The Tiger & The Duke - foxxing (2024)

Chapter 1: somersault

Chapter Text

Park Jinyoung is having a terrible day.

He stays up too late the previous night working on a story, and by the time he's nearly beheading himself on his dresser in an attempt to disentangle himself from the bedsheets after waking up in a panic, he's already missed the bus. He has to go to work, and he frantically tries to get ready without making it look obvious that he woke up late; he throws on clothes hanging off the back of a chair and doesn't stop to check to see if they're clean or dirty. He'll have to change into his uniform, anyway, and he pulls on his shoes by the door with one hand as he grabs his messenger bag with the other. Missing the bus wouldn't be so terrible if his bike didn't have a flat tire, and he spends the next hour of the morning waiting for another bus kicking himself for not getting it fixed and replaying his conversation with Jackson over and over in his head—

"Get your bike fixed, Jinyoungie."

"I'll be fine. I barely ride it anyway, I always take the bus."

"What happens when you miss the bus?"

He had laughed then. "I never miss the bus."

Stupid. So, so stupid.

When the bus finally shows up, he's already an hour late for work. He looks through his messenger bag for his phone to call them at the restaurant, and deflates visibly when the line just rings and rings and no one answers. They must be busy. Tack on the commute to the restaurant and he'll be almost an hour and a half late, if traffic is forgiving. Adding on to the time is the five minutes he spends digging around his messenger bag for his bus pass, which he then remembers he had left on his bedside table. The bus driver, familiar with him now to the point where they ask about each other's families, takes pity on him, letting him on the bus without swiping his card. Almost an hour and a half later, he nearly falls through the glass front doors of the restaurant when he trips on a rock. Face burning with embarrassment, he doesn't look up at all the eyes on him as he hurriedly makes his way to the staff room at the back of the restaurant.

Finally at work after being nearly two hours late, he pushes the door open to the staff room. Sweat is pouring down his back, sticking his thin dress shirt to his skin in the same way his hair is plastered to his forehead. Their head chef, Mark, is sprawled in one of the armchairs on the side of the room, a sandwich halfway to his mouth that he drops in surprise when Jinyoung comes in.

"Jinyoung?" he says, picking up his sandwich where it landed on his apron, leaving crumbs all over the white material. Seeming to notice Jinyoung's condition, he grins widely. "You're so sweaty. Did you run here?"

Jinyoung makes a face at him. "No, but today has been a real disaster so far. I missed the bus, my bike has a flat tire—"

"Still?" Mark asks, mouth full, and Jinyoung shoots him a look as he opens his assigned locker and looks in it, heart dropping when he realizes his uniform isn't hanging up. He usually leaves it in his locker for a while, since it rarely gets dirty, but then a vivid image of his uniform crumpled on his bathroom floor where he'd shucked it after a particularly terrible shift flashes through this mind. He drops his head heavily against the cold blue metal.

"First I wake up late and miss the bus, then I leave my bus pass at home, no one answers when I call, I almost trip coming in the front door, I'm two hours late, and it doesn't even matter because I forgot my uniform." He's not trying to be dramatic, but he really can't help it—if the day gets any worse he's never going to get out of bed again.

Mark just laughs at him. "Do you need it?"

Sighing, Jinyoung slams his locker shut, messenger bag still around his middle. "Of course I need it. I can't work in this." He gestures to the wrinkled, salmon-colored material of his dress shirt where it sticks to him uncomfortably and is haphazardly tucked in to his khaki pants.

"You don't even work today."

Jinyoung's brow furrows. "Yes I do. I work from 2 to 9 today."

Mark's eyebrows raise, a frustratingly handsome smile plastered on his face. Jinyoung wishes he wouldn't be so charming all the time so that he could be annoyed. "You don't have a shift until Friday."

He feels his face start to redden in embarrassment as the realization sinks in. "Today's not Friday?"

Across the room, Mark laughs, high pitched and loud. His dishwater blonde hair falls in his eyes when he leans forward, slapping his knee. "How late did you stay up, Jinyoungie?"

Jinyoung wants to melt into the floor. He has a feeling Mark is right, and he goes to look at the schedule posted on the bulletin board by the fridge. His heart sinks when he sees that he, in fact, doesn't work until Friday. Now that he knows, he realizes Mark is right—it's barely Wednesday. Groaning softly, Jinyoung closes his eyes and lets his head drop against the cork board as Mark giggles gleefully behind him. Can this day get any worse?

It can, so it does.

After saying goodbye to Mark and walking quickly through the dining area with his head down, he walks a few blocks away to his favorite coffee shop. Having a whole day suddenly free after the chaos of the morning should be relieving to him, but it isn't—he doesn't know what to do, and without his laptop, he's woefully unprepared to sit around at the coffee shop and act like he's working on something.

But he goes anyway, and the barista is happy to see him. She types in his order before he can even say anything, and she asks how his day's been to fill the silence as he pulls out his credit card. Blessedly and thankfully that's one thing he didn't mess up that morning.

"It's been insane," he tells her, slipping it back into his shirt pocket as he leans on the counter. "I woke up late thinking I had to work but I got all the way to the restaurant and realized I didn't even have to be there at all."

Clucking her tongue and shaking her head, she grins at him. After a moment, she puts a lid on his drink and slides it across the counter. "Go sit. If I can get someone to cover me, I'll come talk for a while."

"Thanks, noona," Jinyoung says, and smiles. It's relieving, at least, that the day is finally going alright.

Which is, of course, the exact moment he realizes that his shoe is untied when he turns to take a step forward and goes careening into the person behind him.

He yelps unwittingly as he feels his shoelace catch underneath his other foot, and the suddenness of the stop has him automatically throwing both hands out to keep himself from going face first into the black tile floor. The coffee in his right hand loses its lid when he accidentally squeezes the cup, and then there's hot liquid splashing out and down his wrist. He yelps again, dropping the hot coffee entirely, catching himself on the jacket of the person behind him before he falls. He looks down at the ground, realizing that his hot coffee is a) completely gone now and he's going to have to pay for a new one and b) it has completely and utterly soaked the expensive looking leather shoes of the man who had been standing behind him in line.

In horror, he looks up at the man's face before realizing he's still holding onto his jacket, and he hastily lets go. The man is watching him with a mixture of fury and disbelief—his mouth is open like he wanted to say something, but can't find the words to say how stupid Jinyoung is. We can agree on that, at least, Jinyoung thinks to himself, and the longer he looks at the man's face in a shocked embarrassment he realizes that the man is quite handsome. It's almost as if life asked how can this be even worse, and then decided that the day Jinyoung spills coffee on someone, that someone is hot. Dark hair that looks expensively cut is styled messily across his forehead, falling just above piercing dark eyes with two angel's kisses above the left one. Silver jewelry shines in two spots on each ear, looking infinitely more expensive than Jinyoung could ever imagine, probably. He's not trying to appraise the guy, especially not after he tripped into him, but after taking in the sharp jawline and the long, unmarked neck does Jinyoung realize that the coffee he dropped has also completely soaked the front of the man's suit. Which is, by the looks of the rest of him, probably something stupid expensive. Like Gucci.

"sh*t," Jinyoung says, and looks back up to the man's face.

He flinches automatically when the guy raises a hand, and he's ashamed when the man notices and his gaze flickers over Jinyoung questioningly before he palms the material of his suit.

That is now soaked in coffee.

Because of Jinyoung.

"'sh*t'?" He says, deep voice colored in disbelief. Jinyoung feels himself redden all the way to his ears and he's really considering running from the coffee shop and never coming back. "That's all?"

"Sorry! Sorry," Jinyoung says in a rush, wishing the floor would just open up, swallow him whole, and never spit him back out. "I'm so sorry—"

The guy touches a hand to the front of the dark grey suit jacket, stained almost black with the coffee Jinyoung spilled on him. Almost all of his fingers are adorned with heavy rings that flash in the overhead lights of the coffee shop, and Jinyoung turns away to grab napkins off the counter before the man can say anything else to him. The people who had been standing in line behind the guy in the suit had disappeared, probably wanting to avoid the drama that was bound to unfold. Which, as Jinyoung crouches down to mop up the coffee on the floor, he thinks of how good of an idea it was and that he should have followed suit. He thinks it's an especially good idea when the man nudges Jinyoung's exposed ankle with his shoe.

"Clean these off too."

Jinyoung looks up at the man in utter disbelief, paper towels falling from his hand with a wet plop. "Excuse me?"

The man just looks at him, beautiful eyebrows raised. "What else are you going to do? Since you've ruined my suit and my shoes."

Jinyoung bristles. He hadn't expected the guy to not be mad—after all, Jinyoung did get coffee all over him. But Jinyoung prides himself on his gentleness with strangers, and most situations akin to this one are met with an equally as gentle sort of forgiveness. So when the (very pretty) man covered in coffee just watches him with a brusque expectancy, it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. He grimaces at the guy, and Jinyoung picks up the paper towels.

"This isn't the 1700s. I'm not gonna clean your shoes for you."

"Saying sorry isn't going to get the coffee stains out of this suit," the guy says, looking angry.

Now he's annoyed. Jinyoung stands up, turning away to throw the wet paper towels in the trash as he says, "no, but a dry cleaner probably will."

"What?"

The guy looks pissed now, and despite it being a little terrifying, Jinyoung has to really force himself not to crack a smile. The situation is technically his fault, but he's never had someone demand for him to clean his shoes like a servant, either, so he thinks the wisecrack was a little warranted. "Take it to a dry cleaner's. That's what they're for."

He rolls his eyes. "Are you going to pay for it?"

It's not that he can't afford it--between being at the restaurant for so long and the tips he gets, he makes enough money to live comfortably while also paying off student loans. With the guy's attitude, though, he really doesn't want to. "Should I?"

Seeming to give it a thought, the man stares at him for a moment before making a noise of disgust. "No. Forget about it."

Jinyoung can't help but be a little surprised: only moments ago, the handsome guy he spilled his coffee all over was demanding that Jinyoung clean his shoes (leather shoes, with a paper towel? He's probably never cleaned his own shoes in his life if he thinks that's how it works) but is letting him skimp out on paying for the dry cleaning? Maybe this day isn't going too terribly after all.

Seemingly dismissed, Jinyoung waves to the barista before leaving the coffee shop. There's a bus stop right outside that, thankfully, goes to the stop just outside his apartment, and he sits down on the bench to wait for the bus. After a few moments, he can't stop thinking about the guy's face--he's easily the most handsome guy Jinyoung's ever seen, and Jinyoung was a complete idiot and spilled his coffee all over him. Groaning audibly, he puts his face in his hands. He was a dick, sure, but he was hot, and Jinyoung totally made an ass out of himself. Not just in front of him, but the people at the coffee shop, too, whom he sees almost every day. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and calls Jackson.

"Hello, Jinyoungie," he answers after a few rings, voice a little muffled under the sound of the wind.

"Where are you?"

"Walking to Yugyeom's," he says, and there's a ton of traffic noise that almost cuts off his reply. "Why, where are you?"

"I'm outside the coffee shop." He sighs, slumping back against the wall of the bus stop. "I did something embarrassing."

"Oh, no."

"First of all, this day has been a complete disaster. I woke up late for work, and I spent twenty minutes freaking out and trying to throw something together so that I could catch the bus, and then realized that I had missed the bus entirely. Then I had to wait for an hour for another bus to come--"

Jackson interrupts him, voice sing-songy. "Not if you had fixed your bike."

"Shut up," he says, but not unkindly. "Anyway, so I'm almost two hours late to the restaurant, and I get there and Mark tells me I don't even work today. So I leave and go to the coffee shop, where everything is going fine, until I trip and spill my entire coffee on the guy standing behind me in line."

Even over the sound of traffic in the background, he can hear Jackson burst into hysterical laughter. "No. The whole cup?"

Jackson can't see him, but he grimaces anyway. "Yes. The whole cup."

"Oh that's--" Jackson stops, voice suddenly serious. "Wait. Oh, no. Was he hot?"

Deflating further and wishing he could just sink into the floor of the bus stop and through the crust of the earth, he sighs. "Yes, he was hot. Very hot, actually. The hottest guy I've ever seen."

"Bold statement."

"It's true, though." Jinyoung turns around, phone pressed to his ear. Through the gaps in the grating on the wall of the bus stop, he can see into the large window to the tables of the coffee shop, and he looks to see if the hot guy is still in there. "He was kind of a dick though. Actually, he was a huge dick. He told me to clean his leather shoes with a paper towel."

Jackson snorts. "Hot and an idiot."

"Truly," Jinyoung agrees, and his eyes sweep the patrons again before finally finding the guy. He almost screams when he realizes the guy is staring straight at him, the same pissed off look on his face from before. Jinyoung turns around hastily, pressing his back into the wall and praying like hell the bus shows up. "sh*t, he saw me."

"You're still there? After you spilled coffee on him?"

"No! I'm at the bus stop outside."

There's a moment of commotion on the other end of the line that ends in Jackson cursing someone out with all the filthy English words he knows. "Sorry. Anyway, you're outside and he's still watching you?"

"I guess," Jinyoung says, leaning forward and rejoicing internally when he sees the bus coming up the street. "I turned around to see if he was still there and we made eye contact, so now I'm waiting for the bus to pick up speed so I can throw myself in front of it."

"Huh. Hot, an idiot, and creepy. Sounds like your type."

"That's not true."

Jackson laughs again. "Also, don't be dramatic. This probably won't be the first time you spill coffee on the hottest person you've ever seen."

"Shut up."

_____________

Needless to say, Jackson won't let him live it down.

They're just hanging out on their mutual off day, Jackson lounging on his small bed on his back with some sh*tty tabloid magazine open above his face. The silence between them is comfortable, and Jinyoung is trying to write a little bit when he hears Jackson sigh and drop the tabloid. He puts down his pen and turns around in his chair, laughing when he sees Jackson laying very still on his bed with the magazine over his face.

"What?"

Jackson lifts up the magazine, closing it and letting it drop to the floor just because he knows Jinyoung hates it. "Remember when you spilled coffee on that guy?"

Jinyoung groans, leaning back in his chair. "Get over it already! It was a week ago."

Flipping over, Jackson looks at him gleefully. "Yeah, but it's hilarious. Stuff like that never happens to you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" He doesn't think Jackson was trying to insult him, but he's offended anyway.

The older boy snorts, shaking his bleached blonde hair out of his eyes. Jinyoung is impressed by (and slightly envious of) how good it looks on him. "Stuff like this just never happens to you. Your adolescence was so cut and dry. School was fine, you got really hot--"

Jinyoung makes a face at this. "Thanks."

Continuing as if he hasn't spoken, Jackson says, "--you went to college, dated a little, got a degree, and now you have a fun job at a restaurant with cool people and you live in a cool apartment. Shenanigans don't happen to you the way they happen to, say, me. Or Yugyeom."

Knowing Jackson for over half his life really helps in not strangling him when he says things like this. Jackson's life has always been a little more wild than his--in high school, and even into college, Jackson was always Mr. Popular and always had everyone's absolute undivided attention (including his). Jackson's parents were more accepting of his decision to come to Korea, even after he went to international school in Hong Kong and had all the skills to do something potentially important. But, to Jackson, just making people laugh was important and fulfilling, and despite their apprehension for him, they always gave in. And their friendship has always been strong--when Jinyoung's parents were the exact opposite of Jackson's, always disapproving of everything he did and telling him he could be better, Jackson was always there to put a smile on his face. But because of the pressure from his parents, Jinyoung didn't feel...welcome. The parties, the trips--Jinyoung was so focused on trying to do one thing so well that he wouldn't risk making a mistake at all.

The sudden roller coaster of thoughts makes his chest hurt. He doesn't really want to think about this right now, so Jinyoung just forces a grin and rolls his eyes. "I don't want the kinds of things that happen to Yugyeom to happen to me."

"Why not! They're fun."

"Jackson, I don't think that getting black out drunk in Seoul and ending up almost getting arrested at the Incheon airport for chasing a goat onto the tarmac can be considered 'fun'."

"Okay, okay, okay," Jackson says, sitting up and folding his legs underneath him. "But you've got to admit, your life is pretty boring."

Jinyoung scoffs. "Rude. My life is perfectly fine."

"Whatever. Just accept that you spilling a hot coffee all over a sexy rich guy in your favorite coffee shop and ruining his suit will always be funny to me and that I'll never forget and never let you live it down for as long as I live."

His heart isn't really in it, but Jinyoung cracks a smile as Jackson erupts in gleeful giggles as he ducks out of the way at the pen Jinyoung throws at his head.

____________

True to his word, Jackson doesn't let him live it down, but at least he's stopped telling their friends three weeks after it happened. Bambam just felt bad for him—"That's awful, I can't believe you didn't die of embarrassment" —while, as expected, Wild Yugyeom thought it was the funniest thing ever. Much like Jackson, Yugyeom teased him senselessly about it until it got a little old, and now Jinyoung can finally let the memory die.

Saturdays at the restaurant are always the busiest, and he feels like he and Bambam have been there for hours already when the dinner rush barely starts. Meeting in the kitchen to take a breather before going to check back in their tables, they collapse together against the giant, steel door of the meat locker.

"Is it always this busy?" Bambam asks, whining slightly. He's still relatively new, but his cute face and shamelessly friendly nature makes him one of the best servers they have. Jinyoung, being head server, approves of him immensely.

Jinyoung grins, elbowing him a little. "You ask that every weekend."

"That's because every weekend feels busier than the last."

Before Jinyoung can answer, the owner walks in and immediately finds them with his eyes. The both of them scramble to stand up straight and give him a polite bow, and Jinyoung can feel himself reddening a little at having been caught slacking off by the owner. However, the owner has always doted on the two of them (almost suffocatingly so—there hasn't been a holiday where his sunbaenim hasn't called him to wish him well), and he just smiles.

"Hello, boys. Have you been well?"

They both nod, with Bambam getting less nervous and immediately falling into nice, friendly chatter. It's both frustrating and convenient that the owner has the same name as him: there's been many a time where Jinyoung's taken angry calls from people who think he's the owner. Sometimes, if he's feeling feisty, he'll pretend to be him and just hang up.

He almost doesn't realize that he's being asked a question. "I'm sorry, Park Jinyoung sunbaenim. Can you say that again?"

The older man just smiles at him. "I asked if you were up for serving the Room tonight."

His heart sinks. Their restaurant, one of the biggest and nicest in Seoul, has been home to every business meeting under the sun. The fanciness of the decor and the strict formal dress code makes it a prime place for business, and the addition of a private dining room toward the back of the restaurant that's available by reservation only had that increasing tenfold. Getting to serve the Room is both a blessing and a curse: generally the business people tip well (Jinyoung's walked out with 700,000 won in cash in his pocket before), but there's a certain level of servitude involved in being assigned to the Room that makes Jinyoung feel less like a public service worker and more like a butler. Not to mention having to listen to all the drab, technical business speak over the sounds of rich people talking with their mouths full.

His whole body screams at him not to do it: he's supposed to be off in three hours, but if the Room's guests were just seated, he could be here for a lot longer than that. He opens his mouth to offer it to Bambam when he hears himself say, "of course, sunbaenim. It would be my pleasure."

"Fantastic! I'll go let them know that their server will be right with them." The older man reaches out to pat Jinyoung affectionately on the shoulder. Jinyoung smiles, if a little awkwardly, until he turns to walk away.

Once his back is turned and he leaves the kitchen area, Jinyoung deflates. Bambam grabs his arm dramatically. "Oh my god, why did I say yes?"

Bambam laughs, letting go of his arm and straightening his apron. "Mostly because Park Jinyoung sunbae loves you, but also because you don't hate me enough to give me the Room on a Saturday night."

Jinyoung pouts, only grumbling in his direction as a response. Laughing, Bambam reaches out and pats his shoulder in a mockery of the owner just a few moments ago. "You can do this, Jinyoung hyung."

"I know I can," he says, standing up straight and smoothing down the front of his stark, black apron. "I just don't want to."

"Just wait until you walk out of their with your month's rent in cash. Then you won't hate it so much."

With a grin, he lightly shoves Bambam towards the swinging doors that lead toward the dining room. When the younger boy disappears through them and leaves him alone in the kitchen, he drops the smile and breathes in deep, smoothing out his features into a look that can be both charming and professional all at once. He turns to check his hair in the reflection of the steel door, and can't help but laugh at himself a little when he realizes how ridiculous he's being. Making sure his order pad is in his front apron pocket, he makes his way out the swinging doors and down the hallway to the Room.

The hallway outside is dimly lit, whether to add ambiance against the dark red paint on the walls or just because Park Jinyoung sunbae wants to save on electricity, he doesn't know. His shoes are near silent on the dark carpet as he approaches, and once he's outside he can hear the low murmur of voices inside the room. Taking a deep breath, he turns the ornate gold doorknob inlaid into the heavy, dark oak and slips into the room.

It's not a big room, and it looks even smaller than it really is due to the long, oak dining table bisecting it down the middle. The interior is exactly like the hallway outside: near/black carpet, deep red walls, and soft lighting set in large, glass candelabras along the sides of the room. Above the table is an ornate chandelier, made entirely of glass and inlaid with diamonds. It's completely over the top, but Park Jinyoung sunbae was so excited to install it that Jinyoung doesn't have to heart to tell him how gaudy it looks.

There's not as many people as usual: only seven men are seated at the far end of the table, chatting to each other lightly and still looking at their menus. From where he's standing against the far wall, it's a little difficult to see their faces, but by the way light reflects off cuff links and watches he knows they must be serious businessmen. None of them have so much as looked in his direction and that's fine by him. He watches them talk amongst themselves for a while longer, wondering if, by some miracle, he'll get out of work at a decent hour and can maybe meet up with Jackson. Sighing inwardly, he gears up to be disgustingly polite as he steps forward toward the table.

"Hello," he says, immediately gaining all of their attention with his formal greeting. Jinyoung bows politely, hands folded against his abdomen. Looking around at them, he sees that they're all the pretty standard type of business men: middle aged, greying, polite but not excessively friendly. "My name is Park Jinyoung and I'll be your—"

"Yah," a voice says at his elbow, and there's suddenly an eighth person in the room. The deep voice, vaguely familiar, makes him jump in surprise. Flustered, Jinyoung puts a hand over his heart to try and steady the rapid beating of it, and he turns to address the man who had so rudely interrupted him.

Despite the dimness of the room, their eyes meet almost immediately and Jinyoung feels like he's been electrocuted. It's the handsome guy from the coffee shop, and he feels himself lose the color in his face as he recognizes him. Jinyoung prays it's not actually him, that it's just someone with equally as nicely styled hair and beautifully strong eyebrows and two tiny, delicate moles above his eyes, but then the man is looking at him with something akin to disbelief. "You're the guy who spilled coffee on me a few weeks ago. Aren't you?"

He has every opportunity in the world to lie. Really, he should—it would make this dinner go by faster, probably, if he wasn't being heckled every two minutes about ruining some rich asshole's weekday Versace suit. He wants to lie, in fact, something that he never does, because Jinyoung knows that as soon he tells Jackson he ended up having to serve the guy he spilled coffee all over, he's going to have a field day with it. Clearing his throat, Jinyoung opens his mouth to tell the lie of the century and is immensely disappointed with himself when he says politely,

"Yes."

Aish.

The man opens his mouth to say something, but then one of the older men at the table is standing up. "Jaebum-ssi!" he says, opening his long arms in greeting as he comes over. So, the handsome guy's name is Jaebum. At least he has something to tell Jackson so that they can stop referring to him as Sexy Coffee Shop Guy or Hot Coffee Man. The thought of the nicknames has him cracking a small smile, and Jaebum narrows his eyes. But before he can say anything, the older man is stepping in between them and guiding Jaebum to a seat with an arm around his shoulders, talking lowly. Jinyoung is staunchly relieved.

After asking him if they can have another few moments to decide, Jinyoung bows politely and pretends like he can't feel Jaebum's angry stare on his back as he leaves the room. He hurries down the hallway toward the staff room, on the verge of breaking into a cold sweat by the time he finally gets to his locker and wrestles his cellphone out of his messenger bag. Checking to make sure none of his bosses are around (though, with how long he's been working here and how much they all love him, he doubts they would mind), he sends a quick text to Jackson and prays he's not away from his phone.

Jackson. That guy is here.

He gets lucky when the typing bubble shows up, and Jackson's reply comes a few seconds later. Who?

Coffee shop guy.

THE HOT ONE? Jinyoung can practically hear Jackson yelling.

Yes, he types back quickly. His name is Jaebum.

Ooooh. Sexy~

Jinyoung makes a face at his phone. Ha, ha. I'm their server

Jackson's reply takes a little bit longer this time, and Jinyoung anxiously taps his toe on the hard tile of the staff room while he waits. Finally his phone chimes, and he looks down at it.

You have to serve him now? Don't spill anything on him again kekekekekek

Sighing and rolling his eyes, he reads the message and locks his phone back in his locker, regretting even bothering to tell Jackson at all. He absentmindedly messes around in the staff room for a little bit longer, giving the businessmen in the Room more time to decide so that, hopefully, he can go put their orders in and be that much closer to getting off work. Not that putting in their orders is going to free him of them entirely: on his way back, he stops by the kitchen to grab the drink cart. The glasses on top rattle quietly as he wheels it down the hallway, nodding to some of the other servers when he passes them near the kitchen.

"Serving the Room tonight, huh?" One of them asks, and Jinyoung recognizes him as one of the weekend staff members.

Jinyoung nods. "Yeah."

The guy just barks a laugh, which surprises him. "I'd be careful, if I were you."

Does this guy know he spilled coffee on Jaebum, too? "What does that mean?"

"One of the guys in there is like, one of the richest dudes in South Korea. From what I heard, anyway. And I heard he's a real..." the guy trails off, struggling to find a word.

Deflating, Jinyoung thinks he knows who he might be talking about. "Asshole?"

Giving him a finger gun, the weekend server clicks his tongue. "You said it, not me. Good luck!" And then he's disappearing back into the dining room, leaving Jinyoung alone in the hallway with an entire rack of expensive wine older than he is.

He sighs.

So far, everything is going fine. When he goes back into the room with the drink cart, all the men are excited to finally have wine to drink, and while some of them make polite small talk as he pours their drinks, they mostly talk amongst themselves. The only issue is when he gets to Jaebum, who's sitting on the end and doesn't have anyone on his left side to block Jinyoung from getting close to him. Jinyoung doesn't say anything to him as he pours the wine, focusing on the way the dark red wine fills the immaculately clean glass. Just when he's about to pull away, Jaebum puts a hand on the neck of the wine bottle, forcing him to pour more of it.

A little annoyed, Jinyoung says quietly, "if you finish the bottle you're going to have to pay for the whole thing instead of just a glass."

He can feel Jaebum's dark eyes on the side of his face, and the short, quiet laugh Jaebum gives him feels condescending. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."

His irritation grows. At first, he was entirely intimidated by him and embarrassed about what happened, but so far tonight, all of their interactions have left Jinyoung increasingly more annoyed by the older man's attitude. He wonders if Jaebum is anyone terribly important and fleetingly wonders if he'd be able to get away with "accidentally" spilling wine on his crisp, well-fitting dove grey suit. Seeming to further increase Jinyoung's annoyance is the fact that he notices that the particular cut and color of Jaebum's suit looks good on him.

Jinyoung doesn't say anything else, and he has to try really hard to not pull a face as he turns to place the wine back on the cart. The men finally all decide that they're ready to place their orders, and Jinyoung does another round as he tends to all of them one by one. As if picking up on the fact that Jaebum's eyeing him, they make him go last, and the other men have dissolved into overlapping conversations as Jaebum rattles off a long and complicated order.

He doesn't even bother writing half of it down, because he's been a server for almost four years and it's not that complicated of an order--with all the foreigners that come here, Jinyoung has had to deal with far worse. Jaebum seems to notice that Jinyoung stopped writing, because he looks up at him sharply. "Did you get all that?"

"Yes, ahjussi."

"Ahjussi?" Jaebum says, almost like he's offended. "I'm barely thirty four."

He can't help it. "Fascinating," he says, monotone, and Jaebum looks surprised. Jinyoung feels himself redden slightly but doesn't apologize. "Is that all, ahjussi?"

Jaebum's just staring at him with an unreadable expression on his handsome face, and Jinyoung's starting to get uncomfortable with their intense eye contact when Jaebum finally sighs and breaks it. "Refill this," he says, tapping the rim of his now empty wine glass with fingers adorned with the same heavy rings Jinyoung saw in the coffee shop. If he purposely leaves off "please", Jinyoung doesn't acknowledge it. Equally as purposefully, Jinyoung barely fills it to the bare minimum. Jaebum's turned away from him and is immersed in conversation with the older man sitting next to him and doesn't notice, so Jinyoung takes the time to put the wine back on the cart and slip out of the room with their orders.

Free again, he leans on the barrier between the kitchen and the server's station while he waits for the chef to come over. Mark finally pops up a few moments later, grinning widely when he sees Jinyoung waiting.

"Jinyoungie," he says, and his wide smile and silky voice making Jinyoung's heart flutter. Jackson's been asking him if he has a crush on Mark for the past four years, and he always says No, are you crazy, we work together, besides he's straight to which Jackson would always answer with an obscene wiggle of his eyebrows and a sultry How do you know? Regardless of whether he's denying a crush or not, Mark is still the person he's closest to at the restaurant, and he wouldn't have it any other way. "Got some orders for me?"

"Yes," he says, sighing. He slides the order slips forward, shuffling through them to find Jaebum's and separates it. He taps it impatiently. "This one's annoying."

Mark laughs. "The person or the order?"

He pulls a face. "Both."

"Fantastic," Mark says, and Jinyoung's heartbeat speeds up when Mark leans an elbow on the barrier between them, their arms a hairsbreadth away from each other. "What's annoying about it?"

Jinyoung rattles off all the modifications from memory, Mark nodding every so often until he's done. Mark lets out a low whistle when he finally finishes, giving Jinyoung a look. "Sounds fussy."

"He is," Jinyoung says, but then decides that he can't really say that since he doesn't know the guy. "I spilled coffee on him a few weeks ago."

Mark laughs again, turning when someone calls his name from the kitchen. They ask him for the orders from the Room, and Mark slides them off the counter and hands them over before turning back to him. "Please elaborate."

"I'm surprised you haven't heard this already," Jinyoung says, resting his cheek in his hand. "Everyone already knows about it."

"Oh, I have," Mark says, and he squeals a high-pitched laugh when Jinyoung reaches the barrier and hits him lightly on the shoulder. "I just want to hear it from the source."

He sighs like he's annoyed, but the way Mark is watching him with his chin resting in both hands like a school-girl listening to her crush has him cracking a wide smile. "It was the day I came all the way down here and didn't work, remember? When I left, I walked down to the coffee shop on the corner and was talking to the noona at the counter and didn't realize my shoe was untied, so when I turned around to walk away, I tripped on it. Hot coffee went everywhere, all over his suit and shoes and the floor. Burnt the sh*t out of my wrist, too, but the guy was too concerned with his shoes to notice. He asked me to clean them for him, right there in line."

Bursting into laughter, Mark pats him comfortingly on the shoulder before standing up straight. "Ahh, I did know all that, but it was much funnier coming from you."

Childishly, Jinyoung sticks his tongue out at him and Mark does it back before turning and disappearing back into the depths of the kitchens, leaving him to go back to tend to their guests.


When he gets back to the Room, he's barely made it to the door when he can already hear all their loud voices from outside. Worried, he comes in quickly and shuts the door quietly, hurrying to to the table to see what the commotion is all about when he realizes that they'd just broken into all of the bottles of wine instead of the one. There's eight or nine wine glasses scattered around the table, everyone's glass full almost to the brim with every color wine on the spectrum. Jinyoung can't help but wonder what kind of business meeting this is with everyone getting piss drunk before their food even arrives.

One of the nicer ahjussis beckons to him, and he walks over and stands a polite distance away as the man leans dangerously far out of his seat toward him. "Park Jinyoung, you said?"

"Yes, that's me."

The man's furry grey eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "So young to own a place so renowned."

It takes him a second, but he realizes that the man is assuming he's the Park Jinyoung, and he's immediately backtracking. "Oh, no, no, no, that's not me. Park Jinyoung sunbae and I have the same name, but he owns the place."

He nods, and Jinyoung is suddenly uncomfortable with everyone's eyes on him, especially Jaebum's glare from his seat on the end. The ahjussi sways, and Jinyoung twitches like he's going to catch him from falling over when he rights himself. Laughing, he says, "well, please let Park Jinyoung sunbae know that he hires very polite and handsome servers."

The guy doesn't seem like he's hitting on him, but Jinyoung laughs awkwardly and bows anyway. "Thank you, ahjussi. I'll let him know."

Seemingly placated, the man nods at him and starts a loud conversation with the men across from him, and Jinyoung slips away. He's almost in the clear when he walks by Jaebum and feels the older man's hand close around his wrist and pull him back. Startled, Jinyoung stumbles into the back of Jaebum's chair, barely catching himself. "Yes, ahjussi?" he asks quietly, voice thin. Angrily, he yanks his arm out of Jaebum's grip, who lets him go easily.

There's a cool smugness to his features that Jinyoung really wants to slap off his face. His voice, when he speaks, is low. "He's right, you know."

His heart skips a beat. There's no way that Jaebum is going to hit on him, is there? He starts to pray rapidly in his head that Jaebum just says something about Park Jinyoung sunbae and lets him go, but then he watches as Jaebum's eyes rake up and down his body. It's lazy, like a cat stretching and extending its claws after just waking up, but it's predatory in a way that makes him fidget. He's not even wearing anything nice--just the crisp white button down and black, form fitting slacks of his uniform.

Suddenly nervous, Jinyoung looks over the top of his head instead of right at him. "About what?"

"About Park Jinyoung sunbae hiring handsome servers. If only they were less clumsy, as well."

There's a sharp grin on the older man's face, and Jinyoung reddens like he'd been chastised. The nervousness fades as it dawns on him that Jaebum is making fun of him, and he has to really reign himself in as to not hit him. Jinyoung meets his eyes, anger only growing as Jaebum watches him with an infuriating, smug smirk. "I'll let him know," Jinyoung replies, tone clipped.

Jaebum seems unfazed by his sudden anger, and this only fans the flames. Jinyoung is about to say something ugly when he feels the pager in his apron pocket buzz, meaning he's needed in the kitchen. He turns to go without saying anything when Jaebum grabs him by the wrist again and pulls him back.

He yanks his arm from Jaebum's grip again, who's still watching him with a smug look. "Park Jinyoung sunbae wouldn't appreciate hearing about me getting manhandled by patrons, no matter how rich they are, so please do not grab me again," he says, and he feels triumphant when the apparent overconfidence on Jaebum's face slips momentarily.

Jaebum leans back and drapes one arm over the back of the chair where he's half turned toward him in it, legs spread. He looks like every co*cky, uptight, spoiled rich boy in every club he's ever been to, and Jinyoung refrains from rolling his eyes. "You can call me Jaebum-ssi."

Jinyoung bristles. The term implies a certain level of familiarity, and he has no interest whatsoever in being familiar with Jaebum in any other way than spilling his coffee all over him, which Jinyoung now thinks he deserves. Jinyoung just looks at him, a smile plastered across his face that hopefully looks as fake as it feels. "No, thank you. I have to check on the food now. Anything else, ahjussi?" He places enough emphasis on the last word to really make it stick, and he feels inherently satisfied when Jaebum is dismissive and turns away from him.

Good riddance, he thinks to himself, and leaves the room, pretending that he can't feel Jaebum's eyes on his back the entire way.

The rest of the night serving the Room almost goes painlessly. Almost.

After he comes back with their food, he hangs around against the walls, not engaging anyone in conversation but being available when someone needs something. He tunes out most of their business talk, the lingo and technical banteruninteresting to him and therefore not worth listening to. Jaebum rarely says anything, and Jinyoung can't help but watch him when he does. There's a quiet sort of power within him, all eyes on him when he speaks, regardless of being the youngest person in the group by what Jinyoung assumes is probably handful of years. His handsomeness is intimidating, and his demeanor demands a certain level of respect and attention that the men around him give freely and without complaint, despite all being older. Jinyoung wonders, then, if Jaebum is their boss, and he feels surprised. He starts listening a little more closely, hoping someone will slip Jaebum's last name into their conversation. It's hard to pay attention when most of it is boring business talk about things Jinyoung doesn't have any interest in, like stocks and investments and branches, but then one of the older men is roaring with laughter after Jaebum says something funny.

"Im Jaebum," the man says, wiping his eyes. "You're too much. Your father would be proud."

Jinyoung, standing against the wall, goes completely still. Im Jaebum? It's not exactly an uncommon name, so he could theoretically be anyone, but there's a sinking feeling in his gut that's telling him that it's the Im Jaebum. As in, the Im Jaebum that owns half of the entertainment industry in South Korea, inherited after his father passed away some years ago. That would make him the Im Jaebum, the youngest, richest man in the country.

Almost as if he can hear Jinyoung's thoughts, Jaebum suddenly catches his eye from across the room. They just stare at each other for a second, Jinyoung too surprised to move--he can't believe he didn't make the connection sooner; Jaebum's picture has been plastered all over the papers for years, and the guy is constantly on the news for some untraditional business practice that has him just raking in money year after year. The tabloids never really interested him, though, and he rarely watches the news; he only knows this because of the long, droning recaps his mother gives him over the phone when he feels bored enough to call. Jinyoung breaks the eye contact first, looking over his head like the wall has something more interesting to look at. He suddenly wishes that Park Jinyoung sunbae would have put the god-awful impressionist paintings he loves so much up in here, after all.

Jinyoung busies himself with refilling everyone's drinks, laughing and smiling and making little quips where appropriate, but he gets purposefully stoic when he reaches Jaebum. He feels his pager buzz in his apron pocket, and the sudden motion surprises him. His hand jerks involuntarily, and some of the wine he's pouring splashes onto the table instead of the wine glass. No one else except Jaebum seems to notice, and he curses under his breath as he reaches into his pocket to grab a dishtowel. Jaebum's eyes burn a hole in the side of his head as he cleans up the spill, and it makes him increasingly more frustrated to the point where he breaks and looks over expectantly.

"Can't wait to spill something else on me, huh?" Jaebum says, eyes half lidded and voice thick with alcohol.

Jinyoung rolls his eyes. "Ha, ha."

Jaebum cracks a smile then, the first one Jinyoung's ever seen on his face, and he hates how pleasing it is to look at. His attention is momentarily divided when one of the men behind him declares that they're all finished and are ready for the check, to be split eight ways. Turned away from him, Jinyoung guiltily admires the curve of his neck as he waves an arm and says, "no, no, it's on me tonight, gentleman, I thank you for your time and for your business," before turning back to look up at him. The smile returns, looking real. Jinyoung swallows.

"Check, please."

The way he says it isn't demanding, but rather teasingly, and Jinyoung makes a face. He's glad that Jaebum is drunk when the older man laughs quietly at him, and that he probably won't remember this part of their conversation. Jinyoung disappears to the server's station to tally up their check, and he lets out a low whistle when he sees how much it is.

"Wow, all that for one person?" someone says behind him, and Jinyoung turns slightly to see Choi Youngjae behind him, drying his hands on a dishtowel.

"Hi, Youngjae-yah," Jinyoung says, and is comforted when Youngjae comes up behind him and rests his chin on Jinyoung's shoulder to read the Room's check.

"Nearly 900,000 won?!" Youngjae says in surprise, and Jinyoung laughs.

Jinyoung prints out the check, flapping it playfully in the younger boy's direction. "You made all their food, you should know why it's so expensive."

"I didn't make all of it!" Youngjae yelps, grabbing at the receipt and childishly flashing his tongue when Jinyoung pulls it out of his reach. "Mark's head chef, I'm just the apprentice. I don't make everything, you know this."

Patting his pockets down to make sure he has a pen, he shoves the receipt into his apron. "True, but I know Mark believes in you and trusts your skill, so I know you made a lot more than you're giving yourself credit for." Jinyoung smiles affectionately when Youngjae blushes. "They loved it, by the way."

Youngjae just hits him playfully on the shoulder, abandoning the dishtowel on the counter. "Don't you have a check to give to someone? Get out of here."

Jinyoung makes his way back to the Room with a small smile on his face, knowing that as soon as he's done processing Jaebum's credit card, he's free to go. They'll have someone else bus the table and clean the room, which is a blessing. If there's a stain on the table from where he spilled the wine, he doesn't want to see it.

When he gets back to the Room, all the men have gone except Jaebum. He's sitting alone at the table, cheek resting in his palm and staring absentmindedly at the plates stacked up in the middle of the table. The lights from above him cast shadows across his face in a way that makes him look even more aesthetically pleasing, which Jinyoung didn't even think was possible. Jaebum is so lost in his own world that he doesn't hear Jinyoung approach, and Jinyoung has to reach out and gently touch his shoulder to get his attention.

"Ahjussi," he says quietly, and pulls his hand away when Jaebum jumps.

"You scared me," he says, voice still slurred, and Jinyoung hopes like hell there's a cab waiting outside for him. "Very quiet, Park Jinyoung."

He doesn't know what to say to that, since he came in at the same volume he always has, so he just holds out the receipts for Jaebum to sign. The older man takes them, their fingers brushing, and Jaebum looks at him with a gazeso intense that Jinyoung looks away. Clearing his throat, Jaebum spreads the receipts out on the table. "Which one is mine?" he asks, like it matters.

Jinyoung leans forward and politely taps the one under his left hand. "This one."

Jaebum signs the other one, placing it as neatly as he can back into the receipt book Jinyoung had handed him. Jinyoung's about to ask for his pen back when Jaebum reaches into his inside jacket pocket and pulls out a gorgeous, maroon leather wallet. He flips through it for a second, looking for something, and then he's pulling out a small, white card and laying it face down on the table. He scribbles on it quickly, looking at it for a moment before deciding he's apparently satisfied and clicking the pen shut. Without looking at him, Jaebum holds the card out.

"Am I supposed to take that?" He asks, looking at the card in between two of Jaebum's fingers disdainfully.

Looking over, Jaebum co*cks an eyebrow. "Yes."

Jinyoung wants to make a smart remark, but he just plucks the card out of Jaebum's hand in curiosity. His fears are confirmed when the lightly embossed front of the card reads IM JAEBUM, CEO across the front with a website and business email in the lower left corner. Flipping it over, he sees a phone number scribbled messily in blue ink.

He can't help it--he laughs. "You can't be serious."

Unfazed, Jaebum shrugs.

"You're giving your phone number to me? A stranger?"

"You're not that much of a stranger, are you?" he says, dark eyes searching Jinyoung's face. "Keep it. Just in case you ever want to make some real money."

Jinyoung freezes, hand in his pocket where he stuffed it at the very bottom. Jaebum doesn't seem like he's going to say anything else, standing up and shoving his wallet back in the inside pocket of his jacket without looking at him. He's in disbelief--in case you ever want to make some real money--what, like he's not making good enough money right now? He looks down at the number again, realizing that this is a personal phone number; there's no extension, so Im Jaebum must have just willingly handed over his cellphone number to Jinyoung saying "call me if you ever want to make some real money".

Is Jaebum insinuating he's a prostitute? That's definitely what he means, right?

Anger flares up in him at the audacity of the older man to just assume that he doesn't make enough to live being a server so he'd f*ck for money. Jaebum is snapping in front of his face suddenly, and Jinyoung just stares at him in utter disbelief as Jaebum pulls some folded up bills from his pants pocket and counts it in front of him. He stops at 500,000 won, holding it out to Jinyoung.

"Here," he says, voice a little more steady but still clearly drunk on the bottles of wine they emptied.

"What is this?" Jinyoung asks, voice flat.

"A tip."

Disgusted, Jinyoung pushes Jaebum's hand toward him and declines it, angrily grabbing the signed receipt book up off the table and putting it in his apron. "Keep it," he says, not bothering to look up at Jaebum. "I don't need your phone number for booty calls and I don't need your money, either."

Jaebum still stands there, money in hand. "Wha--"

Cutting him off, Jinyoung bows politely. "Thank you, Mr. Im, and goodnight."

He leaves the room, inexplicably angry at someone he barely knows, letting the door slam shut on Jaebum's reply.

Chapter 2: beacon

Notes:

early chapter in celebration of finishing my term paper. ♡

Chapter Text

That night when he gets home, he slams his front door so hard he hears the window above the sink rattle in the kitchen. Had it hit the frame any harder he thinks it might've shattered; the anger coursing through his blood feels irrational but there's also a little piece of him whispering away in the back of his mind that being offended and pissed off is totally warranted. Because, seriously. Call me if you want to make some real money?

Jinyoung grunts as he throws his bag down, not even sparing it another glance as it falls from the couch and spills the contents on the floor where they disappear under the old, warping coffee table. He kicks his shoes off and angrily yanks at his tie; there's a single, fleeting moment where he considers just stripping off his entire uniform and setting it on fire. As he makes his way to his bedroom still loosening the knot with his fingers and unbuttoning his shirt with his other hand, he wonders if he should call Jackson. Would he even pick up? Jinyoung glances at the clock by his bedside when he strips off his shirt and sighs at the time.

It's barely midnight, but it's a Saturday and Jackson is probably busy at the bar now. There's the slight possibility that he's not working, but Saturday is the busiest night of the week and Jinyoung knows how much Jackson loves all the attention he gets from girls and guys alike, so even if he hadn't been working he would have picked up a shift. Which is fine. Jackson likes his job, and that makes Jinyoung happy, but the selfish part of him hates that it makes Jackson unavailable at times where he needs him the most.

Like when a certain flashy, rich, attractive asshole named Im Jaebum practically throws money at him and asks, in not so many words, if he wants to be a prostitute.

He scoffs. A prostitute. He's had a lot of the men (and women) that he's served at their restaurant over the years proposition him for various things, like investments for soap making businesses and dates with their daughters, and yes, even the occasional you wanna go out later? But never, in the four years he's been a waiter, has anyone ever propositioned him into being a personal f*cking prostitute.

“What the f*ck?” he says out loud, shirt gripped angrily in one hand before he throws it in the direction of his hamper, not caring when it misses and sides to the floor. He mumbles to himself under his breath as he continues to undress, wondering aloud in muted bursts and streams of consciousness, did I really get propositioned like that or am I just imagining things? Am I projecting? Did I not drink enough water today, or maybe I read too many romance novels in high school? Did I watch too much anime?

When he falls onto his bed without a shirt on, he lays on top of the covers instead of getting nestled under them and realizes, as his body seems to sink into the mattress, that he's utterly exhausted. Jinyoung blinks tiredly at the ceiling: maybe the whole thing was just some kind of hallucination induced by over exertion. He has been working a lot, and by the time Park Jinyoung sunbaenim had approached him about the Room, he'd already been at work for close to seven hours. Count those hours plus the three that'd he'd spent in the Room (though, somehow, it felt like less; he doesn't want to attribute it to Jaebum’s presence, but the idea of it lingers like an itch he can't scratch) it had been nearly 10:30pm when he'd left the restaurant. Tack on the commute home by bus and he'd been out of the house and busy for somewhere around 10 hours. It's not that he's never been that busy before, either, considering all the time he spent in libraries and coffee shops trying to finish papers and poems for his degree, but the added stress of the richest man in the country trying to pimp him out really makes him feel like he's been awake for days.

What if you're just imagining things because you wanted him to be hitting on you?

Jinyoung makes a noise, eyelids starting to get heavy even as he engages himself in a conversation. That's absurd. He treated me like I was beneath him and he was a total asshole. Why would I be into that?

Then, the unwelcome thought:

It didn't stop you before.

His eyes open wide, staring at the ceiling as his heart accordions into a crumpled shape. Phantom voices swim in and out of his ears like frantic fish; memories of shouted insults and slammed doors and bruising apologetic kisses makes his hands and lips tingle. His fingers automatically curl to fists in the anticipation of a fight, his breathing changing to an irregular rhythm of labored pain while the memories of two years past parade behind his eyes and make them water. Dark eyes, much like Jaebum's only smarter, meaner, catch at the corners of his vision like apparitions. It's been so long since he thought about this, since it made him feel this way, caged in by violent emotion that turn his curled fingers white. Pain, the kind that transcends the physical interpretation and throbs like a bone-deep ache, threatens to overwhelm him and he takes a deep breath.

Relax. That's over. They're not the same person.

It comforts him little, that he would try and justify it this way, but the overwhelming sense of heartbreak he had been about to drown in slips back out like the tide and stays there. His breathing returns, shaky as it is, to a more normal pace. In the silence of the room, he could swear his slowly steadying heartbeat is audible.

Before he can completely shake it off, there's a quiet knock at his door. He glances at the clock—it's 12:30am now, and he definitely isn't expecting anyone, so the random late night visit makes an uneasiness settle in his stomach. He hopes whatever or whoever it is either leaves or doesn't have anything important to say; his emotions have already been all over the place since arriving home and the tiredness pulling at his joints like fish hooks has been making him think all these crazy thoughts about his ex and entertaining thoughts about wanting Jaebum to hit on him.

Yeah. He needs to go to sleep.

He doesn’t bother putting on a shirt, hoping that whoever it is sees he’s ready for bed and isn’t interested. Jinyoung is halfway through asking Who is it? as he opens it before a familiar arm is darting in through the door and pushing him back.

“Hey!” he barks, surprised, catching himself on the arm of the couch as Jackson shoves his way in the small opening the door had made. His best friend laughs as he makes his way inside, kicking off his sneakers and leaning on the door with one hand to close it.

“Jackson, what the hell?”

“Sorry I didn’t call,” he says, voice muffled as he strips his work shirt over his head to reveal black the tank top underneath. Jinyoung makes a noise when Jackson throws his shirt at his face, giggling as Jinyoung pulls it off his head and throws it back. Jackson holds onto it, drapingit over his shoulder as he toes off his socks in Jinyoung’s entryway.

Jinyoung folds his arms. “Are you going to expand on why you just invited yourself into my house?”

“Do I need a reason?” he asks, grinning, but straightens and stretches when Jinyoung just rolls his eyes. Jackson nods toward Jinyoung’s bedroom with his head, and they make their way toward it in silence. Without answering right away, Jackson flops stomach first on Jinyoung’s bed and then pats the empty spot beside him before continuing,

“No, but seriously, sorry I didn’t call. I got cut at work because it’s slower than usual, and I was feeling too tired to go all the way home, and your house is closer than Yugyeom's.” Even from where half of his face is hidden where it’s sunk into one of Jinyoung’s baby blue pillows he can see the evil grin that curls on his lips. “Plus, I want to hear about the rest of your night with Hot Coffee Man.”

Groaning, Jinyoung drops to his back beside him and digs an elbow in his ribs. “I thought we agreed to not call him that anymore.”

“You agreed to that,” he corrects, nudging Jinyoung’s elbow back to his side of the bed. “I did no such thing.”

“Whatever.”

“Seriously, Jinyoungie!” he whines, pouting, and Jinyoung would tell him how cute it is when he does that if he knew that Jackson wouldn’t take a mile from the inch. “Tell me how it went.”

“It wasn’t great,” he sighs, settling back and folding his arms over his stomach. “He’s kind of an asshole.”

“Didn’t we establish that when you spilled coffee on his shoes and he like, demanded that you clean them with a paper towel?”

Jinyoung glances over. “Yeah. But... he’s...just, an asshole.”

Jackson laughs into the pillow at Jinyoung’s obvious frustration. “Cat got your tongue, huh?”

A clear mental picture of someone inarguably catlike with his tongue in their mouth conjures itself up and he hastily pushes it away before it can turn into anything else. He clears his throat and feels a faint flush on his face that he’s thankful Jackson can’t see when he looks up at the ceiling.

“He’s just so arrogant. It’s like he’s purposely trying to goad me into getting mad at him, or something. Like he’s trying to impress me by being a dick.”

Jackson snorts before it deteriorates into a muffled yawn. “Impress you, huh? What makes you think that?”

He hesitates a moment before answering, wondering if he should tell Jackson this after all. With Jackson’s track record of not letting things go ever, now he’s a little nervous.

He needs to get it out, though, so he sighs and says,

“He handed me a his phone number and told me to call him if I ever wanted to ‘make some real money’.”

One of Jackson’s dark brown eyes cracks open in curiosity. “He said that? What does that even mean?”

Bitterly, Jinyoung makes a face. “That he wants to pimp me out, probably. I mean, seriously, who does that?”

“Pimp you out? You think a dude that rich would really need to be pimping out random hot waiters?”

He shrugs, that uneasy feeling coming back at the prospect that maybe Jaebum wanted something else from him. “He couldn’t be recruiting for his company, seeing as he doesn't know anything about me, was piss drunk, and gave me his personal phone number.” Jinyoung turns his head to see Jackson’s eyes half closed and blinking tiredly.

“Mm, maybe he just likes you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jinyoung scoffs, nudging Jackson’s shoulder to see the sleepy smile spread on his face. “He probably just wanted sex, or something. He did try to give me 500,000 won after he gave me his phone number.”

Jackson’s eyes don’t open again, but his shoulders start to shake in quiet laughter. “He gave you 500,000 won?”

“I didn’t keep it!”

Almost all the way asleep now, Jackson mumbles, “maybe you just want to f*ck, Jinyoungie.”

“Jackson!”

“‘M just saying, you’ve been single for two years now. Maybe i’s time you get laid, and with the richest dude in the country?” he snorts. “Your boring life wouldn’t be so boring, then.”

“Shut up, Jackson.”

There's a couple of moments of silence where he thinks Jackson has fallen asleep before he mumbles, “are you going to call him?”

The question kind of throws him off. Oddly, he hadn’t thought about it: he glances in the direction of his work pants on top of the hamper, knowing that somewhere in the black lump there’s a stark white business card with a hastily written phone number on it in blue ink. A personal phone number for the richest man he knows of, a relatively famous man, a man who disrespected him and then tried to bed him within two meetings. And yet, despite it, he hadn’t even thought of whether or not he was going to call; now that the question has been asked, it makes him feel strange that he doesn’t know how to answer it.

“I don’t think so,” he says, and is grateful when Jackson has fallen asleep before he can hear the uncertainty in his voice.

_____________

Regardless of their conversation happening as he was falling asleep, Jackson has the tenacity of a bulldog and, like most things, won’t let it go.

"It's been like, what, two weeks? Please drop it," Jinyoung begs, two steps away from getting on his knees and clasping his hands together. Jackson just laughs and spins around carelessly in his desk chair, feet kicking out on his final rotation to rest them on Jinyoung's bed. Jinyoung had been trying to read with Jackson messing about, since he'd invited himself over again with no real reason in mind. Which wouldn't have bothered him, save for the fact that Jackson had almost immediately brought up his run in with uber rich playboy Im Jaebum.

"Yeah, it has, two weeks of you moping around and staring at your phone like you're thinking about calling him."

Jinyoung feels his face redden slightly at being caught out, but vehemently denies it anyway. "I have not."

Jackson snorts. "And I'm not Chinese."

With an irritated click of his tongue, Jinyoung leans back and kicks out at Jackson's ankle, spinning him away from the foot of the bed. But Jackson just laughs and laughs as he spins, triumphant in his exposing of Jinyoung's strange desire to call the man who basically offered him a job as a prostitute.

"I regret telling you things sometimes, you know," Jinyoung complains, but just pulls his phone from his pocket while Jackson watches eagerly. "Relax, killer," he says, turning the phone so that Jackson can see the time across the screen in bold white faced type. "It's almost 11:30pm, it's too late to call him now anyway."

This earns him an eye roll. "He's a rich guy and it's a Saturday. What else do you think he's doing? He's probably still awake."

"Maybe he's busy, then."

Eye roll #2, more exaggerated than the first. He's getting more theatrical. "Busy how? He's a rich playboy and it's a Saturday . He's not busy."

"How do you know?"

"I don't."

Jinyoung leans back with a smirk, but his triumph doesn't last when Jackson snatches forward to pluck his phone from his lap. Jinyoung squawks, hands grabbing for it but Jackson already has a hand on his shoulder and the phone outstretched in the opposite direction out of his reach. Jackson flips through the contacts, laughing when he sees that Jinyoung had created one for him already.

"I don't know what he's doing," Jackson says, and Jinyoung's heart drops into his stomach when Jackson presses call. He quickly holds the phone out with a laugh on his lips. "But you will."

Jinyoung just stares at it like he can’t believe it’s real, with Jackson still laughing at him quietly. He faintly hears the line ringing and it snaps him back into action. Grabbing the phone, he nearly drops it in his fervor to get it away from Jackson and hang up, but something like terrible curiosity has him slowly putting the phone to his ear. Jackson just looks smug, arms crossed and beaming like he’s won a medal. Jinyoung wants to kick him.

The line keeps ringing, and Jinyoung makes a noise. “See?” he says, shaking his head with the phone still pressed to his ear. “Nothing––”

But then, the line cuts out in the middle of ringing, and a low voice answers.

“Hello?”

Jinyoung’s blood runs cold, and his eyes widen to the size of small planets as the rest of his words die in his throat. Jackson just sits up straight, mouth open in a quiet scream, furiously motioning at Jinyoung to say something. But he’s frozen, mouth still shaped around the words he’d been about to say, and he hears the unmistakable sound of Jaebum’s voice on the other end of the line again.

“Um, hello?”

Jackson lifts himself out of his chair on his hands to kick Jinyoung in the ankle. He mock lunges at Jackson to sit him down before he scoots away on the bed, turning his face away and trying not to stutter. “Uh, hi.”

“Who is this?”

His eyes fall closed in something like shame, or embarrassment, or both. Jaebum’s voice is deep, rough like it had been at the restaurant, and the nature of it makes Jinyoung realize he’d been drinking. Heavily, it seems, by the way he’s panting quietly into the phone like he’d answered in the middle of a marathon. But Jinyoung can’t explain the way Jaebum’s voice kind of enthralls him, sending weird pinpricks of some feeling shooting up and down his arms and legs.

“It’s…Jinyoung. Park Jinyoung, uh, from the restaurant––”

“Jinyoung... Oh! Jinyoung!” his voice brightens, and Jinyoung turns to Jackson to make a face that can only be described as conveying a giant, cartoon question mark. Jaebum sounds breathless, but sincere. “How are you?”

“Uhh…” He’s a literature major but he’s somehow struggling for words. “Uh, I’m good.”

“That’s good! Jinyoung-ssi, how’d you get my cellphone number?”

For a moment, he’s incredulous. Jinyoung holds the phone as far away from his face as his arm will let him, and then he’s speaking to Jackson in a harsh, rushed whisper. “He asked where I got his number!”

“Didn’t he give it to you?” Jackson whispers back.

“Yes!”

Jackson just laughs. Jinyoung makes a face at him for being unhelpful.

Putting the phone back to his ear, he can hear Jaebum making a low humming sound in his throat that dissolves into an equally throaty, quiet chuckle. Panic sets in. “Um, you gave it to me, at the restaurant.”

He stops, still sounded winded. Jinyoung is starting to get a little worried. “I did?”

“Yeah. You were really drunk, though…”

“Oh! You’re right. I remember now.” He laughs, deep and rich, and Jinyoung glances at the window and momentarily considers throwing himself out of it. His demeanor is so completely and utterly different than the co*cky, assuming air he’d been putting on the first two times they met, and he’s starting to wonder if that’s just a front or if he’s only being so friendly because he’s drunk. “Sorry. I’ve been drinking tonight a little as well. Saturday, and all.”

“Uhh––”

Jaebum seems to hold the phone away from his face, as he says something that Jinyoung can hear faintly but can’t really make out as though he’s talking to someone else in the room. A moment later he’s back, already speaking. “––but you are very, very cute, so I’m not surprised that I did.”

A weird feeling creeps into his stomach, and he realizes that it’s guilt with a little bit of anxiety. He doesn’t mean to, but the next sentence comes spilling out of his mouth too fast and too loud to be casual, and it’s like he can feel Jackson wince from across the room. “Hey, listen, did I interrupt you in the middle of something? You sound busy––”

“Oh, no, not at all––”

But he doesn’t get to finish, because in the background of the phone call Jinyoung can just barely hear the sound of a woman’s voice. She sounds annoyed, voice pitched high in a whine when she says what sounds like Jaebum-ssi, come back to bed, I wasn’t finished.

What the f*ck?

He hears Jaebum say something to her, but it’s muffled like he’s moved the phone away from his face again. Jinyoung’s whole body runs cold like he’s been drenched in ice water. Jaebum, drunk on a Saturday night. A woman’s voice in the background saying come back to bed, I wasn’t finished. Jaebum answering the phone and sounding weirdly breathless through the whole thing. Jinyoung can faintly hear Jaebum saying “hello? Jinyoung?” into the mouthpiece, but Jinyoung is too busy staring at a spot on the floor as his vision tunnels out and he sees JAEBUM ANSWERED THE PHONE WHILE HAVING SEX flashing in his head like a big, ugly, neon sign.

“Oh, my god,” he gasps into the phone, and then he’s pulling it away from his face to hang up and throw it on the bed like it’s on fire. Jinyoung immediately puts his head in his hands, cheeks getting hot against his palms with the utter embarrassment crawling up his throat. Jackson practically leaps onto the bed, grabbing him by both shoulders and shaking him violently. Jinyoung just allows himself to be thrown back and forth like a rag doll, hands locked against his face.

“Jinyoung! Jinyoung! What happened?”

He just groans, the sound muffled by his palms, as Jackson continues to try and shake him to death. Maybe if Jackson shakes him long enough, it'll work.

“Why did you hang up?! What did he say?”

Jinyoung finally pulls his hands away, grabbing one of Jackson’s wrists to make the shaking stop. Jackson lets him go quickly and sits down, eyes wide as Jinyoung just falls limply onto his back and stares at the ceiling. “He answered in the middle of sex.”

For once, Jackson is shocked speechless. “What?” is the only thing he can manage after a long stretch of silence.

Jinyoung just blinks, almost feeling dazed. “He answered the phone while he was having sex.”

“Could you hear it?”

His head snaps in Jackson’s direction, scowling heavily. Jackson cringes away sheepishly.

“I was just asking.”

“No, I couldn’t hear it,” Jinyoung sighs, closing his eyes and wishing that he could rewind the night enough to kick Jackson out of his apartment when he’d first suggested calling. “But he sounded breathless when he picked up, like he’d been running. Then I heard him make a noise kind of like a grunt and a sigh mixed together before laughing a little bit, then coming back to the phone. Then I heard a girl in the background say, ‘Jaebum-ssi, come back to bed, I wasn’t finished’. And that’s when I realized, so I hung up.”

He barely has time to finish before Jackson is positively howling with laughter. He rolls onto his back, hands swallowed by his big sweater covering his face. Jinyoung just glares at him, incapable of understanding what about this situation is funny to him, since Jinyoung doesn’t think it’s funny at all. But he lets Jackson work through it, laughing until he’s crying, until he finally takes a couple of deep breaths and wipes the tears from his eyes. Jackson turns his head toward him, obviously trying not to laugh.

“You have to admit, Jinyoung-ah, that it’s a little funny.”

“It’s not funny.”

“Yah, don’t be so dense. It just proves your theory right, doesn’t it? He’s a heartless asshole, just like you wanted.”

It’s not that Jinyoung wanted him to be a heartless asshole, it just so happens that Jinyoung had him pegged as one, and he just so happens to be right. “I guess.”

Jackson shoves him lightly before pulling his phone out of his pocket. “I can’t wait to tell Yugyeom.”

Jinyoung sighs.

_____________

The following weekend of the phone call, Jackson suggests going to the club to get Jinyoung out of his weird mood, and Jinyoung agrees wholeheartedly. The Jaebum thing had mostly been pushed to the back of his mind; as uncomfortable of an experience as it was, it’s not the worst thing to happen to him, but on top of how sh*tty the rest of the week is for him, it certainly doesn’t help. Going to the club with Jackson and Yugyeom to get completely obliterated just might help him forget this week even happened at all.

The club is crowded, expectedly so for a Saturday night, but Jinyoung is glad for it. Even just scanning the line from where he’s standing near the front of it he can see a ton of attractive guys waiting to go in, and he thinks he definitely has a chance of grinding on someone if not getting lucky. Jackson and Yugyeom are talking loudly, as they always are, the conversation quickly steering toward an argument that Jinyoung largely keeps himself away from. Upon Jackson’s insistence they’re all wearing something similar; black jeans and shirts, topped by leather jackets that it’s way too hot outside to be wearing, even at night. Jinyoung had opted instead for a loose black sweatshirt with a hole in the shoulder that he insists is “fashionable” whenever Yugyeom tries to argue that it’s “trashy”. At the last minute before leaving the house, Yugyeom had grabbed Jinyoung’s face in one hand and held it as he smudged kohl eyeliner at the corner of his eyes. He’d tried to fight it, whining and pushing at Yugyeom’s wrist, but Yugyeom had insisted it made him look dangerously sexy and, upon inspecting himself in the mirror, he was inclined to agree.

Yeah. After the sh*t-show of a week he’s had, he’s feeling lucky.

The club is loud and dark when they’re finally let inside, colored lights illuminating the dance floor across from the entrance in whirling shades of red, blue, green, and purple. The DJ booth is at the far end, loud music blasting and vibrating the floors underneath their shoes; there’s a small bar on the other end backlit and throwing the colored shadows of the bottles aligned on the shelves across the faces of the people standing at it. The club isn’t that big, and even from where they’re standing by the bar near the door Jinyoung can see the VIP section raised up by the red velvet stairs on either side of the dance floor. He elbows Jackson.

“Look, there’s a party going on up there.”

Jackson leans over to look at the people lounging on the couches, most of them women but a lot of men in fancy suits, too. Huge watches on their wrists gleam in the soft white light of the lamps on the low end tables, and what Jinyoung can only assume to be diamonds glint in the hollow of every woman’s throat.

Jackson scoffs. “Rich people.”

Yugyeom cuts in, arms laid across his and Jackson’s shoulders. “Hyung, you should try and sleep with one.”

Jinyoung rolls his eyes. “Yeah, right.”

“Why not? You’re hot. You’re single, you’re lonely––”

He throws an elbow backward, satisfied when Yugyeom makes an oof sound and his arm slips off his shoulder.

“Play nice, boys,” Jackson warns, motioning with his head for them to follow him to the bar. Yugyeom recovers and walks next to him, slinging an arm around his shoulders again.

“Really, hyung, I meant it.”

“Do you not see all those women up there, Yugyeom? I doubt any of them will sleep with me.”

Jackson orders them drinks and then turns around to hand them out, all three of them emptied within moments and Jackson calling for more. Yugyeom wipes his mouth with his other hand and tsks at him. “Not everyone is straight, hyung. You shouldn’t just assume.”

He’s right, but Yugyeom is freshly 21 and a f*cking brat so he just opts to grunt in affirmation instead.

They’re down three drinks by the time they hit the dance floor and Jinyoung is already starting to feel tipsy. It lifts his spirits immensely, and he finds himself smiling flirtatiously at anyone who looks at him twice. For a while he just dances with Jackson, Yugyeom having already slapped them both on the backs and abandoned them to either tear it up somewhere on the dance floor or to chase a girl. Jinyoung is left alone for a moment when Jackson squeezes his way to the bar to get them more drinks; an hour later and another three drinks in it’s suffice to say he’s wasted.

Jackson eventually leaves him too, dancing with the people around them before seeming to just melt into the crowd, but he doesn’t mind it. The music is loud and deep, vibrating the floor, the feeling traveling up his legs and into his chest as he closes his eyes and just moves. The colored lights from the ceiling stain his eyelids in shades of green, blue, and blood red, the alcohol in his blood making him feel light and sensual as he runs his hands down his body and back up again. Jinyoung mostly dances alone save for the few times someone comes up behind him and grabs his hips; most of them are male and he’d be a liar if he said he wasn’t satisfied by the way their hands slid down his thighs and held him against their bodies while Jinyoung shook his ass for them. Sweat drips down his neck, deepens the smudges of eyeliner around his eyes, and it’s a testament to how drunk he is when he wishes that any of the men hanging onto him from behind would turn him around roughly and lick the sweat from his skin. The upbeat music has a sensual beat to it, striking a feeling in his heart, wild and untamed like an animal trying to get loose. He rarely feels like this: normally quiet and reserved, it’s an odd occasion when the mixture of booze and music makes Jinyoung feel like a horny college boy.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop him from shuddering when another pair of hands find his waist from behind. He leans back, eyes closed and mouth open slightly, his hands gripping the wrists of whoever is behind him. Their hips sway in time with his, Jinyoung’s ass just barely brushing across the smooth front of what feel like dress pants; there’s none of the usual catch and drag of denim on denim. His mind curiously wonders if it’s one of the men from the VIP section, and how happy Yugyeom would be to know he actually did end up scoring one. There’s a heavy watch on their right wrist, but classy and minimal instead of gaudy. Jinyoung glances at the silver rings on their fingers before closing his eyes again and leaning his head back against their shoulder, using his grip on their wrists to slide their hands down to the tops of his thighs and back up as Jinyoung grinds. The person makes a low noise in their throat, fingertips digging into the bones of his hips over the sweatshirt and pulling him tighter to their body. The room spins a bit when Jinyoung opens his eyes again, the mass of bodies bleeding into each other until he can barely distinguish individual faces, but he doesn’t think twice of it when he rotates in their grip and rolls his hips forward into theirs.

It’s courageous, that’s for sure, and almost entirely out of his character. Sober Jinyoung would have cringed, but Drunk Jinyoung just revels in the way it feels when their hips drag together and create a little friction. Jinyoung drapes his arms around his neck, taking in the details of the man’s expensive suit as he slides his hands around to the small of Jinyoung’s back. Jinyoung is slowly running his eyes up the man’s throat when he hears a quiet noise of surprise followed by his name.

“Jinyoung?”

He stops moving, shock washing his body hot and then cold as he recognizes the person looking into his face with genuine surprise.

None other than Im Jaebum.

Jinyoung doesn’t think he could have worse luck, but there’s something about the naked emotion on Jaebum’s face that says he really wasn’t expecting him is kind of endearing right now. Jinyoung just smiles cautiously at him, starting to sway his hips again to the beat. Jaebum just watches him for a moment, but Jinyoung feels the unmistakable sensation of Jaebum’s fingers tightening against his back like he’s worried he’ll pull away.

“Im Jaebum. Fancy seeing you here,” he says, voice a little slurred, and the sound of it must snap Jaebum from his trance because he smiles and laughs a little.

“Yeah. Small world, huh?”

Jinyoung just hums. He closes his eyes, almost dizzy now from all the sensation, letting his own fingertips find the hair at the base of Jaebum’s neck and stroke it. Jaebum seems to shudder underneath him, the rhythm of his hips picking up until they’re dancing together again. Their hips rock side to side in unison, each downswing sparking friction between their crotches that has Jinyoung biting down hard on his lower lip. He was right about the dress pants, and his favorite thing about the dress pants is that he can feel where Jaebum is half hard against him. Jinyoung feels a low moan crawl up his throat, but he swallows it back in favor of keeping Jaebum captivated by his movements. Jinyoung turns around again, but keeps one hand on the back of Jaebum’s head as he grinds his ass against his crotch and bends his knees, stopping at Jaebum’s mid-thigh and rolling sensually back up. Where Jinyoung had held back his moan, Jaebum doesn’t: Jinyoung hears the low noise in his throat, hands dangerously tight on the creases where his thighs meet the crotch of his jeans. He’s half hard now too, and he’s halfway tempted to grab Jaebum’s wrist to encourage him to feel him up but shakes off the urge and turns to face him again.

Jaebum’s eyes are as dangerous as he’s ever seen them, though with something more primal than anger this time. Jinyoung swallows hard, biting his lip and playfully running his fingers through Jaebum’s hair at the base of his neck. He watches in a detached sort of awe as Jaebum’s eyes roll back a little, plump lower lip dropping as he hiccups on a soft, pleased sound. His hands grips Jinyoung’s waist and hold him close, those eyes finding his and holding them with eye contact intense enough to fill Jinyoung’s stomach with heat as their bodies continue with the rhythm. Some feeling creeps up in him as they hold each other’s eyes; fate keeps bringing them together in the strangest of ways and Jinyoung’s overly poetic brain wonders drunkenly if that means something. The feeling tugs in his chest, like an insistent child tugging on the pant leg of their preoccupied parent, but he abandons the feeling when he feels Jaebum’s hand slide up from his hip. He trails it up Jinyoung’s back slow, deliberately, eyes flicking down to where Jinyoung’s mouth is still dropped slightly open and back up again. Jaebum’s hand finds the back of his neck, and Jinyoung’s breath sharpens as he feels Jaebum’s thumb at the pressure point at his hairline. He whimpers as Jaebum squeezes a little, making Jinyoung drop his head back like a rag doll. Jinyoung watches from half lidded eyes as Jaebum stares at his mouth before seeming to make a decision.

Between one breath and the next, the richest man in South Korea under 40 is kissing him.

It’s just a brush of his lips against Jinyoung’s, but it is a kiss nonetheless, and his breath dies in his throat as Jaebum does it again, harder. He’s testing you, Jinyoung’s brain supplies, but it feels like all the ends are fried as Jaebum closes his obscenely gorgeous eyes and firmly kisses him on the mouth with his hand cradling the base of Jinyoung’s neck; dominant and almost uncomfortably possessive. But Jinyoung’s critical thinking areas are disabled at the moment, and the alcohol washes away any hesitation he would otherwise have about kissing Im Jaebum. Jaebum licks teasingly at the seam of his lips, and makes another surprised noise when Jinyoung parts them and lets Jaebum lick into his mouth. Heat and something else pools in his gut as Jaebum’s hands tighten on his body, angling his head to kiss deeper, their lips sliding together and tongues brushing as they make out on the dance floor. Jaebum is a good kisser, leaving him craving just a bit more, hands tightening in Jaebum’s dark silky hair and pulling a low noise out of the base of his throat like a growl. Imagine Yugyeom’s face if this is the rich guy I end up scoring.

It doesn’t sound like a bad idea at first, but then he feels Jaebum’s hand tighten into a fist in his sweater at the small of his back. A bad feeling like a lightning bolt shoots down his spine, and a sudden dark wave of anxiety rushes over him. Cloudy memories of a handsy and dominating man with harsh hands and harsher words crowd the edges of his vision, and he gasps into Jaebum’s mouth as the reality of what he’s doing really strikes home. Fear forms a cold front in the cavity of his chest, and he pushes away from Jaebum who looks surprised at the sudden resistance. Jaebum doesn’t let go at first, looking genuinely confused, but it just makes Jinyoung more nervous and he pushes harder against his broad shoulders until Jaebum lets go of him. Jinyoung can only manage a near unintelligible “sorry, I’m sorry,” before he’s leaving a confused Jaebum on the dancefloor.

He pushes his way through the tightness of the crowd, heart beating uncomfortably hard, sweat pouring down his neck and back now but not in a good way. Along the way he frantically searches for Jackson and Yugyeom, but they’re nowhere to be found and he needs to get out of here now . He barely registers the stares or the comments as he stumbles his way off the dance floor and through the front doors of the club. It’s summer, not exactly cold, but the air is so much cooler than the air inside the club and the instant it hits his skin he takes a lungful of it. Jinyoung walks to the side of the building, leaning against it near the mouth of the alleyway as he gulps down the fresh air and tries to clear the memories threatening to come back to him. It’s stupid, and he knows it’s stupid, but something about Im Jaebum scares him a little bit and he’s not sure what to make of that.

I kissed Im Jaebum , he thinks to himself, eyes on the doors and waiting for Jackson and Yugyeom to stumble out. It’s what he should be celebrating, but the other, more vicious and reasonable part of his mind says you kissed someone you think is a terrible person and all for your own gain, what now? and it makes his stomach hurt. How he could go from having multiple, unfortunate run-ins with Im Jaebum that left a bad taste in his mouth to letting that very same man kiss him and all but grope him on the dance floor has Jinyoung wondering if, in the last few years he’s been alone, his past behavior is coming back to haunt him.

But he’s spared from thinking of it for long, as moments later a rowdy Jackson and more rowdy Yugyeom tumble from the double doors of the club, arms around each other’s throats. Yugyeom has Jackson in a chokehold, laughing obnoxiously loud as he practically drags Jackson along on his knees. Jackson just laughs with him, fingers prying at Yugyeom’s arm lazily. They spot him a moment later, and Yugyeom releases Jackson as they head over.

“Jinyoung-ah,” Jackson says, bumping their shoulders together as Yugyeom pulls out his phone to call a cab. “How long have you been waiting out here?”

“Not long,” he says. “Only about ten minutes or so.”

“Ah, good.”

Yugyeom rattles off the name of the club they’re at into the phone, then turns it away from his mouth when he looks over. “Hyung, did you score any of those guys from the VIP booth?”

The memory of the feeling of Jaebum’s lips softly brushing his own like he was asking for permission makes his mouth tingle. He smiles tightly. “No. I didn’t.”

“Bummer,” Yugyeom says, turning and sticking a finger in his other ear to shout into the phone.

“Yeah,” Jinyoung murmurs, glad that the two of them are drunk and completely oblivious to the out of place melancholy settled across his features. He thinks of Jaebum’s hand at his back and the feeling he’d gotten in his chest as he’d leaned in for a kiss and wants to lock it far, far away in fear that it is dangerous. “Bummer.”

Chapter 3: hands away

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He’d honestly thought that running away in a panic from rich boy Im Jaebum would be the end of it.

He should know by now that life doesn’t quite work that way.

Jinyoung is sitting in a sunny patch of grass amongst the copse of trees that line his and Jackson’s favorite part of the river park. Jackson’s stretched out beside him, flat on his back and lamenting with his eyes closed about how much he really doesn’t want to go to work tonight.

“You’re a bartender though,” Jinyoung says, pushing his sunglasses up his nose and leaning back on one hand. “Your job is fun.”

“Not on a weekday,” he disagrees, opening an eye to look over at him and closing it again. “It’s always kind of slow during the week. It can get boring.”

Jinyoung hums in response.

He looks over when Jackson nudges his knee with his foot. “Aren’t you working at the restaurant tonight?”

Shaking his head, Jinyoung shifts to flop down next to him, eyes closed behind his shades against the heat of the sunlight that beats down against their stomachs. “No, I gave my shift to Bambam.”

They turn their heads to look at each other at the same time and laugh a little bit. “Why?”

Jinyoung just shrugs, shoulder sliding against the warm grass. “I didn’t feel like working today.”

A grin spreads on Jackson’s face like he’s going to say something he won’t like that has Jinyoung’s stomach dropping. “Are you still stressing over dancing with Im Jaebum at the club and then bailing on him?”

Jinyoung makes a noise against the back of his teeth and slaps Jackson in the stomach. His best friend oofs loudly, folding in half dramatically with his hands over where Jinyoung had hit him. “I am not stressing about it, Jackson. It was weird, and it happened, and I’m over it.”

“Suuuure,” he drawls, dragging the middle syllable out until Jinyoung has to sigh over it. “Still, it’s pretty hot though, that you guys danced and then made out. He’s like, super famous, Jinyoungie. You’ve literally made out with the richest and most famous person in Korea.”

He makes a face he’s sure Jackson doesn’t see. “That’s not that impressive.”

“It is! Even Yugyeom is jealous.”

Jinyoung rolls his eyes. “Yugyeom would kiss someone if they had five dollars.”

“Okay, that’s true.”

He’s about to respond when he feels his phone vibrating in his pocket. Jinyoung digs it out without looking at it, the screen dim from behind his sunglasses and pictureless as he swipes to answer it. He puts it lazily to his ear, balancing it between his head and Jackson’s shoulder as he rests his hands back on his stomach in the simmering sunshine.

“Hello?”

“Jinyoung?”

As much as he hates to admit it, he recognizes the voice on the other end of the line immediately. How could he not? After their multiple strange encounters, a part of him thinks that he shouldn’t be surprised, but his stomach still takes a dive like the first drop of a roller coaster when Jaebum’s voice says his name.

Jinyoung rockets into a sitting position, scrambling for the phone as Jackson sits up after him in alarm.

“Jinyoungie, what is it?”

Jinyoung furiously waves him off without turning around. “Um, hi.”

There’s a weird, brief silence and then Jaebum makes a breathy noise like he’s relieved. “I didn’t think you were going to answer.”

I wouldn’t have. “Oh? Why not?”

“You did kind of run off on me the other night.”

Jinyoung maybe thinks he should apologize again, but he doesn’t. He’s not even really sure what he’d say: Sorry I ran out after you kissed me because I was afraid you were going to turn out to be like my ex even though I barely know you.

Yeah. Not a good opener.

Jackson nudges his shoulder from behind. In a low, urgent voice he asks, “Jinyoungie? Who is it?”

He turns halfway, holding the phone away from his mouth. “It’s Jaebum!”

Several people turn to look in their direction when Jackson squeals, scaring a small flock of birds from the trees over their heads.

“Jackson!” he says helplessly, aiming to hit him with his free hand but Jackson just rolls away from him.

“Don’t talk to me! Talk to him!” but he’s not whispering and Jinyoung can only hold the phone so far away from their conversation.

Dread settles in as he closes his eyes and puts the phone back to his ear. Jaebum is laughing, low and deep, and it makes Jinyoung’s stomach feel sloshy. “I–”

“He sounds enthusiastic.”

Jinyoung sighs, his reply automatic and genuine. “He is.”

“Is he your boyfriend?”

He snorts derisively. “No. God, no.”

From behind him: “What’d he say?”

Not bothering to move the phone, he answers, “he asked if you were my boyfriend.”

“And that was your response?!” Jackson pouts and hits him on the shoulder. “Jerk.”

Then, louder:

“I’m his best friend, thank you very much!”

Jaebum laughs again and Jinyoung sighs, heavier than the last. “Sorry.”

He imagines Jaebum probably waves this off during the brief pause with a throaty, pleasing chuckle. Jinyoung hates the way his stomach warms. “So, are you single, then?”

“I don’t think I’d be out in clubs making out with strangers if I wasn’t.”

“Hey, I don’t know your life.”

Jinyoung shrugs. “That’s fair. But, yes. I am. Why?”

Despite all the signs that he should have picked up on, he barely sees it coming when Jaebum clears his throat awkwardly. He even trips over the first word, sighing before seeming to swallow and start over. “Do you want to go get drinks with me?”

Surprised isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feeling that washes over him when Jaebum asks. Stunned is probably more appropriate, as he feels his back go ramrod straight and the muscles in his arms tense. His jaw locks where his mouth is dropped open and one long syllable of uhhhhhhhhhh hangs uncertainty in the air.

Say no! Say no! is what his heart is screaming at him. It’s not like their encounters thus far have even been that good: the most positive thing he could say is that Jaebum is a good kisser and his hands feel good on Jinyoung’s thighs but all the other interactions they’ve had were mostly Jaebum flashing his wealth and being an asshole. Jinyoung knows all too well how deceptive the handsome ones can be. He’s witnessed first hand how the sweetness at the very beginning can deteriorate quickly into violence.

But, like a tide drawn to the shoreline by the force of the moon, he can’t find it within himself to lie about being disinterested. So it surprises him only a tiny bit when he opens his mouth and says,

“Sure. When?”

“Wait. Seriously?”

“Why not?” he asks, a shrug apparent in his tone.

“I definitely thought you’d say no.”

Jinyoung crosses his legs and pulls absentmindedly at the grass between his legs. He’s all but forgotten that Jackson is staring a hole into the back of his head. “Why’s that?”

“Because every time you look at me, you look like you’re about to call me an asshole.”

He actually laughs, abandoning the grass to cover his mouth with one hand. “I guess we’ll see about that.”

“Are you free tonight?” he asks, and there’s a warmth in his voice, one that’s obviously pleased, and it sends little pricks of feeling up and down his back. He turns halfway to Jackson.

“Sure, I’m free tonight.”

Jinyoung has to hold back a laugh at the way Jackson’s brown eyes go wide, the whites almost two perfect circles in his handsome face. His jaw drops for a moment and then he’s frantically motioning with his hands.

“Go to Rockfish! Go to Rockfish!”

Rockfish is the name of the bar that Jackson works at. Naturally he would suggest it so that he could keep an eye on them.

“Want to go to Rockfish?” Jinyoung asks, trying not to grin as Jackson pumps his fists victoriously.

“I’ve never heard of it.”

With a scoff, Jinyoung switches the phone to his other ear and wipes the sweat off the side of his face with a shoulder. “Of course you haven’t. It’s a bar for the middle class.”

“Yah,” Jaebum says with a click of his tongue. “We’re not even out yet, isn’t it a little early for low blows?”

There’s a joke about blowj*bs somewhere in there but Jinyoung finds he’s a little too shy to make it. “No.”

“Alright. Fine. Rockfish, then. What time?”

Under his breath, Jinyoung holds the phone so Jaebum actually can’t hear him this time. “What time do you work, hyung?”

Jackson holds up 9 fingers eagerly, already more excited than Jinyoung is. “Nine?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you there.”

“Okay.”

“Bye, Jinyoung,” he says, a voice like silk, and then Jinyoung lets his phone plummet the short drop to the grass.

Immediately Jackson is gripping him by the shoulders and visibly straining not to scream. “What did you just do?! What did you just agree to?!”

He lets himself be shaken violently back and forth, as though it’ll knock some of his sense back into him. Jackson has a point.

What did he just agree to?

“Oh, sh*t.”

“Yeah, ‘oh sh*t’! You have a date with Im Jaebum!”

Jinyoung finally shoves his hands off, pushing up his sunglasses. “It’s not a date!”

“Drinks are a date!”

“No they’re not,” he says, rolling his eyes. He checks his watch, seeing that it’s already a quarter to four and he needs time to shower, get ready, and pace anxiously around his house for three hours. He stands up, grabbing Jackson’s hand when he offers it and pulling him to his feet. They walk back to Jackson’s car together, letting their shoulders bump. Jinyoung hopes some of his nervous energy bleeds out and is replaced by the sickeningly optimistic one that’s radiating off of Jackson like heat.

Once at the car, Jinyoung stops when Jackson hums before unlocking the doors. “What?” he asks, because he knows Jackson is about to pose some deep ass question and he’s going to have to answer it before he gets in.

“What made you say yes?”

“I don’t know.”

Jackson throws him a look.

“I don’t!” he says indignantly, shoulders coming up to his ears.

“Come on,” Jackson prods, leaning his folded arms on the top of his car. “There has to be a reason.”

“Really, Jackson, I don’t know.” He sighs, “I don't know if the reason is any good, if there is one.”

“You’re convinced he’s an asshole. He’s flashy, rude, self-centered and impatient. None of your interactions that you’ve told me about thus far have been good, except for making out in the club. Which, by the way, what?”

“I was drunk! And, I don’t know… he’s... handsome.”

One of Jackson’s dark eyebrows raise. “Did you miss the flashy and self-centered thing I just said?”

Jinyoung goes quiet for a moment, digging deeper within himself to try and find at least some semblance of an honest answer. But the only honest answer he can think of is I don’t know, because he really doesn’t. It’s like the way that people are drawn into the beautiful colors and patterns on a snake but fail to realize that the mouth is full of teeth and that they are coiled to bite.

He knows this. Intrinsically he knows this, has experienced already the way a pretty thing turns out to have sharp teeth and claws that dig until they draw blood. Maybe it makes him stupid, but didn’t Jackson say something about Jinyoung’s life never being this interesting?

“No,” he says finally, unsure of how to follow up. “I didn’t, but–”

Jackson sighs heavily, sounding uncharacteristically melancholy. Jinyoung looks over at him, worried.

“It’s just that, Jinyoungie…” he stops, like he’s unsure if what he says next is going to cause a fight. His shoulders sag when he seems to finally make a decision and just say it. “You haven’t dated anyone since…”

Jinyoung knows what he’s going to say before he says it and he stops him with a choked off noise. “Jackson, don’t.”

“I know, Jinyoung, I know you don’t like talking about it–”

“Then why did you bring it up?” he asks vehemently, a little angry now. “If you know, then why are you bringing it up? What do you think that has to do with this?” even though it’s a bald faced lie, because he knows exactly what that has to do with this.

A little hurt, Jackson shrinks back and anxiously tosses his car keys up and down in his hand. “I just. I’m worried, Jinyoungie.”

“Why?”

“Because, you know, you felt the same way about Hakyeon…”

“That was different!” he tries not to explode but Jackson suddenly bringing up his failed relationship when he’d stupidly agreed to go get drinks with Im Jaebum makes him want to scream. “That was way different! I knew him!”

His best friend softens visibly, knowing the next thing he’s going to say is going to hurt. “You thought you knew him, Jinyoungie.”

His heart sinks like he’d been splashed with cold ice water. It hurts especially because it’s true; he had thought he’d known Hakyeon, and everyone saw the warning signs way before he did but he was too stupidly in love to see them, too. And now, having Jackson bring it up after two years feels like a punch in the stomach. Hearing Jackson expressing his concern that he’s repeating his past behaviour makes him feel like he’s going to be sick.

Jinyoung lets go of the door handle, making a noise of disgust, more so at himself than Jackson. But Jackson looks hurt, anyway, and a small pang of guilt strikes down his back like a lightening bolt as he steps away.

“I can take care of myself, Jackson,” he says, and turns to walk toward the bus stop at the front of the river park.

Once he gets there, he sits down and pulls out his phone.

To: Im Jaebum (??)
Ahjussi.

He barely has to wait five minutes for Jaebum’s response, and the heavy sigh is almost audible in his typing.

Are you ever going to call me Jaebum-ssi?

Jinyoung chooses to ignore this and just sends him another message before pocketing his phone and angrily waiting for the bus.

To: Im Jaebum (??)
I don’t want to go to Rockfish anymore. Let’s go somewhere else.

_____________________

In the end, Jaebum ends up sending him the address to some ridiculously upscale bar in in the heart of downtown. Even the cab driver looks confused, taking in Jinyoung’s outfit of tight, distressed jeans cropped at his ankles over long, forest green socks and a sweater that’s two times too big for him.

“Are you sure that’s where you want to go?”

Jinyoung has to avoid rolling his eyes at the cab driver. “Yes, I’m meeting someone there.”

The thing that the driver mumbles under his breath sounds suspiciously like must be a prostitute but Jinyoung just ignores it.

Once he gets to the restaurant, he’s a little taken aback and maybe a little bit regretful that they didn’t go to Rockfish. The outside of the place is a monolith of old stone and glass so clean it looks invisible. There’s a bar across the entire far back wall, and the dining room looks way too big for the size of the actual building, which is no bigger than a hole-in-the-wall joint that the expats go to on weekends. Even the sidewalk in front of it is fancy, with a cement walkway bordered on both sides by little flowing rivers full of the same dark stones of the face of the building. It’s the first indication that Jaebum has way too much money and that Jinyoung may have made a mistake.

He goes inside anyway, sweaty palm nearly slipping on the cylindrical brass door handle. There’s the comforting white noise of a restaurant underneath the soft jazz playing from overhead speakers. Everyone else, though there aren’t many of them, are dressed to the nines: dark suits and glitterings co*cktail dresses, shoes that look wet in the soft white halogen lamps hanging above every table. He swallows hard, trying to avoid the stares that people give him as his college-boy outfit makes him stick out like a sore thumb. Jinyoung goes to sit down at the bar, nervously checking his watch to make him look expectant.

The bartender wanders over, cleaning a glass in the most stereotypically bartender fashion but dressed instead like he should be at an awards show. “Waiting for someone?”

Jinyoung nods, a little afraid to speak. He’d lost his dialect years and years ago, but something about being nervous still makes it come out sometimes, and trying to explain to a fancy bartender than he’s waiting for Im Jaebum would be the exact time it would resurface. So he just leaves it at that, and the bartender shrugs.

“Do you want something to drink while you wait?”

“Oh, sure,” he says quietly, and the bartender hands him a menu. He doesn’t want to get drunk tonight, promising himself to be on his best behaviour. He finds a relatively subtle drink and orders it, happy deep down when the bartender brings it over and it’s glowing an almost neon pink. “Thanks.”

“Who are you meeting?” he asks, and Jinyoung’s relieved at least that it sounds more like genuine curiosity than it does condescension.

Jinyoung downs the drink in one go before putting the glass down on the pretty marble bartop and answering. “Im Jaebum.”

The bartender laughs, black hair falling into his eyes and then pushing it away in disbelief when Jinyoung doesn’t laugh back. “Wait, are you serious?”

“Yes,” Jinyoung says, and clocks the time at 9:10pm on his watch.

“Oh, man,” the bartender says with a low whistle, eyes on the door when it makes a low whispering sound against the floor as it opens. “He’s going to eat you alive.”

That’s a challenge if he’s ever heard one. Based on appearances, most people tend to underestimate him. “We’ll see.”

Suddenly the bartender is turning away at the same time Jinyoung feels a warm hand on his lower back. He jumps, glad that the bartender had taken his glass already as he surely would have knocked it over.

“I’m sorry, Jinyoung-ssi, did I scare you?”

Jinyoung turns to greet him and wishes he hadn’t.

He looks f*cking delectable. His dark hair is swept back and off his forehead, parted toward the side and gently combed over in a gorgeous swoop that Jinyoung could never achieve even with years of practice. His eyes look darker under the low light above their heads, and it casts appeasing shadows on his face that make his bone structure stand out like a Greek god. Jinyoung swallows a little roughly as he lets his eyes trail down, taking in the fitted dark blue button up shirt that probably costs more than Jinyoung’s house and the black slacks it’s tucked into. He stops at where the slacks hug his thighs and desperately looks back up to see Jaebum grinning at him.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says, and Jinyoung’s face burns.

“It’s alright,” he says, turning away hastily as Jaebum takes a seat next to him. Despite Jaebum looking business casual, he feels severely underdressed next to him. He notices the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and that same watch from the club on his right wrist. Jinyoung looks down at his own outfit and apologizes. “Sorry I’m underdressed. I don’t really...own anything that nice except my work uniform.”

Jaebum looks over at him, so handsome it hurts, and trails his eyes down. Jinyoung can feel the path of them like a burning line, nervously crossing his legs the lower his feline eyes go. “I think you look nice,” Jaebum says finally, and orders them both a drink.

“Thanks.” He murmurs quietly and swishes the liquid around in his glass as he watches Jaebum from the corner of his eye.

He downs the alcohol easily, with a clean flick of his wrist that rattles the watch hanging haphazardly from his arm. It’s too loose, and Jinyoung itches to fix it.

“Ahjussi,” Jinyoung says, reaching out a hand to gesture at his other arm. “Can I see your watch?”

Jaebum looks at him quizzically. He starts to take it off but Jinyoung stops him. “No, give me your hand.”

“Already?” Jaebum laughs, but Jinyoung ignores it and holds Jaebum’s right hand loosely in one of his own and turns it over. His thumb presses gently into the center of his palm, and Jinyoung swallows against the rush he feels as his fingertips come to rest against the softness of Jaebum’s knuckles. He fiddles with the latch, the metal obviously real and expensive and cool to the touch despite being against Jaebum’s skin.

“Here,” he says, finally figuring it out and tightening it a bit so that it sits snugly on his wrist. He lets go hastily, picking up his drink and and taking a swig of it as Jaebum looks at him, dumbfounded.

“Did you just fix my watch?”

“Yes.” he doesn’t look over.

“Why?” he asks, but it doesn’t sound angry, just curious and amused.

Now he does look over. He nods at it. “It was too loose.”

“Isn’t that fashionable? To wear it loose?”

“Fashionable? Maybe. Practical? Not at all.”

Jaebum actually laughs, and Jinyoung hates the way his stomach warms at the sound of it. He watches as Jaebum rests his cheek in his palm, elbow on the bar and his torso turned toward him where they’re sitting next to each other.

“So, not into fashion much?”

“I like fashion,” he says lightly, nervously tapping the sides of his glass. “Just, you know. Practical fashion.”

“Hm. I see. What do you do, then?”

It’s a vague question but Jinyoung’s pretty sure he catches the intended meaning. He looks at Jaebum over the crystal clear rim and drinks the rest of it in one swallow. Alcohol burning his throat on the way down, he makes a face. “I write.”

“Write what?”

“Fiction, mostly. Poetry, too.”

“Ahh,” Jaebum says, a private smile folding his gorgeous eyes to half moons. “A poet, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“I’ve heard poets are dangerous.”

“So are rich men,” Jinyoung says immediately, satisfied when Jaebum’s smile slips just a fraction and then returns even brighter.

“I do make a lot of money, you know.”

He sighs internally. Here we go. “I’m aware.”

Jaebum’s eyebrow raises. “So you know who I am, then?”

“I do now. I didn’t when I spilled coffee on you.”

“Surprising. Everyone knows who I am.”

Jinyoung’s not sure if he’s trying to be a braggart or if he’s just stating a fact. Either way he doesn’t really like it. “I knew of you, it’d be hard not to. I just didn’t realize that was you.”

“So you didn’t spill coffee on me on purpose?”

“No,” he says, even though he’s glad he did.

Jaebum makes a noise in the back of his throat. “Do you know what I do?”

“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“I won’t if it will bore you.”

Jinyoung shrugs and, against his better judgement, orders another drink. “It won’t bore me so much as I won’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So you don’t know much about business?”

“I”m a writer and a waiter,” Jinyoung says flatly, gratefully taking his drink so he has something to do with his hands. “So. No.”

“Do you always say ‘no’ this often?” he asks, obviously trying at a joke, but it comes off a little tasteless. Jinyoung tries not to make a face.

“Only when it matters.”

Surprisingly, Jaebum drops the subject entirely. He changes it to something that Jinyoung doesn’t really understand, which is business related. Mostly he starts to ramble, and Jinyoung can’t tell if it’s because he’s nervous or just because he likes the sound of his own voice. Either way, most of what Jaebum talks to him about for the next hour goes completely over his head and only leaves remnants of I make lots of money like a bad taste in his mouth. Jinyoung feels a little disappointed in himself: the phone call earlier in the day at the park seemed different than their usual interactions, a little more honest and maybe even a little bit playful. It had made him forget that all of his interactions with Jaebum up until that phone call had, in some way, been just a display of his wealth: the coffee on his suit, the check and the offering of a tip at the bar, and even the suit and the way he’d tipped Jinyoung’s head back for a kiss screamed I have money and I can do what I want.

Most of him feels ridiculous for being disappointed, though. Hadn’t he seen this coming? Even Jackson had pointed it out, that he’s flashy and self-centered. It becomes more and more obvious the way Jaebum talks, name-dropping places and people he doesn’t know and has no interest in getting to know, either. Jinyoung can’t deny that he’s a goddamn stunner and it’s ninety percent of the reason that he’d even taken his phone number and agreed to go for drinks. The other 10% had been the naive part of him, that was holding out hope that underneath the richness and the handsome face he’d be different.

So far, though, he isn’t.

After two hours of Jaebum mostly talking to himself with Jinyoung interjecting here and there, Jinyoung is more tipsy than he should be and not as drunk as he feels like he needs to be. But Jaebum seems fine, a little red in the cheeks but alert and calm as he leans in.

“Do you want to come see my place? It’s the biggest apartment in the city and at the very top of the tower.”

Jinyoung knows what that means. Do you want to come have sex in my fancy apartment and then leave after? Everything in him screams no, but there’s that tiny part of him that feels a little adventurous. After all, Jackson had nearly complained that Jinyoung’s life is boring, and now here he is with the richest business mogul in the country asking Jinyoung to come back to his fancy apartment. It might be ugly of him, but this is an opportunity for the story of a lifetime and a way for him to see first hand just how rich this f*cking dude is.

“Sure,” Jinyoung says, and, despite feeling confident in himself and his abilities, he starts to feel that first pang of doubt as Jaebum pulls out his phone to call a car. He wants to be adventurous like Jackson, but it’s inherently opposite to his nature and he already feels nervous after agreeing.

They wait outside together on the curb, and the night is a nice reprieve from the summer heat. Jinyoung sighs deeply, closing his eyes against all the city lights and enjoying the tiniest of breezes that cools some of the sweat on his face. When he opens them again, Jaebum is already looking at him.

“You’re very quiet, Jinyoung-ssi.”

“I’m sorry,” he says automatically, used to apologizing to people for his withdrawn nature.

“Don’t be sorry,” he murmurs, voice kind of soft, and Jinyoung again gets that conflicting feeling from him. “It’s just interesting. That’s all.”

“Interesting, huh?” Jinyoung says, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans and looking away. “How so?”

“You seem unimpressed.”

He actually barks a laugh at this and looks back over. “Do you want me to be impressed?”

“Most people usually are, when I meet them like this.”

Jinyoung watches him, trained to not give anything away with his face until he’s ready. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Jaebum waits a long time before answering. So long that the car pulls up in front of them and the driver gets out to open the back door for them.

“Yes,” he says, but doesn’t expand on it, and ducks down into the car.

The ride to Jaebum’s is quiet for a while, but not necessarily uncomfortably so. Sometimes Jaebum points out the window to something that passes by quickly, and it’s usually just to tell Jinyoung that he owns it in some way or another. He says it matter-of-factly, as though he’s a tour guide and not some stuck up rich boy expecting way too much from him as far as reactions go. Jinyoung just hums and nods until Jaebum sits back down, looking out his own window.

Jinyoung can tell they're getting close by the way Jaebum begins to fidget from the corner of his eye. His palms slide down his thighs as if to dry them, and Jinyoung has to turn his head a little to make it seem as though he hadn't been watching. He wonders if Jaebum is just anxious to get him upstairs or if Jinyoung’s presence actually makes him nervous. An incredulous, wild laugh bubbles up his throat that he swallows back just as Jaebum sighs.

“Jinyoung-ssi.”

The tone of his voice is uncharacteristically serious in comparison to their phone call and their conversation over drinks, so it worries him a little as he looks over.

“Hmm?

He would be a liar if he said that the way Jaebum looks isn't breathtaking; some of his dark hair has fallen from the careful swoop to brush delicately across his forehead half lit by the lights of the city bleeding in through the window. The changing neons and watery yellows of the street lamps send oscillating shadows across the sharp handsomeness of his face, accenting the dip of his cupid’s bow and the intense shadows at the corners of his eyes. Despite not being able to distinguish his pupils from the stygian pools of his irises, he can feel like a sunburn the line of Jaebum’s gaze where it's focused on his face.

Suddenly the air is tighter, less oxygen between them in the space of the limousine that has seemed to shrink in size. A familiar feeling like dread and thrill runs up his spine and settles around his throat like a noose and in his other hand Jaebum holds the rope.

“I want to say—” he swallows, an unintentional misstep; the vulnerability coming from a man who had boasted only minutes before and demanded with the air of a king that Jinyoung clean his shoes makes him feel terrified. There's no way Jaebum could be real, right? There's no way that he could have emotions like this; he is to adhere to the image he had given off and become nothing more. The idea that he could be something else grips Jinyoung's heart in an ice cold grip.

“What?”

He takes a deep breath and tries again. “I want to say...I'm sorry.”

Bewildered, Jinyoung asks, “for what?”

“Just…for how I acted the first couple of times we met. For tonight, even. I––I know how it seems.”

“What, that you're an entitled, rich, self-centered asshole?”

Jinyoung hadn't said it maliciously but he had said it honestly, and Jaebum smiles with one corner of his mouth as though sharing in some private joke.

“There it is.”

Temper flaring, Jinyoung gets impatient. He doesn't like that Jaebum is trying to apologize, though he's sure it must be fake, and he certainly doesn't like that Jaebum seems to know something he doesn't.

“There's what?”

“You, calling me an asshole.”

Jinyoung opens his mouth to refute him, but goes quiet when he remembers Jaebum's voice on the phone:

Every time you look at me, you look like you're about to call me an asshole.

“Oh.”

Jaebum just smiles again as Jinyoung flushes in embarrassment and doesn't apologize. There's a quiet moment where Jaebum turns away, as though he's trying to hide his face but only letting the city lights illuminate the stark image of his profile as they creep along the streets. Jinyoung stares for a long time; he wonders if Jaebum notices and he wonders why he cares.

“It's just...hard to turn off sometimes. In business, being nice doesn't get you anywhere. You have to know your place and defend it to the death, especially at the top. In that environment, everyone is testing you, your patience, pushing your limits. Despite your politeness, I was drunk, trying to make a deal, and your insubordination was insufferable. Sometimes I get nervous and talk too much. I don’t know. I was being, as you say, an asshole.”

Jinyoung swallows, uncomfortable with the confession. “You don't need to apologize to me. That's none of my business.”

That heavy gaze settles on him again, pinned by Jaebum’s one illuminated, burning eye.

“I don't care whether or not you needed it,” he says, voice quieter, more commanding, but earnest. “I just wanted you to know.”

And then, in truly a self centered fashion, he leaves no room for Jinyoung to reply as he turns his face away.

They arrive only moments later, rolling to a stop at the curb of Jaebum’s apartment building. Within seconds the door on Jaebum’s side is thrown open and closed roughly as he disappears out of it. His eyes burn holes in the black carpet, unblinking, floored by the sudden apology. He doesn't care; Jinyoung has encountered plenty of assholes who didn't apologize and dated one for two years. The apology was unnecessary for their level of closeness, which is none at all. He swallows again, reeling, just as the door on his side opens and Jaebum bends down to peer in at him.

“Come on.”

He won’t lie: standing outside Jaebum’s apartment building and having to tip his head all the way back to see the top of the glass wrapped skyscraper is kind of impressive. It’s got to be the most expensive building in the entire city, and he wouldn’t be surprised if only the richest of the rich lived here. The heels of Jaebum’s shoes click in anticipatory rhythm against the marble floors, and Jinyoung tries to bury the confession turned apology in the spaces between the steps. It would be best, he thinks, eyes on the handsome line of Jaebum’s shoulders, to deconstruct it later. Perhaps, even better, never at all.

The lobby is monstrous; pillars and steps carved into marble and a wall of gold plated mailboxes with tiny numbers etched into their faces. People coming and going dressed in fancy clothes or expensive designer brands, all of it loaning to the atmosphere of excessive grandeur. They pass by two security desks on their way to the elevators, which are only accessible by a keycard that Jaebum pulls from his wallet. Desperately trying to chase away the thoughts attempting to berate him in the wake of Jaebum’s personality change, he nods in the direction of it.

“What happens if you lose that?” Jinyoung asks, impulsive to fill the silence.

Jaebum looks over his shoulder at him as the elevator dings quietly on its way down to them. “I go to sleep at my house in the countryside.”

Typical.

The elevator ride is also kind of quiet, with each passing floor making Jinyoung more and more restless. He crosses his arms over his chest, unsure now what he’s doing here or even what Jaebum is really expecting from him at this point. Jaebum seems content to just sit in silence, looking at him every so often in the reflection of the steel doors that finally slide open with a hush at Jaebum’s apartment.

The keycard is obviously like a key to his entire apartment, because the elevator doors open up directly into his main entryway. There’s a tiny welcome mat in a small alcove directly to their right, where there’s a couple of coats and a bag hung up on brass knobs. They both take off their shoes, and then Jinyoung is stepping into the room and taking a deep breath.

“Holy sh*t,” he gasps, and Jaebum laughs.

Maybe the other things that Jaebum had told him weren’t that impressive, but his house sure is. He hadn’t been kidding when he said it was at the very top: the entire far wall is just glass, floor to ceiling curtains pushed back against the other two walls to let the lights of the city glow from beneath them. There’s a living area sunk into the floor, three small steps to get to it decorated with carpet from God knows what corner of the world. The hardwood nearly looks wet in the dimmed lights set directly into the ceiling, little clusters of bulbs arranged in flower shapes. It feels immense, despite being set up with furniture that matches the red, black, and white interior. Everything in the kitchen off to his left reflects the apartment back to him from their shining chrome surfaces.

There’s a door set into the furthest wall from them past the kitchen, and that must be Jaebum’s bedroom. He’s kind of dying to see it, but doesn’t know how to ask Please let me see your futuristic rich bedroom without it sounding like he’s begging to get f*cked. Which, if he’s honest with himself, wouldn’t be so bad. Not in a place like this.

He goes to the glass while Jaebum goes in the kitchen and gets cups from the cupboard. Jinyoung just looks down in awe, the whole city spread out before him and glittering with the headlights of cars the size of insects. While he’s admiring the city and half-listening to Jaebum bang around in the kitchen behind him, a sudden thought strikes him:

What the f*ck am I doing here?

Maybe it’s the edge of the alcohol wearing off or maybe he’s just wising up, but it nearly rocks him back on his heels when he realizes he has absolutely no real business being here. It’s not like they’ve known each other long, or like they even really know each other at all. All of their interactions have been glazed over with a layer of weirdness. During their second meeting Jaebum ordered him around and acted like he could do whatever he wanted and then propositioned Jinyoung for sex. He had given Jinyoung his phone number, and answered in the middle of sex; he had taken him to an expensive bar and talked about himself all night but found space to apologize on the way here. And that’s really it, isn’t it? His behavior is so unpredictable. Jaebum can’t possibly want to court him. He doesn’t even know him. Jaebum had been contacting him for the most primal of reasons and Jinyoung let his stupid poetic heart get in the way.

He turns, nearly slipping on the polished floor. Jaebum’s barely a couple steps behind him with two cups in each hand full of a steaming liquid, probably tea. The thought slips away quickly as he takes a deep breath.

“Do you want to have sex?” he asks, because it’s the only thing he can offer.

Jaebum looks taken aback, as though he hadn’t been expecting it, and Jinyoung applauds him silently on his acting. He seems to debate a moment, looking at Jinyoung’s face closely before seeming to decide on something; an expression crosses his handsome features that’s there and gone before Jinyoung can name it. Jaebum calmly walks over to the long dining room table parallel to the glass window to set down the two cups. He hesitates for just a moment, Jinyoung watching his back like a hawk, and then he’s crossing the distance in just a few strides to sweep him up in a kiss.

Jinyoung makes a surprised noise, but his body reacts immediately. His hands go up to fist in Jaebum’s shirt as Jaebum licks at his mouth, biting his lower lip when it opens and then licking desperately behind his teeth. Jinyoung moans quietly, tilting his head back for a better angle, pulling Jaebum closer against him as the kiss deepens and Jaebum’s hand trails down his back. The glass of the window is cold through his sweater when Jaebum turns them and pushes him against it, and his heart flips anxiously at the thought of Jaebum kissing him so hard the window shatters. But Jaebum just leans a hand on it, the other buried deep in Jinyoung’s hair to keep him steady.

“God, you’re such a good kisser,” Jinyoung moans pathetically, and he just feels Jaebum smile against his mouth. The hand in his hair and the one on the window move to his hips, sliding around and down to grip his ass and squeeze hard. It pulls Jinyoung up on his toes, hands going to Jaebum’s shoulders and then wrapping his arms around Jaebum’s neck as he gets half-lifted off the floor. Jaebum’s tongue maps his own, sliding against it and pulling a noise out of his chest that’s somewhere between a moan and please. Jaebum drags him backward, keeping his hands gripped underneath his ass and squeezing where Jinyoung’s toes barely touch the hardwood. He’s got his knees up at Jaebum’s hips, not quite wrapped around him but close, and Jinyoung is distantly amazed at how strong he must be to support him like this before Jaebum kicks his bedroom door open backward.

The thought leaves him entirely as they go down a step and Jaebum hits carpet, walking him across the massive room to throw him down on the biggest bed he’s ever seen. Jinyoung gasps when his back hits, bouncing a little and then right back up as Jaebum climbs on top of him. The older man keeps a hand on his waist, sliding up underneath his sweater to stroke the skin of his hip while his mouth trails kisses along his jaw and then underneath to his neck. There’s a sensitive spot behind his ears, and Jaebum finds it right away with a breathy laugh as Jinyoung’s hips lurch off the bed and crash into his. Jinyoung moans brokenly, one hand turning to a claw in the material of Jaebum’s shirt at his lower back as Jaebum abuses his sensitive spot with his teeth. The blood rushes down, and his dick is so hard when their hips connect again as Jinyoung impatiently bows off the bed under Jaebum’s mouth.

Jaebum makes a choked off noise as their hips come together, the friction of their hard co*cks like electricity sparking up and down Jinyoung’s legs. He moans as he frantically pulls Jaebum’s shirt untucked from his pants, one hand trapped between them as he desperately tries to undo the buttons. Jaebum groans at the feeling of Jinyoung’s fingertips against the base of his throat and leans his weight on one hand to help Jinyoung with the buttons.

It’s a testament to how badly he needed to get laid when he almost comes as Jaebum’s shirt is off. His shoulders are wide, his chest deceptively broad under the shirts he wears. The skin is tan and unmarked, sparking a wild need in Jinyoung to bruise all of it with his mouth. He whimpers as Jaebum shoves his sweater up his stomach, moving to kiss down from the bottom of his rib cage to his navel. Jinyoung tugs on his hair, mussed and slightly damp where he’d been tugging on it. Jaebum just hums, dipping the tip of his tongue teasingly into the indent of Jinyoung’s navel.

A sharp feeling shoots down his spine. “Ahjussi!” he moans, filthily, but Jaebum just lifts his head.

“For f*ck’s sake,” he pants, pupils blown wide and his bottom lip swollen and cherry red from kisses. “Don’t call me that while I’m trying to get you naked.”

“Sorry,” Jinyoung replies, and then the rest of it is lost as Jaebum quickly undoes the button of his jeans.

They come off fast, yanked down his legs until he’s on his back in Jaebum’s bed in only his underwear and his big sweater. Jaebum admires him from between his spread legs, co*ck tenting the front of his dress pants and Jinyoung reaches down to grab him and squeeze him gently. Jaebum hiccups a moan, eyes wild and hungry and hands heavy as he slaps Jinyoung’s hand away to undo his belt.

“Let me,” Jinyoung whines, wanting to do it for him, and he watches in awe as Jaebum’s head tips back while Jinyoung undoes his belt. It snaps as he yanks it through the loops and tosses it to the floor. Jinyoung immediately grabs the waistband of his dress pants, yanking him back down and pulling the zipper down in one fluid motion.

Jaebum hits the bed on both hands, hovering over Jinyoung as he pops the buttons and then uses both hands to push them down underneath Jaebum’s ass. Jinyoung looks down between them, a pathetic noise in his throat at the way the front of Jaebum’s light colored briefs are stained with a pretty wet spot. Jinyoung lifts his hips, unaware of the way Jaebum’s watching him where he’s supporting himself on his hands, finally hanging his head between his shoulders to watch as Jinyoung ruts against his crotch.

Fire spreads in his gut as he does, moaning, listening to the low noises Jaebum makes as he finally starts to roll his hips down. Jinyoung sits up a little to push his pants down further, trying to get them off, and he yelps when Jaebum sinks his teeth into his neck. Jaebum carefully kicks off his dress pants, immediately spreading Jinyoung’s thighs with his knees and biting a bruise into his neck.

It feels so good it’s almost painful. He snaps his hips up, desperate for it now, wanting Jaebum to just get inside him and f*ck him down into the bed. He’s half delirious with lust; it’s been nearly two years since he’d slept with anybody, and he feels the weight of time as his dick twitches and leaks in his underwear while Jaebum teases him.

“Jaebum-ssi,” he finally moans, digging his nails painfully into the skin of Jaebum’s back. “Jaebum-ssi, please–”

Hearing his name finally come from Jinyoung’s mouth makes him shudder. He leans up and over to the bedside table, slamming it shut and coming back with lube and a little foil packet. Jinyoung grows more impatient as Jaebum sets them aside and grips the waistband of Jinyoung’s underwear, slowly pulling them down his thighs and then off like he’s unwrapping a breakable present.

“Take off your sweater,” he commands, voice low and rough like he’d drank an entire bottle of whiskey. It makes him weak, knees turning to water and he’s glad he’s laying down as he arches up enough to pull it off over his head. Finally naked, Jaebum caresses his body with both hands so slowly it makes him moan Please, please before Jaebum finally takes the hint.

In barely any time at all Jaebum’s kicking off his own underwear, kneeling naked between Jinyoung’s spread thighs. He wants to gasp at just how beautiful Jaebum’s body is: those wide shoulders taper down into masculine, lean hips, the barest hint of abs cut into his torso and that f*cking tantalizing strip of hair running from his navel and down to the base of his co*ck. Jinyoung whimpers and arches a little to get Jaebum to focus.

He slicks up two fingers and then gently slides them in, Jinyoung hissing a little bit but letting it dissolve into moans as Jaebum fingers him gently. His dick leaks onto his stomach a little, and he’s pretty sure if he keeps letting Jaebum finger him he’s going to come and he hasn’t even gotten f*cked yet. He holds his breath as Jaebum adds a third finger, murmuring to him about what a good boy he is, and even though he’s barely listening it’s the hottest thing he’s ever heard and he just closes his eyes and moans so loud it’s almost a shout.

“God, does it feel that good?” Jaebum pants, angling them deeper, twisting his wrist and brushing Jinyoung’s prostate. He jerks, crying out, back bowing off the bed and grabbing Jaebum’s other wrist where he’s leaning on it. “Maybe I’ll just make you come like this, huh?”

“No, no, no,” he whines, so hard it almost hurts. “Please, f*ck me Jaebum-ssi, f*ck me–”

“Oh, my god,” sounds like it punches its way out of his chest. He removes his fingers gently, and Jinyoung just throws an arm over his eyes as Jaebum rips into the condom and puts it on, listening to him suck in a breath through his perfect teeth and the wet sound of him slicking up. Jinyoung can’t watch, even just listening sending him nearly to the edge and over before Jaebum is holding him by the hips.

“Are you ready?” Jaebum asks, and Jinyoung just nods with the arm still thrown over his eyes.

Pleasure curls in his gut as Jaebum pushes in slow, purposefully teasing, both hands on Jinyoung’s hips and fingertips digging in. Jinyoung moans low on an exhaled breath, inhaling again as Jaebum starts to pull out and roll his hips up. He removes the arm from his eyes and grips the sheets tight with both hands, wrapping his legs around Jaebum’s hips as he finally finds a pace and starts to drive into him. Each rough thrust of his hips pulls a moan from Jinyoung’s chest, his thighs already starting to shake where he’s gripping Jaebum’s hips with them. A feeling like warm honey spreading up his thighs makes him tremble, arching and rolling his hips up to f*ck himself between their stomachs.

Where Jaebum’s a good kisser, he’s even better at f*cking, and Jinyoung feels the sharp wave of his org*sm already building up his spine. He tries to hold it off a little longer, reveling in the fullness, listening to Jaebum grunt and moan his name Jinyoung-ssi, Jinyoung-ssi, ah, f*ck, Jinyoung, f*ck. The slick slide of Jaebum’s co*ck inside him makes him want to scream, and he bites down hard on his lower lip until he thinks he’s going to draw blood.

“If you want to scream, Jinyoung-ssi, scream,” Jaebum pleads, like he’s dying to heart it. “There’s no neighbors.”

So he does. The next time Jaebum slams his hips up and Jinyoung feels it like a shockwave, he moans so loud it sounds like shouting, and Jaebum makes a louder noise than he does. Jinyoung bucks, near tears, gripping the sheets and finally begging Jaebum to touch him.

“Jaebum-ssi,” he whimpers, “please make me come, I’m going to come soon, just f*cking touch me–”

Almost as though he knew he was going to ask, Jaebum is wrapping his fingers around Jinyoung’s co*ck and sliding roughly. Sweat drips down his neck, his skin shining with a thin layer of it, his hands sliding in the layer of it covering Jaebum’s shoulders as he pulls him down. Jinyoung searches for his mouth and crashes their mouths together, moaning into Jaebum’s parted lips as he jerks Jinyoung off fast and continues to f*ck him. Each thrust has his back sliding up the bed a little, and Jinyoung feels the wave as it starts to break over his head.

“Oh my god, Jaebum-ssi–” he moans, cutting it off with a choked noise as he comes.

Stars burst behind his eyes, shouting Jaebum’s name as loud as his lungs will let him, painting both of their stomachs white. Tears squeeze out of the corners of his eyes as he pants, letting Jaebum work him through the aftershocks and then wrapping both arms around Jaebum’s neck to hold him close. Jaebum’s hips get faster, sloppier; Jinyoung has a feeling he’s about to come with the way he leans his forehead against Jinyoung’s and moans filth about how tight and wet and hot his ass his with his eyes closed. Jinyoung finally feels him tense, Jaebum’s hips rolling up once before he moans so obscenely Jinyoung almost blushes. They kiss lazily as Jaebum comes down, hips rolling until he’s spent and he pulls out gently.

Neither of them say anything as they lay on their backs side by side, Jaebum pulling the condom off and tying it before throwing it in what Jinyoung assumes is the direction of a trashcan. Jinyoung’s body is already stiffening, getting sore from where he’d been arching and rolling, his stomach sticky with drying come. The only sound in the room is their harsh breathing, out of breath and tired.

Finally, after five long minutes of panting, Jaebum speaks. “Holy sh*t.”

Jinyoung doesn’t laugh.

In fact, he thinks the situation is particularly unfunny as Jaebum gets up. His eyes follow, admiring the expanse of muscle in Jaebum’s back as he goes into the bathroom connected to his bedroom. He reappears a moment later with a damp towel, handing it to Jinyoung while he goes back into the bathroom to clean himself up. Jinyoung glances in through the open door to see Jaebum looking for another towel and then looks away.

Once he cleans off, he feels awkward. Incredibly so. He’s not exactly a nun; his only form of “rebelliousness” is in the form of enjoying one-night-stands (despite avoiding them for the better part of two years). But it doesn’t feel enjoyable as he puts the towel down and starts to pull his clothes back on. Some weird feeling like guilt curdles in his stomach like spoiled milk, and, no longer blinded by the rose colored screen of lust, he feels a little stupid. The sex had been by far the best sex he’d ever had in his life, but it feels… he sighs. He’s not even sure how to describe it.

Jaebum comes out of the bathroom again just as Jinyoung is buttoning his jeans and pulling his sweater down over them. He’s toweling off his hair, looking surprised that Jinyoung is dressed again. Other one night stands were easy: Jinyoung generally let them stay, or they left on their own. It was a simple thanks for a good time with a parting kiss and that was it. But as Jinyoung just stands awkwardly in Jaebum’s room fully clothed and sore with his arms crossed, he’s not really sure what to expect.

“So–”

“Can I borrow your phone to call a cab?” Jinyoung interrupts, the nerves making his voice louder than it needs to be.

Jaebum looks startled. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll have a car drive you home.”

Neither of them say anything, and the awkwardness just increases. He’s not sure what to say, or what Jaebum’s expecting now and, based on the flush on Jaebum’s cheeks, he’s not really sure either.

Jinyoung waits patiently as Jaebum calls the car around for him. They move into the living room, Jinyoung suddenly feeling cramped and anxious in Jaebum’s bedroom. He’s still just in his briefs, and Jinyoung pointedly stares in the opposite direction as though he’s worried that red mist will cover his eyes again and he’ll let Jaebum take him in.

“The car’s downstairs,” Jaebum says softly, breaking Jinyoung from his thoughts. Jinyoung just nods, going to slip on his shoes and hesitant when Jaebum follows him. But he just pushes the button for the elevator, and he’s staunchly relieved when it opens a moment later.

Jaebum looks uncomfortable as he holds a hand behind his back. Jinyoung isn’t sure what to say. Thanks? See you later? Only one of those he could say with any real emotion. But then Jaebum is pulling his hand out from behind his back and holding a stack of bills out to him.

Jinyoung just looks at them dumbly. “What is this?”

“It’s money,” Jaebum says dully, stating the obvious. “Take it.”

He flashes back to when Jaebum had offered him money at the restaurant and propositioned him to be a prostitute. Staring at the money in Jaebum’s hand, he realizes that it’s exactly what they’d just done; Jinyoung had played right into his filthy f*cking hands. A sick feeling rises in his throat that he’d been right, Jaebum had only wanted him for sex. So why is he surprised?

He just takes it, shoving it into his pocket without even trying to count it. Jaebum just watches him intently, waiting for him to say something, but Jinyoung just stares at the floor. Finally he just gives him a half-assed bow and says,

“Thank you, Jaebum-ssi.”

He steps into the elevator, leaning heavily on his back. A sigh escapes his lips as he looks up, their eyes meeting where Jaebum is already watching him. They hold the eye contact until the doors close and then Jinyoung is just looking at his reflection in the polished silver door, sweaty-haired and flushed red.

Finally in the car and on his way home, he leans his face against the glass and closes his eyes. He imagines another place, one far different from here, where he’d never met Hakyeon and he’d never met Jaebum and everyone lived happily ever after.

Notes:

sorry for any typos it's 12am i'm so tired

Chapter 4: strange terrain

Notes:

shameless self-insert with the stephen king quote, sorry. <3 also, some jinyoung back story. sorry if you're bored. TTnTT

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

There's an odd feeling that clings to him long after his bedroom encounter with Im Jaebum. It tastes like guilt and self hatred. It is bitter in his mouth like rotten fruit and despite how the days pass by in boring, repetitive sequence, he can't seem to dispel the lingering sensation. Along with this is the notion that Jackson maybe had a point that day in the park when he had, in his way, expressed the concern that Jinyoung is on the path to making the same mistakes that he made a couple of years ago with a certain pretty eyed, sharp tongued professor.

In college, Jinyoung had been the type who did all of his homework the day that it was assigned and wrote papers weeks before their due dates. Jinyoung always had an opinion in class and outside of it; had he graduated at a smaller university he's certain that his professors would have singled him out for the consistent abuse of their office hours. Jinyoung likes to think that constantly going to his professors for more work, extra credit, questions, or their general advice made him calculating and pragmatic rather than annoying. He has always been the type, as far back as high school, who was the most concerned about his grades and the reflection that diligently studying gave off rather than how it really affected his life. Park Jinyoung had been, and always would be in a way, the kind of person who spent little time with his friends when he had two parents to impress with flawless academia and partied even less.

It was his strict discipline to studying that, upon reflection, most likely got him into the situation with his poetry professor. Jinyoung had barely been just shy of 20 when taking his class; the man was well into his early thirties but was intensely handsome and charismatic. Jinyoung would never have lied and said that his attractiveness was not a factor in his painstaking attention to and care for his grades in Cha Hakyeon’s advanced poetry and interpretations class, because it surely did, but the part was small. Mostly Jinyoung found himself motivated by his desire to do well and his incessant need to be a teacher’s pet.

Jinyoung would perhaps always wonder just what exactly made Hakyeon set his sights on him. Hakyeon would later tell him midway into their relationship that he was inexplicably drawn to Jinyoung’s beauty the day he'd stepped into the classroom and had just known there was something different about him, but after everything that had happened Jinyoung knows this is not quite true. The only theory Jinyoung has, knowing what he knows now, is that Hakyeon just found him attractive and wanted to sleep with him. He had never intended to get involved, Jinyoung thinks, but had found himself caught up in Jinyoung’s impressive dedication to and understanding of poetry as an art form.

Regardless of initial intention, professor Cha Hakyeon had, in whatever way someone as cold as he was could, fallen in love with him. Or something that resembled love at least; Jinyoung would see at the end of the relationship that it had no longer been about love but the desire of control, and he had felt like the stupidest young man in the world to think that his professor would ever actually love him in that way. It had been the worst mistake of his life to let himself be taken in and folded underneath a venom tipped wing.

“I just. I’m worried, Jinyoungie.”

“Why?”

“Because, you know, you felt the same way about Hakyeon.”

“That was different! I knew him!”

“You thought you knew him.”

Try as he might, Jinyoung can barely shake Jackson’s disembodied voice in his head telling him in not so many words that he's on the path to maybe making the same mistake. Jinyoung thinks it's a little unfair; had Jackson not been the antagonist only recently? Had Jackson not gently ribbed him by saying that his life was boring and should call Jaebum up and see what he was doing? Does Jackson know something that he doesn't? As though he has some other sense that Jinyoung’s penchant for older men seems only to lead him to the bad ones.

So what does it say, then, that there is a feeling trapped like water under ice inside his chest that there is just something different about millionaire Im Jaebum?

But, as he knows, different is what gets him into trouble.

He sighs heavily and flips to his back on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and wondering why, despite all the thoughts he's had the last two weeks after hooking up with Jaebum, he can't stop thinking about him. It's not like their meet-up was particularly amazing in any way, except for the sex: he wouldn't even call it a date, because it wasn't, and it wasn't good. Like he's told Yugyeom, Jaebum is either an egomaniac or just downright clueless as to what proper conversational etiquette is when he's a millionaire trying to connect with a relatively lower middle class college student. Yugyeom had found it funny, of course, that Jinyoung was irked by Jaebum’s flashy stories and that stupid loose watch on his wrist that he had just assumed was fashionable.

He also hasn't talked to Jackson since, and that's more a reflection on his childish behavior than it is a fault of Jackson’s. Jackson didn't even do anything wrong: he had attempted to express worry and Jinyoung had let the feeling control him. He has lashed out and while he was so caught up in the unfairness of Jackson’s concern he had failed to realize his own.

Reluctant to admit his wrongdoing but feeling a bit lonely and regretful, Jinyoung rolls over on his side to reach for his phone off the bedside table. He stays laid on his side, eyes closed, phone balanced on the side of his face while he folds his hands and pillows his cheek on top of them. For a moment he's worried that he won't answer: it's the middle of the workweek, and since Jackson typically works nights at the bar, he could either be sleeping or busy or purposefully ignoring his call.

Mercifully, he answers on the third ring. “Hello?”

Relief, hot and tingling, rushes down his arms and legs as his body sags into his mattress. “Jackson.”

“What's wrong? Are you okay?”

He sounds alarmed and Jinyoung feels a pang of guilt dissipate the gentle warmth of healing something broken. “I'm fine, Jackson,” he says, in a quiet voice he hopes conveys his desire for undeserved forgiveness.

His friend sighs a sigh of many years on the other end. “Okay. Thank you. You know, I—”

“I'm really sorry.” Jinyoung blurts out, stealing Jackson’s opportunity to finish his thought with the hurried apology. When he's sure that Jackson has quieted he squeezes his eyes shut and continues, “about the other day. When I yelled at you and stormed off and didn't show up to your bar. It wasn't fair. You were just trying to look out for me, and I didn't want to listen because I was scared you'd be right. And you were right.”

Jackson stays silent for a moment as though he's disgusting what Jinyoung had just regurgitated for him in his messy, desperate way. Finally, after a few long moments of unpunctuated tension, Jackson breathes out heavily.

“What do you mean, I was right?”

He doesn't acknowledge the apology right away, which might be indicative of him showing his forgiveness in his typical Jackson way of not mentioning it ever again. Jinyoung just sighs and reaches up to hold his phone with a flattened palm as he rolls onto his back. He stares up at the ceiling and listens to Jackson’s quiet breathing while he fights to think of an articulate response.

“We…we had sex.”

Elegant.

“You what?!”

Jinyoung winces away from his phone, more so from the tone of disbelief in his voice than the volume of it. He clears his throat awkwardly and nods to the empty room.

“Yep. We went for drinks, he offered to let me see his apartment, and then we had sex.”

More than anything, Jackson just sounds incredulous. At first he has been prodding him, ribbing him with schoolyard taunts about how his life is so boring and nothing of interest ever happens to bookish Park Jinyoung. But then when meeting with Im Jaebum had trundled its way into the realm of possibility he had switched his song and dance to the same one from years before; the same one he'd used when Jinyoung was starting to get his hands burned by the studious and handsome (and interested) Cha Hakyeon. Now he's here, trapped in amazement that Jinyoung had done what he had deemed a paradoxical impossibility.

He's terrified that Jackson is going to say something condemning. He's afraid that Jackson will take on that soft tone of voice he gets when he has to say something bad, as if it's killing him inside to do it, and he will say something to wound him like what he had said that day in the parking lot. Jinyoung attempts to swallow the anxious feeling crawling up his throat but like a stubborn dog it will not stay. More so than anything he finds that he's afraid of Jackson’s disappointment as opposed to his anger; anger is a quicker fire to burn than the lingering, glowering heat of pity and third party shame.

“Jackson,” he says, on the verge of begging him to say something, anything. But before he has the chance, he can practically hear the smile that rips across Jackson’s face as he asks,

“So, was it good?”

Jinyoung doesn't respond, floored by Jackson’s lack of heartfelt response. “Um, was what good?”

“The sex! Was it hot?”

“Jackson!”

“What's he look like naked? Does he have a nice body?” Jackson gasps, honest in his theatrics. “Oh my god, he has a small dick, right? It's small, isn't it, and that's why you sound so upset—”

“Jackson!”

Jinyoung’s heart slams against his ribcage while his best friend dissolves into screaming laughter at his scandalized outburst. Jackson just continues to laugh, cackling until he sounds like he's running out of oxygen. While Jinyoung glares at his ceiling, he thinks he wouldn't lament it if he did.

Finally Jackson calms down enough to answer. “What? I'm just asking an innocent question.”

“Yeah, innocent,” he snorts, but doesn't argue. Slowly the irritation fades and the anxiety, though still lingering with its omnipresence, reduces itself to background noise. “You're not going to get mad at me?”

“Why would I be mad at you for hooking up with someone? I'm mad you're not giving me details!”

He laughs a little. “I just… you know. You were so worried, and we had that fight about it, and I know how you feel…”

Gently, Jackson shushes him until the line between them buzzes with silence. Once he's sure that Jinyoung isn't going to try to interrupt him, he sighs affectionately. “I'm not mad, Jinyoungie. I'd never be mad. Just worried. I'm still a little worried, you know? You're my best friend. But you're an adult, and you can make your own choices. If you want to hook up with a rich playboy, then so be it. I just don't want you to get your expectations up again.”

He swallows roughly, moved and cut a little deeply by the sentiment. “I'm okay, Jackson. It's just sex. We might not even see each other again.”

Jackson hums on the other line in an unspoken gesture of disagreement, but he doesn't push it. “So, are you going to answer my question?”

“Which one? You asked me like five.”

“Did he have a small dick?”

Jinyoung goes quiet and pretends as though he's gearing up for a bad answer. Jackson sucks in an overly animated gasp, which makes Jinyoung laugh. “No, he didn't have a small dick. It was...it was, uh, pretty nice.”

He cackles again. “This is hilarious. How was the rest of the date, though? Besides scoring with the richest dude in the country under 40?”

Jinyoung feels his face burn. “It wasn't a date, Jackson.”

“Okay,” he says, like he wants to argue but knows that Jinyoung will refuse to engage him. “How was the rest of your….play date?”

Cue a classic spit take: Jinyoung had sat up while Jackson mused on how to approach the subject of his “date” to take a drink from the glass water bottle he keeps on his nightstand. Lukewarm water sprays over his pants as his eyes widen in disbelief.

“Jackson! Don't call it that!”

“And why not?” He practically shouts, as though he's getting offended that none of his words for Jinyoung’s brief malaise with Im Jaebum were deemed satisfactory. But it can't be helped: they aren't satisfactory, because Jinyoung himself can't even describe what happened between them. It certainly seems, by all accounts, like a first date; it seems like the kind of thing that happens on dating apps to other people that aren't him. He ended up with the richest man in the country under 40 totally by coincidence and yet their first one-on-one interaction had been painfully particular of dating in your twenties.

It couldn't be more confusing and messed up if he tried.

“It wasn't—we just—” he starts and stops like he's playing a one man game of Red Light, Green Light before he finally digs up the right words. “I don't know what it was, Jackson. He was ten minutes late. He said he thought I looked nice even though I felt really underdressed. He started ordering us drinks and we talked a bit and then he just kept talking to me about business.”

“So he acted like you were a business partner and not a date?”

God, the word date makes him cringe. “Kind of. It felt more like he was trying to tell me without actually giving me a number how much money he makes. It just felt like…”

How can he possibly describe how it made him feel? How Jackson had been well within his rights to voice his concerns because they hadn't been unfounded: in what way can Jinyoung describe the feeling that had shrouded him that night when Jaebum had started talking about his money without it demanding to be felt again? Jinyoung isn't sure that he can put into words the way his chest had felt when Jaebum seemed to have forgotten him as he rambled on and on about things and people and places Jinyoung doesn't know about. Or the way his mouth had soured at the one sided pissing contest over expensive, top-shelf booze.

But, of course there is a word for it.

Disappointed.

He had been, to the fullest extent of the feeling, disappointed.

Jackson, in a rare show of constraint, stays quiet as Jinyoung closes his mouth and tries to process what comes next. He isn't sure that he wants to express that he'd been disappointed to Jackson; if there's one thing he refuses to do for his best friend it is validate his concern. Jinyoung knows that if he tells Jackson it had been disappointing, then more questions will follow: why was it disappointing? What were you expecting? Did you think that he had changed so quickly in a couple of empty weeks? He finds that, no matter how much he tries, he cannot answer them. In any case, he isn't sure he wants to examine himself quite that closely.

“I don't know,” he breathes, aching in the silence.

Phantom hands run down the length of his body, push up his shirt; the memory of a mouth kissing his stomach with a warm tongue dipped into his navel has a stomach churning heat slipping up his legs. The truth of it all is that he had expected nothing but gotten something in return, and that something was the knowledge that he had fallen victim to Im Jaebum’s looks and charms. He had let himself become an easy target for the man with too much money and the f*ck-me-eyes, cut down from where he stood the first day they'd ever met in the coffee shop. Jinyoung is and always has been chained to his desires; he won't deny them even when they lead him astray. Oftentimes they are linked directly into the romanticism in his heart and he lets himself become the fool in the court of a king. Where the innermost part of his heart had yearned for Jaebum to see inside of him, it had tricked him once more.

Jaebum wasn’t interested in anything but the sex. The coffee shop fiasco, the time at the restaurant, the club, the phone call. All of it had been a power play to get him, a seemingly immovable force, into bed, and Jinyoung had eaten it eagerly from his palm like a starving dog.

“You're beating yourself up about it, aren't you?” Jackson asks, finally, after nearly ten minutes of silence. His voice is almost too soft to be heard under the roar of truth in his words.

Jinyoung swallows, suddenly wishing to be alone.

“Let's talk about this later, Jackson. Okay?” he says, but can't miss the blackened edges of pleading in his voice.

“Okay, Jinyoungie,” he murmurs, and Jinyoung hangs up before he has the chance to make him feel even worse.

_____________________

You know you're so beautiful, right? he asked, shirtless on his bed, a cigarette held loose between kiss swollen lips. Bite marks were bruised into the skin of his neck and tanned shoulders. He had looked down at Jinyoung through the too-young, too-trendy fringe of his ochre hair that covered his light brown eyes.

But Jinyoung had looked away. How many times can a person call you beautiful before they don't mean it anymore? he wondered, eyes on the ceiling and nervous fingers dancing at the drawstring of his sweatpants. He didn't answer and the handsome man in his bed had nudged his shoulder with a knee. How many times had the man next to him called him beautiful, ethereal, an angel let loose from Heaven’s gate to wander the earth in temptation of all mankind? Too many to count, it seemed, but his heart felt heavy when he could count on one hand the amount of times the same man had called him smart. Jinyoung could name each instance over the two years of their courtship where he had said something about the content of Jinyoung’s heart, his soul; but every one of those times was shrouded behind the blackened curtain of shallowness that was his professor’s obsession with his beauty. And despite maybe knowing somewhere deep inside that it would always be that way, he had stupidly let himself fall anyway.

What's wrong? he asked, nudging him again with a bare knee to his shoulder but Jinyoung would not be moved from his silence. He hadn't been sure if there was a way to articulate what his heart most wanted to know and it frustrated him. He was a writer, a poet; words were his weapon and yet in the times he needed them most he seemed to be staring down the barrel instead of aiming it.

Do you love me? he finally asked, voice quivering at the end like the unskilled drawing of a bowstring.

The room had gone quiet. The knee at his shoulder stilled in its nudging, and Jinyoung had sucked in a quiet breath as he waited on a hair thin wire for an answer he wasn't sure would come.

What kind of question is that? the man laughed, hand in Jinyoung’s hair, but it was answer enough.

_____________________

Two weeks pass since his ill-fated fling with rich playboy Im Jaebum. The days meander by in the radio silence of a long, drawn out stride; Jinyoung is too proud to speak aloud that he checks his phone much more often than he used to, but it lends itself the words when he jumps at every ring. Jackson can see it in the line of his shoulders as he checks his empty lock screen before putting his phone back into his pocket but pretends he doesn't notice the look on his best friend’s face. He doesn't want to be disappointed that Jaebum hasn't called, but he is, anyways, and hides his irony of getting too interested in the most prolific businessman of the last couple of years behind his back. The man might be clueless, arrogant, and rich with short-sightedness, but it doesn’t dissolve him of the appeal that Jinyoung is strung up on like a wire.

Summer closes in like two hands over his nose and mouth, suffocating in its intensity this year. His shirt sticks to his back like an unwanted second skin as he leaves the house every day trailed by his lingering thoughts of a certain rich man lurking somewhere deep inside the city. Two weeks turns into three as the sun stains his skin just a little bit darker the more time he spends outside working on his bike or sunbathing. He had figured that the oppressive stare of the sun on the back of his neck might burn away any stubborn memories that refused to go, but so far it had only seemed to bake them into the very essence of his vertebrae. It seems that no matter what he does, trying to make the images of Jaebum hovering over him with kiss swollen lips and that look in his eyes go away only gives them more room to stay.

Frustrated, Jinyoung throws down the wrench he’d been messing with for the last thirty minutes and watches it bounce once off the pavement before closing his eyes. Despite trying to follow the instructions he’d found online step-by-step for fixing his bike chain, he just can’t seem to get the hang of it: every angle only brings him more failure and pinched fingers. He folds his legs up and rests his arms across his knees, scantily clad (by his standards) in jeans with ripped knees and a sleeveless shirt that’s soaked through and clinging to his back. Sweat drips down the sides of his face and his neck, tickling the skin on his throat and he slaps at it absently while he glares at the loose, broken chain of his bike.

He had known it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a nice bike, an expensive bike, and it had lasted him throughout his college career without an issue. It had survived multiple minor crashes and crowded weekends on the subways, but he hits a pothole one time without lubing the chains beforehand and the whole thing comes unwound. Because of the excessive quality of the bike, he knew that, should anything ever happen to it, he was going to have to take it somewhere to get it fixed because there’s no way in hell that he’d ever be qualified enough to repair something as vital as the chain. Yet now he sits on burning pavement outside of his apartment building drenched in sweat and slowly roasting in the sun with two impossible tasks being juggled back and forth between his unsteady hands.

“You’re pathetic,” he mumbles in the direction of his bike, but he’s not sure if he’s talking to it or himself.

With a resigned sigh, Jinyoung gets up and tries not to kick over his bike where it’s balanced on the back tire and handlebars. He knows that his neighbors downstairs wouldn’t let anyone steal it, but he silently hopes that someone relieves him of the burden his broken bicycle has caused him as he heads back upstairs to his apartment. As soon as he’s in the door his shirt comes off, discarded in the hamper by his bathroom door and another pulled from the hanger in his closet. He knows he should take a shower first before putting on a nicer shirt, but the relentless beat of the sun on the back of his neck for the past few hours has made him warmed and sleepy. Jinyoung grabs a book off of the small bookshelf by his desk and flops down across his bed to read a little.

That frustration that has become such a staple in his emotional armory the last couple of weeks returns as he looks at the same words over and over without really reading them. He has to keep going back, that feeling of annoyance starting to bubble up low in his stomach and grip his heart as he struggles to read even a page of the English book he'd picked up. Normally it isn't an issue for him—this was his major, after all, and he passed the college English exams at near fluent levels. He's read hundreds of books in English and never had a problem, but now that he's got stupid f*cking Im Jaebum on the brain it's like he's totally forgotten how. Gritting his teeth, he hunkers down and forces Jaebum from his mind as he focuses on the words in front of him:

So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.

Wait. Seriously?

Jinyoung groans under his breath and tries not to launch the book across the room. Instead he drops it over his face, nose buried in the spine and eyes closed as he tries to regulate his breathing to a calming level. It would figure, wouldn't it, that he's spent three weeks trying to ignore memories of Im Jaebum, tying to abandon them in the past where they belong, and then read a quote like this when he realizes he's been failing miserably. And as if that wasn't bad enough in of itself, it even made him feel a little emotional. Is he really getting emotional over a book quote that reminds him of Im Jaebum? Already?

No, he thinks to himself, eyes squeezed shut and silently praying the heavy book is enough to suffocate him. That's not it. It's just true, and you've always been quite moved by books. The facts that it's kind of relevant now is just a coincidence.

He’s not entirely sure that it’s enough to really convince himself, but it’s enough of a half-truth that he can purposely ignore the blatant lie. The warmth of his sun soaked skin radiates under his shirt and it makes him feel tired and a bit delirious. He doesn’t move the book from his face, instead keeping his eyes closed and letting his mind wander just a bit as he slowly makes his way toward taking a nap. His thoughts are innocent enough at first: he sleepily wonders what he’s actually going to do about his bike, if he should just let Mrs. Kim downstairs keep it on her porch until he can take it to get it fixed, or if it’s time to just let it go. Jinyoung feels his body relax into his mattress, the book shading his eyes from the sunlight streaming in from the window and pushing him closer and closer to sleep. The more his mind wanders, though, the more dangerous his thoughts become, and it’s not long before his traitorous brain is begging him to think about Jaebum again. Jinyoung struggles to stay awake and fight off thoughts of Jaebum’s mouth; the way he kisses or smiles, and the shapes of his eyes like folded crescent moons.

A dream is just barely forming at the edges of his vision when suddenly there’s a pulsing vibration against his hip and the tinny blaring of a pop song coming from his pocket:

Geokjeonghaji mara nan neol algo sipeun namja I just wanna know your name…

Groaning, he uses his fingers to slide his phone from his jeans and silence the ringtone before answering it. Jinyoung doesn’t bother looking at the caller ID: not very many people call him, so there’s only a few options as to who it’s going to be, especially in the late afternoon on a weekday. It’s either going to be Jackson, the restaurant, or his parents, so he just slides his hand under the book and mumbles a tired “hello?” into the receiver.

“Jinyoung? Are you okay?”

Jinyoung sits up quickly, the book sliding from his face to his lap, and he winces when it bangs to the floor. He tries to compose himself as he reaches down to pick it up and smooth out the pages: he’s just gone from utter calm to his heart beating out of his chest, Jaebum’s voice on the other end of the line immediately recognizable and unfairly concerned sounding. Especially after three entire weeks of nothing.

Clearing his throat, he places the book on the bed and absently runs his fingers over the cover while he tries to make his voice sound steadier. “Um. Yes?”

“Oh,” he says, and he sounds relieved. “When you picked up you didn’t sound like yourself.”

“I was asleep,” Jinyoung replies, feeling vaguely annoyed that Jaebum should even be thinking about expressing his “concern”. Jinyoung childishly makes an annoyed face at the cover of his book even though he knows Jaebum can’t see it.

“Ah, really? I’m sorry. Are you working later? I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

He really, really wants to be angry. There’s a part of him that isn’t even sure if he’s allowed to be angry, since he doesn’t know Jaebum really all that well, and their interactions thus far have been an extremely dizzying mix of whirlwind romance scenarios and a typical one night stand. But the part of him that is angry is especially displeased with the sincerity in Jaebum’s voice. He does sound sorry, and he does sound like he hadn’t meant to wake Jinyoung up. Why should he even care? It’s not like he cared for the past three weeks. And, to make it worse, why does Jinyoung care so much? He finds himself growing more and more irritated with himself by the moment.

“Hello?”

Jaebum’s voice breaks him from his internal monologue. “Oh, sorry. What did you say?”

“I asked if you were busy.”

His heart starts beating a little harder, but he swallows against it. “Um. Right now?”

“Yeah.”

Why the hell do you want to know? is what he wants to ask, but he finds that the words just won’t come out that way. Try as he might.

“Not really. I was just reading.”

Jaebum seems to perk up at this: he makes a surprised noise in his throat, which is followed right after by the sound of rushing traffic in the background. Jinyoung checks his watch, noting the time to be a little bit early for the five pm post work traffic and wondering what exactly Jaebum is doing.

Not that he actually cares, of course. He's just curious.

Jinyoung listens, with a detached sort of wonder, as Jaebum breathes into the phone over the sound of cars honking and passing chatter. He can picture almost perfectly the way Jaebum is probably jogging his way through a crosswalk, phone to his ear, broad shoulders contained in a straining button down shirt and tie caught under one arm from the wind. Jinyoung imagines with alarming detail the way Jaebum’s ass moves with each step in his dress pants and sweat rolls down his neck from the unceasing shining of the sun reflected on the cooking blacktop of the street. He considers for barely a moment that despite Jaebum’s current distraction of getting somewhere quieter to talk, he might still hear the way Jinyoung’s breath catches.

After a few minutes of this, Jinyoung wonders why he's still on the line. He's not sure what he's waiting for, or why Jaebum even called; he's not sure that he wants to know, but there's a little voice whispering from the back of his head that tells him all the things he'd rather not know about himself and his intentions. He's about to hang up when the background noise stops and Jaebum breathes out into the phone.

“Sorry, Jinyoung. It's hard to hear over the traffic so I just ducked into the subway station. What book are you reading?”

Jinyoung can't help the face he makes to the empty room. You just ducked into the subway station? To talk on the phone? Who are you?

“Uhhh…” Jinyoung is still kind of stuck on Jaebum’s odd nature, so much so that he actually blanks on the title of the book and has to reach for it. He holds the heavy volume up with one arm, not sure how to explain the book to someone like Im Jaebum. “It's called Wizard and Glass.”

“Oh! That's a King novel, right?” Jaebum asks, unconcerned, moving the phone away from his mouth to talk to someone in the subway.

Jinyoung is, for lack of a better description, utterly floored. It's not that he had expected Jaebum to be dumb, with a business so prolific it's been a staple in Forbes magazine for decades there has to be some level of brains involved, but he hadn't expected book smart. As in, English literature smart. He feels unnerved and a little bit bothered by the fact that Jaebum keeps tearing down all of the expectations that Jinyoung had built up of him.

“Yeah, you know it?”

“Of course! I don’t read much of his, but I have read that one. I mostly read classics when I read English literature, though.”

Jinyoung’s heart wants to do something funny so he tries to change the subject. “Ahjussi. Why did you want to know if I was busy?”

There’s a pause as Jaebum hums, and he hears the distinct noise of his T-Money card pinging off the turnstile as he goes through the subway station. “I was going to see if you’d like to get lunch with me.”

“Oh.”

“Is that a no?”

Yes.

“Uh…”

Jaebum laughs a bit. “You can say no, Jinyoung. It’s fine.”

But that’s the problem: he doesn’t want to say no. He knows that he should, of course. He should say no, he should tell Jaebum to lose his phone number, that he’s not going to get whatever it is that he might be searching for. The sex is good but Jinyoung isn’t entirely sure that all of the potential future scenarios that come with being Im Jaebum’s plaything would be worth the heartache he will inevitably find himself drowned in. Jinyoung is a man of many things but his most prominent feature is habit; like an addict searching desperately for a hit he will do anything to maintain it.

It is a dangerous game he plays, flirting with disaster like this. He feels himself swallow roughly as he debates on giving Jaebum an answer other than no. Love has not been kind to him so far; it is fickle and unpredictable. He had always been practical, approaching everything with unemotional assessment until he found that it would benefit him in some way and could thus spare the feelings for whatever it may be. Jackson had been the exception to this: his opposite in almost every way, there was no asking if Jackson would fit into the small confined spaces of his life, he just did. And despite his carefulness, he had been blind to see that that are two types of not asking: one that is honest and open like Jackson, and one that is shrouded in deceit, mysterious and undefinable. His professor had been the latter of these who had wormed their way into his life and crushed the sensibility from him.

There had never been a reason to not trust himself. Who else but Jinyoung knew him best, knew what he wanted, how he wanted it, and when? There was never any reason to doubt himself, never any warning; he had thought that the dark haired man with a dimpled smile and animated hands was as readable as everyone else. His intentions seemed clear, wrapped up in words and glances and hitched breaths. Jinyoung had let himself fall prey to the naivete he had claimed to never be a slave to, but at twenty it was just one more thing that did not allow him choice. He had to learn the hard way that sweetness can leave a bitterness in his mouth like soured fruit so much that now everything tastes the same.

It should be surprising, then, that he doesn’t say no. But it isn’t, because the practical has turned into the unforgiving senselessness of a desire beyond his reach turned into the habitual.

“Sure,” he says quietly, minutely aware that the unsteadiness of his voice is going to ruin the facade of nonchalance he had attempted to convey.

“Sure as in you’re saying no, or sure as in yes?”

“Sure as in yes.”

“Wow,” Jaebum says, and in the distance he hears the telltale song over the intercoms announcing the subway’s arrival, and it makes Jinyoung wonder why he’s taking public transportation instead of thinking too hard about why Jaebum sounds so surprised. “Really?”

He shrugs despite Jaebum not being able to see it. “Why not? It’s not like it’s a date.”

Jaebum makes an unidentifiable noise behind his teeth. “Yeah, sure, it’s not a date. Anyway, can you send me your address?”

Something about the way Jaebum says yeah, sure, it’s not a date makes him feel weird, but he ignores it. “Okay. Can I just text it to you?”

“That’s fine,” he says, and Jinyoung doesn’t know him very well yet but it sounds like there’s a smile in his voice. He wishes that there wasn’t. “See you soon?”

“Yeah, see you soon,” he mutters, and just hangs up.

Notes:

yes, his ringtone is know your name by jay park.

Chapter 5: just a fool

Notes:

happy early chapter! posted just for ryne, since he's leaving and so kindly requested it. love u, boo. <3

Chapter Text

Stupid.

So, so, stupid.

Sighing, Jinyoung hops off his bed and just stands there, unsure of what he’s supposed to be doing. He could get ready, he supposes, seeing as earlier he’d been sitting out in the sun swimming in his own sweat and hasn’t showered yet. But even as he closes himself up in the silence of his bathroom to undress, the idea that he’s getting ready to get lunch with Im Jaebum makes him feel queasy. Jinyoung had made sure to state explicitly that this isn’t a date, but there’s a feeling in the pit of his stomach that Jaebum might not see it that way.

Regardless, he insists that isn’t a date, and he goes through the motions of getting ready while being distracted by the fact that he’d agreed, though half-heartedly, to go out in public with the richest man alive. Simple denim shorts and a thin shirt are pulled from the closet with mechanical carelessness, half assuming that maybe if Jaebum hates the way he dresses he’ll stop calling and half assuming that whatever he’d grabbed will look at least marginally presentable together. As he finger combs his rapidly drying hair, he makes a face at himself in the mirror at the thought that Jaebum is probably sending a car to his address right now.

When he’s all dressed and ready with no word from Jaebum yet, he lounges across his tiny couch in his even tinier living room and stares at the ceiling. Should he call Jackson? He fleetingly thinks that maybe he should, but there’s a possibility that he’s asleep still since it’s the middle of the day and Jinyoung isn’t really feeling up to listening to Jackson scream himself awake at the prospective “date” he’s going on right now. Because then of course he’d have to spend the next thirty minutes trying to scream over Jackson telling him in varying degrees of annoyance that it is, in fact, not a f*cking date.

He can hear Jackson’s voice now, a phantom taunting in the back of his mind:

Methinks thou doth protest too much.

Jinyoung snorts just as he hears a car pull up outside. Asshole.

Before he can even get his shoes on all the way, his phone starts ringing from his back pocket. He assumes it’s Jaebum calling to let him know that the car is here and ready for him, so he puts it to his ear while sliding his shoe on with the other hand and says,

“I’m putting my shoes on now, ahjussi, I’ll be outside shortly.”

Jaebum laughs, as if it’s exactly the kind of reaction he’d been expecting from Jinyoung. “Okay. It’s hot outside, so don’t keep me waiting too long.”

The line goes dead just as Jinyoung’s brain processes what he’d said--it’s hot outside, so don’t keep me waiting too long. Does that mean that Jaebum had come with the driver to pick him up? His heart constricts and he stumbles against his door when his foot slips roughly into his shoe, throwing him off balance. Could that possibly mean that Jaebum had driven here himself to pick Jinyoung up? No--it couldn’t be. Jaebum has all the money in the world and could send an entire fleet of cars to pick him up if he wanted to. There’s no way that Jaebum would really come pick him up personally, right?

He shakes his head as he steps out into the hallway and locks the door behind him. It can’t be.

So imagine his surprise when he steps back out onto the sidewalk in front of his apartment building to see Jaebum leaning against a sleek, black, expensive looking vehicle.

There’s a moment where he flashes back to their meeting at the bar: he gets that same dizzying feeling when he assess Jaebum’s outfit, instinctively angry at how good he looks while trying to maintain his outward composure. If you had asked him five minutes ago he would have said that khaki shorts were tacky, but the way they’re tailored and cuffed right above Jaebum’s bare knees just screams fashionable. It annoys him, in a way; in a dark, hideously floral patterned shirt buttoned to the neck and half tucked into his shorts with boat shoes in a matching shade of navy, he looks like the stupid American college boys he rolled his eyes at every day when he was in the states. Coupled with the stylish name brand sunglasses sliding halfway down his nose as he watches Jinyoung’s approach with his head tipped back, he looks like a total douchebag.

He doesn’t want it to be attractive. But it is. And he’s pissed.

“Hi,” he says, wishing he’d brought sunglasses of his own to offset the sun reflecting off the surface of Jaebum’s black car directly into his eyes.

Jaebum tosses his keys up in the air before catching them in one hand and smiling at him. He notices that the watch he’d so brazenly fixed for him weeks before is still situated firmly on his right wrist, glinting in the sunlight and snug against his skin the way Jinyoung had shown him. That funny feeling itches in his heart again but he tamps it down firmly and forgets about it.

“Hi, Jinyoung,” he says, too casual for comfort, and Jinyoung fidgets a little awkwardly when he realizes that the last time they’d seen each other, they’d just finished f*cking and Jaebum had handed him a huge stack of money.

It’s awkward in a way he hadn’t been expecting, in that Jaebum seems to be completely glossing over the fact that he had roughly taken Jinyoung on his bed, given him money when it was over, and then dropped off the radar for weeks. Jaebum seems unperturbed with his huge flashy car and bright smile; he probably does things like this enough that bringing it up might only make things uncomfortable. Jinyoung isn’t necessarily new to having sex but he feels a bit like a lost virgin now that he’s been swept up in the wave of Jaebum’s sexual prowess and their confusing menagerie.

Regardless, it’s not a date, and Jinyoung will have to swallow whatever uncertainty he’s harboring and just go with it. Jaebum seems entirely unconcerned, that (annoyingly charming) smile still splitting his face as he pushes off the door with his elbows and opens it for him. He doesn’t say anything and he doesn’t linger: the car door swings open under Jaebum’s hand and remains there like the gaping maw of a dangerous animal as Jaebum goes around to the driver’s side. Apprehension fills his stomach like a lead weight but instead of letting it hold him down, he uses it to steel himself and climb in.

“Wow,” he says, whistling low under his breath as he buckles his seatbelt and takes in the spotless interior of the car. Jinyoung has the fleeting thought that it's probably so clean because he never drives it, but he doesn't express it. “This is nice.”

He doesn't know much about cars but even still he can appreciate the design quality of the interior. Despite being much too hot outside to be anywhere near a leather seat, the wet looking black a subtle contrast to the dark smoky wood of the console and panels. The faux wood (or real wood, who knows) is also waxed to a blinding shine, offering him a funhouse mirror reflection when he leans in to inspect the dashboard. A complicated looking stereo system turns itself on as Jaebum starts the car and plays low R&B over the speakers.

“Thanks,” Jaebum says, not looking over at him as he maneuvers through traffic to get on the highway. Jinyoung realizes he has no idea where they're going but doesn't really put up a fight. “I just bought it.”

“Recently?”

“Yeah, I bought it yesterday.”

Jinyoung knows Jaebum has way too much money for his own good but he's having trouble understanding the concept of buying a new car when Jaebum already had a car and a personal driver. It’s the frivolity of the uber rich, he supposes, and though he can’t understand the reason behind it, he just tries to ignore it and focus on something else. Jaebum doesn’t say anything else, and if he was waiting for Jinyoung to ask him a follow up question or act out in an impressed bravura he doesn’t show any disappointment. The car goes quiet between them and Jinyoung looks around the interior some more. In a surprising display of the average, there’s a little cardboard tree dangling from the rearview mirror that smells faintly of mint. He snorts in amusem*nt and Jaebum looks over at him.

“What?”

“This,” he says, and fingers it flippantly. “This is funny.”

“Funny? Funny how?” Jaebum asks, voice neutral as though he’s waiting to see if he should be offended or not. Jaebum giving a sh*t about his opinion on the scented car freshener hanging from his rear view makes it even funnier.

“As in, it seems out of place in your fancy car.”

Jaebum doesn’t get offended by this; instead he laughs, eyes barely visible behind his sunglasses as he turns in his seat to make sure he’s clear before switching lanes. Their eyes meet for a brief moment when he returns his back to his seat and Jinyoung’s stomach rumbles with the first itching of hunger. He turns to face the windshield and shoves it away.

“What, I can’t have an air freshener in my car? Is there some rule that says that it’s only for middle class people?”

Jinyoung shrugs. “No, but I figured that it would be fancier. Like, candles in the cup holders and flower vases built into the consoles.”

He was only being half serious, but Jaebum laughs and it sounds genuine. Jinyoung’s stomach starts to hurt a little bit.

“Is that what you think rich people’s cars look like on the inside?” he asks, grinning as he signals to take the next exit down into the less crowded part of the city.

“I wouldn’t know. I ride a bike.”

Suddenly they’re pulling off the exit and into the parking lot of a massive, sprawling restaurant. It’s almost absurd in its grandeur: an immaculately painted blacktop stops at the edge of a lush, green lawn, bisected by an artful stone sidewalk that leads straight up to the glass front doors with the name Le Petit Cochon across them in a fancy French font. Gigantuan hedges in the streamlined shapes of animals peppered throughout the grass make him feel like they are somewhere foreign; it’s nothing like he’s ever seen in his tiny bubble of the Korea that he knows and, just like Jaebum’s entire being, it scares him.

The building itself looks more like a mansion than a restaurant: there’s a wrap around porch bigger than the parking lot of his apartments and painted a white so bright it’s almost blinding in the sun. Several balconies indicate multiple floors, and most of them are filled with people sitting at tiny, metal bistro tables sipping at coffee cups or using tiny forks to cut tiny pieces of cake off tiny plates. Giant bay windows on both sides of the ground floor give him a peek into a massive entryway that looks more like a ballroom than the lobby of a restaurant. If Jinyoung squints his eyes, he can see the same tiny bistro tables and chairs scattered randomly inside behind a host’s stand. Marble pillars the same blistering white as the paint outside hold up the high ceilings like bones.

Jaebum comes around the back of the car and nudges him with his elbow before walking ahead of him, seemingly unconcerned with his surroundings. For the look of the place, Jinyoung feels entirely underdressed even though Jaebum looks like he’s about to step onto the beach and not into a fancy suit and tie restaurant. It occurs to him that it might be a country club, and he squints into the sun as he cranes his neck back to scan the outfits of the people sitting on the balconies. Some are dressed fancier than others, but the general consensus seems to be summer clothing similar to what Jaebum is wearing and probably ten times the price tag of the entirety of his college tuition.

He tries not to make a face when Jaebum holds the door open for him, and he steps away so that Jaebum won’t see him if his facial muscles don’t cooperate. The look of the inside is even more ridiculously grand than it had appeared on the outside: marble floors, swirls of tan and white and steel gray that glistens in the soft white light from the chandeliers and reflects the image of the yard through the open french doors and matching back-facing bay windows. The marble pillars are draped with fairy lights, serving little purpose in his mind during the sweltering of this summer day but he begrudgingly admits to himself that it looks nice. He watches Jaebum’s back for a moment as he approaches the well-dressed host to ask for a table, but turns away to look at the tennis game going on outside instead.

“You ride a bike?”

Jinyoung nods, mildly surprised Jaebum asked him something in continuation of their previous conversation. Instead he had a very clear mental picture of Jaebum sweeping an arm through the air like some sort of wizard and announcing in his loudest, cheeriest voice reminiscent in his mind of the 1940s,see! Ain’t it grand?

Clearing his throat, he nods again. “Yeah, I usually ride my bike everywhere or take the bus. I could afford a car if I wanted to take longer to pay off my student loans, but I don’t mind it.”

Jaebum hums, and Jinyoung notices for the first time since they came in that his sunglasses are now pushed up into his elegantly messy black hair. His dark eyes scan Jinyoung’s face and the casual intensity of his gaze makes him feel pinned.

“Do you like riding a bike?”

“I like it. Drivers can be assholes, though.” Jinyoung sighs and keeps his gaze focused on the tennis match despite feeling Jaebum’s eyes still on his face. “It was a good bike.”

“Was?”

The immense irritation at his bike being broken and not being able to fix it himself temporarily dissolves his reservations about being around Im Jaebum, and he makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat before dropping his shoulders and saying animatedly, “yes! It broke a couple of months ago, and I was pretty content with just riding the bus. But paying for the bus all the time sucks and I tried to fix it myself but it’s an expensive bike and too complicated for me to fix on my own.”

He sucks in a quiet breath when he realize he’s just ranted to Jaebum about his stupid bike. Jinyoung deflates a little, letting go of the moment that had seized him and slipping back into himself with another heavy sigh. “So now it just sits on my downstairs neighbor’s porch, laughing at me every time I walk by it to get to the bus stop.”

Jaebum, who hasn’t looked away from him this whole time, laughs quietly. The host gently touches Jaebum’s elbow and murmurs directions to their table, and once they’re walking into the ballroom sized dining hall he smiles.

“Seems like you really miss it. You couldn't just take it somewhere to get fixed?”

Jinyoung waits until they're seated in a secluded corner by one of the windows to answer. He looks out the window as he does, marveling at the tennis courts and golf course, amazed by the people using them. People who would likely never give him the time of day outside this place, with his long sleeved black shirt out of season and three years out of style. The denim shorts cuffed halfway down his thighs are nice but old; there's a worn-thin patch on one of the back pockets and a hidden piece of double sided tailors tape keeps the cuff on his left leg from unraveling. These things, though small, make him feel separated by light years from Jaebum and the people around him. He feels like a criminal, an interloper; he has come into this place where he doesn't belong and had not the decency to be humbled by it.

Jaebum has been unnervingly casual about it all, bringing him to this place in the countryside with the expensive lights and the gorgeous people without so much as a warning or the receptiveness to an opinion. He had walked Jinyoung in here in his summer clothes more expensive than Jinyoung’s house and had not made one single attempt to get a reaction out of him thus far; a change from their first night together where Jaebum had purposefully pointed out and made obvious how much money he's making. Then there was the apology in the limousine, the precursor to sex and the money that followed; he's unsure, even still, if the money was exchanged because Jaebum expected him to expect it or because Jaebum genuinely thought it would be appropriate to hand it over. And now they’re here, having a normal conversation that has nothing to do with earnings or ownings or business. It's uncomfortable in that Jinyoung doesn't know if Jaebum is just being too smart and trying to play the game his way, or if he changed his song and dance because he's listening.

Regardless, there is a feeling of otherness that lingers around his elbows.

“Jinyoung,” Jaebum says quietly, and it pulls him out of the maze of his thoughts before he can get too lost in them.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, feeling his face burn with embarrassment. He glances down at the menu and flips through it idly, not realizing that Jaebum had gotten his attention because he still hasn't answered the question.

“So? Are you going to answer my question?” Jaebum teases, also looking down at his menu when he says it, but even with his face angled down he can see the way there's a playful smirk curling the edge of his pretty mouth.

“Oh! I'm sorry,” he apologizes again. “No, it's an expensive bike, so taking it back to the shop to fix it would cost too much. It was probably the most expensive thing I owned; I had it for my entire college career and never had a problem with it.”

Jaebum just hums. Whereas when they'd first met and the times that immediately followed he would have seen the noise as one of dismissal, he knows it as one of acknowledgment. Jinyoung feels weird that Jaebum should be so casual with him so easily; he hasn't said anything all about business or what he owns or how expensive the place they're currently in is, although Jinyoung can certainly figure it out for himself based on prices listed on the menu. Things more expensive than his paycheck on the slow weeks, like calamari and fresh caught lobster and the most prime american dishes—

“Ahjussi,” Jinyoung says, pulling a face when Jaebum glances up knowingly with an eyebrow co*cked, as though he somehow can predictJinyoung is about to complain about something. He's right, of course, but Jinyoung would rather die than give him the satisfaction. Instead he clicks his tongue against his teeth while nervous, slender hands shut the menu to lay it down on the table and says,

“Why are we here?”

The eyebrow inches upward even further, just enough to crank the dial of his handsomeness up one, distracting notch. “What do you mean?”

He fidgets a little in is seat, looking away in embarrassment when he catches the inspecting eye of a diner at the table over. With a lowered voice Jinyoung folds his hands in his lap and leans over the table with his gaze cast downward in some foreign feeling of shame.

“Why did you bring me here? I can't afford any of this. I'm sure you knew that—”

“Did you expect to pay for yourself?”

“Well—yeah.”

Jaebum laughs a little but Jinyoung doesn't feel much like returning it. “I asked you to lunch, didn't I? I didn't expect you to pay for it, Jinyoung.”

This makes him uncomfortable for reason he understands inherently within himself but is reluctant to examine too closely lest it make a certain ugliness rear its head at an inappropriate moment.

“I just—” and he sighs, running a hand through his hair, absently noting that it's getting too long when it curls distracting under his ears. The words that seem to elude him when he's around Jaebum make him frustrated. “I—”

“What?”

“Why are you so interested in me?” he blurts out, reddening immediately when Jaebum looks shocked and the diners in their immediate vicinity glance over with curious eyes halved by porcelain tea cups.

“I just want to make friends. Is that so bad?”

He drops his voice this time to reply, “friends don't f*ck.”

A broad shoulder lifts and drops when he signals for the waiter with one hand. “Says you.”

Jinyoung feels struck dumb by the forwardness; it's not so much that he is surprised by it, since Jaebum had once demanded of him to scrub his shoes clean and kissed him on the mouth in the club with a hand on his neck. He dripped with entitlement and the childish nature that the world belonged to him and that included those he felt superior to financially (and likely physically, but this at least had been kept under wraps as far as he could tell). When the apology came unbidden it showed the other side of his face, exposing a predictable hot-cold-hot-cold nature. It had been the expected personality of a billionaire, and what surprises him now is the matter-of-fact way of his delivery: says you, as though it is a personal choice and not the standard of all friendships and that they were no one to hold themselves aside from it.

Even as Jaebum gives him the individual liberty of ordering for himself and not assuming, he realizes that Jaebum is, unfortunately, quite right: there is nothing but his own personal experience to say that friends don't f*ck. There are probably many friends on the earth that do f*ck, and continue on in their separate lives the same as they do before and after.

“Listen,” Jaebum says, calling his attention away from the spiraling of his self destructive thoughts with a serious expression carved into the handsome edges of his face. “If you want to just have sex later, that's fine—”

He feels his face burn. “That's not—”

“Don't interrupt me,” Jaebum bites, drawing upon his other self, the one Jinyoung is sure comes out to play in business meetings that he succeeds in without failure; the one he had mentioned is hard to turn off, and he wonders if that was precisely true or if he can conjure it at will. “If you're just here for sex, whatever. I'll take you back to the apartment and f*ck you until you can't walk, fine.”

Jinyoung doesn't say anything, chest tight, aware that if he tries to interject he's going to choke outright.

“—but for now, we're just trying to have lunch. Okay? That’s all. You don't want to see me again after this, don't answer when I call and I'll take the hint. Just—at least try to have fun.”

Despite the low hum of chatter in the room, the air between their bodies across the tiny bistro style table is charged with silent static. Jinyoung stares at the hollow of Jaebum’s throat, eyes wide and unblinking, certain that he can see the fluttering beating of his heart like bird’s wings. He's too afraid to look up, so he just nods and drowns in the rush of blood in his own ears like a tidal wave he dares to come and pull them both under.

He takes a deep breath.

“Okay.”

Jaebum opens his mouth to reply, but it curls into a polite smile instead when the editor arrives with their food. Though they had both ordered something a little more western in nature and taste, traditional side dishes litter the table as the waiter sets them down one by one. Kimchi, danmujae, namul, and all of his favorites in tiny, immaculate bowls spread out around his salad. If he said he wasn't excited he'd be a liar; Jinyoung, for just one moment, abandons his sense of hesitant decorum to snatch up a piece of kimchi between his chopsticks and shove it quickly in his mouth. The flavor explodes along the sides of his tongue, and he rejoins with his composed inner self to hold back the pleased noise he wants to make from just the taste of it alone.

He glances up to see if Jaebum had been watching him lest he embarrass himself even further, but he seems to be more focused on the chicken on his plate than Jinyoung at the moment. Which is fine by him: it gives him the smallest window of opportunity to observe Jaebum in an environment other than the lowered lights of a club through a drunken haze or the heart pounding first meeting at a bar in a too-expensive neighborhood.

While Jaebum continues to eat and Jinyoung continues to stare, he comes to the realization that the silence between them has grown and changed into something much different than it had once been. He wouldn't say it's comfortable, per sé; there is still the lingering edge of uneasiness around the way Jinyoung chooses his responses to Jaebum’s inquiries. But somewhere along the way, short as it's been so far, the distaste has faded to the ghost of what it has been. He's not sure that he could say with honesty that he likes Jaebum, because Jinyoung doesn't like people easily. But there's just something about the older man across from him eating quietly like an obedient child that keeps him reeled in like a fishhook inside his mouth; regardless of the pain, the prospect of breaking the surface into a world bathed in gold enthralls him too much. He can feel it even now, the relentless tug tug tug on the invisible red string.

Suddenly, two ochre eyes are flicking up to his and catching him off guard. Sunlight from the gorgeous, scorching day floods the room from the windows, but even still Jinyoung is shocked that he can still barely find the rim of Jaebum’s pupils in the dark of them. They're beautiful, undeniably so. Jinyoung feels irrationally annoyed that just his eyes alone could bring the words he had so desperately needed earlier to him now when he no longer wants them.

“You're staring,” Jaebum murmurs.

It's not an accusation, just an observation, but Jinyoung feels himself prickle a bit anyway.

“I wasn't trying to.”

As if he sees right through it, Jaebum rolls his eyes and snorts a quiet little chuckle under his breath. He doesn't follow up with anything, though, and even as Jaebum turns his attention back on his food Jinyoung feels the tell-tale embarrassed warming of his cheeks.

Asshole, he mutters mentally, but it lacks any real heat even within. Jinyoung looks down at his plate, impressed by the arrangement of the brightly colored salad, but feeling a little too nauseous to eat it. The silence bears down again as he leans one elbow on the table to rest his chin in his hand as he mellowly pushes crisp, vibrant lettuce around on the plate.

A sigh builds up in his chest; though the silence is different he still aches to break it. Still pushing around the food on his plate, he glances up to see Jaebum watching him quietly as he chews and then looks away before asking,

“Do you have any siblings?”

From the corner of his eye he can see Jaebum twitch, face molded into a look of surprise, as though he'd never expected Jinyoung in a million years to ask him a question as average and asinine as this. Which is quite fair, he thinks, considering that he never really gave off any other impression besides only being interested in sex.

Still, though, it grates a bit on the edges of his nerves when Jaebum doesn't answer and continues to look surprised. With an eye roll Jinyoung drops his fork against his plate and looks up at him.

“Is it really so surprising that I asked you that?”

“Considering the fact that you just had to question what my interest in you might be, yes. A little bit.”

He ignores this. “Well? Do you?”

Jaebum smiles, unfairly placated. “No, I don't. Do you?”

“Two older sisters. I don't talk to them much,” he says, and in a startling confession, “I don't talk to anyone in my family much.”

“Really? Why?”

He shrugs. “I grew up in a tough family. Why get 100% when I could be getting 110? Why do anything with friends when I could be studying?” Jinyoung makes a face. “Most things weren't good enough for them. I never partied, always studied and kept to myself. They didn't even find out I was gay until I accidentally mentioned having a boyfriend when I was 21. They didn't seem to care, but I think they did.”

There's a brief moment of silence that follows as Jaebum seems to digest all the information Jinyoung had just given him while Jinyoung sighs internally and feels embarrassed. It seems a little early to be giving out your life story, doesn't it? You barely know the guy.

“I'm sorry,” Jaebum finally says, too softly for his own good. The hand that reaches out to brush against Jinyoung’s gently returns to his lap when Jinyoung pulls his own away and clears his throat awkwardly.

“It's okay. I still talk to them sometimes, I didn't completely give up on them,” he says, and itches at his ear with a shoulder, “I mostly just talk to my mom on the phone.”

Jaebum seems unfazed by Jinyoung’s rejection; his hand has returned to the side of his plate where he's keeping it still while his other scrapes his fork across the surface for the last remaining bite. Jinyoung is slightly amused that, through the course of their conversation, Jaebum managed to eat an entire meal almost without Jinyoung noticing at all. As if he notices Jinyoung noticing, he sets his fork down on his plate and smiles.

“So? Tell me something else.”

It gets easier after that.

Jinyoung realizes halfway through a story about college that Jackson has been right all along, despite the way it had always made him feel wronged: his life is boring. It's nice that Jaebum can at least feign the interest, though, asking follow up questions to stories about late nights at the library and how the most scandalous thing he ever did was take a book from the campus library and never gave it back. Jinyoung even laughs as he says it, one hand on the edge of the table and one covering his mouth, explaining to a mildly confused but smiling Jaebum that the book still sits on his shelf, mocking him, a reminder of his former rebelliousness.

Regardless of how interesting they may or may not be, Jaebum listens, and laughs, and asks questions in all the right places. It's even kind of fun; Jaebum is quite funny in a way he hadn't been expecting and he has to reel it back in often when he catches himself laughing too much at a joke. While Jinyoung doesn't tell him anything as personal as his family issues, keeping it light by regaling him with stories of college mishaps and rare nights out with Jackson. He even tells Jaebum a couple of stories about Yugyeom, and he knows that once he tells Yugyeom that Im Jaebum knows about the time he chased a goat at the airport and almost got arrested, he's never going to let it go.

By the time their plates are cleared and an invisible check paid for and whisked away, the sun has gone down outside. It sits low and blazing on the horizon line, reflecting off the surface of a pond he hadn't seen before like a burning coin. The tennis courts outside have cleared themselves of people, and the low roar of chatter around them in the dining room has dimmed to the hush of couples and friends as they steadily make their way out until the room, illuminated now by the soft glow of crystal chandeliers high in the ceilings, is empty of only them.

“So,” Jaebum says, looking different in the soft light, more boyish and gentle edged, but Jinyoung pretends he doesn't notice. His hands fold over the top of his head as he stretches his arms, nodding toward the window as he does. “Care to take a walk by the water?”

He wishes it was a bigger pond, or maybe the beach, so that the cold wind that whips off the water would cool the nervous sweat breaking out along his hairline and neck. It's still the middle of summer, though, and brutal too; he hesitates before nodding and hoping instead that the sweat on his skin can be mistaken for that of the weather.

“Sure,” he says, without being so, and lets Jaebum lead him from the dining room to the back doors of the building and out into the warmth of the approaching night.

The pond is still, surface like a sheet of glass that perfectly reflects the sliver of sun still grasping desperately to the horizon and the clusters of small trees placed purposefully around the bank. Jinyoung watches it as they walk down a stone path, similar to the one in the front, until their shoes are sinking into the water-softened grass. Jaebum hums quietly, contentedly, in the silence between them as they begin to walk along the rim.

God, what am I doing here? he asks himself, eyes on the water, watching without really seeing as the sun pulls itself down to a thin brushstroke of orange and then disappears as night draws up the curtain of starry navy. The moon grins down at them overhead, washing them out in shadows of gray and dark blue and black; he sneaks a glance at Jaebum where he walks with his hands in the pockets of his shorts and his eyes forward. He looks unconcerned, as though this is routine, bringing someone to dinner here and then walking them by the pond. Jinyoung feels the bitterness crawl up his throat like bile.

In the prolonged silence, Jinyoung feels his shoulders tense as their night draws to a close: the expectation of sex is coming, he knows it, and he wants it. But the thing that keeps him swallowing back the ugly feeling is was it really worth it? Was the facade necessary? He wonders just how much of what Jaebum had said was true. The limousine apology seemed true enough, but then after sex Jaebum had handed him a stack of money, just as he had done and promised to do that night he'd drunkenly surrendered his phone number. Did Jaebum need to do all of this, if he just wanted to get Jinyoung into bed later? Did he really need to sit through all of Jinyoung’s stories and smile that devil’s smile when he laughed?

Get a grip. He's barely known Jaebum for a few weeks and already the guy has him thinking too much and second guessing everything. He had vowed that, after Hakyeon left, he'd never do it again. There would be no more room in Jinyoung’s life for fairy tale romances or the false love of older men. It's a trap he sets up for himself and falls into every time.

They've come to a small copse of trees when Jaebum stops.

“Jinyoung,” he says softly, unfairly familiar with his name, and Jinyoung turns.

Their heights are similar, with Jaebum barely scraping by a few centimeters on him, so they're at eye level when Jinyoung’s head turns to face him. The moonlight trickles in through the gaps in the leaves, throwing jagged shaped shadows across Jaebum’s face as his eyes close to half lidded depths and he leans in. Jinyoung’s heart skips and then thuds hard against his ribs when he realizes Jaebum is leaning in to kiss him, here, hidden by the trees on the edge of a stair stained pond.

It's too romantic. It's too close to igniting the coals, long gone cold in his heart but with a heat generating inside them. The hope flickers like a candle flame and he snuffs it out with his fingers when he quickly turns his face away so that Jaebum’s lips catch his cheek, instead.

They linger there for a moment, as if surprised. Jinyoung is glad for the cover of night when he feels his face burn with shame; Jaebum's breath from his nose flutters across his cheek like a softened wing. Neither of them move, frozen in time, the summer heat starting to press them in and trap them in the humidity.

Jaebum pulls away for a moment, but leans forward to kiss his cheek again, higher, trailing away from his lips as Jinyoung stays still with his head turned and his hands balled into nervous fists. Each kiss lingers longer than the last, closer to his ear; he feels one of Jaebum's hands slide onto his hip and hates the shudder that threatens his arms and legs.

“Do you not want to?” Jaebum asks into his ear, hand still on his hip but his lips no longer searching, just asking. His voice is low and whiskey edged with want, but earnest, and Jinyoung wants to hate him for it.

“I––I do,” he stutters, feeling the way goosebumps explode down his right side as Jaebum’s breath fills his ear, hot and quiet and waiting. “Just––just not here. Not out here.”

The heat disappears as Jaebum grabs his hand, turning away to pull him away from the bank and back up the stone sidewalk. Jinyoung watches the line of his shoulders underneath his floral shirt, the pattern colored in blacks and blues like bruises in the milky moonlight. Their feet make soft noises against the earth that turn into the rushed clatter of eagerness as they hit the stone pathway, going around the wrap-around porch this time instead of through the inside. A nervous, exhilarated thrill hums its way up Jinyoung’s spine as the air passes by his face when they break into a jog, Jaebum still guiding him by the hand down off the porch and toward the parking lot. A desperation born of all the uncertainty he’s been experiencing lately and the incoming relief of his thoughts by lust-fueled escapade has him gripping Jaebum’s hand tighter and urging him to go faster.

His breath quickens as their feet touch pavement, still warm under their shoes from the sun, and then leaves him in a rush as Jaebum pulls him forward by his grip and pushes his back into the car door.

He hits it with a small noise that quickly disappears under Jaebum’s greedy mouth. Their tongues meet, lips already parted, hands on hips sliding up to pull each other closer by their clothes. One of Jaebum’s hands holds his weight against the car door by his head, the other fisted in the loose material of his shirt and untucking it from his shorts in the same motion. Jaebum angles his head and kisses deeper, harder; his lips are soft but demanding as they slide against Jinyoung’s with little resistance. Teeth scrape his bottom lip, drawing out a gasp, and Jaebum’s breath shortens at the sound of it.

While Jaebum slides his tongue against his, licking behind his teeth, Jinyoung whimpers and tugs at Jaebum’s shirt to say take me inside without words. Jaebum’s hand has already wandered, sliding up the gap he’d made in Jinyoung’s half untucked shirt to flatten his palm against his stomach. The thoughts roll around in his head like marbles, bouncing off each other and drowning each other out on impact as his fingers deftly pop the buttons on Jaebum’s shirt one at a time until it’s hanging open off his wide shoulders.

He wonders how desperate he looks, making out with Jaebum against the side of his huge, fancy car in a deserted parking lot outside a country club, moonlight spilling down on them like water. Jaebum makes a sound halfway between a whimper and a warning when Jinyoung runs his blunt nails down Jaebum’s chest, continuing in a straight light down his stomach until he’s dipping his fingertips into his waistband to grip it tight. He wonders, vaguely, before the thought disappears, how Jackson would react if he knew that Jinyoung moaned out loud when Jaebum rolled his hips forward and pinned him to the car.

The hand against the car disappears, Jaebum’s mouth never leaving his until he’s trailing hot, frantic kisses across his jawline and down underneath his ear. Jinyoung whines, pulling him closer by the belt, missing the feeling of his kiss swollen mouth on his own. There’s a startled beep, beep and the orange flashing of lights as the doors get unlocked; Jinyoung yelps when Jaebum pulls him forward to swing open the door and then shoves him onto the seat in one fluid motion.

Jinyoung’s back hits the back seat, the sweat on his skin slick against the black leather. It’s much bigger than a normal sized car, he supposes, but the space is still cramped as Jaebum climbs on top of him and hooks his foot in the handle to swing the door closed until it clicks. Light bears down on them, a weak orange from the overhead that stays on due to the door not being shut all the way, but with the way Jaebum looks underneath it, sweating and a little wild with his shirt open and hanging off a shoulder, he’s glad that it stays on. The shirt slips down a little, arms spread wide as one balances along the back of the seat while the other hand grips the driver’s side headrest. Jinyoung just lays underneath him, panting, staring back and admiring the way the path of his fingernails on his skin have welted into visible red lines. Jaebum doesn’t say anything as his eyes trail lower, past the fluttering of his stomach with his labored breath, lingering on his navel and the trail of hair that disappears into his pants and leads him, guiltily, to the hard line of his co*ck against the fabric.

“Jaebum-ssi,” he whines, asking for something he’s not sure how to ask for with words, and Jaebum obliges.

The hand holding onto the headrest reaches down to Jinyoung’s belt, undoing it quickly so that he can pop the button and pull the zipper of his denim shorts down. His dick throbs; he’s achingly hard, hips coming off the seat desperately as Jaebum teasingly drags his fingers across the exposed line of his stomach under his navel. Fire spreads underneath his fingertips, and Jinyoung grabs his wrist hard to shove his hand down against his co*ck.

“Please,” he gasps, eyes squeezing shut and head tilting back as Jaebum sticks his hand down the front of his shorts to grope him over his underwear. “Just, ah–f*ck––”

The rest of whatever he was about to beg for is lost when Jaebum groans and reaches in, fingers scrabbling against the waistband of his boxer briefs for a moment before he successfully grips it and edges it down with his wrist. Jinyoung spreads his legs in the small space, knee bumping the passenger seat, as wide as he can go as Jaebum slowly teases his fingers up the underside of his co*ck. Pleasure ignites up his legs, radiating into his stomach and out into the tips of his fingers that tingle as he reaches up to grip Jaebum’s shoulders as he slowly starts to jerk him off.

“sh*t,” Jinyoung hisses, fingertips digging in at the catch and drag of Jaebum’s dry palm on his skin. He whimpers when his hand leaves; Jaebum’s eyes are two black pools of burning desire when he traces the thick line of Jinyoung’s bottom lip with his fingers and commands him to open up.

“Suck,” he pants, looking all the more dangerous and beautiful sweating in the orange light of his car.

Jinyoung does as he’s told, taking Jaebum’s fingers into his mouth and sucking obediently. He feels himself leaking a bit onto his stomach as Jaebum slowly works them in and out, eyes rolling back and pulling his lip between his teeth as though Jinyoung was sucking his co*ck instead. He rolls his tongue along them, feeling them, assuming that Jaebum really is imagining Jinyoung sucking him off and moans around his fingers.

“Jesus Christ,” Jaebum grunts, their eyes locked in an intense staring contest, finger f*cking his mouth until he feels saliva trailing from the corner of his mouth to his neck.

Jaebum pulls his fingers out of his mouth, letting Jinyoung throw his head back and breathe harshly as he resumes pumping his co*ck with his fingers now wet and slick. Every stroke makes his heart pound, back bowing off the seat, one knee bent as he tries to rock his hips up into Jaebum’s hand. Torn apart by pleasure, Jinyoung’s free hand grips his own hair and digs his nails into the buttery leather of the seat with the other, moaning and thrusting as Jaebum jerks him off quick and dirty in the back of his car.

When he feels his org*sm starting to swell, he lets go of his hair to reach between them and touch Jaebum over his pants. The older man groans, his carefully combed hair damp with sweat and pasted to his forehead as his hips jerk into Jinyoung’s hand. The veins in Jaebum’s right arm are visible where he’s straining to keep himself held up, bending to drop his shoulder against the seat so that he can lean forward a bit and speed up. Jinyoung shouts, suffocating in the heat of the car but ready to die for it if necessary. His legs start to shake, spread as wide as they can go, an ache starting up in his back where it’s arched off the seat.

“Are you close?” Jaebum asks, panting, and Jinyoung looks down at him to see the shirt hanging off both shoulders now as his left hand squeezes and strokes Jinyoung’s co*ck.

He nods, afraid that if he tries to speak it’ll come out in a broken, pathetic mewl. Jaebum’s face twists from the seriousness of lust to the mischievousness of deviancy and Jinyoung feels a new thrill shoot down his back like a lightening bolt as Jaebum scoots back until his ass hits the door.

“What are you doing?” Jinyoung whines, and it sounds just as pathetic as he thought it would.

Jaebum seems to love it, though, because his eyes flash in the weak light over their heads as he seems to fold in half, his swollen lips stretched into a grin that disappears when they slide over the head of Jinyoung’s co*ck.

“f*ck!” he screams, both hands slamming against the window, nails scrabbling against the glass for something to hold on to as Jaebum simultaneously jerks the base of his co*ck and sucks the tip of it. He almost knees him in the ribs, back hitting the seat and stomach contracting on a moan as his entire lower body goes up in flames. Jaebum’s eyes just flick up to his, watching him, tongue in the slit and somehow still grinning as Jinyoung arches his back again and comes.

There’s a noise from the back of Jaebum’s throat that gets buried underneath the half shout, half moan of pleasure Jinyoung lets out as Jaebum works him through his org*sm, swallowing repeatedly and licking at him gently until his back hits the seat, spent.

“What the f*ck?” Jinyoung asks, breathless, breaking out into an incredulous smile when Jaebum sits up between his legs and laughs.

He runs a hand along his mouth, drying it, but they’re still kiss swollen and cherry red. “Sorry. I didn’t want you to make a mess all over my new seats.”

Jinyoung groans and closes his eyes, both not surprised and mildly turned on by that as Jaebum tucks him sweetly back into his shorts. Sweat cools on his face as Jaebum does his belt back up, but he knows it’s not over; he reaches down to grip Jaebum’s wrist hard and yank him forward a little bit. Startled, Jaebum hovers over Jinyoung’s body with his hands on the seat by Jinyoung’s neck.

“Your turn, ahjussi.”

With some awkward maneuvering and grunting, body parts sliding against each other that turns into feverish rutting and groping, Jaebum is sitting in the driver’s seat with his shirt pushed down to his elbows and his shorts open. Jinyoung’s grateful for the lack of a center console, pushing up the armrest on Jaebum’s side so that he has enough room to bend over and teasingly flick his tongue against Jaebum’s underwear.

Jaebum hisses, both hands on the wheel while Jinyoung angles his body into a position where he can comfortably mouth at Jaebum’s co*ck over his boxers. They’re already wet with precome, and Jinyoung just soaks them to a clingy film that perfectly outlines the thickness waiting for him under the thin layer of cotton. He takes his time, listening to Jaebum’s shortened breath and tiny moans as Jinyoung pulls them down, letting the elastic slap against his skin underneath his balls in a way that makes Jaebum yelp and lift his hips off the seat. It quickly dissolves into a groan when his dick bumps against Jinyoung’s mouth, wet tip sliding along his lower lip that Jinyoung licks out at before angling his head and taking him all the way down.

The noise Jaebum makes is pure pleasure, rough on the edges as Jinyoung slowly starts to blow him in the front seat. It’s marginally cooler here, more space between their bodies, but sweat still sticks his shirt to his back and dampens his hair as he bobs his head. He wishes he could see Jaebum’s face, wondering what it looks like now that Jinyoung is gripping his thigh and flattening his thick tongue along the base as he comes up, but the angle doesn’t allow for it. If the noises are any indication, though, he’s enjoying it; little whimpers and sighs leave him with every breath as Jinyoung pulls almost all the way off to suck around the tip before hollowing his cheeks on the way back down.

“Holy f*ck,” he mutters, ring adorned fingers sliding into the hair at the back of his skull and gripping hard enough to hurt. Jinyoung just moans, though, muffled by Jaebum’s co*ck in his mouth, and the vibration has Jaebum lifting his hips off the seat and the tip of his dick bumping against the back of his throat.

“Sorry, sorry,” Jaebum pants, settling back down into the seat when Jinyoung pulls off a little and takes a deep breath through his nose, trying not to choke. A couple more swallows and then he’s ready, fingernails digging into Jaebum’s thigh underneath the leg of his shorts before taking him further and deep-throating.

“f*ck!” he shouts, gripping Jinyoung’s hair tighter, and Jinyoung growls around him in pleasure-pain as he hollows out his cheeks again. His eyes are watering, breath labored, but enthralled by the way Jaebum’s stomach heaves with shortened breath and whispery moans. Jinyoung speeds up, tongue flat, neck starting to ache as Jaebum’s thighs tense and he starts to chant Jinyoung’s name: Jinyoung, Jinyoung, yeah, Jinyoung keep going, f*ck, just like that––

Jinyoung squeezes his eyes shut when Jaebum nearly yanks out his hair, moaning Jinyoungah! at the top of his lungs as he comes down the back of Jinyoung’s throat. It’s been a while since he’s sucked someone’s dick so it surprises him a little, but he just swallows quickly and starts to slow while Jaebum slumps into his seat and plays with the hair at the base of Jinyoung’s neck until he pulls off with an obscene, wet pop.

Blushing, he sits up and quickly wipes off his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. Jaebum just watches him with half lidded eyes, looking like he’s going to fall asleep at any moment. He can’t help it: he laughs a little, covering his mouth with one hand a the image of Jaebum being f*cked out and sated from a blowj*b, half undressed in the driver’s seat of his car in the parking lot of a country club.

Surprisingly, though, he laughs too as he tucks himself back into his shorts and zips them up. There’s a smile still curled on one edge of his mouth as he starts the car, shirt still hanging open while Jinyoung just takes a deep breath and buckles his seatbelt.

“Shut up, Park. “

The ride back to Jinyoung’s apartment complex is quiet, but comfortably so, and Jinyoung tries not to think too hard about how different it is from earlier. Jaebum turns on the radio but keeps it low, so that when Jinyoung has to give him tired directions he doesn’t have to say them too loudly or repeat himself. The night slips by like a zoetrope, stars pinwheeling in the sky as Jaebum’s car navigates through the streets of the city lit up in stark contrast from the darkness of the countryside. He leans his head against the window, closing his eyes until he feels the car come to a stop.

“Hey, we’re here.” Jaebum says, poking at his shoulder.

Jinyoung stretches a bit, unbuckling his seatbelt but hesitating with one hand on the door. How does he continue? What does he say? It feels wrong to mention the money; he doesn’t even want it, he never wanted it, but getting out of the car without saying anything feels wrong somehow. But he can’t just leave and he’s not sure how to say how he feels, so he says the other thing that’s been on his mind.

“Ahjussi?”

“What?”

Now that the light is off in the backseat and Jaebum is once again backlit by the city outside his window, it’s hard to see the expression on his face. Jinyoung looks down at the floor between their seats and says,

“Earlier you called me ‘Jinyoung-ah’.”

“I did?”

It’d be too embarrassing to say yeah, when you came, so he just nods. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”

He sounds like he’s being honest, but there’s a weird feeling in Jinyoung’s throat that he can’t describe. He doesn’t say it’s okay, but he also doesn’t tell Jaebum that he can’t do it again. Instead, he looks up and opens the door, one foot on the pavement when he glances at his neighbor’s porch and at his poor, ruined bike. He sighs.

Before he closes the door, he grips it tight in one hand and looks at Jaebum, shirt still unbuttoned, tired and disheveled and more handsome than the day they’d met. He doesn’t say this, though, only tucks it far away inside to never resurface.

“Thanks,” he says, not giving Jaebum the chance to answer and shuts the door.

While he unlocks his apartment after practically sprinting up the stairs while thinking of what to tell Jackson, he decides to leave out the part where he only heard Jaebum’s car pull away from the curb after he’d went inside.

Chapter 6: head on the door

Notes:

sorry it's long :( and it's a mess i edited it half asleep pray 4 me

Chapter Text

Sunlight, rich and warm, pours through the gap he had forgotten to close in the curtains the night before when Jaebum dropped him off. It folds sleepily across his eyes, disturbing his rest, dragging him up out of the sweet darkness of a dream; two dark eyes, burning coal mines, one dotted handsomely by a twin constellation. Hands on his hips, his stomach, his thighs, all drawing him up through the murkiness with whispered wants—

There's a steady pounding on the door. Bang bang bang. The apartment goes silent for a moment, dust motes dancing in front of his closed eyes, awake but not up. He keeps his eyes closed as he listens to the silence of the apartment settle back into the whir of the refrigerator and the quiet hum of the air conditioner, ready to drift again, enticed by dreams of men with fancy clothes and a pretty mouth —

Bang bang bang.

“Mr. Park?” a voice calls from the hallway, one he doesn't recognize. “Delivery.”

Delivery? He groans as he rolls over to check the time, dismayed when the clock is barely inching toward a quarter to 9am. Jinyoung seriously contemplates just staying in bed, not moving or making a sound until the delivery person has gone away. It's clear he's not interested, so they should leave, right? He nods to himself in a mental pat on the back before settling back down and closing his eyes again, stained red by the thinness of his eyelids in the early morning sun.

Bang bang bang.

Opening his eyes, he sighs.

Jinyoung throws the blankets off of himself, the hardwood of his floors heated by the sun and feeling almost too-warm under his feet. He stretches as he leaves his room, stepping over the clothes he’d hastily taken off and dropped on the floor before taking a shower with the lingering feeling of Jaebum on his hands and mouth. Jinyoung tries not to think about it too closely; he imagines that, in a perfect world, it’s out of sight out of mind. If he doesn’t look at the clothes on his floor that still faintly smell like Jaebum’s cologne, then last night never happened.

That’s not how it works, you know, and he sighs as he opens the door.

Standing in the hallway is a boy, around his age or maybe late teens or so, dressed in a nice uniform of colorblocked teals and pinks. It screams early 90s fashion, including the hat turned backward on his head with tufts of bleached blond hair sticking out from the gap in the band. There’s a name tag pinned to his chest that just reads Brian in English and Korean, with the name of a familiar bike shop in smaller letters underneath.

“Hi, are you Mr. Park?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” he says awkwardly, pulling up his loose boxers and feeling self-conscious that he didn’t at least put on sweatpants. He grips the edge of the door and blinks uncomprehendingly into the light. “Can I help you?”

“I have this for you,” the kid says, and Jinyoung turns his head to watch him as he picks up a bicycle leaning against the wall by his door and wheels it in front of him. It’s a very familiar bike, in fact, though the navy blue frame is no longer flecked with star-like spots of missing paint. The chain he’d been desperately trying to fix on his own for months is finally back in place, looking almost foreign as the shining chrome of it reflects what little sunlight filters in through the skylights of the hallway. It would almost look like a completely different bike, repainted and oiled and glittering, but the Pokemon card Jackson had stuck in the spokes on his first day of college is still there, battered and dirtied from rides all across the city.

Dumbfounded, Jinyoung’s hand drops from where he’d been holding up his boxers by the too-loose waistband.

“Why...why do you have my bike?”

As if amused, the guys just snorts and reaches into his pocket. The fringe of his blonde hair bounces as he digs for it, tongue poking out, and Jinyoung tries to focus on that instead of how, all of a sudden, his bike is here on his doorstep looking brand spanking new after sitting on Mrs. Kim’s porch for months. After what feels like hours but is only a minute or so at most, the kid makes a noise and pulls a crumpled up invoice from the pocket of his uniform pants.

Holding it up with a flourish, he reads it aloud:

“Chain repair for a Mr. Park Jinyoung. Assessment of cosmetic damages. New paint job, new chains, new tires, and new handlebars.” the kid, Brian, glances at him over the top of the paper. “Special requests: please place Pokemon card back in the spokes when the bike is finished. Deliver to the attached address by tomorrow morning. Thank you.”

“I don’t––” Jinyoung’s mind is whirring, still rusty with sleep and the heaviness of dreams, trying to figure out when and how he sent his bike in to get it fixed, when just yesterday he had been trying to fix it and telling Jaebum all about how he’d never been able to manage it––

No.

Oh, no.

Jinyoung lunges forward to snatch the paper, wanting to see the name on the invoice, but Brian leans backward and holds it out of reach. “Nuh uh, dude, there’s private customer information on here.”

“Who was it?” he asks doggedly, flushing in minor embarrassment when he realizes he’d almost just assaulted a delivery boy. “Since when do you even deliver bikes?”

“I didn’t check, so just some dude probably,” he replies hotly, shoving the paper back into his pocket. “And we don’t. But he paid extra.”

He paid extra to have your bike delivered. He paid to have your bike fixed. Not even a brand new bike, which would have been easier. He got your bike from Mrs. Kim somehow, or probably stole it, and took it in to get it fixed. Then paid extra to get it delivered to your house.

Jinyoung’s going to scream. He just knows it.

Gripping the doorframe harder, he grits his teeth and meets the delivery boy’s eyes. “How much was it?”

He just shrugs. “I dunno. I don’t pay attention to that stuff, I just fix the bikes. And deliver them, apparently.”

“It’s gotta be on that invoice,” Jinyoung says, nodding his head in the direction of his pocket. “Look at it.”

Brian grumbles under his breath, obviously annoyed by Jinyoung’s heated attempt to get information out of him, but he reaches into his pocket again to pull out the crumpled slip. He unfolds it, trying to straighten out some of the creases against his thigh before holding it up to scan it.

“Looks like someone named…” he pauses, eyes roaming back and forth while Jinyoung anxiously grips the door until he thinks it’s going to break. It’s not like he really needs to know, because deep down he already does, but there’s a piece of him holding out on the hope that the blond haired boy in front of him is going to say any other name except for the one he’s thinking of.

His eyes get wide all of a sudden and meet Jinyoung’s over the top of the ruined paper. “Im Jaebum? As in, the Im Jaebum?”

Jinyoung nearly collapses against the door with the confirmation. Trying to hold back his sigh of defeat he asks meekly, “how much was it?”

“For all of that? Probably a lot. That probably ran him close to 2 million won.”

Suddenly his knees feel weak. He’s grateful for the support of the door, but abruptly feels the heat of the hallway making him sweat. Or maybe it’s something else.

Either way, he tries not to dwell on it when he gets an idea. Standing up straight, he motions for the delivery boy to stay where he is and leaves the door swinging open on the hinges. He dashes back into his room, almost slipping on the hardwood in his haste to get to his dresser and throw the top drawer open. His neatly folded pairs of socks and underwear are pushed aside, some of them spilling over and to the floor as he frantically paws around looking for the money he’d stashed there; he’d never counted it, even when he’d been alone in the elevator or in the car that Jaebum had sent him home in. The night Jaebum had f*cked him in his apartment and given him money after, he had angrily stashed it in his top drawer and vowed to never, ever touch it.

When he finally finds the stack of folded bills with his fingers, he makes a noise and snatches it up before slamming the drawer half closed. He nearly slips on his clothes from the night before, kicking them to the side and hurrying back to the front door where delivery boy Brian is boredly staring at the ceiling.

“Here,” Jinyoung says proudly, thrusting the money in Brian’s direction and standing in the doorway. “Take this.”

He just stares at it. “For what?”

“The bike.”

“It’s already paid for.”

Jinyoung makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat, waving the bills at Brian’s face. “Then take it as a tip. I don’t want it.”

“You don’t want it––?”

Losing his patience, Jinyoung steps forward and pushes the money into Brian’s chest until the other boy reaches up to hold it, ensuring that it would fall to the floor and scatter when Jinyoung lets go and steps away. He waits for a moment as Brian thumbs through it, eyes getting wider and wider with every brilliantly colored bill that passes his fingers.

He looks up. “This is over three––”

Jinyoung puts his hands up, shaking his head and then grabbing his bike. “I don’t want to know. I don’t care. Just take it, okay?”

Though he’d had the co*cky air of a teenager with a summer job when he’d first arrived, now he looks unsure. “I don’t want to get in trouble or anything, you don’t have to––”

Despite his frustrations with a certain obnoxious rich man, he softens a bit, and remembers that it’s not his fault. He’d been so caught up in realizing that Jaebum had paid to get his bike fixed without asking and finally ridding himself of the money Jaebum had given him that he’d abandoned his usual politeness. “I’m serious. Please, take it. I’m sorry for being so frustrating. Thank you for delivering my bike.”

Surprised, Brian just nods. He pockets the money and awkwardly stands around for a moment as though he’s waiting for Jinyoung to say just kidding, but Jinyoung just smiles at him and nods while he wheels his bike inside. Once the kid is gone and the door is shut, leaving him with his bike leaned up against his couch in mockery of his inability, he pulls out his phone.

Already frustrated, he sits down heavily on the worn, beaten armchair directly across from his couch. His eyes find the dog-eared paperbacks littering the glass coffee table, focusing on them as the line rings in his ear like a warning bell. It’s still so early, nearly 9:30 in the morning now, that he’s not even sure if Jaebum is going to answer––he doesn’t know his schedule, or where he is, or what he does, and the notion that he really doesn’t know that much about Jaebum at all makes his stomach turn. He contemplates just hanging up and covering his bike with a sheet when the line clicks and Jaebum picks up.

“Hello, Jinyoung,” he says, voice tender and welcoming like the sun-warmed floorboards.

“Ahjussi, why did you do that?”

He doesn’t sound angry, per se; Jinyoung isn’t even sure that he’s angry, he’s mostly just confused, and he wonders how much of that shows in his voice.

“What did I do?” Jaebum asks, sounding genuinely a little worried.

“You fixed my bike,” and even as he says it, he realizes how ungrateful and childish he sounds. He cringes.

“Oh, yeah. Did they deliver it to you this morning? I hope it looks okay. I wasn’t able to stick around to see it get finished, but by the tone of your voice it sounds like something is wrong––”

“No!” Jinyoung almost shouts, too loudly, and throws himself against the back of his chair. “There’s nothing wrong with it. Just. Why––” again words fail him, and he makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat before starting over. “How did you even get it? Did you steal it off Mrs. Kim’s porch?”

Jaebum actually chuckles, and despite the flare-up of annoyance, he can’t ignore the way his stomach flips at the sound of it. “I’m not a thief, Jinyoung,” he says jokingly, and in the background he can hear the low chatter of overlapping voices. “After you went inside, I knocked on Mrs. Kim’s door and asked if that was your bike on the porch. At first she wasn’t going to let me have it, so I had to convince her I had good intentions and that I was just a friend who was going to fix it for you.”

“I’m surprised she didn’t recognize you,” he mumbles glumly, pointedly ignoring the friends with good intentions comment, “she reads the tabloids every morning.”

“Oh, she did,” Jaebum says, and Jinyoung can hear the smile in his voice, “her hotteok is delicious.”

Indignant, Jinyoung sits up. “What the hell? She gave you hotteok?”

Jaebum laughs too warmly for his comfort. “She likes you, Jinyoung-ah.”

Heart stuttering uncomfortably, he says, “don’t call me that.”

“Right. Sorry,” he says, but doesn't sound like it.

“And don’t––” he chokes a little. “Don’t do things for me like that.”

“Like what? Make your neighbor fall in love with me?”

Hearing the words fall in love with me make him feel sick. The air in his living room is cooler than his bedroom with the curtains shut, but a nervous sweat still makes him wipe the palm of his hand not holding the phone on the leg of his boxers.

“Like fix my bike.”

“Weren’t you just complaining that it needed fixing?”

“Ahjussi, they told me how much it was!” he shouts suddenly, balling up the material in his hand. “That’s too much! The bike wasn’t even worth that much to begin with!”

“Calm down, Jinyoung––”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! You don’t even know me, ahjussi,” he says, lowering his voice, but speaking through his gritted teeth. “You don’t––you don’t get to do that,” but he doesn’t clarify what that is. Just that Jaebum isn’t allowed to do it.

As though he picks up this, Jaebum spits an irritated retort of his own:

“What, would you rather me give you the money, then?”

He hesitates; it’s only for the shortest amount of time but it’s just long enough that Jaebum catches it.

“Yes,” he says hotly, but the because then I won’t have to worry about falling in love with you goes unspoken.

Jaebum just sighs as if dealing with a petulant child; the background chatter grows louder as if Jaebum had just opened a door. “Can we talk about this later, Jinyoung? I have a meeting to go to right now.”

There’s to be no discussing it later: like the money Jaebum had given them their first night, he’s going to stash away the memory of this in his metaphorical sock drawer and not dig it out ever again. Jinyoung hums a noncommittal noise into the phone and then, without giving Jaebum the chance to say anything else, he just hangs up.

As he drops his phone to the floor and stares at his glittering bicycle, he wonders just how many times their phone calls are going to end like this until they no longer have phone calls at all.

__________________

“Wait, Bambam, be careful––oh, sh*t––!”

All four of them wince in unison as Bambam drops the stack of metal serving dishes he’d been carrying on the marble floor. They scatter and clang with awful, discordant reverb in the ballroom where they’re attempting to set up the catering table. Bambam slaps both hands over his ears, folding nearly in half from the noise and the attempt at deflecting the shame over his head instead of directly at him. The staff setting up for the rest of the event look over at them, then exchange glances amongst themselves that, even from across the crystalline glittering of the ballroom, he can tell are questioning of their competence. Jinyoung straightens and sighs, twitching a little as the banging echoes off the polished floor into his ears.

“Yah, now you have to go sanitize those before we can use them.”

Minhyuk shakes his shaggy blonde hair out of his eyes. “Do we really need to? I mean, look at this,” he says, squatting to run a finger across the sandy colored marble under their feet. Holding it up in Jinyoung’s direction, he grins and says, “you could practically eat off this floor.”

Making a face, Hyunwoo crosses his arms and plants a leather shoe on Minhyuk’s ass to shove him over. He squawks, indignant, blushing as Bambam and Hyunwoo both chuckle. Minhyuk stands up, theatrically rubbing the spot Hyunwoo had just kicked and pouts.

“I’m just saying. If it’s clean enough to eat off of, why waste time sanitizing those dishes?

Hyunwoo doesn’t agree or disagree, and Jinyoung throws him a look. “You can’t be about to let them do this.”

After picking all of the dishes back up off the floor, Bambam waddles to the long serving table and sets them down, trying to keep them from falling to the floor again as they slide out of their unstable tower. He turns, leaning against the edge. “I don’t think we have time, anyway. Doesn’t the event start soon? The cooks are all in the kitchen already. I don’t even know if we’d have room to wash them.”

Jinyoung looks back over at Hyunwoo, who is letting Minhyuk lean on him like a small child. “Are we really going to do this, hyung?”

Hyunwoo doesn't answer right away, instead looking over his shoulder at where Bambam is still leaning on the table. There's that look in his eye; Jinyoung turns halfway to see what Bambam is doing, but their youngest is just biting his lip on a laugh and avoiding eye contact. With a sigh building up in his chest, Jinyoung looks back to Hyunwoo having a silent conversation with Minhyuk, whose smile only gets wider and wider. Finally he looks back over and says with a shrug and a grin,

“Can we really say no to them?”

“Yes, actually, we could,” Jinyoung mutters, rolling his eyes, but knows it’s useless: he’s not getting anywhere else with Hyunwoo today.

After a few more moments of idle chatter, Jinyoung rounds them up and gets them moving to finish setting up. The staff of the event are still arranging chairs in neat rows, facing away from them toward a podium set up on the other side of the room. Jinyoung watches half interestedly as he sets out pans in rows, glancing up in time to see a large projector screen being rolled down from the ceiling behind the podium. When it finally finishes, Jinyoung is surprised to see the logo of his university being projected on it, faint and watery with all the lights in the ballroom still on. He had known that the event was for a university, just not which university. He’s kind of excited––he wonders if he’ll see his favorite professor.

“Hey, hyung,” Bambam calls from down the line, holding up a crumpled piece of square paper and a pen. “Can you write down the dishes instead? I suck at this.”

“Oh, sure,” he says, catching the pen that Bambam throws to him and reaching out when he slides the small stack of card stock squares in his direction. He looks further down the table, watching Minhyuk and Hyunwoo chatter amongst themselves quietly as they arrange the glasses on serving trays. Bambam disappears to the kitchen shortly after, leaving Jinyoung alone with his thoughts which, much to his chagrin, gravitate toward Jaebum.

Jinyoung writes down the names of the dishes almost mechanically, not even thinking of what he’s writing as he plays the conversation from the car over again in his head. It feels strange; he hadn’t enquired about money and Jaebum hadn’t offered it like he had that first night they slept together. It makes him itch. What could be the reason? Jaebum has had no qualms about offering him money––that night he had tried to give him a tip, and then the money he’d given him after sex that he’d nearly thrown at the delivery boy to get rid of. He supposes, in a skewed kind of way, that Jaebum had given him money; not in the physical sense, but in the act of taking his bike to get it fixed and repainted, he had essentially rewarded Jinyoung in some way.

It makes his stomach hurt: he hasn’t even touched his bike since it had been delivered two days ago, and he hasn’t texted Jaebum since their argument on the phone. Even now, part of him feels a little guilty. Jinyoung had never been the type to be ungrateful, and despite his reluctance to any sort of warm feeling toward Im Jaebum, he should still show some gratitude. He sets down his pen and sticks his hand in his pocket to shoot him a quick thank you text but sighs when his fingers scrape the bottom of his empty pocket. Because they’re catering today and all came together in the company van, he’d left his wallet, phone, and street clothes back in his locker at the restaurant.

You don't want to see me again after this, don't answer when I call and I'll take the hint.

Jaebum’s voice is warm in his head like thick honey. He swallows, nervous with no reason; if Jaebum calls him again, the least he could do is pick up in order to thank him for the bike, right? It’s the least he could do.

“Hyung!”

Bambam’s voice startles him out of his thoughts: he looks up, shocked to see that people in suits and dresses have started to filter into the room. Bambam’s call for him cuts through the low roar of the chatter, and he turns to see Bambam holding a tray of food with one foot out of the kitchen door in preparation.

“Are all the food warmers set up and on? Mark and Youngjae hyungs said to start setting out the dishes as they finish them.”

Jinyoung looks both ways up and down the table; Hyunwoo and Minhyuk are stationed at opposite ends, and both give him a thumbs up when he inquires silently about the preparation. The metal trays that had been dropped on the floor only just a while earlier are sitting on top of their stands, cleaning and clean in a perfectly straight line all the way down the table. Their backs are to the kitchen, facing out into the ballroom and they’ve mercifully put the table in front of the large stone pillars so that they’ll have something to lean on during the down time.

He turns back to Bambam. “We’re ready!”

Jinyoung eventually goes to help him, realizing belatedly that Mark and Youngjae are likely cooking up a storm with the way Bambam keeps coming out of the swinging doors trying to balance multiple dishes at a time. Each pass back and forth into the kitchen makes him sweat; the air is stuffy and suffocating, humid from huge pots of boiling stews and the opening and closing of roaring ovens. Jinyoung can barely hear himself think over the noise of banging utensils and the cooks shouting to each other through clouds of steam. It’s absolute chaos compared to the calm atmosphere of the approaching event in the ballroom, and he’s glad for the distraction of noise and his sticky shirt.

Once all the dishes are out and in their warmers though, everything settles into a hush. The four servers all share glances up and down the table, spread just too far to be able to talk to each other quietly. Jinyoung folds his arms behind his back, grateful for the air conditioning that begins to cool the sweat from his neck and shirt.

He watches quietly as more and more people come in, all of them dressed formally and on the odd occasion even a little extravagantly; him and Bambam exchange a glance when the tiniest of old women sweeps into the room on heels nearly as tall as her and with a mink stole dragging along the floor behind her. It would be difficult not to recognize her, though: Maeng Hyejin, head of the theatre department and one of the most well known theatre actresses in Korea. Jinyoung smiles to himself when he sees her in her disco-ball sequined co*cktail dress, looking like a 1920s flapper from the US mixed with the fashion models of the present day with the giant, bug-eyed sunglasses sitting on the end of her pointed nose. Jinyoung never took her theatre course, but he took an accelerated class that she taught for a few weeks in his last semester on English plays. Maybe this event won’t be so boring after all.

Soon the room is bustling with noise, and Jinyoung realizes that he recognizes a lot of the professors gathered in the room. Most of them were in the English department, though he sees a lot of his old professors from his history subjects and even some of his math courses. Some of the lights in the massive crystal chandeliers dim on the edges of the room, brightening the university logo on the projector screen directly ahead of him. Now that he can get a better look at it, he squints a little to read the title of the event at the bottom of the screen:

GSIS Gala: Celebrating the International Literature Department
Seoul National University

His heart hits his stomach like a rock. The entire literature department is here? No wonder he recognized so many of the professors. His eyes scan the room frantically, hands tightening painfully around each other behind his back as he looks for a certain familiar face––

“See anyone you know?”

Jinyoung nearly jumps out of his skin, covering his mouth with one hand to hide the noise he’d made. Park Jinyoung the senior is standing right beside him, bent down a bit with his hands folded in his lower back and a smile on his face.

“Sorry, subaenim, you scared me.”

With a chuckle and a pat on the shoulder, Park Jinyoung senior laughs it off. “No, no. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. You went to this University, didn’t you, Jinyoungie?”

He nods, still half scanning the crowd with a nervous feeling creeping into his fingertips. “Yes, this was my department, actually.”

“Oh! You don’t say? Do you want to go mingle for a bit?”

His heart nearly stops, already picturing it like a scene from the stupid dramas his older sisters used to gush over: he’d be in the crowd, talking to someone, and when he would go to turn away, their shoulders would brush as time slowed down and they met each other's’ eyes. Even the imaginary scene makes him sick. He shakes his head.

“No, that’s alright. If there’s time after I will go greet them, but I’m fine for now. Thank you, sunbaenim.”

“If you change your mind let me know,” he says, and wanders away with a parting pat.

Suddenly Jinyoung regrets having breakfast.

He swallows a thick feeling in his throat as everyone takes their seats and the department head takes the stage. It's a man Jinyoung knows quite well after spending hours in his office working on his final papers before graduation; it comforts him little to see the ancient, folding Nam Donghoon on stage, despite his respect. He knows that wherever the department head is, the one person he doesn't want to see is sure to follow.

The idle chatter in the room fades to a hush as the department head taps the microphone on the podium and begins to speak. It's mostly just boring introductory material, the ancient professor’s voice just as droll and monotone as he remembers it. Jinyoung mostly tunes out the speech. It's typical university extravagance with some video playing on the screen highlighting the financial and intellectual achievements of the college and then, more specifically, the department itself. Jinyoung even catches a glimpse of himself in some of the pictures: the deep navy blues of their robes flashing by in a slideshow of graduations from past years. There's faculty photos, too, and Jinyoung manages to crack a smile when he sees some of the professor’s he'd really liked frozen in mid-lecture. The smile fades, however, when the last photo slides into frame.

It's one he recognizes immediately, because he'd kept a printed copy of it in a frame on his nightstand for months during their relationship. It's a picture of Jinyoung, smiling from ear to ear without the cover of his hand since both were occupied by a heavy certificate held out in front of his chest. Hakyeon is standing next to him, arm around his waist in a gesture of what looks like friendliness to anyone not paying attention, but Jinyoung can see the possessive dent in his shirt where Hakyeon’s fingers are curled on his hip. Behind them is the American university they attended, having visited for a workshop for a couple of months right before Jinyoung was to graduate. The sunglasses he'd always come to associate with Hakyeon are pushed up his nose, a sly grin on his handsome face that Jinyoung still sees in fits of bad dreams.

He hears Bambam make a noise somewhere between a cheer and a cough. Minhyuk and Hyunwoo are excited, abandoning their positions momentarily to sneak up the table and shake him back and forth over whispered look it's you! It's you! He tolerates it, hoping that the shaking digs a hole in the floor and he disappears inside it. None of them know about the volatile history between him and the handsome glowing professor on the screen, so to them it feels like an accomplishment of recognition by the prestigious university, but to Jinyoung it just feels like a punch in the stomach.

The other boys go back to their posts at opposite ends of the table when a hissing voice scolds them from behind, leaving Jinyoung alone with the picture, now gone from the screen, burned against his eyelids. He's long since gotten rid of the photo, having thrown it away shortly after their breakup a couple of months after he graduated. Jinyoung had even forgotten about it until now, and seeing it after all this time makes him feel ill. He wonders if Park Jinyoung sunbaenim would let him go lay in the lounge if he complains of a stomachache.

He doesn't get the chance, though. The video ends and the lights come back on. Jinyoung barely has time to breathe before professor Donghoon is warmly greeting Cha Hakyeon and inviting him up to the stage.

Ice floods his veins when a man stands up in the audience. Even his back is familiar: the line of his shoulders underneath the tan suit he's wearing ignites a wildfire of memories in Jinyoung’s mind as he makes his way through the crowd and steps up onto the small stage. Everything slows down to the muted slow-motion of a movie scene; somewhere in the back of his mind he’s distantly annoyed that the drama scenario happened anyway without him ever moving an inch. His heart squeezes in a mixture of panic and anger as his ex-boyfriend takes the stage, leaning in to chuckle throaty and warm into the microphone. The sound of it is amplified by the speakers and it’s so much like the one he had always heard in bed or on the phone that he shudders at a feeling like ghostly fingertips on the base of his neck.

Hakyeon clears his throat a little, feigning the nervousness that he awkwardly tries to laugh away to the responding laughter of the crowd. Jinyoung wants to roll his eyes or be sick or both; it’s just so him, making the audience gooey in the knees with faked shyness. Jinyoung had been so surprised by the photo of the two of them that had been in the slideshow that he hadn’t heard what exactly he’s speaking for, and he finds he doesn’t really care. What matters is that Jinyoung is standing directly across from him, albeit on the other side of the ballroom. Jinyoung prays to whatever gods that may be listening that Hakyeon doesn’t notice him.

As he’s come to realize, though, life’s funny that way.

Jinyoung’s eyes haven’t moved from him the entire time he’s been on stage. Everything about him is the same, despite a little under two years having passed since they’ve seen each other. It was surprisingly easy to avoid each other in the city, and Jinyoung is shocked that so much of him would be the same after all this time; he still has the too-long fringe, hanging just under his eyebrows. His cheeks still have those adolescent pouches near his mouth, making him look younger than he is despite being in his late thirties now. Even though his heart burns and aches with a resentment so strong he can taste it, he can’t deny he is handsome, and the intrusive thought has his hands curling into fists.

Hakyeon’s head swings back and forth, engaging the people sitting before him with some story or another. He wonders if Hakyeon can feel the stare, Jinyoung’s gaze burning an angry hole through him as he talks with his hands and fools everyone into thinking he’s a much different man than he really is. He’s halfway through a sentence when he looks up suddenly, head on a string,

“––it was a great experience, you know, we met lots of great people, wonderful American professors, and I––” he chokes, a noise somewhere between a choke and the following cover-up cough, when their eyes meet and Jinyoung’s face doesn’t change despite the cold that drapes his body like snow. “I––um, wow––I––”

For once, Jinyoung can tell he’s not acting. He seems genuinely surprised, and he’s even a little satisfied that seeing Jinyoung standing at the far end of the room had thrown him off balance enough that he had lost his train of thought. Jinyoung just stares, that steady anger boiling in his stomach like water; each passing second where their eyes are locked across the ballroom has it bubbling closer and closer to the top. He had hoped to avoid Hakyeon entirely but he’s been increasingly unlucky lately.

Jinyoung watches as Hakyeon shakes his head after a moment, a wide grin breaking out on his face as the eye contact ends and he looks away, back at the crowd. “Sorry about that. Where was I?”

Typical.

The realization comes next that now that Hakyeon knows he’s here, he’s going to attempt some kind of communication when the event is over and that’s the last thing Jinyoung wants. Usually the picture of decorum, Jinyoung spins on his heel and heads toward the kitchen. He can hear Bambam hissing his name in a harsh whisper that he ignores as he hits one of the swinging doors too hard with his palm and shoves it open until it slams into the wall. The few cooks that are around look up in shock; Youngjae drops the old school Gameboy he’d been playing in his lap and yelps. Mark sticks his head in the room from the back, half outside the door with a cigarette between his teeth.

“Hyung? Are you okay?”

“Mark!”

Looking startled, Mark drops the cigarette almost guilty and kicks it away after putting it out. He lets the big door shut behind him, watching Jinyoung approach him fast and aggressive almost nervously. He shakes his dishwater blonde hair into his eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

Jinyoung stops in front of him, fingers curled up into his palms in tight fists. The kitchen behind him is dead silent––the murmur of Hakyeon still giving his speech is a distant muffle behind the heavy swinging doors, and none of the cooks have said a single word since Jinyoung had slammed his way in.

“I need a favor.”

His dark eyebrows furrow in concern. “Okay. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he huffs, a total lie, but no one dares call him out on it. “Can you just––can you cover for me? Serving? My ex is here and––” Jinyoung runs a hand through his slowly dampening hair in frustration. “I just can’t. I can’t be here right now. I need to calm down somewhere. Can you cover for me? I’ll owe you one.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mark says, nodding and wiping his hands across his apron. He’s not nearly as nicely dressed as Jinyoung is; he’d been lucky to get away with not having to wear a uniform, and he’s dressed relatively casually in a loose fitting gray t-shirt and dark jeans. Jinyoung wants to hug him or something as he pulls his apron off over his head, but Mark just pats him on the shoulder. “You don’t owe me. Okay? Just go out to the lobby and find a corner to chill out in. It’ll be okay.”

“Thanks, hyung,” he says quietly, and watches Mark point him in the direction of a secret hallway that leads from the back of the kitchen out into the lobby so that he doesn’t have to risk going back through the ballroom. Mark disappears out of the swinging doors to a worried looking Bambam and then Jinyoung is slinking down the darkened hallway, away from the noise.

__________________

The hotel itself is ridiculously extravagant, which doesn’t surprise Jinyoung in the least that the university would choose it for an event. The design of the ballroom spreads even out into the lobby, built in an L shape so that some of the chairs in the waiting area are hidden behind the thick, sprawling pillars identical to those in the ballroom. Aside from the receptionist it’s empty, and he gratefully finds his way to a corner hidden away by two pillars instead of just one. Jinyoung sits down heavily, folding up until he’s practically bent in half with his butt and both feet on the chair. He runs his hands down his legs, trying to stop them from shaking and listening to the quiet babbling of a water fountain somewhere in the room instead of the horrible buzzing of his thoughts.

It shouldn’t be surprisingly that seeing Hakyeon again made him react like this, but it kind of is; Jinyoung has realized within the last year or so that whatever he had with Hakyeon was not love and it wasn’t a good relationship, and that he’s much better off without him. That being said, it doesn’t stop him from being angry that Hakyeon hadn’t seemed to change at all.

Jinyoung folds his arms over his knees and lays his forehead against them. He concentrates so hard on the sound of running water instead of the anger that threatens to overwhelm him that he ends up falling asleep; because the lobby is so empty, no one even notices. He remains undisturbed in the corner, eyes squeezed shut as weird, disjointed dreams plague him in that strange state of half asleep, half awake. White noise of the lobby filters in through his consciousness: a phone ringing, water running, wheels on the marble floor, voices. He barely registers someone talking to the receptionist, but it fades into a dream where Jaebum is wrapping his arms around his waist and pulling him in.

Eventually he wakes up when he hears someone drop something on the floor, and it makes a reverberating bang on the marble similar to when Bambam had dropped the pans. His feet hit the floor with a thud, and he sucks in a startled breath even after the sound settles. It reminds him suddenly that he’d left in a huff and Bambam is probably wondering where he is. Jinyoung jumps out of the chair quickly, aware that depending on how much time has passed, he’s either going to be sorely disappointed at the prospect of still running into Hakyeon or he’s going to get into a ton of trouble for slacking off.

He goes back down the hallway he’d came from, peering into the kitchen and furrowing his eyebrows when it’s quiet and empty. Everything is clean and organized, the total opposite of what it had been earlier, and he sees none of the restaurant bags or even any of the personal ones the boys had brought with them. His shoes almost seem to echo in the emptiness of the kitchen as he crosses the floor and pushes his way out of a swinging door.

His jaw drops. The entire ballroom is empty now, save for the last few staff members loading up folding chairs and wheeling them toward the heavy double doors at the entrance of the ballroom. The serving table is gone, the dishes are gone, and all the people are gone, too. Jinyoung is the only person left and based on the fact that he hadn’t seen anyone in the lobby or lingering in the kitchen gives him an inkling feeling that they all packed up and left without him.

f*ck.

Sighing, Jinyoung makes his way back to the lobby. He goes through the entrance to the ballroom this time, no longer worried about running into his ex. How long had he been asleep? An hour and a half, at least. He laments not bringing his watch when he realizes he can’t be exactly sure. Jinyoung steps out into the lobby, disappointed when the curb outside the giant glass doors is empty of their company van.

So they did leave without me, he mutters internally, and leans against the wall to pull out his cellphone.

Only to remember with a hand halfway down his pocket that he hadn’t brought it.

Double f*ck.

Jinyoung growls in frustration and throws his head back against the wall, feeling both angrier and better when a dull ache radiates from the point of contact. He could walk to the subway station, but he doesn’t have his wallet, so he doesn’t have his T-Money card or money to buy a ticket to the stop near his house. Jinyoung is effectively stranded at the hotel, unless he musters up the courage to bury some dignity and ask the receptionist to use her desk phone. He’s not ready to give up on his options yet, although he knows in his heart of hearts that using the phone is the only option. It’s too far to walk home, but unless he can swallow his pride, he might not have another choice.

Sighing heavily to himself, Jinyoung finds a chair adjacent to the front desk and throws himself into it with a huff. The receptionist is on the phone but she looks over anyway, concerned but mostly mildly annoyed. Jinyoung tries to smile at her and hopes it’s not as creepy and strained as it probably looks. What to do, then? He’s stranded without phone or a way home as of now. He hopes Jackson isn’t working, because Jackson is the only person he’d feel comfortable calling. Mark already covered for him once today, and Youngjae doesn’t drive. He could try Yugyeom, he supposes, but when Jinyoung looks out the glass doors and realizes the sun is hanging low in the sky, he realizes Yugyeom is probably already drunk.

The receptionist hangs up, and he’s about to get up and sweet-talk her into letting him use the phone when the front doors slide open with a swish and the heels of expensive shoes click on the floor. Jinyoung looks over out of habit, largely disinterested until he notices with a quiet gasp of surprise that Jaebum has just walked in.

He’s by himself, dressed in that distressingly attractive business casual as he had that night they went to the bar. Charcoal grey dress pants hug his thighs and then cut off right above the bones of his ankles, no visible sock-line in order to show them off and to accentuate the shape of his sleek leather shoes. Jinyoung is surprised at the pastel pink of his shirt, well-fitted across the shoulders and his broad chest; Jinyoung has a shirt similar to that color and he finds himself slightly annoyed that Jaebum looks better in it. The low light bounces off the multitude of chrome jewelry he always wears, glittering rings on his fingers and piercings in his ears. He’s got a phone pressed to his ear and talking into it rapidly while the other runs through his inky hair parted nicely down the middle.

While Jinyoung had been staring, he failed to realize that he’s right in plain sight, and that Jaebum could turn his head at any moment and notice him sitting there practically drooling over him like a starving dog. Anxiety suddenly thumps against his chest like a door-knocker, and his fight-or-flight reflex begs him to fly as quickly as possible. As quietly as he can, Jinyoung stands up, turns halfway to find the nearest pillar, and winces when the heels of his own dress shoes echo with mirroring clacks as he ducks behind it. Jinyoung squeezes his eyes shut. He tries to calm the rapid beating of his heart at the prospect of Jaebum finding him stranded high and dry like this and prays that his heartbeat eventually slows.

The steady click, click, click, click of Jaebum’s shoes on the sandy marble is too ominous, feeling more like the musical crescendo in a horror film as they slowly get louder. Jinyoung tries to hold his breath as though not breathing and keeping his eyes closed will make him invisible.

“Jinyoung?”

He had known it wasn’t going to work. Though he had turned his back too quickly to see it, Jaebum had looked over at him just as he’d stood up from the chair and frantically speed-walked to the closest pillar to duck behind it. It made him laugh, which he also hadn’t seen, and Jaebum had hung up the phone and veered off his path to the receptionist in order to follow him. Opening his eyes, Jinyoung lets out the breath he’d been holding and feels his face warm with embarrassment.

“Hi, ahjussi.”

There’s a handsome smirk on his face that Jinyoung tries to ignore. “What are you doing?”

“Um,” he says, hesitating, cursing himself for graduating from the literature department when he can barely function in situations like this. “Just waiting.”

One triangular eyebrow goes up. “For?”

“Oh, you know,” he mutters, waving his hand around vaguely, gesturing at nothing and making the look on Jaebum’s face grow more and more confused. “Waiting.”

“You’re waiting for waiting?”

He sighs. They aren’t going to get anywhere like this, and he already feels stupid for trying to hide from him, and awkward too since they haven’t spoken since their argument on the phone. It feels like such a stupid time to say I’m sorry or thank you, but he’s not sure what else there is for him to say.

Hands folded in his lower back, he pins them against the pillar and leans his weight on them in the hopes that the mild discomfort will keep him thinking clearly.

“Thank you for fixing my bike,” he blurts out, and Jaebum’s looks of confusion shifts to one of surprise, and then one of satisfaction. Blushing a little, Jinyoung looks to the side of his head instead of directly at him. “It looks really nice. And thank you for keeping the Pokemon card in the spokes. Jackson would have been pissed if you tossed it.”

Jaebum laughs, short and sweet with lots of teeth. Jinyoung hates the funny feeling in his stomach when it fades into a smile and his eyes fold into his favorite crescent moons. “You’re welcome, Jinyoung. I’m glad that I could save it for you. You seem so attached to it.”

He nods. “I am. And thank you. I’m...I’m sorry for being a dick about it,” he mumbles, feeling oddly shy about the apology.

Jaebum waves him off, though. “It’s alright. I should have asked.”

I get the feeling that you rarely have to ask for anything, he thinks to himself, but doesn’t mention it. Jaebum’s smile stays in place, stupidly annoying with how charming it is, and Jinyoung refuses to look directly at it.

“So, really, Jinyoung. What are you doing here?” Jaebum looks him up and down, clearly just to assess his outfit but the image of his feline eyes raking down the length of his body makes his fingers itch. “Were you working?”

“Yeah, there was an event today for the university I went to, and the restaurant catered it. I––” he’s not sure exactly how to describe the situation with Hakyeon so he glazes over it. “Something happened so I came out here to cool down, but I felt tired and accidentally fell asleep. They...they left without me.”

It’s obvious Jaebum is trying not to laugh, and even Jinyoung has to bite both lips to hold back the smile that wants to form at how dumb that sounds. Suddenly, though, he realizes how strange and fated it is that they would meet here, today, of all places and times. Puzzled, Jinyoung looks at him again.

“But ahjussi, what are you doing here?”

“Oh! I own this chain of hotels,” he says, turning to lamely sweep an arm across the lobby. It doesn’t sound like a brag, just a fact, and Jinyoung is more annoyed at the fact that they keep running into each other like this than he is at Jaebum owning something else.

He pushes away whatever feelings, good or bad, he has about this and perks up. “Ahjussi, do you think I could use the desk phone to call Jackson for a ride?”

“You’re not taking the subway?”

“No,” he says, deflating a little. “The staff all came together in the company van, so all my clothes and my bag with my wallet and phone in it are still in my locker. I’ve been stuck here for like, almost two hours now.”

Jaebum snorts in amusem*nt. “Don’t be stupid, you don’t need to use the desk phone.”

Offended, Jinyoung’s face reddens. “Well I didn’t want to ask to use your personal phone to call Jackson, and I figured since you own the place I could use it for a minute––”

“Oh! That’s not what I meant,” Jaebum says frantically, cutting him off and even having the decency to look embarrassed. Jinyoung doesn’t know what to make of it, so he just stares and doesn’t say anything. “I’m sorry. I can give you a ride home, Jinyoung.”

Oh.

Um.

“Are you sure?” he asks, sounding totally unsure, aware that if he allows Im Jaebum to drive him home he’s going to owe him even more; not only has he given Jinyoung the best org*sms of his life so far but he’s also fixed his thousand dollar bike and given him money he’d been afraid to count. Add taking him all the way to the restaurant and then to his house to the list and he’s going to owe Jaebum for life. He doesn’t really want to set a precedent.

“Of course. I have to be somewhere on that side of town later, anyway. I don’t mind.”

He shuffles awkwardly. “I’d need to go by the restaurant first, though, because my stuff is there. If you want to just drop me off there, I can at least take the subway or the bus home––”

Jaebum stops him by laying a gentle hand on his arm. It’s warm, too warm, radiating out comfort and heat into his chest from his bicep. He moves away a little and neither of them say anything when Jaebum’s hand falls limply to his side.

“Jinyoung, really. I don’t mind.”

“Okay,” he says softly, and that’s that.

__________________

The ride to the restaurant is surprisingly comfortable; neither of them mention their last hookup or the fact that Jinyoung had side stepped his attempt at physical affection. Jinyoung just asks about his day in the hopes that it will deflect the conversation becoming about himself. If Jaebum asks, he’s not sure he won’t be able to hold back the flood that seeing Hakyeon had unleashed inside him. Jinyoung learns that Jaebum has the top floor office in one of the tallest buildings in the city, which doesn’t surprise him, and that it’s in Yeouido. He also learns that Jaebum has a cat, which does surprise him, because he hadn’t seen it or even any evidence of it the night he’d been there. He learns that Jaebum loves cats, likes chicken, and is arguably the busiest man on the planet.

He’s grateful for the break in learning things when they arrive at the restaurant. Jinyoung doesn’t want anyone to know who his ride is, so he tries to duck in and out quickly with no success. He gets berated as soon as he walks in, Changkyun leaning over the hosts stand to poke fun at him even though he hadn’t even been there. Thankfully Hyunwoo and Minhyuk are already long gone for the day, so Mark is really the only one to tease him as he hurriedly grabs his things from his locker. He doesn’t even care that someone could walk in on him; he changes back into his denim shorts and an oversized shirt before stuffing his uniform back in and ducking out the back.

Jaebum jumps when he opens the car door. “God, you scared me. I didn’t even see you come out of the front door.”

Blushing a little, Jinyoung pushes his glasses up his nose before buckling his seatbelt. He can feel Jaebum’s gaze on the skin of his thighs where they’re exposed but tamps down on the way his heartbeat starts to pick up a little. “I went out the back so nobody would tease me about getting left behind.”

“Smart,” Jaebum says, flashing him a smile, and then pulls away from the curb to drive him home.

They sit in silence for a while, Jinyoung with his elbow on the door and his chin in his hand watching traffic pass by outside. The sun is barely hanging on the horizon now and his stomach growls quietly to remind him that he hasn’t eaten all day. Soft R&B plays over the speakers making it easy for Jinyoung to get lost in a daydream about what he’s going to eat later.

When they hit a stoplight a little ways away from his house, he sees Jaebum reach out to turn the music down from of the corner of his eye. He looks over curiously just as Jaebum asks,

“What happened earlier?”

He swallows, slammed back into the present by Jaebum’s question. “What do you mean?”

“You said something happened earlier when you were working that you needed to cool down from. Do you want to talk about it?”

It’s unfair how honest he sounds, how soft and gentle he’s being as he looks over at Jinyoung in the dusky light of sunset. Jinyoung wants to say no: he never wants to talk about Hakyeon again. He especially doesn’t want to tell Jaebum about Hakyeon, afraid of what Jaebum will think of him after. But something about the emotion in Jaebum’s voice has him taking a deep breath and telling him, anyway.

“I saw my ex.”

Even in the dim light he can see the way Jaebum’s jaw clenches, knotted under his ear. Jinyoung’s body warms over the obvious jealousy, unsure what it means; Jaebum doesn’t question him further and doesn’t demand to know who, where, what, how. It’s a foreign feeling to not be interrogated and he keeps talking just to fill the silence.

“We broke up like two years ago, a couple months after I graduated from college. He––he was one of my professors.”

“Oh, Jinyoung––”

“Don’t chastise me,” he snaps, reddening when Jaebum visibly flinches. “It wasn’t a good idea. I know. I’ve heard it a thousand times. He was a bastard, anyway,” he spits, turning his head to stare out the windshield rather than take the risk of looking at Jaebum’s face. “It’s good that we broke up and I never wanted to see him again. I still don’t.”

The gentle hand comes back, warm on his thigh now, the touch like a kick in the stomach.

“I’m sorry.”

His heartbeat thuds in his ears when he places his hand over Jaebum’s on his leg, trying to offer some kind of apology. He doesn’t move it away.

“It’s okay.”

The hand underneath his squeezes his thigh gently in acknowledgement and, for the first time, Jinyoung lets himself feel disappointed when it slides away.

But it’s just to put the car into park on the curb outside of Jinyoung’s apartment complex. “We’re here,” he says, too softly.

The whole day has been weird. It had been weird since he’d woken up, and it got weirder when they got to the event. He’s not sure if it’s just the day he’s having or maybe from seeing Hakyeon so unexpectedly, but everything feels like it’s getting turned on its head all of a sudden and Jinyoung feels off-balance. He finds that despite having rejected it earlier, he actually had been comforted by the gesture, though small, and it felt kind of good to allow himself it. Maybe it’s just the day he’s having, but he suddenly feels as though he should be showing Jaebum some gratitude other than a stuttered thank you and a mumbled apology. Halfway out of the car door with Jaebum’s eyes on the back of his neck, he lets both feet hit the ground before turning around with his hand holding the door open and asking,

“Ahjussi. Do you want to come upstairs for dinner?”

The look on Jaebum’s face is pure disbelief. “What?”

Jinyoung blushes. “As a thank you, for giving me a ride. And for my bike, too. It’s the least I can do.”

For once Jaebum looks unsure. “Are you...are you sure?”

He rolls his eyes and forces a smile. “Of course I’m sure.”

Jaebum’s smile is the opposite of forced: it spreads across his face, turning his lips up at the corners and reaching his eyes. He turns the car off and breathes out. Jinyoung is surprised when it shakes.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’d love to.”

As Jinyoung climbs the stairs with Jaebum just behind, he suddenly feels nervous. He keeps pushing up his glasses just for something to do with his hands, and when they get to his apartment door, the fact that he can feel the heat radiating off Jaebum’s chest against his back makes him drop his keys three times before he can get them in the door. He’s not even sure what he’s nervous for: it’s not like they haven’t done this before. They f*cked on the first date. Surely Jinyoung can survive making him dinner as a gesture of thanks without turning into a neurotic mess.

“I’m sorry in advance,” he says, looking over his shoulder as the door swings open and they step inside.

As he flips on the light and they toe off their shoes in the entryway, Jinyoung prays like hell that his apartment is clean since he hadn’t been expecting any guests and he sure as hell wasn’t expecting it to be Im Jaebum. It looks the same as it always does, though, with the addition of his bike mounted up on the wall over his couch on the bike rack his parents had bought him for his birthday years ago. Jinyoung goes left into the kitchen while Jaebum lingers in the tiny living room and stands with his hands in his pockets to look around.

Jinyoung glances down the hallway to make sure his bedroom door is closed, thankful that it is. If any room isn’t going to be clean enough for guests it’s that one, and he’s sure as hell not taking Jaebum on a full tour, aware of what that might imply. He hovers nervously in the doorway to the kitchen, watching Jaebum look at the pieces of art he has hung up in symmetrical lines and photos hung up in neat rows. Jaebum leans down to fan out the battered paperbacks on his glass table and even from where he’s standing nervously in the doorway he can see Jaebum’s mouth curve into a private smile.

“I’m sorry,” Jinyoung blurts out suddenly, closing his eyes on a drawn out blink when he realizes how dumb he sounds.

Jaebum straightens, looking puzzled. “For what?”

“My apartment. I know it’s not…” he trails off, struggling to find a word. “Extravagant,” he finishes lamely.

Jaebum’s smile is real, and Jinyoung realizes that Jaebum smiles far too often when they’re together. If it wasn’t so handsome and charming it might not make him feel so jittery, but it is so it does.

“I don’t mind at all,” he murmurs, twisting to look back at the living room for a few moments. “It suits you, Jinyoung.”

“Oh. Well, thank you.”

Jaebum just hums, glancing down the hallway for anything of interest while Jinyoung goes back into the kitchen. With dismay he realizes that he hasn’t gone grocery shopping lately, mostly turning to take-out and food from the restaurant to tide him over until he’d gotten the energy. There’s barely even a beer in the fridge, looking lonely next to a nearly empty jar of kimchi and a half-head of lettuce quickly going brown. He checks the cabinets next, trying not to freak out when he realizes all he has is ramen. He’s sure that Jaebum is used to five course meals every night, and he’s worried about Jaebum’s reaction is going to be when it’s all he has to offer.

Shutting the cabinet and sighing, Jinyoung turns to call for him only to be startled when Jaebum is already sitting at the table and watching him with his chin in his hand.

“Ahjussi, I have bad news.”

“What’s that?”

“I know I invited you for dinner, but I forgot I haven’t gone to the store recently. All I have is ramen.”

To his surprise, Jaebum sits up straight and grins at him. “You’re in luck. I love ramen.”

It feels ridiculous to be relieved, but he is anyway. He gives Jaebum a shy smile back before turning to pull the packets of ramen down off the shelf. The atmosphere is quiet, calm; it’s a nice change from the storm that seeing Hakyeon had dredged up earlier, and despite Jinyoung’s lingering uncertainty about what kind of emotional repercussions he’s potentially bringing upon himself by cooking stove-top ramen for Im Jaebum, he finds that, for just this once, he doesn’t want to care.

Jinyoung takes off his glasses and sets them on the counter before digging out two identical sized pots and filling them with water. They’ll have a few idle moments where he won't have to concentrate on cooking, so he desperately tries to think of something to ask Jaebum about to fill the silence and not let it get so awkward as he turns the burners on. When the pots are situated on the stove-top, Jinyoung turns and leans on his elbows to look at Jaebum.

He’s not paying attention, sitting on the edge of one of his small wooden chairs at his tiny table in the kitchen. He’s got one leg crossed over the other, elbow on his thigh as he scrolls through his cellphone with one hand while the other lays against his opposite hip. Jinyoung just watches him for a moment, taking the opportunity to study Jaebum is his natural, businessman habitat. Eyebrows furrowed, Jaebum uses his thumb to scroll for a moment before both hands come up to type quickly. He wonders if he’s sending a really important email, or maybe closing a deal that will rake in more millions of dollars. Jinyoung is kind of curious enough to ask, but feels as though it’d be rude and he’d hate for Jaebum to feel uncomfortable when he’d gone out of his way to help him today.

Suddenly, though, Jaebum’s eyes are meeting his as the phone is locked and slid into the pocket of his dress pants. He smiles. “You’re staring,” he says, likely remembering when he’d said it the other day.

Swallowing, Jinyoung replies, “sorry,” but doesn’t say I didn’t mean to.

They watch each other for a moment. It’s almost surreal to him, having Im Jaebum in his house and sitting at his tiny kitchen table waiting for the water to boil for their crappy ramen noodles. It’s weirder still that Jaebum seems content like this, watching Jinyoung with a look on his face that feels familiar: he’s seen it before, when they’d gone to lunch that time and stayed until the sun went down. His face had softened in the dying light, more boyish and open than the razor blade sharpness it has in broad daylight. The same look is here now, rounding his edges and making him feel like an open door that Jinyoung is about to step through.

He tries to snap out of it. “So, ahjussi. Tell me something about you.”

“Like what?”

“Hmm. Tell me about your family.”

“I don’t have much,” he says, eyes never leaving Jinyoung as he turns to drop the blocks of ramen in the water before coming around to sit across from him at the table while it cooks. “My dad passed away when I was in my twenties, and I don’t have any siblings. I think I told you that part. So, it’s always just been me and my mom.”

“Does she live here?”

He nods, seemingly pleased that Jinyoung seems genuinely interested. He’d be a liar if he said he wasn’t, but he tries to force himself to think that he’s only asking because he’s essentially getting a private interview with the richest man in Korea and not because he actually cares. Because that’s what gets him in trouble.

“She lives out in the countryside, a couple hours from here, but close enough.”

“What happened to your dad? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“He was sick,” Jaebum says, his voice lowering. “Cancer.”

“Ahjussi, I’m sorry,” he murmurs, wanting to comfort Jaebum but feeling awkward about how.

“It’s okay. It’s been a long time. I miss him, you know, but it’s easier now. Plus I still have mom.”

Jinyoung just nods, relieved when the conversation turns away from the serious things. Jinyoung’s stomach feels watery, engaged in the things Jaebum tells him about his life before being the owner and CEO of one the largest broadcasting networks in the world. Jinyoung gets up to finish their ramen, carefully bringing it to the table and setting it down in front of Jaebum whose eyes crinkle up with a goofy smile. They talk more as they eat, asking each other questions and just talking about mundane things like sports teams and the kind of animals they like versus the kinds of animals that they hate. Jaebum laughs at him when he says he like chameleons more than he likes cats or dogs, but he feels his ears burn and his stomach slosh when Jaebum says it’s cute.

It’s the most normal thing they’ve done so far, and the most normal thing Jinyoung has done with someone who wasn’t Jackson or Yugyeom or the guys from work in, well, almost two years. Despite his earlier determination and delirium over the events of the day, the feeling slips away and the uneasiness comes back and settles like heavy weights across his shoulders. Jaebum looks too content on his rickety wooden chair, slurping so much ramen into his mouth at once that Jinyoung gets kind of afraid he’s going to choke on it. And on the reverse, Jinyoung feels too comfortable with Jaebum sitting across from him, watching with his own ramen raised halfway to his mouth as the most influential (and arguably the most handsome) guy he’s ever met drinks the broth out of the pot like it’s cereal milk.

When Jinyoung pushes away his pot because his stomach starts to hurt at how close it feels like they’re getting to something that isn’t about pure sex, Jaebum glances up at him.

“I’m sorry for keeping you for so long. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

He watches quietly as Jaebum takes the last few swallows of the broth and sets the pot back down, tongue gliding across his top lip. “I cancelled it.”

Startled, Jinyoung starts to feel a little guilty. “Why?”

He shrugs. “I wanted to stay here with you.”

If his stomach was feeling sloshy before, it positively turns now. Any potential good feelings he had have soured in his stomach, hyper aware of the way Jaebum is looking at him right now, pinned under the gaze and feeling too ill to move. He wonders idly if he’d never seen Hakyeon today if they’d even be sitting here, if they ever would have talked again; Jinyoung sighs quietly when a part of him realizes that he really hates the idea of the uncertainty.

Jinyoung gets up without saying anything, aware of Jaebum’s eyes on him as he keeps his eyes cast down. He grabs both of their pots and takes them to the sink to dump them out and rinse them. Normally he’d just leave them and scrub them later, but he’s already stepped too far into dangerous territory by inviting Jaebum in and getting to know him and lingering at the table would only make it worse, especially after Jaebum said I wanted to stay here with you. So Jinyoung just stands at the sink, pushing up both sleeves and soaping up a sponge to furiously scrub at the dishes without replying.

The silence only lasts for a few minutes with Jinyoung having an internal monologue about what a terrible idea this was and how stupid he feels for thinking it could ever be something more than sex and money. Emotion is dangerous, impossible; he’d been burned once and he’ll be damned if he lets it happen again.

He’s deep into the self aimed rant when he hears the legs of the chair scrape across his scuffed linoleum floor. Jinyoung doesn’t turn, though, too focused on chastising himself and scrubbing the pot until his hand cramps to notice that Jaebum’s footsteps on the floor getting louder as they approach instead of going away. He doesn’t hear Jaebum step up behind him either; he doesn’t even realize that Jaebum has moved from the chair until he feels arms sliding around his waist from behind and a handsome chin nestling on his shoulder.

He drops the pot into the soapy water in surprise, some of it splashing up and on his shirt. Jaebum’s arms tighten around his waist, his aquiline nose brushing against Jinyoung’s jaw when he turns his head just slightly. His breath is warm and calm against Jinyoung’s neck in a way that makes a butterfly war break out in his stomach; his hands turn to anxious fists on the counter at the edge of the sink as Jaebum cuddles him quietly from behind.

“You smell good,” he murmurs, and Jinyoung’s heart drops into his stomach and rapidly rises back to his throat when he feels Jaebum’s lips on the skin of his cheek right in front of his earlobe. The kiss is soft, lips warm, his voice buttery and gentle where it slips tacitly into Jinyoung’s head. Jaebum’s chest and stomach are pressed against his back, radiating warmth. Jinyoung’s skin prickles and his heart begins to beat a wild rhythm at the tender affection that Im Jaebum is showing him in his apartment.

The figurative rug is started to get pulled out from underneath his feet again. He can feel the tugging of it, sliding, slowly tilting him off balance as though the room could spin on its own axis separate from that of the earth. The lingering of Jaebum’s lips on his cheek and jaw feels too surreal, some sort of backward bizzaro world that Jinyoung had fallen into by mistake. His eyes blink over and over as though he’s trying to convince himself that this is all some thousand year dream; the type of dream where a whole live is lived and then just as you die you wake up to the bland, stark reality of the present. There could be no way that Im Jaebum could feel this way about him, though he’s not sure what exactly he would label the feeling as. Something stronger than lust. A watered down love.

Jinyoung almost chokes. He had promised himself he wouldn’t do this again, and so he won’t. Despite the fluttering in the hollowed out pit of his chest and stomach, he grabs Jaebum’s arms to move them from his hips enough that he can turn around in them. He swallows roughly as he turns, sliding both arms around Jaebum’s neck, one out straight while the other stays bent so that his fingertips can stay close to the hair at the back of his neck. Jaebum’s arms tighten and his eyes never stray when Jinyoung’s meet his.

“Ahjussi,” he breathes, unsure himself at what emotion lies layered inside the word as he angles his head and gently pulls Jaebum down for a kiss.

His eyes slip closed as Jaebum’s lips brush his and then away. It’s unlike their other kisses so far in that it’s soft, too sweet; sugar saccharine on his tongue as Jaebum kisses him again with a little more pressure and doesn’t pull away. Jaebum kisses him again, and again, each time a little harder than the last until he lingers and slowly runs a tongue along the seam of Jinyoung’s lips, asking for permission. The hand in Jaebum’s hair tightens as he lets Jaebum parts his lips and lick into his mouth; Jaebum’s arms tighten around his waist until Jinyoung’s back is draped over them and Jaebum has to bend down to lick behind his teeth.

Jinyoung’s breath stutters in his chest as Jaebum kisses him deep and sweet at the sink, arms never leaving, hands never straying as though he’s enjoying just the contact of their mouths as their tongues slide and lips connect. This, too, is too romantic, too gentle for his fragile heart. Jaebum’s rhythm never changes, keeping the slow pace of their kisses while Jinyoung’s ribs threaten to shatter with the rapid beating from within.

He tries to change the wordless subject by slipping one hand down to Jaebum’s neck, letting his fingers linger along the line of it in a way that makes Jaebum stutter in his rhythm to breathe unevenly into his mouth for a moment before the kissing continues. The fingers on Jaebum’s throat slide down, blindly feeling for the top button at the base of his neck and popping it quickly. Jaebum makes a quiet noise, tongue in Jinyoung’s mouth, one arm twitching at his hip as he slides down to pop the next button.

“Jinyoung,” Jaebum murmurs against his lips, not moving away, but one arm loosening as Jinyoung continues down the line to slide the third button free from the hole. He’s working on the fourth when Jaebum’s arm moves, his hand coming up to grip Jinyoung’s wrist and gently pull it away from the buttons of his shirt. He breaks the kiss, bottom lip wet in the pale orange light above the stove and a little swollen. He licks it, still holding Jinyoung around the waist and his wrist in his other hand.

“What’s wrong, ahjussi?” he says, wincing internally when he realizes how breathless he sounds. He slides his wrist out of Jaebum’s grip easily to resume unbuttoning his shirt, but Jaebum grabs his wrist again and pulls it away. Hurt, Jinyoung pulls his arm off Jaebum’s shoulder and drops it to his side. “Do you not want me?”

“That’s not it,” he says, and Jinyoung has a hard time maintaining eye contact when Jaebum’s looking at him like this. The onyx black of his eyes is almost hidden by his half closed eyelids, watching him from underneath his eyelashes with an emotion in them deep like the outer reaches of space that they resemble. “You know that’s not why.”

“Then why can’t I?” he nearly whines, lifting his free hand now to try and undo the buttons, but his left hand isn’t dominate and too clumsy to get it through the hole before Jaebum grabs that wrist, too.

“I just want to kiss you,” Jaebum says, holding Jinyoung’s hands down at his sides. “That’s all tonight. I just want to kiss you.”

“C’mon, ahjussi,” he purrs, but it sounds weak even to himself. “I know you want more than that.”

“Jinyoung, don’t––”

“We can go to my bedroom,” he says, breathless, an ache starting up in his chest already at the way Jaebum’s face starts to close off.

“Is it not enough?” Jaebum asks, letting go of Jinyoung’s wrists and stepping back out of reach. A shaky hand runs through his hair, not bothering to redo the buttons Jinyoung had undone and Jinyoung tries to let the peek of his exposed chest distract him from the emotions threatening to choke him up. “Is it not enough that I just want to kiss you tonight?”

“I just––”

“Is it not enough that I wanted to hold you? Kiss you? End the night with something sweet instead of me inside you and f*cking you just to hear you say my name?”

Jinyoung’s stomach turns to lead at the frustration radiating off Jaebum’s stiff shoulders. Both hands find his hair now, running through and tugging a bit before he lets his hands drop to his hips.

“I know I told you that if you just wanted sex that’s fine, but you can only want sex. You can’t––you can’t––” he makes a noise of desperation, obviously angry at Jinyoung and even, it seems, at himself. He explodes, “you can’t invite me in and make dinner for me and ask me questions like you’re trying to get to know me and then only want the sex, Jinyoung. It’s not fair.”

“I never said that––”

“You don’t have to say it!” he says bitingly, not loud enough to be a shout but close. “Is this because of your ex, Jinyoung? Did you only do this because you’re feeling messed up about seeing your ex?”

“No!” he shouts, because it isn’t; in fact, he’d barely even thought of Hakyeon since they’d arrive, totally swept up in a different kind of storm that Jaebum had created. “Ahjussi, it’s not––!”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Jaebum says tiredly, rubbing one eye and buttoning his shirt back up with the other.

“That’s not fair, either,” Jinyoung spits, face reddening and getting angry. “You can’t just assume and then not believe me when I tell you that you’re wrong.”

“Then tell me I’m wrong, Jinyoung, tell me this doesn’t have anything to do with your ex.”

“It doesn’t!” he practically shouts, wanting to tear out his own hair now. “He has nothing to do with this!”

“So he doesn’t have anything to do with you being too scared to do anything romantic with me? Huh? He doesn’t have anything to do with you insisting that everything we do together isn’t a date? Your ex has no influence in you trying to initiate sex with me when all I want is to be close to you?”

Jaebum’s chest is heaving, breathing unsteady as his voice rises with each sentence in his tirade. The silence grows between them when it’s over, Jinyoung feeling stunned that Jaebum could have him pegged so easily; every insecurity he’s ever had about getting close to Jaebum is because of Hakyeon and despite knowing little to nothing about what happened in their relationship, Jaebum already has him pinned like a butterfly to a mounting board. Seeing the closed off look on Jaebum’s face makes him ache.

“Why do you care so much?” Jinyoung finally asks, voice shaky, unsure if he actually wants to hear the answer if there is one. Jaebum just looks at him, dumbfounded as though he can barely believe Jinyoung would ask him a question so stupid.

“Because, Jinyoung, I––”

“You what?” he asks hotly, getting worked up, realizing that he really is afraid of the answer and doesn’t want to hear it, after all, so he won’t allow him the opportunity to give it. “You what, ahjussi? You what?”

Jaebum’s shoulders drop. He looks defeated as he says, “I’m done. Forget it. I’m not going to argue with you about this.”

“You can’t do that!” Jinyoung says, panic stabbing at his chest when Jaebum turns and walks out of the kitchen to head for the door. Jinyoung stands in the doorway, watching Jaebum put his shoes back on and grab his keys from his pocket and feeling flooded with the fear that this is really it, that Jaebum won’t ever call him again or won’t pick up. “You can’t just leave like that!”

“Goodbye, Jinyoung,” he says without looking at him, and slams Jinyoung’s front door behind him when he goes.

His apartment feels too quiet after that. The slamming of the door echoes faintly, ringing in his ears as he trails aimlessly back into the kitchen to stand over the sink and catch his breath. He almost can’t believe they’re fighting for real. There’s not even a relationship involved, it shouldn’t matter that Jaebum just walked out on him, it never been anything but the sex, right? The hanging out and spending time together was just part of fulfilling his side of the deal; he realizes this makes him out to be an industry standard sugar baby but with the image of the expressionless look on Jaebum’s face before he’d left haunting the edges of his brain he finds he can’t bring himself to dwell on it now.

Jinyoung is about to go take a scalding hot shower when there’s a light knocking on his door. His heartbeat speeds up, turning quickly and hesitation: did Jaebum come back already? There’s a funny feeling in his chest that he’d call hope if it was a different situation. He finally decides to answer it, hurrying over and throwing the lock.

“Ahjussi, listen––”

A hand appears on the door, pushing it open as though Jinyoung is doing it too slowly. Jinyoung’s eyes widen as he takes in the familiar tan suit, one hand hidden in the pocket while a devilish smile slowly curls the corner of an awfully familiar mouth. His body flashes cold at the recognition, suddenly less than a foot away from the last person he’d ever want to see. Even his cologne smells the same; it’s like he’d stepped out of a time machine right here on Jinyoung’s doorstep to pin him down with coal black eyes.

Hakyeon smiles. “Jinyoungie, who are you callin’ ‘ahjussi’?”

Chapter 7: shadow of heaven

Notes:

sorry it took so long ㅠㅠ here u go! updated tags also~

Chapter Text

Jinyoung is stunned into silence at the appearance of Hakyeon on his doorstep. It had been enough of a shock to see him earlier from across the room and watch him choke and stumble over his words like Jinyoung still had some kind of effect on him. Seeing him here, now, arrived on Jinyoung’s doorstep without invitation makes his blood run cold. He finds himself wishing that Jaebum hadn’t left as one of Hakyeon’s dark eyebrow raises, hand still on the door.

“Well, are you going to let me in?”

He wants to say no. He should say no. But feeling swirls through him like a hurricane, picking everything up and putting it back down where it doesn’t belong only to sweep it back up again in the whirlwind. His lips still tingle from Jaebum’s kiss and his fingertips twitch with the desire to run them back down Jaebum’s throat mixed with the desire to curl them into a fist and send it into Hakyeon’s smug face. Instead he just numbly steps aside, blinking slow like he’s in a dream.

As Hakyeon passes, their shoulders brush and it burns like acid; it’s nothing like the fiery feeling that Jaebum’s quick touches bring and Jinyoung swallows. He watches Hakyeon look around his living room with his hands in his pockets much as Jaebum had done earlier and is astounded by just how different it is. Hakyeon’s body language is such a contrast to Jaebum’s: Jaebum had looked around with relaxed interest, breathing slow, taking things in and gently touching the paperbacks on his table as though he could, in some way, absorb Jinyoung’s thoughts and feelings through the pages. It had been a quiet sort of observing, but even just the image of Hakyeon standing here in his living room and looking bored already has him juxtaposing the image of Jaebum’s broad shoulders over the top of him.

“Wanna hear something crazy?” he asks, but it’s rhetorical. Much like the way he’d asked questions in their relationship, it didn’t matter if he didn’t want to hear it or not, because he was going to anyway. He takes a hand out of his pocket to jerk a thumb toward the door. “I ran into Im Jaebum on the stairwell.”

Jinyoung’s heart takes a dive, and it unfreezes him long enough to finally speak. “You did?”

“Yeah! Crazy, huh? He looked f*cking miserable!” Hakyeon laughs, utterly typical that he’d find some kind of joy in someone else’s suffering. “I wonder who lives here that could upset him that much. It’s not like this is the nicest part of town. Maybe he had a bad experience with a prostitute.”

Hakyeon shrugs when Jinyoung doesn’t answer. He also turns away, not noticing that Jinyoung’s face pales at the word prostitute. I wonder what he’d have to say if he knew that “prostitute” was me.

Clearing his throat a little, he finds a bit of the anger he had felt earlier and draws on it, trying to make it bigger in order to give him the energy to fuel this interaction. Along with their mannerisms, it's blatantly obvious how different they are in the way that they make Jinyoung feel. Jaebum makes Jinyoung feel unsteady, nervous, a little afraid; Hakyeon just makes him angry. He remembers that Hakyeon had made him feel the way Jaebum does once and, for a moment, he considers the possibility of them ending up here someday, arguing in Jinyoung’s apartment with hate burning like a beacon inside his heart. He pushes the thought away, though, not willing to lose the fight so easily when Hakyeon is still standing in his living room with his shoulders back like a king.

“What do you want, Hakyeon?”

Hakyeon looks over his shoulder where he’d been admiring a framed poem he’d ripped from a book some years ago. “Ouch. Not even going to be respectful? What happened to hyung?”

Jinyoung grits his teeth as his attitude fans the flames all on its own. Two years have passed and yet he still acts like a modern day King Midas. “What do you want, Hakyeon-ssi?”

The older man makes a hissing sound through his teeth in mock hurt. “Really, Jinyoungie, ouch. What’s with all the formalities?”

He rolls his eyes. “Answer the question.”

“I can't want to just see you and say hi? Especially after you managed to dodge me at the celebration today? Which, by the way, why didn't you come say hi?”

It's so insincere that Jinyoung can practically feel the fakeness of it with his fingers. “No,” he spits, and avoids the question. He's not really sure if Hakyeon is ready to hear the answer when he can barely reign himself in after not being called hyung.

Hakyeon sighs, sounding exasperated. It's a wonder that they'd managed to ever be together for such a long time. The first year and a half was all honeymoon stage, of course; the decline only came when Hakyeon felt secure enough to drop the act. What he hadn't expected, however, is that Jinyoung would eventually come to have little tolerance for the real him. That same intolerance floods him now, extending into his arms and legs like the tingling desire to start a fist fight.

“Okay. Fine. I just got a new position at the university and I wanted to see how your poetry was coming along. You know, just check in like old times.”

Jinyoung could puke. “Is that really why you're here?”

“Yes!” Hakyeon says indignantly, finally getting frustrated. He pulls his hands from his pockets to place them impatiently on his hips in a startling mirror of Jaebum.

It's bullsh*t, though, and Jinyoung knows it. Hakyeon had pretended to care about Jinyoung’s writing for long enough to get his clothes off, and then it was just an afterthought. Almost everything that had to do with Jinyoung that wasn't his body was an afterthought for him. Hakyeon never actually cared about the poetry he wrote; he had even laughed once when, after sex, Jinyoung had told him he'd wanted to publish a book of poetry some day. In that condescending tone of his Jinyoung came to know so well, he had said, you'll need to get better first. For now, just stick to what you're good at and had rolled on top of him for another go.

The memory makes Jinyoung feel sick and angry. It was stupid to let Hakyeon in; he regrets letting his emotions get the better of him long enough to let his guard down. This has always been his problem, though, and Hakyeon seems to know it. Jinyoung, a much different man than he'd been from the ages of twenty to twenty-two, has to chastise himself lightly when he finds himself wishing that Jaebum would come waltzing back through the door and save him from the confrontation currently unfolding.

You don't need a man to save you, he tells himself, and snuffs out with metaphorical wet fingers the tiny candle flame of hope burning under his heart. Especially not one who gives you money after sleeping with him.

“I don't believe you,” Jinyoung says finally, giving up. “Tell me what you’re really here for, or get out."

Hakyeon sighs, the frustration melting into….something else. Had it been another person Jinyoung maybe would have called it defeat, but he knows his game and the defeat is either faked or it doesn’t exist at all. There is insincerity etched into every line of his face and hands and folded into the creases of his tan suit. Maybe this could be over sooner if Hakyeon would just give up the ghost and admit he only came here because he wants to f*ck.

“I just wanted to see you. Alright? Is that good enough?”

Is it not enough?

Jinyoung swallows. “Well, you saw me. You can leave now.”

“Jinyoung…” he trails off looking, for the first time, a little lost. Jinyoung is wary of the act but it’s not very often he’s ever seen the poetry professor at a loss for words. “I’ve just been thinking about you lately, and I’ve missed you––”

Suddenly it’s too much. He’s been hearing Jaebum’s disembodied voice in his head since he’d slammed the door shut in his face, and layered underneath the bullsh*t spewing from Hakyeon’s mouth right now just feels like he’s getting yanked under by the riptide. Jinyoung closes his eyes and puts his hands up, waving them slightly when Hakyeon sputters and tries to speak when Jinyoung interrupts him with a frustrated noise. He can’t do it. He had thought he’d be strong enough to handle this conversation but in the wake of Jaebum’s anger throwing him off more than it should have, he feels like a twig stood upright and bent to the point of snapping. Everything just seems to be happening wrong place, wrong time.

“Stop. Just stop it. Alright? We’re not having this conversation right now.”

“But Jinyoung––”

Interrupting again, his voice hardens to convey how pissed off he’s getting. “It’s late,” he says through his teeth, noting when he turns to glance at the clock that it’s nearing 11pm. Jaebum had been here both longer and shorter than he’d thought. “Can we talk about this later?”

Jaebum’s voice in his head, can we talk about this later, Jinyoung?

He grinds his teeth harder against the intrusion and ushers a flustered Hakyeon to the door. The older doesn’t say anything, seemingly caught off guard by Jinyoung being domineering and forceful for once instead of the meek and submissive boy he’s used to. Jinyoung’s hand feels too warm against the center of Hakyeon’s back where he lays it to push him through the doorway.

“Jinyoung, will you just listen for a minute?” he asks, practically on the verge of begging where he leans against the wall outside the door trying to put his shoes back on.

“No,” he snaps, pulling his head back into his apartment and slamming the door shut on anything else Hakyeon had to say.

His heart begins to thump uncomfortably in his chest as the situation comes crashing down on him. Back to the door, he listens to Hakyeon mutter to himself right outside for a couple of minutes, a few thuds here and there as his elbows and shoulders hit the wall while he's trying to force his shoes back on. Jinyoung should walk away now, go back into the kitchen and finish the dishes before getting into bed and forgetting that this night ever happened. Another thing that his prolonged affair with Hakyeon had taught him is the act of compartmentalizing; he takes the things he would rather not remember and locks them in a box never to be reopened or examined. Except, of course, for a romantic like Jinyoung, his emotions have a mind of their own and they never stay dead and buried for long.

The thudding and muttering stops. Jinyoung is about to take a deep breath and let it out in relief when he hears Hakyeon lean against his apartment door.

“Jinyoung-ah,” he says, muffled a bit through the heavy, old wood but the emotion comes through loud and clear; he sounds tired, voice deep and sticky like a honey trap. Jinyoung tries to ignore the weird tingling feeling it dredges up in his stomach. “Why won't you just listen? You never listened.”

He could walk away. He could walk away from the door and go about his nightly routine without ever answering, and their interaction after two years of nothing could end right here, right now. Jinyoung owes him nothing, and he knows he owes him nothing. He thinks of the loneliness that has enveloped the last two years of his life like the sheet over a corpse and wonders if he was destined for this, for a life of back and forth and missed chances and older men that don't love him and never will. Jinyoung closes his eyes and rests his head on the door while the image of Jaebum circumvents that of Hakyeon standing in his living room and lets that watery feeling return to his knees if only to remind him why this is happening.

“Go home, Hakyeon-ssi,” he says, loudly enough to be heard through the door.

“At least go to lunch with me,” Hakyeon practically begs; Jinyoung can picture with perfect clarity the way Hakyeon is likely resting his forehead on the door with his eyes closed.

His stomach twists at the idea of it. It twists further when the next thought that comes is what would Jaebum think of that? It is unbidden and unwelcome. Jinyoung shouldn't care what Jaebum would say about him getting lunch with another man. Jaebum takes him on nice dates and pays him to have sex with him, whether in actual money or expensive favors. Jaebum’s emotional outburst when Jinyoung had tried to deflect his sweetness into sex is coming from somewhere else—stress at work, general frustration. Somewhere, somewhere. Not from real affection.

“Loneliness does strange things to people,” he murmurs, glad that Hakyeon didn't hear him when he realizes he'd said it aloud.

Louder, Jinyoung says, “we'll see.” It's a better answer than a flat out no but isn't exactly a yes, either. “Just go home, Hakyeon.”

“Did your number change? I can call you…”

For a moment, Jinyoung considers lying, but much as it had the night Jaebum had showed up at the restaurant demanding to know if he was the same guy who dumped coffee all over him, the truth slips out before he can catch it.

“No.”

It goes quiet, then. He can sense Hakyeon lingering as though he’s going to knock on the door again and make Jinyoung listen like he had when they were together. They both breathe quietly on their sides of the door, Jinyoung waiting with bated breath for the knocking and the lowered, fake plea in his voice. He doesn’t do it, though. The silence in the hallway outside returns when Hakyeon’s steps fade and he’s alone again.

f*ck. What just happened? From the time Jaebum slammed out of his apartment and Hakyeon showed up then left again, it had only been about fifteen, twenty minutes. His argument with Hakyeon was surprisingly short: Jinyoung is a bit proud of himself, underneath everything else, that he has reached the point where Hakyeon’s bullsh*t no longer fazes him. Had this happened a year ago, or maybe even a couple of months ago, maybe he would have let him hang around and listened; it’s a testament to just how rough their breakup had been that Jinyoung has little patience for a man he once loved. As he pushes himself off the door and tries to calm the unsteady beating of his heart he thinks that it’s quite easy to be hateful when you discover the first love you’d known was just a sham.

While he roughly brushes his teeth and glares at himself in the mirror he thinks about how it’s a testament to Hakyeon changing, too, in the two years they’ve been apart. He had put up surprisingly little fight in comparison to what he would have done when they were still together. Had this been two years before, it would have dissolved into a screaming match that ended in tears and slammed doors and unanswered texts. His hand jerks, turning the sink on full blast and splashing water out of the basin onto his shirt, when he realizes with a sudden intensity that his fight with Jaebum hadn’t been entirely dissimilar. Jinyoung hadn’t shed any tears like he once would have, but an old wound was dug up with frantic claws and fresh blood oozed into the new grooves. His heart feels awfully small when he crawls miserably into bed and squints into the bright light of his phone screen.

To: Im Jaebum (??) 11:19 PM
Ahjussi. Will you call me? I want to talk…

Jinyoung’s hands shake surprisingly little when he hits send and he sees the tiny word DELIVERED underneath the text. He stares at his message for so long that the words begin to fade until it blurs into a blue film over his eyes. It darkens into the navy of Jaebum’s shirt the night they’d met at the bar and then to black as his eyes slip closed and stay, falling asleep with his phone in his hand and waiting for Jaebum’s reply. The screen dims and then goes dark, dropping quietly from Jinyoung’s loosened fingers while his eyebrows dip in the first fold of a bad dream. His cellphone lays face up near his hand on the bed, just within reach if Jaebum decides to call.

_________________

To: Im Jaebum (??) 11:19 PM
Ahjussi. Will you call me? I want to talk…

Jinyoung’s bleary eyes blink into the brightness when he unlocks his phone and their text thread opens, little charming bubbles of blues and greys. Half asleep, he checks the time and sees he’s been out for nearly 6 hours; the sun is edging toward the horizon line but his room remains blissfully dark behind the curtains. He looks at his sent message and his heart takes a neat dive into his stomach.

Read 2:47 AM.

_________________

Days pass by in the rush of routine: work, sleep, eat, repeat. With the summer winding down the heat is unbearable sometimes, and the restaurant is busier than ever with people seeking refuge inside its cool, dark walls. Jinyoung nearly works himself to death, picking up shifts that people offer up and staying late on his own despite not being needed. He can feel it in the stares on his back as he’s working that his coworkers and friends are conspiring about what’s wrong with him but so far none of them have been brave enough to ask. He’s not sure what he’d say, anyway. Im Jaebum left me high and dry after having some sort of weird emotional outburst in my apartment when I tried to have sex with him?

No one, except Jackson, even knows about his...whatever it is with Jaebum; as far as they know, he spilled coffee on Jaebum once and then had to be his waiter for the night. Some of them might know about their kiss at the club through rumors or spilled secrets but it’s not quite common knowledge and the extent of it stops there, anyway. Only Jackson knows about them having sex and even still he doesn’t know the whole story yet. At this rate, Jinyoung isn’t sure he ever will. Since Jaebum had left his text message on read four days ago, he isn’t entirely sure that he’ll ever hear from him again.

He pretends the idea doesn’t make him sick to his stomach, but it does and he hates it.

Someone taps his shoulder. He turns to see Mark standing with his apron rolled up like an old man’s shirt and slung around his neck while an unlit cigarette hangs out of his mouth. He smiles gently.

“You look like you could use a smoke.”

Jinyoung laughs quietly, crossing his arms. “What makes you say that?”

Marks nods at him. “I can practically see the tension in your shoulders, Jinyoungie. Do you want to talk about it?”

He shrugs, feigning disinterest. “It's not a big deal.”

With a scoff, Mark shakes the pack in his direction so that the column of one cigarette sticks up out of the teal and white box. “C’mon. We don't have to discuss it, but at least come take a breather. I feel like you haven't left the restaurant once in an entire week.”

It's only been four days but Jinyoung doesn't correct his exaggeration. The corner of his mouth curls in and then drops, gently pushing Mark’s cigarettes back at him. “You know I don't smoke, but I'll come keep you company.”

Mark nods and slips the box back into the pocket of his loose jeans. He leads Jinyoung out of the back door of the kitchen, into the alleyway behind the restaurant and stepping away to the wall of the opposite building. The night is heady and damp, humidity sticking his shirt to his back like a second skin in just a few minutes. There's a light breeze on the air that whispers the promise of colder days to come, but it dies out and lets the sweat collect at the dip of Jinyoung’s throat. He leans against the wall right next to the back door while Mark puts a foot up on the brick and cups a hand over his cigarette to light it.

Taking a drag, Mark squints his handsome eyes at him. He blows out the smoke and crosses his arms to talk around it where it dangles from the corner of his mouth. “What's the matter, Jinyoungie? You've barely been yourself lately.”

He sighs, focusing on the cherry glowing like a little red beacon in the shadowed dark of the alley. Mark is sidelit in weak orange by the watery light attached to the top of the building. He's attractive for sure, almost heartbreakingly so; the slope of his nose is strong and handsome leading down to lips that curl into a sweet smile. Jinyoung never cared much for his own stubble but it looks amazing on Mark: it doesn't connect quite like a full beard would, but the dotted dark of incoming facial hair looks almost tantalizing in the light. Top it all off with thick eyebrows over those gorgeous dark eyes of his and Mark is easily one of the most handsome guys he's ever seen. He just wishes that his heart could still feel it as much as he had once.

“Why’re you looking at me like that?” Mark asks with a smirk, looking over the fact that Jinyoung had avoided the question just to stare at him instead.

“You're really handsome, hyung,” he says for some reason. Mark laughs and Jinyoung cringes a bit at how forlorn it sounds.

“What, you wanna kiss me or somethin’?” he says in English, flat and almost unaccented unlike the way his Korean is.

“I used to,” Jinyoung says back, confident and quick. It's not often that they talk to each other in English; sometimes it feels like Mark switches to it just to test him a little. He always gives a little self satisfied smirk when Jinyoung replies with his heavy, deep accent.

“Not now?”

Jinyoung sighs and looks away, up into the orange bulb spreading like white noise into the dark of the alley and the damp heat of the night. “No,” he replies in Korean, giving Mark the hint that he's not in the mood for spontaneous tests today. “Not lately.”

“Because of someone else, huh?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Not really,” Mark says, taking another drag and looking down at the rough pavement under their feet. “Maybe not to them, but after what happened at the catering, and then you acting suspicious when you came to get your stuff from the restaurant, and now how you’ve been here almost 24 hours a day for the past 4 days?”

He shrugs and continues, “it’s obvious something happened. Was it because of your ex?”

Jinyoung’s stomach drops. He had thought he was being a little inconspicuous the day Jaebum had taken him home from the hotel when he’d been abandoned by the restaurant staff, but apparently not. He had also told Mark that he didn’t really want to talk about it and yet here he is, literally and figuratively backed against a wall. Jinyoung watches Mark watch him from across the alleyway and wonders if it would have easier for him to chase Mark; that maybe it would be easier to have a crush on someone humble and soft like him instead of feeling whatever way he feels about the comminute Im Jaebum. He wonders distastefully if Mark could be the distraction he so badly needs from the hurricane constantly beating at his chest.

“Would you still kiss me if I asked?” Jinyoung blurts out, grateful for the ugly lighting that hides the blush that fills his face. It’s another blatant dodging of the question that Mark kindly disregards.

He laughs, though, shaking his head fondly at Jinyoung as he puts out the burning stub of his cigarette against the flat bottom of his sneaker. His dishwater blond hair looks like pale straw and Jinyoung aches to tug on it as if it would draw out a feeling he knows he no longer possesses.

“I thought you said you don’t think about kissing me anymore.”

Jinyoung swallows, confronted with his own double talk. He hates the weakness in his knees and mouth. He had been so self-assured before; when pushed he had pushed back. How could one person come in so softly like a thief and shake him so? His brain titters restlessly on and his fingers and mouth itch for a distraction, any distraction, even one he knows is only temporary.

“Maybe I changed my mind.”

Mark snorts but straightens and unfolds the apron from around his neck. He keeps his dark eyes on Jinyoung as it unrolls, slipping it back over his head and stepping away from the wall to tie it behind his back. The look on his face is mostly serious but there’s the tiniest of lines at the corners of his mouth that give him away. “You’re one of those hot and cold types, huh?”

He wants to protest somehow. I’m not a hot and cold type, he wants to say, arms folded in a childish gesture of disagreement but he never gets the chance. Mark says something like if it will make you happy under his breath before he’s closing the distance between them in the alley and grabbing his chin to hold him still.

He makes the quietest of surprised noises when Mark leans in, soft lips brushing across his to test his reaction. His heart jumps and his hands come up to Mark’s elbows when he brushes across them again; Jinyoung lets his eyes slip closed and his fingers tighten as Mark kisses him a little harder. Jinyoung waits patiently for the spark that doesn’t come when Mark parts his lips with his own and licks questioningly into his mouth. When his tongue slides against his own, warm and wet and exploring, Jinyoung’s heart drops out of his chest and into his stomach where it sits like hardening cement. There's no fireworks, no grand reaction. There’s not even the hint of the feeling that had arisen in his stomach such as the one that he’d had when Jaebum first kissed him drunk at the club. Mark’s a great kisser but it just feels wrong somehow––he’s imagining another pair of lips, thick bottom lip still plump with baby fat after all these years, and a perfect row of small, straight teeth scraping against his jaw. He’s thinking of Jaebum, of course, and the lack of recognition his heart seems to have that he’s kissing Mark Tuan in an alleyway behind the restaurant makes him feel foolish and guilty.

Shyly he pulls away, wiping a sleeve across his face while Mark just leans back and licks his lips. Jinyoung’s mouth tastes faintly of cheap menthols, and he doesn’t mind it so much as he’s just finding himself missing the sharp minty tang of Jaebum’s tongue. Mark runs a hand through his long hair and laughs, unfazed by the kiss much like Jinyoung is. Jinyoung finds himself being slightly envious of his cool demeanor; Jinyoung, despite his other traits, is quite good at making himself out to be a bit of a court jester.

“No good, huh?” Mark asks, digging a playful elbow into Jinyoung’s side.

He scoots away and sighs, still blushing slightly. “It’s not that. You’re a good kisser. It’s just…”

“You’re thinking of someone else?”

He nods, suddenly startled by the vibrating of his phone in his pocket. Reaching for it, he tries not to express his frustration with himself and says, “I just didn’t, you know. Feel anything. And yeah, I was thinking…”

“About your ex?”

“No! No, no,” he says, barely glancing down at his phone in his hand before he swipes it across to answer it. “Someone else.”

Mark pulls open the door to go back into the kitchen, grin on his face. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. Whoever it is, though, they’re lucky they get to kiss those lips, Jinyoungie.”

Laughing slightly, he holds the phone to his ear with a shoulder while he playfully shoves Mark through the door with one hand. “Hello?”

“Who was that?”

If it were possible to feel ice through the earpiece of the phone, Jinyoung thinks he would have an icicle jammed right into his brain. His whole body flushes cold at the sound of Jaebum’s stringent voice on the other end. He grips his phone tightly in his hand and collapses back against the brick in naked surprise.

“Ahjussi?”

Jaebum just makes a noise, too quietly for Jinyoung to pin down what emotion it might have come from. His heart beats uncomfortably hard, almost loud enough in his ears that he can no longer hear the rushing sound of traffic at the mouth of the alley. Sweat unrelated to that of the oppressive heat of the night breaks out along the back of his neck and drips down his spine with a shiver of anxiety. It’s been four, nearly five days since they’ve spoken; Jaebum had left his text message read and unanswered and from there it had felt that each passing day was another nail in the coffin of their affair. It feels foreign to him, scary, that he should feel such overwhelming relief to hear Jaebum’s voice reaching out to him.

“Who was that?” he asks again, more demanding this time. The harsh tone of his voice makes the anxiety pull Jinyoung’s chest tighter, hooks dug into the skin that prickle and burn.

“It was a coworker,” he says, and tries to change the subject. “Ahjussi, I’ve been wanting to talk to you for days––”

Jaebum cuts him off, voice raised slightly and sharp like a frozen knifeblade. “Come over. I want to talk.”

“Ahjussi––”

Click.

The line goes dead before he has the chance to finish. Jinyoung stands in the alleyway looking at his phone in his palm with a detached wonderment like a fish he’d caught with bare hands. The screen dims and then goes black, showing him the reflection of his flushed face dewy with sweat and his damp hair stuck to his temples. He looks, funnily enough, as though the hurricane of his heart had swept across his body on the outside, too: he looks simultaneously miserable and elated, finally soothed that Jaebum had called but sweating and anxious. The prospect of a stern talk ending in the severance of whatever it is they have hangs over his head like the blade of a guillotine.

Swallowing his anxiety, he pulls open the heavy metal back door to the kitchen and steps back inside. Mark’s kiss has all but faded from his mind; it bounces around with everything else, not really here nor there under the weight of his impending, Jaebum-related doom. Jinyoung unsteadily pulls the tiny string of his apron to untie it, seeking out Park Jinyoung sunbaenim where he’s standing with his hands folded near the hosts stand.

“Park Jinyoung sunbaenim?” he asks quietly, slipping his apron from around his waist and trying not to wring it nervously in his hands like a worried cartoon mother.

Park Jinyoung the senior jumps, hand to his heart. “Oh, Jinyoungie, you scared me. What can I do for you?”

He looks at the floor, embarrassed to be asking if he can leave early, but knowing that his dedication and consistent good behaviour will let him easily off the hook. “I just got a really important phone call. Would it be alright if I left my shift for the night? I can try to call a replacement––”

The owner shakes his head and waves his hands animatedly. “No, no! It’s alright, you don’t need a replacement.” He jerks his head toward the dining area behind them, largely empty save for a handful of tables. “It’s quite slow tonight, isn’t it? It sounds like an emergency.”

He feels like laughing and throwing up at the same time. Sure, if me possibly losing my outlet for amazing sex constitutes an emergency then yes, it’s an emergency. He doesn’t say this, of course. Jinyoung just nods his head and twists the fabric of his apron, anyway.

Park Jinyoung senior flaps his hands in the direction of the door while making a face so similar to the one his real father makes that it almost makes him laugh. Jinyoung gives him a polite bow and a muttered thanks before rushing into the locker room to gather his things. He hesitates in front of his locker, unsure whether he should change back into his street clothes and ride his bike home to leave from there or just take his chances and show up in his uniform. His uniform is certainly nicer; the clothes he'd biked to work in consisted of the same old, nearly worn denim shorts he'd worn when they'd went to lunch and f*cked in the car and a long sleeved t-shirt. It occurs to him that if Jaebum had ever commented on the way he dresses he can’t recall it, and there’s something about the idea of him showing up to Jaebum’s apartment with his tight fitting black slacks and white button-up shirt that appeals to him. After some deliberation he decides to take his chances and leave his bike at the restaurant while shoving his clothes and wallet into his messenger bag on his way out the front door.

He pulls out his phone to call a cab when the driver’s side door of a black car parked on the curb right in front of him opens and shuts. A moment later a tiny, stooped old man is coming around the back of the car and tipping back the hat he’s wearing on his head, squinting at Jinyoung in the dark until his eyes are almost closed.

“Are you Park Jinyoung?” he asks with a wheeze, readjusting his hat and planting his age-gnarled hands on his hips.

“Oh, um, yes,” he stutters awkwardly, surprised that Jaebum would have called him a car when he sounded so angry on the phone. The old man just grunts in his direction and hobbles back to the driver’s side without another word; the command get in is implied in every wincing step.

Sighing, Jinyoung slips his phone back into his pocket and climbs into the back seat. It’s similar to the car Jaebum had picked him up in that day but smaller, and there’s no partition separating him from the driver. Once Jinyoung is buckled in behind the passenger seat, he glances up when he feels the old man’s eyes on him as they pull into traffic. He doesn’t say anything, though, just making that same grunting sound like distaste in his throat and looking away to watch the road.

After a while of watching the city pass by in muted colors through the tinted window, he closes his eyes and leans his forehead against it. The running of the air conditioner in the front seat drowns out some of the road noise and he lets his thoughts wander as he subconsciously twists the strap of his bag between his nervous fingers.

Jinyoung dwells on their fight, aware that it’s what Jaebum wants to talk about. He grinds his teeth as he thinks about Jaebum coming up behind him and wrapping his arms around his waist, just to be close to him, nose to the bottom of his jaw. Could Jaebum really want that from him? So soon? When Jinyoung had tried to steer him away from it and turn it into something sexual, Jaebum had gotten frustrated with him. It hadn’t seem faked, either, the way Hakyeon’s might have; it seemed genuine, as though he was searching for a comfort in Jinyoung and was disappointed when it was deflected. He opens his eyes to the oscillating orange of the streetlamps near Jaebum’s neighborhood when he thinks about Jaebum wanting something from him that he isn’t sure that he can give, blinking into the light but not really seeing it. Jinyoung’s heart contracts at the thought that Jaebum could be so lonely that he would seek out the comfort of a lover that he barely knows and find it so quickly and be so concrete in his determination to have it.

Surprised and confused as he is by the revelation, he finds himself understanding it, too: is he not himself lonely? Is he not also chasing the unrealistic shirttail of romance’s ghost around the sharp corners of Jaebum’s face? He had told himself from the beginning that there was to be no love found in the arms of older men, not ever again. And for two years that worked; he didn’t sleep with anyone, didn’t meet anybody interesting. It had been two long, uneventful years until that day he had spilled an entire cup of coffee on Im Jaebum, and if he was a different person maybe he would have an easier time believing that their subsequent meetings had been, in some way, written into the stars. While his mother had always been overtly superstitious, he has never been, and the idea of fate is foreign to him. Despite it, though, he can hear his mother’s voice imploring him to look at their chance meeting after chance meeting and the spark that had ignited somewhere deep inside his stomach the first time they’d kissed.

Jinyoung doesn’t much believe in fate or the aligning of planets but he finds himself drawn to and intrigued by the idea of it.

Despite, despite.

Before he can chase his thoughts any further, the car comes to a sudden, sharp halt on the curb outside of Jaebum’s apartment building. The driver gets out, a little goblin of an old man, coming around to Jinyoung’s side to open the door for him.

Holding it open, he doesn’t push the hat back from his eyes as he grunts, “go inside and tell the doorman closest to the elevators to buzz Mr. Im. He’ll open the elevator doors for you so that you can go up.”

“Thanks,” Jinyoung says quietly, sliding out and hitting the pavement with both feet. He’s putting his bag over his shoulder and adjusting it when the tiny old man grabs his wrist and startles him with the intensity of his grip.

“Be careful,” he warns, eyes shadowed mysteriously by the brim of his driver’s cap. Jinyoung can’t help but feel like the ridiculous main character of a drama; he refrains from rolling his eyes at himself and looks down at where the root like fingers of the man’s hand are on his wrist. “Mr. Im knows people. Knows how they tick, knows what they want before they even want it themselves. He’ll either make you fall in love with him, or he’s going to chew you up and spit you out just like the rest of ‘em.”

Jinyoung’s stomach drops and he yanks his arm away, suddenly scared. How long has this man been Jaebum’s driver to know something like that? To think that it would be even remotely appropriate to tell Jinyoung something like that? Jinyoung just blinks down at him in open confusion. The old man seems to make a decision about him: he nods, lets go, and grunts again, hobbling away to his car and leaving Jinyoung uncomfortable and alone on the sidewalk. The words won’t leave his head; he repeats them in that gruff voice over and over even as he takes a deep breath and steps through the glass doors of Jaebum’s apartment building.

The grandeur never ceases to amaze him. It’s almost hard to believe that Jaebum’s apartment, so modern and sleek, is in a building that feels so old-money. The heels of his dress shoes click quietly on the marble floors and he’s thankful that he kept on his uniform because he’s certain that the well dressed people that come in and out on his way to the second doorman’s desk would have certainly given him another, more scathing glance had he worn something casual. As it stands, they barely look at him and his outfit as he approaches the doorman with his bag strap fisted almost painfully in his hand. The glittering wall of gold plated mailboxes across the lobby seems much more intimidating than it had the first time they’d been here. He’s not sure if it’s because of the nature of his visit this time or if he’s just finally grasping the extent of Jaebum’s wealth.

Jinyoung steps up to the desk closest to the elevators, as instructed, and tries to smile confidently at the older man that looks up at him. “Hi, I’m here to see Im Jaebum. Can you buzz him for me?”

The doorman nods, leaning into an intercom that seems oddly out of place with how old and low-tech it looks. The heavy metal of it is barely scratched, and it gleams in the light along with every other polished surface in the building. He wonders absently how old it is when the doorman presses a few buttons on the thick, round stand and buzzes Jaebum’s apartment. His heart jumps and settles into a quicker beat when he hears Jaebum’s deep voice crackle and pop over the intercom:

“Yes?”

“Mr. Im, there’s someone here to see you. Your driver just dropped him off, so I assume you expected him.”

Even through the static of the intercom he can hear Jaebum’s voice drop into the monotone of emotionlessness. “Oh. Yes, I sent for him. Alright. Let him up, please.”

Out of the corner of his eye he sees the ornate elevator doors slide open with a near silent hiss. The doorman gestures to them, silently leading him to where he stops in front of the open elevator and staring in like it's the yawning abyss of an animal’s mouth. He steps in, heart thumping, and lets the cold steel of the wall cool his sweaty back when he leans against it, bag gripped anxiously now in both hands. Jinyoung’s swallow is audible in the silence as the doors of the elevator close around him like teeth.

He taps a foot in the rhythm of a nervous habit he doesn't actually possess just to give him something to focus on other than the way his heart constricts with every climbing number. It echoes in the little metal elevator, and the silver doors offer him an awful reflection of his current state. As the number slowly ticks closer to Jaebum’s floor, he drops his bag to his hip and frantically begins to try and fix his hair with wetness from licked palms. The dampness from the humidity doesn't help much and so when the elevator stops at Jaebum’s apartment he just has to accept that, for once, he will be just as nervous as he looks.

When the doors slide open, Jaebum is already standing there with his arms crossed and his face

closed off. He's leaning against the bar with his hip, toe of his socked foot to the floor where one leg is crossed over the other. Jinyoung’s breath stops up short and he swallows uncomfortably at the sight of him, like a cold drink of water on a hot day. He doesn't want to think too closely about why he feels so relieved to see Jaebum after four days of radio silence, so he just admires his outfit of slacks and a button up shirt not unlike his own.

He looks tired, though, and Jinyoung is confused by the ache that starts up in his bones at the way he wants to erase it somehow. His hair had probably been combed over earlier in the day, but it’s loose and messy where it curls into half circles on his forehead. The expression on his face is neutral and his eyes are no longer folded into happy crescents. His shirt is unbuttoned two down at his throat and his sleeves are rolled up haphazardly; all together he gives the appearance of too tired and disheveled to be dealing with Jinyoung’s trust issues. He feels guilty and looks away.

“Are you going to come in or just stand in the elevator all night?”

Normally it would have sounded like a friendly jab, but right now it just sounds exasperated. Jinyoung nods and swallows, hands on his bag strap as he steps into Jaebum’s apartment and toes off his shoes. The silence between them buzzes with unsaid words and feelings; he can almost feel the stiffness of Jaebum’s shoulders in the air when he turns to face him and focuses on the hard line of them when he straightens.

“Ahjussi—”

“Dont,” he interrupts, eyes closing and one hand up that makes Jinyoung shut his mouth. “Whatever excuse you have, I don’t feel like hearing it.”

“Excuse?” Jinyoung scoffs, affronted. He feels his face burn with something like shame or maybe just embarrassment. “What do I need an excuse for? I just got here!”

Jaebum ignores this. “I want to talk to you about what happened the other night.”

He’d been nervous when he’d arrived, and he still kind of is, but Jaebum’s blatant disregard for his question makes him feel a bit annoyed. Jinyoung crosses his arms. “I assumed. I wanted to talk to you about it, too, but you ignored me.”

The noise Jaebum makes as he turns away is somewhere between a scoff and an actual laugh, but there’s no humor in the noise. It breaks on the air like brittle ice. “You wouldn’t have liked what I had to say if I answered you.”

Jinyoung stands still and watches Jaebum walk stiffly to the window. His apartment feels different the second time around; maybe it’s the amount of space between them both physically and emotionally, but it feels bigger somehow. Emptier. The furniture is the same, and so is the wet-shine of the chrome in his kitchen, but the air feels colder like the impending fight is physically changing the atmosphere between them. Jinyoung looks down at the marble floors, a neat contrast to the black of his socks, and notices the tell-tale signs of a cat that he hasn’t seen. Was there a cat last time he was here? He can’t remember. Jinyoung stares at the pink porcelain bowls sticking out like a flicker of the gentleness he’d almost let Jaebum show him in the kitchen at his own apartment. When he shakes his head to clear the intrusive thoughts and looks back up, Jaebum is watching him quietly where he’s leaning with his back to the window. Jinyoung wonders, ever curious, if it’s not the city that outlines him up but an omnipresent light that halos him in just the right way that tugs at Jinyoung’s heart strings. Their eyes meet across the cold expanse of his apartment and Jinyoung wonders too if what the driver had said is true: is it by design? Or has Jinyoung just found something about Jaebum to enjoy independently of the sides that Jaebum shows him?

Regardless, it’s the wrong time to think of it. Jinyoung clears his throat and doesn’t look away. “How do you know if you wouldn’t talk to me about it?”

Hands in his pockets, Jaebum’s posture doesn’t change and his eyes are heavy but mostly blank. It bothers him that he can’t read Jaebum’s expression. “You couldn’t even handle me just wanting to kiss you, Jinyoung-ah. I don’t think you would have been ready for what I had to say then.”

“Don’t call me that,” Jinyoung warns, starting to get angry. “So, what, you think I can handle it now that you’ve kept me hanging for four days?”

“I didn’t say that,” Jaebum says, too casually, and the sudden reverse back into the arrogant, assuming bastard he’d been when they met makes him feel frustrated. “I’m just not going to tell you what I was going to say then.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he says, voice sharpening, leaning up off the window on one elbow. It’s obvious he’s getting agitated by the way his fingers curl into fists in the pockets of his slacks. Whether it’s intentionally visible to him or not he isn’t sure, but Jinyoung knows he’s hitting a nerve and he feels childishly glad.

“That’s not a good answer,” Jinyoung says hotly, stepping forward. His bag swings out a bit and settles back down against his hip when he stops, aware that even if he crossed the room to Jaebum he’s not sure what he would even do.

“I don’t owe you an answer at all,” Jaebum spits, “so you’re lucky I asked you to come talk about it at all.”

“I think you do, ahjussi.”

“And why’s that?” Jaebum co*cks his head questioningly; it looks dangerous with the sharp lines of his face and his mouth where it’s pressed into a hard line.

“Because we’re both adults. You called me here to talk about it, so let’s talk about it.”

Jaebum laughs condescendingly, and Jinyoung doesn’t want to admit that it stings but it kind of does. “It’s because we’re adults that I am not going to tell you what I had to say that night. I can tell you what I have to say now, and we can be done with it.”

Jinyoung swallows uncomfortably when his breath catches at hearing be done with it. He doesn’t press, though, not wanting to show Jaebum any more weakness than he already has. “What do you mean?”

“I was being an adult and considering what I should say before I said it, instead of just making rash decisions.”

“You say that like I’m not being an adult,” Jinyoung says, and now he can feel the anger. He’s had so many arguments in the past couple of days and he’s getting tired of it. First Jaebum, then Hakyeon, and now this again.

Jaebum shrugs, as if to say maybe that is what I’m saying.

“Screw you,” he spits, feeling that leaden feeling return to his stomach and the hot rush of liquid anger in his blood where his heart furiously begins to pump it out. “This is ridiculous. What do we even have to fight about? We’re not even dating.”

“That’s my point! Jaebum shoots back, one hand coming out of his pocket to gesture in frustration before it slides through his hair. “That’s the point I was trying to make to you the other night. You don’t get to play me like you played your ex––”

“Like I played him?” Jinyoung interrupts, voice rising an entire octave in disbelief. “Did you even listen to me when I told you about it? I told you he was a bastard!”

“Everyone says that about their exes, Jinyoung! You’re not special!” Jaebum laughs an ugly, breathless laugh. The way it forms on his face makes him look still handsome but dangerous; a downed powerline laying still in the street. “I told you that night, and I’ll tell you again, if you only want sex, that’s fine. But that’s all. You don’t get to act like you care––”

“I don’t f*cking care!” he shouts, and Jaebum’s mouth almost clicks with how quickly it snaps shut. There’s a tiny voice in the back of Jinyoung’s mind pestering him about how terrible it is to lie in the middle of a serious fight but he drowns it out with more shouting. “What gave you the impression that I cared, ahjussi?”

“You asked me about my parents! When I told you that my father died, you looked concerned! You––you invited me into your house and made me dinner as a thank you for things you didn’t need to thank me for if all you wanted was the sex!”

Jinyoung opens his mouth to argue but finds that nothing comes out––could Jaebum be right? He hadn’t meant for it to come off that way, but he has a point: a true industry standard sugar baby would have taken those both at face value and offered no sort of thanks other than more sex. The anger is replaced momentarily by panic––has Jinyoung shown his cards too soon? Before he could even read them himself?

“I was just––I was just trying to be nice!” he counters, trying to find some excuse, and he tries to keep his voice from warbling the way it does when he gets too angry.

Jaebum makes an awful growling sound of frustration in the back of his throat as both hands tear at his dark hair. “This is what I meant by excuses, Jinyoung! I know this is all because of your ex, your trust issues, not wanting to be romantically involved with me––"

“He is not the reason––” Jinyoung tries, voice black, hands curling to fists at his sides when he drops his arms and stiffens.

“––and I get it, we all have bad exes––”

“Shut up! He has nothing to do with this!” Jinyoung shouts over him, sweat dripping down his back. “When he showed up to my apartment that night, I kicked him out!”

Jinyoung purposefully leaves out the part where he’d let him in to begin with, but it ceases to matter when Jaebum’s mouth shuts and he goes completely still. Standing closer now Jinyoung can see the tension in every limb, stretched across his shoulders and visible in the tendons of his neck and angry set of his jaw. Jinyoung’s chest heaves with anger while Jaebum just stares at him, frozen, a snake with black eyes but pretty, misleading markings poised to strike.

“He came to your apartment?” Jaebum’s voice is deadly soft; it’s not the same kind of softness he’d used when he’d told Jinyoung he smelled good the other night. The edges of his words are crisp with frost.

“Yes,” Jinyoung shoots back hotly, aware that this has made Jaebum angrier somehow and not caring. “He showed up when you left and tried to get me to talk to him.”

“Did you?”

Jinyoung laughs humorlessly and is impressed with Jaebum’s acting when he flinches a little. “Does it matter?”

“Yes!”

Jinyoung explodes. “Why does it matter to you so much, ahjussi?! Why does it matter that he came to my apartment and tried to get me to sleep with him again? Huh? We’re not dating! We’re not together!”

The harsh sound of his shouting scrapes the air out of the room like a blunt spoon scooping the guts from a jack-o-lantern. Jaebum has barely moved, jaw so tightly clenched he could crush his teeth to powder. He looks like he wants to say something and Jinyoung waits, nearly panting, anger hot and fresh like a torrent of blood gushing from his mouth.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Jaebum says, cold and calm, a thick sheet of ice over a frozen lake. “He hurt you. You should be careful.”

Jinyoung steps forward with the intent to shove him, but stops and lets his hands twitch with the aborted movement to shout at him some more instead.

“You don’t get to tell me that! You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do!”

“I’m just trying to look out––”

He realizes belatedly that he might be overreacting, but Jaebum being jealous and protective because of his ex-boyfriend showing up is doing something crazy to his brain. Jinyoung feels delirious with the amount of rough emotion coursing through him, once again swept up in a hurricane; he’s a walking, breathing, natural disaster and he wonders when the exhaustion of it will catch up with him and let him collapse into himself until he folds into nothing and disappears.

“It shouldn’t matter to you that he showed up! It shouldn’t matter what I do! We’re not together, ahjussi! You’re not my father, and you’re not my boyfriend! It shouldn’t matter that I talked to my ex-boyfriend or that I kissed my coworker in the alley!”

He hadn’t actually meant to say the last part: he’d actually almost forgotten that he’d kissed Mark just about an hour and a half ago, but now that he’d said it and watched with startling clarity the way that violent red color rushed to Jaebum’s cheeks, he inhales a satisfied lungful of air.

For the first time since he’d arrived, there’s actual emotion in Jaebum’s voice. Jealousy and the undercurrent of anger colors it rough. “You what?”

“I asked him to kiss me earlier,” he says matter-of-factly, arms crossed over his chest. “And he did. Right before you called. Didn’t you hear him? You asked who it was when I picked up.”

“He––he kissed you?”

“Yes,” Jinyoung starts, getting a little worked up at the utter disbelief in Jaebum’s voice. “He––”

“Stop,” Jaebum says harshly, and all of a sudden he’s shoving himself away from the window and coming forward. Jinyoung freezes as Jaebum snatches a dark suit jacket off one of the high chairs at the breakfast bar facing his kitchen and starts to shove it on as he moves to go past Jinyoung to the door. “We’re done here. Get out.”

There’s no way he’s going to let it end like this. Jinyoung doesn’t want it to end at all, but in the heat of the moment he can’t find the words to express that without making it seem like he wants something different. Some emotion halfway between anger and fear rises up his throat as Jaebum’s face darkens, coming toward him quickly with clipped, splenetic steps. Jaebum’s shoulder knocks into his painfully hard as he passes, radiating down his chest and into the pit of his stomach as he lets the momentum turn him. He reaches out, grabbing Jaebum’s wrist when his arm straightens out behind him to slip it into his jacket. Jaebum makes a noise of surprise when Jinyoung grits his teeth and jerks, yanking Jaebum backward and toward him.

“We’re not done, ahjussi,” he says, stiffening and preparing for the moment when Jaebum collides with him chest first where he’d been yanked back and spun by the wrist. “You’re not leaving like this––”

The rest of Jinyoung’s argument is cut off when Jaebum slams their mouths together. Pain and pleasure bloom as their teeth connect, a resonating click as Jaebum’s jacket drops to the floor, forgotten, and Jinyoung is shoved backward into the breakfast bar. His back hits it, grunting, reaching up to grip Jaebum’s neck with both hands as he holds Jinyoung’s face between his palms and kisses him roughly. The coppery taste of blood from his lower lip explodes along his tongue, sharing the taste of it with Jaebum when he quickly parts his lips and licks wildly into his mouth. One of Jaebum’s hands leaves his face to his shoulder, fingers curling under the strap of his messenger bag and shoving it impatiently down until Jinyoung drops his arm and lets it bang carelessly on the floor.

Their kisses are rough, aggressive; Jaebum’s hand returns to his face and cradles it while he pants into Jinyoung’s mouth as Jinyoung blindly finds the top button of his shirt. He should have known it would come to this, and maybe a part of him knew that it would. The part of him that had said not to lie about caring that tells him now that having sex is the worst way to end a fight, but he can feel the way Jaebum’s entire body is wound tight with an angry desire and it kills him how badly he wants to cut him open with his blunt nails on his back to bleed the feeling out of him. Matching desire rushes down his legs when Jaebum shoves him harder against the flat side of the bar with his hips, pinning him to it, half hard and grinding his thigh.

“You’re an idiot,” Jaebum pants into his mouth, hands away from his face and shoulders dropping back to let the shirt slide from his arms when Jinyoung successfully pops the last button and pushes at it impatiently. “Coming here and telling me about the things you do with other men––”

Jinyoung goes to answer, but a whimper cuts him off when Jaebum’s hands slide down his back to his ass and grip hard. “Jealous?” he manages between breaths, grunting when Jaebum bends down and wraps his arms around the tops of his thighs.

Jaebum doesn’t answer right away. Jinyoung is about to ask him what he’s doing, hand fisted in Jaebum’s black hair where his head is resting near his belt, when all of a sudden his feet are leaving the floor. He yelps when Jaebum stands quickly and the room spins until he’s bent over Jaebum’s shoulder staring at the dip of his lower back. Jaebum’s arm stays around his waist and the other on his ass, letting Jinyoung’s upper body bounce as he carries him to the bedroom tossed over his shoulder like a ragdoll. He’s powerless; there’s not a lot for him to grab except for Jaebum’s ass, and he never gets the chance to be a little sh*t when Jaebum’s door is getting nudged open with a foot. There’s the step down into the room that makes his head bob where he’s struggling to keep it up, and then the room is going by in a pinwheel of colors as Jaebum throws him roughly to the bed.

It’s startlingly familiar––Jaebum had done the exact same thing the first night they’d f*cked, carrying him into the bedroom and then throwing him down on top of the satin sheets before climbing on top of him. Bare chested and angry this time though, he throws a leg over Jinyoung’s hips and drops down to both hands to hover threateningly over his face.

“Yes,” Jaebum says, voice low and whiskey-edged so ragged and rough that Jinyoung visibly shivers. He lets his hands wander to Jaebum’s belt before he rests on one and uses the other to smack them away. “And you’ll see just how jealous I can be, Jinyoung-ah.”

Jinyoung is so startled by the absolutely p*rnographic tone in Jaebum’s voice that he forgets to correct him. His breath shatters in his chest as Jaebum teases his mouth, leaning down close enough to kiss before he pulls away and lets Jinyoung chase his lips. His hips roll down on Jinyoung’s, the frictionless sliding of their slacks together smooth. Jinyoung, the one who had been so indignantly angry earlier, whimpers pathetically when he feels the hard line of Jaebum’s co*ck sliding against his own.

He tries to get at Jaebum’s belt again, but there’s a low growl in Jaebum’s throat before their mouths connect roughly that tells him to stop without words. Jinyoung nips at Jaebum’s bottom lip, their kiss a mess of sharp teeth and tongues like fighting dogs. Their breath is heavy and harsh in the quiet of the room as Jaebum gathers up both of Jinyoung’s wrists in one hand and shoves them roughly to the pillows over his head.

“You want to f*ck for money, that’s fine,” Jaebum growls against his mouth, a viperous smirk pulling up the corner of his kiss swollen lips. “But you f*ck me for money. Nobody else.”

“Who said it was exclusive?” Jinyoung pants, trying to keep playing the part, but it’s difficult to act like a hardass when Jaebum’s dick is right on top of his and he’s holding Jinyoung down to bite at his jaw.

“I did,” he says into Jinyoung’s neck, and Jinyoung yelps when those same teeth sink into the sensitive skin of his neck. The yelp dissolves into a low moan as Jaebum abuses the line of his throat with teeth and tongues. He sucks at the spot underneath Jinyoung’s ear, realizing it makes him buck his hips like crazy and whimper pathetically when Jaebum licks over the grooves his incisors leave in his tan skin. Jaebum shifts his weight to his knees, still holding Jinyoung’s wrists down as he uses his free hand to curl into the neck of Jinyoung’s dress shirt.

Onyx eyes blacker than any night he’s ever seen, Jaebum looks down at him. There’s the hint of blood smeared across his bottom lip and his chin from where his teeth had broken the skin of Jinyoung’s lip when they’d kissed, and he’s slightly horrified to find it sexy when it’s paired with his naked torso and sweaty hair.

“Do you care about this shirt?”

“It’s part of my work uniform––”

“Wrong answer,” he says with a smirk. Jinyoung sucks in a breath as Jaebum bites down on his lower lip and yanks at the collar so hard it lifts his head from the bed; the objective is met when the majority of the buttons pop completely loose from the threads and hit the floor with the pitter patter of spilled marbles. His shirt, now ruined, is quickly stripped from his body and thrown somewhere to the floor where Jaebum ceases to care about it.

Now that he’s shirtless, Jaebum slides his hands down so that they’re by his head, elbows bent and still powerless to grab at Jaebum’s anything as his mouth works down his neck to his chest. Jinyoung just makes angry little noises in the back of his throat, hips bucking and gasping into growls as Jaebum’s lips and teeth make a tiny trail of marks down his torso. Jaebum spends an excruciating amount of time teasing his nipples with his teeth; by the time he’s done ignoring Jinyoung’s pleas for him to stop playing with them before he comes, they’re over sensitive and raw from the abuse of Jaebum’s straight teeth. The teasing continues as Jaebum lets go of his wrists and moves down, sucking hickies into his flat stomach and tonguing whatever marks he manages to make.

“Ahjussi,” Jinyoung warns, about to knee him in the chest just to get him to stop f*cking teasing him. Jaebum ignores him and looks up from underneath his eyelashes as he dips his tongue into Jinyoung’s navel and kitten licks it. Jinyoung’s hips buck, hitting his chest. “Ahjussi, I swear to god––”

“What’d I tell you about calling me ‘ahjussi’ when I’m trying to get you naked?” he asks, voice still rough but breathless too as he sits up on his knees and across Jinyoung’s thighs. “Hmm? You say my name while I’m f*cking you, Jinyoung, and nothing else.”

“Make me,” Jinyoung spits, hands coming up to yank at Jaebum’s belt where his hands are no longer held down. Jaebum hits the bed on his elbows, nearly knocking the wind out of him when their chests collide hard and Jaebum sticks his tongue in Jinyoung’s mouth.

He’s up on one hand in an instant, not bothering to move Jinyoung’s hands where he’s trying to undo Jaebum’s belt. Jinyoung’s own belt comes off fast, thrown into the abyss of Jaebum’s floor and forgotten about when Jaebum breaks the button of his dress pants, too.

“Are you serious?” Jinyoung groans, sounding less angry than he wants to when Jaebum yanks the zipper down after the button pops loose from the threads. His hand immediately disappears inside, cupping Jinyoung’s co*ck over his underwear and squeezing hard. “f*ck! Jaebum-ssi!”

“Good boy,” Jaebum purrs, licking at Jinyoung’s lips before sitting back up on Jinyoung’s thighs. He removes his hand, barely sparing Jinyoung’s face a glance as he curls his fingers under the waistband of his ruined uniform pants and yanks them down his thighs, fast and ungentle. Jinyoung yelps, kicking them off when they get shoved to his ankles and back bowing a bit when he’s suddenly naked under Jaebum, who just hovers over him with his hands on his hips and lust blowing his pupils wide.

“f*cking delectable,” Jaebum practically moans, eyes roaming back and forth over all the marks he’s made down Jinyoung’s body with his mouth. Jinyoung glances down to see the bruises forming, closing his eyes and trying not to think about how he’s supposed to hide the ones on his neck and shoulders and just enjoy the way Jaebum is worshipping his naked body with his eyes right now. “God, Jinyoung––”

“Shut up and f*ck me, if you want to claim me so bad,” Jinyoung pants, still angry, wishing that Jaebum would hurry up and get naked too so he has something to do with his hands. He slaps at Jaebum’s hand when he reaches down to grip the base of his co*ck; Jaebum’s breath shudders when Jinyoung holds his eyes and starts to jerk himself off steady and slow.

“Don’t test me,” Jaebum warns, leaning over him to the bedside table to rustle around in the drawer before finding what he wants. His hand is knocked away again as Jaebum uncaps the lube, pouring it across his fingers until it drips from the edges and collects on Jinyoung’s belly. Some of Jinyoung’s voraciousness fizzles out when Jaebum spreads his legs with his thighs and smirks at him.

“Unbuckle my pants now,” he says, and it’s not a question. Jinyoung’s breath saws out of his chest as he reaches down, trying to unbuckle Jaebum’s belt with one hand while he rests his weight on his elbow. The task gets even more difficult when Jaebum’s wet fingers are teasing at his entrance before one slides in.

“f*ck,” he breathes, hand faltering at Jaebum’s belt as the sensation travels up and down his arms and legs. His fingers scrabble at the leather as Jaebum fingers him torturously slow, just watching the uneven rise and fall of Jinyoung’s stomach as he breathes through getting fingered and trying to take Jaebum’s pants off. Eventually the belt pops loose from the buckle and he slides it out triumphantly while Jaebum adds a second finger.

He moans, quickly snapping the button on Jaebum’s fancy dress pants before the zipper comes down and he pulls them down enough to get his co*ck out before he drops to his back on the bed. It’s so hard to concentrate on being pissed off when Jaebum’s fingering him like this, taking his time and breathing hard while his other hand rests on Jinyoung’s stomach and lazily plays with the lube that had collected there. Jinyoung’s co*ck is flushed red and achingly hard, all but ignored where Jaebum’s wrist rubs against it with every move of his hand on his belly.

“C’mon,” Jinyoung pants, back arching, trying to take his fingers deeper. “C’mon, add another or just get inside me already.”

“Impatient, huh?” Jaebum purrs but adds a third, breath hitching when Jinyoung hiccups on a soft noise of pleasure. “Are you like this with other men?”

Jinyoung tilts his head down to glare at him. “f*ck you.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Jaebum says, and doesn’t give the opportunity to answer when he twists his wrist and crooks all three fingers at once. Heat pools in his gut and he writhes, one hand blindly going to Jaebum’s wrist and digging the nails in painfully hard.

Jaebum just grunts, shaking Jinyoung’s hand away and then slowly sliding his fingers out. His breath is short and labored, hair sticking to his forehead and his whole body covered in a light sheen of sweat. The satin of the sheets stick to his sweaty back when he lifts it off the bed, co*ck sliding purposefully along the length of Jaebum’s where it’s hanging heavy and slightly curved between his legs. He moans between his teeth, eyes eating up the sight of him hungrily while he attempts to open the condom wrapper with slick fingers.

“Please, ahjussi,” Jinyoung whines, feeling pathetic now but missing the feeling of Jaebum inside him. He impatiently swats at Jaebum’s wrist as the condom comes free and he rolls it down onto his co*ck. The sight of it alone is enough to make Jinyoung shiver and drip precome onto his already wet stomach.

“‘Jaebum’,” he corrects, pushing his dress pants lower on his thighs before he angles Jinyoung’s hips with his hands. Jinyoung doesn’t say it, though, watching Jaebum adjust until he’s resting on one hand and holding the base of his co*ck with the other. Jaebum looks up at him with an eyebrow raised questioningly and Jinyoung stares back defiantly.

“I don’t care what you call other men,” Jaebum says through his teeth, angling his own hips so that the tip teases just enough at Jinyoung’s entrance to make his mouth drop open on an inaudible noise. “But you’ll call me by my name, Jinyoung-ah.”

Jinyoung clenches his jaw and slides a hand into the back of Jaebum’s hair, threading his fingers through the damp strands until he has a fistful of it and is using it to jerk his head backward. Jaebum makes a low, angry noise in his throat where it’s stretched out and his adam’s apple bobs visibly under the skin.

“I’ll call you, and them, whatever the f*ck I want,” he pants, smirking when Jaebum’s self-satisfied look slips a little and he swallows roughly. “And don’t call me Jinyoung-ah. Ahjussi.”

Where he’d been teasing at first, he’s no longer playing games when his jaw tightens and he guides himself into Jinyoung’s entrance. He pushes in all the way, not stopping to let him breathe until he’s bottomed out and supporting himself on both hands planted over Jinyoung’s shoulders on the bed. Jaebum just watches him, full blown desire and anger in his eyes, overlaid with something else Jinyoung can’t quite put his finger on. Jinyoung keeps his hand fisted in Jaebum’s hair as he pushes up on his elbow, bringing their mouths a hairsbreadth apart as Jaebum slowly pulls out to push back in.

Jinyoung’s breath quivers against Jaebum’s lips on the upstroke, rolling his own hips down to meet the thrust on his own and taking Jaebum as deep as possible. Their eyes meet from under half-closed lids and hold as Jaebum starts to go faster, knees braced on the bed as he rolls his hips up into Jinyoung’s in perfect sync despite the frenetic energy sparking between their bodies at every point of contact. Jaebum grunts when Jinyoung tugs roughly on his hair, head yanked back again, eyes flicking down to Jinyoung’s mouth where it’s sore and swollen from bruising kisses. The arm he’s leaning up on is already getting tired, but the angle is so good that he can’t give up yet; he drops his head back between his shoulders as Jaebum settles on a quick, rough pace that have short noises ripping from Jinyoung’s mouth on every thrust. His co*ck is painfully hard, aching to be touched, but he wants to make this last and so he keeps his hands occupied in Jaebum’s hair and supporting himself when his arm gets tired.

Every thrust of Jaebum’s hips has him nearly bucking, the tip hitting his prostate on the deep thrusts when Jaebum pulls almost all the way out to quickly push back in. Each one is like touching a live-wire; electricity sparks through his body as though he’d grabbed it and hit water, that sweet numbness in his arms and legs starting when the pace picks up. Jaebum reaches down and knocks his hand out from under him, grinning and laughing breathlessly when Jinyoung makes a noise of surprise and hits the bed on his back. Jinyoung moves to sit up again, but Jaebum bites down on his lower lip and shakes Jinyoung’s other hand out of his hair so he can gather up his wrists in one hand and pin them down.

“f*ck!” Jinyoung shouts, the first thing he’s said out loud that wasn’t nonsense or just a loud moan since Jaebum had started f*cking him. With his wrists pin down it’s easier to arch his back, sliding up into Jaebum’s lap a little and bettering the angle at which Jaebum can f*ck down into him harder. “f*ck! Jaebum-ssi!”

“Good boy,” Jaebum moans over him, visibly turned on by hearing Jinyoung say his name even with the attached formality, and something about that just drives Jinyoung even crazier. He twists his wrists in Jaebum’s grip to try and get them out, but Jaebum squeezes his fingers tight almost to the point where Jinyoung can feel the bones in his wrists grinding together.

He moans, too, rolling his hips down faster. “Harder, Jaebum-ssi, harder––” he cuts off with a shout when Jaebum readjusts and bears down to f*ck him harder. “You have––oh, my god––competition––”

“No I don’t,” he pants, sweat sliding down from his hairline along the line of his jaw and dripping off his chin to Jinyoung’s throat. The intense look on his handsome face combined with the self-assured way he says it has Jinyoung’s heart dropping down into his quickly warming stomach.

“You’re not the only one,” he pants, quickly losing his train of thought as Jaebum f*cks him nearly in half on the bed. It's a lie, anyway, and a half-hearted attempt at that. Jinyoung’s co*ck is aching, needing to release, and he desperately tries to free one of his hands from Jaebum’s grip to no avail.

“Yes, I am,” Jaebum says, biting his lip as he leans his weight on the hand holding Jinyoung’s wrist together. Jinyoung sucks in a hiss through his teeth at the slight discomfort it brings, but it dissipates quickly when Jaebum braces on his knees and uses his now free hand to jerk him off.

"f*ck!” Jinyoung screams, any potential argument out the window as Jaebum grips him at the base of his co*ck and starts stroking him roughly. “Jaebum-ssi!”

Anything else he could have said to piss Jaebum off is lost in the throes of pleasure as Jaebum continues to f*ck him down into the bed and jerk him off quick with his free hand. Jinyoung’s thoughts all slam together like loose marbles, knocking off one another until everything is a jumble of anger and pleasure that blooms in his lower gut like spilled hot gasoline. Jaebum mutters his name over and over under his breath, eyes slipping closed as his org*sm builds up and up and up until he’s wound tight like the smallest spring. Jaebum leans down to kiss him again, harsh and unforgiving, and he eats up the sound Jinyoung makes when his org*sm crashes down on him like a wave and he paints their stomachs with pearls.

Jaebum moans into his mouth, working him through it and steadily losing the traction of perfect rhythm as he gets closer. His hand lets go of Jinyoung’s co*ck and his wrists, dropping down to his elbows with his forehead against the pillow and cheek against Jinyoung’s. He can hear every little whimper of Jinyoung’s name leaving his mouth as he comes, breath hot on his neck and in his ear as he lazily licks at his skin while his org*sm fades.

When he’s spent, Jinyoung can feel the tremor in his arms when he leans up on them to pull out. Jaebum gets off the bed after tying off, going toward the bathroom much in the same way he’d done the first time they’d done this, only the atmosphere had felt much more...amicable then. He still felt guilty and dirty when he’d left that night, but it’s nothing compared to the feeling he has now when Jaebum throws a towel in his direction without even looking at him. Jinyoung stares at the ceiling while he cleans off, only looking away when Jaebum comes back in the room with his bag and tosses it on the bed.

He goes back into the living room after pulling on clean underwear. Jinyoung is too emotionally spent to ask if there’s some he can borrow, so he miserably untangles his from his ruined dress pants and slips them on. He dresses quickly in the clothes he’d taken to work, thankful that he’d somehow had the foresight to bring them so that he wasn’t going home in a ruined shirt and ruined pants. Jinyoung’s stomach turns as he decides what to do with them, ultimately leaving them on the floor for Jaebum to throw away when he has his maid come through and clean up.

The ill feeling in his stomach and heart only escalates when Jaebum doesn’t come back into the room. Something about the animosity still hanging up on hooks between them despite being in different rooms makes him swallow over and over as though he’s trying to hold back from throwing up. The tell-tale sound of the television turning on from the living room hits his ears just as he’s raising the phone to call a cab.

“Hi, I need a cab,” he says, sounding miserable even to his own ears, and he’s grateful that Jaebum is in the other room. The anger he had shown up with and drew on during sex has burned itself out now, the miserable, shriveled matchstick of his heart sitting heavy and uncomfortable in his chest. He still doesn’t know what it means and he’s too afraid to ask: is it over? Is that the last time they’re going to f*ck? Is this the last time they’ll ever see each other? And the worst of all,

Is this the memory Im Jaebum will carry of him? That he’ll carry of Jaebum?

“Sir? Sir? What’s your location?”

“Oh,” he says softly, blinking back into the present only to realize he doesn’t actually know the address. “I’m not sure…”

He holds the phone away and turns at the waist to see Jaebum leaning in the doorway, similar to the way he’d been leaning when Jinyoung had arrived but in much less clothing. There’s a pair of joggers pulled up low on his hips now and Jinyoung swallows at the expressionless mask of his face.

“Do you mind giving me your address? The cab company needs it.”

“Hang up,” Jaebum says, toneless, “there’s a car downstairs for you already.”

“I don’t need it. I can take a cab.”

“It’s already here, Jinyoung. Just go home.”

He flinches as though he’d been slapped. Jinyoung locks his phone to hang it up, turning back to angrily shove it in his bag before standing up and running his sleeve across his dry eyes. Sweat still sticks his hair to his temples and a bit to his forehead, but he pushes it back with one hand in frustration that he’d done this to himself. Again. When he had said he wouldn’t ever find himself back at this place; not just Jaebum’s physical space but in this place and time where he is, once again, carefully sticking his foot into a trap he knows will hurt when it snaps shut over the bone.

Jinyoung can feel Jaebum’s eyes on his back as he stands facing the window, staring out over the lit up city and wondering why he even came here. Did he come here for the fight? The sex? A resolution, or to see the end of something he knew he didn’t––and still doesn’t––want to end? He’s not sure anymore. The hurricane is back and he has a feeling that it won’t stop anytime soon. There’s no use bothering with questions that he can’t answer and that he won’t find an answer for here, pinned down under Jaebum’s stare.

He wants to say something. Anything. He wants to stand up for himself, to bring back that angry boy who had yelled in Jaebum’s face. The one who had no time for his attitude. But that boy is gone, and the man looking back at him in the watery reflection from the window he can barely see is one he hasn’t seen in two years. As it stands, he is weak and tired and frustrated. A mouse trapped in a maze it has been through once before but suddenly can’t remember how to get out.

“Jinyoung––”

He turns quickly on his heel, avoiding the look on Jaebum’s face that has shifted from the emotionless to something maybe akin to guilt. He doesn’t look long enough to examine it before he’s heading for the bedroom door and trying to pass him. Jaebum blocks him with his body, though, reaching out to grab the tops of his arms and stop him long enough to reach into his pocket.

“Here,” he says in that same toneless voice, but quieter now as he shoves a handful of money into Jinyoung’s bag where it’s resting on his hip. Jinyoung stares at the elevator doors as Jaebum leans in to whisper in his ear, “next time, don’t give it to a delivery boy. Keep it. It’s yours.”

With some sort of choked noise, Jinyoung shoves himself out of Jaebum’s grip and heads for the elevator without turning around. He has to wait for it to come up, and Jaebum’s heavy stare on his back as the little LED reader above them counts the floors from the ground up makes him want to scream. When it finally dings and the doors slide open, Jinyoung quickly steps in and wishes that they’d slam shut on his head and put him out of his misery. They don’t, though, because he won’t ever be so lucky. He falls heavily against the far wall of the elevator and catches Jaebum’s eye just before they close.

The money burning a hole in his bag makes him feel as sick as it had the first time, but the uncertainty and heartache he’d seen on Jaebum’s face in those crucial moments before the elevator doors hissed shut is somehow so much worse.

Chapter 8: feel it still

Notes:

"your love is an abyss for my heart to eclipse, now
might be over now, but i feel it still"

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

We bury the bodies of our past

in the shallow graves dug by

desperate dogs,

churning the earth to hide the broken bones

lost

from once gentle hands—

What is this? Hakyeon asked, coming up behind him and startling him so much that his hand had jerked along the page he'd been writing on and left an ugly, jagged line across the words.

Jinyoung sighed to himself, how fitting that he would show up now, when I'm writing about him.

Nothing, he replied quietly, wishing that Hakyeon would leave. It was approaching their second year together and Jinyoung had been surprised on that morning a few months before when he'd woken up and realized that he'd gotten tired of it first.

He'd woken up that morning three months prior with Hakyeon still asleep beside him, sheets halfway pulled up to expose his naked back where he was laying on his stomach and facing away. He found that the sunlight of an early morning falling on the tanned skin of his shoulders no longer tantalized him as it had; it no longer awoke the steady rumble of hunger in his stomach that he was outlined in a steady glow. White sheets bunched up underneath his lean, muscular arms no longer made his mouth water. In fact, nothing about Hakyeon made him feel happy anymore. Even just the prospect of Hakyeon waking up and turning his face toward Jinyoung with cowlicked hair and a sleepy smile made him feel ill with dread.

So he had known, but would not admit, that it was over. For another three months he suffered silently through the jabs and the taunting and the rough, lifeless sex they had almost every night. It was more obvious still when Hakyeon hardly seemed to realize it: only a few times did he seem to notice that Jinyoung was off, asking him what was wrong in a sweet tone that was replaced moments later with disinterest. At the time Jinyoung had tried to tell himself it wasn't because he didn't care, it was because he was comfortable. It's not that Jinyoung’s feelings didn't matter, but because he just wasn't thinking about them.

Complacent. That's the word Jinyoung would use later to describe it when he was still denying how awful he'd been. He had become complacent.

Jinyoung thought of these things, and others, a conglomerate of two years of carefully hidden cards that had suddenly all appeared at once on the table without him noticing that they'd ever been placed at all, when Hakyeon scoffed at him and sat down.

Doesn't look like nothing, he'd said, and grabbed Jinyoung’s notebook from under his hand. Jinyoung protested as he slid it across the table toward himself but sat back when Hakyeon gave him a stern look. Anger had burned low in his chest and he'd thrown himself heavily against the back of his chair as Hakyeon’s dark eyes scanned the page.

Jeez, Jinyoungie, this is so depressing. He'd let out a low whistle and co*cked his eyebrow at Jinyoung. Where it had once been charming, it now felt belittling. The anger burned brighter, harder; a meteor picking up speed and fire as it quickly fell through the atmosphere. Feeling sad today?

It's about you, Jinyoung had snapped, and felt small when Hakyeon laughed at him.

About me? How so? I don't write depressing sh*t like this.

Jinyoung felt his hands curl to fists on the arms of the chair he’d been sitting in. He was in Hakyeon’s apartment, thinking that he’d be blissfully alone long enough to write some poetry while Hakyeon slept in that morning.The morning sun had spilled across the round, white table near the window in a mockery of the happiness Jinyoung once found basking in the light. He watched Hakyeon reading the lines he’d written with a heavy hand over and over and felt the break inside his chest like the crisp snapping of a twig.

It's for you, then, Jinyoung corrected, face a stone mask when Hakyeon had looked up in confusion. For a man so much older than himself and a professor at the country’s best university he sure could be daft. Jinyoung felt his feet dangling into the dark of an abyss he wasn’t sure he was entirely ready to drop into. He took a deep breath and let go.

It's over.

Hakyeon had laughed in disbelief, as though he hadn't heard what Jinyoung said. Excuse me?

I know you heard me, hyung. Jinyoung meant business: now that he had said it, it was imperative that he not take it back. Hakyeon had always been quite good at undermining him and goading him into backing down, but he’d had enough. It was enough.

It's over, he’d said, voice hard with a finality that seemed to catch the older man off guard. We’re breaking up.

He had seen the darkness roll across Hakyeon’s face much in the same way he used to lie in the grass outside his childhood home and watch the black storm clouds chase each other across steel grey skies. Jinyoung clenched his fists and prepared for the meltdown: it wouldn't be the first but it was sure as hell to be the last. Hakyeon’s eyes had widened and Jinyoung’s notebook dropped from his hands with enough force to rattle the half empty tea cup on its plate. Jinyoung’s eyes never left his, though, and had gritted his teeth to fight the anger head on.

You can't be serious, Jinyoungie. You're really going to break up with me?

What other answer does he want? Yes. It's over.

You can't do this, Jinyoungie.

He had scoffed. Of course I can. And I am.

Jinyoung stood up from his chair and quickly snatched his journal off the table. Hakyeon didn't move, though, and Jinyoung had watched warily from where he stood as Hakyeon stared at the table as though Jinyoung had just given him the worst news he'd ever heard. He clutched the notebook tighter to his chest for comfort and debated silently on whether he should wait for Hakyeon to say something or if he should have left.

You're really leaving me? After two years?

Jinyoung had sighed. There was a miserable look on Hakyeon’s face when it turned up to look at him, but after so many months of studying it, Jinyoung had seen right through it. He had not been heartbroken at the prospect of losing Jinyoung as a person. A partner. No, he had been concerned about losing Jinyoung as an outlet for sex and as a convenience. Something to dominate and control. But Jinyoung had grown tired of that sedentary life—he had begun to see through everything that Hakyeon had staged for him about himself and his personality. Jinyoung would tolerate it no longer.

Yes. I'm leaving. I'm going to pack up my stuff and go home.

Now?

Yes, he'd said, exasperated, already seeing how Hakyeon was trying to keep him here. Jinyoung had stepped away, turning to go into the bedroom to grab his toothbrush and the few pairs of clothes he left there, when he felt a warm hand on his cold shoulder.

Hakyeon's face was black with anger when he spun Jinyoung by the arm. Jinyoung made a noise of surprise, nearly dropping his notebook when Hakyeon had fisted a hand in his shirt and shoved him backward into the kitchen counter with a small yelp before dragging him back up to his face. Jinyoung had grunted when his back hit the rough edge and lifted his hands, empty now of the notebook when it clattered to the ground, to shove back. Hakyeon’s breathing had been labored, a look on his face that Jinyoung had never seen: something like fear, and panic was etched into the lines at the corner of his eyes when he pinned Jinyoung’s body to the counter with his own. It ignited a small fear of his own to see that look of wild desperation on Hakyeon’s face.

Hyung, he'd said, pushing too lightly at Hakyeon’s chest for him to get the point but afraid if he did it any harder Hakyeon would likely lose his temper. Hyung, let go. I'm leaving.

Jinyoung's head had ragdolled on his neck when Hakyeon shook him by the front of his shirt. The corner of the counter dug into his back and he tried to focus on the pain of it instead of the fear slowly building around his heart. Hakyeon had never hit him, or even laid a hand on him that way before, but skin isn't the only thing that bruises. He's left enough verbal wounds on Jinyoung’s heart to scar it. His hands fisted loosely in Hakyeon’s white shirt as he tugged and pushed to get Hakyeon to drop his hands.

Jinyoungie, just think about it for a second, you love me, you can't leave—

I don't love you, Jinyoung had said forcefully, and finally gathered enough courage and strength to push Hakyeon completely away. The older man lost his grip on Jinyoung’s shirt and stumbled backward, looking bewildered as his own back hit the table and knocked the teacup from its plate. Lukewarm tea spilled across the tiny table, poetic like spilled blood dripping off the edge with quiet drip, drips that resonated like thunder in the new silence. Jinyoung had watched with his heart beating in his throat as Hakyeon sat down, eyes wide and unseeing as though Jinyoung had just run him through with a blade and he was still trying to process that he'd been on the other end.

But I love you— he'd tried to say at last, but Jinyoung stopped him. It had been too long that he played these games and let the wool be pulled over his eyes. Hakyeon had drawn him in with his looks and charms like a fishhook in his mouth. But now that Jinyoung had been been left on the deck to bloat in the hot sun he realized that it had just been a front. He had never wanted a smart companion who knew poetry that he could recite to them every morning, something Hakyeon had stopped doing once they'd passed a few months. All of it had tied into this, the sudden parting of the curtain.

You don't love me, Jinyoung had said matter of factly, leaving no room for argument. You never did. And I don't love you anymore. So we’re not going to be together. Recited like he was talking to a child. Jinyoung’s chest had burned like he’d swallowed battery acid.

For once, the professor had nothing to say. The scene Jinyoung had expected him to make came later, but the day Jinyoung had ended their relationship in his sunny apartment had been oddly silent and still. Jinyoung didn't look up as Hakyeon sat in his chair, hands curled into fists and unclenching just to do it again. Despite everything else lacking the sincerity he'd falsely assigned to it, even his speechlessness seemed fake.

Jinyoung picked up the notebook Hakyeon had made him drop and headed for the bedroom to pack his things. As he had shoved shirts into his duffle bag and felt the little tiny spark that told him he was doing the right thing and that he'd be alright, he vowed that he would never find himself here again. Never again would he fall for an older man with nothing good to offer him. Never again would he give in to the desires of his skin and let an older man take him to bed with no good intentions.

As he packed up and took once last look where Hakyeon was slumped with his head in his hands, Jinyoung promised himself that he'd never fall in love again.

______________

“Finally,” Jackson mutters, shoving Jinyoung aside when he pulls the door open to flop down on the small couch. He wipes an arm across his forehead and makes a forlorn noise at the wetness that beads on the skin. “It’s so hot outside, dude, and you made me wait forever.”

Jinyoung rolls his eyes. “It was like maybe five minutes, Jackson. If that.”

He sits up on one arm and shoves the other one in his direction, attempting to show Jinyoung how much sweat he’d just wiped off. “Yeah, and look how much I was sweating! Do you see this?” Jackson points to his hair. “I spent an hour on this. Sweat reacts with gel, Jinyoungie.”

Laughing for the first time in a few days, Jinyoung sits in the battered arm chair across from him and folds his arms. “No, it doesn’t.”

Jackson sits up. “Okay, it doesn’t. But seriously. I’m your best friend. Just give me a key already so you stop leaving me to die on the porch.”

“I have enough problems with you coming over unannounced as it is,” Jinyoung retorts, laughing and blocking his face with both arms when Jackson launches a throw pillow at him. Jinyoung bats it to the floor before picking it up and curling around it with his feet planted on the edge of the chair. He watches Jackson flop back down onto his stomach and rest his chin in both hands like a teenage girl.

“So?” he says, choosing not to pursue an argument about Jinyoung basically calling him a nuisance to talk about Jaebum, which he confirms when he follows up with, “how is Hot Coffee Shop Guy?”

Jinyoung makes a noise against the back of his teeth with his tongue, face scrunching up. “C’mon, we don’t call him that anymore.”

“What should we call him? CEO Im? Mr. Im? Daddy––”

“Jackson!”

Jackson’s face splits in a smile as he laughs, then tries (and fails) to school it into a more serious look. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. ‘Daddy’ is out.”

“Yeah. Out of the question .”

“C’mon,” Jackson goads, grinning. “You wouldn’t call him ‘daddy’ if he asked?”

“No!” Jinyoung practically shrieks, trying to look offended, but he knows the rosy color blooming at the tops of his ears is going to give him away. Jackson just laughs even harder.

“Whatever, liar. Well then, what do you call him?"

“I call him ahjussi. Or, you know. His name.

He snorts. “You call him ahjussi?! Isn’t he like, barely in his thirties?”

Jinyoung nods. “That’s the point.”

His best friend shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “You’re unbelievable. Anyway, catch me up! I haven’t seen you in like, two weeks?”

“Three, actually, but yeah.”

He sighs, looking at Jackson’s bright, eager face. He wishes that he had been a better friend the last couple of weeks, especially since the last time he’d talked to Jackson, he’d been beating himself up about hooking up with Jaebum. Jackson has always been incredibly supportive, to the point where Jinyoung isn’t really sure that he deserves it anymore: He hadn’t called or texted Jackson once in the last few weeks. He had been too caught up in the wave that was Im Jaebum and their random, intense meetings. Even though he knows Jackson is going to soften and tell him that he understands, Jinyoung still feels guilty for not making the time to text him and tell him that he’s okay.

As expected, Jackson seems to notice that his lack of immediate response means he’s overthinking it. His face softens into a sweet smile at one corner of his lips. “I know that you’re thinking about how terrible you are for not calling me.”

“How do you always know that? It’s scary.”

“It’s written all over your face,” he says, and laughs when Jinyoung looks taken aback. “Plus. Best friend, remember? I’m supposed to know these things about you.”

Jinyoung sighs and rests his chin on his knees, bunching up the pillow so that it’s resting against his throat. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Jinyoung,” Jackson replies softly. “I mean it. I know you’ve been busy. I’ve been busy, too, at the bar. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’m asking. Catch me up.”

Closing his eyes for a moment, he tries to backtrack to the last thing that Jackson knows about. He’s startled when he realizes that the last thing Jackson had heard about their wild fling is the first time they’d had sex and Jaebum had given him money. Jackson totally doesn’t know about the lunch-slash-dinner date, or the car sex after. He’s not even sure if Jackson knows about Jaebum fixing his bike, although it might be kind of obvious since it’s shining like brand new hung up on the bike rack over his head. Which means Jackson doesn’t know that just a few days ago, Hakyeon had showed back up at the worst time like a stubborn growth. And that he’d come into Jinyoung’s apartment to fight after he’d just fought with Jaebum. And that he’d fought with Jaebum. And kissed Mark. And––

“Jeez, Jinyoungie,” Jackson says, eyebrow co*cked when Jinyoung shakes his head a little to clear the mess of thoughts away and focus on him. “How much did I miss?”

“A lot,” he says. “You missed a lot.”

His blonde hair falls into his eyes when he nods in the direction of the bike. “You could start with that, I suppose.”

He sighs.

It would be funny in any other situation to watch as Jackson’s already large eyes grew larger and larger with every word that came out of his mouth. As it is, though, it’s decidedly unfunny when he hears himself retelling the events of the last week that come together with startling clarity. Had all of it really happened in a week? It doesn’t even feel real, most of it, much that it all happened so quickly. His wrists still feel a bit sore from where Jaebum had been leaning his weight on them the other night, and, unsurprisingly, they hadn’t spoken since Jinyoung left. He hadn’t bothered to try and text him, either, because he wasn’t really sure that he wanted to.

Jackson seems even more in disbelief than he is about the way Jinyoung’s life is going at the moment. Jinyoung spares him most of the glaring details about the sex they’d had, but he has Jackson screaming into the pillow and kicking his legs when he at least dishes out that they’d given each other dirty handjobs and blowj*bs in Jaebum’s car in a parking lot. Jackson can’t even believe his ears: his Jinyoungie? His Jinyoungie is doing scandalous things like having sex in cars and kissing one of his coworkers and getting his ass wrecked in a round of angry, jealous sex?

Jinyoung makes a face at Jackson’s choice of words when he cuts in to say that. “‘Get my ass wrecked’? Come on, hyung, you couldn’t have thought of something, I don’t know––”

“More accurate?” he grins, and hides his face against the cushions on the back of the couch when Jinyoung throws his pillow at him.

“Less vulgar, I meant,” he says. “Jeez.”

Jackson laughs for another small moment before he clears his throat and shakes his hair from his face in an attempt to reign himself in. “Okay, okay. So, you don’t talk for two weeks after the first time you have sex. Then, he randomly calls out of the blue, you pick up because you like him––”

“Jackson,” Jinyoung warns, but Jackson continues as though he hadn’t even spoken:

“––and he comes to pick you up for a date––”

“Not a date––”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say,” Jackson waves a hand. “You go on this ‘date’, he pays for you, you have a great time getting to know each other a little better, and then you have wild almost-sex in the back of his car. He drops you off at home, then steals your bike from Mrs. Kim, and fixes it for you. Am I getting this right so far?”

Jinyoung covers his face with his hands. “Yes.”

“So then you guys get into a little argument about the bike, which, c’mon, you’re such a baby––”

“Not helpful––!”

“And then you don’t speak for a couple of days. Then you see Hakyeon,” and Jackson fake gags when he says his name, “at the catering thing or whatever and you got abandoned at the hotel. Cue Jaebum showing up by fated coincidence and he gives you a ride home, in which you also invite him in for a date.”

“None of these are dates––”

Jackson’s voice rises to clamor over his, continuing:

“And you guys sit down and have a nice meal and get to know each other even more and he tells you sad, personal stuff and you didn’t know how to comfort him so you got up. Then he tried to be cute and you freaked out and then you fought. Then Hakyeon showed up and you fought with him too. Then Jaebum didn’t answer your text, and you kissed Mark in the alley, which, by the way, I’m jealous, he’s so hot, and then Jaebum called and you had hot angry sex––”

“Yes!” Jinyoung shouts, pulling his hands away from his face to hold them palm-out to Jackson in order to get him to stop. “Yes, Jackson! God, could you not have summarized in like two words or less? It’s almost worse somehow hearing you say it.”

“Any worse than experiencing it?” Jackson asks, rolling over to his back to dramatically lay an arm across his forehead and stare at the ceiling.

He scoots down in his chair to pout childishly. “A little bit.”

“I just can’t believe it,” Jackson mutters after a few moments of silence. “My boring little Jinyoungie.” He looks over, arm still on his head. “What happened to my boring little Jinyoungie?”

Jinyoung clicks his tongue. “Shut up, hyung.”

“But seriously,” he says with a wistful sigh, as though he’s reminiscing about the old days, which, as far as Jinyoung is concerned, he should be happy that Jinyoung’s life isn’t so “boring” anymore.

“How do you feel?”

He shifts uncomfortably, aware that the conversation is no longer light but serious, and Jackson is genuinely imploring him for his true feelings on the matter. Not the ones that he’s been trying to convince himself he has, but the ones that have small voices in the back of his head that he tries to muffle when he’s fighting with Jaebum or having a Hakyeon related crisis two years after their breakup. Jackson wants the truth, and Jinyoung knows he’s not going to leave until he gets it. Jinyoung coughs uncomfortably.

“About what?”

Even though Jackson doesn’t look over at him, he sees him roll his eyes. “Everything. About Jaebum, and about Hakyeon coming back.”

The truth, as always, is nearly impossible to swallow. Jinyoung has tried to avoid lingering so far, diving head first into work the past couple of days and trying to pretend that he doesn’t wake up with a weight on his chest shaped like Jaebum’s hands pulling him close. Jinyoung doesn’t want to think about it because he doesn’t want to think about what it means that he’s upset by their fight, and that one of his last thoughts upon leaving Jaebum’s apartment with more money he didn’t really want burning in his bag were not about how much of an asshole he is, but how afraid that it would be the the last memory of him that Jaebum would carry. How he’s afraid that Jaebum, seemingly so open to the idea of him in the beginning, is no longer blinded by whatever he had first found and is seeing the ugliness of Jinyoung’s heart bleeding through the cracks. Hakyeon is barely an afterthought in the mess of thorns that is thinking about the future of him and Im Jaebum.

So he tells Jackson this in not so many words, and watches as his best friend nods every so often with understanding. He tells Jackson, I’m just scared, hyung, that he won’t want to see me anymore. Jinyoung tries to articulate the way that Hakyeon being back and wedging himself in the door makes him feel as though their chance, whatever kind of chance that it may be, and for what he isn’t sure, is being sabotaged. Jackson nods as if he understands this inherently.

“Did you tell Hakyeon to beat it?”

He sighs, knowing that, though he won’t say it, Jackson will be disappointed by his answer. “No. Not really. He asked if my number was the same when I was kicking him out and I just...didn’t have the strength to lie about it.”

Jackson looks over, eyes dark and serious. Though Jinyoung isn’t surprised by his serious side after knowing him for so long, sometimes it still unsettles him just how melancholy he can get. “Did he text you?”

Jinyoung nods, almost ashamed to answer. Hakyeon had in fact texted him the next morning, but he’d ignored it until yesterday. Face turning red with shame, he tells Jackson that he’d been feeling so messed up about his fight with Jaebum that he’d finally texted him back and agreed to see him for lunch; Jinyoung made it clear that it was only to talk and that they’re going to have to discuss Jinyoung’s boundaries (and, to Jackson’s visible relief, how Hakyeon is expected to come nowhere near them) and nothing else.

“So when are you going to lunch with him?” he asks, sitting up and stretching his arms over his head. He stands up, serious eyes heavy on Jinyoung’s face as he pulls up his pants by the belt loops and adjusts them.

“Tomorrow,” Jinyoung sighs, running a hand through his hair and still sitting. He doesn’t get up even as Jackson heads for the door and toes back into his sneakers.

Leaning against the old wood, Jackson crosses his arms. They just watch each other for a moment, silently communicating their worries and fears with each other so that Jinyoung doesn’t have to pull them out and examine them too closely anymore. Finally Jackson sighs, grabbing the doorknob and gripping it tight to look him sternly in the eye.

“You know I just want you to be happy, right, Jinyoungie?”

He nods, swallowing around the lump in his throat that had come from nowhere.

“Just please be careful. I know it sounds stupid, but listen to your heart for once. I know you don't want to hear it, but I'm your best friend so I'm going to tell you anyways. Be careful. Listen closely.”

Jinyoung just watches him and wonders how crazy party boy Wang Jackson got so f*cking smart, and how he could know the way Jinyoung’s heart works even better than himself.

He smiles, opening the door. A draft of hot air wafts in, brushing Jackson’s bangs back, making him look like the boyish, carefree college student he'd once been. As he stands there and gives Jinyoung life advice he had not been entirely ready for, he realizes Jackson matured a lot faster than he did.

“Just, you know. Stop denying yourself the chance to be happy.”

And with that he steps dramatically from the apartment and sweeps the door shut behind him.

______________

The coffee shop where he’d agreed, albeit reluctantly, to meet Hakyeon is bustling with activity. It’s a weekend, and it’s one of the more popular shops closer to the craziness of Hongdae, so it's packed nearly giant window wall to giant window wall. The only real break from the sun is toward of the middle of the cafe or where Jinyoung is sitting purposefully in the shadow from the massive lettering on the window. He’s sitting with his back to the corner and looking out into the street, half hidden in the shade of the letter G spelling out GREENHOUSE across the glass. He sips at his tea and pulls his sticky shirt away from his neck, annoyed that Hakyeon had picked somewhere that lives up to its name: the giant clusters of plants on the floor, on the walls, and hanging from the ceiling make the air just as humid, if not more so, than outside. It’s pretty, sure, and aesthetically pleasing with its minimalist decor and the contrast between the chromes, whites, and greens, but as the summer is winding down the skyscrapers trap the heat like hands over his nose and mouth.

It doesn’t help that he’s also a little nervous, but this game is too delicate for him to express it.

He watches the patronage with disinterest, looking but not really seeing as his mind whirs like a toy wound up past its limits. Every possible scenario has run through his head since he’d laid awake for hours the night before, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable and yet still maintain a level of maturity that doesn’t end in Hakyeon making a similar scene to the one he’d made a few days after they’d broken up and they’d just happen to run into each other while he was out with Jackson. Even the thought of it makes him shiver, despite the heat: so many people had seen them when Hakyeon flipped out, eventually dropping to his knees to beg the old fashioned way. Hands clasped and tears in his small, dark eyes, he’d begged Jinyoung for a forgiveness he didn’t deserve and Jinyoung, who had been frozen in utter horror and embarrassed to the very extent of the word, had to be yanked from the premise by Jackson. He remembers the melt-down he had on the subway, bent in half in his seat and tearing at his hair so hard that, when Jackson had finally managed to pull his hands away, there were strands weaved between his sweating palms. Jinyoung hates too much public attention, and the way that so many strangers coming and going from the subway stops had seen him crying––

Suddenly there’s a body sliding into the seat across from him at the tiny white table, not dissimilar from the one they’d broken up across in Hakyeon’s apartment two years ago. Hakyeon’s voice breaks him from his spiraling thoughts:

“Hey, stranger.”

Jinyoung tries not to make a face, forcing a smile as he sets his plastic cup on the table. “Hi, Hakyeon.”

“C’mon,” he says, grinning, and Jinyoung starts to feel kind of sick. He looks handsome––even though he’d made Jinyoung miserable for the better part of two years, it’s impossible to deny that he’s good looking. His dark hair is swept back and the fabric of his geometric patterned short-sleeve button up bunches at his thin waist when he crosses one leg over the other. “We can drop the formalities now, right?”

He sighs, not really wanting to put up this kind of a fight. Jinyoung would rather make this go as smoothly as possible so that he can go back home and mope with his face shoved in a book.

“Sure, hyung.” It feels foreign and poisonous in his mouth.

The smile that splits Hakyeon’s face makes him feel like he’s swallowing acid when he takes a sip of his tea. “Good boy.”

Unbidden, he hears Jaebum’s sex-roughened voice in his head, panting good boy into his ear when he’d done what Jaebum wanted him to. He blanches. Hakyeon seems to notice the look on his face and misinterprets what his widened eyes and flushed cheeks mean.

“You still like being called that, don’t you?” he teases, fingers laced in his lap as he leans back and smirks at him.

Jinyoung tries to compose his face and shrugs. “Sure. I get called that sometimes.”

He hadn’t meant to say it, but now that it’s out, he can’t take it back. Hakyeon’s face darkens and Jinyoung’s stomach cramps lightly with anxiety. Jinyoung can’t help but notice the way Hakyeon’s fingers tighten together but don’t move from their spot on his waist.

“Yeah? You have someone else calling you a ‘good boy’ now?”

His tone is black, an utter one-eighty from the light, happy tone he’d arrived with. Jinyoung swallows hard. Despite being a different person now and still having little tolerance for any of Hakyeon’s bullsh*t, the anger is still something that has the capacity to make Jinyoung a little nervous. Hakyeon could sit here all day and regal him with compliments and memories and little wistful sighs about how much he misses Jinyoung with little effect, but the anger is different. Anger and jealousy were the only emotions that Jinyoung ever believed he never faked.

“That’s none of your business,” Jinyoung says tightly, and picks up his cup just to have something to do with his hands. “What did you want to talk about?”

Hakyeon sighs and deflates a little, some of the darkness clearing from his face. Jinyoung tries not to show how relieved he is when he lets out a heavy breath.

“I don’t really know,” he says, sounding honest, and one shoulder comes up in a half shrug. “Just wanted to catch up, I guess.”

Closing his eyes in exasperation, Jinyoung leans his elbow on the table and puts his forehead in his hand. “Hakyeon, I don’t know if this was clear enough when you showed up uninvited, but we don’t have anything to talk about. I don’t want to talk to you––”

“Then why’d you agree to meet me?” he asks hotly, and Jinyoung opens his eyes to see Hakyeon’s face pinched in frustration.

Although the real answer is because Jinyoung was just feeling confused and upset by his fight with Jaebum and he felt like he needed to do something risky, that’s not what he says. Instead, he leans up off his hand and tries to keep his voice steady.

“Because you’re obviously seeking closure, and since you showing up to my house after two years and me kicking you out wasn’t enough, I figured I’d give you the opportunity to get it so that you can back the f*ck off.”

Despite not being the main reason, it’s still true, and Jinyoung feels a little satisfied when the annoyance on Hakyeon’s face is replaced by surprise. He’s clearly not used to this Jinyoung, the one who bites back. His face reddens along his cheekbones in an embarrassment Jinyoung hadn’t thought he was capable of.

“What if I don’t want closure, Jinyoungie? What if I want you?”

He scoffs, dropping his nearly empty cup on the table and watches the ice rattle. “We don’t always get what we want. You should know that.”

“Are you really going to sit here and act like you don’t miss me? Huh?” The annoyance has returned and Hakyeon speaks through gritted teeth. “Are you really going to accept my offer and then act like you didn’t miss me and that you don’t want to talk?”

“I don’t have to act,” Jinyoung says harshly, teeth nearly bared. “Because I don’t.”

“This is because of whoever you’re f*cking, right?” Hakyeon asks, and Jinyoung can see the way his armor is cracking, his carefully placed facade of blasé disinterest fracturing to let the panic slip through. “You’re only acting like this because you’ve found somebody new to mess around with, and––”

“I’m acting like this because our relationship was terrible!” Jinyoung’s voice is a little too loud, and he forces himself to lower it when a few people in their vicinity look over with raised eyebrows and curious eyes. He focuses back on Hakyeon with one hand gripping the edge of the table like he’s ready to shove it into him and make a run for it. “I know it’s hard for you to understand, for whatever reason, but you made me miserable. Okay? That’s why we broke up.”

Hakyeon has no immediate response, so Jinyoung sits back in his seat heavily and runs a hand through his hair. He hadn’t come here to argue like this; it was bad enough that they had some strange, pseudo-argument when he’d showed up at the apartment, but now they’re in public and it’s obvious that they’re fighting. This is exactly the kind of thing that Jinyoung likes to avoid, but Hakyeon’s modus operandi has always been to push Jinyoung past his limits to the breaking point. Where he couldn’t have said things like this before, he can say them now and even though the looming threat of Hakyeon’s anger scares him just a little, he can’t back down. And so he won’t. Jinyoung watches Hakyeon process what he’d said in silence as his phone starts to ring in his pocket.

He doesn’t pull it out, though, and he doesn’t turn it off. Jinyoung just lets it ring, knowing that right now they are suspended in a very delicate balance: looking away is admitting defeat and he will not be defeated here. The ringing stops and the hustle and bustle of the cafe around them returns to fill the space of the silence hanging over their table.

“That’s not fair,” Hakyeon says quietly, and Jinyoung has to try not to roll his eyes. Of course he wouldn’t think so. “To say that you were miserable. We had a good thing for a while.”

“It was better before we got together,” Jinyoung shrugs, trying to stay nonchalant as his phone starts ringing again and goes ignored once more. “The thrill of doing something I wasn’t supposed to, you know?”

“That’s can’t be all there is to it. I saw you when you woke up in my bed in the mornings,” he says, voice low and deadly like quicksand, dropped an octave the way he knows Jinyoung likes. “That smile on your face when we woke up together. You’re telling me you were miserable then?”

“Not then,” Jinyoung agrees, the vibrating in his pocket once more going still. “But soon after. What we had, hyung, it was all you. All you did was undermine how I felt. It was only ever about what I could do for you, not the other way around. You belittled me and made me feel worthless, like it wasn’t good enough––”

“Jinyoung…”

Now that he’s started, though, he can’t stop. The words come out of him like water from a running faucet, too fast for him to stop them. “You never supported me, Hakyeon. Not after we got together. It was just about sex––"

“That’s not true––”

His body flashes hot, words hitting the back of his throat and his hands shaking with fever. Hakyeon’s eyes are wide with surprise; the noise in the room seems to swell to a breaking crescendo around them as his chest tightens with panic at words that won’t stop coming. Jinyoung sucks in a breath that falls too short, lungs burning, as his phone starts to ring again and adds to the noise assaulting his ears.

“––that’s all it ever was, hyung, and don’t you dare try to say you ever loved me––”

“Jesus, Jinyoungie, you’re sweating, are you––God, will you please just answer your phone?”

Chest heaving slightly under his thin t-shirt, Jinyoung fumbles to get his phone out of his pocket. His hands shake wildly and he almost drops it, eyes squeezed shut as he answers feeling breathless and contained in a room too small for his rapidly inflating chest.

“Hello?” he says, voice thin and high like a reed. He grips the edge of the table again to keep the room from spinning even with his eyes closed.

“Jinyoung?”

All at once, the noise assaulting his ears snaps off like a switch. It returns to normal levels, a low roar near their pocket of silence, Hakyeon watching him with bewilderment across the table. Hearing Jaebum’s voice on the other end of the line had, for the time being, stunted the impending panic.

“Oh,” he says, letting the breath leave him like a punctured balloon. “Hi.”

“What’s wrong?” he asks, sounding concerned, and Jinyoung wants to be upset at how genuine it sounds since Jaebum should still be angry at him, but he just can’t find the energy. The greenhouse humidity of the cafe combined with the release of his sudden intensity makes him feel drained.

“Nothing,” he replies, and meets Hakyeon’s eyes across the table. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t sound fine. Are you sure? Where are you?”

“I’m at a cafe,” Jinyoung says, that uneasy feeling creeping back up along his shoulders when Hakyeon’s eyes narrow just a fraction. “Yeah, ahjussi. I’m okay. What’s up?”

The conversation is weirdly casual for how they’d left things a couple nights ago, but Jinyoung doesn’t want to push it. Especially when Hakyeon is sitting across from him, suddenly straightening and his face going kind of slack in that way it used to when he’d be thinking about something too hard. Jaebum rambles on in his ear about being downtown in Myeongdong privately shopping for clothes when Jinyoung tilts the phone away from his face and mouths, what’s wrong with you?

“Did you just call him ‘ahjussi’?” Hakyeon asks, a weird tone in his voice that Jinyoung hasn’t heard in a long time. Jaebum is still talking about something but Jinyoung doesn’t hear it. The hair on the back of his neck raises when Hakyeon’s eyes flash.

“That sounds fun,” Jinyoung says, wincing when he realizes that it could be an extremely inappropriate response. He has no idea what Jaebum had been saying just before, but tried to throw it in so that it seemed like he’s still listening while he simultaneously tries to decode the look on Hakyeon’s face.

“It’s kind of lonely,” he says casually, which makes Jinyoung’s heart pound a bit, but there’s a nervous sweat breaking out along his neck when Hakyeon’s tapping fingers go still on his arm and he stiffens like a pointer finding its mark.

“If you…” Hakyeon says and trails off, eyes on Jinyoung’s face and getting darker by the second as he grabs onto a trail of thought like a rabid dog. “Didn’t you say ‘ahjussi’ when you opened the door for me? And when I came in, you looked pretty upset.”

“Um––” Jinyoung interjects, both to Hakyeon and Jaebum, because he, too, has caught onto Hakyeon’s train of thought and is getting dragged along the rocks while he puts the pieces together. Jinyoung is praying that he doesn’t complete the picture but despite being Hakyeon being a little clueless in their relationship, he’s still a smart man and not a lot of things slip by him if he doesn’t let them.

“And you didn’t even say anything until I told you that I’d run into Im Jaebum on the stairs…” Hakyeon’s chest expands on a silent inhale. “Are you...are you messing around with him, Jinyoung? Is that who you were calling ahjussi? Was he...was he leaving your apartment?”

Jinyoung’s phone nearly slips out of his hand where it’s slick with sweat from both his palm and his ear. Jaebum has gone quiet, whatever he’d said or whatever question he’d asked gone ignored and unanswered. Hakyeon’s legs unfold, feet flat on the floor, and his fingertips go white where he’s gripping the arms of the thin metal chair. Jinyoung frantically tries to come up with some way to explain it, since the only person who knows about his affair with Jaebum is Jackson, but his rough swallow and wide eyes would be answer enough. Hakyeon knows this. His eyes flash when Jinyoung’s mouth opens and closes like a fish’s and he doesn’t answer.

“Hang up,” Hakyeon says, the threat in his voice clear. Jinyoung swallows again and feels the acidic burn of panic flaring up in his chest.

“Ahjussi,” he nearly whimpers, and he’s shocked when it comes out that way. Jaebum seems to be as well, judging by the surprised noise he makes that Jinyoung pictures as a cartoon ? coming out of the phone. “Ahjussi, let me call you back––”

“Just come meet me,” Jaebum says, the concern heavy in his voice now. I’m at the Burberry store in Myeongdong. I can send a driver for you. Jinyoung, really, are you okay? What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he says frantically, leaning back in his chair and away from where Hakyeon’s hand reaches out to grab his wrist. “Nothing! I’m at Greenhouse Cafe, I’ll come, just––I’ll call you back––”

“Jinyoung? Jinyoung—!”

He hangs up the phone quickly, nearly hitting his head against the wall where he's backed into the corner. The metal of the chair clangs against it instead when he pushes himself back, shoving his phone into his pocket and trying to stay out of Hakyeon’s reach. He hopes that Jaebum can figure out how to get a car here to the coffee shop without having to call him back, because there's a quickly rising feeling like dread that he's going to have to start doing some damage control. As much as he tried to tell himself that he doesn't need a man to save him from situations like this, he's sure as hell glad Jaebum had picked a good time to call.

“Im Jaebum?” Hakyeon says through his teeth, his chair scraping against the concrete floor with an awful sound. A lot of people look over, curious and intrigued by the scandal unfolding in front of their eyes. Jinyoung attempts to make himself look smaller and shrinks against the wall. “You’re messing around with Im Jaebum?”

“Shut up!” Jinyoung hisses, glancing over at everyone who is turned in their direction from the corner of his eye. “We’re not going to do this here!”

Hakyeon laughs, an ugly, bleak sound with no humor in it. He drops his hands heavily on the table between them and leans in closer to him. “Where would you rather do it, huh? In his mansion? His fancy car? You want him to take you to America so you can f*ck all over the states?”

Jinyoung’s heart squeezes, chest kicked in with every word until it feels like his lungs are going to burst. “Stop, Hakyeon,” he pleads, the bottoms of his shoes slipping uselessly on the ground as he tries to backpedal further away but is cornered against the wall.

“You’re unbelievable!” he shouts, slamming one palm down on the table so hard that Jinyoung’s empty, ice filled cup jumps and then tips over the edge. The lid breaks off when it hits the floor, sending ice scattering on the grey concrete and water splashing the shoes of the people unlucky enough to be sitting close to them.

Hakyeon’s shout resonates through the room and soon the whole cafe has fallen with a silent hush. It’s so quiet that Jinyoung can hear his heart hammering away in his ears, sweat pouring down his neck and making his palms slick against the metal arms of his chair. His eyes flash to the door that exits out onto the street, wondering just how much faster he is than Hakyeon. He ultimately decides against trying to run for it, though, knowing that having Hakyeon chase him down would make even more of an awful scene. Jinyoung swallows uncomfortably and keeps an anxious eye on the street outside for a car that looks like Jaebum’s.

“I knew you’d cheat on me,” Hakyeon says through his teeth, and though he’s no longer shouting, the silence that has descended upon the cafe means that everyone else hears it, too. The cafe has all but seemed to dissolve around him, leaving him focused on Jinyoung like the laser crosshairs on a weapon. “You got so mad when I’d ask you where you’d been, but it’s because I knew you would, I knew you were going to do to this––”

“That’s why we broke up two years ago!” Jinyoung shouts back, fingertips white where he’s still gripping the chair. “And if you were so worried about getting cheated on, maybe you shouldn’t have tried f*cking your students!”

Hakyeon recoils as if Jinyoung had slapped him. It would have been well deserved, at least, and maybe better than what he’d said, because Hakyeon’s face turns black with rage when Jinyoung’s words sink in. Jinyoung watches with a look of fake-defiance on his face as Hakyeon’s hands curl to fists on the table and he leans back to stand up straight.

“You’re mine, Jinyoung-ah,” he spits, teeth gritted so hard he could shatter them like pieces of glass. “You’ll always be mine. Don’t think that this little break will last forever.”

“f*ck you,” Jinyoung spits, breath coming so fast with the panic sinking into his bones that it saws uncomfortably hard out of his chest. “I’m not yours. I don’t belong to anybody. We’ve been over for two years. If you ever do anything like this again,” and in a rare show of dominance that he hadn’t thought he was capable of at the moment, he leans forward in his chair to show his bared teeth, “I’ll f*cking kill you.”

Utter silence buzzes over the muffled sound of traffic from outside. Color rushes to Hakyeon’s cheeks, shadingthem hot pink, flustered by the sudden threat of violence from a Jinyoung that he surely still views as meek and defenseless. Hakyeon’s mouth opens and closes on words that won’t come and underneath the horror boxing at his bones he feels just the tiniest spark of satisfaction. Hakyeon’s hands curl and uncurl from fist to palm like he’s trying to decide whether a hit or a slap would be better, but nothing ever comes. Jinyoung watches him glance around at the shocked expressions of their audience and seems to realize that they’re being watched and thinks better of it. He utters a vague threat that Jinyoung will be seeing him later before he’s angrily shoving the table into Jinyoung with his foot and storming out the front door. In shock, Jinyoung just watches him through the window as he sprints across the street and nearly gets clipped by a car.

For a moment, the whole cafe hangs over the precipice in stunned silence. Their eyes had followed Hakyeon’s dramatic exit and then swung back to where Jinyoung is sitting with the table pushed nearly against his chest and breathing unsteadily. It breaks like a cracked egg: all the noise seems to rush back in at once, voices clamoring over each other to make sure he’s okay and someone call the cops! Jinyoung tries to drown it out, shoving the table away roughly with his own foot as he desperately sucks in a burning lungful of air. A girl who looks to be around his age drops down to her knee at his side and grabs his wrist.

“Hey, hey, are you alright?”

It’s been a long time since something like this has happened. He flashes back to the scene that Hakyeon had made when he begged Jinyoung to take him back––it had transpired roughly the same, with so many people watching suspended in this awful silence until it was punctured by Jackson’s gruff shout. He remembers the panic he’d felt then, too, sobbing onto the subway floor with his head between his knees while Jackson rubbed his back in worry. He had at least had an out, then; now he’s alone, stranded on this island and drowning in the low tide.

Without thinking, he reaches over and grabs her wrist hard. She yelps but doesn’t pull away, nodding and gripping Jinyoung’s fingers with her free hand as if she understands that he’s just trying to keep himself tethered to earth by the contact. Jinyoung looks at her, eyes wide, sucking in another breath before he manages to nod back.

“I think so,” he wheezes, feeling her fingers on his drawing his heartbeat back into a steadier rhythm. He counts the beats, too close together to be normal, but with every passing number it seems to kick back down into a lower gear. The girl smiles gently at him when Jinyoung’s body finally relaxes with his heartbeat; he goes limp in his chair and breathes out hard.

“Okay?” she asks again, squeezing his fingers. “Do you need to call someone?”

Jinyoung is about to answer yes, I think so when he sees a familiar black car pull up outside. It’s the one that had picked him up the night Jaebum had asked him to come over, and Jinyoung prays that there’s someone else driving other than the terrifying little man from before. He looks outside, squinting into the glare from the glossy hood in relief when he sees that it isn’t. It’s someone else, and they stand like a Queen’s guard at the rear door as though they’re waiting for him to come outside.

“No,” he replies, and he swallows roughly. “Thank you. My ride is actually here.”

Her face softens. “Okay. Are you sure you’re alright? That looked bad.”

“I’ll be okay,” Jinyoung says, smiling at her, wishing that he had a better way to thank her than with words and a gentle squeeze of his hand. “At least, I think so. Thank you for helping me.”

The girl nods, standing back up and trying to divert the attention away from him as she loudly declares that he’ll be fine. Jinyoung stands up and fixes his pants, dismayed that his thin shirt is stuck to his back and chest where he’s drenched in sweat. He tries to avoid the obvious stares and mutters as he breezes past, hoping absentmindedly that the visible patches of sweat will dry before he meets up with Jaebum. Jinyoung barely registers the wave of heat that brushes back his hair when he pushes the door open, sliding into the cool car when the driver opens the door for him as he approaches.

Head thrown back against the seat, Jinyoung squeezes his eyes shut and hopes that whatever Jaebum has in store for their unpredicted rendezvous, it won’t meet the same fate.

______________

By the time the car pulls up along the curb of the busy Myeongdong street outside of Burberry, Jinyoung is exhausted. The ride hadn’t been very long, but it was long enough that the sweat on his shirt had dried and the adrenaline had been bled out with every breath until he was limp against the window. Every inch of his skin seems to ache with the desire to go to sleep and not wake up for years. The prostration that follows a panic attack makes him feel lifeless, dull, and a little bit weak. It had lifted a bit when the driver magically offered him a cold water bottle, which he’d drained in about thirty seconds. He feels much calmer than he had immediately following Hakyeon’s freak-out, but there’s the omnipresent lingering of impending doom at the prospect of going through round two with the person he wants to fight with the least right now.

Regardless, he quietly thanks the driver and maneuvers his way through the slipstream of people going both ways on the sidewalk until he’s stepping through the glass doors of the shop. It’s one of the bigger locations he’s guessing, judging by the loft floor above his head at the top of a spiral staircase hidden in the back of the room. The glass wall facing the street is mercifully tinted, and it lends to the serious, almost moody atmosphere of the store as soft indie plays over the speakers and dissipates through the quiet. Jinyoung just stands at the entrance, confused and a little apprehensive at the lack of literally anyone walking around.

“Jinyoung?”

He looks up warily to see Jaebum leaning over the railing on the second floor loft. His heart thumps weakly, aware that Jaebum looks just as handsome as always in his signature business casual, but unable to muster up any other intense feelings about it. Jaebum must notice that Jinyoung doesn’t respond much, and even from where he’s still standing at the door he can see the way Jaebum’s face creases in slight confusion.

“Wait right there,” he says, as if Jinyoung really looked like he was going to turn around and run. Even the idea of it makes him feel tired; he sighs quietly under his breath and refrains from leaning weakly against the door.

He watches Jaebum come down the stairs, focusing on the sharp profile of his handsome face. He always looks so intense with his hair pushed back off his forehead, and Jinyoung finds himself wondering dreamily how Jaebum’s face would change with his hair down and curtained over his eyebrows. The look of mild concern never leaves his face, and even as Jaebum weaves his way through the racks of clothing to get to where Jinyoung is still standing quietly he wishes that he’d let it drop.

“Jinyoung,” Jaebum breathes, practically in relief. He steps closer and reaches out to touch his elbow and then quickly drops his hand. “Are you alright? You sounded so––I don’t know. Nervous when I called.”

He nods, meeting Jaebum’s dark eyes for a mere moment before looking somewhere else. “Yeah. I’m fine, it wasn’t anything.”

If Jaebum thinks he’s lying, he doesn’t say it. Jinyoung takes another look around the store that’s literally empty save for them and a couple of employees he sees milling around tidying up clothes or lingering at the cash register to whisper and giggle behind their manicured hands.

“Are we alone?”

Jaebum nods, and Jinyoung is surprised to find his face flush with a bit of embarrassment as he scratches at the back of his neck. “Yeah. I––I know it’s weird, but I’ll usually clear out an establishment for a period of time if I intend to go shopping so that I can be by myself.” He must notice a look on Jinyoung’s face, because the color along his cheekbones darken. “It’s hard to shop when you have people trying to hound you for business deals while you’re looking at socks.”

Jinyoung snorts. He’s not surprised, but he’s also not annoyed at the display of Jaebum’s wealth. He’s not sure if it’s just because he’s too tired and emotionally drained to think anything of it or if he’s finally realized that Jaebum doesn’t actually like to peaco*ck about it and he no longer cares. Either way, he’s much too burned out to linger on it for long.

“So, what did you what to talk about, ahjussi?”

“C’mon,” Jaebum says softly, face clear of any worry or concern he might have had initially, but Jinyoung can still see it folded into the creases near his eyes. “Walk with me.”

Jaebum turns to get lost in the racks again and Jinyoung follows obediently. Jaebum encourages him to look for things for himself, but the thought of Jaebum buying him clothes more expensive than his monthly rent makes his stomach hurt a little bit. Especially because they’d never really resolved their fight from the night he’d made Jaebum ramen for dinner, and on top of the money that Jaebum had slipped into his bag and he’d consequently forgotten about, it just feels like another point in an uneven score. Jinyoung just follows him around, listlessly fingering the material of different sweaters and shirts that Jaebum pulls off the rack and holds out to him.

They’re standing by a display of sweaters that, despite the lack of strength Jinyoung is feeling and the price tag, he finds himself admiring quietly. Jaebum is flipping through a rack of button-up shirts next to it, turning every so often to eye Jinyoung’s upper body as though he’s trying to guess what his shirt size might be. Jinyoung figures that he could make it easy on him and just tell him, but he’s too tired to initiate.

“About the other night,” Jaebum says suddenly, startling him a bit where he’d been gazing at the spiral pattern on one of the sweatshirts and drifting off. “I want to apologize.”

Jinyoung breaks his stare and looks questioningly at the back of Jaebum’s head. “What? Why?”

“Because,” he pulls something off the rack and holds it up against Jinyoung’s shoulders by the hanger, not meeting his eyes and then turning to put it back as though he’s dissatisfied. He keeps flipping through as his shoulders tense visibly and he sighs. “I handled it the wrong way. I was just angry. And then you told me all that about your ex showing up right after I left and you kissing your coworker and I just––”

Jinyoung closes his eyes, not feeling prepared enough to deal with the sudden flood of emotion threatening him again. “Ahjussi––”

“Jinyoung,” he says, almost pleading, and turns quickly to gently grip him by the tops of his arms. The watch he’d brazenly fixed is still there on his wrist, to Jinyoung’s surprise, but he’d let it get loose again and it rattles when he lifts his arms. He flinches again, embarrassed when Jaebum notices. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?” he asks, and swallows.

“Flinch when I reach for you.”

Jinyoung looks elsewhere, avoiding eye contact. “I don’t.”

“You did, just now. And you did it the first time we met, too. When you spilled coffee on me.”

“Two incidents spaced out don’t really call for the kind of concern you’re trying to express,” Jinyoung mutters, attempting to divert the conversation. He can’t deny that he’s dripping with the residue of his fight with Hakyeon and the sudden movement of his hands had made him nervous, but he won’t express this out loud. It’s just a reflex, Jinyoung tells himself. You know he’d never hurt you.

Do you know that? He asks himself right after, swallowing when he can’t say yes or no.

“It’s enough that I’m concerned about it,” he says, but drops his hands. One cards anxiously through his hair. “Anyway, just––I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have done that. I should have kept my jealousy in check better, and shouldn’t have taken that out on you.” he smiles half-heartedly. “The sex was good, but I’m sorry that we ended the night that way instead of figuring it out. I hope that you can forgive me for that.”

He’s not even the one who should be apologizing, but he is anyway. Jinyoung is aware that he’d been the antagonist that night, though he’d let Jaebum’s responses fuel his fire and added his own to Jaebum’s until it was a blaze that would not be snuffed out except in the bitter aftertaste of angry sex. Jinyoung is surprised to find that he’s also regretful, and also relieved that Jaebum has, once again, seen a side of himself not glittering and polished and not felt compelled to turn away.

Jinyoung nods, unsure of what else to say. “Okay.”

Jaebum lets out an audible breath of relief, but in spite of the noise, Jinyoung thinks he still looks pinched with worry: silence settles in between them at the lack of Jinyoung’s follow up, as though Jaebum is reading his expression. Worry etches itself into the corners of Jaebum’s sharp, catlike eyes. In a rare show of normalcy, Jaebum bites his lip nervously as he reaches out to brush his fingers against Jinyoung’s elbow again, and this time Jinyoung doesn’t flinch. He’s too drained to feel anything but comforted by the small gesture.

Without really thinking about it, Jinyoung reaches over to grab Jaebum’s forearm gently with his opposite hand and pull it away from his elbow. Jaebum makes a quiet noise in his throat but diligently holds out his arm when Jinyoung positions it, thin fingers once again brushing the cold metal of the gold watch and searching for the latch. The pads of his fingers skim the links, seeking the little square of metal, allowing himself for once to be calmed by the way his skin slides against Jaebum’s as he gently holds his wrist in one hand. He finds the latch and pops it, the watch rattling metallically as Jinyoung folds it back up to tighten it.

“You really shouldn’t wear it loose like this, ahjussi,” he says quietly, voice much more docile and meek than it would be otherwise, sliding it up to a good position on Jaebum’s wrist and then fingering the latch to snap it shut. “You’re going to scratch the surface if you do.”

Once the watch is tightened and Jinyoung’s fingers loosen, Jaebum’s arm slides against his and up so that he can slide his hand into his hair and cradle the back of Jinyoung’s head in his palm. Jinyoung’s fingers, now free of Jaebum’s wrist, grip blindly at his shirt just for something to hold onto as he feels that familiar burning in the backs of his eyes brought on by a softness that he’s not sure he deserves.

“Jinyoung-ssi,” Jaebum murmurs, standing much closer now that Jinyoung is gripping his shirt and Jaebum is holding his hair. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

He can’t bring himself to look at his face, so he watches the line of his throat when he swallows. “Nothing. I’m fine. What are you looking for?”

“Don’t change the subject,” Jaebum sighs, but he slides his hand out of Jinyoung’s hair and doesn’t press further, stepping away when Jinyoung reluctantly lets go of his shirt. “But, until you feel like telling me, I’m looking for a suit. Those are upstairs, though.” he looks carefully at Jinyoung’s face though Jinyoung is still looking at his neck. “Do you want to come? If not, I can send you home in a car––”

The thought of going home alone scares him, so he shakes his head before Jaebum can even finish. He doesn’t say anything out loud, but Jaebum takes the hint and leads him up the little spiral staircase to the second floor loft.

When he steps up onto the level hardwood floor, he’s surprised at how big it is: it looks much smaller from the ground floor, and it’s laid out with displays of suits in every color imaginable. The room is a gradient, the left wall all darks and shades of blacks and greys that bleed into browns into reds and so on until his eyes hit the left wall in startling whites. Jaebum taps his shoulder gently and leads him over to the immaculate suits pressed in shades of navy. Jinyoung just stands there quietly, mind whirring like a buzz saw, as Jaebum thumbs the rack and starts to pull things off that he likes.

Turning, he holds up a suit jacket to Jinyoung’s shoulders and smiles. “This would be a good color on you. Do you want to try it?”

He shrugs, not really answering yes or no. Jaebum’s brow furrows but he doesn’t ask him what’s wrong again, he just lays the suit over his arm and continues searching.

This continues for another fifteen minutes or so, with Jaebum looking around for things in Jinyoung’s size that Jinyoung would never wear, both because of the style and because of the price tag. Some of the things that Jaebum picks out are stunning, though, and despite there being some things he isn’t a huge fan of, he can’t deny that Jaebum has impeccable taste. Jinyoung finds himself wishing that he was in a better headspace so that he could maybe enjoy this a little more, but the scene Hakyeon had made earlier is clinging to his joints like lead weights. He feels like he’s barely keeping his head above water, and every soft smile or appreciative nod accompanied by gentle fingers on his wrists or elbows has the turret sloshing dangerously close to the rim.

Jaebum had refused to make a big ordeal about their fight and the subsequent round of angry sex that had followed. He doesn’t mention what they talked about, or the things that Jaebum had said in the middle of it. Jaebum had just taken a deep breath and apologized, acknowledging that what they did was the wrong way to handle things and left it at that. Jinyoung can barely comprehend what this means––is Jaebum just trying to smooth things over so that they don’t have to worry about it next time Jaebum calls him up to f*ck? He’s not used to this. He’s not used to a situation being dealt with calmly and without expectation. He’s used to what happened earlier: name-calling, accusations, empty threats. Jinyoung doesn’t know what it means that Jaebum is the one who apologized first and refused to push him for a reaction. It’s as if he’d done it for himself, not for Jinyoung, and didn’t expect Jinyoung to accept it or apologize back if he wasn’t ready. It’s the kind of unselfish selfishness that Jinyoung had never experienced in his relationship with Hakyeon. He’s used to being the martyr, sacrificing himself and his emotions just to patch something up. Not someone else.

He’s not quite sure what to make of it.

They’re standing in front of the dressing room, Jaebum sitting down on a small bench directly across from the door. He urges Jinyoung in with a navy suit, murmuring quietly that he doesn’t have to try it on if he doesn’t want to. Jinyoung takes it, though, desperate for even just a moment alone to try and reel in the wild, lunatic buzzing of his thoughts.

He shuts the door behind him, hanging up the suit and just putting his hands over his eyes. His breathing is already uneven, hot tears stinging the backs of his eyes that he should have cried earlier but held back in order to save face. The events of the day have just been too much to handle––first Hakyeon, then coming here to see Jaebum after their fight, who had nothing but calm words of apology and gentle touches as though he could sense that something was wrong. He presses the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, trying to force the tears back. The comparison is unwelcome at the moment but not entirely unnecessary: so far, everything that Jaebum has done has been so different than the way Hakyeon had treated him. In this situation, Hakyeon would have rolled his eyes at him and told him to quit being such a baby about whatever was bothering him and to enjoy himself. Jaebum is the complete opposite of that; the same gentleness he’d started to show at Jinyoung’s apartment has once again made an appearance and it’s just too much.

Jinyoung sucks in a breath. It stops short and he hears it, vaguely aware that Jaebum must hear it too. His knees buckle and he falls against the mirror, hands pressed so hard against his closed eyes that he sees little bursts of light against the black. Jaebum’s voice is faint when he calls his name in a panic, knocking on the door before he pulls it open roughly and steps inside.

“Jinyoung? Jinyoung!”

His voice rises with alarm when he sees Jinyoung leaning against the mirror. Jinyoung turns where he’s leaning on his shoulder, dropping to his back against the glass on the wall opposite the door and making Jaebum come forward to catch him by the forearms. Hot, unwelcome tears overflow, squeezing past his palms and down his wrists to pool on top of Jaebum’s gentle fingers. He allows his hands to be pried away, immediately tilting his head up to look wide-eyed into the light.

“I’m sorry,” he gasps, wrists turning in Jaebum’s grip but not trying to pull away. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m okay––”

“You’re not okay,” Jaebum interrupts, voice stern, and Jinyoung looks at him when he realizes Jaebum sounds afraid. His face is pinched with worry and edged just a bit with desperation. “Jinyoung, what’s wrong?”

“I met my ex today,” he says shakily, tears still welling up in his eyes and spilling down his face. He no longer has the strength to keep this part of himself hidden––Jaebum has wanted the truth about himself, and so he will deliver it in his bloodied palms. “He wanted to sit down and talk, and I didn’t want to, but I said yes anyway because I figured that if we went somewhere to talk he’d take the hint. We haven’t talked in two years, not since a few days after I broke up with him. I should have known it was a mistake, and it was as soon as he sat down and said hi to me. He hasn’t changed a bit, ahjussi, and I should have known, but I was so messed up about our fight that I agreed to see him––”

“Messed up about our fight?” he interjects, confused. “Why?”

“Because I was afraid that the last impression you were going to have of me was that I was just some whor* that wanted your money and I just––I––” his breath hitches as the tears come faster, burning hot trails down his reddening cheeks. “I said yes to him because I wanted to give him some closure, I thought that’s maybe what he wanted, but then he just started being an asshole so I got upset and starting saying all these awful things to him. And then you called me, and when I picked up and called you ‘ahjussi’, he put the pieces together that it was you––”

“How could he possibly know it was me?” Jaebum asks in bewilderment.

Jinyoung tries to suck in a breath that stops short. “He ran into you on the stairs that night I invited you for dinner. I thought you had come back when he knocked, so I said ‘ahjussi’ when I opened the door but it was him, not you,” Jinyoung whimpers, even just the memory of the hope he’d felt at Jaebum being the one on the other side of the door making fresh agony well in chest like blood from a cut. “When I answered for you and said ‘ahjussi’, he must have put the pieces together and I––I couldn’t have lied even if I wanted to, I was so caught off guard––”

“It’s okay that he knows it’s me,” Jaebum soothes, thumbs rubbing at Jinyoung’s wrists. “I don’t care that he knows it’s me, I care about what happened after.”

“He just––he did what he always did, he freaked out, which is why I sounded so afraid––” his voice cracks, sniffling before he tries to continue sounding out of breath. “And said I’d call you back. He freaked out, demanded that I hang up, and when I did, he shouted at me in the middle of the cafe in front of everyone. Called me unbelievable, said that I was his and that I’d always be his and then I––I threatened to kill him.”

“Oh, Jinyoung––”

But Jinyoung doesn’t give him the opportunity to finish. Now that the words are here, they will not go until they are spoken. Jaebum’s hands on his wrists keep him grounded, and the tears just leak from his eyes like a broken faucet as his breath hitches and breaks over the story that finally gushes from his mouth.

“I don’t know what I expected. He’d always been that way. Before we were together, he was my professor. He was older, he was cool, and he liked poetry as much as I did. But he–he–he always doted on me more than oth–other students, which I didn’t mind, because he was h–handsome and I was a shy nineteen year old. He drew me in with books of po–poetry he’d thought I’d like and buying me coffee when I stayed late at the l–library to s–study. So when I’d passed his class with an A and wasn’t in it any–anymore, he asked me on a date. And I agreed. Who wouldn’t?

“And it was nice at first. He was so good to me at first. He would recite p–poetry to me in the m–mornings when we woke up together. He made me b–breakfast and took me on sweet dates. But after the first couple of m–months I could tell he was changing. He barely seemed to care that I was still in college. Even though he knew I was in study groups he’d constantly interrogate me about where I’d been, who my f–friends were.”

Jaebum has gone quiet, just listening, and Jinyoung risks taking a look at his face to see that it’s gone pale and ashen. His heart stutters, suddenly scared for him, but he continues anyway through the burn of tears and the acidic expansion of his lungs with every sucked in mouthful of air:

“Sex was always r-rough, he would mark me up all over, panting that I was h–his and that he’d show all the p–people he thought I was sleeping around w–with that he belonged to someone already,” Jinyoung says, feeling the way Jaebum’s fingers tighten on his wrists and his jaw knots under his ear but he stays quiet even as Jinyoung flushes to talk about this. “He didn’t care if I came or not, it was always about him, and he complained that sex with me was b–boring. And then everything else just got worse. H–he didn’t care about my poetry. He made fun of me for it. He didn’t support me. He was belittling, and awful, and he–he took advantage of me, and he still couldn't see why hewas wrong when I b–broke up with him after I graduated.”

Jinyoung swallows roughly, stomach taking a dive at the next part of the story:

“A couple days later, I saw him on the street when I was with J–Jackson. He freaked out. He made this huge scene, yelling my name even when I was trying to get away into the crowd and disappear, but he found me anyways.”

The memory of it washes up again––the embarrassment, the panic, the dread; the way he’d broken down and sobbed on the subway when it was over. It was a flashback of today, that same feeling rising up in him again as he takes a broken breath and tries to finish speaking over the waver in his voice as the tears come faster:

“Begging on his knees, crying, yelling at me. It was awful, it was so embarrassing, Jackson had to p–pull me away and run with me th–through the crowds until we could get to the subway, and once we were on it I just started sobbing––”

“Hey, Jinyoungie,” Jaebum says, a mild panic of his own starting to take shape in the dips of his eyebrows as Jinyoung’s breathing increases until he’s gasping, “hey, hey, it’s alright––”

“Ahjussi, he’s a terrible person, and he never loved me––”

“Jinyoungie, you have to calm down––”

Jinyoung shoves at Jaebum with his wrists for emphasis, crying and shaking and gulping for air like he’s drowning, “he never loved me, ahjussi, you have to understand that’s why, that’s why––I’m scared––”

“It’s alright,” Jaebum says again, quieter, cutting Jinyoung off until he just dissolves into quiet tears. Jaebum uses his grip on his wrists to pull him forward into his chest; Jinyoung, who had once turned away at this kind of affection from Jaebum, latches onto it desperately as though Jaebum is throwing him a lifeline. He buries his face in Jaebum’s neck, hands fisted in the material of his dress shirt so hard that he untucks it from the front of his pants. Jaebum just shushes him quietly, one hand cradling the back of his head while the other gently rubs tiny circles into the spot between his shoulder blades.

Jinyoung hadn’t ever expected to find this kind of comfort here. When Jaebum had waltzed into his life arrogant and assuming and demanding Jinyoung clean his shoes for him, he never once expected or even dreamed that they would end up here, with Jaebum caring so much for him in the small amount of time they’ve been acquainted. He never once dreamed that Im Jaebum would be the person to hold him, to comfort him, to be on the receiving end of a tragic story about his failed love life. He never expected that Im Jaebum, of all people, would become the person that he’s afraid of falling in love with.

Despite the things they had done, the things they’ve said; despite the way that Jinyoung feels blind and unready for this kind of emotion, he allows himself this, for once, when he needs it most. He has always been the best at denying himself of his feelings, but there’s no more fight in him for now, and it’s hard to say no when he feels like he’s drowning and Jaebum is here, waiting with a lifeboat and a ladder to carry him to safety. Jinyoung doesn’t want to think about later, he wants to think about now, and for now he can be contented in that Jaebum is here, holding him, murmuring words of comfort into his hair until the tears stop coming and he only draws quiet, shaky breaths.

He feels Jaebum kiss the top of his head, face buried in the soft strands. His hands tighten on Jinyoung’s back and then release in the pressure of a hug, but they don’t move from their spots. “Do you want me to take you home, or would you rather come back with me and try to eat some dinner so that you aren’t alone?”

His breath quivers and shakes like his unsteady hands where they grip Jaebum tighter. Lips to his neck and swollen eyes squeezed shut, he presses closer.

“I don’t want to be alone, ahjussi.”

______________

In the end, Jaebum holds his hand while he talks quickly and softly to the sales ladies, asking them to box up whatever he'd had on him in the dressing rooms and have it delivered to his apartment tomorrow. Jinyoung just stands there with his eyes closed. Swollen and dry, they itch and throb vaguely as he sways gently in place, fingers tight where they are laced with Jaebum’s. Every so often, the older man gives his hand a reassuring squeeze that he tries to return.

When Jaebum is finally finished and has slid his wallet back into the front pocket of his slacks, he pulls Jinyoung to the front door and out to where the car is waiting for them. The crotchety old man that had driven him that day is there again, but instead of a grimace on his age-lined face, there's a knowing grin spreading underneath the shadow of his cap when he sees their linked hands. Jinyoung doesn't know what to make of it, but he doesn't have the energy to question. He has little motivation to question anything: his mind is far from thinking about the consequences of letting himself fold and be taken in by Jaebum’s gentleness. The weakness aching in his joins leaves little room for argument when Jaebum pulls him close to him, positioning Jinyoung’s head on his chest and running silver-heavy fingers through his hair still faintly damp with sweat. Jinyoung keeps his eyes closed as the car races them through the crowded city streets, Jaebum’s heartbeat strong and steady where it ba-bumps, ba-bumps in his ear like a lullaby. It doesn't take him long to let the exhaustion pull him under and doze off against Jaebum’s chest.

Some time later, in the expanse of a short dream of broken glass and glittering sunlight, he is gently shaken awake. Jaebum’s hand is on his shoulder and the other on his arm where it has snaked itself around the older man’s slim waist.

“Jinyoung,” he says gently, lips nearly to his hair, “wake up. We're here.”

He makes a sleepy noise in his throat but sits up, blinking tiredly. Falling asleep, light though it was, makes his eyes feel heavier and more swollen and achy than before. He rubs at one with the heel of his hand while Jaebum slides out and waits for him with an outstretched arm: he wiggles his fingers and smiles softly. Come with me, Jinyoungie, it seems to say, and there's that little tug tug on the red string wrapped around Jinyoung’s heart at just the sight of it. An invisible force pulls the string taut and it vibrates with feeling as Jinyoung hits the pavement outside Jaebum’s apartment building on both feet and takes his hand.

He’s almost used to the walk through the lobby now, and through a combination of no longer being shocked and the weariness clinging to him like a second skin, he barely looks around as Jaebum leads them to the elevator. Jinyoung finds himself wishing that he had something to say to fill the silence, but instead he just lets himself be held up by Jaebum’s arm on his waist and floats on his steady breaths.

When the elevator comes and they step inside, Jaebum turns to face him as the doors close. Jinyoung still feels a little shy to look directly at his face, so he glances up quickly before turning his gaze back level with Jaebum’s jaw. Jaebum sighs quietly as he studies Jinyoung’s face, but the sound is not exasperated or annoyed. Just calm. Content, even. Jinyoung’s heart flutters uselessly like a baby bird.

“What do you want to eat?” Jaebum asks softly, reaching up to brush a thumb along the line of his throat. It travels to his jaw, rubbing back and forth with the slightest of touches.

He shrugs. His eyes close at the feeling of Jaebum’s skin on his own, leaning into the touch instead of away from it. They open again when the doors open into Jaebum’s apartment, and he lets Jaebum lead him to the couch. Jinyoung sits down and leans back, feeling stiff and exhausted down to his bones; he’d barely eaten anything that morning, too nervous about meeting Hakyeon, and now he just feels too upset to eat. Pulling his shirt away from his chest a little bit to readjust and sink back into the soft red of the velvet cushions, he sighs.

“I don’t know. Honestly, ahjussi, nothing sounds good. I don’t want you to waste your time cooking for me and not eat.”

He watches Jaebum’s hands as they pull up his slacks a bit so he can sit down next to him. The first button on his shirt is undone at his throat, and he must have been rolling up the sleeves as he was ushering Jinyoung inside, because his forearms are now visible where he lays them across his thighs to let his hands dangle between his knees. Jinyoung knows there’s probably a look on his face similar to the one that he’d seen in his own kitchen just a few nights ago, so he swallows and decides to just focus on the gold watch glowing faintly in the dim light of Jaebum’s living room where it sits tight on his right wrist.

“That’s okay,” he says softly, his fingers twitching like he wants to reach out again, and Jinyoung’s heart thumps once. “What do you want to do instead?”

Something normal, he thinks to himself, finally gathering the courage to look at Jaebum’s face. And he’d been right to think it: his face is lined with softness, pieces of hair on his forehead like always when it comes loose from the styling. His feline eyes no longer bear the heaviness of arrogance that they once did, but are now two blinking, gorgeous lines of gentle intensity in his handsome face. The line of his jaw has softened into the dip of his neck, looking more boyish and tender where he watches Jinyoung with some emotion on his face that Jinyoung refuses to try and name despite feeling a mirrored version of it in his heart.

He clears his throat, attempting to dismiss the feeling by looking away. “Can we just watch a movie or something?”

“Yeah. Yeah, Jinyoung-ah, of course we can.”

Jinyoung, for once, doesn’t try to correct him.

Once Jaebum has turned off some of the lights in the apartment and sits down on the end of the couch to lean against the curled arm of it, they argue lightly about what to watch. Jaebum insists they watch something gentle, like a soft drama or a documentary that will keep Jinyoung’s nerves calm. Jinyoung scoffs at him, saying don’t tell me you’re a boring ahjussi and even laughing just a little when Jaebum leans over to poke at his shoulder. Though Jinyoung tries to argue in favor of something distracting like an action movie, he eventually concedes that the choice is Jaebum’s because he’ll probably fall asleep, anyway.

The sigh Jaebum lets out when he finally picks something is happy. Jinyoung feels a weird tingling sensation in his hands and feet when he sneaks a look at Jaebum’s profile, blinking and calm where he watches the introduction to the movie he’d selected. He doesn’t really get it: he’s not sure what Jaebum has to feel happy about, considering that Jinyoung had basically interrupted what would have been a normal day with an emotional meltdown. Embarrassment still burns red at the tips of his ears, so he’s thankful for the lack of light in the room and that Jaebum currently isn’t paying attention. Despite the earlier events of the day, there’s this feeling lingering around the space of his chest that holds a different timbre than the one he’d felt since the first day they’d met. Apprehension still breathes down his neck but he finds that here, in the dark of Jaebum’s apartment where they do something other than fight or f*ck or both, where there is no expectation of a favor to be returned, only the offer of comfort and the acceptance that Jinyoung finally folds to, it is a little easier to will it away.

Of his own accord, Jinyoung drops down to his elbow, blushing a little when Jaebum makes an audible noise of surprise in his throat as Jinyoung settles his head in his lap. Jinyoung refuses to say anything, not wanting to make a big deal, so he keeps his eyes on the screen and places his hand on Jaebum’s thigh near his chin while he tucks his legs up by his chest. After a moment of sitting frozen as though disturbing him would cause Jinyoung to flee like a flock of startled birds, Jaebum relaxes back into the cushions and the arm that had been stretched along the back of the couch comes down to rest on Jinyoung’s ribs. Jaebum’s hand lays flat on his chest, suspiciously near his heart, and he prays that his heart beat stays steady so that there’s no mistaking it when it starts to pound from touch alone. Jaebum doesn’t say anything, though, and they both lapse into a comfortable silence fit together on Jaebum’s couch.

Too comfortable, perhaps, as Jinyoung feels his eyelids getting heavier and heavier with every slow intake of breath. It’s hard to focus on the movie; he’d stopped paying attention some time ago, his tired thoughts wandering aimlessly around in figure eights from one thing to the next. He thinks about how calm he feels, finally able to let the wall he’d so carefully constructed after Hakyeon come down in shambles after he’d broken down in front of Jaebum in the dressing room. Blinking, he wonders what it could mean that he finds some sort of peace, but before it really forms into anything, the thought slips away. Jaebum’s hand on his chest stays firmly in place as though he’s silently communicating to him that he’s not going to let him fall. Gradually the noise of the movie dims into the background and then into nothing as Jinyoung falls asleep, head in Jaebum’s lap.

He sleeps dreamlessly, his subconscious a wall of black. There’s no shattered glass this time, no flashback in the pretense of a dream; he’s jostled nearly to waking almost once but is quickly dragged back under as he turns onto his stomach. Jinyoung sleeps the sleep of the exhausted, held down by cement bones that gradually get lighter as the events of the day come off like shed clothes the longer he sleeps. Had she known, his mother would have clicked her tongue against her teeth and said to him, Jinyoung-ah, don’t you think there’s something special about how he knew just when to call you? You shouldn’t dismiss fate quite so easily.

Her voice is what rouses him. Jinyoung rises up on his forearms, blinking tiredly into the near blackness of the room. Where am I?

He turns his head to the left, startled when the large picture window gives him a breathtaking view of the city at night, lit up and glittering far beneath him. The rest of the room is bathed in shadows, illuminated only weakly by the glow of the city lights from outside the window. His eyes adjust a bit more to the darkness as he blinks, taking in dark curtains pushed against the walls in opposite corners of the room.

He startles when there’s a soft thud on the bed near his ankles: his head turns, amazed to see both that he’s in a huge bed and that there’s a cat he’s never seen before stepping carelessly on his calves. There’s a collar around her neck, a washed out pink from the lack of light, but even in the dark and from the heavy coloring on her slim face he can tell that her eyes are a cerulean blue. It occurs to him, then, as though someone had come in and flipped on a light, that the bed he’s lying on in his clothes is Jaebum’s.

The cat makes a tittering noise in her throat as she walks all over Jinyoung’s legs with her nose in the air. He chuckles softly as she steps up onto Jinyoung’s butt, continuing on until she’s sitting down between his shoulder blades. Her head tilts just a little as he watches her from the corner of his eyes as if to question him, who are you and what are you doing in my dad’s bed?

“Good question,” he murmurs, watching her as she hops off his back and disappears across the empty side of the bed where Jaebum is not lying beside him.

Getting up, Jinyoung stretches his arms over his head as he pads quietly out of the bedroom and back into the kitchen. There’s a tiny orange light on over the sink, illuminating just enough of the dining area for him to walk through it without bumping into anything. The rest of the living room and entry way is dark, all the lights turned off and the TV now silent and still. Jinyoung, curious as to where Jaebum could have gone in the middle of the night, steps down into the living room and jumps when he notices a body stretched out along the length of the couch.

Jaebum is asleep. One knee is bent and the other leg is straight out where he’s on his back, chest rising and falling evenly. His left hand brushes the floor while his other arm is bent across his eyes. The watch digs into his cheek and he makes soft little sounds where his mouth is slightly parted and hanging open.

Jinyoung just stands at the arm of the couch, aware that watching Jaebum sleep is probably a little weird, and that if he ever told Jackson and Yugyeom about it, he’d really never heard the end of it. Ever. But there’s a feeling in his heart that just won’t go away, squeezing with every beat and pumping its way into his arms and legs. Warmth washes down his whole body as though he’d just stepped under a shower head; the apprehension that had its teeth sunk into his neck like a parasite is suddenly nowhere to be found. Jinyoung feels a shift like two plates of the earth in his chest as he admires Jaebum’s sleeping form, more boyish than ever and infinitely more peaceful than he could have ever dreamed.

As though the cat had known his feelings and thoughts were getting away from him, she suddenly appears with a soft, rolling meow from her belly as she hops onto Jaebum’s stomach. Jinyoung tries not to laugh as he jerks awake, folding up and nearly throwing her off of him when his arm comes down fast and his hand hits her fur. He doesn’t notice Jinyoung standing there yet, eyes half open and breathing out hard through his nose in exasperation.

“You’re a bitch, Nora,” he mumbles sleepily, running one hand down her back lovingly, and Jinyoung covers his mouth when he smiles.

He must see the movement of Jinyoung’s arm, because he startles into sitting up and angers the cat, who leaps off his stomach with an irritated mrow. She disappears to wherever she’d been hiding the first few times Jinyoung had been here, and once again leaves them alone in the room, darkened with shadows like spilled paint.

“Jinyoung,” he breathes, a weird mixture of relief and something else in his sleep-roughened voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says quietly. He’s surprised that it’s the truth: Despite the initial bewilderment upon waking up alone in Jaebum’s bed with no recollection of how he got there, his mind put together the pieces as he made his way into the living room and there’s a profound emptiness in his chest. It is profound not due to the emptiness itself, but because the emptiness signals the lack of fear and doom he had been held under by.

“Are you sure? I hope Nora didn’t wake you––”

“It’s fine, ahjussi,” he says softly, cutting him off, distressed when he can only see so much of Jaebum’s face in the darkness of the living room. He wants to see it, lined with sleep and with the softness in his eyes that occurs only when they first open. What he wants, more than anything, is to not feel the sloshing in his stomach when he takes a deep breath and asks,

“Will you just––will you come get in bed with me? I don’t want to be alone.”

He had meant it in the literal sense, of course. But now that the words are out and the timbre of his voice has changed, he isn’t quite sure what he’d meant, after all.

Regardless, Jaebum nods and stands up, blindly searching for his hand until he finds it and he can lace their fingers together. Jaebum leads them back into the bedroom, letting go of his hand to close the door behind them to keep out the cat before coming to join Jinyoung where he’s standing by the foot of the bed. His back is to the window, for once, and when Jaebum steps in front of him and looks into his face, he’s amazed at just how wonderful it is to see him bathed in soft light instead of just outlined by it.

His dark hair is messy and a little damp, but it looks charming when combined with the sleepiness folded into the lines left by his shirt sleeve on the tops of his cheeks and the crescents of his eyes when he smiles. Jinyoung swallows, both hands reaching out to grip the loose fabric of Jaebum’s shirt where he’d untucked it from his pants and hold it tight as though he’s scared to let go.

“Ahjussi,” he whispers, eyes wide in the dark, scared that if he blinks this soft image of Jaebum imbued in the ambient light from the heart of the city under their private oasis will disappear and it would have all been just a dream he’d had, one where he no longer had to be afraid of the consequences of falling in love. “Ahjussi, thank you––”

Jaebum just nods quickly, reaching up to cup Jinyoung’s face in both hands as he leans in to kiss him. Their lips brush once, softly, and Jinyoung feels his hands tighten to fists in his shirt when he kisses him again with more pressure. It blooms in his chest like a flower, over and over as Jaebum parts his lips with his tongue and kisses him deeper. Jinyoung whimpers with a longing sound from his chest, shaky fingers finding the buttons of his shirt and slipping them backward through their holes. Jaebum’s fingers slide into his hair, holding his head still as he tilts his own for a better angle and licks slow and sweet into his mouth.

Jinyoung’s heart stutters, but he turns his head away as Jaebum’s hands find the hem of his shirt and pull it off over his head. Jaebum’s shirt comes next, pushed gently down his shoulders until they’re exposed, broad and strong in the milky light spilling in the window. They undress each other slowly, hands wandering on hips and chests and necks until they’re both in their underwear and Jinyoung is pulling him down shyly into bed.

He turns on his side, toward the window, heart stuttering when he feels the warmth of Jaebum’s chest pressing into his narrow back. An arm slides around his hip, the other folded underneath Jaebum’s head. Jinyoung sighs when he feels Jaebum’s lips on the back of his neck, kissing him once before his head settles back on his arm and his breathing slows. After a few minutes of quiet, his breathing evens out entirely as he falls asleep wrapped up in Jinyoung under the covers of his king sized bed.

Jinyoung stays awake for a while longer, listening to the city and watching the stars pinwheel across the sky. It occurs to him as his thoughts follow suit, roaming aimlessly once more, that Jaebum had never once made this about sex. He hadn't, either, really, considering he'd been mid-freak out, but the only time Jaebum had ever mentioned sex is when he was apologizingfor it, admitting that it was the wrong way to handle their argument. It's strange to him––having to figure out what it means, that Jaebum had genuinely seemed to take into account his well being and attempt to calm the raging storm of his emotions despite it being the first time he'd ever seen it. Never once was there the implication that it was a burden or that it was to be reconciled. Jaebum had just...cared about him. He swallows a lump in his throat at the implications; he had come face to face with something like this before, when Jaebum had gotten upset at him when Jinyoung tried to get him into bed, but now he has nothing to hide behind except the naked truth: Jaebum did this because he cares. For some reason, despite everything, Jaebum seems to care about him.

As his eyes start to droop and sleep creeps back up on him, he thinks with his final breath of awareness that, if this is in fact a terrifically elaborate dream, he hopes he never wakes up.

Notes:

updated tags. looks like we might be getting somewhere...

Chapter 9: hologram

Notes:

"it's so easy in this blue
where everything is good

i'll never go home again"

Chapter Text

Jinyoung wakes up first. Awareness slams back into him like a kick in the teeth; his chest expands and his eyes open wide as he gasps himself awake. He’s facing the big window in Jaebum’s room, sunlight staining the walls and the light colored carpet to a shade that hurts his eyes as he squints into the late morning. The sun is already up and past the tops of the buildings, reflecting off the chrome and glass metropolis below them like a burning eye. Sweat sticks his skin to the silk sheets of Jaebum’s huge bed. He blinks until his heartbeat slows and his thoughts return to their normal lazy pace.

He’d really done all of that yesterday. It seems unreal, in the way that traumatic events often do. Jinyoung is trying to grip the same emotion that had him pinned by the throat the day before but finds that it eludes him. All that’s left is the emptiness and a strong feeling in his stomach that he had, perhaps, finally found Jaebum’s limit. There’s no way that all of Jaebum’s gentleness yesterday had been genuine, right? There had to have been a point where Jaebum felt as though Jinyoung’s breakdown was burdensome. His heart constricts as he thinks of something so terrible and realizes that, no, it hadn’t been faked. The rhythm in his chest stutters and catches up with quickened steps when Jinyoung remembers Jaebum’s shadowed kiss, no intention behind it except that of wordless communication. He remembers the careful hands that had pulled off his shirt and helped him take off his pants and then just held him closer once they fit together under the sheets.

Jaebum, for whatever reason, cares. It is hard for Jinyoung to fathom, but he had said it a hundred times without words, and despite running through the maze with his hands over his ears, now that he has come upon the realization, Jinyoung would be a fool not to believe it.

Even still, there’s the lingering presence of self-doubt as he carefully rolls over to face Jaebum and not disturb him. Jinyoung remembers with a fluttering in his stomach the way he’d seen Jaebum asleep on the couch last night, peaceful and soft in a way that he usually isn’t when he’s awake. Jinyoung admires him now, again, the butterfly wings in his belly quickening as he looks at Jaebum’s sleeping face. In the light from the window, his eyelashes drop spidery shadows along the tops of his cheeks. His hair is messy, too, falling across his forehead and spread out along the pillow where he’s asleep on his back. Everything about his face is just as perfect as it always is: thick lips barely parted as he breathes evenly, nose a harsh line in his face with only the hint of a charming bump on the ridge. The curve of his jaw underneath his pierced ear fades into a smooth neck, long and unblemished where it, too, fades into the broadness of his shoulders.

Jinyoung swallows, that washing machine sensation rolling his stomach as he trails his eyes across the width of Jaebum’s bare chest. The blanket is kicked down his thighs, one knee slightly bent the way it had been when he’d fallen asleep on the couch, and Jaebum is scarcely covered by his low-slung boxer-briefs and nothing else.

Tempted and wishing to be distracted from the dangerous thoughts of explicit emotion currently trying to invade his head space, Jinyoung leans up on his elbow and gently reaches out with his right hand. His fingertips ghost across the left side of Jaebum’s chest, avoiding where his hand is resting in the dip of his own ribs. Early morning sun passing to that of the early afternoon has warmed his tanned skin, nearly hot to the touch underneath Jinyoung’s fingers as he trails them down to his stomach and mapping the vague cuts of Jaebum’s abs. Jaebum, still asleep, sighs at the touch and his stomach reacts to Jinyoung’s featherlight searching. Jinyoung’s breath catches when Jaebum sucks in a whimper through his nose and starts to wake up.

Heart pounding, he flattens his hand to skate his palm down Jaebum’s stomach and ghosts over the line of his half-hard co*ck in his boxers. Jaebum stirs, arm sliding against the sheets where it’s bent around Jinyoung’s elbow, and his bent knee drops to the bed as he spreads out a little. Jinyoung keeps moving, reaching down to the insides of Jaebum’s thighs and stroking the soft skin there, admiring how it’s a different shade than the pretty tan of his abs and arms. The older man rouses, taking a deep, sleepy breath in through his nose that ends in a low moan as Jinyoung feels him over his boxers.

Even though he feels and hears Jaebum waking up under his touch, he doesn’t look up at his face. Jinyoung keeps his eyes cast down, hungrily admiring the way Jaebum’s stomach contracts with a breathless noise at the same time his co*ck twitches in his boxers as Jinyoung’s fingers come down harder against the fabric. The strip of hair running down from underneath Jaebum’s shallow navel and disappearing into his low waistband holds Jinyoung’s eyes as he takes a deep breath and cups Jaebum’s co*ck in his palm.

“Ah, f*ck, Jinyoung-ah––”

Jaebum whimpers it on an inhale; his voice is rough edged from sleep and deep where it rumbles from his chest. A feeling like warm honey pools into Jinyoung’s thighs at the baritone vibrato of Jaebum’s sleepy moans. He’s barely awake, breathing unevenly and growing hard where Jinyoung massages his co*ck with his hand, every so often slipping away to run his fingertips teasingly up and down the insides of Jaebum’s thighs. Jinyoung’s stomach flips and warms at the pleasure that slides in and curls up like rope around his insides.

“Jinyoung-ah,” he moans, the hand that was on his chest moving to his hair as his hips move up like they’re looking for friction under Jinyoung’s touch. He drags his fingertips up the length of his shaft through the thin, black material, watching with a watering mouth as he twitches and shifts underneath him. The touches are featherlight, barely there, but soon Jaebum is completely hard and pliant under his hands. The older man moans sleepily under his breath, legs falling apart to spread wider as Jinyoung slips his hand lower between them.

Suddenly, Jaebum’s stomach flexes and his hand is shooting down between his legs to grip Jinyoung’s wrist. Jinyoung makes a soft, pleased noise, letting Jaebum guide his hand back up to his crotch and push it down against his erection. His lower lip disappears between his teeth as he watches; Jaebum’s fingers tighten around his wrist and he holds his palm in place so he can grind against it. Little soft sighs and whispers fill the silence between them, Jaebum still fighting the heavy cloak of sleep as he uses his grip on Jinyoung’s wrist to apply more pressure when he thrusts up. Jinyoung's free hand fists in the sheets as his own co*ck hardens and goes ignored in favor of watching Jaebum f*ck his hand.

“Jinyoung-ah,” Jaebum moans again, softly, and he finally feels brave enough to spare a look at Jaebum’s face.

Heat shoots down Jinyoung’s back when their eyes meet. Jaebum's eyelids are half closed, the skin underneath them still swollen with sleep he's yet to rub away. His cheeks are flushed bright pink, the same shade as his lips where the bottom one drops and they part on a quivering moan. The darkness of Jaebum’s pupil-swallowed eyes where they stare up into his throbs like an ache in his balls. Jaebum’s tongue darts out, quick and tantalizing, wetting the plump skin of his mouth to an unbearable shine.

Jinyoung’s heart squeezes and breaks into a thudding trot as he takes back control, pushing against Jaebum’s fingers on his wrist so that he can once again draw his fingers up and down the sensitive skin of Jaebum’s inner thighs. Their eyes hold as he does it; Jinyoung is leaning over him, looking down, his own lips parting on an almost inaudible noise when Jaebum’s hips twitch.

“Jinyoung-ah,” he whimpers again, his eyes squeezing shut and thighs shaking a little in time with his rasping breath, “why’re you teasing me so early in the morning, baby boy?”

Eyes wide, Jinyoung makes a choked noise at the term of endearment tumbling so filthy from Jaebum’s mouth, so startled by hearing it that his fingers spasm and go skidding across the width of Jaebum’s leg. His heart transforms into a dying star: it folds inwards and then explodes, hammering away at his ribs while Jaebum continues, seemingly unaware that he's said it, muttering under his breath. His eyes don't open and even as Jinyoung tries to catch his breath and continue rubbing Jaebum off over the thin cotton of his boxers, he's glad that his ahjussi can’t see the blood red flush spreading down his neck.

Jinyoung, despite being equally as turned on by Jaebum grinding against his curved palm, feels like a bucket of ice water had been dumped down his back. Baby boy. Jaebum had moaned it so candidly, not even the hint of a stutter as though the name has left his mouth more than once. There is no sign of the unsteady warble that comes with an unasked question of do you like being called this? Jaebum hasn't asked, but maybe somehow knew; what it really tells him, though, is that Jaebum has called him that to someone else.

His breath hitches in uncertainty. Jaebum’s eyes open again at the noise, and despite just barely starting to come fully awake, he seems to sense the change in Jinyoung’s expression. His free hand behind Jinyoung’s back comes up to thread his fingers into Jinyoung’s slightly sweaty locks.

“Yah, Jinyoungie,” he murmurs breathlessly, fingers tightening in his hair when Jinyoung bears down along the length of his shaft with the heel of his hand and eyes rolling slightly before they refocus on his face. “Get out of your head. Enjoy the moment with me.”

“Yeah, okay,” Jinyoung pants, nodding, attempting to not sound half hearted. His body still aches at the revelation that Jaebum has been calling him baby boy behind his back, but he can't tell just yet if the feeling it gives him in his knees is good or bad.

He tries, though, shaking his head slightly to clear it before leaning down to lick teasingly at Jaebum’s lips. The older man growls, deep in his chest when Jinyoung chuckles and tries to pull away. His grip on Jinyoung’s hair is fierce and he uses it to his advantage, pushing Jinyoung’s head down so that he can lift his up and meet it in the middle to seal their mouths in a kiss. Lightning shoots down into Jinyoung’s stomach at the feeling of Jaebum’s tongue sliding against his own, kissing lazily and wet while Jinyoung shifts slightly and starts working his hand faster.

“sh*t, f*ck—” Curses and swears drop from Jaebum’s mouth when he breaks their kiss and lets his head hits the pillows. His back arches, voice rising and then settling into the normal, slightly rough baritone quality it has when he's awake. “God dammit, Jinyoung-ah, ah, f*ck—”

Jinyoung’s own breath quickens to match pace with Jaebum’s as he feels his co*ck twitch under his palm. He curls his fingers, jerking him over the fabric, returning the small smile that appears on Jaebum’s face before the corners of his mouth drop into an upside D as his org*sm swells. Jinyoung’s name never leaves his mouth, whimpered over and over in varying octaves as Jaebum's hips lift off the bed slightly to thrust against Jinyoung’s hand. He's almost tempted to just reach in and finish him off inside his underwear, but he silently admits to himself that it's a little fun to watch big, bad Im Jaebum falling apart under his hands without ever touching his bare co*ck. The air is sucked from the room and into Jaebum’s lungs as he tenses. With a broken sigh of his name and a subsequent quivering moan, Jaebum holds his hand down as he comes into the thin material of his boxers and wets Jinyoung’s fingers. He massages him gently for a moment as his hips drops back down and he sighs, content.

Jinyoung, not thinking, reaches up to lick his fingers clean. There's a split second of a gasp from where Jaebum had gone boneless underneath him, but the tables turn sharply when Jaebum is rolling over and pinning his wrists down to the bed by his neck.

“God, you're f*cking irresistible,” Jaebum mutters, eyes hungry as they search his face. Jinyoung can feel the wet stain on the front of Jaebum’s underwear through his own and whimpers.

Jaebum rolls his hips down. “Yeah? You like that?”

Jinyoung nods, wondering where this is going but not really caring. “Ahjussi, don't worry about me, let's go clean up—”

“Do you think I'm going to let you get out of this bed without making you feel good?” He says, voice thick and sweet like molasses. Jaebum pins him down with his hips and the wet spot at the head of Jinyoung’s dick over his underwear has Jinyoung groaning low in his stomach.

“It's not that,” Jinyoung gasps, turning his head to the side to allow Jaebum to kiss and bite at his neck after giving him permission. Jaebum just hums, seemingly disinterested in an answer.

He stays that way as he moves his mouth down, sucking marks into Jinyoung’s chest and then scraping them with his teeth, one done and another on the way as he does it so quickly Jinyoung barely has time to inhale in between them. Whatever protest or shy excuse Jinyoung was going to offer as to why getting him off no longer mattered when Jaebum had so pliantly folded under his touch is lost under kiss after kiss. As Jaebum yanks him to a standing position off the bed and walks him to the bathroom, Jinyoung thinks that resistance is futile when he has someone like Jaebum gently pushing him up again the shower wall and reaching around to return the favor and jerk him off. In any other circ*mstance Jinyoung would have something momentous to say about them taking their first shower together but the red mist of lust bleeds into his vision and the sex that ensues under the water has little romantic merit for him to be conscious of milestones.

In any case, waking Jaebum up that way and the intercourse that followed is a welcome distraction from the emotion lingering ominously around his shoulders. Even despite the cold water shock of hearing Jaebum refer to him as baby boy in his half asleep state, it helps to numb the edges of yesterday’s pain. Even still, with the rising high tide of their lust, it is, after the day before and the night they just spent together, undeniable that something about the nature of their relationship is different. He can feel it in the way Jaebum half watches him get dressed and half reads the morning paper he'd spread out on the empty side of the bed where he'd been lying not even an hour ago. It is in the quietness that vibrates like a silent, unwavering chord between their bodies as they exist around each other in the space between their essences. Though it makes his palms slick with a nervous sweat, he would be a fool to deny it.

Something has changed.

__________________

Yugyeom slams his palm down on the table, overjoyed, making their cups shake. “I knew it!”

Jackson just laughs and Jinyoung rolls his eyes––he didn’t know sh*t. They’re sitting around a small table on the patio of a coffee shop near Jackson’s house, hidden mercifully in the shade of the oversized cloth umbrella sagging over their heads. Heat bakes off the pavement and warms the metal of Jinyoung’s chair. His sunglasses slip down his nose a bit with sweat and he pompously pushes them back up with a finger and a scoff.

“Whatever, you had no idea,” he shoots back, realizing belatedly that arguing with Yugyeom is like arguing with a brick wall but he does it anyway. “You only suspected because Jackson can’t shut up.”

“Hey!” Jackson whines, reaching over to weakly slap his arm. Jinyoung dodges it. “At least Yugyeom made the time to hang out with me.”

Even though it’s a joke, it still makes him feel guilty for the three weeks he hadn’t bothered calling Jackson and catching him up on the Im Jaebum fiasco, which is turning into a full blown natural disaster. Jackson sees the pout on his face and lightly kicks his shin under the table.

“Jinyoungie, I was just kidding,” he says. “Plus, you caught me up on everything, anyway.” He straightens suddenly when Jinyoung flushes a deeper red than the one already streaked on his cheeks from the heat. “Wait. You did, didn’t you?”

“Well…”

The both of them nearly shoot out of their chairs in unison. Yugyeom’s knees hit the table, and with a yelp Jinyoung has to reach out to keep their drinks from spilling. People in their vicinity look over as Jackson hoots at the tops of his lungs and balances on his arms to kick his feet excitedly in mid air like a child. Jinyoung, frozen during all of this after catching their drinks, tries to sink down through the table and disappear into the scorching earth. It would be bad enough if it was only Jackson, but now he has the epitome of double trouble across from him stomping their feet and slapping each other’s arms with the repeated (and disgustingly loud in the nice, relaxed atmosphere of the coffee shop patio) thwack thwack thwack of skin on skin.

“Calm down!” Jinyoung hisses, feinting like he's going to dump Jackson’s icy drink on his head.

The blonde boy settles, carmine brushstrokes on his cheekbones from the effort of making a scene. He clears his threat and folds his hands, blinking rapidly in expectation as he and Yugyeom lean forward in unison.

“So?"

“So what?” he huffs, childishly throwing himself back in his seat. Jinyoung crosses one arm over his stomach and turns his head away to sip loudly at the melting ice at the bottom of his cup.

Yugyeom whines ah, hyung, so annoying in that way he imagines a little brother would say it a split second before being punched hard in the arm. Jinyoung grinds his teeth and refrains from doing just that.

“I’m sorry that I don't call you guys every night to word vomit about my sordid love life.” He drops his drink down away from his face where he's holding it by the lid. “Plus. It's not even interesting. We f*ck and he gives me money. End of.”

Yugyeom gives him a punch-worthy eyeroll while Jackson just gives him the raised eyebrow, wide eyed look that screams you're a liar and everybody knows it. Jinyoung foolishly attempts to ignore it and act like the three of them are just a little gang of friends enjoying a nice, quiet, leisurely day drinking iced coffees and lemonade but it's clear from Jackson and Yugyeom’s earlier shenanigans that it isn't quite the case. Regardless, Jinyoung pointedly ignores the two pairs of puppy dog eyes aimed at the side of his head until it's too much to bear.

“Fine,” he sighs, exasperated, turning and setting his empty cup down hard on the table. The ice rattles underneath the cheers the other two let out in unison. “God, you two are unbearable.”

Yugyeom flutters his fingers under his chin and bats his eyelashes until he has to flinch away from Jinyoung’s open palm at his head. “You love us.”

“Do I?” he grumbles, but doesn't deny it.

“Tell us what happened!”

“Okay! Okay. What's the last thing you remember?”

Yugyeom, inappropriately dressed for weather in that he's just inappropriately dressed, makes big eyes at Jackson, clearly anticipating hearing everything first hand for the very first time. Jinyoung doesn't mind so much that Jackson told Yugyeom about his affair with Jaebum–he knows that Yugyeom is guilty of near fanatical idol-worship, but he also knows their younger friend can be serious and sober when he needs to be. Jinyoung had never been overtly worried about Yugyeom spreading rumors. He's just worried about how he’ll react to the story in public.

Jackson taps a finger to his chin while he thinks for no reason other than theatrics. It hasn't been that long since they've seen each other, so he rolls his eyes when he realizes that he's putting it on for Yugyeom.

“Hmm…”

“If you really don't remember, I can tell you, since it was barely a few days ago—”

Caught, Jackson hurriedly waves him off. “No! No! I remember. You were telling me about how you talked to Hakyeon—”

Yugyeom’s eyes widen in alarm, which surprises him. Had Jackson left that part out?

“—and that I was going to see him in the next day or two.”

“We talked about your feelings. too, if you want to discuss those—”

“No thank you,” Jinyoung snaps at him, much to the delight of Jackson and Yugyeom as they convince each other his reaction is from fear of finding out the truth.

His phone starts to ring in his pocket. Is that not exactly what it is? Denial born of fear of the unknown? Of feeling beyond the depth of what he had assumed himself capable of?

No, he shakes his head and reaches in to pull out his cellphone. That would imply feelings.

Jackson resumes rambling about what Jinyoung had told him a few days prior in a less than concise way as Jinyoung looks down at the caller ID. His heart drops into his stomach and rises back quickly into his throat when he sees Jaebum’s name flashing across the screen––it’s still shocking to him, seeing that combination of characters on his personal phone. He remembers the first time he’d reluctantly called Jaebum at Jackson’s annoying persistence, and how poorly it had gone. More interesting still is that, despite his consistent reluctance to acknowledge that there’s anything special between them beyond what could be considered a typical sugar daddy/sugar baby relationship, he can’t deny that even he is surprised at the domesticity that has occurred the past couple of days. They had progressed from awkward phone calls and late night texts for sex to dinners and fights and Jaebum becoming a shoulder to lean on during a breakdown, albeit an accidental one, to little exchanges over the course of an entire day about what they’re doing or harsh words about the extreme weather. Jinyoung keeps to himself about how often he catches himself smiling down at his phone when Jaebum sends him a picture of the cat he’d met on the street and quickly has to school his face into a more serious expression should someone catch him.

“Are you going to keep staring at your phone with hearts in your eyes or answer it?”

Shocked out of his train of thought by Yugyeom’s teasing voice and Jackson’s accompanying giggle, he feels his face redden as an argument fails to present itself. He childishly sticks his tongue out at them and pouts as he answers, heart beating against his eardrums:

“Hello?”

“Jinyoung,” Jaebum breathes, unfairly relieved. Jinyoung wonders why he always sounds like he’d been afraid he wasn’t going to answer. It’s not an entirely unwarranted reaction, he supposes, considering the way Jinyoung is constantly pushing their...whatever it is against the grain. But still, he finds himself being just the tiniest bit offended.

“Hi, ahjussi.”

Jaebum hums. “What are you doing?”

He looks up to where Jackson and Yugyeom have stopped whispering to each other. Their heads are still leaned together, but the both of them in unison are staring wide eyed at him expectantly. He sighs, exasperated.

“I’m having coffee with Jackson and Yugyeom,” he says. “Trying, anyway.”

His stomach warms pleasantly when Jaebum’s rich laugh trickles down the phone line into his ear, dumping down his throat and pooling into his chest like warm honey. “You don’t sound very happy about it.”

“They’re idiots,” he says, enunciating so that the both of them get the message loud and clear. Jaebum just laughs again, and he’s startled to find he actually quite misses his company.

Clearing his throat, he cuts in before Jaebum has the chance to say something else when he’s done laughing. “What’s up, ahjussi?”

“Are you ever going to call me by my name?” Jaebum sighs wistfully, but he doesn’t necessarily sound disappointed or even upset. Just hopeful. Jinyoung swallows around the lump in his throat at the prospect that just something as simple as Jinyoung calling him by his name could make him feel happy.

“I’ve called you by your name before,” he mutters, flushing when Jackson and Yugyeom start slapping each other’s arms again. They seem to be enjoying the phone call more than he is, which is saying something.

“Only when I f*ck it out of you,” Jaebum drawls, sexy and low, making Jinyoung’s stomach take a steep dive toward his knees. He seems to think better of opening this line of conversation and resumes in his normal voice, “anyway, Jinyoung, I was just curious. Are you busy tonight?”

“Tonight?” He asks, watching dumb and dumber across from him perk up like two dogs who’ve learned what it means when their masters spell W-A-L-K. “Um, no, I’m not. I’m free. Why?”

“Would you like to go out? I have some business to finish up here first, but then I’m free until the late afternoon tomorrow.” he starts to sound shy when Jinyoung doesn’t respond right away, and a squeezing feeling starts up somewhere near where his heart would be if it wasn’t crawling up his throat. “I don’t know, I just figured we could, you know, hang out or something, it’s not a big deal––”

Jinyoung suddenly feels the urge to reassure him. His voice is a little breathless and the words tumble quickly out of his mouth like Jaebum will change his mind if he doesn’t say them all right away.

“Yeah, yeah, I’d love to,” he says, trying not to smile when Jaebum makes a sound like he’s relieved. “What do you want to do?”

“Actually,” he says, and pauses for a moment; Jinyoung hears papers ruffling across a desk he dreamily imagines is a gleaming, dark oak polished to a wet shine. “I was hoping you’d have something in mind.”

“Me?”

He laughs again, short and sweet, just enough to make Jinyoung’s heartbeat flutter. He’s starting to get really tired of feeling queasy all the time. Maybe he should see a doctor.

“Yes, you. I want to see what you come up with.”

Jinyoung, who has completely shut out Jackson and Yugyeom’s existence, slides down a bit in his chair to stare at the table. Glumly, he says,

“Ahjussi, I live the middle class life. I do normal people things, like, go to dive bars and cheap clubs.”

“Not even,” Jackson snorts, yelping when Jinyoung looks up and kicks his ankle.

The shrug is evident in his voice. “I don’t care about that. I just want to spend time with you.”

“Don’t say that,” Jinyoung whispers, suddenly serious. “You shouldn’t––you shouldn’t say things like that.”

“Why not?”

“Because––” he struggles to find a coherent answer and is anxious when he comes up empty. “You shouldn’t.

“Terrible answer, Jinyoung-ah,” Jaebum snorts, but the smile is nearly audible. It’s almost disconcerting to him how neatly Jaebum brushes off his half-hearted resistance, as though he knows something Jinyoung doesn’t. But he doesn’t argue, and he lets the conversation slide into a calming lull; Jinyoung just stares at the hole in the table top where the umbrella slides through and listens to Jaebum hum a popular radio song until he can swallow the uneasiness and fill his lungs with air.

“Sure. Okay. Can you meet me in Hongdae at around 8?"

“What exit?”

“You’re going to take the subway?” he asks, surprised, but almost not entirely.

He scoffs. “Of course I am. I don’t always drive places. Plus, you know. It’s all about the experience.”

Jinyoung rolls his eyes even though Jaebum can’t see it. “Yeah, yeah. Middle class experience. I get it, this is like, an attraction for you, right?”

It’s unsettling how easily the joke rolls off his tongue, and more still how naturally the smile follows it. Jackson and Yugyeom have faded into blurry watercolor backgrounds as his world narrows down to the way Jaebum laughs, loud and real, into the phone; Jinyoung, not for the first time these past couple days after their first overnight stay wrapped up together without the expectation of sex, feels the uncertainty shuffle a bit out of line as the content begins to move in. Uneasiness has not lost its place at the head of the table but as Jaebum sighs happily into the phone at Jinyoung’s jab, he feels it beginning to wither.

“No,” he says calmly, with the hint of a cheeky grin hanging off his words. “But I’m attracted to you.”

He swallows, sobering, but without telling them to, his lips curl at the edges. “Shut up,” he mumbles, mirroring Jaebum’s earlier shyness.

“Oh, Jinyoung,” he says, sounding wistful in the most adoring way possible, “if only you knew what you do to me.”

“Shut up,” he says again, more sternly, flushing down his neck when Jaebum laughs. He promises to meet Jinyoung at their agreed upon time at exit 9, unfairly exhilarated, and then hangs up.

Jackson and Yugyeom come screaming back into focus when he stares at his phone for a wondering moment before sliding it into his pocket. Both of them are nearly leaping across the table; Jinyoung is glad for the large, round shape of it that keeps them mostly at bay as they doggedly grill him for information. Jinyoung wishes that any of them had a drink unfinished that he could dump on their heads to stem the barrage of who, what, when, why, how questions coming at him like a derailed train. He considers, if just for a moment, standing up and knocking both their heads together like a cartoon and leave them there with stars and tiny birds chasing each other’s tails, but decides that it’s not worth the effort. Jinyoung checks his watch and ignores the whine coming out of them simultaneously like the most out of tune instrument on earth and sees it’s closing in on five o’clock already; if Jinyoung wants to get home with time to shower and get presentable, he’s got to get going. Yugyeom and Jackson are, of course, less than thrilled with this news. He placates them by promising with rough pinches to their ribs that he’ll give them an update as soon as he can. With that, he leaves them giggling behind their hands and gets on the subway to go home.

There is a lingering sense of something being wrong, or perhaps, more accurately, different, that does not dissipate as he stares at his reflection in the dark window of the subway rushing through the underground. It’s not a bad feeling necessarily; the negativity only comes from not understanding the source of it, why he feels as though there is something inherently different about the nature of their relationship. It feels, Jinyoung thinks in his poet brain, like something has shifted: a bone that had dislocated just slightly enough to not be noticeable and yet still cause discomfort that radiated throughout his being has repositioned itself back into the socket from which it had come and he can, finally, take a deep breath. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Jaebum had remained immovable despite having to support Jinyoung through a breakdown that he had not wanted nor asked to be a part of. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Jinyoung had ignored the cautions he usually uses like a shield and sought Jaebum out, purposeful in his desire to replicate the comfort he had found once before. Maybe Jinyoung himself is changing, but the thought of it makes him sick like standing on a diving board over the black pit of an endless chasm and he has to look away.

He realizes it as he's toeing off his shoes just inside the door of his apartment, quieter now that Jaebum isn't inside it, and quieter still with the lack of Jackson. He had missed it entirely underneath the electrical current of nervousness that agreeing to hanging out in public, in Jinyoung's type of public, had brought on. It had eluded him until now, hitting the wall on his elbow where his shoe slips out of his hand, lost under the assault of Yugyeom's excited fists pounding his back. He had forgotten to mention that it isn't a date--Jinyoung pulls out his phone quickly to send him a text, but before he can hit send there seems to be an invisible force holding his fingers still.

The phone goes back in his pocket. The clarification remains unsent.

So much has changed.

__________________

7:55pm has Jinyoung hurrying up the staircase of exit 9 at Hongdae station. Even before he reaches street level he can feel the current of heat where it wafts down the concrete tunnel and blows his hair back a bit from his damp forehead. He regrets his outfit choice of tight, ripped jeans and a simple, striped long sleeve shirt when his feet hit the pavement topside and the heat only presses down worse. Now entering mid-August, his days a blur of Jaebum and Hakyeon and drama, there's the heat that lays across his shoulders making his shirt stick lightly to his skin; underneath it is the barest undercurrent of wind to suggest that cooler days will come.

Once he's at street level, on the waves of heat and wind there is the unmistakable smell of food coming at him from all corners. Little tiny carts with banners in all lengths and bright, neon colors advertise more foods than he even has time to look at: pajeon stands, fruit stands, seafood stands, and, arguably his favorite: chicken skewers with roasted vegetables brushed in a sauce so good he won't eat them anywhere else. The streets are already packed with people, the sun sitting low on the horizon line and yet the lights from the shops have everything doused in a near day-time brightness. There’s cheering from somewhere down the block; it drowns under the wave of bass pounding out of open doorways of clubs and the noise pollution of basem*nt noraebangs. Teenage girls in their summer clothes giggle behind their hands at boys drinking maekju in the street. It is worlds away from the quiet hush of art galleries and country clubs that Jaebum is probably used to but to Jinyoung, this feels right. A part of him is nervous that Jaebum will disagree.

As if summoned by the thought, a familiar hand settles in the small of his back. He jumps slightly, startled, hand over his heart as he turns into the circle of Jaebum’s arm. Caught, he doesn’t attempt to step away this time when Jaebum’s forearm rests underneath his shoulders.

Long hair swept back he looks, as always, utterly heartbreaking. The dotted line of silver following the curve of his ear glints in an array of color from the lights of stores and stalls. Jinyoung swallows hard; out here in the open, they are stripped bare and exposed, not shielded behind the expensive bars and clubs where Jaebum’s frequent patronage is nothing except mundane. Already, though, people walking by have noticed that mogul Im Jaebum is here, dressed down in a trademark button up and tight jeans similar to Jinyoung’s in their light wash and stylish rips down both the thighs. They’ve also most certainly noticed that he’s got his arm around a young man who definitely looks nervous with the proximity of their faces.

“Hi, ahjussi,” Jinyoung breathes, not moving one hand from his heart and keeping the other down, motionless at his side. “Do you, uh, do you really think you should be doing this––?”

“What, greeting you?” he says, a grin pulling up the corner of his mouth but Jinyoung notices with a steep decline of his heart that it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Should I have bowed politely instead?”

He starts to pull away, the closing off of his features beginning when the grin drops. Jinyoung hates it. He hates it. Mostly he hates himself for causing it. He hates that he couldn’t just accept that Jaebum does what he wants, regardless of who can see; though Jinyoung’s question had been an honest one coming from a place of good intention, it presented itself as the kind of reluctance he had been showing when they’d been first getting to know each other. The reluctance is not entirely gone, of course, it would be impossible to eradicate it completely over the course of one breakdown followed by a sweet first night that showed him a new side to a once mysterious Jaebum that he hadn’t really tried to hide. Jinyoung is the one who has been cowering behind the ruins of a wall that he himself built up and then smashed to pieces when Jaebum had held him in the dressing room and listened to him cry.

Before he can pull away entirely, Jinyoung’s hand leaves his chest to grab onto the front of Jaebum’s shirt of its own accord. The older man looks surprised: the curtain of his emotion once again goes up, honest shock on his face as Jinyoung tugs gently and asks him without words not to move. He looks down at Jaebum’s neck, feeling a blush spreading on the apples of his cheeks even as his fingers curl tighter and he curses himself for making Jaebum feel anything but happy.

“That’s not what I meant,” he mumbles, feeling Jaebum’s arm tighten. “I just meant...are you...okay with people seeing us like this?”

Jaebum sucks in a quiet breath. He doesn’t know what it means, or why it sounds so surprised: Jinyoung kind of wants to hit him. Does he really think that Jinyoung wouldn’t consider his feelings at this moment?

Their history, brief though it is, strong and persistent, flashes before him quickly as Jaebum seems to be formulating an answer while his eyes sweep the planes of Jinyoung’s reddening face. It’s true––he hadn’t really given Jaebum an idea of anything else, not before the day Jaebum had saved him from Hakyeon. He had shown nothing but reluctance, resistance, and selfishness. Ugliness crawls up his throat; his brain feels upside down and backward as he tries to process what it means that he should feel so guilty about it after the fact.

“I don’t think I’m the one we should be worried about,” Jaebum murmurs, having hardly even looked at the people around them since he’d arrived so suddenly. “Are you okay with people seeing us like this?”

He doesn’t know. He realizes what this might imply––not telling him that this isn’t a date, deliberately so, Jaebum’s arm around him, the both of them dressed quite nice. It’s going to look like a date.

So maybe it is.

He shrugs, trying to seem nonchalant despite the uncomfortable knot in his chest. “I don’t care. Just, you know. Try not to hate it too much, since it’s not a ten million dollar award party.”

Clicking his tongue against his teeth, Jaebum shakes him a bit where his arm is around his waist and it makes him laugh. Jaebum pulls away, but only far enough so that his fingertips remain on Jinyoung’s hip over his shirt. “Shut up. What are we doing first?”

“Hmm…” Jinyoung taps his chin with a finger, aware that Jaebum is watching him but not giving him the satisfaction of looking over. “Well. You said that you don’t have work stuff to do until later tomorrow afternoon, right?”

Jaebum nods.

He straightens. Jinyoung takes a deep breath, smelling the fumes of food and exhaust from cars rolling sluggishly through the crowds of people, drawing it into his lungs so that it leaves no room for anything else. He lets the resistance go, too tired to hold it up when he has the entire night to get Jaebum drunk on cheap beer and ruin his pristine image with messy fried chicken eaten with their fingers in the mouth of a smoky alleyway. Jaebum had already proved to him without ever saying a word that he cares--there is more to this than what Jinyoung can offer him in the bedroom and Jinyoung is, for the first time, acknowledging that he is terrified to let it go. Despite the ghost of his past that haunts every turn of his head, the bottom of the abyss that he’s been staring into while by Jaebum’s side suddenly seems a little closer than he’d thought.

He takes Jaebum’s hand, ready to jump.

He smiles.

“Come on, then."

If Jaebum seems surprised, he doesn’t show it for once. In fact, his smile almost seems smug sometimes, but Jinyoung lets it go in favor of pulling him along through the masses of people surging back and forth like an upset ocean. Every so often something in the rows upon rows of stalls will catch his eye, and he’ll make Jaebum stop so that they can spend five minutes admiring all the glittering jewelry or chrome rimmed glasses with no frames. Sometimes, when he’s not looking, Jaebum will attempt to buy for him whatever he’d been looking at, but the crinkling of a dollar bill always catches his ears before the sale can be made. Jaebum can be sneaky, though, and despite how many times he’d caught him in the act, Jinyoung still ends up with a small bag of presents that Jaebum had managed to sneak past him.

As they weave through the streets and trail in and out of tiny shops, Jinyoung can’t help but disappear inside his head for a moment as Jaebum thumbs through the racks of clothing at a tiny store smashed in between a pharmacy and another tiny shop selling shoes. It’s not that much cooler inside that it is outside, but the sun has gone completely down now and left a mildness in its wake. He feels so...free. Every breath he takes feels relieving, every laugh covered by his hand except when it’s occupied by Jaebum’s comes easy. Jinyoung crosses his arms and thinks about how different that this would have been with Hakyeon––there would be none of this wandering, losing themselves in each other and the glare of illuminated signs. There would have been one destination, and one end––whatever bar Hakyeon had chosen to get drunk, and his apartment to have sex. It had been claustrophobic, almost, trapped inside the confines of Hakyeon’s desires. But here, with Jaebum quietly holding a screen-printed t-shirt up his chest to see if it would fit, it feels like freedom.

Their eyes meet in the mirror. Jaebum co*cks an eyebrow and lowers the shirt at the same time his lips go up in a smile. “What are you thinking about so hard over there, Socrates?”

“Nothing,” he says, dropping his head against the doorframe as Jaebum shakes his head and turns to pay. It is both true and not true at once––he had thought of nothing else since he’d arrived except that, even though people who have passed them in the streets called out to Jaebum or whispered and giggled behind their hands that a famous man is so carelessly roaming the streets without protection, content has settled in.

Once they both hit the pavement at the bottom of the tiny wooden staircase, Jaebum blindly searches for his hand again and links their fingers. Instead of pulling away, Jinyoung squeezes them lightly.

“Where to?”

“Beer,” Jinyoung says, feeling on top of the world. “Beer.”

There’s a hundred different places to get beer as they walk, so he lets Jaebum pick one at random to order some soju and draft from that has a small bar attached to the front of it at chest height so that they can stand there while they sip at their drinks. Jinyoung wastes no time, downing his shot of soju before Jaebum can even pick his up, and the glass of beer Jaebum had so graciously paid for is tipped up and gone in under a minute. He orders another, downing it, too.

Jaebum titters. “Nervous, Jinyoung-ah?”

“No,” he says honestly, wiping an arm across his mouth and wondering when he had stopped correcting him. “Happy.”

“Really?” Jaebum makes a face after chugging half his beer like he’s trying to catch up. “You know, I really thought you were going to try and tell me that this wasn’t a date.”

He nods. “I thought about it. I almost texted you when I got home from the cafe and told you that this wasn’t a date, but…” he trails off and shrugs when he can’t come up with anything else besides, “I didn’t do it.”

“It’s not too late to tell me. You usually don’t have time constraints on telling me exactly what this isn’t.”

He thinks Jaebum might be serious, but when Jinyoung dares to take a peek at his face, one corner of his mouth is already curled in a grin. His pretty eyes are on him, obviously joking, but maybe just wondering, too.

“That’s true. But I’m not going to.”

“So is that what this is, then?”

Jinyoung orders another beer. “Is this what?”

“Is this a date, Jinyoung-ah?”

“Maybe.”

Jaebum smiles, full blown, and even from the corner of his eye he can see it. He presses closer when someone behind him comes up and forms a line to the left of them at the tiny bar. His breath is warm, soft when it trickles into his ear from where Jaebum puts his lips at the shell of it.

“Do you want this to be a date?”

Jinyoung doesn’t look at him. He faces away, looking into the tiny back of the miniature bar where another owner is squatting with his ass against his ankles and a cigarette dangling from his fingers. He smiles, knowing that Jaebum is watching him.

“Maybe.”

“Good,” Jaebum says, and plants a kiss on his cheek.

Jinyoung fusses, but the flush that burns against his face tells them both that he doesn’t actually mind it. They both finish three more beers a piece, standing at the small booth for another half an hour talking about this and that as though they’ve known each other for years instead of just a few months. Jinyoung finds out about Jaebum’s favorite sports teams, though there aren’t many, and that he actually isn’t so fond of dressing up every day, but business is business. He finds out about Jaebum’s cat––where he’d got her, how much of a jerk she is sometimes and, most importantly, how much he loves her. They spend a good thirty minutes just talking and laughing and flirting as the beer grips onto their bones and holds on like lead weight.

“Say, speaking of dates,” Jaebum says, digging an elbow into Jinyoung’s ribs as they prepare to stumble back into the masses and keep walking around. “Would you go to an event with me? As my plus one?”

“What kind of event?” Jinyoung asks, already feeling fuzzy around the edges as his head swivels to check both sides of the street before pulling Jaebum across with him.

“Just some stupid thing my dad used to host every year. It’s not me hosting it, I’m just attending. It’s not for a few weeks, so you can think about it. You can even say no, if you want––”

Jinyoung squeezes his hand. “Of course I’ll go.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, ahjussi,” he says, and tries not to laugh when Jaebum rolls his eyes, “I’ll go.”

They’re walking (albeit a little unsteadily, as the alcohol runs through their blood and makes them both a little more touchy and a little more loose) down a street bursting with noise and color as lights and music spill from the open doors and windows of the noraebangs. They don’t say anything for a moment, just marveling at the sights as they walk hand in hand, oblivious to the stares and sporadic screams of Jaebum’s name. They’ve barely been approached; despite Jaebum’s fame status, it seems as though, because he’s not a drama or a movie star, his fame is a little less underwhelming to the laymen. Only a few people have taken his photo from afar or come up to talk to him, and every time he greets them politely while gently ushering them away, letting them know he is on a date and wishes not to be disturbed. Jinyoung just looks on in those instances, amazed that Jaebum is the poster of grace under pressure while he himself is not.

“You know, you can call me Jaebum. Even Jaebum-ssi,” he says suddenly, voice a little thick from the copious amount of beer they drank in one sitting. “Ahjussi makes me sound so old.”

Jinyoung laughs, knocking their hips together and pulling Jaebum closer when he stumbles a bit. Buzzing neons in the signs above their heads glows warmly as the music fades and the quieter section of the shops draws them further away. The constantly changeing colors oscillate dizzyingly across their drunken faces.

“It’s just me being respectful,” he teases, yelping and trying to pull away when Jaebum pinches his side.

“Respectful would be hyung or Jaebum-ssi,he counters, eyes scanning the names of the business along his ride side. “Ahjussi is just you being a brat.”

“I’m not a brat!” Jinyoung says, looking away when he sees the looming sign a couple of doors down that is shaped like a hand. There’s an eye carved into the palm, outlined in blood red neon, the word PSYCHIC above and below it in Korean and English.

“I think you’re just afraid,” Jaebum says, and sniffs with his nose in the air like he’s offended.

Jinyoung scoffs. “Of what?”

Jaebum, unfazed, stops walking and uses his grip on Jinyoung’s hand to pull him close. The alcohol makes him unsteady, and he trips on his own feet and falls into Jaebum’s chest where the older man catches him with two hands on his hips and barely moves. Jinyoung can’t help but think that, had they known anything of this, his sisters would have absolutely died at the drama level cliches of his life. No longer surrounded by swarms of people, Jaebum leans his face closer and brushes his lips across Jinyoung’s in the promise of a searing kiss.

He pulls away, but only slightly. His eyes are dark where they reflect that bloody palm and the eye within Jaebum’s reaches in to touch his soul, “that if you call me by my name, you’ll have to admit that you’re falling in love with me.”

Jinyoung reaches up to slide his fingers into Jaebum’s hair, wanting to pull him down to deepen the kiss, but Jaebum steadfastly refuses.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jinyoung murmurs, whining in his throat when Jaebum won’t kiss him.

Using his grip on Jinyoung’s hips, he shakes Jinyoung’s fingers from his hair and turns him so that he’s facing the line of shops again. He points over Jinyoung’s shoulder at the open door of the psychic, foreboding where the door hangs open to an esoteric blackness streaked through with fragrant plumes of colored smoke.

“If you’re so sure, let’s see what the psychic has to say.”

“Are you serious?” Jinyoung says, dismissing the idea immediately but not arguing when Jaebum smiles and pulls them toward the door. “I don’t believe in this stuff. Do you?”

Jaebum pauses in the doorway. He looks back over his shoulder, already half swallowed by the darkness of the inside. One eye is visible while the other only gleams in the crepuscule, a specter caught between dimensions. The neon from the sign in the window bathes the visible side of him in blood, pooling in the shadows of his cheeks, carving out the edges of his face like a Greek statue of a demi-god. The noise of the city just a few streets over has suddenly vanished, suspending them here in the doorway between worlds. Time has seemed to disappear as they hang in the altered reality of a liminal space. Something whispers to him that maybe he can believe, even if just for now.

“I don’t know,” Jaebum finally says. “Maybe I do.”

“Then let’s find out,” Jinyoung says, breathing sound back into the space between them.

Jaebum turns away, the strange moment broken. He draws them both inside, doused in darkness that has them both fumbling and whispering to each other about whether or not they should be in here. Then, from the corner of the room, an orange light flickers and then expands like a dying star until the front room of the establishment is glowing in the ominous tangerine effulgence.

The light is coming from a glass orb on the table. Behind the orb sits an enormous woman, swathed in so many layers of different colored cloths that Jinyoung isn’t sure where one begins and the other ends. Incense burning in an unknown part of the room wafts across the light, the atmosphere made even more haunting by the smoke that obscures some of her features. He can tell that she is old; creases in her face tell him tales of age and long distances travelled, perhaps in the unbearable heat of an unforgiving son. Gold jewelry clangs and rattles in her eyes and on her wrists as he lifts her hands.

“Welcome, lovers,” she croons, voice accented but steady. “Do you care to have your fortunes told?”

The whole thing would feel campy and ridiculous if it didn’t feel so authentic--Jinyoung isn’t sure how she does it, but just a few minutes ago they were out in the loud streets of Hongdae bumping shoulders with strangers who don’t turn around to say sorry. Music came from every open door or window, and people filled the sidewalks and roadways like schools of fish. But here, it feels like they’ve stepped into another world, and Jinyoung finds himself both impressed and maybe slightly afraid.

“Yes, please,” Jaebum says when he doesn’t, and he guides Jinyoung to one of the two chairs placed across from her at the table.

The cloth brushes his knees as he sits down, and he folds his hands carefully in his lap; god forbid he accidentally touch something that he’s not supposed to and they get thrown out. The woman, ancient looking and looming in her own way, watches them with eyes that seem dangerously smart and sharp in the soft folds of her face.

“What answers do you seek?” she asks, and Jinyoung starts to feel a little less overwhelmed--it is, after all, just a show. This woman in particular just happens to be incredibly good at setting up an atmosphere.

“Anything you can tell us,” Jaebum says softly, looking a little bit more nervous around the edges than Jinyoung does.

“You are Im Jaebum, is that correct?”

Jinyoung startles when Jaebum sucks in a breath. “How did you know?”

“I read the papers, dear.”

The tension breaks like a snapped wire––Jinyoung covers his mouth as he struggles to hold back a laugh. She laughs outright, booming and full at the slack-jawed surprise on Jaebum’s face. With a musical clap of her hands, the orange ball dims and the overhead lights come on to bathe them in a more normal glow.

“Sorry, the theatrics are mostly for foreigners. You seemed very trepidatious when you arrived, but the skeptics,” and she glances at Jinyoung for this, “never seem to buy into it much.”

Jinyoung won’t deny that something strange happened to them in the doorway, but he’s glad that the overall foreboding sense is gone and they can have a little more fun with it. Jaebum’s cheeks have stained to a bright pink as he looks down at the table and tries not to scream.

“Give me your palm, Mr. Im,” she commands sweetly, smiling at him when he finally looks up and sighs heavily. He reaches out for her to take his hand in her smaller ones glittering with heavy rings in silvers and golds.

Jaebum sits calmly for his reading, nodding every so often when she looks up at him and asks him a question he must confirm or deny. Sometimes she asks him strange things, like things about his father, that make Jaebum’s face drain of color momentarily. Jinyoung watches her graying hair spilling across the multi-colored fabric of her shoulders and listens as she reads out the so-called future Jaebum is going to have. She tells him of many things, like happiness, and wealth (which makes all three of them chuckle a little bit), and love beyond words. Jinyoung sneaks a glance at Jaebum’s face when she mentions that he’s been fortunate enough to find his soulmate already, startled when Jaebum is already looking at him from the corner of his eye but looks away again. She predicts for him a long life with his mother, and other generic things that could apply to anyone should she ask the right questions and gain the right answers to tailor it just enough to be believable. So when she drops Jaebum’s hand and holds out her palm for his, he is, to say the least, utterly skeptical.

Her hands are warm when they grip his, thumbs tracing the lines etched into his palms and massaging them as though she’s trying to gauge how deep they run. Her eyes barely leave his skin, mouth moving silently, blinking every so often and then looking at him with a knowing that makes him feel just a little bit nervous. The silence between them all builds as her searching extends to his wrists, feeling the creases, making her way back down until she’s rolling his fingers between hers and counting the number of lines crisscrossing along his palms.

“Something tells me that you are reluctant,” she says suddenly, startling him, but her grip only tightens on his hand. “The past isn’t always easy to let go of, and you have a hard time letting go of it. This line here connects your future and your past––see how it is broken into two with this small gap here? It means that the future and the past are not always connected.”

He swallows. That’s...generic, but, startlingly accurate.

She continues, “do you see this line here? The one curving from where the line of your future begins and how they run parallel to each other?” She taps the line and her rings click together. “This is love. It means that love has started where your past ends and your future begins. In order to get from here,” she points to the short line deemed as his past, “to here,” and to his future, “you must let go of this. The past. I can see it, too, in your aura, that the past will not leave you so easily.”

Jinyoung, who had flashed between nervous and then skeptical, feels nervous again. “What does that mean?”

“Let him go,” he says, looking him in the eyes. “Whoever he is. Ignore him. Your future is already here–not all of us are fortunate to meet our soulmates so early. Be careful that you don’t lose it.”

Soulmates. Uncomfortable, Jinyoung pulls his hand away unnecessarily roughly. He nearly knocks the chair over when he stands quickly, barely even bowing to her as he mumbles a thank you and high tails it out the door. Jaebum is left behind; he catches a bit of him apologizing to her over and over as he pushes his way past a curtain of beads he doesn’t remember coming through and stumbles back out into the buzzing street. He steps away toward the window, looking at the outline of his shadow on the pavement where he stoops to put his hands on his knees and try to catch his anxious breath: how could she know that––? The answer is obvious; she doesn’t know that. It’s all a game, designed with strategic questions and information just common enough that it’s applicable. But she’d said he. Like she knew. Maybe she gathered from them coming in together and holding hands, but––the whole thing just hit way too close to home.

“Jinyoung?”

He straightens when he hears Jaebum’s voice. The older man is looking at him, worried, and Jinyoung just sighs.

“Sorry. I know I told you I don’t believe in that stuff. I really don’t. But, sometimes it’s just so––” he struggles. Stupid literature degree. “I don’t know. Sometimes it’s easy to suspend disbelief and the things that they say are too accurate. I just kind of––I hated having to acknowledge what she said as being right, even if it’s just generic.”

“What part? The part about the past, or the part about you already having met your soulmate?”

Jinyoung looks away, unwilling to admit that he had meant both, because he’s not even sure that he believes in the idea of soulmates, much less that Jaebum would be his. Undeniable though their connection is, there is still so, so much uncertainty that pins him like concrete blocks on his chest.

“My past. I don’t believe in soulmates.”

He feels Jaebum’s eyes linger on the side of his face, backlit by the red glow of the eye inside the palm that burns a hole in the back of his neck. Jaebum just hums in response––he neither agrees nor disagrees, and that in of itself is suspicious. Does Jaebum believe that soulmates exist? Could he possibly believe her that they’ve already found each other? He doesn’t want to look into it too closely. His mother would be having a field day, telling him that he should have believed sooner and even though it’s a man she knew it would happen someday, with someone. He imagines her calling in one of his sisters to tell her about it and having to listen to some spiel about how the stars aligned, just for them.

“Hey,” Jaebum says, tipping up his chin with his fingers. “Let’s not think about it, okay? It’s just hokey fun for tourists.”

Jinyoung looks at him, knowing that he doesn’t believe that, and feeling that familiar, good ache starting up in his chest that Jaebum would sacrifice his stance just to make Jinyoung feel better.

“Do you want to go home?” Jinyoung asks, expecting a yes but hoping for no.

“Not quite,” Jaebum says, and the smile that spreads on his face melts the ice that had formed around his heart in the shop of the fortune teller. “How do you feel about noraebang?”

As it turns out, they both feel pretty good about it. The tension and the heaviness that had accumulated on Jinyoung’s shoulders after being confronted with feelings he’d been shoving down for weeks dissipates as Jaebum drags him down the stairs to a basem*nt noraebang and gladly pays for two hours. The thoughts still linger; it would be impossible to make them leave now, especially knowing that Jaebum had heard them, too, and hasn’t brought them up yet. Jinyoung isn’t even sure what he would have to say if they tried to talk about it, and he is both glad and grateful for the distraction that singing drunkenly offers them both.

His feelings from the beginning of their night return the more time that passes in the room, the lights dimmed and only colored lasers flashing and twirling around the room like the slow passing of stars. Jaebum sits on the small bench while Jinyoung stands, talking directly into the microphone to guide Jaebum to the songs that he wants to sing. Jaebum does it gladly. Jinyoung, who has always been quite good at singing but never pursued it past being in choir at a young age, dances and shakes his hips as he sings the words to songs he barely knows and Jaebum claps along to the rhythm. Jaebum finds the tambourine and bangs it against his palms and sings with him at the top of his lungs to popular songs on the radio.

Jinyoung is equally as surprised to find that Jaebum is incredible at singing, on top of everything else like being handsome, funny, smart, and selfless. Jinyoung watches with adoring eyes as Jaebum sways in place to some of the slower songs, eyes squeezed closed and a hand over his heart as he sings with a passion that Jinyoung has experienced first hand. It’s wonderful to see him like this. Thinking back to their first couple of meetings, Jinyoung would have never thought that the Im Jaebum he’d known then would turn out to be the Jaebum he knows now, singing from his heart and opening his eyes to direct the words to him with a seriousness to his features that makes Jinyoung’s own heart feel like soaring.

With the lights turned off and their faces lit by the glow of the screen and the oscillating colors of the lasers and lyrics, Jinyoung realizes that he’s never felt closer to Jaebum than he does right now. The floor of the abyss is closer still, he realizes, not so deep as he’d thought when he lets go of the inhibitions and just enjoys the way that sweat drips down the curve of Jaebum’s jaw and disappears into his shirt collar. The smile that spreads on his face is glorious, raw and beautiful like art. Jinyoung returns it.

“We only have time for one more song, Jinyoungie, do you know this one?”

Jaebum points to the screen, a song title highlighted in yellow by an artist he knows well. In excitement, Jinyoung jumps up and grabs the other microphone, standing by Jaebum and gleefully shouting for him to start the song, ahjussi, start the song! Laughter nearly drowns out the beginning, the two of them leaning their weight on each other’s shoulders.

“Do you know the rap part to this?” Jaebum asks, eyes heavy but bright with a feeling that Jinyoung feels in his stomach. He’s obviously enamored with the way Jinyoung bounces excitedly on the balls of his feet as the song starts.

“Of course I do!” he shouts into the mic, laughing when Jaebum winces away and then nestles against him once more.

Oh, yeah, oooh. Y’all ready? Let’s rock. Jay Park. Dok2. Let’s go.

Jinyoung immediately busts into the rap, laughing breathlessly as he does it because of Jaebum’s shocked expression. He’d been surprised earlier when Jinyoung proved he could sing, but the look on his face tells Jinyoung that he hadn’t been expecting him to be able to rap, too, and Jinyoung tries so hard to focus on his favorite song instead of falling into Jaebum’s arms with laughter.

“Holy sh*t you do know this song, don’t you?!” Jaebum shouts over the music, microphone abandoned on the table when he realizes that this is Jinyoung’s song and he’s going to own it.

Jinyoung nods, not breaking stride, smile wide as he drapes his elbow on Jaebum’s shoulders and sings to him before pulling away to dance on his own as he sings until he’s out of breath. Jaebum is just leaning against the mirrored wall and watching him, totally encapsulated as Jinyoung jumps around and tries not to drunkenly fall into anything. Jaebum has to catch him a few times, hands warm and gentle on the tops of his arms.

When the song ends, the lights in the room come back on and the television screen awards Jinyoung a 100% for his efforts. He cheers, panting a little bit and definitely sweating from the heat of the room and the exertion that comes with giving his all. They smile at each other, both suddenly a little shy; they had both shown sides of themselves that were just a little bit embarrassing.

“It’s nearly 11 o’clock,” Jaebum says, holding out his hand for Jinyoung’s microphone and placing it back in the stand. “Let’s head home, huh?”

Jinyoung nods, wondering exactly what home might mean to him now.

They barely make it to the subway before it stops running. Luckily the both of them are only a few stops away, Jinyoung a bit closer. The lateness of the hour has the station bathed in an almost eerie hush; they’re the only two people standing on the platform and waiting for it to arrive. It’s calm, though. Jinyoung feels none of the apprehension that fortune teller had given him and only hums in content as he closes his eyes and leans on Jaebum’s shoulder. The older man breathes evenly, one arm slipped around Jinyoung’s waist and his fingers curled securely on Jinyoung’s hip. Maybe it’s because he’s drunk, but he thinks about how well they fit together physically: it’s comfortable this way, head leaned on Jaebum’s shoulder and Jaebum’s arm around his waist. Their similar heights require no uncomfortable stretching or bending to be affectionate. It’s perfect, and with his senses numbed with that steady buzz of alcohol, he lets himself think that, if he could continue living like this, it could always be perfect.

Jinyoung opens his eyes when the automated announcement tells them that the train will be arriving in just a minute. Jaebum’s eyes are already on him when he looks at their reflections of the doors, soft and gentle. They stay like that in silence for a while, just watching each other, no awkwardness or arguments to be found. The station’s quiet begins to break as the floors rumble with the approaching train. Here, standing together in the silence, he wonders if he decided to jump off the metaphorical diving board of his abyss, if Jaebum would catch him at the bottom, no matter how far off it might be.

He watches as Jaebum sticks his hand in his pocket. His eyes blink slowly as Jaebum digs for a moment, looking for something, finding it and pulling it out to give to him. Jinyoung breaks his gaze away from their reflections on the glass across from them as the tiles vibrate under his shoes. When he looks down at Jaebum’s hand, there’s money folded under his thumb pinned to his palm. His heart doesn’t quite react like he thought it would.

Turning his head just a little so that his mouth is near Jinyoung’s hair, Jaebum speaks softly to him under the noise of the train as the headlight brightens the corridor behind the doors.

“I’m sorry if she made you uncomfortable with what she said. Take this, just in case you––” he struggles with the words, unsure of how to say it. His hand shakes, Jinyoung notices, only slightly. “Just in case you felt like you were taking on something too big.”

He stares at it for a moment, wondering what it means. Jaebum had already shown him that he cares, that it’s more than sex. He had blatantly ignored his previous notions to tell Jaebum that this wasn’t a date, and let himself be drawn into the idea that it was one. Jinyoung watches Jaebum’s hand shake and listens to the unsteady beating of his heart where he can hear it through his shoulder.

He reaches up as though to take it, and Jaebum tenses like he’s preparing for the worst. The train rushes past with a burst of sound; the brakes squeal and the wind blows both of their hair back from their faces. Jaebum’s heart beat is thudding against his ear, a terror that Jinyoung has felt before stuck in between the pauses. Jinyoung covers Jaebum’s palm like he means to accept and Jaebum’s hand shakes harder.

Jinyoung readjusts his head and pushes Jaebum’s hand away, money still folded in his palm. “Keep it, ahjussi. I don’t want it.”

Jaebum waits for the follow up, hand frozen where Jinyoung had moved it nearer to his pocket, but nothing comes. The train stops, the doors slide open on a hiss, and Jinyoung moves away from the circle of Jaebum’s arm only to grab his arm and pull him along before the doors close and they have to take a taxi. Jaebum is silent. The money Jinyoung had refused goes wordlessly back into his pocket as they sit together and Jinyoung once more leans his head against Jaebum’s shoulder and closes his eyes.

His heartbeat has steadied.

He jumps.

Chapter 10: tiger vs. duke

Notes:

lover, the lord has left us.

Chapter Text

He thinks about something he'd read once, in a book, a long time ago when he was Jinyoung's age and just as lonely and f*cked up on feelings as the slender boy next to him, who pretends not to be, is. Something like, Your shadow at morning striding behind you. Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you. I will show you fear in a handful of dust. Something like that. Something that had stuck with him over the years and had always come back to him at the oddest of times—like now, standing on a barren subway platform with Jinyoung leaned against his chest and sighing contentedly. The younger boy, rife with youthful arrogance and innocence akin to the one he'd also known once, fit against him like a puzzle piece. Jaebum thinks about the quote and feels anxiety like gritty sand between his teeth.

Jinyoung never talks to him about the money and in turn Jaebum doesn't ask him about it. He had found out via phone call that Jinyoung had practically thrown the money he'd gave him at the boy who delivered his bike. Jaebum doesn't know what he's done with the rest of it: spent it, perhaps saved it. Maybe he has, out of the childish spite that still lurks at the corners of his pouty mouth, let it all go up in flames. Maybe he had burned it in an attempt to burn whatever feeling it gave him, too.

In any case, Jaebum shifts and reaches into his pocket where the folded up bills have been weighing him down all night. They suddenly feel heavy and yet they draw to his fingers like a magnet: he is used to this, the giving. Money is indiscriminate and begs to change hands regardless of the way that Jaebum's fingers seem to shake as they close around the corners softened by millions of others.

His heart begins to pound. This is it, he thinks, sliding the money from his pocket and presenting it like loose change he had found between the couch cushions and Jinyoung is just some kid who had asked hey, man, you got some change?

Jinyoung's eyes fall on it, quickly, a seeker dog's gaze that locks on and waits for the smell of blood in the air. A hot draft blows down the concrete staircase at their backs and he wonders if Jinyoung notices the way it ruffles his hair in a way that makes Jaebum want to kiss him until it hurts.

He watches his hand shake as though it doesn't belong to him, held at stomach level and the cash tucked neatly under his thumb digging in like imaginary teeth and claws as his heartbeat begins to pound and Jinyoung continues to stare. It's an unfair litmus but Jaebum has laid too much of himself on the table at this point to not try and get Jinyoung to show even the slightest peek of his own hand.

"I’m sorry if she made you uncomfortable with what she said. Take this, just in case you––” he struggles with the words. They are there but will not come. How does he verbalize his fear that Jinyoung had expected money, nothing less? Though he knows, more so than Jinyoung ever will, that it isn't the whole truth—there is more to why Jinyoung has stayed. But there is no time to dwell on it now. “Just in case you felt like you were taking on something too big.”

Jinyoung doesn't move and the train is coming. Motion vibrates in their feet through the steel floors. The shadow of their romance rises up to meet them, waves hello, turns its abysmal eyes on the scene before it and holds out its hand as if to say, I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Jaebum swallows, hand still shaking, mind still racing, incense still lingering on his clothes in a cloying halo, the bloody residue of her predictions staining his fingers visible with want. His desire for Jinyoung to not take the money thrums in the rhythm of his tremor but the boy's hand rises toward it, the other magnet pulled in by the science of its desire. Jaebum's heart waxes and wanes like a violent moon as slender fingers familiar to him now as his own close around his palm.

The train is coming. The night is closing in like a casket. Jinyoung's head leaves his shoulder to fall back upon it more comfortably, a single sigh fluttering from his chest like a bird's cage. Jaebum squints out of view as he prepares for the abyss to blow the dust into his eyes.

Jinyoung pushes his hand away. "Keep it, ahjussi. I don't want it."

The train comes. The night blooms.

_____________________

It would be impossible, and naive at best, to ignore that there has been a paradigm shift in the nature of their companionship. Where they had once let the days pass between seeing each other with little communication besides hastily exchanged text messages, even that, too, has changed. Now, Jaebum is texting him from underneath his desk at a meeting and Jinyoung is standing with his back to the stall of the bathroom door of the restaurant scrolling through multiple photos of Jaebum’s cat taken at varying angles as she climbs all over his head. The conversations lull away from the mediocrity of a work day and turn into other things: discussions at length over politics, whether or not the subways are actually as clean as they should be; the banality of sports and sports teams that Jinyoung has really no interest in but it’s worth it for Jaebum to be so excitable about something. Jinyoung stays up too late, the sun edging at the horizon line, resting on one arm while his other hand holds his phone to his ear and he listens to Jaebum talk about books in that sleep roughened voice of his. Jaebum smiles at him with the glimmer of pure adoration in his eyes every time they meet each other in the off hours, even if just for a few moments of Jaebum standing on his doorstep with his suit jacket thrown over his shoulder and his briefcase against his ankle. Jinyoung is hesitant to call it dating, but Jackson and Yugyeom refuse to call it anything else. Even so––maybe it is.

The sun rises and sets on two weeks of this. Little dates at Jaebum’s apartment of dinner and movies. The sex is good, too, the best sex, the kind that leaves Jinyoung’s thighs shaking afterward and Jaebum laughing into the crook of his neck when Jinyoung whimpers ahjussi, again, let’s go again. It would be funny if he wasn’t so delirious with lust, but Jaebum obliges, anyway. Sometimes they even go out afterward, to a bar down the street where Jaebum’s presence isn’t notable and there’s rarely a camera to snap a photo of him drinking amber liquid from crystal glasses with a strange, young boy wearing a button down shirt too big for him in the waist and shoulders. Jinyoung would rather die than admit it but the shape of him in Jaebum’s shirts makes him feel...right.

Jinyoung’s apartment becomes their own type of oasis, too, though Jaebum rarely stays for long. Which isn’t his fault, just Jinyoung’s––he still has trouble shaking the embarrassment of his tiny one bedroom that feels cluttered with furniture that barely matches and fits into a thrift store color scheme. In any other circ*mstance he would be proud––boastful, even––of the home he’d built himself with little help from his parents, but there’s something foreboding about standing in the shadow of Jaebum’s wealth. A worry gnaws at Jinyoung’s core that the kitsch will only be endearing for so long before Jaebum tires of it and returns to his lavish lifestyle. Sometimes the voice is quiet, like when Jaebum falls asleep on his small couch with a bowl of ramen sitting on his lap: tie gone, shirt collar popped and the first three buttons undone, hair mussed and hands limp as Jinyoung has to save the nearly empty bowl from tipping and sending broth soaking into his carpet. Eventually he would wake and kiss him goodbye.

It’s almost perfect.

Almost.

_____________________

The thing about ghosts is that sometimes they refuse to be laid to rest, no matter the rituals or precautions taken to dispel them. Certain ghosts will linger, forever, eternal victims of a wrong only they are aware was committed against them. A certain ghost in particular, with hair too long to be trendy with his age creased near his eyes and the hard set of his sharp, spiteful mouth. Despite all the good, the utter calm in which Jinyoung had found himself swept up by and no longer fighting after months of struggling with his head under water, there is, as the old saying goes, no rest for the wicked.

What Jinyoung hadn’t told anybody is that Jaebum isn’t the only one who has been texting him underneath desks. Hakyeon has been, too, but his messages have been less than the endearing type as Jaebum’s have been. Jinyoung has been fielding phone calls for weeks from Hakyeon that he never answers, but stupidly listens to the teary voicemails that he leaves every single time without fail. It’s always some version of the same thing, a cut and paste confession that sounds just as fake as it had the morning Jinyoung had left him and he’d shoved him against the counter and all but begged him to stay. Most of it is tears but there’s some anger, too; the ones that make Jinyoung’s heart race when he remembers that Hakyeon has his address and isn’t above coming to his apartment unannounced. I can’t believe you’re treating me like this, he will say, and Jinyoung can picture with a dread inducing clarity the way that his teeth are clenched as he talks through them into the receiver which he doesn’t know Jinyoung is ever on the other end of. After everything that we’ve been through? After everything that I’ve done for you and you’re going to treat me like this? Let yourself be drawn in by some man with a bunch of money? Mine wasn’t good enough for you? But it always sends the same, the anger dwindled down as though it’s a punishment Jinyoung deserves but he hates to give. Please, baby, please, won’t you call me back?

The desire, of course, is gone. Where he had let Hakyeon in that night and let him goad Jinyoung into an argument and he had foolishly let himself be conned into meeting him for coffee with the expectation that it would end there, the desire to give the man he once loved closure has disappeared like a drop of water in the driest of deserts. No amount of begging and pleading could ever make Jinyoung give in the way he once had, not when everything he wants is balanced precariously on the tip of his finger and could upset his future with only the slightest of movements. Jinyoung, constantly moving through his life in avoidance of desire and the expectation that perpetual motion means that nothing will catch up to him and nothing will be able to stop him and turn him inside out, has finally found the incentive to remain still.

Not answering is easy, but actively saying no is almost impossible. There’s a fear that lies like a sleeping dragon in the bottom of his stomach that, should he answer, despite the utter distaste for Cha Hakyeon that he feels now, there’s always the chance that he could finesse his way into getting something out of him again without Jinyoung ever knowing the difference. The science of probability never comforted him, because the outcomes are onlyever just possibilities and not promises. Who is to say that Jinyoung picking up long enough to tell Hakyeon to shove it up his ass and not call him anymore won’t turn into something else? Who is to say that a man he’d given every part of himself to for two entire years won’t be able to twist his arm until he begs for mercy?

So he lets the calls go to voicemail, and he checks the incessant text messages with an annoyance that has him shoving his phone back into his pocket after every one so hard that he’s worried the seams might burst. The worst part, too, is that Jaebum notices something is wrong: he would be blind not to see the way that Jinyoung purposefully leaves his phone in other rooms if he can help it. He can see the disdain and the quick red coloring of irritation that passes across his features before he locks his phone again and throws it roughly to the table. He can tell in the brisk, guilty glances he throws in Jaebum’s direction after it happens that he wants to ask, but he doesn’t. Jinyoung wonders why––for Jinyoung’s sake or his own? Is Jaebum just going to pretend that he doesn’t know something is going on? Jinyoung knows he’s smarter than that. So, for whom? Why? Jinyoung, on top of the uneasiness at Hakyeon being the wild card, is never so sure. He tries not to dwell on it even when he feels the steady stare on the side of his head after reading a particularly explicit text message from a man who refuses to be stifled.

Jinyoung thinks about telling him sometimes. He wonders if Jaebum would help him in some way, like maybe answering for him the next time Hakyeon decided to call, but even the thought of it makes Jinyoung’s twisted insides burn with shame. Jaebum had already supported him through one Hakyeon related meltdown––would they survive another? He knows that Jaebum cares about him; he’d be stupid not to, itwould be deliberately obtuse to deny it and even more so to deny that over the months he’s come to care about Jaebum, too. But to what extent? Where is Jaebum’s line in the sand? Knowing that Jinyoung had been getting message from his ex for a couple weeks could be the last card to the tower that knocks it all down. And he had been adamant from the start that he would not let himself down and let a man solve his problems for him. Jinyoung can take care of himself. Even though he can see the tension that the text messages strings along Jaebum’s shoulders, he buries it deeper and imagines the tight smile on Jaebum’s face after he’d caught Jinyoung not paying attention and instead reading yet another angry text from Hakyeon only to throw it down and ignore it is real, and not faked.

He finds it’s so much easier to pretend.

In any case, the first ripple of tension comes one morning when they’re lying in bed after a particularly athletic wake-up session that leaves Jinyoung feeling boneless and tired. He’s laying his head on Jaebum’s chest, eyes looking at but not really seeing the strip of dark hair on Jaebum’s stomach that ends where the velvety black sheets are pulled up low on his hips. Goosebumps erupt up and down his arms as Jaebum lazily trails his fingertips back and forth featherlight along the length of Jinyoung’s naked shoulders.

“I could always cancel the meeting,” he mutters, and even though Jinyoung isn’t looking up at him, he can almost feel the heat of Jaebum’s gaze down the curve of his bare back to his ass, still sticking lightly to the sheets with sweat.

Jinyoung makes a noise against the back of his teeth. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Hm? How is that ridiculous?” Jaebum asks, and Jinyoung feels him lift his head off the bed. Jinyoung leans up to look at him and makes a small noise of surprise when Jaebum grabs onto his shoulder and rolls them so that Jinyoung is pinned underneath him. He swallows and tries not to get aroused at the way the sheet slowly slides off of Jaebum’s ass like the slow pulling of a curtain to reveal a perfect sculpture underneath. From his angle, and the disappearing of the dark blanket around Jaebum’s calves, he can see the long line of the older’s body.

“Ahjussi,” he says, eyes going back up to meet his where they’ve darkened considerably, “c’mon, don’t cancel your meeting because of me––”

“It’s my company,” Jaebum purrs, using one knee to bump against Jinyoung’s thighs and spread them wider. Jinyoung obliges, making a small sound in his throat. “They’d be elated if I cancelled it, anyway.”

“If you’re sure––”

“With you naked like this in my bed?” Jaebum leans down and makes to taste Jinyoung’s skin along the line of his throat with his tongue but only grazes it with wet lips and his nose along his jaw. “I’ve never been more sure, you’re so pretty, baby––”

Jinyoung’s heart drops, assuming that, had he not been interrupted by the pop song trilling from Jinyoung’s phone on the dresser beside them, that sentence would have ended in boy. In any case, Jinyoung nearly headbutts Jaebum in the face when he sits up and grabs blindly for the phone to check the caller ID. He can feel Jaebum’s eyes on him as he turns it quickly, silencing the music and sighing when HAKYEON-SSI burns across his vision like an angry red line and he throws it down.

“Who was it?” Jaebum asks, still laying on top of him balanced on his hands, but Jinyoung can’t help but notice that the sexual tension has bled out of the limited space between their bodies. The timbre of Jaebum’s voice has changed and he swallows hard out of guilt.

“No one,” he says, which always, always means someone. His heart stutters and drops when Jaebum sits up on his knees and turns to get off the bed. Jinyoung leans up on his elbows and watches the stiffness of Jaebum’s shoulders as he goes to the closet and disappears inside. “Ahjussi––”

He steps back out a moment later, not looking at him as he slides his arms into a baby blue button down and starts doing it up. “It’s not ‘nothing’, Jinyoung-ah. You think that I don’t notice the way you look at your phone like you’re going to throw up? Be realistic. It’s your ex, isn’t it?”

Jinyoung actually isn’t really sure what to say––he’d never thought Jaebum was stupid by any means. But as Jaebum steps into his dress pants and doesn’t look at him, letting his question hang like the ricochet of a bullet in the air, he thinks that maybe he’d underestimated him a bit. To have Jaebum once again pin down the root of his feelings and situation without ever having to say a word almost unnerves him. He wonders if it’s because Jaebum is just so much smarter and observant than Jinyoung gives him credit for or if it’s because Jinyoung has let himself become an open book.

“Its––yeah, he’s...tenacious,” Jinyoung says cautiously, stressed when Jaebum still won’t look at him.

“You can tell me these things, you know that, right?”

Jinyoung, who had been looking down at his hand where it supports his body on the bed, looks up. Jaebum is standing near where the blankets had been kicked down to the foot of the bed as he strings his belt through the loops and cinches it. He’s looking at him now, dark eyes serious and face expressionless.

“Huh?”

“You can tell me these things. That your ex is bothering you. I don’t expect you to share your whole life with me, because I don’t think you’re ready for that.” Jaebum laughs, but it sounds a little tired and Jinyoung starts to feel guilty for some reason. “I don’t know if you’re ever going to be ready for that. But things like this––you can’t hide them from me. You don’t have to give me all the details and I won’t ask more than that. But Jinyoung-ah,” he says, and his tone has taken on one of pleading, and it makes Jinyoung suck in a surprised lungful of air that Jaebum could seem so...worried. “Just don’t hide from me.”

Jinyoung can’t formulate a response right away, instead staring wide eyed at Jaebum’s neck so that he doesn’t have to see whatever look is on his face. What should he say? How does he properly express that his ex won’t leave him alone, and that there’s a certain tenacity to Hakyeon that is nearly unrivaled? Jinyoung, determined to handle this on his own, doesn’t want to tell Jaebum that he’s scared of what Hakyeon can do, what he can make Jinyoung do. Jaebum puts his hands on his waist as Jinyoung continues to stare at the top button of Jaebum’s shirt at the base of his throat and let his mind whir, searching for something, some kind of comfort he can offer the first good thing he’s had in years but he keeps coming up empty of things that don’t sound like excuses or cries for help. The silence only stretches as Jinyoung scrambles for something to say. There’s a tugging feeling in his chest when Jaebum sighs and turns around, leaving the bedroom to gather his things.

Defeated, Jinyoung drops back on the bed and digs the heels of his hands into his eyes. White hot anger courses through his veins that, after everything, Hakyeon could still be doing this to him. After all this time and he’s still managed to infiltrate Jinyoung’s life and turn it upside down when it had just started to tilt right side up. Jinyoung is of course not blameless but his own fault is shadowed by the rage flowing through him like torrents of violent water. He listens to Jaebum rustle around in the kitchen getting ready to leave and thinks back to their night a few weeks ago when everything had been pitch perfect: the smells, the sights, the sounds. Jaebum underneath the dizzying lights of Hongdae with a smile on his face too perfect for words. Jaebum bathed in the blood red glow where he’d stopped in the doorway and held his hand, suspending them both over the vestibule of desire, a sheer drop in which Jinyoung had let himself fall into when Jaebum had tried once again to give him money but he had actively refused. He remembers the way he’d closed his eyes on the subway leaned against Jaebum and felt happy. Peaceful. A warmth in his chest and stomach and hands that he hadn’t felt in a long, long time. He pulls his hands away from his eyes and stares at the ceiling before he realizes that Jaebum is standing in the doorway to his bedroom and watching him quietly.

Part of him wants to say sorry but he’s not sure how. He’s not sure for what. Jinyoung blinks quietly as he watches the unchanging mask of Jaebum’s face, clear of anything as it once had been when they’d first gone out together. Uneasiness settles in his stomach at the way that it doesn’t match the handsome, smiling, laughing face he’d grown accustomed to over the past couple of weeks. Trouble brews like hot water in a pot as the time ticks on and Jinyoung still finds nothing to say.

Eventually, Jaebum seems to give up on waiting for him to say something. He sighs and uncrosses his arms, motioning with his head toward the door. “Come on, get dressed. I have to go.”

Jinyoung’s stomach cramps with anxiety when Jaebum doesn’t wait for him to get up and just walks back into the living room. Jinyoung dresses quickly, snatching his phone off the dresser and noticing he has six unread text messages from the time alone he had silenced it. There’s a tension in the air between them that is startlingly unfamiliar to him––it’s nothing like the one he’d felt when they’d met, when Jaebum was arrogant and crass. It’s unlike the tension he’d felt when they started seeing each other more, hung precariously in this balance between pure lust and something else. This tension is new, a delicate string pulled too tight and vibrating just before it snaps apart.

Jaebum’s hand on his lower back feels normal, comfortable, as they get into the elevator, but the silence continues. His hand lingers for a moment, not really pressing as though he can’t decide if he wants it to stay. The warmth radiates from his palm through Jinyoung’s thin shirt and he can’t help but close his eyes and wish that it would drop down and close around his own instead, trapping heat between their palms, fingers laced and rest assured. Jaebum’s hand never leaves where it hovers at his back except when they get to the ground floor.

“Ahjussi––” he chokes, wincing when he sounds too loud in the quiet of the little steel and gold box.

“Later,” he says, and doesn’t look over. The hand slips away from his back, taking the warmth with it when Jaebum exits the elevator and doesn’t wait for him.

One step forward.

Two steps back.

Off work for the day and miserably un-busy, Jinyoung goes home to his apartment and wanders around aimlessly for a while as he tries to find something to occupy his time that doesn’t include overthinking about Jaebum. Which is impossible, of course, because his cellphone is in the front pocket of his jeans and he notices the way it remains still and silent, no text from Jaebum as he sits idly at his desk and reads the same emails four times before finally replying to it because you’re just so damn distracting, Jinyoung-ah. What am I going to do with you?

Sighing, Jinyoung goes into his room and flops down face-first onto the bed. He gathers up a pillow underneath his arms and rests his head on it, turned toward the bathroom door and just staring at it with the eye against the pillow squished shut as though it could give him the answers that he’s searching for. The paint is white and old, chipping in some places, battered and worn from hundreds of hands opening and closing it on the ancientbrass hinges. It’s fitting, Jinyoung thinks, that his apartment could be so clean and pristine upon first glance but it’s in the smaller details that the wear is visible, worn soft and colorless at the edges, etched into the framework so permanently there seems to be no opportunity for repair. An unintentional reflection of himself his house had become and there’s the little aha! of a lightbulb turning on when he realizes it’s why he’s so embarrassed to keep Jaebum here for long.

It’s this kind of dangerous thinking that gets him into trouble often, but once he starts he can’t stop. His mind just spins like the broken wheel of a bicycle, spurred on by a frustrated hand, eyes unseeing as he follows the trail of his thoughts deeper and deeper.

What he realizes most immediately is that, besides the small things, he doesn’t really know Jaebum at all. He knows him in some way, he supposes; it would be a lie to say that he doesn’t when he knows the trivial things, like how Jaebum likes his ramen and how he’s borderline obsessed with his cat. Maybe Jinyoung is just overthinking it, but how much can you really know a person without being mindful of their past? He realizes that, aside from what Jaebum had told him about his father that night he’d invited Jaebum in for giving him a ride, and beside what he’d half-read and forgotten about in magazine interviews, he doesn’t really know anything about Jaebum’s past. What was his childhood like? What kind of person was he?

In fairness, Jaebum doesn’t really know his either, except for what he’d learned about Hakyeon through the mess of tears he’d spilled that day in the dressing room. Jaebum doesn’t know anything about how Jinyoung grew up away from the big city, running around barefoot on grassy lawns of his hometown with his school mates before getting called in by his parents to do his homework. Jaebum knows nothing of the way that he was always shuffled off to bed long before his sisters, encouraged to read books out of his realm of understanding for his age, but would sneak out in the middle of the night and stand half hidden behind the wall to watch the dramas his sisters would squeal over. They’d come to bore him, eventually, and he would come to prefer staying in his room and reading books, but as a child it always enthralled him. Jaebum doesn’t know about his first kiss in middle school, an older boy, who yanked him behind the bleachers and tasted his mouth feverishly. Jaebum doesn’t know any of this. He just knows that Jinyoung is a stubborn boy with a terrifying ex who likes to read books and doesn’t care much for sports.

Would Jaebum even be interested in hearing all this? It’s frustrating to him that, despite knowing Jaebum cares about him, he isn’t sure how deep it goes. Surface level, perhaps, maybe a little deeper. Jaebum is amazingly difficult to read sometimes when he wants to be private, which had shed a little once they’d had that first “date” at the bar and hooked up afterward. But in recent times it’s come back a little, that obscurity, hiding his feelings off his face and Jinyoung feels the worry settle like a heavy stone in the pit of his stomach. Could it mean that Jaebum is tiring of him? Especially after what he’d said that morning, about Jinyoung never being ready for that. Whatever that is. How deeply can you care about someone when you’re not even sure what the future holds?

Frustrated, Jinyoung makes a noise and flips onto his back to stare at the ceiling instead. Restlessness picks at his skin like a nervous tick; he hates this. He hates being unsure. Jinyoung is a man of concrete fact––for someone so in love with the metaphor and hyperbole of poetry, in his own life he is adamant about realism. Everything must be outlined in red ink, i’s dotted and t’s crossed, a perfect sheet of facts for reference so that there is no questioning himself and others. He requires a complete lack of aloofness in others while remaining unfairly aloof himself, never giving anything away until he’s ready, the cautious tiger hiding in the tall grass. All of his combined experiences require concrete proof of emotion while offering none of his own.

Every slow breath accompanied by some disastrous thought about how they don’t really know each other at all and how Jaebum has finally tired of the chase has his eyelids drooping. He has never said it aloud, and Jinyoung doesn’t know that he ever would, but he’s sure that it’s exhausting, like trying to hold smoke between his hands. It’s late morning now, closer to the afternoon, but the rough and athletic sex they’d had when they’d woken up and the stillness of inactivity from lying on his bed and thinking has him burning out like the short wick of a candle. He wonders what Jaebum had meant by later, if there really would be a later, or if Jaebum’s driver had been right and he was about to experience the kind of chewing up and spitting out he’d warned Jinyoung of that day.

In any case, the constant circling of his thoughts like a dog chasing its tail lulls him into sleep, flat on his back across his bed. The sun shines outside on the approaching fall, the leaves now yellowed and browned throwing shadows across the bathroom door and making patterns across his eyes that he doesn’t see. The city gleams and rushes by without him while his dreams become zoetrope pictures of big cats and glittering royalty. Watery images fade in of Jaebum dressed in slick blacks and blues like a bruise, a burning jewel where he sits sprawled in a gold throne draped with the dizzying striped skin of tigers. In his dream Jaebum smiles, blood between his teeth, and he sees himself sprawled at the foot of the stairs looking up to where Jaebum holds a beating heart in his hand, gloved in fresh blood. The silver of Jaebum’s heavy rings gleam with red, fingers squeezing, the heart Jinyoung is missing beating harder as salty rain like tears pours from the ceiling. The heart in Jaebum’s hand thrums, each beat louder than the last until they echo in the empty throne room like the footsteps of God. His body no longer lays at the mercy of Jaebum’s feet but a tiger of impossible size, eyes like black glass, fixated on the way Jaebum’s fingertips press violently into the meat of the beating heart. Familiar laughter that doesn’t belong to Jaebum still pours from his bloodstained mouth and echoes like a thunderclap. Water saturates his hair, his clothes, rushes down the arms of the solid gold throne like twin waterfalls into his open jaws. The pace of his heart in Jaebum’s hand quickens and grows louder, a steady pounding, the tiger’s fur soaked by the rain and struck dead by the duke.

As quickly as the dream had started, it ends when a knocking on the door makes him gasp awake. Sweat pours down his neck, his collar damp and stuck uncomfortably to the skin of his throat. His heart, his real heart, thumps fast in his chest and makes it hard to swallow around the constant gulps of air he’s breathing in while the knocking on his front door continues. There’s a soft voice underneath it, unfairly gentle with the way things had been left just hours before.

“Jinyoung-ah? Are you home?”

Hearing Jaebum’s voice on the other side of his door makes his heartbeat calm a little, everything settling back down into the normal hum drum of the waking world and not the kaleidoscope of dreams. Sound rushes back in like the puncturing of a vacuum and he looks outside to gauge how much time has passed––the sun is low, not quite ready to sink but hung burning and heavy just above the mountains. Pretty, deep orange light floods his room through the grayness of the shadowed leaves and the small breeze outside makes them dance and flutter across the walls.

Getting up, Jinyoung takes a deep breath as he makes his way to the front door and opens it cautiously. He’s surprised when Jaebum is standing on the other side of it with his hands full: a duffle bag is slung over one shoulder, left hand occupied by a hot bag of food that smells like Thai and the right gripping the handle of a cloth carrier with a zippered front around the half circle seam. From behind the mesh screen he sees a bright blue pair of eyes in a tan face peeking out from the darkness of her portable home. She seems to recognize him and greets him with a morose squeak.

“Jinyoung-ah, I’m sorry to show up unannounced, but––” Jaebum stops when Jinyoung looks away from Nora being miserable and into his face. His handsome eyebrows dip. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says, being honest, still feeling a bit dazed from the dream and maybe a tad unnerved by Jaebum’s sudden concern in contrast to the coldness from the morning, but otherwise relatively normal. “I––I came home after I left your house and I must have fallen asleep for a while,” his own brows furrow, letting go of the door to rub at one of his eyes, “and I had a weird dream.”

“You’re sweating,” Jaebum says, and the bursts of color across Jinyoung’s eye from the pressure of rubbing it do nothing to obscure his look of worry. “Was it a nightmare?”

The drum beat of a disembodied heart echoes faintly in his ears while an image of the tiger and the duke blinks across his vision like a flashbulb and then disappears. His eyebrows furrow deeper.

“I’m not sure.”

Jaebum sighs. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he says casually, readjusting the duffle bag on his shoulder uncomfortably. Jinyoung blushes when he realizes he has left Jaebum just standing on the doorstep with his hands full and ushers him quickly inside.

“I didn’t mean to show up unannounced,” he continues, setting his stuff down on the couch and putting the bag of food on the table. He runs a hand through his hair and sighs, “but you weren’t answering your phone, and then I was getting kind of worried because of what happened this morning and I needed somewhere to go, and I just––”

“What happened?” Jinyoung cuts in, anxious that Jaebum mentioned needing somewhere to go instead of just wanting to be there. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he says, leaning down to unzip the front of Nora’s carrier and pick her up when she tries to flee from it. “A pipe burst in the apartment and they said it would take a while to fix, since it flooded my bathroom. They have to clean it up and fix the pipe so they said I should just find somewhere to stay for the night and they’ll call me tomorrow when it’s done.”

Realizing that he hadn’t exactly asked if he could stay, Jaebum holds Nora to his chest who finally comes to terms with being held and goes limp across his forearm. He blushes a little. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask, but…”

Incredulous, Jinyoung asks, “so you came here? Don’t you have a house out in the countryside?”

Jaebum nods. “I do. But I didn’t want to go there.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he says, exasperated. “I wanted to be here, with you.”

Jinyoung flushes with the realization. “Oh. Sorry.”

“Dork,” Jaebum says, smiling, lifting his arms a bit and earning them both an annoyed meow. “Do you mind if I put her down? I didn’t want to leave her at home, but I didn’t want to just let her run loose in your apartment, either. She’s a good cat, just kind of a bitch sometimes.”

Jinyoung laughs, nodding. “Go ahead. She’s fine.”

As soon as Jaebum puts her feet down on the hardwood, she’s off like a shot into Jinyoung’s bedroom and under the bed. Jaebum turns to unpack some things, like a pair of tiny bowls for water and food and a small box for litter. Jinyoung watches the line of his shoulders as he does, no sign of the tension that had been there earlier that morning. It’s almost as if it never happened, but it had, and Jinyoung is rarely one to forget.

Jaebum straightens, small litter box in one hand and a bag of it in the other. “I’m sorry,” he sighs, guilt on his face. “I should have asked before I showed up. It’s a little presumptuous of me to just bring my cat over with me, isn’t it?”

“Ahjussi, it’s really okay,” he assures him, stepping forward, but hesitates when Jaebum doesn’t move. “You’re––you’re always welcome here. And so is she.”

It’s quiet for a moment, both of them just staring at each other. The longer that the silence stretches with Jaebum’s heavy stare locked with his makes him feel like he’s done something wrong: the nervous sweat that he’d woken up with returns in full force, dampening his palms. The air between them has grown thick and the silence is nearly palpable with something that, for once, Jinyoung hadn’t started.

Finally, after an eternity, Jaebum sets the bag in the litter box and putsit on the floor. “We need to talk about this morning.”

Jinyoung, who would have once spurned this kind of talk, nods meekly. “Okay.”

Sitting down on the couch, Jaebum looks up at him and pats the spot beside him gently, motioning for Jinyoung to sit down before they begin. The short length of it doesn’t give them much room to sit apart, and his knee comes to rest against Jaebum’s when he cautiously sits down next to him and rests his gaze at the white button at the base of his throat.

“Jinyoungie,” Jaebum says softly, the hand that had patted the couch moving gently to his thigh. “Look at me, please.”

He sounds so soft, so tender. Jinyoung looks up at him like a puppet on a string and his heart lurches at the emotion on his face, all at once pushing him to break the surface of his anxiety to breathe in fresh air while pulling him right back under.

“I’m sorry about this morning,” he says, squeezing Jinyoung’s thigh.

Startled, Jinyoung replies, “you’re sorry? Wait, why? I should be the one apologizing––”

“Not necessarily,” Jaebum hums, breaking eye contact first this time and looking down at the table. “I shouldn’t have gotten upset. It wasn’t fair. I just––”

Jinyoung is surprised when Jaebum struggles for the words, hand sliding from his thigh to run through his hair. He pauses like that for a few moments, eyes heavy on the table as though he’s having an internal debate on whether or not the next thing out of his mouth is going to be a good idea or not. Jinyoung’s heart starts to race at the possibilities: I just–– what? Care about you? Want you to trust me? He doesn’t know and it does nothing but make the anxiety kick up a few notches in his chest to play the what if game, so he forces himself to stop thinking of it and just focus on the line of Jaebum’s profile.

Finally he looks back up, and the pinched expression on his face is totally gone, wiped clean as if it was never there. In a rare show of Jinyoung like tendencies, Jaebum is the one who changes the subject and acts as though he’d never said anything all when he smiles and hopes that Jinyoung forgets everything except the apology.

“Do you want to watch a movie? I brought dinner.”

Despite the way that Jinyoung is still curious about Jaebum’s unfinished and strange apology, he manages to push it away in favor of admiring Jaebum in his casual clothes when he comes out of the bedroom dressed in joggers and a sleeveless shirt. The arm holes are cut way down to the ribs, and it gives Jinyoung a delightful view of his stomach and chest when he sits down to eat with his elbows resting against his knees. Even though he’s trying to eat the delicious Thai food Jaebum had brought and pay attention to the movie they picked together, he can’t help but sneak little peeks at the visible hint of Jaebum’s dusky pink nipple through the hole in his shirt.

Without ever moving his eyes from the screen, Jaebum scolds him,

“Stop looking at my nipples, Jinyoung-ah, or you’re going to regret it.”

“Okay, ahjussi,” he says, shoveling more food in his mouth, and keeps on looking.

It’s startlingly domestic, the two of them sitting next to each other and loudly eating food and commenting on the movie that they’d chosen, narrating over it when it turns out to be terrible halfway through. The previous sinking feeling he’d had leaving Jaebum’s apartment building has faded a bit, making him feel as though maybe they hadn’t stepped back as far as they’d thought: Jinyoung’s phone has been in the kitchen since he’d woken up, never checked once, so he doesn’t know if Hakyeon has even bothered to try and get a hold of him today. A part of him thinks it ceases to matter, anyway, watching Jaebum lick his lips and set his empty container on the table and turn his head to look at him.

“Are you finished eating?” he asks, glancing down at the last of Jinyoung’s food where it’s been untouched for the last ten minutes, too busy simultaneously making fun of the movie and admiring Jaebum’s body from his spot angled behind him on the couch. He had been too in awe not just of his body but his presence as a whole in Jinyoung’s little apartment, no longer sticking out like an expensive piece of art against the shabbiness of the furniture but a part of the warmth in his casual clothes and messy hair. Just as he had that night, he hopes that this, too, could stay forever.

Jinyoung sets his plate down and licks his lips in a mirror, knowing that the look in Jaebum’s eyes means that he’d meant what he said: Jinyoung was going to regret it.

“Yes, I’m done,” he says, and lets himself be pulled up by Jaebum’s hand and lead into his own bedroom.

From there, the night swings from rush to rush. The rush of adrenaline from dreams of Jaebum holding his heart in his hand to the rush of Jaebum’s frantic mouth on his throat, teeth scraping and hands demanding as Jinyoung’s jeans are yanked off and thrown to the floor. Outside the window, now dark with the sun that has vanished and been replaced by the moon, the world continues on without them, rotating by while time stands still in his shadowed room as Jaebum works him open with his fingers. Kitten licks from Jaebum’s mouth against the sensitive nubs of his nipples make him mewl into the silence, breath heavy, parting the tension like a wave. Wind brushes the leaves against the windows and outside the heat of the summer and early fall finally bursts like a blister, bringing the first cold breeze of an impending winter. Inside his room, a universe set apart from the one that exists beyond the four old walls, emotion swells to a whining, panting crescendo as Jaebum’s mouth pins him down and his body slides against his. Jaebum’s hand around his throat and pressing down feels oddly familiar, those same silver rings once glowing ruby red from a bloody dream marking little squares in the flushed red skin. It is the wildness without the violence as Jaebum flips him, breathlessly begging him to get up on his hands and knees so he can slide back in and fill him up, body and soul; two twin storms spinning in opposite directions that meet in the middle and form, whimpering and moaning, into one.

When they’re finished, condom tied off and thrown away, they collapse together on Jinyoung’s bed and pant in unison until their breathing finally slows and calms.

Head on Jaebum’s shoulder, Jinyoung traces gentle circles on the skin just above Jaebum’s navel. “Ahjussi?”

“Hmm?”

“Tell me about your past,” he says, calm, no longer tied down by dreams.

“What do you want to know?” he asks, and Jinyoung can’t help but notice the way he stiffens, just a little.

“Whatever you’re willing to tell.”

“Why are you asking now, Jinyoung-ah?” Jaebum asks, his voice sounding a little thin. Jinyoung could lie, sure, shrug his shoulders nonchalant like it doesn’t matter and say that it doesn’t, but it’s not true and the last thing he wants to do right now is lie.

“Because, Jaebum-ssi,” and he feels the way that Jaebum reacts physically when his name leaves Jinyoung’s mouth. “I want to know you.”

“You do know me,” he says, but he sounds breathless, caught up in an emotion he hadn’t prepared for. Jinyoung doesn’t look up and doesn’t respond, just keeps his head on Jaebum’s chest and fingers drawing circles in perpetual calming motion.

“What if you don’t like what you hear?”

Jinyoung ponders this for a moment, especially when he hears the warbling uncertainty in Jaebum’s voice. Could it really be that bad? Surely if he had a criminal record of some sort, it would be known already: not a lot stays buried for people of Jaebum’s position, and there’s never been anything notable that Jinyoung can remember. Despite Jaebum’s initial jackassery, he’s always been (mostly) kind, and caring, too. If he hadn’t been that way in the past, Jinyoung thinks, does it really matter when it’s how he is now? How much does a long gone past really matter in the present?

“But I like you now, ahjussi, so does it matter?” he asks, not realizing the implications of what he’s said until Jaebum goes completely still.

“What did you just say?”

It surprises him too, that he’d said it, especially because he hadn’t meant to and he hadn’t even been thinking of it. But just because he hasn’t been actively thinking about it doesn’t make it not true, and he’s come so, so far in this thing with Jaebum from the distant and haughty person he had been when they’d first met. He thinks about how upset he’d been at the idea that their progress had suffered from Jinyoung’s lack of ability to say sorry and doesn’t take it back.

“I know what I said, and I know you know what I said. So tell me, Jaebum-ssi, why would itmatter what you were like then?”

“Because,” he says softly, as though he has to break some terrible news. “I was just like you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sure you know this, but I’ve always been rich. I was born into it. My dad was a businessman long before he ever even met my mother, and when they’d married he was already at the top of the ladder and placing another one above it. Money has always felt disposable to me. It’s terrible, I know, but it’s just...how my life was. As a child it didn’t mean that much. I rarely saw my dad, since he was always busy, but once I got older he was around more and I got to spend more time with him. Except for the money and the expensive schools, I was just a regular kid. The things I had were a little nicer than most, sure, but I was as much of a child as everyone else. I liked going outside and playing baseball with the neighborhood kids instead of doing my homework. I was on the soccer team in junior and high school. Before I turned eighteen, I was just a rich kid who went to school like everyone else.

“Like everyone else, though, I felt...cornered sometimes, by the expectations. Especially those set by my father. I never hated him, of course, but when I was an adult he had high expectations for me that I didn’t feel like living up to, not when I had immeasurable amounts of money at my fingertips and all the time in the world now that I had graduated high school. Why did I need to go to college right away? Why did I need to get a job? With the money we had, I never had to work again. But he didn’t see it that way.”

Jinyoung, secretly enthralled to hear so much of Jaebum’s voice at once, blinks evenly and lets his hand rest flat on Jaebum’s stomach as the older man sighs and puts a hand in his hair to play absently with the strands as he continues:

“At the country club, there were a lot of boys my age and a few that were older. A lot older. I was deep into my rebellious phase––I dyed my hair blond, stopped hanging out with my soccer friends, blatantly told my parents I wasn’t going to college. That kind of thing. Once during the summer after I turned nineteen, some of the older guys saw me almost get into a fist fight with one of my old soccer buddies at a pool party at the country club when I’d gotten way too drunk, and they pulled me away from it. I barely remember it, now, being drunk and almost sixteen years ago, but they told me that they thought I was a cool guy and that they wanted to hang out with me some more. I didn’t need them, my soccer friends, when I could be doing something so much better.

“So I started illegally racing cars. I could have gotten in a lot of trouble for this, and so could my father. Thinking back on it now, I could have cost him everything had I not been as careful as I was. Even still, it came so close a few times. The more time I spent with them the more wild I became––drinking every night, partying. I was never heavy into drugs but they convinced me to do ecstasy a few times and I never liked it much, but the last time I took it is the first time the older one, Jinwoon, and I had sex. It was weird––I was a nineteen year old guy who had messed around with girls and guys in the past, but I’d never slept with a guy before. Made out with, blew, sure, but never gotten f*cked by one. I didn’t even know that either of them were gay, but––they were, or bi. We never really talked about it.

“Anyway, it became...normal after that. I was hooking up with Jinwoon constantly when he wasn’t busy hooking up with someone else, which was a lot. I’m not even sure how it happened, or when, but...at some point I realized I felt something for him that he didn’t feel for me. Regardless of him blowing me off to f*ck someone else or only calling me up for that very reason late at night, I was starting to feel things for him beyond the realm of him being a f*ckbuddy. He was even wealthier and I was, and even though I had my own money, he was constantly showering me with things. Calling me good boy, calling me his, all of this, making those feelings worse. I could tell he wasn’t attached in the same way, though, and it made me bitter. Angry. Sex got rougher because I would fight back, feeling the anger and letting it affect me, goading him into holding me down and taking me hard so that he wouldn’t forget about me. Once I even agreed to a threesome; he f*cked me in the backseat of his car while another one of his friends was driving too fast, and then when we got to the field they both took turns f*cking me over the hood of the car. I won’t lie––being the center of their attention that night, I loved it. I lived for it. But with Jinwoon, it never lasted.”

Jinyoung doesn’t mean to get so worked up over the story, but he does––his eyes feel glassy with unshed tears at the thought that Jaebum had done something so extreme because he wanted to feel loved in the same way that he was loving. It makes him feel a bit sick, because he sees a familiar pattern in the way that Jaebum had chased him even when Jinyoung was stubborn and argumentative. The fact that Jaebum too is a victim of recreating his past behaviours makes him feel guilty beyond reason that he should feel something so similar here.

“When I walked in on him one night with a couple of girls, he was snorting drugs off of one of their backs while the other was sucking him off––” he must feel Jinyoung shift uncomfortably, because he pets Jinyoung’s hair and murmurs an apology. “Sorry, I’ll skip that. But after that night, I just knew there was nothing there. There never would be, so I stopped caring. We still hooked up after that, but it was lackluster and boring. He wasn’t going to care about me beyond what I could do for him sexually and I had to adapt or die.”

“Ahjussi…” Jinyoung breathes, so much more hurt by Jaebum’s story than he’d anticipated, mostly because he relates to it. Could this be why Jaebum has been so patient with him?

“Once my father died when I was 23, I got out of that life. I stopped coming around Jinwoon when he called until he stopped calling altogether. Most of the guys at that point were well into their thirties and were growing up and starting families of their own. I don’t think Jinwoon ever did, though. I never saw him again after my father’s funeral, and I honestly never wanted to. After that, I grew up. I had to take over my father’s business and keep it afloat so that I could support my mother and I. So for the last ten years I’ve never really worried about trying again. I was jaded and bitter so much so that it affected every relationship I tried until I gave up on those, too, because everyone was a beggar. They only stuck with me for the money and I got conned enough times that I started to be able to see it from a mile away. From then on it was all one night stands or nothing at all. And then I met you.”

He hadn’t expected the story to end that way, and his heart starts to pound against his ribs. Jaebum’s fingers haven’t stopped where they’re carding through his hair, breathing evenly and quietly as though he’s waiting patiently for Jinyoung to let all of that sink in. There’s so much to process––Jaebum’s life had definitely not been as breezy as he had once assumed, and suddenly the arrogant attitude he’d carried at first made a little more sense, both personally and for business reasons. The patience is so hard for him to understand sometimes, but now he thinks he gets it: Jaebum had seen himself in Jinyoung, getting involved with an older man. Jaebum had assumed that Jinyoung would be just like himself; he would refuse to get attached because the possibility of romance wasn’t there. And maybe that’s what it had been, at first, but their repeated, fated meetings had something else in store for them that neither of them had been counting on. Suddenly it all slams together in a painful picture: Jaebum had expected the same, a one time fling with no attachments, but they had found something else instead. Jinyoung’s heart feels terribly achey and terribly full all at once.

“Jinyoung-ah,” he says softly, petting his hair. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just––”

He stops, cursing himself for not ever having the words when he needs them. Jaebum had never said it out loud, but the implication was there: Jaebum never wanted to fall in love again until he’d met Jinyoung. Even just the idea of it makes his head spin, though it’s anchored down to Jaebum’s bare chest. Jaebum had seen a mirror image of himself in Jinyoung and took a chance despite knowing that the outcome could be disastrously the same: alone again, once more abandoned by someone who could not care about him the way they he cared for them. Jinyoung feels guilty for ever allowing it to be so.

“I’m so sorry, ahjussi, for everything––” he takes a deep shuddering breath and stiffens when Jaebum attempts to fold to get Jinyoung to look up at him. “I never, I don’t know, I never wanted this to happen, but it did, and now I don’t want to go back, I’m sorry if you ever felt like I didn’t care about you––maybe I didn’t at first, but I do now––and I’m so sorry, Jaebum-ssi, I don’t want to be like him, I don’t want to make you feel the way he did––”

“Yah, yah,” Jaebum says softly, getting a firm grip on Jinyoung’s chin and pushing it up so that Jinyoung has to look at him. He hadn’t even realized that his eyes were wet until a single tear drips from the corner of his eye and down the line of his nose where it falls to Jaebum’s chest. “Breathe, Jinyoungie. Please.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, trying to take a deep breath and wiping his eyes with the hand that had been on Jaebum’s stomach. “I don’t know what I expected you to tell me, but it wasn’t that.”

Jaebum smiles, a tease folded into the corners of his lips. “You’re so sensitive, Jinyoungie.”

He slaps Jaebum’s chest lightly before setting his head back down on it. “Shut up, ahjussi.”

It’s quiet for a moment before Jaebum speaks again.

“Do you understand now? Why I...try? Why the little things matter to me?”

“I’m trying to,” he says honestly, because he is. But some things are just so ingrained into him that a couple of months of whirlwind romance isn’t going to fix that right away.

“That’s why I wanted you to tell me about your ex constantly trying to talk to you again,” Jaebum says softly, and Jinyoung stiffens. He had hoped that this was something Jaebum’s weird apology would have covered and they wouldn’t have to discuss anymore, but after Jaebum’s confession about his past he thinks it’s a little unfair of him to think so, but he does, anyway. “I’m trying not to make the same mistakes I always make.”

“I know, ahjussi, but I’m trying not to make my own mistakes, too,” he says, cautiously, aware that anything that sounds like a defense of him not telling his ex to f*ck off could spark an argument, even after something so sweet. “He tormented me for a long time, made me feel useless, and I’m trying to, I don’t know, stand my ground this time. To show that he doesn’t have hold over me anymore.”

“Then you need to confront him directly,” Jaebum says, voice even, which makes Jinyoung feel a bit nervous. He assumes that Jaebum is just trying to stay neutral and listens quietly. “By reading his text messages and listening to his voicemails without telling him to stop, you’re just inviting him to keep doing it. You’re giving him the wrong idea, and that’s what he wants. The delusion continues when you give him what he wants.”

Jinyoung just tenses, aware that what Jaebum is saying is right but reluctant to admit it. He had promised himself that he wasn’t going to get Jaebum’s help on this, that he could do it himself, but here he is getting Jaebum’s help anyway even if he hadn’t strictly asked for it. Something like guilt for wanting to ignore Jaebum’s words and anger that he’d be so presumptuous as to assume that Jinyoung needs his help makes some other weird feeling stir up in his stomach.

“I can handle it, ahjussi,” he says thinly, trying not to be angry. They’d just barely managed to avoid another fight that very morning over the exact same thing, but the thing about ripples is that they almost always turn into waves.

Jaebum sighs, pulling his hands away from Jinyoung’s hair and folding his arms behind his head without saying anything else. Jinyoung doesn't move his head, but his hand falls into the gap between his stomach and Jaebum’s ribs and goes still. He wonders if Jaebum will say something else or change the subject but he never does; Jinyoung watches as the light of the rising moon lengthens the shadows along the floor as the silence grows. Eventually the soft sound of Jaebum’s breathing slows and steadies, lulled into sleep with his arms still folded behind his head, while Jinyoung lies awake and can't help but feel that he had, once again, ruined something good. The night lingers on and the delicate, hair thin string that had slackened for just a moment once again draws tight across his throat and waits to break.

The next morning comes and begins with a bang like a firework: Jinyoung is jolted awake when Jaebum is shouting f*ck! at the top of his lungs and pushing Jinyoung’s head roughly off where it had come to rest on his shoulder at some point during the night. Jinyoung makes an annoyed sound in his throat, sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes hard before blinking into a squint to see Jaebum frantically digging through his clothes from the night before. Somewhere in the living room Jinyoung’s phone is ringing, the pop song sounding shrill and too loud for the earliness of the morning.

“Ahjussi,” he mutters, rubbing an eye again and wincing when his phone won’t stop ringing and Jaebum won’t look at him and keeps pawing through his duffel bag in search for something. Jaebum ignores him, mumbling under his breath. “Ahjussi. Ahjussi!”

Exasperated, Jaebum stands up. “What?” he snaps, running a hand through his messy hair and barely looking at him before he crouches down again to resume digging through his duffel bag.

Hurt at Jaebum’s sharpness, he makes a noise against his teeth. “Yah, what the hell’s your problem?”

“I can’t find my goddamn phone! Yours won’t stop f*cking ringing, and I’m late for a meeting!” He doesn’t look up as he shoves the wrist bearing his watch in Jinyoung’s direction as though that will somehow excuse or make up for snapping at him when Jinyoung had tried to get his attention.

“Don’t take it out on me,” Jinyoung snorts, already grumpy from being woken up so suddenly by Jaebum’s shout and being thrown immediately into the chaos of ringing phones and frantic digging. Jaebum ignores him, finally pulling out clothes from the bottom of his bag and growling in frustration when Jinyoung’s ringtone once again cuts through the air.

“God, if you’re going to let him keep calling you like this, you could at least turn your ringer off,” Jaebum snaps, pushing himself up and slamming the bathroom door after he disappears into it so hard the frames on the wall next to it vibrate and threaten to fall.

Stunned, Jinyoung just sits on his bed in shock for a moment. Had Jaebum really just said that to him? After everything last night? Jinyoung knows he may have been just a little bit off-putting with what he’d said at the end, but Jaebum hadn’t seemed that angry or upset before he’d fallen asleep, and he hadn’t pulled away or anything. Not only that but he’d snapped at Jinyoung three times already this morning, all of which he didn’t deserve. Hurt wells up in Jinyoung’s mouth like blood as he gets off the bed and pulls on a pair of boxers before going to find his cellphone in the living room.

While he can hear the sink running in the bathroom, Jinyoung locates his phone where it had been charging on the kitchen counter and sure enough it had been Hakyeon who had called him four times so far this morning. He wonders if that’s part of what woke Jaebum up so suddenly and feels a bit terrible––maybe if he had just slept through the meeting instead of waking up and realizing he was going to be late for it, he wouldn’t have been such an asshole about it. There’s three new voicemails from him, and he knows they’re going to be exactly like the countless other ones he’s left, but he unlocks his phone to listen to them, anyway. He hears the water still running in the bathroom and turns his back to the entrance of the kitchen to lean his hip against the counter while he listens.

The first one is angry, typical, getting shorter the more that time goes on and Jinyoung refuses to call him back. It’s like he’s getting desperate, leaving shorter messages in case Jinyoung is getting bored of them and not listening to the whole thing which, to be truthful, after the first few he never really did. Once he realized they were all going to be the same he would listen to the first couple of seconds to get the small satisfaction of listening to him make an ass of himself and to clear the little notification icon and then away they went, slide back into his pocket and forgotten about. In the middle of the last one, he fails to hear the water stop and the bathroom door creak open on its hinges.

“Jinyoungie, yah, Jinyoungie, call my phone, I can’t f*cking find it and I’m going to be––Yah!”

Startled when Jaebum shouts from the doorway, he jumps and drops his phone onto the tiled counter. He’s lucky that the drop was short; his phone is fine when he picks it up to make sure it hadn’t cracked and plugs it back in to resume charging. He turnsto face Jaebum where he’s planted himself in the entrance to the kitchen after he’d appeared almost silently from the hallway.

“Yah yourself,” Jinyoung says, visibly annoyed. “You don’t need to be yelling this early in the morning.”

“Whatever,” Jaebum says coldly, and the tone of his voice actually surprises him a little. It’s almost like he’s talking to the Jaebum he’d had to serve that night at the restaurant, all dripped in arrogance and deflective to Jinyoung’s retorts. “Help me find my phone so I can leave, and you can continue jerking off to your ex’s desperate voicemails after I’m gone and have my assistant pick up all my sh*t.”

The remark hurts. He says it so bitterly, and it rocks Jinyoung back on his heels as if Jaebum had slapped him instead. Jinyoung refuses to let tears well up in his eyes but they burn the back of his throat as Jaebum just watches him with impatience.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jinyoung says, voice a little watery but no less demanding. “Why the hell would you say that?”

Obviously frustrated, Jaebum runs a hand through his disheveled hair and seems to shake. “I don’t have time for this, Jinyoung,” he says, and tugs at his hair. “Help me find my phone.”

“No,” he spits, and Jaebum’s eyes widen. “No, you do have time for this. What the f*ck’s your problem? Why would you say that to me?”

Jaebum tenses like there’s an actual fight brewing and drops his hand. “Actually, your highness, I f*cking don’t have time for this. I do not have time to sit here and cater to your feelings right now, alright? I need to find my phone, Jinyoung, please just call it. I’m an hour late for this meeting and it’s very important.”

“More important than addressing why you’re being such a f*cking asshole right now?” Jinyoung says, face hot, a red streak painted across both cheeks and the tops of his ears as he roughly pulls the charging cable from the bottom of his phone to use it. “God, Jaebum, after last night I thought we’d be fine––”

“That’s the problem, Jinyoung,” Jaebum says hotly, finally engaging him in this argument that appeared absolutely out of thin air. Jinyoung is sure that it’s been brought on by the stress of a late morning, but it feels worse than that somehow, too. He moves aside when Jinyoung shoves at his shoulder to pass by him into the living room to listen for his phone since Jaebum seems disinterested in helping him. “You always think. You never ask.”

“There’s two adults in this relationship,” Jinyoung spits back, holding the phone up to his ear to make sure it’s ringing before he throws it down on the table to hunt for Jaebum’s. The older man stays where he is, watching him with his hands doing a nervous dance on his hips. “If I don’t ask, you can always tell.”

“You would think that, wouldn’t you?” Jaebum says, and laughs bitterly. He disappears for a moment and comes back with Nora, who meows miserably as he carries her in his arms toward her carrier. He ushers her in quickly, roughly zipping it closed after making sure none of her fur is in the way of the track and placing her down on the chair across from Jinyoung’s couch. “You don’t think that hurts, Jinyoung? Sitting back and watching you cater to him like this?”

“I’m not catering to him!” Jinyoung shouts, turning from where he’d been about to search for Jaebum’s phone between the cushions.

“You are!” he shouts back, barely able to stand still with how antsy he is. He’s even wearing his shoes, the small heel clicking on the warped hardwood of Jinyoung’s floor and he paces back and forth and tries looking for his phone on the counters and tables. He stops. “You’re giving him exactly what he wants, Jinyoung! How do you think it feels for me to know that you’re still giving him what he wants while trying to have something with me? Huh?”

“It’s not that simple,” Jinyoung says harshly, and angrily shoves a hand between the couch cushions where he feels Jaebum’s phone vibrating.

“It is that simple, Jinyoung!” he shouts, and Jinyoung turns his head in time to see Jaebum pull at his silky black hair in frustration. He wants to tell Jaebum that he’s seriously overreacting over waking up late for an important meeting, but decides that it won’t be helpful in this situation and just tightly seals his lips together. “You can’t even see how selfish you’re being!”

Jinyoung makes a sound as he locates Jaebum’s phone, grabbing it and yanking it out from between the couch cushions. He’s about to just hand it over when he catches a glimpse of the screen––there’s a picture of him pulled up as his caller ID photo. It’s of him, shirtless in Jaebum’s bed and fast asleep with his hair spread on the pillow. He wonders when Jaebum took it, and why; his heart drops down into his stomach at the gesture. He reads the words BABY BOY in white block font just in time before the picture disappears as the ringing stops and the MISSED CALL : BABY BOY notification sits patiently on the screen to be addressed.

Last night it would have made him feel good, maybe even a little turned on, but right now it just fans the flames. Jaebum is so indignant about being called ahjussi or Jaebum-ssi, but Jaebum doesn’t even have his real name saved in his phone? Already pissed off, he throws the phone without warning at Jaebum hard enough for it to make a noise when it hits his chest and he catches it in his hands.

“Whatever,” Jinyoung says coldly, hurt beyond belief. Jaebum looks up at him after catching his phone almost in surprise. “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me. Think whatever you want, ahjussi, but you don’t even know him. You don’t know what he would do if I answered long enough to tell him to f*ck off. I don’t even know what he would do if I did that, and I dated him for two years. That’s how unpredictable he is. Didn’t you see me that day after I met him at the coffee shop? Huh? I’m terrified of him, and you want me to just answer the phone and tell him to f*ck off? He knows where I live!”

Jaebum’s face, where it had once been colored red with anger, drains to paper white. “Jinyoung––”

“No,” Jinyoung spits, pushing past him to go into the bedroom and get his duffle bag half packed off the floor and haul it out. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Jinyoung, wait, please––”

He drops the bag by the door heavily and whips around. “Don’t you have a meeting to go to? Huh? Isn’t that why you’ve been yelling at me this morning to try and find your phone? Well, your ‘baby boy’ found it for you, so you can leave now. Are you calling a car?”

“They’re already on their way. Jinyoung, please, that’s not what I meant––”

“No!” he covers his ears childishly and shouts over Jaebum’s attempts. “No! I don’t want to hear it! This is exactly what he would do to me, he would blow up at me for something that’s not even my fault and then try and beg for forgiveness.” When Jinyoung opens his eyes and lowers his hands, Jaebum’s face is stricken, as though he’s realized what a horrible mistake he’s made. Jinyoung doesn’t care. His heart beats so hard and the tears that he’d tried to hard to hold back well up and he angrily wipes a bare arm across his eyes. “If your driver is picking you up, then they can take Nora home. Your assistant doesn’t need to come here and you don’t need to come back.”

“Jinyoung––"

“Please just go. We’ll talk about this later.”

Without looking at him, Jinyoung leaves his cellphone on the small coffee table and goes back into his room. He slams the door––he wonders what his neighbors think, especially Mrs. Kim. He wonders if she heard them shouting at each other at seven in the morning and the doors being slammed and if she’ll say something to him next time he leaves and she’s sitting on her porch. Jinyoung hopes not. He gets back into bed and listens to Jaebum struggle to close the door with his hands full and feels nothing.

Once Jaebum has gone, a familiar silence resumes.

One step forward.

Ten steps back.

Chapter 11: duke vs. tiger

Notes:

dear forgiveness...

Chapter Text

Because his time is no longer occupied by Jaebum, he finds something to fill the space. He does something that he realizes he hasn't done in months:

He writes.

The story he'd been working on before he'd met Jaebum seems lackluster now. Jinyoung had always been more fond of prose rather than storytelling, as poetry gave him the outlet for metaphorical language too heavy handed for long winded fiction. It's always been easier for Jinyoung to build up the emotion within the confines of lines of prose and tear it back down again. Storytelling is harder: details, details, details. Jinyoung has a separate notebook for character histories and timelines and settings; when he ruffles madly through his desk just to find something to occupy the shaking of his hands, he finds himself to be a bit relieved to see it gone.

In any case, it just spurs him further into writing poetry until his fingers cramp from holding the pen so hard it bends into the curve of his hand. Words flow from the base of his elbow onto the paper like magic, as if he’s not even controlling it, but he finds himself grimacing at the way the ink bleeds in the pages like his own torn up, beating heart. Usually when he realizes all he'd done is write something else about the misery that has accompanied Jaebum’s sudden absence in the wake of their morning fight a few days prior, he throws the pen at the wall and tears the pages from the book. They get thrown away, crumpled up into unrecognizable lumps like the clothes Jaebum had accidentally left on his bathroom floor and remain untouched.

Hakyeon was always so easy for him to write about. Even when the older man made fun of him for writing, it didn't stop the way he could sit down and come up with something that described the way he hated how Hakyeon was treating him without ever having to say those words in sequence. Certain instances in his life that came after, big or small, were easier to describe tucked inside a poem, and he found that some of these, regardless of simplicity, were actually quite good. These he keeps in a leather bound book on his bookshelf, pages crisp and only cracked open when he writes something he deems worthy of a new page.

Jaebum is the exception. Just like, it seems, he is the exception to everything.

Despite making Jaebum leave immediately that morning, Jinyoung had felt the weight of his absence right away and hated it. Everything he's tried to write about Jaebum in the two days they haven't spoken has been trashed at some point, ugly and wrong sounding when he reads it aloud. An exception to all rules. Even this one.

He had said to Jinyoung once that poets were dangerous, but it seems his only weapon has finally failed to fire.

_________________

From. Im Jaebum (??) 09/14 5:47PM
Jinyoung-ah. please pick up. I want to talk to you.

From: Im Jaebum (??) 09/14 8:58PM
Baby, please. Call me back. Don't leave it like this.

From: Im Jaebum (??? 09/15 00:35AM
Jinyoung. I'm sorry.

Even though he's awake when the last one comes in, he merely turns his phone over and resumes staring at the wall until he falls into a fitful, restless sleep, empty of dreams of tigers and dukes and blood, always blood.

_________________

Jinyoung remembers, out of the blue on a rainy day just around the corner from his birthday, something he had heard while he was still elbow deep in his English literature courses. It strikes him like a rough shove to the chest when he wakes up, making him pull a face of furrowed eyebrows and lips tucked downward into a frown as his heart thumps weakly in his chest. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Wasn’t that it? Something about how the longer you’re away from somebody, the more you miss them; the more your heart yearns for them and makes the reunion inevitably warmer and feelings stronger.

But what if the reunion is not guaranteed? Had they not accounted for break ups, or even death? As he gets up and slams his bathroom door in anger tapped from the ever sinking well of his broken heart, he considers how stupid it was of them to say that absence makes the heart grow fonder when, in reality, absence makes it bleed and ache like a bruise.

Worse still is the realization that comes the fifth day that they haven't spoken. Jaebum has tried to call him twice a day for the past three days; it seems as though, when his text message pleas remained acknowledged but not responded to, he developed a sort of ritual. One phone call in the morning, regardless if Jinyoung was awake, in which case it went to voicemail but he always finds that in lieu of the recorded begging and pleading he's become accustomed to with Hakyeon these days, there's not even the notification of the empty two seconds it took him to hang up when Jinyoung’s greeting had ended. Then there is the phone call in the evening, on a fluctuating schedule due to what he assumes is Jaebum’s own busy work life, but always between the hours of 5pm and 9pm. No later, no earlier, and still no indication of the hesitation to leave a voicemail. If Jinyoung doesn't answer, the phone just rings and then goes silent, a service bell searching for a request but making no demands. It seems that even though Jaebum remains tenacious, he has retained even the smallest amount of decorum to set him apart from the emotional violence of Hakyeon’s rivaled insistence.

_________________

Two more days go by. The phone calls have stopped.

His birthday arrives in a raincloud, water falling from the sky like tears.

_________________

The realization strikes him unbidden like lightening on a clear day. It’s another rainy afternoon, one spent off work; it is the morning of his 25th birthday and it’s as though the weather has taken pity and reflected his emotions back at him with the rain that pounds the pavement outside. He hasn’t talked to Jackson in a week, once again no fault of his but of Jinyoung’s own reluctance to talk about the situation he’s found himself in––Jinyoung has always been under the impression that if he just sits on something and tries to figure it out himself, he either will or it will go away. Over the years this has proven to not be true, but he keeps thinking it in spite of himself, anyway.

Though he doesn’t really want to spend the day moping in his bedroom, the window to the left of his bed is the only one in the apartment that opens to the street, so he’s confined to the chair he’d dragged in from the living room and planted right underneath it. The screen and the overhang of the roof prevents any of the water from getting in, but still allows him the perfect view of the cars parked along the curb and the quiet rush of traffic that comes and goes every so often. The wind is chilly, the hot summer seemingly swept up and flooded under the rainstorms of the past few days, and it blows calmly against his skin when he turns his face up and looks without really seeing the world moving on without him.

What he realizes, sitting in this chair, seven days of radio silence gone by, is that he’s heartbroken. It was one thing to feel it in Jaebum’s absence, but it’s another entirely to acknowledge it, because with the recognition come the questions he feels better off not answering: what makes him feel this way? Why would he be heartbroken over someone that he’s not in a relationship with? Why does it hurt so much that he’s ready to give in and accept Jaebum’s apology?

It’s not that simple, he tells himself, eyes on the streets washed a dark grey with rain. Even though it is that simple; the word is there, on the tip of his tongue, but like a fish hook lodged in his throat it refuses to come out. It had been enough already to accidentally admit to liking Jaebum in the middle of familiar pillow talk. Anything else could be considered treason and he refuses to let himself be caught up in that once again.

However, it doesn’t change the fact that the cold breeze from the window that carries the smell of wet pavement and trees across his shoulders where his sweater is pulled tighter makes him ache, missing Jaebum in every sense of the word. It’s strange to think how far they’d come, how the months had passed from that first blistering summer day where hot coffee stained the front of Jaebum’s suit like dust kicked up and carried in the wind. It feels akin to holding a broken open stone inside his hand, turning it this way and that, watching the colors change each time in the reflection of the sun. It had unfolded slowly like a strange flower, their romance, as it would be naive to call it anything else. It had seemed such a paradox of too fast and too slow as Jaebum’s personality unfurled like petals, going from arrogant and careless to honest and gentle to bursting at the seams with a sweetness that lingers heavy in his mouth. He had thought on that first day in the coffee shop that his luck couldn’t be worse. Then they had met again, and then again, and over and over, the cycle of a wheel. Jinyoung was powerless to stop it. He knows that now, he wishes that he could have then. Maybe things would have been different.

In any case he finds himself no longer focused on the book, long abandoned in his lap as he watches the parade of multi colored umbrellas that go by on the sidewalks and thinks about Jaebum. Jinyoung’s eyes unfocus to the blurred greys and greens of the streets outside when he remembers through a drunken haze the way they’d first kissed in the nightclub only weeks after meeting. He remembers how electric it had been, a shock of electricity down his spine, static charge set off between their bodies and he wonders now, locked up and alone in his room on the loneliest of birthdays, if his mother would have something to say about that. His sisters, perhaps, too–– did you feel a spark, Jinyoungie?

So maybe it had been fate, after all.

Sighing, Jinyoung tries to pull himself out of the memories but struggles to. It’s not a day that he should be sad, but the weather and the heaviness of his heart is making it difficult to stand up and do anything else but reminisce. Jaebum had once been the poster boy of everything he hated and had promised he’d never fall prey to again: older, rich, arrogant, assuming, standing on top of a world that belonged to him and him alone. Jinyoung realizes how much time he’d wasted scouring their interactions for signs that he would turn out to be another Hakyeon when he could have been enjoying it instead and feels the burn of self-hatred in his stomach like acid. He had spent so much time being afraid that he’d missed the way Jaebum had shown his hand over and over, blooming in front of his eyes to be the man that Jinyoung had felt he knew that night in Hongdae. Jinyoung realizes with a horrible jolt that he’d seen Jaebum for who he really is, hand in his own, when they stood suspended in the doorway before the fortune teller and it conjured up images of the fanatical as he always has. That night the vestibule had lay open, Jaebum doused in colored light, open and wanting. The book falls from his lap to the floor with a soft noise that goes unheard when Jinyoung realizes that maybe the doorway had closed and left him alone on the other side.

Jinyoung, ever stubborn, will not be defeated so easily. He stands, leaving the book where it had fallen to the floor and stepping over it to go in search of his phone. Jaebum hadn’t called in two days, the daily ritual gone after hardly time at all; there’s an anxious pang as he searches for it where he’d let it fall in the couch cushions that maybe Jaebum had just given up on him. It must be tiring, always going after the chase, and in his reflections by his bedroom window he had come to understand that Jaebum had done nothing but chasing since the day the had met. Jinyoung had nearly let him catch up, admitting to a lower tier of feeling the night before their fight, but had taken off once again and left him behind when he refused to listen to another apology. Nevertheless, Jinyoung hasn’t tired yet and he will resume the chase in the opposite direction if necessary.

When his hand closes around his phone nearly bricked with birthday messages and SNS notifications, he makes a triumphant noise and pulls it out from the sagging middle of the couch. It’s almost drained of battery, close to 5% and he prays that it’s enough to get at least a couple minutes of a phone call out of the way. He’s already dressed; his outfit of jeans cuffed at the ankles and his sweater tucked in behind the belt means all he has to do is put on his shoes and he can meet Jaebum anywhere should he answer. He finds his hands shake a little as he unlocks it, going quickly to Jaebum’s contact to dial––

There’s a heavy, hesitant knock on his front door. With the rain outside the world had simmered down into a certain kind of calm, and the loud noise sudden in the quiet makes him jump. His phone slips from his hand and hits the couch, bouncing off and sliding underneath out of view, but he doesn’t notice it in favor of staring wide eyed at the door. Lots of people know it’s his birthday, Jackson included, and it’s not above Jackson to show up at his front door with some sort of obnoxious arrangement (one year it was balloons that filled the hallway, the next it was fruits shaped like a book, the one after that it was pairs of underwear and socks rolled up to look like flowers), but in the wake of Jackson’s arrival there would be much more knocking and gleeful shouting that is absent from the other side of the door. He realizes that Jaebum had also shown up unannounced in the past, and he wonders if he’s a magnet for people who don’t know what it means to call ahead.

His feet carry him to the door, heart beating so hard that he can no longer hear the rain outside. The suspense ratchets up in his chest, wondering what kind of situation is going to follow him opening the door to see Jaebum standing on the other side: will their fight resume with more shouting and harsh words? Will he be standing there with flowers and a sweet apology? His fingers touch the cold brass of the doorknob and his blood pressure skyrockets at the thought of him opening the door only to be swept up in Jaebum’s kiss and carried back to the bedroom on a wave of confession and desire.

Taking a deep breath, Jinyoung turns the knob and slowly opens the door. “Ahjussi––”

What happens is too fast and too familiar, an almost exact repeat of the first time he’d shown up out of the blue. The hand on the door pushes it open wider when Jinyoung doesn’t do it fast enough. It startles him and he stumbles backward, making a noise when the door knob slams into the wall and bounces off as Hakyeon crosses the threshold fast and grabs it on the down swing to slam it behind him.

Jinyoung is too shocked to say anything right away. He’d backed up against the wall near the entrance to the kitchen, a couple of feet away from where Hakyeon is now standing in his casual clothes and staring at him. It’s almost as though he’s dreaming: Jinyoung blinks slowly, uncomprehending, as his eyes skate over Hakyeon’s long sleeve shirt soaked to navy across the shoulders by rain down to where it’s tucked into his jeans. His red tennis shoes are soaking wet and puddles gather under the soles where he hasn’t removed them upon entering. Jinyoung looks back up into his face, considering pinching himself for good measure, because Hakyeon is still standing in the living room dripping water from rain soaked hair and not saying anything, which is incredibly unusual. He’s beginning to convince himself that he’d fallen asleep in his chair by the window the longer the silence stretches until finally Hakyeon speaks.

“‘Ahjussi’?”

The one word, Jaebum’s nickname coming out of his mouth like it’s poison, finally wakes Jinyoung up. It’s real––Hakyeon is here, having showed up unannounced and forced his way into his apartment after weeks of getting ignored. Where Jinyoung’s heart had been beating faster in anticipation of Jaebum being on the other side, it now beats in anxiety at the way Hakyeon’s fingers curl and uncurl into his palms.

“Did you say ahjussi? Were you expecting it to be him?”

His voice is rough but Jinyoung just ignores it. “Why are you here?” he asks, straightening against the wall and not moving forward or back. His voice is steady, helping him gain the confidence he needs to end this once and for all. “Was getting ignored for weeks not enough of a hint for you? Do you need to get kicked out again to get it?”

Hakyeon, in turn, ignores this. His eyes are black pits, blinking when water drops from the edges of his clumped together fringe over his eyebrows. “Why haven’t you answered the phone?”

Jinyoung snorts derivatively. “Seriously?”

He jumps when Hakyeon’s arm moves fast, reaching up to run a hand through his rain soaked hair to push it back off his face in frustration. Water hits the floor with little audible splatters and Jinyoung laments having to clean it up later when he eventually gets him to leave.

“Yes! Jinyoung, I’ve been calling for weeks––”

“I know,” he interjects harshly, folding his arms, but biting both lips when Hakyeon tenses and starts talking louder:

“And you haven’t picked up once! You have your read receipts on, so I know you’ve been getting my text messages, too. Why didn’t you answer? Did you even listen to my voicemails?”

“Some of them,” he says, trying to act disinterested. Hakyeon’s anger the day they had gone to get coffee together and Jaebum interrupted with a phone call had seemed born from somewhere, chained up to a leash that Hakyeon controlled tightly and by the throat. Jinyoung feels wary now, though, at the unsure nature of his movements. Hakyeon seems frustrated, now shifting from foot to foot and shaking slightly either from the rain or the rage or both. Jinyoung doesn’t feel bad for him. He just wants him to leave. Hakyeon is antsy which makes him unpredictable and Jinyoung was not nor wanted to be prepared for dealing with this on his birthday.

“Why didn’t you call me back? Or answer?” he pleads, tugging at his wet hair. “Jinyoung, I was so worried about you––”

“Bullsh*t,” he scoffs, angry now, still edged with the anxiety that Hakyeon could go off at any moment but tired of this narrative. It had been different the first time he’d showed up, making him more confused than anything else at his sudden reappearance in his life after nearly two years of nothing, but Jinyoung is not confused anymore. It had been so hard but over the months of being with Jaebum he’s worked, albeit not very hard or even noticeably so, to let go of the chokehold Hakyeon had held on his romantic life and terrorized him into ever being afraid to fall in love again. Standing here now and arguing with him where he’d invited himself inside once again, he realizes that had likely been his plan all along. Hakyeon never had any intentions of letting him go. Ever.

“Are you really still hung up on Im Jaebum?” Hakyeon says, stepping forward. His wet shoes make an awful squelching noise on the floor that just exacerbates Jinyoung’s desire to throw up. “Is that why you don’t answer me? Because you’re hung up on him?”

“That’s none of your business” Jinyoung spits, and leans up off the wall. He points at the door. “It’s time for you to leave, Hakyeon. We’re not having this conversation anymore, or ever again. Get out.”

“Jinyoung, listen to me––”

“No!” he shouts, feeling the anger and disappointment bubble over in his chest until he’s exploding. “No! I don’t have to listen to you! You can’t keep showing up like this! I don’t want you here!”

Hakyeon takes a step back in a mirror of him when Jinyoung steps forward, flinching at his raised voice as though it had been his hand instead. The tight line of his shoulders has faded into the droop of desperation as he puts his hands together and backs up again with another step. “Please don’t shout, let’s just talk about this––”

“There’s nothing to talk about!” He ignores Hakyeon’s half assed attempts at talking and steps forward to close the gap between them. His shirt is soaked, and Jinyoung can feel the outline of his chest through the clingy film of the dark fabric when he puts both hands on it to shove him backward. Jinyoung bites his lip and does it hard, feeling the rage reverberate down his arms like an echo and feeling smugly satisfied when Hakyeon’s back hits the door with a loud thud. Though he’s never been much of an advocate for physical violence, he can’t deny it feels good when Hakyeon’s eyes widen in shock that Jinyoung had pushed him. It only lasts for a moment though; his dark eyes flash and narrow and he tenses like he’s going to push back.

Jinyoung doesn’t back down, though. “Get out,” he hisses through his teeth.

“Did you just push me? You’ve never been violent before, Jinyoungie. He changed you–”

“Next time I’m going to punch you. Get the f*ck out of here, Hakyeon. I don’t want to ever see you again. What about that don’t you understand?”

It’s quiet for a moment, their eyes locked, Jinyoung’s hands damp with water where they’re curled at his sides. Jinyoung had stepped forward a little when he pushed him, close enough that he can feel the humid warmth of Hakyeon’s skin against his exposed neck. He’s not saying anything, just breathing heavily, and Jinyoung is about to tell him again that it’s time to go when he notices the twitch in Hakyeon’s fingers just before he strikes. In a heartbeat, Hakyeon's hand snatches out to grip the front of Jinyoung’s sweater and fists in it. He struggles and yelps when Hakyeon yanks him forward and turns, shoving him back against the door so hard his head bounces off the old painted wood. Jinyoung’s hands come up to hit at his chest and shove him back, but Hakyeon is angry now and has always been stronger than him. Jinyoung struggles where Hakyeon has him pinned to the door and his hair drips water trails down Jinyoung’s face like tears.

“What’s so hard for you to understand that you belong to me?” Hakyeon seethes, and he emphasizes this by lifting Jinyoung up just to shove him back against the door harder. “Huh? I came here to try and beg you for forgiveness but that’s obviously not going to work. Do you like making me angry, Jinyoungie? Is that it? Is that why the begging didn’t work? You want to see me angry? Does it turn you on?”

“f*ck you,” Jinyoung spits, trying to get his knee up into Hakyeon’s balls but getting pinned again by his hips. His heart beats uncomfortably hard in his chest as he struggles, his fight or flight response tearing him in two directions trying to do both. “I’m not a piece of property! You don’t own me!”

“That’s not how I remember it,” he says, and the air between them is humid with their body heat and Hakyeon’s soaked clothes. “When I f*cked you, you loved telling me you were mine, that your ass belonged to me, wanted me to do whatever I wanted with you––”

“That was years ago!” Jinyoung shouts in his face, using some of the leverage he gets when Hakyeon’s head jerks back in surprise to get his elbow up and shove it at his throat. Hakyeon gags when he digs it into his adam’s apple but doesn’t let up. “I only said it because I wanted you to f*ck me harder, you stupid asshole, I didn’t mean it! Let go of me!”

“Only when you admit that you love me!” he shouts back, fingers in his shirt gripping even harder, Jinyoung’s arm on his neck doing nothing to deter him. He looks wild and terrifying, sweat on his temples and a hot flush across his cheeks. “Admit that you still have feelings for me and we can stop fighting like this!”

Hate, the ugliest emotion that Jinyoung can conjure, surges up through his body like a flood of power. He grunts and shoves Hakyeon back hard with one arm across his throat and the other on his chest; the force of it is enough to make him stumble backward and let go.

“I don’t have feelings for you anymore!” he shouts, practically screams, so over having to defend himself against Hakyeon constantly after doing it for years. “I have feelings for him!”

The confession goes unnoticed; Jinyoung hardly even realizes that he’s said it because Hakyeon is immediately launching into another shout:

“He doesn’t love you! Not like I do!”

“You don’t love me! You’re obsessed with me, and there’s a difference!”

“Jinyoungie,” Hakyeon pleads, voice dropping down low to beg, tearing at his hair with his hands so hard Jinyoung thinks he might actually yank it from his scalp. “Just listen to me, please––”

“No!” Jinyoung moves away from the door and yanks it open, trembling as he reaches out to grab Hakyeon’s wrist. “Get out!”

Hakyeon struggles against his grip where Jinyoung tries to drag him toward the open door. Hakyeon keeps trying to talk to him, fingers prying at where Jinyoung’s are locked around his forearm and digging in painfully with his nails. His heartbeat is flooding his ears like drumbeats, sweat dripping down his neck despite the cold draft rushing in up the stairs and into the open door. Hakyeon’s shoes squeak against the hardwood as Jinyoung pulls him forward enough to get him into the doorway and give his arm one last, hard shove so that he stumbles out into the hallway.

Dropping his voice down into cold detachment, he watches Hakyeon right himself and rub absently at his wrist. Jinyoung looks at him and hopes this is the last image he will ever have of Cha Hakyeon: shaking mildly from the cold and soaked down to the bones by the rain, standing on his doorstep with pain in his eyes that he’s earned after four years of torture.

“If you ever come here again, Cha Hakyeon, if you ever approach me ever again in public, I’m going to call the police,” he spits, hand so tight on the doorknob on the inside he thinks he could snap it off if he tried hard enough. “I’m going to block your number. Don’t even think about calling me, or texting me, or calling my friends. It’s been over for years, Hakyeon-ssi. I don’t love you anymore. I’m with somebody else now and I’m trying to be happy even though you’re stained all over anything. I don’t ever want to see you again, Hakyeon. Ever.”

And then, with one last look, he slams the door.

With a grunt he twists the lock and slams the bolt home, turning to let out the breath that had been stuck in his throat since Hakyeon had shoved his way in. His back hits the door hard, ragdolling against it and slipping on the water Hakyeon dripped all over the floor until he’s hitting his ass hard on the wood and not getting up. The runoff rain from Hakyeon’s clothes seeps into his socks and jeans as he sits on the floor and digs the heels of his hands into his eyes, not trying to hold back tears but instead trying to redirect the horrible surge of emotion going through him to something that isn’t anger. His fingers itch to grab the neck of the lamp near his couch and throw it, wanting so much to tear his apartment to shreds so that the anger has somewhere to go. Instead he just sits against the door slowly soaking up the water, yanking at his hair and letting his head slam back painfully into the door.

It’s telling that he’d expected Jaebum to be on the other side of the door and was sorely disappointed. Even though he had told Hakyeon that he has feelings for Jaebum and is trying to be happy he can’t help but despair over the way nothing ever goes how it should; he had thought that coming to terms with his realization would make everything magically better and there wouldn’t be anymore problems. But Jaebum hasn’t tried to call him in two days and Jinyoung hasn’t tried to reach out to him, either, and so even though the anger eventually fades into the tears of stress and release of trauma, the disappointment stays. He doesn’t even remember telling Jaebum when his birthday is, and the thought that Jaebum would show up unannounced like it was just a regular day is dashed against the rocks. His 25th birthday has come and gone with an argument and a near fist fight he never should have had to have. His confession about having feelings for Im Jaebum were given to the wrong person and despite not wanting to take it back, he can’t help but feel as though the impact of them was wasted.

He’s not sure how long he sits against the door, and he’s not sure when he started crying or when he stopped. Time has seemed to slow, keeping him suspended for what feels like hours but is really only twenty minutes or so. He could hear Hakyeon pacing on the other side of the door for a while, as though he was trying to decide whether or not he could really convince Jinyoung to let him back in, but eventually the footsteps faded and the silence resumed, leaving him alone, drenched in water and his own kind of sadness. He closes his eyes and lets his mind wander, wishing that he could go back to that night in Hongdae with Jaebum, where everything had felt so perfect and real and right. He wishes selfishly that Jaebum were here now, picking him up off the ground and holding him close, telling him that everything will be alright and that he doesn’t have to worry. Jinyoung wipes an arm across his eyes, distressed but not surprised when wetness leaves a dark mark across the fabric. There’s the faint sound of heavy footsteps coming down the hallway, and he prays that it’s one of his neighbors and not Hakyeon again as he debates on whether or not he should call Jackson and tell him what happened. He will want to talk, after all, since it’s his birthday and he’s sure he’s got a million messages from him already, but he’s not quite sure if he could stand it––

Thud.

Jinyoung almost shrieks, biting back the scared noise he wants to make when there’s a heavy thump against his back on the door. He gets up on his knees and scrambles away, leaving trails of evaporating water behind him as he flips over and stands up. The silence has resumed; there’s no sound of footsteps, presumably they had already disappeared when Jinyoung was busy crawling away from the door. He puts a hand over his heart and wills for it to calm as he takes a deep breath, jumpy from his fight with Hakyeon and anxious about what the noise could have been. Reluctance makes him hesitate where he stands in his uncomfortable damp clothes, staring at the door approximately where the sound had come from like it will magically manifest inside his apartment. It would not be above Hakyeon to have brought him a present and left it childishly at his door like this after a fight, so he doesn’t bother to look.

Instead, he goes into his room and strips out of his damp clothes, mildly annoyed that he wasted a good outfit despite not having any plans to go anywhere. Even though he doesn’t want to give Hakyeon any kind of satisfaction at all, he can’t help the way that curiosity digs at him as he takes off his wet, clingy underwear and pulls on a fresh pair. What could he have possibly brought that would make him think Jinyoung would happily accept it? He knew it was Jinyoung’s birthday but didn’t even say a single word about it when he’d arrived, instead opting to start another fight about why Jinyoung has been ignoring him even though he’s not stupid and knew exactly why. Nevertheless, Jinyoung is stubborn and curious and, after pulling on new jeans and a different sweater and closing the window, he pads back out into the living room with a towel. After laying it down over the residual water near the entry and stepping on it with his bare feet to shuffle around and soak it up, he kicks the towel near the entrance of the kitchen and opens the door.

He looks down and his heart sinks. Laying at his feet is the ruins of a beautiful bouquet, a small one of all white daisies peppered with little buds of yellow in between the petals. Most of them had broken upon impact with the door. Green stalks snapped off and bent on the ground, the heads of flowers crushed underneath them and wrinkled from where they were slammed against the wood. The majority of the flowers did not survive the throw; there’s individual petals crumpled and lined littering the body of a bouquet still barely held together by a gorgeous, metallic ribbon of navy silk. There’s a bad feeling in his stomach as he bends down to brush his fingers through the corpses of the gorgeous flowers that it may not have been Hakyeon who’d thrown them when he comes across a little piece of thick cardstock the size of a business card and picks it up.

Crouched down, Jinyoung pinches the tiny card between his fingers, feeling the slightly textured material and not noticing when his hand begins to shake. The ink on the front has long dried, not printed but handwritten in a sloppy slant atypical of someone so prim and proper.

Jinyoungie,
I’m really sorry.

–JB

He wonders what could have changed in the time it took him to buy the flowers and write the note to walking up the steps of his apartment only to throw them at the door and let them die here at Jinyoung’s feet. A coldness washes over him when he realizes that Jaebum had been so within reach only moments ago, separated by nothing but the door, and Jinyoung had missed the opportunity to welcome him back in with open arms because he was too certain that it was Hakyeon coming back up those stairs. Jaebum doesn’t know it’s his birthday and thus didn’t have the opportunity to ruin it this way, however, numbness blunts the edges of his nerves like novocaine as he gathers up the flowers as best he can and carries them inside and thinks that his birthday’s been ruined, anyway, because Jaebum is upset with him and isn’t here to celebrate.

Jinyoung barely even blinks as he shuffles into the kitchen on stiff legs that work of their own accord, knowing better what he wants than even his brain can tell him at the moment, until he’s opening up a cabinet to pull down a tall glass just barely long enough to house the twisted stems. He doesn’t feel the water that splashes his hand when he fills the glass in the sink, and he doesn’t hear the noise the glass makes against the tiled countertop when he sets it down on his way out of the kitchen. Jinyoung gets down on his knees to retrieve his phone from under the couch and sits down heavily, 3% battery left and only minutes to make a last ditch phone call.

He dials Jaebum’s number, hoping to hear his voice, to understand what’s going on, how the script suddenly flipped so that Jaebum was upset with him and not the other way around without him even realizing the wool had been pulled down over his eyes.

The line just rings.

_________________

Somehow, in the span of less than an hour, Jinyoung’s life became the mirror image of what it had been the week before.

He does end up calling Jackson after plugging in his phone and laying dejectedly on his bed, who does his best to just listen and not interject. Despite the weird icy feeling in his chest at the thought of Jaebum being angry enough to throw the flowers at his door and not knowing why, it makes him smile a little when Jackson starts ranting about how he’s going to kill Hakyeon if he ever sees him in the streets again. Jackson, as loyal as ever, offering to defend him to the death if necessary. Jinyoung smiles a little even though he can’t see it and tells him that it’s alright, he handled it, and he may have scared Hakyeon off all on his own. That remains to be seen, of course, but by the way Jackson gasps when Jinyoung tells him about how he’d shoved Hakyeon into the door and then physically thrown him out, Jackson murmurs in agreement.

He also offers to come over, which sounds nice, but Jinyoung is feeling oddly like being alone despite it being his birthday. Jackson of course tries to push this fact on him, telling him that no one should be alone on their birthday, but Jinyoung just laughs even though it kind of hurts and tells him that he’s only turning 25; his special birthdays have come and gone and it’s just another day, he’s just one year older. Jackson huffs and disagrees but can probably sense the need to be alone lingering at the edge of Jinyoung’s words, unspoken, and it’s this aspect of their friendship that makes Jackson so irreplaceable to him. He doesn’t push it, and he only gently reminds Jinyoung that he’s a phone call or text message away should he change his mind.

“I’m sorry that this happened today of all days,” Jackson says softly, and Jinyoung just hums, feeling numbed and unsurprised. “But it will be okay, Jinyoungie. I love you lots.”

His chest pangs. “I love you, too, hyung. Maybe I’ll call you later, huh?”

The smile is audible in Jackson’s voice. “Maybe you will, and maybe there will be a special seat reserved for you right in front of me at the bar later with drinks on the house.”

“Yeah, yeah, we’ll see.”

“Okay. Happy birthday, Jinyoungie. Love you.”

“Yeah. Love you too, hyung.”

The room feels strangely empty of him when they hang up, though he hadn’t been inside it in the first place.

A day goes by, then two. Then three. Before he realizes it, a week has gone by again in the blink of an eye and they haven’t spoken in two.

After the second day of no response from Jaebum post-flower incident, he had mimicked the habitual calling that Jaebum had tried on him: one phone call in the morning, and one in the evening, though when the line just rang or was cut short halfway through by the denying of Jinyoung’s attempt, there was no voicemails left. Jinyoung only texted him two or three times in the week that they’d not spoken when it was Jaebum who was ignoring him, and all of them had been read by not replied to. It feels terrible, knowing that Jaebum is seeing his attempts at reaching out and blatantly ignoring them, and it feels worse that Jaebum had showed up to offer him the flowers as an apology but somehow, at some point, changed his mind. On top of the feeling that just sits unmoving in his stomach like a rock, it makes him feel guilty that he had made Jaebum feel the same way.

Where Jaebum had given up on the phone calls after a few days, though, Jinyoung doesn’t. There’s some sort of strange break in their relationship that he can’t quite let go of––there’s some piece missing that he hasn’t found yet, lost underneath the rubble of a fight that morning where Jaebum had snapped on him and the flowers that were left to die at the door. After admitting to Hakyeon in the heat of the moment that he does in fact have feelings for a certain Im Jaebum that go beyond the reaches of a mutually beneficial sex-only relationship, he is reluctant to let that go so easily. Had something like this happened earlier, before they went on an actual, real date on Jinyoung’s terms and not Jaebum’s but had come to a mutual conclusion that it was what they both wanted, there wouldn’t be this awful, burning desire like a candle flame under his heart to fix what he had broken without even realizing it.

His tenacity goes ignored. It remains ignored for days in the exact same way that Jinyoung had ignored it coming from the other direction, and he hates the restless feeling in his arms and legs that always seems to start up when he’s standing still for too long. Even at work he’s distracted, dropping multiple plates in just a few days and mixing up orders to the despair of the owner who just watches on, forlorn, as Jinyoung flushes a deep red and bows deeply with apology. His co workers notice, too: Bambam, Mark, and Youngjae have all commented on it independently of each other at some point, cornering him in a part of the kitchen or the break room not bustling with activity to look at him with concern and ask him why he seems so jittery and scatter brained recently. Jinyoung just titters a nervous laugh, knowing that it doesn’t convince them, but only offers a shoulder pat and some excuse about submitting something into a magazine as an excuse to slip past them and return to work.

Outside of work the effects are prevalent: even Jackson and Yugyeom can sense it, the way that Jinyoung’s fingers always twitch toward his phone when it’s laying out on the table, dark and silent, as though he wants to try reaching out again. They encourage him to do it sometimes, but he refuses; Jinyoung knows what it’s like to have someone so desperate to contact you that they’ll call as many times a day as they want and don’t care how it might inconvenience you, but he can’t deny that the prospect is tantalizing. It is especially so at night, when he’s alone in his bed and the heater barely works, cold and underneath covers that feel too big without another body snuggled underneath them and at his side. Jinyoung is quite shy to admit it but it’s always when he’s trying to go to sleep that he misses Jaebum the most. He misses the warmth of his lean body and the quiet, gentle rumble of a sleep-edged voice that soothes Jinyoung to sleep or wakes him gently in the morning just before the sun hits his eyes.

One night when he has a particularly long and awful dream that echoes one of bleeding hearts held by grinning princes, arrows shot through a tiger’s hide and strung up above a fireplace drenched in gold like a trophy, he wakes up with a cold sweat and the sick feeling in his stomach heavy with anxiety that makes him lurch out of bed to throw up into the sink. He coughs and blinks the tears out of his eyes, bogged down with the nightmare and the misery that just won’t leave. He watches himself in the mirror as he brushes his teeth, backlit by the streetlamp glow from the window behind him, eyes wild and skin flushed with sweat he’s tired of waking up in.

He has to do something. He has to get Jaebum back.

The next morning he’s up before his alarm, showering quickly and shaving before standing in his closet for fifteen minutes in his underwear trying to decide which outfit to throw on. Now in the early part of October, the heat of the sun has mostly abandoned them in the mornings until midday where it’s mild and blustery at best. He’s not trying to overdo it; Jinyoung’s never really had to overthink an outfit before so he sighs heavily when another five minutes go by and he still hasn’t decided on what to wear. Eventually he just goes with something casual–Jackson’s favorite pair of tight fitting khaki pants cuffed at the ankle and a his own favorite black, long-sleeve shirt that is layered under a deep forest green duffle coat cinched at the waist with the belt. Jinyoung takes a deep breath at the door, slinging his bag over his shoulder in case he needs to go somewhere and distract himself when it goes the wrong way. He slips on his nikes and heads out into the wind.

The walk to the subway station near his house is pretty short, but he finds himself wishing he had brought a scarf when wind slices across his face. It’s not supposed to be quite this cold yet, but he’s still convinced the weather must be mocking him and his sensibilities lately in a way that his drama-obsessed sisters would probably find hilarious. Instead of going back to his apartment he just tucks his face into the collar flipped up around his jaw and shoves his hands deeper into his pockets, glad for the buffer of the underground station when he pounds down the steps and goes to stand on the platform.

It’s not very crowded when he gets on it and heads toward Yeouido, which is both nice and a bit strange considering it’s a Wednesday morning, but it eases his nervousness a little when he can actually sit down and enjoy the view from the window once they hit the surface. He tries to just let his mind wander and not think too hard about what he’s doing, but he can’t help it; he keeps imagining scenario after scenario, each one having a different outcome. Most of them are good but even more of them are bad, and it only makes his stomach knot worse when the automated announcement tells them that they’re approaching Yeouido station in the next minute and that the exit doors are on the right.

He waits patiently to get off and then wanders through the station in a sort of daze toward the exit near Jaebum’s building. Even without looking it up first, it would be impossible to miss the looming glass tower of Im Broadcasting Systems, a monolith of modern construction despite being built in the 70s, long before Jinyoung was even a consideration. When he emerges from the station at the top of the stairs it’s immediately visible in it’s position a few blocks away, centered inside the circular expanse of carefully manicured grass. The park outside the building is actually quite pretty and is a regular spot for people to come and walk their dogs or play with their kids by the fountain parallel to the front doors. The circular sidewalk seems daunting when Jinyoung steps onto it after speed-walking the three blocks from the station, and he pauses by the fountain outside to really think about what he’s doing.

The slight breeze kicking up off the water rushing from the fountain ruffles his hair as he tilts his head back to look at the top of the tower. He wonders where exactly Jaebum’s office might be–at the top, probably, since he owns it, and everything underneath it. He wonders how big it is, too; it’s funny to imagine Jaebum sitting in a normal person’s cubicle when he has an empire of silver and steel just sitting at his feet. The picture it makes calms him little, though, because it’s unrealistic, and suddenly the idea of stepping into Jaebum’s massive office alone with an anger he’s not sure about makes him want to go home. The flat planes of glass that makes up the window of the buildings go opaque with burning sunshine as it climbs higher in the sky. He takes a deep breath and heads inside.

Much like Jaebum’s apartment building, the lobby is grandiose, almost grotesquely so. It’s modern and minimalist to the most upscale degree, with a waiting area made up of stark, black arm chairs that probably cost more than Jinyoung’s apartment bunched in clusters of fours and back to back to make rectangles of eights around circular white tables. He can’t see what kind of editorials are stacked neatly on the tables but he’s sure they’re all mostly business or entertainment related, and he kind of wants to creep over and see how many of them have Jaebum’s face on the cover before he chickens out and doesn’t do it. Everything is painted in shades of black, white, and gray, with large draperies on the walls that are design less save for small patterns of gold flowers and foliage in the corners of them. The high ceiling above his head does nothing to block out the cold and only makes his footsteps echo as he crosses the polished tile floor to the front desk, where a gorgeous woman sits and smiles at him when he approaches.

“Hi, welcome to Im Broadcasting Systems. Do you have an appointment with someone?”

He hopes his voice doesn't betray how nervous he is when he swallows and replies, “I’m here to see Im Jaebum.”

Her eyes go wide and she makes a noise of surprise. “Oh!” Do you have an appointment?”

Jinyoung shifts awkwardly, aware that the sweat that’s slowly starting to collect at his temples and the way he’s clutching the hell out of his bag’s strap probably looks a little suspicious. “No, I don’t, but if you tell him who it is, he’ll want to see me.”

Something in her pretty, round face changes; he realizes that it’s a look of pity and it makes his heart grow sick. She tucks her long hair behind her ear and says apologetically, “I’m sorry, sir, but that’s not how it works. He’s available by appointment only.”

“Can you just––” he sighs, letting go of his bag with one hand to run it through his hair. “Can you try? Just tell him it’s Park Jinyoung and that it’s an emergency.”

“Sir, I can’t––”

“Please.”

There must be something either in his voice or in the look on his face, because she just takes a deep breath and nods. She watches him as she picks up the phone on her desk, putting it to her ear and pushing the button to dial Jaebum’s office number. Jinyoung’s repeating a prayer over and over in his head that he’s in and not at some meeting, suspense keeping him teetering on the edge as she watches him with slowly blinking eyes while the line keeps ringing.

Finally, she sits up straight and grabs the phone with her hand instead of balancing it on her shoulder. “Hi, Mr. Im, it’s Dahyun. I have someone here asking for you–yes, I know. His name is Park Jinyoung and he says it’s an emergency––”

Dahyun goes quiet for just a moment before pulling the phone away from her ear and hanging it up. She looks at it, puzzled.

“I’m sorry,” Jinyoung says, that slick feeling in the back of his throat like he’s going to throw up, “I didn’t mean to get you in trouble––”

“It’s not that,” she says, tilting her head to look at him curiously. “I barely even said it was an emergency before he told me to send you straight up.”

He blushes. “I’m sorry. This must not happen often.”

“Not really, no,” she says and shakes her head, reaching over to hit the buzzer. “But it is strange that he had me cancel all of his appointments for the rest of the day.”

Jinyoung tries not to be shocked by that and just gives her a quiet thank you when she directs him toward the elevators on the other side of the frosted glass door and up to floor 19 where Jaebum’s office is. He laughs nervously when he grips the door handle and it slips, palm slick with sweat before he can get a good grip on it and pull it open to disappear through it. Thankfully the bank of elevators is empty of people; he hits the button to go up a little too hard and hisses through his teeth when he pulls his hand away. Fingertip in his mouth, he taps a foot and anxiously waits for the elevator to come down just to take him right back up.

When he steps off the elevator a couple minutes later, he’s surprised to see that the 19th floor is a smaller version of the lobby downstairs. There’s a similar desk off to his left and on his right is a waiting area with four of the same chairs from the other lobby. Jinyoung is standing at the end of a very short hallway and at the other end of the room is a solid wooden door dark like the shadow that passes over his heart. There’s huge picture windows on either side of it, but the blinds are drawn on both and only the smallest bars of light pass through to illuminate the carpet. He takes a deep breath and starts walking.

There’s a blond haired boy sitting at the desk on his left, who isn’t paying attention to him at all. A pair of round glasses a la Harry Potter are perched on the end of his nose where he’s looking down at his desk and focused intently on something that likely isn’t work related. Little noises escape his mouth and Jinyoung can faintly hear the metallic pinging and beeping of a handheld game as he quietly steps forward and approaches the desk.

“Um, hi–”

“Ah!” The boy at the desk yelps, dropping the old school Gameboy he’d been playing onto his desk and hastily trying to cover it up with paper. His head snaps up too fast for his glasses to catch up, so they go sliding down off the end of his round nose and clatter onto the desk. He mutters to himself as he fumbles for them, slapping them back on his face and looking up at Jinyoung with wide eyes from under dark eyebrows.

“Hi, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you––”

“You’re here to see Jaebum hyung, right?” he says, and Jinyoung is a little startled to hear such a comfortable formality coming from the mouth of his assistant. He uses a finger to push up his frames as they slowly begin their descent again. “Dahyun just called about you, I think.”

Jinyoung nods, once again reaching for the comfort of the strap of his bag across his chest with both hands. “Yeah, she––”

“So you’re the reason he’s been moping in his office for like ten years?” The boy scoffs, not unkindly, as Jinyoung blanches. “Jeez. Good thing you’re here. Cheer the guy up, will you? I can feel him brooding from all the way out here and it makes it really hard to concentrate on Pokemon.”

Startled, Jinyoung laughs a little. “Okay, I’ll try. Is he––?”

Before he can even finish, the door to Jaebum’s office is swinging open and he’s coming forward fast to sweep him up by the tops of his arms. It’s shocks him into silence: he’s almost surprised at seeing Jaebum’s face for the first time in two weeks, and it’s just as handsome as it’s ever been despite being lined with exhaustion underneath his eyes. His cheekbones look more prominent, too, as though he hasn’t been eating well on top of not sleeping. Jinyoung’s heart aches to run his hands through Jaebum’s hair where it’s pushed back off his forehead and parted toward the side.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, having crossed the empty space between them in mere strides and forgotten that they’re not alone in the room. Jinyoung doesn’t answer right away, still in mild shock, and Jaebum gently shakes him where he’s holding onto his arms. “Jinyoung-ah. What happened? What’s wrong?”

Suddenly he feels horribly guilty for saying that it’s an emergency when it wasn’t one, because Jaebum is obviously worried sick. His dark eyebrows are furrowed in the middle and his fingertips dig deeper into the meat of Jinyoung’s arms over his coat when he swallows and stutters over an answer.

“Nothing happened, just––can we talk––”

After an awkward pause, Jaebum seems to realize that there is no emergency and he sighs. He lets go of Jinyoung’s arms as though he’s made of hot stones and turns away, facing his assistant who is watching this drama unfold with wide eyes and his chin in his hands.

Jaebum sounds tired when he rubs his forehead and says, “Jae, go downstairs and flirt with Dahyun for a while. Go get some lunch and come back later.”

Seeming to realize he’s being dismissed, the blonde haired assistant nods with no sign of the goofy sarcasm he’d shown Jinyoung and grabs his bag before slipping by them and disappearing down the hallway. Jaebum just watches him go over Jinyoung’s shoulder, waiting until the elevator doors close before he looks down and makes a quiet noise at the way Jinyoung is red in the face and focusing somewhere around his neck.

He sighs again, heavier this time. “Come on, then,” he says, and leads Jinyoung into his office.

Jaebum leaves Jinyoung with the responsibility of closing the heavy door, and by the time Jinyoung turns back around, Jaebum is leaning against the edge of his long desk with his ankles crossed and his arms folded over his stomach. Jinyoung blinks into the sun flooded room, suddenly too shy to step any further inside without looking at it first and avoiding the conversation that he’d come all the way here to have. A long table the same color wood as the desk and the door is situated on the right side of the room, chairs pushed in and dust motes dancing in the rays of light that set and swirl on the surface. He can feel Jaebum’s gaze on the side of his face as his head swings to the left, looking at the armchair and couch set up by a wall-length bookcase that looks like it came straight out of someone’s living room from an interior design magazine. He could probably live here, Jinyoung thinks, and continues to avoid looking right at him as he squints and tries to read some of the titles that are lined up neatly on the shelves.

“Jinyoung-ah,” Jaebum says quietly, and even just the sound of his voice makes Jinyoung’s head bob like a puppet on a string until he’s looking at him. “Why are you here?”

He searches for his voice and finds it, though it feels a little small. “Why haven’t you been answering me?” he asks, and cringes a bit when he realizes that line sounds familiar.

Jaebum looks down, blinking slowly. The silence stretches on and Jinyoung’s entire body aches for him, wants to pull his arms away from where they’re against his stomach like they’re holding all his insides in and wrap them around his waist. He wants so badly to touch and to be touched, to see that smile that he’d seen all night in Hongdae, to pull Jaebum in and cross through the doorway together this time, terrified of being left behind.

“I just need time to think, Jinyoung.”

“You–” he chokes a little, so confused, not sure where he’s going with this. He hadn’t really had a plan of attack, anyway, mostly wanting answers, but he realizes on the spot that he doesn’t even know what questions he should be asking. He swallows. “You came by to say sorry but you didn’t even stay to say it.”

Jaebum snorts and it sounds so dismissive that he almost wishes Jaebum had slapped him instead; the physical sting would fade quicker than this one. “After what you did? Why would I?”

Jinyoung’s fingers tighten on the straps of his messenger bag and he wills his voice not to raise into a pleading pitch. “Ahjussi, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Is this about me not picking up when you were trying to call? I’m sorry, too, I just wasn’t sure how I felt about it all––”

Jaebum interrupts with a harsh noise and he shifts, uncrossing his arms to lean on his hands. “I know he was in your apartment, Jinyoung. I know what happened. I saw him on the stairs and he told me all about it.”

His heart sinks. “He did–? Ahjussi, I didn’t invite him there. I didn’t even want him there. He invited himself in just like he always does and I was trying to make him leave.”

“That’s not what he told me.”

“What, and you believe him over me?” Jinyoung says, exasperated, wondering exactly Hakyeon had said to make Jaebum be so f*cking angry at him.

“You didn’t answer any of my calls and texts, Jinyoung-ah. You ignored me for an entire week, and then when I come to see you, guess who I see coming down the stairs? Guess who stops me and tells me all about your little encounter? The ex who has been leaving you all kinds of voicemails and texts that you listened to and read instead of just blocking his number.” Jaebum’s voice is thin as a wire and Jinyoung can see where his fingers have tightened to white lines on his desk. “What am I supposed to think happened, Jinyoung?”

He takes a step forward but stops, movement aborted when he realizes he doesn’t know what he would even do should he manage to make it in front of where Jaebum is still leaning on his desk. “I don’t know what you think happened or what he told you––”

Jaebum just shakes his head, one hand coming up off the desk and stopping him with a palm. He waits until Jinyoung’s words die off in the silence of the air before he looks up and speaks.

“How can we make a future if you can’t let go of the past?”

His voice is so soft and yet Jinyoung’s heart feels as though Jaebum had stuck an icy dagger right into it. “What?”

“I feel like I’m still not sure of who you are, Jinyoung-ah. I’ve given you all of me, but I still don’t really know you, do I? You give me so many mixed signals. You always seemed like you didn’t want to spend time with me but you always agreed when I asked you to go out with me. And then it was getting better, and you seemed to be warming up, and then you got cold again. But then we went on that date, and you–you even said yourself that it was a date, and God, you looked so happy––”

“Ahjussi,” he whimpers, afraid of what’s coming next, but Jaebum continues like he hadn’t heard:

“Even when we went into that fortune teller’s shop to do something hokey, I could feel it, the happiness just radiating off you in waves. I could feel the way your body responded to me kissing you in public, Jinyoung-ah, and it felt so good. And then we went down into the subway to go home and I was terrified, don’t you know that? I was so scared you were going to take that money and it would have all just been in my imagination that you were enjoying yourself, that you really were letting go of whatever was holding you back and you were falling in love with me like I so hoped that you were. But when I offered it to you, you pushed it away, and said you didn’t need it. You leaned on my chest the whole way until we got to your stop and you let me kiss you goodbye in front of strangers who know who I am.”

Jaebum hasn’t even said anything that he doesn’t already know yet his heart still feels like it’s breaking. “Ahjussi––”

Jaebum looks away, down at the floor for a moment, and the silence almost hurts worse than his words.

“Ahjussi, I promise I don’t love him, I don’t want him in my life, I told him to get out and never come back. Please––”

His voice is reed high, fingers so tight they’re going numb where he’s gripping the strap of his bag. Jaebum’s eyes squeeze closed and his head starts to shake.

“Just––” he sighs. “I’m busy. We can talk about this later, okay?”

“No!” Jinyoung shouts, accidentally, too afraid of letting this slip through his fingers for good to drop it before it’s done. “We’re going to talk about this now. You haven’t talked to me in days and it’s killing me!”

It seems to strike a nerve: Jaebum’s face changes, expression hardening into one of anger as he stands up off his desk and faces him down. “Why do we only have this argument when it’s your feelings on the line? Huh? How about all the times you ignored my calls? How do you think I felt?”

“I’m sorry––!”

“Did you even consider how that made me feel?”

“Yes!” Jinyoung shouts, sweat sticking his hair to his temples and a tremble in his voice.

“I didn’t come into your work looking for an explanation I didn’t deserve––”

“You could have!”

“No! I couldn’t have!” he shouts, really angry now, hands balled up to fists at his sides. “Because you wouldn’t have wanted me to!” he takes a deep breath, lowering his volume and shoving his hands into his pockets hard. “And I’ll never do something you don’t want, Jinyoung-ah. Can’t you do the same for me?”

Jinyoung can feel the way whatever they have is starting to splinter apart and he can’t do anything to stop it, a loose train on the tracks going too fast to be controlled. He’s desperate to fix it, determined, but like water through his fingers he’s losing it faster than he can catch it. And Jaebum is right, which makes it worse––he hadn’t even considered how showing up here and saying it was an emergency would make Jaebum feel, when he knows in his heart of hearts that, had Jaebum done the same, he would have been so scared and then angry.

Jinyoung’s voice warbles, a loose tightrope. “Jaebum-ssi––”

He hammers the nail into his own coffin. Jaebum just utters a breathless, humorless laugh and looks up at him, heartbroken in his own right, and Jinyoung feels like being stabbed to death, helpless to know that he himself had done this.

“Even still, you won’t call me familiarly.”

He sucks in a painful breath. “It’s not––”

“That's enough,” Jaebum says roughly, clearing his throat and blinking quickly. His back straightens and he turns halfway, giving Jinyoung the view of his profile outlined by the sun filtering in from the window behind his desk. “I have work to do. I’ll call a car for you and we can discuss this later. I’ll call you.”

Jinyoung doesn’t move, though, too in pain and terrified that if he listens Jaebum will take it as a sign and be done with him forever. He waits with a heaviness in his heart and hands as Jaebum pauses, head turned toward the window for a moment before he looks back. The look on his face is pure hurt, and Jinyoung feels the rising of bile in his throat knowing that he’s the one who put it there. If there was ever a time to tell him exactly what he’d told Hakyeon regarding how he feels, it would be now, but he thinks the confession would fall on deaf ears and it dies on the tip of his tongue.

“Jinyoung,” he says, everything in his heart crammed into the two syllables of his name, and Jinyoung’s heart explodes like busted fireworks. “Please.”

When there’s nothing else to be said and nothing else to be done, Jinyoung hiccups around the tears that start to come before he can even turn toward the door and exits, leaving just in time to miss the way that Jaebum collapses against his desk with his face in his hands.

Chapter 12: chlorine

Notes:

You are the music while the music lasts.

-T.S. Eliot

Chapter Text

When he calls Jackson that night and he asks what happened, Jinyoung says he isn’t sure; it’s hard to label something that felt like a breakup as a breakup when there weren’t any official labels on it to begin with. He’d cried on the subway back home, worse still because he was alone this time without Jackson to comfort him, and despite his lean build and tall stature he still somehow managed to look like a sad, lost boy pulling a black mask from his bag with shaking hands. Some of the ahjummas who got on the subway a few stops from his house tried to comfort him, but he turned them away, wanting more than anything to just be alone.

“He really said all that to you?” Jackson says, sighing over the sound of his clothes as he shifts positions. Jinyoung continues to stare at the ceiling.

“Yes, he did,” Jinyoung murmurs, blinking. “And I deserved it. All of it.”

“Jinyoungie…”

Jinyoung rolls over and interrupts him, “no, Jackson, I’m serious. I did deserve it. He’s right. I constantly gave him mixed signals. I thought I was being smart and trying to save myself from developing feelings for him, but––” he takes a deep breath, already beginning to quiver with fresh tears. “I was scared. I’m still scared. But instead of, I don’t know...trying to let go, I wasted all our time together being cautious when I knew deep down I was going to end up liking him, anyway. I wasted all our time together being stupid and scared and Jackson––” he hiccups, “Jackson, I don’t think we’re going to have the chance to try again.”

His best friend’s voice is soft on the other line, too soft, and Jinyoung accepts it like two hands covering his nose and mouth. “Jinyoung, you don’t know that.”

“I think I do, hyung,” he says miserably, the look on Jaebum’s face full of pain and heartache superimposed against the backs of his eyelids like a tattoo. “You didn’t see him. He just––I know I broke his heart, even if I didn’t mean to.”

“You really like him, huh Jinyoungie?”

Has Jackson asked him this before? He can’t remember. It’s strange how the months had passed seemingly in the blink of an eye; had this question been posed to him any time before his meltdown post-Hakyeon, he would have said no and laughed in their face. But things have changed, as things always do. The control was ripped from Jinyoung’s hands along the way and he hadn’t even seen it happen, just knows that he’s here, now, chest scooped empty like a Halloween pumpkin.

In any case, the answer is immediate; he sucks in a painful breath and responds.

“Yeah, hyung. I do.”

“Then why don’t you try?”

“Try what?”

“To get him back.”

Jinyoung flips again, restless. “It’s not that easy, Jackson. That’s why I went to his building in the first place, was to try and get him to talk to me. And then he said all of that, and it’s like he’s been wanting to say it all this time. And maybe he has, you know? So what’s the point?”

“The point is that you like him, and that you want to be with him.” Jackson hesitates as though he’s waiting for Jinyoung to deny this. “Right?”

He no longer feels like lying. “Yes. I want to be with him.”

“Then what’s stopping you?”

He sighs, free hand running through his hair and gripping it in frustration. “So many things, hyung. He’s so much older than me, you remember that, don’t you? He’s thirty-four. I don’t know. I wasted a lot of his time being…” he searches for the word and cringes when he finds it, “childish. I was childish. I am being childish. Showing up to his work was the worst mistake I could have ever made, you know? Who is to say that he hasn’t already tired of being with someone basically ten years younger than him?”

“I think that you’re overthinking it.”

“Maybe, but maybe not. I don’t know, Jackson. Everything sucks. I know I messed up because he even believed Hakyeon over me.”

He hears the rustle of Jackson’s fabric as he likely sits up in bed with surprise. “Wait, seriously? You didn’t tell me about that.”

“Yeah,” he says, and sighs. He lets his arm drop onto the bed and closes his eyes before continuing, “he stopped me at some point and told me that he knew Hakyeon had been here because he’d met Hakyeon on the stairs. Hakyeon stopped him and told him something, and then I guess he left. Whatever it was made Jaebum mad enough to come all the way up the stairs to my apartment just to throw flowers at the door and leave.”

The anger in Jackson’s voice is almost palpable. “That snake! I can’t believe he did that! What did he say?!”

Jinyoung shrugs even though Jackson can’t see it. “I don’t know. Something ridiculous probably, but it was probably just within the realm of believable, because Jaebum isn’t stupid.”

“Sounds to me like he is,” Jackson mumbles, and it jostles just the tiniest hint of a smile out of Jinyoung.

I’m the stupid one, hyung.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” Jackson murmurs, softening at the conviction in Jinyoung’s voice. “You’re not stupid.”

“Then tell me I didn’t f*ck this up,” he says, breath hitching. “Tell me there’s still a chance that he has feelings for me and that we’ll fix it.”

“Jinyoungie––”

“You can’t, right?”

“Hey!” Jackson barks suddenly, cutting into the way Jinyoung’s chest was about to start heaving with a fresh well of tears. Jinyoung holds his breath and lets Jackson talk. “Stop saying you’re stupid. You’re not stupid. We all make mistakes, Jinyoung. You made some and he made some. It wasn’t just you, okay? You have a history that maybe he doesn’t understand so well.”

“I think he might kind of get it,” Jinyoung mumbles, thinking back to what Jaebum had told him that last night they’d been together. His heart squeezes. His skin prickles. Little agonies.

“But you’re right––he’s right––you have to let go of the past if you want to have a future, Jinyoungie. It’s hard. But you like him, right?”

Asked again, the answer doesn’t change. Jinyoung isn’t sure that it will ever change. “Yes.”

“Then you will do it. I know you will.”

“Jackson,” he breathes, heart thumping. “I’m scared.”

“Good. If you weren’t scared, I wouldn’t believe you. Now, put your phone away and get some sleep. I know it will be hard at first, not being with him, but you can do it. Just be patient. What’s that saying you told me once, ‘good things come to those that wait’?”

“Yeah.”

“Then just wait, Jinyoungie. It’ll be okay.”

He wishes that he could be as optimistic about it as Jackson is. Jinyoung mutters a goodbye to him that Jackson just laughs off, knowing that Jinyoung is feeling miffed by his wisdom; it isn’t what he’d wanted to hear but what he’d needed and it’s somehow worse that wild and sexy Wang Jackson is the one that’s giving it to him. Not that he’s ever doubted Jackson’s wisdom or intelligence, per se, but Jackson has always been a bit of a free bird, never tied down for long, and he was worried that his advice would be more suited to someone willing to jump the gun, but it had been sound, as best friend advice usually is. Jinyoung is both grateful and devastated by the proverb that Jackson chose to use on him, because Jinyoung is impatient and already Jaebum’s absence hurts like a bruise. Jinyoung had accepted his advice willingly and said goodbye, but he would not be calmed so easily, not when his heart won’t rest.

Jackson had said that good things come to those that wait, but what he doesn’t know or hadn’t said is that there’s another saying, one that repeats over and over in his mind until the one that Jackson had fed him is drowned out under the noise.

All good things must come to an end.

It doesn’t take very long for Jaebum’s absence to make itself known. Different from when Jinyoung hadn’t been speaking to him and different still when the tables had turned, it manifests like a phantom, haunting the edges of his vision when it thinks he isn’t paying attention. It grows like heedless plants in the corners of his room when the shadows lengthen as the sun goes down outside, setting on another day come and gone. It is in the way that, despite the light being on in the room, the air is dim and listless. Sometimes he can see the outline of Jaebum’s body slumped on the couch, ramen bowl between his knees, a shimmering apparition of the good times. The emptiness is profound like the written word of philosophers who knew too much about words and too little about people; suddenly the framed quote among the many in his living room that he always finds when his eyes wander becomes too much to bear and he looks away.

O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

Oh, doesn’t he know it, guiltiest of all of a wicked heart.

In the glowering absence of the person he wants most to be there, the little things begin to pile up: poetry no longer interests him the way that it had when his thoughts were frantic and violent. Now that it has settled into the deep misery of heartache, the pen feels too breakable under the weight of his words. Even reading it becomes difficult, each line a tick mark in the flesh, a razor blade pain. Eating becomes a chore. He notices that his cheeks look more hollow, a sallow ghost. So much as waking up in the mornings and getting out of bed feels like pulling himself out of a swamp made from glue. Everything that had once been easy and commonplace now feels like overexertion muddled with desperation.

Work becomes the silent blur of a film left on fast forward. So many events come and go, passing before his eyes with no real distinction between days. Everything runs together like the bleeding colors of old photographs. Conversations he has with co workers are forgotten mere hours after they’re had; Jinyoung even scares the owner half to death when he falls asleep in the corner of the break room with his back to the door and hadn’t been seen for hours. Mark and Youngjae were insistent in that he talk to someone, even if it’s them, about what’s going on with him, but he steadfastly refuses; he does not deserve the relief of spilling his guts when all he’d done is let Jaebum spill his and then kick them back in his direction. He puts his hands on their shoulders and arms and tells them with a smile so forced it hurts that he’s fine, he’s just going through some things, but it will get better.

But it doesn’t, and the days turn into a week. Then it turns into two. And they haven’t been together in a month. The last time they had spoken two weeks before, Jaebum had said that he would call him; Jinyoung had waited so patiently for it to come and was left hanging in the balance when it never did.

It gets easier to distract himself during the days after a while. Work becomes easier, though sometimes the stress of busy weekends makes him feel like fine china under a heel and pressed down to cracking. It’s easier to smile and laugh, and he can recall the conversations that he’d taken part in days after they happened, no longer seeming as though he’s suffering from amnesia. Some of the fog has lifted and cleared, no longer a veil over his eyes, but it has not entirely left his head. Sometimes he still finds himself reaching for his phone and halfway through finding Jaebum’s name in his contacts before he realizes what he’s doing. His dreams are awash with dancing visions of gorgeous, blue-eyed cats with impossibly long tails wrapped around the legs of a lean-bodied master, glittering aquamarine swimming pools sliced in half by the jackknife dive of a tan man with tousled black hair, and sometimes they even dissolve into the red-hued, lust fueled tunnels of sex and violence.

Regardless of the easiest days, the nights are always the worst. It’s harder to distract himself when he’s trying to sleep, and he finds that his mind always whirs like a broken machine for hours before the exhaustion of thought pulls him under. He’s always been overtly sentimental but the agony of reflection is not lost on him as he churns every single one of their interactions since their meeting over and over in his head like an unsolvable puzzle.

Every touch, every word, every glance under fire. It throbs like a bone deep ache when he combs through the course of their romance and finds all the wrong pieces sticking out like thorns, and he is the antagonist of them all. Jinyoung has never found himself to be dumb, or anything other than intelligent, and he is a victim of his own hubris when he realizes that he’d never been smarter than Jaebum the way he had first thought. Jinyoung had assumed that being the survivor of an abusive relationship made him out to be more emotionally mature than he really is, especially being merely twenty years old when he started dating an ex-professor. He had thought that his intelligence made him special, untouchable by rules or other people’s feelings once it had ended. He had thought himself a victor, and above Jaebum’s influence. There was nothing the older man could do or say that would make him betray his own emotions.

But, of course, none of it was true. Every night his heart aches when he sees the ways that his childishness inflicted pain on the person that he wants to be with now, realizing too late what he had done. The unforgiving way he had kept his distance did nothing to protect him from feelings that had always been destined to come but instead only solidified the gap in which they find themselves divided by. Jinyoung’s callous nature, his stubbornness, his method of push and pull, all of it led them here. He thinks Jackson is right in that Jaebum is not entirely without fault, however, Jinyoung has to admit with the heaviest of hearts that he bears the brunt of the blame. It was, after all, his unwillingness to change that brought them here and left them to cough up dust.

Jaebum had apologized more times than Jinyoung deserved in order to show his hand, and the one time that it was up to Jinyoung to fix it, he had wondered why Jaebum couldn’t finish his apology instead. Unbeknownst to him, despite the brusque and inappropriate nature of his sudden arrival at Jaebum’s place of work, it had been his chance to fess up; he had the opportunity to say sorry and to ask forgiveness of the stubbornness that had plagued their relationship since the very beginning, but his poet’s heart got in the way and he insisted that his feelings not be put on display and sacrificed Jaebum’s once again instead. He had lamented to Jackson that he doesn’t think they’ll get another chance, and he realizes with fresh tears that the chance he had gotten, he missed.

He wishes that it was different. Knowing what he knows now, about how he would feel later on, about how good and warm of a person the Im Jaebum he spilled coffee on would turn out to be, he would change everything. It hurts, the unrelenting twisting of a dagger hilt deep inside his heart, to know that he had ruined the thing that would save him. He had stuck his own knife into the very heart of the man who had come into his life and turned his world upside down and showed him in not so many words that emotion is not something to be feared, but to be admired. Jaebum had thrown him a lifeline in the buoyant mediocrity of his life and instead he had turned away his face and shielded his eyes against the glow, instead.

Though he hasn’t been able to look at the little black book where he writes his poems in weeks, he doesn’t think it would matter if he could. Pain, real pain, hurts beyond the limit of language and he would not have the words to describe it, anyway.

_______________

On an early November morning an entire month after they’d last been together in Jinyoung’s bedroom, thick clouds drizzle rain onto the water-darkened streets outside his apartment. Weak, watery sunlight filters into the window and splashes half-heartedly on the floor, everything washed in the dreary grey of winter storms, as he sleeps and lets the world spin on without him. It’s another day off from work, the alarm turned off, and the frost that gathers just barely on the edges of the window has him pulling his blankets tighter around his shoulders. He rolls over, eyes squeezed shut, lost for once not in a dream of Jaebum and the rubble of their romance but of silly things, like pulling a bunny magician-style from the mailbox and watching it hop away into the field that had suddenly appeared in the mailroom of his apartment complex. The steady calm of an encroaching winter storm keeps him in bed well past nine in the morning, until he’s slowly pulled awake by a gentle knocking at the door.

Dread fills his chest cavity immediately upon waking and realizing there’s someone outside. Going off his track record of people showing up unannounced and waking him up or just showing up without being invited, this is likely going to go in the direction that he doesn’t want it to, and he lies in bed for a while when the knocking stops and debates on whether it’s really a good idea to get up. However, minutes pass by and the knocking never comes back, and whoever it was must have left. Relief floods his joints and the stiffness of them dissipates enough that he can get out of bed and move, albeit a tad cautiously, into the living room. Though the person had gone, he can’t help but wonder if it’s another delivery scenario--first it was a bike, but the next it was ruined flowers. The gamble is on as he takes a deep breath and just pulls open the door like yanking off a bandaid.

There’s a long box on the ground, the size of a garment box at Christmas, but Jinyoung doesn’t remember ordering anything lately. Maybe in the haze of the last couple of weeks he had bought himself a new sweater online or something and totally forgotten about it, but he can’t even remember ever going near his computer that much, so he’s not really sure. It’s also wrapped elegantly with two ribbons that intersect to form a tidy cross of navy silk in the dead center of the white box. Despite it’s simplicity, it just looks expensive, and Jinyoung is starting to worry that he got a little carried away and bought something a little too much for his budget without even realizing it. Looking closer, though, he sees the little envelope taped in the center of the ribbons and embossed with some words he can’t read from this far away. Puzzled, he bends down to pick it up and carries it inside.

He sets it down on the coffee table, sitting down and blinking at it for a moment in sleep-addled confusion before deciding to pick it up again and set it across his knees. Upon closer inspection he can see the embossed letters of the parchment paper: BURBERRY. His heart immediately lurches into his throat when he remembers that this is where he’d met Jaebum that day after meeting Hakyeon and that maybe he hadn’t bought this for himself, after all.

A bit dumbfounded, he’s not sure what to do first. Now that he realizes the folded square of paper on top of the box is likely a note, he isn’t sure that he wants to read it. He’s also not sure that he wants to open the box and see what’s inside, in case it’s a goodbye present or something like that, and his stomach turns at the thought of it. If it really is a goodbye gift, had they really regressed this much to where Jaebum thought Jinyoung wanted something like this from him, and not him himself? That something expensive and nice was the way to send him off forever with his memories of Jaebum? He swallows roughly and decides that ultimately it would be best to just see what it is first instead of reading the words of farewell attached to the top.

His hands shake only slightly when he pulls the note off and sets it aside before pulling at one of the edges of the ribbon. It comes away easily, silky and smooth beneath his fingers, pooling into a snake-like coil on the coffee table when he pushes it off. Box still balanced on his knees, he tries to calm the rapid beating of his heart as he finds purchase on the lid of the box and pops it off with a little noise of surprise.

Swathed in folds of black tissue paper is a suit, the darkest of navy like the night sky just before the sun begins to bloom over the horizon line. Shining chrome buttons gleam in the low light of his apartment, and there’s a matching line of silver tracing the edges of the collar pressed down with an immaculate sharpness. The material is stiff but soft, truly a masterpiece of design, and he runs his fingers over the breast pocket absently while his mind whirs like a broken toy. Had this been one of the suits that Jaebum had held up against him when they were walking around the shop that day? Had this been one of the ones he took into the dressing room but left abandoned when he started to cry? It’s fuzzy, blurred over with the veil of sore eyes, but he vaguely remembers Jaebum talking to the girls at the counter and telling them to have some things delivered to his house before they went back to the car. He had assumed then that it was just the things that Jaebum needed for himself; it didn’t occur to him then the way it occurs to him now that Jaebum had bought this expensive suit for him without even knowing whether or not it fits. And for what? They hadn’t even spoken in two weeks, much less made any plans. So why now?

Heart heavy, he sets the box gently back on the table like it’s breakable and picks up the little note. It’s bigger than the one that had been attached to the flowers, and nicer, too; the embossing of the brand is distracting to him and he touches it while his mind wanders and delays the reveal of its contents. What does it say? What horror of further heartbreak could possible be waiting for him written on the inside of this note, innocuous in its own right but no less deadly than a weapon when used for the wrong purpose? He almost crushes it, fingers tightening as his anxiety rises. He uses a thumbnail to break the pretty red seal and opens the note.

Handwritten in what he recognizes as Jaebum’s sloppy penmanship:

The gala is tonight at 8pm. I don’t know if you still want to come or not and part of me was stupidly afraid to ask. Hopefully this fits. You have an appointment at 5pm at the Mirror, a salon near Gangnam. I’ll be coming by in a car at 7. If you don’t want to come, don’t be outside.

-JB

He throws the letter down on the table as if it’s on fire. Jinyoung makes a noise somewhere between disgust and anguish as he stands up and goes back into his bedroom to stand in the middle of it with his hands in his hair, suddenly lost. He’s just confused, now––the tone of Jaebum’s letter had been unsure, almost afraid, that Jinyoung would say no. There’s a sort of offhanded anxiety of his own in the tilt of his letters that makes it seem as though he’s trying to convince someone who is un-convincible to go with him, but they both know that it’s not true. Of course Jinyoung will say yes. Of course he will go. Was there really ever any doubt? He had accepted Jaebum’s offer long ago, the night of their date, and the answer never changed. Especially not now. But the thing that confuses him is the nature of Jaebum’s request––he had told Jinyoung he would call, and didn’t. He said that he had thought he knew Jinyoung, but doesn’t. They haven’t spoken in two weeks and it’s been a month since they’ve done something other than fought. Could it really be that Jaebum wants to see him again?

He feels so unsure. Nothing makes sense to him right now. He sits on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands and wonders what the best way to handle this is. Does he go? Does he not go? He’s so terrified of getting the wrong idea, of Jaebum only wanting him to accompany him to a work function because he’d already invited a plus one, and nothing more, so that his hopes are crushed. But if that was the case, then why did Jaebum say that he was afraid of his answer? Does Jaebum still want him, even after everything, but is unsure if the feeling is mutual?

Ugh. The feeling is tearing him in half.

For a while he just lays on his back and stares at the ceiling while he imagines a million different scenarios and how they would turn out depending on his answer. He imagines with fanaticism the way that Jaebum would sweep him up in a deep, passionate kiss when he pulls up in the car and sees him waiting outside; every ending to that one some version of their happily ever after that he knows isn’t realistic but he daydreams about it, anyway. The reverse is that he imagines Jaebum’s relief when he pulls up and Jinyoung is absent from the curb, watching forlornly from the window as Jaebum barely hesitates to pull away and leave him behind. At the end of that scenario there is no happily ever after and without Jaebum by his side the future only looks like darkness.

In the end, he decides that the choice will be made with a coin toss. It seems trivial, childish, even, but he tries not to think about it so much as he digs through his bedside table for some change. Jinyoung holds his breath when he stands, delegating the answers to heads or tails: tails he doesn’t go, heads he does. The nervous thrumming of his heart is already trying to rig the outcome with the way it vibrates in his hand, coined balanced on his thumb and ready to be thrown. The answer he wants he already knows, and for someone largely unconcerned by fate, he stubbornly admits that this is different, that he can rely on chance, and nothing more.

Jinyoung takes a deep breath and flips the coin high, giving it more time to drop and give him what he desires the most. He watches it with that breath caught in his throat as it spins, glinting dully in the light, the silver blunted and worn with age. He wonders what he will see, the bird or the back? His chest starts to ache with the lack of inhaled breath when he catches the coin on his forearm and keeps it covered with his palm, suddenly too scared to look.

The minutes pass by with no reveal. Finally, after a long time of standing alone in the silence, he lets the coin drop to the bed and refuses to look at it. Jinyoung tries to shake off the anxiety that flipping a coin had almost brought him and drops to his knees in his closet to find his nicest pair of black leather shoes to match his suit.

He hadn’t needed to worry, though. Had Jinyoung removed his palm and looked, he would have seen it: a silver bird, wings spread wide.

_______________

Since Jinyoung is more inclined toward fashion of the practical sort and not of the designer, he calls the one person he can trust with something like this and prays like hell he answers:

“Hello?”

Relief floods him. “Bambam?” The younger boy sounds surprised. “Hi, hyung. What’s up? Need a shift covered?”

Jinyoung mentally crosses his fingers that it means Bambam isn’t working today and can help him. “Actually, Bam, I need your help. Are you free today?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

“I need…” he hesitates, not really sure how to phrase it. I need help getting dressed in this thousand dollar suit so I don’t mess it up and so I don’t ruin my chances. Again. He sighs. “I need fashion advice.”

Bambam’s voice is too serious. “I’m on my way.”

Once Bambam finally arrives after Jinyoung has taken a shower and they’ve both had lunch, the clock is steadily ticking closer to 5pm and his hands won’t seem to settle. He hasn’t even touched the suit where he’d left it on the table. Jinyoung has been avoiding it like the plague, too nervous to even glance in its direction in fear of getting it dirty or, worse yet, it not being there at all and the whole thing just some fever dream he’d had and had yet to wake up from. The white box is still there when he chances a peek, though, and there’s the warm sense of relief that settles on his shoulders as he pulls Bambam inside his apartment and asks him to take a look.

The younger boy lets out a low whistle, bleached white hair falling into his eyes. He flicks them away when he reaches in to pull out the jacket and hold it up between them. The arms unfold slow until Bambam is gripping it by the shoulders with barely two fingers on each side, almost like he, too, is irrationally afraid of getting it dirty. Now that it’s out of the box, it’s even more striking than he could have imagined: just by looking at it he can tell that it will fit, cut slim in the waist and smaller in the shoulders than Jaebum’s had been. It’s incredible that without ever trying them on, Jaebum had still known just what cut and size would flatter his body the most, and wonders how he managed to do it. His face burns a little bit when he realizes that maybe Jaebum’s steady appreciation of his naked body hadn’t been entirely uneducational.

“Jeez, hyung, where did you even get this?” Bambam asks, turning it a bit so he can see the front where the chrome button is done up and holding it together. “Burberry suits are like, super expensive.”

“From a…” he trails off, and Bambam lowers the suit jacket to look at him curiously with a raised brow. He sighs when he can’t think of anything and finishes lamely, “friend.”

“A friend, huh?” Bambam giggles, wiggling his eyebrows. “Must be a good friend, then, if he’s buying you suits from Burberry.”

Jinyoung nods. “You could say that.”

Before he can stop him, Bambam sees the note on the table and picks it up, carefully folding the jacket over his long, skinny arm so that he can read it.

“‘The gala is tonight at 8pm.’,” he reads, and Jinyoung’s stomach flips at hearing this out loud and not in his head. “‘I don’t know if you still want to come or not and part of me was stupidly afraid to ask. Hopefully this fits. You have an appointment at 5pm at the Mirror’––holy sh*t, Jinyoungie, the Mirror? Seriously? That’s the most expensive salon in the city!”

Jinyoung blushes, unsure what to say. “I’ve never even heard of it.”

Floored, Bambam scans the rest of the note without reading aloud but furrows his brows when he gets to the end. “‘JB’? Who is JB?”

“He’s… the friend,” Jinyoung says cautiously, aware that they’re approaching the territory where he might have to admit that he’s been seeing Im Jaebum and have to deal with the inevitable shock and, from Bambam, potential screeching.

“He must be loaded,” Bambam muses, squinting at Jinyoung’s face in thought. It clears after a moment, seemingly defeated. “I give up. Will you tell me who it is? If you do, I’ll help you with your suit.”

“You’re going to help me with that suit anyway,” he mumbles, leaning forward to snatch the note from Bambam’s fingers and toss it onto the table. “If I tell you, you can’t scream.”

Bambam snorts and pulls a face, eyes rolled. “What makes you think I’m going to scream?”

Jinyoung co*cks an eyebrow. “It’s Im Jaebum.”

The younger boy drops his arm but doesn’t move. “Don’t mess with me like that. That’s so mean.”

“What makes you think I’m kidding?” Jinyoung contests, nodding his head at the suit jacket still draped over Bambam’s arm. “Who else could afford to send me a Burberry suit and get me an appointment at the Mirror?”

The silence between them lasts for only a moment as the pieces start to click together in Bambam’s mind. Jinyoung can see the borders of his green circle lenses when he opens his eyes as wide as they can go and lets the suit jacket slip off his arm and haphazardly into the open box. Jinyoung cringes when the material folds and jerks forward to catch it.

Bambam screams.

“Oh my god! Hyung! Im Jaebum is your boyfri––”

Jinyoung abandons his motion toward the jacket and opts to slap a hand over Bambam’s mouth instead, effectively barring him from finishing the word boyfriend and also from not scaring his neighbors.

“Shh!” he hisses, frowning when he pulls his hands away from Bambam’s face and leans back to cross his arms. “I told you not to scream.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, dripping sarcasm, but leaning down to fold the suit jacket nicely and placing it in the box before picking it up. “But excuse me for being shocked that my hyung is dating Im Jaebum, the richest man in the country. Jinyoungie, do you even hear how crazy that sounds?!”

He sighs, standing up from the arm of the couch when Bambam motions with his head toward Jinyoung’s room. “It’s not that simple. We’re not...dating. Anymore.”

Bambam sets the box on the bed and commands him to strip down to his boxers. He pulls the jacket and the pants out to lay them flat on the bed before turning around and saying, “what, so you guys broke up?”

“In a way,” Jinyoung says, kicking his pants toward the laundry basket by the bathroom door. His heart feels kind of funny when he says it out loud. “It’s a weird situation.”

“And he still wants you to come to this thing?” Bambam asks, immediately poking at Jinyoung’s elbows so that he’ll lift them up. It’s a bit awkward having Bambam inspecting his ribcage with his slender fingers, but he just has to trust his expertise.

Jinyoung sighs, dropping his elbows when Bambam nods at him. He watches the younger boy disappear into his closet. He wonders if he should follow to help Bambam pick something out, but he just watches himself in the mirror and listens to him shuffle things around on their hangers instead.

“I guess so.”

Bambam hums and then goes quiet, still browsing around in the closet, and Jinyoung just thinks. He blinks at himself in the full length mirror on the back of his door, wondering what sort of choices he made either in his past life or his early one to get him here, standing mostly naked in his room while his younger friend and co worker tries to help him properly wear a suit more expensive than his rent. He finds himself wondering that if he hadn’t spilled coffee on Jaebum that day, would they have met at all? His sisters always taunted him about fate but he had never believed it, until now, when he realizes that so many tiny little instances needed to happen for them to meet. Had he not missed the bus, or fixed his bike, or even tied his shoes, he may have been a different man.

He’s distracted from the rest of the thoughts when Bambam makes a triumphant noise and comes back out of the closet with a crisp white shirt on his arm. It’s one of his uniform shirts, but a nicer one that he’d spent quite a bit of money on and only uses for work events where it won't get dirty. He’s maybe worn it three times and dry-cleaned it once, and even Bambam seems impressed by the level of care.

“This is a great shirt, hyung,” he says, holding it out for Jinyoung to take and slide on. “It’s so clean. It’s going to look really good under that dark navy.”

Jinyoung makes a face as he buttons it up. “You think so?”

“Yeah, duh,” he says, turning away to dig through the rest of the tissue paper. He makes a surprised noise and pulls something out from the bottom. “Hyung, look! He even sent the waistcoat!”

He turns and, sure enough, there’s a small black garment hanging from Bambam’s fingers. He hates to admit it but it’s incredibly stylish, with silver buttons the exact same colors as the ones on his suit jacket. Bambam presses him to finish putting on his shirt so that they can layer this over it to see how it looks.

Bambam crows in delight when he’s finally completely dressed, having wasted no time in getting Jinyoung a belt and tie from his closet when he realizes he’s forgotten them. Both of Bambam’s skinny fists pound his back in excitement and he can’t deny that even though he makes an annoyed noise through his teeth and elbows him in the stomach, the suit looks good. The dark navy against the layered black and white of the waistcoat and shirt is almost a gradient, gorgeous against the tan of his neck and hands. The cut sits perfectly on his waist, and somehow Jaebum even managed to get the pants right: they hug the curves of his ass just enough to be noticeable but not ill fitted, straight legged and form-fitting in the legs that are cropped just above the bare bones of his ankles. Bambam applauds his choice of shoes, noting that the fringe cut on top in place of laces are an excellent pop of pattern where the rest of the suit has none. Jinyoung has to admit that he even feels a little sexy.

“You look so good, hyung,” Bambam gushes, checking his watch before shaking his sleeve back down. He reaches up to fondle the long hairs curled underneath Jinyoung’s ear and clucks his tongue. “You should cut your hair, though.”

“Why? Is it ugly?” he teases, laughing when Bambam blushes and stutters.

“Of course it’s not,” he says, sticking his tongue out childishly. “It’s just long. I think a nice cut would look really, really good with that suit. You’re already killing it in this but imagine what a solid haircut would do, you know?”

Jinyoung half turns, looking at his ass in the mirror and then laughing when he realizes how dumb it is. “That’s true. Maybe that’s why Jaebum-ssi set up that appointment. I’ve been meaning to get it cut, anyway. I told him that a while ago.”

“It’s almost four thirty,” Bambam says, and Jinyoung’s heart drops. If he’s going to get to Gangnam on time for the appointment then he needs to leave as soon as possible. Bambam laughs when his eyes go wide and lets Jinyoung push him toward the front door.

“Thanks for your help, Bam,” Jinyoung says, locking the door after telling Bambam to wait as he grabbed his coat so they could walk together. “I don’t think I could have dressed it up so nice if it wasn’t for you.”

“Ah, whatever,” he waves Jinyoung off with a hand that pulls his scarf tighter. “You could have done it. You have good style.” Bambam grins at him, eyes watering a bit from the sharpness of the wind as they head down into the subway station. “I think you were just nervous.”

Jinyoung doesn’t have a joke to reply to this with. Instead, he just nods, solemn. “I think you’re right.”

_______________

The salon smells much like he thought it would: perfume, shampoo, chemicals, and the vague humidity of hot water and hair dryers.

The ladies at the salon all absolutely fawn over him as soon as he walks in the door. Most of them are older than he is, and it makes his face flush with embarrassment when his cheeks get pinched and his butt gets patted in the direction of one of the big, comfortable chairs toward the back. The heels of his shoes clack on the black tile but the salon is buzzing with activity and he can barely hear it over the noise of water running, people talking, and appliances blowing. The woman who comes up behind him to cut his hair is the same age as his mother and just as rough on his scalp when she starts carding her fingers through his hair and asking him what he wants.

“I don’t know,” he says honestly, because he’s not really sure.

She smiles and assures him that he’s going to look amazing.

And she’s right––he gets the full treatment, suit jacket removed when he lays down to get his hair washed and conditioned to silky softness. He almost falls asleep during it, woken up from his suspended daze when the tip of her wet finger taps the end of his nose. She smiles at him and guides him back to the chair, telling him to relax and just let her work her magic. Somehow an hour passes with his eyes closed, thinking about what the night is going to bring when Jaebum shows up in the car and sees him standing on the curb, waiting for him patiently (or, perhaps, not so patiently). He just listens to the snip, snip of the scissors at work around his ears and drowns out the rest of the world until he’s lulled into the first peaceful calm he’s felt in weeks.

After taking some clippers to the sides, he feels her gently tap the top of his head with a manicured nail. “You can look now, dear.”

He opens his eyes to look into the mirror and is surprised by what he sees: she had somehow just known what cut would flatter him the most, and had styled it to perfection. The sides are shorter now, buzzed and kept, while the rest of his hair has been cut to just above his ears. The stylist had parted it just enough to the side that the swoop of his bangs lay delicately on an otherwise exposed forehead. He looks, if he’s honest, pretty damn good. He huffs a laugh.

“It looks great.”

She smiles, refusing when he tries to pay her, insisting that Jaebum had already paid for it. Something about this makes him feel strange, as though, despite apparently being afraid of Jinyoung’s answer, he had known Jinyoung would show up. It's possible that maybe he had just paid for it and hoped he would show up by chance but the odd feeling lingers around his heart that maybe Jaebum knows him better than he thinks he does.

She pats him on the arm as she walks him out and waves for the car parked down the block. When it arrives to take him back to his house, she gives him a tiny, encouraging hug that he doesn't really deserve. He accepts it, though, and tries not to think too much about the way her eyes have a knowing look in them identical to one he's seen before in a tinier, angrier man; his stomach turns at the thought of Jaebum’s people all being in on a joke that he hadn't heard. Regardless, he thanks her and gets into the car.

He closes his eyes against the setting sun on the ride home, daydreams filled once again with gleaming princes and bleeding tigers.

It is 6:45pm when the car leaves him at the curb outside of his apartment.

Now winter time, the sun has already passed on, sunken like a ship into the blues of the horizon and now lost in the depths of the night sky the same color as his suit. He pulls the fabric belt of his black pea coat tighter, not from the cold but from anxiety, tapping his toe nervously against the damp pavement from an earlier brief rain. A chill worms its way into his bones as he stands in the shadow of one of the trees planted equidistant from each other, hoping that by not standing directly underneath a yellowing streetlight, he won’t come off as desperate. In any case, he thinks about pulling out his phone to call one of his sisters and tell them noona, you were right, I’m just like the characters in your drama. He would never give her the satisfaction, though, and he just huddles tighter into himself like a lone bird on an icy branch while he waits with baited breath for a slick black car.

Eyes on the pavement, he wonders what to say: hello? I’m sorry? What exactly is appropriate here? Will Jaebum even want to talk? Despite the warmth of his coat, the cold still seeps into his bones and makes his teeth chatter, moreso from nervousness than anything else. He can’t stop the shake in his hands where they’re shoved into the pockets or his knees where they bang together cartoonishly; Jinyoung frantically wonders if he’s about to pass out when the glow of headlights wash over his shoes.

His head snaps up, heart pounding. A familiar black vehicle pulls up to the empty spot on the curb directly across from him, coming to a halt and the engine idling when the headlights dim. Jinyoung freezes in apprehension when he sees the door swing open on the other side; the street itself is somehow eerily empty and silent now as though the whole world had known that their showdown was about to begin. The clack, clack of heeled dress shoes is audible on the rough pavement as a familiar figure comes around the back end of the car and stops, hand on the door.

If it was possible for the universe to change its shape at will, Jinyoung thinks that it would be now, when everything in his peripheral vision fades and blurs to nothingness as his vision tunnels. Everything that isn’t Im Jaebum in a fancy, well pressed suit is warped into oblivion as Jinyoung stares, heart in his throat. All sound disappears and he swears that he can hear the way Jaebum’s fingers tighten against the door handle, an almost inaudible squeak, and he wonders too if Jaebum could possibly hear the thumping of his querulous heart against the fragile cage of his ribs. The stars that pinwheel above their heads have frozen in their tracks, the sky still, the solar system itself no match for the beauty and power of the man who holds his heart in his hands.

“Ahjussi,” he murmurs, and the world breathes back to life.

The honking and blaring a few streets over roars in his ears like he’d just broken the surface of the water, and he blinks rapidly to dispel invisible water from his eyes. Jaebum twitches, as though he’s startled by the sound of Jinyoung’s voice. Jinyoung sees the way his fingers tighten to white on the door handle and his lean body is one long, tense line.

“Come out,” he says, and Jinyoung does.

When he steps forward and into the light, not even the sound of traffic and back and forth sounds of the world around them is enough to mask the sound of Jaebum’s breath when it catches. Jinyoung knows he’s inspecting the way the suit is fitting on his body, though he’s not sure if he’s admiring it; he takes the time suspended in a silence pulled tight like a wire to admire Jaebum’s own suit. A rich black so deep and unmarked that he would blend into the car if it weren’t for the way his elbow is bent, hand in his pocket, but the white undershirt buttoned all the way up to his throat looks incredible against his smooth skin and Jinyoung’s fingers twitch in his own pockets as he yearns to touch it. He looks like a bodyguard, or perhaps a secret agent, or, in the dirtiest of Jinyoung’s fantasties, a well rounded hitman: the black on black of socks and pants and jackets with that one pop of white visible at his neck and wrists is almost too much for Jinyoung to look at directly. He glances down at Jaebum’s shoes and keeps his eyes there, too shy too look up as he feels the burning line of Jaebum’s gaze leave scorch marks on his skin, even in this bitter cold.

After a few more moments of silence, the sound of the door popping open under Jaebum’s hand makes him look up. He hears Jaebum say “get in” before he’s already gone around the back of the car and getting in on the other side without another glance.

The tension only escalates when they’re both in the back seat with the doors shut and a stiff silence descends upon them. The driver doesn’t notice and doesn’t care, nodding when Jaebum tells him in a quiet voice that it’s time for them to go. There’s maybe two or three feet of space between their bodies that is the middle seat, but it feels like so much more; Jaebum hasn’t looked at him since getting in, facing forward but his head turned toward the window. Jinyoung feels the stress on his shoulders grow heavier as the tension pulls tighter to the point of snapping and the silence expands until there’s barely any room left in the car to breathe.

It feels as though they’ve hit a breaking point already, despite being in the car together and within just a few feet of each other for the first time in weeks. He had thought that maybe he had felt something outside, when Jaebum was looking at him as he watched the ground, but his hands twist nervous circles into his wrists as he thinks that maybe he’d just imagined it. He can see the way that Jaebum’s hands are clasped together tightly in his lap, whole body stiff with the way he’s sitting as though even relaxing just a little bit in Jinyoung’s direction would topple the whole thing, and while Jinyoung is trying to respect the way that Jaebum needs his space right now, he can’t help but ache for the older man to touch him in some reassurance that this won’t end as badly as he thinks it will.

If Jaebum realizes that Jinyoung is practically staring a hole into the back of his head, he doesn’t say anything about it. Jinyoung looks at him forlornly, a near mirror of the first time they’d been in a car together like this, fresh from a bar and down a few drinks with a bad taste in his mouth from Jaebum’s arrogance. Jaebum had been similarly backlit just as he had many times thereafter, in the way that he came to associate with Jaebum, some sort of angelic phenomenon of lights that halo his outline in a perfect, hazy glow. That time Jaebum had also kept his distance, commenting only here or there about things that he owned like it was interesting until he realized that the silence was better. Then, too, he had surprised Jinyoung with a murmured apology that Jinyoung didn’t think he quite needed or deserved.

He wishes suddenly and terribly that they could be back to that moment. If he knew what he knows now he would have cherished the moment more or maybe even stopped it; maybe he would have kissed Jaebum hard in the backseat and something else would have happened that night. It is the butterfly effect in his head, the toppling of dominoes in one direction or the other, that are guided by fate and he is so powerless to stop it. That fragile red string tied around their hearts is pulled too tight and he is suffocating in the antithesis of agony.

Before he can stop it, a whimpered word escapes his mouth. “Ahjussi.”

Lit from the city lights, he can see the way Jaebum’s eyes close in the reflection of the glass when he shatters the silence with barely 3 syllables. He tenses impossibly further, a statue made of glass as Jinyoung’s plea hangs broken in the air. Distress ratchets up Jinyoung’s spine with every throbbing second that passes until he’s ready to throw the door open and spring off into traffic. The car slows as they approach the light and he thinks that this is it, this was the worst mistake they could have ever made. His fingers twitch toward the door handle as they come to a complete stop.

“Don’t,” Jaebum says, and the sudden deep, emotionless sound of his voice makes Jinyoung jump. “Don’t get out.”

“I––”

Jaebum doesn’t turn around to look at him. He blinks, obviously staring unseeing out into the city, no indication that Jinyoung had tried to move or even spoken after he’d said it. Jinyoung watches Jaebum lick his lips before he speaks in that same dead voice.

“You know, I was wrong,” he says, and Jinyoung already feels confused, heart beating too hard. He wills it to slow down so that he doesn’t miss anything that Jaebum says. “When he came down those stairs that day, I didn’t know who he was. I’d never seen the guy before. Of course I knew of him, and he must have known that, because he took one look at me and cornered me before I could even get to the stairs. He looked...did you really put up with him for so long, Jinyoung? He looked wild. Animalistic. It was a little cold that day and raining, too, but he was only in jeans and a long sleeve shirt. He was soaked, but drying. I could see the sweat on his face and neck when he grabbed the front of my shirt and shoved me backward against the wall of the stairwell.”

Jinyoung’s heart dives––is this what happened? Had Hakyeon really shoved him? He wants to say something but he thinks that anything he could say would sound like an excuse, or perhaps an apology on Hakyeon’s behalf, and there’s no apologizing for his abuser. Jinyoung stays quiet and watches Jaebum’s white knuckled hands as he continues.

“He got in my face and he told me who he was. He told me that he knew all about me and ‘Jinyoungie’s little obsession with me’. I tried to shove him off but he was just too hopped up on adrenaline, I suppose. Hakyeon told me that you belonged to him, and always would, and the reason that I couldn’t seem to get close to you is because you still had feelings for him. That scared me, I think––how could he possibly know that? It sounded so true. He laughed and told me that you’d never really be mine because you were always his, and that you proved it just then because you’d just let him f*ck you senseless like the good old days and that I could have his ‘sloppy seconds’ if I wanted them. There was nothing––” Jaebum’s voice falters for the first time but then steadies–– “There was nothing in him that said that he was lying. The sweat, the grin on his face, the confidence. He oozed it. And maybe I was f*cked up from our fight, and maybe I missed you so much that I was beside myself, but I believed him. I read too much into the way you wouldn’t block his number and the way you ignored me for a week only to see him leaving your apartment, and I believed.”

“Ahjussi––”

“I was angry after that. I shoved him so hard he hit the ground on his ass. I thought he was going to stand back up and try to fight me but he just took off. Suddenly all the cracks started showing through and I felt like, for the first time, that I could hate you. I walked up the stairs and threw those flowers at the door so hard I nearly dislocated my shoulder. You didn’t open the door and you didn’t come after me––later I realized that maybe you were too scared to open the door in case it was him but at the time I didn’t care. You didn’t come after me and it just solidified what I’d already incorrectly thought, and the anger just grew. Then you tried to call me, tried like hell to get a hold of me, and it just made it worse. I couldn’t…” he trails off and clears his throat before continuing. “And then you showed up to my office saying it was an emergency but all you wanted was to get a reaction out of me and you got it, because you’ve got me, Jinyoung, can’t you see that?”

This last part is spoken differently than the rest of his monologue and Jinyoung’s heart aches when his voice cracks. When he resumes, his voice is no longer the steadiness of disinterest but the shakiness of emotion.

“As the days went on without you, I had time to think about things. I thought about the past months of our relationship and how different things meant something to me that they didn’t mean to you and that I was blinding myself instead of trying to pry you open. But you being gone from my life even for two weeks made me realize that I hate it, Jinyoung. I hate not being with you. You’re so young and I understand where you’re coming from because I’ve been there once, too, but––” he sucks in a breath, “you have to grow up. I’m sorry that I assumed Hakyeon was telling the truth when I know about your history. I was angry and it was a convenient way to channel the emotions that I didn’t want to reconcile with just yet. But you have to learn to let go or we’re never going to get anywhere. I want to believe you when you say that you like me, but Jinyoungie, you have to give me more reasons to.”

After that, utter silence.

Jinyoung just stares at Jaebum’s lap, too afraid to even breathe too loud in case it makes the tension snap and everything crumble at his fingertips. Jaebum’s half admonishment-half apology-half admission makes his head spin, the drumbeat of his heart hammering away at his brainstem and paralyzing any response he could have come up with. He wants to feel relieved that Jaebum still has feelings for him but something about the way he had said it makes him feel like the book is closing, anyway.

Neither of them talk for the rest of the drive, which is another twenty minutes after Jaebum’s tirade ends. That twenty minutes gives Jinyoung way too much time to think: he wants to scream, he wants to cry, he wants to pin Jaebum down with his hands and kiss him until he disappears. The relief he’d wanted so badly at hearing Jaebum’s confession is blunted by the pain of not knowing where they’re going to go from here, and he realizes again how much time he wasted being scared. How much time he wasted being stubborn and falsely intelligent about how he played the game of his feelings. At first it had seemed to mean nothing but as time went on, he realized, even subconsciously, that Jaebum is a man no longer content to play the field. He wants to settle, in love, and he has no time for the childish games that Jinyoung had convinced him to come out and play. Somehow his heart has chosen Jinyoung as that person and it makes him feel sick that he had so unkindly given Jaebum the run around when all he wanted was something sweet.

By the time the car pulls up to the curb of the hotel where the event is being hosted, sweat dampens his neck and he has to blink tears from his eyes before he exits the car. A man appears to take his coat; not wanting the distraction, Jinyoung slips his cellphone and wallet into the pocket and nods when the man whisks it away. The cold creeps back in, chilling the sweat on his neck and making him shiver with anticipation and maybe something else.

Jaebum comes to stand beside him. They don’t talk, but he feels Jaebum’s eyes on him when Jinyoung looks away at the front of the hotel. It’s a towering monolith of glass and concrete, modern beyond its time, placed at the bottom of the foothills and surrounded by the rolling rising and falling of perfectly watered grass. Somewhere behind them in the center of the circular driveway a fountain babbles, but he’s too distracted by the softness of the lights to turn around and see what it looks like. Men and women are filtering in from all sides of the driveway and into the lobby, hands clasped or in the smalls of each other’s backs as they pass through the lobby. The string lights hung up on the overhang sends dizzying color sparking off the kaleidoscope colors of ballgowns matched with monochrome suits. If he squints, he can just barely see the waving reflection of light off the water of a swimming pool somewhere at the back of the hotel where it’s showing on the wall.

He feels Jaebum’s hand at the small of his own back, a featherlight touch and not quite there. He thinks that Jaebum means to urge him forward so that they can go into the event but Jinyoung isn’t quite ready; there’s a thorn stuck in his side and he only has so much time to remove it. At this point he doesn’t think he has that much left to lose, anyway.

Instead of walking forward he turns, startling Jaebum a bit, but the older man doesn’t step back. The gap between them physically has lessened, and Jinyoung can see the steady rising and falling of Jaebum’s broad chest as he breathes. Jinyoung looks up, into his face, to see Jaebum already looking at him with his achingly handsome face wiped clean of expression. That almost hurts worse than anything else but he revels in the fact that Jaebum is looking at him and only him and has yet to step away. Jinyoung licks his lips and takes a quivering deep breath but promptly loses his courage and decides to look down at Jaebum’s crooked tie instead.

Almost out of habit, Jinyoung reaches up to fix it. His fingertips brush the base of Jaebum’s throat and even though he doesn’t deserve it, he can see the way that Jaebum reacts at the contact. His breath catches, shoulders stiffening, but Jinyoung doesn’t hesitate and loosens the knot carefully just enough that he can adjust it. If the look on Jaebum’s face has changed at all he can’t see it, and he doesn’t know if he’d even want to, so he just grits his teeth and straightens the haphazard knot Jaebum had likely done himself in the car. Black fabric now neat and aligned with his outfit, Jinyoung re-tightens the knot and tries not to break when his fingers once again slide against the smooth skin of Jaebum’s neck.

The tie is fixed but Jinyoung doesn’t let go. He stares at where his left hand is still gripping the long neck of it, almost as if he’s going to pull Jaebum forward, but he just stands still. So many thoughts collide at once, overwhelmed, wanting so f*cking badly for everything to be fixed. He finds that, more than anything, he misses Jaebum’s smile. He misses the way it draws lines in his cheeks and folds his eyes into pitch black half moons. Jinyoung realizes with a certain, burning intensity that he would do anything, absolutely anything, to only make Jaebum smile for the rest of his life.

Without looking up, Jinyoung swallows hard and doesn’t bother trying to steel his voice. It wavers with real, naked emotion when he takes a broken breath and says,

“I’m sorry.”

It’s vague, and it’s not enough, but there’s a truth to it that he wonders if either of them could ever speak out loud. There’s so much more he needs to say to make things right but they won’t come out, not here, and he thinks that maybe isn’t the right time, anyway. His heart aches when Jaebum doesn’t reply but he hopes to a God he’s not sure he believes in anymore that if he ever gets a second chance he will say everything he needs to and more. For now, though, even the smallest of acknowledgments would reignite the tiny flame of hope that had once burned inside his heart.

Jaebum reaches up and grabs his wrist. Jinyoung tenses and prepares for Jaebum to push him away, but the older man’s fingers just tighten their grip and seem to draw him closer. He’s still too weak to look into his face but he thinks that maybe, with just two words and a wave of emotion behind them, they might be on the right path to fixing things.

Suddenly, Jaebum speaks. He sounds breathless when he does.

“You look so handsome tonight, Jinyoungie. So handsome that it hurts me. You know that, don’t you?”

His heart breaks into a sprint. He isn’t sure if he’s supposed to agree or disagree. Jinyoung makes a noise in his throat somewhere between a laugh and a choked off sob before he nods his head carefully, still afraid to look up. Jaebum’s fingers loosen and his hand slides up to cover Jinyoung’s on his tie, pulling it away but lacing their fingers together and dropping their joined hands down to their sides. Jaebum pulls him just a little bit closer so that he can lean down and whisper in his ear,

“Just stay by my side, Park Jinyoung, and you’ll be alright.”

Jinyoung smiles.

Jinyoung wouldn’t say that everything between them has magically been fixed, because it hasn’t. Maybe in an earlier stage of their courtship he would have blindly just assumed that a simple “I’m sorry” would fix it all, but now that he put everything they had together on the line and come so, so close to losing it, it’s time to be realistic. He’s lucky that Jaebum seems to be comforted by the apology, though bare boned, and that the majority of the tension that had existed in the weeks prior has, for the most part, disappeared.

A different sort of tension arises, though, when they pass through the glittering gold of the lobby. Jinyoung is too preoccupied by the lights strung up everywhere to notice at first, in awe of the sort of mystical whimsy that the string lights seem to have cast upon the hundred year old fixtures of the old hotel fixtures. He’s looking at the beautiful paintings hanging on the walls in the ornately carpeted hallway as Jaebum leads him with a hand in his back that has, without him noticing, tightened to nearly a fist. It is only when they step out through giant glass doors to the pool area that he realizes the atmosphere has changed.

Once outside, the cold night air clings to his jacket again, and he wonders why in the world Jaebum’s association would choose to have an event by the pool in the middle of November, but he takes a good look at the surrounding area and has to admit that despite the chill, it was the most gorgeous place they could have chosen this far into the city.

The pool itself is situated further toward the back of the fenced in area, a long rectangle cut into the ground and shimmering from the depths with white lights that illuminate the water to a heart stopping turquoise. The area that’s been set up with round tables set with bleached white cloths and matching chairs must be where the pool chairs usually lie, with tables lining the left side and a bar built into the wall on the right that hides the pool from the public eye of the hotel driveway. Massive, tropical plants of the richest greens line the walls, overhanging the tables and the bar and rustling calmly in the light breeze. Pops of oranges and cremes and pinks dot the flora like nature’s decorations and, to top it all off, those plants with solid trunks have been wrapped in the same string lights from the lobby. There’s so many of them that he looks back to realize the outdoor lights have been shut off and the event is lit merely by the soft glow.

“It’s pretty,” he sighs, not yet realizing that Jaebum has tensed and refuses to move. However when Jaebum doesn’t answer right away and they have yet to move into the party to mingle, Jinyoung looks over. “Jaebum-ssi?”

His face is tight. Jinyoung’s brow furrows when he notices the hard set of his mouth and the knot at his jaw.

“Jaebum-ssi,” he says softly. “What’s wrong?”

“I told them that he wasn’t allowed to be here,” Jaebum mutters under his breath, and Jinyoung is surprised when an angry flush blooms across his high cheekbones. The hand in his lower back fists into the jacket of his tux and he gently reaches back to grab it so that the fabric won’t wrinkle.

“Who?”

“He’s––” Jaebum sighs, closing his eyes and pulling his hand away from Jinyoung’s to run both of them over his face. “I already wasn’t very excited for this event, because I hate kissing ass, but I specifically told them that he wasn’t to be invited.”

He seems like he’s mostly talking to himself, but a part of Jinyoung is still dying to know what he means. He slips an arm around Jaebum’s waist. “Who, ahjussi?”

Jinyoung’s warmth at his side seems to knock him out of it a little, and he looks down with some fondness still tinged with the stress at the corners of his eyes. “I’m not going to point him out to you because it’s not important, but you’re not the only one with awful exes. I told them not to invite him, but he somehow ended up here anyway.”

Jinyoung nods, solemn. His eyes scan the clusters of people standing at the tables for food or at the bar, and those sitting down at their tables as cutlery scrapes against porcelain. It’s too pretty of a scene to be worried or stressed, and he hopes that not pushing the topic will help ease a little bit of Jaebum’s stress. Jinyoung doesn’t ask again; he’s not entirely unworried about Jaebum’s ex being here, but there’s been a certain kind of shift in the nature of their relationship that means he’s going to let it go for Jaebum’s sake and do what he can to make this night go as smoothly as possible. As his eyes fall on the geometric porch heaters placed carefully throughout the pool area with dancing flames trapped inside their middles, he wonders if this is what Jaebum meant by growing up and letting go.

He feels the older man sigh against his side and Jinyoung looks at him. Jaebum glances over and tries to smile, but it falters, and Jinyoung feels sad that despite the weakly bandaged state of their relationship right now, that he still can’t make Jaebum happy. He seems to sense what Jinyoung is thinking in the way his eyebrows furrow and Jaebum reaches down once again to grab his hand.

“Do you remember what I said earlier?”

“Which time? When you were telling me to grow up or when you told me that your ex is here?” he says, trying to joke, and is rewarded with the smallest of smiles that quirks at the corners of Jaebum’s mouth. It’s small, but real. He warms.

“Earlier, you dork. When I grabbed your hand and told you to stay by my side.”

Jinyoung softens. “Yeah. I remember.”

“That’s more important than ever now. Okay? We have to mingle, and by we, I mean me. But everybody knows about you and they’re going to ask you questions.”

For some reason, he hadn’t been expecting this. The shock feels like cold water to his face.

“Wait––”

“I told them about you, anyway, but you know we’ve been seen in public together before, and more than once. I don’t think that it’s much of a secret that we have something. I don’t know what they’re going to ask you, but…” he shrugs. “They’re going to assume that because you’re my date, you’re also my boyfriend. Can you handle that?”

My boyfriend. He’d be a liar if he said hearing Jaebum say that didn’t make his heart do somersaults. He swallows hard but nods, eyes wide.

“Are you sure?” Jaebum asks, squeezing his fingers and looking at him seriously. “We can correct them if you want, but with people like this, sometimes it’s better if you just go along with it.”

“I don’t want to correct them,” he says, sounding more confident than he is.

Jaebum smiles, though, one corner of his mouth pulled up in a smirk. “Does that mean you want to be my boyfriend, Jinyoung-ah?”

Oh, it’s been so long since he’s heard that come from Jaebum’s mouth. Jinyoung blushes and wants to hit him. He doesn’t, though, and realizes that he’s too afraid to lose Jaebum again to lie.

“Of course I do.”

He laughs a little when Jaebum looks startled. “You––”

“Do you remember what you said earlier?”

“Which time? When I was telling you to grow up or that my ex is here?” he says, grinning, and this time Jinyoung does dig his elbow into Jaebum’s ribs. Jaebum laughs and tries to pull away but doesn’t let go of his hand.

“Earlier, when you were telling me to grow up.”

“What about it?” he murmurs, pulling Jinyoung closer. He thinks that it’s a little unfair that Jaebum should be so sweet to him now when he still has so much to atone for.

“Well, just that. I’m trying to grow up. I don’t want to lie to you, ahjussi. You asked me if I would want to be your boyfriend and I said yes, because I do.” Jaebum’s smile slips and Jinyoung feels a little guilty that he’s saying all this right now when they’re at an important event and have yet to greet anyone, but the words are here and he has to say them now. “I know I said that I’m sorry outside, but I still––I have other things that I need to fix, and I want to fix them, but now isn’t the time. You have a show to put on for all your fancy…” he tries to think of a word but realizes he doesn’t actually know what or who this event is even for, so he just waves his hand vaguely, “investors, or whatever. So, later. But right now, I just need you to know that I heard what you said.”

He lifts their joined hands and untangles his from Jaebum’s so that he can lay the older man’s palm against his chest above his heart.

“I heard it in here.”

Jaebum’s eyes look more shiny than they did just a moment ago. His hand comes away so that his arm can wrap around Jinyoung’s back and yank him close; Jinyoung has to grab onto the lapels of Jaebum’s dark suit so that he doesn’t knock them both over.

“Is this the Jinyoung I’ve been missing all this time? You’re so sappy,” he says, and Jinyoung laughs softly.

“I know, that was kind of cheesy, right?” He flushes, embarrassed now that he’d done something like that. “I’m sorry. I just...wanted you to get it.”

“I understand,” Jaebum says, too softly, and blinks away the wetness. “I really want to kiss you now, though.”

The thought of Jaebum’s lips on his after so many days of not feeling it makes his heart rate skyrocket. His fingers tighten on Jaebum’s suit jacket. “You can, if you want.”

It’s not the kind of kiss he’d been craving, because Jaebum leans forward to plant a sweet kiss at the corner of his mouth instead of full on, but he knows Jaebum’s people are here and that he likely doesn’t want to make a scene, so he lets the warmth and sweetness wash over him anyway and reminds himself not to chase Jaebum’s mouth when he pulls away, even though he wants to. It’s a good thing that they don’t kiss for real, though, because mere seconds after Jaebum leans back, someone is calling his name.

He looks over at Jinyoung, no longer holding him around his waist but hand gripped in his. “It’s showtime,” he says, and smiles tightly.

It’s not as terrible as Jaebum had made it out to be, talking to his associates, though some of them are a little long winded and daft. Some of them don’t even speak to him beyond a polite greeting and small bow, which Jinyoung usually returns and then just daydreams while Jaebum talks rapid-fire about things he has no idea about. He often looks at the pool, wishing that he knew how to swim and that the weather was better so that he could st least stand in the shallow end; the water is such a pretty shade that it feels like a shame to let it go to waste. Sometimes the associates Jaebum is speaking to actually engage him in conversation and where Jaebum had made it out to be like they were going to give him the third degree about their relationship, it’s not quite like that at all. The ones that engage him are actually quite nice, and Jinyoung finds that he has somewhat of a knack for making people laugh when he tells them the story about how he’d spilled coffee all over Jaebum’s suit and the rest, as they say, is history. Every so often there will be a person or two who have way too much interest in their private life, and Jinyoung has to awkwardly deflect a couple of questions about their bedroom habits while Jaebum grips his hand too hard.

It’s not terrible, though, and Jinyoung finds that it’s easier to help Jaebum relax than he’d thought when he can control the conversation sometimes and let Jaebum do the daydreaming. Though most of the time Jaebum’s gaze is focused on him, he can also tell when it wanders, and from the corner of his eye he can sometimes see the way his jaw tightens and he looks back quickly, cutting back into the conversation a bit too loudly and ushering them on to meet the next group of people. Overall, though, Jinyoung finds that the people that work with and for Jaebum aren’t a bad bunch, and it hardly even feels like he’s at an event with the richest people in the country. Despite the uncomfortable few who had too much to say or had nothing to say to him at all, there’s a pleasant, airy feeling in his chest as he and Jaebum make the rounds.

They stop to eat for a moment, sitting at a table by themselves closest to the pool. It’s a nice relief from constantly having to be on for all these people. Though it doesn’t bother him much, he wonders how exactly Jaebum can do this so constantly, day in and day out. That thought is just solidified when Jaebum keeps one hand on his thigh throughout the entirety of dinner as though he’s using Jinyoung as a tether to keep him grounded. Dinner is nice, though, and they’re rarely interrupted except for a few times when some of the interns that had been invited come by to greet him before they go, letting him know they have to study for exams but they’ll see him back at work and thanking him for the invitation. Jaebum doesn’t seem annoyed by this, which is sweet; he’d been so much of an asshole when they’d met, but he’s glad that his softness extends to the college kids working for him.

While they’re eating in silence between their own murmured conversation, Jinyoung lets his eyes wander and wonders who exactly Jaebum’s ex might be. The party isn’t huge by any means but it isn’t very small, either; Jinyoung would be surprised if they’ve even talked to a third of the guest list by the time their meal is over and they get up to talk to more people. Before he knows it, three hours have gone by and the party is just starting to hit full swing.

Jinyoung and Jaebum are standing together by the pool and talking to Jaebum’s assistant, Jae, who brought his roommate with him. Jinyoung finds that he absolutely adores Jae, who is full of humor and constantly making the best jabs at Jaebum which, if he’s honest, just makes him a tiny bit jealous, because they always make Jinyoung crack up and Jaebum go beet red in a way that Jinyoung isn’t sure he’s capable of. His roommate Sungjin is sweet, but quiet, and Jinyoung finds himself having the most fun he’s had all night with these two constantly cracking jokes at Jaebum and each other.

Jae’s halfway into a story about the time Jaebum came to work hungover and threw up in the wastebasket at Jae’s desk and forgot to tell him when there’s a voice calling Jaebum’s name. It’s loud and booming: all four of them turn their heads in the direction of it to see a large man in a too-small suit beckoning Jaebum in his direction where he’s standing by the bar.

“Ugh,” Jaebum moans, and rolls his eyes. “I have to go talk to him.”

“Well come on,” Jinyoung says, and tugs on his hand. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Actually, Jinyoungie, I’d rather you stay here,” Jaebum replies, and blushes a little bit with embarrassment. “It’s not that I’m ashamed of you, obviously, but he’s just… he was a friend of my dad’s and he’s very, very, very curious. I really don’t want to subject you to him just yet, although I’m sure I will eventually. Just stay here with these two, okay?”

Eventually. It makes his heart skip to hear Jaebum so offhandedly mention the long term, but he doesn’t say anything about it. He lets go of Jaebum’s hand and nods.

“Actually,” Sungjin says sheepishly, checking his watch, “we have to go right now. My mom’s coming in from a business trip and since Jae has a car he said we can go pick her up.”

“That’s okay,” Jinyoung says, feeling a little bummed that the two funnest people at the party besides Jaebum have to leave, but he smiles. “As long as I can finish your drink, I’ll be fine by myself for a minute.”

Jae whoops and passes his drink over immediately; it reeks of too much vodka but there’s not a ton left so he thinks it’ll be okay. He hugs them both goodbye and watches them walk away with Jaebum, heart feeling a little full even as they split and the boys disappear while Jaebum goes to greet his father’s friend.

Finally with a moment to himself, Jinyoung takes a sip of Jae’s drink. He makes a face when it burns going down and wonders to himself if there’s really anything else in it or if the idiot was drinking straight alcohol. He’d be more worried about what they’d said if he hasn’t seen Sungjin sneak the keys from Jae’s back pocket when they’d gone, and he lets his thoughts wander instead.

So far the night has been good, despite the way it had started out. He’s amazed that he really had wasted so much time being childish and afraid when this is what they could have been having all along, something so carefree and sweet and gentle with teasing and stolen kisses. It means something big to him to realize that he’s been Jaebum’s rock all night, and even as he thinks it Jaebum turns his head and waves as his father’s friend waves, too. The feeling he has for Jaebum is so big inside his chest he thinks that, if it gets any bigger, he’s going to explode. Their whirlwind romance turned melodrama has come so far in so short of a time, he thinks, and it’s not to be overlooked that Jaebum is the first person who has really wormed their way inside his heart and made a difference. High school boyfriends never satisfied him much and Hakyeon only made the hunger worse, but with Jaebum now, he realizes that he feels...full. In body and soul. He wonders what the means for their future, but doesn’t dwell too much on the negative. Not yet.

He’s halfway through taking another tiny sip of Jae’s cup of vodka when he’s approached by a severe looking man with a fur stole draped over his shoulders. There’s a blank spot cut into his right eyebrow, and Jinyoung wants to ask him if it’s by design or if it’s a scar because either way it looks really, really good on the sharpness of his face. Dark eyes scan the length of his body and Jinyoung can’t help but feel as though he’s being assessed like a piece of art. He turns his head and tries not to rudely step away.

“You must be Jinyoung,” his deep voice says, and it comes out like an accusation.

He moves the cup away from his mouth. “Yes, that’s me.”

“Hmm,” the man hums, and just continues to watch him. Jinyoung is starting to feel mildly uncomfortable with the intensity of his gaze. “Where is he, anyway?”

Jinyoung raises an eyebrow. “Who?”

The sharp faced man rolls his eyes and pats his breast pocket like he’s looking for a pack of cigarettes and frowns when it’s empty. “Jaebum, dear. Obviously.”

He can’t help the way that he bristles at the pet name, but it feels so condescending the way he says it. Jinyoung nods in Jaebum’s direction. “Over there.”

Jaebum’s back is to them, so he doesn’t see the way that the man with the fur stole around his neck glances at him in mild disinterest and then back at Jinyoung. There’s an ugly sneer pulled up at the corner of his mouth, resembling a fish with a hook caught in its lip and pulling.

“You’re pretty, at least,” he says offhand, and the comment startles him.

“I’m sorry, what?”

The man puts a hand on his hip, a caricature of rich people he’s seen in movies and paintings from the early 1900s America. Even his suit is similar, rich black with white pinstripes and white shoes that have somehow managed to not collect even a speck of dust. He barely looks at him while he speaks, eyes constantly roaming to the expanse of Jaebum’s back.

“Normally the people he rebounds with are…” he hums, searching. “...less than elegant, I’ll say. The last woman he’d brought to an event at the beginning of the summer was horrendous! Really, I thought he had better taste than that, but he’s always been a bit playful. I was surprised, however, when they left early.” The man scoffs, looking at Jinyoung as though he’s waiting for him to do the same. “To fornicate, I’m sure.”

Jinyoung couldn’t scoff even if he wanted to, because he’s just flabbergasted. He doesn’t think it would be out of the ordinary for this man to be smoking one of the long cigarettes out of the holder with his nose in the air; his speech is so bizarre that Jinyoung is having trouble putting a good response together.

“You seem lost, puppy. What’s the matter?”

“Who…” Jinyoung fumbles. “Who are you?”

The man sighs, pulling the stole off his shoulders and tossing it carefully onto the nearest table. “I’m one of Jaebum’s cast offs,” he says, sounding forlorn. “One of the better ones, if I say so myself.”

He gives Jinyoung another appraising glance, one that lasts longer this time. “At least his newest plaything is prettier than some of the others he’s brought around, though.”

Jinyoung scoffs now. “I’m sorry, plaything?”

The man looks at him, incredulous. “Did you think you were something else?” he barks a laugh that feels like a physical shove and makes Jinyoung’s hackles rise. “You are pretty, but don’t delude yourself. He’ll tire of you like he did the rest of them.”

“Do you even know him at all?” Jinyoung spits, fingers tightening around his glass.

“Do you?” the man asks, and makes a noise of disgust. “You think you do, but you don’t. Not like I do.”

It takes him a moment but then it clicks, all the pieces coming together. This must the ex that Jaebum had mentioned--he can see why Jaebum would have wanted him; he’s handsome, there’s no doubt, but there’s a certain ugliness that clings to his thin shoulders with the way he sneers at Jinyoung as he connects the dots. Jinyoung can also see with perfect clarity the reason that he so badly wanted to avoid him.

“I’m sorry that you think that, but you don’t seem to know him at all.”

“Says you. What, you’ve been f*cking for a couple of months and he’s showered you with presents so you think he loves you?” he scoffs again, an ugly sound that makes anger boil in Jinyoung’s stomach. “Be realistic. He doesn’t love you.”

“You don’t know that,” Jinyoung says hotly, a fluttering in his chest that Jaebum could love him and to have that challenged by one of Jaebum’s jilted ex lovers. “You don’t know anything about him, or me, and you need to leave me alone. I won’t call him over here because he’s busy, but you know he wouldn’t be happy about this.”

“Of course he wouldn’t,” the man says with an eyeroll, “If he knew that his favorite ex was spilling all his secrets to his whor* of the hour he wouldn’t be very happy at all, would he?”

Jinyoung’s blood runs ice cold. whor*. The rest of the sentence had been lost, everything rising to the inexplicable rush of blood in his ears at being called a whor*.

“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Jinyoung asks through his teeth, gripping his glass so hard he thinks he’s going to break it. Jaebum’s back is still turned and he wishes he had that out instead of having to deal with this completely on his own.

“Don’t play dumb. You’re just his whor*, Jinyoung, and he’ll tire of you just like he got tired of the rest of us.”

Everything that follows happens so, so fast.

He can’t explain the rage that bubbles over in his chest, but it comes and won’t be stopped like a wildfire that won’t go out. Before he can stop himself he lifts his hand and throws his drink, the clear liquid soaking the man’s face and hair before dripping down to the top of his expensive suit. He shouts, in anger and in pain from the burn of vodka in his eyes, and the sound has everyone turning. Jinyoung catches the look on Jaebum’s face when he hears it––he’s pale as a sheet, even from where he’s standing, and he hears Jaebum’s voice call his name. He opens his mouth to call back when there’s a guttural growl at his right side and two hands on his chest that shove. Hard.

Time seems to slow when his back hits the water and he sinks below it. Whereas the throwing of his drink and the shout and the shove had happened seemingly in the blink of an eye, he feels everything else stop almost as if it he’d hit pause when the shock of cold chlorine strikes his arms and legs. He’d hit the water before he’d seen Jaebum cross the patio and throw a fist into the guy’s face; he’d missed the torrent of blood that gushed from his nose afterward that had splattered on Jaebum’s hand.

Underneath the water everything is muted and still. His eyes are squeezed shut as his lungs burn and his body sinks like a gentle stone. The chlorine starts to burn his skin, so icy in the winter air that it’s painful. He fills his lungs with water when he gasps and remembers in sudden panic that he can’t swim and he’s just been shoved into the deep end of the pool. His eyes come open, stinging with chemicals, and the blurry film over his vision only shows his disconnected body sinking lower even as he kicks instead of going up. His chest aches with the need for oxygen, only pulling more and more water into his chest as his tears are lost into the turquoise depths and the world blackens at the edges. He thinks again that if the universe could change it’s shape at will, he doesn’t want it to be here; he wants to think of Jaebum as his vision warps in blacks and greys but the conflagration in his chest isn’t giving him room to think of anything else. He kicks uselessly, legs heavy, weight of his wet suit like lead. Jinyoung’s vision fades out at last and he thinks that maybe the crash he hears above him is the gates of heaven opening up for him––

Arms around his waist pull him back and he sees, blurrily, the top of a dark head of hair as they push off hard from the bottom with both legs. There’s the odd sensation of rising quickly, water passing through his fingers like wind, and he wonders if this is really what he feels like to die when, suddenly, he’s breaking the surface.

Noise returns in a frantic, punctured vacuum when Jinyoung’s back hits pavement so hard that it makes him cough. Water runs from his mouth when he does; he tries to suck in a breath and it burns when the water goes back down. Someone’s hands are on his shoulders immediately to turn him, and he wants to be angry at the rough fist pounding against his back because it hurts, but the burning in his lungs won’t stop. He can kind of hear people shouting and yelling above him, and a strange hush underneath the way he’s seen at accidents on television. He’d be more concerned with what happened if he wasn’t busy being beaten on the back until finally, like a cork out of a wine bottle, he starts to cough up water.

“Come on, god dammit!”

Jaebum’s voice is the clearest, and it makes him feel scared to hear the utter terror in his voice like maybe he's really dying after all. There's the split second thought that races across the front of his brain before it gets obliterated by the chest pains that he had tried so hard to make this night easy for Jaebum and instead he had gone and died on him. The more Jaebum hits his back the more water he coughs until he’s pushing himself up on his hands to vomit it up, finally able to suck in painful lungfuls of air in between violent coughs. Now that the world is slowly trickling back in as he regains the consciousness that he’d nearly lost, he can feel the bruising grip of Jaebum’s fingers on his hips where he’d pushed himself subconsciously to his hands and knees to throw up.

“Jinyoungie,” Jaebum whimpers, fingertips digging in, and the high pitched, childlike terror in his voice makes Jinyoung’s skin prickle, “Jinyoung, are you alright? God, please answer me––"

He coughs again, harder, dry heaving when there’s nothing else in his stomach and no more water in his lungs to dispel. The burning continues but it’s a better kind of burning, meaning that he can finally breathe even though it hurts like hell. Jinyoung nods his head and tries to speak, voice a harsh rasp.

“I’m–” he inhales roughly, gasping for breath between every word. “I’m––okay––just––hurts––”

“Okay, okay, stop talking,” Jaebum murmurs, pulling at his hips. Feeling starts to come back to his arms and legs and the freezing air of the night grips the wet suit clinging to his body like grappling hooks. He starts to tremor violently, both from the ordeal of being shoved into the pool and the cold itself as Jaebum tries to get him to stand.

“Can you stand, baby?” Jaebum asks, voice still breathless with panic. “Jinyoung, please be alright, oh, god––”

“Help me––stand up,” he says, blinking water out of his burning eyes. The cold drills into his bones and it makes his joints feel stiff as Jaebum helps him first to his knees and then to his feet. He makes sure Jaebum keeps his arms around him as he steps forward, wobbling a bit but steadying and nodding his head when Jaebum asks if he’s alright. Jaebum grabs his wrist to loop a weak arm around his shoulder.

“Jinyoungie, I think we need to call an ambulance––”

He shakes his head quickly, starting to regain some of his own strength even though his chest still hurts and his bones ache with the cold. “No, I just––I just want to get warm, okay, I’m fine––”

“I don’t know, Jinyoungie, I really think we should go to the hospital––”

“Jaebum-ssi,” he whimpers, feeling so drained already, wanting so much to just get in the warm shower and then hopefully crawl into bed with Jaebum who will make sure that nothing else happens to him even though this night was supposed to be about Jinyoung protecting him. “Please. Just warm me up.”

“Okay, Jinyoung-ah,” he says, and doesn’t argue again.

Jaebum does most of the talking as they make their way through the crowd, letting everyone know that they’re both alright and that he’s just going to take Jinyoung up to a room and get him into the shower and then into bed and that no, it’s okay, don’t call an ambulance; if anything happens I’ll make sure he gets to the hospital. Jinyoung just keeps his eyes closed as they walk and every step feels like miles. His teeth are clicking together so hard he’s worried they’re going to break; the only warmth he can feel is Jaebum’s shoulders underneath his arm and the forearm wrapped around his waist with the death grip on his hip. Once they’re crossing the lobby and Jaebum is calling to the receptionist to get him the key to his suite and to call Jae to have some clothes delivered his knees start to buckle under the weight of his wet suit. Part of him disconnecting from the ache all over his body feels guilty that he’d ruined such nice clothes that Jaebum had bought him.

“You didn’t ruin it, baby,” Jaebum murmurs in his ear, and Jinyoung is startled to realize he’d said it out loud. He tries to think of a response other than I’m sorry and comes up with nothing, so he just stays quiet as Jaebum guides them into the elevator and they head up stairs.

In the warmth of the elevator he feels some of the blood return to his fingers and toes, and it revives him just a little bit more. He huddles closer to Jaebum and closes his eyes with his face in his neck, breathing the scent of his watered down cologne mixed with the chlorine on his skin. The humidity from his hot breath on Jaebum’s neck makes goosebumps break out along it and Jinyoung laughs.

“Sorry,” he says, and Jaebum just huffs a laugh, like if he’s unsure he should really be laughing or not.

Jinyoungjust pulls him closer.

Once the elevator hits the top floor, Jinyoung feels okay enough to mostly walk on his own despite being freezing cold. Jaebum keeps a hand on Jinyoung’s back as they walk down the hallway, shoes squelching on the pretty carpet, fat drops from their hair and wrinkled suits leaving a hansel and gretl trail of water in their wake. The suite, when they enter it, is mercifully warm, and Jinyoung starts to take off his heavy suit jacket when Jaebum stops him and ushers him quickly into the bathroom.

Jinyoung stands in the middle of the tile floor dripping water while Jaebum goes to the massive glass walled shower and steps in to turn it on. The water hitting the tiles is soothing and he must have made it as hot as it could go because he’s barely out of the small glass door before they’re fogging up and encapsulating the room in a humid warmth. He sighs when Jaebum comes back and realizes with a start that Jaebum must be freezing, too: he’s missing his black suit jacket, now only dressed in his slacks and white button up shirt that’s transparent where it clings to his skin. The black waistcoat matching the one that Jinyoung is wearing obscures his chest and abs from view and Jinyoung can’t imagine how heavy it must feel. Jaebum steps forward to start pushing his wet suit jacket off his shoulders and Jinyoung protests lightly.

“Ahjussi,” he mumbles, letting himself be jostled by Jaebum’s insistent hands when the jacket plops wetly to the floor and is forgotten about. Jaebum immediately goes to work on inspecting him, poking and prodding at his ribs and stomach to make sure that nothing is broken. His insistent fingers travel up to his chest and to his collarbones, ever searching, and Jinyoung wants to stop him. He’s not hurt anywhere else. His pride, maybe, and his chest is achey and sore on the inside, but the effects of it have mostly worn off save for leaving him feeling a bit sleepy and desperate for warmth. The furrow in Jaebum’s eyes just makes him feel guilty for not handling himself well and he yearns to make it stop.

“Ahjussi,” he says again, louder, and Jaebum barely glances at him as he pokes at the sides of his neck. Jinyoung tosses his head back when Jaebum pokes under his chin and then goes to work ridding him of his wet shirt. When it, too, is off, Jaebum is spinning him around with his hands on his hips and making a forlorn sound in the back of his throat.

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry,” he mutters, and Jinyoung turns his head.

“Why?”

“You’re going to have a huge bruise here,” Jaebum says softly, and touches a sore spot between his shoulder blades. Jinyoung’s muscles jump beneath his hands but he doesn’t cry out in pain; yet Jaebum still sounds as though he’d broken Jinyoung’s back. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have hit so hard––”

“Yah,” he says harshly, turning around in Jaebum’s hands to grip the front of his shirt. “Stop apologizing to me. You saved my life. Do you understand? You saved my life.”

“I––” Jaebum hesitates, face flushed at the cheeks with hot pink streaks. His eyes are wide and wild. He practically vibrates in place with the same animalistic terror he had heard in just his voice when he'd pulled him from the pool. Jaebum’s hands squeeze his hips as though he's terrified that if he lets go Jinyoung will just keep sinking. “Jinyoung, please, I’m just trying to make sure you’re okay––”

“I’m fine,” he insists through his teeth, gripping the tops of Jaebum’s arms now. “Just, god, would you listen to me? This––god, this is my fault––”

“Your fault? Jinyoung, how is this your fault?”

“I shouldn’t have pushed him into it! But he made me so angry, saying all these things about you and I that I knew they weren’t true. He called me your whor* and I just snapped––I know you don’t think that of me and it did something awful to my insides to hear him say that like it was gospel. He–” Jinyoung gasps, chest burning, but powers on before Jaebum can tell him to slow down and stop. “It doesn’t matter, now, what he said.”

“It matters to me,” Jaebum murmurs, one hand coming up to cradle his face. “I never wanted him to hurt you.”

“It’s beyond your control,” Jinyoung says, shrugging. “And it doesn’t matter. What makes me so mad is that this night was supposed to be about you,” he chokes, and Jaebum looks surprised. “I was determined to help you get through this night as stress free as possible because I was dying without you, ahjussi, and I’d do anything to get you back. So when I got this chance I knew that I had to take your words to heart and get over whatever stupid bullsh*t was holding me back from letting myself be happy with you. I was going to try and show you that I could grow up and let go of things but I still got myself hurt and god, I’m so stupid––”

“Jinyoungie, calm down, baby, please––”

“Listen!” he barks, tearing up, fingers digging into Jaebum’s shoulders over the wet fabric. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry about everything, I’m so sorry that I wasted your time the past few months, but you have to believe me when I say that you’ve made me so happy, okay? I know I did stupid things and acted like an idiot and I’m so sorry that I abused how you felt about me that day I just showed up at your office and demanded that you talk to me. Jaebum-ssi, I’m sorry about everything—”

His emotional tirade comes to an end when Jaebum grabs his face and leans in, kissing him hard and solid on the mouth. Jinyoung makes a noise of surprise but it is the kiss he had so badly wanted earlier, finally given to him, and he digs his fingers into Jaebum's shoulder blades when he slides his hands to his back. Jaebum’s tongue frantically parts his lips and licks hot and wet into his mouth. There's an urgency to the way he's kissing that scatters down Jinyoung’s spine with a blistering tingle that says if they stop kissing the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Jaebum whimpers a noise into his mouth and Jinyoung just swallows it up, hands now frantic to match the pace as he yanks roughly at the silver buttons of the waistcoat hiding Jaebum’s body from view. Never has he ever felt so wild, a burning desire to see and touch and feel Jaebum’s body under his hands like this is the last chance he'll get to memorize it. The wet slide of their mouths and the humid exchange of their breath makes Jinyoung's heart beat hard.

Jaebum’s hands slide to his hair, gripping hard in the wet strands and chasing his mouth when it moves with his grip. His breath comes hot and fast, the coals set to burning in his gut as desire catches and flames from the ashes. A similar whimper leaves his mouth as he feels the thickness of the hot air trap itself between their wet bodies merely outlined by clothes.

“Jaebum,” he moans, stuttering when Jaebum’s hand reaches down between them to undo his belt with an unsteady hand, “I need you.”

The lack of formalities or the nickname makes Jaebum’s whole body shudder, kisses getting sloppy for a moment as he breathes out on broken breath while insistent fingers wiggle into the waist of Jinyoung’s suit pants to push them down. The wet fabric pulls away from his skin painfully slow which just adds to the wonderful torture of feeling Jaebum’s hands on his naked thighs when he breaks their kiss to pull his pants down to his ankles. Jinyoung would be embarrassed that he's visibly half hard already just from some frenetic kissing and Jaebum’s handsiness but he groans low when he grabs at Jaebum’s crotch and feels the matching hardness there.

“f*ck,” he pants, mouth chasing after Jinyoung’s and settling on his earlobe instead when he turns his head to work on getting Jaebum’s clothes off. His hips push Jinyoung into the counter, making it difficult for Jinyoung to yank away his waistcoat in his desperation to get Jaebum naked. “God, I need you so bad—”

The confessions are laced with lust but it doesn't make them any less true as the waistcoat comes off and joins with a wet plop Jinyoung’s own clothes on the floor. Now gone he can see the vague line of Jaebum’s abs where the shirt has gone transparent and clings to his skin, two dark discs of his nipples hard and protruding through the thin material. Jinyoung whines as Jaebum’s teeth pull on his earlobe but he makes a triumphant noise when Jaebum squeaks as Jinyoung brushing his thumbs over the damp fabric of his nipples. One of Jaebum’s hands go to his waist and try to pull him tighter against his body while Jinyoung undoes the buttons of his heavy shirt and ruts shamelessly against the slick of his wet pants.

“Jaebummie,” he moans, dropping politeness altogether, but Jaebum doesn't seem to mind when he whines in Jinyoung’s ear while they both fight to work Jaebum’s wet clingy shirt from his shoulders and arms. It hits the floor and suddenly Jaebum has more room to move; he sides both of his hands down the line of Jinyoung’s waist until he's moving quick to the bulk of Jinyoung’s ass and lifting him. He makes a quiet noise as Jaebum lifts him to the counter but it gets lost again as Jaebum finds his mouth to kiss while Jinyoung’s shaky hands work at his belt.

“God, Jinyoung,” Jaebum moans, that red flush darker now on his cheeks like he's running a fever. He kisses down Jinyoung’s chin and sucks marks into his neck when he lets go of Jaebum’s belt to lean back against the fogged up mirror. Jaebum’s warm hands grip and caress this thighs where they're spread around his lean hips, fluttering open and together as Jaebum’s rough mouth moves down to his chest. Jinyoung grips Jaebum’s damp hair in both hands and bows his back while the older man’s perfect mouth abuses and sucks at the pink nub of Jinyoung’s hard nipple; he whines deep in his throat and aches to be touched as his co*ck grows to full hardness and hands heavy between his legs.

“Let's—oh, f*ck, let's get in the shower,” Jinyoung gasps, tightening his grip on Jaebum’s hair to pull his greedy mouth away when he feels his balls start to draw up. “Please, I want you, I need to feel you—”

“Okay,” Jaebum pants, nodding, pretty lips swollen and cherry red from kisses and teasing. Jinyoung can already feel the slight pull of new bruises on his neck and chest as Jaebum gently pulls him from the counter, emitting a moan so low Jinyoung feels it in his dick as he kneels to peel off Jaebum’s pants. His co*ck springs free, hard and flushed, and he gasps with a flustered apology.

“Sorry, you're just so, god, Jinyoung, you're so irresistible––” he hisses through his teeth when Jinyoung grips his shaft loosely in one hand and jerks lazily. One hand finds Jinyoung’s hair where he’s still on his knees on the floor, gripping it and closing his eyes while Jinyoung just watches him in a sort of awe from below.

The sound of the water hitting the tiles of the shower floor is lost underneath Jaebum’s bone deep moans, and Jinyoung thinks that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to just finish him off right here if it means he gets to keep hearing this, every sucked in breath and tiny whine as Jinyoung’s slim fingers lightly squeeze and release on the upstroke. But there’s a part of him that feels hollow, a hollowness that can only be filled by Jaebum, and even though there’s no better feeling in the world than the one he’d had when Jaebum had said he’s so handsome it hurts with the vague apology spoken between them, he thinks that maybe it would solidify everything he’s tried to say by being with Jaebum in body and soul. It’s the kind of frantic, desperate need that has him tugging on Jaebum’s wet pants around his ankles so he’ll step out of them and lead them into the shower.

Jaebum closes the glass door layered with fog and the combination desire and humidity makes his chest feel tight. He barely has time to suck in a breath of the hot, thick air before Jaebum is coming forward and pushing him against the wall; the deep, sea blue of the tiles are slick with condensation as the shower head sprays hot water down over the top of them like rainfall. Their teeth click together in another kiss, rough and demanding going both ways as their hands push and pull against wet skin. Light sweat breaks out along Jinyoung’s hairline from the heat of the enclosed shower and Jaebum’s hands skirt and slide along the flat plane of his stomach so sweetly it makes him lose his train of thought, though he hadn’t really been thinking about anything else than this anyway. Their kisses deteriorate into barely moving their mouths as they touch desperately and share their heavy breathing. Jaebum’s hand is still adorned with those familiar silver rings that he feels against his thigh when his hand creeps down between his legs and slip down to tease his entrance.

Jinyoung gasps, having not been touched like this by him in so long. A shock shoots down his back like lightening at the feeling of Jaebum’s finger slipping up inside him and he whimpers, digging his fingertips into the wide expanse of Jaebum’s tan shoulders. He can feel the way a similar blush had spread across the high line of his cheekbones as Jaebum twists his wrist, face buried in Jinyoung’s neck as he fingers him up against the shower wall and his whole body shudders while he does it. The bitter cold from both the pool and the November night melt under every single point of contact of their slick, wet skin until Jinyoung feels like his body is going up in flames. He’d rather die right here, right now than be put out.

“Jaebum,” he gasps, back arching, spreading his legs a little to give Jaebum more room to insert another finger and work him open. Jaebum’s mouth is barely hovering above the skin of his neck, warm breath sending goosebumps erupting down his entire body despite the heat trapping them in like a wet cloth bag. His own hands slide along Jaebum’s arms, feeling the muscle jump and work just underneath the skin as he fingers Jinyoung open and murmurs little confidences against his throat sometimes punctuated with a kiss. He can feel where Jaebum’s co*ck is heavy and hard between his legs; ever so slowly Jaebum’s hips rock and he hiccups a little noise as it slides against Jinyoung’s wet skin. His desperation grows and blooms like a flower inside his chest as Jaebum’s fingers open him up and a warmth pools in his stomach like melted glass.

“C’mon,” Jinyoung pants, soaking wet, no longer sure if it’s from the water or the humidity or the shower. His hands slide down to Jaebum’s chest and push impatiently––Jaebum makes a guttural noise as he pulls away just enough to kiss him hard before grabbing him by the hips and turning him around.

Jinyoung whimpers and rocks back when Jaebum gets him to rest his weight along his forearms. The shower tiles are slippery with condensation but they’re cooler than the air, and he leans on them gratefully with his forehead against the ceramic as Jaebum caresses his body from behind. Every touch is featherlight and gentle, patient palms gliding down his back and into the dip just before his ass before they slide down and squeeze hard. Jinyoung’s hips jerk forward a little bit and his dick throbs, every nerve ending in his body lit up like a livewire as Jaebum feels him up. He squeezes his eyes shut when he feels Jaebum’s hands trail down further in between his legs and spread them apart.

Jinyoung sucks in a breath and waits to feel Jaebum pushing in but seconds tick by and nothing happens. He turns his head to look over his shoulder and sees Jaebum just admiring him, both hands on his hips and blinking water out of his eyes as he catches the edge of the showerhead’s spray. Jinyoung’s heart somersaults in his chest at the sheer beauty of Jaebum’s face; each drop of water finds some feature to trace, drowning him in beads, the pink flush of his face and chest like pink watercolor paint smeared across the tan of his body. It makes him ache, just a little, to know that the beauty behind him contained in the neat, appealing package goes all the way down to his heart and that it’s all for him. Just Jinyoung’s. Even the way Jaebum’s hard co*ck slips between his wet thighs and he breathes unevenly makes Jinyoung’s heart thump against his ribcage.

“Jinyoung-ah…” he says, breathless, hands sliding up from his hips to his waist so slowly it makes Jinyoung shake. There’s a look on his face so full of emotion like love and adoration that it makes Jinyoung’s eyes hurt, so he squeezes them shut and leans his forehead against the wall. Whatever Jaebum had been about to say goes unheard as he lets go of Jinyoung’s waist to steady him with one hand in his lower back. There’s an unspoken hesitation as Jaebum lines up that means are you ready? so Jinyoung just nods and moves back, whining low in his throat when he feels the head of Jaebum’s co*ck at his entrance. He takes a deep breath and then lets it go in a warbling, wavering shutter as Jaebum slips his arm around his stomach and slides in to bottom out.

He moans, low and deep. Now that their bodies are pressed together he can feel Jaebum’s mouth at his ear, breathing unevenly as he lets Jinyoung adjust to the fullness inside of him. It’s hard for Jinyoung to catch on to any one thought when Jaebum starts to move, keeping his grip on Jinyoung’s stomach as he pulls out and slides back in torturously slow. Despite the scattering of his thoughts as Jaebum starts to f*ck him deliberately torpid, he can’t help but think of just how different it is this time than the others: every other version of their sex had some lingering feeling of strangeness to it, like confusion or anger or the cover up of some deeper emotion. But now, with his head pressed to the wall and one of Jaebum’s hands coming up to his on the shower tiles and lacing their fingers together while he takes Jinyoung slow and steady and murmurs little sentiments in his ear that break off in whines or moans, he thinks there’s something different here. The emotion feels bigger, brighter, powerful like the instantaneous birth of a star winking itself into existence where before there had been only the raging emptiness. Every inch is the burn of new muscles being worked and used before it steadies into the comfortable ache. There’s a word for a feeling like this and it dances around in his mouth but is still yet afraid to come out.

Jaebum, however, shows no reservations of the sort. Jinyoung moans his name again, low, when he thrusts up a bit harder than the slow way he had been so far. The feeling of Jaebum’s co*ck hitting his prostate on just that one upstroke makes his knees feel weak, so full, wet and sweating from the water and the forged rain above their heads. He tightens his fingers around Jaebum’s and squeezes his eyes shut as Jaebum pulls out slow only to do it again, harder, mouth open at Jinyoung’s ear.

“Jinyoung-ah,” he breathes, somewhere between a moan and a whimper but with all the conviction of a scream, “I love you.”

I love you. Jinyoung’s entire body jerks and he yelps when Jaebum thrusts again, hard, dick heavy and leaking between his legs. Some feeling opens up in his chest and explodes over and over like a roman candle, keeping his heart beating hard as Jaebum murmurs in his ear if he wants him to go faster. He’s nods, dazed, mouth dropped open on little noises that pull themselves out of his chest as Jaebum leans back to move both hands to his hips in order to keep him steady while his pace speeds up. His thoughts spiral and twirl around the I love you, eyes shut tight as Jaebum pulls on the tops of his thighs to get him to bend at the waist. Balanced on both palms against the wall, Jinyoung feels his heart swell to burst. He wants to laugh, or cry, or both.

Jaebum loves him. Jaebum loves him.

He kind of laughs, a scattered scoff, and Jaebum matches the sound behind him in a breathless beat as he rolls his hips to f*ck him deep. Jinyoung shakes his head, water droplets splashing his arms, unable to describe the feeling radiating from the center of his chest all the way down to his toes and to the very ends of his hair. A giddiness has erupted in his veins and he starts to shift backward, elated, wanting to make Jaebum feel as good as Jaebum has made him feel the past couple of months, though sometimes he had denied it or tried to shy away from it. Jaebum grunts and puts a hand in his lower back, holding him down and steady as he slows down again to f*ck into him deep with hard, careful thrusts.

“Hyung,” he moans, so caught up in the way it feels to have Jaebum inside him and all around him like this that he doesn’t even realize he said it, so used to calling Jaebum ahjussi in that distant tone that he hadn’t even thought he’d been capable of it anymore. He catches himself in the way that Jaebum’s hips jerk and he gasps, fingertips digging into Jinyoung’s skin so hard it makes pleasure-pain scatter up and down his legs. Something about it just feel right, though, their whirlwind turned storm finally settled into the changing of the seasons. He says it again, trying it out in his mouth,

“Hyung, it feels so good, ah, f*ck––” Jaebum’s hips jerk up particularly hard and he feels his co*ck twitch at the feeling that lights up in his gut, “so good, hyung, keep going––”

“Oh, my god, Jinyoungie,” Jaebum says, sounding like he’s drowning, “Jinyoungie, what––”

“Please, I’m so close,” he begs, leaning up off one hand to jerk himself off with the other. “Hyung, please, make me come––”

“Oh, f*ck––”

Jinyoung feels Jaebum’s hands tighten as he thrusts up hard, deep; Jinyoung nearly shouts a moan but Jaebum doesn’t pull out right away and instead he feels the way that Jaebum’s co*ck throbs inside him and his body shakes as he comes. Jaebum’s forehead drops to his back, panting, hips rolling a little bit as he works himself through the aftershocks.

“f*ck, I’m sorry–” he pants, his hands on Jinyoung’s hips sliding down his thighs and then back up to his waist like he can’t stay still. Goosebumps erupt on his skin as Jaebum plants little breathy kisses along his spine as he slowly pulls out. “Hearing you say that, just–”

“It’s okay,” Jinyoung breathes, nodding, still jerking himself off and already missing the full feeling of Jaebum bottomed out inside him. “Just, I’m close––”

Jaebum nods, still kissing patterns into the skin of his back. Jinyoung shudders as Jaebum trails his hands up and down his thighs, teasing up the insides while Jinyoung continues to work his shaft in one hand while the other begins to shake from the strain of holding all his weight. Tension pulls tight in Jinyoung’s body as his org*sm nears, his stroke getting uneven and shuddering when Jaebum’s fingers play invisible piano on his skin. He whimpers and considers begging Jaebum to touch him but he doesn’t have to: Jaebum keeps one hand tucked between his thighs while the other teases at his balls, running his fingertips underneath the sensitive bulk and grinning against Jinyoung’s back when it makes him twitch. Jaebum continues to tease, fingers curious and prodding as he leans up to whisper filth in Jinyoung’s ear: I’ll f*ck you all night if you come for me, baby boy, and I’ll f*ck you real good if you call me hyung again.

Jinyoung makes a quiet noise and stills as he comes over his fingers, org*sm spreading like spilled gasoline until his thighs are shaking. He tugs a few more times until he collapses down onto his forearm on the wall, laughing breathlessly when Jaebum catches him and holds him up. The older man’s arms snake around his waist and he turns in the circle of them to look into his face, softened by the emotion there. They both smile in unison and Jinyoung shyly hides his face in Jaebum’s neck.

They slow down after that, washing each other gently in the glow of aftercare. Jinyoung barely lets Jaebum do anything to him, whining that this night was supposed to be about Jaebum and that he’s going to do something for him to cancel out the melodrama that seems to follow Jinyoung everywhere. He doesn’t seem to mind, though; Jaebum laughs throaty and deep the way Jinyoung likes and lets himself be turned to stand under the spray. Jinyoung hums under his breath the song they had sang together at the noraebang while he washes Jaebum’s hair and the older man nearly falls asleep.

Later, when the water is turned off and their skin is wrinkled, they hold hands as Jaebum leads them out into the large bedroom not unlike the one he has at home. The room is graciously cooler than the stifling humidity of the bathroom, but it feels good as it evaporates on his drying skin as Jaebum leaves the room. Jinyoung goes to the window, a view so pretty it almost makes him feel like crying. Everything feels so vast, the sprawling expanse of a city lit up below in neons and whites and reds, oscillating across his eyes as a similar feeling blossoms in his chest. I love you, Jaebum had said, and he can feel it, down into his bones.

Jaebum comes back into the room with boxes of clothes for them that Jae had begrudgingly delivered, but Jaebum only pulls out the matching black boxer briefs that makes Jinyoung blush deeply.

“Matching?” he groans, taking them and pulling them on as Jaebum does the same merely inches away from him. “That’s so cheesy.”

“Shut up,” Jaebum says, but he’s grinning, and he pulls Jinyoung in close to his body when he straightens. Jinyoung’s heart flutters at the deep, dark look in Jaebum’s brunet eyes. “It’s cute.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jinyoung mutters, but nods, tipping his head back so Jaebum can kiss him sweet and deep. His heartbeat pounds in his ears as Jaebum’s arm tightens on his back and Jinyoung slides his fingers into his hair.

“You called me hyung,” Jaebum murmurs against his mouth once he’s laid Jinyoung down in the bed, half on top of him and taking his time with gentle, lingering kisses. Jinyoung thinks that if time could stop right here, right now, then he would be satisfied to feel Jaebum’s mouth on his and the gentle prickle of his love across every nerve.

“I know,” Jinyoung murmurs back, kissing him, not sure how to explain the sudden change. He tries, though, fingers carding absently through the damp strands of Jaebum’s silky black hair. “I just–you were right. That night. Ahjussi was just my way of trying to keep my distance, I guess, and then it became a habit. I know you hated it, and I’m sorry. But I was scared. I’m still scared.”

Jaebum kisses his lips again and then buries his face in his neck, nodding. He just lays there to breathe for a moment before lifting himself up and looking down into Jinyoung’s face.

“It’s alright. You don’t have to explain it to me, Jinyoungie,” he says, although there’s an unspoken relief in the smile lines at Jaebum’s eyes to hear him admit it out loud. “I just want to hear you say it again.”

“Hyung,” he says, lifting his arms to wrap them around Jaebum’s neck and pulls himself up for another kiss. “Hyung, hyung––”

Breathlessly Jaebum kisses back, rolling them over so that Jinyoung is laying on his chest and Jaebum’s knees are spread around his hips. “God, it sounds so good coming out of your mouth, Jinyoungie, I never thought I’d hear it––”

He smirks. “I know. It made you come earlier, didn’t it?”

Jaebum’s eyes narrow in challenge but there’s a tattle tale blush that rushes up and spreads across his cheeks like paint. “You suck.”

“You want me to?” Jinyoung purrs, wiggling his hips where they’re resting on top of Jaebum’s. The older man growls and rolls them again across the giant bed, pinning Jinyoung’s body to the soft sheets. The atmosphere has heated up once again, but there’s a look on Jaebum’s face that tells him something serious is coming before they can have sex. Apprehension trickles in and he squirms as Jaebum’s gaze intensifies.

After a moment, he seems to find the words to phrase it. “What are you still scared of, Jinyoung-ah? You’ve got me.”

“I’m…” he trails off, wanting to change the subject. But he knows that it had been the very thing to drive a wedge between them and now that he’s gotten the second chance he’d so desperately begged God for, he’s terrified of messing it up. The words are shaky and it feels foreign to express something so deep like this, but he does it anyway, “I’m scared that I don’t know what love is.”

Jaebum is serious and silent. He blinks, his face never changing and his eyes never breaking from Jinyoung’s where he’s holding himself up on both hands over his body. The apprehension bleeds into anxiety the longer that Jaebum stares at him like he’s a puzzle he just can’t solve.

Suddenly, though, the look clears. The smile he’s come to love so much spreads on Jaebum’s mouth, eyes folded to reachable half moons, and relief punctures the inflation of his chest like a needle point. Jaebum drops down onto his elbows so that their faces are close, nearly nose to nose, as he holds Jinyoung’s eyes and continues to smile.

“Don’t worry, Jinyoung-ah,” he says, voice soft, and there’s no longer anything in this world that could lead Jinyoung to not believe him. “I’ll show you."

And as Jaebum takes him again, from the top, kissing away the noises he makes and bragging about the marks Jinyoung leaves on his back and then cleaning him up and telling him how much he adores him as his eyes slip closed, he thinks, maybe it’s this.

Chapter 13: find me

Notes:

follow me into the wild with a twisted smile, i can't escape
now i got you by my side, all my life, day after day"

find me | kings of leon

Chapter Text

The next morning Jinyoung wakes up with a sore chest and Jaebum’s mouth at his neck, kissing lightly and smiling when Jinyoung grumbles awake and tries to roll away.

“Good morning, sleepy head,” he says, voice full of softness. Jinyoung blinks his eyes open to see Jaebum leaning up on one of his elbows and looking at him like he's made of precious stones.

“Hi,” Jinyoung murmurs, almost shyly, and smiles back.

What a whirlwind it's been up to now. They just watch each other in the light that trickles in through the curtains, fragmented by the frost on the glass of the window, smiles silent and shy. Jaebum had swept in like a wave and broke all of his rules. He became every exception. He was, and is yet, the epicenter of difference, of a calm he hadn't known existed, the stillness on a sea once wracked by storms and uneasiness. The months have passed by since their first fated meeting in what feels like mere hours instead of weeks, some of which he wasted, some of which he regrets. Laying in a giant bed with Jaebum now, it's hard to picture what his life had been like before he'd stepped into it and disturbed the stability. He kind of smiles in an unsure way and it makes Jaebum’s eyebrows furrow.

“What are you thinking so hard about, Socrates?”

“Yah,” Jinyoung says and digs his elbow into Jaebum's ribs. “It wasn't clever the first time you used it, you know.”

“Sure, sure,” he purrs, letting it break into a laugh as Jinyoung’s elbow tickles his side before he writhes away. “Maybe not. But I have no doubts that it strokes that ego of yours to hear it, hm?”

Jinyoung blushes. Could Jaebum really pin him that easily? That being compared to a philosopher is enough to make his ego inflate until his neck is too weak to hold his head up?

“You're a jerk,” Jinyoung mumbles. Jaebum just laughs.

He drops to his elbow beside him and leans his cheek in his palm as Jinyoung turns his head. Jaebum blinks down at him where Jinyoung is laying on his back still, eyes wandering the length of Jaebum’s long body as he reclines easily on his side and watches Jinyoung’s face with a tender thoughtfulness. Whereas he once would swallow uncomfortably and feel that it is underserved, he no longer feels that it’s out of place. He feels his heart race and that same too big emotion rushing down his arms and legs again.

“Really,” he murmurs, free hand on Jinyoung’s stomach now, “what were you thinking about?”

“How different my life is with you in it.”

Jaebum hums. If he's confused or maybe offended he doesn't show it. Instead he just nods his head and asks,

“What do you mean? Good or bad?”

“Good, obviously,” he says shyly and looks down at his feet still covered by the blankets bunched around his knees. “Very good. Just—strange, too, I suppose. it's only been a few months but it feels like—”

He stops, unsure how to phrase this next bit. He'd wanted to say like we've been together forever but it's not quite true. Despite Jinyoung’s internal acceptance of their new relationship and that he's always felt some sort of magnetic pull beyond the sensual or dramatic toward Jaebum, it isn't the right thing to say. Not with how much time he wasted on being afraid. Not when Jinyoung had spurned so many of his efforts in the beginning; we’ve been together forever just doesn’t quite fit within the confines of what he’s experienced versus what Jaebum experienced on the receiving end. And yet somehow saying like we've known each other forever seems to be lacking the fundamentally romantic aspect that he feels in this moment.

Jaebum slides his face off his palm to lean down and kiss the front of Jinyoung’s cheek softly. He murmurs against the skin,

“Like what?”

It's hard to say. The nature of their courtship has been so unorthodox that he's not sure how exactly to verbalize it. Instead, he turns his face to catch Jaebum’s lips when they come down again in a kiss that makes Jaebum lean away before it gets out of control.

Jinyoung lets his head fall back the short distance to the pillow and looks into Jaebum’s eyes. He hopes Jaebum doesn't assume he's changing the subject because he's uncomfortable with the question, it's just that he's unsure how to answer in a way that doesn't sound forced or overbearing or, even, too fanatical.

“Did you ever expect to fall in love with me?”

Jaebum looks startled. “What?”

Smiling, Jinyoung reaches up to press the pad of his thumb to the corner of Jaebum’s lips. “That day in the coffee shop. Could you imagine falling in love with me then?”

Jaebum laughs softly. He turns slightly to kiss his thumb before he talks with it lingering at his bottom lip.

“Not really,” he says, “because at that point I was done with love. I told myself I'd never fall in love again. When you spilled coffee all over me, I was pissed. I wanted to throttle you right there because I had a meeting after that coffee run and I had to lead it in a gray coffee-stained suit. But even so…” he pauses, eyes intense and dark as they look down at him. “Even when you ran out of the cafe I couldn't stop looking at you. Wondering about you. You caught me staring, remember?”

Jinyoung remembers the way he'd called Jackson at the bus stop and recanted the story to him about how he'd basically dumped coffee over the hottest man alive. He remembers the way he'd looked over his shoulder into the cafe and seen Jaebum’s dark eyes staring back at him with unadulterated anger on his face that made him wish the bus would run him over.

He nods, cringing a little. Jaebum was still interested in him after that embarrassing fiasco? Ugh. “I remember.”

“After that, I couldn't stop thinking about you after you spilled your coffee on me and then had the audacity to be, and don’t take this the wrong way, kind of a dick––”

“Hey! You asked me to clean your shoes––!”

Jaebum laughs and covers Jinyoung’s mouth with his palm. Jinyoung glares at him but doesn’t move it and doesn’t argue. “Let me finish. No one had ever done that before. It awakened something in me and I saw your face when I woke up and when I slept. It bothered me how captivated I was by you when our interaction was so small. And then I saw you again, when I had that business meeting at the restaurant. I felt so lucky, Jinyoungie, that the universe had given me another chance to talk to you. Do you believe in fate, Jinyoung?”

He grabs Jaebum’s wrist and moves his hand away from his mouth, placing it on his stomach. He looks back into Jaebum’s dark eyes lined just so with happiness and feels that swelling in his chest as he thinks of an answer. Does he? He’s not sure.

“I don’t know. I never believed in that stuff. Drama cliches never really made any sense to me,” he says, but doesn’t tack on until I started experiencing them.

“Maybe it’s not a surprise, but I do,” Jaebum murmurs, and blinks at him. The more he talks the more his face changes; it looks blank now, eyes unfocused as he chases the rest of his thoughts down a rabbit hole he’s trying his best to let Jinyoung follow with words. “At dinner that night, I wanted you. Your refusal was so apparent, though, and I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. You were standoffish and unhelpful just enough that had I complained there wouldn’t be any evidence to prove it. But you knew I had money and it was the only thing I had to offer you, since I knew nothing about you. And you hated it. I was so confused.

“Everyone else, the money made them different immediately. Everyone changed their song and dance as soon as I flashed that money at them. But you? You shoved my phone number in your pocket and told me to keep my money and assumed that I was calling you a prostitute.”

“You did ask me if I wanted to make real money.”

“I know,” Jaebum laughs, closing his eyes. “I know. That was stupid of me. I kicked myself over that one a lot. When you left the room that night and didn’t return, I knew that my only saving grace was that you stuck my phone number in your pocket. Whether or not you were ever going to use it, I wasn’t sure, but I hoped. But you never called, and a couple of weeks went by and I just...gave up on it. It was stupid, right? Hoping some random waiter who also happened to spill coffee on me would call when I’d just acted like an asshole the whole time?

“And then, you called me while I was hooking up with some girl I met at a company party. I was drunk and I answered because I had no idea who it could be, and then it turned out to be you. I thought it was going okay, but then she came back into the room and I know you heard her because you hung up on me. Even being drunk, I knew I somehow messed that up, too. The universe had brought you back to me a third time and I just kept fumbling.

“And then I met you again at the club––I had no idea it was you at first, I just saw the line of your body and wanted to dance with you. Can you imagine how it felt when you turned around and it was you? Do you see the common theme here, Jinyoungie?”

He doesn’t have to imagine it, because he knows. He remembers the cold water shock of being in Jaebum’s arms somehow, dancing against him, wanting more. Jinyoung remembers the way Jaebum had gotten him to tilt his head back like a puppet on strings and kissed him, right there, in front of everyone.

“Maybe you don’t so much believe in fate,” he murmurs, and his eyes have reopened and refocused now that he’s not so lost in revisiting their first meetings. “But I do. And I felt that spark inside of me when I kissed you in that club.”

Jaebum quiets after that, ochre eyes serious and warm where they’re locked on Jinyoung’s. Try as he might to deny it (though he no longer wants to), he had felt it, too. Jinyoung reaches up again and touches the silky hair at the base of Jaebum’s skull with a soft smile.

“I did too, hyung. You know that, don’t you?”

“I do now,” he says, and leans down to kiss him again. After a moment he pulls away, “did that answer your question?”

“Kind of.”

“In not so many words, no, I never expected to fall in love with you. But I did. And I don’t regret it.”

Jinyoung swallows. Even the mere thought of Jaebum ever regretting having feelings for him makes his chest tighten. “Are you sure?”

“Not once,” he says seriously, shaking his head. Jaebum moves to sit up, broad back lined with marks from Jinyoung’s blunt nails and the creases of the sheets in beautiful criss crossing patterns. Jinyoung just admires it and the way the muscle moves under the skin when Jaebum reaches over to check his cellphone.

“Oh!” he says, surprised, and Jinyoung wants to ask him what happened before he’s already launching himself off the bed and disappearing into the living area of the suite. Jinyoung pushes himself up to a sitting position and furrows his eyebrows, losing sight of Jaebum around the edge of the wall before he hears the sound of the front door opening. Jinyoung is getting ready to get off the bed and go inspect who Jaebum might be taking to in such hushed tones when the door clicks as it closes and Jaebum’s footsteps head back toward the bedroom.

When he arrives in the doorway, there’s a grin on his face that Jinyoung is almost afraid of. It distracts him enough that he doesn’t notice the small box in Jaebum’s hand at first, but when Jaebum starts to practically vibrate in place with excitement he finally looks down at what he’s holding. The box is resting on his palm, the darkest black he’s ever seen, accented with the thinnest of gold ribbons tied into a bow at the top. It’s obviously a gift, Jaebum is obviously excited, and Jinyoung is obviously wary.

“Hyung…” he says, trailing off, and even his hesitance doesn’t seem to affect the happiness radiating off Jaebum in waves. “You...is that for me?”

The question breaks him out of his trance and he trots over, sitting down at the foot of the bed and patting the space next to him to encourage Jinyoung to sit beside him. He takes a deep breath and crawls over, folding up criss-cross with his knee resting against Jaebum’s hip where he’s facing him. Jaebum holds out the box and laughs when Jinyoung just stares at it.

“Yes, it’s for you,” Jaebum says. His voice is so warm and sweet that Jinyoung can almost taste the honey of it in his mouth. “And it’s very special.”

Jinyoung clicks his tongue against his teeth and feels the blush on his face. “Yah, hyung, you know how I feel about you. You don’t have to try to win me over with presents anymore.”

“I know,” Jaebum says softly, ever patient with Jinyoung’s weird adversity to being given things. “And yes, I do know how you feel about me. And you know how I feel about you, don’t you?”

The low moan of Jaebum’s voice in his ear vibrates up his neck. Jinyoung-ah, I love you.

He nods. “Yes. I do.”

Jaebum smiles a little smile with the corners of his lips tucked in and holds out the box until it’s almost touching his chest. “Then take it.”

Jinyoung had denied Jaebum of everything for too long to not listen to him now. He nods and takes the box with both hands, balancing it on the small dip of his ankles to slowly pull at the ribbon with one hand. The gold glints in the light of the early afternoon, soft and pliant between his fingers as he tugs the bow apart like a piece of silken straw. He lets it pool and coil against the skin of his legs as it comes apart and the lid is free for him to remove with gentle, nervous fingers.

Sitting in the middle of a thick swath of rich, blue velvet is the polished gold of a watch. It’s a very familiar watch, in fact––there are the tell tale scuff marks on the face of it where Jaebum had let it scratch against surfaces by wearing it too loose. Jinyoung knows it well, seeing as how he’d fixed it multiple times, and there’s a strange stuttering in his chest that Jaebum would be giving it to him without fixing the tiny marks on the glass over the face. Much less why he’d be giving something so expensive to him at all.

“Hyung,” he says, feeling confused and breathless all at once. “This is your watch, isn’t it? What––”

“I have another one just like it,” he murmurs, and he nods toward the boxes of their clothes on the dresser that had been delivered the night before. “It’s that same exact brand and style of watch, actually. We match.” He smiles. “Dorky, right?”

Jinyoung wants to say yes but his breath feels short and there’s the weird burn of tears at the backs of his eyes for no reason at all. “But why––why give me yours?”

“Because,” Jaebum says, and he gently lifts the watch from the box and takes Jinyoung’s left hand in his. Jinyoung just watches with glassy eyes as Jaebum’s deft fingers pop the latch and he secures the glittering timepiece around his own wrist. “This watch means a lot to me, and so do you. I wanted you to have this one, and not a new one, because this one was a part of me and you.”

Jinyoung sucks in a breath and looks up. “What do you mean?”

“Jinyoung-ah,” and his voice is soft, edged with a laugh as his fingertips trace the line of his jaw before settling on his chin. “I fell in love with you the night we met at the bar and you fixed it on my wrist without asking.”

“What?”

Jaebum laughs even softer. “Was it irrational? Absolutely. There was no guarantee you would ever want to speak to me again that night, especially after how I acted. But when we were there, and you looked like you do, and you said, Ahjussi, can I see your watch? I was confused, I was convinced you were going to take off with it. But all you did was insist you take my hand. Your hand on mine, Jinyoungie...it was like the club all over again. I felt the rush. And then you fixed the watch, telling me it was impractical to wear it that way like you knew what was best for me. And you do.”

It is ridiculous, it’s fanatical, pure insanity that something so small could have captured Jaebum’s heart so wholly and utterly. But it’s believable, too, because there had been that same rush in his hands and feet when his fingertips brushed his knuckles and his thumb held steady in the center of Jaebum’s palm. That feeling, the rush, the expanding and the swelling, growing inside his chest until it’s too big, pushes against his ribcage as he takes a breath and blinks the tears, of happiness this time, away.

“And what’s best for you, hyung?”

Jaebum smiles his perfect smile, two moons in the centre of their sunlit room.

“You.”

Jinyoung’s chest deflates halfway with a breathless laugh as he pushes at Jaebum’s shoulder with his hands and smiles so hard it feels like his face is going to split in half. Jaebum laughs with him, grabbing his wrists, the box that held the watch now situated on Jinyoung’s left wrist in a mirror to the one that sits on Jaebum’s right toppled to the floor as Jaebum pins him down and covers his mouth with his own. Their smiles collide, never going, upturned lips pressing tattoos of their happiness into every inch of their skin that they can reach as they roll around and touch on the bed. The breathless laughing turns to gasps to whimpers to moans of pleasure.

“I love you,” Jaebum breathes, mouth at his ear as his hips follow a rhythm inside of him that matches the pace of his beating heart. “I love you, Jinyoung––”

“I––oh, hyung, oh my god––”

“Jinyoung, Jinyoung, f*ck, Jinyoung––!”

“Hyung!”

They come together, breathing hard and laughing into each other’s mouths. They get up together, too, cleaning up in the bathroom side by side in the hint of daily routine with coy smiles matching on their mouths when they make eye contact in the mirror. Jinyoung lays his watch on the counter and takes a shower with the door open, knowing that Jaebum is leaning against the sink and watching him with adoration in his eyes that matches the one radiating from inside him when he blinks away the water to look back. Happiness is no longer unreachable for him. He no longer feels victimized by the circ*mstances of his past. Not when his future is here, waiting for him with a towel when he steps out and shakes water from his hair. They kiss again, slow, before Jaebum breaks away to get dressed leaving Jinyoung alone to stare at his reflection after smearing clearness into the fog of the mirror. Jaebum had promised to show him what real love is, and for the first time, he keeps his eyes open.

________________

Unfortunately Jinyoung has to work later that day, and he reluctantly parts with Jaebum outside of the hotel before heading to the subway station.

“Are you sure I can’t drive you?” Jaebum asks, pulling him closer by the lapels of the double breasted coat Jaebum had picked out for him and had delivered. It’s unfairly nice; he’d argued that he’d give it back later when Jinyoung got home and changed into his own clothes, but Jaebum had laughed at him and told him to keep it. What do I need it for, Jinyoungie? We’re not the same size. I got it for you. There’s the faint air of guilt and a mild uncomfortableness at the gifts he’s receiving not because of the inherent nature of the gifts themselves but how do you give back to a man who has everything?

“It’s okay, hyung, really,” he murmurs, and they’ve only been outside for a few minutes but the sharp, icy wind slicing down between the skyscrapers is starting to hurt his face. Jinyoung buries his cold face in Jaebum’s warm neck and chuckles when Jaebum makes a small noise of surprise, but he doesn’t pull away. “Then you’d have to pick me up and take me home, and then drive all the way back––”

Jaebum pulls back to look at his face. The softness there is so unbelievable that Jinyoung feels like flying. “You know I don’t mind, right?”

“I know,” Jinyoung says and smiles. He plants a chaste kiss on Jaebum’s lips before stepping away and patting his pockets to make sure he has everything. “But I’m always inconveniencing you. Let me make it easy for once, okay? I promise, you can give me a ride to work next time, if you want.”

Jaebum’s face crinkles up with a smile. He digs around in his pockets and pulls out his car keys. “Okay. Do you want to have dinner later?”

Jinyoung frowns. “I won’t be home from work until probably around 11, hyung.” At the oddest of times it strikes him how easy, yet so different, it is to call him so instead of ahjussi.

With a final lingering kiss on the cheek, Jaebum steps close and then away to head to his office. He smiles, and even though it’s cold outside Jinyoung feels it warm up the air between them to burning.

“Dinner at 11, then.”

They part with a wave as Jaebum pulls away from the curb, leaving Jinyoung alone on the sidewalk to watch the back of the the black vehicle until it disappears into the ebb and flow of traffic. When it’s gone and he feels like he can finally walk to the few blocks to the subway station, he inhales deeply on a happy sigh and tries to hide his smile in the upturned collar of his coat. As with most new things, there’s still the omnipresent lingering of worry that something will go wrong, but for once it’s easy for Jinyoung to tune it out. His worry, though not unfounded, comes from somewhere else now: it is not the doubt that had plagued him as it once did, or even the distrust in love or another person. For once it’s not rooted in his insecurities and fueled by the memories of a past he’d let hold him back for far too long. It’s the natural fear, the same kind of adrenaline rush that comes with getting on a rollercoaster for the first time. It’s not bad, but inherently good: what it means is that, this time, he’s not going to let anything mess this up.

There are still things to work out, of course. Jinyoung ponders them as the subway carries him through the belly of the city toward work, blinking into the busyness of people crowded around him without really seeing it. One night of a near near-death experience and frantic apologies coupled with the sweet confessions isn’t going to fix everything, but it’s a start. What they have now is trust, is care; Jaebum had made sure that he understood this morning and the night before that Jinyoung got him and that he’s got Jinyoung. They’ve both, in their ways, shown their caring and proved it to be true. A foundation that was as rocky and dangerously unstable as theirs has now been, for the most part, paved over and rebuilt.

Jinyoung smiles privately to the collar of his coat. It’s been so long since he could because of someone else.

When the subway stops and he gets off to run up the stairs lest he be late to work, the smile never leaves. It’s still planted firmly on his face when the wind follows him into the open door of the restaurant, blowing his hair this way and that as he steps in and bows politely to Changkyun at the hosts stand who just gives him a look of confusion like cartoon ??? coming out of his ears. Changkyun had been confused but everyone else is suspicious: when Jinyoung is in the back room changing into his uniform and grinning into the inside of his locker, Youngjae and Mark finally corner him.

“Yah, Jinyoungie,” Mark says, closing his locker door for him once the khaki colored coat is hung up on the hook inside it. “Why are you smiling like that?”

He laughs and leans his back against his locker, now shut. “Smiling like what?”

Youngjae makes a face. “Like that,” he says, and nods his head. “It’s creeping me out.”

“Yeah,” Mark agrees, though he digs an elbow into Youngjae’s ribs in slight admonishment at inadvertently calling him creepy. The younger boy yelps and rubs his side, looking wounded. “You haven’t smiled like that in like, weeks, dude. Did something happen?”

“Yes,” Jinyoung replies matter of factly, and lifts his chin. “I have a boyfriend now.”

The both of them pause, eyes widening to twin pairs of saucers before they glance at each other and then back at Jinyoung. Then, all at once, the both of them are clamoring over each other with questions where they still have Jinyoung cornered against his locker like a couple of high school bullies.

“Wait––”

“You have a––”

In unison: “Boyfriend?!”

“Since when––”

“Who is it––”

“No way, hyung––”

“Is it your ex––?”

Jinyoung shouts, “no!”

“Who! Tell us who––!”

“Guys!” Jinyoung barks, getting a palm on each other their chests to push them back enough that he can slip out from where they’d unwittingly had him pinned to his locker. “Guys, will you relax? Jeez.”

“Jinyoung hyung, this is big!” Youngjae whines, sticking his lower lip out like a puppy. Jinyoung rolls his eyes.

“It’s really not,” he mumbles, readjusting his shirt, but he actually kind of agrees: he’s been single since his break up, and showed little to no interest in anything or anyone until Jaebum came along. He’s sure that his behavior hasn’t exactly been what they consider to be “Jinyoung Normal” the past couple of months and while they might be just the tiniest bit overreacting, he doesn’t think the surprise is entirely unwarranted.

“I just said I have a boyfriend, not that I’m getting married or going to the navy. Jeez.”

“Still!” Mark says, throwing an arm across his shoulders as they start walking toward the door, “it’s big news for you! Is it whoever you wouldn’t tell me about in the alley that night?”

Blushing when he remembers all the sordid events of the night in question, he nods. “Yes. But––”

“So who is it?”

Jinyoung throws him a look. “Don’t worry about it––”

Just then, the door to the staff room is thrown open and hits the wall with a bang. Changkyun has abandoned his post at the hosts stand to try and climb over Minhyuk and Hyunwoo. Jinyoung yelps and takes a step back as the three of them all try to come through at once and struggle like a litter of impatient puppies until Changkyun growls and grabs Minhyuk’s apron to drag him backward enough to move in front of him. Now that the door is open there’s the audible murmur of a clamor arising in the restaurant that makes Jinyoung feel oddly at fault.

“Jinyoung hyung!”

“What?” he says, wary of the way that the three of them, now inside the door, are staring at him with wide eyes. “What’s wrong with you guys?”

There’s the collective intake of breath before they all start shouting over each other, none of it audible. Jinyoung is already shaken from the sudden attack by Mark and Youngjae, and having the three stooges yelling over each other trying to break down whatever situation is arising out in the dining room is another shock he didn’t need after the blissfulness of his morning. Jinyoung knocks Mark’s arm off his shoulders when he raises both hands up to cover his ears and squeeze his eyes shut.

“Shut up! Shut up!” he shouts, and the suddenness of it makes everyone’s eyes go wide and they all quiet immediately. Jinyoung removes his hands and knots them nervously in the fabric of his apron when a flustered blush covers his cheeks. “God, you guys are unbearable sometimes. If you have a question, try asking one at a time, maybe?”

“It’s––” Minhyuk speaks up first, having the decency to look cowed by the mutual outbursts. “Im Jaebum is in the dining room, Jinyoungie. And he’s asking for you.”

Jinyoung’s heart stops. Jaebum is here? Asking for him? They’d barely just left each other like an hour ago! Could something have gone so wrong in the last hour, in which they haven’t even spoken, that Jaebum would need to show up here and ask for him in person? No one in the room has anything else to say as Jinyoung’s mind whirs and anxiety makes his stomach cramp. The hush of the clamor makes sense, now; it’s not everyday someone like Im Jaebum just waltzes in the front door asks for an employee by name. Suddenly worried, Jinyoung doesn’t say anything to any of them as he pushes through Minhyuk and Hyunwoo to hurry down the short hallway and out into the dining room of the restaurant.

He sees Jaebum immediately where he’s leaning against the bar a couple feet away. Nothing has changed in the past hour or so they’ve been apart: he looks just as handsome with his windswept hair parted toward the side and his dark blue suit coupled with a similarly colored coat to the one he’d given Jinyoung this morning. There’s no sign of anything on his face other than that same calm, radiant happiness that had been shining out of his soul all morning. Even his stance is relaxed, one elbow on the dark oak of the counter and his free hand in his coat pocket. Something about the energy he’s giving off calms him down a little bit, and Jaebum notices him just as he’s stepping forward to meet him.

“Jinyoungie,” Jaebum says, and he hears the theatrical gasps of his coworkers where they’re crowding in the doorway at the familiar way he calls him. Jaebum seems to notice the nervousness in Jinyoung’s hands and his eyebrows furrow. “Are you okay?”

“Are you?” he asks, coming closer until he can smell the cologne on Jaebum’s skin. He looks into Jaebum’s eyes where they’re just about the same height and sighs. Tone hushed, he says, “sorry, I got worried when they told me you were here and asking for me when we’d just been together like an hour ago––”

“It’s okay, I’m fine,” he says, and smiles softly. Jinyoung notices his hand twitch like Jaebum wants to touch his face but doesn’t and it makes him feel kind of...sad. “I just came to bring you something. Do you…” he looks around at everyone watching them, especially the curious eyes of all his coworkers and, to Jinyoung's dismay, even Park Jinyoung the senior where he’s gaping across the room. “Do you want to go outside to talk instead? That way people won’t stare––”

“No,” Jinyoung interrupts, feeling more confident now that he knows nothing is wrong. In his efforts to grow up and make this work, he realizes that he has to let go of hiding away with Jaebum as though he’s ashamed of it, because he isn’t. Now that they’re in this, he’s willing to field the questions, the surprise, the attention. He’d do anything for Jaebum much like Jaebum would do anything for him. “What did you bring me, hyung?”

Jaebum, as if noticing Jinyoung’s thought process, smiles with his lips together. There’s the faint rattling of something in his pocket as he plays with it and says, “god, I’ll never get tired of hearing you say that. Ahjussi was starting to grow on me, but now that you’re saying hyung?” he shivers overdramatically. “Gets me every time.”

Rolling his eyes, Jinyoung pushes at his chest playfully and swallows when Jaebum catches his hand on his chest. “I can always go back to ahjussi, you know.”

Jaebum hums. “Maybe you should. Keeps the novelty of hearing hyung fresh.”

“Why, you want it to make you come every time I say it?”

Jinyoung laughs when Jaebum blanches, a blush spreading on his cheeks as though he’s actually embarrassed to hear Jinyoung say it out loud and in public. “Hey! Not everyone needs to know about that, Jinyoungie.”

“What, you don’t want everyone to know I make you come when I moan hyung?” he teases, dropping his voice down and making it more sensual that he should have, based on how Jaebum’s eyes flash.

“Wrong place to be playful,” he murmurs, but he’s grinning, and Jinyoung feels that same happiness swelling in his heart again. They’d gone from stiff conversation about colleges and sports to teasing each other about their sex life in front of people. It’s everything he could have wanted and so much more.

“Sorry. Really, what did you bring me?”

“Ah,” he says, and he pulls something gold and glinting from his pocket. The watch Jaebum had gifted him that morning, the one that used to sit on his own thin wrist, dangles from a single fingertip. Jaebum’s voice raises just enough to be audible to the people in their vicinity when he says, “you left this in my bathroom this morning. I thought you might want it back.”

“Oh!” Jinyoung makes a noise of surprise, totally unfazed by Jaebum’s desire to either get a rise out of him or to be territorial to take the watch from his finger and put it on. “Sorry, hyung. I knew I was forgetting something this morning.”

Jaebum just smiles and leans closer, voice lowering again until only Jinyoung can hear it. “It’s alright. Jae called me during my meeting and told me that the cleaning staff found it and I had him bring it to me. The meeting was basically over and I didn’t feel like going to work right away, so I decided to bring it to you. Sorry I didn’t ask if that way okay.”

Smiling, Jinyoung holds out his arm with the watch on it so they can admire together the way it looks situated tightly on his wrist. He looks over. “Don’t apologize. You don’t have to ask anymore, hyung. I want to see you.”

“I feel a bit bad for snatching you up,” Jaebum says with a grin, fingers folding under Jinyoung’s chin to hold it up. “No one else is going to know how sweet and cheesy you are.”

Jinyoung makes a face. “You sound so broken up about it.”

He shrugs. “You’re right, I don’t care. I get to know how sweet and cheesy you are, and that’s all that matters.”

“You’re so obnoxious,” Jinyoung teases, playfully hitting his chest. “I could stand here and talk to you all day, hyung, but I do have to get back to work eventually.”

With his free hand Jaebum clutches at his heart over his coat. “Cute, smart, sexy, funny, sweet, and serious about his work? A man after my own heart you are, Park Jinyoung.”

He hits him a little harder, lips pulled in between his teeth in a held back laugh. “I thought I already had it, Im Jaebum.

“Oh, you do,” he says, laughing softly. “But, Jinyoungie, I have one more question.” He squints his eyes for a second. “Actually, two.”

“Okay, what’s the first?”

“I have a photoshoot coming up in a couple days,” and he smiles when Jinyoung’s eyes widen. “Do you want to come keep me company? The shoots are boring, and I feel like you might like it, since you’re the artsy type. I’m sure the photographers would teach you some stuff, also.”

He swallows. “You really want me there for something like that?”

“Of course,” Jaebum murmurs. “I want you there for everything, baby. Plus, you’d probably make me laugh, and I’m sure they’d love it if I smiled in an editorial for once.”

Jinyoung nods breathlessly. I want you there for everything, baby. “Yeah. Yeah, hyung, of course I’ll come.”

“Okay. Good. I’ll text you later with the details. Now, can I ask my second question?”

“Was that it?”

Jaebum huffs and Jinyoung smiles. “No, it’s this.”

“Hm?”

“Can I..” and it’s adorable that he seems a bit shy now. “Can I kiss you here? In front of everyone?”

With both hands, Jinyoung grabs the lapels of his coat and brings him closer. “Hyung, you definitely don’t have to ask to kiss me anymore.”

The look on Jaebum’s face is a caliber of happiness indescribable by words no matter how hard he tries, in either of the languages he knows. The fingers underneath his chin tighten, holding him still as he leans in with an angled head to brush their lips together with his eyes open. Jinyoung’s heart stutters when he feels the pressure of his kiss, as electrifying as the first one in the club so many months ago. Their eye contact holds as Jaebum kisses him one more time, soft and sweet, before he pulls away.

“I love you, Jinyoung-ah.”

Jinyoung swallows. “I––”

“You don’t have to say it back until you’re ready, baby boy,” Jaebum says playfully, and though he had thought maybe there was a hint of sadness in his tone that Jinyoung is still having trouble saying I love you, too, despite knowing in the deepest parts of his heart that it’s true, there is none. The happiness in his voice and face is genuine, and the patience has not worn thin. Jaebum means to wait for him to be ready and that in itself feels like enough to repeat it.

He knows once he says those words, though, there’s no going back. Jinyoung wants to be more than sure before he confesses. “I––okay,” he says, nodding. “Okay.”

“But that won’t stop me from saying it,” he says with another smile; he kisses Jinyoung sweetly on the cheek before stepping away. “Call me when you’re getting ready to leave, won’t you? I’ll come pick you up and we can go get dinner.”

“Okay, hyung. See you later.”

“Bye, love. See you later.”

Jinyoung feels his back hit the bar as Jaebum waves and leaves in a hurry, breaking into a light jog near the door when he sees the slick black car with his driver pull up to the curb. He turns one last time to wave at him through the glass, and then the hush that had fallen over all of his coworkers breaks like a wave.

Youngjae is nearly tackling him from the side, and Jinyoung just laughs when somehow all of the employees abandon their duties at the same time to crowd around him.

“Is that really your boyfriend? Im Jaebum is your freaking boyfriend, hyung?!”

Jinyoung shrugs, acting more nonchalant than he feels. On the inside his organs are singing. He’s so full of light he thinks that, if Youngjae wasn’t hanging off him like a baby bear, he would float away.

Simply, he just says, “yes.”

“That’s who you’ve been angsting over all this time?” Mark laughs, and Jinyoung scowls at him. “Who knew the guy you spilled coffee all over would end up being your boyfriend, huh, Jinyoungie?”

He shrugs even though he knows he’s blushing now. “Guess so.”

“What did he ask you before he left?”

“If I wanted to come to a photoshoot with him in a couple of days. He didn’t say what magazine, though. Probably some boring business magazine.”

“Ooooh,” they all taunt, and Minhyuk pipes up when he brushes the white blond hair from his eyes. “He wants you to model for him, Jinyoungie.”

Jinyoung makes a noise behind his teeth and reaches out to hit him playfully. “Shut up. Can I go back to work now? Can all of you go back to work now?” Jinyoung stretches his neck and gets up on his toes to look over everyone’s heads at their impatient clientele and drops back to his feet. He co*cks an eyebrow. “Seems like some of you are gonna have to work extra hard for your customers today, with how impatient they are.”

At that they all scatter; Jinyoung just laughs when he hears multiple apologies being uttered at various tables when he turns and leans up off the bar. He goes back into the break room for a moment, blissfully alone to take a deep breath and process all the things that Jaebum had said. I love you. Say it back when you’re ready. It won’t stop me from saying it. Jinyoung think maybe he’s being a little bit unfair by not saying it back, but every time he tries, there’s something holding him back. It’s not that he doesn’t believe Jaebum, because of course he does. It’s not that he doubts his own feelings, either, because he knows the way Jaebum makes him feel on the inside (and out) and he’d be the same stupid kid he’d been when they first met to deny it and he’d be damned if he regressed to that. It’s just that he wants the timing to be right. It has to hold as much weight as it possibly can so that Jaebum knows he means it. He’d messed up a lot of things while they were getting to know each other, but he refuse to add this to the list.

Checking his phone one last time before he gets to work, he sees he already has a text from Jaebum:

From: Jaebum Hyung 11/20 4:17 PM
Are you already overthinking saying it back?

I meant what I said, baby

From: Jaebum Hyung 11/20 4:21 PM
Say it when you’re ready. I know you want it to be special

From: Jaebum Hyung 11/20 4:23PM
By the way, here’s the information for the photoshoot. If you want you can just sleep over ;)

He laughs at the last part, shaking his head at Jaebum’s shameless use of a winky face to insinuate something dirty as if they weren’t going to do that if Jinyoung slept over at his house. He feels confident that they absolutely could spend a night together without having sex, even multiple days, and he’s sure those days will come but the sex is so good and so fun that he has no problems with having it every time they stay with one another. Now that their feelings are involved, it’s so much sweeter.

He texts back quickly an affirmative, letting Jaebum know that he’ll still text him when he’s getting ready to close up so that he can swing by and get him so they can get dinner. Even though it’s not even close to what he really wants to say, Jinyoung adds a simple, black heart to the end of his text message as though it will convey what he’s trying to say better than the words will.

Before he puts his phone away and closes his locker, Jaebum sends him one last reply:

From: Jaebum Hyung 11/20 4:59 PM
I know, baby. I love you, too.

Jinyoung smiles, wide and proud.

________________

Jinyoung is late for the photoshoot, of course, even though he tried so hard not to be. Just as he’d been trying to leave it seemed that Bambam was hell bent on proving true that there can be too many cooks in the kitchen, as his constant lingering on the busiest of days ends up in his shirt sleeve catching fire when he leans precariously over a pan. Jinyoung had been on his way to change out of his uniform and into the nice clothes he’d brought when he’d heard Bambam yelling; he had considered just sneaking out and letting the other employees help him out but there was a part of him that felt guilty leaving without making sure he was okay. He’d closed his eyes and sighed, wondering where he went wrong in another life as Bambam just showed him his half burnt sleeve and cackled.

He isn’t even sure if Jaebum is mad at him: he hadn’t replied when Jinyoung told him he was going to be late, and he’s not sure if Jaebum had been disappointed and ignored it or if he’d just gotten too busy to reply. In any case, he already feels guilty long before the car even shows up to take him to the shoot. It feels like a too-soon bump in the road they’ve only just started to pave for themselves. It’s almost funny to him in a way that, a few months ago, he would have blown it off; he wouldn’t have put so much thought into whether or not Jaebum was upset that he’s late. Now, though, he imagines the way Jaebum’s face closes off when he’s unhappy and nervously wrings his hands.

By the time they arrive at the building where the shoot is taking place, he’s an hour late and more stressed than he probably needs to be. The driver hands him a key card and instructions on how to sign in at the desk and then use that to get through the door to hit the elevators; Jinyoung wonders if it’s just a coincidence that he’s always seeing Jaebum on the top floors of buildings, or maybe it’s just another part of his personality that is startlingly cat-like. It wouldn’t surprise him if that were the case—as he steps through the glass front doors and quietly greets the receptionist, he thinks that Jaebum is similarly habitual.

The elevator taking Jinyoung up to the floor that houses the photography studio is one of his favorite kinds: it’s one that lies on the outer part of the building, so that three of the walls are a see-through glass that allows him to see the glittering of the city below him as it carries him into the sky. He leans on both palms to look down. There’s an odd swooping in his stomach at the dizzying effect of being separated from empty air and the city by so little, a sort of vertigo that makes him smile to himself as his eyes struggle to take in all the views at once. Tiny cars like ants trailing in lines down the highways, the neons of bars and clubs and business, the lonely street lights on empty, dark roads that light up the night like a celebration. He wonders if the impending interaction with Jaebum has anything to do with that soaring feeling in his chest.

When he steps off the elevator a few minutes later, he can already hear the commotion of cameras and direction coming from down the hall. The empty concrete of the walls and floor would be more ominous if it wasn’t so brightly lit to hospital brightness, and he wonders if there’s anything else on this floor beside the studio since the hallway ends in a window and there’s just a large, square opening cut into the wall on the left just before it. Lights brighter and more orange than the fluorescents overhead bleed out onto the floor through the doorway to guide him. His heartbeat kicks up a subtle, gentle staccato at the thought of Jaebum just around the corner.

When he peeks his head around, he has to squint a bit into all the light. Equipment is everywhere: it’s a lot messier than he thought a shoot with Im Jaebum would be, cords everywhere on the floors not taped down and lighting equipment haphazardly put up wherever they need it and moved at will. The room itself is also surprisingly empty, oddly concrete with little decoration besides what props they’ve brought in from elsewhere. There’s just a couch, coffee table, bookshelf, and rug in the mock set up of a living room placed before a dark, marbled tarp hanging off the wall. The rest of the spacious room is empty and mostly dark where the lights won’t reach.

“Yah, what the––Jaebum-ssi, sit back down!”

Jinyoung looks over when he hears an unfamiliar deep voice chastising Jaebum, who Jinyoung hadn’t even seen since he walked in the room. Jinyoung turns his head just in time to see Jaebum stepping up into his space to wrap his arms around him and lift him up. Laughing, Jinyoung inhales deeply the scent of whatever gorgeous cologne that the stylists had put on him and wraps his arms around Jaebum’s neck.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Jaebum murmurs into his neck, swaying him back and forth a bit before setting him back down on his feet to look at his face. As always, he’s painfully handsome, but for the shoot they’d done something a little bit different with his hair that makes Jinyoung’s heart pound unevenly.

“Wow, hyung, your hair––” he reaches up to touch it, scolding by the stylists be damned. It’s perfectly wavy and parted in a way that exposes just a hint of forehead and makes him look effortlessly older and sophisticated. Coupled with the tucked in shirt and the suspenders holding up loose pants exposing the thin bones of his ankles in the muted tones of blues and browns, he looks like a dream from another era. Jinyoung tries to catch his breath and smiles. “It’s so handsome.”

Jaebum laughs softly and reaches up to trace the pad of his thumb along the line of his cheek. “I knew you’d like it.”

He blushes. Jaebum grins at him and walks his fingers across the carmine color spreading along his cheeks. “What do you mean?”

With a mischievous bite of his lower lip, Jaebum moves his hand away to reach into the breast pocket of his shirt. He pulls out a pair of rounded spectacle frames and slides them up his nose while tossing his head back and forth with an air of importance.

“It looks old, doesn’t it? Romantic, even?”

Jinyoung thinks he just looks like Jaebum, who is, in his mind, the epitome of romance. Jaebum could be wearing his lounging clothes of a sleeveless shirt and joggers or boxers and he’d be the most romantic sight he’s ever seen, more so even than the way the sun sets over the Han River like a bleeding, burning coin. Jaebum is the epitome of everything, of light, of happiness, of a calm he didn’t know was possible, of genuity and joy.

“Yeah,” he says, with another private smile. “It looks romantic.”

“Jaebum-ah!”

Jaebum turns when the photographer calls his name in frustration. Jinyoung takes a moment to admire the line of his shoulders and back in the shirt, loose in the hips where it’s tucked in but well-fitting in all the right places to hint at muscle and definition underneath it. He bickers back and forth in good nature with the photographer, who is urging him to hightail it back onto the set so he can get the photos he needs; you’re not the only one with a deadline, Im, he calls familiarly, and Jaebum just laughs. The stylists hanging out around the edges of the lighting equipment on their cellphones just chuckle and roll their eyes as though they’re used to Jaebum’s antics and have experienced his unspoken refusal to take direction for long periods of time. Jaebum pats Jinyoung lovingly on the butt before he trots away and throws himself down on the couch. Jinyoung remains where he is and, among the lights and chatter and expensive equipment, he can’t help but feel just a bit out of place. He wonders even as he watches Jaebum’s seriousness take over if there will ever come a day when he feels at peace being the pauper with a prince.

Jinyoung shakes his head lightly. He’s determined not to think that way anymore; thinking about what he lacks is often the headstart his heart needs to convince him that he really isn’t worthy of what he’s being given. It’s already been determined that, though he’s really got the first choice of whoever he wants, Jaebum has inexplicably chosen him as the person that he loves. Jinyoung is determined to prove to himself that there’s a reason Jaebum’s heart has chosen him and he uses that fact to emanate the confidence as he steps closer to watch.

Much like in all other areas of his life, Jaebum is effortlessly confident and it drips off of him with the way his legs are spread on the couch and his hands dangle between his knees. The glasses are down at the edge of his long, sharp nose, situated underneath the dark pools of his eyes where he looks up at the camera with an eyebrow raised. There’s something dangerously sexy about him when he’s like this, serious and imposing. The man in front of the camera feels like someone different than the soft one Jinyoung wakes up next to some mornings, all swollen eyes and sleepy voice, skin lined with pink wrinkles from the sheets bunched up under his arms. This Jaebum is formidable, viperous; he reminds Jinyoung startlingly of the Jaebum he’d been when Jinyoung had thrown coffee all over his suit. But even with the squint of his eye and the dropped open pout of his mouth, there’s something lingering at the edges of his face, something different––there. He looks at Jinyoung standing behind the photographer and the facade cracks like a thin piece of ice.

The smile that splits his face is wide and genuine. For the nature of the shoot it seems a little out of place, perhaps, but the photographer standing to Jinyoung’s right actually coos and keeps shooting while Jaebum’s smile crescents his face. He can’t help but smile back, hopelessly in love, terrified of ruining it all but so full of Jaebum’s light he could die. They share in their private laughter and smiles across the room while the photographer cheers and shoots the photos at record speed.

“Why didn’t you bring him in earlier, Jaebum-ah?!” the photographer calls, directing him to more casually and to keep grinning the way he does when Jinyoung makes a funny face behind his back. “These are great! You don’t look like you’re going to cut somebody’s throat for once!”

Jaebum laughs, more so at what Jinyoung is doing than the half-baked insult from his friend. Jinyoung just bites down on both lips and tries not to get himself in trouble by laughing back.

“Maybe I just don’t think you’re funny enough,” Jaebum says, sitting up a bit and taking the glasses off. He sets them down on the old coffee table in front of him and stretches his arms over his head. “Not nearly as handsome, either.”

The photographer sighs, dropping his camera to his hip to throw Jaebum a look and retort, “maybe not, but Forbes is going to love these photos of you smiling for a change instead of like you’re about to rip someone’s head off. It’s a wonder you even have business in America. They’re terrified of you, you know that, right?”

Jaebum laughs. He looks up at Jinyoung and pats the empty spot next to him.

“Wait,” Jinyoung says, finally catching up, “these are for Forbes? Like, the Forbes Magazine?”

Jaebum shrugs and the photographer laughs when Jinyoung blanches. “Hyung!”

“Come sit with me,” he asks, sticking out his lower lip in a pout. Jinyoung looks over at the photographer who sighs again and just nods.

“He’s going to do whatever he wants. I’m not going to stop you.”

With a small thanks and a tiny bow Jinyoung carefully picks his way through the mess of cords and tape on the floor to where Jaebum is sitting on the dusty, uncomfortable couch. Jinyoung sits down on it and wrinkles his nose.

“Did they get this out of the dumpster?” He asks, not unkindly. “It’s so dirty, and your clothes are so nice–”

“Anything for the aesthetic,” Jaebum replies. He turns to the photographer. “Yah, Donghae-ssi, can you take some of us?”

Jinyoung is about to disagree when Donghae just shrugs and starts snapping photos of them. Jinyoung feels a bit shy––he’s never really been one for photos, terrible even at taking a photo of himself for SNS. He feels a bit awkward and stiff as Jaebum turns him this way and that, draping himself on Jinyoung or pulling Jinyoung closer to turn their faces together. He can feel Jaebum’s calm breath where it ghosts across his cheeks, eyes closed, trying to shut out the weirdness of sitting in front of someone else’s camera with Im Jaebum. He wonders what these are even going to go toward: is he going to send them to Forbes? Give them to Jaebum? Just delete them? This would probably go so much faster if Jinyoung wasn’t involved. He opens his eyes and moves like he’s going to get up but Jaebum stops him with a hand on his neck.

“Wait,” he breathes, eyes heavy and serious where they’re only a couple of inches apart. “Keep your eyes on me. Relax. Pretend it’s just the two of us.”

“If it was just the two of us, hyung, we’d be doing something a lot more than sitting on this couch.”

He’s joking, of course, kind of, but Jaebum’s eyes flash even as he cracks a smile. Jaebum gently poses him and speaks under his breath so his lips don’t move as Donghae keeps snapping away with the camera.

“Don’t tease me like that,” he murmurs, hand sliding up Jinyoung’s thigh to his hip to turn him more in Jaebum’s direction. The feeling sends sparks shooting up his leg and he tries not to visibly hiccup on a hitched breath.

“You don’t tease me like that,” he whines, taking the hint and throwing one leg over Jaebum’s where his is bent on the couch. Jaebum’s throat works as he guides Jinyoung’s arm around his neck, half sitting in his lap now and straddling his thigh with their faces nearly turned the other way. “If we keep sitting this close together, they’re going to get the wrong idea.”

Jaebum laughs quietly. “I don’t care. He got a million photos of me before you got here and can chose from those for the magazine. He doesn’t even need that many, just a couple. Besides,” he whispers, angling his head and glancing down at Jinyoung’s lips, “based on how fast he’s taking photos, I think he might like it.”

As if he heard, Donghae hoots in the background: “Jaebum-ah, these are great! So dangerous and sexy! I might even send some of these to Forbes!”

Jinyoung turns his head fast, eyes wide; the staff around the room breaks out in laughter at the panic on his face while Jaebum just cleans closer and breathes on his neck. “Wait, what?”

“Can you imagine?” Donghae says, instructing Jinyoung to look at the ground but keep his lower lip from touching the top one. Jaebum’s nose is touching his jaw where it meets his ear and there’s the ghost of his lips on the sensitive spot on his neck. He feels his arms and legs break out in goosebumps and tries to stay still even though every small movement of Jaebum’s head or hands sends his heart rate skyrocketing.

“Imagine what?” Jaebum says, voice muffled against Jinyoung’s neck where his face is entirely hidden. Jinyoung shivers visibly and Jaebum’s hands tighten at his hips.

“How good these would look in Forbes! Not only are you a global super power, Jaebum-ah, but proud and open of who you are, too? It’s perfect! Plus, you should see these––I might even submit these to some of the high fashion magazines around here. Jinyoung-ssi, what coat are you wearing?”

He almost laughs: how absurd that Jinyoung would be part of an editorial when no one even knows who he is. Donghae sounds so serious, though, and he even murmurs to one of the staff members to take down all the wardrobe information, including Jinyoung’s. Jaebum seems to have stopped paying attention, though; his hands have started to wander dangerously toward Jinyoung’s lower back while his lips brush against Jinyoung’s throat.

“Hyung,” he warns, turning his head just a bit while Donghae murmurs in approval in the background. “What are you doing?”

“Kissing my boyfriend’s neck,” he says, lips moving against his neck and sending more sharp shivers down his spine. Jaebum moves his head just a bit to nip at Jinyoung’s earlobe playfully and smiles against his cheek when Jinyoung’s fingers tighten. The way he says my boyfriend makes Jinyoung’s breath stop short. “Am I not allowed to do that?”

“In a room full of people? I don't think so.”

Jaebum laughs, nipping at Jinyoung’s earlobe again and making a low noise when Jinyoung can't hold back a soft whine.

“Hyung, please, you're—”

“Am I turning you on?” he asks, voice like silk, because he already knows he is.

“Yes,” Jinyoung breathes, feeling the warmth that hooks in his gut as Jaebum’s breathing grows unsteady against his skin.

Abruptly Jaebum leans away. He looks out at everyone watching them, some confused and some bored, and barks:

“Everyone out. Give us fifteen minutes.”

Donghae drops his camera down away from his face in dumb surprise. “What? We're almost done!”

“Everyone out!” he shouts, louder, and glares with impatience until everyone is trading looks and shuffles awkwardly out into the hallway and out of sight.

Confused, Jinyoung is about to stand up when Jaebum’s hands tighten on his hips. He uses his grip to pull Jinyoung around and forward, grabbing his right thigh and guiding it to rest against his hip so that Jinyoung is straddling his lap. Jinyoung’s heart stumbles and then starts to pound, arms locked around Jaebum’s neck.

“Hyung, what—”

“I just need to kiss you for a minute,” Jaebum says desperately, letting go of his legs to cradle his face in between both hands as he pulls him down for a kiss. It's soft at first, sweet, but the longer their lips stay locked the more antsy Jaebum gets. Each soft little peck adds more and more pressure, kissing longer, until Jinyoung is threading his fingers through Jaebum's hair and parting his lips to let Jaebum lick into his mouth.

They stay like that for a bit, making out like teenagers on a borrowed, dusty couch surrounded by lights so bright it makes sweat break out at Jinyoung’s hairline. The demanding, wet warmth of Jaebum’s tongue in his mouth and the nip of his insistent teeth at his lower lip when they break apart to breathe sends fire and lightning pacing down his legs. Jaebum's hands have migrated from his face to his neck to his shoulders and Jinyoung whimpers a little when they slide down his back to grope his ass through his jeans.

“Hyung,” he whines, hips twitching forward, “don't start something you can't finish.”

“Who says I can't?” Jaebum pants against his mouth, so focused on feeling up Jinyoung’s ass through the pockets of his jeans that he's barely even kissing him and mostly just breathing hard into his mouth with an occasional lick inside.

“You did,” Jinyoung breathes, pulling gently at Jaebum's hair as he gets half hard from the groping and kissing. “Hyung, please, we can't have sex in here and you're turning me on so bad—”

“How do you think I feel?” Jaebum actually whines, still grabbing at his ass with one hand while the other slides up to his lower back under his shirt. “With you sitting on my lap, looking so good, and I bet you're already getting hard for me, aren't you, baby boy?”

Jinyoung stutters; he hadn't been completely hard before this but he is now at the pet name that slips from Jaebum’s lips like the most natural thing in the world.

“Hyung,” he whimpers again, hips angling down and breathing hard when both their erections brush. “Hyung, if we start I won't want to stop.”

“I know,” Jaebum breathes, visibly panting when he leans back at drops heavily against the couch with his hands now placed innocently on Jinyoung’s waist. He looks tense and disappointed, having come so close to them getting off and having to stop due to it being just the most totally inappropriate place for them to start having sex. They both go quiet as they try to relax, hands firm and innocuously placed now. Jinyoung makes the mistake of glancing down and notices just how….noticeable Jaebum’s hard co*ck is through his dress pants and swallows roughly before looking away. Jaebum catches the look and grins at him. “Don't get any ideas, Park.”

Jinyoung makes a half-hearted disgusted noise and climbs off Jaebum's lap, offering his hand once he's standing. Jaebum takes it and pulls himself up, purposefully bumping into him so that Jinyoung has to grab onto the strap of his suspenders to not fall over. Bottom lip between his teeth, Jinyoung pulls them back fast and lets them snap onto his chest with a satisfying thwack. Jaebum yelps and covers his chest with his hands.

“Hey! My nipples are sensitive!”

“Oh, I know,” Jinyoung purrs, fingers sliding down one of the elastic straps before Jaebum pouts and angles his body away. “Don't get any ideas, hyung.”

“Ideas like what,” he says, going over to grab his suit jacket and coat to slide into them before coming back to his side. Jaebum taps his lower back in the direction of the door so that they can leave together. “You playing with my suspenders and snapping them against my delicate nipples? What ideas could I possibly get from that?”

As they step out into the hallway where the whole staff is crowded and looking tired and bored, Donghae seems to realize that they’re leaving. He straightens up and opens his mouth like he’s about to admonish Jaebum for just leaving whenever he feels like it, but seems to think better of it; he lets out a heavy sigh through his nose and just sends Jaebum off with a resigned wave. Jaebum winks back and bows before guiding Jinyoung through the tightly packed crowd and to the elevator.

Once they’re inside, Jinyoung pretends to casually inspect his nails. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you were thinking about how fun they’d be, like you could wrap them around my neck and use them like a leash––”

“Jinyoung!”

He looks over to see a hot blush burning Jaebum’s ears a bright red. Jinyoung laughs, not bothering to cover his mouth and catching Jaebum’s wrist when he moves to push him playfully by the shoulder.

“Feeling shy, hyung?” he says, and uses his grip to pull Jaebum closer. He settles against Jaebum’s chest, remembering a time that feels so long ago when he’d done something similar standing on the subway platform. Their future had been so up in the air, then. Even though Jinyoung had allowed them both the pleasure of considering it a date he had still felt as though it could go either way and it almost had. Now, though, watching their reflections like he had that night in a different time and place, he doesn’t feel so scared. He feels happy. Safe. He feels like he could say I love you.

“Hyung––”

Jaebum yawns, cutting him off, and it doesn’t disappoint him so much as it makes him feel as though the time really isn’t right. He settles back against Jaebum’s chest until the elevator hits the ground floor and opens with a quiet swish. It’s almost time, he thinks, but not quite. When the moment comes, he’ll know.

“Are you hungry?” Jaebum says, checking the watch on his left hand. “Nothing is really open right now except fast food.”

Jinyoung perks up. “I want french fries.”

Jaebum laughs. “Midnight cravings, huh?”

“Wow, is it really midnight already?” he says, mirroring Jaebum’s yawn. They walk through the silent, dim lit lobby hand in hand and Jinyoung throws a gentle elbow into Jaebum’s side. “Where do you want to eat?”

Jaebum hums as they walk. “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

Now outside, the cold wind bites at Jinyoung’s face as he laughs and buries his face into the collar of his coat. “You really want to go there?”

“Hell yeah I do,” he says, unlocking the car from his jacket pocket to keep his hands out of the cold. He opens Jinyoung’s door for him and leans in after Jinyoung climbs inside. “Their milkshakes are to die for.”

“You’re to die for,” Jinyoung teases, but there’s something so terribly endearing about Jaebum being so fond of a fast food sweet treat. Just another facet of Jaebum’s personality that he gets to unwrap like a never-ending present.

“I know,” Jaebum says, beaming, smile splitting his face in half. “I love you, too.”

Jaebum closes the door and jogs to the other side. Everything is so, so perfect. Jaebum is so, so perfect.

Jinyoung’s heart does cartwheels. I love you, hyung. He thinks of all the ways he could say it and feels desperately for the right one.

There is a McDonald’s surprisingly close to the glittering majesty of Jaebum’s apartment building. It’s obvious even inside of it that it’s in a nice neighborhood, all waxed black floors and spotless counters and booths, those trademark pops of red and yellow accented like fine art. Giant windows facing out onto the street light up and then darken again as headlights approach and pass, leaving them alone again in their tiny little bubble of fluorescent quiet. The inside of the restaurant feels too bright, too empty. For them, it’s perfect.

It’s empty of people except for them and the employees who perk up when they realize they finally have customers, and perk up even further when they realize just who their customer is. Jinyoung hangs off Jaebum’s arm, blinking tiredly now that they’d taken a long car ride that had lulled him into the childish daze of near sleep. Jaebum nods to the cashier and smiles as he steps up to the counter to order for both of them. Jinyoung, though complaining earlier in the car that he was hungry, pays little attention when Jaebum asks what he wants; his boyfriend seems to realize that Jinyoung’s mind is somewhere else and he orders him the large french fries that he covets so intensely. He hears Jaebum order himself a meal of spicy chicken drumsticks, fries, and a strawberry milkshake.

Jinyoung blinks himself back to paying attention, and he laughs a little bit as Jaebum leans his back against the counter to wait. He leans in, too, resting on Jaebum’s body and letting Jaebum keep him upright as they stand together quietly. The atmosphere is so calm, the perfect counter to the chaos of the day before it, and a counter still to the hectic way they’d started kissing on the couch like their lives depended on it. Here, now, leaned against Jaebum’s steadily breathing body and absorbing his warmth through both of their jackets, there’s not a place on earth he’d rather be. While he loves the delirium induced by Jaebum’s hands and mouth, he finds that their gentle, isolated suspension in a liminal space like the doorway of the psychic and the strange silence of the restaurant is where he feels the most at home.

The realization comes at the same time the buzzer of the deep frier makes Jaebum jump a bit: there is no calm before the storm. Like there had been with Hakyeon, even in the calm moments, he no longer feels like he once had that there was some impending doom lurking around the corner. There is no longer the calm before the storm because there is no storm, only calm. Jinyoung smiles.

When their orders are ready, Jaebum gently taps his hips to move him so that he can grab their tray. He lets Jinyoung choose where to sit: he walks around for a moment, trying to find a spot that suits his taste until he finds a booth in the corner between two of the large windows facing the street. The combination of street lamps and buzzing neons from the business around them fade and bleed into a myriad of color that spills across the table, barely visible where they’re mostly washed out by the burning white of the fluorescents . They sit down, coats removed, and Jinyoung wonders just how he got so lucky when he watches Jaebum take off his suit jacket with a tantalizing slowness.

“Your food is right there,” Jaebum says with a laugh, nodding at the french fries spilling across the paper tray lining printed with pictures. When he has it completely off and folds it on the seat next to him, he gets to work undoing his tie a bit and rolling up his shirtsleeves lazily to the middle of his forearms. If he was handsome before he’s absolutely heartbreaking now, and Jinyoung fights against the lovesick sigh he wants to emit when he rests his chin in his hand like a daydreaming schoolgirl.

Jaebum points to the corner of his mouth. “You’re drooling.”

Startled, Jinyoung sits up fast and wipes a hand across his mouth, which comes away dry. Jaebum laughs at him as he realizes he was joking and Jinyoung kicks his shin underneath the table.

“Jerk,” he mumbles, but smiles back at him when Jaebum grins.

They eat in a comfortable silence, glancing up at each other every so often to smile shyly around their puffed out cheeks. It’s such an easy thing, to be with Jaebum like this. He laments quietly as he stares into the pit of his french fries all the time he wasted being such a scaredy-cat when this is what it could have been like all this time. He remembers the time that he’d invited Jaebum in for dinner and only made him ramen, and the way that Jaebum had cancelled what ever plans he had to be somewhere else just to stay locked up inside Jinyoung’s apartment with him. He remembers the way that Jaebum had tried to hold him, just wanting to kiss him and be close, and the way that Jinyoung turned it back on him because he was afraid. Sometimes he still feels so stupid that he’d been so blind to how Jaebum had shown his hand so early. Jaebum had known somehow, even when Jinyoung didn’t, that there was some inexplicable force drawing them together like magnets. Jinyoung feels a little jealous of this; maybe if he had known, too, the past would have mattered less and he could have embraced it much easier and faster than the rollercoaster Jinyoung had set their course upon. Regardless, there is no way to take back the past and all he can do now is keep his chin up and go forward. No looking back.

Jinyoung having significantly less food than Jaebum, he finishes long before him and has nothing else to do but watch him eat. He’s completely absorbed in the task of eating, a trait that Jinyoung has picked up on constantly noticed since they started getting closer. Jaebum loves to eat and when he eats he rarely has the capacity, or wants to have the capacity to focus on anything else. Conversations with him while he’s eating are completely unrealistic and impossible at best. Sometimes it makes him laugh, Jaebum shoving food in his mouth no matter how big of a bite it is or how hot it is as though he hasn’t seen food in weeks. Sometimes, too, it worries him; he’s scolded Jaebum multiples times already to slow down lest he either get a stomach ache or choke to death.

Caught up in the silence of just being together, Jinyoung doesn’t mind so much that Jaebum barely seems to take a breath between taking a drink and shoving more fries in his mouth. He’s totally absorbed in the salt and sweetness in front of him, not paying attention to the way that Jinyoung leans his head in his hand with an elbow on the table and watches him like he’s the most interesting person on the planet. Which, if he’s being honest with himself, he totally is.

More than just being hopelessly in love with Jaebum and nearly bursting at the seams for the right time to say it, it’s unfairly endearing to watch him eat with such reckless abandon when, in the on hours, he’s so prim and proper and stern. Eating fast food at nearly one o’clock in the morning with his suit jacket off and his shirt untucked and rolled lazily up his arms shows him the other side of Jaebum. The people that Jaebum deals with every day at work only know the sharp-edged, cool, cut throat businessman with no nonsense tactics and a desire to go above and beyond to make his father proud and to keep providing for himself and his mother. They don’t know the Jaebum that shoves too many fries in his mouth and tries to drink a fruity milkshake at the same time. It’s so boyish and lovely, humbling and normal compared to the glittering glamor of his day to day life. This is the Jaebum he knows, the one who falls asleep on Jinyoung’s beat up couch with a bowl of ramen broth balanced between his knees. This is the Jaebum he knows, the one who talks in a baby voice to his cat and takes more photos of her than he does anything else. This is the Jaebum he knows, the one who fell in love with him all because he had to audacity to fix his watch where it hung tacky and loose on his wrist without asking.

This is the Jaebum he knows. The Jaebum he loves.

As if he’s listening, Jaebum swallows what’s in his mouth and picks up his shake. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Let me count the ways, Jinyoung thinks dreamily to himself, but he just smiles. His heart settles in the comfortable pace that Jaebum’s calm presence brings him. His brain works too fast, firing off signals to his mouth before his reason has time to catch up.

He sighs, a happy sound, and looks into Jaebum’s eyes where they’re locked on his suspiciously over the rim of his milkshake.

“I love you, hyung,” he says, and a silence follows.

Jaebum nearly drops his shake, some of it spilling from the corner of his mouth when he chokes a bit after taking a drink at the same time that Jinyoung’s first I love you came unbidden. Jinyoung blanches, almost as though he can’t believe he said it: he watches emotions chase themselves across Jaebum’s face as they both come to terms with the fact that Jinyoung has finally, finally, said those three little words.

“What did you just say?” Jaebum asks, starting to smile so hard it looks like his head is going to split apart once the shock wears off. Jinyoung’s mouth is hanging open, totally in disbelief at himself that he’d accidentally confessed to loving Jaebum at one in the morning. In a McDonald’s.

“I didn’t say anything.” he says quickly, sitting up and crossing his arms, but the burning on his cheeks at at the tips of his ears give him away. He’s not going to take it back, of course, but there is the mild disappointment that his confession wasn’t as romantic and grand as he was planning it to be.

“Did you just say you love me?” Jaebum says with a grin, nearly throwing his shake down on the table.

“I––” Jinyoung struggles for the words. He’s definitely not going to deny it, but he feels a little at a loss. He’d been vying for a perfect timing, for the feeling to be right, that gran confession to knock Jaebum on his ass. Jaebum had said to tell him when he’s ready, and the poetic romantic in him can’t help but feel a little jilted that he’d let it slip in a McDonald’s. “I didn’t mean for it to happen like that! I mean it, but... I just wanted it to be perfect,” he grumbles, pouting.

Jaebum puts both hands on his chest and pretends to look wounded. “This isn’t perfect enough for you, Jinyoungie?”

He makes a noise against his teeth and kicks Jaebum lightly under the table. “Shut up, ass. It’s perfect, everything with you is, but…” he sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I just…”

Sobering up, Jaebum lays an arm out across the table with his palm up, wiggling his fingers so that Jinyoung will take it. Another silence descends upon them, then, catching them up inside it, drowning out the sounds of the chatter and the fryers and the cars that pass on the damp road outside. It’s just the two of them again, in a world that exists neither here nor there, one suspended inside the belly of a growing universe that belongs to them alone. Jinyoung watches thoughts and feelings shuffle across Jaebum’s strong features like a deck of cards as he strokes Jinyoung’s knuckles with a considering thumb. He looks lost, as Jinyoung often does, in thoughts where he isn’t sure that Jinyoung can follow. Suddenly he looks up and there’s an emotion in his eyes and lined in the creases of his face that look too familiarly like loss. Like fear. As though Jaebum has become suddenly afraid to lose him.

“Hyung,” he murmurs, afraid to speak too loudly and break the delicate shell of their tiny, heart shaped galaxy. He had been laughing just a moment ago, and the solemn look on his face feels so out of place for the mood that had been set just before. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he says, and he sounds like he means it. He blinks wetness from his eyes that had appeared suddenly and fingers the watch Jaebum had put on his wrist not to long ago. It has loosened over time, and a small smile curves in the corner of Jaebum’s lips when he notices it. Touch gentle, he turns Jinyoung’s palm over so that he can access the latch to pop it and draw it tighter.

With a smile, he says, “you shouldn’t wear this so loose, you know.”

“Yah,,” he says softly, smiling gently. “You stole my line. It doesn’t count.”

But it does.

Before he can say anything else, Jaebum is gripping his hand again tightly and looking at him with a serious expression. The fear has seemed to go, now, and for that Jinyoung is grateful.

“I never thought…” he starts, but seems to change his mind; he clears his throat and starts over, “This exact moment months and months ago when you did the same thing to me, I fell in love with you. You know that, don’t you?”

Jinyoung nods, swallowing. His eyes start to burn.

“I had given up on love. I expected that flings would be all I had for the rest of my life. I was so used to being the bachelor, the playboy. But you...you just swept in and dismantled everything I thought I knew about love.”

“Oh, hyung…” Jinyoung says under his breath, the scene before him blurring at the edges as his eyes well up with tears. Jaebum’s face is so open, so sincere, like he’s got his beating heart on the table and is waiting to see what Jinyoung will do to it.

He grips Jinyoung’s hand, suddenly and tightly. His own dark eyes have grown wet with tears of his own that he blinks back when he smiles. “Jinyoung-ah, thank you for fixing my watch.”

Jinyoung’s heart explodes.

He nearly leaps across the booth, desperate to get to him and feel his warmth against his body again like he can’t live without it. Jaebum laughs and wipes his hand across his eyes, letting himself get pulled up and out of the booth when Jinyoung stands up and yanking impatiently at his arm. The jacket is forgotten as Jinyoung yanks him forward and kisses him, hard and deep on the lips as the room once more floods with sound around them. Jaebum laughs again and kisses him back, soft and sweet and gentle as he’s ever been as he threads his fingers in Jinyoung’s hair. They kiss again and again and again, each one cutting off a laugh or a smile as they tumble deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of a place only they belong.

Jaebum finally pulls away, laughing breathlessly and running the back of his hand across his eyes again. Jinyoung waits patiently as he grabs his suit jacket and coat, throwing them on lazily as he reaches across the table to grab his shake and finish it off while Jinyoung looks on with heart eyes the size of the moon.

Once they’re back in the car and about to buckle up, Jaebum suddenly turns to him.

“I know you wanted it to be more romantic, Jinyoungie.”

Jinyoung sighs. “It’s alright, hyung, that was stupid of me, anyways. I said it when I said it and I’m not going to take it back.”

Even in the dark of the car lit only by the lights outside, he’s the most beautiful thing that Jinyoung has never known. He smiles and leans over to brush a sweet kiss across his lips.

“You get your do-over, Romeo,” Jaebum mumbles against his mouth, smile and all, “so make it count.”

But even if he didn’t, Jinyoung thinks, it would have been perfect, anyway.

Chapter 14: cream on chrome

Notes:


Chapter Text

Jinyoung’s quick and mindless “I love you” is not forgotten, no matter how much Jaebum promises him that he gets his do-over. No matter how much Jinyoung whines that the time and place had been so unbecoming of him, a poet, Jaebum still often looks over when they're not doing anything other than laying in bed or sitting on the couch and says, remember when you told me that you love me in a McDonald’s? In which Jaebum often dissolves into unattractive cackles while Jinyoung hits him softly in the arm, over and over until he surrenders.

Accidental I love you aside, everything is perfect. For once, there is no longer an almost that follows.

Jaebum seemed determined to sweep under the rug the things that had happened up until what Jinyoung calls their “breaking point”; the fights they’d had, the month they hadn’t spoken to each other, the broken flowers, etc, etc. Perfection comes through practice and in the process of perfect they had not been spared from petty arguments. Jaebum had been determined to let them go, but Jinyoung had been determined to talk about them. To Jaebum, Jinyoung’s apology had been enough because it was heartfelt; what he was looking for the most was his change in attitude and behavior that reflected the apology and he had seen the truth of it in Jinyoung’s body language. For Jaebum this was enough. He saw the change that Jinyoung had told him he was determined to give and made everything that they had gone through worth it.

Jinyoung didn’t quite feel that way. There had been a nagging feeling in the first couple of weeks post accidental I love you that there was an underlying current of tension he had been ignoring, despite Jaebum’s insistence that there wasn’t. In truth it came from his own sense of anxiety that they were one step away from the edge at any given moment; most of their petty arguments that often ended in huffs or childish pouting in a different room until someone gave up and apologized were caused by him, and it took him until Jaebum got legitimately angry with him and slammed the bedroom door in his face to realize it. After that, he had a long night of sleeping on the couch to reflect on how he had been projecting all of his anxieties onto someone that loved him incorrigibly. The next morning when Jaebum had woken up and shambled grumpily into the kitchen Jinyoung was already waiting there with a cup of coffee and an apology. He acknowledged the source of his own anxiety and in turn it smoothed the uncertainty that had clutched at him so desperately.

From there it’s almost impossible for him to describe what being with Im Jaebum in every sense of the word is like. Jackson asks him on nights he sleeps over when Jaebum is out of town on business, and each time Jinyoung sighs with a smile pulling up the corners of his lips that makes Jackson groan and punch his stomach lightly. He remembers the way that Jackson (and himself) had been so worried in the beginning, when Jinyoung was doing this strange dance around whatever force was pulling them together, both of them concerned in their own ways that this was going to turn out much differently, worse, than it had. It seems funny to him now that love had been so unkind to him in the past to turn him into the person he’d been when they’d first met and then to drop this kind of life into his lap.

“Do you believe in fate now?” Jackson asks, laying on his stomach and squished against Jinyoung’s side despite the massive size of the bed he shares with Jaebum.

They could have easily stayed at Jinyoung’s apartment for the night, but without Nora sneaking around and the lights of the city burning through the windows and the ghost of him on everything, Jinyoung realizes that his own apartment barely feels like home anymore. He doesn’t say this to Jackson, of course, lest he be berated.

He shrugs. “Not really. You know I don’t really believe in all that stuff that happens in dramas.”

“Even though your life is a drama?”

Jinyoung elbows Jackson’s side. “It’s not a drama.” But, even as he says this, he can’t help but fold up the grin that finds the corners of his mouth. Whether or not he believed in them, he’d be stupid not to agree that, in some ways, his romance with Im Jaebum had blossomed quite stereotypically.

“Whatever. I can see it now, the poster for a new KBS drama, you and Jaebum on the cover in some sweet pose or something, with a nice little tagline. Warning people about how angsty it would be––”

“Shut up––”

“And you guys would be like, about to kiss, or, I don’t know, something more dramatic. What do you think they’d call it?”

For a brief moment, all Jinyoung’s dreams of blood and tigers and princes on glittering thrones come back to him in startling clarity. He has an idea, but he just shrugs his shoulders, “I don’t know. I don’t think it would make a very good drama, anyway.”

Jackson scoffs and gets up on his elbows to look down at him. “Are you serious? You guys are like, perfect drama material. Rich man falls in love with a really, really, really stubborn waiter?”

“Were the three ‘reallys’ necessary? One would have sufficed.”

His best friend co*cks and eyebrow and pulls a face that screams come on. “Yes, they were necessary.”

Jinyoung can’t help but laugh. He pokes Jackson hard in the side to make him squeal and drop back down to his stomach, where he nuzzles his face into the pillow and yawns.

“Seriously, though. You’re happy, aren’t you?”

Jinyoung turns his head to look at him. “What do you mean?”

“Are you happy with him, Jinyoungie? Does he make you feel happy?”

Jackson blinks tiredly at him, half shadowed by the darkness of Jaebum’s (and Jinyoung’s? Can he say that it’s his room, too, yet?) room where the city lights outside the window don’t reach him. Even with Jackson at his side he can still feel the penetrating dull ache of knowing that Jaebum isn’t here and won’t be back for a few days. His essence is everywhere, on everything, stained into the paint on the walls and thinly layered over everything he’s ever touched like sunlight. The water rings etched into the wood of his expensive coffee table comfort Jinyoung in that they are so inherently Jaebum’s essence and yet there is the ever widening void of his absence that draws him in until he misses Jaebum like a severed limb. It took him a while to realize what that meant and when he did he smiled, because, oh, yes, this is love.

“Yes. I’m happy, Jackson. I’m so, so happy.”

“And you love him?”

It had been the question for so long despite the shortness in which they had come together but the truth is universal, indisputable.

“Yes. I love him.”

Jinyoung starts to smile and Jackson just closes his eyes.

“Okay, okay, don’t get all sappy on me, weirdo.” he pauses for a moment, Jinyoung watching his face, waiting for the inevitable addition that is the paramount of Jackson’s character.

One of Jackson’s large, chocolate eyes springs open, staring at him intensely with a pause so overdramatic that Jinyoung almost laughs.

“Wait,” he says, voice muffled into the pillow, “you guys have tons of freaky sex in this bed, don’t you?”

It had been both what he had expected and not. He bursts into laughter while Jackson thrashes.

“Dammit, Jinyoung, why couldn’t we have stayed at your house so I didn’t have to sleep in your guys’ sex den?”

The laughing continues, rolling over to half pin Jackson down with an arm and leg thrown over his body and head leaned against the mop of blonde hair spread across the black silk of Jaebum’s pillows.

“Because,” Jinyoung says, and settles down to sleep, “we have sex there, too.”

Jackson groans.

____________

Luckily for them both, Jaebum’s business trips are extremely rare and shorter still; rarely is he ever gone for more than four days at a time, but it's in those empty days without him that Jinyoung really realizes what it means to miss someone. It had never been that way with boyfriends that he had in high school or early flings in college, and it had certainly never been that way with Hakyeon. With them it had always been nothingness, no feeling either way as to their absence, and in Hakyeon’s case it had been the breathing room he didn't know he had needed so desperately until he had it and could, for the first time, inhale deeply. In all of their cases their absences had meant little, they left no large mark on the natural flow of his life. Jaebum is, like he is in every other way, different. Jaebum leaves for more than a day and Jinyoung feels his absence like a bruise and it is in this that he realizes just how much he really loves him.

Their nights apart are spent idly, coming home to Jaebum’s apartment to hang out with Nora and eventually fall asleep on the couch or go straight to bed. Jaebum had told him that he was always welcome to sleep over but realized that Jinyoung had a responsibility to his own home, though it went unspoken between them that he spent less and less time there and would, undoubtedly, just stay at Jaebum’s. Jaebum often mused to him when they were face-timing or talking on the phone that it seemed silly of him to keep that apartment when it was basically serving as Jinyoung’s one bedroom walk in closet. On one of these particular nights the night before Jaebum comes home ( for good, Jinyoungie, are you excited? Christmas is next week and I won't have to go anywhere until the middle of next year ) he brings it up again, saying,

“You know, it really does seem silly to keep that apartment, Jinyoungie. You're never there.”

He sighs, wishing that the picture of Jaebum’s face on his screen was the real thing and not a video, but he'll take what he can get. Jaebum is unfairly handsome in that even through the somewhat grainy camera of their cellphones, his sleep tousled hair still looks gorgeous on him.

“I know, but I still have a couple months on the lease. It won't be over until the end of March.”

Jaebum’s face comes closer to the camera as he shifts, folding an arm behind his head and looking down where he's holding the phone lazily in his left hand. If it were anyone else the upward angle into Jaebum’s nostrils would be incredibly unflattering but on him it's just endearing. He might be biased, though. If it were Jackson or Yugyeom he's sure he'd squint and start counting their chins to make them mad.

“Just break the lease,” Jaebum says, blinking tiredly. He's only a couple hours ahead but Jinyoung is no stranger to how busy he can be sometimes, and even 11pm can feel late to him.

He sighs. “I can't, hyung. I can't afford that.”

“I can,” Jaebum says offhandedly, and Jinyoung feels his shoulders prickle. “I'll pay it off for you, and then you can live with me.”

“I can't ask you to do that, hyung.”

“You're not asking. I'm offering.”

Jinyoung sticks his tongue out and feels his heartbeat flutter when Jaebum smiles. “I won't let you, then. You don't need to do that stuff for me.”

“Is it not enough that I want to, Jinyoungie?”

“I know you want to, hyung,” he mumbles, and sighs. “I just…don't want you to get the wrong idea.”

His heart drops when Jaebum’s eyebrows furrow, looking displeased. “What do you mean ‘wrong idea’?”

“I just meant…” he hesitates, trying to find the right words to describe the feeling he gets when Jaebum offers to do things for him that are trailed by a large sum of money. “I don't want you to think that's what I'm here for.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don't love you for your money, hyung,” he says, trying to get Jaebum to understand, “I love you because of who you are. You know that, don't you?”

The tension seems to bleed out of Jaebum’s face and he shifts again, holding the phone higher so Jinyoung is no longer staring into the twin voids of his nose and instead looking into the dark pools of his eyes, pupils indiscernible in the camera’s lens. There's the tease of Jaebum’s shirtless upper body that ends just underneath the dusky discs of his nipples and Jinyoung wishes, more than anything, that he was there to rest his head on the open space of Jaebum’s shoulder.

“I do know that,” he nods, face serious. “But don't you know that the offers aren't about the money? It's not about the how, Jinyoung-ah, it's the why. I'd buy you everything if I could. I'd buy you this whole city, Jinyoung. I'd buy you this whole world and make it yours if they'd let me.”

Jinyoung makes a noise against his teeth to cover up the fact that it makes his eyes burn. “Hyung…”

“I'm serious,” he murmurs. “I offer these things because I want to. You do know that sometimes it's because I'm being selfish, right?”

“Selfish? How is you paying off my lease selfish, hyung?”

“Because, I'm not doing it for you. I want to do it because I don't want you to be anywhere else. I want to do it because I want you to live with me, to be with me all the time, so that I never have to wait to see you. I want you to live with me, Jinyoungie. I want us to live together.”

His eyes are really burning now, but he refuses to cry.

“Just think about it, won't you? Just think about it. I'll understand if you say no. I know you're weird about the money thing,” he says, and just smiles when Jinyoung pouts, “but I want you to try and focus on the big picture. It's not just for you. It's for me, too. For us. Me paying off your apartment lease is about more than just throwing around money.”

He sighs and nods. “I know. I'll think about it.”

“Just remember what I said, baby.”

“What about you, though, hyung?” he whines, feeling frustrated with his lack of ability to offer Jaebum the same things. “What can I do? I can't… I can't buy you expensive things or take you to expensive restaurants or pay off your leases. I hate taking those things from you because I can't give them back—”

“Yah,” Jaebum interrupts softly, as though he knows Jinyoung is about to get worked up about it. “I do those things for you, for us, because I can. Because I am able. I worked hard, and still work hard, to have the kind of life that I do, so I can give so freely to the people I love. That includes you. In another life, Jinyoungie, I wouldn't have been able to do this for you. But I have this, and I can, and I will take advantage of it until I can't anymore. Understand?”

A few tears have slipped down his cheeks and he holds the phone toward the ceiling as he wipes them away angrily.

“You didn't answer my question,” Jinyoung murmurs, blinking the remaining wetness out of his eyes as Jaebum’s grow heavy and blink slower with sleep. “What about you? What can I do for you?”

Jaebum yawns. “You love me, right?”

Jinyoung nods without hesitation. “Of course I do.”

Jaebum smiles. “Then that's all I need.”

“That's not fair,” Jinyoung whispers, but his lips have curled up in a smile that reflect the one on Jaebum’s tired face. This is their balance, it seems. Jinyoung knows in his heart of hearts that even if Jaebum didn't have the money he would love him just the same: powerfully, irrevocably, eternally. Fate, whether or not he chooses to believe in her, has dragged them along on a thin red string.

“Yes it is,” Jaebum murmurs, and reaches to turn off the light. Before he does, though, he grins sleepily into the camera. “If you want to make it even, though, there's one thing you can do for me.”

“Hmm?”

His grin widens. “Wear something sexy to the airport tomorrow.”

“Hyung—!”

But Jaebum has already hung up, cackling to himself. Jinyoung settles down into the sheets of their mostly empty bed and falls asleep with a blush burning down his neck.

____________

As promised he wears something sexy to the airport, which Jaebum nearly tears off of him when they get back to the apartment and have no plans for the rest of the day. Only Jinyoung’s breathy whine of hyung this is my favorite shirt makes Jaebum steady his hands, pulling it off over his head instead of tearing it by the collar to get to the skin underneath. They're both so worked up and desperate to finally be back in each other’s arms that neither of them last very long; fifteen minutes at most of quick hands and strong grips has them making a mess of each other and the bed before they're tiredly getting up to shower. In the following glow of quiet, warm, and calm they hold each other close and murmur about how much they missed each other with gentle kisses.

The next week is Christmas. Their first together, and they spend it alone in Jaebum’s gorgeously decorated apartment. Did you pay someone to do this? Jinyoung asks him, and Jaebum blushes when he admits that he does every year because he has zero sense of interior and that it just looks much nicer when a professional does it. Jinyoung laughs at him but agrees that it looks wonderful: the soft white lights of Jaebum’s apartment cast halos on everything, every surface dripped with red and gold like King Midas had swept through the room.

Even the tree is themed in the colors, smelling strongly of rich, green pine that spills hundreds of needles to the floor as Nora bats defiantly at decorations hanging off in gleaming golds and rubies. They sit across from each other nestled under it on Christmas day, dressed half heartedly in their pajamas they know will just come off later as they enjoy their day of freedom from responsibilities. Jaebum, as promised, gives him very little; Jinyoung had made him swear up and down that he wasn't going to go over the top and buy him a bunch of things since Jinyoung can't do the same, so he had just sighed and agreed to keep his gifts to a minimum. For now.

What he does end up getting Jinyoung is unfairly gorgeous; in one box he had unwrapped Jaebum had given him a sweater that he'd been coveting ever since they'd walked by it in a shop in Myeongdong and he'd pointed with a whine, that sweater is so me, hyung, isn't it? Jaebum had agreed that the oversized garment run through with horizontal pinstripes would look amazing draped over Jinyoung’s lean frame, and he nearly tackles Jaebum to the carpet when he opens it. Among his other gifts are a new pair of tennis shoes, sunglasses, a pair of shorts, and—

He slams the lid shut, face reddening as Jaebum starts to laugh. His own presents are untouched in between them, waiting for Jinyoung to be finished unwrapping his before starting.

“Hyung!”

“What?” he laughs, leaning back on both hands with an eyebrow raised. “Open it.”

“I already did! I can't believe you bought this!”

“You looked at it for two seconds, how can you possibly know what it is?” he argues, nodding his head at it. “Open it all the way!”

He doesn't really need to in order to know what it is—he'd seen enough of it upon initially opening it to know what Jaebum’s devious mind has in store for them. But it doesn't look like Jaebum is going to move until he opens it all the way and really looks at it, so he grits his teeth and pushes the lid to the floor before pulling the garment out with both hands.

It's... sheer. Sheer maybe isn't even a good word for it, since he can clearly see Jaebum’s bright eyed grin through the fabric as he holds it up between them. It's a dress, a tiny , see-through dress, dyed an elegant navy blue with ribbon thin straps and a silky hem along the bottom that he knows, once on, will barely reach the tops of his thighs. It's incredibly sexy and it makes his heart pound to know that Jaebum had bought it with him in mind and the intention of getting Jinyoung into bed with it.

“Do you not like it?” Jaebum asks, frowning when Jinyoung just stares at it and doesn't move for a long time. “Maybe I should have asked. I just saw it while I was out and, well, I imagined you in it…”

Jinyoung inhales. “You really thought of me in this in public?”

Jaebum laughs. “Yes. Amazingly I have some self control and didn't get a hard-on. Sorry to disappoint.”

Pulling a face, Jinyoung drops the garment into his lap and pushes at Jaebum’s knee with his socked foot. “Shut up. I just meant...you can really see me in this? You want me to wear this for you?”

Jaebum nods but shrugs at the same time. “Only if you want to. I'd never make you.”

“You really think I'd look sexy in this?”

“Yeah,” Jaebum says, and swallows like he's already thinking about it. “Yeah, I do.”

Jinyoung grins at him. “Lets save it for a rainy day, then.”

Jaebum opens his presents next which, if he can say so himself, he's pretty proud of. He might not be buying designer things for Jaebum but he knows that his boyfriend inherently loves the little things, and it's in the details of what he'd bought that he can see Jaebum’s heart swelling. Toys and treats for Nora, cat shaped cufflinks, a new set of silk ties in shades of blue, and the one present he makes him open last that has his dark eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“What's this?” he asks, picking up the photocopied piece of paper that had been the only thing sitting atop a mess of red tissue paper he'd bought last minute at the Daiso by the university. Jaebum seems bewildered that Jinyoung would be so insistent on making this his last gift when all it is is a piece of paper.

Anxiety rushes down his arms and legs, making him jiggle his knees as he nods at where Jaebum holds the paper in one hand and puts the other on his own knee. “Read it.”

Jaebum quiets, eyebrows still furrowed as he scans the page. Over the course of a minute or so, his eyes start to widen more and more until they're as big as Jinyoung’s ever seen them and shining with wet that hasn't been there just before.

He drops the paper into his lap. “Really? Seriously?”

Jinyoung nods.

“This is…” he stutters, looking down at it in disbelief. “This is a form to break lease.”

“I know,” Jinyoung says, smiling. “I have the signed copy in my bedroom at my apartment.”

“You're really—Jinyoungie, you mean it?”

“I thought about what you said, how it isn't just for me. That's it's for you, too.” Jinyoung smiles and feels his heart grow to a size too large for his chest as happy tears slip down Jaebum’s cheeks and he wipes them away quickly. “I want this for us, hyung. I can't give you the kinds of things that you give me, but I can give you this. I want you to be happy.”

Without saying anything else, Jaebum drops the paper and kicks the box out of the way as he unfolds to tackle Jinyoung to the carpet. Pine needles stick to the fuzzy material of his sweater and poke at his back as Jaebum presses him down, but Jaebum’s mouth covers his own with murmured words of comfort and thanks and he finds that, even if it had been a bed of nails, with Jaebum kissing him all over and thanking him for the gift, it would cease to matter.

____________

The weeks after Christmas fly by in a flurry of activity. He goes with Jaebum to the office of his apartment complex with a check to break his lease, laughing at the incredulous look on the landlord’s face when Im Jaebum sits down at the desk and says hello. He packs up his apartment with the combined help of Jackson, Yugyeom, Mark, Bambam, and Youngjae, deciding in the end to donate all of the things he won't be taking with him. There is the smallest part of himself that mourns the loss of the life that he had built himself separately from his parents, but another part of him rejoices in that his belongings take up barely five boxes. Moving is incredibly easy, save for the tearful goodbye to Mrs. Kim when he carries his last box to Jaebum’s car. He wipes his eyes and promises to visit her—she had become, in her own way, the grandmother that he never had. A part of him feels regretful that he'll no longer be able to lean over the railing of the stairs and call to her every morning.

In any case, the move into Jaebum’s is seamless. Space is cleared out for him in the closet and it's a stark contrast to the messiness of Jaebum’s half: Jinyoung's clothes are clearly separated by type of garment and then by color, where as Jaebum’s is barely separated by anything at all. The most organized part of Jaebum’s side of the closet is his shoes and work clothes which are, even still, a little hectic. Everything else blends as though he'd been there all along: coats on the hooks by the door mixed with Jaebum’s, books piled into shelves where they'll fit alongside the ones that were already there, the kitchen table moved slightly down closer to the bedroom so that Jinyoung’s writers desk will fit snugly in the corner facing the floor to ceiling window he's admired so much since the first time he'd come here. It’s amazing how fast it went from feeling like just Jaebum’s space to being theirs.

The only people who aren't loving the move is a direct tie between Jackson, Yugyeom, and Nora; Jackson and Yugyeom mostly because they can no longer show up unannounced and force their way in, and Nora mostly because the side of the bed that had been hers is now taken up by a body much larger than she. For the first couple of nights after Jinyoung’s presence is permanent, she sleeps curled up in his back and meows pathetically as if to say, if you’re going to steal my spot then I’m going to make you work for it. Jinyoung doesn’t really mind. In fact, it’s almost funny to see Jaebum frown at his cat curled up in the small of Jinyoung’s back instead of laying on his own stomach. She even swats at Jaebum once, earning her a muttered insult of traitor before he rolls away to pout about it.

The interweaving of their lives is strangely easy. So much so that Jinyoung would be suspicious of it if he wasn’t so happy. There’s almost nothing in either language that he knows that could properly sum up the feeling it gives him to go to sleep and wake up next to Jaebum every single day of the week. Whereas the feeling of living apart had kind of given him excitement when Jaebum showed up at his door, now the feeling is permanent, although laid down alongside the content. He never thought the two could mix but then again he’s never been in love with someone quite like Jaebum.

Everything is perfect. Dreamlike. A fairytale life he’d only ever read about in books. So when Jaebum starts acting a bit weird a few weeks after his birthday, the change is immediately noticeable.

At first it’s hard to spot. Jinyoung always gets home first, going in earlier than Jaebum and thus getting out earlier; sometimes he gets weekdays off instead of the weekends and he’s home the entire day until Jaebum comes home around dinner time. He starts to come home later--first it’s just thirty minutes, and then it’s an hour. Sometimes two. Rarely does he call and rarer still does he text, leaving Jinyoung hanging on whether or not he should be ordering or cooking for two. While somewhere deep in his chest the anxiety begins to itch at the walls he reminds himself not to jump to conclusions. They’ve worked too hard to get this far in their relationship only to ruin it because Jinyoung is nervous. He reminds himself over and over on days Jaebum doesn’t show up on time that he’s a very, very busy man with a lot of things to run and take care of and that, if he isn’t coming home on time, there’s definitely a reason and it isn’t always Jinyoung’s business. He rarely asks. Sometimes Jaebum comes home and Jinyoung feels like he’s going to explode if he doesn’t, but he sees the way Jaebum’s face softens when their eyes finally meet after a long day and he doesn’t. Even as Jaebum kisses him, though, there’s the little scritch scritch scritch of uneasiness that sticks around in his stomach.

He had hoped that it would sort itself out in the end, but as February comes in with cold wind and ice, it only seems to get worse. Jaebum doesn’t always stay late anymore, maybe one or two days out of the week, but sometimes when Jinyoung wakes up on weekend mornings he’s gone, having left the apartment without waking him up first. The first time it happens Jinyoung jumps out of bed with panic pounding at his ears, searching frantically for a note that he never finds. Jaebum doesn’t answer his phone, either, declining the call and sending him a brisk I’m busy that makes Jinyoung’s heart feel sick. What could it be? Jaebum’s had to work on the weekends before but he usually tells Jinyoung about it. And it’s so strange for him to not wake Jinyoung up with a kiss to tell him he’s leaving or to leave a note at least. Worst still are the messages that go unanswered because Jinyoung can’t bear to reply like a paranoid partner. On days he doesn’t have to work and Jaebum is gone for hours at a time with no explanation it just makes him feel restless; it’s too hard to focus on anything for long because his mind just twists back on it, trying to decode it, wondering if it was something he did or said that made Jaebum want to get away from him for a while. He hates to think that something happened so soon in their relationship to make it end up like this.

Was moving in together the wrong step? Jinyoung spends a lot of the time that Jaebum disappears dwelling on this. Jaebum had seemed to want it so badly, though; he’d cried on Christmas when Jinyoung presented him with the photocopied notice of his lease termination as though it was the best thing he’d ever gotten in his life. He had also been so happy the day Jinyoung was bringing his things in, moving this or that so Jinyoung’s things had space, asking him over and over if there was anything he needed to buy or do for Jinyoung to make it feel more like their apartment instead of just his. Even the first few weeks it had been amazing--sex wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted, waking up next to each other, Jinyoung wearing Jaebum’s clothes as they drank coffee in front of the window. It had been everything they both had dreamed of. So what is it? And why now?

Jinyoung nearly tears himself apart thinking about it. He lays on the couch and remembers how wonderful Jaebum’s 35th birthday had been, just the two of them, coming back to the apartment to eat cake that Jinyoung had bought from the bakery down the street in the shape of a cat. They had even given him candles and a little plastic headband with cat ears on it to match the cake, which he’d hidden in one of the cabinets. Jinyoung closes his eyes and relives that day in his head: how content Jaebum had been to be with him eating fried chicken in a shop smack dab in the middle of bustling Hongdae, drinking maekju and laughing until their stomachs hurt. He remembers the way Jaebum’s face had changed when he’d opened his eyes after Jinyoung commanded him to keep them closed so he could bring out the cake. It was filled with light, burning on the inside, reflected along the bones of his face from the candle’s little flame. Happy birthday, hyung, he’d said, and he remembers with fingers curled into his palms the way Jaebum had groaned at the ears peeking out of his hair. His stomach bottoms out when he envisions the way Jaebum had laid him out on the black, silky sheets and he’d kept them on at Jaebum’s request as they made love on the bed, kisses sweet like strawberry cake.

He wants it back. He doesn’t want to have to ask but he’s dying to have it back.

It worsens when Jaebum starts leaving the room at random times, going through the trouble of getting in the elevator to go downstairs or closing the door of the balcony to talk on the phone when it rings. Every time it happens Jinyoung’s heart squeezes, wanting to get up and run after him, wanting to throw the phone down until it smashes, hitting his fists against Jaebum’s chest and demanding to know what’s going on until he knows the entire truth of it. Worse still is that Jaebum’s behavior around him never changes: he still smiles, honest and real, when their eyes meet. He kisses Jinyoung on the mouth when he sees him or is about to leave on occasions where he isn’t just up and disappearing. Jaebum still wraps his arms around his waist in the kitchen or the bathroom or the bedroom to nuzzle his face in Jinyoung’s neck with the desire just to be close and nothing more. Everything about their relationship is fundamentally the same and that just makes it worse. Is he just going crazy? He finds himself spacing out, chasing down theories in his head until it makes him tired. Sometimes Jaebum calls his name three or four times until he answers, looking unfairly upset and worried, as though Jaebum’s own flighty behavior hasn’t been killing him for the past week and a half.

One night a couple of days before Valentine’s Day, Jaebum rolls over in bed after they’d both been laying in the dark for a while. It was obvious that neither of them were asleep, and an anxiousness pinned Jinyoung to his back and sat on his chest when Jaebum took a deep breath through his nose.

“What’s wrong?”

Jinyoung just blinks into the darkness, shapes dancing on the ceiling. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

“That response tells me that you’re not fine,” Jaebum murmurs. He leans up on his elbow but Jinyoung refuses to move. He won’t do this. He won’t express it; he won’t break down and tell Jaebum how paranoid he’s been that he’s cheating on him or that they’re going to break up because of Jaebum’s weird patterns. Jinyoung had wasted so much of their time early on being too cautious and afraid that he won’t let it get the better of him now; they had promised each other, sometimes in words and sometimes without, that their trust and love was too powerful to be defeated. So why does he feel like he’s dying every time Jaebum disappears from the room with his phone to his ear?

“I’m fine, hyung. Really.”

“You won’t even look at me when you say it. How can I believe that’s true?”

Jinyoung turns his head to placate him, finding the gleam of Jaebum’s eyes in the darkness. The curtains are pulled mostly shut, muting much of the light from the city underneath them, carrying on uncaring toward the drama unfolding in their bedroom in the sky.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not,” Jaebum argues, and his voice is no longer soft. It’s hard-edge with worry. “You haven’t been fine for like two weeks, Jinyoungie. You always look sick to your stomach when you think I’m not paying attention. Sometimes I have to keep calling your name over and over before you hear me because you’re so lost in your head.” Jaebum’s fingertips gently push the hair off his forehead. “Where do you keep going without me?”

I could ask you the same, he says to himself, but instead he just swallows.

“I’m fine,” he insists, but he knows Jaebum doesn’t buy it. “Really. Work is just...busy.”

Jaebum scoffs. “‘Work is busy’? That’s really your excuse?”

Jinyoung bristles. “That’s a popular restaurant, hyung. Don’t demean my job just because I’m a waiter.”

He tries to roll away but Jaebum stops him with a hand on his shoulder that presses him down into the bed. Jaebum is frowning.

“Hey, that’s not what I meant, and you know it.” He swallows hard and licks his lips. “You’re just...I’m started to get worried. You don’t seem okay, Jinyoung. I can tell. I know I haven’t known you as known as you’ve known Jackson or Yugyeom, but I can tell when you’re upset.”

Jinyoung just shrugs. Jaebum’s palm burns a pattern into his shoulder where he wishes it would close around his throat or travel down between his legs instead, anything to end this conversation before he spills everything.

“Seriously,” he says, and again it’s unconvincing. “I’m fine.”

Frustrated, Jaebum sits up and throws a leg over his hip until he’s straddling Jinyoung’s waist. He leans on his hands where they’re on either side of Jinyoung’s head on the pillow, holding his eyes and staring into them as though he’s trying to read the ache written on Jinyoung’s soul. He just swallows and licks his lips in a mirror of Jaebum just a moment ago, wishing that the pounding of his heart would cease, not from the proximity of Jaebum’s heavy body on top of his own wearing only his joggers but because of the easiness in which Jaebum can read the truth in his face and hands.

“Talk to me, Jinyoungie,” he whispers, some type of plea in his voice that he’s never heard before. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

“I’m talking to you now, aren’t I?” he says in lieu of a real answer, and it just makes Jaebum close his eyes.

“Jinyoung, please––”

“I promise,” he interrupts, desperate for Jaebum to understand, to hear in his voice that he can’t and won’t do this to them. “Hyung, it’s nothing. I’m just––it’s just stress.”

“Did I push you too hard to move in?” Jaebum asks, ignoring the plea in his voice. “If you didn’t want to move in, why didn’t you say so, Jinyoungie? You didn’t need to if you didn’t want to, even if you hadn’t wanted to when your lease was over I would have understood––”

“It’s not that––”

“Then what?” he begs, and Jinyoung feels his hands fist in the pillowcases by his head. “Jinyoung, please, I thought we were past this, don’t start brushing me off again.”

“I’m not brushing you off!” he says, a little louder than he intended to, because Jaebum flinches back. He swallows and lowers his voice, “I’m not brushing it off, hyung, there’s just nothing to say.”

“I know you’re lying,” Jaebum says through his teeth, and Jinyoung is bewildered to find that his eyes are shining more than they had been a moment ago. Is he about to cry?

“Hyung––”

“Jinyoung, whatever it is, you know you can talk to me about it. You know that, don’t you?”

Suddenly he feels horribly, horribly guilty. He bites back the burn in his throat and reaches up to slide his hands into Jaebum’s hair, fingertips massaging his scalp at the back of his head. He softens and arches his back to brings their bodies closer together.

“I know, hyung,” he murmurs, and kisses the side of Jaebum’s mouth in some sort of comfort that does nothing to erase the look on Jaebum’s face. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

Jaebum hovers for a moment longer, blinking owlishly into his face before it closes off. He seems to decide that he’s not going to get anything out of him, so he just sighs tiredly and plants a soft kiss under his eye before he drops back onto his side, rolling away to face the bathroom. Despite his attempt at placating him, Jinyoung notices that Jaebum doesn’t reach for him the rest of the night, unconvinced.

____________

The actual day of Valentine's Day is the following Saturday. It rolls in on a storm, Jinyoung jerking awake in the dullness of the morning as thunder claps right outside the window and makes it tremble. Rain streaks the glass and blurs the lines of the cityscape to illegible masses of steel and neon. There's the beginnings of an unseasonable frost at the corners that lowers the temperature of the room and craves for the shared body heat of lovers wrapped up in a blanket choked bed. Jinyoung, squeezing his eyes shut, lets the chill run down his body as he stretches and rolls over to curl against the mass of Jaebum’s body.

“G’morning, hyung—”

His arm hits empty bed. The blankets are thrown back and the sheets cold, as though Jaebum hasn't even been in bed for a couple of hours or so. That same ache squeezes in his heart when he gets out of bed and searches the bathroom; there's condensation on the walls of the shower that's cold and drying while the rest of the room remains empty. Dejected upon realizing that Jaebum has once again gotten up without him and left to go...wherever it is he goes, Jinyoung swallows down against his heavy heart and throws on an oversized sweatshirt before going to the living room to find it, too, is empty.

It's mid-morning but the dreariness of the weather makes it feel later. The cream curtains Jinyoung had insisted on hanging across the room-length win