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Just Trust Me

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Hongjoong sighs and tips his head back along the boxy black couch of his manager’s office, blinking up at the sterile white ceiling. It’s too damn early.

“Why am I here, Eden-hyung?” He grunts, eyes falling closed as he throws his own arm over them. He was supposed to have the day off and had spent most of the night and well into the early-morning hours composing. When he got Eden’s call at eight a.m., he had half a mind to tell him to fuck off and try again after noon. But he’d insisted it was important, so here he was, praying to be swallowed up by that stiff leather unless someone brings him some caffeine.

“You’ve been steadily receiving hate mail since your… announcement a few months back.” Eden says, too-delicate. “It gets worse every time another news outlet runs it. Every time some trash rag picks up on some old interview and rehashes the content to make it seem like foreshadowing. Some of them have been… graphic.”

“We still live in a conservative society.” Hongjoong grumbles tiredly. “I knew when I came out publicly that there would be backlash. But there’s a lot of love on social media, too, buried under the loud, hateful minority.”

He says it like it’s the only thing keeping him from doubting his decision. Some days, it is.

“That’s not the point.” Eden pushes back. “You’ve received a concerning number of death threats. Some of these are… they appear to be pretty viable. You can’t just skate by hiding behind me or the other managers anymore. You need protection.”

“Mm, somehow it feels like I’ve made the big-time now. I get a security detail? So bougie.” Hongjoong bites sardonically.

Eden rolls his eyes, crosses the office and opens the door. Hongjoong sits up as someone else enters the room. He’s dressed sharply; a black suit tailored exceptionally against his tall frame, with a black turtleneck in lieu of a white dress shirt, appropriate given the weather. His hair is jet back, swept away from his face in a way that looks both styled and effortless. His expression is impassive but his face is stunning ; Hongjoong thinks he would look right at home at a red carpet event, standing with models and actors and top-tier idols.

“This is Park Seonghwa; I’ve had the company hire him on as your new bodyguard.” Eden explains.

“He doesn’t look like a bodyguard.” Hongjoong says to Eden like as though the man can’t hear him, looking him up and down.

“What do I look like?” Seonghwa asks, his tone even.

“Let’s be real here; you look like a model.” Hongjoong bites incredulously. “You look like an actor playing a bodyguard in some k-drama, or something. Not the real thing.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help the face I was born with, sir.” He replies, and Hongjoong raises an eyebrow as he continues, “But I would ask that you don’t discount my ability because of it.”

Hongjoong scoffs, giving Eden a look that says plenty, that speaks his doubts more than words.

“He used to guard the president, a year or so back.” Eden assures.

“The president ? Didn’t the president get stabbed ?”

“It was my day off.” Seonghwa murmurs, no humor in his tone and his gaze suddenly far away.

Hongjoong immediately realizes that he is not kidding.

It’s not as though he has a choice, so he accepts it. Better just to go along than fight it kicking and screaming to no avail.

Hongjoong just wants to work. He wants to write, produce, compose, perform . He can’t do that when people are threatening him just for existing. Not unless someone has his back.

He supposes Seonghwa is meant to be that someone.

***

A few weeks in, Hongjoong starts to think that Seonghwa is a bit… boring.

He doesn’t talk much, and never unless he’s spoken to first or has something important to say with regard to security. Hongjoong often finds himself able to forget he’s even there.

And it isn’t as though he’s there all the time . Hongjoong can spend time at his studio alone, has his evenings at home by himself… Seonghwa has taken up residence in an apartment on the same floor, sure, but it feels like he’s not there.

He’s learned a bit about him, but only from Eden. He’s twenty-nine, making him eight years Hongjoong’s senior. He joined the military right out of school and worked his way up on his skill. Ended up at the president’s side after a long, arduous training process and a ton of schooling; he has at least one degree, speaks several languages. And he really was off on the day the president was stabbed; he was attending his parents’ funeral after they died in a house fire. Hongjoong could imagine why he was so quiet and kept to himself; it seemed as though so much joy had been sucked out of his life.

Seonghwa does have to be there, however, for travel, for interviews, for schedules, for fan meetings and concerts—those are on hold right now until things die down, though—and, of course, when Hongjoong goes out to do basically anything .

That’s how Hongjoong ends up perusing the shops in Hongdae with a shadow looming behind him, not remotely inconspicuous and probably drawing more attention to him. Hongjoong has on a too-large jacket, a face mask and a bucket hat, but the fringe of his signature mullet is still visible, so maybe he’s more obvious than he thinks. He’s pretty sure that Seonghwa, sharply-dressed with his stiff demeanor and a damn Bluetooth in his ear, sticks out like a sore thumb. He always trails behind him a few paces, his eyes on the surrounding areas more than him, at least as far as Hongjoong notices.

He’s digging through the earrings at one of the vendors—he always gets his here, it’s his favorite shop for them—when he sees someone darting toward him rather quickly with a hand inside their open jacket. Before he can even react, Seonghwa steps between them, a firm but gentle hand landing on the young man’s chest to halt him.

Seonghwa raises an eyebrow, glancing down at the guy’s hand. He stammers and fumbles to pull out whatever he’d been fishing for… in this case, his wallet. He splays his fingers out to show he isn’t holding anything suspicious.

Seonghwa glances back at Hongjoong, who nods, and then he steps aside, motioning toward the idol with his chin.

The guy gives a grateful half-bow and steps a little closer. He gushes to Hongjoong about how him coming out gave him the courage to come out as well, how he loved his music before but that he wanted to support him even more after… he’s clearly nervous; talking in a rush, but he’s obviously earnest. He fishes some paper out of his wallet, probably an old receipt, and mentions how he hasn’t been able to make it to one of his fansigns because he’s unlucky and can’t afford more than one or two albums per comeback.

Hongjoong expresses regret for him but as he pats the pockets of his coat, he knows he does not have a pen of any kind. It’s not something he tends to carry around with him.

Seonghwa slides a black marker-pen from his front pocket and holds it out for him, giving him the faintest of smiles. Hongjoong is momentarily dazed by it, but manages to blurt out a thank-you and take it, signing for the fan. They take a selfie together, too, Hongjoong even pulling down his face mask to make his signature toothy-duckface expression and as he goes, Seonghwa gently asks that he not post it on social media for a few hours, which he promises to do.

Hongjoong hands back the marker, which Seonghwa pockets. “Sure you’ve never guarded an idol before? You came prepared and everything.”

“I just know what to expect.” Seonghwa tells him, sounding amused. “You should also know what to expect, though we haven’t really discussed it. You seem to really enjoy connecting with your fans, which is fine. But if you ever need space, if you’re uncomfortable, or if you don’t feel like interacting, just let me know. You don’t have to say anything, just give me a look. I’ll get the message, and play the bad guy so you won't have to look rude.”

“Oh, so you’re a mind-reader now?” Hongjoong teases.

“It’s one of my many secret talents.” Seonghwa quips back with a smirk.

“Holy shit was that a joke ?” Hongjoong fake-balks. “I didn’t think you were even capable of those!”

“Only on Tuesdays.” Seonghwa replies, winking.

“Wow.” Hongjoong puts his hands on his hips. “I’m having to rethink my entire opinion of you, now.”

“Sorry if I caused you an existential crisis.” Seonghwa only sounds a little sorry. “I’ve been working with politicians for my entire career… and the only idols I’ve ever met seemed much more uptight than you are. I didn’t want to appear unprofessional.”

“Unprof—listen, I want you to be very unprofessional. So unprofessional.” Hongjoong says, gesturing widely, like he’s laying out some ingenious plan. “We can, like, play hooky and slip my managers together. Go get ice cream and shit, so they can’t be judgey and tell me I’m ruining my diet.”

“No guarantees on that kind of thing since they’re the ones signing my checks.” Seonghwa replies in a dubious tone, but when Hongjoong pouts, he amends, “At least the hooky. You can have as much ice cream as you want as far as I’m concerned.”

“Yes! We should do that, right now.” Hongjoong says, clapping once. He pays for the earrings he’d picked out and stuffs the bag into one of his large pockets before they head out.

Ten minutes later, Hongjoong is humming cheerfully as he walks the streets with an ice cream cone in-hand. He hadn’t managed to convince Seonghwa to indulge in one himself, but, baby steps.

“So… you used to guard the president, right? That’s gotta be pretty awesome. Bet you’re bored as hell around me , huh?” He asks in between bites.

“You’ve clearly never been to a cabinet meeting.” Seonghwa replies wryly. “No, you’re hardly boring. Most of the time, on these kinds of jobs, nothing really happens. We’re there to be a buffer, and for that one percent of times when something does go wrong.”

“Still, seems like a downgrade. Why go into the private sector?”

“I couldn’t go back after what happened. After the president was stabbed.” Seonghwa murmurs, eyes on the floor. “Knowing I wasn’t there… even if it wasn’t directly my fault, it felt to me as though it was.”

“Right. So you move to the private sector and get stuck with me, huh?” Hongjoong teases.

“You’re not so bad.” Seonghwa offers with a grin.

Hongjoong lets himself smile back for a lingering moment before it falls. “And what? You really have no hang-ups about guarding a guy who’s getting nastygrams because he couldn’t stand being in the closet anymore and admitted on VLive that he’s gay?”

Seonghwa’s expression doesn’t change. “That would be hypocritical, sir.”

“That would —what? ” Hongjoong blinks at him. “How so?”

“I can’t say that I have had many relationships… but the ones I have had have all been with men.” Seonghwa answers, easy as anything.

“I… oh. Um. I didn’t…” Hongjoong flounders. “I don’t… really know what to say to that. Other than, um. Thank you, for, you know. Trusting me, with that. I know it’s sometimes not easy to say.”

“It’s easy enough to say to you.” Seonghwa replies, his voice soft.

Hongjoong begins to think that maybe Seonghwa isn’t so boring after all.

***

It’s been a month and a half, and Hongjoong realizes that Seonghwa isn’t boring, he’s just disciplined . In front of Eden and the other staff, he is the epitome of professionalism. He often stands silently off to one side of the room or at the door for meetings, cordially greeting everyone as they arrive but not offering anything more with regard to conversation unless he’s engaged first.

When it’s just the two of them, Seonghwa seems a little more at ease. They become comfortable with each other little by little; conversation comes easy when it’s just the two of them, and Hongjoong appreciates the company and the added comfort in the wake of all the nasty shit that’s flown his way lately.

Eden even steps back on managing his time, realizing that Seonghwa can just do it for him. If he has to be everywhere with Hongjoong, he is forced to hold Hongjoong accountable for his schedules. Eden delights in the free time he gets to spend working on his own music… he might be Hongjoong’s manager but he was a producer first, and he’s glad to get back to it when he can.

It’s not a perfect process, though, and there are times when things don’t always go to plan. There’s one morning when Hongjoong knows he doesn’t have to be at the KQ Entertainment building until nearly noon, so he pops in his AirPods and blares some hits from his favorite Western artists while he repaints his pinkie nails. They’ve gotten chipped over the weeks he’s left them neglected, and there’s a bit of new growth coming in that needs color anyway.

He’s jamming out, completely gone to the world. When Seonghwa shoulders his front door open and bursts in suddenly, breaking the chain lock he keeps on at night for extra security, Hongjoong lets out an undignified squawk and actually falls off the couch. Seonghwa knows the security code for the digital lock on his door, but that doesn’t help him get in if he has the chain on.

He grumbles painfully and pulls his AirPods from his ears, picking up the spilled bottle of polish while Seonghwa helps him up.

“What the hell was that?” Hongjoong gripes, frowning at the streak of red polish staining his jeans. That’s not going to come out.

“You weren’t answering the door or your texts and it’s getting late.” Seonghwa explains, looking only slightly regretful.

“Oh. I didn’t realize the time. I’m sorry. I’m almost finished.”

Seonghwa regards his nails, noticing only the pinkies are painted. “Our ideas of ‘almost finished’ probably differ. I’ll let the office know we’re running late.”

“What? No, I only paint the pinkies, they just need a top coat.” Hongjoong says dismissively, putting the cap back on the crimson polish. Seonghwa pockets his phone with a dubious expression.

That’s how Hongjoong ends up explaining the Polished Man campaign to Seonghwa while he applies his top coat and gently blows on it to speed along the drying process. Seonghwa listens with genuine interest, and when they’re dry, hands him a paper towel to wipe the pool of polish off his jeans.

“Sorry about the pants.” Seonghwa tells him, frowning.

“It’s fine, I’ll figure something out for them. Let me just change into clean ones.” Hongjoong shrugs it off, heading for his bedroom.

***

The next time Seonghwa sees the jeans, they’ve been painted up the entire top half of the leg with red scrolling filigree, lyrics of one of Hongjoong’s songs superimposed on top in three-dimensional white paint shadowed in black at the edges. Hongjoong explains he did it all by hand, and that he enjoys altering his own clothes when he has the time.

After he posts a photo wearing them on his Instagram, Represent contacts him for a potential collaboration, and Hongjoong is over the moon about it.

“Guess I kind of owe it to you.” Hongjoong tells Seonghwa after they leave an in-person meeting with Represent a week later.

“How’s that?” Seonghwa asks as they climb into the car, Hongjoong taking the backseat.

“If you hadn’t scared me shitless and made me ruin my jeans with nail polish, I probably wouldn’t have tried such a bold design.” Hongjoong answers, chuckling.

“Well then, you’re welcome.” Seonghwa replies amiably, eyeing him in the rearview mirror as he starts the car. “Should I expect royalties in my next paycheck?”

Hongjoong barks a laugh. “In your dreams.”

When news of the collab hits social media, love and hate both surge anew. Hongjoong tries to focus on the good comments… the ones that say they’re glad he’s following his passion of designing, the ones claiming they’ll buy one of everything, the ones that joke they hope he covers the entire collection with rainbows—it might not be a joke, actually, but he considers adding one or two for the next one. It’s a lot at once, and when he sees Seonghwa a day later, he knows from the look in his eyes that he’s been sifting through the worst of the hate mail that came directly to his fan mail address at KQ Entertainment.

“S’bad, huh?”

Seonghwa presses his lips together, like he’s considering the merits of lying. He never does. “So far they haven’t materialized into anything physically harmful, at least. We should keep your outings to a minimum this week, though, just in case.”

Hongjoong almost does. He almost bucks over, lets his shoulders slump, admits defeat. And then he just gets angry .

“No.” He spits, recalcitrant and furious all in one. “No, you know what? Fuck that. And fuck all those people. If they wanna come at me they can say that shit to my face. I’m not going to live under a fucking rock because I like dick. I’m going out. I wanna go out.”

The way he looks at Seonghwa, then, it’s not a demand, but a question. Can we? After a long, patient look, Seonghwa nods.

“Fuck yeah. You won’t even have to worry about watching my back if someone tries anything because I’ll kick their ass first.” Hongjoong grunts, and it’s equal parts funny and endearing, but Seonghwa doesn’t laugh. He just grins, melancholy, empathetic in a way that aches in Hongjoong’s chest.

***

The two of them end Hongdae because it’s Hongjoong’s comfort place. He feels welcome and at home there. It’s nice to see all the dance troupes playing around with each other, all the skinship. Even if it’s just fan service, it’s nice to hear delighted squealing instead of jeers. It’s nice to see the rainbow shirts and the glittery signs and people randomly calling out, “gay rights!” when someone hugs or pirouettes. It might be a little too optimistic, but when he sees so many people who are this accepting, this indifferent… it gives him hope that the rest of the country might catch up one day.

Hongjoong indulges in some greasy pizza. He listens to one of the singers who he thinks is particularly talented, and leaves them a KQ business card. He watches from a distance for a little while as one of the more popular groups, comprised of all men in incredibly short shorts, dance suggestively around a wide array of volunteers from eager to unwitting.

It’s going great. Until the moment that it isn’t. Someone recognizes him. It’s an international fan, a foreigner. They are the backbone of his support system on social media: people from more progressive countries (like ones where he could actually get married , if he wanted to, for starters) have been his biggest defenders on Twitter and a large contributor to his digital sales. He isn’t one to ever look a gift horse in the mouth. But this fan is a bit overly excited and ends up alerting just about the whole block to his presence. Soon there’s a bit of a crowd around him and he looks to Seonghwa with what he is sure is a panicked expression.

Seonghwa shoulders his way to his side, wraps an arm around him and makes them a path out, sternly telling everyone to move aside as he does. Most of them part without much fuss. Many of the people still in their way are only there because they hadn’t heard or seen him. Driving in Hongdae this late in the evening is a nightmare so he had parked as close to the outskirts as possible, but now it’s proving a hindrance as they have to go quite a distance to get out from under the harsh attentions of the crowds.

Finally, Seonghwa manages to break line of sight by cutting across through a side-street and lose most of the people who were trailing behind with their phone cameras out. Hongjoong peels himself away from Seonghwa just to take a breath, glancing around to make sure they’re gone. Seonghwa takes a few steps toward the main road, just to check on the traffic and the flow of people. He has his back turned for less than thirty seconds when a group of young men passes by and recognizes Hongjoong.

“Hey, aren’t you one of those sissy idols?” The one Hongjoong surmises is the ringleader pipes up, causing the others to laugh and jeer. They all have black face-masks on, decorated with safety pins and metal loops, so he assumes the anonymity is giving them all this boldness.

A few of them make crude gestures and one or two even spit a slur at him. Then the first guy steps forward, cocking his head. “Bet you know how to have a good time, though, huh?”

He reaches out—Hongjoong isn’t sure what he plans to do, maybe pat his face or grab his chin—he never finds out, because suddenly Seonghwa is grabbing the guy’s wrist and the back of his neck, slamming him into the wall of the building they’re standing next to. The others jump back in surprise as the guy yelps, startled.

“I want you to think very carefully about your life choices.” Seonghwa grits out, twisting the guy’s arm at an angle that doesn’t look pleasant. He wails, squirming under his grip.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry!” The punk whines, and Seonghwa wrenches him off the wall and flings him at his friends. He stumbles and they all stagger as they try to catch him, try to keep him from falling on his face.

“Go home and reconsider those life choices of yours.” Seonghwa spits, straightening his suit and tossing his chin toward the guy’s arm. “Next time, I break it.”

They all just sputter apologies and nearly trip over themselves turning tail.

Hongjoong is sure his expression is stuck somewhere between stunned and impressed. When Seonghwa regards him, he appears concerned, looking him over as though the guy had managed to actually touch him. Hongjoong just shakes his head, waving a dismissive hand.

For the first time, he thinks he really does need a bodyguard.

***

Once they get to the car, there’s a lot of sitting in traffic, but not nearly as much as there could have been. They eventually make it out onto the main road, which means it won’t be too long of a ride back to his place.

Hongjoong sits in the passenger’s seat and manically refreshes Twitter, searching his name. There are already videos up. Mostly people gleefully announcing how they saw him in Hongdae that night. Some people mention how the people crowding him are the worst kinds of fans, that they aren’t real fans, even going so far as to beg them to give him space. That’s a novel concept. There are even some thirst tweets for Seonghwa—which, admittedly, is fair—and there is a whole sub-tweet thread starting a fandom for him (as a joke, probably, but he wouldn’t be surprised if they were serious).

As he refreshes, he notices some people are calling him rude. People are saying he doesn’t appreciate his fans, claiming he doesn’t actually care about them because he didn’t take the time to interact. He was out in public, after all, so he should have expected it. He lets out a distressed little noise, refreshing more frequently to see if anything new pops up.

When they stop at a red light, Seonghwa snatches the phone out of his hand and tosses it into the backseat. It thumps against the leather, bouncing once before settling.

Hongjoong gapes at him like a fish, aghast.

“You can’t obsess over your image like this. Stop and take a breath.” Seonghwa tells him, stern.

Hongjoong just looks between him and his discarded phone in the backseat for a long moment before he finally comes to his senses, shaking his head. He settles back into his seat, letting out a slow breath.

“No, you’re right, you’re right. I should… yeah. Breathe.”

He spends the rest of the drive doing just that, trying to regulate the ragged and trembling form his breathing has taken. He does not allow himself to look up, and pretends not to notice the way Seonghwa glances over to check on him every minute on the dot.

When they get back to his little apartment building, he doesn’t feel any safer. He just feels… drained. Hollow. Like a husk. As if all the joy and energy has been sucked out of him. He shivers, flicking the lights on.

“You can have this back now, but… I would suggest that you stay off of Twitter. Just for tonight.” Seonghwa’s tone is gentle as he hands back Hongjoong’s phone. He takes it with trembling fingers and a hollow thanks .

Seonghwa stands there for a moment in the doorway, like he’s waiting for Hongjoong to settle before he leaves. He won’t, though. He’s almost pacing, taking indecisive, aborted steps toward the kitchen, then the bedroom, before finally moving toward the living room.

“Will you just, um… would you stay with me, until I calm down?”

“Of course.” Seonghwa assures, stepping inside and closing the door behind him.

There’s a long moment of silence before Hongjoong lets out a loud huff throws himself down onto the couch, looking up at Seonghwa guiltily.

“It was stupid to go out so soon after a big press blow-up like that. It’s okay, you can say it.” Hongjoong intones bitterly. “I put undue stress on you and put myself in danger and all because I’m too fucking proud .”

Hongjoong expects to be scolded. He deserves it.

“You have to live your life.” Seonghwa says instead, his voice soft and low and more soothing than chiding. “You’re allowed to live your life. Fame and money, those things don’t give others permission to control every aspect of your existence. It doesn’t strip you of your right to privacy or dignity. You’re allowed to live. Don’t let people like that make you think any differently.”

Hongjoong just stares at him for what feels like a brief eternity, until he’s distracted by a chill running up his own spine.

“Shit, I’m fucking cold, I never turned the heat back on when we got in—” Hongjoong makes to stand, but Seonghwa crosses in front of him and his hand is on his shoulder, keeping him on the couch. He slumps back down against the cushions obediently.

Seonghwa lets him go to unbutton his suit jacket, then slides it off and rests it on Hongjoong’s shoulders before he goes to find the heater controls. Hongjoong watches him go, clutching the lapels around his arms. It’s warm; he’s been wearing it all day…it smells faintly of cologne and something that it just utterly Seonghwa , like leather and pine.

Hongjoong hears the heater grind on, and then Seonghwa returns, taking a seat on the couch next to him, close enough that Hongjoong can feel the heat radiating off of him. It’s comforting and terrifying both. When Seonghwa lays a palm gently against his back, he nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Give it a moment, but it should take the chill out of the room.” Seonghwa tells him, and Hongjoong nods. “The weather is supposed to take an upturn soon, too. Spring might finally be upon us.”

They feel like empty words, merely filling space. Hongjoong wonders if Seonghwa is just trying to distract him. It seems like a kind effort, even if it isn’t really working.

“If you want to talk about it…” Seonghwa starts, giving him a meaningful look, “Sometimes it helps. I’m no therapist, but I have a lot of training in psychology, so—”

“You know, going the ‘I’m your bodyguard but I can also be your friend’ route would have probably had better success, if you were wanting to get me to open up.” Hongjoong snipes, raising an eyebrow at him expectantly.

“I’m not looking to… trick you into trying to make yourself feel better. I’m just offering, if you feel like talking it out.” Seonghwa replies, putting his hands up in a show of good faith. “Your managers may sign my checks but my job is your safety and wellbeing. You are my charge. I only want to help, however I am able.”

Hongjoong doesn’t respond… not right away. When he does, he changes the subject.

“Even when it’s just us, you always speak so formally.”

Seonghwa notices, but he doesn’t press it. He will take whatever he is given. If Hongjoong wants a distraction, then he will give him one.

“I’ll tell you a secret.” Seonghwa says conspiratorially. “I’m from Jinju. My Satoori accent is hellish. Incredibly improper. The first time I met someone from Seoul, I thought… that was how I wanted to speak. It was proper and compelling. Respectful. So I worked at it. And it’s a constant battle. I spoke in Satoori for almost twenty years without a care in the world, so… it’s something I’m always conscious of.”

“I cannot… even picture you talking casually.” Hongjoong balks, disbelieving. “Like, 404 error, scenario not found. I can’t even imagine it.”

“Then I’m doing all right.” Seonghwa says with a laugh.

“No, that’s not fair! I wanna hear it!” Hongjoong whines. “Just like, one sentence! Please!”

“It’s not a parlor trick.” Seonghwa chides, brushing him off. “Besides, the way you speak is much nicer.”

“Me?”

“Yes. When I first met you, I thought your dialect was very elegant.” Seonghwa tells him, as though it isn’t the lovely compliment that it is.

Hongjoong huffs in embarrassment and leans back into the couch a little more, letting some of his weight fall against Seonghwa’s side. He keeps the jacket tight around his arm, but then Seonghwa’s arm is moving up to wrap around his shoulder, effectively holding it in place. The man absently plays with his hair, just the faintest, casual touch, and it is a greater comfort than Hongjoong could have even thought to ask for.

They sit like that for a long while, until the chill in the air in the apartment is replaced with pleasant warmth and Hongjoong can hardly remember why his evening had gone to hell in the first place. There is a long stretch of comfortable silence before he breaks it.

“Seonghwa-ssi?” The man just hums to indicate he’s listening to Hongjoong. “Can I call you hyung?”

Seonghwa gives the barest of shrugs. “If you’d like.”

“Well I know you won’t, but I’m fine with you dropping the formalities, too. Okay?”

“Of course, sir.”

Hongjoong rolls his eyes. “I expected nothing less, but somehow I’m still disappointed.”

“The human mind is funny that way.” Seonghwa quips, amused.

“What’s the problem?” Hongjoong goads, “Afraid you’ll actually kind of like me and then feel bad when someone inevitably manages to hurt me?”

“No.” Seonghwa answers with no hesitation, “I won’t ever let anyone hurt you.”

It’s his job. That’s his job . It shouldn’t render Hongjoong speechless, the way he says it. It shouldn’t, but it does.