The first time Heeseung meets Jongseong again is in a sci-fiesque building in the middle of butt fuck nowhere. If it wasn’t for Mnet’s brilliant idea to deliver the special mission for the trainees himself, Heeseung wouldn’t be travelling for an hour in a cramped car towards the outskirts of Seoul.
He greets the producers politely when he enters the building. He lets them put a microphone pack on him and he lets his makeup artist dab some powder on his nose. He lets his stylist make some last minute adjustments to the clothes he’s wearing before the producers ask him to step on a revolving egg-like gate.
Heeseung nervously fidgets in the gate alone.
Heeseung’s smile is genuine at first. The sight of excited trainees hollering and gasping at his arrival honestly inflates his ego a little. There’s even some old friends he used to know - trainees he had been with before his debut. Some of them recognize him immediately and start running towards the gate, shouts of ‘Heeseung hyung’ echoing off the building walls.
His smile nearly drops when Heeseung spots him.
He’s grown since the last time Heeseung saw him, maybe a good four inches as puberty’s last desperate attempt. His hair is partly shaved, now an undercut that Heeseung has to admit - suits him incredibly well. If he's anything like Heeseung remembers, the undercut just makes him more abrasive, more cool. Hip, as some would say.
He doesn’t smile when he sees Heeseung. Heeseung’s heart goes up to his throat.
Still a bad liar, aren’t you Jongseong-ah?
He has a new name now - Jay. It’s plastered on the banner above on a huge LED screen.
There’s a flicker of recognition that crosses Jongseong’s face and Heeseung feels the flutter of something familiar erupt in his stomach.
Heeseung remembers he’s on national television, so he quickly averts his stare away from the younger boy.
He takes a deep breath before stepping out of the gate, ready to be Heeseung - Bighit’s legendary ace trainee and one of K-Pop’s best 4th generation solo artists.
He wills himself to be anyone but Lee Heeseung - a 19 year old boy who is still very much in love with his old friend.
Heeseung recites what he can see off the cue cards he’s reading but his mind is in disarray. His hands start to tremble and he prays that none of the trainees gathered in front of him notice. He feels Jongseong’s eyes on him, his gaze burning searingly onto his body.
The trainees had been practising two of Heeseung’s songs for an ‘individuality’ test. The realisation of it all only sinks in a few seconds later - Jongseong was singing along to songs written about him.
Heeseung announces that he’s here for an interim check - whichever unit does better in the check will get a massive advantage. He wonders if the producers know that he and Jongseong have history and how this is pretty much voter manipulation, fraud or whatever people call it these days.
Of course, Heeseung is going to pick Jongseong’s unit no matter what. It doesn’t matter that Jongseong would rather eat his own fist than look Heeseung in the eyes. A small part of him wants Jongseong to knock it out, to at least try and give him a fake smile.
If fans catch him being this weird around Heeseung, they would never let it go. Who knows what kind of Pandora’s Box that would open - Heeseung doesn’t remember if Jongseong ever took down those photos of them at the photobooth from his old Instagram.
But Heeseung also knows who his old friend is, even if they are far from that now. He knows that Jongseong is pretty much an open book and he doesn’t care for pretending. It only proves his point when Jongseong sits at the side of the studio, only watching his friends.
So he just moves on with his task. He sits next to the performance director while the first unit starts their performance.
Heeseung is careful to smile and cheer on the trainees happily. They do a relatively good job, although their vocals aren’t quite there. Heeseung is quick to compliment them on their synchronisation and he helps out a shy trainee with a part of the dance that he’s been struggling with.
The others watch in awe as Heeseung shows them all how to do the ‘killing point’ - an intricate move that took Heeseung days to learn. He smiles shyly when they whoop.
He’s forgotten what being looked up to felt like - it’s been a year since his debut. Sure, there are adoring fans, but nothing boosts your ego like a bunch of bright-eyed hopeful kids whose goals are exactly where you are in life.
When Jongseong stands up with his unit, Heeseung tries his best to divide his attention equally between all of the boys. Everytime he catches himself staring at Jongseong for a few seconds too long, he snaps himself out of it. He fixes his eyes towards the other boys but for some reason, he just keeps going back to Jongseong.
Jongseong - who moves just like how Heeseung remembers, all sharp and rebellious.
Jongseong - who sports that same confident frown he always has whenever he’s being watched by others.
Jongseong - who wears a hat shoved down so low that his eyes barely peek over the edge.
Jongseong - who sings a line Heeseung remembers spending hours pondering over before pulling the image of the younger boy into his head and scribbling things he always wanted to say to him.
Jongseong - who stands at the end of the evaluation with his eyes glued to the ground, his hand gripping his wrist tightly until his knuckles turn white.
Half-assed comments start flowing out of Heeseung’s mouth and he’s not even sure if his vague criticisms make any sense, but he doesn’t really care anymore. Not when he goes down the lines of trainees and ends up with Jongseong at the end.
The younger boy finally looks at him and Heeseung feels himself trip and stumble into the abyss of his dark eyes.
Heeseung has spent years staring at those eyes and he’s always felt the warm embrace of Jongseong enveloping him. He’s looked into those eyes and shared laughter and giggles, secret inside jokes that only they understood.
Now, they just feel like a cold vacuum of nothingness.
That’s what you get, you idiot, Heeseung chastises.
Bile threatens to rise in Heeseung’s throat as he shuffles the cue cards in his hands awkwardly. He chooses to shove down the nagging feeling in his chest.
Jongseong stares back at Heeseung, his eyes piercing through the fragile wall Heeseung had built between them. His gaze is taunting - as if he’s daring Heeseung to say something.
The older boy clears his throat, looking away. It’s almost like tearing off a band-aid, the pain searingly etching itself onto Heeseung’s heart.
“I think you were all very good,” Heeseung announces, “just work on the details and be more mindful of your pacing.”
That last point was meant for Jongseong, who was always bursting at the seams with his energy. Heeseung doesn’t have the strength to say it to his face, so he hopes Jongseong gets it. He’s always been good at that - understanding what Heeseung was feeling before Heeseung himself could decipher any of it.
Getting up from the uncomfortable plastic chair, Heeseung gathers in the corner with the performance director and whispers his opinions. He makes sure to point out Jongseong and his effortless coolness. Up till this day, Heeseung has always admired how naturally all of this came to Jongseong.
It doesn’t matter that he’s already debuted with two albums and a sold-out debut showcase US tour.
Jongseong will always be Heeseung’s source of envy.
He wishes he was that natural in anything.
Jongseong’s unit cheers and claps when their group is announced the winner. Heeseung watches fondly as they all bow politely towards him, thanking him for the win. He returns their bows with a small smile.
There’s something unsettling about the way Jongseong looks at him now. There’s an edge of venom when he purses his lips, his hands neatly holding onto each other behind his back.
A boy with floppy dark hair looks at Jongseong through the sides of his eyes. He nudges Jongseong on the arm and just blinks at him, as if he’s silently asking something. Jongseong just shakes his head microscopically.
Goodbyes are exchanged as the shoot comes to a wrap for Heeseung. Trainees start queueing up in front of him to get his autograph, offering their hoodies and shirts as paper. Heeseung giggles as they gather in front of him, crowding him with their excited smiles and enthusiastic thanks. Those who have known Heeseung since before debut share handshakes with him. Heeseung pats Sunghoon on the back of his head. “How are you holding up, Sunghoon-ah?”
Sunghoon manages a weak smile and nods. “It’s nice to see you, hyung.” The honorific seems to roll off Sunghoon’s tongue awkwardly as he scrunches his face up. “Wait, I guess it’s sunbaenim now, right?”
Heeseung chuckles. “Stop it, you can always call me hyung.”
He checks the group of trainees around him and notices that Jongseong is on the other side of the studio, his back facing Heeseung as he softly talks to the same floppy haired trainee from before. His hands run through his hair, a sign that he’s agitated.
Of course, Heeseung remembers. They’ve spent dozens of late-nights together going over the same choreography, sighs of exhaustion and frustration filling up the small Bighit practice room. The only thing that kept them going was each other, their random shouts of encouragement landing them both into random fits of giggling.
Jongseong would look over at Heeseung and he’d smile.
Heeseung briskly signs shirts and hoodies with a marker, his eyes constantly checking to make sure that Jongseong doesn’t leave the room. When the last trainee bows his head in thanks with his hoodie gripped tightly in his hands, Heeseung jogs over towards the other side of the room.
Something in his head is screaming at him to not approach him.
Don’t do it. He hates you. He wants nothing to do with you.
But Heeseung doesn’t know when he’ll get to see Jongseong again. He doesn’t want to make the same mistake as before.
“Jongseong,” Heeseung calls out softly, stepping closer towards the younger boy and his friend slowly.
It shouldn’t feel this daunting but Heeseung’s heartbeat thumps loudly in his ears. Jongseong’s shoulders stiffen before he turns around, his lips pressed in a line with his back straightened.
“Sunbaenim,” Jongseong nods, bowing politely. His jaw is clenched tightly as he barely makes eye contact with Heeseung.
Heeseung’s heart aches a little. “How are you, Jongseong-ah?”
Something washes over Jongseong’s face as he gulps. He opens his mouth to say something, but quickly closes it again.
“Have you been well?” Heeseung tries again.
Jongseong’s poker face cracks and he’s suddenly staring Heeseung down with an intensity enough to set his skin on fire. His fists are clenched tightly next to his sides.
Heeseung wonders if Jongseong is above punching his sunbaenim.
“Have I been well?”
The question sounds ridiculous in hindsight but Heeseung manages a weak smile.
“That’s all you have to say?” Jongseong whispers, an eyebrow raised.
Heeseung shifts uncomfortably. “Jongseong-ah, you know that I did what I had to do, right?”
A sigh. It’s barely loud enough to startle Jongseong’s friend, but one could cut the thick tension in the air with a knife. He reaches his hand behind him to switch off the mic pack around his waist.
“Don’t worry,” Jongseong says softly, stepping closer towards Heeseung with his eyes slanted in an unpleasant frown, “I didn’t tell anyone.”
“Don’t call me that,” Jongseong mumbles under his breath, “it’s Jay now.”
He steps back a little and does a small bow, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his sweatpants.
“Thank you for today, sunbaenim.”
Heeseung is barely able to call out Jongseong’s name again when he briskly walks past him. Jongseong’s friend awkwardly bids Heeseung goodbye too before he jogs after the boy silently.
The studio is far from empty. There are still trainees chattering excitedly among themselves and producers trying to sort out their next filming schedule. He knows that even when he leaves this building, he’ll still be surrounded by many people - fans and staff members alike.
However, Heeseung feels more alone now than he’s ever felt in his entire life.
When the sun retires for the day and the entire building is enveloped in darkness, Jungwon wiggles himself into Jongseong’s bed. Despite the older boy’s protests, he shifts on the twin sized bed and lets Jungwon peer up at him with his cat-like eyes.
“You okay, hyung?”
Jongseong stares up at the ceiling.
“I’m okay,” he whispers softly, making sure to keep his voice low so that he won’t wake up Sunghoon.
“You’re lying,” Jungwon mutters. He tugs at Jongseong’s hoodie aimlessly. “You barely ate today. You were just kind of zoning out during dinner and we were having samgyeopsal.”
The room is silent once again, the echoes of faraway crickets outside and the low hum of the aircon accompanying their quiet. Jongseong doesn’t have to open his eyes to know that Jungwon is still lying beside him, patiently waiting for him to talk.
“It still hurts,” Jay breathes out. His chest feels tight and suddenly it’s getting a little harder to breathe. He tries to calm himself down by shutting his eyes tighter, drawing in deep inhales and exhaling steadily.
“What does?” Jungwon asks ever so gently.
Jay swallows the lump in his throat. His mind is reeling with memories of worn out sneakers, mismatched hoodies with beanies and strawberry cream sandwiches. A brief brush of lips against another and the weight of someone’s head on Jongseong’s shoulder in an empty subway. Empty promises of debuting together uttered underneath dimly lit practise rooms.
“Everything,” Jay concludes.
Heeseung pushes against the door of the academy anxiously, tossing his entire body into the studio. Heads start to turn as they peek, pausing their movements. Someone clears their throat when the instructor yells at everyone to stop.
“Heeseung-ssi!” her voice booms through the studio, startling a few people again.
She raises her eyebrows and places her hands on her waist, glaring menacingly at Heeseung.
He ducks his head in shame as he slowly steps towards the front of the room. Heeseung notices that someone is right next to his instructor - a short kid with dark hair and bangs that sweep just above his eyes. He’s dressed in clothes that are way too extravagant for dance and it would make Heeseung laugh if he wasn’t shitting his pants.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” Heeseung apologises, bowing deeply. “I lost track of time.”
“You lost track of time, huh?” the instructor snorts sarcastically, “What were you doing that was so important, Heeseung-ssi?”
Heeseung hunches his shoulders, feeling his ears burn with embarrassment as his brain struggles to think of an excuse.
I can’t tell her that I had to finish that round of League of Legends, Heeseung quietly thinks to himself, she’ll castrate me alive.
He awkwardly shifts on his legs and wrings his fists by his sides, his mouth getting drier by the second.
“Uh, Miss?” a voice Heeseung doesn’t recognize speaks up.
Snapping his head up from the ground, Heeseung watches with wide eyes as the boy he’s never seen before in his entire life bravely steps up. He holds his hands up to his chest in a polite manner.
“I’m in the same Math academy as Heeseung-ssi,” the boy pipes up, “our teacher held him back to talk to him. Heeseung-ssi tried telling him that he needed to rush for your class, but he wouldn’t let him go.”
The instructor seems taken aback by the boy’s sudden interjection. She stares at him bewilderedly before turning back to Heeseung, an unsure look crossing her face.
The boy nods firmly. Heeseung’s heart skips a beat when the boy flickers his eyes over towards Heeseung, a glint of something twinkling in his eyes. Heeseung notices that his eyes are sharp - like an eagle’s.
“Well, if that’s the case,” she sighs, relaxing her arms as she waves Heeseung away. “Just don’t be late next time, Heeseung-ssi. Run out of that damn class if you have to.”
Heeseung bows his head again silent before he scurries away to the back of the class. Kids around him are staring back at him with their jaws dropped, shock clearly written all over their faces.
“What the hell?” one of them hisses softly, “Heeseung doesn’t even go to Math academy.”
Heeseung quickly squeezes himself in between his friends, Jitae and Changmin. His eyes search for the boy again, who is already looking back at Heeseung.
He nods slightly, sending Heeseung a tight smile.
All Heeseung can do is nod back, the edges of his lips curling up into a massive grin.
There are two types of dancers, Heeseung observes.
There are those who aim to execute every motion and detail perfectly - be it the slightest lift of a finger or a twist of the hips. Every dance move is well-calculated and rehearsed until there are no signs of weaknesses. The obsession with hitting all the right moves cleanly and flawlessly is their main drive.
Heeseung is one of those people. He’s more focused on making no mistakes - to give a mistake-free performance that leaves his audiences impressed and satisfied.
Then there’s the other kind of dancer - those who feel, live and breathe everything they dance. Every movement and gesture must be felt deep within them and there’s no need for ‘perfection’. The emotions and the confidence shines is perfection in itself. Their expressions ooze with coolness and it doesn’t matter if they miss a step or two. No one notices because everyone is too busy trying to hide the chills running down their spines.
The new kid, Heeseung learns, is also one of those people.
Everyone is gathered on the floor of the studio, leaving a bit of space at the front of the room for their mini-performance. After every class session is done, the instructor picks the three best students that day to dance the routine they learnt. It’s mostly a chance for everyone to revise what they’ve learnt for the day, but it’s also a massive compliment to be picked out.
Some can barely hide their smug smiles when they’re picked, eager to show-off and bask in the pride of being the ‘chosen few’, as Heeseung likes to call it.
Heeseung has only been picked once in his eight months at the dance academy. He’s made it his mission to be chosen again before the year ends - but his hope dwindles a little when he realizes there’s only one more name left to be called that day.
He sits cross-legged on the floor, anxiously straightening his back.
The instructor squints her eyes and surveys the crowd of students sitting in front of her. Her eyes glaze over the back row, where Heeseung is sitting. She briefly gazes at Heeseung before looking away, leaving Heeseung in a puddle of his own disappointment.
“Jongseong! Come on, let’s go.”
There are mumbled whispers that ring across the room.
“Already? What the fuck, it’s only his first day,” Jitae mutters from the middle of the group.
Heeseung watches with envy filling his heart as the new kid gets up from the floor.
That must be his name, Heeseung thinks to himself. Jongseong - how odd.
“Alright, who wants to go first?” the instructor asks, looking over at the three boys standing in front of the class.
When no one volunteers, Jongseong nods determinedly and raises his hand firmly. A ghost of a smile cracks over the instructor’s face and she thanks Jongseong for volunteering. Heeseung feels a low rumble of envy turn in his stomach.
She never smiles.
The music starts as Jongseong takes a deep breath, rolling back his shoulders. Something shifts in the boy’s eyes and suddenly there’s an air of chic-ness that shouldn’t be coming out of a kid with a hairstyle like that. He starts dancing and Heeseung quickly spirals into whatever this was.
It’s almost as if Heeseung had been hypnotized and he only snaps out of the trance when he hears the thunderous applause sound around him. He blinks and joins in on the applause, clapping his hands together dumbfoundedly.
Heeseung thinks it’s almost criminal that Jongseong dances so effortlessly. No one says anything about the few details he’s missed.
He feels a little dizzy. He’s never seen anyone dance like that before.
There was something about the way Jongseong leaned into every move - a stubbornness and self-assured confidence that honestly scares Heeseung more than he’d like to admit. Maybe it’s Jongseong’s sharp features that make everything he does seem edgier.
Heeseung barely pays any attention to the other two dancers as he sits on the floor, feeling smaller than ever. A new realization dawns on him when he hears the instructor praise Jongseong one more time.
Will I ever be that effortless in anything that I do?
The class ends quickly after that, dozens of students rushing to catch the next bus or subway home. Heeseung exchanges handshakes with his friends as he bids them goodbye, promising to meet later online. He snatches his bag off of the floor, tossing it over his shoulder.
He catches the sight of Jongseong trailing behind everyone on the reflection of the glass door. Heeseung stops momentarily and considers introducing himself to the boy. Besides, he did save Heeseung’s ass from a scolding today.
Just as he’s about to turn around, someone tugs at the sleeve of Heeseung’s shirt.
“Hey, let’s take the bus back together,” Jitae says with a smile, “we can pick up some ice cream on the way back home.”
Heeseung returns the smile lightly as he peeks at Jongseong’s reflection again. He wants to tell Jitae to wait a second, just so he could at least thank Jongseong for helping him out earlier.
Jitae tugs harder at Heeseung and clicks his tongue impatiently at him. “What is it? Do you not want to go with me?”
Ah, he’ll be here next week, right? I’ll say thank you then.
“No, I’m okay. Let’s go,” Heeseung says, sending his friend a reassuring smile.
Heeseung enters the studio a week later, a spring in his step. His hands sway a plastic bag back and forth, a box of chocolate chip cookies and a bottle of cola nestled safely inside. He checks the time on his phone and breathes a sigh of relief when he notices that he’s early.
“What’s this?” Jitae asks when Heeseung settles down beside him on the studio floor.
“It’s for the new kid, Jongseong,” Heeseung tries to say nonchalantly.
Jitae sniggers. “What - are you part of his fanclub or something?”
“Shut up,” Heeseung rolls his eyes, “it’s just a thank you for last week. You know Miss would’ve shoved her foot so far up my ass if she found out that I was at a PC cafe.”
Changmin frowns. “Wait, you’re not talking about Jongseong, right?”
“Yeah, I think that’s his name,” Heeseung shrugged.
“He’s not coming back here,” Changmin uttered, tilting his head, “Didn’t you hear?”
It was Heeseung’s turn to frown. “What are you talking about?”
“The kid’s a trainee from SM Entertainment. He was only here last week because he had an off day and this studio is owned by his aunt.”
“You’re lying,” Heeseung’s eyes grow wide as saucers, “he’s an idol trainee?”
“That explains a lot,” Jitae mumbles, nodding slowly. He eyes the convenience store bag hungrily and reaches his hands out. “So can I take this if Jongseong isn’t here to accept them?”
Heeseung barely hides the disappointment flickering across his face. He sighs loudly and lets Jitae snatch the snacks away from him.
“Maybe he’ll come back here one day,” Changmin tries to console Heeseung, patting him gently on the shoulder. Heeseung just nods, even though he knows that the chances of seeing the boy again are very small.
“Yeah,” Jitae’s voice is muffled by the cookies he’s stuffing in his mouth, “who knows? You might see him again one day.”
Winter comes as autumn takes its leave, dusting the streets of Gangnam with soft white snow. The pavements are all wet and slippery as Heeseung barely makes it into the building without breaking any arms or spraining any ankles. He shrugs off the snow that coats his jacket, letting his body bring him to the trainee’s practice room automatically.
He opens the door to the room and realizes that Yeonjun is standing at the scoreboard with someone beside him. Heeseung giggles under his breath, pitying whoever this obviously new trainee was. Even Heeseung had fallen victim to Choi Yeonjun’s hazing process just a year ago. Now that he’s closer to the older boy, Heeseung uses their first time meeting as ammunition against Yeonjun.
(“Who’s in first place?” an overly proud Yeonjun asked, a smug smile playing on his lips.
“Choi Yeonjun,” an intimidated Heeseung replied, feeling smaller than ever under the gaze of the senior trainee.
“That’s right! It’s me,” Yeonjun exclaimed, “I'm in first place for everything.”
Heeseung wasn’t sure if he should be impressed or annoyed.)
Seeing other people fall prey to Yeonjun’s unusual introduction was now fun to watch, albeit seeing them squirm in intimidation always made Heeseung feel a lot of pity too. But that’s how all this works - one needs thick skin to go through this hellish process. If you aren’t able to handle Choi Yeonjun’s bragging on your first day, you probably should just quit while you still can.
The trainee system was anything but kind - no matter what agency you find yourself in.
Heeseung gritted his teeth for a whole year and despite all odds, he’s still here with a steady rank in the trainee board. Sure, he’s not first for anything - but Heeseung sits cozily in second place for dance and he’s neck to neck with Yeonjun on vocals.
Yeonjun calls over Heeseung in a sing-song voice, beckoning the younger towards him.
“Jongseong, this is Heeseung. He’ll show you around before we start dance class.”
The new trainee finally turns around. A flicker of recognition crosses Heeseung’s face, his eyes slanted in a squint as he stares back at Jongseong.
“Oh!” Heeseung exclaims, jabbing his index finger straight at Jongseong’s nose, “You!”
“Me?” Jongseong repeats, blinking up at Heeseung.
“You!” Heeseung exclaims again, “I know you! Who are you?”
Jongseong just chuckles anxiously. “I’m Jongseong. Who are you?”
“Yah, what’s wrong with you, Heeseung-ah?” Yeonjun ridicules from the side, watching the two curiously.
“I’m sorry,” Heeseung sputters, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “But I think I know you from somewhere. Did you go to YX Dance Academy?”
“My aunt owns YX Dance Academy. Do I look like someone who teaches there?”
It hits Heeseung like a searing hot iron. He makes another incoherent noise as he claps his hand loudly.
“You! You were the one who saved my ass from Miss!”
“I did?” Jongseong questions.
“Yes!” Heeseung would be lying if he said that he wasn’t slightly disappointed that Jongseong doesn’t remember. “You told Miss that you were in the same Math academy as me? When she was going to yell at me for being late?”
That seemed to hit a chord within Jay as his mouth forms a small ‘o’. He laughs lightly and Heeseung finds himself liking the sound of that.
“No way,” Jongseong gasps, “I think I remember you now!”
“What are you doing here? Changmin told me that you were a trainee at SM,” Heeseung asks.
Jongseong shrugs a little, a tiny hint of pink spreading across his cheeks. “You know - a change of pace is good for me. It’s nice to meet you again,” he utters.
“Yeah, it’s nice to see you too.”
Jongseong’s shoulders slump, losing their stiff posture. He offers Heeseung another smile and briefly bows his head.
The smile that graces Heeseung’s lips makes Jongseong release a huge breath. He feels his first day nerves slowly disappear as Heeseung brings him around the Bighit office. They fall into easy conversation, talking about the latest BTS album and whether or not they would get the chance to actually meet them.
Heeseung recounts the one time he bumped into Jungkook near a recording studio and Jongseong actually cackles when he hears that Heeseung almost puked from nervousness.
They make it back to the practise room for dance class and it all honestly passes by Heeseung in a flash. He’s taken a proper look at the boy now and notices that he’s grown a lot since the last time Heeseung saw him.
The memory of their first meeting is blurry and Heeseung can barely remember most of what happened that day - but Jongseong stays crystal clear in his mind. Heeseung still remembers the way Jongseong had smiled at him and the way he dances.
Whatever Jongseong was then had been elevated to a hundred now.
He still moves with the same confidence and coolness, but somehow his movements start to have more of a bite to them. Jongseong is definitely more attentive to details now - so Heeseung has to conclude that Jongseong dances like a dream.
Maybe he’s not up to Yeonjun’s level yet. Heeseung eyes Yeonjun out of the corner of his eye and he knows Yeonjun is worried. He’s doing that thing where he bites on the tip of his thumb, his fox-like eyes watching Jongseong with an intensity that Heeseung has never seen before.
Even the dance teachers catch on. They meant for it to be a passing statement as they nonchalantly tell everyone that Jongseong has something that the rest of them don’t. None of them elaborate further, but everyone can guess that Jongseong is a new contender for #1 on the dance ranking.
They are eventually released for a short break, Yeonjun reminding everyone that they have to be back in half an hour for vocal classes. Taehyun asks Heeseung if he wants to run for some KFC with a few other trainees. Heeseung is about to agree when he catches sight of Jongseong on his phone, alone in a corner of the room.
“You guys go ahead,” Heeseung shakes his head, “I’ll just go to the convenience store.”
Heeseung braves the cold gusts of winds as he clutches the convenience store bag closely to his chest. He suddenly regrets only going out in his jacket and not with his coat, but he just straightens his shoulders and keeps walking.
He’s greeted by the warmth of the Bighit building once again as he jogs down the stairways, buzzing to reach the practise room for more warmth.
Bursting into the dance room, the sound of the door swinging open startles Jongseong from a movie on his phone.
“Heeseung-ssi?” Jongseong calls out, padding over towards the older boy as he puts his phone away. “Did you go out in the cold with just a jacket on?”
“Not my best idea,” Heeseung bashfully says, his hands already busying themselves with pulling out two bottles of banana milk. He carefully takes out the two precious items - slices of thick white bread sandwiching a hefty dollop of whipped cream with strawberries. Heeseung looks at Jongseong shyly.
It’s hard for Heeseung to put his thoughts into words.
You were my first wake up call.
I’ve always regretted not saying thank you.
I’ve never had anyone defend me like that before - and you didn’t even know me.
Instead, Heeseung just hands the sandwich he’s been cradling in his arms with a sheepish smile.
“Just take it,” Heeseung says, “it’s for you.”
Jongseong holds the sandwich and bottle in his hands gently, his sharp eyes softening with gratefulness. Jongseong looks up at Heeseung as he cracks a small crooked smile.
“Thank you, Heeseung-ssi. This is really nice of you.”
Heeseung smiles back sweetly. “It’s no problem. Welcome to Bighit, Jongseong-ssi!”
He misses the way Jongseong gazes at him, his eagle-like eyes twinkling with an intoxicating concoction of curiosity and determination. Jongseong decides right there and then that he’s going to be very good friends with Heeseung.
In true Jongseong fashion, he works to get what he wants.
Making friends with Heeseung was easy - ever since his first night at Bighit, Jongseong likes to think that the older boy already considers him a friend. But trying to get closer to Heeseung proved a little difficult.
He does that thing that a lot of shy people seem to do - only speak to someone when the other first initiates it.
So Jongseong takes the initiative and follows Heeseung whenever he can, prodding the boy with random small talk and inviting him to eat dinner with him. It helps that they also have the same vocal session slots together.
“It shouldn’t be too different from what they have at SM, right?” Heeseung asks as they wait for their turn outside of the vocal room. Jongseong can hear Yeonjun and another trainee still practising inside the room as he leans his back against the wall.
“The vibes are kind of different here,” Jongseong shrugs. “I’ve only been here for two days but it already seems a lot less… cut throat?”
Heeseung raises his eyebrows. “How so?”
“Well, you can take into consideration that SM is one of the most famous and biggest companies out there,” Jongseong explains, moving his hands around, “and then also consider that there are four times the amount of trainees there than there are here. No matter how talented or skilled you are, there’s almost a guarantee that someone else is better than you.”
“Isn’t that how it is for every agency though?”
Jongseong purses his lips and does a little nod. “Sure, but even the lowest ranking trainee in SM has some serious skills. It was like a bunch of big fishes trying to stand out in a pond full of other huge fishes. Does that make sense?”
“I guess it does,” Heeseung hums.
They fall into another silence as they wait, Heeseung mindlessly playing with the dog-ears of his lyrics sheet.
The door opens swiftly as Yeonjun and a doe-eyed trainee come trailing out of the room. They greet each other politely before Jongseong and Heeseung walk in, the cold blast of the AC startling the both of them.
Heeseung has gone through this a million times at this point - so he leaves his papers at a nearby table and greets the vocal teacher with a small smile and bow. Jongseong quietly stands next to Heeseung and their session starts with some vocal warm ups.
“Do you want to go first today, Heeseung-ssi?” the teacher asks. “Come and show Jongseong-ssi how it’s done?”
Meekly, Heeseung agrees. The familiar tune of a Justin Bieber song begins to flow out of the speakers as Heeseung picks up a microphone.
When Heeseung starts to sing, Jongseong is convinced that he’s being put in a trance.
Heeseung’s voice is a lot like honey - honey that’s warm and sweet. A lot like the honey that Jongseong chugs down when he’s stressed. The way he smoothly goes in and out of notes and rifts nearly makes Jongseong weak in the knees. There’s a hypnotic swirl to the way Heeseung pronounces his words. There’s an abundance of emotions that almost suffocates Jongseong - in a good way.
Heeseung puts down the microphone by the end of the song and nods along to the feedback given by their teacher, but Jongseong can barely hear anything over the sound of his heartbeat hammering in his ears. He gapes at Heeseung dumbfoundedly, wondering how any human could sound as angelic as he does.
(He ridicules himself later in his head for being overdramatic.)
Turning his head to face Jongseong, Heeseung blinks when he sees the bewildered expression on his face.
“Jongseong-ah? What’s wrong?”
“So good,” Jongseong lamely says, “you’re so good. How are you so good?”
A blush spreads over Heeseung’s cheeks as he giggles flusteredly.
“Ah, I’m not that good.”
Jongseong’s eyebrows furrow, “Of course you are, hyung. You’re crazy good.”
Heeseung curses his ears as he feels them go hot. He avoids Jongseong’s awestruck gaze, choosing to just rub his neck shyly.
“I’m really not,” Heeseung mumbles, “but thank you, Jongseong-ah.”
There’s a flutter of something warm that explodes in the pits of his stomach. It’s a feeling he’s never really felt before - one that makes the hairs on his skin stand and the gears in his head turn uncontrollably.
Heeseung doesn’t see the way Jongseong’s eyes light up everytime he sings. He doesn’t see the way Jongseong stares and admires him as he dances later that day.
He misses the way Jongseong looks up to him for a very long time.
Winter is starting to disappear, the warmth of spring melting the snow that litters the streets near the convenience store. The LED lights of the sign outside illuminate the benches where Jongseong and Heeseung are huddled closely together, inhaling their strawberry cream sandwiches. Exhaustion pricks at their skin as they sit quietly together, their bodies too tired to make any real conversation.
If it wasn’t for the younger boy’s determination, Heeseung would have no idea if he would’ve survived staying in that small practise room going over the same choreo until the sun started to rise.
Heeseung’s nose is slightly pink as he sniffles, his doe-like eyes staring down at his sandwich intently. There’s a small dot of whipped cream that hangs off the corner of his lips. Jongseong chuckles at the sight.
“What?” Heeseung says, his voice muffled by his mouthful of bread.
Something kicks Jongseong in the chest as he looks back at Heeseung, who looks extra endearing with the leopard beanie covering his head and the obnoxious neon green hoodie he’s wearing. It should not look good on him at all, but somehow Heeseung makes it work.
Jongseong’s heart sinks in affection as he just smiles. He’s trying hard to keep it from jumping out of his chest.
“Hyung, let’s debut together,” Jongseong announces.
Heeseung just blinks back in shock, pausing his chewing.
“So suddenly?” Heeseung asks, tilting his head a little. Jongseong wants to pat his head.
The chilly Seoul wind brushes past Jongseong as he nods, wrapping his jacket closer around his body. “Yeah. I don’t want to do any of this without you.”
Heeseung chokes back a startled noise. “Jongseong-ah, why are you talking like this?”
“Let me be sentimental for a minute,” Jongseong whines, squinting his eyes at the older, “You know you’ve taught me a lot, right?”
Even if it’s been weeks since their first meeting, Heeseung still hasn’t gotten used to Jongseong’s constant compliments. He swallows the food in his mouth and shrugs nonchalantly. “You don’t need much of my help.”
“Uhuh,” Jongseong snorts, “you’re saying that to the guy who placed last in vocals this week.”
“Jongseong-ah, you know that the ranking system is total bullshit. Just because you’re last, it doesn’t mean you’re not good.” Heeseung feels kind of guilty for lying a little bit, but he wants nothing more than to rid Jongseong’s small frown away.
“Is it though?” Jongseong utters, “The only reason why I wasn't in last place last week is because Hyemin left Bighit.”
Heeseung puts down the sandwich in front of him and reaches out to pat Jongseong’s shoulder.
“Hey, don’t say that. You’re not bad at all, okay? I’ll help you as much as you need,” Heeseung offers. “Be kinder to yourself, Jongseong-ah. You just transferred to Bighit, so it’s going to be a huge shift and you’re not used to our style yet. You’ll get there in time, don’t worry.”
“It’s been three years since I started training to be an idol,” Jongseong mutters. “It’s getting kind of worrying, you know? I’ve been doing so much for so long and it feels like I haven’t moved much.”
“You’re just saying that because you can’t see your own improvement,” Heeseung squeezes Jongseong’s arm gently. “You wouldn’t be saying all this if you saw your own progress from the outside of your perspective. Besides, we all move at different paces. As long as we’re moving, we’re doing good.”
Jongseong mulls over it in his own head. He tries to remember the first time he attended vocal classes in SM.
Small, slightly awkward thirteen year old Jongseong with frizzy hair and rectangular glasses. He remembers how his hands trembled slightly when the teacher told him that he ‘needed a lot of work’. He remembers how painful it was to hear his voice crack and squeak, puberty making its mission to embarrass Jongseong as much as it could.
“I guess,” Jongseong sighs, managing a weak smile. “Thanks, hyung.”
Heeseung taps Jongseong’s arm comfortingly before closing his fist with his pinky still sticking out.
“We’ll debut together. I promise.”
A light-hearted chuckle escapes Jongseong as his chest radiates with warmth. “A pinky promise? Really? How old are we?” Jongseong teases.
“Come on, Jongseong-ah, you were the one who got sappy on me first.”
Jongseong cackles but links their pinkies together nonetheless. The smile that cracks Heeseung’s face does enough to have Jongseong’s heart soaring high up in the dark sky. Their promise to debut together hangs over their heads like the stars twinkling up above in that Seoul night.
Jongseong goes through more monthly evaluations than he can count. (That was a lie. Jongseong has a countdown app on his iPhone installed. He’s gone through 10 monthly evaluations.)
It’s pretty much like a routine by now - pick a song to sing for the vocal part of the evaluation at the start of the month, practise it relentlessly with Heeseung, learn the choreography for the dance part of the evaluation with the other trainees, practice it more relentlessly than before.
August dawns on them pretty quickly and Jongseong chooses an old Troye Sivan song - for him. He reads a Korean translation of the lyrics before he goes for his vocal classes with Heeseung. Jongseong is honestly annoyed that he depends on Korean translations now. He takes it as a sign to brush up on his English.
Every free moment he gets, Jongseong plugs in his earphones and sits in a corner of the Bighit practise room to listen to the song on repeat. He tries to dissect the emotions of the song - but he has no idea what it all even means.
How do you even say I love you without saying it?
Heeseung collapses beside Jongseong in the practise room, his heavy breathing startling Jongseong out of his focus. Taking an earbud out, Jongseong peers down at his older friend.
“You okay?” Jongseong chuckles.
He just pulls a face, one Jongseong regrets not taking a photo of. Heeseung lolls his head slowly toward Jongseong and lets out a tiny smile when he sees something. He reaches his hand out and points at Jongseong’s phone case.
“Hey, you’re using the phone case I got you.”
“Of course I am,” Jongseong proclaims proudly, turning his phone around to admire the printed Ryan cartoon on his case. “It’s cute.”
“I honestly got it for you as a joke,” Heeseung muses. “I didn’t think you’d actually use it.”
“You want me to throw it away?” Jongseong deadpans, although the amusement dancing in his eyes says otherwise.
Heeseung makes a noise, “Hey, it was expensive!”
“Okay, so don’t tease me when I’m making use of it!” Jongseong shakes his head, laughing at the way Heeseung pouts.
Silence settles as Jongseong’s giggles subside. The younger boy side-eyes Heeseung and notices that Heeseung is doing that thing he does when he’s thinking.
The thing where Heeseung is sort of zoning out, a glazed look over his face as the gears in his head turn quietly. Not many people could read Heeseung as well as Jongseong did, not even Yeonjun or Taehyun.
“Something bothering you?” Jongseong asks gently, nudging his arm. “Want to go get some food and talk about it?”
Heeseung exhales. “No, I’m not hungry. And I’m okay.”
Despite that, Jongseong just nods. He’ll wait for Heeseung to gather his thoughts. He thinks he knows what’s bothering Heeseung since it’s also bothering a lot of the other trainees around them.
Just a week ago, five of their trainee friends bade goodbye as they departed for their flights. Special training in America - Taehyun had happily told Jongseong. Jongseong watched with envy swallowing him whole when Beomgyu and Soobin walked around the building with cameras and luggages in their hands.
A month-long trip to America was one hell of an investment from Bighit, which practically meant a debut confirmation. Jongseong’s heard the whispers among the trainees. One of the staff had let it slip that their debut was meant for March next year.
Instead of pushing Heeseung to talk about it, Jongseong just pats Heeseung’s shoulder quietly and goes back to his song.
Only when they’re done for the day and sitting on the bus carrying them out of Gangnam, does Jongseong feel Heeseung’s head on his shoulder. He sucks in a breath, trying hard to keep his breathing steady. Jongseong weakly laughs and jiggles his shoulder slightly.
“Are you tired?” Jongseong whispers, his tone a little teasing.
Heeseung just closes his eyes and hums.
The word leaves a bitter taste in Jongseong’s mouth. He leans his cheek on top of Heeseung’s head, letting the low rumble of the bus accompany their quiet. The earbud in his right ear plays the Troye Sivan song for the upteempth time that day.
Suddenly, Jongseong understands.
You don’t have to say I love you to say I love you.
When Jongseong stands in the middle of the freezing vocal room and the opening notes to ‘for him’ starts playing, he closes his eyes and thinks of a doe-eyed boy.
He thinks of strawberry cream sandwiches. He thinks of a Ryan phone case. He thinks of mismatched beanies and hoodies. He thinks of a head on his shoulders.
On the bright white piece of paper that’s taped on the practise room wall hours later, Jongseong spots his name.
- Park Jongseong
Heeseung screams so loudly that it nearly makes Jongseong go deaf.
That same night, all the trainees decide to celebrate another fruitful month of trainee life by sneaking out to KBBQ. Just as Jongseong is about to let Sunghoon drag him out of the building, he hears Heeseung tell everyone else that he’s not feeling it tonight. Heeseung subtly looks at Jongseong and almost immediately, Jongseong understands.
Jongseong bids goodbye to the other trainees as the two of them stay behind for a while.
“Where do you want to go? 7-11? Or should we get something nicer than cup ramyeon for tonight?” Jongseong asks.
That is how the both of them ended up here. Jongseong is sitting opposite Heeseung in the dimly lit McDonalds, indulging in burgers and fries discreetly. They know they shouldn’t be here right now, stuffing their faces with fast food, but neither of them care enough to stop.
The younger boy watches a child near their table play happily with a plastic boy, soft mimics of explosions and gunshots coming out of his mouth. Oh, childhood. How Jongseong misses it.
“Hyung?” Jongseong prods, prompting Heeseung to look over his burger as he munches happily.
“Did you know that McDonald’s is the world’s largest toy distributor?”
Heeseung blinks back at him before he shakes his head in amusement.
“Where do you keep all this information in that head of yours?” Heeseung jokes.
“Come on, you know it’s empty most of the time. There’s just a treasure trove of random trivia and then there’s elevator music constantly playing in there,” Jongseong snorts, playing with the straw on his drink.
“Is that how you’re so chill all the time?” Heeseung chuckles.
Jongseong shrugs. “I guess I try not to think too much about things that I can’t help.”
“I’m jealous,” Heeseung says lightly - but Jongseong knows there’s more weight to his words. Jongseong feels his heart sink a little, he hates knowing that Heeseung is upset.
A beat. “Why are we here? You don’t even like McDonald’s.”
Heeseung sighs softly. He puts down the burger and pensively stabs the straw into his mouth, avoiding Jongseong’s eyes as he sips slowly on his drink. Even when the cup ends up empty and the straw makes that annoying slurping noise Jongseong hates, he waits patiently for Heeseung to say something.
Leaning back on the booth they’re sitting in, Heeseung finally lets it out.
“Do you think we’ll ever debut?”
The question catches Jongseong off-guard slightly.
“What are you talking about? Of course we will,” Jongseong frowns.
“But when are we ever going to debut?” Heeseung exclaims, although he keeps his voice low to not disturb the people around them. “There’s only one debut team in 2019 and we’re not included in it.”
Jongseong’s frown only deepens. “Yeah, but you know there’s that survival show in 2020. If we just hold on a little longer-”
“Jongseong, I can’t wait until 2020 anymore,” Heeseung sighs, “I’ve been here for two years already. I’m getting older too, they don’t even take in trainees my age anymore.”
“Hyung, you’re one year older than me.”
“That’s not the point, Jongseong-ah,” the older boy’s grip on his straw tightens.
“Then what is your point, hyung?” Jongseong leans forward, raising an eyebrow.
Heeseung sighs for the thousandth time that night. “I don’t know if I want to waste another 2 years of my life just for another maybe. I’ll go crazy. Aren’t you impatient too? You’ve been doing this for way longer than I have.”
“Of course I’m impatient too,” Jongseong utters, “I’ve been doing this for four years now. But there’s not much I can do if they don’t pick me. All I can do is just put my head down and work harder.”
“I’m just tired,” Heeseung huffs, pulling at the strings of his hoodie frustratedly. “I know it’s only been two years and really - two years isn’t much compared to other people.. But I’m just exhausted and it’s really getting to me.”
Jongseong softens, reaching his hand out to gently place it over Heeseung’s arm.
“Is this what’s been bothering you?” Jongseong questions.
“Not really,” Heeseung purses his lips. “Well, it’s part of it, you know. It always is - this countdown over my head that’s reminding me constantly that time is ticking.”
The way Jongseong is looking at him makes Heeseung want to cry.
“When Yeonjun hyung and everyone left for America, I don’t know. I felt jealous. Like crazy jealous and I couldn’t even say goodbye to them. I was too pissed off with everything and it’s embarrassing that I’m being like this. What kind of friend am I? I can’t even be happy for my own friends’ success because what, I’m lacking in my own life?”
Heeseung doesn’t even realize that tears are slowly dripping down his face, the wetness of them startling him. He laughs awkwardly as he frantically rubs his cheeks, trying his best to swallow the sniffles that threaten to spill out.
“Hyung, you’re not lacking at all,” Jongseong says gently. “And there’s nothing wrong about feeling jealous of someone, it’s a normal thing to feel. Hell, even I was jealous and I’m sure everyone else was. You’re not a bad person for feeling that way.”
Heeseung tries to blink back the tears that are uncontrollable at this point. He looks up and shoves his hands on his cheeks, slapping himself vigorously. “Sorry,” Heeseung tries to laugh, “they keep coming out of my eyes.”
“Hey,” Jongseong leans forward to pry Heeseung’s hands off of his face. He cups Heeseung’s face in his hands and uses his thumbs to wipe away his tears. “Just cry it out, it’s fine.”
Heeseung gawks at Jongseong with his wide, glassy eyes. Jongseong’s hands are warm on his face, a starking contrast to his own cold skin. They’re in the middle of a crowded McDonald’s but Jongseong seems to not care the slightest. The sound of people chattering around them and the bustle of the kitchens just beside their booth drowns out in Heeseung’s ears. The only thing Heeseung can hear is his own sniffles and Jongseong’s soft breathing.
Has Jongseong always looked this endearing?
“We’re in McDonalds,” Heeseung jokes breathlessly, not tearing his eyes away from Jongseong.
The younger boy cracks a small smile. “So what? I’m sure everyone has mental breakdowns in McDonalds.”
Heeseung’s brain short-circuits before he can think of another witty thing to say. No, he’s too busy wondering if Jongseong always had the little crack in the middle of his bottom lip. He lets out a sound in between a sob and a chuckle.
“I just feel really bad,” Heeseung finally shifts his gaze away, “about everything. Just feel like a shit friend and a shit person.”
Jongseong lets go of Heeseung’s face and Heeseung kind of misses feeling his hands. He settles back down into the booth but he keeps his grip back on Heeseung’s arms.
“And you still think you’re a shit friend for this?” Jongseong tuts, “if you were as shit of a person as you thought you were, you wouldn’t feel bad about any of this. It’s fine, hyung. You’re not a bad person, okay?”
If Park Jongseong doesn’t think he’s a shit peson, then Heeseung can’t be as bad as he thinks, right?
“Also, hyung,” Jongseong looks at Heeseung pointedly with a tiny smirk on his face. “You know you’re a badass right? You’re first place for everything now.
“Bighit would be completely stupid and idiotic and every negative adjective I can think of right now to not debut you. It’ll happen soon, hyung, I can feel it.” Jongseong says. “Plus, we’re going to debut together, remember? Just hold on for a while longer with me and I promise, it’ll all be worth it.”
Heeseung lets himself believe in Jongseong’s words. How could he not? Not when Jongseong is gazing at him with stars in his eyes and a warm grin tugging at his lips. Heeseung is a lot of things - a great dancer, a fantastic singer, a reliable hyung for his younger friends. He also learns that being weak for Park Jongseong is definitely one of those things too.
It’s laughable, really. If the situation wasn’t so real and , you know, actually happening, Heeseung would’ve burst out in laughter and high-fived everyone around the room. He would tell them, “You got me! That was a good joke!”
Except it’s not a joke. And it’s very much happening.
“You want me to do what?”
Everyone who matters is sitting around the meeting room table, nodding with excited smiles on their faces. Not just staff members from the rookie development team - even the CEO of BELIFT is sitting right in front of him.
“Heeseung-ssi,” someone from the rookie development team speaks up. “We want you to debut.”
Heeseung blinks slowly, “Like with the trainees in America or..?”
“As a solo artist. You’ll be our first artist to debut under BELIFT.”
His head begins to spin. The room suddenly feels a lot colder than it did just a few seconds ago. If he wasn’t sitting down, Heeseung was sure he’d fall onto his knees.
“Solo artist?” Heeseung repeats dumbly.
There’s a chorus of giggles and laughter that rings out through the room. Heeseung gawks at all of them with his eyes still wide as saucers. Was this all really happening? Someone taps him on the arm and Heeseung snaps out of his little trance, trying to ground himself back onto the ground.
“Is this all too much right now?”
Heeseung lets out a shaky laugh and nods. “This is a lot.”
“It’s okay, we can take this slowly today,” the staff member assures. “Ask all the questions you want.”
The boy nods again, wringing his hands tightly in his own hands. He frowns when he really realizes what’s happening.
“What about everyone else?”
What about Jongseong?
She tilts her head a little, raising her eyebrows. “Everyone else?”
“What’s going to happen to them?” Heeseung presses, “Will they debut too?”
“Heeseung-ssi, you’re the only one we plan to debut. The other trainees will continue being trainees for the meantime until another opportunity comes up for them.”
Heeseung feels small as he shrinks further into the office chair. “So I’m going to do all this alone? There’s no group for me?”
“We will be with you, don’t worry,” someone else assures Heeseung, with what was supposed to be a smile that should calm Heeseung down.
Instead, it just makes him even more nauseous.
The plans are pretty concrete already. Heeseung would be the first trainee to transfer to BELIFT, which isn’t much of a shift since he would still be in the Gangnam office. The biggest change however, is training without the others. He’s going to practise alone in a small, black room - which feels a lot colder than the beige practice rooms he’s been accustomed to for years now.
In Bighit, you have to compete for the staff’s attention. Now, all eyes are on him.
Heeseung has a few days before he makes the shift, so he mulls over ways to break the news to everyone.
“Could you all keep it a secret for now?” Heeseung asks the staff members as he’s leaving their first meeting. “I’d like to tell everyone on my own.”
He considers telling everyone over a meal he would pay for, even though his allowance from his parents really only allows him to treat them to a very cheap meal. He also considers just dropping the news unexpectedly after his last dance class as a Bighit trainee - but he thinks telling everyone that way would only benefit him.
Even though they were all technically competing against each other to debut, he knows that some of the trainees do think of him as their reliable hyung. So really - Heeseung doesn’t want to leave the other kids with a bitter farewell.
There’s still a week before Heeseung has to leave Bighit for good and the weight of his secret hovers over his head every second of the day. It makes being around Jongseong extremely difficult - because Heeseung is sure he could just combust at any moment. He feels his stomach churn everytime Jongseong looks at him.
Their promise echoes in his head every time they’re together, the reminder stinging him painfully in the heart.
Can I do this without Jongseong?
Heeseung doesn’t know if he can do this without his best friend. He doesn’t know if he can bear the weight of the world only on his own shoulders. He doesn’t know if he’ll crack easily, if he’ll just break and crumble into nothingness and have the whole world know just how truly bare he is.
Suddenly - Heeseung is hyper aware of everything when he’s with Jongseong.
In the cold recording studio with Jongseong, he gazes at the boy as he sings in front of a mic with his headphones clenched tightly around his head. They’re recording another cover, one that they’re supposed to work on as a pair. Jongseong doesn’t know it yet, but this would be the last song they would work on together.
Jongseong is wearing a Supreme jacket - one that he’s worn many times to the studio. Heeseung remembers wearing it when he was too cold once. It hung on his frame snugly, the smell of expensive cologne staining his shirt for days.
There’s a thin silver chain hanging around his neck, an accessory that Jongseong always wears. Heeseung wonders what it would feel like between his fingers and his heart skips a beat at the thought.
The sound of Jongseong’s voice fills the studio through the speakers, the younger boy smiling satisfiedly as he removes the headphone from his head.
“Hyung, doesn’t this take sound better?” Jongseong asks.
Heeseung just hums distractedly. His mind is too busy trying to figure out if that birthmark has always been on Jongseong’s neck. It’s similar to a tiny heart shape, peeking out of his jacket cutely.
How can a birthmark be so cute?
There’s an unfamiliar bubble of emotions that erupt in Heesueng’s stomach as he wonders how cold Jongseong’s skin on his neck actually is.
“Hyung,” Jongseong whines, waving his hand in front of Heeseung’s face. “Answer me. Is it better or not?”
Heeseung can’t take his eyes off Jongseong. He can’t think about anything else, let alone whatever song they were supposed to be covering right now. In his head, Heeseung chants his name over and over again.
Jongseong. Jongseong. Jongseong.
“Hyung?” Jongseong prods again, the smile on his face slowly fading. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
Was this studio always so small and suffocating? Heeseung can barely breathe right now.
“Jongseong-ah,” Heeseung rasps, his doe-like eyes shining.
A nervous chuckle rumbles out of Jongseong. He opens his mouth to say something but nothing comes out of it.
Words are stuck in Heeseung’s throat and everything he wants to say dances at the tip of his tongue. They threaten to just come tumbling out, a mess of emotions that Heeseung has been keeping to himself for way too long.
There’s a sinking realization that hits Heeseung as he stares into Jongseong’s eyes.
I like you so much.
Jongseong is looking at him with something akin to tenderness.
I really, really like you so much.
They’re sitting too closely together now. If Heeseung tries hard enough, he can count each strand of Jongseong’s eyelashes. Jongseong’s warm breath fans over his face and Heeseung feels the world tether at his feet.
Jongseong’s lips are a little dry and cracked, which is understandable since they’ve been stuck in the studio for a few hours already. Heeseung doesn’t mind because, oh God, Jongseong is kissing him.
There’s an awkward mess of teeth clanging against each other and there’s a wetness that Heeseung didn’t think could come from kissing, but he clings desperately onto Jongseong’s jaw with his hands. He holds onto Jongseong’s face delicately, as if he might just break in his hands.
Jongseong’s hands end up around Heeseung’s wrist, his grip on Heeseung tightening as he presses deeper into the kiss. He steals all of the oxygen from Heeseung’s lungs, just taking and taking from the older boy.
Fireworks don’t erupt. Static or electricity doesn’t spark in between them.
Instead, there’s a low hum of warmth that surrounds the both of them. It’s familiar - similar to how Heeseung feels after a long day, toeing off his shoes and throwing his bag to a corner of his room. It’s familiar - similar to how Jongseong feels whenever he lies down on his living room couch and lets himself doze off into a mindless nap.
The feeling is a lot like the coldness of a vocal practice room or the brightness of LED lights on their faces as they sit huddled outside a convenience store. It’s a lot like snug Supreme jackets and leopard print beanies.
Jongseong is the first one to pull away, his eyes instantly flying open when he sits back in the computer chair. He’s still holding onto Heeseung’s wrists as they freeze in mid-air. The younger boy looks at Heeseung pleadingly, as if he’s begging for Heeseung to say something.
The weight of Heeseung’s unsaid words begin to push down on his heart until it sinks down below beyond the ground.
“I’m debuting,” Heeseung blurts out.
A pause. A silence comes after - it’s almost deafening.
Everything floods Heeseung like a tsunami - the relief of finally saying it, the dread of finally saying it, the pain of finally saying it.
“I’m debuting next year,” Heeseung repeats, his voice barely above a whisper. “Alone. Under BELIFT.”
Jongseong hears and knows what Heeseung is saying, but he doesn’t understand it. He’s not sure if he wants to understand it at all.
“Jongseong-ah, I’m sorry.”
For a second, Heeseung thinks that Jongseong is going to push him away. But the younger boy just closes his eyes tightly and his nose flares a little as he takes in a deep breath. When his eyes flutter open again, they twinkle up at Heeseung.
“Why are you sorry?” Jongseong asks, his words wavering slightly. The grip on Heeseung’s wrists just tighten, but not tight enough for it to hurt.
Heeseung feels his heart skip a beat again. “I..I thought-”
“You thought I wouldn’t be happy for you?” Jongseong plasters on a sad smile, tilting his head to the side with his eyes still twinkling. “Do you think I’m that mean?”
“O-Of course not,” Heeseung stutters, rushing to intertwine their hands together. Hues of pink appear on Jongseong’s cheeks as he looks down at their hands.
“Hyung,” Jongseong breathes out, “This is massive! See, I told you that you would debut soon.”
There’s an edge of something else behind Jongseong’s gleeful tone. Heeseung isn’t blind, it’s practically written on Jongseong’s forehead. He reaches his hand up and cups Jongseong’s right cheek, caressing his skin with his thumb.
“I tried asking them to consider you too.”
Jongseong shakes his head, “No. Don’t. It’s okay, hyung, really.”
The way Jongseong blinks quickly says otherwise. He can see the younger boy’s sharp eyes get glassy. The smile on his face is partly genuine - but the sadness is clear as day.
“It’s not okay,” Heeseung’s words crack before he can stop them. “I promised you.”
“Hyung, forget the promise,” Jongseong utters, squeezing out another sad grin. “This is what you’ve been waiting for. You deserve this and every great thing that’s coming your way now. There’s no need to worry about me, okay?”
Heeseung resigns to his fate. He hates this.
A frustrated sob seeps out of Heeseung as he collapses onto Jongseong, burying his head into the younger boy’s neck. Jongseong catches Heeseung quickly, enveloping him in a tight hug.
Heeseung’s shoulders rack with sobs, heaving up and down as he mumbles apologies in between sobs.
Jongseong blinks back his own tears, squeezing Heeseung tighter. He feels his neck wet with Heeseung’s tears but he doesn’t care.
“It’s okay, hyung,” Jongseong whispers over and over again. “It’s okay.”
You’ve never been good at lying, Heeseung wants to say.
They don’t talk about the kiss. But it happens again and again and again.
It happens in a stuffy, small closet in the Bighit office.
It happens in the isle of the convenience store, right in front of the cooler holding the strawberry cream sandwiches.
It happens in the darkness of the BELIFT practice room.
It happens in a freezing studio.
It happens outside Heeseung’s apartment, in a secluded corner behind some pillars in the lobby.
They don’t talk about it. But their hands stay intertwined whenever they’re away from everyone and they sit next to each other, shoulder to shoulder on the grassy playground floor. Their bodies slot perfectly against one another on Jongseong’s twin sized bed back home.
They don’t talk about any of it. But Heeseung knows none of this will last forever. He stays quiet, not wanting to escape this dream they’ve concocted out of their suffocating reality.
They’re sitting on a random bench in the middle of a park, a lone street lamp illuminating them amidst the darkness of the night. Heeseung has his legs stretched out as his thighs bump against Jongseong’s. The air outside is freezing - Seoul is always the coldest in January. But neither of them really minded as they were all bundled up warmly in multiple jackets while sipping on piping hot milk.
They’re not really doing anything, which Heeseung really appreciates. He’s had a really tiring day and he sort of just wants to sit here and stare at Jongseong for the whole night. It’s not a bad idea, Jongseong is a dream to look at anyways. Even if he’s wearing one of Heeseung’s bright pink neon parkas and a ratty beanie he doesn’t even remember having until he sees it on Jongseong’s head.
“Did you know it’s almost been two years since we met?” Jongseong says, his voice just soft enough to pull Heeseung out of his daydream.
“No shit,” Heeseung chuckles, leaning forward a little to stretch out his back. “Where has all the time gone? God, I feel like a grandpa now.”
Jongseong returns the laugh, his eyes crinkling with fondness. “Ah hyung, you’re not that old.”
“Easy for you to say,” Heeseung glares playfully, “you’re still young and zesty.”
“Zesty?” Jongseong chortles. “I’m only a few months younger than you!”
“I bet your back doesn’t hurt as much as mine does,” Heeseung continues, dramatically beating his own back. “Every time I squat down, I think everyone in Seoul can hear my knees crack.”
“You’re so,” Jongseong doesn’t even continue his sentence as he shakes his head with a small smile. “I thought I was the dramatic one in this relationship.”
Relationship. The word makes Heeseung feel all warm and gooey on the inside. Not even the scalding cup of hot milk in his hands could make him feel like this.
Everything happens pretty quickly after Heeseung’s final debut evaluation. He spends agonizing hours alone in the newly painted BELIFT practice room, going over the same choreography and the same song for days. It gets so exhausting that Heeseung is beginning to hear the songs he practices everywhere, the ringing in his ears numbing all his limbs as he drags himself to the office and back home every night.
He sees the same staff members everyday, who he learns are all part of his protocol team. From his manager hyung-nim to his stylist noona, Heeseung barely has any time to be alone these days. If he wasn’t stuck in the practice room getting some intense vocal or dance training, he was making his pre-debut content.
They were essentially vlogs - following Heeseung around as he started his debut preparations. He thinks that the whole process would be a lot more fun and enjoyable if he didn’t have the constant stare of a camera lens on him every second of the day.
Even when he’s brought back to his new tiny studio apartment he shares with his manager, Heeseung has to film mini diary entries talking about his day, how he feels and what he has learnt.
Heeseung fidgets on his bed as he gazes at the circular lens on the tiny camera. He’s gotten a lot more used to it now that he’s been doing these video entries for two weeks, but the awkwardness still hangs off every word he says.
“This might seem sudden for me to say,” Heeseung ponders aloud, flickering his eyes up to the ceiling as he thinks over his words carefully. “But I spent quite a lot of time being a trainee. Maybe to some people it’s not a lot, but for me, it felt like forever. I had to watch my friends make their debut first and it made me feel very anxious.”
“A lot happened during my few years at Bighit and although I am very eager to debut now, I kind of wish I had a little bit more time with my other trainee friends,” Heeseung mumbles. “I wish we could all have debuted together, but we can’t always have what we want, right? That’s just how life is.”
He doesn’t notice his manager leaning against the door of his bedroom, watching Heeseung quietly as he makes his last few comments. When Heeseung finally wraps up and switches the camera off, his manager clears his throat.
“I made you the ramyeon you wanted,” he says, “don’t tell anyone I let you have this, by the way.”
The smile Heeseung cracks makes it all worth it. His manager just chuckles softly as he waits with Heeseung at the small dining table, letting the sound of Heeseung slurping his noodles fill the air.
Heeseung’s phone sits ignored beside his bowl, the LED screen facing up. His manager frowns.
“Heeseung-ssi, don’t leave your phone facing up when you’re not using it,” he gently chastises. It’s an etiquette that he knows Heeseung still isn’t familiar with, but he wants Heeseung to practise it from now. “We don’t want random people at your schedules to peep at your phone and get all in your business, right?”
“Oh, sorry!” Heeseung exclaims, rushing to flip his phone over. As his phone turns in his hand, his manager catches Heeseung’s smiling face on his lockscreen. He’s not alone - there’s a boy with sharp eyes and a crooked grin staring right back at him. They’re hugging closely together, their cheeks pressed against one another in a small photo booth.
“Who’s that with you?” his manager asks, trying to sound casual.
Heeseung freezes mid-chew. “A friend?”
“Are you telling me or asking me?”
Swallowing the mouthful of noodles, Heeseung’s doe-like eyes widen. “He’s a friend.”
His manager purses his lips, shrugging a little. “I don’t think I know many boys with photos of their friends as their lockscreen.”
“I..” Heeseung gulps, “h-he’s just a friend, nothing more. We’re close.”
“Relax, I wasn’t trying to insinuate anything.”
That’s not really reassuring. Heeseung is still trying to calm his racing heart when his manager speaks up again. His eyes are stuck on the dainty white-beaded bracelet around Heeseung’s wrist, a small strawberry and heart pendant dangling proudly.
(“I made you something,” Jongseong’s voice pierces through the quiet BELIFT practice room.
Heeseung raises his eyebrows. “Huh?”
The younger boy slips his hands into the pockets of his hoodie before grabbing Heeseung’s arm, quietly looping something around it. When Heeseung looks down properly at their hands, he sees a bracelet clasped around his wrist.
Jongseong smiles shyly, the crooked grin on his face igniting Heeseung’s heart in flames.
“It’s cute, isn’t it? I saw someone doing this on YouTube and I wanted to try it for myself.”
Heeseung doesn’t resist the urge to pinch at Jongseong’s cheek. “Ah, hyung!” Jongseong giggles, swatting his hand away.
“Jjongsaeng-ah,” the nickname makes Jongseong squint his eyes at him, “why are you so cute?”)
“You’re aware that dating is off the tables, aren’t you?”
We can’t always have what we want, right?
Heeseung lies wide awake that night, his body swallowed by his duvet. He doesn’t know how long he’s been laying there, but Heeseung assumes it’s been a few hours at least. It’s hard to fall asleep when his mind refuses to keep quiet.
His manager’s words keep ringing in his head. A reality that he’s been trying to ignore for a very long time suddenly pokes at him, reminding Heeseung of the things he needs to let go of.
It’s not like he doesn’t know that he needs to do this. He does. It’s been on his mind for weeks now. Sometimes the thought of it makes it hard for Heeseung to breathe and it only gets worse whenever he’s around Jongseong.
He tosses and turns in his bed until his eyes fall on his phone. Heeseung snatches it off his nightstand and switches the phone on, the bright light making him squint in the darkness of his room.
A notification blocks Heeseung and Jongseong’s faces on his lockscreen.
‘Manager Hyung-nim: Please note that you have your first shooting for your introduction film tomorrow, be ready to leave by 10am. Also, please change your lock screen.’
Heeseung tosses his phone somewhere on his bed as he shifts again, burying his head into his pillow.
Heeseung’s debut date is decided. It’s only four months after TXT debuts - which makes Heeseung feel a little nervous. Was it a good idea to debut two acts so closely together? The staff members do quite a lot to reassure him, although it does little to actually quiet the worries in Heeseung’s head.
“We’re trying out a lot of new techniques with your debut,” someone from the rookie development team says. Heeseung hates that this precious opportunity of his is being treated like an experiment, but he doesn’t complain. He knows he’s lucky enough to debut under a joint Bighit label.
The rest of January flies by in a haze. He gets the demo to his debut song on Valentines Day, which is funnily appropriate. Heeseung scans the lyrics written on the computer, headphones secured around his head as he listens to the song. Almost immediately, Heeseung falls in love with the song. It’s groovy and addicting and in the exact style Heeseung loves - a funky pop-ish song with a hint of smooth R&B. He can almost picture himself dancing a choreography to the song and it makes his heart race a little. The excitement is only amped up even further when he starts recording the song.
The PDs outside the vocal booth glance excitedly at each other, being generous with their compliments in between takes. Heeseung makes sure to take note of what the PDs like and what they don’t - when they nod approvingly after a good rift or when they grimace after a weird ad-lib. By the end of the first recording session, Heeseung is genuinely exhausted. He only breathes a lot easier once he’s stepped out of the booth and bids goodbye to the PDs.
He lets his manager drag him into a few meetings - one meant to lay out the brief timeline of his debut preparations, another for some ‘media training’ and the last one is a fitting for his music video. The music video filming isn’t meant for another few weeks - hell, he hasn’t even finished recording the song - but the stylist noonas are already fussing over Heeseung’s measurements. It all starts to feel a lot more real when he gets to the last schedule of his day - a meeting with the performance director and his team.
The choreography is — well, it’s exhausting. There are so many jumps and moves that Heeseung just knows will be a nightmare to learn, but at least his choreography isn’t boring. The performance director runs him through the ‘vibes’ they’re going for as Heeseung listens intently.
By the end of the day, Heeseung is ready to take the biggest nap of his life. He drags himself tiredly to the car, his manager waiting for him in the driver’s seat. Once he’s seated inside with a seatbelt secured around his body, Heeseung remembers that he’s barely touched his phone for the whole day. He scrambles for it in the depths of his bag, humming to himself. There’s a few emails and calendar reminders from the company that Heeseung briefly reads through.
His heart nearly escapes out of his chest when he sees the Kakao messages.
hyung!! happy valentines ㅋㅋㅋ
want to go out tonight? if you’re free?
helloooooo are you still asleep? It’s like 2pm ㅋㅋㅋ .. must be nice to have graduated already huh? damnnn i would love to wake up that late too ㅠㅠ
hyung…? are you there…?
i guess you’re busy ㅋㅋ i miss you hyung!! text me whenever u can!
“Fuck,” Heeseung cursed aloud. He checks the time before his heart drops even further. His hands fumble as he frantically presses the small call icon. Heeseung waits with his lips in between his teeth, the dial tone ringing through his right ear.
“Fuck, Jongseong, I’m so sorry,” the words came pouring out of Heeseung like a dam that cracked into half. “I was so busy and didn’t get to touch my phone at all today. Shit, I’m so sorry.”
“Hyung,” Jongseong chuckles airily from the other line. “Relax. It’s fine, I understand.”
Heeseung leans his head on the car window, staring at the passing city beside him.
“It’s not, I literally ghosted you for a whole day.”
“Sixteen hours, to be exact,” Jongseong says teasingly.
Heeseung groaned, closing his eyes tightly. “You were counting.”
“I’m just petty like that,” Jongseong muses. “I’m joking, by the way. I mean - yeah, I counted. But I’m not mad or anything. I really get it and it’s fine.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
There’s a rustle of sheets as Jongseong hums into the phone. Heeseung looks at the time on the car’s display screen. There’s only half an hour left before midnight, which just makes the guilt swell even more.
“If you apologize one more time, I’m going to scream at you.”
Heeseung laughs, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders as he sinks back into the comfortable leather seat. “Okay, okay. Don’t make me go deaf please.”
“That’s right, you need your hearing. How will you debut without them?”
Jongseong makes a noise, one that forces Heeseung’s lips to curl up in a grin.
“Nevermind, I’m sure you would find a way. You’re cool like that.”
Heeseung scoffs playfully. “You think too highly of me.”
“No, I could never,” Jongseong shoots back, although there is no real edge to his voice. Just a softness to the way he almost sighs it. Heeseung’s heart tugs. “If anyone could do it, it would be you. You’re just great like that.”
“Yah,” Heeseung is grateful Jongseong can’t see him. He doesn’t need to hear the younger boy teasing him about the blush that’s spreading across his cheeks. Heeseung makes quick work of changing the subject. “So, what did you do today?”
Jongseong hums again. “Same old, same old. Had our monthly evaluation a few days back.”
“Oh really? How did you do?”
“I uh,” there’s a tiny bit of hesitance in Jongseong’s voice. “I placed first in dance this month.”
Heeseung nearly chokes on his own spit. “What?”
“I know,” Jongseong giggles. “I thought my performance was a little meh this month, but I guess it wasn’t.”
“Oh my God,” Heeseung exclaims, the smile on his face growing wider by the second. “Jongseong-ah, that’s amazing. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I just did. Besides, you were busy.”
Heeseung hates how nonchalant Jongseong had sounded - as if Heeseung missing out on Jongseong’s milestones was normal. Maybe that was why it bugged him so much to hear the younger be so okay with him missing out on Valentine's Day.
“What did you do today?” Jongseong asks. “I want to hear all about your debut preparations. They’re probably miles more interesting than anything we’re doing here.”
“Don’t say that,” Heeseung huffs.
“Why not? It’s true.”
I hate that I’m doing all this without you. You should be right here, next to me - doing everything that I’m doing. It was supposed to be us. Heeseung itches to say that, to say the truth for once. Instead, he just grits his teeth.
“Just don’t say that,” Heeseung mumbles. “What you’re doing now is just as important.”
“Fine, I get it, hyung,” Jongseong surrenders. There’s an edge of something to his voice - one that Heeseung can’t quite put his finger on. “I still want to hear about what you did today though. Is it cool? All this debuting stuff must be so exciting, isn’t it?”
“Can we talk about something else?” Heeseung urges, a lot harsher than he means to be. Immediately, he regrets saying it. The guilt just grows as Jongseong’s silence deafens in his ear. For a while, there is nothing but just their slow breathing.
Jongseong sighs - and it’s the heaviest thing Heeseung has ever heard.
When Heeseung is all bundled up in his bed with the duvet around his body, he sees a text notification pop up on the top of his screen.
you would tell me if something is bothering you, right?
Heeseung clams up. He inhales deeply through his nose before he types out a reply.
of course i would.
Promises are a dangerous thing, Heeseung learns. He knows he shouldn’t make them so freely anymore - that it only ends up hurting people if it couldn’t be kept.
get some sleep, jongseong-ah. goodnight.
The question comes out of nowhere - even though Heeseung should be expecting it.
“What about your dating history?”
Heeseung looks up from the stack of papers on the table. Reading his contract is getting kind of tiring, Heeseung thinks, but he remembers his brother’s advice to properly read through everything before singing. He’s sure he’s gone cross-eyed from all the big, fancy words and terms he’s come across, so Heeseung wonders if he just hallucinated what he heard.
“Dating history?” Heeseung repeats.
“Yes, Heeseung-ssi. We’ll need to know about it in case anything were to come up in the future.”
Heeseung gulps nervously. “What.. what could happen?”
The staff member purses her lips and shrugs. “You know, old vengeful exes suddenly coming out on social media, claiming that you mistreated them or whatnot. The usual dating scandals, I’m sure you’ve heard of some.Who knows what kind of things some girls would do to get some attention?”
FIrst of all, Heeseung has never dated any girls.
Second of all, Jongseong isn’t like that.
He’s brought back to reality by a rough hand on his shoulder. Heeseung’s manager peers down at him, a concerned look taking over his face.
“We need you to be honest with us, Heeseung-ah.”
Heeseung takes a deep breath and looks at his manager dead in the eyes.
“Nope, I’ve never dated anyone before.”
The knowing stare he gets back says more than his manager does. Heeseung hides his hands in the pockets of his hoodie, trying to calm the trembling.
TXT debuts and the rumour mills start spinning once Bighit officially announces ‘BELIFT LAB’s launch. Heeseung watches the debut showcase from his studio apartment and Heeseung watches Bighit’s corporate briefing from the BELIFT practice room. He sits in wonder as he hears the fans cheering for his five friends. He sits in disbelief as the BELIFT CEO announces their first solo artist’s debut in mid July.
Not many details are given about Heeseung specifically, but the CEO does briefly talk about how they’re excited to debut an ‘extremely talented and versatile all-rounder who will lead 4th Gen K-Pop’. Heeseung feels his heart do backflips and somersaults when a video rolls - a grainy video of someone sitting on a stool with his back to the camera. The person is humming softly into a handheld mic. Heeseung almost drops his phone when he realizes that it’s him. That’s his head - his hair still freshly dyed auburn and that’s definitely his denim jacket - one that he had gotten measured for a few weeks back.
The video only lasts for fifteen seconds, but it’s the longest fifteen seconds Heeseung has ever felt. He lets the conference mindlessly play on his phone as he leans back, slumping against the black wall.
“Wow,” he says under his breath. “This is really happening, huh?”
It doesn’t take long for netizens to start scouring the depths of the internet, trying their hardest to find out who that voice belonged to. Heeseung forgets that there’s videos of him singing from his high school festivals, so he almost chokes on his dinner when he sees himself trending on a Naver forum.
There’s his smiling face - Heeseung realizes that it’s a photo from not long ago. He has no idea where it’s from, maybe an old Facebook selfie he forgot to delete?
‘Bighit’s New Solo Artist [Not Confirmed] - Lee Heeseung’
Right below the large photo of him are even more pictures from Heeseung’s high school days. He even recognizes some from his time at YX Dance Academy. They’re mostly blurry and not very high-definition, but some netizens are already putting side by side comparisons of his back against screenshots of him mid-dance.
‘Wowww…. he’s fucking handsome [ +3298 -5]’
‘His nose is so different now ㅋㅋㅋ [+1203 -48]’
‘He looks a little bit like Jungkook [+1398 -20]’
‘His voice is the exact same as the Bighit video, I like his vibe already [+384 -0]’
‘He’s obviously from Bighit [+39 -0]’
‘Heol…. I used to work at the convenience store near the Bighit office in Gangnam.. I always thought he had a boyfriend because he always came in with this one guy. I swear I saw them kiss once at the sandwich cooler ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ he looks exactly the same as that guy in the video ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ [+13987 -1048]’
‘Fuck off… Bighit debuts gay idols now? ㅋㅋㅋㅋ He doesn’t look gay though [+3849 -98]’
‘I hope that’s not true.. it’s just fucking gross to think about [+5904 -83]’
‘Are you all stupid? How are you going to trust some random guy on the internet?? Use your brains please -_- [ +9876 -876]’
‘Gay or not, he’s handsome as hell and sounds like he has a nice voice. Dances well too. I’ll support your debut, Heeseung-ah!! ^^ [ +345 -45 ]’
‘ㅋㅋ “Heeseung-ssi, do you have a girlfriend?” “I don’t have one.” Makes sense now ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ [ +1937 -69 ]’
‘I wonder who’s the boyfriend… Maybe a TXT member?? Or a Bighit trainee… I’m so curious [+230 -49]’
Heeseung feels his mouth go dry. His hands are shaking as he chucks his phone away. The food he’s eaten threatens to make an appearance again. The bowl of kimchi-gguk in front of him suddenly tastes vile.
Before he can run to the toilet to throw up everything in his guts, his phone rings on the table.
‘Incoming Call: Manager Hyung-nim’
“Heeseung-ah, we need to talk.”
A trembling sigh. “I know.”
Jongseong isn’t really sure when it started, but he feels it nonetheless. It’s strange really - perhaps because he’s been so used to feeling nothing but doting adoration from the older boy for years. Even if Heeseung likes nothing more than to provoke and tease him most times, it’s the warm glow in his eyes that reassures Jongseong. Whenever they bid goodbye to each other after sneaking small outings late at night, Heeseung squeezes Jongseong’s hand gently and if they’re lucky, leaves a small peck on Jongseong’s forehead.
Maybe things started changing when Heeseung was chosen to debut. Jongseong might refuse to believe it - maybe drowning in his own blissful ignorance is better than accepting the truth of their reality.
But sitting in his bedroom of eight years, Jongseong realizes that reality might just be the most painful thing in the world.
Heeseung isn’t sprawled out on his bed as he usually does. He perches awkwardly on the edge of the mattress, his hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his hoodie. The hood is drawn over his head, as if he’s hiding from Jongseong. He doesn’t try to make small talk. He just kind of stares into the floor, his jaw clenching and unclenching every few seconds.
Something’s wrong. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. Jongseong feels like he knows where this is all going.
I need to talk to you. The ominous text message that makes Jongseong’s stomach twist unpleasantly.
“What did you want to talk about?”
Jongseong breaks the silence first. Heeseung refuses to look at him. Instead, he just glues his eyes to the ground as he swallows heavily.
“I can’t do this anymore.” The words sound rehearsed - as if Heeseung had spent the past few minutes of pure silence just going over it again and again in his head. Jongseong straightens on the other side of his bed, his eyebrows raised as his chest rises up and down dangerously.
“What?” You know what he means.
“I just,” Heeseung sighs deeply, closing his eyes momentarily, “I can’t. I can’t do this thing anymore.”
Something pangs in Jongseong’s heart. He frowned, “This thing? What — you mean being my boyfriend?”
Heeseung almost flinches at the word. “Yes.”
He shouldn’t feel the betrayal swelling up his heart, but Jongseong can’t help it. The feeling crashes over him like a fierce ocean’s tide as he tries to breathe steadily. Jongseong can barely think when his mind is all cloudy and fuzzy.
“Did I do something wrong, hyung?”
Heeseung shakes his head. “No, Jongseong-ah. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Jongseong can feel the tears clouding his vision. “Then… why?”
Has Heeseung ever heard Jongseong sound so small and unsure before?
“Is it because of that Naver forum post?”
Heeseung looks up from the ground, staring at Jongseong worriedly with wide eyes. “You saw that?”
“Sunghoon sent it to me,” Jongseong mumbles. “Hyung, they can’t prove anything.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Heeseung says lowly, “I can’t risk anything. We... we were never careful.”
Jongseong frowns deeper. “What do you mean? We haven’t even gone outside together since Bighit dropped your video at the briefing. We’ve been nothing but careful.”
“Someone saw us at the convenience store. What if they go back and try to find-”
“Hyung, you’re thinking too much. They said they used to work there. Nothing’s going to happen.”
“The company knows,” Heeseung shoots back shakily. “They know, Jongseong-ah.”
“They know? Who told them?”
He feels his hands start to shake. Jongseong’s heart is beating loudly in his ears, almost deafening. “They know about us?”
“Listen, Jongseong-ah,” Heeseung breaks as he reaches his hand out for Jongseong. “I had to tell them.”
Jongseong’s lungs feel like they’re on fire, his body tugging him away from Heeseung. “W-Why would you-”
“They promised they wouldn’t tell anyone about us,” Heeseung tried to reassure him. “I had to do it, Jongseong-ah. They’re not going to tell anyone, they can’t.”
How could you tell them about us when we never told anyone ourselves?
Did you tell them that we were boyfriends? Or did you skirt around the word like you always do?
Why would you tell them without asking me first?
Did I ever cross your mind?
You don’t text me for a week and this is what you come back to me with?
Jongseong knows he’s being immature about this, about something they both know they can’t help. But he doesn’t care - not when his blood is beginning to boil inside of him.
“So what? This is it, then?”
Silence hangs in the air - the room suddenly feeling a lot colder than it did. Heeseung tears his eyes away from Jongseong, nodding his head. Their ending is not like anything Jongseong imagines. Not that Jongseong has every daydreamed about it, but whatever it was - it was certainly not supposed to happen in the safety of Jongseong’s room, a place they were both too familiar with.
Is this really how it ends?
“You, uh,” Heeseung hesitates. “You have to delete all the photos we took.”
Jongseong almost scoffs. “What?”
“The company told me to do it too. We... wWe have to make sure no one can find anything to use as evidence.”
Is he being serious?
Heeseung glances at Jongseong briefly before his eyes start flickering everywhere but at him. “You didn’t tell anyone about us, right?”
“Hyung.” Jongseong can’t hide how offended he is. “Are you kidding me?” Do you even know me?
“Jongseong, please,” Heeseung begs. “Just help me out here. Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Jongseong snaps. Everything explodes at once as he stumbles to stand, his shoulders heaving. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
Heeseung gapes up at Jongseong, clearly taken aback.
“You..” Jongseong can barely navigate the emotions that are overtaking him as he struggles to find the right words. “You’re just going to..?” He felt his throat closing up. His eyes burn with unshed tears. His fists clench tightly at his sides.
Heeseung feels his heart sink.
Jongseong doesn’t answer. He breathes deeply through his nose as he blinks feverishly.
“Could you please go?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Jongseong-ah,” Heeseung pleads, “I’m sorry, okay? I just- I can’t- I’ve worked too hard for this.”
“Hyung, please.” Jongseong’s words crack. “Go.”
The heater in Jongseong’s room hums quietly. The sound of a knife against chopping boards flutters in from the kitchen. The monotonous drone of the TV outside accompanies the deafening quiet.
Jongseong bites on the bottom of his lip so harshly that the metallic taste of blood begins to seep into his mouth. He watches as Heeseung purses his lips, grabs his coat from Jongseong’s desk chair and walks out of the room. He waits until he hears Heeseung say goodbye to his mother. He waits until he hears their front door open and lock with its usual jingle. He waits for a few more moments before he sinks back onto his bed, the ugly sob he’s been holding back ringing out through the air.
Jongseong fiddles with his phone underneath his duvet. His eyes are puffy and his throat feels drier than the sand at the Sahara Desert, but his body refuses to let him doze off to sleep. He’s stuck in the uncomfortable in-between of being so fucking exhausted and being so fucking restless.
He exits out of his Netflix, not caring that he probably missed a few climatic scenes out of the drama he’d been not really watching.
His fingers automatically bring him to his Kakao chat, where he spends most of his time on. At the top of his chat list, he sees his pinned chat with Heeseung. Jongseong clicks on Heeseung’s smiling icon - a picture of him that Jongseong remembers taking right outside the old Bighit building.
my turning point ^-^
Remove From Favourites
(“You saved my number as ‘turning point’?” Heeseung giggles as he peers over at Jongseong’s phone. His chin is resting comfortably on top of Jongseong’s shoulder, his tone all teasing and cute.
“Don’t judge,” Jongseong mumbles.
Heeseung chuckles softly, poking Jongseong on his sides. “Ow! Yah, hyung!”
“What does it mean though?”
“You know how some people go through things then come out of them as a changed or better person?”
“Well, that’s kind of what you did to me.”
“Really? How so?”
Jongseong turns his head to face Heeseung on his side, a small crooked smile gracing his lips.
“I don’t know,” Jongseong casually shrugs with a twinkle in his eyes. “You just make me better.”)
Jongseong’s finger hovers over the screen.
(The younger boy glances over at Heeseung as they sit in front of the television. The screen makes Heeseung’s eyes light up a lot more than usual - the coloured lights illuminating his face in all the right ways.
The words tiptoe on the edge of Jongseong’s tongue as Heeseung covers his mouth with his hand, laughing at whatever funny scene the drama in front of them had going on.
I love you, Jongseong craves to say.
Heeseung’s eyes wander over towards him as he tilts his head, smiling. Somehow, his hand finds its way up to the back of Jongseong’s head. He gently runs his hand through Jongseong’s dark hair.
“You’re staring,” Heeseung points out.
“I am,” Jongseong simply says back.
Heeseung does that thing - the slow blink before a lazy smile stretches out across his face. Jongseong wants to drown in whatever that is for eternity, an endless swirl of pure happiness and joy and comfort and love.
I love you.
Instead, Jongseong just leans in and presses a kiss onto Heeseung’s lips. The older boy makes a surprised noise but quickly melts into it, cradling Jongseong’s cheek in his hands. Jongseong licks into Heeseung’s mouth as he pushes him back gently so that Heeseung is lying down on the couch.
Jongseong hopes and prays that Heeseung can understand what he’s trying to say.)
‘Are you sure you want to block ‘my turning point ^-^’?’
‘Yes, I’m Sure’ or ‘No’
Heeseung’s words echo in his head.
I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore.
Jongseong presses his screen harshly.
‘my turning point ^-^’ is now blocked!
Heeseung debuts and the entire world falls in love with him. At least, that’s what it feels like on the day of his debut. He’s constantly hit with well-wishes and congratulations from everyone he knows and he’s showered with bouquets of flowers and cakes from his protocol team.
His phone doesn’t stop going off, his iPhone ‘pinging’ every time he gets a text from a relative or an old friend. He makes a mental note to reply to everyone as he makes his way through his schedules for the day. The debut showcase is terrifying, to say the least, and his hands sweat so much before the curtains are lifted.
He’s greeted by the thunderous screaming and applause once he’s finally revealed to his fans, a massive grin tugging at his lips. He dances and sings like his life depends on it, the adrenaline in his veins numbing all the tiredness from his body. It only hits once he steps off the stage, collapsing onto the sofa in the green room with happy tears rolling down his cheeks.
His team chatters excitedly as his name ends up first in Naver’s Real-Time Search list. Heeseung has to stop himself from crying again when his debut song enters MELON’s Top 100. (Even if he’s only 87th on the list, Heeseung considers it an achievement nonetheless.) The calendar on his phone starts to fill up with variety show appearances and music show schedules, which makes Heeseung practically vibrate.
It feels as if a million things are happening all at once - and Heeseung knows he should be happy. He is, of course he’s happy. He’s never quite been this happy.
It should feel like everything, but why does it start to make him feel like nothing?
Jongseong signs a contract on a bright white paper before he’s whisked away to an isolated building in the middle of the woods. He’s subjected to multiple cameras watching his every move, cameras that are hidden behind mirrors and etched onto deep corners of a room. Every interaction he makes with any trainee is recorded - either sent away to be edited with quirky subtitles and cute sound effects or buried in a deep archive of clips Mnet will hold onto for a long time.
Being on I-LAND is, well - it’s mentally and physically exhausting. He’s forced to do nothing but watch as friends and acquaintances he’s known for months say goodbye one by one, the hope of their debut fading right in front of their eyes. Every week, it’s like his entire life is on the line. So he practices without rest and gets agitated when others don’t feel the same panic. He holds onto the thought that - at least - Sunghoon and Jungwon are still with him.
He can’t afford to lose his two closest friends, so Jongseong makes an extra effort to help them when needed. It’s glaringly obvious that Jongseong has favourites though, he realizes as he watches the I-LAND clips weeks after. He dotes on Jungwon the way someone else used to, albeit with a lot more affection. Jongseong subtly hooks his arms around Jungwon’s shoulders from behind whenever they’re discussing dance moves or marking their performance. Jongseong doesn’t hold a grudge even when Sunghoon replaces him in the dance challenge. He carries Sunghoon in his arms bridal-style after the performance as Sunghoon cackles, his eyes shining with something indescribable. Sunghoon’s letter is a lot longer than anyone’s - but the two don’t mention it aloud.
During interviews in between practicing for the live performance each week, Jongseong pours his heart out about whatever it is the producers ask him. He gulps down bottles of honey in front of amused producers and he talks through his ‘Resentment, Anger and Shame’ moments. He writes goodbye letters with swollen hands as the fear of being eliminated cling tightly onto his heart.
Jongseong cooks frozen pork slices for everyone. He takes care of everyone’s laundry despite not knowing how to work the dryer. He wakes up before the sun rises out of the horizon just to make sure everyone is awake and on time for their practice.
On their last night at the I-LAND building, Jongseong spends most of it squeezed into the Rank 3 bed with Sunghoon next to him. They talk mindlessly about everything, wondering what it would be like to perform in front of their old friends and of course, BTS. When the clock hits 2am, Sunghoon turns and faces Jongseong with a perplexed look on his face.
“I meant to ask you this back when it happened, but you looked like you didn’t want to talk about it.”
Jongseong dreads what Sunghoon is going to ask. He doesn’t need to ask, he already knows by the look on Sunghoon’s face.
“You know if we debut, we’re going to see a lot of him, right?”
Jongseong huffs. “I know that.”
“Okay so,” Sunghoon raises his eyebrows, “are you gonna keep ignoring him?”
“If I can, then yeah.”
“Jongseong-ah,” Sunghoon’s back to using his real name. It sounds a little foreign to him now, even if it’s only been a few months since everyone started calling him Jay. “You have to talk to him eventually.”
Jongseong shrugs. “Who says I have to?”
“What did he even do to you?” Sunghoon exclaims softly, not hiding the exasperation in his voice.
“Nothing,” Jongseong insists, but Sunghoon just frowns deeper.
“If it was nothing, Heeseung hyung wouldn’t have kept bugging me about you. I think I deserve to know after all that,” Sunghoon hisses, although there’s no real venom in his voice. “Seriously - he never asked about me. It was always ‘is Jongseong okay’, ‘is Jongseong eating well’, ‘what’s Jongseong’s ranking this month’. It’s a miracle I didn’t block him too.”
Jongseong groans, covering his face with Sunghoon’s Chimmy doll - a gift from BTS’ Jimin that Jongseong was sure Sunghoon would murder everyone else for. Sunghoon snickers and forcefully snatches the plush toy away.
“Tell me. Or else I’ll put milk in your ramen.”
“That’s not really a threat. You know milk with ramen is delicious.”
The older boy sighs. “It’s complicated.”
“Oh yeah? Try me,” Sunghoon challenges.
And so Jongseong does, even if he’s hesitant and almost cries while retelling everything. Sunghoon listens intently, but his eyes nearly drop out of his sockets when Jongseong tells him that he was the one who kissed Heeseung first.
Jongseong snorts at Sunghoon’s eloquence.
“Yeah, I told you it was complicated,” Jongseong mumbles.
“I don’t know, is it though?” Sunghoon questions. “Like, yeah, I get that what Heeseung hyung did might have been shitty for you but at the same time, it’s not like he could help it, you know?”
“I thought you’re supposed to be on my side,” Jongseong jokes, although a small part of him is genuinely disappointed.
“I just don't really get it,” Sunghoon says softly. “Why exactly are you still mad at him? It’s not like he was the one who blocked you, you did.”
Jongseong opens his mouth to respond, but he feels himself getting stuck with what to say. He plays with Chimmy’s ears as he mulls over his feelings. “I.. I don’t know.”
Sunghoon just raised his eyebrow quietly.
“I think I was more.. disappointed? Betrayed, maybe?”
Jongseong shrugs sadly. “I don’t think I would’ve done what he did.”
“Oh? What would you have done differently then?”
There’s a brief pause as Jongseong purses his lips, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “I wouldn’t have given up so easily.”
And just like that - Sunghoon finally understands.
When his name is called second at the finale, Jongseong feels everything and nothing at the same time.
He feels the hug that Daniel immediately envelops him. He feels the hard pats on his back full of nothing but love as he hunches over, hiding his dropped jaw behind his hand. He feels his heart thumping heavily in his chest as he holds the microphone shakily. He feels the eyes on him as he tries to smoothly deliver his thank you’s. He feels Sunghoon’s tight hug as he approaches him at the stands, his eyes brimming with tears.
He doesn’t feel the immense sweep of relief that he was expecting. Instead, he only feels dread as he watches K and Daniel get eliminated. But Jongseong also feels immense pride as he greets each new member of their debut group with a hug.
Jake - who welcomes him with a gleeful grin and a handshake.
Riki - who Jongseong pats on the head fondly as he wipes the youngest’s tears away.
Jungwon - who Jongseong literally traps in a suffocating embrace. Jungwon wipes at Jongseong’s tears this time, teasing him under his breath.
And when Sunoo is announced as the final member, Jongseong reaches over to him and rubs him comfortingly on the arm. Sunoo is too busy being swarmed by the other members, so that’s all Jongseong can do to comfort him at the moment.
They stand in the middle of the stage and the overwhelming realization that his dreams have finally come true hits him like a tsunami. ENHYPEN - the name of their group. It rolls off his tongue awkwardly as he films greeting videos an hour later.
Their dorm is luxurious for a rookie group, in the middle of Gangnam’s expensive properties. Sure, all six of them sleep in bunks squeezed together into one room and maybe Jongseong doesn’t feel as suffocated yet.
Jongseong thinks he doesn’t feel the weight of being the oldest. He only feels it way later, when he’s seated in between five of his members at the dinner table over fried chicken and cola. The rest of them debate over who’s going to be the leader and Jongseong feels all five pairs of eyes fall on him. From that moment, Jongseong feels the pressure pile on bit by bit.
ENHYPEN is six. Six - it’s an uncomfortable number. It’s an even number, which is already a lot. Their choreographies are going to be a little awkward, Jongseong thinks. Someone is almost always going to be hidden behind someone else. It also breaks Bighit’s streaks of odd-numbered groups.
ENHYPEN is six. And Jongseong can’t help but feel like something is missing.
The next few weeks fly by in a whirl.
Belift appoints Jungwon as ENHYPEN’s leader and Jongseong wants to punch somebody because of it. Not out of jealousy, but out of fear and worry. Jungwon is barely sixteen - how the hell is he supposed to lead their group where everyone except Riki is older than he is? Jongseong wants to protest and yell at their team, but he sits there with a hard look on his face instead. When Jungwon approaches him later that day with worry creasing his eyebrows, Jongseong makes a pact to himself.
No matter what it takes, Jongseong is going to make sure Jungwon gets all the help he needs.
It’s not like Jongseong minds the pressure on him. He kind of thrives off of it, the extra push to always do better because damn it, he’s the mathyung of this group. He encourages everyone to push and practice harder everyday, wanting to set a good example for his younger members. He takes charge in VLIVES when their silence gets too prolonged and he holds the maknaes close to him in an airport mob, sending the most menacing glare he can to the ‘fans’ invading their privacy.
There’s only six more days until their debut, which terrifies and excites Jongseong beyond belief. Although he tries to maintain a mildly positive mindset, he finds himself worrying more than anything else. It’s hard for Jongseong to even point out what exactly he’s mulling over in his head. Frankly, it’s hard for him to properly think when he’s constantly with five other noisy teenagers.
Their bedroom is tiny compared to the actual size of their house, with three bunk beds squeezed tightly into one room. Even when Jongseong is all wrapped up in his own blanket on the bottom bunk nearest to the door, he still finds it too suffocating to really think.
Jongseong considers talking to someone about it - but as he surveys the room before bed, he notices how exhausted the other five are. Sunghoon can barely keep his eyes open as he trudges over to the bunk bed’s ladder. Jake is already huddled underneath his blanket, fast asleep. Riki and Sunoo are sprawled out on Sunoo’s bed, a hushed conversation whispered between each other. Jongseong doesn’t have it in his heart to approach Jungwon about the bubble of feelings in his chest - not when dark circles are beginning to show more frequently on the sixteen year old.
That’s how Jongseong ends up sneaking out of their front door at three in the morning, a dark hoodie pulled over his head and a black mask covering most of his face. He wears a bucket hat pulled down so low that no one can see his eyes, as he likes it.
When he steps out of the apartment, he’s not sure where he wants to go. He just lets his legs bring him wherever they want and somehow, he ends up at a familiar convenience store. The small building is exactly how he remembers it to be - the LED sign still flickering with one missing letter. There are the same amount of benches, tables and chairs outside and it smells the same - a nostalgic concoction of instant ramen and fried food.
Jongseong doesn’t recognize the cashier at the counter, which is good. He wanders over to the sandwich cooler and funnily enough - there are exactly two strawberry cream sandwiches left. The packaging hasn’t changed at all since he last had it, which was a month before Heeseung’s debut. He couldn’t even stomach looking at it most of the time, much less eating it again.
Huh, fuck it.
Jongseong swipes up one of them and grabs a small bottle of banana milk before he can stop himself. He quickly pays for it as he keeps his head low, sighing in relief when he realizes that the cashier doesn’t even know who he is. Although it’s fucking freezing outside, Jongseong settles down on one of the seats outside and opens his sandwich gingerly. He sniffs it, almost chuckling at how familiar it all was. The sweet scent of strawberries and freshly baked bread wafted out of the packaging as Jongseong slowly bit into it.
It’s all almost too familiar and Jongseong doesn’t know why the lump in his throat nearly chokes him.
He freezes, almost dropping the sandwich on the ground.
Heeseung is surprised when Jongseong doesn’t get up and run. The younger boy just continues to sit and holds on tightly to his sandwich, as if Heeseung might just reach over and snatch it away from him.
“Hey,” Heeseung lamely says again, cringing at the way his voice squeaked.
Jongseong stares up at him with wide eyes. “Hi.”
Heeseung points to the empty seat in front of Jongseong. “Do.. Do you mind?”
He expects a curt ‘no’ or maybe even a ‘fuck off’, but instead, Jongseong just shrugs.
Good, we’re getting somewhere here.
Sitting down quietly, Heeseung lays his own sandwich on the table. It’s the same strawberry cream sandwich. Jongseong keeps his eyes glued on his hands. The air outside makes Heeseung’s hands numb, so he noisily blows some warm air into them and rubs them vigorously. He obnoxiously plasters on the fakest grin he can muster underneath his mask.
“The weather is pretty cool, huh?”
Jongseong just raises an eyebrow at Heeseung, the judgement evident in his sharp eyes. Really? That’s what you’re going to open with?
Heeseung drops the fake smile and sighs. “Okay, that was shit. Sorry.”
Jongseong shrugs again. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You don’t need to,” Heeseung says. “I know we haven’t really spoken in a long time but I can still tell when you think my jokes are lame.”
It’s a pathetic attempt at lightening the mood and Heeseung knows that. “Right,” Jongseong just mumbles.
Heeseung fiddles with the plastic on his sandwich. They fall into another hole of silence until Heeseung sighs deeply.
“Sunbaenim,” Jongseong says, cutting him right off, “you don’t have to do whatever this is.”
“I-I’m not trying to do anything,” Heeseung chokes out. “And drop the honorific, Jongseong-ah. Stop calling me that. I.. I just wanted to say hi and check up on you.”
Jongseong shakes his head. “Exactly. You don’t need to, I’m fine.”
“Then why are you out here at 3am?”
“Why are you here?” Jongseong shoots back.
Heeseung hesitates. “I like it when it’s quiet here.”
“Well, you’re here too, aren’t you?”
Where is this conversation going?
Jongseong doesn’t reply him, even though his jaw clenches tightly. Great, nice going, Heeseung. Why don’t you just slap him in the face while you’re at it?
“Sorry,” Heeseung mutters. “I didn’t mean to be...”
He trails off slowly, not quite knowing what to say. The air is so tense around them that Heeseung nearly suffocates on the awkwardness of it all. It’s strange - being with Jongseong used to be so easy. Jongseong is anything but pliant around other people, but with Heeseung, it’s always a different story. At least, that’s how it used to be like.
Looking at Jongseong now, Heeseung isn’t sure if he recognizes him. Of course, Jongseong physically looks different - his hair is bleached platinum blonde and he has a new pair of glasses. But there’s no small, crooked smile that Jongseong used to freely give him. Instead, it’s just a poker face that Heeseung can’t even decipher. It’s terrifying - to look at someone and realize that you did that to them.
“Why did you block me?”
The question escapes Heeseung before he can stop it. He immediately regrets it - wincing just as the words leave his mouth.
Jongseong just stares at him, an eyebrow raised. “Does it matter now?”
What? “Of course it does,” Heeseung frowns. “Just because we.. we, you know-”
A scoff. “What? Because we broke up?” Jongseong shakes his head, a humourless laugh rolling out of him. “You can’t even say it, can you?”
“Because we broke up,” Heeseung repeats in a louder voice. “I can say it perfectly fine, okay?”
“Sure,” Jongseong huffs, turning his head to face the empty road beside them.
The air is thick with a newfound hostility. Heeseung has never been this careful around Jongseong - scrutinizing every pebble in their conversation just so he can get around safely. It’s a tough line to not cross, but Heeseung’s honesty was bursting to be felt. “I still wanted to be friends, you know?”
“Did you really think we would still be friends after all that?” Jongseong asks, almost as if it’s the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. “You made it very clear that you didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“That’s not true,” Heeseung leans forward in his seat, “You didn’t even let me explain.”
“Because you left!” Jongseong exclaims, not even trying to hide the disbelief on his face. “You left first, remember?”
“You told me to go!”
“God, hyung, you’re so stupid!” Jongseong’s voice grows louder with agitation. “You weren’t actually supposed to go! You were supposed to stay and we were supposed to fight about it before we would work it out. That’s how shit like this is supposed to go, isn’t it?”
Heeseung lets out a breath he doesn’t even realize he’s holding as he stares dumbfoundedly at Jongseong’s sudden outburst. Jongseong is fuming now, his shoulders heaving up and down frantically. His sharp eyes pierce through Heeseung’s and they’re anything but angry. No, there’s nothing but sadness and disappointment and betrayal in them.
“But you left,” Jongseong continues. “You didn’t even try to see me the next day. You just disappeared like you were never around in the first place, like you didn’t exist in my life anymore. You never tried, hyung. You just let everything happen.”
Heeseung feels his chest ache. “Jongseong-”
“None of this was ever about the company or being an idol,” Jongseong’s voice wavers like he’s going to break out into tears at any moment. “It was about how much you wanted me. And you very clearly didn’t like me enough to do anything about it.”
“I liked you so much. Fuck, I loved you, hyung. I loved you so much and you knew that. You can’t tell me that you didn’t. I would’ve done everything I could to make sure I could keep you and even if I couldn’t, God - I wouldn’t have tried to sweep us under the carpet. I wouldn’t have treated you like some dirty secret.”
A ringing sound in Heeseung’s ears. Jongseong’s words fully sink in after a few seconds, nausea fluttering in his stomach.
Jongseong leans back in his chair, looking exasperated as he shakes his head. Something crosses over his face - a look filled with doubt and dread. “I mean, were you just with me because I always made you feel like you were this great big person? Did you even like me?”
Heeseung’s cheeks burned. It was almost offensive for him to hear Jongseong say something like that. “What? Jongseong, of course I liked you. I liked you so much.”
“You never liked me as much as I loved you.”
“That’s not true,” Heeseung pleads. “Jongseong, I-I..” It’s hard for him to say it. Love - it’s a terrifying thing. It’s much too big and impossible for Heeseung to comprehend, especially sitting in that freezing December night with nothing but Jongseong’s vulnerability threatening to spill out in front of him.
Jongseong doesn’t even seem fazed by the way Heeseung is hesitating. He just nods and stares down at his hands.
“You’ve never hurt me like that before,” Jongseong softly says, “I know it’s kind of immature and selfish for me to be like this, but fuck. I hate that you acted like I was something that needed to be erased.”
The air biting at Heeseung’s skin feels just as cold as Jongseong’s words.
“I’m sorry,” Heeseung says after a while, “I didn’t mean for you to feel that way.”
But I felt it anyway, Jongseong thinks. “It’s fine. It’s whatever now, anyways. It was a long time ago.”
“It’s not,” Heeseung knows the truth. “But you’re right. I’m sorry. There’s so many things I should’ve done. I should’ve never just given you up like that and I never meant to erase you from my life or anything. That was the last thing I wanted.”
“I can’t change what I did last year. I wish I could, but I can’t. But I want to try fixing them now. I still want to be in your life and I want you to be a part of mine. I’ve missed you so much, Jongseong-ah. It’s been so hard and if I’m being honest, the past year has been kind of miserable.”
There’s something about the way Heeseung earnestly admits everything, his doe-like eyes practically begging for a second chance. It shouldn’t feel relieving to see Heeseung so desperate for Jongseong’s forgiveness - but it feels bittersweet to him anyways. I guess it hurt him too.
“You can’t say that,” Jongseong breathes out. “You can’t. You debuted and you’re doing everything you’ve always wanted. You should be enjoying it all.”
“That’s the thing, isn’t it? I should be. But.. it’s just been hard.” And lonely. So fucking lonely. “And I couldn’t talk to the one person who I knew would tell me to knock it off.”
There it is again - the slight poke and prod of playfulness that Jongseong had grown used to at one point. It’s a simple remark but it ignites the familiar flourish in Jongseong’s gut.
“I wouldn’t have told you to knock it off,” Jongseong says in a small voice. “I know it’s not that easy.”
Heeseung chuckles softly. “Yeah, I know you wouldn’t have. You would’ve said something else incredibly insightful that would have forced me to knock it off. You were always good at that.”
He takes something else out of his plastic bag - a familiar bottle of banana milk. He holds it out for Jongseong like a peace offering. “Can we start over? Clean slate and all that?”
Jongseong feels a million things wash over him at once.
Because Jongseong is exhausted from holding a grudge. Because Jongseong will never admit it to anyone out loud, but he misses Heeseung looking at him like this. Because Jongseong knows he always has a space in his heart for Heeseung.
Because no matter how long he’s convinced himself that he despises Heeseung, Jongseong knows that he can never hate him. Because Jongseong loved Heeseung and still loves him, even with the gap they both buried themselves in. Because the hope in Heeseung’s eyes blinds the inkling fear of being hurt by him again.
Because at that moment outside the convenience store with their sandwiches and banana milk in the freezing winter night, Jongseong lets himself trust Heeseung again.
Jongseong takes the bottle of milk from Heeseung. A weight lifts off Jongseong’s chest and suddenly, it’s just a tiny bit easier to breathe.
When the six of them are sitting in the BELIFT practice room with packed lunch boxes in front of them, Jongseong feels his phone vibrate next to him.
nice to see that im no longer blocked! ㅎㅎㅎ
Jongseong rolls his eyes, although it doesn’t stop the small smile from tugging at his lips.
never in my life have i seen someone so happy to get unblocked by me
A sticker of Ryan holding out his thumb appears on Jongseong’s screen.
but this is ok right? you don’t mind if i text you and stuff..?
i can stop if you want. boundaries and stuff you know
His fingers hover over the screen.
“Who are you texting?” Sunoo pipes up, craning his head to peek at Jongseong’s phone. The older boy snaps his head up, shielding his screen away from him.
“No one,” Jongseong tries to lie. But in true Kim Sunoo fashion, he sees right through Jongseong.
“What is this? Do you have a secret girlfriend or something?” he teases, still trying to take a peek at Jongseong’s screen. “Are we even allowed to date?”
Jongseong just shoves Sunoo away gently with a chuckle. “When did I ever say that I was attracted to girls?” Jongseong immediately freezes after saying that, looking like a deer in headlights as he gapes at Sunoo, horrified. He feels everyone’s eyes on him as the entire table stops talking. The silence is almost eerie.
Sunoo stares back at Jongseong with wide eyes. Slowly, a smile nearly overwhelms his entire face.
“Hyung,” Sunoo starts. Someone at the table is giggling - Jongseong knows it’s Riki.
“Oh God, this is not how-” Jongseong groans, burying his head in his hands. “This was not how I was supposed to come out to you guys.”
“I’m so sorry,” Sunoo is wheezing at this point, his eyes twinkling as he envelops Jongseong in a side hug, “I’m sorry for assuming, oh my God. I’m sorry for laughing too but hyung!”
Jongseong squirms in Sunoo’s embrace. “I-It’s okay, Sunoo-yah.”
“Okay, maybe it’s because I’ve been with Jay since forever but.. you guys couldn’t tell?” Sunghoon says from his end of the table.
Jake looks like he’s stuck between wanting to laugh and cry. He sort of does both, his awkward laugh ringing out throughout the room. “We’re supposed to be able to tell?”
“Jay hyung,” Riki laughs from in front of him, “I knew it. I knew it!”
“What do you mean ‘you knew it’?” Jongseong loudly questions, “None of you know shit!”
“Hey, I knew,” Jungwon remarked proudly, still shovelling rice into his mouth. “Jay hyung told me way before I-LAND.”
Sunghoon frowns, “He did? He only told me a week or two before we signed our contracts for the show.” He turns to face Jongseong with a bewildered look. “You told Jungwon before me?”
“Guys, I literally just involuntarily came out in front of all of you and this is what we’re discussing right now?” Jongseong squeaks, finally free from Sunoo’s embrace.
Sunoo drapes an arm over his shoulder and pats it comfortingly. “It’s okay, we can get a cake and blow some candles for you later. Do you want it to have a big rainbow on the top?”
“What?” Jongseong feels like he’s going to start crying. There’s an unsteady feeling bubbling in his chest, one that threatens to send Jongseong into a full blown sobbing fit. But there’s also this warm feeling that settles deep within his chest as he surveys the five boys around him. “You’re all not freaked out or anything?”
Jungwon tilts his head, reaching his hand out to gently hold onto Jongseong’s arm.
“Why would we be, hyung?” he asks. “I don’t think it changes anything.”
“Well, it kind of does,” Sunoo exclaims.
He smirks playfully at Jongseong, looking sly as ever.
“So you were texting a boy then,” Sunoo giggles.
Jongseong can’t help the smile from crawling onto his face. “You brat.”
hey, is it okay if i tell the kids about us?
ahh, you mean your members? ㅋㅋㅋ
yeah. i didn’t want to say anything before i asked you about it first.
it’s just that i came out to all of them and yeah. i just want to tell them.
you trust them right?
not with my life but i do trust them
ㅋㅋㅋ okay then im fine with it
… thank you for asking me though
thank you for letting me tell them :)
also, no. i don’t mind you texting me at all. ^_^
ENHYPEN debuts and Jongseong can already feel how much his life has changed. He no longer attends school as much anymore, only popping by in the mornings for the sake of attendance before getting whisked away to a music show schedule or other idol responsibilities. He spends the first few days of his debut trying to adjust to waking up at ass o’clock just to film this or that and only returns home when there are a handful of cars driving down the Seoul highways. It’s a lot tougher than what I-LAND was like but Jongseong doesn’t mind it, because for once, he feels like his years of work have finally really paid off. This was the idol life he dreamed of - one that he could only fantasize about while slaving away at the trainee practice rooms in Bighit.
They don’t win any music shows during their Given-Taken promotions, but Jongseong is strangely okay with it. Being part of ENHYPEN and being an actual idol was already more than he could ask for and Jongseong decides to worry about awards and trophies in time. His contract lasts for seven years and that’s a lot of time for achievements. Besides, ENHYPEN is already doing extremely well for a debut group. Jongseong listens to Jungwon rave excitedly about all the achievements they’ve gotten with their debut album.
On a rainy morning at the Music Bank waiting room, Jongseong hears his phone go off.
heeseung hyung: wahhhh, our jongseong is cool..!! ㅋㅋ fighting for mubank!! will be watching here at hybe ^^
The message is accompanied by a selfie of Heeseung in front of a computer screen, holding up a thumbs up as the Given-Taken music video plays in the background. It’s paused right at the part after the chorus, the one where Jongseong leads the entire group in the song’s ‘killing part’.
Jongseong can’t help but smile at the photo. Cute.
"Ey, is that Heeseung sunbaenim?” Jake's voice interrupts Jongseong’s little trance.
His cheeks turn pink at the teasing. “Shut up.”
“I didn’t say anything!” Jake protests, even though he ends up giggling.
Jongseong rolls his eyes before tilting his phone away from Jake, subtly clicking on the ‘Save Picture’ option.
Heeseung and Jongseong don’t meet up when the year draws to a close, but they see each other frequently either way. Given-Taken promotions barely draw to a close before ENHYPEN is thrown into award show schedules, at least half a dozen special performances that they have to prepare for. They perform at MAMA a few days after their debut and they win a Rookie Of The Year award at The Fact Music Awards. Jongseong stands proudly as he cradles the trophy close to his chest, nodding along to Jungwon’s thank you speech.
In between their pre recorded performances and award ceremonies, the six of them spend a lot of time just waiting around in cold rooms. The maknaes spend a lot of the time playing around on Riki’s switch while the older kids take naps or occupy themselves with their phones.
A notification pops up as Jongseong is halfway through a ‘What If All Humans Disappeared From Earth?’ YouTube video.
hey, congrats on the award!! let the other kids know i said congrats! 🤗
are you still here at tfma?
thanks hyung :) i’ll let them know
yup, we’re waiting to perform in a bit
can i see you? im leaving in ten minutes but i just want to say hi
Jongseong feels something flutter in his chest.
i’ll come to you, im getting restless anyways :) which room are you in?
Christmas Eve approaches and BELIFT finally gives the six of them their first break since debut. They film a bunch of TikToks to upload before going off for their holidays and the dorm is once again rowdy with everyone trying to pack. It’s only a three day break, but Sunghoon and Jongseong fuss over what to bring back home.
Sunoo leaves the dorm with Sunghoon in tow, ready to head to Gyeonggi together. Jake and Jungwon leave second, sharing a car to their family homes. Jongseong sits in the living room with his overnight bag as he waits for the youngest to finish packing up the last of his stuff. Riki doesn’t have anyone to go home to since his entire family is in Japan, so Jongseong offers to stay with him over Christmas break at Jongseong’s place. The way Riki’s eyes light up after that was truthfully very adorable.
The two of them finally squeeze into the company car together, practically vibrating from excitement as they chatter about what they wanted to do. The trip to Jongseong’s home isn’t so long, but Riki falls asleep after five minutes anyways.
Jongseong hears his music fade into a lower volume as a text comes in.
hey!! heard you went on a break?
Jongseong sends an animated Ryan sticker, the character jumping in celebration.
ahh, a well-deserved break. you’ve worked hard these past few months, jongseong-ah 👍
You too, hyung! You must be busy since you’re making a comeback in a few weeks, right?
that’s right ㅠㅠㅠㅠ no christmas break for me ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ
ㅜ_ㅜ don’t overwork yourself, hyung! take breaks!!
i will, jongseong-ah. thank you ㅎㅎ
let’s meet up soon and hang out..? only if you want to
i mean you dont have to since you’ll be with your family and you’re american and i know christmas is important to you so you dont have to meet up with me if you dont want to
There it is - the tiny butterflies in Jongseong’s stomach exploding.
hyung, relax ㅎㅎ yes, let’s meet up. when are you free?
how about tonight? just come over?
see you then :)
Being in the same room with Heeseung again makes Jongseong feel all sorts of things. Of course, they see each other and make small talk at the Bighit office. But standing in the middle of Heeseung’s tiny kitchen with no one else around them is kind of harrowing. The last time that they were alone like this was when Heeseung broke up with him.
Jongseong shouldn’t have any reason to be nervous or tense, hell he’s already accepted Heeseung’s apology and he would like to think that they’re friends again. Despite all that, Jongseong still stands outside of Heeseung’s apartment with his finger barely hovering over the doorbell. The only reason why Jongseong doesn’t end up running away is all thanks to his phone’s obnoxious text notification ringing out through the air. Before Jongseong could panic about anything, Heeseung was already opening the door with a nervous smile.
He wills for his legs to stop trembling as he watches Heeseung make them cups of tea, his hands moving between the kettle and the matching white cups.
“Did it take long for you to find my apartment?” Heeseung asks, breaking the silence. The awkwardness still hangs in the air as the sound of Heeseung’s television blares quietly in the living room.
“No, I found it just fine,” Jongseong politely says. “It’s, uh, not far from my house actually.”
“Yeah, I know. Your parents still live in Gangnam, right?”
“Right,” Jongseong nods. Heeseung turns around from his counter as he gestures for Jongseong to sit at his dining table. It’s a small wooden table with only two chairs, a vase with a dying bouquet of flowers resting at the side. Jongseong eyes the vase, not knowing whether he’s allowed to laugh or not.
“Oh,” Heeseung’s cheeks flush when he spots the flowers. He rushes to snatch the vase away. “Sorry, I think I forgot to throw these out. They look gross, don’t they?”
Jongseong barely gets a reply out as Heeseung fumbles to toss the flowers in the trash, quickly placing the vase in the sink. He stops for a second as he spots something else on his kitchen counter. “Oh right, do you want some honey with your tea? Do you still like it like that?”
He remembers. “I still drink my tea like that,” Jongseong smiles, "I’ll have some honey, thanks.”
A relieved grin spreads across Heeseung’s lips as he returns to the table, a bottle of honey in his hands. The plastic is still wrapped tightly around the cover. Jongseong notices that it’s the exact brand of honey that he always used to snack on as a trainee. Heeseung struggles to open the bottle, his lips pursed as his forehead crinkles with frustration.
“What the hell,” he mumbles to himself.
Jongseong laughs airily as he reaches his hand out. “Here, hyung, let me do it.”
Their fingers brush over each other’s. Jongseong feels a jolt of something as his eyes flicker up at Heeseung almost shyly. Heeseung stares back at him with wide eyes, his Adam’s apple bobbing harshly.
Jongseong shifts his gaze back to the bottle, forcefully removing the plastic off the bottle. Once it's opened, Jongseong quietly squeezes some honey into the warm tea. He thanks Heeseung quietly as they stir their teas with their spoons. It’s silent once again except for the clanging of spoons against glass.
“I, uh,” Heeseung’s voice echoes off the walls of his kitchen, “I voted for you on I-LAND.”
Jongseong raises his eyebrows in surprise. “You did? Wait, you watched the show?”
“Of course! I watched it whenever I got home from work on Friday’s."
“No way,” Jongseong chuckles. “Seriously?”
“Yeah!” Heeseung exclaims with a proud toothy smile. “I voted for you every week. I even made a Wevserse account, I can prove it to you.”
Jongseong leans back in his chair as he laughs loudly, covering his eyes with his hand. Heeseung’s heart soars high above when he sees that, feeling a lot more relaxed now.
“Ah, thank you, hyung. You’re part of the reason why I debuted, I guess.”
Heeseung shakes his head with a smile. “People were going to vote for you to debut regardless. Seriously - you were so great on that show. I would’ve wreaked havoc on Mnet and Bighit if you didn’t end up on the debut lineup.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Jongseong giggles, but he sends Heeseung a meaningful smile. “Thank you though. You didn’t have to.. especially since I was kind of a dick to you.”
Heeseung tilts his head. “You were?”
“You don’t have to pretend like I wasn’t,” Jongseong sighs. “I’ve actually been wanting to talk to you about this.”
Gripping the handle of his cup nervously, Heeseung quietly lets Jongseong continue.
“I shouldn’t have blocked you.”
Heeseung perks up to say something but Jongseong shakes his head.
“And no, don’t say it’s fine. Because it wasn’t. I was angry that you let me go so easily, but I also cut off the only way you could’ve talked to me. How were you supposed to communicate with me when you couldn’t even call or text? You were busy with your debut stuff and it was unfair of me to expect you to just drop everything to come and see me. And when you tried to talk to me again at I-LAND, I was an asshole and didn’t let you say anything to me.”
Jongseong cups his hands around his mug, letting the warmth of his tea calm his nerves. “I’m sorry. Whatever happened between us - it wasn’t just because of you. I was partly at fault too because I was stubborn and immature and childish. You didn’t deserve that either, you were going through a lot and I just made it about me.”
Heeseung seemed stunned by the sudden apology, his lips parted slightly as he stared back at Jongseong. “All of a sudden?”
Jongseong shrugs a little. “I had a lot of time to think after I debuted. Who knew car rides from Bighit to broadcast stations and filming sites could take so long, you know? And honestly, Sunoo kind of knocked some sense into me.”
“Yeah,” Jongseong chuckles. “After I sat everyone down and told them about, you know, us.. he was the first one to question me.”
Jongseong still remembers the way Sunoo straightened up on Jongseong’s bunk bed. (“No offense hyung, but how did you expect Heeseung sunbaenim to fight for you when you wouldn’t even let him talk to you? Aren’t relationships supposed to be a two-way thing?”)
“Oh,” Heeseung nods slowly, biting gently on his bottom lip. “Well, I forgive you then. Clean slate and all that, remember?”
“Yeah, of course,” Jongseong lets a small, crooked smile tug at his lips. “Clean slate.”
They spend the next few hours of Christmas Eve talking, until the time passes by them in a blur. Jongseong almost forgets how funny Heeseung is until his sides ache by the end of the night, having laughed boisterously at Heeseung’s anecdotes. Turns out, being a solo artist is unsurprisingly eventful. Heeseung has quite a few friends from a few of the other 4th gen idol groups and he makes Jongseong swear to not speak of the gossip to anyone else. It’s not like Jongseong would run his mouth off to anyone, Heeseung knows that.
In turn, Jongseong shares stories about what happened during I-LAND. Heeseung asks about different trainees and Jongseong tries to remain objective about everyone, but can’t help snitching on some shady stuff some trainees did.
Sitting together in Heeseung’s living room, Jongseong realizes that he falls into being with Heeseung easily. It’s almost as if nothing happened, as if the last year didn’t exist and they were still two hopeful best friends waiting for their chance to debut. It knocks the wind out of Jongseong’s lungs when he realizes that Heeseung hasn’t really changed much either.
He still knows the right buttons to push whenever he’s teasing and he still knows how to reassure Jongseong after. He still knows what kind of jokes make Jongseong laugh and he still knows which anecdotes Jongseong would like to hear about.
Even though Heeseung’s hair is now a dark green and his shoulders are a lot broader than he remembers, Jongseong knows underneath all that, Heeseung is still the same person he’s known from all those years ago. There’s one glaring difference though — Heeseung is a lot more confident and self-assured.
It’s obvious in the way he talks about his music, somehow managing to tiptoe at the right balance of humbleness and confidence. It’s nice to see Heeseung no longer deny compliments that Jongseong gives out very freely that night, although he still smiles shyly while accepting them.
Riki calls Jongseong half an hour past midnight, sleepily asking him when he would come home.
“I’ll head home now,” Jongseong reassures the younger boy through the phone. “Just go to bed first, okay?”
Riki mumbles something else before Jongseong hangs up, shooting an apologetic smile at Heeseung.
“Sorry, my youngest son is calling me back home,” Jongseong jokes.
Heeseung giggles. “Yeah, you should head back now. Father duties and all that.”
“Being a single parent is hard,” Jongseong playfully sighs.
“It’s kind of cute actually,” Heeseung says as they slowly walk over to the front door. The hallway between the living room and the front door is only lit dimly by a small orange light above them. Underneath the shadows of the dark, Heeseung doesn’t miss Jongseong’s confused look.
“You’re the mathyung, right?” Heeseung asks, to which Jongseong nods. “It’s just nice to see you take care of the younger ones. I mean - even when we were trainees, you took care of me more than I did for you and I kind of feel sorry about that. But seeing you look after everyone now.. it’s obvious that you love those kids a lot. I don’t know, it’s just cute.”
“And,” Heeseung feels a little hesitant about the amount of sincerity he’s about to unload on Jongseong. “I’m proud of you. Really. I’m proud of the person you’ve become since we were trainees and I’m proud of you for debuting. Even if we weren’t friends anymore, I think I’d still feel a shit ton of pride whenever I think of you.”
I can’t believe someone like you used to love me. Heeseung wants to say.
But he doesn’t, because Jongseong is looking at him like he hangs the stars in the skies. It’s a familiar sight - one reminiscent of all those times Jongseong used to look at him years ago.
“Hyung,” Jongseong softly says, his eyes boring into Heeseung’s. Something between them changes like a switch and suddenly, the entire world is dead to Heeseung. The only thing he can focus on is Jongseong - with his sharp eyes and the small line on his bottom lip and the freckles that sprinkle across his cheeks.
Heeseung notices that Jongseong isn’t wearing his glasses today. Why did you wear lenses, you idiot? I know you hate wearing them.
They’re so quiet now that the sound of the Seoul traffic outside floods into the apartment. Heeseung can barely hear Jongseong’s slow breathing as they stand together underneath the light.
“Hyung,” Jongseong tries again, his eyes blinking frantically as he licks his lips nervously.
Heeseung feels his chest tighten as he clears his throat, stepping back from Jongseong. “Uh, yeah. You should get back before it gets too late, Jongseong-ah.”
Jongseong’s shoulders slump as he swallows heavily, looking down at his socks. “I should.”
Heeseung shakily opens the door, trying to seem nonchalant as he plasters on the biggest smile he can muster. “It was nice to talk to you again, Jongseong-ah. Properly.”
“Of course,” Jongseong smiles back weakly.
“We should hang out more, you know? When my comeback is done and our schedules calm down.”
Jongseong nods. “We should.”
He looks like he’s about to say something else, but Jongseong quickly shuts his mouth and steps out of the house slowly.
“I’ll see you around, hyung. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, Jongseong-ah. Goodnight.”
Heeseung closes the door as Jongseong turns his back. He leans against the cold metal of his front door, patting his chest to try and calm his racing heart. “What was that, you idiot?” Heeseung mumbles to himself.
The heavy feeling doesn’t leave his chest, making it hard for Heeseung to breathe. He doesn’t hear the doorbell go off until he feels the heavy thumps of knocking against his back. Huh?
Heeseung swings open the door only to be ambushed by someone throwing themselves onto him, wrapping their arms around his neck.
“Jongseong-ah?” Heeseung breathes out. “W-What?”
Jongseong doesn’t reply. He just hugs Heeseung tighter. Heeseung slowly relaxes and reciprocates, leaning his cheek against the side of Jongseong’s head - just like he used to do. They stand there at Heeseung’s front door for a good minute as Heeseung’s heart threatens to explode out of his chest.
When Jongseong steps away from the hug, his cheeks are stained a light pink.
“I, uh,” he cleared his throat, “I just wanted to do that.”
“Oh,” Heeseung replies. “Okay.”
“Goodnight, hyung,” Jongseong squeaks, before he turns on his feet and scurries away from Heeseung’s apartment. Heeseung’s arms are still tingling, even when Jongseong is long gone. He stands dumbfounded in front of his house, his door still wide open.
Good God, this boy will be the death of Heeseung.
Getting to know Heeseung again is like riding a bike after a very long time. At first, it’s scary and Jongseong is sure he’s going to fall off and somehow, something will go wrong again. But once they slot each other into their lives again and Jongseong feels the balance settle in, it’s as easy as walking.
Heeseung’s busier than ever now that he’s preparing for a worldwide tour and Jongseong hasn’t had a break since Christmas, preparing diligently for ENHYPEN’s comeback. They text almost everyday, but don’t dwell on the days of silence. When the HYBE Yongsan building finally finishes construction and everyone moves into the massive office, the two manage to spend some sneaky moments together in Heeseung’s studio.
They don’t really do much when Jongseong slips away to Heeseung’s studio. They mostly just sit and talk while chatting about whatever it was they felt like talking about. The tinge of awkwardness that hangs around them whenever they’re together quickly disappears two weeks after Christmas. Sometimes, Heeseung still can’t believe that they’re friends again.
It’s a week before Heeseung goes off for his world tour. Jongseong is sitting snugly on a beanbag with one of Heeseung’s jackets wrapped around his body.
“Hyung,” Jongseong whines. “Come and eat this tteokbokki before it gets cold. I literally got it delivered just for you.”
“Give me a second, Jongseong-ah,” Heeseung mutters from the desk. “I almost have a grip on this melody.”
Jongseong huffs and leans back on the chair, stretching his body quietly. His body is still sore from the dance practice he’s had earlier. This new title track is actually going to kill him. Why did they all need to jump so many times? Did they really need to move on the ground like they’re in some kind of rotating microwave? Isn’t it enough to just stand on stage and sing and look pretty?
At least it looks cool, Jongseong muses in his head.
“Jongseong-ah,” Heeseung calls, “come here for a sec.”
“Just come here.”
Jongseong lets out an exaggerated groan as he gets up from the beanbag, waddling over towards the empty desk chair beside Heeseung. He plops down on the seat. “What’s up?”
Heeseung just forces a pair of headphones on Jongseong’s head.
“I need you to listen to this and tell me if it’s any good,” Heeseung says, still fiddling around with stuff on his laptop. “Ignore my voice, by the way. I’m still trying to figure out the lyrics too.”
Jongseong crosses his arms and nods, gesturing for Heeseung to play the song.
A melodic tune pours out of the headphones and Jongseong already finds himself grooving to the intro. It’s a lighthearted beat that quickly evolves into something more once Heeseung starts singing. It’s hard to ignore Heeseung’s honey-like voice, so Jongseong just grooves to it. He nods his head to the beat and hums along to the catchy chorus.
Heeseung watches with a smile as Jongseong’s lips form a focused pout. After all these years, Jongseong still makes the same face when he’s paying full attention to something. It’s adorable, really. It makes Heeseung want to pinch Jongseong’s cheek and his hand itches to do so. Heeseung takes a proper look at Jongseong.
The younger boy’s hair is no longer blonde, instead a familiar shade of black. His hair falls over his forehead perfectly, framing his face nicely. He’s still wearing the dangly heart earring from all those years ago and he’s still wearing the same simple silver chain around his neck. Even the cologne Jongseong is wearing is the exact same one from years ago.
“Hyung, this is so good, seriously!” Jongseong exclaims, rushing to remove his headphones. “I like it, it has a nice vibe. I think it needs a rap or something, that would really complete it.”
Heeseung doesn’t pay much attention to what Jongseong is chattering about. He just hums distractedly, reaching a hand out to Jongseong’s chain. His fingers play with the silver string.
“Uh, hyung?” Jongseong is frozen in his seat. “What are you doing?”
“Hmm?” Jongseong’s birthmark peeks out from his shirt. Seriously, how can a birthmark be so cute?
Jongseong’s chest shakes with a nervous chuckle. “Hyung?”
Heeseung’s eyes go from his neck up to his lips and they linger there for a while. The border lip , as Jongseong liked to call it. Heeseung makes a mental note to remind Jongseong to wear more lip balm. His eyes flicker up to Jongseong’s eyes - all warm and filled with nothing but familiarity and comfort.
Jongseong. Jongseong. Jongseong.
The low robotic hum of Heeseung’s heater rumbles in the background, along with the soft music still playing on Heeseung’s headphones. If Heeseung tries hard enough, he can count all the freckles on Jongseong’s cheeks.
He stares back at Heeseung, his sharp features filled with anticipation. His eyes are peering back at him as if he’s silently challenging Heeseung to do it.
And so, Heeseung does.
Heeseung holds Jongseong’s jaw in his hand as he gently kisses him, all slow and steadily. Jongseong’s lips are kind of dry and cold, but Heeseung doesn’t care. He feels himself melt into Jongseong anyway, his heart falling out of his chest and liquefying into a puddle right in front of them.
Their teeth don’t clang against each other like the first time, because Heeseung knows how to kiss Jongseong as he likes it. He’s done it a million times and although they haven’t kissed for a long time, Heeseung falls into it again as if it’s nothing.
Jongseong holds onto Heeseung’s wrist, his eyes fluttering shut as their lips move against one another urgently. Heeseung’s tongue swipes across Jongseong’s bottom lip and he practically caves into the older boy.
Heeseung tastes a lot like the strawberry lip balm he uses and it makes Jongseong want to combust. He lets Heeseung lick into his mouth as one of his hand grips onto Heeseung’s hoodie desperately. Oh God, he’s missed this.
Just as Jongseong feels like his head is about to self-detonate, Heeseung pulls away. Heeseung rests his forehead against Jongseong’s, their chests heaving up and down together as they try to catch their breaths together.
Jongseong mumbles something incoherent under his breath.
“Huh?” Heeseung asks, his hand still holding onto Jongseong’s jaw as he caresses his thumb over his skin gently.
“Deja vu,” Jongseong says simply.
A snort rolls out of Heeseung. He looks down fondly at Jongseong, feeling his heart swell.
“I love you,” Heeseung utters.
Jongseong’s smile nearly drops as he gapes at Heeseung. “What?”
“Did you not hear me or did you just want me to hear me say ‘I love you’ again?” Heeseung jokes breathlessly.
“H-Hey! I was processing this,” Jongseong protests, frowning cutely.
Heeseung shakes his head with a huge grin, “I love you, Park Jongseong. Can you process this yet or do you need me to keep repeating it?”
Jongseong swats at Heeseung’s arm, trying his best but failing to hide the smile that pulls at his lips. “Hyung, you’re so obnoxious.”
“But I love you too.”
The smile Heeseung lets out is blinding, his eyes twinkling like the stars in the sky that night.
Heeseung makes two more successful comebacks, successful enough to let him buy his own house at 20. It’s kind of crazy to think as he sits in his new master bedroom, wondering how any of it even came to be. He sees Jongseong shifting back and forth between the overnight bag on the floor to his closet.
“Hyung, you can wear my Supreme jacket if you want to. I’ll leave it in my drawer, okay?”
Heeseung just hums, admiring the way Jongseong practically bounces on his feet.
In Heeseung’s walk-in closet, he’s made sure to leave some space for Jongseong. The boy sleeps over so often that the apartment quickly becomes his second home. In Heeseung’s bathroom, there’s two glass cups and two toothbrushes - one white and one black.
The year is nearly drawing to a close as both their schedules get even more packed, so Jongseong resorts to returning home to Heeseung’s apartment most nights just so he can spend some time with his boyfriend.
Boyfriend. The word sounds strange on Heeseung’s tongue, it tingles and makes him shiver all over his body - but in the best way possible.
Jongseong spends another five minutes in his closet before stepping out, rushing to jump on the new bed that Heeseung just purchased. He somersaults onto the bed, crashing onto Heeseung.
“Yah!” Heeseung hollers, “Stop it! You’re gonna break my new bed.”
“I know how else I can break your bed.” The younger boy winks in the most ridiculous way Heeseung has ever seen and it evokes this warm feeling to slither up Heeseung’s chest. He leans down to peck Jongseong on the forehead.
Jongseong leans into the kiss, not even trying to hide the cute grin that’s overtaking his face.
“Want to know something?” Jongseong asks, his voice all soft and gentle.
“It’s around this time a few years ago that someone gave me a strawberry cream sandwich on my first day at Bighit.”
Heeseung feels himself blush. “Huh, wonder who that kid was.”
Jongseong gazes back up at Heeseung, his eyes twinkling. It reminds him of the way Jongseong looked at him on their first meeting - not the one at the Bighit office. No, it’s when Heeseung is still a fourteen year old kid trying to navigate what he wants in life. It’s when Heeseung barely learns how to dance. It’s when Jongseong first looks at him after Heeseung stumbled into the dance class late. It’s when Jongseong saves him from a scolding.
It’s when Jongseong first smiles at Heeseung and when he feels his entire life shift in a way that can only be recognized years later.
Heeseung thinks back to the times him and Jongseong collapse on the practise room floor together, their heavy breathing in sync. Heeseung thinks back to the first time he really sees Jongseong dance like a dream. Heeseung thinks back to how cold the weather had been when he braved out into the cold Seoul night for some sandwiches.
Heeseung thinks back to the way Jongseong’s lips were dry and cold when he first kissed him. Heeseung thinks back to the way his heart races whenever he sneaks a kiss or two at the end of a long day of training. Heeseung thinks back to the way he squeezes Jongseong’s hand every night, the swelling feeling of something warm in his stomach growing each day.
Heeseung thinks back to the nights he spent wide awake, wondering if the nothingness he felt after his debut was because of someone. Heeseung thinks back to how afraid he used to be of that - love. A sense of familiarity blankets over them, a feeling all too recognizable for them. Maybe they weren’t aware of it all those years ago, but they know what it is now. They can put a word to the way they feel and it’s the most gratifying thing in the world. There’s no inevitable end waiting for them - at least not one that they care enough about. It doesn’t matter what’s going to happen next - if the entire world sees them for what they really are and what other people think of them.
Jongseong breaks him out of his trance. Heeseung blinks down at him.
“I love you, hyung,” Jongseong whispers.
Heeseung’s heart feels lighter than ever. He smiles.