The room is dark, save for the dim desk lamp that sits on his desk, illuminating the work he is currently hunched over with a yellowish emittance of light. The only sounds filling the dark nighttime silence are the scratching of his pencil against paper and the vague muffled music playing from his headphones. His eyebrows furrow and he leans into his work closer, immersed in his work, mumbling incoherently as he inscribes words to narrate his drawings.
“Please, save us! Somebody! Anybody!” Wails the mother clutching tightly to her daughter. “We are stuck! My daughter-- she is too young to die!”
The hero’s ears perk up at these faint callings. He turns towards the voices buried under the rubble, flashing his trademark smile, squaring back his shoulders and breathing in to call out to them in a reassuring voice.
“Do not be afraid. I will save you!” He grins, marching towards the trembling mother and daughter. “Your daughter will not die today.”
“Please!” The mother continues to wail. The hero’s heart leaps as he reaches into the debris, lifting the heavy materials with his super strength and throwing them away in his haste to reach them. Finally, he can see the middle-aged woman clinging to her daughter, who seems to be unconscious. His smile widens, although it has no effect on the woman, who keeps crying. The daughter looks almost scarily still, but he keeps smiling. Because it is all okay. It must be.
“Do not be afraid!” He repeats, still smiling. It feels almost fake now, because it does nothing to calm the woman down. “Don’t worry. I am here. Your daughter is fine.” He stretches his hands out to the pair to extract them from the hole. The hero’s fingers touch the young woman’s skin, which feels awfully ice cold--
Minjoon jumps hard, sharply dragging his pencil across the paper as he flinches. He jerks around to find a young woman standing next to him, bent over to shout into his headphone-clad ears. Quickly, he turns down the music and yanks off his headphones.
“Are you really still working on your comic? It’s almost 11PM,” she says, frowning at him. He averts looking into her eyes.
“I’m almost done with this one,” he tells her. He blinks, his eyes still adjusting to the sudden lighting that he realized she must have flicked on on her way into the apartment.
Jiwoo casts him a smile and walks over to the counter in the small studio apartment, ripping open the plastic bags she’s carrying and unpacking the takeout boxes. Minjoon’s long-neglected stomach suddenly growls at the smell of food. “Oppa, come eat.” He grunts in confirmation and organizes his papers before heading over to the food and snapping apart a pair of wooden chopsticks. Jiwoo waits until he’s scarfed down a serving of black bean noodles inelegantly before speaking to him again. “Today’s Friday. Do you want to go out?”
He fixes her with a critical look for a moment, then diverts his attention to the steaming food again. “No.” He doesn’t look up, but he can already see her pouting at him in his mind’s eye.
“Minjoon-oppa”, she starts in her whining tone. As always, he finds it cute, but maintains a straight indifferent face and lets her continue. “Oppa, it’s not good for you to stay in all the time. You need to go out once in a while. You need to meet your friends sometimes. You need to socialize and have fun and take a break and wind down and…” He tunes her out to continue stuffing his mouth with beef, knowing that she’s repeating the same rhetoric that she delivers every Friday. He already knows the ending result anyways; she’ll stop talking and look at him expectantly, then he’ll pretend to lecture her about respecting her elders. Then she’ll give him a small pout and he’ll reach out to pinch her cheeks and tell her in a serious tone that he’ll go just because she’s so cute.
“...and you can’t just isolate yourself like this. I’m not always going to be here to take care of you, you know. One day, maybe even soon, I’m going to be busy with my own job and my own life. I’m so close to graduating, and who knows what’ll happen after that. I’ll go on to build my life and engage in new opportunities, what if I have to leave you?”
“Aish, did nobody ever teach you manners?” Minjoon scolds Jiwoo half-heartedly. “Why are you lecturing your oppa, I should be the one lecturing you.” He clicks his tongue disapprovingly and waves his chopsticks at her. “Did I not teach you to respect your elders? I must have raised you wrong.” As expected, she gives him a pouty look. Quick as a flash, he slaps his chopsticks down and seizes her cheeks, squishing the soft flesh between his pointer fingers and thumbs and giving them a wriggle. She slaps his hands away from her face, cradling her stinging cheeks. Minjoon turns away with his usual blank face. “I’ll go. But only because you’re just so cute.” He squeezes her cheek again hard when her eyes light up and her mouth tapes open a little in a smile.
Minjoon stares absently out the bus window at the dark city of Seoul, trapped between Jiwoo sitting on his left and the bus window. Jiwoo is typing furiously on her phone, and he wonders fleetingly who she’s texting while the apartment buildings speed by them in blurs of concrete and light.
The masked figure stands alone atop the tall apartment building, smile gone and cloak flapping softly in the wind. A woman sleeps on a sofa, oblivious to his presence. An older man is sat at a table idly fiddling with his electronics. The air is chilly and the night sky is a dark indigo, coating the world in a gloom, only dully pierced by the glow of the city in the background. WIthout looking at him, the old man addresses the figure.
“Were you out again?” The figure removes his cloak despite the cold, staring at the back of his father.
“Yes”, the masked man answers, not bothering to give any more elaboration. The father continues to keep his back turned to his son, still tinkering with the appliance in front of him. The masked man creeps around him to the refrigerator, carefully retrieving a can of ginger soda. His father continues to ignore him.
“How was school?” His father asks in his usual monotone.
“Good.” That was a lie. Our masked hero hasn’t been to school in four years, not since he graduated high school. He has no money for college, has never had the connections or skills to get into one, and has never a sense of direction for what he wanted to do with his life. His only sources of stability are his sidekick, who is currently asleep at home, and what he thinks could be his job that most would consider a hobby; saving people. But he knows that his father knows that he hasn’t been to school in years. He knows that his father knows this, and knows what he really does, but he knows that his father just does not care in the slightest. In fact, he knows much more about his father than his father cares to acknowledge. His father reaches for a tool and knocks his mug off the table, startling awake his slumbering mother, who catches sight of the shattered ceramic and immediately launches into a rage.
“You--!” She snaps at her husband. The masked hero’s father also jumps to his feet, his son already forgotten, and shouts back at her. The son stands there watching, invisible as they scream at each other and get into a shoving match over a smashed mug.
But what they do not know is that in the shadows, in his invisible state, he watches them, and he knows. He knows that these two constants in his life are the villains, the ones who are destroying his city. He can feel the earth rumbling beneath him as their anger grows, the result of their supervillain powers rocking and shaking his world as he stands unnoticed behind them.
He knows this, and he knows that he must prepare to use his own powers to save the people around him in a few moments. Without his beckoning, he can already feel his dependent and loyal sidekick coming to join his side, ready to assist him as it all comes crashing down around him--
“Oppa, we get off here at this stop,” Jiwoo’s voice reminds Minjoon, rousting him out of his imagination. He blinks at the tall apartment buildings blurring past the bus window once more, wobbly standing up with the help of Jiwoo as the bus slows down at the stop.
“Hyung!” Minho is the one who opens the door to Daejung’s apartment for them. The 21 year-old looks boyish as always as he grins at them. “You came!”
“I always come,” Minjoon tells him. He always thinks that Minho looks more and more exhausted every time he sees him. And apparently, Jiwoo thinks so too.
“Minho-ah, you look so tired. Aren’t you overworking yourself?” She asks as they take off their shoes. She gestures to the dark circles under Minho’s eyes and he furrows his eyebrows. “I think you need a facepack.”
“I need the money,” he shrugs, accidentally trodding hard over Minjoon’s toes. Minjoon pushes him away and he automatically looks apprehensive. “Don’t get mad at me! I’m sorry.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Minjoon grunts, heading into the living room. Two more young woman and a young man look up at them, holding beer and soju and smiling.
“Minjoon-ah!” Daejung sings at them. Minjoon can smell the grapefruit flavored soju on his breath when he slings his arm over his shoulders. “My favorite dongsaeng! Now everyone’s here!”
“Hello, hyung,” the younger responds. Jiwoo joins the other two girls at the coffee table, giving them hugs and taking a sip of Jaehwa’s drink.
“How does karaoke sound tonight?” Hosook inquires, handing Jiwoo a drink. “Daejung got a new audio machine. We can connect it to his monitor!”
“Sounds good. How’s school?” Jiwoo sets her own drink down and pours Minjoon one after Daejung drags Minjoon to join the rest of the group at the table.
“I have so much work,” Hosook complains. “You’re lucky you’re still doing undergrad. In dance! Seriously, never go to graduate school for biochemistry. I hate it. And it’s only my first year in grad school, too. I still have so long to go!”
“At least you’re still in school.” Jaehwa clumsily points at the other girls. “My job must be worse. The managers are all old perverts, and they give us all so much work to do that I can’t possibly keep up. It’s a wonder I can even be here.”
“You’re just lucky to have a well-paying job,” Minho cuts in. “I would kill for an office job. Instead I am still in college, working two jobs on top of classes. I’m barely making enough money to be paying rent as it is. You know how lucky you are to have a well-paying job?”
“Minjoon-ah, how is your comic going?” Hosook interrupts before Jaehwa can retaliate, smiling at him over her glass. Swiftly, Minjoon swallows his gulp of alcohol, already feeling himself loosening up.
“Good,” he replies. He doesn’t elaborate further. That is, until Jiwoo shoots him an encouraging smile.
“Oppa, didn’t you get a large influx of readers on your online store?” She prompts. Minjoon thinks that he doesn’t mind being badgered by his friends as much now that he’s out of his apartment with some good company and some alcohol in his system.
“You have an online store?” Daejung looks over his shoulder at him from where he is setting up the karaoke machine, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”
“Me neither.” Hosook pinches Jiwoo’s cheeks playfully. “Ooooh, it must be something he only tells his childhood friends. He didn’t tell any of us. Our youngest must be helping our reclusive budding comic artist, hmm? So smart.” Jiwoo attempts to escape in futile as the rest laugh at her now-pink cheeks and Minjoon decides to rescue her.
“Mister-Biochemistry-Grad-Student-hyung, did you finish setting up the karaoke machine?” He asks Daejung. Daejung affirms it by handing him the two microphones, and he hands them to Jiwoo and Hosook, successfully distracting the two from bruising Jiwoo’s cheeks.
“Bangtan Sonyeondan!” Jiwoo excitedly scrolls through the song selection. “Our international superstars!” She chooses the song and the two shoot to their feet, jumping to the beat of the intro.
“For you, I could pretend like I was happy when I was sad!
For you, I could pretend like I was strong when I was hurt!
I wish love was perfect as love itself..!”
Daejung feels a flush of warmth run through his body as they scream into the microphones. He’s not sure if it’s all of the soju he drank, or the scene in front of him with the other five sprawled around in front of him, laughing at the two girls attempting to mimic the dance moves of the idols on screen. Jaehwa has her phone’s flashlight lit up and is bopping it along in time to the music while she’s also shouting the lyrics towards the monitor. Daejung is sitting beside him on the floor, doubled over in laughter with his hand reaching up to ruffle his hair. Minho wipes the moisture from his eyes and complains that his stomach hurts from laughing so hard at them.
“Let’s go!” Daejung is suddenly roused from his thoughts when Jiwoo tugs on his arm, pulling him to his feet. He’s almost unable to move his body like the seven idols on the screen because he’s laughing so hard. And he thinks, in this moment, he is happy Jiwoo has once again dragged him out of his apartment into the outside world.
“Why you sad? I don’t know. I don’t know
Smile, say ‘I love you’
Look at me, even I gave up on myself
Even you can’t understand me.”