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            Right after Sehun visited L.Joe, he could be unpredictable.  But soon, usually within the first twenty-four hours, he became the perfect maknae.  He was full of aegyo and quick to help.  He initiated a lot of skinship and relied on his hyungs more.  The members complained that he was too clingy, but they ate it up, ordering him around and taking care of him and cuddling him.

            After a few weeks passed, he’d begin to become more independent and assertive.  He’d speak up more and start to complain, and Suho knew that the sweet spot had passed.  He had to be asked twice to do things.  Instead of being the adorable, obedient baby of the whole group, he’d start to act equal to D.O. or try talking back to Baekhyun.

            If luck was on Suho’s side, that was about the time that he’d arranged another date with L.Joe, and the cycle would start over.  If not, Sehun would start getting moody, and the members would start to complain.

            Things would deteriorate from there.  Day by day, Sehun’s patience grew shorter.  He’d mutter rude things under his breath and pretend that he hadn’t said anything, he’d wander off on his own instead of pitching in, he’d half-ass practices, he’d be late, he’d be petulant, and he had a hundred excuses for why he couldn’t do anything he was asked to do.  It was rare for him to get that bad, but when he did, Suho had to be firm with him.  He couldn’t act out and be disrespectful just because he missed L.Joe.

            They were in the middle of an L.Joe drought when Changjo popped into their waiting room one day.  While everyone else said hi, Sehun demanded, “Where’s L.Joe sunbae?”

            “Hello, hyung,” Changjo said.  “Ah, he’s filming today, with Ricky and Chunji hyung.  Across town.”

            “And what are you doing here?” Suho asked, gesturing him over to the couch.

            Changjo sat down and hugged Suho.  He was in the remnants of his stage clothes; his jacket was missing and half of his make-up was gone.  “I’m waiting for Niel hyung to finish hosting upstairs.  What about you, what are you doing here?” he asked, glancing around with a mischievous grin.  “Just dropping something off, filing some paperwork?”

            “Oh, yeah,” Suho said, as if they weren’t fully made up with mics lined up on the table.  “Yeah, we just stopped by to see if anything was going on, we’ll be leaving soon.”

            “Okay.”  Changjo leaned in comfortably, adorably close, his elbow on the back of the couch, crossing his legs.  “I won’t stay long, then, I don’t want to keep you.”

            They talked for a few more minutes before Sehun came over.  Looking up, Suho asked, “Maknae?”

            Standing over him, Sehun scowled.  “Kai said that we’re having pizza for dinner.”

            “Yes, I told you that earlier.”

            Sehun exhaled like he was pissed off.  “I don’t want pizza.  I’m tired of pizza.”

            They hadn’t had pizza in over a week.  “It’s already been decided.  Bring it up again tomorrow.”

            Sehun pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows.  “I’m not eating it.”

            Internally, Suho sighed.  “Yes, you’ll eat it.  You have to eat, we won’t let you starve.”

            “Can’t I get chicken?  Can’t I just order some chicken?  I’ll pay for it.”

            “Maknae,” he said firmly.  “It’s been decided.  We’re having pizza tonight.  Just eat some of it.  Now go and sit down.”

            “Yeah, you’re embarrassing yourself in front of a sunbae,” Kai said.

            “He’s a kid,” Sehun objected.

            Suho was on his feet while his temperature was still rising.  “Apologize,” he ordered, staring hard into Sehun’s eyes.  Sehun tried to look away and he moved in closer, forcing Sehun to meet his gaze.  “Apologize.”  He’d had enough of Sehun’s attitude and he wasn’t about to let Sehun make EXO look like a bunch of disrespectful, sullen jerks.  Changjo might be young and cute, but sunbae was still sunbae.

            Sehun tested Suho’s temper by pausing and rolling his eyes.  Suho was about to grab him by the back of the neck and force the issue when he finally glanced down at Changjo and said, “Sorry, sunbaenim.”  Then, crossing his arms over his chest, he pouted, and when his gaze dropped, he looked so unhappy that Suho thought that he might cry.  “Wish L.Joe sunbae were here,” he muttered to himself.  Then, straightening his shoulders, he scowled at Suho meaninglessly.  “Can’t I order some chicken?  If I pay for it myself?”

            Suho’s instinct was to stay firm and refuse him.  But then he lowered his gaze again, and he looked miserable.  Ugh, the poor kid.  He missed L.Joe, and he didn’t know when they’d see each other again, and he was lonely and horny, and he had no time to himself, no time to see someone he cared about.  All he wanted to do was eat some chicken.  He was so young, couldn’t Suho cut him some slack just this once?  “It won’t hurt,” Suho relented.  “You can order it tonight.  But you have to pay for it, like you promised.”

            Visibly brightening, Sehun said, “Thank you, Suho hyung.  I will.”

            As Sehun went back to his chair, Suho sat down again, sighing.

            With a curious, seeking expression, Changjo whispered, “Why’d you let him get away with that?”

            What?  “Away with what?” Suho asked.

            “Getting his own way like that.  He’s just doing it to see if he can get away with it.  It’s a maknae’s way of getting power.”  Changjo grinned at him.  “That’s why if I say, ‘Hey, I want to eat-’ my hyungs say, ‘No one cares what you want, maknae.’”  As he quoted his members, he gleefully mimed bonking someone on the head, demonstrating how they treated him.

            Cheerful violence aside, Suho was fascinated by this insight.  “A maknae’s power?”

            Changjo nodded.

            Curious, Suho touched Changjo’s chest.  “What other tricks do you have?”

            With a playfully shocked expression, Changjo covered his mouth with one hand.  “Hyung!  I can’t tell you that.”  Then he tilted his head to one side.  “Haven’t you ever been a maknae?”

            Suho laughed.  “Not that kind of maknae.”

            Changjo gave him a significant nod.  “You have that kind of maknae now.  You can’t let him get away with anything,” Changjo whispered, leaning in.  “That’s why my hyungs are so mean,” cough, “strict, I said strict with me.”

            Suho frowned.  “I guess that I’ve been too easy on him.  I feel sorry for him.”

            Changjo laughed.  “For what?  For being in the most successful group in Korea right now?  For working so hard?  How hard does Chen hyung work, do you feel sorry for him?  For not being with L.Joe hyung?  Who else on your team even has an L.Joe hyung?”  Changjo scoffed.  “Feel sorry for what?  Is being young and handsome and loved by fans a burden all of a sudden?”

            That gave Suho pause.  He did feel sorry for Sehun, but he felt sorry for the other members, too, and he didn’t cut them any slack.  Wasn’t it unfair to the other members if he went easy on Sehun?  Hadn’t he been too permissive?  They let Sehun get away with things because he was young, because he was cute, because he was the maknae, and on, and on, but wasn’t Chen adorable sometimes, too?  Wasn’t Kai young, too?  Could Suho really look Teen Top’s Changjo in the face and defend giving Sehun special treatment because he worked hard?

            “It’s hard to be rough on maknaes,” Suho admitted.

            Changjo snorted and joked, “Do my hyungs know that?”

            Suho still seemed thoughtful when Changjo said good-bye.  With a wave, he stepped into the hallway, and then he closed the door behind himself.

            Unseen, he smirked.  “He’s a kid.”  Changjo slid his hands into his pockets as he walked away with a swagger.  That little remark was going to cost Sehun, and he wouldn’t even see it coming.  Changjo was going to love checking in with Suho to see how “being firm with the maknae” was going.

            “Sit.  Down.”  Suho’s hand bore down on Sehun’s shoulder until his knees gave and he sat.

            Nostrils flaring, Sehun glared up at Suho’s knitted brows.  Not for the first time that day, his hands were balled into fists.  He didn’t know why Suho was such an overbearing hard-ass lately, but he didn’t like it.  He couldn’t walk or move or open his mouth without somebody having something to say about it, and he was goddamned tired of it.

            “We’ve gone easy on you-”

            A laugh broke out of Sehun.  “Easy?” he repeated in disbelief.

            Suho’s jaw clenched for a moment.  “Interrupt me again, maknae, and you’re grounded.”

            Oh, this was fucking…  Clamping his mouth shut, Sehun breathed hard, looking away.  None of the other members were within sight, but he could just picture them huddled in the kitchen and their rooms, shushing each other and listening to every word.

            “Look at hyung when he’s speaking to you.”

            Slowly, deliberately, Sehun dragged his gaze up to Suho’s face and stared, unblinking, expressionless.

            Suho started over.  “We’ve gone easy on you because you’re the maknae and you have a special situation with L.Joe.  But that’s not fair to you or anyone else.”

            “Gone easy on me,” Sehun repeated.  “Easy on what, what’s easy?”

            “‘I want chicken, hyung.’  ‘I want the third shower, hyung.’  ‘I’m tired, hyung.’  This is hard on you, but it’s hard on everyone.  I can’t relax the rules for you unless I relax them for everyone, and then there are no rules.  You don’t want to eat jjajangmyeon tonight?  Do you think that Lay’s dying to eat jjajangmyeon tonight?  There’s a lot of pressure on you?  Isn’t there pressure on Chen and Xiumin, representing us abroad?  Isn’t there pressure on our vocals, to stand in front of massive crowds over and over again keeping their voices strong for the right notes?  Isn’t there pressure on all of us?  I don’t want you to open your mouth one more time to tell me how tired and hungry and unhappy you are, or what you don’t want to eat and don’t feel like doing, until you’ve looked at Lay and reflected on what he goes through and how he feels.”

            “Lay hyung?” Sehun demanded.  “Lay hyung is-”

            “He’s what?”  Suho stepped closer, staring at him with wide-eyed intensity.  “Tell me again, maknae, Zhang Yixing is what?”

            Sehun recognized a hyung pushed too far when he saw one.  Something had made Suho suddenly determined to be hard on him, and it wasn’t going to let up.  If he kept goading Suho into a reaction, he was going to get a reaction he didn’t want.

            Swallowing, he forced his pride down.  He dropped his gaze, working his jaw, but he remembered Suho’s warning not to look away.  Slowly, sullenly, fighting himself every second of it, he met Suho’s eyes again.  God damn it, he hated this.  “Lay hyung works hard and we’re lucky to have him in EXO.”

            “Yes.”  Suho gave him a long look.  “I want what’s best for you, maknae, but I want what’s best for all of the members.  Go to your room and reflect.  No sex, no touching, I want you to sit by yourself and think about what your hyungs have been through and what it’s like for them.”

            He wasn’t going to reflect on anything except making L.Joe beg.  “Yes, hyung.”

            Suho stepped back and gestured him onward.  Muttering, “Thank you, hyung,” he got up and walked away.

            The other members were in their doorways and filling the hallway.  Chen looked disappointed in him, Lay was frowning, and Baekhyun poked him in the chest and said, “You’re lucky to have any of this.”

            Pressing his lips together, he bypassed all of that to get to his room.  Stretching out on his back, he covered his eyes with his forearm.  “Shit.”

            This was going to keep happening.  He was going to keep wanting his own way, and he was going to keep bumping up against his hyungs’ authority.

            He could handle the regular hyungs.  He could handle Chen’s disappointment and he could handle D.O. and he could handle Lay.  Okay, he’d admit it, sometimes he felt a little guilty about pissing off Lay.

            But leader hyung?  He felt himself frown just thinking about it.  Leader hyung was different.

            It had been easier when Suho had been softer.  But lately, Suho wasn’t giving an inch.  And if Suho wasn’t backing down, and he wasn’t backing down, they were heading toward something ugly.

            Could he win?  Did he want to win?

            It chafed, being under all of this authority all of the time.  He should be the authority, he should be in control.  L.Joe understood that; why couldn’t everyone else?  But he didn’t run EXO.  And, god, he didn’t want to.  He wanted more independence, not more responsibility.  Who would even sign up for that kind of position?

            Suho would.  Responsible Suho.  Suho carried that burden for them.

            Sighing, Sehun rolled over.

            He respected that.  Not even begrudgingly, just honestly: he respected Suho for being their leader.  Baekhyun was only his hyung because Baekhyun had managed to be born earlier.  It didn’t make Baekhyun any smarter or more respectable or better than he was, it just made Baekhyun older, and sometimes he didn’t see why he had to do whatever that fool wanted.  Baekhyun could run to the kitchen to get his own goddamned spoon once in a while, it wouldn’t hurt.

            But Suho was different.  Ultimately, for several reasons both personal and professional, Sehun had to respect Suho’s authority.

            And if he really respected it, shouldn’t he act like it?  Did he let L.Joe get away with saying, “Yeah, sure, I respect your authority,” and then going around and doing what the hell ever?  No, he kept L.Joe in line.  Held L.Joe in check.

            So.  Maybe.  He should watch himself and be a little more respectful.

            To Suho, anyway.  The rest of the members could just deal with it.

            Suho was sitting on his bed when Sehun walked into his room.

            There was something more relaxed about Sehun’s shoulders and something softer about his expression.  Seeing that, Suho reached up, and he took Suho’s hand and sat down on the bed.

            “You’ve reflected?” Suho guessed.

            Sehun nodded.  When he looked down, it seemed thoughtful, even respectful.  Nothing like the sullenness he’d been showing for weeks.  Grateful to see that, Suho rubbed his shoulder.  “I’m sorry, hyung.”  He met Suho’s eyes, and the look there was fresh and frank.  “I should listen to you better.  I’ll work harder to be a better dongsaeng and a better member from now on.”

            It felt like a breakthrough.  It was all he’d wanted to hear.  “There you are,” Suho said, hugging him, proud of him.  “I knew you had it in you.  That’s the maknae I’ve wanted to see.”  Suho smoothed his hair, smiling at him.  “I know that it’s been hard on you.  No one’s saying that it hasn’t.  But it’s hard on everyone.  You understand?”

            He nodded.  “Yes, hyung.  It’s hard on you, too, isn’t it?”

            “That’s different.  It’s different, being the leader.”

            “We should make it easier on you,” Sehun said, leaning against him.  “I’ll work harder and take better care of you from now on.”

            Suho’s heart melted, and he put his arm around Sehun.  “I’m the one taking care of you.  That’s my job.  Your job is to be a good maknae and listen to hyung, all right?  You have to respect your hyungs.”

            Sehun kissed his cheek.  “Yes, Suho hyung.”

            Sehun had finally, finally been on his way to see L.Joe.  Eager to be with his pet, as soon as EXO had arrived at the dorm, he’d rushed to get ready.  He’d been showered and changed and at the door, putting his shoes on, practically tripping over himself with anticipation, when Suho had said, “Oh, no.”

            It sounded bad.  The words were negative, and the tone was disappointed, and Sehun didn’t want to hear any of it.  He didn’t want to hear that there had been a flat tire, that there had been a schedule change, that anything was even remotely wrong.

            And then Suho said, “I’m sorry, Sehun-ah.”  And Sehun wanted to scream, wanted to rage in denial, wanted to throw the biggest, most spoiled, petulant fit ever.  While Suho explained to him that Teen Top’s filming was running late, and they were still down by the coast, and they wouldn’t make it back to Seoul tonight, and they’d have to reschedule the playdate, he stood there and pictured himself driving down there and marching onto the set and snatching L.Joe out personally.  L.Joe was his and they were keeping his pet from him, and he felt himself teetering on the edge of control.  He felt precarious, felt very aware of how easy it would be to lose his shit, to act out, to hurl his shoes across the room.  He could picture himself tying up their manager and stealing the keys and getting away and driving south.  He knew how to do it, had each step clearly in mind.

            Very deliberately, he dropped his shoes.  Very calmly, he thanked Suho.  Very carefully, one foot in front of the other, he walked back to his room.

            He sat on his bed and wondered whom to blame for this.  C.A.P. and Chunji, for agreeing to a playdate on a night when their plans were so easily thrown off?  Their manager, for not being more firm with the PDs about their schedule?  The PDs, for keeping Teen Top there so late?

            Chanyeol came in and sat beside him.  “You okay?”

            He shook his head slowly.  “No.”

            “You have that scary look in your eyes,” Chanyeol noticed.  “You want to tie me up and call me names?”

            He didn’t want to play games.  He wanted reality.  It was real with L.Joe in a way it had never been with anyone else.  It was hot and immediate and perfect with his sweet, sexy pet.  “No.”  Nothing else was as good as L.Joe.  Nothing else was worth his time.

            He felt strange all that night.  Precarious.  On the edge of losing control of himself.

            In the morning, he felt very clear-headed.  He realized that what he’d felt last night had been anger.  He was angry.  He was very angry.  L.Joe was his, and he was surrounded by oblivious assholes who didn’t take that seriously.  What would those PD’s do if they knew?  Why would their managers keep them apart like this?  No one respected his relationship with L.Joe.  No one respected his claim or his authority.  They took him lightly.  And that made him furious.

            Coldly furious.  Carefully, calculatingly furious.  He didn’t feel precariously almost out of control anymore.  He felt more calm and disciplined than ever.

            He tested himself that morning.  He showered in cold water just to make himself endure it.

            Control.  At lunch, he made himself chew each bite of food thirty times before swallowing.  He made himself say, “Yes, hyung,” promptly and respectfully, no matter what Suho said.

            Days turned into weeks, one week into another.  He tested himself more and more.  He couldn’t train his pet, so he disciplined himself.  He felt more confident, more calm, more in control.

            He made his bed every day.  He kept his side of the bedroom clean.  Instead of playing videogames with the members, he did laundry.  He cleaned the kitchen every night, no matter how clean or dirty it was.

            It wasn’t enough.  He needed a real challenge.  So he cut himself off from sex.  It was a test of will.  He told himself that sex had only been a distraction, anyway.  His body wouldn’t find real satisfaction until he was with L.Joe again.

            He wouldn’t let himself go to the bathroom until half an hour after he felt the initial urge.  That one, he only did at the dorm, since there were practical consequences to missing a bathroom break during a busy, public day.  But at the dorm, once he realized that he had to go, he’d make himself wait half an hour, forcing himself to hold it, overcoming his body’s demands.

            It very quickly became obvious that trying to abstain from sex was a bad idea.  His body’s lusts were more severe than ever now that he’d gone so long without L.Joe, and cutting himself off from his usual sexual outlet only raised more problems.  He was feverishly horny, and his cock responded to every little stimulation, popping up hard and ready at the slightest provocation.  He felt like he was losing an overenthusiastic game of whack-a-mole with himself; the damned thing kept leaping up.  He tried to exercise his will, tried to think it into submission, but no matter how well-disciplined he felt mentally, his flesh was stubborn.

            He decided that exercise was the answer.  He would train his body to obey him through exercise.  He got up early every morning; when his alarm went off, no matter what time it was or how little sleep he’d gotten, he got up and started an hour-long workout.

            He couldn’t say that it did anything to dull his libido, but it did make him even more likely to fall asleep in the van or backstage.

            He was eating with the other members one evening, chewing each bite thirty times, when Suho told him that he could see L.Joe that night.

            He said, “Yes, hyung,” automatically, and then, “Thank you, hyung,” as the words sank in.  L.Joe.  His L.Joe.  His pet.

            He’d been denied his pet so many times lately, he didn’t get his hopes up.  He just took his cold shower, put on nice clothes, tidied up his room, and got into the van.

            When he got to Teen Top’s dorm, L.Joe was waiting for him.  Eager for him.  Suddenly everything felt right with the world.

            Sehun really, honestly, needed this.  So much of his life was out of his control.  From company staff and managers who micromanaged a thousand details of his life, to PDs and writers; from sunbaes and managing his public image to keeping a million hyungs happy, everyone else got the final say.  Sehun needed to be the one in control, to dominate, to humiliate, to vent every rebellious response he’d swallowed and force someone else to submit to his will for a change.  He needed to get it out in a safe space so that he didn’t lose it at the wrong times with the wrong people and fuck up his real life.

            It was like he took all of the tension and pressure and stress of his complicated, busy life and poured it into L.Joe.  And his perfect, amazing pet lapped up every drop of it with impressive enthusiasm.  L.Joe didn’t just allow it, L.Joe needed this as much as he did.  Needed it just as much and maybe more.  L.Joe suffered when they were apart, just like he did, longed for his authority as much as he ached to assert it.  L.Joe understood like no one else in his life could.  L.Joe gave him something no one else could give.  And, god damn, it was perfect.

            L.Joe was perfect.  Submissive and sweet, obedient, needy, sexy, and completely, entirely his. 

            His night with L.Joe was cathartic and fulfilling and exactly what he needed to set things right again.

            The next morning, when his alarm went off, he snorted in disbelief and turned it off.  There was no need for games when he still felt this amazing.  He rolled over and went back to sleep with a smile on his face.

Series page: "Let's Love"

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Copyright January 5, 2015
by Matthew Haldeman-Time