“Haha, right. Glad you came.”
While munching on the grilled eel that Kang Ichae sang praises for, Seong Jiwon was acting as he usually did.
He laughed often, hummed tunes occasionally, and even made sure to take care of all the members. His kindness peaked when he took out cup noodles from his bag for the whining members who claimed to be hungry even after the meal.
“Eating cup noodles when you’re starving is seriously the best.”
“Wow~, our youngests seems to have lived a full life already…”
As the younger members gleefully anticipated the noodles Seong Jiwon had taken out, he just chuckled and quietly stood up.
That’s when it happened.
“Where are you going?”
Seo Hoyun, who seemed to be in a particularly bad mood today, asked. Jiwon rolled his eyes slightly but responded lightly.
“Aren’t you thirsty? I’ll go buy us some drinks.”
“Hyung, it’s late~.”
“We can order room service.”
“There’s a convenience store close by, right? I’ll just go and get some fresh air. I’ll be back soon.”
“Jiwon-hyung, should I come with you?”
As Kang Ichae tried to get up, Seo Hoyun suddenly grabbed his arm. Kang Ichae frowned as they exchanged glances. But Seong Jiwon, whose mind was already elsewhere, failed to notice.
“I’ll be quick.”
Seong Jiwon offered a faint smile to the other members and stubbornly went outside. Even though no one followed him, his steps quickened as he moved further away from the hotel.
The smile that had lingered on his lips faded away.
He had acted nonchalant in front of the noisy members, but in truth, Seong Jiwon was anxious.
It seemed the members hadn’t noticed yet.
Seo Hoyun had asked if it was a sasaeng but hadn’t brought it up again. The other members didn’t even mention it.
Seong Jiwon reviewed his memories, trying to figure out if he had made any mistakes.
No news is good news, I guess.
The members would still be joking around and bickering back at the dorm, and he could return as if nothing had happened, blending in naturally. Just the thought of it was satisfying… and made him happy.
They were nothing like the trainees from D.go Entertainment.
No, maybe it wasn’t the trainees’ fault.
They hadn’t always been like that.
In D.go’s competitive environment, where scores and rankings dictated everything, trainees were subtly coerced to keep up or risk feeling worthless if they fell behind. This left them with little choice.
Jealousy, envy, endless rumors, and the torrent of criticism that sometimes choked you up. And the filthy, sticky mud pit that felt like it would drown you if you stepped in.
Having seen, heard, and experienced all of this, Seong Jiwon really…
This time, he absolutely did not want to compromise.
Determined to finish quickly and return to the members, Seong Jiwon stood in a narrow alley a little away from the hotel, staring at his phone which shone brightly in the dark night.
In fact, Seong Jiwon hadn’t changed his phone number. On the contrary, he had tried hard to remember that sasaeng’s number.
As the vibration continued, he coolly sorted out his thoughts with an unusually cold expression.
It wasn’t about whether to cut off the sasaeng or not.
It was about whether he had the courage to take the risk and dig deeper into this issue.
However, his contemplation on the question was shorter than he thought.
Of course, I want to know.
Clutching at fleeting memories, Seong Jiwon drooped his tired gaze.
But this isn’t right—
And just as his finger was about to touch the phone.
Someone abruptly stopped his hand.
Startled, Seong Jiwon almost dropped his phone, but it was deftly caught by—
“What are you doing?”
It was none other than Seo Hoyun, who had been moody all afternoon, now looking at him with piercing eyes.
Has this guy gone crazy?
Just in case, Hoyun had followed Jiwon after a short delay.
But sneaking out here without the members knowing just to answer a sasaeng’s call?
I was so dumbfounded that I just stared at Seong Jiwon.
Seong Jiwon looked at me with shocked eyes as if seeing a ghost. Then he blinked.
“Uh, Hoyun. When did you get here?”
“What are you doing?”
“Me? I was just going to buy some drinks…”
I burst out laughing. It certainly wasn’t out of joy. My mood, which had been somewhat tolerable until just now, had plummeted in an instant.
“Seong Jiwon, you…”
“Do you find lying fun?”
I had always been relatively gentle with Seong Jiwon. Seeing me speak so bluntly made Seong Jiwon’s shoulders flinch.
I pressed my fingers to my forehead to suppress my rising irritation.
“…Sigh, can you just stop pretending not to know and answer properly from now on?”
“You were about to answer that call just now.”
Seong Jiwon moved his lips as if to say something, but then averted my gaze. It was as good as an admission, and he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to deny it here.
“No, I was going to hang up.”
“But I did think about it, that’s true.”
He admitted it. Now for the second question.
“Are you dating someone?”
“…What, what did you say?”
I thought I was quite sharp, but the best I could come up with in this situation to provoke Seong Jiwon into spilling the beans himself was just this.
“Dating a sasaeng?”
The act of secretly taking a fan’s call behind the members’ backs was just too provocative.
Seong Jiwon laughed at my blunt question, as if he found it ridiculous.
Obviously, it wasn’t out of joy, and it seemed like he was a bit angry, which was rare for him.
“…Seo Hoyun, that’s a bit harsh. Me, dating a sasaeng?”
Seong Jiwon’s voice was even lower than usual, and he was slightly biting his lip.
“You don’t really think I’d do that, right? Because if I did, I’d be pretty fucking angry.”
Of course not, damn it….
Do you think I was crazy?
What did Seong Jiwon lack? He had it all.
It’s not like he was a screw loose like some other guys.
Seong Jiwon promised he wouldn’t date, and he was the kind of guy who would keep that promise until the end. Unless the love of the century came along (even then I’d still tear it apart), dating a fan just didn’t make any sense.
Now looking at Seong Jiwon, who kept dropping his gaze to the floor, I took off the cap I was wearing and rubbed my head vigorously.
Seeing him react to such a cheap provocation made me feel disgusted, even though I was the one who had applied the pressure.
After sighing and wiping my face, I put my cap back on, and Seong Jiwon, leaning against the wall, carefully looked at me, but immediately lowered his eyes again. He then spoke in a tone slightly softer than before.
“…You didn’t really mean what you just said.”
“Then why did you say it like that?”
Despite his young age and having been through the wringer in the entertainment industry, Seong Jiwon was astute enough to discern my true feelings from my brief behavior. Plus, he was willing to confront me head-on, even knowing the kind of person I was.
“I was just curious, Jiwon.”
More pressure was needed.
“What the hell is going on with you right now?”
Seong Jiwon remained unable to meet my eyes directly, just biting his lower lip firmly.
Seeing that, I was hit by a wave of realization.
What was I doing with this guy right now? If it had been anyone else, I would have teased them without blinking an eye and laughed it off, but doing this to Seong Jiwon felt a bit…
…That’s not what’s important right now.
I decided to go over Seong Jiwon’s actions from the beginning once more.
Being kind-hearted and being rational were completely separate issues.
Seong Jiwon was the only one who showed kindness amidst the wariness of everyone when I said I would rejoin The Dawn. Perhaps he simply harbored sympathy for someone who had been hurt. Either way, it meant he was gentle and good-natured.
But fundamentally, Seong Jiwon was rational and had good judgment. Even compared to Kang Ichae, he was someone who kept his own counsel well.
Normally, he would have cut ties as soon as a sasaeng got involved.
The fact that he didn’t tell me immediately meant he had something he wanted to hide.
‘Don’t follow him right away.’
‘Let’s just watch for a bit.’
That was also why Kang Ichae and I didn’t immediately follow Seong Jiwon.
For that same reason, every time Seong Jiwon seemed restless, I just observed without intervening.
But look at him now. He’s troubled, yet he’s trying to meet up anyway.
I need to dig deeper.
There must be something more.
Things a sasaeng would likely know.
There were two types to consider. Either it was a secret that Seong Jiwon wanted to keep, even to the point of meeting a sasaeng… or something he desperately wanted to find out.
I took my eyes off Seong Jiwon.
Should I find something in the item shop to force it out of him, or should I just press him further as is…
While I was organizing my thoughts, Seong Jiwon, who had been silent all along, suddenly let out an odd remark.
“…So, this is what it’s like.”
Seong Jiwon’s eyelashes trembled.
“So, this is how other people feel…”
I furrowed my brows, wondering if he was trying to slip away like before, but that wasn’t the case.
With a complicated expression, Seong Jiwon simply fiddled with his lips and then answered honestly.
“…I have no intention of dating anyone while I’m active. You too, right, Hoyun?”
“Is that so? Then why go to the lengths of being so cautious and hiding it?”
Seong Jiwon was silent for a while. I tried to meet his eyes as I spoke.
“A guy who was fine is now anxious, deliberates over a sasaeng call, doesn’t even change his phone number, lies to his groupmates, and now just clamp their mouth shut as if guilty?”
“Seong Jiwon, say something. Anything.”
Seong Jiwon was… strange.
As much as I thought I knew what made him tick, I realized I didn’t—not completely.
He practiced like crazy but usually kept a detached expression, although sometimes he acted like someone cornered at the edge of a cliff.
And that was still true now.
“…Right, you’re correct, Hoyun. I was suspicious… I did something wrong…”
He hung his head low and after a while, Seong Jiwon mumbled hesitantly.
“…I just wanted to know something.”
My eyebrows twitched. Seong Jiwon raised his head again and met my gaze head-on.
“Being cautious, lying, hiding… I did all that because there’s something I wanted to know, Hoyun.”
“Everyone has something they’re desperate for…”
It felt like I was being admonished.
I cursed inwardly after hearing his words.
My head throbbed as if I had been smacked on the back of the head.
Only then did I realize that Seong Jiwon’s current situation, as he looked at me squarely, wasn’t all that different from how I had been treating the members all this time.
Everyone has something they’re desperate for…?
Is he actually threatening me now?
If he was just doing the trifecta of being cautious, lying, and hiding, that would be a relief.
Me? I’ve threatened people, insisted on my way, swallowed my pride, and flirted shamelessly. Because I also wanted to know something.
So this is your move, Seong Jiwon.
It was clear I was at a disadvantage.
The laughter and chatter with the members until just now felt like a lie and vanished. So, I lowered my head for a moment.
Could I really claim a double standard without telling them, thinking I could get away with it? Did I really need to borrow the power of an item?
While furiously tapping away at the mental calculator in my head… Seong Jiwon tapped the ground with the tip of his shoe.
“Let’s do this. I was planning not to contact them, but not changing my phone number was madness in itself, so I’m grateful you stopped me. Really… I won’t go any further than this.”
Seong Jiwon slowly sorted out the situation.
Seong Jiwon pulled out his trump card.
He clearly knew I was hiding something. And I knew that Seong Jiwon had something on his mind as well. With both of us understanding the situation, there were only two possibilities.
Either spill everything or bury all secrets.
Just as I had done with countless others, including Kim Jaeyeon.
I looked at him, contemplating the terms of the deal I could offer—
“…Just give me a little more time.”
—when Seong Jiwon made his request.
“Sorry to bother you when you’re busy, and for asking this favor.”
Seong Jiwon looked troubled. But unlike me, who couldn’t grasp the situation, he seemed to have already sorted out his thoughts as he nodded.
“I just… can’t bring myself to say it now. When I’m ready, I’ll tell you first.”
It sounded a bit deflating.
“…Is it too shameless to ask?”
I couldn’t find the words to respond.
Seong Jiwon just…
Just let go of my issue.
All the conditions I was weighing in my head just evaporated.
Seong Jiwon finally smiled faintly after studying my face.
“You’ll listen to me.”
Despite the fact that I hadn’t said anything.
In the silence that piled up and settled heavily, I, who hadn’t properly placed my bet and felt like a cowardly loser, bowed my head… But I still felt the vibration from Seong Jiwon’s phone, which I was still holding tightly.
…It was Kim Seonghyeon.
After looking at him hopelessly, I sighed and handed the phone to Seong Jiwon. He glanced up to check my reaction and cautiously accepted the phone.
“Ah, uh… Seonghyeon. Yeah. I’ll be right there. …Yeah, Hoyun is here too.”
I stood there listening to the noisy chatter coming from the other side of the phone while Seong Jiwon spoke gently as usual. After ending the call, he took a step towards me.
And he really watched me like a hawk.
I avoided his kind eyes and answered,
“Dajun wants me to buy cola.”
This damn maknae…
The moment I heard that, my simmering irritation exploded, and I turned and strode away, leaving Seong Jiwon behind. The frustration wasn’t with Seong Jiwon; it was with myself.
Seong Jiwon called out behind me with a noticeably flustered voice.
“Should I buy it by myself?”
“Do whatever you want.”
I felt like a single cigarette would have cleared my frustration, but when I instinctively reached into my pocket… there wasn’t even a piece of candy, let alone a cigarette, that Kang Ichae used to give me. I tilted my head back and exhaled a heavy sigh.
“Ha, seriously, nothing is going right…”
My luck today was absolutely terrible.
I ended up going back to the convenience store for candy after almost getting close to the hotel, but I regretted not going to one further away because I ran into Seong Jiwon, who was awkwardly smiling as he reached for a cola.
“Are you going to pay for the cola?”
Seriously… my luck today was the worst.