Summary: When Joonmyun's parents told him to go out, join a club, make contacts, Joonmyun is pretty sure that they never meant EXO, and they certainly never meant Zitao. Somehow, he can't help himself from getting swept into their world, and he may have gotten in over his head. Secret society AU.
When his parents told him to go out, join a club, make contacts, Joonmyun is pretty sure that they didn't mean this.
EXO's yearly masquerade party is always the event of the season. It's nigh on impossible to get into, invitations coveted and flaunted. Joonmyun has his connections, but it's sheer luck that he's even here right now. He pulls at his button up shirt uncomfortably, leaning back against the wall. For all of his experience with galas and events, Joonmyun doesn't exactly blend in here. He's small and soft, his suit is borrowed, and even with the plain white mask covering half his face, he feels exposed and awkward.
Baekhyun is the reason he's even here at all. Joonmyun tightens his fingers around his glass as his eyes fall on him across the room. He's laughing, eyes half-closed, one hand delicately curled around the elbow of his companion. Yifan, Baekhyun had said his name was. He'd been talking for weeks about his tall Chinese guy, multilingual, rich, model handsome. Gushing, really. Joonmyun and the rest of his friends had been all but convinced that Baekhyun had made him up, but now here he stands.
Joonmyun has to admit, he can see the attraction. Yifan is tall and broad-shouldered, and well aware of how good he looks, jacket sleeves pushed up to his elbows. He has strong brows, a long, straight nose and a small half-smile on his face, every inch of it directed down at Baekhyun. His dark eyes, mostly hidden behind the studded black velvet mask he wears, the one that marks him as a member of EXO, are fixed down on Baekhyun.
Baekhyun, he fits right next to Yifan, hand sliding around Yifan's waist as he tucks himself under his arm. He looks small next to Yifan, dark-rimmed eyes sly behind his silver mask. At least, Joonmyun thinks, the infatuation seems to be mutual.
He does wish, though, that maybe Baekhyun could have introduced him to at least one other person. Joonmyun is a little lost here. He doesn't know anyone. His fingers tap mindlessly against his glass as he surveys the room. Everyone here is so elegantly dressed, faces hidden behind elaborate decorative masks. The suit that Baekhyun has lent him is nice, but it's still no match for the rest of the party. Especially not EXO.
Even in a room full of people, they stand out. Joonmyun's eyes pause on two of them, standing by the door. All of the members of EXO are wearing simple black masks, studded in different patterns, but these two match. It's the feathers that adorn the sides of their masks – one has them on the left, one on the right. They each greet everyone who passes cordially, ever the gracious hosts, but Joonmyun watches the way they turn to each other once their guests have passed. It's hard to see their eyes behind the masks, but the smirk on the taller man's lips is plain, as is the way the other's shoulders hitch with suppressed laughter. Joonmyun isn't sure he likes this party, really.
“They could stand to be more subtle,” comes a voice from Joonmyun's ear. He startles, and he turns to look up to see a smile on bowed lips beneath yet another EXO mask. “Don't you think?”
Joonmyun shifts his glass to his other hand and shrugs carefully. “I don't know,” he says. “They seem to be good hosts.”
The man tips his head, regarding Joonmyun for a long moment, humming noncommittally. He towers over Joonmyun's small frame. “Huang Zitao,” he says. Oh, he's Chinese. His Korean is impeccable, but that explains the soft accent. He offers Joonmyun his hand and his grip is firm, his hand more calloused than Joonmyun would expect. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Kim Joonmyun.”
“Ah, Baekhyun's plus one,” Zitao says, and that smile plays on his lips again. Joonmyun is a little surprised, despite himself, but he supposes that it makes sense that Zitao knows. These parties are very, very exclusive. “Having a good time?”
No, Joonmyun thinks immediately. He looks around the room, at the people in their expensive clothes, at Baekhyun, with his fingers curled possessively around Yifan's wrist. He settles on diplomacy. “The champagne is very good,” he says.
Zitao laughs at that, sharp and genuine, and when he grins at Joonmyun, it's all teeth. “Can I help, then?”
Across the room, Zitao's friends are watching them, and between that and Zitao's scrutiny, the way he leans just a little too close, Joonmyun feels on edge. He grips the stem of his champagne glass tight. “That's very kind of you, but – ”
Zitao's hand closes firmly around his elbow, and Joonmyun realizes that no was never much of an option, after all. “This is our party,” Zitao insists, and he nudges Joonmyun into motion, away from the wall and through the people mingling and talking. “Shouldn't we look after the guests?”
There are eyes on them. Joonmyun's family is well off and he's seen his share of high class parties and fundraisers, of having to dress up and play a role, but he's fairly certain he's never been under this level of scrutiny before. “I suppose,” he agrees, and Zitao rewards him with a friendly squeeze.
They end up out on the balcony. The night air is cool enough that he appreciates Zitao's proximity, the way that his arm brushes up against Joonmyun's as they lean against the railing. “You've never been to one of these, have you?” Zitao says. Joonmyun watches as he idly swirls his champagne around in his glass. “You're all stiff and – ” He turns to Joonmyun, and even behind the mask, Joonmyun can see the way he pointedly widens his eyes. “Like you're scared.” He smiles, teasing, tongue between his teeth.
Who is this guy, to be speaking like this? His arrogance is astounding. “I'm not afraid,” Joonmyun snorts. “I'm just...a bit out of my depth.” He drains the last of his champagne, and shrugs a shoulder, throwing Zitao a sideways look. “Your friends look a bit predatory.”
“Aren't they?” Zitao agrees. The faint light from inside catches on the studs of his mask, two lines arching from where his temples would be down to the bridge of his nose, and on the bow of his lips as he smiles a little.
He doesn't say anything more, though, and it makes Joonmyun fidget. There are a half dozen small-talk platitudes on the tip of his tongue, ready to go, but he bites them back. He can't help but wonder what exactly it was that had caught Zitao's eye. This isn't a small party, and he's sure that everyone here has been carefully picked and vetted before they even walked through the door, himself included. They can't all be boring.
When he glances up again, he sees the twist of Zitao's mouth, an expression that fades after a second, almost like an afterthought. He doesn't like Joonmyun's silence. “You finished your drink,” Zitao says. “Another?”
Joonmyun isn't certain that drinking too much at a party like this is a good idea, but Zitao's already raising a hand, snapping his fingers at a waiter as he passes by the open balcony door. At least, he supposes, he should take advantage of this free champagne. He doesn't forget his manners, though. “Thank you,” he says, and Zitao favours him with a smile, nodding his head in acknowledgement.
“So, Kim Joonmyun,” he says, and he leans back against the railing. Like this, he's all clean lines, one long leg stretched out in front of him, his head tipped back. Joonmyun realizes with a start that Zitao isn't wearing anything underneath his dark, tailored jacket, and he flushes and looks away when Zitao shifts, exposing a sliver of tan skin above his belt. “Law major, hmm?” He takes a sip from his champagne flute, not quite delicately, and Joonmyun decides to look out at the lights of the city instead of watching the way that Zitao's throat works when he swallows. “Thinking of following in your father's footsteps?”
It takes Joonmyun a second to reply and he busies himself with his champagne, instead. “Partly,” he admits, and Zitao smiles, smug. He likes being right, Joonmyun thinks. “But I like law, too.”
“Oh?” Zitao turns to face him, and once again, he's just a hair too close, making it so that Joonmyun has to crane his neck to meet his gaze. It's uncomfortable.
“Yes,” Joonmyun says, with enough bite to it that Zitao snorts. “I like law. It can be really rewarding, and I can help out people in need.” He's getting defensive, but it's true. Maybe it's a bit romantic, but getting the chance to fight for justice, in whatever small way he can, he likes that a lot. “And I'm good at it,” he adds, and that gets him a pleasant nod from Zitao. Of course, being good at it doesn't mean much when you can't get a job. He's applied to dozens of law internships this summer and the silence he's gotten in return is deafening. “And since you already know everything there is to know about me, does that mean I get to know a bit about you? What's your major?”
“Economics,” Zitao says lazily. “But I'm minoring in Philosophy, so it's not all boring stuff.”
Joonmyun purses his lips. “Philosophy?” he asks.
“I love it,” Zitao says him, and for a second, it's like he forgets to look so bored. Joonmyun thinks it's the most charming he's been so far tonight. “Classes about how people see things and solve problems? It's – ” His eyes flick over to the open door and his mouth snaps shut, abruptly. “It's interesting.” He shrugs. “It fills the time.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Joonmyun can see Yifan watching them, small mouth pressed into a tight line. He lingers for a second, but when Baekhyun pulls insistently at his elbow, he disappears again into the party. “No, I get it,” Joonmyun says. “It's always easier to study something that actually interests you.”
“Like fighting the good fight? A knight in shining armour.”
Joonmyun isn't sure he likes the teasing tone to Zitao's voice, but he decides to let it slide. “Yeah,” he says. “Something like that.” Zitao laughs again, that same honest one and Joonmyun finds he's smiling, despite himself.
“Hyung!” Joonmyun turns to see Baekhyun, leaning against the doorframe. “Time to head out.” Behind him, Yifan stands with his big hands planted on Baekhyun's shoulders, and he bends to nose at Baekhyun's throat and whisper something. Baekhyun frowns, squirming out from under the touch, and the look on Yifan's face, an odd mix of irritation and straight-up confusion, makes Joonmyun want to laugh out loud. Yifan is clearly not a man familiar with being told no.
“Better go,” Zitao says. He plucks Joonmyun's glass out of his hands and nudges him forward with a very firm hand against the small of his back. “Your ride awaits.”
He does his best not to frown. He'd wanted to finish his drink, but he supposes it's a bit rude to try to snatch a glass out of your host's hand. “It was nice meeting you, Huang Zitao,” he says, and he tugs his mask off and inclines his head.
“Maybe I'll see you around?” Zitao asks, although it's not quite a question, a half-smile playing on his lips. He pushes his mask up, giving Joonmyun a quick glimpse of high cheekbones and slanted eyes before Baekhyun pulls him away.
He spends the car ride home listening to Baekhyun share gossip about EXO's elite circle and making noises in the right places, but somehow his head's stuck on dark eyes and the perfect bow of Zitao's lips.
“An EXO party?” Sehun asks, taking a sip of his giant, sugar-laden drink. “Swanky.” His expression is studiously uninterested, but Joonmyun knows far better than to trust it. Sehun is chewing too vengefully on his straw for real boredom.
“What about an EXO party?” Joonmyun tips his head back as Kyungsoo comes up behind him, two mugs of coffee in his hands. He sets one down in front of Joonmyun and Joonmyun smiles at him gratefully, catching his wrist for a second and squeezing. He needed this today.
Sehun gestures at Joonmyun lazily. “This guy got in. One of his buddies is banging the society head.”
Raising his eyebrows over his coffee, Kyungsoo hums a little, his expression unreadable.
“It was an experience,” Joonmyun says, after a second. “I felt like the suits they were wearing cost more than my tuition.” He shrugs a shoulder, curling his fingers around his warm mug. “They seemed nice enough, though.” It's not entirely a lie, really.
Sehun leans in close at that. “Wait, you were talking to them?” He props his chin up on one hand, eyebrows disappearing underneath his bright pink bangs. “Does this mean you have an in? Can you get them to pay someone to fix my grades? I'm bombing Mandarin.”
“Maybe if you studied, you wouldn't have these problems?” Joonmyun laughs, and when Sehun frowns, he reaches out to tap a finger against Sehun's forehead. “You could use your brain sometimes, I promise it won't hurt.” Sehun bats his hand away. “Besides, it was just the one of them. I guess you'll have to live without the perks.”
“Boring,” Sehun declares, taking a long, noisy sip of his drink.
Kyungsoo hasn't said anything, but his gaze on Joonmyun is heavy. “Nice, huh,” he says, and his voice is carefully neutral. He looks serious, full lips pressed together as he idly taps his fingers against his coffee cup.
“Yes,” Joonmyun says, and he almost winces at how defensive he sounds. “Zitao was nice. He came and talked to me, and he got me a drink.”
“Are we talking like, nice nice, or hot nice?” Sehun asks, tapping his straw against his lips. Joonmyun doesn't bother to answer, choosing instead to to send him a very disparaging look. It doesn't help much. “Ohhh. Hot nice.” He smirks and Joonmyun hates him, just a little.
Kyungsoo silences Sehun with a quick jab to his ribs and Sehun crumples, folding in half and whining. Sehun may have at least a head on both of them, but Kyungsoo has never, ever let it intimidate him. “You know, I hear a lot of things about that club,” Kyungsoo says. “They're not really good things.”
Joonmyun hides the twist of his mouth behind his coffee. Kyungsoo isn't the only one who's heard stuff about EXO. A secret society of only the most wealthy and elite, young men with a lot of power and too much time on their hands. They're always at the centre of things, good or bad, and that leads to some very silly stories floating around. Joonmyun has heard middle-aged women gossip about how the members of EXO must have sold their souls to live the charmed lives they do, and they were only half joking. But still, doesn't everyone deserve a fair chance? “Are you warning me away from them?” Joonmyun asks, lips quirking up in a smile. “Who's the hyung here?”
It's not much, but the gentle jibe softens the look in Kyungsoo's big eyes. “I'm just saying,” he protests, holding up a hand.
“I can look after myself,” Joonmyun tells him, and he pats Kyungsoo's knee. “But I appreciate it.”
“Can you look after me, too?” Sehun asks. He holds up his now empty drink, waving the plastic cup under Joonmyun's nose. “I need another.”
“Brat,” Joonmyun chides, but there's no heat behind it. Sehun beams, he knows that Joonmyun's given in, and he tips sideways to rest his head against Joonmyun's shoulder. He's telling Joonmyun what a good hyung he is before Joonmyun even reaches into his jacket pocket for his wallet.
His fingers close around something flat with sharp edges, and he pulls out a black business card, the symbol of EXO's club embossed in silver on it. “What's that?” Kyungsoo asks.
Joonmyun flips it over. There's just a name, Huang Zitao, and a number, written in small, neat print. He stares at it for a second, a smile spreading across his lips. He has no idea how it even got there, and he's actually a little bit impressed. Zitao is something else. “Nothing,” Joonmyun says, finally, and he pockets it again.
Sehun whines until Joonmyun fishes out some cash and hands it over, and Sehun breaks into a pleased smile, patting his back enthusiastically and sliding out from behind the small table to go get his drink. Joonmyun watches him go in silence. Really, the party at EXO is the last thing on his mind right now. He can't stop thinking about the email he got this morning, a quick, three line rejection informing him that unfortunately, all the positions had been filled, but they would keep him on file. That was the last chance he'd had, the last internship, and now Joonmyun is looking at an empty summer filled with odd jobs and his parents' disappointment. This is his last summer, after all, his last chance before his final year of university, and he's dropped the ball. He doesn't even want to think about how hard it will be to find a job with no experience at all. How will he be able to practice law, much less help people with the type of pro bono work he wants to do, if he can't even get an internship? Under the table, he digs his fingers into his thighs.
“Are you alright?” Kyungsoo asks. “You're quiet.”
“I'm fine,” Joonmyun replies immediately, and he has to force his smile a bit. “It just looks like my summer opened up, that's all.”
Kyungsoo grimaces a bit in sympathy. “Another no? I'm sorry to hear that.”
“Oh well,” Joonmyun says, and he makes sure he sounds cheery. “I'll just pick up that tutoring gig with Baekhyun. You can't ever have too many extracurriculars, right?”
Kyungsoo isn't buying it, but he doesn't say anything. “And extra time to hang out with your new friends,” he agrees. “You can go to all the exclusive parties and leave the rest of us peons behind.”
“Stop being so doom and gloom,” Joonmyun says. “They're just some rich kids. I barely even know them!”
“Some really, really rich kids,” Kyungsoo says dryly. He shrugs a shoulder and his smile softens the tension in the air. “Alright. I wash my hands of this. Don't say I didn't warn you.”
“You get first dibs on an I-told-you-so,” Joonmyun agrees easily, and Kyungsoo raises his drink in response, laughing.
When Sehun comes back, he drops his change in Joonmyun's lap and then grabs Kyungsoo's attention, begging for help with his Mandarin coursework. Under the table, Joonmyun runs his fingertips across the embossed text of Zitao's card and he smiles.
It takes Joonmyun a few days to get around to actually calling Zitao. Midterms are approaching and he's got a lot to do, between his own classes, tutoring Sehun and Jongin, and his seat as treasurer on the student council, and he just doesn't have the time. And okay, maybe, maybe nerves have a little something to do with it too.
Thursday afternoon, he finds the time. He's all studied out and he glances at his phone and thinks fuck it. It's as good a time as any.
Zitao sounds groggy when he picks up, and his hello is so slurred with sleep that Joonmyun can barely understand him. “Hey, it's Joonmyun. Is...this a bad time? Did I wake you up?” he asks, idly doodling on a clean page of his notebook. This was a bad idea. He already knows it was a bad idea.
“Joonmyun...” Zitao muses. He sounds like he's trying to place him, and Joonmyun is glad that Zitao can't see him right now. This is a bit humiliating. “Ah. The tiny law student.”
He's not that small. “I guess that's me,” he agrees.
There's rustling on the other end of the line, and Joonmyun feels like he's back in high school again, flustered, uncomfortable, and tongue-tied. Zitao sets him distinctly off his game. “Why are you calling so early?” Zitao asks. His tone is strangely reminiscent of Sehun's early-morning petulance, and it's distinctly too casual for how little they know each other. Still, Joonmyun is a little bit charmed.
“It's two thirty on a Thursday,” he points out, and when Zitao whines again, Joonmyun chuckles. “That was pretty sneaky,” he says. “I didn't even find the card until the next day.”
He likes the way that Zitao laughs at that, sleepy and almost sweet. “Well, I am pretty good,” he says, and he sounds pretty pleased with himself. “I was starting to think too good. It took you a while.”
“I am a busy man, you know.”
“How busy?” Zitao asks, and Joonmyun can hear him smother a yawn. “How does your schedule look for Saturday?”
Joonmyun's pen stalls on the page. “Saturday?” he asks slowly. “I have a tutoring session in the morning, but otherwise, I'm just studying. Why?”
“Dinner?” It's a question, but only nominally one. Zitao sounds pretty certain he knows what kind of answer he'll get, and Joonmyun can't decide if he minds that. “I can pick you up? In a nice car too. Promise.”
Joonmyun bites his lip, frowning at the wall. It's tempting. He could use the break from textbooks and studying and Sehun's perpetually lazy and mispronounced Mandarin. And Zitao...he's something. “That sounds like it could be fun.”
“Could be?” Zitao is almost genuinely affronted. “Please. Give me some credit.”
“I don't even know you yet,” Joonmyun points out, and Zitao scoffs. “Although, you seem to know me pretty well. Do I even need to give you directions to my place?”
“That's a yes,” Zitao says, pleased, and Joonmyun leans back in his chair, his eyes sliding shut. “You can give me directions, if you'd like.”
Joonmyun is being humoured, and he knows it. It's simultaneously irritating and charming. “Let's just skip that step,” he says. “I've got some studying to get back to.” He pauses. “And you've got your nap to return to.”
“Hmm? Nap? Oh, yes,” Zitao says. “Study hard, Joonmyun. I'll see you on Saturday. You should find another suit.”
After Zitao hangs up, Joonmyun sits for a minute, staring down at his notes without reading anything. A suit means some place fancy. Some place expensive. That feels big.
His phone vibrates with a text. and a red tie. let's match? followed by a surprisingly cute emoticon.
Joonmyun digs his teeth into his bottom lip, doing his best to swallow back the smile that's stretching across his face.
Joonmyun is no stranger to fine dining, to dinners with suit jackets required and more cutlery than any one person reasonably needs, but he has never, ever gotten into the restaurant that Zitao is currently steering him into. Zitao has one hand spread across the small of his back as they breeze through the open door. “Will you be needing valet service, sir?” a man at the door inquires, and Zitao favours him with his most disdainful look.
“No, thank you,” he says, barely even pausing to address the valet properly. “My driver will look after it.”
It's probably not appropriate to apologize for your date's behaviour when he's buying you dinner at the most exclusive restaurant in Seoul, but that doesn't mean that Joonmyun doesn't want to. He settles for nodding apologetically as Zitao tugs him inside.
“Zitao,” Joonmyun begins, but Zitao turns to him, raising an elegant eyebrow, and Joonmyun bites it back. “I can't believe that you got reservations on such short notice,” he says instead.
“Reservations?” Zitao asks, and the smile he flashes Joonmyun is toothy and cheeky and sets Joonmyun a little on edge.
They approach the maitre d' and Zitao's smile never slips. He looks so at ease here, and he looks good. Joonmyun had been struck by it as soon as he'd picked him up. Zitao's legs looked miles long in those tailored, dark grey slacks, and the dark red of his pocket square precisely matched the shade of Joonmyun's bowtie. He slides his hand firmly around Joonmyun's hip as he leans in to speak to the man. “Good evening, sir,” the maitre d' inclines his head, and to his credit, he doesn't bat his eye at the two of them.
“Yes, we have a reservation,” Zitao says. Huh. Joonmyun glances up at him, but he doesn't say anything, silenced by the rhythm of Zitao's fingers drumming against his hip. Zitao's eyes keep flicking down to the book on the man's podium. Is he – he's not. He can't be. “Cha, party of two, at eight.”
Joonmyun has to swallow back his urge to laugh. Zitao is smiling serenely, confidently, like he isn't blatantly trying to steal someone else's table, and without the mask, his eyes are dark and even more compelling. “You're a bit early,” the man says, and there isn't the slightest chance he believes Zitao. Up in these higher echelons, everyone knows everyone else, and with his position here, this maitre d' must know the familiar faces. Zitao is recklessly bold.
But just as Joonmyun is tensing himself for the humiliation of being escorted out, the man's face goes oddly lax. “You'll have to excuse us, we need a few minutes to prepare your table,” he says, voice flat, and Zitao smirks.
“Of course,” he says, just shy of gracious. “Take your time.”
They stand back to wait and as the man waves over a server, Joonmyun turns to Zitao. “What was that?” he asks. “Don't you think Mr. Cha might have wanted that table?” He rubs at the back of his neck, lips tight. He feels a little bit like they're in some kind of teen comedy. Any minute now, the real Cha is going to come through the door and then chase them down the street, shouting about those damn kids.
He's not expecting the way that Zitao's bottom lip sticks out, just a little. “I wanted to take you somewhere nice,” he says, a bit wilted, and Joonmyun sighs. It's a poor excuse but that doesn't mean he's not the tiniest bit charmed.
“This is very nice,” Joonmyun admits, and Zitao lights up, pleased as punch. Joonmyun doesn't miss the mask, not one bit. He likes getting to see all of Zitao's face, his sharp cheekbones and prominent nose, the quick flash of his thoughts written across his face. He's open that way, and Joonmyun likes it. “But Zitao, you don't have to impress – ”
“Mr. Cha, if you'll follow me, please,” the maitre d' calls, and then Zitao curls his fingers around Joonmyun's wrist and gently tugs him towards the dining room.
It's a good table. Zitao pulls out Joonmyun's chair with a bit of a little bow. When their waiter comes by with the wine list, Zitao doesn't even bother to ask Joonmyun for his opinion, just orders a bottle for their table and waves the man off. Joonmyun is no expert, but that doesn't mean that he's got no right to input in his own meal.
When Zitao finishes fiddling with his cuffs and looks up, Joonmyun fixes him with an unimpressed eyebrow raise. “What?” he asks, blinking. “Don't you like surprises?”
Joonmyun is no pushover. He's never particularly been interested in being bowled over by his dates like this. But there's no guile in Zitao's eyes. He's just so used to this way of doing things. “I also like to make my own decisions,” he says wryly.
It takes Zitao a few seconds to figure out how to reply to that. “Well,” he says. “You can choose your own food, then.”
“Gosh, really?” Joonmyun says, and Zitao makes a face, knocking one of his excruciatingly expensive shoes against Joonmyun's calf. It's a childish gesture, at odds with the way that Zitao had strong-armed his way into the restaurant, and Joonmyun tips his head to take a look at him as he drinks from his wine glass.
“It's good, isn't it?” Zitao says, and he juts his chin out, looking just shy of smug. It is, but that's really not the point. Joonmyun shrugs a shoulder and Zitao pushes out his bottom lip. “You just don't have taste,” he sniffs.
That surprises Joonmyun into laughing. “Is this always how you treat your dates?” he asks.
“No,” Zitao says. His smile is all teeth. “I don't lie my way into the best restaurant in the city for just anyone.”
“Thank you for squeezing me in,” Zitao says as they meander along the sidewalk. “Since you're so busy and all. With your books and your studying.” He purses his mouth into a tight little smile, the way he does when he's pleased with a joke he's made, and Joonmyun is a little surprised to realize that he's filed this information away, like he'll use it later.
“Am I supposed to be offended by that?” Joonmyun asks, taking a bite of his soft serve. “I study so I can get good grades, and I study so I can learn to be a great lawyer.” He also studies because it's all he's got, right now. He's missed the boat on getting some experience, so he's going to have to ace all of his classes and hope to blind potential employers with his spotless record. Still, Zitao seems to have a particular skill with talking Joonmyun into taking a break and coming out with him, and that should bother Joonmyun far more than it does.
Zitao struggles with his cone. He'd gone for the massively tall one, and it seems to have been a mistake. Joonmyun laughs as he watches Zitao frown down at his ice cream, listing to the side as melting vanilla runs down between his fingers. “You're very earnest,” he says, and then his ice cream is making a break for the ground and his eyes widen in panic. He lunges forward, catching at least part of it in his mouth and making a face as it smears across his lips, steadying it with his free hand. The rest of the soft serve is looking pretty wobbly and Zitao is at a loss, ice cream everywhere.
“Oh my god,” Joonmyun claps a hand over his mouth and takes pity on Zitao. “Come here.”
He steers them over to a bench and sets his own cup carefully down, rummaging in his pocket for extra napkins. He's always prepared for these types of situations. Zitao is still desperately trying to salvage his ice cream, mournfully lapping at what's left of it. He stills when Joonmyun curls a steadying hand around his cheek, and his eyes are oddly gentle as Joonmyun carefully cleans him up. Zitao's tongue darts out to catch some of the ice cream on his top lip and Joonmyun can't help the way that his eyes follow the movement. “You know,” he says softly. “You're definitely not intimidating now.”
“I was intimidating?” Zitao asks with interest, and Joonmyun moves on to cleaning up the ice cream on his hands. Zitao is obedient, letting Joonmyun tug his cone out of his hand and then wipe the soft serve off his fingers. “I like intimidating.” He frowns a little as Joonmyun tosses out the last of his ice cream.
“Of course you do,” Joonmyun says. He stands and Zitao follows, still pouting a little. “Don't make that face. We can share.” Of course, his cup of ice cream isn't really enough to share, especially not when compared to Zitao's melting mountain of it, but he likes the way it makes Zitao puff up, pleased. “But,” he adds, handing the cup over. “I'm not feeding it to you. I think you can handle that.”
“I don't know,” Zitao says around the little plastic spoon. “I wasn't doing so well before.”
As Zitao polishes off the last of the soft serve and abandons the cup on a bench as they pass, Joonmyun reaches for his free hand. His fingers are sticky in Joonmyun's. “You're managing okay,” Joonmyun points out.
Even with the difference in their heights, it feels natural to lace his fingers into Zitao's like this. He glances over and finds Zitao looking down at their hands, eyes soft. “I think,” he says. “I think I would like to be waited on hand and foot.”
Joonmyun snorts. “I'm sure you would,” he agrees. “I'm sure Sehun would say the same. You should meet him sometime.”
Their hands swinging between them, Zitao is silent for a moment, until Joonmyun looks at him. “Yeah, sometime,” Zitao says distantly. Joonmyun is learning that Zitao isn't exactly a subtle person, and it shows now, in the way that he won't meet Joonmyun's eye, and in the sudden subject change. “So. Movie?”
It's a misdirection, but Joonmyun decides to let it go. “Ice cream and a movie? That's it?” he asks. “It's like you set me up with all these expectations just to let me down.”
Zitao rubs his thumb rhythmically across curve of Joonmyun's knuckle. “You said I didn't have to impress you, hyung,” he points out. “Do I have to rent a theatre for you?” It's a joke, but the way Zitao says it makes Joonmyun think that he could make it happen, if that's what Joonmyun wanted. It's kind of heady.
“Don't be silly,” Joonmyun says. “Just one screen is plenty for me.”
When Zitao laughs, loud and sharp, the tension has passed. He squeezes Joonmyun's hand tight and pulls them onwards, and Joonmyun follows willingly.
Joonmyun darts into his third year communications class fifteen minutes late, ducking his head apologetically at the professor. Kyungsoo raises an eyebrow as he slides into the seat next to him. “Late again?” he asks.
Humming, Joonmyun digs through his bag for his book. He slaps it down on the table, wincing at the noise it makes and the glare he gets from the front of the room. Where is his pen? He's such a mess this morning. Zitao had called him last night, right as he was planning to get into bed, and he'd found himself powerless to hang up. Instead, he'd laid in bed, phone pressed to his ear, and listened to Zitao talk, voice soft and syllables slurred, until they'd both fallen asleep. He hasn't done something this sappy since he was in high school, but somehow, there's something about Zitao that makes him want to indulge his every whim. Every time Zitao sends him a text and asks him to come over, Joonmyun's studying just seems to fall by the wayside. His parents would not be pleased, he's sure, but Zitao...Zitao definitely is.
Kyungsoo holds out a pen. “Does it have anything to do with your new rich boytoy?”
“I can't believe you just said that with a straight face,” Joonmyun says quietly, glancing at him sideways.
“Sehun's words,” Kyungsoo says, and he shrugs, digging an elbow into Joonmyun's side. “Quit dodging the question.”
Kyungsoo has always been too sharp to let Joonmyun talk his way out of questions he doesn't want to answer. “We were up late,” Joonmyun admits, and he's mortified when he feels himself turning faintly pink. “On the phone.”
“On the phone.” Kyungsoo snorts, raising an eyebrow.
“I don't want to hear it,” Joonmyun warns, and Kyungsoo wisely bites his tongue, but Joonmyun can still see the way he's smiling.
They both bend their heads over their notes, listening to the prof, but it's just review, and Joonmyun's mind wanders. His phone vibrates in his pocket and he ends up texting Zitao under the table. “Look at you,” Kyungsoo says, and when Joonmyun glances over at him, he looks thoughtful. “Do we ever get to meet this guy?”
“Of course,” Joonmyun says immediately, although something about the question makes him bite the inside of his mouth and frown down at his notes. He's been spending a lot of time with Zitao, it's true, but the only time it's not one on one, it's with one of Zitao's friends from EXO. Which isn't a bad thing, really, but it does make Joonmyun wonder. “I want him to meet you guys.”
Kyungsoo nods, but before he can reply, their professor clears his throat aggressively. The two of them exchange quick looks, biting back their laughter, and then turn back to their notes. Joonmyun is diligent, but he can't help but wonder if maybe, he should be concerned.
For all the money that they have, Joonmyun thinks, EXO should probably be able to afford a more comfortable couch. He shifts around a bit, trying to settle down so he can get some studying done, but the leather is stiff and the stuffing is hard. It looks nice, he supposes.
Finally, he manages to wedge himself up against the arm of the couch, legs stretched across the cushions and his books propped up in his lap. This was Zitao's idea, ultimately. A few weeks after their ice cream date, he'd gotten sick of Joonmyun's excuses of studying, so he'd insisted that this time, Joonmyun come to EXO's house to study.
It's a nice place, if a bit oppressive. Everything is dark wood, antique, and vaguely uncomfortable. Joonmyun isn't particularly graceful, and he's always a bit nervous when he's here. He'd be horrified if he broke something.
He's immersed in his economics textbook, pen lid in his mouth, highlighting pertinent passages, when a weight settles on his legs. “Hi,” Zitao says, batting Joonmyun's book out of the way so he can squirm between Joonmyun's legs, resting his chin on Joonmyun's chest. He's not really light, all solid muscle, but Joonmyun finds he likes it. “How is the studying going?”
“It's better when you're not distracting me,” Joonmyun replies dryly, and Zitao smiles at him, pleased. He twists until his ear is pressed up against Joonmyun's chest. “I'm not going to get anything done here with you,” Joonmyun sighs, but he reaches down to stroke Zitao's hair.
Zitao almost purrs at the touch, tipping his head up and sighing happily. “What a shame,” he says.
“Get a room,” Lu Han yawns, throwing himself down on the chair across from them. “This doesn't look like much like studying.” He's teasing them, and Zitao laughs sleepily, unconcerned, but Lu Han's eyes are fixed on Joonmyun and they're not exactly friendly.
Joonmyun reaches fruitlessly for his textbook, now face down on the rug beside the couch. “I can't,” he says, frowning exaggeratedly. “It's out of my hands.” Zitao's weight holds him down. He shows no signs of shifting, but Joonmyun doesn't really mind that at all.
“Doesn't seem like you're trying very hard,” Lu Han shrugs. He's sprawled across the chair, long, wiry limbs arranged in an artfully casual way. It had surprised him to find out that Lu Han is one of the oldest members of the club, between the way he squabbles playfully with Zitao and how sweet and young he looks. He doesn't look so playful now, his gaze disdainful and almost hard. It doesn't seem like Joonmyun's first impression of him, gossiping at the party, was very far off from the truth.
Zitao tugs Joonmyun's highlighter out of his hand and lobs it at Lu Han's head. His aim is impeccable – it pegs Lu Han right in his upturned little nose and makes him flinch and glower. “Be nice,” he says. His voice is sharp enough that it sends a rush of gratification through Joonmyun. Zitao's hand rests warm against his ribs and he rubs his cheek into Joonmyun's chest. “You should treat my guest better.”
“I see him around here a lot these days,” Lu Han says. “He's practically part of the family now.” He doesn't sound particularly pleased about this development, and Joonmyun has to look away from him. Maybe he's been overstaying his welcome lately. Even Baekhyun isn't around this often, and he's been doing his best to climb into Yifan's pants and camp out there.
“He is, isn't he?” Zitao says, and Joonmyun watches Lu Han's eyes shift to Zitao instead. As grateful as he is for the change in focus, he can't decipher the tension that stretches between the two of them. They're saying something that Joonmyun can't read, and now he's really wondering if he should leave.
It's Yixing that breaks the silence. He comes up behind Lu Han's chair and tugs once, hard, on his hair. “Shush, sourpuss,” he says, and he exchanges a glance with Joonmyun, quick and mischievous. It's funny, watching the tightness in Lu Han's expression melt away under Yixing's hands.
He reaches up to curl his hand around Yixing's wrist. “They're all...” He waves a hand vaguely at Joonmyun and Zitao, laying on the couch, and then he's pulling Yixing down hard.
Laughing, Yixing lets him, tumbling down to land in Lu Han's lap. “Come on,” he says, fighting to right himself. Lu Han is thin, but Yixing is thinner, small and soft in Lu Han's grip. “I have dinner at my parents. Let me go.” He's not struggling very hard, though. He finally manages to escape by planting a hand in Lu Han's face and pushing him away.
“Can I come?” Lu Han asks. He's still got a hold on Yixing's thin wrist.
“Of course. I think my mother likes you better than she likes me.” He leans back and Lu Han stands up again, following Yixing's movement. “Nice seeing you again, Joonmyun,” Yixing says, and his smile is sweet and easy.
They leave and Zitao sighs, his eyes sliding shut. “You really make studying hard,” Joonmyun points out. “I don't even have my highlighter anymore.”
“He deserved it,” Zitao says, like he's daring Joonmyun to argue, but he doesn't. He just strokes a hand through Zitao's hair and laughs a little.
“I hope you don't plan on throwing things at my friends,” he says.
Zitao doesn't reply for so long that Joonmyun half wonders if he's fallen asleep, but when he twists to see his face, Zitao's eyes are open, staring forward. “Hey,” Zitao says. “Did you want to go to that gallery opening on Friday? Jongdae's brother organized it, so I should probably make an appearance.”
Another sudden subject change. Joonmyun clenches his jaw. “Are you avoiding answering my question?” he asks.
“No,” Zitao says, but his voice is small. He tilts his head up to meet Joonmyun's eyes. “I'm not. Are you?” Joonmyun can feel the heat of his breath across his collar. “It's okay if you don't get art, nobody does. Just talk about how you feel the truth of what the artist was doing and how it resonates. It's gotten me through so many of these things.”
He offers Joonmyun a smile, one of his sleepy-sweet, catlike ones, but Joonmyun's still a little cold. He is evading Joonmyun's suggestion, and it makes Joonmyun's stomach twist a little, and not in a good way. “You're an expert, huh?”
“One of my many, many talents,” Zitao agrees. He noses at Joonmyun's sternum, hot mouth pressing a ghost of a kiss against his chest. “So you'll go?”
“As your date?” Joonmyun asks.
Zitao doesn't reply, just raises his head to furrow his eyebrows in his very best deeply unimpressed look. Well, that's a 'duh'.
“Alright,” Joonmyun says, finally, although that uneasiness is still shifting around at the back of his head. “I guess I can do that.” He makes a big show of his reluctance and Zitao beams, crawling up so that he can bury his face in Joonmyun's throat.
“I like you the best,” Zitao declares, his voice muffled against Joonmyun's skin, and Joonmyun sighs, tipping his head to rest against Zitao's, the corners of his mouth turning up without his volition. How can he fight something like that?
It's still a little strange for Joonmyun, but after a week or so of study dates at EXO House, he's getting more comfortable here. He's on his way to the kitchen to get a glass of water when he makes a wrong turn and, somehow, ends up down a hallway he's never seen before. He's about to backtrack when he hears the faint sound of music coming from a door at the end of the hall.
Joonmyun carefully opens the door and sticks his head in. It's a small but functional dance practice room, well lit, polished wood floors. Zitao had mentioned in passing that Yixing was minoring in dance, but it's another thing entirely to actually see him in action. He's amazing, Joonmyun thinks. This is clearly a familiar routine, and he hits each move with almost inhuman precision, lips pursed in concentration. His eyes are dark and fixed on his reflection as he moves, and after a minute or so he stops abruptly, frowning at something that Joonmyun must have missed.
“Whoa,” Joonmyun says, and Yixing starts, head jerking up to meet Joonmyun's gaze in the mirror. “You are really good. How long have you been dancing?”
“A few years,” Yixing replies. He tugs at the wide collar of his shirt and rolls his shoulders, stretching. “I kind of stumbled on a class as a freshman and I kind of fell in love with it.”
Joonmyun's eyes widen. He can't have been training for more than three years, how was that even possible? You'd think he practices night and day with how good he was. “You're so talented,” Joonmyun says, shaking his head.
Yixing favours him with a quick smile, tighter and less sincere than Joonmyun is used to seeing. “Thank you,” he says. “But not that talented. I missed that last turn. I just need to work on it a little bit more.” He's red-faced and breathless, his shirt sticking to his thin frame with sweat, he must have been at this for hours.
“Are you kidding?” Joonmyun says. “That was perfect.”
Yixing flinches a little at the word, and he shakes his head. “No,” he says, his voice strangely strained. “Not yet. Not quite. Just a little more.”
At a loss, Joonmyun bites the inside of his mouth. Yixing has always been one of the most welcoming members of EXO, always friendly and smiling, but right now, he's distinctly cold. He stares at his own reflection for so long that Joonmyun wonders if he's forgotten he's not alone, and then jumps into motion again. He starts the song over and spares one brief glance for Joonmyun. “Isn't Zitao waiting for you?” he asks. He doesn't wait for an answer before launching into his routine again.
It's pretty clear that the conversation is over. Joonmyun lingers in the door for a minute or two, but Yixing never looks up from his dancing.