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            Changjo had never had a boyfriend before.  But he’d seen plenty of people in relationships around, at school and on TV. And he’d sort of been dating Suho for a while.  If everyone else had a boyfriend, how hard could it be?  He figured that he and L would meet for coffee and exchange looks when they crossed paths backstage and stay in touch.  Like friendship, but with sex.  He hoped for a lot more sex.

            Pretty much the only thing he guessed right was the sex.  And even that he’d miscalculated.

            “We could go out,” Changjo suggested.

            L’s lip curled.

            He was running out of suggestions.  L didn’t seem to want to do anything besides sit there in Infinite’s front room and silently hate the world.  “We could play a videogame.”

            “You don’t like videogames.”

            “So you can teach me one.  Show me a good one.”

            L sulked, slouching down farther on the couch, arms crossed over his chest.

            “We can watch TV.”

            “There’s nothing on.”

            “We can rob a bank.  We can go through Woohyun hyung’s secret stash of BDSM gear, I know he has one.  We can go on-line and start rumors about whoever it is you’re so freaking upset about.”  When L didn’t even reply, just sat there like a moody, sulky lump, he got pissed off.  “I didn’t come over here to watch you pout.  Let’s just have sex or I’m going.”

            L stared at him in betrayed incomprehension.

            He hated being looked at like that.  He fucking detested it, and he hated it from L more than anything.  “Bye,” he said, and he got up.

            “No,” L said, grabbing his wrist and yanking him back a step.  “You came here to get off, right?  You came here for sex.  So take what you came here for.”

            He knew what L was doing, he saw all of the layers of it, but he was pissed off.  “Okay, great,” he said, pulling off his shirt.  “Should we go to your room or do you want it right here?”

            L smirked at him, a really cold, cruel smirk, and started undoing his own fly.  “You can plant that hot ass on me right here.”

            Was that supposed to upset him?  Like bottoming instead of topping would slow him down.  “Great.”  He stripped naked, right then, right there, took everything off.  Then he dug into the cushions, coming up with a tube of lube.

            L took it out of his hand, still smirking, still looking mean.

            Whatever.  He sat on L’s lap, tugging up L’s shirt.

            They kissed, but it was completely weird.  L kissed too hard, and then barely at all, and then too hard, and then not at all.  Breaking away from his mouth, Changjo asked, “What?  Are we doing this, or not?”

            L pushed him away.  Carefully, not roughly, but insistently.

            He looked nauseated.   Like he legitimately might throw up.  About to accuse him of losing it, Changjo hesitated, because he really did seem to be losing it.  He breathed hard for a second, his expression sick and confused, and then he looked directly at Changjo like he was horrified, and then his whole face crumpled and he started crying.

            Changjo just stared at him, for a second, not even sure where to start with this hyung.  Whatever was going on had to be serious.  He sat down and put an arm around L, trying to be supportive.  “Hyung, seriously, what’s wrong?  Is it about Infinite?  Is it a family thing?  If it’s private, that’s okay, I can keep secrets.”  He wasn’t usually the one who comforted his members when they cried.  He tried to think of reassuring things to say.  He picked up his shirt and used a corner of it to blot L’s tears.  “Whoever’s upsetting you this much, just tell me who it is and I’ll destroy them.  Seriously.  Anyone who’s doing this to you deserves it.”

            “I,” L said, choking on his own tears.  “I.”  Then he noticed that his cock was still out, and he said, “Oh, god,” like it was repulsive, and he did up his fly.  Then he grabbed the shirt and shoved it at Changjo, pushing Changjo away.  “Go, go, get out.”

            Changjo didn’t want to be too dramatic, but he didn’t want to leave L alone like this.  He dropped the shirt into his lap where it could cover his junk, and then he patted L’s back.  “I can help if you tell me what’s wrong.”

            “Me.  I’m what’s wrong.”  He dragged his hand under his nose, then looked at Changjo with wet, lost eyes.  “I’m sorry, I.”

            He was too emotional to make any sense.  Changjo got dressed, to give him time to work through whatever he was going through.  Then Changjo went to take a leak.  Investigated the fridge.  Sat beside him and watched TV.

            Since L wasn’t going anywhere, Changjo put his head in L’s lap and watched TV from there.  It didn’t make the crappy shows any better, but it was more comfortable.

            L didn’t say anything for a long time, but that was okay.  Changjo only liked to talk sometimes.  After a while, he said, in a really miserable voice, “Go.  You - - you should go.”

            “Oh?  Is our date over?” Changjo asked, sitting up and turning off the TV.  “Things were going so well, I couldn’t tell.  Okay, then, kiss me good night and let’s make plans for next time.”

            L looked pained.  His nose was all red from crying.  “Don’t be like this.  Please.  I know I deserve it,” his face was crumpling again, tears brimming in his eyes, “but please, don’t.”

            “Hyung.”  He reached out to put a hand on L’s arm, and then he saw a flash in L’s eyes, and he immediately pulled his hand back without making contact.  He knew that look, that panicked, resistant, “don’t!”  He knew what put that look there, too.  “Hyung,” he said.  “Did somebody touch you?”  That was a stupid question.  “Today, I mean, did someone hurt you today?  Bother you?”

            That might explain his dark, sulky mood.  Everyone reacted to that stuff differently.  Chunji bounced back immediately, eyes glittering with dark vibrancy, proving that nothing was wrong, and then a week or so later had a huge crying fit and fell apart.  Niel got sick, like, physically sick, coughing and throwing up and losing his voice.  Changjo had one thing so closely tied to the other that once Niel had gotten sick - - regular sick - - and he hadn’t been able to handle it.  He’d gone around fighting everybody and looking for someone to hurt and wanting to make somebody suffer for doing that to his hyung.  Until C.A.P. had grabbed him and told him to calm down and hugged him and said, “He’s just sick, maknae, it’s just the flu, he’ll heal, he’ll get better,” and Changjo had cried, because he knew that not everything healed.

            So, anyway.  Different people had different reactions.  And he’d seen five people go through it more than once - - six people, if he counted himself, which he did not, so fuck that - - and maybe this was one of L’s stages.

            He figured that he’d handle it the way he did for his members.  He’d offer his support, and he’d give whatever L needed and do whatever worked, and then he’d go burn down the world around whoever had hurt his hyung.

            “Do you want me to tell you that it’ll be okay?” he offered.  Some people liked those kinds of reassurances.

            “It’s not - - no, no, it’s not that,” L said, sounding confused, wiping at his face.

            No?  Thank god, that was a relief.  Although now the sight of that look in L’s eyes was never going to leave him, so that was great.  Frustrated now, he glared.  “Then what the hell is your problem?”

            “Why are you being like this?” L demanded, looking hurt, like Changjo was the one acting like a jerk.

            “Why are you being like this?” he demanded right back.

            L still looked all wounded.  “We promised to be honest with each other.”

            “I’m being honest!  You’re the one acting weird and keeping secrets!”

            The bewildered expression on L’s face made him look so young, anybody would have assumed that Changjo was the hyung in the room.  “You’re not playing me?  You’re not paying me back?”  L looked so lost, sometimes.  “You’re really not upset?”

            “I’m upset that this has been the crappiest date ever.  And that you’re jerking me around.  But I’m not going to hold it against you.  Just, can you either freaking talk to me, or else just say, ‘Hey, Changjo-ah, I’m in a bad mood, this is going to be a terrible date, but I still want to see you, I just need to be an asshole for a while,’ so I know what I’m in for?”

            L sniffled and looked interested.  “I can say that?”

            “Why not?  We agreed to be honest.”  He grinned.  “Like I don’t know that you have crappy days sometimes?  I’ve been an idol as long as you have.”  He slid closer, but L grimaced and said, “Ah, don’t come near me.”

            What?  “Why not?” he asked, curious.  “What’s going to happen, are you going to pretend to ask for sex you don’t want again?  Because that was just a waste of my time.”

            For a second, L looked disoriented and sick.  And things started to click in Changjo’s head.  Because he knew that expression, too.  He’d seen it when C.A.P. had climbed off of L.Joe.  That was the horrified disgust of someone who’d taken advantage the wrong way at the wrong time, and had just realized it, and was about to be ill.

            Changjo had read this whole situation wrong.  No, L had.  “Hyung.  Do you think I’m upset with you for trying to screw me?  You were being an asshole.  I was being an asshole.  If I didn’t want it, I wouldn’t have let you.”  They’d agreed to be honest, so he kept talking.  “I shouldn’t have acted like I was going to fuck you, top you. I was just being a jerk to piss you off.  I wouldn’t have done it, I know how you feel about being used, I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t right for you.  But you can screw me, I don’t care.  As long as I don’t say no and try to get away, you can do whatever you want.  I don’t care if the mood’s weird.”

            Wide-eyed, frowning and searching his face, L seemed to be having a dozen responses at once.

            Changjo gave him time to process.  Dug through the couch cushions.  Found a second tube of lube.  A single chopstick.  A pen.  A blue satin thong.  Holding it up, letting it dangle from one finger, he stared, delighted.  “You have to tell me who this belongs to.”  He pictured it on Sungjong.  Too obvious.  On Sunggyu?  Hilarious.  On Sungyeol?  Perfect.  Unless.  Unless it belonged to Key.

            L snatched it from him and stuffed it back in the couch.  “Put that down.”

            “Is it yours?  You’d tell me if it’s yours, right?  Are there others around here?  Can you wear one for me?”  L looked at him.  Looked at him with so much silent, speculative interest that he could practically read L’s mind all of a sudden.  Scandalized, he laughed.  “Hyung!  Are you picturing me like that?”

            L reached for him, then hesitated.  Hating that, he slid closer, but he didn’t force contact.  “Are you okay?” L asked.  “Are you sure?”

            The uncertain look on L’s face was going to kill him.  “I’m fine.  You’re too sensitive sometimes, but I’m not, I can handle myself.”

            “You’re more sensitive than anyone.”

            “I am not,” he argued, offended.

            “You are,” L said.  “You have all kinds of exposed wounds and raw nerves.”

            “I do not.  You’re the one who cries over everything.  I don’t cry.”  He wanted to get defiant, to insist that he never, ever cried, but he thought that if he kept going he might kind of prove L’s point, so he shut up and just tried to look firm.

            “Just tell me again that you’re not upset with me.  I’m sorry that I tried to hurt you, I’m sorry that I tried to use you.”  L grimaced, rubbing at his own face, starting to slip back into that weird emotional hell he liked to dwell in so much.  “I don’t know how I could do that to you, I hate myself, I-”

            “Hyung, seriously, you’re getting annoying,” Changjo said, taking his hand and pulling it away from his face.  He stared down at where Changjo’s fingers were wrapped around his wrist.  He looked like he couldn’t comprehend it.  “You didn’t hurt me.  You were messing with me, I was messing with you, we shouldn’t have done it, everyone’s wrong, we’re both assholes.  But you didn’t hurt me, and I’m not upset.  You can use me for sex if I know that you’re doing it, I don’t care about that.  You’d better not use me for sex if I don’t know that’s what you’re doing, that would be super bad, so maybe you should say something first, so everything’s clear.”

            “I can’t use you for sex,” L protested, gaze flying up to meet his eyes.

            “Sure you can.  My members do it all of the time.  Niel hyung uses my cock to get himself off.  Chunji hyung goes down on me to make L.Joe hyung jealous or to get C.A.P. hyung’s attention.  I don’t care.  Ricky and I had hate sex a couple of times, to see what it’s like.  It was really kind of messed up, but it was kind of hot, too.”  He leaned closer, deliberately looking cute and innocent, putting on his maknae face.  “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?  Why are you so grouchy and moody?  Who do you want me to kill for you?”

            “I love you,” L whispered, knuckles brushing lightly over his cheek.  L’s eyes were watering again.  “Every time I hurt you, even a little bit, it makes me hate everything about myself.  I feel disgusting, I feel like a monster.”

            “You’re not a monster.”  Changjo kept his voice soft, not wanting to make L tense.  “You’re my favorite hyung.  You’re my boyfriend, right?  We’re getting closer to each other now, and maybe we haven’t figured everything out yet.  You haven’t learned everything about me, and I didn’t realize that you’re a million times more of an emotional mess than I already thought.  Are you always like this?  Is this worse, today, or is it always this way, and you just hid it from me before?”

            “I’m not a mess,” L said, and then he smiled helplessly.  “I’m kind of a mess.  I’m sorry, I…”  He sighed and wiped at his face.  “I had a really bad day.  There’s some…  There’s family stuff.”

            “Okay.”  He knew enough about L to know that there were some deep emotional scars that pre-dated Infinite.  He also knew enough about L to know that L only talked about family to a certain extent.  Just enough for Changjo to know names and relationships, just enough to make pleasant conversation, but nothing deeper than that.  He stroked L’s arm.  “Are you okay?  You can tell me anything.”  When L blinked miserably, he asked, “Can you talk to your members?”

            L swallowed.

            He probably felt guilty.  He didn’t want to talk to Changjo about it, but he felt like he should, now that they were boyfriends.  He probably felt like he owed it to Changjo, after the rest of their date had been so awful.  But Changjo was okay, either way.  Some things were for inside the group only.  “You don’t have to tell me, you don’t owe me anything.  There’s stuff I can’t tell you yet, either.  Maybe later.  Some other time.  But you should talk to your members about this, okay?  Don’t keep it all in.”

            Eyes wet again, L hugged him.

            This hyung.  Loving him, feeling awful for him, Changjo patted his back.  It was weird to be the maknae and the hyung all in one relationship with one person, but Changjo would figure it out.

            It started off with great news.  L landed a really great role in a new drama.  He was really excited about it, but he was embarrassed to break the news himself.  He let his manager tell the other members, and then he laughed, touched, when they happily congratulated him and took him out to dinner.

            He texted Suho about it.  He sort of hoped that Suho would tell Changjo for him, but Suho was onto him, or something, and wouldn’t do it.  No matter how much he hinted.  Not even when he asked outright.

            Changjo came over to his dorm, and right away he could tell that something was up.  Changjo had a knowing, mischievous smile that went right to his heart.  He loved it when Changjo smiled like that; it gave him energy, made him happy, made him want to shower Changjo with all of the love and affection in the world.  He forgot all about his own news and tried to figure out what Changjo was up to.  He was so in love and so attracted to Changjo that he started touching, and then he started kissing, and Changjo was so sexy, so irresistible, that they were having sex before he knew it.  It felt like the most right, most natural thing he could do, to give himself to Changjo, to share pleasure with this beautiful, brilliant dongsaeng.

            “God, I’m so in love with you,” he breathed, rubbing his nose against Changjo’s cheek.  Changjo rolled on top of him again, and he kissed Changjo’s neck, running his hands over Changjo’s taut, smooth skin.

            “Hyung,” Changjo murmured, fingers walking down his chest.

            “Hmm.”  He licked Changjo’s neck, his eyes closing.  He wanted nothing more than to curl up in Changjo’s embrace and just bask.  Bask in this warm, satisfied feeling.  Bask in this unending, powerful love.  His love for Changjo still felt tender and new, but at the same time it was so intense, so strong, that he felt like it had been there for a lot longer than he’d realized.  How long ago had he started loving Changjo?  “I’ve loved you forever, haven’t I?” he wondered, stroking Changjo’s sides.

            “Mmm, probably,” Changjo said.  “Is there anything you want to tell me?”

            “Tell you?” he repeated, his attention absorbed by Changjo’s face.  This handsome, fascinating face.  Changjo had an irresistibly sexy mouth, and a perfect nose, and those captivating eyes.  He stared, in awe of Changjo’s black lashes and smooth eyelids.  This beautiful maknae.

            “You, hey, don’t,” Changjo said, laughing, blushing, ducking his head.  “Stop staring at me like that!”

            “What?” he asked, not wanting to stop at all, arms and legs coiling around Changjo.

            “I can’t talk to you when you’re looking at me like that!” Changjo said, smiling, blushing, trying to avoid L’s eyes.

            “Everyone should look at you like this,” L said, wanting to kiss him again.  Wanting him to initiate it.  It felt like it would mean everything, like it would complete something deep inside L, if Changjo kissed him.

            “You’re too much, ugh.”  Changjo pulled away.  Disappointed, L let him go.  He flopped onto his side with that youthful, careless energy that came so easily to him.  L rolled towards him, silently vowing not to crowd him, not to cling to him.  He scooted close, slinging an arm around L, and then he kissed L right on the mouth.  It was perfect, it was everything that L had wanted, and when he did it again, L was more in love with him than ever.  It seemed like he stole L’s heart away every time they met, every time they spoke, every time they touched.  Every time he smiled.  “Hyung,” he said, tapping at L’s cheek.  At L’s dimple, probably.  “Don’t you want to tell me something?”

            “Tell you what?”  His hand wandered down, caressing Changjo’s ass.  So firm.  There were a few people that L genuinely wanted to fuck every time he saw them, and Changjo was one of them.  Changjo had actually been the one to make him aware of that constant impulse, because Changjo was the first person he’d felt that way about who wasn’t in Infinite.

            “I don’t know.  Anything new going on?  Any developments?  Any changes?”  Changjo blinked at him in wide-eyed wonder.  “Anything new with Infinite?  Maybe other career stuff?”

            Career stuff.  Bursting into laughter, L smacked at his chest.  “Who told you?!”

            “What?  Is there something?” he asked innocently, smiling.

            “Did Suho hyung tell you?”

            “Hyung,” Changjo said, grinning at him.  “There’s this new thing called the Internet.  It has all kinds of information on it.  You can look up anything you want!  There’s even stuff like entertainment news and gossip sites, where you can find out what celebrities are up to and if they have new job offers.”

            “I’m not a celebrity,” he said, embarrassed.

            “Shit, hyung, what?” Changjo asked, laughing at him.  “Infinite’s L isn’t a what?”

            “Okay, shut up.”  Blushing, he wrapped Changjo up in his arms again.  “I didn’t know that the news would be out yet, it’s still new.”

            “It’s not everywhere yet,” Changjo said.  “But I know where to look.”

            “What, are you…”  Puzzled, L caressed his back.  “Do you do searches on me?”

            “Of course.”  He made it sound natural and obvious.  “I search you all of the time.  I need to know what people are saying about you.”

            “That…  I don’t want to know what they’re saying.”  It was creepy.  Not Changjo, he didn’t think that Changjo was creepy at all.  But it made him uncomfortable that people were just out there, talking about him, gossiping and speculating and comparing.  The way people had private conversations right out in public, he just couldn’t get used to it.  Some things were meant to be private.

            “You search for yourself sometimes, don’t you?”

            He did.  “I always regret it.”

            “Well, I’ll tell you where to look and what to read,” Changjo said.  He liked that idea.  He hadn’t realized that it would be okay to ask someone to do that, but Changjo was offering like it was ordinary.  Kissing him, Changjo caressed his side, and he relaxed into it.  It felt good to be with Changjo, incredibly good.

            They made love again, and then they talked about the drama.  About the crew, and the cast, and when filming would start.

            When he mentioned one of the actors, Changjo asked, “You don’t like him?”

            He wondered how he’d given it away.  Whatever had shown on his face, he was going to have to learn to hide it.  “He’s all right.”

            Changjo’s gaze was focused on him, attentive.  “What’d he do?”

            “Nothing,” he said, but he couldn’t lie to Changjo.  “He’s an asshole, it’s not serious, there are a million guys like him.”

            “He was an asshole to you?”

            L grimaced.  “Kind of.  I worked with him before, on-”

            “I know that, I’ve watched all of your crappy dramas.”  Changjo’s eyes widened as soon as the sentence was out.  “Your awesome dramas, awesome, they’re all terrific, I love everything you’ve been in.”

            “Oh, shut up,” he said affectionately, hugging Changjo close.  “When we worked together before, he hit on me.  I said no, but he was kind of pushy.  I was younger then, so I don’t know if he’ll expect more from me now that I’m older, and if I’ll have to figure out how to get away from him all over again.”

            Changjo’s eyes narrowed.  “Or maybe younger guys are his type, and he won’t be interested now that you’re more grown up.”

            Yeah.  That was always a possibility.

            Changjo’s gaze darkened, and he looked thoughtfully at L’s collarbone, tapping his thumb against it.

            L changed the subject, wanting to talk about other things, better things.

            He shouldn’t have.  He should’ve talked it out, or asked what was going on behind Changjo’s unhappy, scheming eyes.

            Changjo relaxed on L’s bed, waiting for L to come over and screw him.  “Had a good day, honey?”  He rolled onto his stomach and kicked his feet up behind himself, watching L put clean clothes away.  “How was your table read?”

            “Pretty good, actually.”  L pushed his sleeves up and came over, sitting beside Changjo on the bed.  He gave Changjo’s ass a distracted look, palming it.  “I don’t know, things were weird at first.  Everybody was kind of tense, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.  But it went okay.”

            “Tense about what?”  He tightened and relaxed his muscles, making his ass shift under L’s hand.

            L gave him a firm squeeze, then rubbed him until he relaxed again.  “That actor I was telling you about, Dae sunbaenim?  He got fired all of a sudden.  Nobody knows what happened.  Everybody’s shaken up.  He was the first one cast, they had the role set around him, he was a really big name in the cast, and now he’s gone.  We’re all kind of freaked out, nobody’s sure, like, is somebody else going to be next?”

            “It’s not like you miss him, though.”

            “It’s not personal, it doesn’t matter if I liked him or not.”  L rubbed the back of his thigh.  “He was a big part of the drama.  I don’t even know this new guy they replaced him with.  It’s just a really bad atmosphere before we even start filming.  God, I love your body.”

            He rolled over, inviting more attention.  L crawled up him, over him, and he told himself to go with it, to get into it, but he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.  “You’re acting like you’re upset that he’s gone.”

            “I am,” L admitted.  “I don’t even know why he’s gone.”

            “He was an ass to you, maybe he was an ass to somebody else, is it a big surprise that they’d want to get rid of him?”  This conversation was getting way too close to a place where Changjo was almost kind of lying, and he couldn’t lie to L.  He tugged on the front of L’s shirt, guiding L down, but at the last second before their lips met he realized that this was kind of like distracting L with sex, and he’d promised not to do that, either.  Shit!  Turning his face aside, he pushed L up again.

            “What?” L asked, sounding baffled.  “Are you okay?”

            “I…”  Not knowing what to say, he scrubbed a hand through his hair.  When L backed off of him, kneeling over his legs, he pushed himself up on both elbows.  He still didn’t know what to say.

            “You aren’t in the mood?”

            “I’m always in the mood.”  He prided himself on it.  “Let’s get something to eat, do you want to eat?”

            He’d never promised not to distract L with food.

            They ordered food, and they ate all of it, and they talked about other stuff.  They made out, and then L went down on him, and it was amazing.  He cleaned up the trash from their meal.

            He didn’t know what would’ve happened if he’d left the trash until later.  But he went to throw everything away, and when he walked back into the room, L said, “Changjo-ah,” and sat forward on the edge of the bed, eyeing him intently.  There was knowledge in L’s eyes, and he felt himself grow tense.  “Did you do something about Dae sunbaenim?  Did you say anything to anybody?”

            “What?”  He couldn’t remember how to look innocent, and he sounded stupid.

            L’s gaze sharpened.  “Don’t lie to me.”

            “I’m not lying.”  He wasn’t.

            L pushed himself to his feet, his gaze never wavering.  “Who did you tell?  What did you say?”

            “I didn’t do anything!”  Now he really was lying, and he immediately shook his head, regretting it.  “I got rid of him.”

            “You-”  L’s stare was shocked, now.  “How?”

            “You don’t need to know that.”  Why did it have to be such a big deal?  “I did it for you!  I got rid of him for you.  He’s gone now, you won’t have to deal with him.”

            “Holy shit,” L said, staring at him in disbelief.

            “Okay, so you can thank me later,” Changjo muttered.  It wasn’t like he’d expected some huge display of gratitude, or anything, but L could at least act appreciative.

            “You can’t, god,” L said, shaking his head.  “What are you doing?”

            “Helping you!  What do you think I’m doing, I’m solving your problems for you, I got him out of your way!  He won’t bother you anymore, isn’t that what you wanted?”

            “I never said that!”

            “He’s an asshole!  What, did you want him to paw all over you and pressure you and make your life hell every day of filming?”

            “You think that I’m not used to that?” L demanded.  “Shit, that’s life!”

            “Not your life,” Changjo snapped, feeling even more determined now, more right.  “Not if I can help it.”

            L squeezed his eyes shut, sitting down on the bed again.  “Shit.”  When he looked at Changjo again, his expression was defeated.  “I know that he’s an asshole.  I can deal with it.  You can’t play around like this.  You can’t fuck with other people’s careers.”

            Changjo glared at him.  “If this were someone bothering Suho hyung, you’d sic me on him in a second.  If somebody was messing with one of your members, you’d help me take care of it.  But I’m supposed to back off when it’s you?”

            “This is my job,” L insisted.  “I know what I can deal with.  Now the whole cast and crew are shaken up, it’s affecting everyone on set.”

            “They’ll get over it once filming starts.”

            “What if someone connects it to me, what if someone connects it to you?”

            “I wouldn’t fucking do it if that might happen,” he said impatiently.  “Do you think I don’t even know what I’m doing?”

            L sighed, looking tired.  “Look, I…  I know that you know what you’re doing.  I know that this isn’t your first time.  You’re a conniving, sneaky, manipulative badass, and you’ll knife anyone who looks at your members funny.  I get it.  But you can’t fuck with people over me.”

            “Yes, I can.”

            “Changjo-ah, this is only something you can do so often.  You have to be more careful.  What if you get caught?  What if someone starts making connections?  Don’t look out for me, look out for yourself.”

            “I’m careful.”

            “You can’t mess with people just because I don’t like them.  You’ll end up going after everyone who’s ever been in this industry.”

            Changjo didn’t like hearing that.  “I’m going to target everyone who’s ever upset you.  Everyone who’s ever pissed you off.  All of them, they’re all gone, it’s over.”

            “You can’t,” L repeated.  “Come here.”

            “No.”  He didn’t want to.

            “Come here,” he said again, putting a hand out.

            Scowling, feeling stubborn and resentful, Changjo let himself be reeled in, slowly.

            “Down here,” L said, pulling on his arm, his sleeve.  He dropped to his knees in front of L, but he refused to stop scowling.  “You’ve been Teen Top’s secret weapon for a long time now,” L said, trying to look into his eyes.  He frowned at the bed.  L stroked his neck.  “You can be my secret weapon, too, but you have to let me choose when, and how, and against who.  You can’t target people on your own.  Not for my sake.”  L drew him closer, whispering, “I don’t want you to get caught.  I don’t want you to get hurt for me.”

            “I don’t care about getting hurt,” he muttered, gripping the leg of L’s pants.  “I care about you.”

            “I’ll be okay,” L said.  “If I have you, I’ll always be okay.”

            Hearing that made tears sting his eyes, and he hugged L.  L hugged him back, and he hugged tighter, and L mouthed his shoulder.  They stayed like that for a while, hugging, L chewing on him.  “I’m sorry,” he finally said.  He wasn’t, but he was.  It wasn’t a lie.  “I didn’t mean to mess anything up for you.”

            “I don’t care about the crew or the rest of the cast, screw them,” L said, still hugging him.  “I love you for doing that for me, I love that I won’t have to see him.  I’m so fucking glad that he’ll never, ever be on set, not once.”

            Yes.  That was exactly why Changjo had done it.  To give L that feeling.  Satisfaction sparkled in his veins and he hid his smile against L’s shoulder.

            “It’s so much better now, it’s going to be so much easier.”  Finally pulling back, L cupped his face.  He couldn’t hide his smile anymore, and L smiled back at him, and he knew that they understood each other.  “Thank you,” L said, and kissed him on the mouth.  “Thank you.  Now don’t ever do it again.  Not without talking to me first.”

            “Okay.”  They’d discuss it next time.  That was okay.  As long as he knew that he could have L’s back when L really needed it, it was okay.

            L kissed him again, a really good, really sexy, really deep kiss.  And then L kissed the corner of his mouth and looked into his eyes and whispered, “And I’ll talk to you first next time, too.”

            He - - what?  He hadn’t - - but, wait.  Changjo grinned, trying to read his expression.  He moved in for another kiss, but Changjo dodged it, tapping at his chin.  “Hyung?  Did you do something I don’t know about?”

            L blushed, then bit at his lower lip.

            “You meant next time, like, in the future,” Changjo said.  “Right?  Not next time, like…”  L wouldn’t meet his eyes.  “Hyung!” he exclaimed, laughing.  “What did you do?!”

            L winced, drawing back.  “Your stylist,” he mumbled, pushing his sleeves back up.

            No!  “You’re kidding!  Are you fucking with me?”

            “She wasn’t any good.  She never styled you right, and you never like your clothes, and…”

            “That’s Top Media stuff!  You can’t mess around in Top Media stuff!”

            “You got Dae sunbaenim fired!”

            “How did you even do it?” he demanded.  He felt scandalized.  Those decisions went up to Andy!  “You can’t fuck with Andy hyung!”

            “I didn’t go near Andy sunbaenim.”

            “You’d better not!”  God!  “I’m so freaked out.  Hyung, seriously!  You can’t fire stylists!”

            “She was terrible!”

            “You think that I’m going too far for getting rid of some creepy pervy asshole, and you got someone fired for not doing my hair right?!”

            L sputtered, protesting, and then burst into laughter.  Turning redder and redder, he fell across his bed, still laughing.  “Fuck!  Oh, god, I really did.”

            “Who went too far?” Changjo demanded, climbing on top of him.

            “Sorry, I’m sorry,” L said, shaking with laughter.  Stroking his chest, L said, “She didn’t do your hair right!  And she never did your make-up right, either.  And you complained about the clothes.”

            “I always complain about those things!  It doesn’t mean anything!”

            “But your new stylist is so much better.”

            “It’s all people putting crap on my face, it doesn’t make a difference.”

            “But it’s a beautiful face,” L said, gazing up at him like he shone.  “It’s your beautiful face.  I couldn’t let her keep that job if she couldn’t show you off right.”

            “Oh my god, you have so many problems,” Changjo said, rolling off of him and tucking against his side.  They held hands for a minute, his head on L’s shoulder.  “I won’t go too far without talking to you next time.”

            “I won’t, either.”

            “And you seriously can’t mess with Andy hyung.  I don’t mess with Andy hyung.  Chunji hyung doesn’t mess with Andy hyung.  You really can’t.”

            “I won’t.  I promise, I won’t.”

            “Your drama’s going to be great,” he said, squeezing L’s hand.

            “You looked so handsome yesterday,” L said.  “I want to go down on you again right now, thinking about it.”

            He grinned.  He liked that.  “Was it the eyeliner?”

            “The lipstick,” L said.  “God, your mouth.”

            Rolling closer, he brushed a kiss over L’s cheek.  “This mouth?”  He did it again, teasing.  “This mouth?”

            Moaning, L rolled over, kissing him.

            L curled up on his bed, lazy, drowsy, watching Changjo poke around in his closet.  There were some new fan gifts in there; Changjo opened boxes, checking everything out.  “How was dinner last night?”

            “Good.”  He and Woohyun had met Key and Jonghyun and Suho.

            “Suho hyung said that he went with you.”

            “Yeah.  I didn’t know he was coming, Key hyung invited him at the last second.”  He tucked his pillow under his head, picturing Changjo in some of those clothes.  “He scolded me for not taking you along.”

            “Suho hyung did?”


            Changjo found a box of shoes and made a low, appreciative sound.  “C.A.P. hyung has these, but I didn’t even know they came in black and silver.  What do you mean, could I go?  Am I a secret from Shinee?”

            “I don’t know.”  He didn’t think that Key or Jonghyun would care.  Not that they wouldn’t care at all, but they weren’t the kind of people who would do anything with the information.  Not as long as Shinee and Infinite were so close.  “Why, would you want to go?”

            “To dinner with you and Suho hyung?  Do you see me turn that down a lot?”

            “But with Woohyun hyung and Key hyung and Jonghyun hyung.  That’s a lot of hyungs.”

            “My whole life is a lot of hyungs, I’m used to it.”

            “Yeah, but it can’t be fun.”

            He glanced over.  “Why not?”

            “I don’t know.  They’re just older than you, I didn’t think you’d want to hang out with them.”

            “Doesn’t everybody want to hang out with Shinee?”  Changjo put the shoes back in the closet.  “It’s Key sunbaenim.  Hanging out with his boyfriend, his other boyfriend, and one of his best friends.  I could learn so much just by sitting in the corner, watching.”

            It had been a lot of fun.  And things were always more fun with Changjo.  “I’ll invite you next time.”

            Changjo didn’t understand why L wouldn’t try sex with EXO.  “They’re Suho hyung’s members, they’re not going to do anything weird to you.  I know that you don’t like random people you don’t like trying to hit on you, but you know them.  They have sex with Suho hyung.  If they’re tame enough to do it with him, I think that you don’t have anything to worry about.”

            “I don’t want them,” L said again.

            “They’re hot.”

            L wrinkled his nose, shaking his head.  “They’re kids.  They can’t do anything for me.  I have my members, I have you, I don’t want them.”

            “You can’t try my members, either?  Not even Chunji hyung?  You used to like him.  You don’t want L.Joe hyung?  He’s really good at a lot of things.  You don’t want Chen hyung?  He’s totally your type.  You don’t want Sehun hyung?  He’s good-looking.”

            “Sehun?” L repeated.  “No, he’s too young.”

            “He’s too young,” Changjo said.  “Is Kai hyung too young?”


            “What about D.O. hyung, is he too young?”

            “I don’t think that he knows what he’s doing.”

            “And Ricky’s too young,” Changjo guessed.  “What about that Changjo kid?”

            L took a second look at him, then laughed.  “I didn’t mean it like that!  I didn’t mean you.”

            “Everybody’s too young, nobody’s interesting, no one knows how to screw except for your precious Infinite hyungs,” Changjo said.  “What about me, I’m just somebody’s maknae, right?”

            “Don’t take things the wrong way,” L said.

            “No, I get it, I understand,” Changjo said.  “Screw people your own age, then, date guys your own age, only go to dinner with people your own age.  Stick to Suho hyung, he’s older, he’s great, right, that’s how you like it.  Have spectacular sex with Sunggyu hyung and go to dinner with Woohyun hyung, it’s a great life.  I’ll stay home and listen to the babysitter, is that okay?”

            “I didn’t mean it like that, and you know it,” L said, frowning.

            “No, I understand,” Changjo insisted.  “When it’s Shinee’s Jonghyun, that sunbae, that hyung, everybody’s all adults and it’s sexy and it’s grown-up time.  When it’s Teen Top’s Jonghyun, that maknae, it’s kid time.  You don’t want a kid to screw you, you can’t take a kid seriously.  You aren’t attracted to someone younger, right, someone younger’s too foolish, too stupid, wouldn’t even know what to do around adults.”

            “You’re an adult,” L said.  “I’ve never taken you lightly, I-”

            “Don’t lie, you said that you wouldn’t lie,” Changjo said.  “Or is it okay to break promises to me, I’m just a foolish kid, it doesn’t matter.”

            “I take you seriously now,” L said.  “If I didn’t before, it was only because I didn’t know you.  I didn’t understand you.  We weren’t as close then.”

            “Right, why would you be close to some random maknae.”

            “Is this about that dinner?  Are you upset that I didn’t invite you?  I’ll invite you next time, I told you that.  I didn’t know that you’d want to come.”

            “Why wouldn’t I want to?” Changjo demanded.  “Why?  Seriously, tell me why.”

            L winced.  Changjo could see on his face that he didn’t want to answer.

            “Fuck you,” Changjo said, and walked out.

            L couldn’t sleep.  He couldn’t relax.  He couldn’t stop thinking about Changjo.  He kept hearing that last “fuck you” in his ears, kept seeing Changjo walk out, over and over again.  He kept turning his own thoughts over in his mind, examining his ideas about Changjo, going over everything relentlessly.  Testing himself.  Absolving himself.  Accusing himself.

            His members came home.  Walked around, talked, had sex, went to bed.

            Even hours later, when the dorm was quiet, when everything was still, he couldn’t sleep.

            He got up.

            “Maknae.”  Someone was shaking him, pinching his arm.  “Maknae, wake up.”

            Rolling over, he blinked at L.Joe.  “What?  What time is it?”  What was wrong?  Was the dorm on fire again?  Had something happened to one of the members?

            L.Joe shushed him, then leaned right up against his ear and whispered, “L hyung’s outside.”

            What?  “What?  Who?”  Was this a joke?  This was no time to joke about shit like that.  “I hate him, send him away.”

            “Seriously, he’s here,” L.Joe whispered.  “He’s in the hallway.  Should I let him in?”

            Why was L.Joe asking him and not C.A.P.?  “Screw him, I hate him.  Don’t open the door.”  What time was it, anyway?  Changjo sat up and checked his phone.  “Are you lying to me?” he asked, staring hard at L.Joe’s face.

            “Why would I lie?” L.Joe whispered.

            Because Chunji had put him up to it.  Because C.A.P. had put him up to it.  Because Changjo’s members were jerks.  Wanting to see it for himself, not believing it for a second, he got up.  L.Joe fussed at him until he put underwear on, and then he padded out to the front room.

            He peeked through the peephole.

            L was out there!

            Shocked, Changjo whirled around and stared at L.Joe.  “What’s he doing here?”

            L.Joe made shushing motions, then made frantic and baffled motions, wide-eyed and as lost as Changjo was.

            “Did he come to yell at me?”  He peeked again.

            L knocked lightly at the door.  Bit his lip and eyed the door anxiously.  Knocked again, a little bit louder.

            Shit.  If he kept knocking, he’d wake someone up.  Someone besides L.Joe; someone who’d get C.A.P.  “How did he get here?”

            “Get rid of him,” L.Joe whispered.  “Or invite him in or something, I don’t know.  Just be quiet, don’t get me in trouble.”

            Changjo opened the door and peered out like he had no idea who was out there.  He pretended to be surprised to see L.  “What are you doing here?” he whispered.

            L moved towards him like they were magnetized, practically plastering himself against the doorjamb to be close to Changjo.  “Can I talk to you?”

            Not, “Let me in, I need to talk to you.”  Not, “I have to talk to you.”  A question, asking permission.  Feeling better, Changjo said, “Yeah,” and opened the door wider, letting him in.

            Coming in, he gave L.Joe a vague, distracted glance, but all of his attention swung right back to Changjo.  As soon as the door was shut, he said, “I’m sorry.”


            “I mean it.”

            “Good,” Changjo repeated, crossing his arms over his chest.

            “When it’s just us, I don’t think of you that way.  We’re boyfriends, we’re equals.  I know that you’re younger, but it doesn’t mean anything, when we’re alone.”

            He thought that he understood what L meant by that.  He’d thought that was how things were, anyway.  Being hyung and dongsaeng was such an ingrained thing that it didn’t just go away, but it wasn’t some huge factor in their relationship.  It didn’t mean that L had to keep him in his place all of the time.  L treated him like they were the same so often, when their age difference did come up, usually he was the one bringing it up to use it to his advantage.  L treated him like he was valuable and smart and independent and capable, and he’d gotten so used to that, he hadn’t realized that L apparently also thought of him as a stupid, foolish, immature kid who couldn’t sit at the grown-ups’ table.

            “Sometimes, when other people are around, when hyungs are involved…”  L winced.  “Sunggyu hyung calls you ‘that maknae’ and Suho hyung calls you ‘our maknae’ and maybe it makes me think of you that way, too.  You’re Ricky’s age and Ricky’s still a little kid to me.  I want to eat every meal with you, but I don’t know if Shinee feels the same way.  I’m wrong!” he added.  “I’m an asshole.  I wasn’t thinking, I was being a jerk.”

            It hurt so much, Changjo wanted to hurt him for saying it.  “You take me lightly.”

            “I won’t anymore.  I never will again.  You’re so great, you’re so smart and so funny, Shinee would love to hang out with you.  Jonghyun hyung would like you so much.  They’d be glad you were there as soon as you walked in.”

            “I was always the youngest person in the room,” Changjo said.  “You think I’m not used to it?  I was always the youngest one around.  Everyone’s always been hyung to me.  I’m finally old enough now, things are finally different, I can finally get people to treat me like I know what I’m doing and I know what I’m talking about and I’m not some stupid, stupid kid, and you.  You of all goddamned people.  Fuck you,” he said again.

            “Quiet,” L.Joe whispered, glancing across the dorm.

            “No, let them hear it,” Changjo said, glaring at L.  “Wake everybody up.  Fuck you!” he shouted.  “Fuck!  You!”

            “Maknae!” L.Joe whispered, grabbing at his arm.

            “Yeah, I’m your maknae,” Changjo said to L.Joe, still glaring at L, still hating L, still furious.  Still so fucking hurt.  “I’m your dongsaeng.  Not his,” he snapped, shoving L away from himself.  “No!” he shouted when L reached for him.  “I’m not your dongsaeng!  I’m not your maknae!  I’m not your goddamned anything!  Get out!  Get out and go play with your precious hyungs!”

            “Maknae,” C.A.P. said from the doorway.  “It is after four o’clock in the goddamned morning.  What the hell are you yelling about?”

            “Good, look, someone your own age for you to talk to,” Changjo told L.  He stormed back towards his room.

            C.A.P. grabbed his arm, dragging him back.  “Does this have anything to do with you?” he asked.

            “No,” L.Joe said.  “No, I don’t know what’s going on.”

            “Go to bed.”

            L.Joe scurried.

            C.A.P. pushed Changjo towards L.  “Does Sunggyu hyung know that you’re here?”


            “Does your manager know that you’re here?”


            “Then get out and go back to your dorm.  The second you get caught, I’m the one getting phone calls canceling dates and postponing MT and rethinking this whole thing.  My sex life is good and my members are happy, don’t screw this up for everybody.”

            “Selfish, reckless, immature,” Changjo said, sneering at L.  “Just like a thoughtless kid.”

            C.A.P. smacked him in the back of the head.  “Whatever this is, don’t make it worse.”

            “I hate this,” L told Changjo, looking tormented.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll come back tomorrow, can I see you tomorrow?”

            “No.  Go visit your hyungs, don’t waste time on me.”

            “It’s not wasted!

            Oh, they were at the part of the argument where L started screaming.  “You’re pretty temperamental for someone so old and wise and mature.”

            “I can’t go, I can’t leave him,” L told C.A.P.  “He’s too angry, I can’t go when he’s like this.”

            “You’re going to fuck things up for everybody else, all of your members, all of my members, because you don’t feel like going home?” Changjo asked.  “I know that my members are all too young, they’re worthless, I understand, but your members are mature, distinguished grown-ups, so you should probably be respectful when it comes to them, right?”

            “Don’t, god,” L mumbled, rubbing at his face.  “Changjo-ah-”

            “No,” Changjo snapped.  “No, I’m not your dongsaeng.  Talk to me right.  I’m an idol, fuck you, and I’ve been in the industry just as long as you have, so treat me with some fucking respect.  No one else ever did, but I’m going to get it from you if I don’t get it from anybody else.”

            “Whoa,” C.A.P. said.  “Dial it down.”

            Changjo felt so furious that he needed to do something.  He needed to hurt someone.  If he stayed, he was going to hurt L.  He realized that with perfect clarity.  If he stayed, he would hurt L.

            He ran back to his room and slammed the door.

            The door slammed.  L jerked, feeling it like a blow.  There was another thud, and then another, and he flinched away from each violent sound.  “I feel like my heart’s trying to get out of my body,” he said, clutching at his chest.  Boom!  He flinched again.  “What’s he doing in there?”

            “Taking it out on the walls.”  C.A.P. pushed him towards the couch.  “You can’t leave here looking like this, you’ll start rumors.  I’ll call Sunggyu hyung.”

            “Call Sungyeol hyung.”

            “I need to talk to your leader.”

            “No, trust me.  Call Sungyeol hyung.”

            C.A.P. left the room.  L stayed seated, clinging to the edge of the couch, feeling a little bit of his soul die with every violent thud.

            Chunji wandered in, saw him, and stared.  Looked around.  Backed away.  Came back in.  “I’m having nightmares.”  C.A.P. came back, and Chunji reported, “I’m having nightmares.”

            “It’s under control, go back to bed,” C.A.P. said, sitting on the couch.  “Sungyeol hyung said that he’d tell Sunggyu hyung in the morning.”

            L nodded.  “I need to talk to Changjo.”

            “Not now,” C.A.P. said.

            Chunji crept over and sat behind C.A.P., perching on the armrest.

            “Your relationship lasted a lot longer than we all thought it would,” C.A.P. said.

            “You think it’s over?” L demanded.  Immediately, he wished that he hadn’t asked.  He couldn’t stand to hear the answer.  It wasn’t over.  It couldn’t be over.

            Changjo loved him.  Changjo always gave Suho another chance, every time, no matter what.  He’d have a second chance, too.  He needed one.  He’d never need one again, he’d be better from now on, he’d get it right from now on.  He just had to have this chance.  It couldn’t be over already.

            “You really pissed him off,” C.A.P. said.

            “He has to let me apologize.”  If he could just explain.

            “It can’t be that bad.  You’re not, you know.”  C.A.P. gestured at his face.  “Crying.”

            He felt like he was in shock.  He felt rattled and desperate.  He felt stunned.  He was in denial that any of this was really happening.  Changjo wasn’t really this upset.  He hadn’t really destroyed one of the most important things in his life.

            His mind whirred, but there were no thoughts in there, no ideas to latch onto.  No inspiration, no way out.  All he had was what he’d resolved, what he’d known, before he and Changjo had ever made love.  Before they’d ever been boyfriends.

            He was in love.  And he would stay in love.  And he would take care of Changjo, no matter what.  He’d look out for Changjo.  He’d be a protector, a loyal defender.  He would always, always be there.  Even if it was always one-sided.  He’d never abandon Changjo.  He couldn’t.  His heart wouldn’t let him.  Not even when it was breaking.

            “Oh, shit, I didn’t want you to start,” C.A.P. muttered when tears spilled down his cheeks.  “Get a handkerchief or something.”

            “Where would I have a handkerchief?” Chunji asked.

            “I don’t know, get one.”

            “I’ll get tissues,” Chunji said, hopping up.

            L wiped at his face.  He remembered something that Suho had said to him, when he’d betrayed Changjo before.  Suho had told him that he was the hyung, and he had to act like it.  He had to be firm, he had to be strong, he had to set things right.  It was up to him.

            Making assumptions just because Changjo was younger had caused this mess.  But Suho had been right then, and it was still true, now.  He had to be strong.  It was his responsibility.  He got to his feet.

            C.A.P. yanked him back down.  “Not yet.  Not unless you want to get punched in the face.”

            He wanted to say that Changjo wouldn’t do that to him, but he’d been wrong about that before.  “I have to apologize to him, we have to talk.”

            “Not now,” Chunji said, handing him a wad of tissues.  “Give him a couple of hours.”

            “You want something to eat?” C.A.P. offered.

            “No.”  He couldn’t think about food.  He couldn’t think about anything.  His whole body was consumed by emotion, by fear, by love, by self-loathing, by Changjo.

            “Hunh,” Chunji said.  “This is serious.”

            Changjo sprawled over Ricky’s bed, his head hanging over the edge.  “Is he still out there?”

            “Yes.”  Ricky sat beside him.

            “Doing what, making out with C.A.P. hyung?”

            “Just sitting on the couch.  He looks awful.”

            “Good.”  Changjo raised his head to peer at Ricky.  “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”

            “No, he looks like shit.  He’s kind of pale and he has bags under his eyes and he looks kind of hollow.”

            “Good.”  Changjo let his head drop again.  He wondered what L was so upset about.  Nothing, really.  L would get over it in a day or two.  This was just L being dramatic and emotional for no reason, like always.

            No.  No, L had reasons.  Not always reasons that normal people agreed with, but reasons, anyway.  It was just that L saw things differently, or sometimes took things more seriously, or blew things up to be worse than they really were.  He wasn’t always right, but he was always sincere.  His emotional hunger, his disorientation, his loneliness, were very, very real.

            He could be so matter-of-fact sometimes.  So blasé.  So jaded.  He brushed things off like none of it would ever get to him.  And that was real, too.

            Changjo knew what that was like.  Having skin a thousand layers deep, like impenetrable armor.  And having cracks in that armor that anything could get to, if it came at the right angle.

            Changjo wasn’t sensitive about his age.  He was over it already.  Being dismissed, being teased, he was used to it, it didn’t mean anything to him.  He didn’t have anything to prove.  Yeah, it pissed him off sometimes that people like Oh Sehun strutted around making him say “hyung,” but, whatever.  He wasn’t stressed out over shit like that.

            But it didn’t bother him because he didn’t care what Sehun thought.  He didn’t need Sehun’s respect or approval.  The people he did care about, he liked being their maknae.  Yeah, a lot of things would be way more convenient if he weren’t the maknae, if he were a hyung instead of a dongsaeng.  He could be a lot more direct about getting his own way, for one thing.  But being Teen Top’s maknae was a unique position.  His members understood him and cared about him and felt how they felt about him, and he wouldn’t change that for anything.  He didn’t want to be the same age as Suho, either.  He was good right where he was.

            He’d thought that it worked the same way with L.  It was even better with L, because L was so direct with him.  L talked to him like they got each other, like they were in this together.  L treated him like a friend, a real friend.  But apparently he wasn’t good enough to take around other people.  He wasn’t good enough, mature enough, to be included.  Kai was too young to be interesting, Sehun was too young to screw, Ricky was too young to take seriously, and Changjo was younger than all of them.

            What had happened, really?  How had it worked?  Suho had asked L, “Why didn’t you invite Changjo, he should be here, too.”  And L had shuddered and said, “Ugh, no, I can’t bring him around these guys.  I want them to respect me, I can’t drag my little kid boyfriend around here.  He’d just embarrass me.”  Was that it?  Was Changjo embarrassing?  L’s shameful little secret?  Good enough to screw in private, but that was it.  It was okay to be seen in public together once in a while, because everyone thought that the real relationship was between L and Suho, they were the real couple, Changjo was just the dongsaeng they hung around with.  If people thought that L and Changjo were together, for real, would L still be okay being seen with him?

            “I hate him,” Changjo said, pointing and flexing his toes.

            “You’re still in love with him, though,” Ricky said.

            He wished that he could turn that off.  He rolled onto his stomach.  Picked at Ricky’s sheets.  Found a stray sock and threw it on the floor.  “If I’m so worthless, why did he want to be my boyfriend in the first place?  He’s the one who chased me down.  He’s the one who was supposed to be so in love with me that he couldn’t get over it.  He’s the one who asked me to be his boyfriend.  He gave me that crappy ring.”

            “Ask him why,” Ricky said.  “See what he says.”

            He growled furiously and buried his face in the bed.  He hated L.  He couldn’t believe that he’d been so happy and been so proud of his fantastic boyfriend and been so sure that things were great between them.  He couldn’t believe that he’d been so happy and so wrong, at the same time.  He felt like a fool, he felt like an ass, he felt like he’d had everything backwards this whole time.  His handsome boyfriend, his perfect boyfriend, god damn it, he’d been so freaking in love, been so sure that it was a great relationship, been so fucking sure.  It had seemed too good to be true.  And it fucking had been.  God damn it.

            L was so upset he didn’t know what to do.  He felt horrible.  He kept trying to remember to stay strong and determined - - Changjo was his responsibility, he had to do what was right - - but his thoughts kept sliding away, spiraling downward, sinking into despair.  He’d hurt Changjo so badly, Changjo might end things for good, and then what would he do?  When Changjo was upset with someone else, upset over other things, he could handle it, but this, Changjo being upset with him, it rattled him too much.  It shook him to his core.  A future without Changjo looked so bleak, he felt hollow inside every time his thoughts plummeted there.

            He was still on Teen Top’s couch because he didn’t know where else to go.  He couldn’t do anything until he’d talked to Changjo, but according to C.A.P., if he approached too early it would only make things worse.  He had to wait for just the right time.  He felt like he’d wait forever; he’d rather sit in this limbo than walk away.

            Suddenly, his phone pinged.  He had text messages, back to back.  Sungjong first: Sunggyu hyung’s pissed off, he’s about to call you, don’t answer or he’ll order you to come back right away.  Sungyeol next: Where are you?  Still at Teen Top’s dorm?  Sunggyu hyung is not happy, you’d better have a really good story when you get back.  A minute later, his phone rang.  Sunggyu was calling.  Biting his lip, he decided not to answer.  He had to do this first.

            He tried to think of what he could say to Changjo.  What was really wrong.  How he could apologize.  What to do if he ever got a precious second chance.

            Changjo couldn’t stay cooped up in his room any longer.  He went into the bathroom and washed up a little.  He put some clothes on.  He ate.  He felt a little more human, and everything seemed a little more manageable, so he steeled himself and went to go see L.

            He felt sure, for a moment, that L wouldn’t be there, that L had abandoned him, that he’d been a goddamned fool to believe that L would stick around this long just for him.  But then he looked and L was right there, slumped on the couch, arms crossed, staring at nothing on the floor with that weird, spaced-out look that meant that he was either brooding about something or totally checked out.

            L.Joe was kind of hovering nearby, pretending to tidy up magazines, staring at L and getting away with it because L wasn’t paying enough attention to be aware of it.  L.Joe had this embarrassing, hungry, fascinated look, like he totally had a crush on L and was dying to be noticed.  L.Joe was way too horny and flirtatious, it was the worst.  And over this asshole?!  “Don’t even bother,” Changjo said.  “You’re too young for him, he’ll never even think of you that way.”

            L’s head jerked up and he stared at Changjo.

            No, no, this had been a mistake.  Changjo wasn’t ready, he wasn’t ready to do this, he wasn’t ready to be face-to-face and hold conversations.  His emotions were too raw, his pain was too raw.  He was too deep in love with this hyung, it hurt too much.  Quickly, he backed up.


            “Nope,” he said, shaking his head, retreating.

            “Stop,” L said, getting up.

            He stopped.  Immediately, he couldn’t believe that he’d done that.  L was issuing orders, now?  And he was following them?!  He glared at L and took one slow, giant step back, to make it obvious to everybody that he wasn’t some obedient child.

            “Let me talk to you,” L said.  “Please, will you let me apologize?”

            “Apologize for what?” Changjo asked.  “What are you sorry for?”

            L glanced at L.Joe, then back at Changjo.  “Can we talk in private?”

            “There’s no privacy here, I’m a foolish kid living with my hyungs, I don’t even have my own room.  That’s what happens when you date a maknae.  That’s why you never come over here, right?  No privacy, too many little kids.  That’s why we’re always at your dorm, never my dorm, because then you might have to risk spending time with my members.  Nothing worse than that, right?”

            L looked overwhelmed.  “Please, let me talk.  I have to apologize, there’s so much to say, and every time you talk you throw out so many new things, if I try to keep up with that I can’t get to what I need to say.  I can’t get through when you’re like this.”

            “Doesn’t seem like you’re trying very hard.  I already asked you what you’re so sorry for and you haven’t said anything about it yet.  I guess you’re not that sorry, after all.”

            “Not sorry!” L repeated, his eyes widening, his chest heaving.  “I’m not sorry?  You’re killing me, I’m dying of being sorry!  I feel like I’m in hell, regretting everything!”

            Changjo hugged himself, not knowing what to say to that.  L was sincere, L meant it, and that was like a roadblock right in his path.  L felt horrible, and that made him feel kind of sick, too.  Seeing L like this put a tight, churning sensation in his gut that his whole body wanted to curl up around.

            There was something familiar about all of this.  He was pissed off and L was desperate to reach out to him.  He knew how this ended; he’d been here before.  He was too in love to cut L off.  His feelings for L, his weakness for L, was getting in his way.  He couldn’t wrench himself away or shut L out or end things between them, because his stupid emotions wouldn’t let him.  He couldn’t get rid of L because L was already inside him.

            He was going to have to give in.  There was no point in fighting it; he’d never win.  He was stuck with this.  Stuck loving someone who didn’t even respect him.  Stuck in love with someone who didn’t take him seriously.

            Great.  So, now what?  Just give in?  Submit to it and play along?  Try to get whatever affection he could and suffer in silence while L carried on playing boyfriends?  He wasn’t some hungry dog taking scraps from L’s table, but what were his other options?  What else was there for him, when he couldn’t stop loving L and he couldn’t force L to respect him?

            He’d thought that L did respect him.  For a second, everything around him tilted and he wondered what else he’d been wrong about.  Where else had his judgment been off?  How could he have misread their relationship so badly, and where else were his blind spots?

            L was gazing deeply into his eyes.  “Can we talk in your room?”

            He wanted to say no, to force L to talk to him right there, in front of anybody.  But that would be a cruel thing to do, and what was the point?  Be nasty to L just for the sake of it?  It wouldn’t win him anything.  It would just hurt L, and he knew how important privacy was to L, and he loved L too much to be cruel for no reason.  He was in too deep.  “Yeah,” he said, turning kind of numb, and he went to his room.  He didn’t even bother making pointed comments about how it was the maknaes’ bedroom.

            He sat on his bed, and L closed the door and sat beside him.  The first thing that L said was, “I’m sorry,” and he nodded.  He got it.  L felt bad.  He didn’t know what L was so upset about.  Hurting him?  What did it matter?  It wasn’t enough to break his love.  Apparently L could do anything to him and he’d keep coming back for more.

            He was really trapped here.  He was stuck loving L no matter what.  It put him at L’s mercy.  Whatever kind of relationship L wanted to have, however L wanted to treat him, that was what would happen.  He could argue and complain and ask for different treatment, but it was up to L to give it to him or not.  If things didn’t go his way, he’d keep coming back for more, anyway.  He wasn’t strong enough to break it off.

            That was a really daunting thing to realize.  Feeling humbled, he looked down, lacing his fingers together in his lap.

            “Changjo-ah, I’m really sorry.”  L sounded sincere.  That was nice, he guessed.  He felt numb again.  He was still trying to figure out what had happened to him, how he’d ended up with his emotions so completely in someone else’s grasp.  “I’m sorry that I hurt you.  I feel like a monster for making you so upset.  I can’t stand that you think that’s how I think of you.  I can’t stand that you think that I take you lightly.  You aren’t just some dongsaeng to me.  I take you so seriously, I respect you so much, do you think that I could be in love with someone I don’t respect?  There are so many people who disgust me, so many people I’ve pulled away from, because I couldn’t respect them.  I love you so much because I think so much of you.  I wouldn’t love you if I didn’t.  I wouldn’t make love to you if I didn’t.  I couldn’t, you know that I can’t do that with someone if things aren’t right, you know that’s not something I take lightly.”

            He didn’t know.  He wasn’t sure of anything anymore.  His perception was off.  He’d thought that he knew everything; he’d thought that he understood exactly how he and L fit together.  He’d been wrong, and now everything was upside-down and scattered.

            “When it’s just us, just between us, I think of you as you.  Who you are.  Everything about you, everything that makes you the Changjo I love so much.  But I made a mistake, I - - I don’t know.  I think that when it came to other people, all of a sudden I saw you through their eyes.  Not the Changjo I know, but the Changjo I used to think of.  The fourteen-year-old I first met.  Not the man who stole my heart.  It’s my own fault, it’s my problem, I’ve been a complete asshole.  I never should have thought of you that way for a second.  You’re not a kid anymore, you’re not a rookie anymore.  I’ve grown up since then, and you have, too, and I know that, I know that about you, I know it better than anyone.”

            He nodded, to show that he was listening, but he didn’t know if he was.  Some of the words washed over him like meaningless sound.

            “You’re worried that I take you lightly,” L said.  “You’re worried about how I feel about you.  What I really think of you or how I really see you.  But you’re everything to me.  You bring so much happiness and energy into my life, I feel so good, I haven’t felt this good in a long time.  I can be myself with you, I can open up to you.  I don’t have to hide myself or put on a show when it comes to you.  I can say what I really think, and it’s okay.  You get me, I don’t have to explain anything to you.  I didn’t think that there was anyone else out there who I could be myself with, but you make me feel normal, you make me feel like it’s okay to be myself.”

            He’d felt the same way.  He’d felt like the two of them recognized something in each other, that they connected with each other in ways that other people would never understand them.

            “I know that we met in 2010.  But I keep thinking that we really met through Suho hyung.  That we never really knew each other until then.  And then it’s funny, because that means that the first time I ever heard of you, really, was when Suho hyung was shopping for your birthday present.  And I was so confused, I wondered, who is this guy, that buying things for some other team’s maknae means so much to him?  Who is Changjo, that EXO’s guardian leader is going so far to buy a gift for him?  What makes the two of them so special?  But now I know exactly what makes you so special.  I know what makes you so precious.  There’s nothing that EXO’s Suho would do for you, that I wouldn’t do for you a hundred times more.”

            His heart hurt.  It ached in his chest.  It felt like a thousand tiny barbs were digging into it.

            “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things,” L said.  “About how much I love you and why I love you.  It seems like we’re really great together and we understand each other and things are so great between us.  And then…  Then this happens and.  I don’t know, I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I’m so bad for you.  But I think that.  I think that we’re both sensitive about some things.  We’re both volatile.  Or temperamental, you said.  There are some things that we’re touchy about.  If I say the wrong thing to you, you go off like a land mine.  And I do it, too, I’m the same way, just about different issues.  I’m still learning a lot about you, I’m still figuring out what all of those issues are.  Where the land mines are.  And maybe you’re still learning about me, too.”

            Changjo twisted his fingers together, one thumb rubbing over the other one.

            “Things that are deal-breakers for me are nothing to you.  And things that are huge for you, I never even see it coming.  There’s a lot that we still have to learn about each other.  I’ve been thinking, but I don’t know what to do about it.  I want to say that we should work on not going off like a land mine right away.  That we should give each other a chance when it happens, and take it slower, and try to talk it out instead of getting upset.  But it’s hard for me, sometimes, not to react.  So maybe instead of that, we should just tell each other what all of the sensitive spots are, now, ahead of time, so we know where they are.  But that’s hard, too, it’s hard to think of them all.  And it can be really hard to talk about.”  L scratched the back of his neck.  “If I could just sit down and talk about it…”

            Changjo grunted.  Yeah.  If he could be all calm and reasonable about it, it wouldn’t be one of his sore spots in the first place.  “I don’t have any.”  That wasn’t true.  “I don’t have a lot.  Sensitive spots.  I don’t let myself.  You can’t get through shit if you’re always upset over every little thing.  You have to be able to handle it, you have to be able to think fast, you have to be on top of whatever’s going on, and you can’t stay on top of it if you can’t keep your head clear.  So I’m not sensitive about things, I can’t be, I don’t let myself.”  He was talking too fast.  He closed his mouth.

            L was quiet for a second, and then he said, “I hate everything in your life that isn’t you.”

            “That’s stupid.  There are a lot of great things about my life.”

            L was quiet for a while.  Changjo stared down at his hands, and at the floor, and at his feet.  Eventually, L asked, “Then what are your sensitive spots?  Your age.”

            “It’s not my age, I don’t care about that, it’s just a bunch of boring jokes.”  He was still talking too fast.  The syllables were coming out staccato.

            “You - - then what’s going on now, why are you so upset?”

            “It’s not about how old I am.  It’s about you.  I don’t care if I’m younger than you, I care about what you think of me.  Anybody else could say, ‘I didn’t invite you because you were too young,’ and I’d say, ‘Okay, whatever, asshole,’ and I wouldn’t care, it doesn’t mean anything.  It’s different with you.  I thought that you respected me, and you don’t, and now I, I don’t know.”  Now I hate you.  But he couldn’t hate L like he needed to.  Now I love you.  His feelings for L were a tangle, a jumble.

            “I do respect you,” L said immediately, insistently, like it was agony for him to have to explain it again.  “I respect you so much, don’t you know that?  I fell in love with you when I thought that I couldn’t love anybody else.  I listened to you when I didn’t give a fuck about anybody else.  When I thought that I could never, ever forgive him, I talked to Suho hyung for you.  I talked to C.A.P. for you!  That was for you, everything’s been for you.  It’s all because of you.  God, if I took you lightly I would play with you and then throw you aside like trash.”  L’s voice was so intense that it shook.  “Do you think that I could do that to you?  I would kill anyone who did that to you.”

            That was exactly how Changjo felt.  It was exactly what Changjo might have said.  He blinked, feeling things click inside him.  Things started whirring and making sense again.  Tentatively, he shifted, raising his gaze slightly, breathing in.  He felt that familiar sense of kinship with L, that bond of recognition.  It was so familiar, he wanted to trust it, to fall into it, to let it pull him back towards L again.  “There’s something that’s been really difficult for me,” he said, and he flicked a glance at L’s face, just a tiny bit of darting eye contact, just for half a second.  “It’s Sehun hyung.  I want a way to take him out, I want to have that knife in my pocket just in case, so the second he hurts L.Joe hyung, I can make him pay.  But I can’t do it without hurting Suho hyung.  They’re members, they’re too connected.  I think about it all of the time, and I still don’t have a solution.”

            In his peripheral vision, L nodded.  “It would only work if he left EXO.”

            “Right.  But I don’t want to see that, either.  For Suho hyung’s sake, after everything else.”

            “Have you ever been tempted to go through with it?  To get back at him?”

            “A couple of times, I’ve thought about it,” he admitted.  “It’s hard to see L.Joe hyung upset when I know exactly who to blame for it.”

            L nodded.  “If I think of anything, I’ll tell you.  Or if I get good ammo.”  L crossed his legs, leaning forward.  “Couldn’t you just break them up?  It might hurt him, and it would get L.Joe away from him.  My hyungs could help you out if you needed it.”

            “There were times that I wanted to,” he admitted.  “But it would be bad for L.Joe hyung.  I want to hurt Sehun hyung, not him.”

            “Sometimes you have to do things,” L said.  “For their own good.”

            He meant something by that.  Changjo looked at him, finally, really looked him in the eye.

            He shrugged, rubbing his own forearm.  “Somebody was getting too close to Sungyeol hyung, and I stopped it.  He got really upset, but I wasn’t sorry.  He didn’t know it was me,” he admitted.  “I never told him.”

            “Tell me,” Changjo said.  It was a direct challenge.  If L told him, then he’d have leverage.  He’d have information that he could use to disrupt L’s relationship with Sungyeol.

            L told him.  Told him right away.  Told him all about the guy, and how things had gone with Sungyeol, and the exact steps it had taken to force them apart.  Even told him about how it had all brought L and Sungyeol closer, how L had taken Sungyeol out shopping, out for coffee dates, the two of them bonding really tightly while Sungyeol got over it.

            “Did you have really good relationship sex to make him feel better?” Changjo asked.

            L shook his head, frowning.  “No.  I couldn’t, it would have felt wrong.  Woohyun hyung did, Woohyun hyung-”  He cut himself off.  “He’s like that, sometimes.”

            Changjo nodded, putting that together, guessing at what L meant by that.  “Doesn’t that bother you?”  It wouldn’t bother Changjo, but L was so sensitive about sex, and what sex meant, and what everybody’s sexual motives were, it seemed like being in the same group with someone who used sex that way would freak L out.  How were Woohyun and L so close?  Especially if Woohyun was willing to do that to Sungyeol?

            L looked mystified for a second, like he didn’t get the question, and then he shook his head.  “No.  Woohyun hyung doesn’t…”  He chewed on his lower lip for a second.  “He loves us.  Deep down, underneath everything else, he always loves us.”  He frowned.  “It’s complicated.”

            “Infinite’s too dramatic,” Changjo said.

            L propped his chin on his hand, gazing at Changjo solemnly.  He looked so serious, Changjo felt like all of the light was fading out of the room.  “Can I take you out?  With some hyungs?  Any hyungs you want.  Any age you want.  We’ll go to dinner, somewhere nice.  I’ll pay.”

            “I want to go to dinner with you,” Changjo said.  “I want it to be just us.  I don’t want hyungs.  I don’t want you to be able to hide behind a bunch of other people.  I don’t want your fans to think that you’re dating Suho hyung and just taking me along for fun.  I want it to look like you’re dating me, like you’re there just for me, like you take me as seriously as you take him.”

            L nodded.  “Okay.”  He straightened, still looking serious but accepting, too.  “Okay.  I’ll make plans.”

            L should’ve said no.  Changjo had just said that he wanted it to look like they were dating.  It was the last thing Changjo should have suggested and the last thing that L should have agreed to.  But L had said yes, anyway.

            They talked for a little while longer.  Not about anything important, really.  But for Changjo, it was kind of an important conversation.  He wanted to see how well they really communicated.  How well they really related to each other.  They were on the same page about so many things, and they understood each other so well, he started to think that the ground under them might be solid, after all.

            L looked right at him.  “You don’t know how you feel about me, do you?”

            “I don’t know how you feel about me,” he said.

            L nodded.  “You don’t trust anyone, do you?”

            He didn’t blink.  “Not anybody.”

            L tried to endure it.  He had to be strong, he had to make everything right.  He faced Sunggyu’s anger and accepted his punishment.  He made plans for dinner.  He focused on getting Changjo back.  He had to get Changjo back.

            He told himself, over and over again, that Changjo hadn’t gone anywhere.  They were still together, technically, weren’t they?  They were going to dinner.  Changjo hadn’t said, “Let’s break up.”  Didn’t that mean that they were still together?

            But he knew his Changjo.  He knew that Changjo had pulled away from him.  He knew that the affectionate, mischievous maknae was locked inside where L couldn’t get to him anymore.

            Changjo didn’t trust him.

            They hadn’t touched.  They hadn’t even hugged good-bye.  L hadn’t felt like he could, and Changjo hadn’t made a single move.  He couldn’t believe that he might not ever be able to hug Changjo again.  Never feel Changjo’s strong arms close so tightly around him.  Never - - god, he was losing so much, it was too much, it was too much to lose all at once.

            He couldn’t, he couldn’t lose Changjo.  He’d do anything, he’d do whatever he had to do.

            He’d be strong, and he’d endure it, and he’d take Changjo to dinner, and he’d take responsibility.

            And if that didn’t work, he’d throw himself away.  He’d forget all about pride and responsibility and rules, he’d compromise on everything, he’d do whatever it took.  He’d rather lose himself than lose Changjo.

            Changjo wanted to absorb himself in plans, but he didn’t have anything to plan for.  He didn’t trust L, but he couldn’t lay traps and plan for battle, because there was no point in it.  Hurting L wouldn’t solve anything, it wouldn’t even feel satisfying, it was all useless.  He was too in love with L.  He wasn’t even angry anymore.  He was just…  He felt betrayed.  He felt uncertain.  He hated feeling uncertain, hated it, hated not knowing anything for sure, hated not being able to trust himself.  He could always trust himself.  Sometimes that was all that he had.

            Whenever things were too quiet and he was too still, thoughts crept into his head.  Thoughts about how good his life had been.  How good he’d thought his life had been.  With L.  With L as his boyfriend.  He’d been happy.  Really, really happy.

            He’d loved L.  He’d been able to make L happy, he’d seen it, he’d watched L’s whole face transform when he was around.  They’d had fantastic sex, really incredible sex, spectacular sex, but it wasn’t only sex.  There was a lot of skinship with L, a lot of touching and nuzzling, petting, kissing, L stroking his hair, mouthing his shoulder, hugging him and taking forever to let go.  They’d been good together, hadn’t they?  Hadn’t it seemed like it?  L had been happy, relaxing and opening up around him.  Affectionate.  Wanting him all of the time.  Wanting to see him all of the time, going out with him, inviting him over.

            Not coming to his dorm.  Almost never.  Because L was too good for Teen Top, right, too good to hang around a bunch of dongsaengs, a bunch of stupid kids.

            That was only one way to read it, though, and he had other ideas about that, other interpretations.  There was the obvious one: L was lazy and self-absorbed and liked to be comfortable, and it was more comfortable in L’s own dorm, in L’s own room, among L’s own familiar members.  Familiar things were important to L, and being intimate with Changjo had seemed important, too, and L felt safer at home.  Felt safer in his own little cocoon than anywhere else.

            Or.  There was another way to read it.  There was something that L had said.  This was a tricky interpretation, because it meant relying on Changjo’s instincts, on what he’d thought he knew about L.  But, L had said, “I hate everything in your life that isn’t you.”  And that might include his members.

            Not that L necessarily, actually, literally loathed Niel.  But if he was resentful about things in Changjo’s life, he might kind of blame Changjo’s members.  Blanket resentment for not looking out for him more.  They were Changjo’s hyungs, they should have shielded him more, that kind of thing.  It made sense, if Changjo was right about the kind of person L was: possessive, protective, in love with Changjo, ready and willing to fight and scheme and devastate whoever fucked with what belonged to him.  L would blow up the world for Sungyeol, and for a minute, it had seemed like he’d do that for Changjo, too.  And maybe he thought that Teen Top didn’t feel the same way and hadn’t gone as far as they should have to protect Changjo.

            That meant that he didn’t understand Changjo’s members at all.  But it would explain why he didn’t really seem to like them and why he was never interested in going near them.  Why he wanted to keep Changjo on his turf, bring Changjo to his dorm, not Teen Top’s dorm, where doors didn’t lock and people couldn’t be trusted.

            L would blow up the world for Sungyeol.  And for Sunggyu and Sungjong and Dongwoo.  And for Woohyun and Hoya and Suho.  How far would he go for Changjo?  He’d messed around with Top Media staffing to get Changjo the right stylist, but what did that mean?

            Changjo had assumed that it was L being way too invested in him and going too far and wanting everything to be perfect for him, wanting everything to be just right, wanting him to have the best.  What had L said about it?  “I couldn’t let her keep that job if she couldn’t show you off right.”  He’d trusted L and accepted that as L’s real motivation.

            But what if he’d been wrong about that?  Why should he assume that L had told him the truth?  Maybe it had been simpler, cruder.  Maybe L was just shallow, and it had been embarrassing to be seen with someone in bad make-up.  Maybe L was just controlling, and fucking with details of his life for the sake of it.  Maybe it had been a test run, to see what L could get away with, to see how easy it was to pull strings at Top Media.  Maybe it hadn’t been about Changjo at all, but about L, about L’s power, L’s control.

            It really came down to L’s motives.  Whether L cared about him and put him first, like he’d thought after he’d fallen in love, or whether L really was as deceptive and self-absorbed as he’d used to think.  Back when they’d been on opposite sides, fighting over Suho, he’d thought that L was cheap and fake and selfish.  When they’d gotten to know each other better, he’d seen a lot more sides to L, and he’d realized what a sensitive, scared, needy mess L was.

            But what if he’d been right to begin with?  What if those other sides of L were fake?  Or, no, not fake, he couldn’t really convince himself that deep down L wasn’t sensitive and loving.  That was definitely in there, and he couldn’t dismiss it completely.  So, what did that mean?  That L was sincere about loving Infinite and Suho, and just toying around with him?

            What would the point of that be?  Amusement?  Did he have some angle on Suho?  That didn’t make any sense.  He didn’t get anything out of jerking Changjo around.  Unless he was just trying to fuck with Changjo, get Changjo back for something.  But there were easier ways to do that.  What was the point of drawing out some long game?

            Did he just like having a boyfriend?  Changjo was the person he was closest to, besides Infinite and Suho.  Changjo already knew personal details of his life, was already someone he’d trusted with private shit.  So he’d decided to get a boyfriend.  Someone to get emotional support and skinship from.  L was kind of a leech, needy, so maybe having a boyfriend appealed to him.  He was a parasite, and Changjo was his host, providing him with the sex and affection and energy he wanted.  So Changjo was just convenient.

            He could’ve gotten someone else.  Someone older or hotter.  But L was lazy and selfish, and Changjo was convenient - - already on the inside, already tame.  Young, infatuated, with Suho around to keep him in check.  An easy target.

            Wow.  That was it.  Was that it?  He scanned his memories, pulling the theory together, looking for holes.

            Would conning him into a relationship and having so much sex with him all of the time violate L’s rules about sex?  Wasn’t that too much like using him?  Or maybe L could justify it.  Like with Woohyun: “It’s complicated.”  Maybe it didn’t count as using him for sex if L kind of liked him.  Maybe L’s weak, patronizing affection for him made it okay.  He wasn’t a real person worthy of love or respect, but he was convenient to have around and easy to fuck, and L was pretty nice to him, so it wasn’t like L was doing anything wrong.

            At least in L’s head.

            But why the hell would L talk about loving him so much?  What was the point of constantly talking about being in love with him?  Was that just L’s need for affection, just part of being a parasite?  Had L been trying to get him to say it back more often?  He thought of how often he’d said it, and how every time it had meant something to him, every time it had been an emotional decision to give L something he guarded really closely.  He’d said it because he’d meant it, and because he’d thought that L needed to hear it, because he’d wanted L to feel loved, because he hadn’t wanted to be guarded and selfish with his special hyung he loved so much.  It had fucking cost him something to say that he was in love, and he’d only done it because it had seemed so important, because he’d been so in love with L that he’d wanted things to be good and open and honest between them.  Every time he’d said it, he’d been choosing to put his trust in L.  Thinking about that now lit him up with fury so intense it felt like his whole body would shake apart.

            He tried to keep himself busy so that he wouldn’t have to think so much.  He tried to focus on work, on dancing, on music.  He spent his time in the practice room, in the studio.  He worked out.  When Suho called and tried to ask him about L, he said, “I can’t talk about that, can’t talk, I can’t talk.”  It hurt too much to talk about it.  He had too many feelings, too many thoughts, and all of them hurt.  The bad ones made him want to punch and hate.  The good ones were even worse.  Because they were memories of something that had never really happened, something he could never get back.

            Dinner would be tomorrow.  L called the restaurant again to check the reservation.  He went through his closet again to make sure that he had the right outfit.  Everything had to be right.  He had to get it all right from now on.

            But he couldn’t.  No matter how much he tried, he could never get everything right.  He could never be perfect.  He couldn’t even get every line right on the first take when he had a script; how was he supposed to be flawless in real life?

            He wanted to learn Changjo exactly, he wanted to know everything so that he always got it right.  But Changjo was too complex for that.  He’d never have the perfect line for every eventuality.  He was going to say the wrong thing.  Do the wrong thing.  Not catch all of the nuance, miss a cue, he was going to mess up again someday, somehow.

            And then what?  How upset would Changjo be with him, next time?  Was he going to have to go through this all over again?  And again?  And again?

            How many second chances would Changjo give him?

            His phone was in his hands before he knew what he was doing.  He called, but Changjo didn’t answer.  He called again, and then again, but Changjo wouldn’t pick up.  He would have run across the city but he didn’t even know where Changjo was.  He texted.  Don’t leave me.  He stared at the screen through a blur of tears.  Changjo didn’t answer.  He sent it again: Don’t leave me.  His nose was running; he sat down on his bed, but he was so intent on his phone, on watching for Changjo’s answer, that he sat too close to the edge and slid off, down to the floor.  Changjo wouldn’t answer him, wouldn’t say anything.  Don’t go.  Don’t go.  I can fix it.

            His phone rang.  Stunned, he answered immediately, grabbing at his chance.  “Changjo-ah?”

            “What?” Changjo demanded.  “Why do you care?  You can get somebody else.”

            “Somebody else?”  He didn’t understand.  “Don’t go, okay?  Please don’t go.  I’ll fix everything.  I’ll fix it this time, and I’ll fix it next time, whatever happens.”

            “What else is going to happen?”  Changjo sounded angry and suspicious.  “What else are you going to do to me?  What’s going to be next?”

            “No, no.”  He was messing up again already.  Hopeless, despairing, he clutched at his phone.  “If you could slow down, you’re always so quick and you push so hard, just, if you could slow down for me, please.”  Changjo always jumped ahead to the next argument before he was finished with the old one.

            “You aren’t stupid,” Changjo said impatiently.  “I’m the one who’s still catching up.  I didn’t have anything figured out, I had it all wrong, before.”

            “Let me come over, let me see you.  Where are you, I’ll go.”

            “No, I don’t want to be around you.”

            “You, you don’t?  What about dinner?”  Desperation was clawing him up from the inside out.  “We’re still having dinner tomorrow?”

            “You’re not going to go through with it, don’t pretend.”

            “What?  Yes, yes, I am, tomorrow, please.”

            “What, take me out to some nice place, just the two of us?  That’s what Suho hyung does for me.  You won’t.”

            “Tomorrow, I will, I am, I have reservations.  You can call the restaurant.”

            “Why bother?  What’s the point?  I’m not worth it.  I was convenient, but you can get somebody else.  Try someone closer to your age this time, maybe you’ll like that more.”

            “What?  Convenient?”  Usually he could catch the turns Changjo’s mind took, but tonight his own thoughts were too slow.  His desperation was clouding his mind.  “What are you talking about?”

            “I was convenient,” Changjo snapped.  “That’s why you asked me what you asked me in my kitchen, that’s why you lost rock, paper, scissors and had to give me your ring, that’s it.  I was convenient.”

            He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  It was so wrong that he was laughing through his tears.  “Convenient?” he repeated, feeling hysterical.  “You think that anything about this has been easy?”  He curled in on himself, trying to comprehend it, rubbing his hand through his hair.  “Loving you has been so easy, it’s the easiest thing I ever did in my life, but it’s been hard, god, it’s been so fucking difficult.”

            “Don’t say that!” Changjo exclaimed.  “We’re on the phone, do I have to hang up?”

            “No!”  The threat hit him like a shock.  “Don’t go, don’t, don’t leave me.”

            “What the hell is wrong with you?” Changjo demanded.  “What the hell are you freaking out over?!”

            “You!”  He shouted it, and he wanted to shout it again.

            “Stop fucking with me!”

            “I’m not fucking with you!”  He couldn’t believe it, he couldn’t believe that they were here, again.  “I’ve told you, I’ve told you a million times, how many times can I say it?  I’m L and I’m sorry!  I’m Kim Myungsoo and I love you!  I’m me and I’m not fucking with you, I don’t want to hurt you.  I’d kill anyone who tried to hurt you, you think I could do it myself?  Every time I mess up, every time I make a mistake with you, I hate myself, and you think that I’d do it all on purpose?!  I don’t know what the hell it would do to me if you left me, and you think that I’d risk pushing you away for fun?!”

            “I’m doing it again,” Changjo said.  “Am I doing it again?  Am I doing it again?!” he shouted.

            “I don’t know!” he exclaimed helplessly.  He didn’t know what any of this was, anymore.  “I don’t know what you’re doing, I don’t know what I’m doing, you’re leaving me and I can’t stop it, I have to stop it.”

            “I’m not going anywhere, where am I going, where the hell do I have to go?” Changjo demanded.  “I can’t fucking get away from you.  You think I want to be doing this?  You think I want to feel like this?”

            “You think I want you to feel like this?!  You think I’d do it to you on purpose?!”

            “Then why are you doing this to me?  What the hell do you get out of it?”

            “I’m not doing it!” he screamed.  “I love you!  I love you!  I love you!  I don’t hurt the people I love!”

            His door swung open.  Sunggyu stared at him.  “What the hell are you saying on the phone?”

            When Sunggyu advanced, he said, “No,” and tried to fight Sunggyu off.  “No!  No!” he screamed when Sunggyu wrenched the phone out of his hand.  “Changjo-ah!”

            Ending the call, Sunggyu shoved the phone into his back pocket.  Anguished, furious, L fought him for it, feeling enraged and violated by the interruption.

            Gripping his arms, Sunggyu shook him.  “Stop!  Stop it!  Get a hold of yourself!”

            “Fuck you!”  He felt powerless, but the fight wasn’t out of him yet, and he punched Sunggyu in the chest, in the gut, wanting his phone back, needing Changjo back.

            “Stop it!” Sunggyu repeated, grabbing at him, seizing his wrists, tight enough to hurt.  “You’re not acting like this over some maknae!”

            Fury blazed through him, so hot it almost seared his vision and turned the room white.  “He’s not some maknae!  He’s Changjo!  My Changjo!”

            Sunggyu glared at him, yanking him closer.  “You don’t act like this over anybody!  I don’t care who it is!  You’re better than this!  You’re stronger than this!  Sitting in here crying, screaming, acting like some scared kid!  Get yourself together!”

            He hated Sunggyu for snapping at him, and he hated Sunggyu for interfering, but he was used to following Sunggyu’s lead, and he knew that Sunggyu was right, so for a second, he tried, he really tried, he breathed in and tried to calm down.  But his pain overwhelmed him and his breath caught and he broke down in sobs, crumpling in Sunggyu’s hold.

            Sunggyu hauled him in, and he wept on Sunggyu’s shoulder, shaking, clutching at Sunggyu’s shirt.  Everything had gone to hell and he didn’t even have tomorrow night’s dinner to pin his hopes on anymore and that had been the only thing keeping him going, the one thing he could do right, the one way he had to prove himself.  He and Changjo couldn’t even talk anymore, they couldn’t communicate.  Changjo was never going to believe in him, never going to trust in him, and what could he do about it?  How could he prove himself to someone who fundamentally trusted nothing and no one?

            Hopeless, he sobbed.  Patting his back, Sunggyu said, “It’s not that bad.  Sshhh, you’re making too much of it.  It’s not that bad.  He loves you, right?  If he still loves you, you can make it work.”

            Sniffing, he hooked his chin over Sunggyu’s shoulder.  He wasn’t ready to move away yet.  He thought that he might feel better if he stayed right where he was for a long time.  “He doesn’t trust me.”

            “That kid doesn’t trust anybody.”

            “Don’t call him that.”

            “Why not?  It’s not an insult.  He’s young, I can’t help the facts.”  Sunggyu patted his back again, letting him stay close.  “He doesn’t trust anybody.  But you made that agreement, right?  You’ll be honest with each other.  That takes trust, right, you have to trust each other to honor that arrangement, you have to trust him enough to be honest with him, and you have to take it on faith that he’s being honest back.  What happened to that?”

            “I fucked up.”  Sniffling again, L wiped at his nose.  “He doesn’t trust me anymore.”

            “Here, c’mere.”  Sunggyu shifted, sitting beside him.  He leaned against Sunggyu’s shoulder, and Sunggyu’s arm settled around him, comfortable and reassuring.  “You cry too much.”  Sunggyu always said that to him.  “You’re in love with him and it’s gotten rough, but you can’t throw everything else away.  You can’t ruin all of the rest of your life over one person.  L is L, L isn’t Changjo.  You have your own life and your work and your hobbies and your family and a lot of other things that you care about.  Falling apart and screaming on the phone over some hot guy isn’t it, you can’t be like this, not even if you love him.”

            He wanted to tell Sunggyu how worried he was that Changjo would never come back to him, but he was too afraid of it to talk about it.  It scared him too much.  He didn’t want to admit it out loud.

            “He’s not a complicated kid,” Sunggyu said.  “As long as he still loves you, he’ll learn how to trust you.  If he doesn’t love you anymore, then you’re in trouble, but I don’t think that you have to worry about that.”  It amazed him that Sunggyu could say it so casually - - “If he doesn’t love you anymore” - - like it was just another possibility, something normal it was okay to talk about.  “He still loves you.”  Sunggyu rested his cheek on the top of L’s head and stroked L’s hair for a moment, and it was what L had needed.  He felt like he’d been starved for this, for caring and sympathy and affection, and hadn’t even realized it.  He felt like he was being fed, getting nourishment, for the first time in days.  “I still love you, even when you’re like this.  You’re precious to me, and you always will be.  Changjo’s full of shit, but he’s not stupid.  He sees good things in you like I do.  He doesn’t want to take advantage of you.  He doesn’t want to change you.  You know how I always tell you to go out and make more friends, and then I hate everybody you ever talk to?”

            “Yeah.”  He’d noticed it.

            “That’s because you have horrible taste in people, and you only ever find people who are bad for you.  I don’t know why, but everybody you ever want to hang out with is an asshole.  Even the ones who act like they’re being nice to you are awful, I hate all of them.  But when it comes to Money and Changjo, I don’t know how it happened, you finally found the right people.  They love you.  They get you, they like you, they see you like I see you.  They’re good for you.  They make you happy and I don’t have to worry about you.  I like not having to worry about you so much.  It hasn’t been perfect,” Sunggyu reflected.  “But they love you.  And it’s good for you to be around people who really love you and aren’t just saying it.”

            L felt a little steadier.  He felt a little bit stronger, even, like he wasn’t so breakable anymore.  “But if he can’t trust me…”

            Sunggyu made a thoughtful sound.  “You know how you were yelling a lot of nonsense a minute ago?  What did you say, you said that you don’t hurt the people you love?”


            “But some people can, right?  They hurt the people they love.”


            “You can love people you don’t trust, right?  It’s happened.”


            “I don’t think that maknae does.  I think he couldn’t love someone he didn’t trust.  I don’t think it’s possible with him.  If he really didn’t trust you, he couldn’t love you anymore.  Maybe that’s why he’s having such a hard time and yelling back and forth over the phone.  Because things are bad and he’s having trouble with how he feels about you.  But if he couldn’t trust you, then I don’t think that he’d have any trouble at all.  If he couldn’t trust you, then he wouldn’t be fighting on the phone.  He wouldn’t be fighting anywhere.  He’d abandon you or he’d attack you.  But he wouldn’t fight.”

            L hesitated, wanting to believe in it.  “You don’t know that.”

            “Are you saying that I don’t know things?  I know things,” Sunggyu decided, rubbing L’s shoulder.  “I know things.  I learned all about that maknae when he was fourteen years old.  And he hasn’t changed a lot since then.  You can say that I don’t know everything, but he’s in love with you.  Maybe you said ugly things and hurt his feelings, and maybe he’s upset.  But if he didn’t trust you, he wouldn’t love you so much.  And he wouldn’t keep helping you and Young Money and smoothing things over.”

            He nibbled on his lower lip, thinking that over.  Thinking everything over.  “He thinks that I’m only with him because it’s convenient.”

            “Never mind, he’s too stupid, you should break up.  Just forget all about him if he thinks that.  I was wrong about him this whole time.  He doesn’t know you at all?”

            “He thinks that I’m fucking with him.  Using him, I guess, or, I don’t know.”  He tucked himself more tightly against Sunggyu.

            Sighing, Sunggyu rubbed his upper arm.  “Poor L, my poor L-ah.  In love with someone who doesn’t deserve you.  It’s a shame, I thought that he was smarter than this.  Is it self-esteem?  Does he think that no one could love him for real, so you must have another motive?”

            “No, he…  It’s not that,” L said, uncertain.

            “Has anyone else ever loved him, just to be in love with him?”

            “Suho hyung.”

            “Anybody else?”

            Not that L knew of.

            “This is very sad,” Sunggyu said.

            They sat on the floor and talked for a while.  He felt better.  He was still sad and scared, but he felt more capable of handling it.  He felt like he stood a chance of setting things right.  He felt like he could fight to win Changjo back.

            In the morning, he texted Changjo: I’ll pick you up at seven.

            Changjo texted back.  Don’t bother.  Then, a second later, Okay.  Then, a second later, But don’t be late or I don’t want to see you at all.  Then, a second later, Send me a selca.  Then, a second later, Don’t send it don’t send me anything I don’t even want to fucking look at you.  Then, a second later, Seven o’clock, I’ll be ready at seven, you can pick me up at seven.

            He thought really hard about all of that.  Then he sent a photo of his clock.  I’ll be on time.  Seven.  He almost felt hopeful.

            L was really fucking handsome.

            Changjo should’ve been used to it, but he wasn’t.  He still wasn’t.  The first thing he noticed, the first thing he thought of, when he opened the door, was that L was really fucking good-looking.

            He tugged at the hem of his blazer and he glanced back at his hyungs on the couch.  “I’m going.”

            “Thank god, bye,” Niel said.

            “Don’t hurry back,” Ricky said.

            He stepped out and closed the door.  “You’re late.”

            “I’m early,” L said.

            “It’s rude to be early, you shouldn’t have done it.”

            “Do you want me to go away and come back?”

            “No, whatever, let’s just go.”

            They went to the restaurant.  It was really nice.  It was quiet and sophisticated, and everybody there was super old and super wealthy.  After the hostess seated them and they were alone at their table, he muttered, “She only let us in because you showed off your dimples.”

            “No, it’s because she saw your watch.”

            “It’s not that nice.”  It totally was.  At least Suho cared enough about him to give him embarrassing presents.

            L put down his menu.  “You don’t want to be here.”

            “I asked for it, didn’t I?”

            “But you don’t like it.”

            “We’re here, aren’t we?  Let’s just fucking eat,” he muttered, reading his menu and not interested in any of it.

            They ate.  They barely talked.  There wasn’t anything to talk about.  There was a ton of shit to talk about, but he wasn’t going to do it in public, sandwiched between tables of grandparents and CEOs.

            They needed privacy, but he didn’t want to do it on L’s turf.  He didn’t want to go back to his dorm, either.  They went to his practice room.  L only turned on half of the lights and he reached over to flip all of them on, making the room as bright as possible.  No hiding.

            L sat down.  Changjo wandered around, going in circles.

            “I love you,” L said.

            “Maybe.”  Maybe.  Maybe it was true.

            “Changjo-ah.  Have you ever been in love with someone you didn’t trust?”

            “Besides you?”

            It took L too long to answer.  Probably Changjo had hurt his feelings, or something.  “Okay, besides me.”

            “No.  No,” he said, realizing it as he said it, going over it as he walked.  “No.”  It had come up before, he’d been through it before, some times in the past that he didn’t want to get into, but most recently there had been Suho.  “If I couldn’t trust Suho hyung, I wouldn’t still love him, I wouldn’t still care about him, I wouldn’t have let him go near you.”  That was kind of funny to think of, now.  No.  Not funny.  “What, do you think that means something?  Do you think that means that if I still love you then I still trust you?  That’s not how it works, that’s stupid, no.”

            “But it might be.  Or it’s a sign, or something.  It’s evidence.  You’re still in love with me, aren’t you?”

            “Am I doing it again?”  Needing to know, he crouched down in front of L, staring into L’s eyes.  He only saw all of the things that he’d seen before; how gorgeous L was, how unhappy L was, the yearning and the love and hope still shining in there.  “I’m ruining everything because I don’t believe you?  Like before?  Is this my fault, am I the one fucking up?  Are you telling the truth?”

            “Yes,” L said insistently, grabbing his hand.  It was the first time they’d touched since he’d shoved L away, and his fingers tightened around L’s, hard.  “No, it’s not your fault.  But yes, I’m telling you the truth, I love you, you don’t have to keep pushing me away.”

            That wasn’t good enough.  “How can I tell?”

            “Changjo-ah,” L said softly, pulling lightly on his hand.  “You have to trust me.”

            No, that wasn’t good enough.  “There should be a way to prove it.  Prove you’re in love.  Prove I can trust you.”

            “There aren’t tests for that.  This is life, we just have to believe in each other.  Like you trust Suho hyung.”

            “But he proved himself to me.  He was willing to do it.  You prove it, show me something.”

            “What do you want me to do?” L asked.  “Changjo-ah, no.  That’s not how this works.  We can’t make each other jump through hoops.  There isn’t going to be some oath we take once a month to prove ourselves to each other.  How did you feel about me when I asked you to be my boyfriend?  What did you think of me then?  I’m still the same, nothing’s changed.”

            “You trust me, right?  Prove it.  Tell me something I can use against you, tell me something you don’t want anyone else to know.  Trust me to keep your secrets.”

            L looked at him in silence for a long time.

            Too long.  Too much silence.  “Prove it,” he said again.

            Getting up, L tugged on his hand.  “Come here.  Come on.”

            “Where?  Why?”  L was taking him out of the practice room.  “Where are we going?”  They went into the bathroom.  L flipped on the lights and drew him into a stall.  “What are you doing?”  He knew what L was doing.  His heart was pounding in his chest.  “No, I don’t want this.”

            “Yes, you do.”  L knelt down between him and the toilet.

            “No.”  L reached for his belt.  “I said no!”

            “You want it,” L said, undoing his fly.

            “Don’t tell me what I want!”  One hand scrabbling back at the lock, he fumbled at his pants, holding them shut.  The lock gave way behind him and he stumbled back, out of the stall.

            Reaching out, L grabbed at his pants, yanking him back in.  “You want it!” L shouted, staring up at him, looking angry and determined.  “You want this, and don’t lie to me and pretend that you don’t.  This is exactly what you want.  You said it before and you meant it.  You want me to let you do this to me, you want to be the one I love so much I let it happen, you want me to be so in love with you that I’ll go this far, just for you.  You want it, so stand here and take it!”

            “No!”  Sick, ashamed, furious, he tore himself away, stumbling out of the stall again.

            “That’s what Suho hyung did, isn’t it?  He gave in and gave you what you wanted, he broke all of his own rules to do it, he went against everything he believed in just for you.  But you love him, you trust him, so you didn’t make him go through with it, not the whole way.  But me, you need more from me, you need everything from me.  So fucking take it!”

            He scrambled away, desperate to avoid L’s grasp, falling against the sinks.  “Get the fuck away from me!”

            Getting up, L came out of the stall, stalking towards him.  “We’re not fucking leaving here until it’s done.  You want me to prove myself, you want a test, this is it.  I’m doing it.  I’m doing it!”

            “Don’t fucking touch me,” he panted, doing up his fly, fastening his belt, his hands shaking.

            “Oral’s not good enough?” L asked.  “Dumping your load on my face won’t do it?  Anal, then, do it.  Right here, take it.  In the stall or here by the sinks, so just in case anyone walks in, they can see everything?”

            “Stop it!”  He needed to make it stop, he needed to make L shut up.  “We’re not doing it, I’m not doing that to you!”

            “But it’ll settle everything, won’t it?  You’ll be sure about me, you’ll know how far you can go with me, you’ll know that I’ll do anything to be with you.”  He started undoing his own pants, undressing right there.  “You want me to prove myself, this is what you want, this is what you’re asking for.”

            Trying to stop him, Changjo grabbed at his pants.  “Stop it!  I don’t want this!  I don’t want to hurt you!”

            “It’ll prove everything you need to know.”

            “But I don’t want it.”  He hugged L, trying to hold L still, needing to clear his head.  “Stop talking about it, stop offering it, I don’t want it.”

            “You can do it,” L said, hugging him.  “You can have anything you want.”

            “You don’t mean it.”  His hands were on L’s back, rubbing up and down, clutching at L’s shirt, grabbing, pulling.

            “I need you to believe in me,” L whispered, hugging more and more tightly.  Usually he was the one who held on too hard, but L was squeezing him.  “I’ll do it for you, I’ll do anything for you.  I need you to trust me, I don’t care about anything else.  I’ll get over it.”

            “You never get over anything.”

            “I’ll do that for you, too,” L whispered, stroking his hair.  It wasn’t light, tender petting, it was hungry, pawing slowly through his hair.

            “I’m not going to rape you in some bathroom.”  He had to say it.  He had to put it in concrete terms, he needed to put it out there, between them.  “I’m just not, so stop talking about it.”

            “I won’t hold it against you,” L whispered.  “I promise that I won’t.”

            Oh, god.  Changjo’s eyes were watering and he couldn’t wrap his arms around L any harder.  “Don’t ever say that ever again.  Don’t say it to anybody.  Don’t say it to me.  Never, ever, don’t ever say it ever.  You should hold it against me,” he said, suddenly grabbing L’s face in both hands, needing to look into L’s eyes.  “You should fucking hate me forever and hold it against me for the rest of my fucking life if I ever, ever do anything like that.  You should call the fucking cops.”  Silent tears rolled down L’s cheeks; his lips quivered.  “You’re out of your fucking mind,” Changjo said, wiping at L’s tears.  “None of this is okay.”  L couldn’t keep being like this.  He couldn’t, either.  He was willing to go through a lot, but he wanted L to be happy.  He wanted L to live a healthier life than this.  “I used to make you happy,” he said softly, brushing away the wetness on L’s cheeks.  “What can I do to make you happy?”

            “Let me love you,” L whispered, fingers crawling through his hair.  L nuzzled the side of his face, breathing hard against his cheek.  “Let me be in love with you, let me see you, let me take care of you.  Let me help you and shield you.  Don’t leave me.  Just don’t leave me.  I can get over anything but I can’t take it if you leave me.”

            He’d done it again.  He’d really done it all over again.  L had done something wrong, and he’d overreacted, and he’d blown the whole world apart, and he’d pushed L too hard, pushed L to extremes.  L had tried to apologize and tried to explain and tried to talk to him, and he’d lost his shit, and he’d ruined everything.  He’d ripped apart his own heart and L’s, too, and for what?  Because he was pissed off?  L had fucked up, but L didn’t deserve this.  Not all of this.  God.

            “I can take it,” L whispered.  “I’m stronger than I thought I was.  Just don’t go.”

            He’d done this.  They’d been happy, L had been happy, everything had been great, and now L was crying in a bathroom, begging him for horrible things, and it was his fault.  L loved him, and he couldn’t accept it.  He couldn’t keep it and trust in it.  All of those great times between them that he’d thought were gone forever, were gone because of him.  He’d destroyed them.  Because he couldn’t trust and he couldn’t believe.  L was so important to him and meant so much to him that everything L did wrong completely fucking shattered him.

            He’d done this to L.  Hugging L, he stared at the bathroom wall, wishing that the tile had answers.

            The problem wasn’t that L kept doing stupid shit.  Yeah, that was wrong, but L’s fuck-ups were completely eclipsed by his reactions.  He was the problem.  Any way he looked at it, he only had two choices.  He either had to trust L for good, for real, completely, or he had to ditch this whole relationship.  He had to trust that L loved him, and that L wanted good things for him, and that any problems they had could be worked out around that.  Or he had to walk away, because he couldn’t keep dragging L through hell like this.

            “I’m not going anywhere,” he said, to himself and to L, both.  “I love you.  I want this.  We can make this work.  I can make it, I can do it.”  Once he had that resolved, he felt more clear-headed, felt determined.  He nodded to himself, blinking, everything firmly settled in his mind.  He was going to make this work.  He was going to be the kind of boyfriend L could count on.

            L made a soft, anguished sound and buried his face against Changjo’s neck, pawing through Changjo’s hair.

            Trusting someone meant being generous and flexible.  He trusted that even when Suho made bad decisions, Suho really, sincerely meant well, anyway.  He trusted that Chunji, even furiously, gleefully vengeful, wouldn’t go too far.  He trusted Ricky completely and implicitly.  Trusting meant understanding and forgiving, and he wasn’t good at forgiving.  He didn’t like to forgive.  Revenge was so much better.

            But he and L had this thing.  This relationship.  When it was going well, it was incredible, it was one of the best parts of his life.  Maybe L was kind of a leech, but Changjo got a lot back.  He felt amazing when they were together.  This gorgeous, intense hyung was in love with him, and laughed at his jokes and teased him and wanted to be kissing him all of the time.  He could be himself with L, he could be any way he wanted, and L still loved him and wanted to spend more time with him.  He could be blunt and L was never shocked.  He could push boundaries and L wouldn’t blink.  He could soak up all of L’s affection and there was always more.

            L was a parasite, but he gave as much as he took.  He was always reaching out, hugging, petting.  He adored Changjo like it was some kind of constant mission to fill Changjo up with his love.  He loved Changjo so much - - he showed it and shared it so much - - that after they spent a night together, Changjo felt high from it, felt intoxicated and giddy, brave, bold.  Felt embarrassed, sensitive, like all of that love L had poured into him was still settling in and he had to protect it.  People liked him, but most people didn’t spend hours gazing into his eyes and kissing him and whispering his name just to hear the sound of it.

            And then Changjo treated him like this.  Freaked out on him and pushed him hard enough to make him break.

            Changjo drummed his fingers against L’s spine.  “I’m an asshole.  You should hate me.  Why don’t you hate me?  I deserve it.”  He pulled back, gesturing at himself.  “Hit me.  You should hit me.  Do you want to beat me up?  I won’t fight back.”

            L looked bewildered.  “Is this a test?”

            “Fix this,” Changjo said, doing up L’s fly the rest of the way.  It embarrassed him, scared him, the reminder of how far L had been willing to go.  How far he’d pushed L to go.  Once he had L’s pants done, he buckled the belt, too, and then he straightened L’s shirt, tugging on the hem and adjusting the shoulders and pushing up the sleeves.  Putting L together, trying to put L back.  “You’re the most handsome hyung I have,” he confessed.  He grabbed toilet paper from a stall - - a different stall, he was never going near that one again - - and wiped at L’s face.  “Don’t tell Chunji hyung or Suho hyung that I said it.  Well, Suho hyung might agree.  Or, privately he’d disagree, but he’d at least think it was cute that I was so in love with you I thought you were better-looking than he is.”

            “What are you doing?” L asked.

            He threw the toilet paper away and smoothed L’s hair.  “Trying to make things normal again.  I need things to be normal for a second.”  He looked around.  “Can we go somewhere else?  I need to get out of here.  I don’t think that we should ever come in here again.  Maybe I’ll break something so they have to close it down.”  He gave the sink a curious look, assessing it.  It wouldn’t be too hard to-

            “What, no,” L said.

            “I’ll just say it was an accident.”  It had to be something he could do with his bare hands, though.  Or should he flush something that would screw up the plumbing?  He patted his pockets, wondering what he could use.

            “The bathroom isn’t the problem.”

            He’d come back and do it later.  They went back to the practice room.  When L sat down this time, he sat, too, facing L.  He scooted back, stretching out his legs, and then he scooted forward again, not wanting to be too far away.  Not liking the distance between them.  “Do you want to get back at me?  Do you want to hurt me back?”

            “No.  I don’t want to hurt you, why do you keep thinking that?”

            He took that as a rhetorical question and didn’t answer it.  “You’re in love with me,” he said, watching L’s expression.  “Really in love.  You have been this whole time, right?”

            L stared at him.  “Yes!”  L reached for him but didn’t make contact, like there was some kind of invisible barrier in the way.  “Yes, yes, I’m in love with you.”

            “Okay.”  He could poke that theory for holes as much as he wanted, but the evidence was kind of overwhelming.  Yeah, L could be cold and deceptive and super calculating, but really, there had to be some kind of reasonable limit to how far L would go, and there had to be some actual motive for it.  L wouldn’t waste time fucking with him this much, jerking him around, pushing him away and freaking him out and pulling him back in, without a specific reason.  They’d tried to score points against each other before, but when he looked at all of the evidence, at everything they’d gone through, at everything L had said and done, he had to admit: it was a hell of a lot more likely that L was just genuinely in love with him.

            And L’s ability to be cold and deceptive and super calculating were part of what Changjo found so freaking irresistible about him, anyway, so if he’d turned it all against Changjo and this was all a big game, well, whatever, Changjo had kind of set himself up for that.

            So.  L was in love with him.  Really in love with him.  “We can’t stay together if I don’t trust you, right?  It won’t work.  We’ll just end up in the bathroom again.”

            L swallowed and nodded.  “I can take it.”

            “No!  Hyung, no, that’s not what I’m saying.  That’s not what I want, I don’t want that, I don’t want to keep doing this to you.”

            L was breathing hard, his expression getting tense.  “You said that you wouldn’t leave me.”

            “I’m not leaving!  I’m here, I’m right here, I’m right in front of you.  I’m not going anywhere.”  He grabbed L’s hands and put them on his ankles, and then he scooted closer so that L could touch him better.

            L looked mystified for a second, like he didn’t really believe it, and then he looked hopeful.  His face started to crumple, and Changjo’s heart plummeted, seeing him so miserable, but then the hope came back, and his hands closed around Changjo’s ankles.

            “I’m seriously asking you, can we make this work if I don’t trust you?  Is there another way around this?”

            L frowned.  Holding onto Changjo’s ankles, he looked serious, and his voice was quiet when he spoke.  “I don’t want to answer that.”

            Because the answer was no.  It was either trust or nothing.  So if Changjo couldn’t trust him, they were going to have to break up for good.

            “Okay.”  Changjo took his shoes and socks off, and then he rolled up his pants to his knees.  “So I have to trust you.  Trust you to be in love with me and to, like, mean well.  Trust you to look out for me and not shove me aside to put everybody else first.  Trust you not to con me and lie to me.”

            L was stroking his calves and gazing into his eyes.  “We said that we’d be honest with each other.  I meant that.  We have to tell each other the truth.  That’s been true from the beginning.”  L swallowed.  “You just stopped believing that I was doing it.”

            “I want to apologize to you.  I need to, I really need to.  But it’s hard.  I fucked up so badly, I fucked up a hundred times worse than I thought you did, and I did all of this to you, and you didn’t deserve it.  I don’t know how to say I’m sorry for that, I don’t know how to apologize for something so bad.”

            L shook his head.  “You don’t have to apologize.”

            “No, but, I need to,” he insisted.

            “What are you apologizing for?” L asked.  “This isn’t over.  Whatever you’re sorry for, you’re still doing it.  As long as you can’t trust me, this is going to keep happening.”  He dropped his gaze to Changjo’s feet, looking grim, his thumbs stroking up and down over Changjo’s shins.  “I think that - - you don’t want to go back to the bathroom, but I think that we should.  I think that it’ll help.”  He raised his gaze to Changjo’s eyes again.  “If you’d just let me do it, it would be over with, and it would prove what you mean to me.  You wouldn’t have to doubt me anymore.”

            “No!”  He slapped his hand down on the floor.  “No!  That’s not going to happen!  It’s not some option you can keep bringing it up, like, hey, let’s try this!  No!  Stop it!”

            Looking miserable again, L lowered his face, his shoulders dropping.  His caresses slowed down.

            Changjo slid forward, good and close, lifting his legs over L’s and planting his feet just behind L on the floor, on either side of L’s waist.  “I’ll just have to trust you.  It’s that or it’s nothing, there’s nothing else, we don’t have other options.  If we can’t come up with a better plan, then we’ll have to do this.  I’ll have to trust you.”

            “Can you?”  L searched his face.  “Can you trust me like you trust Suho hyung?”

            “Mmm.”  He sucked his cheeks in, thinking about it.  “It’s more like how I trust Ricky or Chunji hyung.  Or L.Joe hyung?  But more like Ricky or Chunji hyung.”

            L looked surprised.  “What are you saying about Ricky?”

            “Nothing.  Don’t worry about that.”  He rubbed the tops of his feet up under L’s thighs.  “Promise that you love me?”

            “Yes.”  L’s hands slid up to the bend of each knee, trying to pull him closer, and he slid in just a little bit more.  “Yes, I swear it.  Whatever you want me to promise, I’ll say it.  I’m so much in love with you, ever since I fell for you, I’ve only kept falling.”

            He wished that he could just flip a switch and trust L.  He wished that it could be immediate and tangible, so that he could be sure that it had started, and so that he could be finished with it.  Why couldn’t trust be a once-and-done thing?  It seemed more like an ongoing process, like something he’d have to keep doing.

            Maybe it would get easier after a while.  Maybe it would become more natural.  More reflexive.  “What should I do if I’m not sure about something?  Ask you about it?  Double-check with you?  But it should be more like, ‘Hey, uh, what did you mean by that,’ and not like, ‘Did you mean something bad, fuck you, don’t ever come near me again.’”  Wondering, he rubbed his nose.  “Is that what I sound like?”

            “Yes,” L said.  “But, yes, ask me when you aren’t sure.  Let me explain.  We can talk things out.  Give me a chance to tell you what’s going on.  Give me a chance to apologize.  I swear, I don’t have some awful plan to break your heart.”  His voice cracked a little.  “Nothing about that would be fun for me.”

            “Okay.”  Changjo nodded, briskly rubbing his thighs.  “Okay.  So I’ll trust you and double-check things with you.  And you’ll love me, that’s your job, I guess.”  He wanted to offer to let L hit him again, but he believed that L didn’t want to.  He totally deserved it, and he was willing to hold still for it if it would make L feel better.  But L didn’t want to hurt him.

            And he believed that.  The realization fascinated him.  He really trusted L’s word.  He completely disagreed with L, and he thought that L had a ton of motive to want to punch him.  Niel had revenge hit him like a hundred times, and he’d always deserved it, so why wouldn’t L want to?  But for L, it wouldn’t help, it would only make things worse.  And he believed that L meant it.  He didn’t think that L had any ulterior motives.  He didn’t think that L was holding back just to be nice or just to be responsible or just to prove a point.

            He trusted L already.  He knew L.  They got each other.  Even when they disagreed about something, they gave each other room to be different and room to be wrong.  L had been dragged to hell for no reason and didn’t want vengeance, just wanted to love him, just wanted things to be stable again and good again.  L wanted to get past this.

            He could give L that.  He owed it.  “What do you want to do?  Should we just make plans like normal from now on?”  If L wanted to see less of him, he’d totally understand that, but the way L kept asking him not to leave, he didn’t think that was what L wanted at all.  L probably wanted to see more of him.  “Should I go to see you tomorrow?  I might have time.”

            “Yes!  Yes, come over whenever you want.”  L’s stare didn’t quite believe him.  “You’ll really come?”

            Now L didn’t trust him.  It was his fault.  All of this was his fault.  “Yeah, I’ll talk to C.A.P. hyung about it.  I’ll text you as soon as I know.  Is it okay if I visit?  Sunggyu hyung won’t throw me out?”

            “Come over, come over,” L said, rubbing his legs, pulling at his pants.

            “I’m surprised that he let you take me out tonight.”

            “You heard, on the phone,” L said.  Changjo nodded.  “Sorry about that,” he mumbled.  “Yeah, he was upset.”  He scratched the side of his head.  “I think that he feels sorry for me.”

            “Don’t say that you’re sorry.  You don’t have anything to apologize for.”

            “I flipped out at you.”

            “You were upset,” Changjo said.  “I made you upset, it’s my fault, you didn’t do anything.”

            “Can you come here?” L asked, tugging at his pants.

            If L was okay with it, if L was ready for skinship, then, yeah, he wanted to.  He moved forward, hiking himself right into L’s lap, wrapping his arms around L.  Holding him tightly, L breathed right against his neck.  They started to tip over and he went with it, putting a hand out before they hit the floor, relaxing down on his side, L plastered against him and coiled around him.

            “I missed you,” L whispered.

            “I kept thinking about you,” he said.  “About all of the good stuff.  The way you smile at me, and being able to tell you anything, and all of the times that I told you I loved you, and everything.”  They’d had an amazing relationship, and he’d tried to rip it apart.  He had to remember what this felt like, how horrible he’d made everything, how bad things were tonight, so he wouldn’t do it again.  He had to remember how L had pulled him into that bathroom stall.  He didn’t ever, ever want to go in there again.

            “I thought about it, too.  I didn’t know if I’d get to do any of it again.”  L rubbed his forehead against Changjo’s neck.  “You have to let me take photos of you.  When you come over tomorrow.”

            “Okay, you can take photos,” Changjo decided.  “But not because we’re going to break up and you’re going to need photos of me once I’m gone.  We’re staying together and you’re going to get to look at me whenever you want to.  More than you want to, you’ll be sick of my face.  But you can take photos, anyway, just for fun.”

            “I couldn’t be sick of your face.”

            “No?  I get sick of it all of the time.  On old posters and crap, I’m like, ugh, why do I even look like that?”

            “You have great posters.”

            “You haven’t seen any posters, you don’t know.”

            “I’ve seen some.”  L stroked his hair, gazing at him like there were fascinating things to see in his eyes.  “You’re always so handsome.”

            One of the best parts of L’s obsession with staring at him was that he got to stare back.  So while L looked at him, he watched L’s face.  The longer he gazed into L’s eyes, the better he felt.  He actually started to relax a little.  He hadn’t relaxed in days, not at all, not the tiniest bit.  But maybe he could start to relax now.  Maybe things could be okay.  L loved him.  L forgave him.  He was the asshole who’d tried to destroy everything good between them, so all he had to worry about, all he had to control, was his own behavior.  He had to learn the freaking lesson that hadn’t sunk in last time.

            He ran his thumb over where L’s dimple would be, if L smiled.  “You look tired.”

            “It’s hard to sleep.”  L started to caress his face, and he wondered if L had been waiting for him to do it first, waiting for permission.  Light touches over his cheekbones and slow strokes along his jaw.  L smoothed his eyebrows and touched his mouth, too, slowly, tenderly.  “You should like your posters,” L said softly.  “I love looking at you.”

            And he’d thought that all of this was some con?  He’d thought that this was a game?  That L took him lightly, took him for granted?  “Hyung.”  He had so much more to say.  Confessions.  Apologies.  None of it would come out, it was all locked up in some tight ball lodged in his chest like a rock.

            “I used to have ideas about you, before,” L said.  “But ever since I knew that I was in love with you, it’s been different.  I don’t want to hurt you.  I don’t want to play games and push you around and pull strings.  I don’t think that you’re convenient.”

            “I know, I know,” Changjo said, wanting him to stop.  “I was wrong.  You don’t have to explain anything.”

            “Trust isn’t easy.”  L ran one thumb in a slow sweep from Changjo’s temple to the corner of his mouth and back, circling his cheekbone.  “It wasn’t immediate with my members.  I wasn’t sure about all of them, and they weren’t all sure about me, either.”  He looked contemplative.  He didn’t look so horribly wounded anymore.  “I thought that Woohyun hyung was always after something, always had an ulterior motive.  And Hoya hyung thought that I was crazy.  But we got used to each other.”  He blinked.  “I don’t think that our opinions changed.  Woohyun hyung does always have an ulterior motive, and I think that Hoya hyung still thinks I’m kind of crazy.  But we like those things about each other, now.  We’re used to it.”

            Changjo nodded.  “At first we weren’t all sure what to do with each other.  It was hard to figure out how everybody fit in.  Some of us liked each other but some of us didn’t get along.  We didn’t know how to talk to each other and we fought a lot.  When things happened, bad things, we had a choice.  It was like, I can stay out of it and let him deal with it, or I can have his back.  At first I was kind of like, why should I help him, he can figure it out, everyone has crap to deal with.  But we started looking out for each other.  At first it was kind of like an obligation, like, I guess I’ll do the right thing, whatever, but then it was like, it became a habit.  And we all stood up for each other, it wasn’t just one-sided, if I said that I had a problem, they did something about it.  They even stood up for me when I didn’t expect them to, they spoke up when they thought our manager was being too hard on me, little shit like that.  When we could go to each other about little shit, then when something big happened, we thought that we could trust each other with that, too.  And once we could trust each other with big shit, it was easier to trust each other with little stuff.”

            “You think they look out for you?” L asked.

            “Yes.  I know they do.  I wouldn’t be so close to them if they didn’t.  I might shield them from some stuff just because we’re all members and what affects them affects my reputation and my career, too, but it wouldn’t be the same.  I wouldn’t trust them, I wouldn’t let them get away with shit, I wouldn’t care about them.”  He walked his fingers down L’s chest.  “And you’re not crazy.  You’re a little bit weird and you’re freaking amazing, but you’re not crazy.”

            L licked his lips.  “Could you not tell anybody what I asked you to do tonight?”

            “In the bathroom?”

            “If Sunggyu hyung found out, he wouldn’t like it, and if Suho hyung found out, he’d just worry about me.”

            “Hyung, I’m worried about you,” Changjo said, rubbing his upper arm.  “I won’t tell anybody, but you can’t act like that again.  You can’t say those things to anybody, not me, not anybody.  Seriously, I’m being real about this.  You can’t let anybody freaking rape you, and you can’t fucking ask somebody to do it.  You get that, right, I know you know that.”

            L winced.  “I thought it would help.”

            “It won’t help!  It doesn’t help, it never helps.  It’s not something that always helps, like extra cash.  It’s not something that sometimes comes in handy, like a lighter.  It never, ever helps, never, okay?”

            L smiled a little, looking embarrassed.  “I got it, I got it.”

            Changjo hugged him.  “Hyung.  You have to promise me that you won’t let me cross that line, okay?  I have to be able to trust you with a lot of things, and I have to be able to trust you when it comes to that, too.  You can’t go along with sex just to keep me happy.  You can’t let me do things you aren’t sure about just because I might get upset.  I’ll be way, way more upset if I cross boundaries and don’t even realize it.  I need you to let me know what you’re okay with and what you aren’t.  That can’t change.  I don’t ever, ever, ever want to hurt you like that, no matter how pissed off I am, so I need you to turn me down and tell me to get off of you if you aren’t in the mood for something.”

            L was silent for a minute.  Silent for long enough that Changjo knew he was really thinking through it before committing to an answer.  The fact that he wouldn’t immediately agree to it told Changjo exactly how bad things had gotten between them, and how desperate L was to keep him happy no matter what.  Changjo felt sick.

            Finally, L said, “Okay.”

            “I know this shit can be complicated.  I live with L.Joe hyung, I know a lot about it.  But I really like that you know what you’re not comfortable with, and I really like that you don’t make compromises.  I want you to stay that way.”

            It didn’t take as long to respond this time.  “Okay,” L said, still hugging him.  “I’ve got it.”

            They stayed on the floor for a long time.  L wrapped around him like a leech and stroked his hair like each individual strand needed attention.  When L finally started mouthing his shoulder, he breathed easier.  Things might be okay.  “I love you,” he said quietly, super quietly, just for L to hear.

            L’s head jerked up and he stared into Changjo’s eyes.  He looked desperate and hopeful and shocked.  “I love you so much.  You’ll still say it to me?  Please let me see you tomorrow.”

            His heart ached.  “I will,” he promised, stroking L’s back.  “I will, hyung, I’ll be there.”

            Going into his room, Sungyeol flipped on the light.  He took off his shirt and was halfway out of his pants when he realized that there was someone in his bed.  “L-ah?”  Surprised, he leaned over and tugged the sheet down a little to uncover the face.  It was L, hibernating in his bed when L’s bed was right there in the room.  “When did you get home?”  He assumed that L was asleep, and he didn’t expect an answer.  Then an arm reached out and wrapped around his waist, pulling him in.

            Laughing, he let L drag him down to the bed.  “What’s this?” he asked, stretching out.  L burrowed in against him, arm around him, face buried against his chest.  “Ah, this is no good,” he said, rubbing L’s back.  “It didn’t go right with Changjo?”

            L didn’t answer, just stayed burrowed.

            Sungyeol sighed, patting L’s back.  His phone was on his desk where he’d set it a second ago, just out of reach.  He wasn’t going to get any sex when L was like this.  He hadn’t really intended to go to sleep yet, but he guessed he didn’t have any other options.

            “Yeolie,” Dongwoo said, barging in.  “What, in bed already?  Hey, when did this one get home?”

            “Who’s home, is L home?” Woohyun asked.

            “Already in bed!” Dongwoo said.

            “What’s this, are we cuddling?” Woohyun asked.  Suddenly he was crawling onto the bed, crawling across Sungyeol, and Sungyeol grunted, shoving at him.

            “Stop putting your knees everywhere!” Sungyeol complained as he dropped heavily on top of L.

            “Is it a pile?” Dongwoo asked, climbing on.

            “Ya!  Ah!  Ow,” Sungyeol said, laughing.  “Hyung!”

            “So comfortable like this,” Woohyun said, clinging to L and pulling Dongwoo closer.

            “Is it?” Dongwoo asked, laughing, sprawling out.

            “We’ll sleep just like this tonight,” Woohyun decided, stroking L’s hair.  “Is that good?”

            L relaxed, going limp against Sungyeol.  He took that as a yes.

            “What time is it?” Changjo asked.  He checked his phone, then grabbed the phone out of Ricky’s hands and checked the time again, then reached for L.Joe’s phone.

            L.Joe popped him on top of the head, yanking the phone away.  “Maknae!”

            “What time is it?” he demanded, checking Ricky’s phone again, then his.

            “Okay, you can’t keep doing that,” Ricky said, putting his phone in his pocket.

            “We’re late!  Why are we late, we can’t be late.”  He crossed the dressing room and went to the door, drumming his fingers against the doorjamb, looking out into the hallway.  It was deserted; everyone else was long gone.  “We have to go, we need to go now, let’s go.”

            “We can’t leave without Niel, he’s kind of important,” L.Joe said.

            “No, he’s not,” Ricky said.

            L.Joe laughed.  “Let’s go without him, then.”

            “Yes, let’s go, can we go?” Changjo asked, pacing.  “I’ll go, can I go?  I’ll get a taxi, I’ll take the bus, can I go?”

            “Sit down,” C.A.P. said, spinning lazily in a chair by the stylist’s table.

            “But you don’t need me for anything, I can go, right?” Changjo asked.

            “We’ve never needed you, you could have left years ago, bye,” Ricky said.

            “Bye, maknae,” L.Joe said, waving.

            Good.  He walked out, undoing his jacket, undoing half of his shirt buttons.  He’d get a taxi and-

            “Maknae, maknae,” Chunji was saying behind him.  “Changjo!”  Laughing, Chunji grabbed his arm, dragging him back a step.  “What are you doing?”

            “Oh my god, he got this far?” L.Joe asked, jogging down the hallway, hair bouncing.

            “I’m going, what, you said that I could go,” Changjo said.  “I have somewhere to be, someone needs to see me, I can’t stay here.”

            “Why are you like this?” Chunji asked, laughing, pushing him towards the dressing room.

            He didn’t budge; he didn’t want to go back.  L was waiting for him.  “I told him that I’d see him tonight.”

            “You have all night, you have hours,” Chunji said.

            “So embarrassing,” L.Joe scolded, buttoning up Changjo’s shirt again.

            Ricky’s head poked out into the hallway.  “No, they’re still out here,” he reported into the room.  “Okay.”  He raised his voice.  “C.A.P. hyung says that you’re all a bunch of - - ya, I can’t say that, you’ll ruin my reputation,” he complained, turning back into the room.

            Changjo took off his jacket, feeling hindered by it, restricted.  His hyungs forced him back into the dressing room, but he couldn’t stay.  “We’re only waiting for Niel hyung, and then we’re leaving, right?  So I’ll leave first, it doesn’t make a difference, I don’t have to wait.”

            “Close that door,” C.A.P. said, and L.Joe closed it.  “You’re not leaving on your own.  You don’t get to take off whenever you feel like it.”

            “It’s important, he’s waiting for me.”

            “You’ll get there, calm down,” Ricky said.

            But he’d promised L that he’d visit tonight.  He’d wanted to show up as soon as he could.  The more time passed, the longer the night went on, the more L would worry.  L would think that he wasn’t coming.  He could see it, L sitting in Infinite’s dorm, waiting for him, feeling time pass.  Every second would wear on L, dragging away more of L’s hope, more of L’s faith in him.

            Niel finally showed up, and as soon as the door opened, Changjo tried to walk out, intending to barrel through the doorway and down the hallway and right to L.  Startled, Niel said, “Maknae, ow, what,” and their manager shoved them both into the room, crowding them in.  “We’re not going yet.”

            “Close the door,” C.A.P. said.

            “Gotta talk to the PD,” their manager said, closing the door in their faces.

            Changjo paced.  He unbuttoned his shirt, feeling hot, feeling burdened.  He went into the bathroom and washed off his make-up.  He took his shirt off the whole way.  He plucked at his undershirt, pacing, frustrated.  Why couldn’t they go?  They weren’t going anywhere, they’d be trapped there forever.  He kicked Ricky’s chair on the way by.

            Ricky didn’t look up from his phone.

            He did it again on his next pass by.

            “Maknae,” L.Joe scolded.

            “What happened to hating L hyung?” Niel asked.  “I thought that you hated him.”

            “Is this what it’s always going to be like?” L.Joe asked.  “Are you just going to throw a different fit every day from now on?”

            “Yeah, that’s not okay,” Niel said.

            “Wait, what?” Chunji asked, laughing and turning to L.Joe.  “Are you complaining about someone else throwing fits?”

            “What?” L.Joe asked.  “I don’t act like this!”

            “We know what you act like,” Niel said.  He gasped, grinning, recoiling, when L.Joe sat forward.

            L.Joe set his phone aside.

            Niel slowly shrank back in his chair, curling into a defensive position.

            Changjo kicked Ricky’s chair on the way by.

            L.Joe shot out of his chair, pouncing on Niel.

            Ricky scooted his chair into the middle of the room, right in the way of everything.

            Laughing, Chunji dragged his chair over beside Ricky’s.  C.A.P. did the same on Ricky’s other side.

            “Ow!  Ow!  But ouch!” Niel complained as L.Joe pounded on him.

            Changjo paced in a circle around his members’ chairs.  He sped up.  He wondered how fast he could go.  Faster than this.  Faster.  Faster.  Chunji tried to trip him but he was too quick.  C.A.P. tried to trip him but no one could stop him, no one could get him, he was too fast for everyone.  He was fast enough that he could run the whole way across the city and no one would catch him, he could run the whole way to L’s dorm and no one could stop him.  Run straight to L, L who was waiting for him, L who loved him, L who had loved him the whole time.  He’d been wrong about L, wrong, wrong, he’d been wrong.

            The door opened.

            He zoomed into the hallway.  He was the first one out of the building, the first one in the van.  He wished that he had the keys, he needed keys, he could drive away, he could go.  He got out and jogged around the van, jogged around twice, and then he saw his members coming outside.  Hurrying, he scrambled back into the van, closed the door, buckled himself into the front seat, ready to go, ready, ready to go.  C.A.P. and Chunji were flirting, Niel was slowing down to wave to fans.  He texted L.  Leaving KBS now.  Ricky dumped his shirt and jacket in his lap.  It was a really nice outfit.  “I like our new stylist, don’t you like our new stylist, I think she’s good.  Way better than our last one, so much better, I like her a lot more.”

            “She’s great,” their manager agreed, starting up the van.  The other members were all in, closing the doors.

            “You can drop me off at that dorm,” he said.  “I’ll go there now and then you can take everybody else.”

            “Not finished for the day,” their manager said.  “Gotta stop by the office first.”

            “No!” Niel shouted.  “Don’t say that!”

            When L got to the dorm, he took a nap.  He went right to bed and passed out.

            He didn’t move, was completely out, until his phone pinged.  Dragging it under the covers with him, he checked his texts.

            Finished recording.  Out of here soon.

            Changjo.  Was Changjo really coming?  It seemed too good to be true.  He didn’t want to get his hopes up, but as he stared at the screen, reading the simple words over and over again, he could feel love and hope and anticipation stirring in his chest.

            He got out of bed.  He took a shower.  He got dressed.  He hung out in Sungjong’s room, flirting.

            Another message.  Leaving KBS now.

            Was Changjo on his way?  Would he be there soon?

            L realized that he didn’t like what he was wearing.  It was way too casual, like he’d just rolled out of bed, or out of an alley.  He went back to his room to change.  He tried on his new sweater.  Then he tried on the shirt he’d worn to a movie premiere.  Then he put on the shirt he’d bought last week.

            He had another text.  Was it from Changjo?  Was Changjo here?  Heart pounding, he grabbed his phone.

            Meeting.  TOP Media.  It won’t last forever, it can’t.

            He blinked.  Disappointed, he put the phone down.  Mussing his hair, he wandered out of his room.  He felt lost; he didn’t have anywhere to go.  He curled up on the couch.

            He realized that he’d left his phone in his room.  But did it matter?  Changjo was caught in a meeting, anyway, and wasn’t coming over anytime soon.  Probably wasn’t going to come over tonight at all.

            Someone was standing over him.  He looked up.  Peering down at him, Dongwoo grinned.  “You look so sad.  What are you thinking about?”

            “Nothing lasts forever.  It can’t.”  Not meetings.  Not relationships.  Not love.

            “We do,” Dongwoo said, sitting down beside his feet.  He raised his head, squinting, and Dongwoo smiled broadly, arms spreading.  “We’re Infinite!”

            Groaning, feeling more burdened than ever, he sat up and flopped down in the other direction, his head in Dongwoo’s lap this time.  “God, hyung.  Don’t say things like that.”

            “Why not?  It’s not true?”  Dongwoo stroked his hair and patted at his face.  “Infinite.”

            He groaned, hiding his face in one arm.

            A few minutes later, Dongwoo left him.  When he heard Sungjong’s voice, he said, “Maknae.  Maknae.”  Uncurling, he raised his head.  “Maknae!”

            “What?” Sungjong called impatiently.

            “Bring me my phone!”

            “Oh, god.  Can you get his phone?”

            “No,” Hoya’s voice said.

            “God damn it,” Sungjong muttered.  L curled up again.  A moment later, he felt something land on his hip and drop down.  Patting over the cushions, he found his phone.  Bringing it to his face, he rolled onto his back and opened his eyes.

            No messages.

            He got up and went into Sunggyu’s room.  He curled up in the big bed and called Suho.

            “Ah, L-ah.  Hyung’s busy, is it important?”

            “Did Changjo say anything to you?”

            “About what?”

            “About me.”  About wanting to break up.

            “Ah.  I know that he’s been having a hard time, lately.  He won’t tell me much about it, but maybe that’s good, it’s good if he can handle his own problems.  I want to talk to you, but it’ll have to be later, I have to go, now.  Don’t jump to any conclusions.  Where are you, at your dorm with your members?”


            “Talk to them, don’t just sit by yourself.  Hyung has to go.  I love you, I’ll see you soon, we’ll make plans.”  Suho hung up on him.

            “Suho hyung loves me,” he mumbled to himself, dropping his phone.  That was something.  He rubbed at his face.  He rolled onto his back, sprawling out and staring up at the ceiling.

            He wondered if Changjo really had a meeting.  Maybe Changjo was lying to him.  Avoiding him.  Stringing him along on purpose, dragging this out, sitting back at the dorm with Chunji, getting laid and laughing over what a fool he was.

            He hated Chunji.  He hated C.A.P.  He hated everyone in Teen Top.

            He rolled over.  He thought about Chunji.  Thought about Chunji and Dongwoo.  Thought about how much better off Dongwoo would be with Chunji completely out of the picture.  Thought about how to make that happen.  Thought about getting up that second and starting on it.

            He texted Woohyun.

            He rolled over and thought about taking a nap.

            He heard Dongwoo laugh.  Heard Woohyun’s voice.  Heard more laughter, then moaning.  A lot of moaning.  A door closed.

            He felt better.

            Hoya came in and stretched out beside him.

            He had another text.

            Practice.  It wasn’t scheduled before, it wasn’t supposed to be tonight, none of this was supposed to be like this.  I’m still coming to see you, I’ll be there no matter what.

            He believed it and he didn’t.  He trusted in Changjo to love him and be sincere with him and really mean to come to see him tonight, but he didn’t think that it would happen.

            Changjo had hugged him.  Had said, “I love you.”  Had promised to come to see him.  Had talked about wanting things to be normal.  But being together again seemed like a dream.  They’d had their chance, and they’d ruined it.  He’d ruined it.

            He rubbed at his eyes, wishing that he could reach his brain.  He wanted to scrub these thoughts out of his head.  Changjo loved him.  Changjo was in love with him, how could he mope around feeling sorry for himself when Changjo was in love with him?

            Suho was right, he needed to get up, move around, talk to his members.  He sat up, running his hand through his hair.  His gaze fell on Hoya and he licked his lips, wondering.  “Want me to go down on you?”

            Hoya raised his eyebrows, plucking his earbuds out.  “Did you just ask me to blow your sexy cock?”

            He smiled.  “Yeah, I did.”

            “Eh, I guess,” Hoya said, shrugging, sitting up.  “If I have to.”

            They had to practice until one am, so they were going to practice until one.  They were going to have the best practice they’d ever had.  Changjo wasn’t wasting his time; he was going to make sure that they practiced hard, that they got every move right, that they danced until every last step was perfect.

            He didn’t want to take any breaks, no breaks, just dancing, dancing until they had it right.  But C.A.P. gave them five minutes off.  So he used that time productively, too, he made the most of it.  Best fucking five minutes of his life.

            On his way back into practice, he told their manager, “I think something’s wrong with that bathroom.  There’s water all over the floor.”

            Practice over at one.  Then I’ll be there.

            L texted back, Okay.  He wanted to ask for a selca.

            He went to the kitchen.  He foraged until he found something edible.  After he ate, he wandered around.  He changed into sweatpants and a black T-shirt.  He wandered around the dorm some more.  He didn’t have anything to do.  He hoped that Changjo would really come to see him.  He was almost sure that something else would come up, that it wouldn’t work out, that Changjo would cancel on him at any second.  At the same time, he was aching to see Changjo, consumed with thoughts of being together again, hungry for Changjo’s presence in the dorm.

            Woohyun came out of his room, tugging clothes on and pulling the door shut.  He locked it and walked away.  L sat down, slumping against the locked door.  He wished that he could live as somebody’s puppy.  It seemed so much easier.  Just do whatever he was told.  He lived that way already, didn’t he?  Wasn’t that the logical next step?  He already had to go where management told him to go, already had to smile on command, already had to obey directors and writers and Kim Sunggyu.  He was already sitting around spending his entire night worried about the guy he was in love with.  He already felt weak and vulnerable and confused and completely at the mercy of people and forces beyond his control.  Why not just commit to it fully and submit?  Spend his nights locked up wherever some dom wanted him.  It would be better than this.

            Sungyeol stood in front of him, tugging on his hair.  “You okay?”

            “Changjo’s not coming.”  He hugged his knees.

            “You know - - now, don’t freak out on me,” Sungyeol said nervously.  “But if things are this bad, if you’re always upset like this - - you can’t just keep living like this.  If he makes you feel like this, maybe it’s better if you, you know.  If you think about breaking up.”

            Something inside him snapped.  A dam broke, and every emotion he had surged in him, a firestorm of emotion pouring through him, as hot and explosive as an erupting volcano.  For an instant, he held absolutely still, and then he was on his feet.  If he spoke to Sungyeol, if he said anything, if he even looked at Sungyeol, he’d start screaming and raging and pulling walls down, and he’d never stop.  He went straight to the front door and jammed his feet into the first pair of shoes he found.

            “What - - you’re leaving?  Where are you going?” Sungyeol asked.

            He couldn’t answer.  Clenching his teeth together, breathing hard, he walked out.  He closed the door and just walked away.

            The second one o’clock hit, Changjo turned off the music.  “I need a ride to Infinite’s dorm,” he announced.

            “You’re the grossest, sweatiest mess I’ve ever seen,” Niel said.  “Don’t you want to wash up first?”

            “Can I get a ride?  Should I call a cab?  I’ll call a cab,” he decided, already pulling up the number on his phone.

            “You don’t need a cab,” L.Joe said, pushing his hand down.  “Just get in the van.”

            “We’ll drop you off first,” C.A.P. said.

            “Oh?” Chunji asked.  “I want to go shopping first, and let’s get something to eat, and then-”

            “Don’t tease!” Ricky shouted.  “Let’s just get rid of him.”

            “Right, everybody in the van,” L.Joe said.  “Seriously, why are you like this?” he grumbled as they left the practice room.

            “You’re such a hypocrite,” Chunji said, laughing at L.Joe, pushing him.

            “That’s different!” he said, pushing back.

            Changjo jumped down the stairs two at a time.  Time to go!

            L was cold.  He didn’t have anywhere to go.  He’d left his phone behind.  His hands in his pockets, he walked a few blocks this way, then a couple of blocks that way.  He thought about walking the whole way to Teen Top’s practice room.  Teen Top’s dorm.

            He trudged back.  Outside of his dorm, his steps slowed.  Changjo wouldn’t be in there.  And he’d have to explain himself to Sungyeol.  He hurt too much to talk.

            He heard voices.  “Maknae!”  “God, wait for the van to stop first!”  “Don’t just open doors!”  Astonished, he turned.  Teen Top’s van was by the curb, and Changjo was leaping out.

            Slamming the door shut, Changjo headed for the building.  He was so intent on the front doors, he jogged straight forward, right past L.  Putting a hand out, L caught at his sleeve.  “Changjo-ah?” he asked in wonder, thrilled by how real he was.

            Skidding, Changjo whirled around.  Eyes going round, he stared at L, and for a second, L thought that his feet were going out from under him.  Righting himself, he asked, “Hyung?”

            L grabbed him, dragging him in, clutching at him.  He was so real, so solid, that L couldn’t get enough of touching him.  He threw his arms around L, hugging too hard, and they stood there, gripping each other.

            It was so familiar, it was so amazing, L couldn’t believe it.  Changjo’s hard, strong body fit against him exactly the way he remembered, lined up just right, felt so healthy and perfect in his arms.

            Changjo’s phone rang.  Rang, rang, stopped.

            “You came,” L said.  It had really happened.  He felt like he could believe again.

            Changjo’s phone started ringing again.  Not moving away from L, still in their embrace, he answered it.  “What, I’m busy.”

            He was so close that L could hear the voice on the other end.  “Ya, what are you doing?  Inside, go inside!”  It sounded like L.Joe.

            “Okay.”  Changjo hung up.  “Should we go inside?”

            “Yeah.”  Yes, he wanted to take Changjo inside, into his dorm.  He wanted to be at home and have Changjo with him.  “Okay.”

            He couldn’t let go entirely, so when they turned towards the doors, he left a hand on Changjo’s back, rubbing up and down, needing to stay in contact.  They went in together.  In the elevator, Changjo leaned towards him, body curved towards him, his hand still on Changjo’s back, Changjo’s shoe touching his.

            As soon as they were in the dorm, they were hugging again.  “I came,” Changjo said, squeezing him.  “I came.  It should’ve been earlier, I wanted to be here before, but I came.”

            “Hyungs!” Sungjong called.  “That maknae’s here!”

            L tensed, raising his head, moving towards Sungjong.  “He’s not-”

            “No, no, it’s okay,” Changjo said, catching him and pulling him back.

            “You’re not ‘that maknae,’” L argued, still tense, angry, scared.  This was what had gone wrong, this was what had started it.  “You’re not ‘some maknae,’ you-”

            “I am, though, it’s okay,” Changjo said.  “I’m Teen Top’s maknae, right?  I have been for years.  It’s what Suho hyung calls me, right?  It’s okay.”

            “You’re not ‘some’ anything,” L said.  Their foreheads touched, and he breathed easier.  “You’re not ‘that’ anything.”

            “I’m yours,” Changjo said.  “Your dongsaeng, your boyfriend.  Can I be yours?”

            His.  It was like a dream.  “That’s what I want,” he confessed, gazing into Changjo’s eyes.  He started backing towards his room, bringing Changjo with him, not letting go.  “My Changjo.”

            He had Changjo in his dorm again, in his room again.  He loved it so much, he felt himself relaxing into it, enjoying it.  Once they crossed the threshold, he felt his grip loosen slightly, and he smiled, some of his tension fading.  Maybe things could be okay again.  “I was so afraid you weren’t coming.”

            “But I came,” Changjo said.  “I wanted to be here earlier, I wanted to come over sooner, but I made it.  I promised you that I would, right, and I made it, I did it.”

            He hugged Changjo again, and it was different this time.  It was more comfortable.  He wasn’t as anxious about Changjo being taken away from him.

            “I’m a little gross,” Changjo said.  “Practice got kind of intense, and I sweated a lot.”

            “I don’t care.”  Then he had a great idea.  “Do you want to change?”  He could put Changjo in his own clothes.  “We’ll wash this,” he decided, pulling back, looking at what Changjo had on.  “We’ll put it in the laundry, and you can wear something else,” his clothes, “until it’s dry.”

            Changjo smiled at him.  It was the smile that meant that Changjo knew that he was up to something and wanted to play along.  “Okay.”

            He loved that smile.  He wanted to kiss Changjo so badly that it stole his breath for a second.  “Okay,” he finally said when he could breathe again.  He dug into his dresser and found sweatpants and a T-shirt and underwear.  “Do you want to take a shower?”

            Changjo put an arm around him.  He was so glad to be hugging again that he closed his eyes and held on.  “Do you want to watch?”  It wasn’t a sexy question, and it wasn’t a sexual hug; it was a quiet question, and a comfortable hug, and he was relieved, he was grateful.  They could be sincere and honest and intimate with each other, and it wasn’t about sex, it was about them and their bond, their closeness.

            “I want to,” he confessed.  “But I’m not ready.”

            “Okay.”  Changjo slowly eased away from him, and he breathed in and let go.  “I won’t take long, I’ll be right back.”

            He nodded.  It was okay.  He’d be okay.  They’d be okay, together.

            Changjo left.

            He sat on his bed for a minute.  Chewed on his lower lip.  Got up and went into the front room.  Went into the kitchen.  Changjo was in the dorm, in the bathroom, showering.  Changjo was comfortable here, at home here, where he lived.  He felt so good that he took a selca.  He texted it to Changjo, and then to Suho, and then to all of his members.

            Suho texted back, Good night, dongsaeng-ah.  Sleep well.  Sungjong texted back, Handsome.  Hoya texted back, Why are you texting me when you’re in the next room and I already know what you look like?  He sent another photo in response.  “You’re three feet away and I know what you look like!” Hoya called.  “I can practically see you from here!”

            “Great, so delete it,” Sungyeol said.

            “I didn’t say that I didn’t like it,” Hoya said.

            Changjo walked in.  His hair was damp and he had on L’s clothes and he smelled like Sunggyu’s soap.  He looked so handsome, and he was so precious to L, that L hugged him immediately.  “Did I take too long?” he asked, and L said, “No, it’s just right.”

            They put Changjo’s clothes in the washer and went to L’s room.  They sat on the bed, tucking their legs up, facing each other.

            “I really wanted to be here earlier,” Changjo said.  “Things kept happening.”

            “I needed to see you again,” L said.  “If you’re here now, I’m okay.”

            “If?” he repeated.  “Do you think that I’m not really here now?  Are we imagining this?”

            “No, that’s not what I meant,” L said, smiling.

            “Am I not really here?  Is this not real?” he asked.

            “You’re here, you’re real,” L said, holding his hand, still smiling.

            He felt like if L was touching him, they were okay.  “I’ve been…”  He didn’t know how to say it.  “I’ve been really bad.  Really mean to you.  If anybody else treated you like I’ve treated you…”  He pressed his lips together and looked down.

            “We don’t have to talk about it.”

            But they did have to say some things.  “You know that I love you, right?”  He looked closely at L, needing to be sure.

            L breathed in and took forever to answer, took so long that Changjo started to squeeze his hand too hard.  Then he said, “I know.”

            “I do,” Changjo said insistently.  He wrapped an arm around L’s waist and bore L down to the mattress until they were horizontal together.  “I didn’t know how you felt about me, but I never stopped feeling that way about you.  I’ve felt that way for a long time, I never stopped.”

            “A long time,” L repeated.

            “Ever since you met Suho hyung, practically.”

            L smiled.  “Not since then.”

            “He told me, ‘I met some idol named ‘L,’ what’s up with that, whose name is just one letter?’ and I said, ‘Oh, him, that’s that guy I’m in love with,’ and it’s been like that ever since then.”

            L laughed.  Handsome and relaxed, he started toying with Changjo’s hair, smoothing it here and there, twirling a lock around his fingers.  It was so great to see him like this, to be with him this way again, that Changjo smiled, pressing closer.  “That’s how it was for me.  Suho hyung said, ‘I’m buying this other idol a birthday gift,’ and I fell in love, just that fast.”

            “Why did you and Suho hyung talk about me so much?”  It was still funny to him.  He wished that he could’ve been there to hear it.

            “He likes talking about you,” L said.  His smile was so affectionate, Changjo felt his love.  “I like listening to him talk about you.”

            They stayed there, relaxing on L’s bed, talking, for a while.  L went to put his laundry in the dryer and came back and crawled right on top of him like that was how they were supposed to be.

            It was hours later when L asked, “Can you stay?  Do you have to go back?”

            “I have to go.”  He didn’t want to.  He’d left his phone in the bathroom and turned off his ringer on purpose so that he wouldn’t know if his manager called.  “I can come back soon, though, it won’t be a long time.”

            L’s smile was weak and self-effacing.  “If I thought that you weren’t coming back, if I thought that this was our last time, I’d want to go down on you now.  I’d want to have sex now.  But if this isn’t our last time, if you’ll be back soon, then I won’t.”

            “I’ll be back,” he said firmly.  “I really will, you don’t have to doubt me.”

            “I know,” L said, hugging him.  “I’ll wait, I’ll be here.”

            “You almost weren’t here tonight,” he remembered, stroking L’s back.  “Why were you outside when I came, where did you go?”

            “Oh, that?”  L sounded like he was having trouble remembering it.  “That was nothing.”  He gazed into Changjo’s eyes, smiling again, his expression fond.  He caressed the side of Changjo’s neck.  “I’m glad that I was down there when you drove up.  We got to see each other even sooner.”

            It was good, really really good, to be like this with L again.  To be talking to each other, to have so much skinship.  Changjo felt like just being together was healing.  Not having sex was a huge sign that things weren’t right yet, because sex was a big part of their relationship.  They weren’t even kissing.  But he’d put L through so much that he didn’t want to rush into anything.  He couldn’t force things to be the way they’d been before.  They had to trust each other and feel sure about each other, and maybe that would take time.  That was okay.  As long as they still meant something good to each other, they had a chance.

            He was so glad to be with L again that he stayed for as long as he could.  They were still there, talking, when Sungjong came in, said, “You left this in the kitchen,” and shoved a ringing phone at them.

            While Sungjong left, L answered the call and put it on speakerphone.  “Hey, hyung,” he said absently, petting Changjo’s sideburns.

            “Ya.”  It was Sunggyu.  “Why is Teen Top’s manager calling me, wanting to know about Changjo?”

            “Oh.”  Looking guilty, L started laughing.  “Sorry, hyung.  I left my phone, and I don’t know where Changjo’s is, and - - we’ll call him, we’ll take care of it.”

            “Sort this out,” Sunggyu ordered.  “I don’t need other teams’ managers blaming me when they can’t find their members.”

            “Sorry, hyung,” L said again.  “It won’t happen again.”

            “I told you that maknae’s no good,” Sunggyu muttered, hanging up.

            Laughing, L hugged Changjo.  “I’m getting you in trouble!”

            “I think I’m getting you in trouble,” Changjo said, squeezing him.

            They found Changjo’s phone and his clothes.  They called his manager and went to the door together.

            Sighing, L hugged Changjo.  He made a happy noise and nuzzled Changjo’s neck.  It felt so good that Changjo’s arms tightened around him.  “Call me,” he murmured, his thumb rubbing over the nape of Changjo’s neck.

            “I’ll call tomorrow,” he promised.

            “Don’t mess around with management,” L said.  “If you get in trouble, I can’t see you.”

            Maybe he shouldn’t have fucked up the bathroom.  No, he didn’t regret that.  If they decided to blame him for it, he’d offer to pay to have it fixed.  But they’d still want to punish him for it.  Ever since he’d gotten past his rookie days, he hadn’t been able to buy his way out of trouble; they knew that fining him wasn’t a big enough deterrent.  “I’ll be good,” he decided.  “I’ll be perfect.”

            “You already are perfect,” L said, kissing him just under his ear.

            “I love you,” he whispered.  It came out all on its own; nothing could have held it back.  For a second, his chest hurt, like the words had been pried out of his flesh.

            “I love you, too, I love you so much.”  They stayed there and L mouthed his shoulder until his manager called, ordering him to get downstairs.

            When the door closed behind Changjo, L put his hand on it.  He swallowed and he just stood there for a while.  Love and yearning and regret and a dozen other emotions washed through him, drained out of him, filled up his heart until he ached.

            Turning away, he hugged himself, shaking his head.  He felt like he needed to curl up somewhere soft and warm, somewhere safe.  He felt sensitive and easily broken.  He wanted affection, wanted to be hugged and reassured.

            He went into Sungjong’s room, climbed into bed, and curled up, burrowing in, dragging the covers over his head.  The maknae’s bed was safe.  Nobody would bother him there.

            Changjo loved him.  Still loved him, really loved him.  In that intense, loyal Changjo way.  Things had felt good between them tonight, really good.  He’d felt close to Changjo, and he’d felt Changjo opening up to him.  They still had that spark, that connection, that sense of recognition between them.

            But more important than anything else: Changjo wanted to make this work.  Changjo wanted to be with him and wanted things to be good between them.  That meant everything.

            Through the covers, he saw brightness; someone had turned the overhead light on.  He closed his eyes.  He wanted someone to hug him and love him, but he felt too raw for interaction.

            A hand tugged down the sheet, exposing his face.  He pretended to be asleep.  Whoever it was caressed his cheek, smoothed his sideburn, stroked his face again.  It was so tender that he felt himself relax, felt loved, felt soothed.  Felt some anxious knot deep inside of him unclench slightly.

            Sungjong’s voice: “What are you doing?”

            “Shut up,” Hoya said, pulling the covers back over L.  “Don’t wake him up.”

            “Where am I supposed to sleep?”

            “Try his bed.”

            Sungjong made an aggravated noise.

            Hoya turned off the light.

            That had felt good.  L wanted more of it.

            Hoya might not volunteer more of it.  He’d have to ask for it, and trust Hoya to give it to him.  Expose vulnerability and trust Hoya not to hurt him.

            He thought that over.

            He listened to the dorm settle down, listened to the other members go to bed.

            Pushing the covers aside, he got up.  Sitting down on the edge of the other bed, he ran his hand over Hoya’s chest.  Then he felt for the cord in the dark and tugged one of Hoya’s earbuds out.

            “Mmm?  What?”  Hoya turned on his phone screen to see by.  “L?”

            L turned it back off.  “Can you be nice to me?”

            “Be…”  Hoya rubbed his hand over his mouth, pushing himself up onto one elbow.  “Yeah.  If you want.”

            Relieved, grateful, already feeling better, he crawled to tuck himself between Hoya and the wall.  Hoya’s touch skimmed over his arms, stroked his chest, and then ventured under his shirt.  When Hoya pushed his shirt up and started kissing his stomach, he relaxed, closing his eyes.  It was nice, it felt good, and he caressed Hoya’s hair, soaking it up.  Hoya was going slowly, treasuring him, and it was so sensual and so adoring that he felt his pain and loneliness fall away, felt his tension fade.  He let go of everything else and experienced just this, just pleasure, just this healing moment with his hyung.

            “You okay?” Ricky asked.

            On his stomach on his bed, his head at the foot and his toes rubbing against the headboard, Changjo shook his head.  “Yeah.  No.  Yeah.”  They’d had kind of intense sex.  He’d had a lot to get out.  He’d really wanted Chunji, but that was just his brain scrambling signals and trying to substitute one beautiful hyung for another.

            Ricky sat beside him and poked at his back, prodding here and there.  “Do you think L hyung is dragging his members out of bed to fuck?”

            He’d probably gone to Sunggyu for spectacular lovemaking.  Or maybe not; Sunggyu had been upset, and L needed love, not lectures.  He’d probably gone to his precious, precious Lee Sungyeol and curled up in Sungyeol’s bed and let Sungyeol adore him and kiss all over him and make love to him.  He was probably giving himself to Sungyeol in that way he had, soaking up pleasure and moaning all sexy, love just pouring off of him.  Changjo resented everyone who’d ever gotten to see him like that.

            Except Suho.  And L’s members, probably.  It was probably okay with them.  Like, Changjo didn’t see what was so great about Sungyeol, but L did.  L couldn’t stand Changjo’s members and was totally convinced that they didn’t treat him right, but that was just because he didn’t understand.  He didn’t know them like Changjo did.  He didn’t know what Teen Top had been through, from the inside.  He probably saw the rude, annoying things Changjo’s members did and despised them for that, but that wasn’t all there was to them.  Hell, Changjo was rude and annoying all of the time, it was his job to torment his hyungs as often as he could get away with it.  That didn’t mean that there weren’t any other sides to him, or that he wouldn’t blow up the world to protect them.

            The bond between members wasn’t like friends or family or anything else.  At least not in Changjo’s experience.  It was stronger and more flexible.  He let Chunji get away with things that he’d never let anyone else in the world get away with.  He did things for Niel that he wouldn’t ever bother to do for anyone else.  He’d excuse and accept and forgive his members, and he’d go to war for them, when he’d totally drop anyone else.

            He thought about that.

            “What?” Ricky asked, running a hand through Changjo’s hair.  Ricky held onto a handful and pulled his face up, studying him.  “You’re coming up with something.”

            “It’s nothing.”  It was something.  “I’m working on it.”  It wasn’t finished yet.

            “Okay.”  Ricky let go and got up.  “I’m going to sleep.  Don’t bother me.”

            “I love you,” he said, to see what Ricky would say back.

            Ricky was getting into bed.  “I already sucked your cock, maknae, you don’t get anything else.”

            He grinned.

            When L picked up his phone that morning, he had three missed calls from Changjo.  His heart flew into a panic.  What had Changjo wanted to say?  What had Changjo wanted to say to him enough to call him three separate times?

            No voicemail.  But a bunch of text messages.  With dread in his heart, L wanted to do anything else other than read those messages.  If he didn’t look, he wouldn’t have to know.  He was terrified that something had gone wrong, that after they’d said good-bye last night Changjo had mulled things over and turned against him.  Things still weren’t completely right between them, and what if Changjo thought it was better to break things off now than try to work on it?  Changjo was beautiful and precious and everything to L, and as long as he didn’t read those messages, he could pretend that Changjo was happy with him, he could tell himself that they were cheerful messages, he could pretend that Changjo was saying cute things and asking for a selca.

            He put his phone down and immediately picked it up again.  He set it down and picked it up.  He tapped it against his mouth, turning in a slow circle.

            Changjo loved him.  Changjo wanted to make things work.

            But why should Changjo have to put in so much effort to make things work?  What made L worth it?  Everyone else had dumped L, rejected him, thrown him aside, recoiled from him once they’d realized what he was really like.  Why should Changjo be any different?  L had never been worth it before, not in anyone else’s eyes; what made him suddenly better now?

            Suho loved him.

            Suho kept him as a dongsaeng.  Suho wasn’t willing to date him or be his boyfriend.  He wasn’t good enough for that.  Or he was too much for that. Too much of a drain, too much of a burden, too much of a commitment, weighing Suho down.

            Needy.  Moody.  Psycho.  No matter which side of himself he showed people, at some point, it ended up being the wrong one.  They were freaked out by L.  They were disgusted by Myungsoo.  If he showed vulnerability, they couldn’t figure out why he was so freaking weak and needy all of the time.  If he showed them his anger and determination, they called him scary; they were confused by him, afraid of him.

            Or, worse.  They saw his vulnerability and used it to exploit him.  They saw his vengeful side and gleefully, wickedly encouraged it.  Let’s tear down the whole fucking world!

            He shuddered.  Changjo wasn’t like that.  Changjo wasn’t anything like them.  Changjo wasn’t like anyone.  His beautiful, precious Changjo was loyal and protective and mischievous and tough, so fucking tough.  Willing to do anything for him, anything.  Willing to go along with what he wanted and adapt to his needs, willing to fight for him, willing to forgive him.  He was a lot to handle.  Too cold, according to some people; too emotional according to others.  Too needy and too standoffish.  Too crazy and too boring.  Too depressing and too sexually demanding.  They wanted him to become more famous and get better roles but they complained that he was working all of the time.  They wanted to date a successful idol but couldn’t understand why he was around his members so much.  He ate too much; he dieted too much.  They were proud of being with someone so handsome but complained that he was too vain.  They wanted to get to know the human being behind the famous idol but complained that he was too sloppy, too dull.  They wanted to get to know him better but when they did, they were disgusted.  Horrified.  Turned off.  Or they were fascinated by his damage, aroused by his trauma, licking their lips as they tried to pry details out of him.

            Changjo put him first.  Changjo understood him, really got him, on a fundamental level, and still loved him.  Would do anything for him.  He couldn’t lose that.  He could not lose Changjo.

            He breathed in and opened his text messages.

            I figured it out.

            Send me a selca.

            I won’t have time to see you today but you won’t have time to see me tomorrow so do we have to wait?  I don’t want to wait.  I can wait.

            Are you okay?  Is everything okay?

            Hyung.  Hyung.  Hhhyyyuuunnnggg.  Selca, please.

            And then there was a photo of Changjo, perfect Changjo, with his eyes wide and round and his head tilted to one side and his hairline damp with sweat.  It was Changjo, living, breathing, real, hardworking, goofy, taking time out of his day to check on L because he cared.  He really, consistently, cared.

            L was so relieved that he laughed breathlessly, sinking down into a crouch.  Smiling, his heart pounding with joy, he texted Changjo with nervous, eager fingers.  If it’s like this, then I can wait, too.  But visit me soon.  What did you figure out?

            He brushed his fingers through his hair and found the right angle, and sent a selca.

            A moment later, Changjo replied.  Wow.  That was a good one.

            Smiling, he felt good.  Felt so much better.  What did you figure out?

            Changjo didn’t reply.

            He called.


            He smiled.  “Hi.”  There was something familiar and warm and bright in Changjo’s simple greeting.  Things were comfortable between them again.

            “It was Sungyeol hyung last night, wasn’t it?”

            He frowned slightly.  “For what?”

            “For you know what.”

            Oh, that?  He laughed.  “It was Hoya hyung.  Stop being nosy.”

            “Hoya hyung?” he repeated, sounding surprised.  “Hoya hyung,” he said, more to himself that time.  “I have questions,” he announced.

            L laughed again.  “Not over the phone.  It’s none of your business, anyway.  But what did you text me about, what did you figure out?”


            He rolled his eyes.  “Changjo-ah.”

            “Oh, the thing I texted you?”

            “Yes.  What did you figure out?”

            “Nothing.  Something.  Something good.  I think.  I have to ask you about it in person.”

            Okay.  “You’ll come over soon?”

            “As soon as I can, okay?  I’m not staying away for fun.”

            “I understand.  I can wait.”

            “Okay.  Good.  But about Hoya hyung, why him?  How did it go, what’s it like?  Did-”

            Laughing, he hung up.  Then he called back.

            “Ricky and I played with a railroad set last night, and he set up the track, and I ran my train through his tunnel.  When you and Hoya hyung-”

            He hung up and called back.

            “But why wasn’t it Sungyeol hyung?  Or if you wanted to do that thing, why wasn’t it Sungjong hyung?  How did it happen, did he start it?  Was he really, really hungry for that treat you carry around?”

            “Hungry for it,” L repeated.  He grinned.  “Do you want some of it?”

            “God, it’s one of my favorites.”

            He raised his eyebrows.  One of your favorites?”

            “I know a lot of guys, okay?  I’ve seen a lot.  Don’t pretend that mine is your favorite, I know how you feel about Kim Sunggyu.”

            He licked his lips.  Hunh.  “I have to go do something now.”

            “You - - are you - - hyung.  Seriously, fuck, I need to be in your dorm right now.  Take me with you, I need to hear it.”

            “Hanging up now,” he said, getting up.

            “Send me a selca.  Hyung, seriously, when you’re finished, send me a selca.”

            “Love you,” he whispered, and he hung up.  He tucked his phone in his pocket, ignoring the way it beeped at him.  Changjo was texting him, probably scolding him for saying that on the phone, but he’d needed to say it.  This morning, after everything they’d been through, he’d had to get it out, to make Changjo hear it.

            Nibbling on his lower lip, he headed for Sunggyu’s room.

            Changjo wanted to look good when he saw L, so he spent a lot of time showering and fixing his hair and choosing cologne.  Then he had to decide whether to kind of dress up, or try to look like he’d just accidentally thrown on chic, flattering clothes, or wait, maybe if it looked like he was trying too hard that would give a bad impression, but he didn’t want it to seem like he wasn’t trying at all.  Or would that be good, should he make it seem like he was so comfortable with L and so familiar with L that he could just wear whatever he’d thrown on that morning?  Would that be a good sign of how close they were or a bad sign that he took L for granted?  And could he really risk wearing ugly clothes when he was clearly not the visual in the room?

            “I hate not being the visual,” he muttered, throwing another shirt back in his closet.

            “I know, right?” Ricky asked.  “Thank god for Niel hyung.”

            “What’s that?” Chunji asked, poking his head in.  “Did you say ‘visual?’  Are you talking about me?  Niel!” he called, turning to look down the hallway.  “The maknaes are in here talking about how ugly you are!”

            “No,” Changjo said hurriedly as Chunji, grinning, moved aside and Niel strode into the room.  “No, no bruises!  I have to look good tonight!”

            He left the dorm in a blue and white button-down.  His scalp still hurt but it would fade by the time L saw him.  Which was good, if L spent half the night pawing through his hair, which was totally what he hoped would happen.  The more L touched him, the better, and with L, that was a lot of touching.

            He felt self-conscious and hopeful when he got in front of Infinite’s door.  This might be great.  Or it might go really badly.  He had an idea of how to put things on the right track, but L might not like his idea.  Might be offended, or might see things differently.  Which would be bad.  He was taking a big risk tonight.

            L was really important to him.  He was important to L, too, he knew that.  L had made that super glaringly obvious.  But tonight might prove exactly where he stood in L’s life.  Or where he didn’t.

            When L opened the door, he was genuinely happy, relieved, glad to see L.  And nervous, too, so he smiled too brightly and said hi too loudly and then laughed at himself, embarrassed, wanting to leave and start over again.  L smiled at him like it was really good to see him and pulled him inside.  So hands-on; he rarely just got to walk across the threshold.  More than half of the time L pulled him into the dorm, grabbed him and tugged him in.  L closed the door and hugged him and laughed at him, touched his face.  He could see L wanting to kiss him, he felt it, and that was good, that was really good.  It was good if L wanted that stuff to happen between them.  It meant that things were better between them and L felt better about him, felt more sure about him.

            Or maybe it meant something simpler.  “Are you horny?” Changjo asked, running his hand over L’s hip.

            “No,” L said, laughing self-consciously.  Then he ran his hand over Changjo’s chest, rubbed Changjo’s shoulder, drew closer and got right into Changjo’s personal space again.  “I miss you,” he confessed.  The yearning and shame in his tone pulled hard on Changjo’s need to do things for him, to help him and take care of him.  “I miss you so much.”  A soft, breathless laugh; he tugged at Changjo’s shirt collar, undoing the first button, and rubbed his nose against Changjo’s cheek.  “I haven’t had you in so long,” his fingers hooked in the open collar of Changjo’s shirt, walked over Changjo’s collarbone, “I really miss turning you on.”

            If L wanted him this badly, the sex would be amazing.  But it wouldn’t be the good, healthy sex they needed.  It would be needy and desperate, because they hadn’t fixed everything yet.  They had to get all the way to the end of this before they started screwing.  “Can I do two quick things first?” Changjo asked, hugging him.  “Two quick things.  And then I’ll kiss you or go down on you or whatever you want.”

            L’s hand fell still.  For a half-second, there was silence, and then he said, “It feels like you’re rejecting me.  Am I being paranoid, am I making too much of it?”  He laughed, a bitter, self-conscious sound, and pulled away, pushing his sleeves up, stepping back.  “I’m in a weird place, I didn’t - - it doesn’t mean anything.”

            They both needed to calm down.  This was too important to them and they were both scared of losing it, but they were too sensitive, too tense, overanalyzing everything, trying to police themselves and be on their best behavior, watching each other too closely for signs of how well it was going.  They were going to end up sabotaging everything all over again if they didn’t calm down.  But they couldn’t relax until everything was the way it was supposed to be, until they were sure about each other, until they’d fixed this.  “I’m not rejecting you, I want to do whatever you want to do, I just have to do this first.  I figured something out, I think I know what to do.”  He pulled on L’s hand.  “Can we talk in your room?”

            He shook his head.  “Sungyeol hyung’s in there, he doesn’t feel good and he’s in a bad mood.  We can use Sunggyu hyung’s room, he’s out filming.”

            He wanted to talk in L’s room.  It was familiar.  They’d spent a ton of time in there.  L felt safe there so he did, too.  The mood was weird in Sunggyu’s room, there was too much Sunggyu in there.  But he wanted privacy, he couldn’t just talk in the kitchen with all of L’s hyungs around.  So they went to Sunggyu’s room.

            He was uncomfortable as soon as they sat down on the bed.  This was going to ruin everything.  He couldn’t ask L what he needed to ask in Sunggyu’s room.  In L’s hyung’s room.  In Infinite’s leader’s room.  L wouldn’t even consider saying yes, not if they were here.

            He’d do the other thing he needed to do, first.  He could do that here.  He owed it to L; he’d do it anywhere.  “I want to apologize.”  He held onto L’s hand.  He toyed with L’s fingers and tapped his thumb against L’s knuckles.  “I fucked everything up and I really, really hurt you a lot.  I was wrong, I was wrong about everything.  I feel like shit and I can’t forgive myself for it and you never deserved any of it.  I put you through hell over nothing, and I’m kind of a monster.  It’s my fault, I’m bad at this, I’m bad at trusting people, I’m bad at relationships.”

            “I hurt you,” L said.  “I started it.  It’s my fault, too, you only got so upset because I hurt you so much.”

            “No,” he said, shaking his head, staring down at L’s hand.  “I blew it out of proportion.  You did one thing, you said one small thing, and I - - I did all of that to you.  I shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have.  I’m sorry.”  He made himself look up, made himself meet L’s eyes.  He wanted to cry but he wouldn’t let himself.  “I’m sorry.”

            L pulled on his hand, tried to draw him closer.  Not wanting to be cuddled, not deserving it, he held back, so L reached out and dragged him in, hauling him bodily until he was in L’s arms.  Holding his breath, he gripped L, locking his arms around L tightly.  “It’s okay.”  L patted his back and stroked his hair.  “It’s okay.  I’m sorry, too.  I don’t hold it against you.  I’m not going to hold a grudge or bring it up again or throw it in your face.  It was bad, we both hurt a lot, but it’s okay.  I just want things to be better, I just want to go back to normal.  I just want to get past it.”

            “You shouldn’t forgive me,” Changjo whispered, clutching the back of L’s shirt.  “You shouldn’t be okay with it.  I’m not a good person, I’m not good for you.  I would kill anyone who did that to you.”

            “You’re perfect for me.”  Emotion put a strain in L’s voice, turning the edges of his words ragged.  “You’re perfect.  Don’t ever say that, don’t talk about yourself that way.  You don’t have to apologize to me.  Just stay with me.  Just keep coming back.”

            “I can’t stay away from you,” he admitted, running his hand up and down L’s spine.  “It’s really sick but I’m grateful that you’re kind of fucked up, because you love me and you don’t want to lose me.  If you weren’t like this, you’d realize what a piece of shit I am and you’d dump me, and I’d never ever fucking get over it.”  He hadn’t meant to say all of that out loud tonight, hadn’t meant to be that honest, and he immediately regretted it.  It was all true, but it was too true, and he wished that he could take it back.

            “Are you taking advantage of me?”  L asked it in a tone of wonder, pulling back and looking at him closely.  “I thought that I was taking advantage of you.”

            What?  “Taking advantage of what?”  He was kind of offended - - no, he was totally offended - - that L saw him as some weak mark.  No one ever took advantage of him, ever, not if he could help it.

            “You-”  L stopped and rubbed his nose.  “Don’t take this the wrong way.”

            He glared.

            “You’re young and cocky,” L said.  “You think that you can handle anything.  And you love me, you want to help me, you want to be a good dongsaeng and a good boyfriend.  So you do things for me and let me do things and - - come on, you can’t pretend that the relationship we’re in right now is what you would’ve wanted before.”

            “I didn’t want any relationship,” he pointed out.  “I never wanted a boyfriend.  I didn’t even want Suho hyung to be my boyfriend.”  He glared.  “You think I’m stupid and weak, you think you’re manipulating me?”

            L raised his eyebrows.  “You think that I’m damaged and fucked up.”

            He had no way to reply to that without being incredibly rude and risking everything.  So he kept his mouth shut.

            L rolled his eyes, gave the room a disgusted look, and sat back.  Creating more distance between them but not throwing Changjo out or anything.  “So you apologized.  Which you didn’t have to do, I never asked for it.  What else, what’s the second thing?  The thing you figured out that you had to tell me in person?”

            He didn’t want to bring it up while L was annoyed with him.  And he really, really didn’t want to bring it up here, in Infinite’s dorm, in the leader’s room, where Sunggyu and Woohyun liked to double-team L.  The only worse place would be, like, in Infinite’s practice room with all of the members around.

            He thought about it for a minute.  “Don’t jump to conclusions or anything,” he finally said.  “Just let me explain it.”

            L made everything worse by leaning back and slumping against Sunggyu’s pillows, relaxing all across his leader’s bed.  He could probably smell Sunggyu from there.

            “Can we do this in my dorm?” Changjo asked.

            “No.”  L reached out and rolled onto his side and tugged on Changjo’s sleeve.

            He flopped down, because that was where L wanted him.  But then he squirmed down to talk to L’s chest, because this was way too much to say face-to-face.  Tapping at L’s sternum, he said, “I don’t trust just anybody.  And you don’t, either.”

            “Mmm.”  L was caressing his hair again.  It was kind of amazing that they could say raw, horrible things to each other and still be this close.  That really made him feel like he was on the right track.

            “But I trust my members.  I trust them way more than I trust anybody else.  When they’re mean to me or they hurt me or something goes wrong, I don’t take it out on them.  I don’t lose it.  I take it and I deal with it and I work it out.  Sometimes it’s really hard.  But sometimes it’s way easier, because it’s them.  The stuff they do to me hurts so much more than the stuff anyone else does, but it hurts way less, too.”  He plucked at the front of L’s shirt.

            L shifted, stretching his legs.  “I know what you mean.”  He ran his fingers through Changjo’s hair slowly, meditatively.  “It cuts a lot deeper, but I can heal up from it faster.  Or it doesn’t get to me at all, because it’s just Woohyun hyung, I know how he is, I don’t hold it against him.”

            “Right.”  This was why this relationship was so valuable to him, because he and L got each other.  They understood each other, they saw life in the same ways.  Other people - - other idols, even - - would’ve been baffled, or would’ve feigned confusion and acted like he wasn’t making sense.  “I think that I need to think about you the same way.  Like there’s something about being inside the same group together that gives me and Chunji hyung room to be ourselves without blowing up at each other.  We can go really far without it being too far, because we already agreed that we’re sticking together.  We’re members, we’re not going to abandon each other over every little thing, so I’m not afraid that if I piss him off I’ll chase him away.  And I know that we’re in this together, we’re in it for the long haul, so if he pisses me off, I don’t freak out on him.  He’s my hyung, I know that underneath everything, he loves me, so I give him room to fuck up, I give him second chances, I let him back in.  Like you and Woohyun hyung, maybe.”

            “My members fuck me over and piss me off all of the time,” L said contemplatively.  He didn’t even sound upset about it.  “Woohyun hyung does it on purpose.  Sungyeol hyung does it because he’s so fucking stupid.  Dongwoo hyung doesn’t even mean to do it, he’s too innocent to see it.”

            “But you don’t cut them off.”

            “No.  No, not them.”

            “I think that’s what I need to do.  With you,” Changjo said carefully, plucking at L’s shirt.  “I need to trust you that much.  Give you room to screw up.  Understand you and forgive you and leave my guard down with you like I do with my members.”

            L didn’t say anything.

            Changjo swallowed.  Okay.  He’d expected that.  He got it.  Quickly summoning his voice, he shoved past the moment, moving on, picking up momentum before his stupid feelings could get to him.  “I-”

            “You can’t,” L said.  His hand was splayed on top of Changjo’s head.  “They’re your members.  Teen Top is - - I mean, I can’t really fucking stand any of them, but they’re still Teen Top.  I could never be half of what Chunji is to you.  God, I fucking hate him,” he muttered to himself.  He cupped the back of Changjo’s head, protectively hugging Changjo to himself.  It kind of pressed Changjo’s face right into his chest, so Changjo was breathing his T-shirt, but that was okay.  It was great, at the moment.  It gave Changjo a chance to catch up.

            L wasn’t angry.  L wasn’t upset or disbelieving or disgusted.  L wasn’t offended that he would dare to compare what they had with each other to what they had with their members.  L was kind of defending Teen Top against the comparison.  Smiling, rubbing his face against L’s chest, he hugged L, hard.

            “You trust them with everything,” L said.  “You don’t feel that way about me.  You’d forgive those assholes anything.  They take you for granted and they push you around and they don’t think anything of you, and you still defend them.  You’re still in love with them no matter what.  You,” his fingers slid through Changjo’s hair again, his voice cracking, “you don’t feel that way about me.”

            “But I can.”  Raising his face, he slid up the bed, eager to meet L’s eyes now.  “I can, I want to.  It’s just, it has to go both ways.”  That was the tricky part.  He swallowed, searching L’s face.  “It only works with my members because we’re all in it together.  It’s a, like a, it’s a commitment.”  Not sure, hoping, he waited for L to respond.

            L was looking right into Changjo’s eyes.  Looking deep in there.  Changjo had to fight the urge to blink or look away or change the subject.  He just breathed and let L look.

            L’s eyebrows were troubled and his mouth was uncertain.  He chewed on his lower lip for a minute.  He ran his thumb over Changjo’s cheek.

            Changjo really wanted to back out of it.  To explain it away and brush it aside.  It had been a stupid idea.  It was really hard to stay there and hold still and keep quiet and let L just look at him.  He wished that he could tell what L was thinking.

            It was different in other groups, he knew that.  But in Teen Top and in Infinite, both, there was a bond.  Changjo didn’t have to protect himself from his members the way he had to protect himself from other people.  He didn’t feel like he had to look out for himself.  No matter how badly they hurt each other, they’d work it out, one way or another.

            He wanted that with L.  That agreement.  A commitment that they’d work it out, they’d trust, they’d forgive, they’d give each other space to fuck up.  If he thought of L that way, if he gave L that place in his life and knew that L had his back the same way, then he’d stop second-guessing and poking for holes and scaring himself away.  He could relax into their relationship, and if L pissed him off, he’d be able to stop himself and give L a second chance.  He’d ask questions instead of assuming the worst.  He’d open up.  He wouldn’t see L as a target.

            He and L had something really, really great.  It was also super fragile because of the kind of people they were.  This could strengthen it.  Reinforce some of the weak spots.

            L’s voice was quiet.  “You’d do that?  You’d commit to me like you’ve committed to C.A.P. and Niel?”

            He nodded.  Was that what L was worried about?  Whether he’d be able to do it?  “What about you?”  It had to be a two-way commitment.  Everyone in it together.

            It was a lot to ask L to give him the love and trust and unquestioning acceptance that Infinite got.  It was a hell of a lot to ask while they were in Infinite’s dorm, in the leader’s lair, on the sheets where Sunggyu showed L what love was.  Infinite’s bond was cemented on this bed every night.  L wouldn’t be able to make a commitment like that to anyone, anyway, but especially not in this room.  God, what had he been thinking?

            L blinked.  “I can’t tell my members.  They wouldn’t understand.”  He frowned.  “They wouldn’t like it.  Sunggyu hyung, Sungyeol hyung…”  Something weird flashed across his expression.  “You can’t tell Woohyun hyung.”

            For a second, he wondered if L was telling him to keep it a secret because L didn’t really mean it, and L didn’t want him talking about it and embarrassing L in front of the people L really cared about.  Because L was ashamed of him and didn’t take him seriously.  But then he yanked those thoughts right out of his mind and ground them into dust.  No.  No, he wasn’t doing that anymore.

            That was the kind of shit that he never pulled with Niel.  The kind of thing he really wanted to stop doing with L.

            He wondered what was up with Woohyun.  He needed to know more about that.  He’d probe L for information later.  “I told Ricky.”

            “I…”  L hesitated.  “Sungjong doesn’t keep my secrets.”

            Really.  “Who does?”

            L hesitated again, and then he smiled, cupping Changjo’s cheek.  “You do.”

            He did, actually.  “Do you want to do this?  Is it okay?  We don’t have to.  I don’t want you to do it because you’re desperate or you’re scared or you think that I’ll leave you.  It doesn’t work that way.”

            “I didn’t get to choose my members,” L said.  “I just got stuck with these guys.”  His smile was full of love and warmth, the kind of smile Changjo could get high off of.  He caressed Changjo’s face, and the stars in his eyes twinkled with affection.  “But I’d choose you.  I’d want you beside me in any fight.”  He gazed at Changjo for another minute, and Changjo stayed quiet, not wanting to disturb this amazing moment, wanting to see what else might happen.  “I want you beside me in the good times, too.  All of the time.  No matter what’s going on.  You always make the good moments better and make the hard times easier to take.  That’s why I love you so much, because I can count on you.  You’re always there for me.”

            He’d been horrible to L, and L still said this to him.  “I’d choose you.”

            L smiled at him.  “You’d choose Suho hyung.”

            “Yeah.  But I’d choose you, too.”

            L’s thumb ruffled Changjo’s sideburn and then smoothed it back down.  “I love you.”  His voice was soft and his eyes were very serious.  Changjo’s heartbeat slowed down.  “I love you a lot, Changjo-ah.  I can think of you that way.  I can give you that kind of trust.  You have to give me some time to get used to it, but it won’t be hard.  But I don’t know if you can do that for me.”

            That stung, but he deserved it.  He’d treated L like shit.  He’d told L outright that he couldn’t trust anyone.  He couldn’t be surprised now if L didn’t think he could really stick to this commitment.  L probably thought that they’d agree to this tonight, and next month they’d be back in the bathroom again.

            Fuck that bathroom.  He was never setting foot in that bathroom again.  If this was what he had to do to stay out of that bathroom, if this was the answer, then this was it.  He’d put his faith in L like he’d put his faith in his members, if that was what it took.  If his choices were to drag L back into that bathroom, or trust L, or break up for good, then he’d trust.  “I can do it.  We’ll be members to each other.”

            L hesitated, and then he nodded.

            “Say it, though.”

            “Yes,” L said.  He smiled and softened his tone.  “We’ll be members.”

            It was hard for him to believe that L would agree to this.  But if he trusted L implicitly, then he had to believe it.  So he let go and just accepted it.  Okay.  Great.  They were members to each other.  They trusted each other now.  “We trust each other?”

            L nodded, petting him.  “Yes, I trust you.  And you.”  He slowed down, studying Changjo.  “You trust me.”

            “Yeah.”  It was like taking a leap of faith.  He was on the other side now.  “I do.”

            L hugged him.

            He hugged back.  When L didn’t let go, he stayed there, drumming his fingers on L’s spine.  “Gonna tell me all about Woohyun hyung now?”

            “No.  What’s up with Ricky?”

            “Nothing, he’s fine.  Are you really over C.A.P. hyung?”

            “Yes!  God, yes, stop asking me about that, he’s worthless to me now.”

            “You hate my members so much, don’t you?”

            “I really do.”

            He laughed.  “You’re such a jerk.”

            “I’ve been having sex with Hoya hyung all week.  It’s been amazing.  It was so good I went back, and then I went back for more, and last night he screwed me.  I haven’t come that hard all month.”

            “He put it in you?”  Changjo pulled back, staring at his face.  When he nodded, Changjo laughed and hit him.  “Liar!  What was it like?  Did you make that ‘unnnh-unnnh’ sound when he went in?”

            “What?”  Laughing, L covered his mouth with his hand.  “I don’t sound like that!”

            “You do when it’s good.”

            They talked about Hoya for a minute, and then about everything that had happened since they’d hung out last time.  It felt really good.  They trusted each other, so they were relaxed, they were comfortable, they could say and do anything.  It was a lot like before, like the best days of their relationship, like their best moments.  But it was even better, because it felt like it could always be like this, like this wasn’t just a really good day they were connecting really well, like this was how things would just be from now on.

            After a while, Changjo said, “There’s stuff that I can tell you.  If you want to hear about it.”

            L met his eyes.  “You don’t have to tell me.”

            “No, I know.  I just, I can tell you, if you want to know about it.”

            L frowned for a second, like he was thinking about it.  Then he shook his head, toying with Changjo’s shirt buttons.  “I want to hear everything you want to tell me.  But not tonight.  It’ll feel like you’re saying it to prove that you trust me, and I don’t want that.  Will you tell me another time?  Is that okay?”

            He nodded.  He was okay with it.  He wasn’t burning to get it off of his chest, or anything.  But the funny thing was, he didn’t feel rejected or hurt.  He trusted L.

            L stroked his chest.  “Have you told Suho hyung?”

            He shook his head.  “He couldn’t handle it.  He’d just get upset.”

            L nodded.  “Do you want to hear,” his lips quirked, “my stuff?”

            On some level, no, he really didn’t want to.  He wouldn’t be able to take it; he couldn’t live with the details of it, with the reality of whatever L had been through.  But he wanted to know L, to understand L, and if L had to live with it every day, then he could, too.  “Yeah, if you can talk about it.”

            L rubbed his nose.  Looked down, plucked at a button.  And then he started talking.

            The dorm was on fire.  Not literally, this time, but pretty close.  Niel had been getting ready for bed when Changjo had come home from Infinite’s dorm.  Come home from his date with L, which was bizarre to think about.  The maknae dating L.  Of all people.  Just weird.  Niel preferred not to contemplate it.

            He’d come home and punched C.A.P.  Just like that, one quick sequence of events, he’d walked into the dorm and punched C.A.P.  Then he’d picked a huge, screaming fight with Chunji, until the two of them were making all kinds of threats and throwing shit around the dorm.  Niel decided to lay low and just go to bed and pretend that none of that was going on.

            He was getting into bed when he heard a sudden crash.  Ricky said, “Maknae!  What the fuck is wrong with you?”

            “Nothing!  Nothing!” Changjo shouted.  “The world is shit, that’s all.  Life is hell, let’s all treat each other like shit!”  Another crash.

            Niel shoved his face against his pillow and grimaced, wishing that he’d fall asleep faster.  More things kept happening, arguments, fighting.  He could just imagine what a mess Changjo was making of the dorm.  He tried to remember whether he’d left his tablet out in the front room.  He hoped it survived.

            After a while, things were finally quiet.  Breathing easier, he thought he might be able to sleep.  C.A.P. came into the room, muttering under his breath, and went to bed.

            The dorm was still, and Niel probably fell asleep.  The next thing he knew, someone was in bed with him.  Burrowed in against his chest and crying.  Alarmed, he patted over bare shoulders.  “Changjo?” he whispered.

            Changjo just wept on him.

            He patted Changjo’s back and sighed.

            Changjo cried for a while, all over him.  He didn’t ask, and Changjo didn’t explain.  Then Changjo sniffled, so he figured it was over.  He slung his arm around Changjo and closed his eyes again, and Changjo snuggled in, and they slept.

            Ricky didn’t know why Changjo had come home and lost his shit last night.  He’d asked if L had broken up with him or something, but Changjo had said no, and there hadn’t been a lot of opportunity for other conversation, with glass flying and Chunji punching.

            In the morning, Changjo was subdued.  Quiet and still.  Not agitated.  He looked so lost and sad that Ricky kind of felt bad for him.  “You okay?” Ricky finally asked, sitting beside him on the couch.

            He nodded, biting his thumbnail.

            “Good.”  Ricky thumped him, hard.  “What the hell, maknae!”

            He flinched, looking guilty.  “Sorry.”  He dried his thumb on Ricky’s pants.  “L hyung told me something last night.  It was bad, but I didn’t want to get upset and make it worse.  It’s like with C.A.P. hyung, when he talks about, you know, and you can’t show how upset you are in front of him, so you have to hold it in, you can’t react.  I didn’t want to do it in front of L hyung.”

            C.A.P. didn’t want sympathy and didn’t want to upset them, so whenever things got too real, they just nodded and said, “Damn, hyung, that’s rough,” and then went away and cried for him in private.  “So you freaked out on us.”


            He wondered what L had said.  “Is he okay?”

            Changjo nodded.  “It’s just old stuff.  It just, it’s L hyung.  Anybody else, I’d be like, yeah, well, whatever, life happens, but.  I don’t like L hyung getting hurt.”

            “Gonna do something about it?”

            He shook his head.

            He wondered why not.  Maybe L had already taken care of it.  Maybe L had set it off-limits.  If L had started confiding in Changjo, then, “Did he agree to the thing?”

            “Yeah.”  Changjo cracked a smile.  “I didn’t think he’d do it.”

            Chunji walked in and glared at them.  “What are you two in here talking about?”

            Ricky widened his eyes.  “How much we love you, hyung.”

            “Go to hell.”  He kicked at Changjo’s legs.  “You tore up the dorm, you clean it up.”

            Changjo turned to Ricky.  “Help me.”


            Chunji kicked him again.  He got up and left the room.  Chunji watched him go, then sat beside Ricky.  “What’s going on with him?”

            “He’s okay.”

            “Is it L hyung?”

            “He’s okay,” Ricky repeated.  “They worked some stuff out, I think he’ll be all right for a while.”

            “Thank god.”

            Changjo and L were closer than ever.  If push came to shove, Ricky still believed that Teen Top came first.  But if L was in Changjo’s top level of protection, then, out of loyalty, he was in Ricky’s, too.  Which wasn’t great.  L might be trouble.  Ricky was going to have to keep an eye on this.

            “What’s so great about that hyung, anyway?” Chunji asked.

            “You’re better-looking,” Ricky said automatically, to pacify him, still deep in thought.

            Chunji laughed, nudging him.

            “I didn’t do this!” Changjo called from another room.

            “Clean it up!” Chunji shouted.  Sighing, he sprawled out, draping himself across Ricky’s lap.

            If L was going to be such an entrenched part of Changjo’s life, then Ricky needed an inside track to Infinite.  Needed a strong link to the group, needed to be able to get information out, needed to be able to get ideas in.  Patting Chunji’s side, he thought about that.

            “Ugh!  Ew!  How long has this been here?” Changjo demanded.

            “Clean it up!” Chunji shouted.

            “I’m going to throw up,” Changjo said.  Then he shrieked.  “Ew!  Ew!  Ew!  What the fuck?!”

            Everyone in the dorm shouted, “Maknae!  Clean it up!”

            L couldn’t wait to see Changjo again.  They talked on the phone every day, and he always hung up feeling better for it.  Feeling close to Changjo, feeling like they’d connected.  He sent a lot of selcas, but Changjo always asked for more.

            He couldn’t believe that Changjo had asked him for that big of a commitment.  Thinking of each other like members.  Putting each other in that category, where no one but their members had ever been invited.  He’d asked Changjo to be his boyfriend, but Changjo had asked him for something even bigger.  But he was glad that they’d done it.  Things were more secure now.  Ups and downs wouldn’t rattle them so much.  The next time he screwed up, they might get through it.

            He didn’t regret confiding in Changjo about some of the bad things in his past.  He was kind of amazed by that, that he didn’t wish he’d kept his mouth shut.  Usually, by the morning after, he regretted having said anything, and if he didn’t regret it on his own, the person he’d told made him regret it, one way or another.  He’d told Changjo some bad stuff - - not everything, not the worst, just some things he wanted to get out of the way before he got to the heavy crap - - and Changjo had listened.  Had really listened.  And asked some smart, quiet questions.  And just kind of absorbed it, hearing him, letting it sink in.  He was sure that, if he asked, Changjo would remember every single detail.  He’d felt heard and he’d felt respected.  He’d felt understood, because Changjo always understood him.

            Suho wanted to see them.  They decided to use their first night off together to see Suho.  After hanging out with Suho, they’d go back to L’s dorm and have sex.  They really needed to have sex.  L couldn’t put it off any longer.  They’d been waiting for good reason, but all of that hesitation and uncertainty was far behind him now.  It had been way too long since he’d felt Changjo move against his body the way he needed to.  He had to kiss Changjo, he had to feel Changjo’s hot, smooth skin slide against his, he had to hear those soft groans when Changjo felt good.

            They met at EXO’s dorm.  When he walked in, Changjo was already there.  He hugged Suho first, and Suho patted his back and asked him how he was doing, and then he hugged Changjo.  He felt like he hadn’t seen Changjo in ages, and he felt like he’d never get enough of this hug, felt like he could hug Changjo for a hundred years and he still wouldn’t be finished.  He held Changjo against himself and rubbed his nose against Changjo’s neck and tried to fill up.

            Changjo’s arms tightened around him, trying to crush his ribs, and then Changjo picked him up, lifting him off of his feet for a second.  He smiled, burrowing in, and Changjo set him back down.  Closing his eyes, he buried his hand in Changjo’s hair.

            “You said that things were better again,” Suho said, laughing.  “I guess I believe it!”

            “Where are we going for dinner?” Changjo asked, hooking his fingers in L’s belt loops.

            “Let’s stay here,” L suggested.  Such a smooth, taut neck, such soft skin.  He rubbed his face against it, pressed his lips against it.  He wanted to kiss Changjo there.  Everywhere.

            “L-ah,” Suho said, pulling on the back of his shirt.  “The maknae isn’t dinner.”

            “We could order in, though,” Changjo suggested.  “You don’t really want to go out, or you would’ve said to meet at the restaurant.”

            “Ah, you think you’re so clever,” Suho said.

            “I don’t know everything, I know you,” Changjo said, laughing.  “You’re tired and you want to stay in.  Who wants to go all over the city and have to look good for the paparazzi and everything?  It’s comfortable here.”

            “Are you saying that I look tired?” Suho asked.

            Unwinding halfway from around Changjo, L peered at him critically.  Hunh.  Reaching for his face, L said, “A little BB cream-”

            “Ya!”  Outraged, Suho smacked his hand away, then marched over to the mirror by the door.  “I look fine,” he muttered to himself, poking at his face, investigating his complexion.  “I don’t need any - - augh.  I’ll drink more water,” he decided, heading towards the kitchen.  “Maybe I’ll go to bed early tonight.”

            Changjo laughed, and L relaxed, slumping onto the sofa.  Changjo sat beside him, and he liked that Changjo sat right up against him, crowding him, pressed together from hip to knee.

            The three of them ordered dinner and ate together in the kitchen, sharing food, laughing.  The conversation was mostly friendly, relaxed.  Changjo was goofy, and Suho laughed at everything, and L soaked up their friendship.  It felt really good to be with them, to feel comfortable, to spend a night just being himself with people who loved him.

            Suho spent a little time lecturing them on their relationship.  L didn’t see how Suho knew any more about relationships than they did, but he was hyung, so they listened patiently and acted chastised.  What he said to them made sense, and when he was finished he seemed to feel better.

            While Suho was on the phone with someone, Changjo nudged L.  “Before we go.  Do you want to do it?”

            L chewed on his lower lip, eyeing Suho, thinking about it.  “You do it.”  He felt too good, and he craved sexual intimacy too much; if he started, he wouldn’t stop, and he’d spend hours on Suho’s bed.  When what he really needed, tonight, was to spend those hours with Changjo.

            He stayed on the couch while Changjo asked to talk to Suho in private for a second.  The two of them went into Suho’s room and closed the door.  He curled up on his side, texting Sungjong.  Suho started crying out in a pleading, ecstatic way that made his cock ache.  Hearing his hyung beg Changjo for it turned him on so much, he bit his lip, moaning a little, empathetic pangs of pleasure making him squirm, his toes curling as desire gnawed at him.  God, he really needed Changjo tonight.

            He was so turned on that he wanted to rub himself and give in to it, wanted to get off right there on the couch, listening to Suho’s orgasmic cries.  But he bit his lip and waited, trying to ride it out, knowing that soon he’d have the real thing.  When Suho was quiet again, he breathed out, trying to relax.

            A couple of Suho’s members came back.  They were surprised to see him, and they tried to flirt with him.  He said that he had to go, and he left.  He texted Suho and Changjo from the elevator, and then he got in the van.

            A few minutes later, Changjo jogged out of the building, bright-eyed and grinning.  He climbed into the van and practically crawled on top of L in the back seat.  “Hi.”

            L smiled at him, cupping his chin, rubbing a thumb over his mouth.  “How’s Suho hyung?”

            “Happy.  He’s happy.”  Changjo’s grin was electric.  “Very happy.”  Buckling up, Changjo nudged him.  “Why’d you leave?  Because of Baekhyun hyung and Chanyeol hyung?”

            “Mmm.”  He slid down in his seat, relaxing.  He felt terrific.  He’d had a good time with Suho, and now he had privacy with Changjo to look forward to.  Time together, just the two of them, where he could sate himself on his precious, sexy boyfriend.  God, he’d missed it.

            Slouching against him, Changjo dug his phone out of his pocket and went through it.  Not really caring, he gazed out of the window and fantasized about how the rest of the night might go.  Fantasized about taking Changjo to his room, about peeling Changjo’s clothes off, about thrusting deep inside Changjo’s gorgeous body.  He rarely got to take Changjo’s clothes off, since Changjo was so quick to strip.  But that was okay, too; it meant he got down to Changjo’s skin faster, got to look at Changjo’s naked body, caress the firm planes of Changjo’s chest, kiss the sexy lines of Changjo’s pelvis.

            “God, you flirt with Sungyeol hyung too much, this is sick,” Changjo mumbled.

            “Don’t be jealous.”  He yawned.  “And stay out of my texts if you’re just going to complain about what’s in them.”

            “I’m going to reply to Chen hyung.”

            He grimaced.  “Don’t.”  He only replied to Chen sporadically.  Usually he didn’t answer at all, but once in a while he was in a good mood, or he’d just seen Suho, or Chen actually said something interesting.

            “Doing it anyway.”


            When they got to the dorm, only Sungjong and Hoya were there.  “When is Sunggyu hyung coming back?” Changjo asked, walking in the wrong direction.

            “I don’t know, he’s filming,” L said.

            “Good.  Come on,” Changjo said.

            “What - - no,” L said, following him and realizing that he was going into Sunggyu’s room.  He cleared Sunggyu’s clothes off of the bed and started to undress.  “Changjo!  No.”

            “Why not?  You have sex here all of the time.”  Shirt on the floor, Changjo undid his fly.  “There’s more room here, it’s better.”  He shoved his pants down, kicked his underwear off.  He looked exactly the way L remembered him, exactly the way he did in L’s dreams at night, handsome, smooth-skinned, his body taut, muscle definition begging to be explored.  Fondling himself with one hand, he crawled onto the bed, grinning at L.  “C’mere, Chunji hyung’s kissed me more than you have all month, I’m totally neglected, you have to make up for it.”

            That was a crime.  “We can’t have sex here,” he said, kneeling on the bed.  He couldn’t resist the invitation to kiss, he couldn’t resist Changjo’s mouth for another minute, but they couldn’t stay.

            As L leaned towards him, Changjo sank back against the pillows, grinning.

            “I mean it, we can’t,” he repeated, but Changjo’s mischievous smile made him laugh, and Changjo’s hand was already sliding over his shoulder, pulling him down.

            “I know,” Changjo said, and kissed him.

            Mmm.  Yes.  Mmm, oh, god.  Moaning, L deepened the kiss.  He felt like he’d been starved for this.  Giving, teasing, sexy, Changjo’s kiss was everything that he’d missed.  Pleasure built in him, and he kissed Changjo hungrily, consuming, loving.  Changjo’s hand ran over his back, and he moaned, needing more of that, needing to be touched.  He wanted to feel Changjo’s hands all over him.  He wanted more skin on skin, wanted to feel Changjo bare against him, but he couldn’t leave Changjo’s mouth to take his clothes off.  Tugging his shirt up, he got fabric out of the way, his stomach naked against Changjo’s.

            Cupping, kneading, Changjo’s hand slid over his ass.  His temperature spiked and he groaned, desire making his cock throb.  He was turned on, and everything felt good, everything seemed sexy, arousing him, teasing his senses.

            Shifting under him, Changjo grunted, nudging his hips up, undoing his fly.  When Changjo’s hand slid down the front of his underwear, fingers running familiarly over his cock, he moaned, hot, pleasure making him shudder.  “Changjo-ah,” he groaned, breath catching.

            “I want you,” Changjo whispered.  He couldn’t stop kissing Changjo, couldn’t stop moaning, his mouth slanting over Changjo’s over and over again, his tongue flirting and delving, his hips stuttering as his cock hardened in Changjo’s hand.  Changjo was stroking him, toying with him, rhythmic and then erratic, his erection rising so fast his whole body ached.  Changjo’s other hand came to the back of his neck, squeezing, and Changjo whispered, “I need it, I need you, tell me it’s okay.  I need to bury it in you and nail you all over this bed, tell me I can.”

            He could feel Changjo wanting him, could hear the lust thickening Changjo’s voice, could feel the urgency humming in Changjo’s body.  Loving it, he wanted to bask in it, wanted to feed off of it for a while longer.  They’d only just started, he needed more.  “I need more of this first,” he panted, kissing Changjo.

            Changjo’s moan was deliciously desperate.  “We can do this after, just let me screw you first.  It’ll be good, I promise, you love it when I fuck you, and then we can do everything else, anything you want.”

            “Mmm.”  Groaning, purring, he soaked up Changjo’s lust, drinking it up in deep, succulent kisses.  “Not yet.”  He wanted Changjo just like this, so sexy, so turned on, responding to him, wanting him.  The thick hardness of Changjo’s erection captivated him, and he rubbed himself against it.  So long, so smooth, it wakened new hunger inside him.  Licking his lips, he crawled down Changjo’s body.

            “Yes, ohhhh, hyung, yes,” Changjo moaned, writhing under him, back arching.

            It was so silky, so big, that he whimpered as it filled his mouth.  God, yes, it was the perfect moment, both of them getting what they wanted, pleasure uniting them.  Changjo was shuddering, moaning, rock-hard between his lips.  Slurping on Changjo’s gorgeous cock, he drooled on the head, getting it good and wet, loving the way it looked, so fat and juicy.

            His own cock was just as hard, creating a demanding pulse between his thighs.  Groaning, he crawled back up Changjo’s body, intent on Changjo’s mouth, needing more kissing, more intimacy, more of Changjo’s delicious mouth.  Changjo pulled on his clothes, stripping him, but he didn’t care what else happened as long as Changjo kept kissing him back.  “Love you,” he whispered, running his thumb over Changjo’s lower lip, kissing again, again.

            “You’re killing me,” Changjo panted, squeezing his ass, grinding against him.  “You have to let me come, you have to let me fuck you.”

            Yes, mmm, he loved hearing that, he loved the need in Changjo’s voice.  He felt like he could get off on Changjo’s desire for him.  “I love you so much,” he whispered, nuzzling Changjo’s cheek, dipping his fingers into Changjo’s mouth.  “I want you so much.  I want to come all over you and rub it into your skin.”

            Changjo sucked on his fingers, tongue flicking over his fingertips.  Moaning, he watched avidly, rubbing his fingers in and out between Changjo’s red lips, until he couldn’t take it anymore and he needed to be kissing Changjo again.  He indulged in long, consuming kisses while Changjo panted against his mouth and tried to roll him over.  The solid length of Changjo’s erection sliding hotly against his own hard-on and smearing pre-cum on his stomach turned him on, and he fondled Changjo’s balls.  There were shiny streaks of pre-cum on Changjo’s abs, and he ducked down, licking them up, licking obsessively across the rippling muscle.  He loved Changjo’s body, loved all of it, where it was hairy and where it was smooth, where it was soft and where it had no give whatsoever, loved exploring its sensual details.  When his tongue snaked over the bloated, reddened shaft of Changjo’s erection, Changjo’s breathless cry turned him on, and he mouthed the head, treasuring the silky slide.  Groaning, “Shit, hyung, ahhh,” Changjo shuddered, squirming.  Precum dribbled onto L’s tongue, and he swallowed eagerly, tasting Changjo’s desire.  He sucked on Changjo tenderly, bobbing his head slowly.  He didn’t want Changjo to come yet, he wasn’t ready for it, he hadn’t had his fill of this.

            But all of Changjo’s desire was fueling his own passion, and turning Changjo on was such an intensely erotic experience, he felt his need turning into a ravenous fire.  “Now,” he said, raising his head.  Rolling over, he dragged Changjo with him, panting, “Okay, now, do it.”

            “Yes, finally, yes,” Changjo said, grabbing for the lube.  When Changjo’s fingers slid into him, he felt such an intense jolt that he gasped, lit up by pleasure.  Changjo was panting, “Yeah, yeah, you want it,” and he was moaning, “Changjo-ah, Changjo-ah,” and every spark of pleasure made his body jerk on the bed, ecstasy making him writhe, and he pulled Changjo in for a kiss, still hungry for it, his tongue thrusting into Changjo’s mouth.

            “Ohh, hyung.”  Changjo’s fingers were stroking against his asshole, thick cockhead nudging him.  Breaking away from his mouth with a gasp, Changjo pushed more firmly against him.  “I gotta, have to, ohhh.”  Pleasure crossed Changjo’s face just as he felt pressure turn into a stretch.  His body opened, Changjo sinking into him, and he groaned, a thrill racing through him.

            This, this was what he’d needed the whole time.  Changjo thrust deeper into him, solid inside of him.  Changjo had been right, this was what he’d been looking for, this union, this connection.  He ran his hands over Changjo’s cheeks, cupped Changjo’s face, breathing hard.  Changjo wouldn’t meet his eyes, kept looking down where their bodies joined, and he dragged Changjo closer, fingers sliding into Changjo’s hair, thumb hooking over Changjo’s lower teeth.  Blinking, Changjo stared into his eyes, and he could feel Changjo’s breath puffing softly against his face.  Pushing his knee up, Changjo thrust into him again, and he groaned, wet thumb rubbing across Changjo’s parted lips.

            “Fuck,” Changjo breathed, thrusting deeper.  “Oh, oh, f-f-fuck.”  He grimaced, and then he shuddered, his face going slack, helpless noises bubbling out of him.  “Ah, ahh-hh, ooohh!”

            “Maknae,” L moaned, rubbing his chest, loving him, soothing him through it.

            Catching his breath, he blushed.  “Sorry, I’m sorry, I-”

            “Don’t,” he said, dragging Changjo down against him.  He kissed Changjo slowly, tenderly, the tip of his tongue tracing over Changjo’s lips.  Changjo hated to apologize, and he didn’t need to hear it.  He’d felt Changjo inside of him, he’d gotten what he wanted.

            He wanted more of it, though, wanted to feel that sense of union, their bodies fitting together.  He rolled them both over, and while he nuzzled Changjo’s abs and lavished kisses all over Changjo’s flushed chest, he fingered Changjo open.  Making low, aching sounds, Changjo panted, “Yeah, yeah, oh-ahh, do it,” and the soft, panting noises Changjo made in between words sounded so needy, so horny, that L’s cock throbbed.

            When his cockhead was snug in Changjo’s body, trapped just inside that snug tunnel, Changjo hissed.  “Ahh, fuck, more, more, don’t stop, shit.”  Fingers digging into his back, Changjo squirmed under him, breathing too fast.  “Deeper, give it to me, oohhh.”

            He buried himself slowly, nudging a little bit deeper, one inch, then another.  The grip of Changjo’s asshole was an exquisite pleasure, hugging his cock, and he eased back just to enjoy the slide back in.  He fucked Changjo gently, in slow, shallow thrusts, teasing himself, taunting himself with the hot frissons of ecstasy racing through him.  When he looked down, the sight of his big, hard erection rocking tenderly in and out of Changjo’s tight, helplessly spread hole was stunning, gorgeous, obscene, but the ecstasy on Changjo’s face was even better.  Cheeks red, lips parted, Changjo was masturbating, moaning incoherently, hairline damp with sweat.  All of the cunning, the mischief, was gone, leaving only pleasure and trust, desire, a rare innocence that L hardly recognized.  “Maknae,” L whispered, rocking into him, and he moaned, shuddering, tugging on his cock.

            It didn’t take long for him to become fully erect again; it never did.  Still hungry for him, L drizzled lube over his tall, sexy cock.  Pulling out of him, L wasted no time in sliding onto him, rising onto his erection and easing down.  Cursing, he bucked upwards, driving himself deeper, and L rode the wave, crying out.  “Yes, ah!  Maknae, yes, yes, oh.”

            Wanting to soak up as much of Changjo as he could get, needing to fill the emptiness that all of this separation and strife had created, L was in no hurry to come.  He rode Changjo hard, needing it, rocking enthusiastically.  Every day they’d been apart, every night he’d gone to bed without the sweetness of Changjo’s kiss on his lips, had been an eternity, a hell of loneliness and fear.  But they were together now, they were stronger than ever, and he could have this, he could have Changjo’s love for him, he could feel the passion between them burning through his body.

            When he came, the force of it shook him.  He felt it in his core, in his soul, the cataclysmic joy of his orgasm.  Moaning, satisfied, he popped off of Changjo’s cock, sinking down into Changjo’s embrace.  “Kiss me,” he whispered, rubbing his nose against Changjo’s.  “Kiss me, love me, tell me you want to be with me.”

            “God, hyung,” Changjo said, stroking his sides, hands sliding greedily over his ass.  “I love you, I do.”

            “Mmm.”  It was a beautiful sound, that earnest confession.  He kissed Changjo slowly, languidly, nibbling at Changjo’s soft lips.  Changjo’s erection prodded him, and he moaned, savoring its hardness, undulating against it.  He rocked against Changjo, grinding against that stiff length, licking up Changjo’s sexy moans.  Changjo sounded overwhelmed, sounded helpless, like Sungyeol at the end of a good, long, thorough fuck.  One of L’s favorite sounds.  When Changjo finally came again, the hot gush of cum felt like a reward, a well-deserved prize.

            Moaning, he reached down, smearing Changjo’s cum over his abs.  “Fuck,” Changjo said, laughing.  Relishing Changjo’s thick cream, he rubbed it in, shameless, letting Changjo get a good look.  Then he licked it off of his fingers, moaning, savoring it, eyes slipping half-shut, undulating as Changjo’s rich taste exploded over his tongue.

            “Holy shit,” Changjo breathed, hugging him.  Already, Changjo’s energy was back, just that quickly.  He sank down beside Changjo, smiling, enjoying it, letting the sparks flying off of Changjo light him.  “Hyung.  Seriously.  You have to do me like that all of the time from now on.  When you sat on my dick, I thought I was going to come on the spot, it was so hot.”

            “Mmm.”  He loved everything about Changjo, and he wanted to reacquaint himself with every inch of his dongsaeng.  Looking for spots he hadn’t kissed yet, he kissed Changjo’s temple, and then he brushed his lips against the edge of Changjo’s eyebrow.

            Lounging against him, Changjo studied him with quick, intelligent eyes.  “Is this because you haven’t had me in a while?  You’re not always going to be like this from now on, are you?”

            He felt satisfied.  Finally.  For the moment, anyway.  He ran his thumb over Changjo’s lips again, lazily loving Changjo’s face.  That tiny beauty mark beside the corner of Changjo’s mouth, that was his favorite spot in the world.  “I told you that I missed you.”

            “I missed you, too,” Changjo confessed, squeezing his hip.  “It’s been rough, it’s been hard - - I know it’s been hard on you, too, all of the other stuff.  But not even getting to kiss you all this time, I hated it.”

            He smiled, letting Changjo’s emotion sink into his heart.  “You missed me.”

            “I told you that!”  Changjo leaned in close, tipping his forehead against L’s.  Soaking him up, L caressed his cheek.  “I did, though.  Nobody kisses me like you do.”

            Ah, there it was.  That eternal flame of hatred for Changjo’s members, burning silently in his chest.  “You deserve better.”

            “You’d like them if you got to know them,” Changjo predicted, stretching his leg overtop of L’s.  He liked to box L in, as if L ever wanted to be anywhere else.

            “I wouldn’t.”

            Changjo stretched, his fingers playing over L’s ribcage.  “You didn’t like me at first, either.  You couldn’t stand me.  Even after we got to know each other better, you still hated me.  But you got over it and started liking me, eventually.  You could like them, too.”

            “That’s not how it was at all,” he argued.  “The day I saw Suho hyung, in that store, when he said that he was buying a birthday present for some other team’s maknae.  He said, ‘It’s for Teen Top’s Changjo,’ and I thought, ‘Who?’ and then I knew.  I loved you.  Right then.”

            “You’re such a liar!” Changjo exclaimed, laughing.  His happiness made L smile.  “What was all of the rest of that, then, when you spent months hating me and telling me to go to hell?”

            “I never told you to go to hell!”

            “Your face did.”

            He grinned, self-consciously touching his nose.  “That’s just a thing that my face does, sometimes.”

            “Your face does a lot of things,” Changjo teased.

            Loving him, L kissed him.  They’d been through a lot, and L had resented him.  Hated him.  For too long.  “I’m sorry,” L murmured, brushing at his damp bangs.  “I was mean to you.  I shouldn’t have treated you like that.”

            “It’s okay.  You don’t have to apologize for it.”

            “I don’t mind.”  It didn’t bother him, didn’t take anything from him, to apologize to Changjo.

            “I was a jerk to you,” Changjo pointed out.

            He smiled.  “You weren’t.  You were just being yourself.  Looking out for yourself.  Looking out for Suho hyung.  You gave me a lot of shit, but I deserved it.  I was trying to take your favorite hyung from you.”

            Changjo gasped.  “You admitted it!”  He laughed, sitting up.  “You admit it!  I’m telling Suho hyung, I’m calling him.”

            “Don’t tease,” he chided, smiling, tugging Changjo back down against him.  “You knew I was trying to take him away from you the whole time, why do you need me to admit it?”

            “You’re such a jerk!”  Changjo grinned, plucking at his nipple, making him squirm.  “You know he was mine first.”

            Laughing, he pushed at Changjo’s hand.  “You needed to do a better job, then.  He was just wandering around on his own for anyone to pick up.  You’re lucky I got there instead of somebody else.”

            “Should I do a better job with you?” Changjo asked, his eyes gleaming.  “What if someone tries to pick you up?  I should make sure no one comes near you.”

            “I wouldn’t let anyone near me.”  He worried about Changjo, though.  He wanted to tattoo his name around Changjo’s neck for everyone to see.  A warning that Changjo had already been claimed, was already in someone’s unbreakable possession.  “You won’t leave me,” he said, a reminder to himself, his hand on the side of Changjo’s neck, his thumb passing lightly over Changjo’s Adam’s apple.

            “Hell, no,” Changjo said.  “Where would I go?”

            Someone might try to take Changjo from him.  But he’d fight.  Ruthlessly.  “If anyone tries to take you away from me, I’ll kill him.”  He didn’t say it harshly, he said it quietly.  Mildly.  He just wanted Changjo to know.

            “No one’s taking me anywhere.”  Changjo stroked his arm, kissing his face.  “I’m not going anywhere.  No one’s taking me away from you.  You don’t have to worry about things like that, hyung.”

            He believed Changjo.  He believed that Changjo meant it, and he believed that Changjo was smart enough, cunning enough, to make it true.  Exhaling, relaxing, he gazed at Changjo some more.  His hand drifted over Changjo’s ass, Changjo’s thigh, capturing all of the sensations he’d been denied for weeks.  “If you get it up again, I’ll go down on you.”

            Changjo’s eyes widened quickly, and then he said, “Okay, yeah.”  He laughed self-consciously, rubbing his nose.  “Stupid question.  You want to make out?”

            Rolling them over, he gave Changjo’s ass a healthy squeeze, relaxing onto his back.  Gazing up at Changjo, he hummed, warmth stirring inside him.  On all fours over him, Changjo was grinning, eyes bright with anticipation and sexual mischief.  God, he was in love.  “I can put up with it,” he said, already drawing Changjo down to his mouth.

            While Changjo’s hyungs filed out of the practice room, wiping off sweat and talking about dinner, he called L.


            “You busy?  We’re finished early, I can hang out.”

            “I don’t feel like going out.”

            “I can go over to see you.”

            “Hold on.”  Muffled, he asked, “What?  What?  Tonight?  Yeah, maybe.  Can Changjo come?  Changjo.  Hyung, you know who Changjo is.”  Everything was quiet for a minute.  “Who else is going?”  L snorted.  “I’m inviting him.  Ya, Changjo,” he said, his voice clear again.

            “Where are you inviting me?” Changjo asked, moonwalking in front of the mirrors.

            “To dinner, you want to come?  Sunggyu hyung’s meeting Heechul hyung.”

            He stopped.  “Kim Heechul sunbaenim?”

            “Yeah, you want to come?”

            He grinned.  “Sure.”  Quickly, he hurried out of the practice room.  He had to get back to the dorm and clean up.  “Who else is going?”

            “Byun Baekhyun.”

            Oh, cool, he and Baekhyun got along great.  “Thought you didn’t want to go out.”

            “I don’t, but it won’t be that bad.  Heechul hyung’s paying, and you’ll be there.  Can you spend the night?”

            “Mmm, maybe, I’ll find out.”  He glanced down to make sure that his managers weren’t around, and then he slid down the staircase railing to the second floor.  “You don’t have to invite me to stuff with old men just to make it up to me about before.”

            L laughed.  “Old men!”

            “Heechul hyung, Sunggyu hyung, even Baekhyun hyung, god, they’re all ancient.  I’ll be the only one there not taking blood pressure medication.”

            “Okay, you’re not invited,” L said.

            Laughing, he headed for the front doors.  “Text me the restaurant and I’ll meet you there.  Hey, are those two grandpas doing it?”

            “Two - - ew, bye.”  L hung up on him.

            Tucking his phone in his pocket, he went outside.  Smiling at fans, he headed for the waiting van.  A night out with his boyfriend.  A date.

            When he got in the van, he was buckling in when his manager said, “Ya.  I need that check, they’re starting repairs on the bathroom tomorrow.”

            “Oh?”  He leaned back in his seat, resting his foot on the dashboard.  “Yeah, okay.”

            His members choked in the back of the van, Niel coughing.  “What?” Chunji asked, laughing.  “‘Yeah, uh, okay,’” Chunji repeated in a really goofy voice.  “You’re just okay with it now?”

            “You’re not going to spend all night arguing about it and saying you had nothing to do with it and refusing to pay for it?” Niel asked.

            “Thank god,” C.A.P. said.

            “What, I don’t care.  It’s just a bathroom, what’s the big deal?  I have to pee somewhere.”  Hearing a ping, he checked his texts.

            L had sent a selca from bed, on his stomach, face half-buried in the crook of one muscular arm, dimple showing, eyes sparkling with love.

            Changjo smiled at his phone, happy and proud.  The longer he stared at the photo, the faster his heart pounded.  Yeah.  He didn’t care about that bathroom at all anymore.

Series page: "Let's Love"

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Copyright August 24, 2016
by Matthew Haldeman-Time