kai/krystal, au, one-shot, pg, 13007 words
jongin and soojung navigate the world of marketing tv productions
for kirakirashahida's birthday! happy birthday in advance, i really enjoyed writing kaistal AND a the producers inspired au. hehe. i have no idea how marketing tv progs really works so like.. take everything with a grain of salt
Jongin wakes up to someone shaking him gently by the shoulders. The last thing he remembers doing is popping out of their office for a quick coffee (and bathroom) break, coming back and realising that he forgot his staff pass so he was completely locked out, and deciding to sit on the floor to wait it out until somebody came back because why not. He’d gotten off a plane from China just a few hours ago, and reckoned that with everyone in their office a fan of working overtime, he’d be able to get back in with no problem. Clearly not the case yesterday.
“Sunbae-nim.” He opens his eyes a crack and the light floods in so terribly brightly that he squeezes them shut again. “Sunbae-nim, I’ve opened the door.”
“Oh, thanks.” Jongin manages to say, his brain still a lumpen mound of lead, and gets up by groping aimlessly on the wall. It takes a while before he registers the fact that the person is calling him by an honorific. It’s been three years since Jongin entered the Marketing B team, and he still gets bossed around by Kyungsoo (who joined only a year earlier, but relishes his seniority a little too much). He opens his eyes and struggles to focus. It’s a girl in a very nicely pressed white shirt and skirt. “Wait, who are you?”
She tucks her hands behind her back and bows. “I’m the newcomer, sunbae-nim.”
Jongin groggily holds the door open as he gestures for her to go in first. He sneaks a look at his watch—7:30 AM. Standard maknae in-office time. But how has he not heard of her? Jongin tries to recall if anyone bothered to inform him of a newcomer, but only manages to dredge up memories of Kyungsoo and Jongdae bothering him for gifts from China (he had none and Kyungsoo got pretty pissed).
“Oh, um, welcome?” The door swings shut and locks electronically behind them. Jongin walks to his table and notices that she sits directly diagonally opposite him, behind Jongdae and his huge A4-sized wedding portrait displayed proudly on his desk. He had a hard time convincing Liyin’s parents to let them marry, so Jongin forgives him for his extravagant showcases of wifely adoration. “I’m Kim Jongin. You are?”
The newcomer looks up a little anxiously from her computer screen and shoots up from her seat. Jongin smiles a little in amusement. He’s not really a big fan of hazing the newbies, mostly because he’s still fairly green himself. But an overabundance of manners always helps in the workplace. Her desk is clean and neat—Jongin’s sure that their team leader Minseok will love her even more now.
“Jung Soojung, sunbae-nim. I’ll do my best to do well.” She says and he nods kindly at her, which makes his neck crick. No more sleeping outside the office anymore, Jongin thinks roughly as he rubs the back of his neck and Soojung sits back down cautiously. He’s digging around in a drawer for some muscle relaxant patches when the doors beep open and Kyungsoo comes in with Jongdae, arguing about the relevance of featuring female idols in their marketing materials (very relevant, but male idols somehow have better views on the internet).
“Still not over your lack of gifts, Kim Jongin.” Kyungsoo says unhappily as he slides behind the desk next to Jongin’s. “Did I not bring any back when they had that special in Brazil?”
“You brought us pens. From the plane.” Jongdae deadpans as he straightens his wedding photo. Kyungsoo gives Jongin a look, and they both roll their eyes in unison. “By the way, can all of you RSVP to our housewarming stat? Liyin needs to know how many people to actually cook for. Do you even know how lucky you guys are? It’s Liyin, my wife, cooking. Cooking, people. Cooking.”
Kyungsoo lets out a derisive snort and Jongin laughs. Over Jongdae’s head Soojung the newbie is staring very intently at her computer screen, but he can see just the slightest quirk of her lips upwards.
“Morning,” Sunyoung yawns as she pulls the seat out beside his in the meeting room. She has a Starbucks cup perched precariously on top of her MacBook, and Jongin eyes it cautiously and hopes it doesn’t fall over. She puts everything down quite expertly and it doesn’t. “How was China?”
“It was Music Bank, so.” Jongin says and she nods in sympathy. Music Bank is one of their biggest programme exports, and Jongin was in Beijing for one of their frequent overseas specials. This time they had managed to send big names over, and the event was sold out and broadcast live. So it pretty much meant too much work in too little time. Sunyoung had done one in the U.S. once and she’d sworn off it forever. Doesn’t mean that Minseok won’t send her out again. “Too many artistes, too many fans. Oh, managers too.”
“At least you’re not a PD.” Jongdae says from opposite them. “Chanyeol messaged me crying that he’d been chewed out by SM.”
“Again? Dude is so damn dumb.” Kyungsoo raises a hand from where he was lying on the table, ostensibly taking a power nap before Minseok comes in and conducts a meeting that will plough them through a very busy day. “How did he ever manage to become a PD?”
“Or get married to Hyerim unnie. Don’t ever forget that.” Sunyoung says incredulously. Chanyeol and Hyerim’s story is a bit of a legend in their TV station, because Chanyeol had been so incredibly obvious in pining for her even when she had a surgeon boyfriend who didn’t have too much time for her. At least the whole waiting deal worked out for Chanyeol, Jongin thinks. Though he’s still kind of too softhearted for the whole PD shtick.
The door is pushed open again, but more gently than their team leader ever will, and Jongin turns his head to see Soojung walk in, half bowing. “Good morning, sunbae-nim.” Sunyoung cheerfully responds with a wave and Soojung bows again, before creeping to the seat all the way at the end of the table. For a moment Jongin is confused because his seat is supposed to be the last one, then remembers that she’s now the new maknae and has to take meeting minutes. He stares at his open Word document for a moment.
“Hi maknae.” Jongdae says quite kindly, and Soojung bows again. She’s very polite, Jongin thinks, but with the quality of a constantly scared rabbit. “How’s everything?”
“Um,” Soojung begins and everyone turns to look at her, even Kyungsoo who’s still half-napping on the table, and Jongin watches as she falters and pulls herself together all at once. “I’m good. I’m great. Thank you for asking, sunbae-nim.”
“We totally know how Team Leader can be like, so if he’s ever mean to you,” Sunyoung leans forward conspiratorially and Soojung blinks in answer, “just tell us. Kyungsoo oppa bitches about him all the time.”
“I do not.” Kyungsoo frowns at Sunyoung and looks like he’s about to retort some more when the door slams open again (Jongin pities it, really. It’s been replaced too many times now). It’s Minseok, who walks in briskly and slams the door back shut. Jongin sees Soojung jump a little, and tries not to laugh.
Minseok is really all bark and not much bite, but he also believes in the need of a fully developed hierarchy (on the surface, anyhow), so Jongin can’t do much if Minseok wants Soojung to start from the very bottom. He can help, though, so he signals for her to prepare to start taking minutes. Minseok talks really fast sometimes.
“Morning, everyone.” Minseok nods at them curtly, and they all chorus back in unison. “Welcome back, Jongin. The Beijing special was a huge success, and from what I couldn’t understand on Weibo, there were a lot of exclamation marks and heart emojis anyway.”
“As long as you have Exo on, China’s gonna love it.” Kyungsoo mutters under his breath and Jongin stifles a laugh. Kyungsoo isn’t really into idols, but somehow always gets assigned to stuff where he has to interact with them the most. Minseok gives him a pointed look. “What? I mean, isn’t it good for our viewership ratings?”
“They did like it, Team Leader. Park PD confirmed that we got the highest ratings for our time slot.” Jongin cuts in before Kyungsoo can do any more damage. Minseok looks pleased enough, and Jongin gives a quick report on his trip before Minseok launches into a discussion of future Chinese projects and how they can do better. Jongin nods in agreement and answers questions, while he tries to keep an eye on how Soojung is doing keeping minutes. Not too bad, actually, because she can type really fast.
“Right. Anyway, we all know that the 700th episode special for Music Bank is just around the corner,” Minseok says and everyone lets out a groan of defeat. Music Bank is really the nadir of the workload-to-time-given scale, and as much as Jongin enjoys his job, it’s difficult to deal with a programme that requires so many people to make it work. “So this naturally means that we need people to deal with the shit that single episode will bring.”
Kyungsoo gives him a dirty look and Jongin almost laughs again. “Kyungsoo, as our resident expert with idols, will lead the team.” Minseok announces and the look on Kyungsoo’s face is priceless. “Jongin, you’ll assist. And maknae, you’ll join them. Work hard, these two are good at what they do.”
Soojung is wide-eyed with surprise, and Jongin gives her an encouraging nod. She immediately bows and thanks everyone in the room once, and Minseok seems satisfied enough. The meeting is over when Minseok starts complaining about not getting his caffeine fix yet, and Soojung is alert enough to sneak off to the pantry first. Jongin watches her go and remembers a time when Minseok would hint and hint and he wouldn’t get it until Sunyoung kicked him in the shin and hissed for him to go.
“She’s really good at being a maknae, isn’t she?” Sunyoung says thoughtfully to him as they file out of the meeting room. Ahead of them Kyungsoo and Jongdae are yet again engaged in another argument about girl groups (Kyungsoo “doesn’t like” idols but is surprisingly knowledgeable about all of them). Jongin shrugs. “Soojung’s adorable. Unlike you.”
“Which is why she’ll do great.” Jongin says and Sunyoung laughs. “She seems really shy, though.”
“Oh well, your skin gets thicker the longer you stay here, so.” Sunyoung nods sagely and Jongin has to agree. Being in marketing means having to overcome a lot of inner fears about embarrassment. “Plus, she has you! Help her out loads, Jongin.”
The both of them watch as the argument about f(x) and 4minute gets more heated. Kyungsoo is passionately arguing for the electronic music genre f(x) seems to be fixated on, and Jongin really wonders sometimes if he doesn’t like idols at all. Must ask Minseul, he mentally notes. Sunyoung gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder and saunters back to her seat. He stands there for a while more and watches as Soojung comes back from the pantry with a steaming cup of coffee, knocks on Minseok’s office door, and disappears into the depths of it.
They don’t have a lot of time to prepare for the special episode, so Kyungsoo makes them go down to the usual Music Bank recording to have their meetings with the entertainment companies. Jongin’s used to this sort of half-rushed, half-cramped conferences with too many people and too much information to process. The fact that they’re planning a comeback of past hosts to coordinate with the current ones isn’t helping, but Jongin’s got three years of experience on his back.
“Ready for this?” He asks Soojung as they take the elevator down from their office to the studios. She looks at him and gives him a firm nod. He took the time to sneak a look at her CV before they went off, and hers is pretty much like all of theirs, except that she spent some time working in a shipping company before getting the job at their station. “The managers always seem kind of scary, but they’re really just full of hot air. You’ll get used to it.”
An awkward look flashes across her face briefly, before she smiles at him and says thank you. “Everyone’s warned me about this already,” she says somewhat apologetically, and Jongin slaps his forehead mentally. Of course they would have, given Kyungsoo’s utter dislike of dealing with them. “Thank you, sunbae-nim.”
The studios are spread out on the second and third floors, and Jongin takes the time to help Soojung get acquainted with the layout as they make their way towards where Music Bank is being recorded. Soojung listens intently throughout the mini tour, and Jongin finds the way she catches on so fast interesting. The Music Bank studio is teeming with people as they run through the dry rehearsal, and Jongin ducks behind the cameras to tap Chanyeol on the shoulder.
“Park PD!” Chanyeol jumps and stifles a scream as he whirls around in shock. Jongin laughs and even Soojung smiles a little more brightly. “What’s up?”
“The sky, you asshole. Don’t scare me like that!” Chanyeol hits him on the head with his rolled-up rundown and yells. Jongin shrugs and swings an arm over his shoulders. Chanyeol gives him a frazzled look and stares at the monitor intently. “I haven’t had enough sleep in days and I just came back from China and that SM director yelled at me, alright.”
“Aw hyung, you poor thing.” Jongin coos insincerely and Chanyeol elbows him in the gut. He looks up at Soojung and shakes his head. “Park PD here just had a baby.”
“Oh. Congratulations, Park PD.” Soojung immediately offers a very heartfelt congratulations, and Chanyeol puffs up in pride as he thanks her and declares the take to be a good one. Jongin then watches in amusement as Chanyeol pulls out his phone and swipes it open to show Soojung his wallpaper.
“He’s almost three months old,” Chanyeol beams, and Soojung seems fascinated by the gurgling baby in the photo. “Wakes up way too often at night, but is basically the cutest baby on earth.”
Jongin peers over Chanyeol’s shoulder as the wallpaper shifts to a picture of a very pregnant Hyerim smiling brightly next to an equally happy Chanyeol. “Is that your wife, Park PD?” Soojung asks, and Jongin winces a little because that is a topic that Chanyeol can’t stop talking about once he gets started. “She’s really pretty.”
“Isn’t she?” Chanyeol grins in pride, and launches in a detailed explanation of how perfect Hyerim is as Soojung listens with interest. Jongin would let him continue, if not for the fact that he’s said this way too many times and they really need to have those meetings now.
“Hyung, stop. Meeting, go.” He steers Chanyeol towards the direction of the dressing rooms, and Soojung looks slightly lost before immediately catching up to them. “We’re going to meet with Park Bogum’s people first, Soojung, then the SM guys, so get your info ready.”
He pushes Chanyeol into the corridor leading up to the dressing rooms, where there already are frazzled staff members speeding in and out of rooms. While Chanyeol grumbles about the sheer manpower crunch they’re experiencing due to the special episode, Jongin half-listens and instead watches as Soojung takes in the sights around her. She doesn’t seem too perturbed, which is good. He’s observed her for a while now, and even though the cautiousness shines through at every given opportunity, she’s not scared.
Being scared isn’t really an option in their line of work—entertainment companies have a tendency to train their people to want the lion’s share of everything, and TV stations don’t usually play nice or share too well. Jongin can’t remember the number of times he’s had to verbally smack down reps. Soojung seems a little too quiet for that, but at least she isn’t afraid. The ability to snark can be trained, as demonstrated by Jongdae, who is an everyday nice guy normally, but hardcore intense when it comes to distributing screen time for idols.
“Park PD!” The manager comes up to Chanyeol almost immediately when they enter Park Bogum’s dressing room. Chanyeol winces at Jongin, who goes unnoticed until the manager realises that he’s from the marketing department, and is a really useful contact. Soojung, in the meantime, has busied herself with attempting to take notes. She is quick on the uptake of things, but never seems to want to introduce herself first. It’s not good for a marketing executive to want and shy away from shaking hands and exchanging business cards, Jongin thinks, but first he has to settle the details of filming that teaser video.
He starts by outlining what they have in mind for the special episode and what the teaser video will entail. Park Bogum’s agency is easy enough—all they want is sufficient screen time for the fledgling actor, and since he’s about to sign onto one of their inhouse dramas, Minseok has authorised him to give in just a tiny bit more. Soojung’s clacking away at the keyboard accompanies them for the rest of the meeting, and they’re about done when the main Music Bank writer Sungmi joins them, her head poking in from outside the door.
“Sunbae-nim,” Chanyeol calls out in relief when they all file outside. Sungmi holds up a hand and gives all of them a look that is more than what words can ever express. “Okay let me guess, bad day?”
“You think?” Sungmi rolls her eyes as they turn a corner and make their way towards the SM dressing room. “Baekhyun needs to stop—who the hell told him it was okay to promise SM so much screen time? Why is he so infatuated with Irene? Why do I have to deal with him? Why does he have to be good at his job so I can’t fire him? Why?”
Jongin coughs down his laughter at the sight of Sungmi’s anguish. She’s been the main writer for much longer than he’s been here, and Baekhyun is her left hand man with a huge crush on Red Velvet’s Irene. So, not very good for business but very good for Baekhyun’s infatigable fanboying. Soojung looks puzzled at the turn of events as Sungmi continues complaining and Chanyeol tries to appease her, so Jongin slows down a little to update her on what landmines to avoid.
“We’re going to meet with SM now, and Baekhyun hyung’s probably going to be in there fawning over Irene, so whatever you do, do not be friendly to him. Or the SM people. Okay, make it both.” Jongin whispers and Soojung nods very seriously. “Stick to this and we’ll all be alive at the end of the day.”
“Gotcha, sunbae-nim.” Soojung whispers back. “I have a question, though.”
Jongin raises an eyebrow. That’s a first. “Yeah, go ahead.”
“How do you ensure that screen time is evenly distributed if SM idols are the ones who help bring ratings up the most?” Soojung asks and prepares her pen at the ready. “I mean, isn’t Park Bogum’s agency smaller? But we promised him an individual teaser, right?”
Jongin beckons her to come a little closer. Sungmi is still threatening to clobber Baekhyun until he “wakes up”, while Chanyeol profusely tries to defuse the situation caused by his sometimes-best friend. “The secret is,” he says and Soojung leans in some more. She’s wearing a very dainty sort of perfume. Nice, Jongin thinks strangely for a moment. “What we have as leverage. In this case, seniority.”
It takes only about three seconds for it to click in Soojung’s head. “Red Velvet’s still a rookie group.” She says in wonderment, and Jongin nods, satisfied. She really is quick.
“Yeah, we wouldn’t be able to do this if it were Exo,” Jongin tells her as they approach the SM dressing room, “but seniority is something that even they can’t change. Park Bogum debuted earlier—that’s a fact. So use facts to your advantage, okay?”
“Okay.” Soojung reaches to open the door for them, but Jongin beats her to it first. Everyone in the room stands up to greet Sungmi and Chanyeol first, and Soojung steps behind him again to blend into the background. This time, though, Jongin pushes her gently in the small of her back and lets her stand squarely in between the two. For experience, of course.
Jongin’s dealt with the Red Velvet manager before. He used to manage Exo, before being transferred over to the new group, but is generally easier to deal with and much nicer to talk to than the main manager. That one usually isn’t around, but today Jongin cringes to see that he’s already up front and center shaking Sungmi’s hand. Perks of being a main writer. Jongdae told him once that the main manager used to handle Super Junior, and that his obsession with seniority has gone right up his head (Kyungsoo had used a far crasser word, but Jongin tries not to think of it too much).
Sungmi is the one steering the conversation in the direction they want it to go, and Jongin assists by constantly reminding the main manager that they’re actually giving a lot for an idol who’s been out for just over a year. “Wouldn’t it be unfair if her senior got just one video but Irene received two instead?” Jongin says and the main manager’s face stiffens a little. “Right, Soojung?”
Soojung looks like a deer caught in headlights for a brief moment, before she shifts into professional mode and nods quickly. “We’ve also received netizen feedback that they’d like to see the two hosts together more often.” She says steadily and the main manager looks like he wants to say something in rebuttal but can’t. Because they’re right. Jongin whoops quietly in his head.
The meeting ends with Sungmi promising to give Irene a cute script to work with, and the main manager subtly strongarming Chanyeol into promising more lines for her in the special episode. Jongin frowns a little at that, but then again they are the one entertainment company who has the groups that bring up their ratings by a few percentage points. He shakes the main manager’s hand firmly and is about to turn out of the room when the main manager pauses and doesn’t let go of Soojung’s hand.
“Have I seen you somewhere before?” He asks suspiciously, and Soojung visibly freezes for a moment. “You look familiar.”
“Um, I don’t know.” She stutters and the main manager keeps looking at her intently. Chanyeol and Sungmi have exited the room first, and Jongin stares at the way he’s pressing on her hand and almost moves to pull him off. But then he lets go of her and lets out a bark of laughter.
“You look like you could be an idol. Ever thought of being one?” He asks as if it’s a very funny joke. Jongin looks at the ceiling and rolls his eyes out of sight.
“I don’t think I’m very suitable for that.” Soojung answers in a small voice and retreats backwards. Jongin steps in front of her and hears her breathe out slowly in relief. The main manager is still looking at her strangely, and he immediately bids their farewell. Jongin pulls the door shut behind them, and turns around to see Soojung, her eyes somewhat blank.
“You okay?” He says as they begin walking back to the studio again. “I’m sorry. That guy is a creep.”
Soojung tucks her notebook under her arm and shakes her head. Jongin thinks she still looks a little uneasy but wants to take her word for it. “I’m good. Don’t worry, sunbae-nim.”
Jongin makes a last minute dash to the supermarket for some tissue paper gift boxes on the Saturday evening of the house warming. He pulls out from the underground parking garage of the supermarket near their TV station, and punches Jongdae and Liyin’s new home address into his GPS when his phone rings. It’s Taemin, who’s also from the same intake of employees but working his butt off in corporate communications instead, calling to lambast him for being so late.
“I had to work overtime, dude.” Jongin retorts as he turns into a highway. “And buy tissue paper gift boxes. On a Saturday. What have you been doing?”
“Getting to appointments on time.” Taemin drawls lazily and there is a squeal of laughter in the background. “Get your ass here now, Kim. Jongdae hyung is insisting that none of us can eat until everyone’s arrived.”
“Fine.” Jongin grouses and speeds up. He takes another ten minutes before he reaches the new apartment complex a few blocks away from the Han River. Sunyoung sure wasn’t kidding when she said that Jongdae was great at investing and saving. He still lives in the Hongdae area, which is great for nightlife but not so much for beating the traffic crunch. Jongin parks the car hastily and wills the elevator to move faster. There is a sharp ding, and he finds the apartment easily enough because there are way too many pairs of shoes out front.
He rings the doorbell and waits, two packets of tissue paper boxes in his right hand. Jongin wonders whether Jongdae will now have an everlasting supply, when the door swings open and Soojung peers up at him.
“Sunbae-nim!” She begins, and then Jongdae pops up with his daughter behind her. Jongin’s slightly irritated for some unfathomable reason, but brushes it away soon enough.
“Congrats on the new house, hyung.” He says and Soojung steps out of the way to let him in. Jongdae receives the tissue paper gift with much glee and stuffs his daughter into Jongin’s arms. For a terrifying moment he’s afraid that he might drop her, but the kid just beams at him instead. She doesn’t have a lot of teeth yet, but it’s terribly adorable.
“Ayeon likes you.” Jongdae observes with a hint of annoyance, and bounds off to put the gift away. Jongin stares at Ayeon for a moment, who’s gnawing on her fist, and then at Soojung, who seems very amused at everything that has just happened.
“Am I carrying her the right way?” Jongin asks and shifts Ayeon’s weight around. Soojung tilts her head and surveys them for a moment, before nodding seriously. “Okay, because all of my nephews are in elementary school and I haven’t carried a baby in years.”
“Doing great, sunbae-nim.” She sticks a thumb up at him and he laughs. Ayeon gurgles in response and bounces up and down. Soojung laughs at that and tickles Ayeon under her chin. It’s a very pleasant sound and Jongin finds himself grinning a little too widely at that, at least until the mistress of the house makes an appearance.
“Jongin! Welcome. Ready for dinner?” Liyin smiles in exactly the same way Ayeon does, and he lets her take over baby carrying duties. Liyin is kind of small and Ayeon is a chubby baby, but Jongin thinks it’s a really nice view. Jongdae’s efforts were not in vain, Jongin concludes as he and Soojung follow Liyin’s lead into the house. Taemin makes a loud noise of disapproval as soon as he enters, and rushes to lock him in a headhold.
“Do you know how long we’ve waited?” Taemin yells as Jongin tries valiantly to free himself. “Do you know how hungry we get in corp-comm?”
“Come on, you little shi—” Jongin pulls himself out of Taemin’s vice-like grip and tackles him back. He can hear the hyungs laughing at them. At least it makes for entertainment, and soon enough Taemin is lounging on his shoulder, lamenting his extreme hunger. Jongdae has taken Ayeon back from Liyin, and declares dinner open.
The almost-extreme popularity of the Jongdae-Liyin couple has ensured that their new house is filled to the brim with guests, mostly from the TV station and the university where Liyin teaches as a violin professor. Jongin spots Liyin’s brother, Yixing, speaking very happily in a corner with Sunyoung, and decides not to bother them. He manages to fend off a couple more familiar faces (Sunye from Accounting, together with her husband and daughter; Sohee from Human Resources and Sehun, junior variety department PD; Minseok with his wife Chiharu) before he makes it to the food table.
“Thanks.” Someone hands him a paper plate, and he looks up to find Soojung proffering utensils. “How’s the food?”
“Tasty,” she nods and points to a dish, “I recommend the kungpao chicken.”
“Nice,” Jongin wiggles his eyebrows as he fills his plate up. Ahead of them Chanyeol has his son Yi-eon sleeping on his shoulder while steadily piling food on a paper plate. Jongin has no doubt that this is for Hyerim, who is nodding away on the couch in the living room. “How are they going to clean all of this up when everyone goes home?”
Soojung shrugs and plasters herself against the wall. “I don’t even want to think about it.” Jongin grins at that. They’ve grown a little closer over the past few weeks, and working on the Music Bank special episode has helped Soojung open up more. But she still is too closeted to make her marketing believable, and Jongin thinks she’s more capable of what she’s already displaying.
“Professional help,” Someone suddenly butts in and Soojung jumps, her eyes wide. It’s Baekhyun, who looks like death with huge eye bags, and Jongin glares at him. “Jongdae would never let Liyin nuna clean up on her own. ‘tis the power of love, kids.”
“Doesn’t seem to be working too well on you, hyung.” Jongin snipes and Baekhyun sends a murderous look his way. Soojung coughs and picks at her chicken. “Sungmi nuna’s still pissed. Seriously, why do you always lose your mind when it comes to Red Velvet?”
“Have you never loved someone before?” Baekhyun clutches a hand to his chest and says. Jongin rolls his eyes and Baekhyun reaches to slap him up the back of his head. “Dude, Irene totally deserves all that extra five seconds of screen time.”
Jongin gives him a long, severe look. “Yeah, Sungmi nuna should totally fire you.”
“Whatever.” Baekhyun waves a hand and picks a cube of chicken off Jongin’s plate. “Hey, aren’t you the new marketing kid?”
Soojung glances at him first, and he can see the anxiousness in her eyes flare up again momentarily before she tamps it down. “Hello, sunbae-nim.”
Baekhyun says hi before he stops and looks at Soojung a little more intently. Jongin watches this strange exchange and wonders if he should say something, before Baekhyun turns his attention back to the food. Soojung looks slightly uneasy now, and excuses herself before slipping away into the huge crowd that is Jongdae and Liyin’s house warming party. It’s so odd, but before Jongin can think about it for longer, Taecyeon sidles up to them for a second helping.
“Hi hyung,” Jongin greets and Baekhyun says hello too before sliding away to the drinks section. Taecyeon has been the main PD of Entertainment Relay for several years now, and was one of the few PDs who were particularly kind to Jongin when he first started out as a very bumbling, inept new employee. “More rice?”
“Yes please.” Taecyeon hands his plate over. When Jongin turns back to him with a full plate of rice, Taecyeon is looking at him with a very interested expression.
“Is there anything I should be asking you about?” Jongin says suspiciously and Taecyeon nods wisely. “With that look you’re giving me, hyung?”
“What’s the name of your new maknae again?” Taecyeon asks as he chows down on some kimchi. The food today is a mix of Korean-Chinese cuisine, since Liyin is second generation Chinese-Korean and way more capable at cooking than Jongdae can ever be. “She looks really familiar.”
That’s not new. Jongin has a vague recollection of someone saying the exact same thing, and realises that it was the creepy main SM manager who did. “Jung Soojung. Why?” He says and the musing look on Taecyeon’s face makes his mind reel at super speed. “Oh god hyung, don’t tell me you used to date her? Did you cheat on her? Hyung!”
“You’re not a weekend makjang drama PD, Jongin, stop it.” Taecyeon gives him a look and crosses his arms. Jongin clears his throat a little awkwardly. Can’t blame him for thinking that, especially since Taecyeon used to have a reputation for serial dating before meeting Yubin from Management. “She has to have appeared on Entertainment Relay before. I swear, my PD radar is never wrong.”
“Um, hyung.” Jongin shakes his head. “The only place she’s ever worked at was this shipping company. I don’t think Entertainment Relay features employees of shipping companies a whole lot.”
But all Taecyeon does is shush him. “Quiet, child. I’m thinking.” He presses a finger to his forehead and closes his eyes in great concentration. Jongin doesn’t know whether to keep looking or shift his gaze somewhere else. It is a great deal of second-hand embarrassment, though, so he slowly fixates his glance elsewhere and catches Kyungsoo’s eye in the process. He’s sitting with his wife, Minseul, in the living room and nursing a huge glass of white wine, and gives Jongin a great, wide grin for all the awkwardness he’s suffering through right now. No wonder they all hate Kyungsoo a bit, Jongin thinks darkly, and it’s not only because he managed to marry his first love before serving in the military and not getting dumped in the end. There is totally no jealousy involved. At all.
Somebody is fiddling with the stereo system, and the music suddenly switches from a jazzy number to the debut song of a top girl group. Chanyeol is the first one to start jamming, true to his Music Bank PD nature, and soon enough Baekhyun starts singing along to it. Jongin laughs at the fact that Jongdae looks so relieved Ayeon’s asleep in one of the rooms, because the singing is getting a little too rowdy. Chanyeol seems to realise this mistake quickly, because Yi-eon wakes up and starts mewing the prelude to a huge crying session.
“Oh!” Taecyeon yells as soon as the song reaches its second chorus. Jongin jumps and makes the mistake of glaring at him, but luckily Taecyeon doesn’t see. “I know where I’ve seen her before! This group! Second concert tour! Backup dancers!”
“What?” Jongin gets in only this much before the party descends into chaos. Yi-eon is bawling, and Chanyeol is pacing back and forth in an attempt to calm him down but miserably failing at it, while the song enters its most passionate last chorus (where the choreography, if Jongin remembers correctly, involves a very high kick in skorts). Taecyeon yells something more but it’s inaudible over the crying, and Jongin tries to figure it out until his ears start ringing, and he takes the chance to escape to the corridor leading to the bedrooms when Hyerim emerges from the kitchen, horrified at Chanyeol’s botched job of pacifying an infant.
His ears are still ringing when he pushes the door of the nearest room open. The air conditioning is running quietly, and he spots a pink castle-shaped tent with toys stacked at its entrance. Typical Jongdae dad behaviour, he thinks, buying an obscene amount of toys for an eighteen-month-old baby. He tip-toes towards the cot, and is almost scared out of his wits when somebody shifts on the floor beside it.
“Oh my go—Soojung?” He manages to hush his voice into a whisper and sinks onto the floor next to her. Soojung peers at him apologetically with very bright eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“Sorry,” she whispers back, “I was looking for a place to stay in for a while, and all of the other rooms seemed too private, so…”
Jongin folds his legs beneath him and settles down beside her. In the cot Ayeon’s breathing steadily as she sleeps. It’s kind of odd, really, that it’s just the both of them with a sleeping baby in a quiet room. But it also feels completely normal. Jongin’s ears continue to ring but somehow it doesn’t bother him too much anymore.
“What are you doing in here, sunbae-nim?” Soojung asks after a long moment. He stares at the wallpaper peppered with colourful balloons opposite them and thinks about Taecyeon and that one creepy SM main manager. He doesn’t know how to approach it in a way that will be the most polite, but Jongin has a feeling that if he asks, he’ll be able to understand why Soojung is so painfully cautious all the time. It’s just a matter of whether she wants to tell him, or not.
“Hiding from the uh, music.” He says and that particular debut song starts playing again. The music pulses through the door, a low bass beat, but clear enough for them to make out what the song is. “Yi-eon was also crying and Chanyeol hyung was handling the situation really badly, so.”
Soojung lets out a low laugh and Jongin smiles at that. The song keeps playing and he wonders why nobody’s bothered to turn it off yet. They remain quiet for a while more, before Soojung starts humming to the melody under her breath.
“Do you like this song?” He asks, and Soojung doesn’t answer for a brief moment. Then she nods, and continues to tap out the beat softly on the wooden floor. “It’s really old.”
“Yeah,” she laughs a little, “but a good oldie.”
Jongin watches her for a moment more. “Taecyeon hyung said that you were on Entertainment Relay before.” The problem with him is largely to do with his inability to be roundabout—Jongin’s exes have all generally agreed that his bluntness is not something they want to deal with. Soojung winces, a little, but doesn’t seem offended. “Second concert tour, back up dancers? I don’t know, Yi-eon started bawling after that and I’m really bad at lip reading.”
“Ah.” He hears her say just that, and suddenly feels guilty. It really is none of his business, and wanting to know about her past so that he can help her with her future is a bullshit reason, really. He’s about to tell her to forget that he ever asked when she continues. “He’s right.”
“He is?” Jongin sounds so surprised that he wants to clamp his own mouth shut. “Wait, I mean, if you don’t want to tell me it’s totally fi—”
She shakes her head good-naturedly. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not something I’m ashamed about or anything. I just didn’t think anyone would remember me, so I didn’t say anything.” Soojung looks up at him and Jongin gives her an encouraging nod. “When I was younger, I used to train at SM.”
Now that’s something he doesn’t expect. Jongin says nothing and lets her do the talking instead.
“When I was seven, they casted my sister and I on the streets. My mom says it was because they found our faces appealing? Whatever that means. My sister trained for, what, a year? Then she dropped out since she decided that she didn’t like all the dancing and singing stuff we had to do. I continued because I thought it was okay, and I did like dancing, I guess. So I kept up with it until I was seventeen, before I decided to stop.” Soojung spreads her hands out in front of her and shrugs. “That’s about it. It’s actually quite boring.”
“Ten years of training.” Jongin says and she nods like it’s nothing. “That’s not boring at all. No wonder Taecyeon hyung and that creep manager remembered you.”
“Well, I was lucky to perform at that concert. Taecyeon sunbae-nim was right—Entertainment Relay came to film the day we were up as backup dancers, so I think we were sort of shoved into an interview? I don’t quite remember.” Soojung inclines her head to the side and Jongin does the same. “It really isn’t anything much. Lots of people train and drop out.”
“Not all of them get remembered.” Jongin points out and Soojung shrugs. It’s sort of amazing how she’s so nonchalant about it. “And not everyone gets to perform at a concert either.”
She smiles a little at that. “Yeah? That performance was what made me decide to quit.”
“Really?” Jongin wants to hit himself for sounding so surprised again.
“That concert was terrifying,” Soojung says and pulls her knees up to her chest, “I remember being able to dance all my moves correctly because our pre-debut team had spent days in the practice room, but I was so scared inside, I couldn’t think straight. I was mostly operating on muscle memory, and when I got off stage, I realised that an idol couldn’t just function on sheer willpower alone. I wasn’t cut out for it. So I quit.”
The silence hangs between them for a long while as Jongin processes everything. This isn’t the huge, in-your-face secret that he had expected. Soojung is so matter-of-fact about it that Jongin realises it’s not a big deal at all. What matters is that he is now able to begin understanding where her carefulness stems from, he thinks.
“I’m sorry,” he says and Soojung looks at him in mild surprise.
“What for?” She asks and Ayeon lets out a little whimper, before falling back to sleep again. They both pause for a moment, before she continues. “You didn’t do anything, sunbae-nim.”
“I don’t know,” Jongin admits honestly, “I’m sorry you never got to debut after ten years of training? After so many years of effort and hard work? I mean, that’s not… nice, is it.”
Soojung taps her fingers on the floor again. The song is long over and Jongin only realises it now. “Not really. The group was a lot better off without me. A lot of people seem to think that being an idol is easy, but the requirements are brutal. I couldn’t live up to them, so here I am. The group is doing good now, anyway.”
“So are you.” Jongin says and he sees a smile light up her face. It’s pretty. “You’re excellent too. Team Leader really likes your work—he just doesn’t want you to know yet because he think it’ll inflate your ego. He’s suspicious of everyone in the beginning, but once he likes you, you’re part of the family. Trust me, Soojung, you already are.”
Soojung rests her cheek on her knees and turns to him, her smile brighter. “Thanks for comforting the kid who didn’t make it into f(x), sunbae-nim.”
Jongin can feel his grin turn even goofier, but it really doesn’t matter. “You’re welcome.”