"Here you go — your new assignment."
Jinki reaches out for the envelope being given to him and takes out the documents in it, giving them a quick look. He furrows his eyebrows for a while before giving the documents a second look, this time paying more attention to the details — the subject's name, his age, his occupation, his favorite ice cream flavor and his favorite color for his clothing.
"You expect me to take this seriously? Favorite ice cream: Banana Split with Cookies and Cream and Rocky Road, really?"
Minho rolls his eyes. "Please, Jinki, just do it. You're the only one I can trust."
"I'm done taking care of kids, Minho. Please." Jinki takes a deep breath. "I've been managing singers for what, give or take 8 years? This guy has got to be the worst of the bunch. I've heard bad stuff about him."
"But he's also the most talented among them."
"That doesn't make him any more likeable—"
"Jinki." Minho's voice is strained and the smile on his lips a bit forced. "We can't lose him. His career might be not as strong as before but he's still one of our best talents. You just have to set his image straight. Once you're done with that, I'll give you to another talent. How does that sound?"
There is a reason why Minho is the youngest CEO the company has ever seen, Jinki thinks, especially when Minho's lips quiver a little and the smile on his lips turns into an apologetic frown — he has a way of leading people to believe that defying him is the worst thing one can possibly do. "Fine, fine, I'll do it," Jinki says all at once, breathing out in a huff. "But you owe me one."
There's a smile lighting up Minho's features and a giggle escaping his lips. He puts an arm around Jinki's shoulder for good measure.
"Thanks, as always."
"So you're my new manager."
It's not exactly the best welcome Jinki has received in years, but it certainly isn't the worst either — it's a particularly annoying one, though. He extends his hand for a handshake, and the very small smile on his lips falters a little when his new talent ignores it in favor of the documents he's holding.
"Seriously, let's drop the customary greeting. Let's get down to business."
"I'm Lee Jinki. I figured you could at least use that piece of information." He walks over to where the new talent is and settles beside him, careful to maintain a good distance from the former. "Kim Jonghyun, right? Quite the popular one. Two years into your career and you've already topped charts and bagged awards. Not shabby."
"Flattery doesn't sit well with me," Jonghyun says flatly.
Jinki doesn't like where this conversation is heading.
"Your attitude doesn't sit well with me, either."
Jonghyun scoffs a little. There's something akin to a smile tugging at the corner of Jonghyun's lips. Jinki doesn't know what to make of this — if he's offended Jonghyun or maybe made the whole meeting a lot lighter — but there's a sense of relief washing over him, like the reaction he has just earned from the former might just be one he'd initially planned on eliciting.
"I think I might like you," Jonghyun says and pauses for a while as he flips through the pages of his schedule, then continues, "I like your style."
"I'm the best the company has to offer. You better like my style."
There it is again — the scoff-smile combination from Jonghyun, the indiscernible look on Jonghyun's face. Jinki will have to spend a few more days taking a crack at this, but for now he's glad that the first straw is over.
The first one is the worst one, after all.
"So I heard you met him already."
Jinki shakes his head and leans back into the couch. "Mental, that one. If he didn't have talent, he'd be out of SM in a flash." He shifts a little in his position so that he's facing Minho and that he can see the way Minho's features shift from one expression to another — it can be quite a show. "Wouldn't even let me introduce myself to him at first. How rude."
"I can't see why he'd want you to introduce yourself, though. I mean, you are the most famous manager here. I bet he knows you."
"Customary greeting? Manners? Do those ring a bell?"
Minho laughs a little. "He's an artist of the new age. Old tricks don't work on the younger ones anymore." This earns a frown and a light punch on the arm from Jinki. "Take it as a learning experience."
Jinki rolls his eyes. "Yes, mom."
Minho ruffles his hair. "Good job, kid."
Minho is one of the few people who know Jinki inside out, and one of the even fewer people who can tell him off or give him a long lecture about dealing with people. Jinki's always been the type to not judge people, but first-hand experience with Jonghyun tells him to stray off his usual track and judge Jonghyun a little. He leans in a bit more to Minho's touch, caves in at the thought of being in familiar company, and takes pleasure at the fact that he can be like this for a while — whiny, needy, and terribly childish — for a few minutes, until his phone sounds off.
The first few beats of 'Moves Like Jagger' plays and Jinki knows it's time to get back to work. He gets back up and reaches for his phone, then gives Minho a pat on the back before taking the call.
Lee Jinki, Korea's top manager, is back on duty.
"You did what?"
A week into being Jonghyun's manager has Jinki running all over the place, cleaning up after Jonghyun's tiny but conspicuous mistakes. On Day One, Jonghyun turns up late for an interview. On Day Two, meanwhile, he throws a bit of a hissy fit during the taping of a show. Day Three makes Jonghyun seem like a lunatic when word gets out that he got into an argument with a barista at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Days Four to Six, meanwhile, witness Jonghyun's deficiency in the tact department and his mildly endearing ability to make the silliest facial expressions on air.
And today, Jonghyun manages to get himself in a car accident. In his defense, he was driving properly, like a good citizen of South Korea. He probably shouldn't have gotten into a fight with the driver of the other car, though.
"I was going to turn right and I had the goddamned signal on, but that fucking—" Jonghyun grumbles a little — Jinki can hear it through the static. "Okay, that blasted car overtook me and basically smashed into the left side of my car."
Jinki marvels at the fact that Jonghyun's still alive. "You're okay, though? No scratches or anything?"
"Why do you sound so disappointed that I'm still alive?"
He tries to bite back the chuckle threatening to escape his lips. "Oh, trust me, I'm hardly disappointed."
"Whatever. Anyway, I need you to pick me up. I have a schedule at five. I can't be late."
Jinki's lips hang parted for a while until he's able to gather his thoughts again. Oh wow, Prince Jonghyun is capable of being responsible, he wants to say, but he goes for, "Oh. Okay. Text me your location, then," instead. Jonghyun grumbles in reply and drops the call, and Jinki receives an SMS with the address a few seconds after.
"I'm on my way," he replies and, a few seconds after, his phone sounds off again.
Thanks. I owe you.
He chuckles to himself and fishes for his car key. It's four in the afternoon and he's still got work to do — he can't let his talent down.
Jinki marks Days Thirty to Forty-five as the worst of his life.
Word gets out that Jonghyun has been using a certain drug since the start of his career — NZ48, as the news calls it, but everyone knows the newsmakers got the name from Limitless — and that he's been spotted doing a woman in her 30's during one end-of-the-year awards nights. Jonghyun just opts to roll his eyes at the news until the media say that he got another girl pregnant — this time, a minor.
"Do you seriously believe any of those?" Jonghyun grumbles for a while, then shifts uncomfortably in his position. "Because if you do, I'm firing you as my manager."
"They're making you look bad because you're regaining your popularity. Awesomeness is a crime, you know."
Jonghyun laughs a little. He then busies himself with rummaging through his bag, but Jinki has a feeling that Jonghyun just doesn't know what to say in reply. "Thanks, I guess," he says after a while. His voice drifts off and gradually picks up volume again when he says, "That kinda makes me feel better."
Jinki notes the way Jonghyun's smile softens, the way Jonghyun's eyes crinkle just a bit that tells him that smile is raw and real. He ganders at the whole scene until Jonghyun furrows his eyebrows and pokes him in his side, saying, "You look weird." He trudges on, though, and continues watching Jonghyun, just laughs at the way Jonghyun hits him lightly on the arm.
He nods to himself after a while and whispers loud enough for Jonghyun to hear. "You're welcome."
"I hate you, really."
It's Minho's bright idea to unwind in the countryside to take Jonghyun's mind off the breaking news, and Jinki's idea to kidnap Jonghyun just so he can bring the latter there. Jinki thinks he's a bit too enthusiastic for his own good, but he's only doing this so that some of his newfound energy will rub off on Jonghyun.
"Thanks, but I'm sure it'll really do you good. Just a little more and we'll be there!"
Jonghyun frowns visibly. "But I hate the countryside."
Jinki chuckles. "Exactly why I'm bringing you there."
There's silence for a while, until Jinki shifts in his seat and the soft rustling fills the air a bit. He turns to Jonghyun with a big smile, then quips, "But hey, if it's any consolation, we'll get to see stars in all their glory there. Does that sound good enough?"
Jonghyun shrugs and turns up Jinki's radio, then props his arms as he looks outside the window. "You better surprise me," he mumbles. Jinki risks a glance at Jonghyun for a while, then fixes his eyes back on the road.
"Trust me on this."
The first thing Jinki does when they get to the location is to set up their picnic blanket, then drag Jonghyun to the said spot to finally have lunch. Jonghyun is apprehensive at first because, "I hate bugs, okay," but Jinki doesn't let this get in the way of his plans; besides, it's their day-off and he's cancelled his spa appointment for this so he definitely can't stand to see himself lose in this petty fight.
He grabs Jonghyun by the wrist, and makes him sit on the middle of the mat. "There," he begins, then smiles brightly and continues, "good boy."
Jonghyun scowls at him after that. What happens much later is a series of insults thrown back and forth, a few light punches on the arm here and there, and Jonghyun sharing his untold story of how he realized he wanted to be a singer. Jinki learns of Jonghyun's inclination to kids and baking and his apprehension with countrysides because of a bad break up with a girlfriend who used to take him to the countryside all the time.
"So basically, you're reminding me of her by doing this." Jonghyun nods thoughtfully as he munches on his sandwich. "Which makes you an awful, awful manager."
Jinki chokes midway through his drink and laughs. "Hey, thanks. I should get an award for this."
They spend the rest of the day mapping out each other's lives in the afternoon and the stars in the evening. Jonghyun's epic speech about constellations and supernovas conveniently gets lost somewhere in Jinki's head as he watches Jonghyun tell his story with much enthusiasm, a grin lighting his features, setting off tiny explosions at the back of Jinki's mind.
("A mutizen. A mutizen! A MUTIZEN AFTER SO LONG!"
There's a smile tugging at the corner of Jonghyun's lips as he shakes his head and looks away. "Don't you think you're overreacting?" he begins, then chuckles before continuing, "I mean, it's just one mutizen. Anyone could've won it—"
"— but you won it. That means you've got their trust again. That means they believe in you."
Jonghyun's blinks a few times and lets his lips hang parted, all the air filling his lungs. He doesn't hide the smile breaking across his features, doesn't fight back the urge to laugh at Jinki's exceeding enthusiasm, doesn't even try to hold back, and just drowns himself in a fit of laughter.
It's a win, alright.)
Things start to take a wild turn when Jonghyun ends up on Jinki's doorstep one day, heavily beaten up, breathing ragged and heavy. "Just get me to your couch and get me a glass of water," Jonghyun says in between gasps of air, and Jinki readily obliges, carefully taking Jonghyun in his arms. They sit in companionable silence for a while, until Jonghyun chokes up a few words and gathers the energy to tell the whole story.
"I was involved in drug dealing for a time." Jonghyun takes a deep breath, then laughs a little. "I was in deep shit then. My schedule was packed. My manager was a douchebag. My parents were going through divorce, and I recently found out I liked my best friend. I was young; I didn't know what to do."
Jinki scoffs. "So you took drugs."
"I sold them, too."
"You sound so proud of yourself."
Jonghyun hits Jinki on the arm lightly. "Hey, I made money out of that."
"Fine, fine, but it seems you got enemies out of it, too." Jinki looks at Jonghyun in the eye for the first time that night, then looks forlornly at the bruises and marks on Jonghyun's arms. He moves a bit closer, trying to see if Jonghyun is more receptive to Jinki tending to his wounds, but Jonghyun's breath hitches and he flinches a little. "I have to clean you up at the very least, you know. I don't want to do much explaining to the doctors."
There's a small smile tugging at the corner of Jonghyun's lips. "Fine, fine. And for the record, they were the ones who started the fight. I told them I didn't sell drugs anymore and they asked for my connections." Jonghyun's voice escalates by a few notches when Jinki raises an eyebrow at him. "In my defense, I really couldn't remember their names!" he rushes, and proceeds to just hitting Jinki on the arm with the nearest pillow in sight.
Jinki ends up with tears in his eyes from too much laughing. Jonghyun, for all the bruises on his body, emerges as the victor of the their tiny battle. But really, it's a win-win situation for both of them.
Things sail smoothly for the next few days, weeks, months, save for Jonghyun's few slips here and there. Jinki still has to cover for Jonghyun when the latter runs into some serious wardrobe malfunction, or when Jonghyun forgets his keys and doesn't want to admit it but, "Pick me up at the studio, please?"
Jinki's five minutes from the studio but he teases Jonghyun, anyway, chuckling into the receiver and saying, "Let me think about it."
"You have a lot of tricks up your sleeve, don't you?" Jonghyun asks once they're already inside Jinki's car. "I never doubted your ability as a manager, but you just have something to surprise me with every single time."
The light goes red and Jinki steps on the breaks. "I surprise you? How?"
Jonghyun laughs a little. "Like that."
"Like, you're the first person to not openly judge me on our first meeting. You're the first person to actually tolerate my silly antics. You're the first to convince me to change. Well, just a bit, but you get what I mean."
Jinki squints. "No, really, I don't get it."
The light goes green again, and a couple of cars blaze past them. Jinki's sure he hasn't heard so much honking in a long, long while, but Jonghyun effectively shuns out all the thoughts in his head with a light peck on the cheek and a soft chuckle. "You should probably get moving. We're blocking the way," Jonghyun says in between suppressed giggles. Jinki nods.
He steals a glance at Jonghyun, then shifts his attention back to the steering wheel.
Full speed ahead.
"Wow. You're still alive."
Jinki smiles weakly at Minho and plops down on the chair near Minho's table. "I'm sorry, I've been a really bad best friend but, in my defense, I've been a really good manager." He then offers a big smile, to which Minho just shakes his head and waves him off. "But I do need your help on something, so I guess I should do better than that?"
"Help or advice? You look conflicted."
Jinki laughs a little. "I need your… opinion on things."
Minho summons for his secretary and asks for two cups of coffee, some chips and one Four Cheese Pizza from the pizzeria nearby. The arrival of the pizza marks the start of Jinki's long narration about weird encounters with Jonghyun and the sudden change in his talent and, "That kiss. Well, fine, it was just a kiss on the cheek, but a kiss is still a kiss! It does mean something, right? Right?"
Minho leans back against his seat and takes a deep breath, furrowing his eyebrow in the process. "Well… if you didn't want that kiss to happen, then he's probably taking advantage of you. Now, if it's the other, then it probably means something."
"What do you mean I wanted it to happen? I was surprised, taken aback! He definitely took advantage of me!"
"Yeah, and you're not blushing."
"I… I am not!" Jinki purses his lips and crosses his arms over his chest. "You know what? Forget this conversation even happened. I have a meeting in thirty minutes. I'm going."
Jinki quickly gets back to his feet and gathers his things, then walks to the door to leave Minho's company. He looks over his shoulder before turning the knob, though, the flush on his cheeks still present.
"I'll… give that some thought. I mean, what you were saying earlier. And thanks for the pizza! Let's try Manhattan Meatlovers next time?"
There's a grin tugging at the corner of Jinki's lips as Minho's features light up with a smile. Minho shakes his head, and Jinki takes it as a sign that it's okay to leave, that giving everything that's been happening to him some thought is a wise decision, that, yes, they'll be having pizza again sometime.
The next few weeks are a blur, save for the fact that the kisses on the cheek have grown in an increasingly alarming rate and have soon transformed into stolen kisses on the lips. Jinki doesn't know how to react to any of Jonghyun's advances, really, so, whenever Jonghyun surprises him with a kiss, he just stays still, willing all of his blood to rush back to his feet. "Why," he manages to ask one time, and Jonghyun just laughs lightly and kisses him a second time.
"You're impossible," Jonghyun whispers, then ruffles Jinki's hair. "I hate you."
Jinki blinks a few times until he realizes that Jonghyun has walked off and gone back to the set to rehearse his lines. He takes a few quick breaths before coming out of the dressing room, fishes for his phone and sends Minho a text. He kissed me again. I should probably do something about this, it reads, then much later he sends, Yeah, I probably should.
Minho replies a few minutes after. Jinki just shakes his head when he reads the reply.
Get him, big boy.
"Remind me why I'm here again?"
Jinki laughs nervously as he ushers Jonghyun in the room filled with too many people whose names escape him completely. Minho has asked them to attend some posh event for managers and solo artists, and Jinki remembers agreeing to the whole thing mindlessly if only for Minho's note that says, This is your chance to make things happen.
"One word: Minho," Jinki says, voice low and almost hushed. The once sheepish smile on his lips is soon replaced with a bright one as the other managers start greeting him.
"Should I ask him why we're here then?"
"God, Jonghyun, just play along."
Jonghyun rolls his eyes and shuffles away. Jinki doesn't see him again until three three hours after, when he recalls that Jonghyun has a 5 a.m. call time for some morning show that will be shown live. "But you can't leave me here," Minho slurs in Jinki's ear. He's obviously buzzed and will listen to no one.
Jinki clenches his fists. This isn't good.
"You're drunk. You should tell people to go home."
"I'm not! Besides, people are just getting started—"
Minho drops to his knees unceremoniously, ending up in a fit of giggles, and Jinki shields him from the view of the general public, then helps him get back up. "I'm sorry, I just have to, uh, get him out of here—" Jinki mumbles as he makes his way through the crowd and tries to get out of the room, but to no avail; people are starting to block his way, and the only way out is through that one door.
This isn't in the guide book. He's not prepared for this.
"Excuse me, if you could just—"
Jinki turns around sharply and there Jonghyun is, dashing in his crisp black suit, valiant in the way he practically shoves people aside so he can pass through. "I'll take care of this," Jonghyun mumbles when he passes by Jinki, and Jinki just nods, taking slow and steady steps as he follows Jonghyun out of the room. He gives Jonghyun one of his signature sheepish grins and curt nods as he trudges on, a tipsy Minho on one arm and a handful of apologies on the other.
"Thank you," Jinki whispers, then breathes in sharply, "thank you for that… thing you did earlier. I didn't expect you to help."
Jonghyun's sporting clothes too flashy for a morning show and sunglasses to cover his eye bags with, completely overshadowing the lethargy in the stretch of his body. He waves Jinki off and mouths, "Just get me some coffee, please," so Jinki quickly obliges, shoves a warm cup of coffee in his hand within a few minutes.
"Just the way you want it," Jinki chimes as Jonghyun takes a sip, then a gulp. "And really, thank you—"
Jinki doesn't know how it happens but, the next thing he knows, Jonghyun's grabbing him by the back of his neck and his lips are crushed against Jonghyun's own. He can taste the coffee on Jonghyun's lips, his tongue, the trace of his teeth and, before he can even probe further, Jonghyun pulls away and removes his sun glasses.
"My coffee's too sweet." Jonghyun pauses for a while and bites his lower lip. "You need to do something about this."
There's a small smile on Jonghyun's lips that Jinki just wants to wipe off or kiss away. He can't really decide at the moment, so he settles for a shake of the head.
"I'm on it."
("Just to be sure, this thing we have — I mean, the weird kisses and the flirting and all — it doesn't mean anything, right?"
It's one in the morning when Jinki breaks the question to him, and Jonghyun really can't be bothered to gathered his thoughts for a coherent answer. "It can mean something, if you want it to," he replies, the words coming all too easy to him, his eyes still fixed on the book he's reading.
Jinki grabs the book in a swift move and their faces are merely inches apart now. "Are you serious?" Jinki punctuates the statement with a glare. "I mean, really, are you serious?"
He shrugs. "I'm as serious as serious can get. I mean, can you blame me for your being cute?"
Jinki assaults him with tickles and laughter shortly after that. The book lies forgotten on the other side of the couch until the end of the day.)
"So, your contract's expiring in a few days," Minho begins, and traces circles on the desk when he looks up at Jinki and continues, "Any chance you might want to renew that?"
Jinki takes a deep, deep breath, and sinks in his seat. The past few months have been nothing but crazy for him. He's never handled a talent as much of a pain in the neck as Jonghyun is. He's never been so involved and invested in a talent, either. He takes a deep breath, then turns to Minho. "Can I sleep on that and get back to you tomorrow?"
"But tomorrow's a busy day. It's the start of the gayos, remember?"
"Exactly my point. If I feel so strongly about it — if I feel so strongly about him — then I won't forget."
Minho shrugs, then offers him a little. smile. "I trust you to make the right decision," Minho says, and Jinki feels something heavy in his chest all of a sudden, like he has just been given an important task — a task to sort things out with his heart and mind.
That's pretty important, alright.
The clock strikes two in the morning and Jinki is still up, eyes fixed on the ceiling and fists clenched. "Two signs," he whispers to himself. "Two signs and I'll extend the contract." He takes a deep breath, then pulls the covers over his head.
Today is a big day and he hasn't even gotten sleep yet.
The end-of-the-year awards require them to be fashionably late to a certain extent, so he arrives with Jonghyun around ten minutes before the end of the red carpet. Before they slip out of the car, Jonghyun grabs him by the wrist, cutting the distance between them to a few centimeters.
"I heard from Minho that your contract's ending soon. You're extending that, right?"
Jinki chuckles. "Only if you win a daesang and greet me on stage."
Jonghyun raises an eyebrow. "Are you challenging me?"
Jinki flashes a V-sign, then opens the door and exits the car even before Jonghyun can reel him back in.
It's the end of the year and Jonghyun is on stage, receiving his third award for the night. Jinki can't help but feel just a bit responsible for all of these — the steady and gradual rise back to success, the fresh image, the crisp suit, the award, that look on Jonghyun's face as he gives Jinki a thumbs up. He nods to himself as Jonghyun gives his speech and casually mentions, "someone who's always been there to pick me up — my very patient manager, Lee Jinki".
He deserves more than this.
He fishes for his phone and a message from Minho comes in. So, are you going to extend that contract or what?, it reads. Jinki laughs, then types, Sign me up for ten more years.
Bring it on, baby. BRING. IT. ON.
"You know, I wasn't serious when I told you to extend the contract for ten more years."
Minho leans back against his chair and gives Jinki a lazy smile. "I'm a man of numbers. You can't expect me to not take figures seriously! Besides, ten is a good number."
Jinki frowns. "Ten years is too long. I'm getting old."
"Ten years is just enough. I'm not getting any younger, either."
There is silence for a while, until Jonghyun peeks from the door and says, "I have a shoot, remember? I don't have all day!" Jonghyun looks as if he'll go ballistic any moment, so Jinki takes it as a sign to wave off the small argument with Minho and let things slide. He gives Minho the customary hug, the squeeze of the arm, then whispers, "You better thank him."
Minho punches him lightly on the arm. "Go. Precious Prince Jonghyun is going to be late for his schedule.
Jinki catches up with Jonghyun and casually puts an arm around his shoulder, pulling him close. "You better be good this year, or else I'm done with you," he whispers, then runs off long before Jonghyun can even react. He owes Minho for this — his job, his amped up portfolio as a manager, Jonghyun — but a word of gratitude can wait for later.
For now, he's got a talent who has to make an 11 a.m. deadline. He'll have to thank the driver if and when they make it on time. And well, there's Jonghyun, too, since he almost forgot about the schedule.
That's just one of the many things he won't admit to himself or to anyone. Being fond of Jonghyun tops the list by a long, long mile.