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Hoya was faintly surprised to see Suho pop up on his caller ID. Wondering, he answered. “Hello?”
“Howonie, it’s EXO’s Suho.”
“I have some regrets,” Suho said. “The way some fans have acted, it’s not right. I want everyone to understand that EXO and Infinite members are close. I wish that EXO-L could appreciate that we respect and admire our hard-working sunbaes. I thought that if they could see that you and I are friends, it would be good.”
Ah. “This is about my antis.” The ones he’d gotten because EXO-Ls had dragged Infinite into EXO’s blind item debacle, when it had never had anything to do with him in the first place.
“Don’t worry about it.” He was in the practice room, with only his members around, so he didn’t have to watch what he said. “It’s fine, I like the photos that your fans have made of me. It’s good to have my funeral arrangements made ahead of time, it saves stress later.”
The horrified, regretful sound that Suho made almost made him feel bad for saying that. Almost. “No, my friend, I’m so sorry. Things should never be that way, I don’t ever want my fans to treat anyone like that. What can I do?”
“Probably if you ignore it, it’ll just go away. It’s been days since anyone’s spat on me, so I wouldn’t worry.”
“We’ll go out together,” Suho said. “You and me. You and me and Lay, the three of us, you and EXO’s ’91 line. We’ll go where fans will see us. We’ll go every day until everyone understands how close we are and how much EXO loves our Infinite sunbaes.”
“Eh…” He rubbed the back of his neck, not sure that he wanted to spend some kind of date night.
“Please, let me make this up to you. It’s important to me, I’m so upset.” When he didn’t answer, Suho said, “I want our EXO-L to see what a good friend you are, so that they can value Infinite’s smart, talented, hardworking, handsome, funny Hoya the way that we do.”
Well… “You said handsome?” He licked his lips. “I could meet.”
Suho was determined to make this work. They decided on a very public date, starting with an outdoor café. He’d walk Hoya around Lotte World for a week if he had to, until it sank in that there was no feud and no animosity and nothing but friendship between their teams. Between everyone on their teams.
The three of them met at the café. He hugged Hoya when he said hello, and it was very quick, but he really liked the way that Hoya’s body felt. Maybe he shouldn’t have listened so much when Sehun had tried to make the other members jealous by talking about how great it was to make out with Hoya and other things like that.
Conversation was awkward, at first. Hoya didn’t seem to know what to say, and he could only come up with boring, nonsensical topics. There had to be something to talk about! In desperation, he nudged Lay to bond with Hoya over dancing.
To his surprise, that actually worked. Slowly, Hoya loosened up. The two of them talked about choreographers they dreamt of working with, and their favorite dance channels on YouTube, and the foreign dancers they followed on SNS. It went so well, they started talking about leaving the café to go to a dance studio and show each other moves.
Once they were locked up inside a studio, no one would be able to see them anymore, or appreciate how well they got along. Suho suggested that they go to a park instead. “You only need open space to move, right? You don’t need mirrors.”
They were both confident enough in their ability not to be self-conscious about it, and they agreed with him. He was sure that they knew his ulterior motive, but they played along. So the three of them walked over to the park. It was getting dark, but they found an empty band shell. Fans were trailing them, EXO-Ls and Inspirits both, and he was sure that the fan cafes would be flooded with photos after this.
Hoya and Lay demonstrated moves to each other, showing off. They both danced extremely well, and Suho loved watching them, but after a moment, it occurred to him that this might not be helpful. Now their fans would just be competitive, arguing over who’d performed better, who was more talented, and other things like that. His little coffee date might have only deepened the divide!
Thinking quickly, he decided that he had to do something to make it clear that they were friends, that they were cooperative and not competitive. He had to humble himself as EXO’s leader.
He asked Hoya to teach him Infinite’s new choreography.
Lay, either because he grasped Suho’s plan or because he loved learning new moves, eagerly said that he wanted to learn, too.
What followed was a lot of fun. Very embarrassing, but fun. Suho had been picking up choreography for years, but he usually did it in the practice room, not out in public for the world to see. Being watched so closely flustered him, and when he was self-conscious he had trouble focusing, which only made him do badly, which embarrassed him, which made him do worse. So he was pretty terrible. But Lay was great, of course, and redeemed EXO’s image for him.
Hoya seemed to think that watching him flail around incompetently was funny, and got patient with him, slowing down for him, repeating simple steps until he had the right combinations. There were times when Hoya adjusted his posture hands-on, guiding his arms and even nudging his hips, but it was so nonsexual and well-intentioned and matter-of-fact on Hoya’s part that he didn’t think anything of it.
They were playing the song on Lay’s phone and dancing around when he heard familiar voices. To his delight and embarrassment, their dongsaengs had come to see them. As Chanyeol, Sungjong, and Ricky climbed up onto the band shell, he laughed, thrilled by the unexpected visit and mortified to realize that this meant that their fans were spreading his date a lot more actively than he’d thought. “Getting real-time updates?” he guessed.
“What is this, we’re having dance practice?” Chanyeol asked.
“Yeah, and you’re all late,” Hoya said. “Lazy kids.”
“Hyung, why aren’t you teaching them ‘Before the Dawn?’” Ricky asked. “If it’s Infinite, isn’t it the scorpion dance?”
“If we can pick and choose, can’t we learn your debut song?” Suho asked. “I want to do the footwork, the dance.” He tried to imitate the trademark ankle-turning kick shuffle thing from the chorus, beckoning them onward with one hand.
Staring at him, Hoya burst into laughter. Groaning, Sungjong turned aside. “God, no, no, that’s not it,” Lay said, pushing his arm down.
“No, it’s like this,” he insisted, doing it again. “I’ve got it, right?”
“Right,” Hoya agreed, still laughing. “Right, that’s it completely, you’re doing great.”
Hoya taught them all the right way to do the choreography, and then they all did the scorpion dance, just for fun. It was getting dark, but Suho was having a terrific time. He loved being out in the open air, enjoying his members, getting to know other idols, making friends. They spent countless, interminable hours dancing because they had to, learning routines and practicing, but doing it with friends, playing around with it, turned work back into fun. It reminded him why he loved this job so much, and what was good and rewarding about it.
“As long as Teen Top’s here,” Hoya said, putting a hand on Ricky’s shoulder. “It’s time to do ‘Rocking.’”
“Let’s do ‘To You,’ I love ‘To You,’” Lay said.
“Hyung,” Chanyeol objected, laughing. “You only like this part.” Pulling up his shirt, he undulated, grinding against the air.
“That’s the best part!” Lay exclaimed cheerfully.
Suho cringed, turning to Ricky. “Weren’t you too young for that?”
“Yes,” Ricky said, nodding. “But Angel loved it.”
“Can we do something without all of the jumping?” Sungjong asked.
“Oh, ‘Supa Luv,’” Ricky said. “Sure.”
“There’s jumping in that,” Sungjong said.
“Uh, right. There’s ‘To You,’ then, like Lay hyung said.”
“There’s jumping in that!”
“Hmm.” Ricky pretended to think hard, tapping his chin. “There’s, no, we jump there, too. What about, hmm. Wait, I’ll think of one,” he assured them.
“We could do ‘Snow Kiss,’” Suho suggested.
“Who’s ever heard of ‘Snow Kiss?’” Ricky asked, giving him a curious look.
“Oh, the Christmas one?” Lay asked. “That’s cute, let’s do that one.”
“Okay,” Ricky said. He glanced around, from one face to another. “How does it go?”
Everyone laughed, and then they looked it up on-line. Gathering around Lay’s phone, they watched a couple of performances. Because it was a Teen Top song, it had more footwork than some groups did on their biggest singles, but it was repetitive enough to pick up, and Suho loved the blowing kisses part. He was great at that! He sent some kisses to the other guys, and to the fans, and to the sky, and everywhere.
They were playing the song and dancing along when his phone rang. “Guardian leader’s dance studio,” he said, answering.
“Hyung.” It was D.O. “You’re embarrassing. Stop.”
“What do you know about it?” he asked. “Our hardworking sunbaes are teaching me a lot, and I’m learning well.”
“No more dancing,” D.O. said. “Stick to singing. No. Stick to leading. Just lead.”
“Stick to leading?” he demanded. “I’m the third-best vocal in EXO-K!”
“Yes,” D.O. said. “Yes, you’re a better singer than Sehun, hyung. Congratulations. Be proud.”
He started singing along with “Snow Kiss.”
D.O. hung up on him.
Ah, what did that kid know? “Chu, chu, chu,” he sang, joining the others in dancing again.
Finally, it was so late that they were keeping their fans up unnecessarily. They climbed off of the band shell and found their managers and vans. He made sure to hug Ricky and Sungjong and Hoya good-bye, so that no one would seem slighted. Then, right where he was sure that fans would overhear, he told Hoya, “Call me so we can play again. I want a zombie-killing rematch. I’m sure that I can win again.”
“That was luck,” Hoya said, grinning. “I let you win. I was being nice.”
“Rematch,” he insisted, and he hugged Hoya again, for everyone to see.
Hoya loved dancing. There was no better way to spend time. He got back from his coffee date feeling great. He did “Snow Kiss” footwork on his way to the bathroom.
He was crawling into bed when Sunggyu walked in. “Had fun?”
“Sure.” He sat down, rubbing his mouth. He wondered if Sunggyu had something for him.
“There are photos all over now of Young Money hugging you.”
And? That had been the point, hadn’t it?
“It’s not a bad thing,” Sunggyu decided, sitting beside him. “It might work. Fans take their cues from their idols, and if Young Money embraces you, then maybe they’ll soften toward you, too. Like you were blessed by the Pope.”
“Are all leaders Popes?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “You think of yourself as the Pope, don’t you?”
“I what?” Sunggyu asked, eyes widening. “Don’t say weird things.”
He shrugged. “You started it.”
Sunggyu tucked his hands under his thighs. “It’s been hard on you. There are a lot of EXO-Ls, and they have a lot of energy. I’m sorry that you were involved in someone else’s problems. I wish that I could have shielded you from it.” He nodded decisively. “It’s good that Young Money’s taking responsibility and trying to fix it. That’s the right thing to do.”
He shrugged. “We’ll see if it works.”
“If it doesn’t? More dates,” Sunggyu decided.
“Then they’ll think that we’re really dating.”
“They think that he’s dating L,” Sunggyu said. “Anyone who’s dating L wouldn’t bother with you. It must be friendship.”
He couldn’t argue with that. “Can you get out so I can sleep?”
Sunggyu undid his fly.
Hoya tried not to be obvious, but his mouth was already watering, and desire was pulsing between his legs, and he felt anticipation flutter in his stomach.
There it was, that delicious, soft cock, naked in Sunggyu’s hand. “Not yet. I have something for you, first.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said, already on his knees by the side of the bed.
Suho already had a lot to keep up with, so he appointed Chanyeol to be his SNS captain. If there were any problems that he needed to know about, like dangerous rumors or growing animosity or nasty conflicts, Chanyeol would tell him.
By the end of the week, Chanyeol reported in. The coffee date, or the impromptu dance class, had worked. Kind of. Mostly? Everyone loved the content, and their fan sites had been deluged with photos. But of course the EXO-Ls had cropped out Infinite, and the Inspirits had cropped out EXO, and people were saying that Suho did the scorpion better than Hoya did.
Okay, so another date was in order. Suho rubbed his hands through his hair, thinking. “You know how all of you have been foolish and broken the rules and taken selcas with the Infinite members?”
“Yeah. No,” Chanyeol corrected himself.
“Well, if anyone has selcas with Hoya, let me see them.”
Later that afternoon, Chanyeol brought him a phone. He flipped through photos of Hoya with his members. There was one of Hoya with Chen and Chanyeol, backstage. They were all made up and styled, in their stage outfits. They looked handsome, and Chen looked adorably happy, and there was nothing embarrassing in the background. “Post this,” Suho said. “Tag it with only positive, ordinary things, like ‘backstage’ and the name of the show. Put ‘Hoya’ and ‘Lee Howon sunbaenim’ and ‘Infinite,’ and ‘Chen’ and ‘EXO.’”
“Okay,” Chanyeol said, nodding.
He tried to think like Changjo; he wondered if he was missing something. He wasn’t thrilled that part of being a good leader meant strategizing things like this, but it was probably a good skill set to have. “Before and after it, post other backstage selcas with just EXO members. So it looks like you’re only posting a few ordinary things.” He didn’t want his “We love Hoya!” campaign to be so obvious that it backfired.
Chanyeol nodded. “Got it.”
Drowsing in bed one evening, Sunggyu wondered.
EXO-L hated Hoya, and Suho was doing the responsible thing and fixing it. Good. That was only right. He was glad that Suho was the kind of man who took action and accepted responsibility.
Inspirit hated Sehun. Should Sunggyu - - but, no. It was EXO’s fault in the first place, not Infinite’s. It was EXO’s blind item, and EXO had let everyone be dragged into some stupid fan war over it. It was all still EXO’s responsibility, not Infinite’s. Why should Infinite’s leader clean up EXO’s messes?
But Inspirits were the ones causing problems.
Only because EXO-L had started it!
Sehun didn’t deserve harassment.
Sehun could handle it. He had buckets full of SM money and wagonloads full of fans. He had looks and success and youth and his own puppy. He’d be fine.
Annoyed, Sunggyu sat up, rubbing at his face.
What was he supposed to do, take Sehun out on a date? He didn’t have anything to talk to some spoiled maknae about. He frowned, thinking about it. Maybe Woohyun could take Sehun out, they got along well enough.
Moving before he could talk himself out of it, he texted Suho. When is that maknae of yours available?
Our Sehun? Suho asked. Maybe Tuesday night.
Tuesday? He frowned. Tuesday’s no good. When else? Woohyun was filming a variety on Tuesday night.
I don’t know, hyung. We’ll be in China for a few days.
It could wait. He didn’t feel like waiting. He’d come up with a good solution, right? He wanted to do it now. Why are you always in China?
I don’t know, hyung. It’s a big mystery.
So funny, this kid. You should be on “Gag Concert.” Tell Sehun that I need him on Tuesday. One of my members will meet him somewhere, we’ll send details later.
Now, which member?
L laughed. Sunggyu had to be joking. “What, Oh Sehun?”
“Yes, that one,” Sunggyu said.
Finished drying off, L put on his underwear. “Why would I want to spend my night off with him?”
“It’s good for our teams. It’s good for our fans. Inspirits are bothering him about not being close with us.”
L snorted, leaving the bathroom and heading for his room. “Why do I care about who’s bothering Sehun?”
“You care about Inspirit,” Sunggyu said, following him. “You care about Young Money.”
Eh. He ruffled his damp hair; he couldn’t object to any of that. “But I don’t care about him. And I don’t want to see him.”
“Maybe it’ll be okay,” Sunggyu said. “Maybe he’s nice or interesting or something, isn’t it possible?”
“Aish.” Now that Sunggyu had brought up Suho, he felt pressured into it. “I really don’t want to.”
“Take him shopping, buy him something nice, make sure that fans see you together, and come back,” Sunggyu suggested. “Or go home with him and spend some time at EXO’s dorm. You can see that Young Money while the fans think that you’re visiting Sehun. Who’s going to know?”
Ah. He ran his tongue over his lower lip, thinking about it. That was tempting. “I could skip Sehun and just see Suho hyung.”
Sunggyu held his gaze. “You don’t have to do any of it. I can cancel, if you want. I want to solve this problem, but I can find another way. We’ve asked a lot of you, and I don’t have to ask you for this, too, if it’s not what you want.”
He nodded. Feeling emotional about it, now, he stared at the floor, thinking it over. He didn’t want to see Sehun. He’d rather see Suho. Or stay in and text selcas to Changjo. Or stay in bed and take a nap. But it would only be for a couple of hours. And it would help Inspirit. It would help Suho. “Do I have to be alone with him? Can’t someone meet us?”
“You can’t go with Young Money, it’ll seem like the two of you are on a date and Sehun’s only tagging along. It has to look like you’re there for Sehun. Maybe one of the other EXO members can go. Ask about Chen, I like Chen.”
Yeah, Chen wasn’t bad. He wished that he could bring Dongwoo or Sungjong or Sungyeol or anyone, any of his own members, but everyone else had a schedule or was seeing family or something. “Okay. I’ll ask about Chen.” And he was definitely going to find out if he could stop by the dorm after and see Suho. He wanted to get something out of this.
Chen flipped the menu over, reading the specials on the back again, and tried to ignore the phalanx of girls with cameras a few feet away.
Across the table, Sehun shifted in his seat. “He’s not coming.”
“He’ll be here,” Chen said. “He’s just running late.” So much money for affogato? He had to stop coming to places that Suho recommended.
Sehun picked up his menu, set it aside, and cupped his chin in his hand. “Do you think that he’s doing this on purpose?”
No, he didn’t think that L was some mastermind, toying with them. He thought that L was a busy idol who happened to be running late, like EXO was all of the time. “I think that you shouldn’t say too many things while everyone’s watching and listening,” he told his menu.
Sehun sighed and dragged his hand through his hair.
Chen ignored him. He was only in a sulky mood because he couldn’t see L.Joe tonight. He seemed to think that every single night he had off, he should get to visit Teen Top’s dorm. His frustration only reminded Chen that wishing too much for a boyfriend might be a bad idea. Or if Chen ever found a boyfriend, it should be an average citizen, not an idol; it should be someone he could rely on, not someone who’d always have a fan sign in Japan to get to.
Glancing at his phone, Chen saw a new text message from Hoya. Is he there yet?
No, not yet. How’s Feeldog sunbae?
We ran so late, now he can’t meet.
What are you going to do instead?
Go back to the dorm and wash this crap off of my face and eat. Eat a lot.
Chen smiled and texted, Come and meet us. Can’t you come with L sunbae?
What, come now?
Yes! It’ll be fun, we can all eat together. It would be more fun if Hoya came, too. And it would be more fun for Hoya than staying alone at the dorm, right?
You’re doing this to get me to pay, aren’t you?
Laughing to himself, he texted, No, hyung. It’s not like that! Then he sent another message: Although aren’t you sunbae? Aren’t you hyung? Isn’t it only right?
I’ll come. We’ll make L pay. Are you at the place with the silver awnings?
He felt triumphant. Yes! We’re waiting. I’ll look forward to seeing you. Setting his phone aside, he found Sehun watching him. “Hoya hyung’s coming, too.”
All of a sudden, Sehun was smiling, sitting forward, looking intrigued. “Really? That hyung?”
Sehun’s abrupt shift into sexual confidence made him laugh. Wasn’t it too much? It was funny how people thought that Sehun and Hoya were feuding; their bodies got along too well! “Yes, that hyung.” If Sehun kept smiling like that when Hoya showed up, the rumors would stop in an instant.
A few minutes later, Hoya walked into the café. Chen and Sehun got up, and when he came over, Chen hugged him. “Hi!”
“Don’t laugh,” he warned. “Don’t.” He was in his own clothes, but he still had make-up on, and his hair was perfectly styled. He looked so handsome with his thick eyeliner and his hair up, Chen was really glad to see him like this.
“What, you’re an idol, you look great,” Sehun said. He smiled, plucking at Hoya’s sleeve. “Come and sit beside me.”
Hoya laughed, glancing at Chen like he wanted a second opinion on this. Sehun pulled a chair out for him, and he sat down. “Not ordering?” he asked.
“We’re waiting for L sunbae,” Chen explained.
“Ah, don’t worry about him,” Hoya said. “We’re close, right?” he asked Sehun.
“Yes,” Sehun said.
He nodding, digging in his pocket. He pulled out his wallet, flipped it open, and handed Sehun a card. “Go get us something to eat. Whatever looks good. Oh, and get a spiced latte for L, he’s obsessed with them lately.”
As Sehun walked away, Chen smiled. “I thought that we weren’t going to worry about L sunbae.”
Hoya grimaced, putting away his wallet. “I have bad habits. I’ll get over it.”
Sehun had just come back to the table when Chen noticed a buzz among the clustered fans. Hoya looked toward the other side of the café, casually shielding his vision with one hand. “Don’t look,” he said. “Pretend you don’t notice.”
“Is it L sunbae?” Chen asked, scanning the entrance.
“Don’t,” Hoya whispered. “It’s bad for his ego.”
Chen laughed, watching openly. L walked in, and the lights flickered, and as he stopped and looked around, the whole café seemed brighter. Was that a coincidence? It was too much! Like Hoya, he still had his make-up on, and his hair was styled. His black sweater hung comfortably on his broad shoulders, and he walked toward them with a relaxed stride. When he saw Hoya, he laughed, breaking the rhythm of his stride, and he looked way more like a fun sunbae than a chic model. Chen laughed, too, getting up to greet him. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He spared a brief smile for Chen, and then he sat down across from Hoya. Leaning in, his chin on one hand, he gazed at Hoya patiently, expectantly, still smiling like being ignored really tickled him.
Hoya licked his lips and cleared his throat, then finally turned, dramatically noticing L seated right there in front of him and then feigning shock. “What? You’re here?”
L laughed. He was so handsome, with his dramatic make-up and gorgeous dimples. “Yes, I came.”
“Oh.” Hoya sat back, trying not to smile, the corners of his lips twitching, amusement in his eyes. “Well, as long as you’re here.” He pushed a big mug across the table.
L almost gasped out loud, then pounced on it. Picking it up in both hands, he held it in front of his face, closing his eyes and inhaling deeply. The flashes and clicks as shutters went off made Chen feel like they were on a red carpet, in front of paparazzi. He sighed happily in a sweet, almost moaning sound, and then he drank.
“You showed up like this?” Hoya asked. “You couldn’t wash first? Are you trying to show off?”
His eyes opening, L lowered the mug again. “Aren’t you wearing make-up, too?” he asked.
“What? No,” Hoya said, shaking his head. “I’m naturally this handsome. This isn’t contouring, this is genetics.”
Chen was going to have to use that line, sometime. Although he didn’t think that the stylists’ contouring had much effect, when it came to him. “You look great,” he told Hoya. “I barely get any eyeliner, these days. I’ve been getting a more natural look than some of the other members.”
“Eyeliner’s for Xiumin hyung,” Sehun said. “And Baekhyun hyung, he needs it. You don’t have to worry about it, hyung, your best feature’s your mouth, anyway.”
Embarrassed by that, he touched his lips self-consciously. “It’s not.”
“It really is,” Sehun said.
“He’s only saying that because it reminds him of…” Hoya stopped talking and started poking around among the bowls on the table.
“Of what?” Chen took a closer look at Sehun, realizing. He didn’t mean! “That other idol?”
“It’s not the same,” Sehun said. “It’s not at all the same.” He looked a little intense and a little breathless for a second, like his memory had gone to some other place. “But it’s similar,” he added, getting himself back under control.
Was it really? He touched his lips again, trying to picture L.Joe. He hadn’t noticed. Maybe more similar than him and Xiumin, for example? But a mouth was a mouth. L’s looked normal, like anybody’s. Sehun, the fans gushed over, but Chen had to look at him every day, so Chen didn’t really notice things like that anymore. Hoya had a sexy mouth, though, especially when it was relaxed. So pretty and sensual, and such a suggestive, dusky rose color. Maybe it helped that he licked his lips all of the time.
Chen wondered how much Hoya paid attention to L.Joe, to notice similarities that Sehun noticed. Well, Teen Top and Infinite had been close for a long time. And they were growing close again, lately. There was even talk of MT floating around. He wondered if Hoya and L.Joe were going to… He didn’t want to think of things like that in front of fans and cameras; he felt guilty, like it might show on his face. But L.Joe was a really good top and a really sexy, sensual kisser, and Hoya seemed to like things like that. Well, who wouldn’t? But if what Sehun said about Hoya was true-
Chen focused on the food in front of him, shoving those thoughts out of his mind. It was none of his business, anyway; he shouldn’t be so preoccupied with other people’s sex lives. Whatever happened between Infinite and Teen Top was up to them. He’d never even kissed Hoya, and whatever L.Joe or C.A.P. or anyone else did, and however Hoya liked it, was for them to worry about, not him.
Sehun asked Hoya about his schedules. Chen joined in the conversation, and they talked about work for a little bit. The discussion turned to musicals, the ones they’d been in, the ones they’d seen lately, the ones they’d heard good and bad things about. L finished his drink and started eating, joining in the conversation. It had been a while since Chen and L had talked like this, so normally, but he was glad to see L act so comfortable. He’d always gotten the impression that he was L’s favorite member of EXO, besides Suho. Maybe it was because of that first dinner they’d had, when Suho had wanted their teams to meet? Maybe it was because they were the same age, and Chanyeol and Baekhyun were too annoying?
After dinner, Chen asked where they should go next, and L suggested a nearby store. The four of them walked together ahead of the fans, out of earshot, Chen and L in the lead, Hoya and Sehun right behind. “How’s your hunt going?” L asked.
“My hunt?” He laughed. “I don’t know, what am I hunting for?”
“Your new friend.” L tossed him a warm, dimpled smile. “I heard that you were looking. Found anyone interesting, yet?”
Did Suho tell him everything? It couldn’t be, Suho was too private. But L was one of Suho’s pet dongsaengs, so maybe. Or else Chen had been so obvious that everyone knew. “I don’t know. I’d like to find someone my age, so it’s comfortable, but there isn’t anyone, really.”
L nodded. “I don’t know. I thought that someone my age would be good, too, but.” His smile was affectionate and self-deprecating, and his eyes twinkled a little, like the fact that Chen knew about his relationship with Changjo was a special secret just between them. “Things happen. Your heart goes where it wants to go.” As they crossed the street, L gave him a curious onceover. “You should think about making friends with a hyung.”
“Yeah, I might.” He was surprised that L would take an interest in his private life, but it was really nice. As they approached the store, he grinned. “If you ever want to make a friend your own age…”
L laughed and opened the door, pushing him in. “I’ll let you know.”
Sehun was glad that Hoya had come, because he was pretty sure that having an Infinite member around helped to put L at ease. L had never talked to him or smiled at him this much since they’d met. It was an eye-opening experience, actually. He could finally see for himself, firsthand, what Suho liked so much about this guy. L was funny and engaging, with an easy laugh and great smiles. Sehun hoped that L would be more comfortable around them from now on, and that maybe they could all hang out more often.
They went to a few stores, picking things up: hats, pants, rings. L only wanted to buy black clothes, and everything they tried on, Hoya asked, “But how will it look in an airport?” In the fourth store, Sehun found a light jacket that he really liked. He debated over it for a second, but Chen said that it looked great on him. When he took it up to the register, L stepped in beside him and handed the clerk a card, then smiled at him and said, “Hyung will buy.”
“Oh, you don’t have to.” Wasn’t it a little awkward? It wasn’t like buying a drink; the jacket wasn’t cheap. And he had his own money.
L’s dimples popped out, and his expression was so fond and so warm, Sehun’s heart melted. “It’s okay, I want to.”
A little flustered by how close and how handsome L was, Sehun drifted back a step. “Thanks, hyung.” Suho had told him a hundred times how sweet and warm L was, but he’d never felt it like this, glowing in his own chest.
L bought a bag and a pair of sunglasses for Chen, and everywhere they went, they got along so well that Sehun could hear Chen’s laughter all over the store. L also bought a pair of funky gold earrings for Dongwoo, and told Hoya to give them to him.
“Me?” Hoya asked, trying to press them back into L’s hand. “I don’t think that now’s a good time for that. You bought them, you give them to him.” Sehun wondered why it wasn’t a good time. Was something wrong between Hoya and Dongwoo?
“He’ll be glad if they’re from you,” L said, refusing to take them back and pushing at Hoya’s hand.
“Isn’t it dishonest?” Hoya asked, looking down at the earrings. “I’m not this thoughtful.”
“That’s not true,” L told Chen. “Look, just give them to him. He’ll like them, why does it matter who saw them first?”
If something was wrong between Hoya and Dongwoo, Sehun liked that L was trying to patch it up. “What’d you do?” he asked Hoya, curious.
Hoya grimaced and shoved the earrings into his pocket. “I was rude. I hurt his feelings.”
“Aw, Dongwoo hyung’s sensitive,” Chen said. “You should make up with him.”
“I…” Hoya slowly turned his gaze back to Sehun. “Why did you assume that I did something wrong?”
Caught, he laughed. “I don’t know. Dongwoo hyung’s tongue isn’t as sharp as yours, I think.”
He gave the rack of shirts nearby an uncomfortable look, then glanced at Sehun again and admitted, “I could’ve been nicer. But you know what it’s like to have annoying hyungs, right?”
“No,” Chen said, laughing, pushing Sehun out of the way. “No, he doesn’t know at all. There’s no one like that in EXO.”
Hoya grinned. “Have you been hard on your maknae?”
“No, no,” Chen said innocently. “I’d never, we’re all nice in EXO.”
“Then you should work on it,” Hoya said. “I’ll give you tips,” he offered, walking Chen out of the store. “First, you always have to call him ‘maknae,’ not by his name, to keep him in his place.”
Sehun smiled to himself, shaking his head as he watched them go. They were bonding over the best ways to harass him. Great.
L smiled at him, swinging an arm around his shoulders and guiding him toward the door. “It’s nice to see them get along. Does Chen have a lot of idol friends? He’s so easy to get along with.”
It was funny, how good it felt to have L’s attention like this, to be so close, with L’s arm around him and L’s warm brown eyes looking right at him. “Oh, he has some. He has a lot of casual friends, but we’re so busy…”
“He seems like a good guy. Suho hyung only ever has good things to say about him.”
“Oh, when he’s not picking on Suho hyung on purpose, they’re really close,” Sehun said. “Chen takes care of him.” Chen said that he didn’t have a thing for hyungs, and maybe he didn’t, not like Baekhyun. But he definitely preferred them, whether he admitted it or not.
“Takes care of him,” L repeated. He flashed Sehun an intimate smile. “That’s good.”
“Yeah,” Sehun said, not even sure what he was agreeing to, just feeling agreeable, feeling good. He wondered if L might be willing to make out, later.
In their last store, Suho called. He said that he had to go out for a little, but he’d be back at the dorm later, and if L wanted to wait they could hang out, and if not they’d catch up later. L said that they’d probably wait at the dorm, then. When Chen hung up, Hoya asked, “And what am I supposed to do while you wait for Young Money?”
L smiled. “Can’t you play with Chen?”
“You can play with me, hyung,” Sehun offered. He’d been looking forward to it all night. “Don’t we always have a good time together?”
Hoya blushed, like the public double entendre embarrassed him. That only made Sehun want him more. “Ah.” He coughed, eyes darting from side to side. “Yeah, we could do that.” He coughed again, then nodded, not meeting Sehun’s eyes. “That’d be okay.”
Everything was great, and everyone got along really well, and Sehun had a way better time than he’d ever expected.
And then they got back into EXO’s dorm, and Sehun closed the door. Chen called out a greeting to the other members, and Chanyeol jogged out to say hello, and L met Sehun’s eyes. The warmth was gone, and the abrupt change was so disorienting, Sehun wondered what had happened, what had gone wrong. “Good enough?” L asked him. “I think they bought it.”
What. Whoa. L’s expression wasn’t mean at all, only flat, bland. His thoughts blurred, and his memories warped. Suddenly he saw the entire night in a completely different light. All of those smiles, all of that warmth, the friendly conversation, the easy laughter. All of it had been fake. It had been a show put on for the fans. Sehun had been eating it up, fuck, L had played him. He felt stupid, he couldn’t believe that he’d been such a fool, how had he made such an easy target of himself? He felt horrible for himself, for Chen. What kind of person was L, who acted like that? Who turned it off and on? They weren’t enemies! Why did L have to fake it so much, why couldn’t any of it have been real? He was too humiliated, too angry, to say anything.
“I, I think the fans liked seeing us together,” Chen said. His voice was a little hesitant, and he glanced at Sehun like he wanted to know if Sehun saw what he saw.
L nodded, pushing his sleeves up. “Can we use one of the bedrooms until Suho hyung gets here? In private?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Chen said.
“You, for what?” Chanyeol asked. “For that?” He laughed nervously, excitedly. “You can use my room.”
“Thanks,” L said. He gave Hoya a look, and they walked off together.
“Are they going to talk?” Chanyeol whispered, his smile wide. “Or is L about to have sex on my bed?”
“Hey, you’re back,” Xiumin said, jogging up. “Oh, what’d you get?” he asked, plucking at Sehun’s bag.
Sehun felt revolted. “Here,” he said, shoving it against Xiumin’s chest. “It’s yours.” He didn’t want it anymore.
“Maknae,” Chen said, trying to pull him back when he walked away.
“What was that?” he demanded. “Who was that? Who acts like that?” He couldn’t shake this burning sense of shame. He’d been fooled so completely, it really rattled him. How had he fallen for it? Was he really that stupid? He’d thought that he was smarter than that, more perceptive than that. How had L conned him that easily? And if L could be that convincing, that thorough, without slipping up all night, when else was L faking it? How was he supposed to leave Suho alone with someone that manipulative? “That’s borderline sociopathic, shit.”
“Sociopathic?” Xiumin repeated, his eyebrows going up. “What’d I miss?”
“L was really nice,” Chen explained. “I thought that we were really getting close. Now I don’t know, it seems like it’s all gone again.”
“He acted like a best friend and a caring hyung,” Sehun snapped. “And then as soon as the cameras were gone, he turned it off.”
“Well, he isn’t suddenly in love with you,” Xiumin said. “He only took you out to calm down Inspirit, right?”
“Why did he pay?” Sehun demanded. “Just to look good? Just to flash his cards around?”
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Xiumin asked. “To make things look good. I think you’re taking this too personally.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into it,” Chen said. He was too nice; he wanted to make Sehun and himself feel better, wanted to put the best spin on it.
Sehun wasn’t going to be made an ass of again. “The guy who treats us like he doesn’t want to know us and doesn’t give a fuck about us, that’s the real Kim Myungsoo. I don’t care who that other guy is, and I don’t ever want to see him again.”
“The whole point was to get everyone to get along, and now you want to start fights?” Xiumin asked.
“I guess it only has to seem like we’re getting along, right?” Sehun asked. “Really, we don’t ever have to like each other at all.”
When Suho got back to the dorm, he kicked his shoes off and asked, “Members?” Seeing Chen, he smiled. “You’re back! How was it, did everyone get along? I saw photos, you ate a lot.”
“Yeah, it was nice,” Chen said. “Ah, hyung.”
A little bit impatient to see L, Suho made himself wait. “Yes?”
Chen visibly hesitated, then said, “It’s nothing.”
He was about to ask if Chen was sure, when he saw L coming into the front room. “Good, you stayed. I didn’t know if I took too long. Were my members good hosts?”
“I think so,” L said, and chuckled. “I took a nap.” Patting his styled hair, he tugged at his bangs and made an unsatisfied grimace. “Can I go wash up?”
“Yes, of course, here.” Suho took him into the bathroom and found him some of the good cleanser.
Now that L was out of the room, Hoya didn’t know if he wanted to hang out in Chanyeol’s bed all night. Hauling himself up, he shook himself awake, then dragged his clothes back on. Damn, he had to admit, it was really, really good with L. He had to do it with L in other idols’ dorms more often. So intense, and so intimate, and so explosive, shit, he felt like he’d come and come and come forever.
Unsure, he eyed the bed. It was pretty much a disaster. He gingerly plucked at one corner of the sheet, then backed up and surveyed it again. Yeah, that had made no difference whatsoever. Did he have to launder Chanyeol’s sheets, or could he hope that Chanyeol would assume that some EXO members had come in here and screwed like insatiable monkeys?
Whistling, his hands in his pockets, he strolled away like nothing had happened and if it had, certainly he’d had nothing to do with it.
When he walked into the front room, only Chen was there, on the couch, flipping channels. He went over and sat beside Chen. He watched the TV screen. Chen kept flipping. “Yeah, this is my favorite show,” he said after a while. “The plot’s hard to keep up with, and I think that the cast is pretty big, but the dialogue’s always interesting.”
“What…” Chen gave him a confused look, then burst into laughter. “Okay, sorry.” Smiling, Chen handed him the remote. “I wasn’t thinking, watch whatever you want to watch.”
“This is good,” he said. It was on a dog food commercial. He got comfortable, making a big show of settling in to watch.
“It’s my favorite,” Chen agreed.
They’d actually stopped on a terrible channel, and after a few minutes, Hoya had to change it again. They settled on a movie, but he was only watching to kill time, and Chen seemed distracted. At the next commercial break, he turned the TV off. “You okay?”
Chen’s expression was uncomfortable. “Tonight was…” He took a deep breath and held Hoya’s gaze like he needed Hoya to be honest with him. “People make jokes about L cosplaying, but I didn’t know. He wasn’t being himself with us tonight, was he?”
Ah. Hoya licked his lips, wondering what to say. “He didn’t want to come out tonight. He did it because Sunggyu hyung asked him to, and to make things easier for Sehun and Suho. But he didn’t want to do it. It’s easier for him to do something he doesn’t want to do if he can be someone else when he’s doing it.”
Chen shook his head. “I don’t know if that’s scary or genius. Maybe I’m jealous, I wish that I could get through a hard time by being somebody else.”
“He’s a little…” Hoya let his voice trail off. “You can’t take it personally.”
“I think that he was too convincing,” Chen said. “I feel strange about it, I didn’t know that he was cosplaying. And the maknae’s upset about it, I think that he might complain to Suho hyung.”
Complain and cause problems? “We did this for Sehun’s sake. If he’s going to be like this, we could’ve stayed home.”
“Why couldn’t L have just been himself?” Chen asked. “Are we really so bad?”
“You’re terrific.” That had been a little too honest; he didn’t know what to look at or where to put his hands, all of a sudden. “And that Sehun kid’s not bad, either.” He cleared his throat. “L is L, he doesn’t…” How could he explain it? “He doesn’t give himself to just everybody. He’s not Dongwoo hyung, he’s not open for just anybody to walk up and get to know everything about him.”
Chen didn’t seem thrilled about that. “I’d like to get to know him, sometime.”
“Well, stick around. He likes you, so maybe he’ll open up. But complaining to Suho about him isn’t going to do it.”
Chen nodded. “I’ll talk to Sehun about it. I don’t think that it’s a good idea, either. Whatever L is like, I think that Suho hyung already knows all about it.”
Chen gave him a curious, hopeful look. “Do you think that he likes me?”
“Suho? Yeah, I-”
Laughing, Chen hit his arm. “L! I meant L.”
“Oh? Oh, right.” Pretending to take that in as new information, he shifted on the couch. “Yeah, I think he might. You’ve called him before, right? Didn’t he answer?”
“Yes, a couple of times.”
He nodded. “That’s it. If he answers, it’s a good sign. He doesn’t answer for just anybody.”
Chen smiled. “Does he answer for you?”
He hesitated just long enough to make it obvious. “Usually.”
Chuckling, Chen scooted closer, leaning in against him, head resting on his shoulder. It was really cozy. They talked some more, and they found a different movie to watch, and after a while, they fell asleep, just like that.
When L got home, Sunggyu’s door was closed, and he could hear Sungyeol begging for it from inside the room. Woohyun and Sungjong were asleep already; Dongwoo was padding around in green frog print underpants. L was in the kitchen when he heard Hoya say, “Hyung,” in the front room. Falling still, he listened, curious.
“We bought this, I mean, it’s for you.”
“Earrings?” Dongwoo sounded interested. “Oh, they’re sexy! I like these, where did you get them?”
“We were over in Gangnam, and L thought, I mean. They’re your style, right?”
“They’re great!” L moved to the doorway and looked out. Dongwoo was already trying the earrings on and walking to a mirror. “Oh! Sexy!”
Following, Hoya stood behind Dongwoo. “Uh, hyung. About earlier. What I said.” He licked his lips, looking uncertain. Dongwoo faced him, somber now, energy dropping.
L frowned, silently urging them to make up.
Finally, Hoya tried again. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t being thoughtful. I should’ve been more respectful. I’ll try harder, I don’t want it to happen again.”
Dongwoo nodded, his expression serious. “It’s okay.” He hesitated, and then he said, “Here, we’ll make up properly. If we don’t make up like we mean it, we’ll hold grudges, and I don’t want anything like that between us.”
They hugged, and Hoya said, “I don’t want that, either.”
Dongwoo sighed, keeping Hoya close, and L relaxed, feeling better.
Hoya said it like he was shy about it but wanted to make it sound ordinary. “Love you.”
“I love you, too,” Dongwoo said, and kissed him. “How was shopping? How were the kids?” Dongwoo grinned, toying with Hoya’s hair, tweaking strands here and there. “How’s Chen-Chen?”
“Everything was okay. L kind of freaks them out, I guess.”
L frowned. Dongwoo laughed and asked, “Our L? Why would anyone be nervous about him?”
Hoya ducked Dongwoo’s busy hands. “They didn’t know that he was cosplaying, and when they found out, they got upset about it. I think their feelings were hurt.”
L crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the doorjamb. He told himself that it didn’t bother him.
“How’s Chen?” Dongwoo asked again.
“Why do you care about Chen so much?” Hoya asked, laughing. “He’s okay.”
“He’s cute, right?” Dongwoo asked, squeezing Hoya’s ass.
Laughing, Hoya twisted to escape being grabbed. “I don’t know, he’s not ugly.”
“That’s all you can say about him?” Dongwoo teased. “He’s not ugly?”
“I, I don’t - - here.” Hoya kissed Dongwoo.
While Dongwoo melted against the wall, moaning and reaching under Hoya’s shirt, L suspected that Hoya had only kissed him to get him to stop talking.
Whose feelings were hurt, Chen’s? Sehun’s? Why? They’d all had a good time, he’d made them laugh, he’d bought them things, what did they have to be upset about? So they weren’t all best friends now, so what? He already had friends of his own; he’d only shown up for appearances, to satisfy leaders and fans, and they knew that. It had been like a variety appearance. Smile a lot, show everyone a good time, impress the people behind the cameras, and go home. The whole thing was supposed to benefit Sehun; shouldn’t they be grateful?
While Hoya and Dongwoo made out against the wall, he called Changjo.
“Is this my hyung?” Changjo demanded.
“Suho hyung’s kids are too spoiled,” he complained. Then he realized who he was talking to. “And so are you.”
“I’m not,” Changjo immediately disagreed. “Send me a selca.”
He held the camera up and took a photo. Then he fixed his hair and took a second one. Then he thought about Changjo and smiled, and took a third. He texted the third, then said, “I want to see you.”
“I’ll come over tonight.”
“You have practice tonight.”
“I’ll come over after practice.”
“I just took Sehun and Chen shopping with Hoya hyung.”
“Did the fans like it?”
“I haven’t gone on-line yet.”
“I’ll do it.”
“Chen’s nice.” He rubbed his toe against the floor. He blinked down at it. “Do I need more friends?”
“Do you want more friends?”
“No. I don’t know.” He thought about it. “I like you.”
“I’m amazing,” Changjo said. “Oh, hey, this is good. There are photos of you everywhere. They think it’s a couple date, but they can’t decide on who the couples are. I think they used the word ‘handsome’ five times in every single comment. So chic, so cute, your aura’s the best.”
“Why is it always about couples?” L muttered.
“Because you and Hoya hyung are close, and you and Sehun hyung are fucking handsome, and you and Chen hyung look like the cutest best friends in the world.”
He snickered. “Sehun hyung.”
“Okay, I’ll hang up first.”
“Come over and see me tonight.”
“I will, I’ll be there. Send me another selca so I’ll have strength for practice.”
He wanted to say, “I love you.” Instead, he said, “It’s already late. If you don’t have time to come over-”
“I have time,” Changjo said. “I always have time for you.”
March 3, 2016
by Matthew Haldeman-Time