This was it. Jongwoon took a deep breath, gripping the hair strands Jungsoo gave him earlier in his fist, channeling his power towards them. He then closed his eyes, imagining Hyukjae’s face in his head. He had to concentrate on this completely or else it would not work and he’d have to keep trying all night.
As he entered his mind, there was fog everywhere. Hidden in the smoke were multiple balls of flickering lights, every one of them harboring different souls. There were some spheres that were not alight, which meant that those souls were still awake. Since it was one in the morning, Jongwoon felt that Hyukjae was already asleep, so he waved the fog away with his hands, trying to search for Hyukjae’s lone sphere among the multitude of bright lights in the surroundings.
It took him a few more minutes to navigate through the wide space and to keep the vivid image of Hyukjae in his head until he finally saw it. Hyukjae’s bright blue sphere, right there in front of him.
Jongwoon stepped forward and reached out to it with his hand, touching the surface.
And then complete darkness came and swept him away.
The next time Jongwoon opened his eyes, he found himself in a large, brightly-lit ballroom.
Blinking, he surveyed his surroundings. The walls were decorated with splendor and rose petals were scattered over the floor. With the golden chandelier hanging at the center of the ceiling and the edges of the room being much dimmer in comparison, the feeling of isolation and privacy, the soft illumination, and the gentle melody playing in the background made the atmosphere seem tantalizing yet... weird at the same time.
Is this Hyukjae’s dream…? Jongwoon wondered to himself as he started walking around.
There was a stage at the front where three people seemed to be standing. Jongwoon couldn’t make out their figures very well since they were a bit far away, but it seemed that they were there to sing. Before he could make his way towards them and investigate further, however, he spotted something in his peripheral vision.
It was Hyukjae, dressed in a dashing black suit with a rose on his front pocket. He looked absolutely different, a far cry from his usual nerdy appearance; his brown hair was neatly combed and styled back, there was a faint sheen of gloss on his lips, and his eyes were drawn with an eyeliner that made them appear bigger and more expressive. Gone was the nervous energy Hyukjae emitted earlier, replaced with a graceful confidence that was so prominent and refined that it seemed to sweep through the room as he strode.
It was… clearly strange.
Jongwoon began approaching him hesitantly, suddenly unable to remember how he was supposed to start the conversation. In this kind of odd atmosphere, it felt… wrong.
He felt like he didn’t want to break this surreal fantasy setting just yet.
Jongwoon had visited a few humans’ dreams before in the past, back when he’d been trying to experiment with his powers.
Their dreams had been terribly mundane, sometimes even bordering on weird territory, but none of them stuck out to him as odd as this one before him. This particular dream, in fact, seemed more of a manifestation of a scene, like a hidden pent-up desire that rose to the surface of the mind’s depths.
“...You’re here,” Hyukjae suddenly said, voice low and deep, effectively snapping Jongwoon out of his thoughts and making him freeze instantly in his position.
He… knows I’m here…?! Jongwoon’s mind was racing a mile a minute. What’s going on?? How does he know…??
Who is this guy…?
However, Jongwoon’s feet were glued to the floor as he stared at Hyukjae’s back with wide eyes. He watched helplessly as Hyukjae began to turn sideways—
Is he an enemy…?
—and offered his hand.
Why isn’t he turning fully towards me…?
Slowly, excruciatingly, Jongwoon’s gaze followed Hyukjae’s line of vision, and what he saw next made his heart stop.
There, right in front of Hyukjae, was Jongwoon himself.
Jongwoon watched numbly as his doppelganger walked towards Hyukjae, dressed formally like the latter with his bangs combed to the side and his forehead showing. What made it surreal was the small, flirty smile on this Jongwoon’s face, the expression causing his cheekbones to lift and his eyes to sparkle.
But this Jongwoon looked nothing like himself, the aura entirely different from what he usually portrayed towards others.
This Jongwoon… looked strangely content and happy.
This Jongwoon… looked human.
Jongwoon swallowed the lump that rose to his throat and immediately made himself invisible to Hyukjae’s eyes. This way, he would be able to look at them without being seen.
In fact, he was in no state to confront Hyukjae at the moment. It was all too much to take in.
Then, as if on cue, slow music began to play in the background, and Hyukjae’s smile grew wider.
“Can I have this dance?”
Dream-Jongwoon smiled back. It was so strange.
Jongwoon stared, bewildered, as Hyukjae led Dream-Jongwoon to the center floor, wrapping his arms around the older man’s neck and pulling their bodies close. Jongwoon’s stomach twisted in knots as they began swaying slowly with the music, their eyes never leaving each other’s.
Suddenly, Jongwoon felt like he was intruding on a private moment that he should never have seen at all.
Which was ridiculous, because he was the one involved in this, but it all felt so wrong. It felt terribly confusing.
But he would never admit even to himself that he felt his walls crumble slightly at the sight of the adoration in Hyukjae’s eyes.
Nobody had ever looked at him with those eyes before.
…Or had he been too blind to notice?
A maelstrom of conflicting emotions whirling through his head, Jongwoon almost missed the conversation that began to take place.
“By the way, I’ve always wondered… Why do you like me, Hyukjae?” Dream-Jongwoon asked curiously.
Hyukjae smiled, pressing their foreheads together. “Because you’re beautiful,” he replied softly.
Jongwoon stared at the scene, lips parting in surprise.
“You only like me for my looks…?” Dream-Jongwoon said, and he sounded a bit disappointed.
“Aish, of course not,” Hyukjae scolded gently. “When I said that you’re beautiful, I didn’t mean your appearance only.” He moved in closer. “You’re also beautiful on the inside.”
Dream-Jongwoon looked unconvinced. “How can you say that? You don’t even know me that well.”
Hyukjae shook his head. “I’ve been there for you since the beginning.”
“What do you mean?”
“Since we were kids…” Hyukjae said quietly. “We were all in the same school back then, when our neighborhood was smaller than it is now. Everyone knew each other ever since they were toddlers, because we’ve been a close-knit community for years.
“Then you and your brothers came one day. You were so different from all of us kids. The three of you… it was like you were all angels who fell from heaven. So handsome, so mysterious, and… so wary of the world.
“You were the one I noticed the most back then. You were — and still are — the most popular one, and everyone wanted to be friends with you. Guys wanted to be like you, girls had a crush on you, you were the teachers’ favorite. You had everything.
“But you didn’t want the popularity. The invasion of privacy, the constant admiring glances cast your way... You’d been so talkative and friendly in the beginning, always there to chat and help someone in need.
“But as the years passed, you grew uninterested in everything to the point where you fully retreated into yourself, protected by the stone walls you built around yourself.
“For me, though… you may have changed now, but the kindness in you is still there.” Hyukjae smiled, bringing his hand to rest against Dream-Jongwoon’s cheek, an intimate gesture that made the air in Jongwoon’s lungs cease to exist. “It was there whenever you helped the others with their homework, it was there whenever you offered to carry heavy books for the teachers without expecting anything in return, it was there whenever you patiently taught the others in the Theater Club on how to act for a particular scene.
“I even saw it again when you helped me with my books earlier, apologizing first before I could even say a word.” Hyukjae shook his head, Dream-Jongwoon’s cheek lovingly. “You’re so beautiful… everything about you is beautiful.”
Dream-Jongwoon stared back at him, the soft smile never leaving his face.
“If you’re with me, you can be yourself,” Hyukjae added quietly, the sincerity shining in his eyes. “You can be comfortable around me. You can show me everything, the good and even the bad. I’ll embrace them all.”
Hyukjae grinned sunnily, and it was as though the room became a little bit brighter.
“I love you.”
Jongwoon watched, in a trance, as Hyukjae started leaning towards Dream-Jongwoon with his eyes closed. They moved towards each other in slow motion, arms wrapping around shoulders, embracing more intimately, gently cradling the back of the head, tilting so their noses wouldn’t meet.
Jongwoon watched as their lips came closer, swallowing the heavy knot in his throat.
And when they connected, he finally had enough.
Jongwoon sprang up from his bed, panting heavily, clutching his rapidly beating heart. His eyes darted around the surroundings, somewhat relieved to see the familiar walls of his room. He could feel his emotions spiking inside his body, sensations that he hadn’t realized even existed.
The fluctuation of his power must’ve alerted his brothers, because the next thing he knew, footsteps were coming his way, and his door opened in an instant.
“Jongwoon-ah?! What happened?” Jungsoo asked, the concern evident in his eyes as he approached the bed.
“We sensed your distress,” Kyuhyun said, even looking a little worried himself. “What happened? Did something go wrong in Hyukjae’s dream?”
The moment those words came out of Kyuhyun’s mouth, Jongwoon instantly recalled Hyukjae’s loving confession, the pure adoration in his eyes, the gentle smile on his face.
The kiss they shared.
“,” Jongwoon muttered under his breath, bowing his head and running a hand through his hair in frustration.
Jungsoo, startled, looked over at Kyuhyun in alarm. He’d never seen Jongwoon this bothered before. Rather, it was such a rare event, they could hardly remember the last time they’d witnessed Jongwoon looking so lost.
“…Is everything okay?” Jungsoo asked carefully, rubbing Jongwoon’s back soothingly.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, Jongwoon was already slipping into a deep contemplation, the effect of Hyukjae’s words still making his heart hammer in his chest.
He’d heard a lot of confessions before from both girls and guys. They all said he was handsome, that he was cool, that he was amazing at everything. But those words often rubbed him the wrong way, for it felt like he was just an expensive gem they wanted to get a hold of. In fact, he seemed more like a trophy they wanted to achieve and display in public to gloat in front of others as well as satisfy their own ego.
It was even worse when they confessed to him personally, when he looked into their eyes and read their thoughts.
They did not regard him as a person at all.
‘He’s so handsome up close!’
‘Hehe, Mina will be so envious if he says yes!’
‘Everyone will be so jealous of me once he becomes my boyfriend.’
‘I wonder what he’s like in bed?’
‘Gosh, he’s so cool when he frowns like that!’
‘His angry face is super hot.’
Yes. There was a reason why he stopped reading people’s thoughts anymore.
It was just disheartening.
But this guy… Hyukjae.
Nobody ever tried to peer into his heart like that before. Nobody tried to understand him. They all only thought his aloofness was cool and fitting of his mysterious persona. Like a damn dress-up doll for them to admire and live up to their standards.
But Hyukjae… he was different.
“You may have changed now, but the kindness in you is still there.”
“If you’re with me, you can be yourself. You can be comfortable around me. You can show me everything, the good and even the bad. I’ll embrace them all.”
“I love you.”
“...Hyung,” Jongwoon finally said, breaking the tense silence in the room.
Jungsoo peered at him, curious and worried. “What is it, Jongwoon-ah?”
“Hey, did Hyukjae say something bad to you in his dream?” Kyuhyun demanded, his voice taking on a protective tone.
Jongwoon shook his head. “It’s nothing like that.”
“Then…?” Jungsoo asked softly.
Jongwoon looked at him straight in the eyes. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t find out much about what he knows.”
“What?” Kyuhyun voiced out incredulously. “You mean to say that you just walked in his dream for nothing?”
Jongwoon shook his head, his gaze oddly distant. “Not really… in fact, I’m glad I did.”
Kyuhyun raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment on it.
“But…” Jungsoo said carefully. “How can we make sure that he doesn’t go to the government with whatever evidence he might have…?”
Jongwoon smiled faintly. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow. Don’t worry about it. I still have something else up my sleeve.” He nodded towards the door. “Anyway, can you guys leave the room now? I want to sleep.”
Jungsoo stood up from the bed, glancing over at Kyuhyun in confusion. “Yeah, sure… Good night, Jongwoon-ah.”
“Good night, hyung.”
When they closed the door behind them and began going back to their respective rooms, Kyuhyun’s voice broke the silence.
“He’s hiding something,” he said quietly. “You felt it too, right?”
Jungsoo paused in his tracks, but didn’t turn his head to look at Kyuhyun. “I did… but let’s trust in Jongwoon. I’m sure he’ll take care of everything by tomorrow.”