For Changmin, books have always been special. There's something so captivating, so intrinsically magical about books that makes him stay for hours on end in libraries, or pulls him out of his covers on Saturday mornings to pay a visit to certain bookstores. Be it old or new, a book of any subject will always hold his interest, and even if it isn't that good he'll sit through it like a good boy.364 DAYS UNTIL SHIM CHANGMIN FALLS IN LOVE WITH KIM JAEJOONG.
"When you read all sorts of books, you'll be able to tell which is good and which is bad, which needs to be worked on a lot and which needs just a little spice. It's these little things—" His father pauses to point at certain parts of the book they're reading right now. "— these tiny details that make all the difference."
"Like how Luisa wore her pink, lacy, rainbow-printed socks the wrong way," Changmin asks in genuine curiosity and not at all in spite.
His father shrugs. "Mm yes, that can be. Yes."
Changmin doesn't really know where his love for books stems from. Maybe it's because the first gift he had ever received from his parents was a book — The Little Prince by Saint Antoine de-Exupery — or maybe it's because his father works in a publishing company. Either way, he's happy with how things are, and his greatest dream in life is to be perpetually surrounded by books.
So when he's finally 22, he enters his father's publishing company.
He's an instant shoe-in in the literary section, and there he finds himself loving books all the more. In a few month's time, he gets promoted to Literary Editor, and he gets well-known authors published under his name. There are rumors about his father pulling some strings from time to time, but he ignores all of these. As long as he's getting his job done, and well at that, nothing can possibly go wrong.
This is what he tries to believe for three long years.
It's one of those long and dreary nights when he's gone overtime again. It's eleven in the evening and he still hasn't had dinner. The convenience store ramyeon sounds delicious when it's this late, but at the same time he thinks he's had way too much of it already. Instant food for the busy soul.
"I guess I'll just grab some chips," he mumbles, eyes wandering aimlessly. He blinks a few times to keep his vision clear. He has a habit of talking to himself when he's tired; people probably wouldn't mind if he talked to himself right now. "And maybe Banana milk. No time to eat when I get home—"
"The best seller is Shim's author again," comes a voice from the end of the hallway, just near the entrance of the building. "He gets all the good ones." Changmin squints and a familiar face comes into focus — the one talking is from his team, that guy sitting just beside him in the office. The guy's with two other people from his group, a girl and a guy who he recognizes to be the editors he has worked with for their most recent book. Changmin bites his lip.
The girl laughs, disbelief in the undertone of her voice. "Tell me about it. He's never gotten a rogue author before. We're stuck with the rotten ones, I tell you. We're never getting a break with him around."
The other guy cuts through the conversation. "Cut the kid some slack," he says, scoffing a little. "Although come on, he's the owner's son. What would you expect?"
"Excuse me! Have you seen the end of the month report? Phenomenal numbers, I'm telling you!" Changmin rushes. His fists are clenched when he walks up to the three, a big smile on his lips. "Well, don't just stand there. Say something!"
"Yeah, we saw," the girl begins, voice a little weak and awkward. "Your title's the best seller again, Shim. You should drink to that."
"Nah, I wouldn't. Didn't do it alone." Changmin chuckles. "You guys helped by, uh, let's see, thinking I got the big name again because of my connections. Because I'm my dad's son."
"Changmin, you've got it all wrong—"
"Don't worry. It's all good. No hard feelings!" A hearty laugh escapes his lips, but there's a bitter tang at the tip of his tongue waiting to be spit out. "I mean after all, you guys have been at this ever since I got in. Papa's boy, Shim Changmin."
There's variety in their facial expressions — the guy who brought up the topic of best sellers is looking to side, lips parted a little in apparent uncertainty, the girl's biting her lip, and the other guy's eyebrows are furrowed in conflict. Changmin studies their faces carefully so that he'll never forget the faces of those who mocked him in his own company, so that he'll know who to prove himself to.
Changmin turns on his heel when he's done, looking over his shoulder for a closing statement. "I won't be here starting tomorrow. Time to step up, kids," he says, lips drawn up just slightly to a smirk. "I'm sure you'll get 'em big shots when I'm not around." He doesn't wait for a reply, or an apology, or anything that can remotely be considered a reaction. He trudges on, walking down the silent streets of Myungdong, eyes fixed on nothing but the evening sky, mind filled with only one determined thought — a thirst to prove to the world that he can excel in his field without the help of his father.
It's half past eleven and he hasn't had dinner yet, but he doesn't mind, especially after he sends a short text message to his father.
I'm handing in my resignation, Mr. Shim. Consider this effective starting tomorrow.
Not more than a month after, he gets accepted into another publishing company — Sooman Publications. The specifics of his job are still a bit blurred, but he comes in on the Monday following his interview, doing as he has been told. The place feels and smells much like home — silent, magical, and with books everywhere.
"Shim Changmin…" The voice of the lady who has escorted him to his new office drifts off. "You're the new hire for the Emerald department, aren't you?"
"I um, don't think I'm following. What's the Emerald department?"
The lady laughs a little. "Oh silly, you don't have to play innocent about it! It's okay to know stuff about the Emerald department! I mean, it's not as if being part of the manhwa department is that bad..."
"Uh, yeah." Changmin soon finds himself laughing along until the lady's words finally get processed in his mind, one by one — part of the manhwa department.
"Wait, wait! You've got it all wrong!" He abruptly stops in his tracks. "I specifically told the interviewer that I used to be the Literary editor in my company and I prefer to stay that way! There… there must be a mistake!"
There's a look of confusion in the lady's eyes before she reaches inside the envelope she's carrying for Changmin's information sheet. "But it clearly says here — Shim Changmin, full-time employee, female manhwa department. Besides, the people there are all nice and sweet! Plus the guys are all good-looking and, well, so are you..."
"Female manhwa? What—"
Changmin slowly tears his gaze from the lady and scans the office for a good first impression. To say that he's shocked is an understatement; mortification, yes, that's what he's feeling right now as he surveys the entire office, his eyes settling on the desks that should otherwise be occupied by people, then on the piles of papers scattered all over the office. "I— I'm sorry, there was a mistake. This clearly isn't a good time— There… must be a mistake with the cycle—" the lady rushes, and she turns around to leave even before Changmin can ask what she's supposed to mean by that (and if there's actually a good time to walk in on this kind of office).
"Good morning. I'm Shim Changmin and I'm the new editor. Pleased to make your acquaintance?" he calls out, a bit unsure if anyone's listening or even paying attention. One of the piles rustles a bit, and from amidst the clutter three men appear, all beaming weakly at him.
"Mr. Kim, the new guy's here," one of the editors says. There is silence for a while until he repeats, "Mr. Kim!"
"Quiet! I hear it the first time, okay!" Some grunting and mumbling, and finally Changmin gets called to the editor-in-chief's office. "Come here, new kid!"
Changmin smiles at the three for a while before they collapse back into the piles.
The road — more like the paper-filled aisle — to the boss' office proves to be quite a challenge, what with the piles of manhwa and papers left and right, so he takes the shortcut and makes a leap for it, effectively reaching the cubicle in just a few leaps. He straightens out his clothes, puts on his best and most polite smile and doesn't let it falter even after seeing his new boss' disgruntled state.
"Your name?" The boss has a manhwa on his face, so the line comes out a bit muffled.
"Changmin." He takes a deep breath before repeating, "Shim Changmin."
"Cute name." The boss slowly gets back to his feet, and he soon removes the manhwa from his face. "I wasn't there for the interview, but I saw your credentials. You've got three years of editing experience?" The boss pushes his glasses with his index finger casually, and Changmin wonders for a while if this is actually an interview and not his first day at work.
He nods, musters whatever courage he has left. "Yes. I used to work for Shim Publications. I—"
"Any experience with manhwa editing? Comics, at least? Magazines?"
"N-none at all."
The boss turns to him for the first time. "So you're new at this." Changmin nods because this is the truth, and this is the part where he expects for the worst or maybe a sudden change of character in his new boss. The boss chuckles, adjusts his glasses again. "Completely useless. But anyway—"
Changmin fights the urge to raise and eyebrow and to answer back. This is your first day here, Changmin. Make a good first impression, the quit after two weeks! He repeats this in his head until the shrill ringing of the phone resonates in the room.
"Mr. Kim, Taeyeon is here with drawings for the replacement manuscript. She said she's waiting in the lobby."
"Tell her to meet me in the lounge. You, new kid, come with me."
"What?" Changmin takes a step back, alarmed at the sudden turn of events. He's new and he knows nothing about manhwa editing, but Kim is making him tag along to meet the artist. Isn't this something done by those with experience, at the very least?
Kim looks at him from head to toe. "Well, what are you waiting for? Show me what you can do, new kid. Come on."
"Thank you for coming. I know it's impossible to finish the drawings in three days, but you managed to pull through."
"Ah, no, really! It's okay!" Taeyeon's cheeks turn a bright shade of red. "I had time, anyway, so..." She chuckles and hands the replacement manuscript to Kim. Praises from Mr. Kim must mean a lot, Changmin thinks. Maybe that's how he gets away with being rude.
"Well, don't just stand there," Kim says flatly. "Be of use."
Changmin takes a seat beside Kim and shifts uneasily when Kim places the manuscript between the two of them and, in turn, moves a bit too close for comfort. After going through the manuscript twice, Kim lays the illustrations beside it.
"Hm. This is good," Kim points at one of the panels. "But the kissing scene can use a bit more magic. Like, if you draw it from this angle, it should look more romantic."
Changmin turns to Kim sharply. "You're making her redraw the scene? But it's already good!"
Kim raises an eyebrow at him. "The new kid has something to say?" This effectively silences Changmin and wards off any thoughts related to retaliating. Kim pushes his glasses back with his index finger — it must be a habit. "Besides, it can be improved. I don't want a half-assed drawing."
Taeyeon just nods as she redraws the scene quickly, adjusting some parts of it as Kim points out the areas to be improved.
"Hm. This won't work... You've already kissed someone before, haven't you?"
The statement sends Taeyeon gasping and turning at least two brighter shades of red, and, beside Kim, Changmin gapes at the whole scene. "Th-that's totally uncalled for," he mumbles, undecided on how he can actually help out and if he really should have commented with that. Kim doesn't turn to him, so he safely assumes that his boss didn't hear what he had just said.
"But even if I have, I won't... see how it looks like," Taeyeon replies, embarrassment in the tone of her voice. She laughs nervously.
Kim nods thoughtfully. "You're right."
Changmin doesn't know why Kim suddenly stands from his seat until Kim says, "I'll give you a reference, so draw this quickly." Changmin guesses that they'll be needing reference photos, so he quickly offers his help by asking where he can find those. Kim doesn't reply, so he repeats, "Um, sir, about the reference photos—" but then he abruptly gets cut by Kim grabbing his by the wrist, cutting their distance by more than a feet, reducing it to mere centimeters.
And then it happens, something Changmin has never dreamed of happening on his first day at work, something Changmin hasn't experienced in years — Kim kisses him on the lips. The kiss is innocent, but something about the warmth and softness of Kim's lips makes Changmin go a little weak in the knees and breathless. For the next ten seconds, the weird feeling sits still in his nerves, and Kim pulls away unannounced, straightens his clothes and turns back to Taeyeon with a straight face.
"Now sketch that."
Changmin's lips remain parted in disbelief, and he sinks in his seat until he feels his legs again. Five minutes after, Taeyeon perfects the drawing and Kim gives Taeyeon a well-deserved pat on the back and quickly gives the printer a call.
And the clock finally strikes twelve.
He breezes through the rest of the day, reading and checking the manuscripts that have just come in. Kim is quick to assign the task to him, saying, "I'm not supposed to treat you like a newbie, even if you really are. Make yourself useful." This is why Changmin is more than relieved when he finally finishes everything and Kim doesn't give him so much as a passing glance when he excuses himself for a break.
Who'd even think I'd be molested like that on my first day here, Changmin thinks, and sinks in his seat when the weird feeling settles on his stomach once more. Just thinking about the entire incident compels him to turn in his resignation as soon as possible.
My loss, definitely. Changmin frowns, sinking in his seat all the more.
"What?" Changmin asks rather irritatedly, and promptly takes it back when he turns around and sees Kim. "Oh. Um, yes. How did the nego with the press go?" Kim takes a deep breath and shrugs, then takes out a cigarette stick and lights it. How rude, Changmin thinks, especially when Kim blows some smoke his way.
"It went well. They accepted the manuscripts, at least. It's not as if they had a choice."
"That's true. I mean, they signed a contract and all."
"Oh, by the way," Kim pauses, even takes out the stick resting between his lips. "I talked to some higher ups earlier. You're the heir to the Shim Publications?"
Changmin averts his gaze from Kim. "No. I'm not related to the company at all."
A soft chuckle escapes from Kim's lips. "Disappointed you got assigned to the manhwa department?"
Changmin's eyes remain fixed on anything but Kim. He's never been good with lying, and if he's planning to tell a lie he'd have to make the least eye contact with whoever he's talking to. "It's... not that. It's just that I'm new to these things. Like, isn't female manhwa supposed to be about magic and sweet things and love?"
Kim bends over to put out his cigarette. "Funny you should say that."
"I mean," Changmin begins, rushing, "My experience of love has been bittersweet, for the most part, and I'm sure that's not how it's supposed to be in manhwas. It's just not my thing."
"Well then, if you hate it so much, then quit as early as now or you'll just be a burden."
It's the first time since the start of the encounter that Changmin actually looks at Kim in the eye. So you understand, he wants to say, but then something at the back of his tongue wants to lash out and say, No, you're wrong. I won't be a burden.
"Everyone starts out at the bottom of the ladder, kid. I'm sure whatever experience you have with literature won't be useless here."
Changmin furrows his eyebrows for a moment. Maybe this is Kim's way of encouraging people, that despite all the yelling and insulting, his aim is actually to bring out the best in people.
"But of course, useless people will always be useless unless they try doing something."
He shakes his head. No, definitely not. Kim's just weird. And rude. He must have issues.
"Anyway, the others went home already so you can go home, too. Just make sure to be here early. I've got a lot of work for you tomorrow."
Kim lights another stick before turning around and Changmin exhales freely, grateful at the fact that the awkward conversation is not over. He's just about to thank whoever deity has finally heard his prayers when he sees Kim stopping in his tracks to turn around.
"Oh, by the way, have we met before?"
"Probably not," Changmin replies, a bit unsure. Kim nods thoughtfully, shrugs, and gets back on his tracks, to Lord knows where.
Honest to God, Changmin wants to go home already and not come back to this office ever again, but the weirdest idea struck him after that conversation with Kim — he has to prove himself to Kim, no matter what. So he makes the wise decision of going to the stockroom to look for the manhwas Sooman Publications has ever released. He goes through each of them, starting with the first manhwa they ever published and slowly but surely making his way to the most recent.
It takes him longer than expected to finish everything, but the feeling of accomplishment is more than enough to not make him regret everything. So at three in the morning, he lays the most recent manhwa down on his desk and makes his way home.
(It's nine in the evening when Kim gets off from work. Well, not entirely, since he's got an author to meet in thirty minutes, and he can possibly be running late for said meeting already.
"Going home?" asks one editors in the office next to theirs. Kim shakes his head, then smiles a little.
He waves at the editor and takes a peek at the office through the blinds. He's set on going when he sees Shim with a pile of manhwa on his desk. He chuckles to himself.
This will be interesting.)
Changmin comes to work early, as per practice. He's only at the entrance of the building yet he feels like going back home already. The mere thought of spending another day in the battlefield, of spending another day with the person who stole a kiss from him yesterday, sends shivers down his spine.
He covers his mouth when he yawns. It seems like it wasn't such a good idea to stay up late to read all the manhwa in the inventory, after all.
"Good morning, Changmin!"
Changmin stops abruptly in his tracks and adjusts his vision to the new scene — his supposed office is now clean, pink, and reeking of flowers. He doesn't mind the overall change, but Jesus Christ why is the office so hideously pink?
"I… I think I went to the wrong office. I'm sorry for the mistake." Changmin turns around sharply and attempts to look to anyone for sanity or at least an explanation, but to no avail. His teammates grab him by the collar and drop him on his chair, grins still on their lips.
"B'awww, he's such a cutie!" one of his teammates comments, pinching his cheeks. "Sorry for yesterday, by the way. We were… a bit caught up with the bad manuscripts. But everything's with the press now, so we're fine."
Changmin nods slowly, digesting everything that he's just been told. He looks at each of the three — huge change there, he thinks, from the hairstyle to the clothes to the overall aura of each person. Then he remembers what the lady he met on his first day said.
"Is this part of the… cycle?"
"Oh, that!" There is collective chuckling, then a sharp intake of breath. "Yeah, I guess you can say that. They say we work like the 20-day Japanese Radish." Another chuckle. "That's what everyone says."
"I'm sorry, but what's with the 20-day Japanese Radish?"
The more serious-looking of the three steps up from behind the one who has just pinched his cheeks earlier. "They say the Japanese radish can be harvested in 20 days. The same works for us — we create manhwas in a 20-day period."
There's a mental image of radish growing in his backyard in Changmin's brain, and he doesn't blame himself or even feel the slightest remorse when the faces of his teammates superimpose on the radish.
He bites his tongue. "Ah, I see."
"Oh, by the way, I'm Junsu. Kim Junsu. Sometimes they call me 'the other Kim', but only because Mr. Kim came first." Junsu, the one who pinched his cheeks (sorry, but he can't get over this), says, then proceeds to introducing the others. "This is Park Yoochun. He prefers to be called Yoochun because Park is far too formal." His voice drops to a whisper after a while. "And he's popular with girls! There was a time when one of his authors walked up to him and gave him a bouquet of roses—"
"I think we're not here to discuss that, Junsu," Yoochun quips flatly. Junsu chuckles.
"Mhmm, right. And he's grumpy." Junsu winks at the end of his statement, and Yoochun just rolls his eyes. "And this is Park Jungsu! He's essentially Mr. Park Number Two... But anyway, Jungsu's a bit shy, but wait 'til he gets drunk." Junsu leans closer to Changmin. "He takes off his clothes."
Jungsu frowns a little. "I resent that, you know. So much for being the hyung—"
The conversation effectively gets cut off by Yoochun bringing up the topic of teaching Changmin the basics. They start with the shades, toners, then the phototypesetting and sticking inside the lines (unless explicably stated by the author). He then learns how to use this specific type of cutter that they use when laying down the letrasets. It's a pretty productive day, and he slowly gets the hang of things after a while.
"They say when you go out of the line, your heart's also out of the line," Jungsu comments as Changmin carefully lays down one of the text inside the text box. "So even if digital manuscripts are the norm nowadays, you should always be ready to do these things, and be mindful of what you do."
"Your phototypesetting was off by a millimeter," Yoochun quips, eyes fixed on Jungsu. "Last month's issue, page 6."
"Aa, Yoochun! Why didn't you point that out earlier!"
"And why didn't you pay more attention to what you were doing?"
Junsu laughs at the sidelines, and Changmin continues studying the other manhwa that the company has published. He scans the panels one by one, carefully studying the text placement, the order in which the textless scenes appear, even the way the tones are being applied on various scenes. One panel catches his attention, and he can't help but point it out to the three.
"Did the… writer run out of time for this manhwa or something? The ending seems kind of rushed."
Yoochun and Jungsu stop midway through their argument and huddle over Changmin. "What do you mean?"
"See, before the last page, she draws the characters in great detail, then on the last page she uses this huge whitespace, then cuts it with a block of toner and just places short text on it. It's as if the climax just… goes down." Changmin scrunches his nose. "It's almost as if she didn't have—"
Changmin doesn't know how it happens, but Kim is now standing in front of him, an accusatory pointed in his general direction. "That is called the maiden's heart-grabbing frame, you newbie!"
"The maiden's… heart-grabbing frame?"
"If you studied hard enough, you'd know! You see how the author builds up the story?" Kim grabs the manhwa from Changmin and slams it on his desk, and Changmin holds his breath for a while until Kim speaks again. "The girl clutches the back of the guy's shirt, and the author zooms in on that. Then she shows the small change in the guy's lip movement as the girl sets the mood for her confession. And then she switches to first person so that it becomes easier for the reader to sympathize with the reader!"
The flip of the page resonates a strange vibe, somehow, capturing's Changmin's attention all the more and making him hold his breath in anticipation.
"And then as the reader flips the page in anticipation, the realization comes to the girl, hitting her hard, like a wave of emotions enveloping her and she whispers her confession — slow, sure, yet muted."
Changmin breathes out heavily.
"You know how that feels, right?" the three chime, and Changmin shoots them a weird look. No, not at all, he wants to say, because his past experience with his first love when he was in high school has already jaded him when it comes to these things.
Manhwa characters have it easy. If only this was the case with his past love.
No, Shim Changmin. He bites the back of his tongue. You do not think about these things! Not about Han-sunbae!
He figures that the three won't let on if he doesn't show any sign of approval, so he nods and smiles a little and sets the manhwa aside. He runs his eyes through the catalogue of manhwa, checking which title seems the most interesting to read at this time of the day. "What are you doing with the catalogue?" Junsu asks, curious as always, head propped on Changmin's shoulder.
"I'm trying to read all the manhwa in our inventory but I 'm trying to familiarize myself with the titles first. That way, I'd have a good idea of what the manhwas are about even if I haven't read them yet."
Jungsu's eyes widen. "Are you serious? We've published more than a thousand books already!"
Changmin laughs. "It's okay. I used to read all the books in our library before as a hobby." There's a bit of embarrassment playing on Changmin's lips as he admits to his little secret and recalls the high school tirade he had to go through. From the corner of his eye, he sees Kim looking at him with wide eyes.
"Uh, 'something the matter, Mr. Kim?"
"I—" Kim pauses tentatively, eyebrows furrowed. For a moment, Changmin thinks he sees a bit of tenderness or even disbelief , but then it's hard to tell when the only look Changmin has ever seen Kim fashion is either one of boredom or anger. "Nothing," Kim soon says, and the conflict of emotions in his eyes abruptly disappears, especially when he says, "Now get back to work."
Kim is the perfect definition of bipolar, Changmin thinks, and he turns his attention to the manuscripts that have just come in for checking. "Strict as usual, Mr. Kim," Junsu slips casually, and Changmin looks over his shoulder to see if Kim will give anything that can be remotely equated to a reaction. But none of that — Kim is just reading, occasionally pushing back his glasses with his index finger.
Just before Changmin tears his eyes from the scene, he catches Kim looking at him, and he immediately shifts his gaze back to the pile of papers on his desk. He doesn't know why, but his heart is beating wildly and there are butterflies in his stomach. Maybe it's because of the fact that his boss just caught him staring, but really, really that shouldn't matter at all.
Changmin takes a deep breath. Best to not think about weird things and just work. Yes, that's right — work.
Kim pulls him out of whatever he's doing at around 2:30 to visit one of their author's who's falling behind the deadline. He hasn't been informed about this, to be honest; he finds out when he hears Kim arguing with someone over the phone about deadlines and negotiations and working till their hands drop.
"Goddamit, don't you think I'm also struggling here? I'm trying my best, okay! If you want this job, you better start understanding why I'm doing this!"
The atmosphere becomes still for a while and everyone's got their eyes on Kim until he gestures all of them to get back to work — except for Changmin, at least. He points at Changmin, gestures for him to get up and prepare some materials. Changmin does as he is told, albeit grudgingly, and follows Kim on his way out of the office without another word.
The elevator ride is silent, save for a few grunts and mumbling from Kim. When they get out, Changmin manages to muster the courage to ask, "The one you were talking to on the phone, was that the author?"
"It's none of your business, new kid." Kim doesn't even give him so much as a passing glance. "Just watch and learn."
"My name is Shim, sir!" Changmin replies through gritted teeth.
Kim chuckles as he starts the engine. "Stubborn as ever."
Changmin quickly turns his gaze to Kim. If he heard things right, Kim was actually implying that he had always known Changmin was stubborn. But that's impossible, Changmin convinces himself. Maybe Kim just sees a friend of his in him, that's all. Or maybe Kim has this thing with making people feel so damn uncomfortable.
"Nothing. Wear you seat belt, Shim. This will be a rocky ride."
Kim holds true to his promise — to say that the drive is rocky is a complete understatement. If Changmin was the type of person to get carsick, he'd be puking buckets right now, but lucky for Kim he isn't. So Changmin just holds his breath, closes his eyes, and holds on to whatever seems stable enough for dear life.
Changmin doesn't see it but Kim smiles a little, maybe a bit brighter than before.
"Shit, Kim, you're here."
Changmin makes the smart decision to shuffle to the table at the far end of the room and stay away from any source of animosity, a.k.a. Kim. He listens carefully to the conversation, though, even as he prepares the tools they might be needing for whatever is to come.
"You seriously thought I was joking when I said I was coming over?" Kim has his hands on his waist when he walks to the author — Im Yoona. "If you so much as have time to think I'm joking, then you should be drawing!"
"But I am! It's just that... I just want this spread to be perfect!"
"Who even draws the Namsan Tower in complete detail for a spread? Jesus Christ, Yoona, have some common sense!"
Yoona's lips tremble a little and her hands are shaking. She's got dark circles under her eyes, too, and her hair's all over the place; she obviously hasn't had any decent rest in a while. "Well, apparently, I do! It's a vital part of the plot, okay. I don't want to leave out the small details and pass this to the printers… I don't want to turn in something 'half-assed', as you always put it. You do know how much I've put into this, right? Right—"
"Yes, I do, which is why I'm telling you to fucking get back to work because we have a deadline!"
Logic tells Changmin to stay away from the drama and just offer his help if and when needed. He's been in this kind of situation before, and experience has taught him that it's best not to meddle in these kinds of things. But then Yoona looks so helpless and desperate from this angle, spirits broken down and body starting to give up. Changmin tentatively stands from where he is, and as he walks to where Kim and Yoona are he slowly and steadily builds the courage to speak up.
Kim looks at him sharply, an eyebrow raised, but Changmin trudges on. "Sonsaengnim, I've read your books, and I especially enjoyed the previous installment. I bought it yesterday and started reading it right after I got it."
Yoona's features brighten up a little, but there's a trace of curiosity in the "Don't you get those for free in the office?"
"Ah, yeah, we do, but I wanted to show my support for you, even if that… basically means giving back the money I earned from Sooman Publications to them." Changmin laughs shyly. "What I'm saying is… I'm new to the entire concept of manhwa-making and all, but I know a good story when I see one. And this," Changmin traces the edge of the page Yoona is drawing on, then offers her a small smile. "This is good. I mean, more than good! It's engaging, and that's because tou have the ability to connect with your readers with the manhwa you make."
Changmin takes a deep breath, lightly pressing his lips together, the smile on his lips growing brighter and just a bit more awkward. "So please, sonsaengnim, please try hard to finish this. You can do this, I know you can."
Changmin's voice trails off, all the confidence he had earlier slowly wearing off of him like a whisper to the wind. He hangs his head low because he's got nothing else to say, and because he's afraid he might not have done Yoona any good with his speech dripping of pure hero-worship. Then all of a sudden, Kim fits himself beside Changmin and gives him a light pat on the shoulder.
"See? Even the kid believes in you. Besides, have I ever been wrong with saying something is good?" Kim then pats Yoona lightly on the head, and something akin to a burst of happiness lights the corners of Yoona's eyes. "And I've already talked to the printers. I managed to convince them to push back the deadline to tomorrow afternoon."
There's something like hope breaking from Kim's features, and Changmin looks at him as if he's been hit hard with a realization — even if he didn't speak up, even if he didn't say those little words of encouragement, Kim would have still found a way to bring out the best in Yoona. His boss, no matter how much of a tyrant he is, has already planned to let Yoona finish her drawings at her own pace (maybe just a bit quicker, but at Yoona's own momentum nonetheless).
Yoona quickly turns to Kim. "But they said I only had until 5 p.m. today..."
"Just do your work. I know you want to make this good, so do it."
With a small smile on her lips and a nod of approval, Yoona gets back to sketching without another word.
Yoona finishes the drawing of the tower at five in the afternoon, and they all manage to put everything together (those assistants of Yoona's really pulled through) at around five in the morning. Changmin puts whatever he's learned from Junsu, Yoochun and Jungsu to use for the very first time, and he thinks he's successful, save for the few blunders left and right that Kim manages to salvage.
It's already six in the morning when they get back to the office, and Changmin's got his face buried in his hands while Kim goes off to grab a cup of coffee from the vending machine.
Changmin's normally a morning person, but right now he hates sunshine and would very much appreciate a good night's rest.
"She really pulled through last night, Yoona," Kim comments when he arrives, and settles at the far end of the bench. "She isn't normally the panicky type, but she was really having a hard time with this month's issue. Good thing you were there to give her a morale boost."
Changmin's eyes shoot up. "I didn't do much. You were going to let her finish, after all—"
"Words of encouragement are always good, especially at times like those. You knew how to handle her, which shows your skill as an editor." Kim pauses and takes a sip of his coffee, then proceeds to look at Changmin in the eye. "Good job."
There's something about the upward curve of Kim's lips that sends a fancy tingle down to Changmin's toes, something about they way Kim's eyes glimmer that makes his heart skip a beat, then two, then three, as he holds his breath in anticipation of what is to come. "I was afraid I'd say things recklessly," he blurts out, unceremonious and unprepared, "that I'd just make things worse and—"
"Recklessly saying things, huh?" Kim chuckles. "You haven't changed at all."
The good image of Kim that has just been painted of what happened the day promptly gets shattered, and Changmin frowns, irritated at Kim's persistence. "Mr. Kim, you should stop saying things like that." Changmin shifts in his seat, his face now held high and no longer buried in his hands. "I told you, we've never met before, and even if we have, we've never been properly—"
"So you don't remember me?" Kim leans back on the head rest, voice dropping to a whisper. "You're the worst."
"Please, stop. This isn't nice—"
"Maybe you'll remember everything when I do this."
Everything happens in a rush — one minute, Kim is sitting at the far end of the bench, and the next minute Kim is just beside him, fingers tracing the length of his face. His breath hitches as Kim breathes out, the warm air tickling his skin. There is no trace of the of the Kim he's come to know, no sharpness in his eyes, only warmth and, perhaps, affection.
"Mr. Kim, I—"
Kim presses his lips on Changmin's tentatively before leaning in, testing the waters that haven't been trudged for years. Changmin feels invaded, at the very least, but something about the familiarity of the whole thing, the wave of comfort that he feels in the kiss that prevents him from struggling. But then the better half of his senses gets him back to his feet, and seconds after he pushes Kim away.
"What the fuck was that for?"
"You still don't remember? Jesus Christ…" Kim shakes his head, a trace of disgust in his voice. "Do you just go kissing people and not remembering how you felt while doing so? You really are the worst. Anyway," Kim pauses and stands from where he is, then smoothens the creases of his shirt. "I'm going to the press. The galley should be done by now.Try to remember while I'm gone."
Kim picks up the briefcase and turns on his heel to leave. There's a few meters between them already when Kim stops and looks over his shoulder.
"Oh, and by the way, my parents got a divorce when I was in university. I used to go by Han. Han Jaejoong."
My parents got a divorce—
I used to go by Han.
Han-sunbae, his first and only high school love. Han Jaejoong, his first kiss. Han Jaejoong, the man who defiled him at age fifteen (and he doesn't even regret it). Han Jaejoong, no, Kim Jaejoong, his boss at Sooman Publications.
You shit me not.
"Ya, Kim!" Changmin calls out at the top of his lungs as he runs after Jaejoong. He won't be disrupting work, anyway; it's just six in the morning, for fuck's sake, and it's a Saturday. "Hey, you, come back! You don't walk away after telling me you're actually Han Jaejoong! Ya!"
Changmin stops in front of the elevator, hands on either door so that he'd be able to talk to Jaejoong face-to-face. Jaejoong laughs and shakes his head, and Changmin soon realizes the big resemblance between the two — the cheeky grin, the peculiar upward curve of the mouth, the sharp eyes, the small frame. How could he have missed this?
"I kept telling you you looked familiar. You just shrugged me off. Clearly not my fault there. Now please, I have to go to the printer—"
"No. You stay here and explain to me why you suddenly upped and left just before Christmas," Changmin says through gritted teeth, fists clenched and breathing heavy. "How dare you play around with the heart of 15-year-old? I might have been too young for you then, but I was definitely serious with you! You heartless bas—"
"Hey, hey! Hold on, weren't you the one who upped and left me? You have the nerve to talk to me like that after kicking me around like a dog and leaving me the very next day!" There is disbelief in the undertone of Jaejoong's laughter. "So now I'm the villain! Wow, great! It must be convenient to have selective memory, mustn't it?"
Changmin takes a step back. "But you laughed at me when I asked you if we were going out. You didn't even give me a straight answer after that!"
"What the fuck? I never did that!" Jaejoong scoffs. "Okay, fine. If ever I did, I might have just been hiding my shyness, but don't go telling me I was never serious with you because I was, Shim. I definitely was."
By now, Changmin's heart is racing against his ribcage and his nails are digging way too deep into his skin. He gulps down hard. Is it true? Could Jaejoong have been serious about their so-called relationship all along? Was he wrong to hold a grudge against Jaejoong for ten long years?
Changmin shakes his head. No, he's sure Jaejoong was the one who left. And if Jaejoong really was serious about everything, he'd have returned after being away for so long. He has every right to be mad and to demand an explanation, that's right.
"I've tried being in various relationships these past ten years and they never worked because I was still in love with you, okay." Jaejoong takes a deep breath. "Now, I don't care if you hate me or what, but I assure you I'll make you say you love me again."
"You heard that right. I'll make you say those three words again, Shim, so you better be ready."
Jaejoong presses hard on the close button, and Changmin abruptly lets the doors go. A wave of exhaustion soon envelops him as he leans against the wall for balance, and a question plagues his mind.
What the actual fuck?
It's not as if he's forgotten about his affair with Han Jaejoong when he was still in high school. In fact, he remembers it clearly, save for how everything ended. The day of the so-called break-up is a blur, to be honest, and it must be that bad for him to actually forget what happened. It is for the very same reason that he opts to not tell people about the entire thing — considering the ordeal he had to go through just to recover from that relationship, it's understandable that he doesn't want anyone to know about it.
Changmin laughs to himself. How he was even able to do everything back then, he doesn't know, but thinking about it right now makes him marvel at his bravery at such a young age.
See, Han Jaejoong — now Kim Jaejoong — was his biggest high school crush.
It started when he was in first year of middle school. Jaejoong was on his last year of middle school then. Changmin, being a huge fan of books, always hung out in the library, making it a habit to read a new book everyday, and it just so happened that Jaejoong hung out in the library often, too. So Changmin made it a habit to read every book Jaejoong read, checking the books in the library for Jaejoong's name, learning more about Jaejoong with every book he read.
He was the master of stalking back then, thank you very much.
It was pretty much his routine for the next three years — study - go to the library - read books relevant to school - check out what Jaejoong is reading - snatch the book Jaejoong has just returned to the shelf. Rinse and repeat, add some more outrageous acts of stalking like peeking from the shelves to see if Jaejoong is in his usual position, or purposely passing him by to check the title of the book he's reading. He was pretty much contented with this kind of lifestyle until that one fine day when he was in his first year of high school.
The library was unusually empty, but that was probably because it was nearing the end of the school year already. And since this was the case, Changmin was scrambling to look for this book that he really wanted to read before the school closed for the break. He was scanning the titles in the shelves when all of a sudden, a hand reached out for the very same book he was looking for.
He quickly looked to his left. "Ha-Han-sunbae."
Jaejoong raised his eyebrows a little. "You know my name?"
It was probably his naivety and his childishness at work, but at that time his emotions were just mixed up and in the heap of helplessness, all he could do was be completely honest. I love you, sunbae. I love you. He took a few quick breaths, the confession choked at the back of his tongue — and for a very good reason. He wouldn't want to make a fool of himself with this confession, and no way in hell is he confessing right now! Still, the urge to just spill was so strong that if he fought it, if he so much as tried to resist, he'd end up having a seizure.
"I— I love you, sunbae."
There was a vacant expression in Jaejoong's eyes, and Changmin didn't have the slightest idea of what was going on in his mind. When Jaejoong asked, "Do you want to go out with me," though, his faculties ceased to function, and he was reduced to a love-sick 15-year-old.
A lot of things happened after that. Jaejoong invited him to his house to watch some films at first, but then the next thing Changmin knew Jaejoong was already kissing him and touching him in places he never dreamed Jaejoong would touch. And in the succeeding days, they started hanging out in the library together, until closing, and when they were sure they were the only ones left Jaejoong would lean in for a kiss (and more).
A 15-year-old could only handle so much.
The trip back home is silent, save for overly confusing thoughts running through his mind. He's able to shun them out for a while, but when he arrives at his doorstep there's this huge question mark drawing itself, etching itself on his mind again.
What is the world just happened?
"Oh, so you're here to confess? That's a pretty quick change of disposition."
Changmin quickly looks to his side, and he doesn't even bother reacting with much vigor when he sees Jaejoong standing on the doorway next to his. He's gotten used to misfortunes caused by Jaejoong by now, and this once is the icing on the cake. "Oh wait, let me guess. We've been neighbors for what, give or take a year already, and we never found out until now." Changmin takes a deep breath. "I'm destined to live a miserable life, really."
Jaejoong shrugs. "Looks like it. So, are you here to tell me you love me?"
"Not in a million years," Changmin says, sneering. He unlocks his door and closes it behind him once he gets in. He takes a deep, deep breath.
Shit just got real.
Changmin's choice of something to start the day with has always been coffee and pancakes or anything sweet in general, with an ounce of silence thrown somewhere in between, and this is definitely not what he is being serviced at the moment. Someone has just come barging in their office, calling out Jaejoong for something he's done wrong, and Jaejoong barking back in reply.
"Uh, excuse me, Jungsu," Jaejoong whispers, leaning in in the process. "Are they arguing about the latest release?"
Jungsu chuckles a little. "Mhmm. The magazines are now sold out and we need to restock since the demand is still high. I mean, it's just been a week after all."
Changmin furrows his eyebrows. "But isn't that supposed to be good? And we can always have the magazine reprinted, right?"
"Yes, but it'll take us days before we get the final press." Jungsu takes a deep breath and frowns a little. "We'll lose sales during that time, and by the time we get the new press, we might not be able to sell as much anymore. Mr. Kim really fought for a bigger number for the initial print, because he believed the author would sell this much, but the higher ups didn't listen."
"So they don't really take the editor's say as the final word," Changmin quips, voice drifting off. Jungsu nods and this earns a sharp intake of breath from Changmin. "But oh, that guy arguing with Mr. Kim, who is he?"
There's something different in the curl of Jungsu's mouth when he replies. "Oh, he's the head of the finance department. Everybody says he's a terrorist, but it would be better if you called him—"
"Yunho. Jung Yunho."
Jungsu turns on his heel quickly, perfect smile still intact. "Ah, 'pleasure seeing you after a long time, Mr. Jung. Has life been treating you well?"
Changmin watches as exasperation surfaces on Yunho's features before Yunho turns to him with sharp eyes. "Are you new? This is the first time I've seen you around."
"Ah, my apologies!" Changmin bolts from his seat, then bows to Yunho. "I'm Shim Changmin, and I started a few weeks ago as an editor for the Emerald department. I look forward to working with you in the future."
"Shim, is it? The sole heir to the Shim Publications? Did you get in by riding your father's name?"
Given the fact that Yunho is Changmin's superior in more ways than one and that they've just met, Changmin shouldn't be fighting back or doing anything that can remotely imply resentment, but he simply can't sit this down. He slowly brings himself back up, takes a deep breath before offering Yunho a smile.
"You know nothing about me, Mr. Jung, so please don't assume that I used my father's connections just to get in." Changmin's lips are pressed to a thin line, and when he looks at either side of him Yoochun and Junsu's eyes are wide and there's barely noticeable change in Jaejoong's features. He takes this as a sign to go on. "And if that isn't enough to change your mind, then let me knock you off your feet and prove to you that I got in because I am good. "
Yunho chuckles bitterly. "Quite the cheeky bastard, aren't you? Watch your words, newbie." Yunho then eyes Changmin from head to toe, and turns on his heel when he meets Changmin in the eye.
"Anyway, Kim, just make sure this doesn't happen again." Yunho looks over his shoulder and pauses for a while, then runs his eyes up and down Changmin once more before shooting a glance at Jaejoong. "And keep your bastard of a new editor out of my sight, thanks."
"Then next time, tell your boss to trust my better judgment! And weren't you the one crossing the line?" Jaejoong shakes his head and swivels on his seat. "Pssh, what a troublemaker."
When Jaejoong stands from his seat, Changmin starts expecting the worse — getting fired right on the spot, receiving a scolding from Jaejoong, or something else entirely unimaginable and nothing his hear can take. He takes a few quick breaths as Jaejoong draws nearer and stops just behind his seat.
"You really did well out there." A chuckle, then a light pat on the head. "Good job."
From beside Changmin, Junsu is grinning, and from a few tables away Yoochun is smirking and Jungsu is holding his right thumb up. He holds his breath as Jaejoong ruffles and briefly runs his hand through his hair, the warmth of Jaejoong's hand sending shivers down his spine. "Thanks," he mumbles, the strain on his voice evident especially as he tries to fight back the urge to smile.
So there's a new person to look out for — Jung Yunho.
He starts thinking about this when Yoochun picks up a call from Yunho. "Mr. Jung is asking if you can go out for a drink with him. He says he won't take no for an answer," Yoochun says flatly, relaying the message half-heartedly. Jaejoong brushes him off, his hands gesturing something along the lines of 'you deal with this mess right now; I'm busy'.
"Please, Mr. Kim. He won't let on."
"Tell him I'm busy and I'm not interested."
Yoochun takes a deep breath. "Please tell him yourself."
Jaejoong rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Talking to him is such a drag, anyway. Just drop the phone."
Yoochun mumbles a small apology to Yunho before hanging up and lets out a sigh once the call is dropped.
The entire thing surprises Changmin a little. Just a while ago, Yunho and Jaejoong were at each other's necks, yelling at each other, and now Yunho is asking Jaejoong to drink with him. It just doesn't make sense! But then everything starts losing sense and logic when Jaejoong is in the picture.
Changmin retracts his red pen for a while and furrows his eyebrows. Why is he even analyzing things? More importantly, why is he thinking about Jaejoong?
"Oh by the way, Shim," Yoochun calls out, stretching his neck a bit so that they can see each other. "Any news from Hwang-sonsaengnim?"
"Ah, no, she hasn't gotten back to me." Changmin offers a small smile. "I'll just give her a call to check up on her progress."
It's perfect timing both for his sanity and work, Changmin thinks, that he has to follow up on his author, so he immediately gives her a call. The storyboard is only halfway done, she tells him. "Sorry for the delay; I'll try to get everything in before the day ends," she says faintly, embarrassment in the undertone of her voice. Changmin offers some words of encouragement, and this is how he convinces her to submit the storyboard by 8 p.m., by hook or by crook.
"You can just fax it to me at home; I'll give you my number. Here—
For the first time in weeks, he goes home before eight in the evening.
This has been his routine for these past few weeks — wake up, get dressed, go to work, avoid any contact with Jaejoong, go home late, try to grab something to eat on the way, bump into Jaejoong somehow, run away. It's pretty tiring but it keeps him alive somehow, and today he's decided to treat himself to something special. Maybe a real meal that isn't composed of instant ramen and hotdogs. Maybe something more, but definitely not this.
"Who even makes manga about cats these days?"
"Definitely the one I have. Hah."
Changmin abruptly stops in his tracks when he sees Jaejoong and Yunho near the doorway. Great, he thinks. These two just have to block the only way out. There goes his stealthy exit from the building, there goes his last attempt at avoiding Jaejoong today. He takes a deep breath; this shouldn't scare him off at all.
"Stop joking around!"
Jaejoong hits Yunho lightly on the arm, the sound of his laughter loud enough to reach Changmin who is at least ten feet away. Jaejoong, stoic and strict as ever, the ice prince, is currently laughing and it's all because of something silly that Yunho has just said.
Changmin scoffs. Petty, he tells himself, and proceeds to going on his way, his fists balled when he walks past the two.
"So this is how you treat your superiors? You don't even greet us on your way home? Show some respect, Shim!" Jaejoong's eyes are sharp and his voice thick with demand. There is no trace of the laughter that escaped from his lips just a few minutes ago, or the crinkle in his eyes when Yunho made him laugh. None of those at all.
"I'm going ahead. Thank you for your hard work!"
Changmin walks as fast as he can, convincing himself that he has to catch the 8:30 train in order to get some decent food from the convenience store or perhaps any restaurant near his place. That, and he knows Jaejoong's catching up and that he heard Jaejoong telling Yunho he's going and that they'll continue the chat next time.
He lingers long enough to catch this, though — Yunho telling Jaejoong he'll be coming over later, Jaejoong pleading to please not push through with it, and Yunho calling Jaejoong by his first name.
Changmin manages to catch the 8:30 train but then so does Jaejoong, and the train is so cramped that their bodies are pressed so uncomfortably against each other. Changmin's breathing is heavy against Jaejoong, and he passes it off as the lack of breathing space at work.
"You've been avoiding me," Jaejoong quips out of the blue. "Why?"
Changmin scoffs a little, fixing his eyes on anything and anyone but Jaejoong. "I am not."
"I'm not stupid, Shim. You've been avoiding me and it's not helping us work as a team."
Changmin faces Jaejoong, lips drawn to a frown. "There are other members of the team, Mr. Kim, and please let it go. I am not in the mood for an argument."
"I don't understand. I've been doing all these nice things for you and you still hate me?"
"Do you actually think I'm that cheap?"
The train takes a sharp turn and the lights flicker for a while, effective throwing Changmin off balance and holding on to whatever is closest to him for dear life. Jaejoong is conveniently there, rigid, still standing, and generally unfazed by the sharp turn, so Changmin clutches at Jaejoong's shirt and lets his fall be cushioned by Jaejoong's chest. When the lights flicker back on, Changmin lets go, and Jaejoong's eyes are closed and he's biting his lower lip.
"S-sorry about that," Changmin mumbles, and turns around even before Jaejoong can say a word.
The rest of the trip is silent, even their short walk from the station to their apartment. Changmin can feel Jaejoong watching him as he walks past the latter and faster than the usual. When he hears a faint 'good night' from Jaejoong, he quickly closes his door and locks it.
"You mean you don't know?"
"What's there to know?" Changmin's eyebrows are furrowed, confusion thick in his voice. The look on Junsu and Yoochun's faces are far too priceless not to point out, so he indulges. "You both look as if this is a matter of life and death. I mean, it couldn't be." Changmin chuckles. "It's just—"
"Mr. Kim is leaving for the U.S. today."
Changmin nods slowly, taking the news pretty well. It shouldn't be a big deal; Kim goes to different countries often. It's not monumental at all. "Mhmm. Okay. So what? He always does that, going to different countries and all."
"No, no. You don't get it." By now, there's worry in the trace of Junsu's features. This is a look Junsu fashions only when he's desperate and clearly being misunderstood. Yoochun's worrying his lower lip — he doesn't do that often, too. Only when there's the slightest chance that a manhwa might be redeemed.
"Jaejoong's leaving for the U.S.." Jung is standing in the doorway, but his voice so clearly resounds in the four walls of their office. His arms are crossed over his chest, conflict visible in his eyes and the sound of his voice. "He's leaving today, right now if that makes everything much clearer and urgent." Jung takes a deep breath before continuing, "And he's not coming back. Not anytime soon, at least."
"But we've got unpublished magazines. He can't leave his work just like that! It's just not like him to be—"
Jung chuckles. "Well, guess what, Shim. He just did."
Then it comes to Changmin — a wave of worry, doubt, sadness and at the same time a bit of happiness. Good riddance, he wants to say. Yes, that's right — Jaejoong's departure should mean a more peaceful life for him, if not a worry-free one. He should be inexplicably happy! But something so heavy settles at the pit of his stomach, and if he doesn't get to his feet and run to the airport or wherever Kim is, for that matter, as fast as he can, the feeling might just not fade.
He turns to Junsu and Yoochun, then to Jung.
"I… I should leave."
He's never been the athletic type, and this is precisely why the speed at which he is running right now overwhelms him, effectively countering the weird feeling in his stomach just a little. He takes the stairs to the ground floor — he figures he doesn't have time to wait for the elevator — and by the time he gets to the entrance of the building, his legs are already sore.
He silently curses his lack of athletic skill. The only reason he passed his P.E. class was because he aced the exams and got perfect marks in his projects. That was back in college, where everything was much easier, much more bearable than today. That was back in college, when he buried himself too deep in his studies so that he'd forget.
They say there are some loves that you just can't un-love. He can't help but agree all the more today, right now.
He takes a deep breath. Shit, yes, today. He's got a plane to catch and he's running on two feet. Only a miracle can bring him to the airport so fast.
Changmin quickly turns around in search of the person who called him, and he finds Jung's car conveniently parked outside the building, the window of the driver's seat lowered so that Changmin can see Jung clearly.
"Get in the car, quick! You don't expect to get there fast by just running, do you?"
Jung laughs and shakes his head. "Thank me later. Just get inside and wear your seatbelt." There's something different in the way Jung's eyes glimmer right now. It's as if there's an understanding between them that there's a story to be ended, a manuscript to be turned in.
They have only a little over 30 minutes to make things right and publish possibly the greatest story ever told.
"Thanks, for whatever it's worth," Changmin mumbles. Jung starts up the car.
30 MINUTES UNTIL SHIM CHANGMIN FALLS IN LOVE WITH KIM JAEJOONG.