Chapter 1: do re mi
Hansol takes off his headphones.
The light in his studio is low, spiked with neon. Even without his headphones, the whole room feels vacuum-sealed. The windows are double-paneled or something—the leasing agent said something about that when he toured the space. The company said he had space in their building if he wanted it, but. It was time to have a space that was his, where he could make stuff that was his.
His phone lights up—probably had been lit up while he worked, because there are so many notifications that it stopped counting. He scrolls through most of them, then taps on a missed call from Hangyul and brings the phone to his ear.
“Wassap,” he says.
“Hi,” she replies. “I was gonna ask if you wanted to eat, but I ate like four hours ago.”
“Oh,” he nods. He leans back in the ergonomic chair that Jihoon bought for him when he signed the lease. “I was working on your thing.”
“Oh wow,” she says, kind of sarcastic, but with an edge of excitement that reminds him of when she was much younger. “Really?”
“It’s good, I think,” Hansol says, rubbing at his shoulder. He tilts his head to look out the lone window, city lights sparkling. “I need more time with it.”
“No rush,” she says, breezily.
Something about her tone makes his eyebrows draw together. “I’ll probably send you a rough cut by next week.”
“Oppa, seriously, no rush,” she assures him. “It’s okay.”
He pauses. “Do you still want to meet up?”
“It’s late,” she hedges. He waits. Then, she finally loses the weird, delicate tone. “Are you sure?”
“I’m the one who asked,” he reminds her.
He can hear the scrunch of her expression in her voice. “I asked first.”
“Wow,” he says, teasing. “I didn’t know we were competing. What is this? We’re keeping score?”
“No!” she laughs. “You know. I just don’t want to like. Make you do stuff.”
“You aren’t,” Hansol says. He doesn’t like that she’s worried about that. Free—he’s free. He used to answer questions like that, back when he had to do interviews. What do you hope for yourself in five years? I hope that I’m a free man.
He has that, surely. He spent the first six months after his service doing exactly what he wanted. A few months in LA with Tobi, a few months in Florida with his mom and grandparents. It felt like an exhale after too much of his life under other people’s thumbs, direction, schedule. Of course he dreamed of being free. And now he is.
But tonight, it leaves a film in his mouth, uncomfortable and tacky.
“I know. You do what you want,” Hangyul says. Her voice is full of affection and for some reason, it makes him sad. “Buy me hotteok, then.”
“I’m unemployed,” he says. “Maybe you should buy me hotteok.”
“Oh, shut up,” she laughs, and it loosens up the heaviness in his chest enough that he can set it aside. “Hey, were you listening to Seungkwan-oppa’s radio show? It just ended.”
“Oh shit,” he says. Then, stops there. That means it’s Seungkwan’s birthday, too.
He doesn’t need to say anything else, because Hangyul drawls, in English, “Okayyyy. Awk.”
“It’s not,” he says. And it’s not. “I just forgot.”
“He mentioned you,” she says simply, but Hansol can hear the expectation in her voice.
Hansol sighs. Seungkwan has been over-compensating for their breakup for three years and counting. Like if he pretended nothing changed, he wouldn’t have to admit that they’d fucked things up. “I’ll listen to it. You at home? I’ll meet you.”
He stands up, patting the pockets of his backpack to make sure he has his phone, wallet, and keys. He clicks off the monitor and the bright blue light cedes to the purple neon haze from the lights lining the room.
“It wasn’t weird,” Hangyul insists. “He was talking about a song.”
“Seungkwan isn’t weird,” Hansol replies without fight, slinging his over-ear headphones around his neck. “I’ll be there in 10.”
The door clicks shut behind him, the call clicks off, and he slides his headphones on, shutting out any other noise that might try to filter in.
Hansol keys his way into his apartment. The entryway is lit from the floor, recessed lighting underneath the step leading into the main area. He steps out of his shoes and makes his way through the dark, dropping his wallet down onto the kitchen island and heading straight for the bedroom.
He’s only been back in Seoul for about a month, so he’s still getting used to living alone. When he was serving, he tried to imagine what it would be like. An apartment in Seoul, maybe one in LA, too. He thought he’d like something more like his family apartment in Hongdae, cluttered and wood-paneled, rather than the slick high-rise luxury apartments that Seventeen dormed in.
His apartment is somewhere in the middle. Walnut floors, white cabinets, some cool spotlight fixtures that Hyunggu and Jamie helped him install when he moved in. Artwork by Minghao and his mom on the walls. Random stuff he likes on the simple shelves in the living room: these freaky little porcelain babies that he got on a trip to Chengdu, his Seventeen ring boxes, crystals from Sofia’s brief study abroad in university. It would be more charming if he kept it cleaner, but he’s already lost that battle.
He flops onto his bed and brings his phone to his face. 03:45. He changes to the next song, and then taps into his messages.
maknae hyung: Congratulations to our Seungkwan hyung! Finally, you’re getting paid to talk instead of doing it for free! We’re all cheering for you always. And I’ll be listening, so please think twice before revealing anything about me. Happy birthday, hyung! With love, Lee Chan
leada coupz: Go go go Seungkwan-ah! Your hyungs are going to take a shot whenever you mention Wonder Girls
There are more, but he skims them until he sees Seungkwan’s replies.
boo seungkwan: What did I do to deserve our special members, huh? Oh god, you guys can’t listen all the time, really. But when you’re free, please come on the show as guests. I’ll be waiting! Thank you to Chan for getting too annoyed with me and saying that I should just be on radio if I want to hear myself talk so bad. You are my least favorite dongsaeng. Now go to bed. It’s too late. You’re going to age too quickly if you stay up all the time, and we’re already old men now. I love you all, let’s be together for a long time still!
Hansol realizes his mistake now that he’s opened the messages. He could reply in the chat, or he could message Seungkwan separately, but he can’t ignore it without Seungkwan holding it against him later.
He thumbs into his chat with Seungkwan. The messages preceding this one are Seungkwan’s messages welcoming him back from his trip and saying that they should revive their dinners with Chan soon. Hansol had said, thx seungkwan! Good to be back~ Yea, of course. :)
hbd booooooo, he types. It’s is a big one. I’ll catch up to you soon. Congrats on the show. Hangyul said it was good.
He presses send before he can think too much about it. Seungkwan should be asleep by now, but Hansol’s heart rate picks up when the message turns to read as he reviews what he sent. Seungkwan starts typing, and stops.
Hansol can’t do this. He locks his phone.
Then, he unlocks it again. He opens up his browser and searches Seungkwan’s name in Naver, clicking into the network’s radio page. The episode is already up for replay and when he clicks the link, his music cuts out and Seungkwan’s voice cuts in.
Everyone, thanks for coming to our first meeting. My anticipation to convene our new members is probably shaking the radio waves. You can feel it, right?
Then, Seungkwan’s message drops down at the top of his screen. Thank you, Hansol!! Ah yes, Hangyul messaged me too ... and the preview cuts off.
All at once, Hansol gets really tired. He clears the notification off the screen and stops Seungkwan before he can say anything more. He reaches over to his bedside table and plugs in his phone and sets it down with the screen face down. He has a few aborted thoughts about Seungkwan turning 30. About what the rest of Seungkwan’s message might have said. An echo of a worry that he’s said the wrong thing, again. But he doesn’t want to go there. It’s 4 am and he’s had a long enough day.
Hansol pushes off his jeans and socks, letting them fall off the bed and pool in a pile on the floor for later. When he pulls off his hoodie, it gets caught on the headphones he forgot he was still wearing. Annoying. He sighs and pulls the headphones off too and tosses it all to the other side of his bed, leaving him free to squirm underneath his unmade duvet, aligning his hips and shoulders and neck until finally, he can close his eyes. The silence of his apartment asks no questions and expects no answers; a welcome, selfish comfort.
Everyone, thanks for coming to our first meeting. My anticipation to convene our new members is probably shaking the radio waves. You can feel it, right? Ah, yes, yes. Hi, I am Boo Seungkwan. And this is Seung-Ja-Mo. That’s short for Sleeping Meeting at Seungkwan Time. Since our program starts so late, I thought it’s close enough to my birth time that we should make something of it. So we’ll talk and listen to music, and then at 1:16, it will be time for all of us to go to sleep. It’s clever, right? Of course, I didn’t come up with that. Cheers, Seventeen’s Dino. See, I told you hyung would credit you.
I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to host my own radio show for a long time. All of my friends have been telling me to go on radio—tell the truth, is it because I talk too much? But since I’m supposed to be putting you to sleep, that just means I’m perfect for the job. And what better day to start Seung-Ja-Mo but on the eve of my birthday? Happy birthday to me~
As for the show concept... do you know the conversation that happens right before you fall asleep, like when you’re in bed with someone? Yah, my manager is giving me a dirty look. Noona, I’m thirty one now. We can be frank about these things. Even just a sleepover between friends. Those silly things, or deep thoughts, or confessions. It can be anything, as long as it has that just before sleep quality to it. Would you call it pillow talk? Really, I just wanted to be able to talk about whatever I wanted, but it’s a pretty concept, right?
A relaxed concept like this is new for me. Carats who have been following Seventeen for a long time, you know by now that I can feel a lot of pressure to prepare things. But don’t worry, members. I’ve been working harder to give myself a break, these days. My friends, Chan and Hansol and I wrote a song a long time ago called Do Re Mi. It came out a while ago, but honestly, I still think of it often. The lyrics go like, think of it easily like do-re-mi, because thinking of something as difficult makes it difficult. Life goes on, so keep going. I think of things like that instead of worrying so much.
Well, I’m trying to do that. Sometimes my worries get the best of me. But that’s okay, too, no? It’s okay to have worries sometimes, members. Maybe together, we can thank our worries for trying to keep us safe and then set them aside for just this hour and sixteen minutes. I hope that’s what we can do at Seung-Ja-Mo.
Ah, I’ve gone on long enough already. Members, here is your first song. It’s the one I mentioned. I hope it brings you comfort like it’s brought me. Here’s Do Re Mi by Seventeen.
Chapter 2: the light
welcome back, members
“—Cheers! Oh, come on, don’t be like that,” Seungcheol whines when Hansol and Seokmin don’t immediately pick up their glasses. He sways, dangerously perched on his knees in the booth to make his toast.
“Noona,” Jeonghan calls from his place on Seokmin’s other side, but makes no move to help reign Seungcheol in.
Eunji looks torn between yelling at Seungchol and yelling with him. In compromise, she grabs a fistful of his shirt to keep him steady and gestures with her lips towards their glasses. Josh peers up at Seungcheol warily from where he’s nursing a beer next to Eunji.
“Hurry up,” she warns, “Before he gets on the table. This is our first night without the baby since our birthday party in August.”
Seokmin raises his glass obediently. Hansol follows, after Seungcheol gives another wobble and Eunji shoots him a sharp look. Seungcheol gives a satisfied nod and whoops as he takes his shot.
He’s having more fun than he thought he would. Seokmin started begging him to do a joint birthday last year while he was still serving, so he had time to wear Hansol down. Jeonghan booked out a bar near their old dorm that they used to go to a lot after schedules; nothing fancy, but that’s his and Seokmin’s style. The whole place is wood-paneled, with low booths and upturned metal kegs as seats around the tables.
Hansol turns his head to take the shot, and catches a glimpse of Mingyu, Minghao, Chan, and Seungkwan at the other table. Hansol turns away.
Seungcheol cheers and the table shakes violently as he clambers back into the booth. Hansol grabs the bottle to pour Seokmin and himself another shot. Without waiting, he tosses it back and Seungcheol and Eunji both clap for him.
“Look who’s arrived,” Eunji says, nodding with approval. “That’s how you come back into the country in style.”
“Yeah, by puking in the taxi home,” Josh comments. “Good times.”
“Oh god,” Eunji groans. “Please. I’m the only one with memories from that night.”
“No.” Jeonghan perks up. He steals Josh’s beer and quips, “I was pretending to be drunk so I didn’t have to clean up after Shua.”
“What the fuck?” Eunji glares at Jeonghan and reaches across the table to smack him on the head. “I was pregnant.”
Jeonghan just scrunches up his nose and cackles into Josh’s beer.
“You’re horrible,” Eunji says. “Really, evil.”
Hansol tenses and glances between the two of them, then at the hyungs. But Eunji is smiling and patting at Seungcheol’s red cheek fondly.
To Seokmin, he murmurs, “So, we joke about it now?”
“About what?” Seokmin says.
Hansol waves a hand and smiles, dismissive. But Seokmin turns away with such relief on his face that Hansol knows he understood.
Above the din, glasses clinking and smoke clinging to the air, he hears Seungkwan’s laugh rise above it all.
Seungkwan is drunk. He’s standing in a small cluster halfway across the room with Wonwoo, Sohyun, Tiffany, and Mingyu. Seungkwan has filled out a bit, the roundness back into his cheeks, glowing with the alcohol and humidity of the packed bar. He gestures, pouting out his lips and leaning forward to make his point, and his sleeves ride up, the thin bones of his wrist on display.
Hansol is drunk, too. Seungkwan giggles at something that Sohyun says and turns to the side to hide his smile behind his hand. Then, for a split second, he freezes. Half of the smile dies off of his lips, and then he jerks back to attention. Hansol blinks, and after a moment, realizes that he’s been staring. And now he’s been caught.
Hansol sits up in his chair and averts his eyes. Minghao nudges him with a foot to his knee.
“What,” Hansol says. He casts a sidelong look at Minghao. He sips his beer. Then, his eyes snap back to Seungkwan. He’s throwing his head back to take another shot. Afterward, his face scrunches up with the taste. He’s hated straight soju since their first drink together.
“Nothing,” Minghao says casually. His tone makes Hansol turn his head and raise his eyebrows at him. Minghao sticks out his tongue. He’s looking well lately: his hair grown out and tied back with an elastic, draped in at least five layers of black fabric, the cut of each more edgy than the last. Hansol notes that Mingyu is wearing an elastic on his wrist too, despite the close crop of his hair.
Hansol is happy for him. He reaches over and pats Minghao’s knee.
Minghao says, dry, “What year is it again?”
“Right?” Hansol laughs. “Feels like 2025.”
Minghao snorts. “God, I hope not.”
“Yeah,” Hansol grins. “2025 sucked.”
“Keep that in mind, yeah?” He raises his eyebrows and nods towards the room. “He’s coming.”
“Who?” Hansol says, but he knows. It’s not a sense that you lose after 13 years of living in someone’s pocket. He can feel the warmth of Seungkwan’s attention on him from anywhere in a room. Minghao stands up.
“Really?” Hansol’s eyes dart from Seungkwan to Minghao.
“Yeah. Mingyu is going to strain something trying to make whatever story he’s telling funny,” Minghao says with an insincere note of apology in his voice and a fond smile on his lips. More pointedly, he adds, “Try working it out. It’s not actually 2025 anymore.”
He strides away in a whirl of fabric, putting a hand to Seungkwan’s shoulder as he passes.
Then, the world narrows. Like no time has passed at all.
Seungkwan stops in front of him and crosses his arms, his face pursed into Hansol’s favorite irritated expression: mouth tight, eyes narrowed, attention sharp on him. He’s in an oversized cream-colored sweater and white jeans neatly cuffed just to his winter boots. He has a new ear piercing, glinting just behind the half a year growth of his military issued buzz cut. Hansol drags his gaze up to Seungkwan’s eyes with an ill-advised smile.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Seungkwan says, his voice tight on a whine. Then, like a concession, “Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” Hansol says to the last and ignores the first. He nods at the seat across from him and Seungkwan slides his eyes from the seat, to the prying eyes behind Hansol, and back. With a defiant set to his chin, he slumps into the chair and leans his elbows onto the table.
“You’re drunk,” Seungkwan comments, narrowing his eyes.
“So are you,” Hansol replies, leaning forward to mirror Seungkwan’s posture.
“I’m warm,” Seungkwan corrects him, sticking his tongue out. Hansol laughs, and sits up to rub his hands together seriously. He draws his eyebrows together in mock concentration. Then ignoring the widening of Seungkwan’s eyes as he draws closer, he catches Seungkwan’s chin in one hand, and puts his other palm to Seungkwan’s forehead.
Seungkwan squawks, and then closes his eyes and surrenders to his silent laughter as he realizes what Hansol is doing. His cheek is soft under Hansol’s thumb, going white under the pressure against the thick of his blush. Hansol rubs quick circles into Seungkwan’s forehead and then releases him with a contemplative hum.
“You’re well past warm,” Hansol observes, and a slow grin spreads across Seungkwan’s face, his eyes blinking back open.
He pushes a hand through his hair to put it back in place, and replies, “Doctor, are you trying to call me hot?”
Sometimes, it’s like nothing changed between them. And by that, Hansol means that the things that drove them apart are sharp and prickly and immediate. Moments where they drive nails into their sorest parts because they know too well what hurts. Where it feels like things ended yesterday, instead of three years ago now.
And sometimes, it’s like nothing changed between them. Magnets shaking with opposition until they snap into place. Muscles that remember reaching for, holding on, clinging to. And then it’s like it never ended at all. It blankets the hurt until they can forget about it, right up to the moment it goes too far and the wound opens up again fresh.
“You’re hot,” Hansol says, his voice low. Seungkwan’s eyes flash and Hansol’s attention falls to his mouth, the curl of his fingers around his glass, the rose blush along his collarbones where his collar gapes.
He thought things had changed. It’s been long enough. Their whole service term, plus the six months post. He had mistaken the forced distance for something like healing; but he does not feel healed now. He feels sick. Seungkwan’s cheek under his hand is as good as pressing on a bruise.
Seungkwan’s eyes flit over Hansol’s shoulder, and then he reaches for his hand, quick. Hansol lets him.
“Let’s go outside,” Seungkwan says shortly, already tugging him to his feet. Hansol goes, and when their hands drop to their sides, their fingers are laced.
“I bet you haven’t even listened to my show,” Seungkwan says, poking him square in the middle of his chest and swaying forward. It’s the dead of winter, but Hansol is drunk enough that the chill hasn’t hit him yet. It’s not sharp enough to help him make better decisions, because his hands are warm where he’s holding Seungkwan at the waist, perched on a stool with Seungkwan standing between his knees.
Hansol asks, “Did you want me to?”
“No.” Seungkwan pulls a face and sways forward again, dropping his head to Hansol’s shoulder. He turns his face into Hansol’s neck. “Don’t listen to it.”
Hansol slips one of his hands up underneath Seungkwan’s sweater. He warms his fingers against the thin fabric of his undershirt. Seungkwan squirms, but once he settles, he winds his arms around Hansol’s neck and draws them even closer. Hansol leaves his hands where they are.
“Why?” Hansol murmurs. “Do you talk about me?”
The world is blurry around Seungkwan’s frame, the Gangnam skyline made of floating orbs of flickering white and neon light. Seungkwan shines when he pulls back to respond: the dark of his eyes, the sheen of his lips, the high crest of his cheekbone. The hum of the party goes on from the doorway, still cracked to let in the winter breeze.
“No,” Seungkwan says, turning his face away to look out at the city. Then, he looks back at Hansol.
At once, Hansol is 15, he’s 16, he’s 18, he’s 22, he’s 24, he’s 26. Seungkwan is underneath his hands, whispering in his ear, laughing in bed at 4 in the morning, holding Hansol’s face between his pretty hands, his thumbs along Hansol’s cheeks and eyes on him like there’s nothing else in the world.
“What would I say? There’s nothing to talk about.”
The words let the draft in, sharp and cold. Hansol ignores it.
“Right.” Hansol slides his hand further up Seungkwan’s side, and presses his knees against his hips. Seungkwan’s mouth falls open. “There’s nothing.”
He’s 30 and they’re done. They’ve been done for a long time, and yet. He thinks, hazily, caught up in the pink of Seungkwan’s mouth and the warmth of his body, that he’ll be able to let go this time.
Hansol closes the distance between them, arm curling all the way around Seungkwan’s waist underneath his sweater, their noses brushing for a moment before their lips meet, all-consuming. Hansol feels Seungkwan’s fingers along the side of his neck, at the edge of his jaw. Seungkwan presses his thumb to Hansol’s jaw to the angle he wants, and Hansol complies.
He pulls Seungkwan’s body tight against his, his other hand dropping down from his waist to just under Seungkwan’s ass, with enough strength to take some of his weight. Seungkwan pulls away for a moment to gasp against Hansol’s mouth, resting his forehead to Hansol’s. Hansol kisses the edge of his lips, and Seungkwan’s eyes flutter closed again. He strains against Hansol’s hold until reluctantly, he lets go.
Seungkwan puts a hand to his own mouth. Hansol swallows. The air is sharply cold where it hits the sweat beading at his collar. Seungkwan takes a deep breath, and then steps close again. He absentmindedly reaches out and smoothes down Hansol’s sideburns, his eyes taking stock.
Then, he asks, his voice low, but his tone airy: “How was your trip?”
Hansol’s shoulders tighten reflexively, but he smiles, confused. “It was good.”
“It was good,” Seungkwan repeats, and then nods. “That’s good.”
Seungkwan drops his hands.
“Seungkwan,” Hansol says. The cold is seeping in quick now. The shadows fall dark across Seungkwan’s face as he takes a step backwards.
“This isn’t good for me,” Seungkwan says, looking down and folding his arms across his chest. “I’ve actually been—I’ve been doing good. And this is, maybe. It’s not—”
“Oh,” Hansol says. He braces his palms against his knees and takes a dragging inhale. “Sure. Yeah.”
“Sure,” Seungkwan mocks, suddenly cruel. “Yeah.”
Hansol looks past Seungkwan, until the city comes into focus again, the world rushing back. He stays quiet, until Seungkwan says, small, “Sorry.”
Hansol says, his voice even, “Don’t apologize.”
“Yes. Yeah,” Seungkwan says, like he’s convincing himself. He shakes his head, then meets Hansol’s eyes. He looks very small, curled into himself. “You understand, right? What I’m thinking? For you to come back, and stare at me like that—where was this going? Were we going to fuck? This is the first time we’ve really seen each other. It’s like you think I’ve been waiting around for you this whole time.”
“I didn’t think you were,” Hansol says. He hadn’t. Honestly, he had tried pretty hard not to think of Seungkwan. Is that fucked up? He hadn’t thought about anyone else at all, for the first time in his life. “Why do you—You assume the worst possible thing you can think of.”
Seungkwan’s eyebrows draw together and his nose scrunches up and he huffs out an angry, hurt noise. “Maybe you’ve given me reasons to assume the worst. Did you ever think of that?”
Hansol looks at him. Hurting. Seungkwan is always allowed to hurt. He’s allowed to dig his claws in and scream and cry and Hansol has to be the rock for the sea to beat against. He’s been worn down. Time isn’t enough to stop a current as strong as Seungkwan’s.
“It wasn’t just you that was in love,” Hansol says finally. He says it aloud, but it feels like swallowing something down. “It’s not just you that’s hurting.”
Seungkwan swipes at his eyes angrily. “I know that. Do you think I don’t know that?”
Hansol hears the echo of arguments that he already knows he can’t withstand. He’s tried and failed enough. He stands up abruptly, and Seungkwan’s face changes in an instant, the anger melting down into horror.
Seungkwan catches Hansol’s wrist before he can get too far, and he stops. Seungkwan shakes his head, once, twice. “We’re not doing this again. God, I can’t believe—I’m sorry. I’m sorry. This is why we shouldn’t—because I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Hansol steels his expression and nods. It’s horrible. Fucking mortifying, to have Seungkwan looking at him like a mistake, like Seungkwan can’t believe he let himself fall back into something so stupid. Sharp, hot embarrassment crawls up the back of his neck and he tugs his wrist out of Seungkwan’s grip. “Yeah.”
Seungkwan takes an aborted step towards him, then looks down at his feet.
“Hansol,” Seungkwan starts. “I really miss you, you know? I want us to be in each other’s lives. We have to be. Right?”
Hansol doesn’t reply. He meets Seungkwan’s eyes and waits. The words feel like they’re hitting him and falling to the floor, discarded.
“Can we try—just friends? Please?” Seungkwan’s voice breaks at the end, his eyes shining. It all feels very futile in that moment, to try and understand each other any differently than they always have. Hansol blinks, and rolls his shoulders back. He remembers who he is when they are together. He remembers the role that he has to play.
And so he folds up the storm inside of him. He tucks it away, so that he can root down. He is the rock in the middle of the sea and the waves will crash against him. It’s no one’s fault. It just is. Maybe the tide thinks of itself as a question, but the answer never changes.
So he says: “Sure, Seungkwan. Yeah.”
“Hello,” Jun says from the computer. “Hello? Can you hear me? Oh my, my Korean. Does language really disappear this quick? Lee Chan, didn’t you call me last week? Did they paint this room?”
Mingyu adjusts computer-Jun to capture as much of the table as he can. Jun waves so fast that his streaming-quality image can’t keep up.
“Hi hyung,” Seokmin greets him, sticking his head in frame. Minghao peeks past him and throws a peace sign as salutation.
The conference room is packed with the members, their team, plus the Pledis and HYBE execs. The buzz in the room is familiar. Hansol fist bumps with Wonwoo as he comes in, slumping into a seat next to Josh.
“What’s up,” Josh greets him in English. It’s a question, but not really. Hansol and Josh are always on the same wave.
Hansol grins and says, “Nothin’ much. Where’s Jihan?”
“She’s at Jeonghan’s mom’s,” Josh says. “With Haejin.”
“Uhhhh,” Hansol says.
Josh passes a hand over his face. “Haejin thinks she’s a dolphin this week.”
“That makes sense,” Hansol agrees. Dolphins are pretty scary and so is Haejin, for a three year old. Josh slides lower in his chair and closes his eyes, and Hansol pats him comfortingly on the shoulder.
Minghao takes the empty seat on his other side.
“Yo,” Hansol greets him in English. Minghao gives him a look. He’s heard something about Seungkwan, probably through Mingyu. Mingyu stared at Hansol so hard when he walked in that it made him check his watch to make sure he wasn’t late.
Hansol meets his look, blank-eyed. Feigning ignorance doesn’t work with Minghao, but Hansol doesn’t want to talk about it. Nothing happened.
Minghao rolls his eyes. Semi-retirement has really made him bold. It’s kinda cool, even though it blows to be on the receiving end.
Hansol concedes. “Nothing happened.”
Minghao’s eyes dart towards the door to the conference room. Seungkwan isn’t there yet, but he’s sure to walk in any minute. He’s never late.
Minghao says, “That’s good. Because he’s been doing really well lately.”
Hansol huffs out a humorless laugh.
Seungkwan messaged him the morning after the party: It’s always good, even when it’s bad, huh? From now on, let’s try to keep the good and leave the bad, even if it means leaving some of the good, too. You understand, right? I’m sorry, again. Love you.
“Yeah, he said,” Hansol replies. “I got it.”
Minghao kicks his ankle under the table and Hansol pulls a face at him.
“You’re still cute even when you’re dumb,” Minghao coos, reaching over to pinch his cheek. “Aren’t you lucky?”
Hansol does laugh at that one, batting at his hand to escape.
As the time ticks past the hour, everyone starts taking their seats around the table, until just Seungcheol and the Pledis VPs are left standing at the head of the room. As the room quiets, the door slides open one last time.
Hansol watches Seungkwan bow into the room, giving a sheepish wave as everyone nods to acknowledge him. He takes the open seat between Mingyu and Chan, across the table far enough that he’s out of Hansol’s line of vision as long as he looks front.
“Turn me,” Jun’s voice nags from the laptop. “I can’t see Seungcheol-hyung.” Dutifully, Jihoon adjusts the screen and Jun gives a little cheer.
“Hi Junhui,” Seungcheol says. “Hi everyone. So cool to see everyone’s faces together after such a long time.”
Soonyoung gives a raucous whoop from the front of the room, standing with bent legs and whipping his arm around his head like a lasso. “Comeback, comeback, comeback,” he chants, until Seokmin joins him and the whole room rises in volume until they’re all swept up in it.
It’s weird. Kinda like coming home to visit after you’ve lived on your own. Everything looks and sounds the same, but you’re different. It’s weird to pretend everything is the same, but it’s hard to be any different. Despite himself, Hansol gives his own little whoop, just before Seungcheol claps his hands a few times to get everyone to quiet down.
“Okay, yeah. Comeback, that’s what we’re here to talk about.”
“Our last time together had its challenges,” Seungcheol pushes a hand through his hair and smiles apologetically. The whole room ripples with an ironic laugh.
When Hansol thinks back to their last comeback, his stomach turns. He doesn’t remember the music or performances, all of it a whirl of denim and over-produced synths. He remembers sweating under the flash of cameras that were primed and thirsty for vulnerabilities in press conference after press conference, if that counts.
He and Seungkwan had ended things barely two weeks before Seungcheol and Jeonghan told them about the pregnancies. They hadn’t even told all the members yet. Neither of them thought they’d have a comeback before enlistment. If he had known, he would have kept it going. Anything would have been better than what happened: trying and failing to keep away and falling back into each other over and over. It felt like they were breaking up for six months straight.
“Contracts are up next year and,” Seungcheol trails off, glancing uncomfortably at the HYBE execs. “Well, it’s nice to cherish being together after such a long time. I hope we’re all excited to make new memories and make everyone say, of course it’s SEVENTEEN one more time.”
Soonyoung and Seokmin let out cheers again, and the rest of them join in drumming along on the table. Hansol picks at his cuticle on his thumb.
“So, let’s just start, yeah?” Seungcheol finishes, anticlimactically. “I guess we should still do the vote, right? Who wants to comeback as one team, Seventeen?”
Hansol knows he doesn’t actually have a choice. Hands all around the table shoot up—from the computer, Jun says, “I’m raising my hand, everyone. Someone turn me so they can see!”
Across the table, he turns and meets Seungkwan’s eyes. Or Seungkwan was already looking and then Hansol started looking too. Isn’t their problem always that they both can’t manage to look away?
The last comeback was supposed to be the last. The last of a lot of things. After the last stage, they didn’t even stay for the awards. They went single file from backstage to the fleet of vans waiting for them. A stylist handed him a makeup wipe on the way out and a manager ushered him into the car. Seungkwan followed.
Seungkwan followed him to the back row of the van and settled himself against the window on the right side. He shoved his bag onto the ground by his feet and turned his face out the window. Hansol watched a tear track down his cheek. He remembered thinking that it was better to ignore it. He tried to remember that crossing the line would leave him on the other side, again.
Yeah. That was the last time.
Seungkwan’s hand isn’t raised yet, but as soon as he locks eyes with Hansol, he jerks his head front and shoves his hand in the air.
Hansol raises his hand before they can wait on him.
“That’s 13,” Seungcheol confirms, after counting a few times over. “Nice. Seventeen right here, let’s fucking get it!”
“Thanks for coming,” Seungkwan says politely. He has his hands around an iced americano, though it’s still just as wintry as it was last week at Hansol’s birthday party.
“Yeah, of course.” Hansol shrugs. He sips his milk tea in one hand and tries to find a place for the other on the arm rest. Then in his lap. Then on the table. Seungkwan’s neatly manicured nails tap a grating pattern against the perspiring glass of his cup.
He’s never been to the cafe that Seungkwan suggested. From the way he keeps looking around, Seungkwan hasn’t been either. The company building would have been closer to both Seungkwan’s family apartment in Hannam and Hansol’s new apartment in Itaewon, but Hansol figures Seungkwan was going for neutrality over convenience when he asked if they could talk in person.
It’s nice, though. It has three levels with big windows and half of the space is dedicated to bookshelves and big displays of singing bowls. They are up on the second floor, tucked into the furthest back corner of the airy space. Hansol tugs his beanie a bit lower over his brow bone as some afternoon light spills onto the round white table between them.
Seungkwan’s fingers still on his glass. Hansol pulls his attention from where he’d been staring at Seungkwan’s hands, up until he reaches the determined set of Seungkwan’s mouth.
Seungkwan clears his throat, then folds his hands on the table in front of him. Then, he puts his folded hands in his lap. “So—I mean. It’s obvious we need to talk before we’re seeing each other every day. Right?”
His tone starts off strong before losing steam in the middle of the sentence. The last question curls upwards, and Seungkwan brings his hands back up to curl around his glass before he takes a studied sip.
Hansol doesn’t know what to say to that, or if it’s even a question he’s supposed to answer.
“I’m happy to talk to you anytime,” Hansol says eventually.
Seungkwan purses his lips. Then, whatever was holding him back reaches its limit. “Our last comeback was terrible,” he says bluntly. “And if it’s going to be like that again, I need to know now.”
Hansol rolls his shoulders back and ignores the hollowness in his stomach. He searches an uncomfortably long time for the words he needs.
“I heard you,” Hansol offers. He picks at his cuticles, using the small bite of pain to distract himself from the overwhelming urge to shut down and walk out. Painfully, he finishes, “The first time. At the party. You want us to be friends.”
Seungkwan sighs exasperatedly. There’s a line between his brows that appears for just a moment before his fingers smooth it down. “Do you have to say it like that?”
“Like what,” Hansol says. He can’t force the question into his inflection. He didn’t say it like anything. He just repeated what Seungkwan said. Hansol holds his gaze on the table just in front of Seungkwan’s glass.
“Like you disagree,” Seungkwan snaps.
Hansol doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. What is there to disagree with? What else is there to do? Sometimes, the only good option is to make peace with only having bad options.
“Hansol,” Seungkwan calls. Hansol turns back to the conversation. He hadn’t noticed drifting.
Then, Seungkwan reaches across the table to grab his hand. The warmth of it shocks Hansol into meeting his eyes. “Sorry. Sorry. Really—I really. I have been apologizing for years, but not for any of the right things. This is going so not how I planned. And I am really sorry.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Hansol replies reflexively.
“No, I do. I really do. I told myself—but then, I didn’t want to ruin your birthday by bringing up the past, and I didn’t even know if—and then—” Seungkwan pauses. He let’s go of Hansol’s hand and sits back with his posture straight and folds his hands in front of him.
Hansol tracks his adam’s apple as he swallows. “I never believed you. That you just loved me. Like that. How could I believe you? I didn’t love me like that. I didn’t know it was possible. So I tried to make you give me more and more, to test it. To prove it. Like it had to cost you something for it to mean something.”
He shakes his head. Hansol’s stomach feels queasy.
“I am so sorry,” Seungkwan whispers. His hands itch forward, like he’s going to grab at Hansol’s again, and Hansol clenches his fists reflexively. Seungkwan brushes the wetness from his eyes like it’s an errant eyelash. In a stronger voice he says, “I’m sorry that I treated you like you weren’t enough. You are enough. You gave us everything you could and you tried to tell me when you needed to keep some things for yourself.”
Seungkwan’s eyes have lost their determined set. He looks very small.
Hansol thought that Seungkwan was done, but then his voice comes again. “I made you feel like you weren’t enough because I didn’t feel like enough. I was doing anything I could to keep you from realizing that I was just. Me. Like I could cut you down to the size I saw myself so I could keep you even though I didn’t deserve it. Oh, this is horrible. It’s so sad. Eventually, I had to end it. I had to end it before you came to your senses because if I could see it coming, I thought at least I’d survive.”
When they were still really young, there was nothing more intoxicating to him than Seungkwan looking at him like the most interesting person in the room. Seungkwan was funny and confident, talented and driven, where Hansol was lonely, quiet, and inescapably different. But then they fell in love.
In the beginning, sheltered by the dark of their dorm room, foreheads pressed together: they were even. Like the tide, the way they loved each other raised them up. It kept him afloat, until it didn’t.
It makes sense. The end was months of Seungkwan picking so many fights that Hansol felt like everything about him was wrong. When he told Seungkwan he didn’t think he could make him happy anymore, he thought he’d failed.
He hadn’t failed. Seungkwan just succeeded.
There should be closure in it, probably. But he does not feel better. He feels sick.
“We were really young,” Hansol hears himself say, after too long. “And, yeah. We were really young. So it’s okay. Thank you for saying all of that.”
Another tear slips out of Seungkwan’s eye, and he scrubs it away. Hansol watches the relief sketch its way across his face, slowly. “You can be mean to me, you know,” Seungkwan sniffs. He smiles, watery. “I think it would make me feel better if I wasn’t the only one to have been so awful.”
It would make Seungkwan feel better if Hansol were mean. It made Seungkwan feel better to convince Hansol to end things slowly and painfully, than to try and fix it. Hansol could deal with the fallout so that Seungkwan could get out before it hurt too bad. And now, Seungkwan asked him to meet, so he could apologize for things that Hansol hadn’t even known to be mad about yet.
“I love you,” Seungkwan says. “And I want you to be happy. I want to be able to enjoy this last comeback—because that’s what it is. We all know it. The members deserve that. We deserve it.”
Hansol almost laughs. He wasn’t looking forward to the comeback to begin with, all of it feeling weird and fake and put on. He hopes they deserve more than an empty recreation of the past.
Instead, he says: “Yeah, of course.”
Seungkwan smiles. He looks out the window again, then tilts his head in Hansol’s direction. “So next time, I don’t have to choose a neutral place to hang out?”
Hansol huffs out a laugh. He rolls out his shoulders and tells the truth for the first time today. “I kinda like this place. It’s cool.”
Seungkwan hums, and brings his straw to his mouth. He studies Hansol for a second, then nods, like he’s decided something.
“It is cool,” he agrees.
Ah, hello, hello. Thank you for being on time. For those who are not, let’s scold them since they won’t hear it anyway. Punctuality is important! Okay, okay. Welcome to all Seung-Ja-Mo members. You just heard The Light by The Ark. Students of my seminar We Remember K-Pop already know that I love this song. It came out maybe ten years ago now, but somehow it stays just as fresh as the day it was released. I’m not just saying that because I love you, Sooji-yah. I really love it.
Do you want to know something interesting, members? Over the years as I listened to this song, the meaning really changed for me. The song starts out talking about how this person is someone who lived life alone and liked it that way. They felt free. If I’m being honest, I never understood that. I couldn’t imagine how someone could live life just for themselves and not feel selfish. And since the rest of the song is about how they feel much better when they’re needed by somebody, I thought it proved me right.
Famously, I am a dutiful son. By the way, am I too old now for being a mama’s boy to be a charm point? Please weigh in with your opinion in the comments. You’ll hurt my feelings, but I will never change. Anyway—since I owed so much to my family, especially for all of their sacrifices early in my career; and then with my Seventeen members, they always took care of me too and I wanted to return the favor. I guess you could say through that I got in the habit of taking care of others.
I’m someone who believes that there’s no such thing as running out of love. Love makes more love, don’t you think? Even now, I think that. But back in those days, I thought that love was emptying yourself out and giving everything that you had to give for those who you love. We see that in movies, right? I’ll do anything for you, I’ll make any sacrifice. I’ll give up anything. Things like that. And maybe worse, I thought that in order for someone to love me, they had to do the same.
Oh, the mood got so serious. But really, how sad. Where does that leave the ones who love you? Where did that leave me? It’s obvious talking about it like this now, isn’t it? It didn’t feel obvious to learn, but maybe that’s because I have a hard head. Members, I hope you learn lessons more easily than I do.
I treated myself cruelly for a long time. I poured all of my love out and then all the love I had for myself had to come from other people. So I was very scared of people leaving or getting sick of me, because if they left, what would be left of me? You see it now, right?
—My manager is getting desperate to shut me up. I’m almost done. Noona, the oral tradition is going to be lost in the next generation at this rate.
Of course, there’s always a limit that once reached, demands change. And honestly, I’m not that strong. I really can’t handle things well to begin with. I’m very sensitive, always emotional. And at that low point, I had no choice but to change something. And I started putting some of my love towards myself. And as it turns out, love makes more love, members. When I saved love for myself. When I treated myself with kindness. It helped me love without expectation.
So to return back to the song. Didn’t I say I would be wrapping up? It’s not that I would be prefer living life alone now. But more like, I didn’t know that caring for myself could make me this happy, too.
Take care, members. Next up is B2ST’s Lights Go On Again.