I'm hopelessly hopeful,
that you're just hopeless enough.
Afterwards, when the stage smoke and the real dust and all the trash has cleared, been cleared, and the show's out of the prime-time Netizen Outrage Theatre, he wakes up in Japan and Mapsosa has already been knocked a place down by Leon two days in.
I had an affair, he finds himself humming sometimes, when he’s trying to sleep, and can’t. He thinks, inadvertently, of IU in her white dress, her limited movements, peripherally located in his memories. She doesn't take center stage because he can’t remember if he’d even looked at her, doesn’t know if she had looked at him because he wasn't looking, which would probably have made for a sub-par stage, in hindsight.
When he’ll have to be awake in lesser time than he has to fall asleep, he decides it’s pointless anyway. It’s a good thing his make-up artist is exceptional. And he’s a good canvas; the dark circles will barely show.
Mostly, though, he tries to remember how they’d sounded, together. In the moment he'd been too nostalgic for the first time, four years before, when everything that happened after hadn't happened. The articles say something about chemistry, so he watches an uploaded fancam on his phone in idle curiosity. That's three minutes less to sunrise.
Later, he puts his phone upside down on his chest. Clasps his hands over it.
I cheated. They sounded good, really good, just— just not good enough.
That wasn’t their song, he decides.
(She hadn’t either, he notes. Looked at him throughout. For reference’s sake.
Not that it matters either way.)
Till Daesung sends him the YouTube link, accompanied by a confusing, contradictory set of emojis that he doesn't even try to decipher.
It's a video of her, another fancam, which just seems a completely- random thing for Daesung to have sent him, unless he believes that their Infinity Challenge collaboration somehow turned Jiyong into a part-time Uaena or something. He opens it anyway, because there's no particular reason not to, he's exhausted and bored, and he can't sleep. It might be funny. She might have declared her undying love for Youngbae again. That's always funny.
It's when the chords open, and the crowd cheers off-camera, that he first understands, and thinks: fuck.
He doesn't know what the stage is, and it's only halfway through the song, the beginning of the second if you- if it's not too late, that he registers that she sounds better than he ever did in his part, her voice low, weighted. The words- his words, razor-edged, so it would cut every time, the words he wrote for Kiko, to hurt her, hurt himself, he never figured that out- wrap around her tongue and melt. More beautiful than he ever meant them to be, he'd meant for them to be ugly, broken. They fit her mouth, somehow, he could barely swallow them down when he sang.
Can’t we make things a little easier? His hand is shaking, he notes with dull surprise, in some distant corner of his mind, as he shuts his laptop screen, the room plunging into darkness. Fucking ridiculous. He's fucking ridiculous.
He leans back, closes his eyes. It's too silent outside, the roads too muted. He can't hear the cars.
The next time he thinks of Kiko in verse, raw, unfiltered, unedited, the voice in his head sounds like her.
The thing is—
It festers for a while. Something at the back of his head that he unconsciously, broodingly picks at, in between concerts, in between photoshoot takes, shuttling between Japan and Korea and China for their concert tours. Like a scab, which it would just be better to let go of, but he's never been good at the letting go part. He always takes every bad idea and magnifies it into disaster.
When he knocks on his door, Yang Hyunsuk looks a little alarmed, and he runs the possibilities of the why through his head. He’s pretty sure Yang Daepyo is convinced that Jiyong’s dramatic enough to leave, that he’s exactly the kind of guy to make Kiko their Yoko Ono in the share price market. It’s amusing. Maybe he is. That guy. He stage-hesitates just to prolong the look for several long moments.
“…collaboration,” he finishes, eventually, and doesn’t miss the sigh, like the other man hadn’t even realized he was holding his breath.
He has her number, by now, but Yang Hyunsuk is the one to call Shin Wonsoo.
Which is just as well.
It’s not that he doesn’t get why it’s easier than it should be, why no one argues, even when he has no time, even when his schedule's full and he's already knee deep in prior album obligations. YG, all of YG, was waiting for a breakdown, something that makes the papers the next day, makes the papers for a week straight, and requires constant stock-price monitoring, full-scale damage control. And this? Is better than they could have imagined, he knows. If all he needs to get over his trigger point, his stupidly broken heart, is a song, a song with an artist who always scores higher than them on the digitals anyway, then, well, that’s a bullet averted.
When she first enters his recording studio, her manager throws him a glare like he maybe has intentions beyond just using her voice for his song. He’s noticed it before; her manager oppa does that a lot. A sort of oddly personal don’t hurt her look, like he’s her real oppa or something. Youngbae used to be the main target, they’d teased him about it when they were bored. No longer, apparently.
Not that he doesn’t agree with it; he doesn’t exactly look like the poster child for respectability, he knows. His skin is far too stained with ink, his jeans are far too ripped in far too many places. If he didn’t know himself, he’d probably look at himself the same way most people do; the half side-ways glance questioning the bona fide of anything he’s planned. The dictionary definition of dysfunctional.
“Hyung,” he bows elaborately, though he doesn’t know the guy, and gets another, even more impressive glare for the act. He doesn’t help the situation he knows, he never learned anything but how to gravitate towards the inevitable, logical conclusion of whatever misunderstanding he's a part of.
“Subaenim,” IU says politely, and he shifts his gaze to hers. Her eyeliner is just the slightest bit unevenly applied, like she maybe did it herself, and he resists the urge to smudge it just a little bit more, because her jeans are so perfectly ironed, the creases so aligned, that it's getting under his skin.
So he reaches over and ruffles her hair, till his fingers can’t make their way through the tangles anymore. He doesn’t know what it is about him that always makes him want to step on any sign that says Do Not Enter, and enter anyway. Se7en sunbaenim had said, laughing, so many times, that he had authority issues. But sunbaenim isn’t even a part of his routine message checks, isn’t a part of YG any longer. And he— he’s nearly twenty eight, he is authority now, so he doesn’t even know what the fuck that's supposed to mean anymore.
She stands her ground, still, slightly awkward, her feet facing left, like she’d planned on moving away, but couldn’t decide fast enough if it would be too impolite to.
“Jieun-ah,” he says. Her hair is impossibly soft under his hands.
It’s three minutes, fifty two seconds in that he’ll realize it’s the first three minutes, fifty two seconds in three months that he’s gone without thinking of Kiko.
(Here's the other thing: Everything about her tells him to not touch. Her poker straight hair, her perfectly creased jeans, her distant, polite, occasion-appropriate smiles.
So, of course.)
What he doesn’t understand, he thinks, watching her, is why they’d let her. He knows why he’d knocked on the door and asked, but he doesn’t get why they’d let her.
He’s overthinking, he concludes, when she enters the recording room, and picks up the headphones. She’s already sung a duet with Seungri, so clearly, in the list of messed up, he doesn’t gain any special traction ground.
(Maybe they didn’t let her, he’ll consider, later. Because she’s bigger than her company. It’s an open secret around this town. She does what she wants. Maybe she wanted to.
He’s still overthinking, maybe, probably, but for some reason, it makes him pause, still.)
They make the news. It starts with a cryptic picture on some paparazzi site where she’s just about to enter his house and a day of rabid speculation in the comments section about whether they’re sleeping together (they’re not), what sort of relationship they have (they don’t, any) and when they’re announcing a wedding (next June, she’ll begin to show by then, he writes as an anonymous commenter, and then can’t tell if he has too much time these days or not enough and he lost his mind in the rush without even realizing it.)
The joint statement about the collaboration is almost perfunctory the next day. They make the headlines, after. The photograph plastered all over the main pages is the same one all over, from their Infinity Challenge stage; he’s bowing to her, she’s bowing to him. Only barely. But still.
There's only one press conference, only those people who will make their lives a public hell if not called. They make the entertainment section of all the major news outlets. The business section of some.
He hadn’t factored in the anticipation, he recognizes belatedly, after the twenty seventh time his alert rings in fifteen minutes. Hadn’t penned in an entire nation waiting for him— them— to blow their minds, and some days, it feels like drowning. Truth is; he never means to build up expectations.
The words from his ink are stuttered, muted.
“You get it, right?” he asks.
He’s polite, and she’s polite in return. They’re known for it in the industry after all.
“I think so,” she says, and something about the way her eyes flicker over the lines tells him that she probably gets it way more than he wants her to. He can’t expect her to have skipped the tabloids for the past few months. To not have heard the whole thing in sordid detail from someone who knows him. Knows Kiko. It's an incestuous business, everyone worth knowing knows everything about everyone worth knowing.
“It has to be right,” he says.
It comes off too tight, too desperate, too filled with urgency for what he's still pretending is a professional conversation. He tries to pass it off with a smile. Her gaze is uncomfortable on his. She never looks down first, he’s come to realize, which he'd have called uncharacteristic three days ago, but is probably the first thing he knows is real about her beyond the stage and waiting rooms and the five-seat-down distances at award shows. He doesn’t either, look down. In hindsight, that will be a mistake.
“It will be,” she says, simply.
What irritates him, he’ll decide later, is that he believes her. Just like that, he believes her.
"We can call it Instagram," he says, a week after.
She looks at him through hooded eyes, "sorry, sunbaenim?"
"The collaboration," he elaborates, "we can call it Instagram." He points a finger at her, "I," then points a finger at himself, drawing an invisible line between them, "G." Then snaps his fingers together.
He's a performer, on stage, and off. It's the only reason why he's lasted so long, why he's ever come back after every new scandal.
Her stance is uncertain, because, he can tell, she doesn't know him enough to be able to judge if he's kidding. Judge if he's not. How to react. It's becoming a favorite past-time of his— watching her try to navigate his fault lines. Move between them with careful footsteps, like she might actually be the only person in the world who knows the rules of Minesweeper.
He waits. It's an amusing diversion, he's almost distracted.
"The snapshot of a relationship," she says quietly, eventually, under her breath, her eyes coming to rest on the sheet music on his table.
And he knows, somehow, with unerring certainty, that she's not talking about the collaboration. He's never uploaded any of Kiko's pictures to Instagram, couldn't have anyway, not with who they are, and he had nothing to delete. A clean break, a surgical knife. No unnecessary blood.
IU's too sharp, a fast learner, he hadn't known this about her. It's pissing off. Each time, she reads lines he hasn't even fucking written and it's just so fucking—
God, he thinks.
He picks up the sheet music, doesn't know why it makes him turn away.
They don't call it Instagram, obviously.
“Again,” he says.
Daesung shifts next to him, restless. He’d just come to get him coffee as encouragement, Jiyong knows. He didn't drink it in time, and now he’s let it go cold, forgotten. He can be a jackass, not that Daesung will ever say that about him. The guy's loyal to a fault. “Is there any particular way you want it sung, hyung?” he asks. There’s an implied you aren’t telling her what you need. But like he said, he can be a—
“Again,” he repeats, into the microphone. Her hair is half curtaining her face, before she tucks it behind both ears, as she looks straight at him through the glass window separating them.
And again, she sings.
The second floor is still as secluded, but less crowded than he remembers from his last trip to Japan. But anyway, the people in the club turn to look at him regardless, and that makes up for it. That's always the endgame. Maybe, he thinks, they were just there at the MADE tour stage before this, some of them there just for him.
(“You’re an attention whore, hyung,” Seungri had said to him once, half-admiring, "must be the Leo in you," before Youngbae had punched him in the side for the disrespect, and later turned to him and said, shaking his head, “you’re an attention whore, Ji. Must be the Leo in you.”)
He makes his intentions obvious these days. It makes him- the whole thing- feel vaguely sordid, but whatever. Then usually decides on the girl who looks most interested, stands the closest, touches him most often; he's up for public consumption most days, this isn't different. He’s too old for mind games now, he's convinced sometimes. They’re all beautiful anyway. He can play the game, sure, and prolong the inevitable- or he can get off faster. It’s not a difficult decision, ninety percent of the time. He’s too tired. He still has fucking body glitter on.
Her hair is long, she doesn't remind him of Kiko. That's enough, these days.
When he’s close, he thinks of Jieun, for a moment. By accident, he’ll conclude later. Maybe because her hair is long too. Accidents have no meaning, they wouldn’t be accidents if they did.
Thinks of her, behind the glass wall of his recording room. She looks at him, and draws in a deep breath, her lips closing around the first words of his song.
The second time, he doesn't think of anyone. His mind blank. Behind closed eyelids, there’s only comfortable white noise.
He calls her, once.
“Sunbae,” she says, just slightly surprised. “I thought you were in Japan.”
That’s awkward. “I am,” he says. Which makes it difficult to explain. He tries to remember the time difference, to remark on it, or make it a question. Remembers there isn’t any.
“So why are you—?” she begins. Then appears to change her mind, because she only says, “I’ve been trying to sing that line and—”
She sings it. It’s a higher register than he wants, but he says anyway, “it sounds really good.”
The truth. It can sound better. Also the truth. He’s not even lying, most times; he’s just choosing the greater good, the lesser evil. The lesser good, the greater evil. He's not really picky either way. Anyway, he’ll tell her when he gets back.
“Really?” she says, and he can hear her smile through the distance, through the airwaves, across countries. Weird, that.
“Really,” he says, and this time, the whole truth and nothing but.
So why are you—?
He’s so grateful she didn’t, that it’s only later much, much later that it will strike him that the only reason she wouldn’t have asked is because she was scared of what he might answer if she did.
When he gets back, he doesn’t call.
9:00 p.m., tomorrow, he texts instead. And thinks, almost immediately, that maybe he should have called her, because it feels strange now, to go an entire day, and not hear her voice. He’s almost used to it, he can’t get unused to it that fast.
Routines, he concludes, are easy to fall into.
“Hi,” he says.
The first session for the morning is just over, and he's drained already.
He’s leaning against the side of the coffee machine, and she hadn’t see him, he can tell, because her eyes widen just slightly when he speaks.
For a moment, he's sure she's going to turn back. He doesn’t know why they’re so awkward. They’re not friends, yeah, they don’t have to be, but they don’t have to be— this— either.
She doesn’t though, turn back. He can’t tell if it’s the professional in her, the hoobae in her, or her.
“Hi,” she says.
The coffee machine runs out midway through his cup. He punches the contraption like that’d help. She looks vaguely amused.
“You can have it,” he says, holding out the half-filled mug.
“No,” she says, “please, it’s yours. I didn't want coffee anyway, thank you.”
Then what did you want? he'd have asked, but he's semi-convinced the answer might be to get away from him, and he doesn't want to ask.
“I insist,” he says, and it comes out strangely formal, which, he knows is what makes her take it.
"Thank you," she says, again, bowing her head.
There’s no milk, no sugar, he remembers much too late, when she grimaces. None left. He likes it black, she probably doesn’t. She swallows gamely anyway, he watches the movement of her throat.
It’s becoming a habit, he’s beginning to realize, watching her, and those— those are harder to work around, harder to break than routines. Those are dangerous.
When Youngbae comes over, they spend the entire time avoiding each others' gaze, and she keeps a distance of ten feet when Jiyong tries to tell her she's not putting accent enough on the aspirational mediocrity part and it's all so annoying, he has to remember to tell Youngbae to not come again. They can be the ones that got away on their own time, not his.
To a club, she’d said half-shyly, when he’d asked her where she wanted to go for her seventh debut anniversary celebration. We should go somewhere , he'd said, and she'd looked like she couldn't find reason enough to protest, even though she'd maybe have liked to. Don't stream-roll her, Seungri had said once, in the beginning, like he was the hyung, she's a nice girl. He doesn't even know what the fuck that's supposed to mean. He doesn't want to think too hard about it and give it meaning. And anyway, she'd said, I don’t get to go often.
(“Do you not watch variety,” Seungri will say, “she says that every time anyone asks her that question.”
“Why do you watch her in variety?” he’ll ask, more accusing than he intends.
But Seungri will only grin, “I watch all female idols in variety.”)
It was mostly for conversation’s sake then, so that they end up here, in his favorite club, where everybody knows him, and everybody probably knows her, because everybody knows her, means that he has very poor impulse control, terrible execution skills, and a possible onset of myopic vision.
She’s wearing some vague leather thing that sticks too close to her skin, that she probably imagines is club-appropriate, and is going to make her feel too hot in approximately seventeen minutes, and screams to everyone around that she doesn’t do this kind of thing often.
There’s something distantly heady about her half-curious gaze, the way she sticks close to him. Not too close, but never too far, as he navigates his way through, expertly. It makes him feel like her sunbae in something. He hasn’t felt like it in a long time, she’s far too good a singer, a composer. Far too good in everything he's ever done himself.
“Why do you come here?” she asks, like she genuinely wants to know.
He shrugs, “to get drunk, de-stress, hook up.” He could not be honest, he knows, but it would be pointless.
She doesn’t look surprised. He imagines his industry reputation precedes him.
“How did you get your manager oppa to let you come?” he asks in turn. The music is too loud, he can’t tell if he’s reaching her.
She leans in close to him, “he didn’t,” she whispers seriously, over the heavy beat, “I escaped. I’m good at it.”
Fuck, he thinks, that’s hot, and then it’s too late to unthink it.
(Four drinks in, her face is aflush.
“Are you happy?” she asks, the slur barely noticeable.
She pushes back her hair away from her forehead, drenched with sweat. He cramps inside with unexpected tenderness.
He entered anyway, even with all the Do Not Enters. He’s not a rebel, he’s a fucking idiot
“I think,” she says, and frowns, like she’s really thinking, really concentrating. When he reaches out to smooth the line, she lets him. “I think I’m happy.”)
She still can't sing the song just as he wants it, but when she sings it, still, her voice soaring, his heart stutters in his chest, halting.
He can't look at her when she smiles. Happiness can be as bad a habit as anything, he knows. He's old enough to.
"Was that okay?" she'll ask, and something about her steady gaze tells him that she's not asking, she's waiting for him to read her answer in it.
"No," he says. Her face falls.
He wants to kiss her. So he shoves his hands in pockets instead.
He finds her in the balcony, the smoke still lingering from whoever was there before her. She doesn't wear any fake leather anymore, it's too hot, she's a fast learner. His fingers itch to hold a cigarette.
She’s not even tipsy, he can tell, and all he really wanted— which is fucking mortifying when he now thinks of it— was for her to have fun. Which is how they've ended up here three times before, though everyone knows him, and she can't even dance.
And now she’s stone cold sober and she walked in on the guy she had a crush on, was in love with, or something, he doesn’t even know, in the arms of his lover. He should have known it would happen, it's not his not-so-secret place, after all, it's theirs, all of theirs.
“Why are you here?” he asks, like he doesn’t know. Like he hadn’t also walked in on Youngbae and Hyorin. Just before they’d jumped apart from their make-out session and Youngbae had sent him a very distinctive look as his gaze slid from him to Jieun that translated in an obvious what the fuck are you doing, Ji?
Damned if he knows. Damned if he knows if she’s still in love with Youngbae. How real that was for her. He has no goddamn idea. He thinks of Kiko, briefly. But this isn’t about that. She’s not Kiko. She’s not him either. He can’t compound all their hurt into a One Size Fits All.
“I’m embarrassed,” she says, voice small, and it takes him a moment to understand it’s a reply to his question. “It’s not— it wasn’t anything really, obviously. I mean, you know that, you’re, like, his best friend. So you obviously knew he never— it wasn’t— but, I’m still embarrassed.”
It’s the way she says it, hunched into herself, like she was actually rejected that makes him kiss her. His tongue already in her mouth, before he’s thought this out.
"Fuck being embarrassed of anything you like," he says against her mouth, far too heated to pass it off as him making a point.
He knows what makes him kiss her. He doesn’t know what makes her kiss him back.
“I knew you when you were fifteen,” he says.
Doesn’t know why, but it’s just… somewhere, at the back of his head, on a constant loop. He knew her when she was fifteen. Remembers her from when she was fifteen.
The key to the room feels heavy in his hand, the edge of the metal digging into his palms.
Her hand brushes against his, and when he looks back, she’s looking at him.
She never looks down first, he knows. He doesn’t either. He should have had foresight enough, he reflects, to stop himself from falling, but, well, hindsight is 20/20. Anyway, he didn’t fall. He practically jumped.
She pauses, a long nanosecond, then steps closer.
“I’m not fifteen anymore,” she says.
“I’m your hook-up for the day." It's said mock solemnly. She’s nervous, he can tell, and trying to hide it. “At least you won’t ruin your record.”
It seems too dramatic to reply with a shut up, too early to tell her that she’s been more than his hook up for weeks now because he can’t stop thinking about her at all the wrong times, too soon to make this into more than she means it to be in this moment.
But then she takes her thumb in his and flicks her tongue over it, trying to soothe the cut from the abrasions of the key, and something slams in his chest, hard.
So, instead, he kisses her, openly wanting, and shuts her up instead. Saves the words for later. He’s a composer, after all, he has world enough, and time.
It's even more awkward after, in his studio. All the mornings after. Like a drama they're probably going to cancel eight weeks in for not making the ratings cut. He can't stop tracing her bones with his eyes, and she avoids his gaze.
There are too many people around, he decides, half-an-hour in. Every sound, every movement amplified in his head. It feels like he's hungover. Like he got drunk on her and didn't even realize it, and now it's too late, his head is killing him.
She's still not looking at him. His mouth is dry. It's ten in the morning, and he already needs a drink. God, he's a fucking amateur, not a professional. There's nothing professional about this.
She stops, after her verse, her head bent, waiting. She looks exhausted. Maybe he should have been less ambitious, he thinks.
"Again," he says, tiredly.
She only nods.
He drops her home, even though he shouldn't. In the moment, he doesn't care if he gets caught by Dispatch, makes all the headlines the next day.
Then maybe you should care about her getting caught, Seunghyun's voice says in his head, dry, sardonic. But here's the thing; he's always been a selfish bastard. Seunghyun has always been the better person between them. It's not a secret.
His car is too recognizable, too flashy, but she doesn't say anything, just gets in, the corner of her mouth upturned just slightly. And he forgets, sometimes, she's good at escaping, it's just that her rebellion is quieter than his.
The ride is silent, she looks out the window, and he can't find air enough to speak.
She has a Do Not Enter right by the side of her gate, which, he'd imagine, is fitting. It's florescent, stark against the white board. He absently rubs his thumb against it.
She turns around at her doorstep, and he raises his hand in a quick gesture of see you soon, and he already wants to touch her again, this is fucking insane. He's not in fucking high school. He can't be an idiot enough to mistake sex for... anything other than sex. She's not fifteen anymore. He's not fifteen anymore.
As she holds her door open, the clap on switches on, and she's flooded in light again.
There's a pause, he takes note of it because his hand's beginning to cramp, but he can't seem to activate his motor skills enough to put it down. This is beginning to look like an awkward tableau of unrequited, he knows, because he can't school his face into blankness, can't stop looking at her, and he's too easy to read.
She looks down, this time, the color rising from somewhere low below her throat. His stomach tightens. It's the first, since he can remember. He wants to follow the trail down to see how far it goes.
Then she looks up. Her hand on the knob, twisting.
"Come in," she says.
(“It doesn’t flow,” she’d said, finally. After another recording. After he’d already lost count on the number of times he’d made her repeat it. And she still couldn't get it right. They couldn't get it right.
“What?” he’d said, his voice already on the edge, defensive. It sounds like- like she's been waiting for him to figure this out on his own.
She’d hesitated, then, uncertainly leaning against his work-table, but she’d gone on anyway. “The lines don’t flow, sunbaenim. It’s… difficult to sing like you want it to be sung, because the lines don’t flow.”
Every song has a beat, a rhythm; she’s using his words against him.
“You’re saying it's my fault. That my song’s not good enough,” he’d said, flatly.
“I’m saying,” she’d said, evenly, looking down, her hands playing with the frayed hem of her dress, “it’s hard to turn heartbreak into poetry.”)
He trashes the song when he gets back. This isn’t their song, still. He can't make the words stop stuttering, and flow, somehow.
He can still taste her when he swallows, still trace the indents of her skin against even surfaces.
When he puts pen to paper, the words align.
And you want to be known for your hits, not just your misses.