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“Don’t forget to do your vocal exercises!” the director shouted as he left from the back of the studio. “Rika, ask Hyun to help you work on your breathing – you’ll lose your voice and any potential role really soon if you go on like this!”

“I will, I promise!” Rika sat down on the floor and opened her bottle of water. She threw her head back when she saw Hyun approaching her. “Please don’t nag…”

Hyun stretched his arms and massaged his shoulders. “I won’t,” he said with a smirk. “You’re a big girl now…”

“And?”

“Aaand you know better than to stay out so late at night. It’s getting colder and you’re bound to catch something if you keep going out like this.” He pinched her nose. "Did you think I didn't hear you coughing this morning? Seriously, what have you and Saeran been up to lately? I saw him come back at dawn. At least you had the decency to send a text saying you’d be late, but that guy…”

“Apparently he got a gig.”

“No way! Acting?”

“He didn’t tell me when I asked, but you know he never tells me anything. Design, I guess?”

“Makes sense,” Hyun conceded, tossing his bottle of water up in the air and catching it without looking. “I tried to tell him now that he strikes me more as a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, but he gave me one of his mean looks, so now I just smile and leave him alone.”

Rika passed her fingers through her shoulder-length hair, untangling her waves. “Some friends have a band, so he’s probably working on their wardrobe? It’s an amateur thing, but you know… I think it’s his aesthetics.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Saeran’s low voice took them by surprise. He was always showing up unannounced, which freaked Hyun out more than anyone else. “Design is not my thing, Rika. Besides, they’ve already got a guy for that. Two people doing the same thing would be useless, and their guy is good.”

“Wow – you, praising someone? That’s no small feat. Then what were you doing at that club?” Rika asked, tilting her head. “V told me that he bumped into you backstage the other day.”

“Who’s V?” asked Hyun.

“The guy she lik---” Saeran’s mouth was covered by Rika as she pounced on him and knocked him to the ground. “Get off me, woman! It’s true, isn’t it? You totally like him. You’ll have to improve your acting skills if you don’t want him to notice,” he teased her as he held her by the wrists.

“Woah – easy, you two!” Hyun held Rika by the waist and easily picked her up. He could never understand how that little body always showed such strength. “What are you, high schoolers? You, stop making fun of her! And you… So what if you like the guy?” he asked Rika. “Is he married or something?”

Rika blew a strand of hair off her face. “I just don’t want to make things complicated. He’s a friend of my friend. We’re… getting to know each other.” She glared at Saeran. “So what were you doing there? Did your brother need you?”

Saeran scratched the back of his head and yawned. “Try-out.”

“What for?”

“Bass.”

“And?”

He smirked. “If you come and see us next Friday, you’ll see.”

“Ooh! Nice, man! Congrats!” Hyun patted him on the shoulder. “Wait, does that mean you’re gonna get us free tickets? Can I come too? I’ll be playing a guitarist in the next production, so I could get some inspiration from you guys.”

Saeran shrugged. “Sure.” He turned to Rika. “You know, just because my brother’s practically the leader of the band, it didn’t mean he’d let me play for sure. Saeyoung can be nice, but even if he says the band is just there as little more than a pastime, he knows what’s at stake.” He laughed. “That reminds me, everyone knows he can’t sing for shit. The manager said so. He told me I could do the harmony – if things go well this week.” Even though he was trying to remain as impassive as always, it was obvious that there was a certain excitement in his words that wasn’t usually there. “If anything, that’s my thing.”

Hyun nodded slowly. He, Rika, and Saeran had met at the drama studio a few years before, when those two were still high school students who had been “encouraged” by their educational therapist to join an activity that would help them express themselves better. It wasn’t as if they were there because they felt it in their veins. For Hyun it was so different that he found it hard to comprehend them at times. How could they not long for the lines that would allow them to become completely different people for a while? How could they breathe normally knowing that there was only one chance at life? Acting was something that awakened his blood and his senses like nothing else did, except for his motorcycle. Pretending to be someone else… No, not “pretending” – being someone else, stepping into someone else’s skin gave him such a rush that occasionally made him question his sanity.

“Seonbae?” Rika called, snapping her fingers before his eyes. “Are you still with us?”

“He’s off to that Me Me Land of his,” Saeran yawned.

Hyun shook his head. “Sorry, honey. You were saying…?”

“I’ll be taking my cousin to the concert next Friday. You can come with us, or we can meet there.”

“Your cousin’s a kid,” Saeran said, raising an eyebrow. “It could get us in trouble.”

“Yoosung’s almost 18. We’re barely three years older than he is, and when we were his age we did riskier things,” Rika scoffed, “so we don’t get to be smug about it. Besides, it’ll do him good.”

“Do you good, you mean,” Saeran purred. “You’re probably taking him so that he tells that guy V how much he admires you, so you can score brownie points.”

Rika pinched his nose, leaving a red mark on its bridge. “What is it to you? Sounds like you’re jealous. What, do you like me?”

Saeran looked stunned for a second and then roared with laughter. “As if, ugly!”

“Hey!” Hyun slapped the back of Saeran’s head. “Rika’s a beautiful lady!”

“Ah, sure, whatever… As long as you don’t take a look inside…”

“Enough!” Hyun flicked his finger on Saeran’s forehead. “The only thing that’s changed about you in all these years is your big mouth. I think I liked you better when you were a quiet little thing, instead of the sassy hot guy you became. And stop bleaching your hair! You’re not even doing it properly – the tips are peach-colored! It doesn’t look bad, but you know,” he grinned, “I’m still the hottest guy in our troupe. So don't even try to compete with me!”

“True, true!” Rika said, passing her arm round Hyun’s shoulders. Saeran stuck out his tongue and made gagging sounds before leaving. “Man, he’s so immature…” she said, standing up and patting her bottom. “I wish he were more like you, seonbae.”

“Ah, flattery. You might think you’re watering my crops, but---” Hyun caught her by the wrist. “Don’t think you’re going anywhere, sweetie,” he smirked. “We’ve got one hour of fun breathing exercises ahead of us…”


“It’s so strange that he’s still not here,” Rika said, standing on the tip of her toes. “Hyun’s always on time.” She checked her mobile phone. “Crap, no signal… I should go back to the entrance.”

“Ah, then I’ll go with you!” Yoosung said nervously.

“No, no. If we both go we’ll lose this spot, and more and more people are coming in now.” It was getting harder to move around. She looked at the time. “We’ve only got ten minutes before the first band starts playing and then they’ll dim the lights. It’ll be harder for him to find us. Just… Stay here, okay? I’ll be right back, I promise!”

Yoosung wrung his hands as he watched his cousin disappear among the growing crowd. He knew that he could trust her, but still… This was a little far from his comfort zone. He breathed in deeply and pursed his lips as he let out the air slowly, looking around without really seeing anything.

“Excuse me…” a gentle voice said from behind. He turned around to find a tall man smiling at him. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!” His light-colored hair was neatly trimmed and his clothes were simple yet stylish. There was a feeling of deliberate carelessness around him that didn’t strike Yoosung as suspicious. “Do you happen to know Rika?”

Yoosung’s eyes lit up. “Yes, she’s my cousin! Are you friends with her?”

The man’s smile broadened a little. “Yes, we’ve got some friends in common. My name’s Jihyun Kim. And you are…?”

“Yoosung Kim,” the young man replied, nodding politely.

“Oh, a Kim as well?” Jihyun commented lightly. “What are the odds?”

Yoosung blinked. “Well,” he said slowly, “I think it’s over 20% of the population of this country, so I’d say they’re pretty high. Ah, I mean---! I didn’t… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say you’re wrong, but… No, I---!” The words died in his lips as he felt the blood rushing to his face.

For a few seconds, Jihyun simply stared at him, making him feel self-conscious, but then he gave an embarrassed chuckle. “You’re right. It is a pretty popular surname, isn’t it?” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “So... Nice to meet you, Yoosung.”

“Yoosung, we’re here!” Rika shouted. Her eyes lit up when she saw Jihyun. “V! You’re on this side today?”

“No, I just thought I’d caught a glimpse of you from afar, so I came over and found your cousin.”

“Oh, sorry!” She grabbed a tall man by the arm and pulled him forward. “This is Hyun Ryu, my senior at the drama club. He’s here for some inspiration for a role. Seonbae, this is V. He’s a professional photographer who’s in charge of my friend’s band.”

“Nice to meet you, Hyun. You must excuse me now; it’s almost time for the show.”

“Huh? Gold Pawn is opening tonight?”

V smiled. “Yes. Ah, but there are other great bands later on, so you should definitely stay! We can have a chat afterwards. Hyun, Yoosung…” he nodded and he quickly went away.

“Ooh, so that’s the famous V,” Hyun murmured in Rika’s ear. "I can see why you like him..."

“So cool…” Yoosung murmured.

“Yoosung?” Rika asked, blinking at her cousin. His violet eyes were wide open, looking in the direction in which V had disappeared. Before she could ask him anything else, however, the owner of the place took to the stage and grabbed the microphone.

“Welcome to another great night at Smash! How’s everybody doing tonight? You having fun?” He waved to the crowd and they cheered. “Lots of people here tonight – not surprising, since we’re having a record of bands featured, so there’ll be music for everyone, till the sun comes out!”

“I’ll stay near the back,” Hyun said to Rika. “There are a bunch of little ladies around here that will either get distracted by my looks or won’t be able to see anything.”

“The woes of tall, handsome men are unknown to me,” Rika grinned. “We’ll join you once we’ve seen my friend’s band. Where will you be?”

“Right below that exit sign. See you later, okay?” Hyun turned around and made his way to the back. He leaned against the wall and tried to listen to the host, but there were a group of young people nearby that were gushing over some news.

“Eh? Are you sure? Gold Pawn will go first? Jandi’s gonna flip when she finds out she’s missed them!”

“You bet she is! She’s been talking all week about Jonghoon this, Jonghoon that…!”

“Is Jonghoon the singer?”

“Eh? How can you not know?”

“Didn’t you hear about the blogger that reviewed their concert? Apparently he disappeared…”

“What nonsense is that? It was the entry that disappeared! He said he must have been hacked…”

“Shhh! The lights are going out on the stage!”

“Yes, I think I can see them moving around!”

Hyun chuckled. You certainly have famous friends, Rika, he thought. And if everything goes right with this next role, I might become one of these rising stars. He knew that his passion for acting shone through, that he had an indefinable quality that was always sought after – something that he himself hadn’t found in anybody else.

The first notes took him by surprise. A confident guitar played by Saeran’s brother, joined by a slow but precise keyboard played by a long-haired girl; Saeran’s bass bonding with them in a seamless transition, and then the drums… A strong-looking woman played them, leading them all, bringing them together. The beat went through him in a way he hadn’t expected. His eyes caught on the silhouette of a tall man standing in the shadows, waiting for his turn. And when he sang…

His voice wasn’t particularly special. It could be high or low. It could be anything that man wanted – rich, intimate, combative; a scream and a murmur, an indefinable plea. A chill ran down Hyun’s spine. Take me now. Trust me now. Break me down. That voice was defying him, enticing him. Take me now. He swallowed hard. The singer was looking at him. Even across that distance he could feel it.

When they finished, he was barely aware of the crowd roaring around him. They were chanting the names of the band members. Saeran’s brother –Saeyoung, was it?– was introducing him as their new bassist. The singer, however, didn’t speak. He’d slunk back to the shadows.

“They’re going to play another one, aren’t they?” Hyun asked a girl standing next to him.

“They only play three songs every time,” she told him. “But wasn’t Jonghoon great just now? I could feel he was singing to me…”

You’re wrong, Hyun wanted to say. It was me. He was calling to me. He tried to get through the crowd, but it was impossible. So he stood at the back, wanting to shout, to be noticed by that man who had that something that he’d never found in anybody else.

“Jonghoon…” he murmured to himself, fascinated. “Who are you?”

----------

Chapter Text

Chairman Han closed the report and sighed. “Are you sure this is going to work, Antoine?”

“You can trust me, sir.” The young man bowed. His golden brown hair was tied up in a ponytail, and his black suit was impeccable, befitting the chief of security of the Han family. “Your son knows what is expected of him. He knows that this is nothing more than borrowed time before he devotes himself to the company.”

“I wonder if I’m asking too much of him,” Chairman Han said, sliding the report back to his employee. “Jumin has never disappointed me, but this is the first time I see him interested in something other than his future. He’s aware of his responsibilities, and yet…”

“Your son is a reasonable man. He knows that if someone else has enough talent to go on with the band, it’ll be time for him to give it up.”

Chairman Han glanced at his watch and stood up. “The board meeting will start soon. Walk me to the elevator, will you?” As they were approaching the door, he said, “Oh, I forgot to ask you about those online issues…”

“Every leak has been controlled. My team is working on that thoroughly, so that next time nothing will escape us.” He smiled. “Don’t worry, sir. Nobody will ever know.”

“I hope so,” Chairman Han sighed.

As soon as the elevators doors closed, a familiar voice called him from behind. “Vanderwood.”

Vanderwood turned around and glared at the newcomer. “May I remind you that you are to call me Antoine when we are at C&R, Director Han?”

Jumin smirked. “Of course, Antoine. I’d never forget we’re at the company, with that polite speech of yours. It’s the only time I get to hear it. It’s highly entertaining; you should keep it up in private too.”

Vanderwood rolled his eyes. “If this is C&R business, then I should call Assistant Kang. But,” he moved closer to Jumin, “if this is Pawn business, then I’ll call Jaehee and I’ll have her kick your ass for me. You know she can do it.” He took out his mobile phone and quickly pressed a number. “Please come to Conference Room 3. … Fine, bring your lunchbox, do whatever you want, but come. It’s a Pawn meeting.” He hung up and followed Jumin into a well-lit room. The view from the 25th floor was certainly something. Away from the traffic jams and the filth of common streets, Vanderwood felt that he could breathe more easily there. He cast a sideways look at Jumin. Typical of these spoilt millionaire kids to want to live the dream of a normal life, he thought bitterly. Whatever – if everything goes according to plan, I won’t have to tag along much longer.

“We’re playing again next Friday,” Jumin announced.

Vanderwood turned to him. “Oi... When was this decided? You cannot make these decisions on your own, you brat! Hasn’t Saeyoung explained to you what it’s like to contain the---”

“Saeyoung is the one who made the deal with the owner of Smash,” Jumin droned.

Oh, really? I’ll taser that bastard’s balls next time I see him. Vanderwood rubbed his forehead slowly. “Look, if I’m supposed to be the manager, then you’ll have to let me manage you guys. You can’t just take any gig that comes your way. There are measures to take, things to watch out for… You all know that – especially you.

Jumin didn’t reply immediately. He just hid those cat-like eyes of his behind his spectacles and moved closer to the window. When he spoke, his voice was as cool and composed as always. “I am aware.”

A knock on the door announced the arrival of Assistant Kang. “Director Han, Antoine…” she said before closing the door behind her. When she turned around, however, she sounded like a completely different person. “This is about Saeyoung’s deal, isn’t it?”

“Spare us the ‘I told you so’ look, will you,” Jumin said.

“Well, I did tell you so, though I’m probably more to blame for that than you.” Jaehee opened her lunchbox and took a rice ball. She offered it to Vanderwood, who declined. “If you must know, it was a one-time opportunity, the last of the bigger festivals before Jonghoon here,” she nodded in Jumin’s direction, “travels to New York. Both Saeyoung and Jihye agreed, and I went along with it. Jonghoon abstained.”

Vanderwood sighed. “Look, what you have to understand is that Smash is definitely a much bigger venue than Deep Route or Mint Eye. You know that our priority is to control the information flow as much as we can. There can be no connections between Gold Pawn and C&R. We’re supposed to be like ghosts, and the bigger you get…”

“We understand,” Jumin said, adjusting his cufflinks.

“Do you? Because I’ll have no way to protect you if someone finds out or something happens to you. You know you’re not like the others. Saeyoung and Jihye are free to do as they please, and Jaehee could be easily relieved from her office work burden and devote herself to drumming if she so desired…”

Jaehee opened her bottle of water and didn’t reply. She knew better than argue with Vanderwood when he was in a sour mood.

Vanderwood took his phone out of his pocket and made a note. “Well… What’s done is done, I guess. As soon as we’re done here, I’ll go have a word with Saeyoung about it.”

“Then as far as I'm concerned, you’re free to go,” Jumin said. “Assistant Kang, I’ll see you in my office in ten minutes… or as soon as you finish your lunch – whatever happens first.” He passed by the others and left the room.


“Wait – don’t tell me!” Saeyoung rubbed his temples and shut his eyes tight. “I’m getting dark vibes from your face, so that means… You already know, right? About Smash?”

“Smash, Smash… I’ll smash your ass if you do that ever again,” Vanderwood grunted as he let down his hair and massaged his scalp.

Saeyoung smiled and leaned over. “Well, I’m up for it, for a change…”

Vanderwood put a hand over his face and pushed him back. “Not in the mood tonight. Seriously, stop fucking around. You’ve already let us know that you’re the real leader of this band. They wouldn’t survive without you. Writing the lyrics, being the lead guitar, and doing your cyberstuff to keep this under control should be enough. Let me handle the management.”

“You think you know Jumin better than I do?” Saeyoung plopped into his favorite armchair and grabbed a controller. “You might be fooled by his slick back hair and those cold, gold-rimmed glasses, but one day he’ll get tired of being Corporate Heir Jumin, and Bad Boy Jonghoon will finally take over, mwa-hah-haaa…”

“You’re so creepy sometimes,” Vanderwood said, shaking his head. “Tell me, how did you persuade Jihye to side with you?”

“Play with me for a while.” Saeyoung handed Vanderwood the second controller and waited till he’d settled down. “I simply pointed out that she’d get to spend more time with Jaehee. You know Jaehee can be pretty dense when it comes to romance, and Jihye’s been trying to hook up with her for ages.”

“Hmph.”

“What? Don’t tell me you’re gonna give me that ‘no dating allowed between band members’ crap, because coming from you, it would be a little hypocritical…”

“I’m not a band member,” Vanderwood said, pressing the trigger as he shot down every zombie on his side of the split screen.

Saeyoung laughed. “That’s what you have issues with? Not the fact that we’re dating?”

“You and I are not dating, it was just a one-night stand.”

“Several nights, in fact.”

“Whatever. Who cares.”

“Uwaaa! You’re so cold, Miss Vanderwood! My poor heart’s gonna crumble down!”

Vanderwood glared at him. “Did you find a bassist?”

Saeyoung’s eyes were once again glued to the screen. “The second wave’s starting. Remember to switch weapons this time… Ah, the bass… My brother, probably.”

“Awesome. Another member you can influence.”

“Hah! You wouldn’t say that if you knew Saeran. He’d probably swear on his life that the sun comes out from the west if it meant he could contradict me. He’s pretty much like you.”

“Really? I’m already interested, then. Is he okay with nepotism, though? Ah, there’s one behind that corner, watch out!”

“Nah, he’ll go through proper try-outs. Well, 'proper' - the other people there already have other bands, so it’ll be like a pretend audition? Anyway, you’ll just have to listen to him play. Ah, he sucks at playing the guitar, though, so it’s just bass. And I think he can sing decently. I gave him one of the latest songs I wrote, so you’ll get the chance to hear it before Jumin sings---Crap, I need healing!”

“Let me get this one off my back and I’ll give you a--- Wait, I will be overseeing his audition?”

“Well, aren’t you the one who wants to be all manager-y? Besides, if I remember correctly… You’re the one looking for a replacement for the lead singer…” Saeyoung said the last part in a lower voice.

Vanderwood knew that he didn’t approve of the scheme, but that didn’t matter. Gold Pawn would exist as long as C&R allowed it, but if it were profitable and there was a way to keep it alive even after Jumin’s departure…  “Alright, I’ll see him tomorrow. Saeran, was it?”


“Excuse me, miss…”

Vanderwood raised his head from the fabrics he’d chosen for the next show. He turned around and found a young man who looked a bit shocked. He cocked his head. “Did you call me ‘miss’?”

“I’m… terribly sorry,” the man babbled, blushing furiously but still trying to keep his rugged looks.

Vanderwood could barely contain his laughter. “You must be Saeran.” Even if the brothers did look alike, Vanderwood thought that Saeran’s looks were more appropriate for the band than Saeyoung’s. He didn’t need to see him naked to figure out that he was well toned, and his bleached hair had turned his natural red hair into some sort of soft peach color, giving him an air of vulnerability that contrasted with his dark clothes and the soft look in his green eyes. “You have a different aura. That’s good. We’re looking forward to having some variety. I’m Vanderwood,” he said, stretching his hand.

“Saeran. Sorry about that confusion,” he mumbled. He looked past Vanderwood’s shoulder and saw the fabrics. “Those look good together. Stylist?”

“Manager.”

“Ah. Oh. I thought… Saeyoung told me I would be meeting---”

“Miss Marie Antoinette?” That fucker. “Your brother does like to play around. Anyway, there are two other people, so you can sit in on their audition if you wish. Just go ahead and we’ll be starting in a few minutes.” He saw Saeran walk away and he shook his head. Saeyoung had messed with him too. That brother didn’t look confrontational or particularly intense. More like ‘dense’, just like his twin, he thought...

... Which was why his eyes opened wide in shock when Saeran stood on that empty stage and managed to fill it up with his presence.  But it wasn’t just that – he truly felt like the missing piece of a puzzle, and Vanderwood caught himself thinking that it felt as if Saeran had always been there.

“That’s enough!” he shouted after a few minutes. This could be it. “Can you sing? We need someone to do the harmonies – your brother sucks, and our two other members are girls, so their range is different. So, anything you can do about that?”

Without hesitating, Saeran’s hands wrapped around the microphone and he started crooning Saeyoung’s lyrics. And yet, just when Vanderwood was starting to get into it, he forgot the words. He scat-sang for a bit and quickly recovered, but he was suddenly stopped.

“Well…” Vanderwood said with a smile as he approached the stage. “There’s potential there, and you seem to be able to think on your feet. Let’s give it a try, shall we? Next Friday, at Smash.” Shit, I was supposed to take some time to consider it, he thought. I just got carried away. “Of course, if you wanna reconsider---”

“No. I’ll do it. I’ll meet the others as soon as they can and start working.” He walked down the steps and reached out to shake Vanderwood’s hand. “You won’t regret it.”

Warm and soft, gentler than Saeyoung’s hands, but just as firm. “I’ll take your word for it,” Vanderwood said, before seeing him out.


“This is definitely the biggest venue yet, such a good turnout!” V commented, his inquisitive eye looking at the crowd through the viewfinder. “Nervous?”

“Is that a real question?” Jumin replied, ruffling his hair for the last time.

“I’d be a bundle of nerves.”

“You’re too soft-hearted. Which reminds me: my friend Rika. She seems to be attracted to you. And I suppose you’ve already noticed, because if I was able to see it…”

V laughed. “I got some vibes from her, yes. But I’ve been nothing but a gentleman.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything less from you. In any case, if you want to pursue her, go ahead. She’s single and available. She said she’d be coming tonight, so you might want to think about approaching her at the after-party.” Jumin noticed Jaehee signaling from the side. “It’s time for me to go. We’ll be starting in a few minutes.”

“Break a leg!” V grinned. “And remember to look my way at least once!” He waited until Jumin had left to prepare his camera. The band was certainly doing well. It’s a pity it’ll probably have to end soon, he thought. He’d never seen Jumin as excited about something as he was about this. He’d always been a music lover, but only after returning from abroad had he decided to take the plunge and test his luck. “So far so good,” V mused to himself as he put his viewfinder to his right eye and watched the people. A golden head caught his attention. “Ah, there’s Rika. She’s on her own, isn’t---” A young man, still a teenager, was standing next to her. V adjusted the zoom to get a closer look.

It had never occurred to him that the first time he fell in love, it would be with another man. He would never think something like that in such a carefree way, and there wasn’t another way of explaining what he was feeling. Never had his heart beaten the way it was doing it now. He left his camera with the stagehand he always talked to and dashed forward through the crowd. Perhaps it had been a trick of the light. Perhaps it was the way he perceived everything through the lens. He needed to stand before that person and see for himself if what his heart was saying was wrong.

“Excuse me…” he called out, trying to remain calm.

And when the boy turned to him, he just knew.


There could be ten people down there. A thousand. A million. To Jumin, it was all the same. The reason he was standing on that stage that day, every day, was because it had turned into a need. All his life he’d been tied by tradition, expectations, and even his looks. He’d learned to conceal his anxiety, to accept the picture-perfect lifestyle everyone wanted him to have. It had been V and Saeyoung who had picked him up after a bad panic attack while they were abroad. Feeling that his body was broken, that he had no air… It was exhausting. Day after day, he’d grown accustomed to that lulling rhythm that was eventually going to kill him.

He stood in the shadows, waiting for his turn, smiling at the irony of being able to breathe in those stuffy, shady places. It didn’t matter if the audience liked him. He liked himself better when he could be someone else. Being in Jonghoon’s skin was liberating.

As he sang, Jumin’s eyes turned to the bright exit sign. Wherever he was, there was always one such thing that would point to the way out, to an escape route that he wished he could take. This time, however, something else caught his eye. A tall person with long, white hair. Surely they couldn’t be real. It felt like one of those mystic creatures from his fairy tales, standing there to bless him and bring some magic into his life.

Well then, fairy, he thought as he held the microphone a little more firmly, tonight I’ll sing for you.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Text

“W-wait, wait, wait a minute, wait a minute…” Hyun babbled, a stunned look on his face. “What do you mean I can’t go to the after-party?”

Rika winced. “It seems that Saeran didn’t give you a VIP ticket, sorry! The thing is that they’re super strict about it…”

“But you can get me in, right? You’ve got friends in there! What about the photographer? I’m sure he can---Hey! You!” He waved at V, who was coming towards them. “V!” He turned on his charm and gave him a dashing smile. “Hey man, your friends sure gave a great show!”

V blinked at Hyun's casual tone but he quickly recovered his composure. “Yes, tonight was particularly good. Luciel was right in putting forward his brother’s name as an option.”

“Luciel?” Hyun asked Rika.

“Saeyoung’s stage name. Didn’t you realize Saeran’s also got a stage name? They’re rather secretive about themselves. Don’t worry, V – even if Hyun knows Saeyoung a little, he won’t say anything.”

“Much appreciated,” V bowed slightly and smiled. “I was wondering if you’d be joining us in the after-party tonight?” His eyes darted from Rika to Yoosung, who was quietly watching him over his cousin’s shoulder.

“Ah, Rika mentioned that!” Hyun laughed. “But you see, Saeran forgot to give me the right pass, so I thought that maybe I could join Rika as a guest?”

V pressed his lips and shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s impossible. We don’t issue them here, and there’s a limited number of people who can go in…”

“Surely you can make an exception?” Hyun kept his smile plastered on his face, but he could feel a slight irritation bubbling up in his stomach. Who knew when he’d have another chance to meet that man? He needed to know if that guy Jonghoon was the real deal, and if the gut feeling he’d gotten as soon as he’d seen him was real as well.

“Excuse me,” Yoosung said meekly. “If there’s going to be alcohol, I’m afraid I’ll have to pass, so maybe Hyun could keep my pass…”

“That’s a great idea, Yoosung!” Rika beamed.

“Ah, but there’s no need!” V hurried to say. “As long as you don’t drink it’ll be fine; it’s not as if anything indecent goes on in there, and your cousin and I can look out for you – right, Rika?”

Rika’s cheeks turned red and she looked down coyly. “Yes, yes, of course! V and I will take care of you.”

“So then, what about me?” Hyun asked Rika in a low voice.

“I’d feel bad if Hyun couldn’t go in…” Yoosung said, giving V a pitiful look.

“Ah!” V exclaimed. “I can ask Vanderwood if he still has room for one more. All of you, follow me.”


“I heard it was quite the show, sir,” Driver Kim commented as he watched Jumin through the rear view mirror. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Jumin replied quietly, leaning against the window. The night lights always soothed him, making him feel that he was in control, but at the same time it was as if no control was needed. Everything flowed more easily in the dark, where he could release his thoughts and memories and he could reinvent himself.

“Heh,” he chuckled, and he immediately covered his lips with his fingers.

Driver Kim smiled. “Are you looking forward to the next performance, sir?”

“I don’t know,” Jumin replied honestly. Tonight he particularly regretted their anonymity policy. He closed his eyes and remembered that pale figure standing back there, barely moving, but making his presence felt. His lips curved into the tiniest smile. “Perhaps I am,” he answered simply.


“Heesuuun…” Jihye called out, throwing her arms around Jaehee’s strong shoulders and clinging to her. “You were fff… fun… fantastic today, seriously the best…” She planted a kiss on Jaehee’s cheek that made her pale skin turn crimson.

“Someone should take that bottle away from her,” Saeyoung chanted as he put away the glass and the bottle of white wine from Jihye. “Seriously, she’s such a lightweight…”

“I think she didn’t eat anything,” Jaehee said, caressing Jihye’s hair clumsily and moving her fringe away to take a look at her eyes. Jihye’s bright eyes narrowed in a cat-like way as she smiled at Jaehee, making her heart thump quickly. She quickly covered her eyes again and patted her awkwardly. “She’ll be fine, she just needs some rest…”

“Heesuuun, will you take me home?” Jihye murmured. Her head slid down and her face got squished against Jaehee’s breasts, making her jump from her seat.

“Oh! MC, what---! I-I-I think someone should t-take her home!” she stammered.

Saeyoung tilted his head and watched them, amused. “Oh? I wonder if I should do it---” but a slap on the back of his head made him spill his beer. “Mary, you meanie!” he cried out.

Vanderwood pinched his nose and gave it a little shake, leaving a red mark on Saeyoung’s slightly freckled skin. “Don’t be a smartass and leave that girl alone, you creep. Heesun, she lives near you, right? It’d be good if you could share a car. For the moment, if you want to stay a little longer, we can take her to the back room. She can rest there.”

Jaehee nodded. “Okay, I’ll be taking her to the room now,” she said as she passed Jihye’s arm around her shoulders and lifted her by the waist. “Up you go, MC,” she grunted.

As they passed by, Saeyoung saw Jihye’s little smirk and he covered his mouth so as to contain the laughter. He turned to Vanderwood, who was already sighing as usual.

“She wasn’t half as drunk as she pretended to be, was she? She was still calling her by her stage name.”

“Isn’t she a cute little minx?” Saeyoung mused, looking for a can of PhD Pepper amongst the batch. “I’m a little surprised to see you letting them hook up, after what you said the other day… Could it be that you’re going soft?” He closed the gap between them and murmured in his ear. “And if I keep talking like this, will it get you hard…?”

Vanderwood clenched his teeth. Stupid Saeyoung, always taking advantage of the after-concert rush. “You---” he started saying, but he looked over Saeyoung’s shoulder and his eyes met Saeran’s. Before he knew it, he was pushing Saeyoung away.

“What are you guys doing?” Saeran said, walking up to them.

“What kind of question is that?” Saeyoung scoffed. “Can’t you see that we’re---?”

“Having a drink,” Vanderwood replied, tossing him a can. “So? How are you feeling? Satisfied?”

“Hell no,” Saeran smirked. “I just wanted to stay up there forever.”

“Hard-working, aren’t we?” Vanderwood grinned. “I like that. Now, if only your brother could get that…”

Saeyoung stretched out. “I do things thoroughly when it counts… Isn’t that right, Mary?”

“Mary?” Saeran frowned. “Ugh, again with your stupid names? Why did I get something like ‘Unknown’? I wanna change it, that’s so not me.”

“It suits you perfectly, little brother; that’s exactly who you were to the audience, and who you should remain,” Saeyoung said, ruffling Saeran’s hair. Saeran slapped his hand away with a scowl, which sent Saeyoung into a fit of laughter. “Look at the kitten, with his hair all puffed up, trying to act tough… ”

Saeran rolled his eyes. “Even if you’re drunk, you’re an asshole as usual. Sorry, Vanderwood, I’m gonna go talk to my friends. Don’t mind the trash – I'm sure he can take himself out,” he said as he turned away.

“Ooh, such a big mouth!” Saeyoung said, amused. “Isn’t he cute? We haven’t had a proper conversation in years, ever since I left home.” He put his hands behind his head. “Well, we’re adults, I guess. No need to get along. Not that our parents would care either way, as long as we don’t meddle with their busy lives and their affairs.”

Vanderwood cast a sideways glance at him. “You said your brother would often oppose you, but from here it feels like you’re rattling him on purpose. Leave him alone, will you? He seems like a nice guy.”

“Huh.” Saeyoung passed his fingers through his hair and then covered his eyes. “Perhaps…”

His lips were pressed together tightly and his jawline was tense, just like when he went into one of his moods. Vanderwood tried to look away, but there was something about that guy that made him impossible to ignore. He was often loud and coarse, and he always thought he knew better than anyone else. Still, the blush that tinted his ears was genuine, and so was his loneliness.

“When you leave today,” Saeyoung asked quietly without looking at Vanderwood, “will you take me home with you?”


“I’m sorry,” Rika told Hyun as she walked him to the parking area. “If only you’d told me that Jonghoon was the one you wanted to meet before all that happened, I’d have told you he never stays around for the after-parties.”

“It’s okay, at least I’ve made some contacts. But what’s the deal with them? Why are they all so secretive? It’s just ridiculous. How are they ever going to get famous like this?”

Rika smiled. “They have their reasons. And since they’re my friends, I just want to respect their privacy. Ah, but… Would you like to meet him some other day? I’m sure I can set up something…”

Hyun gripped his helmet a little tighter. “Would you do that? I mean, I can wait till they play again, it’s not that it has to be tomorrow or something like that…” He grabbed Rika by the elbow and pulled her towards him, leaving a kiss on her forehead. “Anything you do will be fine, I’m sure. Now go back inside and get yourself a date with that photographer of yours.”

“I don’t know, I’m too nervous,” she said, rubbing her arms to shake off the cold of the night. “V is just so cool… He’s super kind and handsome and talented and argh, I feel so little when I stand near him!”

“You’re a nice girl, Rika,” Hyun reassured her as he put on the helmet. “There’s no way he won’t fall for you, trust me. I’m always right about these things.”


“The only rule for us seniors is that we have to choose one of the clubs we’ve never joined before,” Yoosung explained to V. “To me that would be history, photography, or sports, and I’m equally bad at those three.”

“I chose costume design,” Saeran commented. “But you did that for two years, right?”

“Yeah, I even was the president of the committee last year,” Yoosung grinned. “I got to choose the theme, and I went for fantasy heroes.”

“Ah, that’s right! Rika showed me a pic of yours dressed as a wizard or something like that. It looked good. Better than the other one in which you were wearing those fishnet stockings---”

V spluttered his drink and coughed. “Ah, sorry! This drink is rather strong, haha,” he laughed as he fished in his pocket for his handkerchief. He wiped off his chin and dabbed his pants.

“Do you need help?” Yoosung offered, but Saeran just raised an eyebrow at him.  

“No, no! I’m fine, everything’s okay! You two can go on talking. So, Yoosung, you’re not good at sports?”

Yoosung shook his head, pouting a little. “I really suck. I get hot easily.”

“Aaah…” V said weakly, holding the handkerchief to his nose.

Saeran went on raising an eyebrow at him. “You know you’ll never get rid of the smell if you put that to your face, don’t you.” And Rika liked that guy? What exactly did she see in him? He turned to look at his brother, who was still talking to Vanderwood. He wondered if there was something between them. He didn’t think his brother could go for a guy, but then again, he knew there were many things he didn’t know about Saeyoung. When he’d chosen to travel to England with his mother, leaving Saeran behind to deal with the expectations of a conservative family, a rift had opened between them. Saeyoung had always been smart, but when he started hanging out with the right people, he seemed to have evolved. In Saeran’s case, however…

“Unknown?” Someone called him from behind. Who was that guy again? The owner of the club? “Congratulations!” he said, shaking his hand. “I’ve never heard Gold Pawn play this way. After tonight, I’ll be looking forward to other collaborations, so I’m counting on you.”

Saeran’s lips relaxed in an unusual smile. Perhaps being unknown had its benefits after all.


The blinking light greeted him. “You’ve got 3 new messages.” Hyun pressed the button and he took off his jacket. “It’s me,” his brother said. “Call me when you get this message.” Ascetic as usual, his voice always made Hyun feel guilty over the tiniest things. The small room where he lived, the part-time jobs he had, the years that passed by and left him with nothing but his passion for his art. But that’s enough, he thought. As long as I have that… The second message started playing. “It’s me again. Pick up the phone if you’re there.” A moment of silence, followed by a deep sigh. “Call me when you get back.”

Hyun opened the mini-fridge and got himself a beer. He plopped down in his armchair and pressed the cool can against his forehead. Once again he wondered if Rika would deliver on her promise. “Jonghoon,” he said, his own deep voice sounding oddly strained to his ears.

The beep for the last message brought him back to reality. “Look, there’s something I need to give you,” his brother was saying. “Uncle died and left something for you. Come pick it up tomorrow from my office, because I’ll be busy as from next week. I’ll give you the address…”

“Okay, okay,” Hyun grumbled as he got his phone from his pocket to write down the details.

“It’s to the south-east of Gangnam Station, in Yeoksam 1. You’ll find it easily. It’s the C&R building.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Text

Jumin walked into the kitchen and found V making pancakes. It wasn't an uncommon sight, but it was one that he hadn't seen since they'd returned from England. “Good morning! Rise and shine!”

“What are you doing here at this time of the day?” Jumin wondered, pouring two cups of coffee and adding sugar only to V’s. “You stayed at the after-party yesterday, didn’t you? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“Well, you’re up, aren’t you?”

“I have work to do at the office.”

“And I suppose that Jaehee and Antoine will be there before you, so as you can see, we all rise early when we must… Or when we can’t sleep,” he added weakly.

Jumin watched him over his steamy cup. “You… Did something happen with Rika last night?”

V turned off the stove but didn’t turn to his friend. “Not… Rika. Her cousin.”

Jumin choked on his coffee, coughing till his cheeks went red. “Her… cousin? Her younger cousin? Jihyun, have you lost your mind?” He left his mug on the table and rubbed his forehead. “Tell me you didn’t do anything---”

“Of course not! Honestly, how can you even ask that? Do you think I would entertain such ideas right away?”

“I’m starting to feel there’s a side to you that I might not know,” Jumin sighed jadedly. He watched his friend set the table and pour syrup on his pancakes. V was the only reason why he made sure to keep that syrup in stock. “How did it even happen? All these years we’ve known each other and it’s the first time you’ve talked to me about this topic.” He sighed. “Even if I can’t advise you, I’d like to know the basics in case one day I have to bail you out of jail…”

“I’m not going to---! It’s not like that! I mean, it could be – but it’s more than that,” V tried to explain. He rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. You know I start rambling when I don’t get enough sleep. I can’t really explain it, you know? It just happened. One second I was watching the people in the crowd through my finder and the next… He was there, and all the others around him were gone.” He covered his face. “It sounds so stupid, falling in love like that.”

Love? Jumin remained quiet. Whatever was going round his head was something that would stay there for some time. “His name is Yoosung, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“He is still in high school, as far as I remember.”

“Senior year. Yes, no need to remind me.”

“I think it is important for you not to forget that issue,” Jumin frowned as his fork went through the pancake easily.

“It is unrequited, so you don’t need to be so concerned. Besides, I really don’t think I’ll see him again, unless he goes to one of your concerts.” V smiled weakly as his lips touched the rim of the mug. “Seriously, don’t worry. I would never do something inappropriate. I just… I guess I just told you because---”

“I know.” Only two words, but the tone in his voice was the same one he always used to bring back the peace and quiet to their space, hoping to convey his trust in his friend in such a simple way. He looked down at the plain black trousers he was wearing. Something didn’t feel right. It felt itchy and prickly at the same time, as if invisible ants were crawling up and down his legs. Uneasiness. Just the night before he had felt so free and now… He finished his pancakes quickly and stood up. “Thank you for the meal. While I’m gone, you can stay and sleep here if you wish.”

“It’s okay, I’d better go back. Do you have to go now?”

“I’m afraid I do. I need to change my clothes first.”

V tilted his head. “These ones look fine to me.”

“They don’t feel right.”

V’s eyes searched for something in his friend’s face. He nodded. “Alright. I’ll let Driver Kim know he should get ready for you.”

Jumin nodded. “By the way, a client from overseas sent a planter with mini-cacti. I’m afraid they won’t survive in this place. Feel free to take them with you.”

V grinned. “Then my hands will be full for the rest of the weekend.” He waited until Jumin had crossed the living room to his room and then he took out his phone. “Driver Kim? Jumin will be down in five minutes. It’s a pinstripe day.”

Driver Kim contained a sigh. “Very well, sir. I’ll let Assistant Kang know right away.”


Jaehee was making sure there would be enough coffee when she received Driver Kim’s call.

“I see. What’s your ETA?”

“Between ten and twelve minutes, depending on the traffic.”

“Thank you for letting me know.” Jaehee switched from the coffee cabinet to the wine cooler. Oh good – it was still well-provided and the temperature was set correctly. She rushed back to her desk and took out a pair of shoes from the back of the bottom drawer, identical to the ones she was wearing, but the heels were two centimeters lower. She put them on and stood up. Yeah, those definitely felt better for such a day. She hurried to the larger office right outside her area and cleared her throat. “Listen up! It’s a pinstripe day – you all know what that means.”

Suddenly the atmosphere changed, becoming a little heavier. One of the new employees looked around in surprise and stood up to chase after Jaehee. “Excuse me, Chief Assistant Kang!” He soon caught up with her. “I’m fairly new to this office, so I’m not sure---”

Jaehee read the name tag. “Siwon Ryu. Ah, yes. You were recently promoted to HQ. ‘Pinstripe’ refers to the boss’s mood. If he wears a plain suit, then things will proceed according to schedule. A pinstripe suit, however, means that we might have to skip breaks and do overtime.” She turned around and beckoned to be followed. “Of course we will get compensation, but it will also mean that we’re likely to be doing two days’ worth of work. If you need a bathroom break, take it now.” She looked at her watch. “Mr. Han will be here in around ten minutes.”

Siwon stopped on his tracks. “It’s just I was supposed to give someone a package in a while. My---”

“Get someone else to do it, or call the other person and tell them to meet you some other day,” Jaehee replied without looking back. She frowned. Never had Jumin had a pinstripe day right after a concert. Perhaps something had upset him. She’d have to ask… Oh, crap. Antoine. I must tell him before it’s too late, she thought as she rushed back to her office.


“Where are you going?” Saeyoung asked, his face half-buried in a fluffy pillow. “It’s Saturday morning.”

“And I’ve got a day job,” Vanderwood reminded him as he combed away the ridges in his hair. He dashed across the room, collecting his things. “Also, Jaehee has just called saying that Jumin’s having a bad day. Remember to wipe off any mentions of Gold Pawn---”

“Yeah, yeah,” Saeyoung yawned, sitting up lazily. “Not even time for breakfast?”

Vanderwood raised an eyebrow. “You should know better what happens when that guy gets like this.”

“Yeah…” Saeyoung sighed and slumped back against the pillows, pulling the covers over him. “Hope you don’t mind if I stay here a little longer.”

“Not as long as you’re gone when I’m back,” Vanderwood snapped as he grabbed his gloves and opened the door. “You know what you’ve got to do, Saeyoung. Don’t make me check on you every hour. Frankly, it’s tiresome.”

“You don’t have to say it that way,” Saeyoung murmured bitterly.

“What’s that?”

Saeyoung sat up and threw a pillow at him. “You’re cold, Mary! Go away!” He saw him close the door behind him and he covered his eyes. How long would he have to act like this, he wondered, just so that Vanderwood didn’t feel threatened by his feelings? Saeyoung was always being the clown to mask his need, to soften those harsh words that didn’t match the longing moans that escaped Vanderwood’s throat every time they slept together. The fever that took over him at night would be gone as soon as the sun came out, when he became a glacier once again. He clenched his fist and sank his teeth into it, feeling too tired to get up.


“He made me come all this way and now he’s not picking up, this jerk,” Hyun grunted. He took a cigarette from the pack and lit it, inhaling slowly. Not many people over there at that time of the day, though it was expected. Saturday morning was usually useless for that type of business. “Slave drivers,” he muttered as he looked up the C&R tower. The building was of paramount elegance and class, but Hyun thought that it also transmitted this sense of efficiency and superiority that somehow irked him. “No wonder Brother works here,” he scoffed, taking a long drag at his cigarette. “Perfect fit.”

A car pulled over almost majestically – a dashing Rolls-Royce that attracted his attention, even if cars were not really his thing. The driver got out and trotted to where Hyun was standing. “Excuse me, sir! I’m afraid you can’t park here.”

Hyun looked around. “There’s no sign that says so,” he noted.

“Ah, but you see---!”

“Driver Kim?” A rich voice said from behind them. “Is there a problem?”

Hyun turned around. A tall man wearing a pinstripe suit and slick-back hair had emerged from the Rolls-Royce and was now watching him through his gold-rimmed glasses.

“No, sir - no problem! This gentleman was leaving. Please get back in the car; I will take you to the garage---”

“Why do you bring up the garage? This is where you park on Saturday mornings,” Jumin noted. He turned to Hyun. “This is a private area. Move your vehicle to a designated area.”

Hyun raised an eyebrow. “Wow. I once played the part of an android but I didn’t know that they were real.” He took a puff of his cigarette and let out the smoke through his nose. “Look, man, this is just like any other street, hmmm? As far as I can see, you haven’t bought this space. You’re already out of the car, so it’s no big deal now, right?”

Jumin’s lips became a thin line. “This is also a smoke-free zone. I believe that I am entitled to call the local authorities. Driver Kim, put me through---”

“Aren’t you a tight ass,” Hyun muttered.

Jumin let out an exasperated sigh and turned to him. “Leave,” he commanded coldly.

“Relax, rich boy – I’ll be gone in a minute, anyway. I’m just waiting for someone.” He took his last drag and dropped the cigarette on the floor, putting it out with the tip of his boot. He leaned against his bike and folded his arms. He’d never seen anyone as tense as that guy. His tailor-made suit hugged his fit body, and it reminded Hyun of a bowstring about to snap. And yet, there was something different about this guy… “What are you, the owner of this place?”

“Not yet,” Jumin replied in a low voice.

Hyun squinted. “… Wait, what?”

“Hyun!” a voice called from behind. “I was unable to---Director Han!” Siwon bowed deeply. “We had no idea that you had already arrived…” He exchanged glances with his brother.

“Do you know this man?” Jumin asked in deadpan fashion.

“He… This is my younger brother. Allow me to introduce---”

Jumin raised his hand, preventing him from going any further. He gave Hyun one last look of disdain and walked past both men, followed by Driver Kim and his bodyguard.

As soon as he was gone, Siwon glared at his brother. “That was Director Han. That’s my boss, you good-for-nothing brat! What on earth did you tell him?”

“Hey,” Hyun scowled. “I’m not a kid, so you don’t get to talk to me like that.”

“Really? How am I supposed to talk to you then, huh?” Siwon’s dark eyes were on fire. “I don’t know what you did but I know the look he gave you.” He slapped the back of his brother’s head. “When are you going to act like an adult, Hyun? You’re old enough already!”

Hyun rolled his eyes and grabbed his helmet. “If you’re going to be the same old jerk, then I’m out.”

Siwon shoved the envelope he’d been holding into Hyun’s hands. “Take it. The old man wanted you to have it.” He sighed. “Seriously, just stop playing around. I’m tired of being the middleman.”

“Nobody asked you to,” Hyun said defiantly.

“And isn’t that sad?” Siwon scoffed. “Seriously, if you haven’t realized what that says about you…” He shrugged and walked back into the building.


“It’s so unlike you to be in such a depressed mood,” Rika commented, fixing her eyes on Hyun’s clenched jaw. “Especially on a Saturday. Aren’t you excited about tonight’s performance?”

“I am.” He fought the urge to bite off the skin around his fingernails. “But I’ve just met my brother about my uncle’s death, and then there was this uptight jerk… Argh!” He let his hair down and massaged his scalp. “Why are people so frustrating, Rika, hmm? Why can’t they let others live however they want?”

“That’s society, I guess,” she replied hesitantly. “I can listen to you, if you need someone to talk to.” She thought for a while and suddenly her face lit up. “I know! I can call my friend and arrange a meeting! You couldn’t meet Jonghoon last night and that also affected your mood, right? So I could ask him to come over our place and you can casually walk by… We can get some---”

Hyun grabbed her by the shoulders. “You can do that? No, wait… Really? Of course you can do that! But… I really wouldn’t know what to say, and the guy would probably freak out if I said, ‘Hey, I saw you last night and I just had to see you again’, right? I mean, I would definitely freak out if someone came over like that… How do you think he’d react?”

Rika chuckled nervously. “It’s… hard to tell with him. Oh, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t give it a try, right? Anything’s poss---!” She gasped when Hyun gave her a squeeze and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Seonbae! You’ll have to take responsibility if you go any further!” She laughed. “Then again, maybe I’m not supposed to ask, but… Do you really have that kind of… Ummm… ‘Intention’ toward Jonghoon? Not that I’m prejudiced or anything like that!” she hurried to say. “It’s just that you’ve never seemed interested in anybody else this way…”

Hyun rubbed the back of his neck. “If I must say something… I’m not sure it’s like that. It is true that I found myself captivated, but I really can’t tell why. I mean, it’s not really a physical thing, because I could barely see them all the way from the back, but…” He struggled to find the right words, recalling the feeling of that singing voice, those rousing words, coursing through his body; even that lyrical plea that his body had recognized... “Perhaps my pulse knows the answer better than I do.”

Rika grinned. “In that case, worry no more: I’ll give him a call right away.”

**********

Chapter Text

Rika pressed Jumin’s number again. She’d left several voice messages, but there had been no reply and she was starting to worry. The show Hyun was taking part in would be over soon and she’d promised she’d deliver some good news, so she let out a sigh of relief when the call finally went through. “At last! I’ve been calling you for hours!”

“Is this Rika?” Jaehee sounded exhausted.

Rika scuttered to the dressing rooms. “Jaehee? Why are you answering---? Oh! Oh... He’s having a bad day, isn’t he?”

“You can say that again,” Jaehee sighed. “We’re still at the office and he---Mr. Han is in the middle of an international conference call at the moment.” She groaned as she sat down. “The only consolation we get is that he’ll be gone for the next two weeks, so we won’t be working extra time.”

“I see Jumin still thinks everyone can keep up with him,” Rika said in a soft voice. “I thought that had changed since he’d become more… sensitive.”

“You mean, because of the music? Ah, give me a moment, please.” Jaehee muffled the phone and gave her assistants some instructions. “Rika? Sorry. I’m sending some people back home. The truth is at first, it was better. We could tell that he was enthusiastic about it, because for the next couple of days his mood would improve. Driver Kim says he was fine last night. I don’t know why he’s like this today. V is the one who let us know that it would be like this, but he didn’t say whether there had been some conflict between them. Mr. Han was already moody when he got here, and Driver Kim said he had some sort of encounter with a rude person, which didn’t make things easier…” She let out a sigh. “But I digress – I’m sure you called for something…”

“It’s alright! I just thought he could come over for a drink or something. One of my friends is also having a bad day –the guy who was with us last night– and I wanted to cheer him up…”

“With Mr. Han? I’m sorry, but… You wanted to cheer someone up by having them meet Mr. Han?”

“Well, not Jumin… Jonghoon, actually,” Rika cringed. “I think Jonghoon would get along with my friend. Jumin is a little…”

“I know what you mean.” Jaehee checked the stopwatch – the meeting would be over in four minutes. “I’ll let him know you called, but I really don’t think he’ll be willing to meet anyone today. I’m sorry, but I must leave you now.”

“Oh! Sorry for taking all this time! Maybe we can go out for coffee while Jumin’s away! Let’s talk soon, shall we?”

“Let’s!” Jaehee said before saying goodbye.

Rika let out a deep sigh. Hyun would be disappointed. Maybe she should buy good beer and snacks to make up for her failure. Not that Hyun would blame her, of course, but not being able to tell him that Jumin would be away –so as not to give away his identity– made her feel responsible. She was checking out her wallet when the door opened.

“’Sup,” Saeran greeted apathetically.

“Saeran! Are you free tonight?”

He watched her with a mixture of disgust and concern. “What is it to you?”

“Please, come have some drinks with Hyun and me!” Rika pleaded. “I’ll be buying premium beer!”

“Huh?”

“And fancy snacks, not the crap we usually get!”

“Not interested.”

“And ice cream from that place you like!”

“You…” Saeran raised an eyebrow. “Why are you doing this?” He folded his arms and waited for her explanation. He had enough money to get everything she’d mentioned, but for some reason, he always enjoyed making her pay for his stuff. They’d been paired together since high school against their will, and somehow they’d stuck together. That weirdo… She was always getting her way, with her pixie looks and her seductive smile.

It really pissed him off.

“Why is Hyun so interested in Jonghoon, anyway?” Saeran asked, after hearing Rika’s story. “I don’t know much about the guy, but he seems to be Hyun’s polar opposite. Jonghoon’s awfully quiet. I mean, I’m quiet, so I’d know about that. That guy beats me.” He walked to his locker and opened it to take some of his clothes. “Though… I guess they do have something in common.” He turned to Rika. “Being on stage with Jonghoon… It gave me that same electric feeling I got when I performed with Hyun for the first time.”

“I know what you mean!” Rika nodded excitedly. “Your lines come right out of you, as if he were pulling from a cord in your mouth!”

“Yes, precisely like that. When that guy sang, it was like my fingers moved on their own, as if they were made to support him…” Saeran slung the bag over his shoulder. “But Hyun couldn’t have felt that as part of the audience. That’s only something you get when you’re really into it. I wonder…”

“We can ask Hyun about it! After a couple beers he’ll probably tell us everything. So you’re coming, right?” Rika asked.

“Nah, no way,” Saeran shrugged, passing by her side without looking at her. “You find it out and let me know.”


One evening, V finished designing the layout of his upcoming exhibition and sighed. He’d be incredibly busy for the following weeks. He rested against the back of his chair and stared at the ceiling. Maybe he should take a break after that. Go away for a year or so; perhaps return to England. The phone buzzed. Incoming call: Saeyoung. V looked at the phone display and cocked his head. “Saeyoung?”

“The one and only, yes!” Saeyoung greeted him. “How’s everything? Have you heard from your significant other recently? Must be hard for you guys to be apart this long…”

“I don’t think Jumin would like you saying those things,” V cringed and chuckled nervously. He stood up and walked to the kitchen to get some water. “He called me two days ago. Seems they’ll be going to Chicago once they’re done with New York, and then Berlin for a week before coming back. But I thought Vanderwood would tell you about it…”

Saeyoung groaned. “Listen, Jihyun Kim: that guy’s totally mean. He's ignoring my texts and calls. He never lets me know anything, and then one day he comes back, struts into my lair, and demands.”

“What does he demand?”

“Attention. He’s a stray cat, that guy. But it’s okay: I happen to like cats,” Saeyoung chuckled. “Ah well, then the two weeks got extended. It was a good thing we got that gig at Smash, then. By the way, remember that Rika took her cousin along that night?”

The glass almost slipped from V’s fingers. “Eh? Her c---cousin?”

“I think you talked to him. Cutiepie called Yoosung. Anyway, she asked me for your number because her cousin had to choose some courses at school, and she persuaded him to take up photography. If it’s not too much trouble and you’re not super busy with your preparations, maybe you could give the dude a hand?”

“Give him a… hand?” V repeated, dazed.

“Yeah…” Saeyoung lowered his voice. “Between you, me, and the app that’s recording this convo, I think it’s just an excuse she made up to see you, because she’s tots into you. She’s a cute little thing, isn’t she? She comes from a good family too, even if she’s a bit estranged, but then again, so are you!” He laughed. “Maybe you two are meant to be together? I bet your parents would approve.”

“You know that doesn’t motivate me, don’t you?” Wait. Could it be that liking Yoosung was his way of rebelling against his father’s expectations? A younger boy… For someone like his father, it would be unthinkable. But it would be unfair to Yoosung if he got dragged into their quarrel, wouldn’t it? V sighed. “You can give her my number, yes. I’ll tell her to come along with her cousin.”


Vanderwood handed Jumin a glass of red wine and plopped down in his seat. “Here. You can take that tie off now. Congratulations on closing all twelve deals; Chairman Han will be thrilled.” He crossed his legs and leaned on the armrest. “Say… Don’t you think that this corporate heir persona suits you better? Look at what you accomplished in less than a month: do you know how many people your age can do what you just did?”

Jumin smirked. “Anybody with my background can do it.” The scent of the pinot noir was pleasant and oddly enough, it made him feel unusually hungry. “Have you organized something for Gold Pawn?”

Vanderwood let out a discreet sigh. He knew that, no matter how hard he tried to distract that guy, his single-mindedness wouldn’t let go of the issue till it was solved. “There’s a gig next Friday. Also, Saeyoung keeps sending me lyrics and music. Now that you’ve finished, I’ll upload them to your cloud. Please listen to them when you get home and decide if you’d like to use one of those in--- Eh? You’re going to do it now?” he exclaimed, as Jumin took his pad and asked the flight attendant for his noise-cancelling headphones.

“Luciel might have to make changes, so the sooner the better,” Jumin replied. “Send them to me.”

Luciel. Ah. Jumin was in Jonghoon mode. Vanderwood watched him lose himself in the music. His profile was relaxed in the soft twilight orange glow coming in through the window. He’d done well all those days – no panic attacks, no medication, no pinstripe suits. For a moment there, Vanderwood had thought that the music whim would fade away. He was aware that it had been Jihyun Kim and Saeyoung that had persuaded him to take it up in the first place, which was why Vanderwood felt that he couldn’t fully trust Saeyoung when it came to helping him with Jumin. Perhaps I could appeal to Saeran instead, he thought. I just have to find a way…

He took his phone and checked his messages. Saeyoung had sent him three new ones. Vanderwood browsed his chat list and found Saeran’s number.

“Have you been practicing? We’ll be there tomorrow.” he wrote. The answer came almost right away.

“Every day.”

“Jonghoon’s picking the new songs. Ask Luciel about the arrangement.”

“Will do.”

Saeran’s answers were always so ascetic. He was way different from his twin – kinda like a dog and a cat. He wondered if that was something they did on purpose, but even if he’d had both of them investigated, that was something he still had to see for himself. All along the trip he’d checked in on the band through Saeran, and his austere, non-intrusive replies were refreshing – which was why he hadn’t expected a second text from him.

“Can’t wait to come back?”

What’s this? Vanderwood thought, somewhat amused. He tilted his head as he contemplated the reply. “You bet. I’m tired of wearing suits all the time. Miss the feel of the leather.” Ten minutes went by and there was no reply. Wait, maybe he misunderstood…? Vanderwood thought, rereading what he’d written.

The phone pinged. “Yeah. Feels good.”

Vanderwood put his phone down on the armrest and looked away, only to look back at it a few seconds later. I should just leave it there, right? It’s not like we’re having a conversation. Ah, that’s right: he should confirm Saeran would be available for the show. “Got any plans this weekend?” He could have told him right away, couldn’t he? He started correcting himself when Saeran replied.

“Why? Wanna hang out?”

Vanderwood’s jaw dropped. What? He was still trying to figure out what Saeran had understood when Jumin took off his headphones. “So? What did you think?”

“There’s a song that sounds like you,” Jumin noted.

“Oh? Which one?” Vanderwood asked, intrigued. He hadn’t realized… What had Saeyoung written? If Lord Obtuse had realized, then it had to be pretty blatant.

“This one: ‘Don’t tell me how you feel,’ ‘it’s none of your business,’ ‘Just F--- off and go away,’” Jumin read in deadpan fashion. “All phrases I’ve heard you say at least a handful of times. I only remember them because as Antoine, you’d never be able to say them. It’s good that you can de-stress as Vanderwood instead.”

“Enough already,” Vanderwood grumbled.

“Ah, that one’s here too. What do people commonly say in this occasion? ‘Bingo’?”

“Yeah, yeah…” Vanderwood waved his hand dismissively. “So this one is the chosen one to open the new act? What’s its name, Parade?”

Jumin nodded. “Then we’ll go on with Pray, and finally…” He selected a song from the list and played it. “I know that Luciel and MC were just messing with this electronic arrangement here, but this song… Maybe if we could slow down the tempo, and use extra heavy drums and Luciel’s guitar on the bridge…”

Vanderwood rubbed his forehead. “Two songs to learn before Friday? Aren’t you overdoing it? You could use one of the previous ones---” But he knew that whatever he said would be in vain. Jumin’s eyes were already going over the words and his lips moved along with a sensitivity that he only displayed when he connected to something, his voice now turned into a tired murmur that reflected the theme of the song.

“Hey… I don’t know what to do / Sometimes I get exhausted but I have to keep going…”


Jonghoon’s voice came out, bringing forth honest, heartfelt words. “Hey, I don’t know what to do / I’m too trapped but I have to go on. / I want the world, I want it all. / They got me tied even when I am singing…”

“Oh, oh!” the crowd sang back at him.

“And I fall every time…”

“Oh, oh!”

“They wind up my mind…”

“They’ve got me tied even when I am singing,” Hyun sang along, straining his voice to make it louder than anybody else’s in the club that night, “I want the world, I want it all!”

Jonghoon raised his microphone and the lights went out, marking the end of their show. The crowd’s deafening response was contagious, and Hyun, Rika, and Yoosung found themselves cheering along. When the lights came back on, Gold Pawn had vanished, and the stage crew was getting ready for the next band.

“Do you want to see the other bands, Hyun, or---?” Rika started to ask, but the look in Hyun’s face was too telling and she snorted. “Pffft! Well, I thought so. Do you have your after-party pass?”

“Safely tucked in here!” Hyun said, patting his pocket. “Let’s leave the crowd before the lights go out again, yes? Don’t get lost, Yoosung!” he shouted to the young man already clinging to Rika’s arm. They waded through the people and they got to the corridor guarded by bouncers. He was about to show them their passes when he saw V’s messy locks behind the men.

“You’re not watching the other performances?” he asked as he led them towards the back.

Rika shook her head. “We’re only staying for a short time. Yoosung’s got club activities tomorrow.”

“How’s that going, Yoosung?” V asked with a smile. “Were you able to get acquainted with the camera?”

“Ah, it’s still no good,” Yoosung winced. “Unless I use it in automatic, there’s always something off about the images.”

“Nobody gets it right in such a short time, so don’t worry too much. The camera will respond to you soon, you’ll see.” He had to fight the urge of ruffling Yoosung’s silky-looking hair and the only thing he could do was smile encouragingly.

Yoosung beamed. “Thank you, seonbae! I’ll do my best! Ah,” he said, opening his eyes wide. “You’re my seonbae now, right? But if I’m not supposed to call you like that---”

“No no no, it’s fine! I’m your seonbae!” V exclaimed, troubled at the sight of Yoosung’s eyes becoming dull. “I’ll help you, and then you can share what you learn with your classmates?”

“You’ll give me tips? Wow, Jihyun-seonbae’s tip…” Yoosung said innocently.

Oi, Jihyun Kim – stop having these weird thoughts. “Sure…” V replied, feeling like he was going weak at the knees. He turned to Rika, hoping that he could calm down for a while. “If it’s not too much to ask, would you like to help me out with some pictures for a collection I’m making? You could come along with Yoosung…”

Rika’s eyes sparkled and yet she managed to sound cool. “Of course! It’s the least I can do to thank you for helping out my little cousin.”

“That’s great,” V sighed, relieved. “Ah, we’re here. Feel free to get some drinks and--- Vanderwood, is something going on between Luciel and Unknown?” he asked as he caught a glimpse of the twins bickering before they walked away from each other.

Vanderwood simply shrugged and put on his “I’m so done with this” face. He stood before Rika. “Thank you for coming over. If you’re looking for Jonghoon, he’s just left.”

“What?” Rika and Hyun exclaimed.

Vanderwood appraised Hyun’s face. This is the second time this guy’s here. I should get a background check. “Jonghoon had a hectic week, making sure the songs they played tonight would be ready… and other stuff. But please, feel free to lounge around for as long as you like.”

Rika turned to Hyun and caught a glimpse of the disappointment in his face before he could mask it. “I’ll give him a call, Hyun,” she said fiercely. “I’ll do it right now.”

“It’s fine! At least I was able to listen to him once more.” Hyun chuckled awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “He truly is something…”

“Hyun,” Saeran called, offering him a beer. “So? How’d you like the show?”


The car phone started ringing. Driver Kim glanced at the display and hesitated. The young master looked exhausted. “Should I answer, sir? It’s Miss Rika.”

Jumin dragged himself out of his stupor. “It’s fine. I’ll take it.” He coughed to clear his throat and held the receiver. “Rika?”

“Jumin, how am I supposed to save face now?” she said hurriedly. “I told my seonbae that he’d be able to meet you tonight because he’s a huge fan and you ran away the last time as well but you’re doing the same thing and I don’t want to disappoint him once more because he makes this really pathetic face---”

“Calm down,” Jumin frowned. “I’m not following you.”

“Ugh, you’re so unreliable at times! You should learn from your friend V!” She took a deep breath. “Can you please do me a favor? Can you come to our next play, please?”

“A performance? What about?”

A Streetcar Named Desire. In two weeks' time.”

“I’ve already seen---”

“I don’t care if you’ve seen it on Broadway or West End!” Rika hissed. “It’s not about the play! It’s because we’re friends, and friends support each other, right?” She sighed. “Please, it’ll be just once. Just once will be enough.”

Jumin had flinched at the mention of V, and for a moment he felt a pang of pity for the woman that was unknowingly developing such unrequited love. I should tell her, he thought. That would be a greater favor than going to the play or meeting someone new. But some part of him told him that talking about that should not be his call, and Jihyun was old enough to fight his own battles.

“Very well,” he nodded. “I’ll be there in two weeks.”

“Really?” Rika sounded doubtful. It reminded him of the first time they’d met. Always so suspicious of others, so very much like me.

“I promise,” he said solemnly. Just one time. After all, what can go wrong?

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Text

Saeran felt the mint-flavored smoke take shape in his mouth, and then he let out in a perfect ring. He watched it fade away in the cold air of the late evening. Drinking was okay. Socializing was tolerable. Both things, however, were too much for him, and so he’d taken refuge at the backyard of the club. The door creaked open and he turned around. “Hey,” he nodded.

“You were here,” Vanderwood said, wrapping a purple silk scarf around his neck. “Thought you had left without saying goodbye.”

“I have manners,” Saeran replied.

Vanderwood stole the cigarette from his fingers and took a long drag. “Mint, eh? Not bad for a change, but I prefer the black clove ones.”

“Those are bad. You can get hooked on them.”

“Meh. Everything’s bad for you if you do it in excess, isn’t it?” Vanderwood smiled. “But I make them myself, and I only have one once or twice a week.” He gave the cigarette back to Saeran. “Aaand I don’t get hooked on anything easily.”

“Huh. I wonder…” Saeran murmured, resting the back of his head against the wall. He took a last drag and then passed it on to Vanderwood for him to finish it. He stretched out and yawned. “Well... I think it’s time for me to leave.”

“Really? You’re not going to the after-after-party with the other bands?”

“Nah. Not my style. I just wanna go home and take a shower, water my plants, and read poetry till dawn.”

Vanderwood raised an eyebrow. “How… wholesome.”

“It’s a joke,” Saeran said blankly.

“Hmmm. Well, do me a favor and stick to the music business,” Vanderwood groaned. That kid… He wondered why he felt younger than Saeyoung – perhaps because Saeyoung’s shoulders were a little broader. But even so, he could tell that Saeran’s body looked a bit like a runway model’s. If only he were a bit taller, he thought. His body was made to be adorned with different styles and patterns, and Vanderwood wondered what Saeran would say if he asked him to try out some of his designs.

Saeran coughed. “So, did you enjoy it today?” Seeing Vanderwood’s confused look, he added, “The show. Was it to your liking?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Vanderwood shrugged. “But it was better than I expected. I’m surprised you also agreed to be second guitar today for that song.”

“Why’s that?”

Vanderwood threw his head back and smirked. “You try to stay away from anything that might draw some comparison between you and Saeyoung.”

“Ah… Perhaps.” After a short silence, Saeran tilted his head. “I guess that means I’d better stay away from you, then?”

Vanderwood’s gaze followed his back as he walked through the door and out of sight. That brat. If he was looking to warm up his blood, then he’d have to work harder. No, what am I saying? He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of any ridiculous scenarios that might pop up in there. Those two were equally annoying, and Vanderwood wasn’t about to jeopardize his position over a quick tumble. Besides, what was that kid thinking? He was way younger, and he didn’t give off that vibe. Wait, aren’t you thinking too much about this already?

His train of thought was brought to a halt by Saeran’s voice. “Give it a rest, will ya? I already said no, I’m not going.”

“Stop being so irrational, God,” Saeyoung hissed, mildly frustrated. “And what’s that smell…? Jeeze, I thought I’d told you to stop smoking!”

“Who do you think you are, brother – my guardian?” Saeran spat. “Do you think I need you? ‘Cause I don’t. I don’t need you, or this job, or anything that comes from that family.”

“Oh, cut the crap already, will you? You know as well as I do that you’re doing this just to see mom squirm.” Saeyoung sounded tired. He placed his hand on Saeran’s shoulder and brought him closer. “It’s just one day. One day and then you can tell the family to leave you alone. You put on a poker face, collect the money, and that’s it. Or do you think that I’m particularly attached to any of them?”

“Shall I remind you that you’re the one who went away?”

“And I came back! You could have come too! You were the one who decided---!” He saw Saeran’s eyes looking past him and when he turned around, he found Vanderwood standing at the door. Saeran took the chance to escape from Saeyoung’s grasp and walked away. Saeyoung let out a deep sigh. “It’s just family issues,” he muttered.

“That much I can tell,” Vanderwood said, folding his arms across his chest. “Listen… I don’t wanna meddle, but if you’re old enough to do what you want, then so is he.”

“It’s just stupid,” Saeyoung groaned as he got closer. “Our grandfather died, and we just got some money. Old money, you know? He was a self-righteous prick who could never accept that his daughter fell in love with a Korean guy. He could barely put up with looking at me, and he probably only did so because of my red hair.” He chuckled bitterly. “He’d die again if he saw Saeran’s bad bleach.”

“Considering your father’s current position, one would think that your grandfather would have agreed to his daughter having such a prominent husband.”

Saeran shook his head. “By the time my father fulfilled his lifelong ambition, my grandfather had already poisoned my mother’s mind against him. Ah well… I guess all families have issues. But it can be a pain in the ass to deal with Saeran when he gets this way.” He rested his head on Vanderwood’s shoulder. “Maryyy---”

Don’t.”

“But you’ve been away for too long,” Saeyoung whined, nuzzling his shoulder.

“Don’t even think about it,” Vanderwood grumbled, moving away. “You’re not getting that kind of comfort from me tonight. And seriously, leave your brother alone. What he does is none of your business.”

Saeran breathed in deeply and for a moment he remained silent. When he finally spoke, his voice was little more than a whisper. “Why’s his smell on your skin…?”

“Huh?”

“Mr. Vanderwood,” a woman called from the other side of the corridor. “The owner would like to have a word with you.”

“Coming,” Vanderwood replied. He patted Saeyoung on the shoulder. “If you go to the next party, don’t drink too much. Remember you’ve got plenty of work to do tomorrow.”

“Work…” Saeyoung whispered. He turned to Vanderwood and laughed. “That’s what matters to you, isn’t it? Putting these skills of mine to good use, am I right?”

Vanderwood squinted briefly. “We all have our utility, Luciel. If you fail to recognize that, then you’re of no use to us,” he said, before turning around and leaving.


“I thought you were going to stay away from the boy,” Jumin sighed as he put down the cutlery. They were having lunch at the terrace of the C&R building, where the air was cool and clean. “Perhaps you forgot to listen to your conscience when it pointed out that he’s a minor.”

“I don’t even have his number!” Jihyun exclaimed. He looked around and lowered his voice. “We’re only meeting when Rika is present, I swear! And do you really think I would do something that improper?”

“Then what are you planning to do with him?” Jumin asked, his eyes fixed on the empty wine glass before him. “Are you perhaps thinking of waiting for a year, till he’s started university?”

Jihyun scoffed. “When have I given you reason to believe that I am a sex-driven beast? Why would you think that all I care about is bedding him?”

“You don’t?”

“Of course not!”

“Then, why are you attracted to him?”

Jihyun gaped at Jumin for a while and then closed his mouth. He realized his friend wasn’t prodding him out of spite: he was genuinely asking a question. His lips parted again and once again, he pressed them shut. “I don’t know,” he recognized eventually. “There’s something about him, something vulnerable and fascinating, and it just makes me want to be close to him.” He passed his fingers through his hair. “Look, Jumin… I don’t know if it’s love. I only think it is because I’d never felt this way. I’ve had people admiring me for what I do and who I am… Or rather, because of my family. You know about that. I don’t see fake or blind admiration in his eyes when he looks at me. It’s like… It’s as if his eyes went through me. Like he can see all of me, without even intending to do so. I guess it’s hard to explain…” he chuckled quietly.

Jumin nodded. “I see. He’s your soulmate. There are theories that say that you will know as soon as your eyes meet. The eyes must be bare, so I suppose that you felt it through your viewfinder, but you were able to confirm it when you looked into each other’s eyes.”

Jihyun raised his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t know---Wait, you’ve been reading those books again?”

“Which ones?”

“The weird ones about spirits and souls and powers… Ah, I really thought you’d left that stage behind!”

“There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of recreational reading,” Jumin replied defensively. “I’m not so naïve as to believe that the magic spells the authors suggest actually work.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve---”

“I haven’t tried reciting anything, no. I didn’t believe it would work in the first place, so…”

Jihyun sighed and shook his head. “Ah, my dear friend…” he smiled warmly.

“That reminds me: Rika wants me to see her play. Did she tell you about it?”

“Yes, she invited me as well. I offered to take some shots. It’ll be good for promotion. Apparently they’re looking for sponsors, and Saeran’s going to set up some website, so I thought the least you could do was to give them a hand with that.” He rubbed the back of his neck.

Jumin tilted his head. “Yoosung will be there, won’t he?”

“I’ll be teaching him to use the focus in motion and to watch the light, that’s all!”

“Why are you so nervous about it?”

“Because you were using that tone again!”

“I didn’t imply anything. Still, you’re doing this job for free because you’re trying to make up for rejecting her beforehand, aren’t you?”

“Maybe. A bit,” Jihyun admitted.

Jumin sighed. Well then, he thought, perhaps I should also give them a hand.


“Rika, someone’s looking for you!” one of the girls exclaimed. “I heard the guy talking to the director. He’s gorgeous!”

“Really?” Rika dumped her script on the chair and stood up, hoping it would be V.

“Tall, dark, and handsome – just like a king!”

A demon king, Rika groaned mentally. What’s he doing here? I told him the play would take place next week, didn’t I? She rushed to the director’s office. “Jumin?” she called.

“Ah, Rika!” the director chuckled amicably. “I was just chatting with your nice friend here. I didn’t know you were friends with such important people! He was just telling me---”

“I’m sorry, please give me a minute alone with him!” Rika dragged Jumin into a room at the back of the studio. “You… What did you tell him?”

“I introduced myself. Was that inappropriate?”

“No, but… Look, I don’t want him to start asking you any favors, and now that he knows who you are… Ah, I really hope he doesn’t start name-dropping!”

“V told me that you were looking for sponsors. Would it be so bad to make a pledge in C&R’s name? It could be considered charity…”

“Don’t… say that. Not around here. This is not charity,” she said seriously. “We just want people who are truly interested in what we do to support us, not just people who know us… But don’t distract me: what are you doing here?”

“I seem to recall you told me to stop by---”

“Next week, yes, so why did you come today… and as you?”

Jumin blinked. “I’m sorry, who should I be?”

“Jonghoon, Jonghoon!” Rika hissed in a low voice. “I told you that my friend wanted to meet Jonghoon!”

“That’s not what I recall. You said that friends supported each other and you asked me to come over to see you perform A Streetcar Named Desire.”

“Yes, but I told you that my friend wanted to meet Jonghoon!”

“How was I supposed to know that those pieces of information were connected?”

“Argh!” Rika stomped her feet. She rubbed her forehead and let out a frustrated sigh. “Okay, let me explain… My friend admires Jonghoon. So, next week, when you come see us, can you please come as Jonghoon and say hello to my friend?”

Jumin pondered her words for a while. “Very well,” he finally said. “I see you’re trying to keep my identity a secret and I appreciate that. I’m sorry if I’ve inconvenienced you.”

“No, it’s fine. Sorry for snapping like that.” Rika squeezed his hand. “After all, it would give you more trouble, so don’t apologize.” At least Hyun won’t be here for another hour, she thought.


The motorcycle came to a halt with a screech. “What the hell…” Hyun muttered to himself as he removed the helmet. He’d turned round the corner to get into the alleyway right behind the studio when he’d suddenly found a car parked there. “Hey! Hey, you!” he shouted as he saw a chauffeur leaning his back against the door. “Parking is not allowed here!”

The man lowered his shades and watched him for a few seconds. Then he smirked. “Oh really? There’s no sign that says so…”

What the--- Wait… Hyun squinted as he took a better look at the man and the car. “You… You’re that jerk’s driver! What the heck are you doing here?”

“Waiting for the boss.” Driver Kim folded his arms across his chest. “Why are you here?”

“I work here. You should move your car. This is no place for that… eyesore.” The Rolls-Royce would probably attract more attention on the main street, but the whole thing was making him mad. What was his brother’s slave-driver doing in that place? What had his brother said? “Oi… Your boss… Is it Han?”

Driver Kim nodded in surprise. “You remember? You seem better informed this time.”

“So he’s in there? Damned rich people…” Hyun muttered as he walked to the door. “Get ready to move that thing. I’m gonna send your boss out in a minute.”


“You should give it some thought. Since it is a cultural activity, the company would cover some of the expenses---” Jumin was interrupted by the door being flung open.

“Hyun!” Rika exclaimed. “What---?”

“Oi, jerk!” The bun that Hyun wore whenever he rode his motorbike looked particularly messy, and his eyes were flashing with anger. “This is no place for you, so get moving!”

“Excuse me?” Jumin blinked.

“You heard me: move your flashy monster car out of the way and go back to your Yeoksam tower.”

“Do I know you?” Jumin asked.

Hyun scoffed. So that rich bastard didn’t remember him at all. The fact that he hadn’t even bothered to look at him properly behind those stylish glasses of his made his blood boil. “Aren’t you underwhelming?” his brother’s voice popped up in his head. “Is this all the presence you have? You’re forgettable, Hyun…” He clenched his fists.

“Hyun, do you know my friend Jumin?”

“Jumin?” Hyun repeated. “I don’t know him by name. ‘Director Han’, my brother called him when I went to see him at his office.”

“Don’t tell me…” Rika’s eyes went from Jumin to Hyun. She remembered how angry Hyun had been after his encounter with his brother, and how she’d offered to contact her friend to cheer him up… All blood abandoned her face as she realized that Hyun and Jumin were already at odds with each other. She glanced at Jumin, wondering if she should try to clear up the air between them, but something in his face told her that he now remembered the incident.

And that wasn’t good.

“Hyun, listen…” she said slowly. “This is my friend, Jumin Han. We’re childhood friends. He just came to see me because he found out about our project to collect funds---”

“Oh, I know. I heard that just before coming in,” Hyun said. “Mr. Director thinks we’re a charity to serve his company’s purpose, doesn’t he?”

“Not entirely,” Jumin said.

“Not at all!” Rika exclaimed, trying to correct Jumin. “That’s not what he meant – in fact---!”

“All these rich people are the same,” Hyun barked. “They think success lies in the number of diplomas you get. They see us artists as court jesters – the fools that entertain them for a price. They think all artists are starving good-for-nothings whose greatest aspiration is to find a patron and peddle their art. They have no idea what it means for us to stand out there and bare our souls---!”

“Aren’t you being presumptuous?” Jumin asked, folding his arms. “You know nothing about me.”

“I think I know enough. I’ve dealt with your kind before,” Hyun hissed.

“Stop, both of you!” Rika pleaded, standing between them. “I know you both and this is just a misunderstanding---”

“One that frankly, I am not interested in correcting,” Jumin stated calmly. “I would gain nothing from it.”

“See? His kind won’t move a finger unless there’s profit,” Hyun laughed bitterly.

“Of course. Only a fool would do that,” Jumin quipped, his eyebrow twitching slightly.

Rika wondered how they’d gotten to that point. The good feeling she’d hoped they would get once they got to know each other as artists now seemed impossible to achieve. She knew about Hyun’s prejudice for the type of people Jumin represented, and she’d thought she’d surely have to “translate” Jumin’s words, since his frankness had landed him in hot waters before, but she hadn’t foreseen this kind of animosity. There was a dense energy in the room, and she was reminded of that time she’d been caught in a dog fight when she was a kid. Two stray dogs that frequently played with the kids after school had suddenly turned on each other. The growling and bare teeth were still imprinted in her mind, and now she found herself flinching. “That’s enough!” she cried out.

The door opened and they turned to look at the newcomer. Saeran’s eyes went from Jumin’s face to Rika’s, and then from Hyun’s back to Jumin’s, lingering there. “What are you doing here, Jo---?”

“Aaaaaah!” Rika screamed, leaping forward and covering his mouth, pushing him out of the room.

“Get off!” Saeran struggled. “What the fuck, woman? I told you to stop---!”

“Don’t say a word!” she hissed. Not that she thought that the situation would be salvageable now, but she had promised to keep Jumin’s secret, and she didn’t want to deal with Hyun’s tremendous disappointment when he realized the person he’d longed to meet was the one he was arguing with. “Just help me with Hyun – don’t let him come after us. I’m going to grab Jumin and send him away.”

Saeran sighed. “Why are you always such a pain… Just leave them alone. You’re always meddling with people and then these things happen.”

Rika squinted. “Help me now and I won’t tell Vanderwood that you almost revealed Jumin’s identity.”

“Shit… Okay. Just this time,” Saeran said, walking to the door, “but seriously, you have to stop this crap.”

“---families are close,” Jumin was saying, “but I don’t see why that should be your business.”

“I don’t want her to get spoilt,” Hyun grunted.

“Okay, enough.” Saeran stepped forward. “Hyun, I need you to help me out with a scene before the others get here.”

“But I’m not done---”

“Sorry, seonbae!” Rika exclaimed, taking Jumin by the hand and dragging him away.


Inside the car, Jumin sighed. “Do you realize what you’re asking me to do?”

Rika pressed her hands together and lowered her head. “Please! Just come to see the play, and then you can go away without talking to him. You can ignore him and he’ll finally get the hint!”

Jumin’s arms were crossed tight and it was easy to see that he was clenching his jaw, even if he’d always found that gesture particularly demeaning. “Just for that night.”

“Just once, yes.”

“I’ll come over, and as soon as the play’s done, I’ll be gone.”

“Just let him see you and then you can walk away. I think he’ll understand.”

“Are you sure he doesn’t know?”

“You look really different, Jumin,” Rika reassured him. “And the lighting on stage helps a lot to conceal who you are, trust me.”

Jumin let out a deep breath. “I’m only doing this for you.”

“And I thank you for that.”

“No, don’t,” he replied, a slightly pained expression in his eyes that was even evident behind the glasses. “I’ll tell the others to come as well.”

“Jaehee and the rest?”

“They will do it. I’ll say it’s because Saeran will be acting.”

It was Rika’s turn to sigh. “I’ll have to apologize to them later, I suppose.”


Vanderwood took his seat first and leaned to the left to talk to Jumin. “I still think this is a terrible idea. If Saeran sees us, he might get nervous, but if he sees that guy over there,” he added, pointing to Saeyoung on the other end of the line, “he’ll probably jump off the stage and strangle him, and we’ll be losing two members and our anonymity.”

“By the way, I know it might be late to confirm this,” Jaehee said as soon as she sat down to Jumin’s left side, “but this counts as premium extra hours, doesn’t it? Because I may love music, but I really hate musicals.”

“It can’t be that bad,” Jumin replied, ruffling his hair for the hundredth time.

“Stop touching it,” Jihye hissed, leaning against Jaehee to swat Jumin’s hand away from his hair. “You’re going to ruin the styling I gave you.”

“He can’t help it,” Saeyoung chuckled. “It looks extra fluffy tonight, and he loves fluffy things.”

“He does not,” all the others replied in unison.

“Shhh… You don’t know him as much as I do,” Saeyoung grinned. He leaned back in his chair and looked around. “Ah, I think I just saw V back there---!” he started to say, but then the lights went out.

“If I snooze, lend me your shoulder,” Jaehee whispered to Jihye.

“I’ll give you my lap,” Jihye smiled as she replied.

A sweet clarinet started playing the intro, joined by slow cymbals. It reminded Jumin of a gala he had attended in New York during his latest trip, and through the corner of his eye he saw Vanderwood’s foot swaying quietly, following the rhythm. He remembered. Soon, the piano and the saxophone blended in, forming an exquisite melody that conjured the actors up to the stage. There was no singing – just some slow dancing that made Jumin nod in approval. Choreographies were always aesthetically pleasing.

But then the music was forcefully interrupted by a heavy beat, one that broke the harmony of the dancers, forcing them to move away.

“Ah, there he is,” Vanderwood murmured. “I knew it would be this guy.”

“Who…?” Jumin asked. But the answer was soon revealed to him as a man swaggered forward; his white hair was loose, hanging down up to his elbows, and the lighting gave him a glow that made him seem ethereal in spite of the wicked leer on his face. But just as the audience had caught a glimpse of his magnificent expression, his lips regaled them with a smile that made Jumin swallow hard.

“Don’t tell me…” he muttered to himself, remembering the supernatural glow of that creature standing right under the bright exit signs. Unnoticed, his slender fingers were digging into his thighs. He didn’t need to look around to know that the audience had been captivated by his stage presence. Jaehee was holding her breath, and Vanderwood’s foot had stopped moving. Time stood still as Jumin’s eyes drank in the figure of that man. It was as if he had cast a spell on them, and Jumin genuinely couldn’t tell if he would play Stanley or Blanche. “The fairy…” he said to himself, and those were the only words that remained in his mind until the interval.

“… Okay, if no one’s going to say anything, I’ll say it,” Jaehee blurted out as soon as the lights were back on. “That was mind-blowing. That guy? That guy is…”

“Amazing,” Jihye murmured, entranced.

“I agree,” Saeyoung nodded.

“Who would have known,” Vanderwood chuckled. He noticed Jumin had gone quiet and said, “Shall we go out for a drink?”

Jumin turned to him slowly. “I should go. Away. Right now.”

Vanderwood frowned. He stood up and squeezed Jumin’s arm discreetly. “Let’s go. I’ll drive you home.”

He can’t see me, Jumin thought, not after the things we said the other day. He felt terrible for breaking his promise to Rika, but perhaps if he left now, the others could say that he wasn’t interested; that guy would just get disappointed in him and would stop asking Rika to get them together. It would be the best course of action, yes. His body was stiffer than he’d have liked it to be, and he wished he could act naturally. Hurry, legs. Take me out.

A cool breeze hit him as Vanderwood opened the door for him, and he welcomed it. The voices of the spectators were drowned by the night outside the theater, and Jumin breathed out in relief. However, he only managed to take a few steps before a voice called out to him.

“Wait!”

Jumin turned around and there he was, wearing a black hoodie that didn’t entirely conceal his white hair. It was obvious that he’d thrown on the first thing he’d found.

“Don’t tell me you’re leaving already,” that guy said in a voice that sounded a little more strained than Jumin had expected.

“This cool air won’t be good for your voice,” Jumin murmured. Will he recognize me?

“Same there.” He took a step forward but that was it. He smiled with a simplicity that made Jumin blink. “I’m Zen.”

“Zen?”

“Stage name. You saw me up there, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

Their eyes met.

Zen took another step forward. “Jonghoon…” he called.

Jumin tried not to flinch. He swallowed hard and waited for the next words, the ones that he knew he wouldn’t be able to refuse.

“Won’t you stay until the end?”

* * * * * * * * * * 

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Vanderwood’s frown was born out of concern; Jumin understood that. He could be Jonghoon’s manager, yes, but that was only a part-time thing. He was, first and foremost, the main bodyguard of the Han family as well as their chief of security. “You look a bit nervous. Do you want me to get you the pills?” he added in a low voice.

Jumin shook his head. “I’m fine.” He saw Vanderwood pressing his lips together, clearly not fully convinced of his words.

“Mary!” Saeyoung called. He was standing between Jaehee and Jihye, hanging his arms around their shoulders. “We’re all going for a drink after this, aren’t we? You said you’d be treating us this time…”

“When did I say that?”

“When you refused to go for a drink with m---”

“Okay, okay! I understand,” Vanderwood grunted. “But no bar hopping: one place, and that’s final.”

Even if he could feel them, Jumin barely heard the crowd moving around him. The play had ended and Zen had been called back to the stage three times before the audience started standing up and walking out. I was able to endure it, he thought. I’ve fulfilled my promise. Now I won’t have to see him again.

And yet, his own thoughts made him miserable. He’d always had a good eye for value, and seeing Zen on stage had convinced him that supporting the theater company was the right thing to do. All the members of the troupe were better than average amateurs, but Zen had clearly outgrown them, and Jumin knew that even if he could shine brighter on a professional stage, that guy would probably stay behind out of a sense of loyalty. It would be foolish of him, he thought as he walked onto the small yet overcrowded entrance hall. He’ll probably be wary if an anonymous source makes a large donation. But perhaps if I do it in smaller amounts and through Saeran…

“Are they coming this way?” a woman squealed excitedly.

“I think so,” her companion replied. “That’s what they did the last time they performed here. Do you have your autograph book?”

“Yes! And my camera’s ready!”

“Zen’s a sweetheart for letting us all take a pic with him,” another added. “Ah, the doors are opening!”

Jumin glanced over his shoulder and saw Zen beaming at his fans. His hair had been tied up in a ponytail, giving everyone a good view of his slender neck. For a moment, Jumin thought that he just couldn’t be real. That man had that same glow that he’d perceived during the concert. He wondered why he hadn’t felt that when they’d met at the C&R building. Whatever had happened between them that day was now a blurred memory.

He turned around to take one last look at Zen, and their eyes met briefly. A shudder ran down his back, but it wasn’t cold at all. Perhaps he was just being paranoid. Perhaps Zen hadn’t actually seen him. But when Zen’s eyes gazed in his direction one more time, the pressure in his chest and back became real, and his skin felt on fire. He looked around and saw the restrooms. Cold water on your pulse points, he said to himself. Attack before you’re attacked. Regain control.

* * *

Saeyoung crouched next to him, unusually silent. Jumin wondered why The Prodigy had approached him. He was always hanging out with V, disregarding the age gap and chatting away merrily. He’d never bothered to talk to him before. He was a couple years younger, but he’d skipped a few grades thanks to his talent and discipline. With his roguish grin and unruly red hair, nobody would take him seriously. Somehow, Jumin thought they would be wrong if they didn’t.

“It’s anxiety, isn’t it?” he finally said.

Jumin didn’t reply. What good would it do him to discuss his personal matters with someone he barely knew?

“You look like you feel uncomfortable in your own skin,” Saeyoung went on. “Like it’s too tight but at the same time too loose, and you need something to contain it because you don’t want it to be spilt over, because it’s you that would be spilt.”

Jumin shot a quick glance at Saeyoung, but remained silent. He wrapped his arms around his knees a little tighter.

Saeyoung rested the back of his head against the wall. “Sometimes I think England still has lots of fairies and pixies wandering the gardens and woods of the land. Some are nice, but some are naughty, so you have to be careful. If you look into their eyes, you might get captivated by them. When your heart beats faster, when your legs feel like lead – even when you feel trapped the way you do now, there’s a chance you might have been caught by them.”

“That’s nonsense,” Jumin murmured. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Nobody has.”

“Does that mean they don’t exist, though?” Saeyoung wondered. “If you only believe in tangible proof, then… We should go looking for one! Attack before you’re attacked!”

“How childish.”

“Then again, I’m sure it’s pretty much like love.”

“Love? Didn’t you say it was anxiety before?”

“Just think about it!” Saeyoung’s amber eyes sparkled behind his glasses. “All theories point to the same thing: there’s this inexplicable pressure in your chest, you’re short of breath, you don’t know exactly how you feel, because it’s like feeling every emotion at the same time! You’re not in control of them, and it’s hard to think about anything else---”

“But that’s rather negative,” Jumin interrupted. He blushed slightly, thinking about how rude he could have sounded. “Listen more than you talk,” his tutor had instructed him. “Take your turn gracefully, and always think before you speak; don't interrupt, tailor the conversation toyourlistenerdonottalktoonlyonepersonwhenconversinginagroup---”

“Oooi! Jumin Han!” Saeyoung called out. “Are you okay? You spaced out for a bit back then…”

“Love shouldn’t feel this bad, should it?” Jumin wondered out loud.

Saeyoung tilted his head. “Maybe love and anxiety are like twins? Born from the same sensations, but each of them making their own path…”

Jumin gazed at Saeyoung. His expression seemed to have darkened. Before he could ask him if he was alright, however, Saeyoung flashed him a bright smile and said, “I’ve got a book about fairies that you can read. I bought it to practice my French, though, so I don’t know if you can read it.”

“French is my fifth language,” Jumin replied. “I’m sure I can do it.”

“French is my fifth too!” Saeyoung exclaimed excitedly. “Ah, but lately I’m keener on Arabic. Other than that, I also know around 200 programming languages.”

“You truly are a prodigy,” Jumin expressed in awe.

“I still have a long way to go!” Saeyoung chuckled embarrassedly and rubbed the back of his neck. The clock tower rang once, making him stand up quickly. “Gaaah! I have to go! It’s the first meeting and I’ll be late. They’re so going to kill me!” He turned around and dashed away, but he came back after a few seconds. “Hey, do you wanna come with me? We’re putting together a band…”

* * *

The cold water flowed over his wrists and he took deep breaths. He looked at himself in the mirror. His face was oddly flushed. Didn’t everyone always tell him that he was paler than usual when he was having one of his attacks? He frowned. Vanderwood had the pills. He’d surely find him soon.

The door opened and a hooded figure slipped in, closing the door behind them.

“Zen?”

“Finally!” Zen exclaimed. “You know, I do love my fans, but today I just wanted them gone as soon as possible.” He let out a sigh of relief and beamed at Jonghoon. “Did you like it?”

“What?”

“The play.”

“Oh. Yes, very much so.”

“Wasn’t I cool?”

Jumin blinked. “Is it okay to say that about yourself?”

He smiled. “Well, I was expecting you to say that to me as soon as you saw me, but since you didn’t…” He took a step towards Jonghoon, who stepped back. “Are you busy right now?”

“No.”

Zen walked by and unlocked the door at the other end of the restroom. “Come this way.”

Why are my feet following him? Jumin wondered. This is illogical. This isn’t me. I have to call Vanderwood. I have to--- “Wait… Where are we going?” he asked out loud. He raised his eyebrows when he saw Zen’s motorbike.

Zen handed him a spare helmet. “My place.”

Jumin gaped at him. When he snapped out of it, he pressed his lips and cleared his throat. “Pardon?” he managed to ask, albeit rather weakly.

“Oh!” Zen straightened his back. “Unless you prefer a bar or something like that. Honestly, I just wanted a quiet place to talk.” He took a look at Jonghoon’s expression. “You know,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, “I’ve been trying to get to know you for a while now. Not too long, true, but… I’ve seen you guys twice, and because of Rika and V I was able to go to the after-parties, but you’re never there and… Ah, but I didn’t think you’d be so shocked! I thought Rika had told you about it.” He let out a chuckle, trying to hide his embarrassment. “Hah, I must sound like a total creep, sorry. If you don’t---”

“It’s fine.”

Zen gazed up at Jonghoon.

Oh. He can look like this – like a puppy that’s been given a treat. Jumin tried to conceal his smirk. “It’s just I’ve ridden horses before, but never a motorbike.”

“Really? But it looks like it would suit you… I won’t race, don’t worry. Ah, let’s see… Get on from the left. At least I find it easier that way.” He waited until Jonghoon had mounted the bike and told him where to rest his feet. “Just hold onto me, okay? Oh, and unlike horses, you really shouldn’t lean with or against the bike. I can take your weight, so you can lean on me. I’ll do everything – just leave it to me.”

Jumin circled Zen’s waist rather loosely. “Is this okay?”

“We can check that easily.” The engine let out a loud purr that made Jumin’s knees press against Zen’s thighs, and his hands also squeezed him tighter. “I guess now it’s better, hmmm?” Zen grinned, looking at Jonghoon over his shoulder. “Ready?”

Jumin nodded silently, feeling his heart beating faster than usual, and hoping that Zen wouldn’t feel it.

As they rode along the almost empty streets, Jumin couldn’t help feeling anxious. Zen was keeping his promise and he was riding carefully, but Jumin was far from used to that type of thing. He was sure that his heart would be heard, that the beating would go through Zen’s back and touch his own heart. What would he do when Zen noticed that he was that nervous? He disliked the idea of having to explain his anxiety the way he understood it, because nobody except Saeyoung and V would get it. But is it anxiety? a voice within asked. There was this gurgling feeling in the pit of his stomach that was both uncomfortable and oddly arousing, as if an engine had been started for the first time. What in the world can this be? he kept wondering, till they reached their destination.

“This is… Rika’s place,” Jumin murmured as he got off the bike.

“Yes, we share the boarding. There are around eight of us here. No, wait – seven. One moved away last week. There’s a free room if you need it!” Zen said cheerfully. “The rent is super low for the area, and the landlady sometimes treats us to delicious homemade food. Ah, I’ve got some leftovers! And I’m pretty sure I also have some snacks and beer. Is that okay with you?”

It took everything he had for Jumin to wipe the blank look he knew he was making off his face. “Anything’s fine. I’m not particularly hungry.”

Zen was unlocking the door when he turned to look at Jonghoon. “You know, your voice has a special ring…”

“Does it?”

“Yeah… It’s a bit soothing. It also sounds rather different from your singing voice, which is normal, right? But still… It’s a good voice.”

He’ll figure it out soon, Jumin thought. He can’t be so dense. The question is, what will he do once he does? Part of him wanted things to remain the way they were going. He was slightly intrigued as to how that man could be so rude and offputting and at the same time so charismatic.

“The kitchen area is not really for cooking, as you must have noticed,” Zen said, pointing to a portable stove and a microwave. “But it’s pretty late to use the communal one. I think I’ve got some fish cakes to add to some instant soup, and some chips? There’s kimchi, and---”

“I can make pancakes,” Jumin offered.

Zen blinked. “I don’t think I have any flour, though.”

“What about bananas?”

“What about it?”

“If you have four eggs and two bananas, I could make some.” He frowned when Zen covered his mouth, hiding his snort. “What?”

“Nothing – it’s just I was going to say, ‘Well, that’s exactly what we have, isn’t it?’ But then I thought…”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow,” Jumin said genuinely.

Zen bit his lower lip. “Aren’t you innocent… I mean, yeah, I do have that. My diet’s not too varied, but I make sure to include those things every now and then. But surely you’re kidding. You can’t make pancakes just with that?” He opened the fridge and handed him a couple of eggs. “Here. I’m not sure if they’re good, though. Can’t tell how long they’ve been there. I think there’s a pan in that cupboard.” He tilted his head. “Man, if you can make a meal out of two ingredients, you must have been struggling at some point to make ends meet.”

“Ah… No…” Jumin lowered his head, slightly embarrassed over the misunderstanding.

Zen took a step forward and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s okay, I understand.”

You really don’t. Jumin looked up. “You can go ahead and take a shower if you wish. I’ll just make the pancakes.”

Zen swallowed hard. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, no problem whatsoever. Go.” He watched him leave and as soon as Zen had closed the bathroom door behind him, Jumin took his vibrating phone out of his pocket. “Vand---”

“What the hell are you doing at Rika’s place?” Vanderwood hissed. “Disappearing without a word, not answering your phone…! I’m going in right now and taking you back home!”

So the GPS had been working all along. Jumin scoffed. “I’m not a child.”

“Of course you’re not! You’re even worse than a child; you’re the heir to one of the top corporations in this coun--- what am I saying? In the world! I’m not about to be skinned alive by your father, the Board, or the agency because you’re going through your rebellious phase at this age!”

Vanderwood’s right. I should go back now, before he realizes… Before I--- “Give me two hours,” Jumin told him to his own surprise. “You know where I am. I won’t run away.”

“If this is---”

“Antoine.”

Vanderwood sighed. “Two hours, but not one minute more.”

“Thank you. Ah, by the way, how does one know whether eggs are still good?”


Jumin found himself mimicking Zen’s actions – the way he sat down, the way he ate, the way he drank his beer from the can and wiped his mouth. The way he tilted his head when he watched him, when he listened to him as they spoke about music and plays; the way he laughed as if they’d known each other for years, and the look in his eyes that told him that he was being observed a little more closely than he’d thought he would be. There was a gap between them that felt more like a common barrier than an insurmountable breach. Who was putting it up? Undoubtedly, it was Jumin himself. It wasn’t because this was Rika’s friend Hyun. There had always been a barrier between him and most of the people he met. His father, V, Rika, Jihye – they were allowed in. Saeyoung had forced his way in, just as Zen was doing it now, whether he knew it or not. Still, it didn’t feel forceful. The beer they shared wasn’t as bitter as he’d thought it would be, and the meal was warm and filling, just as food should be.

“Earth to Jonghoon?” Zen smiled, resting his head on his right hand. “Did the beer get to you already?”

Jumin shook his head and then looked around. “How long have you lived here?”

“Why? It doesn’t feel like a home?”

“I suppose that home is what you make of it. But it does feel like you won’t be here for long.” He pointed to a bookcase. “With the exception of that. Brimming with books and copies of scripts, I can tell from here.” Jumin stood up and took a step towards it. “May I?”

“Be my guest,” Zen said, following him with his eyes. Jonghoon’s slender fingers seemed to be itching for something – perhaps he was the kind of person that needed to stroke the spine of the books to get their feel. He bit his lower lip. “Seven years.”

Jumin looked at him over his shoulder. “You must have been very young.”

“Fresh out of middle school. I’m 23 now. That reminds me, are you actually younger than Saeyoung?”

“Saeyoung?”

“Ah… What’s his name… Luciel? If he’s the leader of the band, then all of you must be younger, yes? Somehow you look a bit more mature.” Zen stood up and walked towards Jonghoon.

Jumin turned to the books. “Ah. It’s always been like that. I was born an old man, with a frown on my face and a bottle of wine under my arm.”

“What’s with that,” Zen chuckled as he leaned against the bookcase. “It’s almost cute.”

“I hardly think that word applies to me.” There went his heart, thumping wildly again. His throat felt like sandpaper, his hands were too hot. Too close.

“By the way, what’s your real name?” Zen asked.

“My… real name?”

“You guys have stage names, right? Isn’t Jonghoon yours?”

“Yes,” Jumin replied, taking the first book he found. A few photos fell from it, and both of them bent down to pick them up. “Sorry. I should have been more careful.” He took one of them: a much younger version of Hyun clinging to a scrawny, dark-haired teenager. Jumin wondered if they were brothers after all. Hyun’s pale skin and exquisite features marked him as a beauty, even at that age. Definitely a fairy. “Ah… How rude of me. I didn’t mean to pry…”

Zen watched him with cat-like eyes and grinned. “You know… Not that you give a suuuper different impression, but… You’re more delicate than I’d thought.”

It’s not being delicate, Jumin thought; it’s just being polite. He shook his head dismissively. “Then I’ll be a bit rude. Is that your brother?”

Zen gaped at him, faking annoyance. “Woah, talk about rude! Asking such personal questions when we barely know each other!” When he saw Jonghoon frown slightly, he laughed. “No no, don’t make that face! I’m just teasing you, hmmm? So don’t look like that.” He reached out and ruffled Jonghoon’s hair in a friendly way. His fingers lingered in those black locks a little longer than they should have. He lowered his hand and clenched his fist. “My brother… Yeah. He’s the light of hope for my family.” He walked away and slumped against the cushions of his armchair. “Awesome grades, impeccable discipline – a paragon of morality as well. No drinking or smoking, no staying out at night. He’d always have this tired look in his eyes, but every time I asked for something, he’d get it for me no matter how busy he was. He was my hero.”

“Why did that change?”

“Did I give you that impression? I must sound bitterer than I thought.” Zen shot a glance at Jonghoon, who was now sitting nearby, still holding the book in his hands. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Jumin replied honestly.

Zen snorted. “I can imagine.” He tilted his head and gazed at him pensively. “It’s hard, being compared to someone like that guy. Whatever you do, you’re not the first. You’re not the best. You start feeling the pressure. It doesn’t matter how young you are. You don’t know how to cope with it. You don’t even want to be better than him, even if that’s what they expect from you – you just want to be able to stand by his side and say, ‘I can be good too.’ And when you finally find something that moves you, frees you – something you’re good at…” He looked up at the ceiling. “Something that makes you feel unbound and genuinely happy, something that makes your pulse race and your heart beat like it’s trying to set your whole body on fire… That’s what singing was for me, and then dancing, and acting.” Zen gazed at Jonghoon. “Wasn’t it like that for you as well?”

Yes. “And your family didn’t approve?”

“Of course not. That hardly makes a living. As if I needed more…”

“Couldn’t you have done it as a hobby?”

Zen shook his head. “They’ve got me tied even when I am singing,” he sang. “I think that’s exactly what I felt. Ah, but you see, I knew that I was being difficult on purpose. But once I set my mind on something, I don’t let go.” He rested his head on his hand and grinned, but the seriousness of his voice didn’t match his expression. “It might take me a long, long time, but I know I’ll get what I want in the end, however hard it may seem at first, because I will give it my all. The way I see it, any other outcome is not a possibility.”

“Anyone would respect that,” Jumin said gently. “I can tell you’re sincere. I hope it pays off.”

Zen’s eyes matched his smiling lips. “I hope so too.” He casually glanced at Jonghoon’s hands and saw the book, still handled carefully. “Thank you for not mocking me over that. Not that I have a super tough image, but if word came out that I like children’s stories…”

Jumin gazed at the book. “They’re not children’s stories. They’re fairy tales.”

“Isn’t it the same?”

“Only if you stop believing in them, I suppose.”

“Perhaps I did, a long time ago.” Zen gave him a calculated look as he reach out for the book. “There’s more magic in the real world, after all.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

Zen’s eyes stared at the cover, though they weren’t really seeing anything beyond a certain image engraved in his mind. “To tell you the truth… Well… You could be a siren.” His thumbs slowly stroked the jaded corners of the hard cover. “When I first heard your voice… Don’t take it personally, hmmm? I thought that you lacked training. Little things that would be hard to pinpoint for someone who didn’t know the technical aspect of this… But still…” He looked up, his eyes bearing a dazzling light of admiration. “I felt your voice was calling me; me, out of all those people. There’s something contained and almost perfect in it, as if you wanted to do it right, but at the same time there was this rawness, this unstoppable eagerness that burst out, like nothing else mattered. You were up there and to me… It was just you and the music, pulsing together, drawing something deep within me. If you had told me to jump off a bridge, I would have done it. So… Like a siren.”

Jumin realized that he was holding his breath. His ears felt oddly hot. What should I tell him? Should I say that I thought he was a fairy? No, he will think me too strange… He parted his lips and found himself at a loss. No good. Why’s my heart beating this fast? “I---”

“No need to say anything!” Zen interrupted him, his pale face flushed. “We… We were talking about fairy tales, right? It’s just… 'The Little Mermaid', there! Haha… It was just a comparison, don’t worry.”

“Then, who would you be?”

“No idea. Who do you think?”

Jumin gave it some serious thought for a few seconds. “I think you would hate being Cinderella.”

Zen grinned. “You’d be absolutely right. Even if Cinderella got what she wanted because she was naturally good and deserved it after all those years of suffering, there’s something too unrealistic about that. Fairy godmothers are fine, but I feel I’d rather work for what I want, and I don’t really think my life was tragic at all. It’s all in the past now.”

“But you are good at what you do, so anything you get from this moment on…” Jumin began to say, but something in Zen’s look made him trail off. “I mean… If it were based on your accomplishments, wouldn’t you consider---?”

“You wanna sponsor me?” Zen laughed. “The blind leading the blind. I’m sure you guys must have a hard time as well. I know how badly paid gigs are when you're unknown. I never see any advertisements for your band, even if there should be. You guys are good…”

I wonder how he would react if I were to tell him the truth now. “Rapunzel,” he said.

Zen raised his eyebrows. “Really? Just because of the long hair?”

Jumin shook his head. How could he explain it? “Isn’t it lonely up there where you are?” he asked. Words drenched in simplicity, because sometimes that was how he felt. Pride, self-sufficiency; innate skills for something that still had to be honed, and the feeling that very few people could get in there. Weren’t they just the same in their own ways?

A warm yet sorrowful smile dawned on Hyun’s lips. “Are you talking about me or yourself now?” He shivered. “It’s a strange feeling, having someone read you like this. Maybe you understand. Ah, how embarrassing! Now I almost wish you’d said it was because of the hair!”

“It’s not that long.”

“Do you think?” Zen slipped the band off his hair and shook his head. “It’s a little past my waist now.”

Ah, that dream-like silver cascade that had caught his attention that night, when he’d stood under the exit sign. It was beautiful to see it this close. Jumin had to fight back the need to run his fingers through its silkiness. Now he knew that his delusion was real. Totally captivating, just like his every move.

“Eh?” Hyun murmured, his eyes open wide.

... He’d said all that out loud, hadn’t he?

Shit.

Before he could say anything, someone knocked at the door. Hyun hesitated, his gaze still fixed on Jonghoon’s flustered face. “What do you mean…?” The banging on the door was louder this time. Zen clicked his tongue impatiently and stomped toward the door.

“Yo,” Vanderwood greeted him with a grin. “I’m here for Jonghoon.”

“How…?” Zen turned to Jonghoon. “Did you tell him where---?”

“Your friend Rika told me where you lived,” Vanderwood interrupted him, quickly catching on Jumin’s visible distress. “I didn’t know you’d be here, but it was easier to come over than check out all the bars in the area, right? Sorry, but that guy over there needs to leave now. He’s got a busy week ahead and he needs to rest. Thanks for taking care of him.” He grabbed Jumin by the wrist and waved at Zen over his shoulder.

“Wait!” Zen wrapped his fingers around Jumin’s arm. “When… When can we meet again? Are you playing any time soon?”

Jumin pulled his arm free from Zen’s grip in a gentle way and he averted his eyes.

“We’ll let you know,” Vanderwood grinned. “Now if you’ll excuse us…”


The drive back home was tense. The silence between them was thick, not because they each had too much to say, but after all those years of working together, both Jumin and Antoine knew that when the mood was such, they had to measure their words carefully around each other.

Finally, Vanderwood dared ask, “Does he know who you are?”

“No.”

“Good.”

Jumin’s thumb played with his seatbelt. “Is that all you need to know?”

“Well, I’d be lying if I said that whoever you bed is not my concern. You know that 98% of the things you do get reported back to Chairman Han.”

“Only 98%?”

“I figured he doesn’t need to know about tonight. I made sure that nobody had spotted you. That guy really stole the limelight, huh.”

“It was his night. Of course he would.”

Antoine gave Jumin a sideways look. “So? What are we going to do about that guy? He doesn’t seem like he’ll back off. We can tell Saeran not to share the info of the venue every time you play, and we’ll probably have to tell Rika not to come---”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.” Jumin’s fingers stroked his own wrists, as if he were adjusting invisible cufflinks. “I don’t think I’ll be able to perform anymore.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * 

Chapter Text

“I don’t think I’ll be able to perform anymore.”

Vanderwood’s fingers gripped the wheel a little tighter. This is it, right? he thought. This is what Chairman Han wanted, what I was supposed to lead him to do. No more playing the rockstar. He’ll properly focus on his job as a--- He cast a sideways glance at Jumin. Aaah. So he was capable of making that face. Vanderwood mentally groaned at his weakness for pitiful faces. First Saeyoung and now this young master… This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Vanderwood let out a sigh. “So… Am I misunderstanding the situation? You don’t want to see that guy again, right?”

“I do not think it would be wise, no,” Jumin replied.

“Well… There are ways for you to keep up with your current activities without meeting him again. Saeyoung is always keeping an eye on the info that’s leaked after every concert, so you don’t have to worry about that. You know you can trust him on that, he’s the best. And as I said before, we can’t let Rika come to see you anymore. He’d probably end up following her, so it wouldn’t be safe.” At the red light, Vanderwood turned to Jumin. “Of course, that’s all up to you---” A light scoff coming from Jumin interrupted him.

“Aren’t you going to tell me to drop it?” Jumin’s voice was cool and controlled once again. “After all, that’s what my father asked of you, isn’t it. ‘Keep an eye on him and let him enjoy this little fantasy of his for a while’, he probably said.” He turned to face Vanderwood, and the smirk on his lips looked somewhat sad. “Ah, but somewhere along the line you started enjoying this, didn’t you? If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that’s the real reason why Saeran is there. You need a singer in case this turns out to be a profitable enterprise.”

“I don’t give a damn about money.” When the traffic lights changed, Vanderwood’s eyes turned to the road once more. He didn’t speak for some time, but when he did, his voice came out softer than usual. “We all have different ways of unwinding. I won’t judge you for yours, just as I wouldn’t want to be judged for mine. But I’ve been around the corporate world for much longer than you think, and I do believe that you have a serious flair for business. I wouldn’t want you to waste that mind of yours. Keep your hobby for as long as you wish, provided you still work hard. Work even harder, and your father might approve of it.”

Jumin let out a soft scoff. “Lies do not become you, Antoine.”

“I don’t lie unless there’s something to be gained,” Vanderwood replied. “By telling you to keep it up, I’m probably losing my end-of-year bonus.” He sighed. “Ah well, you’ll just have to make it up to me some other way. There’s a nice Italian silk scarf and a leather jacket I’ve been eyeing for some time.” As he pulled into the parking lot of Jumin’s tower, he said, “I’m being serious. If you don’t want to see that guy anymore, you can’t let Rika come to the shows. Since Saeran could be tailed as well, I’ll tell him to come to the C&R building before rehearsals and such, alright?”

As soon as the car pulled over, Jumin took off the seatbelt and said, “Give Jaehee the details of the scarf and jacket. You’ll have them tomorrow at your place.”

“But tomorrow’s Sunday, and the store’s closed.”

“Jaehee is a very resourceful individual,” Jumin said, closing the door.

 


 

“Zen? Ah. He’s already texted me about it.” Saeran took off his jacket and casually dropped it on the table. “I said I would tell him when I knew the date of the next show.”

“You can’t let him know,” Vanderwood said, picking up the jacket and arranging it neatly on the hanger.

“Why? Is there a problem between him and Ju--- Jonghoon ?”

Vanderwood bit the inside of his cheek “The less you know---”

“The less inclined I’ll be to cooperate,” Saeran replied, looking round the apartment. “Not that I really need to know about their private business, but… It’s obvious Hyun is rather obsessed with Jonghoon. I’ve known him for a couple of years and I’d never seen him act this way.” He shrugged. “He’s a good guy, Hyun… A little on the dumb side, but nice. I mean, he met Jonghoon as Jumin and he didn’t recognize him.”

“Are you sure?” Vanderwood led him down a corridor to his bedroom. He opened the door to his walk-in closet and beckoned Saeran to follow him. “He might be faking it. If he knows who Jonghoon actually is…”

“As I said, he’s a nice guy. He wouldn’t blackmail Jumin.”

“And you would?”

Saeran’s green eyes locked on Vanderwood’s. He smiled slowly at the sight of Vanderwood’s sharp eyes. “I have the feeling you wouldn’t let me get away with it.”

Vanderwood sneered. “Right you are. In any case, for the time being, you should either come here or to the C&R building. I’ll take you there, wherever that is. Stand over there, please.” He leaned against the countertop at the center of the room and sized him up with a long, hard stare. “I definitely think the ‘Unknown’ style suits you better. You’re somewhat… plain like this,” he commented, pointing vaguely to Saeran’s faded jeans and white T-shirt.

“Wild people don’t need to show off,” Saeran muttered, looking away.

Vanderwood guffawed. “ Wild , he says. In any case…” He walked towards Saeran and placed his hands on his shoulders. He turned him around to face the mirror and ran his hands down his back. “Nice bone structure. A little slimmer than it should be, but your body’s not bad…” His fingers slid down his sides, feeling his waist and the hips, making Saeran flinch. “Oh? Feeling uncomfortable?” Vanderwood grinned at him through the reflection on the mirror. “It’s not your first time being touched by someone, is it?”

Saeran crossed his arms and looked away. “I won’t even answer that,” he grunted.

Vanderwood noticed the soft blush covering his ears. My my, such a pure guy… So different from his twin… He cleared his throat and took a step back. “Okay, I think I’ve got a few ideas.” He moved around the room with light feet, mumbling things to himself, picking up slacks and shirts and jackets. “Open that last door and get the black snakeskin boots, and the soft leather ankle ones… Oh, and the high-heeled shoes!”

“High heels?”

“It’s not stilettos, relax; a bit of heel won’t kill you. In fact…” Vanderwood took a look at one of the outfits he’d just put together and separated it from the rest. “Blazer, jeans, those shoes, and this shirt. I’m pretty sure. Try them on.”

“You’ve got quite the collection over there,” Saeran commented as he took off his clothes. “Impressive coats.”

“I do love my coats, yes. I don’t wear most of them anymore, but…” Vanderwood stroked the sleeve of a fur coat almost lovingly. “I just can’t part with them. Not yet.” Whatever memories had come out to greet him, he pushed them back into the closet. He closed the doors slowly and turned around, his eyes on Saeran’s back. “Seriously, do you eat properly?”

“I guess? I sometimes have trouble with my stomach, but I eat enough.” He looked at Vanderwood over his shoulder and smirked. “Why? Do you like your men with a bit more meat on their bones?”

Vanderwood grabbed his purple scarf from the countertop and swiftly wrapped it around Saeran’s neck, tightening it. “You know… I tend to disagree with Saeyoung about many things, but this bratty attitude of yours is a pain in the ass.” He maintained his grip and met Saeran’s eyes through the reflection. He wasn’t showing panic or surprise - the green eyes were simply smiling at him, and he let go of the scarf.

Saeran wrapped it around his neck loosely and looked at himself in the mirror. He nodded. “Hmmm… This actually completes the outfit quite well, don’t you think?”

This brat. Vanderwood let out a long sigh. “You know what doesn’t fit this style? That stupid hair of yours.” He tousled Saeran’s hair a bit more roughly than he should have. “I can teach you how to style it way better than this. Let’s make the people at your family meeting drop their jaws so low that they’ll be kicking them, shall we?”

 


 

“V! Over here!” Rika waved, beaming.

V waved back. As he approached them, he noticed Yoosung’s badly concealed frown. He made a note to ask him about it later. “I’m sorry for being late. My hands are full with the new exhibition right now - we’re opening in two days, so---”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were this busy!” Rika turned to Yoosung, who was now biting his lower lip.

He bowed deeply before Jihyun. “I’m terribly sorry! I selfishly took up so much of your time with my school things and---!”

“No, please, don’t worry about that!” Jihyun exclaimed, flustered. Before he knew it, his hand had moved over Yoosung’s head and he was now tousling his silky hair gently. He withdrew it quickly when he noticed Yoosung flinching. “I’m… sorry about that, haha. You’re not a kid.”

Yoosung’s eyes appeared to have darkened. “No,” he muttered. “I’m not.”

Rika looked at both men and said nervously, “Then perhaps we should waste no more time and get to the camera store now, right?” As they started walking, she smiled at V. “Thank you for everything, oppa. Yoosung doesn’t have many interests, so when he gets into something, he’s quite passionate about it.”

“Passionate, is it?” V wondered, smiling candidly at Yoosung.  

“Pretty much! He’s just like me!” Rika chuckled. “I’m---”

“Rika-noona,” Yoosung interrupted her with a bright smile. “There’s a new bubble tea place just round the corner.” He stood between her and V and grabbed her by the wrist. He turned to V and looked at him with puppy eyes. “You don’t mind it, do you, hyung? It’s just we were waiting for too long in the sun, and I’m so hot…”

“Yeah, me too...” Jihyun mumbled, enthralled by the amethyst eyes.

Yoosung grinned. “Excellent! Let’s go, then!”

As he watched him drag Rika towards the store, Jihyun took a deep breath. ‘ Not a kid’, huh. It would be convenient for me to see it that way. Damn, this will be much harder than I thought. Perhaps I should put some distance between us. But the more he wanted to stay away, the closer it felt that V got pulled towards him. He had tried to engage in conversation with Rika, who was clearly happy to receive attention, but every time Yoosung had found a way to draw her away from him. And the looks he was getting… V wondered what kind of feeling was lurking in those bright eyes. For a moment he could have sworn that he was… jealous? Well, Rika herself had said it once: they were almost like siblings. Perhaps Yoosung had a sister complex. If that was all, then Jihyun should reassure him that it wasn’t Rika he was interested in. But wait, wouldn’t that send the wrong signal? he wondered, as he felt Yoosung’s warmth. He was standing next to him again, blocking him from Rika. What on earth am I supposed to do?

“Is everything alright?” Yoosung asked him kindly, meeting his gaze. “Since we’ve already finished shopping and you’re so busy, perhaps you should leave.” He looked away, embarrassed. “I’m really sorry. I know how important your work is for you…”

Somehow those words flustered him. Why did his junior have to say that so clearly? Wasn’t he an adult? V let out a sigh and smiled as he patted him on the shoulder. “I wanted to be here.” His words made Yoosung gaze at him once more, and V’s smile widened. “So don’t worry about. Still, you’re right. I’ve got work to do. I hope I’ve been helpful.”

“Oh, you sure were!” Rika exclaimed. “And about the photoshoot…”

“You can call me tomorrow about it,” V said. “Thank you for agreeing to be my model.”

“No need to mention it,” she replied, blushing.

“Then we’ll talk later, hyung,” Yoosung said curtly, making Jihyun wonder if he had been right about Yoosung being jealous.

For the rest of the day, Jihyun’s head was filled with the memory of Yoosung. What would he do if he hated him? Next time he should clearly state that he wasn’t interested in Rika. It shouldn’t be hard: he’d never been interested in dating before. But since that guy had appeared…

This feeling is more than unrequited, he thought bitterly as he got back home that evening. He’s not even aware of the way I look at him. Wait, I really hope I haven’t let it show… He shook his head and went inside. The house felt lonely. He wondered whether he should get a pet. Perhaps a cat. But no, it would be unfair. If he was truly considering the idea of going abroad…

“You’ve got mail…” he read the notification in a soft voice as he clicked on it. His eyes widened in surprise. “Yoosung?”

 

“Hyung! ヾ(☆▽☆) I’ve uploaded all the photos I’ve been taking to this folder:  https://tnurl.com/y7vsmzjq

If you see anything that catches your eye, let me know! ヾ(❀๑❛ᴗ❛๑)ノ Of course, only when you have time~~~ Thanks!   ε=ε=(ノ≧∇≦)ノ”

 

“So cute…” Jihyun groaned, tapping his feet on the floor. He clicked on the link and found a set of photos that Yoosung had taken with different filters: coffee, flowers, his breakfast, the classroom… As he scrolled down, Jihyun came across a document with places to visit with the photography club, and an Untitled folder. Perhaps he hadn’t meant to upload those two.

He hadn’t, right?

As if moved by instinct he clicked on the folder, and a bunch of candid shots of Yoosung welcomed him: brushing his teeth, trying on a hat, lying on the grass, playing with the sunlight in his eyes... His smile was brighter than anything he’d ever seen, challenging the exposure. For the first time in his life, Jihyun became painfully aware of the extent of his desire. It was no different from any other man’s. It was hard to even think about anything when every inch of his skin ached to be close to that bright creature.

He took off his clothes and walked to the bathroom, feeling defeated. He hoped a cool shower would help him sort out his feelings, but he knew that he was already in too deep.

 


 

“Seonbae! Come in,” Rika smiled briefly as she opened the door.

Zen stepped into her place and gave her an odd look. “Are you okay? I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation…”

“Aaaah, I guess I was raising my voice a bit. Sorry about that,” she apologized as she put her cellphone away. 

“Problems with your family?” Zen sniffled and frowned. “Ah, if you feel uncomfortable---”

“It’s okay,” Rika shrugged, moving to the kitchen area to get some drinks. “You know I’m not in good terms with my parents, right? They’ve been trying to contact me for some time, but… I really don’t want to see them. I hope they won’t be coming for me. At least they don’t seem to know where I live.” She offered Zen a glass. “If worse comes to worst, I’ll have to ask a friend to put me up for some time. I guess I can always stay at the shelter,” she said with a sad smile. “Funny how I’d end up living with the people I’m trying to protect.”

Hyun remembered that she’d volunteered as a coordinator at a center for runaway kids right after she’d left school, when the family situation had become so tense that she’d packed her things and walked away from them for good. “You don’t need to ask: whatever you need…” He was interrupted by a sudden urge to sneeze. He rubbed his nose. “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m feeling… My nose is so---” A soft miaow gave him a shudder. “Oh! Looks like there’s a... cat?”

“Oh! Yes, I picked up a kitten a couple days ago.” Rika went to the closet and held the little calico that had been snoozing in a box. “It’s a girl, about four weeks old. I still haven’t given her a name. Who would throw you away?” Rika asked the kitten, giving her a little kiss on the head. “Just because you’re uncommon it doesn’t mean you’re weird. You can be loved too.”

“That’s cu---” Zen’s words were cut off by his sneeze. “Aaah, it feels as if all the cat hair in the world had gone right into my nose!” he moaned nasally.

“I’m really sorry, seonbae! And you came here to talk, right? Let’s go to your place. Let me put this girl down and I’ll go wash my hands and change my clothes.” She let the kitten down and went into the bathroom. The kitten bounced towards a low shelf and rubbed herself against the books, purring happily.

“Oi you,” Zen frowned. “You shouldn’t do that.”

The kitten paid no heed to him, and began playing with a pom pom attached to a bookmark, dragging it until the diary that contained it came down. Zen sighed heavily and picked it up, rearranging the photographs inside. A glimpse of dark hair, however, struck his attention. An image of a much younger Rika - she couldn’t be more than eight years old, and a boy who was barely a teen, with ruffled black hair and intense dark eyes.

“This has to be him…” Zen murmured, his eyes wandering over the boy’s gaze. Jonghoon had given him the same determined look when he’d agreed to ride his bike. For some reason, Zen felt less lonely. He’d tried to forget the fact that he’d been unable to contact that guy - the number Rika had given him was not going through, and Saeran kept saying that they didn’t have any shows scheduled. Zen turned the photo around and saw the date, and “R + J” scribbled in child-like handwriting. Could it be that Rika had had a crush on Jonghoon? No, impossible. He looked at the image again. She seemed too young to entertain the idea of a romance, but… What am I thinking? It’s as if I were jealous, he chuckled.

“Did you say something, seonbae?” Rika shouted from the bathroom.

“No, everything’s alright! Your kitten just dragged out a diary and some pics came out, that’s all!” The more he looked at it, the more convinced he became. The boy’s posture also resembled Jonghoon’s. It had to be him. He couldn’t explain why his heart was beating so fast now, as if---

“I’m ready,” Rika announced. She looked at the diary and the photograph that Zen was holding and she grinned. “Wasn’t he cute? One has to wonder how he turned into such a serious guy.”

“Serious?”

“Yes! He can be so uptight at times! But he’s got a heart of gold. Jumin’s my oldest friend.” She gazed at the image lovingly. “Sometimes I feel like he’s the only friend I have, though.”

“Jumin?”

“Yes? You met him, remember? The guy who came over to the studio---”

“Jumin Han? That director dude?”

Rika tilted her head, amused. “Seems like you’ve remembered him. Ah, but considering how much you disliked him, please forget about him.” She put the diary back in its place and smiled. “Shall we?”

“Yes…” Hyun answered in a daze. As soon as he’d gotten to the door, however, he turned to Rika and pressed his hands together. “I’m sorry! I’ve just remembered there’s something I must finish ASAP!”

“Oh, I see! Well, no worries. You can come by anytime.”

Hyun ran back to his place and turned on his computer. “That guy… I may not be able to find anything about Jonghoon,” he said to himself, remembering the frustrated search he’d been through every night. “But I’m sure that guy’s name will give me something…” He took a deep breath and typed “Han Jumin + images”.

In spite of the light he’d cast over his curiosity, what he found made him wish he’d been left in the dark.


**********

Chapter Text

“You have a friend who lets you borrow his private jet with every luxury you can imagine,” Saeran droned as he watched his brother with apprehension, “and you choose to drink soda and eat chips.”

“Why not?” Saeyoung smiled brightly. “These chips are an exclusive item - a super limited edition! Only suckers buy them, and Jumin happens to be a thoughtful sucker. Ah, I love him! It’s like having a sugar daddy without having to work for it, mwah!” He kissed the bag of snacks. “By the way, I asked him for some clothes as well, so you can wear---”

“There’s no need.” Saeran reclined in his seat and closed his eyes. “Don’t worry, brother - I won’t embarrass you. Antoine helped me choose the clothes. He’s got good taste.” He opened one eye and looked at Saeyoung. “Well, not always… But I trust his fashion sense.”

“Antoine…? Mary? ” Saeyoung blinked. “When did that happen?”

“He invited me over to his apartment yesterday. Gave me a few tips. He took care of me really well. I didn’t even mind taking off my clothes for him,” he smirked as he leaned over the arm of his seat. “His touch is rather enticing---”

“Yeah, well, keep your hands to yourself.”

“Oh?” Saeran raised an eyebrow, amused. “It’s not like he’s yours, is it?”

“I don’t wanna fight inside a plane,” Saeyoung replied icily.

Saeran chuckled and leaned back once more. For the rest of the flight, Saeyoung didn’t talk to him, which made him wonder how deep that stupid brother of his was into Vanderwood. Not that Vanderwood seems to care, though. Saeran remembered every single time he’d seen them together, and they didn’t strike him as a couple. Most probably they were friends with benefits because that’s what Vanderwood wanted. It was easy to see that Saeyoung was just playing along. If he voices what he truly wants, Saeran thought, it’ll be over . He’ll lose him. He almost felt pity for his brother. Wanting someone so much, and the more you want them, the less you can have them… It seemed stupid, especially wanting someone who wasn’t even particularly warm to you…

But you understand why he’d like Vanderwood, don’t you? a tiny voice asked him. He was a proper adult whose eyes never strayed far from you. When you talked to him, you could feel that his whole attention was on you. He does make you feel like you’re his number one, he thought. He was stylish, good-looking, and incredibly manly in spite of his occasional feminine looks. He recalled the first time he’d seen him from behind, with his silky hair down and those black leather pants hugging his hips…

Saeran’s eyes shot open and he squirmed in his seat. He covered himself with the blanket and shut his eyes tight, trying to think about anything but Vanderwood.

 


 

V’s phone pinged as he was having breakfast. He glanced at the screen and saw Yoosung’s name. This early in the morning? Not that he was complaining, but it seemed odd for a senior high schooler to text anyone at that time of a Sunday morning.

Good morning, hyung!  ε=ε=(ノ≧∇≦)ノ Are you up already?

V couldn’t help but smile. Yes, good morning. I’m having breakfast. ^^ He took a picture of his pancakes and attached it to the message.

It didn’t take Yoosung long to reply. Wow, that looks amazing!!! I’d love to eat that. I may not look like I eat much, but if it’s something I like, I devour it~  ('ω^\)

V hid his face in his hands and it took him a couple of minutes to reply. I can make pancakes for you next time you come over with Rika. For a while, there were no new messages, and just when V was about to sit at his desk to work, the phone pinged again.

Ah, yes. Rika-noona asked me to arrange the details of the next meeting with you~

v(⌒o⌒)v♪ When are you free, hyung?

That’s odd, V thought. Not that he wanted to blow his own horn, but he was pretty confident that Rika wouldn’t miss the chance to talk to him. But in a way, it was liberating. He hated disappointing people, and he could see no other outcome for whatever Rika felt for him. He could appeal to her rationality - they barely knew each other, so there was no reason for her to like him. He didn’t think himself good-looking, but he knew that looks were subjective.

Had he been attracted to Yoosung’s looks? Not particularly. It was true that his dark hair was silky and inviting to the touch, and it framed his expressive face beautifully. There was a spark in those violet eyes that he’d never seen in anyone else, and that pale skin that so easily revealed the color of his emotions… It was overwhelming, almost frightening, because he’d always felt he was like Jumin - someone in control of their emotions, whose head and heart took precedence over their body. But there he was, feeling all kinds of guilty for having wild dreams about a guy he’d never even been alone with.

How about next Saturday? I’ll take some days off to relocate the exhibition, so you can come over then. ^^ I’ll send you the location of my studio.   As long as Rika was there, it would be fine.

Yoosung’s reply came after a minute. Awww, no pancakes then? ˚‧º·(˚ ˃̣̣̥᷄⌓˂̣̣̥᷅ )‧º·˚ Just kidding, hehe! You’ll have to treat me some other day, yes?   ♡✧( ु•⌄• )  See you next Saturday! ('ω^\)

Ah, that’s right: I told Jumin I’d be staying over after their concert. Jihyun sighed. “Well, he will forgive me if I don't, right?”

 


 

After Rika finished her story, Jumin crossed his arms and frowned. “So the situation now is like that… And you say you’re being followed?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Rika said, nursing her cup of tea. Jaehee had concocted a herbal mix that was supposed to calm the nerves, but Rika didn’t feel any closer to relaxed than she had been when she’d entered the C&R building. “It’s unnerving. I don’t know if I’m making a big deal out of it, but after that conversation with my parents…”

“I’m surprised to hear you’re in talking terms with them again.”

“Not by choice. They’d been trying to reach me for some time, and I was considering changing my number. Nothing good can come out of associating with them, Jumin, you know that. Especially after these rumors of child trafficking. I mean, even I have a hard time believing they could be so hideous, so please, if they come to you, don’t---”

“They won’t. They won’t come near my father either, after that incident in Busan. Come to think of it, that’s where the rumors started.”

Rika sighed. “Your father was smart enough to drop them right before they started to rot.”

Jumin nodded. “My father wouldn’t be who he is if he lacked that nose. He will find a loop and exploit it, but always within the law. But I do think that growing apart from his friends affected him. However, you must know that his affection for you remains intact.” A gentle smile briefly touched his lips. “He always asks after you.”

“He has a good son.” Rika reached out to squeeze Jumin’s hand. Cold as always. How she wished those hands would one day warm up. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask… That day you came to see Zen… Was he what you expected?”

Jumin considered his reply for a few seconds. “He was more.”

She smiled. “Did something happen between you two?”

Jumin withdrew his hand gently. “He hasn’t said anything, I see.”

Rika shook her head. “He came over once because he wanted to talk about something, but he left without telling me, and I haven’t been able to contact him. He’s been out most nights. I was wondering if something had happened, since before that day he… Well, he was excited about meeting Jonghoon . He didn’t figure out who you are, did he?” Rika chuckled nervously. “What am I saying… If he had, he wouldn’t have forgiven you, or me…”

“As far as I know, he doesn’t know. I hope you understand why I’ve asked you to stay away from our concerts from now on.”

“Oh, I do get it! Don’t worry about me. I won’t get to see V, but I can meet him at his studio.”

“His studio?”

“Remember he asked me to help him with a photoshoot? He needs a test model and offered me the gig, since the real model will be away for some time. Ah, but I won’t be able to meet with him any time soon. This business with my parents is just… I’m not in the mood. In any case, I’d asked Yoosung to come with me, but he said he’d be too busy, and he told me V would be busy as well.”

“Ah, Yoosung.” Jumin looked down and adjusted his cufflinks. “When will he be graduating?”

“In six months.” Rika blinked, surprised. “What’s this? You’ve never asked about his studies.”

Jumin stared at his cufflink intently. “We’re… developing a new internship program. But I can’t offer it to him till he leaves school. And since one of them would be aiding Assistant Kang, I thought it might be a good experience. He’ll become an adult sooner.”

“Sooner?” Rika laughed.

“It’s better that way.”

“You’re odd,” she said, shaking her head. “But it’s good that you’re you. I feel better now. I guess I really needed someone who would lend me an ear this way.” Her eyes opened wide when Jumin held her hand. “Jumin?”

“You’re like a sister to me, so if there’s anything you need, let me know. I’ll be there. Don’t hold back like you did last time, when you had to leave home. This too will pass.”

Rika nodded silently. She clenched her fist and gave him a few light blows on the side. “You too, yes? Coming from you, it’s rich. Who’s the one keeping everything to himself?”

“No need for two of this kind, then,” he replied with a light smile. “If you’re leaving, I’ll see you out. I’ll tell Driver Kim to give you a lift.”

 


 

“It’s me,” Saeyoung said. “I don’t have the code.” There was a buzz and the lobby doors slid open. As he went up, he wondered how he’d bring up the topic of Saeran without sounding like a jealous boyfriend. Anything close to that and Vanderwood would kick him out. Saeyoung sighed. He knew that they didn’t have a romantic relationship, and he wasn’t sure he even wanted one, but oddly enough, Vanderwood was the person closest to him. Even more than my own brother , he thought bitterly.

Saeran’s behavior during the family gathering had bewildered him. He’d dressed sharply, talked to their cousins as if they were close, and he’d even been invited to go back to the family villa for the summer. Saeran had chuckled and declined, stating that he had “important business waiting for him” back home, all the while stroking that damned purple scarf.

Ugh. Why had Vanderwood lent him those clothes?

He arrived at the right floor and rang the bell. He could hear muffled voices inside. Jumin? he thought, as the door was opened.  

“Come on in,” Vanderwood said, the shadow of a smile on his lips.

“Such a strange sight,” Saeyoung commented. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a smile on that stern face. “Something good going on?”

“Your brother was telling me about the stiletto episode at the garden party,” Vanderwood replied as he led him to the living room, where Saeran was lounging on a couch. “I can’t believe they hadn’t thought of that. It can’t have been their first garden party!”

“Definitely not - it’s probably the only thing they do. But I think it was all just so that their brother could peddle his idea of grasswalkers. He just failed to see that they already exist. So smart, our cousins - don’t you think so, brother?” he asked.

“What are you doing here?” Saeyoung’s voice was soft in his disbelief as he looked around. They were sharing some tea and biscuits, and his brother looked so… comfortable. He looked like he belonged in there.  

“I came to return the clothes I borrowed… and to report on the success.” Saeran smirked at Vanderwood. “I hope I can count on you from now on.”

“Sure. I’m always up for these things.”

What the hell was going on… “You don’t wanna depend too much on Mary,” Saeyoung said, pouring himself some tea and sitting down. “He may say he’s fine with it, but deep down he’ll probably hate it. Or is it the other way around? I never know with you…” The words died as he stared at Vanderwood, who was already starting to glare at him.

Saeran’s eyes went from one to the other, and eventually he sighed. “Of course he’ll do that if I’m clingy. But I won’t be like that. That’s not what you want, is it?” His voice was almost a purr now. “So you tell me what you want and I’ll do just that.”

“What are you say---” Vanderwood started to say, but he was startled by Saeyoung splashing his tea on Saeran. “Oi, Saeyoung! What the fuck? You could have hurt him!”

“It’s lukewarm already, don’t worry.” Saeran wiped his face with his t-shirt.

“I guess that means you two have already talked enough, right? Time to leave, then,” Saeyoung said, standing up to grab his brother by the arm. I hate myself, I really hate myself right now , he thought. This isn’t me. He was blocked by Vanderwood, standing between them. “Move.”

“You should go,” Vanderwood said, not budging. His light brown eyes weren’t furious or even irritated - just deep and inscrutable. Saeyoung was unable to read them, and he wondered if he’d ever done it at all.

“I’m telling you, this is nothing,” Saeran said from behind him. “He knew I wouldn’t get burned.”

“Of course I knew! I would never hurt you on purpose!”

“Enough,” Vanderwood grunted. He looked at Saeran over his shoulder. “Dump those clothes in the laundry basket and go take a shower. I’ll give you something to wear once you’re done with that. No complaining,” he admonished him when he saw Saeran ready to say something. To his surprise, Saeran looked unusually flustered, but he obeyed him without a peep.

Saeyoung saw his brother walk away and then he turned to Vanderwood. “What are you gonna do with him?”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? Are those ears dirty?” he replied, tugging at Saeyoung’s earlobe. “That goes for what I said to you before - you should go.”

“And he gets to stay?”

“Who made this happen, I wonder…” Vanderwood’s eyes opened wide when Saeyoung grabbed him by the shoulders. “Oi. I told you I don’t like---”

“I know!” Saeyoung looked down. “I know,” he repeated in a gentler voice. “But I don’t know what to do about us.”

“There is no ‘us’ and you know it.” Vanderwood gave him a serious look, without scorn or severity, something that was more human than any other look he’d given him in a long time. He let out a deep sigh. “What do you want from me? Come, sit down.” He led Saeyoung to the couch and sat on the other end. “Tell me why we started what we did back then.”

“I liked you.”

“Be honest.”

Saeyoung clenched his jaw as he stared at his hands. “I was lonely.” He struggled to find the words they both wanted to here, so he compromised. “I’d lost my brother, and my friends…”

“And?”

Saeyoung took a deep breath. “And the person I liked chose someone else.”

Vanderwood rested his arm on the back of the couch. “And did you ever tell her that you liked her?”

Saeyoung shook his head. “I couldn’t. She was going through a lot, and she said she needed time, but when I let her go… She chose someone else.” He looked up and his eyes met Vanderwood’s. “I don’t want to lose anyone else, and I don’t know what to do. Should I pretend to be a clown? Will people stay with me if I act all goofy and smile? And if I close my heart---”

“Saeyoung…”

“Would that be better? Does this mean that I have to cut myself off from---?”

“Saeyoung.” Vanderwood’s voice was firm. He moved closer and opened his arms, holding the younger man close to his heart. “You can’t bind people to you. If they must leave, they will…”

“But it hurts!” Saeyoung cried against his shoulder. “It hurts, hyung! Why do I have to be alone? Am I so ugly? So stupid? So boring? What’s wrong with me? Why am I nobody's number one?” His voice was strained and he was aware of Vanderwood’s lean body pressed against him. It felt unusually warm. Had he not known this before because he had never been let in? The thought of everyone showing him a fake smile and putting a distance between them hurt him more than he wanted to admit.

“You thought that if you played along with my desire, I would get to love you - even if you knew where I come from and how I feel about relationships,” Vanderwood said.

Saeyoung rubbed his eyes and gazed at him. “I do like you,” he said.

“I know. I like you too. But we don’t like each other in that way. In fact, as creepy as it may sound, I think you like me the same way you like Saeran. When it comes to companionship, we’re all the same to you, except for her. You’d probably fuck Jumin or Jihyun if they said yes. There’d be nothing wrong with that, you know?” He brushed Saeyoung’s tears away. “But I think it’s time to be frank. Who knows? She might say yes.”

Saeyoung rested his head against Vanderwood’s shoulder. “Nah. I’ve known her for years. She’s really into Jaehee. And Jaehee… Because I’ve seen them become more physical, I think she has an idea, but she can be so dense… Ugh, that makes me feel worse, actually. Get a clue, Dense-hee. Jihye loves you. She chose you.”  

“You really love her, don’t you,” Vanderwood smirked.

“Before she was MC, and even before she was Jihye…” He sighed and stood up, stretching his arms almost lazily. “I don’t know what Saeran thinks about you.” He turned to Vanderwood. “What you do with him… Gah… I’m not gonna lie. I don’t like the idea of you two getting it on.”

“Your brother is easier to handle than you are.” Vanderwood leaned forward and put the cups and saucers on the tray. “But there’s nothing between us.”

“Yet.”

Vanderwood scoffed. “You talk about Jaehee, but you’re pretty dense yourself. You know that most of the things he does are to get under your skin, don’t you? I suppose you should be happy. Isn’t that what you wanted? Your brother’s attention?”

“I wanted the normal kind of brotherly attention!”

“As if you were normal…”

“Don’t let him fool you. He may look innocent, but I bet he’s a player.”

“Oi, brat. Do I look like a pushover?”

“Pffft.“ Saeyoung ruffled his hair. “Anything but that.”

“Then don’t worry.” Vanderwood held the tray in his hands and walked to the kitchen. “I can take care of myself. And now that we’ve cleared up some things, come with me. You’ve got some cleaning to do.”

 


 

It had taken him days of stealthily tracking down Rika and Saeran, but after making use of the contacts he’d made during the previous concerts and his extended network, Zen had succeeded in finding the venue of Gold Pawn’s concert. He groaned at the thought of how many favors he’d have to repay, but seeing that jerk’s face when he learned that he’d been found out would surely give him the satisfaction he’d been craving.

“If anybody finds you, you’re on your own,” the sound engineer warned him as he snuck him into the club. “This can’t be traced back to me. I met their manager once, during one of the first concerts, and he can be terrifying.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll just stay here. Nobody will see me.”

“I hope not.”

Careful to avoid the many cables lying about, Zen slipped amongst the crates piled up at a corner. He didn’t get a view of the stage, but it didn’t really matter since it wasn’t Gold Pawn playing. Besides, with that guy , it wasn't a question of seeing him. But once that had started, there had been no going back for him. He’d read every bit of info he’d been able to find about Jumin Han, hoping for something that would tell him that everything was a mistake: that it wasn’t Jumin Han who existed, but Jonghoon.

“... have fun! I bet he’ll change his mind,” someone was saying as they passed by. Zen pressed his back against the wall and peeked from behind a crate. What was her stage name again? MC? Her wavy, purple pigtails swayed from side to side. She was talking to the drummer, a leather-clad, fierce-looking woman. She was shorter and overall smaller than MC, but somehow she looked almost formidable.   

“I don’t need to tell you that when Jonghoon sets his mind on something, he doesn’t budge an inch till he gets it. Come on, you know what he’s like. How long have you known him?”

“Uh… I transferred when I was in 4th grade, so… Thirteen years?” MC stopped talking and looked back, as if she was waiting for someone to catch up with them. “And yes, I know he can be stubborn, but I really thought he enjoyed doing this. I knew we’d have to give it up one day, but not so soon.” She let out a dramatic sigh. “Ah well, I guess we’ll have to go back to our day jobs...” She waved at the group approaching them. “Hey guys! No long faces today!” she beamed. “If this is gonna be our last show, then let’s give it our all!”

“Oh yeah, that’s the spirit!” Saeran’s brother exclaimed, pumping his fists enthusiastically.

Ah, there was Jonghoon, walking behind the others in silence; he was flanked by V and the manager, who was chatting with Saeran. V was passing an arm around Jonghoon’s shoulder, murmuring something into his ear, and Zen frowned. Just how close were those two? Not that he cared, but if he wanted to talk to Jonghoon on his own…

A few minutes later, when they started playing, Zen closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Why were they going acoustic? He'd be able to hear him better this way, and that was the last thing he needed. Still, Jonghoon’s voice sounded somewhat dark. “As days and months passed by / I didn’t hear from you, you didn’t call me…”

“If you’d given me your number I would have called you, jerk… No, wait! I wouldn’t have called you, because you’re not you! Him! He’s not---! Argh!” Zen clenched his fist and banged it on the crate repeatedly.  

“If I am born again, all I want is you / if I love again, all I want is you / You’ll come back, you’ll come back…”

“I didn’t come back for you, bastard! I came back for him! He just happens to be you!” For a moment, Zen felt like running forward, climbing onto the stage and… seeing him. His voice was calling him again, but his voice wasn’t enough anymore; not after he’d seen that guy getting flustered and saying those things in his room and--- “No, no, no! I can’t forget what I came here to do!” He struggled with himself for the rest of the performance.

If Jonghoon -no, Jumin - followed the same pattern, he’d leave the others behind and leave the place through the back door as soon as their performance was over. Zen came out from behind the crates and folded his arms across the chest. His heart was beating wildly, his blood rushing all over his body. That was rage, wasn’t it? It couldn't be anything else. He’d been fooled, and he would have none of it.

Different footsteps. Shit. That V dude again? No, even worse, he thought, as Vanderwood came into sight. They were talking in hushed tones, but they stopped when they heard his words.

“Oi, Jumin Han!”

Zen didn’t think that guy could get any paler, but apparently he’d been wrong. It was as if his face had been drained, and his dark eyes were looking ahead, refusing to turn his way. Zen gritted his teeth and stomped forward.

“Son of a---” Vanderwood growled, stepping before Jumin, whose hand seemed to move on its own.

“No,” he simply murmured as he clung to Vanderwood’s arm.

“What do you want?” Vanderwood asked Zen.

“A word with that guy. Alone. ” He’d be damned if he was going to be intimidated by that guy, no matter how murderous his look could be. He swallowed hard. “It’s the least you can do, isn’t it?” he asked bitterly, raising his voice, which caused Vanderwood to take another step in his direction.

“It’s fine.” Jumin said quietly. “Tell Driver Kim to have the car ready.” When Vanderwood turned to him, a protest hanging from his lips, he reassured him, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“Understood.” Vanderwood walked by Zen and muttered, “You and I are gonna have a few words soon. Don’t think you can get away with this. I can fuck you up and I will if you---”

“Yeah, I get it.” Zen stared back at him. “I’m not stupid. I know what can happen to me if I speak out.”

“Then don’t forget it,” Vanderwood snapped as he walked away.

Zen turned to Jumin, who was still looking away. “Hey,” he said. “Look at me.” No reply. How infuriating. He stepped forward and Jumin stepped back until there was nowhere left to run. I hate this. He raised his hand and grabbed Jumin by the chin, making him turn his face toward him. “I said look at me.”  Those dark eyes gazed at him with a mixture of sorrow and something else that Zen couldn’t define. Jonghoon was there, after all those days, but that guy had never existed. Before him, there was only Jumin. Zen stared into his eyes. He had him on the ropes. He had the upper hand. And now, what?  “Was it fun?”

“What was?” Jumin asked.

“To make a fool of me. Did you and your friends have a good laugh at my expense, hmm? Didn’t you laugh at how struck I was by the role you played?” His fingers tightened and he saw Jumin wince, but he wouldn’t look away anymore. “It must have been hilarious to look down on me from up there where you belong...”

“I didn’t---”

“Don’t fuck with me! You’re the worst kind of jerk! I told you so when we met that time---!”

“Zen, I told you back then that I never thought of you---”

“Did you come to see my show, to meet me, knowing who I was? Did you hope I wouldn’t find out who you were?” Zen could see some kind of conflict clouding Jumin’s expression, and for some unknown reason, that hurt him more than anything else he could think of. “You had no intention to tell me who you really were, did you?” he scoffed as he let go. “You wouldn’t have let me in, ever.” Jumin’s eyes were once again looking away. Zen let out a bitter chuckle. “You’re truly the worst kind… That you can treat someone this way, someone who thought of you as… Ugh… It makes me sick...” He stepped back and took one last look at Jumin. “I never wanna see you again, okay?” No reaction. This jerk… Does he even have blood in his veins? And why did his words seem to hurt him more than they did that guy? He turned around to walk away.

“I... I didn't mean for things to go this way. I apologize.”

Zen frowned, feeling the depth of Jumin’s voice as if it were a knife going through his body and filling him up with a warmth that quickly turned into ice, making him shiver. “I don’t care anymore,” he replied, forcing himself not to look back. “We won’t be seeing each other again.”

 


 

Vanderwood found Jumin staring at a fixed point on the wall. He sighed and passed his fingers through his dark hair. “It’s better this way,” he simply said.

 

* * * * * * * * * *