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The drive from Jeju International Airport to the villa took around forty-five minutes. Sungchan sat tight in his coach seat. The buildings outside blended and fell away; in its wake, an evergreen dreamscape. Fields, big, bright, and empty, that spanned miles. He felt as though transported to some place far away. And despite the camera crew, a sudden splinter of loneliness struck him as soon as the coach exited the highway.

By some stroke of luck, he’d been casted to guest in Jeno and Jaemin’s Homestay. It’d been years since he last saw the pair. They’d disappeared from the public sphere ever since Dream announced their disbandment; he hadn’t even seen them at the NCT reunion. But Jeju is a faraway place, Sungchan supposed, and Jaemin in particular had never been one for great fanfare. So, the fact that they’d agreed to host the program was a surprise to all.

The thought of facing them after all these years filled Sungchan with trepidation. Would they still remember him? He wondered. They’d lived together for a few months, so surely they couldn’t have forgotten him then. Were they friends? Not if his chat history served as proof of it.

He shook himself into sullenness. He could do this. He’s an actor now, anyway. There was no scenario that could faze him.

The coach pulled into a thin driveaway lined by thick, fat oak trees, bumping along the gravel path. Outside, a chorus of barks.

The camera crew alighted first, setting up the cameras to capture Sungchan’s reaction. Sungchan was more nervous than he was excited — he was sure his face would give that away — but once it was his turn to descend down the steps, the unease slunk away.

A soft gasp left his lips.

There the villa stood, singular in the grand plot of land. Small enough it seemed a bare fraction of this unending space. Its facade was wooden but modern, its construction thoughtful. Not a singular element out of place. It almost looked too perfect to be true, like one of those houses Sungchan had seen in magazines and laughed at, thinking it was unreal.

As he approached, he began to see the house in all its intricacies: the spice garden on the front yard, the lawnmower one of them had abandoned in the grass patch, mid-mow. He picked up the pace. He was nearly running. And as his own crisp footsteps rose in the dry heat of the day, he felt his insides pick up with the wind, burning at the regrets of what could have been, sizzling at the anticipation of what could be.

 

 


 

 

They were standing by the door when Sungchan arrived. They didn’t look a day older.

Jeno’s hair was long, the ends curling right underneath his ears. A little disheveled, if Sungchan were to be completely honest, but even then Jeno made it look like he’d styled it that way on purpose. He was effortless like that, in the way even he could make a t-shirt and sweatpants look cool. When he saw Sungchan his face spread into a big, broad smile, the corners of his lips lifting until it seemed to reach his eyes, which pressed into thin crescents.

Jaemin emerged from behind him, his body still half shrouded by Jeno’s frame. The loose white shirt hanging off his shoulder billowed in the passing breeze. He was still thin. Lithe. A runner’s frame despite the fact that he hated running and never ran. God was unfair, because no matter how much Jaemin ate, his weight barely budged. And then God gave him that face. That sharp and unforgiving cut of his jaw, those perfectly white teeth that shone with his wolf bright smile. The wind blew his hair into his eyes. He reached to sweep it away, and then raised the same hand to give Sungchan a wave.

“Sungchan!” Jeno called when Sungchan reached the foot of the stairs.

Sungchan climbed up gingerly, nearly losing his balance when Jeno tackled him with a hug.

“It’s been forever and a day,” Jeno said, pulling apart.

Sungchan nodded. “It really has,” he replied, then lifted his gaze to Jaemin, who was descending down the steps.

“Hyung,” he greeted when they made eye contact.

Jaemin let out a chuckle, extending out his arm for a hug.

“Get over here,” he said.

 

 


 

 

The fact that Sungchan was in Jeno’s and Jaemin’s house with a camera crew was so surreal to him, he didn’t realize he’d been standing stock still at the doorway until the producer cleared his throat. That was when Sungchan remembered how to breathe again. Jaemin was busy discussing the episode’s plans with the producer. Jeno busied himself with bringing in Sungchan’s bags, despite Sungchan’s insistence he do it on his own.

“Feel free to take a look around, yeah?” Jeno said, hauling a bag onto his shoulder. Then, he disappeared up the stairs.

Left to himself, Sungchan went up to the wall right by the entrance, which was adorned with photo frames. He recognized some of them clearly.

 

THE DREAM SHOW - August 2026

He remembered this one, even without the picture. Bubble crashed that night. SM Entertainment went into lockdown. The night prior, on the last show of Dream’s disbandment tour, Jaemin had taken Jeno’s face into his hands and kissed him full on the lips. Jaemin’s blonde hair was practically golden under the stadium’s bright lights. He was glowing. Even under all the sweat, under all the fatigue, he looked weightless in Jeno’s embrace. In the picture, he’d just pulled his lips away from Jeno’s, leaving his forehead pressed against the other’s.

Boyfriends. They’d announced it on Bubble the same night. Hence, the Bubblepocalyspe. Dispatch had a fucking field day. The news made it onto Billboard. Then, a press release directly from Jaemin’s Instagram account: From today onwards, no more lies or pretenses. From today onwards, we live free.

 

ENLISTMENT DAY - October 2026

Sungchan might have seen this picture before, floating around one of their group chats. The ‘00 line lined up in a row, hands on each other’s shaved heads. Donghyuck with his million watt smile, Jaemin in a challenging smirk towards the camera, and then Jeno by Jaemin’s side, eyes trained on the boy like he’s the center of his universe.

 

OUR WEDDING - February 2028

Jaemin licking frosting off  Jeno’s cheek. They are in twin tuxes — both a deep black, both with embroidered details of clouds that looked so velvety soft, Sungchan’s fingers might bounce back if he touched them.

 

OUR HONEYMOON - April 2028

Sungchan didn’t have any idea where this photo was taken. It was about the time their paths had diverged. He hadn’t seen them at the company in years, he’d heard from a friend they’d moved out of Seoul, and after all that time Sungchan didn’t find a good enough reason to bother them out of the blue, despite his curiosity.

He looked at the picture more closely. They were on a wooden bridge over a sea of hydrangeas — yellow, pink, blue. It looked like clouds. The two of them looked like they were floating too, two kindred spirits intertwined and kept tethered to this spinning place only by each other’s gravity.

 

JAEMIN’S BIRTHDAY - August 2028

A year ago. Jaemin is in the center of the couch, surrounded by Dream. Jeno, on his right, his thigh glued at Jaemin’s. Jisung, on his left, a hand extended in a victory sign. Renjun, arms hanging off the sofa, hand knuckling his chin. Then there was Mark and Donghyuck in the back, holding the couple’s two cats and doing a terrible job of it. Paws in their faces, hair ruined, Donghyuck made no effort to hide his scowl. And lastly Chenle, who looked like he’d seen it all.

On Jaemin’s lap, he cradled three puppies. Three Samoyed puppies. They were as tiny as cotton balls.

 

And then he heard them bark. Sungchan had to check if he was imagining it, but then one scampered across his feet, and he looked down to see a huge white ball of fluff dash up the stairs and into Jeno’s arms.

“Woah, woah,” Jeno said as he steadied himself. The dog rose to stand on its hind legs. “Okay fine,” he said lightly, then scooped the dog into his arms and onto his back. Sungchan realized then, with Jeno’s Samoyed next to Jeno’s  head, that they both had the same smile.

 

 


 

 

When Jeno and Jaemin announced their return to national TV, the Internet crashed for the second time. Jaemjen’s Homestay. That was what the program was to be called. Every other weekend for a twelve-episode season, the couple would host a weekend getaway for a group of guests in their home. Actors, idols, singers and the like would come to guest on the show as staff.

Hence, Sungchan’s raison d’etre.

Jaemin gave him a tour of the house while Jeno was busy wrestling the dogs.

“Here’s the living room,” he began, extending his arm in a swooping gesture. It was a cozy arrangement: a large sectional, an expensive looking shag rug, and—

“I know what you’re going to say so I’m going to say it first.”

Sungchan raised his eyebrows.

“That coffee table does not match the other furniture,” Jaemin stated. Sungchan hadn’t noticed that it was there until Jaemin pointed it out, but he could see how it looked out of place among the other expensive furniture. “Our first and last self-assembled IKEA table.” Jaemin dabbed away a fake tear. “Never again.”

“You brought it all the way to Jeju?” Sungchan asked.

“Of course,” Jaemin chuckled, looking at the structurally unsound coffee table. “I nearly pulled a muscle trying to assemble that piece of shit. I’m never tossing it out.”

 

 


 

 

“So, what can you cook?” Jaemin asked.

It was near lunch time. The three of them were in the kitchen, and Jaemin was staring into his fridge as if he had an infinite pantry.

“Depends on what you have in there,” Sungchan said.

“Well, fire away. We probably have it,” Jeno chimed in.

Sungchan hummed in consideration. “Hmmm, I can make a mean bibimbap.”

Jaemin rummaged through one of the baskets and let out a low whistle. “We have one egg,” he concluded.

Jeno plucked a post-it from the fridge door and made a note to buy eggs at the grocery store that afternoon. 

“How about fried noodles instead?” Jaemin asked.

Sungchan watched silently as Jeno sliced the fishcake. His movements were quick and precise, blade so near his flesh it made Sungchan pause. At the other end of the kitchen, Jaemin was at the sink rinsing the vegetables under the tap. They seemed to have done this many times before, judging from the unspoken delegation of tasks. Only the click-click of the knife on the chopping board and the splash of water among them. Sungchan cleared his throat and raised a question.

“Anything I can help you with?”

His voice disturbed the peace.

Jeno looked at Jaemin. Jaemin looked at Jeno.

“Nah, let your hyungs do the work for you,” Jaemin winked in response. “You can make it up to us when you vacuum the house later.”

 

 


 

 

Carbs made Jaemin sleepy, so after lunch he immediately waddled to the couch to take a nap. Jeno followed along wordlessly, crawling on top of Jaemin’s body and squeezing into the small space between Jaemin and the back of the couch. Jaemin made a content hum, nuzzling his back into Jeno’s warm body, and was asleep within minutes.

No one told Sungchan what it was he was supposed to do. The camera crew had left for their own lunch, only to return when they were to head out to the grocery store, which was in about an hour. Jeno and Jaemin left him to his own devices.

So, he ventured a look at more of the photo frames to keep himself occupied.

 

JENO’S BIRTHDAY - April 2024

They were in a cat cafe Sungchan recognized from somewhere in Hongdae. They were both masked, but he could tell how happy Jeno looked with three cats draped over him.

 

VALENTINE’S DAY - February 2025

Their black hair was stark against the backdrop of snow. They were in Everland — Sungchan knew from the theme park logo at the corner of the picture — and Jaemin was waving at the camera, half his hand peeking out of his sweater paws. 

 

UNNAMED - July 2028

There’s no special occasion. Well, scratch that. It’s the day Jaemin picked up the puppies from the breeder. Jeno must have taken the picture because he isn’t in it, and Sungchan doesn’t doubt that it’s Jeno behind the viewfinder. Not with Jaemin looking at the camera like that.

 

Back in the living room, the three Samoyeds curled up at the feet of the couch, heads on its paws as they watched its owners asleep. Their two cats perched on the top of the couch. They watched Sungchan silently as he stalked out of the living room, looking as if they’d maul him if he so much as made a sound.

 

 


 

 

Sungchan couldn’t believe it, but he got lost in the grocery store. Almost thirty and he was still doing the same shit he did as a child. The camera crew followed behind him as he searched through the aisles, one by one, for a familiar mint hoodie.

When Jaemin and Jeno sent him off to procure some eggs, they didn’t tell him where to meet once he’d retrieved them. Finally, after what felt like two laps around the supermarket, Sungchan found them nestled in the meat section, the silhouettes of their bodies unmistakable among the common folk. Jaemin held up two trays of beef. Sungchan heard his voice as he drew closer.

“Sirloin? T-bone? Which meat is your favorite?” Jaemin asked Jeno, leaning over.

Jeno’s hand wound around Jaemin’s waist.

“You know which meat is my favorite,” Jeno whispered low, though not low enough because Sungchan heard it.

Instantly, Sungchan halted. He turned around and made eye contact with the cameraman.

“I’m going to go grab… something,” he mumbled to the camera.

 

 


 

 

On the ride home, Jaemin gave him a rundown of how the program was supposed to go. After the guests arrived the next day, they would plan to show them around different spots in Jeju. A different tourist location every week. This week, Hallasan.

“You good at climbing stairs?” Jaemin asked.

Sungchan nodded and asked Jaemin back the same question. Jaemin only heaved in response, already sounding winded. “I’ll manage.”

After they reached home, they spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up. Jeno retrieved the abandoned lawnmower in the front yard, while Jaemin and Sungchan split the vacuuming 50/50. Jaemin took the second floor, Sungchan the first.

Sungchan didn’t realize how much time had passed, not with the endless groan of the vacuum cleaner filling the air. It was only when he turned the machine off and heard the sizzle and smell of the barbecue that he realized it was dinner time. 

He stepped outside to check. There, he saw that the sky had developed into a spectacular grapefruit color. The moon had already emerged, its face light and barely perceptible but still there.

Down on Earth, Jeno was fumbling with a roll of aluminum foil. He had just finished wrapping up the sweet potatoes. The corn on the cobs were up next.

“Oh Sungchan,” Jaemin said, raising his head when he noticed Sungchan’s presence by the screen door. “There you were. I’d been yelling your name for ages.”

“Sorry,” Sungchan apologized sheepishly. He wanted to point to the vacuum in his hands but he realized he’d left it behind. “Vacuum,” he said instead.

“We’re about to start grilling the meat, so you came right on time.”

While the couple handled the meat, Sungchan opted to help out with the ramen. He had to cook all ten bags to feed them and the crew, but his pot was only so huge, so he had to boil them one by one. It was hard to ignore Jeno and Jaemin in his periphery though. Watching water boil was the most uninspiring thing ever, so he opted to listen in on their conversation.

“Is this the sirloin?” Jeno asked curiously. Jaemin was looking down at the grill, so Jeno had to duck into Jaemin’s line of sight to get his attention.

“That’s right~” Jaemin replied in a sing-song voice.

“And that—” Jeno pointed at a different chunk. “That’s the T-bone.”

“That’s right~” Jaemin sang again.

Smugly, Jeno crossed his arms. His voice was boyish, teasing. “So, what do I get for a reward?” 

Sungchan dared a side glance, only to see them already locking lips. Jaemin had dropped the spatula on the ground and Jeno— well, whatever was in Jeno’s hands wasn’t in them anymore. 

“Uh,” Sungchan croaked uncharismatically at the sight. Unwilfully, he had broken a sacred moment, so he racked his brain for a good reason. Thankfully, he was saved by the steak on the grill catching on fire.

“Oh shit!” yelped Jeno.

 

 


 

 

Stomach stuffed with perfectly grilled meat, Sungchan reclined in his lounge chair and looked up into the sky. The moon was enormous above them, big as a plate. And then the stars! So plentiful and fat that it looked like someone poked holes in a black canvas with a pencil.

Before them, the campfire crackled. Jeno had set up a small fire despite the summer heat, just for the feel of it.

“You’re making me sweaty,” Jaemin complained, palming the back of his neck.

Jeno furrowed his eyebrows at his husband. “We have guests,” he said, nudging his head at Sungchan. Then, “Sungchan, you like campfires right?”

Sungchan’s eyes flitted between the pair. Inwardly, he contemplated who would be worse to offend, and he liked neither option. He went with the boring answer. “I’m fine either way.”

They talked about Sungchan’s new drama, which was the whole reason he went on the show in the first place. It was an office romance and he was playing the male lead. 

“Dating your coworker, huh,” Jeno remarked. “Dicey.”

Jaemin slapped Jeno on the shoulder for interrupting Sungchan.

“Go on,” he prompted.

He told them about the other actors in the drama, how they’d been fans of NCT, specifically Dream. Sungchan didn’t even feel offended when he heard it himself the first time around. He’d looked up to them his entire life — even now, despite the fact that their activities stopped. Their music, however, went on. The memory of their accomplishments persisted. There were nights Sungchan’s self-doubt gnawed at his insides, nights when he had to battle his constant fear that his own unit would never live up to the expectations. He said this all aloud. It was the first time he heard himself say it.

Jeno nodded in understanding. Jaemin was looking at his lap.

“We understand,” Jaemin said.

Then they talked about something else.

“Why did you never contact us after we left?” Jeno asked teasingly. His face was a little red after his second bottle of beer, and he leaned over the arm of his deck chair to get closer. “What, did you hate us or something?” Jeno said.

“No, no.” Sungchan shook his head a little too violently. He didn’t have a particularly good reason. Being busy doesn’t count — everyone’s busy. He just didn’t have anything to say. Plus—

“I kind of thought Jaemin-hyung didn’t like me,” he admitted before the brain to mouth filter kicked in. 

Jaemin twisted his face. “What?” he jolted in surprise.

“Remember that one summer I went on a bike ride with Jeno? I came home and you wouldn’t speak to me for weeks. And then I moved out into a new dorm and we never addressed the issue, so…”

“Oh god,” Jaemin groaned, burying his face in his hands. Beside him, Jeno was cackling like a maniac.

“That was almost ten years ago!” Jeno exclaimed. It sounded crazy. It was crazy.

“It was reasonable for me to assume!” Sungchan defended himself. “I wouldn’t see him for days, and then the rare occasion I see him in the kitchen he looked at me like murder.”

“Tell him.” Jeno prodded Jaemin’s shoulder. 

Jaemin continued to keep his face buried in shame. “No,” he mumbled through the gaps of his fingers. The tips of Jaemin’s ears were glowing pink.

“I’ll say it then,” Jeno grinned devilishly. “Jaemin thought you took his bike to go biking with me.” 

Jaemin pressed his face further into his hands.

“And then he thought he was getting replaced.”

Sungchan’s mouth fell open at the revelation. Was that the reason why Jaemin looked like he wanted to stab him? Was that the reason why Jaemin ignored him for weeks?

Jaemin let out a long groan. “I do not cope well with rejection,” he admitted.

“Or the thought of me hanging out with other people, apparently.” Jeno shrugged gleefully. He hopped over onto Jaemin’s deck chair, which didn’t look like it was built to handle the weight of two, but the chair didn’t break, and somehow this worked to get Jaemin’s face out of his hands. How could he keep it there, if Jeno’s crawling into his lap?

“I’ve been working on it,” Jaemin said.

Jeno looked down at him, a deep throaty laugh emerging from his lips. “Nana.” He was almost in tears. “We’re literally married!”

 

 


 

 

Sometime after the camera crew had departed, and after all the video cameras in the house had been turned off, Sungchan ran into the couple in the kitchen when he was on the way to get some water.

He waited for Jaemin to be done refilling his mug before he mustered the courage to ask:

“What made you guys decide to come back?”

Jaemin ran his finger around the rim of his mug as he thought. Then, after a long pause, he said, “We thought it was time to stop hiding.”

 

 


 

 

Sungchan could see the perks of living in the country. No sounds of cars on the street. No nosy neighbors. But it was too quiet. So quiet that even through the walls he could hear everything.

“Oh Jen…” came Jaemin’s distinctive voice from somewhere deep in the house. It wound through the hallways and weedled into Sungchan’s guest room. Even through the closed doors.

“Fuck. You feel so fucking, ugh,” then came Jeno’s low growl. Crystal clear.

Sungchan clambered off his bed in search of his airpods, stuffing them into his ears right as another moan seeped through the crack in the door. 

He slept with the airpods on. They were the most expensive ear plugs of his life.

 

 


 

 

When Sungchan woke, sunlight had flooded his room awash with white. The air was so still and undisturbed he felt if he moved, he’d upset the balance of the universe. He got dressed and emerged from the guest room to find Jeno squatting at the doorway, unhooking the leashes off his dogs. They were patient, watching Jeno with reverence.

“Where’s Jaemin-hyung?” Sungchan asked when he noticed Jeno had returned from his walk alone.

“Oh,” Jeno breathed. “He just left to pick up the guests from the airport. We didn’t think you’d be up this early.”

“Ah, I see,” Sungchan responded. 

Jeno came up to him and dragged him into the kitchen, pointing to the center of the table, and maybe Sungchan was still sleep-addled, but even after rubbing his eyes the food net was still on the dining table. Inside it, a huge stack of pancakes.

“Jaemin’s apology for ten years of pettiness,” Jeno said. “Enjoy~”

 

 


 

 

Sungchan was in the middle of doing the dishes when the dogs began barking. Then, they were rushing out the door. Sungchan felt the gust of wind passing so swiftly, and he knew for certain that it was Jaemin that returned. He slipped off the gloves, rubbed his hands on his pants, and went towards the door.

The family SUV came up along the driveway slowly, kicking gravel under its tires. The dogs chased after the car, a dog sled in reverse. Then the car stopped. The dogs immediately crowded to the driver’s door, and when Jaemin hopped out they started leaping at his feet. From where Sungchan was standing, Jaemin looked like he was standing on a cloud.

Jaemin had his black hair styled up today, curling a section over his forehead like a comma — the same way he’d always done it. Sunlight seemed to glint off his cheekbones and bronze him at the hollows of his cheeks. He looked both earthly and unearthly at the same time. Then Sungchan turned to Jeno, who was standing at the door, and saw the undeniable look of awe in Jeno’s eyes. A look so full of love Sungchan felt overwhelmed by it, even as an outsider.

Jeno jogged down the steps, going to Jaemin first.

Sungchan followed behind him, curving around the couple to receive the guests. Jeno and Jaemin were busy with each other, but Sungchan understood. He gave the guests a deep bow and put on his biggest smile.

Unable to hide his own affection, he announced: “Welcome to Jaemjen’s Homestay.”