Title: A Vote for Me
Summary: It's election season and Lee Jinki is rapidly overtaking his opponent, Choi Minho, in popularity. But there's more important things going on besides national issues. Minho's group is plotting to destroy Jinki's image with the help of gossip guru Kibum, but they are finding it harder than expected. Meanwhile, both Minho and Jonghyun find their personal relationships are going downhill.
Status: On-going (Current Word Count: 11, 558)
Warnings: AU, suggested sexual content, language, attempted suicide
Minho finished reading through his speech for the last time. When he looked up, he found Chunghoon watching him. The older man reminded Minho of a strict school teacher waiting for his slowest pupil to finish a test.
“Loosen up a little. You’re not going to a funeral.” Chunghoon checked his watch. “We need to get going.”
“I’ll meet you down at the car. There’s something I need to do.”
Chunghoon gave him an evaluative look.
“You have five minutes.”
With that, Chunghoon picked up his bag and exited the room. Only Minho and Taemin were left in the room, but that was what Minho wanted. He leaned against the side of his desk. Overhead, the florescent lights hummed. He was hesitating and didn’t like the feeling.
“Taemin, can I ask you to do me a favor?”
Taemin pushed himself back from the desk and swiveled his seat around to look at Minho.
“What is it?”
“Sunhee left last night and I haven’t heard from her since.” His pride was telling him to stop the pitiful request, but his worry was too strong. He continued speaking, wanting so much to avoid Taemin’s wide eyes. “The phone company was able to give me a general area she could be in. I was wondering if you could search for her for me. I want to do it myself, but I have that dinner.”
Taemin opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“You don’t have to do it,” Minho quickly said.
“No, I’ll do it. I’m just surprised. You’ve acted as if everything was normal today…”
Chunghoon would have praised him for his skill at hiding his emotions in this situation, but Taemin’s tone sounded critical of him. It stung.
As if he realized this, Taemin suddenly lowered his head.
“It’s okay. I’m worried, but this isn’t the first time she’s run off.” He pushed himself away from the desk and started to gather his things. When he found the paper he was looking for, he gave it to Taemin. “I wrote where she could be. It would probably be best to check the bars first.”
Now he was no longer looking Taemin in the eyes. Taemin folded the paper and put it into his pocket.
“I’m really grateful for this, Taemin.”
“Anything to help.”
When Taemin had left the office, it was six and the sun had only begun to set. It was now eight. Neon lights glowed all around him while the cold wind tried to sneak under his jacket. He had been in and out of restaurants, stores, and bars, asking employees if they had seen someone fitting Sunhee’s description. So far, there had been no leads.
He had started getting frustrated in the first hour. The cold, tired part of him was cursing Minho out every chance it got, asking why the man couldn’t just go look for his own wife. Taemin had to ignore this voice, telling himself that the election was also very important and besides, he wasn’t doing anything, so he might as well help Minho out. These reasons kept him going.
He entered another bar, this one more high-scale than most of the other ones he had visited that night. In the dimmed red light, people sat around small round tables on chairs with long legs while Eurobeat played in the background. Taemin weaved in between the suspended people, checking their faces to make sure one of them wasn’t Sunhee. He made it up to the counter and waited for the bartender to finish with a costumer.
Two people were seated at a table near him and their voices made it past the music.
“Would you please just give me the money?” a soft female voice demanded.
“Why don’t you try being patient?”
The second speaker had a Daegu accent, one Taemin was fast becoming familiar with. He peeked back at the pair, hoping Kibum wouldn’t notice him.
Kibum had an envelope in his hand and was waving it back and forth. The woman had her hand outstretched on the table, the other one gripping her drink. A gold bracelet had emerged from under the dark red sleeve of her sweater.
“Since I know you aren’t paying me back-”
“That’s normally how blackmail works,” the woman interrupted. Kibum’s eyes narrowed as he went on.
“I want you to let him see Kwangho.”
“I’ll think about it.”
At last, Kibum tossed the envelope over to the woman. She opened it and started counting the money. It was at this point that the bartender startled Taemin by asking him what he wanted.
“I’m looking for a woman. She might have been in here earlier. Um, she would have had really long hair and a long scar across her chin.”
“Sorry, haven’t seen anyone like that.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you.”
Taemin stepped back from the bar and started for the door.
Slowly, he turned towards Kibum, who was gesturing at him to come over.
“Hello, Mr. Kim. I didn’t expect to find you here,” Taemin said while forcing a smile. Kibum’s annoyed expression didn’t change.
“I was going to email you, but this’ll work better.” He paused and shot a look his companion. She took a sip of her drink and stared back at him. With her shoulder length hair and round face, Taemin thought she was pretty. He thought the only thing that detracted from her attractiveness was the wider than normal space between her eyes.
“Stop looking at me like that, Kibum,” she said.
“Then take a hint and go. I’m done with you.” Kibum added a flick of his wrist to emphasize his words. Taemin felt more awkward than when he had seen the large amount of money come out. This wasn’t a situation he wanted to be anywhere near.
The woman downed the rest of her drink and got off the chair. “Want me to tell Jonghyun you said ‘hi’?”
Kibum pursed his lips.
“I’m sure I’ll get a chance to later,” he replied venomously.
“Whatever.” The woman stomped away. Kibum lifted his drink to his mouth.
“How much did you see?” he asked. Inside his brain, Taemin scrambled for the appropriate answer.
“Er, I didn’t notice you were here until you called me.”
“You’re not very good at lying.”
Taemin laughed nervously.
“I guess not,” he said and then decided he might as well get his curiosity out. “Who was she?”
“A friend. Not a very good one, though.” Kibum pointed at the chair where the woman had sat. “Sit down. I want to tell you something.”
Taemin first instinct was to defy Kibum, but he ended up in the chair.
“We received a complaint from someone today about a reporter named Taemin. The thing is, I don’t have anyone working for me by that name.”
He knew he should have pretended to make that phone call. Last time he listened to Chunghoon.
Kibum put his elbows on the table and moved his body closer.
“Keep to whatever your job is and let me do mine. You understand?”
To his surprise, the threat in Kibum’s voice made his heart beat faster. But, the blood also seemed to quicken his thought process. Little facts started coming together – Kibum’s knowledge of the phone call, the woman’s voice, and the mention of the name Jonghyun. Though it was a stretch, Taemin decided to try out his hastily done detective work.
“Do you know Kim Jonghyun?”
Kibum’s eyes widened. Taemin was as caught off guard. It was like guessing the right answer to a difficult trivia question.
“As I said, keep to your own job.”
“So I’m right?”
Kibum rolled his eyes, his shock gone. “I know him, but it doesn’t really mean anything. I know a lot of people.”
“But wasn’t that his ex-wife you just gave money to? Seems like you know them pretty well.”
Kibum gaped at him. Then he displayed the one of the last reactions Taemin expected: he laughed loudly and slapped his thigh.
“I figured you were a pushover, but I was wrong. If you ever want to switch jobs, come see me.” Kibum took the last sip of his drink and started playing with the glass. “I’ll let you in on a secret: that money has no value to you. It’s a personal matter between me and Buja.”
“I’m going to get another drink. You want something?” Kibum said suddenly.
“No thanks, I really need to get going.”
“That’s too bad. I’m really beginning to like you.”
Taemin didn’t like the flirty way he said that, but the tone was gone from Kibum’s next words.
“I’ll be sure to contact you if I get anything. Oh, and I really am serious about you staying out of my job.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later then.”
Taemin couldn’t be more grateful for the cold wind on his hot face.
“Give me some of your hangwa.”
“You’ve already eaten most of my food. This is mine.”
“Come on, I just want a little.”
Jinki pulled the box closer to himself and took out one of the confections, his eyes on Jonghyun. Jonghyun responded by getting up from his seat and coming over. First, he stood before the desk and tried to snatch a piece. After his attempts were deflected by Jinki’s chopsticks, Jonghyun shrugged and turned as if to go back to his desk. He made his attack and stole the box when Jinki dropped his gaze.
“I can’t believe you fell for it!” Jonghyun laughed before putting one of the hangwa in his mouth. As the taste filled his mouth, he understood why Jinki had tried keeping it to himself.
“Give it back.”
“I don’t want to.” He stuck another piece into his mouth. “We’ll make this a lesson of diplomacy. What are you going to do to make me give this back?”
“I’ll have Juri make extra for you next time.”
“Nope. I want it now.”
Jinki rose and started to make his way around his desk. Jonghyun backed away. Both were grinning.
“This is kind of petty for an attack.”
After he said it, Jonghyun spun around and ran towards the door. Jinki chased him and got a hold of his collar, yanking him back. Jonghyun took advantage of this moment and got Jinki in a head lock with his free arm. He pulled him close and used his weight to keep Jinki down.
A knock on the door stopped the struggle prematurely.
“My ally came through,” Jinki exclaimed happily. Jonghyun let him go and reluctantly gave the box back before going to open the door.
He almost slammed it shut when he saw who was there.
Seeing Buja never gave his just one emotion. Right now, he was feeling a mixture of excitement and irritation. This mix made itself visible in his voice.
“What’re you doing here?”
“I was in the area, so I figured I’d come see you,” Buja said. She entered the room without waiting for him to invite her in. “Hello Onew.”
Buja said Jinki’s nickname affectionately. Jonghyun only used it to mock him.
“Hello.” Jinki paused and looked back and forth between them. His expression had turned serious. “Should I leave?”
“No. This’ll be quick. Besides, it’ll save Jonghyun the trouble of telling you everything.”
“True.” Jinki returned to his desk to start eating, his usual content expression back.
“I don’t have the money yet.”
“That’s fine. It turns out I won’t be needing it.”
This situation happened occasionally. Buja’s sudden lack of interest in his money baffled Jonghyun every time. He should have felt relief, but instead he was uneasy and wondered what she was going to do next.
And she didn’t fail in being unpredictable.
“Do you want Kwangho this weekend?”
“Don’t make it sound like I never let you see him.”
Jonghyun only answered that comment with a shrug and kept going. “As long as he wants to come over, I‘ll take him.”
“Great. Now while he’s over, I need you to talk to him about being part of the group. I mean, he has friends, but his teacher and I are both worried about how little he interacts with the class as a whole. We’re trying to work with him on this, so it would help if you would reinforce it.”
“I’m not seeing the problem here. Some kids just don’t socialize.”
Buja lost her smile. He immediately realized their civility was coming to an end.
“I don’t care whether or not you think it’s a problem, you’re going to do as I ask. You agreed to go along with my parenting decisions and this is what I want for Kwangho.”
“I know what I agreed to, I’m just saying maybe he’s fine as he is.”
“You’re not around him as much as me, so how would you know?”
“And whose fault is that?!”
“I think we’re both well aware of whose fault that is.”
It was then that Jinki produced a very loud, fake cough, causing them both to shut their mouths and look at him. The anger that had been building itself up inside Jonghyun during their brief quarrel tried projecting itself on Jinki. He had to tilt his head back so the flow would stop.
“I think Jonghyun and I should get back to work,” Jinki said. His words were kind, yet stern. Buja nodded.
“I have my own work waiting at home. I have a deadline coming up soon.”
Immediately, a flashback flooded Jonghyun’s mind. Back in their first year together, there always seemed to be a deadline to fill and he would often find Buja in front of the computer when he got home late from work. Before her was always a mess of papers and an open English dictionary. He wasn’t supposed to bother her when she was translating, but the urge to embrace her from behind had been hard to resist. The exact scent of her shampoo was burned into his brain from how many times he gave into that urge.
He was beginning to feel calmer and let his head fall back to its normal position. Buja was already at the door.
“Hey,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’ll talk to him about it.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you Saturday.”
“Yeah, see you.”
As the door closed, he wanted to run out into the hall and ask if he could walk her to the station. He instead returned to his seat, knowing that she would have said no. Any peace between them didn’t last long and he didn’t need to mess up their reconciliation so soon.
The sound of slow tapping of computer keys broke the silence, giving Jinki an opening to talk through.
“You told her where the office was?”
“No, she’s just psychic.”
“That explains why I’m so tired. She must have stolen some of my mind energy.”
Jonghyun lifted an eyebrow at Jinki, who was laughing at his own joke, before going back to concentrating on his screen. He had pulled up the schedule for that week to make sure there wasn’t anything major on Saturday. He only saw a minor event planned.
“Hey Jinki.” Jonghyun turned away from the computer and found Jinki with his head down on the desk. He threw a pen at the resting man, who merely changed his position so he was lying on his cheek. “I’m taking Saturday off.”
“Oh, what will I do without you?”
“I know it will be hard for you, but you’ll manage. Now get back to work.”
Jonghyun entered the subway station shortly before twelve o’clock. The few people standing before the platform looked like they were practicing for roles as zombie extras. Jonghyun felt ready to join them. He had stayed in the office long after Jinki left, claiming he needed to do work. Other than sending a few unanswered texts to Kibum, he had spent most of his time staring at the computer.
The train for the opposite direction rushed in behind him, its opening doors exhaling loudly and releasing what sounded like a group of hyper teenagers. It was then that a woman walked past him and stood motionless in front of the painted safety line. He was bored and she offered him a distraction.
The first thing he noticed was that she was several centimeters taller than him, which made him feel self-conscious about his own height. Once he was past that, he was able to make more observations about her. Her waist-long hair wasn’t tied back and large strands clung to the back of her windbreaker. She stared straight ahead, providing a contrast to the man further down who couldn’t stop glancing down the dark tunnel.
A long minute passed. Finally, a drawn-out mechanical scream filled the tunnel and a faint light appeared in the blackness. Jonghyun moved away from the pillar he’d been leaning against and started walking the few meters up to the platform’s edge.
The woman also began moving. One foot went over the white line.
It felt like his stomach had dropped out of place when he realized what she was going to do.
Her other leg began to move and he wasn’t thinking anymore. He couldn’t tell fast he was running or feel his arms reaching out for her. All he saw was her hair and the lights of the train growing brighter.
When he came back to himself, the side of the train was rushing in front of him. He was breathing heavy and his legs were shaking.
Slowly, he looked down.
The top of the woman’s head greeted him. Somewhere in his mental blackout, he had dragged her away from the edge. His arms were wrapped around her middle and he could feel her rib cage moving as she breathed in and out. Her legs were spread out in front of her, making him the only thing keeping her up.
Holding her up was beginning to hurt his arms.
“Can you stand?”
Her head rubbed against his chest as she nodded. He waited for her to get control of her legs before he let go.
Around them, people boarded the train. Some stared while others acted as if the entire episode hadn’t happened. The eyes were finally gone when the train sped away.
“I…” the woman started. She brought her hands up to her face.
Jonghyun didn’t know what to do. He looked about the terminal, but no one was coming over to help.
“Do you want to sit down?”
She nodded again, sobs beginning to slip past her hands. Jonghyun reached around her shoulders with one arm and gently led her to a bench. When they were seated, she bent over and hugged her knees. Her hair fell in front of her face, creating a shield from him.
“I can’t take this,” she said between breaths.
He should have reassured her, telling her how things weren’t as bad as they seemed, but he knew those words hadn’t helped him at that time.
The phrases weren’t true. Everything got worse.
He shifted on the seat at the thought and eventually leaned over with her, keeping his head down.
“Did you plan this?” he asked.
“Not really. I just…ended up here.”
“Yeah, I didn’t plan mine, either. Probably why it didn’t work.”
The calmness of his words didn’t match the pain they had aroused. He couldn’t believe he had just blurted that out. He blinked a few times to clear the blurriness from his vision.
“So now you go around ruining other people’s attempts?” He couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. He tried to make his voice as flat as hers to cover up for his uncertainty.
“I just didn’t feel like getting splattered. Suits are expensive to replace.”
“I guess it would have been messy.” She sniffed several times. “How did you do it?”
“Overdosed on sleeping pills. My wife found me in a puddle of puke.”
“I didn’t want to die at home.”
“You have a family?”
“Yes,” she said. Then the crying started again and her fingers pressed tight against her jeans. With some hesitation, Jonghyun reached out and gripped her shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. He could no longer fight his own tears.
The fear of performing, the lost ability to make music, the fallout from his affair with Kibum – he had thought these were the worst things that could happen to him. But he had been wrong. Coming back to consciousness and finding both Buja and Kibum at his bedside had made him want to vanish completely to a place where he would never run into them again.
When he came back from these thoughts, he and the woman were embracing each other. They pulled apart a few minutes later, when they were finished crying. Jonghyun wiped at his eyes even though he knew it wouldn’t help. The woman’s face was no longer hidden by her hair and she looked at him. Lines of foundation had been washed away by her tears. He barely noticed the scar on her chin.
“I think you were crying more than me.” Her lips twitched in an attempt to smile. Jonghyun ran his hand through his hair and looked down.
“I didn’t want you to feel alone, that’s all.”
“Can I borrow your phone? Mine's dead.”
Jonghyun reached into his pocket. He quickly glanced at the screen – no new messages – before handing it over.
“I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back,” he said, getting up.
“I want you to stay with me until my husband comes,” she said urgently.
Minho parked the car and turned to Taemin.
“You don’t need to come with me. I’m so sorry you had to stay out this late.”
Taemin put his hands up. “It’s fine. Stop apologizing.”
“Sorry,” Minho said. He got out of the car and rushed down the long flight of stairs for the subway. Taemin had brought up the problem of him being in public without some disguise, but the empty main area alleviated these fears. Minho quickly spotted Sunhee sitting next to a man. She saw him at about the same time and rose slowly.
He ran over to her and pulled her close, kissing her forehead hard. She weakly returned the hug.
“We were so worried about you.”
He cleared his throat when he felt it tightening.
“Sorry. This’ll be the last time.”
“I hope so.” He let go of her. She stared up at him. “Have you been crying? What happened?”
His gaze flicked from her to the man on the bench. They both examined each other. Minho could tell by the man’s expression that he recognized him. Minho thought he also knew him and began trying to place the shady-looking face.
“I was feeling sick and he helped me,” Sunhee said.
Although he was still suspicious, Minho bowed. “Thank you.”
The other man got up and returned the gesture.
“It was no problem.” He paused and checked the electronic board hanging from the ceiling. “It looks like my train’s coming in soon.”
“Thank you, um…I never got your name. I’m Choi Sunhee. ”
The name and the face automatically snapped together in Minho’s mind. His suspicion deepened. He wasn’t certain if there was any reason for him to feel that way, but he didn’t like the idea that someone from Jinki’s side had been around Sunhee. He watched him as he walked over to train platform.
“Are you really okay?” he asked.
“I told you, I’m fine now. Can we leave?” Sunhee pleaded.
Minho looked at Jonghyun again, then nodded. They silently made their way to the car. As they approached the vehicle, Taemin got out and switched to the back seat.
“We’re taking Taemin home first,” Minho explained as they got in.
“I didn’t do anything to embarrass you, you know,” Sunhee said.
“I really hope you didn’t. That man you were with works for Lee Jinki.”
Minho pulled out into traffic after he spoke, so he didn’t see Sunhee’s face. Her delayed answer told him enough.
“Really? He was very nice, though.”
Her words made all the frustration from the past day suddenly congregate. He had to put all his focus on the road so he didn’t act on it.
He almost missed Taemin telling him to turn.
Jonghyun had intended to go back to his own apartment. Yet, he had switched trains halfway through his commute and ended up at Kibum’s apartment.
All the lights were off except the one in the bedroom. He crept towards it and stood in the doorway. Kibum was lying on the bed with his laptop, still dressed in jeans and gray v-neck sweater.
“Don’t you ever sleep?”
Kibum yelled and clutched his chest.
“That’s revenge for last night.” Jonghyun made his way to the bed and jumped on to it. “Why didn’t you answer any of my texts?”
“I didn’t feel like it.”
“What’re you doing?”
“Checking my email. Would you stop looking at my screen?” Kibum pushed Jonghyun away. He responded by shoving him back. Kibum looked at him seriously. “I’m not in the mood for this right now.”
“Okay, okay,” Jonghyun got off the bed and started undressing. “I’m sleeping here tonight.”
“I guessed that.”
“What’re you so pissed off about?”
“Why are you being so obnoxious?”
Jonghyun pulled the blanket back and got under it. “My evening hasn’t gone well.”
It was quiet until Jonghyun remembered the night hadn’t been so terrible. He popped up.
“I’m getting Kwangho on the weekend.”
Kibum stopped typing.
“Yeah. I’ll have to figure out what I should do with him.”
“Well, think about it later. You look exhausted.”
“I am. Goodnight.”
He buried his face into the pillow, letting its clean smell fill his nose.
“And don’t answer my phone tomorrow.”