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The Hallyu Tabloid

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Time Square mall. Opened in 2009, it just so happened to be one of the largest malls in Korea. So large in fact that is also had: a hotel, a movie theater, additional department stores, and hundreds of other shops. There is even a glass observatory tower that stretches up five floors. People have told stories of being lost in it's maze of neon lights and clothes for days, and this was where he wanted to go. Here. 
I gave Baekhyun my best 'are you insane?' face, but it was overused at this point. He knew he was crazy, and he loved every moment of it. What good would it do to remind him? 
"This was your surprise? A trip to the mall?" I asked suspiciously as I hopped out of the back of the van. He came around from the other side holding a ball cap and face mask; standard public costume. 
"Come on, it will be fun. When's the last time you went shopping?" He teased and waved off our driver before grabbing my hand and pulling me towards one of the underground entrances. 
"I mean, it's been a minute, but Baek--" I tugged on his arm, "No one is supposed to know about us."
"Come on, it'll be fine. No one will recognize us." He continued smoothly as we climbed the stairs from the parking garage to ground level. I was glaring at him, so I didn't notice the change at first, but when I glanced up, I had to stop in my tracks. Even though it was my first time here, I'd been in Korea for awhile, I'd seen plenty of Asian architecture...but I still wasn't prepared for the sheer massiveness of it. The main lobby of the mall was the size of an american football field, inlaid with milky white marble. On every side for five stories was balcony after balcony of store fronts. Amoris, CGV, Nike, ZIOZIA, and Zara, just a few of the names I recognized, with a host of more that I didn't. Baek was right about one thing, it had been a long time since I'd gone shopping.  
My earlier glare was replaced with an ecstatic grin, one I assumed he was mirroring, although I couldn't see his face under the mask. Insert hyperactive montage of the two of us skipping from store to store, dressing each other up in ridiculous outfits, trying samples of smoothies and roasted nuts, letting the independent stall owners thread our eyebrows and tell me I needed to take better care of my skin. We snuck into the back of a Chinese movie that I couldn't understand a single word of, but Baekhyun would lean over the divider and whisper what they were saying into my ear. His breath on my neck was fiery and I was at least glad it was dark, so he couldn't see the massive blush spreading on my face.  In terms of dates, it was possibly the best one I'd ever been on, and it was worth all the waiting I'd had to do for him to come home from tour. Now I had him all to myself...for the most part. 
Between the Forever 21 and Bean Pole, I spied a photobooth in the middle of the hall. We didn't have very many pictures of us together, mainly because it was a liability, but perhaps he would make an exception since today was special. I pointed it out to him and he nodded it was okay. We squished into the small booth and pulled the curtains tight on both sides, hoping that the thin fabric would somehow keep the EXO-L's at bay. The stall was tiny, so I was practically sitting in his lap. I hoped that maybe the pictures would take in black and white so he wouldn't have photo proof of my bright red face. When I looked back to see if he was ready, I let out a surprised laugh. He still had the mask and hat on, like he was going to smile through it. Without thinking, I reached up and unhooked the mask from his ears. It was only when I pulled it away and exposed his face that I realized how close we actually were. Our noses were nearly touching and I couldn't tear my eyes away from his when the first flash of the camera went off. 
Four left. 
Slowly, he reached up and dragged the hat off his head, showing off his caramel colored hair. Honestly, it had been so many colors, I hardly cared what it looked like anymore; I just liked when he shook it out and patted his head, the innocent gesture that masked his kooky smile. He was my Baekhyun now, no hiding, no pretending we didn't know each other. My hand crept up to his chin and traced the line of his jaw. It was a face I hadn't been able to touch in weeks and I suddenly couldn't stand the thought of letting go. 
Flash. Three left. 
His hands were wrapped around my waist, but they had been so light I didn't notice them. Now, with every passing moment, he tightened his grip on me, like he knew exactly what I was thinking. 
"I'm really glad you're back." I managed to whisper.
"I'm glad you were still here when I got back. I know it's been really hard for you. Especially while I was away." He returned, holding me even tighter. There was a certain sad sincerity to how he said the words, like he knew how devastatingly true they were, and how helpless he had been to do anything about it. 
"It was hard," I admitted, "but it was worth it." Our foreheads touched and I closed my eyes, cherishing the feeling of having him so close to me. 
Flash. Two left. 
That was the one, I was sure of it: the perfect picture of us. I'd frame it, blow it up, engrave it on my heart, make copies and throw the stack from the top of the highest building in Seoul, so that everyone would know he was mine. Realistically, we knew we couldn't hide our relationship forever, but there were some things we were not equipped to fight just yet, SM being one of them. 
When I opened my eyes again, he was still looking at me, his eyes darting back and forth over my face, as if he was trying to memorize every freckle and line. 
"You should take a picture," I joked, "it will last longer." 
Flash. One left. 
"Is that..." 
"It's Baekhyun!" 
"Oh my god!" 
Screams suddenly erupted on one side of the booth and we both jolted out of whatever moment we had been in. 
"How did they know it was you?" I cried and jumped off his lap. To our misfortune, neither of us had apparently noticed the video screen on the outside of the booth that showed what pictures were being taken. There were more screams and I heard the distant sound of over-eager high school girl feet running our direction. Baek quickly put on his mask and was pulling down his hat when the curtain was ripped open and nine million cell phones were shoved inside. He tried to stand to shield me from the cameras, but the booth was too small for the both of us to be up. There was nothing that could be done, no amount of damage control was going to fix this. So I grabbed his arm, kicked through the other side's curtain that didn't seem to be cut off yet, and dragged him into the nearest store. 
The rabid gang of Dongsaengs were hot on our heels as Baek and I dodged around clothes racks and between mannequins. In a stroke of pure luck, the store next door was a Weeny Beeny, a candy store with two entrances. Baek grabbed my hand and pulled towards it. As we sprinted in, he flipped open one of the dispensers for the giant jawbreakers, sending dozens of giant balls of sour candy spilling onto the floor, causing the rabid fangirls in front of the assault to slip or skid to a halt, then bottlenecking the rest from following us. 
I let out a whoop when we looked back and realized we were somehow in the clear, but kept running just in case. Before the girls could recover, we ducked into UNIQLO, a casual clothing store. Without acknowledging any of the shop attendants, I grabbed a shirt from a display that we passed and then raced straight for the changing rooms. 
A man was coming out of the room at the end of the hall, holding up a shirt for his girlfriend to see, when Baek and I jumped in and slammed the door shut. 
"Sorry!" I called to them through the door when they both exclaimed their surprise. "This shirt is super important and we're in the big hurry!" The couple seemed to accept the excuse and leave, grumbling about young kids and how we have no sense of privacy. 
For a moment, I braced myself against the door, thinking I would have to hold it shut while Baek called for help...but no one ever came. 
"I think we actually lost them." I whispered, hardly believing it. Baek sank heavily onto the bench and leaned against the mirror on the wall. 
"For now." 
"If we waited for awhile and called the driver to be ready for us, I bet we could get to the garage without being seen." I planned, cracking open the door just a hair to see if the coast was really clear...which, it was.
"What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" Baek teased. His voice was much closer than it had been and when I turned around, he was right in front of me. 
"Uhh, uhh--" I stuttered and tried to take a step back, only to realize that my back was against the door. Baekhyun slowly took the last step forward and we were nearly nose to nose again. It was not unwelcome, of course, just merely...unexpected. Plus I was panting from having to sprint across a mall that was bigger than a football field, but it probably didn't even get his heart rate up. "We could watch a movie on my phone." I blurted the first thing that came to mind. In one swift movement, he tore off his mask and hat, and I realized he was grinning at me devilishly. 
"Netflix and chill?" 
"T-That is not what I said!" I stuttered, and then chided myself for stuttering. 
"I kinda like the sound of that." He smirked and placed both hands on either side of my head, like we were straight out of a K-drama. A giant knot pulled tight in my stomach as he looked me up and down, but no matter how incredibly sexy his growl was, we were still--
"In a dressing room, though?" I glanced at the four purple walls surrounding us, and then at my own bright red face in the mirror opposite me. 
"Are you going to tell me I can't get undressed in a dressing room?" He cocked his head at me, knowing he had me, that impossible face that he knew I couldn't resist. 
Without listening to my fumbled response, he happily pulled my jacket off one of my shoulders, and then the other. It landed on the floor behind me, and he was already untucking my shirt from my jeans. Even though I was flustered, my body started to take over. My arms found their way to his shoulders, lifted high enough for him to pull my shirt over my head, revealing a bra that I had never planned for him to see me in. At the moment though, I hardly cared. My fingers nimbly started to unbutton his shirt as he tossed my blouse and grabbed my hips, pulling me to him. Bending his head, he planted hot kisses under my ear and down my neck, leaving a trail of fire that made my knees want to buckle. 
I said fuck buttons and tore his shirt open, sending little black disks flying and exposing his chest and abs. He took a step back to survey the damage to his shirt and then back up at me with a storm in his eyes. 
"Chill it is." 
Baekhyun grabbed my hips again and lifted me up. I wrapped my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist. Our faces met in a clash and I wasted no time in biting his bottom lip, making him hiss and letting me explore every inch of his mouth that I wanted. It wasn't enough though, and I grabbed a fistful of his hair.
"Oh hell yeah." He moaned into my mouth and dropped to the bench with me in his lap so he could free his hands. He was just sliding up to the clasp on my bra when a loud pounding on the door caused us both to jump. 
"Excuse me? We only allow one person per room. One of you will have to wait outside." A woman's voice said from the other side of the door. Shirt man and his girlfriend had probably told an associate about our room abduction. I covered Baek's mouth before he could respond or groan.
"Alright, thank you." I said, and then waited for her footsteps to fade before looking back down at Baek. He was grinning like an absolute fool.
"You. Me. Marriott. Now." I ordered and dismounted, grabbing my shirt and jacket. Time Square mall. One of the largest malls in Korea. So large, in fact, that it had a hotel.
The walk of shame between the dressing room and the store entrance was hardly something I couldn't handle. All of the attendants were whispering to each other behind their hands, but it wasn't like I didn't know what they were saying. And it wasn't like they didn't know what we were doing. 
Someone was being loud after all. 
I shot Baek a sour look, but I could tell that even under his mask he was smirking.
Thankfully, the hotel entrance was on the same floor that we were, it just took some maneuvering to avoid any clusters of young girls. The hotel had the same milky white marble in the lobby that was used throughout the whole mall, but slowly began to transition to a dark wooden tile. If the attendant behind the desk noticed our lack of luggage, she didn't mention it, she only smiled and ignored the name on the credit card that Baekhyun used. 
The sun was starting to set when we entered the elevators that would take us to our room. Baek leaned against the back wall while I clicked the button and hopped from one foot to the other. 
"Do you have to go to the bathroom first?" He joked when the doors slid open. I popped my head out to check and make sure, but the hallway was empty. 
"No," I huffed and grabbed his shirt front, dragging him towards our room, "I just really need you to be naked right now."

The real challenge was getting the key card in the door. Every time I tried to insert it, Baekhyun would come up from behind me and slide his hands around the rim of my jeans or dip below my waistline, sending chills up and down my whole body. There was no aiming with him setting fires over my skin! Once we were finally in our respective room with the door shut, I grabbed him by his ripped shirt and slammed him back against said door. His eyes lit up with an intense, almost sex crazed look that caused my insides to go slick, and I grabbed the back of his neck with a new urgency. He needed to be on me right this instant! Our lips met in a passionate frenzy and I felt his hands slide around the hem of my shirt. Then he pulled it over my head, using the time I was distracted getting rid of it, to grace my neck with a hot trail of nips and kisses. His hands returned to my body where he cupped my breasts and tugged at the fabric of my bra. 
"Watch yourself." I moaned distractedly with my head tilted back, "Do you know how expensive bras are?" I didn't want my favorite comfy bra to end up like his shirt. And I still regretted not wearing a cuter one on our date! What was I thinking? 
"Fuck it," He growled and reclaimed my mouth, "I'll buy you a few new ones while we're here." His hands snaked up my back and released the clasp, exposing me to him for the moment he took to look. My hands were preoccupied as well, though: one was still tangled up in his hair for leverage, while the other had found it's way down the front of Baekhyun's jeans, palming him through his clothes. He let a satisfied moan pass his lips; Those beautiful lips that I needed to feel all over my body. 
Even though it should have unnerved me to think of how we were discovered, the only thing I could think about was how much I wanted to mark my territory. SM was going to try and play it off, EXO-L's were going to start conspiracy theories, my friends were going to tell me to quit while I was ahead, but...no. This was finally my chance to let the whole world know that Baekhyun--
He was mine. 
So I pulled his head to the side, exposing his shoulder, and sucked a large hickey on his neck. At first he started to object, probably defaulting to the same self-preservative code we had been living by for a year, but then his body melted against mine in submission. There was no need to hide anymore. Whatever marks we left on each other didn't have to be covered up or excused. He could say, 'Yeah, (Y/N) got a little excited at the mall)', and the rest of the guys would laugh. Because it was normal for him to have a girlfriend who could please him. It was not normal for his agency to micromanage. 
We stayed tangled there for a moment, standing in the middle of the room, mouths and hands exploring each other, removing any clothing still left on our bodies. Then he started to push me backwards, towards the giant king size bed I had requested. My legs hit the mattress, but Baekhyun continued moving forward, using his body to push mine down until he was kneeling over me. 
"Damn," he whispered as his fingers traced over my naked figure, "I want you so bad."
"Prove it," I dared, and that same seductive smirk from before crossed his lips again. He slid his hand between my legs and moaned when he felt how wet I was. 
"Good to see that I still have this effect on you." He teased and I told him to shut up, closing my eyes and moving my hips in rhythm with his fingers.
When he decided he couldn't take it anymore, he lined himself up with my entrance, running his tip along my slit a few times, just to see how eager I was. I tried to grab him and egg him on, but he moved around my arm, tickling me in all the places he knew I couldn't handle. 
"Baek..." I mewled and arched my back. It just wasn't nice manners to get me half way there and then play around with me. 
"Oh, I'm sorry," He grinned when he suddenly slid himself in, causing me to gasp, "Was this what you wanted?" 
His pace was slow at first, as he continued to skim his hands all over my body. He loved to play this game: where would he go next? And as much as I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was quite distracted. But I didn't have to wait long to find out the answer, as he pulled one of my legs up and placed it over his shoulder. I cried out slightly as he was able to fill me even deeper, which made him quickened his pace. One of his favorite things was to hear me moan. Every thrust pushed me further and further to the edge of my threshold and the fire building in my core. I knew that I was not going to be able to last much longer before my orgasm would spill from me. 
"Baek... I'm... I'm gonna..." I tried to tell him, but he knew. 
"Look at me." He begged in a strained voice, and I opened my eyes to see him staring at me with an unbearably steamy look. He sped up his thrusts until I was screaming his name at the top of my lungs, maintaining eye contact, and watching as he came the same time I did. 
We rode out the high before he slowed his pace and, breathing hard, pulled out and collapsed to the bed beside me.
"Maybe we should just stay here tonight." I mumbled, dragging the tip of my finger up and down his side, grinning at the goosebumps that followed. 
"Can we stay here forever?" He said, but his voice was muffled by the bed sheets. 
"This mall does have everything." I said matter-of-factly. 
"Oh!" Baek suddenly hopped off the bed. "That reminds me." He tip toed over to his strewn pants and pulled out his cell phone. 
"What are you going to do with that?" I asked, sitting up. 
"I'm pretty sure the fangirls stole our photos, so I need to replace them." He explained as he clicked to the camera on his phone. I let him snap a few pictures of me posing on the bed, before I demanded that he come and lay with me. In bed, we held the camera above our heads and waved at anyone who was going to try and stop us. 
Flash.

Chapter Text

 

“Hongseok! I’m being serious! I need to talk to you.” He pressed his lips to mine again before pulling away and smiling at me.

“When you invited me over, I thought it was because you wanted to make out.” He pouted a bit but finally moved from the door that he had pressed me against and came into my apartment. He flopped onto my couch and propped up his feet, making himself comfortable. Hongseok was my best friend with benefits. We had known each other for years, but his new-found idol life kept him busy. Luckily, we had maintained our friendship, and had somehow continued to manage having our fun without getting caught.

“We can be friends who just hang out, too, you know!” I made the comment to gauge his reaction. He laughed, and I felt a sense of relief.

“Well, yeah. I actually like you as a person, too, you know.” He rolled his eyes and sat up a little bit. “What’s with you? You’re chewing at your lip like its a piece of gum. You only do that when you’re nervous. What’s wrong?” He pat at the couch next to him and I sat down.

I took a deep breath and let the words just fly out of my mouth. “I think I’m going to start seeing someone seriously.” I caught myself fidgeting with my fingers as I waited for him to respond. It felt like an eternity passed before Hongseok lifted my chin with his fingers and made me make eye contact with him.

“That’s what this is about?” he asked. He smiled softly at me and said, “Babe. I knew that this day would come eventually. We had decided a long time ago that this was just for fun until we found people we were interested in. I’m not worried about it! Our friendship doesn’t stop just because you like someone. Unless that someone is an asshole; in that case we might fight.” Hongseok winked at me and pulled me in for a hug.

I sighed with relief before tensing up again. “There’s another thing I have to mention…”

Hongseok tightened his grip on me and said, “go ahead.”

“It’s… it’s Hyunggu.”

This time, the silence lasted a lot longer.

I had met Hyunggu at the dorms when Pentagon had first debuted. Once they had been given permission to have guests over, Hongseok immediately invited me over. He introduced me to all of his band mates. The more I was over there, the closer that I got to a few of the other guys.

One day, I had gone to the kitchen one day to grab a drink and saw someone rummaging through the fridge. I didn’t bother to see who it was, but just asked, “will you hand me a Coke?” The person hadn’t been expecting anybody else, and they jumped a bit. I heard some shelves rattle, followed by an “ow!”

I giggled and said, “sorry, Kino.” as he emerged from the fridge rubbing his head. He turned a bright shade of pink as he grinned and handed me the red can of soda.

I thanked him and went to go back to Hongseok’s room where he was playing video games with Wooseok, but Kino’s voice held me back. “You can call me Hyunggu if you want. Kino is just my stage name.”

I had assumed that, but he had been introduced to me as “Kino.” Nodding, I agreed, “Hyunggu it is then.” I hovered a bit longer through a bit of an awkward silence before he finally spoke again.

“You can come around without Hongseok, too. If you wanted…” I have him my number so that he could text me anytime he was free. I was over a lot more after that. Hongseok never said anything about it, but Yuto asked me about it when I was there one day and Hongseok wasn’t. He had gone to film a song with Yanan and I had brought a pizza to the dorms.

Yuto grabbed a slice and asked me, “so are you and Hyunggu dating?” I nearly choked on my bite.

“What?!”

“I dunno.” He shrugged. “You’re here when Hongseok is out of town. You and Hyunggu spend a lot of time alone together. Most of us assumed you were together.” He shrugged again and thanked me for the slice of pizza. I carried the box to Kino’s room and set it down on the bed.

“Are you okay? You look dazed.” He waved a hand in front of my face.

I held eye contact with him for a minute before asking him, “are… are we dating?”

He seemed just as flustered by the question as I was. He sputtered a few attempts at an answer out before he stopped and turned back to me. Instead of trying to answer with words this time, he closed the gap between us and kissed me, hard.

We talked about what this would mean for the group and my friendship with Hongseok for a long time while we ate. We admitted to having feelings for each other, but decided that it would be best to keep it just at a friendship level for that time being. Pentagon was still fresh and doing a lot of appearances. It had been an easy conversation, but it was nice to know that the feeling was reciprocated for the future.

Time had passed and, although my hook-ups with Hongseok had continued in secret, my feelings for Hyunggu only grew over time. It was getting harder to go to the dorms and see him and then know that Hongseok and I were still doing what we did on the side.

Finally, Hyunggu had caught me alone in a room for once and grabbed my wrist. He pulled me close to him and kissed me hard. He confessed that he was tired of fighting it and that he wanted us to pursue a real relationship. He offered to tell Hongseok, but I told him it would probably be best if it came from me.

After I had spilled the truth out, I finally shook Hongseok off of me. I shifted to face him and said, “are you going to say anything?”

“I’m having an internal struggle.” he admitted. “Part of me is excited because I know Hyunggu is a good person. I know that he’ll be good to you. Part of me is mad because I’m protective of you and I don’t think anybody will ever be good enough for you. Another part of me is just bummed that I’m losing my fuck buddy.” I shoved him and he winked at me. It was a huge comfort to know that he was okay with it, for the most part. He put his arm around me and reached for the TV remote.

“Just know that I’m still here as your friend, okay? Don’t bail on me all of the time for Hyunggu, okay?”

A few months passed and my relationship with Hyunggu moved fast. We had a ton of fun together and it was a light relationship. We took turns spending time with the group and spending alone time. I did my best to balance time with Hyunggu and Hongseok, but, eventually, I could tell my time was becoming more focused on my boyfriend.

Nothing seemed off at first until one day when a group of us were in the dorm kitchen cooking. Hyuggyu had twirled me around to get past me to the stove. He kissed me in passing and then made a comment about how quiet Hongseok had been.

Hongseok slammed his hands down on the counter and said “I’m sorry. It’s just every time you open your mouth, you seem to get even more annoying. Does it take effort to do that? It’s almost impressive, honestly.” He stormed out of the kitchen and I heard a door slam down the hallway. Hui offered to go talk to him, but I stopped him.

I made my way to the room and knocked. No response. I knocked again.

“If I wanted you to come in, I would have said, ‘come in’ the first time that you knocked.” he snapped.

“Good thing it’s me and I don’t give a damn what you say or don’t say during your tantrums.” I responded. I turned the knob and let myself into the room. He was standing in the room, his hands balancing himself against a chair. He raised his head to meet my eyes as I walked in.

“What the hell is your problem?” I asked Hongseok. He laughed and shook his head.

“Don’t you have a boyfriend to go spend time with?”

“I was spending time with him. I was also spending time with my best friend until he decided to freak out for no reason. It’s rare I get both of you in the room at the same time, and it was actually kind of nice to have both of you around. So what gives?”

Hongseok laughed a bitter laugh. “You’ve been so busy with him, I didn’t think you cared if I was even around anymore.”

“Is that really what you think? Don’t be fucking stupid. You’re the one who quit answering my texts. You’re the one claiming to be too tired to do shit. The other guys hang out with me. You are the one who never wants to see me anymore.” I finally unleashed months worth of pent up feelings.

“Because if I see you, I have to admit to myself that you don’t give a shit about me in the way that I do about you!” he yelled.

Before I could say anything back to that, Hongseok grabbed me and kissed me hard. I shoved him off of me.

“No. No. This wasn’t the deal. This wasn’t the arrangement!”

“What arrangement?” Hyunggu’s voice was firm behind me.

“Oh, you didn’t know?” Hongseok’s words were laced with bitterness, and I knew that he was going to confess way more than I was ready for him to. “You didn’t know that I fucked her before you did? You didn’t know that we used to be friends with benefits because I loved her and needed her any way she would take me?”

“That’s enough.” I said. I turned to Hyunggu, and his jaw was clenched. “I didn’t know that last part. I never meant to hide anything from you. It never felt right to tell you.”

He didn’t say anything, but went down the hallway to his room. Turning back to Hongseok with tears in my eyes, I said, “you felt that this was the way to do this? That this was the right way to handle the fact that you were fucking jealous? Why didn’t you say anything the day that I sat you down and told you I was going to date Kino in the first place?!”

I put my hand up to shut up up. “I actually don’t want an answer.”

I spun on my heels and left him standing there in silence.

Hyunggu’s bedroom door was open. He was rummaging through his drawers. I didn’t know for what, but I needed to stop him. 

“Are you leaving?” I asked in a quiet tone as I closed the door behind me.

“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. Apparently, I don’t know anything.” he snapped.

Please don’t leave me. I love you.” It was the first time that I had said the words to him. He stopped digging and turned to me.

“Do you think telling me that changes anything?” His eyes were practically spitting fire. I shook my head.

“No, but it is the truth. I just need you to know that I do love you. I’ve never been happier with anybody in my life. It’s partially why I didn’t tell you. I was so afraid that it would chase you away if you knew that Hongseok and I had been friends with benefits before.” The words poured out of my mouth as a waterfall of whispers. More than anything, I wanted to be speaking the words firmly so he understood the seriousness of them, but a whisper was all I could get out without risk of breaking down and bawling.

Hyunggu walked up to me and held me. That broke the dam of tears and I sobbed into his shoulder. He let me cry for a long time before he cupped my face. Using his thumbs, he dried my tears. 

“I love you, too, you know.”

I crashed my lips onto his and threw my arms around his neck. The kiss was hungry and passionate. Hyunggu reciprocated the kiss and deepened it even more. His hands pawed at the hemline of my shirt and he tugged at it, hinting that he wanted it off. I raised my arms over my head and he pulled the shirt off of me. I repeated the action on him and traced my finger down his toned chest and stomach. He was so flawlessly sexy. He didn’t give me time to admire him for too long, however. 

Hyunggu dropped to his knees and unbuttoned my jeans. In one swift motion, he pulled them to my ankles along with my panties. He stayed on his knees as he stuck a finger into me, followed by a second one.

“Did Hongseok ever make you feel as good as I do? Tell the truth.” He was practically growling as his fingers pumped in and out of me.

Gasping, I shook my head no. “Please don’t make me think about him. You’re the only name I want to moan out ever again.” 

That seemed to satisfy him for the time being. Hyunggu leaned forward and, right before he attached his lips to my clit, he said, “prove it.” With that, he put his mouth on me. His fingers continued their work as his tongue joined them. I knotted my fingers in his hair and pulled him against me tighter. It was incredibly hot to look down and see Hyunggu on his knees for me. I made sure to gasp his name out over and over again as he quickly brought me to my orgasm. My core tightened around his fingers as I said, “I’m cumming,” faster than I had intended to. My knees began to shake as the knot in my stomach released and I came hard.

Hyunggu stood up and caught me to balance me against him. I could feel his hard length through his jeans, and I palmed him over them.

“I don’t care about Hongseok,” he said, and I was annoyed that he was bringing him up again right now. I started to whine, but he stopped me. “Let me say this. I don’t care that you used to fuck him. I don’t care that he’s in love with you. I just need to know that I’m your future. I love watching you cum under my touch, but I want to know more that I get to make you feel loved. I don’t want to lose you, but especially not to one of our best friends.

I shook my head. “We’ll figure out our friendship with Hongseok later. Let me prove to you that you’re the only person I want to love, Hyunggu.”

With that, he kissed me again and pushed me towards his bed.

Chapter Text

The dress was brave. Much more so than I ever felt, in uniform or otherwise. The chiffon skirt draped down over my toes like a mystic black waterfall, and only attached to a front piece at my waist. My back was completely exposed, something I had been insistent on, but was now scared of. The silky black fabric continued on my sleeves that cuffed at the wrists, giving a sort of 'I Dream of Jeannie' look. And then of course, the gaudy yet magnificent shoulder epaulets decorated with silver studs to match the boys' extravagant military attire for the night.
This was seriously the last time I ever listened to Cat or Moon Jae. 
"This dress is probably a gagillion dollars. I don't know why I'm even wearing it." I hissed through my teeth as Cat slipped one of my feet into a glossy yet sensible wedge heel. 
"Uh, it's a gagillion won. Get it right." She snarked up at me, ignoring any and all discomfort I was feeling. It wasn't exactly her style to be reassuring. 
"Why can't I--" I began to complain for the hundredth time as to why she elected herself for covert duty and I was stuck with prance patrol, but she cut me off with an icy glare. 
"Because you got yourself shot...like an idiot." She snapped. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from firing back, not wanting to retaliate while on coms with the rest of the security team. They were beginning to be used to our bickering, but I didn't think even they would condone a full blown sass bash during duty. Cat slipped the other heel on my foot and then stood back to survey her work. It wasn't really like she'd done anything but the shoes, everything else was Moon Jae's artistry, but that wasn't going to stop Cat from taking all the credit. "You look alright." She nodded to herself. She had a talent for mood swings; one moment she would be stabbing you, the next she'd be telling you that red really was your color. Sometimes it felt like playing Russian Roulette, never knowing which pull of the trigger was going to make her snap. Her outfit for the night was a slick and tight fitting tactical suit. I pointed out to her that she was not, in fact, the Black Widow, and that there was no need for such a get up, but she ignored me. Like always. But between the two of us, we both knew which I would rather be wearing. 
The door to the dressing room swung open without a knock and Moon Jae came swirling in like a sparkly tornado. I swear she'd never frowned a day in her life. 
"Ohmo! Dangsin-eun neomu yeppeuda!!" She exclaimed and skipped around us, swishing fabric here, tucking a hair there, making sure the makeup that I hated wearing was blended properly. Even though she was only a Stylist intern, I had a feeling she was stuck at the bottom of the totem pole because no one knew how to manage her insane energy. 
"I'm gonna go ahead and guess she thinks you look okay, too." Cat dodged as much hairspray as she could, making her way to the door to get out of Moon Jae's path. 
"She said I look pretty." I translated for her. Even though I was nowhere near fluent in Korean, I was picking up more and more every day. Cat, on the other hand, was perfectly content to remain on the other end of an interpreter. "At least someone does." I added with a mumble. 
"Oh yes, let's go ahead and pretend that none of those testosterone sacks is going to want to jump you the instant they see you." She snorted, leaning against the door, arms crossed.
Trigger, slide, bang. 
"Can you please not refer to them as hormone sacks? They are good guys, you said so yourself." I lectured, half ignoring Moon Jae's instructions, and half listening to the scrambled voices that suddenly sparked in my ear. 
"Sounds like its starting." Cat smoothly avoided my reprimand and pushed off the wall, holding one finger to her ear. "Are you 'bout done?" 
"Kkeutmachin?" I asked Moon Jae, who I had lost sight of somewhere around the back of my skirt. She crawled back in front of me and held up her fingers in an 'OK', grinning from ear to ear. I probably botched the pronunciation and she didn't want to be rude by correcting me, but I brushed it off, putting my finger to my own ear in order to hear the voices from my com better. 
"It'd be great if they spoke English." Cat commented as she opened the door for me and we made our way into the hallway. 
"It'd be great if you learned their language first." I returned absently. 
"It's not like any of them would talk to me if I did." 
"That's because you stabbed Hoo Min on your first day!" I exclaimed, to which she turned up her nose, like she would neither confirm nor deny that the poor first year guard had to get five stitches thanks to her. We padded down the corridor, her super comfy Vibrams soundless next to the click and slap of my heels. Near the end, we would part ways; Cat would make her way into the concert hall via the service entrance, and then slowly progress up to the catwalks, watching the show from above. We called this 'covert duty' because it was unofficial, and only one of the two of us ever took up the position. Some 85% of shootings in venues such as concert halls take place in the rafters above the stage. With Cat in the nest, wearing all black in the darkness of the scaffolding, she'd be undetectable, and therefore able to put down any attempts before anyone ever noticed something was off. It was my preferable position, but at the moment, like Cat had so delicately put it...I wasn't really able to scale the rafters like the Black Widow tonight. Not with the two holes in my back still aching like there were ice picks sticking out of my ribs. 
No, my job for the night was 'Prance Patrol': Walking with the boys on the red carpet, or just behind them to avoid the cameras. We usually assigned one of the new guys to walk with them since it wasn't a high stakes position. To my knowledge, no celebrity had ever been shot on the red carpet, but tonight was special. Chief Soo wanted me to make an appearance and put any rumors that I was out of commission to rest. Even though, technically, I was still nowhere near field ready. Two shots to the back had severely limited my range of motion. I couldn't lift anything or roll at all. As a Marine, I told myself to buck the fuck up and keep going, but that was just not how Koreans did things. I was seriously so tired of being told to 'get some rest', and of no one understanding that my Drill Sergeant would have put me through four PT tests by now. And then I would have to explain what a PT test was, and at that point I would give up. But there would be no giving up tonight. Even though my back hurt like hell and I didn't know how exactly I was supposed to run in these wedges should I need to, I was going to strut my stuff for all of Korea. 
When Cat and I finally reached the end of the hall, she turned to me one more time and gave me a last once over. 
"Still okay?" I asked, fingering the fabric of my skirt. 
"Acceptable." She shrugged, but from her, 'acceptable' meant stunning. Surrendering to her mysterious ways, I turned towards the double doors that led to the street with a smirk, while she turned the opposite direction towards the back alley. "Oh, and Hasa?" She shouted when I was at the end. 
"Hmm?"
"Don't let any of those hormone buckets touch you." She ordered snobbishly. 
"They've graduated to buckets now, have they?" I laughed and waved her off. I mean, if she could ignore my advice, I could ignore hers.

Kyung Hee University's Hall of Peace is the massive red and wood paneled masterpiece that has had the honor of hosting the Golden Disk Awards twice now. The building itself looked like it was styled after the Notre Dame de Paris, with its white marble and stain glass windows. To me it looked like an LDS temple, but I kept that to myself. A mile long red carpet had been rolled up to the double door entrance, lined with the entirety of Korea's paparazzi population. The photo backdrop was a mixture of sponsor logos, like: The Star-Asia, Lotte, JTBC2, Sheraton Hotels, and Union Pay. There was already a line of vans and limos stretching down the lane, waiting to drop off their idols. The faculty offices across the street had been turned into auxiliary space, to be used by people like me and Moon Jae, who came to stand behind me. I stared at the crosswalk between the two buildings for a minute, like it was a rickety bridge I didn't want to cross. 
"Ginjang doeni?" Moon Jae asked happily. Was I nervous? Absolutely. But I smiled at her reassuringly and then forced my feet down the steps. 


Byun Baekhyun followed after Xiumin obediently as EXO marched up the red carpet as a group. They paused in front of the sponsor wall and smiled for the million bright flashes that caused him temporary blindness. Nothing he hadn't done a hundred times before. In all honesty, he hated award ceremonies. He liked to perform sure, but standing around for hours at a time, or sitting and smiling for the camera had never been his strong suits. But where SM said to go, he went. A little further down the walk was a chevron shaped platform and a standing camera for interviews. Junmyeon steered them towards it and gracefully accepted the microphone offered to him by the MC. It was his job as leader and hyung to be the speaker, and for the first time, Baekhyun was thankful. 
They lined up as practiced and bowed in unison. After that he sort of drowned out the interviewer and Junmyeon's responses. If this had been any other night, he would have dove for the mic, talking everyone's ears off. He didn't have enough time or breath to thank all of his fans for everything they'd done for them...but tonight, he just couldn't bring himself to be happy. Honestly, what was there to be happy about? They had just gotten to the album questions when he heard the shouting. It was one of those things that he could pick out of any crowd of noises: the syllables of her foreign name that rolled around on his tongue. 
"It's Harper Hasagawa!"
"Look here!" 
"She's out of the hospital!"
Baekhyun spun around instantly, searching for her usual messy bun and too big flak jacket. But to his astonishment, a bombshell came sauntering up the red carpet steps, wearing Harper's face. Her dress was high collared and misty black, making her look eerily beautiful. Her hair was pulled up tight into dozens of braids that swirled into a bun at the nape of her neck, and she carried a clutch studded with a thousand sparkling diamonds that twinkled under her black fingernails. She was as regal as she was terrifying, and she matched their own style concept to a T. He knew he was seeing Moon Jae's work, but somehow he just couldn't believe it. That wasn't the Harper that they knew, the Harper who beat him in a burping contest or punched Chief Soo in the gut. The goddess walking towards them was some sort of miracle, one he was absolutely not prepared for. 
The MC stopped his line of questions midway through to turn the camera towards her approach. Up until now, she had seemed confident in her walk, although he sensed a familiar fearful tension in the way she was clutching her purse. But with the camera on her, she faltered. 
"Mrs. Hasagawa!" The reporters shouted. They looked like a sea of gaping fish, writhing behind the photographer line in waves. They were ravenous for her, and Baekhyun's stomach twisted at the sight. Nervously, she bit her black stained lip, making eye contact with each EXO member before finally falling on him. Her green eyes lingered on him for a moment longer, before she slowly started to turn in the recognizable model circle.
And then he saw them. 
The dress had no back, and when she turned, everyone could clearly see the two discolored dents in her flesh. They looked smaller than the ones he saw in his nightmares, but somehow, these seemed worse. It was like they were on display, outrageously obvious and undisguised. One just below her right shoulder blade, and the other at her left waist line. How could she wear a dress like this? How could she show them off for everyone to see? For a daunting moment, he thought he might be sick. Her blood had sprayed all over his face, and now she was revealing the aftermath to anyone who wanted to look. 
And everyone wanted to look. 
His knees suddenly buckled and he wasn't able to stop himself from crumpling onto the step. Immediately, Junmyeon and the rest of his brothers started to him, alarmed. But she came too, and all he could do was ball his hands into fists and brace them against his knees. They circled him, cutting him off from the squirming cameras and the loudmouthed MC, who was shouting for a paramedic. 
This was no good. Looking this weak was only going to start rumors for the company. EXO-L's were going to bleed from the woodwork, accusing SM of abusing another member into exhaustion, when in reality, they had been getting better. Better because she had stood up for them when no one else would. 
Harper slowly, painstakingly, bent down to his level, hugging her knees and looking up at him through her eyelashes. She seemed to know that he was more furious than anything else. She seemed to know it more than he did. Why was he so mad, anyway? She had always done whatever she wanted, how was this any different? His knuckles were going white and his arms were shaking, but his eyes could only burn into hers. She met his intensity with calm, and like she dumped a giant bucket of water on his fire, he eased. 
"You need to let it go." She said quietly in English. "This anger and guilt. Throw it away, because it doesn't belong to you." She reached out and took his fist, weaseling her fingers in between his. "Understand this, Byun Baekhyun: I would do it all over again, I would do it a hundred times. Although at that point, I would probably look like Swiss cheese." There was a snort from above their heads, and Baekhyun glanced up at Kai, who was quickly trying to hide his smirk. "I would rather have these than you have them, do you know why?" She asked him, but didn't wait for his answer. "Because bullet wounds are damn sexy." 
That garnered a few more chuckles and some shuffling feet from the others. He knew they should wrap this up quickly, they were on the red carpet for heaven's sake...but he just kept staring at her. 
"What is it?" She asked, cocking her head to the side. "What's so wrong with people seeing them?" He wanted to scream at her, demand to know how she was so proud of them. They were wounds! They were scars! They were his nightmares! Her, vaulting towards him as the shots propelled her into his arms. Her blood covering the front of his shirt, Baek screaming her name at the top of his lungs. Those memories were not things to be proud of! "They're a part of me now, that's just how it is, and I'm okay with that. You need to be okay with that too. These...they're not your fault." She tapped out the words on his knee to emphasize her point. "It's my job to protect you, and that's exactly what I did. How can you be so furious that I did my job well?" 
He hated her logic, hated the fact that it was true and understandable. Harper was a body guard, and by definition, wasn't a body guard someone who guards with their body? She had thrown herself in front of fire for him, and if she didn't regret it...than how could he? 

Shakily, he hissed out a sigh in defeat. Taking the surrender, Harper reached for a hand to help her up, and Baekhyun felt the familiar arms of his brothers lift him to his feet. The onlookers began to clap, like he was a sports player down on the field, and a paramedic arrived outside the circle of members, but was waved away. He didn't have the type of tools necessary to repair a shattered ego. 
"Moon Jae." Harper called, and the hyper stylist came bounding up, hip purse swinging. 
"Come with me, Bacon!" She beamed and grabbed his arm, not waiting for him to consent. The girl dragged him out of the protection of his friends, and he was immediately blinded by the flashes again. 
"Baekhyun will be alright," He heard Junmyeon tell the MC, "we've just been so busy with tour that he forgot to eat a healthy breakfast. He'll be ready to perform after some food." The reporters seemed to accept the excuse before he lost sight of them completely. 


Kyungsoo watched silently as Baekhyun was dragged into the hall, and Harper squeezed his hand extra tight. He'd gone for her arm before she even asked for help, not caring who saw. But now, as the excitement died down and EXO continued to walk the carpet, he knew he had to let go of her. As blandly as he could, he released her hand. But, unable to stop touching her completely, he replaced it on the small of her back, as if to escort her forward. It seemed like a platonic enough thing to do, a small gesture between coworkers. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye but didn't comment as they finally made it inside. 
The first person to approach them was Chief Soo, who went straight for Harper with vengeance. 
"What the hell, Hasagawa? What did you do to him?" The manager barked in Korean. DO was about to intervene, but she quickly apologized, even though everyone knew she'd done nothing wrong. Without any further explanation, Chief Soo whisked Harper away to the security office, most likely to continue yelling at her. As he watched her leave, DO rubbed his hands together nervously, only to find them oddly sticky. Glancing down, he noticed a brownish cream covering his palms. He flagged down a nearby stylist and asked for a hand wipe. When she saw him cleaning off his hands, she immediately went digging in her bag.
"Here," she handed him a small disposable pouch of liquid foundation. "If you got it on your hands that means you'll need to apply more. Try not to touch it until it dries." He thanked her hesitantly and stared down at the sample. He knew for sure that he hadn't touched his face, and he never wore that much anyway. The only other person he touched had been Harper.
Harper's back. 
Kyungsoo internally groaned as he tossed the sample. He'd have to deal with it later though. Right then, he had more pressing matters than her pride. 

The performance they gave that night turned out to be one of their best...somehow. Between Trot Record of the Year and the Artist Popularity Awards, EXO had performed 'For Life', and their era signature, 'Monster', both of which were heavily dependent on Baekhyun's voice. The other members had been hesitant to let him go through with it (this was the entire reason they had understudy parts after all), but he declined. He said he would do it, and he did. It was like whatever fire Harper had managed to put out on the carpet, had reignited on stage. His singing was stronger, his dancing was bolder. Everything about him exuded a gallant desperation that only those on stage with him could see. 
When the last note of 'For Life' strummed, DO couldn't tear his eyes away from Baek's face, or the tears sliding invisibly down his cheeks. But it was also something he couldn't let anyone else see; So he hooked his arm around Baek's head and pretended to joke with him as they ran off stage, setting up for the next act. Baek didn't protest and allowed himself to be escorted to the dressing rooms, surrounded by the other members. 
That night, EXO won three awards: the Ceci Asia Icon Award, Disk Bonsang, and Disk Daesang. And each time they went on stage, a different member would hang back with Baekhyun...just to be sure. Sehun, Xiumin, and Kai somehow managed to carry him through the night, forcing him to give aegyo and hearts to the fans, while also shielding him from any unnecessary attention. DO had to admit that this was probably why they were so successful as a group. It wasn't SM, or their musical ability--it was because they were a group of genuinely decent guys who had become brothers. They would do anything for each other, and it was a sign of trust that Baek let them lead him through a hard time. 
And unfortunately, it helped that Harper didn't return. 


“I’ve repositioned. You’re off the clock.” Cat’s voice crackled in my ear. The connection was weakening the farther I traveled from the university, and in the back of a company sedan, I let myself deflate. My back was hurting, my feet were aching, and my heart was sore.

Poor puppy.

With a wince, I closed my eyes and let out a hiss that was supposed to be a sigh. I’m sure the driver shot me a nervous glance in the mirror, but I didn’t see.

“Where to, miss?” He had asked me when I slid into the backseat. It was unusual for someone to leave before the show started, but I had no business working a carpet I could barely walk on.

“To the dorms please.” I’d mumbled, but before we were able to drive off, Chief Soo rapped his knuckles against the driver side window.

“Sir?” The driver responded.

“Take her to the hospital.” Soo said insipidly. I could see him glaring at me from where I sat in the backseat, but I purposefully turned my head so he couldn’t see my grimace. “See to it that she accepts her treatment.” In hind sight, it was probably the better course of action…but that wasn’t going to stop me from being salty about his constant need to boss people around.

After fighting with award show traffic for an hour, we finally managed to make our way into the city, and to the local hospital that I’d called home for the past who knows how long. The driver parked in the garage, and then came around to help me out. He was even kind enough to lead me up to the VIP floor, not even commenting on how heavily I leaned on his arm. But that was where I drew the line. I waved him off at the elevators, despite his protest.

Yes, yes, I’d listen to the damn doctors, I assured him. But Chief Soo could kiss my ass if he thought he would assign me a babysitter. He’d just pursed his lips at me when I pulled rank, but I didn’t care. I was in too much pain to bother with what he thought of the bossy American. And I was far too grateful when he left as ordered. It was my only consolation that no one was there to see me as I limped towards my room.

I lost my clutch as I trudged past the nurses’ station, but didn’t stop to try and find it on the floor. It must have clattered awfully loud in the quiet hallway, because the girl behind the desk stood as I passed…knowing better than to help me. Somehow, through long complicated hand gestures and broken Korean-English conversations, the staff had gotten the gist of me. They knew better than to try and assist at this point, I only ever snapped when they did. But she stilled bowed her head at me as I hobbled, like my defiance had somehow won points with her.

My room was at the end of the hall, one that had never felt so long before. With a row of identical fake wood doors filled with sick people on my right, and top to bottom panes of glass on my left, I felt like some sort of ant on display as I scurried into my hole. Only my hole was a million miles away, no matter how many steps I managed to take.

Finally, my knees gave. My tendons protested, my nerves shriveled, my muscles dissented, and in the culmination of their chorus, I went down. I hardly cared though. The world was already a blurry mess, what did it matter that I passed out in the hallway or in my bed? At least out here, I could see the lights of the city from the floor.

But before I could sprawl myself on the expensive tile, a strong hand hooked under my arms and pulled me into an awkward hold. My head lulled to the side, distracted but still somehow annoyed that I’d been caught.

“Let goooo…” I slurred, trying my best to swing my head in the direction of my bothersome rescuer. It was just a large black splotch in the midst of the dim hallway.

Cállate.” A female voice from the other side of me snapped, and I let my head fall towards her instead. “Come on.” She ordered, and whoever was carrying me started forward at a dizzying pace. I mean, they were probably just walking, but to me it felt like they were sprinting and my legs were flapping behind us like racing stripes.

The woman, who was only a splash of pale pink and dark hair, slid my door open and allowed my carrier and I to enter. The room was shadowy, and I was suddenly struck by the absence of the twinkling night lights. I didn’t want to hide in this dark hole by myself. But even my futile attempts to lift my arms and grab my pack mule were met with muscle protests. I was a rag doll, yet they sat me down on the bed like I was made of porcelain. I was rolled to my side, facing away from the door and the only light.

“Thank you. That will be all.” The woman said, and I heard a grunt in response. It bothered me that the pink woman was there for no reason, and she’d sent the oxen away. Who else was going to drag me out of this den? I wanted to go back out and see the lights. It wasn’t healthy to lock sick people up in the dark, didn’t they know?

“If you hadn’t been ordered to appear, I would slap you in your sutures.” The woman in pink rounded the bed, floating around like she was a ghost. She entered the bathroom for a moment, and then came back holding a green splotch, not even bothering to turn on the light.

Her voice was familiar, but it wasn’t Cat, so I didn’t care. “Let’s get you out of that dress before you ruin it.” Her hands were on me then, surprisingly strong for someone who used others to lift bodies for them. She unfastened the clasp at the back of my neck, and at both wrists, then slid the top half of the dress off like it was nothing. My back was on fire from the pain, but my front that had been contently warm and covered all night was suddenly exposed to the cold air.

I shivered, and it hurt.

She unzipped the skirt and maneuvered me until it was pulled out from under my legs. I was naked, but I wasn’t phased. My legs probably still looked nice in the heels, notwithstanding the countless scars I already had. But she pulled those off too, and then I really was stripped. It occurred to me that I should probably say something to this stranger who was taking my clothes off, but I just didn’t have the energy to put up any fight.

After a moment of nipple-hardening cold, something warm was draped over my front, and I managed to look down at the hospital gown she was looping my arms through.

“What? No foreplay?” I rasped, and then chuckled at myself. The woman scoffed, and I caught the whites of her eyes rolling.

Verdaderamente eres asqueroso.” She hissed, and I paused my laughing. It only just occurred to me but…everything she’d said to me was in Spanish. Had I answered in English? Or was it the opposite and I just couldn’t tell anymore? There were too many verbs, nouns, and tenses floating around in my head that I could barely keep them straight when I was sober.

But now, drunk on pain? There was no telling what combination of languages were going to drool out of my mouth. But the information was a welcome one, and it took a jab at my fuzzy brain. If it was Spanish, but it wasn’t Cat, then it was the other one…the doctor.

“Afton?” I whispered, and the pink smear stilled.

“At least you won’t be asking for any lap dances.” I heard her mutter to herself and then move to sit behind me. A moment later, something cold and soft smoothed over my back, and I let out an appreciative moan.

“What are you doing here?” I croaked.

“I’m cleaning up your mess. What else?” She responded like it was obvious, and I didn’t have the strength to answer. Cleaning up messes was what Afton did best. Whether it was for me, or any paying country, there was nothing she couldn’t fix. So I finally followed her earlier demand and shut up, letting her run the towel up and down my burning muscles.


Honestly, Kyungsoo thought there would be more resistance when he said he was heading out early. EXO had won all they were going to win, and what was the point of a red carpet exit anyway? So no one really bothered when he climbed into a company car and told them to head to the hospital. And then, still no one stopped him as he rode the elevator to the VIP floor and passed the nurses’ station. The woman behind the desk had seen him many times, and her eyes roamed over him disinterestedly.

The only thing that faltered his approach was the studded clutch laying in the middle of the floor, abandoned. He grabbed it off the tile and turned it over in his hands. It was definitely Harper’s, and he would be lying if he said he was surprised she’d discarded it so easily. Her whole outfit tonight was so out of her world that Kyungsoo had done a double take. From her black lips, to her black nails, she looked like some sort of tremendously sexy nun, and for a split second, he was all for it. Take him to church, let him confess, he’d pray to her and only her until the world ended.

And then he realized that it was Harper, and he was astonished at his blasphemy.

But after his moment of sacrilege passed, he realized that her dress, her hair, and her shoes, had not been for him. She sauntered onto that red carpet for two very specific reasons: One, probably because Chief Soo told her she had to; and two, to bring Baek back to life. Even the fans had noticed his change. He was scared, probably not even for his own life, but for hers. He hovered around Harper’s hospital room like an apparition wanting to interact, but not knowing how to do it without scaring someone. He didn’t know what to say or what to do to show his gratitude for her saving his life, and in the end…it had chipped away at his heart.

DO loosened his tie and shed his jacket. She was probably in a foul mood, and it wasn’t like he was there to commend her. Resolutely, he was there to yell at her, like always. She was just such a hot mess, what else was he supposed to do?

So, with her clutch under his arm, he slid open the door to her room silently, but it was a different scene than he expected to find. Catalina’s sister sat at Harper’s bedside, wiping Harper’s back with a damp towel. She slowly turned on her stool to see him out of the corner of her eye, although he didn’t know how she could make him out in the light of the doorway. It was pitch black in the room, and he felt weird seeing his outline pass over the bed next to his bodyguard.

Afton’s hand paused as she regarded him questioningly, and it only took moments for him to understand her expression and respond. Without a word, he tossed his tie, jacket, and Harper’s clutch onto the couch by the door, and made his way to the bed. Afton stood and passed him the rag without a hint of interest. Kyungsoo figured she should have at least raised an eyebrow at his willingness, but she ignored him.

The exchange only took a moment, and after he’d seated himself on the stool, he looked back to see her leaving. He wasn’t sure if he should call out to her or not, but then Harper stirred on the bed, and his attention was focused on her, and not the click of the door as the doctor left.

He sat with the rag hanging in his hands for a moment, feeling the darkness creep around him comfortably. But he had something to confirm, and it couldn’t be done in the dark. So, he illuminated the flashlight on his phone but quickly dimmed it when it nearly blinded him. And just as he suspected, the towel and the water in the big green bowl on the table were tinted beige. Now was the time to yell at her, right? He’d established his theory: Harper had covered her back in BB cream, but as to the reason…

Gently, Kyungsoo wiped the towel across her back, ignoring the curve of her spine and the dip of her waist, trying not to pay any attention to how her skin responded with a trail of goose bumps, or how she took in a sharp shaky breath at his touch. Those were not things he needed to focus on. Instead, he centered all of his attention on the deep purple, green, and yellow bruises that were exposed with each wipe. He didn’t bother to hide his grimace as he streaked away the makeup to discover more of her pain, more of her damage. And then there were the other things: other scars, other burns. Her whole body was a testament to her service, and he couldn’t decide what was worse: how injured she’d been, or how proud he suddenly found himself.

What right did he have to be proud of her for things she did before she met him? How was it any of his business what her body looked like under her stupid flannels and skinny jeans? She was Harper, she was an American. She was lazy and informal. She was his opposite in pretty much every way…

So why did this bother him? Why did he have the overwhelming urge to shake her awake and hug her tight? He wanted to promise her that she’d never get hurt again, but then the thought of not being able to keep that promise paralyzed him. His thoughts and feelings were running wild, but all the while, his hand softly slid up and down her back, never stopping to confer with his thoughts. His heart at least knew that she needed this. Her wounds needed to be cleaned, and despite literally everything his head was screaming at him right then…he owed her that much.

He let out a single huff of a laugh at the thought. What did their scorecard even look like now? Who was up, who was down? Why were they keeping score at all?

Lo siento…” He felt the words vibrate into his hand, and he froze. Had she heard him? Did she know that he was the one who was touching her now? That he could see every curve of her and he secretly wished he could see more?  

No…her words were in Spanish. She still thought that Afton was the one taking care of her. But then—

Lo siento…Gomen'nasai…Mianhaeyo…”

Kyungsoo dropped the towel in the bowl with a splash and gulped.

“I’m sorry.”

He watched helplessly as his hand reached out and grazed over her hair. His fingers smoothed over her head in a reassuring stroke. He shouldn’t be doing this, he panicked. This kind of thing was reserved for family or lovers. And he was neither! But still he caressed her, muttering to himself that he should leave, but also that she had nothing to be sorry for.

Not bothering to stop it, but also acknowledging he wasn’t in charge of it, his other hand drifted to her marbled back, tracing over every blemish and scar that made her. She was a patchwork of stories that he’d never heard, and he found himself truly wanting to know everything there was to know about her.

“You know,” Afton’s voice made him jump straight out of his skin, “she won’t remember anything that’s said or done tonight. She went to that show like a fool, but of course she had to one up herself by not taking her medication beforehand.” Her English was lilted by her maiden tongue, but DO had no trouble understanding what she meant: an opportunity was an opportunity.

Was it safe for him to pretend? Safe to let his mind drift to that forbidden inkling he’d locked away? He couldn’t destroy it no matter how hard he tried, so he’d banished it to the farthest reaches of his mind, burying it beneath the necessity to work out, or eat, or dance, or sing. There was always something more important than letting himself think about it. Was it really safe to let it out now? Where no one would hear, or remember?

With a swallow, he glanced at Afton out of the corner of his eye and watched as she hooked Harper up to an IV and set the drip. In the shallow light of his phone, he could see a small smirk on her face, like she knew what was going on in his head. She seemed a lot like Cat in that regard. Apparently both sisters had a knack for seeing the things people were trying to hide. It was kind of infuriating, but refreshing somehow.

When she was satisfied that Harper was settled, she walked back to the door to leave, the click of her heels on the tile like the tick of the clock he felt pounding in his brain. He either left with her, or he didn’t leave. That was the ultimatum he felt himself drifting towards. He heard the door slide open and she said,

“I don’t know if you know or not…but there are things you could give her now that she would never be able to receive again.” And then she was gone.

The silence hummed in his ears like the crash of the ocean. He did know. In fact, he was the only one who knew.

Slowly, DO rose from the stool and carried it around the bed to sit in front of Harper. Then he went and threw open the blinds that had been pulled tight over the window. The lights from the buildings around the hospital twinkled under the dark sky, making him wish for a moment that they were stars. Even on clear nights, he hardly ever saw them anymore. How was he supposed to ask them for guidance when they were constantly drowned out by the fake stars of the city?

He tore his eyes away from the beams when he heard a sharp intake of breath from the bed behind him. He turned around reluctantly, fighting the feeling of suddenly wanting to throw himself out the window. Harper’s eyes were open and wide, illuminated by the glow of the city. And she was staring at him.

Brightened by the world outside her hospital room, she looked hollowed out and pale, but he could never describe her gaze as anything but ethereal. Her stare was just so deep and enticing that he could barely breathe as she gaped at him.

“Kosei?” The prayer tumbled from her lips, and despite herself, her eye lids drooped. Her eyebrows furrowed, like she was mad that her muscles were betraying her at such a crucial moment.

She won’t remember anything that’s said or done tonight, and there are things you could give her now that she would never be able to receive again…

Afton had said. The real question now: was he going to spend this night on himself, or was he going to spend it on her? Could he play this role? Should he…

False hope was one of the cruelest gifts anyone could give, but if she wasn’t going to remember it anyway…what was the harm in making her happy for one night? Whether or not it was a lie, he was still the one doing it, right?

She whispered the name again and moved like she would try and sit up. DO immediately rushed forward and gently pushed her back into the bed, falling into that person without another thought. 

“Don’t try and get up. You overdid it tonight.” It occurred to him that their tones might not be the same. His voice was usually much lower than everyone else’s, he might have ruined the illusion before it even began. And then the fact that he was speaking English. Had she taught him? Was she able to speak Japanese because they’d taught each other their languages? It seemed like such a lesson in life, to be able to hear the person you love say they love you in your tongue.

Even for him, hearing ‘salanghae’ was always more impressionable that hearing someone say ‘I love you’. Because he was Korean, and what bigger commitment could someone pay him than learn how to speak his language?

“I’m sorry.” Harper obediently laid back down, catching his hand in her own and tucking it close to her chest. He could feel her heartbeat, a slow melodic rhythm under the hammering of his own. “I didn’t mean to make you worry again.”

“I wouldn’t worry if you didn’t do such reckless things.” He scoffed and then reeled at his senselessness.

“Maybe…” She lulled while Kyungsoo nearly beat himself to death with his free hand, “but you’d be so boring otherwise.” A smile danced on her lips that made him still.

“Rude.” He snickered at her, earning a bigger grin.

This was dangerous. He felt it in his bones. He shouldn’t be doing this. But he just couldn’t stop. He wanted to be this person, the one she called out to in the darkness, the one who made her laugh even when she was hurting. Every inhibition he had crumpled in the light of the city stars behind him.

He would be Kosei.

He would be whoever she wanted.

Just for tonight. Just for this one night, because…

He would go back to being Kyungsoo when morning came, and she would never smile at him like this again.


 

 

Chapter Text

Siren - [sahy-ruh n] (noun)

1. Classical Mythology. one of several sea nymphs, part woman and part bird, who lure mariners to destruction by their seductive singing.

2. a seductively beautiful or charming woman, especially one who beguiles men.

 


 I blew a strand of hair from my face, bored and irritated. My regular bar usually excited me. It’s normally a fun hunting ground for handsome men and beautiful women. They liked to play games and flirt and get drunk, which made it easy to lure them home.

Spring Break was ruining my fun this week. Everybody had gone on trips, leaving the town barren. You would think that more people would have flocked here, considering it was a beach side town. Places like Malibu beat out tiny beach towns every year, though. The pickings were slim and, though I was a siren and any soul would suffice to curb my hunger, I at least tried to make sure that I was going to enjoy myself before I ate.

“Maybe we should find somewhere else tonight.” Aja snuck up behind me. Her long, black hair flowed down her back and her green eyes glimmered as she skimmed the room again. “I’m losing my appetite just by being here. When is spring break over?”

I shrugged. “It’s better than singing on a rock somewhere, waiting for a boat to come by. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of old fishermen.”

“I haven’t seen a man in weeks.” Aja grumbled.

“At least this way we get to eat more often. Besides,” I gestured to the bartender for another drink, “it’s karaoke night. May as well hang out a tiny bit longer and see some of the drunk assholes who didn’t go on vacation make idiots of themselves.”

“But I’m hungry!” Aja whined.

“I thought you’d lost your appetite.” I chuckled. She was right though; if worse came to worst, we could always come back if the other bars in town proved to be bigger busts than this one. I scouted the room one last time, and stopped Aja by grabbing her arm. I nodded toward a group of men that we had somehow missed walk in. They were pushing one of their friends toward the stage. He had that goofy face like, ‘I’m going to tell you guys to stop, but I’m also totally going to do this’.

His face was also something I found really enjoyable. He was handsome. Black hair hung loose over his forehead, and he had dark eyes, complementing a full pout that I immediately wanted to take advantage of. He also colored me impressed when he took the microphone on stage and began to belt John Legend with a smooth voice. Aja and I both instantly made our way a bit closer to his group. It was painfully ironic; two sirens being seduced by the voice of a human.  

Another man in the group, with white blonde hair and a sharper gaze, noticed our enthrallment with his friend. He walked up to Aja, stuck out he hand, and introduced himself as ‘Taehyung’. I could tell she was impressed with him by the sly look she shot me. The corner of her lips pulled up and she bat her eyelashes at him, a little bit of magic in each lash. He invited us to join his friends at their table right as his musical friend was stumbling off of the stage. The group cheered sarcastically, and the singer took a dramatic bow.

When he surfaced, he seemed momentarily taken aback by Aja and I’s presence, but took the seat next to me without hesitation. It was the sort of pause that my partner and I were used to, so I made no mention of it as he introduced himself as Seokjin.

“But you can call me Jin.” He cheesed as he shook our hands. We sat and chatted for a bit before he nodded toward the stage, watching how my eyes drifted to the lights.

“What about you? Are you a singer?”

‘Oh honey, if you only knew’ I thought with a grin.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea if you hear me sing.” I winked at Aja, who threw a knowing smile in my direction.

“Why? Are you that bad?” Jin teased.

“Nah,” I leaned forward and whispered, “you’ll just fall in love and that’s a bad idea.”

“That’s big talk for such a little lady.” He smirked and then swept his hands up to the stage. “Better back it up.” He challenged. His mistake.

I had the DJ cue up “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse. The sultry music started, and I let my voice flow out as natural as breathing. I felt more than saw the room fall still, with the exception of Aja of course. I saw her lean over, singing along softly enough that only Taehyung could hear her. She was perched over his back, like the devil on his shoulder. She couldn’t risk losing her prey as well. His eyes were locked on her lips as she sang, his tongue lightly running over his every now and then, unable to hide his desire.

I swayed my body every so slightly as I maintained eye contact with Jin. Not once did he pull his eyes away from me, which was the exact reaction that I wanted. The culmination of the minor key, the lights, the alcohol, the sensualness of how badly he wanted me...it was the perfect trap.

After the song, Jin met me at the stage edge to help me down, as if I actually needed him to get down two steps. Instead of returning to the table though, he pulled me into our own private booth at the back of the bar. He leaned forward and said,

“You weren’t kidding.” With that, he slammed his mouth against mine with fervor.

One of my favorite parts of being a siren is the taste of new people. Everyone has their own… I guess that you could call it a ‘flavor’. It was always a sample of what to expect from them. Once I got past the initial flavor of a smokey whiskey that rested on his lips, he tasted like spring rain. He reminded me of the days before industrial revolutions, when everything was crisp and clean. He seemed so pure. Not completely; nobody was ever completely pure - but it was going to be fun completely ruining him.

This moment was crucial for me: when they let themselves slip into the desire. It was dizzying and blinding, but a strong willed person could withstand my seduction. Not that it mattered, I could still steal their soul while making them climax, but I have to be in total control for the soul to completely separate. There have been times that I’ve left parts of souls behind; Aja for instance. But I liked her, so I made her one of us. She makes a fantastic siren.

With just the first taste, I could tell Jin was going to be complicated. He pulled my bottom lip between his teeth, proving to me that he prefered to be the dominant one. I could not let that happen, so I needed to take control right away. Lacing my fingers in his hair, I tugged his head to the side, exposing his neck. I grazed my lips across the sensitive skin there, feeling his racing pulse on the tip of my tongue.

“Let’s go.” I whispered into his flesh, and I did not give him an option; nor did he object.

Aja and I occupied a place close by. Once I had turned the key in my front door, my fingers interlaced with Jin’s, dragging him to my bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed, and I straddled him. His length was already growing hard underneath me, and I pressed myself down ever so slightly. Jin’s perfect pout parted slightly and a heavenly moan escaped him. I reached down to pull his shirt over his head and he followed suit with mine.

“You’re so beautiful.” He breathed, sprinkling kisses across my chest and neck.

“You’re probably just drunk.” I teased as I laid him down fully to give myself easier access to undo his pants.

“No. You’re just actually gorgeous.” I smiled at his words. Despite years of seducing men with my voice, to be called things like ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ still felt good. It was nice to know that I hadn’t lost my allure.

Once I’d rid him of his last pieces of clothing, I took a moment to admire his body for the work of art it was. All muscles and taut skin. It felt worthy to give him a little show. I unhooked my dress and let it drop to the floor silently, revealing that I’d planned ahead of time for this exact situation. Naked in high heels, he gazed in awe as I climbed up onto his lap again again.

I slid down onto his length and let my head fall back, moaning; satisfied by how he filled me up. He sat up with a sigh and pulled my body flush with his. Chest to chest, he left another trail of kisses right below my jaw on my neck, and mixed bites in with the light grazes of his breath. His hands groped my breasts as I began to rock my hips back and forth.

Up and down I moved, slow and intentionally meticulous. The souls were always better when the build up was more intense. Jin did not want me to move slow, however. He moved his hands from my chest to my hips and began to guide me back and forth faster and faster. His touch was needy but soft, like he wanted to make sure we both got what we needed.

I felt myself slipping of control, which was very rare for me. I hardly ever actually had an orgasm during these. Normally, I’d be able to seduce and steal just like that. In and out. If not done properly, I could lose part of the soul in the process, and that’s just a waste of a good meal.

This time was different, though. This time, I wanted Jin to take control. I wanted him to thrust my hips forward and back. I wanted him to bite my neck and claw my back. A part of me knew that it was his voice, the one that drew me to him in the bar, and the one that was ghosting against my flesh now. I was weak to his timbre, just as everyone was weak to mine.

He surprised me by suddenly flipping me around on my back, and thrust into me again and again, hands pinning me down my wrists. I felt myself about to cum for the first time in a very long time, the insane feeling of being the fucked and not the fucker somehow making me so hot that I couldn’t contain myself any longer. The knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter before finally snapping completely. White flashed in front of my eyes and I heard my own voice scream his name as he quickly followed suit and came after me.

Jin slowed his thrusts and brought his face to meet mine to kiss me. I could still get some of it. I could still extract some of his being from his kiss, but...

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The first person in centuries to draw an orgasm out of me deserved to live - mainly because I already desperately wanted to fuck him again.

Chapter Text

My heart was thumping in my chest as the police officers babbled on and on in Korean, barely even looking up at me from behind their desks. Gwen was a crumpled rag doll in the chair, her hands cuffed and her eyeliner running down her face in silent tears. She was a shell.
"Please, you have to listen to me. Don't you have an interpreter?" I tried getting their attention again, hoping that at least one of the detectives would listen to me. They couldn't press charges. We were United States Citizens. If they arrested my sister, she would be trapped here while I was deported, and then there would be no way to help her. He shook his head at me dismissively, saying something, again, that I couldn't understand. "Please--" I went to reach for him, but a commotion behind me caused me to turn on the group of men walking into the bullpen. My blood went cold when I recognized at least a few of the members of EXO and the CEO of SM Entertainment, Kim Young-min. Along with them was a team of scary looking lawyers who were probably bent on locking my sister up. They rode in like a phalanx of lions, and Gwen was the sacrificial lamb. 
Instead of speaking directly, one of the lawyers stepped forward and handed me his business card. Next, a perfectly groomed woman came to stand between us and graced us with a small, fake smile. 
"My name is Pae Eun-jeong. I am an official Korean to English interpreter. I will be assisting Lawyer Song in relaying his client's stance on the matter at hand." She delicately gestured to each party involved, and the thought crossed my mind that she might actually be a robot. 
"I'm Y/N, Gwen is my sister." I introduced myself tentatively. Without missing a beat, Miss Pae repeated what I said in Korean, and Lawyer Song dictated a response. 
"Yes. She informed us she called you from her holding cell. You flew from the United States?"
"No, I was in Taipei, but it doesn't matter." I waved away their curiosity in me, "please listen to what I have to say regarding the charges." Behind the duo of law, I caught the CEO staring at me intensely, beady eyes that I didn't particularly like. And behind him, three members of EXO shuffled their feet and glanced around awkwardly. It was probably the first time they'd ever been in a police station. 
"Yes, the charges." Miss Pae nodded and passed me a booklet from Lawyer Song's briefcase. "Shall we discuss them now?" 
"Look," I tried to keep my temper in check, but they seriously just handed me a Korean document that I couldn't read, "I understand that things got a little confusing and heated at the meet-and-greet, but you of all people understand that it was just excitement. She didn't mean to hurt him, if she even did hurt him!" I gestured to Kai, who was lingering between Suho and Xiumin, the picture of health. His eyes met mine for a moment before he quickly looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. 
"All medical actions taken have been thoroughly documented in the subpoena--" Miss Pae pointed one of her delicate fingers at the damn bible in my hands. 
"Sure, but I obviously can't read this." I snapped, but quickly reigned myself back in. She didn't seem to take it personally, and gave me a moment to compose myself. "I apologize." I bent my head in her direction to show I was indeed sorry. "But you must understand where I'm coming from. My sister is a United States citizen. If she is arrested here, it will turn into an international incident, possibly even damage the relations between our countries." 
"We are well aware of her citizenship status, but unfortunately there is nothing we can do. She has broken the laws of the Republic of Korea." 
"So please fine her instead." I took a step forward, directing my plea at Lawyer Song. "We will pay for any damages or medical expenses, just please don't detain her." 
"We are sorry." Miss Pae bowed, although I wasn't sure who she was translating for. No one else seemed to feel bad about what was happening. I was handed her business card and then they turned to leave. 
Panic thundered in my ears as they ushered the boys towards the doors. If they left this building, I wasn't going to be able to save her. I started to go after them, but was cut short by the sob that suddenly ripped out of Gwen. Her silent tears were turning rueful and she was beginning to shake all over. I wasn't sure what she was more distraught over: the fact that she was about to be jailed in a foreign prison, or that she had hurt her idol. And then, it hit me.
"Wait!" I demanded, and the lions paused. Directing my argument straight at CEO Kim, I said, "Use this for publicity." Miss Pae translated, and Lawyer Song tried to step up and intervene, but Kim waved him off. 
"CEO Kim would like to know what you mean by this." Miss Pae asked. I swallowed hard and accidentally caught the eye of Suho, who seemed angry.
"My sister is sick. Anyone can tell that." I started carefully, gesturing back to her now sobbing form. "She didn't mean to hurt Kai. In fact, she adores him. She's even wearing his symbol on her necklace. She would do anything for him, so you have already bought her silence." Amber lion eyes drifted over to Gwen, where the silver pyramid charm hung from her neck. "Why not, instead of garnering more bad press, take this as an opportunity to make headway with the media." 
"How would you suggest we do that?" Miss Pae asked. 
"Drop the charges, send us on our way, and she will say nothing but what you tell her to."
"And what would we have her say?" CEO Kim interjected in English, and everyone took a mental step back. What a power play it was to pretend not to speak someone's language. 
"Whatever would make SM come out on top." 
"Do you realize what kind of free reign you're giving by not offering up a suggestion? Do you understand the type of damage that can be done with such power? And seeing as we hold all the cards, why are you bothering to play?" He started to prowl in front of me, side to side, like he was eyeing me. He really was a lion. 
"In the eyes of the media, you have not done a single thing right since you took over in 2005." I stated, ignoring the sharp look from Miss Pae, who was now translating our conversation for everyone else to hear. "If you prosecute an American EXO-L, who loves those boys so much that she flew half way across the world to see them...you will be crucified for it." I pointed at Kai who made it seem like I'd jabbed him in the chest. "Wouldn't it be in your best interest to use all that free reign and power to play the cards in your hand?" CEO Kim took a moment to consider this, stroking his chin and looking me up and down. I hated the way he was staring at me, like he'd stumbled onto something fascinating, but there was nothing that I could do about it. If he was willing to let Gwen go, he could look all he wanted. 
Then, "Say I agree," He shrugged and my stomach did a back flip, "Would you be willing to sign a contract detailing your silence?" 
"What? Not me, her." I gestured to Gwen. 
"As you previously stated, your sister is not in her right mind, and therefore, not able to sign a legally binding agreement." Miss Pae interjected. 
"No, if I make this deal," CEO Kim took a step in my direction, making me take a step back, "it will be with you." 
Suddenly, there was a scream and a distraught Gwen grabbed a letter opener from the detective's desk and tried to stab herself in the wrist with it. Luckily, that same useless cop from before managed to grab her arm before she could cut herself, but the point was made. I launched myself back over to her where I tried my best to calm her down, but she was rambling and crying and shaking. She seemed so grief stricken, even though she hadn't actually hurt him. He was in the room, he was fine, but I guess it was just the realization that her idol thought she was crazy...so she became so. 
"Do we have a deal?" I heard CEO Kim ask as I tried to catch Gwen's flailing limbs. He was right about one thing at least: he truly did hold all the cards. 
"Yes." I growled. 
"Y/N!" Someone shouted and I whipped my head around to see an American soldier come sprinting into the station. 
"Oliver!" I called. His eyes found me and widened when he saw the state Gwen was in. He pushed his way through the EXO members and lawyers, jumping right in on holding Gwen down. 
"What happened? Are you alright?" He gaped at us. 
"No, but I'm handling it. Hold her." I ordered and detached. Oliver took over wrestling Gwen into submission, and she seemed to see him a little more than she saw me. I stalked back over to CEO Kim, but was intercepted by another US soldier, one I hadn't noticed come in after my friend. 
"I'll take it from here, young lady." The older man said firmly. Glancing at the stripes on his shoulder, I blanched at his rank. He stepped away from me and towards CEO Kim, who still had that smirk of finality on his lips, but I couldn't have another American tossed into this shit storm. 
"No thank you. I have everything covered...General." I jumped ahead and cut him off. The last thing I needed was for my bluff to be called by my own country. He cocked a grey-haired eyebrow at me, clearly thinking I was some idiotic tourist. To show him that I wasn't, I turned to CEO Kim and, putting on my best 'I-hate-you-but-I'm-dealing-with-you' smile, I asked,
"What do you need from me?"
Kim's glance slid from me to the General and back, before he tucked his hands behind him and nodded to Lawyer Song. I didn't think it was possible for him to be any more of a dick, but he really one upped himself when Miss Pae stepped forward and began to translate again. 
"You and your sister will accompany us to our agency where we will draw up a sufficient contract."
"Now hold on right there," The General butted in, "No US citizen is going to sign a contract without a lawyer present." 
"There will be lawyers present." Miss Pae returned evenly, giving him the same look he had given me: she thought he was as dumb as an American stump. 
I glanced back at Olly who seemed to have calmed Gwen down. There was only so much torment a girl could take.
"With all due respect, sir," I did my best to hide my sneer at CEO Kim, "I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Why not?" Miss Pae asked for him. 
"Anywhere near your...employees, is the last place my sister needs to be. Taking her there would only be asking for more trouble, and just when we cleared everything up." I said the words through clenched teeth, hating the fact that I was playing his little game, and that I seemed to be playing it well. Although, that was usually the catch, wasn't it? You always think you're ahead, before you find out that you've actually lost everything. 
"Very well. You will come and your sister will remain here." 
"No! I'm not leaving her in a cell!" I cried.
"Until the contract is made and its conditions met, your sister is a liability to herself and the people of Korea." I dragged my hands over my face with a frustrated sigh. Just when I thought I was ahead...
"We'll take her." My eyes snapped up to the General. "As an American, we have an obligation to protect her. The girl will be transported to Camp Market under the authority of the United States Military until this contract is drawn up. When it's all said and done, we will then transport both girls to the airport where they will promptly leave this country. Are we clear?" As frustrating as he had been before, I was suddenly thankful for his being there. Johnson...his name was Johnson. 
CEO Kim and Miss Pae discussed for a moment before she turned back to me with that fake smile and agreed. To get the ball rolling, General Johnson ordered Oliver to take Gwen outside to whatever transport they'd taken to get here. Olly gently lifted her shoulders, and let her lean on him as much as she had to, before leading her to the door. As they passed, she grabbed my hand and looked at me for the first time tonight. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen from crying so much, but it felt like she was actually seeing me now, meaning she'd managed to break through her fog. 
"Don't worry. We'll be home by this time tomorrow." I smiled at her reassuringly, hoping with her blurry eyes she wouldn't see the fact that I didn't even believe myself. Only after Olly had led her the rest of the way out, did the SM phalanx decide to roll out. 
The EXO members who had been in the back now went first, making the rest of us follow behind them. To my surprise, General Johnson matched my stride like he was going to come with me. I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted him to, but if he was going to keep my sister safe for the time being, his presence couldn't hurt. 
Outside the station, Lawyer Song hailed us a cab and drove with us to the entertainment agency. The whole trip, I stared out the window, wondering how it had ended up like this. It was lucky that I was already in Asia when it happened. In fact, Gwen was supposed to meet up with me in Keelung after she finally met her favorite boy band...but she never made it. Then I got the call and I panicked. It was just so unlike her to do anything like that: she tackled him? Did no one see their height difference? How had she taken a guy twice her size to the ground? There were just so many unanswered questions, but one thing I did know was that her psychosis was real, and whatever break she had suffered was going to be long lasting. 
When we pulled up to the agency, Lawyer Song got out first and went around to open my door for me. 
"Tell me something." General Johnson whispered to me as the army of lawyers led us through the dark marble hallways of the building. It was all open and made of granite and glass, a testament to how much money it raked in from people like my sister. "What did you agree to?"
"At this point, General..." I mumbled as the double doors of the CEO office were swung open and I had to look at his face again, "I'm not really sure myself."

Chapter Text

The squad of Chinese soldiers came out of nowhere. One minute, Cat and I were walking through the lobby, discussing the plans for later that day, and then BAM--full blown confrontation. Zhang Yixing had come sprinting over the black marble from the back of the building, waving us down, shouting at us in Mandarin, even though he clearly knew neither of us spoke it. An instant later, Cat and I were circling Lay, our arms outstretched in a desperate attempt to keep the seven soldiers from shooting us. They were wearing greens, unfitting of urban combat, but right then, I didn't really have footing to critique their camo choice. They were all yelling at us, most likely to stand down...but we didn't speak each other's language. I screamed at them to calm the fuck down in English, and then Japanese, just to see if it would spark any minds. I even tried Korean, broken as it was, but none of them acknowledged my plea. 
The seconds that it took for the situation to develop, only took a minute more for it to escalate. The rest of EXO, having heard the shouting came sprinting down the stairs from the training rooms on the second floor. Baekhyun was right up front and calling my name, but I demanded he stop. I was so desperate for him to remain out of harms way that it came out in Japanese, the language of orders, what I used when I needed authority. He skidded to a stop on the landing and gaped at me, now even more concerned. He knew me, he knew that I would never order him around like my men, and the fact that I had--he saw my fear. 
I felt more than saw Cat switch her footing from defensive to offensive. Even though she thought none of us knew about their relationship...we all did. Lay was her property, and if I didn't do anything, the Chinese army was going to find out the hard way that you don't mess with Catalina's toys. I wracked my brain for an answer, anything, tactical or otherwise. Was there even a way out of this that didn't involve a firefight? We didn't even know what they wanted--
There you go, Harper: Ask them what they want!
My arms sank down to my sides and I pulled myself out of my fighting posture. 
"Hasa..." Cat hissed from the other side of Yixing, but I ignored her. Instead of looking at their hands or their guns or feet, my eyes went to their collars--the patches. Which one was the commanding officer. It wasn't like they came and left him in the car. None of the men in front of me were any higher than the next, according to their ranks, so I went around the circle. Cat nearly had a panic attack as she circled opposite me, desperate not to let anyone take advantage of an opening. "Hasa!" 
Half way around the circle, I spotted a soldier with a higher rank than the others: stars instead of stripes. 
"You," I pointed at him and held out my hand flat, "Give me the warrant." He didn't move at first, only stared at me evenly from under his standard issue cap. "Give me the warrant!" I yelled and slapped my own hand, as if to say 'put something there'. Language barrier or not, some universal gestures were still understood. 
He knew I wanted something that he had, something that involved the Chinese national I was protecting from them. So, slowly, he holstered his handgun, nodding to his men to do the same. In my head, the only thing I could think was that 'holy shit, I somehow disarmed that situation', but I also knew that there would be a second part to this. Just because they put down their guns did not mean they wouldn't take them up again when I didn't hand over what they wanted. 
The officer retrieved a bundle of paper from his pack and slapped it in my hand, eyeing me as he did so. I gripped and pulled, but he didn't let go, and we were stuck for a moment in a heated stare down. Almost every fiber of my being was scolding me for not breaking the contact. He was an officer, I was an enlisted, he outranked me, I should submit. But I was a Marine, and his People's Republic was not going to stop me from protecting what was mine. 
Finally I pulled the papers from his grasp and, not bothering to look them over, handed them off to Yixing. Speaking Japanese and Korean was one thing, but reading any of those characters? Forget about it. He took them hesitantly, eyes darting from one soldier to the next, but Cat turned her back to the line and stepped closer to him. 
"Find a way out of this, Lay." It was possibly the most intimate thing I'd ever seen her do. She was not a hug and kiss kind of girl. She kicked ass. She killed people. She did not beg them to stay. She did not wait for a political solution.
It was a welcome transition, although, at the moment, I could have used her wet works more than her submission. Yixing nodded to her and unfolded the papers. To me it just looked like a giant block of Chinese writing. Did he read it up to down, or right to left? Who fucking knew. All I could tell was that, the more he read, the more concerned he became. 
"Yixing!" Kyung soo yelled from the balcony where, not only EXO was watching, but the entirety of SM entertainment had gathered. Even the Chairman was starting down the steps, and I wanted to ask where the hell he'd been for the last ten minutes. But none of that mattered when Lay held up a hand to halt his approach, and to silence his brothers. 
"I have to go." He whispered to himself, or maybe to Cat.
"What? No! Why?" She rasped and snatched the papers from his hand. She stared at them fruitlessly for a moment before shoving them back at him, demanding to know what they said. 
"Cat..." I made an attempt to calm her down, but she seemed to be coming more unhinged by the second. 
"No! How can they just come and take him! This is his home!" 
"No, actually...it's not." I said. Cat reeled a bit more, and thankfully, the Chinese Captain ordered his men to give her some space. He seemed to understand that he would get what he wanted, and that I would have to deal with any repercussions. 
Yixing handed me the warrant and then tried to close the distance with Cat, who was only retreating more and more. Distraught as she was, I feared we were about to hit the bullet in our game of Russian Roulette. He tried to take her wrist but she yanked free, and her fury laser focused on him. 
"What a spineless bastard! You're not even going to fight it!" 
"Catalina..." He murmured her name as she continued to back away. Her words didn't seem to affect him, although there was the slight chance he didn't know what she was saying. Her Colombian accent liked to emerge when she was angry, sometimes to a point where no matter what she said, it sounded like she was cursing me in Chibchan. 
"No!" Her hiss started to sound suspiciously like a sob, and my stomach sank. 
"Catalina." He mulled again, but she threw up her hands, a defensive and desperate posture. 
"You're going to leave, just like him!" I started forward at the mention of 'him'. There was not a single good thing that could come from her bringing up her father, not here, not now, not ever. She hated him, absolutely loathed the man, and if she was going to lump Lay in with her family, there was no telling what she would be willing to do to get away from him. 
I managed to take two long strides before Yixing held up a hand in my direction, signaling for me to stop. I didn't want to, as he probably didn't know how much danger he was suddenly in (Chinese military aside), but he turned to look at me for a moment, and I saw in his face that it didn't matter. His eyes told me that no matter what, he was going to get through to her or die trying. So I backed off. 
"Catalina, I have to go back. My people are demanding that I return." He explained to her as best he could in English. 
"Why?" She shifted her glare from Lay to the Chinese soldiers behind him, probably assuming that they were 'his people', and that maybe if she got rid of them, everything would go back to how it was. 
"I am not sure, but you know as well as I, that politics between China and Korea are falling apart." He took one step to the side, as if to call her attention back to him. For all his innocent demeanor, I never would have thought that Yixing understood how to manipulate a situation like this: centering her focus, using her name repeatedly, advancing only if she allowed it. Or perhaps he just knew Cat well enough to know that she had a feral side, and that angry animals hunted by line of sight. 
"Yeah, and if you leave now, you may never be able to come back." She growled. She seemed to be going through these stages: desperate, furious, distraught, feral...at least one of those was a typical stage of grief. The rest, well...it wasn't like she had a normal enough childhood to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Lay seemed to falter for a moment, knowing that she was right. If he went with the soldiers now, they would detain him and deport him. They had done it before after all. But after a moment of consideration, he seemed to come up with an idea. I could tell the exact instant it came to him because all the tension seemed to leave his shoulders, like he'd found the solution to fix all the world's problems. 
"So come with me." He asked and took a big step forward, portraying his sincerity as best he could with his hands. It seemed to snap Cat out of her demented stupor, because she blinked and gave him a full up down, like whoever she had been speaking to before had suddenly changed into someone else. 
"I can't, I'm--" She blurted, but he deflected her. 
"Yes, I know. You're banned from China. Come anyway." Even though his back was to me, I imagined that he was probably grinning at her. That, admittedly, sexy smirk that would have worked on me once upon a time. I don't know how he knew, but he seemed to understand that one of the only things Cat had ever wanted was to be considered. Her mother had abandoned her and Afton when her father was arrested, leaving their father to barter them off to the United States government as wards. And anyone whose ever turned on a television knew that wards of the state were little better than pieces of meat, barely worth the check their foster parents got. No...not a day in her life had Catalina's opinion been taken into consideration. That was why she said whatever she wanted, to whom ever. Because she believed that it didn't matter anyway. 
But this...this was a choice. Lay was giving her the option. 
He had to go, there didn't seem to be any way around that. But whether or not she followed him...he was leaving it entirely up to her.

Chapter Text

The skype ring sounded like a bunch of confused birds, but it was a pleasant sign; someone wanted to talk to me. I gently shut the door to the NEONATAL unit before skipping over to my desk and answering the call. It was probably Brooke...it was always Brooke. No one else would skype me at three in the morning.
Alright, Jules, let's be honest.
No one else skypes you.
My office outside the nursery was small and old, a room they didn't bother to update along with the rest of the hospital. The walls were a pale green, and I debated cleaning the windows during my sister's call or after. All the babies in the next room were lined orderly in little rows of hope, and I'd memorized all of their names. It helped that they were in alphabetical order, but sometimes I just wanted to brag about myself. Baby Allison was on the far left, Baby Xander on the far right, and a sprinkling of all the other babies in between.
I'd just finished my round of checking vitals and wouldn't have to do it again for another two hours, so I kicked off my tennis shoes and curled into the creaky pleather armchair at the desk. I propped my phone up against the stapler so I wouldn't have to hold it while Brooke went on and on about whatever she was calling to rant about, and swiped to answer. I reached over for my coffee, figuring she would just start talking even if I wasn't in the shot, but when I twisted back around, it was not my sister framed in my iPhone.
His hair was a dark brown that slanted down across his forehead, leading to even darker almond shaped eyes. I will admit that it took me a moment to register that this was not my blonde hair, green eyed sister who flitted around the world like she was a butterfly in a meadow. But to my personal humiliation, it took a lot of squinting for me to realize just exactly who it was.
"Uhhh...hello?" He said in a lilted English. He wasn't exactly smiling, but his face wasn't the must unapproachable thing in the world. It seemed like he was regretting this decision more and more with each passing moment. Maybe it was because I was gawking? I clamped my mouth shut with a click before swallowing nothing.
"Hi." I managed. My voice cracked; I'd chide myself later.
"Um...so..." His gaze swam all around the frame, like he couldn't stand to look at my awkward mug anymore, then he nervously scratched his face and let out a huff of a laugh. "This skype handle was in our history from when--"
"Oh yeah yeah yeah." I chanted, attempting to play it off cool. Would he buy it if I pretended I didn't know exactly who he was, what his blood type was, and when his birthday is in comparison to mine? "From when my sister went to your concert. Hong Kong, right?" That was a real question at least. I had no idea where Brooke was when she went and saw their concert, just like I wasn't entirely sure where she had ended up since. She liked to couch surf from one country to another, living life to the fullest as she put it.
"Hong Kong, yes." He nodded to himself and I caught him glancing off camera.
"Are you still in Hong Kong?" I asked next. It seemed like an innocent enough question. Music lover, I was. Tour enthusiast, I was not.
"No we are in...백현, 우리 어디야?" He suddenly switched to his native language and gestured to someone off screen. "말레이시아? 오. We are in Malaysia." He answered, switching back to English. Color me impressed.
"That's cool. Are you doing another show?" I asked, relaxing a bit.
"Yes, on the 18th of March." He seemed a bit more at ease as well, but I couldn't be sure.
"The 18th? That's not for like, a week. What are you going to do until then?" I blurted.
"I don't know," He brought his arms up in a shrug and laughed, "Sight see?" His laugh brought that smile to his face that'd I'd seen on tumblr. It was a childish, irresistible sort of grin that I caught myself mirroring.
"Honestly, I don't think I could even name Malaysia's capital. World travel is Brooke's expertise." I admitted without really meaning to.
"Brooke is your sister? The one who came to the concert." He asked while simultaneously adjusting whatever camera he was using so he could sit on a black couch.
"That's her." I nodded and secretly tried to figure out where he was by the tiny corner of a poster above his head.
"She was..." He started and then trailed off, rubbing the back of his head like he didn't know what to say.
"Wild? Ravishing? Bloodthirsty?" I offered, although I wasn't sure I could translate that last one if asked.
"Nice." He said finally and I sighed.
"I guess nice works too." Brooke had always been a lot of things, and 'nice' typically was one, but after 25 years with her, I was more apt to use 'untamed'. I mean, what kind of person house sits for complete strangers half way across the world? Or tries food that she can't pronounce or even identify! And don't even get me started on her choice of friends. No, Brooke wasn't just 'nice', she was much more than that. Brooke was an explosion of chroma, a great cacophony of watercolor, all running together and getting everywhere.
But me...
I was the lines she was supposed to be contained within. If Brooke was an abstract, I was a geometric pencil drawing. Perfectly the same in every way, and drawn in a particularly easy medium to erase. I was nice. Just nice. Nice and easy.
Brooke was radiant.
"Kuala Lumpur."
"What?" He jarred me from my train of thought.
"The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur." He cocked his head at me, like he could see that I'd drifted off.
"Oh...well the more you know." I cleared my throat to try and refocus myself. "What's there to do there?"
"There are many mosques and temples to see, we may follow Junmyeon to one, or go to the towers." He listed, and I hopelessly wished I could use my phone to look up who he was talking about. This was the drawback of stage names. "And then we will probably spend a few days adjusting ourselves to the arena."
"Do you have to do that in every city? I figured all stages would be more or less the same." I took a swig of my coffee finally and blanched when I tasted the cold, bitter grounds. He had started to explain the complexities of how each arena tries to outdo the next, with run way length, seating size, pyrotechnic allowances, etc. but he suddenly cut off at the image of my tongue flopping out of my mouth and my gagging.
"Are you alright?" He let out a hearty laugh at my expense, to which I glared.
"No! This coffee is horrible!" I cried and chucked it in the trash.
"Well where did you get it?" He leaned back into the couch and I could see his loose jeans and baggy pink sweatshirt. It seemed like a casual day. If he was barefoot I would be thoroughly jealous of whatever weather I'm sure he was enjoying on those islands. As opposed to where I was, in freezing butt cold-ville.
"From the cafeteria downstairs." I continued, getting up to grab a snack from my purse, but slumping in defeat when I couldn't find any.
"Cafeteria? Are you at a school?" He leaned forward a bit, like those few inches were going to enable him to see more.
"No, at a hospital." His eyebrows shot up for a moment, then I noticed him glance down at my scrubs and probably assume they were hospital robes.
"Are you actually alright?" He asked more seriously, but it gave me an excuse to laugh at him this time.
"Yes! I'm a nurse. I work in the NEONATAL unit on the night shift."
"Oh, okay. Okay, good."
"Do you want to meet the babies?"
"Babies?"
"Yeah, come on!" I grabbed the phone from the stapler holder and slipped into my shoes. I dimmed the screen as much as I could and punched into the nursery. It was fine as long as I didn't show him their names, but he didn't seem to mind. I flipped the camera around so I could see his face as I passed the video along the row of babies. They were all swaddled and sleeping contently. Some were hooked up to wires and leads, while others were in big glass boxes with gloved arm holes ready to be filled by doting parents. It wasn't really the most beautiful sight, but I loved them all.
"What's wrong with them?" He asked when we got back to my office.
"Lots of different things." I explained as I propped him back up on the stapler.
"Where are the parents?"
"Someone of them have their own rooms, some are sent home."
"Without their babies?"
"It's a matter of insurance."
"How could their just leave their child?"
"I guess it's a matter of perspective. Most of them are in here as soon as visiting hours begin and won't leave until they end. But until their child recovers, there's nothing they can do."
"That's awful."
"Well I didn't get into this profession for the romance of it."
"Why did you get into it?"
"To save people. To keep families together, or at least give them a fighting chance at having a beginning."
"Their very lucky to have you watch over their children while they can't."
"That's nice of you to say, but most have never seen my face. I'm strictly the night help."
"Wait, night?"
"Yeah, what time did you think it was? What time is it there?"
"It's three in the afternoon."
"It's three in the morning here."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Should I let you sleep?"
"Fortunately for you, I don't sleep."
"Oh," He chuckled, "Don't you get tired?"
"I suppose, but I kinda like the solitude of it. What about you? Aren't you supposed to be promoting? It's mid afternoon, why are you skyping with strangers?"
"Our show was cancelled and they said we couldn't leave the convention center."
"Why?"
"Our managers didn't say, just that something happened that made it unsafe."
"Are you in danger?"
"Not at the moment, I don't--"
"But at least a few of you know Kung Fu, right?"
"Kung Fu...really?"
"Is that wrong?"
"I guess Baek and Minseok know Wushu, but Zitao would have been the best one to have in a fight."
"Who is Zitao? I don't recognize that name."
"Tao used to be in EXO, but he left a few years ago. He lives in Shanghai now."
"Oh, that must be why. I only found you a few months ago."
"You found me?"
"Although at this point, I think you found me."
"I--"
"모두들, 가자. 우리 한테 공항까지 갔다." He quickly looked away from the camera to whoever was speaking. I couldn't understand them, but his brows furrowed as he nodded.
"You have to go?"
"Yes, they've found us a ride to the airport."
"Wow, that bad, huh?"
"Hopefully not."
"Well, be safe."
"Thanks--"
"And call me anytime. I'm always up."

Chapter Text

“Jackass.” I muttered under my breath.

Some douchebag had just body checked me and managed to spill my drink all over the front of my dress. I know that at parties, people tend to get drunk and stupid, but even so...drunk and stupid usually apologized. This hit and run oficanado just left drenched in white wine and annoyed. “At least it’s not red.” I sighed as I dabbed my dress with a wet rag from the kitchen. It wasn’t my kitchen, or even my party. My friend had dragged me along with her, complaining that I spent too much time with just my dogs as company, but she was nowhere to be found now. Other than her, I knew a grand total of zero people here. No one had been exceptionally friendly either, which wasn’t the worst thing considering I did not feel like being friendly either. As the night wore on, me+kitchen+wine bottle...I was feeling increasingly less social. Parties were pretty awful.

I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home and watch Star Wars: Episode V (for the nineteenth time in two weeks.) My dogs and a bag of popcorn were pulling me toward the door. I had driven Abbey here, but, surely she would not mind getting an uber...

Begrudgingly though, I blew a strand of hair out of my face. No. There was no way that I was going to be “that” friend. Besides, what would happen if she decided the dude she was here to flirt with was garbage and need an immediate bail out? I was an expert at bailing on parties, after all. Hopeful that it was going terribly, I checked my phone for a text from her, but my screen was blank other than showing me that it was now almost midnight, and we had been here for three hours.

Groan.

This is why I hated dabbling in the party world. Make that--the social world. “One drink” always turns into multiple hours of make out sessions and puppy dog eyes when it comes to Abbey and parties. I finally emerged from the kitchen when someone asked where all the wine went, and meandered through crowds of people. All of their faces were a blur, gyrating to bad dubstep and the smoke from the hookah clouding the head space. Through the mosh I spied a balcony door that was propped open, and nothing sounded better than fresh air and space, so I quickly made a beeline for it.

Through the sliding glass, I caught a glimpse of a blonde man leaning against the railing, propped up on his elbows. He was svelte, and his leather jacket accented his broad shoulders nicely. Right as I grabbed the handle to the door, he happened to turn and look my way.

Damn. His shoulders weren’t the only nice thing about him. He was extremely handsome as well. It was painful to admit, but his beauty triggered me, and my social anxiety went into overdrive. Here I was, looking as though I was specifically walking toward him, and not just like I wanted to go outside. I could turn and run, but would that be too awkward of me since we already made eye contact? Was I overthinking this?! He didn’t own the balcony! I could go outside if I very well damn pleased!

The door slid open noiselessly, not that we could have heard it over the music anyway, and I tried my best to give him a small smile as I joined him outside, hoping it didn’t look too much like a grimace. It was chilly but it felt good against my hot skin. Alcohol always overheated me, and that stuffy apartment only made it worse. The wind blew and I shivered contently, taking a big breath to try and bring myself back to level. I guess the culmination of too much wine, being abandoned, and the misery of having to deal with so many blurry faces had really gotten my heart rate up. In the oasis of the balcony, I could come down in peace.

“It’s a lot of people, isn’t it?” A voice said next to me, and I squeaked involuntarily. He laughed and gave a beautiful, wide smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Clearing my throat, I tried to shrug it off with a blush. “I don’t know why I jumped. It’s not like I didn’t know you were right there.” I admitted, and hoped that he would just attribute my flush to the bite in the air turning my cheeks pink. Nodding back inside, I continued so he wouldn’t have time to comment, “Yeah, it’s a lot of people. Not really my scene either. I’ve never really understood why people love to host parties. It would drive me nuts to have this many people at my place.”

“You get used to it when your roommates do it often.” He said. “Eventually, you just accept the one or several people who don’t pay rent that just hang around all of the time.”

So he did own this balcony. Great.

“Ah, so you’re that elusive third roommate Abbey mentioned.” I mumbled, remembering how she explained the flat to me. When he cocked an eyebrow, apparently not understanding where he was supposed to comment in on that, I quickly added, “Abbey’s a friend of mine. She’s got a thing for Jackson, so she’s been over here a couple times.”

“Ah, the brunette! Yeah, I think I’ve seen her during my fridge raids. Most of the time I try to avoid Jackson’s glares that say, ‘get out of the room, I have a cute girl over.’” He made a cute imitation of his roommate and I laughed. It was good to know that my friend’s crush was at least reciprocated.

“I’m Mark, by the way.” He reached out his hand and I shook it, giving my name.

“So,” He grinned at me, “any chance you’d want to leave this stupidly loud party and go find a place that serves ice cream this late?”

I scrunched my nose, “I actually don’t like ice cream...” which elicited the shocked gasp that I had learned to expect from every single person on the entire planet.

“Wow. Actually, I’m just gonna have to ask you to leave my apartment immediately.” He joked, pointing to the door. “Get out. Leave your things.”

He chuckled when I rolled my eyes and pushed his hand down. Breaking down barriers left and right apparently.

“What about a burger?” I shot him a mischievous grin. “There’s a place I know down the street that I bet you’ve never been to.”

He face said he’d take that bet. “I do like a woman who likes her food.”

I checked on Abbey, who was completely fine with the idea of being stranded with Jackson’s arm around her waist. Once I had made sure she was okay, I grabbed my jacket and followed Mark out of the front door that he held open for me.

Maybe not all parties are awful.

Chapter Text

“I really don’t see this going anywhere.” I stated, bored. Tinker, halfway through a sip of his drink, slid his eyes up to me wearily. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen this coming. The words were plainly highlighted in every movement of my body. My whole being screamed ‘NEVERGONNAHAPPEN’. I was only at this table in this tiny café to appease my persistent as hell mother, and he knew that.

“Is that why you insisted we meet here?” He set his cup down, and I saw the effort it took to do so quietly. He was frustrated, sure. But why was that my problem? I’d been upfront about not wanting to date, but he just had to drag it out, had to push all the buttons just to make sure—even the one labeled ‘self-destruct’. Although my lack of interest in him was not why I chose this overpriced coffee joint. I had been strategic in my planning, up until the end. The boys were performing just a few hundred yards away in the auditorium on live television, the Christmas special no less.

But I wasn’t going to tell him that. I mean, I’m sure he knew it already, but I wasn’t going to be that cruel…at least for the moment. Tinker had graciously met me in the café sponsored by JTBC. It was small and crowded, but decked out in wooden tile and frosted glass. There was a twinkling Christmas tree in the corner by the counter, each ornament the face of another idol they’d hosted on their show. While we were ordering, Tinker had commented on how they had the same face multiple times, but I didn’t have the balls to tell him there were no doubles, he just couldn’t tell them apart.

Instead of answering his assumption, I shrugged it away. Hopefully, this would be over and done with soon. He would go back to Camp Market and bitch to his whole platoon about how Sergeant had a Korean stick shoved up her ass these days, but I would finally be able to go back to SM in peace.

“You know, your mom told me something interesting while I was at the dorms earlier.” He continued absently, tracing the water ring on the table from his cup.

“What’s that?” I took his bait, figuring it would be harmless.

“That there’s a time and a place for everything. And if you miss your chance…it might never pop up again.” He wouldn’t meet my gaze as he recited something I’m sure my mother stole from the morning astrology article. But as much as it seemed like something she would say, it also didn’t exactly go hand in hand with her master plan.

Sure, Tinker and I may have caught the feels in high school. But that was a lifetime ago. It seemed impossible that he could still harbor any hope that the old fire would spark with just a few touches and a catchy dance number. Or was he really that desperate? There was more than one type of desperation: the need for anyone, or the need for someone. I didn’t want to prod into which category he fell under, for fear of his answer. Whether or not he loved me was not going to change my mind about loving him.

“Sounds about right.” I mumbled and took a long sip of my juice.

“Do you think…that maybe we…we missed our chance?” He eked out the question like it physically pained him to do so.

“Yes.” I answered automatically.

“But you’re not even willing to try?” His tone was begging and put me more on edge than I already was. I didn’t do well with people who refused to see reason.

“Tinker—” I tried to suppress my eye roll, but he must have caught it, because his next words came out in a gush.

“Look, I get losing someone so close to you is hard, but—”

Someone close to me?” I barked, and he paused mid word. “Are you a fucking idiot?” I asked next. Seriously, I could not fathom the extent to which he wanted to get laid, that he would resort to downgrading my tragedy to hard. He went to speak but I silenced him by slamming my cup down on the table. There was a squirt and a splash, but I didn’t care who was looking now. “You think losing the love of my life was just hard?”

‘Love of my life’ seemed to jab him in the chest with each syllable. In what world would he think I’d reserved the title for him after all these years? “Let me give you a snapshot of how hard it was: the day I found out he was gone was also the day they wanted to promote me. Like, ‘Cool, her only reason for not accepting is gone, let’s go ahead with the paperwork’.” My arms were flailing and he was shrinking back in his seat. “I went through every stage of grief every hour for days until his body was finally brought home. They laid him at my feet like some sort of offering and then expected me to be thankful. I screamed at them, I damned them all to hell. And then I threw up. Over and over again until there was nothing left, because everything I ever was, every dream I ever had was in a fucking body bag.”

My voice dropped to a hiss, and I could tell I was scaring him by the bead of sweat forming above his eyebrow.

“After that, I…” I hiccupped as an unexpected sob lodged in the back of my throat.

This was going too far, wasn’t it? I didn’t have to explain myself to him. I didn’t have to make him understand why I was here, or what kind of meaning my life had taken on after the incident. He was Tinker, the boy who I shared my first kiss with. The boy who held my hand to dance at prom, but also when he begged me not to enlist. All he ever wanted was for me to stay with him.

I guess it finally made sense. We were both stuck in the same rut. The rut of unrequited or absent love. Kosei was gone and I was gone, and there was not enough comfort to go around to calm either of our fears. “After that, I lost my way for a long time.” I took my foot off the gas. Coasting to the end would probably be more effective than dicing him to bits. I could live in this ditch alone, I had been for over a year now. Tinker on the other hand, he just needed a boost. I could give him a lift…for old time’s sake.

“Look, Tinker.” I dragged my fingers through my hair, snagging on every tangle and relishing the twinge on my scalp. It cleared the hazy cloud in my mind and I swallowed the frog. His face was more reserved now, like he didn’t know what to do, he just knew he didn’t want to incur my wrath a second time. I sighed. “Let me help you out.”

“What?”

“There is someone out there who was made to love you. I’m sure that person changes, switching between who you need or want at the time. I was your ‘someone’ back when we were young and dumb, when neither of us knew what was going on. But now…

Now it’s someone else.” He eyed me for a long minute, running his tongue over his front teeth.

“Why do you think that?” He shucked his teeth so hard I thought he might swallow one.

“Because it’s true.” I groaned tiredly. “Please, please just…let yourself give up.” My tone was the one that was begging now.

“I’m a Marine,” He stated resolutely, “Marines don’t back down.” He lifted his head defiantly, thinking he’d snared me in our shared occupation.

“Marines know when to retreat.” I shot back.

“Only to regroup and replan.”

“No, Tinker…” I pushed my fingers into my temples, hoping that the stars I was seeing were from a migraine and not the desperation rolling off him in waves. “A Marine understands the price of failure is lives lost. We understand this so we can spot a lost cause when we see one. Not every battle is supposed to be fought with force. You’re supposed to think on your feet, but your rigidity is exactly what makes you unfit.” He paled at my words, and even I did a mental reign check.

Damn, Harper. I thought we weren’t being cruel.

“I didn’t—” I tried to recant, at least the last bit. It wasn’t anywhere near my right to call him unfit. But before I could say anything else I would regret, he jumped to his feet, his whole body humming with barely controlled anger. The back of his knees smacked against his chair, sending it skidding away, and drawing every eye in the café directly to us.

“I understand that you don’t want me to love you…but you didn’t have to make me hate you.” His words whipped at my heart, and I buckled under their severity.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could manage, and it was all I could say even after he stormed out. There was nothing else, no other words. I tried, I tried so hard to persuade him, to talk him down from the edge of absolute abandon.

But that was too far in the opposite direction. He was right. I shouldn’t have questioned his commitment to the corps just because I wanted him to question his commitment to me. Tinker was never the issue.

I was the one who was broken. I was the one who refused to let myself mend.

But surely there was something to be said that I knew exactly what was fractured…it was just that I liked it where it was, and I didn’t want it to go anywhere.

 

A big screen TV on the wall played the live broadcast of what was happening in the studio, and I stared at the faces of my boys blankly. Here I was judging Tinker, when I couldn’t even tell them the truth. The nine boys who, for better or worse, gave my life literal meaning, and I couldn’t bring myself to show them my scabbed over heart. Because who knew what they would think of it.

“Our next segment is ‘Jingles for the Tree’.” The MC announced happily, waving his note cards around for everyone to see. “For this, each talented man of EXO will perform a short song for a loved one.” The boys smiled and bowed good naturedly before getting up and moving to their rehearsed positions. They were going in order of age apparently, because Minseok skipped up to the standing mic with that cat like grin of his.

And he sang to his cat.

That animal was a demon, and I’d told him this on many occasions, but dammit if he didn’t love that fuzzball.

Junmyeon sauntered up next, flashing his best dad smile. I had to stop myself from snorting in public when I saw his pants were hiked up, like he was trying to look every bit of the nerd he was. He sang Silent Night, despite it not being his religion or his holiday.

Yixing tiptoed up to the mic, looking more nervous than I’d ever seen him on a stage. I knew why the instant the music started playing, though. A Latin guitar flair lilted through the speakers and I couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped me. Somewhere in that auditorium, Cat was feasting her eyes on a Spanish singing Korean, and I bet lots and lots of money that it was going to pay off well in his favor tonight.

Baekhyun was up next, but instead of standing in front of the mic, he sat himself at the baby grand that was rolled out just for him. He didn’t even sing, but as I watched his fingers fly over the keys, it hardly took away from the performance. In fact, if there had been words, I wouldn’t have noticed them. His face, usually smiley and warm, was struck with such concentration that I leaned forward in my chair.

I wanted to know what this piece was. I wanted to know who he was playing for with such conviction. I thought I knew Baek like I knew the backside of my hand (mainly because I’d slapped him with it so many times). But, as far as I knew, there wasn’t a single person who garnered this kind of concentration from him. Well…there was one, but…surely it wasn’t Taeyeon?

Jongdae destroyed everyone with a solo he’d pulled out of thin air. Seriously, I had been with him all week and he had not practiced that masterpiece once. With his eyes closed, and his hands fluttering through the air, I knew he was winning over every girl in the audience. The song was about love, but it was tentative and barely blossomed, kind of like him. Something to be cherished, something to be nurtured. Poor, baby, loud, wonderful Jongdae. I told myself that I would hug him after this. Chen hugs were the best, especially now that I was out of juice and burning bridges left and right. Although, I guess I needed Suho for that…whatever.

I really expected Chanyeol to tackle the mic and leap into a string of half-Korean, half-English, half-Mandarin rap, but he surprised me by grabbing his guitar and following Kyungsoo up to the mic. They were doing a duet? That probably wasn’t in the rules, but judging by the screams I could hear just by sitting in the café, no one cared. The giraffe climbed into a stool and lovingly balanced the acoustic Takamine on his knee, pulling a pick from between the strings. He took it between his teeth for a moment before glancing up at the camera through his long eyelashes, making the crowd near riot.

What a lady killer.

Kyungsoo stood behind the mic, his usual stoic stance brimming with something more…ecstatic. I saw him bob on the balls of his feet before he planted them and rubbed his hands together. If it were me, I would say he looked jittery, god forbid nervous. But this was D.O., the self-proclaimed pillar of confidence, he’d been on a stage since he was eight years old. Why was it that Christmas suddenly had him cautious?

Chanyeol finally pulled the damn pick from his mouth and strummed the first chord of the song. It was a short staccato melody, upbeat and light, and one I knew instantly. My jaw nearly hit the floor when Satansoo, badass, ‘imma-pretend-to-be-blind’, stoic panty slayer of EXO…started to sing ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ in perfect English.

“He thought you looked really pretty—err, it looked pretty cool when you put indigo streaks in your hair.” Soo grinned sheepishly and the crowd went wild.

“He did?” Chanyeol chimed in with the female part and I thought the other boys were going to lose their minds.

“And he wondered how you learned to dance like all the rest of the world isn’t there.

But he kept it all inside his head. What he saw, he left unsaid.

If I could tell her, tell her everything I see

If I could tell her, how she’s everything to me

But were a million worlds apart, and I don’t know how I would even start…if I could tell her.”

 

I was up and out of the café as fast as Channie was plucking his strings. Every vibration thrummed through my bones as my feet carried me closer and closer to the auditorium. I broke into a flat out run as the hallway seemed to stretch on forever. Just before the double doors at the end of the hall, in an alcove to the right, a delicately bronzed arm shot out, holding a stage badge. I didn’t miss a beat as I dashed by, grabbing the pass from Cat.

Of all the mysteries of the universe, I would never understand how she always knew exactly where to be at every right time. Maybe she just knew me that well, or knew what Kyungsoo had been planning, but either way, she’d given me exactly what I needed in the most nondescript way possible.  

“If I could tell her…but what do you do when there’s this great divide?

And what do you do when the distance is too wide?”

 

One could say that I threw open the double doors much too noisily for a live broadcast, but any backlash I would have gotten from stage hands was silenced when they saw who I was. The doors opened to the top of the auditorium steps and I dashed over to the middle row, directly in front of the standing mic, and that infuriatingly adorable penguin.

“How do you say, I love you…” His voice that was usually so low and comforting, was climbing higher and higher as I plodded my way down the stairs.

“I love you.”

“I love you!” His words were growing stronger and stronger, declaring something I didn’t dare recognize. Hands raised, face eager, energy buzzing in all directions. The air was sizzling with his declaration. He loved her, he loved her, that lucky girl…

“I love you…” Finally, his last avowal died on his lips as our eyes met. I stood in the middle of the stairs, half way to the floor, my mouth probably hanging open in awe and my hands hanging limply at my sides. Where did he get off singing like that when he knew that was my favorite play? What sort of gall did he have to yell over and over that he loved someone and then look directly at me…

And not look away…

Chanyeol strummed the beginning of the final coda, but Kyungsoo was still. My brows scrunched together as I watched Channie pluck through the intro again, almost like he knew that was going to happen. Like he knew D fucking O was going to miss his count in.

I held my breath, not knowing why, but thinking if I didn’t, I was going to pass out then and there. He was just looking at me; those big brown eyes roaming over every inch from top to bottom. I hated how it made me feel, but knew I was also lying to myself. I wanted him to keep looking, to see me, to see everything.

He already knew the truth. He was the only one. He saw the scabs and scars and although rough around the edges, he never threw me away.

Chanyeol reached the coda again, and this time, Kyungsoo’s heart shaped lips delivered the rest of the story, the end of the pledge:

“But were a million worlds apart, and I don’t know how I would even start

If I could tell her

If I could…”

 

My butt hit the stairs before I realized that I needed to sit down, and while I was sinking into those eyes, everyone else was jumping to their feet, roaring with applause. The MC called for a commercial and half of me wondered if it was because they caught my hideously startled face on camera and had to edit it out. And then reality hit:

“Hasa, get up.” Cat’s hand was under my arm, pulling me to my feet when all I could do was stare at the empty space Kyungsoo had left. He’d bowed to the inconsolable audience and then joined his brothers on the couch like it was nothing…like he hadn’t even looked in the first place. Cat’s grip was firm as she dragged me back up the steps and back out the double doors. The white walls and white floor were so different from the warm red lights of the stage, that I thought for a moment that I had gone unexpectedly blind from returning his gaze so adamantly. The hallway was cold and antiseptic, brewing up a knot in the bottom of my stomach.

“That was a bit much, don’t you think?” Cat muttered under her breath, watching me out of the corner of her eye. She was wondering why I’d dropped to my knees like I was in church. But I couldn’t help it when confronted with the altar of Kyungsoo. Christ, right then, I felt like I would throw myself down there again and beg for salvation…but Cat was not above cleansing me with Holy Water she’d get from a fountain down the hall.

“Sorry,” I swallowed instead and rubbed my hands over my face, “I just…got into a fight with Tinker, and that,” I motioned back towards the auditorium where I could hear Kai’s dance solo going on, “was really unexpected.” Cat squinted at me and I tried my hardest to look at least a little genuine.

“What did the camo puppy say?” She finally asked, and I let out a sigh in relief when I knew she’d dropped it.

“The camo puppy couldn’t get a word in edge wise because I was too busy destroying him.” I groaned, starting to pace the width of the hall.

“And?” Cat crossed her arms.

“And that’s bad.” I blurted. Thank you captain obvious.

“Psh, if he can’t handle a little ass chewing, how is he a Marine?” She shrugged away my argument.

“This wasn’t an ass chewing. I literally…It was really fucked up.” I rubbed my face again, recalling how unnecessary I had been, just how cruel I was. It really hadn’t been my intention, but sometimes I just couldn’t stop myself. My mother would say it’s because I’ve been away from the good-old fashioned southern charm for too long, which was ‘Mother trying not to be racist’ speak for: you’ve been in Asia too long.

“Whatever you said to him was probably what he needed to hear. I’ve known you for a while now Hasa, and you may sugar coat yourself most of the time, but I’ve never seen you not rise to the occasion. If he was butt hurt by what you said, than he needed a good spanking.” Cat avoided my gaze, looking all around my head so she wouldn’t have to see the surprise on my face. She never ever talked like that. Our mutual respect was almost entirely unspoken, always had been. I guess this time she was really trying to cheer me up. Or maybe she’d been in Asia too long as well.

“It just really…wasn’t fair.” I deflated, not wanting to take away from her tentative comfort, but still feeling pretty awful about it all.

“Life’s not fair. Big hairy deal!” She scoffed. “Tell him to come find me, we can compare notes on how wonderful life has treated us.”

“SM?” A stage hand poked their head through the double doors, clinking their headset on the door handle.

“Yes.” I responded automatically.

“Five minutes.” The man said and then disappeared back through the doors.

“I’ll meet you in the van.” I sighed, semi thankful for the interruption. Cat bowed out as well, although she had every right to continue.

“Try not to get shot this time.” She sneered and then disappeared through the doors as well.

Shots fired.

 

I curled my knees up to my chest in the front seat of the passenger van. Cat had wrangled the boys and escorted them out, all without me. We figured we would just let them assume whatever ‘plans’ that had kept me from the performance had occupied me the whole time. Although there was at least one person who knew that was a lie. Rain was starting to tink on the windshield as we pulled away from the curb into the flow of traffic, but I hardly noticed. The boys were talking excitedly about how the show had gone and about who had the biggest applause. Most said Baek because people hardly ever got to see him play, but the same could be said for Chanyeol, which brought up the duet.

I tried to make myself smaller, less conspicuous. Maybe if he didn’t notice I was there, he wouldn’t look at me again. If I could just avoid those eyes of his, everything would be okay, it would all go back to normal.

God, why did I bother trying to lie to myself anymore?

“Hey Hasa,” Junmyeon suddenly called me out and I physically flinched into the leather seat. The driver gave me a concerned look, but I waved it away.

“Hm?” I grunted in response, not wanting to commit to the conversation by leaning around the chair to look at them.

“How was your date?” There was laughter in his voice, a pleasant tease between friends. No one had told them it was a date, but they had all been there when Tinker asked me, and when my mother had proposed it. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to put all the pieces together. I mean, come on, when was the last time I asked for a personal day or did anything that didn’t involve them?

Yeah, like, never.

I pursed my lips together and debated my answer. Do I brush it all off, say ‘it was fine’ and end it there? Or should I tell some of the truth? Say ‘it was crappy, 2/10 would not recommend’. A snickery hush fell over the van as they waited for my answer, and a part of me (much larger than I was willing to admit) really wanted to know if a particular penguin was sitting on the edge of his seat, hanging on the breath of every word. I wanted to twist around and gaze at him, dive into those pools of chocolate and tell him everything that had gone through my heart when he’d stared at me, but…

“It wasn’t a date.” I heard myself mumble. There hadn’t really been an third option, but that’s apparently what came out of my mouth.

“Oh, come on.” Suho chuckled, joined by the other boys. They were a pack of kindergarteners, picking on a little girl with a crush. “He seemed like he liked—“

“It’s not really a date if one of them leaves crying.” Cat’s voice cut through the van like a knife, and I willed myself to be eaten by my chair. Dear god please, let the suede swallow me whole, because I knew if I looked back now, I would see their faces, and know exactly what they thought of me.

So I didn’t look back. I hugged my legs tighter and rested my forehead on my knees. If we got into a car accident, I would definitely die, but at this point, that might be more welcome than anything else karma had in store for me today.

“Did he make you cry?” Jongin asked quietly after the van had been silent for too long, “Because we can beat him up for you.” There were small encouragements hidden under his question, and I scoffed at the rain. Nine to one…those were definitely corps odds.

“No…” I sighed, somehow strangely okay with it, “I wasn’t the one who cried.”

Maybe it was because, despite the pause, the first question they asked was in my defense. Weirdly, it was funny to me that they would even propose that I could cry. My own brother once accused me of not having tear ducts. Maybe I liked that they didn’t see me like that, like I was still a girl in their eyes.

Damn, I hadn’t been just a girl in years.


 

Kyungsoo sat in the back row of the van, squished between Chanyeol and Jongdae. He stared at the headrest of the passenger seat like he could set it on fire with just his gaze. Apparently no one else could hear it. D.O. hadn’t caught it, too busy burning off the stage high, but Kyungsoo saw it. All he could see of her was a toe that poked out to the side and the curve of her scalp over the seat, but he heard it: inside the shell of the Marine that waved off their concern and redirected the conversation, was a sad little girl, hugging her knees.

And she was sobbing.

He could see it there, right underneath the surface of her skin as she hopped out of the van once they’d returned to SM. Or in how she gingerly took the stairs two at a time, like she was trying too hard to make them believe she was fine. Her armor was thick, he knew, but he could still hear her in the back of his head as she smiled at his chest, since she refused to meet his eye.

He was perfectly fine with Tinker being gone. That asshole could drown in the Han River for all he cared, but damn it all…whatever fight they’d had ruined all his plans.

Although, they weren’t actual plans. If he called them plans, that meant he thought about it before hand, and if he had…he wouldn’t have done it. Calling it a plan would mean that he might have pestered Chanyeol about it for a week, sending him cord chart after cord chart until he stormed into Kyungsoo’s room with a guitar and a brazen look. Plans would mean that he had a hope for what would happen after he literally confessed in front of the world.

Or was that called an expectation?

But regardless of what he thought or hoped or planned…it wasn’t this. For a week after the show, Harper refused to look at him, or at least, look him in the eye. Whether in conversation, work or not, or just being around one another, she stared at his chin, his feet, his hair, like she was refusing to grace him with her bright green eyes out of spite. Didn’t she know that he desperately wanted to see them again? To have her look at him like she had when she’d stumbled down those steps at the beck and call of his voice? Months of desensitization, teasing, and snarky back and forth had not prepared him for the flush of her cheeks or the way she’d looked like she wanted to dive in.

Chapter Text

 

Jihoon could hardly breathe through his anger. What the hell was wrong with her? Why was she just standing there, staring at him like everything was fine, like she hadn’t done anything wrong!

“I don’t understand,” she said evenly, cocking her head at him like she did when she was trying to solve a particularly quizzing puzzle, “was this not what you wanted?”

No, Jihoon thought. He never wanted to stand in her apartment living room and accept the fact that for the last week she’d been mad at him for no reason simply…because he had asked her to be. Why would that have crossed his mind when he’d dared her to be his muse?

The verses hadn’t been coming as easily to him as they had when he was in Busan. But after coming back from his first ‘date’ with her, and tumbling through the lyrics for ‘Without You’, Jihoon didn’t hesitate when he asked Chae to help him out. Their arrangement was simple: she would pretend to be his girlfriend and Jihoon would write his songs with her in mind. It had worked in the beginning too. ‘Don’t Wanna Cry’ nearly wrote itself. He’d sat down to check his email, and when he looked back up, there it was, perfect and award winning. ‘PINWHEEL’ and ‘campfire’ were the same way.

But there were more aspects to a relationship than fun, love, or laughter. There was heartbreak too, and Jihoon really should have expected Chae to comply wholeheartedly. He should have known better than to leave a scientist to perform an experiment half way.

So, yes, the squeezing in his chest that made his lungs want to scream, he had asked for that. Did he realize it? No. Did he want it now that he’d named it? No!

“It’s just that…” He took a step towards her but stopped himself from going all the way, “you could have at least warned me first.” He finally grumbled, defeated by the circumstance.

“I feel like warning you would have been counterintuitive.” She waved it away, very much used to beating him in these types of games. “But tell me,” she leaned her elbows against her kitchen counter and smirked at him, “what came of the confusion? Is it a tear jerker? Is it angry? I want to hear.” She was the one coming for him now, but he couldn’t stop himself from retreating. When she noticed, she paused and cocked her head again. She was like a little bird, always scrutinizing and lovely. There was nothing she couldn’t figure out if she just stared at it long enough, he figured. She probably believed that too.

“I didn’t write anything.” He confessed with a hiss. He’d been so confused as to why she wouldn’t speak to him that he had been too distracted to sit down and hash it out.

“Really? That’s disappointing. I doubt it will be as potent now.” She shrugged—shrugged! Then she stepped out of his bubble and tip toed over to the balcony, gliding along effortlessly, like his crushed feelings didn’t weigh her down at all.

“That’s really all you have to say?” Jihoon tried to call upon his anger again but, his ire was more bitterness than fury now. He’d brought this upon himself, created this mess himself. He’d expected things…

Things he’d told her not to expect. And she hadn’t.

Chae was never phased by anything, he should have known that. She approached him and his request like she approached everything else: with an eye for detail, and a thorough detachment.

“Was there something else you needed to hear?” She asked over her shoulder as she slid open the porch door and started to fiddle with the clothes hung on her line. He followed her across the room, not sure why his feet were so eager to close the distance between them, because his head was too busy swimming with things he wanted her to say, things he thought he was owed:

He wanted her to apologize, he wanted her to take it all back, he wanted to return to how it was only a few days ago when they’d chased each other down the riverbank. There were so many things, but they all revolved around the same general idea: he wanted to pretend that all this pretending…was just pretend.  

“So none of it was real, right?” His heart shoveled the words out of his mouth before his brain had a chance to stop them. “Not the anger, but also not the love. You literally don’t care about me at all.” How bitter tasting the accusations were. Soaked in cynicism and dried in the room where she kept her bodies, they tasted foul, but even still, he couldn’t take them back once they’d crawled out. It was the only question he actually wanted the answer for. All the others were pretense.

“That seems unfair…although somewhat accurate. It’s what you asked me to do! I don’t know why you’re glaring at me like that, but—” She returned, more exasperated than he’d ever seen her, but he couldn’t stop himself from correcting her.

“I’m not glaring!” He shouted, but it was only when her eyes widened in surprise that he saw himself in them. He was glaring, and he was too close. Way too close to her now.

The balcony was shallow, and even though he stood in the threshold of the door and she at the railing, there was only a foot between them. He could see the glassy sheen in the whites of her eyes, and he panicked when he saw himself there.

“Look, Jihoon,” She tried, softer now, “You seem like you’re hurt, but I thought…I thought that we understood each other, understood what we wanted from one another.” Her back was pressed against the rail, and it wasn’t lost on him how she was bracing.

“What did you want from me?” He asked, trying desperately to school his features. What good would it do him to let her see every emotion that ran its course through his heart?

“I wanted to have fun.” She admitted, and he watched the way her mouth screwed up after the words, like she hadn’t meant to say them, or wished she would have said something else.

“And what did I want from you?” He whispered and took a much larger breath than he intended.

“You needed a muse.” She said, but he was distracted by the shiver he saw go up her arms. She was better at this than him, wasn’t she? Even though he could see the way she was holding herself back, it seemed in contrast with how intensely she was looking at him. Putting two and two together, he figured that she was forcing her face to seem sincere, just as his own was crumpling. “But not all songs are written about love, Jihoon. If they were, what good would they do the heartbroken?”

He hated her logic. Hated how she used the words, ‘needed a muse’ instead of ‘wanted a muse’, like she knew he wouldn’t have been able to write any of those songs without her.

“So you faked being angry to help me, is that it?” He asked, knowing that his resentment was showing, even as his self-control was waning. He was far too comfortable with her, even now.

“I pretended to be angry because you needed to come down.” Her eyes darted away from him for the first time since he stormed into the apartment, and his brain screamed at him that it was a tell—that Chae never avoided looking at her specimens. And that’s technically what he was, wasn’t he? This was something, this was a secret that she hadn’t meant to say.

His whole relationship with her had been a game of back and forth, give and take. She used him because she was bored, and he used her to write songs. But in the midst of that, he learned her every face, her every thought. He knew the dance she did when she solved a case, or the way she’d scrunch her eyebrows together when she was stumped. He knew that she hated kimchi, but she ate it so she would be included, and that despite being as smart as she was, she couldn’t figure out how to make a baby laugh.

And now, he was seeing a new expression, one he never would have seen otherwise: morality. He inched his foot forward unconsciously. This was exceptional, and this was raw. He didn’t know how far it would travel, but he figured the closer he was, the more obvious it would be. And he wanted to see it, he wanted to stare at it like she stared at evidence. The longer he looked, the more he would see, that was her motto after all. And somehow, he found himself admitting that he wanted to look at her forever. He didn’t want to lose sight of her.

“Come down from what?” He asked, calling her eyes back to him. She’d already figured him out, he supposed. But maybe if she looked again, she would see…

“The high.” She sighed, ignoring his call and dropping her gaze to his feet. “Believe me, if I didn’t do it, something else would have. And it could have been much worse.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh come on. You know!” She threw her hands in the air like she was angry he was making her explain this, like she had expected him to be smarter. “Something would have come along and crushed your dreams, and then you would have come to me—your fake girlfriend, and what would I have been able to do? Nothing! Because I have no claim to you! I don’t belong in your world any more than you belong in mine. At least this way I can preserve whatever coping mechanisms you had before I—” She clamped her own hand over her mouth to stop the flood of words.

“Before you what?” He coaxed, frantic to hear the end.

“Before I let you smash them to bits.” She whispered between her fingers and went back to staring at his feet.

Jihoon first met Chae at the Seoul Arena.

It was honestly all Jeonghan’s fault. If he didn’t have such a desperate obsession with cleaning, Jihoon never would have gone looking for the supply closet, and he never would have found the man. Admittedly, he didn’t realize it was a man at first. As he opened the door, he was hit with a putrid smell, one that made him gag. It was earthy, and slippery, and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He’d slammed the door shut and covered his nose and mouth with his sleeve.

Damn Jeonghan and his need to mop things! Steeling himself, Jihoon had opened the door again, this time all the way, hoping that maybe some of the stench would waft out. It was probably just mold, or the mix of chemicals in a tiny space. He wasn’t expecting it to be…a person. He kept his sleeve over his face and felt around for the light switch. The closet itself was small and doubled as the roof access, just some mops and brooms next to a low industrial sink used to refill the buckets. But in that sink was a hulking black mass. He blinked at it for a slow moment, not understanding what it was. It had tentacles and was crumpled into odd angles. It was black and brown and green. It seemed least like a human in that first instant, but when he realized that those holes were where eyes used to be and that those tentacles were arms and legs, that’s when the screaming started.

Jihoon couldn’t remember getting back to the dressing rooms or telling anyone about what he’d found, but he must have, because the next thing he knew, the arena was flooded with police, managers, grounds personnel, and reporters. They buzzed around in front of him like the hallway had turned into a beehive. Someone draped a blanket over his shoulders, which he didn’t understand. He wasn’t cold…what good was a blanket going to do for the nightmares he was going to have? The only thing that did manage to make him feel even slightly okay was Jun’s reassuring hand on his arm. He never left Jihoon’s side, and for that he was grateful. He felt like should Jun leave, he would drift away from the world. The only thing keeping him grounded was the Chinese man’s firm grip.

“Lee Jihoon?” A detective walked over to the boys, strutting like there wasn’t a mess of rotting flesh a few feet away.

“Y-Yes?” He croaked, but before the policeman could say anything, Manager Park from Pledis cut him off.

“When can we leave?” His Manager asked. The detective scratched his cheek, a gesture to hide the annoyance on his face. From where he was sitting, Jihoon could see it plainly, but when the detective looked back up, it was gone. At least he had practice dealing with overbearing managers, he thought.  

“As soon as I take his statement, Mr. Lee is free to leave.” He metaphorically shoved the manager aside and looked back at Jihoon. “Mr. Lee, I’m Detective Ryul. I understand you’ve seen something you never wanted to see, but would it be okay if I asked you a few questions?”

Jihoon only managed to nod, and the detective mirrored him, probably knowing there wasn’t much he would be able to offer. As a show of solidarity, Detective Ryul bent down to Jihoon’s level, maybe to hear him better, or to show camaraderie, or maybe to escape Manager Park…it was all the same. Jihoon watched as he spoke, his eyes seemed tired, his cheeks were clouded over with a beard he hadn’t had time to shave, and the medical mask he’d pulled down under his chin bobbed with his Adam’s apple.

“Okay, first: why were you in the closet?”

“I-I was l-looking for—” Damn Jeonghan and his brooms.

“Everybody move!” A voice suddenly shouted. Everyone looked up, including Jihoon, and watched as a girl around his age came sprinting down the hallway. Her black hair was tied in a messy bun at the crown of her head and her spotted glasses slipped down her nose as she ran. He watched as she dashed through the door that led to the area outside the closet with no facial protection.

“Who was that?!” Manager Park demanded, although Jihoon wasn’t really sure what for. What did it matter who she was?

“I apologize. That,” Detective Ryul scratched his cheek in irritation again, “is our head Investigator. She’s brilliant, but still young. Anyway, you were saying?” He gestured for Jihoon to continue with what he’d been trying to say, but before he could get another word out, he heard the girl squeal,

“Jackpot!”

The detective face palmed, obviously used to her outbursts, but thoroughly embarrassed by them. He flagged down another uniform and whispered to him before turning back to Jihoon ruefully.

“Again, I apologize, she—”

“This is unacceptable!” Manager Park interjected, and it was Jihoon’s turn to be embarrassed.

“Sir, please understand—” Detective Ryul tried to calm the manager, but both men were brushed aside as the girl came barreling back out, this time with her sights set on Jihoon.

“This is our first responder?” She asked no one in particular as she pushed between the two arguing men to crouch down in front of Jihoon.

“Chae—” The detective hissed, but she waved him off.

“They need help with the bag.” She ignored the glare stabbing into her back and gazed at Jihoon. Her eyes were brown and unwavering.

“You can’t just—” He tried, but she cut him off again, fiercer this time.

“The bag, Jiyong.” The authority Jihoon heard in her voice was absolute, and he pitied anyone who disobeyed her. Though she was definitely young like Ryul had said, she seemed like she was in charge. Realizing the same thing, Detective Ryul bowed shallowly before spinning on his heels and storming off.

And then the girl was back to staring at him, and he was gaping at her.

“I guess you’re pretty shocked, huh?” Even though she was looking right at him, it took a moment to register that she was talking to him. Her mouth was moving and sounds were coming out, but they didn’t seem to reach his ears. He was too busy meeting her solid stare to understand that the words were meant for him.

“W-What?” He groused finally, and felt Jun squeeze his arm reassuringly. Thank god for Jun.

“You were shocked to find the body.” She said a matter-of-factly, and fished in one of the pockets of her jacket for a small notepad.

“It was a body?”

“Well it wasn’t a monster, I can tell you that.”

“How did he…”

“As far as I can see, he probably slipped and fell.”

“Fell?” It seemed like too innocent a word to produce such a demon.

“That closet has the only ladder that leads to the east roof, and seeing as the arenas been under construction for a few weeks, it makes sense that he would be a building worker who slipped while trying to get to the outer tier.”

“But why does he look…” Jihoon struggled to find the words despite his career as a wordsmith. It was grotesque, it was obscene, it was disgusting, and yet...she didn’t seem to mind the sight of it. Or the smell.

“It doesn’t take as long as you’d think to look like that. You know, Jihoon was it?” She reached out rather stiffly and patted his forearm. “It’s okay to be frightened, but it’s also okay to be a little bit fascinated.” She winked at him as his mouth fell open, before standing and telling Manager Park that he was free to leave.

Before she walked off though, she turned back and handed him her business card. “Call me if you can’t sleep.” He took the card tentatively, feeling like he shouldn’t be touching the things she touched, just in case he caught her crazy. And then the paramedics were coming out, rolling a gurney that was loaded with a human sized blue bag. The smell came with it and he gagged, quickly covering his mouth with the blanket. Everyone else, the police, the EMTS, the personnel, they all wore face masks. But not her. Like she was completely unaffected, she grabbed hold of the gurney and pushed it towards the exit. She looked back at him once she got to the door and held her pinky and thumb up to her face: ‘call me’.

It was against his better judgement that he did.

But it was four am, and he hadn’t slept in days. How did she know this was going to happen? She answered the phone as briskly as if it was mid-afternoon, and not deep morning,

“This is Gang Chae.” Admittedly, he sounded like a swamp monster when he got around to responding instead of kicking himself for doing this at all. “Oh! Lee Jihoon, case #1806677. Did the dreams finally catch up with you?” Most people didn’t use his full real name anymore, so it made him stutter. Instead of decently waiting for him to regain his composure so early in the morning, Chae charged right ahead, kinda like she was talking to herself. “I figured as much. People always see it from the wrong angle the first time. Do you like coffee? I’ll fix your brain for you. Meet me at…” And just like that, Jihoon was heading for a nondescript coffee shop a cabs ride away from Pledis.

It was a 24-hour store, but deserted. It was past time for even the karaoke crowds who stumbled home drunk after singing all night. He ordered himself a cappuccino and then stood awkwardly at the bar, wondering if he’d beaten her there. The barista put down a black coffee at the pick up and called for ‘gang’. From back in the corner, tucked between a bookcase and tall booth, she appeared. The only reaction he got from her upon recognition was an interested head tilt.

“I was starting to think you weren’t coming.” She grinned as she grabbed her drink. Jihoon scrunched his eyebrows and glanced at the clock on his phone. From hang up to coffee had only been 15-20 mins tops. How exactly had he kept her waiting? The barista called for the cappuccino, and Jihoon grabbed it, quickly following her back to her corner.

As he sat down opposite her, he was nearly accosted by the gigantic book she threw down on the table. It had to be, at least, a million pages, and smelled like it had seen its fair share of closet monsters. Not to mention the page edges were yellowed with age, and the cover was rubbed off to the point where it didn’t even have a title.

“Uhhh…” He stared at the volume, then at her, not knowing which would be the more ominous.

“This,” She slapped the cover suddenly and he jumped, “is my historical copy of the full homosapien anatomy and physiology, with footnotes by world famous doctor Helen B. Taussig.” She waited for him to be impressed, but even when he didn’t break out into applause, she still grinned like a cheshire cat. “Ask me anything.”

“I don’t...really…” He felt like he had to be hallucinating. Maybe he actually did fall asleep, and this was the crazy Nyquil induced dream he was having. He didn’t want to know about anatomy, he wanted to stop having nightmares. That was a different science all together!

“People are always afraid of what they don’t understand. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that once I explain it to you and you understand, you won’t be afraid anymore, thus the nightmares will stop. It’s a logical conclusion.” She shrugged like it was obvious.

“But that’s not true.” He couldn’t help but contradict her, and he wondered when he’d gotten comfortable enough to do so.

“Oh really? You’ll need to back that up.” She raised an eyebrow at him, and leaned into the table. It seemed like she liked to be challenged, whether because she liked to win, or because she was waiting desperately for someone to beat her. Either way, in the pocket universe of this tiny little coffee shop...he could take her on.

“Understanding something doesn’t automatically remove the fear.” He established, and she urged him to continue. “I understand how a gun works, yet I’m still afraid of it.”

“You’re not afraid of the gun, you’re afraid of what it could do to you. Uneducated, we fear the metal the gun is made out of, the aura of it, the preconceived notion it comes with. As we learn, we understand that the gun, if handled properly and knowledgeably, can be rendered harmless. A pin here, a shave there, and it becomes inoperable.” The philosophy of her argument was sound, and he hadn’t expected her to take him there so quickly. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he had such a meta conversation with someone who wasn’t trying to bribe him into doing their chores. “Plus,” She added, “a gun cannot get up and shoot you on its own. For a gun to kill, it needs a hand...literally.” She cracked up at her own joke, and even he couldn’t help but grin.

“But my nightmares are different.” He veered off. “Guns aren’t the same as a...dead person.” He whispered the words like a curse, and felt the need to cross himself.

“A noun is a noun, Lee Jihoon.” She said matter-of-factly, and reached over to open the giant book. It’s weight shook the whole table as she thumbed through a few pages. She landed on a spread of the human body, the Vitruvian Man drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. “Da Vinci was a painter, an artist, like you. But he understood the need for knowledge beyond his own perview.” She swiveled the book around for him to look at. He’d seen the picture before of course; in school, in movies, in art. But he’d never been compared to a master before. Maybe he should blush, or be at least a little embarrassed? Maybe he shouldn’t be quite so confident in himself. He was having horrible night terrors after all.

“Are you saying I’m like da Vinci?” He looked at her skeptically.

“I’m saying you could be, if you just asked a question that could help.” She gestured as if that was obvious again, like he was the only thing holding himself back. He’d been trying his very hardest not to think about the closet, or the monster in it. Having something like that on your conscience wasn’t good for a cutsie boy band member. But he thought about what Chae said at the crime scene, that it’s okay to be frightened, but it’s also okay to be fascinated. It wasn’t typical for his culture to wallow in these types of facts but...maybe she was right. Maybe it was scarier because he didn’t understand. So he swallowed a gulp of coffee and asked the first thing that came out of the closet:

“Like, why was he green?”

Her face lit up. “Exactly!” She beamed and zoomed forward in the book at least ten chapters. “He was green because--”

And that was that. Jihoon had met Chae.

And after he’d met Chae, he wasn’t really sure what to do with the rest of the world. No one else seemed to be as authentic as she was. She was hardly perfect, in fact she was a bit of a sociopath, but somehow he was completely into it. When he came up with the stupid idea to ask her to be his muse, she didn’t bat an eye. If the expression ‘hear me out’, needed a visual, she would be it. Nothing Jihoon said was ever frivolous or ridiculous to her...unless he was wrong, of course. She loved to correct him when he was wrong. But she took him seriously, to the point where sometimes he would be joking, and she would have no idea. For how dearly she loved to laugh, it was hard for her to figure out at what.

On their first ‘date’, he took her to dinner at a fancy idol-friendly restaurant S.Coups had  recommended. Jihoon told his leader that his cousin was coming into town; Nothing about secret bargains with emotionally-stunted detectives.

In the middle of said awkward dinner, her phone blew up. There’d been a murder in Seongdong-gu, the district across the river from where they were. He was neither disappointed nor happy about ending dinner early, but he was completely surprised when instead of getting in the cab he hailed for her, she pulled him into a squad car that came to pick her up instead.

“What are you doing?” He hissed as the uniform in the driver’s seat looked at him skeptically in the rearview mirror. Chae didn’t bother to answer. She had that same look in her eye that she did the day with the closet monster: thrilled.

The restaurant was upscale, and she had worn a nice dress. He even complimented her on the simple cut of it and pretended he didn’t know it came from a department store. Now she was taking it off in the back of a police car! Jihoon didn’t know what else to do, so he just covered his eyes like he was still eight years old.

“You’re such a gentleman.” Chae laughed and pulled his hands away from his face. When he was brave enough to open his eyes again, he found her fully clothed in a set of scrubs, a black duffle between her feet.

“You brought clothes to change into?” He asked, suddenly self conscious that she was that prepared for their date.

“No!” She chuckled as she pulled her hair up into a messy bun, her signature hairstyle, “I have a go-bag.” She spent most of the rest of the trip explaining what that was, and how she was on 24-hour call once a week.

“Okay, but why am I here?” Jihoon asked as the police car pulled up to a tall apartment complex.

“Because it’ll be fun!” She exclaimed and threw the door open. Before he could follow her though, she turned back abruptly, and they bumped heads. Jihoon was going to apologize, but her face was so close to his, that...he couldn’t remember how. Trusty Chae knew though. “Here, you have to wear this.” She expertly pulled a face mask out of her bag and looped it around his ears. “If people see you, it’ll skew my suspect pool.” Then she dragged him out of the car before he could protest.

Policemen were scurrying around the complex like ants on a mission, and as Jihoon and Chae approached the lift to take them to the floor in question, the uniforms kept double taking at the two of them. They glanced over her, probably because they knew exactly who she was, but then they glanced over him, threw it in reverse, and openly stared. Jihoon wasn’t sure if it was because they recognized him, or if they just weren’t used to seeing anyone accompany her.

“Walk like you’re supposed to be here.” Chae whispered over her shoulder as she mashed the button for the elevator. Jihoon tried to stand up straighter, and studied the stride of another cop that rushed past them. Once the lift arrived and they were out of eyesight, Chae raised a brow at him. “You looked scared again.”

“A warning would have been nice.” He replied hotly, but she just smirked. As they neared the floor where the body was, Chae looked at him seriously and asked,

“Do you remember what you learned?” If he didn’t know any better, which at the time he didn’t, he would have thought she was testing him; checking to see whether or not her therapy session had had its desired effect. But he just nodded, and enjoyed the thrill of taking away her scare tactic.

“This guy isn’t going to look like that though.”

“And why not?” She grinned. She enjoyed seeing him utilize what she taught him. She liked to teach, which was nice, because he liked to learn.

“It hasn’t been long enough.” He said with a triumphant smirk.

“There’s hope for you yet.” She commented quietly as they rode the rest of the way up.

When they stepped off the elevator, they were greeted with more police, but this time, no one spared him a second glance. Because it wasn’t Jihoon, but Woozi who strutted down the corridor beside his partner.

Chae flashed her badge at the apartment that was taped off with yellow caution tape, and the doorman let them both in. She instructed Jihoon to put plastic booties over his designer sneakers, and gloves that were too big for him over his expensive rings. He didn’t look like a detective, he didn’t look like her, but the confidence he knew how to give off kept anyone from asking.

Of course, he wasn’t so cocky as to think he could touch anything. In fact, he walked the crime scene with his hands cooly shoved into his pockets. It made him look like he didn’t care, while hiding the tremor in his fingers.

Chae spoke with another detective who was standing outside of the back bedroom. Off to his right, in another bedroom, Jihoon heard the soul crushing sound of people sobbing. His mettle was shaken even more when he turned back to Chae, and the gleam in her eye was gone. She stalked back over to him, and ushered him back away from the hall.

“It wasn’t a murder.” She whispered as paramedics appeared out of the back bedroom with a familiar blue bag on a stretcher.

The world seemed to slow down as the body was escorted out, and the wails from the other room grew louder. “We should go. They don’t need me on this.” She was saying, but something caught Woozi’s eye in that back room, and there was no stopping him from seeing it for sure. He brushed past Chae, quickly and quietly stepping into the scene.

It was a girl’s room: the bed made with a comfortable pink blanket, the desk was a mess with used makeup, and a laptop covered in bias stickers. But worst of all, Woozi saw his own face staring back at him from one the posters tacked up on the wall.

“What happened to her?” He breathed, pulling off his mask to revel in it fully.

“I don’t know the ‘why’, Jihoon. I just know the ‘how’.” Chae said from the doorway, an unhappy line creasing between her eyes. For all her emotional lacking, she at least knew to be sad about this. Sad because a young girl was dead, sad because SVT had just lost a Carat, and sad because they never would have known if Chae hadn’t brought him here.

“I want to leave.” He said, and didn’t wait for her to escort him. He didn’t think he was running, but by the time Chae met him at the elevator, he’d jammed the button a hundred times.

“Your mask! Your mask, put on your mask!” She was saying, but he could barely hear her. When the doors finally opened, he threw himself inside. He pressed his forehead against the wall, focusing on the sound of her coming on, and the doors sliding shut again. Without saying anything, he felt her loop the mask over his ears herself, and then step back to give him the space he needed. He ran out of the complex just as fast when the elevator doors opened again, and then he was blindly staring at the sidewalk, not knowing where he was going, or what he was even supposed to think. Somehow he found his way to the river that divided Seoul in two; the Han. He stood on the bridge and stared at the words on the railing that begged people not to jump, to think about their families.

“I’m sorry. That didn’t go how I thought it would.” Chae was his shadow: he knew she was there, but he forgot until he saw her.

“I need you to figure out the ‘why’.” He muttered.

“The ‘why’ never helps like you think it will.” She said with a shrug, folding her arms over the railing.

“She was my fan.” It was somehow hard to admit that one of his fans could struggle so much. It made him feel guilty, like he hadn’t done enough for her.

“And I bet you brought her joy in the times that she really needed it. You are not responsible for this, Lee Jihoon.” Chae said sternly. He looked at her, blurry tears threatening to spill.

“It feels like I am.”

“Then, if you have to, make amends.” She offered with a shrug, “Write her a song.”

It took all night, and his floor was littered with crumpled paper balls, but ‘Without You’ was born the next morning. That’s how things worked with he and Chae. He’d occupy a little space in her world and expand his perview (her words), while she...well she said it was for fun. But as time went on, it was harder to find the reason Chae agreed to their little arrangement. She was fully committed, obvious by their presence circumstance, but Jihoon didn’t know what she was getting out of it.

And now they were here, standing on her porch, under her laundry, staring at each other because they both already said more than they meant to.

What more was there? Was this going to be the end of them? Was their fake relationship ruined? He’d never broken up with anyone before, let alone pseudo. The real question was whether or not he was willing to let it end...and that was truly the scariest part.

“What if I...changed the arrangement?” He offered when the silence had stretched on too long. Chae once talked about prehensile parts of the body, and how humans had evolved beyond their need for them. It was the sort of philosophy that could be applied to all aspects of life: the need to change for the better, to strip away the old and embrace the new. Take one deal--

“Change it how?”

And turn it into another.

Her eyes were big and wide, reflecting just how bewildered she was by his U-turn. Just a moment ago he’d been yelling...She could usually track where he was going, but this time, it just seemed like she didn’t want to.

“Be my girlfriend.”

“That’s no different--” She started to roll out of it, but he quickly clarified.

“For real. Lay claim to me. Let me be in your life, and you can play around in mine. I wouldn’t need coping mechanisms if I had you. Honestly, I don’t think I would need anything as long as I had you.” Once he started, there was no stopping. The whole confession sort of surged out on its own. Things he didn’t realize he felt until he said them outloud were just as startling to him as they were to her.

“Th-That’s not a deal, that’s--” She stuttered, panic making her avoid his eyes and sag against the railing.

“A proposal? Yeah...what are the odds?” He chuckled nervously the longer she didn’t respond. He watched the gears of her head spin endlessly and never come up with an answer. Probably because, like him, it was the first time, and neither of them knew what to do about it.  

Finally, when her puzzler was solved, she looked back up at him, pressing her lips into a thin line, and asked, “Will you write a song about this?”

He knew her now, knew that she was checking again, constantly testing. She couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not!

“No!” He scoffed and dared to enter her space. He reached for her hand and she didn’t protest when a spark jumped between their fingers.

“Why not?” Her voice was turning breathless, and her face of stone was cracking, letting him catch glimpses of the very fragile heart underneath.

“Because I don’t want to share this with anyone else but you.” They were face to face, nose to nose, and the tide had turned. He was the courageous one now, and she was on the verge of trembling. He took her other hand and squeezed it. Maybe if he held on tight enough, she would understand his intent. She didn’t believe him when he said it, but maybe she would if he showed it.

“I-I don’t…know what to say.” And that was the moment that Lee Jihoon knew that Gang Chae loved him. Because she always knew what to say, always had the right answer, always knew the way to go. And even if she didn’t, there was no way she would ever be able to admit it.

Except to him.

“Just say yes.” He gently put his forehead to hers and closed his eyes.

“But what if you don’t actually like me?” She ruptured, all the uncertainty of a Chae she never let anyone see. “I don’t always act right, and sometimes I misinterpret data, and I—”

He kissed her. A small soft peck on the lips, just to get her to stop doubting herself.

“I can explain it to you, so once you understand, it’ll stop being scary.” He whispered. She stayed perfectly still for the few moments after the kiss, her eyes still shut and her lips still stunned. When she finally came back and opened her eyes, he went in for another, and this time…

She met him halfway.

Chapter Text

The world was blinking in and out of focus. I tried to catch sight of the wheelchair that was steadily spinning away, but the customs agent in front of me refused to let me go without another proper check of my credentials. The chair was barely a blip by the time they cleared me, and then I was off after it...again, the world tilting all the while. 

Kyungsoo hovered by the van with the rest of the crew, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. The whole cast had shown up today in the sweltering heat, and for what? To welcome a technical adviser? It seemed weird to him that the producer was so adamant about them all being at the airport to welcome her, but he went where ordered. Luckily, since it was an official visit, their security team was keeping away any eager fans or reporters that were hovering around the terminal. They were the last thing he wanted to deal with in this weather, so early in the morning. 
"She's coming out now!" One of the managers called after hanging up on his cell phone, and everyone fell into character. It was a shift he'd stopped noticing after awhile, how they all seemed like themselves one moment, and then the next, they were high ranking celebrities. He was guilty of it too, of course, but some aspects of his personality were hard to hide. It was probably why the EXO-Ls called him 'Satansoo'. But still, he pushed off the hind panel of the van where he'd been leaning and advanced to the front of the group with the others. Theirs were the faces they wanted everyone to see after all. 
"Why does Manager Kim think this is so important?" Baekhyun whispered across Kyungsoo to Chanyeol, who was on his other side. 
"I don't know. Maybe she's really famous." The giraffe shrugged. Someone behind them shushed the boys, and Baek turned with a shallow nod and a wave in apology. Typical
"But I've never heard of her." Baek leaned over again, and this time Kyungsoo lifted his hand to slap him under the chin. Baek retreated with a muffled squeal and Kyungsoo gave him his most annoyed glare. He could be a spaz at home. Now was not the time. 
"Oh! There she is!" Manager Kim pointed and Kyungsoo prepared an interested face. Just like Channie had suggested, this adviser was probably famous in America, and had insisted on being treated as such in his country as well, hence the unnecessary welcome. Doctors tended to be that way, just like celebrities. Just look at Ken Jeong. It had to be why they were all gathered here, melting away in the nearly predawn heat. 
So, needless to say, he was quite thrown when an airport attendant wheeled out an old woman and came straight for them. He was even more confused when he realized that his manager was grinning and bowing to her in acceptance. 
She was a grandma! 
Kyungsoo felt more than heard Baek's confusion as the elderly woman was presented in front of them, grinning wide. Her hair was cut into a not very stylish bob that was salt and pepper gray, emphasis on the salt. She wore a matching pastel pink sweatshirt-sweatpant set with purple, blue, and yellow flowers embroidered on the front, and old beaten up white sneakers. 
She did not look famous. But he bowed to her all the same.
Because what she seemed to lack in fashion and notoriety, he saw in her sharp gaze. Her eyes reminded him of the hawks that his father used to take him to see at the zoo: scrutinizing and lovely. This grandma had the same expression, like she saw through all of their rehearsed selves to the original forms, the ones they had tucked away when she arrived. And on top of all of that...
"My dear Doctor Choi! We are so pleased to welcome you home!" Manager Kim announced. 
She was Korean. 
"Allow me to introduce the principle cast member and writer of our show, Do Kyungsoo." Manager Kim sang his praises and he stepped forward automatically. The old lady nodded politely in time with his bow, and grinned a toothy smile at him when he straightened. 
"So you're the mastermind behind this script." She mused. He nodded shyly, still a little new to the idea of being more than an actor. He sang for soundtracks, and acted in movies, but he'd never been a part of the production team until Junmyeon convinced him to show his script to a writer at SM. And they ran with it, full steam ahead. It had barely been two months but they were already about to start shooting. 
"Yes, Doctor." He heard himself saying, and she seemed to blush. 
"Please, call me helmeoni." She grinned. Call her grandma. 
Kyungsoo was about to start in on the courtesy speech he'd prepared for her arrival when yelling from further down the street made him look up. 
"Doctor Choi!" 
A girl was jogging toward them, two backpacks swinging on her back. She wore jeans, a flannel, and a puff sleeveless jacket. How she wasn't dying in this heat, he had no idea. Just as she was upon them, a security guard came up from behind the van and snatched her arm, sending her spinning to a halt. Her face was a mixture of confusion, and slight agitation as she tugged away, but he held her fast. No one said anything for a moment, expecting the guard to haul her off without another thought. Kyungsoo didn't want to have to deal with fans this morning, not when he seemed to have an interesting opponent in front of him, and it was so hot. But the girl stilled, and then directed a single word at the doctor:
"Seriously?" She said in English, and at the sound of her voice, the good doctor turned in her wheelchair. She took in the guard holding the girl and her angry expression, then declared,
"Release her! She is my assistant." The guard immediately released the girl who rubbed her arm where he'd gripped her, giving him the stink eye. Then she advanced to the doctor's side and crouched down, unshouldering both of her packs. She quickly set one aside and unzipped the second, revealing a contraption of some sort, with tubing and valves. An oxygen tank. She pulled a mask from the front pocket and tried to hook it around Doctor Choi's face, but the older woman would have none of it. 
"Must you do this here?" Grandma chided in English. 
"If you didn't want to be embarrassed in front of them, then why didn't you wait for me inside?" The girl returned coolly. 
"There is no need for it. Put it away." The old woman sneered and waved away the mask like a bothersome fly. 
"Only if you promise to stay with me this time." The girl tried to bargain, but instead of answering, the Doctor reached for the brakes on her wheels and started to push herself towards the van, obviously ending any conversation. Kyungsoo cocked an eyebrow at the pair, knowing he might be the only one who could understand English. But their body language was obvious, and no translator was needed to figure out why the girl's shoulders slumped as she repacked her bags. 
Manager Kim happily obliged and pulled down the ramp on the van for the Doctor. It was a feature Kyungsoo hadn't noticed before. All of the company vans were big and bulky, but when he actually looked now, he noticed this one was more so. It was made to be wheelchair accessible. Doctor Choi was rolled up into the vacant space right behind the front passenger seat, and everyone filed in after her. 
But Kyungsoo hung back for just a moment, eyes glued to the girl who was still crouched in the spot she had been so rudely rejected. She was rubbing her face with her hands, muttering something under her breath that he couldn't hear. Then someone said something and she was up and climbing into the van before he could blink. It was her eyes that caught him as well: big, round, and green. American eyes.
She positioned herself against the window behind the driver's seat, and Kyungsoo took the only space left, right between the two women. Manager Kim twisted around from the passenger seat to chat idly with Doctor Choi as the van lurched forward, and they started their trip back to the office. With morning traffic about to hit, it would easily be a 45 minute drive, if not longer. One of the reasons Kyungsoo preferred public transportation...if only he could take it anymore. 
The minutes ticked by and the tension eased somewhat. The Doctor was chatty and cordial, telling him stories of her time in America, of her grandchildren, of her recent retirement. All the while he listened, he kept catching glimpses of her unusual accent, a thick slur of her consonants that made her Korean sound distinctly Mandarin. He'd heard this type of accent before but it had never been in person, only ever in documentaries or old radio sound bites. It was the distinct lilt of someone who came from the north. The north north. 
He wanted to ask her about it, but before he got the chance, his phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw a text message from Baek who was sitting in the row behind him.  
"Incoming" it said. Kyungsoo went to turn in his seat and throw some mean shade at his fellow member, but before he could get the chance, his shoulder was claimed. He jerked at the surprise touch, and then gawked when he realized that the American girl was resting her head on him. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was shallow. 
She was out. 
Kyungsoo heard a snicker from behind him and he knew that Baek had seen this coming. He could beat the puppy later. For now, he tried to gently ease her off of him.
"Let her rest." The Doctor hummed from his right and he stopped pushing the girl off. Glancing at the old woman, he saw her piercing eyes had softened and were gliding over the girl's face with a tender care. It was a stark contrast to their confrontation earlier. "She has been very busy because of me." Wanting to appease her, Kyungsoo let the girl be. 
They caught the traffic much to Kyungsoo's chagrin. Even though they were a little over half way there, it looked like it was going to be another forty-five minutes. Manager Kim apologized to Doctor Choi, but she dismissed it easily, saying it was nothing new and she liked to see the sights in slow motion anyway. After twenty more minutes of mind numbing boredom, Kyungsoo finally allowed himself to glance down at the girl on his shoulder. Her hair was a honey auburn that he imagined no one would ever be able to replicate with hair dye, and her hands were small and pale. They rested in her lap, and although he hadn't noticed it before, he spied a neon purple FitBit around her left wrist. 
He knew it was all the rage in America to count steps and all that, so out of curiosity, he gently reached over and poked the button on the side to see how many she was up to. The tiny screen came to life, but instead of steps or time, big bold letters flashed across the screen in all caps: SLEEP REQUIRED!! With two exclamation points for emphasis. He let out a 'huh', and clicked the button again to clear the alert. It switched to a 24-hour time clock with the date. He clicked again and it brought up her step count: 27,000. Impressive, although he didn't really have any basis for judging. He clicked again and froze. It was the sleep monitor page, and it read an ungodly number. Kyungsoo glanced over at Doctor Choi when he realized she'd trailed off, and her eyes met his expectantly. 
"What does it say?" 
"Thirty-two...she's been up for thirty-two hours straight?!" He gaped at the Doctor who didn't seemed fazed by the staggering number. 
"She has been very busy." She repeated and turned her attention elsewhere, delivering another cold shoulder. 
"Because of you?" He finished her earlier statement with an edge to his voice. What kind of employer kept their assistant up for thirty-two hours? 
"Because of you, actually." She said and then flashed him a smirk. This grandma was seriously conniving, in ways he couldn't quite describe or even get a handle on. 
"Why because of me?" He leaned towards her, but it was too far and the girl slipped down his chest. He panicked and caught her, then froze, hoping she wouldn't wake up. He held his breath for a solid minute, but she didn't wake. Gently, he eased her head back up to its perch and sat back. Out of the corner of his eyes, he caught the Doctor grinning, but he chose to ignore it. It seemed that her time in America had not driven out the characteristic slyness of old women from his country. His grandma was just the same: old and couth, but cunning and devious. That was probably why he loved spending every summer with her. Until he was scouted that is...
His thoughts remained on his own matters for the rest of the trip, until they pulled into the space out front of the corporate office. Manager Kim had explained last night that they were going to treat their guests to a meal since they would probably be hungry, but Kyungsoo hadn't realized that he meant buying them coffee at their own personally sponsored cafe. It seemed a bit cheap in his opinion, but he had a feeling that Doctor Choi wouldn't mind at all. 
They parked and the van doors opened. Manager Kim and Chanyeol helped Doctor Choi roll out, and one by one, the others followed. As he passed, Baek flashed Kyungsoo a devilish grin and a hand gesture he wasn't willing to identify. 
Then it was just the two of them in the van, he and the sleeping girl, and he wondered when he'd been elected the one to have to wake her. If he could wake her...
Thirty-two hours was no joke. 
But resolutely, he reached over and gripped her shoulder. He didn't even get a chance to shake before she sprang up, arms flailing.
"I'm up!" She yelped in English and he had to lean back so she wouldn't smack him in the face. 
"We're, uhh...here." He told her, recalling the words. Her eyes zeroed in on his face and she swallowed hard. 
"I'm so sorry, I didn't realize I had..." She trailed off, leaving her apology open ended. It wasn't a big deal, not after what he'd learned from her watch, but Kyungsoo figured that probably wouldn't be the smartest thing to mention. 
So he left it alone. 
The awkward grew the longer they sat there staring at each other. He thought she was trying to gain her composure, but she suddenly jumped up, stuttering out "mian", and climbed over him, out of the van. It was clumsy and uncomfortable, and he felt one or both of them might have accidentally copped a feel, but she was out, and he after her. 

The group entered the cafe to find one long table had been prepared for them, with Doctor Choi being wheeled to the head. He felt the cold rush of air conditioning waft over his face, and he let out a grateful moan. He wanted to stand under the fan and enjoy it a bit more, but the girl was moving with determination, avoiding any contact with everyone else. She took the seat beside her Doctor, and Kyungsoo quickly took the one next to her. He settled in by Baek begrudgingly, and rolled his eyes when his brother pinched his knee under the table. Beat the puppy later or beat the puppy now? He sighed, unable to decide. 
"Please everyone, order a drink and enjoy. We will have our first meeting after we have cooled off." Manager Kim announced and everyone clapped in thanks. A waitress came around the table to each of them, smiling politely as they ordered. Chanyeol was going to get something weird, and Baek, most likely something sickly sweet. Kyungsoo ordered an iced coffee before pretending not to notice, but totally waiting to hear what the girl ordered. 
"Can I get hot green tea?" She cleared her throat as she ordered, but her voice was still thick with sleep. Kyungsoo seriously didn't understand how she wasn't a puddle already. It was almost a hundred degrees but she was in a jacket and ordering hot drinks. Was she from the desert or something? Somewhere that made a hundred degrees feel cold? 
Once the waitress was finished taking the orders, she left to begin making them, and Manager Kim stood again to call their meeting to order. 
"I would like to thank everyone for coming to welcome Doctor Choi to Korea and our studio. She will be the lead technical adviser on the show. But she is also here to participate in a research study being held at the Asan Medical Center." The crew ooo'd and ahhh'd at her prowess, but the grandma blushed at the attention. 
"Thank you for inviting me. Please take care of us." She bent her head from her wheelchair, and everyone clapped at her graciousness. 
He liked her. She was smooth and used her words well. It was the kind of confidence that came with age, and knowing what tools you had at your disposal. "Also everyone, this is my assistant, Y/N. She is in her last year of residency in the US, and will be assisting in the technical advisement as well." Doctor Choi gestured to the girl, who in turn, dipped her head and plastered on a fake smile, looking around the table, but somehow still managing to avoid all eye contact. Manager Kim beamed at the women, like he was personally responsible for their existence, and then continued his introductions. 
"And as you know, he needs no introduction, our chief writer and lead actor, Do Kyungsoo." Kyungsoo bowed his head and waved. He knew everyone here, he wasn't sure why he was being introduced. Perhaps Manager Kim was just getting caught up in the moment. But then the drinks arrived, and while they were being handed out, he saw the girl--Y/N--shift in his direction. 
"Umm...sorry for before, in the van." She said to him quietly, twisting her watch around her wrist. "And thanks." She angled her head down but looked up at him through her eyelashes. Her gaze was direct, and he felt oddly smug that he got to be the only one she looked at. 
"Any timeeeeuh!" He tried to answer but jumped when he felt Baek grab his leg. His upper thigh for Christ's sake! She seemed taken aback by his sudden jolt, but he tried very hard to play it off. "Sorry, it’s a little cold in here." He lied. She seemed puzzled for a moment before he saw her relax.
"I think so too." She chuckled and slid her hands up her arms, a gesture he had no idea why he was glued to.
"What are you guys talking about?" Baek leaned over Kyungsoo's lap and asked in Korean. The girl sat back in her chair and dropped her gaze. As much as Kyungsoo was proud someone was annoyed by his brother as much as he was, he got the distinct impression that she was more embarrassed than bothered. 
"Do you speak any Korean?" He asked her in English. She'd apologized to him in the van, but knowing how to say sorry and how to cuss out a puppy were too different things. 
"Not really, no." She admitted and wrapped her hands around the mug of hot tea that was just set before her. 
"What is she saying?" Baek asked again, and Kyungsoo shoved him back into his seat, glaring at him. Chanyeol, knowing that Kyungsoo would resort to violence sooner rather than later, waved him off and tried to distract Baek with the sugar packets on the table. 
"Oh my god...I'm going to kill him." She said suddenly and Kyungsoo gaped at her. Sure, Baek was annoying, but there was no need for her to--
But she wasn't looking at him or Baek. She was staring out the window of the cafe where a man was holding a big green sign, waving it around for everyone to see. The writing on it was in English characters, but they weren't words that Kyungsoo recognized. He looked back at y/n to see if maybe she understood them, but her chair was already empty and she was stomping towards the door. In response to the oncoming storm, the man at the window dropped the sign and then dashed out of sight. 
"Uhhh, Doctor?" Manager Kim pointed at y/n as she ran outside with a fire in her eyes, but the grandma simply took a sip of her black coffee and chuckled. 
"Pay them no mind." 
"What did the sign say?" Kyungsoo asked.
"Oh, I have no idea." She shrugged, setting down her mug. "Matías is another student of mine, and the both of them speak Portuguese. I think so they can talk about me while I'm in front of them." She laughed, which made Manager Kim laugh by association, and then everyone laughed one big fake guffaw. 
"Portuguese?" Chanyeol's ears perked up. He was one who thoroughly enjoyed learning words in different languages, if not for the sole purpose of using them in his raps. 
"Yes, Matías' family is from Portugal, while Y/N grew up on Ilha Grande." 
"Where is Ilha Grande?" Baek asked, botching the pronunciation. 
"Brazil." 
Just then, the man who had been holding the sign came skittering in. He was plump and jolly, with thick black hair and dark tanned skin. He slid up to Doctor Choi with a playful grin on his face.
"Holla, my Doctora Flora." He rolled his 'r's excessively and hugged the frail woman in the wheelchair. She seemed delighted by it, but everyone else was put off by his contact. 
"Good to see you again, Matías." Choi sweetly grabbed his hand and squeezed it, a nice grandma like gesture that cemented in Kyungsoo's mind that she must have a dual personality. 
"Which one of these is D's?" He pointed to the drinks casually, but his eyes were beady, which made Kyungsoo nervous for some reason. Why hadn't she come back in with him? 
"I'll let you guess." The Doctor joked. Matías feigned distress, but went immediately for the girl's abandoned tea. 
"That girl and her tea..." He muttered and then, just as quickly as he slid in, he glided back out of the cafe. 
Kyungsoo leaned back in his chair, trying to catch any glimpse of the girl before Matías disappeared around the corner, but wasn't even able to see a strand of honey auburn. He heard Baek giggle beside him, and he knew his brother was about to say something that would get him punched, but instead, Chanyeol muttered,
"I wonder what they're doing out there." 
"If you'll please excuse me." Kyungsoo jumped to his feet and was heading around the table when Doctor Choi reached out and snatched his wrist like a snake striking a mouse. Her grip was strong and tight, much more so than he would have guessed. 
"Don't worry, young man." She said in Korean. "She's perfectly capable of saving herself." She added in English. He was the only one who could understand it, therefore it must have been meant for him to hear. Trusting in her grip on his arm more than the twist in his gut, he returned to his seat. She kept her sharp eyes on him for a long time after, analyzing the way he moved and spoke. Her constant gaze forced him to slip back into his character: the seasoned actor, the new writer, the celebrity. The curios kid from earlier was tucked away again, and he didn't ask about the assistant again. 

 

Chapter Text

Headquarters was a dusty cold this morning. Myoui Mina tugged the collar of her bulky issue jacket higher, hoping to keep out the winter wind until she got into the bullpen. She rounded the police academy building in Seoul with the sky still pitch black and the whole city still asleep. She was coming off a double that consisted nearly entirely of Jihyo throwing French fries into Mark's mouth while he slept. The three of them had been assigned a stakeout that produced zero results, and it frustrated Mina to no end.
"Quit scowling so much Black Swan, or your face will stick that way!" Jihyo had teased as they escaped when their relief came, Mark nearly choking when he woke up.
The heavy metal door slammed shut behind her as she finally entered through the side, sighing in relief to finally be out of the cold. It was by no means any more pleasant in the stairwell, but at least the wind wasn't whipping away the last of her warmth. She started peeling off layers as she went, first her gloves, then her hulking outer jacket, slinging it over her arm as she pushed through the door to the ground floor. With how the building was set up, Mina had to pass through both the cafeteria and the dispatch center to get to her office in the investigation unit, but she didn't mind. At least this way she could grab a snack and then stay up all day even though she had shift the next evening too.
The dispatch center smelled like a fresh coat of paint and was darker than outside almost. The first time she'd come down here, Mina had been convinced that all her dispatchers were vampires from how they hissed when the lights were flipped on. But after three years listening to them over her walkie talkie, she just figured they liked the blanket it created in the room. Night shift was simultaneously hard and boring at the same time. There could be instances where it was balls to the wall busy and nobody knew their right from their left, or there were times when you could clean out the fridge twice, rearrange the captain's desk so everything was upside down, peel back all the carpet squares and play tik-tac-toe, compose a sonnet and recite it to all the officers over the low band radio, or you could read the mountain of books they stashed in the corner (Seriously, the center was half dispatch, half library). And you could do all of those things...all night long. Mina didn't envy their job.

She was just tugging off her scarf when she noticed a subtle difference in the room that made her pause. At night, since their -gu was smaller than some of the others, they usually only had two dispatchers on, one for rural calls, and one for central calls. Mina and her two partners had been staking out a Mahjong den in the central portion of the shopping district, only checking in with the city dispatcher, Chaeyoung, when they had to. But over on the rural side, Mina caught sight of someone she'd never seen before. His back was broad against the small office chair, a mop of messy brown hair curled on his head, and the back of his jacket that sported a very angry looking Sasuke from Naruto was definitely not standard issue. The man was scribbling furiously down a piece of paper, short sentences line by line, and beside it sat a stack of comic books that didn't go with the library aesthetic. Finally, at the far end of his desk sat a small metal box Mina instantly knew was a Bento, and resting beautiful on top was a plump round persimmon. She stared at the fruit like it was staring back, mesmerized by it's delicacy. She could tell from across the room that if she bit into the flesh, the juice would drip down her chin and she was momentarily floored.
It reminded her of the winters cuddled up with her father under their living room kontatsu, peeling off the skin and laying out the strips to dry. It wards off tigers, he'd tease while sneaking pieces into his mouth when he thought Mina wasn't looking.
It wasn't like there weren't any persimmons in Seoul. Hell they probably sold them at the 7-11 down the street, but she just never had the time. Her day and nights were consumed with her career, to the point where her mother was starting to worry she would never marry. A stupid notion really, but Mina never said it out loud. Gazing at the fruit only made her more acutely aware of how long it'd been since she'd seen her mother, or her father, or Kobe, or their kontatsu. She felt the churning in the bottom of her stomach, the familiar pang of loneliness--

"Mina? Earth to Mina??" Chaeyoung tugged on Mina's sleeve and jolted her back to the present. The persimmon was still there, plump and gorgeous, but now the man beside it was staring at her, and Chaeyoung was moving to flick on the lights. Maybe she thought the light would clear up her brain.
"Sorry..." She muttered, dropping her eyes to the floor, briefly blinded by the overheads coming on to bathe the room. "Long night."
"Mark and Jihyo shamelessly flirting again?" Chaeyoung grinned knowingly.
"Yeah," It wasn't a lie, they really had been flirting hard over the past twelve hours the three of them were stuck in the van, but Mina was used to it by now, it didn't really bother her, "And no joy from the Mahjong tables."
"I'll put it in the call. Were you heading back to your office? Why don't you go home and get some sleep?" She mothered kindly, but Mina just shook her head. There'd be no point. She wouldn't be able to close her eyes at her apartment without thinking of the case files sitting on her desk. Jihyo liked to say it was the Japanese in her, the part that like to work to death, and Mina couldn't really disagree.
"I'm just gonna go through a few files before heading out." She gave her dispatcher a small smile before moving towards the door, hoping she knew to leave it well enough alone...and she did, but--
"Oh! How rude of me, sorry! Mina," Chaeyoung called her back, "This is Nakamoto Yuta, he's new." Mina turned at the familiar lilt and found her eyes back on the man. He seemed even taller now that she was seeing his front, and his eyes regarded her curiously. "Hey, Mina's from Japan too!" Chaeyoung tacked on happily and Yuta raised a delicate eyebrow.
"Really? What part?" His voice was deep, and Mina knew for sure she'd never heard it over her radio before. She hardly ever worked the rural sector, but she would definitely remember that voice.
"Kobe. You?" She answered as casually as she could.
"Osaka." He dipped his head in a cursory bow that she mirrored before her social requirements were done for the night.
"Well I'll be in my office if you need me." Mina told them before quickly making her way through the rest of the center. She stopped by the cafeteria to grab a snack, but regretted buying it the moment she knew it wasn't going to taste as good as that persimmon. Finally in her office, she chucked all her outerwear in the corner, not even bothering to hang it up like she should. She felt drained, but not tired. Exhausted physically, but not mentally. Knowing she was in for the another long haul, she untied her boots and tucked her feet under her in her chair, getting comfortable before she opened the first file.

It was two hours later that the itch on the back of her neck became too much to bear. She glanced at the clock, groaning when she read the time. The sun was probably just rising, and soon her bullpen that was nice and quite would become a chaotic mess of rookie cops. Standing, she stretched her arms above her head with a wince before eyeing the uneaten snack on her desk. Dispatchers worked eight hour shifts, so Chaeyoung and Yuta were definitely still there, and maybe, just maybe she'd be able to steal a piece of his dessert.
Padding down the hallway, Mina avoided any early bird coworkers, not wanting to deal with the teasing she'd get for walking around in the shower slippers she kept in her desk. She peaked into the dispatch break room and found Yuta leaning against the counter, stirring a mug full of something, probably coffee. On the boring night, you had to keep yourself awake somehow. When counting the dots on the ceiling tiles stopped working, you turn to chemical dependence. With an awkward sigh, Mina stepped in and Yuta looked up at her. This was stupid and she knew it, but she just couldn't get it out of her head.

"Hey," She offered smally and he blinked at her, almost like he wasn't entirely sure if she was talking to him or not. She figured he might even turn around to look for someone else by the way he was staring at her, but he didn't.
"Um, hey?" His voice was laced with disbelief, and Mina wondered why. Of course they'd only met a few hours ago for a total of thirty second, but they were colleagues. They could be cordial, couldn't they?
"So um..." She ventured further into the room and caught him glancing at her sandals. With a grimace, it all came pouring out. "Can I have a piece of your persimmon?"
"Huh?" His eyes doubled in size and she wanted to slink back out of the room then and there, but she stood her ground.
"This is going to sound stupid but I saw your persimmon and I just really, really wanted some."
"I honestly can't tell if you're joking or not." He answered after a short pause, and Mina openly flinched.
"I'm not unfortunately, or else I wouldn't be standing here like a mess in shower sandals asking for your fruit."
"That...okay, that--" He cut himself off with a snort, staring at her for a few more seconds before turning back to the fridge in the room and opening it. He grabbed the persimmon off the shelf and then, surprise surprise, grabbed a second one. He turned and lobbed it to her across the room, and she frantically went to catch it. It was firm with just a little bit of give and she could tell it was just as juicy as the other one.
"I didn't know you had another one, thanks." She nibbled at her bottom lip, avoiding looking up at Yuta who had leaned back against the counter. Heavy silence blanketed the room, and even though she had what she came for, she couldn't make her feet move.
"How long has it been since you've been back?" Yuta asked when it seemed like he couldn't take it anymore.
"Where?" She still refused to look up.
"Japan." Home, was what he meant.
"Five years." She shrugged, shifting her weight from foot to foot.
"You must miss it." There was a knowing tone to his voice, like he understood what it was to miss something so concept.
"I mean, it's fine." She quickly waved away the notion of being homesick like it was ridiculous. "It's only like a thirty minute plane ride." She felt his eyes bore into her, and then a note of chiding as he said,
"You can miss your home with one foot out the door. Distance isn't really how it works, you know."
She heaved a sigh and said, "I know..." and the silence blanketed them again.
"Want me to peel it for you?" Mina's head finally snapped up. Color dusted Yuta's cheeks but he didn't look away, gesturing to the fruit he'd thrown at her.
"Oh, um...sure." She hesitated for a second before stepping towards him and handing him the persimmon. Their fingers brushed just barely at the exchange and she felt heat creep up her neck.
Calm down, she told herself. Are you really trying to jump the first Japanese guy you see?
"Chaeyoung said you just came off a double. Why aren't you at home sleeping?" Yuta asked, turning back to the counter and grabbing a knife to slice it into wedges.
"I have trouble falling asleep when I have open cases." She admitted quietly, standing beside him at the counter, watching him work.
"When do you not have open cases?" He hummed, and her eye twitched with her answer.
"...never."
He chuckled a little bit at that before handing her a wedge, "Must be hard."
"I'm used to it." She shrugged, taking the piece and popping it in her mouth with no hesitation. It sparked a groan in the back of her throat as the flavor coated her tongue. Sweet, and tangy, a little bit fibrous, like sunshine in your mouth.
"That must be why you have to steal my persimmons and not buy your own." Mina sputtered, inhaling a little of the juice and choked on her embarrassment. Yuta gingerly slapped her back a few times, but his face was split into a grin.
"Oh my god," She heaved when she was finally able, "it's too weird, isn't it? I'm so sorry, I just--"
"It's okay, really." He laughed while handing her a napkin. "I was just...surprised. In a good way. Didn't think it would be this easy to find an excuse to talk to you." Their eyes met and Mina knew her cheeks were glowing red, and not just from her coughing fit.
"O-Oh..."
"So...I'm new to Seoul. Maybe we can help each other out." Yuta quickly cleared his throat and looked away, grabbing his persimmon and taking a big chomp out of it, like it was an apple.
"How so?" She asked, taking another wedge just to have something to do with her hands.
"You show me where the good food is, and I'll buy you dinner. Or well, " He checked his watch, "Breakfast?"
"Are you asking me on a date right now?" She gaped at him, hardly believing what was happening. All she wanted was his persimmon.
"No," He scoffed although his ears were tinging red, "I just figured it would be mutually beneficial. Homesickness is a serious condition, don't you know?"
"I'm not homesick." She snapped a little harder than she meant to, but he wasn't phased.
"You asked a complete stranger for his food." He pointed out, and the words she'd prepared to retort with died on her tongue.
"Okay...I'm a little homesick." She caved, but he just grinned at her knowingly. "Fine, so I'm a lot homesick. Sue me." She threw her hands up in surrender, but Yuta just smirked.
"I'd rather take you to breakfast."

Chapter Text

Kyungsoo stood at the back of the group, not at all wanting to be there. Between the fatality he’d witnessed this morning, and his lack of sleep last night, dealing with Monsta X was the last thing he wanted to do this morning. As a band, they weren’t that much younger than EXO, only three years, but somehow they still acted like they were trainees. Shownu, Wonhu, Minhyuk, Kihyun, Hyungwon, Jooheon, and IM; even their names were annoying as they filed on stage, snickering and late.

“They couldn’t be bothered to show up on time? Even for this?” Sehun muttered under his breath. It was that time of year again: The Dream Concert. And for some reason, the Kpop world had decided that it would be a great idea to pit EXO against MONSTA X. Honestly, it was cruel. Monsta X was nowhere near as popular or as successful. And if you asked Kyungsoo, he might even admit they were nowhere near as talented. But he kept that to himself as the groups lined up across from each other and bowed stiffly, like they were happy to be there.

“We are very excited to be competing with you this year.” Junmyeon said cordially. Shownu stepped forward from their side with a smirk that Kyungsoo hated. He had a long, pale face that everyone knew the fangirls loved. They also couldn’t get enough of his muscular arms, which Kyungsoo figured he spent way too much time on.

“So are we.” Shownu said it as if there were a hundred other things he wanted to say, but those were the only words he was allowed. “Please take care of us.” He added formally, and the groups bowed to each other again.

The process was simple enough: EXO’s hit ‘Monster’ would be mashed with Monsta X’s song ‘Hero’, and the two groups would practice combining and outperforming each other through vocals and dance. Chanyeol was the only one excited about it, but only because he helped write the two together. He played it for the rest of the members last night, and despite Kyungsoo’s general regard for most things, he had to admit that it was cool. Channie said he still had to tweak the bridge, but other than that, the songs were easy to combine.

Together, the sixteen men lined up behind the choreographer and blocker who was going to stage them. Monsta X was late for their combine blocking time, meaning they had to quickly learn their spots before it was someone else’s turn to familiarize themselves with the stage.

Standing between Wonhu and Yixing, Kyungsoo looked out over the stadium. The arena around them was empty, which made their voices echo that much more. The seats were black, the stage was black, the turf was black, Kyungsoo was wearing black…it was a wash of colorlessness and he liked it.

“About as black as D.O.’s heart, huh?” Chanyeol quipped, and Kyungsoo punched him lightly in the back.

They had just started in on the first chorus choreo when the screaming started. Everyone paused as the sound bounced off the tiers of each level, creating a bowl of horror.

“What the—” Xiumin started, but was interrupted by the sight of Harper sprinting onto the field across from the stae, screaming at the top of her lungs. Kyungsoo was momentarily taken back to this morning when he walked in on her barfing her guts out, but this somehow seemed worse. She was in her typical skinny jeans, converse, white sleeveless shirt that was against some rule somewhere, and flannel tied around her waist. It looked like a cape that sailed behind her as she tore down the middle aisle of chairs. For a moment, it was only her, and all of EXO collectively wondered if maybe she had really lost her mind this time. Her arms pumped, and everyone could see her mouth move as she screamed.

And then the giant appeared.

It burst out from under the overhang like some sort of demon escaping from its cage in hell. It may have been a human at one point, but god only knows when that was. Even from the stage where everything looked tiny, that thing looked colossal. Harper was only five foot whatever, but this thing—

This thing had to be well over seven.

It sprinted down the aisle after her like Harper was the character from Temple Run, and someone should whip out their iPad to keep her alive. With a white shirt, and black slacks, it definitely seemed like it was a person once, but when he reached for her and she danced out of his grip, the beast let out a howl akin to something Channie had spliced into ‘Wolf’s remix.

The collection of people on the stage stood stunned at the sight coming at them, like it was running off the pages of a fairy tale. Was this Jack and the Beanstalk? Were there really giants stalking around Seoul? Jesus, where was an axe when he needed on?

Then, Harper’s screams started to form words: “Get out! Out! Move! Run! Why the hell aren’t you moving?!”


Air was sucking into my lungs with ragged breaths as my feet pounded down the aisle of chairs. Surely I was dreaming! The thing behind me had to be some sort of creature from my drug induced nightmare. I felt it lunge for me again and I threw myself to the left into a row. It barreled past me, but quickly backtracked to find me again.

Well at least I knew I was its target and not one of the boys. I risked a glance at the stage where the gaggle of men stood staring at this like it was a god damned spectacle. Seriously? Did they not notice the danger?

Danger!

Idiots!

I vaulted over the rows, moving forward again, hoping the long legs on the monster would get caught on the short seats. Maybe if I threw something at Junmyeon, he’d come back to life and get them the fuck out of there! The man-beast howled again, and I ducked as it took another swipe for me, way too close for comfort.

“Harper!” Someone screamed my name, and it caught me just enough off guard that I glanced up when I shouldn’t have. My eyes found Kyungsoo’s and I watched his face spread in horror for about a half second before there were hands on my shoulder and leg. The thing snatched me up like I was as light as a feather, and then tossed me just the same.

I smashed into the rigging of the stage nearly upside down, but had no time to recover as the creature closed the distance between us again. Using the stage as leverage, I pushed out of its way at the last second, and as it leaned into the stage from momentum, I grabbed its shoulder and vaulted onto its back, using the monster as a ramp to get to higher ground.

I stumbled onto the black stage, hoping that it would take more than a second for it to catch me. I needed to breathe, to think. What the hell was even happening? There I was, minding my own business, walking the internal perimeter of the arena, when the men’s restroom exploded, and that thing crawled out. I wasn’t even asking for a fight! The drugs I’d taken earlier were only just starting to work, and my migraine had barely lessened to a dull roar. I was not expecting it to be replaced with the real thing!

“Harper!” I heard Baekhyun shout my name, and figured my second was up. The creature hoisted itself onto the stage and started stalking towards me again. At least it wasn’t sprinting, although it might have known that I didn’t have anywhere to go. I couldn’t very well run past the boys and leave them exposed should the thing change its mind. Instead, I rolled forward and around, placing myself between the idols and the monster.

“Get back!” I yelled over my shoulder and reached for a baton at my belt. Usually, the brush of metal in my hands would make me feel infinitely more confident, but when I looked down at my little stick and back up to the hulking thing coming for me, no sureness came.

Mo Myong?!” Hyungwon of Monsta X was off to my left, huddled with the rest of the frozen celebrities. But he shouted and the beast paused.

“You know this thing?” I cried and jumped out of the way when the creature was done being distracted. Although, I guess it really was a man?

“Mo Myong!” Hyungwon shouted, and when the monster stopped to look again, I lunged to the side, bashing the baton into his knee joint. Mo howled in pain, throwing his head back and curling his fingers like a werewolf. Hoping the break would last long enough, I grabbed his wrist, trying to gain control of his body and maybe take him down in a hold. There would be no way I could keep him down, but maybe if I could incapacitate him for long enough, the others would finally find the sense to run.

But, of course, instead of me gaining any upper hand, Mo Myong twisted his arm so that the grip I had on him became a grip he had on me. I leaned in, trying to close the distance, knowing that the further I was from him, the more likely he could destroy me. As I tucked in under his arm, somewhere in the back of my mind, it registered that he smelled terrible. His heavy breathing smelled like rotten onions, and his whole body reeked of dog food, or something greasy you’d get from a fast food joint in the middle of the night. But Mo shoved me off, slamming his other fist into my hip and sending me flying. I tumbled for a few feet, before I managed to catch hold of something on the stage and reel myself into another fighting stance. I lost the baton and all that fake confidence it hadn’t given me.

This was not going well. Think, Harper, think. EXO to my right, Monsta X to my left, backstage behind me, and the audience in front of me. I’d lost my only weapon, and I was pretty sure I was injured, I just couldn’t feel it yet because of the adrenaline. Mo Myong paused for a moment, and then surprisingly swayed on his feet.

Monsta X knew who this guy was, enough to call out to him in this state. But the only people allowed in the stadium were agency staff. That meant that this guy was a part of Starship Entertainment. So why was he like this?! I took a good hard look at him finally, knowing I hadn’t actually seen his face through the sudden battle or panic. His white shirt was tailored into his hips and almost see-through with sweat. His neck was bulging under his collar, and his face was yellow, like a crayon. His eyes were bloodshot and jumping around, like he couldn’t focus on me or anything else. It was why he was flailing, I realized, and also why he’d only managed to hurt me when he got in close.

Mo Myong was overdosing. Sudden violence, paranoia, hallucinations, they were all symptoms of steroid abuse. Couple those with excessive sweating, jaundice, and bad breath, and I knew exactly why he’d detonated from the bathroom. He’d gone to shoot up before his shift, but injected too much too quickly. Much to my chagrin, I was suddenly thankful for all those health seminars the corps had forced me to sit through. But I would have to thank my DS later.

“Junmyeon.” I yelled over my shoulder. Suho’s eyes snapped to mine, but before I could say anything else, Mo charged me again. “My bag!” I shrieked as I dodged his arm, making sure to stay out of his reach this time.

Junmyeon only took a moment to understand my meaning, and then he was running off stage towards the dressing rooms. The rest of EXO trailed behind him confused, not sure if they were supposed to follow, but also not wanting to leave me to die alone. It ignited the fire in Monsta X though, and all the members but Hyungwon fled the platform. The pointy faced boy stood his ground as I danced out of Mo’s reach again and again, waiting for my backup plan.

Only a second later, Suho came galloping back on stage holding my green backpack in his hands. At the same time, Hyungwon grabbed hold of my arm, halting my step and trying to put himself in front of me.

“What the—” I managed before Hyungwon’s ill-conceived attempt to be the hero ended with Mo Myong sending us both flying. I crashed into Junmyeon, who in his defense, tried to catch me, but we ended in a pile of limbs on the floor. Hyungwon landed somewhere off to the side behind a speaker, and Mo Myong let out another howl, although this one sounded more human than the last.

“But, Hasa—” Junmyeon stuttered as I grabbed my bag and turned it up, emptying the contents. A solid black 5x7 case clattered to the ground and I snatched it. I slid my thumb over the seam, allowing the small screen to register my fingerprint. Mo Myong stomped forward a step but faltered, grabbing his head with both hands.

“Yeah, I bet your head hurts.” Now really wasn’t the time to be snarky, but I’d never managed my attitude very well anyway. The case clicked open and exposed a beautiful little .357 Kimber revolver. Mo Myong screamed again and then started sprinting towards us.

Hasa, Hasa, Hasa!” Suho scrambled backwards, out of the way of the charging bull. Franticly, I grabbed the spiral, unhinged the wheel, jammed the bullets in their slots, and flicked the cylinder back into place. And, without missing a beat, I stood to face the hurricane of testosterone sprinting towards us. “Hasa!” Junmyeon screamed again and I saw him squeeze his eyes shut. He hadn’t gotten completely out of the way, probably feeling somewhat responsible. But I looked at him, and then to all the other boys who were gaping at us from further away. I took in each gaze until I landed on D.O.’s. I wondered if he would tell them the truth about me after I died, or if he would keep it to himself. A part of me wanted him to tell them, let them see how small I actually was, but the other part wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, exactly how they saw me now.

I probably looked like something straight out of the Avengers: armed, sexy, and the underdog. They could make such a good movie out of my life.

Mo Myong reared his fist back as he ran, and I cocked my hammer.

He screamed. I shot.


Kyungsoo tried his hardest not to look at her, but his eyes kept finding their way back to where she was forced to sit and allow the paramedic to examine her. Harper was rolling her eyes so hard, Kyungsoo was worried they’d roll right out of her head. He heard ‘broken ribs’ and ‘sprained wrist’ muttered by the woman who poked and prodded her, but he couldn’t really see those injuries on the girl whose legs were bouncing up and down.

“Tell your guard, it’s a job well done.” Detective Dong Daegu said to Chief Soo. He held up Harper’s gun by a pencil through the trigger guard, gesturing to it.  Guns were just so out of their realm that when Harper had dropped it, everybody just stared at it. It wasn’t until Detective Dong picked it up that anyone remembered it had been abandoned.

“But how is he…” Jongin asked. He wanted to know how the man, Mo Myong, wasn’t dead. For someone Kyungsoo thought was huge in the beginning, Mo Myong looked remarkably small strapped to the EMT gurney. Bright orange straps were secured over his arms, waist, and legs, to keep him on or to keep him down, D.O. didn’t want to know. All he cared to see was the steady rise and fall of his chest that was proof he wasn’t dead. For as long as he lived, Kyungsoo was never going to be able to forget the image of Harper pulling the trigger of her gun over and over again. Or seeing Mo Myong’s body jerk with each shot. He was terrified of her in that moment, more so than he was of the lunatic storming their dance session. How easily she shot him, like she’d done it a million times. Because she had.

She was a soldier, how could he keep forgetting? But still, it seemed too easy, too second nature. How did she manage to justify it? How was she okay with taking someone else’s life with the squeeze of a finger?

“Your American had the foresight to use rubber bullets.” Detective Dong answered Jongin’s unasked question. He toed the evidence box on the ground at his feet, indicating the bag filled with little black balls. Chief Soo was rigid as the Detective explained Harper hadn’t been issued a weapon’s permit, and if she had used real bullets and killed this guy, everyone would be in serious trouble. “And then there’s this thing,” He gestured to the automated syringe next to the bullets, “what was it, anyway?” He directed his question to Harper who, when Kyungsoo turned back to her, found that she was looking at him.

“Ketamine.” She said in English. How she knew what they were talking about, D.O. didn’t know. But regardless, Detective Dong made a face as if to say ‘not-bad’, before packing up the rest of his evidence. Chief Soo thanked them excessively as they wheeled Mo Myong out of the arena, representatives from Starship hot on their heels. He’d only arrived shortly after the whole incident had ended, making him walk in on a literal disaster.

“What happened?!” He screamed when he saw Harper straddling a man on the stage, needle shoved into his neck. Needless to say it fell to the still flustered Suho to explain Harper’s back up plan. Apparently it was something she’d worked out with him in the beginning.

“It’s because you’re the leader.” Harper said matter-of-factly. She’d cornered him in an empty dressing room weeks ago. “You have to know about this. I can’t be single handedly in charge of your security. You have to be able to protect yourselves too.” So she’d showed him the case she always carried with her, and how to open it. According to Junmyeon, he and Harper’s prints were the only ones the box would open for. He admitted that his hands shook when she showed him how to load the bullets and secure the cylinder. She didn’t let him shoot it, of course, and he hadn’t asked too. But she also neglected to mention that they weren’t real bullets.

Then she showed him the spring loaded syringe, telling him it was a tranquilizer. “If I ever can’t protect you, if I’m ever taken out of the picture, you use this to pause,” she held up the gun, “and you use this to stop.” She held up the needle. She made him repeat the phrase like a mantra, over and over, until the sight of the gun didn’t make his skin crawl, and he promised he could protect his members without hesitation should he need to.

Hearing that she had something like this waiting in the wings stirred up confusion in Kyungsoo’s stomach. Was he supposed to feel more secure that she had all these ‘backup plans’? If so, why then did he feel a little let down that she had none with him? He quickly shoved the thought away, wondering where the hell it’d come from. So what? Just because he knew Harper before didn’t mean that she was required to run anything past him now. He was technically the reason she had this job, but if she hadn’t been qualified for it, Chief Soo would have thrown her out weeks ago. She knew how to protect them, plain and simple…backup plans just so happened to be one way.

“Ugh, can you not?” Harper griped in English at the EMT who was lifting the hem of her shirt.

“You have three broken ribs. I have to see.” The woman tried to tell her, but Harper didn’t understand. She squirmed again and the EMT let out an exasperated sigh. Kyungsoo could relate. Harper made him feel that way most days. So he felt compelled to go over and plant his hands on her shoulders, causing her to freeze.

“What are you doing?” She asked as she gazed up at him. Around one of her big green eyes, a bruise was forming, and she’d busted her lip somewhere in the epic battle earlier. Funny, just a few moments ago it had been terrifying to him, but now it was epic. Curious…

“Let her see.” He ordered, and then nodded to the EMT who seemed happy for the help. In one long swipe, she cut up the side of Harper’s shirt. He definitely had not been expecting that, and Kyungsoo’s face quickly flushed as he saw the flat lines of Harper’s stomach and the folds of her sports bra. But Harper was never one to be shy, she seemed like she hardly cared that he saw. She was more concerned with the fact that her shirt was now ruined.

His hands on her shoulders were suddenly on fire, and he snatched them away. Harper threw him an annoyed look, probably blaming him for the shirt and not noticing how he hid his arms behind him. The EMT quickly went about assessing the damage, drawing Kyungsoo’s attention to the swollen red rash on Harper’s upper side.

“Looks like R 5-7.” The paramedic muttered to herself and went fishing in her bag for something.

“How bad is it?” Harper’s voice was small, and Kyungsoo glanced up at her face curiously. She wouldn’t meet his eye, but her expression was one of embarrassment, although he could have imagined it.

“You have three broken ribs.” He answered.

“Meh…I’ve had worse.” She shrugged but immediately regretted it as she winced and held her side. Any shame she felt was gone when the EMT popped back up out of her bag with a beige wrap.

“Tell her the bra has to come off too.” The woman instructed Kyungsoo. He was about to comply, since it seemed like such a normal medical request, but after a moment of translating, he realized what she was asking him to say and blanched.

“We’re in the middle of an arena!” He hissed, trying his best to sound calm so Harper wouldn’t know that he was panicking over her bra, but she raised an eyebrow at him anyway. He hated how even when she couldn’t speak Korean, she still somehow knew what was being said.

“I’d move her, but she’s being belligerent. The quicker I treat her, the better.” The woman shot back, obviously annoyed that she’d picked the short stick in terms of patients. The overdosing maniac would have been easier, honestly, and belligerent was the absolute right word to describe his bodyguard. Kyungsoo had a feeling he was about to see just how belligerent she could be, too. Resolutely, he pulled off his black hoodie and held it out to Harper, as if it were a precursor. She eyed it for a moment before the realization spread over her face.

“Oh hell no—” She tried to jump from the chair, but Kyungsoo clamped his hands down on her shoulders again, and the paramedic didn’t waste the opportunity. With a snip here and a snip there, Harper was cursing under her breath and D.O. tried his best to shield her from anyone else. Although he had no idea how effective he was since his own eyes were screwed shut tight. Her shoulders were tense under his fingers, and he felt her rock back and forth as the paramedic wrapped the binding around her again and again until it was secure.

“There, all done.” The woman sighed, relieved that she wouldn’t have to deal with the stubborn American anymore. Not a moment later, Harper swatted his hands away and he opened his eyes to see her pulling his hoodie over her head. He stared at it for a moment, wondering why it looked so different on her. It wasn’t even his favorite, so why did he suddenly like it so much more?

“I can’t believe you let her cut my shirt off.” Harper hissed as she jumped from the chair, like she couldn’t sit still for a second longer.

Aaaaaaaand the spell was broken.

“I can’t believe you shot someone.” He snapped in return, instantly wanting his hoodie back.

“I’ve shot plenty of people. You’re welcome by the way—Ow.” She sneered at him but flinched and grabbed her side.

“Well you—” Kyungsoo was about to start in on a lengthy lecture, one he was sure would come to him on the spot when,

“Um…Excuse me.” Hyungwon stepped forward, staring hard at the baton he held in both hands. Harper and D.O. both stopped their bickering long enough to glance at each other, before falling in line.

“Yes?” Harper asked in Korean.

“This is yours?” Hyungwon said it more as a question than a statement, like he forgot she’d whipped it out of nowhere and beat someone with it.

“Oh, yes.” Harper took it from him politely, collapsing it in one fluid motion and attaching it back to the magnet on her belt. As far as social interactions went, that technically should have been the end of it, but Hyungwon didn’t move. He stayed rooted like a tree in front of them, staring at the ground now that his hands were empty and shuffling from foot to foot. Kyungsoo recognized it as a technique taught to trainees who were nervous about performing on stage. It was meant to get the blood flowing, the performance going, and also to keep them from passing out by bending their knees.

“What is it?” Harper asked quietly, stretching out a hand to the boy. She’d switched. This Harper had only come out a few times, never when she knew Kyungsoo was around. This Harper was calm and kind, her movements were small and non-threatening. It was the kind of demeanor used when speaking to a child or a frightened pet. But before she could start cooing to him too, Hyungwon recoiled from her reach. It was a huge reaction, and Harper’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief. And then, in the same motion, Hyungwon dropped to his knees in front of her, his eyes welling up with tears.

“What is he doing?” Harper freaked, looking to Kyungsoo, “Tell him to get up.” D.O. looked down at the man in the most submissive posture imaginable and was surprised to feel pity. He understood what Hyungwon was going to say before it flew from his mouth:

“Please forgive him!”

D.O. took in Harper’s shocked form, and allowed himself to realize something; that if she had done anything like this, gone on a wild rampage or overdosed, he would be the one on his knees too. Everyone else be damned.

“He’s been under and incredible amount of stress recently. His brother is in the hospital and they haven’t been able to keep up with the expenses. He’s been working extra shifts, back to back. I don’t know the last time he slept. Please, please, I beg you…don’t press charges. I’ll take full responsibility. He’s my best friend from elementary. I was supposed to take care of him. Please…please…”

Kyungsoo softly translated the words, but it wasn’t necessary. Harper understood without any context.

“Tell him that I won’t.” She said and sank to her haunches to be on the same level as the groveling man.

“That’s not really your call.” Kyungsoo reminded her and lowered as well.

Tell him I won’t.” She shot D.O. and incredulous look, and he caved. He’d learned that there were some things you didn’t fight her on, and this seemed to be one of them.

Geunyeoneunhaji anh-eul geos-ida.” Kyungsoo translated and Hyungwon’s head shot up. Relief streamed down his cheeks as he grabbed Harper’s hands and thanked her. She seemed uncomfortable with his affection, but didn’t pull away.

That discomfort seemed to stay with her even as they left the arena and made it back to SM. She wrung her hands in her lap and crossed and uncrossed her legs. Kyungsoo wanted to ask, but at the same time, had a feeling that he already knew, he just wasn’t sure how to tell her that: yes, he would go to bat for her. He’d done it once already. And it wasn’t because of their history or what happened before, it was because, despite their history and what happened before, she never failed to be there for him.

Not counting today when she’d kept him from being squashed like a bug, she was constantly in his shadow, commenting on this, jabbing him with that. It was a presence that he found comforting after a while, despite his attempt to ignore it all together. He found himself drawn to her for the same reason the others were: she looked at EXO and saw a bunch of gangly boys. To her, they weren’t idols and they weren’t fragile.

They were friends.

 

Chapter Text

The Musician - Dojoon fluff

 

The club my friend decided on for her bachelorette party was one of those hipster places. The ones where the servers wear flannel, and in between every EDM song, they have to play bluegrass for some reason. I'd never seen so many beanie/TOMS combos in my life, and I quickly ordered a shot of fireball. Better to take the edge off first before someone tried to use a pick up line about existentialism.

I was more of a rock genre myself. I liked electronic because it was easy to dance to, the beat was nice and heavy, but my go-to was the stuff that made your heart sing. I wasn't much made for the twang this club had going on. But this is where Bentlee wanted to go, and she was my best friend in the world. I wanted her to be happy, even with her new fiance, who (in my opinion) was as bland as an office plant.

She called my name through the crowd of people, and I saw her stepping to the music at the edge of the dance floor. I ordered another shot, and proceeded to her with one in each hand. It was dangerous, but I managed to get there unscathed by the millennials discussing age old politics, or how the gin here wasn't organic enough. She took the glass happily and downed it with me. The liquor burned the back of my throat but it was welcome, especially because someone was climbing onto the stage at the back of the club with a guitar. If it wasn't electric, I didn't like it, but it was a small victory that it wasn't a banjo.

The man who nestled himself on the stool was easy on the eyes, with hair that curved across his forehead. Bentlee and I moved closer to the stage, as he took the mic and pressed it to his lips. He gazed out at the crowd with a small grin and said,

"Hey guys, I'm Dojoon from The Rose. I usually play keys but I wanted to do something special for you tonight." Everyone clapped as he plucked the strings of his guitar, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't the worst thing I'd ever heard. "Hope you like it." He whispered before he started to sing. "When I look into your eyes; It's like watching the night sky; Or a beautiful sunrise; Well there's so much they hold..."

Bentlee grabbed my arm and squealed. She loved Jason Mraz, but I had to admit, this guy did it better. I was mesmerized by the way he strummed his guitar, and by how he closed his eyes when he sang. By verse two, I was in love. Bentlee asked if I wanted another drink, but I was too consumed to answer. She laughed and shook her head, going to get more booze herself. When the song was over, the crowd clapped and I swooned.

"Hey, I got you a Moscow Mule." Bentlee said behind me. I turned and took my drink gratefully. It tasted like ginger, limes, and Russia.

"See?" She smirked at me. "This place isn't so bad after all."

"Not when that dude is playing, at least."

I swung my arm around to point at the stage, but smacked into something. I gasped as I turned to see I'd slapped beautiful Dojoon nearly upside the head. He’d come off stage to suppedly get a drink.

"Oh my god!" I exclaimed. "I'm so sorry!" He was even prettier up close, and my shortness of breath wasn't entirely from the embarrassment. He chuckled and rubbed his cheek, and I tried hard not to pay too much attention to the muscles in his forearm.

"You got a mean backhand." He grinned, and I knew I was blushing.

"I am so sorry. I can't even..." I stumbled over another apology, but he waved it away.

"You’ll just have to buy me a drink." He teased. Surprised, I turned to look at Bentlee but she had disappeared. Without a wingwoman, I was flustered but managed to nod and lead on to the bar. I motioned for the bartender then turned to Dojoon, biting my lip,

“What do you drink?”

“I’ll have what you’re having.” He said...without looking at my glass. His cockiness made me more comfortable, if only because my smart ass had plenty of practice dealing with smart asses. The bartender whipped up another mule and I told him to put it in my tab.

Dojoon eyed the copper mug given to him before bravely taking a drink. Almost immediately he winced and puckered up his face. “Holy ginger!”

I burst out laughing, knowing full well mules were a bit of an acquired taste.

“Can’t handle the heat?” I joked and took a swig of my own.

“If I’d have known you were going to poison me I wouldn’t have walked into your hand.” He said coyly, and tried his best at another sip.

My face was starting to get hot, and it wasn’t even the alcohols fault.

“Why would you do that?” I asked, doing my best to play along.

“Because by the time I got to the second verse, I was singing straight to you.” I didn't know exactly where to go from here, as I stood at the bar with my jaw dropped. Part of me wondered if he just sweet talked girls after performing to get free drinks, or if he was being serious. He technically hadn't even asked for my name yet. But when he asked for my number, I gave it to him automatically. I watched, mesmerized, as he typed it into his phone before going back on stage to play another Mraz set. He texted me as he walked away, a funny bar gif that I grinned at, and I saved his number in my phone with a little music emoji beside it. I was out of my element in this, just like this club, but I was starting to like it. Like I could tell I was going to like Dojoon. Just before he took the stage, he held up his drink to me, made sure I was watching, and took a big mouthful. He still cringed, but I admired his tenacity.

Once he was back on stage, I felt someone grab my elbow, and Bentlee pulled me back towards the bar.

"Where have you been?" I hissed at her first, but she laughed.

"Watching." She teased. Then she pet my hair like you do to a pet that you love, and she sighed contently, "Besides, it makes me happy to see you happy." She was being sappy, and that was okay. It was her bachelorette after all. So I rubbed my head into her hand and purred like a cat, which made her giggle.

"Was he dreamy?" She got real close and raised an eyebrow suggestively at me.

"Uhh, yes." I confirmed and we looked back towards the stage where Dojoon was playing. When our eyes met, he winked at me, and I was in love by the first word.

Chapter Text

It was weird standing in front of the door like this. Such solid wood, unlike the Plexiglas and chrome accents that adorned the rest of the building. It was the kind of door that was supposed to keep out and keep in. He made to touch the handle but pulled his hand back like it would shock him. He’d slammed this door before. It had indeed kept him out and kept him in. He could recall every single night he’d stayed up, pacing, stressing over when he would debut or what kind of man this industry was going to turn him into. At the moment, he wasn’t so sure he’d turned out how he wanted. Successful? Absolutely. Decent? Harper would disagree.
But it was she who was the issue here, not him. Not his pacing, or his memories, or the fact that he never felt satisfied slamming the doors upstairs because all they did was vibrate harmlessly. There was no umph, no impact, no satisfaction. This door felt like teeth hiding a gaping black hole. This door was substantial, and it was doing its job. She was in. He was out.

What was she doing in there? She was a soldier, weren’t they always supposed to be on time? Kyungsoo cursed Suho under his breath for making him come get her and not Baek or Yixing. What did it matter if the two of them were on better terms? So what if he went slowly on the stairs because he knew her leg still hurt? They still bickered and argued. She still annoyed the hell out of him. Why the hell was it his problem if she overslept? He tried the doorknob again, pumping an extra gallon of raw manliness into his veins. He’d go in, yell at her, and get out. Quick and easy. The door was just a door after all.

The knob was cool under his fingers, just like he remembered it, and it twisted easily. The hinges were noiseless and the jaws of the door swung wide to swallow him whole.

Fuck.

He should have let the door be.

The room was dim, shades pulled tight over the tiny window across from him. The bed against the wall was full of some sort of dark lumpy swamp creature that he heard gurgling and grousing from the bowels of the slough. The air that hit him in the face was thick, like the room had been holding its breath, and it smelled sickly sweet; of cherries and burnt onions. His hand flew to his face, covering his mouth and nose. Back out now, back out now! Just say she wasn’t in her room, because that monster in her bed sure as hell couldn’t be her.

The moaning came again, but before he could get his feet to back pedal out of the portal, an arm shot out from under the comforter, grabbed the edge of the bed, and pulled the rest of its body out like she was pulling herself out of the mouth of the black lagoon. Kyungsoo caught a glimpse of her face before her hair slid down over her head and a horrific retching noise made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Her whole body coiled and uncoiled, vomiting with such force he thought she would throw herself right off her bed.

Ah, shi-bal...” Kyungsoo couldn’t help but whisper. When he realized he said it out loud, he pressed his hands tightly over his mouth, hoping that her heaving had covered it. There was no way she could hear anything over the sound of her stomach turning inside out, right? But his luck was never so good with Harper. She always did the opposite of what he wanted. He really should have known by now that her D.O. meter was always on fucking point. When her fit seemed to finally come to an end, there was a moment when he thought that maybe she’d died somewhere in the middle, as she hung lifelessly off the side of her bed. That gallon of manliness told him to go poke her and see if she was still alive, but every other cell in his body was yelling at him to get out of there while he still could. What if she was still alive?

Suddenly, her head tilted sharply to the side and he cringed as the vertebrae in her neck popped one by one. Her hair slipped back until he could see her nose, her mouth, her forehead…and her eyes that were staring right at him!

A few years ago, Chanyeol had forced all the boys to watch ‘The Grudge’ with him because he had been too scared to watch it alone, but he still wanted to be able to say that he’d seen it. So all the members had gathered around and sat through the horror movie. Well…all except for Kai who escaped towards the beginning, and Minseok who fell asleep in the middle. It hadn’t bothered Kyungsoo though. In fact, he liked watching different genres of movies and whispering to whoever was beside him how they did a certain take, or why they filmed a scene like they did. But never in his life had he expected to see a real life version of the drowned spirit, with her eyes slithering around like she was about to take a bite out of him. Harper’s mouth opened and he fully expected a gaping black maw that would unleash a swamp of flies upon him, like she was the spawn of Satan and maybe also the Anti-Christ all rolled up into one.

But instead of a plague…she just started to vomit again. It was only once or twice this turn, and when it was over, he was stuck staring at the exaggerated rise and fall of her back. She was sucking in air like she’d been drowning, heaps and mouthfuls that never seemed to be enough.

It was at this point, with his blatant gaping, that it occurred to him that she might actually need some help this time. Not in the fighting ring, not when she’d fallen down a mountain, not when…

Ocean waves crashed against his next thought and drowned it, pulling it back out to sea where it belonged. He took a small step forward as the quiet in his head grew, and her heaving became unsteady. She didn’t need him when her body was broken, she was too tough, too well trained for that. No, she needed someone when…

“Harper?” He hummed, still from behind the hand that held his nose. Gallantry aside, it still smelled terrible in here. He bravely took another step, bringing him closer to the swamp demon. Her heaving, coupled with the smell and the bucket beside her bed that he refused to look at, made it damn near impossible to be sympathetic, but he—

Get out!” The beast suddenly roared to life, fire and ash spreading through the air like a volcano. The blanket made it look like she had wings, and the dragon from Bald Mountain resurrected. He jumped at the timbre of her voice, like rocks shaking in a clay pot; gravel and echo and hoarse. It hurt his own throat just to listen to it. Much faster than he thought she was able at the moment, she grabbed a pillow from her bed and threw it at him. He had no choice but to use both hands to catch it, leaving him open to be bombarded by the burnt cherry smell again. He gagged and dropped the pillow, back tracking quickly to the door. She threw another torpedo, but it was far off to the left. That was no surprise though, seeing as her head was stuck in the bucket again. Was she seriously on the offensive even when she was puking her guts out? In the safety of the hallway, Kyungsoo quickly grabbed the door and pulled it closed, watching as her form shrank in the crack until she disappeared. Then he stood there, motionless, hand wrapped tightly around the knob, which was funny since he had absolutely no intention of going back in.

“Oh no…Kyungsoo-ah.” Someone said his name, quickly bringing him back to the moment. Just a step or two down the hall stood…ahhh, what was her name? The girl Harper had spent all night with in Jeju, Moon something? “You didn’t go in, did you?” She cocked her head at him. She was small and cute, although those adjectives only registered in the back of his mind. First and foremost, she was strapped: she wore dish gloves that went up past her elbows, polka dot rubber rain boots, she was in a pair of old sweats, and the mask dangling around her chin was the heavy duty kind that doctors wore during surgery. She looked like she was just coming back from quarantine, or had somehow cured a zombie outbreak on her own. In one of her gloved hands she was carrying a small bucket that looked vaguely familiar.

He nodded to her question, not wanting to voice his response with the sound of that gravel still fresh in his mind. “You really shouldn’t have. Harper isn’t feeling well.” She sighed at him like he had done something mischievous. He moved out of her way as she approached the door, with much more confidence than he had, he should add.

“I see that. But Junmyeon asked me to come check on her. We have rehearsal today, you see—” He trailed off, glancing back at the door like it would back him up. He wasn’t being naughty, he’d been concerned. Wait, no. Maybe concerned wasn’t the right word? Ordered to would have been a more accurate description—

Bloody hell, can’t you see she’s honking her guts out? Let her miss the dumb rehearsal, D.O.” Her slang slurred between English and Korean, and he recalled that she was one of the ones who had been born somewhere else. But she used his stage name against him like it was supposed to be insulting, and he squinted at her. She did realize that more people called him D.O. than Kyungsoo nowadays, didn’t she? But he let it slide as to defend himself.

“Well I didn’t know she was sick until just now! You could have come told us.” He bit back, unexpectedly offended by her tone. How was this his fault? She gave a loud snort and swung her bucket around, causing Kyungsoo to duck on instinct, just in case it wasn’t empty.

“I’ve been a little busy!” She cried.

“Yeah, you look like you just walked off the set of ‘Breaking Bad’!” He gestured towards her protective gear. “How the hell is that supposed to help?”

“I don’t want to get puked on!” She snarked right back at him, but he caught the faintest of smiles on her face at the mention of the TV reference. “And it smells bad…like che—”

“—rries.” They finished at the same time. She did her best to hide the grin, but it could only be covered up. He watched her pull up her mask and secure it around her face before she grabbed the handle of the door and pushed it open. The portal to the Black Lagoon was still there, the miasma of foul smelling fruit still wafting about. And if she would just move out of the way, he’d be able to see—

The door slammed shut behind her, the clash vibrating in his feet. There was the umph he missed…although getting it in the face was not his favorite. In the silence that now blanketed the hallway, he could hear small snippets of what was going on inside. Moon whatever was talking to Harper in a normal chipper voice, very much unlike the attitude she’d just given him. He couldn’t hear Harper respond, but he did hear her gag once or twice.

The bucket…she was switching out the buckets. He managed to feel guilty for a total of three and a half seconds before his phone was vibrating, Suho wondering where he was. Honestly, if he had been able to, Kyungsoo would have stayed, crazy as that sounds, because well…Harper had promised.

I’ll always be okay, you don’t have to worry about me—

He didn’t think she was going to try and break it so early. But there was nothing he could do, no excuse he could make. She should stay and rest, of course. But there was unquestionably no reason for him to stick by her side. There was no ‘just in case’ here. She was sick, so what? Employees get sick all the time, idols get sick too. It was a fact of life. He had no reason to be overly worried.

And yet, his palms were sweating as he punched the button in the elevator. She would be fine, it was probably nothing. She couldn’t handle Korean food yet or something. Maybe she drank the water. She would be fine.

She’d promised.


 

It was a fog I hadn’t felt in years. A shadowy haze that started at the base of my spine and climbed, wrapping it’s blurry fingers around each vertebrae, twisting its way up my back and neck until I was numb to the touch. It wasn’t pain anymore, I’d mastered that a long time ago. It was what came in its absence that gripped me. Once the fog had you, it was only a matter of time before you was out of commission. This sneak attack was dirty though, a low blow played by a cheating opponent.

My eyes opened in a waking dream, the kind you have when you imagine yourself getting up to do something, and then actually believing that you had. The room was still dark, only a pale light coming through the window. The clock by my bed read 0554 hours in big red numbers, and my mind didn’t automatically register my lack of hot or cold, or how I couldn’t seem to swallow the morning gunk. No, my thoughts went to how badly I wished I could have had those last six minutes to sleep, to how the boys had that big rehearsal today, and to how Chief Soo had suspiciously kicked me out of his office a few days ago.

My train of thought went to them, to my people, my squad, just as it always did. Because Harper was okay, she was always okay. I had promised Kyungsoo. I never got sick, I never got hurt. Ain’t nobody got time for that. It was time to get up, time to be there for my friends, my people. I’d wear my good shoes, since I swear to god Soo was going to put me on perimeter duty and I’d be walking around a damn arena for hours. I’d steal an extra morning snack from Junmyeon’s stash of fresh fruit when I went up there to pick them up.

My day was planned, my routine was down. Everything in those first few seconds of being awake was focused on the go, go, go. It was time to get up and go. It was then, when the ‘get up’ wasn’t happening, that I realized the ‘go’ wasn’t going to happen either. The familiar numbness crawled under my skin, I could sense it now. The fear was there too, below the surface, below the numb, but it was always there, even on my best days. I tried to push it down further, down to my core where it belonged, because now was not the time for fear. Right now I had to move or I was going to drown.

I managed to flop my head to the side and get full view of my arm. From there it was all a matter of Professor X level concentration, willing my disoriented limbs to cooperate. A long stream of curses and violent threats fell from my lips as one heavy arm after the other sagged over the side of the bed. It twisted me, legs still stubbornly bunched in the blankets, while my hips and upper body teetered off the edge. My hands pancaked on the floor like lifeless piles of batter next to the tiny mat I’d put beside my bed to keep my feet from freezing. It was suddenly at the front and center of my vision, the blue and neon green disco pattern only making me dizzier.

That’s a nice mat you got there. Be a shame if someone—threw up on it.

The sticky hot sensation of bile made my head clog. Forget that I was already upside down and all the blood was rushing to my head anyway, my angle made all that deliciousness go up my nose, effectively gagging me even more. My moan, or groan, or whatever sound that came out of my mouth was half drowned cat, half velociraptor.

Let me just say: after years of being in the military, I understood what it meant to have zero privacy—especially as a woman. Co-ed barracks, all night foxholes with that one male Captain who always gave off a pedophilic vibe, living in a make-shift cardboard FOB where the pork stick’s ideas on feminine hygiene are from the dark ages. That was my life, I was used to it. But damn it all if I wasn’t still surprised when the door to my tiny dorm flew open, bathing me in burning hallway light. Was it the devil? It had to be, because it certainly wasn’t an angel when I wanted to hiss like some darkling.

The light burns us!

“Oh my god, Harper!” Moon Jae’s sing-song voice was like an echo in a cave, bouncing off every surface and hitting me like a blow. I shrank back from her, from the light, as much as I could while balanced on the bed’s rim. She rushed forward, allowing the sturdy door to slam, shutting out the sun on the hallway ceiling. Moon Jae was a worrier, I knew it the instant her hands started to shake as she pulled out her cell phone.

“Don’t.” I managed to croak in between heaves.

“Don’t! What do you mean don’t? You’re literally honking all over the place!” She cried, avoiding my puddle of whatever on the ground. Far be it for me to criticize her, especially seeing she was just trying to help, but what the hell did honk mean? British slang was the weirdest.

“Call…nine.” I huffed, trying my best to make my finger point at my phone on the desk. She looked between my crippled form and the phone two or three times. I couldn’t tell if she was shaking her head ‘no’ or if maybe she was trying to figure out what I was pointing at.

“Nine? 9-1-1? No, it’s 1-1-9 here. Hasa, please, let me just—” She tried to explain to me but there was no time. She was either going to do as I asked or we were going to play charades all day. I wasn’t sure how I would stop her, but I was not about to let her call an ambulance.

“Call…nine.”

It was all I could think of to say that was direct and required no further explanation, because I was not able to give her a detailed description of my ailment in between dry heaves. The first few chucks had been wet, but with no breakfast and very little dinner the night before, I was running on empty.

“This is fucking…bonkers.” Moon Jae hissed, but reluctantly grabbed my phone from the desk. “Nine what? Who is nine?”

“Ninnnne.” I groaned.

“Number nine? Speed dial nine?” She rambled. I forced my head to move, sending me sloshing, but hopefully she got the picture. “Speed dial it is.” She shook her own head, like she wanted to tell me she couldn’t believe she was doing this, but didn’t want to make me feel bad. News flash, I already felt bad.

Moon Jae jammed her thumb on the ‘9’ icon and snorted when the contact it brought up automatically was only listed under the Roman numeral ‘IX’. She held the phone down to my face and I winced at the bright screen. It rang twice before clicking on.

“Well, well, well. Never expected to hear from you, Captain Marvel. Have you finally picked a poison?” The voice on the other line was rich and sassy, just as I remembered it. It belonged to one of the most controversial people I had ever met, a relationship I never knew if I should have cultivated or not. But either way, it was going to save my life today. On any other occasion (not that there were any because I never called her) I would have indulged her curiosity, but I was a tad busy trying not to drown.

“Diclo…fenac.” The medical word panted from my lips, a puff of air to stress each letter. I needed her to hear me, dear baby jesus, I needed her to understand. She was never one to ask very many questions anyway, but… “Di…clo…fen…ac,” I was at my wits end.

The line was quiet for a moment, and I was afraid that maybe she hung up, that she wasn’t going to take me seriously, or that that favor she owed me had passed its expiration.

“Continent?”

“F-Four.” I whispered. She would find me. She could find anybody.

“Consider it done.” The voice said, all hints of sassiness gone, and the line went dead. I managed to sigh in relief, glad at least that there was an end in sight. But when the light from the phone disappeared, I remembered that I did have one more obstacle to deal with.

“What…the ever loving fak was that?” Moon Jae cried, leaping to her feet. “What kind of Bond character do you think you are? Asking for continents and such?”

“Just…help.” I murmured through her shouting, but she’d started pacing and I couldn’t very well get up and stop her.

“Help? I tried to help! But instead of calling a proper hospital, you call—”

“The doctor…”

“What?”

“Not what…who.”

“Oh bloody hell. You are not trying to tell me you called the 9th Doctor, are you?”

“Yes…help.”

“Oh you dumbass…fine, okay, I’ll help.” She sighed. “Like you’re blooming Rose Tyler. Stupid American.” She added under her breath.


 

Three and a half hours later, I was up, I was showered, I was wearing makeup (to cover the hideous bags under my eyes), and I was finally going. Moon Jae twittered after me as I quickly made my way up into the world, thankful for the fresh air.

“Harper, please.” She caught my arm as we stepped off the elevator. “This is dangerous.” She lowered her voice and ducked her head as other employees passed us, going about their day.

“Don’t worry. I’m fine. I’ve done this before.”

“What happened that time?”

“Nothing good.” I admitted, but when her face started to pinch up, I recanted. “But I don’t have a choice.”

“Of course you do! You could stay in bed!”

“And have Chief Soo bench me? I don’t think so. I’ll take my chances.” She let out an exasperated huff, adding something in Korean that I didn’t understand. It was probably along the lines of: ‘you’re an idiot or ‘you stupid jar head’, but I let it glance off. Multiple handfuls of the recommended dose of ibuprofen coupled with way too much Dramamine was a field cocktail I’d invented when that one pedophilic Captain had decided that no medications were allowed on his FOB, even prescriptions. It brings me great joy to inform you that he was court marshalled after denying a kid with a severe food allergy his epi-pen. But in the meantime, I had to make due.

If I wasn’t already in a funk, walking around on pins and needles because there was no blood flowing in my feet, I sure as hell was now.

Chapter Text

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I rolled over from my back to my stomach and propped myself up on my elbows. Yukhei turned and looked at me, confused.

“How much have you drank tonight, noona?” he teased. “We are grown ups.”

I chuckled. “I’m definitely a grown up. You’re still a new grown up.”

-

Yukhei’s mom and my mom had been best friends growing up. My mom had me fairly young, and it wasn’t until I was 5 that Yukhei had come along. The age difference had never kept us from being close. I always treated him like a little brother, and he always acted like he could protect me, even when we were 6 and 11.

A bunch of the neighborhood boys had been picking on me. They wouldn’t let me ride bikes with them because i was a girl, and they kept taking turns kicking my bike out from underneath me. Yukhei had turned on the water hose and sprayed them with it until they ran away. He hugged me until I stopped crying from the mean boys.

Once he became a trainee, we had seen each other a lot less, and once he debuted, it was nearly impossible to get any hang out time with him.

Tonight, he had invited me to the “Boss” video premiere watch party, but I felt super out of place with the rest of his “idol friends.” They had all been nice, don’t get me wrong, but I was even a few years older than all of them and I was absolutely nowhere near as accomplished or famous or… beautiful. Even the men. Hell, especially the men. I had shown up in the nicest dress that I owned for the premiere party, thinking elegant black lace would suffice. I had felt so out of place with nothing in common with anyone. I managed to keep a full glass of champagne in my hands at all time so that I could sip instead of having to participate in conversations I knew nothing about.

After we had watched the video, (I was so proud of Yukhei, but it felt weird to hear everyone calling him “Lucas,”) I pulled him aside.

“Look at you, big shot.” I reached up to pinch his cheek, because even though I was so much older, he had shot up like a tree one year and towered over me. He laughed, swatting my hand away. “I’m gonna go home, though. Thank you for inviting me!” I went to hug him but he stopped me.

“Aren’t you having fun?” he put his hands on my shoulders and his “protective” face formed. I blamed the alcohol, but, momentarily, I was super attracted to protective, handsome, giant Yukhei that was holding me in place. I shook my head to get rid of the thought and smiled at him, reassuringly.

“I’m fine! It’s just late and I don’t want to keep you from your friends.” I said.

“You are a part of my ‘friends.’ Noona, what’s going on?” I could tell my, “nothing. I’m just tired.” didn’t convince him at all. His eyebrows furrowed together and he said, “at least let me walk you home.”

He went told Taeyong that he would be back, and Tae waved and yelled, “it was nice to meet you!” I smiled and waved back at his gesture that led to a bunch of the guys running up to me and hugging me and telling me how great it was to meet one of Yukhei’s childhood friends. They all invited me back any time I wanted, and I felt a twinge of guilt for feeling so out of place and wanting to leave.

Yukhei draped his jacket over my shoulders and opened the front door for me. It was summer, so it was still warm outside, but a gentle breeze did catch my legs that showed from under my dress. I shivered a bit and Yukhei draped his arm over my shoulder to keep me warmer. This wasn’t the first time he had ever done this, but for some reason, it felt different tonight.

When we got to my neighborhood, we passed the park that we used to play in as kids. I smiled and pointed, “remember when we used to race to the tree from the swings?” He grinned and said, “last one there had to buy the other a soda.”

Without warning, he took off sprinting toward the tree in the middle of the field.

“HEY!” I objected. “Not fair!” I shed my heels and took off sprinting after him. His long-ass giraffe legs carried him way faster than mine did, especially since my dress was a bit tight. I got to the tree and smacked his arm.

“You cheated and you know it!”

“It’s not my fault you’ve gotten slow!” I went to hit him again but he picked me up by the waist and spun me around. I let out shrieks of protest until he finally laid me down gently on the grass. He flopped down next to me and we caught our breath from giggling like we were kids again.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I rolled over from my back to my stomach and propped myself up on my elbows. Yukhei turned and looked at me, confused.

“How much have you drank tonight, noona?” he teased. “We are grown ups.”

I chuckled. “I’m definitely a grown up. You’re still a new grown up.”

“What do you mean?” He turned to rest on his side and cocked his head. His golden hair fell out of place, and I smiled as I brushed it back.

“You’re just getting out of your teenage years. I’ve been out of there a while and don’t have a lot to show for it. You have this super cool idol life waiting for you. You’ll travel and see the world and meet so many amazing people and fall in love and you still have so much ahead of you.”

He picked at a piece of grass and said, “you don’t think you’ll travel and fall in love?”

I shrugged. “Not saying I won’t. I’ve just spent so much time focusing on what my mom told me was ‘getting it right.’ I did the whole ‘school and get a real job’ thing. I work so much I hardly have time to be social or have fun. This was my first night out in ages!”

“You always were kind of lame once school got in the way of friendship,” he winked, teasing me.

“But, what about after the idol life for you?” I asked, keeping the momentum of the conversation going. “Have you thought about what you’ll do?”

He sighed and sat up. “You wanna know what I wanna be when I grow up?” he asked with a smile.

I sat up and matched his posture and nodded.

“I wanna be your husband.”

His answer caught me off guard. Part of me wanted to laugh, thinking he was joking. Part of me didn’t think he was. I’m sure that I had this strange look slapped on my face. He waved his hand in front of my blank expression and said my name a couple of times.

“What do you me…” before I could finish my question, Yukhei learned forward and placed a soft kiss against my lips. It was gentle, but said everything.

I should have pulled back. This was my Yukhei. My childhood best friend. The kid I used to tease for having crushes on all the girls in my grade. The dorky boy who I would say laughed too loud and had the corniest jokes. This was Yukhei.

And yet, it made sense all at the same time.

I melted into his kiss and let him deepen it. His other hand cupped my cheek and we sat, kissing in the same spot we had sat for years. We had talked about fears of the future here once I had graduated high school and he was starting in a couple of years. We sat here when his first girlfriend broke up with him and I had brought him his favorite chocolate mochi to cheer him up. This was where childhood us would bring toy cars and run them in circles for hours.

Here we were, all of these years later, kissing.

When he finally broke away from me, he looked surprised.

“You didn’t stop me.” he whispered.

“Did you want me to?”

“No! I just expected you to.”

He adjusted himself so that he was beside me instead of in front of me. He laid down and signaled for me to do the same. I laid down again, resting my head on his shoulder this time.

“I don’t know, noona. We’ve always taken care of each other. I’ve always loved you. I just, recently, not seeing you as much made me realize in what way I loved you. I’ve always wanted to take care of you. You’ve been in my life from the very beginning of it. I want you to be there until the very end of it.”

I tucked myself into his shoulder more, and, to lighten the mood, asked, “you sure I’m not too old? You don’t want some young hot idol girlfriend?”

He rolled his eyes and laughed. “Nah. I’ve got a thing for old women.” He winked when I acted offended at him calling me an old woman.

I sat up again and got serious. “It’s only going to get harder. You have a long contract, Yukhei.”

He sat up and, lightly grabbing my chin, pulled me in for another kiss.

“I’m willing to try if you are, noona.”

Chapter Text

“Surprise!” 

I skipped out ahead of the gate and grinned back at my boyfriend. Kim Jongdae stepped off the plane ramp with a small grin, pulling my suitcase behind him. 

“Why was that flight so short,” he asked suspiciously. It was our anniversary and, after a literal arm wrestle with his manager, I was able to get him some time off of work, even during his busy comeback schedule. It was the perfect opportunity to whisk him away where it could just be us for a change. But I hadn’t told him where we were going. That was the fun part. 

 “What ever do you mean?” I grinned and danced away. He followed after casually, looking far too wonderful in his ripped jeans and baggy pink sweater. His mask and sunglasses were shoved in his bag somewhere, probably stowed away because he thought he wouldn’t need them. 

 “We were only up for two hours. Did we even make it out of Korea?” He glanced around, catching sight of a banner printed in block Kanji. 

“Apparently…” He muttered to himself, hurrying to catch up with me as I steamrolled out of Naha Airport. 

 Okinawa, Japan, one of the most beautiful vacation spots in all of Asia, the lesser known Hawaii. It’s said that the waters and beaches around the island were so clean and clear, you could see straight to the ocean floor. The airport was small but bustling as Dae and I made our way outside. He ducked his head on instinct as we passed a large group of tourists, but they seemed too enraptured by the scenery to notice the celebrity slipping past them. Eagerly, I pulled him into a cab and instructed the man to take us to the ferry. 

 “The port? We’re not even going to the hotel first,” Dae whined, but I quickly shut him up with a quick peck on the lips. 

 “The surprise isn’t over yet!” 

 The cabbie whisked us along the narrow streets down to the water’s edge, where I pulled Dae out and skipped us onto the small ferry waiting on the dock. We were the last to board, so once we were settled, the boat departed, leaving everything behind. 

 I leaned against the railing of the upper deck, letting the sea breeze waft over me, when I felt two familiar arms circle around my waist. He rested his chin on my shoulder and I could hear his gentle hum in my ear as he hugged me from behind. He took a big breath in, and then sighed contently. 

“Man, I miss the ocean,” his voice purred against my back, making me snuggle further into him. 

 “You live in a coastal city. The ocean is never that far away,” I replied absentmindedly, enjoying the caress of the wind and the warmth of his chest.

 “It might as well be a million miles,” he mumbled and kissed my cheek. I recognized that tone, the one that said he was bitter about how busy they were, how tired they all felt, but I knew Jongdae well enough to know that he wouldn’t trade it for the world. He just needed a break. They all did. I turned in his embrace, facing the most beautiful man in the whole world. 

 “No need for ‘might as well’s. You have the whole week to do whatever you want. You’ll have great food, you’ll have the ocean, and you’ll have me. Pretty sweet deal, right?” His face broke into the biggest grin as he pressed his forehead to mine. 

 “A whole week with just you and the sea, huh? That’s the best surprise I’ve ever had.” He sighed dramatically, like he’d been entitled to it. But that wasn’t Dae. He would have kept working day and night if they asked him to. He was so giving, so willing. It was about time someone gifted him in return. 

 “Oh the surprise isn’t over yet!” I teased and sealed the deal with a small kiss to the tip of his nose. His eyebrows shot up in disbelief. 

 “How?” 

 “Because I’m awesome, that’s how.” I grinned and then pulled him towards the front of the ferry where he was more than willing to be the Jack to my Rose.

 After an hour at sea, the ferry reached our final destination: Zamami Island. The water lapping at the side of the boat was crystal clear, and I could hardly believe it. Tiny fish of every color darted about in the waves, and I could see the ocean floor, clustered with barnacles and coral. I pointed them out to Dae who thought it was funny to point out the smallest, brightest fish and name it after me. I swatted his arm playfully before the captain called for all passengers to disembark. 

We were staying at the house of a friend of Yuta’s from NCT. They often rented out the small house to tourists and it was pure luck that they were free this week. It was an adorable bungalow, nestled into the slope of a hill, a hundred yards from the water’s edge. In the most uncivilized fashion I could, I threw down my bags and made a mad dash for the waves, shoes flying, hair loose, wild as the wind itself. 

If I turned around, I was sure I would catch sight of Dae leaning casually on the beam of the porch, gazing at me with that infuriatingly beautiful look he usually gives me when I go off the rails—but to my amazement, I felt him splash up alongside me. The bottom half of his jeans were soaked, and the extra weight made his already baggy sweatshirt sag, but none of that mattered. 

He was so damn beautiful, standing knee deep in the clearest water in the world, grinning at me like he’d played my own joke back on me. Quick as a flash, he reached down and scooped a handful of water and splashed it at me. It wasn’t a subtle, sissy handful either—he totally drenched me. 

I was phased for only a moment before I was retaliating with both arms. He squealed and started to run, or well more, hop away, me chasing him down the beach. 

 When we were both good and wet, we declared a truce and sprawled out on the sandy beach. No towels were required when the sand was as soft as cotton. I wanted to fall asleep them and there, in the warm cuddle of the sand, but I made Dae get up and check the time. 

We couldn’t be late. 

He moaned and groan but eventually heaved himself up. It was only an added bonus that he peeled off his shirt and threw it at me, revealing his lick-worthy chest and abs. 

 “You better put on another one or we’re not going anywhere tonight!” I yelled as he jogged to the house like a supermodel on Baywatch. 

I rolled over, bunching his shirt into a damp pillow, and watched him step around the house, trying not to get sand everywhere and failing. He grabbed my bag from the kitchen counter and rummaged around for my phone. 

I saw it blink to life before he was yelling, “It’s almost seven. Why? Do we have plans?”

Rolling back over, I noticed that the horizon was much more orange than it had been, signaling the coming night. Not wanting to get up, but knowing it was inevitable, I stood with a groan and a stretch…and that’s when it happened.

It was an atrocious scream, one that he usually reserved for spiders or life threatening injuries. I knew this because a few months ago when he’d encountered an eight legged friend while on tour in Cambodia, he’d called me…still screaming. And last year when he’d hurt his wrist during a performance, he held it in the whole trip to my apartment before he broke down on my patio furniture. So I knew that timbre, a pitch I don’t think even I as a girl could match, and I was running, leaping over imaginary bushes, sprinting faster than the Black Flash.

The scene that developed would have been comical, had he not been scared to death. There was my boyfriend, the love of my life, Kim Jongdae, crouching on the kitchen counter, wet, shirtless, and covered in sand; and then there in the living room…was a pheasant. Its weird green head bucked forward and back as it stepped around, contrasting even more weirdly with its orange body. I will admit that its beady little red eyes had me in a bind for a moment as I tried to process what the hell was going on. The bungalow had retractable walls, so the thing probably just wandered in here, maybe wanting an autograph from EXO’s Chen. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered reading about Okinawa and how it didn’t have any native animals, so scientists had introduced a random assortment of fauna, hoping they would all just work. Pheasants had not been what came to mind though…

“J-Jagi…” Jongdae swallowed from the counter. He was hugging his knees, and I marveled at how he’d managed to make himself so small so quickly.

“Dae, it’s okay. It’s just a—”

“A parrot, right?” I froze mid-explanation. His eyes were pleading, and also so adorably innocent that there was no way I could tell him the truth. But, I also didn’t have it in me to laugh in his face.

“Excuse me for just a moment…” I mumbled and did a 180, exiting the house.

Ahhhhh waaaeeeee!” I heard as I rounded the wall and collapsed into a pile of laughter, covering my mouth with both hands to try and muffle it.

The next thing I knew, I was shooing the bird out of the house with one of Dae’s notebooks, biting my bottom lip to suppress my grin. He was never going to live this down—not ever. I’d be telling the story of the infamous ‘parrot’ for years to come. And no, I didn’t correct him. He was going to go his whole life thinking pheasants were parrots if I had anything to say about it! But in the meantime, we had a surprise to finish.

I got Dae off the counter and sent him to shower off all the sand and humiliation while I closed the walls. Couldn’t have any more intruders getting in, now could we? Then, when he was done, I quickly rinsed off and dressed in the backless green dress Sehun had ordered me to buy. He knew more about style than SM’s whole fashion department, so who was I to disobey? I couldn’t deny how exotic it made me look though. The threaded halter front was sprinkled with glass beads and little trinkets of silver and gold. I could pass as a gypsy, just a bracelet here and some improvised eyeliner henna, and bam: Esmeralda. Jongdae didn’t need any help to look attractive, his jeans and shirt were more than enough to have me falling all over him as we borrowed our hosts’ bikes, and rode into town.

The sun was fully set by the time we made it to the entrance, and I only managed to glance back at him before he realized that my surprise, the one I’d been planning for weeks, was something he’d been asking for for months.

“Oh my god…is this—”

“The Ryukyu Kaiensai Fireworks Festival? Maybe.” I leaned forward on my handlebars and huffed on my nails, shining them on my dress like I was some sort of badass. In the effort of full disclosure, I never would have thought that he would want to go to something like this. Jongdae was very much a homebody, but he’d seen an article about it a couple months back in a magazine and he had been so impressed that he brought it home to show me. It was still laying on my coffee table, a reminder I’d left for my future self.

“Ahhh Jagi, this is…” He trailed off as he ran his fingers through his hair, clearly overwhelmed with how awesome I was.

“Well come on! Put up your bike! We gotta find a spot or we’ll miss the opening!” The smile on his face was intoxicating as we quickly locked up our bikes and ran, hand in hand, onto the crowded beach. But, luckily, my awesomeness knew no bounds, and I led him over to a large beach stone. As we got closer, Dae piped up.

“Yuta?” The young idol hopped down from his perch and grinned at the two of us.

“You guys made it! I was half expecting you not to show, if you know what I mean.” I wagged his eyebrows at us suggestively, and I blushed. I mean, if Dae hadn’t put a shirt on, it was a likely scenario.  

“Thanks for saving us a seat!” I beamed and he bowed his head to me, giving me a little wink on the side for good measure. He had been so nice and so helpful, and he’d never asked for anything in return for being so generous. He reminded me of Jongdae in that regard.

We shared a few more pleasantries before the loud speaker boomed that the show was about to start. Dae and I climbed up on our boulder while Yuta made himself scarce. I positioned myself between his legs and leaned into him. Sometimes it felt like the space over his heart was made to fit nobody else but me, like he was carved in such a way that I was the only one who would ever be able to be here. His arms slung loosely around me, and I grabbed his hands in mine. He was so comfortable, and he was so mine, and I was so happy.

The music began to play and the first firework boomed like a clap of thunder and I jumped in delight. It rattled around in my bones, and it was exhilarating. With my most excited face, I looked back to see if Dae was just as awestruck, but he was…only looking at me.

“Did you see it? Look, you’re gonna miss it!” I asked, but he only gave me a small content smile. “Look, Dae. Look!” I tried to move his chin to look up at the sky, but he resist, pegging me with an expression that I knew meant he was about to hit me with something profound.

“I’m not missing anything. You’re more radiant than anything up there.”

I melted a little, and it wasn’t just because it was EXO’s Chen telling me exactly what I wanted to hear.

“But we didn’t come here to see me, we came for the fireworks.” I muttered, kicking myself for arguing when he was complimenting me so highly.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Jagi. We could have stayed in Seoul, watching Netflix on your couch, and I would still say the same thing. Anywhere with you is exactly where I want to be. You’re amazing…thank you for this.” He gave me a small kiss on the lips that I couldn’t help but turn into a deeper one as ‘Kimi No Na Wa’ played on in the background, a sky full of fire and stars highlighting my love for this man.

Chapter Text

I had to admit that it was nice having a full size shower again. Months in that cramped camping half bath felt like it had permanently curved my spine. Now I could stretch out in my combined bathroom shower suite thing. This was something the US should definitely implement: bathrooms that were all tile and a shower head built into the wall. How easy was that? You could shave your legs on the sink, and there was no tub to overflow. Why was this not a standard thing? 

It was easy to forget about the things that were going wrong in here, like the rushing water somehow managed to wash my thoughts away. Between the drops, I didn’t have to worry about Cat or how she was getting around in a country she was banned from, or about the faceless girl I had maimed. All my theories regarding CEO Kim could finally take a rest under the water, and the lingering fear that I’d sold my soul to a reporter eased its grip.

Before I knew it my time was up, and I had to return to earth. The descent was always the worst part, like I was peeling off a whole layer of skin and was forced to go back without my calluses. With a scowl, I wiped the fog from the mirror and surveyed the damage. The bruises from my crash landing last month were finally fading and I could see my face again for what it was. My hair that had somehow dulled in the California sunshine seemed like the gold was coming back, and the eyes that had stared blankly at me for months seemed like they held a secret again. There was no point in denying what the mirror was saying, and I accepted it readily: my glow was back. Someone had jammed their thumb on the play button. Leaving Seoul may have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life, but I was beginning to learn that one’s path is not always straight. I had to leave, I had to go, just for the sake of coming back and realizing what I had given up. Harper Hasagawa was apparently Korean now, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I threw on a tank top and underwear, not worried about formalities in my bedroom. It was such a blessing to have a private bathroom and not have to share the communal men’s room at the end of the hall. Although it was probably cleaner than mine, Minseok would no doubt see to that, sometimes a girl just has to dance around her room naked, ya know?

The dorm I usually shared with Cat was quiet and cold. Her bed was crisply made, and even though she had hardly any personal affects, I could see leftover traces of her, proof that she had been there and that she was coming back. Growing up in the shadow of the United States government had taught her not to cherish anything, because it would ultimately be taken away. But I knew that she always kept a cache of sweets on her at all times, or that she hated using pillows. There was a toothbrush here and an earring back there, signs that she was comfortable enough, stable enough to be clumsy.

My months in the states had always been highlighted with how much I missed: I missed the boys, I missed the food, the smell, the life of Seoul, I missed Tuesday martial arts day, I missed staying up all night and listening to my boys sing, but most of all (which was maybe an overstatement but meh) I missed Cat. In Japan she had been a ghost, slipping in and out as she pleased, never there for long or gone for long. She was consistent in her absence at least. That was her usual, it was our rapport.

But now? Hell, I couldn’t even go a day back home without calling or texting her. We were a pair, she and I. Two peas in a super depressing, slightly toxic pod. But she never missed a morning text either! I wasn’t alone in our bromance. Granted she threatened to quit nearly every day that I was gone, but it was unfailing. I needed me some Cat just as badly as she needed her Hasa. Although, I could be giving myself too much credit. I might need her just as much as she wanted Yixing. That could be a possible comparison too. With a shrug, I dropped my own argument. No sense in fighting the battle when she wasn’t even here to decide the outcome.

I palmed my wet hair with a towel and danced over to my desk where small pieces of paper were scattered over the top, scribbled with beginner Hangul and even-more-beginner Hànzì. I slid the flashcards around, forming and reforming a sentence, sounding out the syllables to see if I’d done it right. The internet told me this would be the fastest way to learn the characters, but the more time I spent on it, the more annoyed I became. Learning Spanish had not been this difficult. Then again, there was the obvious fact that I hadn’t had to relearn a whole alphabet just so I could pass my junior year of high school. Spanish was cake compared to this.

I was just sounding out the word for ‘banana’ when the creak of my door being thrown open made me jump. My flash cards slid out of line, skewing my fruit cocktail. With a fake huff of anger I turned to glare at my intruder. Kyungsoo stood in the doorway, hand still wrapped around the knob. He was in black sweatpants, a grey hoodie, and slippers, the ultimate sign of casual. It was such a rare occurrence that they didn’t have something going on tonight, that the moment they realized it was a ‘free night’, Junmyeon had declared an obligatory night for everyone to stay in and relax. It was why I’d let myself take an extra-long shower…ten minutes was a new record.

The slippered man was probably just here to see what I wanted for dinner, but when my eyes skipped up to his face, his normal enduring expression was not what I found. Instead, he was wide eyed, his whole face opening to his shock. It took a moment (admittedly a longer moment than it should have) before I realized what he was so startled by:

No pants.

I glanced down at my bare thighs and then back up to his dazed face. It wasn’t like this was the first time he’d seem some forbidden part of me. I mean, he’d helped that EMT cut my shirt off during the dream concert last year, and I’m sure there had been wardrobe malfunctions during Tuesdays that no one ever addressed. I’d worn less in front of him before, so it wasn’t quite so clear why he was so staggered by it now.

Don’t kid yourself, Harper…You know why he’s staring.

Heat crept up my neck as the photo shoot came galloping back into my mind from wherever I’d managed to banish it. His hands, his chest, his eyes, his lips—

Fuck.

With as much subtlety as I could muster, I lowered my towel to cover as much of my legs as possible, without giving away the fact that I was trying. I blinked a few times and pursed my lips, hoping that it schooled my face into something off-the-cuff as I asked,

“What’s up?” I turned back to my flash cards, pretending I wasn’t interested in his answer, using my free hand to rearrange them, ignoring the fact that I couldn’t concentrate enough to figure out what it said. Did this say ‘banana’ or did this say ‘thirsty’? Who knew?

I waited for him to right himself, to clear his throat or stomp out, yelling at my indecency over his shoulder…but nothing happened. It was only at the sound of a soft ‘click’ that I realized that this was not going to be like the other times.

That ‘click’ of my door was final, the final nail in the coffin we’d built for ourselves. His steps were soft, but I heard them. Years of combat experience and training made sure that I did. One foot after the other as he stepped in, stepped up. There would be no running away this time, no cut call, or formality. We were entombed in here, and his steps were so so soft. He’d trapped us in this impossible situation, and he still somehow found the nerve to whisper my name. 

Harper…”

My breath hitched in my chest just hearing it on his lips, and my hand froze. Those damned heart shaped lips that I craved in my sleep. Frantically, I searched for something to distract him. There would be no way I could survive if he was coming in here sounding like that, like he was a walking dream and all I had to do was breathe him in.

“Look!” I grabbed two cards from the desk, dropping the towel like an afterthought, and held them up to his face. He was much closer to me now, having advanced well beyond whatever line we’d drawn. “I’ve been practicing.” I forced as much enthusiasm into my voice as I could, hoping it would deter him. Maybe if he thought I was busy studying, he wouldn’t want to start something he couldn’t finish. Maybe he’d take his lips, and his eyes, and his breath that I felt spreading over my face…and he’d go away.

Please, please…just go away.

But he didn’t.

Gently, I watched him reach up and hook his long fingers around my wrists, lowering the cards, getting them out of his way. He’d battered down my defense in one swift move. A gulp lodged in my throat as I caught my own reflection in the white of his eyes. I didn’t know how to win this fight, or even how to contend. If we had been sparring, I would be spinning away from him, putting distance between us…and that seemed like my only available option. He didn’t keep my arms once he’d pushed them away, and I took a step back, feeling the edge of the desk bump into the back of my thighs.

So much for my strategic retreat.

“Kyungsoo…” I whispered frantically, bracing my hands against the desk, pushing as far back as I could go. It was all I could manage to say, all my voice would allow. His name would have to be what broke the spell because despite all the languages that I knew…nothing else was making its way out. His name was all I could say as he took the final step into my space.

The first thing to touch me were his hips against mine and then he leaned over me, hands bracing behind me on the desk. I cast my eyes down, into the crook of his neck, down to his chest as it pressed up against my own.

“Tell me to stop.” His lips grazed against my ear, breath cascading down my neck. My body reacted without my say so. I should have flinched, should have shoved him away, but instead, I turned my head into him, my forehead brushing his ear.

“Say no.” His voice was so low, so earthy, so much like a growl that I felt it reverberate from his chest into my own. I could feel his heartbeat pressed against me, hammering. One of his hands found its way to the small of my back and slowly slid up, leaving a hot trail of goose bumps as he barely barely touched me.

“Scream at me to leave.” He begged, but at the same time, turned his face to me, pressing those lips against my head again.

It was too much. He was too much. My nails were digging into the lip of the desk for dear life, trying desperately to remind myself that this should not be happening, that I needed to come back to reality. Come down to earth! Reenter the atmosphere! You can’t breathe in outer space, you can’t survive out there, you aren’t supposed to live among the stars.

Kyungsoo was a star, he was the sun. He was blazing hot, and the longer I dared brave the fire, the worse my burns would be. I knew that. God, I knew that, but I still let my head tilt back and my eyes drift close. I still let a moan escape the back of my throat that sounded suspiciously like his name, and it seemed to stall him. He pulled back, taking his fire with him, and I was momentarily able to breathe.

“You can’t say my name like that…” Both his hands snaked up to either side of my face, cupping my cheeks. I knew what I would find if I opened my eyes: Him. I would see his familiar face, his big brown eyes, those iconic lips. And then I would see every conversation we’d ever had in the lines around his mouth, and all the secrets I’d entrusted to him and no one else in the crinkle of his eyes. I’d see the man who put every ounce of himself into everything he did. And I knew that if I opened my eyes and saw all of that, I would have to admit that…I wasn’t strong enough to leave any of it behind again.

A blurry thought popped into my head that this was all CEO Kim’s fault. If he hadn’t forced me into a scandal, if Kyungsoo hadn’t volunteered, if we hadn’t kissed in the dark of night under the fake rain for every eye to see…maybe we could have gone on like none of this was real. Like nothing that we felt for each other was true. He could write it off as Stockholm Syndrome, he the beauty, I the beast.

But no…our kiss in the damn rain had ignited something. Something neither of us could fight any longer.

“You can’t, cause I…I don’t think I can control myself if you say it like that.” He pressed his lips to my eye lids, speaking against my skin.

“Kyungsoo…” My mouth parted with his name again and I felt his whole body tense. He was trying desperately to contain himself, literally begging me to send him away. He knew this was forbidden too, it wasn’t like I was the only one with something to lose. Our foreheads pressed together, his fingers tangled in my wet hair, and I could feel his plea.

“Tell me to stop, Harper. Tell me to leave right now, because if you don’t…I never will.” 

For a moment, I considered giving him what he asked for, sending him away. I wasn’t sure what would happen if he pulled back completely and I opened my eyes to find him gone. Would I freeze to death? Would his fire singe my nerves, making it so I couldn’t feel anything at all? If he disappeared now…would I ever find him again?

The prospect of him never leaving was blissful. It was the kind of promise he knew I was weak for. Two years of cold beds and lonely nights wares down a heart that was once full, and that had always been evident to anyone who knew how to look at me. I was tired, and I was cold. Perhaps I could touch the flame this once, let it restore me, let my soul bask in the glow for a while before coming back down.

It was admirable that I entertained the alternative for so long considering the fractured state of my heart. Admirable, but at the same time, futile. I’d already made up my mind the moment my door had clicked shut, I just had to accept it.

I wanted him. I wanted him to light me on fire, engulf me, scorch me. I wanted to feel everything, and nothing at all. So I gave him his answer:

My nails dislodged themselves from the desk and crept around his waist. He tensed even more, and I felt his brows furrow against my own.

“Stay.”

Chapter Text

I huffed, annoyed. I haphazardly fidgeted with the zipper on my leather jacket as I chewed at my bottom lip, scanning the number of people walking into the bar. I could literally feel the wrinkles permanently burrowing into my skin from the frown lines that etched into my face from my brows being furrowed together.

All that I had wanted was to come to my favorite bar to drink away the stresses of work. My boss had been a royal bitch today, and the thought of drowning myself in a bottle of Jose Cuervo sounded beyond appealing. I was not happy when I got to Sam’s Burger Bar to find that, apparently, there was live music happening later that night.

A huge crowd of people began to form, and I was not okay with that. I slammed my debit card down on the bar to close my tab when my elbow had been bumped and I had spilled cranberry juice and liquor down the front of my blouse for the sixth time that night. I muttered something about being glad that I had decided to wear a black shirt that day.

“Calm down, (Y/N),” my regular bartender, Maria told me. “They’ll be too busy swooning over the boys on stage to bother you soon.” She tossed my card back at me, and I rolled my eyes, but put it away. The need for booze was way stronger than being irritated with drunk idiots. Who knows? I could become a drunk idiot too and end up having a great time.

I heard shouts of excitement and assumed the band had taken stage. Maria poured me another shot, which I took with great satisfaction. I tossed it back as soon as I heard the initial pressing of a few keyboard notes, but the moment that I heard the voice ring through the microphone, I practically gave myself whiplash from turning so fast.

The stage was occupied by four men. The white haired man with the voice like honey strumming a guitar drew me in immediately. His black skinny jeans paired with a white t-shirt with a denim vest would have, any other time, pulled a sarcastic remark about trying too hard had he been anybody else. The keyboardist took over for the second verse, and though he was also talented, I was pulled to the snow-haired guitarist.

I don’t remember consciously making the decision, but I suddenly realized I was on my feet and moving toward the stage. Pushing past people, I refused to take my eyes off of him, so I wasn’t able to see the amount of dirty looks that I was on the receiving end from the other people in the crowd. I made it to the stage right as the first song ended. Cheers erupted around me.

Snow-hair took the microphone and thanked the crowd. He announced himself as “Woosung” and the band as “The Rose.” I was enthralled his entire show. The passion behind his eyes when he sang was enticing. He made you feel every single note and word that he sang, and I was completely lost in him. Throughout the night, I became just as wrapped up on the music as well. I felt it mingle with the alcohol in my blood stream and the combination freed my mind of all of the stresses of the day.

After the show, I went to the bar to close my tab. Maria smirked, saying, “so much for you not wanting to be around people.”

“That guy… his voice was like, hypnotizing! And he was super hot. I’m gonna have to look up their music because I think I’m in love with him.” I knew I was being dramatic because I was tiptoeing tipsy, but part of me meant it. I had definitely acquired a new band crush.

Maria raised an eyebrow at me and pressed her lips together. It was one of those movie scenarios of “they’re right behind me, aren’t they?” I closed my eyes right and pursed my lips shut. I spun around to see him standing right there, a bit of a cocky grin across his lips. He was even more handsome up close.

“I came to get a drink,” he said, “but I would also like your name, if possible.”

That was the start of my relationship with Woosung. He was more than the intense musician who sang about heartbreak that I saw on stage that night. He was goofy and fun. He was light. He had a smile that melted my heart, even almost a year later. He was genuine and kind.

One day, he was home from work for the day. It was nearing another tour season, and I was nervous for how long he was about to be gone. I was not ready for him to be away for so long. I tried to take in every moment that I could with him, and today happened to be the perfect day for it.

There was a light pitter patter of rain hitting the window of our studio apartment. Although he spent quite a bit of time working in Seoul, we also had our home together here in California where he was originally from. It was a simple and small apartment. A wall of windows faced a skyline of buildings with the ocean peeking through the background.

I was sat on the floor, leaning against the couch in one of Woosung’s oversized sweaters. A mug of cocoa kept my hands warm as my head bobbed to the sounds of gentle plucking from Woosung’s guitar. Crumpled pieces of paper surrounded us. Every now and then, an ecstatic gasp of a great idea hitting him would escape his lips. Other times, a frustrated groan.

Regardless, he was 100% adorable. I looked back upon the night we met as I watched him play his acoustic. I remembered how mad that I had been, unknowing of how drastically my life was going to change after the snow-haired boy started singing.

Woosung leaned forward, catching my attention. I shook my head and came out of my daydream. I smiled, and asked what he was working on.

“Can I run a rough draft of something by you?” he looked anxious.

“Of course!” I jumped onto the couch and crossed my legs. Woosung began to play a light gentle melody. His voice was soft as he sang a beautiful song. The words “Baby, I’m falling for you. I love you,” tugged on my heart repeatedly.

When he was done, he chewed on his bottom lip, nervous for a reaction.

“It’s so beautiful, baby!” I beamed. He was so good at music; writing it, making it, performing it. I was still constantly overwhelmed with admiration at his talent.

“Good. I’m glad you like it, considering you were the inspiration.” The nervous look spread across his face again.

My heart fluttered as I said, “I love you too, Woosung,” before I leaned forward and kissed him.

Chapter Text

This was stealing, and I think we both knew it. The landlord dropped those keys in my hand for pennies on the dollar and a prayer. She crossed herself like a nun whenever she passed my door on the hall, and insisted I pick up all my mail on the ground floor. But the hike down the stairs was a sweet deal for $300 off every month.

The fact that the apartment already had a permanent resident didn’t bother me either, not anymore. Not like it used to.

He startled me at first. I wasn’t expecting him to waltz in while I was using the restroom, and it was an exercise to school my face. The last thing I wanted him to know was that I could see him. Because he was dead, and normal people could not see dead people. He caught my flinch though, and I braced myself for the months of testing to come.

He was why my rent was so cheap, and why my landlady was as devout as the pope. There was a ghost haunting my apartment...and he was easy on the eyes.

Most days I spied him hovering in the kitchen, hands passing through the dishes I neglected to do like he was itching to clean.

If only , I would mutter.

Other times he would stalk me around the apartment, yelling in my ears or trying to touch me, anything to garner a reaction. Jokes on him though, because I’d dealt with obnoxious spirits like him all my life. One lonely boy wasn’t going to frighten me off.

He looked like he was about my age with cropped black hair. His round face framed big eyes and curiously shaped lips--like a heart. Sometimes at night, once he had tired of screaming, he would sing to me as he hovered over the end of the bed. I’ve fallen asleep more than once listening to his lullabies.

The only person who knew about my special sight was my aunt, who claimed she’d had it when she was younger as well. She was the only one who believed me when it felt like I was going insane. She urged me to use my ‘ gift’ for good, to help send those stuck souls on to their afterlife. But I was much too busy with the living to even consider the dead. I was in my final hours of my pre-med degree, applications were due for grad school and I still had requirements to meet. I had no job, no car, and no cash. My discounted rent was a blessing, but still an eventuality. I didn’t have time to go chasing after the dearly departed to fix their issues. I had plenty of my own!

For example: it was 3 am and I could feel his gaze on me. I needed to sleep, there was a big test tomorrow, but those big brown eyes were boring holes into my head. This was our typical routine for the past few weeks. He’d grow tired of running through me, through the fridge, through the walls, and when he was done hollering for the night, he stared. Once, I allowed myself to gaze back, pretending to be staring mindlessly at the wall behind him. His expression was never evil or angry. Of course it wasn’t like he was happy either. He blank-faced at me all night, a general weariness in the lines around his mouth. For the most part, he never did anything inappropriate, which I was thankful. There wasn’t a lot he could do to me since I hadn’t been cursed with the ability to touch the dead, but he still looked away when I changed, or disappeared when I showered. Tonight however, with my eyes closed, I felt a shift.

A literal shift. He lowered himself to the space beside me in bed. I automatically rolled to face away from him, annoyed that this was where my night was headed. Although I couldn’t touch them, and they couldn’t touch me, the sensation wasn’t imperceptible. Like when he tentatively put a hand on my elbow, I felt a chill as if part of me had been exposed to life outside of my warm blanket cocoon. I wanted to shrug him off, but I couldn’t pull it off naturally while pretending to sleep. So I let him touch me, sending goose bumps up and down my arm.

“I wish you’d talk to me.” He whispered into my hair. I swallowed down my sudden guilt and focused on my breathing. “The last person I talked to killed me.”

I must admit that I googled the apartment after discovering my roommate. News articles were shallow on details, but apparently before the owner remodeled, this building had been the definition of the rough part of town. My stowaway was not the only person to have died in this building. I didn’t see them running amok though. They never flipped all the lights on to annoy me, or turn my air conditioning all the way down to freeze me out. Did he not know how much my electric bill already was? The point was, he was the only spirit who couldn’t seem to move on.

“I’d tell you the story if you turned around.” He went on, a hopeful note in his voice. When I didn’t move, he sighed. I already knew the story though: ‘Man Shot Dead in Drug Deal Gone Wrong’. The article was scarcely more than a few lines, but down at the bottom was a picture of a familiar face. His school photo if I had to guess. He seemed much more than a druggie in it though. His hair was styled carefully, his clothes were tidy and seemed clean, and he was smiling a bright cheery smile that gave no indication of ‘ meth head ’ (plus his teeth were perfect too, which made it even less likely). He never smiled like that now, it was usually more of a frustrated grimace. And why would he? He’s dead. I wouldn’t smile either.

“You have an exam tomorrow.” He continued on absently, still giving me chills. “You’ve been cramming all week.”

‘No thanks to you,’ I wanted to bark. I managed to open an eye and glare at the Organic Chem bible laying on my desk. Stupid stupid chemistry. Why the hell did I ever want to be a doctor?

“And you’re still worried about it.” I made a face at the desk, one he couldn’t see because I was facing away from him. He was just rambling at this point, but I was curious to know why he thought I was nervous. “You always make Italian when you’re worried about school. I’ve noticed…” He trailed off. If I’d been standing, my mouth would have hung in surprise. How the ever-loving hell--

Do I really make pasta when I’m nervous? I quickly thought back to every exam I’d taken this semester and realized, to my horror, that he was absolutely right. Spaghetti for Organic Chem, Fettuccine for Biology, and Tortellini for Physics. No wonder I’d gained so much weight! I wanted to bury my head in the pillow and give myself a stern talking to about my carb intake, but he was still meandering, and there was nothing I could do but listen.

“I wanted to be an engineer.” His hand slowly started to trail up my arm and I suppressed another shiver. “I remember my second year in college, my thermodynamics professor...ugh, what a jackass--” Without meaning to, I let out a snort in agreement. Professors were the bane of my current existence (after the detestable ghost in my apartment, of course), I could relate. His voice hitched, and I quickly tried to play it off as a sleepy cough.

He didn’t speak again for a long moment, but after, continued on like nothing had happened. Maybe he was finally starting to believe that I couldn’t see him. My acting skills were getting better, if I do say so myself.

“Professor Lichten...he would put Easter eggs in his syllabus, so that only those who read it could pass his class. There was one time…” I listened to his story easily. He had such a voice, low and melodic, that it cradled me right to sleep. I’m sure he still stared, but I didn’t mind him looking. Knowing just a little bit about him seemed to take the edge off my dread.

When my alarm went off the next morning, it felt like I’d just shut my eyes. Groggily, I threw off my covers and went to get ready half blind. No one needed to look nice for exams. It would have been more surprising had I shown up with straight hair and a full stomach. Instead, just like everyone else, I was swaddled in my comfiest sweats and trudged into the classroom with the same half-baked expression of a student who’d stayed up all night studying--being nagged by a relatable ghost. I grunted to the other people in my class who seemed just as awake as I was before taking my seat squarely in the middle of 50 or so seniors.

The cold spaghetti I ate for breakfast churned in my stomach as I pulled out my pencils and calculator. If I was very very lucky, I would make it through this test only slightly marred and go home to finish my grad school application in peace. It wasn't as though I got poor grades, but that I could feel my brain reaching capacity. If I didn't take a break soon, I was going to overflow.

My professor, Ms. Segundas, came trotting in once the clock struck 8:00, as bright and cheery as death. It was perhaps true, the joke that those who can't do, teach. She seemed too young to be a scholar and held about herself an air of resentment. For us it meant she gave no quarter, spared no feelings. If we were to be doctors, she would say, we should get used to the antipathy. She distributed the tests without a word of greeting, but we all looked on expectantly. This was no time for pleasantries after all. This was--

“Hello.”

My pen skidded up my page, leaving a huge black smear across the face. I stared at the blemish in shock for a moment, and then up at the person standing right beside my desk.

I shouldn't have! I should have kept my composure! I'd kept this charade up for years, and now I watched dolefully as it crumbled to his feet.

It was him, the man. He stood to the side, tantalizingly close, invisible to everyone...but me. And he'd literally just ruined my life.

His eyes caught my recognition, and there was no amount of coughing or pretending that was going to cover it up. I'd let my guard down because he'd never shown up anywhere but home. It was a boundary I thought I'd been blessed with, but now I saw it had all been a ruse. His trump card. Too little too late, I realized I understood nothing of ‘ spirits’ or how any of it worked. How stupid of me to think I was safe from the wind.

“Holy shit...you--you can see me!” His hands went up in the air in disbelief as I gawked. “I knew it! I knew it!” In the silence of the classroom, I was the only one hearing his shouts of joy.

Knowing I couldn’t make a scene without being committed, I gritted my teeth and bore it, refocusing on my test as he ran up and down the aisle, hooping and hollering. I only managed to get through two or three questions before he was back, rounding up to me again, panting. The fact that he was ‘ out of breath ’ was a ridiculous notion, but the gleam in his eye was delighted.

“I thought I was going to go crazy--” He started.

“Well you’re dead so…” I muttered under my breath. The girl to my left shot me a puzzled look before going back to her exam.

“Oh my god. Oh my god! You just talked to me!” He chanted, and I seriously considered just getting up and leaving, but there was no way I could explain to Ms. Segundas why I was going, or why she should let me retake. Not wanting to bother anyone else, I pulled out my scratch paper and scribbled down a note to the maddening sprite.

‘I’m busy! Get lost!’ I shoved the paper to the edge of the desk, and he leapt for it like a lifeline...and then faltered at what it said.

“But...no. No, I just found you.” He rambled and I rolled my eyes.

‘You’ve been bothering me for weeks.’ I wrote.

“Sorry, I just…” He shallowly bent his head in shame, “wanted you to see me.” That damn guilt he’d planted last night blossomed into something unruly in my heart, and I quickly hacked away at it.

‘I see you--now go away!’

He glanced around the room after that, like he was finally understanding where we were.

“You were really worried…” He trailed off and went unexpectedly quiet. I was not one to spurn luck, so I quickly returned to my test in peace...relatively.

I poured everything I had out onto that paper; question after question; Alkyl Halides, Stereochemistry, Alkenes and Alkynes, Conjugated Systems, Aromatic Compounds, Ketones, Aldehydes, Amines--

My pen flew (more like sputtered) over the problems until I reached the dreaded question #47. I bit my thumbnail as I recited and rearranged and reworded the problem again and again:

        ‘Which of the following Dioxanes are potentially explosive?’

It listed three picture options, each minutely different, and ‘none of the above’. I debated between figure A and figure B, fidgeting nervously in my chair.

“If you don’t know, just come back to it.” The ghost said. He was relaxing on the desktop of the girl next to me. It took getting used to, the way matter moved through him instead of relative to him, as if his existence wasn’t on plane with ours. This was the split, I understood, between science and spirituality. My glare at him softened when I saw how the girl’s arm swam right through him. Was her hand cold? Did he feel the tip of her pen?

“Eyes on your own papers.” Ms. Segundas suddenly announced and the whole class jumped at the abrupt intrusion on the silence...all but me of course, because I never got silence. I quickly looked back to my test and the fearsome #47. It was still blocking me, and I still didn’t know the answer.

“She’s sure got a stick up her--” He started but I cut him off with a cough. He raised an eyebrow at my censure, but kept quiet as I skipped on ahead. The rest of the questions weren’t exactly cake, but I muddled through to the end, circling back for my nemesis. Since staring at it didn’t seem to help, I told myself to break it down logically: I knew peroxide was potentially explosive, and these compounds certainly looked like the recipe for it, but I couldn’t remember for sure. With a frustrated sigh, I resigned to guessing. A fifty-fifty chance was still better than leaving it blank. My pen hovered over figure A and--

“It’s D, none of the above.” He whispered in my ear, the feeling of frozen air wafting on my cheek.

If I was being honest, I would admit that I was a proud person, a prideful person, I like to do things on my own...but my mama also taught me not to slap fortune’s hand.

‘Explain.’ I ordered on the paper.

“Those first two are too basic and...the third one isn’t even real.” He traced his finger over the lines of the pictured compounds.

‘How do you know?’ I asked, even as I subtly filled in the bubble for D.

“I aced O-chem.” He grinned, and I about tossed my desk.

‘Are you kidding me!’ I scrawled furiously. ‘I could kill you!’ I nearly stabbed through the sheet.

“Bit late for that.” He laughed and pointed out two more that I’d gotten wrong.

Let me remind us all that there is nothing in the academic handbook or policy about getting assistance from a ghost! I even looked it up. So I decided that I would feel guilty about it later. I’d donate something to a charity as penance. But right then, as I turned in my test, I was doing my happy dance.

“God, I feel like my brain just lost 10 pounds.” I sighed out in the quad. I had the sense to put in my headphones so it would look like I was on the phone and not talking to nothing. “I can’t believe you let me suffer like that!” I sneered at him.

“I told you I went for engineering.” He shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Engineers don’t take O-chem.” I returned suspiciously.

“Biomedical ones do.” He shot back.

It occurred to me once and for all that this was not the face of a tweaker. His was not a brain that was degraded by meth. You can’t go through O-chem and have done cocaine (O-chem certainly teaches you how to make cocaine, but that’s beside the point). So I decided to cease my bickering...and turn around.

I bit my lip to keep from grinning as he rounded me, confused as he could be.

“What are you doing?”

“You said you’d tell me the story if I turned around.” His eyes widened and a blush bloomed on his face. “You can start with your name.” I said triumphantly.

“Kyungsoo.” He answered with a smile.

“Kyungsoo...I like that.” I tested his name in my mouth and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor. His face only grew more and more red and I saw the opportunity to pay him back for all those sleepless nights. “Come on, Kyungsoo. Let’s go.” I ticked my head in the direction of the bus stop.

“Where to?” He asked, already falling into step with me.

“Home.”



Chapter Text

“So…how are you doing?” He asked and had the gall to look innocent about it. My face was incredulous at the implication that he didn’t know, that he bothered to even ask.

How am I doing? You are asking me how I’m doing?” I hissed over the pages of my three thousand pound textbook.

“Well yeah,” He snorted and was brave enough to roll his eyes before quickly stepping out of my immediate reach. “I’m your boyfriend. I’m allowed to do that.”

You!” I shrieked like it was the most outrageous thing I’d ever heard. “You, my class TA, are asking how I’m doing!”

“Yep.” He said cooly, perched on the armrest of the loveseat, a safe distance from my hands, but not from my pitching arm.

“Crashing and burning, Joonie!” I snarled and launched the pillow I’d just been sitting on at his face. “Crashing and burning!” It hit him square in the face and initiated a typical series of events that ended with Namjoon on the floor and one of the new lamps in three pieces. While the trip down had been a satisfactory show for his frankly rude ass question, I looked at the lamp, and then I looked at him…and my face fell into the crease of my book with a groan.

“Me too…” His voice squeaked sheepishly as I heard him try to get up without breaking anything else.

If I was being honest, the paper I was attempting to write wasn’t that difficult, it was just that my brain was producing nothing of merit. And when your boyfriend grades your papers, and he’s a grade A genius prick, the only thing you want to give is caliber. I heard him rustle around before finally finding a safe place on the couch and pulling out his cell phone, probably to ring Yoongi and tell him he just broke the lamp he’d given us.

“Joon…” I mewled into the words of the book, a steady headache throbbing at the bottom of my skull. He let out a hum to tell me he was listening even as he broke the news to our resident grump. “Why am I not smart?” The roomer was darker now that we were a lamp down, and all the light was blocked out by the words questioning ‘humans contribution to creation or destruction’ anyway, but I didn’t need my eyes to tell me the air had changed. Namjoon hung up with Yoongi and carefully came over to crouch beside me.

“I’m sorry miss but,” He reached out and tugged on the hair that had fallen out of my messy bun, “who said you could talk about my girlfriend like that?”

“You always tell me to speak the truth,” I mumbled, glad that he couldn’t see my face because I was probably blushing.

“Maybe I’m your truth,” I heard his grin and let out an exasperated grunt, “and your lie. Maybe I’m your love and hate. Maybe I’m your enemy and friennnnd…” He sang right into my ear and as much as I pretended to hate it when he serenaded me, the anxiety from before was transforming itself into affection.

Despite the lamp.

“I want this to be good.” I lifted my head and did my best to hide the grin on my mouth when I saw his goofy face. I tried for serious but only ended up looking constipated.

“It will be!” He grabbed for my hands and brought them up to his lips, kissing my knuckles like I was a princess. He always treated me like one.

“I want it to be profound!” I continued to whine and saw the up and down of his shoulder signaling a chuckle.  

“Then make it so.” He sighed happily and I felt the vibration of his voice in my fingerprints.

“I want you to be impressed.” My voice cracked at the end, betraying my attempt at pitiful, but his gaze was sharp in return.

“Baby,” He rumbled lowly, absolutely serious, “you never cease to impress me.” There was no book to hide my blush this time, and I dropped my gaze to how his lips grazed over my skin, flipping my palm up and pressing a kiss to the very center. His breath was hot and sent a shiver down my spine as he blazed a trail of kisses down my wrist.

“I don’t feel very impressive right now,” I admitted quietly, letting him explore because the feeling of his skin on mine was enough to turn my mood any day.

“That’s because you’ve been staring at the book for four hours.” He pulled away and I barely suppressed a whimper in protest. “Take a break!” He got up and pulled me to his feet before moving his hands to my hips. “I promise once you’ve relaxed a bit, the words will come easier.”

He stepped to the left and then to the right, and with a mortified clarity I realized he was trying to dance with me. My head fell back and I full body laughed right in his face, but he was used to it. All he did was pull me closer and step a little farther, moving my body with him in a very mistimed and uncoordinated waltz. Contently, I went along with it because no matter how I griped, Namjoon was still the smartest person I’d ever met. And if he said dancing would help, then dancing was what we were going to do.

Of course, it actually did help, which only cemented his status in my head. Right up until he twirled me out, dramatically throwing his hand back for the full effect…and smacking our other lamp over.

“Namjoon!”

Chapter Text

This was not music.
These were vibrations that made your heart skip, and not in the good way. My blood hiccupped in my veins with every beat drop, and my scowl only deepened with every wub wub. I didn’t want to be here, in this loathsome club, but Bailea had begged me. It was her birthday! Couldn’t I just come and have fun for once? The only ‘for once’ tonight was the fact that I had come. There was no fun to be had here as I watched her take body shots off some stranger with too much eyeliner.
‘Fun’ was waiting for me at home: a 500 page novel I’d already read twice, a piping hot cup of chai (because I was feeling adventurous), and my cat cuddling on my feet for once and not neglecting me even when I was the one that fed her.
This—this migraine inducing mesh of sweaty bodies—was not fun. But she was my only friend, and it was her birthday. I could stand the mosh pit for a few more hours…for her sake.
I huddled in our booth at the back of the club, watching over the purses while the others danced. I didn’t have the patience to tell them that their kind of dancing was more mating ritual than ballroom. And when someone was no doubt guilted into asking me to join, I flatly refused. He was relieved, but I was more eager to see him go than to watch him fakely protest for the socially acceptable amount of time.
The drink Bailea ordered for me was circled in a ring of water and condensation from all the melted ice. I’d tried it out of consideration and nearly gagged at its galling sweetness. If I was going to drink—something other than my standard Earl Grey and Vanilla Chai—it needed to kick me in the teeth on the way down. Being drunk was not a pleasant experience, why should getting there be any better? So the ball glass was standing like a forgotten relic as I counted down the minutes until I decided to leave. I set the time beforehand so I could have a goal to work towards, but also because I might have gone insane without an exit strategy. Crazy was still a very feasible outcome for me if I played my cards right.
All in all, it was obvious I am a difficult individual who hates all social interaction and craves a mundane existence...I blame most of it on the cat, and when people hear us argue, they tend to believe my sarcastic diagnosis.
But Bailea was my only friend, and it was her birthday!
“Miss?” A flash of black caught my eye before a slender man was blocking my exit from the booth. “Can I get you another drink?” He was not the waitress I’d dealt with earlier. And by dealt with, I mean we had words. Suffice it to say she wasn’t going to be checking on our table anytime soon. Perhaps that was why she sent a manager. Because that’s what he looked like: tall, ‘charmed-I’m-sure’ expression, no itchy feet from multitasking tables. Although his palate was black like the server uniforms, his tight leather pants alone spoke to his status: Upper. Not to mention the open blazer he layered over a bare chest, draped in a body chain of brushed silver. The only reason I assumed he worked here at all was because he asked about my drink. There would be no other reason for him to bypass the giant ‘FUCK OFF’ I had tattooed on my forehead. His face, while handsome, was of little consequence.
“No.” I stated shortly. This confection in a watered down glass was all I was willing to handle tonight. With one arm casually resting on the top of the booth and the other in his pocket, he blinked at me slowly, like he was still waiting for me to answer—or perhaps waiting for the correct answer. Those people were the worst. We stared at each other for a moment more, the dizzying noise in the background playing well into his aesthetic.
“No?” He finally asked, cocking his head to the side, a terribly innocent pout on his lips.
“That’s what I said.” I snapped before he even closed his mouth. I could hold my tongue in silence, but I was not blessed with a large amount of patience for dumb people. His pout disappeared at my strike and was replaced with a more puzzled smirk. He squinted, like he couldn’t quite make out my hidden meaning. Maybe he thought this was one of those games women liked to play? Where her ‘no’ is actually a ‘yes’, and if she’s unconscious she can’t say either.
Not wanting to risk my temper, I asked him to leave. It wasn’t good service manners to hover. Upon my request, his puzzlement turned to surprise, and then to my horror…delight. He signaled over his shoulder to the bar, and a waitress quickly came over. It was the same girl I’d had words with earlier and she made no effort to hide her displeasure of being so close to me again. Manager tight pants whispered something in her ear, and she nodded before quickly leaving again. It occurred to me that perhaps they were going to kick me out for harassing the staff? I couldn’t truthfully say I would be disappointed, but Bailea would be…
Before I had a chance to decide if I should do anything about it, the man sat down in the booth, just eased on in without a care in the world. I couldn’t help but gawk at his audacity, and more so at his bravery. Did he miss the tattoo? Did the waitress not tell him how I acted? Was it not painfully obvious that I wanted to be left alone!
He took advantage of my stunned silence, plucking the undesired drink from my hands and disposing of it on the tray of a waitress who just so happened to be walking by. He rubbed his palms together after, like he was trying to get rid of the sweetness it left behind on his hands.
“I will never understand why women love those types of drinks.” He muttered. There was a charisma about him, one a lesser person might find attractive. He spoke to me, catching my eye boldly. Mostly, people talked towards me or at me, either out of obligation or requirement, and they always avoided eye contact if they could help it. I was unpleasant to deal with, I knew this. One might think this man’s approach as refreshing, a nice change of pace…but to me, it was more of a challenge than a courtesy. Not willing to be one upped, I grabbed my purse and went to slide out of the booth. Bailea would understand...or at least she would know me well enough to forgive it.
“And where do you think you’re going?” He asked in the same casual voice. Jokes on him, I thought. Even though he was the manager, there was still someone higher up I could complain to: the internet. But before I could climb out of the booth, it felt like a pair of hands wrapped around my waist and pulled me back in. I let out a grunt of surprise as I was slid back to the back of the booth. And what was even more concerning…
Was that he hadn’t moved a muscle. I immediately tried to escape again, but the same force pulled me back. I tried to reach back and claw at whatever had a hold on me, but there was nothing but air. I considered that I had finally lost my mind to the dub-step, that my cat had truly cursed me like I suspected she had. But the man watched nonchalantly, like invisible hands were common at his club.
“What the hell is this?” I snarled, not caring who saw or heard. Not that it mattered. With the dim lights, flashing LEDs and repeating strobes of the dance floor, no one could or would look at the back booth. And with the music thumping like a heartbeat, there was no way anyone would hear me either. In this heavily crowded bar, I was alone with this man and his unseen hands.
“Put your teeth away, miss. Your drink is here.” He chided, and not a moment later, the waitress was back with a short whiskey glass, filled with two fingers of auburn liquid. She placed it on the edge of the table and disappeared again, not even bothering to spare me a glance.
Gracefully, he slid the drink over to me. As I sat, the grip on my middle moved to an unbearable weight on my lap. I couldn’t get up or slide if I tried, and no one was the wiser.
“How are you doing this?” I hissed, clawing my hands down my thighs like I could push off the weight. He let out a sudden laugh, a high clear note of glee.
“Stop, that tickles.” He chuckled, and I felt the force ripple over my skin in response.
“What...are you?” My anger was waning and my fear was rising, as every question tumbled from my lips more and more like a sob. I hated how my hands were starting to shake and my body was starting to sweat. My fire was the only driving force I possessed, and it had been a very long time since anyone quenched me.
I hated it.
The manager’s joy from being frisked faded from his face, leaving him soured and serious as the beat thumped on. Apparently my unease was not what he was after, and the sight of it...unnerved him.
“Drink.” He gestured to the glass before me. “I promise you’ll like it.”
I eyed the drink, woefully unsure of what to do. Something about this foggily reminded me of some romance novel I’d read when I was young and desperate (okay, so it was a few months ago, so sue me). It was nearly Twilight-esque in its approach, and I entertained the thought that he was a vampire, and that vampires were real...and that perhaps I was about to die.
“What f-for?” I whispered and scowled at the quiver in my own voice.
I was stronger than this. I was. Even the thought of death didn’t deter me from being a giant asshole to everyone I met. I didn’t need their help, I could save myself--would save myself.
“Because you’ll like it.” He answered simply, but he seemed as upset with my tremor as I was.
With respect, he wasn’t wrong. I loved a nice whisky. Floating in the bottom of the glass were a pair of stones in the shape of twisting snakes, their eyes inlaid with obsidian.
Bolstering myself, because what did I have left to lose, I willed my hand to finger the glass. It had that velvety sheen of captured lightning, and I found myself willing to admire a piece of fine art...despite the circumstances. I picked the glass up and brought it to my lips, fixated on the black eyes of the serpents.
The whisky was smokey, as if it had been aged through a house fire, and the bite at the end seared all the way down the back of my throat. It was delicious, and as much as it pained me to admit, he was right, I did like it. And with this kind of fire in my belly, my nerves mellowed out. I set the drink down confidently, and the invisible force in my lap eased.
“I knew you would.” He grinned, apparently content that I was no longer whimpering. With that task complete, he twirled his fingers in the air between us. Like magic, my glass refilled itself, the snakes swimming round.
“How did you do that?” I asked, a little more willing to be astonished.
“You keep asking the wrong questions.” He sighed comically before flicking his wrist, a champagne flute appearing out of thin air in his hand.
“What would you have me ask?” I breathed. It seemed like I was finally playing his game, and he leaned forward on an elbow, using his wine to illustrate a point.
“Nothing. We’ve only just met. You should introduce yourself.”
“Seeing as you ruined my night, you should go first.” I sounded off, and then bit my lip, cursing the alcohol under my breath. Too much fire, too much fire.
He liked it though, because he tipped his head back and howled. I could feel his amusement run up the skin of my legs with a shiver.
“I have had many names, such as: Erubus or Rahu, but I enjoy Kai most of all.”
It wasn’t what I had been expecting, although it wasn’t like I had any examples in mind. I just figured it’d be something a little more magnanimous perhaps? Not a simple character, not a one word syllable.
“And what are you...Kai?” I tested, but he wagged a finger in my face.
“Play fair, my lady.” I sneered at his finger and at his demeanor. So this really was a game then. He truly had me snared like a cat with a mouse.
Well I hated games.
“I’m not playing at all.” I snapped. “Release me or kill me already. Monologues are such a bore--”
“I. Am. Darkness.” His words cut me off. They were so quiet, so cold, that I choked on my false bravado. “Do not think that I do not know your heart.” He glowered at me from the other side of the table, obviously I’d rained on his parade.
I hiccuped in surprise as I felt the weight on my lap split into fingers, hands slipping to grip my thighs. There was nothing there, I knew, but I still stared down in horror anyway, my senses clashing with each other. I saw nothing, but I felt him trace circles along the inside of my leg.
“S-Stop!” I whimpered, rubbing my hands over the spots he teased to make sense of the sensations.
“Why should I?” He asked, bored. Every pretense from before was stripped away. He was neither happy nor troubled. There was nothing cute about the way he looked at me, and he felt absolutely no sympathy for the terror vibrating from me now.
He. Was. Darkness.
I guess the fire in my soul had been clique. Every female main character of every romance novel ever always liked to bite off more than they could chew. Turns out I was no different. If he was a vampire or the embodiment of darkness, it made no difference. Caution would have been prudent.
Not me though, no sir. I encouraged him to kill me. Yep. Well done self.
“You’ve been calling to me all night. Teasing is such a terrible bore.” He threw my label back at me as I tried to calm my racing heart.
“No I haven’t!” I whined, wave after wave of nightmares building at the base of my spine. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I struggled against the hands.
“Did you really not think that I would see you drowning?” He rose to his feet, flute abandoned, commanding over the table. A frustrated sob escaped my throat as I shrank back into the seat, away from whatever he was accusing me of, but the hands--
“You wallow within me as if you desire it.”
“You’re not making any sense!” I cried, seething tears spilling down my face.
“It’s here!” He tapped the middle of my forehead and I screamed.
Light bled into my vision until the landscape of my dreams stretched out before me. Standing in the middle of a field of frosted ferns, I blinked slowly at the snowflakes collecting on their caterpillar leaves. Before me was the forest of my childhood. The bark of the ash trees was coming off in clumps and I knew that it was late winter. The air was crisp and frigid, letting me know that the snow had just stopped falling, leaving a clear sky and a heavy earth. I knew that if I stepped forward and down the path, I could find my way to that place...
Something scampered through the underbrush.
“I see the hearts of all those who enter my club.” His voice misted around me like a swirl of fog. I turned to see him standing behind me, balancing on the surface of the frozen pond like he wasn’t even touching the ice. Gone was the leather, the jewelry, and the smirk. He was a somber suit who jutted his chin back to the woods like I would miss something. The snap of a twig and the rustle of leaves turned me around. It had gone by the time my eyes sought it out, but I knew these woods like the back of my eyes. Every step, every slope, every rock. I spent years exploring these trees. If something was hiding from me, I would--
A squeal to my right stopped me, dying in the echo of childhood laughter.
I knew that voice. I knew that voice just as I knew these woods, and I stumbled back.
“Why have you brought me here? How! What do you want from me?” I whirled on him.
“I wanted to see for myself.” He answered, sliding his finger over his bottom lip.
“No! No, please no!” I started towards him, desperate to get away from the history that I knew was about to take place. I couldn’t see it, I wouldn’t make it. The laughter twinkled around us like bells tolling my coming demise. “Stop this!” I screamed. “Please!” But even as I tried to run to him, I was running in place. He wasn’t going to allow me to give up the best seat in the house.
A rustle and a laugh froze me solid, and I felt his hands grip my waist to keep me from crumpling. As if in slow motion, I watched a strawberry-blonde head peak just above the frosted ferns, a spark of fire in the snow. Just behind her, another, brunette, fumbling as the first seemed to fly. They were sisters, young children who grew up in the comforting shadow of these oak trees. Their whole lives had been spent out here, discovering and playing, hiding among the rocks of the brook, swinging from the low hanging branches of the ravine. This was their home, more so than the house to the east, the house where their father lived. Although to say he lived implied he was ever sober enough to do so. Two little girls who conquered the forest while their father drank himself to death.
“Oh god, no...don’t go.” I whimpered as the girls skipped past me--us. The hands that held me up, I was surprised to find, were his physical ones. If I’d been in my right mind, I would have noted his lack of body heat, or how he held me so close yet it still felt like an arms length away. I would have seen the way he looked down at me, a portrait of anguish, or have noticed how the figment of this dream--this nightmare, all stemmed from him. He was the center, the black hole around which this whole world revolved.
But I didn’t see any of that. I didn’t notice or feel. All I could comprehend were the next steps of those two little girls, and the tragedy that was about to tear my life apart again.
The first girl, the one made of strawberry sunlight, the eldest, drifted past the Darkness and I, the echoes of her memory and movement sending ripples through the air. The second girl, the dull headed one, the younger mistake that she was, followed after. They passed us as a pair, skipping for the bank of the frozen pond.
“No, no, no! Don’t go out there!” I barked, but my voice couldn’t penetrate the dream, and the hands were keeping me at bay.
“Let’s go skating!” The younger one said, stepping confidently out onto the ice.
“I don’t think it’s thick enough anymore.” The starlight said, hovering on the bank like any respectably sane person would do.
“You’re just chicken!” The little girl teased and glided off to the center of the pond.
I’d imagined this moment in my head all my life, a million different times, a thousands different ways. She would follow angrily, or happily. She wouldn’t follow at all. She would chase after her sister and whisk them both to safety before…
Before…
The little girl made of strawberries and glitter only sighed, a big heaving thing that seemed to carry a weight someone her age was never supposed to bear. The burden of raising a sibling. The stress of being the responsible one. She toed the ice, tapping lightly to test the thickness. When she was satisfied, she took one long leap and then another. The smile on her face was that of relief, of joy. She would get to play today. She could be the child today.
My knees gave, and Kai let me slump to the ground, silent sobs catching in my throat. Unable to bear anymore, I buried my face in the side of his leg. There was nothing he could show me that I didn’t see in my dreams every night. The deep thunder of cracking ice, the sudden stillness as the girls made eye contact, the space where the older sister used to be, and the hole that teleported her elsewhere. The last vision the younger one ever saw of her sister was her strawberry hair sinking into the blackness of the dark water. The freezing water.
And she didn’t move.
I didn’t move.
I didn’t even scream.
She must be joking, I thought. A silly little game to try and convince me to be more careful. When she never came up, I ran away from the pond, mad that she didn’t play with me. How selfish she always was! Telling me to do this, and to do that. She bossed me around every chance she got, and now she wouldn’t even play with me!
I didn’t make it home until sundown, but I expected to find her there, huddled by the fireplace, grinning at me from ear to ear, wanting to rub the joke in my face.
But she wasn’t.
Only he was there.
With my face buried in Kai’s pant leg, I wept for my soul. His babbling made sense now. ‘Did you really not think that I would see you drowning?’ He had said, how poignant his word choice. Drowning in darkness. Calling to the darkness. I was done for.
And then, just as suddenly as we were in the woods, we were back in the club. However, now there were no obnoxious remixes blaring in the background or lights blinding me from the stage. The whole world was unnaturally still. Nobody moved except for me...and the darkness I clung to. Repulsed, I shoved away from him, crawling on my hands and knees back to my booth. Like there was safety in the booth! Ha! I might as well have crawled into his mouth. His eyes followed me as I hid, I could feel them on me, blazing.
“Go away!” I screamed from under the table. I was a hare, he was a fox. With the woods as the background or this club, it made no difference. I was his prey.
The tears that refused to stop falling were stinging my cheeks like a million tiny needles pricking at my face. My words came out choked and as a sob, rather than the commanding scream I meant it to be. I watched the lower half of Kai turn in my direction and saunter over to me. Nothing ever phased him, and I was annoyed with myself that I was still surprised by that.
“Come out from under there, sweetheart.” He bent down and beckoned. With his hand reaching out like that, he almost looked harmless--beautifully deadly--yet somehow, still harmless.
“No!” I screamed and planted my palms over my ears like a child, like I couldn’t hear his voice in my head anyway.
“Our game isn’t over yet.” It said.
Blunted, I felt the swirl of his power encircle me under the table. I braced myself for the roaming hands, or the unbearable weight, but instead, it felt like a soft wind was pulling me out of my hole and into his arms again. It caressed my face until it was replaced by his own hand, and my tears ceased under his gaze. He had such a power over me, that I was beginning to lose my will to fight.
“Tell me what you see.” He whispered in my ear as he turned me towards the room by my shoulders. I wanted nothing more than to leave. I wanted to sprint out of the room and retreat to my bed. I wanted to hibernate in a fort of sheets and never come out again. There were so many things that flooded my heart at that moment that I shuddered under their weight.
I wanted to run, to hide, to not be plagued with this guilt! It was a boulder on my chest that suffocated me day in and day out!
I was the monster, I let her die. I walked away and allowed my sister drown. I had the nerve to blame her for it, and I relished that anger. I stayed mad about it for years. Because being mad, I learned, was easier than being guilty. Never accepting that it was my fault tore such a chasm in my being that even when I faced it, really looked at it for what it was...there was no bridge for me to cross. It was too far, too deep, too wide for me to even see the other side. What no one told me was that guilt turns to shame, and it’s the shame...that kills you. Slowly, painstakingly, until you’re nothing left but a husk. I was nearly there, I imagined. There was little left of me but anger at this point. And he knew that.
“Now is not the time to repent.” Kai’s voice tickled my ear, and my weary eyes slid to his opera. “Tell me what you see.”
Somehow I found the energy to move away from him and walk through the room. First, my eyes found Bailea and the rest of her ‘friends’. They’d been here countless times before, and were frozen in what seemed to be a euphoric, or maybe drunk, state; their arms above their heads and their mouths in various degrees of laughter and contentment. That’s how most of the people looked. Everyone was tipsy and giddy, what you would anticipate in a nightclub.
But, I started to catch glimpses of others: men and women who, at first glance, seemed happy, but when you looked, I mean really looked, you could see the lie. Bags hung under their eyes, some with dark circles, like bruises. The waitresses suddenly looked disheveled and sickly, several of them, like they hadn’t slept in years. The transformation was gaudy, and I sneered like something rotten had passed under my nose. And there were others still; sitting, or laying in booths. Initially, I assumed these were just folks who’d had too much to drink and were in need of a little TLC, but their eyes were all stuck open, white eyed for days. They looked like the people you see on TV, meth heads and coke addicts who hadn’t slept in a week and were coming down from their high. I suspected though, that this high had been gone for a long time.
“You see, even though I Am Darkness...I still need to eat.” He said it so casually, that I just looked at him. What was there for me to say? When I didn’t interject, he only pouted, but continued. “I got tired of visiting prisons. It’s all very monochrome, and the food! Yuck!” He made a show of pretending to be sick all over one of the zombies at the bar top. “They were a bad lot sure, but,” He shrugged, putting on a pouty face again just for me, “they pray a lot. Makes for weak broth.”
“Do you blame them?” I finally blurted, that last little bit of fire sizzling out. He seemed to come back to life at my joining his victory lap. So much so that he stepped forward and slid his hands up my shoulders, gently massaging them.
“Oh of course not! People want redemption in a place like that. But there’s too many Bibles and crucifixes for my liking. A place like this though--” He swept his hand out in front of me, presenting me with his mad world, like he was proud. “A place where people come to hide. They drink and they sex, and they dance and they snort, and then they drink some more. They just assume no one can see their darkness...in the darkness.”
He then turned me to face a weary-looking man, frozen in the middle of shooting tequila. In the back of my mind, I wondered if, although unable to move, if he was still feeling a permanent burn of the liquor in his mouth; if he could feel the sting of the salt on his lips and was in a mini-hell, begging to be released.
“See that guy?” Kai pointed him out gleefully. I could feel his excitement behind me. He hummed with it. “He came in here to get shit faced before pulling a gun on his cheating girlfriend and the guy she was sleeping with.” He spun me around to face him again, a sinister smirk on his lips.“You see, I’m doing the world a favor! Do you know how many horrible people I have trapped in here?”
He finally stood before me, utterly proud of all he’d done. He wanted to explain it to me, I finally understood. He wanted me to know exactly what was going to happen to me.
“Until when?” I whispered. “How long until a person...runs out of darkness?”
Kai shrugged like that vernacular was normal. “Most of the time I don’t realize when someone withers away.”
I took a step back. The fire was gone and there was nothing to stop me from pleading.
“Please,” I began to beg, “please. I was just a child. I didn’t know any better! I was angry at my sister but I didn’t know what was going on! Please don’t make me stay here!” I was a pitiful, groveling mess, but there was no one left to see it. There wasn’t even anybody to atone to. It was all just…over.
Kai reached for me, and I didn’t flinch as his fingers of one hand laced in mine, while the index finger of his other hand traced my jaw, until I locked eyes with him. He was strikingly beautiful, which seemed like an inappropriate thing to notice at the time, but it was all shit anyway.
After what seemed like an eternity, and for all I knew at this rate, it might have been—he spoke.
“I hope you like that booth you were sitting in. Because you’re going to be there for a very long time.”
End

Chapter Text

“Jooheon!” I drew out his name in a whiney tone. “You’re taking too long. I’m gonna start this movie without you!”

The new Thor movie had just come out, and I had been begging Jooheon to watch it with me. He was in the kitchen assembling a tray of snacks, and I was growing increasingly impatient.

“I’m right here. Calm down.” his voice suddenly appeared behind me. I jumped slightly, surprised at how close he was. I raised my arm to throw a pillow at him for scaring me, but decided against it to save the food.

“You’re lucky I like popcorn so much.” I muttered as he came and sat by me. I snuggled into him as we started the movie, giddy to finally watch it.

As the night went on, we eventually moved the empty food containers to the floor and readjusted to lay side by side on the couch. Jooheon warped his arm around me and pulled me tight against him. I could feel his chest move slightly with the rhythm of his breathing. His fingers traced my arm absentmindedly and affectionately as he was lost in the world of Asgard.

Eventually, however, his fingers moved from my arm and began to draw circles under my shirt along my hips. I reached behind me and smacked him.

“Behave yourself. You know my hips are a weak spot for me.”

My fake scolding did not stop him. Instead, Jooheon slipped his hand further into the waistbands of my shorts. This time, he teased the top of the fabric of my panties.

“You sure you want me to stop?” he asked. “Normally, when my hands get right here, you’re moaning for me to keep going.”

His whispers against my ear raised goosebumps along my skin. Although I had really wanted to watch this movie, suddenly, my interest in it had dissipated. Instead of using words to respond, I leaned my head back further and hummed softly at his touch with my eyes closed.

Jooheon took that as his cue. He pulled my underwear to the side and slowly slid one finger inside of me, followed by a second. My mouth fell agape in a gasp as he pumped his hand in and out of me.

“Oh my god, you’re already so wet.” He whispered against my ear. I pushed back against him, grinding my ass into his hips. Jooheon let a tiny growl escape from his lips as he readjusted to hover over me. He pulled my bottoms down and, using one hand, put one finger, and then a second back between my slit. With the other, he began to circle my clit. His movements were slow at first, but as he started to pick up speed, my orgasm began to build.

It did not take long before I tightened around his fingers. My back arched off of the couch slightly as my high washed over me and I repeated his name as a mantra. Jooheon continued to fuck me with his fingers until I begged him to stop and let me catch my breath.

He leaned forward and kissed me, saying, “you weren’t too invested in this movie, were you? We don’t have to keep going if you’d rather watch it.”

I responded by wrapping my hands around the back of his neck and pulling him in for another kiss; the movie completely forgotten.

Chapter Text

Kyungsoo wasn’t sure why she did it, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t like it. Stepping out of the elevator on the top floor, Harper could always be counted on to be either laying on her back in the middle of the roof, conveniently entertained by an airplane or satellites she would pretend to see, or she’d be standing on the bench, right next to the edge, arms crossed, silhouetted by the sun like she was on fire. The image didn’t hurt his belief that she was a walking talking super nova; a star that he believed burned brightest when she was doing nothing at all, when she was just hanging out.

And the sun framed her now as it set over his city. She hadn’t changed or even showered. She was still wearing those spanx, and that mutilated t-shirt she swore she loved. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest, and he knew just by the way her shoulders tensed that she heard him approach.

“Not now.” Her head turned just the slightest to tell him off. It was gentler than what he was used to, which was welcome. Usually Harper would tear him a new one and then blame it on him, like her mood was always his fault. He took it as a sign that her defenses were weak, that she wanted to talk, wanted to cry, but (and he’d suspected this for a while) she wasn’t really sure how to. So he kept going, step by step, until he was standing beside her, framed in that same sun. He shoved his hands in his pockets, knowing that she looked at them sometimes to tell what he was thinking, and he didn’t want her to turn this around on him.

“Looks like he really got to you.” He threw out casually, testing the waters.

“Tinker knows where all my buttons are, that’s for sure.” She shook her head a little, a cringe crossing her face at the very mention of him. Kyungsoo frowned at that face. Harper had always been secretive, but there was only so much you can hide when your past comes calling on your doorstep.

“But what I don’t get is…why.” Kyungsoo finally stated, rubbing the back of his neck, knowing that the conversation was either going to continue, or she was going to throw him off the roof.

“Why what?” She shot him a warning look out of the corner of her eye, but he wasn’t going to back down from this one. If people from her past were going to just show up and screw her up like this, he needed to know. Not for his sake or for EXO’s, but for hers. Because there would always be a cliff somewhere, and if he had his way, she would never find it again.

“What’s so wrong with you two going out?” Ugh, even the words tasted wrong, but he hid his grimace from her as she turned to him.

There was a definite scoff in her voice as her arms fell to her sides and that undeniable urge she had to be sassy spit out, “Am I supposed to say yes just because he asked?”

“Well no but…” Kyungsoo backtracked. He hadn’t meant to ignite her feisty side, but at least it was better than the flat face she’d been giving the sun since he got up here. “It just seemed…too much, you know?” He tried to make his point as placidly as he could, but just thinking about the way Tinker had loomed over her still made his teeth clench. “You literally ran away, and I’ve never seen you run from anything.”

Harper cocked her head down at him, digesting his words, his actual question. He knew that she understood what he was asking. No matter what was said in what language, somehow they always knew each other enough to see through the bullshit. It was a helpful skill, but at the same time, he was getting far too much practice in lying with a straight face. Her eyes roamed over him and he saw them tick down to his hands that were shoved deep in his pockets. In his head he scoffed, sort of astonished at himself for having the forethought. When she realized that his tells weren’t going to give her anything, she turned back to the sun and crossed her arms again. She was going back into her armor, shrinking back to wherever the shy damaged Harper lived.

He absolutely hated this Harper. It was just too much of a contrast, too wrong to be her. Harper Hasagawa was downright brilliant, she had no need for shields or shells. Why she couldn’t just…see that was beyond Kyungsoo’s comprehension.

“I’m not…” Her voice was small as it tumbled out, and her whole back tensed up at the sound, like she hadn’t meant for it to be out loud. Kyungsoo stared hard at the side of her face, every fiber in his being begging for her to continue, to open up, to tell the truth for once. “…I don’t think I’m ready.” She finished quietly, and her shoulders sagged.

“Ready?” He repeated the word, not understanding its context. “Why not?” Her head fell back with a groan, making him realize she’d probably just spilled much more than she meant to. If he knew her well enough by now, and he thought he did, she was about to switch. A new Harper was going to come out and protect the tiny vulnerable one before him now. One that didn’t let things slip, didn’t lose sparring matches, and never let her guard down.

And with a heavy heart, he watched her back straighten and she turned to him with a sarcastic smirk that didn’t meet her eyes, “My heart is just too full of Koreans to accept another soldier.” There she went, blaming it on them, on him again. Somehow, EXO was both her burden and her buffer. She used them to keep everything else away, while simultaneously pushing them away as well. But one word caught his attention, ‘another’. English wasn’t his first language, but the syntax seemed clear enough: she had accepted another soldier. Did that mean she dated someone? Was that who this mysterious Kosei was, an ex-boyfriend?

“Come on, you have to do better than that.” He egged her on, knowing this protective Harper came fully equipped with sass mode.

“No I don’t.” She snipped, flipping her hair at him over dramatically.

“Can’t you?” He pushed. He’d take anything at this point, because he felt so close to something. It was big and uncertain, it didn’t have a shape, but it loomed. It was right there, on the tip of her tongue. He could see it when she turned back to him and pleaded,

“Ugh, Kyungsoo, please.”

“Come on, I want to know.” His hands were out of his pockets now, gesturing his intent. He didn’t just want to know, he had to know. “Is it no to Tinker or is it no to…everybody?”

Everybody.” Her answer was quick and sharp, much more so than he thought it would be. He felt it right between his ribs, but swallowed it down, nodding his head. He’d anticipated that, just not quite to this…level. The stab ignited the frustration he kept locked up deep inside himself. Questions, and theories, and desires all swirled up into his head, clouding his thoughts with a bit too much conspiracy to see through.

“Please tell me the reason I found you…how I found you was not because of some botched breakup.” He barked suddenly, making her jump. Shit, he hadn’t meant to ask that. He’d wanted to ask something light, something to bring them both back from this weird plane of hidden truths they’d found themselves in. He didn’t mean to come right out and ask the question that had burned in the back of his head for months.

But it just jumped out, and she was looking at him, eyes steadily growing wider. “Wow, D.O.” She mumbled, pulling her surprised gaze from his and dropping it down to his hands. His stupid hands. He shoved them back in his pockets as his cheeks burned.

“Well, was it?” He was already this far, no sense in backing down now.

“You don’t see me attacking you with questions about Minah, do you?” She asked after a moment. Kyungsoo’s face pinched together at the sudden mention of his ex, because it didn’t seem to have any bearing here.

“What does she have to do with this?” He asked skeptically.

“She’s your ex isn’t she?”

“So?”

“So? Aren’t all SM relationships botched? How are you one to judge?” Harper’s snark seemed to have recovered, but the whole thing only served to mortify him. What if—Jesus, what if he’d guessed right? His stomach clenched at the very thought that he’d hit the nail on the head. His mouth gaped open as he tried to form the words. He really needed her to deny it, because if it was true…if how they met was all caused by a break up with some dumb soldier who was probably only with her for promotion, than…

He couldn’t process it. His whole image of her would be shattered. It didn’t matter that he’d spent the last seven months by her side. A relationship started off on a lie would never work. But, it wasn’t really a lie…she’d just never trusted him enough to tell him the reality.

“…is that really—” He tried, but she quickly cut him off.

“God, no.” She sneered at him, and the eye roll with it was not at all kind. His momentary panic attack aside, he saw that he’d hit a nerve. A tender one by the look she was glaring at him.

But he just couldn’t stop. “Then…”

“Didn’t we promise never to talk about it?” She snapped and began her retreat. She hopped off the bench that had set her above him this whole time, and came back down to earth with a splash.

“No, actually.” He answered and followed her.

“Then let’s do that.” She snapped over her shoulder at him as she headed for the elevator.

“Harper—” He grabbed for her elbow, knowing it was a risky move, but not knowing any other way to stop her. It was now or never. If he let her walk out on this one, he would never get this close to the truth again.

“No really, Kyungsoo.” She spun into his grip, making him take a step back. “Of all the shitty things that have happened in my life, that one is second on my list of things I never ever want to think about again.” Her voice was hard and her hands were clenched into tight fists at her sides. Her whole presence was screaming at him to get back, to go away. She was threatening, she was dangerous, a lethal weapon. But she was also a girl, and she was also his friend, despite everything. So he eased, relaxing into the caution like it didn’t bother him.

“But its how we met.” He said quietly.

Harper seemed to take in the statement a word at a time, not wanting it to affect her like they both knew it would. He was the reason she was here, on this rooftop, in Seoul, and alive. It was a painful memory, sure, but painful things teach you about yourself. Harper seemed to understand that better than anyone. Even though it was apparently #2 on her list of shitty things, it was slowly becoming the best thing that ever happened to him.

She was becoming the best thing that ever happened to him.

“Look,” He approached her again gently, a hand outstretched like he was extending an olive branch, “I’m not asking you to give me a detailed account, but a little…well pretty much anything would be good at this point. I’ve kept this secret for you, but you have to give me something.”

She recoiled from him and he internally groaned at his own word choice. “Are you trying to blackmail me right now?” She hissed.

“No! Damn! I just want to know more about you! The truth would be nice for a change.” He hollered in frustration. He raked his hands through his hair and stepped back, giving her space to overreact. He’d tried so hard and for so long to get to this point, and here he was, messing it up. She would latch onto any distraction, any mistake to avoid it. Harper was that one friend who wouldn’t reply to a text if you misspelled one letter. And so he was walking away from her, not wanting to look her in the eyes as she ran.

“The truth is…” Her voice lashed out and grabbed him around the throat. He froze, scared that any movement would frighten her off, like a deer caught in headlights.

“The truth is…” She said again, and he turned to her slowly. She was standing in the middle of the roof, no longer on fire because the sun had set and night was coming, wringing her hands in front of her like she was destroying her confession in her grasp. Her eyes were skipping from them, to him and back, never focusing enough to see anything. There it was again, the looming uncertainty. She was shrouded in it. Kyungsoo took a step back towards her, wanting her to know that he could still see her, despite the fog, despite the secrets. He saw her, he accepted her, he wanted her. All she had to do was speak—

“The truth is…Tinker and I slept together our senior year of high school and he’s loved me ever since.” The words spilled out of her before her hands flew up and clamped over her mouth. Her eyes were big and round, appalled at what she’d just admitted to him, but after a moment, she continued…like she’d given him the chance to leave and he hadn’t taken it.

“I should have done something to show I wasn’t interested in him, but I feel like I’ve led him on his whole life by accident. Even when I was on the other side of the world, he’d find me. I’m the reason he joined the Marines, and he’s not even a good one at that.” She pursed her lips into a thin line and Kyungsoo could see the added shine in her eyes. She was about to cry, and he was moving.

“I just keep thinking…what if I ruined his life?” She whispered as he grabbed her wavering hand and pulled her to him. “What if loving me…destroys him too?” Her question was muffled by his shirt front as he hugged her tightly. Her arms reached around him as her shoulders shook, and she didn’t say anything else, but he felt her guilt roll off her. He shushed her every so often as he held her, even though she never made a sound. It worried him that she was so quiet, that maybe she’d cried herself to sleep and he’d never heard it. The thought sat in his stomach like a stone, and his only comfort was found in squeezing her tighter.

But still, he caught the hidden mistake, the ‘too’. The distraught slip of a woman who still had so much left to say.

 

If he could have, he would have held her all night. They could just fall asleep on the table under the portico of lights, and every problem they faced would dissolve with the dawn. His plans for a bright future were interrupted by a muffled noise that vibrated his chest. It didn’t feel like a sob, but he didn’t exactly have any experience to know the difference. She made the sound again, and he eased his grip on her, glancing down to see if she was really revving up to cry or not. She pulled back, but only an inch or two, and he marveled at her perfectly composed face.

“You’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you?” Her tone was small, with just a hint of self-deprecation. She hated looking so ‘weak’, and he felt like punching whoever told her emotions were bad. Kyungsoo relaxed his arms and poked her forehead with his chin.

“Depends,” he sighed, “you’re not going to say yes to him, are you?”

“I thought you were here to talk me into it?” She flashed him a surprised smile that made him melt. With her arms around him, and her grinning up at him, he wouldn’t say he could die happy because only touching her once was never going to be enough after this.

“You know, I never really liked him anyway.” Kyungsoo bit his lip, hoping she wouldn’t see the truth behind his sarcasm. It wasn’t like his disdain for Tinker had been a secret, but no one had ever come right out and said it. But, in the end, she only smiled brighter, seemingly just glad he wasn’t prying her with any more questions.

“Oh really?” She teased, and before he knew it, they were walking together, side-by-side, bantering how they usually did. He told her she smelled like sweat, and she said he was shedding glitter. All very typical Harper stuff. It was like her brief moment of weakness had never happened, and whatever truth he sought was pushed to the back of his mind. This was nice, and this was easy, and the warm presence of her hand still in his filled him with a rare sense of joy usually only reserved for concerts or watching other people watch his films. He liked the way her skim made his tingle, and he didn’t dare think about the last steps to the door where she would pull away and smile at him sadly, like she felt bad for his feelings. She didn’t know, or at least she never gave any indication that she did, but he hoped, at least, she felt it. Because it was lovely, and it was theirs.

When they reached those dreaded last steps, he paused outside the open elevator doors.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” He asked quietly.

“What do you mean? Of course I will. I’m me.” She wrinkled her nose at him, and he was 1000% sure she had no idea how adorable it made her look. But he bit his bottom lip to suppress is chuckle. Instead, he took his hand back and tousled her hair. Harper shrank under his pat, but not alarmingly. She still smiled when she swatted his hand away, a confused sort of grin, followed by a shrug of surrender. His petting didn’t seem to make sense to her, but they both knew she was too complacent to ask after it.

In the end, she was the first to board, with him reluctantly following behind. He didn’t want it to end, this ultra-realistic episode of his fantasy, but he supposed he got more than he’d bargained for to begin with. She wasn’t going to date Tinker, she confided in him, and she let him draw her in. It would keep him sated, it would do. Until he figured out a way for them to be together, that is.

There he went, jumping ahead of himself again. Harper had clearly stated that it wasn’t just no to Tinker, it was no to everybody. He was generally included in everybody. But in the comfortable silence of the elevator, and in the quickly caught glances, he let himself pretend that he was the exception. It was nice to feel this…normal.

Boy meets girl. Boy saves girl. Girl saves boy’s career. Girl moves in with boy…

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t so normal, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter Text

The first thing Suho remembered was how vibrant her hair looked in the reflection of the marble. The lobby of SM Entertainment was laid with a glossy black granite that emulated everything above it. You could actually look at your feet and catch yourself looking back. Back when he was a trainee, he imagined it was a frozen lake, and his then uncoordinated self could skate on it’s glossy surface like a true dancer. Nowadays, he just crossed it without looking. His face was literally plastered on the wall, he didn’t have to look down to find it.

The second thing he remembered was that she was standing square in the middle of that frozen lake, staring at his face on that wall. She tilted her head like a cat who’d caught sight of something new. The motion jostled her hair loose, stunning Suho. It was long, reaching down to the middle of her back, and from her scalp, it was a jet black. Around her shoulders though, it started to fade into the most magnificent red. She tucked a strand of fire behind her ear and then glanced their way. As a group, EXO was just coming back from a photoshoot, meaning they were heavily makeuped, and Suho’s hair was going to be stuck in this style until he stole some baking soda from the stylist noonas. Needless to say they looked hot, but he got the feeling that’s not what she saw when she looked at them. She cocked her head again as they sauntered up, watching the way the boys walked as opposed to seeing who they were. She was smack dab in the middle of their way, and the other members only caught wind of her when she didn’t move.

“Who’s that?” Chanyeol asked Baekhyun, who made a face and shook his head, meaning he didn’t know. Things took a step further when the group came up to her but she still didn’t move, even as they flowed around her, like she was a rock and they were a river. She didn’t squeal or smile as she made eye contact with some of the most famous people in the country. She just stood in her ancient stone stuckness until they were passed her, and she was almost already forgotten. After all, EXO had dance rehearsal after lunch, and a Vlive after that. Suho didn’t have the luxury of lingering in the fire of her hair for any longer than it caught his eye.

Fate, however, had different plans.

“Oh, Ari! You made it!” EXO’s manager, who had been the last in the door, quickly rushed to the girl with a bright business smile. It was obvious now that she was waiting for them…well uh, the manager at least. “Boys!” Manager called, beckoning them back to the stone in the lake. “Come meet the newest addition to SM Entertainment, Kim Ari!” He introduced her only after bowing and shaking her hand.

The members quickly changed direction and attitude. It was one thing if she was just some girl camped out in their lobby, but if she was an employee? Suho could throw himself to the fire as much as he wanted. She bowed and shook hands politely, even braving one of Baekhyun’s giddy hugs. She seemed very comfortable with them, which was odd. Even the most seasoned coworker fangirled at first. But not her.

“Ari is coming to us as an experienced PD, and manager Kwan has tasked her with forming the next big group!” Manager exclaimed while she blushed. That explained her casualness, although Suho couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. He enjoyed seeing the ‘awe’ on people’s faces, and he would have liked to see in on hers. That wasn’t all he he would have liked to see, but he quickly shut that down.

None of that, Junmyeon, none of that.

“It’s very nice to meet you.” He said formally whens he finally got around to shaking hands with him.

“You as well, Mr. Kim.” Her smile was small and somewhat misleading, because he could have sworn she was flirting with him just with her eyes. “Of course, just because I’m here to create a group doesn’t mean I can’t be of any help to EXO. Please, should you ever need anything, my office is in the administration suite.” She said cordially to all of them, yet Suho couldn’t help but feel like she was slipping him some sort of hint.

When Manager finally led her away, shooing them off to lunch, Chanyeol slid up behind Suho and shot him a devilish grin.

“Hyung, stop drooling. You’re going to ruin the floor.”

After that, Suho only managed to catch small glimpses of the fire: In the hallway here, coming off the elevator there. She worked completely opposite him in almost every regard. She was always in the office just as he was always on the move. And when he didn’t manage to find himself at headquarters, she was out talent scouting. Even when he made it a point to stop by the office for some made up reason or another, she was in a meeting or out to lunch with an executive. It was as frustrating as it was entertaining.

The only people who ever said anything about it were Minseok and Chanyeol. One asked why he was being so weird about it, and the other wanted to know why he wasn’t being weirder. Which was which, was up to the universe.

 

Finally, after weeks of bouncing off each other’s schedules, it was a gloomy friday night. Everyone was long gone for the weekend, out to bars, or home to catch up on sleep. But when Suho meandered through the administration looking for his manager, he saw the light in her office was still on. She occupied the room at the back, behind the massive pane of frosted glass. He could see the figure of her walking back and forth, a little spark in each step. In looked like she was pacing, and he didn’t realize he’d knocked on her door until he saw her head in his direction. Suho didn’t even have time to panic, because when she whisked the door open, she took his breath with it.

She was in a t-shirt and yoga pants, completely inappropriate clothes to wear to work, but that was definitely irrelevant. Her hair was down and a bit of a mess, but it took every ounce of self control h e had to not try and run his hands through it.

“Oh! Suho!” She said cheerfully while he struggled internally, “What are you doing here this late?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” He somehow answered, and it was commendable.

“Come in.” She pulled the door open for him to enter. Inside her office was a long conference table that was stacked with folders, swatches, charts, pictures, and merch. It was an impressive assembly and she glided back over to where she seemed to have left off in the mess.

“I had a big idea over dinner and came back to test it out.” On the walls she had posters of SM trainees and their bios, with sticky-notes of every color stuck in between. Her notes and thoughts he guessed. He’d heard rumors about her gradual process and astounding results, but this just seemed like a mess.

“What was it?” He asked, his attention pulled from her for just a moment.

“I think I’m changing the roster.” She gestured to a graph between two trainees that depicted statistics on Kpop groups. “There’s gonna be one less spot, so I’ll have to cut someone. But the data shows the fewer members, the less likely for group related drama. Plus, the concept we’re going for requires a prime number.”

“That’s very…” He struggled to find the word. It was true that EXO was easier to manage now that they were 9 of them instead of 12. Back when they were EXO-K and EXO-M, things were a lot more complicated. But a prime number?

“It’s indepth, I know.” She shrugged when he never found a response. “But the polls don’t lie: fans need stuff like this to discover on their own, to create the image and connections in the chat rooms and boards. If you give them the opportunity, the ratings go up.” She ran her finger along the edge of one of the pictures. Under the trainee’s name there was a sticky-note that said, ‘leader?’.

“What about the music?” Suho found himself stepping towards her. He couldn’t push the feeling away that he wanted her to look at his face, and only his. “None of this will matter if the music isn’t good.” He slowly invaded her space…and she let him.

“That’s not my department.” She answered, and he would like to have thought it sounded a little breathless.

“What about us? Me? How can you make my ratings go up?” He was within inches of her now, so close that he could feel her air brush his cheeks, and it was making him crazy.

“Your ratings are already up.” She whispered.

“They’re not the only thing.”

She wanted to groan at the cheesiness of the comment, but instead of a sound of annoyance, a moan of pleasure filled it’s place as he grabbed her and kissed her. It was a deep, passion filled kiss. He was tired of holding back, so he wasn’t going to anymore. Her palms rested against the desk that all of her work was laying on. She was pressed stark against it, with Junmyeon pressed directly against her. She felt what he meant; he was hard and he wanted her. She wanted him.

She knew that this was a terrible idea. There was a strict, “no fraternizing with the idols romantically or risk being flogged or something like it” rule in her contract. It made sense, but it also wasn’t fair. How could they deny such instant, raw chemistry? She was drawn to him. He was drawn to her.

Her hands immediately flew to Junmyeon’s neck. She felt herself melting into him as one of his hands rested against the small of her back, the other finding rest on her cheek. Just kissing him was enough to set sparks off in her.

“Please?” Junmyeon whispered against her lips.

“Please what?”

“Please can I have you? I don’t think I can wait any longer. I need you.” His blunt attitude was sexy. She nodded immediately, giving him permission.

Suho wasted no time. He freed himself from his belt, then jeans, then underwear. Instantly after, her yoga pants and panties found rest at her ankles. The desire between them was enough to replace any amount of foreplay that may have been required otherwise. She was ready for him.

“You’re so wet.” he commented as his fingers slid into her a few times. “You’ve wanted this just as bad as I have.”

She nodded again, that being the only reaction she could muster before her head fell back and she enjoyed his fingers fucking her. It was brief, though. Much to her disappointment, he stopped pleasuring her with his hands. Before she was able to protest, however, he grabbed her by his waist and sat her on the desk. Her files would be screwed, but so would she and right now that seemed a higher priority.

He took his length and slid it against her slit. They both matched moans as he finally slid into her. They indulged for a brief moment of finally being there together like this before Suho started slowly satisfying them both by rocking his hips at a steady pace. As her nails dug into his back and his lips met her neck for the first time, however, he found it difficult to control his tempo.

All that Junmyeon had wanted for so long now was to make her cum. He wanted to watch the ecstasy fill her eyes as she let herself go in pure bliss. He wouldn’t hold back. He was certain there would be other times to draw the sex out. He was addicted to her at this point. He wouldn’t be able to not come back for this again. Right now, he just wanted her to scream his name.

He got his wish. With a few more thrusts, he was able to draw a high pitched, “Junmyeon,” from her lips. It sounded as beautiful as he had expected it to. She felt perfect tightening around him, exactly as he had hoped. He brushed her hair back and watched her face as she came, and the sight of her was enough to send him over the edge instantly after her.

As they composed themselves, she pressed her forehead against Junmyeon’s.

“You’re going to get me fired from this job, aren’t you?”

Chapter Text

I threw my bag to the floor the second I walked into my front door. That was it’s home now. I didn’t have the energy to move it to it’s designated hook in my closet. My house keys soon found rest right next to the bag with a loud rattling noise. The noise agitated my headache a tiny bit more, but it was already there, so what was extra pain at this point?

No time was wasted. My feet, almost as if they were on autopilot, carried my tired body to the couch. I fell, face down, into the cushions. Maybe this was how I would stay forever. I could bury myself in pillows and blankets and never move again.

An irritated groan left my lips when my cell phone started ring in my pocket. It was, more than likely, work calling to bitch at me about something else. Between being short staffed and not meeting quotas and deadlines because I was doing the equivalent of three people’s work completely alone, I had had my fair share of being yelled at this week. It was Friday. I had done all of my reports. Surely they didn’t have anything left to complain about until Monday, right?

Without even looking at the screen, I put the phone up to my ear and faked a chipper “hello?” followed by my name.

“Wow. Your work phone voice is like four octaves higher than your normal voice.”

I was relieved to hear Jackson’s voice on the other line rather than my boss’. I would take talking to my best friend over anybody from work any day.

“Oh thank GOD it’s you and not my district manager again.” I sighed.

“No, for real. You could quit your job and work for one of those sexy phone hotlines. You had the perfect fake voice for it.”

“I’ll take note of that and store it for a day I’m feeling more daring. What’s up, Jackson?”

“Well,” he started, “you said that you had a shit day. So I wanted to see if you wanted to go out and get drunk.”

I whined. “I have already been adequately melted into my couch though!”

“I kind of figured. That’s why I actually picked up a pizza and am pulling up to your house right now.”

Thankful that he knew me that well, I responded with, “front door’s open. I’m not moving.” He chuckled before hanging up, and a couple of minutes later, I heard the knob turn and the door creek open. He kicked my bag as he walked in, and, unmoving, I shouted, “are you Jackson or a serial killer? Either way, be careful. My laptop is in that bag.”

My answer was given to me when I get Jackson’s entire body weight on top of me as he sat on my back. I let out a surprised shout before reaching back and slapping his leg. He laughed and I heard him open the pizza box.

“Are you actually eating pizza while sitting on me right now moron?!” I feigned surprise, but this wasn’t even the first time that something like this happened. Once, he ate my entire order of French fries waiting for me to decide to move after a bad day.

I wiggled around a bit, letting him know I wanted to sit up. He stood up, half of a slice of pizza hanging from his mouth. He gave me goofy smile while trying not to lose his food. Once I had sat up, he rearranged and sat on the floor in front of me, the box between us. I moved to join him on the floor and leaned back against the couch as I grabbed a piece of pizza for myself.

“So what was so bad weirdo?” Jackson asked between bites, my best friend pet name racked onto the end of it.

“My boss is just back to being a raging bitch.” I sighed, “she won’t hire me any replacement staff for the ones that she drove away. I have four or five reports due daily that I have to handle that were other people’s jobs…” I droned on for, what I’m sure was way longer than I needed to. Jackson genuinely cared, though. Venting to him was easy when I knew that he was actually listening.

He spent the next hour trying to cheer me up. We ran through scenarios where he pretended to be my boss and I said what I had actually wanted to say to her rather than the “yes ma'ams” that I had been spitting out all week. He told me funny stories from rehearsals and had somehow managed to draw out the fact that I had a crush on Jinyoung.

Then another fifteen minutes was spent with me fighting him to get my cell phone back so that he didn’t confess an undying love to Jinyoung from me that I wasn’t ready to admit. It took me throwing my quilt off of my couch and onto his face to blind him and grab my phone for me to finally get it back.

He swore revenge and I rolled my eyes, but also had a slight fear that he would actually figure something out.

I ended up passing out while we binge watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I wasn’t sure how long Jackson had been at the house, but when I finally woke up due to a crick in my neck from sleeping on the arm of the couch, I saw Jackson on the other end of the couch, asleep as well. He was curled up in a ball and had an arm draped over his face.

I stood up and nudged him. “You crashing here?”

I received a grunt and he spread out his legs to where I had just been sleeping. Tossing the blanket over him, I clicked off the light to the living room, leaving the tv on for a night light.

“Thanks for today.” I mumble-yawned on my way out of the room.

“Love you weirdo.” I heard Jackson’s response, barely.

“Love you too moron.”

Chapter Text

It was the sheets fault.

It had to be.

They smelled like him, and that was why I dreamt of him. This is what I get for being a nice girlfriend, for letting all 9 members sleep in my bed because they were all drunk and they didn’t want their manager to know. My theory didn’t exactly hold up, of course, because all their smells were there…but only Minseok’s face was in my dream.

After I woke up and stumbled through my morning routine, the hazy images Oppa’s face came sliding on back to me. I sputtered while brushing my teeth because I suddenly remembered exactly what he’d done with his teeth.

It was the sheets fault.

At the breakfast table, Kyungsoo read a magazine with his face on the cover. He had his big rimmed glasses on that fogged everytime he took a sip of his coffee. His hair was clean and held no product, and he was wearing the pajama pants my mother had gotten him for christmas, despite my telling her not to. He said they were comfy, I thought they were hideous. Tomato, tomato.

He hummed ‘good morning’ to me when he saw I was up, and inclined his head towards the plate he’d made for me. Cooking was Kyungsoo’s thing. I mean, I could make a mean omelette, and sometimes I managed to wake up earlier than him and prepare it, but why bother with perfection? Because that’s what Kyungsoo was in the kitchen: perfection. I put last night’s dream away from my mind, locked it down tight, and sat down to eat with my love.

“Morning,” I sang as I creamed my coffee, “how’d you sleep?”

“It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had.” He said easily, not taking his eyes off the article he was reading.

“Why not?” I wasn’t trying to start a conversation, it was still way too early for that. But I apparently asked his trigger question, because he slapped the magazine shut and laid it neatly beside his plate. Then he stuck me with that heavy stare he only used for movie close ups: soul rendering, and unblinking. I caved in an instant, figuring I knew what he was going to say. “I said something in my sleep…didn’t I?”

“Oh, you said a lot of somethings.” He sighed, and I bit my lip, unsure of how badly I’d told on myself.

“I’m sorry I woke you up.” I quickly moved on, not wanting to talk about the dream that apparently caused the outwardly declarations. But he wasn’t going to take my redirection.

“You’re not even curious what it is you said?” He crossed his arms, but I didn’t miss the small smirk on his lips. This was some sort of game now, and he had the upper hand. In fact he had every hand: the good, the bad, the house. I was completely shackled to the court of Kyungsoo (and I wasn’t really opposed to it).

“It was probably just nonsense.” I brushed off nervously, knowing full well there’s no way he would press it if it was just gibberish. At this point, he was having trouble hiding that small smile, and it was turning into an even bigger laugh. It was building, but he was employing all of his famous actorly training to contain it. He shrugged his shoulders and re-folded his arms, trying to clamp down on the giggles I could feel coming and said,

“So babe,” He pursed his lips, “have you talked to Minseok lately?”

“Oh good god.” I exclaimed, and he couldn’t hold it in any longer. Kyungsoo burst out laughing, his heart shaped mouth making fun of me as I tried to bury myself in my oatmeal. I covered my face with both hands and moaned like death. The humiliation! Not only was having the dream bad enough, but Kyungsoo had to wake up and hear me calling out for another one of his members! This was the literal worst.

“Oh come on, come on.” I heard him call, and I felt his fingers try to pull my hands from my face. There was still left over joy in his voice, so I refused to budge. “It’s no big deal.” He soothed and wrangled my hands away.

“It’s embarrassing!” I whined, wanting to throw myself on the floor and hide from his bright eyes. It could have been worse, I suppose. He could have been mad about it.

“It is what it is! Even I’ve had dreams about Minseok. I mean, have you seen his hands?” He laughed, standing and coming around the table to coo at me like you do to a red-faced child.

“But you’re with him everyday, it’s normal!” My mortification was easing up as Kyungsoo massaged my hands that he refused to let go of, and it was completely gone by the time he came and sat directly on my lap. Now he was the child, and I was the semi-responsible one.

“You see him almost as much as I do. Besides, the bed did smell like him.” He shrugged, looping his arms around my neck. It was a good thing I was sitting down, or he would have already been on the floor.

“Yes, thank you! It’s the sheets fault!” I exclaimed, and lassoed my arms around his torso. What a goofball he was. It was a side hardly anyone ever got to see, and I liked that it always came out with me.

“But have you seen his hands, though?” Kyungsoo grinned sheepishly, goading me into his mischief, but I scoffed.

“I’m more of a butt person.” I winked, and pinched his unprotected cheek.

Kyungsoo rolled his eyes, but let the subject drop. I was thankful. It was bad enough that Minseok moaning my name was still playing in my head like a skipping record. Luckily, Kyungsoo worked on drowning it out a bit later, and I was able to forget about that pesky dream.

A few weeks later, we had all of the guys over again. We liked to host dinners frequently. Naturally, a steady flow of booze began to stream, and once everyone was toasty and fed, a sleepy haze fell over us. It was established who would split the cab fares with whom, and the sounds of jackets being zipped up and drunken giggles filled the room.

I said a quick goodbye to everyone before running up to the bathroom. When I came back down, the house had gone from loud, (Chanyeol and Baekhyun and Jongin), to silent. I could hear Kyungsoo shuffling around, cleaning up the leftover plates and cups from the living room, and then was surprised to hear a voice that wasn’t his. I rounded the corner to see Minseok still sitting in his chair. He took a swig of his beer before smiling at me when he realized that I was there again.

Vivid flashbacks of my dream suddenly filled my mind. His smile was replaced by images of his lips exploring my skin; kissing down my stomach and up my thighs. I was feeling his fingers digging into my back as I rode him all over again.

I shook my head to clear those thoughts and cleared my throat. “Um, everything okay? You just gonna crash here tonight?”

“I asked him to.” Kyungsoo suddenly appeared in the door frame as he dried off his hands from rinsing dishes. “He became suddenly very interested in staying the night when I mentioned in passing a certain dream that somebody in this house had about him.”

The urge to throw everything in reach at Kyungsoo suddenly filled every fiber of my being. I’m almost one hundred percent certain that my eyes grew seven times their size. No words came to mind as I stood perfectly frozen.

Minnie walked up to me and leaned forward, right against my ear. He whispered, “it’s okay if you don’t want to tell me. You could always just show me instead.” The second statement caused my breath to hitch in my throat. What the hell was happening right now?!

I turned my head to Kyungsoo, who waved his hand out in front of him and said, “go ahead, babe. That’s why I asked him to stay. I figured you could show him what it was that left you moaning his name in real life.”

Was this a trap? It had to be a trap, right? There was no way in hell this was real.

It suddenly became much more real when Minseok’s mouth was suddenly grazing the skin of my neck. I took a sharp breath in as he barely traced it along my jaw and neckline. Gaze turning to Kyungsoo again, I was surprised to see him much closer than before. His finger tucked under my chin and he leaned his lips against mine. He gave me a kiss that felt way more chaste than I felt at the moment.

“This will be fun.” he whispered against my mouth. The lust in his eyes showed me that he absolutely meant for this to happen, and he gave me a slight nod that made me fall into a much more comfortable state.

I tilted my head to the side, exposing my neck to Minseok more. He took the invitation and began to attack my skin with nibbles. I moaned into Kyungsoo’s mouth, which fueled his kisses to deepen. His tongue moved past my lips and he grabbed my shirt, balling it in his fist.

“Come on.” Kyungsoo ordered Minseok and I to follow him, and we immediately obliged. He guided us to the room where the sheets that were to blame for this very incident were living. They were about to have Minseok’s smell on them again, and I could not say that I was upset at that fact.

I was rested on my back gingerly. Kyungsoo went to work on relieving my legs from my jeans. Minseok unbuttoned my shirt and moaned slightly as he took his bottom lip in between his teeth as he cupped my breasts over my bra. He moved down and teased the fabric of my bra and looked to Kyungsoo for permission.

Kyungsoo was preoccupied, however, with distracting me from Minseok by pulling the fabric of my panties aside and swiping his tongue through my folds. My back arched and his name immediately escaped my lips. I gasped as he went to work on my core, sliding a finger in. I became aware of Minseok’s mouth suddenly switching between my nipples. I had been wrapped up in Kyungsoo’s work and had somehow missed that Min had freed my breasts by pulling my bra down. The sensation of both mouths on me was overwhelming. It did not take long for me to find my first orgasm, the sensation crashing over me like a wave.

As I came down a bit, I heard Kyungsoo say, “why don’t you show us exactly what it was that you saw in your dream?” I hoped that they would consider the red flush over my body from the fact that I had just cum rather than a blush from my dream being brought up again. However, I nodded, excited for the new opportunity.

I had never actually considered fucking one of Kyungsoo’s band mates, but, I figured since I had his permission and we had made it this far, that it couldn’t hurt to take advantage of the situation.

I directed Minseok to sit against the headboard. Straddling myself over him, I teased his hard cock. I turned to Kyungsoo one more time, and with his nod of approval, I slid myself slowly down onto Minseok’s length. My head fell back and a moan escaped my lips. He filled me up perfectly, and I had to pause for a second to adjust. Minseok big down on his lip, the hesitation killing him.

Finally, I began to shift my hips slowly. As it turns out, actually fucking Minseok felt one hundred times better than dreaming about fucking Minseok. I kept my pace steady, embracing the moment. His hands moved to rest on my hips and help me keep the pace. Kyungsoo shifted over and began to place kisses along my neck and whispers in my ear.

“I wasn’t sure at first, but watching you fuck my friend is hot.”

His encouragement did nothing but turn me on more. I picked up speed, adding bouncing on Minseok in with grinding. He licked the pad of this thumb and rested it on my clit, the small bundle of nerves sending chills through my body. Curses spilled from Minseok’s lips, and my orgasm built faster than I had been ready for. I clenched around him and his nails dug into my back as he moved his hands up from my hips and held me tight against him. He came immediately after me.

He rested his head against my collarbone. His breath hit my skin and raised goosebumps from how over-sensitive every part of me seemed to be.

Kyungsoo let out a low growl as he pulled me from Minseok onto his lap.

“I hope you enjoyed yourself, baby, but you’re not done. I hope you know that.”

This time, the sheets had nothing to do with it. I woke with a flush in my face and with the understanding that I probably made a scene in the middle of the night. No doubt Kyungsoo heard it, but he was already in the bathroom getting ready for the morning. Trying to compose myself, I tiptoed to the bathroom door and rested my ear against it. He was humming a playful tune as I heard him brush his teeth and tinker with face cream bottles. I knocked every so lightly, hoping he wouldn’t hear and I could pretend I really had tried to say good morning, but no sooner did I knock was the door thrown open and he caught me red handed. His toothbrush was still sticking out of his mouth, and he was giving me a devilish look.

“If you keep this up, babe, I’m never going to get any sleep.”

I gave up instantly and weaseled my way into his unwilling embrace.

“I did it again?” I asked but also confirmed. He grunted down at me in mock annoyance. I could tell he wasn’t really mad, but I still unleashed my bambi eyes to win back his favor. “Who was I calling for this time?”

Unable to hold it any longer, he gathered me up in his arms in one quick motion.

“Me!” He grinned and tossed me on the bed.

Chapter Text

My phone going off was like some distant memory that just couldn’t quite penetrate the haze of loving making that had filled the room. I couldn’t tell where my limbs stopped and Jackson’s started. There was a leg here, an arm slung there, his face was buried somewhere under my boobs, and my fingers were still tangled in his hair.

The phone buzzed again and finally managed to cut through my drowsy brain. I lifted my head to squint at the bright light coming from his bedside table and let out a groan.

Of course.

I was on call.

They just couldn’t go one fucking day without me.

Sliding my fingers out of his hair is what woke Jackson, but only halfway as his arms tightened around me. I tried reaching for the phone from there, but I was too far on the other side. With a huff, I leaned a bit closer, okay with the fact that I could suffocate him with my breasts. He’d like that, I’m sure. But I must have misjudged my tilt because our whole mismosh of bodies twisted to the other side of the bed and I landed precariously on the edge. I grabbed the phone and then smacked Jackson, telling him to pull me up! He did so, still sleepily, and buried himself back into my skin once I was no longer balancing on the edge of oblivion (aka the floor).

The screen nearly blinded me, and my childish boyfriend let out a groan at the light, although I wasn’t sure how it penetrated my cleavage.

“If that’s Kim, he’s going to die.” The words vibrated my sternum and tickled their way across my stomach. I chuckled as I typed a quick reply.

“Well pick your method, my love, cause someone’s going into labor.” With a dramatic whine, Jackson tightened his grip until he was almost squeezing me in half. He was always clingy after sex, but I knew it was more than that. My work had been keeping us apart more than usual, and he was feeling the loneliness just as much as I was.

Tell them to fuck off.” He nuzzled his way up until he was peeking at me through my breasts like some sort of groundhog, and I laughed out loud.

“You know that’s not how it works.” I was still smiling as I untangled myself from him, and the chill that hit my skin in his absence was unnerving.

I quickly showered, grabbed some scrubs, and threw my hair up in a bun. Pregnant ladies were usually much more worried about the little life I was extracting from them than the state of my hair anyway. When I got out of the shower, Jackson hadn’t moved and I thought he’d fallen back asleep. But when I went for the door, he let out a howl and started kicking his legs, throwing a tantrum.

“What, what, what?” I grinned as I dropped everything and went to console my giant child of a boyfriend. I lifted his big shoulders into my arms, smoothing his hair over his forehead with my nose.

“I don’t…have much time left…” He wheezed, and I rolled my eyes at his fake death scene. “Come…closer. I have to tell you…something.” Indulgent, I leaned my ear close to his mouth only to have him stick his tongue in it. With a squeal I threw him across the bed and stood, wiping at the wet side of my head.

“You’re gross!” I giggled as I went to pick my stuff up.

“But no, hey…seriously.” I heard the drop in his voice, the pitch that said he wasn’t joking anymore. He crawled to the end of the bed, still naked save for the sheet twisted across his lap and legs. “Come here.” He beckoned. I went cautiously but willingly, and stood myself between his knees, pressing my hips to his chest. He wrapped his arms around my waist and pressed his face into my stomach again. “Can you come home early tonight? I miss you.” I threaded my fingers through his hair lovingly, before taking his cheeks in my palms and pulling him up to look at me.

“It was going to be a surprise, but I took the weekend off. It’s just you and me, my man child.” His face broke out into the biggest smile as he hopped up and seized my lips with his.

“Really!” He believed into my mouth. “No on call? No emergency cesareans? No last minute inductions?”

“Nope!” I bit my lip to hide my growing smile at his excitement. “I ditched the pager on Kim. I’m yours allllllll weekend.” Jackson grabbed my waist and threw himself backwards onto the bed, pulling me down on top of him again.

“Best weekend ever!” And he was kissing me again, smoothing his hands over my starch scrubs.

“But I have to go deliver this baby first!” I chuckled and escaped from his arms once again. He didn’t look nearly as dejected this time.

“Just this one, right?” He clarified as he laid completely naked in front of my eyes.

“Just this one.” I promised, trying not to stare at his body or I would never make it outta there.

“Well hurry up!” He stuck his tongue out and I rolled my eyes with a sigh. If I was lucky (and I usually was) he would be in the exact same position when I got home, and he’d bury himself in my skin once again. It was his favorite place. And mine too.

Chapter Text

“Hello? Earth to (Y/N)!”

I blinked a few times, suddenly seeing my best friend Jae waving his hand in front of my eyes.

“What are you even staring at?!” He moved to stand beside me, trying to match my line of sight. I quickly looked away and hoped that he wouldn’t figure out that I had been watching Wonpil set up his keyboard before their show tonight. Thankful for dim bar lighting, I shrugged and tossed my drink back in one giant gulp.

“Easy there, wild child!” He laughed as he took my empty glass and waved for the bartender’s attention, ordering another me another one. “Put it on the band’s tab...but maybe make it a single instead of a double if this is how she’s gonna be.” There was humor in his voice, but I did not feel like laughing.

I rolled my eyes and tugged at the hemline of my shirt self consciously. Glancing back at the stage, I was disappointed to see Wonpil had ducked away, back to the green room backstage I was guessing.

“What’s your deal anyway? Why are you trying to get wasted so fast?” Jae handed me my next drink as the bartender set it down. She smiled and gave me a wink, saying, “The girl doesn’t need a reason.” She pat my hand on the bar that was keeping me steady, and gave me a knowing smile. It was like she knew my ex had just walked in the door and that my giant crush on Wonpil were both overwhelming me.

“Your bestie is here.” I muttered, nodding toward the door and watched as Jae whipped his head around to look.

“Fuck.” He whispered. “He said he wasn’t coming…”

My ex, Matthew Kim, was Jae’s other best friend. The three of us had grown up together, but recently Matt had told me he had liked me more than just as a friend. We started dating, only for him to break up with me after a year because he ‘needed space’. Yeah. Space to date some other girl that, thankfully, he hadn’t brought tonight.

Matthew made eye contact with Jae and waved, but as he started to cut through the crowd toward us, I grabbed and drink and retreated, “and that’s my cue to leave.”

As I walked down the length of the bar, the bartender flagged me down with that friendly smile of hers. She already had another drink ready for me, even though I wasn’t even halfway done with my current drink. “You look like you’re gonna need a couple of these. This one is on me.” Her sympathy was comforting and I thanked her before taking the new drink and double fisting my way to the back of the bar, as far away from my ex and friend as I could.

I showed the bouncer my green wristband that meant ‘I’m with the band’, and he let me backstage where I dipped into the green room and shut the door. Sighing heavily, I rested my forehead against it, thinking of how silly I looked hiding in here with my excessive amount of alcohol. Until an unexpected voice behind me made me jump and spill both of my drinks.

“You look stressed.”

Of course it was Wonpil. I turned, blushing and embarrassed. I’m sure I was as red as the color Jae had insisted Wonpil dye his hair. The deep maroon actually looked great on him. Of course it did. Everything looked great on Wonpil. Wonpil always looked great. I, on the other hand, looked stressed.

He lashed me a big smile and patted the space on the couch beside him, asking me to join him and put down my drinks before I drop them both. I threw one back for good measure, because what the hell, before joining my crush on the couch. My anxiety must have been super obvious because he gently took my remaining drink from my hands and set it on the coffee table in front of us. I kept the straw though, to fidget with.

“You okay?” He asked lightly, not wanting to poke the bear that was my agony. I didn’t answer for a long moment, debating with myself and with the vodka in my brain. Finally, I settled with,

“Alcohol and emotions are just a really bad combination, you know?”

“True, but you’ve been drinking pretty heavily tonight. Anything you care to share?” He asked with a smile on his lips.

“I may be drunk, but I don’t think I’m that drunk.” I scoffed, not about to debate with my crush the details of my hairy love life. Even with my buzz heatedly flowing through my body from drinking so fast.

We fell into a comfortable silence, that small smirk never leaving Wonpil’s face. I was about to ask what time their set started, but we heard voices coming from the hallway. Voices that sounded a lot like Matt and Jae. Dammit. They were coming to the green room and the last thing that I needed was Matt trying to talk to me.

An idea flashed in my head as the doorknob turned, and I didn’t have time to fully process it before I went for it.

Throwing my arms around Wonpil’s neck, I pressed my lips against that smile. Surprisingly, he didn’t push me away or act shocked. In fact, he pulled me closer and deepened the kiss right as the door opened.

“Oh! That’s… new…” I heard Jae say from the door. Wonpil and I separated at their arrival and he said,

“Ahem. Um… hey?”

“On second thought,” Matt, who was behind Jae but clearly staring at me, said, “just get me the cash later.” Before dropping his gaze and turning away. Jae stared at Wonpil and I, confused, before raising his hands in the air, mumbling something about not even asking, and walking out.

“Sorry about that...” I mumbled as I backtracked to my side of the couch, reaching for my drink to drown my sorrows in. But it seemed Wonpil wouldn’t let me go that easily. He followed me, and lifted his hand to my face, turning my to see the grin on his lips had blossomed into something deeper, something more eager.

“You’re such a fun drunk,” He said, and took my drink from my hand, setting it back on the table, “but I’d rather you be sober enough for me to do that again.” Quickly, his lips brushed against mine again, and I froze. He pulled back just a bit, and I felt his breath on my face, “And remember when I tell you that I really like you.” He kissed me again, like he was sealing it. This turn of events was definitely welcome, and I let Wonpil know by chasing after his lips with my own.

“I won’t forget.”

Chapter Text

 

"Ugh! I just fucking can't with you two!" Zinni waved her drunk hands in Jungkook's face. They stood in the back hallway of Namjoon's apartment, sequestered away from the party so Jungkook could gather his thoughts. He'd had a drink, maybe two, and alcohol was dangerous for him. Especially with her here.

"She'll come around eventually." He muttered as he wiped his face. Vodka. Vodka was the worst.

"No, you dense cunt, she won't!" The smaller girl snapped, although he caught her eyes drifting, like she couldn't quite figure out which Jungkook she was seeing was him. Probably the one in the middle.

"You know, you curse exponentially more when you drink than when you're sober." He noted and she scoffed.

"Oh, fake news! Besides," She flipped her long purple hair over her shoulder, "I wouldn't be so passionate if you weren't so pinning. Just tell her how you fucking feel!"

"We're in a good place right now." He dropped his rehearsed line, "I don't want to mess that up." But he'd been spouting the same nonsense to Zinni for almost two years now. She saw through his crap better than anyone.

"What if she confessed to you?" She asked suddenly.

"Well, I..." He'd be lying if he said he never thought about it--dreamt about it. The girl of his dreams telling him that he was the love of her life and she finally realized it. No more waiting in the wings, no more wishful thinking. He'd be able to touch her, and hold her, and kiss her--

"Roger that. I'll do all the work...per usual." Zinni saw through his crap better than anyone. But she was also reckless.

"Zinni--" He tried to stop her but she was already trudging down the hall like she was getting ready for battle. He brushed her elbow though, and that made her reel, a flash of annoyance on her face.

"Kookie, the sooner the two of you fuck, the sooner my poor ears will have to stop listening to you whine." She snapped and then dashed down the hall as coordinated as she could.

Jungkook didn't know what his best friend was planning, and he worried about it for the next hour...but nothing happened. He watched her wearily, just about as wearily as he watched his crush. But Zinni never made a move towards her, and after another vodka, he couldn't tell which Zinni she was. Probably the one in the middle.

"Guys! Let's play a game!" Namjoon hollered later, holding a beer in each hand. Jungkook was sitting behind his friend on the couch, unashamedly staring at the girl who danced on the back of his eyelids.

"Like what?" Zinni piped up, flicking her eyes in Jungkook’s direction. She was across the room, leaning on the side of the worn out loveseat.

"7 Minutes in Heaven!" Namjoon grinned and a mixed cheer rippled through the room.

“That’s some high school shit, RM!” Yoongi rolled his eyes, earning a laugh from the guests.

“How would you know? Your first kiss was like a year ago.” Namjoon fired back, and that same crowd erupted with funny ohhh burns, and Yoongi blushed. Everyone who wanted to play was crowded into a tight circle around an empty wine bottle Zinni had the pleasure of finishing off.

“Y/N, you go first.” Zinni urged, and the beautiful with the short black hair bit her lip and caused Jungkook to go into cardiac arrest. She reached in and spun the bottle, and Jungkook finally saw Zinni’s fingers all over this plan. But either she made a hefty sacrifice to a god somewhere, or fate truly was on his side, because the long neck of the wine bottle slowly stopped in front of him, and he couldn't believe his luck.

“YES!” Zinni shrieked, but then immediately tried to backtrack.

“Would you look at that? Well Jungkook, take your girl and don’t come back!” Namjoon all but grinned.

“No sex on my bed!” Yoongi shouted after them as Jungkook led his crush to the back bedroom in a daze. When the door closed behind him, it was like he completely forgot how to speak. It seemed as if he was as conflicted as he was drunk, and she didn’t look any better off.

“Y/N…” She slurred, but then stopped when he saw her sitting on the edge of Namjoon’s bed with a small smile. He wondered for a second what was going through her head, what he looked like to her. Did his face give away just how affected he was by all this?

“What are the odds?” Her voice was like bells, and he loved listening to her speak. It didn’t matter what about, she could take about the weather for all he cared. They could spend their whole 7 minutes just him listening to her talk and he’d be okay with that. This wasn’t how he wanted to kiss her for the first time anyway. He made a noise in the back of his throat as some sort of reply as he went to sit on the end of Yoongi’s bed. She watched him with steady eyes, but when he didn’t come go to her, her mouth turned down in a little frown.

“What?” He wondered, sensing more than seeing her displeasure, he was so in tune to her.

“I’m just a little surprised is all.”

“I mean, we’re both drunk. The last thing I want to do--”

“Jungkook.”

“Is put us--huh? Yeah?”

“Kiss me.”

“W-What?”

“I said kiss me. If you don’t do it now, I have a feeling you never will.”

“Have you been talking to Zinni?”

“What would Zinni have said to me if I had been talking to her?” She moved closer to him. The gap between them shrank as Jungkook tried to find any type of lie to tell. His mind grew foggier the closer she got. He couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol or just his nerves.

“Um… she might have said s-something like…” she was leaning toward him. Holy shit! Their lips were only centimeters apart at this point. Jungkook paused, by so did she.

“Would she have said that you were in love with me?” she whispered. Her lips almost grazed his, and it was torture. He wanted to kiss her, but he wanted to make sure that she actually wanted to kiss him first; that it wasn’t just the excessive amounts of booze she had put in her body tonight.

In one brief moment of courage, Jungkook sighed and said, “I would be lying if I said that I didn’t love you.”

With that, she softly pressed her lips against his. Jungkook ran with it. He wrapped his arms around her waist and deepened the kiss, keeping it slow, but passionate. Although this wasn’t how he pictured it, he also couldn’t object to the fact that she was here in his arms.

Finally.

After a few moments, they broke apart and she pressed her forehead to his.

“I love you too, yknow.”

Chapter Text

If it didn’t involve a hat, Jooheon didn’t care what I wore on a daily basis. Most of the time you could find me in skinny jeans or sweats, loathing the fact that I ever had to wear a bra at all, but not tonight. Tonight was special because it was the first night we were going out in public as a couple. And to a Starship Event no less. Kim Shi-dae was hosting a fundraiser for sick children, a sort of make-a-wish ball (but only if those wishes specifically pertained to meeting Monsta X or Cosmic Girls). It was crazy how I was more nervous about what I was supposed to wear, than I was about meeting the sasaeng fans that were sure to put me at the top of their hit lists.

I paced around my apartment all morning, sparsely interrupted by raking my fingers through my hair, doing my eyeliner, wiping it off, and then doing it again.

Panicking…I was panicking.

There was a knock on my door mid afternoon that I barely registered, and my feet went to answer it even when I didn’t realize. It was a short woman with a sleek bob hairdo, and she looked at me expectantly.

“Hi, sweetheart.”

“Uhh…hi?” I glanced around behind her, wondering what was going on, but she was alone.

“May I come in?” She asked, and probably because I was panicking, I let her. She came into my entry way, slipping out of her clog shoes and into my spare slippers.

“Umm, I’m sorry, who–” I tried not to be rude, because I did just let her in, but…

“I’m Suh Seunghyun, sweetie.” My jaw must have hit the ground because she let out a delighted chuckle. “I see you’ve heard of me.”

“You’re just like…one of the most famous beauty stylists in Korea.” I balked, catching sight of the large tote she carried in the crook of her arm. Was that a hairdryer?

“My salon in New York City isn’t doing too bad either.” She winked and continued into my home like it was hers.

“I don’t understand…” I stammered as I followed her into my bedroom where she eyed my haphazard makeup collection and my disaster bathroom. “What are you doing here?”

“Someone called in a favor.” She shrugged casually and set her bag down on the end of my bed. “Now…Where’s the dress?” She looked around and I shrank.

“It’s at the dry cleaners. They were supposed to deliver it an hour ago.” I’d called them a dozen times already, but no one answered.

“Well that won’t do, now will it?” She clucked her tongue and whipped out a flip phone–a flip phone, people–and speed dialed someone. She started motorboating through instructions with words I barely understood, while directing me to sit and keep still. From her tote came an arsenal of beauty products: hair sprays, curlers, face creams, mascaras, brow pencils, pins, and the largest selection of brushes I’d ever seen.

“Now, do we want him to drop dead, or do we want him to swoon?” She smirked in my mirror, as she stood behind me where I sat at my bathroom vanity, worrying my lips with my teeth.

“W-Who?” I asked stupidly. She let out a very practiced laugh, rehearsed a million times listening to celebrities talk in her chair.

“Jooheon, of course! He set me after all.” She smiled at me knowingly and played with the ends of my hair.

“He did?” I tried to hide the way my cheeks went red at the idea. He contracted the best stylist in the whole country all for me? Probably because he knew I was worried about how I would look. For a moment, I couldn’t contain my smile, and Seunghyun shot me a look of triumph.

“So what will it be, sweetheart?” She asked. “Lethal or lovely?”

“Both.” I answered, and she clapped her hands gleefully.

“Marvelous.”

~

I have no idea how she found a dress that fit me so perfectly in the few hours that she spent on me, but Seunghyun was no doubt a miracle worker. She swathed me in a simple white sheath spaghetti strap dress with a front split, and across my shoulders draped a sheer diamond encrusted cape. She clipped large diamond earrings in my ears and graced my wrist with a crystal bracelet. She even provided me with peep toe heels dusted in gems. I looked frosted in snow, bathed in diamonds. Standing in my apartment seemed so out of place. I was a Picasso in a convenient store; a Kate Moss in a teenage talent show. I hardly recognized myself. My stylist was not surprised at all by my transformation, however. It was probably a perk of the job, being able to see the potential for beauty on even a blank face.

She was putting the finishing touches on my hair when the doorbell rang, and I tensed all over.

“Deep breaths my dear. Now is the moment of truth.” Seunghyun put a gentle hand on my shoulder before going to answer the door.

“For what?” I asked. She turned back to me in the doorway and grinned, sly and knowing.

“You’re gorgeous. Let’s see if he drops dead.” She winked and left to open the door. I got up to pace across my bedroom, suddenly nauseous from the butterflies in my stomach. Jooheon had never seen me in anything other than casual wear. I didn’t even dress up for Sunday dinner with his parents. This was zero to a hundred, he was going to get whiplash so bad I feared for his neck.

I chewed on my thumb, not daring to mess up the white manicure Seunghyun had worked on for a hour. And then I heard an audible gasp, and spun to find Jooheon standing in the doorway, eyes wide, mouth open. Shocked. He wore black pants and a jacket with a white shirt underneath. A black cummerbund wrapped around his middle and instead of a bow tie or necktie, he sported a silver chain at his throat. He was as breathtaking as ever, but what really threw me was his new do.

“Your hair!” I cried, even as he continued to gawk. It was white! More like silver with a under sheen of pink, but still! It was a drastic change to the red it had been yesterday.

“I wanted…” He started. His hands found his face as he rubbed his eyes, like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He looked dumbfounded. Awestruck. “I wanted to match.” He managed finally as he came to take my hands from where they were wringing themselves to pieces. “I told her I liked you in white, but…” He looked me up and down again, mouth still hanging open. “I never would have thought you’d….” His words were starting to make me feel self-conscious, and I worried I would start nervous sweating and ruin Seunghyun’s masterpiece.

“Do I look bad?” I whimpered, and if his eyes could have gotten any wider, they would have.

“What? No! NO! You look—Baby,” He grabbed my shoulders and pulled me crashing into a hug, “I can’t even…I’m speechless. You look stunning.” He sang praise after praise into my neck, like he was worshiping it, admiring it, revering every pore of my skin. And when he drew back, he was smiling from ear to ear, and I could have sworn I saw tears in his eyes.

“I don’t even want to go now.” He chuckled, and I smacked him. “I just want to sit here and stare at you.”

“Well too bad,” I stuck my tongue out and grabbed the small diamond studded clutch Seunghyun had given me, “Cause this took way too long for just you to see.” I laced my fingers in his and led him straight to the red carpet.

Chapter Text

You only went down the hall because you heard your name. You never would have imposed so far into EXO’s dorm otherwise. It was quiet, barely a whisper you only heard because everyone else had just left. Baekhyun wanted ramen, the dorm was out, naturally the entire party should leave and get some from the convenient store. Drunk Chanyeol truly made poor decisions. You’d stayed behind because you were just slightly less drunk than everyone else, and needed a moment of peace to hold off the spins.

You braced against the wall for support as you paused halfway down the hall. Maybe it was your imagination? Or maybe it was the Tequila. Either way, you shrugged and started to go back to the livingroom to stare at the ceiling fan, but as you passed the third room on the right, your name came again. You froze at the sound. Whoever or whatever was calling for you was enraptured in such desolation. They sounded breathy and frantic and so absolutely sensuous that your feet took you to the door without your say so.

You pressed your ear against the cold wood and listened, daring them to call for you again. Somewhere in the back of your mind, blocked off by the four Tequila shots you’d taken a half hour ago, you remembered this was Kyungsoo’s room, and that he’d gone to bed when you and your friends had arrived at the beginning of the night. He didn’t like to party like his fellow members, but you’d come around enough to know not to take it personally.

The whisper came again and you recognized it for what it was: a moan. He was moaning your name. You must have bumped the door, because there was a hiccup from inside and then everything went quiet.

Your hands slid up the door, wanting to hear him whine again, his beautiful tenor laced with the syllables of your name. It was better than the Tequila, and definitely better than whatever ramen was coming back soon. Your fingers fell to the doorknob, but there was a quick rustle from inside and then something pushed back against the door, keeping your from entering.

“Don’t come in.” A voice said. It was close to the pitch you wanted to here, but there just wasn’t enough desperation in it.

“Then don’t stop.” You pressed your face against the door.

“Y-Y/N?” Kyungsoo stuttered, and you let out your own moan. It was intoxicating to hear your name on his lips. Those kissable heart shaped lips that you’d wanted to get your teeth on since you started coming to Chanyeol’s parties. The block on the other side of the door fell away, and you saw it swing open, revealing a disheveled Kyungsoo and a problem it looked like only you could solve.

“Say it again…” You slurred stepping into his space. The door shut behind you, and you were wrapped in the darkness and the scent of him. He smelled like cardamom and vanilla, like he’d just showered or washed his sheets. And you couldn’t stop yourself from latching onto his shirt and brushing your face against the side of his neck. “Please?”

He stiffened at your touch, but upon your request, hastily pulled you to him and pushed you back against the door. You could feel his erection through his sweatpants and she pressed his hips into yours and let out another groan.

One of your hands traced its way up into his hair, threading it between your fingers. While the other hand traveled down his chest and into his waistband. He hissed when you brushed your fingertips over his length, and slapped the door behind you. With his free hand he grabbed your ass and ground his hips against yours. Those heart shaped lips found the skin of your neck and kiss their way up your cheek to your lips, but your turned away.

“Say it.” You breathed, and he complied. Wholeheartedly. He moaned your name into the skin of your throat where he emphasized your very existence with his teeth, sucking and biting as you slicked up and down his erection. Your hand was wet with sweat, precum, and maybe a little liquor as you jacked him off to the sound of your name.

Finally, you felt him twitch in your hand and he let out a seductive gasp as he came to your touch. His face was nestled in the crook of your neck, and he still had a firm grasp of your hips. He took deep breaths as you pulled your hand free. Before you could move to clean up or leave, he grabbed your hand that you’d just used to make him cum and stepped back, pulling you to his bed.

“They’re not back yet. Let me return the favor.”

Chapter Text

“What are you afraid of?”

The man’s words echoed as if they were bouncing off of every wall of my skull. It was as if, by him simply asking, he was drawing fear out of me. Goosebumps raised over my arms as chills ran down my spine.

“Wh-what did you say?”

The man’s eyebrows etched together and he said, “I asked if there was anything that I could help you with?” He had curly brown hair and sharp, yet soft eyes. He had round cheeks and a quiet disposition about him. His head was tilted to the side slightly, and although I had never met him before, he felt familiar.

I shook my head to clear the confusion from it. I looked around the room of the shop that I had just walked into. It was a dimly lit, vintage looking bookstore. Bursts of colors shone across the walls as light refracted through random crystals and stained glass hanging from the ceiling. Incense burned in the corner of the room. There was a light twinkling of wind chimes although the air was perfectly still. I had never seen this place before, and I had passed this street hundreds of time. It looked as if it had been here forever, and I wondered how I had missed it.

“Well,” he said when I didn’t answer right away, “my name is Yoongi. I’ll be at that desk in the back.” He pointed at an old, wooden table with an equally-as-aged cash register on it. I thanked him and began walking around. It was a two-story building. I skimmed all of the book titles, but nothing really jumped out at me. Most of them had random names on them, and I wondered if they were just collections of certain authors. I didn’t recognize a single name or title and was debating leaving. I had no purpose in here, but then again, I didn’t quite feel like I had one anywhere…

“So, what brought you in?” Yoongi made me jump when I realized he had joined me upstairs. I laughed and told him to not sneak up on me like that. He apologized and reached out, handing me an oversized mug with steam rising from it. For being told my whole life to not take things from strangers, I accepted it with no hesitation. I smelled the tea and thanked him as I took a sip.

Answering his question, “I passed a sign that said ‘Magic Shop,’ and it caught my attention. I hadn’t ever seen it here before, so I figured it might be interesting.”

He chuckled, “yeah, people always wonder why the bookstore is named ‘Magic Shop.’ It’s usually their first question.

I shrugged. “I just figured that it would be a good distraction from being lost.”

He furrowed his brow again and asked, “you’re lost?”

“Well, not physically.” I went to point at my head but moved my finger to my heart.

“Ah,” he said as he grasped understanding. “What’s got you feeling so lost?”

I swirled my tea around and wondered why I was opening up to this man I had only known for a little bit, but maybe that’s why I was willing to. He didn’t know me. He couldn’t judge me based off of my past; just the tiny tidbits I could choose to tell him.

“I dunno. That overwhelming feeling that I’m letting people around me down. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. Everyone around me is eventually going to leave me behind. I’m just afraid of life.” I stopped talking when tears welled up in my eyes. I turned to hide them, but Yoongi grabbed my arm gently.

“What are you afraid of?” Those words again. They came out in slow motion. They echoed again and again, but this time, he didn’t wait for my answer.

“Come with me,” he whispered.

We walked through a door I had not seen in my first lap of the room. He moved a beaded curtain aside and led me into another dark room. This one had glow in the dark stars glued to the walls and ceiling. It had a set of low shelves surrounding the lower half of the room, all filled with, what looked like the same book sharing the same design on the spines. He knelt down and skimmed a section on the shelf before letting out an, “ah-ha! This one.”

He flipped the book open to a little over halfway through it. “Here.” Yoongi handed me the book, and before I could look at it, he said, “you didn’t come off as a disappointment the day that you surprised your little sister by coming home for college for her dance recital.”

My breath hitched in my throat. I stood, frozen and staring at him. There was absolutely no way in hell he could have known about that.

“How did you…” but he interrupted me. He pointed at the book I was holding, and, sure enough, there was a picture of my little sister and me that very day. I stared at it in disbelief as he said, “you’re her hero, you know? She doesn’t think you’re a disappointment at all.”

He took that book from me, still offering absolutely no explanation. He knelt down and grabbed another book.

“Ah, yes, this day.” he looked at me and apologized for what he was about to show me. I was nervous. He flipped open to a page, and I recognized it immediately. It was a picture of me on a chair, and my parents sitting on a couch across the room from me. I had my head down in my lap. I knew that I was crying. My dad was holding my mom. He looked livid.

This was the day that they had found out that I was hurting myself.

“Your parents weren’t mad at you, y’know.” Yoongi’s voice was gentle. “Your dad was mad because he felt like he had let you down. Your mom was upset because she hated that you, this life she had brought into the world, hated yourself enough to hurt yourself when she loved you so much. They felt as if they had let themselves and you down by not showing it properly so that you didn’t feel the need to do that to yourself.” My heart felt like it was trying to escape out of my chest.

“Who the hell are you? Why do you have all of this about me?” I was bawling at this point and yelling at Yoongi.

“Answers later. I have another one to show you.”

Him ignoring me was maddening, but my curiosity was also spiked. I watched him grab one more book and he came back to me.

“Turn to page 134.” I did. It was a picture of my best friend. He was laying in a hospital bed. I remembered this day vividly as well. The tears that had stopped began to pour again.

“This was the day that he had tried to kill himself,” I whispered.

Yoongi nodded. “You knew he had been in a bad place. If you hadn’t demanded that he hang out with you and gone to pick him up, it would have been days before somebody had found him. You saved his life by driving him to the hospital and having his stomach pumped that day.”

I dropped the book.

I turned to Yoongi and said, “who are you?” This question was softer.

Yoongi shook his head and said, “who are you?”

He spread his arms and pointed at the shelves of books. “This is you. All of this. This is your good and your bad. This is your past and it has brought you to right here and right now. No matter what it is that you feel about yourself, these books are filled with happiness. They’re filled with more good memories than you are choosing to acknowledge.

“Yes. They are bad. There are pages filled with the feeling of complete and total loneliness. But there are pages upon pages of laughter as well. These books, they’re filled with what has made you; but they aren’t you.”

He sat me down in a giant, fluffy armchair, and told me to wait.

Suddenly, a wall of fire came down and enveloped the books. Unintentionally, a shriek left my mouth. Yoongi smirked slightly as he leaned against the chair. All of those books that held my past were gone. As quickly as the fire had come down, it was gone.

He helped me stand up and took me to the other side of the room where shelves of books still stood. He took one down and handed it to me. I flipped it open and it was completely blank.

“You have the choice of what you put in these. Your past, it isn’t your future unless you let it be. You don’t have to feel lost. You can be whoever you want to be. You can choose to be strong. You can choose to fill these pages with joy and happy memories. The bad will fill in, but you have to have the bad to appreciate the good. Make the conscious choice to feel happy because you deserve it. You deserve to feel joy in this one life that you get.”

I ran my hand down the empty page of the book in front of me.

“You need to give you the best of you. You are a galaxy waiting to unfold. Go find it.”

We walked downstairs and he ushered me to the front door. I tried to hand him the book back, and he shook his head.

“Take it. Keep it as a reminder.”

It might have been out of place, but I leaned over and wrapped Yoongi in a hug. I had a feeling that I would never see him again, and that was how it was meant to be.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Chapter Text

Wheein said it would be stupid of me not to use the tickets. I was the one who wanted to go after all. Just because he bought them for me didn't mean I couldn't still enjoy them. Moonbyul was more skeptical, ever vigilant in her pursuit of figuring out who 'he' was. We weren't close enough for me to admit to her that I'd dated Hajoon from The Rose, or that he'd dumped me six months ago. All my classmates knew was that I had tickets to tour Le Château des Rêves on Ganghwa Island and that I'd been in a bitter mood since my 'pen pal' stopped replying to me.

 

"I'm just saying," Moonbyul whispered over the divider that separated our desks in the library. "Those tickets are big money. He must be somebody important."

"Well, he's nobody now," Wheein whispered over the divider on my other side. "Besides, she'd rather go with people who can enjoy the Château for what it is--a masterpiece."

"It's a ruin." Moonbyul hissed back. I tossed my pen down like I was throwing down a gauntlet and glared at them both.

"Are you two going to bicker over me all day, or are you going to let me finish this paper so we can actually go to the island?" That silenced them both, but I caught the worried look they exchanged. I snapped at them more than I smiled at them nowadays, but they seemed to understand that I was going through something...even when I refused to tell them what. The paper didn’t take much longer with no distractions, and we left on our trip the next morning. Ganghwa island was just west of Seoul, guarding the mouth of the Han river. It only took a little over an hour to drive there and the whole time I stared out the window, wondering how I ended up going without him.

 

"Here's an old house." Hajoon pointed at the computer screen as we cuddled on the couch in my apartment. I was an architect major, focusing on foreign influence on modern-day structures, and he was a hapless musician helping me research different buildings around the country that had been built by our numerous invaders. Aside from his favorite past time of sending me weird looking houses and pictures of the Casa Milà over and over again, he said he liked watching me piece together a structure in my head. It was sexy. His word, not mine!

Under his finger this time I spied one of my favorites, The Castle of Dreams. Its broad face was weathered by the sea, and it's row upon row of windows were cracked and dirty, but the elegance of it-- its glory still shone through. I wanted to sigh just at the sight of it.

"That's Le Château des Rêves. It was built by the French when they conquered Ganghwa Island in 1866."

"It's only an hour away.” He marveled as he checked google maps. “Let's go!" Back then he was always so eager to go on adventures with me. He had the time...

"It cost a butt load of money." I chuckled and pulled him back down on the couch. I was a student and Hajoon was a drummer, we were thoroughly lower class, so the prospect of not having the money to do things was familiar to us. But recently, our age-old excuse hadn’t been sitting well with him. After Windfall, Hajoon had been extra cautious, but his new band was doing well, and it seemed like he didn’t want to settle anymore.

He stayed quiet for a long moment, staring at the picture of the château. He was working up to something, I could tell, so left him be to do my own research. After a while, I felt him run his fingers up and down my arm, sending chills chasing after his touch. He reached down and took my hand in his, sheepishly scratching his cheek and avoiding my eyes. It was a shy little tick he had when he was embarrassed to say whatever he was about to say.

"I'll buy us tickets."

"Hajoon--" I started to protest, but he shook his head.

"As soon as I can, I'll take you to the Castle of Dreams. And to any other castle you dream about." He cupped my cheek in his hand, and I remember the feeling of his breath on my face as he kissed me, sealing a promise. It was bright and bubbly, and I never wanted it to end.

...but that was a long time ago. Back before The Rose was soaring in the Kpop charts, before everyone knew his name...and when he didn't bother to tell anyone mine.

 

Moonbyul, Wheein, and I crossed the bridge to the island by lunchtime, and we were starving. We grabbed food at a local restaurant, and I was halfway through my french fries when fate reared its ugly head.

"OMG!" Wheein suddenly squealed, while Moonbyul and I flinched at her outburst. "You guys! The Rose is here!" I nearly jumped to my feet, ready to bolt out the door at the first sight of them. Moonbyul raised an eyebrow at me, and I could tell she was digesting that reaction. Wheein got up and skipped over to a poster that was tacked up on a cork board by the bathrooms. I hadn't noticed his face on the wall, and I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. But there he was, staring at me while I ate. Apparently content to never leave me alone.

"It says they're playing a pop-up show at a bar a few blocks over! We should go!"

"No thanks." I willed my voice to be nonchalant. It'd been months, I should be a better liar than this by now. I shouldn't still be trembling at the mere mention of him.

"Why not?" Moonbyul asked skeptically. "You used to be the biggest Black Rose there was. Weren't you like the president of their fan club or something?"

"Only for a couple of weeks," I grumbled, not even about to go into the fact that I was impeached for having a conflict of interest. You can’t date a member and be in charge.

"Whatever," Moonbyul waved off my glower, "let's go. Maybe seeing the boys again will pull you out of your ass." She had such a way with words for being a literature major. If only I could tell her that seeing those boys was only going to break my heart all over again. But I didn't. Instead, I just shrugged, hoping that by the time the show rolled around, they wouldn’t be as interested.

No such luck.

The tickets for the château weren’t scheduled until tomorrow, but we girls decided to spend the night to make a mini vacation out of it. Of course, I was fully regretting that decision as we checked into our hotel and Wheein would not stop talking about going to see The Rose. Of all the damn days for them to do a lame ass pop up show! Hajoon knew what this weekend was for me. I mean, he bought the tickets months and months ago, but still...he knew.

So when we entered the bar that night, I was already mad. Mad because I didn’t realize we were being this petty post-breakup, and mad because I had no ammunition left to hurl at him. I was going to walk in and we were going to see each other, and there was nothing for me to do or say to cover up the embarrassment I felt spreading in my chest. I wanted to say that he was here to rub it in, to stoop as low as he could and smirk at my bitter, single, self. But a small part of me, the part that knew him like the back of my hand, told me that triumph was not why.

He was here because he’d promised.

I shook that notion away as Moonbyul held the door open for me and we piled into the overly crowded bar. Victorious or not, there were easier ways of getting to me if he had something to say.

 

Wheein scored us some seats towards the back while Moonbyul went to get the drinks. I only managed to plant myself at the table and tried not to hyperventilate. There was no sign of the band, but with this many people between me and the stage, it wasn’t surprising that I couldn’t place them. And yet, I knew they were here. I could feel it somewhere in the roiling pit of my stomach. Dojoon, Jaehyeong, Hajoon, and I had all grown up together. I knew what it felt like to be in a room with them even when I couldn’t see them. Moonbyul returned with drinks, and the look she shot me when she saw my seasick expression was that of intense worry.

“Y/N...what the hell?” She set down on the glasses and put her hand to my forehead like she would be able to check my temperature with her freezing palms. “Why do you look like you’re about to die?”

“Oh my gosh, you’re white! You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Wheein squeaked, and it was the most accurate description of the night as the crowd parted and I finally caught sight of the band. Even as I battled the pointless shame that was flooding my brain, my eyes still immediately sought him out, settled comfortably behind his drums, twirling his sticks between his fingers. His hair was a darker brown than it had been the last time I’d seen him and straightened to lay flat on his forehead. On his right hand, I saw his ever-present rings: one from his mom, and one…

One that I gave him the night of Windfall’s first show. The sight of it had me grimacing, and Moonbyul grabbing my shoulder.

“What the hell is happening?” She followed my line of sight to the stage and then whipped back to me in confusion. “Why...What…” She stumbled over her question, trying to figure out what she should ask before it finally dawned on her. “You were the biggest Black Rose until six months ago...when your pen pal stopped talking to you.” She stared back at the stage in mystified awe. “Your pen pal was…”

“This is more than pen pals,” Wheein said quietly, well as quietly as she could in the loud bar. “You don’t react like this just cause a stranger stops answering. You act like this when…”

“You dated someone in The Rose?” Moonbyul finally hit the nail on the head and shot me an inspired look.

“And that asshole dumped her,” Wheein added with snark, and that morphed Moonbyul's face from impressed to thoroughly pissed.

“Well!” She barked, turning to face the stage. “Let’s just see which asshole it was!”

My heart skipped a beat as she started throwing elbows to make her way up front. The last thing I wanted was for Hajoon to know that I was here, drawn in by the name of The Rose. So even though it made my stomach do front flips, I jumped to my feet and chased after my overzealous friend.

“Wait! Byul!” The path she opened up for herself was closing behind her as I tried to follow, and I wasn’t nearly as outgoing or berserk as she was. The only thing I had going for me was my frantic need to get her and hide before anyone noticed the scene we were making.

But I wasn’t fast enough. Moonbyul broke through the front row of fangirls and wasted no time in throwing an accusatory finger at frontman Sammy, yelling,

“Are you the asshole?!”

Sammy froze under Moonbyul's scrutiny, and my friend was too hyped to notice. The girls on either side of her looked like they were unsheathing their claws to tear her apart the longer she seethed, but I was only able to get to her by the time she started yelling again.

 

"You are a little mother--"

 

"Stop, Byul, stop!" I came up frantically behind her and grabbed the arm she looked like she was about to climb up on the stage with. There was a visual jolt that shook the boys on stage at the sight of me, but I refused to let my eyes wander any farther than the mic stand in front of Sammy. "I'm sorry, she's drunk." I lied, ignoring the impulse to look up, plastering a fake smile on my face to hide the fact that I was internally screaming. "She pregamed a little too hard for this." Hoping that would placate the army of Black Roses that were about to descend, I yanked hard on Moonbyul's arm to drag her back to our table. She protested, but she must have seen my shell-shocked expression (or recognized the tense response from the members) because she allowed me to pull her back without much resistance. Unfortunately, we didn't make it very far before the concern she felt for me was overshadowed by the fury she felt for my ex.

 

"Have a good show, fuckers." She snarled and then held up both of her middle fingers. That earned some squawks of protest from the fans and Moonbyul was quick to turn and pull me along instead. I gawked at how she'd just treated boys I'd known my whole life, but couldn't decide if I was delighted or offended by it. I mean, it certainly wasn't Sammy's fault Hajoon and I didn't work out. If we were being petty about it maybe, but I'd come to terms with reality (yes, I did, I swear, I don't care what it looks like).

I was so confused by my conflicting feelings that I didn't catch someone yelling my name from behind us, but we could just chalk that up to angry fans cursing our existence.

Moonbyul caught Wheein in her other hand as we passed the table and then we were out in the street before anyone could stop us.

 

"Did you just flip off The Rose?" Wheein cried, and even though I still felt like I was going to throw up, she was giggling like it was the best thing she'd ever seen.

 

"What a fucking turn of events this is!" Moonbyul cackled, holding her middle and laughing along with Wheein. I wanted to scold them and laugh with them all at the same time, but I couldn't decide which to do first, so I just settled on scoffing.

"Come on, let's actually get drunk." Moonbyul threw an arm over my shoulder and pulled us towards another bar down the street.

 

"And tell us everything!" Wheein chirped as she skipped along behind, all too happily humming to the song that was now filtering out of the bar we'd just ran out of.

I quietly wished The Rose luck in my heart on their show. Never in my wildest dreams would I wish ill on them or their music, no matter what Hajoon and I had gone through. I even bought their most recent album, although it hadn't made it out of the plastic yet. But Moonbyul's plan of getting drunk was looking really good right about now. The last thing I wanted to be was coherent enough to imagine what Hajoon looked like when he saw me again. So I let my friends lead me to the next nearest bar and shove something that burned down my throat.

And then I told them everything.

 

🌹🌹🌹

 

The sun burned bright the next morning and I woke up lighter than I'd felt in months. If I had known breaking down over a whole bottle of Gin and sobbing in Moonbyul's arms on a dirty bar would be the cure for my heartbreak, I would have done it eons ago. But as it was, I was just content to spend the day doing what I loved: looking at angles.

 

"You're doing it again." Moonbyul's voice echoed around the room, bouncing off the slants and edges of the walls and windows. We'd settled into the old lacquered wood of the ballroom in Le Château des Rêves at a sunny 9 am, and I instantly found myself drawn to the shuttered windows that faced the sea. The salty brine wafted in through the broken stained glass, a depressed vision of purple, green, yellow and red dreams that had shattered long ago. I'd read somewhere that they used to depict the triumph of the French over the people of Ganghwa island, and I kind of understand why someone probably took a rock to it. Not that I could condone it, but I got it.

 

"Doing what?" I asked as I ran the tips of my fingers up the faded acrylic of the shades.

“That thing you do where windows give you a hard-on.” We could all hear the smirk in Moonbyul's voice while she scribbled in her journal, standing impassively in front of a large tome encased in glass on the opposite wall. The Castle was technically a museum after all, hence the entry fee, and Moonbyul's real call to glory was the literature--the lore--of it; her words, not mine. Wheein giggled from the doors to the drawing room, knowing exactly what Moonbyul was talking about.

"They do not!" I cried although it was a moot point as I still caressed the sill with delicate hands.

 

"They definitely do." Another voice challenged, causing all the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. The careful touch I'd used on the aging sill was gone and instead, my hand slipped and gripped the glass, not caring if I was in danger of cutting myself.

"So this must be the asshole..." I heard Moonbyul mutter, but I couldn't bring myself to look back to confirm. There were footsteps, hesitant at first, but eventually bringing someone into the middle of the room.

“She’s never been able to help herself when it comes to stain glass.”

 

One would think that I wouldn't be so affected by his voice. It was a constant in my world; on the radio, on tv, on my Spotify. He was everywhere even when he was nowhere near me, so hearing him, feeling his presence shouldn't have sent shivers up and down my arms like we were still together. It shouldn't have called me to turn around to face him after months of hiding away from everything associated with how in love we'd once been.

How in love I still was.

He was dressed more casual than usual, only ripped skinny jeans, converse, and a blue cardigan over a striped tee. His hands were shoved in his pockets and his face was the picture of cool. If I was anyone else, I would have thought him smug, like he really was here to gloat. But I knew him too well, saw through his idol mask. He hid his hands because if they weren't doing something (twirling drumsticks usually) they would tremble, and the small smile on his lips was a total farce. To me, it was more of a grimace and it confirmed the idea that he was definitely not here to win.

“Hajoon?" I mumbled, forcing my mouth to say his name when I'd all but banished it from my vocabulary, "What are you doing here?”

 

He shuffled from foot to foot like he was uncomfortable, and the sight brought me a small sense of satisfaction. At least he knew this was uncalled for, that I wasn't going to make this easy. “I bought the tickets…” He shrugged, and my eyebrows shot up at his meaning. Had he expected me to wait, or to just not ever go?

“You gave them to me--” I started to argue before he could backtrack, still clinging to the broken glass, numb to the sting I felt on my palm.

“Whoa whoa, I’m not here to take them back or anything.” He held up his hands in surrender, making me look at his rings, those damn rings again. Why would he still wear the ring I got him?

“Then what do you want?” I forced myself to look away, to turn back to the colored glass that usually calmed my heart, but now...now it was making me bleed. I quickly pulled my hand away and cradled it to my chest.

This was a mess. Why couldn't he have just stayed away? This one day, this one time? Why couldn't I escape him?

“I thought we could talk.” He took a step towards me and I openly flinched.

“We have nothing to say to each other.” It wasn't lost on me that Moonbyul and Wheein were still in the room, frozen in place and holding their breath. Moonbyul was probably living for this, she dove head first into drama, but I really wasn't feeling like drowning my sorrows in another bottle of alcohol tonight.

“Y/N--” Hajoon tried to speak, to call me back to him, but I furiously shook my head like a child.

“Look, I’m here with my friends, and I’d really like to enjoy this. It’s the only thing I’ve looked forward to in…” My voice dropped out, not daring to let him know how hard it had been, how hard it still was. This was the only thing I've looked forward to in months because it was going to be the last thing he ever did for me. “If you wanted to talk you could have just called me...like any normal person .” That’s right, I thought bitterly. Hajoon wasn’t a normal person anymore, he was an idol. He probably lost my number three designer phones ago. How cliche.

 

“I’m sorry.” He said and the air in the room went cold. What was he even apologizing for? For interrupting my vacation, for still wearing the ring, for breaking my heart, for leaving me behind, for yelling--

“I don’t want to hear your apology.” I snapped and the words came out as sharp as the glass I'd just cut my hand on.

“Then don’t listen...but I have to say it.” He paused and I heard him take a big breath. “I wrote a song for you.” My head perked up at that because the notion seemed ridiculous to me. Hajoon wasn’t a writer, he was a rhythm man, a composer. I’d stayed up watching him compose cadences on bar graphs all night long, not a word in sight. If the world were up to Hajoon, all music would be baseline.

“You? Wrote a song?” I didn't really mean for it to come out so snobbishly, but the bite was there and I heard him scoff.

“I mean...Jaehyeong helped me with the melody, and you know Sammy walks around with a million verses on his phone...” He trailed off, and despite the fact that I was mad, and we had an audience, and my hand was bleeding...I really needed to know what he was going to say.

“So?”

“So...we were going to debut it last night but you left before you could hear it.” Just thinking of last night made me nauseous and I gritted my teeth.

“Heaven forbid I mess up your set list.” Petty, we were being petty today! But I didn't care. The sting in my palm was keeping me grounded, and I managed to find enough courage to turn back around and face him for what he was: my ex.

"That’s not what I meant. The song is for you.” He rubbed the back of his head and a blush bloomed across his face. “I wanted you to be the first one to hear it." I wanted to smack him. How dare he blush? How dare he be cute? While I'm over here stroking windows and sobbing in bars.

"Why? What would it matter? We don't mean anything to each other anymore." I'm sure the words hurt me more to say than they did him to hear, but it didn't matter. I needed them to be at least a little true, from his side if anything. Because I was lying through my teeth.

 

"I know I don't deserve anything from you after...after what happened, but I needed you to at least know that I..." He dragged his hand through his hair, a gesture I knew meant he was in serious conflict, "I regret it, all of it.” The words knocked the air right out of me and I physically slumped against the windowpane. He took a step forward and then another, but then stopped, understanding that it may be too soon, and not enough. “I regret not telling anyone about you, and lying, and leaving, and...telling you that you were too needy and too much trouble. I regret that the most because it was a lie." His arms were outstretched, and despite everything, all I wanted to do was run into them.

“Hajoon--” Was all I could manage before he cut me off and continued to drown me in more things that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear.

“No, really. After you left, the relief I thought I’d get actually felt a punch in the gut.” A little tinge of smugness lit up in my brain but I drop kicked it to the back of my mind. “My manager was so happy though. He told me to suck it up, that sacrifices were apart of being an idol. I managed the first few weeks until the bed didn’t smell like you anymore, and then...I thought about calling you so many times, but I was afraid you wouldn’t answer. That you’d never want to speak to me again after what I said, and that I deserved it if you didn’t.” His hands dropped along with my stomach, and I could see clearly on his face that he was uncomfortable admitting it, but it was all the truth. He’d suffered because of his choices, lived with his consequences.

“But I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t just let you go.” A fire lit in his eyes that I hadn’t seen since the beginnings of the Rose, and despite the situation, I was so happy to see it again. “Then I remembered the tickets, and I knew you would still go. So I threw myself into this song because I knew I had to play it for you, that it would be my only chance to tell you that I’m so so sorry.” He trailed off apologizing and I couldn’t do anything but stare. Hajoon had always been a little closed off, a little more reserved than the rest of us, but that was a huge part of the reason I loved him. It was hypocritical of me, but I loved that when we were alone, I got to see a side of him no one else did. It was deluding because the whole reason we broke up was because I was tired of being a secret, and he wasn’t quite brave enough to step with me into the spotlight.

Six long months of thinking, and I knew there were plenty of faults in my logic. I mean his too, don’t get me wrong. But maybe if we had communicated more, been more sincere, been more honest about how his fame was affecting us...maybe we wouldn’t have split.

 

My eyes trailed over him, from his scuffed up converse to his face, and I saw in him what I knew I felt in myself: exhaustion. We were tired, the kind of tired that only comes from denying yourself what you know you need.

“I did exactly what I said I’d never do, and I don’t even know when it started when I put the money and the fame above us. But I figured it out after you left. The money and fame meant nothing if I had no one to play for; you were the only one I ever played for.” Before I could respond in any way he turned and gestured towards the door leading towards the parlor. There was a cough, a fumble, and a crank before stagehands were wheeling in a drum set, Sammy and Jaehyeong toting their guitars, and Dojoon carrying in his keyboard and stand. My mouth must have fallen open because the boys grinned at me like they used to as they set up.  

“You don’t have to take me back, but I do have to make amends. So please, let me play this song for you and then if you want, you never have to see me again.”

My mouth refused to work, but I watched desperately as he stepped quickly onto his makeshift stage and pulled out a pair of sticks.

The stagehands were quick, setting everything up with a small soundboard and power source. My friends joined me by the window, Moonbyul quietly taking my hand to make sure I hadn’t done any actual damage to myself.

 

“He seemed sincere,” Wheein said quietly, and I bit the inside of my cheek.

“I suppose he’s less of an asshole now.” Moonbyul shrugged.

 

Sammy caught my eye and smile as he stepped up to his mic.

“This one’s for you, Y/N…”

And he started to sing,

‘Sorry’.

Chapter Text

She wasn’t supposed to leave him.
She had promised that she could stick out his crazy, busy, idol life. She had told Soonyoung that she loved him enough to make it work, despite him always being gone. He had believed her, and, well, that was his fault.
What wasn’t his fault, and what he hadn’t expected, was coming home to surprise her and finding her half-clothed on her couch with another man. His copy of her house key had hit the floor with a clatter, but he didn’t remember hearing anything other than his own gasp. The flowers he had brought followed the key to the floor.
She had tried apologizing. She had tried to stop him from leaving. Soonyoung hadn’t heard any of it. His own thoughts of his stupidity and disbelief drowned everything else out as he walked away from the house he would never return to.
He knew his favorite hoodie was in there that he would probably now never get back. She had begged him to let her keep it while he was touring because she had wanted the reminder of him. Apparently, that “reminder” hadn’t been enough.
She had thrown her jeans back on to sprint out after him. She stopped in front of him and begged him to stay and talk to her.
“For what?” Soonyoung’s words were laced with anger and hurt.
“For everything that we had before! Don’t just give up on us because I made a mistake.”
“This is beyond a ‘mistake!’” His voice was growing louder. He didn’t want to cause a scene in front of any neighbors, but she wouldn’t let him leave.
“You’re the one always gone! I got lonely! I thought this would be easier but you don’t even call some days and what am I supposed to do? Just sit around and hope to hear from you?” She ran her fingers through her hair and let a frustrated groan escape her lips.
“I’m sorry…” Soonyoung started to say before stopping himself. “Actually - I’m not.”
His retraction of his apology caught her off guard.
“You cheated on me and I’m out here apologizing.” He couldn’t help but laugh. “This- us- it’s done.” Ignoring the rest of her protests, Soonyoung walked toward his car and never looked back.
The next few weeks were hard. His performances lacked their normal luster, and even a variety show host had asked him where his “usual charisma” had gone. The rest of the guys rarely saw him otherwise, and when they did, interactions were brief. Jihoon had tried to get him to write songs about it. Mingyu and Wonwoo had offered to take him out for food and drinks a few times to distract him. No matter what efforts were made, Soonyoung did his best to keep to himself.
One day, he had grown tired of sitting around the dorm. He grabbed his jacket and decided to walk to the coffee shop up the street. The weather was slightly brisk, but nice enough that the sunshine on his cheeks was welcomed.
That was the day you walked into his life.
And quite literally, at that. You had been so focused on rushing out of the door to get to work that, you hadn’t looked before turning too fast. You dropped your americano as Soonyoung caught you and rebalanced you.
“I am so, so sorry!” You gasped as you tried to compose yourself. “Nothing spilled on you, did it?”
Soonyoung smiled. “Rather the coffee hit the ground than you. It’s fine. Let me buy you a new one.”
You shook your head. “No! No. It was my fault. I can see I some got on your jeans. Let me buy yours to make it up to you.”
He ended up paying for yours. He introduced himself and you gave him your name, shaking his hand. You hated to have to rush off to work, especially after watching the way his smile pulled up his cheeks and his eyes squinted when he laughed.
“Would you like to have dinner tonight?” You knew that it was forward, but your confidence had told you to ask him in that exact moment. You were glad you listened to it when he responded with “yes!”
That afternoon, Soonyoung made his way back to the dorms with a new glide in his step. He smiled to himself as he realized that a fresh new start was coming, and he was glad that start started with spilled coffee.

Chapter Text

Yoongi's singular goal for that night was to eat so much tteokbokki that it came out of his ears and then get back to the studio. The only reason he'd even left was because Seokjin demanded a family meal; no one says 'no' to Jin's dinners.

 

Yoongi grumbled as he entered and tossed his bag on the couch, easily accessible for when he'd grab it again. Suran had gone home hours ago, so he could take this time to change into something more comfortable and less...impressive. Producing in leather pants was the literal worst, but Bang PD told him to at least put some effort into his appearance.

 

Taehyung and Jungkook had already twittered off to play Overwatch, Hoseok called first dibs on the shower, and Jin was doing the dishes in the kitchen. It was just Namjoon, Jimin, and Yoongi left at the table picking over the scraps. Dinner was barely over when it happened.

 

Namjoon's girlfriend/not girlfriend/fuck buddy had a habit of calling at the most inopportune times, and even when Joon didn't answer, Xuxu still somehow managed to butt her way into the conversation regardless. This time it was the TV that betrayed them. Usually, it was Joon’s phone, or on occasion his laptop. One time it was even a billboard. She had a hacker friend somewhere, they were sure of it. No way an archeologist like her could hack their camera, and yet...

 

Namjoon's phone rang and he glanced at the screen before ignoring the call. It wasn't like they weren't speaking to each other, it was just that Namjoon had higher priorities than getting laid at the moment. But that could change depending on his mood...or access to the internet. However, Xuxu was persistent and she called again.

 

"You know she's going to keep calling until you answer." Jin shook his head disdainfully from the sink. He at least had the sense to stay away from girls, or that's what he liked to preach anyway.

 

"I'll call her later, I'm busy," Namjoon grumbled and shoved a rice cake in his mouth. But no sooner had he dismissed her, did Xuxu force her way in. The large flat screen TV behind them in the living room came to life on its own, and the 'Skype' icon blinked lazily at them before connecting the call. The three turned in surprise to a close up of Xuxu's face as she angrily stared at the living room in front of her, like some sort of goddess staring at her tiny humans...or a child about to crush an ant hill.

It was times like these when Namjoon regrets meeting her, to begin with; regrets crowding her into that museum bathroom months ago and fucking her senseless. Although not necessarily every time since then, he doesn’t regret those--

The first words out of her mouth were,

 

"We are not dating, Namjoon!" It was shrill over the speakers, blurred a little by faint music in the background, and he could tell she was worked up over something or other. Xuxu was always such a big ball of drama.

 

"I am well aware of that." He responded dully, not entirely sure there was a mic anywhere that would allow her to hear him, and not really looking forward to whatever lecture he was about to receive.

 

"If you are well aware, then why are you dumping your shit on me? Do I look like a fucking shrink to you?" Namjoon wanted to slam his face on the table, wanted to just leave the room, but he knew there was no getting rid of her. She'd just find another way to get to him. God forbid Xuxu ever become a saesang, or heaven help them, they'd never get an ounce of rest. With a very typical sigh and ignoring the snort from Yoongi, Namjoon responded with,

 

"I don't know what you're talking about."

 

"Just because we fuck on occasion does not mean I want to clean up your messes!" She snapped and he gritted his teeth. She was two hours away in Busan. He could just hang up the call, unplug all electricity, go live in a Ger in the middle of a barren field. That would give him at least two hours of rest before she'd find him again.

 

"What mess?" He growled back, annoyed beyond belief. It was tacky of her to go spouting off the way she did when it was just the two of them, but the others weren't so used to her foul mouth. "What are you even talking about?"

 

"This mess!" Suddenly Xuxu's face pulled back and they got a better view of the scene behind her. She was on the dock owned by the university, the one she'd taken him to when he kissed her for the first time. Rope lights were strung up overhead, crisscrossed from the bows of the yachts lined on either side of the planks. They cast a warm glow on the dozen or so folding chairs with scattered occupants, the small table holding up the boombox and box wine. Other people Xuxu worked and studied with milled about, sporting red solo cups, lounging or dancing along to the music. But right front and center was a familiar shock of platinum blond hair that had the boys freezing.

E. It was E.

 

As pants, she was wearing the bottom half of a diving suit folded down over her waist, while on top she wore nothing but a bikini and a body chain that was most definitely not hers. E’s hair was tousled by the slight sea breeze and she took a deep sip from a cup of something. She was moving to the beat, the unsteady sway of her hips giving away just how drunk she could be, and then she was laughing at something off camera and her state was obvious.

 

"Oh, shit..." Jimin was the first to speak, breathing through the initial surprise.

 

"What the hell?" Namjoon demanded next, once Xuxu pulled the phone back to her face.

 

"That's what I want to know!" She countered, the little line between her eyes deepening with each passing minute. "She's been here since this morning. Just showed up out of the blue."

 

"Why?" Jimin asked, despite it not really being his place to butt in, but Namjoon didn't care. This really was a mess, Xuxu had been right about that at least.

 

"That's a great question little Chim Chim," She forced her voice to sound saccharine but it only came off as patronizing, making Namjoon grit his teeth, "why don't we ask her?" Xuxu turned away from the camera and yelled for E, using her full name like they were old friends. Hell, just a month ago the girls couldn't stand each other. Why was E suddenly running off to Busan without telling anyone? Namjoon halted his thoughts and spun to Yoongi, who looked like he was still frozen, tteokbokki still poised between his chopsticks.

 

"Did you know about this?" Namjoon wanted to make sure he wasn't opening up a can of worms or something. Maybe if Yoongi sent her there, they could shut this whole thing down now.

 

But Yoongi didn't move. He was completely petrified, anyone could see that, and Namjoon knew that he'd had no idea his girlfriend had up and left...again. E had a terrible habit of running away when things got sticky. It had happened before, and they all knew it was bound to happen again. "Well, fuck..."

 

"Elizabeth! Elizabeth...E, come say hi." The nurse turned at the sound of her name, but too sharply and they all watched as she stumbled back into the arms of the guy beside her.

 

"Whoopsie! Sorry!" She chimed in English, obviously too drunk to switch to Korean. But the guy gripped her waist tightly, a little too tightly for anyone's pleasure before releasing her again with a smirk.

 

"No worries." He grinned and then watched as she stumbled over to where Xuxu was beckoning. She stumbled to her knees right in front of Xuxu and the screen lowered to accommodate. Before anyone could say anything, E gasped as cutely as possible, spilling her clear drink over her hand.

 

"Oh! Look at the tiny box! My babies!" She cooed and Namjoon heard Xuxu audibly groan.

 

"Yes, now tell the tiny box why you came all the way out here to see me." Xuxu coached from off-screen. E's eyes were big and round as they gaped at her, and for a second she looked like she knew what was going on before her face pinched into a pout.

 

"But I already told you Xumie! I don't wanna--"

 

"First of all, that nickname still makes no sense, that is not how Mandarin works. Secondly, tell the tiny babies what you told me." Xuxu was probably rolling her eyes so hard, the boys could see them all the way from Seoul, but she put an end to whatever tantrum E was about to throw herself into. After a moment more of pouting, E crawled up closer to the screen. The TV was filled with her shoulders to the top of her head, the lights behind her hair making her look like she had a halo.

 

"Because I'm a coward." She said it with such a straight face that the boys were almost tempted to laugh, but it hit too close to home to be a joke. None of them ever joked about what happened that day.

 

It was the night of the Grammy’s, the highlight of BTS’ international career, the night E got the call that her services to BigHit were no longer needed. The dressing room had been as cold and quiet as a tomb after watching E jump to her feet and storm out, Tenshin following behind her, and then Yoongi a few moments later. Only two of them came back, and then Yoongi was the only one to regret every single word he’d said.

 

"Elizabeth," Xuxu chided quietly, "you're not a--"

 

"And because he hasn't looked at me in weeks." The admission seems to sober her up and she casts her eyes down towards her lap.

 

"Who?" Xuxu asked, making E scowl.

 

"You know who."

 

"What do you mean he hasn't looked at you?" She prodded. E reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear shyly, a slight tremor in her fingers.

 

"He looks at her. She sings, and he looks at her and she is so, so pretty." Her voice is small and feeble, and before anyone can respond to that particular accusation, the phone is whipped around and Xuxu's angry face is full front.

 

"What the hell? Min Yoongi, the fuck you--"

 

In his head, Yoongi was protesting immediately. He’d never done anything with any female artists. They were just coworkers, friends, and he never found any of them worth the commitment. Not to say they weren’t nice and pretty, but he had an aversion to the type of ambition it took to be in this line of work. This wasn’t the first song he’d produced with a feature, but it was the first song where he had a girlfriend and he spent all day with a different girl.

 

"He doesn't touch her.” E cut Xuxu off. “She just sings to him...and he sings to her. They sing and they are so pretty." The video pans back over to E, and all the contradictions at the tip of Yoongi’s tongue die there. He should say something, really! But he finds himself unable to do a thing, the jolt too much for him to process without a finger of scotch, and forty-eight hours alone with his soundboard.

 

"Do you mean Suran?" Xuxu asks carefully, clearly grasping what's going on now. E's face is still turned down, but there's a small nod for confirmation. "E," Xuxu's voice is gentle, much more so than any of them had ever heard before, "I know you know how they get when they're producing. Joonie is the same way. They don't see the light of day for weeks. Just because she's with him doesn't mean--"

 

"I don't belong here." E looked up then, and her eyes are wide and glassy. She could be crying, but the backlighting from the stars only makes her look more angelic.

 

"What--"

 

"I don't belong here but I stayed because...because he said he wanted me. He doesn't need me but he said he wanted me. That's why I stayed. But what if...what if he doesn't want me anymore either? What do I do then?" All eyes in the dorm turned to Yoongi, but the only difference from the first time was that the tteokbokki had slipped from his grasp and he was holding nothing, staring at the screen with his mouth hanging open. He was in a complete state of shock, looking a bit like he was having a stroke by how his face was drooping.

 

"Keep going," Xuxu instructed instead of trying to correct her. She probably knew that no matter what she said, drunk logic was never going to accept facts. "Why are you in Busan?"

 

"He...he called me a coward for running, and I tried so hard to prove him wrong but...I just couldn't...I had to get away, but I didn't..." Big fat unmistakable tears rolled down her cheeks, and it was the sight of them that jolted Yoongi into action finally. He stood up so fast, the back of his knees knocked his chair clean over, chopsticks still in hand. Where could he go? What could he do? She was so far away from him now. How was he supposed to fix this?

 

"You ran only as far as you thought you could." Xuxu translated.

 

"I didn't know what else to do.” It all came out in a rush, “I just don't want him to see..." E slowly shrank into herself, hugging her arms, the frame only able to capture the top of her head. Xuxu carefully scooted the camera back to take in more of her broken form and quietly continued.

 

"What don't you want him to see?"

 

"How scared I am." E looked up, straight at the screen, and Yoongi felt like her eyes were boring into his chest. "I don't think I could take it if he didn't want me anymore." There were many days and nights that Yoongi regretted saying those things to her, out on the loading dock in New York City. Such stupid idiotic things. Lies like she was a coward for running away from them, for not fighting for them, for him, for not trusting him enough to even look him in the eyes before leaving. It had been in a fit of rage, of desperation. He wanted so badly for her to stay that he'd shoved her off. It was a specialty of his to self-destruct just when he achieved everything he wanted. Maybe if he’d just let Tenshin handle it like he’d been trying to, there wouldn’t be this stormcloud of a memory looming over their heads, just waiting to rain on any progress they make. But as it was, E was fixated on his biggest mistake, and how would they ever move forward like that?

 

"That's okay, baby," Suddenly the guy from before, the one E had tripped into sank into the frame, snuggling her between his legs, completely ignoring her tears. "I want you." E's head lulled to the side like she was trying to find who'd spoken. When she managed to look up at him, his smirk akin to a ravenous animal, she quickly started to shake her head.

 

"Wrong color."

 

"Aww darlin', that's racist." He laughed even as she started to push against him. A growl erupted from Yoongi's chest as he pitched forward and slammed both fists on the table,

 

"Don't you fucking touch her!" A chopstick broke in half, and belatedly, someone registered Seokjin’s angry huff.

 

"You idiot." Xuxu chided, although no one knew who she was directing it to. Suddenly, she dropped the phone and it clattered to the ground, cutting off their view.

 

"She's got a boyfriend!" could be heard off camera.

 

"Not anymore it sounds like," The guy chuckled. There was a scuffle before E nearly yelled,

 

"You're the wrong color!"

 

"What the hell?! You're fucking crazy!" The guy barked, and then for a few short seconds the only thing they could hear was the steady beats of the music, the only thing they could see was the black sky, dotted by stars reserved for the people who got to live by the ocean, and Yoongi could do nothing but stare at the screen, wondering what the hell was happening, how it had gotten to this point.

E had said he hadn't looked at her in weeks, but how was that possible? He'd seen her just...just a few days ago? Was that right? He'd skipped the past few Tuesdays at SM, didn't make it to more than one family dinner, hadn't planned a date for them in a while. How was that possible?

 

Then Xuxu grabbed the phone again. Her face was red with anger and she was carrying E under her arm like a ragdoll.

 

"You men are fucking savages!" She seethed as she stormed her way further down the dock, away from the party.

 

"Hsia-ssi," Jin spoke up from the kitchen door, a drying towel between his hands, "you need to put her on the next train back."

 

"Do not tell me what to do, pretty face--"

 

"Xuxu." Namjoon cut her off, his voice like steel. He was pissed, but worse yet, he was scared. This was out of his control, and there was nothing he hated more than feeling powerless. "Just get her on the train." He could see Xuxu's jaw clench, but she didn't snap back. Instead, she just said,

 

"Fine, but she's not gonna make it on her own. You're treating me to Jihwaja’s for this, you hear me?"

 

"I'll buy you the whole damn restaurant, okay? Just get her here." Xuxu let out a huff as confirmation before ending the call, throwing the dorm into an awkward silence. Nobody really wanted to look at Yoongi, but they couldn't help it.

 

"Is it true, hyung?" Jimin asked quietly. He was good at making his question not sound like accusations but Yoongi still shuddered under the weight of it.

 

"I...don't know. I've been so caught up..." He slurred, dragging one hand through his tangled mint colored hair.

 

"When was the last time you called her? Look at your phone." Jimin advised, and when Yoongi didn't move, he took it upon himself. He fished Yoongi's phone out of his pocket and swiped through his security features. They all knew each other's passwords, and it wasn't hard to guess what Yoongi's was anyway: 724148. Searching through his call history, the frown on Jimin's face only deepened.

 

"You haven't talked to each other on the phone in almost two weeks." The words were like a blow to Yoongi and he sank down to the floor since his chair was already toppled over. Jimin kept searching for some redemption, but what he found in the chat was even worse. "And you haven't been responding to her texts." There was at least one a day from E for the past two weeks, small tokens of affection at first, but eventually, it was strictly medical: Yoongi’s blood sugar at certain times, reminding him to eat and take his meds. She'd tapered off from girlfriend to nurse the longer he didn't respond and Jimin clearly understood why she'd turned to alcohol. It wasn't in E's nature to make a fuss, and she most likely assumed it was her fault anyway, that's just how she worked.

 

"Yoongi..." Jin pursed his lips together, but the second oldest only dragged his hand through his fringe again.

 

"I didn't mean to!"

 

"We know, hyung." Namjoon soothed from his chair. They knew better than to antagonize an emotional Suga, "And E knows that too. She's just drunk and upset."

 

"Now that I think about it...this is the first time I've ever seen E drink," Jin commented offhandedly, hoping to shift the conversation enough to give Yoongi time to recover.

 

"That's because E doesn't drink." Jimin gritted his teeth, and the others looked at him with interest. He didn't want to betray something E had told him in confidence but now seemed like an appropriate time to do what was best for her instead of what she wanted. "She's 3 years sober."

 

"Are you saying she was an alcoholic or something?" Jin squinted, trying to make out if the younger was lying or not. The implications of that hit Yoongi square in the face. E had never said anything like that to him, but what Jin said was true: none of them had ever seen E drink before, not even when the rest of them were drinking.

 

"Look she didn't want anyone to know, but I think you should understand the significance of this. If E went and got smashed than whatever is happening is serious. Like really fucking serious." Jimin stressed.

 

"Why didn't she tell me?" Yoongi asked quietly, and the other three looked to him apprehensively.

 

"She didn't want you to know because she knew you'd give up your drinks for her, and she didn't want to feel guilty about it," Jimin told him quickly, wanting to soften the blow as best he could. "Everyone knows how much you like your whiskey."

 

"Why did she tell you ?" Yoongi asked a bit harsher, but Jimin took it in stride.

 

"It's not like she just handed it to me, hyung. She's still ashamed of it. The only reason I know is because I guessed."

 

"So now this is an even bigger mess." Namjoon pressed his fingers into his eye sockets, trying to keep a coming headache at bay.

 

"No, no, there's no mess." Jin waved away, but Namjoon snapped his eyes up to him.

 

"What do you mean, 'no mess' ?"

 

"Nothing happened, Namjoon-ah," Jin chided with obvious disapproval. "Nothing that's connected to her, or to us. All she did was go visit a friend and have some fun. She didn't do anything wrong in the eyes of the public, didn't tell anyone anything she shouldn't have. And she's coming home now with Xuxu. There's no mess for you to clean up, so wipe that frown off your face. And you," He turned to Yoongi who was still sitting on the floor, "You have exactly two hours to finish Suran's song completely. I don't even want to hear you thinking about it after tonight."

 

"But, hyung--" Jimin tried to speak up but was silenced with one of Jin's signature stares.

 

"You help him." He ordered. "And when he's done, take him to the train station to pick up E. She's going to need lots of water and electrolytes. Grab some Pocari Sweat on the way, she likes it." And then like he hadn't uttered a freaking battle plan, Jin waltzed back into the kitchen to finish the dishes.

 

The three left sat in silence for a moment before Namjoon huffed, something close to a laugh but not quite there.

 

"He's right. I overreacted."

 

"It’s not your fault, hyung." Jimin offered him a small smile. With a sigh, Namjoon stood and went to his room without a goodbye, leaving Jimin to pick up the pieces of Yoongi off the dining room floor.

 

🌙🌙🌙

 

Yoongi, Jimin, and Tenshin stood on the platform, twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the train to arrive. It was past midnight, and they were hovering just far enough away from the line to be discreet but trying to remain within eyesight in case the girls needed help. Tenshin was annoyed that E had run off without letting him know, but it wasn’t like it wasn’t the first time.

Yoongi, on the other hand, was in a state of perpetual nervous panic. The train was of course on time, but it felt like it was taking forever. It'd only been two hours since he'd seen his girlfriend over Skype but the realization that he actually hadn't seen her in over a week made him nauseous. How was he supposed to come back from this? How had it even happened in the first place?

 

The train pulled into the station at a languid pace, the boys moving towards the front to wait. The cars were near empty, only a few tired souls stumbling out to even fewer travelers waiting.

 

Quite abruptly, one of the cars towards the back slid open and E flew out like a bat out of hell.

 

"You called him?!" She all but screamed in English, a flustered Xuxu on her heels.

 

"Of course I--"

 

Yoongi took a step towards them, heart beating faster than before. He wanted to be as close to E as possible, erase those tear stains he’d seen in HD, but before he could throw himself at her, a small hand grabbed his and pulled him back.

 

“Jimin--” Yoongi all but growled, but his dongsaeng met his glare evenly.

 

“Let Xuxu handle this. If E didn’t confront you before, she sure as hell isn’t gonna do it now.” Yoongi wanted to slap him, and really the impulse almost took over him, but Jimin was right. He was right a lot more than he let on most of the time. So Yoongi stayed. Because he trusted Jimin, and because Tenshin clamped a hand on his shoulder in agreement.

Yoongi wasn’t going anywhere.

 

"Why would you call him? I told you not to worry about it!" E spun on Xuxu, her jacket flying around in her hand like a ribbon. She wasn't wearing that diving suit anymore, just capris and a tank top, and Yoongi ignored the part of him that was a little relieved.

 

"Because you're jealous, E! There's nothing wrong with it!" Xuxu sounded exasperated, but E wasn't hearing it. She nearly threw her jacket at Xuxu's face before spinning around and storming towards the exit. They didn't notice the boys or anyone else who was staring.

 

"He did nothing wrong! Absolutely nothing and I was dealing with it!" E barked.

 

"Yeah, by getting shit faced."

 

"It doesn't matter!" She snapped and stopped again, resigned to duke it out then and there, "Now I have to go back and explain to him that it was nothing."

 

"This is not nothing." Xuxu gruffed nonchalantly like it hardly affected her.

 

"Yes, it is--" E tried to say but Xuxu cut her off, already having short fuse, to begin with. So it affected her a little bit, sue her.

 

"Elizabeth." Xuxu used her full name like it was supposed to jar E from her anger but it didn't.

 

"No," E snarled, too deep in her own head to listen, "you are not going to bully me into--"

 

"Shut the FUCK up!" Xuxu screamed and the whole platform froze. Not that there were many, but all eyes were on the two girls.

"Now," Xuxu started only when she felt everyone was looking at her. "I refuse to belittle the progress you've made. You stopped yourself from running and I'm proud of you for that." She gestured sharply for emphasis and overlooked E's flinch.

 

"But at some point, qian jian , you have to stop running and stand your ground. All this bullshit about wanting and needing, what about what you want? Huh? What about what you need? Why is he the only one that gets taken into consideration?" Xuxu hadn't been there when this all started, and she was still obviously trying to play catch up. That tends to be hard when no one talks about what happened like it was another damned Chinese Great Leap Forward, but E had said enough. There'd been an ultimatum, and the choice she made had been drastic.

 

"You think you don't belong here, well what about me? I'm a poor kid from China who just so happens to bang a superstar on the weekends, why do I belong here? What about Hasa? She's a fucking mess of a Marine, why does she get to stay? Who the hell drilled it into your brain that you are not good enough just because you're you?" Xuxu was working herself up, she knew, but she really wanted E to come out of this bullshit fog she was intent on drowning herself in.

 

"But, Yoongi--" E tried but Xuxu grabbed her arms to stop her because this kind of thinking was so unhealthy it wasn't funny.

 

"Fuck Yoongi, and fuck BTS," She hissed. "You are allowed to exist exactly as you are without anyone else's approval. If you want Yoongi, then go kick his ass for ignoring you. If you want to stay in Seoul, then stay! If you want to prove him wrong, then prove him wrong!"

 

"But he wasn't wrong."

 

"Jesus Christ…” Xuxu dropped her hands from E’s shoulders only to cover her face in exhaustion. “Why won't you cut yourself some slack?"

 

"Because—“ E opened her mouth to speak, but there was a definitive droop to her posture, a curling-in that Xuxu knew personally. E trailed off without giving an answer and Xuxu jumped on it.  

 

“Aren’t you tired of being scared?” They stared at each other for a hard moment before E bowed her head.

 

“Yes…” She admitted quietly, “yes, I’m tired.”

 

“So let’s go on the run again,” Xuxu quickly grabbed one of her hands in both of hers, “but this time we run straight at whatever scares us. We don’t turn back, we don't falter. We just go. Let’s get a fucking head start.” This wasn’t about her, she needed to make that clear to herself, but Xuxu had some skin in this game. E was one of her only friends (and she used that term loosely as it was).

 

“We?” E glanced up a small upturn at the corner of her lips.

 

“Hell yeah, we. Doing everything by yourself is fucking terrifying.” Xuxu scoffed, dropping her hand like a hot sweet potato and turning away to hide the blush she felt creeping up her face, “I got your back, E, so you run.” She turned back and the smirk had been replaced with the most serious expression E could muster, “Run as fast as you can...and drop kick Yoongi in the face, especially for me.”

 

For the span of a heartbeat, nobody moved. Goosebumps zipped up and down Yoongi's arms, an old wives’ tale meaning this was a turning point in life. That second took an hour, but when E looked up again, her eyes were sure. Before anything could stop her, most of all herself, she took off like a shot out of the train station and up the street. “Holy—wait! Wait, I didn’t mean literally run—! Get a cab!” Xuxu called after her but it was no use.

 

Yoongi lunged forward the second he saw E move, but only made it a little past before Xuxu grabbed his arm to stop him. She didn't seem surprised at all that they were there, nor that they'd heard everything she said (them and the rest of the platform). It certainly wasn't lost on him that she told E to kick him in the face, although for some reason he expected no less from her. There was a reason Namjoon was enamored with her despite her constant grousing, after all.

"Let her run." She cooed as she looked up the street after the nurse. "Give her a chance to be brave, Suga-ssi."

 

🌙🌙🌙

 

The cab ride back to the dorms was hell. Tenshin shoved Yoongi and Jimin in the back, squished on either side of a whining Xuxu. It was so odd how she could flip a switch and be annoying as ever again.

Yoongi tuned her out though as he stared at the passing street lights. He knew exactly what he thought and how he felt, a surety that came from years of not knowing. But for some reason, he could not think of what to say to E. It was rare for him to be speechless, and that alone fueled the fire of his anxiety. He wanted to apologize of course, but there was also the strong urge to scold her for thinking she had to confess anything to him. She was not the one at fault, yet it was the biggest downfall of her personality to think so. E took the burden of blame in every situation regarding their relationship, just like Namjoon did with anything involving Bangtan. The both of them were too compassionate for their own good, and it frustrated and endeared Yoongi to no end.

 

He ditched his friends when they got back and took the first door on the left rather than the second. E's apartment was situated next door to the dorms, an open studio with floor to ceiling windows. She'd shoved her mattress right up against them so that she could watch the sunrises and see the stars, and the sheets were in a constant state of disarray. Yoongi knew the key, mainly because he'd installed it himself and she never bothered to change it: 724148. It was his code for everything, a grounder he surrounded himself with to remind him, and E always respected that.

Flipping the lights on, he slumped over to her kitchen counter and perched on one of her barstools, wracking his brain for what to say while he waited for her to get back.

 

It took another twenty minutes, but eventually, E limped up the stairs to the dorm. Running had been a bad idea, but the blood was still pumping loud in her ears. She wanted to yell at someone (someone that wasn't Xuxu, because Xuxu was scary and she yelled back). E debated for a moment just throwing open the door to the dorms and jumping into that beehive, but the thought of facing them all at once made her want to throw up. So she took a small detour to her apartment, figuring she'd sit for a moment, change into something less like a drunk college student, and then...then she'd explain? Complain? Beg? Who knows...There had been no plan of action when she took off, just the reassurance that Xuxu would back her up, no matter what. But now that she was in front of the door, she felt entirely less confident.

She veered and jammed in the code to her door, ignoring the shaking in her fingers. She hated that tell, her tick. No matter if it was good or bad, if things got intense, her hands would start to tremble. The only exception was when she was working. That kind of pressure never got to her. It was this horrible personal feely bullshit that always set her off.

The door swung open to an already lit room, and E froze in the doorway. Yoongi looked back at her just as spooked from the bar, and the moment was suspended.

 

He gulped when she didn't move from the door, even when he could tell she was getting cold from the wind, her adrenaline wearing off quickly.

 

"E..." He mumbled, and the spell was broken.

 

"I don't--" She yelled, and then meeped, slapping both her hands over her mouth as if she had absolutely not meant to say that out loud. There was an internal struggle on her face that Yoongi waited out like a shipwreck survivor before she dropped her hands again. "I don’t…I’m mad!”

 

E very rarely conveyed the things she thought or wanted. She was clinically shy in her approach to most situations, diplomatic when someone asked her opinion. So the fact that she was flat out telling Yoongi she was upset was both an improvement and an intimidating update.

 

“As you should be.” He swallowed his growing panic, trying hard to push down his rising deprecation. Was she going to leave him for this? Was she going to self destruct like he typically did? Would the both of them together blow a hole the size of the moon into the streets of Seoul, and when someone asked what happened, the rest of the world would say, 'Young Love'?

 

“I don’t deserve to be ignored, Yoongi...” She started out strong but the words died off towards the end and her eyes dropped from his, looking at his knees, his feet, the lights, the floor, diverting her attention anywhere but him.

 

“No baby," He was up from the chair and closing the distance between them before he could think, "don’t look down, don’t look away when you’re right. Look me in the eyes and say it again.” He'd never hated himself more than in that instant, not even the moment from the Grammy's. Because E not believing she deserved better was his doing, it had to be. He reached up and cupped her face, trying to catch her eye again as she did as she was told.

 

“I didn’t deserve that.” She mumbled, stubbornly staring at his collarbone.

 

“Say it again. Say it until you believe it because it’s true." He smoothed the pad of his thumb over the swell of her cheek and screamed internally. "I was an asshole, I don’t even know how or why, and I’m so fucking sorry."

 

He couldn't take it anymore, he pulled her into a bone crushing hug, needing to feel her frantic heartbeat under his. Because what if she left him over this? He'd never be able to brush his fingers over her hummingbird rhythm again, never get to nuzzle his face into the crook of her neck and taste sunshine. God, just the thought that he could lose everything was alarming enough for him to squeeze her tighter, just as tight as he was squeezing his eyes to keep the tears at bay.

 

"You didn’t deserve that. You deserve someone who would never ignore you or fucking forget about you. It’s me—I messed up.”

 

“Yoongi, I..." Absently, he felt her wind her arms around his waist. "I think we both messed up.” He pulled back, ready to remind her that he was the one at fault here, and was she really trying to take the blame again? But when he looked at her, running his eyes over her familiar features, it gave him the confidence to say what he should have back in New York, back during the skype call, back at the train station:

 

“If you have to run...then run.” Her gaze widened and glistened in disbelief, but he held her tightly. “I need you to understand something, E. If it’s me...if you have to run from me, then do it.” He gritted his teeth and rested his forehead against hers, not really able to handle that request on a personal level. “But please give me a chance to fix it." He begged, "Just...let me know what I need to do, and I will. I swear I will. I’d give you the whole world if you asked for it. You just have to say so.”

 

“No, no, I...I made you worry,” She was shaking her head between his fingers, “and Joon is probably mad, and I bet Jin is stress cleaning--” She started in on a rant but he silenced her by pulling her into a kiss.

 

“Fuck me, and fuck BTS.” Her spine snapped straight and he heard her inhale a sharp breath.

 

“You were there?”

 

Yoongi chuckled despite himself. “Don’t tell her I said this or she’ll never let me live it down, but...Xuxu is right. You have to start thinking about yourself more.” E let out a groan and slipped from his forehead to rest her’s on his shoulder.

 

“I’m trying .” She stressed into the fabric of his hoodie. “And I’m thinking I don’t want to run away from you....but then I go and do it.”

 

“So the next time you feel like running, come to me, or Jimin, or Tenshin.” He turned his head to kiss at her ear, feeling some of the dread from earlier slip away, “We’ll work on it. We can figure it out together. No more of this suffer in silence shit, E. It never helps. I know from experience…” He grimaced, not wanting to tell her what to do when he was this close from the impending doom, and E let out another groan, only this one was a little more whiney and a little less breakup.

 

“But I don’t know how to tell you?” She jerked up and nearly headbutted him, “I mean it just...it feels intrusive. You already give me so much, I don’t...I feel selfish asking for more.” She detached, sinking into her usual hesitant self, but he followed. No way was he letting her sink all by herself ever again.

 

He hooked his finger in a belt loop of her capris, pulling her back to him, “I will never be able to give you half as much as you deserve,” He pressed his nose into her cheek and whispered, “but I promise you I am going to try. I’ll spend my whole life trying. I’ll give you anything, everything.” He wondered for a small moment how his life would have turned out if he was still that broke kid from Daegu, if all he had to offer her was bus fare, would she still stay?

 

“All I have to do is tell you what I want?” She asked, an arch to her voice.

 

“All you have to do is tell me.”

 

“Then I want you.” She said and he knew. Yeah, she would, and that was the most rewarding feeling in the world. Better than awards, better than wins, better than fame...she was worth it all.

 

“Fuck, you have me." He said, and nothing could stop him from pressing his lips to hers, reveling in the soft caress of her. "You’ve had me since you brought me back to life. My own personal angel. You’re so perfect.” She swallowed down every word, winding her arms around his neck while his hands found her waist.

 

“I’m not—“

 

“You are.”

 

“Yoongi…”

 

“That reminds me—” He planted his hands on her hips and pushed back just a little, just enough to get him to look at her, “if at some point I fuck this up, don’t think that you have to leave. Seoul is your home now as much as it is mine. You belong here, E. With or without me.” She pursed her lips together, and he saw the glisten of tears cup her eyes.

 

“But I want to be with you.” She breathed it like it was a secret, a precious confession that he latched onto and buried deep in his heart.

 

“And I want to be with you.” He kissed her quickly, ready to be done with this discussion, “So let’s make sure I don’t—“

 

We don’t—“

 

“Fuck it up...yeah.”

 

“Yoongi.” She moaned his name and his knees nearly buckled at the sound.

 

“Anything you want, angel.” He slurred as he kissed his way up her cheekbone.

 

“Touch me.”

 

She didn’t have to tell him twice. He captured her lips again, a little rougher this time, a little more desperate and took a step back towards the big bay windows, pulling her along until his calf hit her mattress.

 

“I’ll touch you everywhere, make you feel so good.” He licked into her mouth. Her back hit the mattress and him on top of her, one hand balancing his weight and the other sliding up under her tank top. E was ticklish, and he nipped at her lips as she giggled from his feather light touches. His fingers trailed up until he felt something cold against her skin and his brain short-circuited: the body chain he’d seen in the video. Yoongi pulled back just enough to lift her shirt and reveal the gold links that draped over her pale stomach. E only watched, eyes hooded and pupils blown, as he leaned down and proceeded to kiss over the chain, every link, every curve. Her back arched in response as his lips grazed over her ribs, and her fingers tangled in his hair, tugging his mouth back up to hers.

 

So impatient, she was always so impatient, but he wanted this to last. He wanted to show her how much she deserved, wanted to have her blissed out and content in his arms. Wanted her to expect his love rather than pray for it. So he continued his roaming, ghosting touches over her skin until she was squirming and gasping. She grabbed at his hoodie and tugged and he shed it in an instant, along with her shirt and the bikini top. He left the chain, though, practically drooling at the sight of it sliding against her skin.

She was so warm when he pressed his chest to hers, and he could feel that heartbeat he craved against his own. Craving more, he trailed away from her mouth and down her neck, kissing and sucking the taste of her, of sunshine in his mouth until he was drunk on it and she was whimpering in anticipation.

 

“Yoongi~” She mewled, and he felt one of her hands frantically grasp at the button of his jeans. He was already half-hard and the friction from his jeans made him groan into her collarbone. Not yet though. He pushed her hand away and undid her capris instead, sliding them down her hips with the other part of her bathing suit. He had to satisfy her completely first. This was not the first time he’d seen her naked, it wasn’t even the first time they’d had sex, made love, but for some reason, the sight of her golden skin under him now set his veins on fire.

 

He kissed his way down until he could feel the jut of her hip bone under her tongue, and then went further still, scooting back to pull her legs over his shoulders. His fingertips trailed down the outside of her thighs and over her knees as they clenched his head, jolting the moment he made contact. It was slow at first, all teasing licks and stripes up and down her sex until she was a groaning mess. Her fingers wound their way into his hair, her nails scratching over his scalp in the process. It was slow because he wanted it to last, even though he was hard and she was eager. By the time he undid his own jeans and slipped out of them, she’d thrown her head back and arched her spine, blonde hair spread out over the sheets like gold. It was slow, even when he climbed up and drowned her in kisses, ones that she deserved a hundred times over. And his pace was slow too, but that was out of his own selfish desire to hear her pant his name each and every time. He’d never get tired of hearing it fall from her lips like a prayer.

 

He surprised even himself with his self-controlled maddeningly slow love, but eventually, he couldn’t handle how she dragged her nails down his back in incentive. She wanted him to go faster, wanted him to take her apart, and he did tell her he’d give her whatever she wanted.

 

“Yoongi?” E mumbled against his skin as they lay tangled together in her sheets. She was already half asleep, and he’d texted Namjoon to say he was staying over tonight. There was nothing left to stop him from watching her drift off to sleep, and he hummed in response while playing with the short gold threads of her hair. “I love you.”

It was stupid how his face broke out into a grin with those three small words. She said them in English and then again in Korean, like her sleepy mind wanted to stress in every language that she knew.

“I love you too.” She sighed and kissed the top of her head.

“Even when I ran, I still loved you.” She added, tightening her hold on him, and if there had been any doubt left, it disappeared like smoke.

“I’m glad…”

“I think I’ll love you forever.” She said last, and he let those words sink in real deep, memorizing how they sounded, wanting to wrap himself up in them. She was already asleep by the time he realized he should tell her--

“I know I will.”

 

🌙🌙🌙

 

“Why’d you say that dude was the wrong color?” Jimin asked almost a week later, sitting on the counter in E’s lab at BigHit.

“I said what?” She gave him a weird look, but he could tell she knew what he was talking about.

“You said the guy who hit on you in Busan was the wrong color.” She suspiciously gave him her back and he smirked, knowing he’d caught her.

“His hair,” She mumbled and Jimin urged her to continue. “His hair was blonde. Yoongi’s is green.”

“Oh my god!” Jimin cackled, nearly falling off the cabinet.

“Shut up!” E cried and threw a wad of gauze at him. There was no way he was ever going to let her live that down.

Chapter Text

“You don’t mean to be a problem

You don’t mean to cause me pain

You don’t mean to do much but it’s one and the same

I don’t know where this came from

I thought we were plain sailing

This has taken me aback and it goes without saying…”

The other line of the phone rings. And rings. And rings.

And rings again.

Eventually, Sehun’s voice answers, but only as his voicemail to tell me that he “couldn’t make it to the phone.” He can never come to the phone anymore.

A knot in my throat formed, and I did my best to choke it back so I could leave my usual voicemail of, “hey! It’s me. Just wanted to talk before I went to bed tonight. Miss you. Love you. Call me, even if I’m asleep. I’ll always answer for you!” before hitting the big red circle on my screen.

I tossed and turned all night. It had been a few days since Sehun and I had actually talked on the phone. I got his sparratic text messages, always blaming the studio and full of promises of a call that night. Believing him was making me look like an idiot.

It was starting to kill me inside because I knew the end was coming. It was obvious. We had forced our way through three years of this idol/non-idol relationship and, maybe we were stupid for it. But fuck, we loved each other. There had been a time that there was so much passion behind our relationship. We had almost been caught so many times before we went public because we just couldn’t help but kiss or hold hands. He was my whole world.

The problem with making another person your whole world, though, is that you have nothing to stand on when they disappear.

“And I don’t know why I’ve been crying over you

For the life of me, I wish that I knew

And I don’t know, just how much more I can go through

Man oh man I wish I knew, I’ve been crying over you.”

I must have finally dozed off, because I was woken up abruptly by my phone vibrating against my nightstand. Reaching over without opening my eyes, I finally found it after groping the table a few too many times.

Squinting against the blinding light, I managed to push the “accept call” button.

“Hullo?” I muttered, half asleep.

“I didn’t mean to wake you up.” Sehun’s voice was soft on the other side.

“I called b’fore I went to bed.” Mumbling was the best I could do right now. My words were slurred and broken but I tried to force myself to wake up to talk to him.

“I’ve missed your voice.” he said. I hadn’t been ready for that.

I should have responded with something sweet. Maybe a cute “aww” with “well at least you’re hearing it now.” Instead, however, I shot back, “I mean you could have heard it every night but you choose to ignore my calls instead.”

Sehun sighed the king of all irritated sighs on the other side of the phone. “Can we not do this right now? I had an awful day and was really hoping for some comfort from my girlfriend.”

I scoffed. “And what about my awful day two days ago that got me no response?! What about the last few days that I’ve needed my boyfriend?!”

I was awake now.

The next few middle-of-the-night-hours were spent screaming at each other. We spit every hurtful world imaginable at each other. Blame was thrown in every direction from one to the other, no matter whose fault it actually was.

Sehun blamed SM. He blamed the managers, he blamed his band mates for needing help on choreo. He blamed me for not being strong enough.

That was the final straw. With the words “I’m done,” and a click of my phone, I decided that Sehun was out of my life.

“Don’t wanna break it up but, there’s no other way

You’re not the only one who’s hurting

Or who’s finding this hard

But you gotta admit that we’re drifting apart

Look we’re gonna feel broken a bit

And it’s gonna be a little bit shit

But you’ll find the strength when you’re weak

You’ll find a love when you least expect it

It could be any minute

So don’t fight the tears on your cheek”