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Mars

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In his eyes, the lights are flashing, his head panging, aching, music blaring in his ears. It’s too bad that he’s got a headache right now. On a normal day, he might’ve found the din to be a familiar comfort. Maybe not, it’s too hot in here to think straight.

 

Right beside him, hanging off his arm is a girl. A young, smokey eyed brunette, donning a candy apple red bodycon dress. Must be a foreigner, from the way she talks. He wonders, as he stares down into her dazzling eyes, ‘Where’s she from? Where’s her family?’  

 

How ever did she manage to land herself in such a low position that she has to resort to clubs for love? Nevertheless, she’s latching onto him a bit too close, too much for him. 

 

‘God, please hurry,’ He groans to himself, eyes searching the crowd of Blackout, a rowdy but upscale type of place filled with creepy old men, young girls and the occasional celebrity, trying to catch a break from the hectic lifestyle they hadn’t realized they chose. 

 

He finds his gaze tracing the dancing bodies on the dance floor, pushing up against each other, touching, kissing, dancing chest-to-chest. They’re enjoying it, it seems. Props to them.

 

Soon enough, his silent wish is fulfilled. A lady in blue snaps a photo of him. He doesn’t know her name, but he knows her, knows her face. It’s just like a photoshoot, isn’t it? He’s posing, pretending, waiting for the flash of the camera and an ‘ok’ from the crew. Only, this girl on his side doesn’t even know it.

 

CEO Park will pay her, he’s sure, for her trouble. Can’t have any possible gaps in their performance. There’s no room for failure. Thankfully, she’s not drunk, and he’s not even pretending to show any interest in her at all, so there’s no strings attached on his part. Perhaps he only tells himself this to ease the guilt. It’s fine. 

 

The woman in blue nods to him. Ah, here’s the ‘ok’ from his camera crew. He nods back, expressing some kind of solidarity with her. They’re not coworkers, nor are they really acquaintances. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just their job.

 

It’s time to leave. He politely excuses himself from the doting woman, tearing her off his arm as gently as he can. His taxi’s already on the way, his phone says. Jaewon yawns. If he can get home by 10 pm, he can have enough time to shower, eat and relax a bit before bed.

 

The taxi’s cold, silent. Comfortable, despite the chill he feels climbing into it. Gosh, isn’t it cold enough outside? Why does the driver have the air conditioner on? He doesn’t make any comment on it, instead wrapping his jacket tighter around himself, pretending that the man in the front seat isn’t glaring at him through the front mirror.

 

A sudden ache grows in his forehead. He didn’t even drink at all tonight, so why does he feel hazy? Strange.

 

The touch of the woman in the candy apple red bodycon dress still won’t leave. His skin crawls, recalling her uncomfortably warm hands pressing against him, her nails digging into his arm as he tries to pull away, her makeup-caked face digging into his neck, whining about something or other. 

 

If he were like others, would he have enjoyed that girl’s touch? If he were… ’normal’ , would he have molded to fit the shell of this persona of Wyld? 

 

No use worrying about it’ , He settles, ‘I’m not like that anyway.’

 

A memory stirs, seemingly conjured out of nowhere. One of the rarer ones, in which he can clearly remember his father’s face, up close in person.

 

He was in primary school, maybe only a child of six years old. A conversation he had once with his dad fills his mind. He can’t quite remember anything about it, not the reason the topic came about nor what else either of the two said that day. Just a single, simple statement, from dear-old-dad. 

 

“It’s fine that you don’t have a crush now,” he had whispered, petting his son’s fluffy black hair, “You’re still young. I’d be more worried if you were already an adult and still haven’t had any.”

 

He didn’t mean any harm, he knows, but...even now. Jaewon remembers it. Really, it’s funny how the only two things he remembers of his dad are the litanies he used to read him before bed, and these exact words that had somehow stuck with him his whole life. He’d like to say it doesn't affect him, but he’d be lying. It’s always there, bugging his subconscious. 

 

He had lived almost two decades or so being aware of this lack of attraction, of how he’s repelled by any sort of sexual activity. And of course, growing up in a small home with little to no friends, he had begun to wonder whether he was mentally ill, if he was just some sort of sociopath that wasn’t capable of love. He’d often ponder these kinds of things and then realize, no , he has empathy, he knows how to feel, how to love. Just...not like that.

 

And then, a bit into his teenage years, he discovered the internet. Jaewon was able to put a label to it all, to the lack of those feelings that he was told he should have. It had started with “Asexuality”, something he found that explained his absent interest in sexual matters, much unlike other teenage boys he knew. That was really the turning point, the main reason he hadn’t felt as lonely as he might have on his own. 

 

Then he learned another term. “Aromantic”, used to describe those that experienced very little, or no romantic attraction. It took Jaewon a long time to be honest to himself about that one. The concept of letting go of the standard, driving himself away from the default love story ideal life, it was too much for him to bear.

 

‘After all,’ he had convinced himself, ‘that would only be another thing to add on to the list of reasons that I'm so weird.’

 

Yes, it took him a lot longer to realize that being “weird” wasn’t something to be ashamed of, to stop beating himself up because he’s never had a partner or wanted to watch people in their most intimate of practices, or even participate in that himself. It was only then, when he realized that being aromantic wasn’t something to be afraid of, did he truly learn to love himself.

 

Jaewon looks out the window of the car. It’s a dark night out there...He wonders if the rest of MAYHEM are waiting for him. It’d be nice if they were, but Jaewon also hopes they aren’t. He wouldn’t want to keep them up late. Then again, Minsoo and Dae were never early sleepers, were they? And Dongho, well, he probably wouldn’t even bother waiting up. He doesn’t mind.

 

At least they wouldn’t question his late arrival to the dorm anymore. They’ve long since learned that ‘Wyld’ is but a persona, someone that Jaewon is not. This misconception isn’t something that bothers him anymore, thankfully.

 

Of course, that’s the extent of what he’s told them about himself. He’s been trying to stop isolating himself so much, trying to open up to his members a bit more, he just...He hasn’t made much progress.

 

Jaewon still has a long way to go before he can finally be who he is to them. Needless to say, he can’t really tell them the full truth about the scandals or anything about CEO Park, but…

 

He knows where he can start. With telling this secret, the one he’s lived with his whole life, the one he’s felt so alien about, so alone. Not even his mom knows anything about this yet.

 

Jaewon smiles recalling his mom. She was so accepting to Wyld, so why wouldn’t she be the same toward Jaewon’s true self? He’s not ready to tell her just yet.

 

But God , it really did hurt him. All this time, he hadn’t told a soul about this. He had once thought he was abnormal, mad, so incredibly alone

 

And yet...after all this time he still feels alone. Sometimes on the worst of days, he’d sit awake at night, listening to Dae’s snores and wonder, Will he die with nobody there beside him? He doesn’t want to, but he just...doesn’t feel any sort of attraction to anyone at all. So if he never gets married or anything, what’ll happen to him? He’ll grow older alone, have a house alone...The thought terrifies him.

 

He’s got to tell them. At least this much, he has to. They’re his coworkers, his friends. He can do this. He has to.

 

***

 

The next morning, Jaewon sits down, preparing a notepad and a pen. It’s early, around 6 am. No one’s awake.

 

He’s—he’s too much of a coward to tell them directly. But that’s no excuse for him to just avoid the confrontation altogether! So he’ll modify his approach, he’ll do what he did last time. Preparing his hand, he begins to write.

 

***

 

The other three wake up a couple hours later to a silent, Jaewon-free dorm and a note on the kitchen counter, signed: “Please open this together”.

 

Minsoo’s the one who finds it first, as he accidentally spills a bit of milk on it while sleepily trying to make a bowl of cereal.

 

“Guys!” He calls, preparing to heed the letter’s request for them to open it together, “I think Jaewon left us a note.”

 

“Hyung left a note? What does it say?”

 

“I don’t know, it says to open this together. Dongho! Where are you?”

 

The black haired male in question appears from behind a corner, rubbing his cold hands together. “What is it?” he asks the other two.

“Jaewon left a note, it says for us to read it together. Come here.”

 

Minsoo flips the page as Dongho strolls over, breathing heat into his hands as he stands next to Dae, behind Minsoo, to read it over his shoulder.

 

The letter reads:

 

I had once tested the waters

 

Forever ago.

 

The water accepted me

 

Loved me.

 

Dare I try again?

 

I came to it once more

 

A song in my heart

 

A song I was told

 

Lacked meaning

 

Lacked love

 

Lacked the passion

 

of attraction.

 

Dare I sing?

 

My song is wrong.

 

At least

 

That’s what I was told.

 

My song says

 

I don’t want romance

 

I don’t want passion

 

Not like that.

 

Am I wrong?


Am I sick?

 

For not wanting?

 

For calling myself

 

“Aromantic”

 

“Asexual” 

 

Am I abnormal?

 

I come to you, water

 

The song bursting

 

Waiting

 

Hoping

 

And I sing.

 

Will you, water

 

Still love me?

 

And at the end, in the same scrawl, a small addition reads:  “This is my way of coming out with it, one of my biggest secrets. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you face to face. Please forgive me.”

 

Such a guilt filled end to such a beautiful confession. But it’s not the point. Their hearts warm with the realization. It’s clear what Jaewon’s trying to tell them.

 

After all this time, the anguish he’s withheld, the secrets he’s kept...Jaewon’s beginning to let go. He’s getting comfortable with them.

 

It sounds like such a small thing on the outside but to them, oh, it’s everything .

 

***

 

Jaewon gets home later that day, his eyes weary and his stomach churning with anticipation. It’s as if he’s entering the lion’s den, his own coworkers, friends, preying on him and watching his every move, ready to pounce. And he hasn’t even entered the dorm yet. 

 

Of course, Jaewon didn’t expect them to act in such a way. Not really, they’d probably be just...Silent. Maybe they didn’t even understand what he was trying to tell them. In that case, he’d probably take a shower and hole up in his shared room, pretending as if nothing’s wrong.

 

He walks in. Minsoo and Daehyun are sitting in front of the TV, both with their own blankets as they snack on stuff, while Dongho’s sweeping in the hall.

 

Nothing seems to be amiss. Daehyun turns to him and—a smile overtakes the once entranced expression he wore. A real one, not some fake kind of simper he plasters on to seem normal.

 

“Welcome home, hyung!”

 

And gosh, they’re smiling so, so brightly, all three of them. Hell, even Dongho’s got a tiny grin on his lips. He looks down and continues to move the broom, hands gripping softly, firmly, as he directs the tool with care and precision. 

 

“Come sit with us,” Minsoo invites him, patting the seat in between him and Dae, “We’re watching this stand up comedian Dongho found a couple days ago. Of course, he won’t sit down with us because he’s so insistent on cleaning. Where’d you go, anyway?”

 

Jaewon takes tentative steps towards him. Something’s screaming, yelling and shouting for it’s life within him. His heart races. Did they read it? Did they even understand it, or are they pretending nothing’s wrong because they don’t want to tell him what they think? Suddenly Jaewon feels sick to his stomach. 

 

‘Please please, God—’

 

He takes a seat, uncomfortably shifting and crossing his legs, a ringing in his ears and a dizzying sensation falling over his eyes. 

 

Minsoo doesn’t seem to notice his discomfort much. He leans back, beaming. “Oh, by the way, Jaewon,” the silver haired man smirks at him, a gleam in his eye, turning the younger’s blood to ice, “You’re a good poet. We really loved it. And we love you.”

 

What?

 

Does this…Does this mean that…? 

 

Oh. Oh . Jaewon’s eyes widen and he realizes it. It was only a few words, a second’s glance, but God it told him everything he needed to know. They accept him. They support him.

 

Lord, how much he’s missed this feeling

 

“O-oh, you guys…” Jaewon whimpers, sobs becoming caught in his throat as he barely manages to choke out three words of pure, unfiltered relief. He sighs, his emotions building up and manifesting themselves in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

 

Dongho appears behind him, wrapping strong arms around his neck, letting his black hair hang down and tickle Jaewon’s nose as Dae and Minsoo join in, practically burying the younger male.

 

 “Hyung! We’ll always love you, you’re our friend.”

 

“We’d never judge you for anything like that, it’s completely normal.” Dongho mumbles into his shoulder, still not looking up at him. Minsoo nods eagerly beside them.

And oh my God , how long he’s longed for this. Reassurance, some kind of comfort to sooth his deepest fears and insecurities once in a while. 

 

***

 

The day passes, sweet moments of complete and utter bliss. Soon enough, Jaewon feels his eyes fall heavy, and he trudges over to his bed.

 

‘Completely normal.’ he remembers Dongho’s words, replaying them in his head as he beams to himself, cuddling his stuffed penguin and relishing the sweet cool comfort of his bed.

 

Being himself is normal. He isn’t unnatural. He isn’t crazy or mentally ill or disgusting or a psychopath— 

 

He’s Jaewon. Sweet, compassionate, empathetic Jaewon that they’ve learned to love after all this time.

 

No longer is he alone, set to fight and take on the world on his own. MAYHEM is there for him. His mom is there for him. Jaewon falls asleep, dreaming for the first time in months. His life may not be perfect, having to deal with such a heavy-weighing reputation and the whispering behind his back that he barely ever managed to get used to, even after all this time, but he’s got them, somebody to hold dear to his heart.

 

And that’s all he could ever really ask for.