Once upon a time, Choi Woo Young told Kim Joo Won. "Unlike you, I can throw everything away for a woman." His own words would haunt him for a long time.
He still remembers when he first saw him. That club with Joo Won. The dim lights, the smoke from the fog machine. And this pretty kid like a shadow figure, almost hidden behind his instruments, singing in a voice that reached deep into Choi Woo Young's gut and tied them into garters.
God. Maybe he had fallen right there and then.
Later, the kid's face pops up in his brain when he thinks of mentoring someone. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone like that looking up to him, calling him hyung? It would be a little bit like his childhood, with Kim Joo Won, before his young cousin crystallized into the hard-faced, impossible man that he is today.,
But this kid is slippery. He changes jobs like he changes clothes. What? Sell his instrument and give up on music? He tracks him all the way to Jeju Island, working on fish of all things? Was he crazy? Didn't he know he could damage his hands like that?
He gets rejected. Oh, but Woo Young expected that much. And anyway, he likes the chase. He's not going to give up this easily.
But again and again, he gets rejected. Even insulted and humiliated. Even after singing to him, twice, all the kid says is, "You're the kind of celebrity who wants to shine by himself. I don't want to be your sidekick."
Han Tae Ssun, you're going down.
In a restaurant in Jeju, he finds out which nights Tae Ssun is singing, and he stakes out a table. And he just watches him all night, watches the light turn his skin into luminous porcelain, and pick out the purple in his hair, while his voice washes over the room like dark honey.
A woman sits beside him and tries to chat him up, but he waves her away. He can't focus on anyone else right now.
Later, he looks for him again and says as cooly as he could, "You're right. Don't come to me. It's not cool to be jealous of your mentee. But you can't go to anyone else."
There. Are you hooked yet, Han Tae Ssun?
During his weird lunchdate with Gil Ra Im, Woo Young's ears perk up as the notes cascade from the piano like water in a fountain. He holds up a finger to his lips and turns. It's that man, Tae Ssun, singing to an empty restaurant, voice like smoke. The three of them--he and his cousin, and Gil Ra Im--don't speak for the entirety of the song, each one lost in their own thoughts.
Afterwards, Woo Young excuses himself and runs after Ssun. He should leave him alone to rethink his offer, but he couldn't resist the chance.
Another fight. Something about this punk always rubs him the wrong way. Woo Young grabs his wrist to keep him from escaping and tries something new, tries for honesty, for a little humility. "I'm not as good as them, you know."
But Ssun interrupts with his own revelation. "I like men."
"What?" Woo Young's eyes bug out. "You're talking crazy! Well okay, so... Isn't that a personal preference?" He rambles on while trying to digest this new fact.
"Is that what you think?" Tae Ssun says, stepping closer to him. Woo Young leans away on instinct.
"I'll think it over again," he mumbles, and when Tae Ssun wrenches his arm away, he lets go. Was it true? Or was Tae Ssun just trying to scare him away?
Then Yoon Seul walks back into his life as his MV's new director and immediately proceeds to fuck it up.
He meets her somewhere in sight of the ocean. It would be a romantic scene for any other woman but her. The air between them is still full of old hurts, even as she talks in a brittle voice about marrying his cousin and becoming family.
Woo Young remembers years ago when he proposed to her. She picked up the ring he had bought and looked at it with such disdain. "Celebrities are for dating around but not for marrying. Didn't you know that? I guess you're more innocent than I thought."
With those words, she had shaken him at the core. He wasn't the smartest person, wasn't even the best singer or dancer. He had his looks but that was good for a few years at best. Still, he chose to gamble everything he had on becoming a Hallyu star, because he loved it. Loved the sheer exhilaration of being in front of a crowd. Loved the energy that builds when he's singing. It was a part of his identity that he chose for himself, and not something he was born to, or was handed to him by his parents. It was who he is.
And it felt like Seul spit on all that.
Then in the middle of filming the car chase scene, Yoon Seul says some things that stop Woo Young in his tracks. Her feelings rush over him like a wave. A part of him wants to pull her into his arms. He wants to kiss away the tears that he knows are threatening to flow from her eyes. But he's not allowed to do that anymore. And anyway she's the one who broke his heart.
So he walks away.
With his passport and even his car keys confiscated by his busybody of a manager, Woo Young whiles away the time and pours out his emotions playing the piano and singing. All the old songs, all the old words, he sings them like he's rubbing salt into an old wound that had yet to heal.
And all the while this plagiarism thing itches at the back of his mind. The title song of his next album just so happens to be extremely similar to someone else's song. And of all the people who could have brought it to his attention, it had to be that punk.
He had met Tae Ssun at the airport on the flight home. The kid returned his missing mp3 player, and then he said something about putting a song in it that Woo Young has to listen to.
At first, he got confused, because Tae Ssun didn't seem to be the type to desperately force his music on other people, and if so, why would he play hard to get beforehand?
But the punk seemed to be saying that he's stupid because he doesn't know this song. And then he proceeds to insult Woo Young some more.
"Ah, I know why you're popular even though you can't sing. You are attractive like a bimbo," Tae Ssun said to him. Then he added, "Be an actor instead. Music doesn't suit you."
"I'm terrible at acting," Oska muttered through gritted teeth. Later, he would think of a witty come back. Far too late to use.
He rubs at his face remembering it. He knows his weaknesses. Why did this pretty boy have to keep saying each one out loud?
Then at the worst possible time, he finds out that the title song gets leaked. Woo Young orders his manager around, even as cold sweat breaks across his back. "I think I know who it is. Find out where Han Tae Ssun is and call me."
He catches the kid just as he is getting his deposit back from his landlady. There's luggage stacked beside him, and Woo Young wonders if that's everything he owned. How could he survive like that?
The kid looks tired, but Woo Young grabs the front of his sweater and pulls him close. "You're the one who leaked the song, aren't you? That's why you're running away now."
"It's not me," the kid say right away. "Why don't you look into your staff? Most leaks come from the people you know."
Woo Young scoffs. "Just come with me first." And he grabs his luggage and drags him to the car.
"What'll you do if you find out it wasn't me? You'll be embarrassed."
"I'm used to being embarrassed," Woo Young retorts. Especially in front of you, he didn't add. It's like the kid existed on this planet just to stomp on his pride.
When they get back to his place, his assistant Jong Woon receives a call from the police. He gets the location of the IP address of the computer that leaked the song. It's somewhere in Gangnam, and at first Woo Young turns to Tae Ssun and ask, "You live in Gangnam?"
Ssun rolls his eyes and calls him stupid. "You just saw where I lived."
"That's Seul's company," his manager adds, eyes widening. "Why would she do that?"
"You must have a lot of people holding a grudge against you," Ssun snarks at him.
"Shut up," Woo Young shoots back. "You're not in the clear yet." But the sinking feeling in his stomach tells him otherwise. "Tie him up," he shouts over his shoulder as he leaves.
But she's not there. Maybe it's for the best. His knees are shaky and he's not sure what he'd say to her. Did she do it? Could she have done it? He remembers the game she's playing with him and Joo Won. Maybe she could have. Maybe she did.
By the time Woo Young comes back, he's exhausted emotionally and physically. "You're still here?" He asks Ssun.
"I told you I'm innocent. I wouldn't just leave," Ssun retorts, though his voice lowers a little. "Why don't you just look for the plagiarist, or the original writer of the song?"
"What would that do? The damage is already done. And it's my fault anyway," he adds in spite of himself. "My own laziness and complacency."
Ssun looks down and crosses his arms. "Should I just go, then?"
"No, don't go," Woo Young says automatically.
"Why? Ah, is it because you know the person who leaked the song? Do you still need me as a scapegoat?"
Woo Young frowns at him. So much cynicism in such a young punk. "Just sleep over for tonight. It's raining and you don't even have a car. And I don't have the energy to drive you." When the ahjumma comes in, he tells her to prepare a meal and a room for Ssun.
Later, after a futile attempt at sleeping, he stumbles towards his piano and lets his fingers shape the sounds jangling in his heart. He's sure he's not making much sense, and it's too late when he remembers he's not alone in the house tonight.
But Tae Ssun doesn't come looking for him to complain at the noise, so maybe the punk slept right through it. He resolves to apologize in the morning, but by the time he wakes up, Han Tae Ssun had already left. He hadn't even bothered to leave a note.
Ungrateful brat, he thinks, though not really meaning it.
He finally manages to catch Yoon Seul in her office. He looks into her face as if searching for clues. Has she really changed this much?
"Do you have time to talk while all this is going on?" She asks archly.
"Is it you? Are you the one who released the song?"
She scoffs. "Are you suspecting me?"
"At least you're honest. Did you do it to catch my attention?"
"I'm not that kind of person," she denies.
"Yes, you are," Woo Young says through gritted teeth. "You betrayed me and left me for some guy. And you would marry my cousin just to mess with me."
Her smile turns bitter. "You're still the same. You'd still rather believe someone else's lies than my honesty."
"That's because their lies are more reliable," he retorts. Then he adds in a colorless voice. "I beg of you. Let's not meet again." His heart is tired of hurting.
He's a mess after. But he struggles to pull himself together. He pastes on a smile and puts on a concert. But afterwards, past the mess of the crowd of reporters, he sees Gil Ra Im standing across the street.
For a second, his heart yearns for something simple. He calls her up on a whim and invites her out for dinner. And it works.
She smiles at him across the table, that half-shy, half-sly smile of hers, and she tells him, "Thank you for coming back bravely."
Woo Young soaks her words in, their easy banter helping him get his equilibrium back.
"And don't worry too much. Oska's fans know how to endure scandals," she adds.
"What scandals?" He asks, frowning.
That smile appears again. "Women's scandals," she says.
"Isn't it better than men's scandals?" He asks, then as Ra Im's eyes widen, his mind goes, Oh shit even as he laughs it off.
At his next signing, he takes a little bit of Gil Ra Im's strength when he tells his fans, "Please trust me." And it works for a while, except that he looks up and the next person in line is Yoon Seul holding a blank piece of paper.
"I don't trust you, and I know you don't trust me either, but I'm still a fan," she says.
For a second, he feels bone-tired of this game she's still playing. He feels every single one of his thirty-six years. So without another word, he writes on the paper and hands it back to her.
To Yoon Seul, it reads. For loving me during that time, thank you. December 2010, Oska.
Will she understand it? Will she understand that he's trying his best to get over her? Whatever she's doing now, he wishes for both their sakes that she just stop.
When the plagiarist finally steps forward and gives a public apology, Woo Young's management is ready to move forward, to just step over this whole thing. But that same weariness is still settled over his shoulders and Woo Young asks his assistant to look for Han Tae Ssun again.
"I still haven't apologized properly," he says as an excuse, but really his manager harping on about getting a good songwriter triggered it. He wants Tae Ssun for the job. Tae Ssun and nobody else.
Giving Joo Won advice about love just makes him feel like a complete hypocrite. What did he know, really? "You can't plan feelings like they're vending machines," Woo Young tells his cousin over the phone. That's true enough. His own feelings are a tangle these days.
And then he reads the article in the paper and sees a picture, and the feelings get even more tangled. Han Tae Ssun wrote that damned song. He's the original composer. Choi Woo Young is torn between indignation at being fooled, and admiration. Of course he wrote it. Because fate had it out for him. Because it was the worst possible outcome.
There's a thrum under his chest. Without overthinking it, he dials the punk's number and demands, "Where are you? Stay there and I'll come to meet you."
Tae Ssun's sitting in a middle booth of a coffeeshop, looking just as cool as ever. Woo Young spares a thought to noticing the new hair color as he sits across him. Damn that kid has style. Before he gets down to business.
"Why didn't you tell me it was you all along?"
Ssun gives him a flat look. "Don't blame me for your stupidity. I gave you two chances to find me." He did, come to think of it. God, Woo Young wants nothing more than to smack himself.
"Was it fun? Watching my life turn into a circus?"
"Yes," Ssun shoots back rapid-fire. "My heart fluttered. I knew you would come looking for me." He leans forward across the table and smirks. "Isn't there something you'd like to say to me?"
This time, even though his every instinct is screaming at him, Woo Young leans forward too. "Why? Would it make a difference? You already think the worst of me."
And that's when he sees something change in Ssun's face. Woo Young wants nothing more than to grab the kid and haul him home again, but Yoon Seul interrupts their conversation.
"Oh, you're here, too, Choi Woo Young? Why, are you making Han Tae Ssun a counter-offer?" She asks ever so casually.
Woo Young looks at her, his heart sinking. "Do you two know each other?" Tae Ssun asks.
"It's a small world," Seul says, smile fixed on her face like an accessory. "But to be fair, I offered first didn't I?" She turns to Tae Ssun with an eyebrow elegantly arched. "And I'll take better care of you than this man. All he knows to do is use people."
Woo Young looks searchingly into Tae Ssun's face, heart inexplicably pounding. "Are you signing a contract with her?"
"At least she bothered to find out who I am," Tae Ssun says defensively. "What's it to you?"
"But you promised me you wouldn't go to anyone but me," he says softly.
Tae Ssun's eyes narrow. "I don't make promises like that. I always end up getting deceived."
Yoon Seul looks between the two of them, feeling uncertain for a second. Like she has walked in on an intimate moment and needs to walk back out right away. Woo Young isn't even looking at her. There's a sad expression on his face, but it's pointed in Tae Ssun's direction.
"Can you leave now? I need to talk business with her," the kid says rudely.
Woo Young stifles the impulse to throttle some sense into this punk. He leans forward some more. "This isn't over. You and I are going to have a long talk soon, Han Tae Ssun."
He goes outside but only to wait in his car, watching them through the window of the coffeeshop. Yoon Seul doesn't look happy when she leaves, so maybe that punk didn't sign with her after all. Cheered up by that thought, he lets Tae Ssun walk away in the opposite direction.
"Just you wait, kid."
These days, he's spending more time on the piano. He's even writing some music. Though the words refuse to come somehow. But Woo Young can be patient.
Then he sees Yoon Seul again at his grandfather's 300 day celebration. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in his mouth. He usually loves his family in all their craziness. (Because of course he's just as crazy as they are.) But today, he just feels weird about his aunt parading a 'proper' woman for Yoo Won in front of them. It feels like a pageant that is both archaic and disgusting. And no matter how he feels about Seul, she doesn't deserve to be treated like that.
He leaves as soon as possible.
His manager bugs him about details for the Christmas concert. He hits on a brilliant idea for a guest, and runs around looking for Han Tae Ssun. Of all places, though, he's at Yoon Seul's company, tuning a guitar in the studio.
Woo Young asks him about the apology from the plagiarist. "Is that through your efforts?"
"So what if it is?" Tae Ssun asks.
"Because I was worried about you," Tae Ssun retorts. The words sound nice, but his tone is so nasty that Woo Young scoffs.
"You sure know how to butter me up."
Tae Ssun frowns at him. "Are you here to see that ahjumma?"
"You're always nitpicking," Woo Young tells him. "I came to see you. Are you happy now? Go and practice a lot. You're going to guest in my concert. I'll text you about rehearsal schedules."
"Hey, don't just decide that by yourself!" Tae Ssun complains.
"Why? You've helped me this much, so help me some more. Don't just disappear again, okay? I'm going." Woo Young leaves before the punk could get in another retort.
It feels a little bit like a win.
It seems too little too late, but he takes the time to talk to Yoon Seul's friend. He wants to know why she's acting this way. And maybe to stop her interfering with his cousin, who has enough problems with aunt and Gil Ra Im to deal with Seul's manipulations.
But the truth is hard to hear. "She left by herself. She even tried to die once. You really treated her wrongly, oppa. You were her everything, but she was just one part of your everything. When she needed you, she was always alone." She leaves him with a lot of food for thought.
There's a part of him that wants to fix things, that wants to come to her side, and maybe do things for her that he never managed the first time around. But what's the use of that now? When love turns to hate, there is no action that can change it back to love.
And if Yoon Seul has changed so drastically from the woman he loved a long time ago, Woo Young realizes he's different, too.
Then later, he hears that Lee Jun Hyuk is back in town. Jun Hyuk is the man he thought Seul left with all those years ago. He's also the man who baited Woo Young with all sorts of lies about Seul, and got him to say all sorts of cowardly things to protect his pride. And that memory--a memory he almost physically cringes from--leads him to an epiphany. Yoon Seul must have heard it all.
The guilt chokes him.
Before he can do anything about it, his assistant calls him. The songwriter, Ms. Kwon, changed her story and is now claiming that Oska knew the song was plagiarized.
Woo Young feels his head throb. He changes directions, and heads her way.
He sees Han Tae Ssun as soon as he walks in. For a second, he wonders if they're in it together, but the shock and hurt on the kid's face is enough to dissuade him.
Ms. Kwon spews enough vitriol that Woo Young is taken aback. "It's your fault for being so nasty to people. I just say one lie about you, and everyone said, 'I knew it.' You don't even remember how many times you insulted my songs, always asking for more and more."
"So what do you want?" Woo Young demands.
"Pay me! I wonder how much is the price of a Hallyu star's reputation. I can't work in this business again because of you so pay me."
Woo Young can see there's no use talking to her, so he drags Tae Ssun out the door and takes him home. The fact that the kid doesn't argue means he's still in shock. And he remains quiet and withdrawn in the car.
It worries Woo Young enough that he pulls over. "Did she say anything about you, too? Don't listen to her. She's a vicious person, so don't let her get to you."
Han Tae Ssun looks at him like he's seeing him for the first time. "Are you worried about me now?"
"I didn't like that expression on your face."
"And what expression is that?" He says, his lips twisting.
"Like you need to be sorry to me. Don't ever look at me like that. I don't deserve it," Woo Young says softly.
When he arrives home, Choi Dong Kyu hyung and his assistant are there, trying to deal with the reporters, trying to limit the damages. It's a thankless job to deal with yet another of his disasters.
Hyung curses at the phone, and calls Woo Young spoiled, irresponsible and selfish. Even though he apologizes immediately after and tries to take it back, Woo Young lets it go. It's all true anyway.
"So did you talk to her? What did she want?"
"Money," he answers shortly.
"So let's pay her. Then we can get your concert back on track."
"No," he says. "I'm not paying that woman anything." He sneaks a look at Tae Ssun's pale face.
His manager runs a hand through his hair. "If you leave her alone then you'll really be ruined."
"Then I'll be ruined. Cancel the concert and refund the tickets." Tae Ssun shifts beside him. Woo Young wants to send him away, so he doesn't have to witness all this, but at the same time, he doesn't want the kid left alone. "I'll get ahjumma to prepare you a room again, so just stay over tonight," he tells him in a low voice.
The kid looks at him, and Woo Young places a hand over those eyes. "What did I tell you about that look?"
"You don't understand. It's my fault she's doing this. She and I--" Tae Ssun starts to say, but Woo Young transfers his hand over the kid's mouth.
"It would be nice if it were. But it's not. Go on and wash up. I'll make sure we get some food in here soon."
When Tae Ssun practically flees the room, Woo Young turns around and Dong Kyu hyung is looking at him strangely.
"Since when did you two get so close?" He asks.
Woo Young shrugs. "He's a good kid." Jong Woon scoffs at that, since he was there for most of the insults Woo Young has received from Han Tae Ssun. But Woo Young glares at him until he's silent. "He's a victim, too. So just leave him alone."
It's humbling to realize how lucky he is, when most of his fans refuse to get refunds to the cancelled concert.
"They said they'll trust you and wait," Jong Woon says.
"I'm not a trustworthy person," he mutters. He meets his manager outside of the venue. "I'm sorry, hyung."
Dong Kyu hyung just slaps him on the shoulder. "Let's just use this time to rest, okay? We'll face what's next together."
He'd probably be worse off if it weren't for Han Tae Ssun. He takes advantage of the kid's unusual pliancy and gets him to move in again. "Just for the holidays. Keep me company. I won't ask you to pay any rent. And I'll feed you some good food," he promises.
Tae Ssun just shrugs, but shows up the next day with his suitcase. They both get drunk on Christmas Eve. And Woo Young sits on the piano and pretends he's playing a concert for one.
Strangely enough, Tae Ssun just sits quietly listening to him mangle some songs. No insults, just a thoughtful expression on his face.
"You want to play, too?" He asks on a whim, and drags the kid over to the piano. They fool around with some melodies together, and then Tae Ssun launches into an old classic, and Woo Young leans back and sings softly. For the chorus, Tae Ssun harmonizes with him, and their voices soar together, filling every corner of the room.
Woo Young realizes he's tired of being so lonely.
His mom shows up at the recording studio one afternoon. Woo Young knows why she's there. About twice a year, she tries to persuade him to give up his career and work for the company. To compete with his cousin, and try to inherit more of grandfather's money. It's something he had never had an interest in, and he never will. But mother lives in hope.
"Just think about what I said," she tells him before she goes.
Woo Young does think about it. He thinks of what he's willing to do to escape the fate of the chaebol businessman. It's a long list.
He asks his assistant for another list that he had requested. A list of all the people he did wrong to. "I've lived life wrongly, so I need to make amends," he explains to them even as he shakes his head at the names on the list: girls, PDs, songwriters, actors, other musicians.
"What, a new year's resolution?" His hyung asks.
"No," he smiles sadly. "I just realized it's time I started acting like an adult."
After the holidays are over, Tae Ssun disappears yet again, just as Woo Young is trying to muster the courage to ask him to stay. But it turns out for the best because his crazy cousin (and body-switching girlfriend) gets thrown out of his house, and shows up on his doorstep with some luggage.
"No way," he protests. He doesn't want any of his cousin's weirdness to taint his life.
But as usual, he loses to Joo Won.
Maybe karma really does work, because one of the people he apologized to gives him a tip. Ms. Kwon sold the song to another singer, and they even finished the recording before the story broke out. Except he finds out who it is and groans. Chae Ri, one of the girls he was linked to. Another girl on his list, but one that really has it out for him.
He figures he might as well try. When he comes to find her, though, he finds Yoon Seul and Han Tae Ssun as well. The two of them together is not a comforting sight. But at least Chae Ri is being reasonable and promises to help.
It's soon clear why, because she leans towards Tae Ssun and asks coyly. "How old are you? Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Ya!" Woo Young interjects. "He's--"
Before he could finish, Tae Ssun interrupts. "I already have someone I like."
"You do?" Woo Young asks with incredulity. It's a disquieting thought.
After Chae Ri leaves, Yoon Seul stands up, too. But Woo Young grabs her arm. "Actually, I need to talk to you. Could you wait outside for a second, Ssun-ah?"
Tae Ssun glares at him and walks out. The two of them sits back down.
Woo Young looks at Seul for a long moment, as if trying to memorize her face. "I remember everything. Why you were hurt, why you rejected my proposal, why you came back to hurt me. I'm so mad at myself. I didn't know my insincere words would destroy what's most precious to me. And I'm so sorry. I'm sorry that I can only say I'm sorry." Woo Young chokes out through the sob that seems caught in his throat.
Seul looks close to tears herself. "I thought I was really mean, but I don't like seeing you sorry," she says as she stands up.
"Yoon Seul," Woo Young says to her back. "Please forget me and be happy."
She turns back to him. "You don't have any right to say that to me!"
"Maybe I don't, but I mean it with all my heart," Woo Young says. "Goodbye, Seul."
She walks away without another word.
When he leaves the shop, though, Tae Ssun's nowhere to be found. "This brat," he mutters as he wipes his tears and blows his nose on a tissue, then grimaces at the mess his face must be. He puts on his sunglasses just in case any fan sees him.
"Why didn't you wait for me?" Is the first thing he asks Tae Ssun when he sees him again. "Why do you keep disappearing? You're really driving me crazy aren't you?" He hands him a contract. "Here, sign this. I need to put a leash on you at least."
Tae Ssun ignores the envelope. "Why do you keep bothering me? Do you like me?"
"Do you think I'd be doing this if I didn't like you?" Woo Young retorts.
"I told you I like guys," Tae Ssun says almost petulantly.
"Go ahead and like guys," Woo Young says. "I'm sure there are a lot of them you could charm with your rude manners, you brat."
"I'm leaving Korea," Tae Ssun mutters darkly.
"You," Woo Young splutters. "You keep saying that. Come see me when you've signed the contract." He grabs the kid's mp3 player and the headphones attached. "In the meantime, I'll hold this hostage."
He walks out feeling smug. Gotcha now, you little punk.
He's still grinning when he reaches home, and he carefully untangles the cord of the headphones before putting them on. The player is already at the beginning of a song, and he laughs out loud when he hears it.
The brat's been listening to his music! It's from the second album, one of the ones he wrote himself, which is flattering enough, but when he thumbs through the rest, he realizes the mp3 player is full of those songs sprinkled throughout all six of his albums. Songs he composed, songs whose lyrics he wrote or co-wrote. Songs he played piano for.
The rest of the music is Ssun's own compositions from the sound of it. And then he finds one song. It's entitled 'Oska.' The lyrics feel like a hundred arrows that pierce right through him. That's when Tae Ssun's words came back to him. I already have someone I like.
Could it be him? Could Han Tae Ssun have fallen for him? Woo Young's heart is inexplicably pounding. And if so, what will he do about it?
Of all the people in the world, it has to come from Yoon Seul.
"What? Han Tae Ssun said he's leaving Korea today?" Woo Young mutters something about comparing him unfavorably to the women he had dated. In front of him, Seul's expression becomes a little strained. "Not that I don't appreciate it, but why are you telling me this?"
"Maybe I wanted to see what you would do," she answers evenly. "You did follow him all the way to Jejudo."
Woo Young doesn't deny it. So, she asks him, "Is he really that great?"
He meets her eyes for a long moment. "Yes, he is that great. He's the greatest." Where once he would have spoken in brash exaggerations, this time his tone is soft and fond. "Thank you, Yoon Seul-sshi. I owe you one."
She raises an eyebrow at him. "I assume you're going after him?"
Woo Young smiles sheepishly at her. "I'll drag him back even if I have to hogtie him."
Seul nods once, almost sharply. Then turns away without a word. Woo Young watches her back, and admires the way she holds herself high. His Seul has gotten stronger. Sometimes, she's like a different person, like a stranger wearing someone else's face. Maybe someday in the future, they could be friends again. Right now, though, her mere presence chokes him with guilt and self-hate. But there's love still. It never quite goes away. For her, too, it seems.
Then he shook himself. This isn't the time for regrets. He has a punk to catch.
The brat is as rude as ever. "What, you're going to China? With whose permission?" Woo Young asks.
"Where's my mp3 player?" Tae Ssun asks, ignoring him completely.
"Is that all you can say to someone who went all the way to Incheon airport to get you? Come home with me and get it if you want it. It has all your songs in it. What'll you do if I steal them?" He scolds Ssun even as his grip on the young man's sweater tightens.
Tae Ssun scoffs. "You don't have the courage to do it."
Woo Young frowns. "Look, if you didn't like the contract, we'll write a new one. I know I said I will teach you, but really, can't you teach me instead? Can't you help me out? I know you want to. I heard your song, the one you wrote for me. And I love it. Come and help me with my album. Stop playing so hard to get."
Tae Ssun sneers at him. "You have no sincerity. I hate you."
"So?" He demands. "That's not a reason to refuse me. How will you ever succeed like this? Never mind, I'll just tie you up." His throat is tired of talking, so he just grabs the kid and pulls him over his shoulder, grabs ahold of his luggage, and heads out to his car. Han Tae Ssun yelps and protests, but he doesn't struggle too much, so Woo Young counts it as a win.
When they get home, Tae Ssun bitching all the way, he digs through the kid's pockets and takes his passport.
"Ya!" Tae Ssun shouts and wrestles him for it. They roll around his living room floor like the weirdos that they are. But of course Woo Young uses his perfect muscles and pins Tae Ssun down on the ground.
The kid is heaving, and for once there's a bit of color on his cheeks. It's a good look on him. "You told me you were sorry," Woo Young murmurs. "So take responsibility until the end, Han Tae Ssun."
Tae Ssun bites his bottom lip, and Woo Young's eyes are immediately drawn to them. They're more lush than the lips of every girl he's ever dated. "Don't do that," he says softly.
"Don't do what?" Tae Ssun's voice is low and at its sound, Woo Young feels electricity travel through his limbs. He scrambles up away from the kid.
He covers it with his customary bluster. "Don't leave again, you punk. You're going to work with me on my next album, so just stay here, alright?"
"Don't just make decisions--"
"Oh-ho!" Woo Young interrupts. "Don't lie to me. You want to do it, don't you? That's why you were listening to my songs. How is it, are they any good?"
Tae Ssun makes a face as he stands up. "No, they're terrible."
Woo Young tucks the passport in his pocket. "But if you work with me, they'll be so much better," he says cheerfully. "Are you hungry? Come on, let's eat together. Ahjumma!"
For the next few weeks, Woo Young exercises his charm to its fullest extent to drag Tae Ssun to the studio to listen to the songs for his seventh album. A lot of it will have to be scrapped, and any song Ms. Kwon was involved in goes directly to the garbage, but maybe some of them can be salvaged.
But Han Tae Ssun, he discovers, is impossible to please. "Just start over," he growls, taking the headphones off and massaging the bridge of his nose. "You're going to have a different theme for this one anyway, and you'll have to prove that it's all original, so just erase everything and start over."
His manager's not happy about it, but Woo Young backs Tae Ssun, giving him the official title of his new producer, and that's that.
And for the next three months, he and Tae Ssun are joined at the hip. When they're not at the studio, they're sitting together in front of his piano, and playing melodies for each other. Woo Young works on the lyrics by himself, then Tae Ssun makes him revise and revise and revise, until he's ready to throttle the punk, and maybe burn his notes.
In the rare times that he does leave the house, he drags Ssun along with him, and they go on trips together to his favorite spots all over the city. Tae Ssun brings his mp3 player and a splitter, and they walk together listening to the same music. Some of them are Tae Ssun's songs, which Woo Young thinks are amazing. Some of them are the drafts of the songs they are working on, which Tae Ssun thinks are horrible. And some of them are just music that the younger man enjoys. It's nice to listen to, and gives Woo Young a glimpse into Ssun's head.
The walks soon become essential to them not killing each other. The songs are starting to come together, and Woo Young's theme--at first simply 'Comeback'--has evolved into something more concrete. 'A Love that Endures' is the tentative title for the album. It's dedicated to all his fans who had stood by him through all this.
Despite using all his considerable charm and effort, Tae Ssun only agrees to sing with Woo Young for one song. It's one of the few that Tae Ssun wrote without his input.
They do a practice run at home, with Tae Ssun playing the music on the piano and Woo Young sitting beside him. After they finally get through the whole song without flubbing anything, Woo Young wraps his arm around the kid's shoulder.
Tae Ssun freezes at the contact. The kid reminds him of a bird he rescued once when he was about nine. It was terrified the whole time, and tried to escape even with a broken wing. Woo Young drags him closer. "Someone hurt you a lot, didn't they?" He murmurs offhandedly.
Tae Ssun tries to shrug him off, but Woo Young tightens his grip. "It's none of your business," he says mulishly.
"Why not? We're friends aren't we?" Tae Ssun doesn't reply to that, so Woo Young continues the conversation by himself. "Should I tell you my tale of woe and heartbreak? When you're broke and desperate, you can go sell it to the tabloids."
He waits until Ssun scoffs at the idea before continuing. "I met Yoon Seul in college. We fell in love. That was the easy part. When I was just starting out with my first band, she was there with me every step of the way. But I was so sure of her that I started to take her for granted. One day, I proposed to her and she rejected me in the worse possible way. I was left stunned. Heartbroken. Bewildered. For ten years, I second guessed myself because I couldn't tell if people genuinely liked me, or they were just playing. It became easier to reject people first." He sighs, and leans his head on Tae Ssun's shoulder.
"I found out later why she did what she did. I thought I loved her, but in the end I just used her. I didn't even think about how she felt always waiting for me. And then one night she overheard a conversation I had with another singer." Woo Young's face sours at the memory. "I lied about her to save my pride. I broke her heart, and I didn't even know that I did it. I guess I'm really a horrible person," he says the last in a whisper.
"Most people are like that," Tae Ssun interjects. "Most people can only see themselves."
Woo Young turns to him, their faces a little too close. "It must be harder for you to find love."
Tae Ssun turns his head away. "I never actually found it. There are just people who want things from you, people who use you and then throw you away, people who think it's funny to play with your feelings."
Woo Young sits up. "Wait, are you talking about me?"
Tae Ssun giggles, then covers his mouth in horror.
Woo Young points at him. "I'm right, aren't I? You were talking about me! You!" And then he starts to tickle Tae Ssun's side.
The kid rallies in between choked gasps and counter-attacks. Woo Young surrenders within seconds, ribs aching with his breathless laughter.
It's not always laughter and music, though.
Some nights, a black cloud descends on Woo Young. So he orders Ssun to leave him alone, and he drinks himself into a stupor.
The person he was years ago, the prideful coward who couldn't say his feelings out loud with full confidence, that person still lived inside Woo Young. That person still stares back at him in the mirror every morning. Sometimes he feels he's just made of bluster. Nothing but hot air.
When a person hates themselves this much, it becomes a chore just to get out of bed.
Then Gil Ra Im gets into an accident and he has to deal with Joo Won falling apart, too. Woo Young makes sure his dongsaeng is able to stumble to bed, stocks the table beside him with painkillers and some water, and then goes back to his place to get even more drunk. He feels like he's carrying enough heartbreak for three people.
That night, Ssun refuses to leave his side. He grabs a bottle from Woo Young's hand and takes a gulp from it.
"Ya! That's mine! Get your own," Woo Young grumbles, reaching for it. But Ssun holds it over his head with his freakishly long arms. "Just leave me alone," he slurs out.
"Your liver must be in a sad state by now," the kid informs him.
"Yeah well it's my heart I want to pickle," Woo Young retorts.
"So you still love that ahjumma?" Tae Ssun asks, his voice low.
"I don't deserve to love her," he mutters. "I don't deserve to love you, too." He closes his eyes for a long moment and rubs his face, trying to sit still while the room is spinning around him.
Tae Ssun falls silent, and Woo Young squints at him and tries to recall what he just said. He staggers to his feet, and Tae Ssun is suddenly there to keep him from falling flat on his face.
"My hero," he murmurs with an undignified giggle, even as he wraps his arms around the kid. Who stiffens in his arms.
"Come on. I'll take you to bed. You need to sleep it off," Ssun murmurs almost under his breath as he tries to drag him towards his room.
Woo Young hugs him tighter. "You're all skin and bones," he complains. "I'll have to fatten you up." He thinks of that fairy tale about the witch fattening children so she could eat them, and he nibbles at Ssun's shoulder through the thin material of his t-shirt.
Tae Ssun hisses in surprise, but otherwise doesn't move. Woo Young abandons the kid's shoulder and goes for that spot where the shoulder meets his neck. There's a bit more meat there, and almost automatically he licks the spot and then sucks a mark there. It feels like they're fighting and he just won, so he giggles.
He's not ready when Tae Ssun pushes him away, and he falls on his ass (which hurts!) and stares up in a daze.
Han Tae Ssun looks mad. Even in his drunken state he notices the kid's balled fists, and flaming cheeks. The t-shirt he's wearing is askew, and Woo Young sees the neckline expose the spot he had just been tasting.
"Don't fucking play with me," Tae Ssun growls. And then he walks away, leaving Woo Young to lie back down on his cold floor and contemplate the ceiling.
Play? But who's playing? It's an unfair thought because he's been acting like a kid all this time, so of course Tae Ssun doesn't take him seriously. He can barely take himself seriously most days.
Then Choi Woo Young notices he's on his way to being half-hard, and the realization sobers him up fast. He's not that good a thinker, but that night he sits up, grabs the neck of the bottle abandoned on the floor, and sets out to get even more drunk. He does his best thinking then.
He's always been an impulsive guy, given to florid declarations and cheesy exaggerated confessions to whoever he's trying to pursue at the moment. Sometimes he think he parodies himself, especially the self that was so in love a long time ago. But even so, he was careful to hold people at arm's length, and whenever he's with one of his women, he's conscious that he's playing a part. Like he's on-stage and he riffs off of their energy (or attraction) and answers back with his own. He always prided himself on showing them a good time, but he's never bothered to think about what comes after. The openness required of an actual relationship. Maybe even revealing the parts of his life that are dark, or dull, or desperate.
This is the first time he's ever been in a position where he doesn't know which way to go.
Even with Seul, even when he was madly in love with her, he never let her get that close. And that realization makes him sick to his stomach. Oh, but there was one exception. Gil Ra Im. For a moment, Choi Woo Young contemplates the strange woman who herself admitted that she's been his fan for thirteen long years. Maybe in a different lifetime, he would have recognized her for who she is: an amazingly strong yet vulnerable and super intriguing woman. Maybe in another lifetime, he could have fallen for her instead of his cousin. Of course, his cousin's position is probably the last place he wants to be right now.
He had fallen, surely enough. And as for the unsuitability of the object of his affections, he has no doubt that this time, he would win over Joo Won. Even if Gil Ra Im gets better, his aunt might never accept her for his cousin. But Woo Young's mother will just collapse if she finds out that her only son has fallen in love with another man. She might even show an expression on her over-botoxed face, he thinks with a sad chuckle. On the other hand, it might just be the one way she can finally realize that he will never work for the department store. Not if he had a thousand lifetimes to waste.
But is it love? Han Tae Ssun is like a cat, no, more like a walking cactus, always ready to sting people away. The fact that he hasn't tried to leave in a while, the fact he lets Woo Young touch him as much as he does before pushing him away, those are the only clues Woo Young has to the kid's feelings.
Today, too, with that kiss mark... Woo Young flushes at the thought. He wants to do it again. And he wants an actual kiss--Tae Ssun's lips couldn't possibly feel as soft as they look. So yes, he is attracted to the kid. All the other things, well, they may be out of the realm of his experience but he's always been a fast learner in the art of making love. He'll figure that part out. It's the afterwards that leaves him confused.
He can't imagine doing to Ssun what he did to Chae Rim a few months ago, that is kissing her so thoroughly and then breaking up so casually. His heart hurts at the mere thought. Han Tae Ssun is the same as him, he realizes. While Woo Young's mask is the affable fool and the petulant diva and the experienced Casanova, Tae Ssun's is the angry, condescending brat with one foot always out the door. The kid doesn't let himself get attached to things and homes and people. He knew instinctively that there must be a reason for that. For a moment, Woo Young contemplates hunting down every person who had hurt the kid and destroying them.
He knew at least one. Ms. Kwon the plagiarizing songwriter, but she's already getting what she deserves. He figures Tae Ssun's parents must be another. The kid's way too young to be gallivanting all over the place unless he was used to being so unsupervised. And if his own parents rejected him, well, it explains the persona he puts on.
Woo Young rubs at his eyes. Whatever it is that he's feeling for the kid, he can't just jump into this without thinking. Because if he's right that the kid likes him, if he lets him in now but throws him out later, then he really is the biggest asshole on the planet.
And that's when he remembers his boast to his cousin. I can throw away everything. Ha. He scoffs at himself. Can he really? Can he really throw everything away for someone he loves?
The questions dog his sleep and buzz at the back of his brain for the next few weeks.
Can he really make this leap and trust that his own feelings will see him through to the other side? He of the hundreds of female conquests, can he trust that this time it's the real thing? This time, it's forever?
Because he's so unsure, he sets about testing himself and Tae Ssun.
He knows the wrong step might push the kid out the door, but he ignores that possibility. He uses every opportunity to touch the kid, ruffling his hair as soon as he sees him, dragging him around with an arm around his shoulders, sitting close when they're at the piano so that their arms and shoulders touch. Tae Ssun is stiff throughout, but slowly, gradually, he relaxes. And even retaliates by jabbing at him with his sharp bony elbow, or messing up his hair too, just to get him to yell, "Ya!"
I feel like I'm taming a wild creature, Woo Young thinks. Then he ups it a notch.
He drags Han Tae Ssun over to the piano and then sits behind him on the bench, his whole body touching Ssun's back, and his legs bracketing the kid on either side. Ssun is stiff, and tries to get up and leave, but Woo Young wraps his arms around the kid's waist and doesn't let him. It feels nice. The kid's tall, but not tall enough that he's unable to nuzzle at his neck. He smells good, a combination of Woo Young's own soap and shampoo with the scent that's uniquely his own. And the position reminds him of his motorbike. Maybe he'll take Ssun out for a ride one of these days.
He's brought out of his thoughts by Tae Ssun's low, angry words. "I told you to stop doing this. What? Are you having fun? Are you having a laugh after toying with me like this? Let go of me right now."
Woo Young sighs, and his breath on Ssun's neck makes him shiver. The kid feels good in his arms. He doesn't have any answers either, but he realizes the questions won't just disappear. And the only way to deal with them is to face them head-on. "I like you," he says.
When Ssun struggles again, he lets him go. Han Tae Ssun stands up, but Woo Young grabs his arm and swings him around and says again to his face, "I like you. So stop being mad."
Tae Ssun frowns down at him. "I don't believe you."
"I know you don't. So don't do anything and just accept what I give you. I will earn your trust," he promises with a small smile.
Tae Ssun opens his mouth, but he's interrupted when Woo Young's cousin comes in, holding a box and handing it over to him.
And then it all goes to hell.
Choi Woo Young practically goes crazy when his dongsaeng deliberately switches places with a comatose Gil Ra Im. He has to be stoic and strong for his aunt but inside he's breaking.
"You crazy punk! Is your woman more important than everything else? What, you don't need your family any more? One pair of shoes--you think you can throw it at me and leave?" He realizes the hypocrisy of his words, when he himself is contemplating such a choice. But for Joo Won to stake his life on the line, that's not something he can forgive his cousin for. "I don't know if I can protect your love."
Later, at home, Tae Ssun sits near him while he contemplates the bottom of his glass. "I heard from the ahjumma that your cousin woke up. So he's fine, isn't he?"
He shakes his head, feeling overwhelmed and unable to explain. He settles for saying, "He's not my Joo Won." He remembers the box that his cousin had given him, with the shoes and the watch inside. Why didn't he see it sooner? Why didn't he notice how odd Joo Won was acting?
Tae Ssun remains silent and lets him speak.
"All this time I thought I was letting him win, because I was the adult. But how much of an adult do you have to be to die for someone else?"
He isn't really expecting an answer. But when he staggers to his feet, Ssun is there. Woo Young lets himself be led to bed. He sits down heavily on the side, but catches Ssun's wrist. "Will you stay with me tonight? Please?" It's wrong to take advantage of the pity and confusion that the kid must be feeling, but Woo Young is tired. And he doesn't want to be alone.
With obvious reluctance, Han Tae Ssun turns down the covers and slips in on the other side of the bed. At first, he is stiff, looking up at the ceiling like a statue. But Woo Young scoots closer and wraps an arm around him. "Let's just sleep, Ssun-ah," he murmurs. "We'll figure ourselves out later, okay. Just don't leave me."
So gradually, Tae Ssun relaxes, and even turns to face him. Woo Young smiles sadly at the kid's face. He's so beautiful like this. Is it really fair of him to hold onto Ssun when he's so old and washed up? He kisses him on his forehead. "Good night. Thank you," he murmurs, closing his eyes. He's already asleep before he hears Ssun's reply.
"I like you too."
Then Joo Won is back to normal, or as normal as he can be, after losing his memory of the last thirteen years. It's strange, but not as strange as seeing his dongsaeng's mannerisms in Ra Im's body had been.
Woo Young lets himself have a moment to relax, but then in the middle of practice with Tae Ssun, he gets a call from his mother. He takes it outside, feeling self-conscious all of a sudden. "Yobuseyo?"
"Have you heard about your cousin?" His mother asks without any preamble. "He's not even in his right mind. How can he manage the department store like this? I told you you should have quit already. Are you going to let other people overtake you again?"
Woo Young pinches the bridge of his nose. "Omma, even at twenty-one years old, Joo Won is more capable than I will ever be. So don't worry too much about the department store. It's in good hands."
"Do you think that's what I care about? Darling, I just want you to have what's rightfully yours. It's not right that you're not even trying. Music is all well and good, but it's not something you can rely on when you're older. I just want you to settle down. I will find you a wife from a good family, so you should just focus on the business. It's about time that you start working a regular job."
The picture his mother paints for him is like something from his worst nightmare. He's been explaining that to her over and over since he was young. But she never listens to him. He's tired of it all of a sudden, which is his only excuse for letting the words fall from his lips. "I've already found both the person and the career that I love, so stop worrying about me."
"What? What person? Are you going to get embroiled in another scandal again?"
Woo Young winces. "That's probably true. Tell grandfather to keep healthy. I don't want him to get a heart attack when he hears about me again."
"Ya, what are you talking about? Who is this person? Is she pretty? Who's her father?"
"It's a man," Woo Young blurts out. "So please stop thinking about my working at LOEL. Grandfather was right to insist that I use a stage name." He spots the car parked at the corner of his lot. "I have a visitor. I need to go." And he hangs up just as his mother is sputtering over the line.
He recognizes the car as Yoon Seul's. He heads back inside, only to catch the tail-end of their conversation.
"Oska caught me." Tae Ssun's admission pleases him, even if he doesn't know exactly what they are talking about.
When Seul walks out, Woo Young meets her by the door. She crosses her arms. "So he's living here permanently?"
"Yes," Woo Young says. "I need to keep an eye in case he runs away again."
"So I heard you're pushing forward with your seventh album," she says. He tries to read her but can't tell if she's happy for him.
"And there'll be an open concert, and a music video, and possibly an Asian tour," he adds, smiling at her. "I hope you'll attend the concert. Even after everything. I still owe you, as well. For helping me with Chae Ri and for telling me about Ssun."
"Since it was my fault in the first place that your song got leaked, let's just say that we're even and leave it at that," she tells him, her chin lifting. "I notice you didn't ask me to direct your music video."
Woo Young looks down. "I think I've caused you enough headaches."
Yoon Seul nods at him. "Maybe you're right. But it's business, and I'd like the chance anyway. Keep me on your short list. I won't say no."
"Seul-ah," he starts to say, but she holds up a hand.
"I'm not saying I forgive you. But I think I'm done trying to make you pay. It's time I focused on my life." She bites her bottom lip, as if she regrets her words.
She's still so beautiful, that Woo Young feels his throat close up with all the things he wants to say. But their time has passed. "If you're really okay with it, I'll talk to Dong Kyu hyung. He can call your office with the details."
She smiles at him, that half-fake smile of hers that makes his heart squeeze with pain. "I'll look forward to it." Then she walks away without a backwards look.
Before what happened to Joo Won, he would have ruffled Tae Ssun's hair and called him adorable. Since that night, though, things between them have become a little more strained. Woo Young is trying to give the kid some space. He knows he dropped the H-bomb on his mother, and there'll be repercussions of that soon enough. He just hopes she won't totally scare Ssun away. He hopes he still has a chance to convince him of his sincerity.
So they're sitting a little more distantly from each other on the couch, talking about the concert, when his cousin walks in. As much as he wants to show Ssun off, he doesn't want to explain anything to a Joo Won who doesn't remember. So he introduces the kid as his producer.
"For my album number 7.1," he says, smiling at Tae Ssun.
"Oh, so you're really famous now? I didn't know standards have slipped that low in thirteen years," Joo Won scoffs.
"Your hyung made K-pop like this," Ssun says. And Woo Young mistakes it for a compliment until he catches the smirk on Ssun's face.
"Ya! Don't you gang up on me, that's not fair! You, go bother Gil Ra Im instead," he tells his cousin. He feels a little possessive all of a sudden.
When Joo Won saunters off, having had the last word as usual, Woo Young scoots a little closer to Ssun on the couch. "I haven't thanked you yet, for that night," he mumbles.
"If you want to thank me, start focusing. These songs won't memorize themselves," Ssun says back sharply.
Woo Young searches his face for any hint of feeling or clue to what the kid is thinking. But there's just that perpetual mask. He nudges the kid with his shoulder. "You could call me hyung too if you want. Woo Young hyung. Or Oska hyung."
"Oska's perfectly fine," Ssun says.
"You brat," he mutters under his breath but falls silent when Ssun raises an eyebrow. And they go back to discussing changes to the songs for the concert.
He keeps an eye on the kid, and makes sure he's always close by. So he knows precisely when Tae Ssun receives a call from his mother.
He follows the kid out to the coffeeshop. What is it with Ssun and coffeeshops? He thinks he'll never enter another one without thinking of Ssun sitting so arrogantly in one of the little corner tables. His mother is sitting opposite him and looks like a storm about to unleash havoc.
He arrives just in time for his mother to pull out a file on Han Tae Ssun's background. "Do you think you're good enough for my son even if you weren't that?" She waves an imperious hand in front of him. "Why don't you tell me how much you want?"
"Ommoni," Woo Young speaks before Ssun could. "You are going to shut up and listen for once. This young man has done nothing to warrant this. His only sin is being amazingly gorgeous and talented and brilliant, and letting me cling to him like a leech. I will never do what you want me to do. And I'm going to continue to love this man no matter what you or the rest of the world says. So please just leave us alone."
His mother's face tightens. For a moment, he feels sorry for her. He has never spoken to her that way before. He knew she was disappointed in his choices, but he always tried to charm her into agreement. This time, however, he knows there is no other way.
She looks at Tae Ssun, ignoring him completely. "You didn't answer my question," she tells him.
Woo Young looks down onto Ssun's unreadable face. "I'm sorry, ahjumma. I don't think you can afford me," Ssun says in a voice that's whisper-soft.
His mother gasps in outrage. But Tae Ssun continues, "And anyway, your son's old enough to make his own choices." Ssun catches his eye, but does not smile. "I'm not the wisest choice, but it's between him and me and not really any of your business."
"What? You rude-mannered, impudent brat," his mother chokes out in sheer fury. "No wonder your parents threw you out and erased your name from your family register. No wonder you're practically homeless and keep sleeping in other people's houses. Do you sell your body too, you wretch..." She would have continued on, but Woo Young couldn't take it anymore.
He grabs Ssun's arm and pulls him up. "Close your eyes and your ears and just follow me," he tells him.
Ssun's pale, and the hand in his grip is trembling. Woo Young wants nothing more than to pull him into his arms. He settles for a hand on Ssun's back. He turns back to his mother, who is now standing, and maybe a little more conscious of the stares they are attracting.
"You crossed a line, ommoni," he tells her almost gently. "I know you love me, and maybe I don't deserve that love. But you will not show yourself in front of Han Tae Ssun ever again. He's my responsibility. And I'm his. And if you can't accept that, then forget that you ever had a son." Then he marches Ssun out with his hand spread over his lower back, and helps him into his car.
Then he drives off, not really caring which direction he's heading, merely following his instincts to pull over in a small park nearby. When he closes the engine of the car, he hears it. Han Tae Ssun's too-fast breaths now too-loud in the silence. The kid's hands are covering his face, and his shoulders are shaking.
Woo Young pulls him into his arms and kisses his hair. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you had to hear that."
"Why? It's all true anyway?" Ssun cries out. "Why me? You can have anybody you could ever want, so why me?" He meets Woo Young's gaze with red-rimmed eyes.
"I don't think I have ever found a reason for love," Woo Young answers him. "I was prepared for this much. I'm just sorry I couldn't prepare you, too."
"Why would you tell that to your mother when we haven't even figured it out for ourselves?" Ssun shouts at him.
"Because no matter if you say yes or no to me, I won't change my mind."
Ssun looks at him disbelievingly. "You have everything to lose! You're just getting your career back in track. And there's the concert and the tour. If you fail here, you may never be able to try again."
"I know," Woo Young says simply. "But I lost someone once, because I was too afraid of the consequences of loving them. I won't do that again."
"I'm not Yoon Seul. You're better off getting back with her. I know she still loves you." Tae Ssun looks away, into the trees and the open field of the park.
"And I still care deeply about her. But our moment has passed, Ssun. We're two different people now. This person that I am in this moment is the person who loves you." Woo Young grabs Ssun's hands and squeezes them, as if he could convince the other man by his touch. "Don't worry too much about the future. I've been a celebrity for long enough that we won't ever starve even if the album flops and my family cuts me off."
"Of course I'm not worried about that!" Tae Ssun stares at him. "I'm worried you'll regret this choice. That one day you'll come to hate me."
Woo Young touches Ssun's face with his fingertips, and then leans forward to kiss him. It is as wonderful as he imagined it to be. Ssun's mouth yields to him, his soft, lush lips opening, his taste and scent warm and dizzying. It feels like it lasts for longer, and when it's over, he keeps Ssun close enough that their breaths mingle.
"Our family is known for our stubbornness in love and in hate. Do you think I don't know the difference between what all those women were to me and what I feel about you? I'm not stupidly throwing away everything on a momentary passion, Han Tae Ssun. I'm in this for the long haul." He hesitates for a second. "I just have to warn you that I will fuck up. I will make mistakes. Because I've never done this before. I've never loved like this, and never thought of the future like this. We're going to have to learn it as we go."
"You said you once asked Yoon Seul to marry you." Tae Ssun's voice is hoarse now, but at least he's no longer pale and clammy. His lips and cheeks are rosy, and he looks like an angel.
"That was a fool's idea of marriage. Everything falling into place. The other person never changing. I was a blind man then. Blind to her pain and her hurt. Blind to her needs. I'm saying this because if I'm ever blind to you, you have to knock some sense into me. Don't give up on me, and I won't ever let you go."
"I..." Tae Ssun looks down. "I'm scared."
"So am I. But I think I'd be less terrified if you're beside me," Woo Young confesses.
Ssun nods and Woo Young whoops and kisses him again. When Ssun catches his breath, though, he tells him. "I'm sorry about your mother. I shouldn't have been so rude to her."
"I understand," Woo Young says, not bothering to hide the happiness on his face. "You don't have to explain. Joo Won would have approved," he adds, laughing at the thought of his cousin. "And it doesn't matter what you say. My mother will decide if she can accept this or not, and that decision will have nothing to do with whether you're rude or polite. I'm the one who disappointed her. I'm the one she's really angry at." Woo Young sighs, and runs his hand up and down Tae Ssun's back. "Should we go on a date?"
Tae Ssun pulls away from him, and his expression changes. "Date? Do you have time to worry about that? The concert is in a few days. Drive us back to the studio. We need to practice more."
Woo Young pouts, but he falls into what he feels will become a very familiar pattern: following Ssun's every command.
"Alright, but if I do well, you'll have to reward me."
Tae Ssun scoffs. "What are you, a kid? Or maybe a dog?"
"Ya!" Woo Young scowls at him, and watches in sheer pleasure as the young man bursts into laughter.
It is a sound he plans on hearing a lot more often.
Han Tae Ssun watches the concert from a seat in the front row. He refused to include their duet in the songlist for the night, so he's just another person in the audience. For the most part, it goes well. He notices some botched notes from one of the guitarists, and gives them the evil eye, even if they won't notice him. But Oska--no Woo Young--is on his top game tonight. He hits all the notes right, and doesn't flub any single line, and he looks amazing in his black and white suit.
Time passes almost unnoticed, until Woo Young let the notes fall away into silence, and he takes up the microphone and takes a deep breath, before speaking into it. "Life is uncertain, especially the life of a Hallyu star. I am here today because of the love and support from all of you. But tomorrow might be different. Still, despite the uncertainty, we still move forward. We live and we love." He looks down for a moment, and then catches Ssun's eye as he moves his gaze upward.
"You see, a long time ago I loved a very special woman. But I let my fears and my pride get in the way and I let her go. It was a mistake, and one I promised myself I will never repeat again. Then I met someone new, and that promise got harder to keep." Woo Young looks over to where Ssun was standing, meeting his eyes. "But I think if I didn't, I would regret it for the rest of my life. So everyone, I'd like to open up my heart to you."
He nods at someone, and that's when Ssun notices the man standing in the aisle beside his seat. He guides Ssun up and helps him onto the stage. The lights are too bright, and his heart is thudding so loud that he can barely hear the crowd's reaction. He almost stumbles, but keeps his eyes on Woo Young, who holds out a hand to him.
"Ssun, I know you're scared, and so am I. But please hold on to me, so we can be scared together," he say, turning it into what has already become an inside joke for them, though Ssun knows he really means it.
He hesitates, looking down at the open hand reaching out for his. He knew Woo Young was planning some kind of announcement. Maybe a press release, or some pictures. But at the concert! That isn't part of the plan.
"Please hold on to me, and don't ever let go," Woo Young is saying, tone lowering as for a moment he stops playing for the crowd.
Ssun steps forward, and the screams of the fans surround him like a howling wind. He takes Woo Young's hand. His palm is sweaty, and his smile at Ssun is shaky. Woo Young hadn't been sure he would do it.
"Thank you," Woo Young says in a husky voice. He clears his throat. "I know many of you are shocked, are sad and maybe disappointed in me. And maybe this will be the end of Oska. But I hope that those of you who have ever been in love at least understand and support my feelings." He bows to the audience, before turning to him.
"Ssun, I don't know what you see in me. You're young and talented and gorgeous, while I am old and washed up. Maybe love is blind. But if that is so, please continue to close your eyes, and stay by my side."
Music starts to play. It is Ssun's song, the one that he wrote and titled 'Oska,' though that seems a hundred years ago now. Woo Young's voice is perfect for it as he had planned, like chocolate that's both dark and sweet, rolling right off his tongue. Ssun's words are mirrored back to him, his feelings captured in the song facing him like an echo, making for one very surreal experience for Tae Ssun.
From the audience, this is what Yoon Seul, and Kim Joo Won, and Gil Ra Im sees: Woo Young trying to convey his feelings to an increasingly ambivalent crowd, and Ssun, staring at Woo Young as if nothing else exists.
At the end of the song, Woo Young pulls him into a hug, so that Ssun's face is hidden. "Stop looking at me with that expression," Woo Young whispers into his ear.
The lights turn off and Ssun only hears their hearts beating amidst the frenzy of the crowd. Woo Young grabs his hand again and pulls him away backstage, while some lights come on again to let the people see their way out of the concert hall.
He lets go when they were alone in a corner. And Ssun grabs his shirt and pulled him into a kiss. Woo Young kisses back. And well the thing about kissing Ssun, it just gets better and better.