Arctic Fox Security
A note for context before you read: This is an AU. EXO is still EXO, but Infinite is not an idol group.
Infinite’s Nam Woohyun’s name is 남우현. 남우 sounds like 나무, or “namu,” the word for tree.
I write about men having sex with other men. You must be eighteen or older to read my fiction. This site is for consenting, responsible adults only.
Sungyeol was lounging in his favorite spot, in front of his monitor array with a cup of coffee in hand, when his boss’s voice came through his headset. “Everyone on call, check in.”
One by one, everyone sounded off. “JD, checking in.”
“Namu, checking in.”
“H, checking in.”
“Info, checking in,” Sungyeol said.
“L, checking in.”
“SJ, checking in.”
“Okay,” the president said briskly. “Namu, report.”
“Just got out of the meeting with management over at SM,” Namu said. “I’m meeting EXO at their dorm in an hour. The higher-ups want to keep their product safe, and management’s been ordered to cooperate, so we’re operating with full authority.”
“That’s just how the big boss likes it,” Sungyeol said, grinning.
“We’ll see how cooperative EXO is,” H said.
“Idols,” L muttered.
“JD, SJ, meet Namu at their dorm, do a full sweep,” the president said.
“Yes, president-nim,” JD said.
“Sending you blueprints of their dorm now,” Sungyeol said. “Four bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, big living room, and what looks like a laundry room. One door. On the twenty-eighth floor of a thirty-story complex, four banks of elevators, three levels of underground parking, you’re going to have a lot of traffic in there, a lot of people in and out.”
“A four and two?” SJ asked. “How many residents?”
“Nine members,” Namu said. “Managers come and go but don’t live there full-time. Housekeeper comes in every day to clean, do laundry, and stock the fridge.”
“Housekeeper,” Sungyeol said, already on it. “Fifty-seven years old, unmarried, she’s worked for EXO for ten months now, worked for another SM group for three years before that, used to clean houses for single businessmen, no kids, no priors.”
“Where’s that deep background on the managers?” the president asked.
“Have it for you in seventeen minutes,” he said, checking his downloads.
“Mmm. Namu, get him a list of other staff. Stylists, choreographers, whoever works with them on a regular basis. The PDs and writers and cameramen from their last projects. You’ll need to look at sasaengs, fan sites, and antis.”
“Yes, president-nim,” Sungyeol said.
“On it,” Namu said.
“Get back to me with a duty roster. And get me a comprehensive workup of their building’s security. Out.”
The call ending, Sungyeol tapped his headset. Turning EXO’s latest album back on, he sipped his coffee. All right. Time to get to work.
Suho had a mutiny on his hands. His members were arguing and cursing and gesturing wildly. He couldn’t blame them; he’d had all of these objections himself, when management had told him about this plan last night. But he couldn’t let them become so vehement like this. “Everyone sit down,” he said firmly, giving them his “and I mean it” look.
They sat, some with dramatic displays of reluctance.
Once they were all assembled on the chairs and couches in front of him, he nodded thoughtfully. “I understand. I don’t like it, either, but it isn’t up to us. I didn’t think that our security problems were that bad, but it seems like management hasn’t been telling us anything. There were more threats than we realized. At the company building, and here, too. Notes and packages and all sorts of things.”
“Threats, like, ‘Hey, stop stealing my oppa’s spotlight or else?’” Baekhyun asked. “Or like, ‘Hey, asshole, I’m coming to kill you?’”
“Some of both,” Suho admitted. He didn’t want to scare them; what management had told him last night still had him on edge. “It’s bad. They either have to go to the police, or handle it privately. So we’re doing it this way at first. If this new security team can’t solve things, we’ll have to let the police step in, and I don’t think that’ll be good. It’ll only cause problems.”
“Every celebrity gets some threats,” Xiumin said.
“I’m not saying that I like being followed by stalkers everywhere I go, but I don’t want to be followed around by extra security guards, either,” Chanyeol said.
“This isn’t a choice,” Suho said. “We’ll endure it for a few weeks, and management will decide how it’s going. Let’s just cooperate and make the best of it.” With his members right in front of him, he remembered the worst of the threats, and a shiver ran up his spine. “Maybe we’re too used to brushing these things off. I would never forgive myself if something happened to any one of you. Your safety is too important. Let’s take this seriously.”
Lay frowned, and Kai nodded. “Okay, hyung,” Chen said. “We’ll cooperate.”
One of EXO’s managers met Woohyun downstairs and let him into the building. They made small talk and went into the building’s security office, where he shook hands and covered the basics. The manager escorted him upstairs. When the elevator doors opened, he checked his watch and said, “My team should be here by now. I’ll go back down and bring them up, if that’s all right.”
The manager agreed and stepped out. Woohyun smiled as the elevator doors closed. He went down one floor, then got out and strode casually down the hall. Stepping through a door marked “exit,” he took a cursory glance around, then tapped his earpiece. “Twenty-seventh floor, north stairwell. Where are you goons?”
Feet clattered from above and below. SJ and H strolled up together; JD jumped over the railing, landing lightly from the floor above. L coolly pushed open the door Woohyun had just come through and joined them. “This place is about as secure as loose seaweed,” SJ said.
“I’ve had more trouble getting through baby gates,” H said.
“Put it in your reports,” Woohyun said, heading up the stairs. “Best behavior today, understand? SM’s willing to shell out a lot of money to keep their pet project safe. But spoiled idols are used to getting what they want, or they’ll cry to their CEO and get us fired. Play nicely.”
“Got it,” JD said.
“I hope that you all went over the brief,” he added. “You’ll hurt their feelings if you don’t recognize which one’s which.”
“Leader, Suho, also known as Kim Joonmyun,” Info said in his ear. “Born in 1991, trained with SM for seven years. Oldest, Xiumin, also known as Kim Minseok, 1990, looks like Sohee? Looks like a chipmunk to me. Shortest member. Chinese guy, Lay, real name Zhang Yixing. 1991. Byun Baekhyun, 1992, second main vocal, look for the guy with the sad eyes and downturned mouth. Chen, or Kim Jongdae, 1992, main vocal, I don’t know, just go with the one who’s definitely not the visual in the room.” SJ laughed. “Park Chanyeol, 1992, tallest guy in the room, big ears. D.O., real name Do Kyungsoo, 1993, short, huge eyes, he’s an actor. Let’s see, Kai, real name Kim Jongin, 1994. I don’t know, he’s third tallest? He’s a dancer. Just figure him out by process of elimination. And Oh Sehun, 1994, second tallest, chic face, he’s the maknae, looks like his hair’s blond right now.”
“Leader Suho, chipmunk Xiumin, Chinese guy Lay, sad guy Baekhyun, ugly guy Chen, tall big-eared guy Chanyeol, actor looks D.O., tall blond guy Sehun, and Kai,” SJ said. “Got it.”
“Or you could just read the info packet I sent,” Info suggested. “You know, the one I sent last week, and reminded you to read yesterday.”
“No, this is great, thanks,” SJ said. H laughed.
“Too bad,” Woohyun said. “You missed out on some interesting reading about their fictional superpowers.” At EXO’s door, Woohyun rang the bell. “Try to remember to smile once in a while.”
“Oh, I’ll tell you jokes,” Info offered.
“Ending call,” Woohyun said, tapping his earpiece.
Their manager led five men into the dorm. Baekhyun got to his feet, bowing in greeting.
“I’m EXO’s Suho,” Suho said. “These are our members.”
“Namu,” the guy in front said, shaking Suho’s hand. “Arctic Fox Security.” He was good-looking, wearing an expensive suit, his thick hair slanting across his forehead. Behind him, there were two guys dressed in plain, black clothing, black caps pulled low over their eyes. There was also a guy in pretty, summery yellow playing with the doorknob and a guy in red polka-dotted pants and a blue animal print shirt with a green backpack, his gray baseball cap on backwards, who was staring up at the ceiling like there were fascinating mysteries written up there. “They’re going to go over the apartment and check out your security, if that’s all right.”
“Oh, sure, that’s fine,” Suho said. The guy in yellow and the…clown?...split up.
“Now, don’t tell me,” Woohyun said, smile lines appearing on either side of his mouth as he studied the members. “You’re Xiumin, you’re Chanyeol, and you’re Sehun. Baekhyun, D.O., and Lay? And you’re Chen, and you must be Kai. Was I close?” he asked, chuckling.
“You got it right,” Kai said, grinning.
Suho invited them to sit and offered drinks. Accepting a glass of water, Namu sat down with them comfortably. The two guys in black hung back, arms crossed over their chests. Baekhyun was already unsure about having them around. This wasn’t really necessary, was it?
“We don’t want to disrupt your lives, or make your fans or families worry about you,” Namu said. “Most of what we do won’t involve you directly. We’ll assess your security measures, analyze the threats you’ve been receiving, monitoring, surveillance. We’ll need someone from our team to be with you at all times, but since you spend most of your time together, working, that shouldn’t be very difficult.”
His smile was reassuring, and Baekhyun wanted to relax and believe him. Sehun asked, “What, I’m sorry,” and leaned forward hesitantly. “What does that mean, with us at all times?”
“You just mean when we’re out, going to schedules?” Baekhyun asked.
“You’re not, like, going to follow us into the bathroom, are you?” Chanyeol asked with a nervous laugh, glancing at the two guys in black standing over Namu’s shoulder.
Namu, what kind of name was that? Was he a tree? Was that a code name? Did these guys actually have code names?
“Yes,” Namu said. “It isn’t any more fun for us than it is for you,” he added with a chuckle, and Suho smiled. “But we can’t let you get hurt on our watch, and that means that we have to be with you no matter what, so that we can protect you at all times. It might be frustrating now and then, but it’s for your safety. And you’re very precious to a lot of people, so we have to do our best.”
Baekhyun nibbled on his thumb, thinking that over.
“We’ll need you to agree not to go anywhere without us,” Namu said. “It might take some organization, since there are more of you than there are of us.”
“Including individual schedules?” Suho asked. “Some of the members have their own activities right now. D.O., especially, he’s filming a drama.”
“And what about our social lives?” Kai asked. “Our private lives?”
“Yes, we’re going to need to be with you then, too,” Namu said. “It’s uncomfortable for everyone if you’re being followed by a security team, so you can tell people that we’re new managers. Rookie managers still learning the ropes. It might be awkward when you’re out with your girlfriends, but it’s for their safety, too.”
“Girlfriends,” Chanyeol repeated. “I wish. We’re idols, we can’t date.”
“No?” Namu asked. One of the guys in black turned aside, touching his earpiece and mumbling something.
“No, we aren’t allowed to have girlfriends, we can’t date at all, our fans would hate it too much,” Chanyeol said.
Namu nodded. “When your phone rings, put it on speaker for me, please.”
Chanyeol frowned, pulling out his phone. “Who-” Sudden ringing interrupted him. Laughing, he answered the call. “Hello?” he asked, his tone curious. Wondering what was going on, Baekhyun leaned closer.
“Chanyeol was out with the same woman three times last month,” a voice said. “Xiumin meets his lady friend at dance clubs in Gangnam. Very pretty, older than I would’ve expected. Kai seems to be dating Shinee’s Taemin. Sehun seems to like getting his cock sucked in public bathrooms. Can’t find anything on Lay, he’s either more discreet or doesn’t date at all, sorry, buddy. Suho-”
“What the hell is this?!” Chanyeol demanded, hurriedly ending the call, red to the tips of his ears.
“What the fuck,” Sehun said, blinking hard.
“If we can find the information, so can anyone who wants to hurt you,” Namu said. “If the threats against you are real, then the people around you are in danger, too. When you go out, we will go with you.”
Baekhyun hugged himself, shivering. He knew that with sasaengs and paparazzi always around, he couldn’t count on anything being private, not really. But holy shit. What kind of information was out there about him? And who was looking at it?
“Lying to us and sneaking around won’t help you,” Namu said. “We want to help you, but for us to be effective, you have to help us, too. We’re not here to judge you, this is about your safety, and we take our responsibilities seriously.”
“Can we at least know who all of you are?” Chanyeol asked. “If you’re going to know everything about us?”
“Of course,” Namu said. “This is H, and this is L.” He gestured to the two men behind him. H waved; L nodded. “They’re going to be your primary bodyguards. Their only purpose in life for the next few weeks is to keep you safe. The other two are SJ and JD. They’re our security and threat experts, but they’ll be taking bodyguard shifts, too.”
“You all only have initials?” Lay asked.
Namu smiled at him. “We like to be efficient. When we’re working in the field, we don’t like titles or hierarchies, it can get in the way of doing our jobs.”
“Who was that on the phone?” Suho asked.
“He goes by ‘Info,’” Namu said. “He’s our information expert. You might not ever meet him, he doesn’t like to be away from his computers for very long.”
Baekhyun hoped that Namu intended to stick around. At least he put a friendly face on all of this.
“If we can go over your activities and schedules for the next few weeks, we can figure out who needs to be where, and when,” Namu said.
Going over that took a while. Namu had questions about the locations and who they’d work with once they were there. They were still discussing it when the clown came out and asked, “Can someone take me to look at the cars you’ll be using? The vans? Are they here?”
“Three of them, in the garage,” Suho said.
“I’ll take you,” their manager said, getting up.
“So far, so good?” Namu asked the clown.
“SJ found an iridescent 517,” the clown said. “Making sure there aren’t any more.”
“A what?” Chen asked.
“A bug, a listening device,” Namu said. “Which room?”
“One of the bedrooms, on the bedframe.”
“What?” Baekhyun asked, shocked. Someone had bugged their dorm? Bugged a bed?! “Whose bed?”
“I don’t know,” the clown said, hitching his backpack higher on one shoulder. “Whoever has pink sheets and has a bunch of shoeboxes stacked under the bedframe.”
“What?” D.O. asked, his eyes widening. “What, you found a bug under that bed? The room beside the bathroom?”
“Yeah, that one,” the clown said. “Sorry, is it yours?”
“Holy fuck, how long has it been there?” Chanyeol asked.
“Oh my god,” Chen said, putting a hand on D.O.’s arm.
“It’s okay, the 517 only records, it doesn’t transmit,” the clown said.
“We’ll remove it and put another in its place, and wait to see if someone comes for it,” Namu said. “Whatever’s on there, they’ll never hear it.” He looked at D.O. steadily, and his voice was so reassuring, Baekhyun breathed a little easier. Things were still horrible all of a sudden, but it wasn’t quite that bad after all, maybe. At least they had experts on hand, someone who knew what to do, people who spoke from experience and seemed to have it all under control.
Having some security team around still seemed like it would be kind of awful, but Baekhyun was starting to believe that they really needed them.
While SJ and JD took off to go over the SM building, and Namu made polite, reassuring conversation with the clients, Hoya and L strolled around, looking things over for themselves. “Think they’ll cooperate?” Hoya asked under his breath, opening the fridge.
“Some of them,” L said.
Yeah. Some of them seemed okay, so far. Finding the bug might have rattled a few of them enough to make them compliant, at least for the first few days.
“Blowjobs in public,” L muttered.
Hoya snorted. “They eat well,” he observed, closing the fridge. “Seems like Baekhyun and D.O. have the most personal schedules coming up. Which one do you want?”
“You take the older one, I’ll take the younger one.”
Hoya nodded. Being older than the client helped. Older clients had trouble respecting their authority. That might be a problem this time around if Xiumin realized that he was older than most of them were. “What is Baekhyun filming, ‘Good Time Circus?’ What is that, a variety show?”
L gave him a look. “You know I don’t watch TV.”
“Sounds like a variety show.”
“Weren’t you listening when they talked about their schedules? I think they explained it.”
“I was taking a nap.” With a job like this one, he’d have to be on duty and on patrol a lot, so it helped to grab some rest whenever he could. Even standing up with his eyes open. “Rock, paper, scissors for first shift tonight?”
Arctic Fox Security. While Namu and Suho talked, Xiumin looked the company up on his phone. He couldn’t find anything. During a break in conversation, he asked, “Namu, do you have a business card?”
“Sorry, I don’t have any,” Namu said. “But do you all have your phones? I want you to put this number in your phone. Call it if anything happens. If you don’t feel safe, if anyone threatens you, for any reason, call this number. Any time of day or night. It’ll get you straight to Info, and he can get in touch with any of us.”
When Namu reeled off the number, Xiumin saved it in his phone. “Is it a big company? Is it a small, private one? How many employees, who runs it?” When everyone started giving him strange looks, he laughed. “What, I can’t ask? This is us trusting them with our lives, isn’t it? I just want to know who we’re working with. They obviously know everything about us already.”
“It’s a small company,” Namu said. “That’s why no business cards or anything like that. We don’t have investors or other teams or anyone else. Since we’ve taken on this job working for you, we won’t take on anything else, so all we care about right now is you.”
“You don’t even have a website?” Xiumin asked. “How did our company find you?”
“We work by word of mouth,” Namu said. “We don’t want to advertise, since we aren’t big enough to take on a lot of jobs at once.”
“Who else have you worked with?” Chen asked. “What kinds of jobs do you normally do?”
“We’ve done a few different kinds of things,” Namu said. “Corporate espionage, finding out who’s been selling secrets. A major CEO who was getting death threats. A custody dispute involving a kidnapping.”
“Then death threats like this, you’ve seen this before,” Lay said.
“Yes,” Namu said. He smiled. “And we’ve left all of our clients safe and happy.” His gaze drifted and he tapped at his earpiece. After a moment, he got up. “If you can excuse me, we’re going to have a quick team meeting. You won’t mind if we step into one of the bedrooms?”
“Oh,” Suho said, standing. “If you’re all going to be here, staying with us for weeks, shouldn’t you take one of the bedrooms for your own? We can share the other rooms, or a couple of us can sleep out here.”
“No, we don’t want to add to your inconvenience,” Namu said. “We don’t want to intrude and disrupt things more than we have to.”
When Namu, L, and H went into one of the bedrooms, Xiumin asked, “A company without even a website?”
“I don’t know, do you want to find your security company on Twitter?” Baekhyun asked. “I don’t know if I could take them seriously.”
“Is it Namu’s company?” Xiumin asked. “Is it Info’s company? Who’s in charge? Why don’t they have real names?”
“I’m sure that their real names are on the contract,” Suho said. “Our company chose them out of everyone. I’m sure there’s a reason.”
Xiumin wondered if he could get a look at that contract.
After a few minutes, faster than Xiumin had expected, they were back out of the bedroom. “Now that we’ve met you and gotten a better idea of the situation, I’m going to go meet with SJ and JD,” Namu told them. “L and H are going to go pack up a few things they’ll need, and then they’ll be moving in for a little while. They’ll be with you wherever you go, but don’t worry about feeding them, they’ll take care of that themselves. You’ll see them regularly, and SJ and JD will fill in. I’ll check in with you and get daily reports from the team, and remember that you can call Info at any time, day or night, if you need us for anything. All right?”
“Thank you,” Suho said. “I think that we’re only starting to see how bad our situation is, and we’re grateful for your help.”
Xiumin had to admit, however he felt about these particular people, they did need the help. He’d been trying to accept all of the invasions of his privacy as just part of the job, something any celebrity had to put up with to some extent. But bugging their dorm? Someone was going too far, and he’d be relieved if Arctic Fox could get to the bottom of it.
Baekhyun had wondered what sharing the dorm with a bunch of strangers would be like. But the men in black didn’t seem to be sharing the dorm in any normal way. They had to sleep sometime, he assumed. And they had to shower, or at least shave and use the toilet, but he never saw them in the bathroom. They had to eat, but they were never in the kitchen, taking up space. They were in the dorm all night, and they were still there the next morning, but they were more like creepy mannequins than actual people. They just lurked around silently. He’d completely lost track of which one was which, and his members weren’t sure about that, either. When Sehun said that the good-looking one was L, Baekhyun had no idea what the maknae was talking about. There was a good-looking one?
When Baekhyun saw one of the other ones in the dorm all of a sudden, he asked Suho, “What’s he doing here?”
“SJ?” Suho asked.
“Sure.” The one who dressed in normal colors, not in all black and not like a clown.
“He’s going to stay here after we go, to go over the dorm again and meet the housekeeper. And he said something about building security, I think that they want to talk to the building manager, and go over some CCTV footage, and things like that.”
“Can they find out who left that bug under D.O.’s bed?” It freaked him out. He couldn’t even pee in his own toilet anymore without wondering if he was being spied on. It was creepy. “There aren’t more, are there?”
“That’s their job,” Suho said. “That’s what we hired them for. They’ll take care of it. Don’t let it worry you, you just do your job and they’ll do theirs.” Taking a close look at him, Suho put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t let all of this become a distraction. That’s why we have our company and management, so that they can worry over details and handle things behind the scenes. You sitting up at night fretting over it won’t help anyone. Do your best for EXO and EXO-L.”
He knew that Suho was right, but it was easier said than done.
The men in black got into their vans with them and rode to their first schedule. Lurked around the dressing room. Stood with their managers behind the cameras. When a PD asked if they had new managers, Baekhyun laughed and stammered out some kind of awkward answer. Suho rescued him with an explanation about training new managers and needing to expand with so many individual activities lately, and apologized if having so many people around was inconvenient for the staff. She cheerfully let it go, and Baekhyun tried to remember how Suho had worded all of that, in case anyone else asked again later.
When they left, their manager drove him over to the production building to film for “Good Time Circus.” When the van stopped, he hopped out.
One of the men in black got out with him.
And the clown-dressed guy greeted him cheerfully and climbed into the van. Like someone boarding a public bus! “Is this a bus stop?” Baekhyun asked, bewildered.
“Bus stop was two blocks back,” the man in black said.
Baekhyun peered under the brim of his cap, trying to figure out if this was the good-looking one or not. Hunh, he just might be. The way he met Baekhyun’s eyes so directly, and refused to have any expression whatsoever while doing it, was kind of intimidating, though. “Are you L?”
“H,” he said.
Okay. “What does that stand for?”
“What does Baekhyun stand for?”
“It doesn’t stand for anything, it’s my name.”
“H is my name.”
“What was SJ, I mean, JD? AB, CD, what was he doing here?” Baekhyun asked, starting for the entrance.
“Advance sweep.” When Baekhyun gave him a puzzled look, he added, “Checking out the building. Looking for bombs, booby traps, unsavory characters, whatever.”
“More unsavory than you?”
“Oh, you’re the funny one,” H said, holding the door open for him. “Ah, I see.”
He grinned at that and went inside.
He tried to follow Suho’s advice and focus on his job, on performing. He was an idol, not an advance sweeper or whatever, so he’d go ahead and be an idol and let the alphabet guys worry about bugs and bombs. Booby traps, that must have been a joke. Wasn’t that for cartoon characters? Did anyone booby-trap anything in real life?
Filming took hours. H was probably bored, but he couldn’t do anything about that. He kept expecting H to sneak out, wander away, go make a phone call or something, but every time he looked over, H was in the same spot, leaning against the wall, arms crossed. It became kind of reassuring, actually. If his life was really in danger and someone wanted to run at him with a knife all of a sudden, at least his bodyguard would be there to watch it happen.
He got the chance to show off some of his hapkido skills during filming. It had been a while since he’d gotten to do that, and he felt pretty proud of himself. When filming ended, he thanked everyone. As he walked out, H fell into step beside him. “You’re pretty good at that.”
“Thanks.” He glanced at H, wondering. “Do you do martial arts?”
He shrugged. “Some.”
“It’s good that you feel like you can confide in me so much,” Baekhyun decided. “I’m glad that we’re becoming so close.”
H nodded and kept walking.
They stepped outside, and then Baekhyun suddenly remembered something. “Wait, I forgot. When my manager’s not with me, I have to call a cab to get back to the dorm. Sorry, you’re here, so I wasn’t thinking.”
“A cab like that one?” H asked.
Looking ahead, he saw a taxi parked by the curb. How, what? “Did you call that?”
“We have to get back somehow, don’t we?”
Okay, then. “You’re terrifyingly efficient, aren’t you?”
“That’s what you’re paying me for.” H reached for the door, then turned to him. “Only use this cab company from now on. No other companies. If you have to get somewhere, no subways, no buses, just call this company.”
“Why, is it the only safe one?”
“Not safe,” H said. “But safer.”
That was something pleasant for his growing anxiety to chew over while they rode back to the dorm.
That night, they went to the SM building to practice. Before practice started, Xiumin slipped down to the offices. “Hey,” he said, heading over to a secretary’s desk and flashing his celebrity smile.
“Xiumin-ah,” she said, smiling back. “What can I do for you?”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard,” he said, leaning on her desk. “We have these new ‘managers.’”
“Ah, Arctic Fox,” she said, nodding.
“Right,” he said, his smile widening. “It’s so weird, I don’t know anything about them. Have you heard of them before?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve only heard that the representative who’s been coming in for meetings is very handsome. A lot of charm, a lot of grease.”
That was definitely Namu. “Didn’t they sign a lot of contracts and things? Have you seen the paperwork?”
“Oh, paperwork? Nothing like that comes to me, Secretary Kim files all of that.”
“Secretary Kim, right.” He smiled again. “I was just wondering, an expensive security company like Arctic Fox, do they even do things on paper? Or is it all electronic? I guess they have e-files or something like that.”
“Wouldn’t there be both?” she asked. “No matter what, the CEO wants it in writing, to be sure, but there are always scanned copies, in case of a fire.”
So there were paper files locked in a cabinet somewhere. And electronic copies hidden in someone’s computer files. Two different copies of the contract that he had absolutely no way to get to. He either had to figure out how to break into SM’s offices without being caught, or turn himself into an expert hacker.
Chanyeol couldn’t sleep. Suho had come through a few hours ago to remind them to go to bed. Lay had turned off the overhead light and gotten into bed a little while after that. The dorm was quiet. But he couldn’t sleep.
He was staying up, headphones on, pretending to work on music. But he was just screwing around aimlessly, playing around with settings, pricing more software. He was avoiding going to bed, because this whole death threats and bugged beds thing had him kind of freaked out. If he got into bed, he’d either stay there for hours wide awake, turning everything over in his mind, wondering how real the threat was and how much danger his members were in and if someone was after D.O., or he’d fall asleep and have nightmares, like last night.
His phone rang. It was a sasaeng’s number, so he didn’t pick up. But it made him think. They’d said to call any time, right? They’d said day or night, hadn’t they?
The immediate answer took him by surprise, and he opened and closed his mouth soundlessly for a second, figuring out what to do now that he actually had someone on the line. “Hi,” he finally said.
“Park Chanyeol,” Info said. “Is this an emergency?”
His tone was conversational, like they could be friendly with each other. Chanyeol said, “Um, no. Not really, no, there’s no emergency. I just, uh.”
“What’s up?” Info asked.
“Sorry, I. Were you asleep?”
“No. Just doing some research, putting together some reports, botting.”
“Botting?” he repeated.
“Got a few warriors going around collecting ore for me.”
Collecting ore? “Is that Starcraft?”
“No, World of Warcraft. You don’t play?”
“No, I’m not really into videogames.”
“Mmm, you spend your free time on music.”
“I… Are you spying on me?” He didn’t know if he meant that question as a joke or not.
“It’s not a secret, is it? You post all about it on-line all of the time. That last thing you put up was kind of iffy, didn’t really do it for me, but that longer piece you posted last week, I liked that. Nice beat, it’s good stuff.”
Who was this guy?! Chanyeol felt kind of dazed. “You’ve been listening to my music?”
“What else do you post it on-line for, so that complete strangers won’t listen to it?”
He blinked at that. Info was right, that was the point, wasn’t it? It was up there for complete strangers to listen to, so how could he be so surprised that a complete stranger knew all about it? “You liked it?”
“Yeah, it’s not bad.”
“Thanks.” He rubbed his ear. “Um. I…” He didn’t know where to start. “That bug they found under D.O.’s bed. What’s up with that? I mean, can they find out where it came from? Are there more of them? Should we be looking for them?” When he’d gone to his closet for a shirt that morning, he’d ended up pushing hangers aside and peering in all of the corners and knocking on the back panel like he might find a secret compartment. He didn’t want to be paranoid, but it was hard not to let his imagination go everywhere.
“We’re working on it.” He said “we,” not “they,” like he was on the case, too. That was reassuring; it was a team-wide effort, not just something one guy spent a few minutes on. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of answers. But, listen, between you and me, a 517 is old technology. No one serious would use that, considering what else is on the market these days. The whole iridescent line is pretty much dead. So either it’s someone who’s broke and that’s the best they can do. Or it’s some amateur who doesn’t know anything about anything, who got his hands on a bug practically by accident. It doesn’t transmit, so they don’t even have anything on you, unless this is their second or third one. And if it’s someone who has enough access to your place to be in and out often enough to swap out bugs, then it won’t be hard to narrow that down. And if it was a one-time thing where a complete amateur tried to bug your place for fun one time and hasn’t even gotten back in to recover the 517, then it doesn’t seem like that much to worry about. You’re successful idols, people want juicy gossip, someone tried to seize an opportunity and maybe didn’t do that great a job of it.”
Listening to Info break it down, Chanyeol started to see his point. He was so knowledgeable, and he made it all seem so logical, Chanyeol’s anxiety began to fade. “Then maybe it’s just a fan who snuck in one time? A sasaeng?”
“Maybe. Is it pretty easy to tell whose bed is whose? Would a fan be able to tell on her own that it was D.O.’s bed? I don’t have eyes on the room, SM wouldn’t give us permission to photograph inside the dorm.”
“Yeah, there are fan signs and artwork and crap all over our dorm, D.O.’s stuff is around his bed, it’s easy to tell.” He could guess why Info was asking. “Then you think they were targeting D.O. for sure?” Shit, that made his stomach sink. He’d rather have someone after him than after D.O. “He’s such a good kid, he hasn’t done anything to anyone.”
“That’s the wicked truth of life,” Info said. “It isn’t about how good he is or not. The world isn’t villains versus heroes, it’s villains against all of us, any of us, whoever they catch in their sights. Whoever planted that bug chose D.O. because she loves him, or because she hates him, or because she’s obsessed with him, or just for fun, just on a whim, just because she could. He could be full of integrity or full of shit, she had a bug and she was going to plant it somewhere.”
Chanyeol couldn’t wrap his mind around that at the moment. “But you’re going to catch her, right? Whoever it was?”
“We’re doing our best,” Info said.
Chanyeol wanted to believe him.
Baekhyun could tell H and L apart now. He was getting better at doing it at a glance. Even with their all-black clothes and their brims pulled low, he was picking up on differences in build. H had a more pronounced arch in his back and a more defined jawline. Perfect posture. And a sexy mouth. Probably. In the eyes of people who cared.
Sehun was right, L was good-looking. But Baekhyun thought of H as “his” bodyguard. When he was waiting for “Good Time Circus” filming to start, and the two of them were alone in the green room, he asked, “What am I supposed to call you? In front of people?”
Seated beside him on the couch, H was watching the closed door. “I’m your manager, right? Call me manager-nim.”
He frowned. “That sounds too formal. We’re closer to our managers than that.”
He wouldn’t look away from the door. “I’m new, we’re not close yet.”
“I could call you hyung-nim.” He wondered how many years older H was. At least five. “When were you born?”
“Well, obviously.” He prodded Hoya’s arm. He met solid muscle. “Can you at least look at me when we talk?”
“No, it’s okay, I know what you look like.”
Ordinarily, he’d never be rude to someone older, someone he worked with, someone he was supposed to treat respectfully in a professional capacity. But something about H’s dismissive attitude just invited him to see how far he could go, made him want to provoke a reaction. “I could call you, ‘Hey, asshole,’” he suggested.
“You wouldn’t be the first.”
He couldn’t help it, he laughed.
H glanced at him, a quick glance, a quick smile. A real smile, it looked like. And then H got up, and the door opened. As a writer leaned in to ask him to come on set, he realized that H had known that someone was out there way before he had. And also that H had moved directly between him and whoever was coming in. He was pretty sure that was so that in case someone came in to assault him, to strangle him or stab him or curse him out or, god, shoot him or something, they’d have to go through H first before getting to him.
Part of him thought that was freaking ridiculous. No way was that kind of vigilance necessary, right?
And part of him wondered how the hell he was supposed to feel about someone who was so matter-of-factly willing to take a bullet for him.
D.O. couldn’t sleep. Last night, he’d lain awake for hours, listening to Kai and Sehun snore. When he’d finally dropped off at some atrocious hour, he’d slept fitfully, having fragmented nightmares about bugs under his bed, real bugs, huge black beetles crawling up over his sheets. He’d wakened in a panic, and he’d felt on edge all day.
He couldn’t wait for this to be over.
Unable to fall asleep again tonight, he sat up in bed for a while, killing time on his phone. After a while, for something to do, he got up and went to the bathroom.
He padded around the dorm quietly. He could hear Chanyeol talking to someone. On the phone? Talking to one of the new bodyguards, maybe.
One of the bodyguards was asleep in the living room. Curled up on the couch, a throw pillow tucked under his head. Still fully dressed. He had his earpiece on and everything.
D.O. wondered what kind of life this was for them. They were probably well-paid - - he hoped that they were well-paid - - but was this all their lives amounted to? They had to have friends, families, hobbies, didn’t they? Did they put all of that on hold to do this? Maybe they lived really full, rich lives in between jobs. He tried to imagine them with friends, grilling in the backyard, laughing, kissing their girlfriends. Wives? Boyfriends? People who knew their real names?
He went into the kitchen. He opened the fridge but didn’t want anything inside of it. He was closing the fridge again when he became aware of someone behind him. He turned swiftly, pivoting immediately, not letting himself get all up in his head about it, wanting to confront the reality immediately.
It was one of the bodyguards. The other one. L, he thought. He stared for a minute, and maybe L stared back; it was hard to tell with the hat pulled so low. Finally, he said, “Hi.”
“Hi.” L turned and started to walk away. Hesitated, turned back to D.O. “You can go back to bed. Sleep for a while. I’ll wake you up if anything’s wrong.”
He watched L walk away.
He poked around the kitchen for a minute, fruitlessly. When he went back through the living room, L was pacing around silently. He said, “Night,” and L said, “Good night.”
He went to his room and got back into bed. Closed his eyes. Thought about L out there, doing nothing but spending all night keeping watch, making sure that no one got in.
He fell fast asleep.
Xiumin was in his room when Suho called, “Members! I’m leaving now!”
“Bye!” Sehun called.
Xiumin sprawled on his bed for a while. Finished his book. Jacked off. It occurred to him that he and the other members were probably alone in the dorm. Actually, really alone. D.O. had a meeting, so that took L out of the picture. Baekhyun had an interview, so there went H. Chanyeol and Lay had gone to the studio, and JD had gone with them. Kai was out with Taemin and SJ. Namu had been around, but if he’d gone out with Suho, then there was no one left in the dorm.
They’d probably left a manager behind to baby-sit, but one of the regular managers wasn’t the same as one of Arctic Fox’s goons.
He wondered if he should grab this opportunity to go out. Get away for a while, get laid. Their new security goons were clamping down pretty tightly. The last time they’d gone to practice, and he’d tried to go down to the offices for another shot at digging information out of the secretaries, L and H and Suho had all forbidden him to leave without his very own bodyguard escort. He couldn’t go anywhere unsupervised; the most freedom of movement he had was wandering from one room to another here at the dorm.
But if there wasn’t anyone around to stop him except a bored manager, what the hell was he doing sitting in his bedroom?
He hopped up and went to check. Maybe there wasn’t even a manager on the premises at all! Maybe they’d figured that a few members milling around their own dorm were safe enough to be left alone for a couple of hours.
He went into the living room and stopped short. A complete stranger was seated on his couch, slumped back and heavy-lidded, watching TV. “Who the hell are you?”
Blinking, he sat up. White T-shirt, tight eyes, bad haircut. “Xiumin.”
“I’m Xiumin,” he corrected, striding forward. “Who are you and what are you doing in here?”
He got up; he had the same earpiece that the Arctic Fox guys wore. “I’m on guard duty. I have to take a shift, there’s no one else.”
“Right.” He was probably telling the truth, but Xiumin saw no reason to go easy on him. Xiumin dialed.
“There’s a stranger in our dorm,” Xiumin said. He didn’t bother to introduce himself; if it was true that Arctic Fox only took one job at a time, then Info would know what “our dorm” was.
The guy touched his earpiece and said, “He means me, he’s talking about me.”
“Okay, a stranger on the premises isn’t good,” Info said. “Text me a photo of him.”
Raising his phone, he snapped a photo of the guy, then texted it.
“Mmm. Okay, yeah, don’t call the police, don’t stab him in the face,” Info said. “He’s one of us.”
“So I shouldn’t stab him in the face,” Xiumin repeated.
“No stabbing!” the guy exclaimed.
“Well, you can keep a knife on you, just in case,” Info said. “But you should be okay, he doesn’t make a lot of sudden movements.”
“I can hear you,” the guy said.
“I have a lot of work to do, so much to get done, I’ll have to hang up now,” Info said, and the call ended.
Xiumin studied the new guy. “What do I call you? A? Q? X?”
“Kim, my family name’s Kim.”
“You and everybody else.” Xiumin studied him. “What’s with your hair?” It was shaved on the sides and spiky on top, with hash marks cut above the temple.
Looking self-conscious, he touched at the sides of his head. “It was an experiment.”
“A failed one.” He went back to his room and got dressed. Tucking his wallet and his phone in his pockets, he headed for the front door.
“No, no.” Kim was off of the couch and moving toward him. “Where are you going? You can’t leave.”
“Yes, I can. I can do whatever I want,” he explained, putting on his shoes.
“No, no,” Kim said again, putting himself between Xiumin and the exit, plastering his back against the door and spreading out his arms on either side. “You can’t go anywhere, not on your own.”
“I can, and I am.” His shoes on, he faced Kim down. “Out of my way.”
“I’m sorry, no. This is about your safety! When one of the others gets back, when someone can go with you, you can go out then.”
He considered his options. It seemed like starting a physical fight over this would be an overreaction. “You’re seriously keeping me here. Against my will. This is a violation of my rights.”
“It’s for your own safety. Your company hired me to keep you safe, not to let you run around getting assaulted in the streets.”
“I’m going to go to a club and meet friends. It’s really not some serious threat.”
“Meet your friends here. They can come over. Turn on music and dance, aim a flashlight around, it’ll be just like a club.”
That had never occurred to him. “They can come here?”
“If you give Info their names and let us pat them down.”
Pat them down! Was he kidding? “You’re not treating my friends like criminals!” He couldn’t believe this. “You’re treating me like a criminal! Locking me up inside my own home!” Fuck it. “This is bullshit,” he accused, backing away. “This is bullshit.” Turning away, he went to his room. He slammed the door and threw his wallet onto his bed. Then he called management.
Sunggyu sat on the floor with his back against the door. He wanted to be in place in case Xiumin decided to run for it.
He was rubbing his fingers over the razor marks in his hair when he heard a quiet beep in his ear. Touching his earpiece, he said, “Here.”
“President-nim, I have to make a report,” Info said.
“I just got a call from SM’s second-in-command. Apparently one of your operatives is at EXO’s dorm right now, and he’s pissing off the talent. One of the EXO members called to make complaints, very angry complaints, about a guard named Kim. His behavior is very unprofessional.”
Sunggyu tipped his head back against the door, then rolled his eyes at the ceiling. Right. Great. “I’ll talk to him.”
“I really think that you should,” Info said. “So unprofessional, we can’t have someone in the field who behaves this way. Maybe you should dock his pay.”
“Maybe I should keep him out of the field and back at the office, and send you out on guard duty next time.”
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Info said hastily. “I’m sure that he’s doing a great job, it was all a misunderstanding. Info out.”
Sunggyu drew his knees up, looping his arms around them. Idols. He heard movement and immediately cut his eyes to the right; Xiumin strutted across the room. Guessing that Xiumin hadn’t noticed him still by the door, he spoke abruptly. “Aren’t you old enough to be in the army by now?”
Xiumin jumped about a mile, shrieking. Whirling around like an angry hedgehog, Xiumin stared at him.
“Not old enough to serve?” Sunggyu asked innocently.
“I will,” he insisted, glaring hotly. “I haven’t been able to go yet. We’ve been promoting, we have concerts, I have responsibilities. I’m not just putting it off, I’ll go soon.”
“Mmm.” He nodded like he was super, duper convinced.
Xiumin shot him a dirty look and stormed off to the kitchen.
Smiling to himself, he relaxed and waited.
It was Hoya’s job to notice things. He was there to keep an eye on the premises, but he couldn’t be completely oblivious to the EXO members. So he saw a few things. And he picked up on a few consistencies. Like how Kai and Lay stood really close to each other in corners, whispering. And how Lay would leave Kai’s room looking really flushed, or how Kai would leave Lay’s room looking gleeful and triumphant and rumpled. Or how every night they’d go into Kai’s room and close the door and play loud music that covered the sound of anything else they might be doing in there. Or then there was the time that he walked into the kitchen and saw them making out, Lay’s hand in Kai’s hair, Kai’s hand down Lay’s pants. So, yeah, clues added up.
He mentioned it to the president, just in case it became relevant. He wondered if any of the other members were gay. Or bi? It was probably inappropriate to perv on the client, but he was around them twenty-four hours a day, and it was hard not to notice when handsome guys with toned bodies strolled around shirtless in front of him. Or when they wrestled on the couch. Or when they jacked off in the shower. Chen and Xiumin seemed to masturbate a lot.
They all had to coexist, but there was no reason to make things more awkward or inconvenient than they had to be. Kai and Lay were still sneaking around, and he was pretty sure that they weren’t actually trying to hide from their own members, which meant that they were trying to hide from him and L. He wanted to let them know that they didn’t have to bother being discreet, but he wasn’t sure how to start that conversation, aside from walking in on them again, and applauding cheerfully instead of silently backing away before they noticed him like last time.
He was alone with Baekhyun, in a dressing room, when he finally broached the subject. He was more used to talking to Baekhyun than to the others. Baekhyun was playing a game on the phone, seated on a stylist’s chair. He’d dragged his own chair away from the table, placing himself between Baekhyun and the door. “You and the other members,” he said.
Baekhyun’s head popped up, and he looked at Hoya with happy interest, the way he did whenever Hoya initiated conversation. He always seemed really curious about what Hoya might say next. It was kind of… Nice? Embarrassing, but flattering?
Hoya rubbed at his mouth, getting himself back on track. “If there are things that you normally do in your private lives, around the dorm, you don’t have to stop doing it just because we’re around. We don’t judge. We don’t care,” he said honestly.
“Like… Like what, what are you talking about?” Baekhyun asked, leaning forward, studying his face like he was really interesting.
He’d thought that to be polite, he should be discreet, but he wasn’t trying to start some elaborate back-and-forth. He decided to skip the discretion. “Like we’re not homophobic, and we don’t care what you do with your cock, so if you want to screw guys, go ahead.”
“What,” Baekhyun said, jerking back in a sudden state of panic. “What, what, no, what?”
Maybe Kai and Lay were trying to hide from their members, if this was how they reacted to the basic concept. “Shit, how old are you?” Hoya asked. “Don’t knock your whole chair over. It’s sex, not serial murder.”
“I, I don’t, I, oh.” Red-faced, Baekhyun breathed anxiously, patting at his hair. “I just didn’t, I didn’t…” He bit his lip worriedly, and then he gazed at Hoya in what looked like, seriously looked like, really, really looked like yearning adoration. “How did you know?”
How… Oh, hell, no. Shit, Hoya had not seen this coming. Baekhyun had freaked out because he’d thought that Hoya was talking about him. “There are nine of you, it’s statistics,” Hoya said, since having a whole back-and-forth about, “Oops, sorry, I was talking about those other guys, didn’t mean to uncover your secret sexuality,” seemed like it wouldn’t end up anywhere good. “Some of you are gay, or bi, or left-handed, or allergic to something common, whatever.”
“Statistics,” Baekhyun repeated, squirming in his chair and looking Hoya over like he couldn’t help it but he really needed to. “So, at Arctic Fox, which one of you is gay?”
He could say that it wasn’t any of Baekhyun’s business, because it wasn’t. He could say that it was against company policy to divulge personal information, because it was. But that would only hurt Baekhyun’s feelings. And he felt reluctant to do that.
He was uncomfortable with his reluctance. He shouldn’t care about Baekhyun’s feelings. The client’s feelings weren’t his priority; that was for Namu to handle.
The fact that he cared about Baekhyun’s feelings meant that he should be stricter with himself, and draw a firmer line, and keep things professional.
Or he could just tell the guy that he was gay. He already knew so much about Baekhyun’s life, and habits, and day-to-day activities, that it wouldn’t hurt if he gave a little in return. Hell, he knew how often Baekhyun took a dump and how long it usually took and which ballads Baekhyun sang to himself during it.
He also had to factor in Baekhyun’s sudden flushed, shy, “please, hyung, do me,” expression. Someone fell in love with L on pretty much every case they handled. It was the bodyguard thing; people were under stress, they felt anxious, they were grateful, and all of that got confused into some strange sexual impulse towards the person they trusted to rescue them. Baekhyun wasn’t responding to him, personally, but to whatever Baekhyun thought that he represented. Encouraging that attention would be cruel.
“We, uh…” He had no idea what to say. Hearing footsteps, he leapt to his feet. Desperate, he hoped that whoever was out there would walk in and cause a distraction. “Uh…”
The door swung open. “Baekhyun-ah, it’s time, let’s start.”
D.O. trudged back to the dressing room emotionlessly. Filming was going well, probably; the director seemed happy with him. He thought that maybe it should be a relief to have this role; he could escape into his character, escape into someone else’s life. But he couldn’t get himself out from under this cloud of dread. Acting was joyless; it was going through the motions, and as soon as the scene was over, he was right back into his own life. He felt a constant whisper of paranoia under the surface of his mind. Was his food safe or poisoned? Was the make-up artist going to stab him in the eye? He knew that those thoughts were unreasonable, and he tried not to let them affect him, but being on edge every day, all day, was exhausting. He wasn’t sure that he was capable of thinking clearly at all.
When they got to the dressing room, L stepped in front of him, like usual, and opened the door first. Moving automatically, he followed, ready to get his things and go home, looking forward to being among his members, in his dorm. Even considering the bug, the dorm was the place he felt safest.
L put out a hand, holding him back. He tried to see past L into the room, but L said, “Someone’s been here.” Reaching back without looking, L put a hand on his waist, guiding him to the side, away from the doorway. “Wait here, and scream if you see anything.”
Someone had been there? How did he know, how could he tell? Did it matter? Maybe a stylist had come back to pick up a tool, maybe staff members had wandered through. It was supposed to be his private dressing room, but there were people all over the building, in and out for different reasons.
He hung back for a second. Then, curious, he peered around the doorjamb.
L was prowling. There was no better word for it. Silently, moving on the balls of his feet, he prowled around the room. Touching nothing, he circled the table in the center of the room. He slowly surveyed everything on the table, staring at fixed spots for long moments. He stopped beside the wardrobe but didn’t open it. Then, silently, he came out again. Pulling the door shut, he whispered, “It’s all right, you’re safe. You’re fine,” and touched his earpiece.
“What,” D.O. said, his heart pounding, his voice coming out low and dry. He licked his lips and tried again. “What is it, what’s going on?”
“I’m with Do Kyungsoo,” L told someone. Probably Info. Staring into his face, D.O. wanted to grip the front of his shirt and demand answers. “Intruders in his dressing room, hiding in the closet. I heard two voices, giggling, female.”
Giggling? Fans. Oh, god. D.O. felt terror and life drain out of him. Fans. It was just fans. “Oh, god,” he mumbled, slumping forward against the wall.
“Yes. Yes. No. Yes,” L said. “Got it, L out.” He tapped his earpiece. “You okay?”
Lifting his head, he wanted to punch L. “You fucking terrified me!”
L’s gaze flickered, like he wasn’t sure how to feel about that, and then he said, “Sorry.”
“Can we just let them out and go home?” D.O. asked.
L shook his head. “I have to stay here to secure the scene, and I can’t let you out of my sight. Namu’s on his way. Once he gets here, he’ll deal with them, and I’ll take you back to the dorm.”
“Deal with them?” he repeated. “They’re just fans, they probably wanted to surprise me or watch me change clothes or something.” Which was creepy, but since he’d been imagining someone leaping out to stab him, it seemed not that serious.
“They might have information we can use. Fans talk to each other.” L’s gaze darted to the side, and his posture shifted.
Immediately, D.O. tensed, but it was only a writer, passing by with a benign smile. “Good work today,” she said on her way by.
“Thank you, you’ve worked hard,” he said, bowing. As soon as she was gone, he rubbed the side of his head. He couldn’t live like this. He couldn’t be constantly on alert. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.” It was like being under siege. Never knowing where the next attack might come from. And it was ridiculous, it was nonsensical, nothing had even happened to him. A useless bug, probably someone’s idea of a prank. Fans giggling to each other, just sneaking around for fun. He was getting worked up over nothing, and he couldn’t make himself calm down.
“You’ll feel better once you’re back at the dorm,” L said.
That was exactly what he’d been thinking. “It’s better there. I don’t know if it’s safer, but it feels that way, anyway.”
L nodded, gaze slowly roaming the hallway. D.O. was sure that he didn’t miss a detail. “Home base. It’s where you relax with your members. You’re all close, you make each other feel better. It’s reassuring to be around them.” Finished looking from left to right, he went from right to left, constantly scanning.
That was all perfectly true, but D.O. didn’t usually put it into words. Considering the circumstances, it seemed foolish to be surprised by how perceptive L was, but he hadn’t expected L to pick up on the emotional nuances of his interpersonal relationships. “How’d you know that someone had been in there?”
“Water bottle was missing. Trash can was moved. They probably went through it.”
He wouldn’t have noticed any of that. If he had noticed it, he wouldn’t have thought anything of it. He would’ve gone in, oblivious, and changed clothes, and talked to his manager. Private conversations with no one else around. Standing around in his underwear. With no idea that people were watching, listening. Uneasy, he leaned his shoulder against the wall, feeling better with that physical support. “I’m glad that you were here.” He swallowed, feeling ill. “Thank you.”
“I don’t think that they would have assaulted you,” L said, meeting his eyes. “But it’s a violation of privacy, anyway. It’s okay if that upsets you. It’s a normal thing to get upset about.”
He nodded, breathing in carefully. L’s permission to be upset felt so much like empathy that he wanted to cry.
Namu and SJ showed up. Namu was very kind and encouraging and respectful. When he admitted that he just wanted to get his clothes and leave, Namu nodded and asked, “L, do you want to stay to talk to them? SJ can take him back to the dorm.”
“No,” D.O. said. “If it doesn’t make a big difference, I’d rather go back with L.” It would make him feel safer. He was used to having L nearby now, used to L’s quiet presence, used to having a figure in black within sight at all times.
“Sure, that’s fine,” Namu said.
“I’ll get your things, you can change in the other room,” L said.
“I’ll check it out,” SJ said, and slipped across the hall.
L went into the dressing room and came back with D.O.’s clothes. They went across the hall. Alone in there with L, he undressed and put his own clothes back on. L’s back was to him, deliberately affording him privacy. He thought about how many times he changed in semi-public spaces, how often he had to undress in front of other people, how many times they adjusted his clothes for him, fixed his hair, wiped up his sweat.
Dressed, he said, “Okay.” L looked at him, then led the way into the hallway. Namu and SJ were nowhere in sight. He wondered what they were going to say to the girls. “They’re not going to - - it’s not like an interrogation, is it?”
“They’re just going to talk to them.” L glanced at him. “It’s easier to get information out of people by befriending them and empathizing with them than by being harsh.”
In the cab, L snapped a photo of the driver’s information and texted it to someone. Probably Info. He always did that. It was a habit that D.O. was considering picking up, once Arctic Fox wasn’t around anymore. But who would D.O. text it to? A manager, maybe. Maybe he and Kai could both do it, and text the photos to each other. Be paranoia buddies. “Do you do that all of the time?” he asked. “Not for clients, but in your own life?”
“I don’t take taxis.”
Ever? “Do you have a car? What about when you drink?”
“Yes. I don’t drink. Not enough to get drunk.”
“What kind of car do you have?”
“Not sporty or flashy?” The way the Arctic Fox guys acted like they were constantly in a spy novel, he’d thought that they must drive cars from spy novels, too. Something top-of-the-line with a gleaming hood.
“Don’t want to attract attention.” He touched his ear, said, “You’re kidding,” scowled, and then looked disgusted. “Okay, okay, L out.” Somehow, it was a very human moment; that had been an unprofessional, almost petulant look. “We have to make a stop, Park Chanyeol wants you to pick up dinner.”
Early morning; the dorm was quiet. L washed up at the bathroom sink. When he patted his balls dry, his dick asked for more attention, but he ignored it.
When he got out of the bathroom, H handed him a cup of ramen. He ate quickly. When he was between jobs, sex and food were sensual pleasures, his favorite indulgences. When he was working, they were bodily functions. He slept because he had to, ate because he had to, jacked off if he got a chance.
“I need to switch,” H said. “Take Baekhyun for me for a while.”
He shook his head, immediately resisting the idea. “D.O. trusts me.”
“He’ll trust me, too.”
“What do you need to switch for, why?”
H grimaced. He clearly didn’t want to answer. “Look, it…” He sighed, having trouble meeting L’s eyes. “He has a crush on me.” When L snorted with laughter, he said, “It’s uncomfortable!”
L snorted again and kept eating. “Deal with it.”
“We’re supposed to discourage it, right? You take him to his photo shoot today.”
“Don’t be so sensitive. It’s part of the job. He’ll get over it.”
“He wants to know if I’m gay. What do I tell him? Yes? No? None of your business?”
L shrugged, slurping up the last few noodles. “I tell women that I’m gay, and I tell men that I’m straight.”
He nodded. “They feel like it’s not a rejection, I can’t help it.”
“Does D.O. have a crush on you yet?”
“Yet, what do you mean, yet?” he asked, laughing. Like it was inevitable! “No. But he trusts me, he feels more comfortable when I’m around.” He didn’t mind that. He just hoped that he could pull through when D.O. needed him.
Suho let Namu into the dorm. The Arctic Fox guys wore clothes like they had uniforms. H and L were always in black jeans, black caps, and long-sleeved black T-shirts. Kim was always in jeans and a too-big T-shirt in white or gray. SJ was always in something light and summery. JD was always in something bright, patterned, and atrocious, backpack slung over one shoulder. And Namu was always in a black suit, white shirt, collar unbuttoned. Very smooth, professional, and handsome.
They sat down on the sofa together. “I wanted to catch you up on what happened yesterday,” Namu said, unbuttoning his jacket.
“Yes, please.” D.O. had talked to him about it, and Namu had talked to him about it briefly, but they’d agreed to discuss it in person. He was really glad that Namu didn’t ignore him in favor of always going through management; Namu checked in with him regularly, at least twice a day, keeping him informed and asking if he had any complaints or questions. “What happened, how did they get into his dressing room?”
“We’re talking to security on site about that,” Namu said. “One of them has an older sister who’s dating someone on staff, so it seems like they got in through a personal favor from someone who knew better. In other words, the kind of security breach we see all the time, and not a very nefarious plot.”
Namu’s smile was so reassuring that he smiled back, feeling encouraged. “So it’s more about people with good intentions, or even selfish intentions, doing foolish things for people they care about.”
“Exactly. That makes the whole thing seem like a crime of opportunity. They discovered that they had an in, and they used it. They wanted to be close to their idol. They didn’t even have very concrete plans. They were excited to have snuck in and found the right dressing room at all. They were only thinking about D.O., but they didn’t know what they’d do with him if they really saw him. Take photos, try to talk to him. They stole his water bottle because he’d put his mouth on it.”
“Did they get to keep it?” Suho asked.
“Of course,” Namu said, chuckling. “It meant so much to them, I couldn’t take it away from them. I’m not heartless.”
Suho laughed. “Now you’ve rewarded them!”
“Well, they’ve helped us out, too,” Namu said. “I don’t think that they’ve been involved in anything before, no stalking or other activity like this. But they’ve told us about some other fans they talk to on-line, and some rumors. We have information about some private group chats they’ve been a part of, and that should give us some more leads.”
“Then you can find out who’s been threatening us? You think it’s definitely a sasaeng?”
“Our theories have been that it’s a fan who’s gone too far, an anti who’s gone too far, or someone you’ve worked with. If we can dig deeply enough into your fan base, then we’ll either find out who’s been threatening you, or rule out fans as a category, which means that we can intensify our focus on other areas where we’ll be more productive.”
Grimly, Suho nodded. This was all going more slowly than he’d hoped. In movies, it seemed like hackers got this kind of information in a matter of minutes, not days. But at least it was something. At least Namu had some idea of what to do, where to start.
“We’re working on it,” Namu promised him. “I know that you just want this all to be over. We’re doing everything we can for you.”
“Maybe we should have hired a bigger company.” When the words were out, he regretted them. Wincing, he explained, “I don’t want to seem ungrateful! I’m very thankful for everything that you’ve done for us. But if you had more people, more hackers or researchers or something…”
“I get it.” Namu’s smile was understanding and self-deprecating. “But when you get big firms, they have other clients, other business, other paychecks. Right now, EXO is all that we care about. They have more guards, but they rotate through their roster more. L walked into D.O.’s dressing room and knew that something was wrong because the water bottle wasn’t where it should have been. He’s been with D.O. every day, he knows that D.O. takes one last drink before leaving and places the bottle on the edge of the table before walking out, he knew that it wasn’t where D.O. had left it. With another firm, they won’t catch those details.”
“D.O. does that?” Suho asked.
Namu chuckled, and it was such a warm sound that Suho laughed with him. “He does, according to L. We know all about EXO now.” He shifted closer, and Suho leaned in, interested. “I wanted to talk to you about that, too. We’re in your dorm every day and all night. But we’re here for your safety, not to dig through your cabinets and talk to tabloids. We respect our clients’ privacy as much as we can, and we don’t judge, and we sign non-disclosure agreements. If your members feel shy or think that they have to hold back while we’re here, you can reassure them. Private behavior, sex, those things won’t shock us.”
Suho licked his lips. “We have our reputations to protect.”
“We know that Kai and Lay are together,” Namu said. “We know that Baekhyun’s gay. We know that Sehun likes sex in public places. If you and your members normally watch porn in the living room, or invite people over, or whatever it is that you do, that’s fine, we don’t want to get in your way. If you do drugs-”
“Drugs! No!” He couldn’t let people go around thinking that EXO was on drugs!
“If you do drugs,” Namu repeated calmly. “Then you’ll need to tell us who’s on what, and when. We need to know about it, if anyone’s high, at any time. Protecting someone who’s high is very different from protecting someone who’s not, no matter how discreet or in control you think that you are.”
“There’s nothing like that, we don’t do drugs,” he insisted. The sex, though. “I don’t know about the rest of it. It’s been kind of nice, having you here. It’s so awkward, when the members jack off and have sex all out around the dorm. It’s better when they keep it to their rooms. I don’t need to see all of that, it’s embarrassing.”
Namu laughed, shoulders shaking. “I’ll leave it up to you, then, if you want to leave things the way they are for a little while longer. Give you a break from the sex show.”
“Yes, good. Thanks,” he said, feigning relief, and they laughed together.
D.O. sat up quickly in bed. Fumbling for his phone, he didn’t breathe until his screen lit up. He was glad to see the brightness. He turned on his flashlight app and shone the light around the room. Everything was still and quiet. Everything was familiar and in its place. Sehun and Kai were in their beds, deeply asleep, like they were supposed to be. The closet doors were open so that he could see right in.
He got up. His vivid nightmare haunted him, and he moved out into the hallway, needing motion, reassuring himself that things were normal in the rest of the dorm, too.
He needed companionship. He thought about crawling into Kai’s bed. He peed and reminded himself that he was safe. He was in his own dorm. He was fine. He could sleep soundly with Arctic Fox on guard. He pictured white foxes prowling around the dorm. Remembered L prowling around his dressing room.
He wondered if L was up and awake. In the hallway, he saw H.
L was on the couch, asleep. Slumped over the armrest, his head on his arms, his hat about to tumble out of his lap. With his hat off, and his face slack in sleep, he looked young. Weirdly young. For the first time, D.O. wondered exactly how old he was.
D.O. wanted to be between him and the armrest. It seemed like such a safe, secure space to be in.
Sitting down beside L, D.O. curled his legs up behind himself. Relaxed against the back of the couch. Wanted to relax against L’s shoulder instead. He scooted closer, as close as he dared, as close as he could without touching.
He told himself that he’d just stay there for a little bit, until he got sleepy again, and then he’d go back to bed.
He stayed right where he was, and he was fast asleep in minutes.
“How old are they?” Xiumin asked.
“How old’s who?” Lay asked, chewing. They were all in the dressing room together, eating, resting, milling around.
“Our new managers,” Xiumin said.
“I’ve wondered about that, too,” Baekhyun said.
“They’re right here, just ask them,” Chen said, laughing, gesturing to where H and L stood by the door.
“No, they won’t answer,” D.O. said.
“They just say, ‘Older than you,’” Baekhyun said. “So, they’re one hundred years old, I guess, I don’t know.”
“One hundred years old with an ass that tight?” Sehun asked. “What’s the secret?”
“Maknae!” Suho exclaimed.
“Oh, they don’t care,” Sehun said.
“They won’t answer questions?” Chen asked. “Why not?”
“They don’t ever say anything,” Baekhyun said.
“JD talks all of the time,” Chen said. “Did you know that he’s a bombs expert? That’s what he was hired for, to defuse bombs, isn’t that freaking amazing?”
“What else does he tell you?” Chanyeol asked.
“Anything about the company?” Xiumin asked.
“We talk about all kinds of things,” Chen said, laughing. “You’re so intense all of a sudden! He told me about serving in the army, and he let me try his earpiece and call Info on it, and we cooked ramen together.”
“Do you know his real name?” Baekhyun asked.
“Um, just his family name, it’s Jang. Jang something.”
“Is that where the J comes from?” Chanyeol asked.
“Is that how all of their names work?” Xiumin asked. “So L is Lee something?”
“Lee!” Baekhyun called, watching L closely. “Lee-ssi! Lee Minho! Lee Sungmin! Lee Seunggi!”
“Nope, nothing,” D.O. said, when L didn’t respond.
“We can sneak up on him and try some more later,” Baekhyun decided.
“I don’t think he’s very easy to sneak up on,” Kai said.
“Wait, though,” Sehun said. “You made ramen together?”
“Your ass is pretty tight,” Hoya told L, later.
“He was talking about you,” L said.
Hoya grinned. “I know, I was just trying to make you feel better.”
L laughed and mock-punched him.
Xiumin had to talk to JD. Jang Dongwon? Jang Doyoon? But until then, he still had work to do.
He wasn’t even near the practice room door before L was in his way. “How many times do we have to go through this?” L asked.
“I’m going downstairs. I’ll be right back,” he said. “No one’s going to murder me in the hallway, and I swear that if someone does, I’ll send my ghost back to forgive you. Okay?” He reached for the door handle.
“No,” L said, in between him and the door, one hand splayed against the door to hold it shut.
“You work for me,” Xiumin said.
“I work for the same people you work for.”
“Then we’re co-workers.”
“I was hired to keep you safe. You can go if you have someone to go with you. Since H is out with Suho, and I have to stay here with your other members, you can’t leave.”
“I’m safe! This building is safe!”
“Good, just in time,” L said, and opened the door. “Xiumin has to go steal office supplies or fuck trainees or something, go with him.”
On the other side of the door, Kim blinked at Xiumin. “This is a new side of you.”
“Shut the fuck up,” he muttered. Brushing past Kim, he headed down the hallway.
Of course Kim followed him. Right behind him, on his heels. Of course. He ignored it. As soon as he got onto the elevator, he jabbed the button to close the doors, but Kim got through, anyway.
Hands clasped behind his back, Kim studied the ceiling.
The doors opened. “Hair not growing back yet?” Xiumin asked, getting off of the elevator.
“No taller yet?” Kim asked him.
Cute. Hilarious. Slowing down, he tried a few doorknobs. Locked, locked, locked. “Do you know how to pick locks?”
“What kind of responsible, law-abiding citizen would I be if I knew something like that?”
He found a door that opened. He went in and turned on a light. “Watch the hallway and tell me if someone comes this way,” he said, heading for a desk.
“What are you doing?”
“Stealing office supplies and fucking trainees.” He sat down and turned the computer on. While it went through the starting screen logos, he wondered how to make it give him what he wanted. The computers were all networked together, right? So he just had to get into the system and dig around.
He started opening folders. He wasn’t even sure whose office this was. “So what’s your specialty?” he asked as he clicked around.
“Hmm?” Kim was in the doorway, fingers idly twisting in the hem of his too-big T-shirt, trying to keep an eye on Xiumin and the hallway at once.
“Your specialty. Like Jang-whoever plays with bombs.” L and H seemed to be the primary bodyguards for a reason, and they were built like they might actually be able to take or throw a punch. Kim didn’t have the right build, he was all square shoulders and nothing else. Watching him toy with the hem of his shirt, Xiumin realized that he had pretty hands. Slim hands with smooth, graceful fingers.
What a weird thing to notice. Shaking it off, Xiumin went back to opening folders. “What’s your specialty?” he asked again. “Bombs, spying, car chases, research, search and rescue?”
“I fill in,” he said. “I help out when the team needs an extra body.”
Search! He could try searching! Okay, search for what? He typed “Arctic Fox” into the field. What were these results, what was this crap, what the hell system was SM even using? He didn’t know if this interface was too new or too old, but it wasn’t what he was used to. “So you’re just the guy they call to come in when the real pros are busy?”
“You don’t have to make me sound useless,” he objected.
He studied the file names in front of him and clicked on one. Frowning, he tried another, then another. These were all internal memos from the higher-ups to his managers and back, discussing whether to hire Arctic Fox or not and how much to tell Suho about it. He wanted to give up in annoyance, but if this was all the information he had in front of him, he might as well see if there was anything useful in it. He read quickly. The memos were deliberately vague in places and pretty basic in others. One of the notes between the top executives made some reference to how they’d gotten in touch with Arctic Fox, something about a military friend’s recommendation. “Are you guys from the army?”
“Is that where you met, or is that how they recruit you?”
“Should you bring up the army so easily?” Kim asked. “Isn’t that a sensitive subject, with you putting it off for so long?”
“That’s where Jang-whoever got his training, right? The army?” he asked, still reading. “Is that where - - oh! Oh, sorry, I forgot, you don’t have any specialized training. You’re useless.”
“I don’t like you so much after all.”
“Oh, did you, before?” He tripped over a sentence. His eyes widening, he went back and re-read it. Then he read it out loud. “‘They’re just a bunch of kids, as young as born in ’92 and ’93, but they have the right mentality. I only want to turn to someone that we can trust,’” it continued, “‘and the commander says that we can trust the fox.’ The fox,” he repeated. He stared at Kim. “Born in ’92 and ’93?! What the hell, how old are you?”
“What?” Kim asked, blinking at him.
On his feet and around the desk, he moved in. Kim tried to pull away, but he planted a hand squarely on Kim’s chest, pushing Kim back against the doorjamb. Staring into Kim’s face, he narrowed his eyes.
“What, what, this isn’t right,” Kim said, still trying to inch away.
Xiumin scrutinized Kim’s face. It was completely unlined. His cheeks were way too smooth. His skin looked soft. “Fuck, they sent a bunch of kids to watch over us?”
“I’m not a kid,” Kim protested.
“You’re freaking Chanyeol’s age! D.O.’s age!” He couldn’t believe it. “I knew that SJ looked too young, I knew it, I thought that was weird as soon as I saw him.”
“It’s not-” Kim cut himself off and blinked at Xiumin. “Are you speaking informally to me?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” God, what the hell. “They hired a bunch of kids,” he said to himself, walking out.
“At least - - hey, at least turn off the computer, how does this look?” Kim asked.
“Don’t have time, I’ll be late for practice.” He pushed the button for the elevator. “Should you still be up so late? Don’t you have homework to do? A spelling test tomorrow?”
“Speaking so informally,” Kim said. “I’m in charge of your safety, you know! You could be more respectful!”
“To a child? I don’t think so.” He got onto the elevator, then reached a hand out. “Let me help you in, I know these can be scary for toddlers.”
“You think you’re so clever,” Kim said. And then he took Xiumin’s hand.
Xiumin hadn’t actually expected him to do it! Not left with any other options, he pulled Kim into the elevator. He pushed the button for their floor.
He didn’t drop Kim’s hand until they’d both stepped out of the elevator again.
Kim coughed and wiped his hand on his shirt.
Xiumin made a big show of wiping off his own hand, too. “Kids always have such sticky fingers,” he said, and Kim laughed.
“Wait, they’re younger than I am?” Lay asked. The members were assembled in the kitchen, getting drinks from the fridge and passing them around.
“’92 and ’93, that’s what it said,” Xiumin said. For once, there were no bodyguards in sight.
“That can’t be true,” Baekhyun said. “That’s my age!”
“SJ looks really young, though,” Sehun said.
“Info sounds young, too,” Chanyeol said. “Like, he’s really smart, but he’s also fun. Really fun. He talks to me like Baekhyun or Kai or somebody.”
“Kai’s a baby!” Xiumin exclaimed.
“He’s not that young,” Lay said.
“He’s not old enough for me to trust him to take a bullet for me,” Xiumin said.
“Oh, god, don’t say things like that,” Baekhyun said, shivering.
“Namu’s at least five years older than I am,” Suho said. “He has to be.”
“How old is L, do you think?” Chen asked D.O.
“I don’t know,” D.O. admitted.
“It’s hard to tell with someone who always wears a hat and never speaks,” Baekhyun said.
“They’re living here, right?” Sehun asked.
“Did you just notice that?” Kai asked, laughing.
“No, ha, shut up,” Sehun said. “I mean, they’re staying here. They shave here and change their underwear here.”
“I don’t know, do they? Are they old enough to shave?” Xiumin asked.
“Do they wear underwear?” Baekhyun asked.
“So many questions,” Chanyeol said, laughing.
“Hyungs,” Sehun said. “If they live here, they’re keeping their stuff here. Where is it?”
Xiumin couldn’t believe that he’d never thought of that. “They must have bags,” he realized. “An overnight bag, something, at least.” He couldn’t remember seeing even one anywhere. “Where the hell are they, then?”
“Oh, behind the couch, maybe,” Chen said. “That’s where JD puts his backpack.”
“He takes that thing off?” Baekhyun asked.
“What’s inside it?” Xiumin asked.
“I don’t know,” Chen said.
If H and L were staying in the dorm, then their stuff was in the dorm. Behind the couch. And if it was behind the couch, then Xiumin had access to it. Right there in his very own dorm. “I need you to cause a distraction,” he told D.O.
“Cause a distraction?” Chanyeol asked.
“Are we in a movie?” Chen asked.
“Members,” Suho said. “Let’s not go too far.”
“You know they’re trying to help us,” Kai told Xiumin. “I think we can trust them.”
“I trust them,” D.O. said.
“Of course we can trust them,” Suho said.
Xiumin pretended to agree. He did agree. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Arctic Fox. He didn’t think that they were nefarious or out to get him. They were just doing their jobs. It just irritated him to have them around. They were too secretive. It annoyed him. If everything was so aboveboard and everyone was so trustworthy, why couldn’t he know more about the people who were so selflessly saving his life?
He waited half an hour, and then he talked Chanyeol and Sehun into causing a distraction for him. H and L were both in the dorm, so he’d need to get both of them out of the living room. He, what was the term for it? Did surveillance? Cased the joint? Determined the target’s location? He looked behind the couch and saw two black bags. They were identical. Soft black leather, big enough for a change of clothes and not a whole lot more. He imagined that one was filled exclusively with extra black caps, just in case.
While he was waiting for Suho to forget that he’d said anything about causing a distraction, he asked, “Why do they always have those hats on, anyway?” He said it in the hallway, knowing that both H and L were probably within earshot. “Do they have lice? Really bad dandruff? Maybe they have bad haircuts like that useless Kim.”
“L’s haircut is normal,” D.O. said. “Kind of boring. Like yours.”
Grinning, he punched D.O.’s arm, and D.O. punched him back.
“H has great hair,” Baekhyun said. “It looks really thick.”
“Seriously,” Xiumin said. “When are you going to suck his cock?”
“Hyung!” Baekhyun looked mortified. “That’s not - - why - - I - - why?! Don’t say things like that! Someone could misunderstand!”
“But you always look so good, sucking mine,” Xiumin said, grinning. “He’ll probably love it. He’s not getting any action, hanging around here. We might as well keep him entertained, right?”
“I - - fine, then, you suck it,” Baekhyun said, flustered and embarrassed.
“Eh, I’m only into hyungs,” he said. “I bet Sehun would do it.”
“You and your hyungs,” Baekhyun said.
“You know we all think you only insist on only being into hyungs so that we’ll all do whatever you want and you don’t have to reciprocate,” D.O. said.
He grinned. “But it’s working, so why would I change it now?”
“Is it okay, I mean, we can’t just have sex with our bodyguards, can we?” Baekhyun asked.
“I think that’s a line we shouldn’t cross,” D.O. said.
“I bet that Sehun and Chen would do it,” Xiumin said.
“Are there, like, rules against it?” Baekhyun asked.
“Are you asking for a friend?” Xiumin asked.
“I, I’m not, it,” Baekhyun said. “I - - but he’s so good-looking, right? I’m not the only one who sees it? He’s so freaking sexy, I want to rub myself all over him.” He was so happy about it and so desperate that Xiumin almost felt bad for teasing him.
“L?” D.O. asked.
“What - - no! H, H, I mean H,” he said.
“He’s hot,” Xiumin said.
“I love the way he moves, have you seen it?” Baekhyun asked. “He’s so light on his feet, he moves like he’s really in control of himself.”
“You really just need to blow him,” Xiumin said.
“I can’t just do it!” Baekhyun exclaimed, blushing.
“Is it okay to have that kind of relationship with them?” D.O. asked.
“Blowjobs aren’t relationships, who are you, Lay?” Xiumin asked. “Just make a move, tell him you’re hot for it. He’ll probably be grateful for the attention, he probably hasn’t gotten laid since they took this job.”
“I haven’t gotten laid since they took this job!” Baekhyun exclaimed.
Yeah, they were killing the dorm sex vibe. “You can always go down on me,” Xiumin offered.
“Or me,” D.O. said.
“Or me!” Chanyeol called from another room. “If you need more options!”
Hoya had noticed Xiumin making a big effort to be discreet about looking behind the couch. Xiumin seemed like one of those people who would rather focus on them than on the threat they were protecting him from; it was easier to concentrate on what was right in front of him than on the frightening reality of outside danger.
Hoya mentioned to L that he’d seen Xiumin snooping around. It wasn’t like Xiumin would find anything interesting in there, besides socks and energy bars. But he didn’t want Xiumin to get any ideas about his knives.
He was on the couch when he heard horrible choking, retching sounds from the kitchen. Pushing himself to his feet, he also heard excited yelling from the bathroom. Seeing L head for the kitchen, he went in the other direction.
As he moved, he was keenly aware that they were leaving the front door unguarded.
“Everything okay?” he called. He stepped out of the living room, moved through the doorway and just out of sight, and then pivoted, looking back into the room.
Xiumin was heading straight for the couch.
He hung back, wanting to be sure.
Xiumin quickly nudged the couch, squeezing behind it.
As soon as he was back there, wedged between the couch and the wall, Hoya moved in. Quick and silent, across the room in a flash, Hoya grabbed his wrist and wrenched it up behind his back.
Crying out, Xiumin arched. Hoya wasn’t doing anything that would cause damage, wasn’t really hurting him, but he wasn’t used to being grabbed. “Ow! Ow! Fuck! Ah! Let go!” he shouted when he figured out that he wasn’t in any danger.
“What, what - - hyung!” Suho exclaimed, hurrying over.
“What happened, what is it?” Chen asked, members spilling into the room from all directions.
“He was trying to get into our stuff,” Hoya said when L walked in. “They just wanted us out of the room.”
L rubbed the back of his neck, looking rueful. “I should’ve caught that.”
“Amateur.” Stepping back, he let Xiumin go.
“I’m sorry,” Suho said. “This shouldn’t have happened. You’ve been working hard, and we’re grateful for everything. We’ll respect your privacy from now on, we understand how important it is.”
Xiumin glared at Hoya, but he looked ashamed. “Sorry.”
“What do you think you’re going to find?” Kai asked. “They don’t have anything weird.”
“Do they?” Chanyeol asked with a nervous smile, gaze darting from Hoya to L and back. “You don’t have anything weird, do you?”
“It’s socks and underwear,” Hoya said. “Toothpaste, a razor.”
“I packed a book,” L said. “I never get a chance to read it, but it’s there.”
“Which book?” D.O. asked.
“So you’re old enough to know how to read,” Chanyeol said, eyeing them and grinning.
“It’s a novel,” L said. “It’s supposed to be good, I don’t know.” He was getting shy with the entire room’s attention on him; he was starting to blush.
And it was charming everyone; one by one, the EXO members started to gaze at him as if they wanted to nurture him or strip naked and offer themselves to him.
Rolling his eyes, Hoya coughed into his fist. A few of them managed to come out of it and glance in his direction. “No more snooping around and going through our stuff from now on, or should we find somewhere else to leave our bags?”
“We’ll respect your privacy,” Suho said. “We’re very sorry.”
“Yes, it won’t happen again,” Xiumin said. “Have you had any sex since you started working here?”
“What happened to respecting privacy?” Suho asked, turning pink. “Hyung, that’s none of our business.”
“I just thought, they’re going through a dry spell, we’re - - some of us - - going through a dry spell.” As Xiumin spoke, he cast a telling glance at Kai, who grinned wickedly at Lay, who blushed happily. “Maybe we can help each other out.”
“Help - - oh, no, no,” Suho said, shaking his head. “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
“It’s up to the individuals, isn’t it?” Xiumin asked. “Anyone who isn’t into it doesn’t have to do it. But if someone wants to do it, it’s not going to destroy this whole secret operation if someone gets a little head once in a while.”
“Secret operation?” Chen repeated.
“We’re really in a movie, aren’t we?” Chanyeol asked.
“Who’s the leading man, Namu?” Chen asked.
“L, probably,” Sehun said. L gave Hoya an exasperated look and ran his hand over his hat, trying to pull it more snugly down.
“I think that fraternizing like that is a bad idea,” Suho said. “I want to discourage it. Arctic Fox is here to work, and they’re very dedicated to their jobs, and I think that we should leave them alone.”
“So sex is on the table,” Sehun said.
“Is, is it really?” Chen asked. “No, I heard what you just said,” he added quickly when Suho looked at him. “But you only said ‘bad idea’ and ‘discourage.’ Not that we can’t or it’ll get them fired.”
“Get us fired?” Hoya asked. He hadn’t realized that was a consideration.
“No one’s getting fired,” Suho said. “But we’re all adults. I think that Arctic Fox is mature enough and professional enough to make responsible choices. I’ll leave it at that.”
Oh, hell. He wouldn’t tell his members that sex was forbidden; he wanted L and Hoya to do it for him. That was a neat little trick. It made sure that sex wouldn’t happen, but he wouldn’t be responsible for anyone’s frustration or hard feelings.
“Do you, um, do any of you have sex with guys?” Chanyeol asked.
“I’m straight,” L said.
“Straight, I’m straight,” Hoya said. Somehow that hadn’t sounded convincing at all, but if he tried to reiterate the point, it would only sound ridiculous. “I’ll go check in,” he told L, touching his earpiece.
“Check in with who about what?” L asked, laughing at him.
“Important things,” he said, and went to the kitchen.
Sungyeol was searching through old chat logs for certain keywords when Chanyeol’s call came in. “Hey,” he said. An alert popped up on one of his monitors; Chanyeol was on World of Warcraft. He logged out of one account and into another. “Did you get the gold I sent you? Buy some new gear. Start with boots for your priest before you do anything else. You guys looked great at that festival today. Baekhyun looks way hotter with all of that eyeliner.”
“Are you gay?”
“Am I gay?” he repeated. He laughed, suddenly self-conscious. “No, I’m bi. Why?”
“Do you ever leave your office? Your desk? Your - - where are you, anyway?”
“I’m at the office. The illustrious Arctic Fox headquarters.”
“Where is that?”
He hadn’t expected this to come up. Why had he not expected this to come up? It hadn’t occurred to him that Chanyeol would try to see him. Visit the office. Meet him in person. And Chanyeol wanted to know if he was gay? Holy shit. “Dude, you’re an idol.”
“So?” Chanyeol asked, like that shouldn’t make a difference. “So what?”
“Idols have reputations to protect. You can’t date, you can’t screw around, aren’t there rules? You shouldn’t even be on the phone asking strange men if they’re gay.”
“We’re not strangers.”
“We kind of are.”
“You know everything about me.”
“Okay, and how much do you really know about me?”
“You’re a tech geek-”
“Oh, come on, that doesn’t count.”
“You drink way too much coffee. I don’t think that you ever sleep. You play World of Warcraft and care too much about it. And you seem kind of eager to have someone else to play with. You’re logical, you like to figure things out and think things through. You like information, you like to know things. But you like to share what you know, too. You like to be in the middle of things, you like to know what’s going on, you always seem to know what everyone is up to. You’re friendly. You sound young when you laugh. You look at stuff for what it is, you don’t say things just to flatter me or make me feel better, you’re honest and direct about it. But you’re nice, too.”
Biting his lip, Sungyeol didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t expected a reply like that. He’d never imagined that Chanyeol thought all of those things about him.
“What do you look like?” When he didn’t answer, Chanyeol said, “Come on, you know what I look like.”
“I don’t look like an idol,” he said.
“Are you tall? Short? Skinny? Fat? Ripped?”
“Not as tall as you. My ears don’t stick out as far, either.” Embarrassed, he shook his head, trying to get himself together. “We can’t do this. Come on, you aren’t interested in me. What’s going on with EXO these days, anyway? Baekhyun’s hot for H, you think you want me, I think that Chen and JD are ready to move in together. Are you all super horny, or what?”
“If I say yes, will you do something about it?”
Scandalized, he burst into laughter. “Shit! Park Chanyeol coming on strong!”
“You’re into guys, you think I’m good-looking, we get along, come on,” Chanyeol said.
“You don’t really want to date me. You’re in the biggest idol group in Korea right now, you’re a freaking celebrity, you don’t want any boyfriend at all, and you definitely don’t want me. And I don’t need casual sex, I’m not interested in some quick screw, no matter how hot you are.”
“You want a boyfriend?”
“No. What the hell would I do with a boyfriend? Go out on dates? I have shit to do here.”
“So a boyfriend who’s away a lot, on tour, filming in China, promoting in Japan, someone who can only see you once in a while and has to survive in phone calls in between, a long-distance relationship, that would be pretty convenient for you, then.”
Um. Well, now that he mentioned it. “You’re an idol,” he protested weakly, trying to keep that in mind, trying to remind himself that it would never work.
“If I can’t come to see you, then you should come to see me,” Chanyeol said. “What kind of boots should I get, are these really that bad?”
Go to see him? “Your boots are complete crap, everyone around you is laughing at you, trust me. Go to the auction house.” He told himself not to do it, but he was already opening EXO’s calendar, checking out where they’d be over the next few days.
When Suho woke up, one of the first sounds he heard in the dorm was sex. “Unh, oh yeah, unh.” Chen having sex, noisily. “Oh, give it to me, oh!” Ecstatic, rhythmic moaning. “Unh, unh, oh, yes, yes!”
Aroused and embarrassed, he guessed that his members must feel more comfortable with the Arctic Fox guys around. Then he wondered if Chen was having sex with the Arctic Fox guys. But as he moved around the dorm, he saw H and L in the living room. Relieved, he was glad that no one had crossed that line. It was really better for everyone if they didn’t start confusing their personal and professional relationships.
Smiling, shirtless, looking very relaxed and affectionate, Chen walked to the front door. With JD. “I’ll see you later, okay, hyung?” he murmured, his fingers playing over JD’s backpack straps.
“I’ll come back tonight,” JD said. His hand slid into Chen’s hair, and they kissed. Chen moaned, fingers hooking around the straps, pulling JD closer, their tongues slicking together.
Suho wondered if he should talk to Namu about this.
As soon as JD was gone and the door was closed, L and H casually strolled past each other, high-fiving on the way by. Seeing that, Chen laughed.
“Chen-ah,” Xiumin said, heading straight towards him.
“No!” Chen said, backing up, putting his hands up. “No, I’m not telling you anything. JD hyung trusts me, we’ve talked a lot, and I’m not giving you any more information about him.”
“Was it good?” Chanyeol asked. “It sounded really good.”
“Oh my god, it was amazing,” Chen said. “You don’t even know, he’s good at everything.”
“I guess now we know, statistically, which one the gay one is in Arctic Fox,” Baekhyun said. He said it like it was a joke, but then his eyes cut to H and he looked miserable.
“I found the bi one,” Chanyeol said. “Info, he says that he’s bi. He won’t tell me what he looks like, just that he’s short and he has cute ears.”
“You’re trying to date someone over the phone?” Sehun asked.
“They talk all night, every night, all morning, every morning,” Lay said.
“What year is this?” Chanyeol asked. “People date people they meet on-line and stuff all of the time.”
“But then they meet in person,” Suho said.
“I’m going to visit him, I’m going to go and see him,” Chanyeol said. “As soon as he tells me where he is.”
“He could be anywhere, couldn’t he?” Xiumin asked. “He’s just a disembodied voice. He could be in another country.”
“No, he said that he’s at their office.”
“They have an office?” Xiumin asked.
“Is it in Seoul?” Kai asked.
Suho noticed Chen disappearing around the corner, and smiled. It was good, at least, if Chen and JD were sexually involved, that JD confided in him. And after how much Xiumin had acted up, trying to sneak into H and L’s bags, Suho didn’t mind at all if Chen kept that information private.
D.O. went over his lines again while the make-up artist worked on him. When she started on his eyes, he lowered the script, but he kept reciting the lines to himself, mumbling. “I’ve never said that I won’t do it. I only told you that I can’t… I only told you that I couldn’t… I only told you…” Shit, what came next?
“I only told you that I can’t be what you need me to be right now,” L said.
He blinked, surprised. “That was right,” he said. His back to the room, he looked in the mirror; L was seated on the couch, behind him. “Do you know my lines better than I do?”
“You go over them a lot,” L said. “And you left it sitting out, so I read it.”
As soon as the stylist gave him room to move, he twisted around in his chair. “Can you run lines with me?” As soon as the question was out, he regretted it. “It’s too much to ask,” he realized. “It’s just that, with the other members. I feel like it’s awkward, that I have so many roles and they don’t, and it seems like rubbing it in their faces.”
L licked his lips, then nodded a little. At that nod, D.O. felt very strange inside, fluttery and light. “Not here, I don’t want to be distracted. But when H or someone else is around, yeah, we can try it.” He chuckled, one side of his mouth lifting in a half-smile. “I don’t have to be any good, do I? I just have to read the other parts so you can rehearse.”
“You can be terrible, it’s still great,” D.O. said. “Thank you, I’ll be really grateful.”
L smiled at him, then went back to watching the door and the stylist.
He felt really, really good about this. Facing the mirror again, he couldn’t take his eyes off of L’s reflection. That straight nose, those muscular shoulders. L was with him constantly, protecting him, looking out for him. But that was work. It was loyalty that SM paid for. But this was something that L was doing just for him. And it felt like a huge gift.
It was the earrings that Chanyeol noticed first. He was walking down the hallway with his members, bowing politely to a couple of staff members and other idols on the way. And there was this guy up ahead with piercings all up around the rim of his ear. He was tall and skinny, long body, all elbows, wearing a T-shirt and jeans and a long, thin, tan cardigan. Big eyes, very sexy red mouth, and he had his hair pulled back on top in a little ponytail. He was good-looking, a really handsome guy, but the piercings and hair and everything, it was a really sexy look. Chanyeol kind of wanted to do him. “Hi,” Chanyeol said when they passed, and the guy looked surprised, eyes going round, lips parting, and stammered out a, “Hey.”
Chanyeol wondered who he was. Hoped to see him around again.
L kind of liked running lines with D.O. It gave him something to do, a way to fill his time around the dorm besides watching Suho watch TV.
The more they did it, the more comfortable he became with it. They sat within sight of the door, so he could keep an eye on it whenever H left the room. With Kai and Lay having sex in one of the bedrooms, and Chen and JD cooking and laughing and talking in the kitchen, and H strolling around, it was kind of a nice moment. They went through the scenes over and over again, partly so that D.O. could memorize the right words, but also so that D.O. could try different inflections, delivering the lines in different ways.
It was really interesting to him, to watch D.O. go through the process of trying out different emotions on the same lines. He became fascinated by the choices that D.O. made. He liked how D.O. could get into it and seem genuinely caught up in the scene, eyes wounded, lips quivering, and then totally break out of it and say, “No, no, let me try it again,” in a totally normal tone of voice like nothing was going on.
D.O. was only doing one character’s lines, so L had to be everyone else. It was okay in one-on-one conversations, but when there were multiple people in the scene, he tried to do different voices, to distinguish the characters. The first time he did it, raising his voice for one and lowering it for the other, D.O. laughed, breaking the moment. Embarrassed, he asked, “No, no good?”
“It’s good, it’s cute, do it again,” D.O. said. “It helps, it’ll help me keep everybody straight in my head, thank you.”
He felt a little self-conscious about it at first, but he got into it. And he tried sounding actually angry when the characters were pissed off, and breezy and flirty when they were teasing. It was fun. “This is neat,” he said when they were finished, handing the script back.
“Thank you, a lot,” D.O. said. “I really mean it. You’ve helped me so much.”
“You practice the lines so many ways, how do you know how to say it when they’re filming? The director tells you what he wants?” L had been with D.O. on set and during discussions with the director, and he didn’t remember a lot of talk about it.
D.O. made a face. “Well, with this director, it’s really up to me. Another director, on another project, we talked a lot about it, and we’d do a lot of takes, so he had a lot to work with. This one, he’s more concerned about getting everything done on time and following the shooting schedule, so I have to nail it the first time.”
“That seems like a lot of pressure,” L said. “And a lot less fun.”
D.O. smiled at him. “Yeah, it’s both of those.”
He got up, putting down a hand and pulling D.O. up, too. Curious, he asked, “What other project was that?”
“Oh, a movie. Stealing Men’s Hearts. I was the younger brother of the female lead.”
“Is it out? Can I see it?”
D.O. smiled at him. “It’s in theaters right now. I had to do a ton of press about it. And now I feel like all of that was a waste, if you’ve never even heard of it.”
He laughed. “Sorry. It’s my fault, I don’t pay attention to things like that.”
“We can go to see it. You can go, I mean, or.”
Going to the movies. D.O. didn’t go out in public as an average citizen very often, but if he went out to the movies, it would be an opportunity for any of his stalkers to show up and hover around him. Which meant that it would be an opportunity to lure them out and get a good look at them. But L didn’t want to tell D.O. that just yet. “Yeah, maybe we could go when you have a night off.”
D.O. smiled at him. “Okay. That’d be good.”
“Lee Sangyoon!” Baekhyun said suddenly from behind him.
He rolled his eyes. D.O. laughed and said, “No, I don’t think that’s it.”
“Lee Taemin?” Baekhyun guessed.
Xiumin had to go out. He needed a night out, a break from stress and work and PD’s and managers and all of it. He wanted to be somewhere besides a dressing room or the dorm. He called a friend, made plans to meet, and got dressed.
When he made it the whole way to the front door without anyone saying a word, he knew that it was too good to be true.
When he opened the front door and saw Kim standing there waiting for him, he couldn’t believe it. “You.”
“Ready to go?” Kim asked.
He turned around and gave H the finger.
H smiled and waved.
“Just don’t cramp my style,” he warned Kim as he stepped into the hallway and closed the door.
“No, no, I wouldn’t do that,” Kim said. They walked in silence for a second. “You have style?”
They took a cab over to the club. He texted his friend to say that he’d made it, and she said that she’d be there in a minute. He got a private room and tried to order a drink. Kim interrupted and said, “Get something in a bottle.” Then Kim told the waitress, “He wants to open it himself, please.”
A bottle he had to open himself? Why, so no one slipped something into it? No one was going to drug him! He wanted to argue against Kim’s paranoia, but he didn’t want to get into a whole fight over it. He’d come out to get away from this shit. “Fine, right,” he said, impatient to play along to get Kim to shut up. He ordered two bottles of beer, both for himself.
They sat alone, waiting. He drank and texted his friend.
Across the table, Kim clasped his hands in his lap and nodded, looking around. “This is a lot of fun.”
“Shut up. She’s bringing friends, they’ll be here in a minute.” He wouldn’t have shown up so early himself if he hadn’t been so ready to get away from this constant surveillance.
“You have a fetish for dirty socks?” Kim asked.
“What?” he asked, taken aback.
“You like to sniff old panties?”
“Sniff - - what the hell are you talking about?” And then he remembered. L and H’s overnight bags. Embarrassed, he kicked Kim under the table. “I wasn’t trying to see anyone’s socks! I thought they’d have information in there, ID or something.”
“Oh, is that your story? Good, that’s good, that’s convincing.” Kim nodded to himself. Looked around the room. Winced and reached down, rubbing his shin. “Ow.”
Like it still hurt. “Where do you go? When you go out?”
“I don’t go out.” He straightened, grimacing. “You have hard toes. Pointy.”
“It’s just my shoe, and you’re fine. You don’t go out at all? What do you do at night?”
Xiumin gave him a fake smile. “Ha, ha, ha.”
“I read, sometimes. I hang out with my friends.”
“Which friends?” Xiumin tried to picture it. A bunch of guys with bad haircuts sitting around together.
“Just some Army guys, mostly.”
“So you’ve already served. Is that why you can’t shut up about it?”
Kim smiled at him. “I’m just teasing. As long as you go when it’s time, you don’t have to rush it. It’s not always good to go too early.”
He felt weirdly sensitive about it, now that Kim was being so nice and understanding about it. He was embarrassed. “I’m going to go. It’s not like I’m trying to get out of it.”
“I know,” he said sincerely. “You have a big career and a big company and a lot of fans. It’s not only up to you, it has to fit in with what they want, too.”
“So is the army like your whole life? What’d you want to do when you were younger?”
“Ah.” He grinned, ducking his head and rubbing at his hair. He looked so bashful, Xiumin was amazed. “I wanted to be in a band,” he said. “I wanted to be a rock star. But music isn’t a real career, so. I went to the army instead.”
“You wanted to be a rock star?” Xiumin repeated. Maybe that explained the haircut. “What, do you play the guitar?”
“I sing,” he said, sitting up straighter, getting a little boost of pride. Then he looked shy again, dropping his gaze, one thumb rubbing over the other. “I wanted to be a singer.”
Really. “Music is a real career,” Xiumin said. And then he wished that he hadn’t said it, because it seemed cruel. Because maybe this wasn’t all talk, maybe Kim actually had dreamt of being a musician someday, and here he was, making a genuine success at it, and Kim had given up on it, and who the hell was he, to flaunt his success in someone else’s face? “Were you any good?”
He met Xiumin’s eyes, and he smiled a tiny bit. “I was loud.”
He laughed. “Okay, that’s part of it.”
“Did you always want to be a singer?” Kim asked.
“Um.” Well, kind of. “I wanted to be a performer. I wanted to be onstage.” He shifted in his seat. “Being an idol’s not only about the music. You have to be good at interviews and photo shoots, you need variety skills and acting ability, you have to be able to dance, all kinds of things.”
Kim nodded. “And you have all of those things?”
“Some of them,” he admitted with a grin, and Kim laughed. “I’m working on it, I’m picking it up as I go.”
“You’re good-looking, that’s a big part of it, being an idol.”
“Thanks.” Embarrassed by the praise, he smoothed his hair. “I’m too short, really.”
“You’re very tiny,” Kim agreed, nodding, and Xiumin laughed.
They talked for a while longer. Xiumin finished both of his drinks. “Do you want to order something?”
“No, I can’t drink on the job.”
“You can have water or something.”
“No.” He hesitated, then explained, “I might have to pee, and I can’t worry about those things when I’m supposed to be looking out for you.”
What? “I’ll go to the bathroom with you, then, we can both go. I’ll have to pee at some point, too. Those other goons are always following me into the bathroom.” His phone beeped. His friend had sent a photo. Of herself tucked up in bed, with another guy, flipping him off. “Oh, you fucking asshole,” he breathed.
“Bad news?” Kim asked.
“She - - oh, this asshole,” he said, amazed. “She’s standing me up. She’s not coming, she’s at home.” He shoved his phone in his pocket, too pissed off to trust himself to reply. “It’s payback,” he realized. “I haven’t seen her lately, she’s mad at me. I only call her up when I want to get off, and then I was seeing someone else, and - - whatever.”
“Your private life is kind of a mess,” Kim said.
“Let’s go, let’s get out of here,” he said, getting up. “Let’s go to karaoke.”
“Will that help you to get laid?” Kim asked, standing.
He’d just get Sehun to blow him when he got back to the dorm. Too bad L was straight. Curious, he eyed Kim. “You interested?”
“In what?” Kim asked, and then he did a dramatic double-take. “No!”
“Okay, just asking,” he said, laughing. “Are you straight?”
“Married? Wife, kids?”
“If I had kids, I’d be baby-sitting them, not you,” Kim said.
“I’m going to make you drink four bottles of water, and then I’m going to run up and down the streets all night so you can’t get to a bathroom,” he decided.
“You come up with a lot of fun activities,” Kim said. “Sitting alone in a room drinking by yourself. Jogging up and down the sidewalk for hours. I’m really surprised that your friend didn’t want to come out and meet you.”
“Lucky you,” Xiumin said, grinning, slinging an arm around Kim and guiding him to the door. “You get me all to yourself.”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, lucky, lucky me.”
Chen kissed down Dongwoo’s chest slowly, planting soft kisses on Dongwoo’s skin, breathing hot, moist air over a tight nipple. When Dongwoo slid a hand in his hair, he crawled back up for a kiss, and when Dongwoo’s tongue slid into his mouth, he moaned, sinking down onto Dongwoo’s body.
Groaning, Dongwoo rolled them over, muscular and sinuous against him. On his back, kissing hungrily, he wrapped both arms around Dongwoo, and when Dongwoo nudged his thighs farther apart, he moaned, shuddering, as Dongwoo’s knuckles skimmed up his inner thigh, caressing him, fingers brushing his cock.
Xiumin was drunk. Drunk and horny. Very, very horny. He couldn’t get Kim to sing for him, so he sang. He got Kim to drink, even if it was only juice and soda. They talked a lot, and it was good. For a useless hired goon, Kim was a lot of fun. He liked how happily Kim laughed, head thrown back, cheeks flushed, and once they got going, they talked about everything. He said more to Kim than he’d said to anyone outside of the group in weeks.
“I need to take a piss,” he realized, squirming. He got up and added, “You have to take a piss. Come on.”
They went down the hallway to the bathroom. Kim went in first; and then he had to stand by the door, waiting, while Kim checked the stalls for ticking bombs or whatever. “God, I have to go, can you move faster?” he asked, shifting his weight and trying to hold it. “Shit, what, there’s no one hiding in here with a crossbow, can I go already?”
“You’re very fussy,” Kim said.
“I’m a grown man who has to wait for permission to take a piss!”
“I think there’s porn like that.”
“And you watch it?”
“No! Okay, you can do it now.”
“Thank god.” He hustled over to the urinal. He groaned in relief as his bladder emptied. Oh, that was nice. Okay. He zipped up and washed his hands. “Okay, your turn.”
“My turn what?”
“To take a leak. Go ahead,” he said, grinning, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against the sink. “I’ll stand watch.”
“Pervert,” Kim said. “Does that door lock?”
“No, why would it - - I think it locks,” he realized, going over to it. He locked it, then tugged on the handle.
“Good.” Kim went over to the urinals. “Don’t go anywhere or do anything.”
He considered waiting until Kim was mid-stream, and then making a run for it. But it didn’t seem worth it. Sidling over, he stepped in nice and close. Mostly he was trying to creep Kim out, and apparently it was working, because Kim was mumbling, “Stop it,” and trying to edge away. While he was there, he glanced down, taking a brief look. He didn’t expect to see much, it was more for the sake of being able to tease Kim than anything. But then he took a second look, and then he blinked and took a more serious look. Damn, Kim was hung.
“Pervert,” Kim mumbled again, tucking himself away. “I hope you don’t do this to everyone you’re in a public bathroom with.”
While Kim went to the sink, Xiumin rubbed himself. They were alone, and the door was locked, and his hormones were racing. “C’mere and suck my cock.”
“You speak very informally and very disrespectfully,” Kim said, washing his hands.
“Okay.” He cleared his throat. “C’mere and suck my cock, now.”
Wiping his hands on his shirt, Kim frowned. “This isn’t very seductive.”
“You have a very big cock,” Xiumin said, running a hand up his chest. “I love it when dongsaengs with very big cocks get on their knees and blow me. It really gets me off.”
Backing away, Kim asked, “Are you supposed to talk like this in public? Isn’t it against your idol rules?”
“No cameras in bathrooms.”
“You’re very drunk, I think. I should get you back to your dorm before you do something you’ll regret,” Kim said, still backing away. “Like proposition strange men in public bathrooms.”
Gripping a handful of Kim’s shirt, he backed into a stall, pulling Kim along with him. “Do you want me to blow you, instead?” he asked. “But I only blow hyungs.”
“You’d suck it if I were older?” Kim asked, putting a hand on his hip and guiding him against the wall.
“Yeah,” he said, turned on, breathing hard, shoulders against the wall. He squirmed on purpose, and Kim’s hand tightened on his hip, stroking him. Fuck, this was hot. “It’s such a shame for you.” His cock was hard, uncomfortable in his pants, and he undid his fly, pulling it out, rubbing it, groaning when Kim moved closer. He was penned in between Kim’s body and the side of the stall. Tightening his fist in Kim’s shirt, he lifted his face, wanting a kiss. “Too bad,” he whispered, staring up into Kim’s eyes. “I look freaking fantastic with a cock in my mouth.”
Kim kissed him. Groaning, he kissed back, so fucking horny, so fucking turned on, god, he hadn’t expected Kim to really do it. Kim pushed his hand aside, fingers wrapping around his hard-on, and the sensation of Kim’s smooth, confident hand on his bare cock sent pure pleasure shooting through him. “God, oh,” he gasped, thrusting into Kim’s fist. “Unh, god, get me off.”
Kim’s kisses were deep and kind of aggressive, and he kissed back hungrily, loving it, turned on by everything about it. His cock throbbed, every stroke of Kim’s hand intensifying his pleasure, making his whole body shake. “Fuck, oh,” he groaned, shuddering. He turned, covering Kim’s hand with his, making sure that it stayed on his cock, his pants and underwear around his thighs. “Hump me,” he panted, arching his back, thrusting his ass out. “Grind that big cock against me like someday I might let you fuck me.” God, he wanted to feel it against him.
“You like this?” Kim asked, grabbing his waist and pushing against him. Pinned against the wall, he moaned, Kim’s assertiveness giving him a thrill. He could feel Kim’s hard-on, and he rocked back, rubbing his ass over that sexy bulge. “This is what you want, this is how you like it?”
“God, ouunnnhh, yes.” He couldn’t stop moaning, his hips bucking, Kim still jacking his throbbing cock. “Unnh, hump my ass,” he groaned, one hand braced against the wall. “Hump me hard with that big cock, call me hyung, say it.”
“Want me to say it?” Kim panted, grinding against his ass, rocking him right up against the wall, so crude and rhythmic his whole body ached. “Want me to beg you for more, Xiumin hyung? Want me to be grateful to get you off, Xiumin hyung?”
“Oh, unnnh, yes, yes!” Crying out, he came, pleasure turning into a shattering pulse of raw ecstasy. Rubbing his ass against the thick bulge of Kim’s cock, he made helpless, high-pitched, mewling sounds as his cum landed sloppily on the wall. Oh, god, that had been a good one. Moaning, he let his forehead drop against the wall and tried to catch his breath.
Kim patted his thigh, kissed the back of his neck, and moved away from him.
“Shit.” Feeling goofily happy, he tugged his underwear up, did his fly.
Kim reached around him and wiped toilet paper over the mess he’d made on the wall, then flushed it.
Rubbing at his face, he turned around. Okay. He was drunk and he’d just gotten off in a bathroom. “Non-disclosure agreement, right?”
Kim nodded at him. “Right.” With an affectionate smile, Kim put an arm around him, guiding him out of the stall. “Come on, Xiumin hyung.” Kim still had a hard-on, and god, that turned him on. It really aroused him to leave dongsaengs hanging, and the bigger the erection, the better. “It’s time to go back to the dorm.”
Chen loved making out with Dongwoo. They were in the dorm, on the couch, and he hadn’t had breakfast yet, hadn’t gotten dressed yet, but it was so hard to think about doing anything other than sitting there kissing Dongwoo.
His fingers brushed Dongwoo’s earpiece. “Can you take this off?” It was really sensitive, and he didn’t want to call Info by accident.
“Mmm, no, can’t, on duty, working hours,” Dongwoo said, kissing him again, one hand sliding down the back of his boxer-briefs.
When Dongwoo cupped his ass, he groaned, pushing Dongwoo down across the cushions. “What if I call Info?”
“Then he’ll listen in.”
Surprised, he laughed. “While we’re screwing?”
Dongwoo gave his ass a squeeze, and he squirmed, and Dongwoo grinned at him happily, wickedly. “Sometimes when he gets bored, he watches porn and narrates it to us. It’s funny, porn sounds kind of sexy and kind of silly when you just describe it.”
“How do those things work?” Sehun asked, coming over. “You can just say ‘I want to suck on your fat, hairy balls’ and everyone can hear it?”
“Sure,” Dongwoo said. “This button calls Info, and this one calls everybody.”
“What’s that one?”
“That one calls the fox. We don’t touch that one.”
“The fox?” Xiumin asked.
Aw, shit, Chen hadn’t realized that he was around. “Aren’t you still sleeping it off?”
“Yes, so whisper,” Xiumin said, rubbing the side of his head. “There’s an actual fox? An arctic fox?”
“President-nim,” Dongwoo explained.
“Don’t tell him anything,” Chen said. He kissed Dongwoo again, then tapped the first button and whispered, “I want to fuck your hot, tight ass.”
Dongwoo laughed. “He says, ‘Hi, Chen.’”
“Hi,” Chen said cheerfully. He kissed Dongwoo again and got up. “I wish you could come with us today.”
“I have to go knock on doors.”
“You call your boss ‘the fox?’” Xiumin asked.
“We call him a lot of things,” Dongwoo said. On his feet, he slung his backpack over one shoulder. “I’ll be back later to go with you guys to dinner.”
“Okay.” Chen kissed him. “Bye.”
“The fox,” Xiumin said, trailing them to the door. “The Fox? Like the Green Lantern and the Batman? Do you guys give yourselves superhero names?”
Dongwoo glanced at him. “Don’t you have superhero powers?”
Xiumin’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly, and Chen burst into laughter. “I think he got you on that one!” One last kiss, and Chen opened the door. “Bye, hyung.”
Chanyeol stood in the doorway, watching the hallway. They didn’t have enough security guards in the dressing room for one to go with him, since Namu was already off with Suho and L was taking guys back and forth to the bathroom. So he stood in the hallway, and H stood there with him, and they both listened to Xiumin ramble. “So there’s a president,” Xiumin said again.
“Mmm,” Chanyeol said, watching people come and go.
“But it’s not Info. Or they wouldn’t need a different button for Info and The Fox.”
“Mmm.” No one out there was the right size and shape.
“There’s a president. And there’s an office. So they must lease office space from someone. Do you think it’s a tiny piece of a big company?” Xiumin asked suddenly. “Or it is really just a few guys?”
“They keep saying they’re small and independent,” Chanyeol reminded him.
“Namu, L, H, SJ, JD, Kim Useless, Info, and President Fox,” Xiumin said. “So eight guys total?”
“Info gets his own coffee, so I don’t think they have office assistants,” Chanyeol said. Oh! There he was! Tall and sexy, with his hair pulled up. He had on jeans and a T-shirt again, and a long, thin, blue cardigan with the sleeves pushed up. Chanyeol leaned out of the doorway, and H put a hand on him, tugging him back.
The guy saw Chanyeol and looked a little bit startled. “Hi,” Chanyeol said, and the guy smiled happily, shyly, and said, “Hi,” back, and bowed, and kept going.
Chanyeol started to go after him, but H dragged him back into the room. “Nope, sorry.”
“But I have to - - I just - - he’s getting away!”
“Who?” Xiumin asked.
“The guy! The hottie!”
“There’s a hottie?” Xiumin asked, trying to go see.
“There are no hotties.” H pushed them both back and closed the door. “I didn’t know you were just standing here scouting for ass.”
“You saw him, right?” Chanyeol asked.
“I see everything, it’s my job.”
“But he’s hot, right? He’s so sexy. I can’t believe his mouth.”
“Too many piercings,” H said. “Kiss his ear and you’ll cut yourself.”
“If you see everything, have you seen him before? Does he work here? Is he on staff with one of the companies?” He was so hot, was he an idol? But he didn’t dress like an idol, and he hadn’t introduced himself like a hoobae would have.
“I’m a bodyguard, not a dating service,” H said. “You’re in a room full of hot guys with sexy mouths, go talk to one of them.”
Chanyeol looked over his members and laughed. “I don’t like any of them.”
“You think we have sexy mouths?” Xiumin asked H, grinning. “Who, who exactly, do you think has a sexy mouth?”
“Not you,” H said.
“He probably means Kai, Kai has a sexy mouth,” Lay said.
Kai flashed him a knowing grin. “Thanks, hyung.”
“Baekhyun has a cute mouth,” Xiumin said.
“Oh, god, just don’t,” Baekhyun said. He got up from the couch, turned in a circle, and threw his hands in the air. “I can’t even walk out! What is this, I can’t even walk away?”
“L will be back in a second, I’ll walk you out then,” H said.
“I don’t want you to walk me out!” Baekhyun exclaimed. “I don’t even fucking want you around me!” Chanyeol felt awful for him. Turning away, he ran his hands through his hair, mumbling, “I don’t mean it, I didn’t mean that.”
“It’s okay,” Chen said. “It’s been difficult. Come on, come here, sit back down.”
“I hate this,” Baekhyun said, dropping down onto the couch. Chen put an arm around him and he leaned back with a miserable expression. “When is this just going to be over?”
No one had an answer for him.
When Baekhyun went for his interview, SJ went with him. H was supposed to go with him; H was always with him, everywhere he went, no matter what. But H stayed with the other members, and SJ took him, instead.
H didn’t say a word about it, and SJ didn’t explain, and he didn’t ask. Maybe H was tired of him. Maybe it was just some business decision, some basic roster change. It probably wasn’t personal. H didn’t have personal feelings, not about him.
When he got back to the dorm, he went to the kitchen to get something to eat. Some of the other members had gone out for dinner; he should have gone to meet them.
H came in. He pretended not to notice.
“How was your interview?”
“Fine. It was fine.” He wanted to snap something rude, like, “Don’t even fucking pretend that you care,” but he didn’t have the nerve. He kept his head down and tore open a package of ramen.
“I can’t,” he said, throwing the package down. Little crumbs of dried noodles scattered everywhere. He couldn’t do this. “I’m going out,” he said, because he couldn’t think of anything else. He turned toward the door, but H was in the way. “I’m going out, I’m meeting my members, I’m going to the restaurant. SJ can take me.” He was looking everywhere but at H’s eyes because he hated this, he felt horrible, he was upset but he didn’t want a confrontation.
“I’ll take you.”
“I don’t want you to take me!” It wasn’t true. He felt like crying. “You don’t want to take me.” That was true, and it was so much worse.
“I want to take you.”
“You don’t even like me!”
“I like you.”
“What, how?” he asked, not believing that for a second. “What, as a friend?”
“Yes,” H said. “I like you as a friend.”
Surprised by that, he reconsidered. “Are we… Do you want to be friends? Can we be friends?” He didn’t want to be friends. But he kind of did. He’d really thought, before, that they could really get along. He loved H’s sense of humor. That was why he was so attracted, because he’d felt so much possibility between them. But if sex was out of the question, maybe… Maybe they could be friends.
“Yes,” H said.
“Can I speak less formally and call you hyung?”
“When I’m off-duty.”
“Are you ever off-duty?”
“God, I wish.” H gestured him on. “Come on, I’ll take you to your members.”
“H hyung,” he said, trying it. “Can we go to dinner sometime, just us?”
“When I’m off-duty.”
“Can I meet your girlfriend?”
“When I’m off-duty,” he repeated. “And if I ever get one.”
He grinned. “You don’t have a girlfriend?”
“Don’t have one.” He touched his earpiece, telling Info to call them a cab.
“I can introduce you to a lot of idols. Do you want to meet Red Velvet?”
“Is that a girl group?”
He stared at H, then burst into laughter. “Shit, you really don’t care about idols, do you?”
“I’ve heard of SNSD,” he said. “They’re from your company, aren’t they? I know them.”
“They’re some of the most important sunbaes in the industry! Do you know, can you do, ‘Gee, gee, gee, gee, baby, baby, baby,’” he said, doing the dance, scooting around.
Smiling, H nudged him. “That was cute, do that again.”
“It’s just,” and he did it again. H watched, still smiling. Suddenly self-conscious, he laughed, fixing his hair. “They’re better at it.”
“You’re cute,” H said. “You’re a good dancer.”
“I’m not,” he said, embarrassed.
“You are, I’ve seen you onstage, you’re great.”
“You watch that?” He bit his lip, feeling super awkward and self-conscious and fluttery and shy. “I thought you were watching the exits and glaring at cameramen and things.”
“I do,” he said. “But I watch you, too.”
He gazed into H’s eyes, and H was still smiling, right at him, and he felt jumpy and hot and shivery all over, and god, he had the biggest crush in the world.
Licking his lips, H ducked his head, turning away. “So, uh. Cab’s on its way. Is that, uh, are you ready to go?”
“I’m ready.” He was so hot for H, and H wanted to be his friend, and he felt a hundred times better. “You have to tell me when you’re off-duty. What about my vocals, do you like my vocals?”
“What?” H asked, walking with him to the door. “Oh, do you sing?”
“I want to try a death knight, can I play a death knight?” Chanyeol asked, in front of his computer that night. “They look so cool.”
“Not yet. If you’d stop picking up a whole new character every day and just focus on one, that would help,” Info said.
“Death knight,” he said to himself. It just sounded cool. “I’m kind of cheating on you, is it okay if I cheat on you with another guy?”
“Are we breaking up already?” Info asked. “I knew you were a heartbreaker.”
“I - - oh! What killed me?” he asked, shocked as his character collapsed onscreen. “Who got me?”
“That big old boar you walked into.”
Wait. “How do you know that? Can you see me?” he asked. He looked around his bedroom first, like a complete fool, and then he looked around the game, onscreen. “Are you watching?”
“You have eyes everywhere,” he said, grinning. “I should have you find out who the sexy hottie is for me. Or is it weird to ask my boyfriend to do research on the guy I’m cheating on him with?”
“We’re not actually boyfriends.”
“Yes, we are. And I’m not really cheating.” He’d been joking, but now he felt kind of bad about it. “It’s just there’s some hot guy around lately. He’s really handsome. Tall and sexy, he has really pretty eyes and this gorgeous mouth, and he has these sweaters, and these piercings, and this ponytail, and if it weren’t for my bodyguards cockblocking me, we would’ve made out by now.”
“Piercings?” Info asked. “Did you say ‘ponytail?’”
“He has a bunch of holes in each ear. I don’t even wear earrings, I mean, you’ve seen my ears, I don’t need to draw a whole lot more attention to them. But he’s really hot. Anyway, I just want to find out who he is. He’s so cute when he says hi, I wonder if he’s a fan.”
“Isn’t everyone a fan?”
“Mmm, basically, yeah, pretty much,” he agreed, and Info laughed. “Maybe it’ll be a race. If you get to me first, you’ll win. And if he gets to me first, I might have to cheat on you.”
“If he gets to you?” Info asked, laughing. “What makes you think that he wants you?”
“I’m very good-looking! You just said it, everyone’s a fan.”
“Well, I guess you’re not ugly,” Info said, and chuckled. “Okay, good luck.”
“If you come to meet me, I’ll throw him aside. I won’t even look at other guys, if I can see you.” He really meant it. The hallway hottie was fun, a distraction, but if he could be with Info, he wouldn’t want anyone else.
“I’ll think about it,” Info said. “The boar! The boar! No, it’s behind you!”
Baekhyun was in the practice room with Chen and D.O., waiting for everyone else to show up. He was working on his footwork, and also watching H in the mirror, when Chen asked L, “Can you call Dongwoo hyung?”
Dongwoo hyung? What - - oh, shit, was that JD’s real name? He wondered if he should tell Xiumin.
“Sure.” L fiddled with his earpiece. “Chen wants to talk to you.” He leaned in, and Chen leaned in, and Chen said a lot of soft, flirty, sexy things. Turned on, Baekhyun drifted closer. L grinned and said, “Keep going, he wants to hear more.” Chen chuckled and put his hand on L’s shoulder, whispering.
When Chen was finished, and L ended the call, Baekhyun thought about calling up H and saying things like that. Chen was comfortable saying filthier and more romantic things than he was, though. He’d probably just get self-conscious and say something really boring. It made a nice fantasy, though. Whispering all sexy up in H’s ear.
Sidling up to L, he asked, “Can you call H on that thing?”
“Or you could talk to him,” L said. “He’s right over there.”
“No, I have to say very special things that I can’t just say so boldly to his face.”
Giving him a patient, amused look, L touched the earpiece.
“H here,” H said on the other side of the room.
“Hold, someone wants to talk to you,” L said.
Baekhyun leaned in, wrapping a hand around L’s arm and pulling L closer. “Hyung,” he whispered. “Hyung, buy me dinner sometime. I want you to take me somewhere nice so I can eat well.” He was trying to use a sexy voice, but it sounded so funny, he kept snickering. Across the room, H was laughing. “Hyung, really, I want you to take me to the movies and buy me popcorn,” he whispered, trying to make it seductive, like nothing turned him on more.
“Sexy popcorn?” L asked, grinning.
“Yeah, sexy popcorn,” he breathed. “So much butter, dripping everywhere.”
“Tell him I want nachos,” H said.
“Yeah, nachos,” he panted, moaning a little, like nachos really did it for him. “All of that thick, melted cheese, ooohh, so hot in my mouth.”
“Oh, god,” L said, bursting into laughter and pushing him away. “L out, L out!”
“Well, that was weird,” H said. He walked over, stretching, rubbing the back of his neck. “Ugh, I’m hungry,” he said, like he was starting a new conversation. He patted his stomach and checked his watch. “When are we getting out of here? I could really go for some food right about now.”
“Oh, you’re hungry?” Baekhyun asked, grinning. He ran the backs of his fingers over H’s stomach. So firm, ooh, that was nice.
H glanced down, then lightly slapped his hand away, blushing. “Yes.”
“Hungry for popcorn?” he asked. He reached out again, and H smacked his hand down. “Ooo!” So dominant, so sexy. “I can’t touch?”
“No touching.” Laughing, H pushed his hand away again. “Stop!”
“It feels like you have a real six-pack. Can I see it?”
“Sure,” L said, reaching for H’s shirt.
“Ya! Back up!” H exclaimed, twisting away.
“Can we see yours?” Chen asked L.
“You’ve seen all of ours,” Baekhyun said.
“Ours? Since when do you have abs?” Chen teased.
“You’ve seen Chen and Suho hyung’s,” he said instead.
“Mine? What, um, no,” L said, starting to drift away. “No.”
“No, no, we’re on duty now,” H said.
“Right, we’re working,” L said.
“Very serious work,” H said.
L licked his lips and strolled around.
H rubbed his mouth and eyed the door.
“Bodyguards and spies in movies are way sexier than this,” Baekhyun said.
“Going to file a complaint?” Chen asked.
“Yes, I demand guards who walk around shirtless and do the move, you know the move?” He shoved Chen against the wall and covered Chen with his body, standing over Chen protectively, breathing hard and looking around in all directions. “Someone who does that. What?” he asked, laughing, when Chen laughed and pushed at him.
“What are you doing, protecting me from an explosion?” Chen asked.
“It’s in all of the movies!” He did it again, or he tried. “It doesn’t work if you’re giggling!”
“I think you’re doing it wrong,” Chen said. “I’ll ask Dongwoo hyung to show me later.”
God, Baekhyun was jealous. “Stop calling him that, you’ll slip up and say it in front of Xiumin hyung.”
“I like him so much,” Chen said. Relaxed against the wall, he was running his hand lightly up and down Baekhyun’s side, so Baekhyun stayed there, too close, kind of liking it. Maybe they could make out later. “He’s so funny, and he’s so sexy, he’s the best.”
“I guess.” He was happy for Chen, but he wasn’t sure what was really going on. Like, when this mess was all over and Arctic Fox left, would the two of them still see each other? Was Chen just going to have a boyfriend now? Like an actual, real boyfriend? “Seriously, what about his clothes, though?”
Chen grinned, squeezing his waist. “Do you only like guys who wear the exact same thing every day?”
He glanced over his shoulder at H. “I don’t think those are literally the same pants. I think he has different pairs and they just all look the same.”
“They’re not all the same,” D.O. said. Baekhyun jumped; holy shit, he’d forgotten that D.O. was there! So creepy and so quiet. “L’s pockets are different. There are three pairs.”
L glanced over at D.O., looking surprised.
H cupped his hands over his own ass and looked down at himself.
“How many pairs do you have?” Baekhyun asked.
“Three,” H said.
“What about your underwear and stuff, how do you do laundry?” Baekhyun asked.
“You know there’s a washer and dryer in your dorm, right?” H asked.
“They never use it,” L said.
What? “You just do your laundry in our dorm? When?” Baekhyun was fascinated. He’d had no idea. But that was so normal!
“No,” H said. “No, we leave our dirty laundry in the hallway and chirp like a bird three times. Then Namu rappels down the side of the building and climbs into the next apartment. He walks it over three blocks and leaves it on a doorstep with a red door and knocks twice. Then-”
“All of that for laundry!” Chen said, laughing.
“No, hush, I want to hear the rest,” Baekhyun said.
“We use your washer and dryer,” H said.
“And our detergent and stuff?”
“No, we have our own.”
“What? Use ours,” Chen said.
“No, maybe superspies have to use special soaps so that no one can smell them when they’re sneaking around,” Baekhyun said.
“It’ll confuse people if we smell like idols,” H said.
“What do idols smell like?” Baekhyun asked, sniffing the front of his own shirt.
“Sweat, mostly,” Chen said. “Lots of gross sweat.”
The rest of the members showed up. D.O. only listened with half an ear as Suho went over their upcoming schedules. His mind was still on what had happened a few minutes ago. Baekhyun and H, Chen and L, joking around, playful, teasing each other.
It was good for everyone to get along. It meant that they were all more comfortable with each other now. It had to be a good thing.
H was funny, and L was cute. They were easy to get along with. Easy to like.
Maybe too easy. There had been these strange stirrings in D.O.’s heart for a few days now. Desires. Preoccupations.
L’s muscular shoulders. The way L licked his lips. Those gorgeous dimples. How adorably shy L’s smiles could be. He was adult, he was masculine, but there was something very sweet about him sometimes, something very young and affectionate.
When they were together - - well, they were always together. When they interacted together, when they talked, when they ran lines, he felt like he was with a friend. A real friend, someone his own age, someone he was close to. It was tempting to slide into informal speech, to confide in L, to open up. He wanted to talk about his joy in his work, and his stress and his fear, and the car he’d been thinking about buying for his parents. He wanted to tell L about his nightmares. He wanted to confess to how important it was to him, now, to have L with him, how much better and safer he felt, knowing that he could count on L to look out for him.
But some of that was too personal, too intimate. And some of it would be too boring. L wouldn’t be interested in all of those things. They weren’t friends. Now that they all spent so much time together, and they all lived together, they were getting to know each other so well, it seemed like friendship. It seemed almost domestic. But it wasn’t. This forced intimacy wasn’t real.
It was like how well the stylists knew him. They knew all of his measurements and his tastes, they watched him change and fixed his clothes for him. But they were only so familiar with his body because they had to be. He wouldn’t have invited them to touch him or dress him or know him so well at all, if it were up to him.
He wouldn’t have invited Arctic Fox into his life like this, either, given the choice.
Or. Or maybe he would have. He’d be glad to have a friend like L. He’d invite L in and keep L, if he had the chance.
But that wasn’t how things had happened. L was here because The Fox had sent him here, and he’d leave again once the job was over, and whatever happened in between was just work, for him. So it shouldn’t be, couldn’t be, personal for D.O., either.
Although if Chen tucked in that close and whispered sexy things in L’s ear again, there was going to be trouble between them. What the fuck.
“What, you want me there?” Sungyeol asked.
“You can tap into the CCTV feed and get the footage we need,” the president said. “But I want you there, in the theater. I want as many of us on site as possible. Being there in person gives you a feel for the room. Sometimes it’s easier to see what’s out of place when you’re in the middle of it.”
The blueprints were on one of the screens in front of him. Namu, JD, SJ, and the president were gathered around, looking over his shoulder. “What do you want us to do, watch the exits?” SJ asked.
“If they’re after EXO, they’re going to want to be near EXO, to see them,” the president said. “Before and after the movie, you take this exit, you take that one, you keep an eye on these doors, I’ll watch over here.” He gestured at the blueprints. “Namu, you stay with EXO. During the movie, SJ, I want you in the lobby, keeping an eye on things. Info, you come in and sit near the door, watch who comes and goes. We’ll all be in the theater. Spaced out, low profile. I want to know who comes in, who goes out, who spends more time watching EXO than watching the movie.”
“Got it,” Sungyeol said. “Could you do me a favor and not tell Chanyeol that I’m there, or that you know me?”
“Good,” Namu said, grinning at him. “It’s embarrassing when people think that we know each other.”
“We’re all going?” D.O. asked, looking around as his members put on their shoes and fixed their hair. “Why are you all going?”
“Namu asked us to,” Suho said. “It’s an excursion.”
“Can’t we see a different movie?” Chanyeol asked. Then he gave D.O. a wide-eyed look and laughed. “No offense! No, I like your movie. But I’ve already seen it like three times.”
“Imagine how he feels, he had to film it and then spend a month promoting it,” Kai said. “He’s probably more tired of it than anyone.”
“I wanted to explain,” L said, watching D.O. from under his cap. “If you all go out to an accessible, public place, the people who are interested in you might follow you there. We can see who shows up.”
“We’re bait.” He had a sinking feeling. “You just wanted to go out to make me bait.”
“I want to see your movie,” L said. “But this is an opportunity, too. The rest of the team will be there.”
“Is Info coming?” Chanyeol asked.
“Will President Fox be there?” Xiumin asked.
“You’re obsessed,” Chen said. “Both of you.”
“This could be an informal, safe way to see who’s tracking us,” Suho said. “Maybe they’ll catch someone, or at least they’ll be able to rule people out. Namu said that the danger to us is really, really low, but they might be able to get some helpful information. And no matter what, we all get to see D.O.’s movie.”
“Again,” Sehun said, and Chen laughed.
D.O. wanted nothing more than to stay home.
Ten minutes in, Chanyeol couldn’t recite the lines along with the actors anymore, because Suho kept shushing him. Bored, he looked around. He could be in the next theater over, watching something else. Or he could be back at the dorm, playing World of Warcraft. He wondered what Info was doing. Were there cameras in here? Was Info watching? He craned his neck, looking around, looking for a camera he could wave to.
JD and Chen were snuggled up. Baekhyun was hugging himself and chewing on his fingers. In the lobby, H had asked him if he wanted to buy any buttered popcorn, and he’d squirmed and shivered and practically rubbed his cock, he’d been so flustered, and apparently he still wasn’t over it yet. D.O. was sitting unnaturally still, which was typical, but he was also looking at the floor, not the movie, and he looked so glum, Chanyeol had no idea what was so wrong but wanted to go over and hug him, anyway.
There were a bunch of complete strangers around. He could pick out a couple of sasaengs in one corner. Suho had told Namu about them already. Namu and Kim were both in the theater, too.
Hey! Gripping the armrest, Chanyeol stared. There, in the back corner. It was the hottie! What was he doing here? Was it a coincidence? Was he a stalker? Oh, god, was he the one sending them death threats?!
It was definitely the hottie. When someone walked up the aisle, he looked over, glancing up, giving Chanyeol a better look at his face, and there was no question, it was the same guy. Ponytail, earrings, mottled gray T-shirt, tan cardigan.
Coincidence, it had to be a coincidence. This was a popular movie, all sorts of people came to see it.
Maybe he was a stalker. Maybe that was why he was around at random.
Maybe he wasn’t dangerous, though. Maybe he was just a fan. Maybe he just wanted to watch his idols watch a movie.
He’d better at least be a fan of Chanyeol! If he was there to see Suho, really, that would be too much.
Chanyeol wondered if the Arctic Fox guys had noticed him.
Should he say something? Warn the hottie? Warn the foxes?
Yes. No. Oh, shit, he didn’t know.
People were noticing his staring. Kai nudged him. H looked at him past Baekhyun and whispered, “What? What’d you see?”
He hesitated, but he felt like he needed to be responsible. “I… That guy, in that corner. He’s the hottie I’ve seen around in the hallways. The guy with the earrings.”
“Sexy mouth?” Baekhyun whispered.
“That guy?” H glanced over and nodded. “We’ve got it.” He touched his earpiece and whispered something, covering his mouth.
Chanyeol felt weird and guilty. He could imagine Info sitting on front of a bank of screens, zooming in on the back of the hottie’s head, sending his image into a database, digging up all of his secrets. He was probably just some innocent, well-meaning guy out for the night.
Although, why was he alone? A guy like that could get a date easily. It was weird for him to be on his own. Oh, shit, maybe he really was a stalker.
Xiumin’s ass was about half an inch from his seat when L grabbed his wrist and whispered, “Where are you going?”
“To the bathroom, I have to take a leak,” he whispered.
“You want me to piss myself in public?” he whispered.
“Yes,” D.O. said. “Yes, that’s exactly what we all want.”
Xiumin gave him a look. What was going on with him lately? “Good, you’re about to get your wish.”
With one hand still around Xiumin’s wrist, L touched his ear and muttered something.
JD started to get up.
“Not him, I want the useless one, Kim,” Xiumin whispered.
“We don’t take special requests,” L said, releasing him.
Ah, screw it. He went, and JD went with him. It wasn’t remotely sexy. When he got back to the theater, instead of going to his members and his seat, he went over and sat beside Kim.
“What, what are you doing here?” Kim whispered. “Go away.”
“Enjoying the movie?” He sat back, getting comfortable. He tapped his fingers against the armrest. JD left him there and went back to Chen. “So what’s up with the hottie?”
“We’re working on it. Be quiet, people are trying to hear the movie.”
He watched for a while. It was a good film. He brushed his fingers over Kim’s thigh. “Come to the dorm tonight. I want to talk to you.”
“You don’t want to talk. You want to do other things.”
He grinned, his gaze flicking over Kim. “You know what hyung likes.”
Kim blushed, shifting in his seat, edging away. “I’m busy, I’m working. Go bother somebody else.”
So sexy, so young, and responsive. He couldn’t wait to have Kim writhing on his cock.
Xiumin was sitting with Kim.
JD and Chen were snuggled up together.
Lay was feeding Kai popcorn.
Namu had his arm around Suho.
D.O. studied his knees in the dark and waited for it to be over.
When L laughed, he looked up, surprised. L was smiling, gazing happily at the screen.
D.O. hadn’t expected him to watch the movie for real. Not once it had become clear that this was all a trap, a way to bait their stalkers. He was really watching the movie? And enjoying it?
When the credits came up, D.O. was more than ready to leave. He’d been ready to go back to the dorm the second he’d left it. But L said, “We need to stay here for a couple of minutes. See who clears out and who lingers.” Leaning past him, L said, “Act normal, play with your phones for a minute,” to the other members in a quiet voice.
L took a slow, casual look around the theater. He stretched, yawned, pretended to be killing time, just a normal guy, glancing around.
D.O. cradled his phone in both hands and waited.
“You didn’t like it?” L asked him. “Is it weird, watching your own movies?”
He blinked and decided that he might as well answer. “Sometimes it’s fun. Especially the first time. I get to see all of the takes they used, and I get to see all of the scenes I wasn’t in. I love seeing it for the first time, the way it all comes together. And it’s kind of exciting, seeing your own name in the credits,” he admitted. “But it’s awful, watching my scenes. I always wish that I’d said it all differently or made a better expression.”
“I thought you were great, in this one,” L said. “Do you always cry for real?”
“Oh, the crying scenes? Yeah. When I can. One director didn’t want me to, he just wanted to use fake tears the whole time, but most directors want me to cry for real, they want it to look natural.”
“That sounds really hard. Making yourself cry. It’s kind of an awful thing to do to yourself.”
“It is?” he asked, surprised.
“Yeah, I mean, don’t we usually try not to cry? People want to be happy so much they’ll do all kinds of weird things and drugs and whatever just to feel good. And then you stand there and make yourself miserable on purpose. If you make someone else cry, you’re an asshole, but you do it to yourself? It’s just a strange part of your job, it sounds rough.”
“It’s kind of weird,” he realized. “Once I got so into it, I couldn’t stop crying, and when the take was over, the other actor wanted to congratulate me on doing so well, and I was still crying, and it was terrible, it was too awkward.”
“That is awkward,” L said, touching his shoulder. “Stop doing such sad movies.”
He laughed, amused by the advice. “I have to do what my company wants me to, I’m grateful for whichever roles I get.”
“That - - ah, hold on.” He touched his earpiece. “Okay, the first van’s going now. Xiumin, Kai, Chen, Suho, you can go. Chanyeol, too.”
“What about Lay hyung?” Kai asked, slowly getting up.
L shook his head. “Second van.”
“Does it make a difference?” D.O. asked.
L nodded but didn’t say anything, just moved aside so that Kai could get past him.
Once Kai was gone, D.O. asked, “What’s the difference?”
“Your favorites get to leave and the rest of us have to stay here to watch the movie again?” Baekhyun asked.
“Don’t be mean, it’s a good movie,” Lay said.
D.O. stared up at L. The longer L refused to answer his question, the more intensely he needed an answer. If it didn’t matter, then L would’ve told him by now.
Casually scanning the theater, L sat down again.
“What is the difference?” D.O. demanded, doing his best to control his voice.
L’s expression flickered, and he looked uneasy for a second. “Namu will explain when you get back.”
“I don’t want Namu to explain it,” he said. “I want you to tell me.”
“This is weird, why can’t you say it?” Baekhyun asked.
“What do the four of us have in common that they don’t?” Lay asked.
“I don’t know, nothing,” Sehun said.
“You get more death threats,” H said.
The world stopped.
L swallowed and looked down.
“I don’t want to have that in common,” Baekhyun said. His voice shook with nervous laughter.
“The four of us?” Lay asked. He sounded horrified. “D.O.? The maknae?”
D.O. felt stunned. He felt numb. He wanted to demand answers but he couldn’t come up with coherent questions. He wanted to cry. He was going to cry. Blinking, he got up. Sat back down again.
“This is a fun club to be in,” Sehun said. “Great, right.” He pawed through his hair and took a deep breath. “Fine, this is fine with me, no problem.”
“A lot of them don’t mean anything,” H said.
“Okay, but they’re death threats,” Baekhyun said. “I think they all mean something.”
“But the other members?” Lay asked. “They don’t get as many?”
“Good, that’s good,” Sehun said. “That’s good, right?”
“Yes, fewer death threats is better than more of them,” Baekhyun said. “God, I’m sorry, I’m losing my shit.”
They sat there for a few more minutes. Then L and H touched their earpieces. “Got it,” H said, and L got up. “We can go, the van’s waiting.”
They barely spoke during the ride home. When Lay reached over and took D.O.’s hand, he squeezed Lay’s fingers and was grateful for the contact.
They took two separate elevators up, H and Baekhyun and Sehun in one, L and Lay and D.O. in the other.
When they walked into the dorm, D.O. took off his shoes automatically. He felt weighed down. Like his clothes were too heavy, his jacket pulling on his shoulders. He took his jacket off and didn’t feel any better.
“Your faces!” Suho said. “What is it, did something happen?”
D.O. hugged him, clutching at him, nose buried against his shoulder.
“Dongsaeng-ah. What’s this?” Suho asked, hugging him back. “Everything’s all right?”
Suho patted his back, and he took a slow breath, steadying himself, resting his chin on Suho’s shoulder. “Everything’s fine. We’re fine.” He wasn’t ready to let go yet, but he felt better now. “Just glad to be home.”
Chanyeol didn’t want to bother Info if he was working. Well, he was always working. But it seemed like with the trip to the movies, he’d have a lot of people to identify or backgrounds to research or whatever.
Still, Chanyeol was used to checking in with him. They talked every night. Literally, every night. It was hard just to get up and go to bed without at least saying hi.
He waited until it was late. The room was dark; Kai was there, asleep in bed with Lay. Baekhyun and Lay and Sehun and D.O. were really weird and clingy all of a sudden, but if something had happened at the movies after Chanyeol had left, they weren’t talking about it.
He logged into World of Warcraft and messed around for a couple of minutes. He thought about sending mail to Info’s character, but he couldn’t remember how to spell its name. Shit, why hadn’t he written it down?
He called. He’d keep it brief. Totally quick. He’d just say hi.
“Park Chanyeol here. What would my code name be? PC?”
“Like a PC room,” Info said, laughing. “That’s cute.”
“You’re cute,” he said, and then he felt embarrassed about it, and then he laughed. He loved talking to Info. This was one of his favorite parts of the day. “Are you busy, should I hang up?”
“It’s okay. What’s up?”
“Went to the movies tonight.” He made his warrior dance. It looked really goofy. “Did you guys get the information you wanted?”
“We got some decent stuff. Thanks for going out and being bait for us. I know it’s not always easy, but we wouldn’t have done it if we were like putting you in serious danger. You guys all know that, right?”
“I know,” he said, surprised. “I know, it’s not like that.”
“Okay. Well, tell your members. L’s really upset with us for freaking D.O. out.”
“L gets upset?”
“He’s so emotional all of the time. And then I feel bad because he feels bad.”
“That… Sorry. We’re fine, really, D.O.’s fine. It’s just stress, we’re okay.” Now he felt bad that Info felt bad that L felt bad that D.O. felt bad. Like they were just passing a virus around, depressing each other. “The hottie was there tonight, did they tell you that? That was just a coincidence, right? He’s not nefarious.”
“The hottie, god, do you have to call him that?”
“Yes,” Chanyeol said, and laughed. “Yes, he’s such a hottie.”
“So embarrassing,” Info said. “God. Yes, I know all about it, but I can’t tell you anything. It’s an ongoing investigation.”
“Did you get that line from a police drama?”
“Probably,” he admitted, and Chanyeol laughed.
Someone was shaking Sunggyu’s shoulder. “No,” he complained, pushing hands away, squeezing his eyes more tightly shut.
“What are you doing here?” someone asked, crawling on top of him.
Who the hell - - oh. Squinting, he pushed Xiumin off of him and sat up. “What do you want?” he mumbled, curling forward and rubbing his eyes.
“What are you doing here?” Xiumin repeated, leaning on his shoulder and practically crawling on his lap.
Was he a jungle gym for chipmunks? “Sleeping, I was sleeping.” He yawned. “What time is it?”
“Since when do you sleep over?”
“L had to leave, and I can’t leave H here all on his own with all nine of you. You’d try to hit him over the head with a frying pan and make a run for it.”
“Joke’s on you,” Xiumin said, grinning. “I don’t know where the frying pans are.”
Amazed, Sunggyu laughed. “Are you a man or a child at home with his mother?”
He grinned, cheerful and unrepentant. “I’m an idol.” He ran his fingers through Sunggyu’s hair, and when he stroked the sides, where it was shaved, Sunggyu shivered, feeling a little frisson of pleasure. “Ooo.” He toyed with Sunggyu’s hair some more. As long as he was staying, Sunggyu decided to be comfortable and put an arm around him. “Where did L go? Why did he leave?”
“He was getting upset and I told him to take a break. Get his head together.”
“Upset? What’s he upset about?”
“Awake?” H asked, walking over. He nodded. “Take over, I’m going to take five.”
“Take ten,” he said, feeling generous.
H got his bag from behind the couch and went to the bathroom.
“Do you have a bag?” Xiumin asked, peering behind the couch.
“Didn’t bring one.”
“Useless and unprepared. You don’t even try to be professional.”
“You’re informal, disrespectful,” he counted on his fingers, “inappropriately sexual, what else? A terrible host, you haven’t even started to offer me breakfast.”
“I can order something to be delivered,” Xiumin said. “What do you want?”
Sunggyu hadn’t actually expected him to do it. “What, now?”
“You want food, I’m hungry, let’s get something. What do you like?”
“You really don’t cook at all?”
“What, do you?”
“I have to if I want to eat. I don’t have housekeepers. Here, when H gets back, I’ll show you how to cook eggs. Do you have eggs?”
“I don’t know, I don’t do the grocery shopping, either.”
He was so spoiled. So spoiled and demanding and full of himself. And so sexy, with his confidence and his humor and his pretty eyes. Sunggyu wanted to spend a whole day just teasing him and talking to him and making him laugh.
H got back exactly ten minutes after leaving. Sunggyu took Xiumin to the kitchen and made him find the frying pan. Sunggyu made eggs and rice and things, and tried to teach him what to do, what the steps were. He mostly listened, and he felt up Sunggyu’s ass a lot, and they talked about food, about what they’d eaten growing up.
When everything was ready, they sat down to eat. Xiumin took a bite, laughed, and covered his mouth with one hand. “This is terrible!”
“I didn’t say that I was a good cook,” Sunggyu reminded him. “Eat.”
He laughed again, and then he ate everything anyway.
When D.O. got up that morning, he hugged Kai. Before they went onstage, he hugged Sehun. When he left for filming, he hugged Suho.
He and L were in the dressing room, running lines, when he asked, “What do they say?”
“What do what say?” L asked.
He didn’t want to have to say it. And it was such a pressing weight on his mind, he found it hard to believe that it wasn’t the only thing everyone else was thinking about, either. He realized that L had other things going on, other ideas, other thoughts. And then he took a closer look and reconsidered that. L looked burdened and regretful in a way that made him certain that L knew exactly what he was talking about. “What do they say?” he repeated.
L breathed in and looked down. Turned the script this way and that. “Namu-”
“I don’t want Namu to tell me, I want you to tell me.” Maybe that was Namu’s job, maybe Namu was the one who was supposed to put a reassuring face on the problem, but L was the one that he dealt with. L was the one who was actually by his side when things happened.
“They’re just… They’re death threats. They say threatening things.” Inhaling, L sat back and looked uncomfortable. “Let’s not talk about it.”
“Have you seen them?”
“Can I see them?”
He shook his head. When D.O.’s mouth opened, he said, “No. No, how can that help, what will you do? You’ll just - - the images get stuck in your mind and they’re just in there, that thing you’ve seen, for the rest of your life. It’s better if it’s vague, it’s better if you don’t look.”
“Is that how you would feel? If it were you, if someone were threatening you?”
“This isn’t about me,” he mumbled, frowning at something off to one side.
“I want to see them. Do I have to ask Namu, is that how it works?” When L only frowned at him, he asked, “You won’t do it for me? Okay.” He picked up his phone.
“Why are you so stubborn?” L asked. “You’re only hurting yourself.”
“Info here,” someone said on the other end of the call.
“It’s Do Kyungsoo. I want to see the death threats.”
L stared at him with wide, unhappy eyes.
“You want to see them,” Info repeated.
“Yes, I want to see them. All of the ones made against me, I want to look at them.”
“Uh, okay. I’ll, uh, we’ll get back to you on that.”
“I want to see them tonight,” he said, and he hung up.
Baekhyun got back to the dorm to find everyone getting ready to leave. “What is this, what’s happening?” He barely had room to take his shoes off, with members pushing past him to put on theirs.
“Going out,” Sehun said.
“Yeah, I can see that, maknae, good call.”
“Namu’s bringing some stuff over for D.O. hyung to look at,” Kai explained. “If you want to see it, you can stay, but Lay hyung doesn’t want to be here to see it or overhear them talking about it, so we’re going out.”
Some stuff? Some - - “Are you talking about what I think you’re talking about?”
“Evidence,” Chanyeol said, putting on shoes and holding onto Baekhyun for balance. “Let’s just call it evidence.”
Evidence sounded clinical, but at least it was better than saying “death threats” over and over. “We can’t all leave. Shouldn’t someone stay with him?”
“Xiumin hyung and Suho are staying,” Lay said.
Then it would be okay if he left? He could trust the hyungs to handle it, to look out for D.O., right? Oh, thank god. “Then I’m so out of here. Where are you all going?”
“Practice room,” Kai said.
“Dinner,” Sehun said.
“Going to look for Arctic Fox headquarters,” Chanyeol said.
Really? “How? Where?” Baekhyun asked.
“I have no idea,” Chanyeol said.
Baekhyun laughed. “I’m in!”
“Namu’s ten minutes out,” Info said in L’s ear.
“I’ve got Chen,” JD said. “We can stay until Namu gets here, if the others want to leave first.”
“I’ll go with Baekhyun and Chanyeol,” H said.
“I’m in the elevator, I can take the members to the practice room,” SJ said.
“Then we need someone to take Sehun to dinner,” Info said.
“L can do it,” SJ said.
“L should stay with D.O.,” H said.
“That’s not how we do things,” SJ said. “We’re not here to hold hands and wipe tears. Namu can handle it.”
“Then Namu can take Sehun out, and I’ll go over the evidence,” L said.
“Is that okay?” JD asked.
L licked his lips. He couldn’t leave D.O. to face this without him. D.O. counted on him to be around. “We do what’s best for each client, right? He’d rather hear it from me than from Namu. I’ll do it.”
He waited for the president to shoot him down. There was only silence.
“All right,” Namu said. “I’ll hand it over to you, and I’ll take Sehun.”
Baekhyun and Chanyeol stood in the lobby for a while, trying to decide where to go. Then they sat in the back of the cab for a while, trying to decide where to go. Chanyeol thought that the offices must be in Gangnam. Baekhyun didn’t think that they were really as posh as superspies were supposed to be. “I think their office is like in Busan or something.”
“We’re not going to Busan tonight,” Chanyeol said. “What are you talking about, why Busan?”
“Not one of them speaks in dialect, right?” Baekhyun asked. “That’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Statistically, someone’s gay, so statistically, someone’s from outside of Seoul. Especially if they all met in the army, it’s not like everyone in your army unit’s from the same neighborhood, right? I think they only all speak the same way because it was trained out of them.”
“Maybe their offices are all the way out on Jeju Island!”
“What should we do, should we call around?”
“Who would we call, though?” Chanyeol asked.
“I don’t know.” Baekhyun stared at the side of H’s face. “If only we knew someone who had any clue, any clue at all, about where their office might be, and could give us a hint.” H didn’t blink. “One hint, just a tiny hint.”
“Let’s try beating it out of him,” Chanyeol suggested.
“Right, that should totally work.” Color and movement caught Baekhyun’s eye, and he saw Chen and JD getting into the cab in front of them. Chen waved, and Baekhyun waved back. “Follow that cab.”
“Why does everyone think that we’re in a movie?” Chanyeol asked.
“No, seriously, we have to follow their cab,” Baekhyun said.
“You’re Chen’s stalker?” Chanyeol asked.
“Plot twist,” H said.
“Oh, now you have something to say?” Baekhyun asked. H grinned at him. “Where did Chen say that he’s going?”
“He didn’t,” Chanyeol said. “I don’t remember it.”
“He might be going somewhere JD wants to go. Like to where JD works. JD knows everything about Chen’s job by now, right? Wouldn’t you want to show your sexy new boyfriend all around your swanky superspy office to impress him?”
“Okay, but did you just say that Chen is sexy?”
Choosing not to answer that, Baekhyun grabbed H’s hand. “Don’t you dare call JD and warn him. You work for me, and I’m on a mission.”
Their cab followed Chen’s. About two blocks in, Baekhyun realized that if JD was half as alert as H was, he’d probably notice the same cab following him for the whole trip. So he wouldn’t go anywhere incriminating. Aw, shit. Baekhyun didn’t mention that to Chanyeol, though; it was fun to play spy games, anyway. And maybe JD wouldn’t notice. Maybe Chen was too distracting.
“We need triangulating software,” Chanyeol said. “Like they have on TV. So when I’m on the phone with Info, I can triangulate the call, and figure out his location.”
“So all we have to do is take over a police station and steal their technology,” Baekhyun said.
“Do ordinary police stations have that stuff?” Chanyeol asked.
“I’ll bet that Arctic Fox does,” Baekhyun said.
Chanyeol laughed. “How does that work? We break into their offices to steal their technology so we can figure out where they are and break into their offices?”
“Okay, if you’re going to nitpick, then you come up with the big ideas,” Baekhyun said, laughing. H smiled. Baekhyun hadn’t let go of his hand yet. It wasn’t a very sexy, romantic way to hold hands, but he hadn’t pulled away, so Baekhyun counted it as a win.
They went into a neighborhood that Baekhyun didn’t recognize. Sort of a business area with a bunch of multi-story offices, but nothing all posh and swanky. JD and Chen’s cab pulled over, and they got out and went into a tall, brown building, the most boring building that Baekhyun had ever seen.
“What is that, are their offices in there?” Chanyeol asked. He sounded disappointed.
“Out, out,” Baekhyun said, shooing Chanyeol out of the car.
“We have to pay,” Chanyeol reminded him.
“We’re losing them!”
“They’re inside the building, how far can they go?”
“They’re where inside the building?”
“Oh, shit!” Chanyeol hurriedly paid, and they rushed inside.
There was nothing there but banks of elevators. Not even a secretary or lobby guard or anything. For a second, Baekhyun didn’t know what to do, just ride the elevators up and down, looking and hoping and listening at doors? Then he saw a directory on the wall. Rushing over, he scanned the office listings for Arctic Fox. For Arctic anything. For anything about security. “This is a bunch of accountants and consultants!”
“It’s a front, one of these businesses is a front, so their enemies can’t find them,” Chanyeol said.
“What enemies? Why would they have enemies?” While Chanyeol kept reading the directory, Baekhyun turned to H. “Do you have enemies?”
H rubbed his jaw and looked thoughtful. “There was that kid I tripped back in elementary school. He really held a grudge.”
H was so full of shit all of the time, Baekhyun loved it. “Great story, you should tell that at parties.”
H raised his eyebrows. “Thanks, I do.”
“This is worthless,” Chanyeol said, and pushed the button for the elevator. “Let’s just go up and look around.” He rubbed his hands together like a villain. “They’ve gotta be up there somewhere, and we’re going to find them.”
D.O. found all of this a lot easier to take with Xiumin right next to him, with Suho being very strong and determined and deliberately calm, with L seated across from him and explaining it all personally and looking into his eyes.
It should not be this difficult to find someone dressed like a clown.
It wasn’t until ten minutes into their floor-by-floor search that they figured out that they could call Chen’s phone and listen for the ring.
Five minutes after that, Baekhyun wondered, “Did he turn his ringer off?”
“What I want to know is, why he isn’t answering our calls,” Chanyeol said as they wandered the halls.
Because he was with his boyfriend. Augh, Baekhyun was jealous. “They don’t know we’re looking for them, do they?”
“Why would JD be coming to see his tax accountant now, with his date?” Chanyeol asked.
“It’s so late, all of these offices are closed, anyway,” Baekhyun said.
“Those assholes,” Chanyeol said. Stopping in the middle of the hallway, he stared at Baekhyun. “They did this on purpose.”
“They gave us the slip!” Shit. “Should we be impressed with JD’s getaway skills, or should we be pissed at Chen for ditching us and treating us like this?”
“Both, both,” Chanyeol said. “Impressed by JD and pissed off at Chen.”
“Good job, JD!” Baekhyun said. “Ugh, Chen, I hate you!”
“So, now what?” Chanyeol asked. “Do we break into a police station and steal triangulating software?”
“I still don’t think that’s something that just every police station has.” Baekhyun slumped back against the wall. “Let’s just stay here. We’ll live here from now on.”
“In this hallway?” Chanyeol took a dubious look around. “The third floor was nicer, let’s at least live there.”
“How was the third floor nicer?”
“It had those potted plants.”
“Those weren’t real.”
“They looked nice! At least somebody made the effort.”
Chuckling, Baekhyun straightened. He slung an arm around Chanyeol, and Chanyeol slung an arm around him, and they headed back towards the elevators. “Let’s go out. Eat a lot. Get sloppy drunk. Talk H into a three-way.”
“Three-ways aren’t so great.”
“One-on-one is better. Or, like, five at once. Three’s just a lot of awkwardness, it’s never satisfying.”
“When have you been with four other people?” he demanded.
“I told you about that,” Chanyeol said as they got onto the elevator.
“No, you didn’t! I’d remember - - wait, that time with the members?” When Chanyeol nodded, he rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t count!”
“Why doesn’t it count? There were five of us, we were all naked and doing things, I got off like three times. I think that counts!”
“Sex with the members doesn’t count. That’s not some amazing orgy, that’s just you getting bored and Sehun being easy. There are so many of us, crowding around and bumping into each other, I lost my virginity getting into the van.”
H snickered, then covered his mouth with one hand and tried to look serious.
They went to dinner. They went back to the dorm. D.O. and Suho were closed up together in D.O.’s room, and Xiumin didn’t want to talk about it. Baekhyun was really horny, so he went down on Xiumin, and thought about going down on H, and came fast in his own hand.
“How’d he take it?” Hoya asked.
L gave him an unhappy smile. “He’s really tough. He’ll be okay.”
“Lee Taemin!” Baekhyun shouted.
L didn’t respond.
Wait, maybe he’d already tried that one. Um. “Lee Dongwook!”
The front door opened. Chen and JD came in, looking relaxed and cheerful. “Kim Jongdae!” Baekhyun exclaimed.
“Well, no, that’s not it,” L said, and H laughed.
Ignoring them, Baekhyun went over and gave Chen a quick shove. Chen shoved him back, laughing, bright-eyed, and asked, “What?”
“You ditched us! You’re a sneaky fucking asshole. Where did you go?”
“We went to dinner,” Chen said, smiling at him, all happy and smug and irresistible. “We just had to make a stop first.”
“What was that place?” he demanded, looking from Chen to JD and back. “Is one of those offices a front, is that where Arctic Fox is? Is that where you keep your secret lair? Is that where one of your undercover identities works?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never been there before,” JD said. “It just looked convenient.”
Woohyun sat down beside Suho on the couch. Suho looked so somber, so thoughtful and grim, that he put his hand on Suho’s back, wanting to reassure. “How did everything go? Did you have any questions about it?”
Suho glanced at him, gave him a grim half-smile, then sat up straighter, putting on a more public face. The leader, needing to be strong and capable. “It’s difficult. The members are upset about it. I’m upset about it. But D.O. really wanted to see it, to know about it for himself.”
“Everyone’s different,” Woohyun said. “Some people want to confront it and face it. I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to walk you all through it. L thought that D.O. would be more comfortable with him.”
Suho nodded. “He trusts L a lot, I think he feels safer when L’s around.” Then Suho smiled at him. “He did well, but I prefer you. You have a different way with people.”
Smiling in return, Woohyun rubbed Suho’s shoulder. “If you could put that in writing for the president, I’d be grateful.”
Suho laughed. “I’ll be sure to give a very positive report.”
Xiumin sat up in bed. Turned on his lamp. Looked over at the other bed; Baekhyun was asleep, hair all over his forehead, lips parted.
Xiumin toyed with his cock and called Info.
“I need to talk to him.”
“He’s, uh. Is it important?”
“Yes, it’s important.”
“Is your life in danger?”
Technically, a half-hard cock wasn’t an emergency. “Where is he?” He only filled in when they needed him, so he probably wasn’t on-call at all times like everyone else was. “At home?”
“I can have him get back to you.”
“Yes. Tell him that it’s important.” Xiumin hung up. Gave his cock a few more tugs. Thought about Kim’s hand on his erection, Kim’s hard-on thrusting against his ass, Kim humping him against the wall. In seconds, he was full-on masturbating, working his cock and moaning to himself, picturing Kim’s full lips and big cock and whimpering ecstatically. He came hard, gasping for breath, spurting thick gobs of cum. Yes, ah, god damn, yes. Catching his breath, he grinned down at his lap. Soon, soon, he’d come in that hot dongsaeng’s grateful mouth, and it would be fantastic.
Now that he wasn’t so horny anymore, he felt kind of hungry. He told himself to go to sleep and ignore it, but sleep wasn’t his friend these days. Not wanting to dwell on his nightmares, he got up.
He went to the kitchen and poked around. Didn’t see anything he wanted to eat. He thought about ordering something. Thought about Kim’s disgusting eggs.
They hadn’t been that hard to make. The steps had all been pretty simple, actually. He could probably do better if he tried. He found the frying pan and went to see if there were any more eggs. The texture was the main problem, they shouldn’t be so weird and dry and rubbery. And the flavor, it just needed a little more seasoning, right? He got to work.
Baekhyun rolled over. He smelled food. It was a weird mix of awful and delicious scents. Like something had burned but something else was making his mouth water.
He checked the time. Ugh, why would anyone be awake now? That was ridiculous, this was no time to be conscious and moving.
He wondered if H was awake. He got out of bed and went to go see.
The good and bad smells grew stronger. Padding around barefoot in boxer-briefs and a T-shirt, Baekhyun found L strolling around the living room. Xiumin was in the kitchen, cooking. That didn’t make any sense at all. “Are you cooking?”
“No, I’m rowing a boat,” Xiumin said. “Taste this.”
He accepted the mouthful of eggs that Xiumin fed him. Mmm! Creamy, buttery, cheesy. He swallowed and asked, “Can I have more? What else are you making?”
When he tried to investigate whatever was on the stove, Xiumin nudged him aside. “Not now, I’m still working on it. You can have some later.”
Mmm. “Thanks, hyung.” He kissed Xiumin’s cheek, excited about good food made by an actual person he knew and not handed to him in a plastic bag. “I’ll be back in a minute.” Licking his lips, he went back to the living room. Where was H?
Had H gone home? Was that allowed? Had he gone off-duty and not said anything? Logically, Baekhyun knew that was a totally normal and acceptable thing to do, but it stung, anyway. “Where’s H?
L gestured. “Laundry room.”
Oh! Well, that was only a few feet away. Relieved, feeling much better, Baekhyun went to the laundry room.
H was on the floor. Shirtless. Doing push-ups. Baekhyun could see every rippling line of muscle in his naked back. Shit, Baekhyun was excited to see him with his hat off, and now he was shirtless, too?
“Thought you were asleep.”
He was still exercising, up, down, up, down, the muscles in his arms bulging, his pose giving Baekhyun a fantastic view of his high, round ass. He only sounded very faintly out of breath, and it was a complete mystery how he even knew that Baekhyun was in the room. “This is worth waking up for.”
He laughed at that and got to his feet.
“No, don’t stop, I… Oh.” Fascinated, Baekhyun stared. Hello, perfect six-pack. Hello, delicious, tiny nipples. Hello, sexy, black treasure trail. Wow, this was a lot to look at. A lot to take in, all at once. A faint sheen of sweat was making his bare skin look kind of shiny and lickable. Very, very lickable.
“I can see how, living here, you’ve never seen a shirtless man before,” H said.
Oh, there was a big difference between looking at some annoying dongsaeng he scolded for hogging the shower and had to take footwork advice from, and looking at some sexy, confident man who laughed at all of his jokes and made his emotions tumble around each other in chaos. H reached for a shirt and he got there first, picking it up and stepping back. “No, don’t… I never get to look at you.” It wasn’t just being shirtless. It was being hatless, too. He had a much, much clearer view of H’s eyes. Of H’s thick eyebrows and smooth forehead. Of all of that thick, black hair. He stood there, drinking in all of the details, wanting to remember this. “Is that your real nose?”
“What?” Laughing, he touched his nose. “Yes, it’s real. Why, is that your real nose?”
“Never, ever ask an idol that.” He drifted closer, biting his lip. “But you’re so handsome.”
Raising his eyebrows, H waved a hand in front of Baekhyun’s face. “Sleepwalking?”
Baekhyun laughed, clutching H’s shirt, stopping only inches away. “No, I mean it.” He still had his earpiece on. “Can you take that off?”
He shook his head. “Still on-duty.”
“Can you be off-duty?”
He studied Baekhyun for a second, and even that tiny moment of perusal made Baekhyun’s heart flutter, because it meant that he was considering it, that he was thinking about doing it just because Baekhyun had asked him. Then he tapped his earpiece and said, “Taking five.” A second later, he said, “H out,” and then he took the earpiece off. Set it on top of the washing machine. Rubbed his ear.
He shouldn’t have looked any different with the earpiece or without it. It was just a detail. But he looked different, somehow. His expression was more relaxed, more open. His posture was still perfect, but it didn’t look as stiff. He looked younger. Happier.
There was another side of H. The everyday person inside the bodyguard suit. Baekhyun had known that he was in there, but now Baekhyun could actually meet him. The real him. Face-to-face. “Hi.”
H smiled. “Hi.” He relaxed, one hand back on the washing machine, one knee bent. “What are you doing up?”
“Nightmares. We’re all having them, I think.”
H nodded. “When I sleep, I can sleep in your room, if you want. If it would help.”
He’d had no idea. “You can do that? Why didn’t you tell me! Yes, yes, sleep in my room.”
“We usually wait until the client asks for it. It can be a violation of privacy, your bedroom is a personal space.”
“No, no, I want you to sleep in my room.” He wanted H to sleep in his bed. And not even for sex. Okay, for sex, too.
“If it’s okay with Xiumin-”
“He won’t care. But we don’t have a third bed. What do you do, like, set up a cot?”
He shrugged. “I sleep on the floor.”
“You know, my bed’s, like, really comfortable.”
He smiled. “I sleep on the floor.”
He wasn’t ready to give the shirt back yet, so he didn’t. “Is there anything you’ve wanted to tell me that you couldn’t? That you’re too professional to say? Like are there times you want to tell me to shut up or warn me that my feet smell bad?”
“The feet thing. There is a member…” H’s voice trailed off and he winced.
“I know! I know, I’m sorry, we’ve talked to him about it.”
H smiled. “You smell pretty good, though. Are you using a different soap this week? It’s nice.”
“You… Yes, I ran out, I started using a new one. You can tell?” He sniffed his own forearm. “You can smell me?”
He was still smiling. “We’re together a lot. It happens.”
Nervous, bold, shy, he put his hand on H’s forearm. Nothing happened, H didn’t pull away or ask him what the hell he was doing, so he left it there. Rubbed a little bit, stroking up and down, feeling warm skin, firm muscle. “I have a little bit of a crush on you,” he admitted.
“Eh, it’s the bodyguard thing. It happens.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think it’s just that.”
“You’re cute,” H said. “That’s something, one of the things I’ve wanted to tell you, that I haven’t said. You’re really cute.”
Flattered, blushing, he said, “You said it to me once. The other day.”
H was looking right into his eyes. “I’ve wanted to say it a lot more times than that.”
Baekhyun stared at him, heart pounding. Completely out of words, but all full up on love. Was it, was it maybe, was it okay to wonder if H was maybe not so one hundred percent completely straight? And if H might maybe just a little possibly be attracted to him? Did a lot of straight guys say things like that and then gaze into people’s eyes with this emotional, intense smolder? People who weren’t women?
Baekhyun jumped, alarmed, completely startled, throwing the shirt up into the air.
“Thanks,” H said, catching the shirt on its way back down.
Recovering, Baekhyun hugged himself, shivering. “What was that?”
“Alarm,” H said. “Five minutes over.” He pulled his shirt on. Then he put his earpiece back on and said, “H, checking in.”
Shit. Private time was over. “How often do you get to take five-minute breaks?”
“When I need to. If there’s someone else on duty who can handle it.”
Baekhyun watched him put his hat on. It felt like losing a piece of him. Baekhyun wanted to remind him that he’d promised that they could hang out when he was off-duty, but it might sound like whining or begging. “How long do you go between jobs?”
“Hours, days, weeks, months. Depends.”
He was already walking out of the laundry room. Baekhyun followed him. “Do you have a second job? Or do you just have that time to yourself? What do you do?”
“Relax. Sleep. Work out, train.” In the living room, he looked at L. “Everything good?”
He tucked his shirt in and turned back to Baekhyun. “There’s a training course that a buddy of mine runs. Three-day event, hiking, running, hauling boulders through ditches. JD and I go and do that when we get a chance.”
Was he a masochist? Baekhyun was impressed. “The rest of your team doesn’t go?”
“Bunch of wimps,” he said. “SJ’s not strong enough, Info gets too competitive and hurts himself, Kim complains and whines and fusses like a baby the entire time.”
“But this is what you do for fun?”
He nodded, rubbing his elbow. “It’s a personal thing. A test of your own determination. I like knowing my limits, I like seeing how far I can go.”
Baekhyun had to admire that. “I wonder if - - ah, no, management would never let me. They’d be worried, I might hurt myself, I have to be able to dance.”
“Baekhyun-ah! C’mere!” Xiumin called.
Oh, food! “Can you eat?” he asked H.
“No, go ahead,” H said. “I’ve been smelling burned eggs all morning. You enjoy it.”
He squeezed H’s arm, wanting one last bit of contact, and then he went to have breakfast.
“Is the hottie dangerous?”
Sungyeol groaned, flopping back in his chair, letting it roll back and swivel to the left. “Do you have to call him that?”
“Yes. Hotties are hot, I can’t deny it.”
But he wasn’t - - oh, whatever. “No, he’s not dangerous. Don’t worry about him, he’s not after you.”
“Are you on Jeju Island?”
“Right this minute, no, but I’ve been there.”
“Work. Corporate espionage, insider trading, a bunch of old men fighting over money. This job’s a lot better.”
“None of them would play World of Warcraft with you?”
He laughed. “They really missed out.”
L let Sunggyu into the dorm that night. They talked for a minute, quietly, about some developments. They were in the middle of that discussion when Xiumin asked, from behind him, as informally as possible, “Where have you been?”
Sunggyu’s expression must not have been good, because L stared at him for a second, then turned away, laughing, coughing.
He took a few tries to get his face right, and then he finally turned around. “Working, I’ve been working.”
“Oh? Made yourself useful for once? Did the Fox send you scampering around on errands?”
“There’s no Fox.”
“There isn’t?” L asked. Sunggyu scowled at him, and he strolled away, smiling.
“I told Info that I needed you last night sometime. Can you just neglect your clients like this?”
“I was working,” he repeated. “If you need to be rescued from kidnappers, call H. If you need someone to touch your naughty parts, ask your members.”
Xiumin sat on the arm of the couch. “Working on what?”
“Talking to people. Getting information, putting things together.”
“Like a detective?”
“Kind of.” He sat on the couch.
Xiumin slid off of the arm and right into his lap. It was such a smooth little move that he laughed; he hadn’t seen it coming. “I want you to sleep in my room tonight.”
“You can’t have me at your beck and call. I have things to do.”
“At four in the morning?”
“So sometimes not,” Xiumin said. “So you can sleep here tonight. Tell me about JD.”
“What about him?”
“How long have you known him?”
“Couple of years.”
“How old is he? Does he come from a good family? Does he have a lot of boyfriends?”
Was Xiumin trying to get information on Arctic Fox? Or protecting Chen? Maybe both. “He’s a good guy. He’s very loyal, he’s honest. He has a good family, he’s close with them, he’s a good son. He likes sex but he’s bad at relationships, he’s dated a few guys since I’ve known him but he hasn’t had a boyfriend.”
“Is he really a bomb expert?”
He nodded. “He’s one of the best. It surprised me, I thought that he seemed too foolish, but he’s impressive. And he’s a very good employee. Loyal, hardworking, he’ll do anything he’s told.”
“What kind of money do you guys make? But if JD’s a specialist, he must make more than you. And H and L put in so many hours, they make more than you, too. Whatever we’re paying you, you have to split it eight ways, but it wouldn’t be split evenly. Do you make enough to live?”
“Don’t worry about my money. Why eight ways?”
“You, L, H, JD, SJ, Info, Namu, and the Fox.” He studied Sunggyu’s face intently. “Why, who did I miss?”
“Chen seems nice,” he said, pushing Xiumin off of his lap and getting up.
“Who did I miss?” Xiumin demanded, pulling on his arm.
“So noisy,” he complained. “And so nosy! Why do you have to know everything all of the time? Just let people do their jobs. We’re trying to help you!”
Xiumin looked fed up and frustrated. Then he said, “I’m going out, and I need a bodyguard, so you’ll have to come with me.”
“You’re coming with me.”
“Where are you going? To meet friends?”
“No, just the two of us.”
The two of them? Alone? “Let’s stay in,” he suggested, sitting down and pulling Xiumin back into his lap. “Wouldn’t you rather stay in?”
“Mmm, that depends,” Xiumin said, putting an arm around his shoulders and giving him a wicked, enticing smile. “Would you rather suck my cock in a karaoke room or here in the dorm?”
Suck his cock! “You make a lot of assumptions.”
“But you know what I like,” Xiumin said, fingertips sliding along the curve of Sunggyu’s jaw, tipping his face up. Xiumin’s smile was knowing and seductive. “And I think I can guess what you like.”
He was so sexy, and so sure of himself, it would probably be rude to laugh in his face. “What I like is private, and what you like is…kind of strange, I think, and if you want to go out, Namu will go with you.”
“Mmm, it’s not so strange,” Xiumin murmured, leaning closer, his lashes drifting downward, his thumb brushing Sunggyu’s lips. “I just want to see my cock in your mouth. I just want to see your big cock standing up tall and hard. I just want to leave you aching and begging and squirming. Nothing wrong with that.”
“Do you ever get your dongsaengs off?” Sunggyu asked.
“Sometimes I watch them jack themselves off.” Xiumin’s lips curved in a smile, his thumb rubbing over Sunggyu’s lower lip again, more deliberately this time, slow and sensual. “Would you like that, dongsaeng-ah? Would it turn you on if I watched you play with your huge, hard cock?”
Shit, it was hard right now. “Inappropriately sexual,” Sunggyu insisted, pushing him aside. “You are inappropriately sexual.”
“And you love it.” Right back on top like he’d never moved, Xiumin kissed him. Kissed him right on the mouth, hand running up the back of his neck, fingers sliding into his hair. He told himself not to kiss back, that this wasn’t right, but his tongue was already in Xiumin’s mouth and he was pulling Xiumin more snugly against his hard-on.
“Oh, Kim, what is this?” L asked.
“What would the president say about this?” H asked.
“He wouldn’t like it,” L said.
“So strict, he really doesn’t approve of behavior like this,” H said.
“Mmm, then he would hate what we did in the bathroom,” Xiumin said, nipping at Sunggyu’s lower lip.
“What did you do in the bathroom?” they asked.
“Details, details,” H said.
“I want to know everything,” L said.
“Fuck both of you,” Sunggyu said. “Really, really, I can’t,” he told Xiumin, getting up.
Leaning back against the arm of the couch, Xiumin eyed his hard-on. “Turning coward? Carrying a big stick like that and you don’t have the nerve to stand up to your boss?”
“What - - stop staring at it!” Embarrassed, he tugged his shirt down over it. “I’m leaving, I have to go. Namu will come if you need anything.”
“What was that about a bathroom?” H asked.
“I didn’t read anything about that in your reports,” L said.
“Don’t go too far,” Xiumin said. “Remember where you’re sleeping tonight.”
“I’m not sleeping in your room,” Sunggyu warned him.
“Good, I’ll be there, the floor will be too crowded,” H said.
Xiumin grinned at them. “Seems like someone’s going to have to share a bed.”
“Good. We’ll take the bed, you can sleep on the floor,” Sunggyu told him. “Agreed? Good. I’ll be back later.”
“Not agreed!” H called after him as he walked away. “I don’t want to sleep with you!”
“President-nim,” Sungyeol said. “It seems there were some details missing from your report.”
“Don’t start with me.”
“Must just be an oversight. If you’ll tell me now what happened in the bathroom, I can add that in for you. Clear everything up.”
“Out,” the president said, and hung up on him.
He laughed and went back to work.
L was on the couch in the dorm, watching Suho watch TV, when D.O. came and sat beside him.
He wanted to stroke D.O.’s hair and say something reassuring.
D.O. just sat there for a while.
“Do you want to run lines?” he offered.
D.O. shook his head. “Not now.” A moment passed. “Thanks, though.”
“Whenever you want to.”
D.O. looked around the room. Looked at him. “Can I borrow your book? The one you brought with you? Unless you’re reading it, if-”
“No, I mean, yes. You can read it, I haven’t even started it.” He got up and dug it out of his bag. Sitting down again, he handed it to D.O. “It might be boring, I don’t know if you’ll like it.”
“Thank you.” D.O. smiled at him, then got up and left.
“Oh! Hold on, can we stop here?” Chanyeol asked, looking up the block.
“No,” Baekhyun said.
“Why?” his manager asked.
“I want to stop here, it’s my favorite place. I haven’t been here in months but I was telling Info all about it. I want to pick up some bread, they have these great cream pastries and things, and we can get sandwiches. I’ll be quick.”
“No! If you go in, then H has to go with you, and if he goes, then I have to go,” Baekhyun said. “I don’t want to run around watching you buy bread, I want to go back to the dorm.”
“You whine like the maknae,” Chanyeol said, unbuckling his seatbelt. “I’m going in.”
“God, I can’t stand you,” Baekhyun muttered. “You know we don’t even have any make-up on. What will people think when they see your bare face?”
“That you look worse than I do, so I’m okay.”
“They get cranky when they haven’t slept,” their manager told H.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” H said.
“Is it even open this late?” Baekhyun asked as they got out of the van.
“It’s all lit up, and there are people inside, and the sign says ‘open,’” Chanyeol said.
“So, no, probably not,” H said.
They went in. Baekhyun and H started whispering to each other, and Chanyeol ignored them, getting in line, reading the menu. He couldn’t believe he’d stopped coming here! He’d used to come in all of the time.
Deciding on his order, he tucked his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He wished that he’d brought a hat. Maybe he could borrow H’s. A woman was staring at him, and he smiled at her, bowing slightly, trying to be polite. Looking away, trying to act normal, like he wasn’t being stared at, he glanced around.
Earrings and ponytail.
The hottie! It was the hottie! He was standing in the other line, ahead of Chanyeol. He was looking down, at his phone, texting or something.
Chanyeol wondered if he should tell H. But a good security expert would’ve noticed the hottie already. And Info had said that the guy wasn’t up to anything.
“Excuse me,” he said to the woman beside him. “Excuse me, I just, I know him.” He crept forward a couple of steps and touched the hottie’s arm. Another cardigan, thin but really soft. “Hello?”
He glanced at Chanyeol over his shoulder, and then he froze. Nothing moved at all, just his eyes, getting bigger and bigger.
“Hi,” Chanyeol said, even happier and more nervous now.
He blinked, and then he finally turned the rest of the way around, his gaze flashing all over in all directions. “Um,” he said, and he cleared his throat. “Sorry, excuse me,” he said.
Wait! Was he trying to leave? “Where are you going?” Chanyeol asked, following him. He walked out of the line, towards the door, and then he stopped, caught, looking worried, touching the side of his head. “I think we know each other. I’ve seen you around. My name’s Park Chanyeol.”
“Yeah, I know who you are. Shit, I - - I have to go, okay?” He was moving towards the exit again.
“Wait, what’s your name?” Chanyeol asked, following him. What was wrong? Why was he being like this? Was he shy? “Who do you work for?”
Out on the sidewalk, he started to go one way, then turned and went another, then stopped short and stared at Chanyeol. “What, are you following me?”
“Do you come here a lot?”
“No, first time.” He walked a few more feet, then stopped and glared at Chanyeol. “Going to follow me the whole way to the bus?”
They were almost the same height, almost eye-to-eye. Chanyeol hated that he was so tense, and didn’t understand it. “Can’t I know your name? I won’t follow you anymore, I don’t want to bother you. I’ve seen you around, I even saw you at the movies the other night. We’ve said hi a couple of times, maybe you don’t remember?” As long as he kept talking, the hottie was still listening, so he kept going. “It’s funny that we bumped into each other here, this is my favorite place, I used to come all of the time, but I haven’t been here in months. You’ve never been here before? I didn’t chase you out, did I?” He kind of had, and he felt bad about that. “I’m sorry, you should go back in. It’s good food, you’ll like it, they have great sandwiches. You can go back in, order whatever you wanted to order. I could buy, we could eat together. Or I’ll leave you alone!” he offered quickly. “I’ll never eat here again, it’ll be your place from now on.”
The hottie smiled a little at that. “I’ll go,” he said, taking a step back. “I have things to get back to, I have stuff to do. But go ahead, go back in and get your food. It was nice to see you,” he said, and he turned and walked away.
“Was it?” Chanyeol called after him, bewildered.
He turned for a second and waved, and he smiled before he continued on again.
“I like your hair!” Chanyeol shouted.
“You are so freaking pathetic,” Baekhyun said behind him.
“What is that, thirteen holes in one ear?” H asked.
“Seven,” Chanyeol said. “It’s seven.”
“Not very good with numbers?” Baekhyun asked.
“Eh, counting,” H said, and shrugged. “You want to go back in?”
Yes. No. Yes. “Guess we might as well,” Chanyeol decided, heading back. “I’m still hungry. If I buy stuff for Info, can you get it to him?”
“I can give it to one of the team to take to him, if it doesn’t have to be in the next hour.”
“You’re sending him food, now?” Baekhyun asked.
“I told him about this place the other day, and he’s never been here. He might like it.” And now that the hottie had run away from him and bruised his heart, he wanted to make sure that things were good with Info.
He wished that they had a real relationship. It would be easier to take not meeting in person if he could get Info to agree that they were a couple. Okay, so he didn’t know Info’s actual name and he wouldn’t recognize the guy in a crowd, so maybe it wasn’t the typical boyfriend set-up. But he trusted Info. They could talk about anything. It was a more satisfying relationship than the last half-dozen people he’d tried to date.
“Seven holes in one ear,” Baekhyun said. “I don’t have seven holes in my entire head.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Where? I have two ears, one mouth, and two nostrils, that’s five.”
“Don’t your eyeholes count?”
“No, they don’t count! They have eyes in them! That’s where I keep my eyeballs, thank you.”
The line moved forward. Chanyeol wondered what to order. He wondered what the hottie had intended to get. He wished that he could sneak into the food bag himself and be delivered to Info.
“Hey,” Sungyeol said, turning down the music as JD walked in. “What’s that?”
“Dinner for you.” JD handed him two brown paper bags. “And I am going upstairs to sleep. Good night!”
“Sleep well.” Curious, he opened the bags. Delicious food! Hungry, grateful, he dragged everything out of the bags, eager to devour. Then he recognized the logo on the packaging and froze.
A slip of paper drifted onto the floor. He picked it up.
It was a handwritten note. Eat well! I hope that you like it. Other hotties make a nice distraction, but you’re the hottie I want to be with. –PC
He read it again. “What a fucking mess,” he said to himself. Remembering what Chanyeol had yelled after him on the sidewalk, he touched his hair. Chanyeol was going to hate him when this was over. But for now, food was food. He ate, and he read the note again, and he called L.
“Park Chanyeol thinks that I’m a hottie.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. We’ve all heard. Everyone you know, and everyone he knows, is completely aware of that.”
“You know the guys he hangs out with.”
“Yes, I’m looking at one of them right now.”
“They put their faces on magazines.”
“I guess they do.”
“And posters and billboards. And he thinks that I’m a hottie.”
“He likes my hair. He chased me up and down the sidewalk.”
“Maybe subconsciously, he knows that it’s me. Maybe he recognizes me without realizing it. He knows my voice.”
“I think he likes me.”
“But what do I do about that?”
“You could ask him out sometime.”
It seemed like a very normal answer for a very normal next step in a very normal relationship. If Sungyeol were the kind of person who excelled at normal relationships, he wouldn’t have this life. “Info out.”
L smiled to himself and glanced at the door. He didn’t say anything else, and he shifted a little on the couch. D.O. wondered if the call was over. “Who’s asking who out?”
“Mmm?” He looked at D.O. “Oh, nobody.”
Maybe it was Namu and Suho. Although he couldn’t picture Namu calling L on the job to ask for dating advice.
L was still looking at him. With an interested, curious expression. Wondering what that was about, he waited. After a minute, L asked, “Are you on the cover of magazines?”
“Yeah, a few. Some with the other members, and some by myself.”
“Do you have copies of them? Can I see them?”
“Uh… The company has copies, I can get some for you.”
L smiled at him. “I’d like to see that.”
“It’s not very exciting,” he said. “It’s just me, I just look like this.”
L’s dimples were really charming. “I like the way you look.”
And now he felt that happy, swelling sensation in his chest he only ever got around L. “Well, thanks. I’ll, um, I’ll get some copies for you, then. Be prepared for some bad clothes, though,” he added. “And maybe a couple of awkward haircuts.”
“Bad clothes? I thought an idol on a magazine cover would only wear expensive things from stylists and top designers.”
“Yes, we do,” he said, keeping a straight face. “Bad clothes.” L laughed.
Baekhyun stayed up. He was in Chanyeol and Lay’s room for a while, but then Lay wanted to have sex with Kai, and Chanyeol wanted to call Info, so he went to the kids’ room, instead. D.O. was reading a book. He got head from Sehun and went to Suho and Chen’s room. Chen and JD were asleep, and Suho was having an earnest conversation with Namu. Bored, he went to his own room. Went on-line and looked up search terms like “army training course” until he found videos and descriptions of the kind of event H had described. Shit, that looked hard-core. H did this for fun? That was so sexy, he got all turned on. Maybe jacking off to videos of guys scaling walls and crawling under barbed wire wasn’t his proudest moment, but, damn, it really worked for him.
When he finally dozed off, he had nasty, disjointed dreams. Waking up, shaken, he rolled over, just breathing for a minute, reminding himself that he was safe, he was whole, his members were okay. He didn’t want to be a needy jerk, but he really wanted to go out there and make sure that H was still in the dorm. Trying to reassure himself, he turned on the flashlight on his phone. He’d go out and buy a freaking nightlight if he weren’t too ashamed for Xiumin to know that he wanted one.
Xiumin was on the other bed, safe and sound. Totally alive and healthy. Good.
And H was on the floor. For one horrifying moment, he thought that he was looking at a dead body, and his whole life fell apart. But then he realized that it was H, and that H was asleep. Not dead.
H had agreed to sleep in his room - - had been the one to bring it up, the one to offer it - - but somehow he still hadn’t been sure that it would actually happen. But here it was. H. Asleep. On his floor. Right beside his bed. Hat off and everything. Earpiece still on, but, whatever, this was amazing, he’d take what he could get.
He didn’t want to embarrass himself. And he didn’t want to be any more clingy and needy and pathetic than he’d already been. But, screw it, no way was he staying alone in this bed when he had such an incredible alternative in front of him. Slipping out of bed, he got right down on the floor.
He hesitated. He couldn’t just - - could he? But he really, really wanted to. He put a tentative hand out. Drew it back. Leaned in cautiously. Tucked himself right up against H’s side, rested his cheek on H’s chest, just went straight for it and stretched his arm across H’s waist. Once he was snuggled in like he was cuddling his very own teddy bear, he closed his eyes.
He spent a few seconds worrying about how he was going to explain this and what H might think, and then he was out. Totally passed out. He slept like a log. Deep, heavy sleep.
He didn’t wake up until he felt someone picking him up. Literally picking him up off of the floor. His brain told him that was a very strange thing to be happening to him, and he started to open his eyes, but then he heard H’s voice, and he thought, oh, okay, and relaxed again.
“You’ll stay with him?” H asked. He was back in his bed. He rolled over. Soft pillow. Nice pillow. He missed having H beside him, but he could still hear H’s voice, so everything was okay.
“Yeah, I’ll be in here,” someone else said.
He was asleep again.
Xiumin got out of bed and almost tripped over the body on the floor. What the hell! Catching himself on the nightstand, he hopped for a second until he recovered his balance.
Kim. Kim - - why the hell didn’t anyone have a proper name anymore? Kim what, Kim Dongwan, Kim Kibum, Kim Soohyun? Kim Minseok? Now that would be interesting. Kim whoever he was, he was asleep right there on the floor, on his back, in jeans and a white undershirt, with what looked like his T-shirt rolled up for a pillow. It was so sad, Xiumin wanted to scold him. They had beds! They had pillows, why couldn’t he ask to borrow a pillow? Why was he even - - but Xiumin knew why. Because Xiumin had asked him to. One thoughtless comment, random nonsense flying out of Xiumin’s mouth, and now here he was, asleep on the floor with no pillow.
Xiumin remembered what he’d said about JD. “And he’s a very good employee. Loyal, hardworking, he’ll do anything he’s told.” Yeah, well, apparently he wasn’t the only one.
For a minute, Xiumin just watched him sleep. With every second that passed, Xiumin’s heart softened more and more. What had happened in the world, that Xiumin was someone people went to so much effort to guard and protect? What had happened in Kim’s life, that he’d gone from wanting to be a rock star to sleeping on some asshole’s floor in his undershirt?
Should he wake the guy up? If he was asleep, might as well let him sleep. Xiumin wasn’t sure how much sleep he got; H and L barely seemed to get any at all.
Xiumin hated just to leave him there, though.
Well. If nothing else, at least Xiumin could make sure that he woke up to a good breakfast.
A familiar, soft beep.
“President-nim,” Info said quietly in his ear. “You asked me to wake you up to let you know that you have a meeting at ten.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sunggyu mumbled. He sat up. Pawed at his stubble. Tried to open his eyes. Gave up on it. Listened to Baekhyun snore. Remembered his meeting. Convinced his eyes to open. Got up. Put his shirt back on.
“About time you got up,” Xiumin said from the doorway. “Come on, I made breakfast.”
“You don’t make things. You buy them and have them delivered.”
“Do you want to eat or not? Come on.” Xiumin took him by the hand and pulled him across the dorm. “I made it for you, so act grateful, even if you don’t like it. I don’t do all of this for just anyone.”
The kitchen table surprised him. It was a real breakfast. And it wasn’t in little delivery boxes, it was in bowls and on plates. “Where did this come from?”
“I made it. I cooked it. Sit,” Xiumin said, pulling out a chair and pushing him into it.
“So pushy,” he mumbled to himself. Everything looked great. There was rice and soup and all sorts of things. “You made eggs?”
“I’ve been practicing.”
Curious, he tried some. Oh! “This is good,” he said, digging in. “Are you lying to me? Did you buy this? Is it from the housekeeper, did she make it?”
Xiumin smacked him in the back of the head. “I told you! I cooked it.”
The things he put up with. The insults and offenses he endured. He comforted himself with the knowledge that his nobility and sacrifice would be rewarded in his bank account. And at least the food was delicious, that helped. He ate everything, while Xiumin sat and watched him with a bright, satisfied expression. “It’s delicious,” he said. “You’ve cooked well. Thank you.”
Xiumin smiled. Having seen that smile before, Sunggyu expected him to praise himself or ask for a blowjob. Instead, he just said, “You ate well. Maybe I’ll cook again sometime.” Then he got up and said, “I’d better clean all of this up before the members wake up, they’ll start wanting me to cook for them, too.”
“You won’t cook for your members?” he asked.
He snorted, gathering dishes. “Hell, no. I told you, I’m not doing all of this for just anybody.” He picked up a bowl, then said, “Maybe if we win an award, or they start offering blowjobs, or something. But I’m not doing it for nothing.”
“Do you think that I owe you a blowjob now?” Sunggyu asked. He thought that it was best to be clear.
“No. This meal’s free.” Xiumin dropped a kiss on the top of his head and went to the sink. “But any time you want to offer a blowjob, I’m here.”
“That’s good to know,” he mumbled. He touched the top of his head. He had no idea what was happening here, but it was very disturbing, and he was starting to like it.
It had to be a weird thing to be proud of himself for, but Baekhyun was really glad that he’d slept so well. It felt like an accomplishment. Like a baby who’d slept through the night for the first time.
When he saw H in the living room, he felt kind of self-conscious. “Um.” H looked at him. Tucking a knee under himself, he sat beside H on the couch. “Did you pick me up? And put me back in my bed?”
“I didn’t want to leave you on the floor.” A flicker of a teasing smile. “Should I have let you sleep with Kim?”
On the floor? “No, no, that’s okay,” he said, laughing. “Is it okay that I - - I mean, I don’t want to - - you just made the floor look so comfortable, you looked so cozy down there, I thought that I was missing out. I just wanted to try it, you know, see what I’ve been missing.”
“It’s fine, it’s great,” H said. “The floor’s the real craze. I don’t think this whole ‘bed’ concept is ever really going to take off.”
“No, it’ll never be very popular.” They smiled at each other, and Baekhyun laughed. “So, uh. Any time you want to sleep on my floor again, go ahead. It’s available.”
“Okay.” H nodded, still smiling. “I’ll give it another shot.”
“I was thinking.”
“Right, hi. I was thinking, what if you send me a photo? Not of you!” he said quickly. “Not of all of you. I mean, like, an ear or a toe. Your ear or your toe. Not just anybody’s toe, that would be weird, that might get kind of gross.”
“So you have a foot fetish.”
“That, uh, we can talk about that later. But what I’m saying is,” he continued, while Info burst into laughter. “I’m saying that if you don’t want to send me a selca, you can send me a partial. Let me see your ear. Or your elbow. Maybe a knee, I could look at a knee.”
“Is this a discreet way of asking for a dick pic?”
“If I wanted a dick pic, I’d ask for one,” he said. “I’m asking for a toe. And I can tell a cock and a toe apart.”
“I hope so, or we need to talk.”
They talked for a few more minutes, and then Chanyeol had to go. He was in the van a while later when he got a text message. It was a photo. From Info.
A photo of a knee. A naked, bony knee. He sat there and admired it for a while, and then he showed it to Suho. “This is my boyfriend.”
“Your boyfriend is a knee,” Suho said.
“A sexy knee,” he clarified.
“Is that your knee?” Suho asked. “Chanyeol-ah, are you dating your own knee?”
“What the hell is this conversation?” D.O. asked, turning around in his seat to look at them.
“It looks like your knee,” Baekhyun said, leaning in to see. “That’s so your own knee!”
“It’s not! It’s Info’s!” he exclaimed. “Dating my own knee, don’t be weird. It’s Info’s knee.”
“It looks like yours,” Baekhyun said.
“It does not! I can tell my own body apart from my boyfriend’s.” It didn’t look like his knee at all. His knee was boring. This was a very sexy knee. “At least my boyfriend’s way better-looking than yours.”
“I don’t have a - - oh, fuck you,” Baekhyun said. “Enjoy dating a knee.”
“It’s one more body part than you’re dating,” he said, and ducked.
Xiumin couldn’t find what he wanted anywhere in the dorm, so he went out and bought it. Then he rolled it all up and tucked it behind the couch. Then he put a note on it: For Kim. Just to be clear.
Sunggyu went upstairs to find JD and Chen on his sofa. “What is he doing here?”
“Visiting,” JD said, getting up. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” He limped to the bathroom and took off his pants. They were torn, but maybe ripped jeans were fashionable these days, EXO didn’t seem to own any jeans with intact knees. The blood probably wasn’t very stylish, though. Nudging the jeans aside with his foot, he opened the medical kit.
“What happened?” JD asked, coming into the bathroom.
“I fell.” He washed his knee and the palm of his hand. JD took over from there. It stung, and he cursed under his breath. JD put a bandage on his knee, but he didn’t want one on his hand. It would just get in the way and look obnoxious. He went to his room. He wanted to fall into bed. It had been a long, lousy day. He stood there for a minute, looking at his bed. So comfortable. Then he dragged on another pair of jeans.
“Going back out?” JD asked when he passed the couch.
“Going to EXO’s dorm,” he said, putting his shoes back on.
“We’ll come with you,” Chen said.
He didn’t mind. “All right, come on.” When they came over, he tapped Chen’s cheek. “Don’t tell anyone about this place. Not anybody, understand?”
Chen smiled at him. “I understand, I won’t say anything.”
“What do you need to do at EXO’s dorm?” JD asked.
“Sleep on Xiumin’s floor.”
“I can do it, if you want to stay here.”
He sighed. Shit, that was tempting. “I think he wants it to be me.”
“Why you?” JD asked.
“I don’t have any idea,” he said, resigned to it. “Let’s go.”
On the floor in the dark, Hoya opened his eyes to find Baekhyun snuggling up against him. “We have to stop meeting like this.”
“Ssshhh, you’re asleep,” Baekhyun whispered, resting his cheek on Hoya’s chest. He hugged Hoya’s arm.
“Right, fast asleep.” He closed his eyes again. It wasn’t the worst way to sleep.
When Sunggyu got to EXO’s dorm, L gestured behind the couch.
He looked back there, wondering what he might find. L’s bag, H’s bag, and… “What is that?”
“It has your name on it.”
“It has everybody’s name on it, who isn’t named ‘Kim’ around here?”
“Xiumin put it back there.”
“So it’s his.”
“It’s yours,” L corrected him.
“That weird, sexy chipmunk.” He picked it up. It was a bedroll. With a pillow. “Did he buy this for me?”
“SJ went with him. He asked about your favorite color.”
“Purple is not my favorite color.”
“SJ hates you.”
Ah. He nodded, studying his new present. “This was a very nice thing to do.” Xiumin was a very interesting person. “Did he get one for H, too, or you?”
“Good, you don’t need to be comfortable. Turns you soft.”
L smiled at him. “Understood.”
Baekhyun felt himself being picked up. “H,” he mumbled, not sure how awake he was. He was back in his bed. “Don’t go far,” he said, rolling over.
“I’ll be around,” H said.
Good, that was good. He went back to sleep.
It was a very nice bedroll. Almost cushy. Very satisfied, Sunggyu settled in comfortably.
“Delivery,” Namu said, carrying a box into the dorm.
“If it’s a new car, it’s mine,” Sehun called.
“Not a car,” Namu said.
“Imagine if it had been, though,” Sehun said. “It would be all mine now.”
“Okay, the next new car I carry in here, it’s all yours,” Namu promised.
Assuming that it was for Suho or something, L was surprised when Namu called, “D.O.?” On alert, he watched Namu more closely, wanting to get to his feet, to check on it himself. If Namu had it, it must’ve been checked out, it wasn’t a box full of dead rats or anything, but he still wanted to make sure.
“Here,” D.O. said, coming out from his room, book in hand.
“From SM,” Namu said, handing him the box. “They said that you asked for it.”
“Thanks.” Looking puzzled, D.O. opened the flaps. Then he smiled and came over and sat beside L. “Magazines,” he explained.
Oh! “Let me see,” L said.
D.O. handed over a stack. They were real magazines, colorful and glossy. Some of them he’d never heard of, but some of them he recognized. They all had D.O.’s face on the cover.
“Wow,” L said, amazed. “You’re for real famous.” It was one cover of D.O. after another, that distinctive mouth, those intense, staring eyes. At the bottom of the stack, he saw one that made him smile. “You look really happy.”
“It was a good shoot,” D.O. said. “A good day, the photographer was fun to work with.”
“How does that work, what makes a photographer fun to work with? More than the rest of them?”
“Personality, mostly. If we get along, if he’s relaxed. Some of them are slow, or they don’t communicate well, and I end up holding the same pose for so long it doesn’t feel natural anymore, or I’m not sure what they want. And then I get bad photos.”
“I like photography,” he admitted. “But I never got to work with people, I just took photos of places and things.”
Interest lit up D.O.’s expression. “You’re a photographer?”
“No, no. Not now. I was, in the army, it was part of my duties for a while.”
“Why, what’d you take photos of?”
He laughed. He wished that he could answer. “That’s classified,” he admitted. “Sorry.” He ran his hand over the magazines in his lap. “Do you have to give these back, can I hold onto them?”
“You want to keep them?”
“I want to read them. There are interviews and articles about you.”
D.O. looked pleased but kind of embarrassed. “Okay.” He fiddled with the empty box for a second. “You could try photography again, now.”
“I don’t - - that’s more JD and SJ’s thing, they do that kind of surveillance.”
“No, I meant, you could just have a camera. Take photos. Of whatever you want. As a hobby.”
Oh. “I guess.” He scratched his head, not sure about it.
“Do you have other hobbies?”
He smiled. “JD says that I’m a natural creature of habit. I eat, I sleep, I have sex, and then I do it all over again.”
D.O. smiled, blushing. “Those are good hobbies, I guess.”
Xiumin wanted to make breakfast for Kim.
He told himself not to bother. It was too much work. He wasn’t responsible for feeding Arctic Fox.
He made breakfast for himself instead. Just himself. Only he made too much. Enough to share with one other person.
“Oh! You made eggs again,” Chen said behind him.
“Not for you,” he said.
“Kim,” JD said, and Xiumin turned away from scooping eggs onto a plate to see Kim walking into the kitchen. “How’s your knee?”
“Fine, it’s okay.” Kim ruffled his own hair, his gaze already on Xiumin’s plate.
“You’re not still limping?”
Limping? “What happened to your knee?” Xiumin asked.
“I’m fine, I said,” Kim said, looking uncomfortable.
“What happened?” Xiumin repeated.
“I fell, people fall sometimes.”
“You should change the bandage, to make sure,” JD said.
Xiumin shoved Kim into a chair and thunked the plate in front of him. “Let me see it, how bad is it?”
“It - - I already said that it’s fine!” Kim said, exasperated. “Can I eat this?” He leaned away slowly, eyeing Xiumin. “What will I owe you?”
“You can eat if you show me your knee. The injured one,” he clarified. “What happened to your hand?!”
“I fell!” he exclaimed. “Haven’t you ever fallen? It’s not such a big deal!”
“What did you do, throw yourself down on gravel?”
“My eggs are getting cold,” he complained as Xiumin held his hand up, investigating it.
“Deal with it.” It wasn’t so bad, just a scrape across the heel of his hand, like he’d caught himself when he’d fallen. It looked like it would hurt, though, if he had to squeeze or pick anything up. Letting go, Xiumin squatted down and pulled up the leg of his jeans.
“Mmm, delicious,” Kim said, chewing.
“Glad you like it.” Xiumin peeled aside the bandage and winced. Shit, that looked like it hurt. “Have you taken anything? Pain medicine?”
“I don’t need medicine.”
“Chen-ah, go get aspirin.”
“I don’t - - why is he going?” Kim demanded.
“Because his hyung told him to,” JD said.
“The power of a hyung,” Kim said wistfully. “I think that I used to have that.”
“You need a new bandage, you bled on this one,” Xiumin said. “Chen-ah! Bring me Suho’s first aid kit!” He slapped Kim’s calf. “Take better care of yourself! What are you going to do if you get hurt? You’re lucky this wasn’t worse.”
“Don’t hit me! How is that going to help?”
“Finish your eggs. JD, there are more in the pan, give him more, and get him some rice, it should be ready.” He took the first aid kit that Chen brought him. He gave Kim aspirin and told Chen to get Kim something to drink, and then he put ointment on the scrapes on Kim’s knee and applied a new bandage. Feeling better, he got up. “Let me see your hand.”
“God, you’re so whiny,” he said, taking Kim’s hand. He put some ointment on it, gingerly. “What were you doing, chasing down suspects?”
That took him by surprise. Wait a second, had Kim gotten hurt on the job? He’d assumed that it had happened, oh, while Kim was skateboarding with friends or something. Or Kim had tripped in a parking lot, something random like that. “Did you fall while you were working?”
“All I do is work,” he said.
Obviously, there was some element of danger to this job. People wouldn’t keep talking about bomb experts and death threats otherwise. But so far, no one had actually gotten hurt. No one could sleep and half of his members were unraveling, but now there was an element of physical injury. Very mild injury, a minor scrape, but still. It seemed very significant to him.
They’d hired Arctic Fox to keep them safe. To deal with the danger so that they wouldn’t have to face it. So that if it took a toll on anyone, it would be on Arctic Fox, not on them. “What happened?” he asked. “What happened exactly, you were really chasing someone?”
“I was, and I caught up with him. He has a very depressing home life and he thought that hurting Sehun would help him. Namu’s taking the report to your company today, they’ll decide whether to go to the police.”
Dazed, Xiumin pulled out a chair. He just leaned on it for a second, and then he sat down. “You actually caught someone? One of the people threatening us, threatening Sehun? You actually - - we can turn him over to the police?”
Then this worked. Their methods worked. They were actually doing it. They’d crossed someone off of the list. “You’re sure that it’s the right guy? He admitted to it?”
“He recorded a confession for me.”
He’d just confessed? Or Kim had chased him down and... “Did you beat him up?”
“Physical assault is illegal. I wouldn’t do something like that.”
His knuckles weren’t bruised. Maybe he was telling the truth. Or maybe he was full of shit. But if he’d punched someone who’d been sending freaking death threats to Sehun, Xiumin didn’t have a problem with it.
Xiumin really wanted to thank Kim, but there was no way that he could do that without getting sentimental and weepy. Sehun was safer today, safer because of Arctic Fox, because of Kim. This whole mess had been stressful as fuck, and today things were better, and Xiumin felt relief unlike anything he’d ever known.
“Breakfast was delicious,” Kim said. “Thank you, that was very nice. And thank you for the bedroll, too, it’s comfortable.”
“Good.” He wanted to hug Kim. Not just a brief, casual hug, but an intense hug, where he held on for too long and cried.
“Okay.” Kim got up. “I’d better go, I have reports and interviews and things. I’ll come by later. To check on everybody.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Clearing his throat, he got up. “See you then.”
Kim studied him for a second, then left.
He wanted to tell Sehun about the confession from the guy. No, he’d tell Suho first, to be safe. No, he’d hug Sehun first. He needed to hug someone, damn it. “C’mere,” he said, grabbing the first person he saw.
“Okay,” Lay said, hugging him. Lay was solid and warm and familiar. “It’s okay, hyung, we’re okay.”
“Yeah.” They just might be.
D.O. took L’s book with him wherever he went. From schedule to schedule. From room to room around the dorm. It was a security blanket, but it was one that people didn’t really question. He didn’t think anyone paid enough attention to realize that he’d read it cover to cover more than once, and that when he read it now, he opened to any page at random.
It was a good book, but that didn’t matter much. He held onto it because it belonged to L. Because he couldn’t carry L with him from room to room. Because he couldn’t tuck L under his pillow at night. He felt very attached to L, and he felt a very strong impulse to cling. But he wasn’t going to give in to that; he wasn’t going to burden L with that kind of pressure. He’d heard his own members and the Arctic Fox team refer to “the bodyguard thing,” and he recognized that was a part of his strange yearning. He didn’t want to bother L with it, and he didn’t want to be a cliché, and he didn’t know how to untangle his desires and his obsessions and his anxieties from each other. So he carried L’s book with him, and no one asked him about it, and he tried to tell himself that he was coping.
Hoya was watching Suho watch TV when he heard some of the members chanting, “Go! Go! Go!” in the hallway. At the eruption of cheers and laughter, he glanced towards the hallway, then at Suho.
Suho met his eyes, then looked over at L. “Well, one of us should check on them.”
“Rock, paper, scissors?” L suggested.
Hoya lost. Getting up from the arm of the couch, he strolled over.
Baekhyun and Kai were side-by-side on the floor in the hallway, on their stomachs, squirming forward. Chen and Xiumin were behind them, cheering them on, and Lay and Sehun were in front, urging them forward. Kai was clearly ahead. “Ya, ya, out of the way,” Xiumin said, and Hoya backed up.
Kai reached Lay and Sehun first, and everyone cheered. Baekhyun collapsed, looking exhausted, rolling onto his back and sprawling out, hair tousled across his forehead, arms splayed. “I was close, right, I was close,” he panted.
“You were so far behind!” Chen exclaimed. Crouching down, he patted Baekhyun’s stomach. “You were really awful.”
“Whew!” Kai grinned, and Lay gave him a congratulatory kiss. “Want to try it?” he asked Sehun.
“Sehun can go against Chanyeol, they both have wingspan advantage,” Baekhyun said. Chen dragged him to his feet, and he smiled at Hoya. “How’d I do, how was my form?”
“You had form?” Hoya asked. “What is this, the hundred-meter wiggle?”
“We’re army crawling! Under invisible barbed wire,” he explained. “Like in the obstacle courses.”
“Oh.” So that’s what that had been. He could almost see it.
“We didn’t get it right?” Kai asked.
“Try using your arms and legs more. Get off of your stomach. You’re crawling, not slithering.”
“I think that you should show us,” Baekhyun said.
“Yes, I think we need a demonstration,” Chen agreed.
“Sure, good,” he agreed. “L!”
“Not him, you!” Baekhyun said.
“It looks better when he does it,” Hoya explained.
“Everything looks better when he does it,” Sehun said.
Hoya went back out to the living room, trailing EXO members. “They need you.”
“For what?” L asked.
“Show them the low crawl and the high crawl, their technique’s terrible.”
“Wait, there are two different kinds?” Kai asked.
“My research said nothing about this,” Baekhyun said.
“You should demand a refund on those crappy websites you read for free,” Chen told him.
“I’m going to!”
“Why are you researching army crawls?” Suho asked. “Baekhyun-ah, we’re not in so much danger that we need military techniques.”
“No, it’s not that! Thanks for bringing that up, though,” Baekhyun said. “No, I wanted to see if I could do obstacle course stuff.”
“We don’t have any logs or boulders or mud or barbed wire, so it’s difficult,” Chen said.
“Go ahead, show them,” Hoya told L. He saw no reason to let this go; humiliating L was too much fun.
“Your technique is better,” L said.
“No, you’ll be great, go ahead.”
“I think whoever’s better at it should show us,” Baekhyun said.
“I think that L should show us,” Sehun said.
“I’m terrible at it, he’s the supersoldier,” L said.
“I’m a what?” Hoya asked, laughing.
“You’re a supersoldier?” Baekhyun asked, clearly loving the idea.
“No! That’s not even a real term!” he exclaimed. “What are you saying, don’t give them ideas,” he told L.
“I can’t do it without barbed wire,” L said.
“Oh, right,” he agreed. “That’s true, we can’t do it under these conditions.”
“We’ll ask JD, he’ll do it,” Chen told Baekhyun.
“But is JD a supersoldier?” Baekhyun asked. “I don’t think that he’ll do it right.”
“There are no supersoldiers, there’s no such thing,” Hoya said.
“Were you in a special supersoldier unit?” Baekhyun asked. “Was it a secret unit, is that why you have to act like supersoldiers aren’t real?”
“Yes, I’m a secret supersoldier,” Hoya said. “With a secret supersoldier identity. And a supersoldier cape and tights. And a big S on my chest.”
“Yeah, I can see you in tights,” Sehun said.
A faint beep in his ear.
“President-nim, Xiumin’s calling for you. Should I put him through?”
He sighed, ruffling his hair. “Yeah.”
“Okay, you’re both on the line,” Info said.
“Hey,” Xiumin said. “How’s your knee?”
“Okay. I made a couple of lunchboxes and stuck them in the fridge, so if you want to get one later, or take one with you, you can.”
“That was nice of you, thank you.”
“And - - who’s on this call, who can hear me?”
“I’m here,” Info said.
“Applies to me, too,” Info said.
“Good. If you want me to watch you get off later, we can do that, or Sehun’s willing to blow you, if you want it.”
“You’re very preoccupied with sex,” Sunggyu said.
“I’m preoccupied with your cock,” Xiumin said.
Info had a sudden coughing fit.
“You can blow me, Sehun can blow you, we can have ourselves some real fun.”
“That’s a very...obscene offer,” Sunggyu said. “And it’s a generous offer! Thank you for the lunchboxes, I’ll look forward to them. I’ll hang up now.”
“I’ll look forward to seeing you later,” Xiumin said, and hung up.
“He’s a lot of fun,” Info said.
He didn’t take Sunggyu seriously. At all. But he was being very nice all of a sudden. “How did he go from ordering every meal he eats to making all of this food?” Sunggyu asked.
“He’s been downloading cookbooks and watching a lot of cooking videos on-line,” Info said.
That was the good thing about talking to Info; asking him a question could lead to getting an informative answer. “Under the non-disclosure agreement, you will never mention to anyone that some idol wants to put his junk in my mouth.”
Toes. Chanyeol had a photo of toes. Not the big toe or the pinky, but the three toes right in the middle. A perfect row of bare toes. Very smooth, freshly trimmed toenails. Such clean, attractive toes. He could kiss those toes. He would totally be willing to do that.
Maybe he was getting photos of the sexiest parts of Info first. Maybe these were the parts Info was more confident about, and the rest of Info wasn’t quite so good-looking.
Or maybe these were the boring, basic parts and the rest was even better.
Either way, he was okay with it. Either Info was seriously freaking handsome, and he was about to have himself a gorgeous boyfriend. Or his boyfriend had the sexiest knees in the world, and lovely, kissable toes, and the rest of Info was kind of a mess. But he’d fallen for the guy who talked to him every night, someone smart and logical and competitive who loved knowledge and had a terrific, youthful, happy laugh. If he wanted looks, he could date an idol. He wanted Info. And Info would always be a hottie in his eyes.
“We have practice now?” Sehun asked.
“What, so suddenly?” Baekhyun asked.
“That’s okay,” Lay said.
“God, I’m already exhausted,” Xiumin said.
“I know that it’s sudden, but it’s important,” Suho said. “Everyone, in the vans.”
Baekhyun grumbled, but only under his breath, where Suho wouldn’t hear. He was in a lousy mood already, anyway. The only Arctic Fox guys around were L and SJ; H had freaking disappeared on him. Not cool, not cool at all. It was almost like pinning all of his sexual desires and romantic hopes and sense of security on one person who had no real allegiance to him and was only around him to collect a paycheck was a bad idea.
When they got to the SM building, they went up to their practice room. And walked into a playground. Laughing, Baekhyun pushed Sehun aside so that he could see better. H and JD and Namu were there, with hula hoops and traffic cones and kickballs.
“What is this?” Xiumin asked.
“An obstacle course,” Namu said.
“Idol-style,” H added. “Less risk of injury.”
“Did you know about this?” Baekhyun asked Suho, and Suho just laughed at him, looking all proud and happy. What a jerk! He hugged Suho.
“It looks fun!” Chen said.
“Get in three teams of three,” Namu said.
“Beagle team, maknae team, hyung team,” Kai said.
“Oh, we’re going to slam your asses,” Chanyeol said.
“Beagle team bringing the smack talk,” L said, laughing.
“Talk is all that team is good for,” Sehun said.
“Ooohh!” everyone exclaimed.
“Okay, SJ will demonstrate the course for you,” H said. “Go ahead.” He stepped back, gesturing.
“JD can do it,” SJ said.
“Oh, me? Okay.” JD tucked his shirt in.
It was a great course! They had to slither - - army crawl - - under ropes without setting off the bells, and they had to hop through rings, and they had to carry each other around the “perimeter” while dodging balls, and all kinds of stuff! Baekhyun loved it. “After we all do it, you should have to do it, too,” he said.
“I’ll play,” Namu said.
“I’ll be on the team Namu’s not on,” SJ said.
“No, we can’t, we don’t have the right number of people,” H said.
“Too bad,” L said.
“Where’s Kim? He can do it,” Xiumin said.
Like four of the Arctic Fox guys reached for their earpieces at once. Laughing, Namu asked Info to send Kim to EXO’s practice room. “We’re practicing maneuvers. We need him on site. Yes. Yes. Namu out.”
“He’s not on my team,” H said. “I’ll take JD and L.”
“You’re not sticking me with the two of them!” SJ protested.
“Too late, sorry,” L said. “Good luck.”
“Let’s have team coaches,” Suho suggested. “Namu can cheer our team on and tell us what to do. Tell us what to look out for.”
“I call H,” Baekhyun said.
“No, JD,” Chen said. “He’s more positive, he’ll encourage us.”
“H is a supersoldier,” Baekhyun argued.
“There’s no such thing,” Chen said.
“I want Info to cheer for us,” Chanyeol said.
“What, over the phone?” Chen asked.
“Info is a voice in your head,” Baekhyun said.
“He has toes! And a knee! At least one knee!”
“Are they waiting for spare parts to come in before they assemble the rest of him?” Chen asked.
“Don’t say mean things about my boyfriend,” Chanyeol said. “I can’t say anything mean back, I’m afraid that your boyfriend will blow me up.”
“Your boyfriend is a knee,” Baekhyun said.
“Your boyfriend is a supersoldier,” Chanyeol said. “He doesn’t exist.”
While everyone laughed, Baekhyun raised a threatening fist.
“Okay, guys, don’t smack talk your own teammates,” Namu said.
“Beagle team,” Sehun said. “All talk.”
Deciding to ignore Chanyeol’s nasty and totally accurate comments, Baekhyun focused on the course. The maknae team went first. Kai was terrific at all of it, which made him worry about his own team’s chances. He was stuck with Chanyeol and Chen, so he was pretty much his own team’s ace. D.O. was good at it, because D.O. was a creepy little freak who was good at everything. Sehun got all tripped up in the hula hoops and ruined the team’s time, though, which was great.
Even just watching the other members attempt the course was fun. It was a hilarious competition, and they all played around with it, cheering each other on, taunting and teasing.
Kim came in, took one look, and walked out again. Namu had to chase him down and drag him back in.
Before the hyung team could start, Xiumin wanted to know what they were competing for. “What do we win? Dinner? Blowjobs? First in the shower for a week?”
“Not the shower, I hate showering after you,” Sehun said.
“Because you always jack off in there and I feel like there’s cum all over the wall.”
“If I could come in you more often, that wouldn’t be a problem,” Xiumin said.
“So if we win blowjobs and the shower, that solves all of those issues,” Lay said.
“You already get plenty of blowjobs,” Chen said.
Sehun high-fived Kai, who laughed.
“I want to win blowjobs,” Chanyeol said.
“Do you get a lot of blowjobs from your knee?” Baekhyun asked.
“No one’s winning blowjobs,” Suho said. “Dinner, that’s good, whoever wins gets dinner. Losing team has to pay for it.”
“You’re really killing my motivation to win,” Xiumin said.
The hyungs did well on the course. Not as well as Kai, but they didn’t get tripped up as badly as Sehun, so their overall time was good. For a minute, they were ahead. Then they got to the part where two of them had to carry the third one while Arctic Fox threw balls at them. They started arguing over who was strongest and who was lightest, and who should carry whom, and Baekhyun was glad, because it was messing up their time. Namu called out, “It’s not about ego or pride! It’s about teamwork and getting everyone to the finish line together!” All of a sudden they were much more cooperative, and Xiumin and Lay carried Suho around the room, ducking and dodging and trying not to trip.
Baekhyun didn’t want to fall into the same trap, so he told Chanyeol, “We’ll carry Chen.”
“No,” Chen said. “We’ll carry you. I’m stronger than you, and you’re lighter than I am.”
“But I can dodge the balls better than you.”
“You’re little, you’re easy to carry,” Chanyeol said.
“I’m not that easy!”
“It’s not about pride and ego, Baekhyun-ah,” Chen said, patting his head.
Oh, that was just obnoxious.
Chanyeol and Chen were both terrible at army crawling, and they set off the bells a thousand times, and Baekhyun couldn’t believe that they were going to have to buy a bunch of smug maknaes dinner. He went as fast as he could, to make up for it. When they had to carry him, they almost dropped him, and it was so bad that the hyung team insisted that his ass had touched the floor. It totally hadn’t! They ended up with the worst time of all three teams. Chen blamed Chanyeol’s awkward, huge feet, and Chanyeol blamed Chen’s ass for setting off the bells too often, and Baekhyun thought that everyone could agree that he’d done super well, and that was what really mattered.
“Okay, JD and L on my team,” H said. He and L took off their hats, fixing their hair.
“Team, what team?” Kim asked.
“You’re not sticking me with the two of them,” SJ insisted, his hands on his hips.
“Two of who, two why?” Kim asked.
“What are your team names?” Chen asked.
“Tree team and failure team,” Namu suggested.
“I’m on the ‘I’m not playing, good-bye’ team,” Kim said.
“We should do it, even if it’s silly,” JD said. “It’s a team-building exercise, it’s good for teamwork and cooperation.”
“The president loves stuff like this,” H said.
“Does he?” Kim asked.
“Does the president do things like this?” Xiumin asked.
“I pictured him like an old man in a suit who just tells everyone else what to do,” Sehun said.
“Oh, he loves telling people what to do,” SJ said.
“It’s his specialty,” JD agreed, laughing.
“Maybe he’s a supersoldier,” Chanyeol told Baekhyun.
“I’ll do it,” Kim decided. “But I’m going last.”
“Our team can be first,” JD agreed. “I’ll start.”
“Fighting!” L urged.
“You hold the timer, I don’t trust them,” Kim said, taking it from Namu’s hand and giving it to Suho.
JD began the course, and Baekhyun realized that he’d only been doing it for fun during the demonstration. All of a sudden, he was doing it for real, and it was a completely different experience. He was fast, and nimble, and sinuous. He didn’t make one wrong move, not one misstep, not one. He sped through the course like lightning.
Baekhyun didn’t have time to ask Chen, “What the hell?” because as soon as JD was finished, L was in it. L was bigger than JD, but he looked really strong. He powered through the army crawl fast. He wasn’t as weirdly graceful as JD, but he was light on his feet when he needed to be.
So this was how professionals did it. Shit. Baekhyun was getting kind of turned on.
The whole time L did the course, H was stretching, shaking out his muscles, warming up for it. Shit, this was serious business. As soon as L was through, JD shouted, “Go!” and H dove under the bells. Shocked, Baekhyun grabbed hold of Chen. H took the course like an expert, like he’d been practicing and learning the course for months and had every nuance of it down pat. He was quick, and he was competitive, aggressive. As soon as he got to the end, he said, “Come here,” but JD was already in motion, and he had JD in his arms.
Namu’s team was way more aggressive in hurling balls at H’s team than they had at EXO, which Baekhyun was kind of grateful for, because it was like a red blizzard all of a sudden, balls flying thick and fast. H carried JD alone, L right behind him and calling out warnings. Baekhyun hadn’t realized that they could finish the course that way; the EXO members had all teamed up to carry in pairs. “Ah! Watch out!” Chen exclaimed when a ball almost slammed right into L’s side. L ducked and rolled and went right across the finish line.
“Time! Time!” H called, dropping JD.
“Whoo!” JD hopped up, laughing. “Let’s do it again!”
“God, my heart’s racing,” L said, rubbing his chest.
“I think that we looked that good when we did it,” Chanyeol told Chen.
“Yeah, their time could never beat ours,” Chen agreed.
God, that had been sexy. So, so sexy. Baekhyun wished that he’d pushed harder for that “blowjobs for the winners” idea.
After seeing H’s team, Baekhyun didn’t have any hope for the other team. Namu was a corporate suit, not a supersoldier, and SJ was too skinny, and Kim was a useless hoobae. No way could they really compete.
SJ went first. He was skinny, but he was really lithe, really graceful, and he seemed determined not to let the others show him up. He went through the course with way more intensity and aggression than Baekhyun had expected.
While SJ went, Namu prepared. He took off his jacket, and then he took off his shirt. Ooohh, there were muscles under that suit. Namu was kind of ripped, god damn. He studied the course with fire in his eyes. It was like the nice guy was gone and the beast was coming out and oh, god, who were these people?
Namu stormed the course with just as much ferocity as the rest of Arctic Fox. They were strong, agile, in perfect control of their bodies, completely aware of their surroundings, and they made the course look easy, like a child’s toy.
“Almost your turn,” H said to Kim.
“Don’t fuck this up for us,” SJ said.
His hands hovering on either side of his head, Kim stared at the course in desperation. “Fuck, fuck, I hate all of you,” he said. He looked so nervous, Baekhyun was sure that he’d just land right on top of the bells instead of slithering under them. He wiped his hands on his jeans. He stared at the course like he was trying to memorize it, and he was so anxious, Baekhyun empathized with him. It had to be hard to follow up his sunbaes’ performances.
And then he breathed in, and his shoulders went back, and his chin went up, and there was a completely different look in his eyes. Shocked, Baekhyun shivered.
“Done, go!” Namu shouted, hitting his mark.
Kim went for it.
“Fighting!” “Yes, yes!” “Do it, do it!” “You’ve got it!” Namu and SJ cheered him on the whole way, but Baekhyun didn’t think that he needed it. Baekhyun didn’t think that he needed anyone else to be in the room. This was a fight between Kim and the course, and the course had lost as soon as Kim had looked at it. He wasn’t as strong as L or as sinuous as JD, but he wanted it more than anyone. He was full of determination and fight, but he didn’t have SJ’s aggression or Namu’s fire; he had pure confidence and sheer force of will. He’d decided to win this thing, and nothing would stand in his way.
As soon as he got to the others, SJ jumped on Namu’s back. They sped through a barrage of balls. Crossing the finish line, Namu kept going, crashing into the wall. As SJ slid off of his back, he burst into breathless laughter. “Did we finish?”
“Did we win?” SJ asked, brushing his bangs out of his eyes.
“Oh, I died,” Kim said, collapsing onto the floor in slow motion.
“Don’t tell me that we lost to them,” L said.
“I can’t live that down,” H said.
“Namu team wins,” Suho reported.
SJ applauded. “We did it,” Namu said, rubbing Kim’s shoulders.
“I want a rematch, the timer’s biased, Suho’s been on Namu’s side from the start,” H said.
“What do we win, dinner?” SJ asked.
“Blowjobs?” Namu asked, laughing.
“A raise, I want a raise,” SJ said.
“Our team captain will buy your team dinner,” L said.
“Team captain?” H repeated. “Wait, wait, no.”
“You made this course and you lost,” L said.
“Oh, that’s embarrassing,” Chen said.
“Embarrassing?” H repeated. “Which team had the worst time, again? Whose team was that? Let’s double-check.”
“I’m not a supersoldier!” Chen protested, laughing.
“Let’s all go, I’ll pay for everyone,” H said.
“You will?” JD asked.
“On the company card,” he said, grinning.
“I don’t think that the president will like that,” JD said, laughing.
“He’ll get over it,” H said.
As everyone talked and joked and compared times and headed for the door, Baekhyun looked the course over again. It had been fun. It had been kind of exhilarating, going through it. A personal test. The real thing had to be a hundred times more intense, at least. He could see why H liked it.
“You were great,” H told him.
“Not like you.” H’s hat was back on already. “This was really great. Thanks for setting it up.” It had been terrific to play with the members, to forget their stress and cheer each other on. They’d needed this. And watching H play supersoldier had given him a hard-on.
“Sorry there’s no barbed wire,” H said. “Maybe next time.”
“Next time would be great.” He couldn’t wait to do this again. “So those courses that your friend runs, that you go to sometimes. Even if I can’t do it myself, can I watch?”
“They discourage that, but you might be able to check it out if I pull strings. Why, you want to take a look?”
“I want to watch you crawl through mud with a knife clenched between your teeth.”
H nodded, rubbing his jaw. “That is one of my best looks.” Then he smiled, nudging Baekhyun toward the door. “Come on, you can eat as much as you want, I’m buying.”
“Sounds like the president’s buying,” he said.
“But I’m the one using his card.”
“Oh, well, then, that’s definitely very generous of you.”
“I think so,” he agreed, and they smiled at each other.
When JD helped Kim to get up, he winced.
As soon as he saw that, Xiumin was across the room and at his side. “You shouldn’t have done this. How’s your knee?” Xiumin took his hand. He wasn’t bleeding, at least.
“It’s okay. It just stings a little, you don’t have to worry.”
Not convinced, he wanted to see it for himself. He squatted down and rolled up the leg of Kim’s jeans. Bleeding again, fuck. That goddamned army crawl. “There’s a first aid kit downstairs, we’ll use it before we go.”
Kim sputtered and tried to disagree, but he disregarded it. Downstairs, he told the others to go ahead, that he and Kim would be there in a minute, and then he took Kim into an office.
While he was applying more ointment, Kim said, “You did well. You’re stronger than you look.”
“You’re tougher than you look, too.” There was a lot more to Kim than he’d realized.
“The lunches are very nice. Very tasty. Thank you, it’s nice of you to do that for me.”
“Maybe I’ll make some more.” Finished taping a fresh bandage, he got up. Then he sat on Kim’s other knee. “Come back to the dorm after dinner.” He toyed with Kim’s bangs. This haircut was really growing on him. It was distinctive. “I want to…” He wanted a lot of things. “I want to make you feel good.”
Kim nodded slightly, then tucked his lips in, looking down. His expression was thoughtful and regretful, and that made Xiumin’s gut twist unpleasantly. Meeting Xiumin’s eyes again, he said, “It isn’t personal. It isn’t a personal thing at all. But there are rules.”
“Then they’re rules that you’ve already broken.”
“I did,” he admitted. “I broke them, and that’s my fault. I take responsibility for that. I got carried away, and I made a mistake. It’s not personal,” he repeated earnestly, like that was supposed to mean something.
“It feels personal,” Xiumin said, getting up. “If you’re taking responsibility, I hope that you take responsibility for that, too. I hope that you take responsibility for shoving me aside and making me feel like shit.”
Kim looked pained. He reached out, his eyes beseeching. “Xiumin-ah-”
Outraged, he slapped Kim across the face. “Don’t you ever speak so informally to me again. Don’t you ever take me so lightly.”
He swallowed, lowering his head. “Yes,” he said, balling his fists in his lap. His voice was quiet. “I understand. I’ve been wrong, I won’t take you lightly.”
“Fuck you,” Xiumin said, as rudely and as scornfully as he could, and he left.
Kim didn’t show up to dinner.
Suho was glad that they’d done the obstacle course. It had given his members a happy night, a fun event. They had good memories of it, and they teased each other about it, and they joked around, challenging each other to future match-offs, getting creative in describing how they might build their next course.
They’d all seen a new side of Arctic Fox, too. Just remembering seeing Namu’s shirt come off made Suho’s stomach turn somersaults. Remembering the way Namu had fucked him that night made him ache. He’d needed it, he’d needed the pleasure, the release, and Namu had given him everything.
The next morning, he’d moaned, feeling Namu’s fingers slip inside him again. “Do you provide all of your clients with this kind of service?” he’d asked, breathless, pleasure spinning through him. “Or is this preferential treatment?”
“Mmm.” Slow, sexy kisses, and then Namu had grinned at him. “We bill for it under ‘additional services.’” Fullness, penetration, Namu’s erection nudging into him, and he’d groaned, trying to pull Namu closer. “So let’s make sure that you enjoy this,” Namu said, thrusting deeper, setting off riotous, ecstatic sparks. “Want to make sure that you get everything your company’s paying for.”
Chanyeol printed out his photo of Info’s knee. Then he printed out his photo of Info’s toes, and hung them on the wall, side-by-side. Then he hung up his new photo of Info’s ankle. Standing back, he put his hands on his hips and studied his photos.
He was very happy with his photo collection, and he couldn’t wait to watch it grow.
Unfortunately, Lay thought that having photos of random disembodied body parts on the wall made him seem like a serial killer, so he had to take them down. He put them in a photo album instead. He kept the album on his desk so he could look at Info whenever he wanted. He wasn’t sure that he could jack off to the photos, but he gave it a shot, and it turned out to be alarmingly easy. He started imagining coming on Info’s knee, or shooting his load all over Info’s toes, coming on Info’s toes and then sucking it off, his tongue slipping in between Info’s sexy, bare toes, and he came so hard he cried out like a wild animal and Sehun came in to check on him.
H spoiled Baekhyun, treating him like a little kid. All of a sudden Baekhyun wasn’t mature enough to sleep without supervision. H had been sharing sleep shifts with Kim, so Baekhyun always had someone on guard, but Kim wasn’t sleeping over anymore. Kim was barely around anymore, period. Probably out chasing down suspects or something. And falling on his face.
Since JD was constantly around Chen, anyway, he was in the dorm a lot. So Baekhyun slept in Chen’s room. Suho slept in Baekhyun’s bed.
Xiumin didn’t care. No one seemed worried about his sleep patterns; no one asked if he wanted security around or not. But he was fine, anyway. He was an adult, he didn’t need baby-sitters, and he didn’t need guard dogs, or guard foxes, sleeping on his floor.
The purple bedroll was still tucked behind the couch. He considered throwing it out, but he left it. L could use it, for all he cared.
One day he cooked a ton of delicious food. One day he decided that he was never cooking again. One day he made a bunch of stuff, then decided that it wasn’t good enough and threw it all away. His members were upset with him for wasting food, but screw it. He hadn’t made it for them, anyway.
“Okay, if they’re two to a room, then they’ll need four of us to room with them,” JD said. “No, five.”
“Three to a room, plus three of us to stay with them,” SJ said.
“They’re too famous and important to stay three to a room,” Namu said.
“JD and Chen in one room, Suho and Namu in one, H and Baekhyun, L and D.O.,” Info said. “Then, say, Sehun with JD and Chen, Xiumin with Suho and Namu, uh, Chanyeol with L and D.O., and Kai and Lay with H and Baekhyun. Good?”
“No, but that doesn’t work,” L said. “If I have to stay up on guard all night, and stay with them all day, when do I sleep?”
“So three idols and two of us to a room?” Info asked.
“They won’t like that,” Namu said.
“If it keeps us alert and them covered, it’s the best way,” JD said.
“So JD and Chen and-”
“No,” Sunggyu said, cutting Info off. “We’re going to work, not to play grab-ass. Assign rooms based on safety, not based on where JD wants to put his cock or what turns Suho on. Hotel security has more leaks than a sieve, we can’t afford to be distracted or make mistakes. If you like these idols enough to put your cock in them, then like them enough to keep them safe, too.”
“Understood,” Info said.
“We’re traveling in three shifts,” Suho explained. “Your plane assignments will be your room assignments, too. We need to sleep three to a room, so that the Arctic Fox team can make sure that our rooms are secure. If we’re too spread out, they can’t keep an eye on us.”
“Do we get to choose our own roommates?” Lay asked.
“No,” Suho said. “The Arctic Fox team and management have already decided on that.” He checked his phone. “You’re going with Xiumin hyung, Baekhyun, JD, and Namu. I’m going with Chen, D.O., H, and Kim. Chanyeol, Kai, and Sehun are going with L and SJ.”
“What?” D.O. asked.
“That’s not right,” Baekhyun said. “Did you read that wrong?”
“I’m going with L,” D.O. said.
“It’ll be okay,” Suho said. “They’re all well-trained, they’re all professional, we’ll be safe no matter what.”
“We’re with H and Kim,” Chen told D.O. “We’ll be super safe, I wouldn’t worry about a thing.”
“I’m with the clown and the suit!” Baekhyun exclaimed. “What the hell, why can’t I go with H?” Was this on purpose? Were they splitting them up on purpose? Was H trying to shake him loose? Was the Fox worried that they were getting too attached?
“It sounds randomly assigned,” Kai said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of meaning behind it.”
“Random, except that no one’s together,” Baekhyun said. “If it were random, somebody would still be together.” No, this was deliberate. Someone was making sure that they were all separated. “The Fox is behind this.” As soon as the words were out, he heard how dramatic they sounded. “Okay, maybe not.” But he hated it, anyway. Maybe he couldn’t switch the plane assignments, but he was definitely getting into H’s room, one way or another.
D.O. packed methodically. Toothpaste. Razor.
“Hey.” L was in the doorway.
“Hi,” he said without looking up. He tucked clean socks next to his bathroom kit.
“I have to go now. I have to take your members to the airport.”
“Bye.” Clean underwear.
“I’d stay and go with you if I could.”
“You know I mean it.”
“Bye,” he said again, walking over to his closet.
L sighed. “Here, maybe you can read this on the plane.” L put something in his bag and walked away.
He stood in front of his closet, looking down at nothing. He heard people say good-bye. He heard promises to meet up at the hotel. He heard them leave.
He walked over to his bed. There was a package sticking out of his bag. Gift-wrapped.
He unwrapped it.
It was a book.
He studied the cover for a minute. Then he sat down and opened it to the first page.
Baekhyun was used to having H around. He was also used to having L around. Not as often as H, but almost constantly. Being stuck with only JD and Namu was weird. He felt like he was with the second string; he wanted the real thing. Probably, based on what he’d seen at the obstacle course, JD and Namu could handle whatever came up just fine, but, still. He was used to guys dressed all in black. The suit and the clown just weren’t the same.
They were nice, though. They were both really friendly. Namu was kind of flirty, and JD was kind of deep and goofy at the same time, a little offbeat, going at his own pace. If Baekhyun had been looking for friends, they would’ve been great. But he was looking for supersoldiers, and he just wasn’t sure about them.
When they all got to Japan, Baekhyun acted like everything was cool, everything was normal. Press conference, practice, dinner, all good. Then, as soon as he got back to the hotel, he texted Chen. “Let’s switch. Meet me in the hallway.”
“Yes,” Chen texted back immediately.
Baekhyun hopped up and headed for the door.
“Wait, where are you going?” JD asked.
“Just next door,” he said.
“I’ll go with you,” JD said.
“Namu can come with me,” he said.
In the hallway, he shook hands with Chen, then went into Chen’s room while Chen went into his. “Hi,” he said, walking in. “Which bed’s mine?”
“None of these,” Suho said. “Baekhyun-ah, don’t be like this.”
“No, it’s okay, Chen’s taking my spot.” He crawled onto the bed that D.O. was sitting on and sprawled out.