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Pride

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They didn’t order desert after the meal. Chanyeol looks so confounded by everything he said. He even repeatedly sipped from his glass of water and Kyungsoo can only watch him.

“Please say something.” the shorter gently says, “You’re making me worried.”

“Sorry… I just…” Chanyeol forces a chuckle of disbelief, “I can’t process what you’ve told me. I’m shocked.”

“That our once multi-million firm is now bankrupt and I have to fix its mess?” Soo leans back to his seat, crossing his arms on his chest. “I don’t blame you.”

“No, not— I mean, probably. But what I couldn’t believe the most is the fact that Jongin bought it and he really offered you a job there?”

Soo blinks a few times. That one is indeed the most surprising. Even now, it hasn’t sunk in for him either.

“Didn’t he ever mention it to you?” he asks that gets Chanyeol raising his brows slowly. Soo shrugs, “What? Well, understandable. He had it weeks ago and now it’s like everything has adjusted for him in an instant.”

Chanyeol maintains the same expression before finally breaking into a light laughter.

“What’s so funny?”

“How can you not figure it out?” he asks with a hint of smile and Kyungsoo is even more confused, “I wouldn’t be so shocked upon hearing it from you if we’re still friends.”

His doe eyes rounded even more.

“You’re not friends with him anymore?”

“Hmm, you can put it that way.” Chanyeol’s lips purse for a little sad smile, “I never really heard from him again after he resigned from the diner. Then after so many years, I just heard about him from the headlines and news. Imagine how my jaw dropped to the floor. One of the youngest successful magnate. Damn.”

Soo wants to roll his eyes but is able to stop himself. He’s had enough of everyone in awe of that jerk.

“Maybe working for my father opened so many doors for him, after all.” he ends up shrugging. Chanyeol chuckles even more.

“You’re really clueless, aren’t you?” he looks so shocked on how little Kyungsoo’s knowledge about it is. He stares at him but the shorter remains looking bewildered, “He never worked there.”

Kyungsoo stares back at him this time. He’s taken aback, judging from the way his clutch on his pants tighten a bit.

“What do you mean? I was there when he got the big internship spot.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t really push through.” Chanyeol tells him seriously, “To be honest, everything was very vague for me that time. I never heard from you again after that day I drove you home. Jongin didn’t come to the diner for a week and when he got back to working… he was just… I don’t know, different? He wasn’t really that friendly anymore. Sometimes, he would just snap at anyone. I preferred leaving him away from the counter work. He preferred to be alone, I noticed.”

He hates the sudden curiosity rousing in him. He survived eight years without hearing any word about Jongin, why should this moment be any exception? These questions will soon drown themselves because he shouldn’t care any less. Not anymore.

“Why…?” but then he still asked.

This shouldn’t change anything. After what Jongin did to him before, it’s not possible that he had anything to do with those changes and decisions Chanyeol was telling him. He probably just wanted more than what Kyungsoo’s father could offer, that’s it. He was never contented.

“Like I said, I was equally confused.” Chanyeol sighs, “Jongin wasn’t as chirpy as I was, but I knew he was kind. He used to find happiness in the littlest things. But then, that time he just changed.”

Soo looks down to the table. No matter how much he wants to be the person who’ll disagree with what Chanyeol said, the last few words are enough to suddenly suppress all the retaliation at the edge of his tongue, it comes along with the slight pinch in his chest.

“I never really knew what the deal was between the both of you so I couldn’t conclude the correlation of you leaving. And so it freaked me out when I found out he turned down the job offer from your big firm and chose to work full-time at the diner and probably had some other jobs, too. When we graduated, he resigned, bid me one goodbye and a hug, then bam, never heard from him again… until a few years later, I guess.”

“Then where was he… in those years he was unheard of?” just this time, he seeks for some answers. Maybe hearing them could finally help some of his sleepless nights.

“I personally didn’t know the whole details. But when I heard his name from the news, I tried researching to make sure it was him no matter how dumb it seemed. I think he topped KAAB’s licensure exam the year we graduated and basically gained a lot of offer from multiple companies. And then he worked on his Civil Engineering units and license, too.” it’s funny. All those years, Kyungsoo thought he already imagined the utmost success Jongin could possibly have but he really exceeded everything, “He preferred to work in a much lesser known firm than the bigger ones, I heard. The likes of Valle and, uhm… your father of course.”

Despite how convincing all of it sounds, he prefers to respond with a sarcastic smile.

“Well, who would want to work in a company you badly want to overthrow, right?”

Chanyeol only smiles before shrugging.

“I don’t know. I don’t think that’s the reason he had.” Soo’s little grin falters because of this. He takes another subtle gulp before casually drifting to another question.

“So what, did he acquire that firm he worked at, too?” he asks with so much sourness in his tone, “Turned it into his huge empire?”

“No, he built KJI from complete scratch.” Chanyeol continues to look awed by it, earning him a slightly sharp look from Kyungsoo. “I think he had so many renowned clients from the firm that they were more than willing to follow him when he decided to build his own. It was said KJI was solely just an architectural firm while he was studying his MBA in the US. And when he finished, he came back and not even a year passed and he expanded it into a wide variety of businesses. It was wild.”

Once again, Soo blinks a few times before swallowing.

“W-Where in the US?”

“I can’t really recall, but it’s a big school, probably.”

For some reason, the thumping in his chest reaches up his throat. He tries reasoning out with himself; America is a big country. There’s nothing to worry about.

Chanyeol fails to notice the way he spaced out from the last revelation. The taller gazes at the glass wall beside their table with the same gentle smile.

“To be honest, I’m still not used to seeing him on the headlines, television, or even hearing his name attached to some kind of power. I would always come across to some press photos of him, looking like a complete package with his playful smiles and some famous hookup rumors but as someone who felt like I genuinely knew him when we were young… it feels weird, you know?” he says with a tone expressing so much nostalgia, “Jongin has always been hardworking, so the success he has now isn’t surprising. But the persona he appears to be in the public is just the polar opposite of the person I knew him as. Sometimes, I feel like he’s faking it, almost.”

The dismayed smile he has reflects on the other guy in front of him. Some blurry memories start coming back into Kyungsoo’s head. They cause the clear bitterness in his voice upon saying the next few words.

“Maybe the one you knew was the fake one. His current persona fits him too well.”

Chanyeol looks at him with a hint of curiosity and some other underlying meaning in his gaze. It’s his turn to lean back and gently cross his arms over his chest.

“I don’t know… what do you think?” he asks Kyungsoo, “You know him so much, too, right? Even more than me, or anyone.”

Soo forces a grin, chuckling afterwards as if it’s ridiculous.

“How would I know?” he asks and Chanyeol raises a brow in intrigue, “I don’t think I ever knew him deeply. He was just my father’s part-timer.”

And did he lie?

Soo firmly stands by what he just said. For him, he never knew Jongin at all. The guy he fell head over heels with was nothing but a façade to deceive him.

The taller man nods once, glancing sideways as if he remembers too many things that make it even harder to believe. With that, Kyungsoo tries to maintain composure.

“So there was never… something special between the both of you?”

“That’s ridiculous...” he chuckles again and shakes his head, “He was my driver. That’s all.”

The way he rambled for words doesn’t go unnoticed to Chanyeol. His eyes linger on Soo that the latter has to reach for his almost empty glass of drink and sips from it just so he can escape.

“I see.”

“So… how about you? Do you work full time at your Dad’s repair shop?” he clears his throat while still not looking at him directly.

“Nope. Just lending an extra hand recently because of his condition.” it relieves him that Chanyeol went along with the sudden change of topic, “I’m an A&R coordinator at a recording company.”

“Oh, yeah… I remember you were a music major before.” Soo’s lips parted in awe before smiling, “That’s really nice to hear, Chanyeol.”

“Hmm, though it’s not exactly what I want, I guess I just have to settle.” Chanyeol shrugs before flashing a lazy grin, “I’ve always wanted to actually produce music, you know? Even before. But it’s been years and nobody bothers to give it a try. Maybe it’s not really for me.”

With a snort of disagreement, Kyungsoo encourages Chanyeol before the dismayed look could even settle on his face.

“That’s ridiculous. You should try again. For sure, you can have a shot on it.” he says and smiles when he remembers a certain moment, “I actually kinda like the ones you made before. I remember listening to it in the car with Bae—” Soo immediately pauses before he could even complete the name but Chanyeol’s already looking at him so he could only cuss internally, “Yep… t-they’re good.”

“Must be nice working together again?”

It’s not obvious how it took some courage to casually welcome the topic, but Chanyeol does anyway. He’s gently smiling at Kyungsoo but the latter can clearly see something beneath his eyes.

“Not really.” he honestly says, pertaining to Baekhyun. “But… you? I think you saw him there a while ago as well. Didn’t you two…”

He confirms something obviously happened when Chanyeol only fell silent. Soo knew that he also saw Baekhyun earlier, but the reason behind the avoidant response to it is the one he’s most curious about.

What happened to them?

He remembers what the people in the office were saying about Baekhyun. He’s described oppositely to how Kyungsoo knew him before. The one he knew wasn’t concern on pleasing so many people. That wasn’t who he saw back there.

He can’t help thinking whether Chanyeol has anything to do with it.

“What happened, Chanyeol?” he instantly regrets asking when he realized it must be the last thing Chanyeol wants to talk about, “I’m sorry. I’ve been really nosy since we got he—”

“It’s okay, silly. I know you’re curious.” he cuts him off while giving a reassuring smile, “Well, it’s been years since I last talked to Baekhyun, too.”

His last argument with Baekhyun is the first thing that comes across his mind. Right then, Soo earnestly wishes he had nothing to do with their fall out.

“Why?” it might have been a long time ago, but Kyungsoo was fully aware of how much Baekhyun liked Chanyeol then. It’s hard to imagine what could’ve happened, considering he never knew if they ever became official. “I remember you really clicked but I wasn’t really sure about it, either. Did you guys ever date? Like before or after I left?”

The casual smile situates itself on Chanyeol’s lips but his gaze won’t settle straight into Kyungsoo’s.

“We did.” he pauses and looks at the table this time, “At least… for me. I don’t know how he ever considered it. But it seemed like an official relationship for me, you know I’ve always liked him, right?” he glances at Soo with a shrug, “I don’t know. It just became messy eventually.”

“Messy?”

After another brief rumination, Chanyeol finally lets out a heavy sigh.

“I never really liked talking about it in depth, but I know I can trust you.” he says like he’s finally allowing himself to let everything out to someone after so long. Soo listens intently, “Actually when you went away, Baekhyun wished to see me more and more, surprisingly. We hang out a lot, fooled around. Basically I was there whenever he’s bored and needed some entertainment. So I thought it would be something serious.” he chuckles lightly, “Don’t get me wrong, I could see he was trying when we started, too. But then after that, it was like all games for him. He began having crazier lifestyle, partying and friends. I don’t know, I felt left out. Worst was I couldn’t even complain because I don’t know if I was ever his boyfriend.”

Kyungsoo isn’t able to say anything. He finds it hard to process. Baekhyun? Doing all of that?

“It’s pathetic, honestly.” Chanyeol tries to smile when he sees Kyungsoo’s serious look at him, “I felt like he would just call me then… for sex or whenever he needed some reassurance when he was insecure, then after that, I’d go back to tailing behind him again. I got tired of it, eventually. I don’t think I could ever keep up with the life he was embracing then. I probably was just a fling for him, too, so I just stopped.”

Soo can’t help hurting for Chanyeol. He seemed like he was really willing to take a shot with Baekhyun so hearing this now is a little upsetting. He can’t believe Baekhyun could be like that.

“Did… you ever talk about it?”

“I did, when I wanted it over. He didn’t really take it well, though.” Chanyeol tries to look like it’s only a funny memory he’s eager to bury, “It was just a blurry memory to me. But he was shouting, right at my face, not minding if I get humiliated in front of the other socialites around him.” Soo creases his brows because of this, but the taller continues. “Maybe he was really pissed about me standing up for myself. He even mentioned you while on it, telling me I probably wanted you instead even from the start. It’s funny now that I think about it, I didn’t know where he was coming from… at all.”

And there his guilt gets worse when he confirms his thoughts a while ago. His impulsive words really affected Baekhyun somehow that it ended up affecting their whole relationship. Great. He feels like he just ruined them and it’s horrible.

“I do…” he admits to Chanyeol, “I-I’m sorry. I probably had something to do with it because I dragged your name when we last argued… I probably c-caused everything… I’m sorry, Chanyeol.”

Chanyeol blinks at him, parting his lips to say something then purses them again. He briefly stares into space while a bitter smile trails on his lips. Then he looks at Kyungsoo again.

“It’s done. It’s a long time ago, don’t worry about it. It was still his choice, so no need to take the blame.” he says instead, refusing to ask more about it and possibly open wounds. “Years passed, it’s just normal that… we don’t have anything to do with some people anymore.”

Soo can’t even look longer at his reassuring expression, guiltily shaking his head once.

“I just wish some things had gone differently for you…”

Chanyeol blinks rapidly before staring straight at him, gently nodding despite the pain in his eyes after having to recall everything again.

“Everything was never really the same, Kyungsoo.” he tells him truthfully, “Especially after you left.”

Kyungsoo smiles bitterly and looks outside instead. He instantly shakes off the feeling that began rousing in him upon hearing that. No. They’re the last people he’ll feel bad for. He’ll never forget that.

Those people do not have the slightest right to make him feel guilty about what possibly happened to them within those years.

They scarred him the most, they deserved all of it.

x

 

When Friday of his first week came, Soo already feels like giving up. The demand of the job is no joke because of the amount of clients closing deals consistently. The first week of the firm being under KJI is only about to end but he thinks it’s close to being out of bankruptcy already.

Maybe he’ll die along with it soon enough, though. He hasn’t taken a decent rest and he’s been having overtimes almost everyday. A big project is already given to them after being split into two teams. Despite that, they still need to work individually for the designs and even if Soo has always liked what he does, it comes to a point that he badly yearns for a rest because of too much exhaustion.

On his first week.

Today is the only exception he made from overworking. Right after his shift, he goes straight to the hospital because of his mother’s request. As much as Soo wants to decline and take the time to rest instead of seeing his father, he’s not able to decline his Mom’s plead again.

He can only hope he won’t be forced to interact with the old man. He’s already drained out of life and energy.

“Hey.” he closes the door behind him and looks at Sukyung who only gives him a glance before continuing her sketch, “Where’s Mom?”

“Went home for a while to get some clothes.” she mumbles with her gaze focused on the glass garden she draws.

The girl doesn’t even bother looking at him whenever she answers. It’s been more than a week since he arrived but he feels like there’s no progress on the relationship between him and his sister. She’s not cold nor hostile, but her indifferent behavior doesn’t worry Kyungsoo any less.

When silence takes over, he glances at their father who’s sleeping before walking to where Sukyung is. She doesn’t even bat an eye even when he stood right beside her.

A memory of his seven year-old sister drawing doll dresses on her bed comes into his mind. Now, he often sees her sketching tall towers and modern parks. It’s crazy seeing how much she improved. Sukyung is into a field that their father was shoving down his throat many years ago, but it doesn’t upset him at all. Instead, it even makes him happy.

“Wow… that’s really good.” Soo tries to initiate a conversation and it’s the only way he could think of, “I didn’t know you’re into Landscape Architecture. I thought you like Fashion Design.”

Sukyung erases some mistakes on the side before muttering a response.

“Kids like that.” she says nonchalantly while going through her other pencils, “I’m no longer a kid.”

Soo went silent because of her response. He clears his throat before retrieving another smile.

“So… is that what you’ll pursue in college?”

Sukyung chuckles a little sarcastically, “College... Yeah, right.”

“Why?” his smile completely falters this time, “Sukyung, the firm went bankrupt but that doesn’t mean you can’t study anymore. That’s why I’m here. You can pursue whatever you want.”

His younger sister simply glances at him blankly, not bothering to give a response anymore. No matter how hard it is, Kyungsoo tries to keep composure. He has to be patient and not let his exhaustion get in the way because it will only make things worse.

“We haven’t talked properly since I came back.” he says rather gently this time, sitting down on the other side of the couch. “Are you mad?”

“Why would I be?” Sukyung looks at him in confusion.

“Just…” the older gulps, “I’ve always wanted to explain why I needed to leave and I hope you will let me.”

“No need.” Sukyung pauses for a while to shrug, “I’m aware.”

She goes back to what she’s doing, dismissing the way her brother’s eyes remain on her expectantly.

“You are?”

“You hated Dad.” she says casually like it has always been a known fact, “That’s it, right?”

“It’s not just that.”

“And you hated being rich. Being an heir.” the side of her lips curves a little, “Right?”

Kyungsoo stares at her in disbelief. When she doesn’t bat an eye and simply goes back to drawing, he gulps and speaks.

“I did what I needed to do.” Kyungsoo says firmly, “And I came back because I don’t want you to experience what I’ve been through before. I want to save you and keep you away from being a bait on this mess.”

Sukyung narrows her eyes in confusion.

“Why would you think I needed saving?” shaking her head once, “I’m not some damsel in distress.”

“You’re okay with being married off to someone you don’t even know?” he questions demandingly.

“I’m rational enough to welcome the logic of it.” his sister gives him an immediate response that gets him even more astounded. “I’m not stupid. I know what I’m doing and I’m not marrying some horrible person once I’m of age. What’s so wrong about trying to see every solution of the problem instead of running away from it instantly?”

“Can you hear yourself? You can marry someone you don’t even love?”

“I can get to know someone and decide whether I can marry him or not. If I don’t want to, then that’s where I’ll fight for myself. By then, I know I have an even stronger reason.” Sukyung puts down the pencil this time to look at him straight in the eye, “That’s how I deal with any problem. I don’t need someone else to decide for my choices before I could even try them.”

Kyungsoo’s chest starts heaving, but he can’t find the right words to retaliate. Or maybe he has some but the courage isn’t there.

He can’t be hearing this from his sister. His teenager sister who was the main reason why he came back to suffer all of these for. He doesn’t deserve to hear this.

“You’re lucky you have choices on what to do then.” he gulps before gritting his teeth beneath his smile, “I never had that here.”

“You just feel like everything’s against your will all the time.” she says directly, not sounding sharp nor mocking, but the honesty in her tone makes it even worse.

“What?” Soo hisses under his breath when the words’ effect on him starts getting out of hand. The last thing he wants is to fight with Sukyung but she doesn’t seem to get the hint at all.

“Do you think I never noticed? You’ve always been a rebel, at seven I already knew that.” his lips purse into a thin line when Sukyung sits straight to speak continuously, “Our Dad is controlling, yes. But I’ve always seen how you mindlessly defied him whenever you got the chance, some are not even for your own choice or happiness, but to piss him off, I guess.”

“You don’t know anything, Sukyung.”

“Don’t I now…” she mumbles with a light chuckle, “Am I really wrong? Before he even came up with something, you already counterattacked it. Probably why you felt like everything and everyone were always against you. Try to think about it, brother.”

“You didn’t and still don’t have any idea what I’ve gone through that time. You don’t get to talk.” he’s not aware how his eyes start glistening, out of exhaustion and pain from the words thrown to him. Sukyung sees this, urging herself to finally stop and end the conversation.

“I didn’t say I did.” she says with the same neutral tone like she didn’t do anything that had the other so worked up. But she doesn’t look at her brother this time, packing all her materials instead. “It was just a mere observation. Sorry if I offended you.”

All the emotions are just too much to handle. Soo badly wants crumble and break down on the spot, not just because of the words from his little sister, but also from the frustration that has been pent up for the whole week. He stares at the floor instead, teeth gritted hard so he could collect himself for a while. It has been too much for him.

“I’m having dinner at the cafeteria.” Sukyung leaves her materials on the table and goes to get her pouch. Her older brother remains clutching his pants firmly as he tries to blink his tears away and clear his throat.

“My wallet’s in m-my bag…” he tries to tell her despite the difficulty.

“No need, I have a few bills left.” she calmly says and walks to the door. Soo grabs this chance to wipe the edge of his eyes, “Do you want anything?”

He only shakes his head and hears the door closing afterwards.

Soo remains on the same spot for another minute, breathing in and out to successfully hold it back again. When he lets out one last heavy breath, he glances up and sees his father’s eyes on him, as if watching him all this time from where he’s lying down.

The old man’s eyes are still cold and a little hard, as usual. They’re too vague to be read. And he’s reminded of why the last thing he would want to do is shed a tear in front of him. He’s not giving him another satisfaction.

So he keeps a blank face, subtly swallowing the lump that settled in his throat. Kyungsoo stands up and moves to the other couch behind the bed curtain, where they won’t have to see each other, at least until his mother comes back.

After a few minutes of mindlessly reading on his phone, someone knocks on the door.

A hospital staff politely bows at him with a cart in front of her, “The patient’s dinner, Sir.”

Immediately recognizing his dilemma, Kyungsoo blinks continuously.

“H-He didn’t have it yet?”

“Dinner’s at six, Sir.”

He sighs deeply before pulling the cart inside and signing the record. The cart of food stays beside him even after closing the door, he actually considers texting Sukyung to see if she can come back and feed their Dad herself. But he can’t be suddenly acting like nothing just happened and she’s probably just in the middle of her own dinner. Way to ruin their relationship even more if ever he decides to interrupt that.

God, when is his mother arriving?

Even if it’s not on his own accord, Soo brings the food and stands up beside his father’s bed to get it over with. The latter needs to take his medication, so his pride might just cost them larger hospital bills. They don’t need to be civil, anyway.

He wordlessly adjusts the bed without sparing the old man a glance. The machineries are the only noise source in the room. He pauses briefly before finally holding onto his father’s shoulders to help him sit up.

“Sit up, you need to eat dinner.” he tells him when the weight makes it difficult for him.

His father’s hard gaze contradicts the lack of color on his face. He looks so weak, and food might be something that could help. But he won’t even open his mouth properly when Soo began feeding him.

“Open up more.” Kyungsoo says it firmly, still trying to sound calm. “Come on, you need to eat.”

The food starts dripping down because of it. Kyungsoo’s head becomes even heavier. A part of his father’s face is paralyzed because of the stroke but he knows he’s capable of eating properly. But now he just won’t cooperate.

He purses his lips while cleaning the mess that was made. Soo doesn’t say anything anymore, nor does he look at his father’s cold, taunting eyes that are directed ahead. If he lets it get to his nerve, it won’t end up well.

Just a little more, Soo. He tells himself, just wait a little more and you can leave and finally take a rest.

Kyungsoo puts a napkin on his father’s collar to make the process better. But as he tries again, the old man still won’t try enough.

He shuts his eyes tight before heaving deeply, gripping the spoon in his fingers.

“Please.” he mutters. He gently pushes the spoon again but now his Dad would barely part his lips.

And there, he’s pushed to his limits. Kyungsoo’s jaw hardens as he feeds him more forcefully. The older starts shaking his head in defiance, looking at him sharply.

“Mm-hmmph!

“God fucking dammit.” Soo finally drops the spoon on the tray while a harsh breath escapes his lips, “Fine. You want to starve yourself and die? Go on!”

The agonizing silence engulfs everything again. His father looks taken aback by his outburst, although his expression remains hard. Kyungsoo’s ragged breathing can be heard, and he can’t control the tears of frustration forming in his bloodshot eyes anymore.

“I’m not going to fucking keep up with your bullshit, Dad! Have you seen what you did to Sukyung and me? Are you satisfied seeing us like that?” his father looks at him because of this, his gaze softening. But the anger, weariness, you name it— they’re all pent up and became an uncontrollable outburst for Soo that he just had to say it. Say what he’s been keeping in since he got sacrificed into this cruel deal between the worst men in his life.

He harshly wipes his face and swallows hard.

Fuck… it’s like y-your sole purpose in life is to ruin everything f-for me... You did it again. You successfully brought me back h-here to suffer for all you did. Aren’t you satisfied?” he says with so much weight. Tears began forming in his father’s eyes as well but Soo shakes his head frantically, “I can never fucking forgive you. So piss me off one more time and I won’t think twice about leaving again to let your goddamn company rot in hell!”

He stops there because it becomes harder to speak in between crying. He shifts sideways to let it out silently, like a child in heavy tears while trying to catch his breath.

When he finally gets the courage to stop for a while, he wipes his eyes and faces the bed to continue his task. His father is now looking down, shoulders slightly heaving while blinking rapidly. Soo dismisses it all and keeps a straight face while lifting the platter of food once more.

“Eat.” his voice is still raspy. His father actually parts his lips wider this time, eating what he feeds him while his gaze remains on his own blanket. Kyungsoo swears he’ll storm out of here once he’s done. Or even when someone comes. His chest doesn’t feel lighter and he fears that he’d end up showing weakness again after another trigger anyone could pull.

They’re only halfway when he hears the door opening. He gently puts down the tray, earning him a look from his father. But Soo lets out another deep breath and decides that he’s done. At least for today.

“Soo?” he hears his mother’s voice and he doesn’t think twice about leaving the food there. He grabs his things from the couch and doesn’t say anything anymore even when his mother has seen him preparing to leave.

“S-Soo, where are you…” he kisses her cheek gently and wordlessly goes out.

On his way home, he dismissed the looks he got in the bus because of silently crying on his seat. They didn’t know who he was anyway. The fatigue was just so sickening already. Sukyung’s words and everything else made it heavier that he was not even able to at least reach his unit.

He was never counterattacking anything without trying. He always tries.

x

 

The following weeks aren’t any better. A day after the project’s deadline, they’re gathered in a closed door meeting with a few project heads, operations manager and the CEO himself. It’s to evaluate the designs of both teams for the big client.

One thing he noticed about this company is how everyone goes uptight whenever Jongin attends the meetings. It’s like everyone has their lives depended on it if something doesn’t go smoothly. He doesn’t see him around too much because technically, he’s staying in his main company office which is KJI. That’s why after knowing that he’ll be attending this evaluation meeting, Kyungsoo fights the urge to roll his eyes in front of Junmyeon. He’s been doing well without seeing the guy’s face every day and they just have to be in the same room again now. What a waste of air.

He didn’t worry about his own designs and even his teammates’ because most of them are impressive. If they reject them then the project heads are clearly a bunch of idiots (he didn’t include the CEO in this because for Soo, he already is— an idiot). He went in the conference room with too much confidence about their output, not even welcoming the possibility of criticism.

But of course, they’re clearly inevitable when he’s involved.

“We gave you the objectives you need to follow. The designs are good and intricate but half of these aren’t even met.” a project head starts scolding them upon seeing the first design that belongs to one of his teammates. Their presentation barely even started and they’re already shaking their heads. Soo narrows his eyes on his seat.

The architect standing in front starts blinking rapidly.

“U-Uhm, I just followed the modern style the client wanted, Architect… I didn’t know the specific things—”

“We gave you a certain list of objectives. That’s what the company thinks the client would prefer based on the previous meeting we had. As junior designers, we expect you to follow that.” Soojung gently tells her while going through the same folder seriously. Kyungsoo can’t help looking at her with distaste.

“May I see that list, Architect?” Soo finally speaks on his own seat in attempt to reason out for their whole team. The room becomes briefly silent when he asked one of the project heads. Jongin looks at him from across the table.

Another project head responds to Kyungsoo while looking confused.

“What do you mean? You should have your own copies of that. We sent it out to both teams.”

Soo suppresses a sarcastic smile, immediately figuring out what could’ve happened. He glances at the corner where the other team is sitting after their successful but mediocre presentation. Mia’s smile is obvious on her dark red lips.

And he thought sabotage is long gone from this damn building.

Kyungsoo chooses to deal with it professionally, looking back at the project heads once again.

“Maybe the client would want to see the designs we made, too.” he proposes when no one in his team was brave enough to try. They’re just watching him expectantly, not having the same courage. “If they only specifically asked for modern and patterned, then they can probably consider checking if they like these.”

“We will not show them to the client unless you follow the said objectives. That’s what we do.” the same architect heading the project tells him with finality.

God, they’re really trying hard to be edgy in front of this jerk, aren’t they?

First of all, this is just unfair and stupid. That’s what Kyungsoo can make out of the situation. They worked hard for the designs and these people won’t even give them a chance because of a list that’s not even completely based on the client, but from their stupid company standard. He’s not being paid as much as these architects, but he clearly uses his rational logic more than them. It’s a shame.

“We will work on the revisions, but I think we can still include these in the portfolio for the upcoming meeting with them. Even just for consideration if ever they would want more options.”

Everyone in the room is looking at them, anticipating the next thing to happen. Some are even looking at him with distaste, wondering how such a lowly employee insists his belief into these renowned people around him. Kyungsoo couldn’t care less. They’re obviously being anything but reasonable.

Even Soojung is looking at him with her professionally considerate look on her face like she’s not capable of doing anything nasty.

Kyungsoo gladly raises both his brows at her, and she finally looks back to the portfolio.

“Sir?” the architect sighs and all of them turn to Jongin’s direction for the final decision, except Kyungsoo who prefers to focus on the more desirable looking— his designs.

“Meet the objectives. We’ll send the other team’s designs first.”

With a look of disbelief, Kyungsoo finally glances up at him. But the CEO is simply looking straight ahead, almost testingly.

“Okay, Sir.”

“But the client can possibly like some aspects of the designs we made, too.” Kyungsoo can barely notice how his own tone changes a little now that he’s talking to him directly, “If they won’t like them, then fine. But I think they can get more ideas if there are more options. If they could come up with more specific preferences, then we can apply it to the revisions to meet what they actually like. Both teams.”

Jongin sits up straight and stares at him seriously, as if testing to make sure if he’s really willing to cross the line in this very meeting. But Kyungsoo being Kyungsoo, he keeps his ground and looks at him without batting an eye.

“The objectives we proposed were already standardized. Meaning it’s the closest criteria to what the client wants.” the side of his lips curves with sarcasm, emphasizing his words with the power he knows he holds. “Revise your designs.”

“But it’s not the exact preference of the client, right?” Soo isn’t even shaken despite some of his team members sending him subtle signals to cut it off while looking slightly horrified, “I just think the process shouldn’t be too manufactured. Both clients and designers deserve freedom to their creativity. I don’t think it’s how things should wor—”

That is how things work here.” Jongin snaps with a merciless look in his eyes, “If you’re used to getting everything you want from where you came from, then you should know it doesn’t work like that in this firm anymore. We don’t spoil anyone here.”

Now everyone is agonizingly silent. Most of them even look down out of fear on what’s about to escalate.

Kyungsoo purses his lips tightly, harshly brought back to his rightful place that he knew he’s not allowed to retaliate anything else anymore.

Soojung flips the portfolio with a small smile forming on her lips.

“I set the terms, and you follow.” Jongin raises a brow with every word escaping swiftly from his lips, “Is that so hard to understand, Mr. Do?”

Now he’s sure almost everyone in the room shared shocked glances. The surname surely rings a bell in their heads.

Subtly gritting his teeth, Soo formally smiles before shaking his head.

“Not at all.”

“Good.” the CEO’s gaze finally leaves him as he stands up to look around everyone, the stoic look making its way back to his face. “We dismiss it right here for now. Revise all of these. Make this your priority.”

Straightening his suit, he looks at Kyungsoo a little longer even when the latter is back to silently fixing their portfolio.

“I’ll see you around, everyone.”

The rest of the employees went out of the room after Junmyeon wrapped the meeting up. Their team was the last one left to pack their dismissed portfolios and presentation materials. No one really spoke about it, or at least to Kyungsoo. He could hear some occasional mumbling not just from the employees going out, but also from his own teammates.

When he finished what he needed to fix, he went out ahead of them. Some executives are still outside, crowded around someone for what seems to be after-meeting inquiries. Kyungsoo walks to where one of the secretariat is. On his way, he finally gets a glimpse of Jongin seriously talking to the said executives. Soojung is also there, standing right beside the CEO as if it’s where she naturally belongs. Before any of them could even glance at him, he looks away and dismisses the sight. He doesn’t see the pair of eyes that follows his way afterwards.

“Hi.” he approaches the secretariat who stares at him awkwardly, “Were you the one who sent out the objective memo for this big client? May I ask when you handed them?”

“I gave them out to both teams, last last week, I think?” she squints her eyes as if trying to recall exactly when, “I went to your department, around lunch time.”

His lips purse into a thin line when he confirms his theory a while ago.

“Thanks.” Kyungsoo doesn’t wait for the secretariat’s response and walks back to their office where the members of the other team are already going back to their own cubicles with victorious smiles that surely have some underlying meaning. Soo directly walks up to the one closest to his cubicle, who’s shamelessly taking a selfie with her phone.

“Mia.”

She takes another one before completely facing him, smiling big.

“Oh, hey Kyung.” she nods once, flashing her awe. “That was a big revelation back there, I didn’t know you were actually the former Chairman’s son.”

“Were you here when the memos of project objective were distributed?”

She raises both her shaded brows innocently.

“You mean the one you didn’t follow?”

“Magically, our whole team didn’t get one, so yes.” Kyungsoo intentionally implies something with his smile, “I’m just wondering if you saw them. They probably flew away from our tables while we’re out for a lunch meeting.”

“Of course, I did. It didn’t fly away, though. Thanks to me.” she sassily makes her way to Kyungsoo’s cubicle and pulls something out from his bulk of unrelated files, “Here, I was nice enough to put it in your files so it would be safe. See?”

Some of Kyungsoo’s team members arrived a while ago and were able to hear this. They look into their own and find their memos in the same places, looking back at the woman in disbelief.

Soo intently stares at Mia.

“You folded it, and put it in the bulk files of our tables?”

“Mm-hmm. I know it was nice of me.” she sighs and casually smiles again, “Oh hey, it’s lunch. So you guys are going out or what?”

Her question obviously has some pun intended in it. One designer from her team chuckles upon hearing this, to which she smiles in return.

Soo takes the memo from her hands, still keeping the same smile despite his teeth gritting. He breathes and gathers enough composure.

“Later, I guess.”

“Okay!” Mia shrugs before sneaking beside Kyungsoo to reach for her pouch, “Don’t stay out too long for lunch, though. We only have an hour.” she blows them a kiss before walking out.

His hands clutch into fists while watching her leave. Realizing he can’t do anything about it anymore, Kyungsoo lets out a sigh and puts the memo back on his table.

“She’s fucking crazy.” Kim Dongwook, one of his teammates, is already standing beside his cubicle with a look of disbelief on his face. Now that he gets to notice, Minji, Gidu and Seojin are also standing nearby, too astounded by what they figured out. They still look bummed by their failed presentation that the revelation of their team member’s identity briefly gets forgotten.

“I can’t believe their team is actually up for sabotage. They’re that desperate?” Minji leans back on one of the cubicles with a gasp.

Soo looks at them, “Maybe we can speak about this to the higher-ups. We didn’t get the objective list.”

“No. More drama will only get us less work done.” Seojin says seriously. She’s not speaking to him directly but Kyungsoo isn’t dumb to know where she’s coming from, “Haven’t we learned from the meeting back there? If the CEO didn’t get too pissed, I don’t think we need to revise all of our designs.”

No one speaks. It’s lunch so they are the only ones left in the office. His other teammates’ silence is enough proof of agreement to what she said.

“Is this about what I said?” Kyungsoo asks them, “I was just trying to make a point—”

“We still think it wasn’t right to talk back to Mr. Kim like that.” Seojin cuts him off. Now she’s obviously pissed by what he did back there and it shows, “You don’t have the upper hand here anymore, Kyungsoo. He owns the firm now, I hope you understand that we don’t want our jobs to be on the line.” she says before walking back to her cubicle. They all look at him, still awfully silent.

Meanwhile, his jaw almost drops in disbelief. Kyungsoo can’t believe they’re thinking about it this way. He didn’t do it because of the thought of being superior. He was the only there who fought for their work.

When he remains speechless, the others eventually go back to their own places, too. Dongwook is the last one left, offering an apologetic smile before tapping his arm.

“We’ll get even with that high-ponytailed girl.” he nods reassuringly before leaving for lunch, too.

 

 

He wasn’t able to talk to any of them again within that day. It’s not like he could. Their whole team was drowned into revisions, while the other team barely had anything to do and wasn’t considerate enough to let them work peacefully by how much loud they laughed and talked to each other. It even felt like an intentional distraction. No, it’s actually intentional, surely.

Thankfully, they went home on time and their team was the only one left after five. They stayed for a few more hours, Dongwook and Kyungsoo cracking the lead of every pencil in Mia’s holder in between short breaks. The others were too focused and preferred not to be involved. The two brought the lead back on the ends to make the pencils appear normal then went back to their tables with a huge grin. Small steps of getting even.

When the sky got darker, they eventually went home one by one. Only Soo was left past nine o’clock, deciding it’s enough when his eyelids felt heavier from all the work he had done.

He walks past the lobby to take the elevator with two of his heavy bags, one on his back while the other slings on his shoulder. The floor is almost empty because junior designers usually prefer taking their work home as one of their privileges. Soo begs to differ, though. He has always been the type to finish everything in the workplace, even while still in New York.

While waiting, he’s actually wishing someone would come and take the elevator as well. He hates being alone in it. Seonho would always tease him about being afraid of elevator ghosts but to be fair, Kyungsoo simply hates the idea of being stuck all by himself.

It finally reaches the floor he’s in. And in between mindlessly stepping forward, he quickly stops when he sees the only person in it.

Jongin casually looks at him, waiting for him to step inside, but Kyungsoo remains standing one step away from the elevator. A part of him is panicking inside and wishes he just took the stairs to be sure (he’s on the 28th floor, if you must know), while the other part is subconsciously waiting for the elevator to simply close again so he could take the other ones.

But all of them are useless because Jongin simply clicks the button to have the doors opened until he gets back to his senses and finally come inside. Telling him off would definitely make things worse and Soo is already thinking of that. So despite feeling so unfortunate, he accepts his fate and goes inside the elevator. The CEO is standing in the middle so he had to push himself at the very corner to keep a distance.

He begs heavens that someone would take the same elevator from the next floors, almost audibly praying it, even.

Oh how much he’d give to just actually be stuck in an elevator alone.

“Are you going home?”

Kyungsoo glances sideways when he hears him asking. As much as he wants to play dumb, it’s obviously for him because no one else is there and the man isn’t in his phone either.

“Yes.” he says coldly, trying to be professional because they’re still in the firm’s property.

“Where’s your car?” how could he speak to him so casually like he didn’t humiliate and expose him in front of everyone this afternoon? How much guts does he have?

“I don’t have one.” Soo answers and bluntly stares at the LED screen to see if they’re close to their respective floors, “I’ll take the bus.”

“I’ll give you a ride.”

Blood pumps all over his system. He hates it. No matter how much he tries to maintain a cold façade, it’s too obvious how he got speechless.

Kyungsoo gulps hard and looks straight ahead.

“I don’t think so.” and maybe over his dead goddamn body.

“Come on, it’s late.” Jongin looks at him, “Your bag looks heavy.”

“No, thanks. I like walking.”

The businessman chuckles this time. Kyungsoo narrows his eyes at him, getting a closer look at the amused grin on his handsome face that he barely hears the sound of the elevator.

“What?” he hisses at Jongin.

“Nothing.” he says while still looking at the shorter. Then he points in front, and Soo figures out that the door is already opened. “It’s the ground floor. Aren’t you taking the bus?”

Kyungsoo’s glare lingers on him for a little bit more before stepping outside. The big frown settles on his face even when he’s already stomping outside the tower’s exit. It even gets worse when he hears the loud rumbling from the sky. Kyungsoo curses hard and walks quickly to the bus stop.

He’s the only one there again, and the rain starts pouring as soon as he got under the small roof. He looks up and heaves in frustration, trying to estimate how long the rain could possibly go on. He doesn’t notice the big, luxurious Range Rover slowing down in front of him. Kyungsoo instinctively frowns at it even before he could see the driver, and when the window slides down, it’s only right that he did.

“It looks cold out there.” Jongin tilts his head sideway to grin at him, “Still prefer the bus?”

Sarcasm is all over Kyungsoo’s face, smiling back disingenuously.

“I will always prefer the bus.”

Jongin shrugs, “Alright. Suit yourself.”

The way he swiftly drove away didn’t fail to infuriate Kyungsoo, as well. He whispered a bunch of profanities dedicated to the arrogant businessman alone even when the strong raindrops drowned them. The next bus finally comes and Soo grumpily takes the farthest seat at the back.

It’s not even a minute of scrolling through Naver yet and an article already catches his attention, specifically the collaged headline photo of that insolent jerk and an attractive… modelish woman… kinda.

Did Hanseoh Group Decline Working with KJI Industries Because of the Past Romance Issue between the Said Chairman’s Only Daughter and Kim Kai Himself?

He goes through the article without hesitance, snorting upon seeing nothing but boring business histories. But then a lightbulb moment comes and Soo slowly smiles while staring at the window. A little creepy, actually.

Going to his speed dial, he’s not wrong when barely two seconds have passed and Seonho immediately answers. He knows his lazy hours.

“Hey, I need your connections and detective skills.”

“Oh hoho you came just right in time, Do Kyungsoongie!” he rolls his eyes up to the back of his head when a lame Santa impersonation greets him. How fucking bored is he? “I’m so bored in the office, what’s up? Let’s do it.”

Terribly bored. That’s good.

“You can dig up some big tycoon’s past issues and scandals, right?”

“…”

The sudden silence makes him gasp.

“Talk to me, coward. You promised you’ll help me.” he hisses at him.

“What are you up to this time, Soo? I don’t want to do something nasty.”

“I just need information.” he says like it’s the simplest thing to do. Well for Kyungsoo, it is. He’ll do the rest once he gets it, “Detailed information. I need all the names of the people who got into some hookup rumors or scandals with this big CEO of KJI Industries. Easy as pie.” he smirks.

You’re not as sleek as you think you are, Kim Kai.

“No!” he can tell Seonho is already aware of his plan. Not his usual dumb self.

“Why not?” Kyungsoo spites, “Come on! He’s too famous, anyway. It’ll be easy to get deets! If there’s a hundred of them, you can just send me… at least, fifty.”

“And for what? You’re curious about his sex history?” Seonho starts talking fast under his breath, it means his boss passed by. “I don’t want to be involved in this game you want to play with him, I’m busy.”

“You just said you’re bored!” he squints his eyes like the other could see him, “Do I need to use Code Red for this, Kim Seonho? Because I will.”

“You promised me you’ll be focused on your job and getting your company back! This is getting yourself into trouble.”

“Well, he fucking humiliates me every time he can so I think this isn’t much of a big deal.” Kyungsoo spoke too fast because of anger but it’s enough to silence Seonho briefly.

“He what?” this time, Seonho’s tone sounds concerned. It pisses Kyungsoo even more.

He shakes his head and dismisses it to urge him more, “Come on! Just do it, please? I’m just really curious. I won’t drag you to any of it after, promise.”

“Fine. But I’ll send you an email anonymously, to be sure.” now Soo is already smiling victoriously. He always knew the pleading voice never failed to poke Seonho’s weak spot for him, “My boss is calling me, I need to go.”

“Send it to me as soo—”

“Bye!”

He snorts once Seonho ended the call. It’s obvious he took this chance to escape before Kyungsoo could even ask another big favor. But it doesn’t stop Soo from forming his plan in his head, smiling dangerously because no one could see him at the back of the bus. He needs his moment.

It’s on, arrogant, rich, hot… jerk CEO.

He hops off the bus stop near his unit. Going inside, he starts texting Seonho again for the full instructions. That’s why when he gets to the tower lobby, the familiar pair of shoes is the first one he sees before he completely glances up to confirm once again.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

Jongin fakes a surprised face when he approached him with such hostility. He obviously saw the shorter beforehand, loosely basing on the hint of smirk on his face.

“I see, no boss-employee courtesy anymore?”

“We’re not in the office. I’m not your damn employee.” Kyungsoo tells him abruptly and Jongin looks even more amused, “I asked you what you’re doing here.”

The tanned man simply flashes him a charming smile. God knows how much he wants to wipe it off for good.

“Stalking some new prospects? Visiting a hookup’s unit? What?” he continuously asks, recalling the article he read in the bus.

Jongin coolly looks around before answering him.

“I live here.”

“Hah. That’s bullshit.”

“You can visit the top floor, sometimes.” Soo parts his lips in shock when he instantly figures which unit it is, “I have a nice pool. You can have a dip if you want.”

“The… penthouse?” he barely even heard the suggestive offer because of imagining the dreamy penthouse on the highest floor. He’d seen its design from the internet and has been daydreaming about it sometimes.

He shakes the thought off when he sees the satisfaction from Jongin because of his awed face, “You have a big mansion in some expensive villa. Why are you here?”

“Keeping up with my house details now, aren’t you?” he grins and Soo glares even sharper, “But which mansion are you pertaining to, anyway? I have plenty. I can list you all the addresses, if you want.”

Arrogant jerk.

“If until here, you’re planning to get to my nerves with your tactics, I’m filing a complaint.” Soo tells him threateningly and Jongin raises his brows in amusement, but he’s not joking, “I’m not going to be your inferior employee every hour of the day, Kim Jongin. I don’t care if you blind them with your big CEO money, I’ll get you kicked out.”

It gets worse when the businessman laughs loudly, earning them a look from the receptionists nearby. Soo fights the urge to punch him on the face.

“Oh… Soo. Chill pill.” he lifts his hand up as if attempting to pat him but Soo is quick enough to slap it away, not letting it land anywhere his body. Jongin simply shrugs, then. “Tell your complaint to the reception desk, then. And they’ll send you to the tower owner. Maybe he can talk it out with you and compromise.”

He takes the VIP elevator beside them and Soo remains watching him in confusion. He’s still blinking, unable to figure out because irritation has clouded his mind. Jongin gives him one last meaningful grin as the elevator slowly closes.

“Night.” he says huskily, leaving Soo while the latter remains standing there— still imagining the cool penthouse. It better only be rented for the week, he thought.