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Young Hearts Run Free

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CRASH

“You Lee scum know no decency, do you?”

“Did Jung think he could send in a rat without our knowing? And that we wouldn’t do anything about it?” Donghyuk Lee sat defiant at his table, a warm gust rushing in through the now broken window of Puck’s Tavern, smashed by an errant ashtray from the hand of his adversary.

“Thought you would have accepted him as one of your own. Don’t rats congregate in packs?” retorted the stocky man standing across from him.

What an ugly man, Donghyuk, nickname Haechan, thought to himself as he locked eyes with the man who had intruded upon his sanctum. Under his icy gaze, laid seething rage; the audacity of this nobody to come and confront him on the Jung’s behalf for shutting up one of their moles. “I think it’s preferable to be a rat than one of Jung’s yappy lap dogs. You saw what we did to your buddy, do you think a busted window would be intimidating to me? All bark, no bite. But what else should I expect from a coward like Yunho? He doesn’t know how to hire good help.”

“Mr. Jung is honorable, unlike Jaejoong. Though he did one honorable thing: taking in his whore of a sister’s bastard son.”

In an instant Haechan was out of his chair, gun drawn, seeing red and ready to kill the man, oblivious to the bystanders on the street filming everything on their phones.

“Freeze! Drop the weapon Mr. Lee,” ordered the police officer who just arrived on scene. “There are plenty of witnesses here, this will not end well for you.” Haechan smirked, he knew this was a bluff. This officer was on the Lee payroll, they would press no charges. But it wouldn’t be helpful to the Lee image to have one of its members murder someone in broad daylight. He complied and lowered his weapon. “Thank you, Mr. Lee. Now I will need to confiscate every phone for evidence and collect witness statements,” the officer said as he went around the assembled crowd taking each phone. The officers deleted all the footage and returned the phones. A police report was completed, but no charges were brought. They will overlook this incident, like so many before. The Lees will pay for the window and something extra for the owner’s trouble. It will be as if this little spat never happened. However, Haechan would not forget this slight.


 

“You need to rein your men in, Yunho. Another stunt like what happened yesterday, and you’ll force my hand,” warned the voice of Changmin Shim, mayor of Verona, “I ran and won on a campaign promising to bring order to the streets of this fair city. You all cannot continue to bust windows and wave guns around in broad daylight.”

“According to the police report, my men did not break the window. And was it not Jaejoong’s hot-headed nephew who drew the gun on my men?” Yunho Jung challenged.

“Your men provoked him by insulting him,” the mayor replied over the phone.

“My men went there to hold the Lees accountable for what they did to the man in one of our hospitals recovering from several fractures to the face and a few cracked ribs, after enduring hours of torture. How about you put a call into your police force about that—”

“Why didn’t you put in a call to the police about that? You have plenty of people over there you could have called on. But if you want to assign blame, you can look in the mirror because you are the one who put that poor man up for corporate espionage,” Changmin quipped back, “you are no innocent in all of this Yunho, so we can stop this right here.” The mayor had known the business man for years and knew how deep his hatred for Jaejoong Lee ran. This conversation would never end as there would always be something a Lee had done that justified whatever a Jung did in return.

“Who said anything about espionage?” asked Yunho, feigning incredulity.

“I have my sources, just as you do,” responded Changmin. “I have given Jaejoong the same warning I’m giving you. If you want to carry on this feud and hate each other for eternity, be my guest. But do not take this city down with it or you will leave me no choice but to make sure you both lose everything.”

Yunho had no response but his silence.

“You need to learn to let what happened go. This fighting will one day cost you more than it is worth,” the mayor said as he hung up.

Yunho Jung, head of the Montague Corporation, looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows of his office, across the skyline toward the headquarters of the rival Capulet Group. Mayor Shim’s words brought it all up again, the heartbreak, the betrayal, the rage. He pushed it all down before turning to address his right-hand man, Shindong. “What morons do you have working for you that would do something so stupid as to have a public confrontation in the middle of the day with witnesses around?”

“I instructed them to confront that little punk publicly, to expose how the Lees do business. Now all those witnesses will know that they tortured a man and put him in the hospital,” Shindong said, defending his course of action.

“They also know that we spy on our competitors and would blame us for putting that man in that position in the first place. We cannot afford to have the public turn against us with scandals like this. They’ll stop buying our products and our stock will continue to fall. If I can’t eat, you don’t eat, got it?” Yunho asked sternly.

“Relax, Yunho. Changmin is like any other politician: all talk, no follow through. It’ll blow over,” replied Shindong.

“You better hope it does. If the public starts calling for an investigation into our dealings, Changmin will have to follow through. And that’s the last thing you and I need.” Yunho looked up to see his wife, Yoona, standing in the doorway of his office. “Ah, Yoona, what a surprise. Shindong and I were just hashing out an important matter, but we’re finished here.”

“Yes, let me get back to work. Yoona, you look lovely as always,” Shindong said as he left.

“Thank you, Shindong,” Yoona said with a polite smile. She made her way over to the wet bar in the corner of the office where Yunho had shelves of neatly arranged liquor bottles and a wine case.

“Did you bring our son with you?” Yunho asked

“No, I cannot get a hold of him. I don’t know what the problem is,” Yoona sighed as she poured two glasses of wine from the bar. “Looks like you may need this,” she said, handing her husband the glass before taking a seat in one of the black leather chairs across from him, “I asked Mark to contact him and find out why he’s been neglecting his responsibilities here and staying away from home. He always manages to get Jaehyun to talk to him.”

“My patience with his attitude is running out. Whatever has him out of sorts, he needs to get over it,” Yunho said as he took a gulp of wine, “this is not the time for him to act like a lovesick schoolboy.”


 

“Yesterday I saw you on the Avenue

They got your face on the boards, baby

People fallin' in love with the way you move

They wanna give you awards”

“Oh, do they now?!”

Jaehyun shoots up startled as his best friend, Ten, comes up pulling out one of his earbuds. He had been singing out loud to himself, eyes closed, laying on the beach. “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Your mom sent us to look for you to find out why you ain’t been returning her calls foo’ ,” Ten answered.

“Auntie Yoona’s concerned you haven’t been home, and Uncle Yunho is becoming annoyed that you’ve been MIA at work,” Mark added.

“How did you guys know to find me here?” the Jung heir asked. For the last three days Jaehyun had secluded himself in Sycamore Grove, his private beach retreat tucked away on the seaside cliffs a couple hours outside the city. His hair was disheveled, his skin dewy with sweat and flushed red from the heat of the sun beaming down, and the couple bottles of beer he drank. He was a mess.

“You always come up here to get away from what’s bothering you, even though your pasty ass can’t tan,” Ten answered as he plopped himself down next to Jaehyun, putting the other earbud into his ear to hear what his friend was listening to. “So what’s the problem this time?”

“Fate,” Jaehyun responded as he fell backward to stare up towards the sky, clutching handfuls of the coarse sand, letting each grain slip through his delicate fingers. “It’s cruel how it always seems to get the best of me. I guess I will be alone forever. I should become a monk.”

“Ugh, you’re so dramatic ,” Ten sighed, rolling his eyes, “who is this mysterious person who fate is cock blocking?”

“It’s not important,” Jaehyun said.

“Yes, it is if you’ve been out here crying on the beach for three days,” his cousin Mark pressed, “come on you can be honest with us, who is it, what’s wrong?”

“It’s Gongmyung,” Jaehyun confessed.

Ten gave a side-eyed glance, “Gongmyung Kim? The playboy? Does he even pay you the time of day?”

“Yes… well at least he did. And the playboy thing is just a front he puts on.”

Ten rolled his eyes. “I’m checking out of this conversation,” he announced as he put Jaehyun’s earbuds in both ears, laid back and closed his eyes.

“Forget him, tell me what the deal is between you two,” Mark said. Mark had been Jaehyun’s confidante since his mother and father took Mark in after his parents died in a car accident. He always had an open and non-judgmental attitude that made it easier for Jaehyun to open to him, rather than Ten.

“Well we ran into each other at the bar and had drinks together. That’s when I learned he was a relation of the Lees,” Jaehyun began.

“Yikes, that’s a problem,” Mark responded.

“That wasn’t a deal breaker for me but it complicated things because we could never be seen together. But sneaking around is hot, so I didn’t mind,” Jaehyun continued, “the real problem is that we never did more than talk and kiss a couple of times. Some nonsense about saving himself and celibacy.”

“So, you disappear for three days because you didn’t get laid?” Mark asked skeptically.

“It’s deeper than that,” Jaehyun rose up exasperated, “we have this connection, I’ve never desired someone so much, wanted to give my all, and get nothing back. He’s stringing me along, but I can’t stop thinking about him and wanting to hear his voice, see his face. It’s just impossible.”

“Maybe you should get out more and meet some other people? I mean, that dude isn’t all that,” Mark consoled.

“No one can compare to him.”

“I’m sure there has to be a few other people on this planet that could,” Mark assured. He turned to jostle Ten. “Hey Ten, aren’t you on the guest list for that fundraising gala the Capulet Foundation is throwing tonight?”

“Yeah why?” Ten asked but already knowing the answer smiled devilishly and asked, “you want to crash, cause a little trouble?”

“No, we can’t cause any problems with the Lees now,” Mark said warning Ten, “this is just a good opportunity to show our dear Jaehyun here that there are other, better fish out there in the sea. Gongmyung is most definitely on the guest list and will be there, but so will all the other eligible hotties in the city—well the ones not named Jung—anyway, you’ll see Jaehyun.”

“I don’t want to go. Just let me wallow here,” Jaehyun whined in protest.

“No, you’re coming back with us. If you aren’t at the office another day, your dad will go ballistic. And you can’t just hideout here forever,” Mark protested, “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up. Ten, round up the boys. We’re doing it big tonight lads.”


 

“As you can see, our new Hecate software is more than just a search engine or personal assistant. Its predictive abilities through its accurate probability functions will help with decision making from predicting appliance lifetime expectancy to stock market investments. It could even predict political outcomes or who will win the next World Cup,” the charismatic raven-haired beauty said from the head of the board room, “this technology partnered with the reliability and quality of your phones and PCs, together MacBeth Technologies and the Capulet Group can grow and reach new heights.”

Sooyoung Park knows the secret to closing a deal is all in the presentation. It is not the content, but the way it is packaged that will get the prospect to bite and she knows the Lees love everything they are seeing. It also helps that this promising technology will bring in the money. Hecate predicted all of this so far.

“Well I’m sold,” said chairman Lee Jaejoong from the opposite end of the table, “all that remain is the negotiation regarding MacBeth joining into the Capulet fold, but I believe that this deal will move ahead smoothly. We can adjourn here, as I’ve heard there is a huge event happening in town we all need to prepare for.” Everyone laughs as they pack up and usher out the room.

“Thank you again Mr. Lee, on the behalf of my parents we are looking forward to this partnership,” Ms. Park said as she shook the chairman’s hand.

His wife, Tiffany, comes up to join them. “It was a lovely presentation, from a lovely lady,” she complimented the young tech heiress. “If I had a daughter, I would want her to mature into a woman just like you.”

“Oh, Mrs. Lee I am flattered. I wish the men out here could see what you see. It is so hard for a woman to have a strong career and find a husband,” Sooyoung laughs.

“Please tell me you will attend the gala tonight? I know an eligible, handsomel bachelor who would love a strong young woman,” Tiffany asked. Jaejoong laughed to himself at his wife’s desperation in having their son, Taeyong, married off. However, he was also keen on making this match happen. Having one of the fastest growing and most innovative tech companies tied to their fold not just by a business contract, but a marriage contract as well would secure CG’s dominance and ensure their wealth and prosperity for generations to come. Ms. Park (also known as Joy to those in her circle for her bubbly and vivacious personality) had quite the streak of bad luck romances and was herself desperate to marry. Taeyong would present the only obstacle.

“I will be in attendance Mrs. Lee,” Joy responded.

“Wonderful, I will introduce you to my son Taeyong. I am sure you two will kick it off,” Tiffany said hands clasp, beaming her radiant smile, “we will see you tonight!”

Joy gathered her things and left the board room. “Now you just have to get our son on board with your matchmaking and hope he doesn’t scare the poor girl off,” Jaejoong said to his eager wife.

“Oh, don’t you worry about that. I have a way of getting what I want, and I want to call that girl my daughter-in-law, and will, one day soon. You can count on it,” Tiffany assured her husband with conviction.

“Good luck.”


 

Taeyong sat in his studio, brows furrowed, shading in his charcoal sketch. Unlike the other young heirs from prestigious families, Taeyong was more subdued and reclusive. He was an enigma in the elite circle of Verona society as he spent most of youth studying abroad and did not attend many social events outside those hosted by his family, and did not have many friends amongst the playboys and socialites omnipresent in their elite circle. This caused much worry in his parents, particularly his mother, who were very much the opposite and basked in the spotlight. Tiffany worried that her son’s anti-social manner would make it impossible for him to find a suitable wife.

“There you are,” came the voice of Taeyong’s bodyguard and confidante, Jinki, “your mother wants to see you, and you must get ready for the gala soon. She’s in her sitting room.”

“Okay, I’ll be there in a moment,” Taeyong said as he finished his shading and put his charcoal down. He found conversations with his mother exhausting nowadays as they always turned into a conversation about marriage. He made his way from his cottage, across the manicured garden of the estate, and toward the main villa. He nodded politely to the landscapers as he walked around the pool and up the stone steps into the old, grandiose manor. He found his way up the grand staircase and down to the south wing, which which comprised the master suite, to his mother’s sitting room. It was a vivid pink room with large French doors opening to the colonnaded terrace overlooking the ocean from their mansion’s perch on the cliff side. The smell of the saltwater wafted in with the breeze. His mother was looking over her gown she would wear at the gala. “You asked to speak with me mother?” Taeyong asked drawing her attention.

“Ah yes, my baby boy, come here. I have something very important to discuss with you." Her tone overflowed with honey sweetness and delight, the tone she used when she wanted to stir him to indulge her whims.

Ugh, here we go.

“Since you’re finished with schooling and settled back in at home, I think it is time you get out there and well…honey you need friends,” Tiffany said, “you need to mix and mingle and make more public appearances so that people can get to know who you are. This gala is the perfect opportunity, as all the people you should know will be there.”

“Mother, I don’t care much for schmoozing with Father’s business partners. And their children are so shallow and superficial,” Taeyong moaned.

“Do you think I find stock portfolios riveting or enjoy discussing whose curtains didn't match the place settings at the tea they hosted?”

Yes, you love to gossip, Taeyong thought to himself.

“I don’t, but I engage in those conversations anyway because that is what I signed up for when I married your father and agreed to support him in this life and live in this world. You are at the age now where you will need to prepare to follow in your father’s footsteps and fulfill your duties in continuing the family legacy.”

Here it comes.

“You know that your father has been working on a deal to buyout MacBeth Technologies, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware.”

“Well the Parks’ daughter, Sooyoung or Joy—doesn’t that sound like a nice girl? —has been representing them in this deal and she’s lovely- “

“Mother, please, do we have to talk about this now?”

“Don’t interrupt me. Now, she is about your age and she is smart, beautiful, ambitious, charismatic, she can steer you and push you—I know you like that sort of thing—and she’s going to be at the gala tonight.”

“Please don’t tell me that you set me up on a blind date…”

“I just want you two to meet and get to know one another. This could be a good match. I only want the best for you, sweetheart, I wouldn’t just suggest you marry just anyone. She would be a good fit for the family.”

Fit for the family. “Isn’t it a little soon to be discussing marriage?”

“Can you promise me to at least try to get to know her and see where it goes? She may end up not even liking you and it will fizzle out on its own. More than I want a daughter-in-law, I want you to be happily, and sincerely, in love.”

Tiffany looked at Taeyong warmly, and it moved him. He felt the sincerity in her words and a hint of sadness? “Ah don’t look at me like that! Okay…I will try and put my best foot forward when I meet Joy. But I won’t make any promises that I will be ready to propose tonight.”

“Oh, thank you,” Tiffany said as she hugged her beloved son, “I mean it, my greatest dream for you is to be happy. Who knows, there will be a lot of other eligible people there, you may meet someone else you like.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Alright, now go get ready. The car will be ready for us at 6.”

Chapter Text

“Jinki, kindly tell my wife and son to get a move on? The car is already here and there will be traffic getting to the Lucio,” Jaejoong asked his long-time bodyguard.

“Yes sir, I will try my best to hurry them along,” Jinki said as he went inside. Jaejoong stood dressed in a fine tux, his hair slicked back neatly. His nephew, Haechan, not one for frills, was ready by the car, looking agitated as usual.

“You know, I like your ruthless devotion to the family name, but you need to learn to control your anger and think before you act. You don’t point a gun at someone with cameras around. Despite our aggressive business tactics, our public image needs to remain clean,” Jaejoong reminded his hot-headed nephew.

“That pig called my mother, your sister, a whore! I couldn’t let that go unchallenged,” Haechan retorted.

“I didn’t say to let an insult slide, but you must wait for the right time to strike in a way that does not tie you to whatever misfortune befalls your enemy. The most lethal move is the one your foe doesn’t see coming.”

“It doesn’t matter, a good chunk of the police force is on our take. There is no official record of what happened,” Haechan said averting eye contact with his uncle.

“Well, those arrangements may no longer hold after the call I had with Mayor Shim. He wants to root out corruption on the police force. So, we need to be more cautious and careful when and how we handle these situations, okay?” Jaejoong looked at his nephew until he returned his look with one of understanding. “Besides, we’re performing well in the market, Montague is floundering no matter what they pull. We can ease up on them.”

“If we are easing up on our ‘protective measures,’ maybe I can have a different role? Work underneath you? Head up a division?” Haechan asked. Jaejoong chuckled, much to Haechan’s chagrin. “What’s so funny about that? Why can’t I be a part of the legitimate business?”

“You are an integral part of the business. You have the ruthless cunning and the constitution for aggressive tactics that Taeyong doesn’t have. He does however have the clean image to be the public face of the company, which is why he will inherit the visionary role, but you are the muscle that protects and secures our interests in the way he can’t. Don’t think your role is less important,” Jaejoong reassured his nephew. While Haechan and Taeyong got along, Jaejoong sensed that Haechan resented that Taeyong was being groomed to take over the company and receive public acknowledgment. And while Jaejoong wished to give him a greater role, he recognized that Haechan was too impulsive to be in charge of any public portion of the business. He was too much of a liability. “If you want me to reconsider your role, first, do well in earning your university degree, and learn to stop and consider before you act. It will serve you well.”

“All right, we’re ready! How do I look, my love?” Tiffany chimed as she came out the front door and down the marble steps of their glamorous seaside villa. She was wearing a long flowing fuchsia pink silk gown, material bunched at the left folder to resemble a large flower.

“Elegant as always dear,” Jaejoong said as he went to open the car door, “and son you look…why didn’t you dye your hair back to its natural color?” He groaned as he caught sight of his son, Taeyong, wearing a navy, damask-embroidered velvet evening jacket with a white ruffled shirt and black choker. His lavender dyed hair, combined with the many ear piercings, made the outfit too flamboyant for a black-tie affair.

Tiffany rolled her eyes, “he’s still adjusting to adulthood and what is appropriate for these functions. At least he isn’t wearing ripped jeans.”

“Sorry, I didn’t have time to go to the salon to fix it,” Taeyong apologized.

“I think it’s daring. It’ll make him stand out as bold and youthful. It’ll capture Ms. Park’s attention,” Jinki said, coming to Taeyong’s defense as always. “We don’t want her thinking he’s a boring stiff.”

“Come on, just get in. We can’t be late to our own event,” Jaejoong said, helping his wife into the car. And so, they were on their way into the city for the gala.

 


“One, two, three, cheers! Let’s go!” Ten shouted out as the group of young men threw back their third round of tequila. The limousine ferrying them to the gala came stocked and they all were enjoying it, all except for Jaehyun; he was still holding his full glass. “Come on, throw it back,” Ten urged until Jaehyun relented, “there you go, that’s a good boy.”

“You should have just let me stay home, I’m no fun to be out with tonight,” Jaehyun sighed through the bitter burn of tequila aftertaste.

“You’ve spent too much time alone,” said Mark, “you need to be around people again.”

“I don’t know people will enjoy being around me. I feel like deadweight,” Jaehyun tipped his glass towards Ten for another pour.

“Do you hear yourself? ‘ Deadweigh t?’ Shouldn’t love make you feel all light-hearted, like soaring on Cupid’s wings and shit?” Ten chided as he poured his sullen friend another shot.

“Love can also make you sick and burdened. I feel like drowning,” Jaehyun said, throwing the shot back. He winced and shook himself as the liquor slid down his throat. “Argh, I’m sorry. You all are hype to have a good time and I’m just dragging the mood down.”

“You should drown yourself in more booze then.”

“Slow it down, Ten. If Gongmyung will be at this thing, Jaehyun shouldn’t show up a drunk wreck,” Mark interjected.

“Ugh, I don’t know what I’ll do if I see him,” Jaehyun groaned.

“I’ll tell you what you’ll do: you’ll smile and act unbothered like you are living your best life,” Ten advised, “don’t let a silly thing like love ever get the best of you. If it bites, bite back.”

Jaehyun smirked as he leaned back into the seat, turning to look out the window and watch dusk usher in the night sky as they crawled along to the gala. If only it was just love that has me sick, Jaehyun thought to himself. While his heart ached for Gongmyung, it was this nagging sense of impending doom that burdened him. Jaehyun felt smothered by his life, trapped by his family obligations and high expectations. He felt that his failed attempt at a relationship with Gongmyung was just one of many misfortunes he was fated to endure, thwarting all hope of ever achieving happiness. This darkness clouded his thoughts and feelings for the night. “This is a mistake,” he said out loud.

“Ah, Jaehyun you just love to revel in misery, don’t you?” Ten asked, peeved.

“I’m serious, this feels familiar—like this dream I had last night. We were all going to a party and it didn’t end well,” Jaehyun said.

“I had a dream too,” Ten said, “I dreamt I was a tiny fairy queen riding a nutshell chariot drawn by flies with a grasshopper and squirrel as best friends. Does that describe anyone here?”

“Well,” Mark said, “you are a queen, and Jaehyun is squirrelly…”

“Not helping, Mark!” Ten said while elbowing him in the side. “The point is, sometimes dreams are just nonsensical fantasies that mean nothing. We’re the masters of our own destiny, and I say tonight will be a good night, and we’ll all live to tell about it.” Just then, the limo came to a stop, arriving at the entrance of the gala. “Ah, fashionably late, just as I like. Let’s go, boys. Uh, wait Jaehyun,” Ten held him back inside the car while the others stumbled out; he pulled out a small vial and passed it over. “Take a hit of this.”

“What is that?” Jaehyun asked.

“Just some uppers to liven you up and help you enjoy yourself. Don’t worry, just one and you’ll be fine.”

Jaehyun paused for a moment before throwing caution to the wind and taking a hit from the vial. It gave him a jolt, and he felt ready to step out into the unknown of the night.


 

The Lucio Museum and Gardens was aglow with Verona’s highest echelon. Magnates, politicians, and socialites glistened in their finery as they mingled around the decadent Great Hall. Joy was nervous under her graceful and cool countenance. There is too much going on here to catch his eye, she thought to herself, I will have to be even more alluring. She was wearing a white satin gown printed with large, red roses, her lips a bold red to match, her hair pinned in an updo. She regretted opting for the pearls instead of the diamond accessories. Maybe they will set me apart from everyone else dripping in jewels. Just then, Mr. and Mrs. Lee made their way up to the landing on the grand staircase to give their greetings and remarks. Joy placed on the butterfly mask she selected at the door for the masquerade themed event and made her way through the crowd, preparing for the moment they would introduce her to her potential suitor.

“On behalf of the Capulet Group Foundation, my lovely wife and I would like to extend our deepest gratitude and appreciation to each and every one of you for coming out to enjoy yourselves this evening,” Jaejoong said, beaming beside his wife and looking out over the assembled guests. “Your support tonight through the silent auction will go towards opening a new neonatal intensive care unit at Lee Memorial Medical Center, offering world-class care to the most vulnerable in our society, our children.”

Jaejoong then handed the mic to his wife Tiffany. “With that being said, please continue to enjoy the buffet and drinks, and don’t forget to bid, bid, bid!” she exclaimed. As people returned to their revelry, Tiffany eyed Joy and went to grab her. “Ah, Ms. Park, there you are! Come, there is someone special I want to introduce you to.” Tiffany led Joy by the hand to her son. “Ms. Park, meet the true love of my life, my sun and moon, my son, Taeyong,” Tiffany gushed, “Taeyong, meet Ms. Sooyoung Park of Macbeth Technologies.”

“Um, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Park,” Taeyong said as he awkwardly motioned to take Joy’s hand.

“Please, you can call me Joy,” she blushed, “that’s what my friends call me.” Joy expected him to be handsome, considering how attractive Mr. and Mrs. Lee were, but did not expect what laid before her eyes. Handsome was not sufficient to describe him. He’s beautiful , she thought to herself. He captivated her.

Meanwhile, Haechan spotted the entrance of a group that caught him off guard. He sought his uncle out. “Uncle, look who just arrived,” Haechan gestured towards the entrance of the hall, “it’s Jaehyun Jung.”

Jaejoong peered out to the crowd. “Is it now? Well good for him,” Jaejoong said as he returned to his drink.

“Good for him? Did you invite him? He shouldn’t be here,” Haechan sneered.

“Relax, seems he’s with that Ten what’s-his-name. He was on the guest list.”

“So that entitles him to invite people excluded from the guest list? They’re here to cause a scene—”

“Nephew. This is a party. From their laughter it looks like they are just here to have a good time and enjoy an open bar. You are the one looking to cause a scene.”

“But Uncle, you can’t believe they are just—”

“Leave it alone Haechan! His presence here isn’t bothering me, so it shouldn’t bother you. I told you we are treading thin ice with the mayor. I will not have any commotion at a charity event with him in attendance. Jung is no threat to us. Go nowhere near him, understand?” Jaejoong warned. Haechan clenched his jaw at his uncle’s chastising and nodded his acknowledgment. “Good, have a drink and enjoy yourself.”


 

“Jaehyun, keep your mask on,” Ten laughed. “You don’t want that dick Haechan spotting you and ruin the night before it’s begun.”

“This thing is ridiculous,” Jaehyun said, pointing at the hideous, large-nosed masked with gigantic furry eyebrows foisted on him at the door, “let me have the fox one.”

“Fine, I can rock that one,” Ten traded masks, “how do I look? Ravishing?” Everyone laughed. “Okay, I’m heading over to the silent auction. Let‘s see what trouble I get into.” Ten gave a finger gun gesture and sashayed away through the crowd.

“I’m going to check out what they’re serving at the bar.” Mark gave Jaehyun a pat on the shoulder and headed off toward the bar. When he reached it, someone came up behind him.

“What are you doing here?” Haechan asked.

“Supporting ‘the city’s most vulnerable citizens, its children!’ And free booze,” Mark quipped while taking a sip of his drink.

“Is that the only reason you crashed this party?”

“Should I have another?” Mark locked eyes with Haechan. “Besides, it’s not crashing when you’re the plus one of an invited guest.”

“Try plus four . I could have you escorted out,” Haechan drew closer to Mark.

“But you won’t. You’re glad I’m here,” Mark reached out and fixed the lapel on Haechan’s jacket.

Haechan grabbed his arm tightly. “Stop, anyone could be watching.”

Mark smirked, “we need to have a talk, sort things out.”

Haechan scanned around the room to make sure no one caught their exchange. “Wait 10 seconds and follow me,” he instructed before turning to make his way through the crowd. Mark did as he was told, waited, and followed Haechan’s trail.

Meanwhile, Jaehyun found himself alone in the crowd. His friends had disappeared on him. Whatever Ten had given him was now in full effect; it wired him. I should have a drink to mellow out, he thought. As he shifted his way through the well-heeled throng towards the bar, he caught sight of him. Gongmyung was there bragging of the leisure of trust-fund life. There was a girl clinging to his arm with an absent-minded smile across her face. He lowered his mask and pivoted to avert being seen by Gongmyung but saw someone that stopped him dead in his tracks. He raised his mask back to take in the sight before him. It was the bright hair that first caught his attention from across the hall, and then the svelte frame and graceful stance. The stranger’s breathtaking face captivated him. Everything around Jaehyun faded away so that only this stranger stood out. This can’t be real, it must be a hallucination, Jaehyun thought to himself. Then, the beautiful stranger looked up from the woman and conversation he was engaged in and returned Jaehyun’s gaze. Shocked back into reality, Jaehyun lowered his mask and continued his movement, but kept the man in his sights, charting a course drifting closer to his orbit.


 

Gosh, she talks a lot, Taeyong thought to himself as he smiled and nodded along to Joy’s ramblings. She was nice enough, but barely let Taeyong get a word in edgewise. It was non-stop chatter regarding things Taeyong knew nothing about—her studies in computer science, new things in development at her company, research on things he never heard of—stuff he had no interest in.

As Joy went on and on, Taeyong glanced just past her and noticed that he was being watched by someone tall and handsome. When he locked eyes with his admirer, the mystery man lowered his fox-looking mask and moved away. But his eyes kept looking at Taeyong, and Taeyong’s kept following him.

Joy caught notice of Taeyong’s distraction. “Oh, I’m sorry I guess I’ve been talking too much about myself,” she apologized. “You may find none of this very interesting.” Oh no, I’m boring him. He thinks I’m self-absorbed, she thought. “What did you study? Was it business?”

“Ah, no. Well, somewhat,” Taeyong said returning his attention to Joy but trying not to lose sight of the man he had locked eyes with. “I studied art and took business management courses. It was a compromise I made with my parents.”

“Oh, an artist,” Joy said with intrigue. “I should have guessed that from how you’re dressed.”

“Is it too much? Do you not like it?” Taeyong asked.

“Oh no, it’s nice! Refreshing!” Great, I’ve must have insulted him. “ It’s nice to see a man that isn’t afraid to stand apart.” Joy went to take a sip of her merlot and accidently dribbled a small amount on the front of her gown. “Oh shit!” Joy caught herself, “sorry, I’m just making such a mess of things.” Her mother’s words played in her head: the first impression is lasting. Get it right the first time.

“It’s fine, accidents happen,” Taeyong tried to reassure her, “look, the red blends with the roses on your dress. No one will notice.”

“But you and I know it’s there. I’ve ruined everything,” Joy said, beating herself up.

“No, you haven’t, it’s alright—”

“I’m sorry I… I need a moment. Excuse me,” Joy rushed off to the ladies’ room on the verge of tears.

Wow, that was bizarre, Taeyong thought to himself. He looked around for the fox mask but had lost sight of the handsome stranger while trying to assuage Joy. Taeyong knew he should wait for her to return, to make sure she was okay, but he took the opportunity to hunt for his fox. While he was searching, his mother came up to him.

“What happened to Joy? She looked upset when I saw her in the restroom,” she inquired. “Did you say something to upset her?”

“No, she spilled a little wine on herself and freaked out,” Taeyong said, still scanning for the fox, “Joy isn’t always joyful I guess.”

“The poor girl is just nervous,” Tiffany sighed. “She hasn’t been successful in the man department. But were things all right otherwise? Can you forgive her this?”

“I guess so. Could we talk about this another time?” Taeyong had more pressing matters at hand. Maybe he went out into the gardens. “I need fresh air.”

“Okay…” Tiffany said as her son rushed out towards the terrace.


 

Jaehyun’s heart was racing. He didn’t know if it was the drugs or seeing that beautiful boy, or both. But he needed to get fresh air and compose himself. All the people inside overstimulated him. He went out to the terrace overlooking the expansive gardens, a quiet Eden in the middle of the bustling city. The night air was unusually balmy for a spring night, the humidity creating a dreamlike haze in the moonlight. Jaehyun closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath, concentrating on slowing his heart rate down.

Taeyong rushed into the calm night. He scanned the terrace and found his quarry, his fox, leaning on the balustrade, letting the night breeze wash over him. Taeyong paused, imprinting the image of the man basking and glistening in the moonlight. “Hello, are you all right?” Taeyong asked.

Jaehyun opened his eyes to see the ethereal beauty that captured him from the moment he laid eyes on him. Is this a dream, or some drug-induced hallucination? “Yeah, I needed a moment to catch my breath.”

“Me too,” Taeyong responded, “these kinds of events can be overwhelming.”

“Is it your date?” Jaehyun asked.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“The girl you were talking to earlier. Was she overwhelming you?”

“Oh no, she’s not my date, just someone my mother is trying to fix me up with,” Taeyong laughed, “Even though she talked nonstop, I think I overwhelmed her .”

“I can see how you could have that effect on people.” The moonlight illuminated Taeyong’s striking and flawless features, his lavender tresses shining like silver. The sight transfixed Jaehyun.

“Am I overwhelming you?”

“Yes.”

Taeyong blushed at the bluntness of his response. “I think she will be looking for me inside.”

“Do you want to get back to her?” Jaehyun asked. Please say no.

“No, I like it better out here.” What am I doing, Taeyong thought to himself? His heart was in his stomach and he felt lightheaded. It was exhilarating. “Did you come here with anyone?”

“Just my friends. They dragged me along, said I needed to get out more and loosen up.”

“Well, you seem loose.” Gosh that was lame.

“Yeah, I feel at ease with you...” Jaehyun noticed what appeared to be the girl Taeyong was talking to earlier coming towards one of the farther terrace doors. “Quick, come with me,” he said, grabbing Taeyong’s hands and pulling him down the stairs into the garden.

“Wh--” Taeyong’s heart skipped a few beats as Jaehyun dragged him along and pulled him close to his chest as they hid behind a tall hedge. Jaehyun placed a finger on Taeyong’s lips to signal him to be quiet. Taeyong trembled at the touch, his eyes locked into Jaehyun’s as they waited for the sound of heels on stone to fade back indoors. Their chests rose and fell together, their heartbeats both quickening. Jaehyun took in Taeyong’s dewy skin, brushed his finger down his soft, pink lips. Taeyong let out a whimper and before he knew it, Jaehyun’s lips were on his. Taeyong clutched onto him, savoring the taste.

“Sorry,” Jaehyun broke off first. “I should’ve asked you first, I--”

Taeyong ran his hand up the back of Jaehyun’s neck and went in for another kiss. Neither even knew the other’s name, but this encounter had ignited a passion neither knew they could ever feel.

“Taeyong? Are you out here?” Jinki called.

Taeyong broke away, “ah, I gotta get back. They’ve sent my bodyguard for me.”

“Wait, how can I reach you? See you again?” Jaehyun asked.

“Taeyong? Are you out here? Your mother is looking for you?” Jinki called out again, this time from just over the hedge. Taeyong shushed Jaehyun and pushed him back as he jumped out to meet his bodyguard.

“Jinki! I was just um, taking a walk to get fresh air,” Taeyong said as he composed himself.

“Well come on, things are winding down and we’ll be going soon,” Jinki said as he ushered Taeyong along.

Jaehyun waited for them to make their way inside before heading in himself. When he returned to the hall, he looked around to see if he could spot Taeyong again. Just as he caught sight of him, Ten came up. “Well, they outbid me on everything I wanted. The car’s waiting out front. Where’s Mark?”

“Don’t know,” Jaehyun said. “Hey Ten, do you recognize him over there, with the purplish white hair? Is his name Taeyong?”

“Ah, yeah. Wait, you don’t know who he is?”

“No, I don’t remember ever seeing him before…”

“Jaehyun... that’s Taeyong Lee , as in one of the Lees that threw this event. Your families hate each other. Ring any bells?”

“Wait, that can’t be Taeyong Lee!” Jaehyun said in disbelief.

“Well, it is. Come on, let’s go.” Ten pushed Jaehyun towards the door. “Ah Mark, there you are. Haven’t seen you all night.” Ten eyed Mark who appeared disheveled, adjusting himself.

“I was around. Are we leaving?” Mark deflected.

“Yep, let’s go boys, night’s a rap.”

Taeyong caught sight of Jaehyun and his friends making their way to the exit. He turned to his bodyguard and confidante and asked, “Jinki, do you know who that is leaving with the fox mask?”

“Why yes, that’s Jaehyun Jung, Yunho Jung’s son,” Jinki replied.

“Huh, Jung as in the heads of Montague Jung ?” Taeyong asked.

“Yes, that family. Don’t know why he’d attend an event sponsored by your family. Why d’you ask?” Jinki inquired.

“I didn’t recognize him…” Taeyong said.

They locked eyes again in their departures, each now possessing a name to go with the face they believed too beautiful to belong to an enemy.

Chapter Text

The warm spring night’s breeze wrapped around them. His smooth skin glistening in the moonbeams. The spicy scent of his cologne in the air. A heated embrace. Taste of champagne on their breath as they kissed. Sweetness of his plush lips. A dizzying rush of euphoria that overcame him…

“Any thoughts, Jaehyun?” Yunho asked his son, snapping him back to reality.

“What? Excuse me, I... what were we discussing?” Jaehyun had spaced out during this board meeting on Montague Corp.’s annual performance. His thoughts still lingered on the other night with Taeyong. He had had a hangover the entire weekend afterward and swore to take nothing Ten offered him again. Despite being high on alcohol and drugs, the moment was still crystal clear and visceral. He hadn’t stopped thinking of their meeting and the kiss for one moment but, he’d not forgotten that Taeyong was the son of his father’s despised rival and biggest competitor. Does that make him my foe? Are we doomed for disaster? These thoughts crept in the back of his mind, but even still, they had not dulled Jaehyun’s desire to see Taeyong.

“I hoped your little impromptu vacation made you more focused, but the state of your legacy is not of much interest to you,” Yunho said with an edge in his voice.

Jaehyun sat up and appeared more alert. “My apologies, Father. I will pay more attention, I lost my train of thought for a moment.” He scanned what was up on the projection screen to bring himself up to speed.

Jaehyun’s cousin, Krystal, chimed in to help him out. “Our subsidiaries are performing well enough to mask our losses as the parent company, but we aren’t meeting our quarterly projections. Our stock is decreasing, diminishing the company value. And the shareholders are not happy.”

“We need to reinvigorate the brand and drive value back up…” Jaehyun said, trying to piece together a strategy as a consolation for being checked out for most of this meeting. “We started as an electronics firm, we should focus on that. The mobile device market has the biggest potential for growth.”

“The mobile device market is crowded with competitors,” Yunho countered, “and sales of our devices have been on a steady decline.”

“That’s because they aren’t sexy anymore. They are utilitarian and durable but look outdated and most apps don’t support the operating system,” Jaehyun countered, picking up his own Montamobo. “Hell, most of you sitting around this table don’t even own one.” One of the board members looked up from the email he was sending on his CG phone and slyly put it away. Jaehyun himself would have owned any other phone if doing so would not lead to his father having a massive stroke. It was family loyalty that had him anchored with what trendsetters had dubbed a MontaNoNo.

“We well know of the ways we are lacking,” Yunho sighed with frustration. “Are you going to offer a solution, or just keep enumerating the problems we’ve discussed?”

Jaehyun admired his father’s strong leadership and ambition for the company but resented how he had little regard for anything other than the company’s well-being. Jaehyun couldn’t stand being talked to this way by his father in front of the board. He took a breath and looked dead at his father as he responded, “my suggestion is that we scrap our current lines and release a whole new line that offers the same reliable durability in a sleeker design with an innovative operating system that meets consumer needs and developers will support. Both style and substance.”

Yunho looked at his son with a glint of pride in his eyes. “Finally, someone coming up with a solution to our problems, or at least the start of one. We’ve been here long enough, and this idea is something to discuss with R&D in the mobile electronics division. So, we will adjourn here and meet again next month unless a new development arises.” Everyone packed up and left the boardroom. Yunho walked out with Jaehyun. “You have a good head when you use it. I want you to head up the revamp of the mobile division.”

“Really? You have that much faith in me?” Jaehyun asked, surprised.

“At the moment, no. This is a test of your ability to follow through and do whatever it takes to save the company,” Yunho said, “how can I have any confidence in you when you vanish on a whim and can’t even keep your focus through one board meeting because you’re still nursing a hangover?”

“I’m not hung over,” Jaehyun said, “I’m sorry for not being here and letting my emotions get the best of me. But I’m here and I’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure this project succeeds.”

“Good, we’ll set up a meeting with R&D,” Yunho said as he stepped into the elevator. “Don’t disappoint me Jaehyun.”

The elevator doors closed. Well great, I put out one fire and set another, Jaehyun thought to himself. A wave of panic washed over him as the weight of the undertaking he had taken on sank in. Don’t worry it’ll be fine. He turned his focus to another matter to ease his anxiety: how to get in contact with Lee Taeyong and see him again.

 


 

 “All I’m saying is you should give her another chance,” Tiffany said.

“Mom, she was so high-strung. She had a breakdown over a drop of wine on her dress,” Taeyong rolled his eyes. I want to work on this sketch, can’t she leave me alone, he thought regarding his mother’s pestering. They were in the guest cottage where Taeyong had moved upon his return from his studies abroad. It was to be a quiet sanctum away from the bustle of the main house where he could work on his art in peace away from prying intrusions. He should have moved across town, though distance wouldn’t have stopped his determined mother from dropping in unannounced.

“Look, I spoke to her, and she was just so nervous and feels terrible about that moment. She really likes you,” Tiffany sang with a smile, “so, I said you will see her again at the derby.”

Oh, my fucking gosh! “Mom, you didn’t!? Why?” Taeyong groaned.

“As I said, so you can give her another chance,” Tiffany said, caressing her sons face in her hands and patting his cheeks. “She can be a good fit for you, whip you into shape. Now I’m off to the boutique to review swatches for the new collection. I love you, sweetie. Muah,” Tiffany kissed Taeyong goodbye as she headed out.

Sorry Mom, there’s someone else who’s a better “fit,” Taeyong thought to himself after his mother left.  He went back over to his laptop where he had an image of Jaehyun that he discovered in his research for information on him. He had been working on a charcoal sketch of him ever since the gala, to keep the memory of their kiss fresh in his mind. The moment Taeyong and Jaehyun embraced and locked lips for the first time, it ignited a flame he could no longer suppress nor deny. He had never felt such stirring and overwhelming desire for anyone. 

Well, at least not for any woman before. Taeyong’s instant attraction and infatuation with Jaehyun had confirmed what he had always known deep down: he was gay. He went along with his mother’s matchmaking because he had resigned himself to the reality of his position as the heir of the Lee corporate dynasty. Taeyong’s parents had groomed him to take over as the next president and CEO of the Capulet Group, though he had no interest in doing so. With that came the expectation he would marry and have children to continue the legacy, an expectation that would not allow him to live as an openly gay man.

Taeyong shook his head. He shut his laptop and closed his sketchbook, the sobering thought washing over him. You need to forget about him because it will never happen. His parents would never accept him with another man, let alone the son of Yunho Jung. Taeyong didn’t even know why the Jungs were their enemies, but he knew whatever the reason, it ran deep and personal enough that being with Jaehyun would be nigh impossible. Taeyong wanted to see him again despite the impossibility.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Jinki’s voice startled Taeyong.

“Jinki, how long have you been standing there?” he asked.

“Long enough to tell that something is bothering you,” Jinki responded as he came through the doorway into Taeyong’s studio. “Let me guess: it was your talk with your mother.”

“She’s set me up on a date with Joy for the derby. I don’t even like horse racing, and now I have to spend an awkward day with Joy,” Taeyong sighed.

“Come on, it won’t be that bad! She seems nice and is at least a pretty sight to look at,” Jinki encouraged.

“She’s just so… not my type.”

“Is any woman your type?” Jinki asked with a knowing smile. He had been watching over Taeyong since he was a small child and was more than a bodyguard to him. Jinki tutored Taeyong, took him to museums to nurture his love of art, gave him advice, taught him how to swim, how to ride a bike. He was more of a father to Taeyong than Jaejoong, and cared for Taeyong like he was his own son. Jinki knew Taeyong better than Taeyong knew himself.

What is that supposed to mean? Does he know? Taeyong wondered to himself. “Maybe not—I mean—I guess I haven’t met the right person,” Taeyong dodged while still hinting that Jinki’s observation may be correct. Jinki’s affable manner made it easy for Taeyong to talk to him, but he was still unsure whether to be open with him about this. “How will I know if I’ve found love? What does it feel like?”

“What does ‘love’ feel like?” Jinki pondered as he walked over to stand in the open rear doorway that led to the terrace overlooking the sea. He inhaled the ocean breeze and said, “love is a tricky thing. It can hit you full force like a raging inferno; burning hot right from the start. Other times it’ll creep up on you when you least expect it, a slow burn, and before you know it you wonder how you could ever live without that person.” Jinki had a wistful gaze. “Either way it happens, it is one of the most powerful and amazing things in life we can give and receive.”

“Have you ever been in love?” Taeyong asked.

Jinki looked down and grinned to himself. “Once,” he answered with a tinge of sorrow.

“Was it an inferno kind of love or a slow burn?”

“It crept up on me, but once it got started, roared,” Jinki reminisced. “That’s the other thing about love. Like fire, it can burn all the oxygen and consume you before extinguishing, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake. Be careful not to lose yourself in love.”

Jinki’s warning stirred more uncertainty and conflict within Taeyong regarding his current infatuation with Jaehyun. What if he lets this spark burn out of control and it gets the best of him? He felt his mind racing ahead of himself. “I think I’m going to go out,” he told Jinki as he gathered his things.

“Would you like company?” Jinki asked. As Taeyong’s bodyguard, he shouldn’t even ask. But he had taught Taeyong self-defense to allow him to have more freedom. And with Mayor Shim’s warnings and crackdowns, there was less risk for Taeyong to be out and about on his own.

“No, I want a little quiet time to myself to think. I’ll be back in a few hours,” Taeyong said as he headed out into the city.

 


 

“I’m about to annihilate you,” Haechan taunted.

“Oh? You think so?” Mark countered back.

“Wait, what?!” Haechan shouted, “no! What the fuck?”

“Ha, down again!” Mark laughed as another victory was under his belt. Haechan had come over to Mark’s apartment and they were playing video games between classes.

“Man, fuck you, how do you keep doing that,” Haechan said, bitter at another consecutive loss.

“I’m the greatest of all time, that’s how. I’ll always come out on top,” Mark teased, “Hey--”

Haechan reached over to slap the controller out of Mark’s hands. Mark fell over as he tried to dodge Haechan’s swipe. They wrestled on the floor. Haechan ended up on top, straddling Mark and pinning his arms above his head. “You don’t always come out on top,” Haechan said before kissing Mark, sliding his hands into his and lacing their fingers. Mark ground into Haechan in response. He found Haechan’s aggression a turn on. This had become their typical routine: Haechan would come over to Mark’s place in between classes, they’d play video games, then have sex. Often, they wouldn’t even play video games.

The way they carried on, one couldn’t believe they used to despise each other. Growing up, Haechan took every chance presented to antagonize Mark, which bred contempt for him in Mark in return. Their rivalry carried on all the way to the University of Verona until by fate they ended up partners for their final project in a marketing course they both enrolled in the previous semester. Over the course of the project, they opened to each other about their similar experiences of being orphaned at a young age and raised by their powerful uncles. It culminated in the night when Mark invited Haechan over to pull an all-nighter. They had a few drinks, then one thing led to another and here they were. 

“When’s your next class?” Mark asked in between kisses.

“In an hour,” Haechan replied.

“Plenty of time,” Mark said as he reached down, pulling up Haechan’s shirt.

“I can’t be late; this professor is already on my ass about my tardiness.”

“You know we only need twenty minutes, you can’t hold out longer than that,” Mark teased.

“I can hold out longer than that,” Haechan puffed.

“Then prove it,” Mark challenged, “when you finish class, come back and stay the night.”

“You know that isn’t what this is,” Haechan said, straightening himself up but still straddling Mark. They hadn’t spent more than a couple hours at a time together since that night they first hooked up. No one else knew about their little affair, and Haechan planned to keep it that way. They only met at Mark’s apartment because it was easy walking distance to campus, and they met in the middle of the day when most prying eyes in the building were away at work. For all anyone else knew, Mark and Haechan were still enemies who avoided crossing paths whenever they could.

“What is this then?” Mark asked as he sat up to be level with Haechan.

“A means of passing the time and blowing off steam,” Haechan answered coolly as he got up.

Bullshit, Mark thought to himself. He hated how Haechan always minimized and blew off their relationship but hated even more how much he found Haechan‘s aloofness a turn on. It drove Mark crazy how one person could make him feel such aggravation and desire. He longed for the day he could break down Haechan’s walls and get him to admit that he cared as much as Mark did for him. “You know there is more between us than sex. What happened at the gala proved it.”

“You shouldn’t have popped up like that,” Haechan countered, his back turned to Mark.

“But you were glad I did. I mean, you said as much when we snuck into that stairwell, and I…” Mark said as he came up behind Haechan, slid his hands around his waist and then down into his pants.

“You could have exposed us,” Haechan said as he pulled Mark’s hands away, “I don’t need that, not when I have the chance of being a legitimate part of Capulet. No more shady shit. I can be up there by my uncle’s side.”

“Really? He said that? That’s great,” Mark said with a sigh of relief. He had heard about what Haechan had done, at his uncle’s behest, to the man that his Uncle Yunho had sent to gather information about CG’s plans. He also knew about his pulling a gun on Shindong, which worried him even more because Shindong was not one to mess with. “I know how important it is for you to have your uncle’s good faith and trust in what you can bring to the table.”

“He said as long as I do well in school, keep my temper in check, and stay out of trouble, I can have an executive role alongside Taeyong. I won’t just be the bastard nephew hidden in the shadows,” Haechan said. “It’s why no one can know about us and I can’t get a final grade deduction for always being late.” He caressed Mark’s face and lifted his chin. He then went to grab his bag to leave.

“You still have forty-five minutes before class. You don’t have to leave me dissatisfied,” Mark said biting his lip.

Haechan walk towards him and came close to Mark’s face. “When I stop by next time, we’ll skip the video games and I’ll prove that I can last way past a measly twenty minutes.” And with that, he left.

Damn him, Mark thought as he threw himself down onto the couch. Why do I love him?

 


 

“A derby party?” Jaehyun asked into his phone. “Since when have you been into horse racing?”

“Who doesn’t love drinking and the possibility of winning lots of money?” Ten replied from the other end of the line.

“I mean, you can lose money too,” Jaehyun said.

“I have more money than I can spend. It’s more for the thrill,” Ten said. “Anyway, I’ll have a private box, and everyone will be there so, you’re coming.”

“Eh, I don’t know.”

“Gongmyung will be there.”

“I’m over him. Will any of the other Lees be at the race?” Jaehyun asked in a sheepish tone.

“Like who? And why do you care? It’s not like you ever cared to interact with them besides Gongmyung.”

“Well, do you ever run into Taeyong? Do you know him?”

“No, he’s kinda reclusive. Why are you so curious about him? Don’t tell me you’re interested in him?” Ten asked, suspicious of Jaehyun’s intentions.

“Well, I’m not, but would it be bad if I were?”

“Bro, you know how much your dad has an obsessive hate-on for that whole family. It was bad enough you were with Gongmyung, but Jaejoong’s son would be a whole other thing. Your dad would combust into flames,” Ten laughed, “besides, you don’t even know him or if he’s even interested in men.”

Oh, he is, Jaehyun thought to himself. “Don’t worry about it, just innocent questions. But I’m still iffy on the derby, I might pass.”

“You’re coming! I have a bunch of men lined up for you. Well at least the ones I haven’t reserved for myself, but still high quality,” Ten teased.

“Okay, gotta go. Bye,” Jaehyun said ending the call. He had just finished work for the day and was meandering through Oberon Park to Titania’s Lookout to watch the sunset over the city. As the sun made its evening descent, a cool breeze blew under the lush green canopy. Fireflies lit up the serene woods around him. It was a quiet respite from the bustling city. The sky was a shade of lavender that reminded Jaehyun of Taeyong. When will I get the chance to meet him again? If Ten, who knows everything about everyone in this city with a contacts list bursting at the seams doesn’t even know Taeyong, what hope did Jaehyun have? What if I snuck over to his house? No, that’s creepy stalker behavior.

However, as he came up the steps to the lookout, the heavens have answered his prayers. There Taeyong was, leaning on the railing, looking out and contemplating the twinkling cityscape against the orange glow of the setting sun. This is fate, Jaehyun thought as his heart picked up pace and his palms sweat. He stood there, frozen, not knowing what to say. Shit, why is this so hard when you’re sober? “Beautiful sight isn’t it?” came the words that caught Taeyong’s attention. As he turned to look over his shoulder, Taeyong’s gleaming smile melted away a look of wide-eyed amazement, as if he had been waiting there for Jaehyun’s arrival all along.

“It is now,” Taeyong said, now turned to face Jaehyun.

Jaehyun returned his smile. “I don’t think I introduced myself when we met. I’m--”

“Jung Jaehyun,” Taeyong finished his sentence, “and I’m--”

“Lee Taeyong,” Jaehyun finished in return.

“Did you know who I was the entire time?”

“No, I heard your name called when you left. Did you know who I was?”

“No. I asked around,” Taeyong smiled, “I guess I should have known though. You’re the heir to Montague Corp.”

“And you’re the heir to Capulet Group,” Jaehyun said, taking a few steps closer.

“Father always said the key to victory is to know your enemy,” Taeyong said. “I guess I failed on that front.”

“Is that what I am to you? Your enemy?” Jaehyun flirted, stepping closer still.

“In business and in name, yes. But I don’t believe in judging the child by the sins of the father,” Taeyong answered closing the gap between them. “Let’s start over again. This time I’m just Taeyong, and you’re just Jaehyun.”

“Okay, deal. You can call me whatever as long as you call me,” Jaehyun cringed the moment he finished that statement.

Taeyong blushed. “Wow, you’re not as smooth as I thought you were,” he laughed.

“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting to just run into you here like this. I wanted to be prepared the next time I saw you.”

“You were planning to see me again?”

“Well I wanted to, but realized I never got your number or anything and had no way of contacting you,” Jaehyun said.

“Well let’s fix that,” Taeyong said while taking out his phone. “Here, put your number in mine and I will put mine in yours.” Am I exchanging numbers with him? Just as Taeyong had resigned himself to the other night being a fleeting encounter never to happen again, things had taken an unexpected shift and here he was with Jaehyun again for what it seemed wouldn’t be the last time. It was invigorating, but also nerve-racking.

Jaehyun was also feeling overwhelmed with the object of his newfound desire standing there before him, looking even better in his sober view than he did when they met. He’s fucking gorgeous. “You know, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you and your kiss since we parted.”

Taeyong looked up from saving his number in Jaehyun’s phone, “re—really?” He cracked a nervous smile and took in the contrast of Jaehyun’s dark hair and fair skin that shone ethereal in the twilight.

“Yeah. The thought of never being able to see you again with the memory of your lips seared in my mind tormented me,” Jaehyun said, biting his lip.

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you either,” Taeyong said, his breath deepening as Jaehyun pulled him close, their foreheads touching. After a moment’s anticipation, they were locked in a kiss just as passionate as the first time. 

Jaehyun broke away first. “Sorry, I keep kissing you like that unannounced. I have to control myself.”

“Stop apologizing,” Taeyong said as he pulled Jaehyun back towards him, kissing him in return. The sun had set, cloaking the lovers in the veil of night, crystallized by the light of the moon. In that moment, the world around them melted away and nothing else mattered or existed but the budding passion between them as they embraced. They were on another plane, one of pure euphoria.

The buzzing of Taeyong’s phone interrupted their moment of serenity. He answered it. “Taeyong, dinner has been served. Where are you?” asked Jinki from the other side.

“Sorry, I lost track of time. I’m at the lookout in the park,” Taeyong said.

“All right, well I already sent a car towards the city for you, so I’ll let them know to get you right away at the park. Be careful, you shouldn’t be hanging around there after dark,” Jinki warned.

“Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’m heading towards the car now,” Taeyong said as he hung up, “I need to go.”

“I need to go too. Let me walk with you. It isn’t safe to be out alone here after dark,” Jaehyun said as he took Taeyong’s hand. They strolled back through the park until they neared the main entrance.

“Okay, Jinki can’t see me with you so we have part here,” Taeyong said. “But before that…” Taeyong gave Jaehyun a long kiss goodbye.

As Taeyong walked away, Jaehyun asked, “will I be seeing you again?”

“You have my number. Call me and we’ll work it out,” Taeyong called back.

Jaehyun smiled. For the first time in ages he felt light-hearted and giddy. He was revitalized. Fate was drawing he and Taeyong together and it was wonderful. Maybe I was wrong, and that night wasn’t a doomed ending, but a blessed beginning?

Taeyong met his driver and thought on what Jinki had told him regarding love on the car ride home. His feelings for Jaehyun were building like a wildfire. He very well could fall head over heels in love with him. But Jinki’s warning also played over in his head: “... love can burn all the oxygen and consume you before extinguishing, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake. Be careful not to lose yourself…”

Will Jaehyun breathe into him new life? Or bring his death?

Chapter Text

“Okay, how does this one look? Do you think he will like it?” Joy asked as she stepped out of the fitting room.

“You look amazing! He’ll love you in it,” Tiffany assured her. She had invited Joy to her boutique to give her an outfit for her derby date with Taeyong, and to give the young woman some pointers to not have a repeat of the gala.

 “Are you sure?” Joy stared intently into the mirror as she shifted her body to different angles, tugging at the outfit, searching for any flaw she could find.

“Does it not fit comfortably? Is it too loose? Too tight?” Tiffany asked.

“Oh no, I like it! Sorry, I’ve only ever been shopping like this with my mother and there is usually always something that doesn’t look right. It’s just a reflex I have, to always focus on the shortcomings.” Joy couldn’t recall a time when her mother paid her a compliment that wasn’t followed with a critique. She could barely remember the last time she received even the compliment with the criticism.

“Well you are a beautiful girl! Nothing could ever look bad on you, especially not one of my pieces,” Tiffany said with a reassuring smile. Now I understand what Taeyong meant about her being uptight.

“Could you say that again, so I could record it and send it to my mother? She’s never seen anything she didn’t find some fault with,” Joy said.

“You know, my mother had high expectations of me too,” Tiffany began to confide, “I had to be smart, elegant, cultured. It was my duty to my family to marry a rich and powerful man, be successful, have children of my own…”

“Well you are and did all of those things…”

“Yes, thanks to the au pairs, tutors, piano and dance lessons, going to the right schools, befriending the right people, even if they were horrid. My mother even had me go on a diet and hired a personal trainer for me when I was in high school. There were times I wondered if my mother even loved me as a person—as her daughter—not just another status symbol. But I know that she only pushed me that way because she wanted the best for me. I know there are times Taeyong probably feels that I just nag and nag, but I really do love him and want the best for him. And I’m sure that that’s what your mother really wants for you as well.”

“Taeyong is lucky to have a mother as sweet as you,” Joy said with a smile that didn’t mask the sadness in her eyes.

“Could you say that again, so I could record it and send it to Taeyong? He could use a reminder of how lucky he is,” Tiffany laughed, then turned Joy around to look her directly in the eyes “and your mother could use reminder that she has a wonderful daughter. Why else would I match you with my son if you were anything less than perfect for him?”

“I don’t know about that. Besides me freaking out at the gala over the wine on my dress, he seemed a bit…” Joy searched for the words.

“Awkward and aloof?” Tiffany finished with a knowing nod and grin. “He is a bit awkward because he likes to keep to himself. He gets lost in his thoughts and looks vacant when he does. But he’s very sweet and caring.”

“I guess it was just me then. Ugh, I don’t know why I screw everything up,” Joy said beating herself up.

“Honey, you didn’t screw anything up. You were just nervous,” Tiffany comforted. “He agreed to see you again, right?”

Joy nodded, “I just really don’t want to mess up this opportunity with him.”

“That’s why I’m here to offer my assistance!” Tiffany said cheerfully. “Now, I’ve sent all of these dress options to my hatmaker for her to pick out complimentary pieces and have the shoes as well, so you just need to decide on the dress.”

“You said this one Taeyong would probably like, so I’ll take this one,” Joy decided. “Since you have a man, I’ll trust your judgement.”

“You just need to take an interest in the things Taeyong likes. Like ask him about his art. He’s very talented. He mostly does charcoal sketches, but he also paints. I’ll text you examples of his favorite artists. Just mention their name and he can go on the entire time and you won’t even have to say much of anything,” Tiffany advised.

“I hope I can keep my nerves under control and not get too much in my head to remember all that.”

Tiffany went over to her bag and pulled out a prescription pill bottle. She took out a couple of pills and handed them to Joy. “Here you can use these.”

“What are they?” Joy asked hesitantly.

“It’s fine, they’re just to help you relax. Just take one before the date, and you’ll be good to go.”

Joy hugged Tiffany. “Thank you so much for your help. You’ve just been so kind to me. It means a lot.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie.” Tiffany was touched. She hadn’t been able to pinpoint why she had such an affinity for Joy, but it was clear to her now: she saw a part of herself in Joy. She wanted Joy and Taeyong to find a happiness that had eluded her, despite having a life many dreamed of. The happiness of true love. And she was determined to make it happen by any means necessary.

 


 

“Hey, can I take you out tomorrow night?” Jaehyun asked into the phone.

“Ah, I have the derby tomorrow,” Taeyong responded with disappointment.

You like horse racing? I wouldn’t think that’s your sort of scene,” Jaehyun asked teasingly.

“No, I’m not going by choice,” Taeyong paused before confessing the real reason he would be at the derby, “...my mom set me up on a date.”

“A date? With who?”

“The same woman you saw me with at the gala. My mom is still trying to make that happen,” Taeyong said with a groan.

“I’m guessing you are absolutely thrilled by the idea of spending a whole day wooing her,” Jaehyun said sarcastically, “I’m jealous.”

“Of me or her?” Taeyong asked missing the sarcasm.

“Her of course. She gets to spend a whole day with you, stealing you away from me. I don’t envy your position. I’m glad my parents haven’t started to push me into marriage. I think deep down they know about my...preferences, and just don’t want to acknowledge it.”

I envy you. If this date goes as badly as the gala, then hopefully my mom will just give up and drop it. At least for the time being.”

“Well then, I pray you have a horrible time. Disastrous.”

“Gee thanks,” Taeyong laughed. He liked Jaehyun’s playful, sarcastic sense of humor even if he didn’t always catch the sarcasm. “I wish I could spend the day with you instead.”

“Hmm, there is a possibility I could grant your wish,” Jaehyun mused out loud.

“Oh really? And just how are you—” Taeyong turned around and saw Jinki suddenly standing in the room eavesdropping on his conversation. “You know what, I need to go. Talk to you later, okay? Bye.” He abruptly hung up.

“So, who was it that you would rather spend a whole day with?” Jinki asked with a look of intrigue. He had quietly come in to Taeyong’s studio about halfway into the phone conversation.

“No one, and why are you listening in on my phone conversations? Is there no such thing as privacy anymore?” Taeyong attempted to deflect.

“If you’ve been having clandestine phone conversations and texting an imaginary person every spare moment you’ve had these last couple of weeks, then we’ll need to have you committed,” Jinki laughed, “As your friend, I want to know who’s got you lovestruck. But as your bodyguard, anything that could put you in harm’s way is my business. So, who were you talking to?”

Shit, he’s not going to leave this alone unless I tell him something. Taeyong was compromised. He knew Jinki would just keep digging if he gave a vague answer, but he couldn’t reveal exactly who Jaehyun was, especially the fact that he was a Jung. Taeyong knew the best lies had some inkling of truth, so if he could reveal one secret, he could still hide the other. “It was a former classmate from Illyria. We touched bases again a few weeks ago and have just been talking.”

“Okay, and what else is there?” Jinki probed further.

“What do you mean ‘what else is there?’”

“If this was just some old classmate, you would have just told me. So, what is it about them, or you, that you’re trying to hide?”

“If I tell you, you have to promise not to say anything to anyone else about this, okay?”

Jinki nodded as he sat down preparing to listen to Taeyong’s confession, “I promise.”

Taeyong took a moment to prepare himself for what he now had to tell Jinki to assure his silence: he was going to come out as gay. Even though he trusted Jinki with his life and knew him to be the most understanding and compassionate person he had ever met, Taeyong was still filled with trepidation. What if Jinki didn’t take it well? He was Taeyong’s lone friend and ally besides Haechan, though that relationship wasn’t always solid. If this backfired, he would truly be alone in this. But without much other recourse, he had no choice but to take the chance. “The thing I’m hiding about my classmate is… they’re a guy. So, you know…”

“You’re attracted to men?” Jinki asked.

“Y—yes,” Taeyong stammered. His palms were sweating, and his throat felt tight as he waited what felt like an eternity for Jinki’s response.

Jinki flashed a warm smile. “Of course, it’s okay. I’ve honestly suspected it for a while.”

“Really? Since when?” Taeyong asked as a wave of relief washed over him.

“Remember the art class you were in before you were sent off to boarding school? You always had me drop you off an hour early and you stayed late every day. When I asked why, you said it was because you really liked the teacher...who was quite a good-looking guy. You always talked about him, what was his name?”

“Mr. Bae,” Taeyong responded sheepishly. He remembered that his art teacher had been his first real infatuation.

“Ah, that’s right, Mr. Bae, how could I forget,” Jinki laughed, “you were so lovestruck. It was adorable.”

“Do my parents have any suspicions? Do you think they know?” Taeyong asked.

Jinki shrugged. “They’ve asked me before about any possible girls you could have a crush on, but I think they chalk up your lack of experience and disinterest to being shy, awkward, and a bit weird.”

“Gee, thanks! Nice to know my parents think I’m a loser,” Taeyong sighed.

“I don’t know if that’s what they actually think of you, they could just tell themselves that out of denial of the truth they may already know,” Jinki mused, “one thing we both know is that your mother really wants you and Joy to take a trip down the aisle. But if that was already a dubious proposition, it is certainly not going to happen now.”

“You aren’t going to say or hint anything to my parents, you promised,” Taeyong warned.

“Don’t worry, I’m not. I keep my promises,” Jinki reassured. “At some point though, it’s all going to have to come out.”

“This Joy thing will probably play out before it would even get to that point,” Taeyong said.

“But what about the next girl your mother tries to fix you up with? And then the one after that?”

Taeyong was silent. The turn this conversation had taken was dampening the relief he felt at Jinki’s acceptance. He was dismayed at the idea that he may spend a good chunk of his life lying to his parents as they threw one girl after another at him. He could break his mother’s heart, shattering her hopes and dreams she had for him. Worst still, his parents could very well suspect he’s gay and are trying to fix him by setting him up. “Do you think my parents will ever accept this?”

“Like any parents, yours want the best for you and that is for you to be happy. I think once they see that this special someone makes you happy they will come around and accept it.” Jinki could sense Taeyong’s discouragement and decided to lighten the mood by shifting focus to something that would put a smile on Taeyong’s face: his beau. Jinki also wanted to find out exactly who this guy was. “So, tell me about your mystery lover. What’s his name?”

 “Well if I told you it would take all of the fun out of the mystery wouldn’t it?” Taeyong laughed nervously, “besides it isn’t really much of anything yet, so…”

Jinki just stared.

“Okay, his name is…Jeffery,” Taeyong made up on the spot. What the hell kind of dumb name is Jeffery? Jinki isn’t going to buy this, he thought to himself.

“Jeffrey?” Jinki asked waiting for Taeyong to volunteer more details.

“Yes, Jeffrey. He was an international student. We met in a drawing class but usually just had casual interactions occasionally. He commented on one of my works I posted on SNS and we just started talking more regularly. But it’s only been phone conversations, and with the distance I don’t know if anything serious will come of it,” Taeyong lied.

“Do you have a picture of him?” Jinki asked.

“Um, no not really. He doesn’t take or post many pictures of himself. He wants to be seen through his artwork and be sort of an enigma.” Taeyong observed Jinki’s skeptical gaze. Time to take the emergency exit and get out of here. “You know what, I need to go meet Father. I’m starting at Capulet full time next week and he wants to show me a few things around the office, so I better get going.”

“Ah okay,” Jinki responded. He knew what Taeyong had just told him was probably not the truth, but he decided to let it go for now. “Hey, I’m really glad that you came out to me. Know that no matter what, I’ll always love you, okay?”

Tears started to well up in Taeyong’s eyes. He hadn’t intended for his first coming out moment to happen like this but was glad he had done it and had someone to talk to. He went and hugged Jinki. “Thank you for always being there for me and having my back.”

“Always.”

 


 

Jaehyun drove his way through the streets of Canalside. The shabby warehouse district and working-class community was in the throes of gentrification and had become a trendy area for nightlife, particularly for Verona’s gay scene. He drove his old nondescript Jeep that he drove whenever he wanted to be innocuous and incognito. The area was still in the transitioning phase and dicey. No one of Jaehyun’s stature would dare be seen in this part of town for fear of being robbed (a fear largely, but not completely, unfounded). Jaehyun liked that. It was a refuge within the city when he couldn’t get away from it.

He parked on the street a block away from his destination: the gay club St. Benedicks. This establishment was notoriously known as “the Gay Cathedral of Verona” as it had in fact been St. Benedict Catholic Parish before it shut down and laid vacant, until the proprietor purchased it from the Archdiocese (which was not aware of the specific plans to what would become of the structure once the sale had closed). As it was the middle of the day the club was closed. Jaehyun turned down a side alley that led to the former rectory where the club’s owner lived, a man by the name of Kibum “Key” Kim.

Jaehyun buzzed the doorbell in rapid succession until the door flew open. Jaehyun was greeted by the annoyed countenance of Key.

Key leaned across the threshold and sighed, “well look who finally decides to turn up on my doorstep.” A bright red, silk kimono, printed with white tigers and cherry blossoms, draped his svelte frame. He was shirtless but wearing matching silk pajama bottoms and black velvet embroidered slippers. His bangs were pushed back by a headband. Though it was already afternoon, it was clear that the day had only just begun for the club owner. “At least you gave me a chance to wash my face first.”

“Are you going to invite me in?” Jaehyun asked.

“Sorry, my mother taught me not to invite strangers in.”

“Key, really?”

“Well what else would you be when you don’t come around to visit or hit up the club, nor return my calls checking in on you for weeks? The last time we had spoken you were having one of your low moods, then you just go off the grid, leaving me thinking the worst. Still waiting on that call from you telling me you’re fine by the way, I had to find out from Ten at the bar,” Key chided.

“I’m sorry Key, I should have let you know that I was just taking some days at the beach,” Jaehyun apologized, “then I just got busy with other things--good things-- that I can fill you in on if you forgive me and let me in?”

Key looked upward, dramatically feigning contemplation on the matter, then sighed. “Fine, come in and spill the tea. I’ll pour you a cup, and we’ll call it even.” He moved aside to let Jaehyun in, then led the way to the rooftop conservatory where he had things set up for his afternoon tea. The room was filled with pots and plant boxes filled with different labelled herbs and exotic flora. “This is a ginger, turmeric, and ginseng tea. Everything you need to keep you going throughout the day, and I grew it all here myself” Key said proudly as he poured. He took his seat across and as he began to bring his cup to his lips with both hands asked, “so what are these ‘good things’ that you came over to tell me about?”

“Well the first sort of good, sort of bad thing is that my father has put me in charge of the mobile division, developing my own line of Montamobo phones, tablets, and computers,” Jaehyun said. He took a sip of the tea, grimaced at the strong taste, then proceeded to pour in a copious amount of honey.

“Wow, that’s great! What’s the bad part?” Key asked with a puzzled look.

“Well, that I’m in charge of saving the division and will have no one else to blame if the new line flops hard. My father would never let me live it down. Would probably write me out of his will and turn everything over to Mark,” Jaehyun responded.

“Babe, I really don’t think you can do worse than the MontaNoNo. No one uses those things except, you know, you,” Key said taking a sip of tea.

Jaehyun scrunched up his face and stuck his tongue out at the shady remark before continuing with his other piece of good news. “The new main, wholly positive development I have going on now is that I think I’m falling in love.”

“New? Sweetie, you’ve ‘been falling in love’ ever since I met you,” Key laughed. “Please tell me this is not Gongmyung. That boy is not serious. You know he’s been leaving here every night with a different guy while out here in every tabloid with little Ms. Pop Tart?”

“What?” Jaehyun said momentarily stung from the realization that Gongmyung had played him with the “celibacy” schtick. “Never mind, Gongmyung can do what or whomever he wants because I’ve met someone else.”

Key’s ears perked up. “Oh, really? Where?”

“The Capulet Foundation Gala.”

“How did you manage to even get past security?” Key laughed.

“Ten was on the guest list.”

“Of course. So, who is this object of your desire?”

“Taeyong Lee .”

Key paused and furrowed his brow, “why do I know that name?”

“He’s the son of Jaejoong Lee, the heir to Capulet.”

Key choked on his tea and started coughing at the revelation. “Oh honey, no! You really know how to pick them. Gongmyung was already bad enough, but how the fuck did you end up smitten with the son of your father’s archnemesis?”

“In my defense, I didn’t know who he was until after the fact. It was a masquerade theme and I had honestly never even seen a picture of him before. I would have definitely remembered that face if I had,” Jaehyun said cracking a grin.

“I want to know details, tell me everything,” Key poured another cup of tea and leaned in toward Jaehyun, listening to every word intently.

“We locked eyes from across the room, and it was just like, an instant attraction like I was struck by lightning,” Jaehyun began. He recounted every moment that had transpired up to that point: their first encounter in the garden, their next meeting at the park, their phone conversations, the kisses. All of it in vivid detail and with an ear-to-ear grin plastered on his face. “I’ve only known him for a few weeks and he’s like, all I think about.”

Key’s demeanor had softened as he took in everything Jaehyun said with a sentimental gaze. He had been turning the silver band he wore on his ring finger. “Wow, you’re seriously falling for him, aren’t you?” Key asked with an earnest warmth he rarely displayed, at least when it came to Jaehyun’s love life. He had been ready to be skeptical and write off Jaehyun’s new love interest as another of his flighty “in love today, heartbroken tomorrow” infatuations. But Jaehyun’s demeanor when he talked about Taeyong was not like anything Key had seen in him before. He hadn’t seen him smile so much and radiate such brightness, rarely if ever, in the few years that he had known Jaehyun. Not in any discussion regarding the man in his life. It made him nostalgic for his own love.

“I think I really am, and while it’s nice and exciting, it’s stressing me out at the same time,” Jaehyun confided.

“How could falling for someone be stressful?” Key asked.

“There are just so many things stacked against us,” Jaehyun sighed. “We’re both set to be successors to our families’ respective empires, which means we are expected to get married and have children...with women. Taeyong is already facing that pressure. I asked him out for tomorrow night and he had to turn me down because his mother arranged for him to go to the derby with this woman she’s trying to set him up with. And while he clearly dislikes being setup like that, he still goes along with it, so part of me wonders how far he would go to appease his parents?”

“I’ve been in your place before, with the boyfriend from a wealthy family having to masquerade as straight with a very public girlfriend to keep his parents happy...and his inheritance,” Key reminisced with not so fondly, “but at least from what you’ve told me, Taeyong doesn’t seem actively into it. And don’t tell me that you wouldn’t date someone your parents forced on you if it meant maintaining your place in line at Montague?”

“I know why he does it and you’re right, I’d probably do it too,” Jaehyun relented. “There’s also the whole ‘our families hate each other’ thing. My being in love with Lee Jaejoong’s son would probably be worst news to my father than me being gay. This relationship just seems dead on arrival when I think about it and it may just be better to not develop any deeper feelings and just let this go before we crash and burn.”

“Ay Jaehyun, please! Don’t start sabotaging yourself now and cheat yourself out of the real deal,” Key exclaimed.

Jaehyun was surprised Key was supportive of the idea of he and Taeyong despite the obvious obstacles. “Are you really saying that I should go for it anyway?”

“Yes, I am,” Key confirmed, “life is too short and unpredictable to live it based on the desires of others. Trust me, no one knows that better than I do. When you have the opportunity of happiness before you, seize it and don’t let go for anything.”

Jaehyun smiled at the encouraging wisdom from Key. “You know, Ten invited me to his private box for the derby. I wasn’t going to go at first, but when Taeyong and I spoke earlier, he said he wished he could be there with me and I considered going…”

“Only considered?” Key asked bewildered. “You’re going and will just casually run into Taeyong, work your magic to get him away from the beard for the day, then later tomorrow night, bring him here so I can meet him.”

“I thought you were the angel on my shoulder to Ten’s devil? You usually advise me against these things,” Jaehyun laughed.

“Unlike Ten, my advice is quality, from years of experience and acquired wisdom,” Key rebutted.

Jaehyun got up to leave and Key walked him back down to the door. Jaehyun went to give Key a parting hug. “Thanks for the tea and the encouragement.”

“No problem, I always have both in supply,” Key said. “And remember, you better return my calls and don’t just disappear on me like that again. Got it?”

“Yes, mother, I promise,” Jaehyun said cheekily as he jogged off back towards the street into the late afternoon.

Chapter Text

The Verona Derby has been a long-standing tradition in the city for over a century and one of the biggest society events of the year. For business magnates like the Lees and Jungs, it was another battleground in their ongoing war as both families have owned contending thoroughbreds in every race dating back to the inaugural event. More important than winning prize money was the satisfaction of having placed ahead of the other even if neither horse was top 3 that year.

For others, like Ten, it was just another party to drink, gamble, and schmooze. Having acquired the reputation of being Verona’s International Playboy, Mr. Leechaiyapornkul’s wild ways were not totally aimless. His family headed up one of the largest shipping fleets in the world and had deals with almost every top industrial giant including both Capulet and Montague. As the regional head of Mercutio Shipping it was his job to build positive business relationships to maintain and acquire new contracts. Being the go-to-guy for a good time for the young CEOs and heirs facilitated not only networking, but also the collection of scandalous secrets. One would be less likely to withdraw from a deal if doing so could result in a leak of several drunken indiscretions. Ten’s notoriety landed him the opportunity to host and sponsor the pre-derby Afternoon Delight cocktail at the Tempest Downs’ Millionaire Clubhouse. It also would be the debut of his new signature whiskey, T.N.T. , from the distillery he opened. So far it was a hit as people were drinking merrily and getting ready to place their bets. Ten looked up from his group to see Mark coming in with Jaehyun in tow. “Well look who decided to come after all,” Ten said as they approached.

“Ay, we have a horse in this race, of course we were going to come,” Mark said as he gave Ten a friendly embrace.

“I’m just his chaperone and here to place bets for him since he can’t,” Jaehyun said, scanning the room for Taeyong.

“Hmmm, sure you are,” Ten said skeptically, catching Jaehyun’s wandering eyes. Given the line of questioning when Ten called to invite him, he had an idea who he was searching for. “Guess who else will be joining us up in the box?”

Seated at the bar table behind Ten was a tall, slender young man. Dark haired with reddish brown highlights and tousled bangs. Eyes smoldering behind round, thin-framed glasses. He was wearing a pink and navy argyle-patterned sweater over a white Oxford shirt, mint-colored chinos and black and white saddle shoes. His full lips cracked into a devilish smile.

“Oh wow, is this Little Winwin?” Jaehyun asked teasingly while pointing, mouth agape in exaggerated shock.

The grin turned to a grimace at the hearing of his embarrassing moniker. “It’s Sicheng now. Winwin is so juvenile,” Sicheng responded. Dong Sicheng was a classmate of Jaehyun and Ten’s at the University of Verona. Like them he was from a magnate family, founders of Dong Chemicals producers of household cleaners and products.

“My apologies Sicheng ,” Jaehyun bowed, “what brings you here from Mantua?”

“Obviously the derby, why is anyone else here?” Sicheng quipped. “But really, Ten gave me a call and it had been awhile since I had seen or heard from everyone, so I thought ‘why not come over for the weekend?’”

“I’m sure he’s especially glad you decided to come, Jaehyun. He asked the most about you,” Ten revealed with a nudge toward Jaehyun. Sicheng diverted his gaze and took a sip of his drink.

“You know, I should go find myself one of those. Excuse me,” Jaehyun said pardoning himself from this moment of awkwardness to pursue who he was really here for.


 

Haechan sat glowering across the clubhouse towards Mark and his friends. It had been a couple of weeks since he had seen or spoken to Mark. He had been extremely focused on school and was now doing well in all his courses. It was time to apply for internships. He wasn’t worried about landing one as he knew had a position secured at Capulet. The question was whether he would be interning alongside Taeyong in the executive office, or not. He loved his cousin but envied his favored position in the family. Taeyong was the golden firstborn. Haechan on the other hand was the adopted nephew with the disgraced, dead mother and unknown father, subject to much rumor and speculation. Stigma was the cloud shrouding him in darkness. He hated that it seemed he could never get away from it, that he had to suffer the consequences for his parents’ mistakes, mistakes he didn’t even know about nor had any part of. All of this should be the last thing on his mind, but social events always triggered him, as it felt as though every eye was on him. Every whisper was about him. He really wanted to just go off somewhere with Mark: the only person who could give his mind a moment’s solace.

“Oh Don Don, why are you sitting alone with that miserable look on your face?” his aunt Tiffany asked as she came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and nuzzling him. She was the only one he allowed to use that pet name given to him by his mother. She was the closest thing to a mother he had.

“I’m just thinking about internships,” Haechan sighed.

“Why? You know you’ll work at Capulet,” Tiffany reassured.

“Yeah, in an unimportant position where I can’t mess things up,” Haechan said in exasperation as he spun his class around on the table. “Auntie, can you talk to Uncle and ask him to have me work under him or something?”

“You know your Uncle has his own mind when it comes to business and wouldn’t take my input. Which is fine by me because he doesn’t tell me how to run my business either,” Tiffany said while stirring her drink. “But you could try Taeyong.”

“Taeyong?” Haechan asked with a quizzical look.

“Yes, Taeyong. He’s at Capulet now and could probably take you on as an assistant while he gets his bearings,” Tiffany suggested.

“I don’t want to be Taeyong’s assistant ,” Haechan frowned. Why do I always need to be second to him?

“Donghyuk, I know it doesn’t seem like an ideal position at first glance. But, your uncle is going to be guiding Taeyong, and if you are Taeyong’s right-hand man...you will be there to receive the same guidance as if you were Jaejoong’s intern,” Tiffany reasoned. “In name you wouldn’t be equal positions, but in effect you are both at the same level within the company. Taeyong may be older and has finished his education but he doesn’t know much more about how Capulet runs than you. In fact, you probably know more.”

Haechan was considering her point when he caught something in his sights that did not sit well with him. He saw Ten had come in close to Mark to whisper in his ear, his hand resting on Mark’s lower back. Mark laughs at whatever he says and playfully pushes him away. Ten comes back in close and says something else and they both laugh while Ten puts his arm around Mark’s waist and Mark puts his arm around Ten, resting his hand on Ten’s shoulder giving it a squeeze. What the hell was all that? Haechan thought to himself.

“Anyway, you don’t need to be weighing your mind down and pouting when we are here to have a good time. The only long face I want to look at is that of our prized horse coming in first,” Tiffany gently chided. “Now come on, help me place my bets on who will show beside our own Rose By Any Other Name.”

Haechan returned his attention to his aunt and gave her a forced smile as they got up to make their way to the betting counter. He looked back again toward Ten and Mark, slightly relieved they had broken apart. Mark looked over and returned his gaze with a smile and a wave, but Haechan turned away and continued after his aunt.


 

“A TiNT Julep, please,” Jaehyun asked of the bartender. He had to find Taeyong in the crowd, then casually make his way over to “bump into him.” But first he needed a drink.

“Fancy meeting you here,” came a voice from the person who just came up to the bar beside him.

Jaehyun heaved an annoyed sigh before turning to acknowledge the man. “Gongmyung,” he said with a nod.

“You remember who I am? Not going to turn and run like you did at the gala?” Gongmyung questioned with a chuckle.

“Weren’t you with your girlfriend?” Jaehyun quipped back.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Gongmyung responded.

“My bad, I meant beard,” Jaehyun said as the bartender served him his drink and he took a sip. “We both know she’s really just a cover for all those guys you’ve been meeting at St. Bene--”

Gongmyung abruptly grabbed Jaehyun’s arm and ushered him off to the side. “Want to not say that in front of a bar full of people?”

“Oh, so it is true! You’re no longer ‘celibate.’”

“I don’t know who told you that--”

“You know I’m friends with Key. Did you think you could be in his club leaving with a different guy every night and he wouldn’t notice, or that he wouldn’t tell me?”

“Just because he saw me leave with someone, doesn’t mean I actually slept with them. And even if I did, you’re the one who just dropped out on me so, why would I turn down a lay?”

“Had no problem turning me down repeatedly,” Jaehyun said annoyed.

“I wanted to build something real with you because I thought we could have something special,” Gonghyun said as he reached out and rubbed Jaehyun’s arm, “you’re different from the others.”

Is he serious right now, Jaehyun thought to himself? He was tired of wasting his time with this conversation and wanted to nip it in the bud, so he could go find Taeyong. “Look, I’ve moved on so no need to try to sweet talk me with empty words.”

Before Gongmyung could say something in reply, a whiny voice chimed in. “Myungie babe, there you are! Who’s your friend?” asked the model Gongmyung had been taking out to public events for his image.

“I’m Jung Jaehyun, and we’re not really friends,” Jaehyun said as he introduced himself.

“Oh well then, you won’t mind if I steal him away?” she turned to Gongmyung, “I want you to meet some of the girlies.”

“Oh, nothing to steal, he’s all yours,” Jaehyun snickered, tipped his glass to them and went about his business.


 

“So, there’s the stallion in all his glory with his very big ...thing,” Joy gestured with her hands, “and he just gets on top of the mare. And our teacher says, ‘don’t mind that children, they’re just doing a friendly dance.’ Then I say, ‘Wow! They’re best friends, because they are hugging very hard and happily.’”

“What? Oh my God,” Taeyong laughs almost wheezing. He couldn’t believe this was the same girl who broke down over dribbling some wine on her dress. She was much more laidback, and he was enjoying their conversation. Little did Taeyong know that her relaxed manner was due to the anti-anxiety medication his mother had given her. They had initially talked about art, then ended up sharing stories from their childhoods and schooling which is what led to Joy’s story about two horses mating at her equestrian academy when she was a little girl back in Cawdor.

His having a decent time was a double-edged sword. On the positive side, it made this setup date tolerable. On the downside, his mother would keep pushing him on these dates, because in her view them not having a horrible date meant wedding bells were in their future, and she would continue to meddle and push Joy onto him.

“This seems to really be where the party is at,” came a voice that instantly put Taeyong into a state of shock.

Approaching Taeyong and Joy, looking ever dashing in a powder blue seersucker suit, white shirt slightly unbuttoned, was Jaehyun. “Uh...um...I,” Taeyong stuttered. Why is here and what is he doing?

“Sorry for the interruption. I was just mingling around and saw you two laughing and thought maybe I would come over and introduce myself,” Jaehyun said as he extended his hand toward Joy. “I’m Jung Jaehyun. And you are?”

“Park Sooyoung, but you can call me Joy,” Joy said as she shook Jaehyun’s hand. “Are you Jung Jaehyun of the Monatgue Corp. Jungs?”

“In the flesh,” Jaehyun affirmed, “and are you of the Macbeth Tech Parks?”

“Why yes indeed,” Joy smiled, “I’m surprised you would connect me with my parents. I’m not as out there as you, the heir to one of the largest conglomerates.”

“Macbeth Tech is one of the most rapidly growing and innovative companies right now,” Jaehyun said, “it’s almost witchery how you’ve boomed almost overnight.”

“What can I say, my parents and I are ambitious when it comes to business,” Joy responded, proud to receive the praise.

Jaehyun finally turned his attention to Taeyong who had quietly just stood there, nervously sipping his drink. “I’m sorry, how rude of me to just butt in and ignore you like that. I’m Jaehyun and you are?”

Why the hell is he acting like we’ve never met? Taeyong was puzzled but then he saw Jaehyun wink and realized he should play along. “I’m Lee Taeyong, of the Capulet Group Lees.”

“Pleasure to meet the enigmatic Lee Taeyong in the flesh,” Jaehyun smiled while shaking Taeyong’s hand.

Joy observed the display and was stricken by how cordial they were to each other when the Lee and Jung rivalry and hatred for one another was infamous. Even at this event, the Lees, Jungs, and their respective alliances were on opposite ends of the room, with the mayor and neutral parties who had business dealings with both were in the middle acting as a buffer. “Is this the moment where you tear each other’s heads off?” Joy asked half-jokingly.  It was suspicious that Jaehyun would come up to them like he didn’t know who he was talking to. Joy felt there was some ulterior motive and was curious to see what it was.

“Why would I, because of our family names?” Jaehyun questioned. “That’s my father’s grudge not mine. I want to take Montague and the family into a new age. In fact, I’m developing a whole new line of mobile devices for the electronics division.”

“Oh really? You actually do product development?” Joy asked intrigued. “Most heirs just get high executive titles but have other people do all the work.”

“I have both a computer engineering and a business management degree. And at Montague, everyone is expected to earn their way and get results. It’s not just nepotism,” Jaehyun countered. “I actually have been following Macbeth Tech’s developments for inspiration.” Joy began to engage with Jaehyun in a tech discussion, she herself having a computer science degree. She was impressed at how well he knew his stuff. Conversation led to Macbeth Tech’s latest innovation. “The Hecate software looks like it’s really going to be a game changer. It’s the kind of thing that my mobile line could use as a base,” Jaehyun said.

Taeyong had been sidelined during this conversation as he had no idea what Jaehyun and Joy were talking about. He had no idea that Jaehyun was this smart, ambitious, and dedicated to excelling at his job. It was a different side that he found made Jaehyun both more insanely attractive but also more intimidating. Taeyong felt the need to keep up and impress Jaehyun, so he interjected. “Oh, it is going to be a game changer. That’s why Capulet is acquiring MacBeth.”

Joy paused and shot Taeyong a look before awkwardly smiling. “Actually, that acquisition isn’t finalized. We’re still negotiating terms,” Joy tried to cover. No one was supposed to know yet about the deal until everything was finalized. Now Taeyong had let the cat out of the bag.

Jaehyun had found this turn fortuitous. He only engaged in this conversation to get on Joy’s good side to allow him to be a third wheel and spend time publicly around Taeyong. He of course already knew about Capulet’s aims to acquire Macbeth from the mole they had in the company but now Joy had made the mistake of saying that things were still up in the air. That meant Montague could counter offer. “Well, I know you’ll both be fine no matter what comes of the deal.” I’ll have to take this to Father and discuss the possibility of putting in a better offer.

Taeyong was embarrassed at his error but was truly mortified by what happened next.

While the three had been conversing, Jaejoong had been keenly observing from a distance. Why is Jung Jaehyun over there with Taeyong and Ms. Park? he thought to himself. It reminded him of years ago when he and Yunho were near inseparable and the many good times they shared together dreaming of the ways they would unite and take the world by storm. But he also remembered what he did that turned their relationship sour, the pain he had caused, and the feud he had reignited. He decided he need to go over and investigate the nature of this interaction and Jaehyun’s intentions.

Shit, Father is coming over here , Taeyong thought frantically. What is he going to say? What is he going to do? Nothing indicating the true nature of their relationship had happened, but Taeyong still felt as though they had been exposed. He still had no clue what Jaehyun had even aimed to do with this charade and was angry at him for being so reckless.

“I never imagined that I would see my son and Yunho’s son together, talking amicably,” Jaejoong said as he came up to the triad.

“Mr. Lee, pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Jaehyun said with smooth, composed charm as he shook Jaejoong’s hand. “I was just having a casual chat with Taeyong and Ms. Park here. No ill-will or anything.” Taeyong wondered how Jaehyun could keep it together so well when he himself was trembling with nerves.

“Yes, we were talking mostly about computer coding and such, nothing interesting,” Joy fibbed. She wanted to cover for Taeyong’s earlier blunder and didn’t want to raise Jaejoong’s suspicions.

“I could see,” Jaejoong said with a smile. “Maybe this could be the first step in building a bridge and letting that old feud die. Our children should lead us into a brighter future.” Jaejoong looked over at Taeyong who just nodded in agreement. “Excuse me, I see some others I need to say hello to. But please continue to enjoy yourselves.”

As Jaejoong left, Joy felt flushed and a bit woozy all the sudden. She wobbled slightly and then caught herself. “Are you alright?” Taeyong asked.

“I think this whiskey is a little stronger than I anticipated,” Joy said.

“You should sit down and drink some water,” Jaehyun advised.

“That’s a good idea. Maybe I should go up and sit in the box? There’s nowhere really to sit down here,” Joy said.

“Here, let’s help you get up there,” Jaehyun said.

“No, I can help her. You know her being my date and everything,” Taeyong said to Jaehyun.

“Very well, I think I’ll go to the stables , wish our horse luck,” Jaehyun said, emphasizing where he was going as a hint for Taeyong to come find him after he escorted Joy up to the Capulet skybox.

Taeyong gave a nod of understanding. “Nice meeting you Jaehyun,” he said as he put an arm around Joy to support her as they made their ascent. “Maybe we’ll see each other around?”

“Yes,” Jaehyun said, “we will.”


 

“We’ll obviously bet on Rose by Any Other Name to show. Looks like Queen Mab is a Top Three contender...as is Holy Palmer’s Kiss,” Tiffany deliberated with Haechan on the betting floor. “Do you think your uncle would be annoyed with me if I bet Jung’s horse?”

“Uncle says never bet against your competitor out of loathing when a win for them could mean a win for you. The odds are in their favor of at least getting third place so we shouldn’t lose. Those are the three best choices,” Haechan reasoned.

“Oooo, see?” Tiffany squealed, “you do have what it takes to follow in your uncle and cousin’s footsteps. Okay, let me go place the bet. Wait here and then we’ll go up to the box.” Tiffany made her way to the counter leaving Haechan standing off to the side of the floor.

“Why if it isn’t the little Lee bastard,” Shindong said approaching Haechan.

“What did you just call me?” Haechan snapped.

“You know children aren’t allowed here on the betting floor, we better get you back to your mother,” Shindong said looking around the room. “Oh, that’s right! She’s dead.”

Haechan puffed up and started toward Shindong but saw Mayor Shim nearby. Shindong just stood smirking. He’s baiting me. Haechan wanted nothing more than to put Shindong in his place but couldn’t afford to cause another commotion in public. Instead he seethed through clenched teeth and fists, and a smoldering stare.

Shindong laughed. “Not such a big boy now without your gun to wave around, huh? Can’t even speak up and stand up for yourself like a man. Jaejoong must be disappointed to have such a wuss for a nephew.”

“You wouldn’t be talking all this shit if it was just you and I, one on one,” Haechan snapped.

“No, I wouldn’t, I’d gut you like the spineless little bitch you are,” Shindong threatened.

“That’s enough, Shindong,” Mark said, stepping between the two. “My uncle already told you that we didn’t need any more problems and public spats with the Lees. Stop trying to start shit, or you’ll have bigger problems on your hands.”

Shindong chuckled and shook his head, “kids these days.”

As Shindong slunk away, Mark turned towards Haechan, who averted eye contact as not to betray their familiarity with one another. “You really showed restraint, I would have punched him square in the face if he talked about my mother like that to me.” Haechan remained silent. “Where have you been these last few weeks?” Mark continued, “I’ve missed you.”

There was another pause before Haechan asked, “what are you doing later tonight?”

“Nothing, I’ll just be at home.”

“I’m coming over. Be ready for me,” Haechan said as he walked away. He needed to remind Mark of what they had to keep him from wandering away with someone whom he didn’t belong.


 

“Okay, we made it,” Taeyong said as he helped Joy get settled in the Capulet Group skybox.

“Thank you,” Joy said as she flopped down and sank into one of the overstuffed leather chairs. “I just need to sit and drink some water and I’ll be good to go.”

Taeyong asked one of the attendants for a bottle of water. Then, in came Tiffany and Haechan. “Haechan! Mother! Can you keep Joy company? I want to go wish the jockeys luck,” Taeyong said taking the opportunity to get away to the stables.

“Okay, but don’t take too long,” Tiffany said.

“Hey Taeyong, I need to talk to you about something,” Haechan said.

“Um sure, later when I get back okay?” Taeyong promised as he dashed out.

Tiffany sat next to Joy, eager to find out how things were progressing between the two. “So, how has it been going so far?”

“They were going well until I had maybe too much to drink,” Joy stuttered out. “Those pills really helped me to relax.”

“Honey, you aren’t supposed to mix alcohol and pharmaceuticals,” Tiffany said in a hushed tone. “How much did you drink?”

“I only had like TWO drinks,” Joy whined, “I shouldn’t be this out of it!” Joy felt sleepy and lethargic, as if all the energy had been sapped out of her.

“Maybe you should go home?” Tiffany suggested.

“I can’t! The race and what about Taeyong?” Joy started to freak out. “Urgh, I ruined things again.”

“You didn’t ruin anything. Think of it as leaving him wanting more. Going home ill will also make him call to check in on how you’re doing.”

Joy put on an exaggerated sentimental look and flopped over to hug Tiffany. “Oh, what would I do without you?”

“Aw, sweetie you’d do amazing,” Tiffany said in her sweetly reassuring voice, though she sincerely doubted Joy would be doing amazing. “Now let’s get you a ride home before you really end up embarrassing yourself.”


 

Taeyong made his way through the stalls of the stable complex, frantically searching for Jaehyun. He still didn’t know what to make of what had happened earlier when Jaehyun had come up to he and Joy and introduced himself as if they had never met before and needed Jaehyun to explain himself. He finally found himself at the stall where the Jungs’ horse, Holy Palmer’s Kiss, was ready to parade out with its jockey in the opening ceremony. There Jaehyun was petting and cooing over the thoroughbred and wishing the jockey well. When he glanced over at Taeyong, Taeyong gave a nod for him follow away from possible prying eyes and eavesdroppers. Once they were away from the busier stables, Taeyong gave Jaehyun a quick jab in the shoulder.

“Ow! What was that for?” Jaehyun winced as he massaged his shoulder.

“What the hell were you doing earlier, trying to expose us?” Taeyong interrogated in a stifled yell, “I didn’t even know you were going to be here. You didn’t say anything when I told you that I was going when we spoke yesterday.”

“I wasn’t planning on going, but then I changed my mind. And we were just talking, what conclusions was anyone going to draw from that? I even acted like this was the first time we had ever met too,” Jaehyun said.

“Did you forget that everyone knows our families are rivals and that we avoid each other whenever possible? Us having a conversation that doesn’t involve at least passive aggressive jabs at each other is enough to arouse suspicion,” Taeyong said breathlessly.

“Anyone who noticed probably thought I was trying to steal Joy away from you then. I did speak to her more than you,” Jaehyun chuckled trying to ease the tension as Taeyong paced anxiously.

“My father certainly found it suspicious! I can’t wait for that interrogation,” Taeyong panicked.

Jaehyun grabbed Taeyong by the shoulders and set him back against the stable wall, then caressed his face so that he could make eye contact. “You really need to calm down. Your dad was fine. If he says anything, just tell him the truth: we were only making idle conversation. If you act cagey like you have something to hide, it’s only going to make him suspect that something is off,” Jaehyun said in attempt to assuage Taeyong’s worries.

Taeyong realized he was getting carried away and making their run in earlier into a bigger deal than it really was. Other than Jaejoong, no one had noticed or said anything about the two speaking. “Sorry, it’s just that I feel my life has gotten a little unpredictable lately since we met. Jinki, my bodyguard, was catching on to our phone conversations and I ended up coming out to him yesterday when I hadn’t planned to.”

Jaehyun’s eyes widened. “How did that go?”

“He’s cool with it. I didn’t really think he wouldn’t be, but you never know. It feels better though to not have to hide from him,” Taeyong said.

“Does he know about me then?” Jaehyun asked.

“No, that detail I left out. He thinks I’m talking to some old classmate, Jeffery.”

“Jeffery? Hmmm, you know that’s not that bad of an alias. Jeffery. Jeff ,” Jaehyun grinned as he tried to say the random name in the most alluring and sexy tone as possible.

“Stop trying to joke your way out of this. I’m still mad at you for stressing me out,” Taeyong said trying to remain serious, but failing against Jaehyun’s charm.

“I’m sorry, I just needed to see you, to talk to you. Not through phone calls and texts, but live, in the flesh,” Jaehyun said as he leaned into Taeyong, “I must take every opportunity I can get. At least now we don’t have to act like we don’t know each other at all when we see each other at events like this.”

“But it’s risky,” Taeyong said pushing Jaehyun at arm’s length but Jaehyun immediately closed the distance between them again.

“It’s a risk worth taking,” Jaehyun ran his hands down Taeyong’s arms to his hands and tenderly laced their fingers together. “What we have between us is so strong and magnetic, it’s more than attraction. But I don’t want to call it what I think it is. Not yet.”

Taeyong furrowed his brow. “Why not?”

“We barely know each other, it’s too soon to say... that . I think I could be falling for you, but I need to be sure first.”

Taeyong was feeling hectic inside, experiencing a mixed wave of emotion that he had never experienced before. He was breathless, lightheaded, and felt like he could throw up. Aware that anyone could come around the corner at any moment, he wanted to push Jaehyun away. But at the same time, he wanted to pull him closer and melt into his embrace. He was so enraptured, it both excited and terrified him. But he knew that he wanted Jaehyun to love him. He wanted it more than anything. “What do I need to do to make you sure of how you feel?”

“Take a risk and go out with me tonight,” Jaehyun said. “I have a friend who owns a gay club we can go to. In cognito and total discretion. Just for a few hours.”

Taeyong pulled Jaehyun in and kissed him, throwing caution to the wind as he couldn’t resist the urge any longer. He pressed their foreheads together and said, “okay, I’ll take the risk. For you.”

Jaehyun smiled and kissed Taeyong out of elation. “I promise we’ll have a good time.” The speaker blared with the announcement for the horses and their jockeys to make their way to the track for opening proceedings. “I guess that’s our cue to get back. My friends are probably wondering what happened to me,” Jaehyun said.

“I need to get back too. Joy could be passed out by now,” Taeyong laughed.

“I’ll go this way and you can go that way,” Jaehyun said. They exchanged a parting kiss. As they departed in opposite directions Jaehyun turned and said, “I’ll text you later to come pick you up.”

Taeyong smiled and nodded and continued on his way back to his skybox.

“So, how’s Jeffery?” came a voice from behind him as he rounded the corner. He turned startled to see Jinki had just been on the other side of the wall that he and Jaehyun had been up against.

“Wh-what?” Taeyong stuttered, the look on his face like a deer caught in headlights.

“Remember Jeffrey? The guy you’ve been seeing?” Jinki asked. “Or maybe his actual name, Jung Jaehyun , might ring a bell?”

Busted. The high Taeyong was on immediately crashed now that he and Jaehyun had been found out, just as he had feared. “How long were you there? And why are you even down here?” Taeyong asked.

“Long enough,” Jinki responded. “I saw you two talking earlier and your panicked body language clued me in. So, when you slunk away down here, I decided to follow to see if my suspicions were correct. And boy were they. You’re also a terrible liar. I never bought that Jeffery nonsense and knew you were hiding something. Why didn’t you just tell me the truth?”

“Because he’s a Jung, and I knew you were going to see that as a problem and try to prevent me from contacting or seeing him,” Taeyong said plainly.

“I won’t lie and say I don’t have reservations about his interest in you, given the bad blood between your families, but I wouldn’t automatically try to stop you from seeing someone who makes you happy and treats you well,” Jinki said. “I don’t want you to feel like you can’t be completely honest with me and have to keep secrets from me.”

Taeyong felt a tinge of guilt for keeping Jinki in the dark when he was the closest friend he had. “I’m sorry I made you feel like I don’t trust you. I never expected to have these feelings so suddenly for someone like him and the situation is so complicated, I just don’t know what I should do.”

“I think you do know what you want to do, your actions say it all: you want to pursue him. You’re just too scared to really go all in,” Jinki put it bluntly.

“Shouldn’t I be? I don’t even know how this could end,” Taeyong admitted. It was already a tall order to come out and try to live as an openly gay man in his position. It would be even worse to be out openly with Jaehyun, something his parents would never let him do.

“Don’t think about what could happen in the future, you can’t predict or control for that. Just think focus on the present,” Jinki advised. “How did you plan to go on this date tonight with Jaehyun with no one none the wiser?”

“I don’t know, just say I was going out with friends,” Taeyong shrugged.

“I mean this in the best way but...you don’t have friends,” Jinki said.

“Well I do have you, my dutiful bodyguard. Now that you are in the know and want me to go for it, then you can help cover for me.”

“I’m glad that you want my assistance, because you were only going to be able to go on the condition that I meet Jaehyun and of course go with you,” Jinki said.

Great , Taeyong thought to himself. The whiplash of the day’s rollercoaster of events had worn him out and he was just ready to be done with the derby and get ready for that coming night. “Come on, we can talk about this more later. We should get back before we miss the race.”


 

When Taeyong and Jinki made it back to the Capulet Group skybox, Joy was nowhere to be found. “What happened to Joy?” Taeyong asked his mother.

“Oh, she wasn’t feeling very well and left early,” Tiffany said, “but she really enjoyed her time with you today.”

“Yeah, it was better than the last time,” Taeyong relented. Tiffany’s eyes brightened at the news and Taeyong knew that just that little bit would encourage her even more. But Taeyong didn’t want to think about that now and his focus was on seeing Jaehyun that night.

Meanwhile, in Ten’s skybox, Ten was questioning Jaehyun about what he had been up to all day. “Did you really have a run in with Gongmyung?”

“Yes, but the nail is firmly hammered into that coffin,” Jaehyun responded.

“And did you also talk to Lee Taeyong and Park Sooyoung?” Ten inquired.

“Do you have a spy or something keeping tabs on me? Did they also tell you I tipped the valet and restroom attendant too?”

“I just find it curious that you weren’t going to come today, you grilled me for info on Taeyong, then you end up not only here, but you also seek him out and talk to him,” Ten said with raised eyebrows and a mischievous grin on his face.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” Jaehyun quipped.

“Struck a nerve, did I?” Ten teased. “Hm, I must definitely be on to something then.”

“You’re onto nothing,” Jaehyun dismissed. Ten was one of Jaehyun’s best friends, but he was also meddlesome and enjoyed gossiping too much. The last thing he wanted was Ten knowing about his relationship with Taeyong, at least for the time being.

“That’s good news for our Little Winwin then,” Ten said.

“You are still trying to push that? I thought you left that idea behind in college. There was never nothing there,” Jaehyun said.

“Maybe not on your end, but definitely his,” Ten said. “Look how far he’s come though since college. From Little Winwin to sexy Sicheng. Now that you’re free, you should probably hit that.”

“You’re talking him up so much, maybe you should instead,” Jaehyun suggested.

“You know I’m only into daddies, or 'zaddies' as the kids on the street say today.”

Jaehyun just shook his head. I’m spoken for , he thought to himself. He reflected on the events of the day as the announcer called the names of the contending horses as they entered the gates. His boldness that day had paid off. He and Taeyong were ready at the gate, set to take off racing toward a fate unforeseen, but one that Jaehyun was determined to make a happy one.

Chapter Text

For all the pre-race pomp and circumstance, the race itself was quick and predictable. Winning the crown was Queen Mab, followed by Rose By Any Other Name in second place, and Holy Palmer’s Kiss in third. Placing behind the Lees once again, stuck in Yunho’s craw. There was a time when the Jungs and Montague were on top, and Capulet and the Lees were on the brink of collapse. A time when there was no animosity between him and Jaejoong. But fortunes were reversed when Jaejoong made a move that allowed him to gain at Yunho’s expense, and Yunho had been losing ever since. It made him bitter to see Jaejoong’s success, when he knew it was his stolen idea that made that success possible. As Yunho brooded in the winner’s circle reception area, Jaehyun and his friends were just entering having come down from Ten’s skybox. Jaehyun caught his father’s sour countenance and approached him.

“Only you can look miserable in the winners’ circle,” Jaehyun said.

“Coming in third isn’t winning,” Yunho said, “coming in behind the Lees isn’t winning either.”

“We still made money and there’s always next year,” Jaehyun reminded his father of the bright side. “Besides, we can score a bigger win against the Lees.”

“Oh, can we now?” Yunho chuckled. “And how would we do that?”

“I met Sooyoung Park and Jaejoong’s son, Taeyong earlier today. They let it slip that Capulet’s acquisition of MacBeth Technologies is not a firm deal and they are still negotiating. We should make them a better offer,” Jaehyun suggested.

“And how would you sell them on accepting an offer from a company on a down slide over Capulet?” Yunho quizzed his son.

“We’re not on a downslide, just...   correcting course . We can make greater gains than CG, and they can be the crown jewel in Montague instead of one of many in the Capulet fold. Together we can reach higher highs and they’ll get greater spotlight. We win but we make it seem like a greater win for them.”

“Alright, can’t hurt to try,” Yunho said. Jaehyun’s gift for spin impressed him. Playing to the Parks’ ambition could help them make this deal. “I’ll have Krystal look at the numbers to see what we can offer, then we’ll meet with the Parks. Keep thinking like this, and you can make the revamp a success.”

Jaehyun took satisfaction in his father’s mild praise. He would take every bit of it he could get. Just then, Jaejoong approached them with a collegial smile on his face. He stretched out his hand for Yunho to shake. “Congratulations on a well-run and exciting race.”

The good sportsmanship of a man who gloats every time he bests an opponent caught Yunho off guard. When he saw Changmin observing them, he understood this was all for show. Still, he obliged, smiled, and shook Jaejoong’s hand. “Well, we didn’t run as well as your horse and jockey did, but there is always next year I suppose.”

“Yes there is,” Jaejoong responded. “Ah, Jaehyun, would you mind if I had a word with your father alone?”

Jaehyun looked at his father, who nodded his okay. “No, Mr. Lee, I wouldn’t mind at all. Excuse me,” he said as he left the two, wondering what Jaejoong would want to discuss with his father in private. Is he going to say something about us speaking earlier?

Jaejoong moved Yunho to the side away from eavesdropping ears. “You know, I saw our sons conversing earlier. It made me reminisce of how we were at that age.”

“Did it now?”

“Yes, and I’ve been thinking perhaps it is time to bury the hatchet and leave our bitterness in the past.”

“And how do you suppose we do that?”

“Meet me at the St. Laurence Hotel, in the wine bar, at nine tonight. Come alone. Then you’ll see.” Jaejoong walked off before Yunho could respond. He was leery of Jaejoong’s motivations for wanting to end their feud and even more wary of why he wanted to meet that night.

Yunho wasn’t the only one suspicious of Jaejoong. His wife, Yoona, had been watching their exchange from a distance and approached her husband once Jaejoong had departed. “What did Jaejoong want with you?” Yoona asked.

“He wants me to meet him tonight, to make peace.” Yunho responded.

Yoona furrowed her brow, “he wants to make peace? Why?”

“I don’t know, he must be playing at something.”

“Well, we can see—”

We? If I go, I’m going alone as he requested.”

“Do you think that’s wise? What if this is a setup?” Yoona cautioned.

“He won’t try anything until he’s gained my trust, which he knows he won‘t win easily. Besides, if something were to happen, you know who I was last with and can avenge me,” Yunho reassured. “Regardless, I need to know what he’s up to so I can counter it.”

“I hope you know what you are doing,” Yoona said. She linked arms with her husband. “Let’s take a few more pictures, say our farewells and go home.”


 

After Jaehyun left his father and Jaejoong, he milled about the crowd until he settled off to the side, waiting to catch Mark so they could head off together. He took out his phone to contact Key and tell him about his plans to bring Taeyong to the club that night when a man with a cheery disposition came up to him. “Mr. Jung Jaehyun, there you are” he said.

Jaehyun looked up quizzical. “Yes? Do I know you?”

“The name is Lee Jinki. We haven’t met before, but I know about you,” Jinki responded with a grin.

“You’re a Lee?”

“Not related to  the Lees, but I work for them.”

Jaehyun’s mind clicked and he made the association, “oh, you’re Taeyong’s bodyguard.” He realized that he had just exposed his familiarity with Taeyong. A panicked expression came across his face and he turned red.

“Don’t worry. I know ,” Jinki winked. “It’s why I wanted to have a chat with you, in private.”

Jaehyun nodded, then followed Jinki outside and away from the bustle of spectators parading out of Tempest Downs. “So, what did you want to talk about?” Jaehyun’s anxiety started to rise.

“What are your intentions with Taeyong?” Jinki was direct.

“My intentions?”

“I’m sure you can see the reason for my concern? Your families are competitors, and yours had a mole trying to sabotage Capulet from the inside. How can I be sure your relationship isn’t a ploy to gather information about the company?”

“I can assure you that isn’t my intention at all. I didn’t even know who Taeyong was when we met and we’ve never discussed business.” Well except for today , Jaehyun thought to himself.

“But why Taeyong? You must have plenty of other options. Is it worth it to pursue an enemy?”

“Taeyong and I aren’t enemies just because of our family names,” Jaehyun corrected Jinki. “You’re right though, it would be easier to be with someone else. It’d be easier still if I wasn’t Jung Jaehyun and could just fall for whoever I pleased with no regard of what others think or expect of me. In my head I know everything working against us. But the moment I laid eyes on him, spoke to him, my heart has told me to go after him. I can’t explain what draws me to Taeyong. Despite how risky doing so may be, I want the opportunity to know him. The opportunity to know love.”

“You have a way with words, Mr. Jung,” Jinki said, softened by Jaehyun’s heartfelt confession. “So, what is the name of this club and when should we meet you tonight?”

“Wait, we ?”

We , as in Taeyong and I ,” Jinki clarified. “I’m his cover for going out and I get to keep an eye on you two, for my peace of mind. So, where is it we’re going?”

“The Sanctuary at St. Benedick’s… a gay club,” Jaehyun placed extra emphasis on the gay part and cocked an eyebrow at Jinki.

“I’ve heard of it,” Jinki smiled back at Jaehyun while typing the name of the establishment into his phone.

“So you’re aware that it will be filled with gay people, doing gay activities? Won’t you feel just a bit uncomfortable? Unless you’re…”

“Nice try, but I’m going. And for the record, I’m not gay but I’m not afraid of guys hitting on me. I’ll be just fine.”

“Well, meet me down in Canalside at 11:00 p.m. I’ll text Taeyong the specific location. And dress grungy like you aren’t well-heeled. People will be less likely to recognize us if we don’t look like billionaires.”

“That won’t be a problem for Taeyong. If not for his mother monitoring his wardrobe, he’d walk around in paint-stained clothes,” Jinki laughed. “We’ll see you at 11 sharp. Taeyong will look forward to it.”

“As will I.”


 

“Oh my God,” Mark sighed through heavy breaths. Haechan had barely given Mark time to settle in at home when he came buzzing his apartment door, and he wasted no time passionately kissing Mark and tearing off clothing as he came in. Now there they were in Mark’s bed coming down from the orgasmic high.

“Told you I could last longer than twenty minutes,” Haechan boasted as he tried to catch his breath. They had made it roughly thirty minutes before neither could put off their release any longer. Haechan reached over and grabbed the towel from the nightstand to wipe Mark down before he collapsed onto his chest. The days had grown longer as spring was rolling into summer so the sun was only just setting, the mélange of oranges, fuchsias, and magentas casting a soothing backdrop through the floor to ceiling windows of Mark’s bedroom as they held each other.

“You keep finding new ways to blow my mind. I never know if I’m coming or going with you,” Mark said.

“Oh, you’re definitely coming when you are with me,” Haechan quipped.

“Stop, you know what I mean,” Mark smiled. Haechan was unpredictable and, while frustrating, Mark liked that about him. He had dual personas: Haechan was the armor, cold, evasive, and uncaring. Then there was Donghyuk who laid protected underneath, warm, sincere, and affectionate. Mark knew Haechan was guarded but took on the challenge of peeling back his layers for the reward of moments like this, with Donghyuk content in his arms. “You’re right though, I’ve only ever came like that , with you.”

Haechan tensed at the comment. “Who else have you been with?” he interrogated.

“What do you mean?”

“How do I stack up against the other people you’ve slept with?” Haechan reiterated.

“At the top because you’re the only one I’ve gone all the way with,” Mark confessed.

Haechan propped himself up to look Mark head on. “Are you telling me that I was your first?”

“Yeah,” Mark nodded. They had never talked about previous relationships or sexual partners in the months they had been hooking up. “What about you? Was I your first?”

Haechan took a breath, “yes.” He wouldn’t admit it to himself, but Mark had managed to find his way inside Haechan’s heart. Haechan had developed feelings for Mark, and it scared him because it made him vulnerable. On one hand he was glad that he was Mark’s first just as Mark was his, but on the other hand he needed now to be certain that there was no one else who could possibly steal Mark away from him. “Wait, you said I was the only one you’ve gone all the way with, but what about the ones you didn’t?”

“They aren’t important,” Mark said.

“Then you can tell me who they are,” Haechan pushed back.

“What does it matter to you?”

“I saw you with Ten at the race earlier and you looked close. Was it him?”

“Ten?” Mark laughed. “Ten is Jaehyun’s college friend and we hang out together sometimes, but that’s it.”

“Are you sure about that? Because from where I was standing, it didn’t look like that was all there was.”

“Well, maybe you should have stood at another vantage point,” Mark returned. “Besides, according to you I’m just a means to ‘blow off steam.’ We’re not exclusive so I could see whoever else I want if I wanted to.” Haechan turned away from him and sat on the edge of the bed. Mark was irritated. Why does he always have to ruin the mood? After a moment of awkward silence, Mark broke it by asking, “so, is this the part where you get up and leave?”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“No, I don’t. And I don’t want to fight you,” Mark sighed. “Why can’t you admit that we’re not just fuck buddies and that you care about me the way I care about you? Why do you keep pushing me away but then want to pull me back in like I’m a toy you can play with? You don’t see or talk to me for two weeks, show up here for me to fuck you, then want to accuse me of seeing someone else?” Mark paused giving Haechan an opportunity to respond, but he sat silently glowering. Mark rubbed his forehead in aggravation. “Why do I keep putting myself through this and waste my time on you?”

Those words struck a nerve in Haechan. He knew that he couldn’t play hot and cold with Mark any longer and needed to claim Mark as his own to prove that he wasn’t a waste of time. Haechan turned to Mark, “I’m not leaving and you’re not wasting your time because I care about you.” He positioned himself in front of Mark, caressed his face, and looked him dead in the eye. “You’re mine and I am yours. I’d scream it from the rooftop if I could, but I can’t. That doesn’t make it any less true or what we have any less real.”

Mark kissed him. “Like I said, I never know what I will get with you.”

Haechan returned the kiss as he pushed Mark back into the bed. “I’m trusting you with my heart,” there was a tremor in Haechan’s voice. “Don’t fuck it up.”


 

Yunho arrived at the St. Laurence five minutes before nine and made his way up to the wine bar. He had considered standing Jaejoong up, but he was too curious as to why Jaejoong wanted to speak to him, alone, and at this particular hotel of all places. The seaside luxury resort was a special place for the pair as they had spent much time together there years ago. It was odd and Yunho wanted to understand it. Yunho spotted Jaejoong at a table tucked away in the corner but near a large window overlooking the black, glassy sea beyond.

“Right on time,” Jaejoong smiled, almost giddy that Yunho met him.

“You know I’m not one for wasting time, mine or others,” Yunho gave a curt reply. “So what is it you wanted to discuss with me?”

“Why don‘t you have a seat and order a glass of wine first? Or a bottle if you prefer?” Jaejoong smiled and gestured to the seat across the table from him.

Yunho heaved a sigh, “I don’t have the time to make this into a social call.”

“Where else should you be tonight?”

“At home. With my wife.”

Jaejoong let out an incredulous laugh. “Doing what, crossword puzzles?" he scoffed. "We both know if you were more interested in spending time with Yoona, you wouldn’t be here with me.”

“Just tell me why you called me here,” Yunho barked.

Jaejoong leaned forward. “I will, after you sit down and order a drink,” he replied in a calm, sanguine voice.

The way Jaejoong always had an air of joyous contentment about him aggravated Yunho to no end. He felt foolish letting Jaejoong rile him up, looking irrational and agitated in comparison. Knowing Jaejoong wouldn’t divulge anything unless he obliged his request, Yunho took a seat and ordered a glass of cabernet sauvignon. They sat in silence until the glass arrived. Yunho took a sip then shot an expectant look at Jaejoong. “Well, I’ve ordered my glass, so…”

“Why don’t you enjoy it and drink more? It will help you relax.”

“Did you have this poisoned?”

“What? Why would I have you poisoned?”

“To eliminate the competition.”

“I’ve heard about Montague’s performance reports, you’re no competition,” Jaejoong laughed. “You’re so paranoid.”

“I don’t understand why you invited me here nor what you are playing at.”

“As I told you earlier, to bury the hatchet, to make peace,” Jaejoong said. “This isn’t a conspiracy, just a drink and chat between old friends.”

“We haven’t been friends for a long time,” Yunho retorted.

“You’re right we haven’t. We used to be more ,” Jaejoong flashed a mischievous grin as he leaned in across the table. “How’s Yoona treating you?”

“How’s Tiffany treating you?” Yunho shot back.

“Ah, deflection,” Jaejoong chuckled. “Tiffany is great. She supports me, she’s loyal, she’s beautiful, smart, funny, ambitious, doesn’t need me but wants me. The model high society wife and mother. A companion, a partner, a friend. But there is one thing I wish she was: you .”

The confession left Yunho gobsmacked. This is why he invited me here, to confess his feelings for me?  Yunho was off kilter at first, then indignant. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m telling you that after all this time, nothing has filled the void you left and I miss you. And I want you.”

“Are you fucking crazy?”

“Don’t tell me you don’t feel the same. I know Yoona doesn’t do it for you. She never could.”

Yunho leaned in toward Jaejoong. “You don’t know a fucking thing about my marriage or what I feel,” he growled through gritted teeth.

Jaejoong continued, unruffled by Yunho's bluster. “I remember our days on the beach here. The steamy afternoons in my family’s cabana. I even remember the number of the suite we used to hole up in, 1623. How we dreamed of a future together, us against the world," he reminisced, "you can’t erase feelings that ran that deep.” 

“If you remember all of that, then you remember how you stole the patent for Elysian, the software developed to put us on the map, for our future," Yunho said in a hushed, but harsh tone, driving his pointer finger into the table to accent his words. "I had given up my place at Montague for you, drove my father to have a stroke, only for you to leave me high and dry! The you turn up again engaged to Tiffany, the new visionary head of Capulet who saved that sinking ship of a company with the 'revolutionary' line of computer and mobile devices running the operating system I built. Meanwhile, I was left with nothing!” Yunho was trying to contain his rage as not to draw attention to themselves, but his voice was shaking and cracked as he was overwhelmed with a mix of indignation and grief, recollecting the betrayal.

“But you didn’t end up with nothing,” Jaejoong rebuffed, "you got Montague back."

"I didn't just get Montague handed back to me, I had to fight and claw my way back." You have no idea the things I did to reclaim my birthright, Yunho thought to himself.

"Either way, you're the head now, you married Yoona, and had a child. I’m sorry that I hurt you, but you followed the same path I did, and you put your family name above all else. Besides I didn’t do it for me, I did it for us. We would have had no backing, no investors if we had disgraced our families and ran off on our own. When my father fell ill and competing interests wanted to take over, I had to step up and restore confidence by bringing something to the table and needed Tiffany’s money and family connections to save Capulet. Once I had solidified my hold, I was going to leave her and go back to you.”

Jaejoong reached out to place his hands over Yunho’s, but Yunho pulled away. “You think I’m that much of a fool? I’m supposed to believe you did all of that for us but didn’t tell me about your plan until now, 25 years later?”

“You wouldn’t speak to or see me so I could explain…”

“Because you’re a liar and a manipulator. You used me and then dropped me to get ahead. Now you have the upper hand, so you want to what, pick up where we left off? What about our wives? Our families?”

“I don’t want to fight you anymore. Aren’t you tired of being bitter? Of the casualties caught in the crossfire?” Jaejoong asked. “I invited you here to remind you of how we used to care about each other and to say I still care about you. We need not undermine and hurt each other. Can’t we leave the past in the past and move forward on a different track?”

Yunho wanted to tell Jaejoong that there was no way in hell he would ever let what Jaejoong did to him go, but all he could do was look at him in silence. Because Yunho knew a part of him yearned for Jaejoong as much as he loathed him. If he was honest with himself, he loathed Jaejoong because he still yearned for him. But he would not admit that and give Jaejoong an opening to weasel his way back in. He still didn’t trust that Jaejoong had pure intentions. Yunho threw money on the table. “I need to go.”

“Oh no, keep your money this is on me,” Jaejoong tried to hand the money back.

“I don’t want to owe you anything,” Yunho said as he got up from the table

“Every word I told you tonight was sincere. I want things to be different between us,” Jaejoong grabbed Yunho’s arm before he could walk away, and locked eyes intensely with him, “and you know I won’t stop until I get what I want.”

Yunho pulled his arm away and left without a word. He felt Jaejoong’s eyes following him out of the bar. Once Yunho had left, Jaejoong sat back with a self-satisfied grin and finished his glass of wine. I have planted the seed. Now to wait for the harvest.  


 

“I can see now why Jaehyun told us to dress down,” Jinki said as he scanned the environs of the street corner Jaehyun had told them to meet at. Realtors described Canalside as a hot, diverse neighborhood with gritty charm, eclectic characters and vibrant nightlife . It was an accurate description. The neighborhood was popular with eclectic characters; prostitutes, drug dealers, their clientele, drunkards, pickpockets, hustlers, urban pioneers reveling in the “authenticity” of the neighborhood. Jinki and Taeyong sat in the car with the engine running. “We otherwise wouldn’t even make it out the car door before getting jacked.”

“Nervous Jinks?” Taeyong teased.

“Nah, I know how to handle myself. I used to hang in places like this in my younger days,” Jinki turned to look back, “you on the other hand, will hightail it back to the car the second we round the corner.”

“I’m not a baby,” Taeyong rejoined, “besides, Jaehyun wouldn’t take us anywhere dangerous, so there’s nothing to worry about...”

Jinki just chuckled at Taeyong’s naivete. There was a tap on the window. Taeyong jumped across the backseat away from the passenger side door. Jinki cracked the passenger window.

“Relax, it’s just me,” Jaehyun said with a disarming smile. He was wearing a denim trucker jacket over a plain white muscle tee, and ripped black jeans. The brim of his black baseball cap was lowered to obscure his eyes, so he had to tilt his head up to be able to see Taeyong.

“See, nothing to worry about,” smirking, Jinki looked back at an embarrassed Taeyong who averted his gaze. Jinki turned off the engine, and they both got out of the car onto the quieter side street off the main drag. “Will our car be alright here?”

“Yeah,” Jaehyun turned and waved over to the group of scantily clad women at the corner, then shouted, “Big Bertha will keep a lookout isn’t that right?”

“Das right little Jae, nobody cause no mess on my block, not with my girls and not with my friends,” Big Bertha bellowed back.

“You know them?” Taeyong asked.

“Yeah, they go to the club nights they aren’t working. But tonight they are, so they’ll keep a lookout,” Jaehyun took Taeyong’s hand and headed to the main street. “Come on this way. Jinki are you coming with us, or staying here?”

“Go ahead, I’ll watch your backs.”

They set off and rounded the corner onto the main street. Taeyong’s eyes widened at the bacchanalian scene that unfolded before him. The street was teeming with throngs of people meandering about for blocks. As they weaved their way through the crowds, Taeyong bumped into a burly, mustachioed man in leather assless chaps, loitering in front of a leather bar. When Taeyong made eye contact, the man bit his bottom lip, smirked and said “bet you’d be a good boy for daddy.” Taeyong averted his gaze and clung closer to Jaehyun.

“Turning heads, huh?” Jaehyun teased, “I don’t blame them.”

Taeyong just let out a nervous chuckle in response, then pulled his beanie lower and ducked his head. Further ahead they encountered a group of drunk ladies stumbling out of a bar, celebrating a bachelorette party. The plastered bride-to-be spotted the pair holding hands and blurted out, “Stop! You guys are too cute, I can’t handle it, I just can’t!” Taeyong reflexively tried to pull his hand away from Jaehyun’s at the attention, but Jaehyun held firm.

“Oh, thank you,” Jaehyun said as he kept pulling Taeyong along.

“Love is love is love,” the bride slurred behind them as her friends tried to load her into a cab. The unwanted attention filled Taeyong with a mix of validation and trepidation. He was seen and affirmed, but felt exposed and conspicuous and it tore him between his urge to turn around and go home, and to stay in Jaehyun’s grasp, in this place, for as long as possible. He followed the latter urge despite his unease.

“Alright, here we are,” Jaehyun said as they arrived at their destination. The Neo Gothic edifice that housed The Sanctuary at St. Benedick’s, the Gay Cathedral of Verona, stood before them, bathed in fushia light. A tall, slender drag queen cajoled those passing by on the street to enter. She was wearing a salacious, sequined nun’s habit with a hip high slit to strategically expose a smooth long leg adorned in platform heels and garter, rosary cinching the garment to accentuate her slim waist and apple bottom.

“Have you boys had confession today?” the queen asked the trio.

“This doesn’t seem like the place you go to for absolution,” Jinki replied, “more like the place one makes choices requiring it.”

“Ever heard of confessions on the dance floor?” the queen quipped. “We are all sinners, but we can all receive forgiveness if we seek it. So indulge in the pleasures of the flesh tonight and repent in the morning.”

Jaehyun chuckled, “don’t count on him indulging in any flesh tonight, he’s just here to spectate.”

“Humph, we’ll see about that. This one though?” the queen said turning her attention toward Taeyong. “With a face as gorgeous as that, he’s blessed. An angel here on earth.” Taeyong blushed at the flattery.

“I’d like to think I could bring out the devil in him,” Jaehyun teased. They made their way inside the main doors into the narthex. Taeyong brushed his fingers on the smooth stone of the ornate columns as they crossed through the colonnade into the midst of the crowded dance floor where revelers danced to the funky, house beats reverberating through the nave. Chandeliers hung from the high-vaulted ceilings illuminating the space in violet light, creating an ambiance both cool yet warm. The stain glass windows that rendered various saints and biblical figures, now portrayed pop divas and gay icons peering down on the club-goers below as if guarding them from harm.

“This place is beautiful,” Taeyong said awestruck. He never imagined a nightclub to be so grandiose.

“It’s both sacrilegious and sacred at the same,” Jinki said looking around, “I like it.”

“You can thank Key for that,” Jaehyun commented, “he oversaw every detail of the conversion. We‘ll find him so I can introduce you, but first let’s get drinks.” They made their way to the bar in the north transept, moving along the perimeter of the throng of bodies grinding away on the dance floor. Upon reaching the bar, Jaehyun turned leaning into Taeyong and asked, “what do you like to drink?”

“Um, I don’t know? I don’t drink much other than wine,” Taeyong yelled over the throbbing bass of the music.

“Do you like it bitter or sweet?” Jaehyun asked.

“Make it bitter. Taeyong is a lightweight and won’t pace himself if it’s too sweet,” Jinki interjected.

Jaehyun turned around annoyed that Jinki hadn’t already made himself scarce. “Thanks for the feedback. Anything else you want to tell me about Taeyong while he’s right here in front of me?”

“Sorry, just making sure he doesn’t end up filthy drunk so you can go have your way with him,” Jinki retorted.

“What the hell makes you think I would do that?”

“Your last name.”

Jaehyun sniped back when Taeyong interjected, “can you two stop and play nice? Jinki, I can speak for and take care of myself. Just park yourself here and let us be, okay?”

“Are y’all going to order drinks? if not, move along and stop clogging up my bar,” said the irritated bartender.

“I’ll have whatever dark brew you have on tap,” Jinki said.

“Two whiskey sours,” Jaehyun ordered. He didn’t need to start the night off with friction between him and Jinki putting Taeyong in the middle. I need to figure out a way to ditch him, Jaehyun thought to himself.

Meanwhile, Taeyong caught the attention of a slender, young man clad in what appeared to be a tracksuit beside him at the bar. “You’re new to this aren’t you?” he asked Taeyong with a mischievous smile, smooth creamy skin and defined pectorals peeking through his half-zipped jacket.

“Um, yeah,” Taeyong replied.

“I could tell. I remember when I was with my last daddy, I tried introducing another boy into the relationship, you know for both of us to enjoy. But my daddy got so jealous and they fought over me, so I had to cut them both loose. Who has the time for that, you know?”

Taeyong stared at the young man bewildered trying to figure out what he was trying to imply. “Wait, do you think, that we’re… together?” he asked turning to Jaehyun and Jinki.

“No need to be ashamed, plenty of people here are into those arrangements. Younger guys are good for the physical stimulation, but they don’t have the bedroom experience and bank accounts to please us the way we deserve.” The young man leaned closer to Taeyong before continuing, “you have not lived until you’ve been blown by a sexy pool boy while being rimmed by an older, seasoned man, in the infinity pool of the island villa he booked as an all-expenses-paid getaway. Exquisite.”

Taeyong couldn’t believe this total stranger not only assumed he was in a three-way relationship with Jaehyun and the man who raised him, but also divulged far too much personal information. He did get turned on imagining the hot encounter, until he inserted himself, Jaehyun and Jinki into that scenario and it grossed him out. Fortunately the music changed and a man spoke from the chancel-turned-stage, rescuing Taeyong from having to continue the conversation.

“Hello, hello! Welcome to the Sanctuary at St. Benedick’s,” Key began, “are we having a good time tonight?” The crowd cheered a cry of affirmation. “Well, of course you bitches are, it’s always a good time in my mother fucking club!”

Taeyong flinched at the profanity, forgetting that despite how the place appeared, it was no longer a church.

“If you couldn’t tell by the heavier traffic, proliferation of fabulously over-the-top hats, and short men running around, there was a little event in town today called the Verona Derby. In honor of that prestigious event, our resident queens and dancers have prepared a special number for you tonight,” Key announced.

A frenzied, habit-garbed, drag queen came up to the young man. “Sehun, what are you doing just chatting up this twink when we’re about to go on?”

“That’s my cue,” said Sehun, the go-go dancer, with a smile and a wink. He threw back the rest of his drink and took his riding helmet from the drag queen, the tracksuit he was wearing was in actuality a jockey uniform, and made his may to the stage.

Jaehyun turned to Taeyong handing him his drink. “What did he want? Trying to get into your pants?”

“No, I’m not what he’s looking for, trust me.” Taeyoung took a gulp of his drink and choked at the strong burning sensation from the whiskey and the sour taste.

“Slow down there! I ordered it strong so you would just sip not chug it down,” Jaehyun chuckled.

“Now let’s hear a round of applause for Drag Mother Abbess Mary Frances of A Sissy, the Sisters of the Benedicktine Order, and the Altar Boys!” Key yelled into the mic.  Mary Frances, the drag queen from outside the club, makes her way onto the stage followed by eight others, all in sequined habits. They engaged in witty banter then did a unison reveal of their outrageous, derby-themed outfits underneath, at which point the sexy go-go dancers came on and stripped off their jockey costumes starting their number. Meanwhile, Key had made his way off stage and to the bar. “Dost my eyes deceive me? Is Jaehyun here following through on a promise and brought his special someone to meet me? Or have you moved on and met someone new?” Key greeted Jaehyun with a read.

“Shut up, I follow through on my promises… mostly. And I’m not that flighty!” Jaehyun defended himself. “This is Tae, the one I told you about,” Jaehyun said, careful not to say Taeyong’s full name aloud lest a busybody overhears.

“Kim Kibum, but you can call me Key. Welcome to my humble little establishment,” Key said extending his hand toward Taeyong.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Taeyong shook Key’s hand, “and humble is an understatement.”

“Yeah I know, I try to stay grounded. Come back with me to my private lounge. It’s too loud out here, we can’t properly chat,” Key invited the couple.

“Should we inform our babysitter?” Jaehyun asked, but when he turned, he saw that Jinki had moved away from the bar to a position where he could better see the stage. He was grinning and laughing at the antics and innuendos on stage, enraptured by the performance.

“He’ll be fine,” Taeyong assured, “let’s go.” They headed back behind the chancel to what had served as the chapel and now served as Key’s VIP lounge. En route, they passed a threshold that emanated red light and had stairs leading downward where a few men were slinking off. “Where does that go?” Taeyong asked.

“To the crypt. It’s for those who can’t wait to get home to get frisky. Jaehyun can tell you what goes on down there, or if you’re lucky he can take you and show you sometime,” Key said with a wink barely noticeable in the dim light. Taeyong got curious and hot letting his imagination conjure up the possible things Jaehyun had done down in the crypt, and wanted to engage in those acts there with him too, but then he had to dial those thoughts back . It’s only your first real date, stop being such a perv.

Key nodded toward the security guard standing by the door to the lounge and entered. The music from the main part of the club sounded muted, the lighting warm and intimate. Well-dressed men were draped over each other on lush red, velvet sofas. A few women were present, too. A server was milling about taking drink orders to deliver to the bar and bring back. The three took a seat at the table reserved for Key and his guests. Jaehyun sat close next to Taeyong, resting his hand on Taeyong’s thigh. Taeyong wove his arm around Jaehyun’s and placed his hand on top of his. “It’s amazing how you converted and adapted this place, keeping so much of the original beauty and features. How did you even get the idea let alone make it happen?” Taeyong asked Key.

“Oh, it’s a long story, the details of which would drag down the mood of the evening. In a nutshell, I inherited a large sum of money with instructions to use it to make a mark on a lot of lives in honor of the benefactor. So I opened a mecca for gay nightlife,” Key said with a grin.

Taeyong could sense that the story was more complicated, perhaps painful, than that, but he decided not to press given that Key omitted those details. He kept the conversation light. “So is this how you met Jaehyun, through the club?”

“Oh no, I met Jaehyun years ago before the club was even a thought. It was at a runway show for Verona Fashion Week. I used to be a fashion editor for Avonaire magazine and Jaehyun was just a kid who ended up with a modeling contract because he was young and rich.”

“Please don’t finish this story,” Jaehyun said with a groan.

“Why not? It’s a great story,” Key continued, “anyway, I went backstage after the show and heard some strange noises from one of the changing booths and went to make sure everything was alright inside and caught young, barely 18 year-old Jaehyun in a very compromising position with another model that ended up with some stains on a $5,000 pair of pants.”

“Really Key? TMI!” Jaehyun exclaimed.

Key ignored him and continued, “I told the designer I accidently knocked a stray latte over that splashed on them and that I would have my dry cleaner clean them right away and cover the cost. Jaehyun felt bad and brought me a check to reimburse me, and I’ve been helping him get out of sticky situations ever since.”

Jaehyun was flustered and Taeyong laughed. “Wow, I’m learning a lot about Jaehyun tonight. Trips downstairs, hookups backstage at fashion shows,” Taeyong teased.

“What, has Jaehyun been painting himself as some angel?” Key laughed, “he’s far from one.”

“Well, we still know little about each other. This is only our first date,” Taeyong confessed.

“Excuse me, your first date? And you brought him here of all places?” Key chided Jaehyun.

“What’s wrong with your club? And you were the one who said to bring him here tonight and meet you,” Jaehyun reminded him.

“When I said that, I thought you had been on at least one date already. I’m flattered that you think so highly of club. I do a bang up job and have the hottest joint on the strip, but this is not a first-date-kinda-place. All the hot to trot thirst traps here ready to pounce on any new meat, especially a hot little twink like him, you’d be lucky if he left here with you at the end of the night and not someone else. Plus it’s loud, how could you even talk?”

“We’re talking aren’t we? Besides this is one of the few places we can be together like this in public,” Jaehyun said as he snuggled closer to Taeyong.

“That’s sweet, but you need to get to know each other and build deeper than a physical connection. What do you know about each other, other than your names and that you’re attracted to each other?”

“I know Taeyong is an artist, it’s his passion,” Jaehyun boasted.

“Have you seen his artwork?” Key asked.

“He text me pictures of a few pieces once?” Jaehyun said with less confidence.

Key sighed, “well I should do my rounds and leave you two to get better acquainted. It was nice to meet you Taeyong. Drop by sometime soon so we can chat and get to know one another better. I live around back in the rectory so you know where to find me.”

“I must do that for more scandalous tales about Jaehyun,” Taeyong smiled.

“Hopefully, he’ll tell you them himself,” Key said with a side glance at Jaehyun.

“Come on, let’s go dance,” Jaehyun said pulling Taeyong back out to towards the dance floor. The performance was over and the DJ resumed his set of pounding house music. Hunky go-go dancers had stripped to their Andrew Christian briefs, dancing on their platforms spread out above the crowd. It was fuller than it had been earlier as more people had arrived. Who knew where Jinki was amongst the throngs of people. “Oh love the song. Come on, dance with me,” Jaehyun beckoned as he led Taeyong into the mash of bodies grooving to the rhythm.  

Carving out the room to breathe, let alone dance on the crowded dance floor was a challenge. The mix of body heat and sweat made the air stifling. As they moved further in, Taeyong kept getting groped by errant hands belonging indistinguishable faces from every direction. He didn’t know how anyone could enjoy this, but he would give it a shot for Jaehyun. They stopped when Jaehyun turned around and pulled Taeyong in against him and swayed to the music.

Taeyong, who was a good dancer, couldn’t get into the groove and match Jaehyun’s movements. It wasn’t only the physical discomfort of having drunk, sweaty people bumping into him, but also Key’s words about them needing to build deeper than a physical connection that kept playing in his head. He didn’t know much more than superficial details about Jaehyun and he felt they were wasting their precious time together. Looking around at all the other good-looking men, like the beefy and chiseled Altar Boy dancing above them, made Taeyong insecure. If all there was between them was a physical attraction that spark could fade and Jaehyun could move onto someone hotter. According to the things Key said, it’s a habit of Jaehyun’s. These thoughts weighed on Taeyong’s mind.

Jaehyun could pick up on Taeyong’s discomfort. Key was right. This sucks as a first date. “You aren’t having a good time,” he shouted over the deafening music.

“No, I am.”

“You don’t have to lie,” Jaehyun assured Taeyong. “As Key said, it wasn’t a great idea to bring you here when we don‘t know each other well. I can’t even hear you in here.”

“I want to be with you, it doesn’t matter what we do.”

“But I want you to enjoy yourself.” Jaehyun thought for a moment. Then an idea struck him as how to salvage the rest of the night. “I know somewhere else we can go if you want to bail?”

“Okay,” Taeyong agreed with a sigh of relief. “We need to find Jinki though.”

“Or we could take this opportunity to ditch him,” Jaehyun suggested. “He won’t leave you in this part of town, not with me. He’ll catch up to us one way or another.”

Taeyong laughed and let Jaehyun lead the way out of the club. On their way out, they passed Sehun, the dancer who chatted Taeyong up earlier sitting in a pudgy, older guy’s lap, his arms around him whispering in the man’s ear. He winked at Taeyong and gave him a wave goodbye.


 

It was after one o’clock in the morning and the street was livelier than it had been when they went into St. Benedick’s. Having more eyes on the street made the district less seedy. Jaehyun marched Taeyong down the street and around the corner to Hermie’s Café. It was a nondescript, greasy spoon that was a local favorite for comfort food that tasted ten times better than it looked. It was a gay-owned business, so it was popular with the same-gender loving crowd as a place they could eat and sober up with no hassles from homophobic staff or patrons. Hermie’s was the quieter, low-key alternative to the bedlam of the clubs, where Jaehyun and Taeyong didn’t have to act like anything other than what they were: a couple on a date.

It was busy but not too crowded. The waitress seated them in a cozy little booth with glasses of water and cups of coffee each while they perused the menu, deciding what to order.

“I always get the chocolate and banana nut pancakes,” Jaehyun said. “Are you a sweet or savory person?”

“Sweet,” Taeyong said scanning his menu. “I don’t know what to get. Maybe the strawberry banana and sweet cream pancakes?”

“That sounds good.” The waitress came over and took their orders.  Taeyong took off his beanie and let his darkened locks free. Jaehyun reached across the table and ran his fingers through them to help fluff them out. “I miss the silverish color you had.”

Taeyong smiled, “I miss it too. But Father said I needed to ‘tone my look down to be more corporate’ now I’ll be working at CG full-time.”

“You don’t sound too thrilled about that.”

“I have no interest in running that company. I’d give it up to Donghyuk if I could, but he’s too impulsive and father would never allow it,” Taeyong sighed. “I wish I could be more like you. You seem to love working for Montague.”

“It’s not the company itself, but what it represents,” Jaehyun took a sip of his coffee before continuing. “That company is the most cherished thing in my father’s life, more important to him than me, Mark, and my mother combined. And he thinks I am incapable of taking over like I would ruin everything. I work hard to prove him wrong and to win his respect. That’s the only thing that drives me, not passion or love for what I do. If I didn’t have that as motivation, I don’t know what else I would do. It’s kinda sad isn’t it.”

“No, it’s not. We all want to make our parents proud,” Taeyong reassured. “It’s why I’m working at CG even though I’d rather do anything else.

“And why you’re dating Joy?”

“We’ve gone on two setup dates, both crashed by you .”

“Hey, you two still had an enjoyable time, and she kinda likes me.”

“Today was better than at the gala, but I will probably stop that progressing any further.”

“You know, a good beard can come in handy. You could go on a couple more dates to say you gave it a legit go.”

The waitress interrupted them to serve their food and they both ravenously dug in, giving Taeyong a moment to consider Jaehyun’s proposition. “You really think I should keep going out with Joy?”

“I don’t see the harm,” Jaehyun said in between chews, “if it’s only to the extent of casual dates. Summer is coming up, and it’s the peak season for society events. She can serve as good cover being your official date for the optics while we can sneak off and make out.” He had a devilish grin on his face.

“Have you had a beard?”

“I’ve never needed one, I’m Verona’s Prince Charming,” Jaehyun boasted. “Sometimes I‘m the subject of blind items on gossip sites speculating about a gay heir and when I’m mentioned in the comments as matching the blind, there will be a bunch of replies that say I’m ‘too charming to be gay, must be someone else.’”

Taeyong snorted, “ too charming to be gay ?”

“Yeah, how crazy is it that people who think like that exist? But I work what people perceive of me to my favor to keep my public image clean-cut. I also have a close-knit group of friends who exercise discretion and have connections in the media so nothing we do ever comes out about us unless we want it to.”

“My public image is clean too, but that’s because I never go out...at least not since I’ve been back in Verona,” Taeyong added so that Jaehyun wouldn’t think he was a total recluse.

“Was tonight the first time you’ve been to a club?” Jaehyun asked.

“Um, yeah, at least a club like that .”

“What was your honest opinion of it?”

“It was overwhelming, but I would like to go again sometime...without Jinki.”

“Whatever happened to him? I thought he would have sent out a search and rescue team by now.”

“Don’t know. Should I call him?” Taeyong said with concern.

“Not yet, I want to enjoy our time alone together.” Jaehyun saw the worry on Taeyong’s face and tried to reassure him though he was glad Jinki had disappeared so they could have this moment to just be. “I’m sure he’s fine. He’s a trained bodyguard after all, he can handle anything Canalside could throw at him.”

“I know, but still…”

Jaehyun wanted to assuage Taeyong’s worry so took pity on him. “Okay, we’ll finish up, get the check, and go back to look for him.”

Taeyong nodded. “You are Verona’s Prince Charming,” he teased as he finished his delicious meal. All the events of the day had shown Jaehyun in a way that had only made him more attractive in Taeyong’s eyes. He was confident, smooth, ambitious, considerate, and affectionate, yet impulsive and unpredictable. They were both similar in their sense of filial obligation, but where Taeyong was timid in his acquiescence to his parents’ will, Jaehyun was bolder in his determination to not just meet but surpass his parents’ expectations, or lack thereof in his father’s case. He also admired the way Jaehyun had carved out a space for himself to live authentically without having to be something he isn’t. He was discreet about going to gay clubs and other antics, but wasn’t hiding and had friends he could be open with and had the utmost trust. Taeyong wanted to be a part of Jaehyun’s world and stay in his orbit no matter what it took.

Jaehyun paid the bill, they got up and were back on the street heading towards St. Benedick’s finding out what Jinki had gotten up to in the hours since they had last seen him. It was drawing closer to three in the morning and people were filing into the street from the various bars and clubs as it was getting closer to closing time. The couple walked hand in hand, Taeyong’s trepidation at being seen having faded. As they drew nearer to the club, Jaehyun pulled Taeyong to the side into the alcove of a storefront.

“What are you doing?” Taeyong asked.

“I want to take this Jinki free moment to do this,” Jaehyun said as he drew Taeyong close and into a kiss. It was slow and deliberate and Taeyong sank into Jaehyun, savoring every second.

“I could never tire of kissing you like that,” Taeyong sighed when they broke apart.

“I’m glad because I plan on doing that a lot more--”

“There you two are!” Jinki interjected.

Jaehyun groaned. “I told you he would track us down.”

“Jinki, what happened to you? We were just looking for you.” Taeyong asked him.

“You were looking for me inside each other’s mouths?”

“You’re lucky we even bothered looking for you at all,” Jaehyun quipped.

“But seriously Jinki, what have you been doing this whole time?” Taeyong asked again.

“Well, after the little drag performance I went to compliment the queens on an excellent job and then we talked for a while. They’re hilarious. Then my phone was dying and I couldn’t find you, so I went back to the car to charge it. But while I was in the car, a John was getting testy with one of Big Bertha’s girls and was trying to not pay her, so I had to step in and help them out, then stuck around to make sure no one else caused problems, at least until my phone finished charging. Then I activated the tracker to find Taeyong’s phone and found you here,” Jinki said matter-of-fact. “Were you two just making out on the street like this, this entire time?”

Jaehyun and Taeyong just laughed. “Looks like you had the more eventful night, Jinks,” Taeyong continued to chuckle. “We danced to one song, then had pancakes and talked.”

“How could you eat without me? You know how much I love to eat, Taeyong,” Jinki fussed.

“Maybe if you weren’t playing rent-a-cop for some prostitutes you could have had some,” Jaehyun jabbed as they made their way back to their cars.

“Taeyong, do you hear the way he speaks to me? How are you tolerating this disrespect towards the man who selflessly lays his life on the line for you every day, changed your diaper, took you to art lessons…”

“Didn’t you get paid to do those things? You work for him!” Jaehyun countered.

Taeyong just shook his head and smiled to himself as Jinki and Jaehyun continued to bicker all the way back to the car. As unconventional and rocky the night had been, Taeyong was glad he had gone out with Jaehyun and was ready more than ever to take the plunge with him.

Chapter Text

The hot sun beat down on Haechan as he pounded the pavement back to Capulet, a tray of lattes and Americanos in tow. It was the early days of summer but the temperature and humidity were already reaching record highs, with the heat predicted to only grow more stifling as the season progressed. Beads of sweat were rolling down Haechan’s face from his dampened brow as he rushed back to the office to make it for the meeting his uncle had called that morning. “Fucking Taeyong needing fucking coffee from a cafe fucking 5 blocks away when there is a cafe in the fucking lobby,” Haechan cursed to himself as he charged into the front entrance of the Capulet headquarters. He then rushed into the waiting express elevator, cutting off the person waiting to enter.

“Am I made of air now, or are you losing your eyesight?” Jinki asked as he followed Haechan into the elevator.

“Sorry,” Haechan sighed perfunctorily.

Jinki hit the button for the chairman’s offices on the 59th floor. “Why are you in such a hurry?”

“Uncle called a meeting, but Taeyong sent me on a fucking coffee run,” Haechan cursed. “I don’t want to miss it.”

“Watch your language, this is a professional setting,” Jinki chastised. “Being in a rush isn’t an excuse to push someone out of your way.”

Haechan rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t be in a rush if Taeyong didn’t have me doing your job for you.”

“Doing my job for me?”

“Fetching coffee, running errands, chauffeuring, coddling him. You know, the duties of the help, ” Haechan jeered.

The help? I’m a bodyguard, not a personal assistant. I’m paid to put my life on the line to protect both you and Taeyong. You’ll show me the respect I’m owed,” Jinki rebuked.

Haechan snickered. “When are you ever protecting me when you’re following Taeyong all around town like a dog? Tell the truth, you, like everyone else in this family, are more invested in Taeyong than me. Always have been, always will be. I protect and look out for myself. And what respect do I owe you? You’re not my uncle, you’re not my father, you’re no one.”

“Listen here, you ungrateful little--” Jinki started, but before he could finish his admonition, the elevator doors opened and Haechan whizzed off. “Some days I want to throttle that kid,” Jinki muttered to himself in aggravation. As Haechan had gotten older, he had become much more jaded and angry and took it out on those who worked for them, Jinki in particular. Jinki let Haechan get away with his disrespectful outbursts because he knew that they came from a place of hurt and sadness. There was also truth in what Haechan said: Jinki distanced himself from Haechan and spent more time with Taeyong. The guilt of contributing to Haechan’s pain burdened him, but it was easier to carry that burden for everyone’s sake.

Haechan barreled toward his uncle’s office. “Excuse me, Chairman Lee is in a meeting,” came a familiar voice, stopping Haechan dead in his tracks.

Haechan turned his attention to his classmate, Yeri Kim, who was wearing a smug grin. “I know, I’m supposed to be in there,” he replied.

“I think you’re supposed to deliver a latte first,” Yeri replied.

Haechan plopped the drinks down and handed Yeri her latte. “It would behoove you to remember that this is my family’s company, so you might want to be nicer to me,” Haechan offered, “it’ll take you farther.”

“I think I’m doing pretty well for myself since I’m an actual paid employee and you’re just an intern,” Yeri said.

“You’re just a receptionist, a temp one at that. I’m an heir , I don’t need to be paid,” Haechan shot back.

“Yet here you are, a sweaty mess delivering me coffee, running your mouth and running even later for the meeting that started fifteen minutes ago. And I don’t even have nepotism on my side,” Yeri said as she sat back in her chair, self-satisfied grin still plastered on her face. Their bickering was a defining feature of their relationship. What had started as a rivalry, grew into unstated mutual respect and somewhat of a friendship.

“Ugh,” Haechan glared at Yeri. “Just wait until I’m calling the shots around here. It’ll be the other way around.”

“Not at the rate you’re going, Errand Boy,” Yeri laughed. “Better get a move on. You know how much Chairman Lee hates when people are late.”

Haechan picked up the remaining drinks and made his way to the solid mahogany doors leading to his uncle’s office. He took a deep breath before entering. He’d have to do what he never did: act in humility. “My apologies Uncle for being late,” Haechan burst as he walked in. “It took longer to get to the café Taeyong requested and then they were busy and then--”   

“Donghyuck, I don’t care to hear your excuses,” Jaejoong said cutting him off, “late is late. Just sit, you’re only here to observe.” Jaejoong sat at the head of the conference table in the center of the spacious suite. Taeyong was seated beside him to his right. Opposite Jaejoong was his cousin and chief business officer, Donghae Lee. Filling in the remaining seats were the other chief officers of the Capulet Group. All eyes were upon Haechan as he walked over to the formidable table made of the same imported mahogany as the office doors and the rest of the office’s furniture. He shoved Taeyong his coffee and threw him a death glare before taking a seat behind him away from the table. Jaejoong then resumed the business of the meeting: hearing the reports from each of the officers. “Now, I believe there is an update on the progress of the MacBeth acquisition.”

“We’ve hit a snag in the negotiations,” began Donghae. “Montague has also made the Parks an offer to buyout MacBeth Technologies.”

“What?!” Jaejoong exclaimed. “What is Montague offering them?”

“$5 billion in cash and stocks,” Donghae replied.

“That’s more than twice their annual profits last year and what they’re projected to earn this year,” Jaejoong said. “Yunho is desperate, making such a gamble on an upstart company.”

“If they aren’t worth that much, why should we fight Montague for them?” Taeyong asked.

“MacBeth is gearing up for a massive expansion with the launch of Hecate, an impressive technology that will generate buzz and have consumers clamoring to adopt it,” Donghae answered. “They may not be pulling in billions now as they don’t have the means to produce their own computers and devices running the software. But CG--and Montague--do. The first to get Hecate on the market will have hit a gold mine.”

“A potential gold mine. Who knows if the software will be a hit or not,” chimed the chief risk officer, “the acquisition is a gamble in an of itself.”

“We can afford to make that bet. Montague can’t,” Jaejoong boasted. “They’re floundering and have nothing to fall back on.”

“But the likelihood of that is low and they could become competitive again, especially if they hold the exclusive rights to utilizing Hecate.” Donghae reminded the group. “They may have financial problems now, but they are still the next largest company after us and can edge us out if their fortunes change. We need to gain those exclusive rights to protect our position.”

“How do you suggest we go forward?” Jaejoong asked.

“Let’s raise our offer to $6.5 billion cash and sweeten the pot with other benefits,” Donghae began, “but we need to know what makes Montague attractive to them despite their losing market share and poor financial performance.”

Jaejoong sat back and thought for a moment. He glanced at Taeyong and then it hit him. “We must work our connections to find out more details on their negotiations with Montague before making a counteroffer,” he announced. “Let’s end there for now, but our technological divisions should make contingencies with any developments counting on the merger in case it doesn’t happen. That includes you too, Taeyong.”

Taeyong sat up at the mention of his name. His father appointed him the creative director over CapMedia Group, the subgroup of Capulet consisting of their media holdings, including their advertising firm which coordinated the branding and marketing strategies for the entire group. His father wanted him to use his background in art to re-brand the main consumer-oriented holdings and come up with a unified marketing campaign. Taeyong had been in this position for a month and hadn’t come up with a single idea. He spent his time just reading reports to come up to speed on what the subsidiaries were developing and who was who. It bored him to tears, but he needed to produce something good to prove his worth. He hated knowing he only had this high position because he was Jaejoong’s son and hated that everyone knew it even more. If he was going to be the head of this empire, he needed to earn his subjects’ respect through excellent and honest work.

Jaejoong had other ideas of how his son could prove his worth. As the meeting adjourned and attendees filed out of his office, he held Taeyong back. “How are things going? Handling your responsibilities well?” he asked.

“I’m holding up,” Taeyong answered. “Still getting the lay of the land and trying to balance my responsibilities.”

“I think you are managing work-life balance well. I’ve noticed you’ve been spending an unusual amount of time away from home. Could it be because of a young tech heiress?” his father surmised.

Jaehyun was the real reason Taeyong was going out more often. He couldn’t let on to that fact, but he didn’t want to tell an outright lie either, so he settled on cracking a sheepish grin.

“Ah, don’t be bashful my boy. There’s no shame in spending as much quality time as possible with someone you fancy. Things are going well between you I take it?”

“You could say that…” Taeyong had seen Joy only a handful of times since the derby, but it was enough for Joy to think they had a budding relationship.

“Spending so much time together you must be growing closer, huh? I’m sure she confides in you and you in her on a variety of matters: family, friends, work .”

“Why are you so interested in Joy and I and what we ‘confide’ in each other?” Taeyong asked, the abrasiveness dripping from his tone.

“Can’t a father check in with his son and take an interest in his life?” Jaejoong responded in feigned innocence.

“You’re not one of those fathers. You took months to even realize I had moved straight into the guest house when I returned home and hadn’t lived in my old room in years.”

His father’s face hardened. “Don’t exaggerate and paint me as some absentee father who cares nothing about you and your life. As your month of working here has shown you, it takes a lot of time and energy to keep this empire in order, so I admit I didn’t always spend quality time with you. But I’m interested in your well-being and care about your personal life. Now that we are working together, I think we can make up for lost time and grow closer.”

Taeyong noticed on the far wall of his father’s office a watercolor he had entered in his first art festival and received a prize for. He recalled that Jaejoong had bought it from him as his first buyer but didn’t know where it had ended up. “I’m sorry Father. I didn’t mean to imply you don’t care about me at all,” Taeyong apologized. “But what brought on this sudden interest in Joy and me?” He may have felt guilty for insinuating his father couldn't care less about him, but he also knew that just like his mother, Jaejoong had an ulterior motive concerning his love life.

“Alright, I’ll be honest with you.”

Sure you will.

“I’ve noticed a change in you since Joy came into your life. You don’t stay holed up in your studio, you live life. You’re happier and more focused. These are changes for the better.”

Those changes are thanks to Jaehyun, Taeyong said to himself as he waited for his father to get to the point.

“But considering the update from this meeting, I’m worried how the outcome of the bid could affect your relationship. If Joy ends up in the Montague fold with the Jungs, that could be a hindrance to your progress.”

“How?”

“If the Parks agree to sell MacBeth to the Jungs, they will become a part of Montague. She’ll become your competitor; it will divide her loyalties. How could you trust her to not use her connection with you to undermine us and give herself, and by extension the Jungs, a leg up in the competition?” Jaejoong speculated.

“She’d never do that...” A hesitant tremor reverberated in Taeyong’s voice.

“You don’t sound sure. The art of doing business is in the building and leveraging of relationships, from professional networking to marriage. It’s shrewd business sense, and she’s a shrewd businesswoman. But let’s say you are right, that she wouldn’t undertake such a tactic of her own volition. What’s stopping the Jungs from pressuring her to use her relationship with you for information they can use to gain the upper hand on us? They have a history of attempting to get close influential people in the company to gain access to insider information; they will do it again.” His father was sowing the seeds of doubt in Taeyong’s mind, tending to them like a diligent gardener to get them to grow in the direction he desired.

“Are you suggesting I break up with her if they end up choosing Montague?” His father unloading these concerns confused Taeyong. What does he want of me?

Shit, this angle is backfiring. Jaejoong heaved a sigh of exasperation. “No, I want you to fight for your future with Joy and assure that the Parks don’t choose Montague and instead side with us by accepting our offer.”

“And how do I do that?”

“Find out from Joy what we need to give them to lock them in with us. Take her out, woo her with your charms, and convince her it is in everyone’s best interest her family aligns with Capulet.”

“What you’re saying is that I need to do the thing you fear Joy would do, to her. You want me to manipulate her feelings for me for a business deal.”

“As I said before, it’s not a manipulation,” Jaejoong insisted. Why is he so resistant? He shot his son a quizzical look and asked, “It is Joy who has inspired this change in you, isn’t? Or have I made a hasty conclusion, and it’s someone else you have been seeing?”

“Wh-what? No!” Taeyong stammered before collecting himself. “No, I’m not seeing anyone else. I—I'm just not sure how committed we are, and I’d rather not mix business with...”

“... pleasure?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Fine, I get it. You want to keep your relationship with Joy sacred and you trust in it. But Taeyong our family relies on this company remaining strong for generations to come, the takeover of MacBeth will make sure of that. I am not asking you to do anything underhanded, just turn over one stone and see what comes. The next time you see Joy, which will be soon, inquire where her family stands on our offer and if there is anything we can do for them. If they have set their minds on Montague, then hey, nothing we can do. But we at least need to try, understood?”

It was apparent the only way this was going to end was with Taeyong giving into his father’s subtle demand and arrange a way to use Joy’s romantic feelings to push negotiations in Capulet’s favor. “Yes, I understand” he relented.

Jaejoong reached out and gave his son an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “I’m glad we could have this chat,” he said before turning back towards his desk. “Oh, and Taeyong?”

“Yes, Father,” Taeyong turned back just before exiting to return to the CapMedia offices.

“I want the best for you. I’ve worked my whole life for our family to have everything we deserve in life and more. And I’ll continue to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

Taeyong nodded and continued on his way. As he exited Jaejoong’s office, Haechan was waiting outside for him.

“Thanks, Boss, for the opportunity to trek several blocks in this heat, and humiliate myself in front of top executives, for a cup of coffee,” Haechan said, voice oozing with sarcasm, “hope you enjoyed it.”

“Sorry, I didn’t think it’d take you that long,” Taeyong apologized. “Besides, you missed nothing much other than boring reports.”

“I missed an opportunity to show Uncle that I am serious about the affairs of the company,” Haechan grunted.

“Don’t sweat it, bro,” Taeyong reassured his cousin, wrapping his arm around Haechan’s shoulder in a side-hug while they waited for the elevator to go down to the CapMedia offices. “I have something for you to work on that will help you redeem yourself in Father’s eyes.”

“Is that what he held you back to discuss?” Haechan asked.

“No, he wanted to talk about my love life.”

“Your love life ? Why?”

“He wants me to work Joy’s fondness for me so that she’ll aid in swaying her parents to accept our offer. Apparently taking advantage of relationships is the key to success in the business world.”

That set the gears spinning in Haechan’s head. You aren’t the only one with a connection to work, dear cousin. As they stepped into the elevator, Haechan pulled out his phone to send Mark a text: Down to chill this weekend?


 

“Have you ever felt unable to decide if you love or hate your father?” Taeyong asked as he rotated his glass of gin and tonic in a fugue state.

“On a daily basis,” Jaehyun responded. “I often settle on feeling both at the same time.”

“I think that’s where I’m at,” Taeyong settled as he took a sip of his drink. The tonic dulled the bitterness of the gin which made it easy for him to drink. But because it went down so smooth, he only nursed it. Otherwise he’d end up three drinks later a slurring, drowsy mess.

The couple sat cozied up in a booth in St. Benedick’s on a Thursday evening at the end of Happy Hour. It was less lively compared to the raucousness of Friday and Saturday nights. The lighting was dim, shrouding them from prying eyes, and the music was soft enough they could hear each other in their proximity but loud enough that no one in the adjacent booths could eavesdrop if they were so inclined. The Sisters and Altar Boys mixed and mingled with the patrons while doing a number here and there. Sehun was missing as he didn’t work Thursday nights, which he reserved for quality time with his man, the sushi chef. No Jinki-sized third wheel either; only young lovers lost in the company of one another.

“What happened with your dad today at work?” Jaehyun inquired.

“He’s following my mother’s lead and is now on Team Joyong. Except where my mom hears wedding bells, he sees dollar signs.” Taeyong sighed. “He wants me to flirt my way into securing this MacBeth deal.”

“Wow, I can’t believe your dad thinks you can flirt,” Jaehyun teased. “Are you sure he isn’t trying to sabotage it?”

“Excuse me, I can to flirt,” Taeyong protested. “If I couldn’t, how did I hook you?”

“First off, you hooked me with your face, not your words. Second, I find your awkwardness charming,” Jaehyun said. “When you try to flirt, things go off the rails.”

“I wasn’t the one who lost his composure when we first met,” Taeyong said, leaning in close in an attempt to fluster Jaehyun.

But his boyfriend maintained his composure. “I was under the influence. I thought you were a hallucination.”

“Were you high in the park too?”

“The park was a fluke. Can I raise you the derby and every encounter since then?”

“Fine, I’m not a flirt,” Taeyong agreed, “but maybe you could teach me to be? Let me learn the ways of Verona’s Prince Charming.”

“You want me to teach you how to flirt so you can flirt with someone else? What good does that do for me?” Jaehyun asked, flashing his killer, dimpled grin that melted Taeyong and drove him insane with desire.

“I could flirt with you and charm you,” Taeyong answered in an enticing tone.

“But I’m already lured. If I help you up your game to where you are both ridiculously good-looking and charming, then I’d have competition for your affections and have to step up my game.”

“Nobody else can compete with you in my eyes,” Taeyong declared. “I promise I will only use my looks and newfound charm only against you — and Joy.”

“We don’t need Joy seriously falling in love with you.” His boyfriend’s tone gaining an edge.

“Who said I want her to fall in love with me? This is just business.”

“Here, it’s the same. You’re exploiting her feelings for you to help Daddy get his hands on MT,” Jaehyun stated. “Besides, it’s a conflict of interest. You’re trying to schmooze her to get her family to reject Montague’s offer. Helping you would be at my expense.”

“I guess you would know all about that,” Taeyong said before he could bite his gin-loosened tongue.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Jaehyun was tense and defensive.

“Nothing.”

“No, you have something on your mind, just say it.”

After the chat with his father, a troublesome thought had intruded Taeyong’s mind. He tried to smother it out by ignoring it but his father’s voice playing over in his head kept bring the thought back to the surface. Fight for your future. Fight for your happiness. If he and Jaehyun stood a chance, Taeyong had to put this doubt to bed. He needed to address it. “Did Montague already have plans to acquire MacBeth or did they develop after the derby?” he asked.

Jaehyun shifted in his seat. “Where is this coming from?”

“Just answer the question: were there already plans in place to acquire MT or did they develop after the derby?”

“MacBeth wasn’t originally up for sale. They approached us to propose we adopt Hecate as the operating software for our next line of mobile devices and computers. After we learned what Hecate was capable of, Father decided to make an offer to buy them out to have the exclusive rights to utilize it. The only way Montague could have made an offer is if they had been approached by MacBeth with the same offer or got insider information. When you, me, and Joy were talking at the derby, and I mentioned that CG was acquiring MacBeth, it seemed as though that was the first you had heard it. Either you already knew and that was an act, or you took that info back to Montague and then made an offer.”

“What difference does it make whether it was before or after the derby? Our offer is still on the table.”

“The difference is whether you used me to get that information. It’s whether I can trust you.”

“Are you suggesting that I exploited you? That I planned to set you up to leak information?”

“I don’t think you planned to do it,” Taeyong clarified, “it’s just—earlier when my father was pushing me to ‘fight’ for Joy, he said if the Parks accepted Montague’s offer they’d align themselves with the Jungs, and Joy would be my competitor. He then said if she didn’t use our ‘relationship’ for intel, then your family will. I don’t want to think you’re capable of that, but I know how driven you are to prove your worth to your father and I know your father would love nothing more than to get the upper hand over Capulet...”

“Okay, look, we knew of the acquisition before the derby via a mole we planted as an employee at CG, not from you. But we thought it was a done deal and had no plans of trying to make a play for them. If you recall, it was Joy who said you hadn’t completed negotiations, leaving an opportunity for us to make a competing offer. Montague is my future, my legacy , and it’s struggling. I’ve been following Hecate’s development, and it’s a game-changer. Whoever owns the exclusive rights to that software will be at the forefront of the industry. Once I learned that there was an opportunity to secure my family’s future, I couldn’t keep that information to myself and pass up the chance,” Jaehyun defended.

“I don’t blame you. You and me, we’re in the same position. Capulet is my legacy, as much as I complain. My father has put everything he has into it, for the sake of our family. It’s why I’m going along with wooing Joy.” Taeyong sighed, “I want to be able to confide everything in you, but I need to be able to trust you won’t take what I tell you in confidence regarding Capulet to use for your gain at my family’s expense. I don’t want to choose between you and my family.”

Jaehyun listened and took Taeyong’s concerns to heart. Then he took Taeyong’s hand and looked into his eyes. “I hear you and I’m sorry that I let my ambition get the better of me. I was so focused on the possibility of acquiring MT that I didn’t consider how it could make it hard for you to trust in me. But I want you to know that you can put your trust in me. And I don’t want to choose between you and my family either. Let’s make a vow that from this point forward, whatever we share between us about our jobs and our families stays in confidence.”

“Okay,” Taeyong nodded and smiled, then leaned forward and sealed the vow with a kiss. When they broke away, Taeyong wrapped his arms around Jaehyun’s waist and nuzzled his head into the other’s shoulder. Jaehyun had alleviated the doubts that had clouded his mind. His connection to Jaehyun was deepening on an emotional level and drew him ever closer to him.

“Besides, the ball is in the Parks’ court. They could still reject our offer and go with Capulet,” Jaehyun offered as reassurance, “unless you have a disastrous date with Joy and she wants nothing to do with you.”

““Wow, thanks for ruining the moment.”

“I’m kidding, it won’t be that bad. Have you thought about where you would take her?”

“I don’t know I guess for a nice dinner or something?”

“Hm, I wouldn’t do that. It’s too obvious that you are angling for something,” Jaehyun counseled. “She may even think you want to sleep with her if you go out at night and pull out all the stops.”

“What? I don’t want to take it that far. I don’t even want to make it to first base," Taeyong shuddered at the thought.

“You should make plans to do something during the day. There’s that Chihuly exhibit at the Lucio Gardens. She’ll think it’s sentimental because that’s where you first met, and it’s your favorite place in the city, so you’ll stay engaged. You’re the most charming when you light up talking about what you’re interested in.”

“I thought you weren’t giving me any dating tips?”

“I’m making up for my sin. You wouldn’t be in this situation if it weren’t for me, so it’s only right I help you get through it.”

“You’re amazing you know that?” Taeyong asked as he looked upon Jaehyun with a starry-eyed gaze.

“I get that a lot, but it means the most coming from you,” Jaehyun replied. The words they both wanted to say next were on the tips of their tongues, but neither felt it was the right time or place to vocalize them to each other. So they drew their lips together to express what their hearts longed to release.


 

“What are your thoughts on our proposal?” Yunho asked the Parks. He, Jaehyun, Shindong, Krystal, and Mark had spent their Friday, walking the Parks and their daughter through the details of how Montague planned to execute the MacBeth Tech acquisition, were they  to accept the offer; everything from the revamp of their electronics using the Hecate software, to positions and shareholdings. This meeting culminated several days of touring and discussion as Yunho pulled out all the stops to seal this deal. However, he never got a good read on how the Parks were receiving it all.

Sunny Park lifted her petite frame on her toes to be level with her husband, Leeteuk’s ear. Then she began to whisper. Again with the whispering. Can’t this man speak for himself? Yunho thought to himself.  It appeared the two had to deliberate before either responded to any question or statement directed toward them. Even a simple “lovely day isn’t it” triggered huddled whispering as if it was debatable that a mild, blue-skied day was anything other than pleasant. It was also somewhat strange that they didn’t include their daughter Joy who had been their representative before they arrived in Verona and had been their contact in the early stages of the conversations regarding Montague buying MT out. She stood there smiling as everyone waited with bated breath for the Parks’ response.

Leeteuk nodded along as his wife continued her whispers, which were increasingly reminiscent of a snake hissing. The rest of the group awaited their answer with bated breath. “I have to say, Yunho, you impressed us with how much you’ve pulled together in such a short amount of time. $5 billion is quite a sum of money. And it’s impressive that your son Jaehyun here has done his research on our developments and conceptualized devices to use the capabilities of Hecate to its fullest extent. And yet more impressive, you are positioned to have a prototype ready to be revealed by the final quarter. That’s something we didn’t see at Capulet.”

“We have always excelled in substance and true innovation over Capulet from our early days as a simple household appliances company. They sell based on flashy style and glitzy advertising of cheap phones designed to become obsolete as soon as they hit shelves. We pride ourselves in quality, durability, and efficiency in production. It’s the strength of the Montague brand and why we have stayed relevant for going on a century,” Yunho boasted.

“The sales projections are still iffy,” Sunny countered. She spoke in the same overly sanguine manner as her daughter, but her comments were rarely as sweet. “CG is a popular brand. You can throw a stone in any direction and hit someone who owns one of their phones. And their profits don’t lie. Do you think our name alone is enough to override MontaNoNo’s image problems?”

“Once people see the new sleeker look of our phones, paired with the amazing capabilities and performance of Hecate, our image problem will be a thing of the past,” Jaehyun asserted.

“Well, we’ve seen enough for us to consider. We’ll get back soon with our final decision,” Leeteuk said with a smile. “Thank you all for your hospitality and the work you have put in for us so far.”

“Yes, thank you. It’s been a pleasure,” Joy chimed. “And I’m sure whatever the verdict, I will see you around Verona, Jaehyun. I have a feeling we’ll keep crossing paths in the future.”

“I’m sure we will,” he replied.

“Here, let me go with you to the valet,” Shindong offered as he escorted them to the elevator back to the lobby of Montague’s headquarters.

As the elevator doors closed, the forced smile left Krystal’s face. “Finally! They’re gone.”

“Krystal,” Yunho said in a chiding tone.

“I’m sorry Uncle, but there is something off about them. They are so strange. And that Leeteuk just gives me a smarmy vibe. He kept checking me out,” Krystal complained. “Are you sure we want to do business with them?”

“Yeah, Uncle. Krystal had me look into them and they have a habit of merging into companies, then gaining controlling interest, ousting the CEOs and assuming the position themselves. Not to mention some believe the misfortunes that befell those former CEOs weren’t accidents. There also isn’t a lot of information available about their backgrounds and where they even came from,” Mark cautioned.

Yunho brushed off their concerns. “Those were all smaller startup companies, and any insinuations of foul play are only speculation. Our family maintains controlling interest in this company and all our subsidiaries and that won’t be changing, unless you all plan to sell your shares to them. We need to focus on the properties we’ll inherit with the acquisition and what that will do to boost up our technology divisions. There is already military interest in Hecate and we know how lucrative those contracts can be. Plus how we’ll look having bested Capulet after 25 years of settling for second.”

“Father is right,” Jaehyun said backing Yunho up. “We’re buying them out, not the other way around. There’s no way for them to accumulate the capital and power to stage a takeover.”

“All I’m saying is be careful dealing with them, Uncle,” Krystal warned again, “I don’t get a good vibe from them and we shouldn’t let ambition blind us to red flags.”

“I know what I’m doing,” Yunho snapped back. “I need none of you getting cold-feet and hesitating now. We’re going all in to land this deal at whatever the costs and I don’t want to hear anymore of your unfounded concerns, is that understood?”

They all nodded their understanding.


 

“I still can’t believe Taeyong’s reduced me to fetching coffee, sorting mail, organizing reports and files,” Haechan whined.

“Do you have to rant about this again? We just woke up,” Mark sighed. It was mid-morning on a lazy Saturday, and they were still lying in Mark’s bed after their romantic sleepover the previous night.

“My family owns the company yet I’m treated worse than a receptionist. I mean, Yeri , gets more responsibility than I do. I had to bring her coffee,” Haechan continued his rant.

“I guess you do,” Mark said under his breath. “Yeri gets more responsibilities than you because she is a paid employee. By law, unpaid interns cannot perform work a company they are interning for would otherwise pay someone to do.”

“You’re an intern and they have you doing way more demanding work at Montague,” Haechan pointed out. He had been angling since he arrived at Mark’s apartment to get Mark to discuss what he worked on at Montague each day. He evaded every attempt.

“I’m a paid intern. I get compensation beyond just experience so I can have a more involved role,” Mark explained. “Can’t you talk to your uncle or your cousin to get more substantial work?”

“My uncle left me in Taeyong’s hands, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“Why don’t you take on one of his projects for him? You pull it off, you’d gain respect in your Uncle’s eyes.”

“Or he’ll just give the credit to Taeyong,” Haechan countered. “Taeyong let me in on a big meeting regarding the MacBeth acquisition.” He has to take this bait.

“Really?” Mark asked, skeptical if Haechan was exaggerating the meeting’s significance. “What were they saying about it?”

“That the Parks were crazy for even considering accepting Montague’s offer. $5 billion is a chunk of cash to get upfront, but Montague hasn’t been killing it with their sales, no offense. They’d make more money over the long-term with Capulet.”

“We’re not broke. We have plenty of assets and we have the economies of scale they want,” Mark argued. “But I’m wary of the Parks, they’re suspicious.”

Haechan’s ears perked up. “Suspicious, like what?”

“It’s just strange how fast they could grow by buying up all these smaller companies. When you look them up there is so little info on their family background, it’s like Leeteuk Park appeared out of thin air. Not to mention what happened to the CEOs of the companies they bought out.”

“What happened to them?” Haechan inquired.

“All of them implicated in company scandals, and freak accidents or sudden death incapacitated the ones who didn’t step down or were removed by their board of directors,” Mark divulged.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I can’t say the Parks had anything to do with it, but it’s too much of a coincidence they ended up running and controlling these companies afterward.”

“It seems strange, but they couldn’t pull that off with companies our size, so I wouldn’t put much stock in those speculations.”

“My uncle said the same thing when I brought it up to him,” said Mark, “he doesn’t care. He wants to buy MacBeth at whatever cost. Anyway, it’s the weekend. Why are we talking about work? We should have breakfast then do something.”

“We could play video games or watch that new show—”

“I was thinking we could do something outside of my apartment,” Mark cut in, “you know like regular couples do?”

“We’re not a regular couple. We’re not even friends outside the walls of this apartment. What if people saw us together?”

“This city is huge, filled with plenty of places where none of our friends venture, and we’d be anonymous. And I’m not suggesting we go out in public holding hands and make out. We can just grab a bite to eat or go chill in a park or something,” Mark swung around to face Haechan and pouted, “I’m just tired of being trapped in this apartment whenever you come to spend the weekend. Can we get fresh air please ?”

Haechan knew Mark would continue to nag him unless he agreed, so he indulged his request this time, “okay we can go get breakfast as long as it is away from this area. A lot of our classmates are still living around here while they’re doing their internships and I don’t want people we know, like Jeno and Jaemin, to see us.”

“Alright, I know a place.” Mark’s phone vibrated against the nightstand and he picked it up to check his notifications. “Oh snap,” he laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Haechan asked.

“It’s nothing,” Mark said as he typed out a response to the mysterious message. “Do you want to hop in the shower together and get ready?”

“I think it’ll be faster if we shower separately. We might get uh,... distracted , if we shower together and won’t get out of here until lunch.”

“You overestimate your endurance, but okay. Do you want to go first?”

“No, you can go ahead,” Haechan smiled.

“Okay, I’ll be quick.”

As soon as Mark closed the door to the bathroom and started the shower, Haechan went and swiped Mark’s phone. Good, it didn’t lock itself yet; he thought to himself as he headed straight to Mark’s email to open his work inbox. He typed “MacBeth” into the search bar and forwarded any email pertaining to the research Mark had done on them to himself, then deleted the forwarded messages out of Mark’s sent items. While he was covering his tracks, a message alert popped up at the top of the screen. The message was from Ten and read, " chopping wood” with a video file attached. Curious, Haechan opened it. A clip of a well-endowed man masturbating greeted him. “What the fuck,” Haechan said to himself as he scrolled backward in Ten and Mark’s message thread, growing more indignant and jealous with each lewd message he read.

While Haechan was engrossed in scrolling, Mark came out of the bathroom towel clad. “Okay, your turn—is that my phone?” Mark’s tone shifted from bright to outrage in a fraction of a second.

“You want to explain these?” Haechan asked displaying the messages to Mark.

“Bro, what the fuck, why are you going through my phone?”

“Why is Ten sending you this shit?”

“He sends them at random as a joke. And not just me, but Jaehyun and the other guys too,” Mark replied as he snatched his phone back out of Haechan’s hands. “You still didn’t answer why you’re going through my phone.”

“The phone buzzed, and I thought it was mine until I saw the message,” Haechan lied.

“Our phones look nothing alike,” Mark challenged.

“Stop trying to change the subject from the bigger issue, which is Ten sending you this smut when you have a boyfriend,” Haechan deflected.

“Ten doesn’t know I have a boyfriend, no one does. We’re supposed to be a secret remember? It’s why we can never leave this fucking apartment together! How would I tell him to not send me messages when I have a boyfriend when I can’t even say who that boyfriend is?”

“Well, you know you have a boyfriend, and should just tell him to stop because it’s inappropriate and disrespectful,” Haechan countered.

“It’s a joke, it means nothing. And who is it disrespectful towards?”

“Me, Mark, me !”

“He doesn’t know who you are, so he’s not disrespecting you. You wouldn’t even know about these messages if you hadn’t gone through my phone.”

“So you think it’s alright to do stuff behind my back as long as I never find out about it? You know I don’t like the way Ten flirts with you and now I know he sends you all these sexual messages. I can see what he’s trying to do, and it isn’t innocent.”

“But it is,” Mark shouted in exasperation. Mark stayed quiet for as he realized that they wouldn’t get anywhere if neither would give in and admit they had done anything wrong towards the other. As much as Haechan was stubborn and frustrated him, Mark didn’t want to break up with him. He needed to find a resolution. “Look I get it that the way Ten acts around me is uncomfortable for you, but I guarantee you he means nothing by it and is not interested in me that way. But even if he were, I’m not interested in him. I’m only interested in you. I would never cheat on or betray you. I’ll tell Ten to cut it out with the messages.”

Haechan nodded.

“Now you,” Mark prompted.

“Now I what?”

“This is the part where you acknowledge that snooping is wrong and promise not to do it again. Please? I’d like to have breakfast this century.”

Haechan looked pained as he tried to bring himself to apologize. “I’m sorry for going through your phone and reading your messages... and I promise not to do it again.”

“Thank you.” Mark kissed Haechan. “Take a shower so we can go. I’m starving.” As Haechan showered, Mark went into his phone settings and changed his PIN and the lock timer.


 

“Wow, this place is gorgeous,” Joy marvelled as she and Taeyong meandered their way through the sprawling gardens of the Lucio. “It’s perfect weather, too.” The sun beamed bright against the azure sky, its radiating warmth abated by the crisp breeze that rolled across the city from the sea and the lower humidity. The gardens bustled with sightseers enjoying a rare respite from a relentless summer.

They passed by many a sweet young couple and it dawned on Taeyong that Jaehyun had suggested a date he had intended for he and Taeyong. The Lucio was where they first met, the gardens where they first kissed, and he recalled discussing Chihuly’s glass work with Jaehyun. The only thing missing was Jaehyun. Alas, he was there with Joy and needed to come away from this excursion with at least a piece of pertinent information to show to his father he at least tried. He half hoped that Jaehyun had planned to crash their date and lay in wait somewhere behind a hedge ready to appear at the right moment to give him aid.  

As Taeyong’s mind drifted back from thoughts of Jaehyun, he realized that he and Joy had just been strolling in awkward silence for a few minutes. Quick, say something you find interesting, he told himself recalling Jaehyun’s advice . “Did you know that the Lucio used to be the official residence of the princes of Verona?” Taeyong began. “One, Prince Lorenzo, had an interest in botany and took on the project of cultivating the gardens with exotic plants collected from around the world.”

“Oh wow,” Joy said.

“They installed works by the renowned glass sculptor Chihuly not too long ago. Are you familiar with his work?”

“I have seen a few of his art books and the pictures were beautiful, but I’m sure the sculptures look better in person.”

The pair continued making their way through the manicured shrubbery of the formal garden toward the tropical plant conservatory. As they entered the large dome, they were transported to a veritable rainforest of tropical hardwoods, luminescent bromeliads, exotic orchids. The sunlight filtered from the glass ceiling through the lush canopy speckling the underbrush with jaguar spots of light. An artificial stream ran throughout, the sound of its babbling waters soothing. They walked taking in the specimens and the fantastical glassworks that added to the otherworldliness until they reached the center of the dome where the largest installation sat. Perched at the center was a three-meter glass sculpture resembling a bromeliad in bloom.

“It’s stunning.” Joy was in awe of the vivid lime green leaves and the tall magenta stalk shooting up from the middle, the bright purple “blooms” shimmering and reflecting the sunbeams casted upon it.

“It’s based on a Portea petropolitana , native to the coast of Brazil,” Taeyong explained.

“You know so much history about this place.”

“My mother’s family were founding donors who sought to preserve the Lucio as a museum at the end of the principality. It’s been my mother’s favorite place since she was a child. My parents even had their wedding here. When I was younger, she brought me and Donghyuck here all the time and we’d look at the paintings together and talk about them, making up stories based on what the images spoke to us. Then we’d explore the gardens and roam the butterfly house. We had a contest to see who attracted the most butterflies. With each of those visits, I grew to love it too.”

“That’s so sweet,” Joy cooed as she sat on a nearby bench. “Your mother is great.”

Taeyong sat beside her. “Yeah, I guess she is, when she isn’t nagging me about marriage.”

“At least your mother thinks you are marriage material. Every time we meet, she talks you up nonstop. ‘My son is so handsome, my son is so kind, my son is so sensitive, have you seen his artwork?’” Joy gave an uncanny impression of his mother’s braggadocio that made him chuckle. “She adores you. My mother…”

“Your mother doesn’t adore you?”

“Far from it. She never misses an opportunity to remind me of the ways I disappoint her and my father.”

“How could you ever disappoint them? You’re elegant, a genius software developer, successful. You’re every parent’s dream child.”

“Not mine. Their first disappointment was getting a daughter instead of a son. My parents had difficulty conceiving and Mother says she prayed every night for God to bless her with a son, even if she had to wait until old age like Sarah. She stopped believing in God after I was born because He didn’t answer her prayers.”

“Oh, that sounds like—”

“A stone-cold bitch? She is, but she’s driven and doesn’t let disappointment keep her down. She shifted focus and put her energy into making me perfect wife material. I failed at that too. Pretty but not gorgeous. Smart but not brilliant. Too frivolous then too rigid. They thrust me on men who’d make ‘suitable’ husbands, and when those relationships failed, it was always my fault. It was always ‘if only you lost weight,’ ‘if only you were more cultured,’ ‘if only you majored in the humanities instead of computer science.’ If only.”

“Your parents didn’t want you to major in computer science? But that’s your family business.”

“Mother says men find women who are smarter than them and have their own ambitions intimidating. If I had majored in something like literature or art history, I would be more ‘appealing.’”

“That’s such bullshit,” Taeyong exclaimed. He struggled to believe that the Parks could act so horrid towards their daughter, but he understood now why Joy was such an uptight, perfectionist.

“Ah, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to unload all of my parental issues on you,” Joy apologized. “They have been in town for a couple weeks now negotiating this deal and they’ve been driving me crazy with their backhanded comments.”

Well, this is your opening, Taeyong thought to himself after mention of the acquisition. “No need to apologize, that sounds stressful and unfair. You developed the software that will put their names on the map and they still aren’t proud of you. I’d be beyond frustrated as well.”

Joy smiled at Taeyong’s sympathies. “They may screw up all the work I’ve put in to get Hecate off the ground if they continue playing games with these negotiations.” She caught herself before she launched into another rant, “sorry, I’ve taken up enough of our afternoon bemoaning my parents, and I shouldn’t be discussing these business dealings with you.”

“No, no, no, it’s okay,” please keep talking. Taeyong reached out and took Joy’s hands to offer reassurance. “You can confide in me. Forget that I work for Capulet and just think of me as just a guy who cares about you… a lot.” Oh God, I can’t believe I said that.

“Well,” she hesitated but trusted in him. “As you are aware, Montague made us quite a sizeable offer to buy us out, and my parents are seriously considering accepting it. Surprising since they were dead set on joining Capulet.”

“And because Montague’s market position is so much weaker than ours.”

“That’s what I told them, but they find that a pro of siding with Montague.”

“I don’t get it, how is weaker market share a pro? I understand that Montague is offering more in cash and stocks up front, but isn’t your parents goal to break into the market on a mass scale? More people buy CG products.”

“Yes, but…” Joy needed to be careful with her words in addressing Taeyong’s confusion. “My parents prioritize maximizing growth opportunity . Because Montague is weaker than CG at the moment, their stock price is lower. If Hecate proves successful—as we think it will— and Montague holds exclusive licensing rights, their gains will be much higher than CG’s would because their value is lower. Meaning we would make more money upfront and in the long run.”

“So, they’re going with Montague then?” Father won’t like this.

“Who knows? It’s still a gamble; MontaMoBo has been having declining sales for years. The bad brand reputation could override the buzz around the software and it could all be for naught. I think CG is the safer bet.”

“Do you think they’ll heed your advice? Can you sway them to go with Capulet?”

Joy’s eyes narrowed on Taeyong. “You’re a sly one aren’t you?”

“What do you mean?” Shit, did I screw this up?

“I won’t ‘sway’ my parents to do anything just because you’re sweet on me. And even if I were so inclined, my parents put little stock in what I think about anything. I couldn’t influence them if I tried. They are the ones holding all the cards in this situation. They have the power and they will go whichever route will get them more of it. All we can do is sit back and hope for the best.”

Father is really not going to like this. “It’s getting warm and muggy in here, let’s head back out and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine a little while longer.” Taeyong stood and stretched and offered Joy his hand to assist her up. She smiled and accepted his courteous gesture. As they made their way to the exit of the conservatory, Joy slid her hand into Taeyong’s, lacing her fingers with his. Taeyong tensed up. Relax, it’s just holding hands. It’s a date, act like a couple.

They came out by the large pond, filled with colorful koi and waterfowl. They walked for a moment in silence, hands still clasped, until Joy’s tender voice broke it. “Thank you for listening to my ventings and for the compliments earlier.”

“You don’t have to thank me for telling you the truth. I haven’t met your parents and don’t want to disrespect them, but if they can’t see how blessed they are to have such a beautiful, intelligent, and loving woman as their daughter, they’re fools.”

Joy turned and wrapped her arms around him in a warm embrace. He stood frozen for a moment before wrapping his arms around her. Then, Joy pulled back, looked at Taeyong, then pulled him into a kiss. Oh fuck, Taeyong panicked. He stood rigid and cold like one of Chihuly’s sculptures for what was only a few seconds, but felt like an eternity. Joy broke away first. “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I felt so close to you now. I thought it was the right moment. Are you alright? Was it okay?”

“Oh, ye-yeah, I’m fine. It’s just, I wasn’t expecting it,” Taeyong let out a nervous laugh. “It was, uh, nice .”

“I’m glad you liked it.” Joy’s scarlet lips curled into a delighted smile and she leaned in for another kiss.

Taeyong was swift in breaking the second kiss first. “Oh my gosh, look at what time it is. I told Jinki to pick us up now. He’s waiting out front. We should get you home.”

“Oh, alright. Wow, the time really flew by.” They made their way back to the front entrance where sure enough, Jinki was waiting right on time. They got into the car and made their way through the city to Joy’s uptown apartment building. “Thank you, Jinki, for the ride,” she said before turning to Taeyong. “And thank you for a lovely afternoon.” She went to kiss Taeyong, who turned his head for her to give him a kiss on the cheek. She got out of the car, turning around halfway towards the door to smile and wave goodbye before continuing to greet the doorman and proceed inside.

“Well, I take it someone had a good time,” Jinki chimed into the rearview mirror as he pulled away from the curb to journey home. “And by someone, I mean Joy. You have lipstick on your cheek and lips.”

“This is a disaster,” Taeyong groaned as he rubbed his cheek with a handkerchief, working to wipe away the traces of Joy’s mark. “Not only did I get nowhere regarding pushing the negotiations into our favor, we kissed!”

“I’m sure that will fill Jaehyun with jealousy once he finds out,” Jinki chuckled.

“This isn’t funny. She’s developing real feelings for me now. And you can’t say a word about this to Jaehyun.”

“Relax, I won’t say anything to Jaehyun,” his confidante assured. “And you’ve done what your father asked of you, you tried to work your charms. Whether it worked, your relationship fulfilled its purpose and you can call things off, clean and easy.”

“I can only hope so.”


 

“Stupid Taeyong with his stupid obsession with the stupid Americanos at that stupid coffeehouse,” Haechan muttered to himself as he ran around Mark’s apartment in a frenzy to get ready for work. It was bright and early Monday morning after he had spent the whole weekend with Mark. Things had taken an upswing after their fall out over the phone snooping and the young couple were back on a high. “Babe, have you seen my socks?”

“Just take a pair of mine,” Mark shouted from the bathroom.

Haechan went over to Mark’s dresser to look for socks when Mark rushed out, scooted him aside, and went into his sock drawer and handed Haechan a pair. “I wasn’t going to search through your underwear drawer for anything other than some socks.”

“Don’t start. I was just helping you out since you’re in such a hurry to get out of here.”

Liar . Even though they made up over breakfast, then in bed—repeatedly—Mark hadn’t left his phone unattended for one moment since their fight. It annoyed Haechan, but since he had invaded his boyfriend’s privacy, he tried not to bring it up, difficult as it was to do so. He ran out into the living area to put on his shoes and grab his bag to head out the door.

“Wait a minute,” Mark called, “I think you’re forgetting something.”

“What?” Haechan asked as he patted his pockets to make sure he had his essentials: phone, wallet, keys.

Mark walked up, threw his arms up on Haechan’s shoulders and kissed him deeply. “Have a… great… day,” he wished in between smooches. “Will you come back here after work?”

“No, I gotta go home. My aunt and uncle rarely notice when I’m not around at home, but it’s been almost three days so they’ll ask questions. But I’ll be back soon, don’t worry.” Haechan gave Mark one final kiss and went out the door. He whipped out his phone to see if his contact he had sent the emails he got from Mark had come back with any information about their contents. As he was about to head down the hall to the elevator the door to the apartment across from Mark’s opened behind him and a voice rang out.

“Haechan? Is that you?”

Recognizing the voice he stopped dead in tracks and slowly turned around in horror.

“Um, what are you doing here at 7:30 a.m.?” asked Yeri.

“What are you doing here?” Haechan shot back.

“I live here. See me, leaving my apartment, which I have a key for, and am locking right now?” Yeri said in her typical sarcastic tone. “When did you move in here and why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t, I mean, I don’t live here…”

“So why are you here?”

Just then, Mark came out of his apartment. “Babe, you’re forgetting something for real. You left your keycard—” He stopped mid-sentence when he saw Yeri there.

Babe? Wait are you two... together ?” Yeri shrieked.

“Shut up!” Haechan exclaimed as he pushed both Yeri and Mark back into Mark’s apartment.

“Oh my God, how did this happen? When did this happen?” Yeri asked scandalized. “You two can’t stand each other, well, at least you use to not be able to.”

“Back in November,” Mark disclosed.

Eight months ?! You have been hooking up for eight fucking months, and I’m only finding out now ?” She was indignant. “Do Jeno and Jaemin know about this? If you told those two and not me I swear to—”

“No, they don’t know, no one does,” Haechan said in his frantic state, “and it’ll stay that way!”

“We don’t want this getting out and back to our families. They would lose their shit. Promise not to say anything to anyone,” Mark pleaded.

“Relax, relax, my lips are sealed. I’m still in shock, but I’ll keep your secret. Outing people isn’t cool,” Yeri assured them. “You know what this means, don’t you Haechan?”

“What?”

“You’ll be delivering me lattes every day, and you’ll have to be nice and stay on my good side,” a mischievous grin preceded a giddy giggle.

“You promised that you wouldn’t say anything.”

“And I won’t as long as you treat me with respect and don't press my buttons. Now, if you two will excuse me, I have to make my way to work. Chairman Lee loves how I always arrive early. And you have coffee to fetch Errand Boy. I’m in the mood for a mocha today.” Yeri got up with some extra spring in her step and showed herself out.

Haechan looked at Mark fuming. Mark just frowned and held out Haechan’s keycard. “It’s just Yeri. She’ll stay true her word.”

“Let’s hope so.” And with that Haechan left.


 

“Well, what do you all have for me?” Jaejoong asked from behind his desk. Across from him sat Taeyong, Haechan, and Donghae. He had called them in for a more confidential meeting to discuss how to progress forward in completing matters with MacBeth.

“I talked to Joy, and she holds no influence over her parents,” Taeyong sighed, “but she told me they are keen on Montague because of the greater ‘growth opportunity.’ According to her, their lower value is a benefit to them.”

“Hmm, makes sense,” Haechan chimed.

“Care to elaborate?” Jaejoong asked his nephew.

“I researched into how the Parks came to be the heads of MacBeth Technologies and well there’s a pattern.”

“Don’t leave us in suspense, just lay it all out,” Donghae beckoned.

“The Parks first came into prominence when they became majority shareholders in Thane Interactive and their board of directors appointed Mr. Park CEO after the former CEO had a stroke. He then invested in Duncan Industries and the two companies later merged and formed MacBeth Technologies. It was a cash and stock deal and he became the second highest shareholder as a result, second to the former chairman and CEO of Duncan, Kingston Scott.”

“Kingston Scott? Wasn’t he the one who got caught in that huge prostitution scandal?” Jaejoong asked.

“Yes,” Haechan confirmed. “He claimed that it was a setup, but the board removed him as CEO and appointed, you guessed it, Mr. Park. Soon after Scott was found dead in his home. The authorities ruled it a suicide in response to losing his life’s work and being disgraced. Some speculate these misfortunes were foul play, but there is no evidence to substantiate those claims.”

“So they climbed up the ranks by making smart investments, what’s so strange about that?” Donghae asked.

“They weren’t smart investments though; those companies were both caught up in scandals that depreciated the value of their stocks around the time that the Parks invested in them, that’s how they could end up with such a large stake. Then they turned the companies around and when their stocks were at peak value, they removed the CEO and they assumed the top positions. Now Montague, who is in a weak position with their stock at the lowest value it has ever been, enters the picture and now they are keen on getting in with them over a stable company like us? I think it’s clear what they are up to.”

“Corporate raiding,” Jaejoong concluded.

“Bingo,” his nephew affirmed, pleased with himself for pulling all the pieces of the puzzle together. Thank you, Mark.

Donghae was skeptical. “If they are looking for a company to raid why would they have come to us first? They’d have no chance of pulling that off with us.”

“To increase their value so they could aim for a larger target, and Montague has given them one like the fools they are,” Haechan deduced.

“How is this of relevance to us? We buy them out, the MacBeth name is no more and their properties are ours. If they want to take their payday and take down a competitor, what does it matter to us?” Donghae argued.

“They’re ambitious and won’t just take the money and run. They will want positions in our organization,” Jaejoong declared.

“Why not just give them what they want? We’re secure and would never give up our controlling interest in the company. What’s the harm?” Taeyong reasoned.

“They’re power hungry and ambitious. People like that won’t settle for just a slice; they’ll want the whole damn pie. And given time they will make a play for it. I can’t give them the opening, and they won’t just accept cash and a few stocks,” his father surmised.

“Are you suggesting we don’t up the offer then?” Donghae asked.

“I think we should back out entirely,” the chairman clarified.

“Jaejoong, are you sure you want to back out entirely? They could just be trying to bid up our offer and would just take the cash.”

“I agree with Donghae,” Taeyong cosigned. From what Joy had told him about her parents, he believed that they were capable of being underhanded and looked out only for their self-interest. But if they backed out, they would go straight to Montague and that would put everything Jaehyun had worked for in jeopardy.

“I don’t,” Haechan chimed. “I’m with Uncle on this one. We can’t let potential snakes in here.”

“But we can’t just turn them loose on Montague,” his cousin blurted.

The other three stared back at Taeyong with quizzical looks. “Why do you care?” Haechan asked.

“Aren’t we supposed to be improving our relations with them and ending the feud, like the mayor warned us to?”

“They already know about the Parks,” Haechan shared.

“How do you know?”

“I have a contact on the inside, but that’s beside the point. If the Jungs want to do business with them and get burned, that’s not our fault. We have to look out for ourselves.”

“In comparison to our performance, Montague is weak, but it would still take a lot for the Parks to topple them. It’s why I don’t think we should back out,” Donghae said as his final plea. “But if our chief here won’t allow us to move forward, then we won’t.”

“It’s settled then, we’re withdrawing our offer,” Jaejoong gave his final verdict to Donghae, “however, wait until I give you the go ahead before you inform the Parks. I have a loose end to tie up first.” Then he turned to Haechan, “Good work doing your research and sharing this information with me. You helped us to avoid a potential misstep.”

Haechan beamed at his uncle’s words of praise. He was even happier that he had outshone Taeyong the Golden Child. He was proving that he was an asset and not a liability.

The information unsettled Taeyong on the other hand. As soon as his father dismissed them from his office, Taeyong sent Jaehyun a text: Hey, I know we promised not to talk business, but I have something important to tell you. Call me as soon as you can.


 

Yunho stood in the window of his office, peering down triumphantly on the city below. The sky reigned crystalline blue, and the sun filled his office with light that warmed and reflected off the chrome finishes on his office furniture. On a typical day, the executive suite was sullen and dreary. But today, it buzzed with promise. He took it as a good omen. They were so close to signing this deal with the Parks; he could taste it. And once they crossed every t and dotted every i , their fortunes would make a turnaround for the better. He was sure. A knock at the door brought Yunho back to the present. “Yes,” he answered.

“Mr. Jung,” entered his secretary. “You won’t believe who is here to see you.”

“Who?” He turned his back away from the window and toward the threshold.

“Mr. Lee, Jaejoong Lee.”

“Jaejoong? He’s here right now?”

“Just outside the door. Do you want to see him, or should I say you’re busy?”

“Send him in.” What the hell does he want?

The secretary left and returned with Jaejoong in tow. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know I should have called first, but I was in the area and thought I’d drop in for a chat.”

“This is a surprise. Can’t say it’s a welcomed one. You can leave us now,” Yunho dismissed his secretary. He continued once the doors closed. “Let’s cut all the pleasantries and just tell me why you’re dropping in on me at my office and causing a stir.”

“A stir? Whatever do you mean?” Jaejoong played coy as he plopped down in one of the black leather chairs surrounding the small glass coffee table where Yunho liked to hold informal meetings. “This is a nice office. The decor is a little cold and sterile for my taste, but this chair feels absolutely divine .”

“You didn’t show up here to critique my decorating. And you know that all the people you passed on your way in are buzzing and speculating what would bring my bitter rival to my doorstep.”

“Bitter rival? I’m not bitter and we are so much more than rivals. So much more . But to respect your time and wish for me to cut to the chase I’ll tell you why I’m here: MacBeth.”

“What about it?”

“I thought we were trying to fix things between us, yet here you are trying to steal something that belongs to me right from under me. I thought I was the underhanded one, remember?”

“Last I was aware, MacBeth belongs to the Parks. They are free to sell their company to whoever they please. If they want to sell to us, it’s their prerogative.”

“Yes, it is. But you see the company wasn’t up for sale until I offered to buy them out,” Jaejoong said as he stood up from his seat and crossed over towards Yunho. “I guess that dumb mole you planted, Taeil something-or-another, got something pertinent from their short stint as a Capulet Group analyst. Or maybe you weaseled your way into that info some other way? Either way, it wasn’t a considerate move on your part. Did you even think what it would do to us?

Jaejoong leaned into Yunho and played with the lapels of his suit jacket. “There is no us to think about,” Yunho rebuffed as he pushed him away and walked back to sit behind his desk.

“But there could be,” his former lover cooed as he leaned over the desk, “if we didn’t have this obstacle between us.”

Yunho leaned in toward his rival. He glanced at Jaejoong’s soft and inviting lips, then took in the spicy scent of his signature cologne, and his heart raced. He reminisced back to all those years ago when he had wanted his last breath on this earth to be filled with that fragrance, with the essence of Jaejoong. “Who said I want there to be an us ?”

Jaejoong placed his hand on Yunho’s chest, smirked, then moved his head to whisper into his conquest’s ear. “The heart never lies.”

“I’m not backing out of this deal for you!” Yunho pushed back away from Jaejoong and shot up from the desk, circling him in agitation. “Why am I the one who has to make sacrifices? Why do I have to give up everything for you and you give up nothing? Why would I ever want to lose everything I worked for, again , to be with you? We’ve lived out this drama already, I know how it ends.”

“We’re not the people we were back then. It won’t end like that again.”

“It will, you’re the same person you were all those years ago! Only out for yourself. You are here in my office trying to seduce me so I’ll give up a lucrative deal. A deal I need a hell of a lot more than you! How is this different? How have you changed?”

“I didn’t come here to convince you to back out of the deal. I came here to tell you I’m pulling Capulet’s offer.”

Yunho was stunned. “You’re lying.”

“I’m not. I have my CBO queued to withdraw as soon as I give my word. Do you want me to call him now and tell him so you can see for yourself?”

“I won’t believe it until I have Leeteuk’s signature on the dotted line. I wasn’t born yesterday. What do you want in exchange?”

“You. All of you.”

“You must do a lot more than drop a deal for that.”

“Then, one night. You and me at the St. Laurence. Like old times,” Jaejoong bartered.

“Fine. You’ll get your one night with me when the Parks accept our offer. If MacBeth doesn’t join the Montague fold, then that’s it. No more meetings at the St. Laurence, no more dropping by my office. Don’t so much as look in my direction.”

Jaejoong stretched out his hand for Yunho to shake. The two chairmen shook their agreement. “I’ll be looking forward to our night together.”

“You can see yourself out,” Yunho nodded toward the door.

As he exited the office, the curious stares of Yunho’s busybody assistants who had hushed their murmuring the moment he stepped out greeted Jaejoong. I guess I caused a stir. He walked straight to the elevator and flashed a dazzling smile at his onlookers as the doors closed. “Oh Yunho,” he said to himself as he descended to the lobby. “You can try to fight it, but you know you’re mine.”


 

“Hey babe, what’s up?” Jaehyun greeted his boyfriend through his phone receiver.

“Hey, I’ve been trying to reach you for two days,” Taeyong replied in relief. “Did you get my messages?”

“Yeah,” Jaehyun confirmed. “Listen, I don’t have a lot of time to talk, but I wanted to let you know that we already knew of the concerns about the Parks and that Father is moving forward, regardless. I’m on my way to complete the deal now.”

“Jaehyun, I don’t think you should do that. They’re gonna try to—”

“Babe, I know you’re just trying to look out for me, but there is nothing to worry about. We know what we’re doing and we’ll keep an eye on them. It’s fine.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Check it, I gotta go but I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okay,” Taeyong sighed.

“Alright, bye,” Jaehyun hung up as he made his way into the boardroom. Gathered around the table were his parents, Krystal, Shindong, Mark, and the three Parks. On the table was the agreement that would tie their fortunes together.

“You arrived just in time for the big moment,” Yunho said as he picked up his pen, “shall we?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Leeteuk responded. The two CEOs both scribbled their signatures.

“It’s official,” Yunho proclaimed. “MacBeth Technologies has now joined the Montague family.”

Shindong popped open a champagne bottle, poured glasses, and passed them to each person in attendance. “Who wants to give a toast for this auspicious moment?”

“I will.” Sunny raised her glass. “Let us toast to our newfound propitious alliance. Together may we increase our prosperity and may the Montague name ascend to the pinnacle of innovation and remain there for generations to come.”

“Cheers,” rang out as the two families raised their glasses in celebration.

“Now Yunho, I want to reassure you we accepted your offer not because Capulet withdrew their offer at the last minute, but because we believe that we can help revitalize Montague’s reputation in the tech field,” Leeteuk emphasized to abate any doubts that his new superior only won out by default.

“Don’t worry. I had faith you would realize that this was where you belonged.”

“It is.” Leeteuk turned his attention to Yunho’s wife as she walked up to them. “Now I can be in the presence of the fabulous award-winning actress, Yoona Im, who looks as exquisite in the flesh as she does on film.” He took her hand and kissed it.

The kiss lasted a moment too long for Yoona’s liking. “Oh, you flatter me too much,” she grinned to mask her discomfort as she wiggled her hand free of his clammy grasp. “I pale compared to your wife.”

“Oh, don’t be modest. You’re gorgeous, it’s a fact,” Sunny lauded. “There is nothing wrong in appreciating beauty so clear. You should share your regimen with my daughter so she can achieve your youthful appearance,” she laughed.

“But she’s already a beautiful, young woman,” Yoona complimented. “I should take lessons from her.”

“I want her to be like you, a fine wine that gets better with age. Let’s pray she doesn’t end up aging like milk,” Mrs. Park sighed.

“I’d have a complex or twenty if my mother talked about me like that,” Krystal whispered to Jaehyun, who gave her a chiding elbow.

“Joy is a striking beauty, but also has a brilliant mind,” Jaehyun extolled. “I can’t wait to get started on adjusting the new phone models to accommodate Hecate. Our team is ready to hit the ground running and have a prototype ready to unveil before the final quarter and have on the mass market beginning of next year.”

“I’m excited to get started too.” Joy worked for years building Hecate and was eager to release it out into the world. “I think we’ll work well together. We already seem to have much in common.”

“Oh yes, more than you realize.” It would be awkward working with his boyfriend’s unknowing beard, but Jaehyun knew the situation was only temporary. He was falling in love with Taeyong and he knew that Taeyong was falling in love with him. What they had between them was real and Taeyong’s dalliance with Joy wasn’t. That knowledge and the prospect of revitalizing Montague would help him get over any tension he would have working alongside her.

Meanwhile, Yunho’s phone buzzed with a message from an unknown number. Congratulations on your new acquisition, XO, it read. “Jaejoong,” he muttered.

“What was that?” his wife asked.

“Nothing. Excuse me while I make a call.” Yunho stepped out into the hall and around the corner, away from any potential eavesdroppers, and dialed the number back.

It took all of one ring before Jaejoong answered. “You wasted no time calling me,” he said in that quiet impish tone Yunho despised because it allured him so. “I thought you would be too busy celebrating to have responded even with a text, let alone a phone call. So have you booked our room already?”

“You’re an arrogant son of a bitch, you know that?”

“I followed through on my word. I pulled out, MacBeth Tech is yours. Now, as the honorable one, you need to honor your end of our bargain. What night works for you? Tiffany will be away the rest of the week to check on one of her garment factories, so I’m available.”

“How about Friday night? I’ll make the arrangements then send you the key and time to meet.”

Yunho could feel Jaejoong grinning like a madman through the phone receiver. The devil was so full of himself. Yunho predicted that one day his lack of hubris would be his downfall, and he wanted to live to see it. “I’ll look forward to it,” Jaejoong responded before hanging up.

“Who are you planning to see Friday night?” interjected Yoona.

“Jaejoong. He dropped by my office unannounced the other day with a proposition: he would withdraw CG’s offer for MacBeth if he got to spend one night with me.” Yunho was forthcoming with his wife, they kept no secrets between them.

“And you are following through on your agreement,” she stated plainly.

“Do you trust me?”

“You? Yes. Jaejoong on the other hand, I don’t trust for a second.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll handle him.”


 

A courier arrived to the Capulet offices Friday afternoon with an envelope addressed to Chairman Lee. Its contents were a key for the St. Laurence Hotel and a simple note: 9:00 p.m. Suite 1623 . It was now 8:58 p.m. and Jaejoong was making his ascent in the elevator to the sixteenth floor of the hotel that had so much significance to he and his former paramour. Yunho had booked their suite. Tonight was the continuation of what was left unfinished 25 years ago. He could hardly contain his excitement as the doors opened, and he strolled the familiar walk down the hall to 1623. At nine o’clock on the dot, he touched the key card to the door and savored the satisfying sound of the lock disengaging. He entered the room, lights dimmed to create a romantic ambience. In the bathroom, someone had run a fresh bubble bath. A trail of rose petals led around the corner through the seating area of the suite and to the closed bedroom door.

Jaejoong sauntered to the door, his heart pounding harder with each deliberate step. He stood momentarily with his hand on the doorknob, anticipating what awaited on the other side. He opened the door and went in. There in front of him Yunho’s face stared back... screen-printed on a pillow. On the bed was a note addressed to Jaejoong. Enjoy your night with me. Let your imagination run wild. Jaejoong just laughed. He dialed Yunho’s number. It went straight to voicemail. “Oh Yunho, you clever bastard. Fight the inevitable all you want; you can’t fight forever. You’ll surrender to me and I’ll take you with open arms. Until then I’ll be waiting.”

Chapter Text

“Sorry I’m late,” Joy apologized as she entered Jaehyun’s office, “I was in another meeting before this that ran over then my mother called me to inform me of an urgent matter back at our offices in Cawdor.”

“Is it major?” Jaehyun asked.

“No, just a potential military contract. The defense department is interested in Hecate’s applications for national security. Since I designed the software, they thought it best I return home to make the pitch. I also need to pack up and get my office ready to move here. But first, let’s look at those phone specs.”

“Alright, let’s get to it,” Jaehyun began before realizing he forgot something. “Oh wait, I need to introduce you to someone. This is Sicheng Dong, an old friend of mine I hired as a material engineer for the project.”

“Sooyoung Park, pleasure to meet you,” Joy said as they shook hands. “You can call me Joy though since we’ll be working together.”

“In that case,” interjected Jaehyun, “Sicheng also goes by Winwin.”

“Ugh, stop it with that nickname,” Sicheng rolled his eyes. “It’s juvenile. Please call me Sicheng, only Sicheng.”

“I’m just teasing you.” Jaehyun gave Sicheng a playful push. “Anyway, here are the specifications for the phone we already had in development. Our main goals were to increase the processing speed, memory, and battery life. We also wanted to make the phones slimmer and sleeker in design while maintaining their durability.”

Joy poured over the development notes Jaehyun handed with laser focus. “I see you have made accommodations for a dedicated AI chip separate from the CPU and GPU. Good, it’s a requirement for Hecate to operate and to maintain high processing speeds.”

“Like I’ve said before, I’ve followed Hecate’s development and can see that enhanced AI and deep learning in computing devices is the ultimate direction the industry will move in. I want Montague leading the pack.”

“Do you already have an AI chip framework?”

“Um, no,” Jaehyun gave a hesitant laugh. “We didn’t have the funds to direct towards development so the project got put on an indefinite hold.”

“Fortunately, MacBeth has built a chip for Hecate that is now all yours,” Joy smiled. “I’ll send over the specs and bring one back with me when I return. And what of the body composition?”

“Magnesium alloy casing, very light and durable. A Gorilla glass screen that is scratch and shatter resistant. To maximize the screen ratio, the camera bank will slide up when the user activates the camera for picture taking and face recognition,” Sicheng detailed.

“And without a major overhaul in the model’s design, our plants can manufacture as soon as we give the green light,” Jaehyun added.

“I’m impressed.” Joy nodded in satisfaction. “You weren’t bluffing when you said these phones could be on the shelves by January. These specs will work just fine with the software. Our focus should be on having Nucleus, the cloud system, running, and getting our developers rolling on support for popular apps and launching our app store. As great as the software is, no one will buy a phone for which there isn’t a good app selection. Tablets and computers are straightforward and should be able to roll out soon after if you have the frameworks done. I also want to further development on the home system.”

“Alright, let’s get it,” Jaehyun exclaimed as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation for the bright future ahead of them. He still couldn’t believe that Montague’s gamble had paid off, that they lured the Parks away from Capulet. Now, all of their IPs, assets, resources, contracts, revenue, everything belonged to them and was at their disposal. They had caught a tailwind and it would carry Jaehyun to gaining his father’s respect and confidence in taking his rightful seat as head of the family enterprise. “I’ll give the production team the go-ahead to work on the prototypes and we’ll meet again when you return from your trip to discuss producing the AI chips. How long is your trip?”

“I leave on the first flight tomorrow morning then come back next Friday, so just over a week,” Joy counted up. “I’m bummed that I’ll miss Taeyong’s birthday on Monday. While I’m away, I should get him a present, but I have no idea what. What are gifts you all have gotten from your girlfriends?”

Sicheng snickered. “ Girlfriends ? Sorry, neither one of us can be of much help in that area.”

“Are you saying you two have never had girlfriends?”

“Oh God, no— ow! ” Sicheng winced after Jaehyun jabbed him in the ribs to silence him.

“What he means is that we’ve been so focused on our careers; we haven’t had the time or interest in any serious romantic entanglements with women. So we can’t help you with any ideas of what a girlfriend gives her boyfriend for their birthday,” Jaehyun covered. “Though I didn’t know that your relationship with Taeyong has developed to where you have the girlfriend title.”

“It’s a recent development. I may be getting ahead of myself,” Joy confessed. “But two weeks ago we went on a date to the Lucio Gardens, and I think we are on the right track now… we kissed .”

“Kissed!” Jaehyun shouted before toning back his reaction. “Excuse me, I meant he kissed you?”

“That’s what couples do on dates, Jaehyun,” Sicheng explained, puzzled by Jaehyun’s strong reaction.

I kissed him twice,” Joy clarified. “He was a little taken aback because he’s shy, but I don’t think he minded. At least he didn’t say he did. Do you think maybe he did and just didn’t want to let me down on the spot?”

“Can’t say, it’s not like I know him well,” Jaehyun lied. “Your relationship is so new he most likely doesn’t expect you to remember his birthday. Get him a souvenir or a specialty from Cawdor. He’ll appreciate that you thought of him more than the actual gift.”

“Ah, you are a help! Thank you.” Joy hugged Jaehyun expressing her gratitude. “I think the three of us will get along just fine.” She grabbed her bag, put on her sunglasses, and left the office.

“Why were you being so weird about her and her boyfriend?” Sicheng interrogated.

“Why were you trying to out me to her?” Jaehyun shot back. “I’m not out here at work and I don’t know her well enough to know she won’t go blabbing all over the place.”

“Sorry, I thought us dating women was absurd, given our history.”

“Our history? We had one drunk hookup in college that meant nothing. We don’t have a history .” Jaehyun knew Sicheng had harbored a crush on him back in college, but other than that one unintended slip up, he hadn’t reciprocated. He suspected that little Winwin hadn’t moved on based on the way he acted at the derby. He wanted to be sure not to lead him on for the sake of the project.

“I was talking about our individual histories with men, not that night you swore me never to mention again,” Sicheng clarified. “Anyway, we should do boys’ night out this weekend with the whole gang. It’s been forever since we all went out to get into some trouble together.”

“Can’t. I’m busy this weekend.”

“What keeps you so busy nowadays you never have time to hang out with your friends? You’re so elusive.”

“We’ve hung out a few times since you’ve been in Verona. Don’t act like I never make plans with you all. I just have plans this weekend so I can’t join you all. But give the guys my regards. Now don’t you have work to do? It’s still business hours.”

“Okay Boss, I’ll get back to my desk. But you better not have any plans next weekend, or else I’ll have to hire a P.I. to get to the bottom of what you’ve been up to in your free time.”

As Sicheng left, Jaehyun closed the door behind him, then dialed up Taeyong’s cell. He answered after the second ring. “Hello?”

“Hey, is this a bad time?” Jaehyun asked his secret lover.

“No, I’m just in my office looking at mock-ups and banging my head against my desk,” Taeyong heaved an exasperated sigh. “What’s up?”

“Someone has a birthday coming up and I have it on good authority that their girlfriend will be away for the next week.”

“First off, Joy isn’t my girlfriend. Second, she’s going out of town?”

“Well, she’s calling herself your girlfriend. She’s one to kiss and tell.”

“Listen, it’s not what you think, I didn’t mean for it to happen,” Taeyong was in a panic to explain.

“Don’t worry about it, she told me she was the one who initiated the kiss, and even if she hadn’t told me so, I know you wouldn’t have done it voluntarily,” his boyfriend reassured. “But I didn’t call you to talk about that kiss. Joy will leave for Cawdor first thing tomorrow morning and won’t be back until next Friday, so that’s one obstacle down. Do you have plans this weekend for your birthday?”

“I don’t really celebrate it, so no...”

“Well, pack your bags we’re going to getaway for a few days and celebrate!”

“Getaway? Like a trip?”

“That’s usually what the term refers to, yeah. Can you take off Friday and Monday?”

“I don’t know. I have a lot of work to do. My dad is on my ass about the re-branding and I need to deliver something soon. Don’t think he would appreciate me ducking out for a couple days. He’s still irked about losing MacBeth even though he’s the one who decided to back out. But everyone in electronics was counting on that acquisition now they’re scrambling to dream up something big. And it’s my job to package it all together and sell it. The more I wrack my brain, the closer I feel to having a mental breakdown.”

“More reason for you to take a breather to clear your mind. Sometimes you need to disconnect, and I know the perfect place.”

“Where are you plotting to whisk me away to?”

“It’s a surprise, but I guarantee it will help jumpstart your creative juices flowing. We could even get other juices flowing too.”

Jaehyun could feel the red flush of Taeyong’s cheeks through his phone in response to his innuendo. “I don’t know how I can say no now.”

“So just say yes.”

“Okay, yes, I’ll go away with you.”

“It’ll be an unforgettable weekend I promise.”

“Every moment with you is unforgettable.”

Jaehyun’s heart fluttered at Taeyong’s words. “Alright, I won’t take up any more of your time. You gotta put in work for our long weekend. I’ll text you what to bring and I’ll pick you up Friday.”

“Sounds good, I’ll be counting the minutes until then.”

The words Jaehyun wanted to say next caught on the tip of his tongue. He wanted that moment he first confessed to his love to be pivotal. So he abstained. “Have a good day, babe.”

“You too,” Taeyong responded. He was equally hesitant to let the words he was holding onto slip out, but the sentiment transmitted just the same.

After they hung up, Jaehyun turned to look out his window and noticed for the first time he could see the Capulet offices across the skyline, shining like a beacon and filling him with warmth knowing his love could look back at him.


 

“Mm, that was delicious,” Taeyong hummed in delight after swallowing his last bite of eggs florentine.

“Ah, thanks,” Key responded. “It was nothing, I just threw some stuff I had in the fridge together.”

“Caviar, smoked salmon, and Prosecco, are staples in your pantry?” Taeyong asked incredulously as he listed the components of Key’s decadent brunch spread.

“Fine tastes aren’t limited to your billionaires’ club over in Costa Linda. We’re not savages here in Canalside,” Key retorted. “Besides, it’s only red caviar, not Beluga.”

Taeyong laughed. Key had extended the invitation for the two to have brunch together at his home weeks ago, but the young executive’s busy schedule at Capulet and the club owner’s odd hours had been an obstacle. But Taeyong had carved out the time in his schedule to take an extended lunch break and Key was awake before noon, so here they were sitting in Key’s living room full from a good meal and enjoying one another’s company.  “I love your house, it’s so cool,” Taeyong complimented as his eyes wandered around, looking at the colorful paintings and varied photographs adorning the pristine, white walls.

“Why thank you,” Key said as he refilled Taeyong’s mimosa. “It was a total gut job when I first bought this place. This was the church’s rectory. All the rooms were dingy, with cramped hallways, dark wood paneling and faded red carpet everywhere. The windows are what kept me from razing the building.” Key gestured up to the stained glass lancet windows that hung like works of art themselves. He had cleared part of the second floor to create a two-story open concept living, dining area on the ground floor, skylights showering sunbeams upon them. An industrial style staircase led up to two enclosed bedrooms and a loft with a spiral staircase ascending to the rooftop deck and conservatory. It was an eclectic fusion of modern and classic architecture features that came together to create an artful yet cozy ambience.

“I’m glad you didn’t, it came out beautifully.” Though it wasn’t the wisest choice for a work day, Taeyong took a sip of his second mimosa.

“Enough about my humble abode, tell me more about yourself,” Key shifted conversation to his guest. “I want to know more about the enigmatic Lee heir.”

“Enigmatic?”

“You are the heir to one of the largest companies not just in Verona, but the world, and there is next to nothing written about you anywhere besides your family ties, that you studied at the University of Illyria, and some art. How do you keep such a low profile in your position?”

“What do you mean?”

“Most of the other heirs are regulars in the Verona Sun ’s society pages and tabloids. if it doesn’t make it to the papers, it usually is whispered in elite circles at Sunday brunch. You’re clean on both fronts.”

“Well, I don’t socialize with other elites outside of my relatives and even then, not much. I don’t have a lot of friends at all,” Taeyong was reluctant to admit. “I guess not being the subject of gossip or at the center of a scandal is an advantage of being a loner, haha.”

“You haven’t been the subject of any, yet , but you have one brewing.”

“What?”

“Your affair with Jaehyun,” Key cracked a devilish grin. “That’s plenty scandalous. The sons of two bitter rivals, from families that have feuded for almost a century, in a torrid gay love affair. A soap opera in the making.”

“I wouldn’t describe it as torrid , at least not yet.” Taeyong blushed. “Jaehyun is whisking me away for a few days, to celebrate my birthday, and he made an innuendo regarding what he has in mind for us to do... together.”

“Sex. You can say the word. This may place may still look like a church but it isn’t one, you won’t get struck by lightning,” Key laughed.

“No, it’s not that,” Taeyong waved his hands frantically. “It’s just...I don’t know what to do.”

“So you’re a virgin,” Key nodded in understanding. “Listen, I get it, your first time can be daunting. But fortunate for you, I’m here to offer some guidance. Jaehyun is versatile so he’ll go with whatever you’re comfortable with. At any rate you need to make sure you have condoms, a lot of lube, and whoever is bottoming needs an enema at least an hour before--”

“Um, thanks but that isn’t necessary,” Taeyong interjected before his new mentor could finish his Anal Intercourse 101 lecture. “I may be a virgin, but I’m not a prude. I know how gay sex works. What I meant is I don’t know what to do about my feelings and our complicated situation.”

“Are you unsure of your feelings for him? Do you feel that the spark is waning?” Key’s manner shifted from puckish to priestly. The warmth and sincerity in his tone elicited in Taeyong the desire to confess the worries burdening his mind.

“No, the spark isn’t waning, it’s growing. The days that pass where I don’t see or hear from him are excruciating. He’s all I can think about until I see his number flash on my phone screen. Then he calls me ‘babe’ and I want to fly to wherever he is, embrace him , and never let go.”

“Sounds like you’re in love.”

“Yeah, I am. But…”

“But what? You love him and as far as I can tell from the way he talks about you, he loves you too. What’s the issue?”

“I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

“No one knows that. The future isn’t certain.” Key was fidgeting with the silver band on his left ring finger again.

“Mine and Jaehyun’s futures are certain. I’ll be taking my father’s place as the head of Capulet and he’ll be the head of Montague, our rivals. With that comes filial duties: marriage, children, and maintaining the respect and legacy of the family name. We can’t fulfill those obligations and be together.”

“You can. You can do all of those things with Jaehyun.”

“Who would let us? You don’t know what it is like in our position. People think because we have all of this wealth and influence we are free to do whatever we want like the rules don’t apply to us. But we have rules and we have a price we pay to live the way we do, and that price is our ability to choose our own destinies.”

“Bullshit,” Key stated.

“Excuse me? It’s not bullshit, it’s the truth. You may have gotten a hefty inheritance, but you aren’t like Jaehyun and I, you aren’t an heir to a dynasty, one that took generations to build.”

Taeyong struck a nerve as Key’s brows furrowed and his gaze narrowed. “You don’t know me well enough to tell me what I don’t understand.  I’ve been in your predicament: I fell in love with a man who was heir to a corporate dynasty and torn between meeting the expectations of his family and his own vision for his life.”

“Did he give you that ring?” Taeyong asked, gesturing toward Key’s hand.

“Yes, he did.” Key’s face softened again as he reminisced of his love. “I was only 18 when I met Jonghyun during my first year at the University of Verona. I fell hard and fast for him, not giving much thought about anything else but my love for him. Then his father died in a helicopter crash and in an instant he was the head of a corporation and the Kim family at 21.”

“So how did you manage your relationship in light of that?”

“Not well at first, we broke up. He started dating an heiress for appearances, but eventually ended up engaged to her. Let’s say I didn’t take it well.”

“When did you get the ring then?”

“He wasn’t happy letting the expectations of others steer the course of his life, so he called off the engagement a week before the wedding. Of course I was still hurt that he hadn’t chosen me over his family so I didn’t take him back right away. But over time I came to realize that it was a hard choice to make, and we were young dealing with things we just weren’t equipped to handle at that point. I had never stopped loving him, so we eventually got back together. We’d each grown and been through so much in our time apart, when we came back together our love was deeper and stronger. Though we couldn’t be together openly, he gave me this ring to symbolize our commitment in face of the obstacles that would keep us apart. It represents our tenacity to choose our own destinies and not be slaves to fate.” Key went silent, melancholy washed over his face and his eyes got misty.

Taeyong was hesitant to prod as he sensed there would not be a happy resolution to their story, but if he was to understand where Key was coming from, he needed to know how this ended. “What happened?”

“I was working on a feature profile for the magazine and had to travel abroad for a few days to interview the subject. When I came back he was gone from this earth.”

The weight of Key’s words settled on Taeyong and it filled him with empathy for the other man. “I’m so sorry,” was all he could say.

“It was a shock when it happened, like the world had shifted off its axis. I couldn’t make sense of it, how he could just leave me here like that. Wasn’t I his rock, his refuge?  Wasn’t that my job as his soulmate? That’s what this ring was supposed to mean. But I came to realize there are some demons that plague us, that can’t be chased away by the love we receive from others alone. I didn’t know how I would go on, until the reading of his will. In it he left me half of his assets and a letter explaining everything. After that, I resigned from the magazine and set out to create a space for people like us. A refuge not just from the constraints of the world but from our own demons if only for a fleeting moment. At first, I bought St. Benedict’s as an act of defiance and a fuck you to the Church, for all the harm it has done to our community. But when I walked in there for the first time, a sense of serenity so strong washed over me, I cried. I decided to name the club Sanctuary because I wanted create that for anyone in need of peace, if only for a night, in a way I couldn’t for him.”

Tears trickled down from Taeyong’s eyes. “That’s beautiful, yet so sad.”

“Ugh, I meant this brunch to be a happy one, please dry your tears,” Key said as he handed Taeyong some tissues.

“You fought so hard to have a happy future, but despite all your efforts, it ended in tragedy. I don’t think I’m strong enough to go through what you did. I can’t risk getting so invested in Jaehyun and then lose him. Better to just cut my losses now before it’s too late.”

“That’s not the point I’m trying to make at all,” Key sighed, placing a comforting hand over Taeyong’s. “We don’t know what the future holds for any of us. I never imagined that I would lose Jonghyun like that but even if I had, I’d still choose him.”

“You’d go through the heartbreak again?”

“He was the source of my greatest heartache but also the source of the greatest love I have ever known. It’s because of that love I could piece my broken heart back together and now look, here I am living. We have to live in the faith that light will always come to pierce through the dark seasons of our lives. It might take a while but it comes, eventually. At any rate, while there are similarities between our relationships, that doesn’t mean you’ll have the same outcome. You and Jaehyun have something special, I can feel it. Trust in it, and it’ll see you through anything that stands in your way.”

Taeyong hugged Key, taking him aback by the sudden display of affection. “Thank you for opening up and for the advice.”

“You can thank me by putting any lingering doubts you have out of your mind and seizing the opportunity for love right in front of you. Don’t let fear or the expectations placed upon you by others chase you away from it.”

Taeyong took a deep breath to collect himself and nodded before checking the time on his phone. “Oh wow, I need to get back to work. Thank you again for having me over. I’m glad I got to know you better.”

“I’m glad too,” Key smiled. “The next time you come over though, I want to see you so happy and in love it’s nauseating.”

“Will do.”


 

“You realize you will only be away for four days?” Jinki asked as he helped Taeyong load his luggage into the SUV.

“The only thing Jaehyun told me to be sure to pack was a swimsuit. Other than that I don’t have a clue where we are going so I had to prepare for anything,” Taeyong replied.

“Is that an easel?”

“I thought I’d might get some painting in.”

“Painting what? Jaehyun in the nude?”

“Shut up and load the car. I don’t want to be late.”

“Late for what?” Tiffany chimed. Taeyong whipped around to see his mother standing behind them, dressed in a crisp white sleeveless blouse, navy and white-striped high-waisted trousers, and pink stiletto heels. Car keys in hand and pink Birkin slung on her arm, she lowered her sunglasses to reveal an even sharper, inquisitive gaze.

“Mom! What are you doing here?”

“Going to my car, why else would I be here at the garage? Fashion week is only two weeks away and I have to get things ready for the House of Young show. Looks like you are jetting off somewhere unannounced.”

“You caught me,” Taeyong let out a nervous laugh. “Joy had to go back to Cawdor and is bummed out she’ll miss my birthday, so I booked a flight out to surprise her for the weekend!”

“Oh my, things between you are going better than I expected!” His mother couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “You were so resistant at first, and now here you are flying to spend your birthday with her. I told you she was a match.”

“Well I’ll be back on my actual birthday and I’m not proposing to her so you need not get too excited,” Taeyong tried to temper her expectations. “But you can’t say anything to her. It’ll ruin the surprise.”

“Give me some credit Tae, I won’t say anything. But hurry and get a move on you have a flight to catch and I have to get into town. But I’m so thrilled for you, sweetie.” Tiffany gave her son a kiss on the cheek and got into her convertible.

Jinki and Taeyong waited for her to pull out of the gates to the estate before they left. “You’re getting better at lying, that delivery was smooth, too smooth,” Jinki remarked as they got into the car.

“Don’t worry, you know I always tell you the truth... eventually.”

“Just be careful that you don’t trip yourself up. You can get yourself trapped in your own web.”

“Let’s go, Jaehyun’s waiting for me,” Taeyong said, blowing off his bodyguard’s concern. They drove out the gates onto the Costa Linda Highway, the two-lane highway that wound along the rugged coastline connecting the exclusive enclave to the city. They weren’t going far, just around the bend to a trail entrance where Jaehyun leaned against his black Jeep Wrangler waiting. He was dressed casually in a sleeveless t-shirt, cutoff shorts, and sneakers. As Jinki pulled up, he pulled off his shades and flashed his killer grin, the one that made Taeyong’s heart skip a beat every time he saw it. As Taeyong got out of the car, Jaehyun walked up and pulled him into a kiss.

“Why don’t you save it for the honeymoon,” Jinki chided as he opened the trunk.

“If you weren’t hanging around all the time, you wouldn’t have to see it,” Jaehyun retorted. “What’s with all the bags? Please tell me you aren’t coming with us.”

“Relax Casanova, I don’t want to be wherever it is you’re going watching you two loved up on each other. These are Taeyong’s.”

“Did you pack one bag per day?”

“I like to prepare for the unexpected. I organized them by contents though. One bag is formal, another is summer casual, one is shoes, another is winter casual,” Taeyong rattled off.

Winter casual? Babe, it’s summer all over the Northern Hemisphere. Where do you think we’re going, Argentina? Just take the summer casual bag and your backpack. You’ll be fine.”

“What about the easel?”

“You can use your sketchpad,” Jinki answered as he unloaded two bags and shut the back hatch. “Taeyong, since you want to exercise your independence, you can load these bags into Jaehyun’s car yourself.” He waited for Taeyong to pick up the bags and walk away before turning his attention to Jaehyun. “I understand this is a surprise, and you didn’t want to ruin it for Taeyong, but you can tell me where you’re going, in case something happens and I need to get to him.”

“We’re just going a couple hours south of here to my beach retreat, Sycamore Grove, in Las Calas. I’ll text you the address,” Jaehyun promised. “Thank you for giving us this time alone.”

“I like you, Jaehyun, and I can trust you with him because I can tell that you care about him a lot. And I know that he feels the same for you. He needs love and happiness in his life, more than you know. I feel you can give that to him, so I won’t get in the way. Take care of him. If you don’t, I’ll end you.”

Jaehyun could tell that Jinki meant what he said, so he nodded and turned back to his car where Taeyong was already waiting in the passenger seat. “All set?” he asked turning the ignition over.

“Yeah,” Taeyong affirmed. “What did Jinki want with you?”

“I told him where to find us in case he needed and gave him some assurances. He’s less of a nuisance than I thought.”

“I’m glad you two are finding a way to get along with each other.”

As they pulled away, Jinki waved a farewell to them, and then they were off.


 

The sun shone down against the clear blue sky as the lovers wove their way up the jagged coast, leaving the bustle of the city behind them. The wind whipped their hair into a frenzy as Jaehyun raced along, narrowly passing the slower traffic and taking banked turns a little too fast for Taeyong’s taste. Jaehyun noticed him pump invisible brakes and brace himself for each bend. “Are you okay over there?”

“You’re going kinda fast and barely missing the other cars,” Taeyong responded nervously.

“It’s skill,” his boyfriend said with devilish bravado. “Just one notch too fast or slow is the difference between you making it further down the road or smashed into a cliff. I love the exhilaration that comes from teetering on the edge of life and death.”

“You’re crazy.” Taeyong had to admit to himself that he loved the adrenaline rush. He felt like he was on a rollercoaster flying along, scared but relishing the thrill all the same.

“Don’t tell me you don’t drive the same; pushing the limit, tempting fate.”

“No, I don’t, because I don’t know how to drive.”

“What? How do you not know how to drive at 24?”

“I thought gays don’t know how to drive,” Taeyong cracked.

“Where does that stereotype even come from? All my gay friends know how to drive. Well, Ten thinks traffic laws are suggestions. If you think this is terrifying, never get in a car with him at the wheel.”

“I never learned because I never had to. There was always someone around to take me where I needed to go.”

“The life of the privileged,” Jaehyun teased.

“As if you don’t have staff at your estate in the hills,” Taeyong quipped.

“I do and use them occasionally but I don’t rely on them to do things I can do myself. I value my independence.”

“Just because I don’t know how to drive doesn’t mean I can’t do anything on my own.”

Jaehyun could tell he struck a nerve so backtracked a little. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you aren’t independent. What I meant is our parents have taken so much of our lives out of our control. They mapped out our futures from birth and they have steered us in a set direction at every turn since. But when I’m behind the wheel, I’m in control of where I go and when and with whom. I can stop and take in the view if I want. At the crossroads, I can pick the direction. Driving is freedom.”

“You aren’t free, there are still rules. Stay in your designated lanes, follow traffic signals and signs, and speed limits. And what if it’s raining or foggy where you can’t see? Or another driver swerves into your lane and you crash? Your source of freedom can also be your unfortunate demise.”

“That’s dark,” Jaehyun chuckled. “All of those things can happen to you as a passenger, except you aren’t in control. You can see a hazard coming but are powerless to avoid. You can only hope the driver sees it and reacts in time. I guess that’s just the way it is though; we’re always on the edge of life and death. Any moment could be our last.”

“Makes me never want to get in a car again,” Taeyong remarked with slight queasiness.

“Everything carries a risk. Some actions carry less risk, but the chance of something going wrong is still there. It’s better to take the plunge without hesitation. We all die.”

“You’re so much more courageous than me,” Taeyong said sullen. He was a coward compared to the man beside him.

“I’m not that courageous. I have moments when I am gripped by fear and anxiety; I just learned how to cope with it. Besides, it takes a level of courage to give up control of the reins and put your complete trust in another person, like how you trust Jinki,” Jaehyun reassured with a smile as he glanced over from the road. “Or how you are trusting me to drive to a romantic destination and not careen over a cliff.”

“Thanks, but please keep your eyes on the road.” Taeyong still felt uneasy. He was unsure if it was from the twists and turns of the car ride or his apprehension over his deepening feelings for Jaehyun. Either way, there wasn’t much he could do except let go and go along for the ride. He filled his lungs with the salty breeze as he stared out at the glassy, turquoise sea. He meditated on the rolling waves the rest of the drive, each one slowly eroding his worries.


 

“Here we are, the beautiful little town of Las Calas,” Jaehyun said as they exited the highway and turned onto the main street.

“It’s rustic ,” Taeyong observed as they rolled along the one strip that made up the business district. Old stucco buildings with terracotta tiled roofs lined both sides of the road, only three stories in height at the tallest. Ostentatious shades of orange, pink, and yellow-colored chipped paint covered them.

“Las Calas may not be a trendy destination, but that’s why I love it. I never have to worry I’ll run into someone from Verona here. And the coves are amazing. It’s the best place to disconnect and unwind.” After passing through the town center, they drove through a residential neighborhood of modest, old homes on larger lots before turning off onto a long drive that wound downhill through a grove of sycamore trees. They came around the final bend where the driveway ran along the edge of the small cliff that dropped twenty feet straight into the bay. The drive ended in a roundabout and there, clinging to the cliff side was their destination: Jaehyun’s seaside retreat. “Welcome to Boschetto di Sicomoro, Sycamore Grove!”

Stucco covered the facade of the Mediterranean style home to match the vernacular of the other buildings in Las Calas. The house was a bright sunset orange with teal trim around the arched casement windows and front door. Two floors stood above the cliff’s edge but stairs on the right side of the house that led downward and the ridgeline of a tiled roof, indicated at least one more level below it.

“It’s so eclectic,” Taeyong commented as they pulled up and parked in front of the house. His eyes darted around trying to take in the multitude of architectural details. “Who owns this place?”

“Me. This is my beach house,” Jaehyun replied. “It’s been in my family for a couple generations. Do you love it?”

“I haven’t been inside yet, but just from the exterior, I just might,” Taeyong smiled.

Before they could go inside, a dark-haired younger man with a bronze complexion came up the stairs from the terrace below to greet them. “Hey Jae, perfect timing,” he said greeting. “I just stocked the pantry and cellar with the food and wine you ordered.”

“Ah thanks, man,” Jaehyun said in gratitude as he dapped the man up. He then turned to introduce him to Taeyong. “This is Ignacio, or Iggy as I like to call him. Iggy, this is Taeyong, my... friend. My special friend.” He caught himself out of respect for Taeyong who he thought may not appreciate being introduced as his boyfriend to someone he was meeting for the first time.

“It’s always a pleasure to meet one of Jaehyun’s special friends.” Iggy smiled as he shook Taeyong’s hand and winked at Jaehyun who smiled and blushed in return.

Taeyong was confused and felt a little awkward being given the “special friend” title when Jaehyun never shied away from calling him his boyfriend in front of people he was out to, and from what Taeyong gathered from the winking, Iggy knew Jaehyun was gay. He wanted to clarify and say he was Jaehyun’s boyfriend but thought against it. Jaehyun must have a reason. “Nice to meet you too. Is there any other staff here?”

Staff ? You think because I’m brown I work for this mofo?” Iggy laughed and jabbed Jaehyun with a fist.

“What? Oh no, that’s not why—you were here in his house and said you put stuff away and…” Shit this guy thinks I’m a racist, Taeyong thought cursing himself.

“Iggy is my friend, his family owns the market in town and he was delivering what I had ordered from them. He also checks on the place when I’m not here, so he has keys,” Jaehyun explained.

“Sorry, my bad. I didn’t mean to offend you,” Taeyong apologized.

“No worries bro, it’s cool. Y’all have lunch yet?”

“No, we didn’t even have breakfast,” Jaehyun replied.

“Well come on down to the kitchen. We’ll whip up some lunch.” Iggy turned and led them down the steps to the terrace below. The kitchen was detached from the rest of the house with an alfresco dining area. Inside, a petite young woman with a mop of dark curly hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun was wiping down the counters. “Meet Lucia, Jae’s personal chef.”

“You have a chef here?” Taeyong asked.

“He wishes,” Lucia said, rolling her eyes.

“Lucia is Iggy’s sister. She’s a fantastic cook though,” Jaehyun laughed. “I don’t have a staff here. It’ll just be us fending for ourselves, like the commoners do.”

“Luci, make us something to eat girl,” Iggy ordered as he took a seat at the island counter, patting the space in front of him.

“You know I only take orders at the restaurant and I don’t take them for free.” Lucia stood arms crossed, glaring at her brother. “You paying?”

“Jae’s pockets are deep enough. He can foot the bill.”

“Who’s this?” she asked, pointing at Taeyong.

“Oh, my name’s Taeyong. I’m Jae’s, uh…”

Special friend?” Lucia finished the sentence for him.

“Yeah.” Does he bring a lot of special friends here? Is that his line?

“We’re celebrating his birthday this weekend,” Jaehyun explained.

“It’s your birthday, huh? In that case, I can waive my fee and throw something together. How about chicken primavera?”

“That sounds great, thanks!” Taeyong smiled.

“While you do that, we’ll get our bags out of the car and I’ll give Taeyong the grand tour,” Jaehyun said as he grabbed Taeyong’s hand and led him out of the kitchen.

“Alright, it should be ready in thirty minutes,” Lucia shouted after them as she pulled pots and pans out of the cupboards and sent Iggy to the pantry with a list of ingredients.

The couple went back to the car, grabbed their bags, and went in through the front door into the main living area. Eggshell colored paint covered the walls and three large arched windows were open outwards letting in the fresh sea breeze making the room airy and bright. The exposed oak beams running across the ceiling and the oriental patterns on the furniture gave the space a classic charm.

“So this is the living room. We don’t do a lot of living in it though,” Jaehyun said as they crossed over toward the main stairs with a flight heading upstairs and one heading downward. The right of the stairs was an archway that led into a smaller room lined with built-in bookcases packed with books and trinkets. There was a small writing desk, two armchairs and a chaise lounge. “This is the study. My mother spends a lot of time here reading when she visits, like my grandfather did.”

They went back to the stairs where Jaehyun pointed out the powder room and bedroom suite where his grandparents stayed when they got older around the other corner completing the layout of the main floor before heading downstairs. There, they entered a room similar in size to the living room, but more casual with terracotta-tiled floors and French doors that opened out to the terrace. There was a TV mounted on the wall, a pool table, and a wet bar stocked with liquor. “This is the level we spend most of our time on whenever we stay here because it has the TV, the bar, and the kitchen. Down that hall are three bedrooms where my cousins and I stayed when we were younger. But let me take you upstairs to where we’ll be staying,” Jaehyung said with a mischievous smile and a wink. Taeyong dutifully followed.

They went back up to the third level. At the top of the stairs was a small sitting area that opened out to a rooftop terrace and off that terrace was the master suite. Calling it a master was generous because it wasn’t very large, at least compared to the expansive suites or their respective mansions, but it had the best view in the home, with the bed facing out toward the large window that looked out at the unobstructed expanse. “Wow,” Taeyong said as he looked around, “it’s very…”

“Intimate?” Jaehyun suggested as he dropped his bag, went up behind Taeyong and wrapped his arms around his waist.

“That’s one word for it,” Taeyong replied as he turned to face Jaehyun returning his embrace. Jaehyun then leaned in and kissed Taeyong, who took in his soft, full lips. As they made out, Jaehyun maneuvered Taeyong onto the bed and ran his hands up under Taeyong’s shirt. The gesture snapped Taeyong back to reality and he pressed his hand on Jaehyun’s chest to get him to stop. “I think lunch is ready.”

“I think it has ten more minutes.” Jaehyun resumed kissing.

Taeyong broke it off again. “They’ll come looking for us and I don’t want them to walk in on us getting… friendly with each other.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. They most likely assume that’s what we’re doing.”

“They’ve walked in on you with other guys?” Taeyong shifted and shot a cock-eyed look.

“Uhhh...”

“Come on, let’s go back down to the kitchen; see if there is anything we can help with. We shouldn’t treat them like servants if they aren’t.” And with that Taeyong swung his legs over the side of the bed and adjusted himself before getting up and leading the way out of the room.

Fucking dumbass, Jaehyun cursed himself before following behind Taeyong. When they came into the kitchen, Lucia was mixing the pasta in to the medley of chicken, vegetables, and parmesan. “Ah, you’re back! I’m just have to put on the finishing touches,” Lucia said, never averting her concentration from her task.

“Is there anything we can help you with?” Taeyong asked.

“Jaehyun can get the bowls to set the table. Iggy already wiped it down and is in the cellar fishing out a Sauvignon Blanc. You don’t have to do anything as the birthday boy,” Lucia replied.

“It’s not my birthday for three more days. I need to show Jae I can do for myself.”

“In that case, if you know how, can you chop that parsley?”

“Yeah, sure.” Taeyong washed his hands then went over to the knife block and picked out the proper knife and chopped the Italian parsley laid out on the cutting board.

“Looks like someone knows their way around a kitchen.” His technique impressed Lucia. “Have you had culinary training?”

“No, I just hung around the kitchen at home a lot when I was younger and our chef taught me some things.”

“Okay, put three-quarters of the parsley in the pot and the rest in this dish.” Lucia tossed the pasta to disperse the parsley, turned off the stove, transferred the concoction into a large serving bowl, and carried it outside to the dining table on the terrace where Jaehyun had completed setting the table. Iggy came back with the wine and glasses and poured them as Lucia served the pasta into each bowl, garnishing them with grated parmesan and the remaining parsley. They all took their seats and dug in. Jaehyun, Iggy, and Lucia dominated the conversation, chatting about their jobs, Las Calas, and recollecting their childhood adventures.

“Lucia, that was delicious,” Taeyong complimented in delight after swallowing the last bite of his second helping of pasta..

“I’m glad you enjoyed it. Do you two have anything planned for the weekend?”

“Just chilling,” Jaehyun said between chews. “You know, go to the beach and stuff. We’ve both been so busy with work. I think we want to have a break where we can be low-key and enjoy each other’s company.”

Taeyong peered out at the water and noticed a dock jutting out with a small but sleek powerboat stationed to it. “Is that your boat?” he asked Jaehyun.

“Yeah, you wanna go for a ride?”

“You can drive it?”

“But of course.”

“A storm is brewing offshore and will roll through sometime over the weekend meaning it’ll be choppy,” Iggy advised. “If you’re going out better to go today before it gets bad.”

“I’m down for it.” Taeyong did his little shoulder shimmy that Jaehyun found amusing. “Do you two want to come along?”

“I gotta get back to the store and take inventory,” Iggy declined.

“And I’ve got to get to the restaurant.” Lucia frowned. “You should come for dinner one night so I can wow you.”

“That sounds good!”

“Jae, help me take these dishes in and clean up before we all head out,” Lucia instructed as she gathered dishes and cleared the table. Jaehyun excused himself and followed her leaving Taeyong alone with Iggy.

Once the other two had gone in, Taeyong turned his attention to Iggy. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Jaehyun, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you know what special friend means, right?”

“Yeah, it means,” Iggy looked around then leaned in close to continue in a hushed tone, “you’re fucking.” Taeyong gave him a look and Iggy guffawed.

“Well not exactly, but we’re in a relationship... I guess.”

“You’re either in a relationship or you’re not. If he brought you here for some alone time, I’d say you are.”

“So the other guys he’s brought here, he was in relationships with them?”

“Look chief, I ain’t the one to spill my boy’s history.”

“But why didn’t he just tell you I’m his boyfriend when he’s out to you and you know we’re not just friends? I’m obviously not the only guy he’s brought here that you’ve met so what’s different?”

“I don’t know and I’m not the person you should sort your relationship shit out with. You want answers, you need to ask him.” Iggy got up, clearing more dishes off the table before heading inside.

Taeyong just sat there alone, staring out at the water, which looked duller in his eyes than it had before. He’s right . If Taeyong wanted to get off this hectic roller coaster of uncertainty, he needed to have a frank talk with Jaehyun. He grabbed the bottle of wine still on the table, poured the rest of its contents into his glass, and downed it.


 

After they had cleaned up lunch and Iggy and Lucia had left, Jaehyun and Taeyong had changed clothes and were heading down the steep steps from the terrace to the dock for their afternoon cruise. As they went, Jaehyun noticed Taeyong swaying a little as he walked. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. That was some good wine,” Taeyong said, his speech drawn out and lethargic.

“You have no alcohol tolerance, do you?” Jaehyun laughed. “Here let me help you get onto the boat,” he offered his hand. “Careful, watch your step!” Taeyong stumbled in and flopped down. “Maybe we shouldn’t go out?”

“No, I’m good. It’s all good . I’m just going to sit right… here.”

“Let me put your life jacket on for you.” Jaehyun hopped into the small runabout and pulled out the life jackets and slipped one onto Taeyong and secured it for him. He then untied the stern and bow lines, pulled in the fenders and started up the motor of the boat and slowly steered it away. He picked up speed as they got further away from the dock toward deeper water. “We’ll cruise along the coast and maybe drop anchor in a cove to swim if it isn’t too bad.”

As Iggy warned, the storms that were brewing offshore had already increased the choppiness of the water making for a bumpy ride. The bumps weren't easing the queasiness that had settled over Taeyong before they even left shore. They sped past rocky islets that jutted up out the water as they weaved in and out along the jagged coastline until they found a cove secluded enough to give them some privacy where Jaehyun shut off the motor and dropped anchor.

The rockiness got worse as the boat no longer had momentum to abate it. Jaehyun looked at Taeyong who was looking a little green. “Have you been on a boat before?”

“My family has a yacht like ten times bigger than this boat.”

“Well excuse me, Princess. I hope my dingy here suffices.”

“Do you take people out here a lot?”

“Occasionally,” Jaehyun replied as he dug around in a compartment for snorkels and fins.

“Like who?”

“My cousins, my friends.”

“Your special friends?”

Jaehyun stopped and turned to look at Taeyong. “Is something bothering you? You’re acting kinda off.”

“Why did you introduce me as your ‘special friend’ and not your boyfriend ?”

“I thought it would make you uncomfortable if I introduced you like that. I didn’t know using a euphemism would upset you. I’m sorry. Do you want to snorkel or just float around?”

“Were you that considerate with all the other guys you brought here, or just me?”

“What other guys are you talking about?”

“The ones you were screwing when Iggy walked in on you.”

“You know you aren’t the first guy I’ve been involved with, why are you so upset?”

“What does ‘involved with’ mean? What does any of this mean? What are we doing here?” The hot sun beating down on them and the tossing of the boat had Taeyong’s insides spinning and his mind disoriented. His mouth filled with saliva.

Jaehyun didn’t understand what was going on or why Taeyong was unloading on him suddenly. “Can’t we drop this and do what we came here to do: swim and have a good time? Or do you want to fight?”

“What I want to do is,” Taeyong’s stomach tightened, “throw up.”

“Oh no no no, over the side, over the side!” Jaehyun directed him over to the side just in time for Taeyong to spew chicken primavera out to the fish. “Okay, that’s a wrap on this boat ride. Let’s get you back onto dry land and laid down. Keep your head pointed over the side of the boat and don’t drink any water. You’ll just barf it up.” Jaehyun raised anchor, started the motor and head back to the house as fast as he could. This is a lovely start to the weekend, he thought to himself over the sound of Taeyong heaving in the background.


 

Taeyong felt like shit. His seasickness put him out of commission for the rest of the day. All he could do was lay on the couch alone. Not because Jaehyun left him to fend for himself out of anger. In fact it had been the opposite; he wanted to tend to him with every remedy he could think of. Rather, Taeyong asked that Jaehyun leave him alone so he could stew in his own shame regarding his behavior before he chummed the water with his vomit. You had a good thing going, and you ruined it by getting in your own head. Nice going Taeyong, you did it again. His negative thought spiral only continued when Jaehyun came to help him get upstairs to bed, then left to sleep somewhere else. You made it almost three months for it to end two days before your birthday, and over what? He pulled a pillow over his face to smother his burning tears until he fell asleep.

He awoke in the morning to the sound of seagulls and crashing waves hoping at some point Jaehyun had slipped back into bed with him. But the other half of the bed remained untouched. Realizing he would have to face the music eventually, he trudged his way out of bed and down the stairs in search of Jaehyun. After searching the main house he made his way out on the terrace to go to the kitchen where he found Jaehyun putting the finishing touches on setting out their breakfast spread on the dining table.   

“Good morning, babe,” chimed Jaehyun with a beaming smile that pierced the darkness clouding Taeyong’s mood. “I was just about to go upstairs to see if you were up.”

“Good morning. What’s all this?”

“Breakfast. Did you sleep well?”

“No, not really.”

“Do you not feel well still? Maybe you have a stomach bug?” Jaehyun furrowed his brow in concern as he went over to Taeyong and placed his hand on his forehead.

“I’m over the nausea. I just had things on my mind last night that made it hard to go to sleep,” Taeyong said sheepishly. “I’m starving though.”

“Good, I made chocolate banana nut pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, fresh fruit. It’s not on the level of a Hermie’s breakfast, not as much grease, but it’s tasty. Come on, sit down and eat before it gets cold.”

Taeyong did as he was told and devoured the platter before him. The more he gorged himself, the longer he could avoid addressing the elephant in the room. He glanced up to see Jaehyun watching him with a pleasant smile. “What?” Taeyong asked with a mouth full of food.

“Nothing, I’m just watching you enjoy yourself. It’s good isn’t it?”

Taeyong swallowed. “Yeah, it is. I didn’t know you knew how to cook.” While his plate was empty, he noticed Jaehyun had barely touched his. “Are you not hungry? Or are you dissatisfied with the results? Honestly, it’s delicious,” he reassured.

“I just got lost in my thoughts for a moment and got distracted.”

“You’re thinking about yesterday.”

“We don’t need to revisit that. I’ve already forgotten about it.”

“No you haven’t. Where did you sleep last night?” Jaehyun just looked down and poked at his pancakes. “I’m sorry for acting crazy on the boat yesterday.”

“It’s okay. You didn’t feel well and were upset. I know I’m not always great at anticipating how you’ll react to my actions. I get it.”

“No, it’s not okay. I was overreacting; the ‘special friend’ comment and whoever you’ve brought here before me aren’t worth getting upset over. You don’t have to pretend to be cool with that.”

“I’m not pretending,” Jaehyun protested.

“Then why did you sleep apart from me last night?”

“I thought I upset you and you needed some space.”

“No, you didn’t upset me. I upset myself,” Taeyong sighed. “I’ve been getting in my head a lot and it’s been messing me up.”

“Well, today let’s get you out of your head. I know the perfect place to escape to. Go change into your bathing suit."


 

“Is this the safest way to get where we’re going?” Taeyong asked as they walked along the narrow path hugging the cliff side with a ten-foot drop into the crashing waves below on the other side.

“It’s the only way,” Jaehyun yelled back, “unless you want to get back on the boat.”

“No, thank you.” Taeyong could feel the bile rising just hearing the word boat . “How much further do we have to go?”

“Just around the bend, it’s not that far. Enjoy the view!” It was a scenic though precarious route. The path curved around and sloped downward closer to the waterline. It was a beautiful, sunny day so far, though the weather alerts forecasted thunderstorms on the horizon. But for now, it was the calm before the storm. As they completed the bend, they were treading only a couple feet above sea level when they passed through a dramatic cavern and ended up on the sand of a small coveside beach. Cliffs entirely enclosed the beach. The path from Jaehyun’s home was the only point of access via dry land.  Rocky outcrops off the coast shielded the cove from the rougher waves rolling in from the bay. In no time at all, they were a world away.

Taeyong was awestruck. “It’s like being on an uncharted island.”

“That’s why I love it. I come here to get away from all the noise in my life, to regain a sense of peace. Here, let’s put the blanket down.” Together they unfurled the blanket they brought and spread it out in a spot in the middle of the stretch of sand, anchoring it with the cooler of drinks and picnic basket of snacks Jaehyun had packed. Once they were done, Taeyong sat down, crossed-legged on it and looked out at the water. Jaehyun stood, taking a deep breath of air before taking off his shirt, leaving him in just his swim shorts that came down only mid-thigh. It was the least clothed Taeyong had ever seen him and he almost gasped at the sight of Jaehyun’s lean but muscular physique. His washboard abs, defined pecs, solid quads, sturdy calves, cut biceps, the peak of a happy trail. The sight was enough to send Taeyong over the edge.

Jaehyun noticed him looking and cracked a roguish grin. “Aren’t you going to take yours off too?”

“I don’t know, it’s sunny,” Taeyong hugged his arms close to his torso feeling inadequate in comparison even with his clothes on.

“That’s what they make this stuff for,” Jaehyun said as he whipped out a bottle of sunscreen and started applying it to his arms and legs. “Can you help me with me my back?”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

Jaehyun handed Taeyong the bottle and plopped down in front of him with his back to him. Taeyong squeezed some lotion into his hand but hesitated to rub it on Jaehyun’s back. “How many times have we made out, and you’re nervous about rubbing my back? Go on before I cook; it’s just skin.” At his insistence, Taeyong rubbed the sunscreen into his back. His hands moved in circular motions over the smooth, milky skin covering firm muscle. As Taeyong’s delicate fingers moved out around Jaehyun’s sides, he said, “I forgot my chest…”

“Can’t you do that yourself?”

“I could, but I’d like it better if you did it for me.” Jaehyun turned around to face Taeyong. He gazed expectantly as Taeyong squeezed more sunscreen in his hands and began to massage it into his rippling chest. When Taeyong had worked down to the waistband of Jaehyun’s shorts and was near drooling, Jaehyun grabbed his hands to stop him. “Time for me to return the favor.” Jaehyun reached down and lifted Taeyong’s shirt up and off of him, exposing his svelte torso. He reached for the sunscreen, positioned himself behind Taeyong, and massaged his shoulders with the cool cream. “You’re tense. Let me help you relax.”

“Sly fox. You just wanted to get me out of my clothes.” Taeyong closed his eyes as Jaehyun continued to knead his back. He quieted his mind and focused only on the sound of the tide washing in and out, the gulls calling in the air, the warmth of the sun, and Jaehyun’s smooth hands gliding over his body. Jaehyun had him locked in his embrace as he explored his chest. Then he gently pressed his lips against the back of Taeyong’s neck.

“Do you feel better now?” Jaehyun whispered in his ear.

“Yeah,” Taeyong muttered with shallow breath. Jaehyun’s groping aroused him, but he wasn’t ready to give himself to him right there on the beach. “But do you know what would really make me feel better?” he asked coyly.

“What?”

“Beating you into the water.” Taeyong pushed Jaehyun backward, lunged forward and took off down the sand into the crystal clear waters of the cove.

“Hey,” Jaehyun yelled after him as he picked himself up and chased Taeyong down.

He was much more agile than Taeyong had expected. Jaehyun was hot on his tail as Taeyong dove in head first under the water, sealing his victory. The shallow waters were refreshing. He emerged triumphant. “You’re fast, but not fast enough.”

“You are a Lee, huh? Pulling underhanded tricks to get ahead,” Jaehyun jibed.

“Watch it, Jung. Or I may have to teach you a lesson,” Taeyong shot back with a smirk.

“Teach me a lesson how? What’re you going to do?”

Taeyong tackled Jaehyun to knock him back into the water but he resisted until he got the upper hand and took Taeyong down instead. They horsed around and swam for almost an hour before they came back ashore and collapsed on their blanket. Taeyong rummaged through the cooler for a bottle of water while Jaehyun laid back, eyelids heavy. “Don’t tell me I wore you out already? Where’s your stamina?” Taeyong teased even though it was clear from his labored breaths he also lacked in that area.

“You wanna know another activity this beach is excellent for? Napping.” Jaehyun stretched out his arm, beckoning his boyfriend to lie down beside him. Taeyong obliged, nuzzling in close while Jaehyun wrapped his arm around him. Jaehyun gave him a kiss on his forehead and delighted in the sensation of their wet skin sticking as if they were melded to each other. The last time he was in this spot three months ago he was wallowing with a broken heart. Now he was with the man responsible for mending it. Likewise, three months ago, Taeyong was drifting alone through a hollow life, resigned to let his parents’ desires for him dictate his direction. But Jaehyun had opened another realm of possibility for him, one filled with joy and love, rather than woe and loneliness. In that moment, they only felt contentedness, laid together, drifting to sleep in each other’s arms.


 

The sound of thunder aroused Jaehyun from his slumber. Dark clouds were rolling in from over the water and had blocked out the sun. Small drops fell from the sky. “Hey, hey,” he nudged Taeyong awake, “wake up, we gotta head back, the storm is coming in.” They were gathering their stuff up when a downpour of torrential rain caught them. “Oh, shit!”

The couple ran to take cover at the cavern they passed through on their way to the beach.  The height and shallowness of the cavern didn’t provide much shelter from the wind and rain except for a small portion in the center against the rockface, forcing them to huddle close. “I guess it’s a good thing we wore our swim trunks,” Taeyong laughed as he tried to catch his breath leaned up against the cavern wall.  

“Yeah, good thing.” Jaehyun stood over him, biting his lip as he took in the sight of Taeyong’s slender frame drenched from head to toe, his shorts clinging just right to his body. He’s so fucking hot.

Taeyong pushed his wet hair back and caught Jaehyun staring. “What?”

Jaehyun went straight in and kissed Taeyong, high off the adrenaline of their mad dash out of the rain. Taeyong returned the kiss with fervor as Jaehyun’s hands ran over his body. The heat emanating between them was intoxicating; it overwhelmed them. Jaehyun’s hands found their way down to Taeyong’s waistband, loosened the drawstrings, then slipped underneath, eliciting a sharp intake of breath from Taeyong.

A loud clap of thunder broke Taeyong out of his lustful trance. “Hold up, stop.”

“What’s wrong? Was I going too fast? Are you not feeling it?” Jaehyun asked with concern.

“No, I’m feeling it ,” Taeyong said with a quick glance downward at their crotches. “It’s just that it sounds like the weather’s getting worse and if we keep going, we might end up trapped in here.” The waves were getting rougher and would eventually wash out the path back to the house.

“You’re right. We better get back to where it’s comfortable.”

“And drier.”

“I don’t know. I kinda like you all moist like this.”

Taeyong cringed. “Please don’t say ‘moist’ ever again.” They picked up their drenched belongings and went as quickly and carefully as they could along the path back up to the house. When they got back, they went into a screened porch area to drop their wet gear.

“Wait here, I’ll get some towels to dry off with,” Jaehyun said.

“I thought you liked it moist,” Taeyong teased.

“Ugh, you’re right. That word’s gross.” Jaehyun darted inside and returned with two plush and dry towels. They dried off some then head up to their room to change. When they got up there, Jaehyun turned to Taeyong and said, “Now we’re safe and sound, wanna pick up where we left off?”

“Where was that exactly?” his boyfriend feigned that he had forgotten.

“Let me show you to jog your memory,” Jaehyun said as he hooked a finger into the elastic of Taeyong’s shorts and pulled him near. But before their lips could touch, there was a loud hum, followed by a popping sound and the A/C shutting down. “Shit, what was that?” Jaehyun went over to the light switch and flicked it a few times but nothing happened. “Great, the power is out. I need to go down to the cellar and get the storm supplies before it gets dark. In the credenza downstairs, there’s a lighter. Can you grab it and light some candles around the house while I get the lanterns? You can do it after you change first.”

“Yeah, sure. Be careful,” Taeyong said as Jaehyun headed downstairs. He changed into shorts and a short-sleeve, linen button-down, then set about candle lighting. He sorted through the drawers of the credenza for the lighter and once he found it, scanned the room for any candle he could find. As he went about the house, he noticed all the different family photos strewn about in a variety of frames. There were black and white photos of Jaehyun’s grandparents when they were young, then sepia toned photos of his mother’s childhood and photos of Jaehyun and his cousin Mark as young boys. The photos were all taken at this house, on their boat, at the beach, in the sycamore grove. Many were candid shots, or casual, smiling poses, the subjects appearing as an ordinary happy family.

One bookcase held a collection of photo albums. Taeyong took one out and flipped through it. This album was dedicated to Jaehyun and his cousins from about the age of ten through their teens. It was amusing to see him transform from a scrawny, big-headed kid to a strapping young man. It was also saddening for Taeyong because he didn’t think he had any albums like this documenting how he grew up with his family. They didn’t take photos like this; they took professional staged family portraits every year. Other photos were from magazine features or taken at big events like their fundraising galas, balls, and such. Everything retouched and glossy, enhancing fake smiles. At least Taeyong had faked the smiles he wore in them. Even the smiles Yunho wore in these pictures seemed genuine, and Taeyong never recalled seeing a photo of him published anywhere that looked remotely blithe. His father in contrast always looked bright, a smile ever present on his face. But Taeyong never felt his father’s warmth, unless it was a pretense to a manipulation. As he continued through the albums, his thoughts grew as dark as the sky outside as they reminded him how much of his life had never been like this: happy, warm, filled with genuine love.

It became upsetting to look at Jaehyun’s family memories, so Taeyong shut the album and put it back on the shelf. You were having a great day, don’t tank it now, he thought to himself. He went upstairs to grab his sketch pad and draw to ease his mind.

While he was upstairs digging in his bag, Jaehyun returned. “I’m back, I put the lanterns and stuff downstairs and reported the outage to the electric company but they can’t do anything until the storm passes so we’ll just have to wait it out. At least the well is on a backup generator so we still have running water. It was grimy in the cellar so I’m gonna hop in the shower and change right quick.”

“That’s fine. I was going to just sit somewhere and draw.” Jaehyun nodded and pulled out some clothes from the drawer and went into the bathroom. Taeyong went back downstairs to the study and opened the curtains to look out the big window at the storm rolling off the sea. He grabbed a lantern and turned it on and lit some candles, then settled on the chaise lounge in a straddle position. He shaded the bleak landscape before him, but sketching grey clouds and a black sea did nothing to lift his spirits. You need to take control and think on something positive, he told himself.

“Hey, what’re you doing?” Jaehyun stood in the threshold, clad in a tank top and shorts, hair wet and slicked back. He walked over and got behind Taeyong on the chaise and draped himself over his shoulders to see what he was working on. “That looks dismal.”

“It’s a dismal view,” Taeyong sighed gesturing out the window. “I wish I had taken my pad with me and captured how gorgeous it was earlier at the cove.”

“It’ll be just as gorgeous tomorrow after this system passes through.” Jaehyun flipped backwards in Taeyong’s sketchbook, admiring his work. “Besides, if you had taken it to the beach today, the rain would have ruined all of your marvelous work. Wait a minute who is this good-looking guy?” He had stumbled upon a sketch of himself.

“Good looking? He’s okay, I guess, if you like guys with disproportionately large heads.”

“My head is in proportion with the rest of my body.”

“The camera must add ten pounds to it because it looks big in the photos I found to base the drawings off.”

“How about instead of drawing the depressing weather outside, draw me instead, so you have the correct proportions to work with? Think of me as one of your ‘French girls.’”

“I don’t know any French girls…”

“Tae, it’s a quote from Titanic . You know, Jack and Rose?” Taeyong just stared in response. “You know what, just forget about it. Where do you want me?”

“Lean back on the chaise, but prop yourself up on your elbows. Yeah, like that. Then, pull up your left leg with your foot flat on the end, and your right leg draped over the side extending out. Now gaze off to the side a little. Yeah, perfect.” Taeyong sat on the floor, cross-legged for the right vantage point and traced the outline of his strapping subject.

“How long do I need to stay like this?”

“Not long, it’s just a pencil drawing.” Taeyong studied Jaehyun’s form.

“Why did you take up art?”

“I took drawing and painting lessons as art therapy, then it just progressed from there.”

“Art therapy for what?”

Taeyong averted his gaze down towards his sketching as he responded, “I was a pretty messed up kid, angry all the time. It was juvenile depression though.”

“Why were you depressed?”

“I don’t know. I was just different from everyone around me and felt that everyone had expectations of who I should be because of who my parents were. Like I was supposed to be this outgoing, popular, handsome playboy, but that wasn’t me. I tried, I even joined the water polo team though I’m not athletic at all. But despite my efforts, my classmates just thought I was girly and weird. So I closed myself off. My parents couldn’t stand the thought of having a kid who was an antisocial loser, so my mom put me in art therapy to give me an outlet.”

“It was a good move on her part. You got to discover and refine your talent and got a positive outlet. Like I wouldn’t take you for someone with anger issues."

“That credit goes more to Mr. Bae than my mother,” Taeyong asserted, reluctant to give his meddlesome mother credit for anything positive in his life. “He taught me so much and helped me work out a lot of my issues. He was such a brilliant artist, so patient, compassionate, and handsome too. Mr. Bae motivated me to be the best person I could be.” Taeyong reminisced of his former teacher with a tinge of longing in his voice.

“The way you talk about him, it sounds like you were in love with him,” Jaehyun teased.

“Yeah, something like that.” A somber expression momentarily crossed Taeyong’s face.

“Students have crushes on teachers all the time. It’s not a big deal.” Jaehyun offered reassurance as he could sense shame and guilt in Taeyong’s demeanor. “Do you still keep in touch with him?”

“No, I haven’t been in contact with him since my parents sent me away to boarding school. But that’s in the past, I’ve found a better muse,” Taeyong smiled at Jaehyun. “Do you believe in fate?”

“In what sense?”

“In the sense it sets the courses of our lives and if you look back at the patterns of your life, you can see what your destiny holds.”

“If you asked me three months ago, I would say yes. The last time I was here, I was in a slump and contemplating my fate. I was depressed, anxious and believed that fate doomed me to live two lives; each squandering the other, robbing me of any sense of fulfillment or completion.”

“What changed your perspective?”

“I had bailed on work and holed up here for five days, drowning myself in booze to dull the pain of yet another heartbreak. Mark and Ten came here to bring me home and dragged me along with them to crash the Capulet Foundation Gala. I didn’t want to go at all, in fact I had a vivid dream—almost like a premonition—that I went to a masquerade and that I met what would be the end of me. But I met you instead.”

Taeyong stopped his drawing and put down his pencil. “How do you know I won’t be the end of you?” he asked.

“In a way, you were the end of me, at least a version of me. The pessimistic me, who was only half living. You breathe new life into me and make me feel like the impossible is possible. Because of you, I can look toward the future.”

“You believe we have a future together? One that doesn’t end in devastation?”

“Why would it end in devastation?”

“Because you’re a Jung and I’m a Lee. Fate is cruel to have us gravitate into each other’s orbits. If only we were different people...”

Jaehyun got down on the floor, caressed Taeyong’s face, and looked straight into his eyes. “Babe, forget about our families, forget about their feuding, forget their desires for our lives. What is it you, Taeyong, desire? Say it.”

“To be with you. To have you and hold you forever.”

“Then you have me. Right here in this moment.” They entered a tight embrace.

Taeyong wanted to just settle and be present in that moment, but his mind wouldn’t quiet. Outside another squall flared up with a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, prompting the thought to escape from Taeyong’s lips, “this is only the calm before the storm. We can’t avoid what threatens to tear us apart forever.”

“Storms happen, we can’t change that, but they don’t last forever. And when they come, we’ll weather them. I won’t let anything tear me away from you. Not our families, not our companies, not our doubts, not even fate.”

Tears welled up in Taeyong’s eyes. The sincerity in his lover’s words, the depth of Jaehyun’s devotion to him, was overwhelming. What began as a spark in the lonely wilderness was now a raging wildfire, dazzling and terrifying at the same time. “How can you promise that?”

“I love you.” Jaehyun held onto Taeyong tighter, full of conviction. “It’s reckless and foolish of me to feel this way, but I do. I love you.”

Jaehyun said the three words Taeyong had longed to hear spill from his beautiful, full lips. His mind was no longer filled with doubt; he was no longer apprehensive. They sealed his fate. One way or another Jaehyun was his destiny and he no longer had to hold back. He grabbed his love and kissed him with a passionate intensity like no kiss they had exchanged before. Jaehyun pulled Taeyong in so he straddled his lap. He unbuttoned Taeyong’s shirt, as Taeyong reached around his back and pulled his tank top up and off, exposing his chiseled chest. One he had Taeyong’s shirt opened, Jaehyun kissed the skin underneath as his hands found his way down to undo the buttons on Taeyong’s shorts. Likewise, Taeyong’s hands found their way to undoing Jaehyun’s pants and under the elastic waistband of his briefs, fingers gliding up and down the length of his shaft. Jaehyun’s breath deepened, he pulled down the front of Taeyong’s boxer briefs exposing his hard cock, and stroked it in response. Taeyong bit at Jaehyun’s lower lip in response to his deliberate gestures. Jaehyun pushed Taeyong on his back and laid over him to give both easier access, their strokes of the other falling in sync. Taeyong’s teeth grazed Jaehyun’s shoulder as he rode the waves of pleasure until he let out a moan reaching his climax. Jaehyun came soon after.

“Well, we sure made a mess,” Jaehyun said as he grabbed his tank top to clean themselves up. Heavy breathing gave way to giddy laughter as the orgasmic high washed over them.  

“Yep, I’ll say,” Taeyong laughed. “I didn’t expect there to be so much.”

“That was a week of pent up anticipation. I’ve been dying all weekend to do that.” Jaehyun looked around at the candlelit study. “I will never look at this rug the same way again. Hey, sounds like it calmed down outside. Why don’t we take a shower and see what we can eat?”

They stripped off the rest of their clothes and ran upstairs to shower. While the well had a backup generator, the electric water heater did not and not even the heat between the two could warm it up enough to stay under the cold shower for long. Night had fallen, the rain had stopped, and the wind had gone down enough for them to go out to the terrace and use the grill. They seared two Porterhouse steaks and roasted sweet potatoes. Taeyong threw together a salad to go with it, and Jaehyun fetched a bottle of Syrah from the wine cellar to enjoy with it as they ate by candlelight.

After they went up to the rooftop terrace off of their bedroom. The sky was clear so they could see the countless stars flaring across the infinite, black expanse. Looking out into the boundless void, Taeyong felt insignificant. It was a comforting feeling because it meant that the obstacles he fretted over earlier were also insignificant. They were trivial in the greater designs of the universe. However, the way Jaehyun’s love filled him to overflowing wasn’t trivial. That love was changing his outlook, his life. He knew what he wanted. To be with him. To have him and hold him forever. As they got settled into bed to turn in for the night, he looked down at Jaehyun, wrapped in his arms already drifting to sleep. “I love you,” he whispered to the godsend in his midst. “And I’m never letting go.”

 

Chapter Text

Jaehyun woke up early to the call and response of morning birds. It was just after dawn on the final day of their trip, Taeyong’s birthday. The sun was just peeking over the eastern horizon, obscured by the hills, leaving the western sea cast in the twilight melange of pink and violet hues. He turned over to watch Taeyong still sound asleep, his love’s naked back exposed as he laid on his stomach. Jaehyun hovered over him, stroking his arm and cooing into his ear, “Tae, Tae. Wake up, the larks are singing.”

Taeyong’s eyes fluttered open then winced as he took in the light of dawn. “No, they’re nightingales, it’s not morning yet.” He rolled over pulling the covers over his head.

“No babe, it’s morning.” Jaehyun yanked the duvet back.

“Don’t say that, I don’t want morning to come,” Taeyong whined with his eyes shut tight, defying the larks’ singsong announcement of a new day.

“Why not? It’s your birthday!” Jaehyun began to sing Happy Birthday.

“Stop singing,” Taeyong groaned as he pulled his pillow over his ears.

“Don’t tell me you’re one of those ageist gays who dreads getting another year older.”

“It’s not that,” Taeyong rolled over to face Jaehyun. “If today is my birthday, it means it’s the day we have to go back home, back to reality. And I’d rather stay here in this bed, waking up next to you for the rest of my days.”

“I’d love that, but we’ve gotta go back. We have work waiting for us.”

“Jae, please, we were having such a good time. Don’t speak of such unpleasant things,” Taeyong whined. The day prior, the day after they confessed their love for each other, was perfect. The weather was immaculate, the conditions perfect for another boat ride and snorkeling off the coast. They even encountered a pod of dolphins and Taeyong didn’t get sick. At sunset, they returned to shore and went to dinner at Lucia’s restaurant where she surprised them with a white chocolate, raspberry birthday cake. And they couldn’t keep their hands off each other throughout.

“I’m sorry. Make a birthday wish I can grant to make up for it.”

Taeyong thought for a moment then grabbed his phone, scrolling through to find the message he wanted to show Jaehyun. “Look at what Key sent me before we left.”

So You Wanna Bottom? A Guide ,” Jaehyun read aloud, then laughed. “What is this? Oh my God, it has diagrams and a video tutorial! I can’t believe he sent you this. This is something Ten would do.”

“He would have done a live demonstration if I hadn’t cut him off.”

“Now it makes sense why he had this expressed delivered to me.” Jaehyun went into the drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a bubble wrap envelope with a bottle of anal lubricant and a box of condoms.

“I got a package too.” They both laughed at Key’s overzealousness. “We shouldn’t disappoint Key and not put these to use. I read and followed the section on prepping last night.”

“You want to? Right now?”

“We’ve got everything we need: you and me alone, in this bed. Gotta seize the opportunity while we can.”

“I love your new outlook on life.”

“I’d love it if you’d stop talking and kissed me.”

Jaehyun obliged. He was fervent but deliberate; taking his time and savoring each kiss, paying attention to Taeyong’s response. Starting from Taeyong’s plump lips, Jaehyun worked his way down to his neck sucking and biting the skin until Taeyong purred. He then moved down Taeyong’s chest, peppering kisses along the way until he reached the top of Taeyong’s briefs. Jaehyun stopped before peeling them off to brush his thumb along the appendectomy scar on Taeyong’s stomach. It transfixed him every time he saw it. He continued onward to his ultimate prize and peeled off Taeyong’s underwear. Rubbing Taeyong’s small but sturdy thighs, Jaehyun admired his body. His trim frame emitted a delicate strength. He wasn’t physically substantial, but his presence filled the entire space in Jaehyun’s mind. There was no one Jaehyun yearned for more than him. “Let me get you warmed up first. You’ll enjoy it way more.” And with that Jaehyun went down on him.

In all honesty, Taeyong didn’t particularly care for receiving oral, at least not for the physical sensation of Jaehyun’s warm and wet mouth. He discovered the previous day on the beach he preferred giving because he received gratification from being the source of Jaehyun’s pleasure. Taeyong wanted to submit to Jaehyun’s desires and give him free rein over his body.

“Are you ready to take things further?” Jaehyun asked.

“Yeah,” Taeyong nodded.

Jaehyun reached for the lube and applied a liberal amount to his fingers. “Just relax, I’ll go slow,” he said in a tender yet throaty tone, offering reassurance. “But tell me if you want me to stop.”

“Okay,” Taeyong consented.

Jaehyun opened Taeyong up, inserting one finger at a time to acclimate him to the feeling. It wasn’t so much painful as it was uncomfortable. But as Jaehyun applied more lube and worked his fingers in and out, the discomfort lessened and turned into delight.

Taeyong hungered for more. “I want you, all of you,” he moaned.

Jaehyun kissed him as he reached over to the box of condoms on the nightstand and pulled one out. His fingers were still slick from the lube so Taeyong opened it and rolled it down his shaft for him, stroking from tip to base. After applying more lube, Jaehyun laid Taeyong back on the bed, lifted his legs up so they pressed against his chest and aligned their bodies. The initial insertion wasn’t seamless, but it wasn’t agonizing either. The finger foreplay and copious amounts of lube made it better than it would have otherwise been. Still, Jaehyun knew that it would take a minute for Taeyong to get used to, so he took his time easing in. He took slow and long strokes, paying attention to how Taeyong reacted before picking up the pace. In time, Taeyong had changed his restraining grip on Jaehyun’s waist to a grip on his ass, beckoning him for more.

All discomfort had subsided as Taeyong rode the euphoric waves that surged through his senses, each one hitting him like an electric current. Every thrust of Jaehyun’s hips hit that spot deep within him that elicited an ecstasy he never imagined feeling. The experience was new for Jaehyun, despite him being far from a virgin. It wasn’t just sex, a physical response and connection. This was raw emotion, unfiltered passion; a love set to have his heart bursting. They transcended their bodies as they locked eyes speechless, breathless, clinging to each other until the moment the crescendo reached its peak and the tension broke in orgasmic eruption.

Jaehyun collapsed beside Taeyong, chest heaving as they came down from the high. “So how was it?” he asked, expecting nothing less than a stellar review.

“My mind is so blown, I can’t even think straight. How was I?”

“Incredible. No, more than that. I don’t have the words to describe how it felt.”

“Really? You aren’t just saying that to boost me up?”

“Yeah, really,” Jaehyun confirmed as he rolled onto his side to gaze down up Taeyong, placing a hand over his partner’s beating heart. “I’ve never felt the way I do for you, for anyone else. I love you.”

“I love you too.” The words flowed effortlessly off Taeyong’s tongue, secure in knowing Jaehyun loved him the same.

They lazed about for a moment, basking in the afterglow, before Jaehyun grabbed his phone to check the time. “Come on, let’s grab a shower. We have to wash the linens, clean out the fridge, pack. Then we’ll hit the road.”

“The time went by so fast. It’s too soon to go back to reality.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel,” Jaehyun sighed as he combed back Taeyong’s bangs with his fingers. “Don’t worry, we’ll come back. We still have many more days ahead.”

They showered and went about the business of turning down beds, tidying up, throwing out perishables, and taking out the trash. With the car loaded and all the doors and windows secure, they turned to bid adieu to Sycamore Grove. The couple decided to hit Lucia’s restaurant for a late breakfast on their way out of town. Jaehyun tossed his car keys to Taeyong.

“Um, why are you giving me the keys?”

“You’re driving,” Jaehyun said as he hopped into the passenger seat.

“I don’t have license nor do I even know how, remember?”

“I know, that’s why I’m gonna teach you, right now. Relax, you just have to get us to Lucia’s. You won’t even have to get on the highway.”

Taeyong looked up nervously at the steep and winding drive back to the main road. “Are you sure you want to trust me with your car and our lives?”

“It’ll be a trust exercise for me. I gotta get comfortable letting go of the wheel sometime. And I have faith in your instinct for self-preservation, so we’ll be fine. Come on, I’m starving.”

Taeyong got into the driver’s seat, put on his seat belt, and started the ignition.

“Okay, check your mirrors to make sure you can see behind you and to the sides. Adjust the seat position so you’re comfortable. Both hands on the wheel. You only need to use your right foot to press the pedals. Put your foot on the brake and shift the transmission to ‘D’ for ‘drive.’ Okay, now press on the gas—woah, woah, brake!” They lunged forward toward the first bend, the one that hung to the edge of the cliff. Taeyong hit the brake in time. “Okay Louise, we’re not going for that kind of ending.”

“Louise?”

“Of course the guy who hasn’t seen Titanic, would also have never seen Thelma & Louise,” Jaehyun chuckled and shook his head.

“I can’t do this, you drive.”

“Yes you can. You stopped us from plunging to our deaths, the worst thing that could happen. So I’d say you’re off to a good start. Press on the gas to speed up just enough to get around the bend and up the hill. Focus on the road and follow the curves.” Taeyong took a breath and followed Jaehyun’s instructions and got them to Lucia’s safe and sound. “See, you did it. It wasn’t so bad, right?”

“No, it wasn’t. But you’re driving the rest of the way back to Verona.” They had breakfast and bid farewell to Lucia before making their way back to the city. They drove up the coast, top down with the wind blowing through their hair. The sea tranquil and glassy green. Traffic was light on the road. No worries, no stress. If only we could be like this forever...


 

“Fore!” yelled Jaejoong as he struck his golf ball and sent it soaring into the air on a course toward the 18th hole of the St. Laurence golf course.

“Nice form and stroke,” complemented Mayor Shim.

“I’ve never had complaints with my form or stroke,” Jaejoong smiled as he looked at Yunho while he gripped and turned his club, evocative of a different manner of stroking.

Yunho rolled his eyes. “If only you knew how to hit the ball in the right direction toward the hole instead of another sand trap. The goal of the game is to make it in fewer strokes.” He had invited Jaejoong to his regular midweek summer golf games with their old friends the mayor of Verona, Changmin Shim, and the CEO of Globe Entertainment, Boa Kwon. It was a gesture to demonstrate to Changmin that despite their recent bid war over MacBeth Tech, they were still on good terms. Jaejoong accepted the invitation as another opportunity to work his way back into Yunho’s pants. He was dead last not only because he had no aptitude for golf but also because he was preoccupied with flirting with Yunho rather than the game at hand.

“I’m just glad we can all be together again, like the old days,” Jaejoong said cheerfully.

Boa teed up and swung, sending her ball straight and clear onto the fairway, just one stroke from the putting green. She was an ace golfer and leading their round at -1. “I still can’t believe we’ve made it to the last hole and you two have yet to kill each other. What brought on this change of attitude?”

“After 25 years, you forget what you were even feuding over in the first place,” Jaejoong waved his hand dismissively as if over two decades of emotional turmoil and backstabbing were a trivial matter.

“I didn’t forget,” Yunho said as he made his swing. “But considering certain incidents, I thought it better for us to duke it out on the green rather than our boardrooms or the streets of our fair city.”

“You still got one final dig in when you snatched MacBeth from under me.”

“Snatched? You withdrew your offer and handed that company to me on a silver platter. Regardless, I would have still come out on top without your concession; our offer was too lucrative to pass up.”

“I’ll retract my comment about ‘snatching’ if you admit that they would have gone with Capulet in a heartbeat if we had countered your offer.”

“I guess I spoke too soon,” Boa sighed.

“You know what, it’s neither here nor there. MacBeth is in the Montague fold and we’re about to revolutionize the telecommunications field,” Yunho boasted. “Get your notepad ready to take notes for your CG imitation.”

“When you said you two would fight it out on the green, I thought you meant golf, not actual bloodshed on the fairway,” Changmin chided as they walked over to the golf carts to drive further down toward the putting green. Changmin and Yunho were in one cart, Boa and Jaejoong were in the other. “So, what’s really going on between you two?” Changmin asked Yunho.

“Nothing,” his friend replied.

The mayor shot a knowing look. “The nonstop innuendos and dick jokes that have been gracing my ears all game say otherwise. It’s too reminiscent of old times for you two not to be screwing again.”

“We’re not and I have no interest in ever revisiting that chapter.”

“Then why did you invite him here?”

“To show you we are complying with your wishes and forging a truce. I also enjoy the opportunity to hand his ass to him in a way that won’t get me in trouble.”

“The Verona Corporate Golf Tournament would have been sufficient for that. But you invited him to golf with your best friends.”

“Look, he’s desperate to get me into bed with him. He thinks he’s entitled to it even after all he did to me, which he still doesn’t take responsibility for. I like to toy with him, pull him in and then push him away. Every time he thinks he’s one step closer to me, I shove him over to land on his face. It’s a game we’re playing and I will win. No matter how hard he tries to wear me down, I won’t give in.” Yunho’s voice was unsteady on that last statement.

“That’s what you said back in high school. ‘I would never get into bed with a Lee,’ you remember saying that? And then what happened? You not only got in bed with him, you gave up your claim to Montague, broke your father’s heart, and your brother--”

“Don’t talk about my brother,” Yunho interjected, cutting Changmin off. “Like I said earlier, I forgot none of that. But I was young and naive, I didn’t know how sly and crafty he is. I do now and I won’t get caught up in him again.”

Changmin shook his head pointing over at Jaejoong making a feeble attempt at getting his ball out of the sand trap. “He looks harmless, but you and I both know he isn’t. Jaejoong is already drawing you into his web. I’d stop playing this game with him if I were you and get out while you still can.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Yunho looked at Jaejoong. “I know what I’m doing.”


 

“Yoona, you were born to play this role,” declared Kyungsoo Do, Yoona’s fellow actor and a good friend. They were discussing the lead role in Kyungsoo’s big screen directorial debut, The Redeemer Queen , over lunch on the dining terrace of the St. Laurence. “A queen who married a tyrant to spare her people total devastation must lead the uprising against him to liberate them from oppression. This is like your life!”

“I’m not a queen, nor am I married to a tyrant. And I’m certainly not leading an uprising against my husband,” Yoona protested.

“I was speaking figuratively, but you are a queen of sorts: descended from the Im film dynasty and married into one of the wealthiest and most powerful families. You are beloved by the public as a talented actress, and you are a fierce protector of those you love. The tragic heroine you’re typecast as doesn’t reflect your quiet strength and determination. I want you to channel that into the queen and bring her to life in a career changing role.”

“I’m flattered you think of me that way. And this is best script with the juiciest role someone has offered me in a while. But…”

“But what? How can you turn me down?”

“This isn’t the best time for me to shoot a movie. My family--”

“Your kids are adults and your husband is a grown man who runs a multinational conglomerate. They can live without you for two months of shooting. This isn’t some summer blockbuster action movie; this is prestige quality, award bait. The reels you could submit. I’m telling you, this can be some of your most compelling work. Besides, I need your name attached to this project to draw in more investors. Insung is the only producer. If this flops, so will my marriage, along with any alimony.”

“Insung adores you too much to leave you after one commercial failure, which I guarantee this won’t fail with or without me. Let me talk it over with Yunho and I’ll have a definite answer for you soon. For now, it’s a soft... yes.”

“Oh thank you, Yoona, thank you,” Kyungsoo’s face lit up with an ear-to-ear grin as he clasped his hands over Yoona’s in gratitude. “I know it’ll be a solid yes the next time we speak. Ah, I’ve got the bill. Get ready to make movie magic.”

“Ciao, my love.” Yoona gave her friend a friendly kiss on the cheek goodbye and made her way back into the hotel to the valet stand. But before she left the terrace, she spotted a party of three that gave her pause for concern. On the other side of the terrace sat at a table were Leeteuk and Sunny Park having a lunch meeting of their own with Shindong. Yoona disliked Shindong, as many people who spent any moderate amount of time with him did. He was nothing but a two-bit thug who seized on a golden opportunity when her husband had reversed fortunes with his brother and became the black sheep of the family. Shindong had helped Yunho regain control of the company by less than savory means that Yunho was a party to. He held that knowledge over her husband as insurance and because of that, Yoona didn’t trust him at all. She couldn’t say why, but something in her gut told her to beware the Parks. Spotting them alone with the man who kept all the secrets that could bring ruin to her family reaffirmed that feeling. Yoona needed to know what they were discussing, so she approached their table.

“Oh Yoona,” Sunny waved. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“Yes, what a surprise. Leeteuk, Shindong,” Yoona nodded her greetings to the two men at the table.

“Have you eaten?” Leeteuk asked. “Why don’t you sit down and join us?”

“Thank you, but I just finished discussing a film project with a friend over lunch.”

“Does this mean that your beautiful face will grace the silver screen soon?” Leeteuk’s face lit up at the prospect of Yoona doing another film. “I just love your body of work, such a joy to watch.”

“Nothing is official, but thank you for your kind words.” Yoona smiled to mask her discomfort. In the short time she had known Leeteuk, she had found that he had the unique ability to deliver even the most innocent of niceties as a smarmy come-on. Even stranger was how his wife never batted an eye. “What’s gathered you three here on this lovely day? I didn’t know you two had returned to town.”

“Well, we invited Mr. Shin to have lunch with us to fill us in on the inner workings of Montague,” Sunny replied, “who does what, where certain divisions are based, which board members to watch out for. Basic information any oncoming board members should know.”

“Yes, and if anyone knows the ins and outs of that place, it’s me,” Shindong boasted. “Besides Yunho, our formidable leader.”

“Well I won’t take anymore of your time, so I’ll be on my way. But it was fortunate to see you all,” Yoona said in a polite tone.

“Lovely to see you as well. I’ll contact you to set up a friendly lunch, just us girls. Since we’ll be moving to Verona, I want to get acquainted with the women of Veronan society.” Though Sunny’s voice rang with cheer and sincerity, Yoona sensed it was a hollow performance. She felt Sunny was an opportunist.

“Yes, we must get better acquainted.” Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. “Enjoy the rest of your lunch.” And with that the actress departed, ending her performance. As she entered the interior of the hotel, another unwelcome sight—Yunho and Jaejoong—greeted her. From appearances, they had been golfing. What in the world is this about? It was a banner day for Yoona.

“That was fun. I can’t wait until we do it again,” Jaejoong said.

“Having your ass whooped is your idea of fun now?” Yunho laughed. “Who are you and what have you done with the real Jaejoong?” The final score of the game had Boa winning at -2, Yunho -1, Changin +1, and Jaejoong +7, even with handicaps.

“Oh Baby, I know you remember how much I love a good spanking.” Jaejoong closed in, intruding upon Yunho’s personal space.

“Ugh, your shamelessness disgusts me,” he responded as he shoved his ex off of him.

“If I disgusted you so much, you wouldn’t have invited me. Admit it, you’re glad I accepted it.”

Yunho was silent.

Jaejoong smirked. “I’m shit at golf, but I’m an ace at the long game.”

“What long game?”

“Our Tom and Jerry game. You protest and act like you want nothing to do with me, yet you keep pulling me in closer. So I’ll keep throwing away companies and losing golf games to you because each small defeat only gets me one step closer to you.”

“I want to wipe that dirty grin off your face.”

“Please do. Take all of your pent up frustration out on me. Let’s go right now.” Jaejoong produced a room key and raised into Yunho’s sightline between two fingers. Yunho swatted his hand aside. “Not a good time? That’s okay. I have our room on reserve, so it’s there anytime we want to use it.”

“We won’t be using it.”

“Yunho, don’t play yourself. You know it’s only a matter of time until--”

“Matter of time until what?” Yoona interjected. “What are you two gentlemen plotting?”

“Yoona, nice to see you!” Jaejoong greeted her warmly as if he hadn’t been desperate to seduce her husband only seconds before. “I was just telling your husband not to get too cocky about beating me at golf because it will only be a matter of time before I get him back on the tennis courts and cream him good.”

“So you two were golfing this afternoon? I didn’t take you for the type, Jaejoong.”

“I’m not, but when Yunho invited me to play with our old and dear friends Boa and Changmin, how could I’ve said no?”

“With a simple, ‘no thank you.’” Yoona replied with a sweet yet cutting smile.

“Let me rephrase then and say I was more than glad to accept the invitation because it provided the opportunity for the four of us to reconnect again. We were so close back in the day, it’s a shame that business and petty family drama between Yunho and I had to break our friendship circle. But that’s all behind us now and a thing of the past, isn’t that right, Yunho?” Jaejoong placed a hand on one of Yunho’s crossed arms.

“Not exactly,” Yoona’s husband replied as he brushed him off.

“Well, it’s a work in progress.” Jaejoong patted Yunho on the back as consolation. “It’s been a long day and I better get going.”

“Give Tiffany my warm regards,” Yoona said as she locked arms with Yunho and strategically flashed her diamond wedding ring. Jaejoong nodded and made his departure. “You didn’t tell me Jaejoong would join your golf game today.”

“I didn’t think it was significant enough to mention,” Yunho shrugged.

“If you thought it so insignificant, you would have told me.” Yunho had always been upfront with her. He had told her about his history with Jaejoong when he proposed to her so she had full disclosure and the opportunity to back out if she wanted. He hadn’t owed it to her, she knew full well he only proposed because he needed to redeem himself in the eyes of his family to regain his right to Montague. But the action showed the level of respect and regard he had for her, which is why she agreed to accept the burden of becoming Mrs. Jung. It was honesty and respect that engendered the loyalty that kept their marriage together well past their initial agreed upon term of ten years. “I just had lunch with Kyungsoo. He offered me the lead in his new movie. It’s a good role.”

“That’s fantastic!” Yunho smiled.

“I don’t think I can take it.”

“Why not?”

Yoona looked at him, dead in his eyes. “Did you know that the Parks had arranged a lunch with Shindong here this afternoon?”

“No, but where’s the problem in that? And what does that have to do with you turning down that movie role?”

“You know I have a gift for reading people, it’s why you asked me to be your wife, your partner, watching your back for anyone looking to stick a knife in it. The Parks are opportunists. Shindong is your right-hand man and knows all the inner workings of Montague. All of them . And he’s not the most obedient. He met with them and didn’t inform you. That’s a problem for you, and by extension our family. I won’t sit back and let them conspire to do anything that harms our sons.”

“And you think I will?”

“If you don’t keep an eye on Leeteuk and his wife—especially his wife—then yes. And you can’t keep a proper eye on them getting caught up in Jaejoong’s twisted little games. I can’t cover you if I’m off on a film set for two months.”

“I am not caught up with Jaejoong. Nothing has happened and nothing will happen. I promise you. And don’t you worry about the Parks either, they have no leverage and won’t gain any from Shindong. He knows where his well springs. Besides, it would take them over two months to do any kind of real damage.” Yunho took her hands in reassurance. “Take the role, Yoona. I can take care of things.”

“Okay, I will... on the condition you don’t entertain Jaejoong anymore. You need to stay away from him,” Yoona warned.

“There will be no more Jaejoong. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Yoona mustered a slight smile and continued on to the valet stand with her husband. Despite her husband’s assurances and protestations to the contrary, Jaejoong had wormed his way back into Yunho’s life far enough he wouldn’t be easy to keep away. She couldn’t hold off the two encroaching threats—the Parks and Jaejoong— to her family on her own. She needed an ally, and she knew just the person she needed to call on.


 

“Okay, we’re in,” Jinki announced as he opened the back hatch of his SUV to let Jaehyun out onto the grounds of the Lee estate.

“Was it necessary for me to hide in the trunk? No one even stopped you or asked questions,” Jaehyun asked as he crawled out the back.

“You could have sat in the front seat, but where’s the excitement in that?”

“You relish the opportunities to make me look like a dumbass, don’t you?” Jaehyun glared as he dusted himself off. Taeyong had invited him over but seeing as he couldn’t drive up to the gates himself, he needed the aid of Jinki to get him in. He parked where they had rendezvoused for their weekend getaway and Jinki picked him up. “So where’s Taeyong?”

“Follow me this way.” Jinki led Jaehyun up from the garage and around the pool to Taeyong’s cottage, nestled in fuchsia bougainvillea with a quaint courtyard entrance. “Taeyong, I have a visitor for you.”

Taeyong came to the door and flashed a brilliant smile. “Yo MTV, welcome to my crib!” he shouted.

“Um, what?” Jaehyun laughed. “Where did that come from?”

“Haven’t you ever seen Cribs ? I guess there are some pop culture things I know that you don’t.”

“Is Cribs even worth knowing? Let’s not forget you didn’t get a reference to one of the highest grossing movies of all time.”

“Just come inside,” Taeyong said as he grabbed his boyfriend by the shirt and dragged him across the threshold.

“This is my cue to exit. Just call me whenever you two finish your visit and I’ll drop Jaehyun off at his car,” Jinki said as he turned and head toward the gatehouse where he lived.

“Let me give you the grand tour,” Taeyong said as they entered the main living area. The former guest house had a living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. Taeyong slept in the bedroom that faced the sea. The other bedroom was his art studio. The studio was the most immaculate work space Jaehyun had ever seen. Canvas leaned against each other along the wall, organized by size. Easels arranged in one corner with shelves of paint organized by type then by color shade, warm tones to cool. Even the canvas drop cloths were neatly laid on the floor like expensive rugs. Every surface, even those meant to be messy, was pristine.

“Wow, either you’re a neat freak, or you have excellent maids,” Jaehyun observed.

“No one but me touches my stuff,” Taeyong said as he swatted Jaehyun’s hand away from rifling through his paints. He realigned the containers so that the labels all faced outward in perfect symmetry. “I’m particular about organization and cleanliness.”

“By ‘particular’ you mean obsessive compulsive, right?” Jaehyun teased.

“The maids don’t complain because it means less work for them.”

“These paintings are...magnificent. I don’t even know how to describe them. You should open a gallery; people should be able to see these.”

“In another life I would.”

“Why not this one? You could do it, you have the resources and the gift for it.”

“Capulet is eating up my time. When would I paint or take commissions?”

“You could find a way or bring your artistry into your work. If I had someone like you at Montague, I would use your art anyway I could. Like limited edition casings for phones, tablets, laptops. Artful appliances.”

“Hm, I think I just got an idea for the rebrand,” Taeyong grinned.

“Do I get a commission? Consultant’s fee?” Jaehyun asked coyly.

“I could never cut a company check to a Jung,” Taeyong eyed one of his easels with a blank canvas, “but what about a commissioned work? A portrait. I didn’t get to finish my sketch from the weekend.”

“Is that why you invited me over today?” Jaehyun recalled with fondness their steamy drawing session.

“I had other things in mind,” Taeyong cracked a mischievous smile as he pushed Jaehyun back onto a stool and began to unbutton his shirt and take it off. “But we can’t skip the foreplay.” He leaned in and kissed his subject before turning to his canvas.


 

Joy rolled through the large iron gates of the Lee estate and up the long drive to the expansive mansion. The white Italianate home had a blinding shine in the strong summer sunlight; it was alluring yet intimidating. This was her first time coming to Taeyong’s home and while she expected it to be grand, she hadn’t expected this level of grandeur. When she reached the front motor court of the home, an attendant showed her where to park and escorted her through the front door into the two-story foyer.

“Oh Joy, what a pleasant surprise,” Tiffany greeted as she came down the curved grand staircase, heels clicking on marble. “I thought we were meeting at the boutique so I can dress you for the show?” Verona Fashion Week was less than two weeks away and as Tiffany sent out invitations, their recipients filed into the boutique to buy her designs for the event.

“Yes, we are,” Joy confirmed as she greeted Tiffany with a polite kiss on the cheek. “I’m here to see Taeyong and give him his birthday present!” She beamed while holding up an elegant, wrapped box.

“You must have enjoyed your time together to buy him a present on top of the surprise,” Tiffany said with a smile.

“Surprise? What surprise?” Joy asked, puzzled.

“Taeyong’s trip to Cawdor to spend his birthday weekend with you. I caught him stealing away to head to the airport, but he swore me not to mention anything to you. Since he’s been back though, he’s been mum about the trip and I’ve been dying to know how it went.”

Joy didn’t know what Tiffany was talking about, but she knew that Taeyong had not gone to Cawdor, at least not to see her. But she decided to let his mother continue believing so. “It was marvelous,” she lied with a smile.

“Don’t leave me in suspense. What happened? What did you do?”

“Well, we explored Cawdor Castle and its grounds. We went to some galleries in the Artisan District and had a romantic candlelight dinner. Other details would be inappropriate to share with you considering you’re his mother.”

“Oh,” Tiffany nodded with a knowing wink, “well you can keep those details just between the two of you. Do you have any pictures together from your excursions? I’ve never been to Cawdor but I’ve heard it is gorgeous.”

“You know, we were so enjoying our time together we forgot to take pictures.”

“Taeyong didn’t take a single picture? That’s hard to believe. Whenever we travel anywhere, he documents every mundane moment from five different angles. You must’ve enthralled his attention if he didn’t whip his phone out not once.”

“We were living each moment in the present, so much so I didn’t have the time to give him this gift while he was there.”

Jinki walked in, cutting through the main house. “Oh Ms. Park, I didn’t know you were stopping by today?”

“She was just telling me all about her time with Taeyong this past weekend. Sounds like they had a wonderful time,” Tiffany reported, giddy at the supposed positive progression of her son and the tech heiress’ relationship.

“Did they now?” Jinki knew Taeyong’s lie would come to light, but Joy surprised him by playing along rather than exposing the truth. He was perplexed what her motive was in doing so.

“Yes we did, and I wanted to stop by and give him this gift to show my appreciation.” Joy was so sincere in her tone that it was unnerving.

“Well, I can take it and pass it along to him,” Jinki reached out to take the gift.

“Why? Taeyong’s home in his cottage. She can deliver it in person,” Tiffany interjected.

“I think he’s busy at the moment... working. You know how focused he can get.”

“I’m sure he’ll spare some time for his lovely lady. Jinki, show her the way.” Tiffany shot an expectant look that told Jinki to comply.

“Follow me, Ms. Park.” He whipped out his phone to give Taeyong and his paramour a heads up. I hope he sees this.

They walked along in momentary silence before Joy chirped up. “Taeyong has told me how dutiful and protective you are of him. You’re his constant companion.”

“I wouldn’t say constant . I don’t go everywhere with him. He does things on his own. Like your date to the botanical garden.”

“Yes, but you still know of his whereabouts when you aren’t with him. So you know he didn’t go to Cawdor to see me this weekend.”

“What do you mean he didn’t go to Cawdor?” Jinki said in feigned shock.

“You can drop the pretense. I know you know he didn’t.”

“Then why did you lie to Mrs. Lee claiming the opposite?”

“He had a reason. I want to know where he went and why he needed to lie to his mother. I’m sure you know what he was up to, however.”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Of course, I know where your loyalties lie. So, I’ll get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth. That’s his cottage up head isn’t it?”

“Yes, but…”

“Thank you Jinki,” Joy said, dismissing his services. “I can take it from here.”

“I hope you are capturing my head in its proper size,” Jaehyun said, sitting patiently as Taeyong stroked away on his canvas.

“Yes, I’ve got it larger than your torso.”

“Be honest: do you think my head is that big?”

“Which one? I would say yes to both.”

“The one on top is average, the other you are correct on. Are you gonna capture that?”

“If you lose the pants…”

Jaehyun stood, undid his pants and let the drop to the ground before pulling them off, leaving him in nothing but his underwear.

“I’ll need to see more than that.”

“He gets canvas shy, you gotta help coax him out.”

Taeyong grinned devilishly, put down his paintbrush and closed the space between him and Jaehyun to kiss him. Jaehyun started to undo Taeyong’s shirt before Taeyong dropped to his knees. The loud clanging of the door knocker interrupted them. “Who is that?” Taeyong whipped his head around.

“Can we ignore it? Maybe they’ll go away.”

Taeyong resumes when the clanging starts again. “What the hell? Hold on a minute.” He went to see who was causing the commotion. When he pried open the door, Joy was standing there. “Joy!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“I came by to drop off a present for you and to chat. Your mother and Jinki said you were here and that I could deliver it in person. Are you in the middle of something?”

“Yeah, I am and I’m not dressed--”

“Okay, I’ll wait for you to get decent.” Joy smiled, firmly planted at the door.

“Alright, gi-give me a moment.” Taeyong closed the door and rushed back to Jaehyun. “It’s Joy! She wants to see me and isn’t going until she does. Here go into my bedroom. You can sneak out the doors to the terrace.” He rushed Jaehyun across to his room and shoved him in.

“Wait, I can’t leave without my clothes!”

“Shit, hold on a second.” When Taeyong turned to go back across to the studio to gather Jaehyun’s clothes, Joy came in through the front door.

“Sorry to barge in but it’s hot out there. I figured I could just wait for you in here.”

“Don’t be sorry. I shouldn’t have left you standing in the heat. You just caught me off guard.”

Jaehyun stood on the other side of Taeyong’s bedroom door, leaving it ajar a slight crack so he could hear what was going on in the other room.

“You didn’t expect to see me so soon after our whirlwind romantic weekend?” Joy asked.

“Huh?”

“The surprise trip you made to Cawdor to celebrate your birthday with me. I had to fill your mother in on all the details since you never told her how it went. I guess you have a difficult time remembering since that trip never happened, or at least if you went to Cawdor, you weren’t there with me .”

Oh shit , Jaehyun thought to himself upon learning that Taeyong had used Joy as a cover for their trip. How is he going to get out of this one?

“Joy, I can explain…”

“Please do. What were you doing you had to use me to lie to your mother?”

“Um…”

He’s toast. It relieved a part of Jaehyun as he thought this meant the end of Taeyong’s charade with Joy and he would no longer have to feel guilty listening to Joy pour her heart out to him about Taeyong when they were sleeping together behind her back.

“Don’t leave me in suspense. If you weren’t here, and you weren’t with me, where were you?”

“I went out of town with a friend.”

“And you had to lie to your mother about it because? What kind of ‘friend’ are they? Is it another woman?”

“No, I would never sneak off with another woman.”

Ain’t that the truth, Jaehyun snickered to himself.

“Well I… I was with Jaehyun.”

Jaehyun was in a panic. What the hell are you doing? Don’t tell her the truth!

“You were with Jaehyun?” The admission caught Joy off guard.

“Yeah, he had invited me to join him at his beach house with a group of his friends. I wasn’t planning to go, but a lot of the group dropped out at the last minute and I felt bad. So I accepted the invitation and went.”

“I didn’t know you two were friends. He said nothing to me about it.”

“We only just became friends after this past weekend. We only had a few casual interactions since the derby.”

“So why lie about it?”

“You know our families do not get along and there is a history of the Jungs trying to weasel into Capulet and steal intel. My parents would be wary of me spending time with Jaehyun and I didn’t want to start unnecessary drama. I wasn’t even planning on saying anything to my mother but she caught me with my luggage and that was the first thing I could think of she would believe.”

“You should have told me though so your mother wouldn’t’ve blindsided me when she brought it up. Lucky for you I covered, she still believes we spent the weekend together and had a great time.”

“Why did you cover for me?”

Joy shrugged. “I assumed you had a good reason, and I wanted to know. I also wanted to have the first shot at tearing you a new one before your mother did.”

“Thank you and I’m sorry for putting you in that situation.”

“You’re welcome and I forgive you… this time. But the next time I catch you in a lie, you’ll be sorry.” Joy’s tone was serious and Taeyong felt the intensity of her stare bore straight to his core.

“Y-you won’t, I promise,” Taeyong stammered, aware that Jaehyun was hiding half naked in his room at that moment unbeknownst to her.

“I mean it, Taeyong. One too many men have lied to me one too many times. We’ve only known each other a short time, but I’ve grown fond of you and trust you. If you betray that trust, I don’t know what it would drive me to do.” Taeyong nodded. Joy switched gears as she handed the wrapped box to Taeyong. “Here I got this for you.”

“What’s this for?”

“Your birthday silly.”

“You thought of me on my birthday?”

“Yes, I didn’t know what to get you. Jaehyun suggested I get you a Cawdor specialty, and I stumbled upon the perfect item in the Artisan District. Go ahead, open it.”

Taeyong unwrapped the package, leaving the paper intact. He opened the box to discover a container of blue-green oil paint. “Wow, this is pigmented from Cawdorian copper. This is expensive paint. You didn’t have to give me this, considering the predicament I put you in.”

“I got it because I wanted to show you how much you mean to me. Besides, I have no use for it so why keep it? You still owe me however for lying to your mom.”

“How can I repay you?”

“Well, you haven’t shown me around your place,” Joy said as she looked around.

“Oh, yeah. So this is the sitting room. Over here is my studio.” Taeyong led Joy in so she could take a peak.

“Um, why are your clothes laying on the floor,” she commented while pointing at Jaehyun’s shirt and pants.

“I take my clothes off when I paint so they don’t get messed up,” Taeyong laughed nervously as he scooped up the clothes. Then he went out, with Joy following close behind, over to his bedroom and threw them in at Jaehyun. He bumped into Joy when he turned around.

“Aren’t you going to show me your bedroom?”

“It’s a mess.”

“Given how meticulous the rest of the house is, I doubt it.” Joy went for the doorknob but Taeyong blocked her.

“You can’t go in my room.”

“Why not? Are you hiding something...or someone in there?” Joy raised her eyebrows.

“What? No, I just, um--”

Joy pushed Taeyong aside and barged into his room. “Wow, just as I thought. Not even a sock on the floor.”

Did Jaehyun sneak out the back? “I don’t let just anybody into my room and I don’t appreciate you barging in when I told you not to.”

“I’m not just anybody , I’m your girlfriend , and I didn’t appreciate being used to deceive your mother,” Joy shot back.

“Well you’ve seen it so… even?”

“Far from it. You gotta do a lot more to get off the hook.”

“Like what?” Joy grabbed Taeyong and pulled him into a kiss. He pulled back. “Aren’t you pissed at me?”

“Make out to make up,” she said as she walked backward and they fell on his bed where she resumed kissing him. They made out for a moment until Taeyong couldn’t take it anymore and broke it off. “Why did you stop?” Joy asked.

“I wasn’t expecting you and I have plans to hang out with Jaehyun in a bit, so we can’t get carried away.”

“More plans with Jaehyun…”

“Is it a problem?”

“It’s fine.” Joy sighed in a passive aggressive manner, her annoyance evident. “I should head to your mother’s boutique for my fitting for her show. Should I tell her we’re going on a date tonight?”

“But we won’t be on a date tonight, I just told you I have plans...”

“I know. Do you want me to cover while you have boys’ night with Jaehyun? Meanwhile, I’ll just sit at home, alone.”

“Look, I am sincerely sorry for using you like that. I promise you it won’t happen again.”

“I’d feel better if I got to spend more quality time with you. Jaehyun gets two weekends in a row and I get a shove out the door. It’s not right.” Joy shook her head. She wielded guilt like a pistol and took Taeyong down with ease.

“How about we have lunch tomorrow? And I’ll escort you to my mother’s show next week.”

“Make it dinner instead, and it’s a deal.” Joy’s red lips curled into a smile and she kissed Taeyong again. “I’m glad we could work this out and that you liked your gift.” She got up to gather her bag and Taeyong walked her to the door. “Tell Jaehyun I said hello when you see him tonight and let him know we’ll have much to discuss at work on Monday.”

“I will,” Taeyong nodded.

“Have fun and call me tomorrow morning with the arrangements for dinner.” She gave him one final kiss goodbye and was on her way.

A few moments after she left, Jaehyun came crawling from underneath the bed. “You have a gift for creating messy situations.”

“Were you under there the whole time?”

“Only since she charged in to make out with you. You told your mother you went to Cawdor with Joy— without Joy’s knowledge— like that wouldn’t’ve backfired? Then you told her we went away together.”

“What choice did I have? Tell another lie? Besides, I didn’t tell her we’re together as much more than friends.”

“You didn’t tell her the truth, which is… telling a lie.”

“I don’t have many other options that don’t involve blowing our lives up, so I guess I’m a liar then.”

Jaehyun huffed. “I’m sorry. Today alone I’ve had to ride in a trunk to sneak over here to see you only to spend most of our time together hiding, shoved under your bed. It’s just annoying to go to extremes and create elaborate stories to stay hidden.”

“Maybe we don’t have to stay hidden? At least not entirely.” Taeyong suggested, leaning in the door frame of his bedroom.

“What do you mean?”

“We can’t let on the true nature of our relationship, but what would be the harm in people knowing we’re friends?”

Special friends?” Jaehyun cracked with a wink while pulling his clothes back on.

Just friends ,” Taeyong laughed, “at least in everyone else’s eyes. But then we could hangout and go to each other’s houses without it arousing suspicion.”

“True about hanging out in public. Visiting each other at home with our families however, there would be tension. We need another place here in town where we can have privacy.”

“A hotel or something?”

“No, I have another idea but I need some time to work it out. In the meantime,” Jaehyun crossed over to Taeyong and laced their fingers together, “we need to make plans for tonight so you can keep your word to Joy... somewhat. Ten is having a get-together at his house tonight. Come with me.”

“As your boyfriend?”

“As my friend, at least for now. Mark will be there, then there’s Winwin, I mean Sicheng, who’s working with Joy and I. It’s bad enough I have to pretend like we aren’t together around her, I don’t want to place that burden on him too, not without talking to him first.”

“Yeah,” Taeyong nodded, “that’s a good call.”

A better call would be for you to dump Joy, Jaehyun wanted to say. That would solve their Joy problem, but it wasn’t the right time to bring that course of action up. “Okay, I’ll swing back by around eight and pick you up, no more stowing away.”

“Are you sure you want to face my parents?”

“I already met your dad once and survived, I’ll be fine.” Jaehyun called Jinki to let him know he was ready to leave. “Alright, Jinki will meet me at the garage to drive me out.” Taeyong leaned in to kiss him. “Ah, ah, I don’t want to taste Joy’s spit.”

“Ew, why did you say that?” Taeyong sounded nauseated as he recalled how Joy had slobbered all over him only a little while earlier.

Jaehyun gave him a kiss on the cheek and left to slink his way over to the garage without being spotted.

 

Chapter Text

“I’m going on bedrest for a month, straight from the final runway,” Tiffany groaned as she plopped down on a plush seat in the fitting area of her boutique, House of Young. She slid off her stilettos and rubbed her aching feet. They needed a rest from the busy day of fittings she had, on top of the surge in clientele that always precedes Fashion week. The store was quieting down as evening drew in, giving her a moment to breathe.

The moment was fleeting as her store manager, Wendy, came running in. “Tiffany, you won’t believe who just came into the store and requested to see you!”

“Who?”

Yoona Jung.

“Yoona? What does she want to see me for? We haven’t said more than a passing word to each other for years.”

“I don’t know, but she’s out there waiting for you, so shoes on, up, up, up!”

Tiffany shot Wendy a look of annoyance, wincing as she wedged her feet back into the pointed toes of her heels. She took a breath to compose herself before striding out to greet her former friend. “Well, color me shocked! The Yoona Jung is standing here in my humble little store,” Tiffany said with as much collegiality as she could muster, giving Yoona the customary double-cheek, air kiss salutation.

“Don’t be so modest, Tiffany, you have a reputable brand that has people flocking from all over the world to get their hands on one of your designs. I had to see what the fuss was all about.”

“Why thank you, but we both know you aren’t here for simple curiosity’s sake. Why do you want to see me?”

“Well, if our husbands can put their differences aside and socialize again, so can we. What better extension of an olive branch than to own one of your pieces?” Yoona said as she scanned around the main floor.

Tiffany’s ears were perked. “I’m sorry, what was that about our husbands putting their differences aside?”

“You know, all the friendly interactions they have had as of late. You know, don’t you ?”

Tiffany’s jaw clenched before she forced a smile. “Why don’t I show you my exclusive, select collection, reserved for my highest echelon of clientele?” she asked as she ushered Yoona away to a more private section of the store out of earshot of other lingering customers and her busybody associates. When they were alone, she began her grilling. “What ‘friendly interactions’ are you referring to?”

“Earlier today, I ran into them after their golf game with the mayor and Boa Kwon.”

“So they went golfing with mutual friends. Why should I care about that?”

“They were playing at the St. Laurence golf course.”

Tiffany bristled at the implication. “It’s a nice golf course,” she said, trying to maintain her composure.

“True, but aren’t you forgetting when Jaejoong invited Yunho for drinks and a chat at the St. Laurence after the derby? Then he dropped by Montague for a closed door meeting with Yunho. Isn’t it intriguing that soon after, Capulet withdrew their offer with MacBeth leaving them to accept Montague’s offer?” Yoona could see the wheels spinning in Tiffany’s mind as she connected the dots. “I’m sure those two worked a way to settle that dispute since Jaejoong invited Yunho to meet him yet again, the night we signed that deal.”

“How do you know all of this? Who gave you this information? Did you hire a private investigator?” Tiffany fired off the questions in hushed frenzy.

“Yunho told me,” Yoona replied still cool and composed. “Surely Jaejoong mentioned all of this to you. Why would he keep you in the dark?” Yoona glanced toward Tiffany and caught her glaring back in silence. “I guess you can’t build every marriage on trust and honesty.”

You bitch! Tiffany thought to herself. Despite being best friends since they were children, she always held resentment that everything Yoona did was effortless. She was effortlessly elegant, effortlessly talented, and had effortlessly ended up marrying into what had been the first family of Verona. And to make it worse, Yoona was ambivalent about it all. She had an unintentional air of entitlement because things always fell into her lap. Tiffany wanted to cut her down to size. “And you built your marriage on ‘trust and honesty?’ You two didn’t even love each other when you got married! Your whole relationship was a ploy, a business arrangement!”

“You’re right,” Yoona agreed with a simple nod. “I didn’t love him and almost called off the wedding. In fact, you were the one I went to with my dilemma. Do you remember what you did when I told you I was planning to back out of my engagement? You fell to my feet in tears and begged me to go through with it, because ‘the baby wasn’t enough,’ and if Yunho was free, Jaejoong would surely leave you.”

“So did you come here to tell me it’s my fault your husband is cheating on you? Or are you here just to fuck with me?!”

“I’m telling you this because despite how the animosity between our husbands has put a wedge between us, I still consider you my friend. I helped your troubled marriage get off the ground because I cared about you and knew how much you loved Jaejoong. Now you can return the favor by helping me to protect mine. I’ve built a good life with Yunho. It’s not the one I had envisioned for myself, but it’s fulfilling and precious to me. Nothing has happened yet, but we both know how Jaejoong will stop at nothing to get what he wants and he wants my husband. Yunho is weak for him and if Jaejoong keeps pressing, he will give in. And if those two reunite, their toxicity will poison all of us and leave the lives we sacrificed so much to build, in ruins.”

“You’re right,” Tiffany agreed, “we can’t let them go back down that road. So what are you proposing we do?”

“I’ll keep Yunho in line and away from Jaejoong, and you keep Jaejoong away from Yunho. You know your husband. I trust you know what to do to keep him in line.”

“Yes, you can trust I will do whatever is necessary to hold on to my man,” Tiffany vowed.

“Don’t do it just to hold on to Jaejoong, he’s not worth it. You need to do it for your children. Those two are reckless when they are together and that makes them vulnerable. The wrong people find out about their affair; we’ll all have a lot more trouble than tabloid headlines and gossip fodder.”

“Ahem,” Wendy interjected, carrying a tray with two full champagne flutes. “I thought you would like some bubbly while you browsed.”

Tiffany smiled. “Thank you, Wendy. I was just inquiring of Yoona if she would be available to attend the show next week.”

“And I said that I would be more than happy to,” Yoona grinned in return. “You have too many fabulous pieces, Tiffany. How do I choose?” She stopped in front of a black satin jumpsuit with a long eye-catching black kimono jacket. Hand-painted, white and green chrysanthemums burst off the jacket. “I like this one.”

“It suits you.”

“Then I’ll take it. Wendy, is it? Could you ring this up for me, please?”

“No,” Tiffany intervened. “It’s a gift. We’ll take your measurements and make sure it’s tailored for you.”

“Tiffany, you know I can pay for it.”

“I know. Think of it as a token of our friendship.” Tiffany took the two glasses of champagne, passed one to Yoona, then raised her glass. “Let us toast to old friends. Despite the years and our bickering husbands, we still have each other’s back.”  

Yoona raised her glass as well and they drank to their alliance.


 

“Come on, it’s almost sunset,” Haechan yelled back at Mark, who was lagging on the trail. They spent the afternoon hiking up Mount Escalus to watch the sunset from the lookout atop the ridge. The name was a misnomer as it wasn’t mountain height, just the tallest hill on the easternmost edge of the city, and it wasn’t a steep one at that.

“The sun doesn’t fall from the sky at a specific time. Give me a minute.” Mark huffed, hunched over from their hours-long trek.

“Never complain about my stamina again. You’re so out of shape.”

“Shut up, it’s the altitude. It makes it harder.”

“The altitude? It’s not even 1000 feet above sea level and we started at 250. And you grew up in the Hills. You should be used to it.”

“Well, you picked one of the hottest days yet to go hiking. I’m tired and need a break.”

Haechan decided on this activity precisely because it was hot. The high temps meant fewer people would be out on the trails, and fewer eyes to spot them. “We’re almost there,” Haechan whined.

“I can’t go on any longer.” Mark mimed a dramatic death.

Haechan marched back down to him, turned and bent over, patting his back. “Hop on, I’ll carry you the rest of the way.”

“Getting a little overzealous,” Mark laughed. “You can’t carry me up that incline.”

“Watch me.”

“Okay, Big Guy.” Mark hopped onto Haechan’s back. Haechan trotted to the top of the ridge, then down to the lookout platform. The downward momentum had him running almost into the railing. “Woah, slow down.”

“Told you I could carry you,” Haechan boasted.

“Yeah, almost over the edge to our deaths,” Mark laughed while planting his feet back on the ground.

“I did that on purpose to get a rise out of you.”

“Sure you did. Wow, look at this view !” Mark leaned on the rail, taking in the vista. They had an unobstructed view of the sprawling city below and the glowing orange orb that was the sun, peeking halfway above the line where the ocean met the horizon. The sky was pink, and the temperature was dropping. They were alone, above all the noise in quiet serenity. Haechan came up behind Mark and wrapped his arms around Mark’s waist, resting his chin on the other’s shoulder. The solitude emboldened Haechan to be more affectionate. Mark loved the fleeting moments where Haechan could show this version of himself, his true self. The Donghyuck that Mark loved: carefree, authentic, and sweet. “We should come here more often and have moments like this.”

“Like what?” Haechan asked.

“You holding me in the open, not looking over our shoulders or exercising discretion. It’s like coming up from underwater for air. We can breathe.”

“Yeah, it’s nice. Let’s order takeout and go to your place.”

“Ah, I can’t.” Mark declined.

“Why? Have other plans tonight?”

“Ten is having the guys over to his house to chill.”

“Oh.” Haechan knew Mark spending time around Ten shouldn’t irritate him, but it did. “Can’t you skip that?”

“This is the first time in weeks we’ve been able to have the whole crew together. And I’ve ditched them a lot to spend time with you.”

“Well, it’s not like we can spend a lot of time together. You can see your friends any time.”

“Not really, did you miss the part where I said I haven’t hung out with my friends in weeks? I’ve been spending all of my free time holed up in my apartment with you.”

“You make it sound like I’m holding you against your will. If you wanna hang out with Ten so bad, then go.” Haechan let go of Mark and moved away.

“Don’t do that.” Mark shook his head.

“Do what?”

“Present me with an impossible choice between you and my friends, then punish me for not choosing you.”

“First, I’m cutting you off from your friends. Now I’m punishing you? I’m tired of you always painting me as the bad guy, like you’re the only one suffering. You aren’t the only one with friends. I only see Jeno, Jaemin, and Yeri at Capulet in passing. And you know why? Because otherwise I’m holed up in your apartment with you!” Haechan fired back. “I wouldn’t even care about you wanting to hang out with your friends if you were hanging out with anyone other than Ten.”

“For the millionth time, Ten is harmless.”

“I saw those messages. I’ve seen the way he flirts with you. He’s not ‘harmless.’”

“Ten flirts with everyone, that’s just how he is. He says whatever comes to mind and is a perve. We aren’t and never will be more than friends.” Mark sighed. They were arguing yet again on what they intended to be a romantic, drama-free excursion. “Why do we keep having to have this same fight? Why can’t you trust me?”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. I just--” Haechan rocked back and forth, building up the courage to make a vulnerable confession. “When I see you two together in public and he’s all over you, I get envious because that should be us. Ten’s uninhibited, confident, he doesn’t care what other people think and does whatever he wants. And everyone loves him. He can give you what I can’t and I know you’ll see that, get tired, and leave me.”

“First off, I won’t leave you for anyone, especially Ten of all people. Second, you are what I want.” Mark reached over and took Haechan’s hands in his. “You have all those qualities you envy in Ten. I just want you to feel less afraid and constrained.”

“How would I do that?”

“You’re already doing it. We’re outside, in a public place. People saw us together, didn’t even blink, and the world didn’t end. We can’t broadcast our relationship, but there is a huge middle ground we can do things in. First, we need to stop pretending we hate each other. Why don’t you come with me to Ten’s?”

Haechan balked. “Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to Ten’s house.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like him.”

“If you got to know him, you would see he’s not that bad.”

“Maybe, but how would we even explain showing up together, let alone me going there at all? People still think we hate each other; they’ll raise their eyebrows at us becoming pals overnight. Sorry, but I can’t. You can still go though. I’ll call Jeno or go bother Yeri.”

“I guess you have a point,” Mark sighed.

Haechan put his arms around Mark to console him. “I promise I’ll try to be better. I just gotta take it one step at a time. Hanging out with Ten is like Step 5.”

“What’s Step 1?”

“To stop arguing and watch the sunset with you.”

“Okay, let’s start.” They stood leaning on each other as they watched the sun fall into dusk as the darkness of night crept in.


 

Jaejoong sat in his study sipping on bourbon after having dinner alone, as was routine. It was rare for his family to all be present at home at the same time. And even when they were, they still spent time in their separate corners. If he had the company of anyone other than the staff, it was Tiffany. She had yet to return from the boutique. As he sat enjoying his own company, he glimpsed an even rarer sight: Taeyong in the main house, dressed for a night out. “Going somewhere?” Jaejoong called out into the foyer.

Taeyong paused, reluctant to acknowledge his father’s question but having no other choice. “Yeah, I’m going to a party.”

“A party? Who’s throwing it?”

“Uh, you know Ten Lee—er—of Mercutio Shipping?” Taeyong couldn’t remember how to pronounce Ten’s last name. “He’s having a get-together at his house and I got invited to go along.”

“I know the young Mr. Leechaiyapornkul. Mercutio has shipped all of our goods for as long as I can remember. He’s popular but keeps a tight inner circle, so I hear. How did you get in it?” Jaejoong quizzed. He well knew that his son was not a social butterfly and other than the derby couldn’t think of a time he would have ever come in contact with the eccentric shipping heir.

“I’m not in it. Ten wasn’t the one who invited me.”

Jaejoong honed in on his son’s hesitance in his answer. “Then who did?”

“Jaehyun Jung.”

“Yunho’s son? You’ve seen each other outside of that time at the derby?”

“A few times. We’re not like close or anything,” Taeyong lied, “but we don’t hate each other. He’s cool and is introducing me to his friends. You and Mom are always saying I need to go out more and rub shoulders with important people.”

“Yes, we suggested that. I’m glad you are taking our guidance to heart for once.”

“I always do what you tell me to.”

“And begrudge us for it.”

“Taeyong,” Jinki knocked at the doorway into the study, interrupting, “Mr. Jung is here to pick you up.”

Jaehyun stood behind him. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Lee.” He strode across the room and shook Jaejoong’s hand.

“A man with a strong handshake. I like that. Please, you can call me Jaejoong.” It intrigued Taeyong’s father that Yunho’s son was interested in socializing with his son. It was strange to him, but stranger things have happened given his own history with Yunho. “I’m glad you are helping Taeyong get out of his studio more and mix and mingle with the right circle.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Jaehyun flashed his charming smile. “He’s cool. I think we’ll get along fine.” He shot a knowing glance to Taeyong who got flushed in response.

Jaejoong caught the small moment and filed it away. “Well, I won’t hold you two lads up. Have fun!”

“We will Mr. Lee, eh, Jaejoong. I’ll have him back at a reasonable hour.”

“He’s a grown man. He can stay out all night if he wants.”

“Well, we better get going.” Taeyong ushered Jaehyun toward the door. “See you later, Father.”

Jaejoong tipped his glass to them and they were off. “Tell me, Jinki: how well do those two know each other?”

Jinki shrugged in feigned ignorance. “I can’t say to my knowledge.”

“It’s your job to know everything my son gets up to,” Jaejoong reminded.

“As he’s an adult now, I don’t keep such close tabs on him. I don’t know everything he does or everyone he associates with.”

“Well, watch those two.”

“Why?”

“You know why. Jaehyun is a Jung, he’s smooth, and he’s clever. He must get those traits from his mother. Taeyong is naïve and easy to take advantage of. Make sure he doesn’t.”

“When have I ever allowed Taeyong to be at risk?”

“Never. I trust you Jinki; this is just a reminder to monitor their budding friendship for any sign that Jaehyun has ulterior motives. And if he does, do whatever is necessary to remove him from the picture.”

“Listen to him, Jinki,” rang Tiffany from the doorway. “He knows a thing or two about ulterior motives and the Jungs.”

“Well good evening, dear.” Jaejoong extended his arm beckoning her to come in. He gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Tiffany gave a half smile. “Jinki, could you leave us for a moment, and close the door behind you.”

“Alright,” Jinki nodded. He left and shut the door behind him.

Jaejoong knew by his wife’s demeanor, and her request to be alone with him behind closed doors, that he had ticked her off and was due for an earful. “You had a long day. How were things at the boutique?”

“Busy, but nothing unusual for the days leading up to Fashion Week, except for one surprise visit.”

“Surprise visit? From who?”

“Yoona.”

“Yoona? As in Yoona Jung ? That’s a first!”

“I know, I couldn’t believe it. She said that ‘if our husbands could get along, then why couldn’t she and I?’ That was news to me; you didn’t tell me you and Yunho were patching things up.”

“I wouldn’t call it something newsworthy, we’re just civil.” Jaejoong took a sip of his drink and went to go take a seat behind his desk.

“Well, I’d say. The late night meetings at the St. Laurence for drinks, rounds of golf, dropping in at Montague to make backroom deals. That’s beyond civil .” Tiffany stood on the other side of the desk, arms crossed.

“Backroom deals? That’s an exaggeration. I confronted Yunho about trying to snatch MacBeth from under me. We had drinks once after the derby, Yunho didn’t even show up for our second meeting, and we played golf this afternoon with Changmin and Boa. It’s all innocent.”

“I doubt that.”

“Where did you get the idea it’s not?” Jaejoong asked, annoyance in his voice.

“You didn’t tell me about any of this, like you didn’t want me to know.”

“Because it doesn’t concern you. I’m guessing Yoona told you all of this,” Jaejoong deduced. “How did she know?”

“Yunho told her and don’t pretend that you didn’t run into her today after your golf game.” Tiffany strode over to the bar and poured her own crystal glass of bourbon. “You know, when Capulet overtook Montague, I thought I had finally one upped her, that I had the better husband.” Tiffany turned around to face her husband. “Looks like I was wrong. Turns out you can’t build a marriage on company stock value; it needs to be built on trust and honesty. Yoona and Yunho have that in spades.”

Jaejoong let out a hearty laugh. “That’s rich! You think Yunho is the epitome of truth and virtue? He’s trustworthy, and I’m what? A lying scumbag? I’m getting real sick of hearing that shit. Yunho is not and never will be a better man than me.”

Tiffany shouted, “Be honest, and don’t fuck around behind my back! Then, you won’t have to ‘keep hearing that shit!’”

“I am being honest! There is nothing suspicious regarding my interactions with Yunho! What more could there be? What crazy conspiracies has Yoona filled your head with?”

Jaejoong had never told Tiffany about the full nature of his past relationship with Yunho, and as far as he knew, she was unaware. But she knew. She knew it all. Yoona had told her when she announced her engagement to Yunho. The revelation hadn’t phased her. Rumors about the two had circulated through the school halls and the circles they travelled in. It made no difference to her that Jaejoong was bisexual and had dated Yunho. He had courted her , proposed to her, married her , and made a child with her . That trumped whatever he had with Yunho.

Until she found the letters that Jaejoong had written Yunho. Letters he sent but never received a reply. Returned unopened and unread by their intended audience. Jaejoong had poured his heart out in ink on pages scented with his cologne, explaining why he didn’t run away with Yunho, why he needed to marry Tiffany for her family’s money, but how he would find his way back to Yunho as soon as he could. It was devastating and Tiffany would have ended their marriage, but she was in too deep at that point. She had a child, her fashion line hadn’t gotten off the ground, Capulet’s financial footing wasn’t secure, and despite it all, she was in love with Jaejoong. She would not let him go. So she held on, knowing she was only a consolation prize but assured herself knowing that Yunho married Yoona and wanted nothing to do with Jaejoong. Until now. Now Jaejoong had pulled him back into his orbit and was lying to her face about it. “Don’t make me look like a fool, Jae. If I find out you’ve done something that will make a mockery out of me and our family,” she said as she leaned over Jaejoong’s desk, “I swear to God I will teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.”

“Don’t worry, mi bella ,” Jaejoong reached out his hand to brush her hair back and caress her face. “You won’t.”


 

“Every time you interact with Father, I just want to die,” Taeyong groaned from the passenger seat of Jaehyun’s car. They were traveling in style tonight in Jaehyun’s Maserati, black on black. “My heart is still pounding. How can you talk to him and stay so calm?”

“I don’t find him intimidating to be honest,” Jaehyun shrugged as they wound their way up into the Hills where Ten lived, not too far from Jaehyun’s home. “He seems chill.”

“Trust me, he isn’t. Don’t let the facade fool you. So… what are your friends like?” Taeyong asked.

“Hmm, let’s see. Sicheng is a friend from college and is working with Joy and I at MontaMobo on the new mobile line. We used to call him Winwin, but he hates that so now we only do it to tease him. For full disclosure, we had a drunk hookup— once —in college I don’t remember and would never happen again.”

“Um, okay.” Taeyong gave a hesitant chuckle at Jaehyun’s adamance, unsure how to take the sudden admission. “Could I ask why?”

“Sicheng can be snobby, and a bitch when you first get to know him. But he has a soft side and a good friend, mostly. But that’s it. I’m just not attracted to him. Besides, I’m all about you now.” Jaehyun smiled, extending his right palm out for Taeyong to hold while his other was on the steering wheel. Taeyong took it. A few weeks ago, he would have been doubtful. But now he knew Jaehyun was sincere and wouldn’t let Sicheng’s presence phase him. “I already told you about Mark.”

“Isn’t it crazy we both have paternal cousins who we grew up with like brothers after their parents died? They even go to the same university and are around the same age.”

“Yeah, it’s an insane coincidence,” Jaehyun agreed. “Do you think your cousin is low-key gay, too?”

“Wait, Mark’s gay?” Taeyong asked in amazement.

“I don’t know,” Jaehyun replied, “like he’s never come out to me or said anything, even though he knows I’m gay and is supportive. But I get this vibe from. Sometimes he gets super flustered by a guy just looking into his direction and he turns everything into a gay moment. The guys and I also suspect he has a secret boyfriend.”

“What makes you think he does?”

“There have been a lot of weekends where he’s been ‘busy’ and can’t hang out. He doesn’t even return calls or texts. I thought he might have depression, but he’s been in a better mood than normal and doing well at school and work, so it must be a lover.”

“Interesting deduction. Haechan is elusive too, but I never gave much thought to it. We aren’t as close as we were before I went to boarding school. I don’t think he would confide in me either way.” The realization of how distant the relationship between him and his cousin had become saddened Taeyong. If he was honest, he felt distant from everyone in his family. They all lived on that estate just drifting past each other. Don’t get depressed now, Taeyong. “Okay, what should I expect with Ten?”

“Any and everything,” Jaehyun laughed. “Ten is wild . He doesn’t have a filter, is very witty, loves to flirt and make innuendos and dick jokes. He’s always turned up to one hundred, an will guarantee you have a good time with him in the equation. He’s borderline insane, but also is very astute and tells you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. Ten’s the best friend I could have ever wished for.”

“Is he really all that?” Taeyong knew Ten’s reputation preceded him. He got a small taste from the T.N.T. Whiskey party Ten hosted at the derby, but still found it hard to believe that anyone could be that much larger than life.

“See for yourself,” Jaehyun said as they pulled up to Ten’s hillside bachelor pad. It was a large, modern home; clean straight lines made of white concrete, grey stone, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The motor court was full of expensive, foreign sports cars in an assortment of candy-coated paint jobs. Through the windows, they could see several dozen people milling about as the bass of the music thumped from inside.

“I thought you said this was a small get-together,” Taeyong commented as he got out of Jaehyun’s car and walked toward the front door.

“It’s only like fifty people. That’s small by Ten’s standards.” Jaehyun rang the doorbell.

After a moment’s wait, Ten flung the door open, releasing the sounds of raucous laughter and House music. “About time your bitch ass showed up.” Ten paused when he noticed Taeyong standing there. “Oh, and you brought company.”

“Yeah I did,” Jaehyun laughed. “Ten, this is--”

“You know I know who Taeyong Lee is. I know everyone who is worth knowing in this town,” Ten bragged. “We haven’t met, but I’m--”

“Ten Leechaiya…” Taeyong trailed off on the rest, embarrassed that he still couldn’t pronounce his last name.

“... pornkul, Leechaiyapornkul. It’s Thai and a mouthful, I know. You can just call me Ten. Come on in MTV, welcome to my crib!”

“You know MTV Cribs ?” Taeyong asked with excitement.

“I do. What loser doesn’t know that iconic show?”

“This one,” Taeyong pointed toward Jaehyun.

“Don’t make me run down the hundred other pop culture references you don’t know,” Jaehyun threatened. They crossed the threshold into Ten’s luxe home.

“Wow, it’s so... open,” Taeyong observed.

“Yeah, I don’t like to feel confined. So I told my architect, ‘No walls, no boundaries.’” Ten explained.

“They delivered on no boundaries.” Taeyong looked around the open concept first floor. There was no separation between the living, dining, and kitchen areas as people spilled from one to the other continuing their conversations with ease. The few solid walls that were present were stark white and hung large abstract paintings on canvas. Everything else was glass and stone. “Where’s your back wall?” Taeyong asked gesturing to the open void that flowed out to the terrace and pool, the stone floor flowing seamlessly from indoors to outdoors. It was a modern architecture wet dream.

“Folding glass doors,” Ten responded. “All the rear facing rooms have them, even my master bath. I can soak in the tub and breathe in the fresh air.”

“Your bathroom opens up outside?” Taeyong asked scandalized.

“Why not? Who’s gonna see? I love to put on a show, though.” Ten winked. “Now that over there, isn’t just a regular car port,” he gestured to the glass wall behind the floating staircase on the far end of the living area. Ten’s Porsche Panamera was parked on the other side. “It’s a car elevator that goes down to the garage downstairs.”

“A car elevator?”

“The only way to have a four-car garage on such a small, inclined lot was to go below. The elevator was the safest and most practical way to get to it.”

Jaehyun rolled his eyes. “What does a single guy like you need a four-car garage for?”

“For my four cars, dumbass. What does your family need a twelve bedroom mansion for? Only three of you live in it. This is modest in comparison,” Ten quipped back.

“Your house is amazing, Ten,” Taeyong said.

“Thank you. It was a lot of work to build. All the permitting and dealing with contractors. I also designed all the furniture. Had to put my degree in interior design to use.”

“You studied interior design? That’s so cool! I have an art degree.” Taeyong was glad to discover Ten was a fellow creative.

“Oh, an artist? I love it. Let’s go out by the pool so I can introduce you to some special guests.” Ten led the way outside to the tiered terrace. A group of very attractive men were lounging about around the fire pit, with the dramatic backdrop of the glimmering city below and the glowing homes dotting the hillsides. The glass-sided infinity pool was aglow, reflecting light waves against the house. “Look who’s arrived,” Ten announced. “This is my best friend, Jaehyun Jung, and this is Taeyong Lee. Jaehyun and Taeyong; this is Kun, Xiaojun, and Yangyang. They’re in town from Hong Kong for Fashion Week.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jaehyun and Taeyong said together as the waved and shook hands with each.

“Taeyong this is Sicheng, but he will always be Winwin to Jaehyun and I,” Ten teased. Sicheng rolled his eyes in response.

“Hi, nice to meet you! Jae’s told me a lot about you.” Taeyong greeted him with a warm smile and an outstretched hand. Sicheng sized him up, gave a half-hearted smile and a limp handshake.

“Are you chilly Sicheng?” Ten shaded. “Maybe you should get closer to the fire and warm up . So damn rude,” he muttered under his breath. “Then last but not least, this is Yukhei.”

“You can call me Lucas,” the handsome young man with the chiseled biceps said in a husky voice.

“Nice to meet you, Lucas,” Jaehyun said as he took a seat on the empty couch across from them. Taeyong sat next to him, then shifted away to put a little distance between them, remembering they were keeping their relationship on the down low. “So what do you all do in Hong Kong?” Jaehyun asked to make conversation.

“We’re models, except for Yangyang,” Xiaojun replied. Jaehyun could believe it, they were all superb looking, especially Xiaojun. He reminded him of Taeyong.

“I’m a Formula 1 racer,” Yangyang answered. “I’m just here for a little vacation.”

“The rest of us are here working,” Kun chimed in.

“Yeah, we’re here for work…” Lucas slapped and clutched Ten’s ass.

“Stop,” Ten whined, removing the model’s hand. “I have company present. And I’ve been a rude host. I haven’t asked you all if you’d like anything to drink? We’re having T.N.T. whiskey sours tonight. Any takers?” Lucas and Yangyang raised their empty glasses showing they needed a refill.

“I’m the designated driver,” Kun declined.

“I’m good for now,” Xiaojun said lazily. Sicheng lifted his half full glass

“What about you Taeyong?” Ten asked.

“Uh, yeah I’ll have one.” Taeyong was hesitant given his poor track record with alcohol, but he thought it would be rude to refuse Ten’s own brand.

“Okay, so that’s five. Jaehyun, why don’t you come in and help me with the drinks, please?”

“Sure.” Jaehyun turned to Taeyong and pat him on the leg. “I’ll be right back.” He got up and followed Ten inside to the bar.

Ten tapped on the marble bar top to get the bartender’s attention. “Five whiskey sours, please.”

“You would hire a bartender for the evening. I thought this was supposed to be a low-key evening,” Jaehyun teased.

“Did you think I would mix drinks with my pretty hands? Please.”

“Of course not, I know you all to well.”

“As do I.” Ten leaned in and lowered his voice. “So.... how long has it been?”

“How long has it been what?”

“How long have you been fucking Taeyong?” Ten had a smug grin plastered on his face.

“Who said we’re fucking?” Jaehyun played coy.

“You aren’t slick bitch. I remember how you were hitting me up for the T on him, then I saw you seek him out at the derby. You claim to be busy all the time, but I know from a little birdie you’ve been busy at St. Ben’s with a ‘very handsome twink.’ Taeyong is the epitome of a twink. And the chemistry . See this mark? It’s from it slapping me in the face!”

“We’re not that obvious,” Jaehyun protested.

“It’s obvious to me. I have a seventh sense for these things.”

“What’s your sixth sense?”

“Clocking gays. The seventh is picking up the energy of two people who are screwing each other and your readings are off the charts!” Ten was giddy with self-satisfaction.

“Can you keep it down? We’re trying to keep a low profile.”

“As you should. Can you imagine what the headlines would be if this got out there?”

“Yeah, which is why we shouldn’t be talking about this with all these people around.”

“Relax, I don’t invite just anyone to my house. These are all people who exercise discretion… and I have dirt on them. Even the bartender. They know I have your back and would annihilate them in a heartbeat if they did anything to ruin you.”

“And I would do the same for you, but still, tell no one, not even Winwin and Mark.”

“They will find out, especially if you two will be hanging around us more often.”

“I know, but I’d rather be the one to tell them in private. I don’t want this to get fucked up.”

The bartender poured the last drink and lined them up on the bar. “Can I get a tray for these?” Ten asked. Once they had gathered up the beverages, they walked away from the bar to the side. “Is he worth risking it all for?”

“Definitely,” Jaehyun smiled.

“Then, you have my support. But I still need to size him up to make sure he’s worthy of you. We don’t need a sequel of Gongmyung, or Wonho, or Seokmin, or--”

“Shut up, most of those relationships weren’t terrible. Besides, it’s different with Taeyong. None of my exes stack up in my mind.”

“How many times have I heard that one?” They proceeded outside to rejoin the group.

While Jaehyun and Ten had been inside, Taeyong had been conversing with the models about their lives in the fashion industry: who were the best photographers to work with and the worst, where they had traveled, the designers they hoped to work with, and backstage scandals. When they realized who his mother was and then connected him to the Capulet Group Lees, they became keen on him and embraced him into their fold. All except for Sicheng whom he felt didn’t care for him much, and he did not understand why.

“Ten,” Kun called when their host and Jaehyun returned, “you did not mention when you introduced us that these two are filthy rich heirs.”

“Most of the people I roll with are, it’s not noteworthy.”

“But they aren’t just any heirs, they will inherit CG and Montague . Everyone knows those brands.”

“I heard the Jungs and Lees hated each other though,” Xiaojun chimed in.

“They do,” Sicheng replied. “Makes this new friendship rather odd.”

Jaehyun sat down next to Taeyong. “What’s odd about it?”

“Come on. The Jungs, Lees and everyone aligned with them can’t even stomach being in the same room. The animosity between them is notorious. Now the two heirs apparent are bosom buddies? It’s a stretch.”

“No, it’s not,” Taeyong fired back. “That feud has gone on for generations back to before our families emigrated here. No one even knows what started it and can’t explain why we carry on with it. Jaehyun and I think it’s stupid and don’t buy into it. It’s quite simple.”

“Other than being obscenely wealthy, what do you even have in common? How did you even cross paths in the first place? Rumor has it this one never leaves his house and is an anti-social loner.” Sicheng’s soft-spoken words stung Taeyong like a dozen paper cuts.

“Damn bitch, dial it down a couple hundred notches,” Ten interjected. “You’re sounding like a jealous dick. They’re just friends.”

“I know they’re just friends. Taeyong has a girlfriend, Joy Park. A girlfriend who cares very much about him. I know because Jaehyun and I work with her. To insinuate that jealousy drives my questions instead of simple curiosity, would also imply that these two are more than friends and thus sneaking around behind Joy’s back, and that’s absurd. You two would never do that, right?” Sicheng’s tone was almost accusatory

Jaehyun knew what Sicheng was doing, and it pissed him off. “You’re right, we wouldn’t, so could you kindly shut the fuck up? We’re trying to have a good time.”

Sicheng shrugged. “I’m just making conversation.”

“You’re making people uncomfortable!”

“Okay no, time out!” Ten intervened “Y’all aren’t going to throw down in my house. Winwin, I’m cutting your drinks off.”

“Why? I’m not drunk.”

“Because you’re acting like an asshole right now!”

“Okay, time to go piss,” Lucas announced as an excuse to leave the tense situation.

“Yeah, I think I’ll get something to eat,” Yangyang declared. “You wanna come Xiaojun?” Xiaojun nodded.

“Hey don’t forget me,” Kun ran after them.

“Taeyong, let me show you around the rest of the house, inside… away from here.” Ten grabbed Taeyong by the hand and dragged him away.

Jaehyun glared at Sicheng through the flames dancing up from the pit. “What the hell is your problem?”

“It all makes sense now,” Sicheng chuckled as he swirled the melting ice in his glass. “Why you always have other plans. Why you flipped out when Joy said she and Taeyong kissed on their date. You’re messing around with him.”

“Do we give off some kind of pheromone? We’re not just ‘messing around.’ We’re in love.”

“Okay, you’re ‘in love.’ Doesn’t change the fact he’s dating Joy.”

Dating is a strong word for what that situation is.”

“From Joy’s perspective, they are, and it’ll remain that way until Taeyong makes it clear they aren’t. Until then, he’s cheating on her with you.”

“It’s not cheating though because their relationship isn’t real,” Jaehyun rationalized.

“Wow, if you could only hear the delusion coming out of your mouth,” Sicheng shook his head. “Let me break it down into bite-sized pieces for you: Joy believes that Taeyong is her boyfriend. When she finds out that you two have been seeing each other behind her back, she will consider it cheating. What’s that English saying? ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?’”

“She won’t find out.” Jaehyun didn’t know who he was lying to. He knew Sicheng was right. Joy had almost found out that afternoon. He recalled the sound of her all over Taeyong while he hid under the bed.

“Yes she will. The truth always comes out. Let’s pray it happens after we finish the Hecate line. I like to work in a peaceful environment.”

“Yo, sorry I’m late.” Mark jumped in before reading the tension in the air. “Is something going on here?”

“No, we were just discussing your cousin’s new friend, Taeyong,” Sicheng replied.

“Taeyong who?” Mark asked.

“Lee.”

“Like the Capulet Lees? When the hell did you become friends with him?”

“Oh my God, what is the big fucking deal?” Jaehyun had it with the scrutiny. “We met, we got along, we hung out, and I brought him to this party. That’s it, that’s all you need to know!”

“Calm down, I was just surprised. And he’s here?” Mark was now glad that Haechan didn’t accept his invitation, because Haechan would have thrown himself over the ledge if he crossed paths with his cousin.

“Yes he is, and he’s probably regretting the decision.” Jaehyun sighed. He had expected a few cocked eyebrows and curiosity, but he didn’t expect Ten and Sicheng to be so swift in clocking them as a couple, nor did he expect Sicheng to be such a bitch about it. He just wanted to have a chill evening and needed to calm down.  “I need another drink.”


 

“I’m so sorry about what happened out there,” Ten apologized as he led Taeyong upstairs. “Sicheng can be… blunt.”

“It’s fine,” Taeyong shrugged it off, “Jaehyun warned me. I don’t get why he had such a negative reaction to us hanging out.”

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but he’s crushing on Jaehyun.”

“Still? I know he and Jaehyun hooked up once, but Jaehyun was adamant he wasn’t into him at all.”

“Oh yeah, that’s true. It’s very much one-sided. He obviously picked up on the fact that you two are together and it triggered him.”

“Wait, who told you Jaehyun, and I were together?” Taeyong asked, frantic.

“Relax, I suspected and Jaehyun confirmed it. I won’t tell anyone your secret is safe with me,” Ten promised with a reassuring smile. They went into the spare room that Ten used as a study lounge and went out onto the upper terrace. “But I have some questions for you.”

“Like what?” Taeyong braced himself for another barrage of interrogation.

“What is it you like about Jaehyun? What drew you to him?”

The question caught Taeyong off guard. It was the first time he had to articulate what attracted him to Jaehyun. “The first I ever laid eyes on him was the gala. I saw him from across the room, staring at me from the crowd. He was random face to me. I didn’t know who he was, but he stood out because I felt like he saw me , the real me . Everyone expects me to be a certain way, a certain person, because of my family name, my status, my wealth. They have these preconceived notions and try to fit me into the boxes they made for me. But Jaehyun’s never put me into a box; he encourages me to break out, to be as true to myself as I can. He helps me to see there is so much more to the world. He’s patient, understanding, caring, genuine. And he loves me.”

“Usually when people wax poetic about who they love, it triggers my gag reflex. But that was so sincere, I’m touched. You’re a keeper.”

“You think so?”

“I don’t know what the endgame looks like for you, given the family drama, excess baggage, and ‘girlfriend’ weighing you down. But if you can overcome those obstacles, I don’t see why you couldn’t be the one .”

“That means a lot coming from his best friend.”

“I like you, Taeyong. I think we could become good friends.”

Taeyong beamed. “I’d like that very much.”

They heard yelling from downstairs, followed by the sound of splashes. Ten marched over to the ledge and yelled down towards the pool. “What the hell is going on?”

Lucas looked up and waved. He, the other models and some other guest had stripped down to their underwear and jumped into the pool. “The water looked too inviting to pass up the opportunity for a nighttime dip. Come on down and join us, you know you want to.” Lucas floated on his back, his wet and defined torso visible from a story up.

“Damn, he’s so fucking hot.” Ten shook his head as he muttered just loud enough for Taeyong to hear. “Let me change, and then I’ll be down,” he yelled back. He turned to Taeyong. “Are you going to join?”

“I didn’t bring a swimsuit,” Taeyong replied.

“Neither did they.”

“I’ll pass.” There is no way these people will see you in your underwear next to those hot guys, Taeyong’s insecurity told him.

“Well, maybe next time.”

“Next time?”

“Were you planning on never stepping foot here again after tonight? I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, but I’d like it if you did. As Jaehyun’s boyfriend, you’re a part of the group now. For better and worse.” Ten pat Taeyong on the shoulder and head inside toward his bedroom to change for the pool.

Taeyong went back downstairs to find Jaehyun with Mark. He took a deep breath and prepared for yet another bewildered reaction to his presence. “I hope that’s water in that cup, because you know I can’t drive.”

Jaehyun looked up to greet him. “It is, I know my limit. Taeyong, this is my cousin, Mark. Mark, this is Taeyong Lee, as you already know.”

“Wassup.” Mark nodded. His mild reaction was a welcome change of pace from the prior events of the evening.

“Nice to meet you,” Taeyong smiled. “I have a cousin around your age too, Haechan. He also goes to U. Verona. Do you know him?”

“Yeah, I know him. We went to all the same prep schools growing up. He was the bane of my existence back then. Now, we’re… civil, I guess.” Mark knew Haechan would flip out if he exposed them to their cousins, and the last thing they needed these days was to have yet another argument about their relationship.

“Maybe we should all get together sometime?” Taeyong suggested.

“I don’t think he’d want to associate with. What was it he used to call me growing up? Oh yeah, Jung scum.”  

“Donghyuck only buys into the family feud to score points with my father, and now that father is trying to de-escalate things, he’s on a different track,” Taeyong explained. “He isn’t that bad at all once you get to know him. Who knows, you might hit it off and become good friends?”

You have no idea, Mark thought to himself.

Robe-clad Ten came down the stairs. “Time to make a splash ,” he announced before marching out to the pool.

“We gotta go see this,” Mark said to Jaehyun and Taeyong, as they followed Ten outside. Mark whipped out his phone to record Ten as he dropped his robe to reveal his Fendi print speedo.   He strutted around to the edge of the far end, turned and did a backflip into the pool. “Oh nice,” Mark complimented.

Ten swam over to Lucas and whispered something into his, to which Lucas responded with a grin. They made their way out of the pool. “Hey Mark,” Ten called, “pass your phone to Jaehyun.” Jaehyun, anticipating what was about to occur, took Mark’s phone. “And your wallet.”

“My wallet?” Mark asked leery. Lucas patted him down and swiped it out of his back pocket, then scooped him up and threw him over his shoulder. “No no no no,” Mark screamed. “What are you doing? Put me down!” While he flailed in the air, Ten pulled his shoes off his feet. Then Lucas pivoted and threw Mark into the pool. Jaehyun cackled while recording the whole thing.

“He should have seen that coming,” Taeyong laughed.

“Mark is slow on the uptake,” Jaehyun responded. “Quick, let’s get out of range before they target us next.” He tossed Mark’s phone on one of the lounge chairs and pulled Taeyong away. They went down the steps to the lower terrace on the other side of the pool. The long glass side of the pool was behind them, giving them a view of legs treading water.

“What happened to Sicheng?” Taeyong asked, realizing he hadn’t seen him since he went in with Ten.

“He went home. Sorry he was being a dick earlier. I never expected him to go off like that.”

“It’s fine. Ten explained it to me,” Taeyong reassured. “Are we so obvious that people figure out the real deal the instant they see us together?”

“No, Ten and Winwin are just astute and read people well. No one else has said anything about us.”

“Sicheng seemed upset about the Joy thing. Do you think he’ll tell her?”

“He won’t, not before we finish our project and make it a success. And even then, he doesn’t have a particular affinity for her so he has no reason to tell her. But while we’re on the Joy thing…” Jaehyun thought, considering the events of the day, now was the time to address the elephant in the room. “I think it’s time to nip that in the bud. Using her as cover almost backfired and we don’t need her anymore.”

“I don’t know. I think tonight proved that people find us suspect and will try to connect the dots. Having at least one of us romantically linked to a woman provides plausible deniability,” Taeyong argued.

Taeyong’s reluctance surprised Jaehyun. “Maybe I could pull it off; people already stereotype me as a playboy lady killer. But you… can’t.”

“Are you saying I’m not a convincing straight guy?”

“You look like you want to throw yourself out the nearest window when you have to be affectionate with her. She thinks you’re shy and a gentleman for now, but she’ll want more than you can give her and your lack of attraction to her will just get more evident as time progresses and your ‘relationship’ gets more ‘serious.’”

“I wouldn’t take it that far, just long enough it’ll look like I gave it a real go, and it just didn’t work out. I also feel sorry for her. She’s a good person who’s taken a lot of hits to her self-esteem from men and her own parents. If I dump her now, I’ll be striking another blow.”

“I don’t think you can help that, break-ups suck. You also can’t feel guilty for not being interested in her; it’s not wrong. Her self-esteem isn’t your responsibility. She should go to the therapy or something.” Jaehyun sighed, “I get you’re conflicted and don’t want to hurt her, but it’ll only get harder to avoid the longer you wait.”

Taeyong understood that what Jaehyun said was true, but he still felt apprehensive about pulling the plug on Joy. But he also knew that it was unfair to Jaehyun and that he would have to end things with her if he wanted a future with him. He needed to find a middle ground solution. “Maybe if I got her to break up with me it could be a boost for her? She would feel like I wasn’t good enough for her rather than the other way around. It could also elevate her profile and other guys could take an interest in her and not see her as like defective?”

“How would you do that?”

“Continue to give an unconvincing performance, I guess. If we reach a plateau, she’ll get bored and have to call things off,” Taeyong reasoned.

“Maybe, but she could still think something was wrong with her if she doesn’t have someone telling her she’s too good for you.”

Taeyong mulled it over then an idea struck him. “You could be that person!”

“Me?”

“Yeah. You work with her, she already confides in you. She knows that you know me now. You can trash me to her. I’m sure Sicheng will join in to help. We could also throw some straight guys into her orbit. I have one cousin I could foist her on, Gongmyung.” Jaehyun choked on air at the mention of the name. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Jaehyun coughed to clear his throat. “It’s just, doesn’t Gongmyung have a reputation as a player? We want to give her a boost onto bigger and better things, not send her spiraling into the gutter. Jinki is nice, single, and straight. Throw her his way.”

“Do you think Joy is the type that would date a bodyguard? We need to find an executive.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes to get her out of the way. Except homicide. Not that I was thinking of that.”

“Uh, okay?” Taeyong said with nervous laughter.

Water splashed down over the side of the pool, drawing their attention upward to Ten’s butt cheeks pressed against the glass. Lucas was closed in on him, sucking on his neck. “Well, I guess it’s time to go,” Jaehyun laughed.

“Why?”

“When Ten gets horny, it goes down . All over the place. Not just in front, but on top of your salad. You don’t want to witness it.”

On cue, Ten yelled out, “I can’t take it anymore! For those faint of heart, get out now.” Knowing what was coming next, everyone got out of the pool, toweled off, and made their way to the door as Lucas threw Ten down on a chaise and pulled his speedo off.

“Don’t look, Tae.” Jaehyun shielded Taeyong’s eyes as he led him to the door. “See ya later, Ten,” he yelled behind him as everyone scurried out. All he could hear in response was guttural moans and a chorus of vulgarity as Ten and Lucas tore into each other in carnal pleasure.

They made it back to Jaehyun’s car, got in, and waited for the other cars to clear the drive. “That wasn’t quite what I imagined it would be,” Taeyong said.

“Did you have a bad time?” Jaehyun asked, embarrassed that his friends were too much.

“No, I had a good time. Your friends are so full of life, even Sicheng, and I love it.”

“I love you,” Jaehyun said as he leaned over to kiss Taeyong, shielded by tints.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Mom,” Jaehyun greeted his mother, Yoona, with a kiss on the cheek. She was sitting outside on the terrace, still in her silk nightgown and robe, enjoying her breakfast alfresco while sorting through the mail. “Anything for me?”

“Are you expecting something?” she inquired without glancing up from the stack of letters and advertisements.

“You never know what surprises await you in the mailbox.”

“How right you are,” Yoona said as she paused holding up a red envelope with a golden wax seal. She broke it open to read its contents.

“What’s that?” Jaehyun asked.

“Tickets to the House of Young show Friday night.”

“Isn’t that Tiffany Lee’s fashion label? She invited you?”

“Not just me, but you, your father, and Mark. There are four tickets here,” Yoona clarified.

“That’s surprising. What drove her to want to invite us?”

“I went to her store the other day for a chat.”

“About what?” Jaehyun asked as one of their kitchen staff brought out a plate of toast and a cup of coffee for him.

“We used to be close friends before we got married and the tension between your father and Jaejoong spilled over onto us. But since they seem on better terms now, I thought it would be best that we do the same. Is that all you’re eating?” Yoona looked with concern at Jaehyun’s light plate.

“I don’t like to have a big breakfast when I have a busy day ahead of me,” he responded.

“More reason for you to eat a good meal to keep your energy up. At least have an egg or a protein shake with that,” Yoona implored.

“I’m fine, Mom,” Jaehyun assured. “Good thing I caught you this morning. I have news to announce.”

Yoona put the stack of mail aside to give her son her full attention. “What is it?”

“I’m moving out.”

“Moving out?” his mother asked with surprise. “When did you decide this?”

“I’ve considered it for a while now, but started looking last week and I found a great two-bed, two-bath unit in a new building. I can move in next week.”

“Next week? That’s sudden.” Concern came across Yoona’s face. “Are you feeling okay?” 

“Yeah,” Jaehyun said perplexed, “why do you ask?”

“It’s rather impulsive…”

Jaehyun picked up on what his mother was inferring and protested, “It’s not like that.”

“We need to discuss this with your father before you make a brash decision--”

“There’s nothing to discuss. I already signed the lease; it’s a done deal.”

“Jaehyun,” Yoona sighed. “You shouldn’t have done that without consulting your father and I first.”

“The conservatorship is over. I did everything that you required of me: finished school, started working at Montague, went to therapy, lived here. I have the legal right to make my own decisions now and you and Dad can’t stop me!”

Yoona raised her hands in surrender. “I didn’t mean to upset you and I’m not trying to re-institute the conservatorship. It served its purpose in getting you back on track. But you’ve been on track before then backslid, like a few months ago when you neglected your obligations at Montague ran away to Sycamore Grove, without a word, for days.”

“It was only five days, and I planned on coming back. I just needed a breather,” Jaehyun said in defense.

“You ‘needed a breather’ five years ago, that lasted a year, and if it weren’t for Key, you wouldn’t have come back.” Yoona’s voice caught on those last words and her eyes got misty recalling that dark chapter when she thought she had lost her son for good.

Jaehyun reached out to take his mother’s hands in reassurance. “I’m not in that place anymore, and I’m never going back. Mom, I’m thrilled right now! Things are on an upswing at Montague, which has helped things get better between Dad and I, and I even found someon--” Jaehyun feigned a coughing fit to mask him revealing that he was dating someone.

“Are you alright?” Yoona asked.

“Yeah, a piece of grain or something got caught in my throat. Anyway, I meant to say I found some inner peace. I just want to live into my newfound independence, live in the city, enjoy being young with a carefree heart. I don’t need your permission, but it would make me happy if I had your blessing.”

His mother’s face softened as she considered what her son had told her. “How nice is this place?”

“Very nice,” Jaehyun smiled as he took out his phone to show her pictures. “It’s in that new vertical forest building, The Giulietta on Rose Hill,” he said as he scrolled through pictures of the apartment.

“Oh, that is nice. It’s a two bedroom, right?” Yoona asked with a wink.

“Don’t get any ideas. I don’t need a roommate.”

“You still need to join us for Sunday dinner, and call me once a week. If I don’t hear from you, I reserve the right to drop by unannounced.”

“I’ll call you everyday then.”

Yoona gave his hand a light slap. “A good son should adore his mother the way she adores him.”

“I do and always will.”

“Look at the time, you should get going. I know you have a lot of work to do and I have to meet Kyungsoo to sign a contract.”

“You took that role? That’s great! People ask me all the time when your next movie is premiering.”

“Yes, I did it as a favor to Kyungsoo. The production schedule is tight, so I’ll be leaving in two weeks to film for a month. I don’t like the idea now of my boys being separated, left to their own devices for that long.”

“We work at Montague together, we’ll see each other daily.”

“Good, watch out for each other.”

“Okay, yeah?” That’s cryptic , Jaehyun thought to himself. “We can survive a month without you, we’re big boys.”

“Gee, you make me sound so disposable.”

“You aren’t, you’re our guiding light. I know that I couldn’t live without you, and Dad and Mark feel the same. But, we can stay on course while you do what you love,” Jaehyun assured.

Yoona hugged her son. “I’d give my life for you,” she said. It was their own version of I love you .

“And my life for you,” Jaehyun said in return.                                                                                                                                                                                                 


“What do you think of this?” Joy asked after placing a shiny, black triangular pyramid before him.

“I think it’s a tetrahedron,” he responded. “What is it for?”

“It’s the concept for the body of CipherHome . The three faces represent the three faced goddess Hecate draws its name from. It also symbolizes the three points of time: past, present, and future, the concepts that inform Hecate’s AI.”

“I think it’s brilliant,” Jaehyun chimed as he came into the office. “It’s different from other designs on the market and the aesthetic reinforces the concept through and through.”

“As all good design should do.” Joy beamed. “The Cipher phone model looks good. So sleek, that titanium alloy was a nice touch, Sicheng.”

“It’s what I’m here for,” he replied with a half smile.

From a professional standpoint, Joy was a great colleague and partner. She worked hard, brought so much expertise to the table, and they collaborated well together. Jaehyun would call her his friend, if not for the fact they were both infatuated with the same man. Worse still Jaehyun had to live with the guilt in knowing Taeyong reciprocated his feelings and not hers.

From Joy’s perspective, there wasn’t a hurdle for her to overcome in calling Jaehyun her friend; she thought of him as one in her blissful ignorance. She was even more keen on ingratiating herself to him after learning he was “friends” with Taeyong. Joy saw Jaehyun, and Sicheng to an extent, as the keys to cracking the inner workings of Taeyong’s mind and deepening their connection. “To shift topics, it’s Fashion Week! Are you guys going to any shows?” she asked in the spirit of collegiality.

“I found out this morning in a surprise twist Tiffany invited my family to the House of Young show,” Jaehyun announced. “Probably the first time the Jungs were ever invited to a Lee-sponsored event.”

“Oh, you’re going? I’ll be there with Taeyong.”

“I have tickets to that show too,” Sicheng said.

“This will be so fun! All of us enjoying the experience together, my friends and my boyfriend.”

“Oh I know ,” Sicheng mimicked Joy’s excitement in a mocking tone. “It’ll be so much fun.” He smirked at Jaehyun who shot a death glare in response. “Say, how’s it going with Taeyong? You two do the deed yet?”

“What the hell kind of question is that to ask in the workplace, Sicheng?” This little shit-stirrer, Jaehyun thought to himself.

“It’s water cooler talk amongst friends ,” Sicheng said in his defense. “You don’t have to answer the question if you feel it’s out of line.”

“No, it’s fine. I mean, we haven’t gotten... intimate... but it’s kinda early for that, in our relationship, don’t you think?”

“It’s been like what? Three months since you started dating? I don’t think that’s too early for sex, but it’s different for everyone. Anytime is the right time as long as you’re feeling him and he’s feeling you. He is feeling you, right?” Sicheng asked.

Joy sighed. “I don’t know. He’s hard to read. He’s kind, caring, and attentive but seems so unsure of himself and nervous I guess is the best way to describe it. It’s like he doesn’t know what to do with me.”

“Jaehyun introduced me to him for the first time the other night at our friend Ten’s house and I know what you mean. Seemed a little... limp noodle ,” Sicheng said while going limp wrist.

“What?” Joy scrunched up her face.

“Not limp as in gay , but rather limp as in impotent .”

“Wow, that’s so much less insulting,” Jaehyun said with sarcasm oozing from his words.

“Do you have any insights on Taeyong’s virility to share with us, Jaehyun? You seem to know him pretty well.”

“I know nothing about his ‘virility,’ but I will say that you shouldn’t have to guess whether he finds you attractive. It should be clear in his actions. I mean, you’re gorgeous. What kind of man wouldn’t be attracted to you?”

“The kind that doesn’t prefer women,” Sicheng said. Jaehyun stared daggers at him.

“We also have had little alone time, and he’s very passive. Maybe the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself?” Joy posited.

“Speaking as a guy, if we want something bad enough, we’ll do whatever it takes to make an opportunity to have it. Maybe he just isn’t the one?” Jaehyun put the idea out there to sow seeds of doubt in Joy’s mind.

“Or, if Taeyong is so passive, he’s just waiting for you to create the opportunity and make a bold first move,” Sicheng countered. “It’s the twenty-first century, use your girl power and take control. Seduce him . He’ll either accept or reject you and then you will no longer be in the grey on the matter.”

“That is a horrible idea,” Jaehyun protested. “Don’t listen to him.”

“Sicheng is right,” Joy said. “You both are. Like you said Jaehyun, Taeyong’s actions will communicate how he feels, but I need to do as Sicheng said and put myself out there on the line and see if he bites or not. Thanks guys, you’ve been such a help! Oh, I have to meet with the optical guy about camera specs for the facial recognition features. Maybe I can thank you with lunch?”

Sicheng accepted the offer. “I’d love that.”

“Sorry, I already have plans. I have business to handle for my new apartment.” The last thing Jaehyun wanted to do was endure an uncomfortable lunch with those two.

“Aw, well we’ll try not to have too much fun without you,” Joy said. “See ya later, boys!”

“See ya,” Jaehyun waved, then turned to Sicheng. “You’re such a little shit, you know that? Were you trying to expose Taeyong to her?”

“I enjoy watching you squirm a little. It’s delicious. And don’t act like you weren’t trying to manipulate her into dumping him with that ‘maybe he’s not the one’ line. If you paid attention, you would realize that I was helping you. If she comes onto Taeyong, and he rebuffs her, she’ll get the hint he’s just not that into her and will leave him alone. She’s not stupid.”

“Just don’t give her anything to read into. No more gay innuendos.”

“Whatever you say, boss. So what’s this about a new apartment? Things not going well at Casa de Jung?”

“Things are fine at home. I just want my space and privacy.”

“Yes, to entertain your forbidden lover ,” Sicheng teased.

“Shut up and get back to business. I’m not paying you to work my nerves.”


The elevator doors opened and Haechan swaggered out into the familiar hallway leading to Mark’s apartment. Mark’s persistent and urgent messages for Haechan to leave the office in the middle of a workday to meet at his apartment only meant one thing: Mark was horny and wanted to fuck. He welcomed the booty call. It had been a stressful day preparing for Taeyong’s presentation for his Art of Living marketing campaign. Haechan needed the stress relief. He knocked on Mark’s door then leaned, arms spread across the threshold. When Mark opened the door, he greeted him with a mischievous expression. “So what’s good?”

“Come in.” Mark’s countenance lacked enthusiasm, but Haechan shrugged it off and entered.

“Your texts read as urgent, so I came by as soon as I could. You didn’t say what you needed to see me for, but I have a good idea.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah,” Haechan smirked, “I do.” He leaned in for a kiss.

Mark turned his head. “Have a seat.”

“Okay…” the order caught Haechan off guard, but he complied and took a seat on the couch. Mark sat down in an armchair opposite him across the coffee table. They sat in a moment of silence, staring at each other, before Haechan gestured to Mark. “You have something to tell me?”

“You forgot to take out the trash.”

“Huh?” Haechan scrunched his face into a quizzical look. “When did it become my responsibility to take out the trash? I don’t live here.”

“I’m talking about the trash folder in my email. You forgot to clear it after you went digging through my inbox and forwarded every email pertaining to my research on MacBeth and the Parks to yourself you fucking underhanded, little bastard!” Mark’s voice rose in an abrupt crescendo.

“I don’t know what you’re screaming at me for because that wasn’t—”

“It wasn’t what? Not what it seemed? It wasn’t you? Here, let me refresh your memory.” Mark got up, plopped down beside Haechan with his phone opened to his work email, and scrolled through the forwarded messages. “See these? A dozen emails all going to leedonghyuck@capuletgroup.com . When covering your tracks after snooping you don’t just delete the messages out of the sent folder, you also have to clear them out of the trash. Weren’t you your uncle’s big bad cleanup guy, or did you have other people do the actual dirty work while you played gangster?”

“I get you’re pissed off but watch your fucking mouth,” Haechan threatened.

“I’ll talk to you however the fuck I want!”

“No, you need to calm down. I was just following up on the lead that you gave me and needed some info to start my research. So what?”

So what? You’re going to sit there and act like I don’t have the right to be angry at you for not only invading my privacy, but stealing information that pertained to an acquisition our companies were competing for? There are levels to this fuckery.”

Haechan shrugged. “ Steal is a strong word. I didn’t hack into your email or even your phone. You left it unlocked. And it wasn’t classified information nor was it substantial; I still had to do some digging. Besides, Montague came out on top, so no harm, no foul.”

“Yeah, the Parks accepted our deal, after Capulet withdrew their offer. Funny how that happened right after your snooping around.”

“Look on the bright side, Montague’s company stock value doubled when the news broke and is still rising. You have a bright future now so you should be thanking me.”

“I should thank you?” Mark burst out into laughter in response to Haechan’s audacity in letting those words fall from his lips. “Tell me: what did the Parks do that was damning enough for Jaejoong to decide against doing business with them?”

“Why are you asking me? It’s right there in the emails.”

“You just said that those emails weren’t substantial enough. If you have even the slightest desire to make this right, you’ll tell me the dirt you dug up on the Parks. It’s the least you could do.”

“It’s not dirt and I’m not at liberty to tell you—”

“Tell me: what did you find out about the Parks that was damning enough to get Jaejoong to back out entirely from doing business with them?”

“Why are you asking me? It’s right there in the emails.”

“You just said that those emails weren’t substantial enough. If you have even the slightest desire to make this right, you’ll tell me the dirt you dug up on the Parks. It’s the least you could do.”

“It’s not exactly dirt and I’m not at liberty to tell you--”

“Don’t start trying to feed me some bullshit about confidentiality after what you did.” Mark tried to bore holes through Haechan with his glare, but Haechan was unmoved. “My suspicions were correct, weren’t they? The Parks plotted the takeovers of those companies? They took out those CEOs?”

“I didn’t find concrete evidence they were behind what happened to those CEOs but—” 

“Now it makes sense why CG backed out. You all were setting us up.” Mark’s jaw clenched.

“Hold on, it wasn’t a setup. It was in our own best interest. How could we let corporate raiders into our ranks?”

“Corporate raiders? You knew the Parks are corporate raiders and said nothing to me? What the fuck, man!”

“I thought you had figured it out and knew what you were getting into. Anyway, Montague is too big and loyal to the Jung family name for two small time outsiders like Leeteuk and Sunny Park to come in and takeover. And now that you know, you’ll be extra careful with them. Focus on all the IPs you gained and how you are building your company back up. Now, let’s kiss and make-up,” Haechan smiled. He believed that he could smooth talk his way back into Mark’s good graces with his pride intact.

“Get out,” Mark ordered.

“Babe, come on. We both know you don’t want me to leave.”

“Get the fuck out of my apartment!”  

“Fine, I’ll give you some time to cool down. Then, when you’re ready to work things out—”

“Who said I want to work things out?” 

Haechan paused, his anxiety rising. “Are you dumping me?”

“Do I have a reason not to?”

“Over fucking emails?”

“No, not over emails. Over the fact you’ve invaded my privacy multiple times. I can’t trust you.”

“Multiple times? I went through your phone once.” 

“Did you forget going through my texts from Ten?”

“I only saw them because they came in when I was going through your email. I never intended to look at them, so I’m guilty of snooping one time.”

Mark started to go in on him again but held his tongue. “Just leave. Don’t call me, don’t text me, don’t knock on my door. Just leave me alone.” Mark showed Haechan the door.

Haechan smirked. “Okay, have it your way. When you’re feeling lonely, you’ll be calling me again.”

“Or maybe I’ll give Ten a call instead,” Mark quipped. Haechan narrowed his gaze and glared. Mark shut the door in his face. Haechan gave the door a sharp kick then stormed off.