They begin filming on the teaser videos a few days later. The special episode is important enough for almost all of the bigger idol groups to be featured, and Jongin is in over his head with the number of meetings he needs to have with the various agencies. Kyungsoo deals mostly with the station side of things, so it’s him and Soojung running desperately against time to ensure that everyone is happy enough to turn up to the main teaser video filming on time.
Everyone is on edge because the bigger companies keep trying to use their clout against the station (“SM is the most annoying, whiney company ever,” as Kyungsoo gnashes more and more frequently), and the meeting they have with the Music Bank team devolves into an arguing match over whether it’s right to feature the SM idols more prominently in more performances just because they have the most number of idols appearing.
“But Got7 just won their first award,” Soojung finally points out, a rare occurrence of logic in the room, “and they’ve outsold Exo for the first time on the weekly charts.”
Baekhyun looks a little flabbergasted at that, and Sungmi the exact opposite, and Jongin gives her a little high-five under the table. Soojung wiggles her eyebrows at him slightly as Kyungsoo presses Baekhyun to concede the point to them. It’s cute, really, because she now gives him these little looks that only the both of them understand. Jongin also knows now that she favours her Americano with lots of ice and likes soy milk more than anything else on the menu. He likes to think that it’s a sign of her slowly opening up—working on a huge project like this as your first can do that.
The meeting ends with Kyungsoo sniping a little more at Baekhyun’s lack of self control (and a love life, by extension) when it comes to Irene. Nobody stops him, not even Chanyeol who has already blatantly started using his phone behind his copy of the rundown. Jongin exchanges a knowing look with Soojung—point to Marketing, none to fanboy Baekhyun. They file out of the meeting room, and Jongin stretches while he sees Sungmi clap a hand on Soojung’s shoulder for a job well done.
“Pretty much the best we can do without actually firing him,” Sungmi sounds a little too wistful, and Jongin grins as Soojung laughs in response. Kyungsoo slams an arm over his shoulders and informs him grumpily that he must go back to the Marketing department for another meeting. So it leaves just him and Soojung for a quick lunch, before they zoom back to the film set for the teasers.
“Nice smackdown,” he says as Soojung finishes bidding goodbye to Sungmi. She nods deliberately in a copy of Minseok’s trademark “tell me more” expression, and Jongin mock-swipes at her, something she avoids quite easily. “Sunyoung would be so proud of you.”
“Sunyoung unnie already is,” she responds as they walk down towards the elevator. “I’m truly her pride and joy.”
“Are you now?” Jongin crosses his arms in front of his chest as they reach the lift lobby and Soojung does the same, ready to come back with a snappy response when the elevator doors slide open with a ding. It’s Younha, main writer of their breakout variety hit Superman Returns, and Jongin is about to greet her when Soojung beats him to it.
“Younha unnie!” She calls out, and Younha smiles warmly in response. He never knew that they were on unnie-calling terms now, Jongin thinks as he watches Soojung pull out her phone to show Younha something that may or may not be a stroller. Younha is one of their most seasoned variety programme writers, married to a district judge in Bucheon, and Jongin totally understands her need for a stroller but not why Soojung is involved.
“I feel so bad about asking your sister to buy it for us, though.” Younha says and Soojung immediately starts shaking her hands in dismay. “Are you sure it’s okay? I mean, Kyuhyun’s sister is going to the States in a month, we can wait until then.”
“Absolutely.” Soojung nods firmly. “My brother-in-law’s in the shipping business anyway. Don’t worry unnie, we’ll get it to you before the end of the month.”
“Thanks Soojung,” Younha gives her a pat on the arm and Jongin smiles to see her eyes light up again. Younha then turns to him, and he bows in greeting. “Being the good senior, Jongin, and taking your maknae around?”
“Of course, sunbae-nim.” Jongin puffs his chest up in mock pride and Younha laughs. “Just continuing the good ol’ tradition of our glorious department.”
“Good,” Younha nods approvingly and leans towards Soojung, “he was really bad in his first three months, so if you ever make any mistakes, just remember that Kim Jongin ruined a live shoot for a station branding commercial because he wrote down our CEO’s last name wrongly.”
With that she saunters off, Soojung snorting in laughter in her wake and Jongin unable to defend himself. Granted it did happen, but he’s not really to blame. Kyungsoo’s version of the CEO’s name wasn’t any better in the rundown he was given, and Jongin copied it word for word because he was a newbie. He makes a face behind Younha’s back, who raises a victory sign at him without even turning back. Fine, he can’t beat years of experience. Soojung’s still laughing when he turns around.
“Really, sunbae-nim?” She grins up at him, and he tries his best to look unamused. But the look of pure joy on her face is infectious, and Jongin merely bops her head lightly in response. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“Rookies, we all once were.” He looks at the LED numerals next to the elevator doors sagely and Soojung bursts into laughter again. “I never knew that you and Younha nuna were that close.”
“We weren’t,” Soojung admits as the elevator doors slide open again and they step inside, “but Sunyoung unnie was asking me if I knew anything about Amazon and my sister lives in the States, so I said I did. Then she introduced me to Younha unnie, and she was really nice to me.”
“So being close was inevitable?” Jongin concludes for her and Soojung nods contentedly. “I don’t see you calling me oppa, though.”
Soojung blushes almost immediately and Jongin bites back the urge to smile. It really is too cute. She opens and closes her mouth a few times before she manages to find her voice. “Well, that’s because you’re my senior! Wouldn’t it be weird if I called you oppa, and all the other seniors in our team sunbae-nim?”
Jongin shrugs as they reach the second floor. “It all depends on your mindset, Soojung.” He raises his eyebrows at her and swears that he sees her hands twitch. “Lunch time!” Soojung pauses for a moment before she yells out for him as he speeds off towards the cafeteria, laughing so loudly the entire way that the cleaning lady takes it upon herself to shush him.
The new JYP girl group bows in unison and Jongin sends them away with a very kindly smile. Soojung gives him a faux-scandalised look once they’re out of earshot. They’ve been filming all day since lunch, and have finally gotten to the more popular idols from the Big Three. Got7 is the next group to be done, and Jongin notes down that Jackson has to be stopped from acting so friendly around staff members. Soojung just seems more amused than anything else, and Jongin wishes she could be offended or something, but it’s difficult because he too knows that Jackson is harmless. Harmless but variety gold.
The assistant director calls out for the next group, and it’s SM’s time to shine. Jongin watches as Red Velvet appears on set and Baekhyun magically materialises all the way on the other side that’s closer to Irene. “Is he breaking any laws yet?” Chanyeol asks from his chair on the slide-in audience seat blocks, and Jongin shakes his head sadly. “Because even I want to call the police on him at this point.”
“Aren’t you two best friends?” Jongin asks and Chanyeol makes a face. Soojung coughs very loudly and he knows she’s laughing. But Baekhyun’s a huge joke anyhow, and all three of them observe as he hands Red Velvet their scripts and Irene leans in closer to listen to his instructions. “Wait, are Baekhyun hyung’s ears turning red?”
“That little dick,” Sungmi appears behind them and Jongin swears he can hear her teeth crunch, “where is my maknae? Didn’t I say that he’s not to be let near Red Velvet?”
Their maknae writer Yerin explains woefully about how Baekhyun pulled rank on her, and Sungmi’s fuming is only amusing when observed from a distance, so Jongin carefully pulls Soojung away and near the exit so they can run if she ever blows her top. Soojung tucks her notepad under the arm and sighs wistfully as she ties her hair up into a ponytail.
“Why so moody, Juliet?” Jongin asks and shoves his hands into his pockets. Soojung shrugs and inclines her head.
“I’m just appreciating the view,” she says and Jongin looks at her weirdly. “I mean, I’m really enjoying what we’re doing here.”
“You’re only saying this because we’re this close to being done,” Jongin replies in a faux-serious tone and Soojung actually looks alarmed. “Okay, I’m just kidding. But I get you on the feeling satisfied front. Even all those meetings seem worth it now, don’t they?”
Soojung smiles up at him contentedly and there’s a warm feeling in Jongin’s chest. They stay that way for a while more until somebody yells for Exo to come in, and there is an entire group of well-dressed boys who shuffle in and fill up the set. Jongin recognises most of them, mostly, and once listened to their title track about wolves and cheese, but doesn’t possess any more knowledge of them far beyond that. He does, however, know how much they’re worth in the ratings area, which is why their part in the teaser video will add up to more than fifteen seconds.
“Know any of them?” He asks and Soojung frowns for a moment, thinking.
“I guess? If they put in people who trained for at least a few years, then I must have seen them around before.” Soojung says uncertainly and Jongin nods. “I didn’t keep up with the scene when I left…. I should really learn their names.”
“They’ll do that in a fixed order later, so you can listen and memorise.” He advises and Soojung laughs again. She’s been so much more relaxed lately, in direct proportion to their workload for some reason, and he finds it lovely that she can be this way. Soojung’s love for the job is obvious, and even Minseok has been texting him his approval for her more often than not lately. “How much do you want to bet that Kyungsoo hyung already knows who they all are?”
The bet later widens to include Chanyeol (fifty bucks), Sungmi (seventy), and even Yerin (twenty because she needs to pay her bills), and Jongin is sliding the slip of paper scrawled with their bets into his pocket when he spots the main SM manager herding his money makers from a distance. Soojung is writing very intently in her notepad again, and he doesn’t notice anything wrong until the boy band reaches where they are and one of the taller ones with blonde hair gives her an once-over with a weird expression.
“Soojung?” Blonde Guy says and Soojung looks up, wide-eyed. “Jung Soojung?”
She glances at him, then at Jongin, then back at Blondie again. “Tae...yong?”
“What are you doing here?” The tone in Blondie’s voice is so disdainful that Jongin almost wants to cut in. But it’s not his place, so he just keeps looking at them questioningly, much like the rest of the huge boy band that has been trained to hold their tongue unless someone higher up asks a question. “Are you working here?”
“Uh,” Soojung’s eyes dart towards him again, and Jongin gives her an encouraging nod, “yeah. I work here now. Marketing.”
“Oh.” Taeyong blinks and then stops talking altogether. The rest of the boy band has, in the meantime, assembled into a formation that seems very well-practiced, and the main manager finally appears from where he was distracted with Chanyeol earlier.
“Remember your manners, boys.” The main manager trills and they say thank you in a very loud chorus. Jongin smiles stiffly in response, while Soojung bows awkwardly next to him. Blondie Taeyong is still staring at her oddly, and Jongin is forced to trade nicecities with the main manager for a while before he turns his attention towards Soojung.
“Ah, see, I told you I remembered you.” He says and Soojung freezes up again. Jongin wants to step in but the main manager barrels on. “With a face like this, it’s impossible you wouldn’t have been casted. So I did a bit of digging, and voila! Your information stashed away neatly in our archives. Did you know, Mr. Kim, that your employee used to be a trainee with us? Ten years! What a useful asset to have in your arsenal, don’t you think?”
Jongin’s upper lip curls at the implication that Soojung’s nothing more than what her past experiences define her to be. What the hell does he mean by “useful asset”? Soojung’s worth is more than physical—though he can’t possibly expect them to understand. He casts a glance at the silent boy band. Three years after debut and still quiet when they need to be. He can’t imagine Soojung being like this but yet he understands where all the cautiousness stems from now. Suddenly he’s too grateful that she quit so many years ago. This isn’t something she has to go through.
Soojung is staring resolutely at a point beyond the main manager’s head, but he doesn’t seem to want and stop. “Didn’t they put you in the pre-debut team for f(x)? For all of your stories about wanting to go and study, you’re back in the entertainment industry again.” The sneering in his tone is so obvious that Jongin feels like a double kick to his gut wouldn’t be a bad choice of action to take. “That’s okay though. Remember to take care of your juniors here, huh, didn’t you train with most of them? Taeyong, didn’t you?”
Taeyong nods curtly and Soojung continues staring somewhere beyond the rest of the boy band. Jongin can feel something burning in the pit of his stomach that strangely feels a lot like anger, and has to remind himself that SM isn’t somebody he can be blunt to. It’s not worth it, not for him, and certainly not for Soojung either.
“Soojung is a junior marketing executive,” he begins levelly, “so she doesn’t get to make many decisions. But I’m sure Park PD is already taking good care of your boys.”
“Oh, of course he is.” The main manager waves a dismissive hand. “But it doesn’t hurt to have more contacts. We’re counting on you, Soojung.”
The emphasis on her name makes the hair on the back of his neck stand, but Soojung takes it like a champ and bows as politely as she can. Jongin narrows his eyes as the main manager strolls off, now focused on Sungmi who is yelling at Baekhyun in a corner. The rest of the boy band follows him, but Blondie stops in front of Soojung, still surveying her with an odd look.
“I thought you went to study.” Taeyong says suddenly, and Soojung stands her ground against the suspicious look he keeps giving her. “Didn’t you?”
“I graduated a few years ago.” She says quietly and it takes a while before it dawns on him. Jongin kind of thinks it’s stupid how Blondie seems to reckon Soojung’s life has stopped at seventeen. “You made it. Congratulations.”
“You would have too, if you didn’t go.” Taeyong says, and Soojung doesn’t respond. Jongin suddenly feels like his presence is unneeded, but he can’t go. Not when an idol is speaking to his junior like she still has to pay for a decision everyone else derides as dumb when it’s really not. “You know Hina only made it in because you left, and they couldn’t find anyone else who dances as well as you. Stupid, really, to give that sort of chance up to the girl who trained for what, two years?”
Soojung opens her mouth to say something but Taeyong cuts her off again. “I mean, to study? And you cut off contact with everyone completely to do that? Man, Soojung, I hate to say this, but that was really such a stupid move.” There’s a fire in her eyes now but Taeyong just keeps going. “Whatever. Like hyung said, you’re back in the business now, so.”
“So?” She says and Taeyong looks at her, arching an eyebrow. “So what now, Taeyong?”
“I’m just saying that you know everyone who’s working with us now.” Taeyong shrugs and Jongin wants to make him shut up. “So, it’s only polite that you help your old company out.”
The kid has some nerve, Jongin thinks as Soojung sucks in a deep breath. The main manager is calling out for Taeyong, who waves impatiently and looks back at Soojung again. “Yeah? For old time’s sake, anyhow.”
The spark in Soojung’s eyes blazes even more fiercely now and she takes a step towards Taeyong, which clearly scares him a little, because she looks so determined that Jongin feels like applause is in order. “Taeyong,” she says very calmly, “I don’t get to make any big decisions, but even if I did, I wouldn’t hand anything to SM on a platter. Because I’m with the station, and this is my job now.”
She finishes by bowing and taking her leave. Jongin gapes a little as she stalks out of the studio doors and turns back around to see Taeyong’s mouth hanging open. He’s never been put in his place before, Jongin surmises, and the main manager yells for him again.
“Off you go, buddy.” Jongin motions carelessly and Taeyong gives him a sizing up before bowing and tearing off. Idols have never been the biggest concern on Jongin’s mind, not when he has so many projects to take care of, but now he wonders if he can convince Sungmi to give Taeyong such stupid lines to read that he’ll be screencapped and made into memes that will never be forgotten for the rest of his career. It’s worth a shot, he thinks as Chanyeol ambles over to him, moaning about how he has to go and edit now, but all Jongin is concerned about is where Soojung has gone.
Soojung avoids him until it’s 10 PM and she’s so obvious that Sunyoung stops by his desk on her way out to ask if he’s done anything to her. “Jongin, I won’t forgive you if you did.” Sunyoung wags a warning finger in his face. “Even if you are Jongin.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he sighs and goes back to typing, “so don’t worry about having to not forgive me for something I didn’t do.”
“Then why is she so quiet?” Sunyoung motions surreptitiously at Soojung, who is also typing away intently at her computer. The huge wedding photo on Jongdae’s desk blocks off part of her face, but doesn’t hide her frown. Jongin looks up at Sunyoung, who looks genuinely worried, and shakes his head.
“Exo dude was rude to her.” He says and Sunyoung lets out a little gasp of horror. “You know the leader? Yeah, that one.”
“Taeyong?” Sunyoung says like she’s smelled something bad. “That kid? I’m not surprised. He pissed off Jongdae oppa pretty bad that one time. And let’s not talk about Kyungsoo oppa. Or Team Leader. Ooh, he got Team Leader furious.”
“Yeah whatever it is, he was rude to her but she put him in his place.” Jongin says and then Soojung looks up from her screen. Sunyoung immediately coughs and pretends to be doing something else. It’s too obvious, but Soojung doesn’t notice. “Just, I don’t know, send her encouraging messages?”
“Aren’t you the person to go to for that?” Sunyoung says in a hushed tone. “The both of you are so close now, maknae line.”
“Wh—” Jongin sputters but Minseok’s office door swings open just then. When the boss goes home everyone is free to as well, and as soon as Minseok is out of the door, Sunyoung bounds off without giving Jongin a chance to continue his sentence. Soon it’s just the both of them, and the lights start going off in the corridors outside. Jongin closes his document and ponders on what to say, but Soojung preempts him by standing up first and bowing a quick goodbye.
“Soojung!” He kicks his chair backwards and rushes after her. “Soojung, wait!”
She stops a few steps outside the doors of their office, and he can see now how tired she looks. She’s still waiting for him to say something, and he can’t think of anything, so Jongin simply jangles the keys in his hands. “Let me lock up the office first?”
There is a very long pause before Soojung nods. He lets out a small breath of relief and bends down to lock the doors. They don’t say anything, not even as they take the elevator down and tap their staff passes to get out of the building. Jongin drives but as Soojung says goodbye again to walk to the nearest bus stop, he decides that taking public transportation home tonight is going to be a great choice.
“Where are you going?” He asks, and she responds with a place that is in the exact opposite direction of Hongdae, but he keeps walking with her nevertheless. “Great, me too.”
Soojung gives him an odd look before she goes back to looking at the ground again. “Don’t you live in Hongdae, sunbae-nim?”
Jongin fumbles for a while, but she doesn’t press for answers. They reach the bus stop rather quickly and they descend into silence again. He doesn’t know what to say, and it’s killing him. Jongin wants to ask what the whole Taeyong fiasco was about, but the look of sheer exhaustion on her face keeps the words firmly at the bottom of his chest. The bus arrives shortly, and Soojung picks a seat near the back. He slides in beside her and she leans her head against the window. Jongin kind of wants to pat her on the head, but refrains.
They begin at the same time, and Soojung turns to look at him, puzzled, before she lets out a laugh and smiles. It’s a very tired smile, and Jongin wants it to go away. “You go first, sunbae-nim.”
“No, you go first.” He’s very firm about it, and she obliges.
“I think I owe you an explanation about just now,” she says and the tiredness clouds her eyes again, “but I don’t know how to begin.”
Jongin makes a face and she laughs a little again. At least this time it sounds more real. “Well, just tell me anything you want to.”
Soojung taps her fingers against the window, and it takes a while before he realises that it’s to the tune of the debut song of that girl group. “Taeyong… Taeyong and I trained together when I was still with SM. He came in when I was fifteen. We’re the same age, so we got on together pretty well.” She looks at him and Jongin blinks. “Shortly before I left we started dating. It lasted for like, two months. So it was a thing that wasn’t?”
Oh. Jongin nods stiffly and she continues.
“The thing about Taeyong was, he wanted to debut so much. I was just this kid who had been training for so long and put into the pre-debut team, but I was also the unsure one? I remember him constantly telling me to want it, like if I did I could be worth something. The truth is, I didn’t know if I wanted any of that. It came to me much later when I was in university, but I was training because I was used to it. Like a habit I didn’t have any opinions on. I liked dancing, probably, but did I like it so much that I wanted to make it my entire life? I really didn’t have an answer. So I guess that performance was really helpful. Going up there feeling nothing and coming down absolutely terrified—it was eye-opening, for one. But even after I left, it was still so… I still had no idea about what I wanted to do. Who I was. I went back to high school full time and studied so hard and got into Sungkyungkwan, and then I looked at myself and went, what now? I didn’t know what do next. My sister says I follow through with whatever I’m given, and I guess it’s true. But I can’t think for myself.”
She bows her head a little and this time Jongin allows himself to touch her comfortingly.
“So I went to this shipping company, put whatever I’d learned into practical use, and still felt unhappy. My parents asked if I wanted to move with them to the States so that I could be near them and my sister, but I didn’t want to. I seriously had no idea what I wanted to do, until I saw that our station was hiring. Did you know that I sent in my application when I was half-drunk? Couldn’t do it sober because I was so afraid.”
She laughs slightly and Jongin moves to pat her on the shoulder.
“I actually made it through. Even until now I still can’t believe I made it. But I also realised that I couldn’t really leave the entertainment world, I guess. If I couldn’t be part of it, I wanted to be near it? It’s so weird because it sounds so hypocritical, but I really, really like what I’m doing now. I like waking up everyday and thinking, I’m going to work and I’m loving what I do. I like taking the bus and thinking, I’m going to do this and that and this with Jongin sunbae-nim today. I like knowing that I chose this for myself. That I’m going through this not because it’s a habit, but because I like it.”
“But meeting Taeyong today brought back memories of being so unsure and I—” She pauses, searching for the right words, maybe, and Jongin waits until she finds them. “I—I felt like I was that seventeen year old all over again.”
They lapse into silence, the bus rumbling quietly as they peel past empty streets. Jongin’s hand is still on her shoulder, and he stretches to wrap his arm around her shoulder in a comforting hold. She lets him and they stay there quietly.
“Soojung,” he begins and she responds with a quiet mmm, “you’re not seventeen anymore. Our past experiences shape us, but we don’t live for them. You are who you are now, and no matter if you’re seventeen or twenty six, you’re still the Soojung that we all have come to love. Don’t beat yourself up for ten years that have helped mould you into the wonderful person you are today.”
Soojung’s head remains bowed for a few beats, but he can feel the warmth of her fingers as she reaches up to touch him on the hand he has on the edge of her arm. His ears are burning. Never going to laugh at Baekhyun about it again, he swears silently.
“Thank you,” she says softly, “Jongin oppa.”
“I cannot believe he put me on an idol-related project again,” Kyungsoo yells as soon as Minseok is out of earshot in his office, “did we not get enough crap to handle for that Music Bank special six months ago? Is half a year too short a time period to assuage my wounds? I say yes.”
“Um hyung,” Jongin hates to do it but it has to be pointed out, “Soojung and I were the ones who did most of the idol-related work, so…”
“Silence, padawan.” Kyungsoo glares at him as they troop back to their desks. “Do you not know that handling station execs is scarier? Also, we’re having a baby so don’t talk back to a dad okay.”
That absolutely makes no sense at all but Jongin gives him a patronising nod and slides back behind his desk. He turns on his computer and peeps over to see that Soojung’s desk is empty. She has been attached to a new variety programme lately, and it means being out of their office more often than not. But it also means a lot of new experience for her, and he’s happy to see that. The huge wedding photo on Jongdae’s desk is now one of him, Liyin, and a beaming Ayeon, and while Jongin appreciates having a happy family smile at him for nine hours a day, it also reminds him that he’s woefully still far away from having one of his own—yet. And Kyungsoo is having his first kid with Minseul. What an unfair world.
His phone buzzes and he picks it up while his computer loads. He smiles to read it (“Lunch, oppa?”) and types yes quickly in response. It’s only thirty minutes to lunchtime, but when Kyungsoo is on the phone with Minseul’s gynaecologist, Jongin seizes the chance to sneak out. He’s sure that Kyungsoo will bombard him with messages later, but whatever. A man’s got to do what he’s got to do if he wants to be several steps closer to a family of his own.
Soojung is waiting for him by the main doors of the station as he taps his pass on the way out. “Hello,” he wiggles his eyebrows at her and she laughs before falling in step beside him, “how is Superman Returns?”
“Is it me, or do I keep getting assigned to do special episodes?” Soojung asks as they walk out to the open air car park. “It's okay so far, though everyone has to rely on the translator because the Chinese marketing people are speaking so fast. But it's great. I'm really enjoying myself.”
“I'm not,” he says sadly, “because we haven’t had much time to date.”
“Oppa,” Soojung laughs, “come on, we eat lunch together every other day!” She reaches to put an arm around his shoulders and Jongin pulls it down so that he can hold her hand. The wind is cold so he puts it into his pocket.
“We used to eat together every day.” He sighs and she chuckles. “Gone are the days of Jung Soojung wanting to eat with her sunbae-nim for all three meals.”
Soojung hits him lightly and he shakes her hand around in his pocket. “Fine, fine. Stay-in dinner this weekend?”
“Deal.” His eyes light up and she grins at him. It’s a wonder how they’ve progressed, from cautiousness to openness and, his most favourite stage of all, romance. Jongin knows he’s probably the one that fell in love first, but the way Soojung looks at him now makes up for everything. Maybe one day, he thinks as they make their way towards his car, he’ll have a A4-sized photo of them on his desk too.
“Oh my god.” They’re almost there when somebody lets out a piercing scream. “Oh my god, Kim Jongin! Maknae! What are you doing?”
It’s Jongdae, who’s staring at them like Jongin’s committed a sin of grave proportions. He doesn’t know whether to roll his eyes or to sink on his knees and say sorry just so Jongdae can go away. Instead, Jongin pulls their hands out from his pocket and waves them in the air, still intertwined.
“Yes, hyung. What you see,” he shakes them again, “is what you think you see.”
“You are not making any sense!” Jongdae looks like he’s losing his mind.
“I mean we’re dating.” Jongin yells across the car park. Soojung lets out an incredulous laugh, and then it turns into a flat-out laughing session as Jongdae freezes, unfreezes, then runs back into the building at top speed while yelling “I called it!”.
“He so did not,” Jongin frowns as he unlocks the car. Soojung is still doubled over with laughter. “What do we do now?”
It takes a while before Soojung stops laughing. He’s already bundled her into the car by then, and she looks at him, eyes still bright with amusement. “Eat lunch, and then get back to work?” She offers, and Jongin clucks his tongue before turning the car out.
“Yeah? Just be prepared for everybody basically pouncing on me for silently taking out the maknae behind their backs and not sayi—” He is cut off by Soojung reaching over and pressing a kiss on his cheek. Well. His ears grow hot again but Jongin is sure that whatever Kyungsoo is going to snipe at him later won’t matter anymore.
“Thank you, oppa.” She says, and he’s reminded of that night, when they took the bus all the way to Namyangju and she’d let him hold her until she felt better. But they’re more than that now, and he should be the one saying thank you instead. “For taking care of the kid who didn’t know what she was doing, and for being willing to be shredded to pieces by Kyungsoo sunbae-nim and Team Leader.”
She pauses for a moment, her eyes twinkling, and he’s really a goner. “And for liking the girl who didn’t love anything until she made it here.”
It’s not true. She probably made it into his heart before he even realised that she had, and it’s a major accomplishment, but Jongin thinks that he’ll tell her a little later. Lunch is important, especially when you know there is a major battle to be fought in the office later. And he’s been wanting to take her to this burger place forever, because she’s such a big fan (after effect of not being able to eat those during her ten years of training, he thinks, and he’ll do anything to negate that).
“You’re welcome.” So he clears his throat, and says.
And Soojung kisses him again.