Pairing: Kai / Kyungsoo
Summary: This is not a romance, by definition. This is Kim Jongin, both too famous and too dense to write his own memoir. This is Kim Jongin, stumbling awkwardly back into love. 11,567 words.
ro·mance - a novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, etc.
Kim Jongin thinks everyone could benefit from being an asshole.
Because, in all honesty, what value is there to sacrificing yourself, to graciously picking up those dropped papers, other than the pursuit of karma—and to Jongin, there's really only one life, the one he's living now. “That's only because you're a rich fuck,” Sehun says when they chat over gourmet coffee on the executive floor of a five-star hotel. “You should pay attention to these things. Karma's good for you, man.” Sehun punches Jongin's shoulder, simultaneously knocking the basket of bread onto the floor. Jongin tends to take things Sehun says at less-than-face-value, so when Jongin first hears Joonmyun's proposal, he considers declining it.
Late afternoon, they're sitting in Joonmyun's office, a mansion on cubicle-shaped stilts that overlooks a courtyard, the Seoul skyline, and a small harbor of clouds off in the distance. Jongin was the one who'd suggested installing windows on the west side so that Joonmyun could get a glimpse of the sunset every afternoon, because Joonmyun is sentimental when he has time to be, and it doesn't cost any added effort to look out for him every now and then. It's more embarrassing than it is pleasant, though, so nine times out of ten, Jongin is still an asshole. Today's one of those nine times, with Jongin sprawled over one couch and Joonmyun opposite him, leaning over the coffee table and glaring at Jongin until he gets a response.
“Listen,” Jongin says, brushing his hair back. “Books like these, no one ever reads them. They sit on some shelf, or on display, so you can brag that you have your signed copy or whatever, and then—”
“This isn't about writing a novel, Jongin,” Joonmyun replies, with his fingers laced loosely together. “It's courtesy. It's pretty much etiquette nowadays. You wouldn't know, because you never pay attention to anything outside your own world.” His tone is a little off-putting, but Jongin's grown used to it, because as Jongin's manager, Joonmyun has the persistence to hold steady control over Jongin's attitude. It's autumn, and the sun starts to set before Joonmyun leaves work. Jongin squints his eyes and looks over at the pink-blue sky, but they've been through this before, and Joonmyun continues talking because he knows Jongin's still listening. It's not like he has a choice. “It isn't about readability, or some fucking Pulitzer Prize winning book-club book. It'll sell, because it's you—your face, on the front cover of—”
“Stop, shut up,” Jongin says, lifting himself off the back of the couch. “I'm tired of hearing about my face.”
“No, you're not,” Joonmyun says with a small smile, and Jongin opens his mouth to reply, but realizes that he can't think of anything witty, or true, to say.
So he mumbles, “I can't write,” instead.
“Not a problem,” Joonmyun replies, sliding a sheet of paper across the glass, and Jongin glances down at it, a lot of words that blur like the hazy skyline. “Here are a list of writers I know, and you can do whatever background check you want, but they're willing to—”
“What the fuck, Joonmyun,” Jongin replies, finally pulling his gaze away from the darkened sky and shifting forward. “I'm not going to have some random guy off the street typing out my life story.”
“To be fair, they're mostly women,” Joonmyun says, and Jongin rolls his eyes.
“Whatever, I just—”
“Fine, then,” Joonmyun says, pushing his glasses down from where they'd been resting on his hair. Joonmyun always looks slightly more intimidating behind thick-framed Ray Bans, especially when he looks up at Jongin when they've slipped down his nose a bit, as if he has a business proposal, as if he actually believes Jongin will give a fuck. Joonmyun has done a lot of beneficial things in those Ray Bans, though, which is why Jongin still lets himself be intimidated. “I'll be glad to compromise, if you have someone else you'd like to suggest.”
Jongin blanches. “What makes you think I'd know—”
“I'll give you two days,” Joonmyun says, nudging the sheet toward Jongin, and Jongin groans.
Outside of your own world is what Jongin takes from that conversation.
“We breathe the same air,” Jongin has always said, getting a laugh out of Joonmyun, but he's only recently figured out that it isn't so much a laugh of amusement as it is a laugh of contempt.
“You're pretty naïve, for an adult,” Joonmyun says.
Because Jongin actually breathes in air of cigar smoke and expensive alcohol and breathes out cocky words and kisses, only admitting himself into high-end clubs and mingling with his kind of people, Joonmyun would say. “We're both rich,” Jongin points out, and Joonmyun shakes his head. It's a different atmosphere. Sehun is Jongin's only friend, and that's a stretch, because Sehun's rich, but he works in business and stocks and things that are too smart for you, Jongin, Sehun says as he signs his name wrong on one of his checks because he usually has a secretary do it for him.
A secretary is what Jongin needs right now—Joonmyun is that, a manager, and more, and is coincidentally leaving him on his own for the next two days to look for an apt writer to complete a memoir for a 23-year-old man—boy, Sehun corrects, and Jongin frowns. Too young to have a kid, spouse, or significant other, or—Jongin bites out the last one reluctantly—an accomplished life. Being an asshole doesn't mean being delusional, and Jongin knows too well the difference between his salary and the effort he puts into making it. “Lu Han already has enough work on his hands,” Sehun says when Jongin calls him up and tries not to sound pathetic while asking what Sehun's secretary has been up to lately. “He's not exactly a good writer, more good with his fingers.”
“Yeah, you would know,” Jongin snaps and hangs up just as Sehun chuckles and protests with a, “He's engaged!”
Jongin's main apartment is at the top of a high-rise complex, and he owns half the floor, including the one-person-wide balcony that snakes around from his bedroom to the living room. He would never have dreamed of it as a kid—his interests didn't pertain to mainstream society's definition of success. Joonmyun was the ambitious upper-classman from Drama Club with connections, social skills, and a handy selflessness who'd helped Jongin get there—which is also why Jongin lets himself be intimidated by Joonmyun every once in a while.
Jongin's high school yearbooks sit on plate holders on glass shelves surrounding his television like tacky souvenirs and memorabilia, because high school was the last bout of formal education he successfully completed—then, it was off to the industry. Humble beginnings, Jongin thinks, but when things languish in the corner of your eye for long enough, your vision just tends to tunnel them out.
He comes home late from dinner out with Joonmyun where they mutually agree to avoid the subject, and the yearbook from his senior year of high school is glittering in the light from the window. Some idiot who likely grew up to fail his design classes in college decided to make the cover holographic. Jongin will later forget to thank that idiot.
He has two days.
He rubs his eyes and claps the lights on and takes the yearbook, dusty, from its spot on the shelf.
Jongin wakes up to a headache and a crook in his back, his hand curled protectively around a hard, flat object pillowing his head.
It isn't the first time he's woken up on the floor of his apartment.
But it's the first time he's woken up alone—with head pains caused by sleeping on a book instead of drinking too much alcohol—and there's something refreshing in it, innocent, as if he were still a kid, fallen asleep while studying lines for the school production the next day. He groggily registers the phone telling him to please hang up and try again, please hang up and try again, and Jongin crawls up and ruffles his hair, leaving his yearbook to flip to its own pages. He'd looked up some 30 smart kids from high school last night and found that they're now nuclear engineers, famous architects, chemistry professors, or pursuing their PhD's in the United States—society's definition of success. None, writers. He relates to it for the first ten seconds, then shakes himself awake.
There's a button on his kitchen wall that gets the coffee ready, so Jongin presses it and stands in front of the sliding glass door, squinting and shading his eyes at the sun inching up between the buildings, as if trying to fit. Joonmyun hadn't scheduled much for the day, and Jongin doesn't get to look out the window often—a haze settles over the city, and he recalls high school, where he'd lived in a different apartment, miles away, his small, hard bed shifted right next to the wall, so he'd woken up to an open window almost every morning. That was nice, but the hour-plus commute to school was a joykill.
The coffee beeps done, and—there it is—mornings are different. In the morning, Jongin is groggy, unaware, yet more aware, pulling things from the back of his memory and running into doorframes and countertops. He hadn't bought the apartment for the picturesque (clichéd) view of sunrise; he isn't an artist—that's over-crediting himself by a longshot. Mornings don't even exist in his timetable—it's alarm, coffee, car, makeup, press conference, then lunch.
Someone used to remind him of mornings.
His grandmother, and the boy from the same floor of his apartment complex who would always bring his mother's leftovers to Jongin's family for a makeshift breakfast.
The coffee tastes bitter today, and Jongin remembers that he'd forgotten to change the filter, and there's a pile of coffee grounds at the bottom of his cup. He makes a face and pours it into the sink and calls Sehun.
“So you're saying there's not a single person from our public high school who can write a decent biography,” Sehun says, leaning his elbows on the table. It's crowded with wine glasses and three plates per setting, though, like restaurant tables always are, so he ends up with a fork in his sleeve and Lu Han quietly laughing off to the side.
“I'm not just going to call any stranger,” Jongin says, smoothing the napkin over his lap. “If someone's going to be the ghostwriter, shouldn't they know me?”
Sehun shrugs. “It's your fault for not making friends in high school.” Sehun mentions that he doesn't have much time, and that he needs to attend a meeting at ten—he'd already skipped on the earlier one to join Jongin for a quick breakfast in the restaurant on the second floor of his office building. You sounded pitiful on the phone, Sehun explains. Jongin is one of the only people the receptionists will let in without a pass. “You're really a kid, though, Jongin. Anyone can write these things—think about it. The best novelists bullshit entire universes, and you think someone can't write up a couple hundred pages for a life as boring as yours?”
Jongin grits his teeth and is about to bite something back when Lu Han puts a hand on Sehun's wrist. “What about that kid who wrote that programming novel?” he says. “The one you saw in the back of the bookstore the other day.”
“Oh,” Sehun says, checking his hair in the plate's reflection. “That guy isn't really much of a novelist yet.”
“It's a start,” Lu Han says. “I mean, you said he went to your high school, right?”
“Jongin could get anyone, though,” Sehun says. “He's rich, famous, good-looking—writers would be licking his feet to get a word in his memoir.”
Jongin takes this all in with half-vested interest, trying to remember either a high school writer or a programmer with whom he'd made conversation, and comes up with nothing. “Who?”
The waitress comes with the check that Lu Han takes and signs Sehun's name on it with ease and digs Sehun's wallet out of his back pocket. “You know,” Sehun says, waving his hand. “That kid. I wasn't really friends with you then, but—you know. Short, older than us, a little nerdy, you bullied him—”
“I didn't bully anyone,” Jongin protests, but Sehun isn't listening, rubbing his temples to try to remember a name he'd seen probably yesterday. Jongin sometimes wonders how Sehun gets through daily life.
“Do Kyungsoo,” Lu Han offers, and Sehun jumps, his face lighting up and lifting into little cartoon-like crescents, leaving even Jongin grateful that poor Sehun has a secretary like Lu Han. Jongin vaguely remembers the name, but not any more than he remembers high school as a whole, which passed by in a blur of school lunches, awkward cast parties, and a week-long relationship, outside of Joonmyun and the two conversations he'd had with Sehun. Lu Han writes it down on a wooden coaster and hands it to Jongin, promising to pay for the damages. “Look him up, you'll probably find something.”
There's morning, and then there's mid-morning, ten to about eleven, a time that Jongin really fucking hates, because it reminds him that there's life, there's the day, gazing at him in mild contempt for everything he has yet to accomplish. Jongin lingers by the door and watches Sehun get back to work, a briefcase tucked under his arm, his steps quick.
Jongin pulls his smart phone out of his pocket to look like he's networking—and he is, really—Do Kyungsoo, working some sort of programming job for some company in Seoul that Jongin has never heard of. Jongin climbs into the back seat of his car while navigating Kyungsoo's resume. After about ten, there's always traffic in Seoul, and Jongin feels his heart pounding along with the honking of trucks as he waits four rings for the answering machine.
The quiet, “Hello?” catches him off-guard.
Jongin only has experience calling Sehun, and even then, he can always count on either Sehun or Lu Han answering, or the pleasant voice of an automated message. “Hi, yeah, I'm looking for Do Kyungsoo.”
There's a pause, and then, “Speaking, please?”
“Look,” Jongin says, crinkling the fabric of his pants between his fingers as his car jerks to a stop, “Can I just speak to Kyungsoo? I don't really feel like telling anyone else who I am.”
Another pause—Sehun never pauses for this long. “This is Kyungsoo.”
“Alright,” Jongin says. “Are you sitting down right now?”
“Yes,” Kyungsoo replies, his voice wary. It comes back to Jongin in pieces, starting with Do Kyungsoo's voice, always guarded, and with reason, too. Jongin remembers with anxiety churning in his stomach that yes, he did bully Kyungsoo a bit, forcing test answers out of him in the hallway and blaming a couple of the Drama Club incidents on him—and leaving him to clean up after musical practice. “Why?”
“It's Jongin,” he replies in a mumble.
“Oh,” Kyungsoo says.
Jongin doesn't know what he'd been expecting, so he covers up frustration with a, “From high school—”
“Yeah, I remember,” Kyungsoo says, then pausing as if forcing a controlled response. “I've heard a lot about you lately—” Jongin swears he hears a sigh through the nose, “—how are you?”
“Fine,” Jongin says quickly. “Hey, can we meet up for lunch or something today? It's my manager's fault, I have something to ask you, and if this doesn't work out, I don't have much time to find—”
Kyungsoo snorts, interrupting him, and it's unfamiliar to Jongin, whose stomach rumbles again, because he realizes that no, he'd not once been in the presence of a happy Kyungsoo, and now he's asking a colossal favor of him. The snort, though, is a start. “Sure,” Kyungsoo says, almost sarcastically. “I guess as your neighbor, I should've made more of an effort to keep in touch, right?”
Kyungsoo still reminds Jongin of mornings as he slips into the cafe near Jongin's apartment complex, dressed in a warm red blazer layered over black.
Jongin had come back to the yearbook lying open on Kyungsoo's page, and he pressed it down, hoping to jog his memory a bit before he showed up at the cafe looking like a fool. Kyungsoo's face hasn't changed much; somewhere in the back of his mind, Jongin hadn't expected it to. When Jongin watches him light up as their eyes meet, it's like seven again, seven in the morning, Jongin padding through the kitchen to the door of the apartment, opening it to a shorter Kyungsoo with a homey-looking dish of kimchi spaghetti in his hands. Kyungsoo always smelled like stir-fry and flour, and some artificial but pleasant soapy scent. What's left, Jongin notices as Kyungsoo nears, is the soapy scent, now more bitter, like hand-sanitizer.
“It's been a while,” Kyungsoo says, sitting down across the table without so much as a handshake. “My boss has already caught me writing on the job, so I have a bit of an, uh, abbreviated lunch hour.”
“What do you do?” Jongin asks lamely.
“You probably know, right?” Kyungsoo says, flipping through the menu. “Nice try, though. I get assignments. Other people work slowly, so I have a lot of free time.” He folds his hands together and sits up in his seat, sort of resembling a tight ball of yarn. “So, what business does someone like you have with someone like me?”
“We breathe the same air,” Jongin says, and Kyungsoo furrows his eyebrows, eyes wide.
“You'd think that someone of your caliber would be a little more down to Earth,” Kyungsoo says, and Jongin grips the edge of the table.
“Alright, forget about that,” Jongin says, and Kyungsoo looks up at him. “Look, I have this memoir.” Kyungsoo's eyes still go wide and focused when he's listening, even if he doesn't want to seem engrossed in the conversation, and Jongin finds it oddly endearing. “And I need a ghostwriter.”
And after the initial what the fuck is a ghostwriter, Jongin finds Kyungsoo to be quiet and sensible as he takes it all in. Sometimes, his nervousness gets the better of him; the fork slips though his fingers a couple times when he's poking at something small, and he leaves the napkin crumpled on the table instead of folding it over his lap. “Does this happen in industry often?” Kyungsoo says between mouths of food, and this time, it's Jongin who smiles at the naivete.
“Yeah,” he replies, and watches Kyungsoo's head jerk up in interest. “What's special about that?”
Kyungsoo shakes his head and looks back down. “Nothing, it's just—a writer thing. We like learning about worlds different from our own.”
“It really isn't that different,” Jongin says, and for the first time, he hears the desperation in his own voice.
“Nice try, though,” Kyungsoo repeats with a smirk through his growing fringe. He pushes the check toward Jongin without a second thought.
Joonmyun isn't exactly pleased with Jongin's choice of writer, but he swallows it because it might be good for you in the long run. In exchange, though, Joonmyun emphasizes that, “It's your memoir, so you're going to have to do a majority of the interview work.” Jongin wonders how he lets Joonmyun get away with the last word so often.
Jongin and Kyungsoo agree to meet on Sundays, because there's less traffic in the city then, and Jongin finds out that Kyungsoo has to commute some five or six kilometers to get anywhere near Jongin's apartment. “Never thought I'd be spending my Sundays in the nicest part of town,” Kyungsoo says when Jongin takes him for a walk through the complex—a courtyard in the middle, surrounded by four buildings, identical save for Jongin's suite, located at the top of the northeast most tower. “It stands out like—”
“A sore thumb, I know,” Jongin says, and Kyungsoo chuckles. They're walking side by side, a good meter or so separating them, and Jongin looks to his left and Kyungsoo to his right so that their eyes never have a chance to meet. Their voices echo off the walls of the buildings, though, and Kyungsoo is a good listener; Jongin never has to repeat himself.
“No,” Kyungsoo replies slowly. “We don't use cliches in our writing. It's bad practice.” Kyungsoo looks up, and Jongin follows—it's the first time he's really seen his apartment from the outside, glass rimming the walls and a thin and sleek balcony with minimal decorations for minimal effort—just like him. “I think it stands out rather nicely. Like an emblem.”
“An emblem?” Jongin says, and Kyungsoo looks down, folding his arms over his chest.
“Hey, you have to start somewhere,” he says, and Jongin finds himself grinning.
They've walked four times around the middle fountain in silence before Jongin notices that the view looks familiar. “Do you do this often?” he calls, and Kyungsoo stops about four steps ahead.
“What? Oh,” he says, and backpedals toward Jongin. “I actually do pace around a lot. It's a thing.”
Jongin sits on the edge of the fountain, resting his elbows on his knees, and Kyungsoo sits next to him, knees pressed together and hands folded. “I remember you always used to walk pretty quickly to school,” he offers, and Kyungsoo makes a face.
“High school was a long time ago,” he answers. He looks at Jongin this time, who can't bring himself to meet the gaze. “Some people change.”
The water from the fountain hits their backs, and it's an unusually hot day for September, so Jongin welcomes it. “Have I changed?”
Kyungsoo sighs and leans back, throwing one leg over the other. “Hard to say. I didn't know you that well. We hung out with different crowds. Kind of like now.”
Jongin doesn't know why it hurts—the truth. Maybe because he's embarrassed—his perception of Jongin's High School Experience and Kyungsoo's perception of it are probably different, and he knows, some time in the near future, that he'll have to reveal that. “We were neighbors,” Jongin points out, and Kyungsoo laughs.
“That doesn't mean much,” he says. “You almost pushed me down the stairs in our apartment complex.”
“You were little,” Jongin says, looking up at Kyungsoo this time, who has a mischievous glint in his eye that's hard to catch, like he's faking angry, but looks almost actually offended. “And I was in a hurry.”
“To go where?” Kyungsoo says, and Jongin frowns, looking toward the sky as if it's about to bring something back, to drop the past on him like a cool but welcome downpour.
“The—the pool,” he says, and Kyungsoo smiles and jots something down in a notebook that Jongin hadn't noticed before. “Why is that important?”
“Details,” Kyungsoo says, flipping to a clean page. “They make narrative a lot more interesting.”
And Jongin realizes then that he doesn't know much about anything—as an actor, he has his script handed to him and is told what to do; the most important thing is pleasing the director, which isn't difficult, because the ones he's worked with are picky and descriptive.
“This will be fun,” Kyungsoo says, and Jongin looks up. “I'm going to have to write in first person.”
Jongin thanks something out there for finding Kyungsoo for him—be it Sehun, or Lu Han, because he'd rather not have his autobiography written by someone of the opposite gender.
“And sound like a jackass in the process,” Kyungsoo adds, and Jongin pushes him. Kyungsoo is still as light as he remembers—and it comes back in pieces, Jongin, racing past with a beach towel wrapped loosely around his waist, pushing Kyungsoo into the railing, nearly sending him toppling down four flights of stairs. “So tell me, Jongin,” Kyungsoo says, his eyes dropping to the coins in the fountain—it's ridiculous, really, the amount of faith people put in something they're too scared to say out loud. Coins neither carry nor last, and Jongin reaches in to grab a handful. Kyungsoo does nothing to stop him, instead stares with his mouth hanging in mid-thought and jots down something in the notebook. “Tell me, would it be more professional to pretend we never knew each other?”
“Why?” Jongin says, opening his hand and dropping the coins back into the fountain. They're slimy and wet and heavy, and fall into an awkward-looking pile at the edge of the pool. “I asked you because you knew me. I could've gotten anyone—”
Kyungsoo holds up a hand. “It's okay, Jongin,” he says, shifting uncomfortably and looking down, bangs hiding whatever expression he might have shown. Jongin hasn't been curious for a while, but he finds himself wanting to brush the fringe aside and look for the words, blurry like the hazy skyline, that drift across Kyungsoo's face. “Just a thought.”
Jongin stops in a bookstore two Mondays later, when he's already given Kyungsoo a resume that he'd had Joonmyun type up for him, Joonmyun muttering under his breath all the while. Sometimes, Jongin can't tell whether Joonmyun's actually annoyed, or whether he's just developed another habit to cope with his mild anxiety. “Enjoying your break?” Jongin says when he leans over Joonmyun's shoulder and checks his progress, knowing full well that it isn't a break, and that Joonmyun has to contact publishing companies around South Korea and find magazines to endorse the publication. Joonmyun shrugs Jongin's arm off his shoulder and types Royal Son of a Bitch at the top of the document.
Jongin's gone through two larger bookstores already and is beginning to wonder where Sehun spends his time, when he spots Kyungsoo's book, hard-cover and glaringly white, against the window of a smaller store tucked between two hip-looking cafes.
Kyungsoo's name is embossed and printed in a metallic blue, and it looks like one of those popular thriller novels, where the author's name on the cover is printed larger than the title of the book. Jongin can tell that it hasn't taken off, because Kyungsoo is still working his job and wearing tacky cotton and polyester when he really should be looking for wool.
“How much is this?” Jongin asks, and the cashier, a girl in her late twenties, looks up at him two minutes later after flipping the page in her own reading—a tabloid magazine. A fan whirs in the back of the bookstore, trying to press air through shelves and hundreds of thick, old books.
“You can just have it,” she says, and Jongin frowns.
“No, I insist,” he says, glancing at the back cover and digging cash out of his pocket. He hands it to her, knowing full well that she'll probably pocket it, but leaves before he runs into any trouble.
Jongin hasn't been on his porch for a while, despite Sehun's constant reminders that you paid hundreds of millions of won for that, and you're going to let it rot; the corners are filled with unidentifiable grime that's a bit embarrassing, and sometimes, Jongin can't seem to get the glass door open. With a couple tugs this time, though, it comes loose, and Jongin feels cool October air flood into the apartment and up his nose and through his lungs. It hasn't rained for a while, and the smog is building up, but Jongin's still a way below it all, and on an overcast day, it kind of blends in with the cloud coverage, anyway.
He leans against the railing and opens Kyungsoo's book, pauses at the picture of him scowling at the camera in glasses and a button-down shirt. Jongin squints and looks closely; the glasses aren't designer—Kyungsoo wears contacts now, anyway—they're the glasses that he'd gotten after Jongin had accidentally broken Kyungsoo's old pair during play rehearsal. Lenses popped out, purely for show, and it's funny how Kyungsoo, a pretty fucking honest person, can get himself wrapped up in a world of deceit. And how Jongin isn't doing anything to help it. He leafs through the introduction and presses the title page against the front cover of the book, letting out a long breath.
“I bought your book,” Jongin says, seated across from Kyungsoo, this time at a high-chaired table right by the window but located strategically behind glass with the restaurant's name and logo plastered over it.
Kyungsoo looks kind of embarrassed, as if he'd known the day would come, but had ended up hoping for the best anyway. “Did you read it?”
“I haven't finished it yet, but I bought it—”
“Jongin,” Kyungsoo says, running a hand through loosely styled hair. “Don't talk to me about it until you finish reading it.”
“But isn't it enough that I bought it?” Jongin protests, picking his wallet out of his pocket. “The lady at the register probably just took the money, so I'll give you—”
“Jongin,” Kyungsoo says, looking up this time with amusement in his eyes. “I don't know what they're teaching you over in your high-class industry, but for some writers, the goal isn't just to sell. Not for all, but some.” He carefully unrolls the utensils from the napkin and smooths the napkin over his lap this time, and Jongin can't help but smile a bit. “Of course, you're always going to have those people who are either way too popular for their own good, or are starving on the streets or working three jobs. And the journalists, don't even get me started on them.”
“Hey, back off,” Jongin says, pointing a fork at Kyungsoo. “Those journalists are how I make money.”
Kyungsoo laughs and puts his hands up in defense. “Just saying, they're pretty desperate.” There's a flush to Kyungsoo's cheeks when he talks about writing, and it comes out in the late autumn weather that pales the rest of Kyungsoo's skin—the pink in his lips looks especially warm, and Jongin rubs his own hands together under the table. “Writers don't major in Creative Writing or Korean, or Literature. We take our experiences with us. I'm a programmer, I write about programming. I spend a lot of my time on the Internet, learning about other things, too. Just the other day, I read up on ghostwriters,” Kyungsoo says with a grin. “It's hard to find something I haven't heard of before, but you've done it.”
“I didn't know you wrote back in high school,” Jongin says, and Kyungsoo shrugs.
“I didn't. I wasn't into Literature. You'll see that I don't use a lot of figurative stuff in my writing,” Kyungsoo says, picking at his napkin. “I guess the public likes that kind of stuff, though. But hey,” he says, “why is this about me all of a sudden? It's your memoir.”
“Just wanted to learn,” Jongin says, and turns away when Kyungsoo looks at him. He likes that flush of excitement, a lot, because for Jongin, clubs are dark and fast-paced, business meetings are controlled and kept at a flatline, and passion, in Jongin's career, is all staged and pathetic.
“Well, there's a start,” Kyungsoo says, plucking a pencil from his bag. “Wouldn't have pegged you for an intellectual.”
And the way Kyungsoo picks up everything Jongin says and makes something out of it, like turning iron into gold, is fascinating. “So, how much of the writing will I actually be, uh, responsible for?”
Kyungsoo bites his lips when he thinks and looks up at the lamp, or the ceiling, where answers seem to be for both of them, and laughs slightly. “Well, I like control, so—none of it.”
“But,” Jongin says. “I, I feel bad.”
“Kim Jongin,” Kyungsoo repeats, for the third time that afternoon. It's Happy Hour, so the drinks come with a bit of a delay, and Kyungsoo has to speak louder as more people fill the restaurant. “It's your memoir. Your life. Your words, just kind of spelled out more eloquently, if that. It'll be your name on the cover. If anything, helping out is the last thing you should feel bad about.” Kyungsoo bites down on the edge of his pen, then stares at his notebook, open to a blank page and lying between various glasses and bottles on the table. “So, without further ado. Your early life.”
And Jongin almost feels disappointed—wants to make it about Kyungsoo again, all Kyungsoo.
Every morning, a quiet alarm telling him to wake up, Jongin, or you'll sleep away your entire life like this. She was shaped like a woman, but short and toned, a dancer. Even on the weekends, she'd make sure he got up at a reasonable hour and stayed up, even if he nibbled his way through breakfast without a sound and trudged up to his room afterward, even if he'd lie on his bed making like he was asleep, there was something about her that coaxed him conscious.
So Jongin tells Kyungsoo this, and Kyungsoo nods, writing in small, quick scratches, the words of someone who's more used to working with numbers.
Programming isn't magic—it isn't a language. It's a messy, tedious half-language that facilitates communication between people and machines. It's going against the morals of almost every human being on this planet. It's chasing after linguistics, only ever getting half-there, like Zeno's dichotomy paradox. But it'll come pretty darn close—and yet, you endorse it, like it's the only thing you have left.
Jongin finishes Kyungsoo's novel when he's waiting for Kyungsoo to get through traffic one Sunday and sets it on the table face-up just as Kyungsoo walks in.
Jongin's falling out with his mother wasn't anything exciting or extraordinary—there were no explosive fights, screaming-matches, battle scars, or court cases. It was just a falling out, Jongin heating up his own meals and coming home late, Jongin being old enough to accept that she didn't know the answer to everything, Jongin realizing that they no longer understood each others' worlds.
“If there were anything left over, it would be the waking up the morning, right?” Kyungsoo asks, tapping his pen against his chin.
“Well, even that—”
“Shush, no,” Kyungsoo says, looking up at Jongin. “She still woke you up through high school, despite it all. And that's that.”
“And you asked if this happened in the industry often,” Jongin says with a huff, and Kyungsoo laughs.
“I had a hunch, but I wasn't going to go around pissing myself because of it.” He shrugs. “You have to play by their rules. When in Rome, you know?” Kyungsoo glances at his book, lying on the edge of the table half-off, and Jongin pushes it back toward him. “To sell, it has to be a nice mix of conventional stuff and interesting stuff. I think my book was too much on the interesting stuff side.”
“Don't flatter yourself like that,” Jongin says without thinking, and Kyungsoo jerks his head up, eyes wide for a moment, then softens into a smile.
“Still a jerk, I see,” Kyungsoo says, writing something down. “Even when I'm doing you a favor. It does say Royal Son of a Bitch on your resume.”
Joonmyun will owe him another dinner for that one. Jongin rests the tips of his fingers on Kyungsoo's book, as if scolding a child. “No, I'm not trying to. I mean. I think, the problem is that you played your book out to be a conventional novel,” he says, regaining composure and smoothing his hand over the cover. “Look at this design, it looks like—it looks like a sci-fi thriller, when inside,” Jongin continues, pausing for a moment to open the front cover and run fingertips slowly over Kyungsoo's picture, “you have more of a psychological study.”
Kyungsoo's watching him at that point, eyes flickering back and forth between Jongin's face and his hands on the book. His gaze is quick and precise, and wide and white in the chilly air rushing through open doors, and Kyungsoo thinks like a scientist but moves like an artist, darting between possibilities and never lingering on one thing long enough to pin it down. “Huh,” he says, gaze fixed this time somewhere between the two, book and Jongin. “Have you ever,” he starts, then stops, biting his lower lip. Moves like an artist. His face says something, and his lips say something else. “Have you ever,” Since when have you, “considered,” considered, “writing?” me?
It's evening when Jongin meets up with Joonmyun again, who has found the time to clean up his office and hire a window washer before snow hits and smudges up the glass again. Joonmyun has a decorative clock hanging on the back wall, but most of the time, he's facing away from it, and he hasn't replaced its batteries for a good two years now. He judges time by the sun—in the summer, he works long hours and crashes when he gets home, and in the winter, he catches the earlier bus and works in the dimly lit space of his home office, with artificial light that doesn't tell him when to stop. The sun is setting, and Jongin knows that Joonmyun has another day in front of him, just in a different location. Jongin was the one who'd suggested installing windows on the west side, and he can't help but think, now, that it'd been a dick move.
“I need you to get this to Kyungsoo,” Joonmyun says, handing a packet to Jongin. They're standing by the window, clouds building up outside as if signaling a storm, but each morning, they come out light again without rain, as reaching somewhere but getting nowhere. “We should've done this a while ago, but I was waiting for you to change your mind or chicken out again.”
“I can tell you have faith in me,” Jongin drawls, taking the contract.
“You're meeting with the director of a 2015 movie this weekend,” Joonmyun says.
“Yes, Sunday,” Joonmyun interrupts, and Jongin frowns.
“I already have an appointment.”
“I'm your manager,” Joonmyun says, shoving his hands into his pockets. He's wearing his glasses again, frames rubbing off some of the makeup caked on his face. His real skin is whiter—tanning makeup isn't the norm in South Korea, but Joonmyun's skin looks half-sickly underneath his tired eyes. “You still have to work, Jongin. You have a premiere coming up in a couple of months, and the interviews are going to start coming in.”
“But what about Kyungsoo?” Jongin says, and Joonmyun lets out a breath, controlled, but still heavy; it's not in his nature to be strict about things that mean a lot to Jongin, so his words come out high and hard.
“If he knows what he's doing, he can do his own research,” Joonmyun says. “I thought you picked someone who knew you.”
And Jongin thought he did, too. At least, that's what he'd been aiming for, without realizing that there are three people in the world who know him—Joonmyun, Sehun, and his parents, who count as one person, because neither had ever bothered to reach past the halfway mark. Kyungsoo hasn't mentioned their childhood since the first meeting, and Jongin doesn't know why it hurts, the truth.
“Look, whatever it is, this relationship you have with Kyungsoo, I can't have it affecting your job,” Joonmyun says, leaning over to put at hand on Jongin's shoulder. Childhood wasn't that long ago—childhood was high school, and Jongin running through the apartment in swim trunks and a towel was sixteen years old, his feet already grown and puberty already half-hit. This isn't a romance, in the traditional sense of the word. Jongin rips his shoulder away from Joonmyun and glares.
“Wow, next I'm going to have you tearing his name off the front cover,” Jongin says, and Joonmyun coughs, sounding something between a bark and a bitter laugh.
“Jongin, grow the fuck up,” Joonmyun says, backing away toward the door. “Sometimes, your brain is so ridiculously immature—or, rather, naïve, that I can't tell whether you're joking or not.”
It's then that Jongin realizes, Kyungsoo's name won't be torn off the front cover—because it won't ever make it to the front cover.