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It happens at the first showcase of the summer — this one isn’t for students, just Chan and Soonyoung and a few other dancers from the team. Chan and Soonyoung choreographed their own solo dances, and worked together for a duet. Honestly, none of it was anything exciting, but they’d worked hard on it anyway.

Chan goes to find Soonyoung after his solo performance — he’d gotten waylaid by Hayeon hugging him, and then Seoyeon wanted to give him flowers, and before he knew it he’d lost Soonyoung completely.

Soonyoung’s talking to someone in a neatly pressed suit when Chan finally tracks him down, smiling and accepting his card, and Chan only catches the tail end of their conversation before the man walks away.

“… after you’ve considered the offer.”

“I won’t, but thank you.”

“Who was that?” Chan asks, watching the main fade into the distance before focusing back on Soonyoung. Soonyoung shrugs dismissively, crumpling the card in his fist. “Hyung?” Chan asks, when Soonyoung doesn't say anything more.

“It was nothing,” Soonyoung says. Chan frowns.

“What was the offer?” he asks, too curious to let Soonyoung drop it.

“Just a job,” Soonyoung says. “It doesn’t matter, I told him no.”

“What type of job?” Chan asks slowly, pretty sure he already knows.

“In-house choreographer for the groups under their label,” Soonyoung says, finally making eye contact, and Chan’s breath catches in his throat.

“Oh,” he says. There’s a sense of dread overtaking him, but he can’t pinpoint the cause.

“I said no,” Soonyoung says, weirdly insistent. “Chan-ah. I said no, okay? It doesn’t matter.”

It does matter, but Chan doesn’t know how to explain why. There are people all around them, milling aimlessly, calling out to each other. It isn’t the place for Chan to feel like this, like his chest is caving in on itself.

“Okay,” he says, lips numb. He forces them into a smile.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Myeongjin’s waiting outside the studio when Chan arrives the next Saturday, even though it’s still hours before any of their classes start. It isn’t surprising, but Chan makes a show of shaking his head nonetheless.

“Myeongjin-ah!” he calls, and her head whips up, searching for the source of the sound before finally resting on Chan’s face. She gives him a little wave, but doesn’t move otherwise.

“You’re so early today,” he comments when he’s close enough for her to hear. Myeongjin shrugs.

“Nowhere better to be,” she says, which definitely isn’t true. She’s fourteen years old — there have to be other ways for her to spend her time. Today’s Saturday, sure, but sometimes Myeongjin shows up early on weekdays, too. Chan doesn’t know what school Myeongjin goes to, but he’s pretty sure it doesn’t end at 1 P.M.

But then, when Chan was fourteen he didn’t want to do anything but dance, either, and he’d rather Myeongjin spend her free time here, where someone’s keeping an eye on her, than wherever else she might end up.

“You want to hang out while I get ready?” Chan asks, not bothering to wait for an answer. He gestures for her to follow him up the stairs and Myeongjin finally stands up from her crouch, dusting off her track pants and trailing behind Chan as he makes his way to the second floor.

He tests the door, never sure if Soonyoung has arrived before him or not — it’s always a toss-up between the two of them. Today the door doesn’t budge — Chan’s first. He keys in the code and lets Myeongjin trail in behind him.

“Warm up first,” he reminds her when Myeongjin immediately pulls off her hoodie and walks towards the first practice room.

“I know!” she calls, and Chan smiles to himself, booting up the ancient computer they use for scheduling.

Myeongjin’s already got the music blasting by the time Chan makes it into the practice room. He watches her for a moment without saying anything, eyes critical. Myeongjin’s his best student, and if she’s going to practice by herself he can’t let her start any bad habits.

“Watch your posture,” he says as soon as the music ends. Myeongjin grimaces, clearly aware of the issue. “Use momentum, not your core strength. You’ll throw out your back.”

“Ugh,” Myeongjin groans, flinging herself to the floor.

“That’s not gonna help,” Chan says, smiling a little when Myeongjin’s complaining sounds just get louder.

Chan leaves her with a list of weak spots to work on and she’s still practicing when Soonyoung shows up an hour later, two drinks in his hand and a spring in his step.

“Myeongjin again?” he asks, not even bothering to look into the practice room. Soonyoung rubs his hand up Chan’s arm in greeting, and Chan tries not to shiver.

“Always,” Chan laughs, accepting his iced tea with a nod of thanks.

The day goes quickly after that, Myeongjin hanging around even after her class finishes, silently watching Chan and Soonyoung practice with the rest of the crew from the back of the room.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Okay, that’s good, right?” Soonyoung says, breathing heavily with exertion. Their faces are very close. Chan is trying very hard not to think about all the places they’re touching, Soonyoung practically sitting in his lap.

“I think so,” he nods, and Soonyoung’s serious expression melts away immediately, a bright laugh taking its place. He stands up and brushes himself off, helping Chan off the chair.

“Sucks that you can’t find a real partner for this,” Chan says. “You could do it at the next showcase.”

Chan’s been working on something new, too. He works best when he’s teaching, so Hansol’s been coming to mess around in the studio with him, letting Chan take him through it step-by-step. But the dance doesn’t need a partner — not the way Soonyoung’s does.

“Eh,” Soonyoung shrugs, smile fading a little as he reaches for his water bottle. “There’ll be another chance.”

He doesn’t sound particularly committed to the idea, though. Chan frowns — it isn’t like Soonyoung to give up so easily.

“Really,” he says, not letting the subject drop. “I know Jiyu-noona can’t do it, but she and Seoyeon-noona have a lot of friends. I bet one of them could help.”

Soonyoung shakes his head, plastering a smile on his face.

“Aww, Channie-yah,” he coos, reaching over to pinch one of Chan’s cheeks. Chan winces, dodging him as best he can. “My sweet, helpful dongsaeng. Don’t worry about it, okay?”

Chan tastes something bitter in his mouth, but he smiles through it.

“Alright,” he says. “Just let me know if you change your mind.”

Soonyoung’s answering nod is dismissive, his mind clearly somewhere else. Chan tries not to let it sting.

 

 

 


 

 

 

They meet Seungkwan and Hansol for drinks after work. It’s late, but Seungkwan shows up dragging Mingyu and Jeonghan behind him, Jeonghan dragging Seokmin in turn.

Seungkwan makes a point to include him, these days. It’s nice, Chan thinks, as they argue over how to split the bill on their way out. He’s never had this many friends before, as pathetic as that sounds. First he was a trainee, and then he was miserable, and now he just always has work. He makes the time when Seungkwan asks, though. It’s hard to say no to Seungkwan.

“Carry me home!” Soonyoung yells barely a minute into the walk home, flinging an arm dramatically around Chan’s shoulders.

“Hyung, really?” Chan laughs, trying uselessly to shrug him off. It’s late, but it’s not that late — Soonyoung didn’t even have that much to drink. Chan doesn’t know why he’s acting like this.

“Yes,” Soonyoung whines, his cheek pressed up against Chan’s. It’s sloppy and a little uncomfortable, Soonyoung’s face already damp with sweat. Chan likes it anyway.

He hopes it doesn’t show on his face.

Probably no one would notice — Chan’s the least inebriated person in the group by a mile. Soonyoung’s exuberant but not completely wasted, which is better than he can say for anyone else — Seokmin has draped himself over Jeonghan, laughing hysterically, and Mingyu is trailing behind them, talking very loudly even though no one appears to be paying him any attention. Seungkwan is giggling into Hansol’s shoulder, their arms linked neatly like Hansol’s his date to the school dance.

It’s loud, chaotic the way any outing that includes both Seokmin and Soonyoung always is. No one is looking at the way Soonyoung’s nuzzling into Chan’s neck, and they’re definitely not listening to anything Soonyoung is saying.

“I’m tired,” Soonyoung moans, when Chan still hasn’t responded. He stumbles to a stop, heaving out a sigh, and holds out his arms beseechingly. “Chan-ah! Carry me!”

Well, now everyone is looking at them, Seokmin bumping into Jeonghan’s back as he stumbles to a stop. Hansol comes up neatly behind them, Seungkwan’s head poking out curiously from around his arm.

“Fine,” Chan sighs, long-suffering and dramatic, playing it up for their audience. He turns around and squats down so Soonyoung can climb on.

Soonyoung’s heavy, which Chan was expecting, and careful, which Chan was not. His limbs are long enough to make it awkward, either way, and Chan huffs as he hitches him up until they’re both comfortable — or as comfortable as they’re going to get, anyway.

Soonyoung tucks his face neatly back into Chan’s neck, sighing happily. He smells like sweat and barbecue, and it’s making Chan feel kind of crazy.

“My sweet dongsaeng,” Soonyoung sing-songs, right into Chan’s ear. Chan’s hands tighten around Soonyoung’s thighs, grip firm. Soonyoung hums happily. Chan thinks he might die.

“You two are so cute,” Seungkwan coos, coming up behind them. His hand is still wrapped around Hansol’s arm. Chan can feel his ears turning red; he utters a silent prayer that no one can see in the darkness.

“Ah, this hyung,” he mutters, pausing to hitch Soonyoung up again. He can feel Soonyoung smiling against his neck.

He pointedly ignores the way Seungkwan’s trying to catch his eye when they part ways. Soonyoung’s only a few blocks away from Chan, it’s not like he’s going that far out of his way, and anyway, what does Seungkwan know?

Chan would go a lot farther, probably, but that’s not something he really wants to think about right now. Not when Soonyoung is breathing right into his ear, giving him directions every 20 seconds as though Chan hasn’t made this exact trip dozens of times.

Chan carries Soonyoung all the way back to his apartment like that — Soonyoung’s breath hot against the shell of Chan’s ear, his heartbeat pressed right up to Chan’s back.

It’s a struggle with the door to Soonyoung’s apartment, and an even bigger struggle up the stairs, Soonyoung clinging tight to Chan’s neck when Chan tries to shrug him off before he starts to climb.

“You owe me for this,” he mutters, keying in the code for Soonyoung’s door and shouldering his way inside.

“Is my love not enough?” Soonyoung whines, but he lets Chan set him back on his feet so they can both take off their shoes.

Chan raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“You call this your love?” he asks, still a little out of breath. He’s in shape, but Soonyoung is taller than him, and heavy. He’ll regret this tomorrow, he knows; he can already feel the strain in his arms and shoulders.

“Of course, Channie-yah,” Soonyoung says, draping a heavy arm around his shoulders. Chan’s breath catches, inexplicably. He pushes past it and finds it in himself to laugh, a breathy exhale, as he shrugs off Soonyoung’s arm.

“Go brush your teeth, hyung,” Chan says, when he’s breathing normally again. He tries to push Soonyoung towards the bathroom, but Soonyoung doesn’t budge. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Get some rest.”

“No, stay,” Soonyoung whines. He says it in the exact same voice he’d used to beg Chan for a piggyback ride home, exaggerated and cute, but it feels different when it’s just the two of them, alone in the quiet dark.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, hyung,” Chan says quietly, eyes on the wall. He doesn’t let himself look over. Soonyoung’s always so open, everything he’s thinking written all over his face, and Chan doesn’t want to know what he’s thinking about this. Doesn’t want to know if there’s really something else behind Soonyoung’s words, or if Chan is the only one who can feel it.

It isn’t fair of him to ask, either way.

“Alright,” Soonyoung says, punctuating it with a dramatic sniff. Chan risks a glance his way, but Soonyoung just looks … normal. A little sweaty, a little ruffled, but his mouth is curved around an easy smile. There’s nothing hidden in his expression, or if there is Chan’s too stupid to find it.

“Good night,” Chan says, and Soonyoung echoes it with a weird little wave. Chan smiles, fumbling his shoes back on, and sends his own wave back as he closes the door behind him.

Hansol’s alone in the kitchen when Chan gets home, devouring a pizza in semi-darkness.

“Soonyoung get home okay?” he asks, muffled by a mouthful of cheese.

Chan sends him a thumbs-up and Hansol nods in response, looking satisfied. That might just be the carbs, though.

“Is Seungkwan still here?” Chan asks — a stupid question. Seungkwan’s almost always here. Hansol nods again, gesturing towards his room with his head.

“Have a good night, then,” Chan says awkwardly, moving past Hansol to grab a bottle of water from the fridge.

“You too,” Hansol says, finally swallowing the last of the pizza.

Chan smiles and retreats into his quiet room, alone.

 

 

 


 

 

 

The studio isn’t open for classes on Sundays, but when Chan shows up in the early afternoon Myeongjin’s sitting there again, waiting.

“Myeongjin-ah,” he says quietly, nudging her foot with his toe. She looks up from where she’d been tapping determinedly at her phone screen. “Shouldn’t you be at home?” Chan asks, when she just looks at him.

“The showcase is in two weeks,” Myeongjin says, the stubborn tilt of her chin so familiar Chan almost wants to laugh.

“There’s going to be four of you performing,” Chan reminds her as they tramp up the dirty staircase to the studio. “It’s not always useful to practice alone.”

Myeongjin shrugs as Chan unlocks the door.

“Jeongin’s babysitting,” she says. “And Yinyi has to study, she has that big exam coming up at her academy.”

“What about Soojung?” Chan asks, letting Myeongjin follow him into the studio.

“Soojung’s stalking Twice again,” Myeongjin says, heaving out a deeply judgmental sigh, punctuated with an impressive eye-roll. Chan lets out a chuckle — of course she is.

“Ah,” he says. “I should have guessed.”

Myeongjin only rolls her eyes again, making her thoughts on the subject clear. As soon as the studio door is open, she pushes past him and heads towards the practice room.

“One hour only!” Chan calls after her. “After that, you’re done for today! Your body needs rest!”

“You should take your own advice.”

Chan stiffens in surprise at the voice coming from behind him.

“Hyung!” he laughs, a little breathless, whirling around to find Soonyoung standing there, smiling like he’s gotten away with something. “When did you get here?”

“Just now,” Soonyoung laughs, his bag dropping to the floor with a thump.

“I guess we’re both hypocrites, then,” Chan says. Soonyoung shrugs and nods easily.

“Want to run through the bridge again?” he asks, and Chan nods immediately.

The day passes in a haze. Jiyu and Seoyeon drop in for a few hours and then leave again, and at some point Soonyoung convinces Chan to make a convenience store run for kimbap. Mostly they just hang out in the practice room, stretching and then dancing and then stretching again. Working through some of Chan’s choreography, and then some of Soonyoung’s. It’s easy, familiar.

“There’s some people hanging out at Seokmin’s place, do you want to go?” Soonyoung asks as they’re packing up to leave, checking his phone with one hand while he digs around in his bag with the other.

“Again? Sure,” Chan responds, muffled by the towel he has pressed to his face. “Do we have to shower first?” he asks when he’s come back up for air.

Soonyoung grimaces, looking down at himself — he’s so sweaty he’s basically dripping.

“Ugh,” he frowns. “Probably.”

“Let’s hurry, then,” Chan says, shoulder bumping against Soonyoung’s companionably as he makes for the door. “Seokmin’s a lightweight, if we wait too long the party will already be over.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

The party — if you can call it that — isn’t over when they get there, but it’s definitely in full swing. Seokmin is red-faced and laughing hysterically, Jeonghan watching fondly and doing nothing at all to stop him.

“Soonyoung-hyung!” Seokmin bellows as soon as they’re seated, voice loud as ever. “Between me and Chan, who would you kiss?”

Chan flinches, then tries to cover it. Maybe coming here was a bad idea.

“Oh, what kind of question is that?” Soonyoung says, laughing, his whole face scrunched up with it. He seems so carefree, like it doesn’t matter at all; meanwhile Chan’s whole body is so tense his toes are curled with it. He takes a deep breath, forcing himself to relax.

“Channie, obviously!” Soonyoung shrieks joyously, flinging himself onto Chan with a dramatic kiss to the cheek.

Chan laughs, half out of helpless discomfort and half because it really is nice, having Soonyoung draped over him like this. He squawks when Soonyoung tries to get closer, shoves at him helplessly before submitting to a wet, smacking kiss on the cheek, whining dramatically the whole time like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.

Everyone laughs it off, then, and they move on to their next target, and soon nobody’s still thinking about it but Chan.

But later, when Soonyoung is putting on his jacket to go home, Chan can’t stop himself from asking.

“Hyung, why did you lie?”

Soonyoung’s entire face scrunches up with confusion.

“Lie about what?”

“You told Seokmin you’d kiss me,” Chan says. “I don’t understand why you lied.”

Soonyoung pauses with one shoe on, somehow still graceful even while balancing precariously against the door.

“Who said it was a lie?” he says, finally. Chan burns all over.

You did, he wants to say, but he doesn’t want it to turn into a fight. He wants Soonyoung to stop being unfair, that’s all. He doesn’t think that’s too much to ask.

“Don’t talk like that” is all Chan manages. “It isn’t fair.”

Soonyoung stares at him a moment longer, nodding slowly, still easing his foot into his other shoe.

“Alright,” he says quietly. His voice sounds very careful, at odds with his usual demeanour. Chan doesn’t like it. “Can you get home okay by yourself?”

It’s a weird question — of course Chan can get home. He’s an adult, and he’s barely been drinking, and he lives barely six blocks away. Chan frowns and nods.

“I’ll leave whenever Hansol and Seungkwan leave,” he says. Soonyoung nods like this puts him at ease, which just confuses Chan even more.

“Text me when you’re home?” Soonyoung asks.

“Sure,” Chan says, and then, mainly to be polite, “you too.”

Soonyoung laughs for the first time since they started this horrible conversation, but Chan doesn’t really know what’s funny.

“Alright, Channie,” he says. “I will.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Myeongjin usually stays after class, always managing to stay long enough to see the staff practice. Today she’s all packed up and ready to go, but she’s still lingering by the door like she’s waiting for something.

“Is everything okay?” Chan asks, trying to get a closer look at her expression. She doesn’t seem upset or worried, but something’s obviously holding her back.

“Can I ask you something?” she says, looking uncharacteristically nervous as she fidgets with the strap of her bag. Chan nods at her encouragingly.

“Soojung said you used to be an idol trainee?” Myeongjin says, voice pitched up like it’s a question.

Oh.

Chan nods again, slower this time, trying not to let anything show on his face.

“I was, yeah,” he says, sure he knows where this is going and equally sure he doesn’t want it to get there.

“But you never debuted,” Myeongjin says hesitantly, eyes flicking to his for confirmation.

“That’s right,” Chan says carefully.

“Why not?” Myeongjin asks. Chan pauses. Takes a deep breath to try and calm himself down, keeping his expression carefully neutral. He doesn’t want to scare her.

“It just didn't work out,” he hedges vaguely, finally. It’s a non-answer, and he’s sure Myeongjin can tell — she’s frowning, like she knows there’s something she’s missing.

“I don’t get it,” Myeongjin says, finally. “You and Soonyoung-sunsaengnim are both so good. Soojung said you flunked out, but you totally could have debuted.”

Chan’s smile is so dry it’s more of a grimace.

“There’s more to debut than just being good,” he says, the words sticking in his mouth.

“More like what?” Myeongjin says, looking deeply skeptical. Maybe worried, too, underneath.

“It doesn’t matter,” Chan says. He isn't sure whether he wants to reassure her, or tell her to run while she still can. “If I’d debuted I wouldn’t be here now, right? I’d never get to be your teacher.”

Myeongjin doesn’t look comforted by that. Her eyebrows are still knit together as she stares at him, searching his expression for the answers he won't say out loud.

She won’t find them, Chan knows, but he feels exposed nonetheless.

“Okay,” Myeongjin says, finally.

She doesn’t push any further, thankfully, and she leaves to go home not long after. But Chan stays where he is, alone in Practice Room 2.

Logically, Chan knows their students attend the school so they can become trainees. He attended a dance school so he could become a trainee. But this is the first season he’s taught a class old enough for it to be a real possibility — he only taught second graders, last season, and first graders the seasons before that.

It feels — strange. Unsettling, and he doesn’t understand why. He hasn’t let himself think about it too much, but he knows there’s a time limit on his willful ignorance — Myeongjin has goals, and she’s talented enough that she’ll achieve them with or without Chan’s help.

Soonyoung finds him there, later, poking his head in the door with a bright smile on his face.

Soonyoung’s last class of the day is finished, a preteen girl whose mother pays an obscene amount for private lessons four times a week. He’s probably just coming to bother Chan while he waits for Seoyeon’s class to clear out of Practice Room 2 — Soonyoung won’t use Practice Room 1 after hours. He says it’s haunted, but Chan’s pretty sure it’s just the smell.

“Everything okay?” Soonyoung asks, smile turning quizzical as he gets a good look at Chan’s expression.

Chan laughs, the sound a little weak.

“Sure,” he says.

Soonyoung nods skeptically, obviously not buying it, and slips all the way into the room. The door closes softly behind him.

“Wanna talk about it?” he asks, resting against the closed door. Giving Chan his space.

Chan shakes his head, frustrated, not sure he even knows how.

Soonyoung nods again, tilting his head to the side.

“I saw Myeongjin earlier,” he says. “She looked great.”

Chan lets out a laugh that’s mostly just an exhale — it’s just like Soonyoung to cut right to the point. He probably doesn’t even know he’s doing it.

“She did,” he agrees.

“So … ?” Soonyoung watches him carefully, eyes sharp. Maybe he does know, after all.

“She’ll get offers, after the showcase,” Chan says.

“Yes,” Soonyoung says.

Chan keeps staring, unable to put a voice to his unease.

“Is that not a good thing?” Soonyoung ventures.

Chan shrugs.

“Is it?” he asks. He doesn’t sound like himself, he knows. It’s probably freaking Soonyoung out.

It’s freaking Chan out. He isn’t sure he’s ever felt like this before, unsteady and unsure. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do.

“It’s what she wants,” Soonyoung says slowly. “It’s what all the kids here want.”

That’s the problem, Chan doesn’t say, because if he thinks that’s a problem, then why is he teaching them?

“I know that,” he says instead. Soonyoung stares at him a moment longer.

“Let’s just go,” Soonyoung says. “We’ll go get dinner and then get some rest, it’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“It’s barely 10 P.M.,” Chan protests. They never leave this early — not when they could fit in at least two more hours of practice, easily.

Soonyoung shrugs, seemingly unconcerned.

“It’ll still be here tomorrow,” he says. It’s such a sharp contrast from his usual attitude that for a moment Chan can only stare.

“Alright,” he says, finally, still a little suspicious. “I’ll grab my stuff.”

Neither of them have showered, but they’re going to sit outside anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. They always go to the same stall — the ahjumma who runs it pinches Soonyoung’s cheeks and serves him extra every time. She says no one eats as deliciously as Soonyoung, which is probably actually true. Soonyoung always eats like he’s starving, shovelling food into his mouth like he can store the extras in his cheeks for later.

She’s there tonight, of course, smiling and calling a greeting when she sees them approach.

Soonyoung insists on treating Chan, which is ridiculous — Chan knows he’s broke. It’s not like Chan’s doing much better, but still. They can at least split it.

They get their usual, and for a little while it’s nice. It’s just the two of them, sweaty and messy and greasy, now, from the food cooking in the tent. It’s familiar.

“Wanna talk?” Soonyoung asks, finally, after he’s called Mrs. Yeo to bring them a bottle of soju. He accepts it with a beaming smile, charming as always.

Chan smiles at the exchange, but it slips off his face just as quickly.

Of course Soonyoung is offering — Soonyoung is loud and silly and ridiculous, but he’s the most supportive person Chan knows.

He’s like that, about the people he loves. Intense, all-in. Chan knows Soonyoung’s parents are struggling, just like his; he knows Soonyoung sends money home every time he gets paid, even if it means living off ramyun for the second half of the month. Chan admires him for it, wants to live that way too — less selfish, more aware of others.

He’d tried to tell Soonyoung that, once, but Soonyoung had only blinked at him in confusion.

“You do live that way, Chan-ah,” he’d said, brow furrowed like he was trying to do calculations in his head, like he needed to figure out a way to make Chan’s words make sense. “You send money home, too.”

No, it’s different, Chan had wanted to say, because it is. Soonyoung sends money home because he’s generous, because he genuinely loves his parents and he wants to help them however he can. When Chan sends money to his parents it’s an obligation, and he resents them for it every time he makes the transfer.

Chan’s frowning, now, as he thinks about it, too tired to keep up the mood, and that in itself is frustrating — Chan doesn’t believe in indulging bad moods, or in bringing negativity home from work. Doesn’t believe in bringing it to work, either. It never solves anything, just drags down the rest of the team.

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, instead of answering Soonyoung’s question. Soonyoung frowns suspiciously.

“Sorry for what?” he asks, twisting the cap off the soju.

“I didn’t mean to make you worry,” Chan says.

Soonyoung stares at him, the frown still on his face.

“You don’t need to apologize for that,” he says. “I only worry about things that are important.”

Chan wishes it didn’t make him feel so flustered, being at the centre of Soonyoung’s attention like this.

“You don’t need to,” he says, averting his eyes. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Okay,” Soonyoung says slowly.

He lets Chan drop it — chattering cheerfully while they finish the bottle, giving Chan plenty of reasons to laugh, obviously trying to distract him.

“Get home safe, okay?” Soonyoung says, when the bottle’s done and it’s time for them to go their separate ways.

Chan nods and smiles and lets Soonyoung hug him goodbye, but he doesn’t go straight home.

He stops at the CU a block down from the apartment he shares with Hansol, instead, and drinks two cans of beer by himself on the table outside.

Chan tries not to think about Myeongjin — about her serious, driven face, about the startled laugh she lets out when someone makes a mistake during practice. About what will happen to her when she’s a trainee, far away from home. Far away from anyone who can protect her.

 

 

 


 

 

 

It doesn’t work, of course. Even worse: when he stumbles into the apartment Seungkwan’s still awake, crouched over the living room table and clearly working on a project. There are papers and books spread out all over the floor, along with at least three empty drink containers.

Chan nods at him on his way to the bathroom, praying he seems normal enough that Seungkwan won’t pry, but Seungkwan still calls out a “You okay?” from behind him, so he doesn’t think that works either.

“Yeah, fine!” he yells from behind the closed bathroom door, but when he comes back out Seungkwan’s standing there waiting for him, big eyes blinking hopefully.

“Come hang out with me,” he says. “I’m bored.”

Chan doesn’t want to hang out — he wants to go to bed. But Seungkwan reaches out to grab his arm, shaking it pathetically.

“Come on,” he whines, lip jutting out in a pout. “Hansol went to sleep already, I’m all alone.”

Chan laughs reluctantly and lets himself get dragged back into the living room, sprawling out to lie on the floor instead of taking the couch. After a moment of hesitation, Seungkwan does the same.

“This is nice,” Seungkwan says quietly.

“I guess,” Chan says, and laughs when Seungkwan squawks and slaps at his arm.

“I mean it!” Seungkwan whines in protest, slapping at Chan until he’s forced to roll over on his side, laughing as he tries to escape. “You’ve been so tense lately. This is nice, right?”

Chan straightens, his laughter forgotten.

“I’m not tense,” he says.

“Okay,” Seungkwan says, skeptically.

“Whatever,” Chan mutters, annoyed but not wanting to argue it further. He needs to pick his battles when it comes to Seungkwan, Chan’s learned.

“Your girls are getting ready for that showcase, right?” Seungkwan asks, sounding genuinely interested. Chan still isn’t used to how much Seungkwan cares — it’s strange to have someone ask him so many personal questions.

“Yeah,” Chan sighs.

“Hansol said it’s a big deal,” Seungkwan says. “Like, entertainment companies will be there. Some of your students might become trainees.”

“Yeah,” Chan says again, closing his eyes. He doesn’t want to think about this.

“Well, I’m sure they’ll do really well,” Seungkwan says.

Chan laughs, dry and horrible. It sticks in his throat.

“They will,” he says.

“You don’t sound happy about it,” Seungkwan says slowly, like he’s trying to figure it out. Chan feels a dull throb of panic at the thought.

“You made the right choice, you know,” he says blurrily. “Not becoming a trainee.”

Seungkwan turns his head so quickly he knocks his temple against the floor.

“I didn’t ask,” he says, clearly ready to get offended.

“No, no,” Chan says urgently, reaching out to grab Seungkwan’s forearm. It feels fragile under Chan’s hand, like if he squeezes too hard it’ll break. He doesn’t want Seungkwan to break. “It’s better this way, trust me. It’s so much better.”

Seungkwan stares at him for a long moment.

“Why is it better?” he asks, finally.

For another moment Chan just stares at him. He doesn’t know how to say this out loud. He should never even have brought it up in the first place, but he’s still tipsy enough that the words had just slipped out.

“I don’t want anyone to hurt you,” he says, finally.

“What does that have to do with becoming a trainee?” Seungwkan asks, sounding confused.

Chan lets go of Seungkwan’s arm, letting his hand drop back to the floor. He shrugs, shoulder blades moving uncomfortably against the wood underneath.

There’s another very long silence, and then —

“Chan,” Seungkwan says slowly. “Did somebody hurt you?”

Chan feels like he’s going to throw up.

“I’m fine,” he says. He feels very distant, like his voice is coming from somewhere far away.

“That’s not an answer,” Seungkwan says.

“I used to have to sleep in the bathroom,” Chan says. “It was the only room that had a lock.”

“Oh my god,” Seungkwan says faintly. “What does that mean? Chan. Oh my god.”

“It’s not important,” Chan says. “It was a long time ago, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It matters,” Seungkwan says, pushing himself up off the floor. He looks very serious, now. It’s making Chan uncomfortable.

“Why?” he asks helplessly, turning to stare up at the ceiling.

“Chan, look at me,” Seungkwan says, moving his head to force Chan to meet his gaze. “Of course it matters.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” Chan says, his tongue heavy in his mouth.

“No, I don’t think we should,” Seungkwan says, clearly having decided to take control of the situation. Chan wishes he would just let it go, but he’s not sure Seungkwan’s ever let anything go in his life — he’s certainly not going to start now.

The thought seems terrifying, suddenly — Seungkwan digging and digging until there’s nowhere left to hide.

“It’s really….” Chan starts, and then stops. Tries again. “I don’t….”

Chan searches desperately for what to say next, but his mind feels totally blank — it isn’t that he doesn’t want to say anything, it’s that he genuinely doesn’t know how, and the pressure is starting to make panic rise in his throat.

“Whoa, no,” Seungkwan says, tone changing abruptly. He pushes himself to sit up so he’s looking down at where Chan’s lying, eyes wide. “It’s okay. Chan, it’s fine. Don’t freak out, okay? I promise it’s fine.”

Chan didn’t think he was freaking out. He doesn’t know why Seungkwan’s voice sounds so urgent, but he nods along anyway, mainly because he doesn’t know what else to do.

Seungkwan’s hand finds its way into Chan’s and squeezes. Once, twice. Chan tries to squeeze back but it’s harder than he expects, the muscles in his hand shaky and uncooperative.

“That’s good,” Seungkwan says, encouraging, when Chan finally manages it. Chan tries to laugh — at Seungkwan or at himself, he isn’t sure. It comes out strange regardless, garbled and unrecognizable.

“That’s good,” Seungkwan says again quietly, and then, “You’re okay.”

Chan doesn’t know why Seungkwan keeps saying that, but he doesn’t trust himself to find the words to ask. He’s been breathing unsteadily, he realizes, making little hiccupping sounds without even realizing. He tries to slow it down, forcing his breath in and out until it sounds normal.

“Sorry,” he laughs, when his voice is steady enough to speak.

“Don’t be sorry,” Seungkwan says immediately, squeezing Chan’s hand again. He lies back down slowly until he’s on his side, the hand not holding Chan’s tucked neatly under his cheek.

“You’ll mess up your hip lying on the floor like that,” Chan says hoarsely. Seungkwan’s eyes widen, startled, and then he laughs quietly.

“Thank you for your concern,” he says. His voice is still gentle, a little sing-song — it’s the voice he’d use to talk to little kids, Chan’s pretty sure. Meant to soothe. “I’ll take it into account.”

Seungkwan doesn’t move, though — just lies there, holding Chan’s hand, until Chan dozes off right there on the living room floor.

 

 

 


 

 

 

When Chan wakes up the next morning he’s on the couch, tucked neatly under a blanket with another one rolled up under his head. All the evidence Seungkwan was studying the night before has been neatly tucked away — not a single textbook or pen to be seen.

Someone is bustling in the kitchen — Seungkwan, he assumes. For a moment Chan just lies there, humiliation rolling over him in waves.

He feels like shit as soon as he stands up, a pulsing headache making itself known right behind his eyes. When he stumbles into the kitchen Seungkwan is there, just as he expected, energetically washing dishes and scowling as he scrubs.

“Oh!” Seungkwan says, looking up at the sound of Chan opening the refrigerator door. “You’re awake!”

“Mm,” Chan hums in agreement, not quite up to forming words yet.

“There’s rice,” Seungkwan says, nodding at the rice cooker. Chan pours himself a glass of water instead, not sure he can stomach anything solid.

“Sorry about last night,” he says awkwardly, when Seungkwan doesn’t say anything more.

Seungkwan stares at him shrewdly, turning the water off.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” he says, finally.

Chan nods in acknowledgment, still hovering by the fridge, awkward and out-of-place in his own kitchen.

“Has that ever happened before?” Seungkwan asks hesitantly.

Chan shakes his head.

“I don’t think so,” he says honestly, and Seungkwan’s brow furrows.

“Do you know what could have caused it?” he asks. He sounds contemplative, like it’s a puzzle he isn’t sure if he wants to finish. Chan knows what he wants, so he only shrugs instead of answering, hoping Seungkwan will decide to let it go.

Seungkwan frowns, clearly not satisfied by Chan’s response, but he seems hesitant to push any further.

“Well,” he says, heaving the last pan onto the drying rack. He has to wipe his hands on his jeans — their only dish towel still hasn’t been cleaned. “If you want to talk about it again, I’m always here.”

Seungkwan is always there — at this point Chan isn’t even totally sure he’s still paying rent at his own place.

“I know,” Chan says, nodding with a polite smile. He can’t think of anything he wants less, actually, and he’s sure Seungkwan can tell. Seungkwan only nods in response, squeezing Chan’s shoulder when he leaves the kitchen to go get ready for class.

Chan, meanwhile, takes two painkillers, drinks an entire bottle of water in one go, then allots himself forty-five minutes to lie on the couch feeling like shit before he has to get ready to go into work. He only makes it to thirty before he’s out the door.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Soonyoung wants to practice his dance again the next night.

It’s a pretty straightforward duet — truthfully, Chan still doesn’t understand why Soonyoung’s been having so much trouble with it, but Soonyoung has brushed off every offer Chan’s made to help him out, so there isn’t much else he can do. It’s different from Soonyoung’s usual style — a little more aggressive, a little less smooth — and the mood is hard to pin down, but Soonyoung has always been unpredictable.

Chan sits in the chair, hands tied, and watches Soonyoung go through the movements, trying to work it out. Listens, when Soonyoung moves behind him and Chan can’t see him anymore, to the way Soonyoung’s feet hit the floor. The sound of his breathing.

It’s familiar, all of it, and so is the way Chan’s heart pounds in his throat, like a rabbit caught in a trap.

“It’s still not right,” Soonyoung frowns when they’re finished, Chan stretching out his arms. Flexing his fingers to get the blood circulating.

“You’ll get it,” Chan says encouragingly, because that’s the only help Soonyoung will let him give.

Soonyoung nods, but he still doesn’t look satisfied, and Chan doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to do.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Seungkwan and I were thinking of going out tonight, do you want to come with?” Hansol calls out from the kitchen. Chan looks up sharply from where he’d been watching videos on his phone, startled.

He hadn’t even realized Hansol was awake.

“Again?” he asks without thinking, wincing belatedly as he realizes how rude that sounds.

Hansol just laughs.

“Wow,” he says, eyebrows raised. “I guess not.”

“Wait, no,” Chan protests, but he’s laughing too. “I didn’t mean it like that! I just meant it’s a lot of money, that’s all.”

Hansol frowns.

“Didn’t you guys just get paid for that choreo gig?” he asks, looking confused.

“Yeah, but I sent it to my parents,” Chan says.

“All of it?” The crease between Hansol’s eyebrows gets even deeper. “Are they doing okay?”

Honestly, Chan has no idea — he doesn’t talk to them enough to know. He shrugs.

“I owe them,” he says, instead of answering. Hansol makes a deeply skeptical face in response, clearly not buying it.

“Owe them for what?” Hansol asks. He clearly doesn’t mean to be invasive — Hansol almost never asks Chan about his personal life, and there’s nothing judgmental in his tone — but Chan tenses anyway, shrugging again.

“Oh, sorry,” Hansol says, and Chan’s irritation fades immediately, melting into something closer to guilt. “That’s personal, dude. My bad.”

“It’s fine,” Chan says. “I’ll try to make it next time, okay?”

“Yeah,” Hansol says, and then frowns. “Is everything okay?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Chan asks hesitantly, thrown off-guard. Hansol doesn’t usually ask about Chan’s personal life.

Hansol shrugs.

“Seungkwan seems worried about you,” he says. Chan tenses. “He was kind of freaking out the other night.”

“What other night,” Chan says blankly, even though he already knows.

“When you fell asleep out there,” Hansol says. “He asked me to help him move you to the couch, but he wouldn’t tell me what happened.”

That doesn’t sound like Seungkwan — from what Chan’s seen, Seungkwan tells Hansol everything. Chan should probably be grateful that Seungkwan managed to keep this one to himself — it’s bad enough that Seungkwan witnessed what happened that night. If he told anyone else Chan doesn’t think he could bear it.

“I just drank too much, that’s all,” Chan lies. After a moment’s thought he adds an “I’m really sorry for worrying you” — that part’s sincere, at least.

“It’s chill,” Hansol says. “You don’t need to apologize.”

“Still,” Chan says, but he can’t think of anything to follow that up with so it just hangs in the air, the thought awkward and unfinished.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Chan walks into the studio the next day already stretching, early as always — their first class isn’t scheduled for a few hours. Myeongjin isn't here today, so either she’s finally decided to pay attention to her studies, or she’s found somewhere else to act the teenage delinquent. Chan prays it’s the first one.

“Morning, hyung,” he says absently to Soonyoung, who’s already made himself comfortable in the corner. It takes him a few moments of absently searching his bag for his water bottle before Chan realizes Soonyoung never responded.

“Hyung?” he asks, looking over in Soonyoung’s direction. Chan had assumed Soonyoung was getting the music ready, but on second glance he doesn’t even have his phone out.

“Mm?” Soonyoung answers absently, not tearing his gaze away from where he’s staring at his feet planted on the floor in front of him. He’s got his knees up, hands locked loosely around them.

“Is everything okay?” Chan asks, unsure.

“Yeah,” Soonyoung says, not sounding particularly convincing. When he finally looks up, his gaze is totally blank.

Chan debates with himself for a moment before deciding to go over, settling cross-legged on the floor beside Soonyoung.

“Whatever it is, you know you can tell me,” he says. A smile flickers at the corner of Soonyoung’s mouth, just the briefest twitch. Chan watches his thumbs tap against each other, even his unconscious movements automatically falling into a rhythm.

“Noona’s boyfriend cheated on her,” Soonyoung says, finally.

“Oh no,” Chan says, eyes widening. “Weren’t they talking about getting engaged?”

“Yeah,” Soonyoung says absently.

It’s unfortunate, sure, but Chan still doesn’t understand what’s gotten Soonyoung so upset. Chan’s seen Soonyoung struggle with much worse, but he’s never gotten vacant and strange like this before.

“Is that … it?” Chan asks hesitantly, feeling like he needs to at least try to get Soonyoung to talk about it but nervous about making it worse. He doesn’t consider himself a particularly comforting person — one of the dance team noonas would be the better choice, probably. But none of them are here now, and Chan’s the one Soonyoung chose to talk to. Chan’s the one who needs to try.

“He cheated on her with a man,” Soonyoung says, staring resolutely at his own reflection in the mirror in front of them.

“Oh,” Chan says.

“Yeah,” Soonyoung laughs blankly.

“That’s horrible,” Chan says.

“So were the things she said about him,” Soonyoung says, and — oh. Chan sees, now, why he’s so upset. He winces, thinking about it.

“Does your sister know about you?” he asks carefully, as delicately as he can.

“No,” Soonyoung says. “I never bothered to tell them. When I was younger I thought … it didn’t matter, right? It didn’t matter if I was attracted to men. I figured I’d still fall in love with a woman eventually, and I’d never have to tell anyone about it.”

“But now?”

“But now I know I was just lying to myself,” Soonyoung says, laughing wryly. “I could just as easily fall in love with a man.”

Chan feels something sour twist in his stomach at the thought, and does his best to ignore it. It doesn’t matter if the thought of Soonyoung falling in love with a man makes his insides twist with panic — this isn’t about him at all.

“I’m sorry, hyung,” he says, for lack of anything better to offer.

“At least before I could hope they’d accept me,” Soonyoung says. “Now.… ”

“They could change,” Chan offers. “If they knew about you, they might try.”

“They might,” Soonyoung agrees, but there’s a sour twist to his mouth that says he doesn’t really believe it. “I’d always remember what they said, though.”

Chan knows he’s right, so he can’t think of anything to say that will make it better. He feels betrayed too, just knowing the people who love Soonyoung could think that way about him. Knowing they could think that way about Chan, too.

“It’s okay if you never tell them, I think,” Chan offers hesitantly. “I haven’t.”

Soonyoung turns to him, looking surprised.

“You have something to tell?” he asks.

Chan stares at him, confused. What’s that supposed to mean? Of course there’s something to tell — Soonyoung, of all people, should know that.

“Yeah,” Chan says slowly. “You know that.”

“I wasn’t sure” is Soonyoung’s baffling response. His gaze is very intent; a sharp contrast from his earlier emptiness. Chan isn’t sure he likes this any better — he feels caught, trapped under it.

“Well,” he says, and then he doesn’t say anything else.

“It’s scary to think I could lose them,” Soonyoung says quietly. “But maybe I already have.”

Chan thinks about this for a moment, mouth tight. He thinks about Soonyoung’s sweet, smiling family, about how they’ve never treated Chan with anything but kindness. It makes him childishly upset to realize that could change, somehow even more than the idea of his own family giving up on him.

Maybe because he knows the worst parts of his own family already, how his father’s mouth gets tight when he’s disappointed and his mother doesn’t know how to stop pushing. How Geon treats him like a classmate and not an older brother, probably because he learned it from Chan. How Chan can’t be around any of them for longer than an hour before the guilt weighs him down, sticky and heavy in his stomach.

Compared to his own family Soonyoung’s has always been the ideal. If Soonyoung loses his family, Chan can’t even offer up his own as a replacement — it’s too fraught, too much tension between them. Chan bites his lip, thinking.

“If you do lose them,” he says finally, speaking slowly as he tries to put his thoughts in order. “You’ll still have me, right? Everyone at the studio really loves you, we’d all take care of you. Seoyeon-noona’s mom always makes all that extra kimchi, she’d share it with you for sure.”

It’s true: everyone loves Soonyoung.

When they were still at the company, Soonyoung was the only other trainee Chan really got along with. The rest of them found him off-putting, he knows. He took training too seriously; he didn’t know how to relate to any of them. He dropped honourifics constantly, and he never treated the rest of them with the deference they wanted.

Soonyoung was even more intense than Chan, clinging to the dream of debut as tightly as he could, but somehow coming from him it was more endearing, easier for the other trainees to swallow. Chan never held it against him — Soonyoung has always been lovable. Even when he lashed out at the rest of them, desperation making him short-tempered and cruel, it seemed impossible to get angry at him. Chan never even tried.

For a horrible moment Soonyoung just stares at him, and Chan thinks he’s said the wrong thing. He gears up to take it back, to hurriedly apologize for making it worse, but then Soonyoung’s eyes fill with tears and before Chan can process what’s happened he’s being engulfed in a hug, Soonyoung’s arms locking around him so tightly he can barely breathe.

“Oof,” Chan laughs weakly, one hand coming up to pat awkwardly at Soonyoung’s back.

“I love you,” Soonyoung says into Chan’s shoulder, sappy and dramatic but sincere underneath. The flush in Chan’s cheeks gives him away, but there’s no one there to see it.

“I love you too, hyung,” Chan says. “Obviously.”

Soonyoung snorts, wet and gross, but he laughs afterward, so it’s worth it.

It’s quiet for a moment, then, Soonyoung tucked into Chan’s chest, making himself small to fit. Soonyoung gets overwhelmed like this, sometimes — it’s best to just wait it out. Chan sits, and waits, and pretends he doesn’t notice when Soonyoung wipes his nose on Chan’s shirt.

“I was gonna get food with Wonwoo after practice, do you wanna come with?” Soonyoung asks once he’s mostly pulled himself together, sitting upright and digging the heels of his palms into his eyes.

“Sure,” Chan says, nodding. He likes Wonwoo well enough, even if they aren’t particularly close. Wonwoo’s friendship with Soonyoung is something Chan still doesn’t fully understand, honestly — sometimes they’re attached at the hip, Wonwoo coming to the studio all the time, Soonyoung going to meet him for dinner almost every night, but then they’ll go weeks without seeing each other at all. ”Wonwoo’s tired,” Soonyoung always says, like being tired is a long-term condition and not a temporary state.

He’s not tired tonight, though, apparently — Wonwoo’s already at the bar when they show up, hunched over on himself in the booth as he plays a game on his phone.

“Wonwoo-yah!” Soonyoung bellows as soon as they’re in the door, attracting the attention of at least half the bar patrons. Wonwoo startles and looks up along with them, face creased in vague irritation.

“I was about to clear that level,” he says mildly.

“Sorry, honey,” Soonyoung coos as he squishes in next to him on the bench, much too close for either of them to be comfortable.

Chan laughs from the other side of the table, amused at their antics. Wonwoo’s a little dry on his own, but he’s funny to watch when he’s with Soonyoung.

“Wonwoo-yah,” Soonyoung says brightly after the first round. Wonwoo looks up but doesn’t say anything, waiting for Soonyoung to continue. “Remember when I first came back to school and I was failing every class? And you brought me all my assignments and helped me with them, even though you kept saying I was super annoying?”

“I still say you’re super annoying,” Wonwoo says, completely deadpan. Soonyoung just cackles right in his face.

“It’s a lie, though!” Soonyoung says, not sounding put out in the slightest. “You love me, really. You’re the reason I’m not a high school dropout,” Soonyoung declares cheerfully. Wonwoo winces and changes the subject.

“He’s very sentimental tonight,” Wonwoo comments later, when Soonyoung has left to find the bathroom, turning his full attention to Chan. “Is everything okay?”

“What?” Chan stutters, surprised both at his directness and the fact that Wonwoo noticed at all.

“We never talk about high school,” Wonwoo says. “It’s just funny that he’s bringing it up now, that’s all. Did something happen?”

“Um,” Chan says intelligently, eyes darting in the direction Soonyoung walked away. Chan doesn’t know whether it’s okay for him to say anything, even if Wonwoo is Soonyoung’s best friend. Wonwoo and Soonyoung were neighbours growing up, Chan knows. Their parents still talk all the time.

“Ah,” Wonwoo says, apparently reading an answer into Chan’s lack of response. “I see.”

Chan has no idea what Wonwoo sees, exactly, but he nods anyway, hoping he hasn’t given away something he shouldn’t have.

“I think it’s cool that you did that,” Chan offers, when Wonwoo doesn’t say anything else, already pulling his phone out of his pocket.

“Oh?” Wonwoo looks back up, a startled expression on his face. He clearly wasn’t expecting Chan to say anything more.

“No one tried to help me when I had to go back to school,” Chan continues, committed now even though he wants to wilt under the intensity of Wonwoo’s gaze. “I just flunked out instead.”

“Really?” Wonwoo’s look of polite disinterest shifts into a genuinely concerned frown. “You never graduated?”

Chan shakes his head, not sure why he’s admitting this — to Wonwoo, of all people, who clearly actually cares about formal education. Soonyoung told Chan he’s even thinking about going back for graduate school.

“You could still take the test,” Wonwoo says. Chan barely stops himself from laughing in surprise — he doesn’t want to be rude, but the idea is so ridiculous he can barely consider it. Even if he had the time, Chan was never a serious student. He’s honestly not even sure he could pass a middle school test, at this point. “They have programs, you could study for it online,” Wonwoo offers.

Chan shakes his head.

“I don’t think so,” he says. Wonwoo looks at him carefully for a moment longer.

“You should think about it,” he says, finally. “I’d help you, if you needed it.”

Chan stares at him, shocked. Wonwoo barely knows Chan — he’s just a friend of a friend. Chan can’t imagine what would make him offer something like that.

Of course Soonyoung chooses that moment to get back from the bathroom, shoving Wonwoo over to make room on the bench. He pauses, eyes darting back and forth between Chan and Wonwoo.

“What’s going on?” he laughs, gaze finally settling on Chan. He squints suspiciously. “Why do you look so gobsmacked? Did Wonwoo say something really dreamy and sensitive? He does that sometimes, you know. Just ignore it.”

That startles a choked laugh out of Chan, sharp and too loud.

“You’re just jealous because you’ve never said anything sensitive in your life,” Wonwoo says dryly, impassive expression back on his face.

It’s so ridiculous that Chan expects Soonyoung to laugh it off, but instead Soonyoung stares at Wonwoo with his brow furrowed for a long moment, mouth in an open-mouthed pout.

“Stupid,” he says, finally, shoving at Wonwoo’s shoulder until Wonwoo laughs, his whole face scrunching up with it. Chan watches them from across the table, an outsider to their familiar dynamic.

But Soonyoung turns to Chan, suddenly, face open and bright.

“Chan-ah,” he says, still laughing. “Tell Wonwoo he’s being stupid, please.”

“No,” Chan says, a smile growing on his face. He feels warm, included. He laughs at the indignant look on Soonyoung’s face, tacking on a, “Sorry, hyung,” for good measure.

Soonyoung only scowls and makes a loud disgruntled noise, taking a pointed gulp of his beer and then loudly threatening to leave for the next ten minutes.

When Chan gets home, he can’t help looking it up, squinting at the light from his phone screen in the darkness of his bedroom.

Wonwoo was definitely wrong — there’s no way he can do it, he thinks, scrolling through the requirements for the test. There’s multiple exams for each subject, and people spend months preparing. When Chan checks the tuition fee on the first test prep course the search returns, he gives up and closes the tab immediately.

Impossible.

 

 

 


 

 

 

The day of Myeongjin’s showcase is sunny and bright. Chan wakes up early, giving himself plenty of time to get ready, doing his best to ignore the sick feeling that won’t leave him alone.

It doesn’t really work, but it’s always important to try.

He meets Soonyoung for coffee at a café near the location, both of them ignoring the other in favour of compulsively checking their phones for updates — both from the venue and their students, who are meeting them on site.

“You ready?” Soonyoung asks, finally, pushing himself to a stand. They’re still an hour early, but both of them know there’s no point waiting any longer.

“Of course,” Chan smiles back, valiantly pretending his stomach isn’t turning over on itself with nerves.

It’s his first major showcase as an instructor, not a performer, and he’s shocked by how nerve-wracking it is. He remembers his dance instructors when he was young, how they were measured and calm even as nerves threatened to shake Chan to pieces. He doesn’t know how they did it.

Chan does his best to mimic them, now, but his palms are clammy and he feels jittery, on edge, nervous for four other people now instead of just himself.

His girls do well. They aren’t the best there by any means, but they garner a decent amount of interest. Yinyi is clearly tired — she fumbles a few transitions and there’s a lag in her movement. She’ll drop the dance academy next season, Chan’s almost certain, as she gets more serious about her studies. But Myeongjin —

Myeongjin shines, her serious face transforming on the stage, blooming under the attention of an audience.

Myeongjin will go far, Chan knows. Has always known. She has the talent, and the drive. She’s a little plain at fourteen, but either she’ll grow into her face or she’ll learn how to compensate with styling. Either way, she’ll be magnetic — she’s already magnetic now. She can only go up from here.

He can see murmuring in the audience during her solo part, and he knows that at least in this, he hasn’t failed her. He gave her this moment, at least.

Whatever comes next — whatever offers Myeongjin gets, whatever she and her parents decide to do with them — might be out of Chan’s control, but he helped her get where she wanted to be.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Myeongjin accepts an offer to start training barely two weeks later. Chan knows he should be proud — of her and of himself, too, for helping her get there. But instead when he thinks about it he just feels sick, something aching in the pit of his stomach that he’s too ashamed to acknowledge.

Chan feels cotton-headed and strange on her last day, his heart clenching with anxiety when he thinks about Myeongjin’s future.

She’s going to be alone, Chan thinks. She’ll be all alone, and she’ll be trying so hard, and if someone asks her to —

“Myeongjin-ah,” he calls, unable to bear it anymore.

Myeongjin looks up from where she’d been talking to Yinyi, startled, but she stands up dutifully when he beckons over. There’s still ten minutes left on their break — more than enough time.

“Myeongjin-ah,” Chan says, when she’s made it across the room to him, Yinyi watching curiously. “I don’t want to hurt you, or make you scared, okay? But I need to tell you something.”

“Okay,” Myeongjin says carefully, clearly off-put by his intensity.

Chan takes a deep breath. He doesn’t know how to say this at all, much less how to say it to a fourteen-year-old in a way that won’t traumatize her.

“When you’re a trainee, people will ask you to do things,” he says carefully, watching for her reaction. “I want you to know that it’s okay to tell them no, okay? If you feel uncomfortable with something, you don’t have to do it.”

Myeongjin stares at him.

“I know how badly you want to debut,” Chan continues, pushing ahead even though he’s not sure he’s ever felt this uncomfortable in his entire life. “But some things aren’t worth it, okay? Value yourself first, Myeongjin-ah.”

“Okay,” Myeongjin says slowly. Chan has no idea if she means it or not. He hopes she does.

“You’ll do so well,” Chan says, forcing himself to smile. “I’m not worried about that at all, okay? You’re more than good enough, Myeongjin-ah.”

“Okay,” Myeongjin says again, this time with a smile starting to form on her face.

“Okay,” Chan repeats, smiling back. “You can go back to Yinyi now, you’ve still got five minutes left.”

Myeongjin nods and turns, but when she’s back on the other side of the room Chan catches her twisting around to glance at him, clearly thinking about what he said.

When the class finally finishes and it’s time to leave Myeongjin thanks him again and again, attempting a formal bow for a brief moment before giving up and flinging her arms around his neck instead, squeezing tight.

“I won’t forget you,” she promises when he lets her back down.

“You’ll call me, right? If you ever need me?” Chan asks, unable to hold it back.

“I will,” Myeongjin says, face very serious.

“If anything weird happens — if you need help — call me and I’ll come get you,” he says, knowing he sounds too urgent again, that he’s being too intense. “Don’t forget, okay?”

“I won’t,” Myeongjin promises, voice serious, and then she’s gone.

Chan sits alone in the practice room for a long time.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“You’re very drunk, Chan-ah,” Soonyoung informs him. His voice sounds like it’s coming from very far away, blurred and strange-sounding to Chan’s ears.

“Hyung,” Chan mumbles. “Did I do the right thing for her?”

“For who?” Soonyoung asks, plopping down on the bench next to Chan. He takes the can from Chan’s hand, shakes it experimentally, then drains the rest in one gulp, grimacing at the taste.

“Myeongjin,” Chan says. Obviously. Who else would it be? She’s all he can think about.

“Of course you did,” Soonyoung says immediately. “You taught her so well.”

Obviously he taught her well, that’s not —

“That’s not the point,” Chan says.

“Then what is?” Soonyoung asks, brows knit together in confusion, obviously lost.

“I don’t want her to get hurt,” Chan says.

“Of course you don’t,” Soonyoung says slowly.

“She will, though,” Chan says blurrily, sinking down to rest his head on the grimy picnic table.

“Why do you say that?” Soonyoung asks, but Chan doesn’t even try to respond.

Soonyoung’s hand comes up to stroke through Chan’s hair, soft and comforting.

“I’m not sure why you’re so upset,” he whispers. “But I think we should try to get you home, hmm?”

 

 

 


 

 

 

When Chan wakes up the next morning he’s sprawled out on the living room couch, Seungkwan standing over him with an expression caught somewhere in between judgmental and concerned.

“Get up,” he says, ignoring Chan’s pained groan. “We’re getting lunch.”

Chan lets himself be dragged off the couch, and it’s a testament to the severity of his hangover that he submits to the indignity of Seungkwan picking his outfit with only the barest of complaints.

Seungkwan wants to go to a pretentious diner, aesthetic and overpriced and, mercifully, a five minute walk from the apartment. Chan doesn’t think he could bear much longer in the sunlight.

“Soonyoung-hyung seemed really worried about you last night,” Seungkwan says as soon as they’re seated, wasting no time getting to the point.

Chan closes his eyes, fighting the urge to just give up and rest his face on the table. He’s too hungover to be talking about this right now — especially with Seungkwan, of all people.

“I’m fine,” he says blankly, knowing it won’t do any good.

“He said you kept talking about one of your students,” Seungkwan says, ignoring Chan completely. “The one who’s going to be a trainee?”

“Myeongjin,” Chan says, nodding. Just saying her name makes him feel sick all over again.

“Is she okay?” Seungkwan asks — he sounds like he really cares. A lump rises in Chan’s throat. He doesn’t know how to explain any of this to Seungkwan. He doesn’t even know how to explain it to himself.

“She’s fine,” he says, instead of trying. She is fine, for now. Chan doesn’t let himself take that thought any further.

Seungkwan frowns suspiciously.

“Then why did you need to get wasted by yourself on a Tuesday night?” he asks, which is a totally fair question that Chan absolutely does not want to answer.

Chan runs a hand through his hair, trying to think of what to say and coming up with nothing.

“I’m not stupid,” Seungkwan says. Chan stares at him — he has literally never once thought that. “I know the idol thing is fucking you up.”

Chan swallows hard.

“Maybe,” he admits.

“You can talk to me, you know,” Seungkwan says. He sounds genuine, maybe even concerned.

“I’m working on it,” Chan says carefully, because it’s mostly true. “I’m sorry for worrying you.”

“It’s fine,” Seungkwan says, voice uncharacteristically gentle. He’s still looking at Chan very closely. “I just want you to be okay.”

“I will be,” Chan promises, like if he says it in a firm enough voice it’ll turn into the truth.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Chan has Wonwoo added on kkt — Soonyoung’s phone dies frequently enough that Chan has all his friends added by necessity. They’ve never really talked about much; their last exchange is from three weeks ago, and it consisted of Chan telling Wonwoo that Soonyoung’s phone was at home, and that they were ten minutes away from the bar. Wonwoo had responded with a lone thumbs-up emoji.

Wonwoo hasn’t met up with them after work since the night he offered to help Chan; when Chan asked Soonyoung about it Soonyoung had shrugged and said Wonwoo was tired again.

Now Chan stares at the screen for a moment, steeling himself, before carefully typing up a message.

Wonwoo responds almost immediately with a simple Okay. When? and his bluntness is somehow both nerve-wracking and reassuring.

They meet for coffee in the early afternoon, before Chan needs to get to the studio. Chan has no idea what Wonwoo’s work hours are like, but when he shows up at the café he looks like he just woke up.

It’s awkward as they exchange pleasantries and sit down — they aren’t really close, after all, and without Soonyoung to keep the energy up they both default to uncomfortable silence.

“I wanted to ask you about the equivalency exam,” Chan says finally, not wanting to waste Wonwoo’s time. Wonwoo nods, not seeming hugely surprised.

“Do you want to take it?” he asks. It’s a relief, strangely, that he seems to take Chan seriously.

“Do you think I should?” Chan asks, genuinely searching for Wonwoo’s advice. Wonwoo pauses to take a drink, the sleeves of his sweatshirt pulled down around his hands to keep them from burning on the cup. He does look very tired.

“I think it’s a good thing to have,” he says, voice even. Chan bites his lip.

“I didn’t think I needed it before, but now.…” he trails off, wrinkling his nose. It feels a little embarrassing to admit it out loud.

Wonwoo waits patiently, face impassive but not unkind.

“I need to find a new job,” Chan admits with a grimace. When he opens them back up, he thinks he can see something sympathetic in Wonwoo’s expression. He nods seriously.

“Something you need a high school degree for?” Wonwoo asks, thoughtful.

Chan shrugs.

“It can’t hurt, right?” he asks.

“Do you know what you want to do with it?” Wonwoo asks.

“No,” Chan admits, a little embarrassed.

Wonwoo stares at him, head tilted in thought.

“I like what I’m doing now,” Chan continues, honestly. “It’s just … parts of it don’t feel right, you know? I want to feel like I’m helping the kids.”

“You don’t feel like that now?” Wonwoo asks, looking genuinely curious. Chan shrugs, a little uncomfortable. They’re edging towards the thing he doesn’t want to unpack, but he promised Seungkwan he was going to try. He doesn’t want someone to have to clean up after him again.

“They all want to be idols,” Chan says. “I don’t want to be a part of that anymore.”

It’s the first time he’s said it out loud, and the confession leaves him a little light-headed and unsure.

Wonwoo squints at him.

“Does Soonyoung know about this?” he asks. A guilty lump rises in Chan’s throat as he shakes his head.

“I haven’t told anyone else,” he admits. “I wanted to be sure, first.”

Wonwoo nods, assessing.

“Well,” he says slowly. “I’m a programmer, so I don’t know how much help I’ll be in the job search department, but if you want to do the equivalency exam I can definitely help you with that. There are ways to self-study so you don’t have to pay for an academy.”

Chan nods.

“Thank you, hyung,” he says, as respectfully as possible.

“When are you going to tell Soonyoung?” Wonwoo asks. Chan bites his lip, frowning.

“I will soon,” he says. “I just have to figure out how.”

“It won’t be hard for you? You guys are together, right?” Wonwoo asks, his eyebrows knit together in confusion.

For a moment Chan can only stare at him, completely gobsmacked.

“Um,” he says, bewildered.

“You’re not?” Wonwoo says. Chan’s cheeks flush at the attention, feeling more uncomfortable by the second.

“It was just the one time,” he manages, the words coming out choked and awkward. “He said it was a mistake.”

“Oh,” Wonwoo says, frowning. “I thought.…”

“Did Soonyoung say something about me?” Chan asks, feeling a little panicked at the thought.

“No,” Wonwoo says immediately. “Soonyoung doesn’t even know I know about him,” he adds. “You know, that he likes guys or whatever.”

“Really?” Chan asks, taken aback. He knew Soonyoung hadn’t told his family, but Wonwoo is his closest friend. If he hasn’t told Wonwoo, has he told anybody? Did anyone know except for Chan?

“He’s never brought it up,” Wonwoo says, looking uncomfortable. “I don't want to overstep.”

This isn’t what Chan expected at all — he didn’t like thinking about Soonyoung telling someone else about what happened between them, but he’d assumed there was at least someone Soonyoung could tell. He doesn’t know what to do with this information.

“You guys really only … one time?” Wonwoo asks, a look on his face like he isn’t sure he really wants to know the answer.

Chan nods, humiliated. He doesn’t want to talk about this anymore.

Living it was enough — when he saw Soonyoung’s face when he woke up, warm and pleased and comfortable in the early morning light. When he watched Soonyoung’s fall as he realized who was lying next to him.

”We shouldn’t do this again, right?” Soonyoung had asked, visibly upset, and there had been nothing for Chan to do but agree.

No matter how many times he’s told himself he’s fine with it, that this is the way it has to be, it still hurts to think about it.

Chan takes a deep breath, closing his eyes for a brief, humiliated moment.

“Yes,” he says, finally, not looking at Wonwoo as he says it. “Really.”

“Sorry,” Wonwoo says, still frowning. “I really did think….”

Blessedly, he trails off before he can finish that thought. Chan still winces, uncomfortable.

“It isn’t my business,” Wonwoo says after a moment. “I won’t ask again, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Chan says, polite despite himself. “You didn’t know.”

Wonwoo nods slowly, like he’s still processing.

“I’ll look up the self-study program,” he says after a moment. “I can probably send it to you today.”

“Oh,” Chan says, startled. “You don’t have to rush, it’s fine.”

Wonwoo shrugs.

“I want to,” he says.

“Well, then,” Chan says. “Thank you.”

Wonwoo nods like it’s nothing, hunched over on himself on the other side of the table. He stays until his drink is finished, then they part with polite good-byes.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“You’re not doing it right,” Soonyoung snaps in the practice room, later that night. Chan just stares at him.

“Hyung,” he says slowly. “I’m literally just sitting here.”

“Yeah, but,” Soonyoung stops, obviously frustrated. He drags a hand down his face, letting out a strangled little yell. Chan waits for him to find the words — he always does, eventually.

“The feeling is wrong,” Soonyoung says, finally.

Chan can’t help laughing at the ridiculousness of it.

“Hyung,” he says. “How am I supposed to understand what I’m supposed to be feeling? You won’t tell me.”

“You’re just supposed to feel it,” Soonyoung insists. Chan stares at him for another long moment, and then nods slowly. It isn't worth a fight.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’ll try harder.”

He isn’t really sure why it even matters — Chan’s just a stand-in, after all. This is Soonyoung’s pet project, something private he doesn't seem to want to share with anyone else. He’s never even posted practice videos of it — Chan checked.

“Thank you,” Soonyoung says. “Do you have time to go through it again?”

“Once more,” Chan agrees. “I promised I’d meet Seungkwan for dinner.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Why do you have to send your parents money? Hansol said that’s why you won’t come out with us as much,” Seungkwan says as soon as the pot is set down on the table, prodding at the stew with his spoon like that’ll make it boil faster. It won’t, and it’s annoying — Chan tries to nudge his hand away. Seungkwan scowls and puts it back immediately.

“Um,” Chan says.

“Oh, sorry,” Seungkwan backtracks. “I can ask how your day was first, if you want?”

Chan can’t help but laugh at that, the look on Seungkwan’s face caught somewhere in between self-deprecation and genuine concern.

“My day was fine, thanks,” he says dryly. “And you?”

“It was whatever,” Seungkwan says, waving his hand dismissively. “Answer my question now, please.”

“It’s for my trainee debt,” Chan says, sensing there’s no easy way out of this conversation. Better to just get it over with. “My parents had to take out a loan to pay it off.”

“It was that much?” Seungkwan asks, looking horrified. Chan shrugs, uneasy.

“It was a lot,” he hedges — the truth is he isn’t actually sure how much, exactly. He doesn’t talk enough to his parents to know the details.

“I hope the interest rate isn’t too high,” Seungkwan says, mostly to himself, like he can really problem-solve Chan’s family’s finances right here, at 9 P.M. in the shitty bar around the corner from their apartment.

The stew has started bubbling, Chan notices; he busies himself stirring to separate the noodles.

“Have you asked how much longer it will be?” Seungkwan asks. Chan abandons the noodles, staring at him dumbly.

“What?” he asks, genuinely thrown.

“Like, how much longer you’ll need to pay off the loan,” Seungkwan says, slower this time, like he’s explaining it to a small child.

“I don’t….” Chan trails off, completely thrown. He’s genuinely never considered that his debt would have an end, he realizes uncomfortably. In his mind, he’d be paying it off for the rest of his life.

“Chan?” Seungkwan asks, peering closer at Chan’s face. Chan shakes his head, unsure what to say.

“I don’t know,” he admits. Seungkwan frowns.

“You never asked?”

“We don’t really talk,” Chan admits.

“You send them money, but you don’t talk?” Seungkwan asks, looking deeply concerned now.

Chan shrugs.

“That seems a little….” Seungkwan trails off, one eyebrow raised meaningfully. Chan shrugs again.

“It is what it is,” he says, not letting Seungkwan finish that thought.

“If you say so,” Seungkwan responds, looking like there’s more he wants to say. He holds back, somehow — probably because the stew is ready to eat, and he gets distracted reaching for a bowl.

The playlist switches to something older, girl groups singing through the speakers as they eat, and Seungkwan starts to dance cutely to the song without even realizing, shoulders moving to the music like they’re possessed. He stops when he makes eye-contact with Chan across the table, straightening immediately.

“Sorry,” he says, seeming genuinely apologetic. “I know you don’t like things like that.”

“It’s okay,” Chan says, meaning it. “It was cute.”

Seungkwan laughs a little, obviously embarrassed.

“I’m really not a dancer,” he says. “But I used to learn all the dances at home so I could do them when we went to noraebang.”

“I bet you were good,” Chan says, smiling. “Everyone’s a good dancer if they’re having fun.”

Seungkwan burst out in laughter at that, loud and surprised.

“Wow,” he says, once he’s caught his breath. “I can really tell you work with kids right now.”

Chan laughs too, a little embarrassed.

“You can come dance at the studio if you want,” he says, mostly to give himself something to say. “Soonyoung-hyung and I practice late, we’ll dance with you.”

Seungkwan pauses, blinking rapidly.

“You hate idol songs,” he says, sounding confused. Chan laughs again.

“I still have to know them,” he points out. “What do you think all my students want to learn?”

Seungkwan’s brow furrows at this, mouth pursing into a frown.

“And you’re okay with that?” he asks, seeming skeptical.

“It doesn’t matter,” Chan says with a shrug. It doesn’t — he has to do it either way, and it’s easier if he doesn’t let himself think about it too much. Work is work. Soon he’ll be doing something different anyway, if any of his plans play out.

“Still,” Seungkwan says. “It must be hard for you, being around all those kids who want to be idols. I guess I never really thought about it before.”

Chan shrugs again, uncomfortable.

“Yeah,” he says. He doesn’t really know what else there is to say.

“Well,” Seungkwan says, wrinkling his nose, “I’m still going to take you up on your offer, I hope you know that.”

“Good,” Chan says, smiling.

“I like the Wonder Girls best, write that down,” Seungkwan says.

“Noted,” Chan laughs. “I’ll brush up.”

“You’d better,” Seungkwan says seriously, pointing a warning finger. “I’ll know if you don’t.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Wonwoo mentioned you guys met up the other day?” Soonyoung says, sounding curious.

“He did?” Chan asks hesitantly, dread starting to pool in his gut. “What else did he say?”

Soonyoung squints, looking confused.

“That was it,” he says after a moment. “It’s Wonwoo. He barely ever says anything.”

“Ah,” Chan says, and then for a long moment he doesn’t follow it up with anything else.

He waited longer than he’d like to tell Soonyoung, letting moment after moment pass by until there was really no excuse besides cowardice.

But now they’re lying on the practice room floor together, exhausted and sweaty, and Chan knows this is it. They don’t really do this anymore — Chan guesses the reason why is obvious, now that he’s thinking about it. But it’s still nice, resting his head on Soonyoung’s thigh. Letting Soonyoung run his hand through Chan’s hair.

They used to sit like this when they were trainees, too, before everything went to shit. The memories are some of the only good things Chan has from back then.

“I need to find a new job,” he says, finally. He feels Soonyoung’s thigh tense under his cheek.

“What?” Soonyoung asks, unable to hide hurt in his voice.

Chan wince and shrugs, voice caught in his throat.

“Losing Myeongjin really bothered you, didn’t it?” Soonyoung asks, after a moment. “I knew it did.”

“I didn’t lose her,” Chan protests weakly, rolling over to flop onto his back on the floor.

Students leave all the time — they lose interest, or they switch to a different class, or they need training the studio can’t give them. He’d never begrudge any of them that, and Myeongjin is no exception. He wants her to succeed, even if it means he won’t be her teacher anymore.

“But it bothered you that she became a trainee,” Soonyoung says, squinting down at him, clearly trying to figure him out. Chan nods, swallowing hard. “Why?” Soonyoung asks.

“I’m not jealous,” Chan clarifies immediately. Soonyoung’s brow wrinkles in confusion.

“Did someone say you were?” he asks.

“I just don’t want you to think it’s something bad,” Chan says. “I don’t want you to think I’m a bad person.”

“Chan-ah,” Soonyoung laughs incredulously. “I could never think that.”

Chan winces, discomfort crawling across his skin. He wishes Soonyoung wouldn’t say that, not when he doesn’t know that — well.

Not when he doesn’t know.

Chan manages a laugh, after a moment, but he knows it sounds fake and weird.

“Chan?” Soonyoung peers closer, trying to get a better look at Chan’s face. Chan looks away.

“Do you know why I left the company?” Chan asks, heart caught tight in his throat. His skin feels like it’s too small for his body, blood pounding all through him. “Did anybody tell you?”

“I just know you left,” Soonyoung says, shaking his head. “I heard it from Youngjoon, but he didn’t tell me why.”

“Okay,” Chan says faintly.

Chan’s sure Youngjoon knew — all of the other trainees knew. It had made the shame so much stronger back then, knowing all of them knew about it. And then just … leaving. Letting them think whatever they wanted, not there to defend himself against it.

He can’t think of any reason Youngjoon would try to protect him to Soonyoung, but maybe he kept quiet to protect himself. Chan’s four years younger than Youngjoon; Youngjoon probably had the presence of mind to realize how bad it would look, that he knew someone was harassing his junior and did nothing to stop it.

“Do you want to tell me now?” Soonyoung asks slowly. His stare is still so intense. Chan wants to cringe away, and he wants to show him everything, and he can’t decide which one he wants more.

“I don’t….” he trails off. “I don’t really know how.”

“You don’t have to,” Soonyoung says kindly. Chan chews at his bottom lip.

“You know what happens to trainees,” he says, finally. “You had to have heard stories.”

Something starts to dawn on Soonyoung’s face — the beginning of the thought — but he doesn’t say anything, waiting for Chan to continue.

“One of the staff members started paying extra attention to me,” Chan continues. It’s humiliating, saying it out loud. Somehow it makes it seem more serious and like he’s blowing it all out of proportion, both at the same time. “I didn’t like it, but I thought … I don’t know. I tried to avoid him at first, but then it was like he was everywhere.”

“Chan,” Soonyoung whispers. Chan shakes his head, and Soonyoung falls silent.

“There was no one I could ask for help,” Chan says. “You know how much the other trainees hated me.”

Soonyoung looks horrified, now, his mouth gaping open, a sharp contrast from his earlier soft concern. Chan looks away, uncomfortable with the honesty of Soonyoung’s expression. Looking directly at him feels like too much.

“For a long time I couldn’t figure out why he picked me,” Chan says, “I wasn’t the visual, you know? I didn’t realize until later that it was because I was the youngest. It was easier, I think.”

“Channie,” Soonyoung says hoarsely. “I didn’t know, of course I didn’t know. I would have said something. I would have done something.”

He sounds so sure of himself — it’s comforting, even if it’s hard for Chan to believe it's true. It’s nice to hear someone say it.

“There wasn’t anything you could have done,” he says. It’s the truth, but he still can’t look at Soonyoung as he says it. “You were already gone.”

Soonyoung makes a hurt sound, raw and involuntary. Paradoxically, Chan finds himself wanting to comfort him. He’s been living with this for so long that it’s faded to a dull ache, something hardly worth getting worked up over.

But Soonyoung’s never been able to control his emotions; he shows everything as he feels it. Chan can’t hold it against him, but it makes him want to do something to help. It’s uncomfortable to watch someone else feel so upset, and even more uncomfortable to be the cause.

“I’m really okay,” Chan says quietly. “Nothing really happened, I swear.”

“I believe you,” Soonyoung says immediately, nodding, eyes wide.

It’s true — nothing did happen, or at least nothing like what Soonyoung is probably thinking. But saying it like that downplays the way it had felt, makes it sound like it wasn’t a big deal. Like Chan didn’t spend months living in constant fear, hyperaware of every movement, terrified that he was being watched.

There’s a moment of uncomfortable quiet.

“I almost didn’t tell my parents,” he says, finally. “I thought about just … letting it happen, if that meant I could stay. That’s how badly I wanted it.”

He can barely even admit it to himself. Chan holds his breath, looking away, unable to meet Soonyoung’s gaze.

As soon as he told his parents, as soon as Chan saw their reactions, he’d known he could never go back. Not to that company and not anywhere else, either.

His mother had been nearly hysterical on the phone when he called, throwing out words like “disgusting” and “shameful”. In the car, staring out the window, listening to his mother and father hiss out an argument in the front seat, Chan had barely been able to breathe through his own shame.

“Chan-ah,” Soonyoung says quietly, now, reaching out to touch Chan’s cheek, encouraging him to look up.

“I would have stayed, too,” Soonyoung says, very serious. His eyes are wide and urgent. “No matter what happened to me, I would have tried to stay. So I understand, okay?”

Soonyoung never would have left the company if they hadn’t forced him, Chan knows. It took him two years to recover fully from his injury, and even now he has to be careful. He probably still shouldn’t be dancing the way he does now, but Chan knows he can’t stop. Neither of them know how to stop.

Chan nods, taking a deep breath.

“Ah,” Chan laughs weakly. “This mood.…”

“Don’t worry about it, okay? Really don’t worry,” Soonyoung urges, voice serious and intense, the same way he talks to his students right before a performance.

Chan nods and takes a deep breath, then another one.

“Okay,” he says, forcing a pathetic smile. “Let’s not worry about it anymore.”

“Okay,” Soonyoung says, nodding in agreement.

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Five, six, seven, eight!” Chan calls, but instead of starting from the top Seungkwan just lets out a petulant wail.

They’ve moved on from girl group dance practice, much to Seungkwan’s dismay, and now Chan and Hansol are trying to teach Seungkwan the dance they’d started together last time Hansol came in to mess around.

“Enough!” Seungkwan whines, flinging himself dramatically onto Hansol’s shoulder. “Do you treat your poor students like this, too?”

“He doesn’t,” Soonyoung says from the doorway, before Chan can lie. “He’s adorable with them.”

Chan scowls, flustered and embarrassed.

“I’m not,” he protests, but there’s no heat in it.

“You should see him with the first graders,” Soonyoung says conspiratorially. “He’s so serious, they love it.”

Hansol just laughs, but Seungkwan’s eyes widen with delight. Chan can already tell he doesn’t like where this is going.

“Oh my god,” Seungkwan says. “A baby teaching babies.”

“I am literally one year younger than you,” Chan says, and is promptly ignored.

“Do you have pictures?” Seungkwan asks Soonyoung, as though Chan isn’t even there.

“Obviously,” Soonyoung laughs, digging his phone out of his pocket. Chan groans, making eye contact with Hansol. Do something, Chan mouths, gesturing at where Seungkwan has sidled up next to Soonyoung, peering interestedly at whatever he’s pulled up on his phone screen.

Hansol just shrugs helplessly, hands up like there’s nothing he can do about it.

Chan rolls his eyes. For a moment they just stand there, trying to ignore the sound of Seungkwan cooing over what is apparently an entire photo album of Chan with his students.

“Did you call the landlord about the bathroom sink?” Chan asks, finally, nothing better to say.

“Oh shit, yeah,” Hansol says. “I forgot to mention it, sorry.”

“It’s cool,” Chan says. Seungkwan has completely commandeered Soonyoung’s phone now, combing through it very seriously while Soonyoung watches over his shoulder. “What did he say?”

“Suck it up and deal with it, basically,” Hansol says, and Chan rolls his eyes.

“Get Seungkwan to call instead,” he says. Hansol laughs loudly enough that Seungkwan finally looks up, eyes searching for the source.

“That’s the plan,” Hansol says, still laughing as Seungkwan finally puts the phone down, walking over and sliding in right next to Hansol. Chan watches as Hansol’s arm lifts immediately to make room for him, Seungkwan resting his head on Hansol’s shoulder.

Something aches inside Chan, empty and alone.

“Chan-ah!” Soonyoung calls, waving from the doorway. “I’ll wait for you when you’re done, okay?”

Chan looks up at him and just stares for a moment, then nods, forcing a tiny smile.

“Thanks hyung,” he calls back. Soonyoung grins, and with a final energetic wave he’s gone.

As soon as the door closes behind him Seungkwan whirls on Chan, looking awfully threatening for someone whose socks match his shorts.

Lee Chan,” Seungkwan says. Hansol raises an eyebrow next to him.

“Yes?” Chan says warily.

Did you know that Soonyoung-hyung has an entire photo album that’s just pictures of you?”

Chan’s entire face flushes red and embarrassed. His eyes dart over to Hansol, but Hansol just raises a questioning eyebrow.

“It’s whatever,” Chan mutters, taking a deep breath and shaking it out.

Seungkwan stares at him for a moment, eyes narrowed like he’s trying to figure something out. Chan watches as Hansol squeezes Seungkwan’s shoulder in warning — somehow that makes the situation even more humiliating.

“Oooookay,” Seungkwan drawls, finally, and then, “I’m not doing that dance anymore, it’s too hard. Can you put on something fun, please?”

 

 

 


 

 

 

“Honestly,” Seungkwan says later over dinner. Hansol ditched them to go work on a project, which Seungkwan pouted about at length before commandeering Chan as a dinner companion replacement — it feels like this is becoming a pattern, lately. “Who would you talk to if you didn’t have me?”

“I don’t know,” Chan hedges. The truth is that if Seungkwan wasn’t making him talk, he probably just wouldn’t, but he doesn’t want to give Seungkwan the satisfaction of admitting it. “My friends, I guess?”

“Chan,” Seungkwan says seriously. “Before we started hanging out, you didn’t have any friends.”

“Hansol-hyung,” Chan points out, vaguely offended even though Seungkwan isn’t … totally wrong.

“He’s your roommate, that doesn’t count,” Seungkwan says, voice dismissive. “And he didn’t even know your brother’s name until I told him, that’s not friendship.”

“He knew my chicken order, though,” Chan says, mostly to get a rise out of Seungkwan. It works — Seungkwan lets out an irritated huff.

Boys,” he says disdainfully, leaning back dramatically in his chair.

“You’re a boy,” Chan says, laughing, and Seungkwan huffs even louder.

“Ugh,” he groans. “Don’t remind me.”

The food comes, then, and for a moment they’re both too distracted grabbing bowls and chopsticks to continue, but as soon as Chan’s finished pouring the water Seungkwan zeroes back in, focus intent.

“Really, though,” Seungkwan says. “Are you doing any better now?”

Chan takes a moment to think about it, frowning in concentration.

“I think so,” he says slowly.

Whatever happened that night with Seungkwan hasn’t happened again, at least — telling Soonyoung about it really did help, embarrassingly enough, and Myeongjin’s mom sent him a message the other day to tell him that Myeongjin is doing well. He’d reached out to her, finally, voicing his concern as delicately as he knew how, and Chan had been shocked at how seriously she’d taken him. Talking to students’ parents still makes him feel like a child, himself, but Myeongjin’s mother had promised to keep a close eye on her, and to pass on the information to Chan for his peace of mind.

“Have you talked to your parents?” Seungkwan asks. Chan winces and shrugs, dropping his gaze.

“What is there to talk about?” he mumbles.

“Um,” Seungkwan says. “Your blood debt? For one?”

“That’s not — ” Chan laughs, startled. “Hyung. It’s not a blood debt.”

“It might as well be,” Seungkwan says darkly, raising a challenging eyebrow. “If you’re gonna make yourself keep paying it for your whole life.”

Chan winces again — it does sound bad, when Seungkwan says it like that.

“It’s not like they’re forcing me to do it,” he defends, uncomfortably aware of how weak his voice sounds.

“Then why do you still feel like you have to?” Seungkwan says.

Chan shrugs.

“They paid for everything,” he says. “All the lessons, all the competitions, all the trips and the auditions. It cost them so much. They wanted it so badly.”

They wanted it?” Seungkwan asks, sharp as ever, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Not — I wanted it,” Chan says hastily. “But my dad was the one who taught me how to dance, you know? It was their dream, too.”

His parents had wanted him to try again, after. When he’d refused and wouldn’t tell them why all the private lessons had stopped, and his mom had pushed him to start picking up shifts at the restaurant instead.

By the time Soonyoung called him asking if he was interested in a job, he was only dancing on the weekends. It felt like being strangled, or like someone was suffocating him very slowly — his air supply getting cut off bit by bit. Chan had accepted the offer without a second thought, hadn’t even bothered finishing high school before he moved out and came to Seoul.

He doesn’t tell any of this to Seungkwan, who would only use it as ammunition — rightfully so, probably, but Chan doesn’t want to admit that.

“Do they ever reach out?” Seungkwan asks, looking at Chan very carefully. Maybe Chan doesn’t have to tell him any of it — maybe he can just read it on Chan’s face.

Chan shakes his head, cheeks heating up with embarrassment.

“But you still feel like you owe them,” Seungkwan says slowly, like he’s piecing it all together.

“They’re my parents,” Chan says.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” Seungkwan says, tone of voice making it abundantly clear that he thinks Chan’s wrong. “But we’re supposed to take care of our parents because they take care of us, first.”

“They took care of me,” Chan says. “They paid for everything, I told you.”

“Yeah, and you told me it was their dream,” Seungkwan says, shrewd as ever. Chan shifts in his seat, uncomfortable.

“I said it was mine, too,” he protests, but his voice is too soft to have any impact. He means it, but when he says it out loud it still sounds like a lie.

Chan stares at the table for a long time, letting that sink in.

“I don’t want to talk to them about it,” he admits.

“Then don’t,” Seungkwan says, voice blunt. “But don’t send them money anymore, either.”

“You don’t think that’ll make me a bad son?” Chan asks, finally looking up.

“No,” Seungkwan says. “They should have taken care of you first, and they didn’t.”

“What if they ask me for the money?” Chan asks, and Seungkwan shrugs.

“Tell them to send you the paperwork for the loan, and figure out how much there is left,” he says. Chan winces — he doesn’t think he remembers enough from middle school math to be able to handle that comfortably. “Don’t worry,” Seungkwan says, clearly catching Chan’s expression. “I have a friend who’s really good at stuff like this, he’ll help us out.”

“Us?” Chan asks, genuinely surprised. Seungkwan frowns.

“Well, obviously,” he says. “I’m not just gonna leave you to deal with it by yourself.”

“Oh,” Chan says. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Don’t be stupid, of course I do,” Seungkwan says, rolling his eyes. “Now let’s talk about something else, this conversation is giving me indigestion.”

“I think that’s the beer,” Chan says and dodges, laughing, when Seungkwan mimes a slap.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Chan gets the message three days later, and he spends two more days working himself up before he can bring it up to Soonyoung.

“Hyung,” he says, on the way out the door.

“What’s up?” Soonyoung says, pausing to look at Chan, his face bright and expectant.

Chan takes one deep breath, then another. The more he thinks about saying it, the harder it gets. He just has to make himself do it.

“Remember Jinwon-hyung? We did that workshop with him, back in February,” Chan says, finally, heart in his throat.

Soonyoung nods slowly.

Jinwon’s done well for himself, working with a dance crew in a studio in L.A, only traveling to Korea for the occasional workshop. They’d been lucky to get into the last one — he hasn’t been back since.

“He started following me on Instagram so I messaged him,” Chan starts. “We’ve been talking a lot.”

Something complicated flits across Soonyoung’s face, before he smooths it out into a smile.

“Oh?”

Chan swallows and nods.

“He said his friend really likes our style,” Chan continues. “I’ve been talking to him a lot. He said I could go over there to work with him, if I wanted.”

Soonyoung stares at him for a long moment, mouth slightly open. They’re still standing in the doorway, the studio dark and shadowed behind them. It makes it harder to guess what Soonyoung’s thinking.

“Is that what you want?” he says after a quiet moment.

“It is,” Chan nods, sure it’s true even though he wishes it wasn’t causing the expression on Soonyoung’s face — acceptance layered on top of hurt. Chan takes a deep breath. “I don’t mean to overstep, but. I asked him about you, too.”

Soonyoung blinks, his eyes very wide.

“You did?”

Chan flushes, feeling awkward.

“I didn’t….” he takes another breath, trying to get his thoughts in order. Trying to make sure he says it right. “If you don’t want to go it’s okay, but. I’d like it if you did.”

“Wow,” Soonyoung says, looking a little dazed.

“I know it’s a lot,” Chan says quickly. “You don’t have to answer now. I just wanted to ask you.”

“But you’re definitely going?” Soonyoung asks.

Chan nods. When he sees the lost expression on Soonyoung’s face he feels the slightest twinge of uncertainty, for the first time since he made his decision, but he doesn’t let himself waver.

“Okay,” Soonyoung says. He nods, more to himself than anything else. “Okay,” he repeats, looking up and meeting Chan’s gaze, a determined expression on his face. “I’ll think about it,” he promises.

Chan nods again. Now that it’s out in the open he feels limp, like a deflated balloon.

He wants Soonyoung to say yes. He wants Soonyoung to want to say yes.

“I’ll walk you home,” Soonyoung says, finally moving towards the stairs. Chan follows him, silently, and hopes.

 

 

 


 

 

 

The song playing in the studio the next morning is familiar.

“Hyung,” Chan calls as he slips into the practice room, and Soonyoung looks up. He isn’t dancing, isn't even standing — just sitting there, listening. He looks very tired.

“You never did find your partner,” Chan says quietly, coming to settle next to Soonyoung, backs pressed up against the mirror. “It’s been months.”

Soonyoung laughs, dry and a little empty.

“Chan,” he says, lifting his gaze up to the ceiling. “There’s no partner.”

Chan blinks, letting that sink in.

“What — ?” he asks slowly.

“I was never looking for anyone else,” Soonyoung says, head lolling over so his eyes can meet Chan’s. “I was always dancing it the way it was meant to be.”

Chan stares at him for a long moment, processing.

“Hyung….” he starts. “I don’t….”

He thinks of the dance Soonyoung made — Chan’s hands tied behind his back, the thing he wants most right in front of him. Teasing, always just out of reach.

Chan had always assumed he was a stand-in for Soonyoung’s partner, not that Soonyoung was supposed to be —

“Hyung,” he says again, an ache in his throat.

“I only wanted to dance it with you,” Soonyoung says. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what,” Chan whispers, his heart thudding in his chest. He doesn’t —

He can’t —

If Soonyoung gets his hopes up for nothing he’ll die, he’s pretty sure. Chan doesn’t think he can do it again.

“I never meant to find another partner,” Soonyoung says. “I was never going to perform it at a showcase.”

“Why not?” Chan asks.

“I was too scared,” Soonyoung admits.

Chan stares at him.

He’s never known Soonyoung to be scared of anything — he barges through everything in life headfirst, never thinking about any of his decisions before he makes them. Sooyoung has always been fearless, on stage more than anywhere else. It makes Chan feel sick to know that something’s made him feel like this.

“I was scared of what people would say,” Soonyoung says. He licks his lips, then presses them together.

“Oh,” Chan says. “Are you still afraid?” he asks, then, voice hushed.

“Some days,” Soonyoung admits. Something sharp twists in Chan’s chest.

“I wish you weren’t,” he says honestly.

“I don’t want to be,” Soonyoung says. He looks away, laughing wryly. At himself, Chan thinks. “I want to be good enough.”

“Good enough for what?” Chan asks. He wishes Soonyoung would look at him again, but Soonyoung won’t. He won’t look at Chan, and he won’t say anything. Chan leans closer. “Hyung. Good enough for what?”

“Good enough for my family,” Soonyoung says, shrugging. There’s a laugh in the corner of his mouth, still, but nothing about this is funny. “Good enough for you.”

“Hyung,” Chan says. “Can you look at me?”

Soonyoung takes one deep breath, then another. When he finally turns towards Chan he’s smiling, but it’s the smile he wears on stage. Chan can tell the difference.

“You were already good enough for me,” Chan says, and he means it.

Soonyoung’s smile wavers just the slightest bit, letting Chan see the uncertainty underneath.

“I hurt you,” Soonyoung says.

“You did,” Chan agrees. “But I didn’t do anything about it.”

Soonyoung makes a face.

“What were you supposed to do?” he asks, nose wrinkled.

“I didn’t tell you the truth,” Chan says, resolute. “I let you think it didn’t mean anything to me.”

“Did it?” Soonyoung asks, voice a hoarse whisper.

“Of course it did,” Chan says, not letting Soonyoung’s gaze slip away from his. “It was what I’d wanted for a long time, but I was scared too.”

“Yeah?” Soonyoung breathes, watching Chan’s expression very closely.

“Yeah,” Chan says. “I was scared if I pushed too far, I’d lose you.”

There’s a tense moment, and then Soonyoung laughs again, suddenly, like he can’t hold it in any longer.

“We’re both pretty stupid, huh?” he says.

“Don't say that,” Chan says immediately. “You’re not stupid.”

“It’s okay if I am,” Soonyoung says. “I’m good at other things.”

It still isn’t really funny, but Chan can’t help laughing now, too. The situation feels so absurd that he still can’t quite believe it’s happening.

“Hyung,” Chan says, abruptly, laughter fading just as suddenly as it started. “Let’s do it again.”

“Right now?” Soonyoung chokes, looking shocked. For a moment Chan just stares at him, confused, before he realizes and his face flushes bright red.

“No, not — ” he cuts himself off, flustered. “The dance. Let’s do it one more time, the way you wanted it.”

“Oh,” Soonyoung says, staring at him. His mouth is gaping open; Chan reaches forward, a little tentatively at first, and taps his chin until he closes it. Soonyoung smiles at him guilelessly. “Alright,” he says, pushing himself to a stand.

Chan watches as Soonyoung drags the chair to the centre of the room, but when he moves towards Chan with the scarf they always use for his wrists, Chan stops him.

“Wait,” Chan hears himself say. Soonyoung blinks questioningly at him. “We should switch,” Chan continues, heart pounding. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?”

For a horrible moment Soonyoung doesn’t say anything, and Chan thinks he’s overstepped, misread the situation completely. Then Soonyoung nods, slowly, and turns around, holding his wrists together behind his back for the scarf.

Chan’s pulse pounds as he leads Soonyoung to the chair. They’ve done this what feels like a thousand times before, their positions reversed, but it’s different now. More intense.

He thinks Soonyoung might feel the same way, if his silence is anything to go by — he’s watching Chan very carefully, bottom lip caught between his teeth.

“Does it feel okay?” Chan asks quietly, when he’s finished with the knot. Soonyoung tests it a bit, pulling just slightly, before he nods. Chan takes a deep breath and nods back.

He’s never actually danced Soonyoung’s part, not seriously, but he’s watched Soonyoung enough times to know how it goes.

Chan expects it to feel awkward — he and Soonyoung don’t move the same way, don’t tend toward the same style — but as soon as he starts to move, Chan realizes. He’d noticed how the moves were less fluid Soonyoung’s style, sharper and heavier at once, but he’d never thought anything of it before.

Now, though, it’s obvious: this was never Soonyoung’s part at all. It’s always been for Chan.

Soonyoung made the dance for him.

It comes to Chan easily, his body naturally filling in the parts he can’t remember. He finishes the way he’s seen Soonyoung so many times — almost in Soonyoung’s lap, somehow agonizingly close yet not close enough.

The music is still playing — Soonyoung never choreographed the whole song. Chan urges him up, his hands still tied.

He doesn’t have to say anything for Soonyoung to catch on, the two of them in-sync as ever, and Chan guides Soonyoung through a repeat of the chorus, this time for two.

They finish the song like that, Soonyoung keeping his balance even when he can’t use his arms, leaning on Chan when he can. Chan’s entire body feels like it’s on fire as the song fades out, chest heaving from more than just the physical exertion.

“Was that right,” he breathes out after a moment.

“Yeah,” Soonyoung nods, looking dazed. Chan understands the feeling.

“Do you want me to — your hands,” Chan says, reaching for where Soonyoung’s wrists are still bound behind his back.

“Oh,” Soonyoung murmurs, then nods again. “Yeah. Yeah, sure.”

Chan’s even more careful as he unties the scarf, very aware of how close it brings them. He should have gone around behind Soonyoung, he realizes, fumbling with the knot without looking, but he doesn’t think Soonyoung minds. Chan can feel the beat of his heart, skipping crazily, pressed right up to Chan’s; he can hear the catch in Soonyoung’s breath when his hands finally pull free.

“Hyung,” Chan says, voice hoarse.

“I want to go to L.A. with you,” Soonyoung says abruptly. His voice still sounds gravelly, but his eyes are bright and clear. Chan blinks in shock, completely taken aback.

“Are you sure?” he asks, words coming out before he can stop them. “The kimchi won’t be as good over there, you know.”

“I don’t want to be afraid anymore,” Soonyoung says, very seriously. And then, as an afterthought, “I can make my own kimchi, my mom taught me how.”

Chan laughs, startled.

“Neither of us speak English,” he says, cautiously, needing to be sure.

“I’m good at charades,” Soonyoung says with a shrug, and Chan feels a rush of fondness overtake him.

“Alright then,” he says, still smiling. “Let’s do it.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Hansol and Seungkwan throw them a going-away party before they go. Hansol had been embarrassed when he brought it up, muttering that Seungkwan put him up to it, but Chan thinks it’s sweet. Soonyoung’s the sentimental type — he likes things like this

Sure enough, Soonyoung starts crying about twenty minutes into the party, and he doesn’t really stop all night.

“This is so nice,” he says, coming back from a very involved discussion with Seokmin, red-faced and weepy. Chan doesn’t think he's even had that much to drink.

“It is,” Chan agrees, smiling as he uses the sleeve of his sweatshirt to wipe under Soonyoung’s eyes.

“We have such nice friends,” Soonyoung sighs as he slumps against Chan’s shoulder, drained.

“We do,” Chan laughs, wrapping an arm around Soonyoung’s shoulders, looking at the party around them. Even Wonwoo had agreed to come, and he only looks a little uncomfortable as he talks to Jihoon in the kitchen, the two of them clutching their beers to their chests like matching shields.

Chan and Soonyoung stay like that for a moment, quiet, until Seungkwan wanders over with a pout on his face.

“You’re leaving,” he whines, pushing Soonyoung out of the way so he can snuggle Chan’s shoulder instead. Soonyoung gasps, affronted, but Chan only laughs. “I can’t believe you’ve been gay this whole time,” Seungkwan continues, still pouting. “We could have had so much fun together.”

It’s Soonyoung’s turn to laugh, startled. He turns to Chan to check his reaction, like he isn’t sure what Chan is going to say. Chan only shrugs.

“I wasn’t hiding anything,” he says. “I was cool with you and Hansol.”

“If being cool with gay people and actually being a gay person were the same thing, my relationship with my middle school best friend would have been a lot less tragic,” Seungkwan says dismissively.

Chan laughs again, surprised. Soonyoung is still watching the entire exchange with wide eyes.

“I mean, I don’t think I’m actually gay,” Chan says, and Seungkwan’s head whips up to stare at him suspiciously. The expression on his face could peel paint.

“Excuse me,” he says, glancing meaningfully at Soonyoung and then back at Chan. Chan can’t help giggling, even if it only makes Seungkwan scowl more.

“No,” he protests, still laughing, shrugging Seungkwan off so he can pull Soonyoung closer instead. “Just like, there are other ones, right? For people who like both?”

“Oh,” Seungkwan says, letting out a sigh of relief, fanning dramatically at his face to cool his cheeks down. “Oh my god, you scared me. Yes, there are other ones.

Chan doesn’t think he’s imagining the mocking tone Seungkwan takes on, but he lets it slide.

“I’ll send you an article about it,” Seungkwan says, patting Chan on the head, tipsy and just the slightest bit condescending. “You too,” he says to Soonyoung as an afterthought, reaching for his head too.

Soonyoung laughs and lets him, but he looks a little confused, too. He’s quiet for a long moment after Seungkwan wanders away.

“You’re really brave,” he says, finally. Chan frowns at him, confused.

“Brave for what?” he asks, meaning it.

“Just for being you,” Soonyoung says, then he smiles, completely guileless.

Chan smiles back, like he always does, letting Soonyoung’s warmth wash over him.

“You are too, you know,” he says, and he means it. He squeezes Soonyoung closer, laughing at how Soonyoung makes a face even as he snuggles closer, a warm weight against Chan’s side.

 

 

 

 


one year later


 

 

 

 

“Are you ever going to come home?” Seungkwan asks, a hint of a whine in his voice. Chan shrugs awkwardly. Off-camera his hand picks at the hem of his shirt, tucked away where Seungkwan can’t see.

“I don’t know,” he says honestly. “I miss it, but … ”

He does miss home, and he thinks Soonyoung misses it even more. They’re in LA, so they can eat Korean food whenever they want, meet Korean people just as easily — or, well. Soonyoung can meet Korean people just as easily. Chan can tag along behind him and smile.

But it isn’t the same. The way the city smells and feels, the way the people behave. Chan doesn’t know if it’s better or worse than Seoul, really, but even after almost two years it’s still less familiar.

“We miss you,” Seungkwan says, honest and petulant at once.

“I have to come home for my exam,” Chan says. Seungkwan heaves out a sigh.

“Yeah, but then you’ll just leave me again,” he says, sounding despondent.

“I’ll probably fail the first time,” Chan points out. “Then I’ll have to come back and do it again.”

“Don’t talk like that, no you won’t,” Seungkwan says immediately. Chan smiles, endeared by the intensity of Seungkwan’s blind support. “You’ll pass it on the first try and then you’ll be a high school graduate, and we’ll throw you a party before you go back home.”

“Wonwoo-hyung says a lot of people fail the first time,” Chan says, still smiling. “It’s not a big deal if I do, too.”

“Well,” Seungkwan says huffily. “That’s not very supportive of him, is it?”

“He’s realistic,” Chan counters, laughing at the indignant face Seungkwan makes in response.

“We really aren’t going to stay here forever,” Chan hedges, after a moment, not sure if he’s trying to convince Seungkwan or himself. It’s true, probably — he can’t imagine growing old here and more immediately, he doesn’t even know how long they can keep renewing their visas. He has plans, vaguely — once he has his high school degree he can think about post-secondary programs, about getting some type of certification. He wants to help kids, he’s pretty sure, but he still doesn’t quite know how.

“But you want to stay for a long time,” Seungkwan fills in for him, sounding resigned.

“I don’t know,” Chan repeats. It’s complicated, he wants to say, but he always hated when his parents said that to him when he was a kid. He never used to let himself say it to his students, so he doesn’t say it to Seungkwan now.

“Well, I can’t change your mind,” Seungkwan says, heaving out another deep sigh — pointedly, Chan thinks. It’s a little annoying, but mostly sweet that Seungkwan cares.

“It’s not like,” Chan pauses, trying to get his thoughts in order. “It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose,” is what he settles on. “It’s just … if hyung and I go back to Seoul, we can’t live like this anymore. We’d have to act differently.”

“What would you have to do differently?” Seungkwan asks, sounding confused.

“You know,” Chan says, hedging around as best he can.

“I don’t,” Seungkwan answers immediately, never letting Chan get away with anything.

“We’d have to change how we look at each other,” Chan forces himself to say, his face flushing red.

On the other end of the line, Seungkwan is silent for a long moment.

“It’s not so bad here,” Seungkwan says, finally, voice more serious than it’s been the entire conversation. “Hansol and I do okay.”

“Yeah, but …” Chan fumbles for the right words. “You’re in a different industry.”

“Barely,” Seungkwan counters. “Hansol’s working for an entertainment company, how is that so different from working in a dance studio?”

“Hansol isn’t teaching other people’s children,” Chan says quietly. He sees more than he hears Seungkwan’s sharp intake of breath, muffled through the phone’s speakers.

It isn’t something Chan ever used to worry about — it didn’t really matter, after all, when it was all hypothetical. But he has Soonyoung, now, and he isn’t going to give that up. Chan’s always been greedy with the things he loves, and Soonyoung is no exception.

“That’s — that shouldn’t matter,” Seungkwan protests weakly.

“It will,” Chan says. “You know it will.”

Chan doesn’t think the way he acts with Soonyoung when he’s in L.A. is so different from how he acted back in Seoul. Soonyoung latched onto Chan’s back like a koala in Seoul, too. Soonyoung grabbed him and planted wet kisses on the side of his face, laughing as Chan tried to push him away. When they linked arms in public, casual, laughing together as they walked down the sidewalk, no one ever looked at them twice.

But people would talk if they lived together, he knows. Once time started to pass and neither of them found a girlfriend — that’s when they’d run into trouble.

Chan isn’t ashamed of himself, and he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with him. He doesn’t understand how anyone could find something wrong with loving Soonyoung — it feels inevitable, impossible to avoid. But he doesn’t want the scrutiny, and he doesn’t want the judgment, and he doesn’t want what’s left of his career crippled by rumours spread by people who don’t understand.

And it isn’t just him, either — Soonyoung might complain daily about how the kimchi over here isn’t the same, it just isn’t, but Chan knows he feels a freedom in California that he never felt in Seoul.

Soonyoung cares about his family’s opinion about him, and he cares about fulfilling his duty as his parents’ son, but he values his freedom, too. He can never have it all, but at least over here it’s easier to pretend.

Chan doesn’t know if Soonyoung’s parents know — these things always travel, somehow, even across oceans — but if they do, they’re letting themselves maintain a façade of blissful ignorance. They’re kind to Chan when they call — and they do call, which is more than he can say for his own family. They never ask Soonyoung questions he doesn’t know how to answer, and for now that’s enough.

Maybe that makes them both cowards, but it’s the best either of them can do.

“Maybe,” Seungkwan concedes, but he doesn’t look happy about it. “But you could make it work over here, I know you could. Don’t give up on it, okay?”

“I won’t,” Chan says with a smile, touched by Seungkwan’s sincerity. “I promise I won’t.”

He means it.

 

 

 

 


two years later


 

 

 

 

The kkt ringtone startles Chan out of sleep at 6:30 A.M. and he jolts awake, groaning.

“What’s that,” he grumbles, turning his face into the pillow for a brief moment.

“You,” Soonyoung grunts, rolling onto his back. Chan squints over at him — his eyes are still shut tight. “I left mine in the living room,” he continues, and Chan groans again, reaching over to slap at the bedside table until his hand connects with his phone.

His stomach lurches when he gets a look at the screen — Ryu Myeongjin — and he swipes to answer the call immediately.

“Hello?” he asks as soon as the call connects, not even waiting for Myeongjin to greet him first. “Myeongjin-ah?”

“Ssaem?” Myeongjin’s voice is muffled, a little fuzzy from the distance but also — something else. Chan’s hearbeat picks up speed.

“Is everything okay? Do you need someone to come get you?” he asks immediately, already trying to calculate what time it is in Seoul. Is Seungkwan at work yet? He’d go get Myeongjin, Chan’s sure. He’d lord it over Chan for months, probably, but that’s fine. That’s nothing.

“What?” Myeongjin sniffs into the phone, clearly confused, and then — she laughs, clear and bright and maybe a little embarrassed. Chan freezes at the edge of the bed, where he’d been poised to stand up — and do what, he isn’t sure. There’s an entire ocean between them.

“Myeongjin-ah?” he asks. “What’s going on?”

The light flicks on, suddenly, and Chan blinks against the sudden brightness, tired eyes slow to adjust in the early morning. He looks over to see Soonyoung sitting up on the other side of the bed, hair sticking up everywhere, eyes still mostly shut but still managing to radiate concern. Chan shrugs helplessly, phone still glued to his ear.

“Ssaem,” Myeongjin laughs. “Ssaem, I’m going to debut.”

“What — oh,” Chan lets out, startled. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Myeongjin says, a little hysterical. “I wanted to tell you first.”

Soonyoung slaps at Chan’s thigh, trying to get his attention, but Chan just reaches back to grab his hand and hold it, squeezing tight.

“Myeongjin-ah,” he says, relieved enough to laugh. “Call your parents, yeah? You can call me again later, tell me all about it.”

“Okay,” Myeongjin says, a little quieter now, already back to her normal reticent self.

“I’m proud of you,” Chan adds. “I’m so proud of you, Myeongjin.”

“Thanks, ssaem,” she says, and then, “Oh, no. What time is it? I woke you up, didn’t I?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Chan says immediately. “Call your parents and your friends and let them know, okay? I’ll still be here.”

“I will,” Myeongjin says. “Bye, ssaem.”

“Bye,” Chan says, and waits for Myeongjin to end the call. He sits there for a long moment, Soonyoung quiet on the bed behind him.

“Is everything okay?” Soonyoung asks, voice hoarse with sleep. Chan turns to face him, finally.

“Yeah,” he says, crawling back into bed, tucking himself under Soonyoung’s arm. Soonyoung’s hand comes up to run through Chan’s hair, automatic. “Everything’s okay.”