Jinki rejoined them a few days later in the next city where Apollo5 was performing. Sam thought he still looked exhausted, but he was upright of his own power and had a bottle of water to at least give the illusion he was taking better care of himself.

Sam waited until his groupmates all welcomed him back before stepping up. She gave an uncomfortable smile in the hopes it would ease the tension her interjection invited. "Hey, I'm so glad to see you back," she broached. "If there's anything I can do, let me know. I mean that." She felt awkward offering like that, especially since they weren't close, but she felt she needed to be the one to offer the olive branch.

Jinki fixed her with a hard look. It was obvious he didn't believe she was genuine. "I'm sure you do," he sneered. "I doubt I'll ever count on you to spit on me if I was on fire, but thanks."

Stunned, Sam looked at Jinki as the rest of the guys stared at her waiting for her response. Sam glanced at Jae, half expecting him to step in and mediate, but he looked as dumbstruck as she felt. She took a deep breath and lifted her chin as she met Jinki's eyes. "I may have deserved that," she admitted with a small nod. "You'd be right to think I wanted nothing to do with any of you at the start of all of this. Let me just say that I'm sorry for not giving you more credit for how hard you obviously work. I may never choose to listen to your work, but that has nothing to do with how talented you all are or aren't." She explained.

Jinki rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "Just not into listening to music you can't understand?"

Sam felt the flare of irritation at that, but took a moment to bite her tongue. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. He was trying to start a fight.

"That's not it at all actually. Not that I need to justify myself to you, but pop music as a whole has never been my thing." She stated. "Whether I can understand the lyrics or not." She leveled him with a stare and cocked her head to the side. "Now, are you done trying to fight with me?"

Minki hissed and then tried to cover it up with a fake sneeze when Jinki shot a glare at his brother. Sam took personal satisfaction in having caused it.

Not to be intimidated, Jinki thumbed his nose at her and shrugged. "Whatever," he said. "I'll be glad when you don't get to follow us around anymore."

Sam gave a fake smile. "That makes two of us." She spun on her heel and walked away, wishing bad things to happen to Producer Lucas for putting her in this position.


Jae shook his head as he watched Sam walk away from them. "You didn't need to be like that, she was being nice."

Jinki rolled his shoulders and then shrugged. "I'm not in the mood for fake nice."

Jae huffed. "Whatever, if she didn't want to be nice, she wouldn't have been. She was worried about you, just FYI."

"Because you know her so well now?" Jinki demanded. "You've talked to her a handful of times."

"Actually, I've been getting to know her. And yeah, she was worried about you last night. I saw her after we got back to the hotel." Jae retorted.

Jinki barked out a laugh as the others stared at Jae in surprise at the revelation. "Did you sleep with her and now she's trying to get into all our good graces?" Jinki asked in amazed amusement.

Minki shook his head at his twin and put a hand out to halt any further responses. "That's enough," he snapped. "Drop it, Jinki. It's none of our business."

Dabin put a hand on Jae's chest as Jae was almost foaming at the mouth.

Jae wanted to shout obscenities and tell Jinki the truth. He and Sam hadn't slept together, but he knew the reality was they would have had she said yes to coming back to his room. That truth kept his jaw clenched shut and Jongho stepped in before he could respond. "Listen to Minki. I'm the one who starts the fights, and you're not good at it." Jongho laughed in an attempt to dissipate the tension.

Jinki scoffed at Jae's lack of response. "I guess I hit that nail on the head."

Jae shoved past Dabin and in a flash he and Jinki were toe to toe. "I didn't sleep with her, you bastard." He growled through gritted teeth, hands clenched at his sides. "If you hadn't just gotten out of the hospital, I'd have hit you already."

"Enough!" Dabin objected to no avail as Jinki grinned at Jae and shoved him in the chest.

"I'm right here and I'm fine. Swing away, big guy." Jinki taunted.

Minki, Jongho, and Dabin stepped in to separate the two before fists started flying.

"I said drop it, Jinki! Christ," Minki barked, hissing the last bit under his breath as he pushed his brother back away from Jae.

Jae didn't fight Dabin and Jongho as they backed him away from Jinki and Minki. Instead, he focused on calming himself down. He wouldn't swing on Jinki. They rarely came to blows over disagreements as a group, especially as time progressed and Jae's bulk made him the hulk of the group. Even when things did get physical, it tended to be between Jongho and whomever he chose to pick on because he liked to start fights when bored.

"We have practice," Dabin called out once he was sure Jae wasn't going to attack Jinki. "You still have to sit, Jinki." He directed and Jinki held his hands up in surrender.

"Yes, Mother." Jinki went to take his seat and Jae watched him go, irritated with his groupmate for how he talked about Sam when she wasn't there to defend herself.

Once Jinki was sitting and everyone else was getting into position for practice, Dabin stepped to the side with Jae. "Are you good? You seem mad still."

Jae nodded and shook out his body. "Yeah, I'm good. Sam's a big girl, I don't need to fight her battles for her. Especially when she makes them for herself, but he went a little too far. I'll be fine."

Satisfied with that answer, Dabin nodded and patted Jae on the chest a couple of times before heading off to his position and calling out the counts.

As Jae practiced, he let himself dwell on Sam and how she handled Jinki. As much as he wanted to jump in and defend Sam from Jinki's wrath, he knew she was more likely to turn on him than thank him for it. As he told Dabin, she didn't need him stepping in without being asked. And she had created the situation with her previous attitude. That attitude was changing, but it wasn't all there yet.

Jae couldn't be mad at Jinki either. Jae himself didn't have a good track record on tour with groupies, and Sam had a well-documented history with dating high-profile musicians. He understood where Jinki was coming from, and it wasn't unwarranted for him to feel the way he did with the information he had. It was incomplete information, but it wasn't wholly inaccurate.

Sam had also proven before that she had no respect for what they did as artists. Now she was getting a peek beneath the surface at how much work they put into everything with their micromanaged schedules. He could see her eyes opening to the realities of idol life, and the dedication required to maintain it.

All in all, Jae was glad for the revelations Sam was experiencing on this tour. On the other side of the coin, it also worried him along with the lack of acceptance from his group mates. If she saw everything, the good, bad, and ugly, would she decide it was all too much like she kept telling him? If she did agree to try, but the guys weren't accepting of her, would that strain their relationship too much? Was it better to call off his pursuit now before he spent too much energy and invested too much emotion into something she didn't want to take a chance on? It was something that could end in heartache for both of them. He shook off those fears, refusing to allow fear to dictate how he handled this. There were what-ifs with everything, but the ones Jae chose to focus on now were the positive ones. What if she was as special as he believed? What if they were a great partnership? What if instead of heartache, she brought the fullness of life back into his world?


Sam spent what felt like every waking moment with Apollo5. It was awkward at first, the incident with Jinki seemed to make everyone tense with her present. Between Jongho distracting everyone and the sheer amount of people around the group at all times, Sam melted into the background.

It amazed Sam at the entourage Apollo5 rolled around with. Ever-present managers, cameramen and videographers, producers, dancers, choreographers, stylists, and people whose job seemed to be to make sure every whim the members had was granted went almost everywhere Apollo5 went. The guys seldom got a moment that wasn't scheduled in some way. Whether it was with a choreographer or producer to go over new stuff, a manager going over the day's itinerary with them, or stylists who dressed them for the day—sometimes multiple times a day depending on what the schedule called for.

There were interviews and performances for the morning shows, "downtime" that consisted of Apollo5 "touring" major cities while managers, producers, stylists, and cameras followed to get content for their official social media accounts. The only true alone time Sam knew that Apollo5 got seemed to be when they went to their own rooms for the night. More often than not, that wasn't until closer to midnight.

During interviews, Jongho was often left out because he didn't speak English, and translating was too time-consuming for the morning shows. When he did get asked questions he was relegated to a few short answers to questions that Jae or Dabin translated and clarified for the audience. Even though the majority of the members spoke English, the journalists tended to focus on Dabin as the leader and sometimes Jae as one of the more popular English-speaking members. The rest of them just sat there in the background looking bored.

At one point, Sam was shocked when an anchor complimented Jae's English. Jae curtly reminded the anchor he was from Los Angeles, but it was glossed over as the anchor ended the segment. After they were off-air, the anchor gave a half-hearted apology that became more earnest as the managers and producers asked if he'd done his research on the group before the interview.

What shocked Sam the most wasn't the busyness of the scheduling and the plain rudeness of the journalists who asked them ignorant questions, but at how insulated each member seemed to be during the whole process. They bantered back and forth when they were close enough to do so, but oftentimes they were each dealing with their own team of handlers coaching them through the day's events. Even group choreography wasn't always a group endeavor, with each of the members getting slight variants to the base of it and getting a few one-on-one coaching sessions with the choreographers.

It was like they were show dogs being prepped for the show ring and the agility course all at the same time, and when the day was over they were put back into their kennels until it was time to do it all over again the next day. They each worked hard on their own and as a group, but Sam couldn't help but wonder how alone they felt during the whole process despite never being afforded the luxury of being alone.

It didn't surprise her after seeing it all as an outsider that Jae and Jinki had collapsed due to exhaustion. In fact, she saw it coming again as the weeks went on. The managers did their best to make sure each member was being taken care of, and Dabin worked on making sure everyone was eating and drinking and taking their prescribed vitamins and energy boosters. The managers surprised the guys often with their favorite American fast food in an attempt to keep their weights up. The members had taken to napping wherever and whenever they could by the second week of the tour. And yet, Sam watched as the style team covered the increasing signs of tiredness with makeup, hair, and clothing.

Sam noted everything from afar and wondered how it was legal to work the idols as hard as they were being worked. She had heard of the abhorrent practices of some of the Korean agencies, but she hadn't believed most of them to be true and was under the impression they were getting better. If this was better, she could only imagine how bad it had been before.

On top of it all, it was clear to Sam she was an outsider. After Jinki's collapse, several of the managers and producers had interrogated her and threatened her with legal action should she slander the group or make them look bad in her work. She tried to explain freedom of the press to them, but they maintained that she needed to review her contract and know what she was and wasn't allowed to write regarding the tour. She called George that night and had him give her the rundown on what she was allowed to write and realized she was limited to surface stuff about the music, and that she wasn't allowed to write anything personal about the members, staff, or agency.

She also got looks and was avoided by the staff as a whole. Apparently, she wasn't to be welcomed, and since the one person she was friends with was working the whole time she spent a lot of time off to the side alone and taking notes or on her phone, on which she was not allowed to take unapproved pictures.

After three weeks of this, she got fed up and called George again explaining the situation.

"Either bring me back or get them to give me more access and freedom," Sam said. "I'm literally sitting around doing nothing during everything because they're so busy. I'm not complaining that they're busy, but no one speaks to me and I can't get anywhere near the group because it isn't in their schedule. I don't see a point in being here any longer."

George huffed on his end. "I see your point, and am inclined to agree." He said shocking her. "Hang tight, and I'll talk to the higher-ups and see what they want to do. I'll get back to you."

"Thank you," Sam said with sincerity. Surely they would send her home and she could get past this whole thing and go back to writing about what she loved.

George hung up and Sam toyed with the idea of finally going back home and decided to text her sister and give her a heads up.

Sam: Hey, so I could be coming home soon.

Maya: WHAT? What happened?

Sam: Nothing, but I have seen all I can and it's just a waste of time past this point.

Maya: Oh, well that sucks. It'll be nice to have you back though. Mama and Papa have been driving me crazy and it'd be nice to have you around so they can drive you crazy instead.

Sam rolled her eyes at that.

Sam: I figured I'd give you a chance to clean the apartment before I come back early.

Maya: You're a bitch.

Sam laughed and replied.

Sam: And?

When a few minutes went by without a text, Sam put her phone down.

Sam decided to go through her notes while she waited for George to make a decision. She could get a head start on some of the blog posts and get back to the metal scene sooner. The thought gave her a thrill and then Jae flashed into her mind turning that thrill into something else.

Jae. If she left now, she knew he'd be disappointed, but it wasn't as though they were hanging out together during this whole thing. In fact, they hadn't even really spoken via text or in person since the beginning of the tour. Seeing his daily life, she was more apprehensive about tying herself to a man who was already married to a career that dictated his entire life. Keeping her distance was a smart move anyway because if that night in the courtyard had shown her anything, it was that Jae was dangerous for her. His optimism was infectious and she worried she would be in a worse spot than she was with Nic if she let Jae continue weaving his way into her life and emotions. There was no way she was allowing that. At least, that's what she told herself while safely tucked alone in her hotel room.


Author's Note:

Another amendment to my upload schedule, but it should be the last one until any other major holiday weekend. Next week I'll try to get a chapter uploaded, but my brother is coming and I'll be getting things ready for that. If I don't get anything uploaded, I'm not on a hiatus or ditching things, I am just pushing back the schedule a week. Thanks so much for all your patience. I'm coming up on some exciting stuff in the story, and I can't wait to share it with you guys.

Sarah S.