In This Imagining by John Rey Dave Aquino

cw: some sexual imagery

The boys are making a comeback: leader and lead dancer Dong-hyun, the sweet romantic always winking and sending flying kisses to fans; main rapper Si-won, the quiet prince, tsundere-like, refuses his members’ hugs but initiates them when he’s laughing; lead vocal and rapper Li Wei, doe-eyed, angelic, has a huge interest in fashion that has landed him magazine covers; main dancer Makoto, passionate and hard-working when it comes to choreography and performances; and your bias, main vocal and lead rapper Dae-han, the hottest maknae in the industry, a sexy gentleman, and the group’s producer.

Falling in love began with a rabbit hole—their debut music video, which showed up on your YouTube recommendations. You clicked on that video out of curiosity, then listened to the whole debut album, then watched their special videos, and, finally, learned their names. For years you’ve enjoyed the vernal music videos and albums, the colorful performance clothes and styling, and the ever-changing hair colors—blond, russet, cherry, cerulean, mint. 

The group’s concepts have always been juvenile and playful, but for this new album, they deviate from the usual. A different set of concept photos were released in the past week, group shots and individual pictures of the older members, and it’s a huge shift from their youthful concept towards maturity: low-neckline shirts, sleeveless vests, at least three buttons opened, see-through patches in the fabric. The fandom exploded each night, bias lists changed and reordered with each photo, the members trended on Twitter. You admit that you were swayed towards other members, but tonight Dae-han’s solo shot is slated for release, and you fancy yourself loyal to him so you wait even though you need to wake up early tomorrow.

Your phone pings beside you. You turn to your side, then gasp when you see his picture’s thumbnail on the banner notification. After a few clicks, your heart skips seeing the full photo, full screen. There he is: sitting on a table, leaning backwards with his left hand on the table, his legs a foot and a half open, ripped jeans. And he is shirtless. 

Years of familiarity with his body—his silhouette highlighted by fitted shirts and jeans, his biceps and armpits left bare by a sleeveless undershirt, the milky strip of his abdomen and belly button when he raised his arms causing his top’s hemline to crawl up his lower stomach, his soft body line contrasting with a sharp, precise choreography on stage—have not prepared you for this. Seeing Dae-han’s naked torso, paired with a brazen, daring glare has you feeling a familiar excitement. 

You save the picture. For future reference.

Another notification pops up. You click it, and it redirects you to the boys’ fan-cafe. Dae-han has uploaded a mirror selfie, and he’s in a gray tank top, exposing the sides of half his torso, up to his waist, his left bicep leaning on the table, flexed. Another photo for future reference.

It’s enough to tip you over. You imagine.

In this imagining, he’s not an idol and you’re not his fan. He’s your boyfriend, you’re his. The backstory: you were accepted for a scholarship in Korea and met him on a street corner in Seoul, literally bumping into him when you turned the corner. The impact spilled the coffee you just bought on your shirt. He apologized and offered to buy you another one, which led to a long conversation about yourselves, your jobs, your hopes. When he offered to accompany you on your promenade in the city to familiarize yourself with the area, you hesitated. He promised you that he wasn’t planning anything criminal, and that made you laugh. After your stroll, you thought you weren’t going to see him ever again, but he walked you towards your apartment despite your protests, and when you arrived there, he said that he lived in the same building. You were neighbors although two floors apart. He introduced you to his friends Li Wei, Makoto, Dong-hyun, and Si-won, who he had formed a band with, and they made you feel welcome. Sometime, after spending a bit too much time with him, you realized that you were catching feelings and avoided him for weeks, until that one weekend that the boys invited you to the beach. You refused, telling them that you had a paper to finish, but they dragged you out of your unit to the sea. The boys dropped their shirts on the sand and ran to the water, while you stayed back and plopped down on the mat they had brought. You brought out a book but couldn’t focus. Your eyes kept straying towards him. He must’ve noticed, or maybe the boys told him to approach you and ask you if you were afraid of the ocean and if you knew how to swim. You answered no and yes, respectively, and he grabbed your book and threw it to the side. He put his arms under your knees and neck, and in one movement lifted you and carried you down to the shore. The boys cheered and laughed as he waded into the water, your arm instinctively wrapped around his shoulders, you felt his heartbeat against your side, then he dumped you in the water. Once you found your footing, you splashed water at him, temporarily forgetting that you were supposed to be avoiding him. You did enjoy that beach trip, but still felt awkward around him. This he surely noticed. He invited you to eat out, and again your first reaction was to refuse, like always, but he was insistent, as always. At the restaurant, he was wearing a blue dress shirt, neatly-pressed dark slacks, and leather shoes. You asked him why he was dressed up, and he told you it was his birthday. Surprised and embarrassed, you greeted him a happy birthday, suddenly guilty of nothing in particular. He led you inside. You avoided looking at him throughout your meal, but you kept thinking why he’d only taken you out to dinner on his birthday. The conclusion you had was that the boys were probably busy. You walked home to your apartment, where he led you to your door before coming to his. He told you he had a great time, and you said the same. There was a silence between you. You waited for him to ask, or say something else, but then he said goodbye. Sleep evaded you that night. You saw his face when you closed your eyes, heard his voice when you turned to the side, smelled his seawater-drenched skin when you arrived at that point between slumber and wakefulness. It wouldn’t do you any good, you decided, to keep falling for him, so you decided to try dating while still avoiding him. Some weeks after, you went out with an attractive, bespectacled guy you matched with on a dating app. He was endearing and attentive, but he wasn’t him. You both knew that you weren’t a real match and made it clear by the end of your date, but he was lovely enough to accompany you home. While you were saying goodbye, he arrived and saw you. It was awkward to have to introduce him to your date, and more so was riding the elevator with him. He asked suddenly if you had time, you said yes after another hesitant spell, and he said he needed to talk to you about something. On the rooftop, you could see the city’s lights in the darkness of the night sky, a substitute to the stars hidden by skyglow. He asked if you were avoiding him. You denied it. He said you were lying. You said you weren’t. He said he missed you. You couldn’t say anything. He said he liked you. You stayed silent, not knowing what to say. His eyes watered. You didn’t know what to do. He repeated what he said, that he liked you, and apologized, saying that he couldn’t take it that you were avoiding him, promising that he was alright with being friends if his feelings made you uncomfortable. He said that he wanted to remain friends, please. But no, all you could think of was that those nights that you kept thinking of him, he was also thinking of you. You realized that you let your fear of falling in love get the best of you, and it hurt him. It was time to admit your feelings, so you did. That’s how you first kissed, under an empty sky, but you know that the stars are there, and the rest: telling the boys who knew all along, a trip to his hometown, days languishing together in bed during winter break, him dedicating a song he wrote for you on your birthday, moving into his apartment… 

You pause, because you don’t remember where your story ended.

So you come back to the real world and open your gallery. You have hundreds of photos of him downloaded: taken by fans during concerts and performances, officially shot by photographers for albums and magazines, his selfies, screenshots from music videos and variety shows. There is a separate folder for photos like today. You mark the two new pictures and place it in this folder, then you open the one where he’s shirtless. 

You recall where you left the story: you just finished two months of fieldwork back in Manila for your thesis. You board the plane back to Incheon. The plane lands at the airport in the afternoon, and you hail a taxi to your apartment in Seoul. You ask the driver to drive fast. 

When you arrive at the doorstep, you hear him singing loudly, the words clear even behind the closed door. You knock and the singing stops. As soon as he opens the door, you only give him a second to recognize you before grabbing him and burying your face between his neck and shoulder, telling him you missed him, so, so much. He pushes you lightly, and when you face him again, he pulls you in for a long kiss. He tells you that he missed you, too.

He pulls you inside and makes you sit on the kitchen island stool while he gets water for you. ‘I thought you weren’t coming home until next week.’

‘I wanted to surprise you,’ you reply, “so I booked an earlier flight.”

Rolling his eyes but smiling, he stands in front of you and puts his hands on your shoulder. You wrap your arms around his lower back, and the two of you just hold each other and talk, refusing to look somewhere else, afraid that when one so much as turns for a second the other will disappear. 

‘Um, you must be tired?’ he says-slash-asks.

‘A bit.’

‘Oh, okay. You should rest then.’

‘You sound disappointed.’


‘Did I say something? What’s the problem?’

‘No, it’s nothing. I just missed you.’ You notice that his ears are red, and then he leans in for another kiss, a longer, deeper one, as he caresses the back of your neck to pull you in closer.

You understand. Pulling away, you chuckle at his surprising shyness. ‘You should have just told me. Skype wasn’t enough, huh?’ 

He flicks your ears in annoyance, and his face goes full tomato.

There is no jet lag anyway; Manila and Seoul time zones are only an hour apart. He pulls you to the showers where you strip each other down, or maybe it is you who pulls him, excited to marvel at his nakedness. (Though imagined, this bareness arouses you. After all, the only part you’re actually picturing is from the waist down; his torso you’re ogling at right now, editorial lighting casting shadows over his upper body, all of which you could only imagine before. You lower the garter of your shorts and respond to your erection.) Under the running water, you explore the geography of your bodies: the mountains of your chests, the hills of your goosebumps, the deep dark pools of each other’s eyes. On the soft mattress and white sheets, you grip with your hands, fondle with your fingers, taste with your tongue, breathe with a need, move with an urgency. In the secrecy of your bedroom, you kiss, you give, you receive, and you love.

An orgasm punctuates your wakeful dream, followed by the breath of his name. You lay on your bed, letting the ecstasy ebb away, slowly replaced with a mild gloominess; this imagining will never come to be. If you ever get the chance to go to the boys’ concert, you reckon that your encounter will be rather uneventful: you will wave to him along with so many other fans, and he will see you as part of the crowd, and you will be unnoticed because you’re in a crowd. 

Also, you’re a guy. Male idols aren’t exactly produced for male fans.

But you will enjoy the concert because you like the boys very much, and you will continue your private daydreams. In future imaginings, you might get jealous of an ex, argue, make up, meet each other’s parents, get married, fight about certain newlywed stuff, buy a house, travel the world, have fraternal twins named Min-jae Lakan and Min-ju Tala, clash in parenting your twins because of cultural differences, drive the kids to the universities they enrolled in, march in parades and protests, celebrate career successes, terrorize your kids’ partners when they introduce them to you, rejoice with the many societal changes towards a more just world, attend your kids’ weddings, play with your grandchildren at home, grow old together…

There is comfort in the knowledge that no one can take this story away from you. 

John Rey Dave Aquino is a queer Filipino writer. He has spent the past five years being a Kpop fan: SEVENTEEN (ult group; Vernon-biased), MONSTA X, PENTAGON, Wanna One, EXO, and Chungha. When he isn’t fanboying (gushing over any Kpop content), he imagines romantic queer scenarios or eating junk food.

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