"Smile," someone whispers, in the background. Not loud enough to be caught by the recording system, but loud enough to cut past the static.
The spotlight is in his eyes, blinding. He can't make out any of the other faces except hers. Which, he'd imagine, is the point.
He smiles dutifully, looking at Seungyeon's bent head with all the infatuation of a first love. And thinks, for what feels like the hundredth time in three weeks; man, she's gorgeous.
The other CN Blue members are good-naturedly jealous of him. Yonghwa hyung slapped him on the back and said bastard a couple of times. That, when he's being honest, feels good.
When she looks up, finally, she catches his stare. He doesn't miss the color spreading across her cheeks. Can't tell if it's an act at all. Can feel that inadvertent responsive undercurrent of satisfaction at having made her blush, even if it's potentially an act. Which makes her a bloody fantastic actress.
But whatever, he's good at being in love too.
Comfort, he’s not good at, but he’ll learn, eventually, he’d imagine. He has to.
He catches the kiss on-screen by accident.
He’s heard about it, of course. It had set the internet forums ablaze before their part even aired, cut short because of the baseball game (but really, by this point, everyone knows that's just an excuse). He imagines he can feel his producers heave a sigh of relief through the ten walls of separation, through the endless reinforced concrete. The Lee Tae Im controversy almost, if not quite, drowned as soon as hyungnim asked noona to close her eyes. Public memory is short, fickle; this they rely on. Sex sells. This too they rely on.
Their segment is playing in the studio on a loop on the big screen, muted. He's just supposed to be passing by. But curiosity has always been one of his strong suits. Or maybe strong failings. Probably that.
It's not a kiss, not really, is his first thought. He's done worse- better. Much better. It's not even a TV-kiss. Their lips barely touching on a screen lighting the dark room in a blue glow. But, for some reason, still, it shocks. There's something scandalous about a kiss in the second episode. Even if it suits Henry hyungnim’s image. That, probably, was the point.
He wonders if he could have done it.
Plays it in his head, just for curiosity's sake. Replaces hyungnim with himself for a brief second. He wants to be a director someday. That is still a secret.
He tries re-scripting, for what it’s worth. Changes the color of her dress, then changes it back to blue. Shifts the piano from its position. Thinks, for a second, of taking it out of the scene entirely- he can play it, sure, but he’s no Henry Lau, it feels constructed somehow. Then leaves it in. It looks good. This is about looking good.
Here’s the thing though, he forgets to replace her. Gets far too preoccupied by the object positioning, the scene placement, to really pay much attention to anything else. Then, finally, retains the scene as it is, his mind drawing a blank on how to script it better. He didn't say he is a director as yet.
Kisses Yewon noona the same way, perhaps by accident.
Anyway, it's not a kiss, not really.
“It was you, right?” Her lips soundlessly form the words. For some reason, even in his head, they’re muted.
As long as it’s always me.
Hyung had only nodded his head in response. As cheesy, as ridiculous as it now sounds, that part he changes.
In retrospect, this is his first mistake.
Habits, he finds, are easy to get into.
He ends up in the TV-room nine times out of ten. He can’t quite understand why he’s so tired all the time, when he spends most of his days doing nothing more with Seungyeon than the casual, everyday things he probably would be doing anyway. But somehow, the cameras make it exhausting.
Seungyeon has the most beautiful eyes he's ever seen. That makes up for it on most days. Sometimes, when he looks into them, he forgets to act. Nobody notices, though. Which is dangerous.
He doesn’t notice her. His eyes adjust faster to the dim blue glow each time, but he’s also used to being alone here. Habits are easy to get into.
“Jonghyun-ssi,” she acknowledges first.
“Noona,” he says, automatically, before turning, “hi.” She’s standing diagonally across from the screen, just a few feet away. Her face on-screen reflects on her face off it. For a brief moment, as a would-be director, he’s fascinated.
It takes him a while to register- Jonghyun-ssi- and, for a moment, thinks something like I thought we were past that.
Then understands. That was for the cameras. God, he’s getting to be pathologically stupid. It’s a legitimate concern by now.
“Sorry,” he covers, switching immediately, “Yewon-ssi. I just thought-”
“No,” she waves it off, “you can use banmal. I just- I wasn’t sure-”
He waits for her to finish. She leaves the sentence hanging, gaze turning back to the screen. Hyungnim is kissing her for what feels like the tenth time. It’s deeper by now, almost a real kiss. Their skinship is running circles around the show, boosting the ratings enough for their respective agencies to turn a blind eye to the potential scandal. He'd initially thought their concept was campy, madcap humor. But he’s starting to feel like it may just be eros.
She likes mirrors, he remembers, randomly.
He studies her. The dark-circles under her eyes seem more pronounced. The MBC controversy seems to have left its shadow somewhere. She’s more subdued too, somehow. Or maybe the brightness was just camera induced. It’s not like he knows her, not like he can tell.
“You can speak comfortably with me too,” he says. Only realizes, after, that he’s overshot the response time-limit for this to be a reasonable extension of their conversation when she answers with an absent, “hmm?”
“You,” he tries again, embarrassed by now, “can speak comfortably with me. I meant what I said that day.”
She doesn’t understand, he knows, what it meant for him to get there. Even though he’d told her. She probably thought that was for the cameras too. She doesn’t know him either, after all.
The scene shifts to his segment. Seungyeon in a virginal, white dress, practically glowing. On-screen, he’s trying to cut vegetables, but he keeps getting distracted by her nearness. Only about half of that is scripted.
Yewon noona appears to lose interest almost immediately, sparing only a perfunctory glance. He doesn’t know whether to be annoyed or amused by that.
“Okay,” she answers, finally, turning again. Smiles. “That judo class was super fun, by the way. You should teach me that properly someday. I was a mess at it.”
It’s their sole point of reference, he knows, but it sounds like she means it. Even though she’d later said in her interview that she’d expected him to leave her standing there. Was waiting for it to happen even after. Which he did.
He can’t remember now whether that was a part of the script. Maybe not. Gong Seungyeon is ridiculously beautiful. He’s only human.
“Sure,” he says to the empty room. She’s already gone.
“You’re a lucky guy, hyung,” Jingoo says casually lounging on the couch, after their shoot. He has a can of beer in his hand, eyes transfixed on the screen. They don’t watch this usually, but it’s on, and maybe Jingoo is too tired to change the channel. Or feels like it’d be rude to or something. Jonghyun’s just learning the basics of social navigation, he’s not down to the reading people part of it yet.
My first impression of you was that you were a bit…scary.
Seungyeon is laughing at something he’d said. He does, in fact, remember feeling lucky.
He makes a sound possibly signifying agreement. Then adds an “I know,” for good measure. Resists the urge to express any sort of disapproval at the underage drinking.
Maybe he’s just getting old. The younger guy is practically carrying Orange Marmalade on his shoulders alone, Jonghyun’s sure he can handle a beer.
“He’s lucky too,” Jingoo nods at the screen, taking another sip.
The music has changed. He doesn’t need to look, but he does anyway.
“All I really remember about her,” Jingoo confesses in that man-to-man voice he sometimes uses when they talk- Jonghyun can understand, the other guy is eight years younger, it’s a lot of distance to bridge, he hadn’t been young even at the time of his debut, “is her Yes! photoshoot. Photoshoots. That was- fuck- those were-”
“Sorry, sunbaenim,” he apologizes immediately, formally, “I didn’t mean to swear.”
He knows the photoshoot. Shoots. It was pretty much the first thing he’d come across when he’d looked her up on the internet after their not-quite-date. Just out of curiosity. He doesn’t know if it’s a breach of professional ethics to see your co-worker in her underwear. Not in this profession, he’d like to believe. They’re just entertainers. It’s just a photoshoot.
(Sometimes, now, when he replays helping her with her judo clothes, he opens the belt of her robe instead of tying it. That’s fucking insane.)
He nods his forgiveness. He doesn’t really care about hierarchies, he’s man enough to admit the other guy is five times the actor he is at the moment, but it’s the norm in the industry, so he goes with it. He goes with a lot.
His mouth is dry. He takes the can from Jingoo’s loose grip, and downs it.
They’ve done love shots, slept in the same bed, and pretty much established skinship, but the first time he kisses Seungyeon, on the cheek- a brief, chaste peck, drawing back almost immediately, red-faced- hyungnim puts his arm around noona’s waist, the other hand coming brazenly to rest on the patch of bare skin between her jeans and shirt, as she stands on her toes, reaching up to take something out of the cupboard. There’s a lot you can get away with, being America-bred Henry Lau.
At this rate, Jonghyun concludes, they’ll have to start taking their clothes off by the thirtieth episode to be able to move forward.
That sounds sufficiently like jealousy even to him, for him to clamp it down immediately.
The five-second rule applies, he decides. It’s almost like he didn’t think it, then.
He thinks it’s hyung at first, but she’s sitting at the piano instead, when he walks in the practice room.
He considers walking out again, but that would be ridiculous.
“You’re good,” he notes, seriously, “very good.” He’d figured that out from their first duet. Her and Henry. They're matched, in odd ways. It makes him feel...strange. Not anything else, exactly either. Just strange.
She laughs. It’s like he remembers, open and loud. It makes something inside him flare.
She drapes her hair over one side of her neck. There are beads of sweat clinging to her skin, probably not caused by the piano-playing alone. He remembers Seungyeon saying something about the exposed neck attracting guys. Remembers Henry hyung saying something about how Yewon- he’s dropped the noona by now, only in his head, but in his head- has the prettiest neckline. He’s playing a vampire; after all, this has to be ironic. In some way. Honestly, that’s the best analogy he can come up with
Clearly, the only moral of this story is that he’s beginning to lose his fucking mind.
“I’m practicing,” she informs him, and pauses to snap her gum at him. Somehow, it seems fitting to him that Yewon is sitting here, playing classical German compositions, and chewing gum. It feels like he's starting to understand her a little. “Oppa’s far too good. It’s making me look-”
“Oppa?” He raises an eyebrow, only half-teasing. He can’t help it. He remembers hyung asked her to call him that. It still sounds wrong. The cameras aren’t rolling. There’s no one but him.
A dull red spreads across her cheekbones, but she recovers almost immediately. She’s good at that, he’s noticed. “Henry’s making me look terrible in comparison. My image is taking a severe beating here.”
He knows she’s only half-joking too.
“More than it already has,” she adds, under her breath.
He doesn’t know what to say to that.
“I can help you,” he offers. “Practice, I mean.”
She eyes him with grave suspicion; he resists the urge to laugh, “are you any good?” Blunt. That’s what got him in this position in the first place. The fastest he’s ever become this close to someone. He’s so much on tenterhooks, so nervous during the shoots, so in awe of Seungyeon, he’s kind of forgotten what comfort feels like.
Not like this. Not exactly like this, not when he can still imagine her naked when he closes his eyes, but close enough. It’s close enough.
“Not as good as hyung-”
“-nobody is as good as Henry,” she states, matter-of-fact.
That’s…probably true. But it stings, a little, still.
“Not,” he knows he sounds sullen, so he clears his throat, “bad either, though.”
She stares at him for a moment longer, “I can work with that.”
Seungyeon, sometimes, makes him feel like he can’t breathe.
(Yewon, sometimes, makes him feel like he can.)
Anyway, this much he understands, it's not real. It's not real because the cameras won't capture this. He let her in his head alone. They never really stood a chance at a story.
He picks up the remote, leaning back on the couch. Changes the channel.