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“Don’t drink too much tonight.”

“It’s fine, there’s nothing to do tomorrow.” It doesn’t sound convincing, but Yuta tells Taeyong anyway. The leader worries too much for his own good sometimes, but it’s understandable. A leader’s burden can’t easily be fathomed even by the members close to him. “You, don’t drink a lot. You can’t handle it well.” He takes a playful jab at Taeyong’s low alcohol tolerance and gets an adorable pout sent to his way.

They’re in a restaurant close to the dorms at nearly 10 in the evening. There’s nothing special going on, just a manager being generous enough to treat them dinner on his birthday. It’s a good thing that they’re all available, especially Taeyong considering his schedule, because they don’t really eat together oftentimes now. Packed sched, laziness, hangouts with other friends, and all those reasons keep them from spending time together. Times like this make them realize how much they miss the good old days of suffering during training and hitting the nearest convenience store after grueling hours of dancing.

Taeyong misses those days, but there’s nothing better than the moment right now – them, in the middle of chasing their dreams.

Since it’s almost 10, customers leave one by one leaving their noisy group huddled in the very back. It’s their unofficial spot, saved for celebrities like them that shouldn’t be bothered by fans. Taeyong takes his second shot of soju for the night and quickly gulps some soda to get rid of the strong tang of alcohol. Even after all those silly practices with Jaehyun, he still can’t hold his liquor. It’s embarrassing, really, to look so red in the face after only two or three shots, but it’s a blessing in disguise because everyone is trying to take care of him – give him juice, make him eat more, let him rest his head on their shoulder when the drink travels up to his head and he gets sleepy. They treat him like a baby at times and Taeyong likes it.

He likes it even more when Jaehyun’s all over him, asking him if he wants to go back and get some rest, asking him if he wants anything.

Because hyung, you’re tired. Look at the bags under your eyes – they’re big enough to pack even my stuff when we perform for an overseas concert.

Hyung, do you wanna eat something? You ate before drinking, right? Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Want me to buy bread for you? Your favorites?

If you wanna sleep now, tell me. We can go home first. Doesn’t that sound nice? Ah, I’m not teasing you. But hyung, we’ll be alone if we go home now.

With those ringing in his head, Taeyong looks at the man on his right and stares. Jaehyun’s alcohol tolerance is impressive. The older has no idea how much he's already drank, but his face is still that fair porcelain without a hint of tipsiness. He’s younger than Taeyong but he can drink a lot, and Taeyong pouts even more as he rests his head on Jaehyun’s shoulder.

Their manager doesn’t bat an eye. No one bats an eye. It’s such a normal occurrence for Taeyong and Jaehyun to be touchy and clingy off-cam, and no one cares. No one gives a damn. Not everybody knows their real deal, but no one asks. To some, they’re close friends. Fated ‘til death. A favorite of each other. To the members of the group, they’re more than what the world sees, and it’s a secret they should also keep.

It’s cool, Johnny even said when the couple decided to confess to the others their real relationship. They had been expecting it to happen anyway, Taeil commented before smiling at them. They all understand, they understand that love is love and Taeyong and Jaehyun make each other happy. It’s what they all wish for everybody – happiness.

But being in a dorm with 7 other men is a little difficult for the couple, because there are people everywhere and it keeps them from being openly expressing their affection. They sit together in the living room, Jaehyun mostly sleeps in Taeyong’s room, and they talk in whispers as they slip in their own world unknowingly. With the rest of the members around. They don’t care if they bear witness to all that since it’s a normal thing for couples to do, but it’s still different when there are no eyes and ears to check before Taeyong relaxes in Jaehyun’s hold.

He even once considered moving out. There’s enough money in the bank for him to get an apartment close to the dorms, or to the agency, and the only thing that keeps him from doing that is the outsiders’ eyes and ears and mouth. The group won’t say a thing, but the persistent stalkers and indecent neighbors are untrustworthy. It’s mentally and emotionally draining to deal with them. It’d be nice if they were the only ones Taeyong has to worry about. It’d be nice to get them off his back once and for all.

Jaehyun shovels in some pork belly strips in his mouth and glances at Taeyong. “You okay?” He asks, quickly chewing the food and washing it down with water. “Are you sleepy?” His voice is so gentle and care oozes out of it like flowy honey. “Should we go now?”

“No, not yet,” Taeyong shakes his head before reaching for Jaehyun’s hand under the table. Are the other customers looking their way? Do they see the hands? Are there fans lingering outside? They’re going to try and snap a photo and post it on SNS, right? And then Taeyong will have to keep himself from touching Jaehyun in public because the management will hear and they will be scolded.

Don’t interact too much, it’s the only thing fans talk about. What about the other members? You understand that you and Jaehyun are the most popular, right? Interact with the others. Taeyong, keep pestering Doyoung. Jaehyun, we’ll give you a photoshoot with Johnny. Or Yuta. Whoever they wanna see in a magazine with you.

But…the fans have been asking for a photoshoot with me and Taeyong hyung, too.

It’s not important. They will buy it even without him.

Taeyong straightens before leaning in to whisper, “We can go now, but we have a date, remember?” It sends tingles down his spine, the thought of being alone with Jaehyun makes him feel like a giddy teenager on his first relationship. Satisfaction fills him when Jaehyun’s ear reddens. “Should we go now? Or are you having fun here?”

It seems like a switch has turned on inside Jaehyun and the next thing they know, he’s denying a proffered shot from Johnny. “Guys, I think Taeyong hyung and I are heading out first. Hyung,” he looks at the manager. “Happy birthday! I’ll give you your gift tomorrow.” He has no gift – he actually forgot that it’s their manager’s birthday today. Whatever, Jaehyun can just get him anything.

As expected, they do not ask them where they’re going. Taeyong is a lot thankful and lucky to have such understanding friends. It’d be hella awkward to explain if they indeed threw out the question. Because, you know, no matter what they say, it’ll be interpreted into one thing and one thing only – sex.

Which, for the lack of a better excuse, is true. It’s normal. Couples have sex all the time. Jaehyun glances at the group and sees Jungwoo wave at them with a knowing grin. He puts on his mask and cap, makes sure to pull it down a little to hide his eyes and when Taeyong’s done doing the same, they’re out of the restaurant in no time.

 

 

It’s not safe to wait for a taxi there, so they walk where the lampposts do not reach. They’re side by side, brave and risky as their hands brush at each step. For those who are none the wiser, they are merely two friends out on a late night, probably going home or heading to a noraebang. But at this time of the evening, past 10, the only ones lingering in the street are those who know better.

Taeyong realizes it when the two girls lagging behind enter the same street. He smiles behind the mask and gives Jaehyun a side-glance, who’s already looking his way. “What’s your track and field record in high school?”

Jaehyun raises a brow and even if Taeyong doesn’t see it, he knows the younger’s smirking. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Without warning, he’s already sprinting down the road and Taeyong’s mind whirrs for a second before he too, is running in full speed to get away from the fans – or more specifically, stalkers.

The girls instantly catch on to what’s happening and boldly follow, now running. It looks like they’re not slackers during PE class as Taeyong peeks over his shoulder and sees the ladies still trying to get to him and actually getting closer.

“What the,” he mutters in between pants and almost yelps in shock when Jaehyun’s arm shoots out and grabs him by the wrist before he’s dragged to a secluded corner. It’s completely dark in that spot, and a little tight as they press up against each other with the beating of their hearts in sync.

Sensing that the stalkers are nearing, Jaehyun moves further behind the bricked wall and nudges Taeyong’s face to the crook of his neck. Murmurs of where are they, where are they going, echo into the air for a hot minute until their ebbing footsteps tell the couple that they’re free to come out. Taeyong is the first to untangle himself and Jaehyun follows him as they come out of their hiding.

“Usually, they don’t give up until midnight,” Jaehyun says with a huff and pulls Taeyong towards an incoming taxi. They get in the backseat and tells the driver their destination. The driver doesn’t say anything–it’s none of his business anyway if two men want to spend the night in a hotel, so he can swallow the disgust for a while.

The ride isn’t long and soon Taeyong is giving the driver their fare. Jaehyun leads him to the reception desk at the lobby and with only the mention of his name, the lady plasters a small smile before handing out the keycard. There’s only one; they won’t stay for a long time.

None of them knows exactly why the tension is so thick as they ride the elevator. Taeyong pulls his mask down as he stares at their reflection on the doors and mentally chuckles. It was scary when they first did this but now, it feels more like a game. It’s thrilling, it’s risky, it’s somewhat liberating in a way that no manager is telling them what to do. There are no hawk eyes panning in on their every move.

But if they have to do this forever, running away from judgment and hiding from the world, then so be it. As long as they’re together, why would they need the world’s approval? Who are they to cast a stone, to tell Taeyong and Jaehyun that what they have is not normal? What is normal anyway? This, whatever they have between them may not be conventional, but it’s not wrong.

If they could see how happy I am with him, they would be jealous. They’d wish they have their own Jaehyun.

All those thoughts vanish when they reach their room and Jaehyun all but pushes him to bed. They don’t have all the time in the world as there’s so much waiting for them. Work, fans, and things that should be done out of this room when their limbs aren’t tangled together, when their naked bodies aren’t pressed against each other, and when they’re not panting obscenities against each other’s mouth.

Taeyong arches off the bed when Jaehyun swallows around him, groaning out his boyfriend’s name. Right now, there’s only bliss, there’s only them. There are no cameras, no choreographies to polish, no songs to sing.

Right now, what matters most is they’re together.

“Fuck,” Taeyong moans lowly as he glances down to watch Jaehyun’s lips wrap snug around his dick. It burns down there where Jaehyun bobs his head and laps over the tip of his length over and over. Soft hands caress the inside of his thighs, teasing and calming. They urge Taeyong to just lay there and take it all like a good boy, because Jaehyun will take care of him. Jaehyun will love him the way he wants to be loved.

Soon, Jaehyun lets go of Taeyong’s cock and gets undressed. He’s stiff as a rod, already begging to slide into that heat. He takes the condom out of his pants’ pocket and tears it open with his teeth, pulling out a laughter from Taeyong.

“What?” Jaehyun’s smile broadens as he slips the condom on and gives his cock a few tugs. “What’s funny?”

“I don’t know,” Taeyong reaches for him and hugs Jaehyun tight, giving his face little kisses. “I just love you. I love you so much.” His breath hitches when a finger slips right into him, scissoring gently. “How do you know I’m prepped?”

Jaehyun hums while peppering kisses all over Taeyong’s chest. He also traces a nipple with his tongue. “I love you too. You did it last time, so I know you’d be doing it again. Convenient, right?”

Taeyong shuts him up with a deep kiss. Their tongues touch and leave flames of desire on their wake, before the room is soon filled with moans of pleasure and noises that nobody else should listen to.

They make love as much as they can with what little freedom they have in their hands. Damn the consequences tomorrow, if Taeyong limps and someone notices, if Jaehyun wears another plain black shirt with a loose collar and exposes a hickey. It doesn’t matter at the moment.

When Taeyong’s whimpers turn a pitch higher, Jaehyun wraps a hand around his boyfriend’s cock and strokes it in sync with his thrusts until the body under his trembles from the blinding orgasm. Jaehyun follows not long after, releasing his load in the condom before carefully pulling out and disposing it. He fights the urge to go back to bed as he goes to the bathroom to soak a towel for Taeyong.

Aftercare is always important, Jaehyun believes so. Caring doesn’t stop when they’ve gone down from their highs – it extends to when Taeyong is too tired to move and Jaehyun takes responsibility in cleaning him up.

Taeyong’s stomach flexes when the cold towel hits his skin, wiping off the mess he made. “I’m so sleepy, baby. Can we not go back yet?”

“Two hours, then we’ll go home, okay?” Jaehyun finishes wiping the stickiness away and snuggles to Taeyong under the sheets. The smaller man occupies his arms so warmly. Taeyong pillows his head on Jaehyun’s chest and murmurs something gibberish before drifting off to sleep.

It’s only then does Jaehyun welcome the nagging thoughts of what’s about to come if they slip up and get discovered. The possibility of being exiled by the industry, by everyone, terrifies him. Millions of people are going to frown and talk, millions of them are going to hurt them. They’re going to hurt Taeyong, and he can’t afford that to happen. Taeyong is already carrying the burden of actions from the past that were blown out of proportion. Taeyong is already being punished for crimes he didn’t do.

If people discover this, Taeyong will be buried under. Their dreams will be buried under.

But as Jaehyun looks down, traces the slope of Taeyong’s nose and the curve of his lips, Jaehyun exhales those worries. Taeyong is a part of his dreams. When all else fails, Taeyong will thrive. They will thrive together.

Jaehyun’s arms tighten around the sleeping man.

They will be together. No matter what.

 

 

Things go the way they should. No secrets out, no nightmares to live.

Days go by normally for the rest of the group but for Taeyong and Mark, it’s both heaven and hell. They’re members of SuperM and they’re currently gearing up for US promotions as well as 127’s comeback. It comes to a point that they do not know anymore which schedules to attend. They are constantly pulled out of meetings for 127 to prepare for SuperM. They feel guilty leaving their original group behind even for a while but work is work, business is business.

If that was the only headache Taeyong has to deal with, really. Because Jaehyun is so competitive, he’s also trying to win over all that SuperM stuff.

The first time they hear about it, he’s the only one not congratulating Taeyong. He patted Mark on the back but he didn’t say anything about it to Taeyong. SM is taking his boyfriend away for work that doesn’t require them to be around each other. SM is taking him away and putting him in a group that Jaehyun is unfamiliar with. SM is taking him away and putting him around men Jaehyun doesn’t trust.

Jaehyun is a lot of things and one of them is jealous. Taeyong is a very beautiful person inside and out, and there’s a lot of men and women trying to be friends with him. He knows they probably mean no harms but, in this industry, a lot of people are manipulative and will take advantage of you because you’re the fresh meat. They’re not virgins to rumors going around even inside their own company.

So when he hears that SuperM will be in America for some time, the green monster in Jaehyun flourishes. It sticks to his heartstrings like glue.

Taeyong must notice the way he avoids talking about it and Jaehyun is glad that he’s not being confronted. He’s sure that it won’t end up well.

More days that are supposed to be spent with Taeyong are spent alone in his room. He has to prepare for that Mc-ing gig for Inkigayo but it’s not enough to keep him occupied, to keep him from thinking about how he’s gonna have to be in the dorm and not see Taeyong first thing in the morning. People will watch him and see that smile on his face but they don’t know how forced those smiles are, especially to his female co-worker. That girl, Naeun, is being too obvious and it irks him to no end. The three of them just met to be acquainted earlier but Jaehyun can already sense her advances. He’s not conceited, alright. It’s just too obvious.

Even before the official start of SuperM’s promotions, Taeyong hasn’t been sleeping in the dorm most days of the week. He’s always cooped up in the studio writing and re-writing, editing, producing his own songs that he wishes to release someday as a full album. Moreover, he’s also contributing to SuperM’s discography.

Jaehyun hates it. He hates how even in a group that isn’t his priority, they’re still making Taeyong lend his talent. Why can’t the other guys there write too? Taeyong and Mark too good for that group. That’s what he always tells himself. He’s not entirely sure if the other members aren’t participating in the song making and whatnot, but his judgment is so clouded that Jaehyun is willing to antagonize them.

It only gets even worse when Taeyong suddenly cuts their only time together since SuperM happened because Baekhyun called and wanted the whole group to go out for dinner.

“I’m sure we won’t stay out late.” Taeyong tries to pacify him while changing into a nice shirt. What is he trying to look good for? “Mark is with me so we’ll go back early, I promise.”

“Mark is an adult. If he wants to stay, he will. Are you not coming back if he wants to stay with them?” Petulance radiates off of Jaehyun, even when Taeyong gives him a look.

“I just said we’ll go back early…”

Jaehyun shakes his head before plopping back down on Taeyong’s bed, staring at the ceiling impassively. “I hate that shit.”

“What shit? Jaehyun, is there something wrong?” The leader sits on the edge of the bed and pokes the younger’s cheek. “Are you upset about something?”

He tries his best not to give in to his frustration but it gets the best of him when he looks at Taeyong and sees cluelessness there. Jaehyun sits up. “Did you really have to join SuperM?”

Taeyong blinks. “Huh? Of course. I mean they’re my members too–”

“No. Did you really have to agree to be in that group? Hyung, you’re already doing so much for NCT 127 and SM isn’t even promoting you properly. And they had the gall to give you more work? They’re killing you! They’re killing you and Mark! Are you writing songs for them too? Tell them to write for themselves, at least. It’s high time that they become as good as you, right?”

“Jaehyun!” Taeyong calls his name in disbelief, getting off the bed. “Where is this coming from? Why… Why do you sound like you hate them? You… I didn’t read too much into it when you didn’t congratulate me like the others did – because you didn’t have to. I thought you were proud of me nonetheless. But… You know this will help us, right? This will benefit us. We can easily promote in the US, people will be curious and their own fans might also become our fans–”

“You’re so gullible.” Jaehyun is having none of it. “SM created the group to gain more money from different fandoms at the same time because EXO will enlist one by one and they’re the highest earners of the company, alright? The popularity will be credited to Taemin and Baekhyun and Kai, but who’s writing? Are they helping you? Kai could at least make your own dance but he’s not doing that, is he?” He scoffs, oblivious of the Taeyong’s emotional turmoil. “How could you be proud when it only means NCT isn’t doing well enough for SM to rely on it?”

No one speaks right away after that. Jaehyun silently seethes in bed, and Taeyong is left to stare disbelievingly at him.

“Is that all?” Taeyong finally asks.

Jaehyun’s brows furrow. “Yes, that’s all.”

“If you’re going to belittle me, you might as well say everything to my face now before I go to them and sit through that dinner, thinking about how they’re innocent and how the person that means the most to me basically just insulted them. What face are you going to show them when you see them in public, hm? Your second, third, fourth face? How many faces do you even show people?” Taeyong hastily puts his shoes on, enraged. “I’d forgive you without getting an apology if you only insulted me, but you’re dragging people down with your immaturity and it’s appalling, Jaehyun. You’re a child in a grown ass man’s body.”

The younger bristles. “What did you say?”

“You heard what I said, Jaehyun.” A sigh escapes Taeyong’s lips and he looks at his boyfriend with hurt in his eyes that Jaehyun feels like he just got splashed with freezing water. “If that’s all you want to say to me, then fine. Will you apologize when I get back?”

Jaehyun only looks away in shame.

“You big baby,” Taeyong walks up to him and kisses his cheek. “I must be broken. I can’t stay mad at you.” He then ruffles Jaehyun’s hair and leaves, taking Mark with him.

Jaehyun doesn’t even think he has the right to accept that whispered I love you floating in the air.

 

 

Taeyong is a man of his words. When he comes back early from the impromptu dinner, he wishes everyone a good night and cuddles a hesitant Jaehyun. He forgives him even without receiving an apology. He kisses him, whispers to him that he and their group are still more important, that he knows what he’s doing and that these will all be worth it.

Jaehyun, selfish Jaehyun, pulls Taeyong closer and tells the latter he loves him, and that he understands. He thanks Taeyong for everything he does for 127.

Lastly, he thanks Taeyong for not giving up on him. This is not the first time they had an argument. All couples go through the same thing and even before they became romantically involved, they already had those little petty fights that never really last long because they care too much for each other to give the cold shoulder.

This is not the first time and this won’t be the last. They have a long way ahead of them, a long line of problems to greet them.

While Taeyong was out, Jaehyun took that chance to think about his behavior. He still can’t dispel the jealousy and petty annoyance towards some of the SuperM members but he knows better than to let it affect Taeyong. He hopes he sticks with that, because one cannot simply change overnight. Jaehyun won’t easily stop being jealous, he won’t easily stop being selfish. He wants to find something else to pin the blame to but the truth is that the problem lies in him, and nowhere else.

He will try. He will try for himself and for Taeyong. He’s not perfect, but he will try.

 

 

SuperM debuts. Jaehyun begins his job at Inkigayo.

He’s irritated at everything – the lack of time with Taeyong, Naeun unnecessarily sitting close in the waiting room, and Kai looking at Taeyong as if Taeyong is his whole world and then their fans eating that up.

127 members don’t fail to watch all the interviews and performances SuperM does in the US. They are all hyped watching Mark, Taeyong, Ten and Lucas work with their respected seniors, except for Jaehyun. Sometimes he forces himself to sit through a video just for Taeyong, sometimes he outright walks away to sleep in his room. Each time he does that, he gives an excuse. His excuses get more and more ridiculous but the 127 guys buy it so he has no qualms doing it again and again. It’s either he’s surprisingly convincing or that the 127 members just know better than to question him.

How can he continue watching Kai ogle Taeyong anyway? That guy has a girlfriend, he knows it! They made it obvious on that interview with Ellen. So why is he all over Taeyong, touching him and hugging him from behind being all gooey-eyed?

That better be fanservice, Jaehyun screams into his pillow. Or else he’ll finally put that boxing hobby to good use.

 

 

SuperM stays in the US for a while and Jaehyun has to be contented with long distance video calls and delayed texts. They talk whenever they can, mostly when it’s nighttime where Taeyong is and it’s broad daylight in Korea. Hardly do they properly talk when one of them is in the middle of work, but Jaehyun has disturbed SuperM’s practice at least twice by trying to FaceTime Taeyong.

Taeyong has no choice but to excuse himself and scold Jaehyun for calling, squeezing a go to sleep, eat properly, and an I love you in between because Jaehyun’s not exactly known for being patient.

When he has to be with his secondary group, Taeyong feels guilty for cancelling on Jaehyun. It’s difficult for him too. Jaehyun is not the only one having a hard time dealing with all of this. But what can they do other than to suck it up and wait for when promotion is over and Taeyong needs to be with 127 again? Nothing.

Tension only dies down a bit when they both get a little daring and phone sex doesn’t sound too bad compared to the actual, physical thing. Jaehyun always starts it by asking where Taeyong is even though he already knows, and demands that the older man describe what he wears.

“Just my boxers, nothing else.” Taeyong whispers to his phone, hand already caressing up and down his torso. His finger catches on to a nipple and the way he whines sends a delicious tingle down Jaehyun’s spine. “Will you… will you let me strip off your clothes, Jaehyunie?”

“Mm, I like it when you take off my clothes. Slowly, teasingly, making me want you even more.” Jaehyun’s already bare on his bed, stroking his cock to full hardness. “Are you touching yourself, hyung? Remove your underwear for me, alright? Then imagine that it’s my hand touching you.”

They’re both new to this so it makes them feel a little awkward to talk so dirty on the phone, but they have to make do with what they can. Taeyong gulps, baring himself and lets out another whine when he begins stroking his cock. Jaehyun has that power to make him feel so needy without doing much and it should be embarrassing, but when Taeyong gets exactly what he wants from Jaehyun, he suddenly doesn’t mind to be the one always begging.

“You feel good, hyung? Keep doing it. Spit on your hand and grip your cock tight for me. Fuck into it. Yes, that’s good.” Jaehyun closes his eyes so only the image of Taeyong doing what he’s telling him to do burns in the back of his eyelids. “Taeyongie is so good for me…”

He ends up being the one to keep the one-sided conversation going because Taeyong can’t say much past moans and cries of Jaehyun’s name. Jaehyun thrusts into his hand, picturing Taeyong on his hands and knees. He reaches the peak of bliss listening to Taeyong sob as he orgasms into his own hands. They lie there panting onto their phones for ten minutes until Taeyong tells him he’s just going to clean up.

While waiting for Taeyong to come back, Jaehyun removes his bedsheet and leaves it in the hamper. He takes a five-minute shower just to get rid of the stickiness before picking up his phone and realizing that Taeyong has already fallen asleep, his soft snores being Jaehyun’s goodbye.

He could’ve at least gotten him on FaceTime but they were both too excited to somehow be with each other again that Taeyong just made a phone call. It’s expensive, though. Jaehyun almost hears the cry of Taeyong’s phone bill.

 

 

Sunday comes too soon which means MC-ing at Inkigayo and dealing with Naeun trying to act cute and lovely as she offers a snack to Jaehyun after walking past Minhyuk, shamelessly.

They’re in the waiting room preparing to be called for rehearsal when she noisily opens a bag of honey butter chips and takes up the space next to Jaehyun on the couch. From the other side of the room, Minhyuk raises a brow.

“Oppa, you wanna share? I can’t eat this all.”

Jaehyun looks at the proffered food and shakes his head. “I’m on a diet, but thanks. Minhyuk hyung might like some?”

Minhyuk opens his mouth but Naeun cuts him off with a whine. “But I bought this so we can share. The last time I offered some to him, he rejected it too. So I thought he didn’t want junk food. You don’t, do you?” She smiles at Minhyuk and quickly redirects her attention to Jaehyun. “Also, we should take a selca. My members are asking if we are all close and they won’t believe me.” Naeun is already taking her phone out even before Jaehyun decides. “We’re all close, aren’t we? Minhyuk oppa, sit with us.”

She misses the way the oldest among of them rolls his eyes before sitting on her right. Naeun is in the middle as usual, and holds her phone out to take several pictures. When she’s done, she looks at Jaehyun again and promptly forgets Minhyuk’s existence. “Oppa, let’s all hang out after work, okay?”

“No,” Jaehyun smiles sarcastically. “I’m really busy, Naeun. If you badly wanna hang out, ask Minhyuk hyung.”

Naeun waves her hand dismissively. “I already asked him and he said no. That’s fine, we can try next time!”

“Kids, get ready in 5.” An Inkigayo staff reminds them of the rehearsal. Naeun is then called to have her make-up touched up.

Minhyuk flicks Jaehyun on the arm. “She didn’t ask.”

“What?”

“She didn’t ask. The food and the hangout. She didn’t ask me. The girl is nice; she’s like a little sister. But if you really don’t like her, you should probably spell it out. Girls like that pretend to be blind and deaf when you don’t tell them no.” He sighs exasperatedly and peeks at where she is. “You’re seeing someone else, aren’t you?”

Jaehyun stiffens.

“Don’t worry, I’m just curious because I saw you once smiling at your phone and your ears turned red.” Minhyuk pats his shoulder and gets up. “Come on, she’s gonna try to talk to you again if we wait for her.”

He gets up and they walk past her on the way out, ignoring how she smiles at him in the mirror.

 

 

Taeyong comes back soon, and all of their pent-up longing burst the second the older man enters their dorm.

Johnny shrugs after the slamming of Taeyong’s bedroom door. “Well,” he says to the others. “We really don’t need to ask for Taeyong’s permission to go out, you know. Just don’t get caught by the loonies.”

 

 

During the two months Taeyong is in Korea, they make the most out of it however they can. He’s still cooped up in the studio, but Jaehyun goes with him when there’s nothing else for him to do. The photoshoot with Johnny is done and they’re just waiting for it to be released. Inkigayo only happens during Sundays and Jaehyun has already gotten used to it that he doesn’t need a day to practice.

Naeun is still trying to get the three of them to hang out together but Jaehyun never fails to politely decline. He still doesn’t have an idea how to turn her down – she could just be mistaken and Jaehyun doesn’t want to make her feel bad. It’s a good thing that she doesn’t text or call him.

“Hyung, take a break for a while. You’re stressed out,” Jaehyun takes out the kimchi and triangle kimbap he got from the convenience store opposite the building. “Eat this, okay? I also got you banana milk.”

Taeyong puts the pencil down and closes his notebook. “I want to make a song for my fans. They’ve been working hard on leaving good comments online.” Sighing, he unwraps the kimbap before taking a bite. “I just feel like talking to them on SNS isn’t enough, you know?”

“You don’t need to force yourself to give back now. We’re all busy. You’re starting the US tour with SuperM at the end of this month until February. 127 will have a comeback on March.” Jaehyun pulls up a chair beside his boyfriend and stabs a straw to his banana milk before handing it to Taeyong. “They will understand. Most of all, they want you to take a rest. Even without telling them, they know you’re always busy.” He checks the door for a second and plants a kiss on Taeyong’s lips. “Don’t push yourself too hard, okay? I’ll go to the restroom and if I find you writing again, I’ll take away your food.”

Taeyong pouts cutely as he shakes his head. “No, Jaehyunie. Not my food. Okay, I’ll keep eating. Go pee now.”

He waits for Jaehyun to leave before opening his notebook again. A good line just popped up his mind when he took a bite out of that kimbap so he has to write it down quick before he forgets it. Taeyong looks at the door again and giggles – Jaehyun won’t really take his food away, will he?

Something lights up from his right and Taeyong looks at it, seeing that Jaehyun just got a text in Kakao. He ignores it to write some more, but it keeps pinging so he picks it up and squints at the preview.

“Hey, we’re going out next week. Do you wanna finally join us or what?”

Taeyong frowns as he reads the group chat’s name. They’re still talking? I thought he doesn’t really vibe with the ’97 kids? He shrugs and almost puts the phone down when another message pops up. This time, it’s from someone else Taeyong doesn’t recognize.

He probably shouldn’t read Jaehyun’s texts but he can’t help it, now that it’s looking right at him. This person, whoever he is, is inviting Jaehyun on a drink tonight and there will be girls. There will be girls that Jaehyun might like if he’s interested in dating.

Taeyong blinks, rereads the same message twice and puts the phone down just as Jaehyun comes back.

“The notebook is open, hyung. What did I tell you?” Jaehyun picks up his phone before sitting down. It lights up again and he opens the chats, sending curt replies before looking back at Taeyong who’s blankly staring at the computer. “Hyung? You okay?”

“Eh?” Taeyong is then pulled out of trance before closing his notebook and taking another bite of the triangle kimbap. “I’m okay. I just remembered something…” His voice quiets down at the end. “Jaehyunie, when I was in the US, did you not go out with the others?” It’s a safe, probing question. “Yuta always tells me when they have somewhere to go even though they don’t have to do that, but did you really not go anywhere? It must have been boring.”

Jaehyun shows no sign of picking up on Taeyong’s intention. “No but honestly, my friends keep on asking me to go out for a drink. I kind of wanted to, but I just stayed home so I could talk to you. Why, are you trying to push me away?” He takes the kimbap’s plastic wrapper and puts it under his eyes as fake tears. “My beloved hyung doesn’t want me anymore…”

“Silly, I was just asking. I don’t want you to be extremely focused on me, Jaehyun. If you want to see them, you can. Don’t ever feel like you should seek my approval if you wanna play with your friends. You’re an adult and you can make your own decisions.” Taeyong sips some of his banana milk and runs a hand through Jaehyun’s hair, pulling him close by the nape. “Just be wise, okay? Don’t get in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble, hyung?”

The distance between their lips disappear as they share a short, sweet kiss. Jaehyun pulls away with a lovestruck face, deep dimples popping out. “You’re the only trouble I want to get into.”

 

 

Despite Jaehyun indirectly confirming he had no plans on meeting up with any of his friends outside 127, Taeyong figures out that he must have been seeing them now because of the delayed replies to his texts. He sets the time on his iPad according to the time zone in Korea because he’s too lazy to count all the time. When he sends Jaehyun a text or tries to call him, he makes sure that the younger will be available. Taeyong even sets up an alarm for when it’s time for him to talk to Jaehyun. But he gets a few replies three to four hours later, so Jaehyun must be occupied.

Taeyong finally asks Yuta about it and the Japanese member just sends an ‘I thought you knew he was going out every other night´. Not once did Jaehyun confirm it, though. But that’s fine since Taeyong told him he doesn’t need to update him if he wanted to go out. Taeyong hates coming off controlling.

It’s fine, he tells himself. Jaehyun is just drinking with his friends and he can hold his liquor so well. They won’t try to pair him up with a girl and Jaehyun will never be too drunk to forget his morals or lose a bit of decency.

It’s fine, Taeyong tells himself. He trusts Jaehyun. They trust each other. And being jealous is also fine, as long as it doesn’t become unreasonable.

 

 

The tour takes a break and SuperM returns to Korea a day before Jaehyun’s birthday. Taeyong is hoping to greet the day with Jaehyun so he’ll be the first one to give him a gift. Sitting inside his luggage is a brand-new Cartier Tank Solo, a wristwatch that costs a little over three grand. Jaehyun likes his watches classy and expensive, so Taeyong thinks it’d be the perfect gift this year.

They land in Incheon at 9 in the evening. Getting past the horde of fans is a struggle and Taeyong almost cries as soon as he and Mark find their 127 manager. They waste no time in hopping in.

The whole group welcomes them back in the dorm, sans Jaehyun. He’s the first one Taeyong is expecting to see but he’s missing. Maybe he’s out with friends again? Never mind. Jaehyun will be home soon because it’s gonna be his birthday tomorrow and he will surely want to spend the first hour of it with the squad.

“We don’t have a schedule tomorrow, do we? When are we gonna start practicing for Kick It?” Mark asks as soon as he comes out of his room, now changed into comfortable house clothes. He joins the rest of the group in the living room as they huddle close, rummaging the two SuperM members’ luggage for souvenirs. “Hey those shoes are mine!”

Taeyong picks up the box containing the Cartier Tank, thoughtlessly turning it around just to feel the box’s texture. “There’s none. But the day after tomorrow, we have to practice as much as we can before we do the rest of the tour.”

Yuta stretches his arms, yawning. “It must be hard for you two, but you’re doing well.” He continues digging through Mark’s luggage, brows furrowed. “What time did Jaehyun say he’s coming back?”

Johnny comes out of the kitchen with an apple, tossing and catching it mid-air before taking a bite. “Bold of you to assume he even said he was going out. We don’t know where he went, really,” he tells Taeyong with a shrug. “Probably with his friends. He should be here by now, though? He normally takes a nap before waking up at 12 for the mini party.”

That’s right. Jaehyun has this tradition of getting some sleep before 12 midnight so he can stay up for at least two hours and celebrate with them. Taeyong checks the time on his iPad and sighs, deciding to get changed and fix his stuff for now.

 

 

Traditions can be broken, perhaps, because Jaehyun comes home at 3am, smelling of alcohol. Only the older members stayed up to wait. The candle on his cake has melted, and all the food have gone cold. Taeyong approaches him but it seems like Jaehyun didn’t notice his presence for he goes straight to his room, not even bothering to greet the others.

Taeyong excuses himself and tails his boyfriend. He closes the door behind him, watching Jaehyun struggle to get out of his coat before stumbling towards the bed.

“Jaehyunie, where have you been?” He asks, still standing by the door. For some reason, he’s nervous. Rarely does Taeyong ever feel anxious if he’s not performing, but there’s something different about today that makes him want to bolt out the room.

As thought finally sensing his presence, Jaehyun blinks up at him. There’s an alarming lack of excitement on his face in seeing Taeyong. “Oh, you’re back. I thought you’d be here by noon and when you didn’t arrive, I went out.”

“Are you drunk?” It’s such a stupid thing to ask, because Jaehyun is obviously drunk. He looks like he’s two seconds away from face planting. “Why did you drink so much?” Taeyong is starting to feel demanding, and he absolutely hates it.

The younger scoffs and then fluffs his pillows. “What? If I didn’t get drunk on a drinking night with my friends, would it even make sense? Of course, I am drunk. Come here. I was waiting for you, hyung.” He looks at Taeyong with a lopsided grin. “I missed you.”

Taeyong isn’t swayed. He’s so nervous and it only gets worse when he figures it out why. “It’s your birthday now. You must have celebrated with them, huh?” His hands tremble at the slightest and Taeyong clenches them on his sides.

“Ah, yes. I did. It was fun, hyung. It was so loud, there was so much alcohol that I can’t even name, and it was fun! Did I already say that?”

“Yes, you did. Were you…were you with the ’97 kids?”

“No, I went with Jungmin. You don’t know him, hyung.” Jaehyun waves a hand in front of his face as if saying no. “He’s not an idol. Met him through a friend of a friend. We had fun! It was a big group.”

“Who else was there?” Taeyong’s almost whispering, like he doesn’t want to be heard because he fears hearing the answer. “Were there girls? Did they give you a girl?”

The question ticks Jaehyun off and he glares at Taeyong, giving him a once over. “The fuck are you asking? Of course, there are girls. They have girlfriends and they have friends who are girls. Hyung, you just got here and I want to sleep. Why are you asking me these stupid questions?”

He can feel the cracks in his heart lengthen. “Because I’m worried that your friends are being a bad influence to you. Jaehyunie, it’s not like you to be out so late before your birthday. You always spend it with us…”

“Bad influence?” Jaehyun wobbles a little as he stands up, taking steps closer to Taeyong. “Are you saying I’d be drinking with a girl, get on a one-night stand with her? Did you forget that you were the one who told me to do whatever I want? I’m doing just that. Why are you being all demanding now? Are you my mother? Damn, hyung. You’re suspecting me?” He chuckles sardonically, eyes never leaving Taeyong’s vulnerable ones. “Between us, I’m the loyal one.”

Taeyong’s ears ring deafeningly for a moment. Did Jaehyun just say what he just did? Now, he is more angry than scared. “What the hell does that mean?”

Please don’t say it, Jaehyun. Don’t say it. I can never do that to you.

“Hyung, I hate that fucking group, alright?!” Jaehyun shouts that Taeyong even flinches and it’s impossible that the others don’t hear it. “I gave it a chance because of the reasons you gave me, but I fucking hate that group! Especially Taemin who wants to shower with you, Kai who keeps touching you, and you keep clinging to Baekhyun! Is Kai not enough? If you actually wanted to date an older man, then what the hell are you doing with me? Doing all that behind my back–”

“JEONG YUNO!” Taeyong’s voice cracks like thunder in Jaehyun’s room, and if the others haven’t woken up yet from Jaehyun’s tirade, then they should be scrambling up in panic now. A pathetic tear rolls down his cheek and he wipes it away angrily, hard gaze drilling Jaehyun with blunt knives. “Do you hear what you’re saying? You’re drunk, and it’s why you can freely tell me all these things. This is the most honest you, right? You have these despicable thoughts about me? Why?”

The initial anger quickly wears down, replaced by crippling pain. Taeyong is frozen where he stands as the ache travels out of his chest and surges through every part of him. The thought of Jaehyun doubting him betrays so much that he can’t properly think.

“When I was in the US, I only thought about you. I had fun with them too but at the end of the day, I still want to be with you. It’s still you that I want to be with when I stand on stage and fulfill my dreams. It’s still you that I want to hug after every performance. It’s still you that I want to eat with after a long day. It’s still you that I want to see all those nice places with. Before I sleep, it’s still your name I say in my prayers even if I’m not fucking religious. Jaehyun, I pray for you to someone I cannot see because I love you so much.”

Jaehyun softens. Seeing Taeyong shed painful tears for him is like a punch in the gut. He tries to reach out, but Taeyong swats his hand away.

“Do you think that if I were given a choice, I’d leave you guys here and join people I didn’t train with? Do you think I’d rather be in a group I didn’t build my dreams for? I wouldn’t even think twice turning SM down if I had a choice. How could you…” This time, he doesn’t wipe away the tears because they keep falling endlessly. “How could you think of me forgetting you when it’s the thing I fear the most happening to us? Jaehyunie, when I told you I love you for the first time, I swore that you’d be the only one. Why are you doing this to me? Why are you hurting me? Look at you, you’re a mess,” he clutches Jaehyun’s shirt and tugs. “Did you throw up outside?”

He’s sober now. He’s too sober. Jaehyun holds the hand clutching his shirt and does no more as Taeyong breaks down before him.

“You can’t even take care of yourself properly when I’m not here, and you expect me to look at somebody else and do to them what I do with you? Hey, Jeong Yuno. What’s happening to you?”

Right then, the door opens and they step aside for whoever it is. Yuta’s eyes darken when he takes in Taeyong’s state. “Taeyong, come out.”

“Why…?”

“Come out of this room before I bust this guy’s face.” Yuta sees Taeyong’s gift for Jaehyun sitting on the computer desk and storms towards it before throwing it right on Jaehyun’s chest. “Happy birthday, asshole.” He then grabs Taeyong’s hand and drags him out of Jaehyun’s room, slamming the door close.

Jaehyun remains where he stands, staring at the watch on the floor. It fell out of the box when it dropped. He picks it up and releases a shaky breath as he recognizes the item.

It’s the one he’s been eyeing for weeks, and it’s a coincidence that it’s what Taeyong got for him.

 

 

None of them has ever imagined that a day would come where there’s palpable tension within the group, so thick and tormenting. All the arguments they had in the past were easily solved within the day but this issue they are having right before the comeback ruins so many plans – not only do they find it hard to talk so freely without minding Taeyong’s and Jaehyun’s reactions, but their productivity is also affected. Dance practices take longer because Jaehyun keeps messing up a move that even the least skilled dancer in the group already mastered. Taeyong hasn’t polished his parts for a particular song yet so he tells them to let Mark record first.

This is the biggest quarrel between the couple to date, and even the other members cannot just be not involved. If a member misses a reminder, the leader has to relay it. But if it’s Jaehyun, Johnny volunteers dealing with him. He knows that Taeyong can perfectly do his duties as a leader but before Johnny became a 127 member, he was first a friend to both of them. Why did he let Taeyong bear the torture of facing Jaehyun (who hasn’t made a move yet about fixing the problem he caused)?

They all try not to talk about the elephant in the room. Their manager notices on the third day when he gathers them to the van to head to the scheduled practice and when he asks what’s going on, the silence from the whole group speaks volumes. He ends up shrugging it off, then pulling Johnny at the side later to remind him to solve whatever’s causing a rift.

If watching the couple (are they still together or did they break up just like that, Yuta often wonders) ignore each other’s already suffocating, the rest of NCT 127 visibly cringe when they start filming for the short music videos of their B-sides and the director has to pair Taeyong and Jaehyun together for some shots.

Doyoung winces and picks his ear as he turns his back towards the annoying boyfriends. “What’s more ridiculous than that director pairing up the obviously awkward members is that said awkward members agreed to be filmed together.” He exasperatedly fans himself. “If they start a fist fight, I don’t know them.”

“Does it look like they’re going to gouge each other’s eyes?” Taeil digs his elbow against Doyoung’s side and points at where the two are now sitting side by side, and Taeyong rests his chin on Jaehyun’s shoulder. “If they start confessing their love for each other right in front of everyone, I don’t know them.”

Yuta squints, his arms crossed over his chest. “Maybe they made up? It was a pretty big fight so it’s only normal if they don’t return to how they were before right away.” His gaze shifts south. “He’s also wearing the watch today.”

“That’s probably his way of saying sorry. My opinions don’t matter much in things like this but I think it’s not good enough.” Johnny tells Haechan to head back for makeup, murmuring as he watches the youngest rush to a makeup artist. “That was nasty. Try to check on Taeyong when you can, we all know this is not the only burden on his back. His plate’s overflowing and Jaehyun knows better not to sit on it.”

 

 

A week passes by without a single one of them seeing Jaehyun and Taeyong actually talk, which confirms that there’s no reconciliation happening. Not right now, at least. They don’t know what Jaehyun is planning to do but he hasn’t gone out since. It’s probably because of work, but Yuta once saw him deleting messages on Kakao Talk, including the ones from Jungmin.

Aside from Taeyong, Yuta also stirs out of Jaehyun’s way. It’s not that he hates him – hate is a strong word and their friendship is too solid for it to crumble in a snap. However, he can’t just easily forget the words that left Jaehyun that night. They were raw and ruthless. Hot anger boils in him each time his mind recalls every sentence. What Taeyong is going through only amounts to hell.

Their leader must be prioritizing the comeback first. Taeyong and Mark also needs to fly out to continue the tour with SuperM, so if the former decides to talk it out with Jaehyun and it doesn’t work, it’s only going to get worse. That’s probably why Taeyong hasn’t done anything yet – not like he has to be the one to fix them.

 

 

Two days before he has to be with SuperM again, Taeyong finds himself back in the studio. Since the fight, he has only slept in the dorm thrice. The studio has slowly become his new home. It’s lonely and quiet, he misses the others’ loudness, yet he can’t push himself to be with them knowing that Jaehyun isn’t going out. He can’t even feel good about that because he doesn’t want Jaehyun to stop seeing his friends.

And since he has not yet gathered ample courage to talk to his boyfriend again, Taeyong takes it upon himself to put some physical distance between them. It’s probably not the best solution, but he’s not perfect. He’s weak and he’s scared.

“This is karma, isn’t it?” He whispers to no one as he replays the tracks that he already recorded for a song that won’t see the light anytime soon. “I’ve done so many bad things as a kid, and now I’m being punished for it. I shouldn’t be happy, they said. So I guess I will never be.”

Taeyong chuckles before closing the file. He moves the cursor over to ‘shut down’ and thinks better of it. Instead, he pulls up a playlist before picking up his phone and opening the V App for a spontaneous live broadcast.

The song he’s writing for the fans won’t be done until Kick It promotions conclude. Talking to them should do for now.

Taeyong waits for the viewer count to hit a thousand before clicking on a song and lets it play in the background.

“Hello, this is Tyongie. I know it’s late, but I’m alone in the studio and I miss Sijeuni. Why are you guys up? Don’t you have school tomorrow?” He runs a hand through his hair as he leans close to his phone to read the comments. “Oh, school can wait? Haha, if you’re sleepy, then go to sleep. Done with school? You’re working? Do well on your jobs, then.”

The fans leave tons of comments that Taeyong misses. There are some of them asking him to spoil a line from one of the songs in the album and Taeyong answers cheekily, telling them to patiently wait for it, that it’ll be the best thing ever. He hopes it will be.

He reads past the hate messages and focuses on those asking if he’s eating a lot, what his current favorite song is, and poses for the comments containing a long line of dots and a cat’s whiskers so they can take a screenshot and post about him resembling a cat for the nth time.

Taeyong reclines in his seat and stares at the computer screen for a moment before opening the folder containing the tracks. “I’m doing something, and I’m not sure if this will come out but I want you guys to listen to it and tell me what you think,” he plays a random track and watches an influx of screaming on the comments, giggling at them. “You like it? It’s only 20 seconds long and you like it? If Sijeuni says so, then I believe it.”

“The song sounds strong but the lyrics made me feel sad,” Taeyong reads a comment from a Korean fan and tilts his head as he looks straight on the camera. “Is it really sad? When I wrote this, I just let my heart speak because I think the best songs are always the ones that hit home.”

He realizes a second too late that he just told his fans about what he feels about the obstacles he’s going through.

Each day is a quicksand; I hold on but I get pulled down, I take a breath and I drown. And when I fall into the abyss, it’s you I think of. My shoulders feel lighter, my heart is at ease. What is there left for me to do when you leave, and the quicksand never spits me out?’

I miss Jaehyun, Taeyong’s mind echoes. Jaehyun has been his pillar of strength since 2014 when the first scandal broke. It was Jaehyun who hugged him first and told him he believed in Taeyong, that nothing else mattered because he would only listen to Taeyong. It was Jaehyun who clung to him despite the stares, it was Jaehyun who cheered him up when it was hard to sleep at night.

It was Jaehyun who swore to never let problems come between them. It was Jaehyun who called it fate.  It was Jaehyun who sealed their lives until death.

It was Jaehyun, and it will always be Jaehyun.  Yet right now, as Taeyong indulges the fans in the small, dark studio, he wonders if it will still be Jaehyun who carries him when he cannot walk past the unfair judgments anymore.

“I’ve been keeping you guys up, I wanna sleep too. Take care of yourself, okay? Study well and eat healthily. This has been Tyongie, bye bye…”

 

 

Jaehyun watches Taeyong’s Vlive broadcast from France. It’s the first of two European concerts. He looks fresh out of shower, rolling around his fluffy bed while showing off the new plushie he bought.

“You want this? No, I’m gonna hug this to sleep. I always hug something when sleeping,” Taeyong pauses, a longing look in his eyes. “Lately, I haven’t been sleeping properly. Tonight, please wish for good dreams to visit me. Eh? Yes, I miss my 127 members. We’ll go home on the 29th.”

He pauses again, reading comments. Something flashes in his gaze before Taeyong buries the lower half of his face on the plushie, muffling his words. “I can’t visit Jaehyunie on Inkigayo, but I will try next time. Please cheer for him on Sunday, okay? Jaehyunie does his best all the time. Our handsome Jaehyunie…”

His tears don’t give him a preamble and then the next second, Jaehyun has a hand over his eyes as he cries for the first time since the fight. He misses Taeyong so fucking much and there is no day he doesn’t mentally punish himself for hurting the man he loves so dearly. There are no excuses for the mistakes he did – he’s jealous, possessive, and insecure. He didn’t want to accept that he didn’t trust Taeyong as much as Taeyong trusted him so he had to put the blame on the other, he had to put him in a bad light.  

Taeyong is still talking on the broadcast but Jaehyun is too ashamed to even look at him through the screen. He doesn’t deserve Taeyong. Taeyong deserves someone much better than him, someone who won’t terrorize his character, someone who will support him come what may. Jaehyun wants to change and be that person, but it might be too late.

 

 

How will he know if it’s already too late when he doesn’t even try to mend what was broken? Jaehyun is in the dorm when Taeyong and Mark return, only offering a smile before he hides in his room for the rest of the day, only coming out when he knows Taeyong’s resting. Johnny tries to encourage him, only to be met with disappointment as Jaehyun lets the problem linger in the air and put a wall between them.

It has become a routine until the Kick It promotions start. The group looks perfect on screen but little do people know, its flaws hide in plain sight.

On Inkigayo, Taeyong almost slips up. He was caught making faces behind the MCs, glaring particularly at his left. He was meant to watch Jaehyun but his annoyance towards a certain person got the best of him, and he ended up giving the female MC a stink eye. The thought of Jaehyun being close to girls Taeyong doesn’t know has become a trigger for him to be irritated. But he doesn’t dwell on it because he’s not the type to be jealous of people that do not stand as competition. More importantly, jealousy is one of the reasons why he and Jaehyun are not on good terms. It wouldn’t be alright to give into it.

Their schedule is so packed that there is no time for them to be alone together. The group wakes up in an ungodly hour to get ready, spends the whole day either filming a skit for the fans or doing photoshoots for an endorsement. When they get home, it’s only to eat quickly and go to sleep so they don’t sleep through their alarm the next day.

Jaehyun and Taeyong start to be more relaxed around each other again, thanks to a skit they have to do. The way 127 members are quiet as the couple reenact a scene from Goblin makes it seem like they are just focused on the rare interaction on cam, but what the fans don’t know is it’s because it was so painfully awkward that they can’t look away. At least, it’ll be an iconic content.

You’re my first love,’ Jaehyun said before walking away, and Taeyong had to dispel the thoughts of ‘Are you still in love with me?’ until the end of filming.

They say more than a hi or hello, and Taeyong even sits next to the younger at the kitchen for dinner. The rigid atmosphere is still present, though. Taeyong’s smile is awkward, and Jaehyun can’t even look him straight in the eyes.

The group supposes this is better than watching them act like the other doesn’t exist, because everything starts somewhere.

This, they hope, is the beginning of the end of their suffering as bystanders.

 

 

Jaehyun stays behind on Inkigayo. Normally when the MCs are dismissed after a short meeting, all the groups will be gone. When he comes out of the meeting room though, he doesn’t spot NCT 127 in the hallway but he sees Taeyong there, now changed into a pair of plain white shirt and black cargo pants.

He looks good even in ordinary clothes that he still takes Jaehyun’s breath away after three years of dating.

Taeyong’s eyes widen when he sees Jaehyun. He tears himself off the wall and begins to walk forward when the sight of Naeun skipping to Jaehyun’s side halts him. She keeps a tiny space between them but the 127 leader sees through the way her fingers itch to reach and hold Jaehyun’s arm.

“Oppa, please don’t turn me down again. I’m gonna ask Minhyuk oppa after and I know he will agree. So please…?” Naeun smiles up at him so sweetly but even though Taeyong’s into sweet things, he only feels bitter watching her act the way she does.

Jaehyun fights the urge to sigh and smiles at her apologetically. “I really can’t. If you wanna eat out that badly, you can just go with Minhyuk hyung, alright?” Then he’s already heading towards the restroom with her calling for him.

Taeyong watches him go before approaching Naeun. “Hi,” he says, surprising her. She straightens up and gives him a kind smile. Technically, she’s his senior so Taeyong has to be the one to show more respect. But with how irritated he’s feeling right now, he really can’t force himself to appear humble. “Have you been asking him to eat outside?” Taeyong is aware that it’s a little nosy of him to do this, but if he doesn’t, then who will? Because from the looks of it, Jaehyun wants to be too nice. “I just overheard.”

“Yes, but he constantly turns me down. Is your group that busy?”

“Yes, is your group not?”

Naeun obviously looks slightly taken aback. She composes herself and smiles bashfully. “We don’t have a lot of group activities at the moment, so I was hoping to spend time with my friends. I am thinking that it would be nice if people saw how close we are. If you look at it professionally, isn’t it beneficial to each of us? It can also get more fans to tune in every Sunday…”

Aren’t you being too confident? A portion of Inkigayo’s viewers only tunes in because of Jaehyun, Taeyong says in his head. “If you put it that way, you have a point. But it’s hard to make Jaehyun go out if he’s not comfortable. Some of our colleagues have been inviting him too longer than you do but they haven’t seen even his shadow. I hope you understand. If he turns you down once, it’ll be harder if you keep asking him.”

“But–”

No, this has to stop. “He’s not interested, Naeun.” Taeyong’s mouth curves into a small, sympathetic smile. “Whatever you think I mean by that, it’s correct. I apologize for interfering, but I don’t really like seeing my friend be uncomfortable. You’ll be fine, you’re still young and you’re pretty, too.” He bows at her just as Jaehyun returns from the restroom wearing a curious face. Taeyong turns towards him, flashing a smile so radiant, Naeun wouldn’t miss what’s going on.

Jaehyun’s anxiety skyrockets as he takes in his boyfriend’s smile. He doesn’t even notice Naeun anymore as he lets Taeyong hold his elbow and take him away.

“You wanna go out?” Taeyong asks him casually, not looking.

“Now?” It really doesn’t matter when Taeyong wants to go out, but they haven’t been this relaxed around each other for a while and it’s making Jaehyun’s brain short-circuit. “It’s still early, hyung.”

The rapper doesn’t speak again as he leads Jaehyun towards the company van. They are prohibited to use it for non-work purposes but what SM doesn’t know won’t hurt them, and their manager is glad to help as long as the two finally make up.

 

 

They reach the Han River just as the sun fully sets and nobody gives a shit about people walking here and there. Taeyong doesn’t care about fans anymore, if the stalkers followed them. He has asked their manager to keep an eye on suspicious girls.

The couple are now aimlessly walking in silence. Jaehyun would like to think it’s nice because he’s with Taeyong, but his heart is hammering like it’s about to give him a major heart attack. He doesn’t know why the older brought him here, but as the devil whispers his greatest fear, Jaehyun thinks he can’t let it happen. He can’t let Taeyong leave him without hearing an apology.

“Taeyong, I’m–”

He swallows down the apology as Taeyong raises a hand to stop him.

“No, don’t say that.” Taeyong puts his hand down and looks at the ground as they walk. Earlier when the idea came to him, he was nervous. But now, as he inhales the smell of the river that the wind blows to their direction, he finds that he’s at ease. “At first, I was waiting for you to come to me and say sorry. But it didn’t happen and I understand. I beat myself over the way we’re dealing with the issue. My mind constantly battled itself – should I wait, should I be the one to come to you? But I didn’t do anything wrong, so I stayed where I was, away from you.”

Jaehyun merely listens to the raw emotions from Taeyong’s voice. He refuses to listen to his own feelings, refuses to be self-centered. His mistake rooted from constantly focusing on the wrong things and dismissing what matters.

“It only helped take away the uneasiness brought by my indecisiveness, but that’s it. I was still lonely and I yearned for you even more.” Taeyong raises his head and there’s a tiny smile growing on his face when he gazes at the river. “Then we began saying hi, sitting beside each other. It lessened the pain in my heart, though it didn’t make much difference because I still couldn’t embrace you. I decided to talk now because I can’t bear seeing our friends be awkward around us; we’ve affected enough. And lastly,” he looks at Jaehyun then, the lines of his face smooth and devoid of sadness. “I realized that I’ve already forgiven you even without getting an apology. I fear the number of times I might do that – forgiving repeatedly without healing. So I’m taking the initiative to fix us. That is if you still want to.”

Taeyong sighs and looks away again as he waits for Jaehyun’s response. He dreads it, he does. No matter how painful it’ll be, he’ll understand. He can’t force someone to keep loving him if they think it’s no longer working.

At the sound of a sniffle, Taeyong’s eyes snap back towards Jaehyun who’s wiping his tears away. Jaehyun fixes his bucket hat and sniffles some more.

“Jaehyunie,”

Oh, how much the younger missed hearing that.

Taeyong’s heart burns. His hand automatically goes to the back of Jaehyun’s head, patting it before sliding down to rub his nape soothingly. “Was I too hard on you? Please stop crying, Jaehyunie.” They stop at a dark spot and Taeyong removes Jaehyun’s bucket hat so he can run his fingers through the younger’s soft hair. “You know I’m not gonna leave you, right? And don’t you dare think you don’t deserve me. Sometimes you’re too easy to read.” A finger tilts Jaehyun’s chin up so Taeyong can look into his eyes. “It’s not your place to decide who I deserve. When I tell you it’s only you, you should believe it.” Cold hands cup both of Jaehyun’s cheeks. “Baby, being jealous and distrustful is unhealthy. Do you love me?”

Jaehyun hiccups like a kid who sobs when he doesn’t get a new toy, gripping the sides of Taeyong’s shirt. “I do, I love you. I’m really sorry, hyung.” He blinks away the tears yet more seems to cloud his vision. “Am really, really sorry…”

“You cutie,” Taeyong chuckles, his heart soaring as the ache finally dissipates. “What would you do without me? You’re so clingy and you want so much of my attention. If you break up with me just to punish yourself, would you even survive? You can only get the best hugs and kisses from me. If I leave, you wouldn’t have them anymore.”

“Can I kiss you?” Jaehyun shamelessly asks. He really, really misses Taeyong that he might just jump off and let the river take him to the ends of the world if he didn’t taste those lips now, even if they’re outside.

“Yes, but not here.”

Jaehyun almost throws his leg over the barrier.

“Tonight, sleep in my room.” Taeyong entwins their fingers and suddenly, it feels like they never had a fight. Their love definitely feels stronger, though. “The plushie I bought doesn’t smell like you. It’s not as big as you. It doesn’t hug me back and give me forehead kisses.”

“You were hugging it so tight when you showed it to the fans…”

“You watched that?”

“Yes, because I missed you.” Jaehyun’s nose scrunches when he feels his snot peek out. “Are we okay?”

“Yep!” Taeyong puffs his chest cutely. “But promise me you won’t think ugly thoughts again.”

Jaehyun brings their hands up and links their pinkies as a promise. “I love you, hyung. If I could scream it to the world, I would.”

“Me too,” Taeyong leans in, whispering. “I love you.” He pulls away just as Jaehyun gasps sharply. “Come on, I told manager hyung we won’t be long…”

As they walk back to the van, Jaehyun doesn’t let go of Taeyong’s hand. There might be unseen eyes looking their way, mouths that are already talking, phones out to take photos. But they don’t matter. What matters most is standing next to him, and when Jaehyun looks at Taeyong, all the worries disappear, never to come back.

It’ll be fine if he loses his career. He will pick Taeyong over it anytime. What’s the use of living those dreams if he’s not doing it with the person he pictured them with, if he reaches the end of the race without his life partner?

 

 

Soon enough, Kick It promotions end. They are given a little over a month to prepare for the repackaged album’s promos. Things seem to be going so well for NCT 127 with them setting records and getting more recognition. Kick It might have failed to bring home music show trophies but its impact definitely showed on the numerous idols covering it. The success of an artist isn’t only based on the number of wins a song has. If they stop singing it and people continue to do it for them, then it only means one thing.

They’re almost there. A little more, and they’ll be there.

But their celebration is short-lived when Dispatch stabs Jaehyun in the back. They’re days away from releasing Punch and suddenly, an onslaught of bad articles and hate comments swarm Jaehyun’s way, pummeling him repeatedly as though he committed a crime. It was his first time to go out with some of the ’97 idols. Taeyong urged him to have some fun with them, and Jaehyun thought that if he gave in once, then they’d stop pestering him and calling him a kill joy.

He should’ve listened to his intuition when it told him it’d be bad news. Dispatch was looking for something as a cover up for a more serious scandal.

He is then forced by SM to release a handwritten apology just to make them stop yapping. Jaehyun hated it, hated how he had to basically admit that he did something vile which was completely blown out of proportion.

People are already starting up petitions left and right for him to leave the group just because he hung out with fellow idols. He sees how crazy it is on the internet and briefly wonders if this is how Taeyong feels when people breathe fire at him for doing literally nothing.

How could Taeyong keep quiet and not sue all of these bastards? It’s only the first day and I already want to bang my head against the wall.

Jaehyun can’t help reading every comment on every article. They take a jab on his popularity level compared to the three others, they get personal and attack his personality, they discredit his talent and say more disgusting things that he wouldn’t even imagine saying.

This, he thinks, is what they feed Taeyong every single day. If his innocent boyfriend can do it and continue to smile, then Jaehyun can, too. 

 

 

NCT 127 has a broadcast to do the day before they officially promote Punch in music shows. Because of the scandal, Jaehyun who usually sits in the middle is made to sit at the side. He was confident that it’d be alright, but sitting at the side just showed how ‘guilty’ he is. Moreover, as the show goes on, antis flock the comment section to bombard him with petty hate. Jaehyun’s initial resolution to show everyone he’s strong gradually leaves by the second. He can’t even fake a smile. He looks so lost, like he wants to anywhere but there.

The only thing that keeps him from walking out is Taeyong who’s sitting behind him. Taeyong whose permanent spot is at the very center because that’s his position, because he’s the face of the group, is sitting at the side so Jaehyun won’t feel alone.

Taeyong tells him it’s okay, its non-verbal version the familiar caress on Jaehyun’s nape. His eyes are always on the younger when Jaehyun talks. He gives Jaehyun his undivided attention. And when it’s Taeyong’s turn to host a game, he makes Jaehyun join because he knows that the younger can do it, he wants Jaehyun to show everyone he’s strong, that he can’t be trampled.

Jaehyun wins the game and Taeyong hands him his prize. They take a photo together and in the back of Taeyong’s mind, their shippers will be crying in joy once again. He feels bad because he can’t indulge them due to the company’s stupid restrictions.

Before the broadcast ends, they do a relay message. Jaehyun volunteers to start so he can finish earlier. He gives Mark a short message and zones out as soon as he’s done, not listening to the others as he wishes for this to end quickly.

He stares blankly into space until Taeyong’s hand rests on the back of his neck again, caressing.

“Jaehyunie, we’re going to live our dream again tomorrow, and I’m really happy that I’m doing it with you. The team won’t be complete without you. You’re really hardworking and your honey voice soothes all the ache in our hearts. When we listen to Jaehyunie, don’t we want to fall asleep and dream happily?” Taeyong looks at the back of Jaehyun’s head and smiles before gently patting it. “From trainee days until now, we didn’t fall apart. Let’s continue to be each other’s strength. Tomorrow, and the next days that will follow, let’s sing together. Hyung loves you the most.”

He should be given an award for successfully keeping himself from sobbing. What did he ever do in his past life to deserve someone perfect like Taeyong? No matter what they say, Taeyong is perfect, too perfect for anybody. From debut until now, and the end of forever, Jaehyun thinks he has no fault. Jaehyun knows he is flawless. Taeyong is seriously too good for him and Jaehyun wants to cry, pray to God to let him keep this man for a long time – until the last of their breaths, if He permits.

 

 

“What are you doing?” Taeyong rests his chin on Jaehyun’s shoulder, arms wrapped around the younger’s waist as they cuddle up in Jaehyun’s bed before sleep.

It’s a Sunday night and they had a performance at Inkigayo earlier. Since Jaehyun is one of the show’s MCs, they did a special stage highlighting him. It’s a slap to the haters asking SM to throw him out of the group and it’s so satisfying for Taeyong to picture them foaming in the mouth as they aggressively weep on Naver. He’s not one to willingly check their messages but it’s always amazing to know they’re never going to win.

Jaehyun looks at his few posts on Instagram, pulling Taeyong closer. “I kind of want to post a group picture but they will camp on it again to leave negative comments. I normally wouldn’t think twice if they’d only come for me, but they will definitely attack the others, too. I have been abstaining from Twitter already because of my own fans being bullies, and I might just deactivate here.”

“Don’t force yourself. You could turn off the comment section, but that’s going to provoke them even more, right?” Taeyong takes Jaehyun’s phone and switches to another account – a private one. “We follow you here, too. Start posting there.”

“But that’s only for our photos, hyung. That’s personal. I guess I’ll just wait ‘til the noise dies down.”

Humming in agreement, Taeyong returns the phone. “Alright. Do what’s best for you, Jaehyunie.” He turns a shade of red when Jaehyun looks at him suggestively. “Not that! You know what I mean. Why are you always so horny?”

The younger shrugs with a cheeky smile.

Taeyong rolls his eyes before shifting comfortably to Jaehyun’s lap instead. “Anyway, remember the party in three days? For SM opening a new label? Manager hyung showed me the seating arrangement and we’ll be at different tables.” His pout earns him a kiss from Jaehyun.

“What is it?”

“Yuta is supposed to sit next to me but I already asked him if he could switch places with you.”

Hearing the Japanese member’s name makes Jaehyun unknowingly imitate Taeyong’s pout. “I still feel like Yuta hyung is mad at me…”

“He’s not, love. You already talked, right? It’s good. And he even told me to show SM they can’t separate us all the time. You think the management knows?” Taeyong’s expresses with a worried cadence. “They won’t try to release a fake dating news, right?”

Sensing the rise of panic from his boyfriend, Jaehyun holds the latter’s waist and squeezes it gently as a thumb rubs on the tiny bit of exposed skin. “They won’t do that without our consent, hyung. Consent is important in every way.”

They don’t say more as they smile at each other, just simply absorbing the other’s presence. Taeyong gives Jaehyun a quick kiss on the lips before rolling off of him to slide under the covers.

“We’ll be okay, Jaehyunie. Come on, let’s sleep.”

 

 

And okay, they will be. They attend the party, sat next to each other all night. The couple looks dashing in suits and even when people look Taeyong’s way to openly appreciate him, Jaehyun feels no urge to sock their jaws.

He’s been reading articles online how to control bouts of jealousy and understanding your partner deeply. Sometimes, Taeyong reads with him. He has learned that people only get overly and destructively possessive over people they deem as objects. Taeyong is not an object; he’s Jaehyun’s best friend, the love of his life, his fate. Jaehyun has felt shitty reading that article because he was once guilty, but Taeyong was there to tell him that he’s not that kind of person. Taeyong will help him grow; they’ll help each other grow.

Taeyong is so beautiful and Jaehyun wants the world to see him, to appreciate him like he deserves. He shouldn’t be hidden away.

Beneath the table, as an executive gives her speech in front, their fingers interlock. Jaehyun looks at the side of Taeyong’s face and sees the corner of his mouth curl up slightly.

When it’s time to eat, Taeyong and Jaehyun line up to the buffet table. Before them are some of their seniors. They politely greet them and engage in a light conversation while filling their plates.

Somehow, the talk steers to dating. Changmin advices them that if they ever get into a relationship, it’s best to keep it private because in their world as celebrities, people watching them can hurt their loved ones no matter how much they wish to protect them.

“It’s your decision to go public, of course, mind you. I’m just sharing based from my own experience. You may feel compelled to be completely honest with your fans and that’s good, but there are things that you don’t owe them. It’s hard for us to be in love without judgment, and if you’re strong enough then go public. But it’ll also be nice if you have something that you don’t share to the rest of the world.” Changmin pats Jaehyun’s shoulder. “Anyway, you kids are smart. You know what’s good for you.”

He leaves then, and Jaehyun’s about to help Taeyong get some food when Yunho says something that makes the both of them think that this is okay, that they will be okay.

“And most of all, love whoever you want to love. The world is too cruel for you to let the society dictate who you should cherish. At the end of the day, the only people that matter will be the ones that will swear to be with you through luxury and hardship.”

Jaehyun glances at a stupefied Taeyong before looking at Yunho again. “I’m sorry if this is too personal, but is that from hyung’s own experience too?”  

They only get a wink before Yunho heads back to their own table.

 

 

Punch promotions end too soon but they put it behind them with more wins this time and new content for fans to express their gratitude.

It also appears that the odds are beginning to be in Taeyong’s favor as SM finally takes action against the malicious rumors surrounding him. It’s several years late but to Taeyong and his family, it’s better than never. Taeyong initially wanted the company to leave it alone for fear of involving more people but his family is now being targeted as well and he can’t sit back anymore. The damage won’t be gone completely but when he sees that people are deciding to warm up to him after learning the truth, Taeyong thinks it’s good enough.  He can’t please everyone.

When SM releases an official statement, Jaehyun cries for him. Jaehyun cries for all the pain they caused Taeyong, and for taking him for granted because during the time that he couldn’t see past his selfishness, he forgot about how Taeyong remained silent as he carried years of harsh criticisms assassinating his character. He forgot how he has always been the first one to tell Taeyong he believes him.

“Jaehyunie, I’m happy. I’m not crying, see?” Taeyong wipes Jaehyun’s tears away with his sweater paw. “I’m gonna take a rest because things have been stressful. They advised me not to be on SNS for a while and if I want to go home, I can. I think I’m gonna stay here for a few days, then I’ll spend my birthday with my family.”

Jaehyun sniffles and kisses the top of Taeyong’s head. “That’s good, hyung. You really need to take a break. Is it okay if I sleep in your room everynight ‘til you go home? Because I need to cuddle you as much as I can so I won’t miss you too much…”

“You really are a clingy baby, aren’t you? They think you’re this aggressive, tough boy but you love being babied,” Taeyong picks up his banana milk and lets Jaehyun take a sip. “I love this clingy baby. This clingy baby is mine.”

Greedily sipping the milk, Jaehyun giggles. He looks a little funny due to the tear stains on his cheek and the redness on the tip of his nose.

 

 

Taeyong watches NCT 127’s Kick It performance on Music Bank. Since he’s not around, Jaehyun takes over his parts and he couldn’t be prouder of his boyfriend’s performance. Before debuting as a vocalist, Jaehyun trained quite some time as a rapper so it only makes perfect sense that he’s the one to cover Taeyong. Even during the interview, he led the group’s greeting.

“Who else could do it in my place if not my boyfriend, though? Nobodyyy. Jaehyunie deserves a reward for being so great,” he says before texting the younger about how much he liked their stage.

Later that night, the couple sneaks out to a hotel again because Taeyong has no plans to praise Jaehyun quietly.

 

 

Taeyong adds another year to his age with a handwritten letter to his fans and two photos of him with his nephew. He falls asleep at 2am with Jaehyun still connected to the video call.

Jaehyun watches his older boyfriend sleep for a few minutes before hanging up. Taeyong will surely call him again the next morning.

For now, he logs in to his private Instagram to post a photo.

In the photo, Taeyong is hunched over the desk while writing lyrics to his new song. It was taken during the time Jaehyun tagged along and Taeyong ate a triangle kimbap. Unlike on the pictures he posts on his public account, Jaehyun is quite wordy on the private one. He carefully types the caption which is a heartfelt message for Taeyong.

Another year has passed by. You didn’t stop being so good for me, hyung. You’re my teacher, my other half, my fate. I will never get tired calling you my fate. Thank you for being born and for still being in love with me as you become older. I hope that on your next birthdays, it will still be me in your heart.

We still have a long way to go, and many obstacles to face. Through each of them I will hold your hand and never let go. We don’t know what the future holds for us but I will embrace it with you. You’re my strength, and I can only accomplish things because you’re next to me. You may say that I did everything because of my own courage, but I am brave because of you. I entered this world we are in scared and clueless, and you approached me, told me to lean on you. One day, we will leave leaning on to each other.

Sometimes I still ask myself, especially when I wake up next to you, am I dreaming? Because I am holding the person that everyone dreams of. I get torn – if I keep sleeping, I will be wasting hours that could’ve been spent looking at you and if I wake up, I’m afraid that you’ll be gone. I even pinch myself to see if the angel in my arms is real. And yes, you’re real. Someone like you loves me.

I am so lucky, hyung. Forever I will be thankful because you chose me. I am the luckiest man in the world, right? You are everything a man wants and needs, and I can only work hard to be the best for you because I can’t lose you. I know you love me so much and leaving me will never cross your mind but still, it’s not an excuse to not put my effort into keeping you. You deserve to be taken care of. You deserve only the good things in the world.

Hyung, I am not a perfect person but I will be perfect for you – because that’s what you deserve. All your burdens, let’s carry them together from now on until they disappear. When things get too heavy and you’re sad, rely on me. My Taeyongie hyung is so strong, but it’s okay not to be okay. I will love you, still.

I wish for your happiness and success, hyung. Whatever your plans are, I will support you. Isn’t that what lifetime partners do?

When you come back to me after spending time with your family, let’s become a better us. Let’s teach each other and learn from each other everyday until we are strong enough to face the world outside of secrecy.

My Taeyong, happy birthday and I love you. Forever.