That familiar flutter of excitement tingled inside Junhee’s chest. He ignored the flock of girls around him, all pointing lenses in the same direction, and raised his own camera to the doorway. Poised, he waited.
Flashes lit up around him like a bursting firework, but Junhee waited for his moment. Staff members left the building first and they glanced only briefly at the photographers waiting nearby. The people everyone was waiting for followed soon after. A couple of the girls called out, still taking a photo-a-second – but still Junhee waited, until Han looked up. The idol brushed his fingers through his blonde hair, glanced up at the cameras and gave his oh-so-familiar half-smile.
Han’s teammates followed close behind, and the girls’ cameras followed them. Most fansites were like this – frantic to capture every movement, every member, petrified of missing the opportune moment. They would go home later and sift through thousands of photos, deleting almost all of them for being too blurry or capturing an awkward moment.
But not Junhee. Since he’d held his first DSLR between his fingers at fourteen, he’d had a sixth sense, one that told him when that most beautiful moment could be pinched out of the ethers and captured for eternity. Now twenty-one, thousands of people in Korea and beyond waited anxiously for photos uploaded under his moniker: Summer Storm.
You never disappoint! Summer Storm and Diamond Frost are the best fansites ever.
Your photos are the most beautiful, omg.
She’s such a talented photographer, we’re so lucky she’s in our fandom.
Of course, they always assumed Summer Storm was a ‘she’. Why would a male fansite be taking photos of a boy group, after all? As XF11 climbed into their awaiting van with a final wave, Junhee let his camera return to its place hung around his neck. He readjusted the mask covering his nose and mouth and pulled down his beanie. Two hours of waiting for less than a minute with Han – but it was worth it every time.
As he turned to leave, he was already deep in thought about the minimalist ways in which he could edit his photos that evening. He was snapped out of his thoughts, however, as he spun around straight into someone so hard that their foreheads bumped.
“Ow! Hey, careful, airhead.” The obstacle clutched their forehead, a scowl crinkling their eyes.
“Sorry!” Junhee turned away automatically and raised an instinctive hand to cover his eyes. But before he could hurry away completely, he hesitated. That voice was-
He glanced back, curious. The other person narrowed their eyes too. No, narrowed his eyes. He wore an identical mask and a bucket hat shaded the rest of his face, but his voice had been unmistakably male. And that boy was appraising him, like he knew…
“You’re a he?” The boy peered closer as he spoke, and Junhee flushed.
“I… Er… I’m a n-new fansite, I-”
“Ha. Nice try, Summer Storm.”
The heat from Junhee’s face disappeared and was replaced with ice. He said nothing, but the boy smirked in victory. He nodded at Junhee’s camera.
“That raincloud sticker. You posted a photo of your camera on Twitter a while ago.”
“That’s… creepy of you.”
“And you’re a fansite, so you’re one to talk, creeper.”
Junhee glared at this boy. He could make out nothing but dark brown eyes that turned down at the edges and gave him a strange sense of sadness.
“I’ve not seen you before, are you new?”
The boy sniffed. “Something like that.” He shrugged, flicking through the photos he’d taken on the camera he carried.
“Han.” He didn’t look up from appraising his photos. “But I’m not some kind of superfan so don’t get me wrong. I’m not really into this kpop thing. It’s just for my portfolio.”
Junhee resisted rolling his eyes. “Right. Well, I need to go and edit my photos.” He stepped around the other boy pointedly, keen to be away so he could let down his guard and peel back his mask.
“Your secret’s safe with me!” Junhee hesitated at the words that followed him away. “And your photos – they’re good, you know.”
Junhee snorted quietly and carried on walking.
Home was Junhee’s haven. The apartment was bijou, to say the least, but it was the space he could be himself, indulge in his passions, and let go of the tension that crept into his shoulders from always hiding in plain sight. Here, he could put on his favourite music, sit in his oversized jumpers and work on his photos. It might not sound like much, but it was all he needed to be happy.
He sipped at the glass of wine on his desk, studying the photos a final time. His critical eye judged them ready. Two he would post now, and two in the morning – he wasn’t one to spam followers with dozens of photos. No, perfectionism was his niche, and only the very best photos got released into the virtual world.
These two – the photo capturing the second Han’s eyes had met the camera, a ghost of a smile catching the very corners of his lips, and the photo as he’d looked back over his shoulder for his members, his hair falling into his eyes and the breeze catching the scarf tied to his beltloop and sending it rippling out behind him. Junhee’s heart fluttered. It didn’t matter how many times he saw him – he was always caught by the love that washed through his veins at the sight of his favourite boy.
It only took seconds for the likes and comments to come flooding in. That’s not why he did it – he wasn’t here to score virtual points – but he was always happy to see the fandom react with happiness. After all, so many of them didn’t get a chance to see XF11 in person, let alone several times a week. Sharing these photos was his way of bringing to them the happiness he was lucky enough to get from the boys in the flesh.
He propped his chin in his hand, humming along to the song playing from his speakers. Out of curiosity, he opened his phone and scrolled through Twitter. The other fansites had been much faster than him, and he went through their photos in turn. A set of three photos made him pause – posted by Diamond Frost. It was one of the newer kids on the block, but her photos were beautiful. Like his own, they captured the little details, focussed on the tiny moments that others would miss. He dropped a heart in the comments and went with a yawn to prepare his things for tomorrow’s fansign.
Junhee looked over the top of his camera, a smile breaking out on his face. The XF11 boys were in high spirits today, performing their latest songs with crazy headbands over their hair. They joked with the fans, who all giggled and called their names in response.
It felt like the nearest thing he would ever have to a boyfriend. Or at least – it would while he was living here in Seoul, with his conservative family breathing down his neck. These boys made him feel… accepted. Like he was part of a community, emboldened by these six men who worked so hard and told their followers that they, too, could achieve anything. They filled him with hope and happiness, every single day.
He looked around the room. He might be biased, but the girls of X-Heart – their fandom – were the cutest. They wore dresses in the sky blue of their official colour, their pretty faces lit up in bright smiles. He might not be able to show himself around them, but they were a family that he felt a part of, nonetheless.
Someone leaned against the wall that didn’t fit with the crowd. Black skinny jeans rolled up above white sneakers, an oversized Gucci shirt drowning his skinny frame as he held his camera to eye level. Junhee raised an eyebrow. A male fansite, and he was dressing in Gucci? Who was this kid?
As if sensing he was being watched, the boy looked over at Junhee, who immediately turned away and busied himself taking photos. I’m not here to suss you out. I’m here for Han and the boys.
The fansign was over all too quickly, as always. The boys said their goodbyes and everyone began to file out. Junhee packed up his kit and slung it over his shoulder.
“They’ll be leaving from the backdoors!” A group of girls reacted excitedly behind him.
“Go, go!” The hysteria spread quickly, and a large group began to run. Junhee tried to step out of the way, but in doing so stepped right into the path of another group sprinting to catch the boys as they left. One girl ran into him, hard, sending him stumbling. His camera bag flew from his shoulder and span across the tiled flooring.
“Sorry!” Her apology was thrown over her shoulder before she disappeared with the whirlwind of girls.
“Shit, shit, shit…” Junhee knelt on the floor, yanking open the zip on the bag. “Please be okay…” He hit the power button and the DSLR beep-booped into life. “Oh, thank god.” He turned it over; it appeared unscathed.
“Is it alright?” Junhee looked up to find Gucci kid stood looking over him. He nodded, his face flushed. “And… are you alright?” The boy held out a hand, and after staring dumbly at it, Junhee took it and got to his feet.
“Yeah… Thank you.”
“Saesangs, right?” The boy rolled his eyes. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Junhee replied, but winced as he flexed his ankle. The rest of the hallway was deserted as the last of the girls made their exit. His wariness thawed a little. “Thanks for stopping to check.”
“It’s okay. We’re colleagues, right?” Junhee stayed mute, watching the boy’s smiling eyes with confusion. “You like my photos, after all.”
“Mmmm-hmmm.” The boy pulled his phone from his pocket. His thumb scrolled through his notifications, stopping on one and holding it up for Junhee to see.
Summer Storm and 634 others liked your post.
Summer Storm commented on your post: “<3”.
Junhee stopped in his tracks. “Wait, you’re Diamond Frost?!”
The boy laughed, pulling down his mask to his chin. Junhee blinked in surprise – his face was handsome, and the smile creasing his eyes was genuine.
“Yeah.” He pulled off his hat and scraped fingers through his wild hair. “I’m sorry if I came off a bit… y’know, yesterday. Defence mechanisms.” He smiled again, this time in apology. “I probably got over-excited that I wasn’t the only guy in the room and… Well, I know my humour can be a bit sharp. I’m sorry.”
Junhee studied his face, and then shrugged. “It’s okay. I get it. I mean – I’m very used to being the only guy.”
The other boy held the door open for him as they left. “Which is why you hide your face?”
Junhee sighed. “Which is why I hide my face.”
They stopped on the steps outside. Junhee looked up at the sky; autumn had sapped it of colours and Seoul was shrouded in slate grey. He shivered as a chill wind tickled his neck.
“Well.” The sad-eyed boy turned, shoving his hands into the pockets of his coat. “Do you want to grab a coffee someplace?”
Junhee faltered in surprise. Naturally, he never got talking to the other fansites – he couldn’t, because they’d hear his voice and the less questions asked, the better. This was new. And he couldn’t quite push away his curiosity over the boy behind the Diamond Frost site, when their pseudonyms were so often mentioned in the same breath…
“Sure.” He was glad of his mask as his cheeks betrayed him by turning pink. “There’s a cute place just around the corner.” He smiled. “And I know none of the girls tend to lurk there.”
It was a tiny little café, overflowing with plants and wonky picture frames. Junhee hesitated as they found a table, one hand halfway to his mask. His pause didn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s okay, you know…” The other boy had discarded hat, mask and coat on a spare chair, and pushed up his sleeves with a shrug. “I do get the whole ‘hiding your identity’ thing. It’s cool, if you don’t want to show your face. I respect that.” He took his seat. “Oh, I’m Donghun, by the way.” He picked up a menu. “But you don’t have to tell me y-”
“Junhee. It’s Junhee.” Donghun looked up in surprise, and Junhee took his seat. Wary, he unhooked his mask from behind his ears and pocketed it. He felt a wash of nervousness as Donghun watched him curiously.
“Anyway,” Donghun said breezily – had he sensed his nervousness? “What do you want – it’s on me. Got to show respect for the best fansite in X-Heart, right?” The naughty smirk was back on his face, but this time it made Junhee feel a little more at ease.
Donghun didn’t take long to return with their drinks, and Junhee eyed the one that Donghun wrapped his hands around. The other boy raised a pierced eyebrow over the cup.
“What? Coffee milk is the best!”
“Uhhh-huh? And… how old are you?”
“I’m twenty-three, thanks for asking.” Donghun laughed nonetheless. “Just because I’m in my twenties doesn’t mean I have to drink my coffee black.” He took another sip. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-one? And you’re already one of the best photographers in the business?” Junhee made a face that he hoped settled somewhere between modesty and disbelief. “How did you learn to take photos like you do?”
“Oh… They’re really not… There’s no big secret…” He looked up to find Donghun propping his chin on one hand, listening as though… interested? He was used to the creeping expressions of boredom that crossed the faces of his family and friends when he talked about photography, but right now he seemed to be met with genuine enthusiasm.
And so, slowly, he explained how his grandfather had brought him his first camera shortly before he passed away. How he used to walk through the countryside in the evenings after school, learning to feel for composition, lighting – and most importantly, hone his timing to capture the perfect moment. The more he talked, the easier it became, and before he knew it he found himself propped on his hands, gazing unseeingly out the window while he talked.
“I’m so sorry,” he stuttered as he returned to the room. “I’m literally talking at you.”
Donghun was already smiling. “Don’t apologise. Your passion is captivating.”
Junhee would grow accustomed to the butterflies that danced in his stomach, the sharp flutter that made his toes curl and his breath catch in his throat. But this was the first time he felt it, and he immediately clamped down on the emotion. No. Stop that.
They talked about photography as the amber sun set outside the window, until they were the only ones in the room and the waitress approached their table.
“We’re closing up soon, boys.”
“Ah, thank you,” they said in unison, both ducking a quick bow of their heads. Junhee collected his things, deciding against re-masking.
“Do you want to get a drink somewhere?” he asked, playing with his coat sleeves. “If you drink anything harder than coffee milk, that is.”
Donghun laughed, but shook his head. “I can’t.” Junhee cringed immediately and regretted asking. “I need to go home and upload these pictures.”
“Oh.” Junhee smiled guiltily. “Yeah, I need to do that too.”
“But I’ll be at the Arirang schedule next Tuesday if you’re going to be there? I’ll be around after that. You can buy me a whiskey to make up for talking my ear off today.”
Junhee snorted. “Alright, Grandpa. Who drinks whiskey?”
Donghun laughed. “Watch your mouth, Summer Storm.” He pushed through the door and turned back to Junhee. “Catch you Tuesday, then.”
“Yeah, later.” Junhee watched him walk away, and then shook his head and went to fetch his bike. As he cycled home through the early evening, he felt lighter than usual – like there was some hidden wind at his back. For him, friendship wasn’t a part of his expectation from the fandom. But a little blossoming hope in his chest told him that maybe, he had found a new friend.
Facemask, pyjamas, decaf coffee, check in on XF11, nose at the other fansites – that was Junhee’s bedtime routine. He tucked his feet up onto the armchair as the message notification pinged.
Diamond Frost: reckon I should post this one
Diamond Frost: [image]
Junhee eyes widened as the username popped up in his Twitter inbox, and he opened it immediately. He snorted – the photo was unflattering, to say the least, catching Han mid-blink and open-mouthed. His fingers hovered over the keypad before replying.
Summer Storm: Poor Han.
Diamond Frost: He’d find it funny
Summer Storm: You’re talking like you know him…
Diamond Frost: Pfft, he has a sense of humour. It’s us Lees, we can laugh at ourselves…
Diamond Frost: Better sleep, all this Y/N life is tiring me out *upside down smiley*
Diamond Frost: Hang about tomorrow for that drink?
Summer Storm: Yep, see you then.
Diamond Frost: *thumbs up emoji*
Eyebrow raised, Junhee closed the chat and opened Instagram. He paused once, and got that creeping feeling that steals over a person who is snooping into someone’s private life, even knowing they are alone. He repressed the fleeting guilt and tapped into the search bar: Lee Donghun. Dozens of profiles sprang into the search results, but he didn’t have to scroll at all to find a familiar face.
Junhee let out a whistle. The grid of photos was beautiful. Every picture was rendered in warm colours, calming the visually overwhelming app into a retro palette. Three subjects competed for prominence: well-worn books, crystal glasses with amber contents, and the twisted dark shapes of woodlands. The curator had an eye for capturing the unusual in the everyday.
His curiosity flared ever more, however, at the photos in between, that showed a familiar face. Donghun looked just as comfortable in front of the camera as behind it, consistently dressed in designer labels, often a pair of glasses framing his eyes. Junhee opened a photo from the seafront – an invisible wind tossed Donghun’s hair across his tanned face, his smile so wide his eyes were nearly shut, his sandy hands holding two hermit crabs up to the camera-
“Who are you obsessively stalking?”
Junhee leaped out of his skin, nearly dropped his phone and then turned a scowl on his flatmate.
“Jesus, Sehyoon, why are so silent? When did you get in?”
“About ten minutes ago. You’ve been on the same profile the whole time – so who are you stalking.”
Sehyoon threw him a beer and sat down on the sofa, eyebrows raised expectantly.
“I’m not stalking anyone.” Junhee rolled his eyes. “It’s one of the other fansites.”
“A guy.” Junhee handed him his phone; he knew Sehyoon would only pester.
“Oh. A very attractive guy.” Sehyoon stuck out his bottom lip as he scrolled. “Who likes fashion and literature and walks in the woods? And photography?” He looked up. “Well, now I see why you’re stalking him.”
“I’m not stalking him,” Junhee drawled, exasperated. “And you think everyone’s attractive.”
Sehyoon shrugged. “Everyone has their own beauty.”
“Whatever.” Junhee took a mouthful of beer. “It’s just nice to have someone to actually talk to. After all this time…” He trailed off, his tone turning sincere.
“That is nice for you.” The teasing note dropped from Sehyoon’s voice. “Does he know who you are?”
Junhee nodded. “He worked it out. We went for coffee the other day. Gonna grab a drink tomorrow.”
“Oh? A d-”
“It is not a date.” Junhee got up, chucking down the pillow he had in his lap. “You’re insufferable. I’m going to bed.”
Sehyoon’s sniggers followed him from the room.
“Okay, so, I have something to ask you.”
The evening had drawn late, and the room was filled with conversations across glasses of wine. Junhee and Donghun sat at the bar, several hours later than Junhee had expected to be here. Donghun, it transpired, was incredibly easy company – surprisingly bright with a joke always flitting around the edge of his smile. He was a literature graduate, with no formal qualifications in photography. That was a skill he’d taught himself.
Laughter punctuated the chatter, and Donghun leaned a little closer to listen, his fingers absently tracing the base of his wine glass.
“Why are you a fansite?” Junhee watched his face for a reaction. “You said you aren’t big into the music scene. So why take photos of an idol day in, day out?”
Donghun leaned back, his lips pursed, absently emptying the contents of his pocket onto the bar: keys, wallet, an SD card. He played with a keyring as he answered.
“It’s good practice. And it gets me a big audience.” He shrugged. “And I like Han, it’s not like I don’t care about him.”
“You’re a weird one.” Junhee narrowed his eyes.
“And you’re not a sober one.” Donghun laughed, his signature raised eyebrow in place. “Okay. So it’s something like this. I love passion in people. I don’t care what someone is passionate about, but when people’s eyes light up and their voices get excited – that’s the most beautiful a human can be. And that’s what I love capturing, and being around. Han is… passionate, the whole group are. And even being around the fans. The energy that radiates in those rooms… It’s my favourite thing.”
The butterflies made their second appearance.
“So there you go,” Donghun said, breaking the silence. He nudged Junhee gently. “Even more weird than you thought, huh?”
“Not weird at all,” Junhee managed, playing with the SD card as a distraction.
“Anyway, come on, it’s late.” Donghun raked his fingers through his hair. “Probably time to head off.”
A frost clung to the outside air like static, and Junhee shivered as soon as they stepped outside. Donghun watched him pull his hands inside his hoodie.
“How are you getting home?” he asked.
“Hey, what? You’ll freeze! Here-” He shrugged off his coat, holding it out to Junhee, who immediately protested. “I live like two minutes away. Take it!”
“It’s fucking Valentino, absolutely not.”
“Oh, what?” Donghun pulled a face. “That stuff doesn’t matter. It’s just a coat. Please, I don’t want you to be cold.”
Junhee hesitated, crinkling his nose in indecision, and then sighed. “Fine. Thank you.” He pulled on the coat; it smelled of florals and patchouli. But as touched as he was by the gesture, a smile tugged at his mouth. “Hang on… Do you have a tattoo?” He looked incredulously as Donghun’s forearm. “Of a snowflake?”
“Oh, yeah.” He raised his arm up to the street light. It was small and finely traced in white ink, but it was unmistakably a touch of frost on his arm.
“So… what came first, Diamond Frost or the frost tattoo?” Junhee couldn’t help but smirk, and Donghun turned away with a laugh.
“’Night, Summer Storm. Hey,” he called, turning back as Junhee headed in the other direction. He turned, waiting expectantly. Donghun nodded at him. “You look good in that.”
Junhee was grateful of the darkness for shielding the smile he had to bite away.
Watery sunlight filtered through the curtain and woke Junhee up mid-morning. He yawned, rubbing his face and pushing his tangled bangs off his forehead. A trace of a headache pulsed at his temples.
“Park Junhee.” The door opened without a knock, and Sehyoon made his way into his room and sat on his bed without bothering to ask permission. “Would you care to explain why on earth there’s a two-million won Valentino varsity jacket hung in our hallway?”
“Oh. It’s Donghun’s. Winter Frost’s. I had to cycle home so he leant it to me.”
Sehyoon stared at him, incredulity lifting his eyebrows. “How’s a fansite affording Valentino? No offence. Is he a drug dealer?”
Junhee laughed, pulling the duvet up to his chin. “I mean, maybe. I have no idea, I didn’t ask.”
“Well, tell him he has excellent taste.” Sehyoon yawned. “I’m making coffee, it’ll be in the kitchen.”
Junhee rolled over, scrolling sleepily through his phone. The usual stream of Twitter notifications he deleted, but among his texts, one from Donghun: Hey. Did you happen to pick up an SD card? I had it in my pocket but I can’t find it, I need those photos
Junhee frowned, thinking back on the night before. Hadn’t he been playing with an SD card at one point? He reached down to grab his jeans from the floor, and sure enough, he emptied one pocket to find the little black square in among some spare change.
Yeah, so sorry – must have pocketed it by accident. I’ll keep it safe.
He was about to put his phone down when it vibrated immediately.
Can I meet you somewhere today to get it back? Sorry, need it asap. Can drive over to yours if that’s easiest
Yeah, sure, here’s my address…
Junhee tapped it out and tossed his phone down onto the duvet. What could possibly be so urgent about collecting an SD card? Donghun had all the photos from the last fansign – Junhee knew that, he’d seen his posts online.
He turned over the SD card in his fingers and waged an internal war. No, he couldn’t look at it, that was wrong. But… He was so curious to see Donghun’s unedited photos. And after all, Junhee was an XF11 fan, first and foremost – and he loved seeing pictures of the boys.
He knew he shouldn’t – he absolutely knew he shouldn’t – but Junhee pulled out his camera and slid out the SD card, replacing it with Donghun’s. His fingers moved quickly, like the faster he was, the less guilty it would make him feel.
He loaded the first photo and nearly dropped the camera.
The Donghun in this photo didn’t wear his trademark smile. His eyes burned through the lens, his collarbones prominent, another white-ink tattoo creeping across his ribs.
Junhee looked up and stared at the wall, a hot flush tipping down his neck.
That… was not a fansite photo.
He looked back at the image preview with every intention of turning the camera off immediately. But something made his thumb pause. There, behind the smouldering gaze – a unicorn plushie, one eye pink, one eye blue. Junhee stared. That plushie – that was exactly the same as the one Han had. Junhee had seen it in the background of Vlives. No, more than that, he’d seen it on that shelf in the background of Vlives…
He moved to the next photo, and his world flipped.
Donghun’s smile was back on his face. A duvet around his shoulders concealed his skin. But this time, someone leaned their head onto his shoulder, one hand curled around Donghun’s knee. Junhee’s shock produced a sudden lump in his throat.
“Han..?” he whispered.
He knew it was a gross invasion of privacy. But his shaking fingers pressed through the pictures. Photo after photo of Donghun and Han, in a bedroom Junhee recognised from broadcasts, beautiful, carefully composed, aesthetic photos that betrayed a strong intimacy between the two subjects.
Junhee didn’t realise he was crying until a tear dripped from his chin.
“Park, I told you, coffee, I-” Sehyoon stopped dead in the doorway, and finally Junhee slammed the power button on the camera. “Hey, are you-”
“I’m fine.” He swung his legs out of bed and swiped the treacherous tear from his face. “Absolutely fine.” He forced a grim smile. “Let me dress.”
His hands shook as he pulled on a t-shirt and jeans, a storm of feelings circling his stomach. It was fine, completely fine. He knew idols dated, of course they did, they were grownups – they just did so away from the public eye and that was the way things were. He’d always known Han would probably have a girlfriend – but a boyfriend? Donghun? One of his own fansites – did that mean Junhee had ever stood a chance? Had Han ever spared a second glance for him?
No, stop. He wasn’t delusional. He didn’t follow XF11 to try and date them. He was twenty-one, for Christ’s sake, not some teenager playing out a fantasy.
But Donghun. Donghun had lied. Hadn’t he? He’d certainly omitted the truth. But he could date whoever he damn-well pleased, so why, why did it feel like toxic sickness rising in his chest and choking his throat and-
The doorbell rang.
He breathed in, long and hard, and let it out shakily. Sehyoon appeared in his doorway once more, an eyebrow raised in question. Junhee waved him away and went to the front door.
“Hey! Man, I thought I’d lost it, I-” Donghun stopped, whatever he had to say evaporating from his lips. Junhee held out the SD card, but Donghun stared instead at the tears that rose in Junhee’s eyes. The colour in his cheeks evaporated. “You looked at it, didn’t you.”
“I didn’t know it would be…”
“How fucking dare you, Junhee?” Donghun’s voice rose with each word; he snatched the SD card from Junhee’s fingers and took a step inside, slamming the front door and trapping them in the hallway. His eyes lit up with fire. “That’s absolutely-”
“I know, it’s a massive invasion of privacy, I didn’t think, I just thought it would be photos for your fansite, I didn’t think-”
“Didn’t think you’d be going through private photos of me and Han? Well, are you happy now? Wanna go to Dispatch with this one?”
“What?! No!” Junhee said aghast. “Why would you say something like that? I’m just… I just…” The tears rose again in his throat, and he lost the fight against them.
Donghun rubbed his face with his hands angrily. “I don’t know why you’re the one getting upset.” He shot him a desperate look. “Is this because of Han dating? See, this is exactly why idols can’t breathe near someone else, it’s so unfair-”
“No!” Junhee looked at him desperately. “I’m not delusional. Han can date, he can date whoever the hell he wants. Get married. I don’t care. It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?!”
Junhee stared at him. How could he tell him why it scolded his heart like hot water to see those photos, when he didn’t know himself? He wasn’t lying – it wasn’t about Han dating. It was…
“Um, is everything alright?” Sehyoon appeared with his bed-hair and mug, looking at them both with incredulity. “It’s just you’re arguing really loudly and I’m quite hungover.” He appraised Donghun swiftly and gave him a quick nod. “Guessing you’re Donghun?” Donghun nodded. “Sehyoon. You have a great eye for fashion, by the way.” He turned away, drifting back to the living room.
Donghun watched him leave, and then sighed, keeping his eyes shut for a long moment. When he opened them, the anger had been replaced by resignation. “Look, I’m sorry for shouting at you. It’s not surprising you were shocked. I lied, and I shouldn’t keep photos like that knocking around on an SD card in my pocket anyway.”
“No, please don’t apologise.” Junhee looked at the floor. “I should never have looked on that card. And I have no right to be getting upset about it.”
“That’s okay.” An awkward silence bridged the space between them. Without a word, Donghun raised a hand to Junhee’s face and brushed away a tear with his thumb. The butterflies were confused, this time.
“I didn’t mean to lie to you.” Donghun touched his arm, and his fingers lingered there. “It’s just a really hard thing to tell someone. I mean first, a guy dating guys in Korea, right? And fans of idol groups… Jesus, I’ve seen fans turn on musicians who announce they’re dating and they can be visceral. I didn’t know you weren’t going to be like that. And… And…” He searched Junhee’s face, words failing him. “It’s… Things are complicated. Yeah. Complicated.”
“I understand.” Junhee touched his hand briefly. “I guess I hadn’t thought of that, to be honest.” He smiled ruefully. “Are you two properly dating, or..?”
“So now I know why the anti-kpop kid is a fansite, huh?” he teased, trying to lighten the tone. But Donghun swallowed and looked away.
“It was my only way to be around him. It was Han’s suggestion. He wanted to keep… You know. Have me around.”
Junhee smiled wistfully. “Wow, you’re lucky.”
Donghun’s eyes stayed down. “Yeah.” He cleared his throat quietly. “Anyway, I should get going, I’m late and I can’t… Yeah. But I’ll see you at the next schedule?”
“Of course. And I’m sorry again. This was my fault.”
“Don’t.” Donghun seemed trapped between two thoughts, and then reached to hug Junhee. Junhee wrapped his arms around his narrow waist, pushing away thoughts of the tattoos he knew resided there – and for the first time, instead of pushing the butterflies away, he let them flutter. He spared no thought on why they were there, but he simply accepted their dance.
“Thank you for understanding.” Donghun pulled away. His trademark grin appeared on his face. “Now go and tell your housemate I’m not a psycho, please.”
Junhee returned the smile as Donghun let himself out, but it fell as soon as he closed the front door behind him. He padded back to his bedroom and wordlessly climbed back into bed, letting the duvet drown him in darkness.
A quiet rustling announced a second presence in the room. Junhee moved over soundlessly, allowing them to lie next to him. Sehyoon also said nothing, just leaned his head on Junhee’s shoulder, a gesture that said: you don’t need to tell me. I know. Junhee leaned his cheek against his friend’s hair, and began to cry.
To Junhee’s relief, he sensed no change in Donghun’s attitude towards him. Over the next couple of weeks, the boy in the mask and bucket hat always came and sat cross-legged next to him at events and placed an extra coffee in front of him. A shrewd eye might have noticed that Summer Storm and Diamond Frost’s photos were almost always from the same angles, but their distinctive styles kept their pictures apart.
And Junhee had to hand it to him. He wouldn’t have been that forgiving. He felt a creeping sense of unease whenever he thought about what he’d seen; he should never have gone through Donghun’s photos in the first place.
But luckily, it hadn’t deterred their friendship. Junhee was notably grateful for this, waving to Donghun now as his car pulled over to let him in.
“Hey,” Junhee said, passing him his coffee milk. “Thanks so much for driving.”
“No problem,” Donghun waved it off, taking a sip and pushing his sunglasses up his nose. “Can’t have you cycling to Incheon.” He pulled out, chucking his phone into Junhee’s lap. “You can pay me back by looking after music.”
“The pressure…” Junhee opened Spotify on Donghun’s phone and began cycling through it. A message notification flashed up: Ko-han-gi, a play on the word ‘cat’. Junhee tried to ignore it but two more messages flashed up.
I’m sorry, Bambi. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.
Let me know when you get to Incheon.
I’m going to miss you.
Junhee quickly settled on a playlist and locked the phone. He’d done enough prying into Donghun’s private life and he wasn’t about to make that mistake again.
“Have you taken airport photos before?”
Donghun nodded as he drove. “Yeah. Once or twice. They’re kind of weird to me, they’re a bit much. But y’know… Han and the boys know I’m going to be there so it’s not really the same.” He glanced over. “Sorry if you go to the airport for photos.”
Junhee shook his head. “I only take pictures at official schedules.” He skipped through the playlist again. “So they fly out tomorrow? Are they staying in the same hotel as us tonight?” Junhee repressed the ripple of silly excitement in his stomach as Donghun nodded.
“Yeah – well…” He glanced at Junhee. “I’ll be staying with Han.”
“Oh. Yeah, of course.” Junhee flushed a little.
“They fly out super early tomorrow. Anyway, get some airport photos, see them off, head home first thing?”
Junhee nodded. “Do you miss him, when they go overseas?”
“Yeah.” Donghun glanced in the rear-view mirror. “It’s only a couple of weeks though this time. I’ll survive.” He took one hand from the wheel and propped his elbow against the window. Junhee frowned.
“Ouch, those are some bruises you’ve got.” Purple stains marked Donghun’s upper arm where his sleeve fell back. “How’d you get those?”
“Hm? These?” Donghun glanced at his own arm. “Committed to my craft – got to get the perfect shot, even if it means falling out the odd tree.” He grinned. “I’m an artist.”
The vibe was different, when they arrived at the airport. The fansites here were hardcore – they had found the flight information from god knows where, waited for hours on a hunch that the boys would arrive. When they did, the girls scrambled, pushing each other for an unobstructed view, shutter lenses popping. All for two minutes of capturing faces covered by masks and raised collars, and then the boys disappeared for their hotel rooms.
“Right. Well… Are you alright checking in and kicking around for the evening? I’d better go let Han know I’m here.”
“Of course.” Junhee shooed him away. “Go find your boy.”
It was far too early when Junhee woke up. He slapped away his alarm and rolled out of bed, his hair a wild nest and his eyes fuzzy from sleep. He’d never been a morning person. He glanced at the time – 6am. The XF11 boys would be well on their way, and Donghun would be waiting around somewhere for him to head back to Seoul. As he brushed his teeth, he wondered if he’d got up to see Han off, or if Han had left him sleeping with a kiss.
He changed quickly and headed downstairs to the foyer of the hotel. He spotted Donghun, sat with his back to him, a coffee already sourced between his sweater paws.
“Morning!” he called cheerfully.
Donghun turned, his eyes crinkling. “Morning.” He had a mask over his nose and mouth and a beanie pulled down, pushing his bangs down where they caught on his eyelashes. “Sleep okay?”
“Yeah, did..?” He trailed off. Donghun stood up, making to leave, but Junhee grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Donghun!”
Shadows fell over his concealed face. Junhee put two fingers under his friend’s jaw and pulled his face up. His stomach dropped.
“It’s nothing…” Donghun pushed his hand away, but Junhee grabbed his fingers in return.
“Donghun, what happened?” He reached again and this time, Donghun gave up on pushing him away. Ever so carefully, Junhee traced the edge of the dark bruise under his left eye. Donghun winced. His stomach turning, Junhee pulled his friend’s mask down to his chin. Dried blood caught in a crack on his bottom lip.
“Honestly, it’s nothing,” Donghun said firmly. “Don’t worry. We just had a bit to drink and… Well, I’m extremely clumsy, you have no idea.”
“You gave yourself a black eye?”
“Uh-huh.” Donghun’s grin was in place. “I’m an idiot.”
Junhee’s fingertips left Donghun’s cheek reluctantly. The boy returned his mask and made to leave, but again Junhee caught him and stopped him from turning. For a moment, he said nothing. Donghun struggled to hold his gaze.
A nagging worry whispered in Junhee’s subconscious as he studied his friend’s face. Eventually, he let out a long breath. “I… I care about you, okay?” He took Donghun’s wrist in firm fingers. “We’re friends and… I just want you to know I care.”
Donghun’s eyes widened, accentuating their sadness. For a long moment, he said nothing, but as Junhee thought Donghun was pushing away his hand, he instead caught his fingers with his own and squeezed them hard.
It felt like a very long moment that Donghun looked at him, his hand in his own. But there was no room for butterflies when clawing concern filled his stomach instead. Junhee pulled away and sighed. He knew he wouldn’t get anything else out of his friend.
“Come on, then. Let’s get on the road.”
“No, no, no!” Junhee shouted out and chucked the controller on the floor with a curse, flopping onto his back. Next to him, Sehyoon sniggered.
“I told you you’d be no match for Byeongkwan.”
Junhee rolled his eyes, sitting back up. “God, why did you have to start dating a gamer? I’m used to being forever victorious around here.” He threw a smirk at Sehyoon, but the smile he turned on Byeongkwan was genuine. “I mean, it’s nice to have someone put up a good fight for once.”
“Shut up, Park.” Sehyoon glanced at the phone next to him as it pinged for the fourth time in quick succession. He tilted the screen towards himself. “God, Donghun’s keen for attention.” The phone pinged again. “Relentless!”
“Don’t read my phone, dickhead.” Junhee swatted him playfully and took the phone. “I think he’s bored being by himself. Han’s been gone a week and he’s got no one to keep him entertained.”
“Who’s Donghun?” Byeongkwan asked, playing with Sehyoon’s toes with his own.
“This other fansite. He’s a friend.”
“Does he game?” Byeongkwan shrugged. “Ask him to come over?” He looked at Sehyoon, who nodded in response.
Junhee paused. “I mean… Yeah. Alright.” He opened the messages and ignored Donghun’s rambling.
You free? My housemate and I are hanging about ours today. Video games your thing?
Donghun replied straight away. You want to lose?
Junhee rolled his eyes. “He’s coming over.”
Sure enough, an hour later, Donghun lay on his front on their living room floor, kicking Byeongkwan in the leg in an attempt to distract him and make him lose. Sehyoon watched with his usual mild-tempered amusement, while Junhee bit away laughter at seeing this side of Donghun. He face-planted the carpet as Byeongkwan’s character finished off his own.
Sehyoon nodded at his empty bottle. “D’you want another beer? Go help yourself.”
“Thanks!” Donghun sprang to his feet and padded out of the room. Both Byeongkwan and Sehyoon watched him leave.
“Well he’s an extremely pretty boy,” Byeongkwan mused.
“That’s what I said.” Sehyoon nodded in agreement. “Also, he’s fun.”
“Right?” Byeongkwan grabbed his own beer. “Are you two..?”
Junhee snorted. “No, no. He’s got a boyfriend. We’re just friends.”
Donghun returned and the game resumed, long into the afternoon. When they eventually tired of shouting at each other and issuing bold threats, they swapped their game for a film, and their beers for wine.
“I know my face is going red.” Donghun pressed his hands into his cheeks. Then bruising around his eye had died down in the past week. “I swear, two beers and I’m super pink.”
“Me too,” Junhee agreed. He snorted and nodded at his friends. “At least we don’t fall asleep.” Byeongkwan and Sehyoon had their heads together, eyes closed. Junhee shook his head, entertained.
“This was really fun.” Donghun smiled, tapping – as was his habit – the base of the wine glass. “I actually… don’t have a tonne of friends, other than Han and the boys. I sort of stick to them. And sometimes we don’t have a load in common. But this was really fun.”
Junhee looked away from the film, a little surprised. “Well, you’re welcome here any time.”
They returned their attention to the film. Junhee finished his wine and left his glass on the coffee table, curling his feet up. He pulled a blanket from the floor and spread it out, and nodded at Donghun. “Cold?”
“Mmh.” Donghun moved up, pulling the blanket up to his chin.
Junhee’s eyes grew a little heavy as on-screen, the characters planned their elaborate heist. He was watching the camerawork in a scene when he felt a soft weight against his shoulder.
He didn’t dare move, because he didn’t want Donghun to ever stop leaning against him.
But Donghun only shifted to make his head more comfortable. Carefully, Junhee adjusted himself to make room, and after letting his hand hover awkwardly for too long, he rested it on Donghun’s hair, smoothing it back from his face.
What are you doing? What the fuck are you doing?
The fearful voice hushed as quiet fingertips brushed against his own. They stayed there for several minutes, and then shy fingers coiled with his. Junhee could feel Donghun’s pulse through his thumb.
Seriously, stop this. He has a boyfriend. His boyfriend is Lee Han, your Lee Han. This isn’t right.
Self-disgust lost the fight. Donghun lifted his head to look up at Junhee. His eyes searched his, so close he could see the shades of gold and brown in his irises, so-
Donghun’s phone pinged and they both jumped. Donghun pulled away, the spell broken, and pulled his phone out of his pocket.
Ko-Han-Gi: Bambi, you said you’d call. Where are you?
“Oh shit.” Donghun looked up at the clock on the wall. “Shit, I need to go, I didn’t realise it was so late, I-”
“It’s okay.” Junhee smiled, his heart still thumping. “You need to call Han?”
“Yeah, I-” Donghun looked back at him, halfway to getting up. He flushed. “Yeah, I don’t want him to get… I promised I’d call.”
Junhee dithered, and then followed him to the hallway. Donghun pulled on his coat and sneakers, and paused, his eyes not meeting Junhee’s. His phone vibrated and with a look of apology, he answered it.
“Han? I’m sorry, can I call you back in two seconds? Yes, I-I know I promised…” He shot a glance at Junhee. “Two seconds. I promise.” He hung up, a grimace crossing his face.
“Go, it’s okay.” Junhee said, fighting the niggling worry that had reappeared in his stomach at the unnecessarily apologetic tone that had crept into Donghun’s voice.
Donghun reached into his pocket. For a moment, he paused, his face unreadable. When he withdrew his hand, he held a small, blank envelope.
“For you.” He pressed it into Junhee’s hands, and said no more. With that, he ducked his head and hurried out the door, already redialling Han’s number.
Junhee let out a long and slow breath, trying to regain composure now that he was alone. His hand still tingled from where Donghun’s fingers had held it, like his friend’s fingers had been capable of leaving some permanent imprint. Forcing himself to move from the spot, he headed for his bedroom, shutting the door quietly and falling gracelessly onto his bed. The butterflies that had once fluttered, now pirouetted.
Sitting up, he turned over the envelope in his hands. It was unsealed. With a cautious thumb, he lifted the flap. A few photos? He tilted the envelope and they dropped into his hand. On the back, in black marker: I realised afterwards that I took these for you. So it’s only right they belong to you.
He turned them over. Like the photos he had seen on Donghun’s SD card, these photos were private, the kind of intimacy captured for lovers and no other eyes to see. This time, Han didn’t make an appearance.
Junhee looked through them once, returned them to the envelope and dropped it onto the dresser without a sound.
It felt like his heart was on fire, and red heat had flooded his veins.
Junhee had tried to edit this photo a hundred times. On any other day, carefully adjusting the levels and contrast was his little slice of zen, but right now focus eluded him. He knew the photos were well-taken, but no matter how he played with them, he just couldn’t make them perfect.
He shoved his laptop back and pushed the heels of his hands into his forehead.
Even looking at Han made him feel guilty.
Han was his greatest inspiration, the man he looked up – and XF11 were his greatest source of joy. Their music filled his every day; he’d spent many tireless nights voting for their music show victories; and his life factored in every schedule, every event, every concert. That was what he saw whenever he sat editing photos of Han, the love and pride. Now, whenever he looked at that familiar handsome face, all he could see: I think I nearly kissed your boyfriend.
The shameful voice whispered away constantly, but another talked over it. You’re overreacting. Maybe it was nothing. He just leaned on you, it doesn’t mean he wanted to kiss you.
But the photos, the first voice retorted triumphantly. He gave you bedroom photos and you think that means nothing? They were ‘taken for you’ – what does that even mean?! That behind that sultry stare, he was thinking about you?
Does that make him a cheater? Is that the kind of person he is? A third voice, small and scared, joined his inner monologue.
In among the warring emotions, a prickle of fear flared up. Junhee couldn’t refute the wrongness – it was wrong of Donghun to give him those photos behind his boyfriend’s back, but… memories of Donghun’s bruised face swam into his mind. Junhee shifted uncomfortably, playing with his mouse -mat. Uneasily, puzzle pieces were clicking into place, but he refused to acknowledge the picture they painted-
“You’re doing the overthinking thing.” Sehyoon looked up from his place flopped on the sofa, reading a book. Junhee jolted from his thoughts and smiled guiltily.
“Hm.” Sehyoon still watched him carefully. “You better not keep anything from me, Park. Or I’ll hurt you.”
Junhee snorted. “You’re the gentlest person I know.”
“Well, I’ll hurt you spiritually.” Sehyoon went back to his book.
Junhee watched his friend. A part of him wanted to tell him everything – but he was scared of what Sehyoon would tell him in return. He was perceptive and honest, and Junhee didn’t want to hear voiced what he already feared: that he needed to talk to Donghun about what had happened; that there was an obvious reason why the other boy had those bruises; and, that which he feared most of all, that his reaction to the first photos was not jealousy over seeing someone else with Han, but of seeing someone else with Donghun.
Throughout the time XF11 were in Japan, Junhee kept himself busy. When his phone lit up with messages from Donghun, they were as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened – just the normal patter of conversation. Privately, Junhee was relieved to be kept busy by his photography class assignments – it was a chance of respite from thinking about the conflict in his chest.
However, the time passed swiftly, and soon airport photos scattered across social media from the boys’ return to Korea. Their first schedule was set for a variety show in central Seoul the very day after their return: ever was the hectic world of idols.
Junhee found himself taking that little bit longer getting ready that morning. He fussed over his hair, discarded three outfits before settling on a fourth, and consulted the mirror far longer than he normally would. He refused to dwell on the reasons for this.
He grabbed his keys and wallet from the dresser and his fingers paused. The photos sat there, in their envelope. With a guilty glance over his shoulder, he slid them out. God, the subject was unfairly beautiful. It made his chest ache; he wanted nothing more than to reach out and trace the tattoos on his ribs.
Stop doing it again.
He shoved the photos back inside their cover and made to leave.
The building where the show was filmed was well-known in Seoul. The full-length windows allowed people to watch the recording, and they encouraged fans to gather outside and appear in the background of the show. Junhee found his spot early and sat cross-legged on the floor, knowing exactly where to sit to get good angles of the boys and avoid the glare of the lights in the window.
The XF11 boys ran to the windows to wave, and Junhee started to capture those little moments. As they took to their stools for the show to begin and the MC appeared with a jolly nod to each of them, Junhee glanced around the crowd. He spotted a familiar figure, his hood pulled up against the cold and almost meeting the black mask across his nose. He was at the other end of the windows; he must have been running late.
Over the two hours of filming, cold settled into Junhee’s fingers and he wrapped his coat tighter around himself. The end of the show brought him some relief, and he stretched his protesting knees with a grimace as he stood.
The crowd began to disperse, familiar fansites flicking through their prized photos as they walked away. Junhee craned his neck to find Donghun – but he was already walking away.
“Hey!” he called, breaking into a jog in an attempt to catch up as Donghun turned down the side street that led behind the studio. “Wait up!” He caught up with him and touched his arm. “Didn’t you hear me?”
Donghun turned, but kept his face tilted away. Suddenly the world felt very unstable underneath Junhee’s feet.
He could only see a fraction of Donghun’s face, but a huge blue bruise leaked across his pale skin like patchwork. Junhee took an involuntary step to the side as shock and fury slammed into each other in his heart.
Donghun’s eyes were emotionless. “I have to go, Junhee.”
Junhee took his arm firmly. “Tell me what happened.”
“It’s a long story,” Donghun said with a shake of his head. He turned away. “Some other time.” Junhee let his fingers slide from his sleeve as he turned his back on him.
He gathered his courage. It had to be now.
“He hurts you, doesn’t he?”
Donghun stopped dead in his tracks.
Junhee tried desperately to find the right words. This was not about him, or the way he felt. This was not about what had happened. He just had to get this right.
“You don’t have to answer. I know. I worked it out.” His hands trembled. Please, please let him say the right thing. “Donghun, I don’t know your life and I definitely don’t know your relationship. And I don’t know Han – no more than the public image he presents. But I do know that you don’t deserve this. Nobody deserves this. Especially not you.”
When Donghun turned back to him, his sad eyes brimmed, for the first time, with tears.
Taking slow steps as though he was afraid he might scare Donghun away, Junhee walked up to him. Seeing the marks on his face, the tears in his eyes, the defeat in his expression… Junhee’s heart broke. He wrapped his arms around Donghun and cradled him tight as he began to cry.
“He’s not a bad person,” Donghun choked, clutching onto Junhee’s clothes with childlike hands. “He doesn’t mean to. He just drinks sometimes and gets these red mists. It’s an anger problem and it’s not his fault, I just happen to be in the way.”
Junhee pressed his cheek against Donghun’s head, wrestling back tears. It wasn’t his time to cry.
“Listen to me.” He pulled away, even though Donghun’s hands clung to him like he was scared that by letting go, he might be left to drown. “You aren’t an object that gets in the way, Donghun. You’re a really beautiful soul and you deserve to be loved.” He cupped Donghun’s face between firm hands. “This isn’t love.”
Donghun’s tears leaked into his mask. “This is why I don’t want people to know. No one else can understand. He does love me. Please don’t tell me he doesn’t.”
Junhee searched his eyes imploringly. “I’m not… I don’t want to upset you…”
“Han is just this special and talented boy. I’m lucky someone like him wants to be with someone like me.” Donghun pressed his hands to his eyes, and took a deep breath. “It doesn’t happen often. The… the red mist.” His tears finally stopped falling. “I can work through this for him. I mean without him… I owe him a lot. When we met I was such a loner. He made me blossom.”
The words cut Junhee. He watched Donghun, unable to stomach the way this made him feel. Every single word was so utterly toxic, but he knew that standing here, right now… he couldn’t fix it.
“At least tell me that right now, you’re safe. If I let you go back to him.”
Donghun nodded. “He’s not a crazy person, we don’t even live together, I… I’m safe.”
“Okay.” Junhee’s voice was quiet; he swallowed hard. “If he hurts you again… I don’t care who he is. If he lays another finger on you, I’ll… I’ll make him regret every second of pain he’s caused you.”
Donghun looked up quickly. His eyes searched Junhee’s, like he was trying to see into his soul, and took a step closer. It looked like he was searching for words but still, he said nothing. Quietly, he leaned his forehead against Junhee’s.
Junhee shut his eyes, trying with all his strength not to cry. When he reopened them, Donghun touched his nose with his own, and smiled.
“You don’t have to worry about me.” He stepped away, fixing his mask. “Y-”
“Bambi?” Junhee jolted at the new voice. A blonde boy appeared from the side entrance of the studio, a bright smile lighting up his face. He jogged over, and Donghun’s face immediately crinkled in a smile.
“Hey. I was just coming to find you.” Donghun turned back. “This is Junhee. He runs a fansite.”
“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” Han said, ducking his head into a respectful bow. “And thank you for your support.”
“I… Of course.” Junhee stuttered – not that Han looked surprised, no doubt used to the sudden awkwardness of fans in his presence.
“Well, are you coming? Minjung has something to show you.” He grinned, and both boys turned back towards the studio.
Junhee watched them leave. Like moving through a dream, he started in the other direction, but he looked back over his shoulder long enough to see Han wrap an arm around Donghun’s waist and guide him, and to see Donghun glance back at Junhee before disappearing inside.
Three days came and went, and Junhee heard nothing from Donghun. On the first day, he saw photos appear under Diamond Frost’s moniker, but his phone didn’t flash a notification message from his friend. As for himself, he simply posted a short apology on his own feed: friends, I’m missing schedules because of an illness. Don’t worry! I’ll see you soon.
But how could he go back? For so many years, he had idolised Han, with no idea of what he was capable of in his private life. How could he follow him, photograph him, when all he could see when he shut his eyes was the deep stains that he had left on Donghun’s skin?
He cooped himself up to work on his assignments. On the fourth day, Sehyoon and Byeongkwan had given up trying to coax him out. He had told them, briefly, what he had uncovered, before shutting them firmly out. He needed space alone.
When his phone finally rang, lighting up with Donghun’s name, warm relief washed through his entire body. He’s okay.
The moment he picked up the phone, the relief evaporated.
“What the hell have you done?” Donghun shouted so loud that Junhee jerked the phone away from his ear. “You called the fucking police?!”
“Whoa, what?” Junhee stared at the phone incredulously, then put it back to his ear. “Call the police? I haven’t done anything…”
“But…” Donghun’s voice was desperate, but it came down a level. Junhee heard him take a shaky breath. “You didn’t?”
“No! What are you talking about?”
“I have to go.”
The phoneline clicked.
Junhee stared at the phone. What the fuck? The police? He stared at his desk, unseeing. The thought hadn’t even crossed his mind. Of course he wanted Donghun protected, but he had no idea what was going on in that apartment – no idea how volatile it was, and there was no way he would have risked putting Donghun in danger by calling the police.
He stood up, paced the room, replaying the brief phonecall over and over, until-
The doorbell rang. Junhee knew who it was before so much as opened the door.
He looked very small and very frightened. The eyebrow piercing was missing, his hair scraped back in a headband that somehow made his face paler. The bruise had faded to a muted grey, but with no mask to conceal it, it stood out on his cheek. He held his hands in little sweater paws.
“I left Han.”
The second he spoke, his bottom lip trembled, and he crumbled.
For a moment, Junhee was frozen. He just watched Donghun push his fingers against his eyes, watched his shoulders shake. Then he took his elbow and pulled him inside.
Sehyoon and Byeongkwan looked up in shock as Junhee brought Donghun into the front room, jumping up to make room for him to sink onto the sofa. Junhee shot them a look, his heart thumping and a lump sticking in his throat. He suddenly didn’t know what to do.
“Donghun?” It was Sehyoon who knelt in front of him as he sobbed, taking one of his hands with firm fingers. “You’re safe here. In every way. And you can cry as much as you need to. You don’t need to talk but you can and we’re all here to listen. Whatever you need.”
Junhee felt a rush of gratefulness. You’re my closest friend for this reason.
Donghun looked up at him, tears making little rivers towards his chin. “I just… I think I’m in shock, a little bit…” He choked on his tears and his lip quivered again. “I’m relieved to be here with you guys and it’s bad that I feel th-that…”
Sehyoon shook his head. “Whatever you feel is okay. Let yourself feel it. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.” Donghun hung onto his every word. Magically, the tears began to slow. “You’re probably going to feel a whole tonne of things at different times. If right now you feel relieved to be here, then that’s alright.” He tilted his head. “You’ve been through a lot.”
A hundred different emotions passed across Donghun’s face. He quivered as though freezing cold. After a long pause – “I told him last night that I couldn’t be with him anymore. I thought he was going to react more but he just sort of… he was just resigned to it.” Leftover tears trickled out the corners of his eyes. “I think deep down he knew he couldn’t expect me to stay when he’s drinking more and getting more…”
“More violent?” Sehyoon didn’t break eye contact the entire time. Donghun gulped down tears and nodded.
“But all of today I felt so lost and I thought I’d maybe made the wrong decision and… I went to their dorms because I wanted to talk to him and…” He raked fingers through his hair. “But there was a police car outside. I thought…” Donghun’s eyes flicked up to Junhee. “But I just spoke to Siwoo on the phone and it seems like neighbours overheard a load of shouting and banging and so they… It was them.” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t know what to do so I just… came here.”
“You did exactly the right thing.” Sehyoon put his free hand on Donghun’s knee. “I’m not saying I understand exactly how you feel, but it must be conflicting. You did the right thing coming here. And you did the right thing leaving him, Donghun. Whatever his problem is – drinking, anger management… That’s not for you to be the brunt of. People have all kinds of demons, but it’s not the place of the people who love them to bear the brunt of them.”
Donghun’s face broke again, the sob from his throat raw and painful. He looked at Sehyoon desperately. “I don’t think… Sehyoon, I don’t even think I loved him. I’ve not loved him for a long time.”
This time, Sehyoon didn’t try to find words to comfort him. He simply hugged him hard, and let him cry.
Junhee’s chest hurt. He just watched, feeling utterly helpless, when Byeongkwan nudged him gently. The redhead’s eyes were kind and sympathetic: this must hurt you too. It’s okay not to know what to do. Junhee felt a wave of gratitude.
“I feel stupid.” Donghun pulled away eventually, fighting tooth and nail with his tears. He swiped his face with his too-long sleeves. “I should have done this a long time ago.”
“It’s easy to stay in a relationship that isn’t right for you.” Sehyoon sat back with a shrug. “We’ve all done it. You felt dependent on Han, so you made excuses.” He smiled. “But you made the right choice now, and that’s what matters. We’ll fix you up from here.”
“Thank you.” Finally dry-eyed, Donghun gave Sehyoon a wobbly smile; it was a relief to see.
Sehyoon got to his feet. “You hungry? When I’m sad, it makes me hungry.”
“I mean, you’re just always hungry.” Byeongkwan smirked in his direction, and it raised a smile in Donghun.
“I don’t want to put you out…”
Sehyoon swatted away his concerns. “None of that. We were going to make some food anyway.” He nodded to Byeongkwan. “Come on, it’s about time you did something useful around here.”
“Hey..!” The two trailed off towards the kitchen, leaving Junhee hovering anxiously.
For a long moment, he hesitated, unsure of what to say. Sehyoon was quiet – but when it came to it, he always had a soothing word of advice, a gentle way of reassurance. Junhee had a lot to say – too much to say – and as all the words mixed in his head, he ended up unable to say anything at all.
He settled instead, for sitting next to Donghun, and wrapping his arms around him like he alone could shield him from the entire world.
“Do you want to get some fresh air?” he said simply. “We can talk. Or not talk. But maybe some space to breathe would be good.”
Junhee began to lead him up to the roof of their apartment block. “Actually, go on ahead. I’ll be two seconds.”
When Junhee stepped out onto the little roof space, he found Donghun sat on the wall, watching the Seoul night grow darker. Junhee sat beside him wordlessly, and held out his offering.
“Coffee milk?” Donghun said in surprise, taking it from him. “I thought you didn’t like coffee milk?”
“Well, I’ve got to keep a stock in.” Junhee smiled. “Just in case.”
For a while, they just sat quietly, watching the stars brighten across the sky and the stream of car taillights make journeys through the city streets. Little squares of light turned on here, off there, as Seoul went through its cycle of human life.
“I’m sorry I shouted at you on the phone earlier. That was really uncalled for.”
Junhee looked up at him. “Don’t apologise, I don’t want to hear it. I understand how you must have been feeling.”
“Well, still. Just because I was hurting doesn’t make it okay to take it out on you.” Donghun gave a fleeting smile. “I’ve just learned that one.”
Junhee played with the empty coffee cup. “I’m here for whatever you need, you know.”
“You’ve done more than enough.” Junhee looked up in surprise and Donghun met his gaze, unwavering. “What I said to Sehyoon was true. I… I haven’t been in love with Han in a very long time. I wonder… I wonder if I ever loved him at all, or just thought it was love. But for years I’ve just… depended on him. Despite what happened, he did bring me out of my shell, there’s no denying that. And he helped my photography. And he was generous, and helped me move into my apartment, bought me almost everything I wear…” He snorted, looking down at his Balenciaga hoodie. “Since I’ve been an adult, I’ve had all those things, and I felt lucky because someone liked the awkward, sarcastic kid who didn’t have a lot of friends.
“But then I met you. You just liked being around me for who I was. And suddenly I wasn’t keeping up a front. I was just being my normal, obnoxious self, and you still wanted to be my friend.” Donghun let out a breath of laughter. “Just… being around you. And Sehyoon and Byeongkwan too. People who are kind, good people.” He looked up, his expression mixed. “I think it gave me the strength to realise that I couldn’t keep living the way I was. So, thanks.”
Junhee shook his head. Once again, he couldn’t find the right thing to say. He settled on reaching out and taking Donghun’s hand.
“What do you need most, right now?” Junhee asked, after another stretch of quiet.
Donghun shrugged. “I think I’m okay. Just tired.”
“Sleep here. You can take my room. At times like this, just knowing someone is in the room next door… Well, it might be a small comfort.”
Their knees protested as they stood up, stiff from the cold night air. Junhee showed Donghun back down to his room, threw him some spare pyjamas. “Get comfy. I’ll see whether food is ready.”
Junhee shut the door behind himself, and went to the kitchen. He smiled as he found Byeongkwan leaning against Sehyoon’s front as he stirred a pot around him.
“Sickening,” Junhee jested with a mocking eyeroll. They both looked up.
“How’s he holding up?”
“Okay.” Junhee leaned his elbows on the worksurface. “Better than I thought, really. I think he’s mainly exhausted.”
“I can understand that.” Byeongkwan pushed his glasses up. “I guess you’d never know what that feels like unless it’s you in that situation.”
“I hope you’re never, ever in any situation like that,” Sehyoon kissed the top of Byeongkwan’s ear, making him grin.
“Well, I’m going to be stuck with you, so I’m in the safest hands.”
“Jeez,” Junhee commented. “Get married already.” He smiled. “Is food ready? I’ll go get Donghun.”
He knocked on the bedroom door but was met with no reply. For a fleeting moment, his heart skipped – had Donghun left? But he opened the door and found Donghun was still there. His Balenciaga hoodie and expensive jeans were thrown gracelessly in one corner of the floor, replaced with Junhee’s old pyjamas that were just a little too big. He lay on top of the duvet, fast asleep, clutching the huge tatty old chow-chow plushie that usually lived by the side of the bed.
Quietly, Junhee fetched the blanket from the living room and returned, draping it carefully over Donghun and tucking it around his shoulders. He smoothed back a curl of bangs that hung across the bruised side of Donghun’s face, turned out the light and left him to sleep.
It was early afternoon when Donghun appeared in the living room where Junhee was working on his assignment. His hair stood up on ends and his face was puffy, but it only made Junhee’s heart warm all the more.
“Morning. No, afternoon. Did you sleep okay?”
“Mmmh.” Donghun sat down, his lips pursed and his eyes still full of sleep. “I don’t think I’ve ever slept for so long in all my life.”
“You needed it.” Junhee tidied the notes spread on the desk around him. “You can stay as long as you need. Sehyoon’s at work – not that he’d mind in the slightest.”
“It’s okay, I should get home. I need to change and, like, shave my face.” Having drawn attention to it, Junhee noticed the faint line of hair that darkened Donghun’s jaw. He played with his phone. “You don’t happen to want to come back with me? You’ve never been to mine, and… some company would be nice.”
“I would, I just really need to finish this bit of my assignment,” Junhee said. “Unless you don’t mind me working at yours?”
“Yeah! Fine with me,” Donghun replied. “On one condition: I’m going to drive to mine in pyjamas and you can’t laugh at me.”
Junhee chuckled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
If Junhee and Sehyoon lived in a suburb of Seoul known as a ‘little rough around the edges’, Donghun’s apartment was definitely in one of the nicer parts of the city. Junhee’s curiosity flared as they walked up to the entrance of a tall building fronted with glass and surrounded by trees.
“I hope you’re not scared of heights.”
Junhee faltered. “Erm, actually…”
Donghun laughed, nodding him into the elevator and pressing the button for the 14th floor. “I’ll look out for you, I promise.”
Apartment 27 was a space that instantly made Junhee feel at home. It was the perfect level of messy – books piled on the coffee table, scarves and hoodies hung on the back of doors. But long windows doused the open-plan space in light and a hodgepodge of plants and cacti, and colourful prints on the walls, turned it into a little urban refuge.
“Anyway, this is me,” Donghun said, chucking his hoodie on the breakfast bar along with his keys. “I think I’m going to take a shower - feel free to work wherever you want. Mi casa su casa.”
Junhee set up his laptop and notebooks on the breakfast bar, but couldn’t resist wandering through the apartment. The kitchen was all modern slate and jars of ingredients, giving away an unexpected love of cooking from their owner. He ran his fingers down the side of the bookshelf in the living space – the shelves were crammed with photography collections, and well-thumbed works from Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D Salinger, Orwell, Virginia Woolf…
“Alright, nosy.” Junhee jumped and looked round to find Donghun hung in the doorway to the bathroom, an eyebrow raised as he smirked. Junhee flushed guiltily.
“It’s fine. Browse away.” Donghun rubbed his wet hair with a towel, another tied round his hips; Junhee tried hard not to look at the white tattoos across his ribs as he walked to his bedroom and shut the door.
The butterflies were there again, but this time, they were different – instead of dancing, they lurched, and left him feeling a little dizzy.
Shaking away the intruding thoughts, Junhee settled down to work. He was soon immersed in his essay, tapping away as he spilled his ideas onto the page. He didn’t even notice when Donghun returned to the room, and looked up a while later to find him lay on his back on the sofa with a book.
“What are you reading?” Junhee took off his glasses to rub his nose, watching Donghun finish the sentence he was on.
“Dorian Gray.” He pushed back his hair. “I mean I’ve read it about ninety times, but I still find something new every time.”
Junhee worked into the early evening, and Donghun stayed glued to his book, moving into various improbable positions every half an hour or so. When the sun had started to set outside, he made his way over to the breakfast bar.
“You’ve been working so hard. I wish I had your focus.” He leaned his elbows on the countertop. “What’s your assignment about?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of boring you like that.” Junhee stretched his arms above his head to ease the tension in his shoulders.
“Well… The title is ‘Some people don’t trust paintings but people believe photographs. Using at least three examples, discuss the ways in which images play a part in constructing ideas.’” He looked over his notes, thinking. “I think it’s so interesting. Throughout history, people have accepted that paintings or drawings leave room for artistic interpretation. That they might not be an accurate representation of the truth. But photos – people assume they capture things just the way they are. But there’s so many ways a photographer can manipulate the truth, edit a version of reality.” He explained some of his ideas for his assignment. “Anyway, I know it’s nerdy but y’know… I enjoy it.” He looked up at Donghun, who was smiling, his chin propped in his hand. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s nice to hear about the stuff that excites you.” He stood up straight. “You hungry? I can cook for us.”
“You sure?” Junhee looked through his work. “I only need like, twenty minutes, and I can wrap this up.”
“Go ahead. If you don’t mind me cooking around you.”
Junhee carried on writing while Donghun cooked, and gradually the kitchen filled with the smells of spicy food simmering away. Junhee shut his laptop with a satisfied click.
“Can I help?”
“No, you can stay out of the way.” Donghun shot him a grin. “I get tetchy when someone gets in my way cooking.”
“Yessir,” Junhee laughed.
They sat side-by-side to eat, with Donghun pulling up something on his phone to show Junhee. Junhee laughed through his food, suddenly feeling a lot warmer and happier than he had done in a long while.
“This is super good.” He finished off the last of his bowl. “No offense, but you didn’t strike me as the culinary type.”
“Full of surprises, me.” Donghun stood up to clear their plates. “My parents run a restaurant, I learned from them.” He pulled a bottle of wine from the rack in the corner. “Red?”
Junhee followed Donghun out onto the balcony, his stomach lurching from the height. But fear quickly gave way to awe; the view from up here was beautiful. Lights twinkled in the darkness, and solar lights lit the space in an amber glow.
Junhee wasn’t aware of time passing as they talked. He listened to Donghun share stories about growing up, his time getting into trouble in school, discovering photography and feeling as though he finally found his path in life. In return, Junhee talked about his own childhood, about his grandparents who nurtured his creativity.
“I think I’m lucky, to have found my ‘thing’.” Donghun leaned his chin on the balcony rail, his eyes looking out over the Seoul cityscape. I think a lot of people find their passion late in life, or never find it at all. I’m glad I have something that I just know is what I’m supposed to do. Something that no matter what is going on in life, always makes me happy.”
Junhee watched him, the glow from the lamps throwing light onto his face, strands of hair catching on some night-time breeze. The butterflies gave him a gentle nudge, and this time – for the first time – he let himself think about them. A slow warmth crept through his body. Whatever Donghun had to say, he wanted to listen. Whenever he was happy, it made him happy; whenever he hurt, it broke Junhee’s heart. Everything about him was so completely brilliant – if there was a way to make his every day happy, Junhee knew he would do it in a heartbeat.
“Anyway, that’s enough of my life philosophy.” Donghun played with his empty glass. “Bed? I mean, I presume you’re not going home.”
Junhee nodded. “I can stay.”
In the bathroom, Junhee pulled on Donghun’s pyjamas and washed up with the products scattered on the sink. He watched water droplets drip from his face in the mirror, feeling weirdly at home.
“I mean, you could sleep on the sofa, but it’s not very comfy, so you can just crash with me.” Donghun shrugged. “But I will steal all the duvet, and that’s a guarantee.”
Junhee laughed. “Great. Thanks for the advance notice.”
If the living room seemed to have a lot of books, Donghun’s room was flooded with them. Junhee raised an eyebrow as he got into bed. “How do you have time to actually read this many books?” he asked dubiously.
“Insomnia.” Donghun climbed into bed and flopped down with a sigh. “Sometimes I don’t sleep much at all. So I read.” He shrugged. “Plus I’m smart so I can read fast.” Junhee rolled his eyes as Donghun sniggered, reaching for the light.
Junhee turned his back on Donghun, his eyes already heavy. “Goodnight.”
Junhee was flat out the second he closed his eyes, but his peaceful sleep was interrupted in the early hours of the morning. Behind his back, Donghun tossed and turned, like he could never get comfortable. Junhee could tell he was awake.
“You okay?” he murmured, dreams still playing on the edge of his consciousness.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Go back to sleep.”
Junhee nodded dozily, reaching out a hand to pat Donghun on the arm. “Don’t worry if you can’t sleep. As long as you close your eyes and rest.”
“Easy for you to say, sleepyhead.”
Junhee opened one eye and turned to glare at Donghun. “You’re even annoying in the middle of the night. Be nice.” He raised a tired hand and scratched Donghun under the chin like a cat. An amused smile caught on Donghun’s lips.
Junhee laughed, turning away again and letting his eyes close once more. Dreams had begun to slowly close in on his vision when Donghun wrapped an arm over him and nestled himself close.
Junhee’s impending dreams vanished.
Donghun’s breath tickled the back of his neck, and his fidgeting stopped. Junhee smiled in the darkness. He laced his fingers through Donghun’s.
Junhee faded in and out of sleep. He wasn’t sure how long they lay like that, but the rest of the world melted away – the sleepless nights of late, the nagging worry over what to do with his fansite… He felt at peace. At last.
At some point, Donghun withdrew his fingers, and placed his hand against Junhee’s stomach, finding the skin beneath his t-shirt. His fingers traced small circles. Junhee hesitated, and then took his fingers and moved them away.
“No, no,” Junhee cut him off. “I’m just super sensitive.” He pushed away the wildness of the butterflies in his stomach as he rolled over to face Donghun. They didn’t listen though, only twirled harder. Their faces close, he reached up a hand and pushed back Donghun’s hair, nervously leaving fingers tucked behind his neck. In return, Donghun’s hand rediscovered its place on his waist.
“Donghun?” he whispered. The other boy watched him closely.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Why did you give me those photos that day?”
Surprise crossed Donghun’s face, but he seemed to carefully consider his answer. “I think we all owe it to the people around us to tell them how we feel. Even when that’s hard. You made me feel things I’ve… not felt in a long time. And you made me feel ways about myself I’ve not felt in a long time.”
Junhee’s heart fluttered. He pulled Donghun in closer, like he was afraid that letting him go could mean losing what he had said. Donghun stroked his face with the edge of a thumb.
Quietly, Junhee pushed the duvet away, and with gentle fingers pulled Donghun’s shirt up to his ribs, revealing the tattoos he’d traced on those photos a dozen times. Donghun watched him as he ran one finger along the patterns.
“Do you hate them? People think it’s weird to have white tattoos.”
“I like them.” Junhee continued his tracing. He frowned. “Do you have your nipple pierced?”
“Oh. Yeah.” Donghun grinned, pulling his shirt up to prove it. “I ran out of space on my ears.”
“So… you pierced your tit.” Junhee snorted with laughter. “Why does that not surprise me.”
Donghun grinned, pushing his shirt down and pulling Junhee closer again. The feeling of his legs tangled in his own made Junhee’s heartbeat double. He shut his eyes as he shifted against him.
“I don’t want to do anything that isn’t right, right now,” Junhee whispered.
“I know you don’t. And I don’t want you to think I’m doing anything just because of what happened.” Donghun looked at him with sincerity. “I’m not.”
The last of his arguments beaten out of him, Junhee drifted closer, and finally let their lips meet.
The static from the butterflies’ wings ran a current round his bloodstream. He felt nothing, just the fingers digging into his ribs, the hair that brushed his forehead, the tongue exploring his mouth. Every hair stood up on his skin and for just a fleeting moment, nothing else in the world mattered. Just this boy. Just his happiness. Just him staying here, in his arms, and never letting go.
A smile tugged at Donghun’s mouth the second they broke apart. Junhee couldn’t help but return it. He pressed his nose against Donghun’s.
“Now go to sleep.”
Dreams closed in on them both, but neither one let the other go.
The voice was commanding, and Junhee winced. He thought he’d come in quietly. Resigned, he trailed into Sehyoon’s room, where his friend was painting, his forearms covered in splashes of blue.
“Yes, Mom?” Junhee tried to keep a straight face and failed.
“You weren’t here last night.” Sehyoon raised a questioning eyebrow, also fighting away a smile. “And those are not your clothes.”
“Busted.” Junhee flopped down on his friend’s bed, found an unfinished bag of candy, and began to eat them. “Am I grounded?”
“So how was it?”
Junhee blinked. “How was what?”
Sehyoon let out a long sigh, taking his time to pointedly set down his paintbrush and remove his glasses. He fixed an exasperated look on Junhee. “Well, I presume it was Donghun. And I presume you slept with him.”
“No! Well, yes. We shared a bed. And kissed. That’s all.” He tried to bite away the smile. “It was nice.”
“Uh-huh. I can tell, you look like a dizzy schoolgirl.”
Junhee wrinkled his nose. “I mean… The only thing was this morning. Well, this.” He opened his phone and held out a news article to Sehyoon.
Questions surface over XF11 police callout.
Junhee couldn’t forget the look on Donghun’s face when he’d checked his phone that morning. He had visibly blanched, scrolling through the fandom’s Twitter feeds.
It’s a stitch-up! Our boys are angels, who is doing this to them?
If I find out who is trying to cause trouble for XF11 it’ll be on sight
I think it’s probably some jealous bitch, if we find out who you are X-Heart will hurt you
“That’s not ideal.” Sehyoon sighed, handing back the phone. “Especially for someone who we’re trying to help realise is a victim in all this.”
“Yeah…” Junhee bit his lip, hoping his words that morning had been a little comfort, at least.
“Junhee?” Sehyoon came and sat next to him on the bed, picking away some of the paint on his hands. “What do you want from this thing between you and Donghun?”
Junhee felt his face go warm. “I mean… I guess… I want what he wants. I definitely want him to be happy and-”
“-I get that, but what do you want?” Junhee stayed mute as Sehyoon gave him one of those looks that felt like he was seeing into his soul. “Are you hoping for a relationship out of this?” When Junhee didn’t reply, he continued, his voice gentle. “Just be careful with your heart, Junhee. Donghun’s been through a lot, but his healing is only just beginning. Everyone comes away from trauma differently, so I’m certainly not going to speak for him, but he might need some time to process things, work through things…”
“I-I know that. I didn’t pressure him…”
“Of course, I know you didn’t.” Sehyoon put a hand on his shoulder. “But I love you like a little brother, and I know how much you care about Donghun. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Junhee nodded. “You’re right.” He looked away, anxiety beginning to gnaw at his stomach.
“Hey, don’t be down though.” He stood up. “Come on, I’ll make us some food. Tell me everything.”
Junhee pulled his gloves tighter against the bitter wind that swept down the street. It was a quiet Sunday morning, most of the city had yet to make about their days. He hopped up the steps to the little café, the one with the fairy lights and paintings, and smiled as he saw a familiar face.
“I’m so cold.” He smiled, shedding his outer layers as he joined Donghun at the table he sat at.
He had been glad to be asked to meet. He had been caught up in the cycle of refreshing his social media accounts, simultaneously ignoring notifications of fans fretting over when Summer Storm would start posting photos again, and neurotically absorbing all the escalating rumour over the brewing XF11 scandal. Snippets of information had been swept up into the speculative maelstrom: there had been a fight, someone had heard screaming, someone had attacked someone else…
“How are you doing?”
Donghun propped his chin in his hands. “Yeah. I’m okay, I guess.”
Junhee stopped, his hand halfway to taking off his scarf. A familiar gnawing worry seeped through his chest. “Something’s wrong.”
When Donghun looked up at him, his eyes were bright. “Junhee, I’m leaving Seoul.”
The words sank over Junhee, slowly.
“Leaving..?” he echoed. “Where to?”
“You know I have family in Daegu?” Junhee nodded faintly. “I’m going to head back there. Not move in with them, god no, I’ll get my own place…” He paused, waiting for a response, but Junhee struggled to think of a single thing he could say. When Donghun continued, his voice was thick. “All this stuff online… The media circling XF11… It’s really hard to be around…”
“Yes, of course it is.” Junhee finally wrenched some words from his throat. He searched Donghun’s sad eyes. Pull it together, Junhee. “That’s completely understandable.” He took a breath. “And that can’t have been an easy decision for you.”
Donghun shook his head, his lip bitten. “It isn’t. I think I… I need to take time and… Agh, why can’t I express myself right now…”
Junhee touched his wrist, looking at him plainly. Sehyoon’s words rang in his head. “Your healing is only just beginning. You need space to get over what happened. Any relationship coming to an end is sad, no matter the circumstances. And it’s an upheaval – your life changes. Let alone it being tied up to the media.” He nodded slowly. “Getting away will give you a fresh start.”
Donghun pressed his thumbs against his lips, not looking up.
“I…” He stopped, his voice catching. He cleared his throat. “I don’t want you to think I regret the other night. Or any of the things I said. Because I don’t.” He blinked quickly. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. And all those ways I feel about you… It’s not that I misunderstood myself, or they don’t still stand…”
“But it’s the wrong time and the wrong place? I know.” Junhee smiled, even as the tears trickled down Donghun’s cheeks.
“I was with Han for so long because I hadn’t learned how to be on my own. I think I need to spend some time learning that now.” He smiled through the tears. “But I’ll miss you.”
“It’ll be okay.” Junhee squeezed his hand. “I’ll see you again soon.”
He said the words to heal his own aching heart. He couldn’t possibly have known, right there in that café, that he wouldn’t see Donghun again soon. That Donghun would let their connection dwindle, afraid of pulling Junhee into a mess he didn’t deserve. That by giving Donghun space to heal, their contact would quickly fade, and that in a few months’ time he would be left wondering, on those quiet mornings over breakfast, about how the boy with the sad eyes was holding up.
“Guess I better head off. I need to pack.”
They headed out into the cold, wrapped up in their coats. As always, they were to head in different directions.
“I guess this is bye, for a bit?” Junhee turned to Donghun, trying with all his might to quash the bubble of sadness in his core. Donghun nodded.
“Bye, for a bit.” He wrapped his arms around Junhee, and for a moment, all the sadness faded to silence, his aching heart stopped hurting, and he could believe, just for a second, that the crushing sorrow wasn’t going to come flooding back.
But after a long, long moment, Donghun pulled away.
“Look after yourself, okay?” Junhee said. “Find your happiness.”
Donghun stood without speaking, and then pulled Junhee towards him, put a firm hand on his neck and kissed him.
The wind blew, and caught their scarves, sending them dancing out behind them. Leaves fluttered in a spiral. And as the gust dropped away, Donghun broke free.
Junhee watched him walk away, until he rounded a corner and he could see him no more.
Diamond Frost: [closed]
Summer Storm: [closed]
｡･:*:･ﾟ★,｡･:*:･ﾟ☆ End of Part I ｡･:*:･ﾟ★,｡･:*:･ﾟ☆