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they told me that it's love (i suppose it could be)

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i: things i said under the stars and in the grass

When Junhui was 8 years old, he saw a kid fall down and hurt his knee. It was behind his school when they were out for gym class, and the teacher was preoccupied with someone else so she didn’t notice that the kid had fell down and was crying like he’d lost a layer of skin off his entire leg instead of getting a tiny scratch on his knee that barely required a band-aid.

It was, frankly, embarrassing (for everyone involved) and Junhui decided to tell the kid as such. It could’ve been much worse; you should probably stop crying.

He ended up making the kid cry even harder.

It was unexpected to little 8-year-old Junhui, who hadn’t even considered that the kid might just want a hug or for someone to tell him that it would be alright, that help would be coming soon – even if he didn’t necessarily need it.

The point is, Junhui has always said what’s on his mind without giving it a second thought, and even when he does give it a second thought, he only ever uses his head to process whatever he’s about to say, not to contemplate whether or not he should say it at all. His heart doesn’t really get involved in most matters. It’s not that he’s emotionally inept, because he’s really not, he swears. It’s just that most of the time, his head often makes a better case for why it should be used over his heart. So he doesn’t have much practice, that’s all.

Junhui is nothing if not straightforward, and sometimes, unfortunately, it gets him into trouble.

“I urge you to practice with one of the other trainees. Seungcheol, perhaps? You’re too quick to say exactly what you mean, Junhui. Some questions just can’t be answered like that, you have to be round-a-bout, appeasing, know how to appeal to an audience while still playing it safe. Understand?”

Junhui nods, his ears still having to strain to understand some of the words that the communications coach slurs together. In his head, he’s sulking. Mostly because of how he’s being told that his entire nature is unfit for the life he dreams of having, but also because he doesn’t understand why the staff members around him can’t try speaking just a little more clearly so that he can understand. Junhui always has perfect diction, can’t they just make his life easier and do the same?

One of the downsides of training for the life of an idol, Junhui has learned over the years, is that he’s never going to truly be himself. It’s difficult to imagine – being someone influential without feeling like that influence is his own, but he knows that he’ll have to get used to it eventually. Junhui’s spent a long time figuring out how to look perfect and act perfect and sing perfect and dance perfect. He still has some ways to go, but in the eyes of the media, Junhui’s sure that he’ll look like the golden standard when he debuts.

All he really has left to do is fix the way he tends to speak (and who he tends to love), and Wen Junhui will be replaced with a better, newer version. Perfect.

A resigned sigh grabs his attention, and Junhui looks at his CC run a finger through her hair with her eyes closed. She doesn’t look at him when she says, “Alright, we’re done.”

We’re never really done, Junhui thinks a little bitterly. Because it’s true. There are always more lessons and more tweaking and fine-tuning, but never any clear promise of a future in sight. But he doesn’t say this, because he’s waited for so long, it would be wrong to voice frustration at this point.

Instead, he bows once and says goodbye, leaving the room and closing the door behind him. For a few minutes, he stands there with his head pressed against the door, arm twisted behind him with his hand still on the doorknob. It’s never bothered him this much. He’s excused every change he’s ever made to himself to fit the idol mold as a sacrifice he needed to make to achieve his dreams, he’s just more tired than usual today. Frustration and exhaustion are colliding and rearing their heads, taking on a new form of annoyance and mild anger.

He considers what might happen if he walked right back into that room and told his CC that he wanted to keep this one part of himself, that he was tired of shedding layers of his identity, that he just needed this one thing to be able to keep going. And his hand twists on the doorknob, almost automatically, but then a door closes down the hall and when Junhui leans forward to see who it is, Minghao is standing there with a dejected look on his face.

They make eye contact, and Junhui loosens his grip on the doorknob.

 

 

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’m good with words, and when I get Korean down, she’ll see that too. It cancels out everything else!” Junhui complains animatedly, too annoyed to stop flailing his limbs everywhere. Minghao, walking next to him at a leisurely pace, grabs one of his arms mid-air before it smacks him the face and gently lowers it.

“That… I don’t think that’s how it works. Plus, it may not be terrible but, like, celebrities can’t always tell it how it is,” Minghao tries to explain, “That’s how careers get ruined. You’d say the same thing about my current, uh…”

He gestures vaguely to himself like he can’t quite get the words out, but Junhui understands. Earlier, when Minghao had told him about the choreographer’s criticism, Junhui hadn’t wanted to say it, but he agreed.

It wasn’t terrible that Minghao always gave his all to whatever he was doing, the impact his dance had because of his energy and passion, in theory, could cancel out the fact that he was always completely spent afterwards. But Junhui knew it wasn’t the smart way to go about anything, really, if he wanted to continue as an idol for a long time. Minghao would eventually burn out, or hurt himself, or something else that could’ve been prevented had he just paced himself a little better.

Minghao’s never known how to hold himself back. If he feels like something is right, he’ll do it. It’s funny, how they’re so different from one another, but they fit together seamlessly anyways.

They walk onto the grass and Minghao collapses underneath a tree, closing his eyes like he could sleep right there and then if he was given the chance. The cool breeze from the Han River sends barely noticeable goosebumps running up Junhui’s arms as he lowers himself to lie down beside Minghao. In the dark, under the stars, it’s easy to forget that he’s in a completely different country.

Junhui slots their fingers together and ignores Minghao’s annoyed protests, knowing that they’re more because he’s embarrassed than anything. They fit together, just like this.

“I guess change isn’t bad. We all have to change a little if we want to achieve our dreams or whatever.”

Minghao snorts at this, “Or whatever?”

Junhui nods sagely, “I mean, our dreams are great and all, but I’m mostly doing it to stay with you forever.”

He grins when Minghao rolls his eyes and turns away from him to look at the stars. Footsteps pass them by and Junhui thinks that it’s nice to be able to lay here and not worry about being seen or being known. He wonders how long it will last, if he’ll miss it when (if?) it’s gone. Sometimes, it feels like Junhui’s running towards a nightmare disguised as a dream.

Moonlight illuminates their faces in bits and pieces through the leaves and when Junhui’s gaze lands on Minghao, he smiles at the slight blush painting his cheeks. Minghao’s always been the type to take things to heart.

“Do you really think we’ll be able to stay with each other for a long time?” It’s not posed skeptically, just curiously. Minghao’s stubbornly looking at the night sky, but Junhui can still see uncertainty and hope swimming in his eyes. Amidst all this coaching to be as professional and adult-like as possible and having to grow up much faster than most at their ages, he has to remind himself that they’re just kids at the end of the day.

It’s at times like this when Junhui wonders how he ever forgets.

“I think,” Junhui starts, a cheesy grin climbing onto his face, “we’ll have one day together for every star you see in the sky.”

Minghao crinkles his nose, but his ears have gone red, “Gross.”

Junhui laughs, contenting himself by turning to the stars and silently counting them even though he knows he won’t be able to finish.

They’re not quiet for long before Minghao clears his throat and says in a small voice, “Promise?”

“You’re serious?” Junhui asks, even though he knows Minghao is, just for kicks. 

Minghao makes this weird noise like he’s choking and then, meekly, says, “Oh, you’re not?”

“I’m always serious when it comes to you and me, Hao,” Junhui lets out, his words lilting like it’s a song.

And they lie there with grass tickling the back of their necks and people passing by with loud footsteps and loud voices and loud laughter. When Junhui makes to pull his hand away a while later, he pretends he doesn’t feel the minute resistance of Minghao’s fingers, hooking around his own to keep them in place.

 

 

On the way home, Minghao spots a daffodil, and ever the sentimentalist, he plucks it. Under the streetlights, it looks more orange than yellow, and if Junhui didn’t have his contacts in, he would probably think it was glowing. The street they’re walking through is lined with concrete apartments and concrete convenience stores, so a daffodil is kind of out of place. But in Minghao’s hand it’s like the finishing touch on a masterpiece.

And Junhui tells him exactly that. Minghao looks like his lungs have momentarily gone on strike, and then he’s sputtering like he doesn’t know what to say and avoiding Junhui’s eyes and Junhui doesn’t think he’s ever felt so incredibly fond of anyone before.

When he finally finds his voice, he exclaims, “You can’t just say stuff like that! This is why your CC is on your case about saying the wrong things at the wrong times.”

Junhui’s affronted. “I have never said anything wrong in my whole life.”

He can’t help but feel smug when Minghao doesn’t say anything to that, merely huffing and continuing to walk down the street. When they reach their building, Minghao stops at the door, prompting Junhui to stop as well. He stares into the glass and extends his arm towards Junhui, his hand offering the daffodil. Junhui takes it reluctantly.

“I like the way you are. Maybe it’s not the best thing for idol Wen Junhui, but for real Wen Junhui, it makes sense. I think it’s cool that you’re so good with your words, I’m, uh, not… so, I think I’ll try to be. From now on.” Minghao doesn’t look at him once, eyes still stuck on the glass door in front of him, but Junhui can tell his words are sincere.

“Okay,” he replies, uncharacteristically soft, “I hope you can be. And just for the record, I like the way you are too. It’s not easy to do what you do everyday.”

Minghao nods once, firm, and then heads into the building without waiting for Junhui to follow.

Funny, how the only thing Junhui needs to rid himself of is the very thing Minghao wants to acquire.

Well, it’s not the only thing. Junhui needs to fix the way he tends to speak, Minghao is no stranger to that. What Minghao is not aware of is the other thing, the one Junhui sees in brackets in his head because even in the safety of his own mind, he feels like it has to be an afterthought. It can never take the center stage, because then it might just be too obvious, and that would ruin him. (Junhui needs to fix who he tends to love).

It’s not like that with Minghao, Junhui knows that it’s not. But when he looks down at the daffodil, and he feels the warmth blooming in his chest, emanating from his heart, he knows that it could be like that, and that’s the scariest part.  

 

ii: things they said with too many miles between them

When Hansol first debuted, he would count all kinds of different things to keep him at bay. It was overwhelming and stressful to be thrown into the tumultuous world of fame and he needed something to ground him. It was weird, and the members called him out for it all the time because he’d space out and disappear into his own head (kind of like he’s doing right now), silently counting whatever it was that had caught his eye that day. He’d count the number of steps it took to get from the dorms to the company building (257), the scratches on the practice room mirror (15 and counting), the number of chairs that were in the Inkigayo waiting room (7), and the number of members that stood between Junhui and Minghao at any given time (11).

He doesn’t know why he’s thinking about something that happened in their rookie days right now, but it might have something to do with the fact that Junhui and Minghao are in the room with him, he’s got nothing better to do, and his brain has always liked to stray back to the past whenever he has spare time.

When he looks back on it, Hansol remembers seeing Junhui and Minghao through a curtain of his long, brown hair and wondering, in that barely pubescent mind of his, why they always stood so far apart. There had to be a reason to the distance, and he’d dedicated a lot of time that he could’ve dedicated to far more important things trying to figure out exactly what that reason was. Even after Minghao had decided to explain because of Seungcheol’s insistence that everything needed to be discussed as a group, Hansol didn’t quite get it.

“I don’t just want to be known as his counterpart, or that other Chinese member. I may be in the same unit as him but, just for now, I want to identify myself outside of whatever relations I have to him. Just for a while.”

Junhui had allowed it without much further discussion or refutation on his part, and that was that. But there was a difference between Junhui allowing it, and Junhui actively avoiding Minghao and going to lengths to keep them apart from one another.  

A couple months into debut, Hansol could see that Minghao was getting sick of it despite being the one who suggested the idea in the first place.

He offhandedly noticed, with the hazy languor of music show waiting rooms dragging his eyes shut, when Minghao would cross the room to go sit next to Junhui only to reach an empty space, Junhui having gotten up to go to the bathroom, or the vending machine, or to another member, or anywhere else. His distracted eyes would flick to the pair during interviews and notice how the 11 members between them would dwindle down to 9 or 8 or even 5 before suddenly, Minghao would be trying to hide how confused he was and Junhui would be pursing his lips and there would be 11 members back in between them.

A lot of it was in-between, Hansol never decided to put the two members at the forefront of his thoughts, they simply slipped and stumbled between normal things he’d be thinking about (like learning to write better lyrics or the birthday gift he still had to buy for his sister) and would draw enough attention to themselves that, for a moment, Hansol’s thoughts would catch on them. And then, they’d be ripped away just as fast.

Hansol remembers wondering about a lot of things, because it’s always been his nature to think too much and talk too little. But now, he thinks that he can probably piece it together, because he’s no longer rookie Hansol who only ever focused on the present. Now, he’s able to put things into perspective.

Like this:

The announcement of their debut and everyone exploding into joy, a cacophony of cheers and laughter and screams of pleasure. Junhui, usually the most rambunctious and quickest to fall under the spell of excitement, halfheartedly celebrating with shining eyes – that were happy, they were, but there was also something sad about them – that never strayed from Minghao.

Like this:

A boundary being drawn right there and then. Junhui’s hands inching towards Minghao and always pulling back like he couldn’t kick a bad habit. Minghao explaining why he’s distancing himself, physically, from Junhui and Junhui looking a little relieved, a little like he’s more in control.

Like this:

Junhui running away from a lot of things that had one thing in common.

(Minghao).

Hansol looks back now, and he sees things a lot more clearly than he did back then.

It was gradual, the transition back to normalcy between them, but Hansol remembers a Vlive that might’ve been the turning point. One where Minghao had gotten to Junhui before he could run away, one where Junhui didn’t look all that keen on having to run away in the first place. Minghao had leaned into Junhui while reading the comments like it was the most casual thing in the world and Junhui had leaned right back with a hint of a smile on his face.

He was never quite as free or distinctly himself again around Minghao, not like he was before they debuted, but he did loosen up, and he didn’t hold himself back as much.

Minghao’s giggle snaps Hansol back into the present, and as the pen in his fingers moves against the notebook in front of him, he realizes he’s been unconsciously tallying every time Minghao laughs because of Junhui. He doesn’t know what it is this time, but Junhui has a satisfied grin on his face as he looks at the phone he’s been holding between them and Minghao’s head is thrown onto his shoulder mid-laugh.

They fit together so well, it makes Hansol’s brain go into overdrive. Minghao takes the phone from Junhui and flips it so that he can scroll through something and Junhui shifts so he can rest his head on Minghao’s shoulder. His hands ascend to hold the phone, wrapping over Minghao’s hand and Hansol watches as they bicker lowly about something.

Hansol doesn’t know how he didn’t see it back then, or how the two managed to stay apart for so long.

All he knows is that 11 people isn’t a lot, but they would feel like a chasm as long as they were lined in between Junhui and Minghao.

 

iii: things they said that i wish they hadn’t

Seungcheol has barely opened the door to the waiting room when the words fly out and coat his ears with poison, “…and things would’ve been so much easier if you just hadn’t debuted with us.”

Junhui’s voice. Tight and controlled and low – because Junhui never yells, but Seungcheol’s instincts tell him that he might want to.

The words aren’t directed towards him but, as he takes in the situation, he almost wishes they were. Junhui is standing on one side of the room with a conflicted expression on his face, quiet anger present in the set of his jaw and the furrow of his eyebrows and regret slowly softening his sharp gaze.  On the other side of the room stands Minghao, mirroring Junhui’s anger tenfold with his lips parted just a fraction in disbelief.

An eerie hush has fallen in the room, and it’s like everyone’s holding their breath – Seungcheol definitely is. Because this is uncharted territory, Junhui is never intentionally mean and he’s definitely never said anything like this before. Seungcheol runs through the arguments that various members have had over the years in his head to try to find something similar so that he has even a hint of how to defuse the situation, but nothing is coming to mind. No one’s ever said anything like this before, anything that could result in a broken relationship. He doesn’t know what happened in the few minutes it took for him to go to the bathroom, but he knows it can’t be good.

Junhui opens his mouth, fists unclenching at his sides, and Seungcheol senses the apology sitting on the tip of his tongue, but it doesn’t come. He’s torn between trusting the two and waiting out a reconciliation of sorts and stepping in between them and telling them that they would handle this later, that there was a stage they were supposed to be on in literally an hour.

One of the managers catches his eye, a silent question present in the way he raises his eyebrows. Seungcheol shakes his head, he doesn’t want anyone else to interfere right now.

Junhui’s hands fist the bottom of his shirt and he closes his eyes, face smoothing before he carefully starts, “Minghao-”

“No, just don’t. Don’t,” Minghao cuts him off in a voice that’s meant to only be cold but is clearly laced with hurt. “I get it.”

Seungcheol winces, the words scathing him so strongly that he can’t even bring himself to imagine how Junhui’s feeling. The atmosphere in the waiting room is too volatile to say anything, but Seungcheol notices that he’s still standing in the doorway, so he takes a step forward and lets the door close behind him, alerting everyone of his presence. Twelve heads turn his way and Seungcheol blinks, for a second he’d forgotten that the rest of the members were there.

He does a customary sweep over their faces like he’s done so many times in the past, and nearly sighs with relief when he’s met with expressions that he’s mostly familiar with. Muted worry and a little bit of fear, like they don’t quite know what to make of the fight – and Seungcheol really doesn’t blame them. He can deal with this, he can reassure them like he always does, it might just take a little more insistence. He directs his gaze to Minghao and Junhui, both of whom avert their eyes stubbornly, irritation still palpable in the space surrounding them.

“We’ll deal with this after the broadcast,” he says decisively, despite not knowing if this was something that could be dealt with like any other fight. “Don’t forget that we’ve got a performance to put on.”

No one says anything. Seungcheol swallows, and then softens his voice as he says, “Families fight.”

Somehow, the tension eases at his words, and Seungcheol watches the members timidly return to whatever they were supposedly doing before the fight broke off. Minghao scoffs (and Seungcheol understands, because it’s hard to believe you’re a family when one of the members of said family just told you he wished you weren’t a part of it) and walks into a different part of the room. Junhui watches him leave and the minute he’s out of sight, he lowers his head and rubs at his eyes, shoulders drooping.

Seungcheol feels a pang of disappointment in himself for not noticing how exhausted he looks (has been looking for a while now) and moves to approach him when Junhui’s phone ring. Junhui instantly straightens up and grabs it, walking past Seungcheol without looking at him and out of the room to take the call.

Seungcheol stands in the middle of the waiting room and debates whether he should go and try to talk to Minghao. Being the leader is incredibly challenging at times like this, having to pretend like he knows what the hell he’s doing when really he just wants an adult to step in and take care of it like a professional would. Unfortunately, he’s the adult, and he’s also expected to be professional. There’s no step-by-step guide on what to do when a member who never gets upset suddenly explodes and says something to another member that cuts way too deep, there is only Seungcheol and the intuition he’s built up being so tightly tied with his members for years and years.

He sighs, and then turns to where the rest of the group is seated. Seokmin is looking at him, and then he glances around the room cautiously before addressing him, “I wish I could tell you what went down exactly, but it was all so sudden. I don’t even know how it got this big.”

Jeonghan gestures for Seungcheol to come over, and the dark circles under his eyes seem to appear more prominent when he recounts what happened in a hushed voice.

Apparently, Junhui’s been on the edge for the last couple of days because his little brother is sick back home. He’s in the hospital and no one can figure out what exactly is wrong with him. Minghao said something about Junhui’s timing during rehearsal and they kept going back and forth and usually, Junhui would just calm down and take it but he’s been so wound up that it’s no surprise he snapped the way he did.

“He needed something to go right because of how wrong everything else has been for him lately, I could tell. Minghao doesn’t know about his situation, no one except for me and you know. I don’t think it’s right to say that it’s either of their faults, alright? I think we should leave this one up to them, just for once.” Jeonghan says it gently, his eyes unfocused like he isn’t actually present in the conversation. He runs a hand through his hair and then places his hand on Seungcheol’s thigh, a brief gesture of comfort, before he heads over to the table of food.  

The others members look to him from time to time and send him small smiles of reassurance, and Seungcheol relaxes into the couch. Being the leader is hard, but how can he possibly resent it when he has a family of 12 people supporting him every step of the way?

Families fight, but they also make-up. Seungcheol’s hoping that Minghao and Junhui don’t forget that.

 

iv: things he said through his teeth

Jeonghan slaps his laptop shut, a groan escaping his lips. He’s been trying to concentrate on this stupid game one of his friends recommended to him for the past hour, but he can’t think straight. Guilt weighs down on him, making his fingers feel heavier than usual and his mind cloudy.

All he wanted to do before they had to resume activities for their last few tour dates was relax and refresh his brain because he knows that if he doesn’t take some time to unwind it’ll inevitably affect his performance, especially after the fiasco that went down last week. Of course, nothing ever works out the way he wants it to, and now Jeonghan is staring out of his window and stressing himself out as he watches Seoul light up, the sky getting darker and darker.

Jeonghan expected a lot of things when they started promotions for their new mini album. He expected the fatigue (that he would insist was languor), made stronger by the suffocating summer air and the thick heat he was unable to escape even while sitting in air-conditioned waiting rooms. He expected the reactions of the fans, had even stayed up waiting for their album to be released so that he could scroll through comments and reviews and music charts for hours, a smile never once slipping off his face.

What Jeonghan didn’t expect was a fight between the two members who’d never fought before in the years he’d known them, and on the last day of their promotions, no less. And yet, here he is, a week after the Great Rift, both parties still not speaking to each other expect for perfunctory exchanges.

He moves to his bed, climbing under the covers to lay on his back and stare at the ceiling, as if he might find some reassurance hidden between the stucco. Maybe he shouldn’t have told Seungcheol to leave Minghao and Junhui to resolve their own issues. Jeonghan generally has a feel for these kinds of situations, the kinds where emotions run high and it’s hard to figure out what the next move has to be, and in the moment, he’d suggested what he thought was the correct way to go about things. He saw the worry sitting on Seungcheol’s head like a marquee and didn’t hesitate to make a decision for him.  

Now, he’s not so sure he was right after all. 

Jeonghan thinks back to what Junhui said and feels his own chest tighten. Those were words that are hard to forget – hard to apologize for. The anxiety is making Jeonghan restless and his head is a whirlwind of thoughts about the future consequences of this fight. But just as he’s contemplating getting up to go to Seungcheol and appeal that they might need to discuss this as a group after all, there’s a knock at his door.  

Jeonghan makes a sound, signalling his presence, and watches the door crack open slowly until he’s met with Minghao’s face. He slips into the room quietly and pads his way over, sitting at the foot of the bed with his legs crossed. Jeonghan pushes himself up and leans against his headboard, clearing his throat. He’s toyed with the possibility of one of the boys dropping in for his advice over the past week, but he’s never been able to move past the idea to figure out what he might say.  

His eyes drop to Minghao’s hands, where he’s playing with the ring on his pinky, and he briefly wonders if they all picked up the same nervous habit over the years. The orange glow of his night lamp illuminates Minghao’s face and Jeonghan can see, despite the conflicting colours, that his eyes are tinged with red.

It’s been a week, and the thought of Minghao shedding tears over the incident so recently that Jeonghan can still see the after-effects is so heart breaking that Jeonghan nearly gets up right there and then to drag Junhui into his room to talk it out with the other boy.

 “I wanted to talk about… what happened. You know.” The words sound well-rehearsed and controlled, but Minghao’s voice wavers. Jeonghan can tell by the way they’re not accented that Minghao’s probably practiced saying this over and over again. He’s not the type to readily come to talk things out, especially if there’s nothing that can clearly be gained or defined by the end of the talk. It’s rare, to see Minghao come to him just because he doesn’t want to stew in his thoughts alone (even if he doesn’t say it), and Jeonghan smiles, because it reminds him of the boy who’d walked into their practice room years ago, fresh off a plane with not enough luggage and too much passion.

The boy who he’d spent way too long coddling, patting his cheeks and praising him incessantly while watching him dance. The boy who never once complained about things being too hard whenever Jeonghan asked him. The boy who would translate words discretely under the table when they all went out for dinner as trainees, too stubborn to admit he didn’t understand something, fingers typing desperately until Jeonghan had taken his phone and turned it off, pushing it into Minghao’s pocket.

“Ask me,” Jeonghan had said simply. Then, slow and clear, “Anything you want. Anytime. Okay?”

And Minghao, with his precious round eyes and sheepish smile had flushed a little but had nodded, enunciating out a stilted, “Thank you, hyung.”

Minghao’s grown up so much since then, and Jeonghan can’t be any prouder – but he also can’t help miss the kid he used to be.

“Alright,” Jeonghan starts comfortably, “Have you spoken to each other?”

“No,” Minghao replies immediately, eyebrows furrowing together. He keeps looking at the sheets. “No, he hasn’t said anything to me.”

“And you haven’t said anything to him either.”

At this, Minghao looks up defensively and grits out, “I don’t think I should be the one to talk to him first.”

Jeonghan sighs. They don’t say anything for a few beats and then Jeonghan gathers his thoughts and begins, calculated, “Hao, I understand you’re hurt. What he said was uncalled for, but have you thought about the situation as a whole? Was he out of line? Absolutely. How often has he said things like that, though? How often does he explode – or even get angry, for that matter? Don’t you think there’s something more here that you might be missing?”

Guilt briefly flashes over Minghao’s face, but it’s quickly replaced with hurt.

“Jun hyung never says anything he doesn’t mean,” he mumbles, twisting his ring.

And Jeonghan’s never thought of it like that before, but now that he’s sifting through his memories, he realizes that yes, Junhui really doesn’t ever say anything he doesn’t mean. Truth is a staple of Wen Junhui, whether he’s praising someone or critiquing someone or teasing someone, he’s always candid. It’s admirable, to a certain extent. Jeonghan looks at Minghao, whose glassy eyes have been directed angrily to the sheets again, and he thinks about how even when they’re not on the best of terms with each other, Minghao still manages to tell him something about Junhui that he never knew before.

Jeonghan has a feel for these kinds of situations, but only externally. When he’s an outsider looking in, when he’s not directly involved in a situation, it’s so much easier for him to analyze and understand and compartmentalize. But right now, he’s sitting on his bed across from Minghao, who looks like he might cry, and he’s freezing up. It shouldn’t be this way, because Jeonghan knows Minghao and he knows how he tends to take everything to heart, so he should also know how to comfort him.

The thing is, though, that Jeonghan’s only ever really been good at the practical aspects of comfort. He wishes it wasn’t, but it’s difficult, and a little embarrassing, to approach Minghao right now. It’s times like this when he wishes he was more capable of expressing that he cared, that he was always thinking about how he could care better, that the list of people Yoon Jeonghan would care for until the end of his days comprised first of his family, and then of his members.

For now, Jeonghan stiffly inches over to Minghao and pulls him into a half-hug. He feels Minghao crying into his neck, and he’s overly aware of how awkward this is for both of them in particular, but a minute passes, then two, and neither of them pull away, so Jeonghan just pats Minghao’s hair the way he used to when they were trainees and Minghao couldn’t fall asleep, and they sit with each other for a while.

 

v: things he didn’t say at all

“I didn’t mean it, he has to know that, right?” Junhui looks so helpless like this, sitting in Joshua’s computer chair and wringing his hands together like he’s about to break his fingers. He looks just about as helpless as Joshua feels, but he can’t say that, because then he’d truly be no use at all. He wasn’t expecting anyone to come to him, honestly. Jeonghan had told him about two days ago, with a fiercely fond look in his eyes, that Minghao had talked to him and so Joshua’s logical reasoning told him that Seungcheol would probably be the most likely to be visited by Junhui. After all, the oldest members were supposed to be the most reliable.

Unfortunately, he’d forgotten that he too, was one of the oldest members.

“I think…” Joshua ventures carefully, “I think he might know really, really deep down. But you know how he is, Jun. Plus, what you said was pretty, well, hurtful. I think you’ll have to actually talk to him to make him realize that, you know, you didn’t mean it.”

“God, I’m an idiot,” Junhui groans, mussing up his hair in frustration.

It’s disorienting to see Junhui so worked up, not because the situation doesn’t call for it, because it does, but because Junhui is incredibly good at hiding what he’s really feeling. No one can ever figure out when he’s stressed, or tired, or hungry, or upset, and even if they somehow latch onto a suspicion and ask him, he’ll deny it regardless of its veracity. Joshua’s never been able to read it him, so it’s weird to know exactly how he’s feeling right now.

When Junhui had first arrived to Pledis as a trainee, he’d quickly taken to Joshua. Back then, with no solid language to communicate with between them, they’d formed a system comprising of sentences in three different languages. Joshua would say something and if he sensed confusion, he’d switch languages, the same went for Junhui. In an effort to better understand the other, Joshua even began to study Mandarin.

Long story short, they bonded in a way that was hard for the other boys to understand. There was an inherent sadness to being an international trainee, and sometimes the sadness cut so deep that it only helped being around other people who were hurting just as much. Joshua, even then, with vulnerability tying them together, had hesitated to say that he fully knew Junhui. That he could predict his moods or what he was thinking about. Years later, he’s learned about Junhui’s character, his intentions, but never his truth.

Based on what he does know, there’s a question that’s been nagging at Joshua, because he knows there’s something inherently wrong with the situation, and he takes a deep breath before preparing to broach the topic, “Why’d you say it?”

Junhui looks at Joshua like he’s sprouted an extra head. “You know why! The heat of the moment or whatever. I was just stressed out and he was being difficult and his perfume was – it was too strong and it kept making me lightheaded and I just. I couldn’t be around him, right in that moment. It was a mistake. I didn’t mean it.”

His voice tapers off at the end and his eyes don’t meet Joshua’s, looking down at his hands to pick at his hangnails instead.

“But you never say anything you don’t mean.” It’s an echo of what Jeonghan told Joshua the other day, and what Joshua himself has been wondering for the past week or so. 

Junhui stops fidgeting (another first) and takes a moment to slip his ring off his right pinky and onto his left. Joshua waits patiently, because he thinks he finally did something right. And then, when Junhui looks up at him with a tired look on his face, he wonders if things that are right are always good.

“You’re right,” Junhui admits, “I don’t.”

Whatever Joshua is missing can be found in Junhui’s gaze and Junhui’s voice and Junhui’s stillness. They look at each other, and then Junhui looks away, and it awakens something in Joshua because he knows that move. He’s seen that move.

Largely in the first year after their debut, except it was always with Minghao. Junhui looking away from him with that same look in his eyes is how Joshua remembers the Junhui of back then. It’s something that grew sparse in the following years, but sometimes Joshua would notice it happening and he’d turn away, pretending to be unaware because it felt painful, a little reminiscent of sharing tears over missing home.

Junhui, looking away from someone he could’ve looked at forever without a care in the world had they not debuted together, had the entire industry not been waiting for one of them to slip up so that they could tear them down before they could even build themselves up.

Joshua’s not as perceptive as Jeonghan, or as adept at navigating difficult circumstances like him, but he knows how feelings work. He knows that Junhui was on the verge of a feeling, and then – right while he was standing on the edge – he was told he wasn’t allowed to jump.

It’s not a grand realization, because Joshua feels like he’s always known on some level, but he still says, “Oh.”

They don’t talk about it.

 

vi: things they said when we were on top of the world

The stage is on fire, and so are they.

Not literally, of course, Soonyoung would probably be a lot more panicked if that was the case. Figuratively though, there’s no better way to put it. The crowd roars and cheers and whips their carat bongs around with every song but give off an especially fierce energy when they perform songs off the new album. Soonyoung feeds off the excitement and performs like he’ll never perform again, and his legs feel like jell-o by the time they’re on stage for their last song, but it’s so, so worth it.

Their last few tour dates have been amazing, but nothing has ever made him feel like the encore. It’s shocking that they even got an encore, because they’d been emotionally preparing to end their tour and say goodbye to the fans until the release of their next mini album, and then they’d been called in to the company and told that a week after the last concert, they’d be holding an encore in Seoul.

It’s a funny thing, to be on stage knowing that it’s not his last time hearing those screams but still feeling like it is, in a way. Because the next time Soonyoung will be on that stage, it’ll be with different songs and a different concept and different outfits and different selves (a little older, a little wiser, with a lot more love and gratitude).

It’s draining, not just physically, but emotionally. Maybe that’s why, as he’s giving his final ment, Soonyoung bursts into tears and makes loud proclamations of how grateful he is for his life and how much he loves the members for doing this by his side for so long and how he hopes they never let anything get in between them. His eyes unconsciously drift to Junhui and Minghao when he says the last little bit, who look at him partially fond, partially amused, and then accidentally share a look with each other that, surprisingly, is void of any anger or bitterness.

It makes him cry even more, and they quickly move on to the next person to save him of the embarrassment.

In the last few weeks, Soonyoung watched Junhui and Minghao stop tiptoeing around each other and start talking, albeit with an uncharacteristic stiffness, but it was a start. On stage though, it had all melted away and Soonyoung couldn’t help but think that they missed each other, but refused to admit it, instead finding ways to revert back to how they used to be in front of the fans under the guise of remaining professional.

Soonyoung sees, through puffy eyes, how Minghao is looking at Junhui as he delivers his ending ment in Korean, and Soonyoung also sees how his smile inches up just a little when Junhui says something else, but in Mandarin this time.

When they take their last bows, Soonyoung makes sure to take his in-ears out even though he knows it’s a one-way ticket to going deaf, and he basks in the attention and thrill and just lives in the moment for the last few minutes of the tour because he knows that he’ll be aching for it in the coming months. The excitement running through Soonyoung’s body is so urgent and explosive that he’s physically shaking, and he feels the urge to scream to get rid of that pent-up happiness.

So he does, and the words echo in the venue like they’ll never stop, “I LOVE YOU!”

He’s tearing up again when they’re being lowered off the stage, and when they’re back in the waiting room and the lights are bright enough for him to see that everyone else is crying, he finally gives in and lets himself go. Everyone is hugging and cheering and high-fiving, and some staff members produce tissue boxes but end up having to use half the tissues themselves because the bittersweet relief of ending a successful tour extends to them, too.

Soonyoung lets out a wet laugh when Seungkwan tackles him a hug, and this is when, over Seungkwan’s shoulder, he sees Minghao and Junhui standing next to each other.

They’re removed from the general crowd, closer to the walls, but their giddy smiles match everyone else’s. Then, Junhui turns to look at Minghao and although he’s still smiling, Soonyoung can see him swallow in anticipation. Minghao’s smile falters but then Soonyoung (somehow, over the ridiculous amount of his noise, with his ears still kind of ringing from being on stage) hears Junhui say, “I don’t know where I’d be without you by my side.”

It’s an apology, in the purest, most Junhui way possible. And then they’re hugging and Minghao is whispering words into Junhui’s ears that he can’t catch this time and Soonyoung feels the weight he didn’t know he had lifting off his shoulders, letting him straighten up and breathe easier.

Maybe it’s because they’re all in the same unit, maybe it’s just because they’re his friends, but Soonyoung has been kicking himself for not even trying to resolve their conflict in the past few weeks, wondering how he could ever call himself a leader if he didn’t know how to satisfy the most basic criteria. Watching them now, Soonyoung realizes that some things don’t require leadership, just understanding and love.

“Hey, cake!” Chan pops up out of nowhere and exclaims, peeling Seungkwan off of him. Soonyoung lets himself be dragged to wherever the food is, dopey smile a permanent fixture on his face.

 

 

Eventually, they have to leave the concert venue and bid their final goodbyes to both the fans and the stage. When Soonyoung collapses onto his bed in the dorm, the adrenaline all but vanishes from his system – leaving him exhausted and incredibly hot. The AC is shut off at exactly 10 p.m. everyday, not a problem on most days because he’s generally asleep by then and wouldn’t be woken up even by the world ending, much less a little bit of warmth. Unfortunately, it’s after midnight, and Soonyoung is very much awake.

Or, well, cognizant of being awake. Seriously, he’s exhausted.

It’s at this moment when his brain helpfully supplies that Junhui has a vast collection of half-sleeve shirts, and one in particular is the most over-sized, thinnest piece of fabric he’s ever seen. Perfect for hot summer nights. So, in a haze, Soonyoung stumbles over to Junhui’s room but stops at the door when he sees him talking on the phone, back facing him.

He decides to wait for him to finish and leans his head against the wall, eyelids drooping dangerously while he jerks them back open like clockwork until the one time he opens them, he sees a pair of feet. And, embarrassed enough as he is about being able to recognize his members by their feet, he knows it’s Minghao.

“What-” Minghao’s eyes land on Junhui and he lowers his voice, “What are you doing here?”

“I needed The Shirt.” Soonyoung replies, straightening up so that he doesn’t fall asleep. The Shirt is somewhat of a relic between the members of Seventeen, and he’s pretty sure that every member has borrowed it at least once ever since Junhui bought it. Minghao gives him a knowing nod.

“What about you?”

“Checking up on if his brother’s doing better. He said they’d be calling tonight.”

Soonyoung pauses, eyes widening just a fraction. “I didn’t know his brother was sick.”

Minghao crosses his arms and nods, eyes lingering on Junhui’s back. “Neither did I, at least not until today. He told me when we were coming home.”

Oh. Soonyoung had been listening to music in the car, no wonder he’d missed the conversation. Just as he’s about to ask if it’s serious, Junhui’s voice interrupts.

“Hey, you guys need something?” He’s facing them now, still sitting on his bed.

Minghao looks pointedly at the phone in his hand and asks, “How is he?”

Junhui smiles, looking relieved, as he says, “Just a bacterial infection. A rare kind, that’s why it took so long for them to figure it out. Oh, my brother, he was kind of sick.”

The last part is directed at Soonyoung, and he nods. “I’m glad he’s alright.”

“Sorry, a what infection?” Minghao looks confused and then Junhui repeats it in Mandarin, at which understanding dawns on Minghao’s face. They continue their conversation, a mix of languages (probably for Soonyoung’s sake) and Soonyoung just watches them go back and forth for a while. At some point, he starts to inch away until he finds himself back in his room on the bed with the blankets flung onto the floor.

He hears Junhui’s laugh echoing down the hall and then Minghao’s laugh chasing it, and he smiles as he feels sleep taking him under.

He didn’t really need The Shirt that badly anyways.

 

vii: things they said over the phone

“So, you think in Mandarin and dream in Mandarin – but only when you’re in Korea, and for some reason when you’re back home you dream in Korean?” Wonwoo scrunches up his nose in confusion and puts his phone down, he hasn’t really been paying attention to what he’s been reading for the last few minutes anyways. “I don’t understand, why does the switch happen?”

Wonwoo hears Junhui shuffle in the bunk above him. “I don’t know. It’s like how when I was working with Yanan I felt like speaking Korean? It’s weird. I don’t think there’s a science to it, though.”

A pause, then more shuffling. Wonwoo is almost tempted to tell Junhui to move onto the single bunk hugging the wall across from him so they can see each other, conversations always feel easier when he can see the other person’s face and read their expressions. Except Wonwoo’s already pushing his luck by claiming Junhui’s bunk and forcing him to climb up the ladder like some sort of mountain lion (Junhui’s words, not his) so he remains silent, attention kept on the trees visible from the window with their small smatterings of orange and red and yellow leaves.  

Honestly, Wonwoo didn’t even want to visit the 8th floor, especially not in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was beating down incessantly through the ridiculously large glass windows of the company and making climbing the stairs seem like mission impossible. He usually leaves such antics for the evening when, not only is the dry autumn air cooler but, he can blame wanting to see the rest of his members on fatigue instead of loneliness. Alas, the 6th floor members all had personal schedules today and because they’re temporarily on break before preparing for the next mini album, Wonwoo had nothing to do. So he found himself opening the door to the second dorm and curling up in Junhui’s bed like a cat while Junhui was taking a shower.

Pathetic, really.

He had to admit though, albeit grudgingly, that it felt nice. It always felt nice with any of his members, but talking to Junhui was always fun in a way that only appealed to him (this time, Jihoon’s words). He stares at the bottom of the bunk above him and kicks it once, lightly, then again, harder, when he gets no reaction.

Junhui makes a sound of discontent and then after some rustling, he’s hanging upside down over the side of the bunk bed, “What do you want?”

Wonwoo shrugs, glad not to be confined to speech anymore, and nudges his glasses up his nose. Junhui squints at him and continues to hang, the blood rushing to his head apparently not bothering him, “You want a proper answer, don’t you?”

“No – I mean yes, obviously – but at the same time, I just want to know more. It’s cool hearing about the differences, Minghao never talks about it.” Wonwoo takes the opportunity to smile indulgently, “I just want you to impart your wisdom onto me, Jun-ah.”

Junhui snorts, but he’s smiling. “Wise choice. Fine. Let me think… words seem more important in Mandarin now, strangely enough. It feels safer, I think, to say certain things in Korean because I know that if I say them in Mandarin, it’ll feel too real. Important. True.”

Wonwoo furrows his brows, he’s never heard this before. He looks at Junhui, silently motioning for him to elaborate.

“For example, I usually only compliment others in Korean because it’s kind of embarrassing to say in Mandarin, or too heartfelt. Not that I don’t mean it, because I do, but it would feel like holding someone’s hands and looking them straight in the eyes. Too intimate, I guess. Wait, my head.” Junhui swings his body back up and stays there for a few seconds before re-appearing. “Anyways, the same goes for arguments too, I always revert back to Korean if I’m being too harsh.”

Junhui has his thinking face on the entire time he talks and while Wonwoo is listening intently to his every word, it’s also hard to miss how strange it looks for Junhui’s eyes to be rolled up but actually be rolled down since he’s upside down which, he guesses, doesn’t really mean his eyes are rolled up in the first place and –

“Oh, it’s Minghao.” Somewhere between his useless train of thought, Junhui’s phone had started to ring, apparently. Wonwoo watches Junhui’s entire face light up and as he disappears from his line of sight yet again, Wonwoo faintly realizes that Junhui probably has a different ringtone set for each member because he didn’t need to look at his phone to know who was calling.

Minghao is out shooting the pilot for some new variety show that may or may not be getting aired, according to Junhui. So, he figures that he’s probably on break.

Usually, Wonwoo would feel left out listening to Junhui speak into the phone in rapid-fire Mandarin, especially when it’s just the two of them. But with the visual blockade between them, he kind of feel like he’s alone anyways, so it’s not that bad, especially when Junhui laughs at something here and there and Wonwoo automatically finds himself smiling along with him. It feels like he’s listening to a podcast, and even though he doesn’t understand anything that’s being said, some feelings (like happiness) transcend language, so it doesn’t really matter after all.

Eventually, when Junhui’s slew of words finally slows down and he sounds like he’s nearing the end of his conversation, Wonwoo finally pipes up to say, “Hey, put him on speaker, I want to say bye.”

And Junhui does, but he must’ve already said his goodbyes because Minghao’s saying something and it takes a second for Wonwoo to realize that he can understand those words. Because they’re in Korean. Junhui makes a sound like he’s choking and then hisses something lowly before hanging up, leaving Wonwoo with his mouth half open, an unspoken farewell sitting on his tongue.

A few beats of silence pass and then Wonwoo hears Junhui let out a somewhat nervous chuckle, “He was just kidding. Uh, teasing. You know, not being serious.”

It’s a confirmation that they’re both thinking about the same thing, but Wonwoo lets it go and hums in acknowledgement and it crosses his mind that maybe he doesn’t have to see Junhui to be able to read him all that well. They pick up another useless conversation and bounce from one topic to another for a while, but Junhui never lets them stray back to their initial conversation.

 

 

Wonwoo can’t seem to get the words out of his head anyways and they follow him all day, out of the 8th floor and down to the 6th, where he falls onto his bed and hears Minghao’s voice over the phone play on loop as he closes his eyes. The breath he took right before, the way it was obvious he was smiling on the other end. He wonders when Minghao started saying it, if he’s always said it, if he’s always wanted to say it and has only just started.

He wonders if, one day, Minghao will say it and Wonwoo won’t be able to understand.

(“I love you.”)

 

viii: things they said with no space between them

Seungkwan just can’t catch a break.

He was supposed to be resting up and taking time off before starting preparations on the new mini album. Unfortunately (although he guesses it’s fortunate) he was more in demand than he thought, and his manager had informed him that a large number of variety shows had requested his guest appearance. 

As an entertainer (and generally nice person, he’d like to think), how could he refuse?

So Seungkwan had spent the first two weeks of September, his supposed break, running around to fulfill his jam-packed schedule. Then he’d spent the rest of September running around to begin putting together the schedule that he is currently running around to fulfill, which, yeah, is just about as exhausting as it sounds.

God, he just wants to take a long nap.

Presently, his eyes are narrowed on his cup of warm water as he walks to the recording studio. He takes slow and calculated steps all in the name of not spilling the liquid yet again. The members are keeping a tally. When they reach 20, Seungkwan has to treat everyone to barbecue.

All of them. Twelve people. For meat. Yeah, fat chance.

Relief colours his features when he finally reaches the door and he triumphantly swings the door open with a smile on his face, ready to announce that he has not, in fact, spilled his water this time, when Jihoon practically runs right into him, sending his cup flying into the air.

Seungkwan stares in shock at the cup lying on the floor, despair squeezing his heart.

“Oh, you’re here. Give it like five minutes, Junhui’s nearly done. I have to go to talk to Bumzu, sorry-” Jihoon cuts himself off and scurries away, not even giving Seungkwan a chance to yell at him. He can already feel his wallet getting thinner.

He picks up the cup and hopes that science will take care of the water seeping into the carpeting as he throws it out and steps inside. Seungkwan settles onto the couch and gives a little wave to Junhui, who’s just caught sight of him from inside the booth. Minghao is sitting in the chair, looking over the lyrics and pulling at the strands of hair hanging over his eyes.

“What’s up?”

Minghao jolts, like he hadn’t been aware of Seungkwan’s presence, and then relaxes into his chair, his eyes never leaving the piece of paper in front of him. “He’s having a hard time getting the right emotions for his lines.”

He crosses something out on his sheet and then lets the pen drop on the desk decisively, turning to face Seungkwan. “I’ve been trying to explain it to him but it’s hard, I don’t know.”

Seungkwan considers offering to try and explain it himself, but he knows that won’t help either of them. Junhui relies on Minghao the most when it comes to catching the nuances and expressing the emotions of their songs, and Minghao always has his own unique interpretation that no one else can quite duplicate or explain. Half the time Minghao can’t really explain it either.

“Go in. Sing it once for him,” Seungkwan suggests instead, taking out his phone. He’s starting to suspect that it’s going to take longer than 5 minutes for them to finish. “You’re already done your part, right?”

“No, I record tomorrow.”

At this, Seungkwan looks at him quizzically. “Then why are you here today?”

Minghao clears his throat and pushes himself out of the chair, “He said he wanted me. My help.” And then he’s pushing the door open to enter the booth alongside Junhui. The door stays slightly open behind him and Seungkwan knows that he should probably get up and close it, but he’s tired and the couch is unbelievably comfortable, so he opts to turn to his phone and scroll through Instagram.

Junhui’s voice carries into the room first and Seungkwan smiles to himself because he’s improved, it’s noticeable. The overall colour of his voice is beautiful, and it reminds Seungkwan of the blanket of leaves he has to wade through every day to get to the building. Junhui’s never had much confidence, for some strange reason, but Seungkwan has always believed that Junhui has one of the most soothing voices of their group. When he sings, it feels like being caressed by someone. Sweet, gentle, pure.

Then, the voice stops, and Seungkwan realizes his thumb has halted on one picture for the past few seconds. He turns the phone off entirely and decides to close his eyes instead, resting his head on the back of the couch. When Minghao starts to sing, Seungkwan can almost see the emotion playing on the back of his eyelids.

He sounds tortured, but not in pain. He sings like he’s suffocating and he knows that the lyrics will pump oxygen back into his lungs. It’s always a treat to listen to Minghao sing. Despite not officially being part of the vocal unit, Seungkwan thinks that Minghao’s probably got the most tenderness present in his voice when he sings.

Silence overtakes the room and Seungkwan, confused, opens his eyes. When he looks through the glass, he sees Junhui gazing at Minghao, who’s firmly keeping his eyes on the music stand in front of him. It’s strange, because the booth is definitely big enough for them to take a few steps away from each other, but they’re standing a couple centimetres apart, at most. Then, Seungkwan sees Minghao’s lips begin to move and it only takes a sliver of concentration to make out what he’s saying.

“…all consuming and terrifying, but not in a bad way? I don’t know, it’s like – like, you’re scared but it just feels right to keep wanting to be scared. To be taken over completely by your emotions. You don’t want to let go, no matter how wrong-” at this, Minghao finally looks at Junhui “-it might be. It’s about thinking you need, when you really just want. Being reduced to nothing but feeling like somehow… you have everything.”

He ends in a whisper and now they’re just looking at each other, the air seeming thick with something unspoken as it hangs around them. And as much as he feels like there’s something private going on that he shouldn’t be witnessing, that this is between them and them only, Seungkwan can’t look away.

Because there’s practically no space in between them, and Junhui is blinking at Minghao, lips slightly parted while Minghao is staring right back, determined despite the slight flush creeping up his neck.

Then, like he’s being controlled by something unknown, Seungkwan’s hand reaches for the button that lets his voice ring out in the booth and he presses it down, unable to rip his eyes away as he fumbles out a, “Got it, hyung?”

And his voice breaks the spell.

They jump a little, and Minghao takes slow, consecutive steps back until he’s got a hand on the doorknob, poised to leave with a guarded expression on his face when Junhui says, “How could I not?”

Minghao freezes, like he can feel Junhui’s eyes piercing through his back, his chest and then he’s flying out of the room, mentioning something weakly about needing water. Junhui pays him no mind and clears his throat, looking to Seungkwan for direction with a barely there smile on his face.

Seungkwan presses a button and gives Junhui a thumbs up. As he settles into the chair, he marvels at how perfectly Junhui sings. There’s the longing, the aching, that Minghao had been trying to elicit.

And there, Seungkwan thinks as he grabs the full water bottle from the floor with MINGHAO written on its side in sharpie, is the tenderness.

 

ix: things they said at 1 a.m.

“Come home soon, it’s getting late,” Mingyu tosses out before closing the door behind him.

Jihoon has always thought that the practice room looks different the less people there are present, and now that Mingyu has filed out, it really does feel like the air has changed in some strange, subtle way. With just him, Soonyoung, Junhui and Minghao, there’s a lot more silence. The room feels too big when their heavy breaths produce echoes that usually wouldn’t be audible or their shoes squeak against the wooden floor, louder and significantly more displeasing to the ear.

Before releasing anything new, Jihoon will sit alone in the practice room with the lights turned off and play the songs over the speakers. He’s been doing it since the very beginning, and the others call it his Mandatory Cult Ritual. It’s not anything special, not really, but he likes to sit in the dark and let the music engulf his senses. He likes hearing his members voices bouncing around the room, a distant comfort when he’s at his most sensitive and can’t handle physically being around them.

It’s scary, because like he said, the room alters based on how many members are in it, and when he’s in it alone it often feels like a cage, or an underground cave with some sort of monster lurking in the shadows. Maybe he’s too old to still think like that, but he does. That’s why, when he closes his eyes and lets the music flow through him and calm his worries, flood his heart with warmth, nothing feels as scary anymore. 

Jihoon has yet to undertake his Mandatory Cult Ritual with this new album though, and it’s got him on edge for more reasons than one.

Soonyoung claps his hands together, startling Jihoon out of his thoughts. He eases up so that he’s no longer splayed across the floor and wipes some of the sweat off his neck.

“Do you want to try one more time, Minghao? Jihoon was saying he might have a new way to explain it to you,” Soonyoung doesn’t pay attention when Jihoon sends him a discrete, baffled look because I said nothing of the sort, and continues, “You might find it easier.”

Minghao, who’s still trying to level his breaths, holds up a couple of fingers indicating the minutes he needs to get back up on his feet and Soonyoung nods even though Minghao isn’t looking at him.

“Uncurl yourself, man. How are you even breathing?” Jihoon asks, mildly concerned at the other’s position. Minghao, despite the fact that he’s practically radiating heat, has his arms wrapped around his legs and his head hidden on his knees, like some sort of self-imposed sauna.

Jihoon had turned the AC on a few minutes ago but it hasn’t been used in a couple weeks, so it’s spitting out lukewarm air, which can’t possibly be helping.

Junhui, who’s been lying down next to Jihoon, rolls over onto his stomach and then goes into push-position. Jihoon watches, bemused, as he does 10 push-ups for seemingly no reason and then gets up to get water bottles from the mini fridge.

They’re not supposed to break for this long, Soonyoung is usually adamant about keeping their muscles loose during dance practice, but even he seems to be slightly out of it today. They’d gone over their third and, hopefully, final choreography today and everything had seemed smooth sailing until Minghao had unexpectedly hit a wall.

It was novel, because Minghao’s never unable to do anything. He always figures things out on the first try, and if not on the first then the second or third. It doesn’t take him long to adapt, it certainly doesn’t take him hours and hours to even get halfway through one move. But here they are.

Junhui throws Jihoon a water bottle, to which he nods in thanks, and then goes to Minghao, unraveling his limbs and pushing him back so he’s stretched out on the floor. Junhui presses the bottle to his forehead and grimaces when his fingertips brush against Minghao’s skin.

Jihoon snorts. Yeah, he’s probably not the driest version of himself right now.

“What’s holding you back?” The words aren’t planned, but they fly out of Jihoon’s mouth as soon as he’s pulled the water bottle away from his lips. Soonyoung gives him an equivocal look, like he almost wants to tell him to shut up, but then his eyes curiously wander to Minghao, evidently wanting an answer as well.

He wonders if it would be easier if Chan was here instead of him so that they could discuss as a unit. Jihoon was only told to stay because apparently, he’s a lot more careful with his words and generally more patient. Now, he wonders if that’s true.

“You’re never like this,” Jihoon pauses, and then corrects himself. “Or at least, we’ve never seen you like this.”

Minghao stares blankly at the ceiling, his hair is sticking to his skin with sweat and covers his eyes but then Junhui gently moves the strands apart. Minghao looks at him for a second and Jihoon sees something pass between them in what feels like a suspended moment in time, but then Minghao’s squeezing his eyes shut in frustration and opening his mouth to speak and it’s almost like nothing even happened.

“Sorry. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Soonyoung quickly jumps in, “we all get stuck sometimes. Jihoon’s just asking if you know why and if you don’t, that’s okay.”

Junhui is drawing shapes on the condensation of his water bottle and Jihoon is about to try to catch his eye to signal that he should say something, too, when his eyes trail downwards and he sees Junhui’s hand resting comfortably on top of Minghao’s, his fingers moving back and forth slowly. So Jihoon doesn’t do anything, because he figures that Junhui is saying something, it’s just that Minghao is the only one hearing it.

Minghao takes in a deep breath and his voice comes out all shaky and frustrated when he says, “I’m scared. That’s why. I don’t even understand but…I’m sorry, I just – I’m just so scared, it’s unbelievable. It doesn’t make any sense because we’ve done stuff like this before! But I don’t want to fall, I’m terrified. I keep seeing myself falling on stage in front of other idols and fans and ruining the performance, ruining myself, it’s ridiculous but I just can’t stop thinking about it and…”

Jihoon averts his eyes and stares at his hands, because looking at Minghao when he’s so vulnerable feels wrong.

“…and…I’m just scared.” It comes out as a whisper but there’s only four of them in the room and they’re all holding their breath, so Jihoon can hear a small echo. It’s a little haunting.

“Minghao,” Soonyoung melts, his voice full of empathy and a shine to his eyes that wasn’t there a second ago. There have to be words that come after that, but Soonyoung just swallows and keeps looking at the boy. Jihoon can tell that he’ll cry if he says anything else, so he decides it’s his responsibility to say something.

Except, he thinks and thinks and thinks and nothing comes out. They sit there in relative silence, the AC whirring in the background. Jihoon notices Junhui staring at where his hand overlaps Minghao’s and then up, directly at Minghao, who hasn’t opened his eyes yet.

Then, in a very normal, very controlled, Wen Junhui voice, he says something in Mandarin.

Minghao’s eyes snap open and there’s a red tint to his ears, he’s looking at Junhui like he’s just said something monumental and Junhui holds his gaze for a brief moment before he’s training his eyes on his shoes. Minghao’s hand shifts and he’s only just linked his pinky with Junhui’s when Junhui is getting up and grabbing his stuff, throwing out a mumbled goodbye as he leaves the room without a second glance.

Soonyoung looks at Jihoon, Jihoon looks back. They both come to the silent agreement that they have no clue what just happened, but that it’s bigger than this isolated moment.

Then, miraculously, Minghao gets up and begins to stretch. Hesitant, vulnerable, but determined. Jihoon can see it in his eyes, it’s the look he gets right before a nails a move on the first try. Jihoon grins.

“Junhui works wonders with his words, I guess.”

Soonyoung smiles too and gets up, pulling Jihoon up with him. “What did he say?”

There’s a reluctant, secretive look Minghao throws their way, then, but just as quickly as it appears it disappears, and his eyes return back to the mirror. He stares right at himself as he translates, “Fear is the heart of love.”

A faint memory of middle school tells Jihoon that it’s some sort of proverb, but that’s not what he’s thinking about right now. He’s thinking about the way some of the members have been talking in the past few months, the way snippets of their conversations have reached Jihoon in meandering ways, the way they’ve been making promises to not say anything, to wait and see, to support and love at the end of it all.

He’s thinking about the way he can write songs about the way Junhui is with Minghao, or the way Minghao is with Junhui. He’s thinking about how sometimes, sitting in his studio in the dead hours of the night, he unknowingly has.

Soonyoung’s alarm goes off somewhere behind them right as Minghao takes the leap. It’s 1 a.m., and Minghao executes his move flawlessly.

 

x: things they said when they were drunk

“Does anyone know why fried chicken is called fried chicken?” Chan asks with wide eyes, 100 per cent serious. Mingyu is quick to put his hand over Vernon’s mouth so that he can’t encourage the youngest, but he forgets that a certain Boo Seungkwan is also seated at the table, nursing his fifth bottle of beer.

“No, tell us!” He practically yells, temporarily impairing both Mingyu’s ability to hear and ability to care anymore. He watches despondently as the members go back and forth, worked up on too much alcohol and the now impending release of their new single. He thought it would be a good idea, honestly, he did.

When Mingyu initially offered to take everyone out and have a dinner party (that he would voluntarily pay for, if only to make Seungkwan feel better about his wallet after he finally dropped his 20th glass of water) after they wrapped up filming their new music video, he thought it would be a good time. They’d have some fun before their promotions started and get a good portion of their excitement out of their systems.

Of course, he’d forgotten how insufferable his friends could be when they were, for a lack of better words, absolutely hammered. It doesn’t help that Mingyu, the honourable and responsible friend he is, has to sit through it all completely sober. Seungcheol, Jihoon and Wonwoo have also decided not to drink too much, but Mingyu’s the only one who hasn’t so much as touched any of the alcohol present on the table. And frankly, he’s exhausted.

He waits until the laughter dies out over whatever otherworldly explanation Chan has given to clap his hands and announce, with as much authority as he can muster, that they are going home. Unsurprisingly, he’s met with no resistance. How can they? Everyone passed the point of forming a coherent thought about an hour ago, applying some critical thinking to build an argument is completely out of the question.

Mingyu pays for the food, rounds up the alleged responsible members and assigns them to groups to handle as they go home. Mingyu wonders multiple times on the way home why he’d offered to go out in the first place and firmly reminds himself to never do it again. Especially when Chan throws up in the bushes just a few meters from their building, arm hooked around Mingyu’s neck as he leans over.

He refuses to even look at his contaminated shoes and throws them out in the dumpster beside the building, opting to walk in with socked feet and barely held back tears in his eyes.

 

 

It takes more effort than it should to bring all the members back to the dorms, but they do it, somehow. Mingyu’s eyes are heavy with sleep and he genuinely just wants to pass out on his bed, but he knows he should do a head count just in case, so he trudges up to the 8th floor after he’s done on the 6th while cursing (not for the first time since the beginning of his career) the ridiculous amount of members in their group.

The 8th floor has 6 heads, and it takes a full minute of standing in the hallway and running through the members in his mind to figure out that Minghao is missing. There’s a brief moment of panic in which Mingyu frets over leaving him behind at the restaurant and having to endure being called a fake friend by Minghao when he inevitably sobers up and realizes what happened to him. But then a light bulb clears his foggy mind and he remembers, with a relieved smile on his face, that he did indeed shove the boy through the door earlier.

So, he goes back again and carefully looks through every room. When he’s about to close the Junhui-Seungkwan-Chan room for the second time, he suddenly hears voices coming from inside. It’s slurred, but Mingyu recognizes Minghao babbling in a mix of Mandarin and Korean and then catches a distinct phrase.

“…too good looking, ‘s kinda annoying, hard to look at… like the sun…”

Junhui’s sleepy groan follows and Mingyu clears his throat quietly, straightening up stiffly because he doesn’t really know what to do. He sees the sheets rustle and Minghao’s head poke out of the blanket, finally visible.

Junhui’s voice comes out low and muffled, but Mingyu can still hear it. “Mm, I think you’re a star too, xiao ba.”

He should really go.

Minghao makes a strained sound and then awkwardly pushes out, “Oh. Uh.”

“Shut up. Sleep.” This comes in Mandarin, but Mingyu’s heard it enough to recognize what he’s saying. It’s interesting, all of it. Weirdly enough, Mingyu’s the one who feels a little awkward and out of place. He doesn’t know what to do with this newfound information.

Without thinking too much, he closes the door and mentally checks off Minghao’s name, bringing the members in attendance to a full 13.

 

When he reunites with his own bed, his brain is moving too fast despite the sleep weighing down his limbs. Despite the exhaustion, he doesn’t miss the facts staring him in the face. That Xu Minghao was practically flirting with Wen Junhui (not well, but Mingyu wouldn’t mind helping him out with that later on), that their voices were too fond to be shared with anyone else, and that, even when they were a little bit out of their minds, Minghao and Junhui still found their way into each other’s arms.

4:23 AM

do u ever think about what it wud be like if one of our membrs liked another member

sockmin: first of all

sockmin: why are you up rn???

why are yOU up

sockmin: second of all (secondly?)

sockmin: im p sure wonoo likes u too 😊

WhaT

sockmin: oh is that not what u meant .

no??????????????????????????????

wtf?????????????????????????????????

come back im so confused?????af;s;d

 

xi: things he said at the kitchen table

Seokmin always finds it hard to jump back into the group’s busy routine, it’s like he forgets how difficult it is. He underestimates it, tells himself he’s remembering it wrong, and then he’s thrown into the thick of it and regret hits him instantly. A pathetic hamster running in its stupid wheel.

Usually, it helps to ring in the new year because it refreshes Seokmin; he’s always more in tune with everything going on around him during the first few weeks of January, and it helps focus him. This year, he’d spent those weeks frantically getting ready for the release of their mini album along with the rest of his members, so he hasn’t exactly gotten the chance to re-calibrate.

Their single off the new album was finally released and they had to wake up at 5 a.m. to attend a promotional radio show which aired at 7 a.m. and lasted until 9 a.m. Seokmin had stumbled through most of it half-asleep, until he stepped out of the building after they’d finished recording and immediately felt the cold biting at his face. That had given him a proper wake up call (really, the call only lasted about as long as he was outside, because he was fast asleep as soon as he’d settled into the vocal team van).

Now, Seokmin sits at the kitchen table with a bowl of cereal and droopy eyes, quietly marvelling at the snowflakes gently falling outside. As much as he wants to take a nap, he knows it won’t do anything for his work-schedule rhythm – oh, and the fact that he’s supposed to be hanging out with Minghao today is also a strong deterrent, he guesses.

Speaking of Minghao, Seokmin thinks to himself blearily, where is he? He’d told Seokmin he had to quickly run out and do something before they went bowling and Seokmin, desperately needing to fuel himself with some Froot Loops, had agreed without much further discussion. But it’s been 30 minutes, and Seokmin’s wondering if he should take a nap (just this once) after all.

Right when his fingers start creeping towards his phone with the intention of calling Minghao, the door to their dorm opens and he steps through with a plastic bag in hand.

“I need you to help me plant these flowers in your room. And also let them grow there. Until they’re in full bloom,” Minghao says this all like he’s being held at gunpoint, and Seokmin tries not to laugh. There’s a pause while he brings his bowl to his lips and finishes off his milk, he wipes his mouth with his sleeve and then shrugs because he’s got nothing better to do anyways.

“Sure.”

Minghao visibly relaxes and Seokmin wasn’t planning on asking for an explanation, but seeing the dopey smile slowly spreading across Minghao’s face as he ambles down to Seokmin’s room initiates the turning of a couple cogs in his brain, and suddenly – he’s itching to know.

 

 

Daffodils. Minghao bought daffodils.

He plants the seeds carefully and hands the tiny pots to Seokmin, who is then responsible for covering them with dirt. He lets his mind wander to when Chan was going through his flower language phase and wouldn’t stop randomly bringing up the meanings of various plants every time they were even remotely near anything that passed as nature. For some reason, his sleep deprived brain produces a startlingly clear memory of Chan reciting, upon seeing the flower while on a walk, that daffodils meant honesty and new beginnings.

Seokmin holds another empty pot steady for Minghao as he shovels more dirt into it. They’re both sitting cross-legged, rare beams of sunlight filtering into the room, and it feels like they’re just little kids messing around again. Trying to prove to their parents that if they can take care of a plant, they can take care of a family pet, too. Seokmin smiles at the thought and wonders what it would’ve been like to grow up with Minghao, who puts his heart into everything he does, who treats flower seeds like they’re precious gems not to be scratched or dented.

For some reason, Junhui pops into his head.

He thinks about what Mingyu texted him a couple nights ago, and then he thinks about sitting next to Seungkwan in the recording studio as Minghao checked over what Junhui recorded, and the look in Seungkwan’s eyes as he watched them, and then – without really thinking about anything at all – Seokmin asks, “Are these going to be for Jun hyung?”

Minghao’s hands stop scooping out dirt from the middle of the pot, and then he looks up at Seokmin with an abashed look on his face which he quickly schools into indifference.

“What makes you say that?” Minghao mumbles while rifling through his bag of seeds.

Seokmin hums in thought, “Don’t know, really. Just a feeling.”

Then, because he knows Minghao is struggling with what to say, he chirps, “You don’t have to tell me even if they’re not!”

“Ah.” A beat. “Well, they are. For him.”

On the inside, Seokmin’s screaming (more so than usual, at least), but on the outside, he just calmly responds, “Cool.”

Minghao timidly resumes planting. Occasionally, Seokmin asks a question about the whole situation and Minghao replies, more and more readily, with each time he’s asked.

They don’t end up going bowling. Instead, Seokmin ends up with a few pots of daffodils sitting on his windowsill and the information that Minghao is scared Junhui will see them in his room (where he doesn’t get much light anyways), and that when they’re in full bloom, he’ll be doing something.

Vague, but Seokmin thinks about Chan and honesty and new beginnings and he thinks he can fill in the blanks.

 

xii: things he said that i wasn’t meant to hear

Chan will be the first to admit that he isn’t the most observant person in the world.

Okay, maybe not the first. But the third, or fourth, even. It’s not like he purposely ignores what’s going on around him, he’s just not all that reactive and he thinks a lot, often getting lost in his own head. Once, he’d caught sight of an ant in the practice room and spent a good half hour wondering how it got there before realizing that Seungcheol was calling his name and that, at some point in time, they’d ended up changing an entire section of their choreography.

He’s not that observant, but he’d be an idiot to miss this.

“So, we’re ignoring the fact that this is the fifth daffodil you’ve found on your pillow this week? That’s what we’re doing?” Chan asks insistently, skeptically eying Junhui as he tapes the flower upside down beside his bunk, aligning it next to four other daffodils.

When Junhui doesn’t even pause his humming and gives him a noncommittal shrug, Chan pushes, “Do you know where they’re even coming from, hyung?”

Junhui’s shoulders look like they’re about to go up again and Chan is ready to call him out when he seems to decide against it. He finishes securing the flower and turns to face Chan, bundling his blankets around him and patting at them as he casually answers, “Minghao’s leaving them for me.”

Chan balks at that. It sounds impossible, because Minghao just isn’t one to show affection so blatantly, despite being the romanticist that he is. But Junhui’s declaration is full of unshakeable confidence. “What? Why? How? What?”

“You said what twice,” Junhui points out with an amused smile on his face. “He’s been growing them downstairs, in Seokmin’s room. I saw them the last time I was there.”

Chan blinks. He’d been down to the 6th floor as well, and he’d seen the flowers lining Seokmin’s windowsill, but it had never occurred to him to make the connection. Then, he wonders why Junhui isn’t at all suspicious of Seokmin being the perpetrator, they were growing in his room, after all.  

But then he remembers that this is Junhui, and that he’s always had some wicked 6th sense when it comes to all things Minghao, so he doesn’t bother asking.

“I think I’ll get… eight. Yeah, I think I’ll get eight in total.” Junhui’s eyes have fogged over, strangely enough, and suddenly Chan feels all fidgety.

“Minghao gave me daffodils a really long time ago, too long to remember exact details. He said he wasn’t too good with words, but that he’d try to change. Or, maybe he said get better.” Junhui leans his head against the wall and stares at the line of flowers. “I think, when I get my eighth flower, I’ll see if he’s changed.”

Chan’s not that observant, but he always notices the important things. Like, for instance, this… aura is the only way he can describe it, that surrounds Junhui when he’s talking about Minghao. It’s always been there, making him all radiant and glowy and doubling the sweetness of his smile, but in the past months it’s almost as if he’s cranked it up a notch. Now, Chan finds it hard to look at Junhui without getting this distinct feeling in the pit of his stomach that has yet to be named.

Junhui turns to a very confused Chan and wiggles his eyebrows as he tacks on, “And I’ll see if I’ve changed alongside him.”

Chan doesn’t really know how to process that, and he still feels like he’s intruding despite the fact that Junhui is willingly talking to him, so he just makes vague noises of understanding and turns back to his phone.

 

 

They come home late at night a few days later, Chan barely keeping his eyes open as he stumbles out of the car and leans heavily on one of the managers. He chalks it up to his grogginess and severe lack of awareness when he doesn’t notice, in the moment, Minghao and Junhui stealing away into the night instead of following him up to the dorm. His ears catch, but don’t truly register, one of the other managers saying something about the Han River and staying out too late.

His eyes flutter open when the lights to his room turn on and he sees, through his lashes, Junhui seemingly grinning at nothing with a daffodil held loosely in his hand. He still hasn’t noticed that Chan’s awake, which is good because he gets a moment to organize the information in his head before he slurs out something that sounds like a question. Quietly, because Seungkwan is still sleeping.

“Flower number eight. So?”

Junhui starts, and then smiles apologetically at him and turns off the lights so that he doesn’t have to squint anymore. Chan’s brain supplies that Junhui looks happier, although he doesn’t know how he comes to that conclusion in the dark when he can only make out his silhouette.

Junhui walks to his bed and Chan hears the sound of tape being ripped. Junhui’s voice has never sounded so bright when he says, “We’ve changed.”

Chan remembers wanting to reply and then his eyes closing against his will, leaving any words he might’ve said sitting on his tongue. He dreams about what he thinks is a memory that he’d forgotten, being a trainee and finding a scrapbook lying haphazardly on the floor with scribbled Chinese characters on the front, opening the cover to find a flower pressed into the first page. When he wakes up, the dream is already slipping from him and he knows that he can’t possibly know what kind of flower it was, but something tells him that it couldn’t have been anything other than a daffodil.

(“Hyung, did you used to keep a journal or something when we were trainees?”

“Kind of, yeah. Why?”

“Nothing, just wondering. What did you use it for?”

“Holding on to parts of myself. Secrets. Aspirations. Things I wasn’t allowed to say out loud.”

“I thought you’ve always said what you’ve wanted to.”

“It’s funny, everyone seems to think that.”)

 

xiii: things i said after you kissed me

Two months into winter, being on the roof feels like walking straight into an ice cube. The winds are bitterly cold and the snow is constant, cutting into skin like tiny blades. Today, though, Minghao made sure that the weather was bearable.

He’s set up some electric heaters on the roof, having bought several extension cables he knows he’ll never use again for this very purpose, and he’s collected a mountain of blankets to make a nest out of so there’s something other than their jackets to protect them against the cold. Fortunately for Minghao, the snow is relenting today, falling on and off in quiet, thick flakes instead of the usual razor sharp pricks. Everything is perfect, expect for the fact that the person he’s going through all this trouble for is being incredibly difficult.

“Just come with me, it’ll be worth it, I swear!” Minghao practically pleads, he’s thought about pouting and making his eyes all big and irresistible but there are others in the living room, and he wants to retain the last shreds of dignity he has. It’s bad enough that everyone knows about his daffodil stunt.

The awkward, but well received, confession that followed afterwards is something private and yet to be disclosed to the rest of Minghao’s friends, but they’re not stupid – they can tell that something has changed between him and Junhui, and that’s embarrassing enough as it is.

“Hao, I’m a summer baby. Summer babies don’t deserve to die in the cold,” Junhui refutes, eyes not leaving his phone. Minghao has half a mind to grab it and open up the calendar app so he can show Junhui what day it is exactly, but he’s not that petty. Yet, anyways. He presses closer to Junhui in an effort to grab his attention, but only ends up distracting himself because now he’s acutely aware of the way Junhui’s eyelashes flutter in annoyance when he messes something up in his game. It reminds him of a few nights ago, when the wind had been strong, and the snow had fell in curtains.

 (Junhui’s eyes flutter open and shut. He closes them, finally, and stays like that. Minghao doesn’t know how to continue what he was saying. There is a lull in the conversation.

“I can hear you, the snow is just too much for me to be able to look at you right now. Keep going.”

Minghao sees Junhui’s hands fidgeting in the pockets of his coat and thinks the snow isn’t all that’s making it hard for him to keep eye contact, but under a familiar set of trees in a familiar patch of grass covered in snow, he continues.

When the words finally leave his mouth, breath visibly forming in the air, Junhui’s eyes are stunned open. They sparkle, and snowflakes sit heavy on his eyelashes.)

Minghao looks away and wipes his palms on his sweatpants, he didn’t realize they’d gotten so damp. He attempts to give Junhui more space, shuffling away from him on the couch, but he’s stopped by Junhui’s hand on his thigh. He stays still and chances a glance at Junhui, who’s still focused on the game he’s playing. His hand doesn’t move.

With a quick clearing of his throat, Minghao ignores the heat pooling into his cheeks and addresses the room as a last resort, trying to sound nonchalant but failing miserably, “Can someone tell me what day it is today?”

Jeonghan barks out a laugh and then quickly disguises it as a cough. Beside him, Wonwoo smirks into his book and brings it up higher so his face is covered. Minghao rolls his eyes, but he knows their reactions are warranted, it’s not his fault his subtle prodding hasn’t been working for the past 15 minutes.

Joshua, bless his soul, pipes up from the dinner table with a knowing look in his eyes but nothing else that could be potentially dangerous, “It’s the fourteenth.”

Minghao whips his head around to give a pointed stare in Junhui’s direction but the older boy is unfazed, eyes still directed on his phone. Does he really not get it?

Apparently, Wonwoo feels sorry for him, because he closes his book and sets it aside, throwing Minghao a meaningful look before saying in that blunt, apathetic voice of his, “Wow, is it Valentine’s day already?”

He makes it so glaringly obvious, and Minghao is utterly mortified.

“Guess so,” Junhui mutters from beside him offhandedly.

Minghao deflates. Maybe he’d read the signals all wrong. Maybe Junhui didn’t even like him like that. Maybe he was just being nice all those times Minghao had thought there was something more. Maybe that night at the Han River meant nothing, and he’d planned a stupid night in his stupid grand, romantic way and now he’d just have to sit here and pretend he wasn’t the stupidest person on the face of the earth.

(Minghao pulls the daffodil out from inside his coat and grips it tightly. Junhui is still looking at him with stars in his eyes.

“For you.”

It’s a flower. It’s from Minghao.

It’s not much.

It’s everything.

Junhui takes it.)

“Jesus, Jun. Stop teasing and go let him take you on a date otherwise his head might blow up from overthinking or something,” Jeonghan sighs. Minghao flushes red and is about to yell at Jeonghan because it’s not a date when a hand squeezes his thigh and he turns to see Junhui giving him a cheesy grin. His phone screen shows that he lost whatever game he was playing, before it goes dark and Junhui tosses the phone on the couch.  

“Aw, you look so cute when you’re all worked up,” Junhui coos, pressing the back of his hand to Minghao’s cheek.

“Wait-” Minghao barely gets to sputter out indignantly before he’s being pulled to his feet.

“C’mon, it’s only Valentine’s day for a few more hours. Impress me.”

And who is Minghao to say no to a request like that?

 

 

Minghao trails behind Junhui until they’ve reached the door that opens to the roof, and it’s there that he stops him.

“Close your eyes.”

Junhui doesn’t argue, not even when Minghao places his hands over his eyes to provide double security. When the door is opened, a short gust of wind temporarily stops them from moving further before it balances out and they can walk again. Minghao guides Junhui to the center, where he’s set up the tent with the blanket nest, wine bottle and glasses tucked in between. There’s an electric candle inside too, light bulb flickering so it feels like the real thing. The heaters are scattered around the tent, and fairy lights are strung on the outside.

What Minghao is really anticipating a reaction to is the pictures he’s taped to the wall, spanning all the years they’ve been together. He’s written small notes or memories on the backs of each of them so that he can give them to Junhui to hold on to when he takes them down.

Minghao positions Junhui so he has a full range of vision and then uncovers his eyes. He goes to stand in front of him and hesitantly says, “Okay, open up.”

It’s everything he wanted to see and more.

First, Junhui merely stands there, his easy smile slowly slipping off his face as he takes in how much effort and care Minghao has put into planning everything. His face goes from surprised to disbelief to wonder to sheer delight. Then, his eyes land on the photo wall and, as if in a trance, he walks to it. His fingers trace over both their faces at ages 16, 19, 23. A picture falls off, one from their trainee days, and Junhui bends over to pick it up.

He laughs when he sees what’s written on the back and then turns to Minghao, raising an eyebrow despite his misty eyes, “I’m lucky that you decided to be my friend even though I spit on you the first time we met?”

Minghao, feeling brave, grabs Junhui’s hands and intertwines their fingers. It feels different doing it like this, up here in the open where he doesn’t have to be cautious. “I mean, it wasn’t the best first impression. I’m a pretty forgiving person, though.”

Junhui laughs again, and everything about him radiates happiness. Even if he wanted to look away for some reason, Minghao knows he wouldn’t be able to. He tugs Junhui to the tent, where it’s a little warmer, and they sink into the blankets. Minghao pours them both a glass of wine and raises his head to say something but falters because Junhui is looking at him in such a fond, intimate way that’s it’s a little (a lot) breathtaking. Suddenly, Minghao’s overly aware that it’s just the two of them up here on the roof, in this little tent that hardly leaves room for them to so much as stretch out their legs without touching each other.

“You’re such a hopeless romantic,” Junhui says with a quiet smile, reaching out to brush some of the hair out of Minghao’s eyes. Minghao’s fingers grip his glass tighter at the flutters he feels in the pit of his stomach before replying, “Not so hopeless now, I don’t think.”

Junhui blinks, and then breaks out into an even softer smile, if that’s possible. “No, not so hopeless at all.”

They talk and drink and move closer and closer together under the guise of seeking warmth and eventually, they’re deep into the night and Minghao is on his third glass of wine when he asks, “So are you glad that you debuted with me?”

They’ve gone through their past and present and future in the last few hours and the fight has been brought up so Minghao knows why Junhui said what he said, but he needs some sort of final confirmation.

One blanket wraps around both of their shoulders, and Junhui pulls it closer around them before murmuring, “So glad.”

“Yeah?” And then, because he’s got liquid courage flowing through him and Junhui’s face is incredibly close and the cold might be making him a little silly, he adds, “How glad?”

For once, it seems Junhui’s words fail him.

He pauses and puts his glass down. Then, without saying anything, he turns and gently pushes Minghao down on the blankets until he’s straddling him. Minghao swallows thickly and grips Junhui’s hips, squeezing without a thought when Junhui places his hands on his shoulders and leans down to press a kiss on his forehead. Minghao’s eyes flutter shut as Junhui’s soft lips trail across his skin, leaving kisses on his temple, then right under his eye, his cheek, his neck. Junhui noses Minghao’s jawline and presses a kiss against the corner of his mouth, eliciting a subtle shiver.

Minghao feels fingers sweeping over his eyelids and he opens them. He’s imagined being kissed by Wen Junhui before, it’s not something he’ll deny, but nothing could’ve ever prepared him for how gentle it would feel. How loving and tender. Junhui’s eyes meet his and then trail down to his lips.

“How glad?” Junhui repeats in a whisper, almost to himself. Then, he’s moving down, down, down until his lips are finally on Minghao’s, tasting of red wine and something else much sweeter. It isn’t until Junhui’s cold hand is inching under his shirt and resting on his warm abdomen and his tongue is swiping at his bottom lip that Minghao registers that they’re kissing. When he does, it sets something off in him all over again.

By the time they pull apart, the blankets are all bunched together and they’re lying between them, limbs tangled together.

“I love you,” Minghao mumbles in Korean out of habit while they’re both still breathing heavy, Junhui’s head resting on his chest. Then, after reconsideration, he tries again. Louder, in Mandarin. “I love you.”

Junhui looks up at him and his eyes are shining, kiss swollen lips pulling up into a sweet, Junhui smile. Minghao thinks about how easily they fill each other in, how effortlessly they fit together – as if they’ve known each other for more than a lifetime and not just a few years, he thinks about flaws and strengths and flaws that are strengths and sees himself next to Junhui, holding hands on the grass while looking up at the night sky.

 

Before they go in that night, Minghao tells Junhui to look up at the stars. “I’m holding you to your promise.”

Junhui rolls his eyes, but he smiles, and he grabs Minghao’s chin and kisses him underneath all of the days they have left together.

 

(They’re walking back home, hands brushing against each other’s but never intertwining. Their footsteps are muffled by the snow, their laughter is muffled by their scarves, and their questions are muffled by their wonder.

“Did you know what daffodils meant? When you gave them to me, all those years ago?” Junhui asks in a voice low enough that only Minghao can pick up on it.

“Of course I did.”

“I think that’s when I fell for you.”

They reach the doors of their building, and Minghao can picture their reflections from five or six years ago in the glass. He looks at Junhui and smiles as he opens the door for him, “Well, mission accomplished, then.”)