Jinyoung aches in places he didn't think it possible to ache in, they had been at it for hours and yet he still couldn't master the most essential parts of the dance. Seeing him struggle, Minhyun had offered to stay and continue running through the choreo with him and who was Jinyoung to say no to that proposition. He couldn't help feeling slightly guilty for keeping the elder from the sleep he clearly needed but without Minhyun's help, Jinyoung wasn't convinced he'd make it through the elimination.
Jinyoung makes it around 3AM and they're the only ones left in the studio; the others all having retired back to the dorms a good hour ago. Minhyun stands beside him attempting to run through the pick me choreo with him once again, step by step.
"You have a tattoo?" Jinyoung exclaims, noticing the small ink just above the elder’s hip bone as his shirt rides up.
"Oh- yeah, I got it a couple of years ago." Minhyun tells him, carefully adjusting his shirt to cover it back up as he repositions Jinyoung's arms.
"Is it like- a secret or something?" Jinyoung asks, closely following Minhyun's movements.
"No Jinyoung-ah, it's just my life is constantly broadcasted over the internet for people to comment on and criticise, I like to have some things that are just for me; safe from scrutiny." Minhyun explains, going over the point dance of the choreography once again. The younger picks up an unexpected sadness in Minhyun's tone, almost overpowering but he keeps quiet nonetheless settling instead with a quiet, "Oh."
"What does it say?" Jinyoung queries, panting against the wall, unsure how much more practice his body can take before it literally breaks.
Minhyun hesitantly moves to pick up one of the many water bottles littering the practice room, handing it to Jinyoung with a gentle pat on the back.
"What does it mean?" Jinyoung pressed further, squinting at the tiny inked numbers that decorated Minhyun's skin.
"Nothing, it's just special to me." Minhyun insisted and Jinyoung got the message to shut it. His hyung clearly wasn't relenting anytime soon and quite frankly, getting the choreo down was far more important than divulging Minhyun of the intricate details of his life.
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
They had just wrapped up the fist eliminations and things among the trainees were tense to say the least. The staff had taken this as an opportunity to grant them each access to the phone, to talk to families and loved ones. Daniel was certain it was just a ploy to get more footage of the trainees crying but he wasn't about to voice that aloud and loose the chance to talk to his mum for the first time in weeks.
Daniel had been waiting in the queue for at least half an hour, Minhyun now the only person ahead of him.
"Nayeon?" Minhyun calls down the line, steadying himself against the wall beside him. Daniel observes as the elder furrows his brow in confusion, "Is Aron not there?"
"Ah." Minhyun hums in response to whatever the girl at the other end of the line had told him.
"Definitely been better, but I'm coping." Minhyun responds. Daniel can't quite make out what the lady says at the other end of the line, her voice too soft but he thinks it's safe to assume she's just asking about his wellbeing; much the same as everyone else before him.
"If you can drag her away from Junghyun-ah and Ila that is." Daniel hears Minhyun lightly joke as the lady at the other end calls after a 'Jiheon-ah'. Daniel's ears perk in intrigue, this conversation was clearly taking a different direction to the countless others he had overheard today.
Daniel could have sworn he’d heard a small voice calling for their eomma through the phone, but quickly dismisses that thought. He must have been imagining things.
"Jiheon-ah." Minhyun's voice wavers and Daniel carefully observed as Minhyun dabbed unshed tears that had begun forming in his eyes with his sleeve.
Seemingly out of nowhere, he hears the little girl begin rambling about her unnie's and a cute dog she saw at the park from the other end of the phone. Daniel is completely taken a back when Minhyun just laughs at her. He'd barely even seen the older smile once since they began filming and yet within less than a minute this child had made Minhyun literally beam; eyes curling into crescents and smile so warm that Daniel had to question whether this was still the same Hwang Minhyun before him.
After quite some persuasion, Minhyun finally manages to convince the child to hand the phone back to the lady, who Daniel now understands to be called Nayeon, so she can hang up and let the other trainees talk to their families.
"Sorry I took so long Niel-ah, she wouldn't stop talking." Minhyun handed the phone to the younger boy who was still dumbfounded by the interaction he'd just witnessed.
"Who was she?" Daniel blurted out, quite rudely looking back now, blatantly disregarding any semblance of privacy. But at the time he was so confused he couldn't be held accountable for anything that came out of his mouth.
"Oh she's just my uh- sister."
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
Seongwu was finally contented, after weeks of being met with a harsh 'go away Seongwu I'm tired' and 'shower by yourself you big baby', he had finally convinced someone to join him in the shower. He didn't have any ill intentions or hidden agenda per se, he just enjoyed showering in the company of others. He explained it away as the best way to bond with someone being under the hot spray of water (the fact he didn't like being alone, he would have said- a complete coincidence). He wasn't unconvinced Minhyun hadn't only agreed just to get him to shut up but who was he to complain, he was getting what he wanted.
The constant stream of water splashing against the tiled floor fills out the silence in the room.
Seongwu finds his eyes wandering Minhyun's body in attempt to find a point of conversation, the silence becoming stifling for him. All that marks his porcelain skin, a small tattoo on his hipbone that he seemed to recall overhearing Minhyun telling Jinyoung about a few weeks ago and a large faded scar that spanned the younger's lower abdomen.
"Hey Minhyun, what's that scar?" Seongwu furrowed his brow, the longer he looked the more the scar stood out to him against the younger's otherwise blemish free skin.
"It's nothing." Minhyun hummed, subconsciously tracing along the scar with his index finger "I had appendicitis a few years ago is all."
Minhyun was panicking but he couldn't let it show, he should have known showering with Seongwu was a bad idea; he really hadn't thought this through. How could he have so easily forgotten about the glaringly obvious scar that sat right where Jiheon had? It wasn't as if he had to worry about hiding the scar all that often, the only people who ever saw enough of him to see it was the boys and to them it had become just as much a part of Minhyun as the rest of him. Rather than a mere blemish, the scar to them had become a token of Minhyun's bravery in continuing with the pregnancy and carrying the girl they'd all grown to love as their own. In the weeks following Jiheon's birth when Minhyun was most insecure about the prominent scarring, they had made sure to press soft kisses along it every evening, comforting and reassuring. Minhyun thought back to that time fondly, the memory now however only served to add to the implacable ache he felt at being separated from Aron and Jiheon.
Seongwu shoots him a sceptical, 'really' look. He was no medical professional, but he was certain that a scar like that couldn't have been the result of just an appendix removal. He decided not to push any further on the subject, Minhyun clearly wasn't comfortable divulging where the scar had really come from and Seongwu wasn't about to force it out of him.
"I have a scar on my arm from when my sister pushed me out a tree when we were kids." Seongwu nudged Minhyun gently in an attempt to lighten the mood.
He smiles to himself, hearing a series of soft laughs come from the man beside him.
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
"Sorry I didn't keep in contact all that much hyung."
"Its fine Muel, you were busy, and things got away- it happens to the best of us." A small voice comforts from inside the vocal room.
Jihoon, for lack of a better word was confused by the interaction he was overhearing on his way to the canteen. He was literally starving having had missed breakfast this morning in favour of more practice, wanted nothing more than to subdue his raging stomach but something about the conversation enticed him to stay and listen further.
Jihoon took a few steps back, peeking through the small gap in the door. He wasn't quite sure what he'd find, but he certainly wasn't expecting to see Samuel and Minhyun slumped against the wall; Samuel pressed against Minhyun's side with his head settled in the crook of the elders’ neck. He knew full well that Samuel had spent years training at Pledis, but even so he didn't expect him and Minhyun to be quite so close.
"Still." Samuel began, "I'm sorry."
Jihoon observed as he Minhyun gently squeezed the youngers hand as a comfort. An indescribable sense of comfort washes over Samuel and he finds himself relaxing a bit for the first time since this whole competition started. In that moment, Samuel realises just how much he'd missed his hyungs.
"Is Jiheon doing well?" Samuel asks, head titling to the side curiously.
"She's good." Minhyun muses, "Definitely a handful, but Aron hyung's been keeping her busy while we're away."
Samuel hums a response, letting the silence sit in the little space between them, making itself comfortable.
Jihoon had hoped by now he would have satisfied his curiosity and would be well on his way to the lunch hall before all the food had gone, but the more he listened the more it served to baffle him.
"She still remembers you y'know." Minhyun nudged him softly, "She's been watching the show with hyung and the Pristin girls, you're her favourite you know."
"What? Me? Not you or the hyungs?" Samuel gasps in disbelief.
Minhyun's mouth quirks up into a grin as he laughs, "I know!"
"To think, my own baby." He pouted, "The betrayal."
Samuel laughs, carefree and genuine for the first time in a long while, Jihoon doesn't think he's ever seen Samuel's eyes light up that much; when he stops, his eyes remain clear, free from the mist that seemed to surround him these days, "For what its worth hyung, you're the strongest person I know."
"You're not so bad yourself Kim." Minhyun smiles, letting out a contented sigh as he reaches over to ruffle his hair.
Jihoon wasn't sure what he'd just intruded on, but whatever it was, it was clearly not an exchange meant for anyone else to be privy to. However, he decided it would be in every one's best interest if he just forgot everything he'd witnessed and returned his focus to securing the leftovers of lunch.
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
Daehwi had just about become accustomed to the sight of Dongho and Minki tangled in each other's embrace in the dead of night, when they thought no one was awake to judge; putting it down to one of those things that just came with growing up so close to someone.
So, it comes as no surprise to him when he is woken by the sound of Minki climbing down the ladder of their bunk and crawling under the covers into Dongho's welcoming embrace. What he does find odd, is the dim light filtering through the ajar door, directly into his eye line and the sound of someone carefully walking into the room that follows. Daehwi makes it about 2AM, Sewoon had turned in almost two hours ago and he knew where Dongho and Minki were so he's slightly confused as to who would be up. That is until he notices Dongho's bed dip once more as who he can just about make out to be Minhyun, curls up against Minki, wrapping his arms around the youngers waist.
Dongho's bed is far too small for the three of them to fit on it, but they manage to do it somehow, in a tangled mess of arms and legs and synchronised breathing. Daehwi watches in amazement as they move to accommodate one another as if it were a reflex. Clearly this wasn't the first time they'd done this.
"Can't sleep either?" Minki gently unwraps Minhyun's arms from his waist and turns to face him. Daehwi mentally notes the exhaustion in Minhyun's sigh as he nestles his head in the crook of Minki's neck.
"It's her birthday." Minhyun states, so quietly Daehwi can barely hear it.
"Our little baby is growing up." Dongho gently brings one of Minhyun's arms to wrap around his waist and begins nuzzling his head comfortingly against Minhyun's own.
Daehwi observes as Minhyun sinks into the pairs embrace, emitting a soft, relaxed sigh.
"I miss her." Minki breathes out, chest rising as he breathes slowly. A comfortable silence sits in the little space between them, broken only when Dongho whispers a soft, "Something's bothering you Min."
Daehwi watches as Dongho cups Minhyun's face between his palms, stroking his cheeks comfortingly with his thumbs
"I just feel so much." Minhyun settles with these words. Daehwi watches as he stiffens against Dongho before releasing a deep sigh which was accompanied by tears. Dongho held him closer, drawing light circles around his back as the tears soaked through his shirt.
"Oh Min." Dongho coos, "That's it, get it out. Crying is good for you." allowing Minhyun's tears to soak through his shirt as he pulls him tighter into his embrace.
Minhyun took a deep breath, giving himself a few seconds to try to calm down further. When his sobs had reduced to sniffles and uneven breathing, he opened his mouth to speak, shaky voice resonating across the room, "But I shouldn't-"
"You should. You deserve to. Holding it in isn't what worked in the past." Minki's calm voice is the only thing keeping him steady right now as he grasps tightly onto Dongho's arm to gravitate his breathing.
"There we go beautiful, there we go. You're doing great, I’m so proud." Minki comforted, gently beginning to card his fingers through Minhyun's soft hair.
"Sleep love, we'll be here." Dongho whispered softly into Minhyun's ear, cradling him in his arms as Minki drapes himself on top of the pair.
Daehwi watches as Dongho presses a gentle kiss to Minhyun's forehead, then to Minki's, before settling down flush against them. In that moment, Daehwi is certain there is something going on between them, something they had made sure no one else in this competition was privy to.
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
Woojin has no exact idea what time they stopped dancing to fall to the floor, sweaty backs leant against the dance studio mirror, breath coming out in short gasps, every part of their bodies burning with heat and the creeping feeling of exhaustion that had been hovering over them for weeks.
He finds himself laid flush against a sleeping Seongwu, with one arm draped over Daehwi's shoulder and the other barely touching Kuanlin's head as the youngest lays down between him and Jaehwan.
As it is, he listens quietly to the other's breathing as it slowly evens out as they succumb one by one to a peaceful sleep; Woojin himself stares ahead, at the dimly lit hallway outside the studio, eyes half lidded and heavy. They're the only ones left in the studio, but Woojin doubts they're the only ones still practicing in the building.
If not for his own fatigue, Woojin would have invited Jonghyun to join them; the elder was slumped in his own corner of the practice room beside the door, it couldn't have been comfortable for him, head thrown back and knees pulled up to his chest. Woojin could practically hear the thoughts racing around his hyung's head from where he sat. Jonghyun had been like it for hours now, ever since Minhyun had rushed out of the practice room in a panic earlier that day without so much as a goodbye to any of them.
Lost among his own thoughts, Woojin almost misses the strained voice calling 'Jju' from the doorway. In fact, if it weren't for the sound of Jonghyun clambering up to his feet, he would've ignored it completely.
"Min you're back, is she okay? God I've been so worried." Jonghyun tries to say, breathless and incoherent as he tries to speak, hands finding the sides of Minhyun's face and holding him close as he pulls their foreheads together.
"S-she's okay, the fevers broken and hyung should be able to take her home in the morning." Minhyun lets out, chest rising as he breathes slowly.
"Good." Is all Jonghyun manages, he's too weak, too tired for much else. Instead he settles for bringing his hand to the small of Minhyun's back while the other rubs comforting circles in between his shoulder blades.
Woojin quietly observes as the pair fall against the wall, Minhyun sinks into Jonghyun's side, curling up against his chest. Jonghyun begins carding his fingers through Minhyun's soft hair in an attempt to calm his erratic breathing.
"I-I can't do this anymore Jju." Minhyun's voice wavers, tears stinging his eyes as he sits up to face Jonghyun.
"She needed me, and I was here in this fucking practice room instead of by her side. What if it had been something worse? What if -" Minhyun's voice comes out in desperate sobs. It's not the delicate, pretty crying he'd always hoped to have. It's loud and painful and hurts to breathe.
It's dark enough that Woojin can't fully see the pair in the corner but he manages to distinguish Jonghyun gathering Minhyun in his arms, Minhyun's face pressed against his neck as he clutches onto Jonghyun like a lifeline. Jonghyun whispers sweet reassurances, leaving a few soft kisses against Minhyun's head as his sobs began to even out- Jonghyun's steady and familiar voice the only thing keeping him grounded.
Woojin isn't sure what alarms him more, his hyung's uncharacteristic use of profanities or his painful display of vulnerability. He listens quietly to Minhyun's small sobs as he eventually cries himself into a fitful sleep, he decides then that he really shouldn't have been prying on such an intimate exchange in the first place; clearly there was something amiss with Minhyun but that was between Minhyun and Jonghyun, not him.
When he finally closes his own eyes, Woojin becomes innately aware of the creeping feeling of exhaustion that had been hovering over them for weeks; suffice to say, sleep consumes him almost instantly.
When Minhyun wakes with tear tracks painting his cheekbones, no one mentions it
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
"Hyung, why does Minhyun hyung never come out with us?" Kuanlin innocently asked, traipsing after Minki as they made their way around the subway station.
Kuanlin couldn't recall a single instance in which Minhyun had met up with any of the trainee’s sans his members outside of filming. He couldn't wrap his head around it, it wasn't as if no one was inviting him because Kuanlin had asked him to join them just yesterday only to be met with a pitiful hair ruffle and a 'Sorry Lin, I've got places I need to be
"He has other responsibilities Kuanlin-ah." Minki sighed as he patted the younger boy on the back. Kuanlin pouted at him in confusion but left it at that.
They had stopped briefly beside Hyungseob's ad, to give him a chance to read his sticky notes when Minki's phone vibrates from his pocket. Kuanlin watches from Minki's side as he pulls it out, opening his group chat.
Kuanlin's mouth goes slack as he sees the picture, that he assumes is from one of his members, load on his hyung's screen. Minhyun is asleep on what appears to be a sofa, his usually hard features softened into a serene expression as he cradles the little girl draped over his chest; her head tucked comfortably under his chin.
Kuanlin was thrown off to say the least.
Minhyun had always been somewhat of an enigma to him. At first, he wasn't sure whether or not it was the language barrier, but he'd never quite been able to establish who Hwang Minhyun truly was behind the cool façade; only being privy to little glimpses of it here and there. Yet still Kuanlin couldn't work out what it was, something about the elder was off but he just couldn't place what it was that made Minhyun so different from his other peers. Regardless, over the past few months he'd managed to piece together a vague idea, but he would never have put his hyung down as someone who liked children all that much. In fact, that was almost the opposite of the image he'd begun to develop.
"Who's she?" Kuanlin asked curiously, pointing at the small girl on Minki's screen.
Minki nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard the Taiwanese native's voice out of nowhere. "Yah Lai Kuanlin, it's rude to look at other people's messages." He scolded the younger.
"Sorry hyung." Kuanlin apologises only to be followed moments later by a small "But who is that girl in the picture with Minhyun hyung?"
Minki takes a moment, wracking his mind for a believable explanation for Jiheon's presence without letting the cat out of the bag. "It's his sister." Minki settled with.
"Ah." Kuanlin nodded, looking now he could clearly see the almost uncanny resemblance between Minhyun and the small girl in the picture, "She's cute."
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
'Ardor and Able Ha Sungwoon'
Sungwoon was absolutely beside himself. He had done it. After all his struggles and doubts, He'd done it. Ha Sungwoon was debuting again.
He smiled with the force of a thousand suns from the moment he takes his place on that chair at number 11. The euphoria doesn't leave him, even as he charges through the corridors on a mission to find Junhyuk and Timo hyungs amidst the chaos.
However, Sungwoon finds himself stopping in his tracks upon noticing a familiar face at the end of the corridor.
Minhyun is huddled into the corner with two women; one of whom he recognises to be Minhyun's noona and the other, a middle aged lady who he assumes to be his mother, and a little girl who tightly holds Minhyun's sister's hand with a stuffed bunny in the other.
"Mum I- I don't know how I'm going to do this." Sungwoon hears Minhyun say, the way his voice wavers make him almost certain that Minhyun was crying again.
"Oh Minhyunnie, I know it's hard, but you've got to be strong for them." The elder woman responds, moving to wipe away the tears forming in Minhyun's eyes.
Sungwoon observes as the small girl lets go of Minhyun's sister's hand to pull at Minhyun's leg. Minhyun leans down to pick her up, sitting her gently on his hip.
Sungwoon purses his lips at the interaction, scrunching his forehead as he continued watching. It seemed so natural, the way Minhyun picked up the girl in his arms and how she instantly nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck. The whole scene didn't settle right with Sungwoon, he couldn't help but feel there was something more to what he was watching than he was privy to.
Minhyun buries his nose in the girl's hair, inhaling her comfortingly familiar scent. He presses a soft kiss into the crown of her head, feeling all the tension leave his body. Minhyun has to fight back the tears; he'd missed this so much, having his baby wrapped so tightly in his embrace.
"Jiheon aegi-" Minhyun began before finding himself interrupted by his sister.
"Sungwoon isn't it? You did well out there. Congratulations on making it." Sujin calls after him, having finally noticed his presence in the hallway. She beckoned for Sungwoon to join them, thanking the lord that she had noticed the other was there before he had heard too much.
"Ah yeah, that's me." Sungwoon chuckled, bowing to Minhyun's mother and sister with a gentle, "Thank you."
Sungwoon noticed as the little girl's gaze followed him curiously as a moved, clinging tighter onto Minhyun the closer Sungwoon got to her, "Minhyun your sister is so cute." Sungwoon gushed, pinching Jiheon's cheeks.
None of them correct him.
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
Jonghyun is pressed warm into Minki's side, he curls closer to the younger until his head is comfortably tucked under Minki's chin and cushioned by the other male's arm. Noah sprawled himself out atop of them, resting his whole-body weight on their legs until they can barely feel them. Nonetheless, Jonghyun finds a strange comfort in the familiarity of it all.
A knock on the door pulls Jonghyun from his complacency. Reluctantly, he unwraps himself from Minki, lifting Noah's head from his lap and carefully crosses the room towards the front door
"Oh Jisung hyung?" Jonghyun asks, eyes growing wide and he props open the door with his shoulder.
"Sorry Jonghyun-ah, probably should have called ahead, I just wanted to make sure you're all doing well, I hope you don't you mind?" Jisung replies and Jonghyun is sure he can see the faintest blush on his hyung's cheeks as the elder bows his head.
"Not at all hyung, come in. I'll put the kettle on." Jonghyun tells him, gently closing the door behind the both of them as he makes his way over to the kitchen.
A small grateful smile appears on Jisung's face as he gently toes of his shoes. He watches in curiosity the boys in front of him who appear too invested in their own business to notice his presence in their flat. Dongho sits in the corner of one sofa, a small girl sat on his lap resting against his chest as he plats her hair. Beside them, Minhyun is peacefully asleep in who he assumes to be Aron's embrace. On the other, Minki's back is pushed into one corner of the sofa, one leg on the floor and one stretched along the length of the sofa, and a small dog stretched out on his chest.
"Hey hyung." Dongho calls, tilting his head slightly to greet Jisung upon noticing the elder’s presence.
"Hi." Aron sends a timid wave in Jisung's direction
"Oh! You must be Aron; I've heard so much about you." Jisung exclaims.
"And who is this cutie." Jisung's gaze turns to the small child nestled in Dongho's lap. He gushes, crouching in front of the little girl who responds to the attention with a soft giggle.
"Ji, I can't plat your hair if you're wriggling like this." Dongho pouts and Jisung finds himself taken aback by the skill and delicacy in which Dongho weaves the girl’s hair through his fingers. While he's definitely past viewing Dongho as just a scary sunbaenim with tattoos and an angry resting face, it's still the last thing he'd expected him to be good at.
"Go on, say hello, he won't bite." Dongho prompts her.
"Hello." Jiheon greets, taking his hand in hers and shaking it gently. Jisung finds his heart melting at the sight
"Jiheon is Minhyun's sister." Aron explains.
"We babysit a lot." Jonghyun adds before Jisung has a chance to ask any questions, coming up behind the elder with three steaming mugs of tea in his hands.
"Come hyung, sit." Minki calls and before Jisung can register what's happening, he finds himself squished between Minki and Jonghyun on the sofa; a mug pressed into his hands and a rather insistent dog laid out heavy on his lap.
Sipping at his tea, Jisung takes a moment to closer observe Minhyun; the boy lays limp and pliant in Aron's arms, even in his supposedly peaceful sleep, there is an anxiousness and unease etched on his face that Jisung wouldn't wish upon anyone, "Is Minhyun okay?" He hesitantly asks.
"He's just tired," Aron sighs, tucking a lock of loose hair behind the younger's ear as he continues, "The last few weeks have been pretty tough on him."
Before he can respond, Jisung finds himself once again interrupted but this time not by a recognisable voice, "Oppa, do you have any flour?" pierces through the comfortable silence they had established. Turning to look at the new presence, he almost gasps, realising that it was Kyulkyung – the Kyulkyung - who had entered the flat and not just a girl who happened to live in the same tower block.
"Top cupboard on the left, why?" Jonghyun replies, barely even sparing a look at the girl. Jisung takes that to mean, this probably is not an unusual occurrence.
"Roro unnie is on a baking spree." She lets out an exasperated sigh, grabbing the flour from the cupboard on her tiptoes
"Another one?" Dongho queries, furrowing his brow as Jieqiong crouches beside him.
"Don't start, we've got enough bread to last us for months." She scoffs, nudging him before turning her attention to the girl in his lap.
"I'll bring some round for you later, maybe even a cookie or two for Ji." Jieqiong continues, ruffling Jiheon's hair as the girl softly giggles.
"Unnie." Jiheon smiles and Jisung has to hold back a laugh as the girl begins animatedly explaining to her how much she loves cookies on a scale of 'mosquitos to eomma', he's honestly surprised Minhyun managed to remain asleep throughout the commotion.
"You spoil her." Minki grins.
"Just you try and stop me." Jieqiong beams, climbing to her feet and doing a little dance that has Jiheon cackling.
"Oh! Sorry, I didn't see you there." She flushes in embarrassment upon noticing Jisung sandwiched between Jonghyun and Minki which Dongho takes great joy in laughing at. Jieqiong shoots a glare in Dongho's general direction before continuing, "Jisung isn't it?"
"Yes!" Jisung chokes on his tea, coughing out a reply, "Yes, that's me." (this, to almost no one's surprise, Dongho also finds great amusement in)
"Anyway, I better get back." Jieqiong tells them, waving the bag of flour, "Thanks for the flour oppa."
"Nice meeting you Jisung." She calls out as she shuts the door behind her.
"Impeccable timing as always." Jonghyun muses, breaking the silence Jieqiong had left in her wake.
"Done!" Dongho lets out a proud exhale as he looks at the braid, he'd spent the best part of an hour working on.
"Thank you Dongmullie." Jiheon thanks him, nuzzling her face against Dongho's chest and wrapping her little arms around his waist.
"You okay squirt?" Aron asks gently.
"mmm tired." Jiheon pouts, curling herself further into Dongho's warm embrace.
"It's late and I should probably get going, I think someone needs to go to bed." Jisung speaks up, placing his mug down on the floor as he sends a sympathetic glance over to Jiheon, "Thanks for the tea and the chat, tell Jiheon I said bye."
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
Jaehwan wakes from a disturbed sleep with his throat raw, he knew he shouldn't have strained his voice so hard during their vocal practice, but he was a perfectionist; not much else to it.
Jaehwan trudges out of the room, dishevelled and disoriented; desperately trying not to wake any of his roommates. He wasn't unconvinced that Jihoon wouldn't actually murder him in cold blood if he woke him up in the middle of the night one more time.
A gentle breeze seeped through the latched window into the dimly lit corridor as he made his way through the dorm. The low buzz of traffic that filtered into the dorm almost concealed the quiet sound of a familiar voice singing.
Walking into the living room, the singing becomes clearer and Jaehwan can distinguish exactly what he's singing.
The room is dark, Jaehwan can barely see a thing with all the curtains drawn and lights turned off. The only source of light, a laptop screen that illuminated the far corner of the room. Adjusting his eyes to the darkness, Jaehwan notices Minhyun curled up into himself on the sofa, softly singing a lullaby to the little girl on his screen.
The girl's quick and shallow breaths began evening out as Minhyun sang.
Jaehwan observed as she fell limp into the arms of the man at the other end of the screen, who continues carding his fingers through the girl's hair even after she had finally fallen asleep.
"I'm sorry I disturbed your sleep Min, I know you need it but we just couldn't get her to settle. I didn't know what else to do." The other man apologised.
"I don't mind hyung, making sure Jiheon's okay is more important than sleep." Minhyun told him but any idiot could see how tired he was, the way he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands only making his fatigue painfully more obvious.
"Hey, we'll be okay Min. Don't fret so much." The other man reassured gently, "We'll make it work."
Jaehwan finds himself resting against the door frame as he watches them fall into a comfortable silence.
"I love you hyung."
"Take care of yourself love, please." The other man tells him, tone dripping with sincerity.
Jaehwan isn't quite sure what he'd heard unfold between his hyung (who up until this point Jaehwan thought he knew well) and the other man and to be perfectly honest, he isn't sure he actually wants to know, so he makes himself scarce before he has to think about it any further, water long forgotten.
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
Minhyun can still feel the high from the showcase pulsing through his skin. He swore his ears were ringing, trying to register all the sounds from the crowd spilling through the walls, making its way backstage. He could pick out hints of his name here and there, getting scarcer the further down the corridor he moves. A little hand clutches onto his leg out of nowhere, pulling Minhyun out of his thoughts. He tilts his head to see Jiheon smiling at him, so warm that Minhyun feels he could melt into the ground.
Minhyun loved it, the rush of a performance, the roaring crowds, and bright lights but it couldn't even compare to the warmth that blooms in his chest at the sight of his daughter in front of him.
They don't need many words, they never did. Minhyun crouches in front of his baby, brushing a lock of her black hair away from her face. Jiheon hands him her treasured stuffed bunny before throwing her arms around his beck; a tired smile lighting up her face as she gently giggled, nuzzling her face into Minhyun's chest.
Minhyun doesn't even notice Aron's presence until he hears a familiar voice, "She wouldn't leave until she'd seen you."
Minhyun carefully stands, pulling Jiheon into his arms; her head finding it's place in the crook of his neck, small pigtails tickling his skin, as she began to nod off. When his eyes meet Aron's, he almost breaks down, so overwhelmed by emotions he has tried so hard to suppress. Aron wipes an unshed tear from Minhyun's cheek, softly, as if he were handling the most gentle being of this world, the most frail, the most beautiful and fuck- Minhyun is so in love.
"I miss you." Minhyun speaks the words they both think. Aron sighs, he knows, he misses Minhyun too, he misses them. The five of them together. Aron doesn't say it, instead opting to pull Minhyun in just a bit and press their lips together.
The kiss is still, subtle, but somehow, it's enough- it's perfect. They're perfect. In that moment, they're just them again.
They shouldn't have been doing this in the middle of the hallway, right in front of the door to the dressing room where anyone could walk in on them at any moment. There is absolutely no privacy here but Minhyun couldn't find it in him to care.
"You did great you know Min." Aron pulled away, brining his hand up to Minhyun's face, gently stroking his cheek.
Jiheon snuggles further into Minhyun's embrace, her breathing evening out as she settles. She looks so perfectly at peace in her sleep, it had been so long since Minhyun had last seen her like this: lax in his arms with not a care in the world. It wasn't until that moment that Minhyun realised just how much he'd missed his baby. Seeing her like this, he wasn't sure how he'd ever be able to let her go again.
"I'm not sure how much longer I can keep this up hyung." Minhyun admitted, his voice small as if he was scared to let himself speak it a loud, "I should never have agreed to go on the show in the first place."
"They didn't exactly give you much of a choice in the matter." Aron reminds him gently, seeing how close to tears Minhyun was. "Jiheon's doing fine and so are we, it might not be perfect but we're coping." He reassures, running his hand comfortingly up and down Minhyun's arm.
In that moment, he becomes acutely aware of the way Jiheon's little fingers are curled into the fabric of his shirt, reassuring her that he wasn't going anywhere far from her. It breaks his heart; he wants to stay strong for her, but he finds himself unable to hold back the tears any longer.
"I feel like such a shit excuse for a mother." Minhyun's shaky voice resonated in the hallway as he traces little patterns in Jiheon's back, praying she doesn't wake.
Aron runs his thumbs over Minhyun's cheeks, catching and wiping the tears as they fall. "You don't realise how much she loves you Min." Aron sighs, wrapping an arm loosely around his waist.
"You might not be around all that often at the moment, but that doesn't make you any less of a mother to her. We know that and so does Jiheon." Aron continued, wiping his own cheek with his sleeve. He hadn't even realised he'd started to tear up but hearing Minhyun talk about himself like that made his heart ache.
"Eomma?" A sleepy voice murmured from his shoulder as Jiheon stirred.
"It's okay Ji, eomma’s here now." Minhyun hushed, pressing a light kiss into her hair, and moving to gently stroke her back.
"Minhyun-ah." Jisung's voice startles him, he manages to carefully turn around to face his hyung without rousing Jiheon from her sleep.
"I'll go and find the boys, leave you to talk alone." Aron lightly squeezed Minhyun's shoulder in reassurance and pressed a tender kiss into the girl's hair before leaving the pair alone.
"Thank you hyung." Minhyun whispered, returning his gaze to Jisung who looked upon the scene before him in confusion.
There's an elephant in the room, and Minhyun doesn't know how to approach it without scaring it away. He had never been good at dealing with his own uneasiness. The air grew heavy and awkward; as if it put a seal on their mouths, keeping either from speaking up.
"She's not your sister is she." Jisung eventually broke the silence, eyeing the sleeping toddler in Minhyun's arms.
He tests a lot of words in his mouth, running his tongue over them as he tries to pick them apart to decide what would be the best way to go about talking about it. In the end, he decides to be honest, words quiet.
Minhyun let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding in as he waited for Jisung's return. He hadn't expected it to be good so when all he hears is a quiet, "What's her name?", he can't help but feel relieved.
"Hwang Jiheon" Minhyun tells him, tracing little patterns into her back.
"How old is she?" Jisung asks cautiously, the question that had been on the tip of his tongue ever since he'd figured out the truth of who Jiheon really was.
Jisung's eyes widen at the implications of what Minhyun had just said, "But you're so young Minhyun-ah, how can she be- were you even legal?" he panicked, unsure of what to do or say with the information he'd just learnt.
And there it was, the penny drop so to speak. He had known this moment would come eventually. And sooner rather than later, his hyung wasn't stupid. He was bound to figure it out. But he had hoped it wouldn't be so soon. He had hoped he would have been able to tell his new members in his own time. But if this was how it was going to go, then so be it. Minhyun took a moment to find his words, tenderly hushing Jiheon as he drew out the time.
"I uh- I was seventeen."
"Who’s the father?" He asked, eyes fixated on the rather domestic scene that played out in front of him. It was as if the Minhyun he was watching in this moment was a completely different person to the Minhyun he had grown to know.
"I don't know." Minhyun lets out, gently tucking the stuffed rabbit he had been holding between his chest and the sleeping girl.
They fall into a bout of silence as Minhyun carefully adjusts Jiheon in his arms, so the girl can sleep comfortably without waking with a crick in her neck. Minhyun knows what is coming, he knows what Jisung is going to ask but he doesn't want to face it. Not again.
"You don't know?" Jisung raises his eyebrow, already overwhelmed by the situation in hand, nothing about it seemed to make any sense to him.
"I was raped on my way back from the company, they never found him." Minhyun's shoulders dropped in resignation, his soft and pained voice breaking Jisung's heart.
"God Minhyun-ah, I'm so, so sorry." Jisung stuttered out, mentally scolding himself for being so inconsiderate and not thinking before he spoke. Minhyun could recognise the tone from anywhere, the unmistakable tinge of pity that seemed to follow him around like his shadow as of late
"Don't. You don't need to be sorry hyung." Jiheon stirs again, clutching at the back of Minhyun's shirt like a lifeline as she buried her face further into his neck. One of his hands falls to the small of Jiheon's back, rubbing comforting circles as he brings himself to continue, "Wrong place wrong time, you couldn't have stopped him. No one could have, I've come to terms with that now. There's no point me dwelling on what I can't change. Besides, Jiheon turned out to be the greatest gift I could have asked for."
There was a pregnant pause as Jisung tried to find his words. He carefully observed the scene that played out in front of him; as the little girl lolled her head onto Minhyun's shoulder, gripping her mother's shirt in a tight fist.
"You and Aron though?" Jisung began, his attention returning once again to the younger man.
"Come on Minhyun, it can't be anything I haven't seen before." Jisung lets out an exasperated sigh, trying to piece together what was really going on.
"Its not just him." Minhyun whispered.
"it's not just him?" Jisung repeated Minhyun's words in confusion.
"It's all of them," Minhyun eventually relents, "It's unorthodox I know, but it's how we work. They're more than my friends, more than my brothers. I love them hyung, all four of them."
"Yeah that's definitely uh- complicated." Jisung breaks the silence, eyes staring straight at Minhyun, dazed.
"So, uh- how does Jiheon fit into all of that." Jisung inquired further. To be perfectly honest Minhyun was slightly taken aback by the fact Jisung was still willing to hold conversation with him. Then again, the elder was like that, unimaginably kind; held nothing against anyone and always a shoulder to lean on.
"You know, I'm not sure I would have kept her if not for them," Minhyun mused, taking in the sight of his daughter bundled in his arms, "I was still a kid, I was terrified of the very notion that I was carrying a child but they held me through it all; the morning sickness, the mood swings, the appointments and even as I was going through labour. Aron hyung was the only one of us who was legal at the time, so he signed the birth certificate as Jiheon's father. I couldn't have raised her without them, from where I'm standing each of them are just as much her parents as I am"
"I don't know quite what to say Minhyun". Jisung began, lips pressed into a tight line.
"I'm sorry I kept it from you for so long hyung, I didn't want to have to put you in a position like this. It's understandable if you're uncomfortable, I won't blame you if you are." Minhyun says it with nonchalance, maintaining his calm façade well but Jisung can still sense the apprehension and fear in his tone.
"I wasn't- I mean I'm not." Jisung tries to say, flushing ever so slightly as he stumbles over his words, "Look Minhyun-ah, I don't want you to think I'm uncomfortable, I have no right to judge how you live your life. Clearly, they make you happy and from what I've seen they cherish you just as much. I haven't got any problem with your relationship, I'm just not quite sure how to handle a situation like this."
"It's fine hyung, but thank you anyway- for being so understanding, most wouldn't" Minhyun smiles reassuringly, waving it off.
"She's lucky, to have parents like you." Jisung acknowledges, "I couldn't imagine raising a child at such a young age in such difficult circumstances, but you took it in your stride. It might be unconventional, but the five of you have clearly done a damn good job. I hope she knows how much she's loved."
They fall into a comfortable silence and Minhyun can't help but think Jisung must have some sort of sixth sense, always knowing what to say and when. Minhyun had craved to hear someone say those exact words ever since Jiheon's birth but all that was ever bestowed upon him and the boys were disapproving glances and pity. Minhyun eyeballs him for a moment, lips pressed into a tight line before he relents, "Would you like to meet her properly?"
"If it's not too much trouble." Jisung stumbles over his words and Minhyun had to suppress a laugh. The sight of Jisung getting more flustered at the prospect of talking to a four-year-old than having to sing on stage in front of thousands was one he never thought he'd see from his hyung.
"Ji-ah." Minhyun said softly, drawing light circles on her back,
"wake up aegi"
Jiheon stirs, eyebrows creasing as she attempts to hide herself from the harsh lights if the corridor. "Eomma?" A sleepy voice murmured from the safety of his shoulder.
"One of eomma’s hyung's would like to talk to you Ji."
Jiheon whined as she sat up in his arms, eyes following the other man with curiosity. Minhyun helped her wipe the sleep away from her eyes, offering a kind smile as he adjusted her on his hip.
"She's just tired, it's way past her bedtime." He reassured upon seeing Jisung's concerned expression. Jiheon tended to take some time in waking up, she eased into her usual state of awakeness slowly and with some effort. The lateness of the hour only acting to exacerbate this.
"Ji, this is Jisung hyung, you've met him before remember?" Minhyun whispered into the little girl’s ear. The high-pitched laughter that followed threw Jisung off completely. He'd expected Jiheon to be much like Minhyun personality wise, then again when he see's the way Minhyun interacts with his daughter, he suspects there's probably more to Minhyun than any of the Wanna One members are privy to.
"Who's this little guy then?" Jisung asked, offering her a kind smile.
"Babbit." Jiheon replied enthusiastically, squirming in her mother's arms as she beams at Jisung
"I wanted a real babbit but then Aron 'dopted us a doggy called Noah and now he's my best friend." She tells him.
"When I was a wean, my sister and I used to have a pet rabbit." Jisung talks to her as if it's the most pressing thing in the world. If it matters to Jiheon, then it mattered to Jisung too; and for that Minhyun couldn't be more grateful.
Minhyun watches in curiosity as Jisung interacts with his daughter. The elder’s eyes are wide, focused on the conversation in hand and his lips slightly open, so engrossed in their conversation and the way Jiheon smiles when talking about the things she loves, he fails to notice the nine other presences entering the hallway.
"Minhyun hyung there you are, we've been looking everywhere for you." He hears Seongwu's distinctive voice call out from behind him.
Minhyun flinches, sharp eyes widening as he hears his name called out. He slowly turns around, softly smiling at his members.
"Oh, you didn't tell us your sister was coming." Sungwoon gushed at the sight of Jiheon curled into Minhyun's chest.
"eomma 'm tired." Jiheon whined, going limp and pliant in his arms as the fatigue set in and her little body reached its limit.
"Minhyun hyung-" Seongwu's voice was measured, precise, quiet.
"D-did she just call you eomma?"
The air stagnated, as everyone held their breath. Minhyun slowly nodded. "Yeah," he swallowed the lump in his throat, lowering his eyes to meet Jiheon's, tracing tiny patterns on her back to calm her, as she struggled to keep her eyes open. "Yeah she did."
"You're her mother?" Jinyoung queries, nervously fiddling with his shirt sleeve. "You carried her?"
"She's mine." Minhyun affirmed, gently rocking Jiheon back and forth in his arms in an attempt to get the restless girl to settle.
"But you're only 21." Jaehwan began cautiously. "How can she be- hyung were you even legal?"
A few beats of silence pass before Minhyun can musters up enough courage to break it, "I- I was seventeen"
"Why didn't you tell us Minhyun?" Seongwu sighed. He tries to be mad at him, he really does but he can't bring himself to hold any ounce of anger against the younger. Not when he sees the way Minhyun looks at the child like she's the most precious being in the world.
"No one is supposed to know about her, that was their condition. They wouldn't make me get rid of her so long as I ensured no one found out about her." Minhyun settles with this, "A pregnancy would have been scandal enough let alone a male pregnancy, but I wasn't even legal and there was no father to take responsibility. Pledis couldn't risk the media finding out, it would have ruined them." Minhyun stressed, he felt awful about hiding such a big part of his life from his members, from his friends; of course, he did, but it was too risky. The less people that know who Jiheon really is to them, the better.
"Hyung-" Woojin began before finding himself interrupted by the little girl.
"Eomma~" Jiheon whined, wrinkling her nose as she loosely wrapping her arms around Minhyun's neck.
"She's so cute." Jihoon coos at the girl as she tried to find a comfortable position in her mother's arms to sleep in.
"She's got your eyes."
"And your smile."
"And she whines like you."
"Eomma~" She pouts, nuzzling her face into Minhyun's shoulder.
"Okay, okay." Minhyun relented, shifting Jiheon on his hip as he reassuringly pats her back, "Let's go find Aron to take you home huh?"
"You're coming home too?" Jiheon sends him a hopeful glance and it all but breaks his heart.
"Ji- I can't." He reaches forward to brush some hair from her face, pushing aside the feeling of the hot tears that were pooling in the corners of his eyes, "I'm sorry"
Jiheon's lower lip trembled as tears began spilling down her rosy cheeks. Her breathing quickening as more sobs flowed out from her tiny frame.
"Shh aegi, please don't cry." Minhyun hushed, gently dabbing Jiheon's tears with his sleeve as he rubbed comforting circles into the small of her back, "It won't be for long, I'll come back home soon."
"Promise?" Jiheon sniffled, her breathing beginning to even out as she offered Minhyun her pinkie.
"Promise." He affirmed, tightly linking his pinkie with his daughter's own.
"Miss you eomma." Jiheon clung to Minhyun, arms closed tightly around his neck as her head found its place, rested comfortably in the crook of her mother's neck.
“I miss you too aegi."
—· . · . · .· . · . ꕤ
They return to the dorm later that night after a celebratory meal to find Minhyun passed out from exhaustion on the sofa, tear tracks painting his cheekbones, curled up with the same stuffed rabbit the little girl had clung so tightly onto earlier that night. No one mentions it.