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A Star is Born (Yet One was Lost that Night)

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[Joonghyuk-ah.]

Yoo Joonghyuk steps on the stage in his final outfit.

It is his last song for the night.

The fans cheer fervently, some even calling for an encore even though the show isn’t over yet. As a superstar of considerable fame, Yoo Joonghyuk is already used to such a scene.

But tonight is different; he is nervous for a special reason.

Yoo Joonghyuk takes a deep breath, knowing that his next words will be life-changing. He is taking a gamble. For the better, he hopes.

His face still indifferent, he taps the head of the microphone, a habit he has inculcated since young to disguise his nervousness since his early days.

He starts to speak out.

"This song is dedicated to a certain someone who was my star when I was in the dark. He lit up my path from the beginning all the way till here now. Back then, I was just playing music casually without thinking too much of it. Then, I met him.

I spent the earliest days of my life playing for him and listening to his feedback even though he didn't even understand music that much."

The audience laughs at his poor attempt at a joke. Yoo Joonghyuk was never known for his humour but they love him anyway.

Yoo Joonghyuk knows he is acting unusual by speaking so much, but his words come earnestly and naturally, as if reaching out and seeking for the missing presence that once filled the void in his heart. He runs his gaze among the crowd, searching, but there are too many people.

He cannot find what he wants to see.

He has long ago felt this, but at this very moment, right in front of his audience, he finally acknowledges that he is making the right decision.

"Through my darkest days, even when I was struggling with my music, I wasn't alone. He was with me and he supported me. I fell in love… No. I am still in love."

Yoo Joonghyuk raises his eyes and searches through the rainbow sea of light sticks again, hoping again but still failing to find the particular person who is pervading his thoughts and speech. Downcast, he lowers his dulled eyes and continues speaking.

"I've experienced many things throughout my life. The good, the bad; everything in the past was with him. Back when no one was cheering for me, he was there behind the scenes to cheer me on. It’s only been about a year, since he’s gone but now it's only the bad, the bad, and the bad all around me." He taps his guitar gently as he mulls over the words that take over his speech, some of them not even in his originally planned script.

The crowd remains silent as they watch their idol lose himself in thought.

It is only after a while does he continue talking.

"It's only when you lose something do you realise how precious it is to you. Thinking back, I did him so much wrong, it’s no wonder he left me. I would have left me too. I'm sorry to my fans but I have thought and I decided that I want to dedicate the remainder of my life to him. Tonight will be my last concert."

His fans cry out in surprise at this declaration, a mixture of emotions all bubbling up. From the corner of his eye, he can picture how his manager’s eyes and mouth are wide open in horror. Yoo Joonghyuk doesn't let their reactions bother him. He has pandered to them long enough.

It is time to end it all.

Yoo Joonghyuk is right at the front of the stage, his long legs encased in black pants resting on the chair he has dragged out. The wild, flashing lights and noisy background track that was previously blasting on stage are all switched off, the energy from the previous songs dissipating at once.

The hum from the electricity generator is low and soothing. Yoo Joonghyuk takes his favourite guitar out from the case beside him and adjusts the microphone stand once more.

On the stage, Yoo Joonghyuk is shrouded in the darkness, and in spite of how big his stature is, Yoo Joonghyuk looks small, tired, and lonely, as if he has long ago been drained from showbiz.

The stadium quiets down again when they see their idol in this sombre scene. They have never seen their prideful and confident Yoo Joonghyuk brought down to earth like this before.

"If you are listening to this. I just want to let you know. Kim Dokja, I love you. I'm sorry. Come back."

He begins to sing.

===

[Remember when we first met. I said I wanted to see you become a star.]

Their first meeting was in high school.

"Hey, what are you playing? I like it." A boy with black hair and an ugly bowl cut grins at him from the bottom of the stair landing. His uniform is messy and looks rather baggy on him. He doesn't look any older than him either, but Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t really care about these details. It isn’t any of his business anyway.

Instead, Yoo Joonghyuk glares at him because the boy has intruded into his favourite lunchtime spot in a very unwelcome manner. Not even bothering to answer the stranger, Yoo Joonghyuk closes eyes and continues to strum his guitar, intending to put an end to the conversation he has no intention of starting. Those who stumble upon him leave pretty quickly upon witnessing his brilliant communication skills anyway.

Not this guy, though.

"I am Kim Dokja, you?" The boy is persistent, it seems. He isn't perturbed by the fact that Yoo Joonghyuk has just tried to intimidate him away from the staircase. Boldly, he scoots up the stairs and plops himself right beside Yoo Joonghyuk.

Kim Dokja is carrying a piece of soggy bread with him that is probably his lunch. He gently unwraps the bread from the cling wrap, treating it like it is a piece of precious treasure. Yoo Joonghyuk wrinkles his noses at the disgusting-looking excuse for a lunch and turns away to avoid the putrid smell of sliced cheese.

"You play so well." Kim Dokja supplies the dying conversation as he munches on his rotten-looking cheese bread. He doesn’t keep any eye contact with Yoo Joonghyuk, more talking to himself now that he knows that Yoo Joonghyuk isn't going to answer and is planning to just glare him to death. He is a brave one to even dare to continue talking to Yoo Joonghyuk in the first place.

Yoo Joonghyuk merely grunts at the casual compliment, his fingers still plucking the strings of his guitar. He rarely receives those because no one else dares to approach him so brazenly.

Kim Dokja chatters obliviously between each hungry bite, "You've got star potential, you know? You're very handsome. And you sound great."

With the exception of his teachers, Yoo Joonghyuk has never received so much praise in a single sitting before. He is now slightly intrigued by this talkative busybody. In a rare display of camaraderie, he slows down his playing and hums a soft tune instead, letting the boy hear one of his latest ideas.

Yoo Joonghyuk’s sole audience nods in appreciation and sets his half-eaten bread aside on the top of the staircase. He even tries to join in with his humming as well. He doesn't sound very good and he is off-beat at some parts, but it's interesting to have an accompaniment for once. Yoo Joonghyuk is very aware that this is the first time someone has willingly spent so much time just trying to hold a conversation with him.

"Hey, Yoo Joonghyuk," the boy leans in and catches sight of his name tag, making Yoo Joonghyuk jerk back a little in shock. He isn’t very used to being close to people.

Kim Dokja smiles at him. "You're really good. I'll cheer you on. I wish to see your birth as a star."

Yoo Joonghyuk looks at him, mesmerised by his encouraging words. Kim Dokja is nonchalant in his praises, but his smile is a bright, beautiful smile. Realising that he is getting distracted, Yoo Joonghyuk quickly picks up his playing again.

The bell rings shortly after, signalling the end of their lunch break.

“Can I come again?” Kim Dokja’s eyes are shining as he witnesses the end of another simple tune Yoo Joonhyuk has been composing. His palms are clasped together as if in prayer as he looks hopefully at Yoo Joonghyuk.

Terrible attempt at singing along with his music aside, this guy wasn't so bad. Maybe, it will be good to have a companion at times.

Yoo Joonghyuk raises his eyes to meet Kim Dokja’s bright ones. Kim Dokja’s smile grows wider and more hopeful. It stirs something in Yoo Joonghyuk’s heart.

“Suit yourself.”

And so, with Yoo Joonghyuk’s silent permission, Kim Dokja became a one and only regular at the stairs.

===

[You went through a lot of struggles to come this far.]

A few months had passed since their fateful meeting on the stairs.

"Come and see my bestie, the handsome and amazing Yoo Joonghyuk perform at the school's annual festival! You won't regret it!"

Kim Dokja holds a megaphone and hollers over the crowd as he tiptoes on a table at their school’s cafeteria. He takes a moment to tuck the megaphone under his armpit and haphazardly tosses a bunch of flyers at the passing people. The crowd of students grumble as heaps of flyers land on them. It is sweltering, and the sun is shining through the un-airconditioned place, but Kim Dokja pays the weather no mind. He has an audience to entice after all.

Despite Yoo Joonghyuk telling him not to, Kim Dokja, that fool, insisted on using his pitiful amount of lunch money and bad design skills to print out flyers for advertising his performance. Thankfully, the printing service at school was still considerably cheap.

"I'll be your marketing manager!" Kim Dokja proudly exclaims after introducing his idea to Yoo Joonghyuk.

Some marketing manager he was. Kim Dokja forgets that he doesn't have much popularity nor influence in their school either. The turnout is pathetic. Yoo Joonghyuk stands there holding his guitar and sees the barely-filled music room. He almost feels like leaving. In fact, he wouldn't even be here if Kim Dokja hadn't signed him up secretly.

"Hey, hey! Don't leave. They came to see you!" Despite his appearance, Kim Dokja is intuitive, and he has known Yoo Joonghyuk for quite some time too. He senses Yoo Joonghyuk's unspoken intention to escape and quickly pulls him back. He pushes his best friend onto the makeshift stage and runs off, leaving Yoo Joonghyuk to face the few pairs of eyes fixed on him.

Being suddenly shoved onto a stage makes the inexperienced Yoo Joonghyuk freeze a little. He looks back at Kim Dokja, throwing him one of his ever-ready glares.

He is greeted by a smiling Kim Dokja, who waves at him cheerfully in return.

"Joonghyuk, fighting!" Kim Dokja mouths at him from behind and pumps a fist into the air.

It is an effective encouragement. Yoo Joonghyuk hides his smile and readies his guitar. He taps into the microphone and pretends to be testing it. He clears his throat and buys some more time by faux-adjusting the tie Kim Dokja had forced on him earlier. The audience stare at him while murmuring in curiosity; they all are young students with short attention spans, and they are merely there because it was compulsory to attend at least one event for the festival.

Knowing that he can't delay the inevitable, he takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, and sings.

Yoo Joonghyuk sings a short song Kim Dokja and himself had come up with during their time on the staircase. Though Kim Dokja mostly only gave his opinions by interrupting him with a puzzled "That sounds funny" or words along those lines. Some of them were legit concerns, so Yoo Joonghyuk did take them into consideration. The song did turn out pretty well in the end, so Yoo Joonghyuk had decided to perform it for the festival.

The response is quite unexpected.

The miniscule crowd cheers at their song and whip out their phones to film the performance. Yoo Joonghyuk is gratified at the response, and Kim Dokja looks insanely proud of him. That day, Yoo Joonghyuk gains quite a smattering of popularity from the videos of his performance being circulated around by his few audience members.

It is small, but it is still a spark of recognition. Kim Dokja just knows his best friend is only going to get better and better.

===

[And you really did become one.]

Kim Dokja once said, ‘Best friends stick together’, and Yoo Joonghyuk had no objections, so they moved in together in college.

Ever since his performance in high school, Yoo Joonghyuk has already become considerably popular online. He is being asked to perform short gigs and make appearances at parties as a live singer. Kim Dokja often teases that it's more because of his good looks that gets him hired, but Yoo Joonghyuk knows it’s also partly because Kim Dokja has been actively promoting him to all his friends, acquaintances, the random people on the street whenever Yoo Joonghyuk is out there doing his street performances.

Truth to be told, Yoo Joonghyuk doesn't really enjoy parties, he finds them too wild, and the songs that are often requested aren't the ones he prefers to sing, but deep down, he knows he isn't getting any further if he refuses to take them up.

Knowing that Yoo Joonghyuk doesn't earn much from these ad-hoc performances, Kim Dokja has taken up a part-time job at a cafe in order to pay for their room expenses. Kim Dokja is kind -- he himself isn't well-to-do, but he tells Yoo Joonghyuk not to worry, and that he can pay him back later when he becomes famous. Kim Dokja encourages him, tells him that he will support him no matter what decision he makes.

Yoo Joonghyuk is a man of a few words. He doesn't vocalise it but he is extremely grateful for the support. He doesn’t know how he is so fortunate to have met someone like Kim Dokja. It has become a resolve to repay his best friend for all he has done once he makes it big. He works harder, continuing to take up more and more of such stints. College is a good time to get fame, as a result of hard work, talent, and his earth-shattering good looks, his popularity skyrockets so very naturally.

It also is in college when their statuses change from ‘best friends’ to ‘boyfriends’.

It happens on Yoo Joonghyuk's birthday during their second year. In their shared apartment over the dinner table, Kim Dokja makes his best friend sit down right in front of a slice of birthday cake. He runs into his room and brandishes a cheap-looking guitar before playing what sounds like a feeble attempt at a birthday song. His voice isn't that bad now after Yoo Joonghyuk has trained him a little, but the music from the guitar is exceptionally ear-grating. Yoo Joonghyuk is slightly bothered by the fact that Kim Dokja didn’t approach him for guitar lessons and is learning rubbish from someone else instead.

Yoo Joonghyuk, who is forced to listen to the cacophony of noises produced by his best friend, doesn't know if he should applaud for Kim Dokja's apparent attempt at a birthday song cover or cover his abused ears at the squeaking horror from that ratty old guitar. Very politely, he doesn’t do anything to stop Kim Dokja, and instead lets his best friend finish his performance.

Much to his relief, Kim Dokja finishes rather fast. His face is also a bright shade of red. Perhaps even he is feeling embarrassed by his playing. Kim Dokja takes a deep breath and looks him directly in the eye.

"Yoo Joonghyuk. I like you. Will you go out with me?"

Kim Dokja doesn't appear shy as he lets his confession out. His hands however, betray his expression -- they shake a little as they clutch the lousy, beat-up guitar tightly.

Yoo Joonghyuk is shocked for sure, but he unconsciously and belatedly realises that that is why Kim Dokja has been looking kind of sneaky recently. Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t voice it out, but he finds this so adorable.

He stands up abruptly from the table and kisses his new boyfriend, ignoring how the chair behind him has toppled over. Kim Dokja doesn't need any words from Yoo Joonghyuk to know that it is already an answer.

The squeak this time isn't from the guitar, it is from the surprised Kim Dokja, who kisses him back after getting over his initial shock. They grip each other tightly, their kisses growing more passionate the more they feel each other.

The rotten old guitar falls to the floor with a clatter, but both of them are too preoccupied to care right now.

===

[So popular, well-known, and well-loved now. You deserve all this.]

The light from the concert hall is blinding.

The two of them have stumbled through the years after graduating from university. Going through ups and downs, twists and struggles, right till this very moment.

Yoo Joonghyuk has made it.

It is his first-ever concert in a hall. It isn’t a very big location, maybe only seating a thousand or so, but it is still considerably big for a rookie like him. After years of struggling through the hurdles, he has finally made it.

Sweat-slicked hair runs over his eyes, giving him a rough and wild look. Yoo Joonghyuk is dressed in tight leather pants and a long black coat with a belt buckle across his chest. His manager, Bihyung, had said the crowd would love it. Kim Dokja liked it for sure, having been unable to take his eyes off him when Yoo Joonghyuk had worn it home for him to see once. Kim Dokja wasn’t able to leave the bed for a few days during that period.

Yoo Joonghyuk breathes and gasps harshly as the song ends, his gaze fanning all over the multitude of light sticks, his fans cheering out his name and waving banners around wildly. This scene is brand new to him, and he feels rewarded for his hard work.

Against all odds, he has come this far.

From an audience of merely one on the tiny, cramped stairwell at school to a filled-out concert hall.

The old days of him and Kim Dokja handing out flyers, performing on the streets, cold-calling clubs and pubs and asking if they needed a singer, all the dirty work flash through his mind, but they are all over. He has signed on with the Star Stream, a promising idol agency which has picked him up from the streets and given him a chance at debut.

And now here he is, having successfully made his debut concert. Kim Dokja doesn’t have to suffer with him anymore. They will be happier now.

He sees the source of his motivation in the crowd. Kim Dokja's face appears among the audience near the front rows, waving a light stick so very enthusiastically along with the other fans. Kim Dokja has a special reserved seat, of course. He is wearing a dorky sunfish headband, Yoo Joonghyuk’s ‘mascot’, and beaming so happily at him, that smile on his face as beautiful as ever. Paired with the energy from the concert and the roaring of the crowd, Yoo Joonghyuk feels as if his heart is on fire.

Yoo Joonghyuk grins back at his elated boyfriend, the smug look on his tired but still strikingly handsome face making his fans scream even harder. Kim Dokja’s voice stands out to him, it is louder than the rest.

This is it, Yoo Joonghyuk thinks, basking in the limelight. This is what I've worked hard for.

He pumps his fist into the air and the fans go even crazier. He feels powerful with all these attention being showered on him.

As his gaze travels along the masses, the raucous cheers from the crowd thunders in his ears. The fans call for an encore, yelling until their throats grow hoarse. Yoo Joonghyuk thoughts grow more ambitious as he scans his eyes through the entire venue.

He has become a star. Just like how Kim Dokja said he would.

He will become bigger and better, and he will only continue to soar to greater heights now. His mind imagines the greater future to come.

In his fever-induced haze and the excitement of the concert overtaking his spirit, he fails to notice how Kim Dokja's face fades into the brightly-lit background.

===

[Joonghyuk-ah. During those times, I was content to be by your side supporting you, cheering for you.

When you were happy, we celebrated together.]

They take a short vacation after the first concert, as insisted by Yoo Joonghyuk. Yoo Joonghyuk has received a rather large paycheck from his agency for the unexpected success of his debut.

Kim Dokja said that the agency must have been ignorant fools if they thought that his attractive, handsome, and charismatic Joonghyuk wouldn't succeed. Yoo Joonghyuk didn't refute the part about his agency being fools, Kim Dokja usually has a good eye, and internally Yoo Joonghyuk also agrees with his boyfriend.

Without delay, Yoo Joonghyuk takes his boyfriend on a tour to Japan to celebrate. It is the first time they are going overseas together, a well-deserved reward for their efforts. Both of them are enthusiastic about the trip, putting in a lot of effort to plan their itinerary and make preparations for it. Kim Dokja excitedly shows off the couple wear he wants them to wear during it; he has already ordered them from the online stores. Yoo Joonghyuk, who is similarly a besotted fool-in-love, finds it a cute gesture and indulgently obliges his boyfriend’s whims.

They fly to Japan and spend the days sightseeing, shopping, soaking in the hot springs, mucking around and doing whatever couples do on trips together. They visit popular restaurants and eat their delicious food, they (or rather Kim Dokja) yell their heads off on the rides at the theme park.

Yoo Joonghyuk wins Kim Dokja a giant stuffed squid at the carnival booths as if he is some gaming expert, making Kim Dokja wonder if his boyfriend even has anything he is bad at. Kim Dokja tries to win a stuffed sunfish for him in return but fails miserably, so Yoo Joonghyuk steps in again to seek revenge for his boyfriend. The carnival booth owner is shocked at Yoo Joonghyuk’s prowess and stops them from playing any more games. They leave the theme park with their newly adopted plushies.

Of course, they didn’t forget to take commemorative pictures of themselves almost everywhere. Yoo Joonghyuk lets out a tiny smile as Kim Dokja drags him to pose in front of yet another famous shrine. The memories they make are priceless.

A celebration is nothing without the alcohol. As they sit in an izakaya during one of their last few dinners, Kim Dokja cheerfully raises a glass to Yoo Joonghyuk.

“To my Joonghyuk’s bright, bright future! More successes to come.”

Yoo Joonghyuk silently raises his glass back in amusement. The clink of glass against glass is soft, and both of them gulp down their drinks. They spend the night seated at the counter talking about their future plans. Kim Dokja, now slightly drunk, pats Yoo Joonghyuk’s back and says that the next trip will be on him instead. Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t argue and merely smiles at him. He will just go along with whatever his boyfriend wants.

With their trip coming to an end, after an entire day of hanging outside, as they lie on the bed of their hotel room, all sweaty and panting after their passionate romp in the sheets, Kim Dokja yelps as his ear is bitten by Yoo Joonghyuk playfully. He bunches up his nose at Yoo Joonghyuk, but laughs as he catches sight of his boyfriend’s feigned a look of complete innocence.

Kim Dokja rolls to the side and affectionately nuzzles into Yoo Joonghyuk's thick arm. His body is red and sweaty all over; he is clearly satiated. Yoo Joonghyuk lets him toy with his arm, loving how blissful Kim Dokja looks.

"How nice. If we can live our lives like this forever.” Kim Dokja muses as he buries his face into the arm.

It is a simple wish, but it is one full of love.

Yoo Joonghyuk is resting against the head of the bed. He hears Kim Dokja’s muffled words against his arm and looks down at his boyfriend fondly, gently running his hand through Kim Dokja’s messed-up locks. He feels so blessed with Kim Dokja right by his side.

How nice would that be, Yoo Joonghyuk agrees.

He makes up his mind to bring Kim Dokja on many more trips to come.

===

[When you were frustrated, I could be there for you, wiping your tears (though you don't cry a lot at all), appeasing your anger.]

Yoo Joonghyuk slams the door of their shared room shut. The look on his face is murderous.

"What's wrong?" Kim Dokja, who is fresh out of the shower and currently reading one of his webnovels, gets up from their bed in concern. He knows that the Star Stream must have done something to anger his boyfriend again. Yoo Joonghyuk has been increasingly frustrated with their growing demands recently, and his only outlet to rant to is his boyfriend.

"They told me," Yoo Joonghyuk seethes through his clenched teeth. "That I should stop composing, and sing something that can appeal to more people." If there is one thing that Yoo Joonghyuk will not compromise on when it comes to his career, it would be the ability to produce his own songs. He doesn't think that there's anything wrong with his songs; they are his (and Dokja’s) pride and joy. In fact, he knows that his songs are pretty well-received by his fans.

Kim Dokja frowns as he hears this. He sets his phone aside and walks up to Yoo Joonghyuk’s side, knowing that his boyfriend is in a turbulent mood at the moment. It distresses him to see his beloved like this, but he is unable to offer anything except for his words and support.

"It's normal for them to want to cater to the audience's demands." Kim Dokja isn't happy with how the agency wants to interfere with Yoo Joonghyuk's songwriting either, but he placates his angered boyfriend anyway. Despite being relatively successful, they both know that Yoo Joonghyuk is still considered a newbie in the eyes of his agency, and is still deep under the clutches of his management after all.

"It doesn't matter what they make you write or sing for now. It can't take away the essence of your songs. You'll show them. Once you become so important to them, they won't be able to stop you from singing what you want." Kim Dokja continues, reaching out to pull Yoo Joonghyuk to his side and stroking his back gently in a familiar gesture that has always succeeded in cooling Yoo Joonghyuk down.

Yoo Joonghyuk's tensed muscles visibly relaxes at Kim Dokja's confident words. Even during their youth, Kim Dokja has always been able to understand, comfort, and quell the raging fires in his heart. Once again, Yoo Joonghyuk really appreciates how Kim Dokja is there for him.

What will he do without Kim Dokja by his side?

Somehow, he can imagine himself rushing to the agency’s headquarters with the aim of beating up Bihyung and the management into submission. A very bad idea which will probably also mean the end of his career if he actually went through with it. Kim Dokja, with his ability to reason and calm him down, is the main reason why Yoo Joonghyuk has been able to tolerate the Star Stream's nonsense for so long.

Yoo Joonghyuk lightly brushes his hand through Kim Dokja's wet hair, his deep frown slowly morphing into a hint of a smile. He rarely smiles in front of others, and is more capable of giving off smug grins than anything, but in front of his boyfriend, it is an entirely different story. His silly boyfriend is being lazy with drying his hair again. He wordlessly pulls Kim Dokja to the side and starts towelling his hair.

Kim Dokja is right. He'll show the Star Stream for sure. He'll show them that he isn't a puppet who will blindly dance to their tunes.

Kim Dokja patiently waits for Yoo Joonghyuk to be done drying his hair before turning around to peck his boyfriend's cheek. Now distracted by the sudden display of affection, Yoo Joonghyuk tosses the towel into a random direction and returns a kiss.

The two of them are now locked in embrace and they share a deeper kiss, letting their passions take over and wash away the unpleasant mood from earlier. Kim Dokja's genuine words of encouragement eases away Yoo Joonghyuk’s displeasure, and his beguiling actions wipe all thoughts of work off Yoo Joonghyuk's mind.

===

[Now I feel that I have seen you become so bright and dazzling.

You feel very far.]

Yoo Joonghyuk doesn't remember when he starts to neglect Kim Dokja.

In his defense, it isn’t a conscious behaviour on his part.

Work gets very busy for the both of them after they have started settling down. Kim Dokja is currently working in a gaming company called MinoSoft as an office worker, while Yoo Joonghyuk gets laden by offer after offer for collaboration and performances. It has only been a year since his debut, but his agency is delighted at how fast his rate of popularity is growing. They demand more and more from their superstar, almost to the point of employee abuse. Yoo Joonghyuk has been working tirelessly and continuously without break for the past few months.

He reaches home after a particularly tiring day at work, tossing his belongings onto their coffee table casually. He isn’t a messy person by nature, but he figures letting loose once in a while shouldn't be a problem.

With Yoo Joonghyuk now bringing in the dough, they are finally free of the need to scrimp and save. They are now living in their new apartment which they have moved into after Yoo Joonghyuk has made a considerable sum of money. It is a lot more spacious than the one they had squeezed in since college, which both of them really appreciate.

Kim Dokja gets off work earlier due to his office hours, so he prepares their dinner as usual.

"Ah, today one of my colleagues who got in at the same time as me got promoted. She's lucky." Kim Dokja tells him over dinner.

Kim Dokja places some steaming dumplings into Yoo Joonghyuk’s bowl. He looks exhausted and his eyebags are very pronounced, even more than usual. Yoo Joonghyuk knows he has been working very hard recently too.

Yoo Joonghyuk gives a noncommittal "Mm" in a reply. He munches on his rice, but his mind has already been taken over by the dance steps of tomorrow's music video filming.

The dinner isn’t anything spectacular -- the rice is slightly burnt but Yoo Joonghyuk is used to it. He stuffs his favourite dumplings into his mouth, and finds that the taste of Kim Dokja’s dumplings have been steadily improving since the last time he has cooked them.

Too preoccupied with perfecting how the dance move will look like in his head, Yoo Joonghyuk misses the eager look Kim Dokja directs at him and continues chewing the dumpling silently.

Kim Dokja tries to steer the conversation again. “Any new songs you came up with recently?” He looks expectantly at Yoo Joonghyuk for his answer. They used to sit down together after dinner to compose new songs for his albums but over time, as they grew busier, such time together only became fond memories. Kim Dokja dearly misses those.

Yoo Joonghyuk mentally pauses the dance routine in his head and frowns at the question.

“Not really.” A moment of silence ensues. “I’m going to bed.”

He has to get up quite early tomorrow. He finishes off the rice and pushes the bowl and chopsticks away, planning to take a shower and just go over the moves one more time before sleeping.

“Okay. Have a good rest.” Kim Dokja replies. He doesn’t try to push the conversation anymore.

Yoo Joonghyuk doesn't see Kim Dokja's downtrodden look as he passes him into the bedroom once he is done with dinner. The door of their room closes, and the sound, a huge contrast to the silence from Yoo Joonghyuk, is deafening to Kim Dokja.

Kim Dokja sits alone at the dinner table for a moment, schooling his dejected expression into a blank one. A while later, he gets up to clear the dishes, as if returning to his usual self. He doesn't let this rare display of weakness triumph over his emotions, but his back is still rather forlorn as he quietly brings them into the kitchen.

It has been a long day.

===

[And I feel that the me now can't stay by your side anymore.]

"Joonghyuk-ah? Joonghyuk? I'm outside."

The wind is strong tonight. The weather forecast on the news has warned viewers to not stay out for too long as there was a possibility of rainfall. Yet, Kim Dokja has left the house for a very special reason.

Kim Dokja knocks softly from outside the door, afraid to disturb his neighbours. There's no answer from within, but Kim Dokja knows his boyfriend is inside. After all, it's already ten at night, and Yoo Joonghyuk had already reached home before Kim Dokja had gone out.

"Joonghyuk-ah? I forgot my keys, can you help to open the door?"

Behind the closed door of their room, Yoo Joonghyuk thinks he hears a voice calling out from outside, but he is too tired to bother. Perhaps he is just hallucinating. It is only his third year as an idol but he feels as if he has aged a lot already. His work schedule today has drained him so much. He turns over and buries his head into the pillow to muffle out the repeated knocking on the door. Why were the door-to-door salesmen so energetic even at night?

Exhaustion overwhelms him and he is off to dreamland in seconds.

“Joonghyuk-ah? Hello?”

Kim Dokja shivers in his thin layers as he squats outside their house, huddling the birthday cake closer to himself in order to protect it. He shouldn't have disregarded the weather forecast. He suddenly sneezes and starts cursing Yoo Joonghyuk in his head.

Stupid Yoo Joonghyuk. Stupid, stupid, stupid sunfish bastard!

Giving up on trying to enter the house, Kim Dokja sighs and musters up his courage and goes next door to ask his neighbours for help. He can’t fault his boyfriend entirely; he knows Yoo Joonghyuk is probably very exhausted from work. He wants to protect the cake at least.

His neighbours are kind. They are a recently married couple; the husband is a tall and strong-looking military man, while his pretty wife is a bartender. They let Kim Dokja camp on their couch with some spare blankets. Both of them aren’t early sleepers so they chat with Kim Dokja for some time. Kim Dokja sees how in love they are and feels a little envious. He used to be like that with Yoo Joonghyuk too.

They still are, just that maybe it isn't as prominent as before.

The next day, Kim Dokja thanks the couple and returns home early in the morning with the birthday cake. Kim Dokja appears very angry, Yoo Joonghyuk is very apologetic, and they quarrel quite some bit. Kim Dokja’s anger ebs away but he keeps up his sulking for a while to tease his boyfriend.

They kiss and make out for a while before preparing for work, and thankfully the cake isn’t ruined. They make plans to celebrate Yoo Joonghyuk’s belated birthday later that night. Yoo Joonghyuk dials Bihyung and insists on cancelling his evening schedule despite Bihyung’s frazzled protests. Before they leave the house, Yoo Joonghyuk smothers his boyfriend with kisses all over and promises to make up for it, and Kim Dokja laughs and smacks him away.

Things seem all good and merry now, but as much as Kim Dokja tries to, he is unable to banish the feelings of doubt that are growing in his mind.

===

[I know you are busy, and you will get busier and busier. Sometimes, I just want a bit of your attention.]

They are caught on camera.

It is during their long-awaited vacation on Kim Dokja's birthday. They haven’t been travelling ever since Yoo Joonghyuk has become so busy with work. Kim Dokja had requested for a trip to Japan again this year, and Yoo Joonghyuk dug out some free time in his schedule to bring him overseas again.

They are at the airport with their luggage, ready to check in. Yoo Joonghyuk is disguised in a pair of black sunglasses, a mask, and a cap, dressed in black all over as usual and giving off an unfriendly vibe. They move along in the queue slowly, and it is almost like their very first holiday as usual.

They almost forget that Yoo Joonghyuk is a star now.

The flash of a camera is jarring. It brings a chill down Kim Dokja's spine. Kim Dokja somehow feels that something ominous is about to happen.

They catch sight of a paparazzi darting away as Yoo Joonghyuk whips his head towards some rustling potted plants near the check-in counter.

No. This isn't supposed to happen.

Yoo Joonghyuk lifts his cap and runs his hands through his hair in irritation. He takes out his phone to call manager Bihyung to do some damage control. The group of people behind them gasps at the sudden reveal of the star beside them.

"I knew this was a bad idea." Yoo Joonghyuk mutters to himself under his breath. He pulls Kim Dokja closer to him.

The soft grumble does not escape Kim Dokja's keen ears. Something in his heart wilts a little.

The originally good atmosphere between the two of them turns slightly strained. Kim Dokja trembles a little, but he hides it very well. He starts to talk about their plans for the trip, continuing plastering a smile on his face as they unload their luggage from the trolley onto the conveyor. The group behind them are whispering loudly, and Kim Dokja catches them trying to sneak a few pictures.

Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t notice his boyfriend’s discomfort. Kim Dokja’s words enter from one ear and out the other. All Yoo Joonghyuk can think about is how to deal with the annoying paparazzi and how this will affect his career. He grabs his boyfriend's hand and leads him to the departure gates after checking in.

Other than Yoo Joonghyuk’s constant need to check his phone for updates from Bihyung on the situation, the trip goes relatively well. They visit new places and reminisce about their past trip too. Yoo Joonghyuk is feeling pretty satisfied.

===

[I'm selfish. But I realise that this can't go on either. I don't want to hinder you, but I wonder if the spark will ever return.]

"Can't you trust me."

"It's only for a while."

"Didn't," Kim Dokja's small voice almost falters, but it suddenly hardens in determination. "Didn't we promise to stick together no matter what?"

"What. Getting pelted by tomatoes by my fans didn’t make you realise that this is serious? Are you going to wait for them to start throwing stones at you?" Yoo Joonghyuk crosses his arms, his tone is dry as he looks at his stubborn boyfriend. They are being driven home by Bihyung in Yoo Joonghyuk’s car. Both of them are covered in sticky juices all over, courtesy of the rabid fans.

Despite the damage control from Bihyung and the Star Stream over the photographs taken at the airport, Yoo Joonghyuk is still unable to escape the media’s attention entirely. They were just at the shopping mall when a horde of crazy fans ambushed them and started hurling rotten fruits at Kim Dokja. Yoo Joonghyuk had reacted in time to protect Kim Dokja and took the brunt of the attacks but both of them were still splattered all over.

“Leave Yoo Joonghyuk alone!” The fans cried.

“You don’t deserve my Joonghyuk-oppa!” yelled another.

The calls of the fans remind Kim Dokja that Yoo Joonghyuk is no longer exclusively his.

The uproar was broken up by mall security. Bihyung had rushed to the scene upon hearing the news to handle the situation.

Kim Dokja's face is red with shame as he sits in the car, unable to deny how dangerous the situation was just now. He sees Bihyung worriedly sneaking looks at the both of them through the rearview mirror. He quickly bows his face down.

They remain silent for a very long time. Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t have anything to say to him if Kim Dokja is still adamant on being like this.

"Okay."

Kim Dokja finally answers. He looks back up, seeming to have come to a decision.

Kim Dokja’s strange expression throws Yoo Joonghyuk off for a while, but what decision, Yoo Joonghyuk didn't bother finding out. Doing this is for the best. He absolutely cannot afford a scandal in his career. Not when he is at his peak now.

They part ways for a few months since that day, with Yoo Joonghyuk continuing to stay in their shared apartment, while Kim Dokja moves to a smaller one Bihyung arranges for him. They carry on with their lives as per normal, with the exception of not being with each other.

Returning home to an apartment where he is living alone is kind of sad. Yoo Joonghyuk has to admit that eating take-out every day isn’t very nice, and he simply has no time to even cook for himself.

He starts to miss Kim Dokja’s cooking, even if it wasn’t the best.

And he misses his face too. His smile. His speech.

As Yoo Joonghyuk tosses and turns on their big half-empty bed, he realises that he misses his boyfriend so very dearly.

But he has a career to protect.

They don't meet at all during that time until the rumours die down. Bihyung does an excellent job of squashing down all rumours related to the Star Stream’s rising star.

Kim Dokja moves back in and by the time Yoo Joonghyuk realises that something has changed, it is too late to do anything.

===

[If I were to tell the truth, I don't think so. You are always moving and moving, and I'm always chasing behind. Now I'm starting to feel that I'm unable to keep up. Perhaps I've already felt that ages ago.

So I'm going to move on, find my way, and hopefully come out stronger.]

Yoo Joonghyuk returns to an empty apartment one night.

It isn’t exactly empty, per se, but Kim Dokja’s half of the apartment is entirely cleared out.

Yoo Joonghyuk doesn’t realise it at first, he only notices that the apartment is deadly silent.

There is no “Welcome back, Joonghyuk!” from his boyfriend. No usual leap and hug at the doorway from his cheerful counterpart.

Then he realises that Kim Dokja had already stopped doing those gestures a long time ago.

Still, the chill in the apartment gives him an ominous feeling. It is not the norm for Kim Dokja to be so silent. He strides through the corridor and flings the door of their bedroom open.

The room is empty. The house is empty. It is all empty, save for a single piece of paper left on their bed.

Kim Dokja is gone.

===

[Maybe our paths will cross again someday. Maybe not. Let's leave it to fate.]

Kim Dokja stands alone at the platform of the station, waiting for his train to arrive. He is dressed in a white winter-coat, a relatively simple garb, looking as if he is merely going to work. His hand clutches the white suitcase by his side, and he stands there so still and unmoving, just like a statue.

He took the opportunity to leave the house when Yoo Joonghyuk was out at work. It isn’t an impromptu decision; over the past few weeks he had been slowly and steadily removing his belongings from the place they called their home. It hurts so much, but as usual, Yoo Joonghyuk barely even notices.

Kim Dokja wonders what has changed between them. Their promises of forever are stuck in his head, making a mockery out of his dreams. He isn’t a romantic sap, but he had truly wished to stay with Yoo Joonghyuk. He lightly brushes the promise ring on his finger, a gift from Yoo Joonghyuk during their first anniversary. He was unable to leave the ring behind.

What a big fool he is.

His gaze never leaves a gigantic poster on the wall on the other side of the tracks. The poster is brightly-coloured, showcasing the handsome face of man magnified a few times along with big, attention-grabbing words. The man on the poster looks so splendid and dazzling; in the past, Kim Dokja is so full of love whenever he sees the man’s face.

But now, he only feels a stabbing pain.

Kim Dokja briefly wonders if he has made the right decision. He briefly wonders if he should have persisted more. His body shifts on his feet, there is a growing urge to go back and try again but another part of him is also resisting.

The station loudspeaker loudly announces the entry of the next train into the station. It pulls Kim Dokja out of the spell poster Yoo Joonghyuk has placed over him. The crowd shifts around impatiently, waiting to board.

As the doors of the train open, the people move, and Kim Dokja’s thoughts are lucid again. He reluctantly breaks off his gaze from the man on the poster and gets on.

Things are different for him now. He’ll take a break first, go travel around, collect his thoughts. Then he’ll decide what to do from then on.

The train doors close, a parallel to closing a chapter in Kim Dokja’s life. The train slowly leaves the station. Kim Dokja is silent in his seat, his head lowered in contemplation. It takes a while before his head clears, and he looks up again. He is ready to move on.

He doesn't look back.

===

[To my Joonghyuk, I wish you all the best. Thank you for all the times we've shared.

To my love, I hope you keep growing, and I hope you keep shining.

Your star-struck fan always,

Kim Dokja.]