Actions

Work Header

all the places you might call home

Chapter Text

Title Pairing Summary Universe Rating
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
02 | the apartment daniel & jisung Daniel is sunshine. pre-p101 G
03 | the base jihoon Jihoon is grumpy. zero base G
04 | the pier ongniel A night out. x!verse T
05 | the affair kahi x sanggyun She likes them young. x!verse M
06 | the boeing 2hyun Long-haul flights don't have to be boring. x!verse T
07 | the shadow hyunbin & yongguk Yongguk doesn't think he deserves this. jbj era G
08 | the blankets pan2park Jihoon is cold. zero base G
09 | the break of day 2hyun Minhyun wakes up thinking of this. w1 era G
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
10 | the infirmary donghwi Daehwi gets a visitor. w1 era G
11 | the mattress ongniel Mornings are for fooling around. w1 era M
12 | the bookcase 2hyun Minhyun cleans. or not. nu’est era G
13 | the thing ong x cheetah Ong likes to take it. p101 era E
14 | the TV 2hyun Jonghyun lies to himself.  nu’est era T
15 | the scar 2hyun Minhyun listens. nu’est era G
16 | the cling-film dongho & minki Minki has a bright, squeaky idea. nu’est era G
17 | the hypnotic 2hyun Minhyun hypnotizes the willing. nu’est era G
18 | the invalid ongniel Ong wants Daniel all to himself. w1 T
19 | the bathhouse 2hyun Jonghyun visits an unfamiliar place. velvet!AU M
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
20 | the dinner donghwi Daehwi and Dongho get impatient. x!verse M
21 | the unwilling ongniel Ong begs. w1 era M
22 | the snacks baejin & 2hyun Jinyoung is a surly kitty. hybrid!AU G
23 | the church donghwi Dongho is an undercover cop. mafia!AU T
24 | the confession nu’est OT5 Minhyun comes clean. nu’est era G
25 | the high fantasy ongniel Ong invites Daniel over. x!verse T
26 | the window ongniel Daniel flies first class. w1 era G
27 | the half truth donghwi Dongho says what he’s thinking. mafia!AU T
28 | the boardwalk donghwi They get their happy ending. x!verse G
29 | the wait jonghyun Jonghyun does what he does best. x!verse G
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
30 | the eighth day donghwi Daehwi waits for the jerk to call him back. mafia!AU G
31 | the lobby ongniel Daniel lets his mind wander. x!verse T
32 | neverland 2hyun Jonghyun goes on the run. neverland!AU T
33 | the shotgun gen, woojin The zombie apocalypse hits. zombie!AU T
34 | the family gen, woojin Woojin takes a step up. zombie!AU T
35 | the phone call gen Jonghyun’s sisters have something to tell him. sm!verse G
36 | the interview 2hyun Minhyun the chaebol scion, jonghyun the student. 50shades!AU T
37 | the sixth time 2hyun Sujin discovers the truth. sm!+x!verse G
38 | the rumor mill ong x cheetah The news covers a hot topic. x!verse G
39 | the gift 2hyun Minhyun listens all too well. sm!+x!verse T
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
40 | the icebreaker ong & daehwi Ong tackles the elephant in the room. sm!verse G
41 | deep honesty ongniel Ong gets dosed. daniel is a jerk about it. truthserum!AU x sm!verse E
42 | the peep jisung & ongniel This is one of the downsides of roomsharing. w1 M
43 | the video donghwi & ong Daehwi’s been avoiding dongho’s latest v live. sm!+x!verse T
44 | the interlude jonghyun & seonho They're just two guys who like Hwang Minhyun. sm!verse G
45 | the hurt ongniel & daehwi It's Daniel's fault he's like this. sm!+x!verse T
46 | the third wheel donghwi & co. What happened the last day of the cruise. velvet!AU T
47 | jetlag aaron & minki It’s back to LA for him. p101 G
48 | long distance donghwi Sometimes they do more than talk. velvet!AU M
49 | fealty 2hyun It’s hard not to love a good one. sm!verse G
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
50 | how it might go 2hyun Maybe in one universe it’d go like this. p101 G
51 | history baby chicks Seonho gets tired of waiting for Guanlin. post-w1 T
52 | the text donghwi & taehwi Daehwi gets a text message. x!verse T
53 | five stars ongniel & nielwink Always, always password-protect your computer. w1 T
54 | the proxy ongniel Daniel doesn’t play nice with Seongwoo. x!verse E
55 | the job description taehyun & daehwi Sometimes, heartbreak is a part of it. x!verse T
56 | the first few posts aaron & nu'est Aaron starts a secret blog. sm! + x!verse G
57 | the big sleep panwink Jihoon just can't fall asleep. w1 G
58 | terminal 2hyun Minhyun makes his final decision. server!au T
59 | the redeye donghwi They’re just a pair of nobodies. x!verse G
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
60 | play by play ongniel Seongwoo gets swept up in a pleasant story. x!verse E
61 | xoxo gossip guy aaron & nu'est Aaron continues writing his blog. sm! & x!verse G
62 | boys, interrupted donghwi Bittersweet reunions at KCon LA. sm! & x!verse T
63 | the track 2hyun Jonghyun goes running early in the mornings. sm!verse G
64 | harder places donghwi Daehwi doesn’t react to Dongho’s latest. x!verse G
65 | the sub 2hyun Aaron is sick. Jonghyun fills in. 50 Shades G
66 | incoming ongniel They're both riled up now. x!verse E
67 | the interview II 2hyun Jonghyun has some questions. 50 Shades G
68 | not an audition ong Ten years pass. Seongwoo struggles. Just a bit. x!verse G
69 | three lies ongniel Oh, it's on. x!verse E
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
70 | therapy aaron & nu'est Aaron feels bad. Minki is nice. sm!verse G
71 | big plans taehyun & sewoon In which old friends catch up. x!verse G
72 | backseat ongniel Nobody's watching them now. x!verse E
73 | the first impression 2hyun Jonghyun gathers himself. 50 Shades!AU G
74 | the cowlick aren Aaron's been pretty dense. x!verse G
75 | mercy ongniel They’ve since settled into something like friendship. x!verse T
76 | reception ongniel Just two guys killing time. velvet!AU T
77 | the debrief 2hyun Aaron interrogates. Jonghyun deflects. 50 Shades!AU T
78 | like amber ongniel Ong has a... thinking problem. x!verse T
79 | just people 2hyun Jonghyun's sister knows him too well. 50 Shades!AU G
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
80 | London panwink Guanlin and Jihoon reconnect post-disbandment. post-w1 G
81 | cravings donghwi A sudden craving catches Dongho off guard. x!verse G
82 | the long present ongniel Ong gets chewed out. x!verse T
83 | over it 2hyun Just a little soju to unwind. 50 Shades!AU G
84 | Yeezys panwink Sightseeing and no regrets. post-W1 G
85 | con(text) donghwi Itchy fingers. x!verse G
86 | DIY 2hyun Who knew Minhyun was this crafty? 50 Shades!AU G
87 | yakiniku seonho & minhyun Seonho vents over BBQ. post-w1 G
88 | the guest donghwi Dongho invites someone over for dinner. x!verse T
89 | cliché ongniel For once, Daniel's not thinking about what's next. x!verse E
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
90 | easy questions 2hyun Honesty comes one baby step at a time. 50 Shades!AU G
91 | like the sun ongniel Jisung notices these things. x!verse G
92 | what you do donghwi / taehwi Temptation, meet irresistible. x!verse T
93 | good boys ongniel Daniel flies too close to the sun. x!verse E
94 | pet project 2hyun Time to set up this photoshoot. 50 Shades!AU G
95 | the other side donghwi / taehwi Desire and its consequences. x!verse M
96 | the real you 2hyun The first time after a long time. x!verse M
97 | soft focus 2hyun Close up and personal. 50 Shades!AU G
98 | the velvet underground nu'est & w1 Seoul's best-kept secret. velvet!AU G
99 | the dream machine 2hyun Someone special. 50 Shades!AU G
———————— —————— —————————————————————————— ——————— ———
100 | mirrorworld   Worlds converge.    

 

Chapter Text


Rainy days get him good. Like his soul is gravel, the rain seeps into every pore and infects him with its grey.

 

It’s been raining seven days straight. March in Seoul, what you would expect. Nothing more, nothing less. But it’s still hard. Socks full of wet. Shoes squelch when they come off. Still squelch in the morning when they go on.

 

Jisung walks through the front door with bags of groceries. Lost his subway pass two days in a row. Can barely afford the rent. Can barely afford the internet. Can barely afford food.

 

Ramen purchased on credit cards might be the saddest thing in the world.

 

Daniel doesn’t judge him, though. Daniel’s on his phone and on video games. Jisung can see the reflection of colored blocks in Daniel’s glasses. He puts the groceries on the counter. Drops of water shake off the plastic bags. Daniel stretches and gets off the couch. He helps Jisung put the groceries in the fridge.

 

The next morning they go practice. Jisung has a clean pair of sneakers in the locker there. He puts his wet shoes in the locker. They are starting to smell off. He wants it not to rain anymore so he can put them outside and get the sun in them.

 

He kills a cockroach that night. How they found it: Daniel, yelling in the bathroom. The wet has driven all the cockroaches out the wall. Two more follow from the crack in the tiles. Jisung slaps them dead with his plastic slippers. Their legs clack like tweaked TV antennae swirling on the rooftops looking for a signal before they go dead.

 

It rains for another week straight and Jisung feels older than ever. He’ll be twenty-seven this year. About to graduate from the school of hard knocks to the school of a life gone wrong. Time is running out for Yoon Jisung. Nobody will ever tell him exactly when his time will run out but he can sense it getting closer, as surely as the tiles get yellow in the bathroom. It doesn’t happen overnight but one day you wake up and there it is, everything’s gone off-white one shade too off-white.

 

For laughs, to cheer himself, he imitates the way the cockroach died to Daniel, who chortles and snorts and sniggers and giggles on cue. One can always count on Daniel to laugh. These clouds may not lift and this rain may not pass and the streets may never be dry again but to Jisung, Kang Daniel is a piece of sunshine broken off from 8 million miles away, cultivated in Busan by a stalwart single mother who was determined that this sun learn how to shine on its own.

 

He gets chewed out by their dance instructor that afternoon for missing one too many steps. Back at the apartment, he collapses on the couch, his face buried in the pillows. His big nose crunches to the side from the pressure he’s putting on his big head. Tears of frustration squeeze out from his eyes. Daniel asks him in a soft and kind voice if he’s all right, and Jisung lets himself cry a little bit, thinking about how young and stupid he was when he first imagined that he would like to make people smile and laugh for a living. How easy it had seemed to get his classmates to laugh, how hard it is to show his talents in the world he’s chosen now.

 

The kettle is boiling. Jisung sits up after a while, rubbing his face. He apologizes to Daniel, but Daniel has his earbuds plugged in and is at the stove making ramyeon. Two eggs in each bowl and a slice of Kraft cheddar on top. He brings them over to the couch and they slurp in silence, music spewing tinny from Daniel’s ears.

 

Something about expunging his sadness makes Jisung hungrier than ever. He finishes first.

 

“You okay, hyung?” Daniel puts his bowl down next to Jisung’s. Lying flat over the tops of the bowls, their chopsticks touch tips.

 

Daniel’s seen him frustrated before. The first few times that Jisung cried in front of Daniel, Jisung wanted to die of embarrassment. These days he doesn’t care quite as much. Brave faces are important, but every now and then a few tears serve to remind him of his place. He’s only human.

 

Instead of answering, he loops Daniel’s arm around his shoulders and tucks himself into Daniel’s armpit. They put on a horror movie and watch it late into the night, occasionally getting up to get snacks from the kitchen. The coffee table is a litter of candy and chip wrappers by the time the movie concludes.

 

Daniel hugs him before they get into their beds. “Tomorrow will be better,” he says. The way he says it, Jisung wouldn’t be surprised if Daniel were made of some kind of slow magic.

 

Sure enough, the sun comes out the next day. 

  

 

Chapter Text

It might not look like it, but Park Jihoon hates a lot of things.

 

Waking up early.

 

Diets.

 

Everyone else.

 

It’s been a full week of basically zero sleep. That’s what the “Zero” in Zero Base stands for. He’s running on raw nerves at this point.

 

Jisung is nosy.

 

Jinyoung is incompetent.

 

Daehwi is an arrogant know-it-all.

 

Seongwoo is an ass.

 

Daniel is an idiot.

 

Jaehwan won’t let any of them have one moment of peace and quiet.

 

The list goes on. What does Park Jihoon want? Only to sleep all he wants, to eat all he wants. If he had to choose one member to hang out with, he’d choose absolutely no-one.

 

“Hey, Jihoon.” It’s Woojin. “Wanna play football?”

 

Sure, Jihoon says, and climbs out of bed. It’ll help him blow off some steam.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

One night some time in the future, Seongwoo shows up at Daniel’s apartment dressed in black and blue, hair styled up, and tells him Daniel needs to come out for a night on the town, right away. That he’d better get dressed up, fast, because time’s a-tickin’ and they don’t have very long.

 

This is the first time they’ve seen each other in five years. Or maybe they’ve been seeing each other every day. Doesn’t matter. What matters is how alive Seoul is at night and the dizzying, electric gasp of it; the way way Seongwoo slips his hand into Daniel’s on the elevator ride down; the way Seongwoo feels whenever Daniel slides a hand down the small of his back, don’t even think about leaving.

 

Seongwoo doesn’t want to inconvenience Daniel, so he stays.

 

They reach the Velvet Underground at half past eleven and hang near the bar, because well, as much as they’d want to tuck into each other’s shoulders, it’s still much too public and they’re still moderately famous and even with them club’s no-photos policy, there’s no guarantee that a rulebreaker is sniffing in their midst. So they settle for the best whiskey the club has and sit close to each other, watching the pulsing throng of boys and boys and girls and girls grind up against each other in sweaty abandon.

 

After they are just that bit tipsy from good stuff and one another's company, they walk along the waterfront where the tourist ferries jostle with the fishing boats. Right as they reach the point where the bourgeois piers with their upscale restaurants and bars end and the industrial piers with their fish smells and surly, dark-skinned fishermen begin, Seongwoo pulls Daniel around the corner and down to the end of a small, isolated jetty. They stand on the rickety boards next to a pile of rotting rope attached to a rusty anchor. Just beyond them is the city, across the river, blazing with lights that halo like Van Gogh’s stars. Daniel is afraid to look back out to sea, because it will be too big and lonesome.

 

So he turns to Seongwoo and asks him in a playful way what was it that was so important that he had to drag Daniel out on a quiet Saturday night away from his cats and his mindless television.

 

"Do you know what the word 'opportunist' means, Niel?" Seongwoo says, the word “opportunist” in English.

 

"Someone who takes advantage of others?" Daniel grins.

 

In reply, Seongwoo reaches up and runs his fingers against the stubble of Daniel’s chin. Daniel steps backwards and hits the railing of the pier, and he finds he has nowhere to go except over into the neon sea, or into Ong Seongwoo’s kiss.

 

He chooses the kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

He couldn’t see the blame in what he’d done. He said, “it’s not serious with her, and you got your husband anyway, so I’m pretty sure we’re even.”

 

When Kahi gets angry the Gyeongsang words come tumbling out like the heat from the blistering southeastern summers. When Sanggyun gets angry the Jeolla dialect comes out hard and fast like guns going off in a demonstration. P-p-p-pow.

 

Who knew better than you that he had a weak spot for any older woman who’d smile twice at him? He couldn’t help it. Sanggyun is all sinew and bone. He has a cut, cruel-looking face and a thin mouth that only knows how to grin crooked. But when you touch him, when you smile that smile at him that tells him to come here boy, you get him turned on, you lie down with him, and that mouth opens wide and exhales in jagged breaths ghosting hot over you.

 

You’d come apart with those thick, wet kisses and how big he got. Out of his clothes, after the thick layers of hoodie and shirt and undershirt and the try-hard cologne from his new girlfriend was his true scent, something fresh like the smell of a freshly torn grass after a night of rain.

 

Anyway, there’s something untouchable about everybody and it’s up to you to know how to get to it. And when your husband is traveling again for god knows how long this time and left you with the screaming baby and the sulking nanny you’re sure he’s fucking nine ways past ten, you get to it. When you are bone tired of being alone, when all you want is someone to pull you close and kiss the ground you walk on, and you get one like Kim Sanggyun who’s all eager glinty eyes and sidelong grins and a body like hard silk you just take your chance.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Jonghyun zips up and closes the lid of the toilet, flushing it. The sink spits out water in a slow dribble. It’s hardly satisfying. He adjusts his hair after washing his hands. Looking okay, all things considered. Still another eight hours to go into this twelve-hour flight.

 

When he slides open the door, Minhyun is standing across the aisle. Catches him off guard with an innocent, beatific smile. Then catches him off guard some more by pushing his way into the bathroom and locking the door behind them.

 

“I miss you,” Minhyun says, crowding Jonghyun against the toilet. Jonghyun’s knees give out and he falls backwards with a thump. Minhyun looms even taller from this angle and his belt buckle gleams in Jonghyun’s face.

 

“We shouldn’t,” Jonghyun says in his usual perfunctory-brusque-guilty way that Minhyun finds irresistible, and who’s to say who’s seduced whom, exactly?

 

When you’re flown up ten thousand feet in the air you make your own satisfaction.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

As far as shadows go, Kwon Hyunbin as loyal as they come.

 

It’s endearing in a certain way, having a lumbering tail six feet high trail you around the studio and outside the studio, finding any excuse to throw his arm around and pull you in for a nuzzle. Like having a friendly, if slightly clumsy leopard take to a carp as a friend.

 

You’re not sure why Hyunbin has taken to you, of all people. Jonghyun you could understand, Minhyun too. Or Kang Daniel or Yoon Jisung. The four of those guys — all onto great things now, wonderful things — were the backbone, the bedrock of what Produce 101 was all about.

 

Hyunbin tells you you’re talented and wonderful at least six times a day. It’s a bit much, honestly. You wonder sometimes if he wants something else from you, if he’s trying to flatter you for some other reason. Maybe it’s something he picked up from working with Jonghyun—some sort of leadership tactic, some way of making outcasts and losers feel part of the group so the team can work better. Because you’re not sure that any of what he says is true.

 

The only thing that is true is that you have been incredibly lucky, luckier than you should be.

 

But your silent suspicion has no effect on Hyunbin’s enthusiasm. “Hyung,” he’ll tell you for the millionth time. He’ll press his big head into the crook of your neck and wrap his wingspan around you and crush you with the force of his hug. “You’re great. Seriously. Just trust yourself.”

 

Maybe the other thing that is true is that you have very good friends. Maybe.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

At home, Jihoon sleeps on a real bed and the floor is actually heated.

 

But here in this converted warehouse the floor in Zero Base is cold and he’s not allowed to complain because the cameras are on. The winter makes the floor even colder and one night Jihoon wakes up with back frozen solid all the way through.

 

Now he knows what the “Zero” in “Zero Base” stands for: the temperature.

 

He gets up to put on his puffer and heads to the kitchen to make some tea. He curls his hands around the flimsy paper cup the production staff thinks is an acceptable excuse for a drinking vessel. The contact nearly sears him but he remembers he’s cold, he’s cold, and even if he burns his hands at least he’ll be warm. When he finishes drinking everything a part of him feels like going to the bathroom but that would mean whipping himself out in the freezing air and it would freeze the piss out of him before it even had a chance to escape. Better to not risk it.

 

“Hey, kid.”

 

It’s Woojin’s nickname for him these days. Part of it makes Jihoon bristle but Woojin only calls him that when it’s the two of them so that makes it okay.

 

“Why’re you up?” Jihoon’s voice is a croak. He sounds like a frog.

 

“S’cold.”

 

Jihoon wants to laugh. Woojin is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Jihoon can feel the heat radiating off the other boy like an overworked PC unit. “Then put on some clothes.”

 

“We had a better idea.”

 

“Oh? Wait, ‘we?’”

 

“Yeah.” Woojin takes his empty cup and free throws it into the trash can. It lands at the bottom of the empty can with a satisfying *thwack*. “Come on.”

 

They head back to Jihoon’s room. It’s blankets upon blankets thick. Jihoon squints. Woojin has hauled his blankets in here, and—

 

And Guanlin’s mop of hair pokes out from under the duvets. “Hey hyung,” he says in a friendly, sleepy murmur.

 

“Get in,” Woojin says. “Guanlin’s been keeping it warm.”

 

“Three people is too many.” Jihoon hisses, trying to keep his voice low. He feels himself flush and in a way he’s thankful because hey, at least it’s warm.

 

“You really want me to freeze out here?” Woojin rubs his hands and his feet together.

 

“C’mon, ’s nice.” Guanlin’s slur of Korean is as inviting as a hot bath would be right now. “Don’t worry ’bout it.”

 

“It’d be nicer without all of you,” Jihoon grunts, but gets in all the same.

 

Woojin slides in next to him. “Take off your coat. I’m a fuckin’ furnace. You’ll be warm in no time.”

 

“I thought you said you were freezing.” With some zipping and sliding and manouvering, Jihoon gets his puffer off and shoves it to the foot of the bedding where it rustles with a vinyl squeak every time he moves his foot.

 

“I’m effective, is what I am—” Woojin snorts, then promptly falls asleep.

 

Jihoon lies awake for a while longer, sandwiched between two people who seem to care about his well-being. They are snoring lightly but it sounds like how the clouds might sound if you flew an old-school rotary biplane through them.

 

It is nice. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Are you eating?

Are you sleeping?

Are you taking good care of yourself?

 

These are the thoughts that Hwang Minhyun has early in the mornings, before he goes around to wake everyone else up. He lets himself have a bit of time and space to think about what he needs to do for the day. Once he has run through the daily schedule in his head, then he will rub his eyes. When he rubs his eyes, he sees stars.

 

Are you well?

Have you gotten sick lately? I saw the news.

Please don’t get sick.

 

After rubbing his eyes, he will peel them open. Left one. Right one. Still here. Still in the apartment. Ha Sungwoon snoring away lightly next to him.

 

Where are you going today?

What is on your list of to-dos?

Do you think of me?

Because I think of you.

 

He gets up and puts his feet into the slippers at the side of the bed. They are grey and lined with microfiber fuzz. He shuffles to the bathroom and grabs his toothbrush and brushes his teeth. It tastes a little funny, but things always taste a little funny first thing in the mornings.

 

I hope you’ve taken your vitamins.

I hope you’ve been out and about.

I hope you’ve gotten some sunshine.

But not too much sunshine. I hope you’ve remembered to put on your sunblock.

 

After brushing his teeth and washing his face he waddles into the living room and sets the water kettle aboil for tea and porridge. The refrigerator is well-stocked with eggs and toast. He takes out two cartons of eggs. In the mornings, feeding eleven boys means that they go through at least two cartons of eggs per day. It is like feeding a small army.

 

He rolls up his sleeves and gets to preparing breakfast. Making simple food like this is one of the nicest parts of the day. When the toast is toasted and the eggs are boiled (7 minutes produces the perfect creamy yolk) and are cooling in the sink he goes to the different rooms and wakes each and everyone up. Then as the flat begins to stir he checks his phone.

 

On his phone there are a few messages. Emoticons from Kim Jonghyun: a cloud, a :relaxed: face, a sun, a thought bubble, and the words: “good morning! did you sleep well?”

 

Minhyun texts back and tucks the phone into his pocket. It buzzes cozily against his thigh with an immediate reply before his hand even leaves it.

 

He smiles. It will be a good day.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text



"You've got quick reflexes," Dongho says. It sounded almost accusatory in his affected growl. Daehwi flashes him a smile that is all teeth and fake, masking the flush on his face that is a tell-tale sign he’s excited to see Dongho.

 

"Not quick enough, apparently." Daehwi, perched on the edge of the hospital bed, hisses as the nurse extracts slivers of broken glass from his knee.

 

"Hold still, please." The nurse drops the splinter of glass onto the tabletop.

 

"Is it done yet?" Daehwi pouts, then glares at Dongho. "I wasn't expecting you in the audience. You distracted me."

 

"You can't afford that kind of slip, Daehwi," Dongho retorts, nettled by the Daehwi’s petulance. "Lucky that you dodged out of the way before it fell on you. Lucky you that you you still have your head."

 

Dongho watches Daehwi press his lips together, knowing it is to stop them from trembling. It had been a close one, and the reality of it was beginning to penetrate him now.

 

"Well, if you weren’t there—"

 

“But I was.” Dongho pulls up a seat, spins it around, and folds his arms over the back. “And I’m here now.”

 

Daehwi’s breath catches in his throat. Dongho is looking up at him, his eyes soft and tender and relieved.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

You're not sure how it started, or even which one of you started it. You'd like to think it wasn’t you, though deep down you know it could never have been him.

 

What you do know, is that you’re both curled together, stomach to back. You're hard and that’s no big deal, just a morning thing. So is he. He's pressing against you almost imperceptibly and you can feel his hardness and heat.

 

You can feel his breath on your neck and on your shoulder, stirring your hair and tickling your nape, so you roll over, nose brushing his face. His eyes are shut. He's awake now though, you know because his breathing suddenly becomes shallower, more measured.

 

You cup your hand on his hip and feel an answering hand on your belly, fingers tentatively tracing an arc across your bare stomach, sparking pinpricks of awareness that make you shiver. Your mouth opens silently, astonished as fingers slowly roam south, and when his tongue slides across your parted lips, you break the silence with a reckless gasp.

 

Definitely awake now. His dark eyes watch you intently.

 

You lean in and press your lips to his, as if you've done it a hundred times before. As if you have forever, soft and languorous. He's making little noises rough in his throat, and it stokes you to urgency.

 

You hook a leg into around his to draw him flush against you, drinking in his heat. You insinuate your hands under the crumpled shirt to his shudder and suddenly he’s flipped you up to straddle him.

 

His strength surprises you, even though it really shouldn't, not since ten years ago you first met and he shook your hand and it was strong. You sway a little. Daniel’s face is scrunched in an expression of intense concentration, vying with something that might be wonder. He moans your name like a first word into the air, Ongi—

 

You roll your hips, and watch him come apart.

 

 

 

Chapter Text



"Minhyun," Jonghyun says.

 

"Mm?" Minhyun doesn't look around. The bookcase is dusty and he’s got one last shelf to go.

 

"Minhyun," Jonghyun says again, and a hand comes down on the bookcase, stopping the progress of the dusting.

 

"Did I miss a spot?" Minhyun says, leaning in. He looks a little closer at the corner of the bookcase, where he can see the beginnings of a cobweb.

 

"You don't need to do that," Jonghyun says, from behind Minhyun’s left shoulder. His breath curls against the side of Minhyun’s neck, and then Jonghyun’s hand is on top of Minhyun’s on top of the feather duster. "Not right now."

 

"Oh." Minhyun pauses for a moment, then sets the duster on the shelf. Jonghyun’s fingers intertwine with his. The cobweb can wait. "Oh, okay."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

"Oh, don't be such a baby," Cheetah said.

 

"I'm really not sure about this," Seongwoo said.

 

She pushed him backwards onto the bed and kissed him hard and sweet and dirty; goddamnit, she knew what it did to him when she licked at him like that. And she knew he was going to end up giving in anyway. And so he rolled her over onto her back and slid his thumb down her belly from her navel, slyly, grinning into her mouth as she moaned in delight and hooked her legs around his thighs.

 

Some time went by.

 

"Now, darling, just trust me," she said. He could feel the *thing* sort of poking at his left butt-cheek, and she was snapping open the bottle of lubricant.

 

"You’d better use a lot of that," he said. He sounded kind of whiny to his own ears.

 

"Of course I will, pet," she said, and slid the first finger inside him.

 

"This is really not," he said, starting to pant, "really not -- noonaaa—wait—no, serious-- seriously," going up an octave, hips squirming, trying to get her fingers out or maybe further in, and thank god her fingernails were short this week, usually she wore them long and fake. The tube in her hand made squirting noises. He buried his face in the pillow and groaned in mortification and pleasure.

 

"All right then," she said. She took out her fingers and started slicking up her—her dick, and put the head of it up against his ass and started pushing. "Tell me if I'm going too fast."

 

"You're going way too fast!" he crowed.

 

"Hush, you.” She kept on leaning and leaning and then worked the rest of the way in smooth as silk, thumbs rubbing the sweet spot just behind his balls, and he never stopped making noise; he couldn't stop and she wasn't going to stop, and fucking hell it was good so he pushed himself back on the downstroke to meet her. She grinned.

 

"You've really never done this before?" she asked.

 

"Nope,” he said between gasps.

 

"Darling, you can’t hide things from me. I’ll know." To prove her point, she dicked him right *there* and he yelled out and then sobbed a little.

 

"Okay okay. Just once," he said, "I did it to land a job."

 

"Did you like it?" she asked, almost purring; she was getting down this nearly—this perfect rhythm, slide and back in and one hard thrust right at the end of the stroke.

 

"No," he said, "yes, maybe, I don't know, yes, okay, yes, mmhm," and she was doing him hard and fast now, a staccato, a little simmering jealousy in the mix behind every stroke, and that only made it better. "He was good," Seongwoo gasped, tongue lolling, "he really fucked me, you know, pounded me, made me like it—"

 

She shoved his hips up and forward and slammed into him, and he made a high whining noise in the back of his throat. "I'm going to make you scream," she hissed into his ear, biting the lobe. "I'm going to make you beg."

 

"Sure you are," he said breathlessly, grinning cheeky with half his mouth, playing with fire, and with the next thrust she burned him straight into the ground.

 

 

Chapter Text

Kim Jonghyun wants to.

 

He wants to kiss Minhyun. And Minhyun might want to kiss him.

 

The thought is mind-boggling. He doesn’t trust himself. How did it come to this?

 

In his memory, not too long ago, actually just last week, Minhyun had given him a Look while they were out eating with the team. Not too long. Not too short.

 

Minki and Aaron were on the elliptical and treadmill, respectively, earbuds plugged in and on full blast. Jonghyun could hear Dongho grunting over by the weight equipment. Jonghyun had been doing pushups, Minhyun had been stretching.

 

It was a day like any other at the gym. There was a carrying move that they needed to execute in a particular routine, where they’d lift Minki from behind and set him in front of the stage. So Jonghyun had chosen to work out his upper body today. He had been finishing a round of pushups when he realized that Minhyun had been looking at him, eyes narrowed appraisingly. There was both steel and softness in his gaze. Jonghyun had felt himself turn bright red and quickly reached for his water bottle, drinking deeply. He almost choked.

 

Then Minhyun had broken their eye contact, bending forward to touch his toes, and time resumed its normal flow.

 

There’s the distinct possibility that Minhyun might have just been pretending. For laughs. That he’d been eyeing Jonghyun as a tiger might his prey—as a joke. That he’d been baiting Jonghyun, just to get a rise out of him.

 

Well, the carrot worked. Jonghyun was effectively baited.

 

From the moment he joined Pledis three years ago until now, Jonghyun hasn’t had any time to consider what he wants. Since he moved from Gangwon-do to his aunt’s apartment in Seoul, his days have begun at 5:30am with school. He does his homework when school ends at 3pm until practice begins at 5pm. He and the others leave the studio around 10 or 11pm, depending on the intensity of the day. Weekends are also reserved for the studio. Sometimes he plays video games. Sometimes he takes a twenty-minute shower instead of his usual perfunctory five-minute one.

 

The Look that Minhyun gave him at the gym woke him to the possibility that he’s been living in a cage.

 

Jonghyun’s phone rings. His hand trembles as he picks it up.

 

“Hi,” Minhyun’s voice comes over the line. He sounds like he’s smiling. “What are you doing right now?”

 

Jonghyun feels the breath explode from him. “Nothing,” he says shakily. “Just watching TV.”

 

Why did he say that? His aunt doesn’t own a TV. His aunt’s apartment is basically bare. There is a couch from IKEA that sits lonesomely against the wall. In his room, he has a cheap black task lamp (also from IKEA) and it’s on the floor. The only other furniture in his room is a bed and a closet. His aunt’s apartment came furnished with a dining table and some knockoff Eames chairs. Besides the fact that its location is smack in middle between Pledis and his school, the dining set is the nicest part of the whole flat.

 

“I’m coming over,” Minhyun says.

 

“I—” Jonghyun hiccups, “there’s nothing good on. The TV, I mean.” Which doesn’t exist.

 

“Then we can find something else to do,” Minhyun laughs, and hangs up.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Tell me about this one,” Minhyun says, trailing his fingers up Jonghyun’s right thigh, index finger coming to rest on a pale and pinkish taut strip of skin above his knee.

 

“I was ten years old,” Jonghyun started, leaning back in bed. He doesn’t look at Minhyun, choosing instead to look up at the ceiling.

 

In his fifth grade class of forty children, only Jonghyun’s mother worked. His parents ran a snack shop near Gyeongpo beach together and grilled sanjeok by the hundreds. It did very well in business, but the result was that his parents were often at work late to keep up with orders.

 

He was usually careful when making himself dinner, which was usually instant ramen, boiled in a large pot over the stovetop. He usually ate dinner right when he got back from after school activities around five or six. Tonight, his mother had called him and told him to fix his own dinner—that she and his father wouldn’t be back until after midnight.

 

So he’d stayed up watching cartoons, windows open to catch the early summer breeze. Seized by a sudden hunger around 11pm, he’d gone to make himself his usual dinner of instant ramen. But eyes bleary from watching television for six straight hours, limbs lazy from the humidity, and distracted by a sudden chase sequence between Tom and Jerry, Jonghyun had stumbled back into the stove and bumped into the pot handle.

 

Most of the scalding liquid had spilled onto his t-shirt, which he flung off. But some of it had spilled down onto his thigh. He’d wanted to scream out in pain, but kept quiet as not to disturb the neighbors.

 

It wasn’t until the next day at school that the P.E. teacher had noticed the large red blister on his thigh and sent him to the infirmary, where the nurse bandaged him up.

 

You should have run cold water over this right away, she’d chastised him, sounding as pained as Jonghyun felt. What was your mother thinking?

 

It wasn’t his mother’s fault, Jonghyun remembered thinking. It was his own.

 

“That’s why I have that scar,” Jonghyun said. “And also why I don’t like the TV.”

 

Minhyun didn’t say anything, but put his hand over Jonghyun’s, squeezing tenderly.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It is a Wednesday evening when it happens in the kitchen. Dongho is looking for a spoon for his carton of tiny ice cream. I was slow-dancing with myself when he came in. My phone is playing the a compilation of classic hits from American blues legend Etta James.

 

"Minki, what is this?" He pokes at the roll of cling-film on the kitchen counter. It's new, unopened.

 

"It's cling-film," I tell him earnestly. "Have you never used it before?"

 

"Well," he says. He seems displeased by its existence, but then he is displeased by the existence of most things. "I have seen cling-film before. Just never had to use it."

 

Dongho is not the kind of person who indulges leftovers. He is the kind of person who eats his dinner in one sitting.

 

"So," I say. My palms are sweaty.

 

"You use this to keep food fresh, right?" Dongho tears through the perforated cardboard. "My mom had these."

 

"Right," I say, thankful that I don’t have to explain. "Dongho."

 

"Hm," Dongho says, unraveling three feet of cling-film in one pull.

 

I take the cling-film from him and the length of it wisps gently in the air before collapsing on itself. "Let me wrap you in it," I say.

 

My impulsiveness! Won’t this disgust him? Or at the very least, be annoying?

 

To my surprise, he does not leave immediately. "Sure, Minki," he says, and sits down on the barstool and takes off his cap.

 

"Leave it on," I tell him, because it’s not about nakedness. I want to wrap him in his entirety. Even his baseball cap.

 

He accedes to my request with a nod and puts his hat back on his head.

 

I kneel before him, and rip off the useless part of the cling-film. “Trust in Me” by Etta James plays on my phone’s tinny speakers.

 

I wrap him from the feet up, covering his sweatpants and his hoodie. I cocoon him as though he is a caterpillar, ready to emerge as a pretty butterfly. Dongho is surprisingly obedient throughout the process, and thank the powers that be for offering us this scintillating opportunity.

 

Soon he is covered head to foot in cling-film. I stand back and take stock of my handiwork. "You're completely covered in cling-film," I say admiringly. The opening lines of “At Last” begin to play.

 

"Seems like it," Dongho replies.

 

The shining plastic that encases him makes Dongho an object of pure fascination. I drag my palms down the layers, leaving a squeaky noise in my hands’ wake.

 

"Minki," he says. "I hate that sound."

 

"I’m really sorry," I tell him, as I do it again. "But it’s so addicting."

 

"Can I come out now?" He says nicely. Oh well. I guess the fun’s over!

 

So I begin unwrapping him. To his credit, he helps me out by spinning himself around. He does it faster and faster and when he is free, he crumples into a dizzy heap on the floor.

 

"Thank you," he says, as I envelop him in a hug of gratitude and help him to stand. Shiny plastic rests in a glistening puddle around us.

 

One of the bedroom doors open and Minhyun emerges with an empty cup of tea. “My cling-film,” he cries.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


They were watching the nine o'clock news when the murder beat came on: a psychoanalyst who had hypnotized his lover into killing her boyfriend. Minhyun normally was reading in bed by this point but he had been in the kitchen and saw the news while making tea.

 

“Would you believe me if I said I’ve done it?” Minhyun said.

 

Jonghyun lowered the volume on the television and turned to stare at him. “What, murdered someone while hypnotized?”

 

“Not murder. Just hypnotized people.”

 

“Uh. Why?”

 

Minhyun laughed. “It was during my time in Wanna One. We were in Thailand and a few of us did a hypnosis workshop just for fun. Let’s see—it was me, Daehwi, Sungwoon, and Seongwoo. Quite enlightening, actually.”

 

“So—you hypnotized each other?”

 

“It was relatively easy to hypnotize them. You know that Sungwoon and Seongwoo are very suggestible, anyway—but I got to make them do things they normally wouldn’t do, either. Murder wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.”

 

“Geez.” Jonghyun rubbed at his temples. “Are you going to hypnotize me into killing someone when I’m not looking?”

 

“What if I already have?” Minhyun wiggled his eyebrows as he took a sip from his steaming mug of tea.

 

“Then I guess I’d better never leave the apartment.”

 

“Actually.” Minhyun approached the couch from behind. “I’ll make you a bet, then—I bet I can hypnotize you. You’d make a good subject.”

 

Jonghyun rolled his eyes. “And why would I let you do that?”

 

Minhyun smiled sweetly. “Because you want to know if I’m telling the truth. And you’re curious what it would be like to be hypnotized.”

 

Jonghyun took a deep breath before replying. “So, you want me to meow like a cat or something?”

 

Minhyun tilted his head slightly to the side, studying him. “Too boring. What if we make you orgasm instead?”

 

Jonghyun blinked.

 

“It’ll be the only way to see if I’m as good a hypnotist as I claim to be,” Minhyun said. “You’re very private and very quiet. You don’t bring back your dates even though we’re allowed to date now. An orgasm has some physical proof. Yes, I think this would be perfect outcome.”

 

“Minhyun—you know that’s really inappropriate, right?”

 

“Really?” Minhyun smiled cooly, but his eyes were bright. “But you’ve done it before, right? What’s the harm in doing it again?”

 

“But that’s—” Jonghyun squints, “wait, is that really the issue?”

 

Minhyun ignored his question. “Do you want to stay out here, or go to your room? Either is fine with me.”

 

Jonghyun heaved a long sigh, but lay down on the couch. “Why am I doing this, Minhyun?”

 

“I told you already—you’re suggestible.”

 

“Hmph. Do I have to close my eyes?”

 

“You will eventually.” Minhyun set down his tea and stood up, stretching. He sat back down on the armchair perpendicular to the couch. “Comfortable?”

 

Jonghyun shrugged.

 

“Good.”

 

 

#

 


Jonghyun came to feeling the inside of his boxers sticky. Looking down, he was was still fully clothed but there was a wet patch spreading over his zipper. He knew he should be embarrassed but for some reason he felt relaxed, like he’d just come back from a long swim. He looked over at Minhyun, who was looking at him with a high flush on his cheeks.

 

“How was it?”

 

Jonghyun stretched, cracking his back. “I don’t know. Isn’t that the point?”

 

And was rewarded with a grin. “I told you that I was good at this,” Minhyun said.

 

“But that might not just be due to your powers of hypnosis.”

 

Minhyun arched an eyebrow at him.

 

Jonghyun stood up, pulling his sweater to hide the wet spot. “You neglected to control for outside variables.”

 

“Such as?”

 

“Such as the fact that your voice gets me freaking worked up even without the hypnosis. I’m pretty sure we could have hypnotized me with you reading phone numbers and I would have come anyway.”

 

Jonghyun got up and headed for his room. The stunned look on Minhyun’s face at his last word was worth the embarrassment.

 


#

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

He remembered when Daniel first got sick.

 

It started from overwork. They were on the road and they barely slept and it was no wonder that Daniel got as sick as he did. But the headaches hadn’t seemed to go away. And it was the headaches that rendered the boisterous, energetic, happy Daniel into something quieter, smaller, and totally dependent on Seongwoo. Save for when absolutely necessary Daniel rarely ever left the apartment. All the while popping pills for his headaches on set, in between dance practice, during filming intermissions.

 

Seongwoo had never had so much control over another human being before. And once he’d had a taste of Daniel like this—well. Seongwoo knew some people. They weren’t good people, but surely, surely he was allowed to be a little selfish. He missed Daniel, after all. They’d begun to drift a little bit with Daniel’s busy schedule, and Daniel—well, Daniel deserved to rest, especially if he was sick.

 

He told himself he’d just keep Daniel like this for a little while. Just a little while longer.

 

Seongwoo helped Daniel back upstairs to bed, moving slowly so as not to jolt his headache back into full force. Daniel sighed as his head touched his pillow. He smiled weakly up at Seongwoo. Seongwoo pressed the back of his hand over Daniel’s forehead.

 

"Your fever's gone." He kept the disappointment from his voice.

 

Daniel blinked up at him from under Seongwoo’s hand. "Yeah," he smiled. "I think I'm finally getting better."

 

Seongwoo had liked the fever. It had made Daniel delightfully configurable, warm and soft in his rare moments of lucidity. And in Daniel’s fever, Seongwoo was the most important nicest best person in the world, and all Seongwoo had to do was sing lullabies and make sure the washcloths were cold.

 

Seongwoo thought that it was a real shame that Daniel couldn’t get better. This Daniel, the sick one, was perfect. Tucked away from the world. Just here with Seongwoo. With a final brush of his fingers through Daniel’s hair, Seongwoo left to make a phone call.

 

A few days later, after taking painkillers, Daniel was violently sick. All activities were cancelled. When Seongwoo got home, Daniel had torn off his pajamas in a hot flash and was whimpering in twisted sheets, clutching at his stomach with clenched fingers.

 

"Help me." Those dark eyes, so pleading.

 

Seongwoo peeled back the sheets and slid in, scooping the shuddering body into his arms and letting Daniel clutch at him. Daniel panted in his ear. Seongwoo nuzzled closer, his lips brushing Daniel’s sweaty forehead.

 

"I've got you, Niel."

 

Daniel shook even harder, and Seongwoo squeezed their entwined fingers.

 

"I've always got you."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Gathering his courage and tightening his towel, Jonghyun stood, forcing himself out into the steamy corridor before he could talk himself into changing his mind. Almost immediately he heard it. Small moans, a gasp of surprise, a sharp cry. He was glad it was hot in the spa, making his skin rosy pink. It would help to hide the blush that was creeping over his skin as he walked deeper into the baths.

 

He peered around corners and doorways, feeling like a peeping tom, unable to look away or to watch for very long. Bodies moved in the steam, wet muscle writhing against hard flesh, undulating, crying out. Jonghyun found it difficult to breathe. His skin felt hot. He knew it wasn't because of the steam.

 

There were other men in the corridor. Jonghyun brushed past them only to come face to face with a lumbering man made entirely of muscles and tattoos who looked at him like he was a choice piece of meat.

 

"Hi."

 

"H-Hello," Jonghyun stammered.

 

“You’re small,” the man said.

 

“Uh,” Jonghyun said, unfamiliar with the communication protocol for a place like this.

 

“Join us, then. We need a third like you.”

 

“No thank you,” Jonghyun said, heart in his throat. “I’m looking for a friend.”

 

The corridor was crowded, but not unbearably so. He'd been in nightclubs before where you'd had to push your way through the throng like fighting the tide. He could feel eyes on his skin, devouring, hungry looks. A hand brushed his arm, up his towel, a finger over the back of his neck. Jonghyun kept his eyes down and tried to make himself as small as possible. He turned a corner into a small steam room and thank god there was Minhyun, towel slung loose on his hips almost falling open as he sat there on the bench. His eyes were closed. When Jonghyun approached his eyes peeled open and he gave Jonghyun a smile like a cat just coming out of a long nap in the sun.

 

“I looked everywhere for you,” Jonghyun said.

 

“Sorry,” Minhyun murmured.

 

“You don’t seem all that sorry,” Jonghyun grumbled. Now that he was sitting down he could actually relax a little bit. The steam was nicer than he expected but it did make it hard to see Minhyun’s expression.

 

“Mm,” Minhyun hummed, and put a hand on Jonghyun’s thigh.

 

“C’mon, Minhyun—”

 

“S’okay,” Minhyun said, and his face was only a breath away from Jonghyun’s. “E’ryone does it.”

 

Minhyun’s hands stole under Jonghyun’s towel and he stroked the inside of Jonghyun’s thighs lightly with the backs of his fingers. Jonghyun thought he was already being very accommodating with visiting this bathhouse of ill repute with Minhyun on a weeknight, of all nights, but when Minhyun swung around to straddle him, plastering their bodies together in the heat and the steam and taking Jonghyun’s mouth to his did Jonghyun finally let himself melt into a hot little puddle of need.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

His doctor had told Dongho his cholesterol was too high so he was trying to eat healthy these days. No red meat for the rest of his thirties if he wanted to live til a hundred. Daehwi had volunteered to teach him a recipe or two. So here they were with a casserole in the oven and ninety minutes to kill on a Friday night. 


“How ‘bout now?” 


Daehwi cupped Dongho’s face in his hands and kissed him. Breathed into him. "How ‘bout never?"


“You’re really going to tease me?” Dongho protested. 


"Try me," Daehwi said, and kissed him again. Just kissing until Dongho’s heart beat in a familiar speed, fast and faster like a rapid drum.


"Mixed messages, Daehwi." Dongho said with a muzzy expression like a fog had descended on his brain. “What are you doing?”


Daehwi grinned, because what he was doing was fairly obvious. He worked his way down. Dongho didn't stop him, just purred in a long and low vibration that made Daehwi think of all kinds of things. He slid further down and explored his way to the end. Dongho’s purr rumbled in his mouth. Dongho’s hands clamped down on his shoulders. Dongho tasted like sea salt and caramel. Daehwi took it all in. Greedy. He'd always been greedy.


Afterwards he rocked back on his heels and peered up at Dongho who was breathing like a marathon, his wide eyes dark in the dim light looking at Daehwi with something in between spooked and enraptured.


Daehwi smiled sweetly. “How about dinner?”


But even after dinner they were still seriously keyed up. Across the table Dongho stared at him in a narrow and predatory way. Daehwi knew that look. He got as far as, "So," when Dongho pounced on him. The chair went tumbling. They went back and back until Daehwi was pinned against the wall. He couldn't move. He could hardly breathe. He liked it. Dongho’s tongue was rough like a great cat's. Purring and devouring him and then Daehwi really really liked it.

 

 

Chapter Text


The first time you almost get to say it, your voice is shaking with fear and tenderness.

 

"Niel. There's something I have to tell you."

 

But he's not having any of it. A quick turn of his head and his expression shutters shut. You’re left to look at the back of him, hands shoved tight in his coat pockets as he walks away.

 

Alone with dumpster stink outside the studio you kick at the wall. Little shambles of brick shake loose with your boot, and a litany of creative curses chorus in your brain all the way home. You admit, it was probably a bad time to spring it on him (though you'll always credit yourself for trying to use the element of surprise to trap him into hearing you out).

 

The next time, you think (hope) the timing is more appropriate.

 

You're soaring above the city, sun peeking out pink and gold over the horizon. (You know in his weaker moments, in both your weaker moments, when you're tired and worn from all that's happened at night, this is one indulgence you can feed him that he won't escape.)

 

He's sitting in a window seat, entranced by the look of it all spread below. The sunset moves in broad swathes over his face, and maybe this is as good a time as ever—

 

"Look," you pull back your hoodie, letting your face speak for itself. "There's something you have to know."

 

Silence beats thick and there's only the hum of the engines. The sun takes forever to crawl over the edge of the last cloud. His gloved hands are clenched tight at his side and he refuses to look at you. Condemns you instead. "Don’t. Ongi."

 

"I can’t," you protest, indignation (shame) registers as a thick red blossoming on your face. You reach for his arm and squeeze. "I can't help it," your voice is hurried, "you know? You can't help these things."

 

You run a hand through your hair, stringy with dried sweat underneath your hands. You should have showered this morning before leaving. In a burst of frustration you tear off your cap and stuff it into your backpack under your seat. "Look, just give me a yes or no. It’s torture, it’s killing me, waiting for you to—"

 

You don't finish. He's on you in a second, grip closing in on your jaw, almost painful as he brings you down to him, mouth crashing against yours. Your breath shudders inside you and you grip him back, thrusting your tongue against his.

 

Later in your hotel, your bare hands grasp at the bedframe, your knees digging into the rough carpet. The smell of air freshener chilled arctic by the air conditioner surrounds you. It sends a jolt down your spine when you inhale. With every thrust of his cock you can't help but arch back, mouth wet and slack-jawed as you pant muffled and lewd sounds into your knuckles. His breath comes hot and sweltering against the back of your neck. Every hiss and choke sounds like sick, sick, sick, and he makes you know it.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Come here.”


“No.”


“Why not?”


“Don’t wanna.”


It was always like this on a rainy day. Minhyun took a deep breath and tried again.


“You have to eat something.”


“No.”


“Why not?”


“Told you. Don’t wanna.”


“What if I told you that I had treats for you?”


Jinyoung’s ears perked up. Little auburn triangles of fuzz. It was already hard enough hiding his ears at school, and he had to hide his distaste for vegetables on top of it. “Really?”


“Oh yes, yes.” Minhyun stood up from his crouch, cracking his back as he headed to the kitchen and rummaged the shelves. Jinyoung sat up and tried not to look too interested. “Jonghyun and I went to the store.” At Jonghyun’s name Jinyoung wrinkled his nose, but Minhyun kept on going. “It was he who insisted that we get the good stuff, so don’t make that face.”


Jinyoung couldn’t keep the scowl off his face but trotted over to the kitchen. As promised, Minhyun had dug out the can opener and was going to town on a can of tuna. Jinyoung’s mouth watered and he almost turned full cat right then and there.


Minhyun set the can of tuna on the kitchen table and stuck a tiny fork in the center. Jinyoung leapt up from the linoleum into the chair.


“Sit properly,” Minhyun said, sitting opposite Jinyoung. “And please use the utensil provided, like the civilized hybrid you are.”


Jinyoung almost said no, but then thought better of it. Tuna was too good to pass up.


He and Minhyun watched some TV afterwards. Minhyun fell asleep in the middle of the program with Jinyoung collapsed over his lap. Jinyoung unfurled his tail and caressed Minhyun’s nostrils, but even then all Minhyun did was grunt a little and snore even louder. When he got bored he got started on his homework at the low table in front of the TV. It was always easier to do homework after he’d had fish.


Right at six o’clock, there was the sound of a key jiggling in the lock. Jinyoung shrunk down into his feline form, slithering out of his school uniform as he crept into the shadows.


“Minhyun?” Jonghyun’s voice came through, and there was the rustle of grocery bags. “Oh—.” He spotted Minhyun snoozing on the couch and closed the door quietly, toeing off his shoes so he could pad around in his socks. He set the grocery bags on the kitchen table and started unpacking. As he brought a jug of milk to the fridge he almost tripped over Jinyoung’s school uniform.


“Ah—jeez. When will that kid learn to not leave his clothes lying around everywhere?”


Jinyoung thought it was pretty obvious that there were clothes on the floor to be avoided, but as usual, Jonghyun always had his head in the clouds.


He watched Jonghyun unpack the groceries and load everything into the fridge and the cabinets. He thought how he should approach. Maybe he could leap onto the kitchen counter and hide behind the open refrigerator door, then jump out at Jonghyun when he closed the door. Give him a nice scare, and his yell would wake up Minhyun too. Jinyoung huffed to himself and got ready to spring, when—


Jonghyun took the last items out of the grocery bag. Three cans of tuna, one can of salmon, one tin of sardines, and a jar of anchovies. Salmon! Sardines! Jinyoung meowed before he could help himself.


“There you are,” Jonghyun smiled, and crouched down onto the floor, rubbing Jinyoung’s head. Scratching him behind the ears just the way Jinyoung liked, damn it. Jinyoung closed his eyes and felt a grin spread on his face despite himself. “I was wondering where you went. Got you some treats.”


Jinyoung was purring. He didn’t want to, but here he was anyway. Jonghyun grinned and reached for a tin of sardines, peeling it open. He fished out an oily sliver of sardine and dangled it in front of Jinyoung. Jinyoung opened his mouth wide and Jonghyun dropped it in his mouth. Ooooooh.


“You get more if you’re good.” Jonghyun stood back up. “Did you do your homework today?”


Jinyoung meowed and tunneled back into his clothes before expanding again. He winked at Jonghyun from the floor. “I did.”


“That’s good,” Jonghyun said. He wondered when he’d get used to the sight of Jinyoung going from cat to boy and boy to cat. Maybe never. But that didn’t mean he’d try to do right.


“Jonghyunnie,” Minhyun mumbled from the living room. “S’that you?”


“I let myself in,” Jonghyun said, walking over to Minhyun. He knelt down and pressed a kiss to Minhyun’s forehead. “Hope that’s okay.”


“S’Fine,” Minhyun said sleepily. “You smell fishy.”


“Was feeding Jinyoung.”


“I’m glad you two are becoming friends,” Minhyun said, wrapping an arm around Jonghyun’s neck and pulling him in for a real kiss.


Jinyoung watched the schmoopy proceedings unfold. His eyes were rolling so hard he thought they might roll back into yesterday. Well, at least Jonghyun made Minhyun happy. Jinyoung couldn’t say the same for Minhyun’s other significant others. And as long as they were preoccupied with each other, Jinyoung was going to help himself to the rest of the sardines.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

It was a Sunday. He was dressed in his best clothes and looking down the end of a gun. At least the lighting was good. Through the stained glass windows, Mother Mary and the Lord Jesus beamed calmly at the two of them.

“Any last words?” Daehwi said, eyes cold.

“I knew you’d find me,” Dongho smiled.

Daehwi pulled the trigger.


#


"Mao wants us in by eight." Daehwi said, almost gently, even though he was never gentle- always glowering, always possessive, always desperate for more, keeping Dongho close to him, keeping an eye on him and never letting him out of his sullen gaze for too long. It was like that when he’d met Daehwi at the club and it’d intensified when Daehwi had joined the Red Dragons and broke Dongho’s heart.

"We have two hours." Dongho said, chiding. He didn't want to leave the warmth of his bed. Daehwi was curled up against him like he was just a kid in love. It was a rare moment of innocence in Dongho’s life. It would be one of the last.


#


A month after Daehwi’s initiation Dongho had pulled him aside. He had trusted him then. Daehwi was only a kid, after all.

"Don’t try to find me if I disappear.”

Silence.

"Okay, Mr. Drama. Sure. Why the hell would you disappear? What do you even mean?"

Dongho tried to sound reassuring. "Something might happen someday. I might go missing. In this line of work, you never know. One day I might be here, the next day the boss might want me out."

Daehwi looked put out. "You’re not allowed to leave. I joined the Dragons to be with you."

Dongho closed his eyes and tried not to wince. He knew very clearly that Daehwi would not be deterred. How proud he had looked when he’d walked into Dongho’s apartment with the brand on his back and his head shaved, the sign of the initiate. It had made Dongho regret every fucking decision he’d ever made.

"I wouldn’t leave, Daehwi." Dongho said. “But I might be made to disappear.”

Arrogantly, "Well, you'd have to have a fucking good explanation before you could."

Dongho sighed. "Some things don't have a reason, Daehwi."

"Well, what if I left?" Searching, apprehensive.

Dongho said lightly, "I'd follow you to the other side of the world."

Surprised, but pleased. No irony. "... hypocrite."

Funny, the way things worked out.


#


It had been a sunny day when Kim Jonghyun dropped the bombshell that would send Dongho running for the next five years.

Jonghyun’s car was parked in down a back alley. They sat next to each other listening to the police radio spit out fuzzy frequencies. Every now and then someone would emerge from the back door of the Chinese restaurant they were parked behind. The cooks sat on the stoop smoking cigarettes, forking blasé expressions at their tinted windows.

“They’re onto you,” Jonghyun said, and passed Dongho an envelope. “I managed to get you this.”

“You sure?” Dongho couldn’t swallow past the lump in his throat. He looked in the envelope. Cash and an passport with a different name on it. Kang Baekho.

“You think I’d be here if I wasn’t sure?” Jonghyun bit into a sugar donut. Carefully brushed away the crumbs that gathered in his lap. “I’d give you a day. Two, tops. Get your affairs in order. Then get out of town.”

“Where should I go?” Dongho kept his voice low so it won’t tremble.

“LA’s nice this time of year.”

“I don’t speak English,” Dongho said.

“You’d better learn it.”

“Who’s going to take my place?”

“A good agent,” Jonghyun sounded pained. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Is it Hwang? ‘Cuz Choi can’t lie for shit.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jonghyun said in a way that made Dongho think he was right.


#


So he went to Los Angeles. Found a cheap apartment in Koreatown and for a while he didn’t even have to learn English.

He did delivery work, cooked, and eventually the church found him. He didn’t believe in the Lord but he liked singing and being a part of a group. When they found out he could play the piano they made him play every time.

He was learning how to play the organ now. The kind where the pipes stretched on high. He liked it. The dramatic height of the organ pipes made him think of the skyline viewed from Yeouido River. He missed Seoul. He crazy missed the little punk known as Lee Daehwi.


#


“That’s not good.” Minhyun took a deep breath.

“Yeah.” Dongho rubbed his face. “Of all things.”

“Didn’t take you for a club kind of guy,” Minhyun slapped his back. “Took you even less for a cradle robber. Am I going to have to arrest you?”

“He’s mature for his age,” Dongho said.

“You’re going to hell.”

“I know,” Dongho moaned.

They stared at their coffee. The waitress came over to give them a refill but Minhyun shook his head. Dongho looked a strange mix of miserable and elated.

“So what are you going to do?”

Dongho shrugged. “Get what I deserve, I guess.”


#


Halfway across the world, he had once said. Halfway across the world.

He was there now.

Daehwi found him. For the last five years he chased the apparition known as Kang Dongho from city to city. Up escalators and down hallways and through the shadows, for years everywhere he turned he saw Kang Dongho. Never forgot the way Dongho had looked at him when he’d last said goodbye. Never thought it was supposed to be goodbye.

But that was life in this line of work. For a while Daehwi thought that he’d been kidnapped, been offed, had done something to the syndicate, angered the elders. It wasn’t until much later that he’d learned, in bits and pieces, that Dongho wasn’t who he had claimed to be.

Dongho lifted his fingers from the organ keys, kept his hands in the air. “Too late to say I’m sorry?”

“You piece of shit,” Daehwi said, raising his gun.


#


When he had first joined the syndicate, when his hair had grown out again, Daehwi was finally ready for his first kill. Dongho had been the one to show him how to do it.

His hands had been gentle, sliding over Daehwi’s,

breath ghosting past his ear,

this is how you do it

and Daehwi had fired, the sound echoing in his ears.

Bang.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It was the one year anniversary of Minhyun’s return to Nu’est. That’s what they thought they were celebrating at the apartment. Minki had already pimped the place out with streamers that said HAPPY ONE YEAR RETURN HWANG MINHYUN.

It should have been a happy occasion. But for some reason Minhyun looked anxious. His lips were stretched thin the whole time and he barely cracked a smile, even when Aaron and Dongho sang a painstakingly arranged duet of a bastardized Happy Birthday.

“Guys,” he finally said. “I have something to tell you.”

Jonghyun’s heart clenched a little. Surely Minhyun wasn’t going to say—whatever it was. Since last year upon Minhyun’s return the tension between them had been building up something crazy. For a long time it was only knowledge to Jonghyun that Minhyun’s absence had only made his heart grow fonder until one day he didn’t recognize it as a platonic feeling anymore.

Jonghyun had been avoiding Minhyun like the plague for the last year. Something about the way Minhyun had been looking at him had really gotten under his skin. It was like Minhyun could see straight through him, read all of his thoughts. He took refuge in Minki’s company these days. At least with Minki he could step into a manly, oniichan kind of role. It was something that came easily to his JR persona and often was what he defaulted to in times of crisis (see: five months during Produce 101).

But as Minhyun gathered his courage to tell them all whatever it was, Jonghyun couldn’t help but feel like it was going to change the way he related to Minhyun, forever.

“I’m not who you think I am,” Minhyun said, blinking rapidly. “I’ve been hiding my true self from you this whole time.”

“What do you mean?” Dongho was all easy smiles. “We all knew you were an idiot from the first day.”

“And that you’re a terrible singer,” Minki chimed in.

“And that I’m the real center,” Aaron snickered.

“And that you’re so ugly,” Jonghyun said, immediately regretting it.

But it was like Minhyun didn’t even hear them. “Guys, do you remember when I told you I believed in aliens?”

Dongho scratched his head. “What, like when we were teenagers?”

“You still do, right?”

“Well, that was a lie,” Minhyun whispered. He looked hurt and scared. Jonghyun was freaking out. What the hell was Minhyun trying to say?

“So you’ve been conning us this whole time,” Aaron said. He was trying to laugh but the atmosphere in the room had shifted and things felt tense, dark, and electric. Jonghyun rubbed his arms. His hair was standing up on end.

“I have,” Minhyun said. He sounded like he was about to cry. “Guys, I’m... I’m not from here.”

“Not from... where?”

“Minhyun,” Minki said. “None of us are from here.”

“I don’t mean that I’m from Busan. That’s a lie, too.”

“Just spit it out already,” Dongho said, standing up. His fists were clenched at his sides.

“I’m from a different planet.”

Aaron’s made a soothing sound as he reached out to put a hand on Minhyun’s shoulder. “We know you’re weird, Minhyun, but that doesn’t mean you’re from a different planet.” There was the snap of static electricity and Aaron took back his hand like he’d been shocked.

“Are you okay?” Minki’s eyes widened. “Minhyun, what’s happening to your face?”

Sure enough, Minhyun was transforming into something else right in front of them. Or disappearing. Or becoming a small, smooth white stone the size of Jonghyun’s palm. What the hell was going on?

“See?” Minhyun’s voice was all around the room, enveloping them like the morning mist streaming down the Himalayas. “I’m not from this world.”

“How long have you been like this?” Aaron yelled over the sound of the ocean. Jonghyun covered his ears, because to him Minhyun was a small, smooth, egg-shaped stone the size of Jonghyun’s palm. He wanted to pick it up from where it was denting the couch but he was scared of what would happen if he did.

Minki started to cry. “You were my childhood. My whole childhood from the age of seven to twelve. That was you.”

“I’m sorry,” Minhyun wept. “I know it was hard for you then.”

“You saw everything that happened to me,” Minki sobbed. “And you never helped me.”

“I would have if I could,” Minhyun pleaded. “But I didn’t know how to materialize yet. I was still a series of abstract functions at the whims of mother space-time.”

“What the hell are you guys talking about,” Dongho said. “He’s right there. Minhyun, stop crying. Here’s a tissue.” And he handed Minhyun a box and Minhyun blew his nose. At this point Aaron was holding his breath like he was underwater, squinting only with a millimeter of his eyes open.

Jonghyun found himself in front of the stone that was Minhyun before he could help himself. His hand reached out of its own volition and took it. The stone felt warm in his hand, like the way the beach was at the end of a summer day, as the sun was setting. It felt millions of years old, worn smooth by water and wind and time. Holding it, Jonghyun realized he had felt this way before. Every time Minhyun had held his forearm, reached for his hand, enveloped him in a hug. Jonghyun had smelt the sandstone and the ozone and the passage of dinosaurs, lumbering on in a time when the plants were the size of houses and the air was made of butterflies.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” He whispered to Minhyun, as if talking to a baby chick. Minhyun peeped in his hand.

“I didn’t know that I could,” Minhyun whispered back. “It wasn’t a skill that had been uploaded in my repository until just fourteen minutes ago.”

“And so with your omniscient conscience—you’ve always known,” Jonghyun gulped. “You’ve known how I felt this whole time.”

“Yes,” Minhyun said.

And that was that. Love confessions didn’t always have to be hard.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text




It is four in the afternoon when Daniel comes over.

The doorbell rings, and Seongwoo springs out of his chair. He has been sitting on that chair by the door for ten minutes now, waiting for Daniel to come. He had invited him over yesterday.

Uncle Butler ventures out into the foyer and smiles at him. Seongwoo shakes his head. He wanted to open the door. So Uncle Butler bows politely and walks away.

Seongwoo opens the door. Daniel is standing there. Today he is wearing a turtleneck with a red coat with no buttons on it, but there is a design of herringbone up the front. Seongwoo wonders what brand it is. If it’s from one of Daniel’s collars. He stops himself because he’s nervous and if he starts talking now, it’ll just be rambling, rambling, rambling.

Daniel says hello to him. Smiles. Seongwoo feels special.

Toward the end of their project group, Daniel didn’t smile often in private, saving all his energy for public appearances and the fans. He smiled at performances and in front of fans and for managers to be left alone and get paid on time. Seongwoo missed the smiles from their reality show days. Those smiles were another taxonomy of evolution. Innocent, full-on smiles.

Uncle Butler comes out to ask them a question. Would they like something to drink? Coffee, tea, Kirin, soju, 20 year Nikka? In the living room, upstairs in Seongwoo’s room, or out on the terrace? Seongwoo replies, the terrace, the same time Daniel says two beers, thanks.

Seongwoo offers to take Daniel’s coat so he can ask him something without staring at him like an idiot. Daniel takes his coat off, and Seongwoo hangs it up on the coat rack.

So they go outside, where the beers and two glasses of ice water are already there, sweating onto their coasters since it’s a hot day. Seongwoo wonders, in the wake of the project group disbandment, who takes care of Daniel. But Daniel has been coming over almost every day, so it's like they take care of each other.

They finish their first round of beers out there on the terrace. During a lull in the conversation Daniel just sits there, thinking, and Seongwoo keeps his hands curled in fists by his side, so that they're holding him up as he sneaks a look at Daniel out of the corner of his eye, at his hair, which is bluish shade of black, gone back to his normal color, because Daniel was sick of it being something unnatural for once. It was one of the things he envied Seongwoo for. Seongwoo had gotten to keep his own hair color for the duration of the project group.

Daniel starts telling Seongwoo about his latest girlfriend. This is the second- no, third time Seongwoo has heard about her. She's pretty, Daniel says, and hardworking. And then he tells Seongwoo about how they kissed, when they kissed, and how long they kissed. Seongwoo thinks it's funny, but he doesn't laugh. He watches himself with appalled fascination, twisting and fumbling with the beer bottle in his own lap. So much for playing it cool. He’s his own harshest critic.

Seongwoo knows that he never needs to think too hard about who Daniel’s girlfriends are, because they come as quickly as they go. Just sit there and listen to the stories. Enjoy the ride.

Daniel goes into detail about how it was different when it was kissing her, and how her lips had tasted like the canned peaches they had at lunch, how her hand had somehow found its way onto his shoulder, and how he had put his own hand behind her neck to pull her closer to him. He tells Seongwoo that he had opened his eyes when they were kissing and he had looked at her, and her eyes were closed. He tells Seongwoo that he had then closed his eyes again and it was like everything was normal.

"Normal how?" Seongwoo asks, forgetting about his beer. Daniel looks at him sidelong.

"I don't know." His smile is enigmatic, and he means for it to be that way, Seongwoo realizes. How annoying.

"Normal how?" Seongwoo insists, and then Daniel looks at him, a strange look in his eyes, which are their natural color.

It’s a relief, to look into the real Daniel’s eyes.

"Normal like this." Daniel says, and leans in, and Seongwoo finds that Daniel’s breath is warm on his cheek.

"Oh," Seongwoo says, and then Daniel leans in and kisses him lightly on the cheek, and he can feel his face going on fire, but oh, it's a strange feeling, to have somebody's lips on your face, to feel everything concentrated on that one point, and to think of nothing else. Distantly, Seongwoo wonders if Daniel feels the same way. Probably not, since he’s the one in control of this situation.

Seongwoo realizes that he's closed his eyes, and that when he opens then, Daniel’s are open as well, as if they had been the whole time. And they're both a little flushed, high spots of color on Daniel’s face. And then Daniel closes his eyes and Seongwoo closes his eyes as well and they kiss. It’s hard to believe that Daniel hasn't done this before with a boy.


#


The next day they try it again. Being normal. Uncle Butler brings them tea up to their room and shuts the door behind them. Seongwoo feels sixteen again, talking his high school girlfriends into his room, no, his parents are never home, no, they don’t have to worry.

Daniel’s lips are slightly from the tea, from the sugar he added into it, Seongwoo thinks. He tastes like tea and he tastes like how he smells- clean and fresh. He opens his mouth slightly and Daniel’s tongue slides in, slick and warm and Seongwoo shivers and reaches up for Daniel’s shoulder. They deepen the kiss. Daniel pushes him a little so that he's leaning into his bed. Drowning deep in it. Not unpleasant. Not at all. Daniel breaks away to run a finger across the top button of his shirt.

"Nice?" He asks, mock-innocent, and Seongwoo blinks, and then nods, because that's all he can do. His hands are on Daniel’s shoulders, and he wonders when Daniel decided this was okay, and then decides that he can worry about that later. He’s suddenly grateful for the drooping branches on the willow tree outside, obscuring them from the public view.

When Uncle Butler calls for them they've already put their clothes back on. Talking like they would have before. The teacups are set back on the tray and Daniel has tried to smooth his hair back into place and protests when Seongwoo says he doesn't care what he looks like, what either of them look like right now.

Daniel buttons Seongwoo’s shirt and Seongwoo flushes again. Finds it a little harder to breathe.

It's late when Daniel leaves.





Chapter Text

 

 

You love the way Daniel looks when he looks like this.

Golden face in the sun. Arms crooked, leaning next the window, his eyes are peeled wide open and his lips are slightly parted. It’s six AM, normally too early for anything else to be happening, you shouldn’t be up at this hour, but you are and you are here.

Minhyun had set the alarm for 3am. It’s hard to think that just a few hours ago you were barely on the edge of consciousness. It had been hard even to brush your teeth, even to dress yourself. You wondered how you were going to make it. Thankfully, the staff were good at taking care of things (well, it was their job). And all the other boys were excited, especially Daniel. Jittery. His hand had been sweaty when you touched it.

“You’ve really never flown before?”

“Furthest I’ve flown is five feet,” Daniel said, referring to when he did the long jump in middle school and fell flat on his bum, cracking his coccyx.

For optics or for convenience, they had sat you and Daniel together. So you were in the aisle and Daniel was by the window, as it should be. “Ongi,” he’d hissed at you. “You have to go into airplane mode.”

Only a novice at flying would know that airplane mode was a lie. But you put your phone in airplane mode anyway because hey, it was Daniel’s first time flying.

When the plane took off he had gasped. Audibly. It had taken you everything you could not to laugh. You wouldn’t have been laughing at him but you didn’t want him to misunderstand. There was magic happening there in his head and you didn’t want to mess with it.

The plane turned in the air, and the fullness of the world came into view.

“I think that’s Jeju Island,” you say. You’re not sure that it’s Jeju but hey, it would be nice if it were.

Jeju scrolls on by and Daniel turns back to you. You’ve got the menu open. They’re about to come over and ask you what you want to eat for lunch. 

“Whoa! They serve champagne?”

It’s going to be a good flight.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“I’m busy, kid.”

“Try again.”

“Not interested,” he said.

Didn’t stop Lee Daehwi from approaching him twenty minutes later.

“I know I might get hurt if I keep talking to you, but there’s no way I’m leaving without your number.”

This time Dongho got a good look at the kid. Slim as a rail. Bordering on scrawny but for a certain elegance. He was built like a ballet dancer. Unlike the other club kids here Daehwi was dressed simply—white button up unbuttoned at the top, sleeves a little long for his arms. Who wore white to a club? But it was the right way to get noticed. He caught the UV light and made it hard to look away. There was a concavity to his chest and length to his neck, pale, exposed, emerging strong and fragile from a slightly wrinkled collar, that Dongho found his breath hitching for.

“I’m not giving you my number,” Dongho said. The kid looked at him, steely. “But I guess I’ll buy you a drink.”


#


Jonghyun looked at him with an expression bordering on impatience. But it was Jonghyun, so everything was hidden beneath a placid, unknowable, Pacific Ocean kind of smile.

“You didn’t get to Mao?”

“He had a lot more detail than expected,” Dongho said. It was half the truth. “I know where he’ll be next week.”

“Call for backup next time,” Jonghyun said, taking a sip of coffee.


#


“Should have picked a different mark,” Minhyun sighed.

They weren’t supposed to meet, but they’d gone to academy together. Minhyun usually followed instructions to a T but there was something about their friendship that made Minhyun bend his rules. Loyalty would do that to a man. There was the one time that Dongho took a bullet for him, after all.

“Yeah,” Dongho said. They were waiting for their breakfast sandwiches. There were five people ahead of them. Minhyun wore a trench coat and a serious expression.

“What are you laughing at?”

“You.”

“Why?”

“You look like a flasher.”

Minhyun looked at himself.

“How’s the Ong case going?” Dongho said, when Minhyun wasn’t getting it.

“Oh,” Minhyun sighed. “Slippery as ever. We thought we had a lead but it turned out to be a dead end.”

What was unspoken between them: this would likely be the last time they’d meet before Dongho went totally undercover.

“Let’s sit down,” Dongho said, suddenly thinking of the club kid named Lee Daehwi. He had to come clean to someone. Even if it messed him up later. Even if it killed him.

“Sure,” said Minhyun. He sounded relieved.


#


“Why me?” Dongho called from the kitchen.

Daehwi wanted chamomile tea, Daehwi got chamomile tea. Said it was restorative. Said he needed restoration, after what Dongho did to him last night.

“Why me what?” Daehwi called back from the bathroom.

“Why me, that night, out of everyone?”

“You were hot.”

“Were?”

“Are, are.”

It made Dongho a little hot under the collar to hear Daehwi say that so blatantly. But he liked it all the same.

“Blame your tattoo,” Daehwi said. He came out of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth. “I was intrigued.”

Dongho snuck a peek at the white tiger crawling over his arm. “So I was just a piece of meat.”

Daehwi finished brushing his teeth at the kitchen sink, spitting and rinsing. “I know you’re new to the world of the gays, but that’s how it always starts. Now you get to answer a question for me.”

Dongho got out a tea bag and dipped it into the mug. Carefully.

“What were you doing at the club that night?”


#


The electric razor buzzed. The closer it got to his head the more he spaced out.

He remembered his dad’s face. Do me proud, son. 

He saw Daehwi’s face. I’ll see you at home tonight?

I’ll try, he’d said to them, worlds apart.

Focus on me, said Mao. His old twinkling eyes boring into Dongho’s own. You are a Red Dragon now.

They could only cut his hair. They couldn’t ink him like they inked the others because he was still in the police. He had told them that he was joining the Dragons for revenge. The police had let his dad die on the job.

It was half the truth.


#


“I was looking for you,” Dongho slid the cup over.

Daehwi frowned. “Not a real answer. You were not looking for a good time. I had to literally mop the floor to get you to notice me. Try again.”

“I was looking for you,” Dongho repeated, turning Daehwi’s face to his so he could kiss him.

“Mm,” said Daehwi.

“Minty fresh,” said Dongho.

“Not for long,” said Daehwi.






Chapter Text

 

 

“No speeches,” Dongho says.

 

“No speeches,” Daehwi promises.

 

Dongho grins like a little kid, and ruffles Daehwi’s bowl cut. “All right, drama queen. Let’s go.”

 

They’re just two guys riding bikes down the boardwalk. It’s spring in Valencia, California, which means it’s summer. Nu’est flew to Los Angeles to film a music video. Vogue Korea sent Daehwi to California on a photo shoot. It was a complete coincidence that he and Dongho ended up here at the same time. But since he met Dongho one cold winter, Daehwi has felt like his life has just been one coincidence after the other.

 

It’s a beautiful line—one coincidence after the other. He almost wants to tell Dongho. Hey, Dongho, Baekho, oh Mr. Kang—doesn’t that sound nice? Couldn’t it be the start to a song? But Daehwi made a promise. No speeches.

 

They rode their bicycles up and down the boardwalk. They stopped at a place that sold espressos that tasted like leaded gasoline. They quickly rode to an ice cream stand to rinse the taste down with too-sweet ice creams that melted in sticky rivulets down their fingers, asynchronous, decoupled affogatos. Dongho got two scoops of vanilla in a tiny waffle cone, and for the rest of the afternoon Daehwi’s mind is filled with the taste of sticky sweet vanilla on Dongho’s fingers made salty by the spray of the ocean.

 

The sun seems like it’ll never set so it’s at once beautiful and sad when it does. The next day Daehwi is flying to New York to give an interview and do another photo shoot with Nylon Magazine and Dongho is flying back to Seoul with the rest of the Nu’est hyungs to start promotions. He and Dongho walk down to the rocks to catch the last of the daylight with their shoes in hand and their toes digging into the stone as they walk as far as they can go out into the jetty.

 

The sun takes its time to tuck itself into the horizon, bathing them in a warm bath of orange and hazy pink light as it goes down. With one last indigo flashing off the chop of the waves, the sun morphs into a thin lava line at the end of the world, and then winks out.

 

Without thinking, Dongho asks how anyone could leave California after living here. Daehwi smiles right away because he catches Dongho’s attempt to backpedal, which instantly brings complicit smiles to both their faces, like two guilty individuals in the night who, after placing a long day between them like a vast desert so as to protect the other from his wantonness, had found themselves in a wet and passionate kiss as soon as the sky turned dark.

 

“I thought you said—,” Daehwi began.

 

“No speeches, I know.”

 

They returned to the hotel, leaving their bikes outside.

 

It was Dongho’s first time Stateside. That Daehwi could show him this slice of California and America made it even more special. This whole day he had felt like he was showing Dongho a secret haunt, the place where one came to be alone, to escape the world, to dream of others. The place where I dreamed of you before I knew you.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It takes Jonghyun a little while to understand Minhyun. And by a while, he means something approaching a decade. How could anyone know someone for a decade and yet not know who they really are?

It makes Jonghyun feel stupid.

Seeing Minhyun from a screen, peeking out from a magazine cover, smiling back at him from candy and soda and cosmetic cases and posters, Jonghyun has no idea what to think. Or what Minhyun is thinking. Minhyun, who has become a bigger-than-life entity—this Minhyun is a stranger to him. The Minhyun he thought he knew—the quiet, humble, unassuming bookworm with the cool gaze and perfect laughs, flawless in all of his clothes—is actually a cipher who wears other people’s projections as easily as he does his white turtleneck sweaters. A composite of Korea’s hopes and dreams. The nation’s Prince Hwang.

Jonghyun keeps up with the news, watches the videos, the fan cams, but he comes no closer to a full understanding.

Jonghyun spends most of his free time in 2018 watching behind the scenes videos of Minhyun and wondering what Minhyun is thinking. If Minhyun misses Nu’est. If Minhyun misses him.

Jonghyun misses this the most: in all those years together, they had spent countless nights in countless hotel rooms. There would be Minhyun curled up in bed, bedside lamp casting a soft glow on his angular features, the sound of the page turning every two minutes.

He used to fall asleep to the sound of those turning pages. To the sound of Minhyun sometimes reading aloud to himself, air passing through his lips in invisible whispers.

Sometimes, he dreams of Minhyun in the intermissions. Lanky, tall frame slipping effortlessly from studio to studio, from hotel to hotel, from train to train, from cab to cab, from screen to screen. From place to place, until he’s standing next to Jonghyun once again.

From those dreams, he wakes up wondering if he will know who Minhyun is when he returns to Nu’est. Or if he’ll have to learn him all over again.

 

 

Chapter Text

Eight days. 

 

Eight days of silence. 

 

Eight days of silence! Seriously? 

 

I won’t even. I won’t look at my phone. What’s the point? It’s not like it’ll make the days go by faster. It’s not even like it’ll help any. 

 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Lee Daehwi. You were supposed to keep your cool. Trap the guy. Fish him for information. Take him into custody. Get him beat for having information that nobody else was supposed to have. Okay, just kidding. It’s not like you’re a secret agent or anything. But at this point you wish you were. You’d have the skills to track him down and intimidate him into spilling the beans. Like where he was for the last eight days. And why he hasn’t called you back. 

 

It’s tiring, isn’t it? After the last guy you swore. Nope. Never again! Never again would you be so obsessed. But here you are, waiting like a Withering Nancy by your phone and hoping that he’ll text you back. 

 

Hey, I had a great time last week. 

 

Hey, thanks for the great time last week. 

 

Great time last week. Let’s fuck again? 

 

Oh god. Don’t get your panties in a twist now. 

 

Too late. 

 

# 

 

In the break room:

 

“I’m so tired.” 

 

“Stop complaining, Bae. We’re all exhausted.” 

 

“Yeah, but mine is a new kind of exhausted. It’s the kind you never recover from.” 

 

“Don’t die on me.”

 

“Don’t choke on me.”

 

Hah. Ever since Bae Jinyoung found out that you dance at night he’s never let you forget it. Whatever. Not everyone can be a rich kid who just makes coffee for fun. 

 

“I won’t let you down.” 

 

“Better not.” 

 

It should have been a day like any other. Put on your apron, a fetching shade of blue, walk out there, take orders, make coffee. Steam gets in your eyes and makes your glasses slip off your nose and one time they slipped clean off into the cold brew with almond milk you were mixing but Bae caught them just in time. Quick reflexes, that one. Too bad he’s not gay. Not that he’s your type. 

 

You realized what your type was eight days ago. 

 

He’s standing right in front of you. 

 

Fuck!

 

# 

 

At the register:

 

“Can I take your order?” 

 

“Long black.”

 

Right. Of course. 

 

“No milk?”

 

A grunt. Obviously he hasn’t even woken up yet. 

 

Can you hide forever behind the Lavazzo machine? Or your bangs?

 

Now that the world has decided to hand you itself on a platter, you decide to choke. Forget about Dante, the real Divine Comedy is right here and its name is Lee Daehwi, barista. 

 

You grind the beans. Two scoops. Press the grinds into the filter. Check the steam on the espresso machine just for good measure. It hisses at you like betrayal. Fog steaks up your glasses and provides a welcome respite from the shock of seeing Him here. In your know-nothing coffee shop. As the coffee squeezes itself out of the machine in a low-pitched hum you consider that he might not even remember who you were. You were dressed in a filmy white number that you spent your entire paycheck on and had glitter under your eyes and green contact lenses. Your hair was styled up. Right now everything about you feels fifty shades way less fabulous. 

 

Meanwhile, look at HIM. Five o’clock shadow on an eight AM face (does he shave at midnight?), a squint that looks like he means business (boy did he ever), an aura of vague dissatisfaction like he’s skeptical of everything (oh but you made him believe, yes you did, eight days ago). Add to that the usual mix of tall, buff, and surly and hey here’s the reigning champ of Lee Daehwi’s loins. 

 

“Long black for Kang Dongho,” you say. He walks up to the counter. Your eyes meet. His lips are parted. 

 

Just kidding. His eyes are stuck to his phone. He’s texting something. Is it you? Shit, you left your phone in the break room. 

 

“Thanks,” he grunts without looking at you, and leaves. 

 

Leaves. 

 

You’re not sure whether to laugh or cry or run after him and beat him senseless while telling him he really shouldn’t be so addicted to his phone because uh what if he gets run over by a car and then it’ll be such a waste of a beautiful tall dark surly five o clock shadow—

 

#

 

Bae Jinyoung calls after you:

 

“Daehwi! Hey Daehwi, where are you going?!”

 

# 

 

Chapter Text

 

Daniel checked his watch. 9:35pm. Ong should have been here right now. Maybe he was still getting ready. Don’t come upstairs to my room, he’d said. It’s a bit of a disaster right now.

They hotel staff had brought him coffee already but he still felt out of it. The kind of out of it that brought low-key existential questions. Like, Daniel wondered how he got here. All he knew was that he had to be here at the appointed time.

He checked his watch again. 9:36pm. Well, sooner or later Ong would have to come downstairs and they would have to go wherever it was they were going.

He and Ong Seongwoo had been friends for something approaching a decade now. They were close in all the ways it was possible to be close as friends. They had done everything together. Singing, dancing, acting. Daniel hadn’t had such a close friend in a long while. Maybe because Ong was that person. There was only room for one person in your life who could be both everything and always to you.

9:37pm. Ong wanted to go out. They had been to Hong Kong many many many times over the years but their first time here at the same time without having arranged it beforehand. To be honest, Daniel was a bit nervous. See, all that he had said about Ong and him doing all those things together, that was old news. They hadn’t seen each other, really, absolutely, completely, in something like years. They were different now. For one thing, Daniel’s knees hurt. Just randomly they’d hurt and feel as swollen as a plastic bag filled to the brim with wet fish.

The last time they’d been in Hong Kong had been with the MAMA reunion special for Wanna One’s ten year anniversary. They’d both gotten in the afternoon. They were all staying in different hotel rooms. After Daniel showered and rinsed the airplane off himself his hotel phone had rung. He thought it was housekeeping or reception so it was a surprised to hear Ong’s voice, all analog and crackly and warm, over the physical line.

“Let’s go out,” said Ong.

It had been a nice night.

Maybe too nice.

Best not to think about it too much. Wondering why things happened and why things didn’t wasn’t one of Daniel’s strengths. This much he knew about himself. It was better to live in the flow.

The flow...

Daniel’s fingers itch for his phone. For something to fiddle with. Anything. He focuses on his breathing instead. Inhale, exhale. See, he can do it too. Like a monk. His mother used to tell him. Euigon-ah, if you don’t wipe the floors clean, I’m going to send you into the mountains to live with your uncle.

Daniel’s uncle was a Buddhist monk. He had seen him every now and then when he was young but to the young Daniel’s dismay his uncle never appeared at family gatherings dressed in any robes. He even had an iPhone. But given of temples Daniel had visited in his travels he could imagine the avuncular monastery piecemeal. Wide, gaping doors at the pinnacle of steps cut into the land, twisting through the mountains and into the fog. At the top of it his uncle waiting for him: Euigon-ah, so you’ve come here at last. 

Here at last was the vast and intimate swirl of the bubbling creek and a lute somewhere softly and the smell of peach blossoms in the air. Daniel inhaled deeply. His uncle threw a rag at him: Now it’s your turn to clean the floors. I’m outta here!

Daniel opened his eyes and laughed. A few heads in the lobby turned to him. Including the one next to him.

“Hi.”

“Ong,” he said. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough,” said Ong. “Didn’t want to wake you, though. Still want to go?”

Ong’s voice brimmed with the threat of gentleness, the full cozy form of a couch that begged to be sunk into, the promise of something more. Daniel shrugged, shrugged it off, and faced his old friend with a bright smile.

“Of course!”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Dongho jumped in front of Jonghyun, and screams erupted at the convention center.

“Dongho!” Minhyun rushed over as Pledis staff surrounded them. The masked assailant slipped into the crowd as everyone dispersed.

“I got hit,” Dongho said. His hand came away from his side bloody.

“Call an ambulance,” Aaron said, but the staff were already on it. Minki and Minhyun were both putting the pressure on the wound.

Minhyun turned around. Jonghyun was sitting there, shell-shocked.

“Jonghyun,” he said. It was all he could say for he couldn’t bring himself to the next words:

Why would they want to kill you?


#


Jonghyun was in meetings all afternoon. Dongho was recovering in the hospital. Minki, Minhyun, and Aaron waited in varying shades of distress in the Pledis HQ, which was surrounded by police.

“We’re fine, mom.” Aaron said. It had blown up all over the news. “They’re saying it was a crazy fan. Yes, they’re looking for him.”

That night, the staff finished preparing the press release and called a meeting with the four of them.

“Jonghyun has something to tell us,” the CEO said.

Jonghyun’s hands were folded in his lap. For how shocked he had been earlier today, he seemed to be a different person now. Calm and composed, hands folded neatly in his lap.

“They’ve found me.”

“Who’s found you?” Minki asked. Minhyun was trembling too badly to ask anything.

“The DPRK.”

“Hold on, mom,” said Aaron. “I have to call you back.”

#


Kim Jonghyun’s father, an official of moderately high rank in the Ministry of Transformation for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who had been caught listening to South Korean music on an old ham radio, had jumped the border outside Musan some thirty years ago, made his way through Vladivoslok and then stowed away on an industrial freighter to Niigata before hitchhiking his way down the coast of the Sea of Japan to stow away once again on a ferry to Busan. With ten million won from the South Korean government in refugee settlement money, he had settled briefly in Pohang as a farmhand before migrating upstream to Gangwon. At heart, he was still, and would always be, a boy from the north.

Kim Jonghyun’s father met Kim Jonghyun’s mother at a church event. He had a reputation for being a hard worker and a good saver. She had a reputation as someone who never complained. He fell in love with her small hands and small feet and big eyes. She fell in love with his chin and then the man.

A modest life suited them both. They had two girls and that was supposed to be it, but then Kim Jonghyun came into their lives. Being their only boy and the youngest in the family, they would give him the world.

#


Jonghyun could not reach his parents on the phone. His sisters told him that they hadn’t been available for days. That night, escorted by the police back to their apartment units, Jonghyun collapsed in tears. Because of me, he said. It’s always worse because of me.

It was Minhyun who held him through the night and told him no, no, it wasn’t his fault. Never his fault, never.

Two days later, Jonghyun disappeared, and it was Minhyun who had to be held.


#


For the next many months Minhyun would dream of dark eyes, kind and deep, a raspy voice whispering sweet things, safety, home. He would wake up crying. They had to disband. There was no music that could come from them now. In the wake of it they all enlisted. On the first day of training they searched the ranks for Jonghyun’s face. Minhyun swore he saw Kim Jonghyun everywhere. But of course he could tell no-one.

The dailies went wild. Record sales soared. The royalties poured in.

#


Years later there came an envelope under the doormat of his apartment. Minhyun’s heart crept into his throat and stayed there and the envelope, unmarked, lay on his kitchen table for days.

Hyunbin came over for dinner one night and commented on it. What if it’s Jonghyun. Or what if it’s a bug?

Minhyun hadn’t thought of it as a bug. He knew in his heart who it was. When Hyunbin left, Minhyun finally with trembling hands opened the envelope. There was a black USB stick. He found in his closet the oldest computer he could find, one that hadn’t been on the internet for ages. One that he could throw away after if infected.

He inserted the stick and read the drive. There was a single video on it. He double clicked and prayed harder than he had ever prayed that it was not a virus.

It wasn’t a virus.

“Minhyun-ah,” his old Jonghyunnie said. “I’m sorry.”

There was much more. Minhyun replayed the video three times and went through a whole box of tissues. When he was done, he ran the USB stick through the sink disposal.


#


They met in a sushi shop in the basement of an old shopping mall. There were only ten spots and there was only one chef on duty. They sat tucked into a corner. Jonghyun had mapped out all the exits beforehand. He was sure he hadn’t been followed.

Minhyun was bursting with a million questions. How had he fared? But if there was anything the last year had taught him it was that what mattered was how to move forward.

Jonghyun wore his hair short now and hadn’t shaved in days. Minhyun couldn’t look away. He was elated and miserable at the same time. He remembered that he had felt this way once upon a time, sitting in ninth place on a reality TV show finale. Another world.

“I’m moving,” Jonghyun said. “To America. I’ll claim asylum there.”

“So far away,” Minhyun whispered.

“The other option was Taiwan,” Jonghyun said. And they both knew that wouldn’t be very helpful or far enough away.

“When do you go?”

“Tomorrow,” Jonghyun said.

“I’m coming, too.”

“No,” Jonghyun said.

“I’m not waiting anymore,” Minhyun’s eyes flashed and he took Jonghyun’s hand in his own under the counter.

“You can’t,” Jonghyun said. But his eyes said please, yes.


#


It was an apartment somewhere in California off the highway and near the coast. Badly furnished, with old carpet. It smelled green on the days when it rained and on the days it was too hot the lights would go off. On those days they would shut off all the lights and open all the windows and doors to let the breeze in.

Jonghyun was very sorry to Minhyun and he always would be. On bad days he would not leave the house, playing his games for hours and hours on end. On those days he seemed as dead as he might have been if he stayed in Seoul. Minhyun knew that he missed it badly and so he learned to cook Jonghyun’s favorites: biji guk, doenjang jigae, gamja jeon, tonkatsu, kalguksu, seolleongtang.

To Minhyun the good days were the same as the bad. He made his own happiness and the weather out here was mild and the air was clean. Minhyun worked in a hardware store by day and read books at night. A modest life suited him and he was fine with keeping secrets. They lived near the market and would go shopping together. On the bad days he would hold Jonghyun and tell him—no, no, never, it’s never your fault. Never.

In time, as it always does, the good days outnumbered the bad. In the end, it was good enough.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


"Damn it—hold him down, Jihoon!"

It needed to be done. They had given Jaehwan two days and he had only gotten worse. His fever hadn’t broken and something was happening with his body. The wound on his stomach had burst open. He had turned a sickly shade of grey. Within minutes, he could no longer talk.

Back in Seoul, everyone was dying. At least here in Paju, in the bare bones of Zero Base, they had a chance of staying alive. It meant the worst. But it needed to be done.

Even Jisung and Daniel were on board, though by god the two softies had taken some convincing, but at least he could count one of them on board—

"Who told you," Jisung chokes from somewhere off to the left, both his hands in poor Jaehwan’s guts, up to his elbows in blood just trying to keep his insides inside where they belong, and well. "Who told you that it’d be a good idea to leave—”

"Shut up, Jisung—"

Ong looks goddamned furious under his face mask, the kind of fury that doesn't really know itself, is too tangled up in denial and incomprehension. He doesn't say a word, even when Jaehwan lurches up off of the table, thrashing against his hands and snarling. His eyes have started to bleed. The veins at his temples stand out, blue and thick. He seems to want a piece of someone—anyone. "Hold him down, goddamn it!"

"Doesn't matter,” Minhyun mutters quietly. His mask is up. There's splotches of red on his white sweater, drying to a crisp brown.

"Yes it does," Daehwi says, tears rolling down his cheeks. “C’mon Jaehwan, you can beat this.”

Jaehwan’s eyes roll into the back of his head and he tenses, shaking and shuddering and frothing at the mouth. Daehwi cries out and runs to his room. The warehouse is silent save for Jaehwan’s grunts and Daehwi’s sobs.

"Whatever," Jinyoung mutters, and the words have an edge of catatonic hysteria just struggling to be contained. "We were too late. We can't fix this. Get rid of him before he totally turns."

Woojin eyes the way Jihoon’s hands are loosening their grip on Jaehwan, casts a worried look to Sungwoon, who is on alert by the door. Sungwoon’s got a shotgun propped against one shoulder, liberated from his grandfather’s gun stash. He nods with a narrowed gaze, all frivolity of his showy public persona evaporated.

"Look at me," Woojin says, and Jihoon does. Under their hands, Jaehwan’s body thrashes. "This isn't our fault, and it isn't your fault. We need to do this. Got it?"

Jihoon’s gaze drops to where their friend is frothing beneath them, is struggling like murder. He nods.

"We might not be able to save him," Jisung says brokenly. "But we won’t let him turn."

"Okay, okay," Jihoon chokes out. His hands tremble as they continue to hold Jaehwan’s arms.

"Woojin?" Sungwoon calls across the room. Woojin nods, and Sungwoon chucks the shotgun over.

Jinyoung has backed away to the wall. Daehwi cries quietly from the shell of his old room. On the floor, Minhyun holds down Jaehwan’s legs and Daniel and Jihoon are holding down his arms. Jaehwan’s blood pools in buckets around his torso. Jisung murmurs don’t worry, don’t worry into Jaehwan’s ears as he covers Jaehwan’s eyes with a bloodied strip of t-shirt.

Woojin cocks the shotgun and aims it at Jaehwan’s head, looking down the barrel at the struggling form. “Keep your eyes open”, he tells himself, and then realizes he’s said it aloud. Minhyun’s face is ashen.

“This won’t be the first time.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

It was bad.

Real bad.

Bad like they’d all known it would be from the first news broadcast that the incoming missile was full of bioagents. Gangnam was burning, and from the fires crawled the half-dead.

Hysteria erupted at the studio. The phones were ringing—and everyone wanted their boys to come home. Guanlin had already left the previous week when the news reports had said that biochemical war might break out. But nobody had expected anything like this. The missile was actually on the way. It was Woojin Who realized first that they needed to get on the road before traffic could pile up.

Ong was trembling. His hand hadn’t left Daniel’s since the announcement on the news. Jihoon, Minhyun, and Jaehwan were dazed, not speaking. Jisung and Daehwi were sobbing hysterically, clutched on one another. Jinyoung trailed behind, face running dark with anger.

Woojin slapped Jisung and told him to get it together. We need our leader right now. Jisung led them down to the parking garage. Get your masks on, he said weakly. That’s when Woojin strive to the front of the line and commanded: Keep your heads down and listen to me until we arrive at our destination. First things first. If we stay here, we’re going to get infected. We need to get out. And Ong. You’re driving.

Getting out of the city was bad. Real bad. Bad like they’d all known it would be, bad in a way that they could all taste in the backs of their throat. The smell of blood was hot in the air. The sound of sirens filled the air and people with their limbs blown off wandered the streets.

Once everyone was loaded in, Ong floored it to the interstate. Going a hundred miles an hour made the van shake like a rocket. Hunched over the wheel, Ong dipped in and out of traffic and off-roaded to pass when they needed to pass. He hung a sharp right to merge them onto the northwest interstate that led to Paju. Fifteen minutes later they saw the flash and the bang and felt the earth tremble under their feet. The missile had struck.

Zero Base was the only place Woojin thought of.

Daehwi had his hands clenched in prayer, eyes squeezed shut the whole time.


#


When Sungwoon determines that the vicinity is safe, they drag Jaehwan’s body out beyond what used to be the secret room. There’s a heap of plywood which used to be the materials for the secret room that the production crews used. Now a pyre for Kim Jaehwan.

Sungwoon builds the fire and kindles it with a newspaper. When the flames start to lick upward, they put Jaehwan’s body on the pyre.

It’s easier than Woojin thought it would be. With half his face blown away by the shotgun, the body on the pyre could be anybody’s.


#


Zero Base, more than anywhere else, was what all of them think of when they think of a headquarters for their survival unit. Once a hybrid of an R&R destination and a reality show set that housed them in between performances, Zero Base was designed to house all of them and then some. It was far enough from Seoul proper that Woojin estimated they’d have at least a month before the contagion spread out to the countryside.

And it had no windows.

From watching TV, they learned that a militarized border has been set up around Seoul to contain the undead within. It also means that anyone still in Seoul is stuck with them.

Nobody said it, but they all knew it—thanks to Woojin, they got out in the nick of time. After days of tearful phone calls, the lines went spotty. They avoided talking about their other friends, their family members, anyone else. There was no point until they got a handle on their situation.

Other rules. No drinking. No phones unless it was an emergency. Lights off unless absolutely necessary.

There was work to do. With full reign of Zero Base, Woojin split them into pairs to explore. Jihoon and Jinyoung found the roof escape began to overhaul the camera setup. Eight cameras went up and out, pointed on all sections around the property.

Daehwi and Jisung scoured the adjoining lots for food. Sure enough, they found a storage supply with enough soda, bottled water, tea, and packaged rameyon to feed a small army.

Woojin assigned Minhyun to take inventory of their food supply, and assigned Sungwoon and Daniel to find identify weak areas around the perimeter. Armed with the shotgun, a rifle, and a handheld automatic, they set off outside.

Which left Ong. He pulled Ong into the hallway. Once alive with stars and lights, they’d turned off lights to conserve electricity. Until they found a backup generator, all electricity was off. Their phones were turned off, charging in the outlets until they’d be absolutely needed.

In the dark, it was hard to tell if Ong was avoiding eye contact. Woojin cleared his throat.

“Don’t do anything like that again.”

Ong bristled.

“I’m serious. I’m not going to blame you for what happened to Jaehwan. Nobody will. But if you’re going to leave, leave by yourself. Don’t talk someone into being your human buffer.”

“He wanted to leave—“ Ong protested. “His family is in Seoul.” And unspoken, so is mine.

Woojin clapped him on the shoulder. Just shy of shaking him. “This is your family now.”



 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

We’ve booked an apartment near the studio, his eldest sister says. We don’t want to move around too much. Mom and dad will be tired from the drive in and I don’t think that they want to do too much in Seoul, so we’re going to stay in the Paju area. Is that okay with you?

Jonghyun says it is.

We were thinking that we’d wait for you after the show. Depending how it goes—her voice hitches here. If you get in, do you think there will be something happening for the winners?

I’m not sure what they have planned, Jonghyun says. If they have anything, I’m sure it’ll be a surprise. So they can catch our real reactions.

So weird, his other sister says in the background. He belatedly realizes he’s been put on speakerphone.

Well, his eldest sister says. We’ll hang around the stadium and then whenever you’re ready we can go back to the hotel and spend the next two nights together. Then I was thinking that we’d help you move out of the dorms the next day. A beat goes by. Hello? Jonghyun?

Yeah, I’m here.

When he moved to Seoul he got one day a week out in the sun‘s worth of pocket money every month from his parents. He thought how much he wanted to do well so he could take his family on holiday when this was all done. On the days when the work was hard he would put more of himself remembering that he had to take his family on holiday. Memorizing footwork saved him. Stringing words together saved him. The kind words of others saved him. Saved him from being a snack shop boy at the far north of the country passing meat on a stick to strangers.

Jonghyunnie, what’s wrong? You want to stay in the dorms instead?

Oh my god, his other sister says. He’s got Stockholm Syndrome.

We’re not good enough for you, Jonghyunnie? His eldest sister says. He swallows a lump in his throat. because you’re finally a star now?

Hey, Jonghyun says. I’m not sure if I’m going to get in or not. Or who’s going to get in or not.

You and Minhyun are for sure going to get in, his other sister says. There’s no question, especially with how many votes you have been getting.

Shh, his eldest sister says. I think Jonghyunnie’s upset.

I’m not upset, he says.

So why do you sound like you’re about to cry?

I’m not crying, he says, but looks down the hall anyway, to make sure that nobody can hear him. He lowers his voice and repeats himself.

Your voice is doing that watery thing, his eldest sister says. Boo-hoo, his other sister coos in the background.

I’m not going to cry, he says. Whatever happens, I’m not going to cry.

You won’t cry if you win?

No.

You won’t cry if you lose?

No.

It’s not losing, his other sister says. He’ll still be in the top twenty.

I can come the first night, he says, changing the subject. I think I’ll need to. But the next night we have a goodbye party planned. We’ll be up late. I don’t want to disturb you two and mom and dad by coming back to the hotel very late.

Our baby bro has picked up some bad habits, his eldest sister says. Bad habits, his other sister chimes in delightedly.

Hey kid, his eldest sister says.

Yes?

Don’t worry about if you don’t get in, okay? In the background, his other sister says they’ll go out for barbecue afterwards, either way. She’s already booked a place.

Mm, Jonghyun hums, and ducks into a practice room. In the dark he can be himself. He sits down in the far corner and closes his eyes. The phone boils hot against his face.

Don’t worry, Jonghyun. The truth about you isn’t in how many likes you get on your Instagram or how many votes you get on the show. Her voice is fierce. It’s in the people who are there with you when things are hard. So don’t worry. Whatever happens, it’ll be okay.

You were born, his other sister says. That’s the truth.

What are you even saying, his eldest sister says.

I’m trying to tell him we love him.

We love you, Jonghyunnie.

He tells them he’ll see them soon, and hangs up. His phone is damp with sweat. His face is damp with tears.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“You can head in,” DK says softly, smiling kindly.

I jump up and the contents of my backpack spill themselves on the floor. Shit. Pencils, pens, my laptop, my notebooks, and a two-month old bag of corn chips from the bottom of my bag erupting in crumbs all over the marble floor. Shit shit shit.

“I’m so sorry,” I say, falling to my knees to stuff everything back into my backpack. My face is ablaze with embarrassment. I use my hands to pile the crumbs into a tiny mound and look frantically for a napkin on the tray and end up knocking the glass over to the ground where it cracks and shatters. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry.” My clumsiness. My clumsiness, which I thought was an artifact of my adolescence, has chosen to revisit me at this very moment. Why.

“Here.” And someone else is on his hands and knees offering me a dustpan that looks like it’s made of petrified wood and a matching miniature broom. “Please be careful. There’s broken glass.”

I sweep everything into a little pile on the dustpan and look up. “Dino—I’m so sorry, but where’s the trash—“

But it’s not Dino or even DK who’s right next to me. It’s the fucking CEO.

“Mr. Kwak, I presume,” he laughs, and stands up. He extends a hand to me and I take it. He pulls me up with surprising strength, and then it turns into a handshake. “I’m Hwang Minhyun.”

He’s tall. Taller than me. A shock of black hair that looks just a little wet, just a little bit tousled. With extraordinary eyes, sharp and black and perceptive. With a fine-boned face and high cheekbones that make him look like he’s looking down at me from on high even though we’re standing on the same ground. He’s dressed in a navy blue suit made of some kind of fine wool, subtle birdseyes in the pattern. He regards me with a shrewd expression.

It takes me a moment to find my voice.

“Actually, I’m Kim Jonghyun,” I say. “Aaron—Mr. Kwak—is sick. So he sent me in his place. I’m so sorry I broke your glass.”

“Don’t worry about that.” And sure enough, Dino’s swooped down to take the broom and the dustpan. From a million miles away I hear the glass tinkle and clunk into a trash can somewhere. And we’re still shaking hands. An electric tingle runs down my spine. I pull my hand away, embarrassed.

“Mr. Kwak really wishes he could be here. I hope you don’t mind, sir.”

“Please send him my regards. I hope he recovers soon.”

He leads the way into his office. An office too big for just one man.

Floor-to-ceiling windows show the same stunning view of Seoul and the Han River. To the left is a black obelisk of a desk, on top of which a giant monitor resides. To the right of the office there is a kitchenette. And in the middle is a seating area—two couches facing each other, a long marble coffee table in the middle, and two arm chairs that face the door. Modern art hangs from the walls—soothing washes of blues and pinks and greens. Behind his desk is a showcase of some kind. Behind the glass, white and teal vases and jars that look like they‘re from another age, in all shapes and sizes.

“Are those celadon?” I can’t help but notice. “It’s so exquisitely crafted.” Celadon isn’t uncommon in Korea, but I’ve never seen it look so polished and thin. I step closer for a better look.

“That is a good eye you have there, Mr. Kim. This collection is actually from the Japanese ceramic artist Nakajima Hiroshi. But they are indeed made of celadon.” For some reason the tone of his voice makes me feel warm inside.

Apart from the curves of the celadon, the rest of the office is rigid and clinical, full of hard edges. It makes me wonder what kind of person the CEO is. If some core part of him is locked away in a gleaming showcase somewhere, behind a state-level security system. I bite my tongue. That’s no way to be thinking about the CEO of the second largest contract electronics supplier in the world. Totally, utterly inappropriate. I’m all thumbs as I fumble for the recorder app on my phone and take out my notebook and pencil. President Hwang says nothing, waiting patiently—it seems—as I grow increasingly clumsy and frustrated. When I finally gather the courage to look at him, he’s leaning forward, watching me. A smile plays around the edges of his lips. I think he’s trying not to laugh.

“Sorry. I‘m not.” Wait. What did I just say? And how does that even explain my behavior?

He laughs. “Take all the time you need, Mr. Kim.”

“Can I record you,” I say. When I’m nervous, I forget to inflect and my sentences come out like dead fish.

“I think that the recorder is already turned on.” Hwang says, pointing at my phone. Sure enough, my thumb has already pressed the red ‘record’ button.

Is he teasing me? I look at him. He blinks at me. The smile is still there. I’m pretty sure I’m gaping like a fish. He sighs, as if taking pity on me. “Go ahead. You can record this.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The first time Minhyun brought Jonghyun home, Sujin’s head almost turned at how much her idiot little brother doted on his bandmate. Jonghyun had been as shy as he was polite, which was very. He could barely speak to their parents without turning beet red. Her mother instantly adored him. It didn’t escape her notice that Minhyun doted on Jonghyun’s every move more than he’d even doted on his studies or his books. Jonghyun and Minhyun sat next to each other at dinner and after helping to wash up would disappear to Minhyun’s room for the rest of the evening to play games or read books or watch anime. When Sujin passed their room she could hear muted Japanese coming from the speakers and the occasional burst of laughter.

The second time Minhyun brought Jonghyun home was after Nu’est had debuted. Their dad had trailed after them listening to stories of their training days and interrogated them on the whole spectrum their post-debut career. Sujin thought it was all a bit overrated but she was still happy for Minhyun and his big head. She didn’t miss the Look that Jonghyun and Minhyun passed each other when dad’s questioning got tough. She didn’t miss the way Minhyun squeezed Jonghyun’s hand under the table at dinner. When they finished the dishes after dinner and went back to Minhyun’s room, she could hear the low murmurs of voices as they FaceTimed the other members and then as they talked late into the night. She had to bang on the wall next to her bed to get them to shut up.

The third time Minhyun brought Jonghyun home was after their first tour in China. They sat in Minhyun’s room for hours talking about everything and nothing. Heated conversations and then long silences. Even when Sujin pressed her ear to the door she could hear nothing. But they’d come out to breakfast cheery, so not as to worry anyone. But Sujin noticed the way Jonghyun’s head hung low when doing the dishes, and the way Minhyun’s hand lingered on the back of his neck, the way they stood next to each other, lost in thought.

The fourth time Minhyun brought Jonghyun home was before Produce 101 began filming. Both sported dark circles under their eyes and spoke about the future of Nu’est with some frailty. It was better not to ask. They were out for most of the days after that, riding around Busan, probably meeting up with Minki, probably hanging out at an arcade. Sujin was heading downstairs for a glass of water before going to bed when they came back. Jonghyun was carrying a few bags; Minhyun bent down to help Jonghyun out of his shoes. His hand lingered on Jonghyun’s ankle before he stood up again. Minhyun beamed at Jonghyun and Jonghyun’s ears flushed bright red. Sujin turned on her heel and crept back upstairs, beginning to understand.

The fifth time Minhyun brought Jonghyun home, she understood. Minhyun took Jonghyun’s coat and there were fewer words spoken between them. There were no talks that stretched deep into the night and there were no day-long excursions. They stayed around the house and sat close to each other and exchanged private smiles.

The sixth time Minhyun brought Jonghyun home, he told all of them that they were in love.

Their parents took a deep breath and said they had suspected.

But Sujin had known all along.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Get Ready for Big Cat Hunting

July 15, 2023

 

Are idol-turned-actor Ong Seongwoo and rap star Cheetah getting close? Allow us to do a deep dive into the possible coupling that is keeping netizen sleuths busy recently.

X Daily reports that two are in fact dating, and K Magazine has a source that says the two are texting up a storm. So what's the real deal? It seems, at the very least, the stars are spending a lot of time together. Ong Seongwoo and Cheetah, also known as Kim Eunyoung, were spotted over the long weekend first, reportedly taking in a concert at the Seoul Stadium on Friday. One Twitter user confirmed the sighting of Ong, 29, but made no mention of Cheetah, 35.

Saturday, the rapper and former Wanna One member were recorded at L Stadium where Seoul Slingers battled the Busan Pirates in a 2-1 football match. In recorded footage, Ong clad in a black baseball cap, hoodie and jacket, walked alongside Cheetah in a white-and-red ensemble.

This isn't the first time Cheetah has dealt with speculation that The Hill Doctor himself could be her beau. She shut down Yoo Jaesuk’s insinuation that they were an item on Yoo’s talk show last year, after the two attended the MAMA Awards together.

“Are you dating Ong Seongwoo? Isn’t he like 10 years old?” Jaesuk cracked.

“We were both wearing Regina Pyo, and we decided to go together because it was fun," Cheetah explained. “We were assigned the same table — I mean, we know each other," she added, saying "It just ended up working out.”

As for a possible coupling in the present? Cheetah’s rep declined to comment. K Magazine has also reached out to Ong’s rep at NAMOO Actors Agency for confirmation.

 

#

 

If you liked this article, you might enjoy:

Love on the Orient Express: Former Produce 101 contestant and ToppDogg idol Kim Sanggyun was spotted with a mysterious blonde at a train station in Seoul. Who is it? Our expert sources take a guess.

November 22, 2017

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

For a while, I was sick.

“You look terrible,” Daehwi said to me, when we watched the playback of our I Promise U dance practice video. I looked as floppy and sad as the taco that I was.

I wasn’t taking very good care of myself, that’s why. For New Year’s we had gotten some time off and I had gotten to see my old members. Coming back to reality was a shock to my system and for a while I threw myself into the work and nothing else. It was no wonder I got as sick as I did.

Jonghyun would text me in the mornings and before I went to bed. Take care of yourself.

I’ll do better.

Promise?

Promise.

I keep my promises, just like Jonghyun does. I didn’t want him to worry. The thought of it made me feel even sicker.


#


We’re on our way to practice and Jinyoung and I are sitting next to each other in the van. I like the skin on the back of Jinyoung’s neck—it’s smooth and his neck is slim. My palm covers the entire back of it. Jinyoung is a little like Jonghyun, actually. He hangs his head like Jonghyun, has bad posture like Jonghyun, is a little sullen like Jonghyun. It might explain why I like to touch him.

“Ow,” Jinyoung yelps, and twists his head around. It seems like I’ve massaged too hard. I pull my hand back.

“Did I hurt you?”

“You pinched me,” Jinyoung whines, rubbing at the back of his neck.

My PT has been giving me exercises to build my forearm strength. A few days ago I got a grip squeeze machine. I don’t like using it too much, but it’s effective at building forearm strength. Maybe too effective.

“Sorry,” I apologize. I keep my hands to myself for the rest of the ride. I make a note to myself to be gentler.


#


Some months ago I’d met up with Jonghyun for dinner. Our managers were with us so there wasn’t much we could do except eat. We did eat deliciously, but the more delicious thing was that his foot was on top of mine the whole time. My eyes had found his as the managers were paying the bill and I’d tried to telepath everything I could into that gaze while my toes grazed up his shin.

I miss you. I miss everything about you.

When his ears turned red, I knew he’d gotten the message.

On the ride back home, it was hard not to text him right away. There was so much I wanted to do besides be here in the van, driving in the opposite direction from Jonghyun at seventy kilometers an hour down an empty expressway. Instead, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday.

It’s so far off, he’d texted.

Doesn’t hurt to be prepared, I’d written back.

Just take good care of yourself, he’d said. Your health is the most important.

It was hard being away from everyone, but it was very hard being away from Jonghyun. There was the day that we had spent before I moved into the new apartment. That was the last time we had been together.

“All right, break’s over,” my PT barks, interrupting my thoughts. “Let’s go! Plank!”

He counts down from thirty. In my head, I’m counting down too. Only another seven months and fifteen days to go.


#


I decide that I like working out. It’s something to pass the time. And the burn in my body distracts me.

Little by little, bits of fat I had taken for granted begin to melt away. I feel lighter. Cleaner. Calmer. This is what work is, right? It’s hard, but there’s a little bit of progress every day.

That’s what Jonghyun used to tell me when I was struggling with choreography.

Looking in the mirror is like looking at a stranger’s body. I think what I see is Hwang Minhyun, but I’m not sure. It feels like I’ve stepped into an alternate dimension where someone with my mind has inhabited a new body. I twist and rotate my arms. It’s been fascinating to see the muscles separate and harden and grow over time. My body looks like something out of a magazine. I’m still not used to it, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. 

The bathroom in this apartment is slightly larger than the bathroom in the old one, but there’s still only one shower. I bump into Daniel on my way out.

“You’ve been hitting the gym a lot,” Daniel tells me, with an appreciative glance. There’s some envy in his gaze, too. I focused on upper body and lifting today, so my pectoral muscles are swollen. I had just learned in the shower how to make them bounce up and down, but there’s no way I’m showing Daniel any of my newfound knowledge.

“At this rate you’re going to be buffer than me,” he winks.

I let myself appreciate his appreciation before the usual embarrassment sets in. “Sungwoon and I are trying something new,” I say. “We’ve been going to the gym together. The personal trainer is very good.”

Daniel laughs. “Twenty-thousand won says Sungwoon won’t last another week.”

Sungwoon actually lasts another month before he calls it quits. It’s his twenty-third chicken breast that does him in.


#


When the PDs reveal the producers we’ll be working with for our upcoming album concept, I almost faint right then and there on the program. While sitting on the couch with two members of Nell, I decide I’m going to do something very special for the upcoming stage.

We’ve got shows the week of your birthday, I text Jonghyun. But I will have a present ready for you.

What do you mean? Jonghyun texts back.

You’ll see.


#

 

“Do you want to take a break?” The choreographer asks me. I shake my head and sweat droplets fling off my hair. Okay, so again we go.

When I put on the blindfold, Jonghyun appears before me.

Is this all right? I ask the Jonghyun in my mind, the one standing in front of me. I show him myself. All of myself. 


#


As the stage swallows me after my first performance of the choreography, all I can think is—happy birthday.

Minki texts me the next morning. Copycat.

Dongho texts right after. Who the hell do you think you are.

Aaron texts right after Dongho. Please stop.

Stop what, I text back.

Our leader’s about to have an aneurysm thanks to you.

Jonghyun doesn’t text me that night. But I know he wants to. I think about him lying awake at night, the image of me seared into his head. The thought makes me smile. 

 

#

It takes a few days, but the day before his birthday Jonghyun finally texts me. I’m getting ready for bed—glass of water, earplugs, and eye mask on the nightstand, I’m ready to crawl under the sheets and settle in when my phone buzzes with a text message.

Hi, it says.

Hi, I text back, and then Jonghyun is thinking about what to text. And then,

where are you now

At the dorms.

I call him, because I don’t want to wait for a reply. I’m not usually impatient. But.

Jonghyun picks up the phone before the first ring even finishes. “Were you about to go to sleep?” I ask, lying down on the bed.

“Yeah,” Jonghyun says, but he doesn’t sound very sleepy. He hesitates before his next words. “You’ve been taking care of yourself, I see.”

A smile breaks out over my face. “You told me to.”

“You were always a good listener,” Jonghyun says. “But I didn’t think you were that good.”

“You should know better. I’ll listen to whatever you say.”

“Oh?”

“I take my leader’s orders well.”

“You do, do you?” Jonghyun laughs, surprised. He sounds a little breathless. “Then tell me what you’re doing right now.”

“I’m lying in bed right now,” I say. “The sheets are perfectly soft. It’s neither too hot or cold in the room. Sungwoon is out for the night, and he won’t be back soon. So it’s just me for a little while.”

I hear the door close on Jonghyun’s end. My heart speeds up just a bit and I feel my face grow warm.

“Have you been taking good care of yourself? Besides—” his voice falters. I know what he wants to say. Adorable, shy Jonghyun. I want to press my nose into his hair and breathe in his smell until I’m full of it. All of a sudden that’s all I want.

“Besides what?” I goad him, grin on my face.

“You know,” he says.

“I don’t.” I play with the ties of my sweatpants.

“You’ve been working hard.”

“Oh?” I say. “Have you noticed something?“

He sounds like he’s holding his breath. “They’re saying Hwang Minhyun only ate chicken breasts for three months. That he has a perfect body. That it was a surprise for the fans.”

“They have to say something. The truth might be unacceptable.”

“It’s perfectly acceptable,” Jonghyun says. I press my phone harder to my ear to catch it and the next few words. “It’s more than perfectly acceptable.”

The flat of my hand presses against my lower abdomen. There’s not an ounce of fat on me, not now, not anymore. I wanted him to see it. I wanted him to know. This is me. This is my body. This is what I am capable of. This is my devotion, my self. I can hone it into a sculpture and make it work like a machine.

I can do it if it’s for you.

“I miss you,” I say, almost too softly for him to hear. Almost.

“Yeah?” Jonghyun asks, voice dropping lower. “What do you miss?”

“You,” I say. “All of you.”

“Yeah,” Jonghyun says after a silence. “Me too.”

It is dark in my room and I am alone with no one to see me or hear me. There’s only Jonghyun’s voice on the phone, an abstraction of Jonghyun in person. I let himself feel the heat that for him I usually keep down deep under a cold gaze for the camera deep under my skin under the ferment of lactic acid in my muscles and the heartache deep in my bones finally blooms.

Maybe he’d walk into my room. Maybe he’d push me up against the wall. Maybe he’d kiss me until I couldn’t breathe. If only he knew. “Another seven months until I’m back,” I say, and there’s a whine in my voice I didn’t mean to let through but there it is. “Sometimes, I don’t want to wait.”

“Be patient,” he says, with a huff that might be a laugh. “January will be here before you know it.”

“I know,” I close my eyes. “I know.”

January 2019. Maybe he’ll push me up against the wall and take off whatever shirt I’m wearing and run his hands all up and down my body. The body I’ve built for him.

“I’ll wait as long as you want me to, Minhyun.”

Jonghyun says my name so quietly I almost miss it.

January 2019. Maybe he’ll hold me there against the wall. Hold my hips and look at me. Dark eyes. I’ll have bruises on my hips for days to come. He’d make it last. Tell me exactly what to do and how to do it.

“When you’re back—” he says, and clears his throat. “Let’s take good care of each other.”

“Let’s take good care of each other,” I repeat. It hurts so good all over to say it like this. To say it just the way I’ve always wanted to. “Promise?”

“Promise,” he says.

We lay in silence. The aircon switches on. Outside, a police siren calls from miles away, siren floating into my consciousness in doppled waves.

“I still want to see you.” I say, finally. “For your birthday.”

“Right,” Jonghyun says, and then laughs. “But can you still only eat chicken breasts?”

I pretend to deliberate this. “I might be able to make an exception. For you.”

And so we make dinner plans. It might cause some inconvenience to my manager and staff and Jonghyun’s manager and staff but it’s for his birthday. And I still have to give him his present in person.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Okay, you say. What’s up? Why are you like this? And the look he gives you is so open, a flash of woundedness like the sky peeking open to let out the rain, that you’re taken aback. 

 

Daehwi has been high strung since the plane took off from Narita. You have a sense of what it is. He shrinks from any attempt at sincerity and deflects any attempt at real conversation. He’s almost afraid of you. 

 

You’re not stupid. You can tell as much as anyone that Daehwi wasn’t picked to be anyone’s partner and nobody chose you, either. The two of you unpopular unchosen left behind losers got to work together. Granted, you would have chosen to be on Heize’s team anyway, regardless of what Daniel chose or even what Minhyun chose. It would have been a fat chance that landed you with Daniel. For all your promises last year this year has just been too busy. Dreams of debuting together didn’t mean being together. Not if YMC had their way. 

 

You wonder if Daehwi knows about you. From what you’d heard he’d had some drama of his own on Produce 101. The whole world knew he was gay. That much was obvious to anyone who’d seen his picture, and that was millions of people. Your infatuation with Daniel was heated and short lived and you’ve been living with the reality for a year now: Daniel won’t and can’t and doesn’t want to return your feelings. Some part of you hopes that it’s a “for now” kind of thing. You’re willing to live with your shitty unrequited reality “for now” because it makes you a good artist. And if your subunit song turns out anything like the demo, you’re going to finally get to sing about something real. 

 

Daehwi, you tell him in the van back. We should talk. 

 

What about, he says. His voice is a sigh. Impatient. He’s scared. You try not to chuckle. This is scary for you too. 

 

But if you don’t tell him what’s on your mind, you won’t have a good stage. Daehwi doesn’t trust you. And tonight you’ll be back in separate rooms and back to your normal schedules until Heize calls you back and then what will you have to show for your time but that you wasted it being scared? Being afraid of each other? 

 

That’s not what The Heal is about. 

 

It takes you a few breaths but you get there. You pitch your voice down so the driver won’t be able to hear. I think, you say, your heart in your throat, that we have more in common than our producer choice. 

 

What do you mean, Daehwi says. You stay silent and his eyes eventually unstick from his phone to see yours. You shrug. But the hurt smile on your face says everything. 

 

Yeah.

 

Don’t fuck with me, Daehwi snaps, but his lower lip wobbles. 

 

I’m not. And then, for good measure, you raise an eyebrow. The silence builds up. Your comic timing presses against your throat and begs to be set free. 

 

And I wouldn’t, by the way. You’re not my type. 

 

Daehwi’s eyes light up in the darkness and he chokes back a surprised laugh. 

 

Oh? So what is? 

 

You bat your eyelashes. Tall. Boyishly handsome. 

 

Cute smile, says Daehwi. 

 

Oblivious, you add.

 

Let’s not forget unavailable, Daehwi murmurs. 

 

Yeah, you hum. That’s gotta be part of the whole package. 

 

The rest of the ride back, you’re grinning. You’re a little scared at what you’ve just told him but you’re grinning. By the time the van pulls up to the apartment complex you feel a little lighter than you have in a long time. 

 

If the smile on Daehwi’s face is anything to go by, it looks like he feels that way too. 

 

“Good night,” you say when you reach your rooms. You give his shoulder a squeeze. He doesn’t flinch. 

 

It’s a start. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Oh, man,” Daniel says, wiping tears away from his eyes. “This is too good.”

“God, Daniel, I ha—” Hate you, you think, but that’s the way this sasaeng truth homebrew worked; you can’t actually get anything out if it isn’t completely true. Your words stall in your throat and all you can do is mash your lips together in irritation. You opt for a cool expression and flop back on the dressing room couch. “You know, a good teammate wouldn’t make this harder than it already is.”

This fanmeet is a bust. This convention center is a shithole. You want to get out of here and get back to Seoul. You want your bloodstream free of this homebrew veritaserum shit. How did they get this stuff past security, anyway? One splash of it and you’re gibbering away and about to blab all your secrets out into the world. It’s good that Niel and Minhyun dragged you away from the screaming crowds when they did.

“I got hit by something like it once,” Minhyun said, telling you to drink lots of water and stay by yourself for a little while. Daniel volunteered to keep you company, the little shit. As soon as Minhyun left, he’d turned that innocent puppy gaze on you (innocent, your ass) and started asking questions.

And you can’t deflect with humor, as is your usual MO. All you can do is reply—sincerely.

Ugh.

“Come on, Ongi,” Daniel said cheerfully. “Gotta have a sense of humor about these things! Now who was that girl you liked in, uh, what was it?” He snapped his fingers. “Yeri! When you were fifteen. Your classmate?”

“Kim Yeri,” you say dully, studying the cracks in the ceiling paint.

“Yeah, that's the one. You always told me nothing happened. Told the cameras nothing happened. But from her Facebook photos, she’s pretty cute. So, come on, what really happened?”

“We kissed. That was it.” You say. God, that was a million years ago, but you still felt a weird twinge of regret admitting it. “We were just friends.”

Daniel gave a low whistle and went to the mini fridge, pulling out a beer. At least someone was enjoying himself. “Damn, for such a playboy visual, you’ve been rocking this monastic thing for a while, huh?"

“Nope,” you say. You smirk a little, not even waiting for the follow-up question; this one is actually a good story. “Cheetah. Last year, right after the show ended. She likes being tied up.”

“No way!” Daniel slapped the table, clearly enjoying this. “You pervert. What else did you guys do?”

You hitch up on your elbows and give Daniel your best irritated look, but the words are spilling from your mouth before you can stop yourself.

“She, uh, likes to, uh, peg. Me.”

Daniel’s eyes bug out of his head for a hot minute before he takes a deep breath in. “Really?”

“Yeah.” You want to retreat into your shirt, turtle style. But there’s nowhere to go.

Daniel whistled. If you weren’t feeling so acutely mortified you might actually be able to interpret it as grudging admiration. “You’ve truly experienced all the world has to offer. I’m a little bit jealous.” And Daniel wiggles his eyebrows up and down.

“Dude. I’m sure you’ve had your fair share.”

“Don’t try to change the subject. Right now, it’s all about you.” Daniel makes a big, flourishing gesture out of checking his watch. You’re astounded by his impunity. This is the side of Daniel that the cameras don’t get to see—devious, a little sadistic, defenestrator of the profane. “So, besides tying up older women and getting fucked by them, are you into any other kinky hobbies?”

“N—” You pause, startled. The word won’t quite come out, which means it’s not true. You rack your brain, trying to think, trying to think of any other weird sex you’ve had. Cheetah and her silk ropes and her strap-ons have really been the watershed moment of your sex life. And Yeri had kissed another girl in front of everyone at the noraebang once upon a time, but that was just for attention. “Define ‘into’.”

“Into,” Daniel said, waving vaguely with his beer bottle. “You know. What kind of weird stuff goes on in that big, sparkly brain when you're jackin’ it? Naughty nurses? Furry handcuffs? What’s your big, weird sex hang-up? And everybody likes girl-on-girls stuff, so fast-forward to the good stuff.”

For some reason, you aren’t expecting that one. Not even Daniel could be cruel enough to go there. Not with what you know he knows about how you feel about him. And yeah it was almost a year ago but still, you still see him all the time and you still think that maybe, just maybe, someday, the two of you might—

No, you think desperately, slamming a hand over your mouth, no no no no no—

“You. I think about you.”

It’s only barely muffled by your hand, like the word was forcing its way out of his mouth no matter what.

“Excuse me?” Daniel says, leaning forward in his chair. Beer bottle dangling by his fingertips, between his legs.

“You,” You repeat miserably, dropping your hand and collapsing back on the sofa. “Still. Now can you please stop asking questions?”

There was silence for a second, and you can see the smug, curious look on Daniel’s face. God, this isn’t happening.

“Whoa, whoa, wait. What are you talking about?”

“I like you, Kang Euigeon Daniel,” you say.

“And what about me?” Daniel takes a leisurely sip from his beer, holding the neck of the bottle between two fingers. The sight of it gets your mind churning.

“You on top of me.” You swallow, willing it to stop, but the words just keep tumbling out. “You holding me down.”

“And?"

“You—I think about you letting me suck you off. Telling me to swallow. And you—” Your voice cracks a little, but doesn’t stop. “Rolling me over. Opening me up and fucking me, and telling me that it’s better than with all the girls that want a piece of you.”

“Seriously,” Daniel says. His tone was indiscernible; it sounded kind of interested, kind of amused, and kind of skeptical, a little bit cruel. It makes you hot with humiliation and arousal. “So that’s what gets you all bothered.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much the go-to,” You say flatly. “Hey, you asked.”

“You ever think about us kissing?”

Yeah, that tone is definitely amusement. You’re going to kill him after this. Or both of you. Wanna One will just have to continue sans two. And then there were nine.

“Obviously.”

“Am I any good?”

Your fingers scrape against the fake leather couch, leaving grooves. “Yep.”

Daniel falls silent again, long enough for you to work up the nerve and look at him. He looks—kind of pensive, actually. Just staring down at his beer.

He meets your gaze and raises his eyebrows when he asks the next question. His voice is softer. Maybe even guilty. You can’t know for sure. He’s not the one who’s been drugged with homebrew truth serum dialed up to maximum potency.

“So, nothing has changed?”

You clench your jaw. “Some has. Look, I don’t expect anything to come out of it. It’s just something that’s there.” You pray that’s enough for him. That he’ll leave it alone. You’ll talk about anything else.

Daniel laughs to himself. As if incredulous. Your heart is beating a million miles a minute. “It’s been a year, Ongi.”

“Yeah.”

“Even if you don’t expect anything to happen—do you still want something to happen?”

“I do,” you say, your face so hot it feels like it’s going to burn off.

The corners of Daniel’s mouth pull down thoughtfully, and for a second you figure that’s it, Daniel’s gone. Both of your lives are ruined. A zombie apocalypse could hit the world now and it wouldn’t be worse than this. There’s no taking any of this back—it’s impossible for Daniel to misinterpret anything.

Instead, Daniel stands up, shrugs off his open button-down shirt, and says, “Lay down.”

“What?” You say.

Daniel wads up his shirt and throws it at your face.

“You heard me. Lay down.”

Before you have time to process that, Daniel is on the couch with you, straddling your hips and shoving your shoulders down.

“Daniel—dude, stop—” you struggle, but you’ve got no leverage in this position. Daniel has you pinned, and just perks his eyebrows.

“What, are we doing some kind of rapey roleplay in these fantasies, too? Let’s take this one step at a time, Romeo.”

“What are you doing?” You snap.

“What’s it look like?”

Daniel braces an arm across your chest, tilts his head in something like a shrug, and presses your mouths together.

It’s messy at first, more like getting CPR than an actual kiss. Your body is wound up like a coil, reeling from the humiliation and the shock and the disbelief, but Daniel stays where he is. He stays right where he is making it happen and it’s—

It’s good.

It’s pretty much what you’ve imagined, down to the scrape of stubble rough on your chin. Daniel’s tongue is hot and insistent, pushing at your lips until you finally cave in and let him slide it in.

Is this Daniel’s idea of scaring you away? If it is, he’s doing a terrible job. Your cock is getting thick in your pants and Daniel can feel it too, because he shifts his hips and grinds down on yours until you’re both hard.

“This is what you wanted, huh?” Daniel says, pulling back just enough so you’re eye to eye.

“Yeah,” you say hoarsely.

Daniel eases back on his knees and grips at his own cock through his jeans. You’ve seen his junk before, in the showers, in all the apartments and hotel rooms you’ve shared all over the world—but this is totally different. Daniel is hard, so hard it’s pressing out the fly of his jeans, and he’s staring at you.

“And you wanna suck on this?” Daniel says.

A wave of arousal hits you so hard you shiver, your own cock throbbing where it’s trapped against your hip.

“Yeah.”

Daniel pops the button open with his thumb and shoves down the zipper, and you can see it—the pink head of his cock jutting up past the elastic of his boxer-briefs. Daniel keeps his gaze on you as he palms at it lazily through the cotton.

“You always wanted to do this with me?” he finally says, his voice gravelly.

“Since I met you,” you say, not even trying to stop the inevitable flood of words. “I used to watch you practice, when you thought I was just taking a break, and I—I started thinking about it.”

“Damn, Ongi,” he mutters. He hooks his thumb under the waistband and tugs his cock out, letting it slap up against his stomach.

All you can do is stare at it. Your breaths come hard and fast. You want this so badly, you want this more than you’ve ever wanted fame and fans and the stage, you just want to get your mouth on it and suck until Daniel shoots a load right down your throat.

“Well, here’s your chance,” Daniel says, trying to keep his voice light and humorous but faltering a little.

“Are you sure?” you say. “You don’t have to do this, Daniel, if you don't want to. I'm used to keeping this under wraps. It doesn’t have to change—”

“God, you think so much,” Daniel says. “Just fucking do it, Ongi.”

You can’t hold back a little groan when you grip it, jacking Daniel in a nice, deep pump. It’s hot to the touch, so hard the veins are standing up under the skin. You spare once last glance up at Daniel—his eyes are shut, head tilted back and neck muscles strained—before you lean forward and catch the head with your mouth.

It’s even hotter on your tongue. Salty at the slit and smooth, jumping a little in the ring of your lips when your grip the base and bob lower.

“Fuck,” Daniel mutters.

You shut your eyes tightly, not wanting to look up at his face and see something that might make you pull back. You push yourself lower, flushing at the obscenely wet noise of your mouth slurping around it. Daniel is bigger than you expected, and it strains your jaw, but you keep working through it because your head is shorting out and you realize that you’re made for this.

“God, yeah,” Daniel says, twisting his fingers through your hair. You ease back, giving the head of his cock a hard little suck and almost blowing your own load when Daniel groans in response.“You really like that, huh?”

You squeeze your fist around it when he pulls off, finally turning your gaze up at Daniel. He looks wrecked, his cheeks flushed and lips parted and eyes heavy-lidded.

“Yeah,” you say, snapping your wrist in deep, hard jerks. Daniel catches his bottom lip with his teeth. “You have no idea.”

“You want me to fuck you? You wanna feel it in you nice and deep?”

“Yeah.” That’s all you want. “Yeah, Niel, please—”

“Easy, kiddo,” Daniel says. He reaches down to cover your hand with his, dragging the tip of his cock back and forth across your lips. “We got plenty of time. First you gotta swallow this load."

You swallow instinctively, just trying to get rid of some of the spit flooding your mouth at the thought. You’ve imagined this so many times, so many ways. You were practically shaking when you opened your mouth to let Daniel stick it in. And Daniel grips your hair with one hand and guides himself in with the other.

“That’s it,” Daniel says. “God, I can't believe you've wanted it like this so long. We could've been doing this for months.”

If you had any restraint before, it’s gone now.

You lean forward, sliding your mouth down as far as you can and then back up, moving in quick, hungry pulls. You can feel the weight of Daniel’s balls moving as his hips jerk a little, moving in time with your sucks. He’s going to blow soon. You can tell. And you’re going to take all of it.

“Fuck,” Daniel continued, his voice getting lower, cut through with sharp breaths, “if I knew you wanted it that long, I would’ve taken your ass instead of Cheetah.”

You groan, fumbling your free hand down to grip at your own cock. The idea that Daniel, knee-deep in girls, would fuck you—that he wants it too—your brain is going to explode. You rub the head of your dick through the denim, grinding it with the heel of his hand as you hollow your cheeks around Daniel and work as hard as you can.

“Yeah, keep suckin’ it,” Daniel mutters, “I’m gonna—aw, yeah, I’m gonna come. You ready?”

You can’t even pull back long enough to say anything, just mumble uh-huh around the fat length of it, your whole body burning with excitement. You give the base a tight squeeze and Daniel bobs and groans, yes, yes it’s happening—his fingers tightening in your hair and his hips jerking to shove it against the back of your throat as you shut your eyes and—

The first spurt hits the roof of your mouth.

Oh god.

You jack Daniel through each spurt. It’s so much more than you expected. Hot and thick and like melted butter on your tongue. You swallow. Your whole body is throbbing just thinking about Daniel’s load inside you, settling all warm in your stomach. You keep licking at the slit until you catch the last of it and even then you dig the tip of your tongue in until Daniel makes a ragged noise and loosens his grip on your hair.

“Did you like that, Ongi?” Daniel’s voice is heavy, his chest heaving with the force of his breaths. There’s something fierce and competitive there. He’s in this to win it.

“Yeah,” you say, finally leaning back. You don’t even bother wiping at the mess of spit and cum on your chin. You just rub your aching cock and look up at Daniel. “I loved it.”

Dean grins. He reaches down to tug your jeans open.

“That’s why it always pays to be honest.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“C’mere.” Soft chuckles. The sound of fabric against skin. The sound of lips meeting lips. The sound of appreciation, deep from the gut, the sound of mattress springs squeaking, the curve of the springs bending as they tumble onto the bed—

DAMN IT.

You know when there comes a moment that you realized you should have yelled “surprise?” And now it’s too late?

There was this one time when I was a kid. We were surprising my classmate for his birthday. We were hiding in the closets and cabinets in the classroom after school. Had told him to come meet us. Well, he came in and sat down. We were all hidden in different places and I was a minute into giggling to myself in silence when I realized that we hadn’t set the cue in advance. I had no idea when I was supposed to jump out from the cleaning cabinet.

So I waited. And waited. And waited.

Now you may be thinking, Yoon Jisung, you have no excuse now. You’re twenty years older and wiser than you were then. You should have announced your presence long ago. You should have given up this charade. You could have spared everyone in this room the embarrassment of knowing that you knew that they did stuff like this when they thought you weren’t around.

Instead, my nose, always the appendage that sticks out the furthest, is perilously close to being crushed. Under the bed. While Kang Daniel and Ong Seongwoo grind against each other on a mattress that’s much too springy to be supportive for aching lower backs like mine. But whatever. They’re young bucks. They’ve got all the energy they need to—

Daniel’s belt drops down next to me, Gucci buckle gleaming impishly. Whatever. I give its intertwined Gs a half-hearted sneer. Just because the last time I got laid was 5 years ago doesn’t mean I’m salty about it. Just because I haven’t felt the sweet touch of a woman doesn’t mean that—

“Niel,” Seongwoo moans, his voice doing that desperate thing, and then there’s the sound of something being vacuumed in with tremendous suction and that’s it, that’s the cue for my face to go full tomato. Have I mentioned it’s been a while since I got laid? Because it’s been a long ass time since I got laid and wow Ong is working really hard up there right now—

This would be a terrible time to get an erection—

Annnnd there’s my erection. Hi. How are you.

I was supposed to get a rise out of them, but not like this. I was supposed to have jumped out from under the bed and surprised them. If only I hadn’t waited. I wouldn’t be here right now trying to avoid a collision between the bed springs and my face.

“I’m gonna—I’m close to—“ Daniel moans. Seongwoo makes a deeply appreciative, gut-stirring groan in response.

Yep. Definitely time for me to erase everything in my mind and not think of Daniel being close to anything. That would really be the best for everyone. Really really. It’s time for me to shut my eyes and imagine something else instead. Because the only thing that’s worse than being caught peeping by your friends is being caught a peeping Tom with a raging boner. This is probably what all monsters under the bed really are—innocent fools with a bad sense of timing. Hah. 

“Sh—” Daniel doings himself to the other end of the bed. “Did you hear that?”

”Hear what?”

”You think they’re back? Sounded like Jisung’s back.”

The two of them hold absolutely still. My boner wilts like a stem of ranunculus on a hot day.

”It’s nothing,” Seongwoo says. A little bit of pleading, a little bit of irritation in his voice. “Come here.”

With some rustling Daniel makes his way back on top of Seongwoo and the mattress settles obligingly into a friendly convexity above my head. I breathe a sigh of relief very, very, very quietly. Not sure if I’m relieved for me or for them. I guess I feel the way that a mother would feel about her son when she inevitably catches him watching porn—a little alarmed, a little grossed out, a little sad, a little mad. Sooner or later everybody grows up. 

”Niel—where’d you learn to do that—”

Annnnd there they go again. Boys. Boys and their hormones. 

Oh, back then? You want to know what happened? With my elementary school friend and the cabinets and the surprise?

Sorry, it’s not a good time right now. Come back in 10 minutes or so, when Daniel and Seongwoo decide to get off each other. After they’ve gotten each other off. Whatever.

“Niel,” Seongwoo whines. “If you keep doing that, I’m gonna—I’m gonna—”

“Should I stop?”

“No—you, you tease, fuck—”

...it might be a while.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Daehwi settles into his bed. He misses California. He misses Seoul. Chicago is too big. Its streets are too wide and its stoplights are too spaced out. He’s still jetlagged. If he were a better person, he’d go to sleep right now. But his finger itches toward his phone, heavy as a brick, jutting out of his pocket.

Daehwi closes his eyes. He bites his lip. Stupid smiles and stupid arms and stupid eyes fill his head. He swallows. He’s screwed. He’s so wonderfully, beautifully, apocalyptically screwed.

As if on cue, Seongwoo comes lurching into the hotel room like a seal humping up on dry land. Smug smile on his face, throat croaking with excitement, waving his phone as if he were paddling madly through the seas. Daehwi can’t back away into the corner of his bed quickly enough.

“Oh?” Seongwoo tries to put on an air of innocence but fails dramatically, intentionally. “You haven’t seen the video yet?”

“What video?” Daehwi says, voice dripping with sarcasm. But he can tell his ears are already hot.

From across the room, Jinyoung looks up, untucking an earbud from his ear. “What video?”

“None of your business, Jinyoung,” Seongwoo says. Jinyoung rolls his eyes and shoves his earbud back in. It’s with sotto voce threats and a series of Shaolin-level flutter kicks aimed at Seongwoo’s sternum that Daehwi attempts to extract this pimple of a manchild out of his safe zone.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Seongwoo says, glint of madness in his eyes. “Until you see the glory that is this video.”

Jinyoung calls out over the shuffling din, voice amplified probably because he’s playing his music at 11, like he usually does, saucy R&B beats sung at full throttle—“seriously, guys, what video?”

“None of your business, Jinyoung,” Daehwi says, to which Jinyoung shrugs and settles back into his mobile phone game with a sullen glare at Seongwoo. Daehwi rues the day that he ever opened up to Seongwoo about his... preferences. Not that he doesn’t trust Seongwoo. They’ve grown a little closer, justly so, after their first weeks on Wanna One’s world tour. They even managed to sneak away during their first tour in the San Francisco Bay Area and before they left for New York they even got to see a little bit of Castro Street. Rainbow flags everywhere.

He has dirt on Seongwoo just like Seongwoo has dirt on him. If Seongwoo ever threw him under the bus, not that Daehwi is assuming that would happen, but if it didn’t, he’d probably end up spilling the—

Seongwoo presses “play” on his phone in front of Daehwi’s face, and then all Daehwi sees is Kang Dongho’s face under a black cap emerging from a sleeveless black t-shirt with arms that. Muscle. Tone. Saying hi to his fans. Smiling. Full-blown, genuinely happy, moon-eyed smile.

It’s been a long time since Daehwi’s seen that smile.

Daehwi doesn’t need to see any more of this. He’s already seen the screenshots on Twitter. And he’s actually been good today. Avoiding it. Avoiding the virulent vomit of social media on his feed. Avoiding the need to feel anything other than a strange sense of pity for—himself? He’s allowed to wallow in it a little. But now that Seongwoo is here and Seongwoo knows and Seongwoo is showing him this video, maybe it’s the universe’s way of saying it’s okay to let himself feel it. Just for a little.

So Daehwi lets himself feel the a wrench of grief for what happened between the two of them (it couldn’t be helped, it was inevitable and tragic and beautiful and couldn’t be helped) and then self-pity (he couldn’t be helped, he was as gay as they came and Dongho was as daddy bait as they came and it was inevitable and tragic and beautiful couldn’t be helped) mixed in with the aesthetic appreciation of Dongho’s newfound body and stab of lust that inevitably accompanies it. Watching Dongho do his bench presses, Daehwi lets himself wish that he were the one standing behind Dongho, fingers tapped into the dimple where clavicle meets shoulder and then some.

He’d dart a kiss on the back of Dongho’s neck on the downswing. Let his eyes linger over the sculptural lines of Dongho’s triceps. Trace a line down Dongho’s back just like a bead of sweat would. Dongho would drop his weights. Thud on the floor. Turn around. Daehwi-ya, he’d say. Half annoyed. The other half, well. They’d be the only ones in the gym. And that would be that.

“This is the last thing I want to see right now.” Daehwi bats the phone away. It falls on the carpet. Seongwoo sighs and picks it up, brushing it off like a wounded creature. Dongho continues to narrate his workout from days and miles away. There’s the tinny sound of weights clinking against the bar.

“You’re no fun,” Seongwoo coos, and tucks his phone back into his pocket. The sound goes off.

Daehwi sighs. Concedes. “I guess my situation isn’t quite as bad as yours.”

“I have to live with mine every day.” Seongwoo sticks out of his tongue. And for a moment, he looks—

He looks exhausted.

“That must be annoying.” Daehwi makes his voice gentle. Because he knows. He knows how it is to want something you can’t have.

“To say the least.”

Jinyoung rips his earbuds out of his ear and throws the two of them a dirty look. Daehwi doesn’t know what in the world for. After all, Jinyoung is new best friends with wink piggy so in what world does he have the right to be jealous of Daehwi’s newfound camaraderie with Seongwoo?

Jinyoung tries to play it cool. “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

“Hemorrhoids,” Seongwoo says, without missing a beat. “Daehwi’s got them so bad.”

Camaraderie with Seongwoo? Okay, banish the thought. Banish it to the nth circle of hell. 

“I do not,” Daehwi says, when he finds his voice, the same time that Jinyoung says “ew.”

“It’s happens when you sit on the toilet too long,” Seongwoo continues, making simpering, benevolent eyes at Daehwi. “I understand. We’re artists, and as our resident composer I know you have to compose music when your muse strikes—but your muse really has such unfortunate timing.”

“Is that why you always take so long in the bathroom, Daehwi?” Jinyoung’s expression is somewhere between disgusted and fascinated and terrified.

“My muse—” Daehwi splutters. “Does not—”

Seongwoo stands up. “I’m just being a good hyung and showing him the cure. But some videos just aren’t for young, virgin eyes.”

“I can’t believe they have that kind of stuff on YouTube,” Jinyoung mutters, and jams his earbuds back in—this time, seemingly for good.

Seongwoo looks like he’s about to lose it. Daehwi throws a pillow at him. The hotel room door opens and closes with a whisper and then Seongwoo is gone.

Lord have no mercy on that man, he thinks. A smile bubbles onto his face anyway, and he smothers a laugh down in his throat, masking it as a cough.

“For the record,” he announces to Jinyoung, “I don’t have hemorrhoids.”

“Whatever,” Jinyoung mutters.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Jonghyun puts one foot in front of the other in his pacing onstage, waiting for the right time to catch Minhyun.

Super Hot and Hands On Me rehearsals are done for the day. They’re waiting for the other eighty-odd boys to arrive so they can all run through the choreography for Pick Me one last time before tomorrow’s event.

Jonghyun has been buzzing with nerves. He twists his baseball cap around and around his head and fidgets with the rim. Front and back and front and then backwards again. It’s warm in the stadium. It makes him think of summers back north.

God, says JR from somewhere. You think so much.

Minhyun and Seonho are speaking to a producer and answering interview questions. Jonghyun thinks about whether he should wear his cap to the front or to the back and spins it around his head while he paces front, back, front, back, left, right, left, right.

“I’m going to take Seonho out for meat,” Jonghyun overhears. “Because he’s always so good to me.”

“But it seems like you’re only good to me when there are cameras on?”

They laugh awkwardly, then Seonho throws his arms around Minhyun. Nothing if persistent, that kid. Jonghyun admires him for that. Wishes he were too. Persistent. Open.

Minhyun sees Jonghyun over Seonho’s shoulder. Spotted, Jonghyun walks slowly over and takes a seat.

“Oho,” the producer says. “The nation’s leader.” The cameraman adjusts the shot to presumably include all three of them within the frame, and Jonghyun is at once self-conscious.

“Ah—” Jonghyun laughs a little. “Please, it’s not my name.”

“Then who is Kim Jonghyun, really?” The producer asks him teasingly.

Minhyun smiles fondly at Jonghyun and answers for him.

“This friend has a lot of worries inside. And he’s the type to not let it show. He always worries first about others—” Minhyun’s hand brushes Jonghyun’s arm, the way it always does when he wants to reassure him. “And he’s a very caring and understanding person.” And with that Minhyun looks pointedly at Seonho.

“Why are you staring at me?“ Seonho asks, the same time Jonghyun asks a little too loudly, “why do you think that?”

Minhyun smiles an exhausted smile into his lap. Jonghyun reaches over and pats Seonho’s hand loudly.

Next to them, Jisung is saying something about ox knee soup and imitating Dongho to Dongho’s great delight. The camera has already turned away. The producer thanks them for their time.

“Hi, hyung.” Seonho says to Jonghyun, re-looping Minhyun’s arm around his shoulders. Behind them, Daniel and Jisung gallop across the stage to the hollering of the other boys.

“Hi, Seonho.”

“Did you know? Minhyun-hyung is taking me out for meat.”

“I heard.” Jonghyun sneaks a look up to Minhyun. Minhyun’s not wearing makeup today. It makes him look almost normal. Just anyone you could bump into on the street. “When do you think you’ll go?”

“Let’s go after tomorrow,” Seonho says.

“After tomorrow,” Minhyun says. “But maybe not right after tomorrow.”

Seonho is about to protest. Jonghyun can see it on his face. His innocence, his straining, his entitlement, all right there. He reaches over and smacks Seonho’s hand again because it moves him.

Minhyun stands up. “I’m going to the bathroom,” he announces, and walks off. Leaving Jonghyun there with Seonho, maybe deliberately.

Jonghyun is nervous. Nervous because what if Seonho doesn’t understand or what if Seonho hates him. But he’s got to say something.

“Hey, Seonho,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

“Hyung,” Seonho says softly.

Jonghyun almost laughs. Partly because Seonho’s face is so sad that he has to laugh otherwise he might cry right along. “I put you in a bad position,” Jonghyun says. “By advising you to tell Minhyun about your feelings. I don’t think that it was right for me to do that.”

“That’s what Guanlin said, too.” Seonho’s eyes widen. “Guanlin said you should mind your own business.”

“Hah.” Jonghyun feels his face grow hot with embarrassment. “It’s true. Your feelings are your own matter. I shouldn’t have pried.”

Seonho looks thoughtful. “But you didn’t put me in a bad position, you know. I liked talking about it with you. You listened to me and didn’t get annoyed and you didn’t judge me. And I got to know Minhyun-hyung better.” Seonho’s look is shy and beaming all at once. “And you know what? Confessing is a good experience. No matter what happens.”

“Oh?” Jonghyun nurses his guilt because he shouldn’t deserve Seonho’s good-naturedness. Or Seonho’s goodness. Or anything, really. But here he is. Seonho is smiling at him like a spring day and there’s something nice about being in the path of the light.

“Yeah. It’s practice.” Seonho rubs his hands on his knees as if they’re sweaty. Jonghyun does so too.

“Practice for what?”

“Practice for when I do it again,” Seonho says.

Jonghyun laughs. Persistent, this kid. “Really?”

“Sure. If it’s true love, you shouldn’t give up after one try.”

Jonghyun looks at his own hands. A steady buzz beats in his ears. He knows Seonho is right. For his age, for his naivety, Seonho is remarkably wise in a way that Jonghyun for all his years on earth could never be. Maybe because Seonho is just natural. “Really,” he whispers.

Hyung.” Seonho’s eyes are a little bit wild as he spins around to look directly at him. “How often do you think true love comes around? Do you think it just falls from a tree? You have to take it when it’s offered to you!” And with that Seonho reaches out into the air and grabs something, pulling it to his heart. Then he falls onto his back. 

Jonghyun blinks into the glare of the spotlights, thinking of his childhood summers on the beach. The sun glaring up at him from the sand. “Seonho,” he says slowly. “I never asked you this before, and I hope you don’t think I am judging you, because I’m not, but do you — do you like boys in general? Or do you only like Minhyun?” And when the question is out of him Jonghyun squeezes his eyes shut. Even asking it hits too close, too close to where it hurts.

“Hmmmmm,” Seonho says to his left. “I don’t think it’s really so easy as this or that. I like Minhyun-hyung, sure.” And Seonho bursts out laughing. “But I can’t imagine feeling the same way about Hyunbin-hyung!”

Jonghyun wants to ask him more. Wants to ask him, this pure, innocent, sunny kid, if he worries about what his parents might think. If he’s worried about what the public will think. If he’s ever thought that it could make him a laughingstock, a pariah, undo everything he’s worked so hard for, ruin him.

“Hyung looks worried about me,” Seonho says breezily, as if reading Jonghyun’s mind. “We live in today. We can like who we like.”

Before Jonghyun can say anything in return, the stadium erupts into cheers. They turn to look at the source of the noise—the former contestants have streamed through the stadium doors for the final practice session. With a whoop, Seonho sits up and jumps off the stage, running toward the entrance. Jonghyun props himself up on his elbow and watches Seonho sprint away.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

His phone buzzes. What is surprising is that it’s Daehwi’s face on there. You pick up with a bleary wassap, kid?

Time's up, Seongwoo. Daehwi’s voice is gentle.

You're due back at the apartment now. It’s way past curfew. This is not good news, so you end the call. You sit at the bar until it closes. Until they kick you out.

You almost collapse when you finally climb off the stool, but a tight grip on your forearm steadies you.

"Whoa there," Daehwi’s voice comes thick through the haze. "Come on, Ongi. You’re a mess, aren’t you?”  

Since when does the kid call you Ongi, which is Daniel’s pet name for him, Daniel’s, damn it—but whatever. You’ll let him. At this point, you’ll let anyone do anything to you.

Your feet are still unsteady as they trip you out the door, and then there's another hand, hauling you up by his arms. "You okay?" There's laughter there, and you close your eyes, at once wishing and ashamed. It’s Daniel. Daniel’s here too.

“Told you he’d be here,” Daehwi says, voice not without a touch of caution. Even in your haze you can tell. Daniel doesn't add anything to that but loops an arm around your back and hauls you forward. The touch jolts you awake but it’s too much for your soju-muddled brain to take and you feel yourself teeter. Daehwi on your left buckles under your sudden shift in weight but supports you still. And Daniel on your right shoots you a look. 

“Ah, Ongi.” He sounds disappointed and amused. And though his voice is not unkind you find yourself reeling. Shut up, you want to say, but know that it’ll only emerge as an undifferentiated murmur. This is all your fault, anyway.

Stupid smile. Stupid crinkly eyes. Stupid gait. Stupid legs. Stupid charm. Stupid stupid stupid. All your fault. Hate you.

“C’mon,” Daehwi says. His voice as coaxing as a warm bath. “We’ve got a cab waiting. And Jisung’s already started making hangover stew at home.”

"Yeah," you say, swallowing past the lump in your throat and mustering your wits together to put one foot in front of the other. "Yeah, okay." 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


It was December in Singapore. It felt like it should be a lot colder than this, but it was humid and warm and the air was felt thick to breathe. He and Minki had arrived at their hostel not too long ago—they were staying for one more night before flying back to Seoul the next morning.

Before they could get properly settled into their room, the phone in their room rang—they had visitors, and one of them was named Yoo Seonho, and the crowd that was waiting for them was very loud and could they please come downstairs right away to settle them down? 

Dongho would have welcomed a bit of the Seoul winter. Lee Daehwi was there with the rest of the group, looking every bit just as put out as he did when they'd parted ways at the dock. Fine, said Daehwi. See you again maybe never, said Daehwi. Dongho hadn't had the heart to reply because well, he didn't really believe that their paths would cross again. But apparently Yoo Seonho had other plans. 

"We couldn't just leave bandit-hyung and Minki-hyung like that," Seonho said, big, puppyish eyes blinking away crocodile (okay, maybe real) tears after he'd finished squeezing the life out of Dongho (it was a hug). "It didn't feel right." 

"Yeah," Samuel said. "I mean, we're all in Singapore for one more night—why not hang out?" 

Even Bae Jinyoung looked somewhat happy at the prospect of spending time together, if only for the fact that he wasn't off in skulking in the shadows or lounging on a couch in the corner of the room.

"Hey," said Lee Daehwi.

"Hey," Dongho replied, trying not to meet Daehwi's eyes for fear of what might happen if he did.  

"Let's go," Guanlin boomed, one arm slung around Seonho and the other looping its way around Dongho's neck. 

There was a pool table on the floor above the lobby and so there they went. Samuel ordered drinks for everyone and with a bit of alcohol in him, Dongho busied himself in chalking his cue—and mustered the courage to finally look at Daehwi from the corner of his eye. 

Daehwi was sitting on a bench in the corner, waiting his turn at the billiards table. Arrogant tilt of the chin as he watched the other boys play. Appraising turn of lips framed by a slim jaw, pale column of neck descending into a filmy white shirt tucked into pale salmon linen shorts in appealing creases right where leg met hip—boat shoes a powder blue suede and probably some rabidly expensive designer make, ankles tensing as he stood up for his turn—Dongho swallowed.  

He should have just kissed him, Dongho thought. Should have just kissed him in the taxi line by the dock like they'd both wanted him to. 

"Be right back!" Minki said, and dragged Dongho out of his thoughts—and out of the billiards room. Back up to their room. Where he started packing. 

"What are you doing?" 

Minki hummed. "Packing."

"Why? Is our flight actually tonight?" Dongho panicked at the idea. But Daehwi just got here—

Minki laughed. "No, we're not leaving tonight. But tell me, friend—why do I feel like I’m always the third wheel?”

Dongho knew what was happening and a part of him wanted to protest and the other part—well. “You’re not the third wheel,” he said weakly. 

“Then why am I getting kicked out of my own room?”

“You’re—wait, what? Who's kicking you out of the room?”

Minki laughed to himself. “I kid. Samuel invited me to their suite at the W. So you're going to have the room upstairs all to yourself." Minki punctuated the all in all to yourself with an elongated quirk of the brow. 

"But we've barely spent any time together this trip," Dongho protested. 

"And whose fault is that, Mr. I'm-Going-to-Go-Swimming-by-Myself-and-Maybe-Almost-Drown-and-then-Spend-My-Last-Night-in-the-Hospital-When-I'm-Not-Busy-Gambling-the-Night-Away-with-Some-College-Kids-I-Just-Met-Four-Days-Ago?" And he winked at Dongho in a way that made his ears feel like they were so hot they were going to singe off his head. There was nothing Dongho could do but look contrite and burn with steady embarrassment. 

“Minki, wait—"

“I’ll be here in the morning. Don’t leave anything behind,” Minki said. “You’re always leaving something or another.”

“I am?” Dongho said, because he was too dazed to say anything else.

“Yeah,” Minki said. ”You might be leaving your heart behind this time.“

Dongho groaned. “C’mon, man—“

“It’s okay,” Minki said gently. “It’s okay to leave your heart a little bit all over, everywhere. That’s why love makes the world go around. It's the momentum from all the lost hearts trying to find their way back."

He mulled over this as Minki shut the door behind him. He kept mulling over it until there was a knock on the door. Shy. Hesitant. A little bit imperious. 

Dongho opened the door.

“Hey,” said Lee Daehwi.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Did you at least get something to eat?”

“I had a protein bar with me.”

“I meant a proper meal.”

“I’ll have breakfast in the morning. It’s too late now.”

“I hope you’ll sleep. You sound tired.”

“Maybe. I slept almost the whole way on the plane, I don’t know why I’m still tired.”

“You’re jetlagged, right? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Anyways, I should let you go. It’s late there.”

Aaron checks the clock in his childhood room. It’s in the shape of a cat and its tail swishes back and forth as the seconds go by. The only light comes through the blinds from the orange street lamp outside. It paints his bed in hazel strips. “Good night, Minki.”

“I love you,” Minki coos, and for once Aaron lets it land.

“Haha love you too,” he says back, when his initial embarrassment subsides.

Aaron hangs up and contemplates his large empty bed. He moves over to his suitcase, which he hasn’t unpacked yet. He puts away his folded shirts, his socks and his pants. He hangs up his shirts in the closet. The lone pocket square goes into a drawer that smells like mothballs. Finally, he places his pajamas and toiletries on the bed.

As he unfolds his pajamas to put them on, Aaron finds a piece of fabric hidden between his pajama top and bottoms. Puzzled, he pulls it out. It’s one of Minki’s pillowcases. Minki must have slipped it in while he was packing. A kind of goodbye present. Aaron swallows.

He’s just back in LA for a little while. Just until the filming of Produce 101 finishes. Then they can figure out what their next steps are.

Aaron presses the cloth to his face. There he smells Minki’s shampoo—all tropical and mangoes and something Minki—sweet and lovely and sad. As he changes out his pillowcase for Minki’s and settles into bed, he realizes that it wasn’t an accident. Minki doesn’t want him to forget, as much as he wants to.

He’s too exhausted to cry, but his sadness still wraps him like a blanket. Somehow, he manages to fall asleep.

#

This was one of the worst parts of the job—depending on the company for their fate. Not that they had an option to finance themselves. They were in the red and had been. Aaron’s head spun with the debts their company had accrued to promote them. It was better for him just to hide out for the time being.

All he wanted to do was sleep. His mother didn’t bother him and he didn’t return any texts or phone calls. In time, he promised himself. In time he would. For the time being it was safer here, under the covers, in the dark of his room with the blinds drawn shut. Minki sent him text messages while he still could—once they were on the show their phones would be confiscated for the first few weeks. It was a bit dystopian, all of it.

The day before filming began he received one last text from Minki.

Remember to take care of yourself.

He didn’t have the strength to reply. When he finally drummed up a suitable response, filming had already begun and Minki wouldn’t be able to reply, anyway.

The first few weeks in LA passed in a blur. If it weren’t for the lingering scent of mangoes it would have been too easy to forget who he was, what he used to be, where he had been. He might have stuffed himself on In-and-Out and gained thirty pounds.

Minki FaceTimed him one afternoon. It was early morning in Korea. His face was puffy, like he’d been crying. Aaron felt his heart twist funny.

“It’s hard here,” Minki whined and thrashed, but behind the theatrics Aaron sensed some deep pain. “I wish I were in LA with you.”

Aaron thought of his sleepless nights spent clicking aimlessly on the internet. He’d read one too many Buzzfeed articles. “No, you don’t,” he said lightly.

“I do,” Minki said. “Don’t hurt my feelings.”

Even if Aaron couldn’t bring himself to do anything—to interact with people, to sleep right, to eat well, he couldn’t do that to Minki.

“Okay,” he sighed.

“It’s hard on us all,” Minki whined. “My joints hurt from practicing so much. My whole body just hurts.”

Aaron closed his eyes and let Minki’s words speak for the both of them. It was easier this way, for now.



Chapter Text

 

 

He doesn’t want to wait.

The thickness of the silence that’s settled between then is palpable and hot. Maybe it’s just the phone pressed against his ear that makes him feel this way. The battery, overheating in my hand, pressed against his face. He leans into it. Pretends the phone is Dongho himself.

Daehwi swallows again. Feels like he’s boiling. He wants Dongho to tell him he’s been good. Been so good for waiting, for not texting incessantly, for his restraint. Daehwi imagines Dongho in this position, mirrored. Curled in his own bed, clutching a phone to his ear, waiting for Daehwi’s next words as Daehwi waits for his. The thought makes him ache something sweet and fierce.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Dongho says. In his low and thick voice he wants Daehwi to tell him. Daehwi closes his eyes and drowns in the sudden heat flooding his body. All of a sudden all he wants it to be held until he’s full of it and nothing but it.

Daehwi exhales shakily. He’s sure Dongho can hear him and how those words have undone him but he doesn’t care.

“I also want to stay awake and talk to you until we fall asleep.”

“Oh? Is that all?”

This is, Daehwi shouldn’t, it’s just a phone conversation, it’s just talking on the phone, but he would be lying if he said he couldn’t hear the heat in Dongho’s voice, couldn’t imagine Dongho imagining him back. He’d be lying if he said he knew well and good that Dongho didn’t know that Daehwi missed him something terrible.

“I want you here next to me. I want to touch you.”

What Daehwi gets for his honesty is a long stretch of silence, and then his name whispered so low he’s not sure hebdidn’t imagine it. Daehwi wishes he could pass through the phone and end up on the side of the screen, cradled in Dongho’s hands, whispered to by his lips.

“No,” Dongho says. “You don’t get to touch me.”

“Why?”

“Because you can’t see me.”

“Are you here?”

“I’m right there,” Dongho says. “But lets just say—your eyes are covered. You can’t see me.”

“Am I blindfolded?” Daehwi swallows.

“Sure. Something like that.”

There’s something breathy about Dongho’s tone and Daehwi’s hands slip under the waist of his sweats. He can’t stop. He can’t stop thinking about Dongho this way. He doesn’t want to wait. He can’t wait and he moans and he presses himself against his hand. There’s too much pressure and heat. Daehwi’s breath catches in his throat. He wants Dongho to know.

“I’ll never let you leave me again,” Dongho says, all low and growly and possessive and Daehwi is ruined. He shouldn’t have but he’s hopeless over Dongho and he doesn’t want to wait and he can’t help himself.

There’s a laugh across the line, an ocean away, when Daehwi comes to.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Daehwi moans. “That’s mean. When all I wanna do is see you for real.”

“Just a little longer, kid.” Dongho’s voice is warm. “Just a little longer.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

You could ever say we five loved each other. I loved all of them and in different ways. But I loved our leader the most.

Jonghyun was the first and last to sleep, the first to memorize our choreography, the last to leave the studio. It was Jonghyun’s discipline in all things and his endless patience—for a sixteen year old—that impressed me. From the way he dressed it was obvious he was from a poor family, and that this was his only way out. Compared with me, then, Jonghyun had a terrible load of psychological baggage to struggle with. Thinking back, to have that kind of responsibility to shoulder at sixteen was too large. It was good that we were young and didn’t know much better or much more than our little world.

Jonghyun was kind to everyone and everyone respected him. It didn’t mean that everyone liked him right away. At the beginning he was probably too cool, too self-possessed. He had a lot to hide, and some of the others in our group must have thought him cold and haughty. But I detected something else — something warm and fragile, just below the surface. Something very much like a child, playing hide-and-seek, hidden deep within him, yet hoping to be found.

Even when we were all the same height, Jonghyun was a small boy. I was certain that in a few years he’d grow as tall as he was handsome. For the first few years we knew each other he hadn’t developed the outer look to match his inner qualities. Something about Jonghyun was imbalanced. There was an adult part of him and a part of him that was still a child—and they were out of sync. In person, it made people uneasy.

As with all kids who grew to know each other for the first time, thrown together by circumstance and talent agents—our conversations were strained. When we found out we both had older sisters, though, we relaxed. Talking about how hard we had it as younger brothers made us both laugh, and we traded stories about how we were bullied and batted around. The more we talked, the more we realized what we had in common: our love of the quiet, our fondness for things made in Japan, the school subjects we liked and disliked, our love of being away from others. We had a hard time explaining our feelings to others.

But more than I did, Jonghyun consciously wrapped himself in a protective shell. Unlike me, he made an effort to understand the things he didn’t at first, to be good at the subjects he didn’t like, and eat food that disgusted him. In other words, he built a much taller defensive wall though what was behind it was still, the same as what lay behind mine.

With Dongho and Minki and Aaron we were noisy, raucous. We joked endlessly and made fun of one another. With Jonghyun I felt as though I could relax. Whenever we went out together as a group Jonghyun and I would inevitable linger behind and walk together. I loved walking together with him. His head was stooped forward, like a turtle’s, and he had a way of holding his hands behind his back and walking slowly, like an old man. I didn’t mind, though. I enjoyed the extra time.

We spent a lot of time together, but I don’t recall anyone teasing us about it. This didn’t strike me at the time, though now it seems strange. After all, two boys so close at that age would naturally invite the skepticism of others. But it might have been because of the kind of person Jonghyun was. Something about him made other people tense, behave themselves. There was no one who could judge Jonghyun harder than he judged himself. He had an air that made people think—whoa, I’d better not do anything stupid in front of this guy. Even our trainers were somewhat on edge when dealing with him. Maybe the old man in him had something to do with it. At any rate, early in our days, most people outside the group thought that Jonghyun was not the kind of person you teased. That was fine. I liked the aura that he kept around him and often found myself nesting in the halo of the space he kept himself away from others.

Sometimes I found myself thinking that this was a space that was made for just me.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Minhyun wanders outside and Jonghyun follows. They don’t speak a word to each other as they head down the stairs, then outside, then to the next building over. It isn’t until they’re descending the stairs in to the basement that Jonghyun realizes Minhyun is leading them into the auditorium. Security is scant in this part of the building, and anytime Jonghyun hears footsteps approaching, he and Minhyun have already rounded a corner.

Wouldn’t the theater room be closed? He wonders to himself, but the heavy doors are open. Despite his earlier state, Minhyun strides in with certainty, and Jonghyun wonders how many times Minhyun has come to this subterranean space to be alone.

“Hey,” Minhyun says. And Minhyun leans in.

Jonghyun is leaning up to meet him before he’s even realized he’s doing it. Minhyun draws in his breath, a sharp gasp, then relaxes infinitesimally, and then—and then—their lips are meeting, and Jonghyun feels his heart flutter out of his chest in the same breath Minhyun’s eyes flutter shut.

It’s light, just the briefest slide of their lips against each other’s—once, twice, and then apart.

It lasts only a moment or two, but it’s enough. For now.

Minhyun startled laugh echoes his own, a warm puff of air against Jonghyun’s chin. Jonghyun wonders how many times he’s heard Minhyun’s soft, pleased laugh in his lifetime, and how many times he’ll hear it again before they part. He thinks he might be trembling and tries to remember how to breathe in and out when his chest is rising and ebbing against Minhyun’s, how to slow his galloping, traitorous heartbeat. Minhyun leans in, rests his forehead against Jonghyun’s for a long moment, and Jonghyun closes his eyes and doesn’t say goodbye.

They stay like that, neither speaking, swaying slowly until the last note of music dies away and the next song begins. “Time to go back upstairs,” Minhyun says, and sweeps his lips against Jonghyun’s temple.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

When it comes to Guanlin, Seonho is used to having to push a little. It’s practically a part of their history.

He’s had to push since their trainee days. He had to push him to eat. He had to push him to go to his Korean lessons. He had to push him to go to bed on time. He had to push him to do the Troublemaker routine. He once literally pushed him out of the way of an oncoming motorcycle because Guanlin was staring at a cloud. Seonho isn’t unfamiliar with pushing him or with taking charge when Guanlin drifted off somewhere.

This is… different.

They’ve been living together for almost a year now. Almost one year since Guanlin has been back with Cube. A year of heavy glances and waiting for Guanlin to get the big picture already before Guanlin mumbles “goodnight” and leaves Seonho to wage war with himself and punch himself (mentally) in the crotch to try and make himself wait a little longer.

But honestly. How long. Did a guy. Have to wait?

Since Guanlin showed up at Cube, even more of a helpless chick trainee than Seonho himself, Seonho had to help him with just about everything. It was never annoying, he was never put out, but somewhere along the way after Produce 101 he found himself feeling real feelings for Guanlin. And that part was the actual annoying part, because for as long as he had known himself (which wasn’t long, to be fair), Seonho had thought that they’d just be best friends.

It was when YMC kept announcing Wanna One’s contract extensions that Seonho realized he might have a bit of a problem. What with the way his heart kept leaping into his throat and how miserable he’d feel for days after and all. How he couldn’t stop from almost texting Guanlin— and how he’d always pull away from hitting “send” at the last second.

Guanlin deserved all the happiness he could possibly have. But it didn’t stop Seonho from missing him terribly and wanting him back at the Cube dorms. How was it possible to feel so selfless and selfish at the same time?

That’s when it hit Seonho that maybe he was in love. With his MIA best friend, to boot. A best friend who probably was as straight as a traffic light and no less simplistic in his color arrangements. At least when Seonho was crushing on Minhyun there was some probability that Minhyun, you know, swung that way. But Guanlin? Seonho resigned himself to eternal despondency. Maybe it was just his luck to like unavailable tall men. He really needed to get a new schtick.

That’s why it hit him like a million bricks when Guanlin came back to Cube and, well, did what he did. Seonho was mixing a track in his room when Guanlin rolled in, Rimowa limited editions and all, Moncler puffer looking like it was in the middle of digesting him whole, face red from the effort. Seonho couldn’t help himself as he flew out of his chair to glomp Guanlin with a hug that was all arms and legs, but what he hadn’t expected was for his embrace to be returned with equal fervor.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming today?” Seonho demanded. “I would have helped you with all your stuff.”

“I wanted to surprise you,” Guanlin said.

“Try harder next time,” Seonho laughed, and moved away, but Guanlin’s eyes had taken on a suddenly serious light and then Seonho was being pulled in and Guanlin’s lips found the side of his, fierce and desperate.

It was over in a flash and Guanlin pulled away, looking as embarrassed as a tomato caught in a bowl of peaches. Seonho rubbed his cheek and said inanely, “I guess that’s one way of surprising me,” and Guanlin laughed it off.

Seonho didn’t mention it that night or the next weekend or a month after but kept thinking about it and wondering if it was a fluke or just some hallucination borne of his own wishful thinking. And when he finally reconciled himself to the fact that yes, maybe it wasn’t a fluke, that it very well could be real, maybe Guanlin more than missed Seonho while he was off living his glamorous celebrity life and touring the world, and that maybe Seonho’s response to Guanlin’s botched kiss attempt wasn’t the right way to respond, two months had gone by. After almost an entire year of wanting just a little more, of hoping that Guanlin would take initiative again, of whispering it’s getting late and fluttering his eyelashes at him and Guanlin missing Seonho’s implications completely, of Guanlin being sweet and wonderful but totally clueless or too scared to try, Seonho realized it was his turn to close the gap between them.

So this time, when Guanlin mumbles goodnight, Seonho fists both hands in Guanlin’s t-shirt and drags him closer so their noses bonk against each other. A momentary pain spikes up into his forehead but Seonho presses on and presses his lips against Guanlin’s. Quick and to the point, then he pulls back. Guanlin takes a sharp breath in and grabs for Seonho’s shirtsleeves and Seonho brings his lips up to Guanlin’s again, enervated. Tracing Guanlin’s bottom lip with his tongue before retreating back a few inches, suddenly shy.

Guanlin blinks fuzzily and his hands loosen their grip on Seonho’s shirt and Seonho realizes he’s really going to have to spell this out for him. He pulls back and looks Guanlin straight in his big black eyes.

“I want to do it,” Seonho says. 

Guanlin blinks. “Do what?”

“Do it.”

Guanlin blushes. It takes him a moment to find his voice. “… what, with me?”

Seonho resists the urge to slap him. “That’s right. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. If it’s going to be my first time with anyone, I’d rather it be with you than anyone else.” Phrased like that, it sounds a little clinical, but Seonho isn’t about to tell Guanlin what he’s really feeling. He’ll tell him later. When the time is right. When it feels... romantic. For some reason it doesn’t feel romantic right now. Maybe because he’s scared shitless.

Guanlin stares at Seonho like he’s never seen him before. “You want to?”

“Yes.”

“Now?”

“I—” Seonho falters on that one, but quickly recovers. “Well, yes, since we were going to bed anyway. Maybe?”

Guanlin’s eyes scan Seonho’s face, searching for any sign of doubt. Seonho stares defiantly back. He feels the weight of his touch intensify. The heat of his palms sinking through his clothes. Onto his skin.

“You really want to?” Guanlin asks, nervously, like he hardly dares to believe it. “Are you sure?”

Seonho nods, heart in his throat forcing his voice into a whisper. “Do you want to?”

Guanlin takes a deep breath. He’s worrying his lower lip between his teeth, and Seonho wants to lean up and run his tongue over it again. Guanlin exhales. 

“I do,” Guanlin says.

“Have you? Before?” Seonho is almost afraid to ask, but he thinks he should. It’s all moving so fast and he only has himself to blame. Why couldn’t he do this in order, the proper way? He could have just asked Guanlin out on a date. Maybe to the movies. Did people even still go to the movies or was that a dating cliche? Seonho squeezes his eyes shut because he also doesn’t know if he can handle the answer.

“Kissed someone?” Guanlin says slowly. And Seonho opens his eyes and starts laughing.

“Nevermind,” Seonho says. And before Guanlin’s face can fall again and they get into another one year miscommunique Seonho takes a deep breath and kisses him again. The corner of Guanlin’s mouth. Very gently and very slowly.

“Let’s just—“ Seonho murmurs, “okay, maybe let’s just do one thing at a time.”

“Like kiss, first?” Guanlin asks.

“Like kiss,” Seonho echoes. “And other stuff later.”

“‘Kay,” Guanlin says. And Seonho can feel him blush, their cheeks pressed against each other.

The rest, as they say—is history.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

July 2017

Lee Daehwi is out running errands with Bae Jinyoung when a text comes through on his phone.

It’s a YouTube link to a variety show segment. Daehwi can make out Taehyun’s face in the thumbnail. He’s seen this clip already. It was back a few weeks ago, when he’d been settling into the new dorms and had some downtime. Sungwoon-hyung was out in the living room and Daehwi had just finished a bowl of cereal. On his way to the kitchen, Sungwoon had waved Daehwi over to watch something on his phone.

“So, center,” he’d called out in a sing-song voice as Daehwi passed him. “Looks like our Kid Monster has a crush on you.”

Daehwi rolled his eyes. “I tend to have that effect on people.” he said. “Tell hyung I’m already taken.”

“Oh?” Sungwoon had already pulled up Kakao, thumbs hovering. “By who?”

“By my art,” Daehwi stuck out his tongue. “I’m a career man with no time for love.”

“That’s a dangerous position,” Minhyun called out from his room. Eavesdropper.

So, Daehwi has seen the clip. He knows that Taehyun-hyung likes him. Maybe it’s a crush. Maybe not. The thought gives him shivers, and he’s not sure how he feels about that. Taehyun-hyung was always nice to him.

Really nice.

But right now—

“Everything okay?” Jinyoung’s looking at Daehwi with concern. Daehwi realizes he’s stopped in his tracks, that he’s gaping. He closes his mouth with some effort.

“Just got a text,” Daehwi’s voice is wooden and far away.

“What, from a ghost?”

He shakes his head and puts his phone away.

It’s been months since Kang Dongho spoke to Lee Daehwi. Since the end of Produce 101. Since they hugged goodbye on camera. Since Dongho told Daehwi off camera that he thought Daehwi would be better off without him.

And now Dongho sends Daehwi a link to a video of Noh Taehyun’s interview and follows it up with three shitty, infuriating characters:

“lol.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

If there's one good thing about having Seongwoo around, it's the research. Seongwoo combs the internet for every scrap of information in the quest for the perfect seat at the perfect cafe at the perfect time in the perfect vehicle, no matter where in the world they are. Daniel is perfectly capable of doing research. It just takes him longer, and he's more likely to get distracted by porn.

Though tonight Seongwoo’s not exactly with the program. He hasn't said anything since they hauled the Bay Area guidebooks and the laptop over to the table. He hasn't even complained about his lack of sleep, and he always complains about that. They could both be they could both be on twelve hours a day and Seongwoo would still take the time to bitch about that.

Something's going on here.

Daniel rocks back on his chair, just a little, tips sideways to see if he can catch the edge of Seongwoo’s screen.

"So, did you find out anything about our next destination yet?"

"No!" Seongwoo says, a little too quickly and a little too loudly, and, Jesus, he slams his laptop shut so fast it's a wonder it doesn't crack in half and explode.

Daniel raises an eyebrow at him.

"Were you looking at porn?"

Seongwoo visibly winces.

"I wasn't looking at porn," he protests, and yeah, that's his guilty face alright, only this one's a little bit more disturbed than it usually is.

"Sure," Daniel’s voice doesn't even sound half convinced. But he restrains himself from pushing, he just rolls his eyes and finds another guidebook to flip through. He acts casual while he flips through a magazine feature about the best restaurants in the South Bay, thumbing across the furniture advertisements with pieces too pricey even for a baller like Zico to pay.

He can wait.

He waits exactly seven minutes.

"I'm going to get a drink from the vending machine downstairs," Seongwoo decides, and Daniel absolutely doesn't react in any way. "You want one?"

"Yeah, sure," he says, while attempting to stare through a page describing the various consistencies of tomato sauce and how to tell great tomato sauce from mediocre tomato sauce. "I could go for a drink. Sure you don't want to just order room service?”

“Need some fresh air,” Seongwoo says, and it’s all Daniel can do not to laugh. Way to give himself away.

Seongwoo disappears out of the door and Daniel waits exactly ten seconds listening to him shuffle out the door and down the hall before he tips his chair sideways, balancing on two legs, and swivels Seongwoo’s laptop round.

Seongwoo never clears the browser history, because Peter and Rooney have sat on the keys too many times, sending hours of painstaking research into oblivion.

Daniel picks at random from the selection of pages in the menu. It takes him four sentences to realise exactly what he's reading, four graphic and descriptive sentences. He's reading K-pop porn. The most decidedly full frontal stuff. Starring Kang Daniel and Park Jihoon. No kidding.

Daniel tips his chair back a little farther and scrolls down, and down, and down some more. Two pages later Daniel is deflowering Jihoon, who is in tears. And, holy crap, fake Jihoon sure is flexible—

The chair he's on abruptly decides it's had enough of being balanced on one leg, thank you very much, and dumps Kang Daniel, Korea’s number one son, quickly and painfully on the floor in one loud crash. He lays there for a minute and thinks about how he could possibly have time to recuperate from between shows and comebacks and variety appearances with all the fucking he's supposed to be doing. If only his libido were as active as the imagination of these *fujoshis*. And why was he always doing dudes?

Also, fuck, now his back hurts.

He awkwardly, painfully, pulls himself to his feet and drags his chair back round, buries his face in the guidebook again—

"Shit." He reaches back over the table and closes the window on Seongwoo’s computer, before slumping back down and looking like he hasn't been doing anything while Seongwoo’s been gone.

He's pretty impressed with his stealth skills because he thinks he manages to look thoroughly bored when Seongwoo comes back in carrying two cokes and a slightly put-out expression. Though now Daniel knows he's been reading porn about him he's, quite frankly, amazed he can look that sensible.

"So," Daniel says casually, then waits an extra beat, just long enough for Seongwoo to get a decent mouthful of his coke. "You wanna tell me why you've been reading fake porn about me and Jihoon?"

The coke ends up on the wall and, judging by the gasping-choking noise Seongwoo makes, completely the wrong way down his throat. Hopefully they won’t have to pay hotel for the damage. Daniel will just smile his crooked smile. That’s gotten him out of a jam more than once.

And into some jams, apparently. He swallows a chuckle as Seongwoo hacks his way to clear lungs. Raspy breathing. Then silence.

Daniel thinks Seongwoo may have actually died.

But no, there's a great hacking cough and Seongwoo rejoins the land of the living.

Daniel looks up.

"Because, seriously, weird as it is for me to find it on your computer, I think it's just a little bit weirder for you to have it on there in the first place."

"I didn't go looking for it—" Seongwoo croaks in protest. "I didn’t. Look, I've been talking to Minhyun, and Minhyun knows about this stuff, since he’s been in the industry for so long, and it’s always about him and Jo—and anyway, I was just curious because the whole thing is a popularity contest, you know and—“ Seongwoo stops to cough, shoots Daniel a vicious look, then coughs again. “And I wasn't going to tell you about it because maybe you’d get all weird about it.”

Seongwoo still looks pissed, a weird sort of pissed, like someone stole his—

"Dude? Are you pissed because the internet's not obsessed with us having fake sex any more?"

Seongwoo gives him his patented 'fuck you' face, but Daniel’s far too amused to drop it that easily.

"You are!"

"I am not, I just—" Seongwoo’s expression turns almost miserable. "I barely turn up at all in the fanfic any more and when I do I'm either evil, or I’m an alcoholic."

There's absolutely no way Daniel isn't going to laugh at that.

"Daniel, I'm serious! I've just been-" Seongwoo sighs, loud and helpless. "I've been trying to work out why they don't like me. Or at least why they suddenly like Jihoon more when it was all about OngNiel is Science—"

Daniel throws the guidebook book at him.

"Ow!"

"Seriously, don't make me do that again," Daniel complains. "You sound like a twelve year old girl. This isn't a popularity contest."

Which is pretty much exactly when Jihoon shows up at their door, proving that he has epic timing and providing Daniel with the amusement of watching Seongwoo tense up like a deer who expects to get shot within the next five seconds.

"Hey Jihoon," Daniel says, in a way Seongwoo clearly thinks is too cheerful and relaxed. Daniel grins at him, because he's not the one who was stealthily reading porn about Wink Boy and the Peach. He has nothing to be ashamed of.

Nothing more than usual anyways.

Seongwoo’s trying to pretend he isn't finding it almost impossible to look at Jihoon. Which clearly serves him right, that's what you get when you read Danwink for an entire morning. Shame on you Ong Seongwoo.

Park Jihoon is clearly in one of his observant moods, either that or he's just naturally suspicious of Seongwoo acting suspiciously.

"Don't mind Seongwoo,” Daniel explains. “He's just pissed because of all the fake sex me and you are having now," Daniel explains.

"Daniel!" Seongwoo does that scandalized voice so well, and it's almost too easy.

Jihoon stares at him sideways, in that completely nonplussed sort of way he has, and absolutely in no way tries to take off Daniel’s clothes or molest anyone. Which is probably a good thing.

"Daniel, for heaven’s sake, you can't say things like that," Seongwoo scolds, like one wink from Jihoon’s eye might send him straight to Hell. Seongwoo continues to look conflicted for about five seconds, then he slaps his laptop shut and takes it into the other room, slamming the door behind him.

Jihoon just looks put out.

"At least with you I get to be on top," Daniel decides, before resuming his search for San Jose’s best pizza joint.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The scent of fresh orange filled the kitchen when Seongwoo got back to the apartment from filming. Daniel leaned over the kitchen island, painstakingly peeling an orange in one unbroken spiral.

“Hey, Ongi.”

Seongwoo swung his overnight bag, laden heavily with clothes and the latest paperbacks he was plowing through, straps straining under the weight, to the floor. He plopped down in the chair across from Daniel and sighed deeply. A few minutes passed and he glanced at what Daniel was doing.

“What are you doing?”

Daniel unzipped another filament from the orange. “Making perfect orange peels.”

Seongwoo grabbed another orange out of the fruit bowl, and ripped the peel off in great chunks, stuffing a segment into his mouth. “Just eat it.”

“It’s worth it,” Daniel said quietly. “Have to put some care into something if you want to do it right. The end result looks pretty and tastes good, too.” Seongwoo slumped in his chair, shooting Daniel a curious look, and concentrated on eating his own orange.

Daniel went patiently, thread by thread. Seongwoo watched out of the corner of his eye. Daniel’s fingers were delicate for such a masculine person. It only took a few minutes for Seongwoo to soften and relax and watch Daniel work, rapt, all the while sucking on his own (clumsily-peeled) orange segments.

When Daniel was done, from his hands emerged a soft, smooth-looking orange — perfect in every way. Fibers all gone, flesh plump and hinting at a juicy interior, yet completely intact. As foreign and naked an object as anyone had ever seen.

Seongwoo swallowed. “Never knew you had that much patience,” he said. There was something like awe in his voice. Daniel recognized it for what it was and smirked.

“Patience is hard,” Daniel shrugged, reaching for another orange. “But focus comes easy for me.”


#


When Daniel strutted through the door after a secret date with a hottie, Seongwoo was stretched out on the sofa, bare feet hanging off the end, reading a thick novel. Daniel flashed a blinding grin at Seongwoo, who just shot him a sullen look in response and ignored him.

“Shove over, Ongi.” Daniel pushed Seongwoo’s legs off the couch, pivoting him in place, and flopped down next to him.

“You fucking reek of sex, sir.” Seongwoo pulled his legs up and tucked them underneath, retracting from Daniel. “Manager was asking about where you went. If I have to cover for you one more time—“

Daniel’s lips twitched, and he scratched his stomach. “How would you know, Ongi?”

“Because you’re a fucking slut dressed as a golden boy, that’s how I know.” Seongwoo’s face reddened. “Smell it on you. All the time.” Daniel tried to look him in the eye, but Seongwoo turned his head away and refused to meet his gaze.

Daniel just looked at Seongwoo for a long moment. Noticing. Thinking. Biting his lip, trying to hold back that feeling that flooded through him in Seongwoo’s presence all the time now. This shivery warmth that had almost nothing to do with his dick. He looked at Seongwoo until he squirmed, uncomfortable under Daniel’s curious scrutiny. Then he leaned closer to Seongwoo.

“Wanna know what it’s like?”

Seongwoo dropped his book. “No thank you,” he managed in a thin voice.

Daniel just looked at him, his eyes glinting. “What it feels like to stick your fingers inside a girl?” Daniel couldn’t believe what he was saying. Contrary to public opinion, Daniel was actually more than a little shy when it came to stuff like this. But the look on Seongwoo’s face, desperately interested while pretending not to be, was like the first hit of the best drug in the world. Daniel swallowed, and pushed a little farther. “Get her wet for you?” Saying the words to Seongwoo made him feel all shivery. Daniel licked his lips, still looking at Seongwoo, and that was all it took. Seongwoo was caught on the hook.

“See, a girl’s got lips too, kinda like this—” and Daniel brushed the back of his fingers against his mouth— “but down there. And you gotta push past them to get inside. And on top is the clit. It’s like a tiny little dick. So yeah, they like it when you get your fingers in, but to really make ‘em squirm, you gotta use your thumb to rub their clit.”

Seongwoo squirmed on the couch, ruddy patches rising on his cheeks. Daniel thought had just meant to embarrass his best friend, but…something else was happening here. Something he didn’t want to stop. It was like the air was suddenly thick between them. That thing that had been forming between them taking more weight, more fire.

“And if you really want to make a girl lose her fucking mind, you gotta lick her.”

Seongwoo’s lips parted, the tip of his tongue darting out unconsciously. Daniel’s cock twitched at the sight. “They love that.”

“Yeah?”

The breathiness in Seongwoo’s voice got Daniel rock-hard instantly.

“Go crazy for it. Grab your hair. Make these little sounds. If you lick them real nice, you can make them beg.” Seongwoo shifted in place, and Daniel just knew Seongwoo was making room in his jeans for his cock getting hard. Hard because of Daniel. What Daniel was saying.

“Like…how?” Seongwoo’s face was bright red, but he didn’t look away in embarrassment. The combination of innocence and boldness hit Daniel like a freight train. He’d never been so hard in his life.

“Like… ‘Please, god, please, fuck me.’” Daniel rubbed his hand on his thigh, desperate to touch Seongwoo, not daring to do any such thing. Seongwoo’s pupils were huge and dark.

“Yeah, right… they actually say that?”

Daniel leaned in a little closer, swiping his tongue over his lower lip in his unconscious habit. Seongwoo’s eyes darted down to watch, transfixed. “They do to me.” Daniel couldn’t help the cocky smirk. It was part of his nature. And he was proud of how good he was. He waited until Seongwoo looked up again. “I can make them beg, Ongi." Daniel took a deep breath to steady himself, and held Seongwoo gaze. "‘C’mon… fuck me. Need you inside me. Want you to fuck me so hard.’”

Seongwoo was trembling so hard Daniel could feel the vibration through the cushions. Seongwoo jumped up from the couch and pelted into his room.

Jisung poked his head in from down the hall. “Jesus, Daniel, are you giving Ong Seongwoo a hard time again?”

Daniel just grinned, and thought, you have no idea.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

September 2017

#

Taehyun has caught him in the middle of something. But he has to do it. His heart pounds ba-dump ba-dump. It may jump out of his throat.

Lee Daehwi looks up from his phone. Ah, Taehyun-hyung, he says. You’re here too. His face looks friendly but his eyes look distant. He has no idea how Taehyun feels. Taehyun swallows.

Taehyun had looked at the rehearsal schedules and he’d seen that Wanna One would be practicing at this time. He’d thought about what he might say. But right now, with Lee Daehwi looking up at him in that breathless cool surprised way with his lips parted and just with a hint of gloss, Taehyun’s breath leaves him and with it, his courage.

*It’s been a long time!* Taehyun says instead. I thought I’d come by and say hi.

Daehwi gives Taehyun a guarded smile. Taehyun asks if he’s eating with the others later or if he’s free to join, JBJ will be going out to a place around the convention center. Daehwi casts a wistful look around the dressing room and says he’s already got plans.

Taehyun parries into niceties with a smoothness he thought only existed for him onstage. Ah well, it was worth a try.

That night, before bed, before tomorrow’s performance, he flips through his contacts list. Lee Daehwi’s number is there. Taehyun had made sure to get it before he left the show. But now that Daehwi is part of the most popular group in Korea, it feels like there are miles and miles of stratosphere between them.

Who knew that ten numbers could make a man feel this way?

Taehyun shuts off his phone before he can do something stupid.


#


Sanggyun’s head comes to rest on Taehyun’s shoulder in between takes of filming My Flower. He’s caught off guard because, well, it’s Sanggyun. The guy is not known for being touchy-feely.

“What’s up?” Taehyun expects him to be half drunk.

“Nah,” he says. Okay then.

After a pause, he asks if Taehyun if he’s ever liked someone who couldn’t like him back.

“Well, yeah. It’s kind of our job to get ourselves into unrequited scenarios.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t become a good performer through sheer imagination alone,” Taehyun says. “Sometimes you need real experiences. If you sing about dark stuff, you need to have experienced some dark stuff.”

Sanggyun chuckles. “Yeah, I thought you might say something like that.”

“Why?”

Sanggyun drops his voice. “You like Lee Daehwi, right?”

Taehyun bristles. Like? Like? He worships the damn ground that Lee Daehwi walks on. It’s the stupidest best most heartbreaking most uplifting feeling in the whole world. He decides not to answer, not because he’s ashamed, but because he doesn’t trust himself to not sound like a crazy person.

“What about you, Sanggyun?”

“Oh. She’s someone way out of my league. And it’s not even like I have her phone number or anything.”

“What, is she an idol or something?”

Sanggyun groans and rolls down to the floor. His baseball cap gets knocked off his head and lands over his face. “It’ll never happen. She’s married.”

“Really?” Taehyun’s eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.

“Sure.”

“Well, now I’m curious.”

Sanggyun whips the cap off his face and gives Taehyun a side-grin. “Well, you’ve met her.” He looks around the set. Kenta and Yongguk are slumped against each other, napping. Donghan and Hyunbin are on their phones. “We’ve all met her.”

“Not one of the teachers?”

Sanggyun nods eagerly, pained smile on his face.

Taehyun closes his eyes. Tries to put himself in Sanggyun’s shoes. Realizes he’s already there. Ah, it’s hard to be in love with someone who you can never tell, isn’t it? “Did anything ever happen?” Taehyun asks. Hoping that something did, as terrible as that sounds. At least then that would make one of them who isn’t completely hopeless.

“Sort of.” Sanggyun says. “The day I got eliminated. I told her before I had to leave.”

Wow. “Did she say anything?”

“She gave me a hug. Ah, Taehyun—“ Sanggyun wraps his arms around himself. “I wanted to tell someone. For such a long time. Sorry if it came out of the blue. I’m happy for her. She’s got a husband and a kid and a really nice life. She doesn’t need a guy like me. But I like her a lot anyway.”

“It sucks,” Taehyun says, throwing an arm around Sanggyun and squeezing him in on the shoulder. “I know.”


#


There aren’t that many opportunities to try. But here he is again. Sungwoon calls Taehyun to complain about the mess at Zero Base. He’s got a face mask on, so it’s like talking to an alien.

What’s going on with the base now? Taehyun asks. Sungwoon shows him, enabling the back camera. Zero Base is exploding with Christmas decorations. Trash everywhere, for some reason. It makes him laugh.

Is that Taehyun-hyung? Daehwi comes up to the camera and waves. Taehyun is suddenly conscious that he’s in an old t-shirt and pair of shorts. He wishes he were dressed better for this. Not that he could have predicted this would happen. He runs a hand through his hair quickly to try and tame it.

“Daehwi-ah,” Taehyun says. “Are you well? Taking good care of yourself?”

“Get me out of here,” Daehwi whines. “It’s like living with 10 hyenas.”

“Aww—“

“And tell your friend to stop bullying me.”

Sungwoon yelps and Daehwi sticks out his tongue and pretends to cry. It’s one of the most adorable things Taehyun has seen and his heart goes ba-dump ba-dump so hard he thinks it’s going to bolt through the screen.

Before he can say anything else, Sungwoon has turned the camera back to selfie mode and Taehyun is looking up his friend’s nose. “Forget about what the kid said,” Sungwoon huffs. “I’m so nice to him, he’s just talking trash.”

Daehwi’s aegyo face stays with Taehyun for the rest of the week. At the end of the week, he texts Daehwi three letters:

“Hey.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Hi guys, this is Aron. I’m starting up a blog so that I can record all kinds of awesome stuff that’s happening in my life right now. I’m not going to make it public, because then you’ll probably bug me to update it every day. But I’ll still put all the good stuff in here so when the time comes for me to blackmail my bros I’ll have it all ready to go.

Uh, now what do I write about? Blogging is kind of hard. What am I supposed to talk about? Or write about?

Oh I guess I could write about the gifts we got. Well, that I got. I’m not sure when you all decided it was Aron Day but I’m pretty glad for Aron Day. Got a whole bunch of cool stuff. My stylist went a little crazy—she says you guys are gonna put her out of a job. So thanks lol. Love and respect to everyone out there.

I love all the stuff but sometimes I wonder—I mean, why don’t you guys just buy this stuff for yourselves? Won’t you enjoy it too? Not that I’m complaining. Definitely not. I love my new carryall from LV. My old one was starting to fall apart—and you guys probably noticed it, haha—and now I have this new one. Thanks again. It’s beautiful.

But I’m sure you’re not just tuning in for me rambling on about brand name bags, right? Haha. Okay, what’s something juicy I can share? Really juicy?

I guess I could share about that one time that Min


#


Sorry. Got distracted. Minki started doing the dance thing with the strobe light in my room. And you guys know I can’t resist a good spontaneous dance party. So he just left. I wonder if he saw this blog post. Probably not. But probably yeah? Minki’s really perceptive even though he might come off as an oblivious guy. He really notices the small things, like if you have a hair on your shoulder or an eyelash on your cheek or if you’re

Hahaha, I sound like I’m gay for Minki, right? No homo or anything guys and I’m totally cool with that. Oh you’re probably curious about what Minki actually is right? Actually none of us know either. It’s because he’s just really dedicated to his art. He actually doesn’t want to date because he doesn’t think he’d have the time for it. I tell Minki he’d be great at being someone’s boyfriend because he’s so sensitive about people and their feelings. Like you could imagine him planning some epic date and getting super excited about


#


Minki came in again. This time he did that towel disappearing act that’s been all over everyone’s TL. It looks pretty cool in person if you can get it right. I wonder if anyone’s done it in front of a baby yet. That’d be pretty good. Anyway, obviously I didn’t fall for Minki’s disappearing act. I know he did it to Jonghyun last week and asked him if I was just leftovers. He said Jonghyun was a guinea fig. I corrected him and told him it was a guinea pig.

Minki is pretty stubborn when he thinks something is funny even if it’s wrong. Oh well, that’s just Minki.

So, juicy gossip that’ll expose us all?

Dongho farts really loudly in the morning. It’s like all the gas from his late night dinners waits until the morning to escape his body. It’s not actually smelly. The funny thing is Dongho has a great digestive system. But damn his farts are loud. And high-pitched.

He’s a vocalist on both ends of the spectrum. Hah! See what I did there?


#


All right, you guys want more secrets. I can tell you’re pretty thirsty.

Thirsty—that’s the right usage, right?

Okay, so I think I can get real with you guys. One of the reasons I started this blog was because when I was back in LA this month for KCon I met up with my old friends and one of them—Danny, who I’ve known since I was like, eight years old, told me that my English has gotten really bad.

I mean, with the kind of company I keep it’s not a surprise that my English has started to skip a bit. My Korean has at least gotten really good in the meantime. But Danny’s words hit home a little. You guys know I wanted to go to NYU and become a journalist, right? And I joined Nuest instead.

I’m not regretting anything, no way. That’s not what this is about. But I figured I’ve achieved a lot of my dreams by now—just in the last year almost everything I ever wanted has come true. So what’s holding me back from my other dreams?

Oh, there are a lot of things I want to do still. I’d like to travel more. Stockholm and London are on my list of places to visit when we get a vacation (which is like, never, thanks to you thirsty fans). But since a vacation is hard to come by I think writing is the next logical dream to tackle.

I’d love to publish a book before I turn 35. That’s doable, right? Now it might not be a tell-all nonfiction piece. But at that point I’ll probably have enough life experience to write a pretty good novel. About a guy named Aaron who leaves his normal life behind to become a famous singer. Who leaves his dreams of being a journalist behind to become a celebrated pop star.

Hahaha it looks funny when I type it out. I’m a little embarrassed looking at this.

Time to call it quits for an evening. Gnite guys.


#


All right. If I were to write this novel, what would you want it? Probably all kinds of allusions to things that may or may not have happened, right?

There are sooo many things that have happened. There was that one time we almost got arrested in Japan because Dongho really needed to go to the bathroom but we were so drunk we forgot all of our bad Japanese. So he peed on a building wall right as two neighborhood cops walked by. It was only because of Minhyun that we managed to make it out without a penalty. That night I was so scared I almost shit myself. Then we would have had two incidents on our hands.

We owe a lot to Minhyun. That’s not the first time he’s bailed our asses out of a pickle. Same with Jonghyun, but you’d expect it of him. It’s pretty natural that they finally got together. Just right as Produce 101 ended Minki called me to tell me. It was like 4am in LA when I got the news.

Juicy stuff, right? Hahaha. Pretty normal I guess. I’m not sure who liked who first or when it started to happen. But I remember being happy for them and then kind of scared because the paps are pretty ruthless with this kind of thing. And our group was already so unstable that this kind of scandal could actually completely sink us.

Okay, so I was a little bit mad. I had to remind myself to trust the two of them. Like I know they’re the two most discrete human beings in the world but still there’s no telling what would happen if they got caught. But they’re also like two of my best friends so why wouldn’t I be happy for them?

It took me a while before I fell asleep again. I wondered if Sujin knew. It’d been a while since I thought about her.

 

#


Sujin’s pretty cool.









 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Good night, Jihoon."

Jihoon lay in the top bunk and listened to Guanlin get ready for bed. A familiar bed, familiar sounds. The door to his room was open a couple inches, and some noise from the kitchen crept in. Beer tabs popping, Ong and Jaehwan singing quietly, for once. On any other night Jihoon would have run outside, bleary-eyed, and shut it down. But not tonight.

Tonight was the last night they were all together. And though he knew sleep was just as important as being with the members, he couldn’t do either. And so here he was. Halfway in between. Awake, pretending to sleep, still listening.

Guanlin had switched on his reading lamp. In the last half of the year he’d started reading. Real books, a lot more of them. You always found Guanlin with his nose in a book. They were relaxing, he said, and Guanlin didn’t like playing video games on his phone as much as he once did. Jihoon listened to the sound of pages turning. There was something crisp and kind about the sound. As if Guanlin as a child were reaching out to him, reading to him. Jihoon turned in his bed to face the wall.

Then Guanlin’s light went out, and darkness flooded the room. Jihoon thought about crying, knew that if he focused on tomorrow’s pain and loss and sadness he would be able to. But he was just too tired. He'd cried enough that afternoon at their final producer’s meeting. And everyone else had cried, too. Even Woojin was moved by Jihoon’s tears—and Woojin rarely wept. A few tears now and then, at moments in extremis, like when he twisted his ankle on stage in Hong Kong. The only one who had never cried was Guanlin. Maybe because he was too young to understand or there was still a language barrier. Jihoon wondered what it would take to make Guanlin cry. Not that he was going to try. He was too tired for that.

That afternoon in the producer’s studio, Woojin had been sobbing like he was drunk. It had happened once before, but not like that. Woojin angry at himself for tripping, for hurting himself before a big show, had cried sullen tears. They’d come down his face reluctantly, angrily, as he swallowed painkillers one after the other. But this afternoon Woojin cried in hoarse chokes and once he got started it was hard to stop.

Jihoon flipped onto his stomach. It was too much to think about right now; he felt too fragile to tease out his thoughts, too tired to understand the significance of this discovery. It was just Woojin, after all. His friend. He’d never had a best friend before Wanna One.

They’d be apart. They’d all be apart. They knew this was coming and though the days had dragged by and even on some days Jihoon had wanted things to end so he could stop, relax, and sleep, now that the end was here he could barely sleep at all. Woojin was going back to Brand New Music tomorrow and Guanlin back to Cube. Totally surprising and yet not surprising at all.

Jihoon sighed, and remembered Guanlin sighing against his shoulder that afternoon. Jihoon put his arm across his face and remembered the warm breath gusting onto his neck, heating his skin.

“Jihoon,” Guanlin whispered. “Are you asleep?”

“No,” Jihoon replied.

“Come down here. Or wait, let me come up.”

The bunkframe creaked and squeaked as Guanlin climbed up the ladder. The mattress sunk underneath them. The weight of two nearly full-grown men was testing it a little. Jihoon hid his smile behind his sleeve and scooted closer to the wall to accommodate Guanlin’s lanky frame.

“You’re so nice to me tonight,” Guanlin said, snaking his arm underneath Jihoon’s pillow and draping his other arm over Jihoon’s chest. Spooned like that, with Guanlin’s weight and heat and smell pressing behind him, wall in front of him, Jihoon felt himself loosen up a little. Guanlin was a little sweet from his cologne and deodorant and the scotch he’d been drinking with the rest of them at dinner. Jihoon was used to Guanlin’s scent by now and found it as comforting as he found everything else about Guanlin: his soft gaze, his deep voice, his height, his easy self-assurance. His dark eyes glinting with humor as they suffered through arduous dance practices or rounds of hazing at the whims of Sungwoon. It all equated to Guanlin.

"Relax," Guanlin said quietly, and without question, Jihoon did. Leaned against him fully. They breathed in silence.

To his regret, Jihoon felt the tears swell in his chest and constrict in his throat. Shit. Here we go, he thought, and felt so sorry for Guanlin. But Guanlin had known this would happen, that was clear. That's why he was up here in the top bunk spooning Jihoon while the other boys watched TV and drank themselves to a stupor outside.

Jihoon hugged Guanlin’s arm close to his chest and let the tears flow. It was easier to cry tonight. He wasn't choking with painful sobs. Just quiet tears. He couldn't even have said why he was crying. Their disbandment, of course. But disbandment was a trigger for other tears, other losses. Guanlin cuddled him closer, and Jihoon felt him kiss his head. Their relationship was so convoluted. Guanlin and Jihoon. Just friends. His dongsaeng. A foreigner. His surrogate brother, they were all surrogate brothers now. And sometimes they were each other’s mothers and fathers.. Whatever Jihoon needed, whatever Guanlin needed, whatever they all needed, they stepped into those roles. Sometimes not very gracefully, and often not very happily, but they did it, and it was because they did so that they could endure the hardest year of any of their lives. Just like how Jihoon knew Guanlin would get him through this night.

He sniffed, and Guanlin handed him a wad of kleenex. Jihoon blew his nose and wiped his eyes, and then turned around so that they were facing each other. He wasn’t embarrassed to let Guanlin see him cry. They were past all that.

“Where’d you get this?”

“Had it in my pocket,” Guanlin murmured. "Sorry if it’s a little gross."

“That’s okay,” Jihoon whispered back.

Guanlin pulled him into his chest and rocked him, a silent acknowledgment, and Jihoon relaxed deeper against him. Maybe he could fall asleep like this. He'd like that, with the beating of Guanlin’s heart under his ear and Guanlin’s warmth all around him.

Yes, he’d like that very much.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“You can’t be serious, Minhyun.”

Jonghyun normally wouldn’t let himself be so vocal, and not so mean, not when Minhyun was in his current condition. But the news was so surprising, so far out, so inconceivable — and so alienating — Jonghyun’s tact took second fiddle.

“I mean,” Minki shifted uncomfortably. “It’s his choice, Jonghyun.” Aaron looked just as uncomfortable but smiled winningly at Minhyun, who for a brief moment looked relieved.

“Of course,” Jonghyun swallowed, and looked away. “Of course it’s your choice, Minhyun.”

“You can’t control everything,” Dongho said. It sounded more sad than critical, but Jonghyun bristled. How could Dongho understand? How could the idiot understand what something like this meant? It wasn’t any man’s place to think he could live forever. The idea was just ridiculous. Even as a—

Minhyun struggled onto his elbows and took a breath, trying to speak up again. But his previous revelation had taken everything he had. His breath hitched, and everyone in the room tensed. But it was just a hitch. Not the usual body-wracking, endless hacking that ended in blood spit up into a tissue.

“Thank you for understanding,” Minhyun croaked, and waved goodbye weakly. “I made the decision a few days ago. It took some time to figure out how to tell you. But I think this is for the best. After all this way we’ll still see each other.”

Aaron’s smile grew a little twisted. Jonghyun buried his face in his hands and Dongho just nodded.

“Maybe we should give you and Minhyun some time to talk about it. We should go,” Minki said. “I know he’ll respect your decision,” Minki said with a glare in Jonghyun’s direction. With a hand on Aaron’s lower back, Minki shoved him out the door. Dongho followed without a glance back.

Then it was just Minhyun and Jonghyun.


#


Jonghyun had come home one day from filming a variety segment and found their apartment filled with smoke, Minhyun bent over in the kitchen over the sink, retching. His hand was bright pink, burned. Before Jonghyun could even make sense of what he was seeing, the smoke alarm shrilled on.

“I just went to lie down for a moment,” Minhyun panted, as Jonghyun threw open the windows and threw ice in a mixing bowl filled with cold water. “And the pan got hot, and when I went to move it—well, I forgot how hot the handle could be. I’m sorry I burned the steaks.”

“No, no, no, don’t worry about that.” Jonghyun said. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Minhyun closed his eyes and let Jonghyun guide him over to the couch, his hand limp in the mixing bowl. “Nothing, probably. I just felt really weak all of a sudden.”

“You’ve been overworked,” Jonghyun said. Minhyun’s filming schedule had only recently finished, and this was his first week on break while the postproduction crew assembled the first cut of the movie. It made sense that Minhyun’s body decided to get sick now. “Just rest, okay? I’ll take care of you.”

But the illness had spread quickly. Too quickly for any of them to have caught it in advance. And only a month later, Minhyun was in the hospital. And he hadn’t come back out.


#


“You can’t do this. Those idiots don’t know what kind of technology they’ve put out into the world. It’s not right, to upload yourself like that.”

“Just listen to me, Jonghyun.”

Jonghyun jumped up. He walked briskly to the window and opened it. A cool breeze came in. “And who knows if they’re even going to be able to do this properly? Have they even done it before? I’ve heard terrible things about what’s happened to people who did that. They’re stuck in their own bodies for the rest of their lives, locked away underground somewhere. You really want that to happen to you?”

“It’s come a long way since that scandal,” Minhyun said softly. “They came to visit me the other day. It’s a different arrangement now, for celebrities.”

“What?”

“They’ve got integrations with the home technology devices. They’ll upload my persona to the cloud and it’ll power some of the AI home software. I could still be with you, Jonghyun.”

“I don’t get it,” Jonghyun shook his head furiously. “You’re going to—you’re going to become a — a —”

The word that Jonghyun was looking for was somewhere between an avatar, a persona non grata, and an android. But he couldn’t bring himself to say any of it. Because to him, Minhyun was flesh and blood.

There was a time not too long ago that Jonghyun could only watch Minhyun from a screen. As a face from a magazine cover. Smiling at him from candy wrappers and screen printed on subway ads and cosmetic cases. It was like entering an alternate reality. Minhyun was everywhere, all around Jonghyun, and yet nowhere. Minhyun, who was larger than life and yet nowhere to be seen. That Minhyun was a stranger to him. That year, the Minhyun he thought he knew—the quiet, humble, unassuming bookworm with the cool gaze and perfect laughs, flawless in all of his clothes—became a cipher. A projection of collective desires. A composite of their country’s hopes and dreams. The nation’s prince. From this persona there would be no true understanding. No real knowledge.

Minhyun sighed. “They ran some numbers. With the number of subscribers my persona is projected to generate, the revenue share will help keep me alive for a while. Maybe for as long as you.”

“But it’s not really you.” Tears streamed down Jonghyun’s face. He rubbed them away on the back of his sleeve, but they kept coming.

“Come here, Jonghyunnie.”

Jonghyun didn’t move. Outside, it was the kind of day where the sun baked the sidewalk to a crisp. In the distance, the air shimmered in the heat. The parking lot was empty.

“Please.”


#


Months later there came an envelope under the doormat of his apartment where Jonghyun was now living alone. Jonghyun’s heart crept into his throat and stayed there and the envelope, unmarked, lay on his kitchen table for days.

Sujin came over unannounced one night. Just checking up on him, she said. She’d been doing that, probably on Minhyun’s wishes. It hurt him to see her, because she looked like Minhyun and Minhyun looked like her, but he hid his hurt as well as he could. She saw the envelope and raised an eyebrow elegantly. Cooly. You going to open that?

Jonghyun knew in his heart who it was. When Sujin left, Jonghyun finally with trembling hands opened the envelope. There was a USB drive the size of an eraser. He plugged it into his computer.

There was a single video on the USB drive. He double clicked.

“Jonghyunnie,” his old Minhyun said. The recording had obviously been done in a professional studio and the audio came crisp and clear and in surround sound. “I’m sorry.”

There was much more. Jonghyun replayed the video three times and went through a whole box of tissues. When he was done, he ran the USB drive through the sink disposal.


#

Jonghyun missed this the most: in all those years together, they had spent countless nights in countless rooms all around the world. There would be Minhyun curled up in bed, bedside lamp casting a soft glow on his angular features, the sound of the page turning every two minutes.

He used to fall asleep to the sound of those turning pages. To the sound of Minhyun sometimes reading aloud to himself, air passing through his lips in invisible whispers.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

There was always a light at the end of the tunnel. That much Daehwi knew from experience. Sometimes the light was still a shitty situation—basically, another tunnel, just slightly better lit—but sometimes it really was the end.

The train sped through the night on its rails. Daehwi clutched his duffel close to him. He hadn’t packed a lot, but that was sort of the point. He didn’t need a lot for where he was going. He had everything there.

Next stop, a female announced’s voice came on over the loudspeakers, Is the final stop on this train. Thank you for riding the airport express.

Daehwi loaded up his ticket on his phone and breezed through security. At this hour of night there was nobody around. Right after they’d disbanded, he’d dyed his hair back to black and wore it slicked back under a baseball cap. Didn’t bother with a mask. Just went without makeup. Underneath his usual foundation was a zit. But the zit made him human. Made him regular. It hurt a little, just like a zit should.

He was a nobody. Even his ticket said that. Lee Daehwi, flying coach, and a middle seat, of all seats. Without makeup, without his hair in pink or purple or grey or traffic cone orange sporting one big honking zit on the side of his nose Lee Daehwi was just a nobody.

Sitting in the waiting area snoozed another nobody. Kang Dongho was dressed in a white long-sleeve t-shirt underneath a short-sleeve t-shirt. He had a duffle with him as well. Just the cheap nylon duffle bag you could get from the street stall ajumma in Hongdae. When Daehwi sat down in the seat next to him, Dongho snorted himself awake.

“Hey,” Daehwi said quietly. Trying not to grin.

“Hi,” Dongho said sleepily. His voice came muffled through his mask. “Was afraid you weren’t coming.”

“Ludicrous,” shushed Daehwi, as he reached into his bag. He pulled out a tangerine and unpeeled it with nimble fingers. Dongho watched, mouth watering as the smell of citrus filled the air. It’d been a while since Dongho had last had a drink of water and he didn’t want to pay for airport water. Usually his manager would buy it but Dongho was traveling on his own dime right now.

“Do I get some?” Dongho asked, as the last piece of rind came off neatly. Daehwi dropped it in Dongho’s lap. Dongho didn’t seem to notice.

“Have you been good?” Daehwi sing-songed.

“I got here before you, didn’t I?”

“But it’s my birthday, not yours.”

“What, you want me to sing you the song or something?”

“Would you? Pretty please.”

Shit, thought Dongho. But he really wanted some of Daehwi’s orange. And there was nobody around. Not even the gate attendant.

“Can I keep my mask on?” Dongho asked.

“Are you going to keep it on the whole trip?” Daehwi sounded irritated, and plopped a slice of orange into his mouth as retribution.

“Just here,” Dongho said, and leaned in to whisper the next words in Daehwi’s ear. “I promise you,” he sang.

Daehwi blushed and gawked at the same time. “Don’t. Please. I never want to sing another Wanna One song again.”

“Never,” Dongho whispered, and Daehwi groaned again.

“Just sing me my damn birthday song. Keep your mask on, the less I can see of your stupid face the better.”

Dongho cleared his throat.

Happy birthday to you,
You got me so blue,
I wish you weren’t so mean,
On the day that you’re king.

Daehwi pinched Dongho’s bicep. Dongho coughed to mask his squeal of surprise.

“I’ll be nice to you,” Daehwi whispered, “when we land.”

When it came time to check in the bleary, middle-aged attendant barely batted the two of them a second eye. “Have a good flight,” she intoned miserably.

Economy felt somewhat miserable too, after what seemed like a lifetime traveling in business class. But the flight wasn’t full and he and Dongho had booked the middle row so they could spread themselves out. After they stowed away their bags and folded themselves into the thin, plane-issued blankets and clipped on their seat belts, they were off.

“Nervous?” Daehwi said, over the roar of the plane rumbling down the runway.

“Naw,” Dongho drawled, squirming in his seat as the cabin lights dimmed. Daehwi knew Dongho wasn’t confident with his English. And this was his first time in LA, let alone America. But leave it to Dongho to put on a front. “Aaron’s going to pick us up, right? And Bumzu gave us a list of places to go eat. And you planned everything,” Dongho’s voice dropped off, embarrassed. “I don’t think there’s much I could mess up.”

“I can’t wait,” Daehwi said, smiling through his sudden sleepiness. Something about planes did that to him. “I can’t wait to show you everything. All the places I used to eat at. All the places I used to hang out with my friends. All the places.”

Underneath the blankets, Dongho’s slightly sweaty hand found his.

“You look tired,” Dongho said softly. “Here, lean against my shoulder.”

Daehwi acquiesced with a sigh, shucking off his shoes so he could tuck them up on the seat next to him. He nestled his head against Dongho’s shoulder. Nice and solid. Really good muscle tone. His heart fluttered something awful and that was great, too. He was going home. His mom was going to make them chicken soup and they’d go for karaoke and Daehwi would show Dongho his old middle school and then they’d take bicycles down Valencia boardwalk and nobody would know who they were.

America. Land of the free. Home of the—

“Damn,” Dongho said, craning his head down to Daehwi’s. “That’s a big zit.”

Daehwi pinched Dongho’s inner thigh under the blanket. Up ten thousand feet, the white noise vibrating the cabin drowned out Dongho’s squeal.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Jisung threw the last of their things into the cabin of the plane, and placed the cooler full of convenience store sandwiches in the space before him. Baejin and Jihoon fought too much over who got to sit right next to the snacks, so Jisung had mandated that the area in front of his seat was mandated for food and storage. Particularly on early morning junkets like this one, where they were headed overseas once again.

They were flying premium economy back and Jisung, Ong, and Daniel had the middle row to himself. Ong took his aisle seat and Daniel threw himself into the middle seat with a whoof. Seongwoo smacked his shoulder.

“Stop touching me.” Seongwoo glared at Daniel. He’d been testy for weeks, ever since Daniel talked him up on the couch. They both knew why, without having to say a word.

“You sure about that?” Daniel’s lip curled up in a slow, sweet smile, and Seongwoo erupted in a fit of blushing.

“You kids be good, alright? Otherwise, it’s gonna be a long trip.”

They’d been flying all week, from venue to venue, and now they were on the final leg back home to Seoul. Jisung settled into the aisle seat, tucking his legs off to the side to accommodate Daniel’s manspreading. Sighing, Jisung nestled a pair of AirPods deep into his ears and snapped a sleeping mask over his face. “Peace out,” he said, and was out like a light.

Daniel took advantage of the opportunity.

He leaned to his right, throwing an arm around Seongwoo’s shoulder. “Hi there.”

“What now?” Seongwoo said, tense.

Daniel leaned closer and whispered in Seongwoo’s ear, “That girl in Busan at the fanmeet? The one with the cat ears? Best little cocksucker I ever saw. Been meaning to tell you about it.”

Seongwoo snapped to attention, peripheral vision scanning Jisung’s form in the seat next to Daniel. Jisung snored away, oblivious to what was happening next to him, behind him, all around him.

“He can’t hear us over his music. It’s fine.” Seongwoo swallowed hard, neck arching at the warmth of Daniel’s breath moving over it.

“You ever fucked someone who wanted it so bad they could cry?” Seongwoo’s eyes widened until there were whites all the way around. “Didn’t think so. Too bad. It’s probably because you’re a good person, at the end of the day.”

Seongwoo stole a glance at Daniel. “You think so?”

“Duh. You’re a bleeding heart.”

Seongwoo was quiet. Daniel waited and held his breath. He next words were spoken in a haughty, indifferent tone. “So—enlighten me. About blowjobs.”

Daniel breathed out, warming up to the implicit challenge. “Sure, Ongi. It’s awesome. It’s like kissing and jacking off mixed together. But they don’t actually blow. Weird they call it that. Should call it a suck job. See, you kind of tuck your lips around your teeth so they don’t hurt and take just a little in your mouth at first and suck. And move your tongue on the bottom part. You know, on that part that feels really good when you're fisting your dick.” And Daniel knew Seongwoo jacked off, because he’d listened to him in the night, his soft little gasps like sobs, curled up tense and miserable in his sheets, wanting to slip in next to Seongwoo and wrap his fingers (god, his mouth) around Seongwoo’s cock and make him shudder and come just for him.

And Seongwoo was shivering. Listening to Daniel talk dirty.

“Then you take it deeper. Keep your lips tight around it and move your mouth up and down and suck.” Seongwoo shivered harder. “And you move your tongue. If you practice, you can take it all the way down. They call that deep-throating.” Seongwoo’s breath was coming faster now. Just from Daniel’s words. It was like Daniel was touching Seongwoo all over, just with his voice. Making him crazy. Daniel knew the effect he had on Seongwoo, and loved it. Knew all the signs. And Seongwoo was flashing every single fucking one of them. Daniel took a deep breath to steel himself—this could go so wrong, so quickly—and when the engines of the plane started and they started accelerating down the runway, he brushed his mouth against Seongwoo’s ear.

Seongwoo fucking moaned.

Daniel almost came.

Their eyes met. Neither looked away. They had just crossed a thin, invisible line. No going back now. And Daniel wouldn’t have gone back if a horde of sasaengs had dragged him.

And it made him even bolder.

Daniel’s lips ghosted over Seongwoo’s neck as he whispered, “It feels really good, Ongi. So good. Someone’s mouth on your cock, all warm and wet, looking up at you, watching you watch them suck you off, taking it so good for you...”

And with that, Seongwoo shuddered, digging the nails of his left hand into Daniel thigh, and gasped, “‘Niel.”

“Holy shit—Ongi—did you just—“ Daniel almost reached up, almost ran his fingers through Ong’s hair, almost gave it all away.

Seongwoo buried his face into Dean’s shoulder, seized by shyness, seized by relief. “Yeah.”

“I didn’t even touch you.”

“Liked what you said.” Seongwoo’s voice was muffled by Daniel’s t-shirt.

Daniel felt dizzy, euphoric. “You came in your pants—just from me talking dirty.” Seongwoo pressed the side of his head harder into Daniel’s shoulder.

“You go first to clean up, when we reach altitude.” Daniel swallowed. “I have an extra pair of boxers in my duffel.” The distance would give him some time recover, get back to baseline. Daniel was so hard he was about to poke a hole in his jeans.

“Hey, Niel? About what you said?”

“Yeah?”

Seongwoo looked up at Daniel, eyes huge and moist and just a little mischievous. He whispered, “When we land? Show me? How you want your cock sucked?“

And with that, Daniel no longer needed a break. Just a wet towel.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

So I called Sujin today. She was surprised to hear from me. We made plans to meet up for coffee. It’s been a while since I last saw her.

I should take my car to the car wash. Dongho borrowed it for some off-road adventure with Bumzu last week and it’s got mud all over the bottom. I was kind of pissed but Dongho’s been in such a good mood lately—so happy, like he used to be—that I can’t really stay mad at him for long.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him so happy. Dongho’s like a kid, the most out of all of us. He can’t really hide how he’s feeling. I used to be jealous of him when I was depressed a few years ago. I was so numb I couldn’t even cry. All I wanted to do was move back to LA but I felt like what was the point? I hadn’t even gone to college. What kind of a job was I supposed to get?

Guys, if you’re depressed, you should definitely seek help. I saw a therapist a few times. Should have kept it up a bit longer before I moved back. They’re a lot better Stateside. I tried seeing one here but it was so hush-hush and the shrink was so judgmental that I left feeling even worse than I did when I went in.

Sometimes I Skype with my therapist from LA. The time zone difference makes it hard, but on the days when I get to talk to her, I feel like life isn’t so bad.


#

I saw Sujin today.

You’ve probably seen her pictures, right? She’s Minhyun’s sister, which means she could probably be a model if she wanted to. But I think that would be too much exposure for her. She’s a pretty private person. These days she does office management for an architectural design company which is perfect. She’s going to school at night taking visual design classes. So when I told her I was writing to get better at English again we started talking about how fun school can be.

Though she shut me down right quick when I said I was getting good at writing so I could publish a tell-all account of Nu’est’s rise and fall. The way she looked at me made me think Hell had frozen over.

(I think she knows about Minhyun and Jonghyun.)

I haven’t found a way to ask her about it. I’ll do it next time. We’re hanging out next week. My dogs need to socialize with each other for once.


#


This is turning into a bit of a diary, isn’t it? Ha well I’ll just delete this part before publishing online


#

We just celebrated our first win for our new album but that’s not the big news. The big news is that Dongho has been texting some kid he met on Produce 101 last year who’s now in Wanna One. I mean I’m not opposed or anything. But it’s a bit weird isn’t it? Just suddenly out of nowhere to be texting like that again?

Minki told me all about it back then. How Dongho and Jonghyun almost got in a fistfight over it. Damn, the things you miss when you’re out of the country. I mean I can understand how Jonghyun and Minhyun got together but I don’t understand how Dongho fell—really all of a sudden—for some kid he barely knew.

Love makes the world go ‘round, Minki said. When he said it I couldn’t help but hug him. He’s just too cute when he starts spouting romantic adages.

Tonight is a rare night off for all of us (except Dongho, who’s probably going out to meet his “paramour” (Minki’s words, not mine). Minki was the one who told him to broadcast a workout video, and that’s when Dongho and his on-the-DL started texting again).

So while Dongho is out getting all of us into a lot of potential trouble, the rest of us are going to sit at home and try to make our way through all three Hunger Games movies. I never got to watch them the first time around. This will be Jonghyun’s third time and Minki’s first. I’m all ready to live-tweet Minki’s reactions if you guys want (just kidding).

It’d be nice to get under the big blanket while we sit on the couch. I think I’ll grab mine and then we can share. Even Dongho can fit under it if he gets back from his secret date in time.


#

Sujin and I met up today. We talked about the dogs some and then we talked about dating. It wasn’t a really easy conversation to have, obviously. A little bit awkward at times. Really awkward since I admitted a long time ago that I had a little crush on her. You know, that way. So sometimes we hang out and even though she knows I know that she knows that I like her nothing ever happens. Most of the time we just talk about the dogs.

Now before you sasaengs go all crazy on me and call Sujin a liar let me explain. Sujin’s pretty cool and since she’s really private you probably don’t know much about her except for those of you Minhyun stans who also follow her on her IG. So today’s gossip is: who is Hwang Sujin, and what is her relationship with Nu’est?

Hwang Sujin graduated from Busan Arts Technical College with a photography sciences degree before she went onto become the office assistant at an architecture company. She moonlighted as a gallery assistant for a few independent places before she decided to open her own in Busan — half studio, half gallery. It’s located around the block from their family’s import-export seafood warehouse so it smells a bit like fish but she gets the place from an old family friend so the rent’s cheap, plus, it has some arthouse grunge appeal. Now that Minhyun is loaded, he sends her some money each month to cover the rent. Most of the time her gallery is filled with photos from her art friends— abstract stuff that I’m sure I could understand if I had gone to college too, hahaha.

Next month she’s going to have a ceramics installation. She was giggling when she told me about how she was going to put Minhyun’s second grade handslab mug on display under a pseudonym. I told her she should watch her out that it would get stolen by some Minhyun sasaengs. She looked me dead in the eye and told me that’s why she was labeling it with a pseudonym.

What’s the pseudonym, I asked.

Dr. G, she said. I told her that wasn’t obvious as a pseudonym at all, and she slapped me on the arm. What? People will see right through it.

Do you think I should sign off like Gossip Girl? I probably sound really old right now but that was the biggest thing when I was still in middle school. All the popular white kids used to watch it and a few of the popular Asian kids too. I might have been the only one in my guy group who wasn’t so into Fast and Furious and liked watching Gossip Girl instead. Sujin reminds me a little bit of Serena van der Woodsen.

Xoxo
Gossip Guy Aron


#

Okay guys, just checking in. I know it’s been a while. Sorry I haven’t updated but it’s been bu


#


Okay I’m back now for real. I have to get this on paper (paper?) before I forget. Something really big happened tonight. You know that “paramour” that I mentioned that Dongho had?

It’s a guy.

It’s a guy?!

And look before all you all come hating on me for being a homophobe, I’m really not okay. I just thought that Dongho of all people was the straightest our of all of us.

I mean, I’m obviously straight too. But Dongho?!

Seriously. My head’s still spinning right now. And the worst part of it is that everyone else knew and nobody told me.

“Well,” said Minki as I had a meltdown backstage, “it happened during Produce 101.”

No shit. Did everything happen during Produce 101??

Ugh. Peace out. I need to go clear my head. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

August 2018, Los Angeles

 

The hotel restaurant had pushed together several tables to hold the huge group. After a couple of hours, Daehwi sat back, patting his pleasantly full belly, and mouthed a quiet thank you at Jisung and Minki for arranging a Produce 101 summer reunion admist the chaos that was KCon LA. They'd all traded tall tales and told bad jokes, and he hadn't felt out of place all evening. He hadn't realized how much he missed that feeling.

The only thing that hadn't been entirely satisfying was catching sight of Kang Dongho out of the corner of his eye, sitting on the other side of the restaurant with his nose in his mobile phone. Daehwi wasn't even sure why he kept getting that pang of something heavy and uncomfortable in his chest every time he looked over in Dongho’s direction. It wasn't as though anything was stopping Dongho from just walking over and joining them. He'd be welcomed and told to pull up a chair the moment he did it. Even if Daehwi couldn't get the words together to do it, someone from the old group probably would.

But instead, Dongho stayed at the end of the table, eating and flipping through his phone, and, besides an intimate-looking chat with Guanlin at one point (and Daehwi was not, absolutely not jealous of the slothy maknae) without so much as glancing over at him. Unless Dongho did his glancing when Daehwi wasn't looking. After all, Daehwi was trying to have a good time with old friends.

It was just that the awareness of Dongho was always there, and he couldn't seem to shake it off. It was there under his skin, like a steady itch, contaminating even the funniest moments with a faint feeling of melancholy.

Since Seongwoo was in charge of the drinks menu, things got as boisterous as they possibly could. Dongho, who everyone knew didn’t drink ever since his father passed away from liver cancer, announced abruptly that he was hitting the sack. Seeking some excuse to leave as well, Daehwi found himself in agreement. It seemed like a natural thing to slowly back out of the restaurant.

Daehwi texted his driver to come to the front and headed to the washroom to freshen up. He splashed water on his face and took his time patting himself dry with the hotel-provisioned handtowels. Dongho must have slipped in quietly, because Daehwi thought he was alone until he leaned forward against the sink with a sigh and noticed Dongho standing in the corner.

"Jeez, you need to wear a bell or something," Daehwi said, trying to lighten the mood. "For how quiet you’ve been tonight," he added.

Dongho raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything. Daehwi was acutely aware of the steady drip of water from the faucet in front of him. Every drop in the sink sounded as loud as a cymbal.

He wasn't finding Dongho’s silence irritating. Nope. Definitely not. The part where he was gritting his teeth was complete coincidence.

They'd been sitting at the same table through some quirk of the seating gods, and Dongho hadn’t looked him in the eye once. Which, yeah, typical for his behaviour so far, but it rubbed at the irritation slowly building in Daehwi’s gut and he had to say something.

"Well, goodnight," he said, spinning on his heel.

There was no response, no acknowledgement beyond a slight hitch in Dongho’s breath. Daehwi almost left it there, because throwing down with some old crush—regardless of how things had been before—would probably be career suicide. Not worth it.

Not worth it.

Right.

Daehwi been pushing the confusion and annoyance down for too long, and it suddenly boiled up out of him in an uncontrollable stream of words.

"Actually, what is your problem?" Daehwi leaned against the exit casually. Maybe it was the wine he had. Maybe it was something like liquid courage. "Did I do something so stupid tonight that you can't stand me? I know there was what happened between us back then.” Daehwi blinked away the sudden heat behind his eyes at the thought of Dongho’s confession on the rooftop of the Studio—the nerves they both had at leaving the panoptic hell they’d learned to call home, eons ago. “Look. The least you could do is acknowledge that I’m here."

Daehwi snapped his mouth shut, choking down everything else that was trying to escape.

For a long, terrifying moment, Dongho was completely silent. The only sign that he'd heard anything Daehwi said was in the way his shoulders had risen and his knuckles were turning white where he'd wrapped his hand around the door handle. Daehwi wanted to take it all back immediately, but he couldn't speak. Couldn't move. Couldn't do anything except watch Dongho and wait for the axe to fall.

Dongho finally turned around. For the first time, there was emotion in his face that had nothing to do with any script. His eyes had narrowed, and his lips were tight.

"My problem?" Dongho said, soft and dangerous. "Are you sure you really want to go there?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty fucking sure, because this is stupid." Daehwi balled his fists in frustration. "Is this because you don’t want a scandal? Is that why you’ve been avoiding me? Is that why you avoided me until now?"

Dongho’s expression darkened, turning bleak. Daehwi wasn't sure why he was suddenly close enough to see Dongho’s pupils dilate, but somehow he'd crossed the washroom without even noticing. They were barely a foot apart, and he could have counted every eyelash if he'd wanted to. Not that he did, because it was taking everything he had to keep his hands at his side, and he couldn't afford the distraction.

"You’re still such a kid," Dongho said flatly. "Sure. Let’s say it’s about whatever happened back then." The corner of Dongho’s mouth tilted up in something that might have been a sneer, if he'd been the kind of guy who actually did that. It was more like a really weird and horrible half-smile, which was as disturbing as anything Daehwi had ever seen.

Daehwi took a step back, caught by the fire in Dongho’s eyes, blazing hot. “What the hell is your problem?”

"It's best not to ask me that right now. You might not like the answer."

"Yeah?" Daehwi stepped closer, keenly aware that he was standing dangerously close. "Go ahead, lay it on me. What do you think of me? Why don’t you tell me whatever it was that you couldn’t tell me last year?”

There was a tense moment where Daehwi braced himself and Dongho seemed to be gathering his strength, and then, somehow, they were kissing. Angry, biting kisses that made Daehwi’s lips sting immediately, even as he opened his mouth for more. He didn't know who started it, and it wasn't important to figure that out because, fuck, it felt good. All the anger and frustration were transforming into greedy need, and Dongho was falling into it right with him.

When Daehwi’s back hit the exit door, he barely restrained a gasp. His preference for being pushed up against walls had always been totally theoretical up until now, but okay. Okay, it was all good. Hard surface behind him, the warmth of Dongho’s body rutting against him, it was exactly what he'd been itching for without even knowing it.

The sound of laughter came from outside the washroom, and Dongho suddenly went tense in his arms. They both froze mid-kiss, mouths pressed together too intimately to be anything except awkward as sense began to return.

Shit.

Daehwi tried to pull back, but he was being pressed against the door by the weight of Dongho’s body. His head met the door with a painful thump.

Dongho’s eyes were wide, pupils dilated, but it looked more like shocked horror now. All the heat that had been flooding Daehwi’s body only a moment ago fled, it probably set a record.

"Hey—" Daehwi began, but he didn't have time to finish.

Without saying a word, Dongho pushed him away and almost threw himself at his door. He shoved the door open and pulled it closed before Daehwi could do anything to stop him.

Daehwi swallowed and forced his knees to lock and hold him up. His body was too cold and his brain didn't seem to be working right. His leg was vibrating. No wait, that was his phone. His driver was probably here. He walked over to the sink and splashed water on his face again. Behind him, Sungwoon and Jaehwan came in through the door, laughing over something stupid.

“Going home so soon?” Sungwoon slapped him on the back. Daehwi managed a weak smile.

He'd kissed Dongho. Or Dongho had kissed him. There had been kissing and Dongho’s lips involved, and he was pretty sure it had been the worst idea ever.

Daehwi bid farewell to Sungwoon and Jaehwan, closing the door quietly behind him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The track near the dorms is deserted at this hour. The sun hasn’t risen yet. The air is cold and the light that does come around the horizon is a lavender pink, painting the track field in blue-grey relief. It’s cold and his hands are numb. Like they aren’t his own hands. Like his brain isn’t his own brain either. It’s been a while since he’s been away from the cameras like this. Just one foot in front of the other, that’s all he needs to do.

Easy enough. Left, right, left, right.

With each step Jonghyun becomes more aware of his body and less aware of his thoughts. Air moves crisply through his lungs. He’s two legs connected to two feet thumping on the track.

Left, right, left, right.

The sun is starting to come up now, and it’s nice to heard the sound of birds. And it’s early enough that even if he runs for a while, he’ll still make it back and be ready before the others wake up.

Well, maybe not everyone. Out of the corner of his eye, Jonghyun spots someone. Not a cameraman. Dressed in sweatpants and hoodie, with blond hair peeking out from under the hood. As Jonghyun approaches the start of the track, the man waves and smiles broadly, showing off two large front teeth.

Jonghyun finds himself smiling, too. “Good morning, Daniel.”

“Good morning,” Daniel says, breaking into a light jog. He takes out of his headphones to speak to Jonghyun. “Can I join you?”

“Of course.”

Daniel is more athletic than most, and can keep up easily. Jonghyun paces himself a little faster—Daniel is taller than him, and his legs are longer. They find a natural rhythm and settle in, like two birds gliding alongside each other in an invisible formation.

Left, right, left, right. Jonghyun casts a glance over at Daniel and finds him lost in his own world, eyes flat and brows crunched. Wrestling with his own demons, Jonghyun thinks. Why else would he be up at this hour?It’s easier not to talk, then. He’s grateful to Daniel for coming out onto the track, whatever his reason might be. Jonghyun finishes his planned eight laps and then goes two more, picking up the speed for the final two. By the time they stride back to the beginning of the track, they’re both out of breath.

Jonghyun waves at Daniel to get his attention. “I think I’m heading back in.”

“Me too,” says Daniel, taking his earbuds out. “Ah,” he pants, grimacing, holding his sides. “It’s been a while.”

“Since you ran?”

“Since I did any kind of exercise that wasn’t dancing.”

“Me too,” Jonghyun laughs.

The heat of the dorm lobby greets them like the blast of a furnace. It feels wonderful. The night guard nods his head in greeting and then sits up straighter. “Oh, kid—there was someone looking for you earlier.“

Both Jonghyun and Daniel start and look at each other. “Which one of us, sir?” Daniel asks.

The night guard squints, looking at them closer.

“Who was it?” Daniel asks. There’s a touch of urgency to his voice that makes Jonghyun wonder. “That was looking for one of us, I mean.”

“The tall one,” the night guard says, eyes lighting up with pride as he remembers. “Hwang Minhyun.”

“Thank you sir,” Jonghyun bows, skin prickling.

Back inside the dorm, it’s quiet again. Most of the members are still asleep. Minhyun’s eyes open when Jonghyun sits down on the edge of his bed.

“You didn’t take your phone.” Minhyun murmurs, sliding Jonghyun’s phone out from under his own pillow.

“I just went out for a jog. It was a nice day. Cold, though.”

He’s close enough to feel the heat coming off Minhyun, to smell his sleepiness.

Minhyun pushes his covers off, stretching. He unfurls his limbs like a cat, rubs his eyes like a kid. His t-shirt is rumpled and off-center, crew neck stretched out to show the dip at the base of his throat and one pale, elegant collarbone.

Minhyun’s eyes open to fix Jonghyun with an oily black gaze. Jonghyun realizes he’s been staring. Still, he can’t look away.

Doesn’t want to.

Bad dream? Minhyun mouths, and all the strength leaves Jonghyun’s bones. He grasps onto the railing of the bunk above, drawn into those eyes. Here in the faint light of dawn, the smell of sleep strong, Jonghyun feels that it’s here, in this space between night and day, in the shadows of Minhyun’s bottom bunk, that he’ll find what he needs. He shakes his head. Shakes off the thought.

Jonghyun’s chest draws tight. “Want to get breakfast?”

Minhyun holds the gaze but then finally nods, stretching his arms out for Jonghyun to help him up. Jonghyun takes his hands and pulls. Minhyun stands in one smooth motion and lets the momentum carry him into Jonghyun’s arms, his head coming to rest in the crook of Jonghyun’s neck.

“Cold,” Minhyun says, but he stays.

Jonghyun’s heart beats and beats and beats. Jonghyun closes his eyes and finds himself wishing something he shouldn’t wish for. His heart twists yet still has the audacity to beat as if nothing we’re out of the ordinary, ba-dump, ba-dump.

Feeling reckless, Jonghyun wraps his around Minhyun, lifting him up and spinning him around in the direction of the door. “Come on,” he says. “Time to eat.”

On the way downstairs, Minhyun bops Jonghyun’s nose with his finger. “You smell.”

“I was out running and I haven’t made it to the shower,” Jonghyun retorts. “Of course I smell.”

“Oh but,” Minhyun looks smug. “I didn’t say you smelled bad.”

Jonghyun feels his ears grow hot and the grin that overtakes his face is somewhere between guilty and pleased. Minhyun laughs.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Daehwi wakes up at five in the morning to a series of texts from his new best friend, Ong Seongwoo.

Shut up, Daehwi thinks miserably, swiping left to see what Seongwoo has sent him now. His heart leaps into his throat and everything jolts fully awake. Kang Dongho’s surly mug stares back at him. Shaving. Lounging in bed.

Better than coffee? Seongwoo’s text follows, with lightning bolt emojis alternating with the coffee cup icon. Daehwi groans and swings his legs off the bed. There’s no way he’s going back to bed now.

“You’re a very lucky boy,” Seongwoo greets him in the kitchen, smug smile on his face as he sips gingerly at his Nespresso. Daehwi throws a pod into the machine and hits the start button, shooting daggers in Seongwoo’s direction. “Niel’s reputations is much too pristine for them to saddle him with an oversized bathrobe and a bedroom situation, so I just have to make do with the smelly, old sweats version of him whenever he’s actually in town.”

“You know I’m trying to abstain from social media,” Daehwi quips. “Not a very supportive best friend, are you?”

“I’m much better at enabling than abstaining,” Seongwoo peers over his cup. “If you want the latter, might I suggest making Kim Jonghyun your best friend?”

“I have no interest entering the marathon for lifelong virgins,” Daehwi saye The Nespresso machine splutters to a stop, and he slides his cup out from under the spout. Takes a sip. Gasoline flavored with hazelnut—his favorite. “Let Minhyun and Jonghyun run that one until their next lives.”

At the mention of Jonghyun, Seongwoo looks away. Daehwi rolls his eyes. “What, have you switched targets again? Can you just crush on one guy at a time?”

“But ‘Niel is mean to me,” Seongwoo sighs. “He keeps playing dirty and then claiming the “straight boy” card when I push. Can you blame me for trying to move on?”

“Good luck,” Daehwi chuckles darkly. “Nu’est members have no time for outsiders.”

“Tell me about it,” Seongwoo grins. “So how ‘bout it, Daehwi-yah? I think it’s about high time we got together. Showed the world how fabulous Onghwi can really be.”

“Ew, and no.”

“Think of the social media frenzy.”

“I’m abstaining, remember?”

“How about you guys, like, abstain from talking. It’s too early in the morning.” Sungwoon shuffles out into the hallway in a pair of purple house slippers, hair standing on an end and pink silk sleep mask strapped around his chin.

“Sorry hyung,” Daehwi says, not feeling sorry one bit.

“And if you have to social media someone, then social media Taehyun,” Sungwoon mutters. “So he stops asking me how you are.”

When Sungwoon closes the bedroom door behind him, Seongwoo grabs the kitchen towel and performs the off Broadway version of Taehyun’s iconic Shape of You choreography. Daehwi tries not to laugh because Taehyun is actually very sweet and he doesn’t want to share a joke at his hyung’s expense, but the visual of Ong Seongwoo with a kitchen rag stuffed in his mouth is too good to be true. Daehwi wishes he hadn’t left his phone in his room, but he’s sure that it’s his social media abstinence that is emboldening Seongwoo right now.

“I’ll text him back eventually,” Daehwi says to Seongwoo’s raised eyebrows, between fits of giggles. “Eventually.”

“Choose wisely—or else,” Seongwoo hangs the kitchen rag back on its hook over the sink.

“Or else what?” Daehwi means for his tone to sound light, but it sounds defensive even to his own ears. Seongwoo shoots him a knowing look but lets it slide.

“Oh, you know. Rock and a hard place.”

“So which one is harder? Dongho’s pectorals or Taehyun’s unwavering devotion?”

“Ha ha, Lee Daehwi,” Seongwoo says, but a dark look has come over him. “Don’t break too many hearts, okay?”

Daehwi knocks back the rest of his Nespresso with a perfunctory flip of the wrist. This conversation is over, and it’s not just because it’s way too early in the morning and his coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Seongwoo is being a pain, a literal pain in the ass, with all of his long-suffering know-it-allisms. And what high horse is he coming off of, anyway? He was the one who sent Daehwi the pictures of a half-clothed, highly suggestible-looking Kang Dongho in the first place.

“Hey,” Seongwoo says placatingly, but Daehwi is already down the hall. There’s at least one good side effect to being angry about rocks, hard places, and unavailable boys: a sick new percussive riff has just emerged in his mind.

Back in his room, Daehwi fires up Ableton on his computer and starts to lay down a new track. It sounds pretty good. He makes a note to thank Seongwoo later.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

I splash water on my face and take another look at my hair. It just won’t cooperate this morning. A tuft of it sticks up in the back. I try putting some water on the back but it won’t stay down. I glare at the person in the mirror: pale-faced and black hair, black eyes, entirely unremarkable.

I should be studying for my final exams which are next week. But here I am, trying to get my hair to stand down. Why don’t I own a comb?

I tiptoe into Aaron’s room, where he’s coughing up a storm and surrounded by a pile of used tissues. “How are you feeling?”

“Ugh,” he replies, and blows his nose.

“Can I borrow your comb?” I point at my hair. Aaron nods.

Aaron is my roommate, and he’s chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu. That’s why he can’t attend the interview he arranged months ago with some chaebol electronics tycoon for our student magazine. I was volunteered at the last minute.

“But I’m not even a writer,” I’d protested. “I’m an engineering major. Why are you sending me?

“You’re dependable and responsible,” Aaron had said. “And your writing is solid, believe me. I’ve read the poetry you leave lying around our room.”

I blush. That was definitely not meant for his eyes. “They’re raps,” I mutter under my breath.

“Poems, raps, sonnets, haikus, whatever they are—I trust you.”

Apparently I’m a sucker for people believing in me, because that’s how I find myself on the subway to the headquarters of Hwang Enterprises. Apparently the CEO and President is an exceptional entrepreneur and a major benefactor of the university. One would think that for someone whose time comes at a premium that he’d be too busy to do an interview with a school magazine. But somehow Aaron had gotten an interview.

Aaron blows his nose again. I can hear how wet it is, and wince.

“Jonghyun, I’m sorry,” Aaron begs. “It was so hard to get even half an hour on his calendar. I had to schedule it *last year* and it took me months to cozy up to his PA to get the interview in the first place. It would take another six months to reschedule and by then we won’t even be in school anymore. I can’t blow this off.”

Aaron’s whine inspires pity. Eyes bright and black although now red rimmed and swollen. I don’t want to feel sympathetic but I do.

“Aaron, I’m going. It’s this address, right?” And I show him my phone, where I’ve bookmarked the location on my map.

“That’s the one. It’s literally right outside the subway stop. Thank you so much, Jonghyun. You’re a lifesaver. All you have to do is record it on your phone. Ask him the questions on the list I gave you. I’ll transcribe it all when you’re done.”

“I don’t even know anything about this guy,” I mutter.

“I emailed you a brief a few minutes ago. It’s all there, everything you need to know. You’d better get going—it’ll be rush hour soon.”

“I bought some ramen for you, by the way,” I say as I leave his room. “Chicken flavor.”

“You’re the best, Jonghyun.”

I sling my backpack over my shoulder and head out the door. Can’t believe I let Aaron talk me into this. But Aaron is good at talking and persuading other people. That’s why he’s getting his master’s degree in journalism and already has a full-time job lined up at a news broadcasting station when he finishes his program this year. Even if I’m nervous about this interview, I’ll get through it. It’s what friends are for.

 

#

 

The subway station isn’t crowded, but the train fills up once we hit downtown. I give up my seat to an old lady and squeeze in with all the other commuters. My destination is the headquarters of Hwang Enterprises. As I emerge from the subway station I see the building—all curved glass and steel, an architect’s fantasy, with the words Hwang Enterprises in cloudy grey type over the front doors. The lobby interior is just as intimidating as the exterior—the spotless white marble floors make my shoes look dirtier than they are and the elegant sandstone walls make me feel shabbier than usual. At least I’m not late.

Behind a marble counter, a very attractive and groomed young woman with her hair in a tight ponytail who looks like she could be straight out of a movie smiles blandly at me. She’s dressed in a tailored white suit with an off-white silk blouse underneath. There’s extra silk tied in a bow around her neck. She looks impeccable. Meanwhile, I want to turtle my head back into my decade-old puffer jacket.

“I’m here to see Hwang-daepyo-nim,” I say. “My name is Kim Jonghyun.”

“Can I please see your ID?” I hand it over, even more keenly aware how much I look like an unpolished graduate student at this very moment. She takes it and enters my details into the computer.

“You’re here for the S University interview, right?” She hands my ID card back to me with a smile. “Now please look into the camera here.” I do, and she takes a photo and prints it out, attaching it to my visitor’s badge. I pin it immediately to my chest so I don’t lose it. “The elevators are on your right. Please go into the final bay. The CEO’s office is on the top floor.”

I walk through the turnstiles and an attendant—sharply dressed, heels clocking smartly on the marble floor—follows me to the elevator. He presses the button for me and holds a deep ninety-degree bow as the doors close. The elevator car is mirrored as well. I check my hair in the mirror. The troublesome lock of hair on the back of my head is behaving, for now, but now I notice how old all of my clothes look. I’m beginning to wish I borrowed one of Aaron’s navy blazers rather than worn my bright blue cardigan and a pale yellow short-sleeve button up. I have worn a pair of khakis and a pair of brown lace-up shoes. I vaguely recall an ex-girlfriend telling me that my belt and shoes had to match, but to this day I still only own one black leather belt.

Oh well. I’m as polished as I’ll ever be.

I’m whisked at warp speed to the top floor. The doors slide open with a hydraulic whisper and I walk out into another expansive lobby. Again, all glass, marble, and stone. There’s a wall fountain behind the receptionist, who is a man. His name tag reads “Dino,” and when he sees me a smile spreads crookedly across his whole face. The effect is disconcerting and mesmerizing all at once. I stand dumbly just right outside the elevators and have to remember to walk forward.

Behind the waiting room is a glass-walled meeting room with a spaceship of a dark table and at least twenty dark chairs encircling it. Beyond that, a view of the Han River peeling away into the distance and all of Seoul, buildings like legos from this high up. Wow.

“Mr. Kim,” he says, rising from his seat. “Can I offer you anything? A bottle of water, perhaps?”

“No thanks,” I gulp. “I’m fine.”

“Then please wait here while I inform the president of your arrival.” He gestures at a white leather chair. I perch myself on the edge of it and take my phone out of my pocket and scroll through Aaron’s list of questions. I’d read the brief on the subway but even Aaron’s words couldn’t prepare me for this kind of experience.

He was twenty-eight, like me. He was adopted. He went to S-University, triple-majored in philosophy and comparative literature and law, and then when he graduated entered into military service where he served as an interpreter. After his service he immediately entered into his adopted family’s business. And now he was one of the most powerful men in Korea. My mouth went dry. I wish I had taken Dino’s offer of water. Actually—even though I’m not a drinker, I wish I’d asked for a shot of soju. It might calm my nerves.

Believe it or not, going to fancy places isn’t my idea of a good time. I don’t like confrontations of any kind. And that’s exactly what this interview is. A confrontation. Sure, it’s staged, and Aaron’s questions are always there in case I choke, but still. I’m much more comfortable playing video games or reading manga and making little songs on Ableton when I have the time. I close my eyes and pray that this interview will be quick and easy. Thirty minutes is nothing. The length of an episode of something on TV.

Sure. Just relax.

...I’m in way over my head.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Bathroom break time,” the manager announced. “We’ll leave this area as soon as we get your bags, so I give it about twenty minutes. And yes, yes,” he sighed, ignoring Jihoon and Jaehwan’s crows, “you can get snacks from the vending machine. Jisung has the cash, so follow him.”

But Daniel didn’t want snacks. He wanted Seongwoo. But despite what Seongwoo had asked for on the plane, the arrivals hall restrooms, however roomy and anonymous, was not how he’d pictured their first time together.  So when Seongwoo dragged him into the handicap toilet and snicked the lock shut, Daniel put a hand on Seongwoo’s shoulder and held him back from crushing him against the wall.

Seongwoo turned pale. He took a step back and turned away. “I knew you’d freak out. I just knew it.” Wetness glimmered on the edge of his eyes.  Daniel came up behind Seongwoo and wrapped his arms around him. Seongwoo tried to throw him off, but Daniel just held him tighter.

“Not freaking out. Promise. Just not how I pictured it. You’re not just anybody, Ong Seongwoo.”

“Right,” Seongwoo said, gaze turning stony. “I’m Ong Seongwoo. Not Hong Seongwoo, not Gong Seongwoo, but Ong Seongwoo. Bona fide celebrity. Can’t blame you for getting the wrong guy. We all look the same.” Daniel cursed himself.

“Ongi, that’s not what I meant,” Daniel protested, burying his nose in Seongwoo’s hair. He could smell Seongwoo. Sophisticated and edgy and a smell that was driving him wild. “I just wanted it to be nice.” Daniel looked around at the stark white tile, the urinals, the sink with a hairball poking out of the drain. “Not here. Not like this. It’s something we’d always remember this, and—you deserve better.”

Seongwoo’s mouth trembled, and Daniel was putty. Just like that.

“Fuck your idealism,” Seongwoo breathed in sharply, spinning around to grab Daniel’s hips and pull them together. Daniel’s eyes flared wide.

“Don’t make this harder than it has to be,” Daniel begged. Seongwoo didn’t respond right away, just buried his face in Daniel’s neck and made one of those little sounds Daniel had heard so many times in the night. Then his voice came soft and fragile. “Please?” and he brought his hands to Daniel’s fly. “Please let me?”

In that moment Daniel’s brain fritzed out and the room fell away and the only thing that existed was Seongwoo. Seongwoo, and a wall to press him against, and a floor to stand on. Daniel gripped Seongwoo’s shirt, pinned him to the wall, and kissed him. The temperature of his lips, the soft-hard push-pull of them, the way he opened up to Daniel, was perfect.

So perfect.

Seongwoo ripped his mouth away and attacked Daniel’s neck, licking his throat, nipping his collarbone, running his hands under Daniel’s shirt, muttering things, sweet filthy things, gorgeous dirty things that demanded to be said.

“…give you everything, anything you want, Christ, Niel, the way you feel, make me crazy, can’t fucking think…the things I want you to do to me—“ Daniel groaned and shuddered at the beautiful, funny, brilliant, maddening mess he had in his hands. Begging so pretty.

And he might have, he just might have just dropped to his knees right then and there and done something he’d never done for any man, except that at that moment there was a loud pounding on the door and Sungwoon’s voice blaring at them to get out.

“Daniel’s on the shitter,” Seongwoo said, turning the sink on to splash his face with cold water. Even as his eyes continued to undress Daniel his voice was serious, comical, humorous, indecipherable in its truthiness.

“Then why the hell are you in there with him?” came Sungwoon’s yelp of surprise.

“I don’t know, he’s a kinky bastard.”

Daniel let out a groan that could convincingly pass for someone having a hard time on the bowl while tucking his shirt back into his jeans and willed his boner away the best he could. Think about Jisung dressed in a bonnet. Jisung in a bonnet—

In twenty seconds they were the opposite of disheveled. One of the perks of being actors. Seongwoo arguably a much better actor than Daniel, but Daniel wasn’t bad himself after a year and a half of fake-it-till-you-make-it boot camp.

“Ready?” Seongwoo said. Corner of his lips quirked as he reached for the door handle. His hair was slicked back. A drop of water on his nose.

“Wait,” Daniel said, but Seongwoo had already turned the handle.

Sungwoon shot the both of them dirty looks as they emerged. “You’re gross, you know that?”

“So gross,” Seongwoo said cooly, and walked briskly to the baggage claim without looking back at either of them.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

He leads the way into his office. An office too big for just one man.

Floor-to-ceiling windows show the same stunning view of Seoul and the Han River. To the left is a black obelisk of a desk, on top of which a giant monitor resides. To the right of the office there is a kitchenette. And in the middle is a seating area—two couches facing each other, a long marble coffee table in the middle, and two arm chairs that face the door. Modern art hangs from the walls—soothing washes of blues and pinks and greens. Behind his desk is a showcase of some kind. Behind the glass, white and teal vases and jars that look like they‘re from another age, in all shapes and sizes.

“Are those celadon?” I can’t help but notice. “It’s so exquisitely crafted.” Celadon isn’t uncommon in Korea, but I’ve never seen it look so polished and thin. I step closer for a better look.

“That is a good eye you have there, Mr. Kim. This collection is actually from the Japanese ceramic artist Nakajima Hiroshi. But they are indeed made of celadon.” For some reason the tone of his voice makes me feel warm inside.

Apart from the curves of the celadon, the rest of the office is rigid and clinical, full of hard edges. It makes me wonder what kind of person the CEO is. If some core part of him is locked away in a gleaming showcase somewhere, behind a state-level security system. I bite my tongue. That’s no way to be thinking about the CEO of the second largest contract electronics supplier in the world. Totally, utterly inappropriate. I’m all thumbs as I fumble for the recorder app on my phone and take out my notebook and pencil. President Hwang says nothing, waiting patiently—it seems—as I grow increasingly clumsy and frustrated. When I finally gather the courage to look at him, he’s leaning forward, watching me. A smile plays around the edges of his lips. I think he’s trying not to laugh.

“Sorry. I‘m not.” Wait. What did I just say? And how does that even explain my behavior?

He laughs. “Take all the time you need, Mr. Kim.”

“Can I record you,” I say. When I’m nervous, I forget to inflect and my sentences come out like dead fish.

“I think that the recorder is already turned on.” Hwang says, pointing at my phone. Sure enough, my thumb has already pressed the red ‘record’ button.

Is he teasing me? I look at him. He blinks at me. The smile is still there. I’m pretty sure I’m gaping like a fish. He sighs, as if taking pity on me. “Go ahead. You can record this.”

“So, uh. Did Aaron, I mean, Kwak-sshi, did he explain what this interview was for?”

“As I understand it, this interview is for the graduation issue of the S-University magazine.”

“Yes,” I say, just to say anything. “And as you’ll be giving the speech at commencement, it would be good to keep—whatever you say in this interview—more or less, uh.” What was I going to say?

“Consistent?” He volunteers.

“Yes. Consistent.”

“I’ve been told I’m consistent,” he says, leveling me with an inscrutable gaze. “Apparently it’s one of my strengths.”

“That’s good. Very good,” I say. I shove my hair out of my face. “So. I have some questions.”

“Of course you do,” he says. He’s laughing at me. He’s not laughing out loud but he’s laughing at me. I sit up and square my shoulders because I will not be made a fool. I try to look like I know what I’m doing.

“You’re very young to have built such an empire. To what do you owe your success?”

He sits back. Am I imagining it, or does he look a little disappointed? “Business is about knowing how to pick and choose the right players, and about how to put the right forces into effect at the right time. I maintain an exceptional team around me. I reward people well. Success lies in knowing when to wait, and when to act. If you know these two things, then you can do anything well.”

“Are you sure it’s not just luck?”

His eyes widen in surprise. “There’s no such thing,” he says lightly. “We all make our own luck in the world.”

I’m no stranger to hard work. My parents owned a food stall in G up north. My weekends growing up were spent butchering and marinating meat for beachside tourists. Doing inventory for the cart. Waking up at the crack of dawn to pick up goods. My parents worked as hard as anybody did but they were still dirt poor. Not all of us had everything handed to us on a platter like Hwang Minhyun. How arrogant of him to say that hard work made luck.

“You studied philosophy and literature at university,” I say. Something reckless has possessed me and I want to drift from Aaron’s script. “Surely your parents didn’t approve of that?”

He smiles and leans forward. “An appreciation of the arts is essential for developing a well-rounded perspective on humanity. The world of business is the world of people. The more you can understand how people have operated, the more you can understand how they will operate.”

“So you think you understand people, do you?”

“There is, of course, always room for improvement,” he says. It’s not obvious if he’s talking about himself or directing an insult at me. “I do not claim omnipotence. But I do think I possess a nuanced understanding of what motivates, inspires, and—” his eyes flicker down to my belt— “influences people.”

“You sound like a manipulator.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.

“I merely possess the ability to guide individuals to do better,” he says without a trace of humor in his smile. He holds my gaze steadily. My heartbeat quickens and I can feel my face flush again. “It’s a beautiful thing, to understand someone completely. To unlock someone’s potential. To have them try their hardest. To... encourage them to do their best.”

“How do you do that?”

“Understand well how people work, and they will work well for you.”

Why is he looking at me like this? Why am I flustered? I press my hands into my khakis. My palms are damp with sweat. I just hope he doesn’t notice, but if he’s as good a people person as he claims to be, then he probably already knows everything running through my head. Shit.

“What do you do outside work,” I ask, feeling increasingly heated under his gaze. His eyes are black with some wickedness and it puts me on edge. I can’t parse whether it’s a good feeling or a bad one.

“I do many things,” he says. “Among them, swimming and horseback riding. I have qualified for the Olympics before but my business engagements make it such that I am unable to compete. But I’m sure you already know that from your research on me.”

The nerve of this guy. “Do you have any more relatable hobbies?”

“Sure,” he says. “I cook. I read.”

“Business magazines?” I‘m almost roll my eyes.

“Poetry,” he says.

“Really.”

“Yes. Why, Mr. Kim. You look surprised. As if a capitalist couldn’t have sensitive hobbies.”

“What’s your favorite poem, then,” I ask.

“Actually—“ he shifts forward in his seat. Closes his eyes. Eyelashes a smatter on his cheeks. I stop breathing. He is beautiful. No one should be so good-looking and successful and wealthy. What would be left for the rest of us?

Spring moon—
flower face
in mist."

Oh god. My knees go weak. It’s a good thing I’m already sitting.

“Can you believe there are people who think I don’t have a heart?” He opens his eyes and his gaze pierces me to the core.

I need to change the subject and go back on script. “What words do you have for the graduates of S-University this year,” I say.

“You might think the work stops after university. That after your last test, you’re free. You might think that you’ve done everything to get yourself to this point and now you are entering into a world where you are rewarded for your existence. But there’s more work for you. It does not stop. It only gets harder from here. The earlier you can embrace this mentality, the more success you will have in the future. It behooves you to start as early as possible.”

I gape. Not the answer I was expecting. “How do you balance your family life and your duties as a chief executive officer,” I say on autopilot.

“Phrase it as a question,” he narrows his eyes.

“Have you had to—” I hiccup. “Have you had to sacrifice your family life? In order to lead this company?”

“I don’t think of it that way.”

“So you plan to settle down? Get married?”

He narrows his eyes. “This is a family business. And my family is my staff.”

I laugh nervously. “What a PR thing to say.”

He exhales sharply and I cringe. Mortified. Crap, why do I keep mouthing off? What is it about Hwang Minhyun that throws all my sanity out of the window?

“If you really must know,” he says. His voice has gone cold. “I have a wonderful family. I have a brother and a sister and two loving parents. I run a workforce of forty thousand people. Without me, they would not have jobs. I consider the people here all my family. I serve them and they serve me.”

“You sound like a prince.” I’m aware that a part of me sounds and feels and looks resentful. Like a petulant kid who is just about to throw a tantrum. For the life of me, I can’t explain why.

“Jonghyun, I’m not a prince.” It’s the first time he’s used my name. He does not look pleased. “I run a business. A business that provides the highest quality electronic components to leading technology companies around the world. I am not interested in being lauded as anything other than what I am.”

I’ve pissed him off with all my badgering. I know I’m not being professional and that the interview has been shot to hell. I feel terribly to Aaron, whose career rides on this piece. “I’m sorry.”

“Tell me,” he gestures at the notebook on my lap, where I haven’t been taking any notes. “Have you actually been asking me any of the questions on your list?”

“No,” I mumble.

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” My head spins. “They’re not my questions.”

He leans back. “Are you actually on the S-University newspaper staff?”

His eyes burn into me and honesty beats at my chest, wanting to get out. I’ve never been a good liar. “I’m Aaron’s roommate.” My face is aflame. “I’m actually a graduate student in the engineering department. He’s sick today so that’s why I’m here.”

“That explains a lot,” the president murmurs. He stands up and walks over to his desk. I start to gather my things.

“Dino,” he says into the intercom. “Cancel my next meeting. Kim Jonghyun and I will be a while.”

“Sir,” Dino’s voice crackles, and the sound goes out. I balk. Wait. It’s not over?

“So,” he says, sitting back down. I’m frozen halfway between the couch and standing up. He makes a motion for me to sit back down. I do.

“Where were we, Mr. Kim?”

Oh. We’re back to Mr. Kim now.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I think I was telling you about why I’m here instead of Aaron. Mr. Kwak.”

“So you’re an engineering student. Tell me more about yourself. That’s fair, right?” His eyes are bright and interested. His tongue edges between his teeth in an expression of curiosity. I swallow.

“There’s not much about me to know.”

“Let’s start with the basics. Are you from the city?”

“No. My family is from G, up north.”

“And what do your parents do?”

I jut out my chin. “They ran a food stall. For tourists.”

Hwang-sshi’s eyes are positively glowing. I don’t know whether or not to be offended by his interest. “That sounds like hard work. Did you attend to the stand when you were growing up?”

“Yes. I was there every weekend until I went to university.“

His eyes flicker to my arms. I wonder why, and I wonder if he’s looking for a tan, evidence of hard labor on my hands. I squeeze my hands into fists and then curse myself for reacting so obviously.

“Your father must be especially proud of you.”

My mouth twitches and I try not to show any emotion. “He was.”

His eyes flicker up to mine. “I apologize. My condolences.”

“It’s okay,” I breathe a sigh. “He passed away two years ago.”

The silence stretches on between us and he takes his time to answer the next question. “So why did you want to pursue engineering?”

“It’s a good job. Making things, working with others. I was good at math and science. It comes easily to me.”

“If you like it so much, do you plan to pursue a postdoctorate in engineering?”

“No. My scholarship runs out after this year.”

“Scholarship?” His eyebrows shoot up.

“I’ve been on a full scholarship since I entered university,” I say, not without some pride. “I could go into the doctorate program, but I’m not an academic or a theoretician. I want to start earning after I graduate. My family has been supporting me for so long, I can’t burden them any longer. Especially since my mother runs the food stall alone now.”

“We have job openings for engineers, you know,” President Hwang says. “As the largest technology company in this country.”

Is he offering me a job? “Er—thank you very much. Except I don’t know if I would fit in here.”

“What makes you say that?” He smiles, as if he’s already figured out the answer.

I think about Dino, DK, Joshua, and the receptionist on the first floor. How smooth and polished everyone is. “Isn’t it obvious?” I look at myself, at my unmatching belt-and-shoes combination, my old blue cardigan that’s pilling something fierce.

“Last question. Do you have any relatable hobbies?” He’s turning my question back on me. My ears are on fire, I can feel them burn.

“I play video games,” I say. “And write.”

“Oh?” He leans in so close our knees almost touch. “And what do you write?”

I close my eyes in embarrassment. “Poems.”

“Tell me.” His gaze is intense, all humor gone.

“What?”

“You should tell me one of your poems.” My heart drops into my stomach. I have to get out of here. I stop the recording on my phone and put it in my pocket and straighten up.

“I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time,” I bluster. “You’re a very busy man, and I—I also have to get going.”

“Would you have time for a tour of the office?” He asks. I shake my head.

“No, I really do have to get back to S. I have office hours for the undergraduates and then I have to work.”

“Don’t be late.” He sounds almost stern. As if he’s ordering me.

I bristle and glow under the command. “Okay,” I say.

“Did you get everything you need?”


“I think I did. Thank you for the interview, President Hwang.” I pack my notebook in my backpack and make sure it’s firmly zipped up this time.

“Until we meet again,” he says.

But when would we meet again? It sounds like a challenge and an entreaty. I stand up and he holds out his hand. I shake it and a current zips through me like static electricity. Does he feel it too? I let go of his hand first but he doesn’t let go of mine, and then it’s just his grip, strong—steady—firm—against my limp noodle of a handshake. As if I couldn’t embarrass myself more. As I leave I make sure of my footing and keep my backpack close to me. I don’t want it exploding and sending corn chip fragments everywhere again.

He walks me out into the lobby. Dino and DK keep their heads down but they meet my eyes with some surprise. I guess it’s uncommon for the CEO to see people out this far. Dino grabs my coat from the closet and hands it to me. “Thank you for visiting Hwang Enterprises,” he says, eyes flickering back and forth between me and the CEO, searching me for clues. But I’m as lost as he is.

President Hwang regards me patiently as I shrug on my puffer jacket with way too much noise. He then pushes the button for the elevator. We listen to it approach at warp speed. When it arrives the doors open with a hydraulic slither.

“Jonghyun,” he says, by way of parting.

“Minhyun,” I say in return.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“S. Ss-ss-so.”

You thought you’d be used to his stutter by now, but you still have to remind yourself to wait. Patiently.

“It’s not that there’s no work right now. In my experience, there are a shit ton of jobs out there that need actors of your caliber. But it’s just that, t-t-t-that you’re just coming off this soap a-a-and a lot of people have the idea of you as the bad guy. And well, with your various this and thats over the last year—look, obviously the public knows you’re not a bad guy, okay. But we gotta wait for the right part if this is the kind of role you want. We’ve gotta find the role that represents a turning point for you. Something with a “redemptive hero.” So it’ll come.”

Across from you, Choi fiddles with his phone. It means he’s biding his time. He stutters when he talks, too, a way of stringing his sentences together. So he can plan what he’s going to say before he actually says it. Choi has a precious full-of-hair head meticulously maintained and a daddish square wire-framed set of glasses and an oxford shirt that’s just a little too tight around the belly.

“Of course it’ll come.” You know the wave better than anyone. You pour another shot of soju for you and Choi. He raises his cup and bows his head. You turn your head away to knock yours back. Sure, because he’s older than you.

“So let’s talk about the good news. I’ve got commercials. Good work, paid work.”

He leads with a beer commercial. Just kidding, we both know you’re trying to rebrand yourself.

“Travel agency.”

“Sure. As if digital hasn’t blown up that whole space.”

“Startup needs a spokesman.”

“Startups are a mile a minute. Next.”

“Car dealership.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Choi’s shrug is somewhere in between a yes or a no.

“What happened to the espresso brand. The hotels? Airlines? God, Choi—“ the glass slips from your hand and rolls down the table. You catch it before it drops. “I’ll even take something about clean water for Africans.”

“They’re in the works,” Choi mutters. The waitress brings over a plate of raw beefsteak. Choi and you both wave her away at the same time and make for the tongs. He gets it before you do and tongs a slather of red meat over the grill. Steam and smoke rise up between you two. Sure, they’re in the works.

“Pipeline’s dry,” you say.

“It’s not dry.”

“Pipeline’s dry, Choi.”

“It’s the beginning of the year. Everybody’s just winding down. You know how it is. Winter is dry and then everyone comes calling by spring. We’re doing fine. I’m talking.”

“It’s gone dry,” you say again, pouring yourself another glass of soju.

“Now just hold on. Remember the insurance company from earlier this year? They came back. They liked the pitch. They want you.”

This perks your ears. “Yeah?”

“W-w-w-well,” and Choi grits his teeth to stop himself from stuttering. “They want you. They want a few others, too.”

“It’s a fucking audition.”

“Hey hey hey, it’s not an audition. Don’t look like that.”

“Fine. An interview.”

“It’s not a job interview. They want a friendly chat, get to know you.”

“I had a way in with the head of marketing—“

“Don’t go there.”

“You should have told me sooner. I could have met them earlier.”

Choi takes a stab at a piece of kalbi and chews it thoroughly before speaking his next words. “You and I both know very well that you couldn’t have met them earlier.”

There is something sad about being known so well by such a mediocre man. You think of the time when you were twenty-three and all cameras were on you for five months nonstop. You were a part of a reality show that made you. Everywhere you looked there was the opportunity to show yourself. That’s how you thought of it then and you want to think of it that way too now.

“What’s Pong up to these days?”

Choi gawks at you. “I’m not going to tip off Pong for a pap shot now, are you kidding? What the hell is he going to shoot?”

“I don’t know. Two guys, having barbeque. Why the hell not? The stars—they’re just like us!”

“You sound desperate,” Choi rubs his face.

“Wow, Sherlock,” you say.

“Look, about the jobs—I’ll ask around. I promise.”

“Anything else from Shim?”

“I thought you didn’t want to work on soaps anymore.” Choi says. “Especially with what he did to your character last time.”

“With my input, I assure you. Tell him I’m in for whatever his next project is,” you say. You feel flippant. You pour yourself another glass of soju and fill Choi’s glass as an afterthought. “I’m sure he can find a good guy character for me this time.”

“Look, if you’re interested, there’s an opening for a love interest on Garden Girls—“

“I want to work with Shim,” you say, and raise your glass. “Same crew, same stuff—it’ll be fun. Plus, we buy ourselves some time for the other work to come through. I get it.”

“And you’ll be working with Daniel again—tell you the truth, Seongwoo, you need all the good influences you can get.”

You almost go as far as to admit you’re a liability, but Choi’s face has already sagged with relief and you don’t want to be completely insincere. The thought of Daniel makes your fingers a little numb.

“Okay. Yeah.” Choi takes a deep breath. “Yeah, that makes things a little bit easier. I’ll give the director a call tomorrow. And you can—uh, I’ll let you know how that goes, and then you can follow up with him.”

He toasts you and as you drink you hide your mouth behind your hand.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

He didn’t care anymore. Not about his fame and not about his success. In here it was just Seongwoo and him. Just Seongwoo’s need. Daniel dropped to his knees to worship this impossible gift. How was it that he could be so dumb to his own desire this whole time. How could it be that it would take him this long to realize that it could be so good. He gripped the top of Seongwoo’s zipper with his teeth and yanked it down hard. Seongwoo’s mouth gaped and Daniel just looked up and grinned. And then he drew Seongwoo’s beautiful, Christ, this work of art, cock into his mouth, and then—

“Daniel,” someone whispered. “Wake up.”

Daniel jolted awake with a start. They were in a van. They were stopping off at dinner before heading home. The bags were in the back.

He’d dozed off? Daniel blinked. Everyone else had left the car except for Jisung.

“Daniel, you okay?”

“Yeah,” Daniel rasped, and then realized he was hard when he saw Jisung’s eyebrows were raised and staring pointedly at him.

“Nice dream?” Jisung was trying not to collapse from laughter, but it was hard on him. A wheeze escaped him.

“Sure,” Daniel said cooly, and sat up to mask evidence his embarrassment. Not that it wasn’t anything Jisung hadn’t seen before. They basically grew up together.

“Who was it?”

“Bora,” Daniel lied, climbing out of his seat, and that was that.

#


Seongwoo couldn’t keep his eyes off Daniel, sitting across the grill from him, shoveling bonchon into his mouth with the shyest smile Seongwoo had ever seen. When Daniel stuck his chopsticks into his mouth to suck the salt off, totally out of habit, Seongwoo made a little sound.

Daniel looked up. Seongwoo’s face was flushed, mouth parted, eyes locked on Daniel’s lips wrapped around his chopsticks. And very deliberately, Daniel set his chopsticks down and lifted two fingers to his mouth, licking the pads deliberately. It was over in a flash but from the way Seongwoo looked Daniel knew that he’d been thinking the same thing: in the airport bathroom right outside the arrivals hall, grinding their cocks against each other, the helpless choked sounds, the taste of Seongwoo, flooding his mouth.

Daniel turned bright red all the way to the tips of his ears, and looked away. Badly played. He was supposed to be the smooth one, damn it.

“Too spicy?” Jaehwan leaned over and reached for a sizzling piece of bulgogi off the grill.

“Too hot,” Daniel lied, and fanned himself.

“Yeah,” Sungwoon moaned, fanning his shirt against him as sweat dripped down his forehead. “They had to sit us in the back where there’s no ventilation.”

“You’re blushing.” Seongwoo mouthed across the steam of the grill, knowing Daniel’s eyes were on him.

Daniel shrugged.

Seongwoo took a sip from a bowl of soup, then peeked up at Daniel through thick lashes. “It’s cute,” he mouthed.

Probably a bit louder than he should have. “What’s cute?” Daehwi asked from next to Seongwoo, probably thinking it was something related to him.

Daniel came to his rescue. “Seongwoo’s got the hots for the waitress.” He took a big drink of his tea and grinned at Seongwoo. Daehwi rolled his eyes, nonplussed.

“Daniel!” Seongwoo knew how to play it. He widened his eyes just a little and sat up straight. “My reputation, please.”

Daniel leaned in conspiratorially, grinning at Daehwi. “Seongwoo likes her ass. Thinks it’s cute. He’s got a thing for round butts.”

“Her butt is flat as a board,” Daehwi quipped.

Busted, thought Daniel, hiding behind his tea again.

Seongwoo blushed on cue, covering for Daniel’s gaffe. “Don’t discriminate, Daehwi. Flat butt people deserve a chance at love, too.”

Daniel took one look at Daehwi’s stricken face and roared with laughter. “I’m sure he doesn’t mean you, Lee Daehwi.”

Daehwi huffed and fussed and looked embarrassed and also somewhat pleased. “Should have know with you perverts that one of you would be checking our my ass. You’re just a bunch of dirty old men.”

Daniel signaled to the waitress, whose ass was actually neither totally round nor totally flat. “Can we get a round of soju, please?” To which Jaehwan and Sungwoon cheered and Daehwi groaned.

“Hey, wait a second—“ the manager said, but the waitress had already sped off. In the fuss whether the order should be cancelled or not, Seongwoo snuck the tip of his shoe up Daniel’s ankle.

“We’ll behave, we promise,” Jaehwan roared at the manager.

#


They left the restaurant some two hours later, feeling cheerful and buzzed, jet lag all but gone. Their driver had already started the van before they got in, and the interior was toasty and warm. Daniel eyed the back seat and sat down, motioning Seongwoo next to him.

“The heat feels nice, right?” the driver called out, affection palpable in his voice. Everyone nodded and yelled their appreciation.

Let’s play some music, Jaehwan called out, to which Daehwi said to hell if I let you choose the music this time, and after some squabbling the choice was made and Rihanna-sunbae. In front of them, Jinyoung and Jihoon groaned at Daehwi’s obvious choice and jammed their earbuds in.

Perfect.

“I’m afraid the driver’s going to fall asleep,” Seongwoo laughed. But despite Rihanna’s croons, Jisung and Sungwoon were already fast asleep, heads tucked into each other’s neck—Minhyun had his head knocked all the way back against the headrest, his mouth wide open.

“You sleepy?” Daniel asked.

Seongwoo shook his head, but hid a yawn behind a hand. Daniel squeezed his thigh under the cover of the night. “No way,” he whispered, and the sniffed. Then again.

Daniel’s heart clenched. “You okay? Ongi?”

“It was a pretty good day,” he said carefully, even while nuzzling hard into Daniel’s side.

Daniel’s hand crept to the inside of Seongwoo’s thigh, hot and slightly damp. He turned his frame to block the angle so the others wouldn’t be able to see, and whispered into Seongwoo’s ear, “I think so, too.”

His lips remained close to Seongwoo’s ear, breathing warmth over the little hairs, until Seongwoo shivered. “Day’s not over yet, though. Can you be quiet?”

Seongwoo’s eyes widened.

“I mean, really quiet. Not a sound.”

“Not here, ‘Niel” Seongwoo breathed, but he was hard already, Daniel could feel him tenting against his pants.

“Because I want to make you come,” Daniel said, and brushed the edge his thumb against Seongwoo’s zipper. “Because I don't want to wait.”

Seongwoo released a soft, shuddering breath. “Not yet,” he lied.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

I’m not sure if I feel shitty or somehow just really resigned or if I’m still in shock. Maybe a little bit of everything. But it’s like everyone’s pairing off and I’m still just stuck here, “old hyung” style, with my two dogs (okay honestly a dog and a half) and a nice car and tons of gifts from fans but nobody who actually loves me. Bachelor forever. Oh well. At least I still have all my hair.

So it started in Produce 101. Center guy. Yep, that kid. Dongho, robbing the cradle much? I don’t know much about the kid except that he’s in Wanna One and he’s pretty talented oh and that he’s jailbait. Dongho, this kind of shit would get you arrested back in my home country.

“They haven’t done anything,” Minki said, “as far as I know.”

And what the hell would Minki know? But I think Minki knows everything. He looks crazy and chaotic but the guy is really put together and perceptive when he wants to be. I should just trust Minki.

“You look put out,” Minki said to me. “Maybe you should talk it out. Otherwise it’ll be like Jonghyun and Dongho all over again.”

I didn’t read much into that but my guess was that Jonghyun was pretty pissed about it too when he found out. But seeing as he got with Minhyun during. After? The show I’m assuming that means he got over it. Which, good for him. It’s obviously a good thing that they’ve worked it out.

But I don’t know. Talking to Dongho about his sex life ranks pretty low down on my list of ways to spend my weekends off. Even if Minki promises to take me out for shaved ice after. Like, am I eight years old?

Anyways, earlier today I asked my therapist what I should do. The connection wasn’t great since I was calling her while out on a drive. Had to get away from the apartment for a little bit. It gets stuffy in the summer but with this kind of news it induces mild claustrophobia.

“You’re reacting very strongly to this,” she said, after listening to my spiel.

I don’t know. I guess I feel like something’s happened to our group that I don’t know how to talk about. Maybe it has something to do with our success but I think if all this pairing-off stuff started happening during Produce 101 it just makes me feel even more left out than I did. Like they did all the work to carry our group while I ran away. They sucked it up and humiliated themselves on TV.

Everyone had a bad time but Minki had it the worst, you guys. He was in F and he didn’t deserve to be. He was sending me messages whenever he got his phone and I didn’t reply for weeks at a time. I could barely get out of bed.

That’s where I was when the second episode came out and they were trying to dance to the theme song and everyone except Jonghyun forgot the choreo. I was in bed and the connection was really bad but I made myself watch it because that was the least I could do. But between buffering I just kept thinking thank god I wasn’t there. I kept thinking that I hoped it would all be over soon and then at least I could just die and nobody would notice or care.

“Why do you feel unworthy?” My therapist asked me.

I should be over it, right? I was depressed for two years. I’m out of it now. I can feed myself again and actually go outside and I’m performing again. I don’t break down every time we get home from a concert. Things are going really great for us once. I should be happy. I should be fine. People keep telling me to enjoy my success. But I can’t. Not completely, anyway. I’m high for like three hours after a performance but then it just goes back to the regular old thing. Me being sad and feeling guilty.

I feel so guilty sometimes and like there’s nothing I can do to repay these guys who went out on a limb to save me, save our group, when I was so useless the only thing I could do was sleep and avoid everyone.

“What do you think would have happened if you went back to Korea then?” That’s my therapist, again.

I would have been out in the first batch of eliminations. Pretty sure of it. I would have been out and that might have felt even shittier. I would have quit for real. *Hasta la vista*, except there’d be no tomorrows.

“Then it sounds like you did the right thing, staying in LA.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I did what I could, I reminded myself.

#

So it’s been a while since I updated. A lot has been going on. We went to Vietnam recently for a concert. I wish the world weren’t as crowded as it is. There are times where I really get sick of airports. Even just breathing in airport air makes me feel sick.

It was after performing one night that I finally got the scoop on what’s happening. From Jonghyun, no less. Yes, from our leader himself. I was hanging out with him in his hotel room and he was on his PC and I was on my phone. And he sighed.

“What’s up?” I said.

“Nothing,” he replied.

“Doesn’t sound like nothing.”

“Heh,” he said, and I thought that would be that. The silence went on for a little bit and all I could hear was the mouse clicking. I was just flipping through Instagram, liking people’s photos.

“This reminds me of Minhyun,” he said all of a sudden, out of the blue.

“Oh?” Not the last thing I expected him to say, but not the first thing either. “What does?”

“I dunno,” he said. And I thought that was that again, until he said, “well, he would be reading. And I’d be on the computer. When we shared a room.”

Bet that’s not all you shared, was the thought that came to mind, but that would have probably shut down the conversation right quick if I’d said it like that. Instead I sat up. “Yeah, I miss him. It’s not the same.”

“Hm,” Jonghyun said.

“You been in touch recently?” I asked lightly.

“Sometimes,” Jonghyun said. “He’s doing well.”

“Does he miss us?”

“Of course,” Jonghyun said. And there was a dark tone to his voice that I didn’t like, but I was too curious for my own good.

“Think he’ll actually come back?”

“His contract is up in January,” Jonghyun’s voice was tight, and I could swear he was clicking the mouse a little harder.

“Yeah, and I don’t know what the particulars are, but he’s pretty huge.” Don’t mind me being an asshole. I was just poking, fishing for any kind of reaction.

The room went stone cold. I guess that was the answer I was looking for.

“We’ll see.” Jonghyun’s voice was flat. It was obvious the conversation was over.

I got up after a while and went to Minki’s room. Dongho was out around town with Bumzu, foodie bro things. I flopped onto Minki’s bed face first.

“Minki,” I mumbled. “Wanna trade rooms with me?”

“What’d you do now?” Minki was flipping through a copy of Italian Vogue, chewing on a stick of Mango Pocky. There was a litter of empty bags at his side. Wrapped in a bathrobe, he looked the very picture of hotel-spa-indulgent.

“Pissed off our great leader. Can you go in there and make things nice again?”

“What am I, some kind of emotional support dog?”

”You know it.”

“Don’t you already have two of those?”

“Shut up,” I said, and ducked under the covers.

Minki joined me under the covers. It was a little humid under here, but at least it smelled fresh. Clean laundry.

“Are you tired?” Minki asked me from beyond the pale of the sheets. I could vaguely make out his silhouette, the upturn of his nose if I squinted. Just Minki’s profile even in blurred relief was enough to relax me. I

“A little,” I mumbled.

“I’m going to turn off the light, kay?”

“Kay,” I mumbled.

When Minki hugs me, I never feel like I have to worry about anything.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“So, are you going to stay with YG for a while?”

“They took me in when Hotshot disbanded a few years ago,” Taehyun says, taking a sip of his cappucino to mask the tremor of his lips. “You might remember.”

“I do,” Sewoon nods. Even after Ha Sungwoon re-joined the group and Timoteo had returned The Unit, their combined celebrity prowess still hadn’t been enough to resuscitate the group. He looks lost in thought, and then a spark returns to his eyes. He leans across the cafe table.

“Taehyun-hyung, have you seen the movie *Moneyball*?”

Jung Sewoon’s efforts at building out the leadership team for his new startup have led him to Noh Taehyun, who is currently working as a dance instructor at YG Entertainment.

These days, things are finally going well for him. His career is on the upswing. His actual day-to-day work is rewarding. His love life is—well, it’s good. He’s dating someone he’s always had his eye on and it’s finally worked out and their relationship has stabilized and, well, it’s finally going. Going well.

Finally.

Still, what Sewoon is doing is interesting.

Backed by YG’s new innovation arm, YG Ventures, Sewoon has formed a talent scouting startup that surfaces talent across key areas like comedy, drama, singing, songwriting, modeling, and dance. After closing FastIdol’s Series A funding round in September 2025, Sewoon is now focused on recruiting a leadership team with deep experience in the entertainment industry.

That’s why they’re both here at the YG canteen at the headquarters in Hongdae on a sunny spring day, the two of them in a corner booth with an iPad in front of them as Sewoon swipes through his pitch deck.

Sewoon wants to talk about *Moneyball*, which Taehyun knows stars Brad Pitt and is about American softball. Sewoon is trying to recruit him.

Taehyun nods. “I’m familiar with it, but I haven’t seen it.”

“Forgive me for speaking so forwardly. It’s about a coach who used to be a baseball player, who wants to form a great team based on performance—not on hunches. They had a problem in their industry—with baseball players being recruited simply on the basis of their “face” and “body”—and this was a major problem in American baseball.” Sewoon sits back and crosses his arms, his face suddenly unscrutable. “In cases like Hotshot and many other idol groups, simply recruiting on the basis of “face” and very flimsy projections about future potential led to mismanagement of groups. And left people like you and Sungwoon bereft of the opportunity you really deserved.”

Taehyun grit his teeth. Out of loyalty, he didn’t appreciate Sewoon ragging on his former bandmates—but he didn’t completely disagree with Sewoon’s assessment. “Yeah,” was all he managed to say.

“I know SM gave you an opportunity when Hotshot disbanded,” Sewoon leaned forward. “But I really want to have you on my team. I want to take your experience in the industry and your talent as a natural dancer and teacher and apply it to building a world-class assessment algorithm that will change the global entertainment industry.”

“Why me?” Taehyun is honestly confused. With the money Sewoon has, backed by the clout of YG Capital and SM Ventures, Sewoon could recruit anyone.

“You were the leader for *Shape of You* team when we were on Produce 101. Hyung led that team with integrity, character, determination, and discipline. I knew that when the time came, I would want to go into business with you.”

“But I don’t know anything about technology.” Taehyun is honestly feeling overwhelmed right now. But in a good way.

“These things take time. Entertainment and technology have never been friends in the front-end. In the back-end, sure, but only in production processes. What we’re doing is very new. So there won’t be a lot of people who can do both. That’s why I’m trying to bring together the best on both sides—entertainment and technology—to work together.”

“You still believe in this industry after everything you’ve seen?”

Sewoon holds Taehyun’s gaze. “Well, I can’t speak for others. But I remember Produce 101 as a life-changing experience that opened many doors for me and my friends. There were many hard parts, but I think the good outnumbered the bad. And performance is a very natural human activity. One that provides hope, inspiration, and meaning to people in its own way. Yes, entertainment is a grueling industry. And there are some who will be more hurt than others based on fundamental vulnerabilities. But it is one with a fundamentally uplifting output. I believe it is a net positive in the world.”

“Ah.” Taehyun says. “That leads me to another question.”

“Please.”

“How are you protecting your emerging talent from abuses?” Unspoken: *you know that’s a huge problem in our world.*

Sewoon tilts his head to one side. “When we first started the product, we made sure that the gender balance between male and female talent was well-maintained. We restricted the members to only people who had come in for an assessment at a live studio. This eliminated a majority of the problem. We realized six months in that we would only get and keep our members if we had a robust user safety infrastructure and easy and accurate harassment reporting mechanisms. As you know, just one PR scandal can undo an entertainment company. So we were very careful. And while we haven’t built the team for it yet, another part of our growth strategy to promote a culture of safety and respect through PR and social responsibility efforts.”

“So thorough, Sewoon.”

“Actually, it’s all thanks to your questions. I have to continue refining my pitch.”

“How many people have you approached?”

“A few,” Sewoon hedges. “But you were one of the first people I reached out to.”

“Who else, if I might ask?”

“Lee Daehwi, actually.”

Taehyun keeps his surprise contained. “And what did he say?”

“Oh,” Sewoon raises an eyebrow. “Why don’t you just ask him when you get home?”

Taehyun sighs, running his hands through his hair. “Someone has been reading the gossip blogs.”

“Actually, I heard about it through a mutual friend of ours.”

“Who?” Taehyun blinks.

“Samuel.”

“Ah, Samuel.” He bites his lip. Samuel is promoting his new solo album in the States right now. “That’s right.”

“You look surprised, hyung. Perhaps this is news to you, too?”

“Are you just working your way through the Produce 101 alumni roster?” Taehyun accuses playfully, changing the subject.

“No really. It was just you, Daehwi, and Samuel. For now.”

“Not Jaehwan?” Taehyun is surprised. He remembers that they were always mentioned in the same breath in every publication some five, six years ago.

“No,” Sewoon shakes his head. “Jaehwan is absolutely front-of-house.” They both laugh.

“Well,” Taehyun stands up, extending his hand to Sewoon. “It was great to see you.”

“Likewise.”

“I won’t have an answer for you anytime soon, but—let’s keep talking. I feel like there’s a lot for me to learn before I make up my mind one way or another.”

“Are you free next week?” Sewoon says without missing a beat. “I’ll take you and Daehwi out for lunch.”

“I see. You’re just using me to get to the real talent.” Taehyun rolls his eyes, before his features settle int something more serious. “But, ah—Sewoon. We’ve been together for a bit, but—we’re keeping things quiet. For obvious reasons.”

“Well,” Sewoon says. “You let me know if you two ever need an excuse to go out in public together. I’ll just hang out behind you silently. You won’t even know I’m there.”

“Creepy,” Taehyun half-mutters, half laughs, showing Sewoon the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Daniel leaned in. In the van, music was playing — something from Rihanna sunbaenim and everyone was either half asleep or on their mobile phones or had their earbuds in. And Daniel was feeling stupid. And brave. And riled up, because the way Seongwoo was looking at him was just—fuck. Vulnerable and desperate and hopeful and beautiful.

Daniel wanted him.

He leaned into Seongwoo’s side, hard. “Day’s not over yet. Can you be quiet?”

Seongwoo’s eyes widened.

“I mean, really quiet. Not a sound.”

“Not here, ‘Niel” Seongwoo breathed, but he was hard already, Daniel could feel him tenting against his pants.

“Not here?” Daniel said, and brushed the edge his thumb against Seongwoo’s zipper. “Because I want to make you come.”

Seongwoo released a soft, shuddering breath. “Not here,” he lied.

Seongwoo nodded again, determined to prove he could by not even saying a word in response.

Daniel whispered, “You real sure? ‘Cause I want to make you come again.”

Seongwoo released a soft, shuddering breath. Daniel’s fingers drew tiny circles along Seongwoo’s thigh. “I really liked this idea,” he mused. “Of making you come.”

Seongwoo panted. Daniel moved his fingers lower along Seongwoo’s thigh, getting closer.

Daniel’s lips right on the soft whorl of Seongwoo’s ear. “What do you think? About coming for me?” A synth played over the hiss of the van heater, hiding the sound of his voice.

Seongwoo drew Daniel’s hand up, placed his fingers on his lips, mouthed, “Yes.”

“You want to come for me?”

Seongwoo drew Daniel’s index finger into his mouth, sucked on it, nodded, “Yes.”

“Fuck, Seongwoo. You’re so…” A soft gasp as Seongwoo sucked Daniel’s finger in deeper, all the way to the base. “When I get you to a real bed with a door that locks…”

At that, Seongwoo gasped, arching his back, fingers gripping Daniel’s thigh so hard Daniel was sure it’d leave nail marks.

“Keep still.”

Seongwoo quivered.

“The kids are sitting right in front of us. I can’t make you come unless you keep real quiet and still.”

Seongwoo brought his fist up to his mouth and sank his teeth into his palm.

“You can do it,” Daniel whispered. “And when I get you all alone, I promise, Seongwoo. Then you can make all the noise you want.”

Seongwoo carefully turned in place, pressed his mouth to Daniel’s ear. “You promise?”

Daniel nodded.

“I don’t wanna scream.”

The thought of that, of Seongwoo so wrung out by the pleasure Daniel was giving him that he couldn’t stop himself from screaming, nearly made Daniel come on the spot. He nudged Seongwoo’s shoulder to sit him flat against the seat against, and tucked his head against Seongwoo’s neck. “I’ll make you scream. That’s a promise. But right now, you gotta stay quiet for me. Okay?”

Seongwoo sucked in a deep breath, then nodded.

“You need to make a little noise, use this.” Daniel dug his travel pillow up and fit it around Seongwoo’s neck, turning the open edge of it so that it nestled under Seongwoo’s chin. He’d be able to bite down on it if he needed.

The track switched to *Needed Me*, and Daniel sat up. “Hey, manager, can you turn it up? We like this song.”

The thing about sweatpants is the elastic band makes them very easy to pull down. Not always good when you live with ten other guys who are always trying to prank you—but ideal when you’re trying to surreptitiously jack off your teammate in the back seat of a van.

Daniel shrugged off his jacket and placed it over their lap, moving his hand underneath to undo the tie on Seongwoo’s sweatpants. “Ongie,” he breathed when his hand met Seongwoo’s cock. Seongwoo’s hand scrabbled in front of him as he pressed Daniel’s hand down on him, hard and with his other hand produced a travel-sized hand lotion.

He looked almost smug. Daniel grinned. “You plan this out or something?”

Seongwoo shook his head. Daniel quietly squeezed a little lotion into the palm of his hand, slipped it back under the covers and squeezed Seongwoo’s cock.

Seongwoo dug his teeth into the meaty part of his hand, fighting for control. “Don’t move. Don’t make a sound.” Daniel slid his fist up and down, so slowly, glorying in how it made Seongwoo shake all over. “Christ. You’re so sensitive. Aren’t you.” His soft whisper was masked by the music, the percussion and deep bass reverberating through the warm van, Rihanna singing you needed me—a perfect storm.

“Fuck, Seongwoo.” Seongwoo buried his face in the travel pillow, trying desperately to hold still, as Daniel worked his cock, slowly, agonizingly slowly, totally in control. “Keep still. Doing so good.”

The rush of it, of saying sweet, dirty things in Seongwoo’s ear and Seongwoo having to keep quiet but going crazy for it, of touching Seongwoo’s cock and Seongwoo having to keep still but going out of his fucking mind for it, was dizzying.

“Know the first thing I’m gonna do to you when I get you all alone, sweetheart?” Another shiver. Seongwoo liked pet names. Good to know. “Gonna take your clothes off, lay you down, spread you wide open…” Seongwoo panted into the pillow, body rigid, stomach quivering, as Daniel jacked his cock nice and slow, keeping his motions as non-suspicious as he possibly could even as his head was going up like liquid smoke. “…and I’m gonna eat your ass out like a girl.”

Seongwoo sucked in a breath, and then made a muffled, choked groan into the pillow, spilling all over Daniel’s hand.

“Fuck. Seongwoo. Love how you come…” Seongwoo had barely finished coming when he wormed his hand down Daniel’s own sweatpants to jerk him once, twice strong. Daniel with a gasp came thick and wet in Seongwoo’s hand, biting down hard on his own hand, hard enough to leave a mark that he’d feel for days.

They lay there, trying to catch their breath without revealing they had lost it in the first place, Daniel’s jacket the only thing keeping the filmy evidence of their pleasure from everyone else on the van, Daniel’s palm pressed possessively against Seongwoo’s still-twitching abdomen, Seongwoo’s head thrown back, the curve of his neck on Daniel’s shoulder. Then Daniel chuckled. “Sorry for the mess.”

Seongwoo took Daniel's hand, pressed it to his lips. "Best day of my life."

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

My hands are sweaty and my face is hot even though it’s cold outside. And thank goodness for the cold air. I needed to get out of there. At least out here I can get a hold of myself.

What the hell just happened? Was I just — was he hitting on me?

There wasn’t anything in the rule book to stop someone so high-powered from doing what he wanted. Maybe he was just exercising what power he had. Maybe that wasn’t the crazy thing.

Maybe the crazy thing was—that I liked it.

Shit.

I don’t understand it. Don’t want to understand it. It was just a heat of a moment kind of thing. Irrational. Something in the air today. I walk quickly to the subway station and flow with the throng of people. At least this feels normal. It’s when I finally board the car that I can breathe normally again.

 

#

 

As the car clanks to my destination I start feeling embarrassed—and maybe even a little mad—as I replay the incident in my mind. I was overreacting. Hwang Minhyun was handsome. Anyone could see that. He was confident, and that was obvious too. He was comfortable with himself. Anyone would like anyone who was comfortable with himself.

On the flip side, he was arrogant and cold and pretentious. He quoted some kind of obscure haiku at me. To impress me? An involuntary shiver runs down my spine. Okay, if he’s well-read, he’s well read. Why should I be intimidated by that? I knew he’d studied humanities at university. I pull out my phone and run a quick search on him. The front page of the search results are mostly business articles and a few articles from celebrity gossip blogs—Top 40 under 40. Hwang Enterprises’ Secret Formula. Korea’s Most Eligible Bachelor! A quick flip through the images section shows photo after photo of him mostly black and white portraits shot by famous photographers, him staring intently into the camera, dressed in impeccably-cut business suits. If he weren’t a CEO he’d probably make a decent runway model.

I grit my teeth and shove my phone back in my pocket. Now I’m mad at Aaron for not preparing me for this. As if anything could have prepared me for this. But I’m mad at Aaron and I’m going to let myself be mad at Aaron because it’s better than feeling whatever this is.

But as much as I try to hold onto the anger it dissipates with the steady movement of the subway car. I wonder what it would take to make someone so successful at such a young age. Some of his answers were mysterious. Aaron’s questions didn’t even try to get to the core of his personality. Not that simple questions would be able to do that. And What a fool I was for trying.

The car pulls up at my station and I get out. I’m aware I’m walking faster than I usually do. I know it’s because of that silky voice and those piercing black eyes staring straight through me.

Don’t be late.

Minhyun’s like a man twice his age. Some cold, distant university professor from an age gone by.

Forget it, Jonghyun. I tell myself. You’re done. Move on. I never have to see him again. After office hours I’ll be back at the apartment and I’ll download the audio recording onto Aaron’s computer and I’ll be done.

I fish for my headphones and plug it into my phone, putting on my favorite playlist. Hip-hop flows in my ears and I sway a little to the beat. I don’t have to rush. I can take all the time I want.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Aaron slept funny last night. Weird dreams, half-baked, sort of sexy, had him tossing and turning.

It’s shown all day today not only in the bags under his eyes but in the tuft of hair sticking up from the back of his head—some twenty strands of hair that just won’t cooperate. And they have a performance on MusicBank today, too.

He’s tried smoothing it down with water, with gel, with pomade, and even with his own spit (which made him feel like someone from the musical Grease) but looking into the mirror now with the stylist at his back teasing it over with another fine comb before she shrugs.

“Hold still, I need to get the hairdryer.” She runs off to another fitting room, and Aaron sits there waiting for something to happen.

“You’ve got something of an attention hog on your head today, don’t you?” Minki says, sauntering over. And with a deft hand he slicks down Aaron’s hair with a slip of apple-scented hair gel. “That’s better,” Minki says, admiring his handiwork in the mirror—Aaron’s hair, perfectly coiffed—before walking off.

It clicks. Aaron realizes what the cowlick has been trying to tell him. He sits there, dazed by his cosmic realization, until the stylist comes back.

“Oh,” she says, surprised. “It’s fixed.” And with that taken care of, she busies herself with the rest of his hair and ten minutes later she’s done.

But his feelings aren’t done. They’re just getting started. Aaron watches his reflection in the mirror. Has he always been this dumb Or maybe his feelings were always this way to begin with and he just only realized it now, like the dumbass they’ve always thought he was?

He covers up for the sudden rush of adrenaline by jumping out of his chair to practice their stage choreography. Dongho is on his phone on the couch, and usually he wouldn’t emerge from the haze of whatever dopamine-addled click high he’s on, but apparently Aaron’s physical dance outburst is so sudden that even he does a double-take.

“You still nervous?” Dongho asks. “It’s like, our fifteenth time doing this.”

“Yeah, but,” Aaron says, because suddenly everything has changed and he’s not sure if this is some kind of alternate reality and if he even remembers anything he’s supposed to. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had, like, three dogs instead of two, and one of them had two heads. Maybe that was the way it always was, and he just never noticed it.

God, he’s so dense.

Minki has sat down for a final round of touch-ups before they go live on stage. He’s got his eyes closed and his brow is slightly furrowed. The makeup assistant carves out his cheekbones in a bronze contour and Minki absorbs it, his lips slightly pursed, tongue peeking out from between his lips. He looks like he’s getting in the zone. Aaron can see his eyes flicker behind his eyelids, and knows that Minki is practicing the choreography in his head.

He kind of loves watching him when he gets like this. Silly Minki, always on, except when he takes himself seriously, except when the spotlight isn’t on him, and then he’s just normal, he’s just Minki, he’s just beautiful and considerate and gentle and hardworking and just like anyone else. Ever since he came back from LA and they spent the whole year touring and building up Nu’est W—Minki has become more and more comfortable with himself. They all have. And somehow, through it all, they’ve become even closer than they were before. There’s no one he’d rather spend late nights talking to and creating music with, debating concepts, trying out melodies, discussing costume ideas—

It’s just professional, right? Some part of him thinks. But his heart beats a different story.

Eventually, though, Minki lets out a big yawn, and Dongho gets up from the couch. “It’s go time.”

“It is?” Aaron says even as he stands up and stretches. Looking normal. Not looking like every assumption he had about himself just went up in smoke.

“Yeah,” Dongho stretches. “If we don’t go, Jonghyun’s gonna—“

In that moment Jonghyun comes in through the door, dark face. “You guys, it’s time to go. I’ve been waiting for the last five minutes. Minhyun’s already in place.”

“You guys are always overachievers,” Dongho smirks.

“You’re a bad influence on the team,” Jonghyun says, only half kidding. Dongho looks half wounded.

“You’re a bad influence on the team,” Dongho parrots, sticking out his tongue.

“Don’t talk to your leader like that,” Minhyun says, reaching out to grab Jonghyun by the ear as he drags him out the door. “And you. Stop starting things right before we get on stage.”

Aaron laughs and, a little more awake, dodges Jonghyun and jogs the rest of the way to the stage.

Jonghyun rolls his eyes, though he’s smiling, and the rest of them follow Aaron backstage.

The producers smile at them — the friendlier ones, anyway — as they take their places stage right and stage left. Minki stands in front of Aaron. The nape of Minki’s neck is pale and exposed; the oversized shirt he wears leaves him looking fragile and vulnerable. Minki is looking at his nails, probably trying to prevent himself from picking at his cuticles. Aaron wants to take Minki’s hands in his and tell him not to worry. But Minki gets embarrassed when Aaron shows him too much affection in public. Maybe Minki has known for a while about what Aaron has only realized now. It’d be like Minki to notice; it’d also be like him not to say a thing.

Watching Minki like this—from just far away enough—far away enough that it won’t look creepy, that it won’t look like staring—the crowds might be cheering for the current act on stage, they might be waiting with some nerves. It’s normal for them. But here he is. It’s something like seven or eight in the evening on another Saturday and Kwak Aaron is in love with Choi Minki.

He’s been in love with him for a long time, probably, if he thinks about it, since he first got to Seoul and Minki was the first to help him with Korean lessons, the first to take him out shopping, the first to take him out eating. The realization should leave him reeling, but he’s strangely calm. Loving Minki just feels right.

He steps up to Minki on autopilot and wraps his arms around him from behind. It’s not a singular moment, existing only now. It feels like it could be any moment, any one of many moments, in all their time together.

“Oh,” Minki says, and instead of shrugging him off like he’s wont to do when there are cameras in their faces, leans back, catching Aaron’s arms in his hands. He turns and whispers, “good luck.”

Aaron leans a little closer so he can kiss Minki on the cheek. Minki drops his hands, and the illusion breaks. It’s jarring, and panic blooms in Aaron’s chest when he realizes the weight of what he’s just done.

“Um,” Aaron says, dropping his arms and taking a step back.

Minki whirls around. Aaron can’t read his expression, which is not exactly rare, but is also no longer common. Minki looks left, looks right. Then when the lights turn off onstage—the peak of the song—Minki grabs Aaron’s shoulders, pulls him down, and kisses him on the lips.

After a startled second, Aaron kisses back, and the universe slides back into place. They break apart just before a producer turns around.

“You guys are on in one minute,” she says, and scurries away.

“I want this forever,” Minki says when they part.

“Kissing?” Aaron asks with a smile trembling so hard it might twist off his face.

“No,” Minki says with a brief flash of annoyance. “Well, that, too. But I mean—” He gestures helplessly. “—this. Onstage, offstage. Just. Being with you.”

Aaron smile softens. “I love you, Minki.”

“And I’m really, seriously in love with you, you idiot. Took you a while.”

“Sorry,” Aaron says, and presses a kiss to the back of Minki’s head. He settles a hand lightly on the small of Minki’s back and Minki leans back ever so slightly.

It’s perfect.

“You’re both on in ten!” The producer calls.

“Oh,” Minki says, pulling away.

“What is it?”

Minki turns around. “Your hair.” He reaches out and combs his fingers through Aaron’s hair, smoothing down what Aaron imagines to be another cowlick gone wild.

“That’s nice,” Aaron says dumbly, because he can’t think of anything else to say.

“What would you do without me?” Minki winks, and right on cue, walks out onto stage.

Aaron waits his beats and then follows. He doesn’t have the answer right now. But Minki probably does.

He’ll just have to ask him about it later.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

A lazy afternoon. The kind where time stretches on. An impossibly lazy kind of afternoon, not in our age of smartphones and always on and infinite entertainment.

Somehow, Daniel has found himself here. Out in the pastoral boondocks at Ong Seongwoo’s family estate, summer breeze floating through the open windows, Rooney perched on his lap, purring softly. Seongwoo is writing—pen on paper, no less, really writing—and the scratch of the pen on paper, the gentle rustling of pages—puts Daniel in a lull. He feels sleepy and curious.

—What are you working on? Daniel asks.

—A script, Seongwoo says.

—What’s it about?

—It’s an exercise. I do it so I can understand the characters better.

—You’re a good writer, Daniel says, recalling the agony aunt column that Seongwoo writes every month. —You have a talent for making people laugh.

—You think that means I’m good? There’s no vitriol in Seongwoo’s voice. He asks gently, like he’s shy. It makes Daniel feel tender, but he doesn’t have a reply. To be honest, writing is something totally out of his expertise. He doesn’t read people as well as Seongwoo does, or if he does—it’s on a purely instinctual level. He’s not able to put it into words that would help anybody else understand what goes on in his head.

Seongwoo sighs.

—You shouldn’t write too well. I’m scared of writing too well, to be honest.

Daniel senses a punchline in his words and tenses happily. —Why? He asks, innocent as a blossom at first bloom.

—To be a great writer, you have to be a little bit crazy. Scratch that. Really crazy. You have to be deeply, irrevocably insane. You have to live inside your own head so much, logging everything you see and transcribing every thought into something out of you, that you don’t get to live your life as it is now. You have to spend your waking days in a disenfranchised limbo, at the mercy of the words that will grip you in a frenzy at any moment and make you want to stop everything you’re doing to attend to them. To be a great writer, you have to be a slave. I don’t want to be a slave.

Daniel looks thoughtful at this answer, even though it wasn’t the punchline he was expecting.

—So what is acting, then? Daniel asks.

—A way of pretending I’m not a slave. When I really am. With every character that comes my way, I get to escape for a little while.

Daniel yawns.

—So what is it that you’re running away from?

It’s an innocent question, really. But a welcome reprieve for Seongwoo.

It’s been years since they touched each other. They’ve since settled into something easy, something resembling friendship. But even if thick-headed Daniel has locked it away, even if thick-headed Daniel has forgotten—

Seongwoo can’t. Doesn’t want to.

Daniel’s eyes are closed. Seongwoo lets himself look at the curve of his neck, the swell of his Adam’s apple, the breath that gathers in the hollow of his throat.

—Everything, I guess. Melodramatic, isn’t it?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“So what’s your story about?”

“It’s about an actor who falls in love,” Ong said, and trailed off.

“And?”

Ong looked like he really wanted to tell Daniel more. Emotions flitted across his face before a secret smile emerged. “Our teacher told me that we shouldn’t reveal the story to anyone before it’s done. Nothing personal.”

Daniel nodded, tried to respect it. “Sure. I understand.”

Ong had been taking night classes in creative writing at a local academy. Daniel balked at how much he paid for the classes, but it made his friend happy, so he couldn’t complain. Every night when Ong dropped by Melody Heights after his writing class, he was in a good mood.

“I’ll tell you a little bit.”

And just like that Daniel felt special again. “Really?”

“It’s a story about an actor. Let’s call him Ong Seongwoo.”

Daniel laughed.

“He tries his best. He really does. For a while, he does pretty well in his career. Wins some competitions, gets together in a band with some other guys, does some tours. Starts acting. But then he gets in trouble with a TV drama.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“It’s a political TV series. He offends people in the industry and after that he can’t find work for a while. So he starts drinking and fucks up even more. When his best friend gets married, he realizes he’s been doing it all wrong.”

“Then what?”

“Then,” and here Ong trails off again. “Actually, I haven’t figured out that part yet.”

“What kind of person is this actor?” Daniel asks, if only to keep Ong talking. He likes the way Ong looks when he talks about his story. The way his eyes light up, the way he smiles, the way he looks like he’s far away. “Like, what does he like to do on the weekends?”

“He has a lot of friends,” Ong says. “Well, they’re not real friends. They just party with him. He needs them at first, because he likes to feel popular. But then he realizes it’s a bad place for him, going out night after night.”

Something about what Ong says makes Daniel feel bad. Like he’s one of these bad influences who keeps Ong out too late at night.

“It’s not you,” Ong says drily. “Don’t look like that.”

Oh. Daniel hadn’t considered it like that. “Am I in the story, too?”

Ong takes a sip out of his bubble tea and looks thoughtful. That far-away kind of thoughtful. “I think there’s a bit of everybody in there,” he says at last. “You can’t really write with integrity if you haven’t experienced it somehow.”

“I wish I could do something cool like you,” Daniel says. Ong throws him a weary look.

“I wish I didn’t *want* so many things.”

“But wanting is good,” Daniel says. “My mom always told me my problem is that I’m not ambitious enough.”

“Ambition only gets you so far.” Ong digs through a cluster of crushed ice with straw, sucking at the final cluster of boba in his milk tea. “I don’t want to be as ambitious as I am, you know. It stresses me out.”

Daniel didn’t know what to say to that. It’s not like he had a lot he *could* say. “Why don’t you just... not be stressed out, then?”

Ong laughed long and hard and shot Daniel the fondest of looks. “So it’s really that easy?”

“Yeah!” Daniel closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. “I mean, it’s not like I’m *not* stressed out about stuff. I really hate my classes. But I just think about nice things. And then I’m fine.”

“Speaking of stressed,” Ong lowered his voice and shrunk down in the chair. “Here comes one. Late worker, isn’t he?”

“Ah, Mr. Kim!” Daniel stood up. Kim Jonghyun walked by without saying anything. Under the crook of his arm was a neatly-wrapped box with a bow. Daniel jogged briskly after him and managed to reach the elevator before Jonghyun could press the call button himself.

“Christmas shopping?” Daniel said.

“What?” Jonghyun said. He looked far away. But a different kind of far away than Ong.

“The present under your arm. Is it for someone special?”

“Oh,” Jonghyun said. His face looked pale and blank. Daniel thought he looked like he might faint.

“Are you okay, sir?”

Jonghyun looked up at Daniel like he was really seeing him. *Actually* seeing him for the first time. With some trepidation Daniel stepped back. Maybe he should give Jonghyun his space.

“Um,” Jonghyun said, and the elevator *dinged* as it arrived. “Yeah. It’ll be fine.”

Daniel trotted back to the desk, where Ong was waiting with wide eyes. “What’s up with him?”

“He always works late.” Daniel checked his watch. Eleven thirty, it read.

“What was in the box?”

“He didn’t say.”

Ong sat back in his chair. A small smile passed over his mouth. Daniel nudged his shoulder. “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you writing a story about him?” Daniel whispered. “In your head?”

“Sort of.” Ong said. “He looked really sad, didn’t he?”

“Did he?” Daniel turned around to look at the elevator bay. But of course Jonghyun wasn’t there anymore.

“Yeah,” Ong said. His voice was soft. “So sad.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

We live on the edge on campus in an apartment that primarily houses graduate students. I know that Aaron, ever the investigative journalist, will want a play-by-play account. I hope I don’t have to go into depth beyond what was said during the interview.

“Jonghyun!” Aaron says, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. He’s eating a bowl of fire chicken noodles and the snot is running down his nose in a clear stream. It’s more endearing than gross. “Welcome back. How did it go? Thought you were going to come back before work today.”

“Decided to go straight there,” I said, not mentioning how I was almost late for my class. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I can send you the file now that I’m back on WiFi.”

“Sure,” Aaron says, and dials up his phone to accept my file transfer. As it loads, he fixes a curious gaze on me. “So, how did it go? Was he cooperative?”

What could I say? “As cooperative as anyone is who is in a position like his,” I say. “He was kind of scary.”

“Aww, Jonghyun.”

“He’s younger than you and he could probably buy up half of the university. I wish I’d been a little more prepared today. I don’t know if I got all the answers you wanted.”

“I’m sure you did fine,” Aaron rubs his face. “I’m sorry I had to push you in there without much prep.”

“It’s okay.” I forgive him. “He was courteous. Formal. Somewhat pretentious.”

“Pretentious?”

I realize I’m thinking about the poetry again. I change the subject. “How was the ramyeon? I decided to buy you a new flavor. You usually get the spicy kind, but I don’t think that was good for someone who is sick.”

“It was delicious,” Aaron pats his belly. “I’m feeling much better, too.” He smiles at me in gratitude.

“I have to go,” I say. “Gotta make my shift at the store.”

“Don’t work too hard,” Aaron says. He looks worried.

“I’ll be fine. See you later.”


#


I’ve worked at Yoon’s since I started at S University. It’s an electronics shop around the university campus. The discounts have come in handy for my robotics projects. Not to mention I get discounts on the parts I need for my gaming PC which, I can attest, is state-of-the-art.

It’s only when I arrive that I realize that at least half of our store is stocked with parts from Hwang Enterprises company. At least it’s busy—focusing on the customers gives me something to do other than think about Hwang Minhyun. The semester has just begun and classes are in full swing, and engineering and material sciences students are swinging by to buy gear for their projects as well. New phones were released right before Christmas and people have had enough time to decide what they want.

“Jonghyun!” It’s the owner, Yoon Jisung. He’s always all smiles and that’s part of the reason why the shop is so popular. “I thought you weren’t going to make it today.”

“I can do a few hours today, hyung.”

“Well, I’m glad to see you.”

He sends me to the storeroom to take inventory, and I soon lose myself in the task.


#


I get back home after dinner. Aaron has donned a pair of big headphones and is typing away at his laptop. His nose is still red and runny but he seems to be fully absorbed in a story. I’m pretty beat at this point—normally I just hang around on campus. The journey downtown at rush hour, the grueling interview, being swamped at Jisung’s have all added up today. I slump face first into the couch and think about the lab I have to finish and all the studying I haven’t done today because I was holed up... with him.

“There’s some good stuff here, Jonghyun. Wish you had taken him up on his offer to show you around. Guess you guys hit it off.” He raises an eyebrow at me.

I feel my ears get hot and my heart jumps. No, we didn’t hit it off. Mr. President just wanted to show me what he lorded over. Thankfully Aaron doesn’t seem to notice my embarrassment, as he’s facing his computer again.

“He’s definitely a formal person. Hey, forgot to ask you earlier—did you take any notes?”

“No... I didn’t.”

“That’s okay. Got everything you guys talked about here. Wish I’d asked you to take a picture of him. Your phone’s definitely got a good enough camera. We could have had an original photo.”

Oh no. Now I’m thinking about having a picture of Hwang Minhyun on my phone. His face, within finger-tapping distance. I blush even harder. “Guess so,” I mumble cooly into the couch cushion, trying to sound like whatever.

“Jonghyun—are you—” Aaron scoots over and lifts the couch cushion which has been covering my face. “Are you blushing?

“Uh,” I say. I need to distract him. “I’m just embarrassed that I didn’t do a better job. You could have gotten more out of him, honestly.”

“I don’t think so, Jonghyun. He practically offered you a job. Given that I roped you into this last-minute, I think you did pretty well.” Aaron narrows his eyes at me, and I beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen.

“So—what did you think of him?” Damn it, Aaron. Why can’t you just let it go? Think of something, Kim Jonghyun.

“He’s very driven,” I say lightly. “Intimidating, like I said earlier. Obviously charismatic. He runs the whole place. It’s obvious why he’s such a catch.”

“A catch?” Aaron’s eyebrows go sky north.

I swing open the refrigerator door and resist the urge to lock myself in. “I mean, I imagine he’s pretty popular with women.”

“Sure,” Aaron scoffs. I rummage around in the fridge. Open up a container of kimchi and grab a slice of cheese. Kimchi toast, that’s what this situation needs. A little less Hwang Minhyun and a little more kimchi toast. “Except for all he’s been photographed, he’s never been seen out in public with a date.”

“They probably have him set up with a someone from a good family,” I say lightly. “Behind the scenes.”

“You went after the marriage question like a shark.” Aaron tilts his head to the side. “And he didn’t throw you out of his office for such an off-script question. I think he must have liked you.“

Liked me? Aaron’s an idiot.

“You want some kimchi toast?” I change the subject.

“Yes please.”


#


We speak no more of Hwang Minhyun for the rest of the night. Once we’ve had our snack, I’m able to sit at the dining table with Aaron. While he works on the article, I grade problem sets. By the time I finish, it’s close to 1am and Aaron has long since gone to bed.

I curl up in my bed, wrap my blankets around me, and I’m instantly asleep.

I dream of flying above the city and black eyes that look at me wherever I go.


 

Chapter Text

 

 

On the day of you take a good part of the afternoon to do your hair and pick the right thing to wear. You put on Happy Together in the background at full blast to listen to something. Every time his cronies compliment him on his supposed virtues you take a shot of whiskey. Before you leave you check yourself in the hallway mirror and realize your eyes look tired.

Out comes a squirt of the beige creamy stuff on your finger and you pat pat pat under your eye, blending outward. And as you do something like deja vu hits you like a wave.

I never had to wear makeup every day until Produce 101, he said. 

—Perks of the show, Niel. 

You make your lips so red, Ongi.

—All the better to seduce you with. The contrast shows up better on camera, you know. 

A blush. Should I try it too? 

—Why shouldn’t you? 

I don’t have one. 

—Here, use mine. Hold still. 

Mmph—

Your hands shake as you grab the keys. They jingle on your way to the parking garage. Ah, you should have taken another shot before you left.

Just something to calm the nerves. You have a date, after all.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

For the rest of the week, I throw myself into my teaching, my thesis, and my shifts at Jisung’s. Aaron is busy too, compiling his last edition of the magazine before he has to relinquish it to the new editor. I stay up a few nights until 4am coding my projects.

I call my eldest sister in G to check in and also to get a little bit of encouragement. She proceeds to tell me how to take care of myself and nag me about dressing warmly for the weather. My eldest sister is all about being a mother since our father passed away and my mother’s personality went a complete 180°. At first, mom was devastated. But for someone who used to call me almost every day worrying after me, she barely calls me once a month now, busy with her paintings, Japanese lessons, yoga classes, mountaineering outings, and her community events. It’s like after my dad died, she could finally come out of her shell and do everything she wanted to do.

Which means that the duty of mothering has fallen to my eldest sister. “How are things with you, Jonghyunnie?”

For a moment I hesitate, and I have her full attention. “I’m fine.”

“Jonghyun. Did you meet someone.” When she gets excited all the inflection leaves her voice too. It’s a family trait, I suppose.

“It’s nothing. If I meet someone I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“You need to get out more. I know daddy was all about hard work and no play but you’re almost about to graduate now. Once you’re working you’ll have even less free time. And then once you have kids you’ll never have free time again.”

I think about my niece, who is the cutest but also most attention-grabbing toddler I’ve ever known. Not that I know that many toddlers.

“Don’t laugh, Jonghyun. Ever since I had Yuna my life has turned into mommy mommy mommy. I’m so excited when I get to be someone else again, like your sister. Which I could be more often if you called me.”

“Aw, noona. How’s Yuna?” Distraction, as always, is helpful.

After I hang up with eldest sister I call my other sister. My middle sister is something of a starving artist and keeps herself alive with odd jobs and the occasional freelance design gig. By living out in the country, she keeps her living costs low. Since the power is unreliable, it’s hard to get in touch with her, so I’m always happy when we do manage to connect.

She listens to me prattle on about my work and the interview with Hwang Minhyun. I leave out choice details but do mention his porcelain collection.

“Nakajima Hiroshi, huh?” Her voice drifts in and out of the static like a dream. “Cool.”

“It was pretty cool,” I say. “I didn’t think he’d have something like that in his office, of all places.” I smile and think of the smooth curves of the celadon jars. How cool, how gentle they might feel against my hands.

“Everyone loves art,” my sister says. “Art is an essential part of our relationship to ourselves.”

I bite back a chortle. “Okay, sis.”

“My friend is hosting an exhibition at D Gallery next month, actually. Celadon features heavily in the collection. You guys should come.”

“Wait, who should come?”

“You and Minhyun.”

I balk at the familiar way she says his name. “President Hwang is uh, probably busy. And it’s not like I have his phone number.”

“Oh. Maybe you should get it.”

“Sis. He’s the CEO of Korea’s biggest technology company. It’s not like he just goes handing out his phone number to every non-journalist who interviews him.“

“So? You like him, right?”

“Uh,” I splutter. “That doesn’t matter?”

“You care so much about what other people think.”

“I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding the situation,” I say slowly. “I am a lowly graduate student. He is basically one of the most powerful men in Korea. We occupy two completely different strata of society.”

“Don’t sell yourself so short. He must have liked you if he asked about you. Did you tell him about dad?”

I gulp. “He asked. I didn’t tell him.”

“Oh,” she says. “So he asked.”

“Not like that. He made an off-hand comment and I had to correct him.”

“Oh,” she says. I can hear the grin in her voice. “So you had to correct him. Despite class differences and occupying two different strata in society you had to correct the president of Korea’s biggest technocapitalist conglomerate. Wow. I can really see that you care a lot about class differences with President Hwang Minhyun.”

I splutter uselessly.

“People are just people,” she says. “You’re so deep in your MMORPGs sometimes I think you forget.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

June 2019

 

“And so,” the youth whispers in Oxbridge-studded English, “these are the spoils of Lord Elgin’s conquest as he moved the pieces of the Parthenon piece by piece. He got the locals to do it, which only adds to the indignity. It’s a fucking shame. Just like what they did to us. Drugging us and then demanding we pay to be drugged. Good thing the government didn’t let Zuckerberg and Google in when they wanted. They would have colonized us just like the Brits did turn of the century. Pigs.”

The girl doesn’t look affected by what the boy says. She doesn’t invite him to continue. She wears a mustard miniskirt of corduroy and a white blouse of thick knit silk. Cut wide on the shoulder, her sleeves were so long that you can only see the edge of her fingertips as they wrap with resolve around her selfie stick. “Come on,” she says in Chinese, and raises her arm. “Time to smile.” She sounds a little snobbish.

The whole scene warms Guanlin’s heart. Just like he can always trust his mom’s cooking, he can trust that there will always be Mainland Chinese tourists taking photos in front of European marble nudes. Fuerdai or scions of, nouveau riche, real estate brats, Hong Kong kind of wealthy kids perpetually studying abroad or permanently settled in some nice million dollar apartment overlooking the water. Tale as old as time.

“What do you think about it?” He turns to Jihoon, who has been looking at the same nude for the past ten minutes. A headless Nereid, with no arms, tunic spilling over her body in currents like a rippling tide.

“It’s kind of sad,” Jihoon murmurs, digging his hands in his pockets. “Feels out of place. And lonely.”

Like us, Guanlin thinks.

 

#

 

It had been about half a year since they’d parted ways. Professionally, that is. January, February, and March had gone by before Jihoon got back in touch. And Guanlin had been waiting for it, if he had been honest with himself. It was just that with everything else going on—re-joining Cube, mostly, and finishing up school, he hadn’t had time to think about Wanna One. Or Jihoon, for that matter—

Okay, maybe he wasn’t being so honest with himself.

When Jihoon suggested that they take Guanlin’s last summer holiday before university to go overseas, Guanlin had jumped at the chance. Jihoon was only able to get a week off, but it was better than nothing.

Seonho was a bit put out. Didn’t you hang out enough with him for like, two years? 

If Guanlin didn’t know better, he’d think that Seonho was jealous.

Maybe Seonho was jealous.

Guanlin nestles his head in the crook of his arm and waits for Jihoon to return.

“You feeling okay?” Jihoon sets down Guanlin’s iced coffee before him. They are in the Cafe Néro outside Trafalgar Square. The place is swarming with Asian tourists. Guanlin doesn’t feel like he is in London at all but some kind of London-shaped theme park. An extension of Lotteworld.

“Yeah,” Guanlin says.

“You don’t look like it,” Jihoon says.

“I miss everyone,” Guanlin blurts out, and immediately buries his head in his arms, ashamed of the tears that suddenly spring to his eyes.

“Me too,” Jihoon says after a beat. Something warm covers Guanlin’s hand. It’s Jihoon’s.

 

#

 

As soon as Seoul hits 8am (it’s 11pm in London), Guanlin’s phone lights up with a text.

—Oh, I see, Seonho texts, sending a link to a netizen-snapped paparazzi photo of Jihoon and Guanlin exiting the British Museum together. Your London excursion was just an excuse to date Winky.

We’re not dating, Guanlin thinks about texting back, but then chooses not to dignify Seonho’s response with one of his own. Also, it’s not true. Also, he wouldn’t date a guy.

Would he?

“Hey, hyung,” Guanlin says to Jihoon, who’s on his bed in an old t-shirt and gym shorts, playing a mobile game. Without his makeup on, he looks normal. He even has an ugly moment now and then.

It makes Guanlin want to hug him until he falls asleep.

“What’s up?” Jihoon says.

“What should I major in? For college.” It’s not what Guanlin actually wanted to ask, but he’s really not sure about transitions and about timing of these kinds of things. And he’s shy. And introverted. There’s only so much life can ask of him.

“Bioengineering,” Jihoon deadpans, and for a second Guanlin almost believes him. “But no really,” Jihoon thinks. “How about performance? Not that you lack in confidence or anything. But it will give you more opportunities to work on your stage. Plus, your classmates can give you new and exciting challenges. Who knows, you might even make some new best friends.”

Usually Guanlin doesn’t have a hard time letting go. He didn’t have a hard time letting go of Taipei. Of the steam rising from cool rocks and hot springs of Beitou, of the of the little streets in Huaxi, of the nights spent eating fried chicken and stinky tofu and red bean cakes and driving go-karts until he was sick. He didn’t miss his mom or his dad or his sister, and he didn’t miss the life he used to have—feeling stuck and slow and like nothing he’d do would be seen by anybody of importance.

Maybe because he knew it’d be better somewhere else.

Now, he’s not sure what would be better than what he had.

“I think I peaked early,” Guanlin mumbles.

Jihoon looks at him. It’s that expression he makes when he’s trying not to let any expressions through. Most of the time, Guanlin thinks it’s cute. Maybe he’d even tease Jihoon a little, embarrass him. But now Guanlin just feels nervous, anxious. Maybe Jihoon knows what he’s trying to say. Maybe Jihoon knows.

Guanlin thought he had all the time in the world. He’s an idiot.

“C’mon,” Jihoon says, after a beat. “It’s time for bed.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

June 2025

Dongho doesn’t really like food that isn’t Korean food, which is why his sudden and desperate craving for pho catches him off-guard.To his knowledge he's really only ever been good at searing fresh meat by way of flamethrower, but ever since the Vietnamese restaurant down the street closed down for renovations in August, Dongho has been craving beef noodle soup like it was nobody’s business. He scours the internet for another delivery place — and there is one. Rated four stars, looks decent—

And right near Lee Daehwi’s apartment.

Dongho flops back onto the couch and rubs his face. There was reason he got this place fully furnished, with its fancy granite kitchen countertops and state of the art stove and stainless steel sink and seven-setting refrigerator. And there’s definitely no reason for him not to send his PA, who is on the agency payroll for a reason and paid to do Dongho’s shit for him, out to the nearest market and pick up the special ingredients he’ll need to cook for himself. Since when was he to do anything half-assed?

But he’s craving pho, and the nearest place that delivers is near—Dongho shuts the thought down immediately. He texts his PA with a list of groceries for tomorrow, and preps a bowl of instant ramyeon with some fresh scallions and kimchi, because he’s not a complete loser.

But two bowls later and slogging through a sodium-induced stupor in front of the TV, Dongho realizes he’s still not full.

#


His PA comes back that morning and doesn’t look fazed at all to see Dongho hovering over a wooden cutting board and slicing the beef into thin strips with incongruous finesse. He places the groceries down on the counter, briefly inquires if he can be of any further assistance, and when Dongho doesn’t dignify his request with more than a grunt, leaves without further ado. Two pounds of the meat stay in the butcher paper and get tossed in the freezer, for future insurance against beef cravings, and he chops one pound roughly, then sets to work on the other chunks. There’s something reluctantly therapeutic about interaction with raw meat in this way—delicate and precise—and Dongho’s fingers are all tight tension around the curve of dead muscle as his other hand slices paper-thin pieces, edge of the carbon steel knife going smoothly through the flesh—and there’s no bone to choke the metal-through-red movement. 

Tonight’s specialty is barbecue. He throws the strips in one bowl and the chunks in another, and tosses in the store-bought marinade, and waits the requisite half an hour, jiggling on the edge of his barstool, fidgeting with his phone, before firing up the grill pan.

Minhyun wasn’t free for dinner (he hasn’t been free ever since he decided to live in Busan full time), and Aaron’s kid had a fever, and Jonghyun, well, Jonghyun won’t be free either, ever since Minhyun decided to live in Busan full time. Memories of tours in Southeast Asia irresistibly tangle with the cooking process, and Dongho smiles, maybe too widely, when he turns the stove on, smell of lighter fluid subtle and tangy in the air, suddenly, before it’s whiffed out by flames, the way that blood and skin boil the same way that water does, how ox blood smells the same and the whole kitchen is filled with the smell of it, mostly on his hands. But he’s not one to wax lyrical while moping over a kitchen stove, and Dongho moves to the groceries, and breathes in deeply—fresh, green-yellow scents of lemongrass and basil, onion and ginger assaulting his nostrils and fading the edge of his smile to something less severe. He catches himself but lets him ride with the sentiment, as rare as it is, washing the basil leaves under running water and stripping the leaves from their stems and only barely managing to restrain himself from humming old Nu’est songs under his breath. 

And then, without fail—there’s the Produce 101 theme song.

Damn it. Dongho cuts the thought before it can occur, but it’s already there. he stands up, fingers itching for his phone. He takes a deep breath and heads back to the kitchen.


Don’t think about it, he grits his teeth, when he sees his phone on the counter. Don’t even think about it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“That can’t happen again.”

The set director is furious. You were late. Again. Kept the whole crew waiting for an hour at least.

Daniel sits up a little straighter in his chair. “In his defense, director-nim—”

“No need, Daniel.” Your voice is parched, laid out in the sun for too long, baked like a dry mackerel and just as shriveled. You feel pathetic. You are pathetic.

Daniel stands up, rubbing his face with his hands, “Ongi, I know you’re going through a hard time right now.”

Daniel doesn’t understand a damn thing, does he. All he does in that dumb head of his that you love is think what he’s thinking in the moment and that’s it. There’s no past or future with Daniel. It’s all just one long present.

You want to chew him out. Tell him it’s his fault. The words are right there on your tongue. But they die at your teeth when you catch the look on Daniel’s face—how broken the look in his eyes, how hurt. Daniel, who can never hide a damn thing.

You take a step back, and then two, feeling yourself go numb from your head to your toes. The only sound is your heart beating furiously but it’s not the direction you mean to go, not at all.

”Ong, wait.” Daniel’s standing up. 

You walk out of the room anyway. Because a long time ago, Daniel had already let you go.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Friday night, Aaron and I are debating what to do with our evening. Well, Aaron is debating what to do with our evening. I’d be happy as a clam to continue playing the latest update to Overwatch on my souped up CPU, but then the doorbell rings and my solitary plans are shot to hell. Standing at our doorstep is our good friend and my colleague Hwang Chiyeul, holding a brown bag wrinkled in the shape of a bottle. I groan.

“Hyung—come in, come in,” Aaron gives him a high five. I hang behind Aaron and manage a wave before Chiyeul envelops me in a hug.

Chiyeul had had just become an assistant professor when I joined two years ago and was as lost in his new position as I had been. We recognized a kindred spirit in each other at the beginning of that term. I’d been a little shy about being friendly with someone so much older than me but when I brought Aaron to visit our lab, they hit it off right away. Aaron, who was born and raised in the U.S. and had no similar compunctions about seniority, was as informal with Chiyeul as he had been with me. Thanks to Aaron we could all be friends.

Chiyeul’s formal area of study was material sciences, but he was also an accomplished photographer and had had a few shows at S University. It amazed me how someone could balance both their science career and their hobbies. Chiyeul made it seem easy.

I don’t have a wife or kids or seventeen part time jobs like you do, Jonghyun-ah, he said laughingly when I’d pestered him about how he made the time for other pursuits. You could probably perform, if you didn’t work so much.

I’d only ever freestyled in front of Chiyeul and Aaron. They were both supportive. It was my own failing that I didn’t pursue my craft further, but I had to graduate with honors and secure a good job. That meant everything else went on the back burner.

“You look overworked, Jonghyun.” Chiyeul grinned at me and waved the bottle of soju. “I’ve got just the thing to loosen you up.”

“Don’t tell me,” I deadpanned. “Is it soju.”

“Actually, it’s other news.” He pulled out the bottle and twisting off the cap. Aaron brought over three chilled glasses. “D Gallery is going to exhibit my photos next month.”

“That’s awesome, dude—congratulations!” Aaron bear hugs Chiyeul. I’m delighted for him too. But why do I have a sense of deja-vu? Ah, that’s right—my sister’s friend has a porcelain collection on display next month at the same place.

“Okay, okay,” I laugh. “I guess that deserves a drink.”

“Or five.” Chiyeul fixes me with an intense expression. I flush even though I haven’t even touched a drop of alcohol. “I want you to come.” He looks at Aaron. “And of course you too, Aaron.”

Chiyeul is a good friend. But there’s a part of me that feels like he thinks of me more fondly than I do of him. We’ve spent a lot of late nights together in the lab, so it’s not like we wouldn’t be close. But there were a few times when I felt he wanted to say something to me that I didn’t know if I was ready to hear. That said, there was something about his presence that was comforting. He was there for me when I was at my lowest—of course we’d have a special bond. I shrug it off and take my glass, careful not to spill any soju.

“Cheers. To Chiyeul, and his tireless pursuit of his craft.” Chiyeul lights up like a firecracker and we knock down our shots.

“Next round!” Aaron says, taking the bottle and pouring another round for everybody.

Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. I’ve never been all that interested in having a girlfriend. I really, really like my video games and my work and being alone. I don’t know what it would take for someone to be attracted to me. Or for me to be attracted to someone.

Until very recently, a part of me whines.

Shut up, I tell it fervently, banishing it to the furthest corners of my mind.


#


Saturday at Jisung’s is a nightmare. In the wake of a recent gaming convention on campus we are besieged by modders who want to fix up their computers. Woojin and Jihoon—the other part-timers—and I are besieged by customers. Thankfully there’s a lull around lunchtime. Jisung asks me to check inventory from the morning and I discretely tuck into a gimbap at the register as I pull up the numbers. I’m engrossed in the task, checking catalog numbers against the items we need to re-stock, my eyes darting back and forth between the order book to the computer screen to make sure the entries match.

The bell above the door tinkles and the atmosphere shifts in the room. Weird. After a moment I glance up—to find myself locked in the oily black gaze of Hwang Minhyun who’s at the counter, staring at me.

“Mr. Kim. What a pleasant surprise.” His gaze is pleasant yet unwavering.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

After a hearty breakfast of eggs and beans, they head to Westminster. Their first stop is the Abbey. The exterior is sharp and pointy and ornate; Guanlin hasn’t seen anything like it before. Jihoon doesn’t comment on their surroundings besides a single, sotto voce ”creepy” once when they encounter the crypts. They spend the rest of the time perusing the relics in silence. Maybe it’s because they’re not sure what to say. Guanlin, for one, is happy to let the mahogany shadow of the Abbey overpower them. It puts him in a meditative state—one that doesn’t leave him even when they emerge into back out into the sunlight.

Jihoon, face glued to Google Maps on his phone, navigates them to their next stop. They wind through the crowds, Jihoon one step ahead, Guanlin one step behind. Seems like he's always the one following. Always waiting for someone else to tell him what to do. He’s the youngest, sure, but now that he doesn’t officially have ten other older brothers telling him what to do and how to behave, he feels the weight of Not Knowing What To Do weigh on him even more heavily.

The wait to get into the ferris wheel (“London Eye,” Guanlin remembers) is almost two hours long. It’s been a while since Guanlin had to stand in line like a regular person. It’s almost terrifying, how much the world doesn’t care about them. Before, they would have been mobbed the moment they stepped out of their hotel. Before, they couldn’t walk two steps out of line without security herding them back into formation. Now—

—nothing. They can even stand in line without getting pushed over. Sure, there are still a few people—obviously Koreans—who snap photos, but it’s nothing like before.

It’s almost civil.

So for once Guanlin doesn’t mind that he feels somewhat regular. Maybe he even doesn't mind that he doesn’t Know What To Do.

“You and I are alike,” Jihoon breaks his end of the silence, as they’re watching the wheel spin. “We both think too much.”

“We do?”

“Sure,” Jihoon says. “What would we be so quiet about, if we weren’t thinking about something?”

Guanlin doesn’t know. He just likes to look at things. Jihoon, for one, is really beautiful. No matter which country he’s in, no matter what he’s wearing, no matter what’s going on. No matter which way you looked at it. Guanlin liked to look. The red flush of Jihoon’s cheeks, the way his chin came to a point, the way his lips—always pink—seemed to part whenever he was in the middle of a thought, or when he was listening.

A nudge from the person behind him jolts him from his daze. The line’s moved, and Jihoon is now ten steps in front of him, looking back expectantly. Guanlin shoves his hands deep in his pockets and takes three giant, clownish steps to close the gap between them.

“So what are you thinking about now?” Guanlin says.

Jihoon grins. “Nothing.”

“Sure,” Guanlin teases “What would you be so quiet about, if you weren’t thinking about something?”

Maybe it’s the sun in Guanlin’s eyes — but Jihoon has an inscrutable look on his face. “How about I tell you later.”

“Sure,” Guanlin shrugs, playing it cool. “Don’t keep me in suspense or anything.”

Jihoon grins one way and looks the other. The sun kisses his hair and the tops of his cheeks golden. “You should learn how to be patient,” Jihoon says. Teasingly.

Guanlin’s heart flutters. Maybe it’s supposed to. Jihoon is an expert at making hearts flutter, after all. But does that make Guanlin’s feelings real or fake?

The view from the top is something else. It’s a bright day and the sun gleams off the river, making it shine like quicksilver. The river winds north and south into the horizon, and around it are the landmarks he’s only seen on the internet—the Big Ben, the Abbey, the building that looks like an Easter Egg. Further than that, a choppy earth-colored sprawl of suburbs and homes.

Jihoon pulls out his phone to take a photo. “Reminds me of Seoul, a little bit.”

“Yeah, with the river. This one is more bendy, though. And we don’t have buildings that look like that.” Guanlin points to the Egg, and then to the castle some ways in the distance.

“Which view do you like the best?” Jihoon asks. “Now that we’ve been a few places.”

“Maybe Hong Kong is the most interesting, but now I’m not sure.”

“Well, wherever we are—the view from the top is always nice, isn’t it?”

Guanlin nods. It’s always nice to experience it first hand.

“Hey,” Jihoon says, tugging on Guanlin’s sleeve. “Let’s take a selfie.”

 

#


It’s only after dinner, when they’re both sated and full of Sunday roast (Guanlin got a lamb shank, Jihoon opted for roast chicken), as Jihoon throws his head back against his chair, totally sated, as they settle the bill and then head outside, night cooling off the heat that clings to them from the pub, as the sky turns even more pink and indigo by the final rays of the day’s sun, that Guanlin realizes that wanting Jihoon makes him happy. That the happiness he feels isn’t affected or manufactured by the one-man media entertainment complex that is Park Jihoon. That the smallest glance from Jihoon, the faintest hint of words from Jihoon directed at Guanlin, can surge in him a happiness that can last the whole day.

Thinking that he could steal one fraction of a second to press his cheek against Jihoon’s forehead after a big meal—that makes his heart race and palms sweat but inside he’s—happy.

“Earlier,” Guanlin says. His voice comes out a bit rough. “What were you thinking about?”

Jihoon bats his eyelashes like he wants to play dumb, but then thinks better of it. “I’m thinking about what’s next.”

“Like what?”

“Like how sometimes you have to do things that are good for your career, and sometimes you have to do things you don’t really want to do, and sometimes you get to the do the things you want to do and that are good for you.” They reach a crossroads, and Jihoon fist-bumps the street crossing signal and scuffs his shoes on the edge of the curb.

“But nothing matters in the end. But since you can’t care about the big scheme of things—since when you’re dead and dying, all you’ll know is what’s happening in your own head—then what matters in the end is how hard you tried. Hopefully you can go without any regrets.”

The signal changes and they cross the street. “But maybe this trip has just gotten me in a mood. It hasn’t been the same since we split up, and that’s okay, but—it’s just...”

This trip has been a dream. And it will be over. And that’s okay, too. Guanlin slows down, and then stops in front of a shop. The shop is closed, but the display lights are still on in the front window. There are limited edition red Yeezys next to a pair of black Air Jordans, framed by a black feather boa. Jihoon stops to look, too.

“The Jordans look like your size,” Jihoon says.

“The Yeezys look like yours,” Guanlin says.

“They’d make my feet look kind of ugly,” Jihoon says.

“Nothing could make you ugly,” Guanlin says, and loops an arm around Jihoon’s shoulders, squeezing tightly. And to his surprise, Jihoon leans in, his side pressed tightly against Guanlin’s ribs.

Guanlin’s heart clenches something awful. He ducks his nose into Jihoon’s hair, and presses a kiss to Jihoon’s temple.

When he pulls away, Jihoon’s ears are beet red.

“Hope that was okay,” Guanlin mumbles. This trip has been a dream. Being with Jihoon like this, with no-one else watching, with no-one else caring, that’s been a dream too. And it will be over soon. But that’s okay, too.

Jihoon composes himself. “That wasn’t your first kiss, was it.”

It’s Guanlin’s turn to turn beet red. “No."

“Not bad.” Jihoon grins, looping his fingers around the hem of Guanlin’s t-shirt, pulling him in.


#



The next morning, Guanlin checks his phone.

How’s the trip going? Seonho's texted.

Not bad, Guanlin texts back.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Another day, another craving. Today, he’s trying his hand at yukgaejang. He’d called his mother and she’d walked him through step by step—here’s how you prepare the brisket, but before that, he’s the cut of meat you need, here’s a list of ingredients, here’s how long to leave things in the pot—and so on—and now his phone is on the counter and he’s on the couch, waiting it out.

There’s about thirty minutes before the next step of the cooking process, and so Dongho turns on the television and watches a few commercials before rifling through the magazines stacked on his coffee table. A few outdated copies of Hustler and fancy magazines he’s supposed to be keeping up with but he’s only interested when the cover girl is sexy enough for him to seek her out on the centerfold. The heat on the stove is on medium-low, just like him. Nonetheless, he shrugs on a jacket as he heads outside to the corner newsstand to pick up the latest copy of Hustler. It’s winter.

Dongho flips idly through the magazine in the elevator on the way back. The articles have really gone to shit. He switches it out for last month’s copy of Hustler, thumbing through it with disinterest and conditioned arousal. He ignores his half-hard state as he turns off the television and heads back into the kitchen, straining out the brisket, mushrooms, and onion. Dongho slices the mushrooms into bits and separates the long filaments of brisket, then adds it back to the pot.

Let it cook another 15 minutes for the best results, ends his mother’s most recent text message. His thumb leaves a grease print on the phone, and he wipes it off on the edge of his t-shirt.

The noodles are the last to be prepared, a simple matter of bringing water to boil and breaking up the glass noodles so the pieces won’t be too long. Dongho entertains the thought of the other members barging in and throwing accusations of misbehavior at him with plenty of evidence to spare. Girly mags and beef stew? What a classic Kang Dongho combination.

He wonders if Jonghyun’s moral spirit will haunt him tonight. But leader, he’d probably say in his dreams, man cannot subsist on magazine centerfolds and k-girls alone. 

The noodles get drained shortly afterwards and added to the pot, and Dongho turns on the television again, simultaneously pleased and annoyed when Lee Daehwi’s latest commercial comes on. This time he really does hum under his breath—not the Produce 101 theme song.

He’s got his hand on his mobile before he knows it, receiver held up to his ear and fingers poised over the screen, muscle-memory ready and willing and Lee Daehwi’s number stored in his phone book, just a few taps away. He shouldn't, but he does. 

hey, he texts, greasy thumbprints and all. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Mr. Kim. What a pleasant surprise.” His gaze is pleasant yet unwavering.

What the hell is he doing here? Looking like an off-duty pop star with his tousled hair and his chunky turtleneck sweater and jeans and crisp oxfords. My mouth promptly disconnects from my brain and pops open.

“President Hwang,” I say. It feels strange to be calling him that when we’re not in his office, but I can’t think of anything else. There’s the ghost of a smile on his lips and his eyes light up in silent laughter. Probably at me.

“I was in the area,” he says. “And I thought I’d stock up on a few things. It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Kim.” His voice is sweet and mellow, completely unthreatening, at odds with his position in society and the title he holds.

My heart is beating fast, too fast, and for some reason I’m blushing furiously under his scrutiny. How is he standing right here before me? He’s not just a good-looking CEO—there’s something ethereal, breathtaking about him. The sharp cut of his jaw, the way the blacks of his irises almost take up all of his eyes. His height, his broad shoulders, his pale skin—and he’s here. In Jisung’s Computer Parts. Go figure. I take a deep breath and like a computer rebooting some of my cognitive functions come back online and link up with the rest of my body. Thank god.

“Anything I can help you with, President Hwang?”

He smiles again. “We’re not in the office. You don’t have to call me that.”

I put my professional face. I’ve worked in this shop for years. Regardless of what he is he’s a customer in this store. Just treat him like one. “Mr. Hwang, then.”

“Sure.” He smiles in a way that makes it seem like he’s got secrets. So disconcerting. “There are a few items I need. To start, I need some motion sensors. Accelerometers. And the latest gravity sensor you have.”

Surely he has his own people who can provide him with this stuff. Why would he come to Jisung’s, of all places? But I’m not here to judge.

“You’re in luck. We just got a new shipment of gyroscopes and accelerometers. Follow me this way.” My voice wavers. Get a grip, Jonghyun. I try for nonchalance but I’m really trying not to fall over my own feet. My legs feel like they’re gelatin. I’m suddenly glad that I decided to dress up beyond my usual ratty long-sleeve skater tee and frayed jeans this morning.

“They’re here.” I show him a bin with tiny ziplock-encased accelerometers. The chips gleam up at us like diamonds. My voice is a little too bright. I glance up at him and regret it almost immediately. Damn, he’s handsome.

“Lithium iode batteries,” he says, and I turn around. All shapes and sizes. He hums appreciatively.

Why is he here, of all places? He’s got whole R&D departments at his beck and call, why is he here looking for accelerometers and lithium iode batteries? And from a very tiny, under-used part of my brain comes the thought: he’s here to see you.

No way. I cough to interrupt the thought before it can go any further.

“Are you here on business?” I ask, my voice pitched just slightly too high.

“I was visiting the dean of S University. I’m funding some research in machine learning and somnambulism.”

See? Not here for you at all. I flush at how foolish my internal voice sounds. “All part of your plan to take over the world?” I tease, while another part of me wonders at what the connection between machine learning and sleep could be. Anything really.

“Sure,” he says, and his lips quirk up in a half-smile.

His fingers trail across the various packages displayed and for some reason I have to look away. “These will do,” he bends and selects a packet of batteries.

“Anything else?”

“IV tubes,” he says absently.

IV tubes?

“What in the world are you making?” The words are out before I can stop them.

“Something to change the world,” he murmurs, and I have the uncanny feeling that he’s making fun of me.

“Well,” I swallow. “We’re a computer parts store. Not a medical devices store.”

“Water cooling tubes will do.”

“This way,” I say curtly.

“How long have you worked here?” His voice is low and he’s gazing at me, concentrating hard. I blush brightly. I feel like I’m fourteen years old. Just keep it cool, Mr. Kim.

“Six years,” I mutter as we reach our goal. I take him to the section with hardware components and he selects a translucent, silver set of tubing and hands it to me to hold. Our fingers brush and an electric current goes up and down my spine, pooling somewhere deep in my belly. I scramble for my equilibrium.

“Anything else you need?” My voice is husky and breathy. His eyes widen slightly.

“Some cording, I think.” His voice mirrors mine, husky.

“Cording—what kind do you want?” I duck my head to hide my blush and move back toward the reception. “We have cable cord for devices and natural filament rope and twine to secure packages—“ I halt at his expression. His eyes are almost completely black.

“I’ll take a ten foot cable cord, please. And five feet of natural filament rope.”

I take my pocket knife from my backpocket and cut the rope to the length he desires.

“Handy,” he says. “

“I grew up fixing things,” I say. He arches a brow. “Our house was always falling apart. My parents and I were always patching things up around the place.”

“So, being handy—that's not quite expected.”

“I do enjoy pursuits of all kind, you know.” 

Whoa. Be cool, my subconscious begs me on bended knee even as another part of me is screaming: Pursuits! Really?! Did you basically just admit that you're pursuing him?! I slap it down, mortified that my subconscious is not only overreaching its station, but stretching the bounds of middle-class acceptability. This would not be the time to realize that I have a systematic attraction to men. I have a family to support. I have to get a job. I cannot become an outcast in society.

“What kind of pursuits, Mr. Kim?” Why is he so interested?

“Reading science fiction and manga, mostly.” Great. Now I’m basically admitting I’m a huge nerd.

He rubs his chin with forefinger and thumb as he contemplates my answer. Or maybe he’s just really bored and trying to hide it.

“Anything else you need?” I have to get off this subject—because I don’t need to think about his fingers on his face.

“What else would you recommend?”

“What? For a do-it-yourselfer?”

He nods, his eyes alive with wicked humor. I flush, and my gaze strays to his snug slacks.

“Leather apron,” I say, now realizing that I’m no longer screening what emerges from my mouth. “You wouldn’t want to ruin what I am sure are very expensive suits.”

“I could always take them off.”

“When soldering parts together? I’d hardly recommend it.” I’m flirting. Oh my god, I’m flirting with Hwang Minhyun.

“So ring me up a leather apron, then. Heaven forbid I should ruin my suits.”

I try to dismiss the image of him without his suit on. um. “Do you need anything else?” I squeak as I snatch an apron off the rack. He ignores my inquiry.

“How’s the article coming along?”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“What’s wrong, Seonho?”

He’s been in a dark mood since he arrived. Not to be arrogant, but he used to be happy to see me. It does mean that something else is on his mind—that his world is bigger, which makes me a little sad and happy for him.

Still, innocence lost is bittersweet, no matter who’s losing it.

“Seonho?”

“It’s stupid,” he mutters, picking at the bonchon with his chopsticks. “They’re stupid.”

I bite. “Who is?”

“Guanlin.”

“Why?”

Seonho spears a piece of kimchi with the end of one metal chopstick and flings it onto the grill. It hisses, petulant. “He’s slacking off,” Seonho says. “Should be training but now that Wanna One is over he’s just jetsetting around the world with all of his new money and his new friends.”

I’m just about to ask him if he’s referring to the series of incriminating selfies of Jihoon and Guanlin in London, when the server comes out with a pile of meat and Seonho, if only momentarily, becomes distracted from the topic at hand.

Seonho picked this place: the Hongdae branch of a nondescript chain of yakiniku restaurants in Seoul. I got there early, of course, which means I had to take pictures with some fans who recognized me. Then the servers shuffled me to a private booth that was pretty walled off from the main floor. So I was relieved.

While Seonho and I have dinner, Jang, my security detail, waits outside. (I told him to take a walk around the mall and come back in ninety minutes. He said he’d wait at the glasses store next door.)

“Have fun,” Jonghyun said, before I left.

“Not jealous, are you?” I teased. To which Jonghyun replied with a no-expression expression on his face before raising an eyebrow.

“Should I be?” He said, cocking back his head. It was a little bit of JR in the set of his jaw. The way he said it you wouldn’t be able to tell if was kidding or not.

The last time we had seen Seonho was over a year ago, when I’d just joined Wanna One and they were filming the first episode of Wanna One Go. The one where I was chained to Jaehwan for the whole episode, you know? At that point Seonho been a little morose, a little edgy, a little lost. I’d been feeling the same, but Seonho always showed his emotions more easily than most of us. Seonho had hugged me long and hard after that meeting. We only met up in private once that year. That was another story, but at that point I could tell that he was beginning to move on—both from Produce 101, and from whatever lingering attachment he had to me.

Not that I minded. If there’s anything that life taught me, it was that everything would become different, given enough time. Things were what they were and are what they are. Even something like jealousy isn’t immutable. It might warp other emotions around it, but it will eventually settle, smooth out, and integrate. Whether for better or worse depends on the person.

I cough. Seonho moves the meat off the grill so it stops smoking.

“Sorry, hyung. I forgot that you don’t like smoke.”

How sensitive of him.

“Unlike Guanlin. I caught him smoking cigarettes outside the dorm. Gross, right?”

“Has he taken it up? That wouldn’t be good.”

“He’s just trying to be cool,” Seonho mutters.

“Poor Guanlin,” I say. “So then what happened?”

“I told him I’d tell the manager. He ignored me. Said he got it from a friend, that it wasn’t his. What kind of a friend, I asked him. He didn’t say. Pretty sure he snuck out and got them on his own. He’s been really stuck inside himself. Just plays games all day when he’s not practicing.”

“Sounds like you want to help him,” I say.

“Well, sure. I guess you could think of it that way. I just thought he’d be happy to come back. Why can’t we just be like before? But whatever. If he needs to go out to some other country to get a new perspective or something, that’s on him. If he doesn’t think his old friends are worth hanging out with, that’s on him.”

I take a sip of barley tea and wait for Seonho to recover. “You’re hurt?” I venture.

Seonho is quiet. The meat sizzles, the fan hums, and the coals splinter. A party of two sits down in the booth next to us. An elderly couple. There are wrinkles so deep in both their faces it’s hard to see the young man and woman they must have been at one time. My heart aches a little.

“Just annoyed,” Seonho deflects. “It’s not a big deal. It’s not like I’m jealous or anything.”

Sure, I think to myself. Jealousy gets a bad rap, but sometimes it’s one of the most clarifying emotions in the repertoire. If you’re jealous of something, I want to tell Seonho, you should follow that feeling deep until the jealousy runs out, and what’s left is what really is.

“He’ll come back,” I tell Seonho. “By the end of our time together, Guanlin was the most ready to move on.” It wasn’t that easy for all of us.

“You think so?”

I just nod.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Sorry I’m late,” Daehwi is standing in his foyer, pressed within an inch of perfection and hair looking perfectly coiffed, everything as usual. Dongho, by contrast, has answered the door in his robe and slippers, having just gotten out of the shower, and his hair is still a little bit wet. None of this fazes either of them, of course. “It’s been a hectic day. New batch of trainees just joined and they’re a hot mess,” Daehwi shrugs, shoulders moving fluidly underneath the angular cut of lilac silk, “but that’s what you deal with when you sign up to mentor.” 

Lee Daehwi was a brunette when Dongho saw him last six months ago. He’s blond today. Something about YG, Dongho smirks. Not that he’s complaining. He’s always liked Daehwi better as a blonde.

Daehwi strides past him, handing Dongho a bottle of something. It’s a nice vintage Merlot. “The plum and berry tones will put up nicely with that jigae,” Daehwi says from the kitchen. “But we can always save it for later. If I recall correctly, you were always more of a lager sort of person.” 

“You act like you’ve never seen me at an award show dinner party,” Dongho says, following Daehwi’s voice as easily as he follows the smell of beef stock. “Like our CEO. His head is stuck so far up his ass that only drinks dry martinis.”

Daehwi cracks a smile under the smooth veneer, but then his look fades to something more intent. “Honestly, Dongho—” Daehwi words, usually so smooth and measured, trip over themselves a little. “I was surprised to hear from you.”  

“You’re still surprised by me?” He leans in and takes Daehwi’s chin between his fingers. The other man’s lips are lightly glossed, and his skin has a pearlescent tint to it that doesn’t match the color of his neck. Dongho smirks.

“You still wear makeup.”

“You do too,” Daehwi counters evenly.

“Yeah, but not if I don’t have to be on TV.”

“What exactly are you trying to prove, Dongho?” Daehwi’s eyes narrow.

Dongho kisses him to shut him up. Daehwi sighs and opens his mouth and Dongho’s tongue finds his. Dongho fixes the angle of Daehwi’s head to deepen the kiss, but Daehwi pushes him away.

“Stove,” Daehwi says curtly.

Dongho turns off the gas and the flame goes out with a sullen poof. He reaches out to pull Daehwi against his chest. This time, Daehwi tenses.

“We shouldn’t,” he says.

“That’s what you always say,” Dongho chuckles, pressing his nose into Daehwi’s ear, nipping.

“No, really,” Daehwi’s voice wavers. “I’m seeing someone else now. We shouldn’t.”

A blip of irritation stabs Dongho’s heart. “So you only remembered that now?” He lets go of Daehwi. “Sure, that’s fine. Let’s just drink the bottle of wine you brought over, then. Have a candlelit dinner. Go have a look at the view. It’s great, isn’t it?”

“Dongho—“

“It’s all good,” Dongho smirks. “I’ve just spent all this time preparing a fine dinner for two. Let’s just eat. Like old friends.”

“You’re such an ass,” Daehwi mutters. Dongho smirks.

Daehwi leans against the counter, staring out the window at the glittering landscape of Seoul laid out beneath them. His face is a mask of calm, but his hands twist in their sleeves. It’s a tell that he hasn’t been able to shake since he was just a trainee all those years ago. Dongho feels suddenly fond and with that, a bit remorseful.

No use thinking too much about the past. These days, Kang Dongho is not the kind of man who wishes for much beyond the basics. He knows that much about himself by now. Hell, it was Minki who found this fancy place. Dongho had just happened to like the kitchen. It worked. The appliances were shiny. The fixtures were top class. The furniture was designer. The view was good. It made an impression on visitors.

Like now. From the corner of his eye, Dongho watches Daehwi watch the traffic curl down the highway and disappear into the fog. Dongho pretends not to notice, and Daehwi pretends not to notice until he really doesn’t. The more Daehwi stares out at the view, the more relaxed he becomes. Dongho can see it in the way his shoulders sag and the way his head becomes heavy, until he’s tipped it against the window. One hand on his chin, fingers absently stroking at his lips. He’s lost in thought.

“Food’s ready,” Dongho says gruffly, placing two steaming bowls of noodles on the kitchen island, rummaging through the drawers for matching chopsticks.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The van rumbled up the long path to the apartment complex, headlights illuminating the way. Seongwoo and Daniel tumbled out of the back seat, stiff and half-groggy, breath visible in the cold air. Minhyun stretched out his long legs, clambered from the front seat, and bent over, stretching out his lower back, and Sungwoon let out a massive yawn.

Jisung threw his arms around Jihoon and Daehwi’s shoulders, one on each side, and they walked to the front door.

Upstairs, it was Minhyun who warmed a carafe of sake for the hyungs (“none for me though, but you guys look like you could use some”). Sungwoon sniffed at the contents. Warm vapor, the sweetness of rice, a faint herbaceous smell, ghosted over his mouth. “This is the good stuff,” he said.

Daniel took a sip, expecting something sweet version, and blinked at the unanticipated kick. Seongwoo followed Daniel’s lead, and was also surprised at the alcohol.

Sungwoon raised an eyebrow at Minhyun. “And you’re not joining us?”

“What?” Minhyun blinked, affecting innocence. “I’m on my way to bed, though?” But he sat down with them nonetheless.

Sungwoon smacked Minhyun on the shoulder. “You’re getting sentimental, aren’t you. Just because it’s getting cold.”

They all knew what Sungwoon really meant. In less than three months, they’d be disbanded. It was hard to imagine how it would feel then. Seongwooe as it was hard to imagine how it was going to feel to be a real group, on the last day of Produce 101.

Jaehwan and Jisung shot each other a look and raised their glasses at the Seongwooe time. “Here’s to Minhyun,” they said at the same time.

“You guys,” Minhyun blushed, and covered his face.

#


Seongwoo and Daniel sat on the floor with the crumbling sofa behind them, feet propped over the heating vent right under the coffee table. They’d all moved onto a second bottle, at the insistence of Sungwoon and the amused tolerance of Minhyun. The alcohol wormed through their veins, heating them up every bit as much as the heater.

Through the open doorway to their left, Sungwoon, Jisung, and Jaehwan stood bent over a tablet in the kitchen, Sungwoon poking an insistent finger at a photo while Jisung flipped through his own phone. Behind them, Minhyun had already fallen asleep and was snoring ever so slightly.

Daniel nudged Seongwoo with his shoulder. “Warming up now, Ongi?”

Seongwoo blew out his breath over the sake, driving a puff of warm vapor up over his nose and mouth. “Yep. Feels good.”

Daniel watched Sungwoon and Jisung argue over what photos were better to send to the social media managers. Then he threw his arm around Seongwoo and adopting body language that said he was simply talking in a light, conversational tone, said, “Know what I want to do, Ongi? I want to go to a beach. In Bali, or Sentosa. Get a villa with a private beach. Where no one else is around.”

Seongwoo sipped his drink, eyes darting up to look at Daniel.

Daniel continued. “Real hot day. Middle of the summer. Bring a cooler full of ice and bottles of beer. One of those huge beach blankets. Lay down, let the sun soak in until we’re so hot we can’t stand it.”

Seongwoo closed his eyes, letting Daniel’s words wash over him. “We?” He whispered. This little encouragement bolstered Daniel’s confidence.

“Yeah. Us. Close your eyes. The heat from the vent? That’s the sun on your skin.” Daniel closed his own eyes, caught up in the moment every bit as much as Seongwoo, who was hanging on his every word.

“Just lay in the sun, listening to the waves, until we were all hot and sweaty, and then run into the water.”

Daniel opened his eyes, to make sure Sungwoon and Jisung and Jaehwan weren’t standing over them, horrified, and that Minhyun was still asleep. They weren’t. And Minhyun was still snoring away.

“Then we’d stand and let the waves come in over our feet. I’d stand behind you, put my arms around you, hold you steady, you know, when the waves go back out. Kiss the back of your neck. Lick the salt off your skin.”

Seongwoo’s eyes flashed open, pupils dilated. Daniel could feel the energy that crackled between the two of them.

Daniel glanced over at Sungwoon and Jisung and Jaehwan again. They were completely caught up in their own thing, but nonetheless would absolutely able to see him and Seongwoo on the couch—if they looked.

He turned his black eyes back to Daniel. “Then what?”

Daniel felt the hairs on the back of his arms raise up.

“Then… then I’d race you back to the blanket. And I’d win.”

“Hah.”

“And I’d win,” Daniel insisted. “Break out a couple of beers.” Daniel brushed a stray lock of hair out of Seongwoo’s face. “And I’d watch you drink yours. Watch your mouth wrap around the neck of the bottle.”

Seongwoo bit his lower lip.

“Watch you suck on it. Get hard watching you. Think of feeding you my cock, just like that.”

A small whimper escaped Seongwoo’s lips.

“You like that?” This phrase, such a porn cliché, was spoken here in earnest. Daniel needed to know, know that Seongwoo liked what he was doing, liked him telling him what he wanted to do to him, liked the idea of sucking Daniel’s cock.

It was crazy. It was crazy, but he needed to know because he hadn’t been thinking straight ever since—

Ever since he realized that this really was going to be all over, so soon. And that he had been an idiot to ward this feeling off, keep this in the back of his head, keep this out of sight, out of mind, heads down, just focus on work, just focus on his career, just think of his future. 

The future would be coming, one way or another. And for once since this whole Wanna One thing began—Daniel didn’t want to think about what was next.

Not when he had something he really, really wanted right in front of him.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“How’s the article coming along?”

He’s finally asked me an easy question, away from all the innuendo and doublespeak.

I can answer this. Honestly, too.

“I’m not the one writing it. My roommate—Mr. Kwak, Aaron Kwak, is. He’s happy with it. He’s the editor of the magazine. He wishes he could have been there to do the interview with you. His only concern is that he might have to use a stock photo of you.“

“What sort of photography does he want?”

I don’t know. I shake my head.

“Well, I’m around the city. Tomorrow, perhaps...”

“You’d be willing to do a photo shoot? My voice goes childlike in excitement. Aaron will be in seventh heavy if I can pull this off. And you might get to see him again tomorrow, that dark place at the base of my brain whispers at me. I wave away the thought. I’m doing a lot of internal waving around these days. Of all the silly, ridiculous, idiotic, things to think—“Aaron will be delighted.” I’m so pleased that I’m grinning ear to ear. He inhales sharply and blinks rapidly. For a second, he looks lost, and the Earth shifts slightly, tilting us both out of orbit.

Hwang Minhyun’s lost look.

“Call me about tomorrow.” He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a business card. “My cell number is there. Call before ten in the morning.”

“Sure thing,” I grin. Aaron is going to be thrilled.

“Hyung!”

Kwon Hyunbin has materialized at the other end of the aisle. He’s Yoon Jisung’s cousin and an international jet-setting model. I’d heard he was coming back from a stint in Hong Kong, but I wasn’t expecting to see him today.

“Excuse me for a moment, Mr. Hwang.” He frowns at me as I turn away.

Hyunbin has always been a little brother to me, even if he looms a head taller. He had been an undergraduate student at S University, close to flunking, much more immersed in his modeling career than in derivatives and integrals. He always came to office hours but we’d end up talking about anime and somehow, became friendly. In this strange moment that I’m having with the rich, powerful, ethereally handsome Hwang Minhyun, it’s great to talk to someone normal. Hyunbin hugs me hard, taking me by surprise.

“Hyung! It’s so good to see you!” He gushes.

“And how are you, Hyunbin-ah? Are you home for Jisung’s birthday?”

“Cancelled my last job in Hong Kong just for this,” Hyunbin says proudly. The kid has his priorities sorted in life. “You’re looking good, hyung!” He releases me from a hug but keeps an arm around me. I shuffle from foot to foot, embarrassed. It’s good to see Hyunbin, but he’s always been very touchy in public.

When I glance up at Hwang Minhyun, he’s watching us cooly, his mouth a hard, impassive line even as his eyes gleam with some speculation. He’s changed from the strangely attentive customer to someone distant.

“Hyunbin, maybe we can catch up later. I’m with a customer right now.” I try to defuse the tension I see in Hwang’s expression. I drag Hyunbin over to meet him, and they size each other up. Even though Hyunbin is taller than Minhyun by a good amount, Minhyun isn’t phased. The atmosphere is arctic.

“Hyunbin, this is Hwang Minhyun. Mr. Hwang, this is Kwon Hyunbin. His cousin owns this shop.” And for some reason, I feel some irrational reason to explain even more. “I’ve known Hyunbin since I’ve worked here, since he was a freshman. We don’t see each other that often. He’s back from Hong Kong, where he’s just had a modeling contract with W Models.” I’m babbling. Stop! Now!

“Mr. Kwon,” Hwang holds his hand out.

“Mr. Hwang.” Hyunbin returns the handshake. “Hold up—not the Hwang Minhyun? Of Hwang Enterprises?” And in a nanosecond Hyunbin goes from suspicious to awestruck. Hwang gives him a polite smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Gosh, can I get you anything?”

“Mr. Kim has it covered, Mr. Kwon. He’s been very... attentive.” Hwang’s expression is impassive, but his words... it’s like he’s saying something else entirely. Baffling.

“Cool,” Hyunbin says, all smiles again. “Catch you later, Jonghyun! Text me!”

“Bye, Hyunbin.” I watch him disappear toward the stockroom, ostensibly to find his cousin. “Anything else, Mr. Hwang?”

“Just these items.” His tone is clipped and cool. Have I offended him somehow? Taking a deep breath, I turn and head for the register. What’s his problem?

I ring up the rope, apron, cording, and batteries.

“One hundred thirty thousand won, please.” I glance up at Hwang, and wish I hadn’t. He’s watching me closely, intently. Unnerving.

“Would you like a bag?” I ask as I take his credit card.

“Please, Jonghyun.” His lips caress my name and once again my heart is all just one big squeeze. I can hardly breathe as I put his purchases in a plastic bag.

“You’ll call me if you want to do the photo shoot?” I nod, and hand him back his credit card. “Good. Until tomorrow, perhaps. Oh, and Jonghyun—“ he pauses. “I’m glad that Mr. Kwak couldn’t do the interview.“ He smiles, takes the bag from my sweaty hands. I spend several invites staring at the closed door through which he’s left before I land back on Earth.

Okay.

Okay, maybe I like him.

There. I’ve said something about all of this tight emotion and heart squeezing and sweaty palms around him. If I’m honest with myself, maybe I’m feeling more than anxiety or nervousness because of the—class difference between us, or whatever.

But the reality is—I find him attractive. I find a man attractive. Lost cause or not, that must be what this is. But it’s just a coincidence, him coming here. It’s just a freak accident—that life would bring us together and have us interact. And if I find a photographer, then our paths will cross again, and that will probably be it. And then all I’ll do is find him attractive from afar—in the news, talking to a TV anchor on the morning daily, or featured on the cover of some magazine.

And that’s fine, right? It’s fine to admire someone attractive. That’s what attractive people do—invite you to be attracted to them. Sometimes, if they’re celebrities, that’s what they get paid to do. And for someone as high up there on the food chain as Mr. Hwang—image is part of it.

I take a deep breath. I’m just responding to the image. That’s all it is. Everything he does and says, down to how he moves—it’s all practiced, all pre-rehearsed. Probably was engineered by some publicist years and years ago to sway the public — and stock prices — to his advantage.

My lips are raw from me chewing on them. I slap both of my cheeks to clear my head.

I need to call Aaron. It’s time to organize a photo shoot.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“The concept is, the future is here.”

The photographer has to raise his voice over the sound of the surf. He shifts back on his haunches and his heels sink into the sand. He bundles the scarf around his neck a little tighter. “You’re all looking back at your past. All of the memories, all of the experiences you shared. Give me hope but give me sorrow. But most of all, give me something real.”

#


Daniel approaches Seongwoo after the latter’s solo shots are done. I overhear the exchange. He tells him that his photos turned out well. Seongwoo says the same. I notice the exchange: it’s laced with ice—cordial, but icy—from Seongwoo’s end, with some kind of embarrassment from Daniel’s end.

A wedge came between them a few months ago. It’s hard to say whether their friendship will recover.

I’ve known Daniel a long time. I know when he’s off. Once upon a time, I said that people project their own desires onto Daniel—and being the person that he is, he can hold those desires. But over the year I’ve seen him come to want his own things.

Ambition isn’t bad. But some of the things he’s wanted will only hurt him, and others.

He and Seongwoo are navigating new territory now, and there’s no more time to close the loop. Our time is running out, which makes his state of affairs even more dangerous.

But that’s the price of making memories.

#


Minhyun looks tired. He’s looked tired for a long time.

“Hyung,” he tells me, and grabs my shoulders. I stiffen. “Just stand here.”

“Why?” I fake suspicion in my voice.

“Because I need a moment to rest, and I’m next.” He leans his head against my shoulder. He’s tall and so has to crane his neck. But I feel his head droop in real weight against my shoulder. I stand as tall and steady as I can.

#

The sun sets quickly in the winter. And because it’s a cloudy day, it seems to go grey and dark even faster than usual. Maybe it’s me. But maybe it’s January.

I’m back on the van—where it’s nice and warm—and Seongwoo sits in front of me. He’s on his phone, looking at the photos he took of everyone. He giggles at the photos of Minhyun, and then stops at the photo of Daniel. He looks at it for a long time. I pretend not to notice.

“Jisung-hyung,” he says quietly. I snort, pretending to wake up from a nap.

“What?”

“You’ll stay in touch, right?” His voice is small now, not just quiet. It makes my heart clench to hear him in pain. I know the question isn’t for me.

“Of course,” I say. “And it’s not just me. I’m sure the company has all kinds of reunions planned for us until we retire. And even after we retire. So we’ll always be able to see each other.”

Seongwoo laughs. It’s not a nice sound. And I’m sure it’s not what he wanted me to say, but it’s all I can promise. I don’t want hope to become a monster.

And sometimes a little unhappiness in the short term leads to less in the long run.

The others slowly trickle into the bus. Daniel and Minhyun are the last to arrive, and there’s a moment when Jisung isn’t sure — between Seongwoo and him and the empty seats next to them, which one they’ll take.

“Good chat, Minhyun-hyung,” Daniel says a little too loudly.

“Sorry we’re late,” Minhyun lowers his head, receiving some grumbles in return.

“Let’s go let’s go,” Jinyoung whines.

Minhyun walks ahead of Daniel and takes the spot next to Seongwoo. Which leaves Daniel in the seat next to me.

The cold radiates off Daniel like a refrigerator. “You’re chilly,” I complain. But I take his hand nonetheless, and try to warm it up in mine.

He doesn’t warm up much. Maybe it’s because things have been awkward with him and Seongwoo. And today was our last official photoshoot together. And now Seongwoo is sitting next to Minhyun and they’re speaking in hushed, intimate tones, and Daniel feels like he’s a million years away.

People who have high expectations — like Seongwoo — are bound to be some of the angriest people you’ll meet. But Seongwoo is a smart cookie. Before he lets himself express anger, he’s already turned it into disgust or condescension. His anger becomes a little more socially acceptable, plus then he’s the one who looks like he’s in control. As he sits with Minhyun, as he does everything he can do ignore Daniel, I think—here we are again. Seongwoo is making life harder for himself than he needs to. And Daniel—

Well, Daniel’s still a kid.

I squeeze Daniel’s hand. It’s limp in mine. He’s asleep. I wonder what he and Minhyun talked about.

#

Later that night, while we’re brushing our teeth in the bathroom, I ask Daniel who he thinks is going to be okay, after disbandment.

“Minhyun-hyung, of course.” Daniel spits out into the sink. “He’s got somewhere to go back to.”

“As do you, you know.” I nudge his shoulder, feigning offense. Daniel doesn’t bite.

“But it’s more than that.” Daniel sighs. “Minhyun-hyung seems like he knows everything that’s going to happen.”

“What did you guys talk about?”

“Where?”

Don’t play dumb, I want to roll my eyes. “Out on the beach.”

“Oh.” Daniel ducks and puts his mouth under the stream of water. Buying time. “He’s, uh, close to Seongwoo. I just wanted to ask him if he thought Seongwoo was—going to be okay.”

“What did he say?”

Daniel laughs, embarrassed.

“Come on. What did he say?”

“He said—we all carry secrets. Sometimes even to ourselves. And if you don’t know what those are—you might get lost.”

“You still have secrets?” I encourage.

“I guess my secret is—“ Daniel takes a breath, and turns red. “Well, hyung, you know, Seongwoo and I had, uh, some issues.“

“I’m aware,” I say quickly.

“You are?”

I don’t want to tell him how much I know. It’d just embarrass him more. “You two aren’t the most discrete.” With Seongwoo’s sidelong glances and Daniel… when Daniel gets fired up about something, he’s as transparent as a department store window on Christmas Day.

Daniel just flushes even harder. “I thought it’d be easier if I went with it. I thought that’s what he wanted. And I thought—I thought I wanted it too.”

It’s always a little more complicated than that.

“But,” he splashes water on his face, hissing at the cold, and works up a lather with his face wash. “Seongwoo can’t be mad forever, right? We just got a little lost, and it’s a little awkward now. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’m sure it’ll turn out for the best.”

He looks at me from the corner of his eye. Face bent down, dripping wet, clouds of foam on his cheek. Then he splashes water over his face again, and the suds melt off. Like a storm came and washed away all the seeds, here is Daniel, starting over.

“There’s my sunshine,” I say sadly.





Chapter Text

 

 

 

Daehwi turns and looks at him with such a wet, vulnerable expression that Dongho’s breath catches in his throat.

It’s been seven years since the end of Produce 101. A lot has happened between them in that time. And Dongho knows he hasn’t been good to Daehwi. But that doesn’t stop Daehwi from coming back.

Why. 

It’s been seven years, but Dongho hasn’t been able to answer that question. Or maybe doesn’t want to. Life might be easier if he doesn’t know the answer.

*Why* rings in his head as he bridges the chasm between them. Daehwi opens his mouth to Dongho eagerly, and all questions are drowned out in the feel of Daehwi’s body against his.

Dongho slides his hand over the small of Daehwi’s back, untucking his shirt to get at the skin underneath. Soft as down, cool as marble beneath his touch, and his fingers flow over it, conforming to the shape of him like a river smoothing stone. Dongho arched his hips forward, his shoulders back, and Daehwi caresses his way down to one of Dongho’s buttocks, cupping and squeezing. Dongho chokes back a moan and breaks the kiss to look at the other man.

Daehwi’s pupils are blown up in heat. Eyelashes dark, stark against his pale skin. High sheen on his cheekbone. Lips parted, wet from where Dongho has kissed him. The hollow of his throat flutters with his breath. The sound of his heart beats furiously against Dongho’s chest.

“Why do I let you do this to me,” Daehwi whispers.

Why.

Dongho’s hand snaps forward to spin Daehwi around and pin him against the window. Dongho presses his mouth roughly to the side of Daehwi’s neck, laughing and biting there. Daehwi hisses, arches back, breathing ragged when Dongho mouths against his ear. “If that’s what you like, then I’ll give it to you.” 

The food goes cold. It always does, when Lee Daehwi visits.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“Yeah,” Seongwoo whispered.

Daniel grinned. “Want me to stand over you, pull my shorts down, pull that bottle out of your mouth and put my cock there instead?”

Seongwoo dug his fingers into the fabric of the couch, making a small strangled sound.

Daniel couldn’t help but grin at the effect his words were having on Seongwoo.

“Bet you do. Bet you can just feel it, can’t you, my cock sliding into your mouth, all salty from the water, stretching your mouth around it, sucking on it.”

Seongwoo licked his lips unconsciously. “Daniel. Wanna.”

“Yeah?” Daniel fought to keep his composure. “Then I’d pull out and put the beer bottle in your mouth again, make you drink. Put my cock back in your mouth before you swallowed, so I could feel that cold beer on the head of my dick.” Daniel could almost feel it, the prickly bubbles on his sensitive flesh, the ice-cold liquid a shocking contrast to the soft heat of Seongwoo’s mouth.

Seongwoo nearly dropped his cup.

“Yeah. You’d do that for me. Wouldn’t you, Ongi. Suck my cock in broad daylight on a beach.”

Seongwoo put his hand on Daniel’s thigh, glancing toward the kitchen nervously. They were still deeply engrossed in social media.

“Anything.”

Daniel dared to lean closer, just for a moment, and let his mouth brush over Seongwoo’s ear. “I know you would, baby boy.”

Seongwoo stifled a groan. “Daniel.” His cheeks were flushed vivid red.

“How’re you boys doing in there?” Sungwoon’s voice resounded through the hard wood interior of the apartment complex like a Sunday preacher in church.

Minhyun snorted in his sleep and threw an arm over his head. Seongwoo’s face froze, stricken. Daniel called out, “Great. We’re just getting warmed up.”

“Holler if you need more booze.” Jisung interjected.

“Seongwoo. Turn toward me.” Seongwoo shifted so he faced Daniel, turning away from the kitchen. Daniel knew he had a much better poker face to begin with, and after all, he was the one driving his bandmate crazy with his dirty talk.

“Where were we? Oh, yeah. We were on the beach.”

“Beach?” Minhyun mumbled in his sleep. “Uh huh. S’nice.”

“Daniel…” Seongwoo hissed. But his eyes were wide, starving, painfully easy to read. Seongwoo had never wanted anything more in his life than to take Daniel’s cock into his mouth. Right then and there, if Daniel would let him. He’d accept being ostracized from everyone else, from the industry, from everyone. If Daniel would just let him.

Seongwoo wanted it that much. Wanted him.

Daniel gnawed on his lower lip. He knew he shouldn’t continue. God, he should be responsible. He should be good. There was a part of him running away. Safe, tucked in bed. Already asleep. Boozy sleep. How he wanted to run. He wanted to run away from this and be good.

No. No he didn’t.

“Can you feel it, Seongwoo?” Daniel leaned in, feigning sleepiness, from the outside it would just look like he was being cute, using Seongwoo’s shoulder as a prop. The sun beating down on you? My dick just sliding into your mouth?”

Seongwoo nodded, swallowing empty air.

“You working your mouth on me. Licking my cock, sucking on it, seeing how deep you can take it down your throat. Making me come with your mouth. You want that, don’t you, Ongi?”

Daniel needed to hear it. Needed to see it and hear it and feel it, every second. How much Seongwoo wanted it. Wanted him.

Seongwoo opened his mouth, and Daniel expected a wordless plea, or “Daniel, please,” or “Yeah.”

What he said was, “Stop fucking around.”

Daniel blinked.

Seongwoo’s jaw was tight. “Fuck you, Daniel.” Seongwoo’s body was hard, muscles tight, quivering slightly all over like a guitar string that had been plucked. “You know how I feel. What I want. It physically hurts.” Seongwoo’s voice was wrecked. “And they’re here, and we can’t, and Daniel, I just can’t shake this feeling that—” he had tears in his eyes.

“You’re just messing with me.”

And Seongwoo stood up. “G’nite, guys,” Seongwoo said brightly to everyone else.

“Come for another drink.”

“Got a headache,” Seongwoo smirked. “Niel over there has been whispering dad jokes in my ear for the last twenty minutes. I’m at capacity.”

“I thought they were pretty good,” Daniel said weakly. All he wanted to do was jump up, stop Seongwoo from leaving. But he took a deep breath.

Give it one minute, Daniel told himself. 

“G’nite,” Jisung called to Seongwoo’s back. Minhyun rolled over and snored even louder.

Just a minute.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Aaron is ecstatic.

“But what was he doing at Jisung’s?” His curiosity oozes though the phone. I’m in the bowels of the stockroom, trying to keep my voice as cool as possible.

“He was around.”

“Bull. Pretty sure he was there to see you.” Aaron’s voice is full of intrigue now, trying to tease the truth out of me. My heart lurches at the prospect, but it’s a short-lived joy. Because the truth is, the absolute, total truth is that he was here on business.

“He said he was talking to the S University dean.”

“Right. He’s been working with their AI research unit, right?”

“How do you know that?”

“Uh, Jonghyun. I’m a journalist. It’s kind of my dedicated calling to dig up dirt on people.”

I change the subject. “So do you want these photos or not?”

“Of course. The question is who’s going to do them, where, and when.”

“Well, for the where—we could ask him where he’s staying.”

“What?”

“We could call him.”

“You have his phone number? You have the phone number of Korea’s richest, most elusive, most enigmatic, most powerful man? He just gave you his phone number?”

“Yes?”

“Okay, what happened during that interview after you turned off the mic? Did you guys spill your souls to each other? Are you best friends now?”

Oh god. “I’m sure he’s just being nice. And he understands the value of good PR.” This is only half the truth. Hwang Minhyun isn’t nice. But maybe Aaron is right. My scalp prickles at the fact that maybe there’s something more than just business here. I hug myself with barely contained glee, entertaining the possibility. Yes, I’m a man and he’s a man but there’s something really, really nice about the idea of...

Aaronbrings me back to the here and now. “Who are we going to get to do the shoot? Woojin is at home with his family—he would have jumped all over this.”

“What about Chiyeol?”

“Great idea! You ask him. He’ll do anything for you. Then call Hwang and find out where he wants us.” I grimace. Aaron is irritatingly cavalier about Chiyeol.

“Can you call him?”

“Who, Chiyeol?”

“No, Hwang.”

Aaron scoffs. “Jonghyun. You’re the one with the relationship.”

“Relationship?” I squeak. “I barely know the guy.”

“You’ve met him,” Aaron says. “And it won’t be weird since you were the one who got the business card from him. You can just have a conversation with him at this point. If I call him, I’ll have to go through the motions of pretending as if I don’t know everything about him already. We might even get to talking about you and what he was really doing at Jisung’s shop.”

“Okay, okay.” I mutter. “I’ll call him.” I hang up and stuck my tongue out at my phone. I’m just texting Chiyeol when Hyunbin enters the stockroom looking for sandpaper.

“It’s pretty busy out there, Jonghyun,” he says without acrimony.

“Sorry,” I murmur, turning to leave.

“So how do you know Hwang Minhyun, anyway?” Hyunbin‘ s voice is unconvincingly nonchalant.

“I had to interview him for the S University magazine. Aaron wasn’t feeling well,” I shrug, trying to sound casual. Doing no better than him.

“Hwang Minhyun in Jisung’s Computer Parts. Go figure.” Hyunbin snorts, amazed. He shakes his head. “Anyway, want to go out for drinks tonight?”

Whenever he’s back he always wants to hang out. I always say no. It’s kind of a ritual at this point. I used to think it was because I was enforcing some sort of TA-student protocol but even when Hyunbin graduated (barely), I could sense that he wanted something more from the relationship that I wasn’t really in a position to give. I didn’t have a sensual bone in my body and Hyunbin’s main contribution to the world were his heavy-lidded gaze, always-wet and slightly-parted lips, and legs that stretched on for miles.

Well, that was then. But even in the light of the fire of desire that has apparently been kindled within me, I feel nothing like that for Hyunbin, as attractive as he objectively is.

“Aren’t you back to celebrate Jisung’s birthday?” I parry.

“That’s tomorrow.”

“Maybe some other time, Hyunbin. I need to study tonight—final projects are due next week.”

“One of these days, you’ll come out with us. It’ll be a good time, I promise.” He smiles as I escape to the store floor.


#


“But I shoot places, Jonghyun. Not portraits.” Chiyeol groans.

“Please, hyung?” I beg. I pace the living room of the apartment, gripping my mobile too tight in my sweaty palms.

“Give me that phone,” Aaron orders. “Listen here, Chiyeol. If you want our newspaper to cover the opening of your show, then you’ll do this show for us tomorrow. Got it?” Aaron can be awesomely tough when he needs to be. “Good. Jonghyun will text you the location and the call time.“ And he hangs up.

“Sorted. Now all we need to decide is where and when. Call him.” Aaron holds the phone to me. My stomach twists. “Call Hwang Minhyun now!”

I scowl at him and reach into my back pocket for his business card. Taking a deep, steadying breath, I dial the number with shaking fingers. He answers on the second ring.

“Hwang.”

“Mr. Hwang? It’s Kim Jonghyun.” I don’t even recognize the sound of my own voice.

“Mr. Kim. How nice to hear from you.” His voice changes. Warm. Lilting. Seductive, even. *Seductive?*My breath hitches and I flush. Across from me, Aaron’s mouth hangs open. I turn away and dart into the hallway to avoid his scrutiny.

“We’ve got everything ready to go for the photo shoot tomorrow. So if you’re still free, um, we’d love to have you there.”

“I’m staying at the Four Seasons. Shall we say nine thirty, tomorrow morning?”

“Sure. We’ll see you there.” I’m like a child. Not a grown man who can vote and drink and drive a car. Not all at the same time, of course.

“Looking forward to it, Mr. Kim.” I can see the wicked gleam in his eyes. How can he make six words sound so full of potential? I hang up. Aaron is in the kitchen, and he’s staring at me with a look of complete amazement on his face.

“Kim Jonghyun. Do you have something you want to tell me?”

“I don’t know,” I mutter.

“Do you—do you like him?”

“I dunno,” I mutter some more, collapsing against the counter and burying my overheated face in my arms.

“Oh my god. I’ve never seen you like this. Affected by anyone. I can see your ears. They’re really red.”

“I blush all the time,” I say. “I just find him intimidating. He’s a scary guy.”

“Okay,” Aaron says in a considering way. “Well, I’m going to call up the Four Seasons and see if they can broker us a space for the shoot.”

“I’ll make dinner. Then I need to study.” I cannot hide my irrational annoyance with him as I open the fridge.


#


I toss and turn all night.



 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Daehwi scratches his nails down Dongho’s back. Dongho’s hand is magically in Daehwi’s hair again, raking through rich handfuls of it. He is gentle to Daehwi, thumbing his jawline and his collarbone, mouthing his temple and his cheek and his throat until Daehwi is still all over, trembling but motionless, waiting for him.

“Don’t stop,” Daehwi gasps. “You’ll kill me if you stop.”


#


The phone rings.


#


What Daehwi had wanted in that precious admission was to preserve the turbulent gasp in both their voices, the tumble of their bodies against one another, the feeling of acceleration to the ends of the earth, to have Dongho like this in his dreams every night of his life, to not have anything else in the world but this. To stake his entire life on dreams and be done with the rest.

”God,” Dongho moans. “Open up for me, Daehwi, there’s my good boy. You’re so good, you’re always so fucking good, you know that, don’t you?”


#

“You can’t leave,” Daehwi says.


#


Regardless of how much Daehwi wished to have nothing to do with the rest of the world—which only visited him in choice moments like these—regardless of who he’d befriended or cozied up to, it was in moments like that where he felt truly free to reveal the whole of his humanity. It was only while lying naked under the man who had, in a way, made him when he was vulnerable and malleable, who had tormented him with his presence and his absence for all these years, that he could demonstrate who he truly was.

The rest was incidental.

“You’re going to be the death of me,” Dongho moans.

“More,” Daehwi says.

#

“I can explain,” Daehwi cries into the phone.


#


“Whatever you say, kid,” Dongho says.

He has to kiss Daehwi, burying a rush of emotion against the curve of Daehwi’s throat. After that, he more or less snuggles Daehwi into use as a full body pillow, spooning against him, nuzzling at the curve of his ear, one leg curled over Daehwi’s. Daehwi is half-turned toward him, pointedly trying to squirm away from the wet spot. Dongho tugs him over and wraps his arms around him, and Daehwi’s face crinkles into a smile.

There’s nowhere but here. 

There’s nowhere but now. 

Remember that. 

#


“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Taehyun says into the phone. Daehwi is on the other end of the line, sobbing.

Taehyun holds his knees close to his chest. He’d known this would come sooner or later. He’d been ignoring the signs. Deliberately.

It’d been nice while it lasted.

There are tears down Taehyun’s face but his voice is still bright. Made even brighter by the contrast of how much his chest hurts, how it seems to have imploded upon itself. There is a black hole where his heart once was. Sucked into a dimension unknown, into another reality. And he thought disbandment was the worst.

Well, he chuckles to himself. This is disbandment, too.

Taehyun gathers his breath and forces out one last smile.

“You’ll be fine without me, kid.”







Chapter Text

 

 

 

A lazy wind caresses the side of the building, ruffling the gelled mop of Minhyun’s hair. Jonghyun is staring at the soft edges of it against the hazy glow of Los Angeles at golden hour when Minhyun turns to him and says, smiling in that way that he always has when he’s just a little surprised, “Budapest looks different than the photos, doesn’t it?”

It’s the voice that draws him in: Minhyun’s familiar silky honey lilt. It wouldn’t matter if he was saying the alphabet—what Jonghyun heard was the rustle of blankets on a lazy Sunday, sun peeling through the window and him ducking under your pillow to snatch just five more minutes in that delicious haze. Minhyun, who could make him dream without sleep. Minhyun, here now, after so long apart, maybe a dream himself.

And that’s when Jonghyun’s remarkable self-control finally slips. Maybe it’s because he’s not used to a warm January or maybe it’s because California has unlocked something in him, but he backs Minhyun against a turret and looks at him deep in the eyes until their lips find each other. They kiss all while a small part of him thinks it’s you, it’s really you.

The rest of that week, they sleep in the same bed, kissing under the covers well into the night. They rarely leave the hotel except for shoots and show appearances and Jonghyun, flush with oxytocin and success, memorizes Minhyun that way, controlled and focused and wrapping up his lust tight each time he puts on one of his spotless suits.

Days later, they’re leaving the hotel for the airport, and as they check the hotel room one last time to make sure they haven’t left anything behind, Minhyun looks Jonghyun over with an soft, dark gaze before giving him a final nod.

It’s with reluctance that Jonghyun hands their key cards back to reception, with some resentment, quickly hidden behind a diplomatic smile, that they board the van with the other members, that they slip into the same banter, that they slip on their face masks, wading through the screams of the fans gathered at the airport.

It’s been a long time since he’s thought of Minhyun as having a sexuality—not like Aaron, with a gentle normality that makes Jonghyun’s heart ache with envy—not the way people like Dongho do, all alpha male posturing and brandishing tokens of their conquests; not like Minki or people like Minki, with their openness and infinite availability. Minhyun has always seemed, if anything, cooly asexual under his performance persona.

But he remembers the way Minhyun looked this time: cool, obsidian gaze turned to hot coals, pale skin flushed red, lips parted, voice breathy not with lyrics but with Jonghyun’s name. He wonders how he can forget it now that he knows it. Or if forgetting is even possible.

Settling into his seat, Jonghyun declines the glass of champagne the stewardess offers him and loads up the first playlist he can find on his phone, staring out the window until the sun sets over the Caspian Sea.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The Four Seasons is in the heart of Gangnam, its impressive glass and steel facade completed just before the 1980 Olympics. Chiyeol, Aaron, and I are traveling in my car. Aaron has booked a room in exchange for a credit in the article. When the receptionist hears we are here to photograph Hwang Minhyun, CEO, we are instantly upgraded to a suite and even offered an additional night on the house. The second largest suite, as the first is already occupied by one singular CEO.

“But we don’t need to stay the night—“ I protest, and am instantly shushed by Aaron.

“We’ll take it,” he says sweetly.

An over-keen marketing executive shows us to the suite. The rooms are elegant, understated, and opulently furnished.

It’s nine. We have half an hour to set up.

“Chiyeol, we’ll do a few locations, okay? First by the wall—the structure is really interesting, but not too busy. Then let’s do a few by the window and make full use of the natural light. Jonghyun, could you call room service and order some refreshments? And let Hwang know where we are.”

Sir yes sir. I get flashbacks to my time during military service. I roll my eyes but do as I’m told.

Half an hour later, Hwang Minhyun walks into our suite.

Damn. He’s wearing a pale blue shirt the color of the sky, open at the collar, and impeccably tailored navy pinstriped trousers. His hair is slightly damp from a shower. He’s followed by a beefy man with a domineering gaze that lathes everything suspect. Beefy is wearing full black ensemble and stands by the door holding a coat which is probably Hwang Minhyun’s.

“Mr. Kim, we meet again.” Hwang extends his hand, and I shake it. As we shake hands, I’m aware of that electric current running right through me. Lighting me up. High blush on my cheeks. I’m sure I must be breathing weird. Get it together, Kim Jonghyun.

“Mr. Hwang, this is Aaron Kwak.” I wave Aaron over and Aaron looks him squarely in the eye.

“I trust you’re feeling better?” He gives Aaron a small smile. “Jonghyun said you were unwell last week.”

“I’m fine.” He shakes Hwang’s hand without batting an eyelid. So this is what professionalism looks like. Aaron had gone to school at a prestigious university in New York coming back to Korea for his postgraduate studies. He acts like he’s sure of his place in the world. I am a little in awe of him right now.

“Thank you for joining us, Mr. Hwang.”

“My pleasure,” he says, and turns his gaze on me. If I get any hotter I’m going to need to take off my sweater.

“This is Hwang Chiyeol, our photographer,” I say, grinning at Chiyeol, who smiles with affection back at me. His eyes cool when he looks from me to Hwang Minhyun. They shake hands.

“Where would you like me?” Minhyun asks Chiyeol. His tone sounds vaguely threatening. But Aaron is not about to let Chiyeol run the show.

“Mr. Hwang—Hwang Minhyun, not you, Chiyeol—could you please sit here? Careful of the lighting cables. We’ll do a few standing by the windows, too.”

Chiyeol switches the lights on and begins snapping away. He takes several photographs, asking Hwang Minhyun to turn this way, that, move his arm, put it down again. Hwang sits and poses, patiently and naturally, for about twenty minutes. I’m safe on the sidelines, admiring Hwang Minhyun, CEO, from afar. Twice my eyes lock with his, and twice I have to tear myself away from his oilslick of a gaze.

“Enough sitting,” Aaron wades in again. “Time to stand.”

Hwang moves to the window and Chiyeol plays catch up, shutter clicking.

“I think we have it,” Chiyeol says five minutes later.

“Great.” Aaron proffers a hand to Hwang and thanks him. Chiyeol thanks him too for his time.

“I look forward to reading the article, Mr. Kwak,” murmurs Hwang. He then turns to me. “Will you walk with me, Mr. Kim?”

“Okay,” I say, totally thrown. I glance anxiously at Aaron, who shrugs at me. I notice that Chiyeol is tense, almost scowling.

“Good day to you all,” Hwang says, as he opens the door, standing aside to allow me out first.

What does he want? I pause in the hotel corridor, fidgeting as Hwang emerges from the room, followed by Mr. Surly in his all-black suit and tie combo.

“I’ll call you, Dongho,” he murmurs to Mr. Surly. Dongho wanders back down the corridor, and Hwang turns his burning gaze on me. 

“I wondered if you might join me for breakfast this morning.”

My heart slams into my mouth. It’s a follow-up interview, right? Or a date. Hah. A friggin’ date. I would have assumed that a person of Hwang Minhyun’s stature, even if he did lean that way, would have an army of secret, beautiful models at his beck and call. He wouldn’t be asking some graduate student out for a coffee.

And yet here we are.

“But I have to drive everyone home,” I say.

“Then Dongho can take care of them. He’s my driver. We have a van parked up in front, so he’ll be able to take the equipment, too. Dongho,” he calls. Dongho turns and heads back to us.

“Mr. Hwang?” Dongho asks when he reaches us, giving nothing away.

“Please, can you drive the photographer and Mr. Kwak back home?”

“Certainly, sir,” Dongho replies.

“There. Now, join me for breakfast?” Hwang smiles. As if it were a done deal.

Despite myself, I think it is.

“Mr. Hwang, uh, thank you for volunteering Dongho’s time.” I steal a look at Dongho, who remains stoic. “Give me just a moment, please.”

And Hwang Minhyun smiles a dazzling, unguarded, natural, moon-eyed, glorious smile. He opens the door of the suite so I can go in. I find Aaron in deep discussion with Chiyeol.

“Jonghyun, I think he likes you,” Aaron says with no preamble whatsoever.

Chiyeol glares at me with disapproval.

“But I don’t trust him,” Aaron adds. I raise my hand and she stops talking.

“The driver will be taking you guys back to the university. Hwang Minhyun just invited me for breakfast.”

Aaron’s mouth hangs open. Speechless Aaron! I savor the moment. He grabs me by the arm and drags me into the bedroom that’s next to the living area of the suite.

“Jonghyun. Uh, how do I put this. He seems like a great guy, but—do you even... do you even swing that way?”

“What way?” I say, intentionally playing dumb. Aaron rubs his face in something like exasperation.

“The way that guys like other guys. Jonghyun. We live in the twenty-first century. Surely you know—“

“Why does it have to be like that?” I’m on the defensive now, aware I sound petulant. “Maybe it’s just interview number two.”

“Well, what it’s an interview for?”

“Further research.” My gaze drifts somewhere over Aaron’s left ear.

“Jonghyun!”

“Relax,” I say, “I’m sure it’s just business.”

“He’s dangerous,” Aaron whispers, voice full of warning. “Especially for someone like you.”

“Someone like me?” I demand.

“You’re an innocent, in case you haven’t noticed. And he’s, uh, well, he’s a man of near total mystery. Who knows what he’s all about? Nobody even knows this about him.” Aaron grits his teeth in a sudden excited frenzy. “Oh my god, nobody knows that the CEO of the biggest corporation in Korea is—”

“It’s just breakfast,” I interrupt him hurriedly. “I’m starting my projects this week. I need to work on them. I won’t be long.”

Aaron purses his lips as if he’s considering the idea of me, Hwang Minhyun, and breakfast at the Four Seasons.

“Don’t be long,” Aaron says. “Or else I’m going to sic the police force on him.”

I emerge from the suite to find Hwang Minhyun waiting. He’s leaned up against the wall, looking every inch a male model. He could give Hyunbin a run for his money,.

“Shall we go eat?”

He grins.



 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Yoohoo, JRie! Over here!”

Jonghyun blinks. Club lights. Thumping bass. How the hell did he get here? Why is here here?

Right.

In a flash, he remembers that he is here to accompany his client, Lee Daehwi, for a night on the town. That Choi Minki has all the right in the world to greet them however he (she?) wants. That Lee Daehwi is a consenting adult who is adamant about taking his favorite accountant out on the town. Minki bounds over to the entrance and drags them over to the VIP lounge area where Daehwi is already sitting with a group of tipsy-looking college students all sporting BB-cream pearlescent skin and tinted lips.

Minki throws him an air kiss which he tries to reciprocate—and then Lee Daehwi tackles Jonghyun with a hug. “Oh my god, hyung,” he cries out. “I can’t believe you’re actually here!” Jonghyun smiles politely and bows deeply, only for his arm to be slapped in response. “Cut that out!” Lee Daehwi squeals in laughter, turning back to the table to pour his comrades triple shots of Jaegermeister.

“What are we doing here?” Jonghyun hisses at Minki as his—his client, ahem—knocks back a glass. Jonghyun is tipsy too, from hitting the bars with Minki earlier—but not tipsy enough to have completely lost his bearings. Or his sense. Lee Daehwi is the son of housewife Choi Sumin and internet entrepreneur Lee Hongseok. Lee Hongseok, who passed away when Daehwi was young—leaving a young Lee Daehwi with one of the most sizable inheritances on the market made almost entirely of Bitcoin. That Jonghyun’s firm manages the tax implications for.

Jonghyun’s head spins at the potential conflicts of interest at hand here.

“We’re here to have fun,” Minki sasses him over the din, reaching over to loosen Jonghyun’s necktie. “And you’re here to learn how to relax.”

“Here?” Jonghyun looks around. Disco lights flash in his eyes. The dance floor pulses with bodies. The music is so loud in his ears he can barely hear Minki. “Relax? Here?”

‘Here’ is otherwise known as Seoul’s most popular maybe-it’s-a-gay-club-maybe-it’s-not bar, Velvet Underground—a decadent sprawl of of a basement establishment located in the basement of an otherwise unremarkable Tier II shopping mall in the middle of Gangnam. As Minki tells him, it’s the kind of place where you’ll see celebrities and a few minor politicians every once in a while and say, “well! I guess that was more or less expected!”

What happens at the Velvet Underground stays in the Velvet Underground. Or at least, that’s what Minki tells him, with an earnest expression that verges just enough on the border of sober to ring true.

Daehwi jumps up on the booth to dance to next song and the half-Korean jumps up as well, facing off against Daehwi with a glint in his eye. Jonghyun grins despite himself—they were competitive last weekend, too. Another one of the kids at the table—a sullen, gangly number whose name Jonghyun doesn’t remember—raises a shot glass in his direction with a sweet smile, while two other gangly kids start chanting shots, shots, shots in his and Minki’s general direction.

As Minki whoops along with the kids, Jonghyun thinks, ah, what the hell. Maybe what happens at the Velvet Underground really does stay in the Velvet Underground. And he takes the shot.

The next few hours pass in a blur. He learns the names of all the boys that are a part of Lee Daehwi’s posse. There’s Kim Samuel, the half-Korean boy who is studying marketing at a university in California. Daehwi’s best friend in the group is Bae Jinyoung, a mathematics major and something of a womanizer who trades on his mysterious appeal. Yoo Seonho, an up-and-coming model and a bit of an airhead, clings on all night to Lai Guanlin, the son of the owner of a Taiwanese bookstore chain (and whose family’s tax accountancy is Jonghyun’s rival firm).

A part of him is honored that Lee Daehwi would invite him into and trust him with his inner circle of friends, if only for the evening. Part of him is terrified that he is crossing a professional boundary that can never be properly reclaimed. But as Lee Daehwi plies his hyungs with shots, Jonghyun finally feels himself begin to loosen up. He even joins in on a song or two. He even finds himself drifting up to the stage to get a better look at one of the gogo dancers shaking his stuff in a pair of tight leather shorts.

Jonghyun is so properly fascinated by the lights and the movement of the dancer and the delirious haze of the alcohol that he doesn’t realize that he’s seen the dancer before. The same man that delivered him Chinese food late one night at the office. The same man that was unloading vegetables behind the cooking school. It’s the same man that used to work in the bakery as a cashier.

Embarrassment rises fiercely in him only to dissipate to nothing when it breaks upon the shore of his drunkenness. “Hey!” Jonghyun calls, waving his hands. “Hey!

The dancer doesn’t look down at him, though, immersed in his dance. Other men around him start yelling hey, and the crowd around the dancer builds up a chant. Hey! Hey! Hey!

Jonghyun wobbles back to the VIP booth, properly dazed.

“You okay?” Minki catches him before he stumbles. Jonghyun flops down in the leather booth, closing his eyes and trying to catch his breath. Bae Jinyoung reaches over to unbutton the top button of his shirt and blows cool air across his chest, to Lee Daehwi’s squeaks of delight. It’s too nice a feeling for Jonghyun to tell him to stop.

Minki sidles next to Jonghyun and holds him tenderly. “Uh, that guy,” Jonghyun mumbles into Minki’s ear.

“What guy??” Minki screams back in Jonghyun’s ear over the din of the club.

“The dancer,” Jonghyun mumbles. “It’s—Dongho. Kang Dongho, right? I didn’t know he, uh, worked here, too.”

“Oh, Dongho?” Minki whips his head around so quickly Jonghyun is afraid he’s going to break something. There’s a cheerful glint in his eye. “You know he still wants to kill you, right?”

Jonghyun feels his stomach turn.

“Oh. Maybe he knows what happened to Minhyun,” Minki yells eagerly, eyes glittering. “Want to find out?” Jonghyun shakes his head.

“What’s going on?” Lee Daehwi, ever curious, sticks his head between them, and Minki fills him in on the details animatedly. The story about how he and Jonghyun actually met, about the bakery that was open into the late night, about a handsome baker named Hwang Minhyun who loved Jonghyun (“no, no, he didn’t, it wasn’t like that” Jonghyun protests weakly) but then disappeared into thin air. And the surly hyung who worked part-time as a cashier who was now up on stage dancing his ass off at Velvet Underground, Seoul’s best kept secret. The missing link.

“Oh my god, Jonghyun, you know him too?” Daehwi says, eyes wide. “Let’s call him over.”

What Lee Daehwi wants, Lee Daehwi gets. Within minutes, the dancer is over by their table, straight-backed and stoic. It’s a marked departure from the limber and energetic dancer who was grinding up on stage. He’s also sporting a translucent, mesh t-shirt now, and Lee Daehwi looks absolutely disappointed at the lack of flesh.

“Did someone order a dance?” The man raises an eyebrow.

“You’re a great dancer,” Daehwi says. “Hi, by the way. Remember me?”

But before Dongho can reply, Jonghyun sits up. Their eyes meet and the man narrows his gaze.

“You,” Dongho says, and rolls his eyes. He starts to walk away, and Daehwi and Jonghyun both cry, wait!

The man turns a look of absolute disdain on Jonghyun. But now that Jonghyun actually has his attention, words leave him. He notices the man’s nametag. “So, you’re Bandit now,” he says weakly.

“My name is Dongho,” the name not-named-Bandit spits out.

“Dongho,” Minki interjects, wiggling his eyebrows. “What happened to Minhyun?”

Dongho’s lip curls. “I’m sorry,” Dongho says, a mean smile simmering on his face as he looks at Jonghyun. “But am I supposed to know who you are?”

“Dongho,” Daehwi starts, but Minki holds him back.

“I just want to know,” Jonghyun raises his voice over the others, over the music, mustering his last ounce of sense and courage, “is Hwang Minhyun all right? Is he okay?”

And with that, Dongho seems to take pity on him. “Yeah. He’ll be fine.”

“Can you tell him I’m sorry?” Jonghyun’s head is spinning. He feels like he’s going to pass out.

“You can tell him yourself,” Dongho says. 

Minhyun is alive. He didn’t die in a freak accident. Maybe the bakery wasn't even put out of business because Jonghyun accidentally stole a pastry that one time. Minhyun, with his kind eyes, his pale, elegant hands, is still somewhere in this world. It’s too much for Jonghyun to handle.  

So he passes out.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

We cross the expansive, bustling lobby of the hotel toward the entrance. I thought we were dining at the hotel buffet, but he clearly has other ideas. My heart in my throat, I follow him through the revolving doors and outside. Outside, it’s a mild May Sunday.

We walk four blocks downtown and down an alley all without a spoken word. There’s a moment when I’m about the cross the street and he pulls me by the forearm back right before a truck whizzes by.

“Are you always this careless, Kim Jonghyun?” There’s a dark warning in his voice.

“I’m distracted, I think.”

We arrive at a restaurant titled Pancake House—a surprisingly humble-looking American breakfast restaurant. The host doesn’t bat an eyelash as Hwang Minhyun barrels past her and claims a table in the back. Maybe this is where he comes to do big deals and he’s a regular. The idea of coming to a place which sees Hwang Minhyun as a regular ignites a warm buzz in my chest.

“Sit,” he says. I do. “What do you want?”

“Black coffee, please.”

“Sugar?”

For a moment I’m stunned, thinking he’s calling me sugar, but then I realize he’s asking me a question. “Yes, please.” I stare down at my knotted fingers.

“What do you want to eat?”

“Um,” I scramble for the menu that’s propped up against the wall. “Buttermilk pancakes, please.”

He goes up to the counter to order. There’s one other person in front of him, another businessman in a suit. It comes to me with some discomfort that I realize I could watch him all day. There’s something about the way he moves—imminently graceful, fluid, with a crispness that borders on arrogant—that makes me think he might have been a dancer in another life.

“What‘s on your mind?” Hwang is back with a cup of coffee and a number. My ears flush but somehow my voice remains stable this time.

“I like my coffee black and sweet,” I say. “Tastes like strong tea.”

“I see. So, tell me about the photographer.”

“Well, um, he’s an assistant professor in the material sciences department at S University.”

Hwang shakes his head. “Tell me about your relationship with him.”

“There’s no relationship—not like that. Chiyeul is like an older brother to me. Why do you think we have... a relationship?”

“The way you smiled at him. The way he smiled at you.”

“It’s not like that,” I insist, wondering where he’s going with this. “It’s more like family.”

Hwang nods, seemingly satisfied with my response. At that moment the server brings us our servings of pancakes and a bottle of sparkling water.

“You’re not having coffee?” I notice he doesn’t have a drink.

“I don’t drink coffee,” he says.

“Wow,” I mutter under my breath. “Superhuman.”

He smiles at me, and then continues the interrogation. “Who was that I met yesterday? At the store?”

I blink and think back to our interaction at the store. Oh. He must be talking about Hyunbin.

“Hyunbin—he was a student at S University. One of the students I tutored, actually.”

“And you two were involved?”

Where the hell is getting this from? A part of me is indignant at being interrogated so freely, but another part of me thrills at how direct Hwang is.

“We’re not—we’re not like that.” 

“Then what are you like?” Hwang uncaps his sparkling water and dribbles it into the glass. It fizzles and pops as it fills up.

“I find you intimidating,” I flush scarlet, but mentally pat myself on the back for one—being honest, and two—for avoiding his direct question. It’s not one I’m ready to answer yet. I hear his sharp intake of breath.

“You should.” He nods. “I appreciate your honesty but you’ve avoided my question. Never mind that, please don’t look down. I want to see your face.”

I peer up. The way he talks is so direct. The way he—he orders me—is so direct. The surprising thing is how much I don’t mind it.

Aaron’s words echo in my head: Danger! Danger! 

“Your face gives me a clue as to what might be on your mind,” he breathes. “I find you very interesting.”

“I’m not interesting,” I frown.

“You’re a very internal person, Kim Jonghyun. I find that interesting.”

“Do you always make such personal observations of people you‘ve just met?”

“I suppose I do,” he murmurs, as if surprised. “But this isn’t our first time meeting. We’ve already met three times, now.”

“All right, I won’t fight you on a technicality,” I laugh. He sits up straight.

“I’m used to getting my own way, Jonghyun.” His voice is a smooth, honeyed murmur.

“Of course you do.” Despite myself my eyes flutter closed. “Why haven’t you asked me to call you by your first name?” I can’t believe I’m asking him. I’m surprised by my own audacity. It seems as though there is no end to what I will be surprised by today.

“There are only a few people who call me by my name. That’s the way I like it.”

So there’s no way I’ll get to call him anything other than Mr. Hwang. A shut-down if I ever heard one. I bite my lip. Maybe it would have been better if Aaron had interviewed him. The two of them interrogating each other in witty parlance. Totally professional. None of this weird, mucky, grey area stuff.

“Are you an only child?”

“No. I have two older sisters.”

“Tell me about them.”

“My eldest sister is a housewife. She’s married to an civil engineer. They live up north, close to my parents. My other sister is an artist. She’s currently into mixed media, mostly digital, but also dabbles in fine arts.” Am I rambling? I might be rambling. “She actually suggested—there is a celadon collection being showcased at D Gallery soon. She said that you might be interested.”

“You talked to her about me?” He smiles. Gently. Almost pleased. Hwang is watching me intently. Taking occasional bites of his pancakes. I really shouldn’t look at his mouth.

“Can you tell me about your parents?” I avoid the question. Again.

“My father is chairman of the board of Hwang Enterprises,” he says. “My mother was in the theater.”

“Was she an actress?”

“Actually, she designed costumes.”

Hence the flair for the arts. Hwang Minhyun might have even had to be a fit model in his upbringing. No wonder he walks with a model’s strut. I wonder about a successful couple that adopts a child and grooms him into the heir of the family business. His parents must be proud.

“Do you have siblings?”

“Yes,” he says. “I have a brother. He’s in Paris right now, studying under a chef of some reknown.“ His face shutters close, like he doesn’t want to talk about his family.

“I hear Paris is lovely.”

“It’s breathtaking. Have you been?”

“I’ve never left Korea.”

“Is there any place you’d like to go?”

Why does it sound like a proposition? My mind is playing tricks on me. “I’ve heard great things about Paris,” I say diplomatically, “but I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. Or Los Angeles.”

“How come?” He cocks his head to the side. A perfect forty five degree angle. I mask a chuckle—something about it seems so rehearsed.

“It’s the home to so much of what makes our world today,” I say. “Disneyland, Hollywood, Gundam, Dreamworks, Pixar, Evangelion, Marvel—all great superheroes are born in one of those two places.” I blush, suddenly aware of how much like an otaku I sound. “Ah, but you probably don’t watch any of that stuff, do you.”

Hwang Minhyun’s eyes sparkle. “Don’t assume too much about my tastes, Kim Jonghyun. I don’t just go to the opera. And I like the Marvel universe for more than its veritable treatment of engineering, though I have to say that once I saw Jarvis in action, I was compelled to shut down some of our operations and divert the fund to fuel AI R&D. Among other ideas.”

I’m pretty sure that he’s not supposed to share information about layoffs and product strategy with me while he’s teasing me. We’re not on the record. And he’s not interested.

“So what are your big ideas?” My big mouth nonetheless decides to say. I get a sparkling gaze in return.

“What do you mean, Jonghyun?”

I brush past the little flutter at the informal tone he takes. “What would you be building if you had no limits? What could a man who has it all want to make?”

“That’s a great question.” Hwang Minhyun’s eyes flutter shut and he leans forward, resting his chin on a hand. “Maybe a time machine. Or something that takes me to other worlds.”

“What kinds of worlds?”

“Places where I could be someone else, maybe.” Hwang Minhyun smiles a little. “Even if just for a little while. A poet, a prince, a pilot, a police officer, a patissier, a potter, or a pop idol.”

His eyes are still closed. A lock of hair swings loose past his pomade and drops in front of one eye. I want to push it aside. “You’re already kind of a prince, though, aren’t you?”

He opens his eyes, but doesn’t move his chin from his hand. His smile is almost a little cheeky. “And a poet, but let’s just keep that a secret between us.”

“You have my word. Off the record.”

Uncharacteristically, he looks away instead of diving in for intense eye contact. Suddenly, I want to know what burdens him—and help in whatever way I can. And when he looks back at me, I know I have to ask.

“What’s on your mind?”

“You might be wondering why I’ve been so familiar with you,” he says. “I’m not usually like this with people. I apologize if it’s caused you confusion or upset you.”

“I’m not going to say that I haven’t been confused,” I manage. “But I have been wondering why you’ve—” taken an interest in me. I clear my throat and start again. “I’m sure there are much more interesting people you could spend your time with. I’m pretty boring.”

“Not at all,” he says. “You remind me of someone I met a long time ago. And I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical, but that makes you special.”

I’m blushing. Why am I blushing?

Did he just call me special?

“I should let you go,” he says, almost distantly. Maybe like he’s trying to give me an out. “You probably have exams and things to finish up, right?”

“A project, yes.” My head spins.

”I’ll have Dongho take you.”

“That’s okay,” I laugh. It sounds a little bit awkward. “I’ll just take the bus.”

“Unnecessary,” he says. “Plus, I’m heading in the same direction.”

That is absolutely a lie, judging by the look on his face and the way his eyes are sparkling once again. “Well, I wouldn’t want to distract you from your work,” I stand up. “Oh, but the bill—”

I ball for a moment and fish frantically for my wallet. But Minhyun has already summoned the waitress and pressed a very heavy-looking piece of plastic into her hands.

“I could have gotten it,” I say.

“I was the one who invited you. Come, let’s go.”

I’m not sure what to feel. On one hand it feels nice to be taken care of. There’s something familiar about it. My older sisters used to dote on me all the time. And Minhyun is—Minhyun said I reminded him of someone. Someone special. No wait, he said I was special. And he’s been flirting with me? Or at least interested, somehow. Maybe because I’m me, but maybe because I remind him of someone else. And he’s a dreamer after all. Not some hard-edged businessman who operates like a robot. Just like anyone else, he wants to be somewhere else. Maybe even wants to be someone else.

It’s a lot to take in.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” I ask out of nowhere, to cut off my own treacherous thoughts. But... did I really just say that out loud?

“That’s a good question,” Hwang Minhyun says mysteriously, and it makes me want to punch him. “But no,” he follows up. “I haven’t done that sort of thing.”

That sort of thing being what? Being girlfriends or being relationships, or being halfway capable of a normal response? I’m half hoping he’ll give me a real answer to follow up his cryptic mister mysterious routine but the other half of me is saying it’s time to go, it’s time to get away from his guy, it’s time to go back to normal—

“Shit, Minhyun—!” I yank him out of the way of a speeding car before he can step into the street.

And he ends up spinning right into my arms.

Uh.

“Jonghyun,” he whispers, pupils blown wide. Staring deep into my eyes. Like I’m the only thing he sees. Like I’m the only one that matters.

It makes me want to kiss him. I feel like I should kiss him.

Uh.

“You—” I let go. “You’d better be more careful.”

“Thank you, Jonghyun.” He dusts his jacket off. “I’m glad I met you.”

That’s a seriously weird response. I mean, if we hadn’t met, he wouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place. And weirder yet is his hand on my shoulder. Squeezing.

“I’m glad I met you, too.”

Did I just say that? And why is he smiling at me like that? Almost—tenderly?

Seriously, what the hell is with him? Is he really so into himself and so privileged that he doesn’t even know how to cross a street without looking both ways?

“Let’s go,” I say. My voice is shakier than it should be. “I don’t want to make you late for anything. You probably need to be somewhere, right?”

“Right here is fine,” he laughs gently, but releases my shoulder.

And I feel—cold.

I’m done for.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“I’m Kim Jonghyun,” he said, looking into your eyes. “It’s nice to meet you.”

It was your second time in Seoul. The first time you came, you came with your twin and it was only a three-day trip. She was in between jobs — or unemployed, you can’t remember which — and your first child had just died. An old flame of hers from grad school had reached out to her out of the blue and you’d wanted desperately to get away from your husband. You both decided to make good on a promise — or was it just a daydream? — to live on a farm in Japan together and grow tomatoes. Wearing big hats and gloves that came up to your elbows. There were cheap tickets from San Francisco to Seoul and then from Seoul to Sapporo and then a train into the country and so you went to fulfill both of your long-awaited pastoral dreams.

You and your twin had a few falling outs after that trip to Japan, which wasn’t as peaceful as you’d both thought it would be, but after wounds had been healed by time you’d started a blog together. Another idea that had sat in the bunker for a long time that you brushed off.

Started just for the two of you, it was commentary on the current state of Korean media. A sort of global affairs blog crossed with entertainment. At that point, you and your husband were separated and you’d started seeing a data scientist on the side while you figured out your marriage and if you wanted to try for another child. Your paramour was a policy wonk, Harvard statistics PhD, and a hypebeast: his sneaker collection that stretched from carpet to ceiling in the shabby, rent-controlled sublet called home. It wasn’t hard for him to see the fun in scraping mass quantities of (publicly available, rest assured) celebrity popularity data, cut it against stock performance, and filter all that against Google search results. You launched the Korean Idol & Talent Trends Index (or KITTI, for short) six months into your relationship and it made you both local celebrities in your own realms.

After your first press roadshow you both felt the steam running thin on your partnership and decided to end things romantically before things got too complicated. Soon after that he found a fellow sneakerhead for a girlfriend and you moved back in with your husband.

You kept up the blog—your twin running the design and you running the content and your ex running the statistical analyses for the KITTI. The relative success of the blog (purely reputational, not financial) gave you the courage to turn the longest of your RPF works into a “real” novel. You brushed off all 100,000 words of it from the depths of your memory and spent a year reworking it so that a new reader could approach it without the context of the industry or the culture.

This time, you kept your progress to yourself. It was harder than writing it and publishing it the first time, when you had the support of readers and ongoing feedback and the instant gratification of publishing online. Back when you first started, you wouldn’t have been able to have written a word without them. While you were reworking the manuscript this time around, the only person you could learn on was your twin, the only person who looked at your work objectively and yet understood what you were trying to do better than anyone else.

When the manuscript was finally done, a friend of yours in New York from your university days helped you find a literary agent, then that literary agent helped you find an editor.

A small part of you had hoped that it would go big. The groundwork had already been laid by other former fanauthors who had bridged the fan/canon divide and published before you. The most popular works were plot-driven and known within the YA world. Your editor had a feeling that the time was right for your deconstructed version of the typical canon, and so out it went into the world.

“-NAME WITHHELD- tackles cultural technology, idolatry, religion, political identity, spacetime travel, and good, old-fashioned romance in ambitious debut novel,” the press release read._”Set in present-day Korea, SCIENTIFIC METHODS is THE HUNGER GAMES meets Haruki Murakami, with a splash of AT SWIM, TWO BOYS. By the time the story ends, you won’t know where the dream begins and reality ends— but that won’t stop you from rooting for love to triumph over all.”

#


Thankfully, Kim Jonghyun had never read SCIENTIFIC METHODS nor was he about to. His English was still, at best, elementary. And while your novel was doing well with your niche audience, it certainly wasn’t a breakout hit about to be turned into a blockbuster movie starring Channing Tatum as Kang Dongho anytime soon.

“I’m Kim Jonghyun,” he said, when he sat down next to you and your twin backstage. His voice was just as you’d heard it all those years ago, YouTube clip after YouTube clip. The way he held himself was still the same: a little hunched, like an old man. It was winter. Jonghyun was wearing an oversized woolen brown coat and a cream cashmere scarf. You tried not to look at his feet. You knew from the videos that they were small, adorable, lovely feet.

It turned out that your twin’s old flame had gone back into creative direction in Korea once he finished grad school despite his claim that he was “over it, over it, it’s a toxic industry, it’s the most fucking toxic place in the world.” But money talked. He’d moved back to Korea and jumped back in as an art director and one thing after another had led him to directing short films. His latest starred Hwang Minhyun, who you had seen back in 2017 during his Wanna One days.

Being twenty feet away from Hwang Minhyun at San Jose State University back in August 2017 was the closest you ever thought you were going to get to seeing a Korean idol in real life. So the fact that you and your twin were sitting next to Kim “just dropped by to see my friend” Jonghyun while her old flame coached Hwang Minhyun on the next scene made your head spin. You clutched your belly close.

“Hi,” you said in English, hoping you didn’t sound too nervous. “I’m -NAME WITHHELD-. We know the director.”

“Ah,” Jonghyun said. He didn’t stop smiling, not once. “He’s a good director.”

You had no idea if the director was good or not, but Hwang Minhyun still ranked up there with the A-list celebrities and so it must be good, or at least Hwang Minhyun must still be somewhat relevant in Korea. You wish you had studied Korean instead of Japanese, if only for this moment. You could tell Jonghyun all kinds of things. Maybe you’d apologize. Hey, so I published a novel. It stars you. I gave you a happy ending in it. I didn’t mean to assume you were gay, and you’re probably not, but you and Minhyun just seemed to have that kind of relationship back in the day. It was hard not to read between the lines. And believing in your love helped me believe in myself at a time when I really needed it.

You’ll never know how much you helped me. Thank you.

But you didn’t say anything. Your sentiment escaped you only in the thudding of your heart and a few beads of sweat on your forehead and upper lip. The real Kim Jonghyun would never know who you were and what you’d made him do in your imagination. All it would take was a few clumsy words in Korean. Your heart fluttered on the edge.

Do you think God was nervous right before He created the universe?

You clamped your lips tight. This was one divide that would never be crossed.

A few minutes later Kim Jonghyun got up. He waved to you and your twin, who was similarly star-struck and trying to play it cool. It was so many years ago but you two had both stayed up late into the night editing, debating, philosophizing, theorizing, psychoanalyzing every detail of Kim Jonghyun’s (fictional) life. He’d never know that he was the thread that built the relationship you and your twin had. Not to mention you’d had a baby, you’d lost it, you’d gone to Japan, you’d left your husband, and you’d returned.

Kim Jonghyun would never know. But it was for the best.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” you and your sister said at the same time.


#


You’re in the hotel room and your twin comes out of the shower, wearing the hotel bathrobe. You’re on your computer checking emails related to the blog and the KITTI. She sits across from you and towels her hair, staring off into space.

“Did you see he has wrinkles around his eyes now?” She says.

“Yeah,” you respond. Thinking back to something she said years ago. Jonghyun is beautiful in the way that old men were in their youth. “It’s funny when reality is just like you imagined.”

She smiles. She knows exactly what you mean.