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ships in the night

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The first time Khun Aguero Agnis meets Jue Viole Grace, he is five years old and completely oblivious.

His father, Khun Eduan, has been invited to yet another extravagant party - as the CEO of Khun Entertainment, management for singers and one of the entertainment industry’s biggest groups, and one of the top ten richest people in their country, he is a frequent attendee of these sorts of things.  Aguero has no choice but to come along - as Eduan's son, he must ‘make connections’ if he is to become the heir to his father’s company.

At five years old, Aguero is old enough to understand the sheer stupidity of the entire ordeal, but he’s still too young to call his father out on it.  He’s only five, after all.  His older sister Maria likes to laugh at his complaints: you’ll understand one day, she says with the wisdom only a seven-year-old can have.  Contrary to the whole purpose of their father’s company, Maria wants to be a dancer one day, maybe become an idol, even.  Aguero isn’t sure what happened, but his father and Jahad used to be friends, but they aren’t anymore.  Either way, Maria can dream, and Aguero will support her.

His younger sister Kiseia, on the other hand, is much too young to offer any opinions.  At the age of three months, all she can do is ‘goo’ and ‘gah’ in their mother’s arms as other famous women coo over her.

Aguero would be a liar if he says he isn’t jealous of all the attention his sisters were getting.

He excuses himself to take a breath of fresh air to no one in particular.  Maybe it’s because he’s too young, but the energy of doing business and communicating is stifling, and his child’s tie is strangling.  He wanders out into the hallway outside the hall and all but rips the tie off his neck, aimless but free.

The sound of a child crying and a man shouting piques his interest.  He’s not sure what urges him to run towards the voices as fast as his little legs can carry him - maybe it’s an image of his father that floats to the forefront of his mind, the side of him that he keeps out of the public eye.  Nobody else knows that his father is an alcoholic: he's always drunk and ruddy-faced in the safety of their home; he yells at his young children for no other reason than existing; he slaps his wife when she tries to protect them.

Aguero refuses to become a person like his father.  Like some kind of superhero, his body is moving before he knows it.

“Be quiet!” A giant of a man bellows when Aguero rounds the corner.  “Stop crying!”

The dark-haired boy cowering against the wall cries louder.  The entire situation sets off alarm bells in Aguero’s head.  Since when has he ever willingly helped anyone without an incentive? Aguero ties his hair up with a dark blue bandana marked with his family’s sigil.  He may not be a big fan of his father, but he does take advantage of his father’s influence.  “Hey,” he says as sharply as he can, “what’s going on here?”

The man-giant turns to him with a grunt of irritation, baring sharp teeth in a scowl.  Aguero recognizes him by the cartoon crocodile printed on his shirt - he’s a guitarist in a rock band on the rise, signed by the one and only Khun Entertainment.  From what Aguero remembers, he also has anger issues and a tendency to call people ‘turtles’, but that’s all part of his apparent charm.  “Baby Black Turtle won’t stop crying.  Get him to stop.”

“I- I’m not a turtle!” The boy’s big eyes are teary and fearful.  Aguero feels a sudden and inexplicable urge to protect this boy, and the feeling only intensifies tenfold when he sniffles, lip quivering.

“Hey, you big ugly gator,” Aguero says threateningly as he can, “back off.  That’s not how you treat a child.”

Rak makes a ‘tch’ noise.  “Don’t tell me what to do, Blue Turtle Junior.”

The apparent ‘Blue Turtle Junior’ stands his ground, sharpening his gaze into a glare icy enough to rival his father’s.  He’s only five, but he knows he should be better than his father at every aspect (like being a good person, for starters).  “I said back off, Gator.” He pulls a chocolate bar out of his pocket.  “Truce.”

Rak is the first to break their mini staring contest, stomping off and grumbling about annoying blue turtles and their pesky little offspring.  He shoves the whole bar into his mouth.  “I will be back!”

Aguero approaches the boy like one would a frightened animal.  “Hey,” he asks gently, “are you okay?” The boy looks at him warily.  Even behind a film of tears, his eyes are a shocking gold, warm and bright in contrast to Aguero’s harsh blue ones.  “I’m not going to hurt you.” He lowers his voice conspiratorially.  “But between you and me? The big guy just now wouldn’t hurt a flea either.  He’s all bark and no bite.”

“All bark and no bite,” the boy tries the phrase out on his tongue.  He cocks his head innocently.  “What does that mean?”

Ah, right.  Aguero doesn’t mean to brag, but he has always been smarter than what was expected of his age.  Even Maria said so.

“It means on the outside, he’s like ‘rawr rawr rawr!’” He proceeds to show the golden-eyed boy his best impression of Godzilla.  “But on the inside he’s soft and squishy.” He squishes his cheeks together to make his point, and is delighted when that elicits a giggle from the boy.  Since when has he enjoyed making people laugh? He didn’t even know he could make people laugh! Kiseia cried every time he tried to pick her up.

The boy wipes the remains of his tears away with the back of his hand.  “You’re very funny.  What’s your name?”

“Khun Aguero Agnis,” the blue-haired boy recites smoothly.  He didn’t know people thought he was funny.  “But you can call me Aguero.”

“Nice to meet ya, Mister Aguero! Mama and Papa call me Bam, because Papa thinks I look like a chestnut, and chestnut is ‘Bam’ where he comes from.” Bam grins brightly.  “You can call me that too!”

The two young boys grin at each other with gap-toothed smiles - Bam is missing two of his front teeth, and Aguero is missing a premolar.  Their accents are so vastly different: Aguero’s father’s side of the family were immigrants from a faraway country, but even after so many years the accent they brought had stayed and stained the voices of their children.  Aguero suspects that Bam’s father had come from the edge of another country, the one with mountains and lakes and farmland, by the way his son drags his words out in a lazy drawl despite sounding so enthusiastic and earnest.

“Oh, Bam, there you are!” A woman with the same dark hair as Bam rushes over to them.  Bam is the spitting image of his mother, only male with chubbier cheeks and different eyes.  She sounds like a native.  “We were wondering where you rolled off to!”

Bam looks sheepish.  “Sorry, Mama.  I got lost on my way back from the toilet,” he says with all the honesty of a five-year-old.  “But look, Mama, I made a new friend! His name is Aguero!” He points to the blue haired boy, who waves shyly.  “Aguero, this is my Mama!” Bam’s ‘Mama’ is beautiful, and if her husband looks the same way, Bam is going to be quite a fine specimen when he grows up.  Not that he isn’t appealing already, with those massive golden eyes.  If he stared at someone with them for long enough, he could get away with anything.

He is a little plain and childish, though, compared Aguero and his frightening intellect hidden behind a five-year-old’s face.  There doesn’t seem to be anything too special about him, besides his eyes.  Aguero may be a rookie encyclopedia, but he has never seen golden eyes before.

“Oh, hello there, Aguero!” The woman pinches his cheeks, cooing over him.  Aguero doesn’t completely hate the attention - he’s grown up without much of a motherly presence, since his father was a jerk and his mother had to take care of three of them at once.  At least the seven-year-old was old enough to help with the burden and the five-year-old was independent and clever enough for his father to take notice and take him off his mother’s hands, if even for a while.  The youngest one was still toddling around, but if the Khun genes were in her too she wouldn’t be for much longer.  “You’re Eduan’s little boy, aren’t you? You look much cuter than you were as a baby.”

The young genius is lost for words.  Bam’s mother had seen him when he was a baby? His baby pictures were horrendous! He didn’t remember too much, but Maria said he always screamed until he was red in the face when people tried to take pictures of him.

“Arlene!” A handsome young man with a sunny smile and warm golden eyes jogs up to them.  Both he and Bam’s mother are around Aguero’s father’s age.  Aguero can see both their features in Bam, from the shape of his face to the arch of his nose.  Bam’s father gently reprimands him for running off, and a brief wave of jealousy washes over Aguero.  He loves Maria and Kiseia with all his heart, but why couldn’t he have been born into a family like Bam’s, a family that wasn’t falling apart at the seams? Why couldn’t they all have been born into a nicer family?

Bam’s father ruffles the young Khun boy’s hair.  “We gotta go now, but tell Eduan we said hi, yeah? It’s been a long time since we last met up.  Maybe we could arrange a play-date for the two of you.”

Aguero fusses with his pale blue hair, trying to fix his little ponytail.  “Okay.” His heart thumps in his chest at the thought of a play date.  Bam considers him a friend! He has never had a friend before.  Maria doesn’t count.  She’s family.

“Bye Aguero!” Bam shouts as his parents pull him away.  “See you!”

Aguero waves back with shy enthusiasm.  Did he accidentally eat a butterfly? If not, what’s that strange fluttering feeling in his gut? “Bye Bam!”

The blue-haired boy finds his way back to his father’s side, an obedient trophy prince once again.  He smells like champagne, and Aguero has a feeling he won’t be coming home tonight.  “Where did you go?”

“I made a f-” Make allies and not friends, his father’s voice says in his head, friends are not to be trusted.  “An acquaintance! His name is Bam!”

Both his father and the man he is talking to go rigid before the other man turns to Aguero with a smile hiding bitterness behind the sweet.  Aguero vaguely remembers seeing him around - a close ally of his father, perhaps? “Big words for a little kid,” says the curry-haired man.

His father smiles, equally as plastic.  “What can I say? I raised him well.”

The Khun family have always been experts at speaking lies.  Aguero and his father are no different.

Aguero is delighted when Bam’s mother manages to nag Aguero’s father into allowing the young boy to come over to their house every now and then.  Aguero’s mother is grateful to have at least one child off her hands, if only for a few hours almost every day.

One time, Bam sneaks his parents’ high school yearbook off the shelf and the two boys riffle through, spotting a few familiar faces.  Aguero is surprised to find out a few things: that Bam’s mother Arlene is in fact soprano opera darling Arlene Grace, and his father Jue Victor, better known as V, is the main vocalist and guitarist of The Outside, a pop-rock band collaboration between Khun Entertainment and Jahad Talent.  What’s even more shocking is the fact that Arlene and Aguero’s father had been in the same homeroom class, alongside the rest of the top ten richest people and that curry-haired man - then boy - who had been class president.  Victor was in the class next door, standing next to a boy with braces who Bam had called his ‘Uncle Mirchea’.

Aguero feels a little stupid - no, a lot stupid - when he finds out that Bam’s real name is not ‘Bam’ as he’d originally thought but Jue Viole Grace.  Viole, like byeol ! Mama says I’m their little star! Bam insists Aguero call him by his nickname anyway

Even Rak makes an appearance every now and then - when Arlene and Victor are too busy with their own work lives, the gator comes along to babysit.  He claims he hates it, but Aguero knows he really doesn’t - he’s much better now that Bam knows the big man is harmless.  He calls both the ‘Blue Turtle Junior’ and the ‘Baby Black Turtle’ his ‘prey’, treating himself as a sort of mentor figure to them both despite ‘Blue Turtle Senior’ being his boss and ‘Big Black Turtle’ being his senior.

A few years later, Bam proudly shows off a guitar that his parents had gotten him for his birthday.  The dark-haired boy tries to teach his friend to play, but Aguero’s fingers aren’t quite made for strings - he plays piano far better.  Kiseia meets Bam the first time Aguero has been entrusted with babysitting her, and she absolutely adores him.  (She adores his plushies, rather.) She takes up the violin, constantly nagging her older brother to accompany her on his keys.  

Sometimes, Bam sings.  Bam has a nice voice - it’s soulful and comforting, and when Aguero isn’t too embarrassed to ask he calls his friend and requests to be sung to sleep while his parents fight in the living room.  Maria approves of her baby brother’s choice in friendship - Jahad Talent has started an idol girl group called Girls!, and she seeks to follow in their cousin Maschenny’s footsteps and become a dancer there.  However, being an idol means that she has to know how to sing too, and Bam is all too willing to teach her.

At fourteen, Aguero decides that if he is to take over Khun Entertainment one way or another and Bam decides to become a professional singer, Bam will be the first one he signs - not just for the company’s reputation, but to support Bam and see those big golden eyes aglow with happiness.  He’ll do anything to protect that precious smile.  They sing and dance to bubblegum pop songs on the radio even though neither of them can dance (Maria is sixteen now and a trainee for Jahad Talent, and she tried to teach them both (key word: tried)), and only Bam can sing (which is apparently false, because Bam claims that Aguero could very well be a singer if he wanted to.  He’s probably just trying to make Aguero feel better.)

For now, they are young, happy and shameless.

Something changes when Aguero turns fifteen - he wakes one morning, takes a look at his best friend, and thinks oh no, uh oh.  He isn’t even sure how long that has been happening - Maria and Kiseia like to nag Aguero and ask him if he has a crush, and every time he shakes his head a mental image of Bam pops up.  They’re both developing, both in body and in mind, and Bam hits the gym more than Aguero’s suddenly hormonal mind can take.  Of course, he won’t be left behind, trying to ditch his baby fat for leaner muscles.  It does work, but Bam is still the one he sees at the forefront of his mind when he closes his eyes, the one his brain conjures up when he lies awake in bed at night.  He refuses to let it become anything more.  Rejection always hurts, he knows that enough from his father.

Aguero is sixteen when he realizes that Bam is the only one he would fight the whole world for, would lay down his life for.  However, Bam isn’t the only one his body is interested in - when Maria ogles a ‘cute boy’ as surreptitiously as she can, Aguero finds his eyes lingering for a little longer than is normal.  It’s the last straw for Khun Eduan: Maria had cut ties with him three years ago, after the temper tantrum he threw for her sixteenth birthday and the announcement of being part of the lineup for Princess, the newest sub-unit of Girls!.  Combining that with his only son and future heir’s coming out makes him shake.  He disowns the boy who would’ve become his legacy, three children down to just one.  His mother tries to make Eduan see sense and Kiseia begs Aguero to stay here, don’t leave me alone with the monster, but Eduan gifts Aguero a credit card with white-knuckled fists and tells him he no longer bears the tag of “Khun Eduan’s son”, will no longer receive any support whatsoever from Eduan.  However, he must still allow Aguero to stay in their family mansion until he is eighteen and officially of age to be discarded, thanks to Aguero’s mother’s insistent begging.

(When that happens, Aguero swears to steal Eduan’s motorcycle.  He quite likes the Manbarondenna - it’s blue, like his eyes.  Bam likes it a lot, and so does Victor.)

Aguero becomes a stranger in his own home as Kiseia and their mother slowly drift away, fearful of their father’s drunken wrath.  The boy had given Maria his blessing to audition for Jahad Talent years ago and he knew what that would entail, but it still comes as a betrayal when his older sister throws herself into practicing, the distance between them increasing and increasing while Maria sings and dances and trains to be a star until she debuts in two years.

He hates it all - he hates his family, he hates his life, he hates himself.  The only thing he doesn’t hate about this pathetic reality of his is Bam, who is too pure and good to be corrupted by anything at all.

Aguero doesn’t know where he’d be without Bam, doesn’t know who he’d be - ever since he met the boy, his life had been Bam, Bam, Bam .  The Graces are all too willing to raise him like he’s their own son, with Victor being more of a dad than Eduan had ever even tried to be, but that’s mainly because he’s Bam’s friend, less because he’s Khun Eduan’s (no longer) son.  Rak volunteers to let Aguero freeload in his fancy new apartment, but that’s only because Bam had brought the two of them together by crying the first time they met.

A few weeks before Aguero’s seventeenth birthday, the world he knows screeches to a halt and explodes in a ball of flame.  He had been helping Bam with his math homework over text when the brunet abruptly stopped texting back, leaving the blue-haired boy confused and suspicious.  He’d assumed Bam was at home - where else would he text about homework? Arlene and Victor are always more than happy for Bam to hog the phone when it comes to Aguero, loving the fact that their boys are best friends.

Ice floods through his veins when he learns that Arlene Grace and V had been found dead in a car accident.  His blood freezes and his heart stops beating in his chest when he finds out that nobody knows what has happened to their teenage son Jue Viole Grace, who has seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet.

Maybe he had been kidnapped - that’s better than being dead, right? Aguero has spent enough time with Eduan to know that money tends to solve a lot of problems, and the bigger ones can be easily solved with even more money.  After a week without any news about Jue Viole Grace’s possible whereabouts, the police woefully announce the entire Jue-Grace family as officially deceased.

Deceased.  It’s a cruel word, isn’t it? Aguero wishes Bam was here to look at him with golden eyes and smile at him again, innocent and guileless and everything he wanted; wishes Arlene was here to wrap him in a warm, motherly hug, pat his hair while comforting him; wishes Victor was here to offer words of wisdom, tell him it’s okay, buddy, everything’s going to be just fine.

Nothing is fine.  The nightmare he’s living in is real life.  The funeral is full of friends and family, acquaintances and colleagues, the occasional fan.  They all mourn in their own way, some weeping and sobbing, others silent and hoping they’ll wake up and see that it was just a dream.

Grace Mirchea Luslec - Bam’s beloved ‘Uncle Mirchea’, Arlene’s younger twin and V’s fellow band-mate and guitarist - wails to the sky, begging and screaming for a god that doesn’t exist to bring his family back.  Aguero has never believed in any god - what kind of merciful, all-loving god would give him and his sisters a father in the form of Khun Eduan? What kind of god would take away the person he cherished the most and the best found family he ever had? What kind of god would take away the people you loved the most and call it fate? What kind of god would be so cruel and dispassionate?

From what Aguero knows about Mirchea, he tends to spoil Bam, much to Victor’s delight and Arlene’s teasing irritation; and he idolizes his older brother-in-law, treating him as a friend, a family, a mentor.  Victor has - had, now - always had a big heart, one that he’d raised his son with.  The words on his epitaph reflect that: a father, a husband, a mentor, a friend.  Loved many and was loved by many.  Arlene’s epitaph is simpler but no less painful to read.  It’s a line from one of her songs: love can touch us one time, and last a lifetime, and never let go ‘til we’re gone.  Aguero can’t even begin to describe how true that is.  He misses Bam with every fiber of his being, and his empty chest feels even emptier with every pang of longing.

Near the back, Eduan sheds tears for his former classmate and her husband.  Next to him, Jahad looks much like Aguero does, clearly distraught but strangely tear-less.  He wonders what relationship Jahad used to have with Arlene and Victor.  Were they friends? Is he like Aguero, stuck in the first stage of grief?

Aguero stands aside, his face stoic and his eyes blank.  No matter how hard he tries, the tears refuse to fall, just like his mind refuses to accept the fact that the boy and his family who had brightened up Aguero’s life were all gone.  Rak bellows, roaring “I’m supposed to hunt you, Baby Black Turtle! Come back!” 

Aguero stays a little longer at the reception, kneeling in front of his best friend’s empty grave.  I would love you with everything I have, but I’m too late for that, aren’t I? He lays down the bouquet in his hands - red roses and tea roses for love and eternal remembrance; dark crimson for mourning; pink carnations for longing; red carnations for heartache.  He lays down matching bell-flower bouquets for Arlene and Victor.  Flowers and words cannot express the gratitude he has for living his best life with them.

He tries to move on, insisting on being called Khun instead.  It hurts too much for people to call him Aguero, not when all he can hear is the ghost of Bam in his head, smiling and calling his name.  He is a frozen lake stained blue with hurt and lost opportunities, waiting for a spring that may never arrive and longing for the warm golden sun that would come with it.

Rak calls him “Stupid Blue Turtle,” calls him to “stop being so mopey, the Black Turtle family would want you to be happy,” but Khun can’t find it in him to listen.  How can he be happy when the only source of his happiness is gone? Everything he had accepted as part of his life is connected to Bam, and without Bam he’s lost.

A year later, Khun is so drastically different that even Rak is mildly terrified of what he has become.  The lost boy he had taken care of a year ago is gone, replaced by a young man with a mind reinforced with steel and a wall of ice erected to protect his heart.  In Aguero’s place is Khun, a young man determined to find his best friend now that the reality of Bam’s body never being found has sunken in.

Khun will find his Bam again, no matter how much it takes.

Chapter Text

“Khun!”

The man in question startles, earbuds slipping out of his ears.  He hurries to shut off the classical music playing on his phone, nearly falling off his chair as the door to his office slams open with a sharp bang.  His coworker Ship Leesoo charges at him with a look of manic glee in his eyes.  Khun is no coward, but he is no fool either.  He knows that when Ship Leesoo has that look in his eyes, either something very good or very bad is going to happen.

Most often, it’s the latter.

Leesoo slams his hands on Khun’s desk.  He wasn’t awake before, but he definitely is now.  He surreptitiously wipes the remainders of sleep out of his eyes and checks his mouth for nonexistent drool - he shouldn’t be sleeping on the job, but he’s the boss of his own company, it’s fine.  Besides, it’s the day after the Grace family’s death anniversary.  He’d already paid his respects in the form of single rose blooms, but it still doesn’t change the fact that their deaths still haunt him.  Not a day goes by that he doesn’t miss the family who had given him true happiness.

“What do you want?” An irritated look crosses his face, but Leesoo grins, heedless of the blue-haired man’s annoyance.  “I told you to knock,” he adds sourly.  The finished paperwork stacked neatly on one side of the desk wobbles precariously, but Khun knows it won’t collapse.  It’s reliable, unlike the voice in his head that likes to whisper insults and regrets.

Leesoo pulls a crumpled flyer out of his bag, and slaps it on Khun's desk.  "I found hidden treasure, my son!"

The other man is a talent scout.  They’d met a little over a decade ago, back when Khun was fourteen and shadowing Eduan in the position of CEO while siphoning money out of the Khun patriarch’s bank account to start his own talent agency.  Legally, of course.  He was excellent at lying and being stingy.  Leesoo had been an intern learning how to detect visual and musical potential.  Khun would hate to admit it, but without Leesoo’s help and uncanny ability to make connections, he wouldn’t have been able to start Lighthouse Entertainment at the tender age of twenty-three.  Both of them had been fresh out of university, young and hopeful.  

The agency is his pride and joy, mainly because he’d been able to outwit his father.  Back then, Eduan had been more concerned about his eldest daughter joining Jahad Talent to become an idol dancer.  He’d been completely unaware of his son’s cunning plans - until he’d disowned Khun for being in love with a boy and Khun had stolen Rak Wraithraiser, a close friend and one of Khun Entertainment’s biggest moneymaker- from right under his nose a few years later in retaliation.

Ah, yes - sweet, sweet revenge.  He’d like to ‘thank’ Eduan for his successes - he has just turned twenty-five, but he’s already garnering interest in the world of entertainment businesses.  

Khun smooths out the flyer.  “Devil’s Cafe and Sweet and Sour,” he reads, “performing at nine-thirty every Wednesday night.” There’s a picture of the band below - the picture is too grainy to properly see, and when he complains Leesoo pulls out a much clearer one.  Two of the members look younger than Khun, two of them older.  The last one looks around the same age as him, but it’s hard to tell. “How long have you watched them?”

“Almost a month,” Leesoo admits.  “They started off awkward, but now they’ve found their footing I think they’ve got serious potential.  As a group, they’re doing pretty good, but the pianist is way too nervous about everything, and she doesn’t have the confidence to carry herself like everybody else in the group does.  Personally, I think the two singers could go solo if they wanted to.  It might be even better for them in the long run, to be honest.”

Khun gestures for Leesoo to continue.  He has a good feeling about this.  If he’s to oust Khun Entertainment from the top three music agencies one day, he needs to get a hand on the next big thing.  Rak doesn’t quite cut it, much to the gator’s indignation.  His music style is stuck a few years behind, and the next big thing has to be something current, something to attract the modern audience.

Leesoo points to the girl in the center.  She has black hair, and if Khun squints he can see that her eyes are pink.  “You know the CEO of Yeon Corporation? Scratch that, you definitely know the CEO of Yeon Corp.” The CEO of Yeon Corp, Yeon Hana, was an old classmate of Eduan’s, as well as part of the ‘Ten Families’.  Khun had only met her once as a child, but he has a feeling she knows about Eduan’s drunken tendencies - she’d leaned down close, and whispered: men are pigs, don’t grow up to be like your father .  “She’s Yeon Hana’s only niece, Yihwa.  She’s got a decent voice, but her control’s not the best.  She’s pretty enough for people to look over it, though.  I checked out her ViewTube channel, there are a lot more covers there.  She plays the violin too.”

Khun hums.  “Go on.”

Leesoo moves on to the blond boy on her left. “That’s Ja Wangnan.  Is it just me, or does he look like King Jahad?” Khun murmurs his agreement.  Both of them have the same curry-yellow hair, and now that he thinks of it he looks like a younger version of FUG Studio’s beloved Karaka too.  “He’s the leader and the bassist.  His finger-picking skills are nuts, dude.” The scout wiggles his fingers in the air.  “I have no idea how he does it.  My fingers just don’t move that way, man.”

The blue-haired man’s breath catches in his throat when Leesoo points at the young man on Yihwa’s right.  “I think that’s your guy, isn’t it? The one you’ve spent years searching for.” 

Leesoo is one of the few people Khun trusts, one of the few that Khun has told about his suspicions about his missing Bam.  Faith does not come easy, not when your own family has thrown you out to the dogs.

In his mind, he sees golden eyes, chestnut-brown hair, a sunshine smile capable of brightening up the darkest days.  Even though the man in the picture has hair down to his ass tied up in a ponytail and bangs that cover his eyes, the resemblance of the rest of his features to the Bam of his memories is undeniable.  How could he forget his most precious person, even after so many years? However, he says nothing.  He doesn’t want to feel the crushing weight of false hope and the self-hate of knowing he was wrong.

“They call him Viole,” Leesoo adds quietly.  Viole, for Jue Viole Grace.  What else could it be? “He doesn’t sing solo much, but I’ve heard him harmonize to Yihwa, and sometimes he sings the bridges of their songs.  Man, if I knew what angels sounded like, that voice would be something like it.” Khun feels a surge of vicarious pride at the compliment.  It’s high praise from Leesoo.  “He writes most of the songs too, and the lyrics are always super meaningful or super sad.” 

Super sad? The Bam he remembers would never be sad for too long - even after thunderstorms, the golden sun would hang bright in the blue sky, perhaps even producing a rainbow at the very end.  In a way, there was beauty in sadness.  But if ‘Viole’ was in fact Jue Viole Grace, son of V and Arlene Grace, what had happened during the last near-decade to make him so sad? 

The talent scout opens his mouth to continue introducing the drummer and the pianist, but Khun beats him to it.  “I’ll go tonight.” It’s a Wednesday - he’s done with all the paperwork anyway, he has only got a few emails to send before he can retire for the day.  

Leesoo wiggles his eyebrows at how Khun’s eyes stay on Viole, and the CEO almost regrets ever telling the scout about his missing, presumed-dead best friend (and crush.  Khun hopes Leesoo doesn’t know that, but a voice in his head tells him Leesoo is more observant than he lets on.).  “Personally, I think Yihwa’s prettier, but to each their own, I guess.”

Khun flips him off.  “What about Hatz?”

Leesoo waves a hand dismissively.  “Eh, who says I can’t appreciate both?”

The CEO snorts wryly.  “He’s not going to be happy to hear that, you know.  If he asks for you, I won’t hesitate to tell him where you are.”

The scout gasps.  “You wouldn’t!” They both know he would.  “Oh well, you’ve always had a type.

This time, Khun kicks him out of the office and threatens to give him the boot as well.  He wouldn’t actually do it - the only reason why Khun allows the scout to get away with bullying him is because he’s a big help at other times, even if he hates to admit it.  

The CEO scowls viciously at the watch on his wrist, then glares at the list of unread emails in his inbox.  If he’s going to sit at a cafe and watch a band perform for however long it takes, he’s got to finish his paperwork early.  He’s got four hours.

Once Khun sets his mind on doing something, he’ll get it done, usually through the most efficient and energy-inexpensive ways possible.  He replies to his emails himself, but everything else he can use his interns for.  They’re usually young and eager for praise, and Khun makes sure to give them just enough to keep them humble and not cocky while using them to their full potential.  Khun is done and out of the office an hour before Sweet and Sour are scheduled to perform.

Even after changing into something a little more casual (ha, what a joke, his entire closet is composed of little else than white dress shirts, he has just changed his jacket and gotten rid of the tie) and adding a mask and cap to hide his identity, Khun is still half an hour early.  The barista who greets him at Devil Cafe is a damn near giant, even though Khun himself isn’t exactly on the short side of the spectrum.  Unfazed, he orders an iced matcha - milk and lots of sugar, please, he needs the energy - and a bagel, settling down at the booth closest to the stage.  He takes a sip of his tea.  It’s a little too sweet, but that’s fine.  If ‘Viole’ turns out to be some other Viole and not Jue Viole Grace, he’ll try to recruit them but be bitter about it anyway.

The cafe is mostly empty.  Besides himself, the teddy bear of a barista and the five members of the band, there are only four other customers.  Two of them are children, one a girl no older than ten and the other a boy in his early teens.  The two other customers barely pay attention to the band doing their soundchecks and warm-ups, leaving almost immediately after finishing their food and drinks.  Joke’s on them, if Sweet and Sour are as good as Leesoo claims.

The CEO is more than a little surprised when the boy brazenly strolls up to him.  “Hey,” he says, all violet hair and tween swagger, “you’re not that Bald Tracksuit Guy.”

“Don’t be so rude, Prince,” the girl chastises him from behind.  They’re probably good friends.  “The regular guy isn’t bald yet .  But it is weird, though.  He’s been sitting here every Wednesday night for the past month or so.” She looks at Khun curiously, fixing the clip in her hair.  “Do you think he’ll mind you stealing his seat?”

Khun nearly snorts his tea up his nose.  Bald Tracksuit Guy? Are these kids talking about Leesoo? Scratch that, who else would that be besides Leesoo? He decides to indulge them in conversation, whispering like he has a secret.  (In a way, he has.  The secret is his real identity.) “Let me guess - he only wears one set of clothes, and they’re a horrendous set of purple tracksuits and track pants.”

Prince gapes at him.  “Are you some sort of psychic?”

Khun laughs and takes his hat off, letting his little blue ponytail spring out.  “No, I’m his boss.”

Prince looks him up and down, then sighs in relief.  Does he recognize Khun as Khun Aguero Agnis of Lighthouse Entertainment? “Oh, thank god.  You’ve got much better hair and fashion sense than Bald Tracksuit Guy.”

This time, Khun really does choke on his latte, but a part of him preens at the compliment.  He dedicates quite a fair amount of his time to hair care - once, Hatz, one of his music producers, had mockingly called him ‘Hair Straightener Prince’.  Khun hadn’t been offended, not until the producer had proceeded to insult his earrings too.  Not only was that cruel, it was also totally uncalled for.  (His hair is disastrously wavy in the mornings, but the two out of the three people who have seen his natural hair and are not part of his blood family are dead.  The third one has been missing for almost ten years, but if Khun is lucky…)

Miseng looks at him, awe in her brown eyes.  “Mr Tracksuit Guy told us he worked at a music company, but he didn’t tell it was yours .”

Khun blinks.  “Why do you say it like that, uh-”

“Her name is Miseng,” the boy prompts.  “And it’s because-”

Miseng shushes her friend with a nudge.  “It’s not our place to tell.  Let Mr Viole keep his secrets.  He said he’d buy us snacks, remember? Auntie Goseng never lets us buy any by ourselves.”

Secretly buying snacks for young children? That does sound like something the ‘Viole’ he remembers would do.  The bluenet wants to ask more, but he’s interrupted by the pianist, who he assumes is ‘Auntie Goseng’. “Miseng, Prince, how many times have I told you not to harass the customers?”

Khun grins, sly like a fox.  “Oh no, they weren’t harassing me at all.” In fact, they were incredibly helpful! Innocent children make delightful sources of intel.

Goseng puts her hands on her hips.  “Still, apologize to Mr-”

“Khun.” Her glasses are massive.  Khun nearly goes blind when light reflects off the lens and into his eyes.

“Mr Khun,” she finishes.

“Sorry Mr Khun,” the kids mumble, heads drooping, “sorry Auntie Goseng.  Won’t happen again.” Glasses sighs fondly, and even the stoic barista cracks a smile at the interaction.  They appear to be in a relationship of sorts, and Khun can’t help but overthink and wonder if he’ll ever be in a relationship.  He’s been single for twenty-five years.

Khun’s gaze begins to wander when Miseng and Prince pretend to walk away and mind their own business.  They hide in the booth behind him, and he can still feel their stares boring into the back of his head.  Viole looks up from where he’s tuning his guitar, brushing his long bangs out of his eyes.  They accidentally make eye contact, and is- Is that gold? Khun swallows.  The brunet’s eyes widen before he shivers and looks away, tuning his guitar with intense focus.  His ears are pink from where they peek out behind his hair. 

Finally, it's time for Sweet and Sour to start their set.  Wangnan introduce them to the non-regulars present: himself as the leader and bassist, waving with his pick; Yihwa as the lead vocalist, who Khun now recognizes as the ‘Yeon Family’s Flare’ after the bassist mentions that if things burst into flame for no apparent reason it’s most probably her fault; Yeo Goseng as the pianist, who hides behind her glasses; Hon Akraptor as the drummer, who reminds Khun of Leesoo but in silver.  Viole only introduces himself as the guitarist with a barely audible voice, doesn’t give his full name.  The Jue Viole Grace Khun remembers could be shy, but never so quiet.  Is this brunet guitarist really his brunet guitarist?

They open with a cheesy pop-rock song about being a boy with love - covering The Outside’s arguably most famous song was Wangnan’s choice, but Viole had rearranged it a little, and Wangnan had changed some of the lyrics.  The genre isn’t the best for Yihwa to display her full vocal capacity, but the bassist and the drummer go all out in the respective solos.  Viole carries the rhythm with his voice and his guitar when Yihwa does her ad-libs, and Khun can’t help but think ah, yes, that’s my Bam.  It sounds like a song people could dance to, and with Viole’s rearrangements, Khun can imagine it being played in bars and nightclubs on Friday nights.  

The next song was written by Yihwa, with a few embellishments from Viole here and there.  The young woman sings about being yourself no matter what, about being your own person despite other people’s expectations of you.  It’s the perfect song to showcase her talent.  Leesoo was right when he said Sweet and Sour have serious potential, but honestly? All Khun wants is to hear Viole sing as a main vocalist.

Sweet and Sour continue to play for the next half an hour, and Khun finds himself tapping his foot to the beat.  Yihwa and Viole sing a duet about eating watermelons in summer (they’re a few months too late for summer, but Khun doesn’t mind), and the bluenet has a brief flashback to when Aguero and Bam had gone to the beach at sixteen.  He remembers that incident quite vividly - Bam had cracked a watermelon in half with nothing but his thighs, then turned to Aguero with the most innocent of smiles and asked him if he wanted any.  Aguero had nearly fainted on the spot.  Who knows what Bam is capable of now? 

The voice in Khun’s head tells him yes, this is Bam, you can feel it too, can’t you? But Viole is older, mature, different.  Khun can tell by the way Yihwa sings Viole’s words, about empty stages and wordless pages, about how being old feels like running through endless mazes.  Khun can hear the yearning in the lyrics, hear how Viole wishes to turn back time and be young forever.

The last song they play is a newly written one, and a solo by Viole at that.  Goseng and Akraptor leave their posts, joining Miseng and Prince in the booth behind Khun.  The bluenet’s wishes for the brunet to take center stage are granted when the guitarist and the lead singer switch places.  Yihwa picks up a violin, testing the strings with a much-used bow.  Kiseia used to play the violin - Khun wonders how his younger sister is doing, as well as his older sister Maria.  For the last decade, his entire family have become estranged, Maria off chasing her newfound stardom, Kiseia, his mother and Eduan doing who-knows-what.  Khun watches Viole swap his electric blue guitar for an acoustic one.  He straps it around his shoulders, brown hair flopping over his eyes.  It fits the memory of Bam in Aguero’s head.

“If you’re a regular here, you might’ve heard me sing about Rachel,” Viole begins.  “She used to be my everything.” His voice is wistful, facial features hidden behind brown hair.  Khun chomps furiously on his bagel.  Who is this Rachel? Why does Viole call her his everything? What did she do to make him look this way? “But something happened recently, and let’s just say I’ve been single for a while now.” A few people offer their condolences, and Khun swallows.  Good riddance to Rachel, whoever she is. Was she Viole’s girlfriend? His lover? He has no right to be jealous, but if Viole is Bam he has every right to be worried.  

“I wrote this new song from experience,” Viole says almost shyly.  There are more customers now, probably here for the band instead of the cafe.  Khun glances around and spots a scout from a rival entertainment company looking interested.  He glowers at them until they cower back, frozen on the spot under his icy glare.  This one’s mine.  “I hope you’ll enjoy it.”

Miseng, Prince, Akraptor, Goseng and the barista offer raucous applause, and Khun puts his hands together for the young man with a gentle smile on his face.  Gold clashes against blue when Viole glances across the room, both sets of eyes widening before quickly looking away, the golden ones hiding behind a curtain of brown and the blue ones shielded by a straight halo of sky.  They’ve been doing that for a while now, one staring at the other and instantly looking away when their eyes meet.  

Khun could scream.  When are they going to stop this cat and mouse game? He wants - no, he needs - to prove himself correct.  From what he can hear of Viole’s vocals under Yihwa’s, the quality of it matches Bam’s, although it’s deeper than what he remembers.  It isn’t enough.  Where is the strong country twang Aguero had been so enamored with the first time they met? Just what exactly had happened to turn Bam into this broken version called Viole? He has so many questions, not nearly enough answers.  

He hopes he’s correct.  He has to be.  Being wrong does no wonders for his self esteem, and with every passing year the vacancy in his chest feels a little emptier.  He desperately wants to fill that space again, break the surface of his frozen lake and learn to breathe again.

Viole gives himself a quiet countdown before starting to strum the guitar.

Khun braces himself for the sound of Viole’s voice, wondering what it would sound like without being covered by Yihwa’s vocals.  Would his range have increased? Could he sing high and sweet, like Arlene Grace when she sang soprano, like Bam used to? Or would he sing lower, smoother, more soulful like the baritone V’s? Khun honestly can’t tell.  The last time he’d heard the other boy’s voice, it was cracking every other second, courtesy of accursed growth hormones.  It made singing nearly impossible for Bam’s teenage self, not when his voice would squeak and send him and Aguero into endless fits of laughter, both of them clutching their stomachs.  Once, Aguero had laughed so hard he’d fallen right off his chair, which had set them into another fit of giggles that left Bam’s parents confused but amused.

Khun misses Bam, but he has no time to reminisce.

Viole opens his mouth and begins to sing.


Your Best Source of Latest Khun Aguero Agnis News! ✔ @dailykhunaa  

[Picture of Khun Aguero Agnis with a hat and mask, looking down and typing something on his phone.]

Khun Aguero Agnis spotted heading out of work early! He’s heading to Devil’s Cafe, top spot for band gigs… What’s he going to get? Coffee? Dinner? A new contract?

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khun aguero agnis | CEO of Lighthouse Entertainment ✔ @khun_aa 

[Picture of @dailykhunaa photographer]

@dailykhunaa stop following me you may have won this time but i’m still 21 shots ahead of you

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khun maria deserves better y’all @dreamturtle

khun a.a and daily khun news are at it again… seriously @dailykhunaa if he wants you to stop you should seriously stop though rESPECT THE MAN’S PRIVACY

Chapter Text

There’s a strange sort of gravity to Jue Viole “Bam” Grace.

Objectively, he’s plain, especially when compared to his parents in their prime.  His father, Jue Victor, had been a heartthrob even in his early days of fatherhood, stealing the hearts of men and women alike with his charming golden eyes and bad-boy mullet.  Unfortunately for those men and women, he had a wife in the form of Arlene Grace, who had captured the eyes of the masses - even the eyes of the great Jahad - with her wavy brown locks and innocent doe eyes.

To an outsider, Viole is nothing in comparison.  He’s just a boy with dirt brown hair and golden eyes, standing in the shadow of the two greatest voices to ever grace a stage.

But for Khun Aguero Agnis, he is so much more than that.  Bam is an irresistibly attractive magnet, his exact opposite.  There’s a special sort of light to him, a charismatic brightness that draws people in like moths to fire, Aguero included.  Before him, Aguero had never even thought of needing a friend, but before he knew it, Bam had already wormed his way into his life, into his heart.  The brunet has the sun in his eyes, warm and friendly like nothing else he knows.  When he looks at Bam, it feels like he’s drowning in pots of gold and honey, and if becoming closer to him means becoming no more than just another planet in his orbit, so be it.

It’s funny how so many years have passed and Khun feels the same, although everything has changed.

Viole’s voice is comforting, soft with a soothing sway.  He’s a tenor with good control over his voice - a bit lower in the register, but a perfect mix of head voice and chest with none of those nasally notes some tenors tend to have.  Bam’s voice was a rarity - he had never really been trained to sing, not even when he was the son of an opera singer and the vocalist of a band.  Everything came to him naturally.  Maybe it was talent, maybe it was luck.  It’s not the same sound Khun remembers - too low, none of that drawn out countryside accent - but a voice in his head tells him that it’s Bam, your Bam, who else could it be?  

He doesn’t know whether to trust himself anymore.

Just close your eyes, the voice in his head coaxes him, don’t think, just listen.   It sounds like Victor.

For the first time in a long while, Khun closes his eyes and lets himself get lost in the sound of a voice, feel the lyrics wash over him like a gentle spring.

Viole sings about love and loss: about not being to touch the stars no matter how high he climbs, about building a tower high enough to reach the sky then being pushed off the very top by the person he trusted the most.  Khun can hear the frustration loud and clear in his voice when he sings about having everything he ever loved pulled away from him, about being lost like a ship in the middle of the sea without any light to guide him.  He sings about the blue ocean around him that slips out of his fingers every time he tries to scoop it up.  He looks so forlorn, like it physically hurts to relive the moments that had inspired this.

It hurts for Khun too - he relates so much to the lyrics it terrifies him.  It makes him remember when he gave Maria his blessing to be an actress against the express wishes of a horrified Khun Eduan; when his father had disowned him and his mother and younger sister drifted away, Kiseia still resenting him to this day; when Maria lost herself in her newfound fame and left Aguero behind too.  It makes him remember when they told him his most precious person was dead, but told him that he had to move on because “things would be better that way”.  

It hurts to remember, but fück the past, Khun likes to think.  The people who told him Bam was dead were liars (not that Khun isn’t one himself) - they had never found his body, which meant he was still alive and out there somewhere, right? What matters now is the future, and when Viole compares himself to a black turtle scared of the outside world Khun knows the future will be a lot brighter.

Khun is sure of it now - Viole is Bam.  He wants to laugh at how Rak of all people has indirectly proved his suspicions - who else would be a ‘black turtle’ besides Black Turtle himself? Maybe he should listen to the voice in his head a little more.

Viole finishes the song, looking breathless.  This time, when his eyes meet Khun’s by sheer accident, Khun winks.  The brunette flushes a bright red under his bangs.  The bluenet’s lips curve into a smile.  Cute.

Khun jumps when his phone buzzes in his pocket.  The band is packing up for the day, it’s safe to check.  There’s a message from Leesoo, but Khun swipes it away and decides not to indulge the scout in conversation.  If a message starts with a smirking devil emoji, it can’t possibly be a good one.  Looking up, he sees a young woman nearby trying to subtly take a picture of him reflected in the glass window next to him.  Rolling his eyes, he snaps one of her instead and posts it to his social media account with a passive aggressive caption.  Why are people so insistent on having camera duels with him?

He startles when a dark figure slides into the seat opposite him.  It’s Viole, and Khun is completely unprepared for it.  He’s so close, and Khun feels like a teenage boy in front of his crush all over again.  He doesn’t like this sudden vulnerability, the way he feels like someone has stuck a hand into his chest, wrangling something alive and wriggling into the space where his heart should be.

The brunet stammers out an apology, gold eyes wide.  “I’m so sorry for scaring you, it’s just-” He cocks his head, studying Khun’s face like he was a painting with a scratched-out face.  “Have we met before? I feel like I know you from somewhere.”

That wriggling thing in his chest begins to splinter and scream like a child.  Has it been so long that Bam doesn’t remember him? Viole is Bam, he’s sure of it.  But why doesn’t Bam remember him? 

Viole ducks out of the way just in time for Wangnan’s hand to pass through the space his head had been.  “Ole, my dude! That’s-”

“Khun Aguero Agnis, CEO of Lighthouse Entertainment,” the blue-haired man interjects smoothly.  He’s getting so good at hiding his feelings.  He hates it.  “I can introduce myself, thank you very much.”

Wangnan gulps, backtracking instantly.  “Sorry, man, it’s just-” He unzips his jacket, revealing a t-shirt with a familiar gator.  “Ole keeps getting me Rak shirts.  He never gets any of the croc for himself, only the turtle ones.”

The brunet in question looks bashful, revealing flaming red ears when he tucks his bangs behind them.  “I just feel like I’ve seen the black turtle one before, and the blue one too.”

Khun tries not to snort.  “They sell well, so I don’t mind, but Rak designs those shirts himself,” he points out, “he loves those gators and turtles.” He sneaks a look at Viole, trying to gauge his reaction.  If Viole really is Bam, he has seen ‘Black Turtle’ and ‘Blue Turtle’ before - one will look back at him in the mirror, and the other one is sitting right in front of him, feet tapping nervously against the ground.  Rak had designed and released the pair of turtle shirts after Bam ‘disappeared’ - this way, Black Turtle will be closer to you, the big man had said as he pressed a black turtle shirt into Aguero’s hands.  We both miss him, Blue Turtle.  It was an oddly thoughtful thing for Rak to do.  “I learned that the hard way when I called him a big ugly gator when I was five.”

Viole chokes on air, and Wangnan smacks him on the back so hard the brunet nearly headbutts the table.  Concern is evident in Khun's blue eyes even though he’d said that on purpose.  “Are you alright?”

Viole waves a hand, still gasping for breath.  “I’m fine… Just had this weird sense of deja vu.” 

Deja vu? That incident had happened, and Bam should remember it - Aguero made sure to tease Rak about it at least once every time they met.  “What do you mean?”

“Retrograde amnesia,” the brunet explains, “I’ve spent years in therapy, but I’m still struggling to remember what my life was like before I was seventeen.” He laughs mirthlessly, singing under his breath: we were ships in the night, night, night.  “For a few years, I didn’t even know who I was, or who I am.  I didn’t even know my own name.  I was just given the name Viole and expected to run with it.  Apparently, my name is Jue Viole Grace, and I’m the son of two of the world’s greatest singers.  But I don’t remember anything about them.  I barely remember anything about me .”

Bam doesn’t remember? No, no, no.  The thing in Khun’s chest shatters into a million pieces.  Bam doesn’t remember us.  Bam doesn’t remember what they used to be - inseparable, two peas in a pod, a planet and the moon that revolved around him.  Viole clears his throat.  “Sorry for being so depressing, especially since- since-” He looks like a lost rabbit.  “It’s a special day for you today?”

Khun blinks.  It is? The only reason why today is special for him is because Arlene, Victor and Bam ‘died’, and it’s not even a good kind of special.  He’s been gloomy all day -

Oh.  “I forgot it was my birthday.” 

Viole brightens.  “Oh, so that’s it! Happy birthday, Mr Khun!” 

Wangnan gapes.  “Viole, how did you guess that? Literally nobody knows when his birthday is!”

The brunet reverts to lost rabbit mode.  “How… How did I know that? I- I can’t-” He gasps, clutching his head.  “My head hurts… I can’t remember… Why would I remember… Why would I...?”

Seeing Bam in pain had always been bad, even if it was just a small stomach ache, but seeing Viole in this state makes the thing in his chest scream and kick like a miserable child, whatever chance he had of restoring his heart shattering into a million fragments.

“Hey,” Khun murmurs, gently peeling Viole’s hands away from his head.  “everything’s going to be okay.”

Viole looks at him with wide, golden eyes.  His cheeks are red, his hands firmly clasped in Khun’s.  The tips of his fingers are thick with callouses and guitar string scars.  “You can’t promise that.”

Khun fishes his business card out of his pocket, pressing it into the brunet’s palm.  “You’re right, I can’t promise that.  But I can help in any way I can.  If you’re a ship lost at sea, I’ll be your lighthouse.” It sounds like a promise, like years of regrets of why couldn’t I find you sooner? and solemnly sworn oaths of I’ll stay by your side this time, I’ll be anything you need me to be for as long as I can, even if it kills me.

Viole looks from Khun to the business card and back to Khun.  He blinks once, twice, before a violent rush of red explodes on his cheeks.  He buries his face in his hands.  “Oh my god.”

Of course, Khun can’t help but tease him.  “Is that a yes?”

Viole peeks at him between his fingers.  “Am I dreaming?”

Yihwa peeks over his shoulder and lets out a piercing squeal, throwing her arms around Viole in a crushing hug.  “I’m so proud of you, Ole!”

Khun and Viole both wince at the sheer volume.  “Yup,” the guitarist mumbles, “definitely not dreaming.” Reality seems to dawn on him a few minutes later.  “Oh my god, I’m not dreaming! This is real! I-”

Wangnan joins in, launching himself at the brunet, who squawks at the attack.  “Our baby Ole is all grown up now!” He pretends to wipe a tear away, ignoring the brunet’s protests about being two years older than both Wangnan and Yihwa.  “Somebody important finally noticed how talented you are!”

Viole splutters.  “Wangnan!”

Khun wants to tell the blonde that he found their precious ‘Ole’ a long time ago, to brag about Bam and his angelic voice.  He doesn’t, now that Goseng, Akraptor, Prince and Miseng have joined the hug-pile.  He can’t help but feel a little jealous and left out - he’s never been embraced like that, the closest thing being teenage Bam’s casual ‘see you later Aguero, love you’ hugs, hugs that lasted a little longer than necessary and made Aguero’s heart hammer in his chest and threaten to burst out.

“Viole has been waiting for this moment for a long time,” the teddy bear barista tells Khun quietly as they watch the band congratulate the brunet.  Khun notes that his name is Kang Horyang.  “Wangnan started the band for fun, and he basically tricked Viole into joining after seeing how Viole would watch them but never say anything.  We only learned that he wanted to be a musician afterwards.  The rest of the band are undoubtedly great musicians, but only Viole has the drive and the dream to make it big.” Khun can hear the bias there, as a grade eight pianist he knows that Goseng is an amateur, but he’ll let it pass.  Horyang seems quite infatuated with the quiet pianist.  “I’ve watched a lot of agencies approach him in this café, but this is the only time he’s accepted an invitation.” Khun’s eyes dart towards where the scout from the other agency sits, only to find the scout packing up his things and accepting a graceful defeat.  “Treat him well, Khun Aguero Agnis.  He’s more fragile than he lets on.”

The blue-haired man swallows and nods, the same urge to protect Bam’s smile he’d felt all those years ago returning.  “You can count on me.”

Horyang smiles faintly just as Viole turns back to Khun.  “Good.”

Viole looks at Khun, cheeks flushed, golden eyes glimmering, the brightest smile on his face.  Khun is honestly bedazzled - he had forgotten how radiant Bam could be when he was happy.  He glows, even when surrounded by darkness.  Perhaps one day, he too will leave Khun behind, too bright for Khun’s darkness, but for now he will bask in the warmth and light his long lost friend has to offer.  “When do I start?”

Khun downs the rest of his tea.  “It’s getting late,” he decides, speaking against the lump in his throat.  “How about we discuss this tomorrow? It gives you quite a bit of time to think this over, because if you do agree to sign a contract with Lighthouse, it will be quite a commitment.”

Khun understands contracts very well - as the son of a businessman and a businessman himself, he knows how to make things mutually beneficial, if more for him than the person he was signing it with.  After the decade-long contract binding Rak Wraithraiser to Khun Entertainment had ended, Khun had instantly proposed a deal he knew Rak could never resist - funding for the chocolate addiction Aguero had kick-started.  Just as Khun had predicted, Rak agreed and signed instantly.  In order to ‘maintain his appearance,’ Eduan had forbidden the gator from eating chocolate.  Khun had provided the perfect solution to the problem - a healthier alternative of bananas.  It worked, even if Rak was now obsessed with bananas dipped in chocolate and was the ambassador of banana chocolate biscuits.

Oh well, better marketing for Khun.

Viole nods vigorously.  The look in his eyes is determined, harder and tougher than Bam’s guilelessness.  It looks like he has already made up his mind to sign with Khun’s agency, and a little part of him jumps at the thought.  “Can- Can I call or text you if I have any questions?”

Khun gestures for Viole to pass him the business card, handing it back after scribbling his personal number onto it, underlining it in black.  The smile on his face feels more natural than any other expression he has put on.  When was the last time he genuinely smiled? He can’t remember anymore. “Don’t be afraid to come to me if you need anything.”

Khun hasn’t changed his number in a long time, and only a few people (like Leesoo, for example) know that they can bother his private number.  Khun had tried calling Bam’s old number several times, only to be told “please leave a message after the beep” and one day, “this number is no longer in service”.  He had left countless voicemail messages there, asking it’s me, Aguero, Bam, can you hear me?

Khun stands up, brushing bagel crumbs off his pristine dress shirt.  “I’ll see you tomorrow-” he nearly bites his tongue off trying to stop himself from saying ‘Bam’.  “Viole.  Eleven o’clock, Lighthouse Offices.”

Viole nods, looking dazed.  “Yeah! Okay! Um-” He pokes the area above his upper lip.  “You have a bit of foam there.”

Khun blinks.  He licks his lips and the area around it.  “Do I still have anything-”

He’s pleasantly surprised when Viole, suddenly much bolder and more forward, instinctively grabs his chin, dabbing the foam away with a napkin.  They stay like that for a while, eyes wide.  Is Khun supposed to gawk like that? Or is he supposed to look away? Should he just let himself drown in those molten gold orbs? Viole jumps away first, releasing his face and practically slam-dunking the napkin into the nearest trash can.  “You’re welcome,” he mumbles, standing a safe foot away.  His bangs cover his eyes, but his ears and cheeks are red, the blush spreading down his neck and chest.

Khun shuts his gaping mouth.  His cheeks are so warm.  He hasn’t blushed like this in years .  “Thanks.  I.  Um.  Gotta go!”

Smooth, a voice cackles in his head, real smooth, A.A.

He slips out of the booth, hightailing it out of the café like he has a horde of fangirls chasing him.  The pounding thing in his chest feels like the heart he’d been missing for years.  What just happened? Is he having a heart attack? Thank god there are no fans trying to start camera duels with him - they would’ve caught Khun Aguero Agnis, young CEO of Lighthouse Entertainment, gay-panicking over having his face grabbed by his long-time crush.

This is not good.

“Holy shït, Ole,” he hears Wangnan yell, “you’ve got guts! He let you touch him! And he gave you his personal number! His personal number!”

“I know,” the brunet answers, feeble but equally anguished, “it probably doesn’t mean anything-”

“That’s not the face of a man who doesn’t do things without reason,” Yihwa declares, “I don’t trust him one single bit! Auntie Hana said his father’s a jerk, he’s probably the same!” She huffs.  “Honestly, I don’t get why you like him so much, Viole.  You don’t like my body… don’t tell me you like his!”

“Yihwa! I- I’m not- I just think-” 

Khun really wants to know what Viole thinks.  He disguises a laugh as a cough into his fist when Wangnan defends Khun with “Ole barely likes anyone besides us! Mr Khun should be honored!”

“Yeah,” Prince agrees enthusiastically, “we should all get snacks to celebrate!”

“Snacks!” Miseng cheers.  “On Mr Viole!”

Viole laughs, and Miseng giggles.  “Alright, alright, snacks are on me.”

“I want sweet and sour pork!” Wangnan adds.

“I’m going to go broke,” Viole says, mourning for his bank account.  “But fine, snacks and sweet and sour pork.  Does anybody want anything else?”

“Tteokbokki!”

“Choco pie!”

“Fried chicken!”

“We should get more sweet and sour pork!” Yihwa suggests.

Prince, Miseng and Wangnan all join in the chant for sweet and sour pork until Goseng laughs and tells them to shush.

That night, Khun dreams of eyes the color of golden honey and a smile brighter than the brightest sunshine.  It’s the best night of sleep he’s had in a long time.


ship leesoo >> khun aguero agnis

 

                                 

shïtty leesoo: 

They’re good, right?? 😏😏😏


boss bïtch

yeah


i love him


* i love hIS VOICE

 

i tried to get him to sign 

with us and he said okay


shïtty leesoo

Khun, my love, you are so 

whipped ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)


boss bïtch

[picture of middle finger] 

fück you


the two kids said your

 beloved tracksuits are 

ugly btw


and i told them i agreed


shïtty leesoo 

KHUN MY LOVE WHY 

ARE YOU SO CRUEL 😭


WHY WOULD YOU SAY

THAT TO ME


KHUN


KHUUUUNNN

                         

Chapter Text

Khun wakes up to the sound of his phone’s incessant buzzing.

On a normal day, he’d be annoyed, growling and smacking it around his bedside table until it shuts up.  It’s a wonder how he hasn’t broken it yet.  But today, he’s feeling a little more refreshed, a little more awake - for the first night in years, he has managed to catch a whole night’s worth of sleep, undisturbed by the insomnia and guilt that had plagued him for years.  Maybe it’s because he has finally found his long lost best friend Bam, after nearly a decade of fruitless searching: Bam’s brightness has always managed to clear his mind, shine a path through the darkness and distrust and self-hatred that clogged up his head.

He rolls over and plucks the charger out, squinting at the notifications with blurry morning vision.  There are a few messages from Leesoo - he can’t see all of them, but Leesoo seems a little panicked, and has spammed his phone with messages because of it.  Oh well, he’s probably just panicking after Khun had called his tracksuits ugly last night.  There are a few missed calls from Viole, though, which sets him into a panic, wriggling out of his blanket burrito and scrambling out of bed as quickly as he can.  Should Khun call him Bam? Is he allowed to anymore? If Viole didn’t even remember he was Viole, would he remember being Bam?

He saves those questions for later.  Right now, Viole’s caller ID is lighting up his screen, and he has to answer it.

Khun doesn’t even hesitate before picking up the call.  “Morning, this is Khun A.A of Lighthouse Talent,” he says automatically.  His voice is still deep and husky with sleep, even though it’s almost eight-thirty in the morning - shït! It’s almost nine in the morning, he had agreed to meet Viole at eleven, and he doesn’t even have his shirt on, or his hair straightened! Making his hair straight takes an awfully long time, but it’s worth it.  Besides, he has second impressions to make.  Oh god, second impressions.

That’s enough to wake him up instantly.  Who needs caffeine when you have stress?

“Morning Mr Khun,” says Viole.  He sounds a little breathless.  Khun sets him on speaker, and hears the sound of a car roaring by in the background.  “I know I’m two hours early, but I- Um- I think I’m lost,” he admits.

Khun shucks off his t-shirt, pulling his sleeves through his dress shirt.  “Lost?” He buttons it up in record time, nearly falling over in his attempt to reach for his tie.  “Wh-” He cuts himself off with a massive yawn that almost splits his face in two.

“Yeah.  I live pretty far away from the Lighthouse office, and I woke up early to give myself time to figure out how to get there, but I must’ve messed up the directions somewhere and now I have no idea where I am.”

The CEO grabs his flat iron, nearly burning himself in his haste.  Dammit, why did Maria and Kiseia inherit Eduan’s straight hair but not him? Maybe fate had decided there’d be nothing straight about him when he was born.  Thankfully, he’d showered the night before, shampoo, conditioner and everything, and he can simply just straighten his hair and blow-dry it until it looks good enough for show.

Khun clips a few strands of hair in between the prongs of the iron, sliding it down until waves become a straight waterfall.  “Give me an hour or so.  Try to get some breakfast if you haven’t already.  Send me your address, I’ll drive you.”

“No!” Viole shouts.  His voice is tinged with panic, and it’s so loud Khun nearly drops the flat iron.  “Sorry.  No cars.”

“Might I ask why?” Khun tries not to be insensitive - the Bam he remembers has never been afraid of cars, but the Viole of the present has been through much more trauma.

“I don’t know,” Viole mumbles.  “I can’t remember.”

It hits Khun a few moments later - the car crash.  He remembers peering over Rak’s shoulder and staring at the image on his phone screen, both of them gasping in disbelief, on the verge of tears at the mere thought of losing the boy who had been a precious friend to both of them, wondering are you seeing this too? He remembers seeing it in the news and the tabloids, hearing it around the family table when his father mourned the loss of his former classmate and friend.  Khun had been horrified to watch a clip of it happening from the viewpoint of a nearby traffic camera, a hand pressed to his mouth when he saw how a truck had rammed into the side of the Grace family sedan and sent it hurtling over the edge of a cliff.

They found the Graces at the bottom of the hill.

Bam’s parents had died on impact, instant and painless. Perhaps it was a small mercy, not having to be in pain, not having to see what had happened to them, not having to know what had happened to their beloved baby boy.  He remembers seeing blurred out pictures of the couple who had been like parents to him, covered in blood, bodies battered and broken: Victor had been clutching the steering wheel with white knuckles and a face full of terror, shards of glass embedded in his skin; Arlene was reaching for her husband, reaching for her child, even in her last moments.

Khun remembers how his blood had run cold in his veins, how he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t blink, couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything except let his panicked thoughts run wild in his head, let the darkness freeze in his bones.

He remembers knocking over his chair, breaking his mother’s expensive porcelain teacup, shoving Kiseia aside, too desperate to get out of the house when his father had mentioned Bam - or rather, the lack of Bam.  The only clue that he had ever been there in the first place was in the blood staining the back seat, the short brown hairs, flecks of dark crimson on the black turtle plushie Khun and Rak had given Bam together years ago for Christmas.  Bam had never told Aguero he’d been on the road, Aguero hadn’t realized there was anything wrong until Bam stopped replying to his messages.  He remembers running all the way to the Grace house, running until his breath was ragged and he was tripping over his own feet. The lights were out, the door locked.

Khun remembers screaming Bam’s name, screaming until his throat was raw and his voice failed him, screaming until his shirt was stained with sweat and tears he didn’t remember let fall.  He remembers falling onto his knees, silent, sore, stricken with grief, thunder crackling around him as the heavens opened up and the sky cried for the Jue-Grace family.  One of the neighbors had called the police to report the boy screaming at a house of ghosts.  Rak had arrived instead, driving over in his minivan. He’d draped a towel around Aguero’s shoulders and let them both cry until their tear ducts ran dry, but not even the comfort of the fluffiest of towels could compare to the comfort they both craved.

Sorrow could not even begin to describe how Aguero felt at realizing that the nightmare he was living in was reality.  Aguero was too young for all that calamitous love, that insurmountable grief, those heart-stopping waves of hurt.

Khun could never have imagined how much pain his most precious friend had been in as the only survivor of the car crash that had killed his mother and father.  The force of the crash would’ve been more than enough to knock Bam out and save him from the worst of the pain, but it had left scars in his subconscious, some that he wasn’t even aware of.

The wounds you can’t see are always the ones that hurt the most.

Khun swallows.  “How do you feel about motorcycles?”

Viole hums.  “That’s fine with me! I’ll find something to eat and send you my address.” He sounds a little bashful.  “Thank you so much, Mr Khun.  I’m really sorry for taking up so much of your time.”

Khun shrugs, even though Viole can’t see him.  “Don’t worry, paperwork can wait,” he answers dismissively.  “I was planning on discussing the contract with you anyway.”

Since when do you give special treatment? The voice in his head sounds oddly like Leesoo.  You don’t even let people touch your motorbike, and you’re planning to let him ride behind you?

Bam has always been special, he thinks back.

“Oh… Sorry you had to go through so much trouble for me.” Even though Viole’s words are regretful, Khun thinks he sounds almost pleased.

Khun tells him it’s nothing.  If anything, he’s quite glad he has to do so much - all these small sacrifices remind him of being young and unafraid of what life has to throw him as long as Bam is there by his side.  So many years have passed, but neither of them have changed at all, have they? Bam may officially go by ‘Jue Viole Grace’ now, but he still has the same innocence and willingness to give, give, give that had called Aguero to him all those years ago.  Khun wonders if Aguero would recognize the man he has become.  He struggles to think of how his teenage self would react to him buying a motorcycle with his father’s credit card and money.

Viole hangs up shortly after, apologizing as many times as it takes Khun to get it’s totally fine, I don’t mind, stop apologizing through that thick skull of his.  (Perhaps that thick skull had allowed him to survive the car crash with his life, even if he’d lost his memories.) Even though the bluenet would never say it out loud, he already misses the other man’s voice.

It’s hard to think of Bam as a man now, when the last time they’d seen each other they’d still been boys .

When Khun rolls up to Viole’s location on his silvery-blue Manbarondenna, he doesn’t see the bashful, apologetic boy who had talked to him on the phone.  Instead, he sees a man with a mission - jaw set, eyes sharp, long hair tied back in a neat ponytail with a ribbon that is probably Miseng’s.  It reminds Khun of the first time they met, five-year-old Aguero squaring up to Rak Wraithraiser with determined eyes and hair tied back with a blue bandana.

“I need to ask you some questions,” Viole tells him immediately, sliding onto the seat behind Khun.  “They’re not about the contract.”

Khun places a spare helmet on the brunet’s head, and it takes both of them a bit of effort to adjust Viole’s ponytail to fit inside.  “You can ask at the red lights.” He puts Viole’s hands on his waist, ignoring how his own hands are just a slight bit bigger.  “For now, hold on tight.”

Viole screams into his helmet when the Manbarondenna rumbles and roars off.  Khun only realizes how close they really are when Viole squeezes his torso, thighs clenched around his hips, body pressed against his like his life depends on it.  Viole is very, very warm.

“I think I had a flashback yesterday,” the brunet tells him when they stop at the first red light.  Khun can feel him quivering, interlocked fingers lightly tapping against his waist.  The bluenet squirms at the itch.  “You were in it.”

Khun nods, interested to see what Viole has remembered.  He needs to know if he’ll ever get his Bam back, the Bam he has been pining and missing for years, or if he’ll have to make a completely new start.  “What did you remember?”

“I don’t exactly know if it was a memory,” the brunet admits.  “I just saw a kid who looked like you facing off against Rak Wraithraiser, and you called him a gator.  I was there, but I was a kid with short hair, and I was crying.  You told Wangnan you called Rak a ‘big ugly gator man’,” he says with air quotes, “so I’m having a really hard time figuring out whether that was a flashback or some hyper-realistic fever dream.” He laughs incredulously.  “I have to say, if my memory is right you were really cute as a kid.”

The light turns green, and Viole continues talking when they get to the next traffic light as if he hadn’t been stopped in the first place.  “One of the first things I remembered after the crash was blue, but I didn’t know why.  I went to see a few psychologists a few months after I finally found out what my name was and I realized Mama and Papa were gone, and they weren’t very helpful.  Most of them just told me blue was a really important part of my life before the crash, but none of us knew what it meant, which really sucked.  I met Wangnan at university, and Yihwa was there too, and they helped me look for talent agencies when they found out I was good at playing guitar and I had a nice voice.” 

Nice doesn’t even begin to cut it, Khun thinks to himself.  He’d wax poetic about Bam’s voice forever if he could.

“When I saw the posts of Rak on the Lighthouse account, I thought that I’d seen him before, in a past life or something.  And then I found your account, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off you.”

“I’ve been told I’m rather handsome,” Khun murmurs teasingly.

He feels like a cat that got the cream when Viole mumbles something like a “yeah”.  He wishes he could see the brunet’s face - this gentle teasing feels like the old days, and Khun feels the same rush whenever he manages to make his best friend blush.

They move on, Viole clearing his throat when they get to the next light.  “Anyway, I’m sorry if I’ve overshared, or if I’ve mistaken you for somebody else, I just-” He subconsciously nuzzles into Khun’s shoulder, vulnerable and small.  “I just want to know who I am without people pushing their own agendas onto me.” He sounds younger, scared, and Khun remembers that oath he’d sworn to himself years ago, the one that said I solemnly swear to protect that smile, no matter what .  He had failed to keep that promise to himself for seven years, but now, he has the chance to redeem himself, in his own eyes if not in anybody else’s.  

“But I don’t even remember who I was.”

Khun debates whether or not to tell Viole about their shared past.  He’d leave his own feelings out of it, of course - the Bam he remembers barely showed any interest in people more than friendship, besides, what if Viole is straight? He settles for a “don’t worry about it.  Things will get better, Bam, I promise.”

Viole blinks.  “Bam, like the night? Who’s that?”

Khun almost drives straight into the wall next to his parking space.

Shït.

He’d run away, like he usually does when he’s faced with emotional problems he has no inkling how to solve, but he can’t leave Viole alone in the parking lot, nor can the CEO abandon the brunet in his own business complex.  Of course, he could just park the bike and bolt, but even though Aguero was sporty enough to be fast and fit Bam had always been the athletic one with more stamina.  Plan, plan, he thinks to himself urgently, I need a plan that doesn’t involve being suspicious or emotional.  “Do you want some chestnuts?” He asks weakly.

Viole accepts the bag of chestnuts, picking one at random and staring at Khun quizzically like the bluenet is a puzzle he can’t solve.  Of course he can’t - most of the puzzle pieces have been lost to the wind, scattered around his subconscious and waiting to be pulled out and cleaned of dust.  Viole gasps when Khun pops a chestnut into his mouth.  The blue-haired CEO steels himself for questions, or confessions, or whatever it is that the brunet wants to say to him.

“I just had another flashback,” says Viole incredulously.

Khun’s eyebrows shoot up.  He’d been expecting a reaction of some sort when he decided to feed Viole chestnuts, but he hadn’t anticipated it being that fast.  But chestnuts, after all, were a pretty big part of Bam’s life.

“Papa was the first one to call me Bam.  His ‘little chestnut’.  Mama called me Bam too! And if we were friends or something back then, I think you used to call me that as well.” Viole frowns in concentration.  “At least I think that’s Papa.  He had the same eyes as me, and I’ve had flashbacks about him before as well.  He taught me how to play guitar when I was a kid.” He sighs wistfully.  “Even though I forgot everything, I’m glad my fingers remembered how to play guitar.”

Khun raises an eyebrow.  “Oh?” Muscle memory?

Viole grins, wide and bright.  “It led me to you!”

Khun nearly trips over his own two feet.  Ah, he thinks to himself, flustered and frustrated, you’re not allowed to say this kind of thing! It’s not good for my heart! “Well, I’m glad for that too,” he says with a smile.  It’s true, and it’s sappier than he would usually allow, but it’s all worth it when Viole directs that megawatt smile at him.  

The brunet plucks another chestnut out of the bag, biting it in half before putting it next to his face.  “Hey, Mr Khun, do I really look that much like a chestnut?”

Khun nods with a mock-serious expression.  The outer layer of the chestnut is a dark brown, same as Viole’s hair, and the honey color of the center is almost the same shade as his eyes.  “The resemblance is uncanny.  A little too much hair, though.”

Viole huffs out a laugh, but it’s not really a laugh, more like a smile with a bit of teeth peeking over his lip.  He pops the rest of the chestnut into his mouth, a hand over his mouth as he chews.  “How do you do that? You always sound so serious even when you’re joking.” 

Khun grins - he hasn’t smiled this widely in years, his cheek muscles ache after years of disuse - but he’ll do anything for Bam, say anything to bring back the smile he’d failed to protect.  “What can I say? I’m good at everything.  Being funny isn’t an exception.”

(Alright, he’s not always funny.  His puns always go unappreciated, too witty for his company.  Leesoo is the only one who gets them, and the scout hates his boss for it.  The CEO makes too many fish jokes for Leesoo’s liking - the only thing Khun can say about that is “oh whale”.  It's not his fault his mother taught him how to fish.)

Viole bursts into laughter, eyes disappearing into little crescent moons, cheeks flushed with amusement.  Khun isn’t even that funny, but Bam has always been part of the few who appreciate his attempts at humor.  He looks at Khun with an expression of wonder, like a child seeing the stars for the very first time.  Khun isn’t quite sure if he deserves that look, but he won’t complain when Viole - who has just remembered ‘Bam’ - looks at him with an expression like that.  “Why do I always seem to remember things when I’m with you?”

Stop dragging things out, says a voice in his head, you’re Blue Turtle, not Coward Turtle.  If consciences had solid forms, Khun would hunt his one down and stab it with a knife. Since when did his conscience sound like Rak? Having one that sounded like Leesoo was bad enough.  “How about I give you a tour of the building first, and answer your questions later?”

Khun is still stalling for time, but Viole nods like an overexcited puppy, and the bluenet can almost see a fluffy brown tail wagging.  During the years Bam hadn’t been with him, Khun felt like his heart had been frozen solid in his chest and extracted, the empty cavity filled with determination to bring Bam back.  For years, he had been a frozen lake, but after seven years of dark winters, spring has returned, bringing golden sunlight and life with it.  

The bluenet watches Viole walk ahead of him, humming quietly, a skip to his step.  Much to his own terror, Khun can feel his heart thumping in his chest once more, fluttering, kicking, alive.

Oh no.

 


ship leesoo >> khun aguero agnis

                                   

shïtty leesoo: 

khunnnn my sonnnnn


help meeeeee


[image of two tracksuits]


which one looks betterr


why aren’t you answering

meeeee


khuuuuuuunnnnnnn


what did i do why are u

ignoring meeee


yk what i asked hatz


guess what he agreed with u

and said they were ugly too

😭😭😭

that’s like



the first time he ever

agreed with you wtf


and iT’S TO BULLY ME


my cruel, cruel loves 💔


NEXT MORNING


boss bïtch

what the fück


shïtty leesoo 

SO NOW YOU ANSWER ME??

I HAVE WAITED SO LONG FOR

YOU TO ANSWER ME


boss bïtch

stfu i need to pick up viole

                              

Chapter Text

Khun doesn’t know where he went wrong.

No, that’s not quite right.  

As a genius prodigy since childhood and a current entertainment industry magnate, Khun doesn’t do wrong.  He owns and manages a company skyrocketing into fame, for god’s sake, he has been doing so since he was twenty-three.  He can’t possibly do wrong.

Rak Wraithraiser stumbling upon Jue Viole Grace while Khun was distracted by his untied shoelaces was purely an unfortunate twist of events that was bound to happen at one point or another. 

What is Rak’s obsession with sticking his too-big nose in places where it doesn’t belong anyway? The first and only time Aguero had picked up the guts to try and ask Bam on a date - it wasn’t really a date, per se, just two friends going ice skating, one of them taking advantage of the other’s inability to skate (or that’s what Aguero told himself) - Rak had barged in like the rude, tactless gator he was and insisted on coming along.  Bam, who was honestly a bit of a pushover, had looked at Aguero with those imploring golden doe eyes.  “We could all go together, couldn’t we Aguero?”

Aguero, ever the hypocrite, couldn’t say no to Bam.  How could he possibly say no to those eyes? There was probably some kind of siren magic at work, there had to be.  Aguero was not one to follow another’s every whim, but there he was, and thus their first ‘date’ had been ‘gator-crashed’.

Great.

Viole squeaks as Rak attempts to bear-hug the life out of him, arms pinned helplessly by his sides.  “Mr Khun! A little help?”

Khun scowls to himself.  “Give me a break,” he grumbles with a wrinkled nose, “let me just tie my shoelaces first.”

So that’s one of the cons in being the CEO of an entertainment company - your long-lost crush wants to be a singer, and you predict he will explode into popularity if your grudging friend and current top moneymaker doesn’t kill him first.  The name Khun has saved Rak under in his phone is an accurate representation of his personality - stupid fücking gator.

Viole yelps and squirms as Rak lifts him up. His feet dangle off the floor, long ponytail swaying. “I can’t breathe!” 

“You’re going to crush him, you uncivilized gator,” Khun snaps.  He swings his bag in a calculated move, smacking the rock star square in the back. (He has been friends with the gator for nearly two decades, and he’s now the gator’s boss.  He has the right to use slightly unconventional means.) “I refuse to be associated with murders, especially not when they work for me.  Look at him, he’s turning purple.  If he dies, I’ll make sure you never get to eat chocolate or bananas ever again.”

Rak sets Viole down instantly, grabbing at Khun and yelling.  The CEO pushes Viole behind him, blocking a hit with his briefcase.  “I’m not a gator!”

Khun raises a neatly-plucked eyebrow.  “Your shirt and your merch says otherwise.”

Rak looks down, spotting the chibi alligator printed on his shirt.  “Tch! You win this time, Blue Turtle.”

Viole wheezes, stumbling as he clutches his chest and breathes deeply.  The overwhelmed look in his eyes is the lovechild of terror and vague, confused amusement.  Khun would give him a chocolate bar, but sadly, he has no food to offer anyone today.  Rak might, though.  Chocolate makes people feel better, apparently.  “What the hell is going on?” 

“Everybody deserves hugs and kindness,” Rak booms.  Khun recognizes the phrase as one Bam had said many years ago to placate a squabbling Aguero and Rak, the boy on the verge of murdering the older man with the nearest kitchen appliance, preferably the sharpest knife Arlene has in her kitchen.  Both of them had been instantly calmed by a hug from the brunet, though.  

“Not- Not that I’m particularly kind or anything!” The rock star slaps the fledgling singer on the back for extra measure.  As if that proves anything.

The brunet stumbles forward, the breath in his lungs pushed out of him in a single yelp.  He leans against Khun for support, and the CEO gladly stabilizes him.  “Oof,” Viole mumbles weakly, rubbing his back.  “I think you’d make a good masseuse for Mr Horyang.  He has a really bad back, but none of us know how to fix it.”

Khun hides his laugh in his fist at the mental image of the rock star smacking the teddy bear barista on the back until something in his spine cracks and everything feels right again.  Bam was always good at being funny when he wasn’t trying to be, and clearly that hasn’t changed.  That us hurt, though.

“I’m good at everything!” Rak announces confidently.  “Blue Turtle, why didn’t you tell me you found Baby Black Turtle?” Rak looks Viole up and down.  “He’s not even a baby anymore, Black Turtle’s got more meat on his bones than you!”

“Wait, wait.” Viole cocks his head quizzically.  “Why am I Black Turtle?”

Khun winces.  Over time, Aguero had evolved from Blue Turtle Junior to Khun and simply Blue Turtle.  Bam, on the other hand, had become Viole and less of a baby.  

Rak points at his hair.  “Black Turtle!”

“But my hair is brown.”

“You are Black Turtle!” Rak insists.  “Your hair may be lighter, but you’ll always be my Black Turtle! Not that I missed you or anything!”

The CEO sighs, rubbing his temples.  Ever since he’d lost the only two fatherly figures he’d ever had - the first one being a blood relative who had no idea how to take care of a child, let alone three, and the second one being his best friend’s dead dad who had decided to take Aguero under his wing - Rak had taken it upon himself to be Aguero’s new male role model.  Khun regrets allowing the gator to do so with every fiber of his being.  

Rak, tolerable as he is, makes a terrible role model.  

Viole, however, seems to find it funny.

“I only found him last night,” Khun grumbles almost petulantly.   “It was my birthday.  I have the right to hog him.” Granted, he forgot it was his birthday until Viole reminded him, and birthdays are still a dark topic for him - he’d lost part of his family on the same day.  “Beside, I’m still taller, right?”

There has to be at least one thing that stayed the same, right?

Rak places a meaty hand on the top of their heads.  Unlike Viole, who doesn’t seem to mind, Khun hisses like a cat, swatting it away from his neatly straightened hair.  “I can see the tops of both your heads, Blue Turtle.  I watched both of you grow up.  You haven’t grown any taller since you were eighteen.”

Khun splutters.  “No!” Aguero liked being taller than Bam - it wasn’t much, but it made him feel like he could protect Bam, somehow.  There was probably some kind of science behind that, but it wouldn’t matter if he failed.  He’d sworn to himself to keep those golden eyes glittering and happy, sworn to protect Bam from everything cruel the world wanted to throw at him.  But he’d failed, and those bright golden eyes had dimmed.

“Yes,” Rak says gleefully.  “Black Turtle is taller than you now.”

The rock star ignores his boss and manager, who scowls, muttering in disbelief.  Would adding taller insoles help his newfound height insecurity? If Rak’s estimate is correct, and Bam - no, he’s Viole now, why does Khun keep forgetting that? - is both taller and buffer than him...

Khun gives himself a mental smack in the head.  Why does he keep letting inappropriate thoughts of his former best friend run wild in his head and fuel his imagination? Viole remembers next to nothing about him and has never known about his feelings.  Khun won’t tell Viole about them, especially not now.

Khun wrinkles his nose.  Ugh, feelings.

He doesn’t know what disgusts him more - the mere presence of those feelings , or his own inability to cope with them.  Why can’t he be like Rak? The gator shows no fear for anything at all, especially not the things Khun would spend a lifetime carefully dissecting and hiding from.

Khun Ran walks by just in time to save his cousin from a painful death by embarrassment.  Ran makes up a third of Lighthouse Entertainment’s media team heads.  Khun put him in charge of photography and graphic design: the CEO had hired him as a teenage intern, knowing from experience how hard it was to pry his cousin away from his devices, let it be a phone or a camera.  He’s a Khun, of course he’ll take full advantage of Ran’s hobbies and skills if it’s right there for him. The only problem with Ran is his personality - he enjoys picking fights a little too much with people he claims to be bothersome, especially with the media content manager Novick.  Sometimes, their friendly competition would devolve into physical violence, but combining their respective forces created masterpieces more often than catastrophes.

(If they created a catastrophe, Khun would beat their asses, and they all know it.)

Khun waves his cousin over.  “Ran! Do you mind giving Viole a tour? I need to talk to Rak for a minute.”

Ran shrugs, jogging over.  It’s not his job to give tours, but he understands his cousin’s need for privacy.  (Khun has also drilled a healthy amount of fear and respect into his head.) “Sure thing, A.A.” He gives Viole a scrutinizing glance.  Viole meets Ran’s electric blue gaze head on, not flinching or looking away.  Does Viole recognize him? Bam had met Ran exactly once before, when Aguero had been given the unfortunate task of taking care of his younger relatives during his designated ‘Bam Time’.  “He your new pet project or something?”

Or something, Khun thinks to himself.

Khun clears his throat, trying to clear away the pink dusted on his cheeks along with it.  “We haven’t discussed the terms and conditions of the contract yet.”

Dammit, Ran, you didn’t have to say it so obviously, he groans to himself.  Now the whole company will know how biased he’s being.  So far, as the one who brings in the most money, Rak has the biggest budget, but Lighthouse’s other less-famous artists, like Grey and Blarouse had been brought in simply to rack up money to expand the company.  They didn't mind - just being given a chance to chase their dreams was enough for them.  Khun already knows that Viole will shoot higher than the rest of them, but Ran really didn’t have to insinuate that the CEO had his own personal reasons for choosing the singer right in front of Viole.

Stop stalling, the voice in his head sings, there’s only so long you can drag this out before he starts hating you for it.  You just lie, run, break your promises.  That’s all you know how to do, isn’t it?  Khun is less surprised at that voice.  It sounds like self-loathing.  It sounds familiar.

Viole turns to the CEO with a frown.  “But you said-”

“I’ll answer your questions later, Viole, I promise.” Khun schools his features into an apologetic grimace.  “I just need to talk to Rak for a minute, yeah?”

Khun instantly feels like he kicked a bunny when Viole pouts.  “Okay.  But don’t forget that you promised!”

Khun watches Ran lead Viole away.  With every step, it feels like Bam is getting closer, but still too far out of Khun’s reach.  Maybe Khun isn’t trying hard enough.  

“Why are you still dancing around him?” Rak’s tone is sharp, but not entirely unkind.  “You’ve been doing that for years, you wussy turtle.  Why aren’t you chasing after him like you should be? You already lost him once.  You had years to reflect.  Who knows if you’ll lose him again?”

Khun sighs, helpless, hopeless.  “I don’t know if I’ll ever get him back.”

He hates the way he sounds admitting this - young and scared, like he once was.  He tells himself he’s not like that anymore, he has nothing to fear.  But he does.  He’s still scared - scared that he’ll lose Bam to the monster of hatred and self-deprecation lurking in his head; scared that Bam will hate him once he sees the skeletons of dignity and words left unsaid hiding in his closet; scared Bam will leave him once he sees how hard Khun tries to hide the elephant in the room.  Maybe he already lost Bam to the cruel hands of fate - even if Viole regains all his memories, he’ll never be Aguero’s Bam again.  In a way, Bam is like the pair of expensive blue stud earrings he’d stolen from his father - too precious and beautiful for him to reveal in fear that it’ll be stolen from him.

Bam had been stolen from him once already.

“The car crash gave him retrograde amnesia,” he tells Rak quietly, “it’s not permanent, but he doesn’t remember much about who we are.  He knows our names, but he barely remembers being the Bam we knew.  He’ll remember things when given prompts, though.  I’ve tried and tested it.  He remembers his parents, and he remembers the name ‘Bam’, which is better than nothing.”

Rak crosses his arms.  “Well, Black Turtle must remember something about me! I’m the leader,” the massive man says stubbornly, “I am the great Rak Wraithraiser! He is my prey! I will hunt him until he remembers!” He throws his arms out to make his point, nearly knocking the lights out of a passing intern.

Khun sighs, apologizing to the intern in Rak’s stead.  “Sorry” is not a word in Rak’s vocabulary, unless it’s to reprimand Aguero about his pride.  The intern takes one look at the rock star and the CEO before laughing nervously and booking it.  

Khun really needs to do something about Rak’s height.  Rak is tall enough to knock out everyone in a two meter radius from him with a single swing of his arms, Khun and Bam included.  Stupid gators and their arm-span to body ratios.  “He remembers me calling you a big ugly gator,” the CEO says slyly, “which you still are, by the way.  You’ve gained weight again.  How much chocolate have you been eating lately? Eating eight bars of chocolate a day won’t help you get an eight-pack.”

The rock star peers down his shirt, spluttering.  “You rude turtle! You’re just jealous I have a six pack and you don’t! And you’re too skinny, Blue Turtle! Eat more, goddammit!”

Khun is perfectly happy having lean muscles and a strong body despite his slight build, and he tells Rak that.  He doesn’t tell Rak that being “too skinny” enables him to move faster and dodge the gator’s attacks.

Rak ignores him.  “You told me you were never going to bring the gator thing up again!”

“You know me, I lie.” Khun grins, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.  “At least Viole remembers us.”

Both of them are silent for a few seconds.  Even if Viole does regain most of his memories, there’s still a long way to go if they’ll ever return to what they used to be.

Khun must be losing his mind (or his grip on his emotions) if Rak is giving him a chocolate bar.  I have emotions, but I’ll keep them inside me and one day I’ll die, he remembers telling the older man as a mourning, pining teen.  Rak had shaken his head and asked damn, Blue Turtle, who hurt you? 

That was back when Khun and Rak had believed Bam was gone for good.  Now, Khun doesn’t know what’s worse: mourning the loss of his most precious person, wondering if death felt like having a thousand papercuts scattered across your skin; or knowing that he was alive but couldn’t remember how much they’d meant to each other.  

As of now, Aguero is no more than a blue-haired, blue-eyed ghost haunting Viole’s memories.

“Learn to take care of yourself, Blue Turtle.” Rak’s voice is gruff but imbued with the semi-brotherly wisdom of a man in his forties.  “Don’t be an idiot.  Think with your banana instead of your brain for once.  You won’t get anything done otherwise.”

Khun scowls.  “Are there banana parasites in your brain? You’re the one who eats them.  What do bananas have to do with me?”

Rak rolls his eyes.  “I didn’t mean actual bananas, Blue Turtle.  Are you stupid, or are you stupid?

Not actual bananas? Then what? Khun has a sudden flashback to when Leesoo had sent him an eggplant emoji with a winky face and he’d had to ask the scout to explain the context of that-

Oh.

Oh.

Khun finally manages to connect the dots between “not an actual banana” to the thing between his legs.  His cheeks flash a brilliant pink at the implication, and he slaps his hands over them in an attempt to cover his flaming blush and preserve his flaming blush.  “Shut up, gator,” he hisses, pink spreading from his cheeks to his ears.  “I don’t think about him like that.”

Rak just looks at him, impossibly deadpan.  Khun’s body betrays him even further by allowing the blush to slip down to his neck.  The gator is too good at seeing through Khun’s blatant lies, but again, they’ve known each other for twenty years.  “For someone who’s so good at playing Bluff, you are terrible at lying to yourself.  Black Turtle is bound to find out about your feelings at some point. He might even develop his own.  You can lie to me, but you can’t lie to yourself, and you’re even worse at lying to him.  What will you do then?”

He will run, he will hide - it’s all Khun has ever been good at when it comes to emotions, whether they’re his own or somebody else’s.  He’s not like Bam, who wears his big heart on his sleeve and gives out little pieces of it to those he holds dear.  He’s not like Rak, who is blunt and straightforward and unafraid of the consequences his actions might bring.

Rak spares him the shame of a reply.  “You’re an even more useless turtle than you used to be.  Don’t come running to me like the coward turtle you are when you lose him for good to someone better for him.  You got Maria into Jahad Talent because you thought she looked fit, and she abandoned you for it in the end.  Don’t give Black Turtle the same treatment.  If you want to stop him from being a useless pawn, just play your stupid 4D chess game right and crown him king yourself.”

He walks away, leaving Khun no less melancholic and hopeless than he was before.  What was Rak even trying to do? Console him somehow? Wise words were always better to hear from Victor, but the man wasn’t around to provide his wisdom to Aguero anymore.

You’re a coward, Khun Aguero Agnis.

He shuts the voice down.  Bam doesn’t know and he never will, because Khun will never tell him.  Jue Viole Grace will be better off that way.  Everything will be better off that way.  

You’re selfish and a coward.  

Khun flinches violently when Viole approaches him.  His doe eyes make him look younger than he really is - it makes him look innocent, naive, guileless, everything Khun isn’t.  Viole’s golden gaze stays on the tension in Khun’s shoulders, the way he grips his briefcase so tightly his knuckles turn white.  “Are you alright, Mr Khun? You’re really pink, and you look like you need a hug.  Or some hot chocolate.”

The blue-haired man smiles, fond and helpless.  A hug does sound nice, but he’s not sure if he has the right to ask of something like that from Viole.  “I’m fine, really.  You don’t have to worry about me.”  He almost slips up again, and the brunet looks at him suspiciously.  Khun is glad Viole doesn’t press on the issue.  He has never been particularly strong, but he has always been exceptionally weak for a certain male with dark brown hair and bright gold eyes.

“If you say so,” Viole murmurs, so quiet Khun almost misses it.  “Are you sure you don’t need anything?”

He offers Viole the fakest smile he has - the customer service one he has no doubt the brunet will see through.  “I’m fine, Viole.  Don’t worry about me.”

Liar, coward, selfishly selfless.  It’s nothing he hasn’t heard before.

Viole clears his throat.  “Anyway, the contract? And-” He peers at Khun from behind his bangs, which have fallen over his eyes again.  “And us?”

He looks so hopeful, Khun doesn’t think he could say no even if he wanted to.  And there it is - the frozen surface of his lake shattered with a single blow.  His lungs ache with every new breath he takes, wisteria growing over the place his heart had once been buried.  All this familiarity - the ability to understand each other with nothing but single glances, the feeling of companionship and togetherness - makes him feel like they’ve both come home.’

Khun can almost hear Ran complaining about what a bothersome sap he’s being in his head.

“Of course,” Khun says, opening the door of his office.  His heart feels alive with the sound of music.  “Take a seat.”

It’s only when Viole settles down onto one of the couches that Khun remembers he has a framed picture of him, Bam and Rak at a theme park lying on his desk.

Crap.


ole @byeolsinger

heading somewhere special today 😊😊

---

yeon yihwa @yeonfused

good luck viole! hope you do well 😊😊😊


hayeol novick >> khun ran

                                  

ran: 

we got a new one


stupid fücking novick

Oh? Are they any good?


ran: 

it’s the guy a.a’s been looking

for for like


the past ten years


maybe not ten but like


eight?


seven?


stupid fücking novick

Damn that’s dedication


I didn’t know boss would do

something like that


ran: 

wdym?

 

stupid fücking novick

Idk he just doesn’t seem like

type to get hung up on a guy

for such a long time yk


ran: 

then you really don’t know

him at all


he’s been pining over the

same guy for a whole ass

decade but he hasn’t said

a thing about it to the guy


he’s so bothersome i’m going

to punch him in the face


stupid fücking novick

Ran you’re not allowed to

do that he’s your cousin


ran: 

that’s the whole point he’s my

cousin so i’ll fight him


i just wanna fight someone yk

 

stupid fücking novick

Ran istg if you get me fired

I'll kill you

 

ran: 

you're too slow for that

                             

Chapter Text

The signing of the contract goes without a hitch.  

Viole scribbles his signature wherever necessary without a second thought: agreeing to meet with the rest of the Lighthouse Entertainment team to discuss his training; to let the lease for his rented apartment expire and move into a dorm closer to the agency’s office; to sacrifice blood, sweat, tears whatever else he’s willing to for the sake of his future.  He agrees steadily to let the production and publicity teams use him however they need to; to be exclusive to Lighthouse as long as his contract lasts.

Viole asks about trainee debts, and gapes when Khun wrinkles his nose.  “Of course we don’t have trainee debts! Sign with us, and you have all expenses paid.” The CEO huffs, leaning back on his chair.  “Who do you take me for, Jahad?”

Viole splutters out a disbelieving laugh.  “What do you mean?”

Khun waves a hand dismissively.  “Jahad Talent makes their artists look good, but that’s only because they overwork their girls.” As far as he knows, Lighthouse and another agency, Wolhaiksong, are the only big entertainment companies without trainee debts.  He thinks about Maria: how I’m sorry, Aguero, I have practice today, I’ll talk to you later turned into Can’t talk right now, busy and eventually it was just Aguero asking Maria? Maria, why aren’t you reading my messages anymore? Maria, please talk to me.  Why are you leaving me? , and one day their conversations became nothing at all.

“By Jahad logic, if you work hard, you bring in money.  If you work harder than your body can take, you’ll bring in even more money.” 

Viole frowns.  “But what happens if they can’t? I know a lot of them are from rich families, but what if they’re not and they don’t make it big?”

Khun isn’t sure either, to be honest.  He’d been born into riches, bred and raised to be no less than the best of the best.  “I don’t think you’d want to know.”

The brunet shudders, but he’s still curious.  “Why don’t you ask for trainee debts? Jahad overworks Girls!, but they’re all super successful.  They have such a big fanbase.”

Khun shrugs.  “I’m not that kind of guy.  I like planning and giving orders, but I like to think that democracy is better than dictatorship.”

Viole shakes his head, an awed look in his eyes.  “You should’ve run for president.”

The edges of Khun’s lips quirk up in a smirk.  President, huh? “I know I’m smart and probably capable, but that’s too much responsibility.  Too many people to talk to, and not enough trust to go around and whatnot.”

He grins triumphantly when Viole laughs, a full bodied movement that has his shoulders shaking and his ponytail bouncing.  He rests a hand on the table to stabilize himself, but accidentally knocks over a framed photo.

Khun’s heart lurches in his chest.  It’s not just a framed photo.  It’s the framed photo.  

He knows Viole will start asking questions, and he dreads answering them.  It’s not that he doesn’t want to - he knows that he can never say no to Bam, nor can he deny Viole what he deserves to know - it’s just that it’ll be hard for him to explain without bringing in all those bothersome emotions.  

Khun tries to reach towards the photo and pull it out of sight, but the brunet’s reflexes are too fast.  Viole swipes it out of Khun’s reach, carefully examining every detail.  The scowl he makes when his bangs fall over his eyes is oddly endearing.  Viole traces the lines of their smiles - Bam’s wide and toothy, Rak’s scrunching up his face, Aguero’s slightly disgruntled but shy like a young flower.

Viole frowns, squinting at the brunet.  “Hey, that guy looks familiar - wait no, that’s me, isn’t it?” 

Khun exhales.  “Yes.”

The betrayed look in Viole’s eyes will haunt Khun for the rest of his life.  “Why didn’t you tell me we were friends?”

It takes everything Khun has in him not to simply throw himself at Viole’s feet and beg for forgiveness.  He still remembers how Bam had pulled Aguero into a photo booth, the brunet wearing a headband with bunny ears, the blue-haired boy with cat ears perched on his head.  Aguero had been reluctant at first, but Bam had looked at him with those doe eyes and said let’s do it for the memories, Aguero, even if we lose each other somehow we’d still have this, wouldn’t we? How could Aguero say no? He’d let Bam throw his arms around him, the brunet smiling so widely his eyes disappeared into little crescent moons.  Aguero had flushed pink at the proximity, blushing harder when Bam announced let’s stay together forever, Aguero! I wish we will always be friends!

Rak had charged in half a second later with a bellow of Turtles! How dare you leave your leader out? The flash of the camera had gone off with Rak slightly blurred, squishing the two young boys together in a bear hug.  Khun doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  It’s been almost a decade, but Rak still considers himself the ‘leader’, and Jue Viole Grace is still friend-zoning Khun.

That’s because I always wanted to be more than just your friend, Khun wants to say, maybe I don’t have a chance, but for you, I’m willing to try.  

“I didn’t want you to think I scouted you purely because of personal reasons,” he says instead.  It’s not a lie, but it’s not the full truth either.  Neither of them are ready to hear the truth.  “You were my friend, but you’re also immensely talented.  You always have been, no matter how much you try to play it down.  I always wanted to support you.” But… You don’t remember any of that anymore.

Viole’s cheeks pinken at the praise, sitting a little straighter at the sound of Khun’s unadulterated pride and fondness.  “How close were we?” He asks shyly.  His eyes dart to the photo, looking at Bam’s radiant grin and Aguero’s bashful but rare and genuine smile, the way Aguero looked at Bam like the sunflowers followed the light.  “What was I to you?”

How is he supposed to start? There are so many things he wants to say, most of those things too much to start with.

You were my everything to me, he wants to say, you were the earth to my moon, the water to quench my insatiable thirst.  I was always revolving around you, even if you didn’t know I was there and I was never brave enough to reach out and touch you, too shy to ask you to touch me.  You were the reason I slept well at night, the reason I dragged my weary bones out of bed every morning.  You made me who I am: my stubborn heart beat for you and nobody else.  You were the sun to my sky, I was the dark to your light.  You were my first friend, my first crush, my first love.  Everybody was drawn in by your gravity.  People came and went, but we were inseparable.  Is it too much of a stretch to think we were special?

“You were everything to me,” Khun tells Viole.  His voice is a bare whisper, barely hiding all the words he would say when his mouth wasn’t collapsed.  Admitting is so easy, so much easier than telling lies, lies, more lies.  Words spill out of his mouth like a waterfall, emotions hidden in the flow and swimming out of his lips like the fish he used to love catching.  “You were the first person who ever wanted to be my friend, and I let you become the best one I ever had.  Before you, nobody besides my mother and sisters ever treated me like I was me instead of ‘Khun Eduan’s son’.  You were the first one who saw me for me.”

Viole listens intently, staring at him with rapt attention.

“When I was with you, I didn’t have to care about any of that.  You didn’t care about reputations or anything.  You just wanted me to be your friend.  I didn’t have to be a Khun, with you I could just be Aguero.  I could be normal.  I could-” His breath catches on the lump in his throat, struggling to speak past a choker of unshed tears.

“You could what?” Viole prompts gently.

Khun smiles through the haze of tears threatening to spill forth.  “I could be happy.” He tries to blink the wetness out of his vision, absorb it into his eyes, somehow.  It doesn’t work, and a drop of salty dampness rolls down his cheek.  “I don’t know if you’ll remember, but when we first started hanging out, your parents took me in, and I basically grew up in your household.  My family seems great in front of the cameras, but Khun Eduan is a piece of shït.  I spent more time with your parents than I did mine.  You, Victor and Arlene let me be happy, and I’ll-” He clears his throat, discreetly wiping a tear away.  Another one takes its place.  “I’ll never stop being thankful for that.”

Viole reaches across the table, cupping Khun’s face.  He wipes the stray tear with a calloused thumb, murmuring sweet nothings towards him.  A shuddering sigh slips out of Khun’s lips, and he leans into the touch.  Warmth blooms across his body, starting from his cheek.  Is it affection? Shame? He can’t tell.  He hasn’t cried in years, and nobody has ever dared to touch him since then either.  He would purr, if he wasn’t a near-stranger to Viole.  “If I remember more and more about you every time you say things, you must’ve been really important to me too.”

“They told me you were dead,” Khun whispers.  “Even Rak told me I had to move on, but I couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t just leave you behind when I knew you were still out there somewhere, and guess what?” A puff of air escapes his lips in some form of a laugh.  “I was right.”

“I’m back now,” Viole says comfortingly, “you found me.  I’m here.  I’m real.  I think I fell off a tree once, but I was fine, wasn’t I?”

Khun laughs incredulously.  A second tear makes its way down his face, but a swipe of Viole’s thumb cuts it off.  “You had to get stitches at the hospital.  You were out cold for three days.  I thought you died and it was my fault because I was there and I couldn’t catch you in time.  I cried for you, you know?” Yeah, and you did it twice, his brain supplies unhelpfully. “And I didn’t even cry when I broke my arm falling off my motorbike.” 

Viole pulls his hands back, a teasing smile on his face.  Embarrassing himself is worth it if it means he gets to see Viole smile.  “I guess it’s going to take more than falling off a tree or getting caught in a car crash to kill me.  Maybe I’ll never die.”

Khun swats at him halfheartedly.  “Don’t joke like that, Bam! It’s not funny!” But Bam is back, and once again everything is right in Khun’s world.  Don’t leave me, Bam, don’t you dare leave me ever again, I don’t know how I’d cope if you left me again.  “You’re back now, but where did you go?”

Viole looks wistful, like he’s remembering something bittersweet.  “Rachel found me.” Viole says this ‘Rachel’ girl’s name like how Khun says Bam’s - reverent, loving, awed.  Khun doesn’t like it one single bit.  “When I woke up, I was already in the hospital.  I didn’t remember a thing.  Rachel’s father took me in, and he and his wife treated me like I was their own son.  They called me Viole, so I ran with that.  But now that I think of it, when I told them I wanted to go back into the world and find out about who I really was, Rachel’s father forbade me.  It was strange.” 

The brunet frowns, brown brows furrowed in thought.  “I know now that Mama and Papa tried to keep me out of the public eye, but people still knew I existed and they knew what I looked like.  When I was with Rachel I wasn’t allowed to leave the house at all.  I wasn’t even allowed a phone.  I didn’t have any contact with the outside world except what Rachel told me, and they never even mentioned my real parents.  Mama and Papa are still pretty well known, but when I was with Rachel it was like they never even existed.”

“It’s almost like they knew who you were, but they were deliberately hiding it from you.” That is quite worrisome.  Khun leans towards Bam, propping his chin up on a hand.  All traces of his cryfest earlier are gone, replaced by unease.  “Why?”

Viole shakes his head.  He turns away, looking into the distance.  “I don’t know.  I asked Rachel, but she wouldn’t tell me.  I kept chasing her and asking and asking until we had this really big fight and I was so mad I ran away and never went back.  I didn’t have anything, not even a full name.  I met Wangnan while we were both buying cup noodles at a convenience store, and you know what happened after that.”

“But who was Rachel to you?” Khun forces down jealousy’s ugly green head, piling his suspicions on top of it and summoning a mental image of Rak to sit on it.  She was my everything, the voice in Khun’s head says in an imitation of Viole’s.  Viole had said that at the café.  “Was she a friend, or...” Something more?

Viole waves his hands as if trying to grab the words he’d lost out of the air.  “I’m not really sure how to say, but I was really reliant on her as a friend and a contact to the outside world.  She told me about her school life, and she let me listen to music on her phone.  She bought me the guitar I’m using now with her own money.  I really liked her, and we dated for a while but it didn’t last long.  We broke up when I left.”

“I’m sorry,” Khun tells him awkwardly.  Half of him is sympathetic, but the other half is viciously gleeful.  If he can redeem himself in Viole’s memories, he might still have a chance.  

He could be straight, though.  He dated a girl.  As much as you look like one, you are not a girl.

Oh.  Right.  That.

Viole shrugs.  “It’s fine, Mr Khun.  I’m over it.” He’s not, by the wobbly smile on his face.  “Maybe I loved her more than she ever loved me, or what I had for her wasn’t actually love and I was just too dependent.   Maybe it’s because she wants to be an actress but I want to be a singer, and she said we’d just end up leaving each other behind.  She said we’d both get hurt if we continued dating.  I don’t know if she was ever hurting, but I was.”

Khun grits his teeth, scowling internally.  Fücking Rachel.  What kind of an idiot is she not to see what he sees - what everybody else sees - in Bam? She must’ve be blind to let go of such a bright star, especially one that had been willingly sitting by her side for so long.  “You’ll find someone who deserves you one day, Viole.”

Who knows, they might even be closer than you think.

“Bam,” the brunet says quickly.  “Call me Bam.”

Khun raises an eyebrow, watching the tips of the brunet’s ears flush red.  They turn redder the more he stares.  “That’s sudden.  Any special reason why?”

Khun is starting to fear for the state of Bam’s ears now.  They’re so red it feels like they could explode any minute.  “It-” Bam clears his throat, a well-maneuvered shake of his head causing his hair to slip over his chili-pepper-red ears.  “It sounds nice when you say it.” He laughs, a nervous, high-pitched titter.  “I mean, new start, right?”

Khun shrugs.  “Alright then, Chestnut,” he calls teasingly.  “I’ll do whatever you want.”

Bam’s cheeks now match the color of his ears.  “Mr Khun! You can’t just say things like that!”

Khun laughs at Bam’s whiny tone and rosy cheeks.  “Sorry Bam, I couldn’t help it.” Bam makes a face and blows Khun the meanest raspberry he has ever seen.  Khun reaches forward in a half-hearted attempt to grab it, and Bam instantly retracts his tongue.  “I really missed you, you know.”

“I wish I remember more about you,” says Bam.  The smile on his face is soft, like cotton or rabbit fur.  “I still can’t remember much about you, but something inside me is telling me that I miss you.  I want to hug you.  Can I hug you?”

Khun freezes.  He curses his pale complexion vehemently when his cheeks pinken. I love you, Bam, he wants to say, I love you, I love you, I’ve loved you for a long time now.  He wisely keeps his thoughts to himself.  Bam already has so much on his plate, he doesn’t need an extra burden like Khun’s heart.  “I will allow it for four to five seconds.”

Bam’s eyes widen, delight dancing in gold.  “Forty-five seconds?”

“I said four to five -” 

“Too late,” the brunet says gleefully.  He bends down and crushes Khun in a hug, Khun’s head propped up on Bam’s shoulder.  There’s a strange pressure on his head, and he would bat it away from his hair if his hands weren’t pinned to his sides.  “Your hair’s really soft,” Bam remarks casually.  It’s almost like he has no clue how fast Khun’s heart is beating.  “Smells nice too”

“Um.” Khun blinks, baffled and blushing.  Bam is touching his hair.  “It’s citrus?”

“Hmm.” Bam isn’t just touching his hair, he’s smelling it too.  Khun is going to have a heart attack in three, two-

Bam shifts, and Khun finds himself having to spit hair out of his mouth.  His heart attack has been averted, but Bam has far too much hair now.  It was already thick and messy enough when they were kids, but now it’s long, and it’s wavy, and it’s all over Khun’s face.  It doesn’t smell like anything, though.  “You should get a haircut.” His voice is muffled by a brown curtain.

Bam backs off immediately, his long ponytail swishing and bouncing behind him.  “Mr Khun, I’m so sorry!”

“It’s fine, Bam, it’s just-” Khun sticks his tongue out, nose wrinkled.  “Bleh.”

Bam giggles, hooking his bangs behind his ears in an attempt to properly look at Khun.  Cute.  Khun’s heart flips, flops, and flaps about in his chest.  “Mr Khun, am I allowed to pick a stage name?” Khun could go on forever about Bam’s golden eyes without redundancy.  They’ve always been so beautiful, and the blue haired man has to use all of his willpower to stop himself from drowning in endless pools of honey.

“Of course.” Khun isn’t one to obey the rules, but for Bam, he would break them all, pull all the strings of fate in his favor.

“I want my stage name to be Bam,” the brunet declares confidently.  “I... ” He falters.  “I think Mama and Papa would’ve liked that, don’t you?”

“They’d be happy with any decision you make,” Khun tells him honestly.  “They loved you a lot, and they’d be proud of the person you’ve become.” Bam’s a fighter - Arlene and V raised him well, so much better than Khun’s own parents had raised him.  Bam settles back down onto his chair opposite Khun, who can’t help but reach over to boop his little button nose.  “You were their little star.”

Bam stares cross-eyed at the finger, smiling softly when Khun gazes at him like one would the stars.  Bam has signed the contract legally binding him to Lighthouse for the next few years of his life - Khun will do everything in his power to make Bam the star he always dreamed of being.  “A star, huh? I’d like to think so too.”

Khun sighs gently.  “I still can’t get used to you talking without your accent.”

Bam’s eyes widen.  “You don’t mind it?”

Oh, there it is.  It sounds good.  “Why would I mind?”

Bam shakes his head.  “It’s just that - Rachel used to tell me I shouldn’t speak with an accent.  She said it was unbecoming or something, but now that I think of it she might’ve been trying to reduce memory triggers and hide my real identity from me, but-” He growls, tugging his bangs over his eyes.  “I don’t understand why.”

“People are confusing,” Khun says with a hefty sigh.  Like the mystery of Maria, for example.  Khun has lost track of the years he has been left ghosted for.  “Especially girls.”

Bam hums an agreement.  “I mean, you have two sisters - it is two, right? I remember one of them kept wiggling her eyebrows at me, but I never knew why.  I still don’t know.”

Khun resists the urge to turn away from Bam and simply scream at the wall.  “That would be my older sister, Maria.  Forget about that, it’s just her being weird.”

It wasn’t just Maria being weird.  It was Maria knowing about her little brother’s little crush, and doing everything she could to give him a Bam-caused heart attack.  That was how most sibling relationships went, after all, with crushes and sneaky tricks and trying to get them in trouble instead of you.

The brunet giggles at the sight of Khun’s wrinkled nose and haughty expression, but tumbles off his chair with a surprised yelp when the office door flies open with a bang .

“Khun, my love!” A voice wails.

The CEO groans inwardly.  Leesoo only ever calls Khun his “love” when he messes up somehow.  His love most definitely isn’t reciprocated.  “Remember to knock, Leesoo! Why do you never listen?” Khun reprimands the scout.

Leesoo raises his hands in surrender.  “Sorry, man!”

Khun sighs, glancing at Bam with an expression that says “stupid employees”. Bam tries hard - and fails - to hide his laugh. “What did you do this time?”

“Well, you’d know if you read the messages I sent you - no, wait, stop looking at me like that! I’m sorry! Please don’t fire me! I just wanted to tell you I fu-” 

The eraser Khun throws hits his friend squarely in the forehead.  He’s not in the mood to fix Leesoo’s mistakes, nor does he want to listen to the scout’s love life.  “I did not need to know that.”

Bam chokes on his laugh, a hand pressed over his mouth.  “Wait, isn’t that Tracksuit Guy?” He blurts.  His voice is muffled, mirth leaking through the gaps between his fingers.  “Mr Khun, why does he call you his love?”

He calls me Tracksuit Guy too? Leesoo mouths in disbelief.  Why does everybody call me Tracksuit Guy?

Khun sighs heavily.  “I’m his boss.” He glares at the talent scout, who at least has the decency to look a little guilty.  “It’s a long story.”


ole @byeolsinger

Hey everyone, I will be leaving social media for a while because I’m dealing with some new things in my life as of now, and I’m afraid I’ll be too busy to post any new covers… Thank you to everyone who has been with me so far, I’m glad for all of your support even if it wasn’t for too long.

Hopefully, I’ll see you all again soon 🥰

Bye for now!

~ Ole

---

Sweet and Sour @sweetnsourband

We all wish you the best of luck! I miss you loads already, let’s eat sweet and sour pork together again 🥰🥰

~ Yihwa

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Sweet and Sour @sweetnsourband

YO STOP FLIRTING WITH OLE ON THE GROUP ACC HE’S NOT INTERESTED IN YOU

~ Wangnan

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Sweet and Sour @sweetnsourband

WELL AT LEAST I’VE GOT A BIGGER CHEST THAN YOU, YOU STINKY MALE APE

~ Yihwa

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Sweet and Sour @sweetnsourband

WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING I'M A DUDE ADSFJKLAFDSJLKDFSAJKAJ;DFKSL

~ wANGNAN

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ole @byeolsinger

please ,,, stop fighting ,,,

Chapter Text

The beginning of Bam's training passes quickly enough.

Khun introduces the brunet to the rest of Lighthouse Entertainment’s staff and stars, the most prominent of them first.  Rak doesn’t need much of an introduction beyond being the great Rak Wraithraiser, Mighty Leader, Hunter of Turtles, and whatever else he has decided to add to the list.  He grabs Bam by the shoulders and shakes him violently.  “You will remember me, Black Turtle! You may be remembering more about the Blue Turtle, but you can’t forget your leader!”

Khun reprimands the rock star while Bam regains his balance, gripping Khun’s arm while his vision spins.  When he finally manages to stabilize himself, he unzips his jacket with a carefree laugh, revealing a shirt with a familiar black turtle printed on it.  “I’m already remembering more, Mr Gator!”

Rak stares.  And stares some more.  “Blue Turtle!” He roars, whirling around to Khun.  He raises a fist, but Khun knows the giant won’t hurt him.  He can’t.  He’s emotionally unable to.  “What did you teach him?”

“I taught him the truth,” Khun replies cockily.  Bantering with Rak isn’t as fun without Bam there to watch.  He’d missed this.

“Truth? Bah! You have more secrets than I have bananas!” The gator tries to count on his fingers, giving up after a while.  “And I’ve lost count of how many bananas I have!”

At least secrets don’t mold, Khun thinks drily to himself.  “Eating so many bananas is going to make you sick some day, gator.”

Rak harrumphs.  “Impossible! I am the great Rak Wraithraiser! I can eat eight bananas in a minute! You just don’t eat enough, Blue Turtle! Are you a bird? Do you even have a stomach?”

Bam shakes his head in amusement.  “This is a really weird way of caring for each other you two have.  Have you two always been like this?” He sighs wistfully.  “I wish I remembered more.”

The gator bellows, lunging for Khun, who easily dodges out of the way.  “Who said I cared about Blue Turtle? He can starve, for all I care!”

“That’s so rude! I’m going to cut off your allowance! You’ll never be able to buy bananas ever again!” Bam looks constipated, caught between being confused and bursting out into laughter.  Khun is hoping for the latter.  He looks over to Bam with a dramatic eye-roll when Rak screams about his inability to live without his beloved bananas.  “Come on, watching him try to fight me isn’t worth your time.”

Rak throws his hands up.  “I will fight you, Blue Turtle!”

Khun raises an eyebrow.  “Gator, you’re nearly fifty.  You’re never going to win against me!” Bam is full on choking now, gasping for air.  “Face it,” Khun continues with a bittersweet smile, “you’re getting old.  But you’ve been old since we met, haven’t you?”

“Blue Turtle!” The gator roars.  “Stop corrupting Black Turtle with your own stupid ideals!”

“At least my ‘stupid ideals’ are better than yours,” Khun quips.  “I mean, you just scream and eat bananas and chocolate all day.  It’s going to kill your throat one day.”

Rak charges at them, screaming like the annoying gator he is.  Khun takes that as his cue to leave.  Grabbing Bam’s wrist, he pulls the singer behind him as he makes a dash for the lift, leaving the gator in the dust.  He isn’t scared of Rak, had never been, and will never be, but the rock star does tend to be rather destructive when he’s on a rampage and out to hunt down his Blue Turtle.

Leesoo twists his features into something akin to the Lenny Face when he walks into their lift and sees Bam’s wrist clasped firmly in Khun’s hand.  Khun drops Bam’s hand like a burning candle, glaring at the talent scout until Leesoo fixes his face into something a little more professional.

Leesoo had already introduced himself to Bam earlier, as “Ship Leesoo, talent scout” and not “Tracksuit Guy”, but Bam is so used to calling him “Tracksuit Guy” he doesn’t quite catch himself in time.  Leesoo bursts into fake-tears.  “Bam, my son,” he wails, making grabby hands at the singer, “I thought we were over this! I’m Ship Leesoo! Ship-Lee-Soo!”

Bam backs away from him with a nervous laugh, sneaking closer to Khun.  Khun wonders if it’s muscle memory.  “Sorry? I didn’t mean to, I swear.” Their hands bump against each other, and Bam shivers, looking aghast.  “Mr Khun, you’re so cold!”

“It’s fine, I’m always co-”

Bam decides to clasp Khun’s hands between his own.  He smiles, bright-eyed and innocent, completely disregarding Khun’s wide eyes and frozen mouth.  “That’s better, isn’t it? Miseng likes holding my hands.  She says they’re really warm.”

Much to the talent scout’s amusement, the CEO’s cheeks flush pink.  Clearly, his hands aren’t the only part of him that feel significantly warmed up.  Khun smiles, helpless to his hopelessly-smitten-ness.  Bam really hasn’t changed at all, in some ways.  “Yeah.”

Even when Leesoo steps out of the lift, neither of them make a move and let go.  Vespa, the receptionist, flits into the lift a second before the doors slam shut.  “Hey boss,” the squat woman grunts.  “And friend.”

“Hello, it’s nice to meet you,” Bam offers.  “I’m Viole.  Or Bam.  It doesn’t really matter.”

Vespa only gives the newly minted singer a onceover before staring at their joined hands.  “You close with him, boss?”

Khun clears his throat awkwardly, wiggling his fingers until Bam lets him go.  He shoves his hand into his pocket.  “We were.  We’re still trying to figure things out.”

The woman raises an eyebrow, excess mascara caked around her violet eyes.  “Bad breakup?”

Khun splutters.  “No!” Khun hasn’t even been on a date before! Rak still makes fun of him for being a virgin at twenty-five! Bam thumps his back a little too aggressively, and he bends over, hacking the spit out of his lungs.  “God no! We were just friends!”

“I have amnesia,” Bam adds helpfully.  “I don’t remember much, but I do remember that we were close.”

The three of them stand in silence until the lift dings, announcing Khun and Bam’s next stop.  Khun would sigh in relief if he wasn’t about to bring Bam to meet the one and only Hatsu Miyamoto - Hatz, as he prefers to be called, Khun’s ‘archenemy’.

The two of them have a less-than-friendly rivalry with each other - when Leesoo had met Hatsu a few years ago with the latter playing drums on buckets in the street, he’d spotted talent instantly and asked Khun if creating a band would be a good idea.  It had taken Khun and Hatsu less than a few seconds of knowing each other to decide that no, that was most definitely not a good idea.  Instead of becoming an artist, Hatz had decided to work behind the scenes instead, as far away from the CEO as he possibly could.

Unsurprisingly, Khun finds him in his quaint little ‘Samurai Studio’.  Hatz’s little logo is pinned onto the door - a drumstick crossed with a katana, how typical of him.  As much as he hates it, Khun has to admit it’s quite clever.  The producer and the singer hit it off quickly, Bam taking interest in the producing devices.  Grey waves from the recording room across the glass, headphones clamped around her ears, the lower half of her face obscured by the microphone screen.  She tiptoes to get a better view.  “Hi newbie!” She greets the brunet through the mic.  “Hey boss!”

Hatz passes Bam a microphone - if Khun remembers correctly, it connects to Grey’s headphones.  He isn’t particularly familiar with recording equipment, not like Jahad is.  Both Khun CEOs are mainly in charge of the business-managing side of the company, unlike the blond, who writes lyrics and composes for his Girls!.  “Hello,” Bam tells her shyly, “it’s nice to meet you.  I’m BAM.”

Grey grins toothily.  “Nice ta meetcha, BAM! I look forward to working together!”

Khun can’t help the smile that crosses his face.  Grey is only fifteen - she and Bam had been almost the same age when they both decided they wanted to sing professionally for the rest of their lives.  Khun has watched the young girl grow and flourish almost the same way Leesoo had watched him.

All of them have come a long way since then.

Hatz allows Bam to try his producing devices, the singer learning and copying his skills almost instantly.  The producer is awed, but Bam deflects every single one of his compliments, praising Hatz’s musical prowess instead.  Hatz rolls his eyes at Khun.  “Ugh, he’s so nice and humble, why can’t you be more like him, Ugly Earrings?”

His voice is mournful and mocking at the same time, and Khun splutters indignantly.  The insult is years-old, but never fails to irritate him.  So many other people have helix piercings! Why is he the only one Hatz always chooses to bully? “Go commit seppuku with your drumsticks,” he grumbles, “don’t forget who’s paying you.”

Hatz raises an eyebrow.  “Hey, BAM.  What do you think of his earrings?” Khun turns to the singer imploringly at the same time Hatz smirks.  “Be honest.  I feel like you’re an honorable man.”

Bam hums, shrugging.  “I think they suit him.  They’re quite pretty.”

Khun grins.  Bam is too kind.  The producer gasps, betrayed, chasing his boss and his new coworker out of his studio with a pair of drumsticks.  Khun will never truly fire Hatz - he’s too good to replace, even if the CEO will never voice it aloud.  Besides, Hatz and Leesoo are in a rather intimate relationship, and Khun must remain polite to Hatz if he wants to keep Leesoo.

Meeting the media team is chaos in the making.  Ran and Novick are having another video editing match - Edin Dan, the last member of their team, looks torn between eating chips in the background or notifying Khun.  He decides to pay the CEO some attention, bless his soul.  He promises to make BAM social media accounts for his debut, assuring Khun that he won’t let the singer get eaten up by the press.

Bam looks a little dizzy from the influx of information, but Khun can’t tell - he blinks, and everything goes black.  It’s another blackout, courtesy of the bickering duo.  For some odd reason, blackouts always coincide with angry Ran, the size of it depending on his irritation levels.  The blue-haired man sighs, blindly groping for the phone in his pocket.  He really needs to put Ran and Novick back into their places.

Dan sighs loudly, shouting about making yet another visit to the generator.  He doesn’t bump into any tables or chairs - after two years of working with Ran and Novick at Lighthouse, he knows the entire floor plan of the building like the back of his hand, even in the dark.  Heavy footsteps follow in his wake as he charges downstairs.

Much to Khun’s embarrassment, he jumps a mile high when Bam trips over his shoelaces and stumbles right into Khun’s arms, almost bringing them both to the floor.  Khun grabs onto the table behind him for support, breathing a sigh of relief when he doesn’t grab on to Ran or Novick by accident instead.  His cousin may be tiny, but tiny people are usually full of rage.  It’s some kind of neurological response to his height inferiority complex, Khun thinks.

The brunet stammers out an apology, completely unaware of the fact that one of his hands is grabbing onto Khun’s hip like a handle, and the other is splayed across his chest.

Khun doesn’t know where the rest of Bam is, which is both a blessing and a curse.

He can hear the sound of Bam’s breathing, feel air hit his cheek when he turns the other way.  “I’m back!” Dan’s voice echoes through the corridor before he kicks the door open, barely missing Novick.  The lights flicker on as if commanded by his voice.

Khun blinks, slightly disoriented.  It turns out that Bam is close.  Very close.

So close, in fact, that there are only two inches between them, so close that Khun could simply lean forward and he’d be able to kiss Bam if he wanted to.  Bam stares at him with wide golden eyes, lips pink and parted.  Khun’s own lips are suddenly very dry.  He licks them self-consciously, wetting them with his tongue.  Bam flinches and pulls away, mumbling an apology as he leaves cold air where his hands were.

Khun clears his throat.  He turns to his cousin, exasperated.  “How many times have I told you not to pick fights with Novick?”

“Why are you only blaming me?” Ran sulks.  “He’s the bothersome one.”

“Because every time you throw a temper tantrum, all the electricity in the building goes off, and Hatz will throw a fit if he loses his progress,” Khun deadpans.  Ran’s anger has been connected to electricity overloads since they were children, and even as a genius and a child prodigy, Khun has no explanation for it.  “You know who he blames if that happens? Me.”

“He’s gonna fire you,” Novick gloats gleefully, “I told you I’m his favorite.”

Ran scoffs.  “A.A won’t fire me,” he tells the other man confidently, “I’m his cousin, of course I’m his favourite, not you.”

Khun resists the urge to smack his hand against his forehead, or better yet, grab them both and smack their heads together.  “All of you are morons,” he snaps.  If he allows it to escalate, it’ll lead to another blackout, and he’ll really fire them.  “Bam is my favorite, because he’s a harmless cinnamon roll who could never annoy me.” He props his arm up on Bam’s shoulder, leaning onto the brunet.  “All three of you are morons-”

“Hey!”

“- but none of you would be if you all knew how to control yourselves!” He shoots the three of them a death glare.  “Dan is the one who runs off to get the power working every time, so he’s slightly less of a moron.” The blue haired man sniffs haughtily.  “I’d fire you all, but you’re the most competent people I know and I have to pay you the least.  Consider yourselves warned.”

"Sorry A.A," Ran grumbles.  The other two chorus their apologies, knowing better than to irritate the CEO.

Bam laughs and gladly follows when Khun pulls him away, huffing as he complains about his cousin’s choice in friends and coworkers.  “I know the feeling,” he says as he trots beside his manager.  “Wangnan and Yihwa are like that too, and it’s usually up to me to make sure they don’t set things on fire.”

The way he talks about them is happy and fond, and Khun, once again, is jealous.  He’d sell his soul to the devil for Bam to talk that way about him - if he still had one, that is.  His father had said that “gays belong in hell”, and when Kiseia asked Khun where he was going when he left the family, he’d answered with “hell, apparently”.

What Khun wants, Khun will get, usually through lots of planning and devious plotting.  But for Bam, he’s willing to wait, however long that will take.  He fears the demons of the past that lurk unbidden in his head, but what he fears more are the feelings of a possible future that play hide and seek in his heart.  For now, he’ll ignore them.  He’ll address them in due time.

Bam meets Yu Hansung and Evankhell last.  The former is a singing instructor, small and lean with long blonde hair tied back in a bun.  There’s a cup of coffee in his head - instant, by the smell of it.  The CEO wrinkles his nose at the sight of the shorter man serenely stirring his coffee with the plastic sleeve of the coffee powder.  Yu Hansung and his stupid, disgusting instant coffee.  Why are so many of the people Khun associates himself with talented weirdos?

The first thing Hansung does after introducing himself is offer Bam coffee.  The singer turns to Khun, who only looks at him like why are you asking me? Bam dares to take a sip of Hansung’s coffee, choking it down his throat before wincing and asking where the closest water dispenser is.  The singing instructor looks so insulted by his newest student Khun and Evankhell can’t stop themselves from wheezing.

Hansung asks Bam to sing for him, a cappella.  The blonde listens and sips on his instant coffee while Bam sings the chorus of the song Khun had heard at the café.  “You chose a good one, Khun,” says Hansung with a nod of approval.

Khun shrugs, too proud of his friend to even bother trying to be modest.  Since when would he choose modesty over smugness anyway? “I only choose the best of the best.”

“And you accept nothing less,” Hansung quips.  As much as Khun enjoys mocking Hansung for his terrible taste - or rather, taste buds - he can’t deny that the two of them do make a rather good team sometimes. 

Evankhell laughs, grinning at Bam with gleaming teeth.  She’s big and buff, perhaps even more so than Rak.  Khun is rather curious as to how she'd gotten that way, but he isn’t particularly inclined to ask.  One wrong move, and she could easily smudge his head into mush with a finger.  Back in the day, she’d been famous in the dance community for mercilessly beating many of the more popular dancers, until she’d developed a reputation as ‘Evankhell, Lord of the Dance Floor’, and eventually simply ‘Lord Evankhell’.  Khun thinks she’s slightly tamer now that she has Hansung to balance out her energy.  “Let’s see how well you can dance,” the dancer challenges Bam.  Muscles bulge on arms as she demonstrates a move. 

Bam stumbles back, slightly overwhelmed by her sheer size.  She towers over them all, and Khun is frankly quite glad he’s taller than Hansung.  “Ah, no,” the singer stammers, “I don’t know how to dance.”

Hansung takes another sip of his coffee.  “She won’t give up until you try.  Just bullshït some move.” He shrieks and nearly drops his coffee when Evankhell swats at him.  “Just make it look similar!” The blonde barely saves his coffee in time when the dancer simply grabs the top of his head, hefting him into the air.

The singer looks a little queasy, trying to hide behind Khun despite the CEO being just a slight bit shorter.  “But I really can’t dance-”

Evankhell reaches over Khun - not the hair, she knows very well - and grabs Bam by the head.  He yelps as the older woman lifts him up like he’s no heavier than a watermelon.  She puts him down and slaps him on the back with gusto, but he barely stumbles even when caught by surprise.  “Just try, kid.”

She turns to Khun.  The boy’s solid, she mouths.

Even though Khun already knows that by the way Bam’s vice-grip on his hip during the blackout had probably been strong enough to bruise his delicate skin, he still flushes pink, shooting her the darkest look he can muster.  See, this is why nobody at his company seems to respect him anymore.

At least he has the ‘Get Along Well With Your Employees!’ part of being a good boss working for him.

He gapes when Bam copies the move almost perfectly, although he’s a little unsteady on his feet while doing it.  Hansung sips his coffee, still dangling from Evankhell’s hand, an impressed pair of eyebrows raised.  Evankhell slaps Bam on the back again with her free hand.  “You found yourself a little prodigy, huh?”

Hansung cracks a smile.  It makes him look conniving, to be honest, but maybe that’s just what he looks like.  Khun himself tends to smile smugly even if he isn’t trying to.  “He reminds me of Urek Mazino when he was a kid.  They have the same talent, but Mazino’s a lot less humble about it.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” Bam peeps, glancing at Khun with a look of total disbelief.  Khun knows enough about Urek Mazino - his cousin and Ran’s older brother Hachuling works for Wolhaiksong Agency, the entertainment company Urek had not only signed with but co-found with Baek Ryun, an older artist.  Some even call the rapper and dancer one of the entertainment industry’s most talented artists, the only few above him being The Outside and Jahad’s Girls!.

“I went to the same university as Mr Urek, actually.  He kept calling me a baby, and when I asked him why he just-” Bam flails wildly, trying to imitate the snapback-wearing rapper and failing miserably.  It’s a good attempt, though, Khun recalls seeing Urek flapping like a bird on a video somewhere.  Who was he trying to impress again? Garam of Queen, the ‘love of his life’? “Apparently, I’m baby and nothing I do will ever change his mind.”

Evankhell bursts into loud laughter, and even Hansung chokes on his coffee.  “Punk’s not wrong!” The dancer chortles.  She squishes his cheeks, and Bam makes a muffled noise of complaint.  “Ooh, feels like mochi, Hansung, check it out.  He’s got baby skin.”

“Khun probably has it better,” Hansung points out.  “Hey, Khun, do you even have any pores?”

Khun flips his hair over his shoulder.  “What, are you jealous that you need a skincare routine and I don’t? I’m a Khun.  Our beauty is natural.”

Hansung’s eyebrow twitches as he turns to look up at Evankhell.  “Remind me why we’re working here?”

“He pays good, so you can actually pay for our dates.”

“Evankhell tends to eat a lot,” Khun whispers to Bam.  “She needs lots of energy to fuel all that muscle.  Who do you think would win in a fight between her and Rak?”

Bam giggles.  “I’m not sure if I want to find out.”

“What were you talking about, huh?” The singer wails when Evankhell grabs onto his head again.  “I heard my name!”

“Mr Khun,” Bam yelps as he spits hair out of his mouth, “help me!”

Bam deserves so much better than Khun, who would like nothing more than to keep Bam close to him and away from any more harm, keep his golden-eyed jewel to himself like a dragon would hoard precious treasure.  But he will follow Bam’s desires, make all his wishes come true.  He has missed out on years of making the love of his life happy, and Khun will fight for him, protect him with everything he has.

Wherever you go, I’ll be right behind you, Khun promises silently to Bam’s silhouette.  Bam says something that makes Evankhell laugh again, and Khun barely manages to stop himself from smiling so fondly a stranger could’ve mistaken them for lovers.  I’ll do whatever it takes to make you smile.  I want to stay with you for as long as I can, I don’t ever want to lose you again.  

When he tells Bam “I’m so proud of you”, it sounds like “I love you”, three words he can never say out loud but will prove in every other way he can.

When Bam returns the sentiment with a smile brighter than the force of a thousand suns, Khun feels like all will be right in the world again, because Bam is by his side once more.


yuri’s flying kicks @garam_is_my_queen

[picture of yuri sulking]

it’s sad boy hours @repellistamood quick send me queen crackhead clips

---

bubblegum simp @repellistamood

[rare gif of garam losing her cool and screaming]

??? what’s wrong dumpling

---

yuri’s flying kicks @garam_is_my_queen

[screenshot with a search for @byeolsinger and a message saying ‘This account no longer exists.’]

OLE DELETED HIS ACCOUNT? EVEN ALL OF HIS COVERS AND STUFF HE WAS SO GOOD WTF LIKE IF ANGELS COULD SING THEY’D PROBABLY SOUND LIKE HIM BUT LIKE ASDFKLJSFDKLJSDF HE SAID HE WAS TAKING A BREAK AND THEN HE JUST DELETED HIS WHOLE FÜCKING ACCOUNT-

HE’S SO TALENTED AND THEN HE JUST DISAPPEARED WHY WHY GODDAMMIT WHY SFDLKJSDFJKLSD *screams into the void* WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TALENTED MALE SINGERS

---

bubblegum simp @repellistamood

[gif of repel waving her arms around, trying to get yuri and maschenny to chill]

[gif of repel staring into the camera like she’s on the office, but you can’t see her eyes]

maybe he’s having some kind of family issue? he’ll probably come back at some point it’ll be fine

Chapter Text

"Mr Khun, I look like a chestnut again!"

"You look like you did when we were kids," Khun tells Bam.

Earlier that day, they'd been in an hour-long meeting, discussing how and when Bam was going to debut.  They'd all agreed to a look of youth and innocence for the public image - how could they not, when Bam had those golden doe eyes? The brunet decided to give himself a year to make his big debut with an album of his own.

Of course, Khun had been worried: could a year possibly be enough to learn the proper techniques of singing, the basics of dancing and acting, let alone write a full length album? He'd suggested a mini-album or an EP instead.

In response to that, Bam had whipped his phone out of his pocket, clicking into the 'notes' app to proudly display nearly half a dozen completely original songs.  "How about a mix-tape? It doesn't have to be too long or too short."

Hatz had sighed in relief.  "You being a singer-songwriter makes my whole job easier.  We'll pick out the good songs, and I'll probably only need to make minor edits before we can record."

Khun could never say no to Bam, so a mix-tape it was.

It had been the media team's idea to give Bam a haircut - the three disaster-makers had taken a good long look at Bam under the light and decided those long brown locks needed to go.  It was one of the rare times Khun had seen Ran and Novick agree with each other.

Now, Bam stands before him in all his short-haired glory - with that bowl-cut, he really does look like he did when they were younger.  They both do, although Bam is leaner now, the baby fat in his cheeks replaced with a more defined jaw (that Khun desperately wants to touch); and Khun is sharper around the edges, the same silvery blue bangs framing sharp and high cheekbones.  They've both filled in well, although Bam's shoulders are wider and Khun still looks slightly feminine.  It is unfortunate - once when Khun was still in high school, one of his classmates, a boy, had sneered at him, telling him he looked like a girl.  Khun had responded by knocking his teeth out with a well placed right hook.  (Rak, however, has gained quite a bit of weight, but he never admits it.)

Khun looks up at Bam - he's still not used to have to physically look up at his friend.  The blue-haired man has always looked up to the brunet, but not once had he ever guessed that Bam would end up taller than him, albeit barely.

"You look good," he tells Bam truthfully.  With his long hair gone, he looks less like a thug, and more like a boy.  He looks much softer, despite all the curves and edges of his face.

"I feel much lighter," Bam tells him, shaking his head from side to side.  He pats the top of his head self-consciously, tousling his hair.  "I'd wanted it to be a bit longer, but Miss Hairdresser insisted on this."

Khun shrugs, stretching his arms out over his desk like a cat.  He winces when Bam subconsciously cracks his knuckles in response.  "You can grow it out however long you want later." He grins, blue eyed and sly.  "I don't have to pull any strings when I control them all."

When he says that, maybe he does have ulterior motives - the image his mind conjures of Bam in a leather jacket and hair down to his shoulders doesn't look too bad.  Speaking of leather jackets...

"Can I take a look at your closet? You need better clothes." Khun isn't going to mince his words, not when Bam is wearing some atrocity of a red vest over a black shirt.  The blue-haired CEO prides himself on his excellent fashion sense, and if the clothes Bam is currently wearing represent the rest of the population, Khun really doesn't want to know what kind of nightmare the rest of his wardrobe looks like.

Five minutes and a motorbike ride to Bam's new dorm room later, Khun finds out that all of Bam's friends have equally terrible taste in fashion.  Bam laughs bashfully at the sight of Khun crinkling his nose in disgust - "nobody ever gave me the key to the place where me, Mama and Papa used to live, and I can't remember where it is either.  Maybe I had better looking clothes there, but I probably outgrew them.  Besides, I'm not emotionally ready to go home yet."  The singer tells him that Wangnan is the one who picks out most of his clothes, and if it isn't Wangnan, it's Yihwa's choice.  "Apparently, I'm even worse at picking good clothes."

There's a part of the wardrobe that's sectioned off, and Bam catches Khun staring.  "Rachel got me those," he says quietly.  He looks sad, and Khun immediately hates Rachel for breaking Bam's heart.  How dare she make him look so unhappy? "I wonder how she's doing."

Now Khun hates Rachel even more.

Almost possessively, Khun grabs Bam by the wrist, pulling him closer.  "Come on, Bam, we're going shopping." Bam opens his mouth, but Khun beats him to it.  "The contract, remember? You don't have to pay me back.  It's gonna be coming out of your paycheck later when you get famous."

Bam looks a little more relaxed at that.  He lets Khun drag him away, willingly wraps himself around Khun when the Manbarondenna purrs and rumbles under them.  Bam runs hot like a furnace, and Khun immediately feels colder than he already is when they separate.

"I remember that logo," Bam says offhandedly as they pass one of the shops.  "Papa had a lot of shirts from that brand.  I think he said his friend was a designer there." Khun recognizes it as Arie Hon - Victor's friend must've been Arie Hon himself.  They were bandmates, after all, Hon being the drummer of their former band, The Outside.  The Outside have long since disbanded, the five members scattered around the country, one of them dead.  However, Khun vaguely remembers another band which had been quite infamous a few years ago, composed solely of Arie siblings.  White, was it? At a certain point in time, they'd all modeled for Arie Hon, patriarch of the Arie family.

Bam gulps and speed walks out of the shop when he sees the price tags.  "Mr Khun," he asks feebly, "are there any cheaper stores?"

Khun laughs and leads him to H&A instead.  It's a popular chain store for celebrities and normal civilians alike, relatively cheap and endorsed by none other than the infamous Ha Yuri of Jahad Talent's arguably most controversial girl group, QUEEN.  The founder of H&A is a distant relative of Yuri's, after all.

Khun rediscovers how good Bam looks in black - it highlights the gold of his eyes, accentuates the tan of his skin.  Khun narrowly avoids a nosebleed when Bam strolls out of the fitting room in a loose dress shirt, a harness, and skinny jeans.  Khun had picked the outfit, made sure Bam would look good in it, but he hadn't expected Bam to look this good.

Those jeans.

Khun knows skinny jeans are meant to be tight and form fitting, but he still can't keep his eyes off the curve of Bam's ass.

Bam blesses him with a twirl, and Khun thanks the gods of thirst, flaming homosexuality and years of pining in his head.  It's been almost a decade, okay? Khun may be a virgin, but he still needs good content for his dirty, dirty mind.  Bam is always all too ready to give, even if he doesn't realize it.  "How do I look, Mr Khun?" He asks innocently.

Khun swallows and gives him a weak thumbs up.  "So good."

The rest of the day passes in a blur.  Bam tries on more daring outfits, and Khun tries desperately not to out himself to his best friend in the worst possible way.  the manager catches his singer eyeing a over-sized and rather plain-looking brown hoodie, murmuring about its softness.  Khun adds it to the basket, pays for the other outfits with the company card.  Heedless of Bam's protests, he pays for the hoodie with his own credit card.  "Consider it a gift," he tells the brunet with a wink.  "I missed a lot of your birthdays."

Bam nods sincerely, hugging his new hoodie to his chest.  "Thank you, Mr Khun.  I'll treasure it." He looks like he's about to say more, but he closes his mouth as quickly as he opens it.

Khun smiles faintly.  "No problem, Bam."

He only realizes how well and truly fücked he is when Bam wears that over-sized brown hoodie for the first time.

Chapter Text

Six months fly by, and Khun watches Bam grow into the star he always knew Bam could be.

It's a whole team effort - it takes almost every single person in the Lighthouse agency to get Bam ready for his debut.  The media team take it upon themselves to teach the fledgling singer the art of photography and how to manage a social media account.  Novick is best at taking selfies, and Bam learns how to get a good angle and good lighting quickly, as well as finds out which SnapBook filters look best on him.  Dan makes him a fake Chirper account for now, allowing him to practice writing aesthetic captions for now.  He promises to help manage the official account should Bam ever need it, although it hasn't been made public yet.  Ran teaches Bam to pose; how to catch the light; how to look taller, cooler, more intense.  Bam sends almost every picture to Khun, usually with a text like "mr khun, which one do you think looks better?" It's hard to pick what's "better" - does he choose the selfie where Bam grins a wide boxy smile at the camera, the golden crown of butterflies perched on his head making Khun's heart go "uwu"; or does he pick the one where Bam slouches against a couch and stares at the camera with half-lidded eyes and legs spread wide, a pink tongue teasing his lower lip? Either way, Khun saves both photos onto his phone.

Bam gets well acquainted to the head of their stylist team, a young woman named Serena Rinnen.  She takes an easy liking to him, as most people do.  She teaches him the basics of makeup and skin care - Bam sends Khun a scared emoji one day, with a picture of him in a face mask attached.  "help me," he says, "miss serena stuck this on me and i scared myself in the mirror!!" He laughs, but stops immediately when Bam sends him another picture, this one captioned with "miss serena drew my winged eyeliner with a knife 0_0 mr khun come pick me up im scared".  Bam's eyeliner definitely looks sharp enough to cut through glass like butter.  Leesoo does his job well by offering moral support: "hawt! 🔥🔥" is what he texts Bam with Khun's phone when he spots Khun looking at the photo; he wiggles his eyebrows at Khun, who grunts and grumbles "let me eat my salad in peace".

Hansung teaches Bam to belt without damaging his vocal chords, teaches him to manage the strain, when to breathe.  When Khun listens, it sounds like the way Arlene used to sing - graceful, powerful, strong.  Sometimes, he sings until his voice goes hoarse, even losing his voice for a day, once.  Khun had fretted over his singer, but the first thing Bam whispered when his voice started to return was "I feel good, Mr Khun! I'm getting better already!" Khun smiles at him, exasperated but fond.  Perhaps he'll never get his old Bam back, but this new Bam is an upgraded version that he wouldn't give up for the world.

"Master Evankhell is very good at dancing," Bam tells him one day, rosy-cheeked and drenched with sweat.  "They're very tough on me, but it's fun." Khun jumps away with a small and very un-Khun-like shriek when Bam shakes out his wet brown hair like a dog.  He internally thanks Evankhell for teaching Bam the basics of street dance and covering other pre-existing songs when the brunet lifts his t-shirt to wipe the sweat off his face.  The CEO forces himself to look away - it would be incredibly creepy and unprofessional if you stared, he tells himself firmly.  Still, he catches a glimpse of Bam's toned stomach, and what might be the beginning of abs.  What a pity Evankhell has never let him into the dance studio.

Rak cackles at Khun's dilemma.  The damn gator has it easy - he released a new mini-album a few months ago, and now that promotions for it are over, he spends far too much time poking his nose into Khun's business and his nonexistent love life, also known as where it doesn't belong.  With Khun and the media team's grudging permission, he starts to hint at Bam's debut.  His beloved Turtles haven't caught on yet, but Rak is confident that they will, eventually.  The turtle-loving rock star does have good reason to be excited, for Bam had requested for the gator to be featured in one of his songs.  "Of course," Rak had bellowed gleefully with his chest puffed out.  "You can't have an awesome song without your great leader Rak, Black Turtle!"

Hatz had disagreed with that.  "Bam's a really good songwriter," the producer tells Khun, "he's got a good idea for where he wants his songs to go." Leesoo had been the one to find Hatz first, suggesting him to become a trainee for Lighthouse.  However, Hatz had decided that his passion belonged with making music, not so much performing it.  He does, however, sing the backing vocals and the guide track for Bam.  Much to Khun's dismay so far, Bam has only allowed Khun to read the lyrics of the four songs he and Hatz have decided on - 'winter sun', 'if only', 'streetlights', and 'paper'.  Khun using his 'manager card' doesn't get him much further, as Bam only gives him snippets of each song.  The little bits and pieces he has so far sounds good, and if Bam had a tail, he'd wag it at the speed of light when Khun tells him he's proud.  The singer getting Hatz's badge of approval and respect doesn't come as much of a shocker, but it is rare for the producer to give such a thing away.

At the seventh month, Bam kicks open the door of Khun's office.  He looks frazzled and desperate, and alarm bells ring in Khun's head.  Something is wrong.  He hands his manager a thumb drive, containing the first draft of his EP.  "I doesn't feel right," he says, plopping onto one of the plush couches in Khun's office, "Mr Hatz says it's fine but I feel like something is missing and I don't know what to do about it."

Now is not the time to cheer for finally being allowed to listen to Bam's songs in their entirety.  The singer waits impatiently, fidgeting with his fingers as they listen to the four songs together.  "What do you think, Mr Khun?"

The blue-haired man hums.  Bam is right - the tracks he has now are plenty good, yet the EP seems too short, too empty.  It feels like Bam has right now is a story with a few pages missing, and that's what he tells the singer.

The brunet nods, relieved that someone agrees.  "Actually, I..." He falters.  "I want to visit my parents' graves." Seeing Bam so openly sad makes Khun's heart hurt.  What a pair they must make: one had parents who loved and cherished him like nothing else; the other has parents who couldn't care less whether he lived or died.

"Of course you can, Bam.  I'll give you the day off."

The singer looks down at his feet.  "I don't want to go alone," he says with a small voice.  "Can you come with me? Just for moral support? You don't have to do anything besides be there."

Khun wouldn't say no even if Bam hadn't used those golden puppy dog eyes on him.  His work for the day can wait for tomorrow.

The manager takes extra precaution in disguising them both - he gives Bam a mask that covers his mouth and a hat that flops over his eyes, his body shapeless in the baggy sweatpants and over-sized hoodie.  The chances of someone recognizing Bam as 'Jue Viole Grace, long lost son of two dead singers' now and connecting him to 'BAM, Lighthouse Entertainment trainee' are incredibly low, but Khun doesn't want to risk it, not when Bam wants to stand out of society's looming shadow of him.  Khun just gels his hair back, puts on a pair of glasses.  When people think 'Khun Aguero Agnis', they think of a pretty boy with blue hair and a bowl-cut.  They'll never recognize him with glasses and a different hairstyle.

They stop by a flower shop so Bam can buy his parents flowers - when the brunet explains what meanings he wants the flowers to have, the florist, a red-haired older man by the name of Sachi Faker, hands him a neatly arranged bouquet: pink carnations, for gratitude; red chrysanthemums for love; forget-me-nots for remembrance.  Khun requests another bouquet from the other florist, Boro - feeling particularly diabolic, he buys a 'fück you' bouquet and has it mailed anonymously to Edahn: yellow carnations for disappointment; geraniums for stupidity; meadowsweets for uselessness; orange lilies for loathing.

Boro laughs at him, looking at the singer and his manager with a bittersweet smile.  He says they remind him of his friends Daniel and Roen - Roen was a reporter, brave and bright, while Daniel was a photographer, willing to pull the moon from the sky for her if she wanted it.  "I'm sorry for your loss," Khun tells them when Boro and Sachi mourn their lost friend.  Roen had been killed in a hit and run involving a drunken Arie Hoaquin, and driven mad with the grief of losing the love of his life, Daniel had taken his own life mere weeks after.

Bam echoes Khun's sentiments.  "I understand how you feel," the brunet tells them, "I walked out alive from the car crash I was in, but my parents didn't."

The four of them are silent for a minute, mourning the ones they have lost.

When Bam pays Sachi for his flowers, Boro pulls Khun aside.  "You love him, don't you?"

Khun freezes.  "What makes you think that?" His tone is careful and quiet.  He glances at Bam, who is blissfully unaware.

Boro smiles knowingly.  "You look at him like Daniel looked at Roen.  I won't tell a soul if you ask me not to, but you'd give him all the stars in the sky, wouldn't you? You'd do anything for him."

There's no point in denying it, not when Boro can see right through Khun's carefully constructed wall of lies and half-truths.  Khun sags.  "Please don't tell him.  I'm not ready to tell him, and I don't think he's ready to know."

Boro pats him on the back.  "Take care, kid.  You'd only hurt yourself if you hurt him.  Besides, he's probably stronger than he looks."

Even when Khun is parking the Manbarondenna at the gates of the cemetery, Bam sitting behind him, Khun cannot get Boro's ominous words out of his head.

Chapter Text

Strangely, there is already someone standing before the graves of Arlene Grace, V, and Jue Viole Grace.  He wears a large hat and a larger coat, not unlike Khun with his trench coat and Bam before he had taken off his bucket hat out of respect.  Khun does not recognize the man, nor does he expect Bam to.

Bam whimpers quietly when he sees his own grave, clutching a bouquet of flowers with one hand and Khun's wrist in the other.  The other man whips around, and all three of them freeze when they make eye contact.

The man standing before them is in his fifties, the glasses on his face possibly making him look older than he really is.  Khun too has been told he looks more mature with glasses on.  The man squints at Bam, then turns his gaze to the empty grave of Jue Viole Grace, then looks back at Bam.  He looks like he's seen a ghost.  "Viole?" and belatedly, "hey, aren't you Edahn's son?"

The look of utter disbelief on the man's face matches the confusion on Bam's.  The fledgling singer cocks his head.  "You look familiar," he offers honestly, "but I don't recognize you.  Mr Khun, do you know who he is?"

Khun is still wincing at the man's wording.  Edahn's son? He hasn't been 'Edahn's son' for a very long while now.  "That's Poe Bidau Gustang," he tells Bam, "he used to be in a band with your father and your mother's younger brother, Grace Mirchea Luslec.  He hosts a music review podcast and writes books now."

Bam nods understandingly.  "No wonder he looks vaguely familiar."

Poe Bidau Gustang gapes at both of them openly.  "I'm not seeing things, right? I'm pretty sure you didn't come back from the dead, Viole."

"You're not seeing things," Bam tells him amicably, re-assuming the identity of 'Jue Viole Grace, son of Arlene'.  "If you check, you'll find the grave empty because I never died."

Gustang turns to Khun.  "You are that Aguero, right? Viole's kid bestie and Khun Edahn's son? Why didn't you tell anyone Viole's alive?"

Khun purses his lips.  "Yes and no for the first two questions.  I am Khun Aguero Agnis, and I was Bam's best friend when we were kids, but Edahn disowned me so now he's my sperm donor and I'm the best load he ever shot." Khun knows he sounds spiteful and petty, but that's because he is.  Gustang chokes.  "Khun is fine." Insisting on people calling him Khun wasn't just a decision brokenhearted and grieving Aguero had made - it was also a statement to his father, a challenge, like "you'll regret ever turning your back on me, Khun Edahn.  I will be better than you, so watch out when I push you off the pedestal you're standing on."

"Also, I have retrograde amnesia," Bam adds.  "I literally forgot you existed until just now." He goes completely still for a minute, eyes blank.

"Bam?" Khun prompts.

He blinks.  "I just had a flashback.  Mama told me you dropped me on the head as a baby, and I almost had a concussion."

Gustang shrugs.  "I've never been good with children." If Khun remembers correctly, Gustang's first wife, Eurasia Blossom, had divorced him and taken custody of their only daughter Enne, because he had been an even worse father than Khun Edahn.  "Sorry about that, though."

"You're forgiven," Bam says, "I need a harder head anyway.  I don't want to lose all my memories again because I got hit on the head."

Khun is horrified.  "Bam, was that meant to be a joke?"

The brunet lowers his head.  "Sorry."

The manager sighs.  "You have a terrible sense of humor.  That was not funny in the slightest.  Don't make me wrap you up in bubble wrap," he threatens.

Gustang looks vaguely amused at their conversation.  "How did the two of you reunite?"

Bam is all too happy to answer.  "Mr Khun is the CEO of Lighthouse Entertainment, so he sends talent scouts out to stalk good musicians.  One of his talent scouts, Mr Leesoo, told me that Mr Khun gave him the special job of running all over the place until he found me," he tells Gustang.  Khun gawks.  What a traitor, he thinks.  "Mr Leesoo found me performing in a cafe with my bandmates for our weekly gig, and he watched us for a few weeks.  It was creepy until Mr Khun came.  That was stressful, 'cause he kept staring."

Khun shrugs.  "Whoops." It is the truth, though, and he can't argue against it.

Gustang, however, looks interested.  "A band, you say? Do you play guitar like your father did? Are all of you signed under Lighthouse?"

Bam hums, looking proud of himself.  "Papa taught me how to play, but muscle memory kept me going.  I sing, too.  Mr Khun says I'm good." His expression drops a little.  "I haven't seen the rest of my bandmates in a while.  We've all been busy, with me being a trainee and them having other commitments."

The writer laughs.  "I'm glad, kid.  Victor was a great musician, and so was Arlene.  They'd probably be proud of you, whatever it is that you're doing, and I'm glad you're carrying their legacy.  Victor does still hold the record to the most annoying person I know, though.  Personally, I think your mother could've done better.  She was too good for him, but he made her happier than any of us ever could.  They were happiest with you, though.  I'm sorry for your loss."

Bam smiles.  "I think Papa considered the two of you friends.  Mama did too.  They'd never let you hold me as a baby if you weren't a friend."

Gustang searches through his bag, eventually picking out a thumb-drive.  There's a little chestnut sticker on the top, though the colors have faded with time.  "Your parents gave us this in case you ever lost them somehow.  Even I don't know what it is.  None of us ever looked at it, because Arlene threatened to bash us over the head with Victor's guitar if we ever got curious." He tosses Khun a key.  "Next time, you don't have to scream at an empty house, yeah?"

Khun splutters, red-cheeked.  He knows exactly what Gustang is talking about.  "Thanks?"

"The bank never took the house back.  Arlene and Victor had already paid most of it, but Mirchia paid for the rest.  Everything's still as it was.  When he's ready, you can bring him back." He turns to leave, waving.  "Nice catching up with you, kids.  See ya around."

The two young men are left in the graveyard, a little dazed from the entire encounter.

Khun exhales loudly.  "Well.  That was..."

"Strange," supplies Bam.  "He's like a hurricane, but as a person.  I think I'd be confused even if I knew him well."

Khun laughs, giving Bam the rest of the day off to check out the contents of the drive.  He drops the brunet off at his dorm apartment before heading back to the Lighthouse office to finish his paperwork.

He doesn't get much done - he rolls the keys to the Grace family home between his fingers.  Why had Gustang given the keys to him instead of Bam? In theory, Bam should have inherited the house.  The singer had declined the offer of visiting the house, looking more curious about the thumb-drive.  Khun has to admit, he's curious too: most people leave a will, or a note, when they die.  Arlene and Victor had left behind a mysterious thumb-drive for their only son, not for the eyes and ears of anybody else.

He's distracted from his thoughts by the sound of a phone ringing.  Bam is calling, he can tell by the customized sound.  "Hello?"

"Mr Khun, can you come over?" Bam's voice sounds tinny over the phone.  "Please." Khun can hear the singer sob just before he hangs up.

Khun is there in two minutes.

Chapter Text

Khun rings the doorbell of Bam's dorm.

Nobody answers, but he has a spare key, and he doesn't hesitate to open the door.  "Bam?"

The dorm is small - half of the living room has been dedicated to Bam's expanding closet, the rest of the space filled up with a small table and an equally small couch.  It may be small, but it's still one of the larger ones.  Alright, Khun definitely plays favorites.  He follows the sound of a sniffle to Bam's bedroom, and he finds the brunet sitting on his bed with puffy red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, a computer balanced on the bedside table.

Rage and worry rise within Khun simultaneously - who in their right minds would make Bam so sad? Worry wins.  "What happened, Bam?" The blue haired man frets.  "Why are you crying?" The last time he saw Bam looking so fragile, it was when they met for the first time.  The brunet was a constant ray of sunshine, and Khun would gladly plot and scheme to legally displace whoever put storm clouds on his face.

"Mama," whimpers Bam, "Papa," he adds with a hiccup.  Khun gingerly sits down on the space on the bed next to Bam.  "They wrote songs for me, but they never published them, and I remember everything-" He sniffles and wipes a new tear away.  "I remember them, and I miss them so much, Mr Khun, make it stop hurting-"

Khun lets Bam cry into his expensive coat when a new wave of tears fall.  Bam sobs, mumbling nonsense, with "Mama" and "Papa" sprinkled tearfully in between.  Khun has never been good with tears, preferring to bottle everything up inside until it kills him one day.  But Bam is not Khun.  Even at twenty-five, almost twenty-six, Bam still has his heart sewn onto his sleeve, and now he is baring all the pain in his soul for Khun to see. 

Khun is not good with motivational speeches, but he will gladly shoulder Bam's burdens; shield Bam from the pain so he can grow; do whatever Bam wants him to if it means Bam will be happy.  For now, he lets Bam keeps his arms wrapped around Khun, press his face against Khun's beating heart, let him listen to the steady drumbeat in his chest until he stops shaking and gasping for breath.  Khun cards his fingers through Bam's short hair, gently petting him just the way he knows Bam likes it until his breath grows steady, his body stops trembling and the tears stop falling entirely.

Bam pulls away slowly.  His eyes are still red, tear tracks fresh but now drying.  Khun delicately wipes away the last salty tear with his thumb.  "Better now? I hate seeing you so sad."

Bam hums out an answer, blinking furiously before leaving his eyes closed.  "Sorry for being such a bother."

"You could never bother me." It's strange, how easily Bam pulls the truth out of a man who has built himself a throne of lies and deceit; how easily he burns past the walls of ice surrounding Khun's heart.  "I'll always be here when you need me."

Bam smiles faintly, eyes still closed.  They sit in silence for a few minutes, and Khun can see Bam's eyes darting from side to side under his eyelids.  "Mr Khun?"

"Yes, Bam?"

"My eyelashes are stuck together."

Khun huffs out a laugh with a small smirk.  "I can help with that."

Bam squeals and his eyes snap open when Khun mercilessly pokes him in both sides.  "Mr Khun!" He yelps, looking utterly scandalized.  "How did you know I was ticklish there?"

"I've known you ever since we were five," the blue haired man deadpans, "I know all of your secrets.  You can't hide anything from me." It's not like Bam will deliberately hide anything from Khun - it's not like him to keep secrets unless they are life-threatening.  Besides, Khun had entrusted Bam with so many of his darkest secrets as Aguero, they are merely hidden in the recesses of the brunet's mind.  There are harmless secrets too, like the fact that Khun is ticklish at the neck, of all places.  Khun's mind conjures up an image of Bam with his lips attached to Khun's neck, dream-Khun gladly tilting his head back to give Bam better access-

Khun could scream.  He is most definitely not going to think about Bam that way, not when Bam is sitting right next to him, far too innocently affectionate for Khun's dirty, dirty thoughts.  God, he was hoping they'd finally disappeared for good when Bam disappeared, but those thoughts just decided to reappear tenfold with a vengeance.

Bam pouts as he reaches over Khun to his laptop.  "Watch and listen," he says as he tucks Khun's hair behind his ears and clamps a pair of wireless headphones over his manager's head.  "If I listen too, I might cry again.  Not gonna risk that."

Khun clicks into the folder on the drive.  It's called 'To our baby Bam', and even the drive itself has been renamed 'Chestnut Child'.  Khun clicks on the first file, trying not to feel unwelcome.

It's a video, and when Khun presses play, the familiar faces of Arlene Grace and Jue Victor are smiling back at him.  They look so young, forever frozen in time.  He looks at the time the video was uploaded - the quality is much lower than videos from nowadays, but it still is a shock to see Arlene's swollen belly.  The video had been recorded twenty-six years ago, and Khun would've been a newborn at the time.  Even though Bam had insisted on not listening, he still looks over Khun's shoulder, thighs touching.

"Hey, baby," says Victor, looking uncharacteristically gentle.  "If you're seeing this, we're probably gone."

Arlene continues for him.  "We don't know how we'd leave you alone, or why, but no matter what happens, just know that we love you, okay baby?" The blatant adoration the two young parents have for their unborn and unnamed son shines loud and clear in their loving voices, in the twinkle of their eyes.

"If you ever feel lost without us, just remember one thing, alright baby?"

"When you are lost, let the music find you," Bam says at the same time as the video-form of his mother.  "Mama used to say that to me all the time as a kid."

"Mama and Papa love you, ba-" Victor gasps, cutting himself off when he places a hand on his wife's stomach.  He looks incredibly excited.  "Our baby boy just kicked me!"

Arlene glares at her husband in a split-second 180 degree change of personality.  "I felt it," she says irritably, "I'm the one carrying our baby." She stares into the camera, deadpan.  "You're lucky you're a boy.  You'll never have to deal with this."

She bursts into tears when her husband laughs, courtesy of pregnancy hormones.  But you might have to deal with this, Victor mouths at the camera.  The screen goes black when Arlene throws something at Victor and he falls off the couch, taking the camera with him.

The rest of the thumb-drive carries a similar sentiment - there's a fuzzy photograph of a notebook, the beginnings of a song Victor had written about his own childhood; a video of an older Victor singing a soft self-made lullaby to an infant Bam while rocking him to sleep, Arlene humming and joining in; photographs of Bam as he grows up, toddler Bam teething on his father's favorite acoustic guitar as his mother laughs in the background.

The thumb-drive is like a scrapbook of the Grace family's life.  There are videos marked with 'Bam's first steps'; two year old Bam singing the alphabet in perfect pitch but in the wrong order, Victor shouting "Remix, baby!"; 'Bam's first friends' mostly feature a familiar looking blue haired boy, as well as a mountain of a man.

"We were so cute as kids," Bam says wistfully.  There's a picture of six year old Aguero with his cheeks stuffed full, looking indignant.  He remembers the incident - Rak had challenged him to a game of Chubby Bunny, claiming "I bet you can't stuff ten marshmallows in your mouth!" Of course, Aguero could do such a thing, and Khun can't even be embarrassed about it because both five year old and twenty-five year old Bam are giggling adorably at the sight.

"You're still cute," says Khun honestly.  He's not trying to flirt, he really isn't.  "Look at you, you've still got the same cheeks." Bam still laughs the same, with his 'bread' cheeks, boxy grin and eyes reduced into little lines on his face.

They sober quickly, but Bam is still glowing.  "Does it count as plagiarism if I remaster an unreleased song by a dead relative and ask his former bandmates to help me with the background music?"

Khun understands what Bam means exactly.  "With proper credits it won't."

Bam smiles radiantly, a notebook and a pen appearing in his hands.  "Thank you, Mr Khun!" The brunet cheerfully shoos him off the bed and out the door.  "I'll be done before you know it.  Please contact The Outside for me!"

Khun can't help but grin even when Bam slams the door in his face.

Chapter Text

Jue Viole Grace makes his debut as BAM in the music industry exactly half a year later, no more, no less.

BAM's official Chirper account as been verified, and the rising singer posts selfies and other photos every now and then, hinting at the to-be-released music video for the title track of his mysterious debut EP.  The world goes wild for BAM, the amnesiac son of Arlene Grace and V of The Outside, newest star of Lighthouse Entertainment, managed by the one and only Khun Aguero Agnis.

Sweet and Sour and the owner of Devil's Cafe are BAM's most supportive fans, and Wangnan texts the brunet singer to say that their band's ViewTube account as exploded with new followers eager to know more about BAM's private life, and that Devil's Cafe is having more customers than the cafe can hold.  Wangnan and Yihwa are thriving in their newfound popularity, and Horyang has even recruited Prince and Miseng to work part-time - they are both more than willing, of course.

Rak Wraithraiser, though is by far the biggest and loudest fan.  He showers his beloved Black Turtle in hugs and praises, and the rock star's loyal Turtles go absolutely feral when one of them makes the connection from BAM to Rak's famous black turtle t-shirts.  Finally, the trio is complete - Rak, obviously, is the mighty Gator; Khun is the beloved Blue Turtle; and Bam is the never-seen-before Black Turtle.  They beg Rak to bring BAM into one of his ViewTube streams, curious about this new singer who has made such an impression on the gator-lover that he had to design a t-shirt for him.  Rak promises that he will kidnap Bam if necessary, eager to show off his young friend to his loyal fans.

The Outside do not regroup, but all of the members show their support for the only son and legacy of their former leader, guitarist and singer.  For the first time in years, the Outsiders have new content - the group had formed almost thirty years ago, a joint project between Jahad Talent and Khun Entertainment, but had  scattered to the winds when V passed away, a strange and unexplained rivalry forming between Jahad and Khun Edahn.  For the first time in years, the sound of Arie Hon's steady drumbeats, Eurasia Blossom's heavy bass, Poe Bidau Gustang's synth keyboard and Grace Mirchea Luslec's rhythm guitar can be heard.  V may no longer be around to sing and play the role of lead guitarist, but BAM takes the spotlight, perhaps playing even better than his father had.  

When it comes to BAM, Khun's word is law, and The Outside listen when the young CEO warns them not to spoil, unlike Rak, who has been humming the tune to his and BAM's song in his lives for weeks.  It drives Khun crazy, how the gator never listens to him.  It drives the Turtles, the Outsiders and the newly christened Chestnuts even crazier.

Khun and the media team are busier than they have ever been.  Novick and Ran are stuck to their screens; making last minute edits to the music video for 'winter sun', the title track, as well as the one for 'seedling'; adding little hints to the coding of BAM's Lighthouse web page.  For once, they are cooperating, and they have created masterpieces that they can all appreciate.  Khun and Dan are constantly on the phone.  Edahn calls and calls until Khun blocks him, and when Kiseia calls, probably to spite him or bully him, he blocks her too.  Dan is busy working with public relations: scheduling debut shows, interviews, guest appearances on game shows, press conferences that have Bam's brain whirling.  It's hectic, but for Bam, it's all worth it.

BAM's first public performance as a professional musician is scheduled for the Regular Show - all musicians must perform there, once when they make their debut, and again whenever they release new music.  He is to perform 'winter sun', the one for 'seedling' scheduled later, when the video for that comes out too.

Before he steps foot on stage, Serena and the makeup team paint his face with foundation, contour and blush as Bam goes through his vocal warm ups, adding a little gloss to his lips.  They gel and style his hair, push him into a changing room to change into his stage outfit.    When he steps out, he's wearing the over-sized brown sweater Khun had brought him, along with those skinny jeans that make his ass look great.  Apparently, the brown is to match Bam's hair, as well as because it's the color of dead leaves in winter.  Khun does not argue, and he definitely does not stare - Bam looks good, and it's not only because Khun has spent so long being infatuated.

"Mr Khun," Bam says, wide eyed and pale, "I'm scared.  What if I mess up? I don't want to let you down.  You've done so much for me, I just want to impress you-"

"Bam," his manager interrupts firmly, "you could never let me down." He straps Bam's guitar onto his shoulders, fixes the wire of his in-ears.  "You already impress me, you know?" He understands how nerve-wracking it is to stand alone in front of an audience who wants nothing more than to criticize you for the things you love - he's just good at swallowing his fears, good at faking it 'till he makes it.  "You're so brave, Bam.  They'll love you." They'll love you, just like I do.  "I'm sure of it."

Bam flips the guitar over onto his back and wraps Khun in a fierce hug, refusing to let go despite the fact that Serena is yelling about the possibility of the singer messing up his makeup.  "Thank you for staying with me, Mr Khun."

Khun listens to Bam's heart beating under his skin, loud and clear, growing steady now that Khun has his arms wrapped around his waist.  "I'll stay with you until you don't want me anymore.  I'll follow you wherever you go."

Bam hugs him even tighter. "I won't let you go this time, not if I can help it." The brunet steps away, grinning at his manager, confidence boosted after a good hug.  "Wish me luck, Mr Khun!"

Khun smiles warmly, the scent of Bam's cologne clinging to his clothes.  "Do your best, Bam." 

"BAM, you're up next!" The stage manager calls.

"I'm ready!" Bam shouts back.  He makes his way to the stage, disappearing into a path that winds under it.  Khun makes a mad dash for his front row seat, eager to watch his best friend's childhood dream come true.

Ran tries not to laugh when he sees his older cousin throw himself into his seat as gently and inconspicuously as possible.  His job is to man the camera, pick where to film.  Novick and Ran are at the office, preparing to release the music video.  The rest of the album will come when Bam's performance is over.  He's only allowed one song, Khun thinks mournfully.

Khun's breath is stolen from him mere seconds after he manages to catch it.

Bam looks beautiful under the spotlight.  Up on the stage, he glows, eyes sparkling, skin illuminated by the shine of the stage lights.  Behind Khun, the fans of old singers scream for the new singer, and Bam looks briefly overwhelmed.  His wide gold eyes meet Khun's, fingers gripping the neck of his guitar.  The manager dips his head a little.  Shine, Bam.

An audible intake of breath silences the crowd.  Do your best, love.  

Bam plays the first few notes of his song and begins to sing.

He sings about life and death, about longing for things to change.  He sings about the wilting of flowers in autumn, dead leaves fluttering to the ground, beautiful but lifeless.  He sings about sleeping in a bed too big for him, burying himself in the blankets during cold nights, about waking up in the morning only to realize that the days to come will be even colder yet.  He sings about memories fading into nothing, dust collecting on framed photos, about a spring day that will only come if he weathers through the cold winter sun.

Hatz may have produced the beats on the backing track, but the song is wholly Bam's.  He pours his thoughts into his voice, emotions amplified by the microphone at his lips.  The singer's feelings are genuine, and Khun feels every single bit of pain and loss, cleverly hidden behind a catchy beat and memorable chorus.  It feels like standing alone in a dark cave with no exits, only a pair of rose-tinted lens that make you feel like everything will be alright even when it may never be.

Just as Khun had predicted, the audience love BAM.  They clap and cheer and wave their lightsticks when the brunet bows awkwardly over his guitar, shouting his thanks to the crowd.  Through a watery film over his eyes, Khun can see a few of them wielding tissues.

Backstage, Bam approaches Khun with the widest smile on his face, the flush of performance high on his cheeks, drunk on the feeling of being on stage and having everybody's eyes on him.  There's a thin sheen of sweat resting over the bridge of his nose.  "How'd I do, Mr Khun? Good, I hope?"

"They love you," Ran answers, massive video camera resting on his shoulders.  "A.A cried." He yelps when said crier grinds the heel of his boot onto Ran's toes.  

Khun pulls Bam into a hug, and Bam stumbles into his arms, unsteady after the rush of adrenaline begins to fade.  He notes that the brunet's hoodie really is quite comfortable.  It's soft, like Bam - it covers up all of his edges.  "Next time you're hurting, tell me." It's unusual for Khun to be so affectionate, and Ran looks mildly terrified by it.  There is nobody else Khun treats the same way.  "You don't have to walk alone."

Bam says nothing, snuggling closer to Khun.  For now, that's good enough.

Chapter Text

An entire month passes in a frenzy of interviews; debut performance shows; performance to open Rak's concerts while he kick-starts his cross country tour; practicing how to sing, rap and play guitar for performances, as well as working on dances for future albums, apparently.  More and more people fall in love with the charming new singer who pours his heart and soul into every performance, regardless of what song he's singing and how much sleep he has sacrificed to perfecting his songs and getting better.

BAM meets Lero Ro and Quant Blitz of the famous Ranker Show - the latter is a friend of Leesoo's, and the talent scout must have put in a few good words for the singer, for the two hosts are immediately quite taken by Bam, although Ro is considerably less loud about it.   The blonde quizzes him about the last ten years of his life: "Why did you disappear all those years ago? Where did you go? Why did it take you so long to re-emerge? Did nobody recognize you? Why did you choose Lighthouse Entertainment in particular? Why not Khun Entertainment? It's more famous, you know."

BAM answers all of those questions like he's reading from a memorized script, the answers said so many times before that they come as easy as breathing.  Technically, he is reading from a script - he and Khun had written a list of things to say earlier, things that would satisfy the public without damaging his image or pushing him into an emotional breakdown. 

"I was in a car crash, and I lost my memories of everything before it," Bam says with a forced laugh, "I couldn't even remember my own name.  Now I know my mom and dad were pretty private with their lives, and they tried to keep me out of the spotlight unless I volunteered to be in it.  I was pretty shy as a kid, apparently, and a lot of the footage with me in it disappeared, so I couldn't really track where I'd been digitally.  But I found music again, and that led me and Mr Khun to each other.  I'm really grateful for everything he's done for me.  He's like my pillar of support.  He lets me lean on him whenever I need to, and he keeps me grounded through everything that's going on right now.  I got scouted by a lot other agencies, but I'm glad I chose Lighthouse because it brought me to him."

Khun tears up every time he watches and re-watches that interview when nobody else is there to judge him.  That last part of BAM's speech definitely wasn't part of the script, but hearing that kind of affection in the brunet's voice never fails to make his heart beat just a little bit faster, even if Bam considers their relationship purely platonic.

Of course, he makes sure to pause just before Blitz and Ro look at each other incredulously, the dark-skinned redhead teasing his friend by wondering why the blonde is nowhere near as appreciative to him as the singer is to Khun.  He doesn't need to be reminded of the strange gray area called the 'friend zone' he's been stuck in for years.

BAM's last debut performance is for the Dallar Show.  While waiting backstage, they bump into Princess, who have just finished performing their comeback song - Jahad Talent's girl group sub-unit, the girl group Maria had left Aguero for.  Speak of the devil and she shall appear: Khun and Maria make a split-second's worth of eye contact before they both walk away in opposite directions.  It's been a long time since they'd last met, with Khun usually avoiding these shows, preferring to let somebody else accompany Rak when he has a new song.  Oddly, Khun doesn't feel that ice-cold seething rage that Aguero would've felt.  His cousin and Ran's older brother Hachuling had teasingly called him 'Maria's step-stool' once, and still feeling the betrayal fresh in his mind, Aguero had punched a hole in the wall next to his cousin's head, warning the older Khun never to call him that again.  Hachuling had barely called him since.

Khun forgives, but he never forgets.  He has a list of grudges, written in red ink and alphabetical order.

"Mr Khun," Bam whispers when the four girls pass, "do you think I've ever met the girl with the brown hair? She was staring at me weirdly."

Khun looks over his shoulder and makes eye contact with a girl with a short brown bob and a startlingly well done red and orange smokey eye.  She's also wearing the highest heels he has ever seen.  Khun shrugs when the girl looks away, frowning at him.  "I don't know," he tells the singer.  His only knowledge of the girl in the high heels had come from Maria back in her trainee days, back when they still talked.  "Her stage name is Endorsi, though.  Not sure about her real name."

Bam nods thoughtfully.  "I should get to know my fellow artists, shouldn't I?"

Khun adjusts Bam's denim jacket.  "Focus on yourself for now."

The song BAM sings this time is one of his B-side tracks, the acoustic version of 'if only', the song with Rak in it.  The song is a personal favorite of Khun's, and it's not only because the two singers are his closest friends.  It's the first song to be part of the BAMVERSE - the music video is the first part of a story, Bam's story.  Rak has his own little 'universe' made out of song videos, and perhaps one day those two universes will collide.  The lyrics match the visuals - the hand drawn shape of a little boy with brown hair and golden eyes running away from a dark wave of shadows, chasing the light that shines ahead, footsteps slamming against the ground at the same pace as the ticking clock and the beat of the drums.  Bam sings about being left behind, about heartbeats that stop, about the past and the future.  Khun swears that he will never leave Bam again, not after spending so many years apart.

Maybe Khun is biased, but he thinks this slower, sweeter version of the song sounds much better than the original.  The brunet singer hums when his manager tells him that, a faint blush on his cheeks.  Just like when they were young, Bam seems to get a kick out of getting praise from Khun, cheeks pink with pleasure even if he humbly deflects all compliments.  You did so well, Khun tells him at least once after every performance, you sound so beautiful, you look so good.  Maybe Khun gets a kick out of seeing Bam looking so pleased all because of him.

"You look handsome today," Bam remarks offhandedly as the stage crew fiddle with the wires around his neck, taking the in-ears out after his performance.

Khun short-circuits.  Bam just called me handsome, he thinks distantly.  He swallows, using his usual cockiness to cover his emotions.  "Don't I always?"

He preens when Bam agrees, completely serious.  Damn this boy and his newfound confidence.

A few more months fly by, until it's time for the Tower Music Awards Ceremony.  Pretty much everybody working in the musical side of the entertainment industry is present at the annual award show, each agency eager for their artists to snag awards.  Obviously, Khun is no different. The main few are Best Social Artist; Best Collaboration; Rookie of the Year; Best Group; Best Female Solo Artist and Best Male Solo Artist, but there are awards every artist wants on their shelf: the Needle Awards, namely Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year.  The nominees for each category are chosen by the fans, some based on statistics.  This year's hosts are Urek Mazino and Garam of Queen.

The duo are famous for their chemistry - or rather, their lack thereof.  Khun takes savage glee in knowing that Urek has been stuck in the friend-zone for just as long as he has.  For years, Urek has proclaimed his 'love' to Garam, only for her to brutally reject him every time.  Khun doesn't know and doesn't want to know how Bam rejecting him would feel like, even if the singer was much more gentle with his handling of emotions.  Khun is not a playboy like the media's portrayal of his father - once his heart sets its sights on someone, he's a goner.

He's so far gone that he can't tell if Bam's compliments for him are out of pure platonic affection, or something that could be more.  Khun struggles to spot the difference when his singer tells him he looks particularly handsome in his new khaki trench coat.  Bam himself looks like something out of Khun's daydreams, the broadness of his shoulders accentuated by a loose fitting short-sleeved dress shirt, tucked into pinstripe pants that would look horrendous on everyone but Bam.  Khun definitely does not stare at how the pants cling to the curve of his thighs, make his long legs seem even longer.  The look is completed with a suit jacket casually slung over his shoulders - it reminds Khun a little of an outfit Ha Yuri had once wore.

Today, even Rak makes an effort to look good, switching out his beloved (read: hideous) Crocs for a pair of (still quite ugly, but preferable) loafers.

They've all got to look good - BAM and Rak have been nominated for quite a few awards, and as nominees, they must also perform, Bam choosing to sing 'seedling' and Rak picking 'Stairway to Hell'.  They've both been chosen for Top Social Artist, but Khun and the media team put their money on Rak, who posts often on all the social media he has even without being prompted to.  The Turtles go wild for it, and it's one of the biggest reasons why Rak has won the award for the past few years, despite his self-proclaimed rival's wishes.  The rival is some green beanpole of a DJ who calls himself Parasol, or maybe Parasite.  Or is it Paracule? Either way, Rak is reigning champion, and the green man is irrelevant.

BAM, however, has been nominated for a terrifying number of awards, considering it's been less than a year since his debut.  First is Rookie of the Year - it's a close call between him and Princess, who have been boosted to fame by their agency's name and their sisters before them.  Next is Best Male Solo Artist - Bam despairs, thinking he would never win against Urek Mazino.  Bam dominates the listings for Best Collaboration, with 'dear', 'if only' and 'seedling' all nominated.  The most prestigious award has to be Album of the Year: 25 straddles the line between a mini-album and a proper length one, but it cannot be left out of the nominations when it has jumped past Princess, Queen, Urek Mazino, the Baylord Brothers and Rak to rest at the top of the billboard almost immediately after it came out.

Bam is no longer twenty-five, with his birthday having passed a month ago, but his album remains a testament to his age.  Bam was all too happy to celebrate the day with Khun, Rak, Sweet and Sour (as well as Horyang, Miseng and Prince by default) and his Chestnuts, both in real life and in a live stream.  

The two singers and their manager settle into their seats in the awards ceremony venue.  Bam's knee is bouncing restlessly as they wait for the rest of the artists and their managers to arrive.  Khun places a hand on the singer's knee, placating the brunet for the time being.  He has faith in the no-longer-fledgling singer to win many awards - it's definitely not because he and Hachuling, Urek's Wolhaiksong manager, have a bet on who will win the most awards, BAM or Urek.  

There is nothing they can do now but wait.

Chapter Text

It's been a long time since Khun has seen so many of his family members gathered in the same place.

Of course, there's Ran, manning his camera in front of the stage along with the rest of the camera crew.  The cameras are all connected to a live video feed - the fans aren't allowed on the scene, but they are still allowed to watch through their screens.  There are larger cameras, most focused on the stage, some drifting overhead.  Bam ducks instinctively when one of the cameras stops moving, dangling above them.  There's Hachuling too, sitting with the rest of the Wolhaiksong stars.  When Khun and his cousin make eye contact, Hachuling winks.  I'll win the bet, he mouths.  Not a chance, Mr Blueberry, Khun mouths right back.  It's an old nickname, one that he only uses to spite Hachuling with.  Khun turns away when his cousin gapes, looking insulted.  (But technically, all Khuns are blueberries, are they not?)

Speaking of cousins, he spots Ran and Hachuling's sister Maschenny sitting a few tables away.  She's with Yuri and a girl with bubble-gum pink hair Khun thinks might be called Repel.  They make up three quarters of Queen, with Garam waiting backstage with Urek for the ceremony to start.  Maschenny is the leader, and Khun has to admit confidence looks good on her.  They exchange polite nods of greeting - from what Khun has seen on the internet, Maschenny has changed a lot in the past few years.  Working and living with three other girls has made her kinder, so different from the ice queen and mild bully Khun remembers from his childhood.  Stepping into the role of leader has forced her to mature, to stop wielding confidence like a blade and to wield it like a shield instead.  It's all good in the long run - her group loves her just as much as she cares for them, and they all balance each other out perfectly.

On the table next to Maschenny's, there's Princess - within their ranks is Khun Maria.  It's surprising to find no bitterness, no lingering resentment when Khun looks at his older sister.  When she left him for fame, she'd carved a Maria-sized hole in his heart, but it seems like that hole has been filled, paved over with memories of Bam, Rak, Leesoo, Ran, all of his friends.  The wounds she'd dug into his mind may never truly heal, but they are merely memories of pain now, pale scars painted over with gold ink, tattooed with stars and guitars and whatever the night had to give.

Forgive, but not forget, Victor used to tell him whenever he had petty fights with Rak and refused to acknowledge the older man.  The difference between Khun Edahn and Jue Victor's way of parenting was vast, and Khun had to admit Victor's occasional words of wisdom were much more potent than whatever Edahn had to say.  I know you like holding grudges, but learning from your feelings and mistakes is the only way you'll ever learn, kid.

Khun takes the initiative to wave at his older sister.  He's still tentative, for once not entirely certain if this is the right thing, but Maria smiles, waves back.  She's still beautiful like she was before, even more so, but the smile that used to blind him is dim in comparison to Bam's boxy megawatt grin.  He can't help the way a smile creeps onto his face when Bam chatters away, Rak hanging on to his every word.   Bam truly is a healing idol, with the power to stitch broken souls like Khun's into all sorts of beautiful shapes nobody could have ever dreamed of.

Bam really does have him wrapped around his finger.

His spirits drop down to earth when he spots the remaining two Khuns.  Khun Edahn, and Khun Kiseia.  Namely, his sperm donor and his little sister.  Edahn must be training Kiseia to take over the company now that Khun isn't there to do the job - Kiseia has always been 'mommy's girl' and there wouldn't be any other explanation to her presence, and Khun would be far happier to acquire Khun Entertainment through some sneaky shareholding.  Khun quickly braids a few strands of hair, tucking it behind his ear.  He shouldn't need to, but Kiseia looks too much like the female version of him.  As if he doesn't look feminine enough.  Kiseia is nearly twenty-two, but she's still immature enough to start a glaring contest with him across the venue, and Khun is too competitive not to accept her challenge.  When Edahn glances over, Khun glares daggers into his face too.  He smirks when the CEO of Khun Entertainment looks away, unable to cope with the sheer power of Khun's frosty glare.

Khun only looks away when Bam squeezes his arm, bringing his attention away from his family.  "It's starting," the singer whispers.  There's a kind of giddy child-like energy in his voice, in his eyes.  "Look! It's Mr Urek!" The brunet is almost bouncing in his seat, wriggling about in excitement.  

Khun shifts, angling himself closer to Bam.  "I know, Bam." He places a hand on Bam's knee to placate him, and Bam fidgets one last time before settling down.  Suddenly, they're close enough to be joined at the hip.  He wonders if the brunet would fit in his lap, then chastises himself for the thought.  Of course not - Bam is far too big and heavy.  Khun, on the other hand, is slim enough to fit nicely on the singer's toned thighs.  Not to be outdone, Rak shuffles closer to them, the three of them glued together like anchovies even though they have more than enough space.

Garam and Urek kick off the awards ceremony with their infamous banter, Urek slinging his arm around Garam only for the woman to shove his arm off and verbally smack him around.  It's all playful, despite Garam's look of intense irritation.  Khun is too much of a chicken to even try.  Coward Turtle, his inner Rak calls him spitefully.

The first award they announce the results for is Top Social Artist.  Just as Khun had predicted, Rak wins.  Bam throws himself to his feet, cheering and clapping for Rak as loud as he can.  Briefly, a camera zooms down to them, and Khun throws in a friendly "go Gator!"

Rak recites his speech in his deep baritone, dedicating his win to his manager, Blue Turtle, his best friend Black Turtle, and his supportive Fan Turtles, wherever they are.  He challenges 'Parasol' right there on the stage, daring him to win next year.  "It's Paracule!" The DJ calls out, easily detectable by his completely green outfit.

The Best Female Solo Artist turns out to be Yura Ha, a distant relative of the Queen's Yuri Ha.  Her blue ponytail swishes from side to side as she approaches the stage to take her prize.  The Best Group award goes to Princess, and the four girls prance over to Garam to collect their trophy.  Bam squints long and hard at the leader, Endorsi, staring at her short brown hair and orange skirt.  Orange is certainly a bold choice, but she pulls it off.  Garam congratulates her 'younger sisters' on their first big win, and Endorsi beams.  For the last few years, the award had gone to Queen, their sister group Empress and White, pride of the Arie family, before them, and it had gone to The Outside when the Tower Awards had just begun.  Khun cheers for his older sister and her new friends, and he hears Maschenny whoop behind him.  The award for Best Male Solo Artist goes to Urek Mazino, and Bam looks a little disappointed.  Still, he cheers for his former upperclassman when Garam hands him the trophy and indulges him with a hug.  Urek kisses the cup, putting on a show for the rolling cameras.  "Next time," Bam mumbles.

Together, Garam and Urek rattle off the names of the nominees for Best Collaboration, as well as the songs.  Khun forgets how to breathe when Bam intertwines their fingers, squeezing nervously.  Out of the five nominations, three of them are Bam's songs, and the other two are rather unfamiliar to Khun.  Urek calls for a drum-roll, and Bam squeezes Khun's hand hard enough to cut off all circulation, golden eyes wide and anxious.  "And the award for Best Collaboration goes to... 'dear my past' by BAM and The Outside!"

Bam's fingers go slack.  He gapes in sheer disbelief.  "Did... Did he say my name?" He turns to his manager for guidance.

"Yes, Black Turtle!" Rak hoots.  "We both have trophies now!"

"What do I do?" The fledgling singer squeaks.  "I've watched these shows before, I should have to do a speech, but what do I do? What do I say?"

Khun cups Bam's face with both hands.  "Just breathe," he coaxes.  "Don't think.  Just go up there, get your award, answer the questions they ask, and come back.  You can cry if you need to, I've got tissues and Serena uses waterproof makeup." Bam nods, looking a little more sure of himself.  "I'm so proud of you, you know?" He throws away whatever he has left of his sense of personal space by pulling the singer into a quick hug.  "You did so good."

"Time stops for no one." Gustang suddenly appears behind them, eyes teasing behind his glasses.  Even with his job as radio show host, he's the only member of The Outside present at the event, so it makes sense for him to be the one on stage collecting the award with Bam.  "What are you waiting for, kid? You've got an award to collect." He pats Khun on the head, ruffling his carefully styled blue hair.  "You gotta let him go, pesky son of Khun." The 'pesky son of Khun' hisses, catlike in his annoyance.  He retracts his hands, focusing on his hair instead.  Khun would seek vengeance for this.  He'd spent so long styling his hair just the way he wanted it.

Bam stumbles to his feet.  "Right!"

"Let the music guide you," Khun murmurs.  Bam and Gustang disappear into the crowd, jogging past tables and up the stairs onto the stage.

"Next time you have a cuddle party, I want in," Rak demands.  "S'not fair if it's always just the two of you." Khun snorts, hiding his smile behind a fist.

Bam bows low when he receives his trophy, torso parallel to the ground.  "Thank you to everyone who found me worthy of supporting!" When he straightens up, there are tears in his eyes.  "I won't let you down!"

Urek crushes him in a bear hug.  "Good job, baby!" He gushes, grinning widely.  "I knew you had potential!"

Gustang raises an eyebrow at the rapper.  "He's only a few years younger than you, Mazino."

Urek hugs Bam tighter, frowning.  "He's baby."

"Don't you mean 'rookie'?" Garam asks, sceptical.

"All rookies are babies," the rapper declares, "besides, I met him when I was still in university, so he's even more of a baby."

Bam meets Khun's eyes from where he is on the stage.  He looks grateful and terrified at the same time.  Urek deems it time to let Bam go and move on to the next award when Garam elbows him in the back hard enough for the whole audience to hear an frighteningly audible click sound from his spine.

Garam smiles terrifyingly, a hand squeezing her co-host's shoulder hard enough for him to look pained.  "Now, for the Needle Awards!"

"First award, Baby of the Year!" Urek squeals like an injured pig when Garam tightens her grip on his shoulder.  "I won't eat my words!"

This year, the nominees are BAM; Hoh, a friend of Serena's; Lightning, a new group signed with Khun Entertainment; a few others who Khun honestly does not recall.  The cameras shift to focus on each of the nominees, including BAM, who is still nudging his way past tables and to his seat between his manager and his fellow star.  Bam is just about to reach his seat when Garam calls his name.  A myriad of emotions flicker across his face - shock is the one that stays the longest, but Bam looks at his seat, seemingly mournful.  Khun can't help the small laugh that escapes.

BAM collects his trophy.  This time, he has a bit of a speech, the tears in his eyes covered by a look of bewilderment.  Mr Khun, how is this happening? He mouths when Garam and Urek ignore him in their squabbling.  The cameras catch his words, and they turn to Khun, who simply shrugs.  You're brilliant, he mouths back.  There's no lie in that, is there?

The Song of the Year is 'Black March' by Yuri Ha - it's her debut solo, and Khun had listened to it almost obsessively when it came out, finding it surprisingly good.  He'd mentally punched himself when he'd read the lyrics, though.  It was about sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others, and it hit far too close to home for  Aguero, the boy who had gotten himself kicked out of his family for supporting his sister's dream of dancing and Khun, the young man who would sacrifice anything for his best friend's happiness.  Photos are taken - Yuri has the trophy in one hand, and her other arm is wrapped around a coolly smiling Garam.  She sticks her tongue out at Urek, who gapes, looking mildly insulted.

The Artist of the Year is Queen, and this time it's Princess who scream and shout their support for their sister group.  Yuri and Garam stay on stage, Maschenny and Repel joining them.  Maschenny makes her speech, dedicating the win to their fans.  The four young women smile for the cameras, Urek a miserable extra in the background.

BAM misses his chance to sit when the last award is announced.  They show the statistics for Album of the Year on a screen - there's a bar chart that grows in length, Queen's Indigo July reigning supreme at the moment it is released.  Yura Ha's Idol creeps past the other albums, leaving Princess's Ignition in the dust. The three albums stay at the top, or so it seems until 25 is released, skipping past all the lesser known albums and jumping over Indigo July, Ignition and Idol to rest at the top of the chart, with at least twice the number of sales as Indigo July, the second place album, which already has a little over a million sales.

The singer already has a trophy in each hand, but Urek calls him back to the stage to take the award for Album of the Year.  This time, Bam bursts into tears, blubbering his way through his speech.  "Thank you so much! Oh my god, I can't believe I'm here right now." He sniffles loudly, fanning his face.  Urek offers him a tissue, and he takes it.  "I never even thought I'd be here in my wildest dreams, so thank you to everyone, all my Chestnuts, Hatz PD, Hansung, Sweet and Sour, Mr Rak, Mr Khun.  I'd never be here without any of you." The singer grins through his tears, arms full of awards.  Under the spotlight, he glows, bright and beautiful and better than anything Khun had ever dreamed of. 

"Why are you like this," Rak mumbles under his breath.  "Whipped Turtle."

"I've been whipped for a long time," the blue haired man whispers back, completely shameless in his admittance to Rak.  Khun raises his phone and snaps a picture of Bam.  The photo looks good, and he sends it to Bam with a smiley emoji.  Just for extra measure, he sets it as his wallpaper. 

Perfect.

Chapter Text

"Congratulations!" is what Khun hears over and over during the after-party of the Tower Music Awards Ceremony.

Hoh is the first to approach Bam and say it.  Khun can tell that the smile on the rookie's face is forced and faked by the way jealousy spills out into his voice, despite how hard he tries to hide it - BAM had won Rookie of the Year by a landslide, after all.  Bam is humble and supportive to his fellow singer, although rather oblivious to Hoh's true emotions.  Khun makes a note to keep an eye on Hoh.

Urek is next - he squashes Bam into a bear hug Rak would be proud of, the two artists laughing.  "I look forward to going up against you next year, baby!" Serena would cry if she saw Urek mess up Bam's carefully styled hair.

"Can I have a collaboration instead?" Bam counters.  Confidence looks good on him - or maybe Khun just has a confidence kink and a hopeless crush on Bam.  Maybe that's why Urek calling Bam 'baby' instead of 'rookie' gets on his nerves.

Urek slaps his calling card into Bam's hand.  "Not a bad idea, baby! Text me if you've got any ideas.  My manager will agree with anything I do."

Nope, Khun Hachuling mouths.  The younger Khun laughs.  Oh, to be stuck managing a reckless idol who wouldn't listen to you.  Khun definitely has it better.

Ha Yuri jumps over two tables, a chair, a person in her haste to reach Bam, who pales and subtly shifts himself behind his manager.  Khun doesn't understand how she does it - she's wearing heels, of all things, and is surprisingly steady on her landings.  "I've met her before," Bam whispers, "when I was still in university.  I was still in Sweet and Sour and we were busking, 'cause we didn't have any gigs yet." He tightens his grip on Khun's shoulders.  "We were packing up for the day, and then she did a flip over her manager and kicked me in the face." Khun turns to his singer, horrified.  Yuri did what? "It was an accident.  Apparently, she was on a sugar high and got too excited to see us perform."

Khun is too late to convince Yuri to look the other way and simply run away with Bam.  Bam squeaks for his manager desperately when Yuri all but shoves Khun out of the way, pinching the brunet's cheeks with a cheerful grin.  "Ooh, you're even cuter than the last time I saw you!" Khun grinds his teeth.  The young woman shifts herself to stand next to Bam, gaping when she finds that she only reaches the top of his ears."When did you get so tall, Viole? Or do I call you Bam?"

"Either works," Bam says quickly, "I don't mind." His expression is pleasant, but his eyes scream for help.

Khun swoops in to the rescue.  "Why don't you introduce Bam to your band-mates, Yuri?" His expression is as fake as it is friendly.  Leesoo had been terrified to be on the receiving end of that face - apparently, that expression is CEO Khun's professional resting bitch face.  Yuri doesn't seem to notice.  "Go make some friends," Khun suggests to Bam, "it'll be good for you."

Khun will gladly entrust Bam's safety to Maria or Maschenny - he trusts his cousins more than he does Yuri, and it's not just because they're his cousins.

Make some acquaintances, Khun Edahn's voice echoes in his head, you'll need them on your side in the future.  Socializing is important.  If you get on their good sides, you'll be able to control them like puppets when you need to.

Khun shakes the thoughts out of his skull.  He'd only been five when Edahn had told him that.  Was Edahn really so desperate to groom an heir?

(But then he'd met Bam at the same party, who went fro acquaintance to friend then 'love of his life, light in his dark', so maybe Edahn's words aren't entirely a load of crap.)

Yuri leads Bam away to where the sub units of Jahad's insanely popular girl group are.  Queen fawn over him like they would a child - Garam seems to find his shyness cute, and Khun swallows past some odd near-physical lump in his throat.  It tastes like jealousy.  Repel looks at him approvingly before going back to her video game, and the manager isn't entirely sure if he'd just seen Yuri take a look at Repel's game and squeal "oh my gosh, he looks exactly like the guy from your virtual cute boy game!"

Repel looks up at Yuri (or does she? Khun can't even see her eyes behind those bubblegum pink bangs). "You're the one who plays that game all the time."

Yuri flushes.  "You're the one who introduced it to me!" Repel yelps when the younger woman almost dramatically smacks her phone out of her hands.  It looks like an OperaPhone - they're incredibly expensive, a Queen-themed limited edition of Tu Perie Tperie's more common EyePhones.  Now that Khun thinks of it, he'd seen an article somewhere about the EyePhone creator gifting Repel with a free OperaPhone.

Bam glances at Khun with an expression of awe and mild terror at the exchange.  Wow, he mouths, I look like a video game character.

Maschenny squints at the singer skeptically and proceeds challenges him to a dance off.  Of course, Maschenny wins, with all her years of experience, but Bam is a surprisingly close second, egged on by Yuri, who had wanted Bam to win despite his inexperience in dance.

Duchess, however, is not so welcoming.  They are like Queen and Princess's forgotten siblings - they are part of the older generation, younger than Empress, but even though they were talented in their own right, they had barely won awards, thanks to the iconic White and the beloved Baylord Brothers, who are both out of commission now.  It was tragic: White had been so iconic that their own relative Arie Rose of Duchess had been vastly overlooked by the fans, despite how the white-haired vocalist's relationship with her rapper band-mate Hendo Lok Gladmerry had been similar to Garam and Urek Mazino's in terms of humor and creation of chaos.  Their leader Pondo was a powerhouse of a vocalist, as well as a mentor figure and close friend of Maschenny's.  Their last member, Heice, was a bit of a mystery - Khun had heard that the rapper had known Eurasia Enne before Enne's group Marchioness had disbanded and Enne had disappeared off the face of the planet, that Jahad had presented her with the opportunity to present herself as a solo artist but she had turned it down.

Rose and Lok are too busy fighting each other to even acknowledge Yuri when she introduces Bam to them.  Yuri frowns, mumbling something Bam can't seem to hear.  Heice gives Bam a curt nod of congrats, and doesn't seem to react much when Bam uses his infamous puppy-like gold eyes on her.  It's surprising, considering even the great Rak Wraithraiser and the 'ice king' Khun Aguero Agnis are weak for those eyes. Pondo only strikes up a conversation with Bam, courtesy of Maschenny trying to lighten the atmosphere between the older group and the younger singer.  Perhaps it's because Bam already has three awards, one of them a Needle.  Duchess has only won a Needle once, and that was a few years after their debut.

Empress are a bit better - at least they bother acknowledging Bam, child of their competition's leader.  Back in their day, Empress had been a force to be reckoned with, neck and neck with The Outside themselves.  Their leader is a rather dreamy looking woman called Adori.  Or is it Midori? The visual and vocalist tends to keep as much as her private life out of the cameras as possible, but here where no cameras are looking, she seems rather quiet, coolly congratulating Bam.  The brunet nods his thanks.  Suddenly, he freezes, gapes, and shouts "Oh! I remember your song 'Gold November'! I used to listen to it on the radio with Mr Khun all the time when we were kids! He was really bad at dancing!"

Adori whips around in blatant surprise, trying to find the CEO, but Khun is too fast.  He ducks out of sight, hiding behind a rather large fellow he can't remember the name of.  His cheeks burn with embarrassment, even though he's glad Bam is remembering things.  Bam, he thinks despairingly, how could you expose me like this?

Endorsi smacks Maria on the back when she chokes on her water, and Maschenny laughs so hard she falls against Repel, who shoves her to Garam.  

An, Yulia and Arie Hagipherione of Empress burst into laughter.  "God," wheezes An, "don't remind us of that horror ever again." She summons her inner Jahad, the lead dancer of the group trying to dance horribly and pretending to croon into an invisible microphone.  Khun isn't kidding - he remembers that video quite clearly.  He'd watched it again and again with Bam, both of them equally terrible dancers although the brunet was by far a better singer.  One thing he could say, though, was that he and Bam were both better dancers than Jahad was.  They'd had so much fun mocking the older CEO's dance moves that even Victor and Arlene joined in.

Hagipherione ruffles his hair playfully.  "If you're gonna take over the world, you're gonna have to beat Princess and Queen first," the rapper tells him. 

Khun fidgets with his earrings when Yulia turns to Bam.  What will she say? The rapper is known best for her ruthlessness and inability to mince words, after all.  She'd once been challenged to a freestyle diss rap battle by another rapper, and she'd dissed them until they cried right there and then on the stage.  She'd won the challenge by a landslide.  Maschenny had been so inspired by the incident that she'd written a whole diss track dedicated to the haters as her solo debut song, 'Yellow May'.  Maybe the Khun woman's childhood reign of terror had never truly ended.  Yulia grins at him with a shark-like smile.  "I look forward to your comebacks, little monster."

Her silver-haired band-mate swats her arm.  "Don't be so mean, Yul.  Like Urek said, he's literally a baby!"

Yulia scowls.  "Don't hit me, hag."

Hagipherione splutters.  "Who are you calling a hag? You're the one with the ridiculous bedhead!"

The rapper raises an eyebrow.  "Your name is literally Hag."

Bam looks around with pleading eyes, as if to say someone get me out of here! Yuri does just that, pulling Bam away just as An places a hand on her squabbling band-mates' shoulders in an attempt to placate them.  It's time to meet Princess.

Lo Po Bia Shilial and Lilial, a pair of twins from one of the world's wealthiest families, try to kick Bam around verbally.  Khun would slide in to the rescue and protect Bam's fragile heart, but Bam surprises them by taking it all in stride and coming up with a subtle jab at the twins' respective near-fluorescent pink and yellow hair that makes the rest of the young women go "ohhhhhh".  There's a small smirk on Yulia's face, and she looks quite approving now that she has seen the singer prove his worth.

Khun grins to himself, living vicariously through Bam at this point.  Maria had told him long ago that the twins were quite cruel, especially during their trainee days.  They were rich, and good enough to be confirmed in the lineup for Princess pretty early on, and they made sure to rub it in the other trainee's faces.

Endorsi snaps something at Shilial and Lilial, kidnapping Bam and pulling him away much to Yuri's complaints of the leader of Princess 'hogging' the brunet.  Khun wonders why Maria hasn't taken the chance to re-introduce herself - she had been the first one Aguero came out to, and she'd been more than accepting of her brother's taste in people, even going so far as to treat Bam like her new little brother.  Speaking of which, where is Maria?

"Who are you looking for?"

Khun jumps a mile high.  Maria is standing next to him, a playful smile on her face.  He crosses his arms over his chest, trying to hide the frantic beating of his heart.  "Jeez, Maria.  You really need to stop appearing like this."

The older Khun laughs, a twinkle in her eyes.  "I'm glad to see you've barely changed, brother."

The younger man huffs.  Maria knows how much he hates being surprised like this: once at a sleepover they had years ago, Bam had chosen to watch Phantaminum, one of the scariest horror movies in history, of all things.  It had ended up with both of them shrieking at the television screen, clinging to each other whenever the killer struck out of the blue.  Watching Phantaminum had given Aguero trust issues.  He knew his best friend was amazing and everything, but Bam was never allowed to pick out movies anymore.  "I'm going to buy you new earrings," he announces threateningly, "they're going to have bells attached."

Maria pats his shoulder.  "Sure, Aguero." She quirks a neatly plucked eyebrow.  "Or do I call you Khun now?"

The young man shrugs.  "Call me whatever you want.  Bam calls me Mr Khun.  Rak calls me Blue Turtle.  Ran call me A.A.  Leesoo calls me 'Prince Charming', and Hatsu calls me 'Earrings'.  Nobody really calls me Aguero anymore, especially since Edahn, Kiseia and mother are too busy pretending I don't exist."

Maria's eyebrows shoot up to her hairline.  There's one thing different about the Maria in front of him and the Maria of his memories - this Maria no longer has a fringe, only bangs she can tuck behind her ears.  If there's one thing all Khuns are good at, it's hair care.  It's hard to tell whose hair is longest now - Maria, Maschenny or Edahn.  "What happened with you and them? If Edahn's still hung up about you helping me get into Jahad's, I'm sorry," she says genuinely.

Khun shrugs.  "It's not really your fault that you're talented, I'm gay, and he's a homophobic grapehead." He wrinkles his nose, twisting his voice into a mockery of Edahn's. "Too much wine, not enough brain cells"

Maria chokes on a laugh, eyes crinkling at the sides.  It's no different from when they were kids - his sister's eyes still look like fish when she laughs.  "Don't forget his excellent parenting.  He slapped me when I told him I got in, and then he said he never wanted to see me in his house ever again.  I know he was piss-drunk, but still.  I thought he'd be proud, you know? With him being friends with Jahad and everything."

Khun snorts.  "Touche." It seems like they have more in common than he'd first thought.  The two siblings share a tentative smile.  It feels like nothing has changed, although everything has, at the same time.

"I never thanked you for what you did for me," Maria says quietly.  The two of them stand at the fringe of the room, away from the bustle, away from the booze, away from Endorsi, who is flustering Bam with relative ease.  "I don't really have the right to call Edahn a crappy dad when I've been so much worse as a sister.  The last ten years have been the best few years of my life.  I've never been happier, but I wouldn't have any of this if it weren't for you, Aguero." Khun remembers taking on paid internships under rich snobs so that he could support his sister's dreams, knowing that their mother's expenses went towards taking care of Kiseia and Edahn when he got drunk, that Edahn would never pay for Maria's dance classes.  It wasn't fun, but he'd do it again and again, if it meant Maria could be happy.  They'd always been the closest, after all.  "I wish I was there for you more, especially since..." She jerks her head in Bam's direction, miming a collision with her hands.  "You know."

"It's fine-"

"No, it's not, Aguero.  I was too absorbed with my own life that I abandoned you.  I left you behind all by yourself, even though I'm older and I'm supposed to take care of you, not the other way round.  I'm sorry, Aguero." She meets his eyes.  "Forgive me?"

Maria lifts Khun's hand away from his earrings.  It's an old nervous tick he has never been able to kick, one that people barely notice.  He exhales.  "I don't think I'm mad anymore.  I was pretty lonely and angry and betrayed for a while, by my priorities have changed since then." His gaze wanders to a certain brunet, who is currently caught in a drinking game with Endorsi, against Yuri and Maschenny.  Bam looks like he's having fun.  "Besides, if you were there, who knows where I'd be?"

Maria grins, ruffling his hair.  He screeches, clutching his head.  What is it with people ruffling his hair today? First it was Gustang, now his own sister has betrayed him.  "We should meet up for lunch some time, we can catch up.  I can bug Maschenny into coming, you can bring Ran along." She winks with both eyes.  "I know places the paparazzi won't follow."

Khun snorts.  "Yeah, that's what she said."

He remembers being thirteen and terrified as he and his sister ran around the local supermarket, trying to shake a Dispatch reporter off their tracks by hiding behind shopping carts and soup cans.  You can't blame two teenagers for being hungry, can you? Either way, they'd both been scarred from that incident, swearing to buy takeout unless it was absolutely necessary to forage for food in the big world out there.  "One time," their mother had seethed, Kiseia clinging on to an arm and the groceries precariously balanced in the other, "I send you out shopping one time." They'd looked at each other, cheeks flushed from running, and burst into loud giggles that made their hungover father scream.

Maria pouts.  "You choose a place, then.  I'll wait for your call."

Khun points a finger at her, pretending to be threatening even though his heart feels lighter than it has ever been, like a burden has been lifted from his shoulders.  "If you stand me up, I'll hunt you down."

Maria pinches her younger brother's cheeks.  "I'll go check up on your darling Bam.  It looks like somebody wants to talk to you."

Khun splutters.  "He's not my Bam!"

Maria arches an eyebrow, amused.  "Sure thing, Aguero." She saunters off, leaving her brother in the dust.  Khun makes a face.  What is it with people and their tendencies to call Bam his? Just because Bam is part of his company doesn't mean he belongs to Khun.  "Don't worry, I'll make sure En leaves him in one piece."

Khun sighs, resigning himself to having to talk to people.  Maria could've at least gotten him water before she left.

Chapter Text

Khun doesn't stay alone for long.

A new person slides into into the space next to him. It's a silver-haired man half his height, who carries a backpack just as big. Khun recognizes him as Evan Edrok, Yuri's personal manager.

"Khun," he greets the CEO pleasantly despite the perpetual state of exhaustion he seems to be in. Carrying such a heavy backpack as well as the burden of being Yuri's babysitter must not be an easy job.

Khun bobs his head in greeting, still wary. "Evan." Why does the dwarf want to talk to him? They hadn't had much interaction before this, with Evan working for Jahad and Khun the CEO of a rival company and the manager of a rival singer.

"Your BAM seems to be getting along quite well with the girls, isn't he?"

Endorsi and Yuri are currently in the middle of a sisterly squabble, trying to decide who gets to hog Bam now.  Rak tries to steal him away, but both young women turn their shrieks on him instead, and the older man backs off wish a mutter of "crazy turtles".  Meanwhile, Maria is striking gentle conversation with the boy, pointing to Khun every now and then and saying things that make the brunet's cheeks turn a permanent pink.

"They seem to like him quite a lot."

"He has that effect on people," Khun answers.  "Not many people have that innate kindness anymore, let alone celebrities." That was why Aguero had never left Bam's side; why Rak cared so much for his Black Turtle despite how he refused to admit it; why everybody who met Bam were instantly drawn in by his personality.  Bam was a splash of color in a world of black and white, a star that pulled planets and moons into its orbit without even realizing it.

Evan hums.  "But he's almost childishly innocent, isn't he?" Khun raises an eyebrow, fists clenching by his sides, instantly defensive.  What is Evan trying to get at? "The media will swallow him alive.  Especially Dispatch, you know how they are."

"Not on my watch." Khun's tone brooks no argument, his determination to protect Bam's smile wielded as a threat.  Earlier, he had warned Bam to be wary of any stranger with a phone when they were in public - the paparazzi are always too eager to spread lies, some fans foolish enough to believe them, antis forever seeking reasons to damage reputations and crush hearts with evil words.  Dispatch was the most infamous of them all - Khun had originally signed a contract with them to promote his artists, and there were still two years left to go.  For the next two years, there would be photo-shoots scheduled every comeback, a set of professional taken photos posted online for the fans.  It also meant that the Dispatch reporters free to stalk Bam and Rak to their heart's content, and display moments of their lives that they might rather keep private for the whole world to see.  The world of entertainment was frequently a cutthroat one, and Khun would do everything in his power to protect his most precious friends.

He had sworn never to be like Jahad, who had gladly let the media destroy the girls he found disposable, or the ones he thought were too much better than the others. He didn't know if it was true, but he'd heard through the grapevine that one of the top trainees for Princess had been kicked out of the company for 'bribing the selection officials', even though she had been framed by two other trainees.

A particular message from Maria had made a mark on him - years ago, back when she was still in her trainee days, she had sent him a long series of texts, a terror-filled ramble that had taken him a few minutes to absorb. She had told him about one of the other trainee dancers - she and Endorsi were part of the dance line, Maria with her contemporary dance and Endorsi with her hip hop. But there had been another girl - Maria hadn't told him her name, but she was a ballet dancer with experience in b-boying - that's so meta, in Maria's words - and Endorsi's adoptive sister.  Endorsi and her sister had been trainees for a few years already, and when Maria joined at fifteen the girl had been quick to introduce Maria to Endorsi and adopt her into their friend group.

One day, the girl had started to bring them pie, specifically chicken pie. Maria told him the pie most definitely wasn't the girl's: Endorsi was designated cook, with Maria being reliant on their mother and Aguero for food and the Chicken Pie Girl being the worst thing to ever grace a kitchen. Maria was suspicious, but she hadn't asked questions, preferring to respect the other girl's privacy. She told him the chicken pies tasted like heaven, though, she said she'd like to be greeted with those pies after she died. After the final lineup had been officiated, the three of them had gotten drunk in their dorm to celebrate.  That's illegal, Aguero had noted, you're only sixteen.  Who bought the soju? It was Chicken Pie girl, who was seventeen. 

Chicken Pie Girl had confessed that she was hiding a boyfriend, the chicken pie chef. Endorsi had been to drunk to remember it the next morning, but Maria, like all the other Khuns, had a terrifyingly high alcohol tolerance. She hadn't told a soul. One day, Chicken Pie Girl disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving Endorsi confused and heartbroken. None of them heard from Chicken Pie Girl again, although Aguero and Maria both suspected she had run away with her chicken pie chef.

Maria had sent him a single question after that: I know how much you love Bam and how little you would care if you tarnished Edahn's reputation, but would you really be able to love Bam the way you want to if you want to take him to stardom?

Aguero's answer had been simple and as honest as it could. I know, Maria. He makes me happier than I've ever been, but his happiness matters more than mine. I love him enough to know I'll have to let him go one day, but can't I be selfish just for a while longer?

It turns out that Khun is selfish, a liar, a loser, a coward. Khun is so many things, a human with way too many flaws. Bam has too much pure goodness in him that Khun can't look away, even if it burns him and sets him alight.

Evan seems to notice his internal struggle, glancing at thr younger man scrutinizingly. "What exactly is he to you?" When Khun does not answer he adds a little more. "You can be honest with me. My lips are sealed, if that's what you're worried about, and there are no Dispatch workers here."

Khun exhales. "Do you ever wonder how the end of the world would feel like?" The dwarf looks at him curiously. "That's how I feel like when he's not here."

Evan nods like he understands. "People are starting to see him as a new god. I heard that Lord Evankhell has taken to calling him a little monster. By his next comeback, Jahad may even consider him a threat. What then?" Quicksilver clashes against cobalt. "A shark cannot swim with minnows forever, Khun."

Don't say that like I don't still dream about Bam leaving me behind, the blue-haired man thinks angrily. "A stork has a bigger body and a longer wingspan than a crow tit, but the crow tit can flap its wings ten times, no, a hundred times faster. He's growing so quickly, so I'll run after him until I can't keep up anymore."

Khun can keep his silver tongue and white lies, but he is done with all the manipulation and treachery that corporate business entails. If he falls, he will fall alone. Bam must keep flying, no matter what. Khun will never let anyone drag Bam's newfound wings through the mud, even at the cost of his own reputation. For so long, Khun had been his own biggest concern. Now that Bam is back, his fate is in Khun's hands, a a light-bulb giving off warmth and light that could shatter with a single drop.

Bam first, then yourself. Always.

Evan sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "God, all you Khuns are the same. Where's your sense of self-care?"

Khun sees why Yuri likes to call her manager an 'annoyed mom friend'. "We replaced it with hair care," the bluenet answers primly. Hair care could be a part of self-care, wouldn't it? Edahn had always preached to him about the importance of establishing and maintaining connections, how to dress to impress, but emotions were one thing he had never touched upon.

Evan sighs again. "Call me if you ever need help, Khun. A therapist might work too." The dwarf hands him his business card - technically, Evan is so short he could count as a 'shrink' too.

Khun ends up having to call Leesoo to drive a drunk Rak home at the end of the party, while Bam, too tipsy to think straight, has to be driven to his dorm by motorbike, carried to his bedroom, and tucked in. Khun would have left immediately after putting some Advil and water by the brunet's bedside to cool down and head home, but Bam grips on to his hand with surprising strength and begs him to stay until he falls asleep. "You're so pretty, Mr Khun," Bam slurs with half-shut eyes, "your skin looks like milk. Did anybody tell you that before?" Bam strokes his hand sleepily. "Wanna lick it."

"Bam, go to sleep, you're- oh." The brunet is already sleeping, fingers curled against Khun's own. He laughs softly when Bam makes a dissatisfied noise as Khun untangles their fingers. "Good night, Bam." I love you.

He gets the hell out of there, crashes face first into his own bed. What a night.

Chapter Text

Khun wakes up the next morning feeling happy and refreshed.  The promotions for Bam's first album are over, and they can all take a break before both Bam and Rak have to prepare for their next albums.  A break sounds great, especially after he has drained his social battery.

However, Khun's little bubble of peace doesn't last long.

There are a dozen missed calls from Leesoo, and countless texts from Rak.  When he listens to the voicemail, the scout shrieks at him, demanding a pay raise.  "Dammit Khun," one yells, "you know I love you, but having Rak puke all over me is not in my job description!" Rak, however, doesn't seem to remember most of the night, most of his texts complaints about his hangover.  There are a few awkward messages from Maria he tells himself he'll reply to later - they haven't been in contact for the last decade.

There are texts from Bam, ranging from "good morning mr khun, i'm so sorry about last night, did i do anything weird? my head hurts :(" to "thank you for the water and the advil! it feels a lot better now :D" and "is it alright if i catch up with miss endorsi over lunch tomorrow? apparently we went to the same high school, but i can't remember much of it and i just want to get to know her a bit better."

Khun answers "no problem! i'm glad you feel better :) just remember to stay away from strangers with cameras and stay low key." He ignores the wave of jealousy bubbling up within him - Bam had never told him about Endorsi, even before The Incident.  The only girl Bam had ever told him about was Androssi Zahard, a 'pretty' girl with long brown hair that wouldn't stop trying to ask him out.  The young brunet had been seriously spooked by the incident, asking Aguero if all girls were so aggressive pursuing boys.  Aguero hadn't known how to answer.

Khun spends his Saturday alone in his apartment, and when that passes he's about to spend his Sunday alone too.  It's not that he minds being alone - it gives him the chance to rest and recharge, especially after the awards ceremony and the hectic after-party that followed.  It's just that he overthinks things when he's left on his own - what if he didn't have to spend his weekends alone? What if he could wake up late on lazy weekend mornings to a familiar, a familiar body resting on the space next to his on the bed? What if his apartment felt more like a home and less like just a place for him to stay?

He sighs.  There's only one person he'd be happy spending the rest of his life, but that person sees him as nothing more than a friend, a pillar of support.  That should be good enough for him, but his own estrangement from his family and Bam's disappearance years ago makes him crave familiarity and make his heart ache for a sense of domesticity and belonging that he may never gain, but will always want.

If he doesn't want to be alone, there's only one option left for him - an impromptu family reunion.  He invites Maria over for their catch-up session, and Ran comes too.  His sister arrives two hours early and alone, looking apologetic that she couldn't manage to bug Maschenny into coming.  It's fine.  Maschenny and Aguero had never really gotten along anyway.  Khun asks Maria for help preparing the bistec encebollado, wondering if she has gotten any better at cooking.

He learns that Maria is just as terrible a cook now as she was when they were kids when he tells her to slice up the steak.

"Maria, oh my god, that's not how you hold a knife!" There are tears in his eyes due to chopping up onions while thinking about Bam, but he can still see that his older sister is holding the knife with the sharp side of the blade facing up.  Maria blinks at him, confused.  He sighs, confiscating the knife.  "Out, Maria! Clearly I still can't trust you in the kitchen.  And remember to wash your hands! If you get blood on my things I'm going to kill you."

He points his sharp chef's knife in her direction, and she scuttles out.  She has the gall to laugh at her stab-happy younger brother.  "You haven't changed at all, Aguero."

He makes a face, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.  It stings.  "Neither have you.  You still can't hold a knife correctly.  Does Endorsi still feed you?"

"She's much nicer about it," his older sister says dreamily. "I love En.  She's awesome."

The doorbell rings just as Khun takes his stew off the fire.  He sends Maria to open the door as he carefully hefts the pot to the table.  "Hello hello! How are my cute little cousins?"

"I'm older than you, Hachuling," Maria drawls.

Khun nearly drops his stew.  Hachuling? Sure enough, there's a young man with shaggy blue hair standing at his door.  "What are you even doing here?"

Ran rolls his eyes, squeezing past his older brother.  "I bumped into him on the train and he followed me all the way here."

He tries to slam the door on his older brother, but apparently all of his relatives are enticed by the smell of Khun's cooking.  "You lost the bet, A.A!" Hachuling shouts as he shoves his foot in the doorway. "The least you could do is let me eat your food!"

Stupid cousins.  Khun looks down at his pot.  "I did make a little too much," he admits grudgingly.  "I guess we could feed four."

Hachuling whoops.  "Free food! Thank you, my cutest little cousin!" He squints at Khun.  "Your eyes are red.  Who have you been crying over?"

Khun scoffs.  "I've been chopping onions, stupid.  I cry over no one."

He is immediately betrayed by Ran and Maria, who shake their heads and mouth "he cries over Bam" at Hachuling.  A voice in his head reminds him that they aren't wrong, but being as easily read as a children's book annoys him.

"Do you know why I cook?" Khun asks with his sweetest smile.  The rest of the Khuns shake their heads.  "The kitchen is where all the knives are.  Be grateful I'm eating too, or I would've poisoned all of you."

Hachuling raises his hands in surrender, plopping himself on one of the chairs.  "Alright, alright, I won't pry.  I'm going to start eating now, if you don't mind."

"Be careful, it's-"

"Ack! I justh burnth ma tongue! Where'th yo water?"

"-hot."

All Khuns are clever but stupid, apparently.  Especially Hachuling.

They finish the food in record time.  Ran and Hachuling are the first to go, after Ran makes a comment about Khun tearing up for Bam and Hachuling calls him 'Bam's step stool' instead of 'Maria's step stool'.  This time, Maria defends him instead.  It's perfectly fine, she says, you'll understand when you find someone who shines brighter than anything you've ever seen.  There's a wistful smile on her face, and Khun has half a mind to ask her what exactly she means by that.  She doesn't answer, only adds him to a group chat with Maschenny called 'disaster gay' and says it's her time to leave.

That day, Khun Aguero Agnis learns that he's not the only Khun with a lack of a love life.

He's in the middle of responding to a text from Maria when he receives two texts from his business phone.  It's from an unknown number, and he quickly runs through his schedule in his mind.  From what he remembers, he shouldn't have any meetings, not on a weekend and most certainly not with complete strangers.  Still, he clicks onto it.

The first one he takes a screenshot of before immediately deleting.  It's from Michael, a former staff member at Lighthouse.  Khun doesn't like to remember him - he'd been part of the public relations unit until he started being overly affectionate towards the CEO, to the point where he was constantly texting Khun's private number despite the bluenet never giving it to him, or showing up in his locked office unannounced.  The creepiest part was when he cornered Khun in the toilet, of all places.  He shudders, swearing he'd blocked Michael's number after he fired him and filed a stalking injunction against him.

Hey, reads the text, this is Khun Aguero Agnis, right? The stranger replies before Khun can.  This is Viole's friend Wangnan, I don't know if you still remember but I was the bassist in Sweet and Sour (if you don't remember that either, I'm the blond one from the band you watched play)

Khun frowns.  Why is Wangnan talking to him? They'd never really interacted, not even through Bam.  How can I help you?

Are you accepting band auditions at the moment?

Khun learns from the following conversation that Wangnan has lost his job and his apartment, his job because the company he worked at was doing a staff cut and his apartment because the roommate he'd been sharing the housing cost with had committed suicide because his heavy debt to the loan sharks.  But what does Wangnan want Khun to do? Call him cold-hearted, but just because the bluenet comes from a rich family doesn't mean he accepts charity cases.

Unless... Unless he could help Wangnan.  Yihwa had mentioned on her ViewTube channel that she was thinking of auditioning for an entertainment company.  Khun grins.   Technically, Wangnan and Yihwa had already passed their auditions, and even if the original Sweet and Sour is incomplete, Bam could remain a solo artist while Wangnan and Yihwa became a musical duo or possibly part of the live band.

Meet me at 9:30, Lighthouse Entertainment.  Bam is in for a pleasant surprise.

The next day, it is Khun who is unpleasantly surprised.

Chapter Text

Khun wakes up to his phone being bombed with notifications. 

The first one he sees is a Dispatch Chirp, sent to him from Maria with a 'sorry aguero :((' attached.  It's not that bad - it's just a picture of Maria walking into Khun's apartment complex with a hat drawn low over her eyes, hiding in a jacket too big for her body.  There are a few more of Hachuling and Ran squabbling with each other as they make their way out of the train station in the direction of their cousins place.  The caption asks 'Divided Khun Family Reunited Again?'.  Most of the Girls! fans, Subjects, complain about the lack of one Khun Maschenny, asking why her two brothers and two cousins hadn't invited her too.  Nobody comments about Eduan, and nobody knows enough about Kiseia to complain about her either.

The next one is an article, one that makes his heart drop into the pit of his stomach to be digested by hydrochloric acid.  If he'd eaten breakfast, he probably would've thrown it all up.  The headline shouts at him in bold capitals: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BAM AND ENDORSI OF HIT GIRL GROUP PRINCESS ON A DATE? The picture isn't particularly well taken, zoomed in on both their faces, but the two artists are indeed caught in a very compromising position, leaning towards each other in a tiny cafe booth with their drinks long abandoned beside them.  And... is that a chicken pie he sees on the shelf?

The CEO groans, dropping his face into his hands.  Of all scandals, why this one?

He calls Wangnan to cancel their meeting, then Dan to arrange a call with Princess's manager to discuss how to move forward on the issue.  For some reason, his finger misses the call button for Bam's number every time, and he shoves the damn phone in his pocket instead.  He has a long day ahead of him.

He calls a bodyguard to shuttle Bam from his dorm to the Lighthouse office building.  Khun and the others have been nearly-mobbed by the media before, Khun has special plans for occasions like these.  But Bam is not experienced like the CEO is. Bam will need all the protection he can get - the singer has never been thrown so blindly into the spotlight before, all by himself without his manager's guidance beforehand.  Khun is not going to take chances with his most precious person's safety when there have been incidences of Subjects stalking and even threatening to harm both the members and other people who have been in close proximity with them.  Even Khun himself has received insulting private messages and death threats before for no other reason than being related to Maria and Maschenny.

"Blue Turtle!" Rak bellows. "What is going on?" Khun had snuck past the reporters and entered through the back door, but it looks like the gator hadn't been so lucky.  Hadn't they gone through the procedure before? The rock star's shirt is ruffled, evidence of his struggle against the hoard of flashing cameras and invasive shouts.  Rak is lucky never to have been in a scandal like this before. Sure, there are articles dedicated to his 'rivalry' with Paracule, but he has never been cornered about romance. The gator is all too happy to play wing-man and stick his nose into Khun's (nonexistent) love life, but he himself has never been interested in anything beyond platonic, for all purposes and intents. Bah, Khun remembers him saying in an interview, who has time for romance in a world like this? Why bother being in a relationship when you can have banana flavored chocolate?

Oh, yes, he remembers being force-fed banana Pocky.  There's a reason he prefers the original chocolate flavor.

"Check the news, Gator," Khun answers tiredly.  He still has to write and release an official statement for the press, interrogate Bam on the issue.  He can't even begin to imagine how it must be like on Jahad Talent's side - their members are strictly forbidden from dating, getting married, falling in love, doing anything in close proximity with a human male, until their contract is finished or broken.

Bam's new bodyguard, a rather large young man called Aleksai Amigochaz, pushes through the crowd, trying to cover Bam from the cameras.  The singer has his head down, face covered by a cap, a mask and sunglasses.  The bodyguard shoves Bam into the building, slamming the door shut behind him.  He locks it for extra measure, and Khun dismisses him for a curt nod.

Bam shuffles forward, away from the cameras.  He looks terrified, lost, and Khun would do anything to wipe that misery off his face.  "Sorry Mr Khun," he mumbles.  He's still looking at his feet, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.  "You told me I had to be careful, but I failed you.  Please don't be angry at me." He shrinks into himself, looking smaller than ever.

Khun would hug him, whisper comforting words into his ear, but there are far too many people here.  He sighs.  He's not angry, he really isn't.  He could never be mad at Bam.  "It's not your fault, Bam.  It was just an unfortunate coincident that you and Endorsi were there at the same time as a Dispatch photographer."

"Yeah, but Miss Endorsi said-"

Rak pats him on the shoulder a little too roughly.  It's enough to startle him into looking up.  "Those pesky camera turtles just have too much time on their hands, Black Turtle.  Don't let them get to you."

Bam still looks uncertain, but at least he's looking up now.  "It's not the end of the world," mutters Ran.  He doesn't look up from his phone, and Khun has no idea if he's gaming or texting Dan to get started on his secret social media damage control.  "It's nothing A.A can't fix."

Ah, to be young and faithful...

The solution to the problem ends up being Endorsi and Bam fake dating.  It most definitely is not Khun's idea - he swallows bile throughout the entire phone call with Endorsi's manager, a woman by the name of April Green.  He suggests releasing an official apology, a statement that would clarify that this is all just a misunderstanding because that's what it is, but April doesn't listen to him.  "Think of the attention," April tells him, "spending time with a member of Princess would be a popularity boost, but imagine how high sales would go if your BAM was dating one instead."

"What about your rules?" Khun asks.  He forces down the trembling lump in his throat.  He personally is not a fan of rules - they're too constricting, too stifling.  That's why he gives his artists the freedom they indulge in.  "Isn't Endorsi forbidden from dating?" Endorsi has been in multiple scandals before, one being a boob job accusation from a popular streamer.

April brushes him off.  "It's just for the publicity, remember?"

Khun does want only the best for Bam, and if slightly underhanded tactics are the way to go, so be it.  He swallows his worries, swallows his jealousy.  "Alright."

He can't stop the thoughts that trickle in and grow like a flood.  What if Bam will hate me for this? What if he and Endorsi end up dating for real? I know he's too good for me, he'll leave me behind one day, but will it be today? I don't want it to be today.  I've only had him back for a year and a bit!

Leesoo throws him a lifeboat in the form of his office door being kicked open (again). For once, Khun is thankful and not annoyed.  "Guess what? Lighthouse Entertainment is now the single biggest shareholder of Sweetfish Entertainment."

Khun grins.  Romance may be a pain, but money is easy and oh-so-familiar.  "Then we should become Lighthouse Labels now, shouldn't we?" Sweetfish Entertainment is home to The Fisherman, an indie rock group with potential but still nowhere near as popular as The Outside had once been, or even Rak's band Wrathraisers before they had disbanded.  Oh well.  A little training never hurt, right?

Leesoo echoes Khun's sentiments, but there's no hiding the look of concern for his friend and boss, even if he tries hard to hide it.  "You sure you're okay, Khun? This is our first big scandal."

"It'll be the only one," Khun swears.  "I'm not going to let the media eat Bam alive again, and Rak doesn't get in scandals."

"What about you?" Khun should have never told the scout that he was in love with someone he could never have in mind, heart or body.

Khun smiles, forced but sly, his teeth as white as the lies he tells himself.  "You know all my scheming is strictly legal, Leesoo.  Why would I ruin what I've worked so hard to get?" He may be a liar and a plotter, but he's not lazy.  None of his plans only go halfway, and Leesoo knows that better than anyone.  He'd been there for most of Khun's schemer days.

Leesoo sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose.  "For a genius, you really are so stupid sometimes."

Hatz appears out of nowhere.  There's a strange looking bruise peeking out from under the collar of his red dragon sukajan.  "Don't you mean all the time?"

Khun throws a roll of tape at the producer, who neatly dodges out of the way.  "Go commit hara-kiri, you wannabe swordsman.  Did you get bitten by some kind of monster mosquit- oh." He makes the connection and turns to Leesoo.  "Hey, mosquito.  Keep your love life out of my office."

Now, it's the CEO who ducks when Hatz tries to stab him with a drumstick.  "At least he has one, Earrings!"

Khun gnashes his teeth.  "Leesoo, please get your boyfriend out of here before I kill him."

Chapter Text

The few months that follow are complete agony for Khun.

The new trend #BAMDorsi is plastered all over social media, the fans fighting each other over their different opinions on the two singers' newly public 'relationship'.  It's disgustingly sappy.  There are pictures of them in cafes, Endorsi feeding BAM pastries; BAM with an arm around his fake girlfriend's waist with her kissing him on the cheek; them holding hands in front of a cinema, waiting to watch that new chick flick Endorsi kept egging Maria to watch.  They look perfect together, and Khun hates it.

It doesn't help in the slightest that Bam updates his manager on his dates with Endorsi, seeming ridiculously happy to spend time with his old friend, to remember who she'd been to him.  Endorsi turns out to be Androssi Zahard, the girl who had chased after Bam endlessly only for him to turn her down every time.  Bam admits that she looks better with short hair.  Bam promises to bring Khun to that coffee shop, their flaky pastry is to die for and he knows his friend and manager has a near-insatiable sweet tooth; asks him how to wipe off lipstick stains and what to get Endorsi for her birthday; cries about that chick flick ending in a call.  Khun strongly dislikes chick flicks, preferring heist thrillers instead (Maria likes buddy cop and Maschenny gore and murders: they'd watched a film with all three genres combined once, it was great bonding for the three).  The last time Khun Aguero Agnis had watched a chick flick, he was sixteen with teary eyes and a sobbing Bam draped over his shoulder.

It most certainly doesn't help that the only songs Khun has seen Bam write lately are love songs, even though some of them had been written months ago, during the 25 era.  Bam pops into his office to ask if he can invite Endorsi over for a recording session - one of his songs, one about taking flight, features Endorsi.

Bam feels so close yet so far, and Khun would've ripped his heart out of his chest if Wangnan and Yihwa hadn't become the latest trainees of Lighthouse labels, a two member band called Tangsooyook, a reminder of the Sweet and Sour band they were part of, but no longer really existed.  Bam is elated to see them, and they greet their senior with happy cries of "Viole! We missed you!"

Neither of them seem to notice how Khun seems to spend more time away from Bam (and Endorsi by default) under the pretense of training Tangsooyook for their upcoming debut.  Yihwa learns to control her voice with lessons from Hansung and moral support from Evankhell while Hatz teaches Wangnan the art of songwriting and composing.  Khun gives them both a long overdue lesson on fashion.

BAM and Endorsi 'break up' a month later.  The media calls it a mutual decision, but Khun knows better.  It wasn't meant to last long, only a short-term solution to a problem with no strings attached.  In theory, he should feel better now - the odd surge of jealousy and possessiveness that he shouldn't have felt in the first place is gone, as Princess prepare for their next comeback and Bam starts recording songs for his new album.

Bam briefly mentions his newest album, Blue Moon.  Khun won't lie, Blue Moon is a monster in comparison to 25, with at least twelve tracks already written and ten of them already recorded.  Once again, Khun is left in the dark about the exact contents of this beast of an album.  Last time, Bam had been merciful and given him hints.  This time, the whole Lighthouse team is working together to keep Khun away from Bam's lyric-filled notebooks, Hatz's Samurai Studio and oddly enough, the dance studios.  The only song Khun knows of is the one with Endorsi, and a re-rendered version of 'ships in the night'.  What happened to his identity as a manager and a CEO?

Khun learns a little bit more about this new concept in their obligatory meeting.  Bam is almost done with the songwriting part, all he has left is to memorize the lyrics to the three main tracks and to record a bit more.  They schedule the comeback in half a year.  Evankhell has a plan for this album, wiggly eyebrows included, and Khun does not like it one single bit.  Combining Bam's new ability to dance with those wiggly eyebrows will be the death of Khun, but at least he'll welcome it with open arms.

If 25 is a child with its bright energy and reminiscent lyrics, Blue Moon is an adult, darker and sensual.  Bam is the one to say it out loud at the meeting, blushing and pointing metaphorical fingers at Yuri and Maria.  It being Yuri's idea is not a surprise - sensuality and maturity is the Queen's theme, after all.  But Maria? Khun is pretty sure she'd encouraged it just to spite her poor unloved baby brother, goaded by Endorsi and... Maschenny?

"Are you sure?"

Khun's innocent Bam, going for sensuality? For once the skeptic, he would scoff and say "no way in hell," but the brunet is apparently possessed by some kind of demon.  Bam's golden eyes darken as he leans across the table, gazing at the CEO with hooded eyes.  He tips the bluenet's chin up with a finger to meet his eyes.  "Are you challenging me, Mr Khun?" He purrs.

Khun blinks, swallows to soothe his suddenly dry throat.  Gold eyes flicker to his lips when he licks them reflexively, then lazily flit back to blue.  Khun blinks again, whatever train of thought he had completely derailing.  He swallows down the heart thumping wildly in his throat, forces his brain to rewire itself.  "H-Huh?"

Bam still stares at him with eyes like molten gold, sharp and focused on him and him only.  Khun's heart races, thoughts scatter, but he still doesn't dare to look away.  He can't, pinned to the spot by the sheer force of Bam's intense gaze.

Hatz clears his throat, clapping in amusement.  "Good job, Bam! You broke Earrings!"

Evankhell bursts into loud laughter.  "Kid, you've still got a lot to learn about the art of seduction."

Hansung hides a smile behind a bowl of coffee - who even drinks coffee in bowls? - with a smug expression that Khun just wants to throw hands at.  Ran announces that he has a photo of his older cousin's baffled and blushing face, and he sends it to the Lighthouse staff members' unprofessional group chat before Khun can wrestle him to the ground and delete the photo.  Rak somehow gains access, and 'Blushing Blue Turtle' becomes a meme across the company.

Seriously, is Lighthouse not Khun's company anymore? Last time he checked, he was the one who had started the company from scratch, built the foundations, made sure it got to where it was.  Where was the respect?

Either way, Bam decides to deliciously torture Khun some more by posting dance covers.  If falling in love is listening to Bam sing with the voice of an angel, looking at that guileless smile and thinking ah, I want to stay by his side for the rest of my life, falling in lust is seeing the demonic glint in his eyes as he moves his body to the beat and thinking forgive me, I have sinned when all the blood in his body rushes down south and Khun has to make a mad dash to the nearest toilet.

Bam's proficiency at whatever he puts his mind to really terrifies Khun in the best of ways.  The Chestnuts react similarly - they scream in the comments, noting how he looks positively sinful, a totally different person from the BAM who had won Rookie of the Year.  Even Yihwa and Wangnan scream, the former fanning her cheeks and the latter in total disbelief.

Apparently, Evankhell has been telling Bam to 'embrace his femininity', because quite a few of the dance videos are covers of songs by female artists.  Maschenny ReChirps BAM's link to his cover of her 'Yellow May', tagging Khun's official account and asking why he created a monster.  Khun splutters at the sight - he hadn't even realized his innocent Bam had it in him! A Chestnut replies to the Chirp with the wise words of 'that's not bam, that's jue viole grace and when he unleashes his new comeback on us we will all be slayed'.

Khun has never agreed more to a fan comment.

Maria spams her younger brother with texts when BAM releases his cover of Princess's 'Ignition'.  Khun spams her right back.  His gay panic at BAM smirking at the camera before kicking at it is perfectly rational, isn't it? Yuri tells BAM to message her privately when she sees his cover and remix of 'Black March', and they start to plan a few songs together - Bam invites her for a collaboration song in his new album, and Khun and Evan make Yuri swear to secrecy.  Yuri in turn invites Bam to cover one of V's old solo songs for an award show - she has a dance for it too, but Bam fearlessly agrees, hoping he'll make his father proud.

Garam admits that BAM's remix of her debut solo song 'Blue August' might sound better than the original arrangements in a private message, and she seems quite awed at how the singer has managed to copy her moves almost perfectly.  Urek, however, takes BAM's rap and dance cover of his 'Wing' as a challenge for a rap battle at the next award show.  "You're on, baby!" the rapper proclaims.

Khun's favorite, however, has to be Bam's cover of his late father's 'Singular'. At the time of its release, it had trended everywhere for being a revolution in music, but now that BAM has remastered it, given it a new sound and new visuals, it's trending again, and BAM is more popular than ever.  Hatz's jazzy beat is dark and seductive, and Bam uses his lower register instead of his normal higher range.  If Bam's different sound isn't enough, he feels himself up with a hand in a jacket, pretending to be someone else.  Evankhell asking to raise the budget had been worth it - the hired backup dancers accentuate the debonair vibe.  Bam's fancy footwork, his white dress shirt (a reference to his manager?) and dark question of "are you calling me a sinner?" has Khun disguising a scream as a sneeze when the singer approaches him to ask if he did alright.

Nearly blacking out in a toilet is totally worth it.

However, Bam's new ability to dance isn't all he's hiding up his sleeves.

In his defense, Khun was never supposed to find out.

He's on his way to his office from a meeting with the CEO of Sweetfish Entertainment when he hears a loud bump and an equally loud yelp of pain from one of the dance practice rooms.  His eyes widen.  Hadn't Evankhell booked that room for Bam? He kicks the door open, the singer's name on his lips.

Bam is sitting in an awkward position on the floor, a disgruntled pout on his face.  His legs are wrapped around a pole, a pair of stilettos thin and high enough to frighten even Endorsi on his feet.  Next to him, suspended in midair on another pole, Evankhell is laughing.

The brunet singer's eyes widen when he spots his manager.  He swallows.  "This was not how I was planning to confront you."

Khun continues to gave, and Evankhell laughs even harder.  How heartless.

Chapter Text

Khun gawks at Bam.  "Are you leaving me to be a stripper?"

Bam splutters, cheeks turning a bright red.  "No! Mr Khun! Of course not! I'd never leave you!" He laughs nervously, grabbing the pole and hauling himself to his feet.  Khun doesn't know whether to be surprised or not at the fact that the brunette doesn't stumble over those murderously high heels.  "Not for, um, stripping, anyway.  I like to keep my pants on in public."

Khun is still utterly bewildered for once.  "But how is pole dancing going to help with anything?" And what were you planning on confronting me about?

Bam's red cheeks turn even redder.  "Master Evankhell said I'm not flexible enough, and pole dancing is apparently the solution to that." He kicks off his heels with relieved eyes, now barely taller than Khun instead of towering over him.  "It's like how I had to embrace my femininity." His knee joints pop obscenely when he lifts a foot up to massage his heel, and again when he attempts a dance move Maria had called a 'slut drop'.  "See? It's not my fault.  Mama's knees were like that too, and Papa used to say we had bubble wrap instead of kneecaps.  Miss Yuri tried to teach me how to twerk-"

"What?"

"- but my hips can only move forward and not back!"

He looks so utterly miserable that Khun blesses him by changing the topic.  He makes a mental note to ask Yuri what the hell she's trying to do with Bam.  "So, what has Evankhell been teaching you?"

The brunette brightens up a little.  "A lot!" He demonstrates a few moves, with a lot of back arching, and muscular thighs clamped around the pole.  He ends by flipping his legs up, hooking his ankles together with his head facing downwards.  Thighs! A voice in Khun's head squeals like a thirsty, rabid fanboy.  He knows it takes a lot of upper body strength to perform a feat like that - during Maria's pole dancing phase, she'd constantly tried, only to fail every time.  Bam made it all look so easy.  The singer gives him a lopsided grin.  His proud little "tada!" is muffled by his loose shirt slipping out of his pants and falling over his head.

The brunette grunts and simply rips the shirt off.

Khun feels like his body and his brain have become two separate entities.  His face is aflame, and he can hear the roar of blood in his ears.  He tries to will the blood elsewhere - he's wearing jeans, and if something were to happen that would be incredibly mortifying.  His brain, on the other hand, is a screaming mess, thoughts running wild in contrast to his stock-still body.  Holy shït, the voice in his head whimpers reverently, look at those abs he looks so good when did he get so ripped oh my god holy shït I want him to slam me against a wall-

Khun wants to throw himself off a cliff.

"Mr Khun," Bam mumbles, staring at him strangely, still upside down and shirtless, "your nose."

Khun blinks stupidly.  He wipes a hand under his nose, and it comes away red and sticky.  "I've never had a nosebleed before." His voice sounds distant even to his own ears.  The bluenette gives himself a mental slap in the face.  Get a grip on yourself, he thinks furiously, you are Khun Aguero Agnis.  You are the youngest CEO in the history of entertainment company CEOs.  You are the smartest one and leader of one of the Big Three agencies.  You are a genius.  You will not be reduced to a bumbling fool merely because your friend has taken off his shirt.

It doesn't work.  He has been pining for said best friend for far too long, even if lusting over those perfect washboard abs is new.

Bam makes a distressed sound.  "Stay here, okay? I'll get you some tissues Mr Khun, just stay here and let the blood flow out, don't tilt your head up."

The commanding tone in the singer's voice has more blood dripping out of the manager's nose.  Now Khun really wants to bury himself in a hole and die.

Bam's touch is gentle when he peels his manager's hand away from his face.  He presses a tissue there, not seeming to care when the white paper stains red.  "Sorry," Khun mumbles.  He can deal with embarrassment, but shame, it seems like, is a whole other separate entity.

"Shh," Bam answers.  The look in his golden eyes is worried but soft.  "Just let me help you." Khun feels so helpless.  He's the manager, he's supposed to be helping Bam.  So why on earth is Bam the one dabbing away the blood from his nose? "I was pretty prone to nosebleeds as a kid, I've got experience."

Khun huffs, ignoring the goosebumps that flicker over his pale skin when Bam cups his chin.  Even his own mother had never treated him so gently.  When he fell and scraped his knees, it was Maria who had the first aid kits and the bandages.  He suppresses a violent shiver.

"Mr Khun, why have you been avoiding me?" Bam's voice is horribly quiet.  "Are you still mad at me for getting into that scandal with Miss Endorsi?"

I could never be mad at you.

Khun swallows, barely meeting the singer's eyes.  "I was training Tangsooyook."

Bam's eyes harden.  "That's not all, is it?" Don't lie to me, Mr Khun, is what goes unsaid, but they can still hear it, feel it hanging over their heads.  The elephant in the room has its trunk wrapped around Khun's neck.

The CEO gulps.  What can he say? "I was jealous because Endorsi clearly likes you and even if it was fake you were hers, while I've been in love with you since I was sixteen but I can never tell you that even though I would give anything for you to feel the same way I do" isn't going to cut it.  He has his pride, but beyond that Bam has a reputation now that Khun must keep clean.

"We were both busy.  We weren't really at the same places at the same times." It's not entirely a lie, is it? He's just leaving his feelings out of the truth.  Bam would want the truth, wouldn't he? His chest cavity feels empty, ugly lies and bitter half-truths in place of a heart.  There's a fist clenched around it, squeezing and squeezing until whatever that thing in his chest is about to burst.

"Okay." Khun knows how stubborn Bam can be, but his most precious friend has always been too trusting of him.  He doesn't deserve Bam's trust.  Khun doesn't deserve him, not when Bam is the only one who would respect his need for privacy and his pride (unlike some other people he knows (ahem Ran, ahem Hatz)).  "Are you feeling better now?"

The gush of blood has slowed down to a drip and trickle, red seeping through white and onto skin.  "Yeah." He presses down on the lump in his throat that threatens to cut off his air supply.  "Thanks, Bam." I'm sorry you had to see me like this.

Bam clears his throat, almost shy although he's the one half dressed.  "This is what friends do, right?"  Neither of them look at each other directly, Bam's golden gaze focusing on Khun's earrings and Khun's cobalt eyes darting around, pointedly looking anywhere but at Bam.  He has done more than his fair share of ogling for the day, or the week, quite possibly the month.  He throws the dirty tissue into the nearest bin.  "I- Um- I should go put on a shirt."

Khun exhales in a snort of a laugh.  "Yeah." He's not sure what exactly is so funny about the situation, but it sets them both into a confused but amused giggling fit, both of them wheezing nonsense at the end of it.  They've done that before - once Bam just sneezed funny, and both of them started laughing without knowing why.  Khun really can't believe what just happened.  Did he just become a character in one of Yihwa's romance manhwas?

God, you're pathetic, he thinks to himself.  Save the thirsting for your secret fan account. Thirsty Chestnuts exist too now, remember?

Bam pulls on his shirt just in time for Dan to kick the door open like Khun had done mere minutes before.  He takes a long look at the two of them: Bam with messy hair and a crumpled shirt; Khun with a half-dazed expression and blood crusted on his nose and hands.  "I'm not going to ask what happened, but uh, Khun, you might want to clean up a little.  We tried to stop him, but Yuga from Jahad Talent really wants to see you, and Ran started picking a fight with the chick he brought along.  It's good stalling, but it's going to get messy."

Khun nods, quickly sweeping the memory of Bam's bare chest into a 'do not open unless alone' box in his head.  "Thanks for letting me know-"

"Oh! He wants to see Bam too.  Not sure what he wants, though."

Who exactly even is this 'Yuga'? What does he want with Khun and Bam? Why has he brought a visitor? Is the visitor one of Jahad's girl group members? Khun knows for a fact that Bam has collaboration plans with Yuri and Endorsi, but surely their managers know about it too? Evan is Yuri's personal manager and April Green is Princess's, so who would Yuga be in relation? Besides, Ran should know better than to pick a fight with one of Jahad's girls, but even Khun can't stop him from verbally attacking those he deemed "extremely bothersome" or even "worthy of death".

He finds out exactly who Yuga of Jahad Talent is when Yuga corners him outside the toilet.

Chapter Text

"Hello Mr Khun Aguero Agnis, how nice to meet you! I'm Yuga from the Relations Enforcement Division of Jahad Talent!"

Khun blinks, slightly disorientated.  He has just opened the toilet door, but standing right in front of him is a tiny man in a giant sherpa, sticking his hand out towards him.  It's the middle of summer.  He clears his throat, ushering the man - Yuga - forwards so that he and Bam can at least move out of the toilet.  "Likewise." He shakes Yuga's outstretched hand, surreptitiously wiping his hand on his pants afterwards.  He means no disrespect, but the man's hands are sweaty, and Khun wonders why he has to hide in that fluffy jacket if he's too hot for it.

Something feels inherently off about Yuga.  Khun is not one to put his full trust in gut instinct, but something is fishy about Jahad's representative.  Maybe it's the way he says Khun's name - he pronounces the bluenette's first name like "ah-GWEH-ro" instead of "ah-GEHR-oh", and it makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.  "May I inquire the reason as to why you sought me out?"

"Ah!" Yuga grabs the girl behind him by the arm, carelessly throwing her to the ground in front of Khun and Bam.  "Does she look familiar to you?"

Khun looks at the girl in front of him.  She's even younger than Ran, not even in her twenties.  She's definitely past ten, but she's incredibly short.  No matter how hard he wracks his brain for answers, a girl with a chocolate-brown bowl cut and olive skin does not ring any bells.

"I think Miss Endorsi told me about her," Bam offers.  "She's a really aggressive Girls! anti, but she also takes really nice photos."

Yuga grins.  "You are correct, Mr Jue Viole Grace!" His smile is unnervingly wide, and Khun wants to punch it right off his face.

"I am right here," the girl seethes.  Her tawny eyes are blazing with defiance.  She grips her small Hook camera close, and it reminds Khun of how Ran doesn't let anyone touch his own precious phone.  "But thanks for the compliment," she tells Bam grudgingly.

"Do you know what else she is?" Yuga completely ignores the young girl, and gives Khun and Bam no chance to respond.  "She's a bastard!" The RED representative says the word "bastard" the same way one would say "slug".  "She's the one who took photos of Endorsi and Bam on their apparent not-date!"

Even Bam is starting to look unnerved, the singer taking a small step back when Yuga licks his lips with a foul sounding slurp.  Khun winces at the sound.  Which 'bastard' is Yuga talking about? Does he mean the unpleasant kind of bastard, or the illegitimate kind?

"I'm interning at Dispatch so I get paid." The girl holds her head up high, even under Khun's scrutinizing glare.  Are reputations worth less than money to her? "Jahad Talent and Lighthouse Labels have both signed official contracts with Dispatch, and I'm legally allowed to take photos of artists signed under those two labels." She crosses her arms, and Khun scowls.  She's not wrong.

"But stalking and taking pictures without consent isn't!" Yuga sounds far too excited for a conversation like this.  He snatches the girl's Hook out of her hands, ignoring her indignant shout.  "Now, let's see what else is in there, shall we?"

"Give that back!" The girl's lips are turned back in a snarl, cheeks red with rage.  "My mom gave it to me.  It's mine.  Give it back."

Yuga shoves the photographer away when she lunges for her Hook, humming as he flips through the photos.  Now that Khun thinks of it, the Hook looks quite familiar.  Maria had mentioned that Endorsi had given Chicken Pie Girl one for her birthday before, and the Khun girl had helped pick it out.  "That's not how you treat a lady," says Bam with pursed lips.

Khun's phone buzzes furiously in his pocket, and he steps back, excusing himself to take the call.  He doesn't take his eyes off Yuga for a second.  "Khun," Leesoo says through the phone, "I bumped into Endorsi and Yuri, they're downstairs and they're looking for you." The scout's voice is urgent, words whispered through the receiver.  "Endorsi mentioned something about some Yoga dude, but I couldn't catch what they said."

Khun snorts.  "What, did you get distracted by their beauty?"

Leesoo gasps in faux-horror.  "Khun, my love, don't mock me like this! You know Endorsi's super gorgeous.  She completely ignored me when I asked her why she was here." He sighs dreamily.  "It was awesome."

"Couldn't be me," the CEO says with a scoff.  "Why didn't anyone stop them?"

"Yuri seduced the guards just by looking at them," the scout tells him, "they both seemed to be in a hurry, so they should get to you in five-"

"Five what?" Khun asks impatiently.

Four seconds later, the elevator doors open with a ding.  "Hey!" A female voice screeches, loud and shrill. "Get your hands off my niece!"

Niece?

The CEO's brain whirls. Endorsi is looking for Yuga, who has the photographer girl.  Endorsi had given Chicken Pie Girl a Hook before she ran away with her Chicken Pie Chef.  Chicken Pie Girl disappeared from Jahad Talent because she could've been about to have a Chicken Pie Baby.  What if the girl in front of him is the- "Chicken Pie Baby?"

The singer and his manager both gape as a high heeled shoe flies past them, colliding into Yuga's head.  Endorsi's apparent niece snatches her camera back, hugging it to her chest.  Endorsi is hurtling towards them at full speed, eyes ablaze and feet bare.  Yuga turns towards her just in time for the other heel to smack into his face.

If Khun and Bam are shocked, the girl - Chicken Pie Baby, as Khun has now dubbed her - seems to be on the verge of blacking out.  She shakes her head, looking almost angry at Endorsi's 'help'.  "What do you mean, niece? What are you even doing here?"

Endorsi pouts, confirming the CEO's suspicions.  "What, can't a girl help her sister's daughter out of the kindness of her heart?"

Chicken Pie Baby looks at her skeptically.  "What heart?"

Khun snorts at the exchange.  They sound more like sisters than a niece and aunt, or maybe that's just how he and his siblings act.  Chicken Pie Baby and Endorsi both glare at him, and he waves a hand dismissively.  "Go on, don't pay attention to me.  I'm just the CEO of the building you're in, wondering what the hell you're doing here with Yuri."

Yuga pinches Endorsi's shoes between his fingers.  "That's not very nice, Miss Androssi Zahard." Khun really should not be surprised at Yuga's tendency to call people by their real names, and if the look on Endorsi's face means anything the man in the sherpa has pronounced her name wrong too.  "If you're here to rescue young Anaak Zahard here, you're very much mistaken." He licks his lips.  "I guess Mr CEO and I will just file lawsuits against both of you!"

Ugh, lawsuits.  Khun has had enough of them.

"Oh, shut your trap," complains a new voice.  It's Ha Yuri, who's picking at her nails with her nose wrinkled in disinterest.  "Go back to where you came from, Lo Po Bia Ren.  You're a disgrace to Jahad Talent, you furry."

Yuga, or Lo Po Bia Ren the furry, pouts.  "That's so mean, Miss Yuri!"

Yuri turns her crimson glare on him.  "I've had enough of this fool." She snaps her fingers.  "Take him away, Kurudan.  Make sure this doesn't get out."

"Yes, Miss Ha." A giant man with dark skin, white hair and three slashes across his face picks Ren up, hauling him away like a sack of potatoes despite his screams of vengeance.

Endorsi grins.  "Thanks, Yuri! I owe you big time."

Yuri grins back with dimpled cheeks in her signature shark-like smile.  "You mean you owe me Bam time."

"Hey," Khun interjects sharply, "Bam's not an object you can pass around."

Bam flushes.  "Miss Yuri and I were planning to record our song, actually.  I must've forgotten to tell you, Mr Khun!"

Khun relaxes.  "That's good.  Bring her to the studio, make sure Hatz doesn't try to fight her." He looks at Yuri with threatening eyes.  "If you try anything-" He draws a finger across his throat.

Bam laughs. "You're the only one who manages to get on his nerves like that.  Have more faith in Miss Yuri, Mr Khun! She won't try anything."

Khun doesn't really believe that.  Yuri was the one who taught his innocent Bam to twerk, of all things.  He watches them disappear into the lift.

Endorsi squats down to Anaak's height, ignoring the younger girl's retorts of "hey! Don't come too close!" and "don't make fun of my height!"

"How about I explain everything to you over lunch?" Anaak still looks skeptical.  "My treat.  We can go to your father's place, the one with the chicken pies."

Anaak visibly brightens at the sound of chicken pie.  "Deal."

Endorsi laughs, ruffling her hair.  "You really are your mother's daughter." She cheerfully skips away, her niece trailing behind her.  Anaak looks a little less sullen.

The lift dings again.  "Miss Yuri!" Khun squints.  It's Evan, trying to run as fast as he can with that heavy backpack.  "Khun, did you see where she went?"

The CEO tries not to laugh at the other manager's state, the shorter man huffing and puffing with his hands on his knees to stabilize himself.  "She ran off with Bam.  They have a song to record.  She didn't tell you either?"

Evan groans, trying to catch his breath.  He mutters something about heavy backpacks and short legs.  "She did, but she ran off with Endorsi!" He huffs and puffs some more, groaning as he drops his backpack onto the floor.  "Yuri is reckless, and Endorsi is rebellious.  The two of them are a serious force to be reckoned with.  I don't understand how your BAM manages to keep up with them."

Khun can't help but laugh.  What a day.

Chapter Text

"You want to go through with Urek Mazino's challenge to a rap battle at the Regular Show."

"Yep!"

"And you think you have a chance of winning."

"Yeah! Master Hansung, Miss Yuri and Miss Endorsi taught me a lot.  I like Miss Endorsi's singing more than her rapping, though.  She has a nice voice.  Miss Yuri sings like she raps and raps like she sings.  They're both so amazing! Master Hansung can't rap, though."

Khun pinches the bridge of his nose.  Apparently, Bam has a death wish.

The current two most popular female rappers may have taken a liking to him and adopted him as a protege, but the manager still has his doubts.  He shouldn't, really.  Bam learns instantly by watching and listening, and Khun is positive there's nothing legal Bam wouldn't learn how to do.  "But you do realize that Urek has had years of experience, right? His top rapping speed is fourteen syllables per second.  He's not the most popular male rapper with no reason."

(Well, that's because Urek likes to walk around shirtless, according to Garam and Hachuling's complaints.  Garam finds it irritating, and Hachuling needs to wrestle him every time he wants Urek to put something on.)

It is perfectly reasonable for Khun to worry.  What if Bam doesn't do well? What if that makes his self esteem drop? Khun and the media team have been hiding threat emails from him, but social media is another domain entirely.  The music video for 'seedling' has reached over twenty thousand likes on ViewTube, but it also has one dislike for every twenty likes.  Getting so much hate had destroyed Maria's confidence in herself in her early years of stardom, and even now she's still learning to be genuinely strong and not rely on a facade.  Khun couldn't do anything but watch when the happy Maria he remembered, the Maria who wouldn't hesitate to try his cooking, slowly disappeared, shrinking into a shell too thin and too gaunt.  Good thing she had Endorsi with her steady leadership, bold heart and feisty spirit unafraid to punish those who hurt her newfound family.  Khun would never forgive himself if that happened to Bam.

"I'll be fine, Mr Khun.  Don't worry about me! Worry for that third mystery rapper.  I probably won't beat Mr Urek, but I won't go easy on that third guy either." Bam smiles at Khun's unconvinced expression.  It's sincere, and Khun can tell that Bam genuinely has no fear for this challenge.  "It'll be fun, Mr Khun! I've never been challenged to a public battle before.  I don't think Miss Maschenny's one counts as a proper challenge.  I'm actually pretty excited, Mr Khun! You'll root for me, won't you?"

Khun tuts at the singer playfully.  "I'm insulted you would think that I'd do otherwise.  I've got your back, Bam.  I always will."

Bam's golden eyes glitter as he throws his arms around his manager, who squeaks in surprise at the sudden attack.  Thankfully, they're in the relative safety of Khun's office, Bam can be unabashedly affectionate.  Over the past few months, Khun has flipped his entire office over at least one a week.  Thanks to his stalking injunction, Michael isn't allowed within five hundred feet of him and isn't allowed to contact him either, but he's still wary after Michael had sent Khun a picture of the blue-haired CEO tapping away on his keyboard, doing work.  Who knows if the stalker had somehow bugged his office? The only way was to clean the office himself, even if it meant he had to tiptoe on the table and peer over the lights.  "Thank you," Bam mumbles, "thank you for always being here for me."

Khun would've reflexively answered "I love you too" if his desktop hadn't pinged.

Bam pulls away to glance at the message, and Khun immediately makes a silent noise of protest.  Has his office always been so cold? He's already wearing a cardigan.  "Who's Michael?"

The CEO freezes.  Michael? Shït, shït, shït.  If the stalker somehow had a camera somewhere, that would destroy their reputations.  Affection between two males in a private setting never looked good, not when one had outed himself years ago and the other is still making his way around popularity.  "Nobody," he answers quickly.  He screenshots the email before deleting it and blocking the sender.  That's the fifth account Michael has created to 'talk' to him.  The man had been trying to contact Khun nearly every day for the past few months.  At first, he'd been begging for Khun to 'take him back', but after the CEO had sent him a robotic reminder of the injunction, he'd started sending him thinly veiled threats instead.  Specifically, threats about Khun and Bam, constantly knowing where the two were even if they were as inconspicuous as possible.  Khun has been extra careful as of late, making sure that Bam hides all his discerning features before stepping out into the public, and doing the same for himself.  Even so, Michael had sent him a picture of Khun on his Manbarondenna, even though the CEO had hidden his blue locks under his helmet and his face behind a dark tinted visor.  Khun swears he saw Michael at one of Bam's fan-signs, standing at the back and staring at the singer and his manager with unblinking eyes.  He hasn't told anybody else about Michael beside his lawyer, a distant cousin.  Even Ran doesn't know.

Khun swallows.  Bam doesn't have to know.  If it gets worse, Khun will just take it to court as quietly as possible.  He has already sued a few of the notable trolls who have been particularly vicious towards the singer, a few more cases can't hurt.   Michael wouldn't breach the injunction, right? "Nobody you need to worry about."

Bam still looks suspicious, forever Khun's human lie detector.  Gold clashes against blue for a few moments, trying to get past the walls hiding all of Khun's secrets.  Khun doesn't let him pass, so the singer changes the topic.  "Ah! Did you know the song we'll be rapping is a diss track to the haters? Apparently it's one of Miss Yulia's favorite songs!" Bam looks giddy.  "I've never dissed a hater before."

Khun would've doubted Bam's ability to diss if he didn't already know the singer well enough.  Hell, the innocent-looking brunette had summoned some kind of demonic confidence and intensity that had made the manager dazed once; run to the toilet and rekindle a relationship with his right hand another time; given him a whole damn nosebleed worthy of an anime male protagonist once.  Surely he could take Bam rapping a diss track?

Khun underestimates Bam by a lot.

He blames Urek, really.  The rapper had thought of more traditional outfits to match the traditional beat of the song, but who would've thought Bam would look so good in a black hanbok with golden dragons running down the sleeves? Combining that with a pair of sunglasses, freshly tousled hair, a hand fan and a nearly transparent shirt underneath is more than enough to make the unprofessional side of Khun scream.

Khun may be a little biased when he says that Bam looks a billion times better than Urek with his red hanbok and silver tigers, or the third contestant Pan with his grey hanbok and blue peacocks.  Alright, Khun is extremely biased. (But Pan's outfit is a downright outrage.  Grey is such a dull color for performances.  Who had picked those clothes for him?)

Urek starts the song off.  His rap style includes a lot of tongue rolling and other sound effects, and the audience are already impressed.  Khun isn't unfaithful, but he should know better than to make another losing bet with Hachuling, who is sitting smugly next to him.  Urek has had years of practice and experience, and Bam's instant learning magic can't possibly compete, right? 

Bam definitely does have a chance against Pan, though.  Khun has only heard fragments of Bam's rapping in his new tracks (before Hatz spotted him standing outside Samurai Studio and threatened to knock him out with his drumsticks), but from what he remembers of Bam telling him, being slower but looking cooler is definitely better than trying to go much faster than your own mouth will allow.  Pan isn't that bad, but he's trying too hard to stick to the beat.  There's no emotion, no sass like the original rapper had.

Khun could go on forever about Rapper BAM.

The outfit is simply delightful, and clearly the screaming Chestnut crowd agrees.  Yuri must've given him a crash course on how to be cool, because Bam's casual smirk is not too different from the Queen member's trademark shark grin.  Khun understands why Maschenny screams over text and keyboard-smashes every time he or Maria mentions Yuri's smile.  The haters the track is directed at must be quaking in their boots at the sound of Bam's smoothly delivered jabs.

'Dang' is an incredibly fitting title for the track.

Everything escalates when Bam starts deliberately stuttering through his lines.  If Khun is on the verge of screaming, he wonders how Aguero would react.  Aguero would probably faint on the spot and call it dehydration.  When Bam says "shut up" with a look of righteous arrogance, he rips the sunglasses off his face and tosses it to the hungry crowd to be caught by some lucky Chestnut.

Khun wasn't even aware of the fact that Bam could make such a face, but it's all good.

When the three rappers finish, it's up to a panel of judges to choose the winner.  Namely: Yulia, Empress of diss raps; Baek Ryun, one of Urek's seniors; and strangely enough, Gustang, representing Lone Wave Radio.  That man really has to get himself involved with everything, does he?

Khun and Bam turn out to be correct in thinking that Pan would be an easy opponent.  Hachuling whoops with a "hell yeah! Beat it, A.A!" when Urek wins, unsurprisingly.  Bam accepts second place with grace, knowing that Yulia had given him a higher score than Urek.  

Bam is buzzing with post-performance adrenaline when they leave, press interviews and impromptu fan-signs over.  Urek grabs Bam by the shoulders, asking if the singer has completed his albums yet.  Bam tells him no, and the rapper whoops, demanding a collaboration.  Khun couldn't be happier with his singer.

Everything is great until Khun has a gun to his skull.

Chapter Text

"At last," a voice gloats, "I've finally got you in my hands."

Khun freezes.  There's an arm around his throat, the cold barrel of a gun pressed against his temple.  All around him, there are people screaming, some eagerly snapping pictures before fleeing.  Hachuling and Urek's bodyguard Yuje are herding the rapper and Baek Ryun out of the scene, despite Hachuling's worried glances at his 'cute cousin'.  Yulia is being rushed off by her bodyguard, and Gustang has already disappeared.  In his peripheral vision, he can see Ran muttering into his phone.  Khun isn't sure if his younger cousin is calling the cops or for backup, but he trusts him either way.

"I filed an injunction against you." Khun's voice is surprisingly steady, even to himself.  Being chased by paparazzi and mobbed by fans feels like nothing in compared to this.  "You're not allowed within five hundred metres of me.  It's within my legal right to call the cops and have you jailed for stalking and attempted murder."

There's a brown-haired figure pushing against the crowd, shouting his name, but Khun wills him to stay back.  He refuses to show fear in front of that dratted Michael - all the cop films he watched has taught him to stay calm in the face of danger - but the stalker knows Bam is his weakness.  "I knew you'd both be here.  I snuck into your apartment.  I've been hiding in your closet for the past few weeks."

What? 

How could Khun possibly have not noticed? He hasn't heard any strange noises, seen anything wrong with the way his things were placed.  The fist around his heart squeezes.  He can't tell if his heart is beating too quickly or if it's not beating at all.  Fear is a terrible thing, but as long as Michael doesn't hurt Bam, everything will be fine.  "You're lying."

"I'm not," Michael tells him pleasantly.  "I know how you feel about him.  I've heard you talking about him to that sister of yours.  She's pretty, isn't she? Imagine someone scarred that pretty face of hers."

The blood in his veins is replaced with ice.  "Don't you dare hurt Maria," the bluenette snarls.  If Lo Po Bia Ren was any indication, Jahad definitely had enough manpower to protect his artists, but Khun had no idea where Maria was, or who was with her.  Bam, on the other hand... "If you even touch a single hair on Bam's head, I'll destroy you myself."

Khun grunts, hands scrabbling at the arm around his throat when the stalker's grip tightens, the gun's light caress a heavyweight against his skull.  "So he's the one you like more than me, huh? I wonder what he would do if he knew what a fag you are.  If he knew how desperately in love with him you are and he knew the way you want him, he'd hate you forever, wouldn't he? And then you'd be mine to take," Michael crows.  "I know what you think about him.  It disgusts me."

Khun scoffs. He really wishes he had a knife.  "You claim to be in love with me, but look what you're doing.  You have a gun to my head.  You're threatening me.  Is that really what love is to you? The cops are coming, Michael.  This is not a good situation for you to be in."

Michael doesn't respond, only continues to crush his windpipe.  Khun gasps for air, dark spots floating in front of his eyes.  "Hey!" Bam is standing in front of them, wielding his fan like the sword of an avenging angel.  His golden eyes are blazing with protectiveness and the threat of danger.  "Put the gun down, and let Mr Khun go!"

Khun's entire body goes rigid when the stalker takes the gun away from his skull and points it towards Bam instead.  "I can't do that," he tells Bam with a serene smile against the manager's hair.  "I guess I'll just have to take you out of the equation instead." He scoffs.  "Rachel says you're just a clingy brat anyway.  The world would be better off without you."

Now it's Bam who tenses up, the fan in his hand clattering to the ground.  The expression on his face reminds Khun of a wounded rabbit, innocent and hurt for the first time.  "You know Rachel? She said that about me?" He takes a shaky breath before sweeping that expression right off his face.  "But if I'm clingy, what are you? Clearly, Mr Khun doesn't want you anywhere near him.  Maybe I was clingy, but at least I knew when I wasn't wanted."

Michael is shaking with rage, and Khun's vision is fuzzy at the edges.  He can't breathe.  Really, neither of them should have antagonized a man with a gun even if he was wrong, but at least that rage gives Khun enough of a distraction to grab the stalker's wrist with lightning-fast reflexes and twist.

Bang.

Michael screams when the CEO wrenches the gun out of his hand, breaking his pointer finger in the process.  Ran jumps, a bullet millimetres away from his foot.  The stalker falls to his knees, cradling his hand to his chest.  Khun stumbles away, kicking the gun away like a soccer ball before regaining his breath.  Bam loops Khun's arm around his shoulders when the manager falls against him.  "You- You son of a bïtch!"

"Edahn is a bïtch," Khun agrees faux-pleasantly.  He glares down at the stalker with icy eyes.  Outside, sirens blare.  "The cops are coming.  You are not going anywhere."

For once, Michael's eyes are open as he stares at Khun vengefully.  "Just wait, you'll be mine-"

"Cut the crap," Bam snaps.  "Mr Khun isn't an object.  He doesn't belong to anyone, least of all you." Khun is abruptly reminded of an incident a few months before the singer's debut, where Bam had fearlessly stepped into a fight that was getting violent and managed to get both sides to apologize to each other.  Has kindness always been so terrifying?

"Police!" A voice bellows.  "Put your hands over your head!"

A police officer wrangles Michael into a pair of handcuffs, and Khun jumps when Ran taps him, suddenly by his side.  "Mind your static electricity," the older bluenette hisses, "and stop scuffing your shoes when you walk.  And thanks for being the only one smart enough to call the cops."

"Shut up, A.A, you're so bothersome" roughly translates to "no problem, stop criticizing the way I walk" in Ran-speak.

Michael shrieks and howls as the police drag him away.  One of the cops stammers for an autograph from Bam, smiling when the singer gives him one.  The brunette is smiling too, but it doesn't reach his eyes.  "I want my lawyer!"

Khun sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.   Paperwork is bad enough, but legal paperwork is worse.  Good thing he has a thumb drive full of texts, emails and pictures incriminating Michael, as well as witnesses to the scene just now.  He makes a mental note to contact his own lawyer.  He won't lose the court battle with good evidence.  He can't.

"Mr Khun? Why didn't you tell me that was Michael? If you knew him and he tried to kill you, why did you tell me he was nobody?"

Ran and Amigochaz are busy keeping the cameras away from the singer and his manager.  Khun had wanted to keep this out of the public eye, but now that Michael had pointed a gun to his skull, then pointed it at his most precious person, he can't exactly keep it all under wraps. "He's a stalker."

"He stalked you?" Bam looks angry, protective and betrayed all at the same time.  "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want to scare you-"

"But you did! Do you know how terrifying it was to see that guy point a gun at your head? I know the car crash wasn't any of our faults, but I know it hurt when you lost me.  I'm remembering so much more about how close we were, and I'm not ready-" His voice breaks, and Khun's heart breaks along with it.  "I can't lose you again."

"Bam," Khun protests, "there are cameras-"

The singer claps his hands onto his manager's cheeks, tilting his head to face him.  "Forget about the cameras for now, Mr Khun.  I'd trust you with my life.  So why can't you trust me with yours too?" Khun opens his mouth to answer, but Bam beats him to it.  "I know becoming famous puts my life in danger, but I chose to do this.  I know the risks, and I'm prepared to face them.  You helped me with my problems, so please, Mr Khun, let me help you with yours too." He pulls his manager into a hug, completely disregarding the flashing cameras.  Khun doesn't even want to imagine the headlines, especially after what Michael had said.  "It's your responsibility as a manager to help me, but it's my responsibility as a friend to help you.  We're in this together, remember? You don't have to be strong all the time.  I'm stronger than I look.  You can share your burdens and your fears with me too."

The squeezing hand around Khun's heart loosens, and warmth spreads around his body, starting in his chest.  A part of him wants to say yes, I'll do whatever you want me to, but it's small.  Khun had given Bam his heart years ago, but he'd never given him the key.  Perhaps it's locked far away in an icy chest buried deep in his mind, perhaps it had been lost years ago.  But Bam seems to be forging his own key, leaving a blazing trail of gold in his wake.

Victor had told him years ago that love was trust, and trust could only be formed through truth and communication.  The older man was the first one to find out about Aguero's romantic epiphany at fifteen, he was the one who coaxed Aguero into talking about his feelings.  He was always the one urging Aguero to talk things out with Bam after nasty disagreements that had the older boy hiding and the younger one crying.  Khun doesn't know if his surrogate father had taken Aguero's secret to the grave, but what he does know is that Victor would be rolling in his grave if he knows how many things Khun is keeping from Bam.

Perhaps now would be a good time to stop disappointing the man who had raised him like his own son.

Khun swallows, voice weak and barely audible.  "Okay."

"Excuse me!" The voice of an overeager reporter shouts in his ear.  "Can you give us a statement about what happened just now?"

Khun's heart rate spikes and his breathing quickens when he shoves himself away from Bam's warmth.  The constant blinding flashes and screamed-out questions should not be a problem, but there are too many people crowded around him, swarming him, trying to grab him to get his attention.  It's too suffocating, even with Amigochaz keeping most of them away.  He feels like he's seven years old and stranded away from his family again, a little puddle of blue on white concrete.  Khun takes a deep breath, then another.

Do not show weakness.  Do not show fear.

"BAM! Do you mind giving us an eyewitness account of the event?"

"Khun! Is it true that the man just now used to work for you?"

"Mr CEO! Will you be suing FUG for their mismanagement of their employees?"

The mob continues to shout for quotes and answers until Khun clears his throat.  The ice in his sweeping glare is enough for the cameras to stop flashing.  Some sort of sick pleasure rises within him at the way they cower under his frosty gaze.  When he was younger, he could've been interested in going into the music industry as an artist.  Of course, his singing would be no match for Bam's, but he has been told he has a nice voice that matches his piano.  However, he likes bossing people around too much to do that.  This is why he's a CEO and a manager. 

"That was an incredibly traumatizing experience for Bam and myself.  We will not be offering anymore statements."

When he leaves, the crowd parts for him like the Red Sea.

Chapter Text

"Whew, that was horrible."

Bam flops backwards onto his bed, spread-eagled form too big for its frame.  He nearly kicks Khun with those long legs of his.  The manager sighs and perches on the edge, careful not to accidentally sit on a hand or a foot.  The floor is cold even through his socks, but it's a nice sort of cold.  He's used to being cold.

(He's not used to having guns pointed at him, so a bit of familiarity is nice.)

"I'm-" It's just two simple words, but they've always been hard for him to say.  However, it's even harder not to say it when an imaginary version of Victor is poking at his back with a stick and demanding for Khun to explain everything to Bam.  "I'm sorry.  I put you in danger because I underestimated the situation."

Bam's fingers creep across the bed-sheets until they intertwine with Khun's.  "It's okay, Mr Khun.  I don't think he would've hurt me." He rolls over, making grabby hands at his manager's cold fingers.  "Gimme your other hand," he mumbles into a pillow, "your fingers are so cold."

Khun does just that - Bam would've just pouted at him until he did, and he would much rather not let the brunette bash down his resolve any further.  Does he even have any of that left?

They managed to sneak away from the building where the Regular Show was held, Ran and Amigochaz tailing the singer and his manager in a car until they had to go their separate ways.  The singer had been mostly quiet during the motorcycle ride back to his dorm room, but he'd been unusually touchy-feely, arms around his waist like he was anchoring Khun to reality.   Bam sits up and shuffles towards the bluenette wrapping his arms around him.  "Are you still scared? Miss Maria told me that emotional jumper cables are quite effective in helping people feel better."

Khun huffs out a laugh.  When they were younger, Maria had been a serious advocate for her brother's relationship with his best friend, perhaps more so than Victor.  She had been talking to her little brother's favorite singer at the Tower Awards after-party, was she indirectly trying to guide Bam towards the relationship she knew Khun wanted? "This is a hug, Bam."

"But is it working? It doesn't feel right to see you scared," insists the singer.

Khun leans into the touch.  He's not sure whether to be surprised at his own actions anymore.  That damn nosebleed he had a few weeks ago had destroyed whatever trust he had in himself.  His stalker is gone, there are no cameras around and no creeps watching them (at least that's what he hopes), so he can just let himself bask in Bam's warmth, right? It's cozy like this, the fluffiest blanket of domesticity over him.  "... yeah.  Thank you, Bam."

The brunette hums, still clinging to him like a better, cuddlier version of Evan's giant backpack.  "Take your time, Mr Khun.  The worst things are always the hardest to talk about, but it'll be better to talk to someone about it than to bottle it up in the long run."

The CEO huffs out a laugh.  It sounds oddly like something Victor would've told him with sage nods and a deathly serious expression. "When did you get so wise?"

Bam smiles, sad and a little distant.  "Experience."

They stay in comfortable silence for a few moments, Bam's head resting on Khun's shoulder.  Khun wishes they could just stay like this forever, capture this feeling in a bottle and bring it everywhere he goes.  "Michael used to work at Lighthouse," Khun murmurs.  "I hired him a little after I started the company.  I had everything planned - profits, artists I wanted, legal entities, bank accounts, taxes and everything."

"How old were you?" The singer asks curiously.  "I wonder what I was doing when you were off starting an entertainment company." Khun can feel the brunette nosing against his hair, although he can't tell if it's subconscious or deliberate.  Well, at least Bam isn't complaining about his new citrus shampoo.

"Twenty-three," the CEO admits.  "Fresh out of university.  People either loved me or hated me because I was young, ambitious and rich, but I was also the discarded heir-to-be of Khun Entertainment.  I knew Leesoo back when I was shadowing Edahn, and he scouted Hatz.  I hired Novick as part of the media team and I had Ran intern with him, but Ran insisted on working for me because the two of them are seriously competitive.  I tricked Dan into working for me in a restaurant."

"Sneaky," Bam mumbles.  Khun squirms when a hint of stubble rubs against his neck.  "How'd you find the creep? I don't know what he did to you the first time but I don't like him already," declares the singer.

"I found him along with another woman called Apple.  Apple was really good with communications, so I recruited her for the public relations department with Dan.  But she and Michael were pretty much a package deal, so I hired him too.  He was pretty much our impromptu nurse as well.  He patched up Ran and Novick when they tried to beat each other up." Bam looks alarmed.  "He was good at his job, but something about him always creeped me out.   Maybe it's because he kept smiling all the time.  I don't know if I've actually seen his eyes open either."

Khun can feel Bam pouting against his cheek.  "I smile a lot.  Does that ever creep you out?"

"How could I ever be scared of you?" Bam smiles like liquid gold under the sunlight: bright, beautiful, warm, precious.  Bam smiles like everything he wanted.  "Besides, your smiles are much prettier." Admitting that is strangely easy, and Khun swears to say more truthful compliments when Bam makes a pleased little sound.  "His smiles were like-" The CEO twists his features into a serene-looking smile, turning to Bam with his eyes closed.  "And he did it all the time."

Bam shivers, pinching the bluenette's cheeks.  Khun yelps, eyes snapping open.  "What do you mean by all the time?"

"He always knew where I was.  It wasn't too weird at first, he just always managed to find me after I had meetings he wasn't supposed to know about, or meetings that didn't involve him."

"What a creep." Bam's voice is low and angry.  "How long did he make you go through all that?" 

"The first few months were awkward but tolerable, but the few months after were-" Khun shudders, his own voice cutting him off.  "He kept getting into my office when I locked the door, and when I had the lock changed he got in again.  He started sending me emails with pictures of me on my bike, or me heading out of my estate.  Once he tried to follow me home-"

"What?"

"- but don't worry, I fired him after he gave our resident cook Gyetang food poisoning with raw chicken, and then I filed an injunction against him after he cornered me in a public toilet -"

"WHAT?"

"I had my pants zipped up," Khun reassures his singer.  Bam's entire expression is tight, his eyes dark and his jaw clenched.  "He caused 'emotional distress' but at least he didn't touch me inappropriately.  If he tried, I would've kicked him where it hurts."

He stifles a gasp when Bam tightens the vice grip around his waist.  "Why did he come back?" The brunette grinds out.  "Why was he so obsessed with you?"

Khun groans.  "I have no idea.  And loosen up a little, Bam, I can't breathe.  I'm not going to disappear if you let go."

Bam jumps, scooting away and nearly toppling off the bed in the process.  "Ah! Right.  Sorry."

Well, I didn't say you could stop, complains some petulant part of Khun's brain.  It's not his fault he gets cold so easily and stay that way unless he receives warmth from outside sources.  He shivers, trying to stuff as much of himself into his sweater as possible.  Bam pads away from the bed, silently shutting off the air conditioner before sitting next to Khun.  They're an unsatisfactory foot apart, and Khun lets himself fall to the side.  His head lands neatly on Bam's lap.  He rolls onto his back to look up at his singer, feeling like a sated cat.  Now, if only there was a way he could get head scratches too...

"You have very nice thighs, Bam." Very muscular, whispers an appreciative voice in his head, 0/10 would recommend because I'm selfish and I want them to myself.

Bam turns bright red.  "Oh.  Um.  Thanks, Mr Khun? Master Evankhell makes me do a lot of squats as part of my exercise regime," he stammers out. The singer looks down at him like someone who has a sleeping cat on their lap but is too afraid to pet it or shoo it.

"You can tell me to move if this is uncomfortable for you."

Bam shifts a little to accommodate the new weight on his lap.  "I don't mind, really.  It's good to see you so relaxed.  You've been so tense and stressed out lately.  If it's Michael's fault, please destroy him in court."

Khun huffs out a laugh, a warm wave of fondness washing through him.  "I'd destroy him even if you didn't ask me to.  He deserves whatever he's going to get.  Whatever lawyer that creep hired, I'm sure mine is better."

Bam hums.  "That's a lot of confidence you have in your lawyer."

The bluenette winks, tapping his temple.  "What can I say? We're distant relatives.  We've got the same Khun brain, and if we ever need it we have the influence too."

The singer splutters.  "Mr Khun, are you implying that you would bribe the judge?"

"I could if I wanted to.  But I wouldn't.  I've got a reputation, you know? I'm sneaky and I'll always be, but I'm not manipulative like I was before.  I've got you to look after now."

"Oh yeah, I remember now," Bam notes gaily, "you were horrible to play against at Monopoly.  You kept bankrupting me, even when I teamed up with Papa or Miss Maria.  The only person who could ever beat you was your little sister.  What's her name again? Ki-Ki- something, I forgot."

"Kiseia," Khun inputs with a small scowl.  "She's a right little demon." She also hates him for leaving her alone with the nightmare that is Khun Eduan.  He lifts a hand up, absentmindedly tracing the curve of Bam's jaw with a finger.  The singer's eyes go wide at the touch, but he quickly relaxes.  "I'm glad you're remembering more now."

"Me too," the brunette says with a smile coated in the gentlest of sunlight.  Bam may be the 'night', but to Khun he is brighter than anything he has ever seen.  The stage lights may burn into his eyelids long after they've been shut, but Bam's light is gentle, seeping into his very skin.  Clearly, Khun isn't the only one who thinks this, by the way everybody who has gotten to know Bam are drawn in by his presence like moths to a flame.  Those years he had spent without Bam had been the darkest of his life, and if he's lucky, he'll stay by Bam's side for as long as he can.

"Speaking of which, Mr Gustang gave you the keys to the house Mama, Papa and I used to live, right? I've been dreaming a lot about this thing I left there somewhere, and I think it was pretty important to me.  I can't really remember where exactly I put it, though, or what it is.  I'll know what it is when I get there." He looks at Khun with wide, pleading eyes.  "Can we go back?"

Chapter Text

Khun really doesn't know how to say no to Bam.

As Aguero, he'd always been so terribly week for those golden puppy dog eyes, wide and imploring as they stared straight into his soul.  If Bam looked at Aguero like that, Aguero would've given him anything he wanted: a star, a cloud, the moon.  As Khun, he thought he'd built up somewhat of a resolve, but it seems like adulthood has not changed a thing.  Even after a decade, Khun Aguero Agnis is still totally whipped for Bam and would do anything for him, even if the singer didn't use those eyes.  Hell, Khun would jump in front of a moving vehicle for his most precious friend, even if the thought of death scares him like nothing else.  The realization that Khun would lay down his life for Bam terrifies him.

It's frankly unsurprising that Khun is riding down Cornelia Street to the Grace family mansion on his motorcycle two days later, with a set of long-unused keys in his pocket and a brunet singer's chest taped to his back two days later.

(Or is it three? Sleep deprivation is making him lose track of time.  Court cases suck, but at least making sure the legal paperwork means good riddance for Michael for at least five years.  At this point, all he knows is that BAM will release the music video for his new title track in two weeks, which will mark the start of the Blue Moon era and yet more work to do.  If it's for Bam, it'll be worth it, though.  Doing things for Bam is always worth it, even at his own expense.)

"I was listening to Papa's old songs, and he wrote a song about this street," Bam mumbles.  "it was about when he and Mama first moved in together - ack!" Even after countless tries, his safety helmet is just as stubborn as he is, refusing to get off his head even though Khun has long parked the Manbarondenna and has taken off his own helmet with relative ease.  He peers at Khun through a dark screen.  "Help?"

The singer and his manager successfully wrangle the helmet off his head, the latter shaking his hair out like a wet dog.  It returns into its original wavy state, but there are still a few spikes here and there.  Khun wants to run his finger through it, but he shoves his hands into his pockets instead.  "I wish we could use normal motorbike helmets.   I know these ones are meant to hide our faces, but they're always so hard to take off."

"Me too," says Khun with a heavy sigh, "but there are cameras everywhere and this is the only way we don't get caught." At least that's the way it is for the average fan and paparazzi - the 'devoted' ones could probably recognize them just by looking at their backs.  Besides, there was always the risk that someone would notice how close they were and assume something was up between the two of them.  Thankfully, pretty much everybody who can afford to live at Cornelia Street is relatively famous, one way or another.  They have nothing to fear here, not from their neighbors.

The Grace house looks like most of the other houses on the street.  It looks almost the same as it did nearly a decade ago, with its white-painted walls and raised steps cutting through a mini-garden and leading to a wooden door.  Time has taken its toll on the long empty house: the white walls are now off-white; Arlene's well-kept garden is full of overgrown weeds an explosions of flowers; the wooden door is rusting at the hinges with the doorbell covered in cobwebs.  Oh well, it's nothing a bit of money and manual labor can't fix. 

Khun feels like he's sixteen again, next to a brown-haired boy with big dreams and a bigger heart, no longer alone in the world when he's beside the best friend who is the sole owner of his heart.

The key to the door lies heavy in his closed fist, and he opens it up for the brunette.  So many of his best memories have happened here, from awkward first play-dates and creating tender friendships at five to lying under the moonlight and counting stars during the sleepover for his sixteenth birthday.  "Let's go home, Bam."

Bam picks the key out of his waiting hand, running his fingers over the grooves as they make their way up to the door.  "Okay." He takes a deep breath and inserts the key into the lock.  He twists the key until the lock opens with a click.  "Let's do this!"

The wooden door swings open with a gentle push and a creeeeeeeak.

(It sounds like something out of a horror film, to be honest.  Khun doesn't remember who lives in the area anymore, but he thinks somebody may be watching them.  A neighbor, perhaps? He shivers and squashes down the goosebumps that rise on his skin.)

The inside of the house would've matched Khun's memories of it if not for the state.  Just like the weeds growing in the garden, time has not been kind to the walls and the furniture, covering it all with dust.  Bam blows at the living room wall, revealing a patch of mellowing yellow.  "We painted that together, didn't we? The wall looked like lemon peel for years."

"You started a paint war," Khun recalls with a fond but mildly accusatory tone, "I couldn't get the yellow out of my hair for ages.  Rak started calling me Banana Turtle instead of Blue Turtle."

Bam looks sheepish.  He reaches out, carefully examining a strand of sky blue hair.  "Somehow, I can't imagine you blond."

Khun huffs.  "Excuse you, I would make an excellent blond."

The brunette windmills his arms, trying to backtrack.  "That's not what I meant, Mr Khun! I mean, the only blondes I know are Wangnan, Rachel and Mr Lero Ro, and I really can't imagine you with curry colored hair or straw colored hair.  I'm sure you'd pull off any other shade of blond."

Khun hums thoughtfully.  "I don't know what Rachel looks like, but I can't imagine myself with hair like Wangnan's either." Curry stains are also incredibly annoying to get out, as he has learned from Ship Leesoo and his love for curry fishballs.  "Maybe I'll try going blonde one day."

Bam smiles at him reassuringly.  "I'd like to see that.  I'm sure you'll look good in any hairstyle.  Just try not to damage your hair too much, okay? Your hair is too nice to be damaged."

Khun laughs, flipping his hair over his shoulder.  It's getting long, he should get it cut soon.  "Honey, I'm the king of hair care.  Don't doubt my abilities."

They both freeze at the realization that Khun had just called Bam honey.  The bluenette curses Maschenny out in his head - his cousin's love of hair-flips and tendency to sarcastically call people cutesy nicknames like "sweetheart" and "buttercup" must've rubbed off on him through text.  Where did "honey" come from? Bam stammers out a nervous laugh.  "Right, Mr Khun.  Of course not."

They try to diffuse the awkward ensuing silence by moving into the dining room.  "I tried to make you a cake for your birthday, I think," muses Bam as he collects dust on the tip of his finger.  "I can't remember how old we were or what cake I wanted to make, but I remember I failed really badly." He sighs.  "Mama and Papa didn't know how to make cakes either."

Khun snorts.  "It was blueberry cheesecake."

The brunette inhales deeply, like he can smell the memory.  "Your favorite."

Maria may have been the one to introduce Aguero to the cold, sweet and creamy dessert, but Bam was the one who made him love it.  "You called me over to make cake for my own twelfth birthday." Khun tells his singer teasingly, "what a disgrace.  You even started a food fight and got cream in my hair."

Bam splutters, pouting when Khun laughs.  "I'll make you another one! I'm better at cooking now.  I had to learn, or Yihwa would set the kitchen on fire again." Khun really hopes being the manager of Tangsooyook doesn't mean he has to give them cooking classes too.  Hopefully, Bam would be a better sous-chef than Maria.  Scratch that, anyone would be a better sous-chef than Maria.  "I won't even make a mess, unless you don't mind showering at my place and wearing my shirts again."

Khun would mind, but Aguero most certainly didn't.  The smell of the Grace's fabric softener mixed with Bam's natural scent is buried somewhere deep in his head, never to be smelled again.  "Surprise me, Bam."

Bam laughs heartily, eyes crinkling at the edges and his grin spread wide.  Cute.  Khun's heart goes ba-DUM in his chest.  He imprints that memory into his head, hopes that he can freeze this little moment in time forever.  "I'll try!"

The singer opens the door to his father's recording room, and the two of them laugh when a cloud of dust pushes a synchronized sneeze out of them.  Bam nearly walks into a giant cobweb.  The spider, thankfully, is long gone.  "Mr Khun," the singer grunts, "I'm losing feeling in my fingers."

Khun flushes pink, loosening his vice grip on Bam's forearm.  "Right.  Sorry." If Bam ever wants to return to his house, he'll have to clean it up first.  Khun knows how to do his own chores, he's a fully grown adult male who can take care of a little dust.  But spiders? God no.

Bam wanders around the recording room.  To one side, there's a dusty piano that's so horrendously out of tune both of them wrinkle their noses despite not having perfect pitch.  There are yet more spiderwebs laced over the strings of Victor's electronic guitar.  Bam plucks one, and Khun jumps at the sight of a tiny spider scuttling out.  He hates spiders almost as much as he hates Michael.  The singer coughs and splutters when he opens a dusty cabinet, which is thankfully cleaner on the inside.  If Arlene could see the state of her house, she'd scream.  When Khun accidentally touches a spiderweb, he finds himself on the verge of screaming too.

Bam stuffs as many CDs and small vinyls into his backpack as possible.  Some of them are The Outside's old singles which aren't being sold anymore; some of them V's solos, others trial recordings by a teenage Bam.  "I swear I put it here," the brunette mumbles, "where'd I put it?"

Khun would chide Bam for his forgetfulness - sometimes it's too easy to forget that his most precious friend had lost access to so many of their most precious memories when he remembers new things every time he sees something familiar.  "Maybe you put it in your room."

Bam looks at him with bright eyes.  "You're so smart, Mr Khun! Let's go!" He grabs his manager's hand with his own clean (well, cleaner than the other) hand, pulling him out into the hallway.  The brunette looks through the corridor: on one end, there's the living room and the dining room, and the room on the other hand belongs - well, belonged - to Victor and Arlene.

Bam looks from left to right then to the bluenet behind him.  "Wait, where's my room?"

Chapter Text

Amnesia must be a pain.  At least retrograde amnesia is better than anterograde amnesia - having the former means forgetting your past after a particularly nasty bump to the head, but at least there is a chance of regaining your memories.  Khun's sympathy goes to Bam, who doesn't remember where his childhood bedroom is.  But again, young genius Aguero had been completely clueless as to where Bam's room was the first time the brunet brought him home.

Khun looks up, taking three calculated steps forward, there's a rope dangling from the ceiling.  Years ago, Aguero wouldn't have been scared to stand on his tiptoes and yank on it, but now that Khun is older and face to face with the revolting, moth-bitten rope, he has his doubts.  He points towards the rope.  "All you have to do is pull on it."

Bam wrinkles his nose, pinching the rope with two dusty fingers.  "Here goes!"

The singer gives the rope a harsh tug, and a trapdoor opens, a step ladder sliding down.  Thankfully, the ladder is made of metal.  It is, however, quite dusty, but Bam doesn't seem to mind as he grips onto the rungs with firm hands.  He hauls himself up into his room, and Khun follows close behind.  Bam's room up in the attic may be dusty, but under all that the glory of their childhood still remains.  Bam's old guitar is lying in a corner, and Khun thinks there might be a ukulele on a shelf somewhere.  There's an entire shelf covered in cobwebbed plushies, quite a few of them from Aguero.  (Stuffed toys make good gifts, Maria used to tell him with sage nods and teenage wisdom.  You can't get tired of a good plushy.)

Bam drops a particularly heavy book onto his bed, as if that will reveal where the thing he's looking for is.  Dust bunnies soar and settle.  Khun shrieks and clings to Bam when a spider the size of his hand scuttles out of the covers.  "What the fück," he whimpers, positioning the singer between himself and that thing, "why the fück is it so big?"

Khun has big hands, fingers elongated after spending years tapping away at piano keys and computer keyboards.  That spider must be a monster to the rest of its kind.

Bam gently eases himself out of the terrified CEO's grasp.  "Don't worry Mr Khun, I got this.  I'm used to exterminating spiders." He picks the thing up, letting it creep and crawl all over his calloused fingers.  "It's harmless.  I think it's kinda cute, actually.  It's pretty, don't you think? It's legs are the same blue as your eyes."

Khun scrambles back when the singer insists he take a closer look.  "Do not bring that thing anywhere near me." Bam isn't wrong, though.  The spider is blue like his eyes.

Bam laughs, melodic and mirthful despite his manager's blatant terror.  Nice to see my fear is bringing you amusement, Khun thinks petulantly.  "Alright, alright.  I'm going to let you go now, lil' buddy," Bam tells the spider, "have a nice life!" He promptly dumps the spider out the nearest window.  Khun feels like a great weight has been lifted off his chest, although he still feels a little queasy.  How many cobwebs has he nearly walked into now? Five? Six?

"Remember to wash your hands, Bam, or I'll never let you touch me." Khun may crave intimacy and physical affection from Bam, but he's more than willing to forgo all those things if Bam has touched a spider beforehand.  He hates spiders: those beady, unblinking eyes are a big no, especially after being dragged along to watch more adaptations of Enryu's 'Talse Uzer Story' series than is beneficial for his mental health.  'Phantaminium' remains his most and least favorite one to this date.

Bam nods.  Khun wrinkles his nose at the sight of the brunet wiping his hands on his pants.  "What? There'll just be more dust later.  You can just give me a wet tissue, can't you?"

Khun grudgingly agrees.  The singer proves his point by collecting yet more dust on his fingers when he rummages through his drawers, unleashing the occasional pen or pick.  Both of them scream when a moth flits out of his closet, and Bam nearly knocks it out with his guitar.  He glances at it mournfully, wondering how he could bring it back to his dorm.  That leaves only one drawer left to check.  "It's right there," Bam declares, I know it is.

There's one problem - the drawer he has put the thing in is locked, and Bam can't remember where he put the key.

Khun rolls his sleeves up with a grin, fishing a few paperclips out of Bam's nearby drawer.  He won't lie and say that the way he still remembers where almost all of Bam's things are doesn't scare him.  "Allow me?"

Khun can't stop the shiver that races down his eyes when Bam stares at his forearms and fingers with a look of almost-hungry fascination, then looks back up at him with the same hungry expression.  It feels like he's about to get eaten by a demon.  Perhaps he should give the demon a name - Viole, perhaps? "Yeah."

Khun kneels down, inserting two paperclip prongs into the lock.  After less than a minute of incredibly focused fiddling, the drawer springs open.  There are a lot of things in there - old vinyls, CDs, signed picks, a little box.  The CEO stands with a flourish.  Bam is not the only one with hidden not-always-useful-but-nonetheless-cool talents.  "Tada!"

The singer stares at him with bright eyes full of wonder, although the hungry look still lingers.  Yes, he'll call the demon Viole.  "How did you do that?"

Khun winks at him.  "Trade secret.  A magician never reveals his tricks."

(It's not a trade secret.  It's more like Aguero, Kiseia and Maria watched a particularly excellent heist film that sent them all searching ways to pick locks.  Now they are all a force to be reckoned with: they've got nimble fingers thanks to playing classical instruments - Aguero with his piano, Kiseia with her violin and Maria with her flute - which also assist with breaking into their father's not-very-trusty safe.  But Bam doesn't have to know that, does he?)

The brunette pouts.  "But I wanna learn.  It looked so cool when you did it!"

Right, like you haven't already picked the lock to my heart.  "When you're me, everything you do looks cool." Bam opens him to retort, but chooses to snap it shut and pout some more instead.  He probably knows almost all of Khun's weaknesses by now.  "Okay, fine, I'll teach you sometime."

Bam brightens up immediately, all traces of a pout gone.  Khun mourns the innocent Bam he had fallen in love with the first time, but this confident Bam who knows exactly how to manipulate him is even more attractive.  Khun is too used to doing the manipulating, and naturally being on the other side of the equation is new and surprising.

Bam rummages through the drawer, humming as he occasionally tosses things into his backpack.  Khun hasn't heard that tune before - is that a new idea for a song? He really hopes it isn't, they've only got two weeks until his new album comes out.  Adding a new song would be a pain in the neck for Hatz and Novick, but if Bam wishes it...

The singer pulls out a CD, taking it out of its case and holding it up against the mid-afternoon light.  It splashes a rainbow against his cheekbone.  He whirls to Khun, golden eyes sparkling, rainbow now painted over the bridge of his nose.  "I found it!"

Khun can't help but smile at his singer's infectious happiness.  "That's great! But..." Bam had refused to tell him what exactly he'd been looking for the entire time.  "What actually is it?"

The singer's cheeks color.  "I can't tell you."

Khun raises an eyebrow.  "Can't? Or won't?"

"If I tell you, I'm scared I'll turn into a tomato or something!"

"Bold of you to assume you don't already look like one," the bluenet teases.  Bam has always been cute when he blushed.

He claps his hands over his red face.  "Mr Khun!" He peeks out between his fingers, gazing at his manager imploringly.  "It's really embarrassing! I'll tell you about it another day, I promise!" Khun would try pouting and making puppy dog eyes, but unlike Bam and his baby face, his facial features are too sharp for that kind of expression.  He must be making some sort of other face, though, because Bam starts to look conflicted, hiding behind his hands once more.  "Please stop looking at me like that, Mr Khun!" His voice is muffled by his palms.  "You're making me feel guilty."

Khun can't help the fond laugh that bubbles out, and he raises his hands in surrender.  "I'll drop it for now.  But you better tell me what you brought me to your dusty, spider-infested house for."

Bam mumbles something about motorcycles and cars and therapy and cleaning up, and Khun translates it as Bam getting over his fear of cars (and crashes) through therapy.  Khun is proud of his most precious friend, even if it means the singer won't be clinging to him for transport anymore.  The brunet fiddles with a little box, eventually managing to pop it open.  He plucks out a pair of gold ear cuffs excitedly, immediately clipping them onto his ears.  "Look, Mr Khun! We match now!" He reaches up and touches his ear before tracing the shell of Khun's ear too.  "I'm so glad I didn't lose these."

Khun's ear tingles.  "Yeah." Since when was his voice so breathy? He clears his throat and wills the pink in his cheeks to disappear.  "We- We should go.  Do you have everything you want to bring?"

Bam pats his bag.  "Yeah!" He hefts it onto his shoulders with a grunt.  "Wow, that's a lot of stuff I put in there." Khun snorts when Bam pretends to lift the bag like he's lifting weights, but stops laughing when he sees the singer's biceps flex under his sleeves.  Those arm muscles are no joke.

They exit the house post-haste, trying not to walk into any more spiders and their webs.  

Bam opens the door and promptly gets bowled over by something big and furry.  Khun yelps as Bam topples over onto him.  All he sees is grey fur, black eyes, and snapping jaws.  There's somebody standing outside the house on the opposite side of the house, holding a leash and looking lost.  "Oi!" He bellows.  Is that... Enryu? The figure on the other side of the road certainly looks red enough to be FUG's favorite recluse of a writer.  "Get your dog!"

"It don't bite!" Enryu jogs across the road, whistling for his dog to come back to him.  Khun didn't know the writer had a dog - or is that a wolf?

The wolf-dog doesn't budge.  "Yes it do!" Khun yells when a sharp tooth nearly grazes Bam's face.

Enryu whistles again, and his canine companion obediently steps away, allowing Khun and Bam to sit up.  "He wasn't going to hurt me," Bam says.  There's a stripe of saliva on one cheek, and he looks ridiculously happy despite getting assaulted by a dog.  "That's Phanta! Mr Enryu used to babysit me sometimes, I think." He ruffles Phanta's fur, laughing when the dog jumps up and gives him another wet lick.  The queasy feeling returns.  Phanta, as in Phantaminium? Now that he thinks of it, Enryu had written the horror story after being scared by his dog in the middle of the night...  "The last time I saw Phanta, he was just a puppy!" He kneels down, and the wolf-dog nuzzles his cheek.  "He's so big now!"

"I saw you come back.  It's been a long time since I've seen you, kiddo." Enryu ruffles Bam's hair.  Bam laughs, and Khun can't help but think of his friend as a sort of friendly, energetic puppy.  Bam is so cute Khun could scream.  The redhead turns to Khun.  "You're Eduan's kid, right? The one Bam wouldn't stop talking about?"

Khun blinks, and blinks again.  Why do all the adults in Bam's childhood life address him as 'the Khun kid who Bam wouldn't stop talking about'? Gustang had done it, now it's Enryu's turn.  He barely even knows Enryu! For a recluse who writes horror stories, he is extremely handsome, though.  "That should be me, yes." He stands up and brushes the dust off his pants, extending his hand in greeting.  "Khun Aguero Agnis.  Pleasure to meet you, Mr Enryu."

Enryu has the gall to laugh at him.  "Oh man, you're so polite.  Did Eduan ever teach you how to be casual?"

The bluenet smiles thinly.  "Sorry to disappoint, but I was never educated in that aspect.  Not by Eduan, at least."

The redhead grins and shakes his hand.  "I like you, Khun Aguero Agnis." He turns back to Bam, who temporarily halts his play-fighting with Phanta.  "Did you give him the thing?" If Enryu is trying to be inconspicuous, it sure isn't working.  Khun can hear every word he says.

Bam shakes his head.  "I forgot about it for almost ten years, and then I remembered, and then I chickened out of it," the singer 'whispers' back. 

Khun does not move when Phanta begins nosing at him instead, and nearly collapses when the wolf-dog opens his mouth only to give him a warm, wet lick on the cheek.  Dog slobber does not feel good, but at least it wasn't the hair.  Enryu tosses him a packet of tissues, and he gratefully accepts it and wipes his face, still wary of the dog.  "What's 'the thing' supposed to be?"

"Nothing!" Both of them chirp.  "Nothing you have to be concerned about just yet," the writer adds with a charming wink that makes Khun's heart stutter briefly.  Just for a brief while, Aguero and Maria had tiny celebrity crushes on a younger Enryu, and Khun still appreciates how Enryu has aged like fine wine.  Bam doesn't meet his eyes, roses growing on his cheeks.  "Speaking of concerns, how do you feel about acting, kiddo?"

"Acting?"

Enryu shrugs.  "There might be another FUG 'Talse Uzer' film coming out soon, and I think you'd fit one of the characters."

Bam's eyes widen.  "Which one?"

"Thorn," the redhead announces, "from 'Floor of Death'."

The singer's eyes are sparkling, but Khun can feel nothing but horror.  If he remembers correctly, 'Floor of Death' is one of the most terrifying stories of the series, and 'Thorn' is an assassin with a terrifying grasp on the killer arts.  He loves Bam, he really does, but he really can't understand why the brunet loves horror films.  Maybe it's Enryu's fault.  "But I-"

"Think about it, kid.  There are people you might want to see again with FUG."

Enryu leaves straight after that, jogging away with his wolf-dog by his side.  "Mr Khun, should I do it?" Bam looks torn.  "I want to meet Uncle Mirchea again, but Michael used to work with FUG, and Rachel might be there and I don't know whether I want to talk to her again or not..."

Khun shrugs, handing Bam a wet tissue and a helmet.  "If you want to do it, I won't stop you.  It's your choice, Bam."

Bam straps his helmet onto his head.  It's a lot easier than taking it off.  "I know you hate horror films, but would you watch one if I was in it?"

Khun revs the motorbike into motion, reveling in the way it purrs under him.  "For you, yeah." For you, anything.  "What was 'the thing' you and Enryu were talking about?"

The singer groans, thumping Khun's shoulder with his helmet.  "I'll tell you, sometime, I swear..."

"You'd better," he teases. 

His own laugh reverberates around his helmet when the Manbarondenna sets off with a roar and Bam flings his arms around his waist, caught off guard by the sudden movement.  "Mr Khun!"

"Consider it payback for that spider!"

Chapter Text

The next two weeks are the most hectic all the staff of Lighthouse Labels have ever been.

The period of time just before BAM's debut had been busy, but this is an entirely new level - Bam throws himself into practicing, either with Evankhell, Hansung or Yuri.  This time, not only does he have to sing his title track, Evankhell has also created dance routines for two of his beside tracks, one of them his intro and the other a track that everybody in the company is hiding from Khun.  This year, BAM will also be performing a duet with Yuri to kick-start the Tower Music Awards. Ran, Novick and Dan are all busy editing: one snipping films and filtering photos, one updating websites and codes to match with the other, who's changing social media themes.  Thankfully, Khun has hired more interns and full-time staff to help them out.

The CEO, on the other hand, is either at his desk or in front of his lawyer's.  Legal paperwork is worse than normal paperwork, even if you've done it before.  He doesn't even know why Michael had bothered requesting a public defender when Khun has plenty of unaltered evidence and a handful of eyewitness accounts of what he's done.  He may dislike the photographers of the 'Khun Aguero Agnis Daily Updates' Chirper account that just love following him around, but he has to admit that they can be helpful sometimes.  Besides, who would believe a lowly staff member of FUG over a son of the 'Ten Great Families'? Thankfully, the hearing is scheduled a week before BAM's comeback.  

The sooner Michael is out of the way, the better.  The CEO has already cleared out all traces of the stalker in his home - he didn't know what the creep had done in his house, but it was better to be safe sorry.  Maria had given him a lengthy lecture about it over the phone: why didn't you tell anyone, Aguero? Do you know how scary it was to find out that my only baby brother had been stalked and assaulted over the news? Even if you weren't going to tell me, you could've at least told Ran! You know how good he is with that camera of his.  If you told someone, he wouldn't have bothered you in the first place! When are you going to start looking after yourself like you look after the rest of us?

Khun had winced as he listened to his older sister berate him.  Maria could be incredibly loud when she was angry, and even Maschenny had made a surprise appearance to chide him.  It seemed like Khun would have to learn to open up, whether he liked it or not.

Naturally, Khun starts his "learn to trust people, goddammit" regime with Bam.  The singer still refuses to show his manager any of what he's working on, but Khun trusts him enough to know that anything he writes and performs will be nothing less than perfect.  When Bam and Rak both urge him to get counselling for the Michael incident, he listens.  He'd fought them at the beginning, but after Bam had told him how therapy has helped him get over his fear of cars, Khun had grudgingly agreed to try it out.  Despite his eternal look of tiredness, Phonsekal Lauroe is a surprisingly good listener.  Khun does feel a little better after admitting his fears and feelings to Lauroe, although it's hard to take the company's sleepy shrink seriously.  Rak nods sagely after Khun's first session.  "Good to see you're finally peeking out of your shell, Blue Turtle.  I thought I was going to have to call you Blue Terrapin instead."

In the strange language of Rak Wraithraiser, terrapins are worse than turtles.  Khun can't tell the difference between the two, but he nearly becomes Blue Terrapin when Lauroe asks him why Khun bothers seeing him when getting hugs from Bam is more effective.  Khun nearly fires him on the spot.  Hatz loves it - the therapist and the producer are getting along so well Leesoo is getting jealous, but Hatz is simply a ways of transportation for the shrink.  Khun shakes his head with a snort when he bumps into Hatz in the lift with Lauroe wrapped in a portable blanket burrito strapped onto his back.

Khun wins the court case.  How could he not? He has the evidence, and if that wasn't enough he has the influence and the money.  His lawyer cousin mopes about the fact that Khun had become the CEO of an entertainment company (which is in the top four, thank you very much, Wolhaiksong had nudged Khun Entertainment out of second place but Lighthouse is still stuck at fourth) instead of a lawyer but Khun is far too bossy to let a judge decide the outcomes of his cases.  (But if he were a lawyer, he'd be the best one out there.  If he were a lawyer, his cousin would have to watch his back.)

Bam finally relaxes when Khun breaks the news to him.  He was rather touchy-feely before, but he has been showing a lot more physical affection as of late.  It's almost like he's scared the bluenet will disappear if he lets go.  Khun's still wary, but every time his eyes dart around and search for cameras Bam just presses his manager's face into his chest and tells him he doesn't have to worry.  Khun would very much like to get better acquainted with that broad, firm chest, but Bam seems clueless to Khun's more-than-platonic feelings towards him.  It's better off that way.

Khun doesn't even know if he's safe in his own apartment.  He may have changed the lock and Michael may rot in a jail cell for the next five years, but if the stalker could do it how is Khun to know if anyone else could? Maria would be disappointed at her 'dearest Aguero's' constant state of paranoia if she hadn't experienced similar things himself.  Khun has always been a clean freak, but Rak shrieks when he sees his own reflection on the marble floor, and yells again when he tries to steal one of his cousin's hoodies and is greeted with a drawer full of undershirts, boxers and socks instead.

Even Bam voices out loud that he hopes Michael rots in jail, and Bam is the epitome of sunshine and goodness.  (But considering everything Khun has seen him do for Blue Moon, maybe not.)

Speaking of Ran, the cameraman has a new arch-nemesis in the form of teenage intern and photography prodigy Anaak Zahard Jr.  Endorsi had recommended her niece to Bam, who in turn had referred her to Khun.  The CEO had been wary about hiring and paying the girl who had thrown his most precious person head first into a scandal, but after Bam had showed him samples from Anaak's photo portfolio and looked at him with eyes that said "please? Do it for me?" Khun had given in almost instantly.  Despite Anaak and Ran's animosity, it was impossible to deny that they were both extremely talented.  Anaak had taken the first set of concept photos for Blue Moon, and Ran the second.  Leesoo and Khun had placed bets on which set would be the fan favorite - the scout had thrown in his money for the teenage girl, while the CEO placed his support on his cousin's side.

(Of course, Khun has already seen and saved both sets.  Anaak and her neon lights? Ran and his black angel wings? Bam looks good in anything, although a significant part of Khun's brain would prefer the singer in nothing at all.  He had barely survived an encounter with shirtless Bam - who knows how he would react if the singer decided to strip completely? Khun would almost definitely pass out at the mere sight of that.  He needs holy water.)

Leesoo must've mentioned their bet to Quant Blitz, because the next thing Khun knows there's a poll on the Ranker Show's Chirper account, asking the fans which concept they preferred.  Much to the CEO and the scout's dismay, that very poll and those very pictures manage to break Chirper and destroy the poll.  Nobody wins the bet, and the money goes to a confused Bam instead.

Maria and Maschenny have a blast teasing the younger Khun in their group chat before Khun chides Maria to focus on her comeback, and reminds Maschenny that Yuri and Bam are planning a joint singing and dancing performance.  Maschenny stops teasing Khun instantly, although Khun worries for Maria when she pokes fun at Maschenny's crush then proceeds to go MIA for the next few days.

He sighs in relief when Princess releases their new mini-album a few days later, along with their title track 'Like At Me'.  Maria is alive! She finally has more lines, but she's still too thin for Khun's liking, though.  BAM releases his own cover of the song and video to go with it - as if he isn't busy enough with his own album, he and Hatz deconstruct the song completely and make it their own, the singer with his 'silver vocals' and the drummer leading the backup band.

Tangsooyook make their big debut with Yihwa as a singer and violinist, Wangnan a bassist and songwriter.  Khun isn't as involved in their management as he is BAM - he has hired Verdi, the self proclaimed 'Doll-maker' to look after Yihwa and Wangnan in his stead.  She is excellent at controlling and giving orders, keeping track of Tangsooyook's schedule with an iron-clad grip, although she's significantly less charismatic and good-looking as Khun.  Prince, the violet-haired tween from Devil Cafe, complains to Khun through 'Mr Viole' about Verdi's strange interest in him and Miseng, but takes a breath of relief when the CEO reminds the 'Doll-maker' that he is the ultimate puppet master, and she is just a toy dancing on his strings.

During the two weeks before BAM releases his new album, Tangsooyook's Wider Sky edges its way into the top five on the billboard.  Of course, their success is influenced by their fellow artists BAM and Rak Wraithraiser, Yihwa's identity as the niece of Yeon Corporation's boss Yeon Hana and Wangnan's uncanny resemblance to Jahad, but for the debut of two lucky rookies, they aren't doing so bad.  Khun would've scheduled their debut after BAM's, but they have two months before the Tower Music Awards are due and the CEO wants to snag as many awards as possible for his artists.  Khun Entertainment may have more awards due to their longer history, and its CEO may not particularly care about what is happening to the boy he had once called a son, but Khun is still looking to prove that he'll be better, that he can have more of everything even without Edahn's 'guidance'.

At least that's what he hopes.

Right now, they're backstage at the Dallar Show.  BAM is a bit of eyeliner and a change of outfits away from performing his title track for Blue Moon, 'ships in the night'.  BAM's debut for 25 had been a magical experience, but Khun has a feeling the singer's performances for Blue Moon will be a different kind of fascinating.

Serena, ever the perfectionist, shoos Khun out of the backstage area to where his designated seat is, claiming that his presence is too distracting for the singer who wiggles in his seat every time his manager glances over.  Khun takes a seat behind Ran, who is grudgingly teaching Anaak how to man a stage camera.  They're in the middle of a heated, whispered debate when the lights go dark, plunging them all into blackness. 

Khun really hopes he survives whatever BAM has to throw at him.

Chapter Text

Khun is most definitely not going to survive.

Alright, he might not die just yet.

BAM has three performances scheduled ahead of him - one today, another in two days, and the third one another two days after that.  Today's one is for his title track, 'ships in the night'.  Essentially, it's the same song Khun had heard him sing that fateful day in Devil's Cafe, but this time it's acoustic, no basses and no drums.  It's just BAM, a guitar, and Yihwa's violin and voice in the backing track.  The last time Khun had seen Bam sing this song, Bam was Viole, a brunet with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, performing with a band barely anybody knew about, in a dimly lit cafe tucked away in a street.  Oh, how things have changed since then.  Now, there are dazzling stage lights, blue in-ears and a BAM's personalized gold microphone in a stand, a sea of fans screaming at the mere sight of him.

Khun realizes belatedly that the lyrics are different now.  The original version had been about Viole feeling lost, a ship stranded in the middle of the sea with a cloud-covered sky above him, no lights to show him the way.  This time, constellations of yellow and white dance in the form of Chestnut light-sticks and phone torches in the audience, waving to the beat.  Khun snaps a quick photo, a silly smile painted on his face as he admires the shot.  The gentle stage lights paint his hair gold like his eyes, his sun-kissed skin not whitewashed by thick layers of makeup.  He looks beautiful like this, like the stage has been built solely to support him.  The 'HMS Jue Viole Grace' sings about not being alone anymore - he sees a lighthouse in the distance: his best friend, his pillar, his moon, his North Star, a steady brightness illuminating the water's surface and guiding him to shore.

If you're a ship lost at sea, I'll be your lighthouse.

Golden eyes take in the sights of the flashing yellow lights, sweeping across the audience until they find a pair of cobalt blue ones.  BAM's lips curve into a tender, knowing smile at the déjà vu of the familiar metaphor.  He's horrible at being subtle, isn't he? Khun isn't much better, not when he's already smiling like the whipped fool he is.  BAM calls Khun his light, but Khun couldn't disagree more.  BAM is the brightest in an industry of shining stars, isn't he? He has always been Khun's light.

"If you," sings BAM, still smiling and gazing at Khun like he's the world, "are too good to be true, would it be alright if I pulled you closer?"

Khun melts. BAM can't just say things and look at him like that! It's not good for Khun's heart!You're the one who's too good to be true, he thinks, crossing his arms over his chest with a small pout, you know I'd do whatever you ask me to and more.

BAM's smile widens even further when he says he thinks he has been drifting in the ocean for a long time, but maybe he has already reached the shore.

Khun 'dies' when Ran turns to him with a scowl, mouthing you're so bothersome, A.A, you look so stupid smiling like that, stop smiling, it doesn't look right, and 'dies' again two days later during the singer's performance of 'honey'.

In retrospect, he should've known something was going to happen during the performance if all the lights were dark before it.  Usually, Bam would let Khun stay backstage with him for a while, even if he was just there as a confidence booster, but apparently this time he has plenty of confidence.  So much so that he grabs Khun by the tie and pulls him close, whispering "don't you dare take your eyes off me, not even for a second." The manager shivers at the memory of warm breath fanning across his skin and soft lips at the sensitive shell of his ear, remembering how helplessly breathless his reply had been.  Bam had all but kicked him out a moment later, eyes wicked like seductive destruction.

Apparently, Bam's inner demon, which Khun has dubbed Viole, is back and possessing him.

Khun is seated just behind Ran and Anaak, the two of them whispering insults at each other as they ready their cameras.  At some point, one of them had discovered that BAM is much more likely to look in the camera's direction if his manager is sitting behind it, and the two of them squabble for the best angles.  Khun gives Ran a kick in the back when the first few bars of the song begin to play.  The backing track is played by a guitar, but Khun doubts BAM will be the one playing it this time.  The beat is slow, sensual, and Khun just knows he won't make it out of here without an embarrassing incident of some sort.

A single light flashes on, illuminating a single figure taking center stage.  The figure is wearing a loose-fitting black shirt tucked into skintight leather pants, a harness wrapped around his torso.  It's BAM.  Khun had bought him that outfit, pants excluded, but he's quite glad - BAM looks so good Khun's mouth is watering although his throat is dry, and he has to lick his lips and swallow to make sure he isn't drooling.

Khun watches his every move - how could he not? Bam had specifically asked him not to take his eyes off the singer, but it wasn't like he could either, by the way his brain tunnel-visioned on tantalizing flashes of collarbone every time he moved, graceful as a professional dancer.

('Slayer Jue Viole Grace' indeed.  If BAM is slaying this comeback, his manager is definitely getting slayed beside it, along with a horde of screaming Chestnuts.)

BAM sings about the permanence of carving names into bedposts, about being brave and saying those words you think would be better left unsaid.  The squeals and yells of the crowd almost drown out his words about stumbling into relationships blindfolded, especially when he drops down onto his knees, an arm hovering over his eyes in a mockery of the lyrics.  He sings about long, dexterous fingers blazing trails across sun-kissed skin, and he has the audacity to wink at Khun, biting his lower lip when his own fingers burn a path over the curve of his chest.  Khun swallows and promptly chokes on his own spit when BAM practically purrs about ripping a white dress shirt off unblemished, milky skin.  BAM is still staring at him and -

Oh.  Khun is wearing a white dress shirt.  (Who is he kidding? He barely has anything else in his closet.)

Some strange expression must be spreading across his face, because the singer smirks before his hand brushes across the unbuttoned top of his shirt and he launches into a set of body rolls.

If Khun dies now, he would die a happy man.

The singer floods the audience in molten gold when he serenades the object of his apparent affections to let go and drown in honey.  Khun feels his own lust like honey in his throat, viscous and delicious but sickly sweet.  He would be wondering who BAM is singing to if a voice in his head hasn't told him that he already knows who the singer's target audience is, he's just unwilling to open his eyes and see the light for what it really is.

When the singer finishes, Khun can hear his ragged pants through the microphone taped to his cheek, beads of sweat glistening on his forehead and the tip of his nose.  A drop of liquid rolls down the column of his throat, down his chest and disappears into his shirt.  Thanks to the lack of buttons, Khun can see sharp clavicles and the edge of a pectoral.

Khun grabs that voice in his head that longs to bite and lick, and beats it with an imaginary stick.  (He would very much like to beat himself with a stick.  How he's thinking of Bam is so wrong.  Even so, he wants to take a picture of the singer in all his glistening glory, but there are too many eyes around, too many cameras.  Which may actually work in his advantage! Ran has just finished recording the video and will post it when he gets back to the office, but the Chestnuts' cameras are still flashing and Khun knows they will post almost immediately.  He could just save one of them.)

He meets Bam backstage with a face carefully wiped clean of any expression.  "Well?" Bam asks.  "What did you think of that?" Viole the demon is still lurking in those honey eyes, in the curve of his lips.

Khun swallows, this time careful not to choke.  "Did you write the song?"

Bam grins, all traces of bright innocence replaced with wicked delight.  Khun mourns for the death of his ability to function properly in front of Bam.  "I always write my own songs.  Master Hansung is only in charge of making sure I get the syllables right."

"Who was in charge of the choreography?" If they're part of Lighthouse, I'll threaten to fire them but actually give them a raise, Khun thinks to himself.

"Master Evankhell did," Bam answers easily.  "But Miss Yuri helped a lot with the movements and expression.  Miss Yuri's very good at this kind of thing."

Oh.  So it's Yuri.  It seems like Khun will have to ask Maschenny to do some interrogating.

The singer pouts, eyes glittering like he knows something Khun doesn't.  "Why, did you not like it? I know you were watching."

I did like it, Khun thinks distantly, perhaps a little too much.  "Would it be personal if I asked who the song is directed at?"

His breath catches in his throat when Bam leans in close.  "Use your brain, Mr Sexy Genius."

Khun short-circuits.  Sexy Genius? The public had given him that nickname years ago, when he was twenty-three and CEO of the newly minted Lighthouse Entertainment, as well as 'prodigy of the Khun family'.  Bam had just called him 'Sexy Genius'.  Did that mean Bam considered him a sexy genius? Or was he looking too deep into this? Most of his neural pathways are fried.  He can't tell if his heart has stopped completely or if it's beating into overdrive.  He might need Ran to give him a static shock.  "Wait, Bam, did you just call me-"

Bam had already disappeared into one of the changing rooms during the time that Khun had taken to restart his entire being and rearrange his thoughts.  If his hearing and memory served him right, Bam had just called him 'Sexy Genius'.  But why? For all he knew, the singer's tastes didn't even swing that way.  He had an ex-girlfriend, and spent a lot of time with Yuri and Endorsi.  Unless...

You called him 'honey' once, a voice in his head whispers, by accident, but he didn't seem to mind.  He's rather affectionate towards people he cares about, but think about it - he doesn't drape himself all over Rak or Wangnan like he does you, does he? Remember when he sang about fingers? He stares at yours a lot.  He seems to like your arms too.  Don't you think he might like you the same way you do him?

No.  It's impossible.

"Mr Khun?" Bam steps out of the changing room dressed in casual clothes once more, the demon temporarily exorcised.  "Why are you just standing there?" He looks innocently confused, nothing like the BAM who had just been on stage.  "Are you alright?"

Khun shakes all the irrelevant, inappropriate thoughts out of his head.  He'll solve this mystery another day.  "I'm fine, Bam.  Are you ready to go?"

Bam grins, all sunny brightness and no demonic confidence.  "Yeah!"

(If Maria sends him a photo of BAM post-performance, chest heaving and dripping with sweat and asks him how he's doing, he definitely doesn't scream at her.)

Chapter Text

At the Tower Music Awards Ceremony, Khun finds himself sandwiched in a semi-circular booth with a wall on one side and a manspreading blonde bassist on the other. Khun stomps on Wangnan's foot as innocuously as he can, and Wangnan yelps before he listens to his boss, crossing his legs and giving Khun and Yihwa a little more leg room.  This year, Rak isn't joining them, instead up on stage getting ready to present the awards with DJ Pickle.  Or is it Parasite? It's funny how none of them bother remembering the name of the gator's apparent nemesis, especially not Rak.  

BAM isn't with Tangsooyook and his manager either - he and Yuri are backstage, getting ready for their opening performance.  The Girls! members and their managers are squashed into the booths behind the Lighthouse members, close enough to hold conversation but not enough for Khun to eavesdrop.  Maria and Endorsi are whispering and giggling about god-knows-what, but if they shoot pointed glances at Khun before bursting into giggles again, it can't possibly be good.  Garam and Repel are chatting quietly, discussing the simulation game Repel is playing.  Much like Khun, Maschenny is awkwardly silent without a conversation partner.

Maschenny beams when her favorite cousin Khun Marco Asensio waltzes up - he's the CEO of Flying Fish Media, a separate branch of Khun Entertainment.  Khun sighs, turning away.  He doesn't even have anybody to be lonely with anymore.  Speaking of which, where is Khun Entertainment? Jahad Talent and Wolhaiksong are still the top two agencies, but after Lighthouse had acquired Sweetfish Entertainment they had nudged past Khun Entertainment into third place.  Frankly, Khun is glad he gets to lord his agency's higher position over Eduan - the only part of his vengeance plan he's missing now is to become Khun Entertainment's largest shareholder, and buy the agency by default.  He's getting there, though.

Khun whips around upon feeling a pair of eyes boring into his skull, a prickling sensation on the back of his neck.  It's Kiseia, sitting next to Eduan near the back.  This time, she isn't glaring daggers into his skull, simply glaring.  She's still angry at him for leaving her behind, isn't she? Khun wonders how their mother is faring.  They keep awkward eye contact for a few minutes longer before Kiseia twists her head away in a blatant refusal to look at the older brother and sister who had abandoned her.

Khun dutifully turns around when Rak bellows for "all you turtles to shut up and watch the opening performance by Black Turtle and Crazy Turtle!"

The stage lights dim, and the large LED screen behind the stage flashes with numbers as the intro to the song begins to play.  He remembers this song - no wonder Bam had asked him how to be a bad boy a few months ago.  Khun hadn't known how to answer - he's fine with 'smug bastard', but 'bad boy' is a little too far out of his depth.  He'd directed Bam to Urek Mazino, who'd been the second closest thing to a bad boy in his youth: a skater boy.

The CEO shields his eyes from a particularly blinding flash.  When his vision returns, BAM is alone in the center of the stage.  Khun's mouth goes embarrassingly dry at the sight of the singer in a unbuttoned black suit and tight-fitting black shirt that does wonders to show how well he has filled out over the years.  He licks his lips subconsciously, not bothered to look away and search for his chap-stick.  He hadn't realized BAM was quite so broad.  The loose gold tie around his neck is a stark contrast against the darkness of his shirt, accentuating the color of his eyes.  His shiny black shoes tap against the floor to the beat of the song, his body a cross between wickedly sharp angles and flowing grace.  Khun has never seen Bam in a suit before - this outfit definitely belongs somewhere in the top ten of his mental ranking of BAM's stage outfits.  (Undoubtedly, the outfit for 'honey' takes top spot.  Even though he has watched the video a dozen times, Khun somehow still hasn't solved the mystery of who BAM was singing about.)

Back in his day, V of The Outside had stolen countless hearts with his natural charm and the lyrics of this song.  If Maria and Endorsi's muffled giggling and Khun's internal panic amounts to anything, it means that V's son is carrying his father's legacy with his smooth moves and declarations of I'm gonna be a bad boy, I'm gonna be a bad bad boy.  

Bam could never be bad.  But Viole the demon? Sometimes Khun feels like Viole wants to eat him alive, and what scares him the most is that he wouldn't mind.

BAM's charisma on stage is a vast contrast to the Bam Khun sees every day, the one who stumbles over his words as often as he stumbles over his feet.  BAM reminds Khun a little of Urek Mazino, but the older man's stage presence is like a cool drink on a summer day, just enough to quench your thirst but leave you wanting more (unless you're Garam, that is).  BAM, in comparison, is a raging inferno: it burns hotter and hotter as the time passes, beautiful and all-consuming.  He is the fire to Khun's ice, but for Bam, Khun will gladly let himself self-destruct.

The CEO hears Garam yelp, and Maschenny hisses an apology for kicking her. What had warranted such a kick from Khun's older cousin?

Khun finds out when he looks away from BAM.  The singer has rotated to dance with the back-up dancers while Yuri raps.  Like BAM, Yuri is also wearing a suit, but hers has a red tie.  Khun cannot appreciate female visuals like he does male, but Maschenny definitely can.  Usually, Garam is the one who spits bars while rocking suits better than some men do, but with Yuri in a suit this time, Khun has no doubt Subjects (and Maschenny) will be going wild over the rapper and dancer's new look.

Khun and the Chestnuts, on the other hand... Yihwa slaps her hands on her pink cheeks.  "Control yourself, Yeon," she whispers to herself, "this is no way to be thinking about your senior!" Well, that confirms Khun's suspicions of yet another girl with a crush on Bam.  Or Viole.

Welcome to the club, Khun thinks dryly.  Why, oh why, must Bam attract the attention of famous women simply by meeting them? The majority of BAM's famous male fans are considerably less seduced.  Rak treats him as 'prey', both a companion and competition on the charts; Urek treats him as a baby brother and 'apprentice', but Bam is his 'master' when it comes to wooing Garam; Wangnan sees his "bro Ole" being "super cool" as usual.  Hatz respects him way more than he would Khun, and both Leesoo and Enryu consider him the son they never had.  Khun, of course, is the exception. 

He has always been the exception.

Wangnan snickers at Yihwa.  "Ole's not even interested in you like that."

Yihwa gapes.  "Well, at least my chest is bigger than yours!"

The blonde splutters.  "What the hell, I'm a guy! Of course your chest is bigger than mine!"

It takes Khun smacking the two of them on the back of the head get them to shut up.

BAM and Yuri finish their song with a dance break.  There's a part where BAM dances with a cane, which Khun doesn't quite understand but finds incredibly attractive nonetheless until he passes it to Yuri with a twirl.  There's a mock fight with the two of them against the backup dancers, which gives Khun ample opportunity to ogle BAM, all sharp edges and long legs.  BAM bends backwards until he's lying on the floor, and Khun wonders how flexible the singer really is.  Behind him, Maschenny shrieks when Yuri does a back-flip over the younger man's body, landing solidly on both feet.  She's wearing heels.

When they finish, Yuri has the cane in one hand, the other arm resting on the singer's shoulder.  Both of them are panting, chests heaving.  BAM has a finger hooked onto his black belt, smirking at the cameras and the crowd like he has someone to impress.  One side of the jacket has slipped off to reveal a bare shoulder - Khun hadn't realized the BAM's black shirt was sleeveless.  It's a good look on him.

It's almost endearing how BAM reverts back to his usual big-hearted, flustered self in a matter of seconds.  He apologizes profusely to the backup dancer he'd just stepped on, who just laughs and tells him I don't mind, it's not a big deal, it was an honor performing with you.  One of the cameras pans over to BAM, who waves shyly when he sees it.  He looks down at his exposed shoulder, eyes widening, then slaps a hand over the bare skin as if embarrassed by what he'd just performed with Yuri.  The singer shrugs his jacket back on as Yuri blows a kiss into the audience.  Khun hides his laugh in his fist.

It takes five minutes for BAM and Yuri to return to their seats, BAM to the spot between his manager and Tangsooyook in the Lighthouse booth, Yuri squished between Repel and Maschenny.  "You were so cool up there," Yihwa announces with stars in her eyes.  Wangnan agrees, sulking about how the brunet singer is stealing all the ladies and leaving none for the curry-haired bassist.  BAM laughs, telling Wangnan that was definitely not part of his intentions, merely something that had happened out of the way.  When Wangnan asks for advice on how to be so popular among the women, the singer just shrugs.

Verdi licks her lips.  "I'd just love to make you one of my dolls," the 'Doll-maker' says dreamily.  BAM gives Khun the side eye of 'help, what am I supposed to say to something like that?' Tangsooyook's manager is incredibly enamored with cute people - she cornered Prince and Miseng and told them they should get married, much to BAM and Sweet and Sour's horror.  "You're just so cute!"

"Thanks?" The brunet answers, unsure.  "I'm pretty satisfied with not being a doll, though.  I like being a human."

Verdi fawns over him like Ken would Barbie, pouting at the singer's obvious disinterest and blatant discomfort.  "Pooh, you don't know what you're missing out on." She sighs.  "Even if I did try to make you my doll, Khun would fire me on the spot.  You're his star, you know.  He dotes on you more than he would with anyone else."

"Verdi," the CEO warns with gritted teeth, "do not cross the line."

A part of him does understand how hard it is for Verdi to take him seriously - his face flushes a brilliant pink when BAM sheds his jacket and tie, muscular biceps bared.  "It's okay, Mr Khun." BAM's hand on his is placating but sweaty, the expression on his face nothing less than mischievous.  "I know you treat me differently.  But what we have is different, isn't it?"

He's definitely looking far too deep into this.

Khun blames Yuri for everything, he really does. (Maschenny blames Yuri for a lot of things too.  What's Yuri to be at the top of yet another Khun's hit list?) This cheeky, confident Bam is going to kill him one day.  The brunet bats his eyelashes innocently, like he has no idea how quickly Khun's heart is racing.  That eyelash-batting was definitely copied from Maria, though, Khun's older sister does that every time she wants something from him.  Who knows what else the Girls! are going to teach him? Endorsi has already taught him how to strut in heels and catch up to the trendiest footwear (Wangnan screamed when Bam accidentally stepped on him with a pair of popular chunky boots appropriately nicknamed 'stompers').  Yulia barely interacts with him face to face, but they bond on social media over the latest diss raps.  The only Girls! group that hasn't willingly approached BAM and fallen in love with him is Duchess, and Khun is quite happy to keep it that way.

At this point, life is a joke and Khun is the punch line.  He settles for shoving a packet of tissues at Bam.  "You're so sweaty, it's gross.  And if you keep blinking like that, you're going to ruin the smokey eye Serena spent so long helping you do.  It looks good on you just the way it is."

The singer pouts, about to answer, but winces instead when they hear a metallic screech over the speakers.  "Be quiet, turtles! We're going to see who wins awards!"

The crowd automatically silences at Rak's bellow.

Chapter Text

When Garam and Urek Mazino squabble, they make it look good.  Last year, they'd led the Tower Music Awards Ceremony with their undeniable chemistry, despite Urek getting smacked every time he tried to flirt with Garam.  Rak and his co-host Paracule, on the other hand....

"Oi, Pickle! How did you break my winning streak?"

Don't get him wrong, Khun wholeheartedly understands why the gator is angry.  For years and years, Rak has been the winner of the Top Social Artist award.  At least seven years' worth of trophies sit on the Lighthouse trophy shelf (yes, they have a shelf for all those awards), but it seems like this year the tables have turned.

"Revolution!" The pickle-colored DJ shouts into his microphone, hoisting his new trophy in the air.  The cameras flash, taking in the sight of a triumphant Paracule and an indignant Rak.  "Today is the beginning of a new era!"

Bam wrinkles his nose.  "I don't like him," he whispers, leaning towards his manager, "his songs all sound the same and he looks like an overgrown cucumber.  And I'm the one with a terrible sense of fashion."

Khun snorts, a laugh sneaking past his lips.  From Bam, that is quite the insult.  The most cruel thing Khun had ever heard him say was "I hope you step on a Lego", and even that was strangely cute.  "I think that's his personal style." Honestly, even Rak's banana tie or Urek's flashy dragon suit would look better than an entirely green outfit.  "At least he's not wearing neon like he was last year.  Lime to cucumber isn't too bad."

Bam giggles, lightly nudging his manager to the side.  "That's so mean, Mr Khun!"

Khun returns the nudge, a grin dancing in his eyes.  "You called him an overgrown cucumber, Bam, and you're saying I'm mean?"

Bam splutters, but Wangnan shushes the two of them.  "Mr Rak's going to announce the nominees for Best Collaboration!"

Once again, BAM has a guaranteed win.  Most of the nominations are his, with his title track 'ships in the night' featuring new indie pop duo Tangsooyook, 'take flight' featuring Princess's not-quite beloved leader Endorsi, 'couldn't forget u' featuring self-proclaimed "Supreme King" Urek Mazino, and 'love me or leave me' featuring award-winning rapper and Queen member Ha Yuri.  All four songs are good contenders: of course, Khun's personal favorite is 'ships in the night', but he can't deny the fact that the other tracks also have a chance.  'love me or leave me' is by far one of the catchiest tracks in the album, with BAM and Yuri rapping about unrequited love and being left behind, and as much as Khun dislikes Hatz he has to say the producer had done a good job arranging the bass line.  'take flight' is the inspirational track, adored by Chestnuts and Subjects alike because of Endorsi singing instead of rapping for the first time, the two of them singing about learning to love yourself despite everything life throws in your way.  BAM showcases his "silver vocals" in 'couldn't forget u', and Garam in particular claimed Urek's verse in the song was the best one she has ever heard from him, being slow and gentle instead of fast and angry.  Urek spammed Garam with heart emojis until she threatened to take the compliment back.  Urek stopped the influx of hearts immediately.

"Which one do you think will win?" Bam whispers curiously.

"I'm guessing 'couldn't forget u' or 'love me or leave me'," Khun replies equally quietly.  "Urek and Yuri have larger fan-bases, so more people will be inclined to vote for them."

Bam gazes at him with an awed look in his eyes.  "I can't believe I never thought of it that way."

Khun smiles, leaning back and draping an arm around the back of Bam's chair as surreptitiously as possible.  "Don't worry about it, Bam.  You'll win either way."

True enough, 'couldn't forget u' takes the prize, just exactly as Khun had predicted.  Rak calls "Black Turtle" and "Shirtless Turtle" to the stage, handing the award to BAM and clapping him on the back so hard he almost trips.  When "Shirtless Turtle" takes the mic, he asks "BAM baby, what did you eat? After what you've done in Blue Moon you're not a baby anymore!"

BAM just winks at the cameras and tells them all he has no regrets.  Khun, after watching the performance video of 'honey' so many times some of the images are permanently ingrained in his head, can't say the same.

Urek grabs BAM by the shoulders and shakes him until Rak forcibly pulls them apart.  "Shirtless Turtle, let Black Turtle be an adult and stop hogging the stage! There are other turtles who need their awards too!"

Only then does Urek back off, marveling about how some people can change so dramatically in only half a year, whereas Garam still treats him the same as the first time they met years ago.  When he walks past Queen's booth to Wolhaiksong's, Garam moves her arms in a wave that starts of innocently enough but ends with her smacking him in the arm.  Yuri tries to copy Garam, only to smack Maschenny instead.  The bluenette singer squawks indignantly, returning the smack.

Garam wins the award for Best Female Artist.  Khun doesn't usually listen to rap tracks, but 'Deep Colored Sea' being in his 'non-BAM favorites' playlist speaks for itself.  Maschenny had told her younger cousin that the older rapper has been going off and doing her own thing lately, writing and producing her own solo tracks and publishing them online despite Jahad Talent's preference against it.  Maybe it's because Queen's contract is nearly over - by the end of the year, the members must decide whether to stay as a group or go their separate ways.  Repel is planning to stay.  Garam is planning to leave.  Yuri and Maschenny? They're still figuring it out.  Garam retrieves her trophy from Paracule with a cool nod, unfazed by Rak's yelling.

The gator yells even louder when Paracule reads out his name as the winner for Best Male Artist.  "Suck it, Pickle!" He shouts triumphantly as BAM, Khun and Tangsooyook applaud.  He waves the trophy around, roaring into the mic for his Turtles.

Queen wins Best Group.  Up on stage, Yuri does a little victory twerk when Endorsi shouts "pop it, Yuri!" As per Queen's long-time tradition, the member standing closest to her smacks her ass - in this case, it's Maschenny, who does it so faux-innocently Khun and Maria can't help but laugh.

"Just take the award, you crazy turtles!" Rak shouts, shoving the trophy into a surprised Repel's hands.  She immediately passes it to Garam like a hot potato, who hands it over to Maschenny.  The other three crowd around Maschenny, posing for the cameras.

Tangsooyook wins Rookie of the Year.  Paracule is the one who reads out the results, but Rak is the one who yells "Curry Turtle! Angola Turtle! Come on!"

BAM whoops with a "hell yeah!"

Ran and Anaak manoeuvre their camera in BAM's direction, focusing on the singer shooting to his feet as he claps and shouts compliments as loudly and earnestly as he can.  "I got that last year," he tells Khun wistfully, "when I joined the band with Wangnan I don't think either of us believed we'd be here.  Neither of us thought we'd get anywhere when we started Sweet and Sour.  Before, I wouldn't even have dared to dream of being anywhere near here. It felt so out of reach, you know? Now I've got two awards from last year, and one of them is a Needle.  Winning those two Needles I've been nominated for this year doesn't even seem like too much of a stretch anymore."

"I like your confidence," Khun teases.  He isn't going to lie - he likes it a lot.  "Let's wait and see who gets those Needles, hmm?"

BAM wins Album of the Year.  Again.  Honestly, it's not a surprise.  BAM had already won it last year when he'd debuted.  Wangnan and Yihwa congratulate him with awed, giddy smiles, and BAM grins at them, telling them he's sure they'll win a Needle for themselves one day. Khun opens his mouth to do the same, but finds his face buried in a warm chest, a pair of strong arms wrapped around his shoulders.  "At least I know what to say this year," he murmurs.

Khun hums his affirmation, unable to do much else.  Bam smells like sweat.  The cameras take it all in - Rak and Tangsooyook's vicarious pride, BAM's obvious excitement.  For once, Ran and Anaak are working together as they zoom in on the CEO's vaguely pink ears and the tender smile hidden in fabric.  In his speech, BAM thanks the Chestnuts for their unconditional love and support; Yuri, Endorsi and Urek for their assistance and guidance; Rak and Tangsooyook for being his friends; his manager for being his anchor and motivation.  When he puts his arms above his head in a heart, Tangsooyook, Yuri, Endorsi and Urek immediately return the gesture.  BAM pouts at Khun, the cameras swiveling to follow his line of sight.  Khun sighs before reluctantly putting his hands together in a heart that is smaller but no less affectionate.  BAM cheers, clanking his awards against each other in a strange kind of clap.

Endorsi and Maria high-five BAM when they pass each other, BAM returning to his seat with a trophy in one hand and a Needle in the other, Princess getting ready to receive their Song of the Year award with 'Look at Me'.  Rak addresses the members as "Ghost Eye Turtle", "Big Sister Blue Turtle" and "Twin Highlighter Turtles".  As Maria passes Khun on the way back, he hears her complaining to "Ghost Eye Turtle" about Rak's lack of creativity.

Paracule reads out the nominees for Artist of the Year: Queen, Princess, Ha Yura, Urek Mazino, BAM.  Khun would wonder why Yura hasn't won anything, but he knows she has been busy as a new actress for FUG, and that she is thinking of retiring from the life of an idol singer to act despite her devoted fan-base.  The crowd goes silent when the pickle announces BAM to be the winner.  Khun has a feeling that from now on, BAM's rate of growth will only increase - by two years, he will probably have gotten a Needle All-Strike.  Victor would be proud of his son following in his footsteps, with The Outside to be the very first group to have won all the Needles.

Up on stage, BAM talks about the little boy who had adored his father and wanted nothing more than to be like him, about the young amnesiac who had started to rediscover who he was after he'd first touched a guitar.  He talks about how music had changed him as a person, as well as an artist - but none of "all this", in his eloquent words and vague arm-waving, would've been possible without Khun Aguero Agnis: the best friend who had sworn to make his dreams come true even when they were children and spent years searching for him even when everyone said he was dead; the manager who had devoted hours and hours of precious time to guiding him, supporting him, doing everything BAM had ever expected from him and more.

He thanks Rak for making him cry that day when he was four, much to the audience members' confusion and the Khun siblings' amusement.  It's a story Aguero had bragged about frequently - yeah, I fought that gator guy off with a chocolate bar! I made a friend, his name is Bam! Look how pretty his eyes are! I bet you've never seen anyone smile as brightly as he does! And guess what? You guys can suck it, losers, he thinks I'm funny!

Now that Khun thinks about it, he might've been whipped for Bam as early as the tender age of five.

What an epiphany.

"Thank you, Rak, for bringing us together," BAM says earnestly.

The gator scoffs, trying to seem less pleased than he really is.  "I don't need your thanks, Black Turtle.  I'll make you cry again if you thank me."

BAM points to his face, laughing despite the tears rolling down his face.  He nearly drops the three trophies balanced precariously in his hands.  "Too late, I'm already crying, and I don't think Mr Khun can throw you a chocolate bar from that far away."

Rak stomps, agitated.  Paracule jumps at his co-host's sudden tantrum.  "Blue Turtle! Black Turtle is crying!"

Maria leans forward and swats her younger brother on the back of the head.  "Ow!" Khun hisses, turning around with a scowl.  "What the f-" You're being recorded, Khun, a voice in his head reminds him.  "What the hell, Maria?"

Maria rolls her eyes.  "What are you waiting for? He needs a hug! Go!"

The cameras roll as Rak stomps down the stairs leading from the stage to the Lighthouse booth, where he simply plucks Khun out of his seat as if he weighs nothing.  "What the- Put me down, you insolent gator!"

Rak does put him down, on the stage right next to BAM.  BAM lunges for his manager immediately, wrapping him in a hug for all the cameras to see.  "Thank you for always being here for me," the singer mumbles.  The flashing lights can't catch their words, but it's enough for Khun to feel it rumbling through their bodies, warm breath fanning across his neck.  "He's my middle C, everyone," he tells the audience proudly, the beaming smile on his face brighter than the stars.  "I can't even put into sounds how amazing he is.  Chestnuts, if you ever wonder what makes me happy, it's him."

Khun knows enough about music theory to tell how important the middle C is, and he holds Bam a little tighter.  The cheering of the audience drowns out the pounding of his heart, the blood in his veins a tsunami in his ears.  His voice is nearly inaudible over the roar of it all.  "Love you too."

Rak pulls them both into a bear hug.  "Blue Turtle isn't so pathetic after all."

Khun doesn't belong on a stage, not like Bam and Rak do.  But being right here, next to one of his closest friends and his reason for living feels like home.

Chapter Text

The media adore BAM, Endorsi and Yuri's friendship.  The cameras flash as Yuri pulls the two younger ones in for a group photo, grinning widely.  All three of them are holding awards - Maschenny had given Queen's Best Group award to Yuri; Endorsi has Princess's Song of the Year Needle in her hand; BAM is positively glowing, a Needle in each hand.  He'd given his Best Collaboration award to Khun instead, lamenting how his hands weren't big enough to hold all three.  Endorsi doesn't seem so enthused with the idea of being squished against Yuri, but BAM is right there beside her, and for Endorsi that's good enough.  One of Princess's fan-sites leans closer, snapping a picture of the leader's sharp smile and glittering orange eyes.

Khun walks behind them, arms swinging by his sides.  The paparazzi cheer when the three blue-haired celebrities pass, like peasants for smug, beautiful royalty.  "Miss Maschenny, how do you feel about Queen winning another award?" A reporter shouts, thrusting a camera in her face.

Maschenny pushes the camera back, blue eyes electric.  "Better than having my privacy invaded."

The reporter retreats, the few cameras around them giving the Khuns a wider berth.

Maria snickers, placing a few placating pats on her shoulder.  "Mas, don't be so mean to the paps just because you're being jealous," the Princess singer tells her cousin when they're out of hearing range.  She glances pointedly in Bam and Yuri's direction, Yuri still having an arm draped over Bam's shoulder.  Endorsi had flung Yuri's other arm off her shoulder minutes ago, but young man doesn't seem to mind.

Maschenny glares at Maria, right eye twitching as she gnashes her teeth.  "I am not being jealous."

Khun raises an eyebrow.  "It's okay, Mas," he can't help but join the teasing, "it's not your fault everybody loves BA- Ugh!"

He grits his teeth when someone - a desperate fan, probably - yanks him back by the hair.  Pain rockets over his scalp.  Maria's shriek instantly alerts Bam, who whirls around instinctively.  It's almost like he and Khun are so closely attuned to each other they can just tell when things are going on.  The person only releases Khun when Amigochaz the bodyguard barges through, big and intimidating.  The brunet leaves Yuri and Endorsi in favor to fret over his manager.  "Mr Khun!" He pats Khun all over with wide eyes.  "Are you alright? Did they hurt you?"

Khun rakes a hand through his hair, preferring to tousle it out of its carefully styled state than to keep going with the knowledge that somebody had touched it.  "I'm fine, just-" He scowls when a few strands of silvery blue hair come away clinging to his fingers.  He shakes them away with a wrinkled nose.  "Ow."

"Your hair isn't even that long," Maria says wondrously.  "It would've been a lot easier to grab mine.  Or Maschenny's."

Maschenny scowls, placing a hand over her hair protectively.  "Leave me out of it.  I don't know about A.A, but hair-grabbing isn't one of my kinks." Yuri snorts into her fist at the comment, crimson eyes bright with amusement.

Khun splutters, quickly tying his hair into a tiny ponytail he knows will be impossible to grab.  "Hair care is important, Mas! Part of that is knowing that it's not good for people to tug your hair out!"

Thankfully, the rest of the walk to the Tower Music Awards after-party passes relatively peacefully, the cameras focusing on the other red-carpet celebs.  Endorsi nearly trips over a bump on the floor, but like the gentleman he is, Bam catches her right before she falls.  Endorsi would've most swooned over the singer with googly eyes instead of smacking him like there's no tomorrow if Bam hadn't accidentally put a hand on her chest in the process. 

"Quit it," Khun warns, "Bam already apologized.  Stop hitting him - fücking - hey!" Why do his good deeds always breed aggression? "Endorsi! Ow! I told you to stop hitting him, not to start hitting me!"

It takes Maria, Endorsi's closest friend and the best chance they have to calm the rapper down, almost five minutes to calm her down and turn her wrath away from Khun.  At least nobody pulled his hair this time.

Last year, Yuri had dragged Bam away to hang out with Jahad's Girls!.  This time, BAM knows better than to step into the den of lionesses alone - the brunet had looked at his manager with those adorable, accursed puppy dog eyes, pleading for Khun not to leave him alone.  Khun, weak as always for his singer, had said yes.

Yulia makes it clear how much she likes BAM's demonic confidence, especially in that one diss track from Blue Moon.  The aforementioned diss track is mostly one of self-reflection, with BAM calling Viole stupid for being happy with the toxic relationship he'd been in with Rachel, wondering why he had ever been satisfied with Rachel always looking at the stars too far out of her reach and not the one who was sitting right next to her.  Oh, he'd also called Rachel a bïtch for hiding his real identity from him.  Khun had felt a surge of vicarious pride and undeniable attraction - Bam rarely ever swore, but that implicit "fück you" in the lyrics was pretty damn hot.  He was worried, too, of course, wondering if Bam was really fine about Rachel throwing him away like a chipped diamond, a broken cup. 

Bam had given him a bright smile that was all teeth.  "I think it was very smart of Miss Yulia, Miss Garam, Miss Maschenny and Miss Yuri to start venting in songs.  Sometimes, not saying things directly makes your feelings about them easier to understand." Khun almost got whiplash at the singer's resemblance to his late father.  "Besides, I know you can treat me better than she can!"

Khun agreed with Bam to his face, but proceeded to scream into the 'disaster gay' group chat when he left.

Bam grins like a child when the Empress of Diss Tracks asks him for a high-five.  "Next time you write a diss track, I want in," Yulia says seriously.

"Wait," splutters Hagipherione, "what happened to Jahad's 'no boys allowed' rule?"

Yulia just shrugs.  "The kids are already friends," she says, jerking her head in Yuri and Endorsi's direction, "they've all done collabs with him.  I'm not going to get left behind."

Khun turns around when he feels a curious gaze boring into the side of his head.  It's not Kiseia - Kiseia never looks at him that way.  She only glares.  It's Adori and An who are staring at him and Maria like they would a pair of kittens.  "How is your hair so nice?" An wonders.  "Is it a genetic thing? Or do you spend a long time fixing it?"

"It's genetic," Maria announces at the same time as Khun deadpans "Flat iron".

Adori frowns.  "Huh, I always thought your hair was straight.  I thought straight hair was like, a family thing." She glances at Eduan, sipping wine all by himself.  Who knows where Kiseia went?

Maria blinks at her brother, gaping.  "Wait, your hair's not straight? I swear, the last time I saw you your hair was straight! I'm your sister, I'm sure I'd know if your hair wasn't straight!"

Khun rolls his eyes.  The only remaining straight part of me is my posture, he thinks to himself.  "It used to be straighter.  It's wavier now, but it's so messy." He scowls.  "It's either I look like a wreck, or I look like Kiseia.  You know which one I'd choose."

Maria shakes her head.  "I can't imagine you with wavy hair."

"Me neither," An admits.  "You have the same face as your father, but I can't imagine him with wavy hair either."

"I know you didn't mean it as an insult, but I'm going to take it as one," Khun says with a haughty sniff.  "Khun Eduan is a piece of sh-"

"I'm bored," Yuri interrupts them with a yawn.  "Does Bam usually spend so long in the toilet? It's been ten minutes."

Alarm bells ring in Khun's head.  Ten minutes? The last time Bam had spent such a long time was when he got lost the first time they met.  Who knows what could've happened this time? Worse case scenario, he could've gotten kidnapped.  "I'm going to find him.  Don't get too bored without me, Maria."

Maria snorts.  "I'm not the one you should be worried about."

Yuri has now leeched onto Maschenny, whining about how bored she is.  "Chenny, talk to me."

Chenny? The only nickname the older Khun allows her younger siblings and cousins to call her is 'Mas'.  And Yuri is allowed to call her 'Chenny'? Maschenny groans, trying to shake the other woman off.  "Go talk to Garam.  Can't you see I'm trying to have a conversation?"

"Garam disappeared and Repel's ignoring me," Yuri complains.  "Give me attention.  Chenny.  Chenny.  Chenny." She accentuates each call of her leader's nickname with a poke to her cheek.

Maschenny scowls viciously, twisting her head around in an attempt to bite Yuri's finger right off.  "I'm trying to talk to Pondo!"

Pondo raises her hands in surrender.  "You should talk to her.  Pay her some attention before she starts bouncing off the walls or something."

"Or something," Maschenny grumbles.  "Being Yuri's sacrificial lamb is way above my pay grade."

Khun flees the scene before a fight ensues.  On his way to find Bam, he bumps into Wangnan, who sends him a pleading look.  He's stuck in an awkward, one-sided conversation with a pig-tailed redhead that can only be Quaetro Blitz, cousin of the one and only comedian Quant Blitz.  Khun hears something about Quaetro comparing Wangnan to the baby chick he used to have as a pet, and promptly decides he wants no part in that conversation when Quaetro mentions that he'd accidentally killed the chick.  Wangnan squeaks, trying to excuse himself, but Quaetro doesn't let him leave, apparently calling Wangnan his new side-chick.  Yihwa is faring better - her conversational partner of choice is Kaiser, a former Girls! trainee who had been boosted to fame in Name Hunt Entertainment's scouting competition 'The Masked Singer'.  Apparently, nobody knows Kaiser's real name and face save for her manager Lo Po Bia Alphine.

Khun spots a young man with brown hair standing in the middle of the corridor, talking to a woman with blue hair tied back with a star hair-clip.  The man's back is facing towards Khun, but the manager can tell that it's his singer.  But why is Bam talking to Ha Yura? They've never had any sort of interaction before.  Khun instantly dislikes her, although he's not entirely sure why.  He has a bad feeling about this.  His footsteps speed up.

His premonitions turn out to be accurate when Yura shoves Bam back and storms away.

"Bam!" Khun jogs over, worry creasing his brows.  Bam turns around to him, his movements sluggish.  "Bam? Are you alright?"

"Mr Khun." Bam's eyes are blank, his voice faint.  He leans forward, head plopping on Khun's shoulder.

"Bam? Talk to me," Khun pleads, "did she say anything nasty to you? If you want me to sue her, I will."

"There's something stuck under your collar," Bam mumbles.

"That's not what I asked."

The singer grumbles something unintelligible.  "It's a post-it.  Says it's for you and you only." Bam sticks the piece of paper onto Khun's arm, still refusing to look at him.  Khun quickly reads the other side of the post-it: Don't trust Jahad.  The clips have ears.  ~ E.E

"What does it say?"

Khun shoves the post-it into his pocket.  "Nothing important," he lies.  He wishes it's not important, he really does.  But something in him knows that this note is important, even though it's vague and secretive and probably written in code.  His first step is probably finding out who E.E is.  Could he ask Maria? Or does not trusting Jahad include his girls?  "Don't worry about it."

Bam frowns against his hair.  "Okay."

The singer continues to droop against his manager like a wilted flower.  Just what exactly had Yura said to him? Khun pets Bam as gently as he can, soothing strokes following the curve of his spine from the base of his neck to the small of his back.  "Do you want to talk about it?"

Bam's body grows limp in Khun's hands, boneless against his best friend.  "Miss Yura said she met Rachel." Fücking Rachel, sneers a voice in Khun's head.  "They were in Mr Enryu's 'Hell Train' together.  I told her I was happy for Rachel for finally achieving her dreams, and I asked her how Rachel was, if she'd ever said anything about me." The singer scoffs, shifting against Khun.  "She told me Rachel wants nothing to do with me anymore, and she said Rachel called me a- a- a monster.  She told me Rachel said I destroyed her life, but I- I don't know why.  Maybe what I had for her wasn't true love, but she was still really important to me.  Why would she just call me a monster? I don't understand."

Khun growls.  How dare she? "You deserve better than her.  I'm sorry I couldn't find you earlier.  If I did, maybe she wouldn't have treated you like shït, and you wouldn't be hurt because of her."

Bam hums, a soft sigh escaping his lips.  "At this point I'm just tired.  Tired of Rachel being mean to me even though I don't know why, tired because it's getting late, how does Yuri still have the energy to talk a mile a minute? I think I'd need coffee to keep up with her at this point, and I don't even drink coffee."

"I know, Bam." Khun gently eases the singer off his shoulders, Bam swaying on his feet as he rubs his eyes.  "Want me to take you back to your apartment?" Bam mumbles his agreement, expression still blank with exhaustion and the horror of all horrors that is his ex-girlfriend.  "I know it's been a long day, honey, but stay awake just a little longer.  I'll take you back as fast as I can, okay?"

Bam shakes himself back into relative wakefulness.  "Okay."

It hits Khun a few minutes too late that he'd just called Bam 'honey'.  

Again.

Chapter Text

Khun appreciates Bam, his brutal Evankhell-made exercise regime, and his newfound muscles, he really does.  Bam could probably bench press him and call it fun before trying to do it again.  But all those muscles mean that Khun has no idea how to move him around.

"Bam," he begs the sleeping singer, "please wake up."

Bam leans forward, and Khun strains his muscles to keep him upright.  Bam had always slept like the dead, but Khun never realized the brunet was so hard to rouse.  Before they left, Bam had told him he was tired, but Khun had no idea he was that tired.  What's worse, the weather forecast had lied and called the thunderstorm a "slight drizzle", so now Khun was drenched, having given Bam the one emergency raincoat he had.

So here they are now: Khun, soaked to the bone save for his head and his back; Bam, sleeping peacefully with the booming thunder shut out by his helmet.  Khun wrangles it off as gently as he can, and Bam's head lolls forward, eyes shut and lips parted.  He's even drooling, lucky him.  Khun sighs in a mix of exasperation ad fondness, gently shaking Bam by the shoulders.  "It's time to wake up, honey."

Bam makes a dissatisfied noise, grabby hands latching onto Khun's sopping wet jacket.  He mumbles something that vaguely sounds like a "carry me".

Khun does try - he eases the singer off the bike and into his arms, but it is in fact much harder to sweep someone into a bridal carry than it looks in the movies, especially not when the person you're carrying is much heavier than you are.  Eventually, he manages to loop Bam's arms around his neck, and the singer offers minimal help by clamping his legs around Khun's hips and hooking his ankles together.

Let Khun restate: Bam is incredibly heavy.

Eventually, Khun manages to stagger and stumble his way to Bam's dorm room.  There's only one problem - Bam doesn't seem eager to let go any time soon.  He sets Bam down on a chair like an overly heavy backpack (speaking of backpacks, how does Evan Edrok not have back problems? Khun's entire body feels sore after carrying Bam from the carpark to the dorms, and it had only taken him five minutes), but the sleeping singer clings onto him.  "Come on, baby," he tries again, "you gotta wake up.  I'm getting cold."

As if roused by the statement, Bam yawns widely, eyes fluttering open.  "Why're you- oh, how did we get here so quickly?" He looks at the dripping jacket slung over Khun's arm and his near-translucent white dress shirt.  "Mr Khun, you're soaked!"

Khun gasps when Bam presses a hand against his shirt,  He can feel the cold fabric against every bump and ridge of his abdomen, but beyond that he can feel the warmth of Bam's hand.  He might as well be shirtless.  They jump apart when the sky explodes in a blinding flash of light, the roar of rolling thunder not far behind.  "It's raining," he says lamely.  "I gave you my raincoat, so you're pretty dry.  I'll leave now that you're awake, Bam.  Remember to take a-"

He sneezes so hard he sees stars.

Bam rubs the sleep out of his eyes, hauling himself out of his chair and trying to grab Khun with the other.  "You're not going anywhere.  You're going to get sick if you leave now.  You're already shivering."

Khun narrows his eyes.  "Bam, are you threatening me?"

The brunet holds his head up high.  "So what if I am? If that's what gets you to stay the ight, then yes.  You should shower and get yourself warmed up.  You'll catch a cold if you stay in that shirt any longer." Bam places a warm hand on the small of his back, pushing him towards the bathroom.  "Heh, the back of your shirt is completely dry."

Khun splutters as Bam hums and pushes him along.  "I don't want to intrude-"

"You're not intruding."

"What would I wear-"

Bam steps away, and a few seconds later a pair of shorts and boxers sails through the air and into his hands.  "Shirt?"

"Oh," Khun croaks, "yes please." Khun catches the flying shirt before it lands flat on his face.  "Thanks." Bam wants him to wear his shirt.  And stay the night.  Khun can't decide if the gods are conspiring for him or against him.

"I don't remember if I told you, but I have an audition for FUG tomorrow -"

"You what?"

"Oops, I must've forgotten, but I want you to come with me, just for moral support-"

Khun sighs.  He tries to look chastising, but it's hard  to look serious when his entire face is strawberry-pink and the blush is spreading down to his chest under Bam's golden gaze.  "You know I'd go anywhere with you, but you have to tell me these things, you know.  I'm your friend.  And your manager.  Let me know where you go so I can chase you anytime."

"I know, I know, I'm sorry, I just didn't think you'd be happy about it because Arie Hoaqin's going to be there, apparently, he just got out of jail.  Rachel and Yura will be there too, and Rachel's already given Yura a bad impression of me, but I still want to talk to her."

"I'm fine with you going to the audition, but Arie Hoaqin? I'm not going to let him within two feet of you.  If you can touch him, he's too close.  And Rachel... I just don't want you to get hurt again.  She hurt you once before when you guys fought, and she hurt you again yesterday.  I don't like her, but if you want to talk to her so badly, it's your choice to make."

Bam looks away.  "Okay.  I'll be careful."

"I'll be here for you, Bam." Even if you don't want me the same way I've always wanted you.  "I'll just shove my clothes in the washing machine and hope it dries by tomorrow so I can iron it and wear it again."

Bam nods gratefully, glad for the change in topic.  "If it doesn't dry yet, you could just pick something out of my closet.  I think some of my clothes would fit you better than me anyway."

Khun mumbles an agreement, swallowing his fluttering heart.  Bam really has no idea what his casual words are doing to Khun's heart, does he?

When he steps out of the shower, he feels much cleaner and refreshed.  That sense of wakefulness also brings with it the awareness that his hair smells like Bam's apple shampoo, his body like Bam's pear-scented soap.  The oversized t-shirt he's wearing has a little banana on it that reminds him of Rak, but he can't bring himself to be annoyed when the comfort of a well-worn shirt and the promise of good quality sleep (and a potential heart attack) looms over him.

Overall, he looks and smells like a fruit salad.  Tasty.

Bam gapes at him when he opens the bathroom door, dropping the phone in his hands.  "What?" Khun asks as Bam's gaze trails down his figure.  Dammit, he groans to himself, why pick now to be self-conscious? "I'm wearing pants," he adds uncertainly, hiking his shirt up to reveal booty shorts when Bam's eyes linger on his thighs.  "Do you sleep like this every night?"

Bam averts his gaze, cheeks red like he'd just been caught looking at something positively sinful.  "I usually sleep shirtless.  Depends on the weather." Khun's eyes widen.  Oh.  A nervous laugh bolts out of Bam's lips.  "I'm-" He points at the bathroom door.  "Shower!" He blurts.  He sprints past Khun, the bathroom door slamming shut behind him.

Khun shakes his head, bewildered but amused.  Sometimes, he really wishes he could read Bam's mind.  You're just dense, his inner Ran snipes, and in denial. Khun blows all his thoughts out with a hairdryer.  Without a straightener, the high-quality (and seemingly unused) hairdryer Bam owns will have to make do.  Maybe his inner Ran is right.

Or maybe he's not.  He turns to the sound of the bathroom door opening, and holy shït, Bam is wearing nothing but a towel wrapped low around his hips.  Khun can see pectorals, abs, hipbones, things that lead to a certain thing down there that Khun totally is not staring at.  He's not a creep.  "Bam," he asks, eyes squeezed shut, "do you not change inside the bathroom?" Khun really hopes Bam isn't a nudist.

Or maybe you do, you dirty dirty-

Nope, he does not.  Definitely does not.  Damp feet patter against wooden tiles.  "I was texting Miss Yuri, and I guess I forgot to take my clothes in.  Do- Do you mind if I change here? If you do, I'll just head back into the bathroom-"

"I don't mind!" Khun's voice is an octave higher than any sound he's ever been able to make with his vocal chords and far too excited.  He clears his throat.  "I mean, it's fine.  I don't mind.  I'll just be fixing my hair." He nearly trips over his slipper in his haste to get away.

He wonders what dimension he has ascended to when a few strands blow aside to reveal rippling back muscles, boxer shorts tight against the curve of Bam's ass.  Bam puts his shirt on and Khun resumes blow-drying his hair and frantically praying that Bam didn't catch him staring.

"I'll take the couch," Bam offers.  "You're the guest.  You take the bed."

"No, I'll take the couch.  There's no way you'll fit, and I don't want you to wake up with back pains tomorrow." Why does Bam's shirt look so much more fitted on him than on Khun? They're basically wearing the same outfit.  Khun isn't that skinny, is he?

Khun watches Bam's Adam's apple bob as he swallows.  "Or... We could both sleep on the bed?" He glances at Khun under his lashes, all shy eyes and red cheeks.  Why does Khun have a feeling this is deliberate? "We'd fit?"

The bluenet eyes the bed warily.  If Bam's doing this on purpose, he may as well play along.  No harm in testing a hypothesis, right? "I guess we could sleep together." 

Bam's mouth opens, and closes, and opens again like a pretty goldfish.  "E- Eh?"

Khun blinks.  "Did I say something wr-" I guess we could sleep together, his own voice echoes in his head.  Now Khun's the one floundering.  "Oh.  Shït.  I didn't mean it that way, I just-" He makes a vague motion with his hands.  "It's getting late.  My brain's switching off.  I'm going to bed." He crawls under the covers, turning away from Bam with the blankets pulled up to his chin.  His "good night" is drowned out by thunder.

The bed creaks as Bam slides in behind him, shuffling around until he finds a comfortable position.  "Good night, Mr Khun." Lightning flashes behind Khun's closed eyelids.  "Oh wow, I didn't realize you were so pale.  Your hair's almost silver."

Khun flips around.  Bam had been tired earlier, but it seems like the singer has no intent on sleeping now.  He blinks lazily at the brunet.  "Like the moon?"

"But blue." Bam reaches out, touching his eyelashes with a mesmerized expression.  "You have really nice eyelashes.  I think I might understand why Miss Endorsi keeps complaining about Maria's eyelashes now." He plucks a fallen lash off Khun's cheek.  "And now I understand why Maria complains."

Khun snorts, yelping when Bam flicks the eyelash at him.  "Go to sleep, Bam.  You have an audition tomorrow, remember?"

Bam pouts.  "Fine, fine.  Good night, Mr Khun."

Five minutes pass.

"You're still staring at me, Bam."

Bam makes a loud, exaggerated, and totally fake snoring noise, all while staring at Khun with a completely deadpan expression.  "I can't sleep."

Khun huffs, turning away.  "Well, it's your fault for sleeping on the bike.  I'm going to sleep now."

Just as Khun is about to let himself be swept away by slumber, Bam speaks.  "Did you mean what you said earlier? On stage?"

"Hmm?"

"You said... You love me.  Did you mean it?"

Khun shuffles onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.  Lightning flashes.  "Of course I love you.  Who wouldn't?"

"That wasn't what I was asking." Bam's amber eyes seem to glow in the dark, the sky illuminating his uncertainty.  "I wasn't asking about other people.  I was asking about you."

"I-" Khun falters.  Is admitting that he's in love with Bam too big of a step forward? Bam might like him, but he still doesn't call Khun by his name.  And by 'name', he doesn't mean 'Khun'.  "I do." He rolls over, sweeping Bam's bangs back and pressing a ghost of a kiss to his forehead.  He turns away instantly, hiding under the safety of the covers where Bam can't see the pink staining his cheeks.  "Now go to sleep, Bam.  I mean it."

"Oh.  Yeah.  Good night, Mr Khun."

That night, Khun dreams of an alternate reality he may not be too far from living.

Chapter Text

Khun is paralyzed.

Well, he's not entirely paralyzed, per se, he can wiggle his toes and feel that they're cold, but that's about it.  The deadweight lying over most of his body is cutting off his blood circulation, his legs ensnared in a tangle of blankets and feet.  What kind of sleep paralysis demon makes you overheat? He's pretty sure sleep paralysis demons don't give of this kind of warmth.  The demon shifts, and Khun finds himself with a mouth full of brown hair.

How (un)fortunate: Viole is the name of the demon that haunts Khun's conscience, but Khun's current sleep paralysis demon is none other than Bam.  Careful not to wake his 'sleeping beauty', Khun tries to push him off somehow, at least get the hair out of his nose and mouth.

As soon as he moves, Bam makes a sleepy, disgruntled growl of a sound before he grabs Khun by the wrist and slams it down next Khun's head. His eyes are closed, but Khun's are wider than they've ever been. He has officially been rendered immobile by a man who's still half asleep and completely unaware of his own strength. He'd move the hand trapped under his pillow, but Bam happens to be using the shoulder it's attached to as a pillow.  Khun doesn't even dare to breathe.  After a while, Bam's vice grip relaxes, snuggling into Khun as if satisfied with his lack of movement.

Khun stares up at the white ceiling, skin tingling at the sensation of warm breath fanning down his neck.  How had it even gotten to this?

The last thing he remembers of the previous night is being woken up by a crash of thunder, a jarringly loud thump, and the sensation of coldness.  Of course, his first instinct was to inspect.  He'd found Bam lying awkwardly on the floor, still fast asleep, his fall cushioned by the blankets he'd stolen from Khun.   And he thought he was a blanket hog.  Even with a sleep-addled brain, Khun had realized that the floor was not a good place to spend the night, and promptly ordered his body to crawl over, scoop Bam off the floor and plop him back on the bed.  Khun hadn't minded much when Bam rolled over and slapped an arm over his chest, but at one point the brunet must have subconsciously decided that Khun didn't need blankets, he just needed Bam.

Endearing as it is, Khun is really struggling to breathe, and his feet are cold.  "Bam," he whispers, "you're squashing me." Bam only grunts.  "You gotta wake up, honey." 

Bam hums in disapproval.  At least he responded to the pet name? Khun wonders if he'll have to resort to thoroughly embarrassing himself.  He nearly bites a hole through his tongue when Bam shifts, indirectly grinding against him.  A white-hot shiver races up and down his spine, a gasp choking out of him.  Bam's chapped lips curve into a smirk.  Khun's heart pounds in overdrive when Bam licks them slowly and says in a voice still husky with sleep: "Make me."

Khun gulps.  Is he dreaming? He has to be dreaming.  There's no way all of this is happening at the same time: he smells like Bam's shampoo and body wash, he's sleeping in Bam's bed, in Bam's clothes, and Bam is hovering over him, pinning him to the bed with his body, hands, hungry gaze.  Or maybe both of them are dreaming.  Bam's eyes are still closed, after all.  The demon lurking in his head, the one with long brown hair and molten gold eyes, the one Khun had nicknamed Viole, is throwing a party at the downright filthy images Khun's mind is conjuring.  It's hard to shut it all down when Bam is smiling like he wants to eat Khun alive.

"Bam," Khun warns, his voice reproachful, "don't make me beg for it."

Bam tilts his head, golden eyes half-lidded and amused as he stares at Khun.  He's awake now, Khun's inner Viole says gleefully, what are you going to do? "No."

Khun raises an eyebrow.  "What do you mean no?"

Bam just snuggles into him.  "It's warm and comfy."

"I'm overheating," Khun complains in reply, "and you're squashing me."

Bam pokes Khun's blushing cheek, eyes sleepy but playful.  "But I don't wanna move," he whines.  "Let me stay like this, please?"

Khun is so, so weak for Bam's little pout, but he can't breathe, and his hands are numb.  His brain, however, is not.  If you lean forward, you could kiss him-

No! He most definitely cannot kiss Bam.  He may be oblivious to the inner workings of courtship and more-than-platonic relationships, but Maria and the Chestnuts are all too willing to throw themselves into analyzing the romantic and mildly sexual undertones in Bam's lyrics.  The first few times he'd listened to Blue Moon, he'd simply enjoyed it as it was, Bam's voice music to his ears.  After spending some time on Chirper and listening to it again, everything was different.  How could he possibly have missed it? Sky blue hair framing sea blue eyes; white dress shirts hanging over broad shoulders; pale skin and elegant hands; long fingers tapping on motorbike handles.  There were references in there nobody else could've understood, odes to memories recovered from a childhood long passed.  Blue Moon beats like the crescendo of a smitten heart.

If Bam is a puzzle seeking out his missing pieces, Khun is one that actively rips itself up, too scared to see the big picture to confront what's right in front of him.  The twenty centimeters between them is a mountain range he cannot bring himself to cross, the last remaining block around his heart a solid wall made of reputation.  He's just painfully aware of the truth - he likes Bam, Bam probably likes him too, but society would not be so kind.  What would they think if Khun let himself fall into an easy relationship with Bam? They'd think he was taking advantage of Bam's innocence, taking advantage of his dreams.

Khun would rather die before he let anybody drag Bam into the same hell his own blood father had pushed him into.

"I'm going to tickle you," Khun warns.

That's the last warning Bam gets before Khun mercilessly prods his fingers into the brunet's side.  Bam squeals, an unstoppable series of giggles bouncing out of his lips before he tumbles off Khun and eventually the bed in a tangle of limbs and blankets.  "That's so mean," Bam complains, his voice muffles. 

He could settle for memorizing every single one of Bam's expressions, couldn't he? It's at times like this that Khun's heart feels full enough to burst.  He rolls over and peers down at Bam with an easy grin.  "What can I say? I'm not a particularly nice person." He offers Bam a hand, only for Bam to smirk, grab his hand, and tug him right over the side.  

Khun's eyes widen when he lands squarely on top of Bam, bracing himself with his arms.  "Payback is sweet, hmm?"

The blue-haired man rolls off Bam to lie by his side. Are all best friends always exasperated but fond with each other? "Did you sleep well last night, Bam?"

"Mhm!" He pats Khun's chest, right over his accelerating heartbeat. "I had an excellent pillow. Five star review on Yelp."

"Would you share your recommendation?" Khun teases.

Bam moves himself to lie on top of Khun once more. His heart beats like a nervous teenager's, and Bam must be able to hear it if he's lying on Khun's chest, his ear crushed against a pectoral. His smile is crooked. "Nope! Let me be selfish."

Khun's exhale comes as more of a laugh, and he smiles, petting Bam's hair with a fond hand. "Whatever you want, honey."

He screams internally when Bam's eyes widen just a little. Why does he keep calling Bam 'honey'? He thought it was just a one-time thing, safe for him to throw the blame about his embarrassment on Maschenny. But no, he just had to call Bam 'honey' with the same affection only lovers would have. He can't deny that the whine rumbling through his body after Bam smushes his flustered face into Khun's chest isn't adorable, though.

It's nice not to be the madly blushing one for once.

"You can't just say things like that," Bam mumbles. Khun can feel him pouting.

"But you like it, don't you?" Khun is doing a lot of water testing today. Will he let himself drown? Or will his denial keep him afloat?

"… Yeah. Rachel never said anything like this to me even when we were dating. I was closest to Wangnan and Yihwa when I was with Sweet and Sour, but I think Yihwa would set Wangnan on fire before she said anything like that to me. I guess I like it when it feels like you won't abandon me."

Honey, baby, sweetheart, gorgeous, I would never abandon you. Not again. "Whoever wants to take me away from you would have to kill me to do it."

Bam makes an embarrassed sound, muffling it with Khun's chest.  He slaps a hand over Khun's mouth, yelping when the blue-haired man gives it a tentative lick.  "That's so gross!" He proceeds to wipe his hand on Khun's - technically Bam's - shirt, the way he wrinkles his nose oddly similar to Khun.  "I'm going to add what you just did to those 'Cat Khun' threads on Chirper," Bam warns.  "Most of them are about you anyway."

Khun sticks his tongue out.  "Nobody's going to believe you."

Bam wiggles his eyebrows, reaching for his phone.  "Wanna test that?"

Khun bats Bam's hand away when the singer tries to take a photo of him.  "I'm going to brush my teeth.  We should get a move on, or you'll be late for your audition.  If you're lucky, you might even see a wild Grace Mirchea Luslec ending his hibernation, stepping out of his cave for the first time in years-"

Bam snorts so hard he clutches his nose and complains about the pain.  "I'll change first, then.  There's a spare toothbrush in the cupboard behind the mirror."

Getting ready goes fairly smoothly, except Bam lets him know that his clothes aren't dry yet while still hopping around half-naked and barely into his pants.  Bam really is one of a kind, isn't he? The biggest problem is that Khun's hair is wavy, and he can't fix it.  "Khun," Bam tells him when he's finally fully dressed, "you look fine." He pokes at a little wave.  "Go change.  I need to brush my teeth too."

"Are you sure?" Khun continues staring at the mirror, trying to pull his hair into straight lines.  Since when had Bam decided to drop the "Mister"? It's nice, though, probably means he's on the way to calling Khun "Aguero".  When he does, perhaps Khun will begin to do the same.

"Yes!" Bam spins Khun around to face him.  "You look good all the time.  Trust me."

Khun stares at the brunet, eyes wide and cheeks pink.  He covers his brief moment of panic with a smug hair-flip and a smirk.  "I wouldn't be a Khun if I wasn't drop-dead gorgeous."

Bam laughs.  "Of course."

Khun finds himself in a V-neck sweater he doesn't recall Bam ever wearing tucked into the tightest pants he has ever worn.  It flares out slightly at the hips, but otherwise it clings to his legs.  He remembers buying these pants for Bam, and ending up completely unable to keep his eyes off the singer's ass.  At least it makes his own ass look fine - Maria had always said he was rather flat.  "Khun!" Bam jogs out of the bathroom all spruced up, hair freshly combed and determination in his eyes.  "There's a-"

His eyes zero in on Khun's butt.  "Whatever you do, don't move.  This might hurt a little, by the way."

Bam sneaks over like a hunter on the prowl, eyes on the prize.  Khun screams in surprise when the palm of Bam's hand comes into contact with his ass.  Hard. "Ow! Bam! What was that for?" Even Hachuling and his casual attacks against his 'cute relatives' could be called gentle now.

His butt-cheek stings, but Bam has the audacity to laugh at Khun's indignance.  He lifts his hand.  "There was a fly."

Khun raises an eyebrow, looking to the squashed corpse on Bam's hand and back to his eyes.  "A fly? On my butt?"

Bam huffs, pouting.  "At least I killed it!"

The look in his eyes is not one of guilt.  "I'm pretty sure that didn't warrant a smack like that." He squints at Bam, flushed cheeks sandwiched between his palms.  "Did Maschenny possess you or something?" He knows Maschenny leans towards the sadistic side and that she considers slapping Yuri's ass a kind of stress relief.  Khun really hopes Bam doesn't have a secret dark side.  "Blink once if there's some kind of demon lurking inside you, blink twice if there isn't."

Bam blinks three times in a row.  "I'm fine, Khun, really.  I do need to wash my hands, though."

Khun clears his throat, releasing the singer's cheeks.  "Yeah, you do that." He smirks when Bam steps out of the toilet, wiping his wet hands on his pants.  "Prepare for payback, though."

Bam gulps at the mischief in those blue eyes.  When Bam passes Khun on the way to the door, he places his hands over his butt.  As if that would protect him from karma.

Chapter Text

Being influential really has its perks, sometimes, but being influential and having a reputation of being scary is even better.  Nobody dares to take photos or post when Khun and Bam are spotted grabbing breakfast together, Khun in an outfit out of his usual style and oddly reminiscent of a certain somebody else's.  Khun surreptitiously glowers at whoever dares stare for too long at the two happily chatting celebrities, knees bumping under the table as they munch on their bagels.  Bam has the gall to kick his manager when Khun glares at a bug-eyed teenage girl for a moment too long.

"Khun," Bam chides him with a laugh, spewing bagel crumbs at him, "don't be so mean."

Khun scoffs, swatting at the singer with a napkin.  "Don't talk with your mouth full, Bam.  I don't want to see you being gross."

Bam pouts, chomping louder just to spite his manager.  The teenage girl flees the scene, muffling a squeal.  The singer gives her disappearing form a strange look.  "Alright, I get why you kept glaring at her now.  How long had she been staring at us for?"

Khun sighs, icy eyes sweeping over the rest of the people in the café.  Whoever was looking before certainly isn't now.  "I have no idea.  Let's go, Bam, they're not worth our time."

Bam laughs, scarfing down the rest of his bagel.  Khun can see the grin in Bam's eyes, teeth and chewed up bread hidden behind his hand.  "Of course, your Highness."

Bam is really, really lucky Khun is in love with him.  Honestly, at this point, the 'ice prince' reputation Khun had built up over the years is melting away, heart-sized puddle evaporating into the sun.  These days, it feels like he and Maschenny are in an unwitting race to find out which Khun will reveal themselves as a softie at heart first.  The younger blue-haired celeb feels like he's losing.

"Khun," Bam whines once they reach the FUG Studio headquarters, "I'm so nervous." He plays with his fingers, wringing his hands, cracks his knuckles over and over again.  Khun doesn't even realize he's holding Bam's hand until Bam stops in the middle of the road, staring at their conjoined hands.  "Khun! You-"

"I don't want you to end up with broken fingers," Khun grumbles, hiding his pink cheeks behind his hair.  "I- It doesn't have to mean anything." His voice sounds too curt, even to his own ears.

Bam huffs out a breath.  Like Khun, there are roses blooming on his cheeks, but he can't hide them, not even with his cap.  He neatly tucks their hands into his pocket, hiding them under his jacket.  Khun stumbles against him, off-balance with shock.  This is the first time they've ever held hands - two men, holding hands, how scandalous - as adults in public without any particular emotional reason.  "Right.  Of course."

When they finally step inside FUG's headquarters, a pigtailed intern in a red dress and a rabbit-eared headband is waiting for them.  "You're two minutes late," she complains.  "Follow me, Jue Viole Grace.  I'll take you to the audition room." She points at Khun.  "You, stay behind."

Khun's eyebrow twitches at her tone.  Most people would not dare simply call him 'you'.  "I want him to come with me," Bam tells her stubbornly.  "He doesn't have to go in, but I want him with me as emotional support."

The intern - Xiaxia, if Khun is reading her nametag right - crosses her arms, the hungry gleam in her eyes a sharp contrast to the pout on her face.  Khun dislikes her instantly.  "Well, if you pay me a certain sum of money, I might be allow him to tag along-"

"If you're trying to be a con artist, try harder." Khun smiles, all gleaming white teeth and sharp canines.  He's used to playing with money, knows how to be smart with it.  Xiaxia is a rabbit helpless under the cunningly sharp claws of an experienced cat.  "I won't let Bam pay you a cent."

"Psh!" Xiaxia turns away.  "Fine, I'll let you come along.  But only to the corridor outside the room!"

Bam laughs at Xiaxia's downturned mouth and Khun's smug smirk.  "You think you'd be a good con artist?"

Khun grins, wicked and playful.  "Honey, I'd be the best," he purrs.  "Besides, how do you know I haven't conned anyone before?"

The singer gapes, golden eyes full of amusement, his expression faux-scandalized.  "Thank god I'm one of the few people you actually like."

Bold of you to assume you're not the only person I like, Khun wants to say.  Xiaxia huffs at their interaction, mumbling about getting a raise.  She passes them on to a long-haired redhead with an eyepatch.  She looks oddly familiar, but Khun can't think of who she looks like.  "Oh my god," she says upon laying eyes - or eye, rather - on Bam.  "I had a feeling you were alive, but I didn't know you actually were."

Bam squints at her.  "Do I know you?"

The redhead woman cracks a wry smile.  "We used to hang out as kids, and you accidentally splashed acid in my eye in a middle school science class.  Uncle Enryu freaked out a lot about that.  I'd be quite disappointed if you didn't know me."

Bam blinks before his mouth pops open.  "Oh! Hwaryun!" Oh, so that's who she reminded Khun of.  Enryu.  Of course - the two redheads have wavy hair tumbling over the same eye, even though Hwaryun's is already covered with an eyepatch.  It makes sense that they are related.  The singer buries his face in Khun's shoulder, embarrassment muffled in a knitted sweater.  "I'm so sorry about your eye."

Hwaryun waves a hand dismissively.  "Oh, it's fine.  I like it better like this.  The eyepatch makes me look cool."

Khun gapes.  At some point over the years, he had forgotten the fact that Bam had once collapsed on him crying that he hurt a friend badly and she had to be sent to the hospital, and that she'd never be able to see things the same way again.  He never realized the 'friend' Bam was talking about was this Hwaryun girl.  "But still," Bam protests, "I hurt you-"

"It was just an accident," Hwaryun tells him with a shrug, straightening her coat.  "Let bygones be bygones.  You've always been rather clumsy, my god."

"'My god'?" Khun parrots.  "What's that all about?" He used to pride himself on being Bam's closest friend, but he feels completely out of the loop right now.  Had Hwaryun meant as much to Bam as Aguero did?

"She used to say 'oh my god' every time she saw me because I kept doing stupid things," Bam explains.  "Like after that time I fell off a tree.  I feel like I shouldn't have let the two of you meet.  You'd either be enablers, or disappointed in me all the time."

Khun sighs.  Is there a tone such as 'too fond'? "Oh, Bam.  I could never be disappointed in you." Hwaryun raises a neatly plucked eyebrow.  "Just worried," he tacks on.  He has a feeling Hwaryun cannot be trusted with the knowledge that he has feelings for Bam, not even a little.  The two of them make their quick introductions, a shake of hands, polite bob of heads.

"Are those Viole's clothes?" The redhead whispers.

Khun really doesn't like the knowing gleam in her eyes.  "It's none of your business."

She bobs her head, small smile spreading across her lips.  "I'll take that as a yes, then.  Don't worry, I won't tell Mr Luslec.  I can't promise that he won't find out some other way, though."

Khun groans.  It's rather safe for him to say Luslec really doesn't like him: when Bam was young, the boy's best friend and uncle had been in a fierce competition to see who could get Bam the most plushies that made him happy, and Aguero was on a three-year-long winning streak.  Needless to say, Bam's beloved 'Uncle Mirchea' wasn't happy about that, especially not when Bam would greet Aguero with a smile brighter than sunshine before turning to Luslec.  The way Luslec ground his teeth every time Aguero smirked at him with all the confidence of a winner was pretty funny, though.  "If he finds out, I'd be a dead man."

Bam whirls around to them, eyes wide.  "If who finds out what? Why would you be a dead man?"

Hwaryun laughs, far too amused for Khun's liking.  "You'll find out soon, Viole.  Follow me now, the judges are ready for you."

The redhead allows Bam a moment for last minute panicking.  It takes Khun a quick hug and a few head pats and encouraging words to calm him down.  He's no Urek Mazino or Ha Yuri, but what he does is enough for Bam.  Just to spite Luslec if he's watching, Khun sends Bam off with a flying kiss and a wink.  Hwaryun looks away with an eyeroll, but Bam catches it with both hands and presses it to his mouth, returning the wink.  Khun gawks, and Hwaryun lets out a loud, exaggerated sigh.  "I'll be out soon, Khun! See you later!"

He disappears into the audition room with Hwaryun, leaving Khun flustered and alone in the corridor.  The blue-haired man stumbles against the wall, eyes wide.  Blue Moon Bam had been bad enough for his heartrate, with all the cocky confidence of an experienced heart-stealer.  But post-Blue Moon Bam? Oh, boy.  This Bam is an entirely new Bam altogether, one that knows exactly how to make Khun's heart race in all the right ways, one that knows exactly how to manipulate Khun into doing things Bam wants him to do.  It was like sleeping in the same bed had given the singer more confidence, not that he needed any.

He really, really misses young Bam.

An aggressive buzz of the phone inside his pocket vibrates him out of his thirst-driven daydreams.  It's Maria, freaking out about Chirper - apparently, somebody had posted a picture of Khun and Bam at the café, playing a somewhat awkward game of unintentional footsie.  Khun knows Bam is his weak spot and that he looks at Bam like Bam is better than anything else the world has to offer, but he never realized he has stars in his eyes whenever he looks at Bam.  Whoever had taken the photo had caught the glitter in Khun's eyes as Bam laughed, the edge of his mouth dusted with flour.  He decides against taking legal action.  It's a nice photo.

Maria freaks out even more when Khun casually tells her that he had stayed over at Bam's the night before, and that he'd woken up with Bam as his blanket.  Maschenny only sends an eye-roll emoji, claiming to be sleep-deprived and dealing with a hungover Yuri after dealing with drunk Yuri the night before.

Khun huffs.  Both of them are used to sleeping in the same room as their crushes, occasionally even in the same bed.  Aguero and Khun had both only shared a bed with Bam once.  His older sister and cousin do not understand his plight.

Maria's casual complaint about accidentally dropping her Jahad Talent hairclip down the sink and being yelled at by a staff member for it next thing in the morning reminds Khun of something else entirely - he digs out the mysterious post-it note from his briefcase, scanning the text again.  Don't trust Jahad.  That part was simple: ever since he was a child, he'd suspected something was off about the older man.  Is it his tawny-eyed glare? His crooked smirk? Khun isn't sure, but he knows that it's a 'Jahad Thing'.  Wangnan, despite looking like a carbon copy of Jahad, simply doesn't give off the same vibes.

But the clips have ears? Khun wants to smack himself for not seeing it sooner.  Every single Girls! member had the same hairclip bearing the symbol of Jahad Talent.  How else could Jahad always know where all his girl group members were at all times? The only person who knew about Maria's hairclip incident was Endorsi, who had opened the dorm toilet door while Maria was brushing her hair and slammed the door into the bluenette's heel so hard she dropped the clip.  How else could the staff members know that Maria had lost her clip?

There's only one answer - the clips are hearing devices.  Thankfully, Khun knows for a fact that they definitely aren't trackers - once during the early days of Princess, Endorsi had nearly been left behind by two of Jahad's staff members at the Ranker Show after a promotion event because she went to the toilet, and the only person who remembered that was Maria.  Maria had thrown a fit and gotten the staff members fired for that.

The only member of Girls! without a clip is Garam, but that's because she always finds a way to lose or destroy it - apparently her clips have all been flushed down the toilet; eaten by her dog; crushed underfoot.  Maschenny suspects there's another reason, and Khun does as well, although they don't know what reason exactly.

Khun groans, burying his head in his hands.  The last part of The Mystery of the Post-It Note is the identity of 'E.E'.  Who is E.E? And why did they send him the note? He's thankful for his big brain, although less so for this entire conundrum.

He rewinds his memories, thinking of anyone who could've snuck a note under his jacket collar.  He thinks of everybody he had interacted with the night before: Bam couldn't possibly have done it, he's Bam and he trusts Khun enough to tell him things outright; Khun would know if Maria and Maschenny were trying to prank him somehow, or they would tell him directly; Yuri and Endorsi hadn't been close enough to touch him, like everybody else.

Who could've done it?

A headache rages and pounds in his skull.  Oh.  Right.  The stranger who had grabbed his hair.  God, what a nightmare that had been.  The headache worsens, and he grits his teeth through the pain.  Stupid migraine, stupid post-it, stupid stranger! He isn't paid enough for this.

The slamming of a door sends his vision spinning.  "Khun!" Bam trots out of the audition room, golden eyes bright and excited.

"Bam!" The bluenet stuffs the post-it note into his briefcase, forcing enthusiasm onto his face.  "How did you do?"

The singer flips him a thumbs up, still on an adrenaline high.  "I think I did pretty good, the judges looked pretty satis-" He squints at his manager.  "Are you alright? You're swaying."

The floor is moving in undulating waves, Bam is doing cartwheels.  Khun rubs his eyes, but that only seems to make it worse.  "I'm fine-" His voice is slurred, even to his own ears.  His lips are dry, his throat scratchy.  He clears his throat, coughing.  "I'm fine, really-"

"Khun?" Bam looks really worried now.  Khun feels like he could drink an entire lake.  "Khun!"

He slumps forward, and everything goes black.

Chapter Text

"Do you think he'll be alright?" The whispering voice sounds scared, fretful.  Fingers comb through Khun's hair, familiar and soothing.  Khun shifts, arching into the touch.  It's Bam.  He whines unwittingly when Bam's hands slip out of his hair, head turning in search for Bam even though his eyes feel like they've been sewn shut.  "Shh," Bam murmurs, voice as gentle as his touch, as gentle as a well-worn sweater.  "I'm still here."

The back of a cool hand rests against Khun's too-hot forehead.  A whimper rises at the back of his throat when the hand leaves his skin, his body burning from the inside out.  He wants more of that coolness.  Usually, he's the one who's freezing cold - what is happening? "Eh, he'll be fine." Now, who does that new voice belong to? It sounds vaguely familiar and he'd like to know why, but any attempts at thinking leads to him scrunching his eyes, a monster headache pounding to the beat of a bass, demanding to be let out.  "He's just weak."

"Hey!" Bam splutters.  "I don't know who you are, but don't insult Khun! He's one of the strongest people I know!"

The other voice laughs, airy and mocking.  "He's just a dramatic son of a bïtch.  It's just a stupid cold, he'll wake up if he isn't already awake.  I've had way more of these in jail, and it was way worse when I had to deal with it alone along with everybody else trying to beat me up."

Khun is sick? That's impossible.  He has a strong body, he hasn't been sick in years.  But jail? What? Bam parrots Khun's thoughts.  "What do you mean, jail?"

The voice laughs, this time genuinely amused.  "I'm Arie Hoaqin.  Why, did nobody introduce you to me?"

Arie… Hoaqin? "Get the fück away from-" Khun barely finishes croaking out his sentence before his eyes fly open and he chokes on a coughing fit.  He glares at the man in front of him, a vision of horrible white.  "Get the fück away from Bam."

The main singer of White raises his hands in surrender.  "Heard you the first time, princess." He scoots backwards when the CEO tries to kick him beyond leg's reach.  "Welcome back to the land of the living, by the way.  You've been out for a while." He licks his lips.  "Your BAM was getting so deliciously worried about you."

Khun sneers, nose wrinkled.  He remembers why he'd hated being sick so much now.  "Come within arm's reach of Bam or myself, and I'll send you back to where you came from."

"I have another request!" Bam pipes up.  He pulls Khun closer to himself, protective warmth bubbling out of his skin.  "Call Khun 'princess' again and I won't be able to guarantee if you walk out of here unscathed."

Hoaqin raises an eyebrow, visibly amused by the two Lighthouse members' antics.  "Duly noted, darling," he tells Bam.  Khun can already tell Hoaqin is completely disregarding Bam's comment.  " And where are you planning to send me, princess?"

"Jail," the CEO snaps through gritted teeth, "or hell.  Pick your poison."

The silvery-featured man has the audacity to laugh.  "Oh, I like you, Khun.  You haven't got an inch of respect for your elders, but I like you."

"There's no respect for murderers and perverts like you," a new voice interrupts.  "I wish you'd go back to jail.  You're a shame to our family.  It's all your fault Father hates us now."

"That's no way to speak to your older brother," Hoaqin teases.  Careless amusement lurks in the lilt of his voice, in the tilt of his mouth.  "Try to get along with me, Vicente.  We're brothers! It's always been us against the world."

Arie Vicente stands at the end of the corridor, stoic and glaring.  "I will pretend we aren't related."

"Vicente, I like Hoaqin as much as you do, but you really have to stop picking fights with him in public." The clicking of heels announces the arrival of Arie Albelda, the eldest of the five Arie siblings and the guitarist of the group.  "Hoaqin, stop Hoaqin-ing, you're going to make everyone hate us even more."

Khun can't help but raise an eyebrow.  "Hoaqin-ing?" He knows fans of himself, Maria, Maschenny and occasionally Marco Asensio, Hachuling and Eduan like to use "Khunning" as a replacement for "cunning", with the entire family being wickedly clever in different ways.  His own unexpectedly large fanbase like to fondly call him "that Khunning bastard" with heart-eye emojis.  But "Hoaqin-ing"? He doesn't recall that ever being a phrase.

Albelda shrugs, looping her arms over Vicente's shoulders.  Vicente, ever too cool for affection, brushes her right off.  "You know, being a creep and stuff.  I'm really sorry we had to meet like this, Khun.  I've heard a lot about you." Khun remembers ten-year-old Maschenny idolizing the other girl, stars in her eyes as she watched Albelda play guitar and harmonize to Hoaqin's voice.  The Arie guitarist may have been Maschenny's first crush, but she'd let that go when Hoaqin killed Roen Yuia and went to jail for it.  Albelda cocks her head, red eyes curious.  "What happened to your voice, by the way?"

Bam sighs.  The singer is still sitting on the floor, Khun limp and propped up against him.  Hoaqin stands, stretching out his legs after squatting for god knows how long.  "He gave me his raincoat yesterday because I didn't have one, and he caught a cold."

Albelda winces.  "Get well soon," she offers.  "I don't think our manager ever did anything like that for us, and he's our father." Ah, yes, Arie Hon, a good friend of Eduan's and a second-place medalist for the Worst Father award.  He'd cut off all five of his children in one fell swoop when Hoaqin was arrested.  

Bam shrugs, fingers still carding through Khun's hair.  It might be a sort of stress relief for both of them.  "Well, he isn't your best friend, and you aren't his, right?"

The older woman grins.  "I suppose you're right." She laughs, enthusiastically patting his shoulder.  "I like you." When Vicente makes his way over to do the same, he trips Hoaqin over, sending the older man sprawling all while maintaining his chill façade.  Khun snorts into a tissue, blowing his nose with a loud honk.

"Vicente!" Albelda reprimands White's drummer and Hatz's idol.  "What did I just say?"

Vicente turns to his older sister, subtly kicking Hoaqin again.  "You know what to do."

Albelda rolls her eyes, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small packet of gummy bears.  She tosses it to Vicente, who beams like a child and starts eating immediately.  "Gosh, being the oldest sibling sucks.  Both of you are almost thirty, stop acting like you're three."

"You're one to talk about responsibility," a male voice complains, "you left me and Anna in the toilet!" The voice belongs to White's bassist, Arie David - and wow, after his haircut he really does look like the all-white version of Khun, who is all-blue.  The manager resists the urge to hiss when David squints at Bam, staring so hard Bam holds Khun in front of him like a shield.

"That's because I trust you!" Albelda pouts.  "You and Anna don't start fights every two seconds like these two morons do. Speaking of fights, do you know this cutie?" They all ignore Hoaqin, who has lost the will to retaliate against his younger brother and is lying on the floor, motionless. Vicente sits on his back, happily munching on his precious candy, cheeks stuffed full.  "Not the blue one, David, the brown one."

Bam glances at Khun with a pleading expression.  Let's go, his eyes beg, I don't know why famous women keep calling me cute or why Hoaqin keeps staring at me but it scares me and I don't like it.

Khun pulls himself into a standing position, Bam looping a protective arm around his waist when he sways a little, vision blinking out for a second.  Don't worry, he tries to convey in a single touch of a hand, I'll get you out of here. 

He just wants to sleep, honestly, but right now steering Bam away from the escalating sibling chaos is his main priority.  Get Bam to safety first, sleep later, his fever-hazy brain rationalizes.

There's only one problem with that - he doesn't want to move.  Thank god he hadn't needed to drive his motorcycle.  His apartment, Bam's dorm and FUG Studios are all within walking distance of each other.  

"Oh!" David suddenly shouts, finger pointed at Bam.  The brunet freezes like a deer in the headlights.  "You're Ole! From the café with the special Halloween mochas! You played guitar with Wangnan!"

Bam blinks.  "Yes," he says distantly, eyebrows scrunched in an adorable frown, "that's me." It's Bam's turn to squint, curious and confused.  "Have I seen you before?"

Anna giggles.  "He had a fight with Big Sis, and she poured red hair dye into his shampoo.  You might remember him better with pink hair.  I was there too! I was wearing a hat and sunglasses, though."

The memory finally dawns on the singer.  "Oh, I remember now.  Miseng asked me if you were blind." He laughs sheepishly.  "I can't really believe none of us recognized you."

David shrugs.  "Most people focused on Hoaqin."

"All press is good press," said singer protests.  It's hard to understand his words, being smushed against the floor and all.

Vicente toes his cheek, aggressively poking his older brother with the tip of his shoe. "Not when it's because you killed someone!"

David smacks a hand against his forehead.  "Ole, you should go before they try to start another duel."

Bam arches a brow.  "A duel? With swords and everything?"

The bassist sighs, loud and exaggerated.  "They're both fencers.  Vicente has two drumsticks." He looks tired, a second-youngest child sick of elder-brotherly feuds.  "You know how that goes."

Khun nods empathetically.  "One of my music producers is the same.  His studio is called 'Samurai Studios', for god's sake.  Stupid seppuku swordsman." He blows his nose, not exactly sure why Bam laughs so hard at that he snorts.  Too dramatic?

David chuckles.  "You know, Hoaqin and Vicente are both trying out for the same role in 'Floor of Death'.  I can't remember which one, though, but I think the character ate souls.  Either way, I think we'll all be working together for the movie soundtrack."

Bam gasps.  "Ate souls? Phantom?" He pales.  "Khun, you're not going to like this, but there's a part where Thorn gets captured and tortured by Phantom." He shudders, a full body movement Khun can feel vibrating through his body.  "Ugh."

Hoaqin smirks.  "You're just full of surprises, aren't you? I didn't take you for a horror buff." His grin widens, white-toothed and creepy.  "I look forward to working with you." He licks his lips, a slurp echoing through the corridor.  "I can't wait to taste you, my delectable darling."

Vicente stomps on the back of his head, and Hoaqin shrieks.  "Stop being such a creepy ass!"

"I'm not happy about this," Khun grumbles.  He glares at Hoaqin, who is still lying motionless on the ground.  He can still feel the warmth of Bam's arm around him, but he's not sure if he's overheating because of the touch or his fever.  "Don't want him around you.  Vicente's okay, though."

Vicente cracks a smile.  "I'd offer you a gummy bear for that, but I ate them all and you're sick."

Albelda pats his shoulders, and Hoaqin groans when his sister joins Vicente on his back.  All of his siblings ignore his complaints about having a broken spine.  "I'm glad you're making friends again," she tells him, wiping away a tear, "I haven't seen you smile in years."

"Guys," Hoaqin moans, flattened against the floor, "my audition."

Both Arie siblings glare at the long-haired man before letting him go.  Vicente wishes for him to fail.  Khun sympathizes - even families that were once closer than anything are surprisingly easy to rip apart.  "Come on," Bam murmurs into his ear, "let's go.  You need some rest.  I'll walk you home."

Khun nods, grateful warmth and white blood cells flooding through his veins.  His throat is dry with feeling.  He can't bring himself to speak.

Chapter Text

"Oi, Earrings!"

Khun winces when a certain "Seppuku Swordsman" kicks his door open.  If he had a knife, he'd throw it.  "Learn to knock, you uncultured pig! Did your father never tell you to commit hara-kiri for having no manners?" Years have passed, but it seems like Khun and Hatz will always share the same animosity as they had when they first met, despite being fully aware of each other's respective talents.  "What the hell do you want?"

The music producer shoves two white-haired men into Khun's office.  "Explain," he hisses, onyx eyes flashing, "what the hell were these two doing in my studio?"

Khun grins, watching Hatz grind his teeth.  Oh, how he loves bullying older men.  "Don't you remember? BAM's part of the main cast of 'The Floor of Death' now.  The two of you will be collaborating with White, the Baylord Brothers and Garam to write and produce the movie soundtrack." Hatz grinds his teeth some more, his face turning an ugly shade of puce.  He could almost see the steam rising out of the producer's ears.  "I told you this yesterday."

Hatz's reply is interrupted by the sound of Khun honking into a tissue.  The producer wrinkles his nose in disgust as the CEO sniffs, equally disgusted.  Khun scowls.  His nose is still slightly stuffy, despite reluctantly allowing Bam to fret over and take care of him for the past few days.   He hates being sick.  This vulnerability sucks.  "Get well soon," Hatz grunts.

"Thanks," Khun grumbles.  He blows his nose as daintily as he can.  "What are you still waiting for? If I've answered all your questions, you're free to go."

At least he can breathe through his nose now.  Just yesterday, he'd been mute, barely able to breathe, slipping in and out of consciousness.  Bam, bless his beautiful soul, had made his sick friend soup, and practically spoon-fed him when Khun complained that he had no energy to do anything. Even Khun's own mother had never made him soup when he got sick - understandably, she was busy with Kiseia, but it would've been nice to have a proper blood family that cared for each other, one that wasn't unravelling with every passing day.  Longing for Victor and Arlene pangs through his chest, sharp and sour.

Hatz scowls, smacking Hoaqin's curious hands away from his hair with his drumsticks.  "I refuse to work with a murderer." The producer glares at the silver-haired singer, who looks away, whistling innocently.

Vicente sighs.  "Me neither," he offers.  "Honestly, I was going to meet you alone, but he kept following me and I couldn't leave him behind." He grins, sharp as a sword.  Let's ditch, he mouths behind Hoaqin's back.

Khun smirks, leaning back on his chair.  "There you go! Problem solved, and you barely needed my help."

Hatz subtly jerks his head when the elevator lift outside the CEO's office opens with a ding.  The two of them bolt past Bam, who has just stepped out of the lift and is still looking rather bewildered.  White's lead singer is left behind in the dust.  Hoaqin turns around and chases after them with a shout, only for the lift doors to slam shut in his face, Vicente waving smugly.  Bam gives him a strange look before edging right around him, slipping into Khun's office and locking the door behind him. 

"Hey," Khun rasps.  He sniffles again, this time simply shoving the tissue up his nostril.

"Hey yourself," Bam laughs.

A loud banging on the door makes Khun choke on his tea.  "Hey!" Hoaqin whines from outside.  "Let me in! I don't want to be alone!"

Bam looks at Khun with an expression so annoyed Khun chokes some more, this time on his laugh.  That expression really doesn't belong on Bam's face.  Bam opens the door just a crack, and Khun hears him exchange some angry-sounding whispers with Hoaqin.  A few more words are hissed out before Bam gets tired of arguing with Hoaqin and simply screams at him.  Hoaqin's eyes go wide in shock, mouth as wide as a saucer.  The brunet slams the door shut.  "Ah, much better."

Khun wheezes, bent over his table laughing.  Bam looks so serene, even after just screaming like that.  The singer steps closer, pressing a warm hand against Khun's forehead.  Even though the fever is long gone and Khun is well on his way to recovery, Bam still frets over him like he'll burn up and collapse at any second.  Speaking of collapsing...

"Are you feeling any better?"

Khun peers up at Bam, loose shirt clinging to his skin, perspiration rolling down the slope of his nose.  The CEO smacks his head against the desk and makes a noncommittal noise, not trusting himself to say anything more.  "Feel like shït"

"You've spent too long in front of a computer, you're going to give yourself a headache." Bam shakes his head fondly, speaking more to himself than to Khun.  He plops himself onto the couch, patting the seat next to him.  "Come on, time to take a break."

Khun groans into his sleeve.  After sitting in his chair for what must've been hours, he has lost all feeling in his legs.  Movement? Who's that? He doesn't remember anymore.  He hates being sick.  He'd wrinkle his nose if he could still feel it.  "Don't wanna go anywhere." A part of him does want to take a break and maybe take a catnap on Bam's lap, but he's been trying to dig up gossip and dirt on Jahad under the guise of replying to emails.  His head spins with newfound knowledge, or maybe it's his headache talking.  "'M tired." At least he doesn't feel like living death anymore.

Bam shrugs, rolling up his sleeves.  "Alright." Khun's eyebrows shoot up.  It's unlike the stubborn singer to give up so easily, especially when it comes to his 'Take Care of Khun' agenda.  His eyes widen when Bam cracks his knuckles, a grin spreading across the singer's face.  He flexes his biceps - since when had those biceps been so big? Bam could probably bench press Rak now - and Khun gulps audibly.  He really hopes Bam hasn't heard it.  Bam steps over, rolling his shoulders.

"Wha- Bam!" One of his own arms is thrown around Bam's shoulders, there's an arm under his knees, another cradling his back.  Khun barely has the time to shriek before he's airborne.

"You wouldn't move on your own, but you need to rest!" Khun wiggles his feet.  Yup, he's being carried.  By Bam.  Bridal-style.  The singer huffs, effortlessly balancing his manager in his arms.  "And you call me the stubborn one."

Khun splutters, trying to wriggle out of Bam's grasp, but Bam just squeezes him tighter, refusing to let the slippery CEO slide onto the floor.  "I can walk by myself," Khun says with a childish pout.  

Bam huffs out a laugh, settling down onto the couch with Khun draped precariously on top of his lap.  "Of course." All of Khun's attempts to sneak off to save his blushing face fail, unsurprisingly.  It's almost like Bam wants him to keep sitting where he is.  "You've lost weight," Bam mentions after shifting his thighs to accommodate Khun.  "Let's go out for lunch when you're fully recovered.  I need to make sure you're eating properly."

A thin sheen of sweat sparkles on the tip of Khun's nose, and he sniffles, wiping it off with the back of his hand.  He's not sure if he's overheating or turned on. What about the people? The rational voice in his head asks.  You've been out for breakfast before, but that only turned out well because you had already done damage control.  A single meal turns to two, two to four, four to daily food runs.  What then? 

Then nothing. 

Khun is briefly startled by his own thoughts.  Where is the harm in two friends eating together? Even if they don't exactly behave like 'just friends' should, they still are, at the very core, friends.  Yuri likes dragging Maschenny away for impromptu picnics in outdoor shooting sites, Maria and Endorsi frequently go out for bubble tea together.  Who sees their outings as more than platonic? BAM may be rather obvious with his affections, and Bam even more so, but that's one of Khun's favorite parts of him.  Bam is fearless - Khun should be more like him.  

The bluenet huffs out a laugh, amusement curving his lips.  "Of course."

They sit in companionable silence, the feeling of Bam's fingers carding through his hair so gentle and nice Khun will fall asleep any minute.  "You know," Bam breaks the silence, "I'm a little glad you have a stuffy nose right now."

"Why?" Khun's attempt at sniffing ends up with him aggressively blowing his nose into a tissue.  

"I stink," Bam admits.  He sounds like he's telling Khun some kind of horrible secret.  "I can smell it.  Even Mr Rak complained when I passed him earlier.  He was like 'Black Turtle, what did you eat? You smell like Pickle's farts after he's done being a cannibal!', and I have no idea what that smells like, but ouch.  Doesn't everybody get smelly after working out?"

Khun is so glad the public has no access to this side of BAM, the one that juts his lower lip out every time he complains, the one that whines for attention from his best friend, the one that's so childishly endearing and endlessly lovable.  "You had your first martial arts lesson today, didn't you? How was it? I would've liked to come along, but..." He trails off, gesturing at his stuffy nose.

Bam grins.  "It was great! Master Jinsung taught me so many new moves! We're currently doing Taekwondo, but Master said I have talent for Jeet Kune Do too.  He's really cool! He's so good at those jump-spin-kick things.  He knows how to do backflips too, like Miss Yuri! Maybe I'll be cool like him one day."

Khun ruffles Bam's hair with a smile, fluffy brown waves soft against his fingers.  Bam giggles, leaning into the touch.  "Sounds interesting, Bam." He shifts, accidentally elbowing Bam in the gut. 

The singer shrieks, doubling over.  "Ah, and I got kicked right there-"

"What?" Now the CEO is the one shrieking.  "Who kicked you? Does it hurt? Do you need an ice pack? A medic? Do I need to sue anyone?"

Bam shakes his head frantically.  "No, no, I asked for it, honestly.  There was one kick I couldn't do, and you know how I copy things after experiencing them, so..." Khun gapes when Bam pulls up his shirt to reveal a horrible-looking mottled purple bruise on his stomach.  "I asked him to kick me." Khun chokes on his shock, and Bam reaches over to pass him the mug of water sitting on Khun's desk. 

Khun gulps half of it down, still staring at Bam with wide eyes.  "What made you think that was a good idea?"

Bam looks away, eyes downcast.  "I knew you'd be angry."

Khun exhales loudly.  "I'm not angry, just disappointed, but at the same time I saw it coming.  We should still get you an ice pack."

Bam raises his hands in surrender.  "I'm fine now, I swear! It hurts less.  And I can do the kick now, and Master Jinsung was really impressed.  I'm sorry I made you worry, Khun."

Khun scowls at the adorable little pout on Bam's face.  "Look at you, I can't even stay mad." He blows a raspberry onto Bam's shoulder, and the singer lets out a sound caught between a yelp and a strangled gasp.

Bam honest-to-god giggles.  "I've been told my cute face is very powerful.  Apparently, that 'cute guy' who looks like me in Yuri's sims game is part of a gang.  Do you think I could defeat people as Thorn just by looking at them?"

Khun nods sagely.  Bam wouldn't even have to try for Khun to be this weak for him.  "Please, you could get away with murder with that face.  It's scientifically proven that we trust people with cute faces."

Bam hums.  "I wouldn't kill anyone, though, not without a reason.  Maybe I'd do it for my friends, though." He grins like he isn't contemplating murder.  Leave the cruellest things to the cruellest of us, Khun thinks to himself.  He knows he'd kill for Bam without a doubt.  "But let's not think about murder.  I know you want a Swiss Army knife, but I'm not getting you one."

Khun pouts.  "It's not like I'll go around stabbing people at random! It's just people I find annoying, like that Seppuku Swordsman, Arie Hoaqin, Hachuling, sometimes the Gator-"

"That's a long list of people you want to stab," Bam says with a laugh.  "Go on, pout at me all you want, I'm not gonna fall for it.  Miss Maschenny might, though.  Miss Yuri says Miss Maschenny's always out for blood."

Khun pouts some more.  "I give up.  You're the cutest.  I'm weak.  You're not."

Bam pokes his side in an attempt to tickle him.  It doesn't work - Khun isn't ticklish there.  "See? You're not weak.  You're not even ticklish."

Khun grins, blue eyes glinting.  "You just don't know where to look."

The singer squeals when the CEO's fingers find his sides, mercilessly stabbing and poking.  "Ah-Ah- Khun! Ah!" Bam screams, bucking his hips and sending Khun toppling onto the floor.

Rak kicks the door open just in time to see Khun kneeling on the floor and Bam with his limbs splayed out on the couch, both of them with messy hair and red cheeks.  "What the hell, Turtles."

Khun pinches the bridge of his nose.  "It's not what it looks like."

Chapter Text

The next month passes in a blur.   

Bam starts his official training and rehearsing for his role as Thorn; Khun looks deeper into Jahad's dirty secrets and starts involving his cousins, his grudging lawyer cousin on a mission to dig up details on every legal case Jahad has been involved in and Hachuling to collect gossip; Khun and Bam toe the line between friendly banter and flirting.

Khun isn't sure if today is better or worse.  "You want to me to watch you train, and maybe spar with you."

Bam nods enthusiastically.  "Master Jinsung said I could bring a friend, and Miss Yuri told me you and some of your siblings and cousins used to take self defense classes together, and even Miss Maria said you were really good..." He trails off, staring at Khun with hopeful eyes.  "Surely you could go for me? I wanna show you how much I've improved!"

Khun smirks.  There must be a reason Bam is only asking him now.  Both Yuri and Endorsi have been invited to the singer's bi-weekly training sessions, as Maschenny and Maria say.  Leesoo, Lighthouse's self-proclaimed martial arts expert has been dragged along to fight against Bam for the past few weeks, with Evankhell busy training a new batch of back-up dancers, Yuri dealing with a sprained ankle and a fretful Evan, Endorsi busy writing and producing a solo track with Garam so secretive she wouldn't even tell her closest friend what she's writing about.  Maria has resorted to using the Lo Po Bia twins as unhelpful spies.  "Looking to impress somebody, aren't you?" Namely, me? 

Bam blushes a pretty pink.  "Khun!" His voice cracks embarrassingly in the middle of his whine. 

The CEO raises his hands in surrender, a laugh on his lips.  "I'm kidding, I'm kidding." Bam relaxes, and Khun's smile turns sly.  "Unless...?"

Bam pouts, swatting at his manager.  Khun ducks away, leaning back on his chair.  "Just come with me.  Please?"

Khun shrugs, stretching his arms and back over his table like a cat.  "Never said I wasn't going to." Bam brightens immediately.  "Just let me change first." He picks at his dress shirt, neatly pressed and ironed to perfection.  "I can't exactly fight like this, can I?"

Bam shrugs.  "I think it'd be cool if you could.  You'd look so badass." He sighs wistfully.  "But yeah, go change.  I'll wait."

Khun disappears into his storage-room-turned-walk-in-closet wearing his usual dress shirt, pants and loafers.  When he steps out, he's wearing a blue hoodie over his sports shirt, blue track pants (from Leesoo, which are surprisingly comfortable) and sports shoes.  Bam is staring at him with wide eyes.  Feeling slightly self-conscious, Khun ties his hair back, the snap off his hair tie against his fingers breaking the silence.  "Why have I never seen you wear tracksuits before?" Bam looks like a child seeing candy for the first time.  "I mean, not that you don't look good, 'cause you do, it's just-" He flounders helplessly, lost for words.  "What you're wearing looks like what Mr Leesoo usually wears, but better."

Khun laughs, preening inside.  "I'll keep that in mind," he teases.  Bam huffs, a pout gracing his lips.  Khun retracts his preening instantly.  "Oh, no, don't pout like that, you're making me feel bad now."

Bam pouts some more, grumbling something about blueberries under his breath.  "Let's go.  Master Jinsung won't be happy if we're late."

They reach FUG Studio's dojo in record time.  Bam gets his head stuck in the helmet again, much to a passing Hwaryun's amusement.  She tells Khun to invest in better helmets, and he grudgingly agrees.  Inside, an older man with sharp eyes and a cheap perm is waiting for them, impatiently sucking on a lollipop.  Khun recognizes him instantly as Jinsung Ha, a distant cousin of Ha Yuri and her martial arts mentor, the reason to her iconic flying kicks.

Dread bubbles inside him.  What has 'Master Jinsung' been teaching Bam?

"Master!" Bam greets him chirpily.

A slight smile crosses the martial arts instructor's face, fond and almost fatherly.  "Hey, kid." He ruffles the singer's hair, giving Khun a scrutinizing onceover while he's at it.  "Finally brought the Khun kid with you, huh?" Khun keeps wary eye contact.  What is that supposed to mean? "Khun Aguero Agnis, Viole's told me a lot about you."

"Likewise," Khun answers.  They shake hands.  Jinsung's grip is extremely firm, and Khun can hear his own knuckles crack.  Bam doesn't look at either of them, his cheeks crimson.  "Pleasure to finally meet you."

The bunny-eared intern from their last visit to FUG hops over, trying to con Bam into paying her again, this time keeping Thorn's wig and costume hostage.  The wig reminds Khun of his inner demon, to be honest.  Suspicious.  Khun keeps Xiaxia's bunny ears hostage instead, promising to return them when she gives the singer his wig.  She gives in instantly.  Bam slips it onto his head, thwacking his manager with his ponytail while the CEO is busy chastising Xiaxia's horrible talents as a con artist.  "How do I look?"

Khun gives him a thumbs up.  Bam follows Xiaxia to change into his outfit, the bunny girl complaining about Khun being too 'Khunning'.  Khun doesn't understand what she's complaining about.

While Bam changes, Jinsung briefs Khun on what they have been working on, and what they're aiming for - they've already went over Taekwondo, Judo, wrestling, MMA, Jeet Kune Do and one other martial arts Khun can't remember the name of despite knowing that it was formerly used by foreign assassins.  It's only fitting for Thorn.  There are also a series of moves Bam must learn for his role in the movie: one of them is single-handedly punching and kicking the lights out of some glowing bug-monsters; the other is doing a backflip while tied to a chair then proceeding to kick Hoaqin in the face.

Satisfying as kicking Hoaqin sounds, Khun won't lie and say he isn't worried when Jinsung tells him Bam considers his martial arts training with Jinsung no different from dance practice sessions with Evankhell, especially when the older man flippantly mentions that the singer thinks doing chair-flips isn't all that different from pole dancing.  Now Khun isn't just worried that Bam might break his neck.  Why, oh why, had Bam agreed to filming without a stunt double?

Khun yelps when a pair of arms loop over his shoulders, a head suddenly next to his.  "Bam!"

Bam grins.  "I'm back!"

The CEO sighs, gently easing himself out of Bam's embrace.  "You really need to stop scaring me like that." He hates jump-scares, he does.  But he'd promised to watch 'Floor of Death' with Bam.

The singer laughs, bouncing on the balls of his feet.  He had hanged into a black robe with a grey turtleneck underneath, a grey sash tied around his slim waist.  Fake brown hair tips over his shoulders like a slick waterfall, bangs tucked neatly behind his ears.  Khun has never read a single horror novel of Enryu's, but if his infamous killer-arts-oriented assassin looks like Bam does right now, perhaps he should consider starting.  Khun swallows Adam's apple bobbing.  "You look great."

Khun's heartrate accelerates when Bam smirks, a frantic staccato beating in his chest.  Jinsung clears his throat, looking immensely uncomfortable.  "Viole, are you ready to start? Have you done your stretches?"

Bam nods eagerly, stepping into the training ring.  "Yes, Master!"

"Good." That is the only warning Jinsung gives before launching an attack at the singer, fists flying.  Bam grunts, arms crossed in front of his face.  He meets all the punches head on before ducking down low, feinting a kick and throwing a punch instead.  His brows are furrowed in concentration, brown hair whipping around as he moves.  Jinsung winces when Bam's ponytail smacks into his eyes.  Khun can barely keep track of all the fists and feet moving at inhuman speeds, a punch here, a kick there.  The match ends when Jinsung sweeps Bam's legs out from under him, knocking the younger man to the floor with an oomph!

"Not bad, kid." Jinsung sounds almost impressed.  Khun, on the other hand, is incredibly impressed.  He had no idea people could move this fast.  Watching Bam fight felt more like watching a ping pong match, but maybe that's because Bam counts as a lightweight, slim but strong.  Khun is a featherweight, smaller but far sneakier.  A punch from Bam could probably knock him out, but he's more slippery... right? "You've gotten even faster."

"Thanks, Master!" Jinsung is trying to hide his age, taking in deep breaths and wiping the sweat off his forehead.  Bam looks like he just came back from a fast-paced stroll on an autumn day.  "Shall we go again?"

Jinsung shakes his head.  "Not this time, Viole.  I'm-" He rests his hand against the railing, a few steps away from wheezing.  "I'm gonna call Karaka over.  This old man needs rest."

A young man materializes out of nowhere.  Khun does a double take - is he an older version of Wangnan, a younger version of Jahad, or some third being which was related to neither? The CEO rubs his eyes just to make sure he isn't hallucinating.  He's been seeing too much of Jahad's face these days.  "Did you ask for me, Mast-"

"Mr White C- I mean Mr Karaka!" Bam's eyes are sparkling as he interrupts, unable to hold back his excitement.  Khun recognizes that look - it's the look of a fanboy seeing an idol.  "It's great to finally meet you! I'm such a big fan! I watched you in 'Hell Train'! You were so cool!"

Karaka eyes the singer distastefully, like he isn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted by Bam's enthusiasm.  Khun feels like hugging Bam to his side and hissing back off, he's mine.  "Have you decided to adopt another Yuri, Master?"

Jinsung laughs, ruffling Karaka's hair as he walks closer.  Karaka scowls, but doesn't seem to mind much.  "That's Viole, Karaka.  I told you about him." Karaka raises his eyebrows.  "He's my new protégé.  Kid's got a lot of talent.  I've only taught him for a month and a bit, but I think he could take you on.  He's a bit of a masochist, though, he doesn't feel much pain and if you hit him he'll steal your tricks."

Karaka cracks his knuckles, glaring at Bam with metallic yellow eyes.  Bam stares back with his infamous puppy dog eyes.  "I don't like him."

Khun gapes.  How could anyone possibly not like Bam? Even for such a quickly famous idol, BAM had a ridiculously small amount of haters.  Maybe that's because they're all scared of you, a voice in his head suggests.  Jinsung sighs like a father sick of seeing his sons squabble.  "Kids, just try to get along." Khun can almost see sparks, both men vying for their Master's attention.  "Or not.  Both of you, fight.  Go all out, but I don't want to see blood."

"Yes Master!" The two of them chorus, instantly dropping into fighting poses.  Bam makes the first move, throwing a straight punch.  Karaka dodges, a vicious scowl crossing his face when his attempt at a front kick backfires on him.  The singer smirks as he slips into the defensive, letting Karaka attack.  Khun's eyes widen.  What Bam is doing is smart - he's not showing weakness, he's calculating how Karaka attacks, thinking about where his opponent's blind spots are and how to hit him there.

Jinsung ambles off, making his way to Khun's side.  "He's a good one, that Viole.  You got lucky with him." 

Khun glances at the older man curiously.  "What do you mean?"

"Viole, footwork!" Jinsung shouts, still sucking on his lollipop.

"Yes, Master!" Bam moves his feet, just in time for Karaka's leg to sweep through where his right foot once was.

"He's very eager about things.  Introduce something new, and he'll adapt to it in no time." Bam grunts as Karaka's bare foot slams into his side, but he doesn't fall.  Karaka looks triumphant, but that look is wiped off almost instantly when Bam attacks in exactly the same way.  The blonde curses.  "I'm not just talking about fighting." He looks at Khun like he knows.  "He likes you a lot, Khun Aguero Agnis.  Don't fück this up."

Khun balks.  "Are you talking abo-"

"Urgh!" Bam yelps as he hits the floor once again, body crashing into the mat.  Karaka grins savagely, both legs hooked around Bam's waist.  The singer smacks the blonde's thighs to get him to let go, rubbing his back.  He pushes himself to his feet, dabbing the sweat on his forehead away with his sleeve.  There's an eager gleam in his golden eyes.  "Do that again."

Karaka glares at him.  "Hell no.  I'm not letting you steal any more of my tricks."

Bam pouts.  "Boo." He turns to Khun, batting his eyelashes.  "Be my guinea pig?"

Khun is so, so weak.  "If you break my spine, I'll haunt you as a ghost."

"I won't," Bam assures him, "you're my-" He clears his throat with a little cough.  "You're my best friend! Why would I kill you?"

The bluenet stretches his arms as he steps onto the mat.  "First on the ground pays for lunch." As long as he dodges, he'll be fine, right? He has a background in gymnastics and self defense.  He's as flexible as he is fast.

Bam grins, wicked and bright.  Jinsung watches the two of them in amusement.  "It's been a while since you've taken me out for lunch." Khun nimbly ducks under a beautifully executed kick that would've taken his head out, retaliating with a back handspring that pushes the singer back.  "Ah! I never knew you could do that."

Khun smirks.  "Well now you do." He's glad he stretched.  They trade blows like that for a while - Bam with his punches and kicks, Khun simply dodging, ducking, slipping out of reach.  He forgets to leave his legs guarded, the singer inching closer.  He isn't too sure what happened next, to be honest, one minute he'd been on his feet, the next he'd been on his back, staring up at the ceiling, all the breath pushed out of him.  He blinks, dazed.  "What just happened?"

Bam looms over him triumphantly, chest heaving, bangs clinging to his forehead.  "I won!"

"Yeah, but how?"

"He grabbed your leg and flipped you over his shoulder," Jinsung answers proudly.  "I taught him that.  Good job, Viole.  You're done for the day."

"Thanks, Master!" Bam rips off the wig, tousling his hair.  "Woo, this feels much better." Khun sits up with a groan, rubbing his back.  That was undeniably hot, but Bam might've just knocked Khun's working brain out of commission.  All his thoughts are just screams, at this point.  "Khun, I'm hungry, let's eat."

Khun shakes his head.  "Let me just-" He inhales deeply.  Think, he tells himself, properly.  "Ugh.  I'm never doing this with you again." The singer laughs, pulling the CEO to his feet perhaps a little too strongly.  Khun, feeling rather limp, stumbles right into Bam's arms, promptly jumping away.  "Take a shower first, you're sweaty and you stink."

Bam pouts.  "But I'm hungry-"

"Shower."

"Aw, fine."

Chapter Text

"So, what do you want for lunch?"

Bam hums, arms swinging by his sides.  His nearly-dry hair is fluffed up in all directions, the stench of sweat gone from his body after a shower.  "I'm craving sweet and sour pork, I think Wangnan and Yihwa are to blame for that.  They're doing well, aren't they?"

Khun agrees easily.  The two members of Tangsooyook have just released another album, this one with only three songs. Although they weren't an instant hit like BAM was at the time of his debut, they're still rising rookies in the world of music, and Khun has faith that they'll last in the long run.  He won't debut artists that don't have potential, after all.  "Anywhere you have in mind to go for your sweet and sour pork?"

Bam grins, golden eyes gleaming.  Unlike Bam, he isn't a fan of sweet and sour pork, tteokbokki, kimchi and the like, preferring pasta and salads, but for Bam, he's willing to try.  "Yeah! I used to go there all the time with Miseng and Prince and the rest of Sweet and Sour!" He sighs dreamily.  "It's a little far away, but it's so worth it... I'm kind of surprised I haven't taken you there yet."

Khun laughs at Bam's obvious excitement.  He's almost bouncing, doing that happy little wiggle he does when he's thinking of good food.  If Khun were more affectionate, he'd smoosh Bam's cheeks together and pepper kisses all over his cute face, whispering you're so cute, you're gonna be the death of me.  The voice in his head reminds him that if he were more affectionate, he would've confessed to Bam a decade ago.  "You can take me wherever you want.  We've got plenty of time."

Bam turns around, walking backwards in front of Khun.  "I know you don't really eat a lot, but the food there is seriously goo-"

"Ouch!"

The singer turns around to the girl he'd just knocked over.  "Oh, I'm so sor-" Both their gazes land on a blonde with a ponytail and freckles.  Bam's eyes grow cold, anger burning in his honey pupils.  "Rachel."

"Hello, Viole." Rachel smiles at him, beatifically ugly.  "It's been a long time, hasn't it?" Bam's jaw tightens.  "Fancy seeing you here.  Should I call your BAM? You're very successful now.  You've got everything you wanted, haven't you? Or are you still greedy for more?"

Khun has to admit, Rachel is painfully plain for a rising actress.  Yellow hair, yellow eyes, freckles: it all combines to form a rather forgettable face.  She does look like a lemon, though.  She's got the sourness in her face for it.  Khun is used to the way people like her speak - people who lack beauty, power, strength, luck, talent.  Ha Yura may be a nuisance, but at least that's all she is.  Khun will gladly bet the Best Female Solo Artist Award winner has more talent in a single pinky than Rachel has in her entire body, and he doesn't make bets if he isn't sure he'll win.  If his analysis of the situation is correct, Rachel has been leeching off Yura's fame, taking advantage of the singer's friendship to raise her own status.  Khun doesn't understand why.  How far does jealousy truly go?

"Viole is fine," Bam rasps.  HIs voice is curt, emotion swimming across his face.  Anger and betrayal is the most prevalent, but hiding behind it there are hints of sorrow, of longing.  He scoffs, wiping them clean in a single blink.  "Don't you dare talk to me about being greedy, Rachel.  I'm sick of your excuses.  I just want to know why you left me like that."

Rachel stays silent, lips drawn thin.  Khun finds himself engaged in a staring contest with Yura, and he nearly misses the way her fingers snake their way towards Rachel's, squeezing gently.  A wicked smile curves onto his face, as beautiful as it is poisonous, a pit viper lying in wait.  "How about we make a deal, Rachel Light?" His voice is smooth as silk, with all the confidence of a seasoned businessman.  "I've heard a lot about you, and I must say, not much of it is good.  Would you like a chance to prove yourself?"

"I have nothing to prove to you, Khun Aguero Agnis," she spits.  She is bold enough to meet his gaze, steady ice blue on wary straw yellow.  "Stay out of this.  This is none of your business."

Khun shrugs.  "I understand that this is between you and Bam." His gaze hardens although he keeps his words sickly sweet, fakeness to fakeness.  "But you made it my business when you and your family kept Bam's memory from him.  You didn't even tell him his name.  I was his best friend, you know?" His smile doesn't reach his eyes, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful on the outside.  "You kept him from me, and I don't like that."

Rachel looks away with a scowl.  "Fine.  Let's say it is your business now.  So what the hell do you want?"

"Let's make a deal," Khun suggests.  He rolls a coin over his knuckles, metal glinting in the light.  "I'll flip the coin, and if I get heads, you'll tell Bam why you lied to him.  If I get tails, we'll leave you alone and never bother you about any of this ever again." He dangles the coin in front of the blonde's face.  "It's just a normal coin.  Both of us have a fifty-fifty chance of winning.  You've got nothing to lose from this, so don't complain."

Rachel grits her teeth.  "Hurry up and toss it.  I'd like to get this over quickly."

Khun hides his smirk under a façade of innocence.  "Bam, hold my briefcase?"

"Sure!" Bam balances Khun's bag in his hands like a mock-table as Khun maneuvers the coin onto the nail of his thumb. 

Khun grins.  "Let's ask God how this will turn out." He flips it upwards.  The coin spins and flickers gold in the air, the actress and the CEO watching with intense focus.  His smirk widens, and Bam lets out a quiet "yes!" under his breath.  "Heads."

Rachel's eyes widen.  "T-This can't be-" She turns to Yura, who only gives her a helpless shrug.  "That wasn't a proper showdown! It doesn't count!"

Khun raises an eyebrow.  "It doesn't count? What do you mean? We said we wouldn't complain about the results, so don't complain about it now."

The blonde splutters wildly.  "That was when it was a 'fair match'! Come to think of it, you got to throw the coin, and it's yours, so you might've rigged it somehow!" She scowls darkly.  "This match doesn't count... we need a rematch to make it fair!"

Khun laughs.  He knows her type - the more you goad them, the angrier they get, and the angrier they get, the easier it is to manipulate them to your own desires.  "Come on... You're just saying this because I won, aren't you?"

"I told you! That match was way too balanced in your favor!"

Even Bam is starting to look at Rachel in sheer disbelief.  He has never seen this side of his ex-beloved Rachel before.  "Now you're really grasping at straws.  I made this match as fair as possible."

"T-Then..." Rachel takes a deep breath.  "If you let me try again, but you still win... I'll tell you everything you want to know." She looks around quickly, ponytail swishing from side to side.  "About Bam, what happened to the Graces, why my family took him in... Everything! That's what you want, isn't it?"

Now Khun's the one with wide eyes.  She's desperate... but would she tell the truth? Or would she lie, like she'd lied to Bam for so many years of his life? "Alright.  Out of the kindness in my heart, I'll let you try again.  But this time, if you lose, that's it."

Bam gasps.  "But Khun, you already won! Why are you letting her throw?" The singer gets a dirty look from his fellow musician for that.

Khun simply winks.  He's a man with a plan, always.  Besides, he only said he was making it 'as fair as possible'... Who said he wouldn't cheat? His siblings and cousins know all too well why he wins at Monopoly every time.  Quant suspects he doesn't play fair when it turns to luck games, but what proof does he have? None! What Rachel doesn't know won't hurt her, he supposes.  

Rachel swipes the coin from him. "This time, I want to throw the coin myself." She closes the coin inside her palms, shakes it a few times, then slams her clenched fist onto the briefcase.  "Yes!" She hoots.  "It's tails!" Yura cheers.

Ah, that's not good, Khun thinks to himself.  "I can't believe you won... But doesn't this really prove that the game was fair?" Rachel exhales slowly, and even Yura freezes.  "Let's play one more round.  Best of three, whoever wins twice is the final winner."

"What do you mean?" Rachel shouts.  "We said this round would be the last one!"

"But I just let you play again with the same conditions," Khun reasons.  "So wouldn't it make more sense to play one more one-on-one under the same conditions? I'm pretty sure Bam and Yura won't accept the results if we let it end like this.  Didn't you want to have a proper match earlier?"

"True..."

"So let's just settle this with one more round.  We'll change the rules so that it's best two out of three.  And this time, even I won't complain if I lose." Khun hands the coin to Bam.  "Bam, you can toss, so that we know it's completely fair.  You won't pull any stunts, would you?"

"But the two of you are on the same side!" Yura interjects.

"Would you like to toss it instead?" Khun asks her with his best customer service smile.

She shrinks back.  "I think that might be a bit too much responsibility.  This isn't really even my business." Rachel gapes at her, visibly insulted.

Bam passes the briefcase to Yura.  "Khun, how should I toss it to make it heads..."

Khun shrugs, although he knows full well how to do that.  Heist films with Maria and Kiseia… Picking locks... Sleight of hand... He'd had a rather strange childhood, all things considered.  "Just toss it, Bam.  We won't know who wins until you toss it, and the probability is fixed."

Bam gulps.  "Toss it," Rachel snaps.  "Quickly."

"Dammit," the singer mutters quietly.  The brunette flicks the coin so similar to the way Khun had done it the bluenet himself is rather surprised.  Had Bam learned sleight of hand in two seconds just by watching Khun? He shouldn't even be surprised at this rate.  Bam is a master at copying other people's skills.  At some point, he'd even started to copy the way Endorsi swayed her hips when she walked, even though Khun isn't sure if that was an accident or an attempt at seduction.

"A number..." Rachel reads.  "It's heads...!"

Khun places a hand on his chest with an exaggerated sigh.  "Phew- I couldn't even breathe for a second there!"

Yura's expression falls.  "So... we lost?"

Khun shrugs.  "Yep." That was so risky, the voice in his head chides him.  A total gamble with no guarantee of victory! But if there is in fact a god, Khun doesn't believe that they would give Rachel good luck twice, not when 'God' had given teenage Aguero the shïttiest luck ever.  Besides, he never expected their deal to end with a single flip of a coin.  His rigging of the first round lost Rachel the only chance she ever had of winning.

Bam crosses his arms after Yura returns Khun's bag, and Rachel, his coin.  "So, Rachel, are you finally ready to tell the truth?"

Rachel opens her mouth before she snaps it shut.  "Wait, I need to consult with Yura first."

Khun splutters.  "That wasn't part of the deal!"

Bam shakes his head serenely.  "No, it's fine.  You two can discuss.  But do it right here, so you won't run away like you do every other time."

Rachel gapes like a fish at what Lighthouse fans might call the 'KhunBam Double Attack'.  Khun isn't exactly sure what that entails, but he's guessing it would be something like this.  Yura clears her throat.  "Rachel? You wanted to talk?" The blonde storms out of hearing range.  I'm sorry, she mouths at Bam.  She looks oddly sad.

Khun and Bam give each other a look.  "She better not run away," Khun grumbles.  "Sleight of hand is hard."

Bam has the audacity to laugh, nudging his manager in the side.  "So you did cheat!"

"Shh!"

"Not that I'm complaining or anythi- mmm!"

Yura shoots them a strange look when Khun muffles Bam's mouth with his hand, the former almost hanging off the latter's shoulders as both of them giggle.

Chapter Text

Bam sighs, loud and heavy.  Khun watches as he sighs again a few minutes later, equally heavily, foot tapping against the floor. 

"How long does it take to consult someone?" He glances at the seemingly one-sided conversation between the two women.  "I feel bad for Yura," he rambles on, "Rachel was like this even when we were dating.  I don't know what made her so volatile.  She used to be so nice." He rakes a hand through his already messy hair.  "I'm glad we broke up, honestly.  She's... toxic." He leans against Khun, who runs a comforting hand down his back.  "I don't want Miss Yura to get hurt the same way I did, but I think she's already in too deep."

Khun shakes his head, hooking a stray strand of blue hair behind his ear.  Bam really is too kind.  Khun doesn't deserve him.  "Sometimes, you can't help everyone."

Bam sags.  "Yeah, I know.  Still doesn't change the fact that I want to.  And it's just-" He inhales sharply.  "I want to respect Rachel's privacy, but I want the truth even more, but now that I have the opportunity to know I'm scared she'll lie to me again to save her own skin, whatever she's hiding." he buries his head in his hands.  "Are adult relationships supposed to be so difficult.  I just wanna be ten years old again.  No stress, no mess, I had Mama and Papa and you and Rak and that was all I ever needed."

Khun gently pulls Bam towards him, the singer automatically seeking out the warmth of his chest, the comfort of his beating heart.  "Honestly, I wish we were all more like Rak. The world would be so much less complicated if we were all simple minded like that gator."

Bam snorts, his body shaking with silent laughter.  "I don't know if that's a compliment or an insult, but again, I don't know if he would either, no offense."

"None taken," Khun answers airily.  Bam presses his face into Khun's chest in a futile attempt to stifle his giggling.  "What he doesn't know won't hurt him."

Bam wheezes at that, laughing so hard he has to grip Khun's shoulder to stop himself from falling over.  He pulls away with tears in his eyes, gasping for breath.  A single glance at Khun's crooked smirk sends him into another laughing fit.  "You're so annoying!"

"I know," Khun agrees easily, "but I'm treating you for lunch, aren't I? If I wanted to be really annoying, I would've said you're supposed to treat me to lunch, because you already fell on the mat ages before I even stepped foot on it."

"This is why Mr Hatz hates you," Bam gasps out.  He rubs the tears out of his eyes, standing straight.  "You're not allowed to look at me or talk to me for the next five minutes," he orders, "or I'll start laughing and I won't know how to stop and I'll just embarrass you in the middle of FUG."

So bossy, Khun texts Bam while staring directly into his eyes, just because he wants to see the singer laugh like that again.  Objectively, Bam's laugh doesn't sound particularly nice, but as Hwaryun says, Khun doesn't know how to be objective when it comes to Bam.  Who cares about tinkling bells or whatever fanfiction writers like to say? It's Bam's laugh, and that's all that matters to Khun.

Bam scowls at him petulantly before putting his hands on Khun's shoulders and turning him around to face the other way.  "Hey, Bam, what are you-" Khun feels Bam's hand hover over the fabric of his pants before a stinging sensation shocks through him.  "Bam!" He splutters, utterly scandalized.  "Did you just pinch my ass?" He hisses.  He's thoroughly mortified, though Rachel and Yura aren't paying them any attention.

"You were asking for it," the singer answers cheekily, "actions have consequences!"

"We're in public, Bam," Khun chides, rubbing his butt.  He swears, Bam is getting bolder and bolder these days.  Khun doesn't know how he'll cope when the singer reaches peak confidence.  "Mas and Yuri might not mind, but I do! I still haven't gotten revenge for last time!" Perhaps he'll be bolder to match.  His smirk turns downright wicked as he pulls Bam down by the collar, purring low into his ear.  "You know, bad boys get punished."

Bam lets out a little gasp, cheeks flushed with the high of flirtation.  His eyes are wide, golden irises almost swallowed by his pupils.  

Rachel clears her throat, the noise cutting through the sexual tension like a knife through butter.  "I'm done discussing with Yura, and I've come to a conclusion." Khun raises an eyebrow as if to say go on, continue spewing your bullshït.  "I'll tell you two everything I know about Viole, but under one condition." She keeps her head held high.  "I want witness security."

"You want WITSEC." Khun knows his cop films, knows that 'witness security' is not a phrase to be thrown around lightly.  He also knows that it can only mean one thing.  "Are you implying that the car accident Arlene Grace, Jue Victor and Jue Viole Grace got into was staged?"

"Not so loud!" Rachel snaps.  So it's true, then.  Bam stumbles back, his features ashen.  Yura looks like she's seen a ghost.  Khun's sure he's no different, his heart pounding a foreboding cacophony of dread in his chest.  "And I'm not telling you a thing until I know he won't find out! If he does, we're all dead! And nobody would ever know that it's him!"

"Who is he?" Bam's voice is little more than a snarl, fists clenched by his sides.  Rachel doesn't answer.  "Tell me! I'll0"

A certain curry-blonde strolls past.  "What's up with the atmosphere?" Karaka glares at the four of them.  "If you're trying to start a fight, do it outside Master's dojo." He turns to Rachel, who flinches violently.  Yura subconsciously shifts in front of her.  "Fishing for clout again, Rachel? Stop leeching off people with talent just because you don't have any."

"Hey! Knock it off," Yura tells Karaka sharply.  "Rachel is my friend.  I won't let you insult her like that.  You might think you're so powerful here because you've got Uncle Jinsung and most of FUG on your side, but I'm more famous and I've got more fans.  They'll happily destroy you if I told them to."

They glare at each other until Karaka turns away with a "tch! She's probably chasing your clout too, just so you know.  Before she met you, she tried going after me.  I didn't let her, of course."

"That's not true!" Rachel shouts.  "You're lying! Yura is important to me!" Yura gasps.  Even Bam's eyes widen.  More like she's important for you to become the star you always wanted to be, Khun thinks to himself.

Karaka smiles.  "I finally realize why Mr Enryu agreed to have you casted as Icarus now.  For a second, I almost believed you."

Yura's hands find their way to Rachel's, clasping the blonde's hands in her own.  "It's okay, Rach," she murmurs gently, "I believe you, even if nobody else does." She smiles like there are a million words she'd rather say instead, the look in her eyes sad but helplessly fond.  Khun knows that look - he has worn it a thousand times before.  Rachel yanks her hands away, folding her arms with a scowl.  Yura's smile falls instantly, starry eyes dim.

Khun holds back a bittersweet smile.  A part of him wants to sympathize, although the rest of him would rather use this as blackmail against Rachel.  At least he isn't the only pining gay in the room.  Rachel flinches again when Karaka sends her one last glare before leaving.  "You're scared of him," Khun notes, "but not because he doesn't like you.  Why?"

"I told you, I won't tell you a thing if I don't get witness protection," Rachel snaps.

"That wasn't part of our original deal," Khun retorts.

"Well it is now!" Rachel insists stubbornly.  "He has eyes everywhere, and I need that protection!"

Khun turns to Bam.  "What do you think?"

"Even if we did get you witness security, how can we be sure you'd tell the truth?" Rachel's mouth opens and closes at Bam's question.  "It's fine if you lie about the small things like loving me, but I have to know the truth about why you treated me the way you did." The blonde looks stung by the brunet singer's brutal honesty.  Khun's heart aches at Bam's words.  Rachel was so stupid for throwing Bam away like that, but that's alright.  Khun will always be there for Bam, as a friend if never anything more.  "If Mama and Papa didn't die in an accident... I have the right to know the truth, right?"

The two of them stare at each other for a while, Bam frowning, Rachel sullen,  "I'll tell you whatever you want to know," she mutters, "the truth.  I promise."

Bam sighs.  "Your promises are probably empty.  Like my stomach." The aforementioned organ promptly rumbles.  "We'll continue talking about this.  You know where to find me." He forces a smile, and Khun's heart wrenches in his chest.  "Goodbye, Rachel."

***

Lunch with Bam is a somber affair.  Khun had hoped for something lighthearted, like giggling about Khun's inability to stand spicy kimchi and Bam reminiscing about his days here with his band, but instead Bam is picking at his sweet and sour pork, chewing dejectedly.  Khun pokes at his egg rolls halfheartedly, appetite lost.  Not that he had much of one in the first place.  After seeing one of his favorite customers look so miserable, the owner of the sweet and sour shop had even offered them a discount, but Bam had turned it down.

"I'm sorry," the singer mumbles between bites.  "I wanted this to be a fun hangout, but..."

"But Rachel," Khun finishes empathetically.  It seems like both of them have unsolved issues with blondes now.  "It's okay," he says with a gentle nudge of Bam's knee with his own.  "Things happen.  I'll talk things over with my lawyer and get you the truth as soon as I can, alright?"

Bam sniffles, angrily shoveling rice into his mouth.  "I wish I was conscious after the crash.  Maybe I would've seen what really happened.  But I-" He sniffles some more, eyes watering after a bite of kimchi.  "But I didn't, and I miss Mama and Papa s much.  I never even got to say goodbye." He swipes at the area under his eyes.  "I put you and Mr Rak through hell for so many years, thinking that I was dead, but none of this would've happened if Rachel had told me the truth from the very beginning." Gold fire burns in his eyes, the color of vengeance.  "I'm going to find whoever got my parents killed, and I'm gonna make them pay.  You'll help me, won't you, Khun?"

"Of course." There's a strange flutter in his chest despite their conversation topic.  "You heard what I told Rachel.  From now on, I will completely follow your decisions."

Bam wipes his mouth, a look of wonder in his eyes.  "You've been nothing but kind and patient to me ever since we met, but you're not like this with anyone else.  What did I do in my past life to deserve somebody like you?" His mouth is still full of food.

Khun flushes pink under the singer's reverent stare.  "Don't talk while you're eating," he chastises instead.  He stuffs his cheeks with an egg roll, looking away.  His heart feels like a wrecking ball set aflame.  Bam pouts at him, stealing an egg roll out of spite.  Khun, not to be defeated in their impromptu food theft competition, swipes a piece of sweet and sour pork from Bam, popping it in his mouth and chewing defiantly.  "Oh! This is actually good."

Bam beams.  "I told you!" There's a spot of sauce on the corner of his mouth, and almost instinctively, Khun wipes it away with a tissue.  Bam touches his now-clean face.  "Thanks, Khun!"

Cinnabam might've turned into Sinnabam, but he'll always be A.A's baby, he remembers reading in a Chirp.  It's not too far from the truth.  He smiles tenderly, affection softening his sharp blue gaze.  "No problem." Khun whips around when he feels a camera pointed at him, soft expression hardening as he glares the young woman behind it into submission.

Bam almost snorts water up his nose, and he thumps himself in the chest.  The old lady sitting behind them turns around to glare at him, and he ducks out of her line of sight.  "See? Look at the difference between how you look at me-" he props his head on a fist, golden eyes as gentle as his smile, "-and how you looked at her." He tilts his head up, glaring haughtily with his nose wrinkled.

Khun scoffs.  "I do not do that.  There's kimchi stuck between your teeth, by the way."

"Boo." Bam pouts.  "And I thought you'd indulge me."

"This is bullying," Khun grumbles.  He wrinkles his nose, lips curled in the tiniest of pouts.  "You are horrible and I regret ever letting myself get attached to you."

The singer laughs.  "I think it's a little too late for that now." He tries to boop Khun's nose, only for the bluenet to smack his fingers away with a clean chopstick.  "Wow, you actually are a cat.  Besides me, has anybody ever called you cute before?"

Alarm bells ring in Khun's head.  Bam thinks I'm cute, he thinks distantly, holy shït.  "I'm not cute," he mutters.  The only cute one I see here is you.  

So cute, Bam mouths at him.  Khun flips him the bird as discreetly as possible before shoving a pickled radish in his mouth, chewing aggressively.  The singer gapes at him, unused to Khun's rare vulgarity.  Is it just Khun, or are Bam's cheeks pink? He swallows the radish cube.  His egg rolls are all gone now, and Bam is finishing off the last of his rice and sweet and sour pork pieces.

The singer lays down his chopsticks with a contented groan, patting his belly.  "I'm so full, I'm gonna get a food coma." Khun chortles, already used to Bam and his near-insatiable appetite.  It was worse in his teens - the amount of food Arlene had to make for Bam was nearly twice of what she had to make Aguero, despite the two of them going through puberty.  Khun had always eaten like a bird.  "Master Evankhell's gonna make me work out so much, but it's gonna be so worth it.  I'm glad you don't force me have a dieting regime like Miss Yuri, she always wants to eat but she's not allowed to."

"Weight doesn't matter to me," Khun tells him with a shrug.  "I'd like you no matter what you look like." He waves a waiter over, paying for their meal with a scribble of his signature.  The waiter seems to recognize Bam, whispering something to the singer while waiting for Khun to sign the receipt.  Bam blushes bright red and rapidly denies whatever the other man says to him.  Khun hears his name and something that rhymes with "ate", but when he looks over the waiter only wiggles his eyebrows at Bam.

Bam dons his 'disguise' in an attempt to cover his tomato-red cheeks, successfully hiding them with his mask and bucket hat.  Khun smiles fondly under his own mask despite not knowing what they were talking about.  The alleyway the restaurant sits in is not particularly famous, nor are there any eyes watching them, so Khun sees no problem in letting Bam intertwine their fingers, linked hands swinging lightly between them.

It's peaceful, almost romantic, in a way.  It feels like a date.

A date that has been gatecrashed, when Garam of Queen slides out from a corner.  "Bam! Are you busy right now?"

Bam frowns, halting.  "Not particularly.  Wh-!" Khun lets out a surprised shout and the singer instantly cries out for his manager when another woman lunges out of the shadows, tying a blindfold over his eyes before dragging him out of sight.

"Hey," Khun snaps, "what the-" Garam promptly does the same to him, black fabric looping over his eyes, his vision completely blocked.

It only dawns on him once Garam pushes him into the backseat of a car that he's being kidnapped.

Chapter Text

"Miss Garam? Where are you taking us?" Bam's voice is tentative, scared.

The rapper answers him with an indifferent, "You'll know when you get there."

"This is kidnapping," Khun grumbles.  He can't see a thing behind his thick blindfold, and he fumbles to take it off. 

Garam scolds him immediately.  "We're heading to my secret studio.  I can't risk you guys knowing how to get there."

Khun scoffs.  "So weird." He leaves his blindfold on.  Maria mentioned something like this before, when she was trying to catch Endorsi and Garam in action.  Maschenny hadn't even known the oldest member of Queen had her own studio.  Bam's hands search blindly for Khun's.  He misses several times - knees, thighs, no, Bam, my hands don't grow out of my crotch so please stop touching it! The singer does manage to intertwine their fingers at the end, but that's only due to Khun being proactive.  Despite being abducted and blindfolded, Khun feels a semblance of relief at knowing that they're there together.  God, what would he do if only Bam had been taken? "Damn," he mutters under his breath, "Mas and Maria both said you were being shady but isn't kidnap a little too much?"

Khun yelps when Garam turns a little too sharply and he gets flung against the car door.  Bam flops against him, yelping when their heads bump.  The mystery woman in the passenger seat next to Garam laughs, a loud, unabashed cackle that has the CEO wincing away from the sound and towards the door.  "Damn, Dori wasn't kidding when she said y'all Khuns were savage.  But I guess you don't get to be CEO of your own company at twenty-three by being a pushover, right?"

Garam grunts.  "I'm not shady." Mystery Woman snorts.  "What? If you've forgotten, you're not even supposed to be here," she points out.  "You're supposed to be in hiding, remember? If he finds out, we're all screwed."

Khun's ears perk up.  In hiding? "Oh! Speaking of secrets, Khun, did you get my note? Sorry for pulling your hair, but it had to be done.  I gotta know what shampoo you're using, by the way.  How do you get your hair so soft and silky like that?"

Bam nudges Khun.  "I don't understand.  What is she talking about?"

Khun rewinds his memories.  When was the last time a woman had pulled his hair? The last time anyone had pulled his hair had been a few days ago when Hatz of all people started complaining about Leesoo's habits in bed.  Khun wanted to bleach his brains out after hearing that.  He really didn't need to know about his best friend's sex life.  He'd yanked on Hatz's hair in return when the producer had teased him about his incredible lack of a sex life.  

But of course - it was the note.  The Post-It note Bam had found attached to his back at the Tower Music Awards afterparty, the message that haunts his search history, the reason why Khun is looking so deep into Jahad's past.  This woman must be E.E.  But who is she, really? He tells her that, and she laughs.  "I'm a little disappointed you didn't connect the dots, Khun.  I thought you were smart."

"Khun is smart!" Bam protests on his behalf.  "But he's not so smart when he's not sleeping!"

An attack on his brains, immediately followed by one on his sleep schedule? Khun really isn't having a good day today.  Think, he forces himself, who has E.E for initials, is connected to Jahad, knows several members of my family and is friends with both Garam and Adori? 

"Eurasia Enne, ex-leader of Marchioness and former idol in Jahad Talent," he realizes with a whisper.  He smacks himself on the forehead.  How could he have missed it? "But you've been missing for years!"

"Eurasia Enne?" Bam shrieks.  The next bend throws Khun right onto the brunet's lap.  He shuffles off immediately and buckles them both into their respective seats to the best of his ability, cheeks aflame.  He keeps Bam close, squeezing his hand tight when he feels the singer tremble.  "What is going on?"

"I'm sure everything will be explained when we get to Miss Garam's studio," Khun answers with as much confidence as he can muster.  "We'll be there soon, won't we?"

Enne laughs at them.  "Ah, I see why Yuli thinks you're annoying now, Khun."

"I'm glad I don't disappoint," Khun grumbles.  What does Yulia even have against him? It doesn't matter.  He's definitely petty enough to talk BAM out of doing any collaborations with Yulia any time soon, even though he knows how much she wants to.

The car comes to an abrupt stop, and Khun hears car doors slam in synch when the two women exit.  He and Bam are tugged out of the car not long later, pushed forward for a while before finally having the blindfolds ripped off.  Of course, they find their way to each other instantly.  "Oh my god," Bam whispers, grabbing Khun by the shoulders and looking dazed, "I was just in a car.  A moving one.  I've only ever been in Mr Laure's car, but we just sat in it and he didn't drive, it was just for the therapy, but I-" He sways a little, throwing his arms around Khun, pressing his face into the older man's shoulder.  "I wasn't scared."

A smile sneaks onto Khun's lips.  His arms snaking around Bam's shoulders as he pats the singer's head.  "I'm so proud of you," he whispers, "you're so brave, honey." Not like me.  "So, so amazing." Have I mentioned that I love you?

"Khun," Bam mumbles, embarrassment warming his cheeks, "you're making me blush."

Garam clears her throat loudly, and the two of them spring apart.  "Cuddle time's over, boys."

Enne laughs, walking ahead.  "Come on, Garam, don't be such a spoilsport.  You and Urek used to go to my parent's band's fan-signs together, didn't you?" Garam makes a strangled sound at the back of her throat.  "You've seen Bam when he was a baby, you know he thrives on hugs and cuddles-"

"Wait, what? Really? Is that why Mr Urek keeps calling me a baby?" Bam splutters.

"- and all Khuns are pretty touch starved! You've seen that face Maschenny makes every time Yuri pokes her, right?"

"Wha- That's not true!" Khun retorts weakly.  Enne gives him a look.  "Okay, maybe a little true."

Garam sighs loudly.  God, you two are even worse than Yuri and Maschenny, and I've been living with them for years.  You Khuns and your excessive PDA with the people you're most fond of.  The rest of us live in this world too, you know."

"Don't be such an anti-romantic just because Urek's a little too aggressive," Enne chides her airily.  "He's a pretty cool guy once you look past the desire to kick him on sight."

Garam passive aggressively unlocks the door to her Deep Sea Studio.  "He's been trying the same tricks since we were, like, ten," she grumbles, visibly peeved.  "It was fine when we were kids, but now he just annoys me.  Stupid Hat Boy." She slams the door shut behind Khun and Bam.  "Maybe I'd like him more if he tried harder."

Bam nods with the most serious of expressions on his face.  "Mr Urek asked me how to 'woo' a person once... At the time, I told him I didn't know, but should I pass your message on?"

Garam leads them into a smaller room, the door painted in a color so similar to the wall Khun would've missed it.  Her answer is a solid "God, hell no.  Please don't."

Khun gasps at the sight of the interior design, instinctively covering Bam's eyes.  The walls are covered with pictures and Post-Its, each one pinned to the wall and connected with string as red as fresh blood.  There are various newspaper clippings: an entertainment article on the debut of The Outside and their rapid ascent to fame; an interview with Arlene Grace, nicknamed 'The Nightingale' for her beautiful soprano; the marriage of high-school sweethearts Arlene and V; the birth of their beautiful baby boy, Jue Viole Grace.  The most jarring of all sits right in front of his eyes.  World Weeps For Shocking Death Of Arlene Grace and The Outside's V, it writes, Only Son Jue Viole Grace Missing.  There's a picture underneath of the crime scene, Arlene and Victor, lifeless dolls in their overturned car.

Bile rises in his throat, and Khun tries to swallow it down.  It's been years, but it still hurts to look at, hurts to think about.  He closes his eyes, but Garam clears her throat, forcing him to keep looking.  A single droplet rolls out of the corner of his eye, rolling down his cheek.  "Why?" He whispers.  "Why the hell did you bring us here?" Enne shifts to reveal a mugshot of Jahad, the words 'PRIME SUSPECT' scrawled over his collarbones.  "What the hell even is all this?"

He knows what it is.  He just doesn't want to admit it.  This is no simple crime board.  It's an entire crime room.  How long had Garam spent on this? Where did she get all those crime scene photos? Aguero would've found out if they were ever released to the public - not that they should've ever been.  He inhales deeply, hoping the familiar smell of Bam's shampoo will make him want to puke a little less.

"Khun?" Bam asks unsurely, trying to remove Khun's hands from his face.  "What are you looking at?"

"Something I'm not sure you'd want to see," Khun murmurs.  His hand remains firmly clamped over Bam's eyes.  "It's part of the truth you'd asked Rachel for - although I'm not quite sure how she plays in anymore - but I'm scared it'd be too much for you to bear."

"Khun, it's okay," Bam insists, "if Mama and Papa didn't die in an accident, I have the right to know.  I need to know," he whispers.  His voice cracks.  "Khun, please."

The CEO swallows.  "As you wish." He lifts his hand away.

Bam's gaze roams the room.  Khun doesn't miss the way his eyes catch on the photocopy of the coroner's report; the map of all the important places the Graces had ever been; a photograph of his bloodstained black turtle plushie.  He lets out a tiny gasp upon seeing the words written on Jahad's picture, a hand clapping over his mouth when he sees the grotesque pose his parents had passed away in.  His eyes water as he lets out a tiny sob, backing towards Khun.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Enne mumbles.  Neither she nor Garam dare to look Bam in the eye.  They share a cautious glance between each other.

Tears drip down Bam's cheeks, leaving a mixture of grief and horror in their tracks.  It hurts, knowing that there's nothing Khun can do except dab his tears away with a tissue, hold him close to the beat of his heart.  He can't tell Bam it'll be okay, because he knows all too well that it might never be.  "I don't understand," Bam hiccups.  "How? Why?"

"My sister Yuram was a cop." Garam's story feels like something bigger than all of them, a foreshadowing of doom.  "She worked the Grace case.  Everything here came from her."

Bam nods blankly, golden eyes emotionless despite the chaos whirling underneath.  "I remember her.  She was quite direct when she brought me in for questioning," Khun recalls.  "Not unlike you, in a way." He huffs.  "I understand she had to find suspects, but did she have to treat me like one too? She asked me if they had any enemies, but the time, I couldn't imagine anybody holding ill intentions towards Bam, Victor and Arlene..." He eyes Bam, who is trying to connect the dots, eyes dark and darting from left to right like he's solving invisible formulae.  "They're the best people I know." Bam had inherited one of his mother's best traits, the one that made everyone around her fall in love with her immediately.  Even Aguero had adored the Grace family instantly.  "Even Eduan couldn't say he hated Victor after they fought, although I don't know what they fought about." He frowns.  "Who could even hate them?"

"That's the problem." Garam's blue eyes turn dead serious.  "Victor did have an enemy - Jahad."

Chapter Text

Bam gasps.  Khun wears a matching expression of horror and shock on his face.  "No!"

Garam lowers her gaze.  "I'm sorry, Bam."

Bam shakes his head frantically, a tear flung off his cheeks.  "If Papa ever interacted with Mr Jahad I would remember, right? I remember almost everything now! I only remember Mama had a fight with him over the phone.  She was screaming and crying... I was so scared I hid under the dining table and called Papa to come home.  I'd never seen Mama so angry before.  Even when I broke her favorite CD she barely got mad at me."

Enne plucks a photograph off the wall.  "Bam, do you recognize this?"

Khun squints at the words over Bam's shoulder.  The brunet shakes his head.  "No, sorry."

"What about now?" She insists as she hands them another photo.  It's the same words, but now they're hastily written on a yellowed page.

"I've never seen this before.  I don't think I have, at least."

"No, wait." Khun scans the picture.  At first sight, the notebook is nothing special, just a black leather cover with pages bound inside with gold string.  He knows that notebook.  "That's Arlene's diary."

Bam gapes at him.  "Mama had a diary?" He sulks a little.  "Why have you seen it, but not me? Okay, maybe it's because I don't remember, but I'd know if I saw something like that before, wouldn't I?"

"She gave me one exactly like it," Khun whispers.  "She told me having a diary is nice when you're going through.  Like just after Eduan disowned me because I don't like girls that way, and I didn't know what to do-"

"You got disowned? For being gay?" Bam squawks.  "Did you ever tell me?"

"- but I never got around to using it, because..." He gestures pathetically at the picture of the crash.  Bam is still gawking at him, visibly hurt.  Garam and Enne are both staring at him in shock.  Had he said something wrong- Oh.  "Shït."

"So being touch-starved, gay, and shït at communication runs in the family," Garam mutters drily.  "I may have blue hair and blue eyes, but I've never been so glad not to be one of you."

"No, no, wait." Bam grabs Khun by the shoulder, thumb and pointer gripping his chin almost painfully as he tilts Khun's head from side to side, scanning his face for any hints of a lie.  A little gasp stutters out of Khun's lips, a shiver, rocketing down his spine.  This is not the time to be reacting like this! He wants to scream.  "You're gay," Bam states.  Khun is frozen on the spot, unable to respond.  He can't even nod, with how tightly Bam is holding his face.  "And I'm the only one who doesn't know."

Khun offers him a weak, barely perceptible nod.  He doesn't dare meet Bam's eyes, although he can feel the singer's golden gaze drilling into his very soul.  "This wasn't how I plan-" He clears his throat to stop the voice crack.  This wasn't how he planned to confess! Granted, he knew he should've told Bam long ago, it was just... What was it that stopped him, really? The shame of being different? The guilt of secretly pining over his closest, most precious friend for years? His own pride?   "Technically, everybody else guessed."

Bam opens his mouth to retort, but Garam beats him to it.  "Resolve your personal issues later, boys,  We have a murder to solve right now."

"Right." Bam's voice is as willing as his gaze, his eyes pinning Khun to the spot, melting him into a puddle of gayness and guilt.  God, why does Bam have to be so attractive when he's angry? Khun just wants to bury himself in a hole and cry.  Maybe Arlene's diary would finally serve its purpose soon.  "What were you saying about Mama's diary?"

"Read the passage," Garam instructs.  "This was what Yuram-" She takes in a deep, shuddering breath.  "This is what Yuram died trying to reveal." Her features are emotionless, but her eyes betray the storm of rage swirling within her.  "This is why I will hate Jahad forever, as long as I live."

"Dear diary," Bam reads out, "it's been a while since I've been so angry.  I love V more than anything, but Jahad still doesn't seem to understand that.  We had another fight today.  It was worse than all our previous fights combined - he's still trying to convince me that he's the one I belong with, when I've already found the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.  I miss the boy who used to be my best friend, the boy I had to save when he got stuck climbing trees.  If that boy was still around, maybe Bam would have the 'cool uncle' he always wanted.  Mirchea spoils him a little too much to be cool.  Enryu is a good competitor, though.  Maybe if he were still around, Eduan wouldn't have turned to alcohol to solve his problems, and he wouldn't be the abuser he is now.  There's something up with him and Jahad too, I know it.  Aguero is much my son as Bam - it pains me to see him at our door in the dead of the night, bruised and breaking down in front of V because he needs a father figure in his life.  He reminds me a lot of Eduan, sometimes.  They both like to smile over the pain and pretend they're not hurting in front of the people they care about."

Bam swallows.  "There's a next page," Enne mutters.  "We can read it if you don't want to."

"No, it's fine." Bam's voice is clipped and curt.  "I can continue." He looks over to Khun, no anger, no accusations, only sadness.  Khun can't meet his gaze, instead glaring a hole into Picture Jahad's head.  Is this what death by a thousand cuts feels like?

Bam inhales deeply.  "I love all my boys dearly, and each of them has a special place in my heart.  When will Jahad understand that there are many stars in my sky, and that I love them all? He doesn't need to push one out to make a space for himself.  He already has one, but I fear he will never learn that.  He broke V's nose when V showed him pictures of baby Bam.  He misunderstands - Jahad thinks V is gloating about having me, but I know my love would never do such a thing. Bam got so scared when we fought.  I don't know how much he heard, but I know it scared him to see me angry like that.  V talked to me... He thinks maybe it would be better for me to spend some time with Jahad without him, but I can't speak to Jahad right now.  I'm just so angry! I can't talk to him until he matures and he understands.  God, I don't know what to do.  I must minimize damage to the people caught in the crosshairs of V and Jahad's 'rivalry'.  Let me sleep on the issue - maybe things will be better tomorrow."

The brunette returns the diary excerpt with shaking hands.  "I don't understand," he whimpers. "Mama... Jahad was in love with Mama? Jahad Talent Jahad?"

Garam nods grimly.  "That's what we think.  This was the only damning evidence Yuram managed to save.  The rest..." She clenches her fist.  "Jahad got someone to get rid of everything, and the court ruled it an accident.  Even the car got completely destroyed.  Nothing was left of it.  And then I found Yuram dead in our apartment.  It looked like a suicide, like she slit her own wrist, but I know it was a lie.  Why would she kill herself when she was so close to the truth? Jahad sent someone to kill her, I know it."

"I'm sorry for your loss," Bam whispers.  "I understand how it feels to lose family." Khun still can't meet any of their eyes now.  Of course losing Arlene and Victor would hit Bam so much harder.  He feels so foolish for thinking that his own dysfunctional family was bad.  Even though he and Maria can barely find the time to meet up with each other these days and Kiseia still despises them for leaving her and their mother with Eduan, it's still better than any of them being dead.

"Khun?" Enne's voice startles him out of the mental hole of darkness he'd pushed himself into.  "You're everybody's favorite Sexy Genius.  Do you have any thoughts about this?"

Khun's mouth opens and closes.  There's a sinking feeling of doom lurking inside him, like something will go terribly wrong soon, like Bam will despise Khun for hiding so many things from him because this makes him no better than Rachel.  

Selfish, greedy, manipulative, liar.  You can't hide who you are.

Maybe he really is no better than Rachel.  But speaking of Rachel... "Enne, why are you involved in this? You disappeared from society for the past few years.  Where did you go?" And how is Rachel connected to all this? She said she knew something, but she needed witness security... Did she know what Jahad had done? 

Enne freezes before bursting into loud laughter.  "Why don't you guess? You like solving problems by yourself, don't you? Let me give you a hint - it's about Jahad.  Specifically, his songs."

She isn't wrong.  Khun's brain is all too willing to push aside his drama with Bam (despite his heart's protests) in favor of solving the mystery of Eurasia Enne.  Now, what songs did Jahad write again? Maria had complained to him about the songs in Princess's latest comeback, and how every time April gave them the lyrics, all Jahad ever wrote about was-

"Love," he realizes.  "Jahad writes love songs.  About Arlene.  'Loving is killing your darling'," he quotes straight from the lyrics Maria had secretly sent him.  A look of horror settles on his face.  "He practically admitted to killing his 'love', Arlene.  And you found out." Bam is frozen in shock, but the words spill out of Khun's mouth like an avalanche.  "he threatened you." Enne subtly shakes her head.  "Or not.  But you knew what he did, and you were scared of what he's capable of, so you ran away from Jahad Talent.  Marchioness disbanded because the rest of the group just didn't have the same energy without you.  You didn't tell anyone.  Not until Garam."

"Not quite," Enne says with a bittersweet smile.  "There's one other person who knows.  Adori.  We were looking for Jahad together about a comeback when we overheard him talking to someone about it on the phone.  She was my best friend, but I guess she didn't trust me enough to run away with me.  She stayed with Jahad because she was scared."

Khun and Bam gape.  The angry buzzing of the phone in Khun's pocket shatters their shocked silence.  It's... Kiseia? "Sorry, I really have to take this.  My sister almost never uses her own phone, much less calls me with it."

Garam shoos him out.  "Go call her outside.  There are some things we'd like to talk to Bam about privately." The bluenette woman smiles at him.  "Don't worry, we won't bite.  He's too cute to hurt."

Khun turns to the singer.  "Bam, you okay with-"

"Yeah." The smile he gives Khun is forced and tight-lipped.  Is it too late to drop down on his knees and beg forgiveness? Would Bam even want to talk to him again? "What are you waiting for, Mr Khun?" Back to formalities, aren't we?  "What Miss Kiseia has to tell you must be pretty important."

For once, Khun can't read his best friend - are they still friends? He never fought with Bam before, not like this - like a book.  For the first time, gold eyes are the first to look away.  "I-" I'm sorry, he wants to say, I'm sorry I hid this part of me from you for all this time, I want you to have all of me but I guess I couldn't even give you the truth, he wants to say it so bad.  The words catch in his throat, and what comes out instead is: "I'll see you later?"

Bam keeps his eyes downcast, sneakers scuffing against the floor.  "Maybe.  Endorsi says she's bored, I might hang out with her for a while."

Khun pushes himself away without another word, casting one last longing look in Bam's direction before the door slams shut between them.   "Kiseia? What do you want?"

"Emergency family meeting, mom's place.  Get your ass here ASAP." She promptly hangs up.

Khun sighs, trudging out.  He doesn't even know where he is, let alone how to get to his mom's place.  God, what a shït day this is turning out to be.

Chapter Text

"What the hell, Kiseia."

Kiseia peers at him through the peephole.  "Long time no see, brother." She opens the door just a fraction, yanking her older brother into the house.  "Come on, Mom's being sad because Father's a buttwipe and we have to help."

Khun hasn't seen his mother since he went off to university at eighteen, with no intention of returning to the household that barely seemed to want him around.  She still looks the same - sharp-featured like him; gentle-eyed like Maria; lacking in height like Kiseia.  The only difference now are the grey hairs scattered across her head, a few wrinkles here and there.  "Welcome home, Aguero."

Khun stands frozen when his mother pulls him into a warm hug, like he hadn't been missing from her life for nearly a decade.  "Hello to you too, Mom." He lets himself sink into her embrace.  He needs a little non-Bam affection today.

"Hey," Maria complains from the couch, "why does Aguero get a hug and not me?"

"Aguero's a big boy now," their mother answers with a smile.  She pinches his cheeks, and Khun makes a noise in protest.  There's something surprisingly tender about it all, like their mother has been holding her affection back for years.  "He's strong and reliable now, aren't you, Aguero?"

Khun laughs nervously, completely unused to his mother's sudden gentleness.  He'd only seen her like this with Kiseia, who would forever be the baby of the household.  "I guess?"

"You, Maria, you're so skinny! Too skinny! I'm scared I'll snap your bones!"

Maria splutters.  "I'm stronger than I look, Mom! I'm taller than Aguero! I can probably piggyback Kiseia!" She flexes only to reveal twig-like arms.  "I want to eat more, but I'm on a diet..." She stares longingly at the fridge.  "Aguero, do you think anyone would notice if I got fat after eating ice cream?"

Kiseia makes grabby hands at her, wiggling her fingers.  "If you're too scared, I'll eat it for you."

Maria hisses.  "I haven't eaten ice cream in years! It's mine, and I will eat it!"

"It doesn't have your name on it," Khun points out cheekily.

"Ah, you three really haven't changed." Their mother claps her hands to bring them back to focus, Maria defiantly eating her way through a small tub of ice cream.  "I've missed you a lot, Aguero, Maria."

"I'm sorry I didn't visit more," Maria offers quietly.  The four of them are squished onto a couch made for three.  "I've been so busy, and I was- I'm just-"

"Still angry at Eduan?" Maria and Aguero nod, two blue heads bobbing.  "He pushed the two of you away from me, and he's been working Kiseia so hard these days, I don't want to lose her to him too." Their mother sighs.  "Nobody ever told me balancing being a good mom and a good wife would be so difficult.  But If I ever had to choose, I'd choose my babies.  Always."

"Men are overrated," Kiseia agrees way too easily.  Khun pinches her lightly.  He's a man too.  "Ow! You're not exempt from this! I'm still mad that you left me and mom with that stupid alcoholic, abusive, cheating asshole!"

Khun frowns.  Stupid, alcoholic, abusive... That's nothing new.  But "cheating"? What's that about? "What did the bastard do this time?"

"You'd know if you stayed in the loop," Kiseia sulks.  "He's been cheating on Mom.  That's why she's sad."

Maria's eyebrows shoot up.  "So he was barely ever home because he had a mistress?"

"Sis," Khun interrupts, "before we go on I just wanna say there's a bug in your hair."

Maria shrieks, flinging her head from side to side.  "Where is it? Get it out! I hate bugs!"

Khun spits hair out of his mouth.  "Stop moving for a second, I'll get it out for you!"

Kiseia stares at him scrutinizingly.  "Don't you hate bugs, though?"

Khun sighs.  He pinches Maria's Jahad Talent hairclip between two of his fingers and slowly tugs it out of Maria's hair.  Maria blinks at him, blue eyes wide.  Khun walks over to the kitchen, grabs a two sponges and a box, and sandwiches the clip between the sponges before shutting the lid.  Just for extra precaution, he dunks the box into the sink and proceeds to drown it.  He returns to the sofa with a smile, glad he still remembers something from his high school days.  It seems like basic physics isn't entirely useless after all.  "There! All gone."

Kiseia gapes at him.  "So you finally went nuts, huh? That's a hair clip, you idiot!"

"I'm not crazy, Kiseia."

"No, Kiseia's right, my darling Aguero." His mother looks at him like he is a cat that brought a dead bird home and offered it to his owner as a treat, and she is the cat's weirded-out but marginally amused owner.  "What was that for? You worked so hard to get our Maria into Jahad's company.  Why would you do treat her clip like that?"

"Well," Maria pipes up, "technically I don't like wearing it either.  It doesn't fit my hair.  I've already broken and lost at least three of them already.  The only people who care about it are the staff, but Garam never wears hers and they don't really seem to care.  Maybe I'll tell them I'm so clumsy I shouldn't be given a replacement."

"Good idea," Khun answers smoothly.  Kiseia tries to bite him when he pushes her aside to make space for himself on the couch.  He leans away when she snaps her teeth at him.  God, little sisters sure are feral.  He wonders if Arie Anna had ever acted like this.  "The clips are listening devices anyway."

The three women stare at him blankly before exploding into chaos.

"That clip is a what now?" Maria shrieks.  "Are you sure? I've had these things with me almost every day for the last ten years, and now you're telling me it's a listening device?" She throws her hands in the air, hysteria in her every feature.  "Don't tell me Jahad's a pedo or something! I had to give Baby Anaak the birds and the bees talk with that!"

"Not so loud!" Khun hisses.  "He's not a pedo," he grumbles, "just a murderer and a creep who doesn't know how to let go."

"Hold up," Kiseia whisper-yells, "murderer? The fück?" She shakes her head rapidly.  "You're accusing Jahad - Maria's boss, Father's on-and-off weirdo bestie, number one rich man in the entire country - of murder? Do you realize how insane you sound? Should I call a psychiatrist?"

"I'd scold you for your swearing, Kiseia, but you're not wrong." Khun's mother presses a hand to his forehead, checking his face and hands.  "My dearest Aguero, have you been sleeping lately?"

Khun gently pushes her probing hands away.  "Mom, I'm fine.  Yes, I'm getting enough sleep.  No, I'm not sick.  I'm telling the truth.  Just because I win at Bluff every time doesn't mean I lie all the time-" Kiseia opens the latch to her cobalt blue tarantula Baby Growler's cage and proceeds to hold the spider in front of his face.  He shrieks.  "Kiseia! You can't use your stupid fücking spider as a lie detector! I'm fücking arachnophobic!"

His mother smacks him on the upside of his head.  "Language, Aguero!"

Khun sniffs haughtily, fixing his ponytail.  "Mom, you know I hate spi- no, Kiseia, bring that thing any closer and I'll squish it!" His little sister's monster spider hisses at him threateningly, and he waves a pillow at it. 

Kiseia scowls at him, hugging the damn spider to her chest.  "Don't listen to him, Baby," she coos, "you're the only sibling I acknowledge.  Most of what comes out of his mouth is trash anyway-"

Maria reaches over to smack them both.  "I miss the days when I was an only child," she grumbles to herself.  She clears her throat, trying to summon the authoritative older sister part back out of her.  "Let's focus on the information we have right now! Kiseia, put your spider down." Kiseia rolls her eyes, only willing to be gentle to her beloved Baby Growler.  She opens the latch to the spider's cage and gently places it back in, giving it a few pats on the head.  "Thank you."

Their mother laughs.  "Thank you, Maria.  Being the oldest member of Princess really has made you an even better older sister, hasn't it?" She looks at Khun and Kiseia, the former returning the nasty faces his sister makes.  "These two brats, on the other hand..."

Maria buries her face in her hands.  "Please don't remind me.  I'll be turning thirty soon.  Thirty! And I don't have a life other than singing, dancing, and earning money.  If he really does stalk us, and if he really is a murderer..." She sighs.  "When I said I wanted to dance professionally for the rest of my life, I don't know if this is what I asked for.  Every time I pass Jahad, I'm always polite to him, because my mama didn't raise a punk, but he doesn't even look at me! He glares at Endorsi because she's still broke by his standards, but at least he has to acknowledge that she exists.  He acts like I'm not even there."

"I wish I never helped you get scouted," Aguero mumbles, eyes downcast.  "Jahad's a little bïtch, and now we've all got our lives and reputations on the line."

Maria opens her mouth and closes it.  Kiseia brings Baby Growler out of the cage, stroking the tarantula's fur thoughtfully.  His mother's lips are pressed into a thin line.  "Aguero," she asks him cautiously, "expand on that, please.  Expand on pretty much everything you've just said, actually."

This is going to take a while. 

He glances at the sink where Maria's Jahad clip lies, hoping that his sound insulation method is working.  "I just met with Garam and Eurasia Enne-"

"Eurasia Enne?" Maria shrieks.  "And Garam? Garam's so secretive! And Enne's been missing for years!"

Khun shrugs.  "Apparently not.  Garam's been hiding Enne because Enne and Adori overheard that Jahad got Victor and Arlene killed in the crash." He clenches his fists, pillow bunched up under his hands.  He recounts everything Garam and Enne had told him - omitting the fact that he'd just come out to Bam and was sure Bam was angry at him - and watches as his sisters and mother look increasingly horrified at the news.  "I don't know if he'll come after Bam again once he realizes that Bam never died."

Maria shudders.  "I still can't believe Jahad might have staged the crash.  I know he writes love songs, but they were for Arlene all along? Bam didn't deserve to lose his parents like that.  Imagine how scared he might be knowing that Jahad might try to kill him, and he might not fail."

Khun grits his teeth, jaw steeled.  "I won't lose him.  I can't lose him.  Not again."

Kiseia raises an eyebrow.  "Okay, simp." Maria chokes.  "But how are you planning to do that?"

"I'm going to build a case against him and get him jailed for life.  I've already talked to our lawyer cousin, you know how he's never lost a case.  Jahad deserves to suffer for what he did."

"Aguero, you do realize that if he finds out, he might come after you too, right?" His mother hugs him.  "You're my only son.  You'll always be my precious baby son.  I love you, you know that, right? As your mother, I refuse to let you get hurt."

"Suspecting that the Graces didn't die in an accident... Such a thing is too cruel.  So this task should only be carried out by the cruelest of us." Khun cracks a smile.  "Sorry... Mom."

His mother smacks him again.  "You're not allowed to die, not for that son of a bïtch."

Khun laughs hollowly.  "There's something else.  It might be a stretch, but..."

"But what?" Maria asks gently.

Khun swallows, taking a deep breath.  "I think Jahad's the one Eduan's having an affair with."

Chapter Text

Three near-identical faces stare at Khun.  Baby Growler hisses.

Khun's mother sighs, rubbing her temples.  "I knew it," she whispers.  Khun doesn't think she'd meant for her children to overhear, but he did, and he feels awful.  Guilt gnaws at his conscience.  Should he have kept it to himself? Delayed the pain somehow? Would that even have helped in any way? A voice in his head mocks him, like damn, son, all you know how to do is hurt people.  "Aguero, could you give us a heads up if you decide to drop another bombshell on us later?"

"Sorry, mom." Khun looks down, thoroughly chastised. "But how did you know?"

"How did you reach that conclusion?" Kiseia retorts.  "Not everybody's gay for their best friend like you are.  Father and Jahad don't even talk these days! Once Father even brought me to a business lunch with him, and Jahad just scowled at me the whole time.  Father got so mad at him later it was kinda surprising but flattering."

Khun clucks his tongue with a scowl.  "That's the second time I've been outed against my will today."

Kiseia rolls her eyes.  "You're so dramatic.  We all know you're gay.  You came out to us, Father disowned you, and you ran away like a coward.  I'm still mad! I hope you're smart enough to be sincere if you're gonna apologize for leaving me and Mom behind."

Khun gives her a dirty look.  But she isn't wrong.  Maybe a part of him blamed his mother for never fighting back against Eduan, maybe a part of him still does.  A part of him wants another chance to be a child again, be a part of the happy family he could have had.  Maybe that's why he'd left in the first place, but he's old enough now to understand that fear makes people do things they might never otherwise do.  He has to learn to move on, learn to let go of the past.  Maybe he has no desire to kill because of it, but if he doesn't learn to confront his own feelings, how is he any better than Jahad?

He pales.  That... That is scary.

"Aguero? Are you alright?"

Khun shakes his head, forcing a smile onto his lips.  "I'm fine, mom.  Don't worry about me."

His mother looks at him, utterly deadpan.  "I'm your mother, Aguero.  I know when you're not okay.  You're not as hard to read as you'd like to be."

Khun sighs.  Dammit.  "Feelings are hard," he grumbles.  "I hate people."

"I wonder where you got that from," his mother teases.  "None of your sisters seem to have that problem.  Are you sure you're not one of Big Mas' kids?"

Khun huffs.  "I'm pretty sure you're my birth mom." He eyes Kiseia, who is waving Baby Growler around in front of a queasy Maria's face.  "All three of us were the ugliest babies ever.  Ran, Hachuling and Mas weren't that ugly.  They're not like-" He waves his arms around, trying to find a word that accurately describes Maria yelling and falling off the couch as Kiseia thrusts her tarantula in Maria's face.  "They're not like us."

He squawks indignantly when his mother ruffles his hair.  "You haven't changed a bit, Aguero."

Maria vaults over the arm rest and crash-lands on the couch in an attempt to get away from Kiseia and her spider.  "You still owe me an apology," Kiseia grumbles.  "Maybe not today, 'cause my brain's still kinda overloaded." She pets her tarantula almost lovingly.  "Baby Growler will decide whether you are worthy of my forgiveness."

"With great spiders comes great responsibility," Khun notes drily as he edges behind his mother.

Kiseia sniffs.  "Well, somebody had to be my responsible sibling, and both you and Maria made it pretty clear that you didn't want that role.  A responsible sibling would've stayed."

Maria pats Kiseia's head, careful to avoid the spider.  "I understand you're mad at us for leaving, but sometimes it's better for yourself to rebel, especially against authority figures that try to act like your overbearing parent." Her lips quirk up in a half-smile.  "Jahad's probably mad at me already for being Khun Eduan's daughter as well as the clumsiest person to ever exist, but Yulia gets away with pissing him off to his face.  I think he considers it banter." She smushes Kiseia's cheeks together, much to the youngest Khun's protests.  "It's perfectly okay to have a dream and chase it.  You deserve to be happy, even if it's at the cost of some of your relationships.  Relationships can be fixed later.  But you can't get back the time you lose doing things you don't want to be doing."

Kiseia's lip quivers.  She sniffles as her eyes well up with tears, and Maria holds back a yelp as their youngest sister buries her face in Maria's shirt and bawls.  Even Baby Growler jumps away in surprise, scuttling back into its cage.  "I never wanted to be a CEO," she mumbles, "I just wanna do what normal people are supposed to do.  I just wanna hang out with what little friends I have, watch TV shows with Baby Growler, maybe start playing violin again." She sniffles some more.  "Maybe you don't have to apologize in words just yet, stupid Aguero, but you know what I want."

Khun cracks a smile.  "Your idiot brother isn't entirely stupid, you know?" He winks, and she looks disgusted.  "Without my connections, it would be impossible to get a hand on that rare, special edition cat plushy I know you've been wanting lately, wouldn't it? I know Arie Anna still keeps her rabbit plushy keychain around.  I bumped into her the other day."

Kiseia huffs, but doesn't deny the fact that she wants the plush.  "You're such a businessman now, Aguero.  How many people do you scam nowadays?"

Khun flips his hair over his shoulder.  "I keep the numbers low these days.  I've got a relatively good reputation right now, and I don't intend on tarnishing it."

The younger woman raises her eyebrows.  "Good rep.  Right.  Like there aren't a thousand pictures of you making those heart-eyes at Bam floating around on Chirper." Khun narrows his eyes.  "No, I'm not homophobic, jeez.  I'm just annoyed 'cause I keep seeing your ugly face on my dash."

"Hey!" Khun splutters.

"By the way," Kiseia continues, completely ignoring him, "quite a few people think you're taking advantage of him or blackmailing him.  Just so you know." She waves her hand dismissively.  "Get your love life in shape before somebody does it for you.  Your lovey-doveyness is seriously grossing me out."

Khun sighs.  "Which is exactly why today sucks! You know I was planning on coming out to Bam when I finally felt ready-"

"Which is never, considering how proactive you are when it comes to this sort of thing."

"- but Garam basically outed me a few minutes before you called-"

"Mom, do we have popcorn? Watching Aguero rant feels like watching a movie.  He's so dramatic."

"Kiseia, can you stop interrupting me?" Kiseia makes a face at him.  "Anyway, now he's doubly mad at me because I never told him I'm gay and he hates it when his closest friends keep big secrets from him because his ex-girlfriend Rachel Light knows something about Jahad's link to the Grace crash and broke up with him because of that, so he gets insecure thinking about whether his friends actually trust him or not.  And now he finds out Eduan disowned me, and I ran away because I didn't really want to talk to him about it."

His mother pats his shoulder sympathetically.  "You really do get your horrible communication skills from Eduan.  But at least your feelings are probably reciprocated - your Bam has a lot of love to give." Maybe not my Bam anymore, Khun thinks to himself.  "Your father... He told me he loved me, but I don't think his heart was ever in it.  I knew I was never the one he wanted, I knew what I was getting into when I married him, but I never expected it would hurt so much realizing that he had never loved me in the first place." She hugs the three of her children, Baby Growler perched on top of Kiseia's head.  "The best thing he ever gave me was all of you."

A tear trickles down her face, soaking into Khun's shirt.  Kiseia clenches her fists.  "I'm gonna- I'm gonna punch him!"

"Good idea," Maria agrees, ever the levelheaded one.  "But Mom, if you knew he didn't love you, why did you marry him?"

Khun recalls being young and seeing his father leaving parties sober, claiming to bring a drunk Jahad home, and coming back to their mansion with a slight limp and a rather significant lack of sobriety, and not understanding why.  Eduan bullied Aguero into listening to him rant and rave about foolish men and their foolish hearts, the son holding his father's long hair back while he puked his guts into the toilet bowl.  As a child, he had been innocent enough to consider them bonding sessions, taken his limp as an old man thing.  Now that he's older and more mature...

He smacks his forehead against his mother's shoulder.  "Stupid Eduan just had to get himself into a fücking love square."

"I'm going to wash your mouth out with bleach," his mother warns.

"Sorry, sorry." Khun raises his hands, trying not to smack Maria in the face.  "But Eduan was in love with Jahad, who was in love with Arlene, but hated Victor, who Arlene was in love with.  Mom, you and Eduan are literally in the same relationship as him and Jahad."

"Wow," Maria sums up eloquently, "Father and his high school friends were messed up.  I know Shili and Lili's dad is a furry, but that seems a whole lot less weird now."

Kiseia snorts.  "I guess whoever said weirdness attracts weirdness was right."

Their mother puts a hand on Khun's shoulder.  "Aguero, I think you should go talk to him soon."

Khun gawks at his mother.  "Are you kidding me? No! I want nothing to do with him, he wants nothing to do with me.  I don't even like looking at his face, and I sure as hell don't want to talk to him.  I'm sick of listening to his bullshït, aren't you, Mom?"

"You're the only one who has a chance," his mother pleads.  "You... You were always his favorite, my darling Aguero."

"But he hates me!"

"He doesn't, not really.  You're the only one he might consider telling the truth to."

"I don't wanna talk to him," Khun insists.  He knows he sounds petulant, but his father is the one person he simply cannot understand.  "If I was his favorite, why would he push me away?" There was a period time in his life that he had respected his father, even if it was short.  And then Eduan had thrown him away like he was trash, like Aguero meant nothing to him.

"It's better if he explains it himself." His mother looks him in the eye.  "Don't you want the truth? If he's in an affair with Jahad, if they were already in a relationship before we even got married... Surely Jahad might've told him about what happened to the Graces?"

Khun grits his teeth, shaking his head.  As always, his mother knows exactly where all his weak spots are.  Bam deserves the truth, even if he doesn't deserve a liar like Khun.  For Bam, he'd do anything.  "Fine, fine, I'll go.  I'll talk to him," he grinds out.  "Just... Give me some time.  I'll talk to him when I'm ready."

His mother pats his head. "Good boy." He huffs, leaning away to fix his hair. 

"Now, kids, who wants to stay for dinner? I'm making lasagna."

"Oh!" Maria shoots up.  "Food! I'm in!"

Kiseia huffs.  "I'm not going anywhere, Mom, you know that.  Your cooking is the best anyway."

Khun grins.  "Well, what's a family dinner without me? Of course I'm staying!"

For the first time in a long while, his heart and his shoulders feel lighter than they've ever been.  This... This feels like home.

Chapter Text

Khun learns that making up with Bam is a lot harder than it seems.

For starters, Khun isn't sure who's avoiding who anymore.  Bam passes messages to Khun via Hatz, Leesoo, Hansung and Evankhell these days, pretty much anyone he can get a hand on.  Their texts don't even resemble the ones they'd sent only days before - their borderline-flirtatious, barely-professional messages seem like a thing of the past now.  Even when they do meet face to face, Khun can't look Bam in the eye, too scared to even think of what he might see in them.  The scout and Seppuku Swordsman are disappointed in him, he can see it in their eyes.  They don't even try to hide it: Leesoo's near-but-not-quite pity, Hatz's upturned nose and almost-sneer.  He's lucky Hansung treats their drama like it's tea - the coffee maniac hates tea, and tends to stay as far from it as possible.  Khun is glad Hansung isn't fanning the fire just to spite Khun.  Evankhell totally would, though.  She's much louder about her support for her student, and even her dance troupe members give Khun the stink-eye when they pass in the corridors.

Khun doesn't even know who they are.

Maria is the only one who understands - Maschenny and Yuri came out to each other years ago, much before Maschenny had even started developing feelings for the younger girl.  Khun finds a smidge of vicious pleasure in knowing that Maria is suffering too because her crush happens to be a straight girl.

Khun knows he's running from it.  Scared to confront his own feelings, scared to face his demons, as always.  He uses his work as an excuse - sorry, Bam, I need to finish off this paperwork, I'll see you later; or I've got a meeting with Sweetfish's CEO, can I meet you another time? Today's excuse is: I'm visiting my lawyer to check if I can get Rachel that WitSec she wants so she can tell us the truth and ask him on updates about Jahad's case.

Has it really only been three days since then?

Khun's lawyer cousin snaps his fingers, forcing him back to reality.  "Stop zoning out, man.  I get that you're trying to work out your relationship issues but you came to me because we're building a case against Jahad.  Get your head in the game, A.A."

Khun clears his throat, shaking all those spare thoughts out of his head.  "Yes.  Right.  Of course.  I've just got a lot of things on my mind right now."

His cousin cuffs him playfully on the side of his head, and he barely dodges in time.  Behold, Khun Andres Lione, a force to be reckoned with even outside the courthouse.  "I'm here as your lawyer, not your therapist.  If you want me to be here for you as a friend, you gotta pay me extra.  I need a long holiday after this, you got me? A month long trip to, I don't know, somewhere far away with good scenery, somewhere I can rest and relax with my wife.  I've got a daughter now, and I love her to bits, but I can't catch a moment of peace and quiet these days!" He eyes the younger Khun slyly.  "You know, having a sponsor for this trip would be pretty nice.  I deserve it after all this hard work you're making me do.  Maybe a babysitter would be nice too..."

Khun rolls his eyes.  "All I'm asking you to do is help me build the case! I'm already using all the connections I have to sneak evidence to you.  Jahad's a secretive guy, but I guess I'd do the same if I killed someone."

Andres looks at him with haunted eyes.  "You don't know what it's like raising an infant.  The only reason I'm awake enough to even help you is because I have coffee, and my wife is sacrificing her own sleep every time our baby cries.  If there's anyone who needs a good, long break, it's her."

Khun inhales.  Exhales.  "Fine, I'll pay for your damn vacation.  You better have fun." Andres hoots.  "But I have a question." He clears his throat, hoping his reddening ears don't give him away.  "It's more like I want relationship advice."

"Do I look like a damn shrink to you? I studied law, not counseling."

"No, no! That's not what I meant!" His cousin raises an eyebrow.  "I mean, you love your wife and she loves you, right?" Khun already knows the answer to that.  "What do you do if you fight?"

Andres pinches his cheek, cooing.  "Aww, is little A.A having trouble in paradise?"

"Just answer the damn question," Khun grumbles, batting the older bluenet's hands away.  "Please."

The look in his cousin's sharp blue eyes softens.  "Alright, alright, your favorite cousin's here to help." Actually, Ran is Khun's favorite cousin, but he isn't about to say that.  "Tell me what's the issue."

Khun takes a deep breath.  He'd already talked to Laure, but the psychologist hadn't been particularly helpful.  As always, his priorities lay with quality sleep.  That also meant his answer to Khun's "help me I've been in love with my best friend for years but I hide my pining because society sucks but now he knows I'm gay and he's mad because I never picked up the guts to confess" was a simple "face him and be truthful, maybe sleep on it for a while but don't sleep for too long".

He really hopes his cousin has a good answer.  The only other people he knows who are in an emotionally stable, loving relationship are Hansung and Evankhell, and asking the coffee maniac or his head-grabbing wife are completely out of the question.  Hansung would just laugh at him, and Evankhell has made it clear how shïtty she thinks Khun is being.

"Damn, bro," his cousin says sympathetically after listening all the way through, "that sucks."

Khun nods, blue hair bobbing sadly.  "I miss him, and I want us to go back to what we were, but..." He sighs.  "You know I hate this kind of confrontation.  Even going against Jahad in court would be easier, because it's in court, and your feelings don't affect the law!"

"Fights are a part of every relationship," Andres tells him gently.  "It's natural to disagree over things once in a while.  But you know what the core pillars of all relationships are?" Khun shakes his head.  "Respect, consent, communication, and trust.  The longer you spend running away, the more your relationship will worsen, and I know that's the last thing you want.  The best relationships are the ones that get stronger after each fight, and the only way for people to do that is to communicate and solve their issues together.  I'm not saying that one of you is completely right, and the other is completely wrong." He smiles.  "I trust you to know what to do, A.A.  I know you can do it."

Khun snorts, cracking a smile.  "Yeah."

Thank god for the wisdom of seniors.  Khun doesn't know what he'd do otherwise.

He keeps thinking about it on the way back to the Lighthouse offices.  How on earth is he to even look at Bam? Does he trust himself enough not to run away? He's sure he's had enough time to think and reflect.  But has Bam had enough time to do the same? He knows Bam's love language by now, he knows Bam likes the little things that hold a whole lot of heart.  Would flowers be too much? He mutters plans under his breath as he parks his motorbike in the Lighthouse car park, wondering if Bam had managed to pick up on his love language.  He'd like to think that Bam maybe had feelings for him, if the latter half of Blue Moon meant anything.  But the niggling feeling that he simply isn't good enough for Bam can't seem to leave his head.

Is it childish of him to yearn for the true love princesses liked to sing of in those musicals Maria loves, the kind of love Victor and Arlene had for each other? Is it selfish of him to ask that from Bam, especially when Eduan had shattered Khun's mother's heart like glass?

He's wallowing so deep in his own insecurities that he doesn't notice Leesoo's worried expression, Hansung's absolutely pitying eyes. 

He barely notices Rak's threatening aura submerging him like one of Lauroe's blankets.

He's ashamed to say he jumps when the rock star storms over to him, grabs him by shoulder and shakes him so hard his eyeballs nearly roll out of his skull.  "Oi, gator," he splutters, "what are you doing?"

"I'm trying to shake some sense back into you!" Rak roars at him, shaking him even harder.   "Coward Blue Turtle! Both your brain and your banana are useless!"

"Let go of me," Khun snaps, trying hard not to bite his tongue.  "Don't you have work to do?"

"This is my work as your mighty leader! You hurt Black Turtle! Stupid Blue Turtle! You keep saying you want to court him but you never act like it!"

"It's not that easy!" Khun screams back.

"You're just overcomplicating things with your primitive turtle brain!" Rak slams his forehead against Khun's so aggressively Khun stumbles backwards.  "Go on, hide in your pathetic little shell! Black Turtle has always been too good for you anyway!"

He shoves Khun away.  "Useless Turtle!"

Khun shoots Rak a frigid glare, seething inside.  The rest of the Lighthouse staff present are staring at him, wide-eyed. 

Khun storms off.  He's never hated himself more.

He sighs heavily, bonking his head against his office door, barely noticing how it swings open.

Wait.  He blinks rapidly.  Open? He could've sworn he locked it before going to see Andres.  Why would it be open? Who would even break into his office? Michael the stalker is in jail, and everybody else in Lighthouse has enough fear of an angry Khun to know better..

"Boss!" Dan rushes over, gasping for breath.  "I'm so sorry! We tried to stop her! But BAM brought her in as a guest, and we couldn't exactly say no..."

"Bam?" He hates how desperate his voice sounds.  "Is- Is he around?" He can't help the way his eyes dart around nervously, searching for a familiar head of brown hair.  He's not ready for confrontation yet! He barely managed to confront his own feelings!

"No, he left a while ago, but she wants to talk to you."

Dan sounds terrified.  There's a growing bruise on his forehead in the shape of a shoe.  "Dan," the CEO asks patiently, "who's in my office that's scaring you so badly?" Khun puts on his best businessman face, the one that makes most women swoon and lesser men quake in fear.  "Surely you'd tell your boss?"

"I think it's better you see for yourself," Dan answers with a trembling voice.

Khun shrugs, watching Dan wither and slink off, cautiously looking on.  "Suit yourself," he says airily.  He pushes the door wide open.

Endorsi swivels around on his chair.  "Hello, Khun Aguero Agnis.  We meet again."

Chapter Text

"Endorsi." Khun smiles coolly at the woman sitting in his chair, with her legs crossed over his table.  "To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence?" His eyebrow twitches.

The main rapper, main dancer, lead vocalist and leader of Princess smiles back at him, equally cool.  "Take a wild fücking guess, Khun." Her orange eyes scream murder.  "Go on!" His chair creaks as she leans back, toeing away his paperwork with her bare feet.  Khun wrinkles his nose at the sight of her giant feet calluses.  "You probably already know it's not wise to keep me waiting."

Khun pinches the bridge of his nose.  The office door swings shut behind him, Dan already having run off a while ago.  "Get to the point, Endorsi.  Why are you here?"

She stares at him for a moment before sighing loudly, shaking her head.  "For a guy of such high IQ, you sure are stupid.  Bam deserves so much better than an idiot like you."

"Yeah, like I don't already hear that from Kiseia every day," he grumbles in response.

She sighs again, extra loud this time.  Khun thinks she might scream and throw a shoe at him if he provoked her a little more, and he's not exactly willing to risk it.  She's not afraid to use her bare hands either, and they both know it.  "You're so used to using your big brain to think ahead about potential disasters that might not even happen to realize what's actually going on right in front of you."

Khun splutters.  "That's not true." Liar, his brain sneers, she hit the nail on the dot.

"Oh, but it is!" The idol celebrity is having way too much fun bullying the CEO of Lighthouse.  "You know how I know that? It's because Maria does the same damn thing.  Less often, though, which is nice.  I wonder how Bam has been dealing with you for so long.  Is overthinking a Khun family trait or something?"

Khun doesn't oblige her with an answer.  She continues - loud, rude, driving him insane.  How does Maria stand her? What does Maria even see in her? Maybe she's got a soft side too, she just doesn't see the point in showing it to Khun.  "Maybe you're the only one who's just plain horrible in social situations.  Things could be happening in front of your face and you'd just not notice.  Bam and Maria both told me you're an introvert, but you can't be that bad at reading a situation, right?"

"If I was indeed as bad at being social as you say, I wouldn't be here," Khun snaps.  "My patience is running thin, so get to the point before I throw you out of here."

She waves a vistor's card at him, fingers wagging.  "Bam gave me permission to be here."

"He is technically my employee," Khun retorts sharply.  "I can take that permission back any time I want.  The only reason I'm still entertaining you by letting you stay here is because I trust Bam to make rational decisions, and if you're here that must mean you have something important you'd like to tell me."

Endorsi raises an eyebrow, clearly impressed.  "Huh! So you aren't all stupid after all."

Khun inhales deeply, then exhales, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth in a desperate attempt to preserve what's left of his inner peace.  If Jahad was listening in through Endorsi's hairclip, he must be having the time of his life.  "All you've done here since I came in is insult me. You've even injured one of my employees.  If you don't have anything else to say, please leave."

Endorsi claps sarcastically.  In another world, Khun would've stabbed her for it.  "You're so polite," she drawls, "color me impressed." She leans back precariously.  "If you could guess why I'm here, I bet I'd be even more impressed."

"It's about Bam, isn't it? He's mad that I didn't tell him I'm gay." Technically, the only ones he ever came out to were his blood family.  Everybody else guessed it, but he never refuted anything - things were better off that way, especially when it was so blatantly obvious sometimes.  "Or he thinks I'm a stupid coward who runs away from emotional confrontation? Or maybe it's to do with the daddy issues."

Endorsi thumps her head against the table several times, hard enough to bruise,  She accentuates each thump with a mutter of "dumbass blueberry".  Khun thinks he might've heard the phrase from Maschenny once, when she was ranting in their group chat about tipsy Yuri rambling about philosophy and life problems.  He's sure he'd heard it from Bam the other day, the latter mumbling the phrase under his breath as the former spun on his heels and dashed away, heart pounding staccato beats in his chest.  Knowing that "dumbass blueberry" is an inside joke of sorts between Bam, Yuri and Endorsi scares him.  He won't lie and ay that the trio aren't an unstoppable force when combined.

Oh god, Bam, Endorsi and Yuri might have a group chat just like he, Maria and Maschenny do.  If Bam decides to give his unofficial older sister Yuri a chance to 'talk' to Khun as well, he knows for sure he's going to get kicked in the face.

He's too young and pretty to die.

She won't get to kill you if Endorsi or Jahad get to you first, he thinks morbidly, I don't want to die.

"Hey, Khun." Endorsi peers at him like he's a fascinating zoo exhibit.  "How out of touch are you with your feelings? Isn't the shrink supposed to help? Bam says that Phonsekal guy is pretty helpful.  Is he too busy sleeping to help you sort out your emotions and all that icky shït?"

"I use no tears shampoo to clear out the 'icky shït'," Khun answers drily.  "Thanks for asking.  Apparently, I get my shïtty emotional management and communication skills from Eduan."

Endorsi groans, smacking her forehead.  Khun wonders how many brain cells she has left by now.  "You know, Bam and I used to go to the same school.  I was really popular.  All the straight guys had a crush on me.  But Bam? He was cute, and he probably should've been popular, but he always stayed out of the spotlight.  I had to chase him around for weeks.  I literally threw myself at him just because I wanted him to go on a date with me.  That was the lowest I've ever stooped.  Ever."

Khun hums.  "Yeah, he told me.  He said you were weird. "

Endorsi glares at him.  "I still managed to get him to say yes! It took him ages, and I think it was more because he wanted me to stop following him around."

"If you're trying to make me jealous or whatever, it's not working," Khun grunts.  "Why are you even telling me all this?"

The rapper looks at him like he's a broken shoe.  "My point is, I'm like a goddess among women, but he never even bat an eyelid at me.  We went on a date last year, like he promised me he would, and you know how that was like? That was like me dragging him around, 'cause it was like he didn't really even want to do shït with me.  Even when he was in charge for destinations and stuff when we were fake-dating, it was like we were just friends, and I realized that was all we'd ever be.  I never realized it earlier, but now I do.  You know why?"

Khun has a feeling he does know, he just doesn't want to admit.  He stays silent.

"It's because I saw the way he looks at you.  He looks at you like you're an entire shoe shop, with every single shoe he's ever wanted.  Nobody has ever looked at me like that.  And you know how you look at him? It's like you're broke, and he's the one top-brand stiletto you adore but know you'll never be able to afford."

"I don't understand your shoe metaphors," Khun deadpans.

"The message is," Endorsi tells him with a stink-eye, "Bam wants you, like you want him."

"But he's too good for me, and I don't deserve him," Khun says helplessly.  "I've known that since the very beginning."

Endorsi muffles a scream in her hands.  "That boy really needs to stop shedding tears for you," she mutters under her breath.  "Promise me you won't sue me for anything I do in the next five minutes."

The CEO blinks.  "Okay...?"

She storms across the room to stand in front of him.  "You're a bïtch, Khun Aguero Agnis."

The next thing Khun knows, he's been slapped across the face.

Khun snarls, cradling his rapidly reddening cheek.  The sting is familiar, but it hurts nonetheless.  When was the last time he'd been slapped like this? Oh, right. Primal rage wells up deep inside him, boiling like an angry kettle.  It was Eduan.  "What the fück is your problem?" He seethes.

Endorsi grabs him by the collar and yanks him down to her level.  "Grow some balls, bïtch," she snaps.  "If you really love Bam, don't just do nothing about it. Fücking fight for him, you useless fücking coward! I don't care if you think it's going to embarrass you! I just want what's good for him, and I know right now, what's good for him is you! You're his most precious person or whatever! So believe it, dickhead!"

"Who are you to give me relationship advice?" He sneers right back.  He's going to throw hands! "Have you even dated anyone before? You're literally bound by contract to not be allowed to have any romantic relationships!"

"I'm just passing on Bam's message," she sneers right back.  Her orange eyes flash.  A vein pops in Khun's forehead.  "As his friend, he wanted me to tell you this.  Believe me when I say that he would've done this himself, but he can't understand you when you keep giving off mixed signals."

Khun pushes her away from him.  "Tch."

"Two weeks, Khun.  Two weeks to get yourself together, or Bam decides you're not worth him hurting anymore.   He likes you a lot.  If you really do feel the same, you've got fourteen days to convince him." She opens the door, smiling at him.  "Time's ticking, Khun.  if you wanna chase him, you better run fast."

She steps out, and the door slams shut behind her.

Chapter Text

Khun hates ultimatums.

He hates being the one out of control - he likes knowing exactly what's going to happen, he likes it when things go exactly as he planned them to.

He doesn't like it when he's not the one giving instructions, and he likes it even less when Endorsi of all people is giving him orders.  Orders from Bam, apparently, who hasn't shown his face in Lighthouse for a few days.  A part of him is glad BAM is off rehearsing at FUG, honestly, the singer seems to be having fun getting to know his co-stars and fellow crewmates, even if the ever-creepy Hoaqin had gotten the role of the soul eater instead of Khun's preferred Arie sibling, Vicente.  Bam doesn't even seem to need Khun around anymore, with Hwaryun acting as his impromptu FUG manager and Xiaxia his mode of transport.

He wonders if this is part of what withdrawal is: the endless anxiety that he's being replaced bubbling up; the feeling that he's unneeded leaving him terrified and wide-eyed at night; the cold sweat and goosebumps Bam leaves in his wake whenever he passes Khun in the corridors.  Khun won't lie and say it doesn't hurt knowing that Bam is doing so well - can do so well - even without him.  He's so used to the feeling of being important that the sudden loss of that rubs him the wrong way.  He knows how easy it is for Hwaryun to fend Hoaqin off with her snippy comments; how Jinsung is trying his best to fill part of the parent-shaped hole in Bam's heart.  Rachel is Rachel, as she always is, and Khun despises how easy it is for her to strike up tentative conversations with Bam, and how Bam will let her back into his life again.

Maybe he should get Hwaryun to stop giving him hourly updates on Bam, but again, he'd asked for it.

These days, the voice in his head only exists to sneer at him and mock.  What a shame you're fücked in the head, it says.

Khun doesn't deny it.  He wants to change, he really does, but change is hard, and it would probably be easier for him to eat coins than to apologize.  If Rak knew what he thought, he'd probably castrate Khun on the spot.  Khun already knows what the gator would say: if you don't ever think with your banana, you don't even need it, do you? Coward Blue Turtle! If you keep hiding in your stupid little shell, you wouldn't even be worth hunting! Come on, Black Turtle, we're finding a replacement!

He doesn't want to think about it, but every time he starts wallowing in his own self-pity, the voice in his head asks: what makes you different from him? Continue to lead him on like you're doing now, and you'll be just the same.

It's funny how his inferiority complex is simultaneously his greatest downfall and his strongest driving force.  No matter how much he hates confronting his feelings, he hates the thought of becoming Eduan more.

Khun shuts his laptop down.  He's been working like a zombie all day: sorting through piles of letters and emails, scowling at the occasional death threat; analyzing Chirper trends for business research and trying his best to avoid BAM's face all the while; calculating taxes and sales and salaries.  All this work with money will drive him insane one day, if he keeps this going, but he doesn't know how to stop. There are so many people relying on him for so many different things, but there's only so much he can handle.

Usually, just looking at Bam is enough to make his whole day better.  A single smile from the brunet would brighten up Khun's entire life.  It's nobody's fault but his own that Bam's been directing his smiles elsewhere lately, and Khun feels like a failure for being a jealous 'bïtch' about it.  Those were Endorsi's words, not his, but his heart still aches to see Bam's golden eyes dulling whenever he spots Khun. 

Oh, if only Khun wasn't so afraid to face the truth; if only Bam knew that he was Khun's entire world, and that the fading pull of his gravity was leaving Khun's mind slightly unhinged; if only Khun could be as confident and optimistic as the Chestnuts were, who had picked up on the increasing distance between the singer and his manager and assumed it was only due to a surprise coming for them and not something that would end in mutual heartbreak; if only, if only...

Life under the spotlight is hard already.  Romance under the spotlight? Khun would've despised it if he hadn't fallen head over heels flat on his face is more like it for Bam all those years ago.  There's a reason why Jahad has never allowed his Girls! to date and barely allows them to be close to the male species, just like there's a reason why Rak had never been interested in relationships beyond the platonic, and why Eurasia Blossom and Po Bidau Gustang's marriage had fallen apart.  Maybe that was also why Eduan fights so hard to keep his entire home life under wraps, and why Khun had never exposed him for what he is.

There's no delaying it anymore.  It's time for him to visit the only person who truly knows fame and romance and all the nitty gritty bits - all the regrets, all the lost potential - in between.  It's time for him to reunite with Khun Eduan, CEO, father, husband, asshole.

Khun hops onto his Manbarondenna, revs the engine into a roar, and drives.

The bike's rumbling purr reminds him of when he'd stolen the Manbarondenna.

Khun parks his motorbike a few minutes away from the Khun Entertainment headquarters.  He has his hair tied up and neatly tucked under his cap, shades on and a mask up.  He stares at the beast of a building, it all its glass-covered glory.  He's been drinking enough water, breathing in deeply.  He has nothing to be scared of right now, nothing to worry about.  So why is it his head still spins?

Raising his head, he steps into the lobby.  It looks so different from what he remembers of his days here as an intern, but again, that had been over a decade ago.  It would've felt the same too, the same feeling of whoa, this is my father's workplace, this place could be mine one day, if he hadn't been immediately accosted by a security guard.

"Excuse me, sir? I'm afraid fans aren't allowed inside the Khun Entertainment headquarters."

If Khun had a drink, he would've spit it all out.  A fan? How insulting! He strips off his mask, a smirk on his lips.  "On the contrary, I'm here to see Eduan.  Is he here right now?"

Another security guard mutters something into his walkie talkie.  How has nobody managed to recognize the Lighthouse Entertainment CEO? Does the whole 'baseball hat and sunglasses' disguise really work as well in real life as it does in the movies? "I'm sorry," the guard insists, "but you need prior arrangements to see Mr Khun.  He isn't taking visitors right now.  I think you should leave and come back later, sir."

"What a shame," Khun answers airily.  He takes off his sunglasses and tucks it into his shirt collar.  "I didn't think sons needed permission from others to see their fathers." He grins as the guard flounders.  "Now, is Eduan busy> If he is, I'll wait.  How long could it take, am I right?"

The guard trembles, as pale as a ghost.  "I- I'll call Miss Kiseia to escort you!" He stammers, especially terrified in the face of Khun's too-pleasant expression.  "Please wait a moment! She'll be here soon!" Ah, how Khun loves having his orders followed.

he doesn't have to wait for long.  The sound of heels clicking rapidly against the floor alerts him to his sister, who still hasn't quite managed the art of speed-walking in pencil skirts and stilettos yet.  "Aguero?"

Khun grins, taking off his cap.  He unties his ponytail and shakes his hair out, fingers raking over his perfect bangs.  Most of the passing staff look blinded or blessed, but Kiseia just looks disgusted.  Khun understands - he knows he's vain, but he'd gotten that vanity from Eduan, and Kiseia has to face him every day.  "Surprise!"

Khun's little sister remains blatantly unimpressed, even with his poor attempt at jazz hands.  "You're here to see Father, right? It's time he gets The Talk."

Khun watches his younger sister crack her knuckles in amusement, the pop-pop-pop echoing across the hall.  "If he says anything I don't like, I give you full permission to punch him, I promise."

Kiseia smiles darkly, the security guard behind Khun edging away from the sight.  "Good."

The rest of the Khun Entertainment employees stop to watch two of their boss's children swish through the halls, the epitome of high and mighty.  Sometimes, Khun wonders why he and Kiseia are so alike.  Maria is much too bright and bubbly to have the same coolness her younger siblings have, but maybe that's what made it easier for her to put down the baggage her younger siblings still carry.  Maybe that's what let her allow her pain to become scars, let her pain fade into the past.  Kiseia is still hurting like an open wound, wide and raw and dripping with blood.  Khun is still a scab he can't help but pick apart, acid tears bleeding into his palms when nobody can see him be weak.

He really needs to stop teasing Maschenny about her slight sadism kink when pain is the thing that keeps him going.

Kiseia leads her brother to the small waiting room outside Eduan's office.  They don't make attempts at small talk.  The split second of silence is enough for Khun's self-doubt reflex to kick in.  He hasn't seen Eduan up close in years.  The last time they'd talked, Eduan had slapped him across the face, told Aguero he wanted nothing to do with him anymore, and Aguero had screamed right back, eyes stinging, voice hoarse, screaming I hate you, I'll never talk to you again in my entire fücking life.  

Is this really a good idea?

You're doing this for your mom and Kiseia, he reminds himself roughly.  His mother deserves closure.  Kiseia deserves freedom.  And for Bam, and Victor, and Arlene.  You're doing this for the people you care about because you know they care about you all the same.  Don't you ever forget that, Khun Aguero Agnis.

Khun inhales sharply, breath escaping him in a whoosh.  He straightens his shoulders, fixes his collar, runs his fingers through his hair one last time.

Kiseia raps her knuckles against the door.  "Father? You've got a visitor."

Deep breaths in, deep breaths out.  Eduan can't scare me like he used to anymore.  I'm better than him.  I've got things to hold over his head, and he doesn't know that.  I don't have anything to be scared of.  I'm not scared.

Maybe if he tells himself firmly enough, he'll begin to believe it.

But years of fear are not so easy to erase.

"I'm busy," Eduan's voice booms from inside.  He sounds irritated and cranky.  At least Khun knows he's sober - probably hungover, but a hungover Eduan is fairly harmless.  A drawer slams shut loud enough to make both Khun and Kiseia flinch.  "Tell them to come back together."

So Khun continues to do what he does best when it comes to this sort of thing - put on a mask, pretend that nothing is happening, and hope that everything will resolve itself in the long run.

"My, Eduan," he snarks, "that's no way to treat your son."

Chapter Text

The door flies open faster than Khun can blink.  "A- Aguero?"

Khun smiles widely, teeth gleaming.  The shape of his mouth is kind, but the sharpness in his blue eyes remains threatening.  "Hello, Eduan."

"I'll be leaving now, Father." Kiseia bobs her head at her father, saluting her brother on the way out.  "See ya, bro."

Khun wiggles his fingers in a semblance of a wave.  Eduan clears his throat, clearly uncomfortable.  "What are you doing here, Aguero? I thought we agreed never to talk to each other again."

Khun shrugs playfully.  Frankly, he's amazed at how Eduan looks exactly the same as he had when Aguero left.  His mother had aged, but there isn't a single gray hair on Eduan's head, barely a wrinkle on his still-youthful face.  "Promises can be broken," he answers airily.  "Especially when family is involved.  But you're not very good at this whole family thing, are you?"

Eduan sighs, sagging as he ushers Khun into his office.  "So your mother finally told you."

Khun plops himself onto a chair, and it rolls backwards under his weight.  "I know you're in a relationship with 'Jared'," he whispers conspiratorially, watching Eduan choke, "and believe me, I have a lot of questions about that." He grins, terrifying like Maschenny.  Eduan swallows nervously.  "You will answer those questions as truthfully as you can, because who knows what I'd do if you don't?" Eduan looks constipated, and Khun leans forward, relishing at the fact that he's the one in control.  "So? What do you say, old man?"

Eduan squints at him, electric blue eyes narrowed.  "Aguero, are you blackmailing me?"

"If that's what I have to do to get the job done, then yes, I am."

A smile creeps onto Eduan's face, and Khun wants to slap it right off.  "Sometimes I wonder if you really are my son, but I find out how alike we are in other ways and realize you can be nobody else's son but mine."

Khun sniffs.  "What are you talking about? You have no right to say that about me.  You disowned me.  You gave up on me." But I don't hate you, he thinks, because I found somebody far better because of that.  "I may be nothing like you, but I'm still the best load you ever shot, and I'll continue to be better than you in every goddamn way I can.  I would never treat anyone how you treated Mom, and me and Kiseia and Maria."

"I know what I did was wrong," Eduan begs, "but please, hear me out."

"Go ahead, talk," Khun spits out.  He leans back, crossing one leg over the other.  His phone is warm in his pocket, seconds beeping by silently as he records the conversation.  "Just know that assholes like you don't deserve redemption."

He knows he hit a nerve when Eduan flinches.  "Did your mother tell you why we got married?"

"Don't know, didn't really care.  But now that you bring it up, why did you get married, really?" He can't deny the fact that he's interested now, the cogs whirring in his brain just waiting for new information to digest.  "Why would you tie yourself down to someone you don't love for the rest of your life?"

"We didn't marry out of love," Eduan says simply.  Khun's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline.  "It was an arranged marriage."

Khun's mouth opens and closes unintelligently, and quiet voice in his head reminds him to close it.  He must look like a fish.  His voice sounds distant even to himself.  "What?"

Eduan cracks a smile.  "There are a lot of things you don't know about me, Aguero."

"Yeah, no shït," Khun grumbles.  "Keep talking."

Eduan inhales, a deep, shuddering breath.  "My father - your grandfather, Sergio - was a traditional man.  It was either his old school way or no way for everything." Khun's interest is grudgingly piqued.  Khun and his sisters had never met their 'Grandfather Sergio' before, assuming that he'd returned to their homeland and left his son here.  "He didn't take it well when I told him I liked men as well as women."

Khun squawks.  "You're bi-!"

"Shh!" Eduan hisses.  Khun's eyes are the size of dinner plates.  "I know society isn't as conservative as it was in my day, but this kind of thing, with our kind of fame... This knowledge in the wrong hands could destroy us, Aguero.  You know that it's risky."

Khun blinks rapidly.  Stay calm, he reminds himself, no weaknesses.  You are chill.  Like the wind.  If you attack him, you'll probably get arrested.  Or slapped.  "So, how did you know you were..." He waves his hands around helplessly.  "You know?" He wrinkles his nose.  "Don't tell me Jared was your gay awakening."

Eduan smiles.  His expression is softer than anything Khun has ever seen on him. He'd never smiled like this at his wife, even less so at his own wife.  "I met him in high school.  I was the new kid and kind of a player, and he was quite and a little nerdy, but something about him called out to me.  I didn't even know why I wanted him like that.  I just thought he was cute.  Maybe it was the dimples." Bam has dimples too and it is cute, Khun thinks agreeably for the split second before he remembers that it's Eduan talking about Jahad.  "We started off just friends, I swear.  But puberty hit him, and it hit him good, and he was so passionate and confident, and before I knew it I was head over heels."

Khun had no idea Jahad had dimples! Does the man even know how to smile? Wangnan looks a little like Jahad, but he only has one dimple.  Maybe Karaka has a matching one on the other cheek.  But dimples? Passionate? Confident? Khun thinks of the brunette occupying the majority of his mind, his brain checks all the boxes, and with dawning horror he realizes-

"Fück! We have the same type?"

Eduan looks at him with a look of shock before laughing, and Khun has to force down the bile rising in his throat.  Eduan is laughing.  He looks nothing like the man Khun remembers, the one who likes to greet him in his nightmares every now and then.  "Don't look so surprised, Aguero,  The apple never falls far from the tree."

Khun is still visibly horrified at the revelation.  'The apple never falls far from the tree'? Is the throne he built for himself made of lies? He keeps telling himself he is not his father, he will never be, but now... What now?

Eduan sighs, looking morose.  Khun hates how easily he recognizes the longing expression on Eduan's face.  He's been wearing it far too often these days.  "But of course, he did it all for Arlene." The older man's expression twists, an unspeakable emotion in his eyes.  "He's liked her since they were kids.  And then V came into the picture.  Arlene thought he was annoying, at first, and then he showed his stupid caring dork side and we all fell for him instantly.  Especially Arlene."

"Naturally, Jared hated him," Khun prompts.  "He saw Victor as competition.  And you thought you had a chance?"

Eduan's eyes are distant, nearly forty-years-in-the-past kind of distant.  "Yeah." He buries his face in his hands, a vulnerability in his hunched up form Khun would've verbally ripped him to pieces for merely a few moments ago.  Now, he feels nothing but pity.  "I was so stupid to think he'd ever get over his obsession with her.  She hated it, and they fought, and he dragged me over to his place.  I thought we were just going to talk about and make it all better somehow, but he brought out the alcohol, and we got so drunk.  I don't remember what happened next, but I woke up the next morning, still at his place, naked in his bed, and I think you can guess what we did."

Khun wrinkles his nose, fidgeting in his seat.  "Is knowing about your sex life really necessary?"

"Yes," Eduan answers honestly.  "Because it got to the point where he'd sleep with me after fighting with her, even if I was relatively sober.  We were just using each other, and it was probably toxic, but I kept lying to myself that maybe I'd win him over one day.  I lied to myself for years."

"And you failed, because, because he's a homophobic ass," Khun concludes.  He smacks his forehead with a groan.  "I can't believe I thought you were the homophobe.  Straight men don't spend so much time on their hair." He rolls his eyes.  Of course, the core of the Khun Gay Agenda is excellent hair care.  It's the one good thing he learned from Eduan.

Eduan gives him a dark look, and Khun can almost hear the you've got your mother's sass on the tip of Eduan's tongue.  "The sex and the drinking... It was like a drug.  I couldn't stop."

"Hedonist," Khun mutters under his breath.  He doesn't really see the appeal, to be honest.

"And then my father found out."

Khun winces in almost-sympathy.  It brings back memories of darker times.  "And he forced you to marry Mom?"

Eduan nods.  "Our fathers were colleagues, and she was a family friend, but that was pretty much all our relationship was to me.  My father forced me to cease all contact with him, and tried to make me straight by making me spend the rest of my life with her.  He didn't understand that he couldn't change that about me, neither did my mother."

"That doesn't explain anything," Khun spits.  His head is a ticking time bomb, years of repressed anger and and resentment just waiting to explode out of his lips.  "It doesn't even begin to explain why you hurt Mom like that! If you tell me you were too drunk or hungover to remember hitting her and us, I will punch you, father or CEO or not."

"I knew it would take time, but I thought I could learn to love her, I really did," Eduan tries to defend himself.  "She's beautiful, kind, sassy, she was like everything I ever wanted." She's blonde too, like Jahad, Khun thinks to himself bitterly, the only thing she isn't is Jahad.  "I did love her, more than anything after Maria was born.  There's nothing like having your own newborn child in your arms, looking at you like you're the only good thing in the world.  With them, it was easy to convince myself getting hurt again and again by someone who would never love me back wasn't worth it."

"That doesn't change the fact that you hurt her.  You hurt all of us." Salt burns behind his eyes. "When I told you I was gay, I hoped that maybe you wouldn't care.  Hoping you would support me was an impossible dream.  I hoped that even if you hated me for being gay, you'd still stay professional about it, because you used to care about pride and honor and whatever.  But then you hit me." Khun refuses to admit that it still haunts him, especially when he least wants it to.  Vicious wetness blurs his vision, and he squeezes his eyes shut, forcing poison tears back where they belong.  "Why? Why did you do that?"

Why did you make yourself the villain?

Eduan slams his fist against the table.  "I was trying to protect you!"

Khun flinches.  Despite years of trauma he'd sworn he'd left behind, his reflex is still to tremble, raise his arms in front of him like that helps anything.  He's weak, and he hates it, but he doesn't know how to make everything better.  Will it ever? His hands shake, his heart hammering in his chest.  He barely registers the wheelie chair he's sitting on rolling backwards and away from Eduan.  Deep inside the remnants of his teenage brain, alarm bells ring.

He's going to hit you, the voice screeches in his head, a vulture preying on his weakest spots, he's gonna hit you, watch out, he's angry he's real angry now you gotta go away run away as fast as you can you'll never make it out you stupid pathetic man-

Eduan takes a deep breath and settles back down.  "I'm sorry." It doesn't change anything.  "It's just- Every time I look at you, it feels like looking in the mirror.  I see so much of myself in you, it scares me.  And being gay gets you hurt, sooner or later.  I just thought maybe if I hurt you earlier you wouldn't end up like me.  I thought that could let you be happy in the long run, but..." He laughs dryly.  "I must've fücked up somewhere."

"No shït," Khun grumbles.  "Thanks to you and your lack of parenting skills, I'm so out of touch with my emotions even my therapist thinks I'm a lost cause."

"Well, to make up for it I have relationship advise?" Eduan offers.  "I saw on Chirper that you and V's kid seem to be having some trouble in paradise-"

Khun shoots him a death glare.  "You are the worst possible person I could go to for relationship advice.  What makes you think I would listen to you?"

"You're desperate," Eduan points out, "I know he means a lot to you and being away from him for so long makes you start blaming yourself for what's happening."

Khun's death glare intensifies.  How did he hit the nail right on the head? Making it sound like separation anxiety is insulting, though.  He's not a dog.  "That's not true."

"Liar," Eduan sing-songs.  "I know that's how you feel because that is exactly what happens to me sometimes."

Khun throws a nearby pen at him.  "Shut up," he seethes.  "I am nothing like you."

"You know, V used to give Arlene homemade food when they fought," Eduan suggests with a casual shrug, "you don't have to listen to me, but food is a good conversation starter." Khun knows better, especially when Eduan tightens his ponytail so hard his hair-tie snaps.  "I'm going to surprise your mother with a homecooked meal.  I know she likes carbonada.  And then I'm going to tell her everything.  I know I don't deserve her forgiveness, nor do I expect her to forgive me, but she deserves to know."

"You're going to give her food poisoning." Khun had never realized Eduan knew how to cook, or how to be sincere, for that matter.  His shock must be making him spiteful.  But maybe he could try taking Eduan's advice anyway.  Who knows, maybe he'd do it better!

"I learned how to cook! Let me try, won't you?"

Khun is still suspicious.  "How do I know you're not going to hurt her again by doing that?" His voice is small, like a child's.  Weak.  "How do I know you're not going to run back to Jared in the end? I may have missed the signs when I was a kid, but I know better now.  You ran back to him once already, even though you said so yourself that he's not good for you."

"Maybe I'll hurt her, but that'll be nobody's fault but my own.  I'll take the blame for anything that happens.  I swear." Eduan takes in a deep breath.  "Besides, I have no reason to return to him now.  I haven't talked to him in two years, and I've been sober for months.  The only reason I went back to him was because Arlene and V got married."

"What, did Jared think Victor was spiting him by inviting him to his and Arlene's wedding and having Bam?" Eduan nods shakily.  "That's bullshït!"

"It's true," Eduan tells him quietly.  "When V proposed to Arlene, he already wanted V dead for it.  And then he had a really big fight with Arlene, and in the moment he was so angry and jealous he wanted to kill her too.  I tried to stop him, I swear on your mother, but by the time I got to his place and tried to convince him it was already too late.  He hired a hitman to, you know-"

He draws a line across his throat with a finger.

Khun really feels sick now.  He doesn't know if he wants to puke, or scream, or cry, or do all three of those things at once.  "Did he tell you who he hired?"

Eduan frowns.  "I can't remember.  Some 'Light', maybe?" He snaps his fingers.  "Adam Light.  That's the one."

Khun's blood freezes to ice in his veins.  Light.  Rachel Light.  He should've known.  How else could Rachel have known about what happened to Bam's parents? Adam Light must've orchestrated the crash, but taken Bam in and hidden him away from Jahad when he realized that the child wasn't dead.  Hwaryun had warned him two hours ago that Rachel Light had been hanging around Bam and asking questions about Khun.  Could Jahad know about what he's doing? If so...

He spots something red flashing under Eduan's desk.

"Fück!"

Jahad knows he know he knows he's gonna try to kill Bam again or kill Eduan or kill me-

Eduan frowns.  "What's wrong?"

Fück, fück, fück! Fück! Of course Jahad had Eduan's office bugged! If Eduan knows what Jahad did, of course he would've kept track of what Eduan's been doing! Khun scrambles for his bags, stumbling to his feet.  "I have to go!"

"Go where?"

"I have to find Bam!"