, hoping his cheeks aren't stained red with the mix of pleasure and embarrassment he feels. "I know," Chanyeol says. "I'm…" He takes a visible inhale. His curls bounce. "Can we talk about this later?"
"Of course," Joonmyun agrees. "Take your time." He steps toward the door. "I'll leave you to finish up back here."
"Did you…" Joonmyun stops in the doorway. "Did you miss me?"
"Tons," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol smiles like he did on that very first day, eyes hidden with sunglasses and yet already one of the most beautiful people Joonmyun had ever seen. "You're one of my favorite people." There's nothing dangerous in admitting that.
"You're one of mine," Chanyeol says, and there's an invisible hand wrapped around Joonmyun's heart that squeezes and squeezes until it's wrung him completely out.
Can we talk about this later means Chanyeol inviting himself over for dinner.
"I'm going out with Min tonight," Jongdae says, pulling on his jacket and waving goodbye. "I'm going to miss dinner so don't cook for me."
"Have fun!" Joonmyun says, as he wraps his scarf around his neck. It's a powder blue one that Sehun had given him for his birthday last year.
"You're going to eat dinner alone?" Chanyeol asks, and Joonmyun nods.
"I do it often enough. I might call my dad and see if he wants to come over. I might not."
"Would… it be okay if I came over, instead? To talk."
Joonmyun watches Chanyeol fuss with his hair and with his glasses, and smiles. "Yes, that's fine. I'd love to have you over."
"Oh good," Jongdae says, "I was worried Joonmyun was going to go stir crazy with no one to take care of. Crisis averted."
Chanyeol laughs, dropping an arm around Joonmyun's shoulders. "What if I take care of Joonmyun, instead?"
"Even better," Jongdae says with a wink.
They've been preparing dinner for over forty minutes before Joonmyun ventures onto shakier ground.
"You wanted to talk about something?"
"Do you remember, when we were in the woods?" It seems off-topic, but Joonmyun is patient.
"How could I forget? We were so lost."
"Do you remember what we talked about?"
Joonmyun pulls out a carrot and rinses it under the faucet. "We talked about a lot of things." He smiles. "Baekhyun's underwear preferences included."
"We had an unfinished conversation." It's been four months since then. Joonmyun knows exactly what Chanyeol is talking about.
"I knew you'd remember," Chanyeol says. His voice is so smooth and low. It's the kind of voice destined to tell bedtime stories. He can imagine Chanyeol with a child on his knee, whispering adventures into avidly listening ears. The image makes his chest hurt. "You have a good memory."
"So do you," Joonmyun says. Chop, chop, chop.
"You never asked me again."
"I don't like to push." Another carrot rinsed. "I think you know how often I've been on the other side of that."
He waits for Chanyeol's answer. "I want to push you," Chanyeol says.
That's not something Joonmyun had been prepared to hear. "What?
"I want to push you," Chanyeol says more firmly. "I keep thinking…" Chanyeol trails off, and Joonmyun looks up from his chopping board to see what's stopped him, only to find Chanyeol right behind him, trapping him against the counter. He sets down the knife and turns to face him, ignoring the heat that rushes to his cheeks.
Chanyeol smells so good. "You keep thinking about what?"
Chanyeol is chewing on his bottom lip again, and he is so close that Joonmyun can feel the warmth emanating from his body. Chanyeol is always so warm. Joonmyun can recall the way Chanyeol's arms had fit perfectly around him that day in the woods.
Joonmyun knows better than to think about things like that when Chanyeol is right here in front of him.
Chanyeol's knees bump his thighs. They don't fit like this at all. "You," Chanyeol admits, and Joonmyun laughs lightly and pushes at Chanyeol's chest. "Joonmyun-hyung, why don't you date?"
"Look at what it did to you," Joonmyun jokes. "Turned the sunshine into a rain cloud."
"I'm serious," Chanyeol says, and one of his hands drops down to settle on Joonmyun's waist. His fingertips are like fire, and Joonmyun has nowhere to run because he's stuck between his friend and the counter. "Why?"
"I thought you were on my side about this, Chanyeol. The 'Joonmyun-is-an-adult' side." Joonmyun shifts, and his elbow knocks the dish of kimchi off the counter. "Shoot," he says, and he tries to push past Chanyeol, to where he keeps the cleaning cloths, but Chanyeol doesn't move. "Let me—"
Chanyeol's other hand, the one not firmly holding on to Joonmyun's waist, comes up to cup his jaw. "I think I…"
"What are you doing?" Joonmyun's voice cracks. Chanyeol's thumb brushes the hair in front of Joonmyun's ear, and ventures out toward his cheek. The touch is light, but it sears. "Chanyeol, what--"
"I think you…" Chanyeol swallows, and Joonmyun's heart stops beating at the look in Chanyeol's eyes. "Hyung, I'm so…"
It's not a real kiss. It's more like a gentle brushing of lips, a bare press of flesh that is still enough to make Joonmyun feel so lightheaded he might faint. It is only seconds before Chanyeol is jumping right back out of it, eyes round like 500won coins and face flushed so red that Joonmyun thinks he's going to pass out.
Joonmyun lifts a shaking hand up to his still tingling lips and stares at Chanyeol. His heart still hasn't started beating again, and it doesn't take a med student like Jongdae to tell him that that is probably a very dangerous thing.
"Oh my god," Chanyeol says. "I'm such an idiot. I'm such a huge fucking idiot." He scrubs at his face. "I'm so sorry, hyung. I'm—" Chanyeol's disappearing around the corner, but it's like Joonmyun has been struck by Medusa, and his whole body has turned to stone.
The slamming of the front door of his apartment has Joonmyun sinking to his knees, heart lurching back into frantic motion, as he replays the last minute over and over again in his head.
He doesn't know how long he's been sitting there, fingers pressed to his mouth, when Jongdae comes home, but it can't have been that long. Nothing's burning.
"I thought Chanyeol was going to be here for dinner?" Jongdae queries. He has a lipstick mark on his cheek. Joonmyun is glad to see things are still going well between Jongdae and Min. "Did something come up?" A pause. "Why's the kitchen such a mess?"
"Chanyeol kissed me," Joonmyun says numbly. Tension thick enough to choke them both.
"That's… something coming up, I guess."
A seemingly interminable silence descends.
"I didn't know he was… like that," Jongdae says finally, dropping down to his knees to gather Joonmyun into a hug. "That he's into boys, I mean. But why are you so upset? Are you mad? I know you wouldn't judge him for something like that. Are you afraid things are going to be too weird to stay friends?"
"He's not…" Joonmyun says. "I mean, I don't know if he likes…" Joonmyun buries his face in Jongdae's neck for a moment, letting himself find comfort in Jongdae's soothing hand rubbing circles on his back. "But…"
"But what?" Jongdae asks, and Joonmyun thinks he might throw up all over everything, so he pulls out of Jongdae's embrace. He stares at the linoleum tiles, absentmindedly taking in the spilled kimchi juice that's settling into the grout and the fact that the stove might still be on.
There's the sound of water rushing in Joonmyun's ears, and he doesn't think he’s left the faucet on. "But I do."
"You do what?" Jongdae asks slowly, carefully, and Joonmyun looks up at him with bright eyes. Jongdae doesn't look angry. He just looks surprised, and he's staring at Joonmyun with no small amount of disbelief.
"Like boys," Joonmyun says, and then he presses his hands to his cheeks and laughs, or maybe sobs. "I've never actually told anyone that before." He sounds ridiculous. "Everyone else who's ever known figured it out."
"Oh great," Jongdae says, and for a moment, Joonmyun doesn't know how Jongdae will react. What if-- There are a thousand what ifs, and they all rush by in a single moment. "Now I feel like a dick for trying to set you up with all those girls." And then he's throwing his arms back around Joonmyun and whispering "You didn't think you'd lose your best friend over something like this, did you?" into his hair, and yes, Joonmyun had thought exactly that.
Joonmyun concentrates on Jongdae now, and tries to forget about the brief warm slide of Chanyeol's lips across his own.
"Chanyeol called me and said he was sick," Jongin says, when Joonmyun frowns at him as he shrugs off his jacket. "So I'm trading shifts with him. He'll take my morning shift tomorrow." When Joonmyun is off. Relief twines with misery in Joonmyun's gut.
"Well that's convenient," Jongdae says, before Joonmyun can stop him with a glare, and Jongin pouts.
"What happened?" Joonmyun shakes his head.
"Nothing," he replies quickly.
"It's not fair that everyone knows but me."
"Life isn't fair," Jongdae says sagely.
"You sound like Sehun," Jongin says. "One Sehun is more than enough."
"Boyfriends," Jongdae says, and then he slaps a hand over his mouth guiltily, shooting a quick glance at Joonmyun before grabbing a spray bottle. "I'm going to go wipe down the tables."
Joonmyun has just done that, but now Jongin looks even more curious so Joonmyun isn't going to complain about it.
Joonmyun's shift ends in an awkward silence. He's pulling on a knit cap to cover his ears when Jongdae stops him. Jongin is flirting with a cute girl in knee socks. Joonmyun's seen her around before, with her older sister, usually, and he thinks Jongin might have a crush on her.
"I feel really terrible," Jongdae says. "Not that it's your problem that I feel terrible. But I do."
"I'm sorry," Joonmyun says. "I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't…" He thinks it is only shock that allowed him to spill it out last night. He doesn't think he can do it again.
"I never thought that making jokes about Sehun and Jongin would be… Was I constantly making you feel bad about yourself?"
"I do that well enough on my own," Joonmyun says. He zips his windbreaker up.
"It looks silly when you zip it all the way up," Jongdae says. "But I guess I don't have to look at your denim shirt anymore."
"Jongin gave me this shirt."
"As a joke," Jongdae says. "You weren't supposed to actually wear it." Forced lightness is better than the grimness that had laced Jongdae's previous questions, and Joonmyun latches on.
"What a waste of a good shirt that would have been," Joonmyun says, undoing the zip just enough that he can no longer feel it pressing against his throat. "I'm going to visit my mom. I'll see you at home."
"Sounds good." He walks through the shop, waving goodbye to Jongin, who is chewing on a piece of licorice and playing on his phone.
Baekhyun is just outside the shop, leaning against the window with his hands in his pockets. "I thought you got off around now."
Baekhyun, whose face is usually set in an impish smile, looks uncharacteristically serious, his eyes wide and his forehead wrinkled in thought. "I'm headed south," Joonmyun says. "You want to walk and talk?"
"You're not going home?" Baekhyun nods in the other direction, and Joonmyun shakes his head. "You look exhausted."
"No," Joonmyun says. "I'm going to visit my mother." He swallows. "I didn't sleep well last night."
"Neither did Chanyeol," Baekhyun says. "He called me at three in the morning talking about how he'd 'ruined everything' and that you 'probably would never talk to him again'."
"I kind of thought it would be the other way around, what with the shift changing and all."
"Chanyeol seems to think you'll never forgive him."
"Do you…" Joonmyun keeps his eyes straight ahead. It's a familiar walk to the hospital. He's been making it for too many years. Unfortunately, it allows him to focus more carefully on Baekhyun, whose hands are still in his pockets. "Do you know…"
"Chanyeol told me." Baekhyun coughs. "It wasn't really a surprise for me, to be honest."
That does make Joonmyun miss a step. He almost trips, but Baekhyun grabs the back of his jacket and yanks backward. "What?"
"He likes you so much," Baekhyun says. "Since the first time he met you, all he could talk about was you. How cute you are, how kind you are, and how much he admires you… And even if he doesn't advertise it, I've always known Chanyeol isn't… completely straight."
Joonmyun thinks back to the woods, Chanyeol's breath on his cheek. "The lie is—" Chanyeol had started, and Joonmyun had never heard the end of that sentence.
Joonmyun hides his hands in his sleeves. "I didn't know that. I don't know anything. I'm just confused." He sighs. "And anxious, but that's not an unusual feeling for me."
"Chanyeol seemed to think you'd be upset." Baekhyun shrugs. "I'd be upset if Chanyeol up and kissed me with no warning."
"I am," Joonmyun says. "Not about…" He can't say it. "Not about what he did but that he ran away before I even knew what had happened." He looks down. "I hope he's okay. I wish I had been less surprised; I could have—"
"Cute-hyung, really?" Baekhyun grabs his arm, forcing him to stop and face him. They're in the middle of the sidewalk, and people thread around them, annoyed. Joonmyun looks into Baekhyun's eyes and sees incredulity. "It's not your fault, it's Chanyeol's. Chanyeol should face up to his actions."
Joonmyun averts his gaze. "I know how hard it is to be honest about your feelings," he says. "I don't really blame Chanyeol for finding it difficult." He can see the beginnings of weeds peeking out from the cracks in the sidewalk. "I can't help but hope he doesn't avoid me forever though."
"I doubt he could," Baekhyun says. "Can you do me a favor and go easy on him?" A note of pleading. Joonmyun's chest is so very tight. "You're too kind to hurt him on purpose, but—"
"Chanyeol is very important to me," Joonmyun says. It is chillier when they aren't walking, so he resumes his stride. It's easier not to look at Baekhyun, like this, and in turn, it is easier to speak. "And Chanyeol is not the only person with secrets."
"Do you…" Baekhyun pauses. "That's none of my business. Thanks for being patient, hyung. I'm sure Chanyeol will get his act together soon." There's steel in his voice, an unspoken or else, that makes Joonmyun laugh, despite the nervous tension like a rope around his neck, because he'd known Baekhyun was the bossy type since he first laid eyes on him.
"I hope so," Joonmyun says. He looks up, and the hospital is to their right. "This is me."
"The hospital?" Baekhyun licks his lips. "I thought you said you were visiting your mother?"
"I am," Joonmyun says, and he's waving goodbye and crossing the street before Baekhyun has a chance to say anything. Joonmyun's the same type of coward as Chanyeol is.
"Sometimes I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you," Joonmyun says, and his mother doesn't open her eyes. She’s been asleep since he arrived, and he hadn't wanted to wake her. "Mom, there are so many things I've never been able to tell you."
It is four days later, and Joonmyun hasn't really slept. Jongin is less fussy than usual because of the circles under his eyes, and Jongdae does the dishes before Joonmyun can panic about them piling up. Chanyeol doesn't come to work, which is both a reprieve and a constant source of soul-sucking despair.
"Grow up," he hears Jongdae hissing into the phone on Friday morning. "I'm not taking your shift so you had best suck it up and come in."
Chanyeol finally comes in for his shift on Friday afternoon. He looks tired too. His hair hangs into his eyes and he's wearing his overpriced sunglasses. Joonmyun tries not to let his eyes linger, because every time he does he remembers how close Chanyeol had been.
"I'm heading out," Jongin says, at seven. Chanyeol is mopping up, and the quiet is so obvious even Jongin has noticed. "Is that… okay?" He looks between Chanyeol and Joonmyun, and Joonmyun nods, pasting a smile onto his face.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Joonmyun asks, and Jongin gives him a look, like he’s just announced that the sky is green and the grass is purple.
"I'll stay and help Joonmyun-hyung close up," Chanyeol says, leaning the mop against the wall.
"All right, then, I'm off," Jongin says.
Then it's just the two of them.
"I wanted to apologize."
"I forgive you," Joonmyun says immediately.
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," Joonmyun says. "I was never angry at you in the first place."
"You're never angry," Chanyeol says. "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you like a normal person. That I…"
"I hadn't realized you…" Joonmyun rubs his hands on his jeans. He leaves wet handprints behind. "Well."
"I tried to tell you before," Chanyeol says.
"I realize that, now." Joonmyun closes his eyes, so he can think. When he opens them, Chanyeol is still staring at him directly. He looks so sad. It's a horrible expression that Joonmyun doesn't want to see again. "What were you thinking? When you did that. In the kitchen."
"I thought, maybe…" Chanyeol runs a hand through his hair, "I don't know, actually. I have no idea what I was thinking. Or I do. I was thinking about how hard you work. How much you try to make other people happy. How you smile, and how much I wish you'd do it more. How much I like making you smile. I was thinking about how much I like how your head tucks just under my chin. How warm you feel in my arms. How much I want to be the one person you let look out for you." Chanyeol laughs. His eye twitches, and his grin is so big and sincere. "I was thinking that."
"Oh," Joonmyun says. "I… Oh."
"I was also thinking about how much I wanted to kiss you." Chanyeol is chewing on his lip. "I know I'm a guy, and that it might be weird for you—"
"Kyungsoo," Joonmyun says. "Do you remember when you met Kyungsoo?"
"At the wedding?" Chanyeol is clearly confused. He looks young, with his mouth open and eyes focused completely on Joonmyun.
"He was…" Joonmyun isn't sure if he's going to pass out, because he's so dizzy. "He was my boyfriend, in high school."
"Your… boyfriend?" Joonmyun watches it dawn on Chanyeol. His heart is beating so fast. He can't breathe.
"Jongin thought I was jealous of you," Joonmyun says. It's quiet enough in the empty shop that his voice is clearly audible even though he's whispering. "That you had a girlfriend like Sooyoung. The truth is, I was jealous of Sooyoung, that she had a boyfriend like you—"
The wind is knocked out of him as Chanyeol clumsily knocks him back into the glass in front of the counter. His hands grab Joonmyun's jaw, and this time, it is not gentle.
Chanyeol's lips are definitely as soft as Joonmyun had imagined, in weaker moments. His lower lip is chapped, but it still feels so nice against Joonmyun's that it doesn't matter. Joonmyun holds Chanyeol's hips, not for balance, but to remind himself that this is real. That Chanyeol is actually kissing him and Chanyeol actually wants him and Chanyeol is here, right now, large hands cradling Joonmyun's jaw and nose brushing Joonmyun's every time he breathes.
Chanyeol's tongue slides insistently across the seam of Joonmyun's lips, and he parts them so Chanyeol can steal his way inside. It’s been a long time since he’s been kissed, but somehow he remembers to tilt his head, to fit their mouths more closely together.
"Why does a rich boy get a job at a yogurt shop?" Chanyeol says into Joonmyun's cheek.
"I always wondered," Joonmyun replies, daringly catching Chanyeol's lip between his teeth. Chanyeol sighs, and kisses him again.
"He looks in the window and sees a guy behind the counter that makes his heart skip a beat," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun's fingers dig into Chanyeol's sides.
"You're so…" Chanyeol sounds like a girls' comic.
Chanyeol laughs. "So what?" he asks.
Joonmyun doesn't trust this kind of happiness. Things are too good to doubt them, now, so he stands up on his toes to garner Chanyeol's mouth again. That elicits a pleased exhale from Chanyeol, who seems intent on learning all the tiny things that make Joonmyun's toes curl and send shivers down his spine. Chanyeol likes it when Joonmyun runs his tongue along his wide teeth.
The bell on the shop door jingles, and Joonmyun breaks their kiss. Chanyeol whines in disagreement. "I forgot my hat—" Jongin stops, and Joonmyun doesn't know what to do. There's no way Jongin can mistake the way Chanyeol's hand has worked itself into Joonmyun's hair, or the way Joonmyun's mouth is swollen, or the way Joonmyun's fingers have slipped under Chanyeol's shirt. "Wow, okay."
"Problem?" Chanyeol asks, and Joonmyun waits for Chanyeol to pull away. He doesn't. Instead, he gathers Joonmyun in closer, and Joonmyun holds on tighter in response. He looks up to see Jongin staring, pole-axed, at them both.
It's an agonizing thirty seconds of Jongin organizing his thoughts before he speaks. "You're going to Windex that glass, right?" he says, and Chanyeol explodes with laughter, letting his head drop to Joonmyun's shoulder. His hiccupping chuckles are hot on Joonmyun's neck, and Joonmyun is so embarrassed he must be glowing, but he's relieved and joyous, because in this brief, wondrous moment, everything is perfect.
"Of course I am," Joonmyun sputters, and Jongin rolls his eyes, and this, Joonmyun thinks… This is good.
"You mean 'we are', right?" Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun can still taste Chanyeol when he licks his own lips.
"Yes," Joonmyun agrees. "We are."
Dating Chanyeol is the rainbow after a heavy rainstorm. A trick of the light that has Joonmyun seeing colors he hasn't seen since he was a child, before life started to grind away at him slowly and steadily.
"It's like you've been possessed by aliens," Jongin says. "Stop smiling so creepily, hyung."
"Sorry," Joonmyun murmurs, and Chanyeol joins them, wrapping his arms around Joonmyun's waist and resting his head on his shoulder.
"I'm only kidding," Jongin says. "I like it when you're happy." He flickers his gaze to Chanyeol. "Even if your taste is, well…"
"What's wrong with me?" Chanyeol says, voice reverberating down Joonmyun's spine from the proximity.
"Everything," Jongin says with finality. "I'm still mad about you ruining my favorite shirt with those blueberries."
"That was months ago!" Joonmyun laughs and leans back into Chanyeol's chest as Chanyeol presses a hand flat to his stomach. The shop opens in about ten minutes. He should really pull out the chocolate from the refrigerator. "And you put them in my face!"
"Something already ruined," Jongin explains. "Not something amazing like my favorite shirt."
They continue to bicker, and Joonmyun watches with infinite patience, because he finds it impossible to muster up worry in the face of Chanyeol's hand tracing the outline of his belly button through his shirt.
In reality, not much has changed. Chanyeol still grabs at him and pulls him close and marvels at how small Joonmyun is. Joonmyun still worries about Chanyeol's health and makes him wear a jacket even though it is now spring in earnest. They both still talk about anything and everything, Chanyeol's feet playing with his underneath the table when they're alone, and sometimes when they're not.
Joonmyun buys plastic cups for his apartment even though Jongdae thinks they are tacky.
When they go out on 'surprise dates', Chanyeol kidnapping Joonmyun from his apartment and dragging him out into the afternoon away from the washing or whatever else Joonmyun is doing, they don't hold hands. They're too old to get away with that. But Chanyeol's knuckles brush across his own and on buses, Chanyeol rests his head on Joonmyun's, and Chanyeol smiles at him like he is the only person in the entire world.
They spend evenings in Jongdae and Joonmyun's apartment, Chanyeol lost in the novels he reads for classes as Joonmyun fits himself into the spaces that Chanyeol's long body leaves on the couch with a book of his own. "Is this boring for you?" Joonmyun asks, and Chanyeol, as always, shakes his head no.
"This is nice," Chanyeol says. "I don't have to impress you or entertain you. That's nice."
"You never have," Joonmyun says.
"I know," Chanyeol replies. "Do you know why I like literature?" He lifts Joonmyun's arm and kisses the inside of his wrist, lips right along the vein. "It's comforting to me, to immerse myself in other people's lives and see the world from hundreds of perspectives."
"That's why I study history," Joonmyun says. "The importance of it…"
"If I had told my father that, he would have scoffed. My sister too. But with you, I don't even have to explain. You just understand. And it's not only about this. It's about everything." Chanyeol slides his lips up the sensitive skin on the inside of Joonmyun's arm, and nuzzles his nose in the crook of his elbow. Joonmyun shivers as Chanyeol exhales. "With you, I can just be."
Joonmyun catches Chanyeol's neck, and pushes his fingers into the thick hair at the nape. Chanyeol is looking at him, bright eyed, still holding Joonmyun's wrist, but he he lowers it, so Joonmyun can pull him closer.
"This is more than I ever expected to have," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol hugs him, heavy and solid and warm.
"You need to raise your expectations," Chanyeol says, resting his head in the crook of Joonmyun's neck, as Joonmyun marvels at the emotions inside of him that seem bigger than his body can contain.
"You don't have to, if you don't want to," Joonmyun says.
"I want to," Chanyeol says. He speaks more quietly than usual, out of respect for the echo in the hallway, but he's sure. "I told you, I want to know more about you."
"Right," Joonmyun says, and then he opens the door. His mother is awake today. There is a green undertone to skin, but she looks better than last time. "Hey, Mom, I brought my friend Chanyeol."
"I have been wanting to meet you," she says. "Joonmyunnie talks about you all the time."
"Hopefully only half of it is about all the glasses I've broken at the shop."
"Only a third," she says, and Chanyeol laughs. The fist-sized lump of tension in Joonmyun's gut eases.
"I'm sure you get this a lot, but you and hyung have the same smile." Joonmyun's mother's eyes sparkle, and it's that Chanyeol magic.
Chanyeol tells his mother about all sorts of things, like the new flavors of parfait that Jongdae's been experimenting with or about Joonmyun's impulsive need to baby Zitao, and about the bet Jongin and Baekhyun have going that Jongin can't get ten girls' numbers by the end of April.
Joonmyun's mother is as smitten with Chanyeol as Joonmyun is, and she looks genuinely regretful when the nurse comes by and says it's time for treatment. "Won't you come again?" she says, wistfully, and Chanyeol nods assuredly, curls flopping onto his forehead and big ears sticking out. Joonmyun's chest hurts, but it is a good hurt.
As they're walking out of the hospital, Joonmyun tugs on Chanyeol's sleeve to get his attention. "Thank you," he says, and Chanyeol is surprised. "You're really like a happy virus, or something. You made her so..." Joonmyun laughs. "Well, happy."
"I didn't do anything?" Chanyeol's surprise becomes amusement. "She looks so much like you, hyung. She's kind like you, too."
"Do I deserve you?" Joonmyun asks. He tries to keep it light, but Chanyeol sees something in it.
"People don't deserve or not deserve each other, Joonmyun-hyung." He throws an arm around Joonmyun's shoulder and pulls him in. "That's not how it works."
"I know, I know," Joonmyun says, hesitating before putting his arm around Chanyeol's long waist. He knows it probably looks suspicious, but at the moment, he doesn't care.
"You do deserve to be happy, though," Chanyeol says. "I hope that I can be a part of your happiness."
Chanyeol had held his mother's hand just as carefully as he holds Joonmyun's, when they're alone. Like they're something precious.
It is a new feeling, to want to hold on to joy like this. Joonmyun worries that he could get used to it.
The cherry blossoms bloom in Seoul on the 12th of April. That weekend, Baekhyun drags a number of them out to Yeouido for the Spring Flower Festival, which has Jongin griping about how he doesn't want to look at the stupid flowers for the entirety of their ride up on the subway until Sehun steps on his insole and smiles sweetly until Jongin crosses his arms and sits back.
Chanyeol looms over Joonmyun on the train, shoulder to shoulder with Zitao, who looms over Baekhyun and silently studies everyone on their train car. Both of them had given up their seats to a pair of old men who'd gotten on at the last stop. Joonmyun tries to offer Chanyeol his seat, but Chanyeol shakes his head. "You have as little balance as I do," he says.
Jongin laughs into his hand, disguising it as a cough when Zitao slides eyes on him. Jongin, who is slightly clueless, doesn't seem to have figured out that Zitao is more likely to give him a giant hug than attack him, but it's only a matter of time before there's no one left to keep him in check. Zitao thinks of it like a game, and Baekhyun constantly encourages it.
"My limbs are shorter," Joonmyun counters. "Less collateral damage when the inevitable fall happens."
"Your logic is sound," Chanyeol says. "I'm still going to stand up. And if you stand up, we'll both be standing, and then there will be an empty seat. That would result in even more damage, wouldn't it?" Chanyeol's grin is unabashed and wide. His eyelashes flutter.
"Don't try aegyo, Chanyeol," Baekhyun advises, slapping his hands on his thighs. "Cute-hyung might not want to be seen with you if you pull that trick out of the hat."
"Hey!" Chanyeol says, and the train jerks, banging Chanyeol's shins into Joonmyun's knees. "Hyung will like me no matter what." Chanyeol leans further down, only one hand hanging from the bar instead of the handles. His other hand rests on Joonmyun's lower thigh, and it gives him jitters, like he's a high school boy on his first date. "Right?"
"R-right," Joonmyun confirms, and Baekhyun snorts as Jongin groans and rests his head on Sehun's shoulder.
"Jealous, Jongin?" Jongin bares his teeth in an adorable approximation of a scowl, and Joonmyun grins at him fondly, even as Chanyeol's hand slides a little higher with the lurch of the train station stop. "I'm tiny hyung's favorite now."
"You used nefarious means to earn that position!" Jongin says, and Chanyeol's laugh fills up the whole train car. "I'll settle for number two."
"Number three, I think you mean," Sehun says, as Jongin collapses onto him. "Jongdae is probably number two."
"Chanyeol has ruined everything," Jongin says, no heat in the words, and Zitao hides his laugh in the collar of his thin sweatshirt.
"Naw," Sehun says, eyeing Joonmyun with that smirk he always has that Lu Han describes as 'painfully insolent'. "I think Chanyeol has made things more interesting."
Chanyeol stands a head above most of the crowd, as they walk through the cherry blossoms. This makes him hard to lose, even as he walks ahead of Joonmyun, Baekhyun and Zitao in order to keep an eye on Sehun and Jongin, who are having a competition to see who can photo-bomb the most tourist snapshots. The red in his hair shines in the spring sunshine, almost as much as his teeth, and when he finally catches Jongin and Sehun in a headlock, lecturing lightly about destroying people's memories with their ugly mugs, he glances back over his shoulder to share a conspiratorial grin with Joonmyun.
"I'm glad Chanyeol met you," Baekhyun says. "You've anchored him. In a good way."
It is the opposite for Joonmyun. He still has all of his worries. School, the shop, his parents. He's still juggling those things. Yet, with Chanyeol, it seems less like restricting chains around his wrists and ankles. "He's sort of… set me free," Joonmyun says.
"Baekhyun?" He and Baekhyun turn, and they see Sooyoung weaving toward them through the crowd. Joonmyun's heart plummets when he sees her. She is radiant, as usual.
"Sooyoung!" Baekhyun says, delighted. "Long time no see!"
"For obvious reasons," Sooyoung says, but she doesn't seem heartbroken. Her smile is not strained.
Zitao grabs the back of Jongin's shirt, getting his attention, and Jongin grabs Sehun and Chanyeol to make them follow the others off to an emptier patch of the wide road.
Chanyeol comes to stand behind him, both hands on Joonmyun's shoulders. "Hey Sooyoung," Chanyeol says easily.
"I can't believe we ran into each other here," she says. "My friends had just broken off to go home and I was walking with Seonni to the train and I spotted that hair above the crowd and knew it was you." They both laugh. Joonmyun is in the twilight zone.
Sooyoung spends the rest of the afternoon with them. Joonmyun sticks with Jongin, Zitao, and Sehun while Baekhyun and Chanyeol talk animatedly with Sooyoung. "Are you jealous, leader?" Jongin asks, and Joonmyun still hates that word but he knows himself well enough to think it might be applicable.
The cherry blossoms are quite beautiful, but Joonmyun is distracted by how pretty Sooyoung looks with them as a backdrop. The soft pink of her spring sweater makes her look like one of the flowers.
When she waves goodbye, claiming she'd been on her way home when she'd run into them, Joonmyun doesn't watch her leave with any sort of relief, because Chanyeol hugs her goodbye. "I hope you're taking care of yourself," he says, and she smiles so warmly at him before she's gone, long legs and long hair disappearing back into the sea of people.
They get dinner at a gamjatang restaurant about five blocks from their destination. Joonmyun excuses himself to the restroom. He looks at himself in the mirror, before splashing water on his face to cleanse it of the cooling sweat. "You are being silly, Kim Joonmyun."
"Probably," Chanyeol says, making Joonmyun grip the counter. Chanyeol hugs him from behind, pulling Joonmyun's chest into his back. Joonmyun frantically tries to reassure himself that no one else is in the bathroom, but Chanyeol just hugs him tighter, more persistently. "What's wrong?"
"You're so close to her," Joonmyun says. "It was like…"
"I've known her since I was fifteen," Chanyeol says. "We've been friends for such a long time that it didn't make sense not to be friends anymore simply because we dated for two years in the middle of it."
"What if she—"
"She doesn't. We talked about it a month ago." He exhales, and it ruffles Joonmyun's hair. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you would be so uncomfortable."
"She's so pretty," Joonmyun says. So female, he doesn't say. "You only broke up with her three months ago, Chanyeol—"
"The one I like is you," Chanyeol says, kissing Joonmyun's cheek. Joonmyun reaches up and pulls his fingers through his hair to hide his anxiousness, but Chanyeol just laughs. "You're so cute."
"I'm older than you," Joonmyun says. "More mature." This feels like familiar ground. "A grown man."
"And very cute," Chanyeol says. "I like cute things the best."
"You just like me the best," Joonmyun says. It feels daring. Chanyeol's hands are hot on his stomach through his shirt. He looks so big behind Joonmyun, when Joonmyun looks again into the mirror. Chanyeol's cheeks are pink, the blush almost hidden by the strength of his smile.
"Now you're getting the picture," he says, and Joonmyun meets his eyes in the reflection and smiles back.
As they eat their soup, Chanyeol's hand locks with his discreetly under the table.
Chanyeol always hums off tune when he mops. Joonmyun watches him, and when Chanyeol catches him, he smiles, because Joonmyun is holding his heart out with both hands in front of him for Chanyeol to take. The look in Chanyeol's eyes always seems to say "I'll take care of it, hyung," and Joonmyun believes him.
At the end of May, Joonmyun is blindfolded and ushered into Chanyeol's car. "Have fun," Jongdae says lecherously, and Joonmyun clutches the overhead handle in the car for dear life because car rides are much scarier when you can't see. Chanyeol talks to him the whole trip, though, about his classes and about this woman Baekhyun's just started seeing who wears skirts shorter than Chanyeol approves of but is a 'very nice girl'. Joonmyun listens and tells Chanyeol that what other people wear isn't his business and that Baekhyun probably doesn't want a nice girl, which has Chanyeol doing his stomp clap routine in a moving car.
"Don't kill us," Joonmyun begs, and Chanyeol leaves one hand presumably on the steering wheel as the other comfortingly pats his thigh.
"We'll be there soon," Chanyeol says.
There turns out to be the lodge they'd stayed in last winter. It is a lot different in spring. The trees are flowering and everything is green. "Wow," Joonmyun says.
"It's just us," Chanyeol says. "Ryeowook is visiting his family in Seoul." He spreads his arms wide. "Happy birthday! Your present is me, for the entire weekend."
"What an excellent present," Joonmyun replies, throwing his arms around Chanyeol's waist and pushing his nose into the hollow of Chanyeol's shoulder.
Five hours later finds Joonmyun baking his own birthday cake in the kitchen. He's just put it into the oven. Chanyeol is sheepishly observing. "I'm really bad at baking," Chanyeol says. "But I'm still sad you're baking your own cake."
"You can make me fish stew for dinner," Joonmyun says, as he opens the container of plain frosting and dumps it into a bowl. He's already melted the chocolate and let it cool. It's barely warm to the touch now, which means he can mix it in.
Chanyeol watches Joonmyun cautiously mix the melted chocolate into the frosting base, hovering close enough that Joonmyun can smell his expensive perfume but far enough that he has room to move his arm. "You're being impatient," Joonmyun teases. Chanyeol will know he doesn't really mind.
Chanyeol makes a soft noise in the back of his throat that has Joonmyun shivering. "I want to taste it," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun is whimsical, dipping his hands into the frosting and smearing it across Chanyeol's mouth before he has a chance to react. He squeals, a much higher pitch than Joonmyun has ever heard from him, before he's clapping delightedly and licking without any finesse to catch some of it on his tongue. "Delicious," he says, and Joonmyun swallows around a sudden lump in his throat.
They're all alone out here. There's no danger of anyone walking in, so if he wants to reach out and pull Chanyeol in for a kiss, he can. No one will see him, and no one will interrupt. It's too tempting a situation for Joonmyun to pass up.
He uses his clean hand to take hold of Chanyeol's shirt. It's a soft, luxurious fabric, like all of Chanyeol's shirts, but that only distracts Joonmyun for a moment before he's dragging Chanyeol down to taste the frosting for himself. He brushes his lips over the corner of Chanyeol's lips first. The chocolate is smooth, and Chanyeol's skin is smoother, and the taste of them together is intoxicating when he darts his own tongue out to lick a stripe up Chanyeol's cheek. Chanyeol's resulting noise is choked. Joonmyun has never been this bold with Chanyeol before, but it doesn't mean he hasn't wanted to be. He continues to clean Chanyeol's mouth, tongue sliding along the dip just above the perfectly bowed upper lip, and down around the other side of his lips. Chanyeol's hands, which are never at a loss for what to do, are already sliding up under Joonmyun's shirt, warm palms against warm skin, and Joonmyun finally kisses Chanyeol on the lips.
Chanyeol's mouth is responsive. It always is. He kisses like Joonmyun is his favorite flavor of smoothie at the shop-- a sugary confection decorated liberally with caramel that he sips like he's been in the desert for days. The way he kisses Joonmyun is kind of like that. Joonmyun can't say he minds. He sighs as Chanyeol's tongue sneaks out to greet his own, skipping formalities and heading straight past handshakes. Chanyeol's hands, in the meantime, skate up his spine and seem to find every crevice and dip along the way to his neck.
"Isn't it good?" Chanyeol asks, rough and deep and burning.
"What?" Joonmyun pants, letting go of Chanyeol's shirt to pull down on his hair, bringing their mouths back together. "I'm..."
"The frosting," Chanyeol says, licking Joonmyun's thin upper lip and leaving a burning brand behind before he kisses Joonmyun again and again. Joonmyun loses track of the number of times Chanyeol's tiny gasps encourage him onward, testing new boundaries as he shoves Chanyeol into the counter. Chanyeol laughs. "Aggressive?"
"It's really good frosting," Joonmyun says, amazed at his own want, and Chanyeol's eyes go dark. Joonmyun takes the hand that still has chocolate on it and wipes it on Chanyeol's neck, careful to avoid the collar of his shirt, and Chanyeol hisses.
"Please," he says, and Joonmyun knows it's not an objection but instead a request. One that Joonmyun is happy to answer with an open slide of his mouth across the vein in Chanyeol's neck. Chanyeol whines, and Joonmyun loves the sound of it. He also loves that he is the cause of the sound. When he’s finished cleaning up his own handiwork, Chanyeol is flushed and breathing heavy. He's redder and more bewildered than Joonmyun has ever seen him. It’s a rush of power and excitement and happiness all sloshing together between his ribcage.
He steps back, creating space between them. Chanyeol's hands tickle as Joonmyun pulls free of them. He roams eyes over his boyfriend, taking in his heaving chest and mussed hair and plump chocolatey mouth, and wants. "I'm sorry," he says, and Chanyeol opens his mouth to protest but Joonmyun smiles and holds up his hand. "I got frosting on your shirt after all."
"Oh," Chanyeol says. "I thought you were going to apologize for something else."
"Should I?" Joonmyun asks. They've been dating for a while now. Over two months. Almost three. Joonmyun hasn't felt comfortable taking it beyond the soft kisses and gentle explorations of arms and shoulders and occasionally the skin at their waists. Chanyeol hasn't seemed in any hurry either, showing affection with pecks to Joonmyun's forehead and bone-breaking hugs. Even when they curl up in the same bed, it’s always to talk. Chanyeol will sometimes read aloud to him from his school assigned novels, and Joonmyun has taken to running his nails across Chanyeol's scalp as he enjoys the cadence of Chanyeol's orations.
"Absolutely not," Chanyeol says. "I'm going to go change my shirt."
"I'll just finish up the cake," Joonmyun says.
When he's frosted it, Chanyeol still hasn't returned from the bedroom, so Joonmyun gravitates toward it. Chanyeol is hanging up the phone when Joonmyun ends up in the doorway. "My sister," Chanyeol says without turning around. He's still wearing his shirt, but as he speaks, he's lifting it. The line of his back is as lovely as the rest of him is, and it is all Joonmyun considers as Chanyeol continues to speak, unprompted. "She wanted to know when I was available for a dinner with my mother."
"I see," Joonmyun says, and he's surprised at his own voice, husky. Chanyeol must also be surprised, for he spins around, shirt clutched in his hands in front of his stomach.
It is instinct that has Joonmyun pushing Chanyeol down to the bed, legs falling easily to either side of Chanyeol's slim hips. "I wasn't finished," is all Joonmyun says. Then he crushes their mouths together. It is, after all, just like being unbearably thirsty, because Joonmyun wants to drink Chanyeol in until he's so full of him he explodes.
Chanyeol rolls his hips up, and Joonmyun flickers surprised eyes up at Chanyeol when he feels an unmistakable hardness pressing into his hip. "You…"
"I am intensely making out with my incredibly attractive boyfriend, and now we are in a bed, and we are also alone in the woods where no one can disturb us." Chanyeol chuckles and lifts himself to place another sloppy kiss onto Joonmyun's swollen lips. "So yes, I'm hard." Chanyeol's eyes, when he pulls back, are wide and clear.
"Could I…" Hesitation in speech, but not in intent. "Could I help you with that?" His hand lingers at the waist of Chanyeol's jeans, waiting for Chanyeol to give him permission.
This is something new, and it is one thing to kiss a boy and another to let a boy—
"Yeah," Chanyeol says, eyebrows high on his forehead. His mouth is red and puffy and there are the remains of chocolate kisses on his pale skin and Joonmyun thinks he is beautiful. "Hyung, I—" His words trail off as Joonmyun undoes the button of Chanyeol's jeans. The zipper is loud in the quiet room. He licks his lips and Chanyeol lets out a shaky breath.
Joonmyun finally looks away from Chanyeol's face as his eyes close, lower lip getting sucked into his mouth so he can bite down on it. Instead he follows the thin, almost negligible line of hair down to where it disappears beneath the waistband of Chanyeol's underwear. He hooks the tips of his fingers under the elastic.
"You know I didn't bring you out here because I wanted…" Chanyeol seems very concerned about this, like Joonmyun hadn't jumped him in the kitchen and again in the bedroom.
"I am well aware," Joonmyun says, caught between nervousness and desire but thinking they both let him know how much he wants this. "This is not a situation I've ever been in before." He admits it carefully, although he is pretty sure that Chanyeol knows that.
"I've got you," Chanyeol says, as Joonmyun abandons Chanyeol's boxers to tug instead at his jeans. Chanyeol lifts his hips up until Joonmyun gets them down to his thighs. Then Chanyeol sits up, stomach muscles shifting beneath the skin, and takes Joonmyun's face in between his impossibly steady hands. "Let me take care of you."
It's so sincere, and Joonmyun recalls, vividly, how Chanyeol had looked at him in the parlor of Baekhyun's parents' house, wanting Joonmyun to lean on him.
He thinks the yes is implied in the kiss he leaves on Chanyeol's lips.
Joonmyun knows that he'll never be able to tell most of the world that Chanyeol is his. This, though—this quiet moment, Chanyeol's large hand rubbing circles into his hip, smile stretching across his face and breath slow and even as they drift off, could be enough to make Joonmyun happy for the rest of his life.
Chanyeol comes into work on a Friday in July with a busted lip and a glower. Joonmyun immediately drags him into the back as Jongin makes jokes about trying too hard to pick up girls with boyfriends in bars to cover his own worries.
"What happened?" Joonmyun asks, as Chanyeol immediately leans back against the wall and brings Joonmyun in close, nuzzling his nose into Joonmyun's hair. Chanyeol smells like missed sleep and somewhat like beer.
"I had a fight with my dad," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun hugs him tighter, because he can feel Chanyeol's slight quivering.
"And he did this?" Joonmyun stretches back just enough to take another look at Chanyeol's split lip, and Chanyeol shakes his head.
"No," Chanyeol says. "My father would never lay a hand on me. He has words to teach me lessons." Chanyeol laughs, but it is not a good sound. It is an empty sound. An out behind the store in an alley, cryptically explaining why one has broken up with one's girlfriend sound. "I did this when I got drunk afterward and tripped over my own front step."
"Why didn't you call me?"
"I didn't want you to worry," Chanyeol says. A stilted pause. "I needed to think, too. It would have been harder to collect my thoughts with your hands in my hair." Purposefully light. Joonmyun doesn't buy it.
Standing on the edge of a cliff or at the peak right at the top of a rollercoaster often gives you a lurch in your stomach. Joonmyun feels it now as a suspicion creeps like a specter up the column of his spine. "What did you fight about?"
"My right to make my own choices," Chanyeol says. Now his fingers are teasing the skin of Joonmyun's arms, right at the hem of his sleeves.
"Is this about school again? You'll be done in January. It's not like you can't go to business school, or—"
"I don't want to go to business school," Chanyeol says. "I'd rather, I don't know, teach high school. Or go into editing. Something like that." Joonmyun can imagine that all too easily. Chanyeol with a desk in the teacher's office, and pencils with cute animal erasers sticking out of his basket. "But it wasn't about that."
"What was it about, then?" Joonmyun asks. Chanyeol's fingers are shaking. Joonmyun kisses his throat to soothe him. They both need to go back out. Jongin running the front by himself, even after all this time, is still asking for trouble.
"He wants me to get married," Chanyeol says. "To an associate's daughter."
"I see," Joonmyun says. It makes sense, Joonmyun thinks, that Chanyeol's parents would want that. Joonmyun's parents want that, too.
"My ending things with Sooyoung was unfortunate," Chanyeol says, in a voice that is clearly the imitation of someone else, "but opened up a whole new realm of possible alliances."
"I said no, of course," Chanyeol replies. "My father called me ungrateful and restless." Chanyeol's chuckle is weak, but it still blows Joonmyun's hair about. He'll have to fix it. "He's kind of right."
"You didn't tell him…"
"About you?" Chanyeol shakes his head, chin brushing Joonmyun's forehead. "I'm still alive, so no."
"I know," Chanyeol says. "Isn't it a shame? That we live in a world where I can't take one of the smartest, kindest, and loveliest people I've ever met home to meet my family, and say 'This person has deigned to date me, for reasons I still can't ascertain-'"
"It's your looks," Joonmyun says. "I especially like your face in blueberry."
"Not chocolate?" Chanyeol asks. The whipcord-tight tension threaded through his arms is easing, and he has stopped trembling in Joonmyun's arms. "I wish…"
"We all wish, sometimes," Joonmyun says. "About so many different things."
Chanyeol squeezes him in. "Sometimes they come true, though?" Optimism, in Joonmyun's humble opinion, is one of Chanyeol's best traits.
Chanyeol is Joonmyun's boyfriend. Chanyeol has chosen Joonmyun, out of all the people in the world. "Sometimes they do," Joonmyun says. "But we should get back to work."
"We should, we should," Chanyeol says. "Thank you, hyung."
"Any time," Joonmyun says.
Jongin and Chanyeol wrestle over possession of the chips as Jongdae swears at the DVD player. "Why won't it work?"
"It's not plugged in," Sehun says from the armchair. He points at the plug next to his feet, about a quarter-meter from the surge bar, well within arm's reach for him, and smirks.
"Could you… plug it in, then?" Jongdae asks, and Sehun snorts.
"No," he answers, and Joonmyun covers his grin as Jongdae gets up and walks over to plug the device in. He 'accidentally' steps on Sehun's foot as he approaches, and Sehun yelps. Joonmyun turns a blind eye to all of it, instead returning his focus to where Jongin has trapped Chanyeol to the floor with his forearm.
"Give in," Jongin says, and Chanyeol's whole face is twitching as he laughs. "The chips are mine."
Joonmyun crosses his arms as Chanyeol yells "No!", hooking his leg around Jongin's and sending him crashing into the arm of the sofa. Joonmyun uses this time to grab the chips and sit down with them on the couch.
"How about I keep them, and you two can have some if you'd like," Joonmyun says calmly. Chanyeol scrambles up off the floor and claims the space next to Joonmyun, while Jongin playfully kicks at Joonmyun's feet. "Kids these days."
"Just because you insist, sometimes, on acting like a helicopter mom, doesn't mean you're old enough to call any of us kids." Joonmyun laughs and pushes a handful of chips into his mouth instead of a reply.
"You're so perfect." Chanyeol leaves a greasy lip print on his cheek, and Jongin shouts 'ew' and throws a pillow, but he's smiling. Joonmyun feels so lucky, to have friends who accept him for who he is.
They somehow settle in for the movie, Chanyeol finding ways to curl around Joonmyun like a boa constrictor. Joonmyun is fond of Chanyeol's warmth despite the sticky heat outside.
The movie isn't scary, not really, but Jongin keeps jumping at the mildest surprises. Jongdae ruffles his hair and Sehun just laughs at him, and if Sehun weren't Jongin's only hope of passing statistics this semester there might be hands around Sehun's neck.
Joonmyun holds Chanyeol's hand, and Chanyeol smiles without looking away from the screen.
The movie is almost over when Chanyeol's phone vibrates. He ignores the first call, but when it starts up again, he unfolds himself from the couch, extricating himself from Joonmyun, and pads into Joonmyun's bedroom to take the call.
Jongin pauses the movie and Sehun clicks his teeth with exasperation. "I hate stopping movies in the middle."
"It's probably an emergency," Joonmyun says. "The only people that call Chanyeol instead of texting him are his family."
"That's because he yells into the phone," Jongin says. "I value my hearing."
"Oh yes, you value it so much that you dance next to the speakers at nightclubs," Jongdae counters, and they bicker until Chanyeol comes out of Joonmyun's bedroom.
"I have to go."
"What's wrong?" Joonmyun asks. Chanyeol is as white as a sheet.
"My dad," Chanyeol says. "He…"
"Is he okay?" Jongdae leans around Joonmyun to look at Chanyeol's face.
"He had a heart attack," Chanyeol says. It's detached, like Chanyeol is somewhere else right now and Joonmyun is only talking to a corpse. "He's in the hospital."
"Do you want me to come?"
"It's best if you don't," Chanyeol says, after a long moment of thought, and Joonmyun knows it's because Chanyeol's parents don't know about him. He understands. "I'll call you."
He leaves, and the atmosphere in the room has turned solemn. Jongdae is looking between Joonmyun and the door curiously, and Joonmyun sighs. No one's parents want to hear their kid is a homo, especially when they're sick, is something that seems obvious to Joonmyun, but Jongdae has never had to worry about something like that.
"Start the movie again, Jongin," Joonmyun says, and Jongin hits play.
"Have you heard from Chanyeol?" Zitao asks, head resting on his hand.
Joonmyun shakes his head. "It's unusual, not to hear from him." He looks forward to Chanyeol's text messages, which are always things like it's sunny today! i hope your day is as bright as your smile! or hyung, i'm in class and the teacher mentioned the roman empire, so now all i can think about is you! ❤ !. The silence of his phone is ominous.
"He's probably busy," Zitao says, switching to his native tongue. "With familial obligations. People to call, and things like that."
"I'm a worrier," Joonmyun says. "I have been since I was a kid."
"Do you know the old Chinese saying 'when we get to the mountain, there will be a way through?'" Zitao sips at his coffee.
"'And when the boat gets to the pier-head, it will go straight with the current'," Joonmyun finishes. "Everything will turn out for the best, so let's worry about it as it comes."
"I think you need some zen," Zitao says. "And perhaps some decaf tea."
"I want to know if Chanyeol is all right," Joonmyun says, and Zitao pats his hand. "I'm sure he'll call when he can."
Chanyeol doesn't call for three days. "How's your father?" Joonmyun asks immediately, and Chanyeol sounds exhausted when he answers.
"He's going to make it," Chanyeol says. "He's not going to be able to get out of bed for a while, though." Chanyeol's laugh is dry and tired. "He's throwing a fit, and for once it isn't about my hair. It's about all the meetings he's going to miss with his executive board and all the leave he's going to have to take."
"I'm glad he's okay," Joonmyun says. "Now, how are you?"
"I need a hug," Chanyeol says pitifully, and Joonmyun laughs.
"I'm on my way home," he says, and he can hear Chanyeol's smile.
"I'll be there in an hour." Chanyeol pauses. "Do I still have that pair of sweatpants in your dresser?"
"Yes," Joonmyun says.
"Then I'll be there in thirty minutes," Chanyeol amends. "As long as I can use your shampoo."
"Of course you can."
The first thing Chanyeol does when Joonmyun answers the door is pick him up in his arms. "Hi."
"Hi," Joonmyun says back. Chanyeol sets him down, and he’s able to get a good look at Chanyeol’s face. He’s wan. There are dark circles under his eyes. His smile is weak. "Shower?"
They walk past Jongdae's door on the way to the bathroom. Jongdae is whispering on the phone, door closed. Joonmyun opens the hall closet to pull out an extra towel and hands it to Chanyeol. Chanyeol looks at him blankly for a moment, before grabbing Joonmyun's wrist and taking him along into the bathroom.
Chanyeol is quiet. It is unsettling. Joonmyun undresses him perfunctorily, and then, when Chanyeol doesn't move to get into the shower, himself as well.
He turns the water on and tests the heat, before guiding Chanyeol under the spray.
Chanyeol leans against the tile as Joonmyun soaps him up, leaning down when Joonmyun asks so he can wash his hair.
"As I was leaving, he said…" Chanyeol says, the only words he's said since the 'hi' at the door, "that he needed me to stop being a petulant child and help him now."
Joonmyun rinses the shampoo from Chanyeol's hair. Chanyeol's roots are growing out, black against the red-blond, and it's softer at his scalp.
"My mother agreed. She always agrees."
When the water runs clear, he turns it off. He guides Chanyeol out of the shower and hands him a towel. Chanyeol dries his hair quickly, and gracelessly dries his skin, too. Joonmyun takes his hand and leads him to the bedroom, closing and locking the door. He sits on the edge of the bed, and waits.
Chanyeol sits next to him, his arm sticking to Joonmyun's. Joonmyun shivers, and Chanyeol notices, pushing Joonmyun down onto the bed and crawling on top of him.
"Are you okay?"
"My dad almost died," Chanyeol says. "It's so scary. Is this how you feel all the time?"
"Only sometimes," Joonmyun says. "You help take my mind off of it more than anyone else ever has."
"Joonmyun-hyung," Chanyeol says, and he kisses him. It is desperate. There are needs in it Joonmyun doesn't know how to answer, but he'll do his best.
Chanyeol kisses hurriedly down Joonmyun's neck, not giving him a chance to catch his breath. Joonmyun can sense that Chanyeol wants to be distracted, so he drags his own hands down Chanyeol's back, enjoying the curl of his spine into Joonmyun's hand. "Chanyeol," Joonmyun whispers, and Chanyeol laps at the skin of his throat with the broad of his tongue. Joonmyun probably tastes a bit like soap, but Chanyeol tastes him eagerly, like it's been weeks instead of days since they touched each other last.
"I missed you," Chanyeol says. His voice is still cracked, like he's a dried out shell of a person instead of the Chanyeol that Joonmyun knows. "It's been hard to be away."
"It hasn't been very long," Joonmyun says. "But I missed you too."
Chanyeol sucks at Joonmyun's collarbones, leaving marks. Joonmyun whines, quietly, conscious of Jongdae in the next room. He seals his lips together, trying to stifle his moans as Chanyeol's mouth descends lower, lingering at every sensitive spot he's discovered over the past few months and remapping them with his tongue and teeth. "You're so handsome," Chanyeol says, licking up the prominent bone of Joonmyun's hip, letting his tongue linger at the seam there. His hands slide flat up Joonmyun's thighs. He's still a bit damp from the shower, but it's hard to tell now, if it is sweat or water that shines on his skin. "Can I..."
"Anything," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol looks up at him. His eyes are wild and feverish, and he looks lost, so Joonmyun pulls Chanyeol up, and then down on top of him for a kiss. It's nice to be skin to skin again, because the room is chilly from the air conditioning, and also because Chanyeol's skin is so soft. "Anything you want." Chanyeol's hands shake as he slides them up and down Joonmyun's ribs, and Joonmyun kisses him harder, soothingly, because Chanyeol loves to kiss him and Joonmyun loves to be kissed by him.
"You always say that," Chanyeol says into Joonmyun's cheek. His hair tickles at Joonmyun's nose, and his lips fasten themselves to Joonmyun's jaw as Joonmyun scratches lines into his back.
"I always mean it," Joonmyun answers, clutching Chanyeol's hair and jerking his head back so he can kiss him again, tangle their tongues together.
Usually, it's different, with Chanyeol patiently fucking Joonmyun with his fingers until Joonmyun forgets all the weights on his shoulders and can think of nothing but the way Chanyeol feels inside of him, but tonight, Chanyeol's fingers tremble as he tries to open the lube, and it seems easier to do it like this, Chanyeol blindly clinging to Joonmyun's arms as Joonmyun opens him up with three thin digits, Joonmyun with his back against the wall and Chanyeol half on his knees, half on Joonmyun's lap with his head buried in Joonmyun's shoulder. Joonmyun's wrist aches at this angle, but he can hold Chanyeol like this, and Chanyeol had said he needed a hug.
Chanyeol's thighs shake when he's finally slicked and stretched, sinking down onto Joonmyun and hissing at the intrusion. Joonmyun keeps him steady.
"I don't know what to do," Chanyeol says, when they're curled up in bed, Chanyeol's come slick between them. "I've never not known what to do."
About what? is what Joonmyun should ask, but Chanyeol is already asleep, breathing falling even. "I'm here," he whispers instead. Chanyeol is draped across him like a human quilt. They are sticky and sweaty, but Joonmyun doesn't want to rouse him. "Sleep well."
Joonmyun feels strange as he finds his own sleep, like they're both on a raft floating out to sea.
He wakes up in the morning with an arm that tingles when he tries to move it, and Chanyeol looking down on him with soft eyes. Chanyeol is clean again, "Can I make you breakfast?"
"No," Joonmyun says. "You'll burn down my kitchen."
"I promise I won't," Chanyeol says. He looks well rested, even if his smile isn't up to its usual wattage. "You took care of me last night. It's my turn."
Chanyeol inexpertly washes the rice, so the water is still a bit murky when he puts it into the rice cooker. Joonmyun watches from his seat at the kitchen counter, admiring Chanyeol's long limbs and the way his sweatpants sit too low on his hips.
"I hope you made enough for me," Jongdae says sleepily, as he wanders into the kitchen. "How's your dad?"
The smile that Chanyeol's kept up all morning slips away into nothingness and Joonmyun can taste dread on the backs of his teeth when all he should taste is mint.
"He'll live," Chanyeol says, turning so all either Joonmyun or Jongdae can see is his bare back. "He'll live."
Joonmyun is scooping tiny sugar-coated pieces of rice cake onto a parfait when Chanyeol gets the phone call.
"I have to leave early," he says quietly to Joonmyun. His breath tickles Joonmyun's ear. Joonmyun had thought the thrill would fade, but it hasn't. Chanyeol's every touch still sets him alight.
"Is everything okay?"
"My father needs to see me," Chanyeol says.
There are notes of another unfinished and avoided conversation in that. Chanyeol doesn't want to talk about his father. Joonmyun gets that. It does feel like Chanyeol is hiding something from him, though. It used to be a joke, between them, that they are both such secretive people, afraid of being a burden. Joonmyun has found it easier to whisper his secrets to Chanyeol in the dark, and Chanyeol had divulged many of his own.
Whatever Chanyeol isn't telling him now is big and scary between them.
"Don't make that face," Jongin says, as Chanyeol walks out of the shop to the chime of the bell. "No one is going to eat him out there. He's tall, but not enough meat on his bones."
"Explain to me why your first thought is cannibalism," Jongdae says, which starts an argument that draws in the three girls swiftly becoming regulars at table three, and Joonmyun lets the buzz of the shop soothe his frazzled nerves.
"It'll be okay, leader," Jongin says, spraying Joonmyun with the bottle of clean water in his hand that he uses to rinse the soap from the tables. "Chanyeol's dad will get better, and Chanyeol will be back in here destroying dishes with that dumb look on his face again before we know it."
"You're right," Joonmyun says. "When we get to the mountain, there will be a way through."
"I don't speak nerd," Jongin replies, and Joonmyun shoos him with a stern gaze, determined not to worry for the rest of the afternoon.
"How's work?" Joonmyun asks. His father is still wearing his dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
"Not bad," his father answers. "For you?"
"Not bad." A bite of noodles.
"I really appreciate the way you help out, Joonmyun." A beat of silence. "When are you going back to school?"
"Next semester, maybe," Joonmyun replies.
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
"No." He has Chanyeol, with soft lips and big hands and bigger smiles. It's on the tip of his tongue, but his father rushes forward, eyes on the table instead of on Joonmyun.
"The doctors think your mom isn't going to get better," his dad says. He's holding his chopsticks tightly. His knuckles are white, and the weathered skin on the back of his hands looks like withered fruit that Joonmyun would throw away at the shop.
"Things with the company are really bad," Chanyeol says as he mops. He isn't humming, and he moves slowly, without energy. "A lot of investors are concerned about how things are going to happen without my father at the helm."
Joonmyun sets down the last clean glass and walks around to the other side of the counter. He hugs Chanyeol from behind, resting his face in the dip between Chanyeol's shoulder blades. "That's not your fault, Chanyeol."
"It is, though, isn't it?" Chanyeol says. "You gave up so much for your family, and I'm insisting on reading books for a living while my dad's life’s work is falling apart."
"You can only be you, Chanyeol. You can't be someone else."
"You're very strong," Chanyeol says. "I've always admired so much about you, but I never really realized that until now." His hands come down to rest on top of Joonmyun's, holding him in place. "I wish I could be like you. Then I could do anything."
"I wish I could be like you," Joonmyun replies. "Then I would think anything was possible." Chanyeol takes a deep breath, and Joonmyun's hands move with his stomach. "Sometimes even being near you makes me think that."
"I wish…" Chanyeol says, and then he lets the breath go. Joonmyun doesn't push him to finish the sentence, and instead relishes Chanyeol's hands completely covering his own.
"Kim Joonmyun, is that you?" Joonmyun sets down the tomato in his hand. It's too soft, and he'd have to use it today or it would be overripe. This particular stand usually has good tomatoes, but it is later in the day than he usually stops.
Looking up, he is confronted with Choi Minho. "Minho!" he says, and Minho grins at him lopsidedly. "How are you?"
"I'm working at a law firm," Minho says. "It's long hours but I like what I'm doing as much as I'd like anything that's not sports."
"That's great," Joonmyun says. "I'm happy for you."
"I can't believe I haven't seen you since high school," Minho says. "What's the student council president doing these days?"
"I'm on leave from graduate school," Joonmyun says. "History."
Minho nods. "That was always your favorite subject." He looks at his watch, and across the street to the bus stop. "Why the leave?"
"You've always been good at keeping your life under wraps," Minho says. Joonmyun can only remember how grumpy he used to be unless he was playing soccer. Now he is all smiles. "I got married."
"That's great! I'm not really planning on that yet."
The traffic pattern changes, a different set of people crossing the street.
"It’s almost my turn. I have to get that bus, or I’ll be late. But we should catch up, soon. Bring your friend. What was his name? Kyungsoo?"
"I don't even have his phone number," Joonmyun laughs, and Minho laughs, pressing out imaginary wrinkles in his shirt.
"It was nice to see you, Joonmyun. Isn't it weird to see each other all grown up?"
Joonmyun has felt grown up since he was seventeen and suddenly found himself taking care of himself and his distraught father. "Is it supposed to be different?"
"You aren't all that different," Minho says. "You do look more comfortable in your skin."
"Do I?" Joonmyun asks, and Minho nods.
"Definitely," he says. "Everyone's always liked you, Joonmyun. You should keep in touch. My personal email hasn't changed."
"I'll do my best," Joonmyun says, and picks up another tomato, Minho sprinting across the street as the crosswalk enters the single digits for pedestrian crossing. This one is firmer. It will keep. He isn't sure if Chanyeol will stay for dinner.
It is in stark relief, how different Joonmyun’s life has turned out from his classmates. How different it will be, with no wife and no kids and no one he can talk about at faculty parties, if he ever manages to get there. The feeling fades, when he’s with Chanyeol, but now, it’s so relentless it chokes him.
Chanyeol's hands glide up Joonmyun's ribs as he stares down at him like he is the only person in the world that matters to him. As Chanyeol moves inside him, that strange emptiness that Joonmyun's been seeing lately bleeding inward from the corners of his eyes, Joonmyun thinks that in this moment, he is.
"What if we could stay like this?" Chanyeol says. "Never get out of bed again. Just stay here and forget about everything?"
"That's not how the world works," Joonmyun says. "You wouldn't really want it to work like that, either."
"I don't know," Chanyeol says. "I might."
Joonmyun brings Jongdae a cup of tea and sits down next to him on his bed. "How are you holding up, champ?"
"I never should have gone to med school I should have gone to school to do anything else I should have joined the circus I should have jumped into the ocean and become famous for swimming the Pacific I should have become an idol." It's all in one panicked breath.
"I'm pretty sure that should have been separate sentences," Joonmyun says, massaging Jongdae's shoulders. "Drink your tea."
"It's too hot," Jongdae whines. "Plus I don't have time for tea when I have Very Important Exams."
"You can get through it," Joonmyun says. "Besides, you never would have made it in the circus."
"I'm also a horrible swimmer," Jongdae says, and then blows on his tea. "I guess med school was really the only option."
"You've wanted to go to med school since you were a first year in undergrad pathetically moping at the back of our introductory writing course."
"If I make it through med school, I'm going to ask Min to marry me," Jongdae says.
"I never thought I'd see the day."
"Neither did I," Jongdae says. "I thought to myself, yesterday, when she dropped by lunch for me, that if given the choice, I wouldn't want to spend my life with anyone else."
Chocolate smeared across Chanyeol's cheek as he laughs and pulls Joonmyun closer. A hand on the small of his back as he steps onto the bus. Joonmyun can imagine it when he is old, if he lets himself. He won't.
"Focus on your exams first," Joonmyun says.
"I should," Jongdae says. "Take them for me?"
"Your grades would be abysmal," Joonmyun jokes as he stands. "Hwaiting."
"Yeah, yeah," Jongdae says, shooing Joonmyun out with a renewed smile. Joonmyun closes the door as Jongdae takes a sip of his tea.
"The way Chanyeol looks at you is sad lately," Jongin says, chewing obscenely on a piece of gum. "Why?"
"I don't know," Joonmyun replies. He has noticed it too, but Chanyeol still buries his face in Joonmyun's neck and he can ignore it. "He's just concerned about his dad."
"If you say so," Jongin says, and Joonmyun digs his nails into his palms. They leave tiny crescents behind.
Joonmyun's mother asks after Chanyeol. "He's been busy," Joonmyun tells her. "He's only working two shifts a week, now. His father had a heart attack."
"That's sad," Joonmyun's mother says. "I hope the boy is taking care of himself."
"I think he is," Joonmyun says. "He's just swamped, otherwise I'm sure he'd have come with me—"
"You just look like you miss him," his mother says, and she looks at him carefully. Joonmyun tries to read between the lines but there are too many words there. He thinks one of them is acceptance, but he's afraid he is imagining it so he closes his eyes until all the words disappear.
"I do," Joonmyun says. "It's strange to miss someone when they are right in front of you."
His mother nods, and coughs. Her body is so thin she might fade away if Joonmyun takes his eyes off her. It has been a long time. He remembers her slightly plump, leaning down to offer him food from the cooking chopsticks, the index finger of her other hand on her lips, as if to say 'don't tell your father, you know how he worries about germs'. She is a shadow of that woman but he can still find traces of that sparkle in certain pockets of her, those mannerisms that won't fade.
"You're such a strong boy, Joonmyun," his mother says. "I'm sorry you had to be."
"I love you," Joonmyun says, and gently kisses her forehead.
"Joonmyun-hyung," Chanyeol says, as they're washing up after dinner, the last of the plates stacked in the drying rack as Joonmyun scrubs a pan.
"Yes?" He turns to Chanyeol with a smile but Chanyeol is not smiling back. Chanyeol is looking at him with eyes stretched wide and a tight, uncomfortable mouth.
"I need to tell you something." When Joonmyun was younger, he used to help his mother keep the weeds out of the plants they grew on the roof of their apartment. Some of the weeds would grow so deep and stubborn that Joonmyun's fingers would burn as he pulled them up. Chanyeol is pulling these words out just like weeds.
"You can tell me anything," Joonmyun says. "I will always listen."
"I know," Chanyeol says. "I've always been good at talking, but this is hard to say."
"Why is it hard to say?" Chanyeol's arms hang limply at his side, one hand clutching the damp dishtowel for dear life.
"If I say it," Chanyeol whispers, "then it will be real. I don't want it to be real."
Joonmyun dries his hands. He reaches forward and lays his hand flat on Chanyeol's sternum. Chanyeol's heart is racing. He pushes Chanyeol into the living room like that.
Chanyeol sits down on the couch. He keeps his back straight. Usually he slouches and sprawls. Joonmyun keeps his eyes on Chanyeol's bouncing knee to keep himself from feeling ill.
"Chanyeol," he prompts. Chanyeol's breathing speeds up.
"With my dad in poor health, they want to know there's someone prepared to take over the business." It all comes out in a rush, roots clear of the dirt.
"And that has to be you."
"My sister is a successful scientist," Chanyeol says. "I'm a fourth year literature student with no clear future." He laughs. It is bitter. It makes Joonmyun ache. "So yes, it has to be me."
"What else," Joonmyun says. It isn't a question. He can see the resignation in Chanyeol's eyes. He's listless, lifeless.
"Our associate has a daughter."
"The one you fought with him about before?" Joonmyun asks.
"She's twenty-five and single. The best way to assure that our company won't stab theirs in the back during my dad's convalescence is a more permanent sort of alliance."
It's the first bite of frozen yogurt, like ice running through Joonmyun's veins. "You're going to marry her." Joonmyun is dizzy. Joonmyun is a lot of things right now, but reality is a mountain in front of him and the only path is the scariest path Joonmyun's seen since his mother had passed out in the kitchen, cracking her head open on the counter and crumpling to the floor. "You refused before, but now..."
"I thought…" Joonmyun bites down on the words.
"This is for my family," Chanyeol says. "It's not about me, or what I want—"
"You won't have to read Kim Manjung in business school," Joonmyun says. He can't imagine Chanyeol in an office. He's too exuberant, too wild. To Joonmyun, it is like putting a tiger into a cage that is far too small.
"Don't make jokes. Don't try to make this better."
"What else am I supposed to do?" Joonmyun says. Bile in the back of his throat. "Am I supposed to…" Cry? Break? These are not things Joonmyun does, even when he finds out his mother has probably already seen her last Christmas and Chanyeol is crawling inside himself right before Joonmyun's eyes.
"My dad's company will survive," Chanyeol says. "His legacy. Doesn't that matter more than 'Lady Sa's Trip to the South?'"
"I want you to be happy," Joonmyun says. "Will you be all right, if you give up everything that makes you Chanyeol?"
"You can't tell me that," Chanyeol says. "You can't tell me not to give up on what I want, because isn't that what you've done? For your mom?" Chanyeol's face disappears behind the curtain of his hands. "Isn't what I'm doing exactly what you would do?"
"You deserve better," he wants to say, but he only says Chanyeol's name again, because Chanyeol is right. This is exactly what Joonmyun would do. He would never have asked it of Chanyeol.
"Don't be a hypocrite," Chanyeol says. "I got to do what I wanted for long enough. Now it's time to be responsible." He looks up and he's smiling. Joonmyun can't find the sun in it anywhere. "I got to have you. I'll never be that lucky again."
This must have been how Kyungsoo felt, as Joonmyun pulled away. Joonmyun knows he can't keep Chanyeol. A part of him has always known that things between them couldn't last forever. Not when Chanyeol can't take Joonmyun home to his parents and Joonmyun can't tell the lovely girl who comes in once a week and sits at table five that he has a boyfriend. He has always known that life moves forward and that eventually, happiness would slip out from between his fingers like water and he would be left with the residue of it on his damp palms.
He’d never thought it would be this soon. He’d done his utmost to not think about when it would be at all. "I was the lucky one," Joonmyun says. "You have no idea."
"I do have an idea," Chanyeol says. "I am the best looking guy in the neighborhood." His eyes shine.
It doesn't feel like they're breaking up. It feels more like Chanyeol is going on a trip that he won't ever return from. Like the historic voyages of warriors to conquer new lands. A Gilgameshian quest.
There are quiet evenings with hands in hair and the calming cadence of Chanyeol's low voice that will linger in his heart long after tonight.
Chanyeol shakes his head, as if to clear it, and fixes his eyes on his wriggling toes. "I wish…" Joonmyun stares. "I wish I didn't have to do this. But I do."
"Then do it," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol looks up at him from the couch. His eyes are as dark as his face is pale. "You should go. Do what you need to do." The words are hard to say, and Joonmyun doesn't like any of them. "Don't worry about…" Me. "Anything."
Chanyeol stands up and pulls Joonmyun into a crushing hug, and Joonmyun can feel Chanyeol's heart, beating so fast that it might drum its way out of his chest. "I wanted to be the person who worried about you," Chanyeol says, lips brushing Joonmyun's temple. "I'm just letting you down."
"No," Joonmyun says. Joonmyun had gotten caught up in fantasies. Somewhere inside of him he has always known this kind of happiness couldn't continue indefinitely. That part of him makes it easy for him to hug Chanyeol back. "I can take care of myself."
"You need to let someone take care of you."
"Not you," Joonmyun says. He is not going to cry now. Not when Chanyeol is on the verge of tears. "Not right now."
"I'm sorry," Chanyeol says, and then he kisses Joonmyun, slow and careful, like it's the last time. It probably is. Joonmyun clings desperately to Chanyeol's shirt and tries to commit the smooth slide of Chanyeol's teeth under his tongue to memory. "I'm so sorry."
"If there's anyone who knows about responsibility, it's me," Joonmyun says against Chanyeol's lips, and Chanyeol shudders. This is how they say goodbye.
It is with trepidation that Joonmyun fixes the 'Now Hiring' sign in the window.
"It's crooked," Jongin says gruffly. "No one will come in if it's crooked."
Joonmyun laughs and pats Jongin's arm. "We've made it months before. We can make it a few weeks."
"It better be a hot girl this time," Jongin says, and Jongdae scoffs. "No more competition. Now that Jongdae is off the market, I expect to get more dates."
"I'm not sure Baekhyun is going to let you off that easily. Zitao either."
"They don't work here," Jongin says. "They can't be here all the time. Not like—" He shrugs. His sleeveless shirt bares too much skin for September. It's almost time for Chuseok, and the rain is heavy outside. Jongin will catch a cold. He is careless.
"Go do something productive," Jongdae says. "Like flirt with children." He waves Jongin off dismissively, and Jongin pulls a face at him before going to check on each table, his charming grin falling easily into place.
"It's okay to say his name," Joonmyun says. "It's not a big deal. He's our friend."
"He's not my friend," Jongdae grumbles.
"Yes he is," Joonmyun says. "He's having a hard time right now, and I can't…" He chokes on them, the unwieldy emotions he can't keep completely shoved down. "I can't help him. He needs all his friends. Even you."
"I'm your friend first," Jongdae says. "I know you said he had his reasons, but Joonmyun…"
"They're very good reasons," Joonmyun says. "It's not his fault." The bell chimes above the door, and Joonmyun looks to it with relief. Jongdae groans in frustration.
"Table for two, sir?" he asks.
"We'll talk later," Jongdae threatens, as Joonmyun leads the two women to table eight.
"It's both of our faults," Joonmyun says, when it is later. He's looking out the window of their apartment at the sea of umbrellas bobbing up and down on the street below. All the different colors make an odd rainbow, or the sort of pointillism project that Sehun would make fun of in a museum. "Chanyeol's optimism was a little too contagious."
"It's not wrong to be hopeful," Jongdae says. He's shuffling his feet because he doesn't know what to say. Joonmyun wouldn't, either. He is grateful that Jongdae is trying.
"It's not," Joonmyun says. "It's also not unexpected for that to hurt."
Things at the yogurt shop are, in essence, the same. A friend of Jongin's comes to work for them. He's a brat named Taemin who doesn't mind helping Jongin take Jongdae's life to new heights of misery, even as his med school workload becomes so intense he has to cut back a lot on his shifts.
And yet things are different, in ways that are subtle but mean everything to Joonmyun. He misses Chanyeol's laugh the most.
"It's so quiet around here," Jongin says, carefully. Everyone tries their best not to mention Chanyeol around Joonmyun, like they're afraid he'll shatter. He won't. Even Baekhyun hedges his words, mentioning Chanyeol only in vagaries. "He's doing fine with his business classes," or "he's no fun at all, spending all his time in meetings."
Joonmyun takes it all calmly. Things were fine before Chanyeol, and they'll be fine after.
It's easier because they aren't talking. It's not that they don't want to talk. Joonmyun knows the more they talk the more it will hurt, because it's harder to let something go when it's right at your fingertips. If Joonmyun hears Chanyeol's voice at the other end of the line, he might do something selfish.
Sometimes Joonmyun pulls up Chanyeol's name on his phone, and wants to send him a text. 'Button up your coat, Chanyeol, he'd write, and Chanyeol would write back: gotcha, tiny hyung! ❤. In the end, he never sends the messages, and he hopes that Chanyeol doesn't get a cold and he feels foolish for not being able to care just a little bit less.
Joonmyun has never been able to care less, so it’s no use starting to try now. Joonmyun had promised himself to be Chanyeol's friend. For now, Joonmyun is sure that neither of them can bear it.
Empty apartments are harder to deal with when you remember how they sound when they are full.
Jongdae is spending nights locked in the library or on shifts at a local clinic, and Chanyeol's ghost lurks between the pages of Joonmyun's favorite books and in the corners of his bedroom. He's washed his sheets a hundred times but they still smell like Chanyeol's expensive cologne. It's all in his head but that doesn't make it less insidious, and when he closes his eyes to go to sleep it is still on the right side of the bed, so he can wake up to a vacant expanse of white sheets when morning comes.
It is not supposed to be like this. Joonmyun has never been in love, and he has never felt so much like he is drowning. Every breath he sucks in fills his lungs with water.
It's a relief to lock the door in the morning, only there are ghosts at work, too, hiding in the storage closet and sitting at the tables with Korean novels and knees that don't quite fit beneath tables.
Monsoon season has lasted longer than usual this year, but that is a coincidence that has nothing to do with how Joonmyun feels.
Joonmyun doesn't cry until four months later, when he and Jongdae get an invitation to Chanyeol's wedding in the mail.
Jongdae is the one who collects the mail on the way in, and he stops halfway up the stairs with a strangled sound. Joonmyun turns around to look at him, and Jongdae holds it up and studies him with stern, questioning eyes. "He's getting married, Joonmyun? Did you know this?"
"Yes," Joonmyun says. It is a wretched, crackling sound, and Jongdae sprints up the last three steps to punch in the door code, maneuvering Joonmyun inside just before he starts to crumple.
Jongdae sits down on the floor of the hallway and pulls Joonmyun close. Joonmyun rests his head in Jongdae's lap and cries until there isn't any liquid left in his body and all that is left behind is a desert behind his eyes that expands all the way down his chest.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles into Jongdae's shirt, and Jongdae strokes his hair comfortingly. "I don't mean to feel sorry for myself."
"Have you known the whole time?"
"It's the reason…" He doesn't need to finish the sentence.
"Fuck, Joonmyun. You don't have to deal with everything alone. Especially not the big stuff."
"This is the way I have always been."
"You've been holding that in a long time," Jongdae says. "It's okay to let it out."
"I don't think I can go." Joonmyun's heart is already pulverized.
"Jongin can go," Jongdae says. "He'll put on a suit and whine about it even though he knows he looks good, and put food in Baekhyun's hair. We'll stay home and watch Oscar-nominated films and command Min to bring us pizza."
"Min will punch you in the face if you command her to do anything."
"…And ask Min very nicely if she would bring us pizza, if it isn't too much trouble," Jongdae revises, and Joonmyun laughs. It hurts his throat, which has gone raw from crying.
"You're a great best friend," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae preens.
"I know," he says. "You are too."
Joonmyun still has this.
The steps to make a perfect strawberry smoothie are not difficult ones, but it takes a certain amount of finesse to get the texture just right.
Joonmyun teaches Taemin how much fruit to mix in with the yogurt, and watches as Taemin deftly handles the industrial blender and doesn't spill anything at all.
"We won't have to spend as much money on paper towels," Jongin says, and Joonmyun smiles and nods.
"No," he says. "We won't."
On the seventh of January, at 4:55am, Joonmyun's mother passes away. "I knew that doctor was wrong," Joonmyun's father says. "She saw another Christmas, after all."
"She did," Joonmyun says. He wants to take his father's hand. He settles for leaning against him. His father is not a demonstrative man, but Joonmyun can tell he appreciates the comfort.
Neither of them had slept last night, but it's wearing more on his father. There's a coffee stain on his white dress shirt. He had come straight from work to the hospital. He'd called Joonmyun on the way, and Joonmyun had dropped everything as Jongdae promised to take care of everything at the shop.
When her heart monitor flat-lines, and they're ushered out of the room, Joonmyun's father excuses himself to the restroom and doesn't come back for forty minutes.
Joonmyun sits on the floor, slamming his back against the white wall and sliding down it until his bottom hits the tile. He keeps his legs tucked in, trying to stay out of the way of the nurses and doctors rushing through the halls.
He doesn't know how long he sits there, but the sun comes up, light starting to filter through the windows in the waiting room, which he can see from where he sits. His father is perched on the edge of a chair, in there, his head hidden in his folded arms and his back curved with defeat.
The vibration of his phone is unexpected. It shakes him out of his stupor.
Chanyeol's name flashes on the screen, and Joonmyun hesitates before picking up. But the situation renders him unable to deny how much he'd like to hear Chanyeol's voice. "Hello?"
"Hyung," Chanyeol says. "I heard… from Baekhyun. About your mother." Joonmyun doesn't answer. "Hyung, are you there?"
"I'm listening," Joonmyun says. He's cold, like that night they'd been alone in the woods in the middle of December. He's cold, but Chanyeol isn't here with his chest to Joonmyun's back and a hundred whispered questions against the shell of his ear.
"Are you okay?" Multiple layers. A complicated question.
"I could use a hug," Joonmyun admits. "But I'll be okay." Joonmyun will always be okay. He's been taking care of himself since he was sixteen, and it's been years and years and he'll be okay.
"Hyung, I…" There are a hundred words Chanyeol could say, and Joonmyun knows that all of them will hurt. He should not have answered the phone.
"Thank you for calling, Chanyeol," he interrupts, and Chanyeol sighs heavily on the other end of the line, voice smooth as silk in Joonmyun's ear but rough as sandpaper on his heart.
"Anytime," Chanyeol says.
Anytime makes Joonmyun think of shared umbrellas and Chanyeol's face too close to his own across the counter. It makes him think of simpler times, before he knew that loneliness could feel like this, a constant, bleeding wound.
"Good night, Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, the way he used to when they'd talked on the phone for hours, not wanting to hang up even in the wee hours of the morning.
"I miss you." It slips out, Joonmyun can tell, but it is sincere. Joonmyun believes him, but he's scared to respond because he's afraid too much will escape from him if he lets even a single thought free.
"Me too," he says, before quickly ending the call. He leans forward, dropping his head onto his knees.
"Kim Joonmyun-ssi?" a doctor says, and he looks up to her sympathetic face. "Your father said you would handle the paperwork?" For the release of his mother's body. Because she is dead. She is dead and his father is a wreck and Joonmyun is another kind of wreck but a wreck all the same.
"Yes," Joonmyun says, and he takes all his worries and his fears and shoves them down as deep as they will go, "I'll handle it from here."
Chanyeol comes to the funeral. He comes with Baekhyun and Joonmyun meets his eyes across the room.
He looks different. His hair is short and dark and straight, and his eyes are shadowed. He is wearing a dark suit that emphasizes the tired slope of his mouth.
He is still Chanyeol. His eyes are drinking Joonmyun in same as Joonmyun's eyes are him. It would be nice to walk across the room and push his nose into Chanyeol's chest.
He smiles wanly in lieu of that, and he gets a glimpse of Chanyeol's teeth before he has to continue greeting guests.
When Chanyeol finally walks up, Baekhyun at his side, Joonmyun focuses on the piece of lint that sticks to the shoulder seam of Chanyeol's suit jacket. "Thank you for coming," he says, and Baekhyun rattles off condolences that seem more sincere than most he's heard today.
"She was an amazing woman," is all Chanyeol says, when Baekhyun takes a breath. "I was glad I got to meet her."
Joonmyun's gaze flickers up, and Chanyeol is looking straight ahead, staring at something beyond Joonmyun. "She was glad to meet you, too."
"We should let you talk to your other guests," Baekhyun says, and points toward Jongin and Jongdae, who are in the far corner of the room, talking solemnly with Zitao. He tugs on Chanyeol's sleeve, and Chanyeol swallows. His ears stick out more, with his hair like this, combed back from his forehead.
"I'll be there in a second," Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun looks between them before sighing and leaving them. They are not alone, exactly, but this is the first time they have been this close to each other since they'd shared a last kiss in Joonmyun's living room. Joonmyun catches the scent of Chanyeol's cologne. It's the same.
"Hi," Joonmyun says. He is dizzy.
"Pretend, for a moment," Chanyeol says, voice quiet so that he won't be overheard, "that we're at the lodge."
"Please," Chanyeol says. "Pretend. Just for a minute."
Joonmyun closes his eyes. It is not difficult to remember the smell of the trees and the warmth of the quilts on the beds and the rough wooden floors. "Okay," he says.
"Pretend that you're standing in the kitchen, holding a cup of cooling tea. And I'm walking up behind you. I reach out, and I wrap my arms around you and hug you so tight that tea sloshes over the edge of your mug. Pretend you're wearing one of those sweaters Jongin has given you as a joke and I'm wearing one of my comfortable T-shirts with something obscene written in English on the front that you think are ridiculous."
Joonmyun keeps his eyes closed and takes a quavering breath.
"Pretend I lean my head down, and say 'It'll be all right, hyung' into your ear, and that you lean your head back so it rests on my shoulder, and you feel better. Then I say 'I'm here for you, hyung,'."
"So I say 'Thank you, Chanyeol,'" Joonmyun whispers, and he opens his eyes. Chanyeol is chewing on his lower lip and his eyes glint as the light hit them. "Or maybe I say 'I can take care of myself.'"
"You probably would say that," Chanyeol replies, and smiles tentatively. "And it would be true. But I wouldn't want you to." Chanyeol's hands find a home in the pocket of his slacks. "If I could, Joonmyun, that's what I'd do right now. I'd hold you close and squeeze you until there wasn't any sadness left inside."
"Are we done pretending?" Joonmyun asks.
Chanyeol nods. "Yeah," he says. "It was only for a minute." He steps backward, increasing the space separating them. "I'm sorry for your loss, Joonmyun-hyung."
"I had prepared myself for it. It's not like I didn't have plenty of time."
"That doesn't make it easier," Chanyeol says, before he walks away, and the knowing lurking in Chanyeol's response wouldn't have been there, this time last year.
His aunt comes to stand beside him. "Who was that?" she asks.
"A friend," Joonmyun says, and he straightens his shoulders. "Just a friend."
The night before Chanyeol's wedding, Chanyeol shows up completely wasted on Joonmyun's doorstep. "Chanyeol, what—"
"Last time I was this drunk," Chanyeol slurs, "I busted my lip. I have to take a lot of photos tomorrow."
Joonmyun stares at him for a few moments, before he opens the door wider and pulls Chanyeol inside. He leads Chanyeol to the kitchen, gently pushing him down into one of the chairs. "What are you doing here?" Joonmyun asks, as he fills a plastic cup with cool water. He presses it into Chanyeol's hand, and sits across from him at the table.
"Last time I did this, you asked why I didn't call you," Chanyeol says. He is trying to focus on Joonmyun, but his eyes don't obey.
"It was different, then."
"I know," Chanyeol says. "It turns out that I can't get drunk enough to forget that."
"Let's get you to bed, Mr. 'I have to take a lot of pictures tomorrow'." Joonmyun fills the cup again and snags a few aluminum wrapped ibuprofen from the packet in the drawer to leave on his bedside. "Up."
Chanyeol stumbles to his feet. He catches himself on Joonmyun, his chin bumping into Joonmyun's forehead and his hands clasping Joonmyun's arms, and Joonmyun's hands automatically go to Chanyeol's hips to help him balance.
Chanyeol is so warm. "Why does it feel like yesterday that we touched each other like this?" Chanyeol says. Joonmyun's heart stutters.
"I don't know," he says. "It's been six months, so I don't know."
"You smell the same."
Joonmyun drops his hands. "Jongdae is asleep, so try not to trip."
Joonmyun puts Chanyeol to bed. He leaves all his clothes on, except his jacket, because Chanyeol keeps trying to wriggle out of it, and so Joonmyun peels it off his arms. "Sleep. I'll wake you in the morning early enough for you to find your way home, lost puppy."
"Not lost, tiny hyung," Chanyeol says. "Exactly where I should be."
Now this… This is dangerous.
Joonmyun pulls the covers up, and pats them. "Sleep, Chanyeol." He brushes Chanyeol's hair off his brow, an indulgence, and then steps away from the bed.
"Where are you going?"
"To sleep on the couch," Joonmyun says.
"Stay," Chanyeol says. "Please, stay."
"Chanyeol…" Joonmyun licks his lips. "That's… not a good idea."
"Stay," Chanyeol says. "Until I fall asleep. Please."
Joonmyun sits on the edge of the bed, but Chanyeol's long arms reach out and drag him down on top of his chest, Joonmyun's ear resting just above Chanyeol's heart. "Chanyeol, what—"
"I'm getting married tomorrow, hyung," Chanyeol says. It is so low and so unsteady that Joonmyun can barely hear him. "I'm getting married and I'm so sad."
"I'm sad too," Joonmyun says.
"I really, really love you," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun curls his hands into the blanket between them. His nails catch in it. "I'm getting married tomorrow and I really, really love you."
Joonmyun is suffocating. "Go to sleep, Chanyeol," he says. Trembling, he tries to pull away, but Chanyeol holds on tight. "Go to sleep."
"Yes, hyung," Chanyeol says. This close, there's no mistaking how much Chanyeol smells like soju and cigarette smoke from a bar.
"I'll stay until you fall asleep," Joonmyun says. "You don't have to hold on."
"I want to," Chanyeol says. It's gibberish, but Joonmyun understands him anyway. "One last time." His shirt is soft against Joonmyun's cheek. He is warm. Chanyeol is always warm.
Deciphering his own feelings is an impossible task. The heartsickness is knotted with the regret and the comfort of Chanyeol's familiar heartbeat beneath his ear.
When Chanyeol's arms go lax, his soft snores filling Joonmyun's bedroom, Joonmyun gets up and goes into the kitchen to find his phone. He texts Baekhyun, to let him know Chanyeol is here, in case he's looking, and then he sits down in the seat Chanyeol had sat in earlier, dropping his head to the cool tabletop.
He sleeps there, waking up with a crick in his neck to a cup of coffee being set on the table in front of him. "Jongdae?"
Jongdae is looking at him solemnly, his hair ruffled from sleep. "Baekhyun's here," Jongdae says. "I gave him a key to lock up behind him. Do you want to go get something to eat for breakfast?"
"Sounds good," Joonmyun says.
When they get back to the apartment, Joonmyun's bed is empty, and there's a note on Joonmyun's pillow, scrawled across the back of a receipt.
is all it says, and Joonmyun picks it up and tucks it into his bedside drawer, before stripping the sheets.
They watch two Sundance films with famous foreign actors and subtitles, and they do end up eating pizza. Joonmyun remembers neither the plot nor the cinematography of either of them, even though one is a historical piece that's exactly the kind of movie he likes.
"I feel useless," Jongdae says, halfway through the second one. "I don't know how you're feeling and I don't know what to say."
"I don't feel anything right now," Joonmyun says.
"That's not true," Jongdae says. "You're locking it all up again."
"You're not useless." The actress on the screen is crying and yelling at the male lead. Her mascara is running down her face. "Sitting here is enough."
"I'll be better tomorrow," Joonmyun says. "Don't worry."
"You always say that," Jongdae says. "Stop trying so hard all the time. You make the rest of us look bad." He tilts his head so it rests against Joonmyun. "Tomorrow?"
"Maybe the day after tomorrow," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae laughs.
"It was the saddest wedding I've ever attended," is all Jongin will say when Jongdae prompts him the next day. Joonmyun has a feeling Jongin would tell Joonmyun more, if he asks, but he doesn't ask.
"The asshole from table seven was there," Jongin will add, later, when he thinks Joonmyun is out of earshot. "He looks even more smug and entitled in a suit."
"Yeah?" Jongdae replies.
"Chanyeol was… it was really depressing," Jongin says. "I'm glad hyung didn't go. It would have hurt him."
"Life goes on," Jongdae says. Joonmyun is counting on that.
It has been a long time since Joonmyun has been in a classroom. He had forgotten the seats are so hard.
Three weeks ago, he'd signed for the new semester. Jongdae had walked with him to the registrar's office, and waited outside as Joonmyun submitted his paperwork. Afterwards, they had gotten sandwiches at a café they'd both loved as second years, and Joonmyun had smiled and laughed earnestly at Jongdae's winding story about Kris, this guy from Canada in his course that Joonmyun hasn't thought about since he'd seen him at Baekhyun's Christmas party.
Now he is here, back in class. It feels nice, even if it's daunting. It is almost like he's pretending the past two years haven't happened. He isn't. He wouldn't be able to, even if he tried.
"Are you new around here?" says the man next to him, who leans over to catch Joonmyun's attention as Joonmyun packs up his materials. His dark hair hangs across a pale forehead, and his glasses are black and thick-framed. "I haven't seen you before but this isn't a first year grad class."
"That's because I'm not a first year grad," Joonmyun says, zipping his pen-case with a flourish. He then looks up to meet a pair of amused, inquisitive eyes.
"Oh?" He has nice hands. His shirt is buttoned all the way to his throat.
"I've been on leave for a while," Joonmyun answers. "Personal matters."
"Well, it's very nice to meet you. I'm Cho Kyuhyun." Joonmyun takes his hand. It's warm, and bigger than his own.
"I'm Kim Joonmyun," he says, and Kyuhyun smiles. It's small and understated. It doesn't take up his whole face, but it's still a very nice smile.
"This might be forward of me, Joonmyun-ssi," Kyuhyun says, "but would you like to get a cup of coffee?" There is no mistaking the delivery. The interest. It sinks its teeth into the base of his spine.
There is a part of Joonmyun that slams back into his high school mindset. How does he know? and panic at even the idea of someone knowing. There is another part of Joonmyun that reaches out and clings to the possibility of moving forward instead of looking behind.
"That sounds like it would be nice," Joonmyun says. "I have work in an hour."
"Then we should get going," Kyuhyun says.
Coffee turns into dinner three days later, and that dinner turns into a movie over the weekend. The movie turns into walks in the park after class and dates by the river.
Joonmyun likes Kyuhyun. He likes Kyuhyun's straightforwardness, and that Kyuhyun is interested in history just like he is. That Kyuhyun speaks enough Mandarin that he can understand Zitao's diatribes over a curry dinner, and interrupt carefully to add his own knowledge. He likes the way Kyuhyun sings to himself, perfectly in tune, when he should be silent in the library.
He's nothing like Chanyeol, and maybe that's a good thing.
"You've been going out a lot lately. Study projects?" Jongdae asks, and Jongin and Taemin look up from where they're bent over a lunch takeout menu to stare.
"Not exactly," Joonmyun says, carefully stacking the unused smoothie glasses next to the mixer. He makes sure to put the pink ones at the bottom, because the girls who come in around five prefer them and if he puts them near the top they'll all be dirty.
"Ooooh, secretive," Jongin says. "Have you discovered some new after-school club?"
Taemin grins. "I didn't know they had clubs where you remind people to fasten their coats in the winter and organize their shelves."
"Ha ha ha," Joonmyun says. "But no, I didn't join a club."
"It's strange to cook my own food," Jongdae says. "I’m not sure if I like it." He's teasing, but there is genuine curiosity.
"Well," Joonmyun says, picking up a dishcloth and wiping at an imaginary pool of water, "I'm seeing someone."
"What?" Jongin is gaping at him. "But what about—"
"That's great, Joonmyun," Jongdae interrupts. "When do we get to traumatize, oh, sorry, I mean meet him?"
"It's a guy?" Jongin asks. Taemin just looks confused.
"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"Oh," Jongin says. "I thought that was a Chanyeol thing, not a…"
"It's a permanent thing," Joonmyun says. "Is that a problem?"
Jongin huffs. "Obviously not, I was just surprised. I hadn't thought you were really looking, either." Jongdae kicks at him, and Jongin shrugs his shoulders as if to say 'what'? and Joonmyun fusses with his hair, fingers combing through the sideburns.
"I wasn't," Joonmyun says. "I thought I should be."
"But…" Jongdae kicks at Jongin again, and Jongin bares his teeth at him as Taemin excuses himself to take care of 'the asshole', who Jongin still refuses to interact with despite Joonmyun's pleading.
"Chanyeol is married," Joonmyun says. "Don't you think it's time we stopped playing like this is all temporary?"
Jongin scratches his neck and Jongdae squints at him. "So when you going to bring him by?"
Bring him by. Oh sure, Joonmyun, bring your boyfriend by. We'd like to meet him. Joonmyun continues to be surprised at the acceptance. It makes him feel like he's melting, ribs fusing together from the heat of how much he never expected for anything to be so okay with anyone.
"I will soon," he says, with no trace of his inner turmoil. "I promise."
Months creep up on him. He doesn't realize just how fast until Baekhyun, who sits at the counter with Zitao, pouring uselessly over graduate school applications because he already hates his job, mentions not having seen Chanyeol for over a month due to Chanyeol's schedule. "I haven't seen him," Baekhyun says. "He goes to work and texts me about how much he hates meetings and then he goes home to his parents' house and has dinner with his them and his wife and then does his business school homework." Baekhyun shakes his head. "I know Chanyeol is in there somewhere, but I don't know where."
"We're getting older," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun looks at him sharply. "Growing up."
"You know that isn't it." His hands grip the papers tightly. "You more than anyone know that isn't it." Baekhyun sets the papers down. "Growing up doesn't mean growing sadder."
Joonmyun is not sure about that.
"He's doing what he feels he needs to do," Joonmyun says. "You should respect that." Stop talking to me about this.
"I'm sorry," Baekhyun says, as Zitao circles his back with a firm hand. "I know you're worried too."
"And much more powerless," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun's gaze reflects surprise. "I haven't talked to Chanyeol since…" Chanyeol's breath hot with soju against his cheek. Chanyeol's arms holding him down and Chanyeol's words pulling him apart. "It's been at least three months. I know he's hurting but I can't help him."
"You could call him?" Zitao's face is soft. He's such a kitten. Joonmyun wants to reassure him.
"No," Joonmyun says. "That's inappropriate." Baekhyun begins a protest, but lets it die on his lips. Joonmyun can feel the brittleness of the smile he's wearing. Baekhyun can probably see it. "Life goes on."
"Life goes on," Baekhyun repeats, and then he laughs. "I guess it does. For better or for worse."
Thinking about Chanyeol is reserved for those tucked away pockets of time between dinner and washing up, or for those minutes when Joonmyun has turned out the lights but his mind still runs behind closed eyes.
Fondly, then, he recalls the way Chanyeol couldn't help but spill soap suds on the floor.
Achingly, then, he recalls the butter of Chanyeol's voice along the words of Joonmyun's favorite texts and the silk of his hair between Joonmyun's fingers.
Joonmyun has missed school.
"It's nice seeing you around campus again," Lu Han says. "I was talking to Sehun the other day about it, and he was complaining about how much less he sees you."
"Too much homework," Joonmyun says. "Between school and the shop and… other things, there's much less time in my day."
"Other things, huh?" Lu Han says. Joonmyun grips the strap of his bag with a clammy hand.
Lu Han doesn't follow up on it. They get lunch and eat outside in one of the courtyards and talk about Minseok's inability to email regularly.
"How are you doing, really?" Lu Han asks, when their sandwich wrappers are balled up on the ground between them, and their bottled juices are three-quarters empty.
"I'm happy," Joonmyun says, confidently. "My grades are great, Taemin's a fantastic addition to the shop, and Jongdae has finally discovered the amazing power of dish detergent."
Lu Han blinks at him, doe-like. Lu Han has the face of a child but eyes that have always pierced like that of someone much older and wiser than he should be. "Are you?"
Joonmyun should be happy. "Yes," he says.
He becomes more like his father every day.
A first kiss under the moonlight should be romantic. They stand in front of the window at Kyuhyun's apartment, and the brightness of Seoul streams in, lending an ethereal glow to the man in front of him.
Kyuhyun is careful. He leans down and tilts Joonmyun's face up with his thumb and index finger, before letting their lips touch. He urges Joonmyun closer with gentle nibbles to his lower lip, and Joonmyun raises one hand to set it upon Kyuhyun's chest. The warmth beneath his palm is soothing.
As Kyuhyun finally dips his tongue between Joonmyun's lips, the only thing Joonmyun can think about is the sound of car horns warning the drunks out of the middle of the road on the street below and the constant hum of the air conditioner.
It is the remnants of his attention that go to the weave of Kyuhyun's thin summer sweater, and the softness of his lips. The waxy rub of his chapstick. The way he smells like a dried flower from a special occasion that you've pressed between the pages of a book.
"Wow," Kyuhyun says, when he pulls back. Joonmyun's skin is sticky with humidity and his breath comes short.
He looks up into Kyuhyun's eyes and he knows what he should feel. The lick of excitement like fire in his stomach and the rush of his heart swelling in his chest and pushing against his ribs. Something, anything. All that's there is a tingling in his lips from the pressure and a memory of the texture of Chanyeol's skin beneath the flat of his tongue, flavored chocolate.
"Wow," he replies, a hair's breadth above a whisper.
They part at the door. Joonmyun steps out into the summer heat. Kyuhyun smiles. "See you later, Joonmyun," he says. "I'll call you in the morning."
Joonmyun rises up slightly on the balls of his feet to kiss Kyuhyun on the cheek and agrees.
When the door closes, Joonmyun waits for the importance of the moment to hit him. It doesn't.
There is no glass digging into his back and no fear and no long pent-up apprehension and no relief at things long felt found actualized.
There is nothing, and Joonmyun cannot decide if that is better or worse than sadness.
Seoul is a big city, but it isn't big enough. He runs into Chanyeol on the first floor of Lotte Mart. Chanyeol is wearing his suit and carrying a bag from the women's department.
"I'm on my way home," he says. "My mother asked me to pick something up for her."
"I see," Joonmyun says. His hands are quivering, so he sets down the shirt in his hands so he can hide behind his back.
"I keep wanting to stop by the shop," Chanyeol says, "but I know that would be. A bad idea."
"Probably," Joonmyun says. Chanyeol is magnetic. He steps closer to him. "You still wear the same cologne."
"You like it," Chanyeol says. Teasing twist to his lips that's just as charming as it's always been. He still looks tired but there's a spark there.
"I do." A rough swallow. "Don't you need to get that home?"
"No," Chanyeol says. "But I do need to go home." Shuffle. "Baekhyun says you're seeing someone."
"I am," Joonmyun says. "Another history specialist."
"That's… good." Chanyeol can be transparent, but he isn't right now.
Joonmyun tries to take in the whole picture. The new lines at the corners of Chanyeol's eyes and how nice he looks in his suit. The outward bend of his legs that's only exaggerated by the tailored line of his pants. How Chanyeol still looks at him like he's the only person in the room. "I'm glad to have run into you," Joonmyun says.
Chanyeol comes in closer and takes hold of Joonmyun's wrist. "Are you okay?" he asks. It is one step from inaudible. Chanyeol's fingers burn where they wrap, his thumb sitting right atop the thick center vein that climbs from the heel of his hand upward. Joonmyun's pulse is there. Chanyeol must be able to measure the quickening of it.
They look strange. Chanyeol in his suit and Joonmyun in his jeans and pullover, Chanyeol holding on to Joonmyun with a possessiveness that doesn't make sense out of context, the both of them staring at each other.
Longing is a familiar sentiment, but the magnitude is paralyzing. "Yes," Joonmyun says.
"Let's not," Joonmyun says. "When we do, the not-pretending is even worse."
"You're right," Chanyeol says. "I'm sorry."
"For being selfish," Chanyeol says. "It's always been one of my worst traits."
"I thought that was the narcissism," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol laughs. He's still holding on to Joonmyun's wrist.
"That's one of them, too," Chanyeol says. "Goodbye, Joonmyun-hyung." His hand falls away, but the pressure of his fingers lingers. He smiles, that same goofy, too-big grin that had won Joonmyun's affection the first he'd seen of it, and then he's walking away.
Joonmyun wants him to look back. He is relieved when he doesn't. "Goodbye," he says to no one. He turns back to the shirts, and tries to pack away all the complicated things that threaten to choke him.
The time for feeling this way has passed.
Joonmyun submits only four employment requests. He thinks it might be silly, with graduation in January and an uncertain future ahead of him, but it's a start.
He focuses on completing his exams and writing them for his students, and at the end of it all, hopefully there is a path through the mountain.
Kyuhyun leaves him at the door to his apartment on a cool autumn evening. Joonmyun smiles at him one last time and closes the door.
"You're still seeing him, huh?" Jongdae asks, and Joonmyun jumps, turning around to see his roommate studying him with an inscrutable face.
"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Is there… a reason I shouldn't be?"
"He's really nice," Jongdae says. "That time you brought him to dinner, he was really nice."
Joonmyun had only brought him out with them once. It had been like Chanyeol was sitting at the table with them all.
"Baekhyun didn't like him," Joonmyun says. "But I suppose there are reasons for that."
"Joonmyun…" Jongdae sighs. "Ahhh, never mind."
"I thought we were best friends," Joonmyun prods. "You can say it."
"So you don't like him?" Joonmyun asks, and Jongdae quickly puts his hands up.
"I like him just fine," Jongdae says. "But I don't think it's very fair to him when you're still in love with someone else."
"You're not over it," Jongdae says. "And you can lie to yourself, and you can lie to me and you can lie to Jongin and Sehun, and Baekhyun and Zitao. You can even lie to Chanyeol, but at the end of the day, it is a lie. And I want you to move on, Joonmyun. More than anyone. I really do."
"There's a 'but' in there."
"But you haven't, yet, and that poor man is falling for you and you're still giving him the same smiles you give to new customers at the shop, and tonight you're going to go into your room and the last thing you're going to think about before you close your eyes isn't going to be Cho Kyuhyun. It's going to be Park Chanyeol, and that's not fair to you or that guy out there."
Joonmyun takes the words hard. They cut into him mostly because he knows they are true. They are true because even if he doesn't, Joonmyun still wants to text Chanyeol to remind him about his coat or ask him about his day or quote the most infuriating parts of one of Kim Manjung's epics at him, and because he keeps the note Chanyeol had left on his pillow back in March, with one stupid word on it, in the bottom drawer of his dresser underneath his socks. They are also true because Joonmyun sometimes still waits for someone to lean into him on the bus and when no one does he feels so painfully lost. "I—"
"It would be easier, I know, if Chanyeol wasn't still stupid in love with you too, but he's married and I know you haven't spoken to him since you ran into him by accident that one time because you're afraid."
"I can't," Joonmyun says. "Talk to him. If I hear his voice it echoes in my head for days."
"So why are you dating Kyuhyun?" Jongdae says. "I don't care what anyone says. You don't get over someone by getting under someone else. Believe me, I have been there and done that."
"Is it so wrong to try?"
"No, of course not," Jongdae says, cupping Joonmyun's neck with his palm and resting their foreheads against each other. "But it takes time."
"How much time?" Joonmyun asks, His voice wobbles. "How much longer am I going to feel like this?" He is a balloon whose string has escaped the grip of a child. He is directionless.
"I don't know," Jongdae says. "But I'll be here for you the whole time."
Kyuhyun has a lovely smile, but it doesn't make him melt. There are smiles that have, in the past.
"So am I," Kyuhyun says. "I can't say I didn't see it coming, but I am sorry."
"Am I so transparent?"
"Not at all," Kyuhyun says. "You're locked up tighter than a vault. Somehow, I knew your heart wasn't in it."
"I hope he knows how lucky he is," Kyuhyun says, dragging his hand down Joonmyun's arm. "The guy you're breaking up with me for."
"He's married," Joonmyun says. "I'm not breaking up with you because I have a chance."
"Then why are you breaking up with me?"
Joonmyun remembers sitting next to Chanyeol in the alley back behind the store. He remembers every word Chanyeol said. "Because I'm in love with someone else," Joonmyun says. "And you deserve to date someone who will fall in love with you, too, because you're wonderful."
"I'm wonderful, huh?" Kyuhyun muses, and Joonmyun nods.
"Yes," he says. "Definitely."
"If you ever change your mind," Kyuhyun says, "you should give me a call." He squints. "Not that I expect to be available, but just in case."
"I'll keep that in mind," Joonmyun says. Kyuhyun shakes his head, before leaning over and dropping a kiss to the corner of Joonmyun's mouth.
"Good luck," Kyuhyun says. This doesn't feel like a mistake.
He buys an empty notebook, much like the ones he uses for class, and inside it, he writes. He writes down all the things he never said and all the things he wishes he'd savored. He writes about how much he misses the way his mother's hair fell around her shoulders when she was a child and how much the indentation of Chanyeol's single dimple served as the perfect target to kiss. He apologizes to Kyungsoo for having been so afraid, and to himself, too.
When he runs out of pages he feels lighter. In the back of the notebook, he slides the note Chanyeol had left on the back of a receipt. He puts it in the drawer, and he finally feels like he's putting his feelings away for real.
It is time.
Joonmyun figures that fairy tale-esque happy endings are the kind of thing that happens for other people. People who don't fall in love with boys they know they can't have, and miss them whenever it rains and whenever it snows and whenever the sun is shining or maybe even whenever they exhale.
But that doesn't mean that Joonmyun can't still find other kinds of happiness.
He meets his father for dinner once a week at a family style restaurant that they'd frequented when Joonmyun was a child. Sometimes they talk about his mother, but other times they talk about his dad's coworkers and Joonmyun's classes and how much they'd both like to take a trip together to Tokyo some day.
He corrals Jongin, Sehun, and Zitao into more movie nights at his and Jongdae's place, Jongdae teasing Zitao about his S-line body as Jongin and Sehun pinch each other for sofa space.
There is also school. Joonmyun is rediscovering himself in the pages of his history texts and in the classes he teaches. There are pieces of himself he hasn't seen since he was in middle school, pieces of him that get lost in obscure battles from ancient Rome and in the sheer joy of uncovering connections between events that have never even been considered related.
There is no denying that in the evenings, when Jongdae is laughing with Min in the living room, their heads folding together like two floating swans, Joonmyun can feel the longing for Chanyeol's lips against his throat and Chanyeol laughing into his ear about everything and nothing. It is a bearable longing.
He has put himself back together, better. He has the future ahead of him, and it is wide open.
They are sitting at the counter of the shop, the closed side of the sign turned facing out over an hour ago. Jongdae cradles a cup of coffee between his hands.
"How do you think Jongin will do as manager of this place?" Jongdae asks. "Since we're both going to be leaving at the end of the year."
"He'll be fine," Joonmyun says. "As long as he's worked here, I think he could manage this place in his sleep."
"Jongin can't do anything in his sleep but be grumpy and run into things," Jongdae says. "Don't exaggerate." He taps his lips. "How long before he murders that Changmin guy, do you think?"
"Two weeks at best." Joonmyun looks around the shop with a fond eye. He has spent a lot of time here. It is weird to think he'll be saying goodbye to it in a few months. "Isn't it strange?" he asks. "It feels like the end of an era."
"I know," Jongdae says. "I also don't know how I'm going to survive next year at all without the break that is coming into the shop and making Jongin miserable in subtle ways."
"You can still do that," Joonmyun points out.
"But I won't get paid for it," Jongdae says. "That was at least half of the joy."
Joonmyun's phone vibrates, and he looks down with surprise at his pocket. It's late, and he isn't expecting any calls.
"Aren't you going to answer it?" Jongdae stands up and grabs Joonmyun's cup, and takes it along with his own to the other side of the counter to the sink.
"Is this Kim Joonmyun?"
"Speaking," he says, switching immediately to his most formal Korean. "May I ask who is calling?"
Joonmyun can see Jongdae's curiosity as he talks to the caller. He registers that, along with lightness of his head and the shine of the countertop and the sound of the faucet as it runs a thin stream into the sink where Jongdae is washing the mugs.
When he hangs up, Jongdae coughs. "Well?"
"I got the job," he says numbly. "The one at Ewha University."
"You applied for a job at Ewha? And you got it?"
"Assistant professorship," Joonmyun says. "In the history department."
"Oh wow," Jongdae says. "I didn't even know you applied."
"I didn't want to mention it, in case it didn't work out," Joonmyun says. He's still in shock.
"It did though?"
"I'll have to move, I'll have to do so much paperwork, what if I don't actually graduate—"
"Kim Joonmyun!" Jongdae is laughing. "Stop panicking and enjoy this moment."
"I got the job," he says again, and this time it sinks in. "I really did."
"We should throw you a party," Jongdae says. "A dinner or something. Invite all our good friends."
"You know, it would be like 'I'm no longer going to be working at the yogurt shop but I still really like you guys and also I'm awesome.'" Jongdae chuckles. "What do you think?"
"It might be nice to hang out with everyone," Joonmyun says, hedging, and Jongdae claps.
"Then it's settled," he says. "I'll see when people are available next week."
"Joonmyun," Jongdae says, poking Joonmyun in the chest with his index finger. "Seriously. Congratulations."
"Thanks," Joonmyun says. "It is… pretty awesome, isn't it?"
"Yes," Jongdae says. "Very awesome."
Joonmyun is still holding his phone. It's heavy in his hand. He lifts it up and looks at the screen. As if possessed he finds himself scrolling until he gets to Chanyeol's name in his phone.
'Are you free next week?' he types. He hesitates, staring at the message on the screen with a combination of dread and hope.
"What are you doing?" Jongdae asks.
"I don't know," Joonmyun replies, and he hits send.
Chanyeol shows up an hour after everyone else, still wearing his business suit and carrying a briefcase. The table quiets, before it bursts into excited laughter, everyone shuffling to make room.
Joonmyun, who is flipping the meat, looks up slowly to smile at Chanyeol. "Glad you made it," he says, as Chanyeol sits down next to Baekhyun, across the table and two seats over. Close enough that Joonmyun can see the pores on his nose and the exhaustion in his spine.
In a perfect world, they would be sitting next to each other, holding hands beneath the table as their knees brushed.
"Sehun, you lazy-ass maknae, why is Joonmyun-hyung flipping the meat? Jongin, you too. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
"Oooh, shadow leader is back," Jongdae says. "Still sticking up for cute-hyung after all this time." It breaks the strange ice.
Sehun raises one eyebrow and crosses his arms, and Jongin sulks and reaches across the table to take the tongs from Joonmyun. "I changed my mind. I didn't miss you that much after all."
"Are you sure, Jonginnie?" Chanyeol says. He is uncurling bit by bit as moments pass. "I think you missed me a lot."
"I haven't stepped on glass in months," he says.
"The only reason you wouldn't miss me is all the girls who pay attention to you when I'm not there to distract them."
"The same type of girls aren't even attracted—"
Joonmyun leans over as they continue to argue. "I didn't know you'd invited the ostrich," Jongdae says to him.
"I think we can be friends," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae grins.
Baekhyun pesters Chanyeol with questions, and Chanyeol fends him off by shoving pieces of meat into his mouth whenever he opens it too wide. The thread of conversation is constantly interrupted with Chanyeol's loud whooping laughter.
It is two summers ago. It is also now.
"I need to get some air," Joonmyun says, standing up from the table. He is flush from the soju, and the pork belly is heavy in his stomach.
"All right there, cute-hyung?" Baekhyun asks, when Joonmyun wobbles, catching himself with a flat palm to the table, knocking metal chopsticks to the floor.
"Fine," Joonmyun says, smiling. "Just need to get a bit of the smoke out of my lungs."
"I'll go with you," Chanyeol says, standing too. He's lost his tie, and his shirt is unbuttoned to reveal a flash of his black undershirt. "I could use air too."
"Okay," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae grabs at Joonmyun's jeans, offering him a questioning look. Joonmyun is not drunk, but he does feel reckless. He nods.
They stand outside the restaurant, both of them leaning back against the wall. Joonmyun always forgets how tall Chanyeol is until they're standing next to each other.
"Thank you for inviting me," Chanyeol says. He leans closer, until their arms mash together. Chanyeol is a firm weight against him. He tilts his head, until his cheek is resting on Joonmyun's hair.
"It seemed wrong not to," Joonmyun says. "Like it would be incomplete without you."
"This is the happiest I've been since my father had his heart attack," Chanyeol says. "It's like I've been sleeping through the past year of my life and being here with you guys tonight is me waking up."
"Good morning," Joonmyun says. It's okay, to be friends like this. Chanyeol's head is still so comfortable resting on his own.
"I don't want to go back to sleep."
"Then don't," Joonmyun says.
Chanyeol stands up straight and looks down at him. Looks at him for a long time, and Joonmyun squirms under his gaze. "Don't?"
"Being awake is infinitely harder than being asleep, but at the end of the day," Joonmyun smiles at Chanyeol, then, because Chanyeol looks young and delightfully perplexed, "it's worth it."
"I woke up when I met you," Joonmyun says. "I don't want to go back to sleep, either."
"Then don't," Chanyeol says, and there's a light in his eyes that makes Joonmyun want to kiss him forever, lips sliding together as Joonmyun's hands sneak up his shirt to touch smooth skin. It would be a simple matter, to throw his arms around Chanyeol's neck and pull him down.
Chanyeol's eyes glint in the headlights of a passing taxi.
I miss you, Joonmyun thinks, but Chanyeol is sitting right next to him. It will do.
"We should go back inside," Joonmyun says.
"Promise to have lunch with me next week," Chanyeol says. "I have an hour or two on Wednesday."
"I can do that," Joonmyun says, and he rests his hand flat on Chanyeol's stomach. He feels the muscles clenching beneath his palm, and Chanyeol takes a shuddering breath. He pushes his hand up, and stops right above Chanyeol's heart. "Can you?"
"Yeah," Chanyeol says, laying his on hand atop of Joonmyun's. It swallows his up. "I think I can. Can we try it?"
Chanyeol once called him selfless. The way he'll take Chanyeol any way he can have him isn't selfless at all. He is making it harder for them both. "Yes," he says, before they return inside, where their friends are waiting.
Seeing Chanyeol regularly again, with his dark tamed hair and still untamed smile, is like taking out stitches too early. The wounds remain unhealed, and Joonmyun knows it is melodramatic to think they never will.
The thing is, being around Chanyeol is being a sugar cube dropped into hot tea. He dissolves under Chanyeol's warmth and he doesn't work so hard to hold himself together. And in the end, everything is sweeter, but he's broken down.
Smiling across the table, for a lunch, and then another one. The resumption of text messages that say good luck with your final exams!!!!11111 and include pictures of cute puppies in a pet café window.
It is a special kind of masochism that has Joonmyun replying to them.
Park Chanyeol is still capable of making Joonmyun's insides turn to jelly. It is like a crush, all over again, except it is a thousand times worse because he knows so much about Chanyeol and he will never know enough. He could spend a lifetime delving into Chanyeol's idiosyncrasies, but he will never have the chance.
In a perfect world, it wouldn't be like this. This world, though, is far from perfect.
Joonmyun has learned a lot of things. He has learned that he is strong enough on his own, and that there is joy in his friends and in his father's slowly returning smiles. He has learned that what he studies is what he truly loves. He has learned that each new day can be a little brighter than the last.
He has also learned about loneliness. Loneliness, for Joonmyun, is waking up alone, day after day, with his heart on the other side of the city and his brain right here reminding him of all the reasons why.
Loneliness is keeping all his feelings packed away in a notebook in the bottom of his drawer with Chanyeol's distinctive handwriting on the back of a receipt that he can't throw away.
"This is the last one," Jongdae says, tapping the top of the box. "I can't believe you're moving. "
"I've still got two boxes in my room," Joonmyun says.
"We've lived together for seven years," Jongdae says. "This is the longest relationship I've ever had."
"We're not breaking up," Joonmyun says, laughing as he tosses Jongdae the tape. "I'll still probably see you twice a week because you can't feed yourself."
"I can so," Jongdae says. "I am excellent at preparing two 1000won bills to hand to the man behind the counter at FamilyMart."
"I'm in awe of your domestic skills," Joonmyun calls out as he enters the bedroom.
The last box is miscellaneous things. Knick-knacks and a few books. He looks around this room one last time, saying goodbye to the four walls that hold so many important memories. So much sadness and so much happiness in one place.
Another new start.
On his bed, he's left the notebook. He picks it up, and considers opening it, but there's a loud knock on the door.
"The kids are here to help us move!" Jongdae yells, and he can hear Jongin say "—not that much older than I am, stupid—" before there's the sound of toppling boxes. Joonmyun hopes they're clothes.
The notebook is hot in his hands. He hugs it to his chest, holding it close. Then he walks back out into the living room, waving to Jongin and to Sehun, who has planted himself on the couch to watch the moving with amusement. In the kitchen he pulls open one of the tied closed green-label trash bags, and shoves the notebook down one of the sides.
"What was that?" Jongdae asks, and Joonmyun looks up to see him standing in the doorway, hip cocked and eyes speculative.
"Something I don't need anymore, " Joonmyun says, retying the bag. "Is the moving car here?"
"Yeah," Jongdae says.
"Then let's get to work."
They both sit behind the counter, and Taemin brings Joonmyun his favorite without asking. Chanyeol orders a plain chocolate. Joonmyun's eyes shift askance. "No one makes my special shake like you, so I don't bother."
"At least I had one talent in life," Joonmyun jokes, and Chanyeol elbows him, sliding into Joonmyun's personal space like he'd never left.
He has though. Left. It's hard to imagine letting him back in. "More than one," Chanyeol says. "You know that." His lips fit around the straw and he takes a sip. "It's been a month since you've had time to meet me."
"How's life as a businessman?" Joonmyun asks.
"How's life as an assistant professor at I-dae?" Joonmyun hadn't expected to get the job at Ewha, but now, when he reports to work every day, it sinks in that he did.
"I can't complain," Joonmyun says. "Lots of pretty girls. You know how much I like those." He winks. "I'm swamped with work, and too tired to do much when I get home."
Chanyeol laughs, and Joonmyun can't believe how much he's missed that sound. "Do you like it?"
"I love it," Joonmyun says. "A lot."
"I'm glad you're doing so well." Chanyeol wriggles in his seat. He still looks trapped inside his suit, but he's grown into it some. He's watching Joonmyun out of the corner of his eye. Joonmyun is watching him, too. What a pair they make. They're sitting so close that the heat of Chanyeol's arm can be felt through both their sweaters.
"You're still so handsome, tiny hyung," Chanyeol says.
"Am I?" Joonmyun pulls at his sleeves. "I'm just me."
"This is where we met," Chanyeol says. "Right here at this counter."
"Regret walking through the door that day?" Joonmyun asks. He does not know what Chanyeol's answer will be.
"Never," Chanyeol says, and he drinks, hand wrapping around the whole glass. The bottom one is chapped because Chanyeol cannot help but chew on it. "Best decision I ever made." He peeks up at Joonmyun through his eyelashes, and he smiles. "Do you regret it?"
"No," Joonmyun says. The sun in the window shines on Chanyeol's wedding band. "Even with how everything turned out, I could never regret you."
"That time in the woods," Chanyeol says. "When I asked you if you'd ever thought you'd gotten everything wrong."
"I have a few decisions I regret more than anything, but one of them will never be meeting you."
'You're important to me.' A first real kiss right here, half a meter from where they sit. First eager touches flavored chocolate and half of his heart he has probably given away for good to the man sitting next to him, ears sticking out and eyes searching Joonmyun's face for answers he’s not sure he has.
"I wish, too," Joonmyun says. "That isn't the way it is. We both know that." Chanyeol's phone rings. It's an obnoxious ring tone, chanting 'I am the best' over a synthesizer beat. He looks at the caller and doesn't answer. He does sigh.
"I have to go," Chanyeol says.
"Of course you do."
Chanyeol slips off his stool, knee bumping Joonmyun's thigh. "Let's pretend."
"This is the last time."
He won't say no. He can't say no. One last time. Joonmyun closes his eyes. "Okay."
"I'm leaning forward right now, and putting my hands on your cheeks. My thumbs are brushing at that hair you refuse to cut in front of your ears." Joonmyun doesn't need to look to know Chanyeol's thoughts, because Chanyeol's next breath is shaky. "Then I kiss you. Right here in front of everyone. And no one cares except Jongin, because he always thinks everything I do is gross. You kiss me back, and you tell me you like my cologne, and I laugh and I kiss you again."
"Enough," Joonmyun says, and he opens his eyes.
For a moment, stark and wondrous, it feels real. Joonmyun is stricken by how much he still wants it to be real. By how much he's afraid he will always want it to be real. It digs into him, buries into his heart as deep as it possibly can, and Joonmyun is left to search for air where there is none to be found.
The moment ends, and Chanyeol is stepping back.
"I'd better go," he says. Joonmyun doesn't watch him leave, because it takes too much to turn his head.
Chanyeol texts three times over the next two weeks, but Joonmyun ignores them.
He's caught off-guard when he calls. Chanyeol never calls.
"I'm coming over," Chanyeol says, when Joonmyun answers the phone. He hadn't thought to check the number, but he knows Chanyeol's voice better than almost anyone's. "Don't argue with me. I'm already almost there."
"You do remember that I've moved?" Joonmyun says. His phone is slippery in a palm turned slick with anxiousness. "You've never been here before."
"I know. I got the address from Baekhyun."
"He's the only person that talks more than you," Joonmyun says.
"I don't know why you'd tell him anything." All too familiar rhythms. A dance to the beat of the same drum that's guided him since he met Chanyeol, or the dragging pull of the fierce current in an early spring stream. "I'm coming over," he repeats, and Joonmyun would protest but all he can hear is the dial tone.
It's fifteen minutes of pacing. Joonmyun spends the last four minutes with his head in his hands, sitting on the arm of the sofa attempting to calm his raging pulse.
"Do you know what?" Chanyeol says, when Joonmyun opens the door. "I don't want to sleep anymore."
"It's very late," Joonmyun says. "You probably should. Especially if you have work tomorrow."
"I have tried to be this person I can't be, and life is too short." Chanyeol runs a hand through his hair, short and brown, and Joonmyun thinks he is beautiful. "I've done everything expected of me by my father, but I refuse to be miserable for the rest of my life." Chanyeol is wearing a suit that costs more than Joonmyun's apartment, but he drops down to his knees in the hallway.
"Chanyeol, you're married. You have a business to take care of—"
"I do have a business to take care of. Until my cousin graduates from university. Then he has a business to take care of."
"I'm not cut out for this, hyung. I kept ranting about poetics during meetings and comparing everything to obscure historical events because your nighttime reading has brainwashed me. I drop my coffee on someone important at least once a day."
"I thought you might," Joonmyun says. Chanyeol's bewildered face makes him laugh, even as Chanyeol says things that make his stomach ache.
"I wanted to be strong, like you."
"You are strong," Joonmyun says. "You are."
Chanyeol grabs his hands, and looking down at Chanyeol is confusing. "Not strong enough to do this forever. I can't sit at that table for dinner in my parents' house and think about how much I'd rather be at yours. I can't wake up next to my wife and look at her back and wish it was your face, smiling at me with your eyes crinkled up like half-moons."
"Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, and something inside of him is swelling, like the rising tide at Haeundae. High waters are dangerous, and drag you under. But Joonmyun has been drowning for a while now. "It's still…"
"There's one more thing," Chanyeol says. "It's important."
Chanyeol is still on his knees. Joonmyun is still confused. "What is it, Chanyeol?"
"I'm getting a divorce." The world is slow. "We're keeping it quiet. Out of the public eye, you know."
"But how—" It doesn't make sense. Nothing makes sense, because these are all the things Joonmyun wants to hear but he can't be hearing them because perfect things are for other people, not for Joonmyun.
"The thing about arranged marriages," Chanyeol says, "is that they only work out if both parties aren't completely, consumingly in love with someone else."
He opens his mouth. He needs to say something. Anything.
"Please, hyung," Chanyeol says. "I know I don't have any right to ask this of you. I know that this has hurt." He shakes his head, and Joonmyun can't look away from his big, expressive eyes. "When I started to see you again, even if it was only snatches of time here and there, I felt… I felt like I used to feel. Like there are so many possibilities and there was a chance that you might still…"
Joonmyun's heart is trembling in his chest, fluttering like a baby bird, and it would be so easy to keep it safe, and push it back into the nest.
Chanyeol is asking him to let it fly. "Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, and he opens his mouth to tell him all the reasons why they can't work. But the truth is, there aren't any that they can't work out, and even if Joonmyun is afraid… Even if Joonmyun is afraid, Chanyeol's eyes are big and watery, and Joonmyun has wanted him for so long that he's not sure he knows how to want anyone else. "Your suit." It comes out breathless, and Chanyeol laughs at him and pulls on his hands, lacing their fingers together.
"Fuck my suit," Chanyeol says. "I'm rich. I literally own over a hundred suits." His ears flush red. "I have over a hundred suits, but there is only one Kim Joonmyun." Chanyeol smiles, and Joonmyun can remember when Chanyeol walked into the shop and smiled at him for the first time, just like this. "I love you, you know that, right?"
"Yes," Joonmyun says, and his neighbor opens her front door and looks out curiously. "Chanyeol, get up. We're disturbing people."
"I don't care," Chanyeol says. "I really don't care right now. You can care enough for the both of us. I'm going to hold your hand in public because pretending you aren't important to me is worse than people judging me because you are."
"I thought you liked pretending," Joonmyun says, even as he pulls Chanyeol up and inside, closing the door on his nosy neighbor. "My first couple of months and already causing a scene." He lets go of Chanyeol's hands and straightens the lapels of his suit.
"You're so cute," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun steps back, flustered. Chanyeol's hands quickly shoot out to catch his waist and tug him close again, crushing them together. Chanyeol buries his nose in Joonmyun's hair and inhales, and Joonmyun presses his face to Chanyeol's chest. "I'm going to just keep hugging you right now."
"This seems too easy," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol laughs.
"It's about time something was easy for you," Chanyeol says. "Don't you think?"
"Am I going to wake up tomorrow and all this—"
"I am never giving you up again," Chanyeol promises. Chanyeol's voice rolls over him and through him.
"That's okay with me," Joonmyun says, because that is the most obvious thing in the world, and joy is fleeting but it always lasts a little longer when he catches it between his and Chanyeol's palms.
"I don't deserve you," Chanyeol says. "I don't. But I don't really care."
"Someone once told me that people don't deserve each other," Joonmyun says. "That that isn't how it works."
Chanyeol laughs, big and loud, and it echoes around Joonmyun's apartment and finds a home in the corners. "You've got a good memory."
"I remember the things you tell me," Joonmyun says. "Because I really, really love you. I really, really, really—"
Chanyeol leans down to catch the rest of the words with his mouth, warm and sweet and fierce, and Joonmyun decides this happy ending is just for him.
Chanyeol accompanies him to Jongin's graduation. "Time really flies. He can't possibly be old enough to graduate."
"Aw, hyung," Chanyeol says, picking a piece of imaginary lint from Joonmyun's suit as Jongdae tries to find Jongin, and Sehun, in the mass of people leaving the auditorium. "You have to let the babies grow up eventually."
"Ah, there's Jongin!" Jongin isn't alone. He's got one of his sisters in tow, and Jongin waves excitedly before he remembers to be apathetic toward them.
"It's nice to see you again," Joonmyun says to Jongin's sister. "Congratulations, Jongin."
"No more math class!!" He seems more excited about that than anything else. "Oh right, noona, you remember Joonmyun-hyung and Jongdae. And I don't know if you remember him, but this is Chanyeol, Joonmyun-hyung's boyfriend."
Joonmyun doesn't register it at first, but when he does, it's like ice in his chest.
But Jongin's sister just smiles at Chanyeol, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "I've heard a lot about you and your tendency to break dishes."
"So many great qualities, and that's the one I'm known for?"
Jongdae laughs, and Jongin's sister makes a very Jongin-like expression of amusement.
"I'm going to go find mom," she says. "I'm sure you're going to track down Sehunnie."
She walks away, and Joonmyun doesn't know what to say. "You just—"
"What?" Jongin says.
"Chanyeol, you introduced him as…" Jongin's confused expression clears.
"Well, isn't he?"
"But you're not supposed to say…" He sneaks a look at Chanyeol, and Chanyeol is smiling, two full rows of white teeth.
"The world is changing," Jongin says, looking to the side, lips scrunched up. "Not fast, but it is."
"You sound so wise," Jongdae says, wiping away a fake tear. "Is this what graduating college does to immature little punks?"
"I'm still bigger than you," Jongin says, his graduation cap slipping sideways. "This is my special day, you have to be nice to me."
Joonmyun's stomach is still unraveling, but his heart is light. "All right, Jongin," Joonmyun says, smiling conspiratorially at Jongdae as Chanyeol leans a little closer. "But just for today. Don't get used to it."
"With you lot for friends?" Jongin shakes his head. "How could I?"
Chanyeol chuckles, low and soothing, and Joonmyun gathers his courage and grabs his hand. He looks out of the corner of his eye, and Chanyeol's smile has grown even larger.
This. This is more.