Junhee was convinced there was no better feeling than being freshly showered and loose-limbed atop Donghun's bed. Donghun kept his room a little cleaner than everyone else's, and Junhee loved sprawling over the covers until he was eventually kicked out.
Donghun emerged from the bathroom with his damp, dirty blond hair falling into his eyes like a stereotypical heartthrob. He padded into the room, cracking his neck with a wince. Junhee sat upright and moved over to avoid being crushed by his slumping body.
The others were out, manager included, and it was a quiet evening with just the two of them. With casual entitlement, Donghun slung his arm around Junhee's shoulder and peered at his open phone screen. Part of Junhee instinctively wanted to hide it, even though he was just watching some drama that he was barely invested in and which Donghun knew even less about. It didn't stop the other from sitting through full episodes pressed against him, head slanting into Junhee's collar as the minutes wore on. He questioned the characters' relationships, getting names wrong, and had an odd vendetta against the secondary male lead, who was the only one Junhee really sympathized with. Junhee didn't mind; sometimes Donghun didn't make sense, but they enjoyed these moments, a needed respite from their chaotic and uncertain schedules.
They heard bouncy footsteps in the hallway halfway through episode 8, indicating the one and only Kang Yuchan was back from whatever event he’d been at (just kidding, Junhee knew exactly where he'd been. An unsupervised Chan in the wild could be a dangerous thing.)
Donghun pulled away, which Junhee felt briefly disappointed about. His stomach clenched in familiar self-censure. They looked to the doorway as Yuchan burst into Donghun’s room, beaming like the sun.
"Hi! Scoot over, hyung. What are you watching?"
They exchanged words of greeting, and Donghun complained mildly about the cleanliness of his bed compared to Chan, who tugged off his jacket and rolled onto the mattress. Junhee shut off his phone; Yuchan had better taste in dramas anyway.
They watched random clips, looked at memes and listened to OSTs, and Donghun and Yuchan sang old songs from before the latter's birth, and the atmosphere was suddenly very bright. It made Junhee sleepy.
Resting his back against the wall, he startled when Donghun gripped his wrist, singing lowly and smiling. Singing to him. A thrill ran through Junhee's torso, which was dumb, since they were literally required to look at each other and time their harmonies in live performances. It didn't matter how often they did it though; it was like eating his favorite food or applying a facemask or performing itself - satisfying every time.
The 'feelings-for-Lee-Donghun' compartment of Junhee's brain occupied transient positions, sometimes at the forefront, usually lingering near the back, but constantly present in some form over the past few years. Junhee had long accepted it. It was pretty hard to ignore when they spent more time around each other than anyone else, working and sleeping together. The only time he could set aside his feelings was during a vacation or downtime, but that was when his imagination kicked into overdrive.
The problem wasn't that it was awkward between them. They were close friends, even best friends, what with Donghun's quietness outside of the group and Junhee's questionable friendships prior to debut. The problem was that they were so comfortable, and then their eyes would meet and suddenly Junhee's heart would start pounding, and he'd struggle not to stumble over his words.
In public, with cameras trained on them, Junhee kept reactions of that nature to a minimum. He was an extremely expressive person, but that meant no particular expression ever stuck out as abnormal. Or so he hoped.
In the first place, there was no noticeable difference between the way they treated each other versus the other members. They were all used to keeping zero atoms between them, to teasing and complimenting each other in turn. Donghun was sentimental and emotional, almost sensitive, and he took care of all of them in subtle ways. Junhee knew that his members depended on him equally as a leader as well. It wasn't like he favored anyone.
Except in private, that flowery, sparkly compartment resurfaced a little too frequently. His thoughts about Donghun were linked to his worries about recording, dancing, perfecting his angles - all of that pre-comeback stress - as well as his own selfish desires, that the other would look at him, hold onto him, pay attention to him, even if there were more important things to pay attention to.
Tonight, though, they were together and would get almost a full night's sleep, and Donghun's fingers were entangled with his, and if Junhee drowsed against him then Donghun wouldn't move.
Junhee could have never envisioned this being his world when he was eight, carefree and unburdened, or eighteen, striving for something but still so ignorant. People like Sehyoon, Byeongkwan, Channie and Donghun by his side for life, fans who had given them their precious time, producers and choreographers who believed in them. He was lucky. He was a singer, and he'd experienced love.
Then there were times they all wanted to collapse and never move or think again. But anything was better than the uncertainty of not having comebacks, songs, work - they were glad to be past that era for the most part.
Practice had been grueling, and Junhee was exhausted, they all were. They'd quarreled again. Junhee himself wanted the choreography to look one way, but somehow they all disagreed, and no one was willing to back down except for Sehyoon, which made Junhee feel like he had to do double duty defending his and Sehyoon's opinions. Eventually he called it quits and told them to come up with fully-formed ideas for their choreographer's judgment tomorrow.
Byeongkwan changed his shirt, looking frustrated. He was out the door before the rest of them finished the cool-down exercises, though Junhee had wanted to catch him before he left.
Junhee whipped out his phone and fired off a text. Donghun grabbed him from behind, heated skin encircling his sore abdomen. Any annoyance on the elder’s face was gone now that it was post-practice.
Sighing, Junhee asked, "You trust me, right?"
"Of course I do."
Sometimes Donghun knew when he needed more than a syllable. Junhee turned around and leaned his forehead on Donghun's damp, bare shoulder.
When Donghun was pressed against him like this, the instinct to whine rose out of Junhee's depths. It wasn't the most appealing image he could present, but the high-pitched, pitiful sounds escaped nonetheless.
"Fool," Donghun said, voice warm in his ear.
That was fair. But could a foolish person keep a dream and his group running for years? Could a foolish person do this?
"What are you doing?" Donghun stared.
Junhee looked at his own body, midway through a move in a past cover that had given him so much grief. He could execute it perfectly now, of course. Wait, now?
"I'm… reviewing," he said. "Haven't I improved?"
Donghun didn't even dignify that with a response. He aggressively scrubbed his hand through Junhee's sweaty hair and jogged out of the practice room, leaving Junhee feeling lost.
The issue began anew with Kim Byeongkwan, aka KBK aka Jason. He never quit when he caught onto something, and he was too perceptive for his own good. Long before their debut, he had shown up with Yuchan from JYP, taken a couple months to get acquainted with the dynamic that Junhee, Donghun, and Sehyoon had built by that point, and directly inquired if Junhee was into their oldest member.
"Like, I know our group has good visuals, but you think he's attractive, right?" Jason demanded. He wasn't a gossip - he assumed he knew things better than most, because he usually did.
"Sure. I think Sehyoon is attractive too. You and Channie as well, even though you're kids," Junhee teased.
Jason pouted; it was cute, though he wasn't prone to cute mannerisms. He just had such a cute face.
"You're actually attracted to him though, aren't you? 'Let's-go-on-mushy-dates' attracted."
"No!" Junhee laughed. So perhaps he was still in denial. If anything, he had a mild crush. No one treated him like Donghun. Sure, he got clowned by other friends as well, but they didn't soften and gaze at him with tender affection seconds later. Donghun was his team member, as valuable and important to him as Jason. So what if Junhee found his braces-clad smile weirdly appealing.
From that moment on, Jason - or rather Byeongkwan - had been suspicious, egging them on regardless of time or place, watching their relationship develop rapidly and excruciatingly slowly.
Byeongkwan's stubbornness was matched only by his impatience. A couple years had passed since that first confrontation, and Junhee's feelings were well past infatuation and settled into full-blown love. Byeongkwan gave him A Look every time his and Donghun's touches or good-natured arguments got out of hand but only tried to have a conversation about it with Junhee around once a year.
"I can't stand for this anymore."
On the roof of their dance studio, Byeongkwan smacked the tabletop with both palms. Surprised, Junhee looked up from his phone.
"Are you alright?" he asked gently. Byeongkwan had answered his texts from the previous night, and they’d had a real heart-to-heart.
Byeongkwan waved his hand. "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. I'm talking about you. You and LDH."
"Oh, no -"
"Pause. I have an idea this time." Byeongkwan's eyes sparked with an amber flame. "You might not be able to air out all your feelings, I get that. But you can do better than your sorry flirting."
"Wow, okay -"
"When he's trying to flirt equally badly, don't back down, or make it into a joke, or shirk him like a coward," Byeongkwan said passionately. "Stop waiting, and execute a full-frontal attack. Weaponize your body. Here are some suggestions: Spill water on yourself and ask for his clothes. Pretend to trip and fall into his arms. Kiss him."
Junhee loved him, but Byeongkwan was so very much at times. "Are we living in a teen drama?"
"I'm not sure about this plan."
"It'll produce results. Believe me, I don't like picturing it." Byeongkwan made a face. "You'd be like 'ow hahaha sorry' and he'd be like 'ya, I didn't say you could land on me, but I guess I'll walk you back and ice your ankle'."
His intonation was distressingly accurate. Junhee worried what other insight Byeongkwan's uncanny ability to mimic the members had given him.
"I don't appreciate the disrespect," Junhee sniffed.
"If I'm to be your comrade, then I need to have your back in ways that you aren't even aware of," Byeongkwan stated in the solemn manner that meant he was just making stuff up.
"I'm older than you," Junhee objected halfheartedly.
"I know, hyung."
"And not that I want you to, but why am I the sole target of your meddling and not Donghun?" Even as Junhee said it, the image of Byeongkwan confronting Donghun about his feelings (or more realistically, lack thereof) was both absurd and alarming. After the incident in which Sehyoon had managed to light a pot of boiling water on fire, Jun couldn't handle any more disasters in close quarters.
Byeongkwan snorted. "Donghun and I are too alike. We tell off other people but can't accept being told something about ourselves unless, deep down, we already know it's true. He might act annoyed or confused, but he'll never admit anything to me."
Leave it up to KBK to make his introspection about someone else.
"And I'm going to get him to recognize my f-eel-ings by being even more of a klutz than usual?" Paranoid, Junhee looked around, but no one was in their vicinity. "He won't even react. He'll just do that thing where he pretends like he doesn't see."
"No, he won't. Look, he ignores me even when I'm talking at him, but he's all over you as long as he has your undivided attention. It's like how I can expertly tune out Chan's vocal frequency in the car yet still hear you when you use your leader voice."
Jun's ego was secretly flattered by this, but he remained skeptical. "Stop tuning out Chan. He'll mope."
"Yeah, I know, hyung."
Junhee didn't exactly take Byeongkwan's words seriously. No matter what the other advised, he wasn't bending and snapping. The younger man was nosy and meddlesome and might well have preconstructed a scenario that made sense to his big brain but didn't reflect reality one bit. There was also compassion in Byeongkwan's speech, which touched Junhee even if, again, it was flawed and overly romantic and mistakenly influencing Junhee's thought patterns because Donghun wasn’t into him…
And yet... there was no harm in changing a few actions, being a bit more forward, was there? Trying to draw more attention to himself in a subtle, undercover way. Unless Donghun did notice and considered Jun suspicious for it.
No, honestly, he wouldn't notice. They were close enough and their bond strong enough that things never got weird between them for long. Junhee could openly confess, and Donghun probably wouldn't believe him and go make dinner.
Junhee sighed, letting one arm hang over his bed as he scrolled through his high school classmates' social media, inundated with date photos, marriage posts, even pregnancy announcements. His phone slipped out of his grip and smacked him on the nose.
No one in A.C.E was a stranger to alcohol. When he drank, Junhee's motor skills worsened, and so did his ability to disguise his thoughts. A casual party in the company building was the worst and most perfect time to launch his so-called attack.
They sat on the floor around a large square table, and Junhee had peach soju, not aiming to get blasted with their stylists, teachers, and staff present. He had achieved a pleasant buzz when the drinks conveniently cut off, and Donghun kept feeding him anyhow.
Taking the lettuce wraps out of Donghun’s hands was too much work, so Junhee just opened his mouth like a baby chick and chewed. Then he thought about how it wasn't fair that Donghun wasn't eating enough, and he almost knocked over the empty bottles in his haste to scoop noodles into the other’s mouth.
"Hey, quit it," Donghun said tipsily, batting him away after Junhee's fifth... or fifteenth go with the chopsticks. Donghun's index finger was in front of his face, so Junhee grabbed it and yanked his hand to their sides, under the table.
"Let go, Junnie," Donghun hummed. He grabbed Junhee's hand, trapping it beneath his larger one.
"I can't," Junhee complained loudly. He didn't try to move.
Donghun tilted, and his weight pressed all along Junhee's side. Junhee slanted his head over his, beaming with amusement over nothing. They generally toned down their touchiness at company outings, though it was no secret, but Junhee didn't feel like letting Donghun go today.
Byeongkwan's suggestions swam into his consciousness. Without thinking, Junhee tried to smooch the top of Donghun's head and got a mouthful of dyed hair, which he spat out. "Ew."
Donghun laughed. When he sat up, Junhee went with him, leaning his chin on the elder's shoulder and puffing out his lower lip. It was supposed to be coy and probably looked juvenile but... but... whatever.
Donghun's hand hovered around his face. The autofocus in Junhee’s vision wasn’t working. Why did people have so many limbs, he wondered fuzzily, and why was it so hard to coordinate them all. He snuggled into Donghun's shoulder, happy to plant himself there for the rest of the evening.
Yuchan and Byeongkwan were fiddling with the TV's sound system, and at last their voices came booming through the speakers.
"Karaoke!" Yuchan yelled, thrusting a microphone into Junhee's hand.
"Hell yes," Junhee declared in English, jumping to his feet and causing Donghun to slide onto the floor.
Junhee awoke much later with his head throbbing. Anti-nausea pills and a glass of water sat by his bed. He winced, rubbing his temples. Donghun had been the one to heave him into bed, and Sehyoon had poured the water, he remembered. In fact, Jun could remember most of the night, but had it been a success or bust? He had no idea.
Alcohol was out, then.
Donghun had always strayed from the conventional path, and Junhee liked him for that reason. He'd kissed another guy on national television without a care before Junhee had met him. He got piercings wherever he wanted and still talked without a filter as their audience grew. His existence had opened Junhee’s eyes in a lot of ways.
As an idol, one had to take extreme care what they said, even if it was often unfair. But Donghun didn't hide his ugly thoughts, and he didn't have ugly thoughts to hide. He didn't crave drama or meanness the way many of Junhee's acquaintances did. The few enemies he had had wronged him first. He had a sharp tongue but a bleeding heart, and Junhee liked that too.
Maybe Junhee's crush had begun the moment Donghun defended him from one of their vocal teachers, back in their previous company.
"Authority doesn't stop someone from being an ass." Donghun glowered at the door to the practice room as they exited. "Actually, they usually go hand in hand."
Junhee was far from a kid by that point, but watching the talented older vocalist coolly criticize their terrifying teacher on his behalf had him somewhat starstruck.
"Thank you, but please don't risk him getting pissed at you too. The teachers matter more than trainees," Junhee pointed out glumly. "If he has it out for me, then I'm screwed anyway."
"You can sing and dance really well, you're the most handsome person I've ever seen, and you have a good personality," Donghun said, squinting. "Don't worry, you'll be fine."
His compliments had Junhee floating in the clouds for a good week, and the way he pretended to grouse in response to Junhee's euphoria only deepened their friendship.
Aside from parties, the members' own little gatherings happened every once in a while. There were several convenience stores and markets near the dorm, including one they shopped at on the rare occasion they attempted to cook something fancier.
At the store, they got bone broth, meat and vegetables, cream puffs, and raspberry cookies. They selected trashy beers with an expert eye, tossing them in the cart. The cool temperature outside coupled with the air conditioning inside made Junhee shiver, and he clutched Sehyoon for warmth.
Soon the two youngest were zipping down the aisles with the cart. Junhee looked about, still trembling slightly despite Sehyoon's teddy bear-like warmth, when thick cloth covered the back of his shoulders.
“Wear a jacket next time," Donghun advised, tugging Junhee off of Sehyoon so he could properly drape his jacket over him. It was a boyish blue varsity jacket that a fan had gifted them years ago, and it was a little tight once Junhee slipped his arms into it, but warm with a comforting scent.
"Now you'll be cold," Junhee said, trying not to smell the fabric outright.
Donghun denied it, but Junhee jumped to hug him before he could say more.
"Join us, Sehyoon-hyung," Junhee called as he and Donghun play-struggled in the aisle.
"I'm good," Sehyoon responded mildly.
Donghun poked Junhee's side, and Junhee let out a yelp that echoed too far.
"Okay, shh." Donghun slipped his hand into Junhee's. "This is fine."
They held hands as they paid and left the convenience store, took a short detour to the windy riverside on Yuchan's request, and approached their dorm. Even carrying groceries, Donghun didn't let go of his hand until they started cooking. The youngest were in charge of microwaving, while Sehyoon arranged the premade desserts for easy access once they cracked open the beers.
Junhee only took off the jacket when the kitchen got too warm, but that was fine, since its owner was cooking beside him and retaliating with flicks each time Junhee affectionately bumped his hip.
Though comebacks were no doubt their favorite time of year, at times Junhee wanted to cry from the uncertainty and sleep deprivation that went along with them. He was older now and rarely gave into the urge; in contrast, Donghun wore all his emotions, positive and negative, on his sleeve and was much more prone to tears. Yet Donghun grew calm if someone else was in an agitated state, so when they returned home after a gruelingly long day of short broadcasts, his frustration ebbed as he noticed Junhee's despondent mood.
The past few days, with the release of their EP, had given them some extremely high highs and a few crashes into lows. Junhee felt emptied out, nothing left to give, at least for today.
Donghun pushed him into the bathroom before Junhee could faceplant on his bed with his makeup on. Junhee felt too tired and listless to sing, and he finished showering in minutes.
The others showered after him, and Junhee lay on his bed as they did, unable to sleep despite his exhaustion.
Things quieted in the dorm. His door squeaked, and Donghun entered his room. Junhee held out an arm, inviting him to lie down. Donghun declined and sat behind him on the mattress, settling his thighs under Junhee’s head and neck.
“Anything you want to talk about, you can say it now,” Donghun offered.
“Mm, I don’t know,” Junhee murmured, focusing on the fragment of the ceiling light not shrouded by Donghun’s fluffy hair. “I’m lacking in thoughts. Empty inside, like a shell.”
"You’re not empty. We have our health and each other. Stay healthy, physically and mentally."
"I know, I’ll try. We should get some rest." Junhee was stiff as a board.
"Yes, but what do you want right now?"
I want to be successful and not disappoint anyone. I want you to think about me when I’m not in the room. I wish so much in life wasn't out of my control.
"Come on. Pick something simple and small, if you have to."
"Can you play with my hair?" he spoke quietly into the mattress.
The bleach and products often made his hair more crunchy than silky, but after showers it was soft enough. Donghun didn't comment on it though, running his fingers through the strands and massaging his scalp. Junhee might've purred, he wasn't sure.
"Good?" Donghun spoke into his ear. Junhee must’ve been imagining how sultry it sounded.
“Yes,” he said breathily. Donghun stifled a cough.
His strokes felt amazing. Junhee could sense the carefulness in the motions. "I really appreciate it, hyung," he mumbled.
"Yeah. How often have you helped me like this?"
Junhee exhaled. The tight worry ebbed. The pulse against his ear could've been his own, he could've melted straight into the other’s body with how liquid he felt. He closed his eyes, felt his insides rematerialize. It seemed that every happiness in the world came paired with an ache that didn't go away.
The drama had reached episode 12, and it was amazing how much could happen without anything changing. Most of the characters only had rich people problems. Junhee admitted it was pretty unrelatable, but he liked the escapism of it. Donghun liked the complaining. Junhee also liked the way Donghun's arm was around his waist, as if he needed lumbar support to watch videos on the bed or something.
Sangyeol, the estranged son of the motorsports company CEO, was lashing out at his childhood friend, telling her that he didn't need his family fortune and wanted to wipe his hands clean of their dealings. Junhee had thought he might succeed in walking away, but it seemed like the drama lacked a vision and could go either way.
The camera panned over Sangyeol's angry, emotional face. Hearing his childhood friend weep, he opened his mouth, but at last he turned and stalked off into the rain.
"What a dick," Donghun commented.
"He's doing his best," Junhee protested. "He likes her, he's just not good at expressing his true feelings. Plus he'd be asking her to give up a lot to be with him."
"So what, he should still tell her," Donghun grumbled. "What's so great about him? He can't spit anything out, it's infuriating."
"It's just fiction. But I wouldn't judge him harshly in real life either."
Donghun looked at him. Junhee could feel the heavy-lidded gaze like a piece of tissue stuck on his face. "I know. I like how forgiving you are, Junnie."
Junhee flushed, thankfully imperceptibly in the dim golden light. Instead of fidgeting with his phone, he turned his head and met Donghun's eyes. "Thank you."
They were incredibly close. Donghun looked angelic, cliche as it was, with his tan skin and silvery blond hair aglow. He smiled for real, not that frowny, teeth-baring grin he wore in selcas. Like he was in love with whatever was in front of him.
If they each leaned forward a few centimeters, they could kiss, or lick the other's cheek. Junhee would do it. The latter.
They both leaned in.
"I'm so hungry," Yuchan yelled from the hallway.
Junhee gave a completely unsubtle gasp, but he was too frazzled to dwell on his reaction.
"Hungry," Yuchan chanted, making his way to Donghun's room as was their ritual these days.
Donghun didn't tear his eyes away from Junhee until Yuchan sprawled over both of their legs. Junhee was unsure if his own expression was pleading or flustered, but Donghun looked imperceptible.
"We already showered," Donghun told Yuchan without heat.
"Well, have you eaten? Can you order honey chicken? Please?"
"You order it and deal with the consequences," Donghun groaned.
"Hyung, pleaaaase? I did my best today. Let’s have one night off!"
Donghun was weaker than anyone to Yuchan, which was saying something, because Junhee would backflip into the ocean for his baby.
His grown-up baby who was currently trying to con Donghun out of his wallet and diet. Junhee looked away before Yuchan set his sights on him instead, hearing Donghun fold like a stack of cards.
Performances that ended in applause from their audience and all staff members present were the best parts of Junhee's week. They'd hit all their notes, crushed their vibrato and stayed on beat, and everyone was satisfied.
The rest of the performers had departed the broadcasting headquarters. Junhee toweled off most of his sweat and changed back into streetwear. Donghun strode beside him toward the exit.
"Let's get gopchang," Donghun groaned, stretching.
"Let's get gopchang," Junhee parroted, in high spirits.
Donghun's eye glinted from the side. "I'm Park Junhee and I'm a clown."
"I'm Donghun, and I'm a cranky grandpa," Junhee said cutely, unoffended.
Donghun lunged for his neck, and Junhee didn't burst into giggles or dodge, though he had to suppress his instincts. Never one to back down, Donghun really bit him, teeth scraping his pulse point. Junhee shuddered involuntarily, and Donghun drew back.
The heater thrummed and white lights flickered in the hallway. Staring down at his sneakers, Junhee touched the faintest indentations on his skin.
"You explain that to our stylist," he whined.
"...It barely made a mark," came the petulant reply.
This wasn't weird. This wasn't awkward. Bros bit each other all the time.
Junhee kept rubbing his neck throughout the celebratory evening. Did this mean he had to up the ante? Who had drawn first blood? Did he have to make Donghun bleed?
Calm all the way down, he told himself. But maybe this was getting out of hand.
No one on their team was a morning person per se, but Sehyoon and Donghun had the most talent in dragging their reanimated corpses out of bed. With Sehyoon mostly living away these days, Donghun was outnumbered by the groggy whiners portion of the group.
When Sehyoon did sleep over, Junhee could hear him bustling about the dorm as the morning light started streaming in through the blinds. He heard Sehyoon and Donghun's muffled voices past his door, and that intrigued him. It was always nice to talk to them; they could get rather thoughtful and introspective.
Junhee yawned as he left his room. Sehyoon and Donghun sat around the kitchen table, Sehyoon eating a store-bought salad. He had slept in Yuchan's room last night, and he was wearing one of their youngest's stretchy t-shirts.
"Hello," Sehyoon greeted.
"Hi, Junnie," Donghun mumbled, not looking up from his phone. Normally, Junhee would leave him be, but he had to continue with his plot. He sat in the chair right next to Donghun, tucking his hands under his legs, and blinked at him blearily.
"What." Donghun glanced over. His unstyled hair looked prettiest, in Junhee's opinion.
"I'm thirsty." It was an offhand remark, one that would normally make Donghun gesture toward the fridge or sink, but Donghun's form softened. He pinched Junhee's sensitive neck, right where he'd bitten him, and stood.
"I was going to buy coffee anyway. I'll get you something."
Junhee stared up at him with round, surprised eyes. "You don't have to."
"Don't reject my gift." Donghun frowned, looking fake-hurt.
"Okay, I accept," Junhee said happily.
Donghun stepped on his shoes and left the dorm. Sehyoon was muttering to himself, something that sounded like "in front of my salad".
"What's wrong?" Junhee asked.
Sehyoon shook his head. "You have the patience of a saint."
"You know, if you're interested in someone, you should ask them out," Sehyoon said steadily. "Idol life be damned."
"Wh-What?" Junhee agreed with the principle, but who had captured Wow's interest? Sehyoon's mind could be an enigma, but he had his own seriousness and maturity. It was an older sibling trait.
"You and our fake maknae," Sehyoon said very slowly, as if Junhee needed to hear each syllable more clearly, "keep tiptoeing around each other. It's like watching magnets with flipping poles."
Junhee's pulse instantly kicked up to a bpm faster than TWICE's Heart Shaker. Byeongkwan he expected, but Kim Sehyoon? Junhee felt frantic – based on this trajectory, the next person who would notice his feelings had to be Donghun.
"We're just teasing! It's for fun. Destressing."
"That isn't the reason you two have been all but sucking face."
"He only bit me!"
Sehyoon raised an eyebrow.
Junhee laughed nervously. "What I mean is, we all bite each other. And we hug all the time. I cuddled you when we slept because you're cozy."
"And I held my breath when you did because I care about you. This is different."
"Y-You and Byeongkwannie both say that, but I don't see it. We're all different people, but that doesn't mean any of this is," he lowered his voice, "romantic-like. You and I don't behave the same when we're together as you and Kwan, but how different is it really?"
Sehyoon's expression shifted slightly. That was a conversation - or several - for another time.
"The most important factor is that you acknowledge that you're in love with him," he said calmly. "I was under the impression that you’d passed that point."
Junhee stared at his fingernails. "I know I am."
"Well, since you acknowledge it too..." Sehyoon murmured.
"Nothing. I don't want to stress you out, I know we have a lot going on right now. I just think... you ought to have some more confidence. We all love you, you know."
Junhee smiled gratefully. "Love you too."
The front door opened with a bang. Junhee saw the slight strain on Donghun’s face relax when he caught sight of them innocently eating breakfast. Sipping milk tea, Donghun handed Sehyoon a sludgy concoction and Junhee a strawberry latte. Their hands brushed in a drawn-out, unspoken challenge.
"We have practice later, I shouldn't drink all this sugar." Junhee's hands had already secured the cup.
"If it makes you happy, you'll practice twice as hard," Donghun replied, already heading back out. "I'm expecting you to give your all."
Junhee pouted, and Donghun paused by the door to throw him a smirk.
Sehyoon peered at Junhee knowingly and shoved more romaine into his mouth.
Another day, another music show.
Junhee and Donghun had been leaning on each other since they’d entered the waiting room. The stylists finished their work, and Junhee still didn't stop clinging. Rather than shoving him away, Donghun was letting him cling. All in all, he'd been a lot more tolerant of Junhee's increased contact than expected. Even Junhee wondered if he was being annoying, but Donghun didn't say a thing.
Right before their live performance slot, Junhee hurried back into the waiting room to touch up his makeup. They needed multiple coats of waterproof makeup to withstand their sweat from the heat and exertion. Donghun was in the room, doing the same thing.
“Let’s do this,” Junhee said firmly into the mirror when he was done. Behind him, Donghun smoothed his hand over Junhee’s back, avoiding wrinkling his outfit.
Junhee turned his head, and Donghun's face was right there. They could've smacked foreheads, could've bumped noses, could've done a hundred other things, but what happened in this deeply unfortunate and cursed timeline was that Donghun's mouth scraped Junhee's cheek then mouth, placing their lips in full contact as the pointed tip of his nose gently nudged the side of Junhee's.
He had never expected it in a million years, but now Junhee knew just how full and soft the other's mouth was; how that hot, sharp exhalation of breath felt against his face.
They stepped back. Junhee had forgotten to jerk, forgotten to yell and act disgusted. His face turned red, cheeks burning as his lips parted in a silent stutter. Donghun didn't shout either, looking stunned.
"Five minutes!" a staff member shouted outside the room. They hastily turned toward the mirrors again, checking that their lip tint and foundation hadn't smeared. Junhee fanned his stained face and adjusted his silk sleeves with shaking hands, and they hurried into the hallway where the others were preparing, Chan doing vocal warmups and Byeongkwan stretching. Luckily, for their broadcast, Junhee went into autopilot and didn't concentrate on anything but executing a perfect performance.
Many of their stage outfits bared plenty of skin. It was typical, with stylists who had free rein to experiment and believed in non-gendered fashion as much as they did. That also meant Junhee felt obligated to work out and get toned, however. It was strange to market his appearance, as significant as that was in idol life. People found him handsome, which he appreciated, but he couldn't envision them actually thinking it when they were by themselves, not having a conversation with him at a fansign.
Anyway, he wasn't avoiding going back to the dorm. He was just using the local gym for its intended purpose, after leaving the dorm very early before anyone else and mixing enough protein shakes to last several days. Also his lips kept tingling, was he having an allergic reaction?
His traitorous stomach eventually growled as he worked out. He had to put something that wasn't liquid into his body. If he hurried to the dorm and grabbed those chicken packs out of the fridge, he could be right back here in no time.
Breathing hard, he wiped his forehead, picked up his bag, and slid on his cap. A hand roughly squeezed his bicep.
A tall man around his age stared him down. He had dark roots and highlights, like Donghun, but a more built frame and a thinner mouth.
"Um, do you need something? The restrooms are over there." Junhee pointed politely, extracting his arm.
"No, yes?" Junhee's stomach growled again.
"You hungry? I know a good breakfast spot."
"Oh, that's alright, I'm going home. I kind of have to take care of my diet right now."
"I can see that you do." The guy grinned.
Well, that was a little odd. Did that guy want to scope out the other gym users? Get his protein brand info? Punch him? Maybe he ought to avoid the gym for a few hours. Which left the dorm, studio, or the company building. Junhee didn't want to face their staff; it felt like their CEO of all people had been giving him knowing looks as of late.
It was still early when he returned home and showered, so the rooms were quiet. He took out a knife and cutting board. He fully expected the other two to be resting, so the sound of Yuchan's bedroom door swinging open startled him.
Yuchan slid up beside him in the little kitchen. Despite the messy bird's nest atop his head, Yuchan looked surprisingly awake and sly.
"Park Junhee is a fool," he said, his first words of the day.
Junhee lifted his knife over the unseasoned chicken breast. "Do you want to know what it really means to beg for something?"
Yuchan scurried to the opposite side of the kitchen island like a Pomeranian.
"Donghun-hyung told me something interesting last night," he sing-songed, somehow harmonizing with himself.
"Was it about your voice cracking at rehearsal?" Junhee replied. He felt bad immediately; Yuchan had been working hard and hitting his high notes flawlessly. But it gave Junhee a few seconds to recover while Yuchan squawked and protested.
"No! It was about rehearsal though."
"What do you mean?" Junhee gazed down at the unappetizing white meat. His hair dripped water down the back of his neck. He hadn't thought about any rehearsal-related incident at all. Nope. Not even a fraction of a second, no matter how many times it was divided.
"Do you ever think you can be kind of oblivious, hyung?"
"You know exactly what moment I'm talking about, but you don't want to tell me about it. But Donghun-hyung told me about it. And he wasn't grossed out."
At the very least, Yuchan was whispering too, or Junhee might've attempted to choke him.
"That moment was a-a mistake. An error. So yes, it was uncomfortable, but no big deal." Lying through his teeth, Junhee shrugged.
"When will you guys get it together?" Yuchan sighed like a long-suffering parent. The role reversal was jarring. "I know why Byeongkwan-hyung is so done with you."
"You two have talked about this?" Junhee gasped.
"Like you and Donghun-hyung don't discuss us when we're not around!"
Junhee flashed back to his and Donghun's half-joking, half-serious joint planning of Yuchan's and Byeongkwan's careers and futures. "Uh..."
"But seriously." Yuchan became solemn for a second. "He didn't sleep until really late last night. I know because I woke up to use the bathroom, and he wasn't on his phone, just tossing around. Can you trust me? And say something to him? I bet you were planning on avoiding him until you were forced to interact on camera so you could both laugh off the incident later."
"Dang." Junhee couldn't even deny it, he was impressed. "Okay, sure. I'll say something."
"It has to be good." Chan giggled in a way that would've been evil if he weren't Chan.
Junhee felt himself grinning. How was Yuchan so adorable?
He reached over and stretched the other's cheek, which was like soft unbaked dough, and Yuchan dutifully let him. Junhee loved him a lot.
When Junhee no longer had a Chan in front of him to squeeze, it dawned on him what he'd promised to do. He agreed a conversation with Donghun was long overdue - they had nearly kissed then really kissed. He seriously was living in a drama.
On one hand, he felt sick. On the other, content. Almost anticipatory. He knew Donghun cared for him no matter what. Donghun wouldn't be grossed out by or cruel toward any person who had genuine feelings for him, but Junhee allowed himself to think that he was special.
It wasn't even difficult to envision a relationship between them. They'd act pretty much the same, especially since they couldn't do PDA. It was just the knowledge that their friendship had another significant layer, that Junhee could lean over and kiss him anytime at night.
Yuchan had strategically dragged their manager out of the dorm on the one evening they had a break from recording. Junhee tried not to look like a harbinger of doom when Donghun entered the dorm. Junhee was stress-eating bread, and Donghun laughed when he saw the dish in front of him. Only the stove light and a lamp in the living room were on, casting a dim glow over the apartment.
Rather than flicking on the overhead fluorescent lights, Donghun joined him in the kitchen. Junhee’s chest felt tight. He couldn’t look up. Like Yuchan had predicted, they’d acted like everything was normal for the past few days at their schedules, and they’d avoided each other without avoiding each other at home. The worst thing was they still couldn’t stop being touchy, brushing up on each other while filming, picking fuzz out each other’s hair.
“Give me some,” Donghun requested, his words offset by his quiet, serious tone. Junhee pushed the plate toward him.
“Have you eaten a real dinner?” asked Donghun, without interest in the sad breadcrumbs.
Junhee shook his head. “Don’t want to.”
“I mean, haven’t you also – never mind.”
Stuttering, Junhee tried to make the world’s clumsiest retreat, but Donghun seized his hand. He let go and sighed. "Sorry."
"I don’t mind.” Junhee rubbed his wrist. They were standing half a meter apart in the space between the kitchen and the living room, and the air was charged with static. “I like being touched by the people I like."
"How do you like me?" Donghun’s voice was strained. He no longer had the calm façade with which he’d arrived.
The longing, neediness, weariness and eagerness rolled up inside Junhee, making him answer, "I really want to kiss you. All the time. I have a crush on you, and I think you’re – cool...”
He broke off, ducking, face on fire.
Donghun’s long fingers pushed up Junhee’s chin. Junhee caught sight of his also-red face and shining eyes. “Me too, Jun. Um. Even if you sounded like a kid when you said that.”
Junhee stared. Giddiness flooded him, but his strongest emotion was incredulousness. “Really?”
“Of course. I always want to be around you, bother you. You’re in my head 24/7, it’s too much.”
“You... You never seemed to notice me more than anyone else,” said Junhee, stunned. He couldn’t help questioning it; he had to make sense of the world. “I’m not complaining, I just – I felt like you saw me the same way you did the other members, you cared about me but – the feeling wasn’t different. You never got jealous, and you kept teasing me.”
“I won’t express everything that’s inside for everyone else to see,” Donghun said, pouting. “You’re the only one who makes me act like this. I wanted to say a lot to you in private, but the timing was never right. Also, I'm not so selfish as to chase people away from the person I like. And that’d be impossible with you, since everyone tries to flirt with you."
"No, they don't!"
Donghun snorted. "The point is, I did get jealous. And you’re fun to tease, so maybe I go overboard sometimes.”
“I don’t mind that either.” Junhee started to speak faster. If Donghun continued to talk, then Junhee would never be able to process everything from before. “I like everything with you. Everything you do. I tried to get closer to you, get better at f-flirting, and I wondered if you noticed. But you hugged me, and held my hand, and then you bit me, and then we accidentally kissed, and -"
"That wasn't an accident."
"What?" Junhee felt knocked askew.
"I mean, it was, it isn't like I'd do that against your will, but you kept getting touchier, so I tried to do the same. Make you feel as scattered as I did. I waited for you to flinch away, and you... basically never did. I had my head right next to yours, and you didn't even notice."
So they had just been egging each other on in a game of ostensibly casual, platonic physical contact.
"...Was this like that game?" Junhee wondered. "Gay chicken?"
"That seems a little reductive, but yeah, I guess so."
"I'm a fool."
"No, you aren't. You're intelligent, and hardworking, and sweet and very cute," Donghun mumbled.
Junhee blushed. "Oh. Puppy cute?"
Donghun shook his head. "Romantic comedy protagonist cute. Or the secondary character that everyone likes better and has a crush on."
Knowing Donghun's love for the genre, Junhee took it as the glowing praise it was.
Donghun pulled him into a hug, resting his chin on Junhee's shoulder. "I didn't plan on confessing this way." Embarrassment soaked his voice.
Junhee stared at the far wall. "Then what was your plan?"
"I don't know. Find out someday if you liked guys, then write you a letter or a song...?"
Junhee’s pulse, which had been steady with the easing of his fears, quickened. "You can still do that," he said weakly.
"You missed your chance," Donghun snarked. He nudged Junhee's cheek before resting his hand over it. "Just kidding. I think about you a lot when I sing or make music. That won’t change. Singing with you is my favorite pastime."
Junhee's reply caught in his throat. The full force of the situation was hitting him, twisting his emotions and organs and making him speechless. He sort of wanted to burst into tears. Or laughter.
"I'm sick of lying to you and faking," Donghun continued. "I want to be straightforward. I don't see you as, like, another Rachel McAdams. It's not as simple as finding you cute or attractive. I love you, Junhee. I've probably been in love with you for a long time."
The first tears welled in Junhee's eyes. He believed it, he knew Donghun was sincere, and that was even more incredible.
"I know you ‘love’ me, but I get if you're not ready to be that serious," Donghun added quickly, slumping, pupils shifting left and right.
“No! I am!” Junhee waved his arms in front of him. “As soon as we debuted, it became clear how important you were to me, and since then we’ve experienced so many things, I’ve seen you through so much and vice versa… It’d be impossible for me not to fall in love.”
Donghun smiled crookedly. "I don't know if I believe in soulmates, but I know there's nobody else."
Junhee's heart swelled. He also thought of Yuchan. He couldn't help it - the others were such a big part of their lives.
"Channie might be sad if he heard you excluding him," he laughed wetly. He went to sit on the couch in the living room, taking a deep breath.
Grinning, Donghun reclined beside him. "He understands what I mean."
"My feelings were obvious to everyone else." Junhee hid his pink face in a cushion. "I just couldn't tell what you were thinking. You were so collected."
"Sehyoon knew. He knows how much of a mess I was. He witnessed the whole winding road it took for me to stop being too afraid to acknowledge it."
Junhee looked up. "Sehyoon-hyung? He never told me anything at all, except recently."
Donghun scowled. "That traitor."
"He didn't say anything about your feelings. He asked about mine for you," Junhee confessed easily. "Kwannie was the one who kept bugging me about all this."
"I was right to avoid giving that brat any info. He would've reported straight to you."
"Would that have been so bad?" Junhee smiled. "They wanted the best for us."
"Yeah... They're really good kids."
Junhee lied atop Donghun and traced the simple logo on the other’s shirt. "I don't know if I believe in fate, but I'm lucky to have you all."
Donghun held him close. "I'll have to tell my parents," he said.
"I'll tell my dad."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. My sisters think you're good for me too," Junhee whispered.
Donghun was moved, his emotions clear on his face. His phone pinged loudly, and his tearful expression flattened as he checked it.
"It's Yuchan," he stated, deadpan. "He wants to know how the confession's going."
"Pretty well." Junhee beamed, cuddling closer. He didn’t even care that Yuchan had likely masterminded the evening on both ends. He was thankful.
Donghun typed out his reply. Junhee couldn’t stop smiling. He knew Yuchan would be extremely excited, that Sehyoon and Byeongkwan, for all their potential ribbing, would be supportive. It filled him with contentment, no anxieties or dread. He bumped Donghun's chin with his nose, and they fit their heads together and kissed. It was warm and electric, comforting and exhilarating. Junhee clutched the fabric of Donghun's shirt, shifting his legs and sighing into his mouth, and Donghun cupped his cheek.
Donghun's phone pinged again, as did Junhee's.
“Beggar Yuchan: Congratulations and I formally apologize for all the instances I interrupted you guys. There must've been a lot!! I'll stay outside for now but let me know whenever I should leave the dorm from now on XD"
Junhee let out a fond, embarrassed laugh as he read the message. Donghun snapped his flip phone shut, uttering a familiar curse.