acatwhowrites: (Taohun♡bros)
A Cat Who Writes ([personal profile] acatwhowrites) wrote2014-12-29 09:35 am

[The First Time] Ever I Saw Your Face

title: [The First Time] Ever I Saw Your Face
players: Kim Joonmyun/Suho, Byun Baekhyun, Huang Zitao/Tao
word count: 6,600
rating: PG
summary: Zitao moves to Korea for school and a fresh start. He meets a man who makes the future something to look forward to.

a.n.: Written for the SuTao exchange. (Original posted here.)
Life did its best to rip out my heart and put it through a meat grinder while also testing my patience, but I managed to finish this. I combined two prompts, because they fit rather nicely and made it cuter, I thought. With everything that happened, I didn't get to write everything I wanted, unfortunately. Zitao has face-blindness, also known as prosopagnosia. Clear on the other side of that spectrum, Joonmyun is a super-recogniser. While Zitao doesn't know anyone's face, Joonmyun knows everyone's he's seen. Title comes from the song.

“So, how's life in Seoul?” The webcam image is grainy and poorly lit, but Zitao could still see his friend's smile as he leaned a cheek on his open palm and looked at the screen rather than the camera, signing with his other hand.

Zitao shrugged and looked around his apartment. There were boxes and a few bags piled up in a corner, cluttering the otherwise sparse room he'd not yet fully moved into. It still felt surreal to be away from home. “Okay, I guess. I've not gotten out much, yet.”

“Show me your room.”

“I haven't really unpacked … ” He stood and picked up his laptop, turning in a slow circle after turning on another light.

“It looks spacious enough.” The alert tone crackled in the Mac's dying speakers. He'd have to get a new laptop, soon. “You don't have a room mate?”

“No.” Zitao laughed a little, sitting on the floor again. “I was kind of too scared to. I like living by myself, anyway. Kind of why I found this place. It's just a bus away from campus.”

“You'll have plenty of room for all the friends you're going to make—Zitao?” He waved his hand to get his friend's attention, but Zitao was looking to his left, frowning. The door to the room beside his slammed shut hard enough to jostle the wall briefly. It didn't echo, as if pushed and held shut.

A tinny ping drew his attention back to the computer. “Zitao? What's the matter?”

“The guy next door just got home … .” Footsteps walked through the room, followed by a bouncy squeak of springs.

“Isn't it late?”

Zitao nodded and yawned. It was nearly six in the morning. He had been too excited to sleep before, but it was quickly wearing off as the sun began to creep up the sky. He felt bad for keeping his friend awake.

He waved and shut off the camera, typing a quick good night. “I'll talk to you later. We should both get some sleep.”

The quickly reply was a sleepy-looking sticker, and they both logged off.

Closing the laptop, Zitao looked at the wall he shared with his neighbour, but the apartment was quiet.

That Saturday, with classes starting the following Monday, Zitao sat on the balcony of his apartment. It was small, but he could fit comfortably if he sat with his back to the neighbour's balcony or to the apartments next door. His feet almost touched the opposite bars, but it was better than standing. He took all the cushions and blankets he had and piled them on the concrete floor, and it turned out rather comfy.

It was nice out, if a bit muggy for late summer, even so early in the morning. His shirt stuck to his back with sweat that almost felt cold against the metal of the railing supports.

Everything was still, not yet ready to wake up and face another day. Zitao made himself decaffeinated coffee; he didn't need to be awake, and he didn't want to kill any chances he had of going back to sleep after the sunrise. It sat in the mug cupped by his hands, steam rising in tendrils to be teased by the barely-there breeze.

He almost fell asleep out there, but the neighbour's door slide open on its track with rollers that really needed attention. He could hear them grunt as they struggled with it, but he sipped his coffee and ignored them.

Zitao still hadn't met any of his neighbours, even after living in the apartments for a week. Most of his time was spent unpacking and then buying what he didn't bring from home and exploring the shops and sights of Seoul while taking photo after photo to show his friends and family on Weibo and Instagram.

The neighbour yawned, disturbing the serenity of the morning, and finished with a sigh. He must have been looking at the sky, because Zitao heard him mutter, “Pretty.”

It was pretty. The sun threw out layers of red and orange, unhindered by clouds. He preferred solitude while watching the sun rise or set, but the neighbour was silent after his initial lion yawn and comment.

“Hey. Are you asleep over there?”

Zitao turned his head to look at the other balcony. A young man, impossible to tell his age with how he slouched over the rail of his balcony, waved at him. His hair was dark and sort of longish but styled to sweep across his brows. “It's not good to sleep out here. Not like that, anyway. You'll hurt your neck.”

He returned his attention to the brightening sky. A pigeon pecked at the rooftop across the way, joined by two others for morning gossip. “I'll go in soon.”

His neighbour stood upright and stretched his arms over his head with a satisfied groan. “It really is pretty … . I'm going to bed, now. Have a nice day.”

Zitao nodded. “Thanks. Y-You, too!” he added quickly. The rollers protested being moved again, but when the door closed again and silence settled around him again, Zitao almost felt lonely. Maybe he missed an opportunity, there.

Zitao didn't see his neighbour at all after that first meeting—if it could even be called that—but he did hear him.

Six o'clock was about the time his neighbour returned every morning. Zitao was awake to be ready for this earliest class, and he'd hear the apartment next door open and close, someone walk across the floor, something dropped to the floor, and then the creak of springs. He had no idea who they were; he wasn't even entirely sure how many lived in the apartment next door, and when he thought of it, he'd never actually heard his neighbour leave. Only return.

He didn't have time for conspiracy theories. It wasn't his business, anyway. He was in Seoul for school.

Zitao showered fast, brushed his teeth, dressed, and didn't bother styling his hair. He settled patterned, lensless frames on his face and grabbed a hat before rushing out the door to catch his bus.

He finally met his neighbour completely by chance in the rickety elevator climbing the flights to the top floor.

An attractive young man with short, dark hair, sunglasses, and wearing a pink and white striped shirt under a pink sweater with the sleeves pushed up his forearms followed him into the apartment building from the street and entered the elevator cat with him. He was shorter than Zitao, and his face was kind of pretty, although the stretch of the sweater across his chest and shoulders was clearly masculine.

Zitao's rule of thumb was to avoid people. Just a general rule, especially when by himself. He'd unintentionally offended a few people by not remembering their name or simply not greeting them on the street, but faces were never his strong point. He might now this guy, although he was pretty sure he'd remember

Obviously, the stranger knew none of that and looked up at Zitao with a sunny sort of smile after removing his sunglasses. “Hello! It's nice to see you, again. Baekhyun told me you moved in a few weeks ago, already. How have you settled in?”

“Alright, I guess.” The elevator couldn't move fast enough. It really couldn't; it sounded like it was ready to stage a protest just carrying the two of them and their awkward atmosphere.

He held out a hand. “I'm Kim Joonmyun. You might not remember; I live next door.”

The guy on the balcony. Zitao nodded and shook his hand. “Huang Zitao.”

The elevator pinged, and they stepped out of the car to the dingy carpeting. Joonmyun was first to excuse himself with a wave and “It was nice to finally meet you! I'll see you around.”

Zitao struggled a little with his apartment door, pulling it tightly shut before the bolt finally slid out, and kicked his shoes off right away. His neighbour seemed nice, he thought. Maybe they could be friends.

The entire week was grey, rainy, and overall very gloomy, but Joonmyun really didn't mind. It wasn't windy, and there was still some summer heat clinging to the ground, which made early morning fog that was rather fun to walk in, creating a smoke screen around his ankles like fog machines used at concerts.

He chatted with Kyuhyun for a few minutes while waiting for a bus, and he spotted Kibum from his freshman choir sharing an umbrella with Taemin a few paces down the sidewalk. It seemed like everywhere he looked, he saw someone he knew. If he'd walk into a roadside rest stop, Joonmyun would not be surprised to meet someone he recognised. It wasn't as if he was that social, even; he just had a good memory for faces and names, he supposed.

After spending most of the day on campus, he headed home. There was a box of kittens he didn't remember seeing on his morning walk outside of a boutique with a soggy FREE sign; no matter how great the temptation was, Joonmyun did not adopt any, although he did call a friend who volunteered in an animal clinic to come pick them up.

“Figures I only get to see you when you want something,” Baekhyun groused as he gathered the kittens and set them in a carrier, pausing with each one to look at its face and coo a little.

“I've been busy.”

“You've been fooling around.” He sat back on his heels and cuddled the last kitten to his chest. “You get home at, what, five? Then you're out the door again before noon. You're gonna kill yourself at this rate, and, no, it is not worth the lives you're helping if you lose yours.”

Joonmyun smiled sheepishly. “I can't really help it … .”

“You're not even a doctor, yet. What're you doing volunteering so much?” The kitten meowed, and Baekhyun kissed its head. “Volunteering. Not even paid.”

Joonmyun held the carrier open. “It's not about the money. Not everyone has access to proper medical care—”

“I know! I know. I have this speech memorised by now.” Baekhyun set the kitten with its siblings and latched the door. He took the carrier from Joonmyun and smiled at the kittens. “I'm gonna take good care of you guys, okay? We'll get you warmed up and fed and find you forever homes.” He threw a look at Joonmyun as he tossed his bangs out of his eyes. “It sucks people struggle and get sick and can't see someone for it, but that doesn't mean you have to work yourself into the ground for them. You can't live off of that; you'll end up like them. Daddy's money and Mama's good looks can only get you so far, you know.”

Joonmyun rolled his eyes and flagged down another cab. He slid in beside Baekhyun when given a You coming? look. He had a feeling Baekhyun just wanted to gossip, now, but Joonmyun welcomed a break, although he could be home, sleeping, before going back out for class and then a seminar.

“How's the new neighbour? Is he as awful as that cute drummer boy?”

Joonmyun's previous neighbour had been in a band. Of course, musicians, like all artists, had to practise, but, being a drummer, he obviously played percussion instruments, and their apartments were not soundproof by any stretch of the imagination. Nice as the boy was, Joonmyun didn't miss his noise.

“Zitao's nice.”

“Are you just saying that, or have you met him?”

First impressions probably weren't so great. Joonmyun had stayed up most of the night volunteering at a clinic, again, slept for a couple hours, and rolled off his bed only to discover he had neither coffee nor tea. He didn't bother showering or changing out of his wrinkled slacks and polo—although he did brush his teeth, grab a sweatshirt, and pull a beanie over his unruly hair—and managed to stumble to a nearby convenience store for much-needed caffeine. Returning to his building, he heard people before he saw them, speaking in Mandarin.

Rounding the corner to his hall, Joonmyun brightened upon seeing his friend Lu Han struggling to juggle some wildly patterned luggage while a taller boy—young man, but Joonmyun affectionately referred to anyone under 28 as a “boy”—tried key after key on his lanyard, looking more panicked as each one failed to open the door.

“Good morning, Lu Han,” Joonmyun crooned gently, but Lu Han still jumped, jolted out of focus.

“Joonmyun! Hi; I didn't think you'd be up, yet. We were trying to be quiet.”

He raised his grocery bag and Styrofoam cup. “I needed caffeine. Are you guys okay?” He opened his own door with practised ease and set the boxes of coffee and tea on the side table.

“I don't know. Either someone gave Zitao the wrong room or key, or he just can't work keys.”

Zitao looked at Lu Han, muttering something in Mandarin that Joonmyun roughly understood as Nothing works. He stepped forward and held out his hand.

“May I try?” He compared the keys to his own. Only one had the same engraving of the locksmith, so he worked it into the keyhole, pulled the door tightly shut, and turned the key. “There was something about this building, moisture or something, that messes with the walls.” He pushed the door open and held it for Lu Han to toddle through, followed by Zitao. “You just need to hold it tightly closed, and it should work. Kind of added security.” He smiled and handed Zitao's key back.

Lu Han kicked Zitao's butt, still struggling with boxes and luggage, and said Thank him! in Mandarin. The boy bowed hastily, thanking Joonmyun in Mandarin and then Korean hastily. Standing up, Joonmyun got a good look at his face. It was darkly handsome, with a strong nose and sharp eyes shadowed as if he lacked sleep, although his black eyes were bright. He dressed well, very well, in fact, which only distracted Joonmyun for so long before remembering he had not changed in two days and needed a shower.

The next time he saw the boy, he was dozing on the balcony, and then they shared the elevator and officially introduced themselves, but Zitao didn't seem to recognise him.

Joonmyun may not be the most memorable guy around, but he kind of liked to think he wasn't that unimpressive.

“We've met a couple times. Casually. He's a sweet kid, just the type to keep away from you.”

“You're not gonna let me live that down, are you? Jongin asked me out, you know.”

“Because you were all over him like a cheap suit.”

“He wears suits well.” Joonmyun hoped that wasn't supposed to be innuendo. “I'm anything but cheap, though.”

Joonmyun nodded and poked a finger through the side of the carrier to tickle a sleepy kitten's side. They all mewed and cried at each more vicious jostle of the car ride.

The ride was long due to the weather, but Baekhyun carried the kittens to the back of the crowded shelter, carefully stepping around the cats out of cages to stretch their legs. Joonmyun's sleeve was snagged by a Siamese-looking cat that just wanted a shoulder to stretch across and try to sprain Joonmyun's neck with its aggressively loving rolling against the back of his head.

Baekhyun called to him from the back, “You going home after this?” He looked over each kitten more closely. Aside from being wet and cold, they appeared fine. He'd have to call the vet later.

“Yeah. I need to change and get to class.” The Siamese's purrs tickled his ear.

“Will you remember to eat?” Baekhyun wasn't usually one to nag, but he knew Joonmyun's schedule pretty well, and it was anything but ideal for anyone who enjoyed sleeping or having any kind of “me time.”

“I eat every day, Baekhyun.”

“I don't remember the last time I saw you eat. Maybe I should invite you to take me out.” He looked at Joonmyun sharply. The kittens curled around one another, too nervous to investigate their cage cushioned with rugs and a little quilt.

“Pick a date.”

“I knew there was a reason I liked you, hyung.” Baekhyun put the carrier back on top of a line of cages and snuggled against Joonmyun's side, stealing the Siamese to park it on a carpeted cat tower. “Call me when you've got free time, okay?”

Joonmyun nodded and scratched the cat one last time before saying goodbye and opening his umbrella in the drizzle outside.

It wasn't a long walk to his apartment. He kind of wished he'd just called a cab, because he was going to be on his feet for a few hours after his classes again. Hindsight was wonderful.

If his immediate sight did not deceive him, however, he saw a familiar cute, panda-eyed neighbour a few paces ahead, looking at displays in a store window.

“Zitao!” Joonmyun jogged to catch up with the student, but he slowed when Zitao didn't greet him back. He turned, looked from Joonmyun's feet to his hat before offering a smile and nod.

“Hello, hyung.”

They stepped to the side of the pavement to let others pass them. “You looked kind of lost for a moment,” Joonmyun teased.

“Sorry.” Zitao shrugged a shoulder and pulled his scarf up over his face more. “I like your hat.”

“It is rather distinctive, isn't it?” Joonmyun laughed. His brilliant lemon yellow hat sported black stars embroidered across the front and was one shade away from being blindingly neon. “You can't lose me in a crowd.” He nudged Zitao's arm with his elbow. “No matter how much you'd like to.”

“That's good. It's always difficult keeping track of people who I have to look down to see … .” Zitao flinched when the tail of his scarf was flipped over his face; he heard Joonmyun laugh and blushed a little.

“Are you busy, now? It's about dinnertime; I was going to get something to eat.” It was a designated work day in his class, anyway. “Join me?”

Zitao should go home to write his lab report. He should go home and move his cacti from the window before they froze. He should go home and wash the dishes that have piled up in the sink. He should go home for a lot of very practical and personal reasons—he hadn't had the chance to use the restroom for a length of time bordering on uncomfortable, because he was just so busy and did not want to throw off his groove—but Joonmyun smiled and tilted his head in a way that was just too cute, and Zitao nodded before he could think of a polite way to decline.

The restaurant Joonmyun led him to wasn't far at all; it's one Zitao often passed on his way to and from school. He never paid much attention to it because of its size and the number of people who always seemed to be around it.

It was more of a café than restaurant, quaint and warm and cramped in such a way that patrons had to get cosy with one another in order to fit, even with the morning and mid-afternoon rushes done. Zitao tossed his jacket over the back of a chair, dropped his scarf on top, and speed-walked to the little boys' room for some much needed relief before even thinking about dinner and drinks.

Joonmyun had removed his hat but straightened his hair when Zitao returned to the table. He sat across from Joonmyun with a smile and turned to look at the chalkboard hanging over the counter, listing foods and drinks written in pink, yellow, and blue chalk. “What's good? I've never been here.”

“Depends on what you like. They serve Korean food, some American food, Italian.”

“I like Western food.”

“They have great hamburgers, and they're not huge, but you get a lot of fries.”

“Suits me. I know what I'm going to get.”

They stood to wait in line; Zitao leaned against the counter as he waited for one of the employees to hand him his soda as Joonmyun ordered, greeting the cashier by name. She looked surprised, briefly, then blushed and fiddled with her name tag.

He handed plastic to the girl and said, “You've changed your hair since I was here, last. It looks nice like this. I like it.”

She blushed harder and giggled nervously when her fingers shook too much to swipe the card. “That must've been a while ago. It's been black since August.”

“It has been a while, but that blue bob is hard to forget.”

She laughed and nodded, tucking hair behind her ear as she finally got the card through and tilted the pad for Joonmyun's signature.

They returned to their table as more people trickled in for one last boost of caffeine or actual food after a long day at school, judging by the number of backpacks and computer bags.

Joonmyun crossed his arms and leaned over the table. “I had class with that guy my freshman year.”

Zitao turned. There were a few guys. “Which one?”

“Spiked hair and chains. The kid with him used to wait in the hall for him after class a lot.”

It was mindless musing. Zitao faced Joonmyun again and sipped his soda. He didn't recognise anyone, anyway.

Even as he made friends in his classes and would hang out outside of class, Zitao usually dreaded going home. It was always quiet and empty and incredibly lonely. It was like he wasn't even there when he was home; the apartment sat dully, as if uninhabited.

His hall was silent. Residents of the building weren't usually home in the early afternoon; most were students or business workers. Zitao had a shiver in his stomach that wasn't from the cold. He waited outside his door for some amount of time, debating calling Sehun to hang out or maybe going out to a café.


He jumped, and a hand cautiously settled on his arm.

His neighbour, Joonmyun, had a soft sort of chuckle, as if he never wanted to laugh outright. Maybe he thought he thought he'd offend someone. “I'm sorry. Are you alright?”

Zitao hadn't even heard the creaky elevator. “Yeah.”

Joonmyun must have noticed the tremble of uncertainty in Zitao's voice, lightly drag of his hand down Zitao's arm, as if petting him would help any. “Are you sure? Can I help at all?”

“No.” Zitao tried to smile. “Thank you; I'll be fine.”

“I'm just next door … if you need anything … .”

Zitao nodded with another weak smile and closed his door.

Joonmyun had just stepped into his slippers when a sharp cry and crash drew him back into the hall. Zitao's apartment was unlocked, and he threw the door open. It slammed into the wall bounced back against his shoulder.

Zitao had the front of his jacket clenched in a bloodied fist, shoulders shaking and stomach heaving. The mirror he had been so fond of hung awkwardly on the wall, fractured glass barely clinging to he frame while freed shards sat on the floor. Zitao's fist glinted with splinters of mirrored glass, and Joonmyun hurried to his side.

“Zitao? What happened?”

“Nothing. I got frightened is all.”

Joonmyun looked around. Maybe a weird shadow had startled him, but the blinds were al closed.

Zitao quickly waved his hand, flinching at the pull of sensitive skin over glass. “It doesn't matter. I'm fine. Sorry about the noise.”

“Let me help you clean up, at least. I'm already here. And I can get the glass out of your hand, too. You really don't want it to heal over.”

He got Zitao to lean on the counter while he picked the glass out of his knuckles with metal tweezers sterilised over the stove. “Seriously, Zitao, what happened?” he asked softly. He didn't look up, continuing to gently search for shards as he gave his patient time to answer.

“Sometimes, I just can't recognise myself,” he finally admitted. “I know when I see a mirror, that the reflection should be me, but the face doesn't look like anyone. Parts do, but they don't all fit together. I got scared, because I guess I forgot I had a mirror or something. I've actually apologised to my reflection, because I thought it was another person.”

Joonmyun paused his examination to study Zitao's face. “Have you ever seen a doctor for it?”

Zitao nodded. “Once, before I came here.”

The doctor he had seen last year was a professor at the university in Beijing. Zitao sat beside the doctor at a table and was presented with photos of people covered so only their faces showed. He frowned. If he could see the whole picture, he could maybe figure out who the people were. Their clothing, hairstyles, or even the background could be a clear indication, but he knew the problem was the face.

The doctor tapped a photo. “Tell me who that is.”

Zitao tilted his head and bit his lip. A child, maybe six, with kind of dark skin—like someone who spent a lot of time outside, maybe—dark eyes with a distinct slant that looked almost cocky in their playfulness, under-eye bags of someone who hadn't slept in a while, Cupid's bow mouth with upturned corners … “Uh … I don't—” He huffed a sigh and squinted, searching for anything familiar. “I don't know.” The child was smiling, eyes curved up to crescents.

“You sure?”

No. “Yeah.”

The doctor's voice softened. Whether it was on purpose or not wasn't certain, but it fell like an anvil on Zitao's chest. “That's you.”

“That's me?” He choked a laugh and stared at the photo. He nudged the papers covering the photo away with a finger. Six-ear-old Huang Zitao sported a shaved haircut, shorts, and suspenders. He held his leg up parallel to his body, supporting himself with a hand on the wall. It was a display of his flexibility; he remembered showing off to his mom.

“Doesn't look like me, though.” But what did he even look like? When he looked in the mirror each morning, his heart jumped to his throat at the sight of a stranger in his apartment. Logically, it could only be him, because he stood right at the edge of the sink; no one could squeeze in front of him, and switching out a mirror for a window was just cruel and unusual.

He couldn't recognise his own face, though.

The rest of the photos went no better. Celebrities, friends, family … He couldn't even pick out his own mother until the doctor removed the paper covering the ladies' torsos, then he quickly pointed to a woman wearing an apron he knew was made for his mom by her own mother.

Zitao tapped his heel against the kickplate of the sink cabinet and shrugged. “It was never really an issue. My dad's the same way. With faces, I mean. We just manage as best we can.”

“That's so strange … ” Joonmyun mused. “I'm the complete opposite. I remember everyone's faces. People on TV, friends, family … .” He dabbed more peroxide over the open wounds before holding Zitao's hand up to see if the light revealed any more shards. “I've made an ass of myself more than once, greeting someone I'd not met in months or years as if it was just yesterday I saw them playing on the swings across from our middle school or bumped into them at the store while buying something for my mom.” He sighed and wrapped a clean bandage around Zitao's hand. “It's strange. I'm the only one like this, far as I know. I've learned to cope with it, though, and it does come in handy, sometimes.” He kissed Zitao's knuckles when he was done. “There. All better. Now, where's your broom?”

Zitao pushed off the counter, shrugging out of his coat and blaming the heat in his ears from still wearing his scarf. “I'll get it.”

Once the glass was all safely in a paper bag and taped shut, Zitao's embarrassment had finally dissipated. Joonmyun had nothing but nice things to say he was a sweet guy. Turned out he was a medical student, and his late-but-early-in-he-morning returns were because he volunteered at clinics around the city. Sometimes he worked with dentists, sometimes physicians, sometimes food pantries; he said it was something towards his certification, but Zitao doubted that quite so many hours were necessary.

“It's for a good cause,” Joonmyun dismissed his concern. They sat on Zitao's nest of cushions at the door to the balcony, watching the rain hit the windows and slither to the base of the door. “Besides, I'm fine. I enjoy what I do, and it won't be quite as tight once I graduate.”

“Will you be late again, tonight?”

Joonmyun shrugged and finished his tea. “I might be. It depends on if they need me or not.”

“It should depend on your strength and how tired you are,” Zitao muttered into his empty mug.

“Hey.” Joonmyun smiled and reached over to ruffle Zitao's hair. “Thanks for worrying about me. I'll be okay.” He turned his other wrist over to check the time. “And I should be going, now.” He stood, setting his mug on the countertop. “Thanks for the tea. Keep an eye on your hand. Take some mild painkillers if you need to, maybe ice it a little, but it should be okay.”

Zitao stood and held Joonmyun's coat for him while the man tucked his scarf around his neck and pulled his obnoxious hat on. “Thanks.”

“Be careful outside.”

“I will.” They shared a smile—Zitao's wasn't quite as warm, but his insides were wiggling with Joonmyun's hand lingering on his arm—and Joonmyun bowed a little before leaving. “Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

They were easy friends. Zitao's hand healed, and he didn't replace the mirror he broke, but he still carried that constant anxiety of accidentally ignoring his new friend. Winter brought out heavy, shapeless coats, scarves, boots, and hats that hid anything identifying, although Joonmyun had a favourite scarf he always wore. Zitao could hear his voice in his sleep, and he even thought he heard Joonmyun singing some afternoons, but that could have been wishful thinking, because Joonmyun slept most afternoons, when he could.

On weekends, and some weekdays, as Zitao learned Joonmyun's schedule, he'd wait until mid-afternoon and send a text about going out somewhere. They never made plans in advance, but they always had fun.

Zitao also learned a new rule of thumb: Smile at everyone.

“Isn't that strange, though?”

Joonmyun laughed. Their arms brushed as they walked. They probably didn't need to be so close, but it was pretty cold, and they didn't want to get separated among the crowds of people on the pavement. “I think it's friendly. It also is like a defence mechanism, in case you meet someone you do know. A polite smile prompts them to approach you, if they want.

“You also look really handsome when you smile, so why not?”

If it was anyone else, Zitao would think Joonmyun was flirting, but that just seemed to be how he was. Flattering honesty.

The smiling tactic worked, though. Zitao actually felt better, and those people who did stop him weren't offended when he shyly said his memory for names was poor. He could still blink and lose them in the sea of people, but he was a bit more confident in dealing with it then before.

He wished he could see Joonmyun's face, though, complete and unfractured and surely handsome.

Joonmyun knew he had a crush relatively early on. If the accelerated heartbeat, butterflies in his stomach, and sweat when Zitao was around weren't enough of an indication, the embarrassingly adolescent wet dreams were.

Obviously, something was wrong with Zitao, that he described parts of faces but never the whole thing and could simply turn around and lose him, although Joonmyun hadn't left his side. There were other things, too; Zitao couldn't read facial expressions well, and that made Joonmyun a bit bolder in watching him.

Zitao was gorgeous, simply put. Looking at him, there was no indication of his struggles at all, and that sat heavily on Joonmyun's heart. If he hadn't approached Zitao time after time, he'd probably never have gotten to know him.

Winter froze the city and stole whatever warmth people had from their faces and hands. Joonmyun was even busier, but he spent whatever free time he had—if not sleeping—with his friends and Zitao. They were all cuddly, particularly given the cold, but while Baekhyun playfully flirted and Sehun tried to get Joonmyun to buy him another drink, Zitao simply pressed up against his side like it was the most natural thing in the world. Maybe he thought he wouldn't lose Joonmyun if he didn't let go of him, their fingers curled together beneath the table.

Joonmyun didn't complain. He kicked Baekhyun under the table, once, when he made kissy faces behind Zitao's back, but it didn't bother him. There could be some truth in it, some day.

That day came when spring was finally pushing out the cold of winter and helping colour to return to the dead plants and grey sky.

Zitao waited for the sound of the elevator to rattle to a stop. He peeked down the hall and saw someone shlep out of the car, hand pushing beneath the bright yellow hat and musing their hair.

“Hyung.” Joonmyun's eyes were barely open enough to see where he was going. He almost looked asleep on his feet. “Hello.”

Joonmyun paused mid-stretch and yawned a greeting. “Morning,” he repeated. “You're up early.”

He'd been waiting since 5:30 for Joonmyun to get home. He laid in bed, poring over what to say and do and when to do it, and that all flew out the window when he finally saw his neighbour. “Want to come in? I was making something to drink.”

“As long as it doesn't have caffeine … .” Joonmyun had to get some sleep. Caffeine was his nature enemy as well as greatest friend.

“I can warm milk for you. Just like Mother made,” he teased.

Joonmyun hummed and yawned again. He untied his shoes, leaving them piled beside the door and walking over cold tile in his socks.

Zitao's sweater rode up as he reached for another mug for his coffee, and the temptation was too great. Joonmyun slid his hands up Zitao's sides, asking, “My hands cold?” as Zitao shrieked and recoiled. His hip struck the countertop, and he moaned Hyung! through his laughter.

“Sorry. Just checking.” He wiggled his fingers, still pink with cold.

The microwave beeped, and Zitao handed Joonmyun his mug. “Warm them on this, not me.”

Joonmyun thanked him and accepted the mug. Zitao offered him hot chocolate, once, but it was too sweet to drink before trying to sleep. Milk was the safest, and he liked it.

“Let's sit outside.”

“But it's cold. I'm still not sure my fingers work.”

Zitao dragged a large blanket from his bedroom. “It's heated,” he informed with a grin.

Zitao's balcony was once again covered in cushions and blankets, and it was quite cosy under the electric blanket. Joonmyun faced his apartment's balcony; Zitao faced him. Their legs tangled a little, and they drank in silence, enjoying the still morning and spreading colours of dawn.

Joonmyun was the first to break the silence, but he spoke softly, as if afraid to really disturb the held-breath sort of quality of the moment. “You know, in all honestly, of all the people I've met, I think your face is my favourite.”

“Really?” Zitao asked around the lip of his coffee mug. “Why?”

“You can't just accept a compliment, can you?” Joonmyun nudged Zitao's calf with his wool-socked foot.

“I approve of your amazing taste, but I'm still curious. You said you remember, like, everyone you've met or seen or whatever.” He shrugged. Call it vanity. “Why me?”

“What's not to like?”

Zitao slouched against the supports and drew his knees up, hoping the shadows would hide his blush. This guy's honesty was going to melt Zitao, he just knew it. He was going to turn to liquid and drip right off the balcony.

“Does that mean you like me?”

“Yes.” His milk was gone. He didn't feel sleepy anymore.

The blankets rustled, and Joonmyun watched with a question on his tongue as Zitao burrowed beneath the electric blanket and crawled the width of the balcony to emerge right on top of Joonmyun.

“You're letting cold air in, you know,” he commented. His hand found Zitao's waist and pulled him down to lie on top of Joonmyun. His hands, finally warmed up and no longer stiff from the lingering winter, tickled Zitao's sides with lightly drawn nonsense patterns.

Zitao's fingers laced together behind Joonymun's back, protected by the puffy coat, and he laid quietly, completely content to be petted. The silence returned, still comfortable but carrying a bit of uncertainty.

“I really like you,” he admitted lowly. He brushed his nose against Joonmyun's, murmuring, “I have for a while. I really wish I could remember you without having to be reintroduced or holding onto you like a child.” He hadn't been frustrated with his condition until meeting Joonmyun.

Joonmyun's cheeks were pink—maybe the cold open air or warmth from the blanket or weight of Zitao across his legs and torso. “Well, you can forget my face, but you know the rest of me, right?”

“In the near future, maybe.”

That ignited heat in both their faces, but their smiles mirrored on another.

Joonmyun leaned forward a little and kissed Zitao's jaw. “You don't have to know my face. Listen to my voice … ” He took Zitao's hand from beneath his coat and held it to his lips before settling it over his heart. Zitao slid his fingers up behind Joonmyun's neck. “Touch me.” He kissed him again. “You know who I am.”

Zitao's arm shook. He saw himself reflected in Joonmyun's eyes and didn't know who it was, except it could only be him, unless a mini man was trapped in his neighbour's eyes. Unlikely. Looking up a little, a neat, dark hairline with swept bangs of thick hair, a style so distinctly Kim Joonmyun pale, smooth skin free of any blemishes, birthmarks and moles, at least as far as Zitao's seen, and rosy pink lips pulled nervously between straight teeth … It's all Joonmyun.

“I'd like to know you better.”

Joonmyun blinked, eyebrows raised. A smile slipped up the corner of his mouth when Zitao's mortified blush erupted further across his cheeks and ears.

“It's been a whole year,” Zitao's friend signed with a pouty frown. “When are you coming home? You didn't even come for Christmas or your birthday or anything.”

“Sorry. It's not cheap, going back and forth.” His friend nodded, pout replace with an understanding smile. They both knew how important it was for him to be in Korea for school. “I'll be home for a while after this semester, and I'll be bringing someone with me.”

In the hall, the elevator chirped, fixed and no longer sickly from overuse.

“Oh, yeah? Who's that?”

“My boyfriend.” His door opened, and Joonmyun kicked his shoes off, dropped his bag to the floor, and shuffled to flop onto Zitao's bed. “I think you'll like him.”