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darling (you look perfect)

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The first time it happens, Bin is sure he’s just imagining things. He’s standing at the innermost edge of the crowd that has gathered around Sanha where he’s seated with his guitar, mic, and portable amp, like he’s some kind of simple street busker instead of one of the most successful singer-songwriters in the country. Bin smiles at Sanha and flashes him a heart sign, mouths, Fighting!

Sanha smiles back, then strums a chord on his guitar to check the tuning.

Movement catches Bin out of the corner of his eye, and he turns instinctively, hunching his shoulders and ducking his head even though he’s wearing a ball cap and shades. He’s out without his security and it’s riskier than he’d care to admit to the head of his security team.

Bin sees him at the back edge of the crowd. Eunwoo. Bin would know that face anywhere. Anyone would know that face anywhere, the face that launched a thousand fan sites, the face that for the longest time was the only one people recognized even though the other five members of the team worked so hard.

Bin’s chest tightens when he takes in Eunwoo’s delicate jawline, the sweet bow of his mouth, his high cheekbones.

But then the man shifts and Bin sees a glimpse of ink curling up above his collar.

A tattoo.

No. Eunwoo would never get a tattoo. Not perfect, flawless Eunwoo, the prettiest of them all. He never even had his hair bleached or dyed when they were a team, because he had to look simple and pure for twelve-year-old girls and grandmas everywhere, especially while he was filming dramas.

Bin starts to follow him, but then a gaggle of schoolgirls joins the crowd, and Eunwoo is gone from sight.

No. It wasn’t Eunwoo. Bin’s imagination has been playing with him. No one has heard from Eunwoo since he finished his military service.

 

Only Bin sees him again, a week later, in a dark bar that Bin only gets to visit sometimes. If he recognizes other men in the bar or they recognize him - they all just politely ignore each other in the end. Bin is sitting at the end of the bar when he sees Eunwoo slide onto a barstool at the other end. Bin would know those shoulders anywhere, had flung his arm around them for years, had been the first to notice when they started to get broader, because all of them were still boys when their idol training started. 

Only the man who looks just like Eunwoo leans on the bar, and the sleeves of his black turtleneck sweater ride up - and he has black ink curling up the insides of his wrists. 

Bin blinks, because the man looks so much like Eunwoo, only he can’t be Eunwoo, not with all that ink. The man is wearing large dark sunglasses, but he laughs at something the bartender says, and the line of his smile is all wrong. 

No. Not Eunwoo after all. 

Bin sighs and turns back to his drink. Fool me once, fool me twice, he thinks. It’s his own fault. He was stupid enough to fall in love with Eunwoo, even stupider to never tell him and always harbor faint hope. At the end of the team’s seven years, Eunwoo headed straight for the army without looking back even though he could have waited for another year, gone to another year of university. Bin tried to keep track of him, but six months into his service he cut off all contact with anyone even remotely related to the team, even MJ who he’d known the longest. 

Sometimes when Bin feels lonely he calls Jinjin and MJ to reminisce about the old days or trade war stories. Not tonight. 

Bin raises his hand, summons the bartender, asks for a bottle of soju. He resolutely does not look at the other end of the bar. He drinks till he can’t see straight. The bartender ends up calling Rocky to help him get home. 

Rocky dumps him unceremoniously on his large and otherwise empty bed, tells him to lay off the booze and reminds him about dance practice tomorrow afternoon. 

 

Bin dreams about Eunwoo, about huddling next to him on their pallets on the floor of their first dorm room, shivering together  when the heater is broken but trying not to get too close, because friends only get so close, even teammates like them. 

 

Bin wakes the next day, hungover and emotionally miserable to boot. 

But he goes to dance practice with Rocky and he works hard, and Rocky doesn’t ask why he got so drunk. 

 

That weekend a bunch of other artists from the company want to go to a fancy night club, but Bin doesn’t have the heart for it.

He ends up wandering the streets of Yeoksam, his team’s old stomping grounds from their trainee days. He passes the convenience store where they always got snacks, the fire station where one night they traded autographed pictures of themselves for war stories from the older men. 

He doesn’t remember there being a bar down here, but when he spots the hanging wooden sign with a faded insignia, like something out of Harry Potter, he can’t help but be curious, so he heads down the stairwell lit by a single naked bulb and into the bar.

The bar itself is heavy dark wood with a dozen barstools. There are another dozen booths against the wall, also heavy dark wood and dark leather upholstery. The entire place is dimly lit so shadows flicker like candlelight. 

There’s a piano in the corner, almost completely black but for a spotlight shining on the keys. Two jars on top of the piano are half-filled. One is labeled tips. The other is labeled requests. 

Bin orders a drink and then sinks into the booth closest to the piano. It’s upright, old, also dark wood. The lid is open and the bench pushed back far enough for someone to sit and play. He hasn’t played a piano in months, doesn’t have one in his apartment. He considers, then finds a piece of paper in his pocket, scribbles a song title on the back of it, folds it and drops it into the request jar. He has no real hope that his request will be picked, but he puts a few bills into the tip jar too. If nothing else the pianist will be able to catch a bus ride home after last call. 

His drink arrives, and he sips at it slowly, idly thumbing through messages and emails on his phone. Yeoreum is worried about him. Ahrin is just saying hello. Rocky has sent a video of today’s choreography so people can practice on their own. Jinjin wants to propose to his girlfriend and needs someone to record the moment; since his family and hers will be too busy freaking out when he gets down on one knee, will Bin help?

Bin agrees. Why not? Jinjin and his girlfriend went through a lot once fans discovered they were dating, and she even waited while Jinjin did his two years in the army. They deserve some happiness. 

There’s an email from MJ. Has anyone heard from Eunwoo at all?

Familiar piano notes fill the air, and Bin twists around, looks at the piano. 

All he can see of the pianist is a pair of hands, pale and long-fingered, delicate wrists twined about with stark black ink. 

Their team was good but not great, and Bin is surprised the pianist knows this song at all, can do the pretty trill Eunwoo always played in the intro.

The pianist begins to sing, and Bin’s throat closes.

He’d know that voice anywhere. Eunwoo. 

Bin wants to stand up, wants to go to his friend, but he can’t move, transfixed by the combination of the perfectly familiar voice and unfamiliar hands. 

By the time the song ends, Bin’s heart is pounding. He wants to call out, say his friend’s name, but Eunwoo plucks another piece of paper out of the requests jar, unfolds it, starts into the next song. 

Bin orders one more drink and nurses it slowly, till the request jar is empty.

After the final song, Eunwoo closes the piano, turns off the spotlight, and vanishes into the shadows. 

Bin follows him. It’s hard to navigate the darkness at the back of the bar even though the rest of the bar is dimly lit. 

Eunwoo doesn’t even look back, says, “I’m done for the night. I’ll start on new requests tomorrow.” He heads up a flight of stairs. 

Bin continues after him, still unable to find words to drown out the pounding of his heart. He expects the stairs to lead to an alley behind the bar, but instead they lead to what looks like a studio apartment - bed, couch, desk, table with a rice cooker and two-burner camp stove.

Bin is momentarily blinded when Eunwoo flicks on a light. He pauses in the doorway, one hand up to shield his eyes.

Eunwoo peels off his shirt - and Bin is stunned by the intricate black lines covering Eunwoo’s back. How tattoos does he have? They snake across his shoulders and down his arms.

Is it really Eunwoo? Bin can’t believe his eyes.

“Eunwoo?”

The way Eunwoo yelps and immediately clutches his shirt to his chest is familiar. He spins around.

“What the hell are you doing in my room?”

“I just wanted to say hello,” Bin stammers.

“Who the hell are you?” Eunwoo snatches up the nearest heavy object - a small dumbbell - and starts toward him, then falters. “Bin?”

“Yeah. I recognized your voice.”

Eunwoo sets the dumbbell down. “Ah. I was surprised when someone left a request for one of our songs, and a non-title track at that. None of the regulars know who I used to be.”

Bin says, “You have tattoos. So many of them.”

At that, Eunwoo shrugs and slings his t-shirt over his shoulder, like it’s the old days and they’re sharing dorms. “Yeah. I started getting them after I finished my service.”

“I’m surprised. You never seemed the type.”

“Well, now that I no longer have to look perfect, I can do what I want with my body.” Eunwoo shrugs. 

Bin says, without thinking, “You always look perfect to me.”

It’s the wrong thing to say. Eunwoo turns away, one arm across his middle, that defensive posture Bin remembers all too well.

“You’re all doing well for yourselves,” Eunwoo said. “All your hard work has paid off.”

Bin wonders what else Eunwoo is doing besides playing piano in this dark little bar, but the fact that he lives above the back of the bar is telling. All he can say is, “Thank you.” Then he clears his throat. “What about you? How are you keeping busy these days?”

Eunwoo points to a stack of textbooks. “I’m in my first year of medical school,” he says. “Being a lawyer or a judge is out of the question, but a doctor I can do. I want to work in a rural area, or a low-income one.” He’s always been ridiculously good-hearted. “Somewhere they won’t care what I look like.”

He goes over to the sink in the corner and brushes his teeth, splashes water on his face, and it really is like being back in the dorms, when the six of them were squabbling over two bathrooms.

Eunwoo straightens up and turns back to him, and Bin is shocked breathless once more. By the scar bisecting the left half of Eunwoo’s face. He must have covered it with really good make-up. And like that, Bin can see that the fine tracery of tattoos, some like lace, others like twining thorns, some a series of obscure occult symbols that look like magic written into his skin, are covering other scars.

“W-what happened?” Bin can only imagine the agony beneath those scars. 

Eunwoo sings the hook from another team’s song, “A little jealousy…”

“Really?”

“The unit I was assigned to was less than happy to have me,” Eunwoo says.

Bin remembers. Eunwoo was in for six months before he cut off all contact.

“The EMTs were fast, and no one hit anything vital, so there was no real danger of me bleeding out. The doctors were very skilled. With a little bit of makeup, I’m me again.”

Bin wonders if the tattoos are another kind of makeup. But Eunwoo runs a hand down his ribs with a fond smile, over the curling and swirling lines that are dizzying when Bin tries to follow them.

“With these, I’m even more me than I ever was before.”

Bin says, “You still look perfect to me.”

Eunwoo casts him a sharp look. The line of his scar changes the line of his mouth.

“I wanted to tell you when we were still together.”

Eunwoo raises his eyebrows.

“I was too afraid.”

“So you tracked me down to tell me now, when us being together is even more impossible than before? Moonbin, triple threat: actor, singer, and model. And me, the little nobody medical student who always sits in the back of the classroom and plays piano in a dark bar.”

“I haven’t been stalking you,” Bin says. “MJ’s been looking for you for a long time. I just happened to see you at Sanha’s street performance.”

And at the gay bar, Bin realizes. 

“And tonight?”

“And tonight I wanted to hear one of our old songs.”

“Well, you got to hear it. And you got to make your confession. And you can tell MJ I’m alive and well. It was nice seeing you again, Bin. I have to get up early for classes tomorrow.”

Bin says, “Will you think about it?”

Eunwoo raises his eyebrows.

“My confession.”

Eunwoo is darkly amused. “This isn’t a drama. We haven’t seen each other in four years.”

Bin says, “I know. But - you’re my first love, and I have to try. I was a coward before, and I’m sorry. We were friends once. At the very least, we could be friends again, couldn’t we? I was a good friend despite my feelings for you, wasn’t I?”

Eunwoo prowls closer to him. “Look me in the eye and make your confession again.” The scar on his face his stark against his pale skin, more stark than the tattoos.

Bin looks right into his eyes and says, “I like you. Will you go out with me?”

Eunwoo stops short, startled.

Bin says, quieter, “You’ll always be perfect to me.”

Eunwoo looks away. “That’s impossible.”

“We lived together for seven years. I’ve seen you at your best, and arguably at your worst.”

“And for all those seven years -”

“Longer,” Bin says. “Why do you think I ran away when we fought? I liked you the most, so you could hurt me the worst.”

Eunwoo’s eyes widen. “Binnie - I - I never realized.”

“I did my best to be a good friend.”

Eunwoo swallows hard. “I’m sorry I haven’t been a good friend.” He adds, “I’ve missed you. All of you.”

“We missed you too.” Bin reaches out. Eunwoo steps closer, then closer, then he’s in Bin’s arms and he’s warm and familiar and Bin breathes in his clean scent. “You smell the same.”

Eunwoo laughs. “You and your nose.”

“So you’ll think about it?” Bin whispers into his ear, arms firm around him. “My confession?”

“Don’t have to,” Eunwoo says. And he presses a kiss to Bin’s cheek, just like old times, and Bin’s heart leaps.

Bin pulls back, runs his hands down Eunwoo’s arms. “How many tattoos do you have?”

Eunwoo curls his hand through Bin’s and tugs. “Come find out.”