“You should stay away from any form of exercise from this point on.”
Jaebum sat in front of his doctor in silence. His hands were loosely intertwined and his thumbs were fiddling about. He looked at the floor blankly, his heart in shatters.
“This is what I do. Dancing is what I live for.” He whispered quietly as the tears poured down his face.
He wished the members were by his side, telling him that it will be okay, but as leader, he didn’t want them to see him like this. Weak. A leader wasn’t supposed to be weak. He was supposed to be the strong foundation for his members. Jaebum was nowhere near where he was supposed to be. The fact that he was in this condition was a disgrace in the first place.
“Is there nothing that can be done? My company has the money. We can fund whatever needs to be done.”
“I’m sorry. It is too damaged to be fixed. If this was treated earlier, we could have done surgery.”
He closed his eyes, but the tears kept pouring. This was just a bad dream and he was going to wake up and be healthy. He would still be able to perform with GOT7 once he woke up. It was just a dream. That’s all.
He kept trying to tell himself that.
The leader opened his eyes and was disappointed. Frustrated with his cold harsh reality, he got up, slamming his hands on the doctor’s desk.
“It’s 2016 and you guys can’t do anything?! There’s prosthetic substitution for everything nowadays,” he punched the desk once again, desperation in his voice, “Give me a new spine! You can do it! Please!”
“Mr. Im Jaebum, like I told you we can’t do anything about your back. If you continue acting this way, I’ll have to call security to escort you out.”
Jaebum looked the doctor straight in his eyes before sinking down to the ground. He covered his face with his hands and sobbed.
“This is all I got, doctor. I love doing this and I can’t see myself doing anything else. I’m not smart like you. I can’t just go back to school and find a normal job!”
The doctor silently got up from his seat and went around his desk. He squatted next to the other and gently rubbed his back.
“What will happen to my members? I’m their leader and I can’t perform with them ever again? I don’t deserve to be their leader. This is all my fucking fault.”
Jaebum had been experiencing back pain since Stop Stop It era. With all of the flips in the dance break in A and the difficult choreography in Stop Stop It, and not to mention the constant bboying he had to show during interviews and variety shows, all of that took an extreme toll on the leader’s back. He started putting on heat packs and taking over the counter pain medication as well as buying those back massagers. Jaebum did everything he could to mask the pain.
He didn’t want any of the members knowing.
He didn’t want them knowing their leader was in pain, especially since they all had their own difficulties.
Jaebum had to be the strong one. He had to be the one to tell them that everything will be okay in the end and to have hope for the future.
And so he told himself that.
He told himself that every time he stashed his pain medication pills in one of his drawers filled with clothing because he couldn’t let his roommate find out.
He told himself that every time he would excuse himself to the bathroom during practice just to replace his heat patch because he could feel it wearing off and he knew he couldn’t last another two hours of dancing with his lower back pain.
He told himself that every time that the pain grew intolerable despite his efforts to mask it because he had to smile and pretend that he was perfectly okay in front of his members.
He told himself that every time he had arguments with himself on whether or not to see a doctor because he felt that a hospitalized leader is an ineffective one.
Jaebum’s scream resonated inside the practice room. The members had all decided to go home, but he decided he needed a little more practice on certain parts of their choreography so he stayed back, but the pain was excruciating that day.
There were good days and bad days. The days where he felt nothing or just a small ache were the good days, but the days that medication and patches couldn’t lessen the pain were the bad days. And that day was particularly bad.
The leader looked to his bag as he hastily took off his shirt. He rubbed his back, ready to replace his patch, as he searched through his bag but couldn’t find his spare patch. He always left it in his music composition notebook, but it wasn’t there. Jaebum picked it up out of his backpack and flipped through it. Nothing.
“Looking for this?”
Jaebum turned around only to see the eldest member holding the spare patch with a worried look on his face. The leader bit his lower lip as he quickly grabbed it from the other, looking away as it hurt his heart seeing him like this. This was why he wanted to hide his pain.
“I thought you were going with the others to the dorm. Why are you here?”
“I wanted to spend some time in the production room.”
The room went silent. Jaebum and Mark hardly spoke in general and Mark usually didn’t speak much anyway. The two of them didn’t move, however. Jaebum was still not looking at the other, but he was waiting for him to leave. Mark stared at the leader, right where his patch was.
“How long have you been like this?” he whispered.
“It’s just moderate back pain. Don’t worry about it. I looked it up and it’s common for dancers to experience this.”
Jaebum took off his patch and crumpled it before ripping open the packages for the new one. He turned his back toward the mirror and tried to place it in the right spot.
“Let me do it,” Mark said, grabbing onto the leader’s hands.
“I’m okay. Don-’”
“Let me do it,” he insisted.
The leader let go of the patch and Mark placed it where he had saw the other one. He rubbed it down to keep it in place and sighed.
“You should get this checked. This might be serious.”
“I’m fine, Mark. It hardly hurts especially with the new patch. Thank you for putting it on by the way. Don’t worry about me.”
“Why are you lying to me?”
Jaebum turned around and looked at the other, putting on the best poker face he had. He could feel the worried emotion behind Mark’s eyes and it touched him.
“I’m not lying, Mark. I am perfe--”
“Bullshit! I fucking heard you scream in pain from the vending machine! The Jaebum I know doesn’t yell over ‘moderate pain,’ so please, don’t do this to yourself!”
The leader looked at the ground, biting his lower lip as he was unsure how to respond. He was shocked the other could even speak so loud. The eldest member’s hands were curled up into fists and Mark could feel the tears forming in his eyes. He sighed deeply before quietly speaking.
“If you really don’t want to get checked, can you at least rely on me? If you’re embarrassed and don’t want the other members to know, let me, your hyung, at least be able to help.”
Jaebum looked up into the other and nodded, knowing he couldn’t get out of this situation. A small smile formed on Mark’s face.
The two didn’t speak much after the situation until Mark caught Jaebum again, trying to handle things alone.
Most of the members were out doing their own thing as it was a free schedule day. They usually stayed out late so Jaebum was able to sleep in and have the house to himself. It was a great day.
Or it was supposed to be.
The moment Jaebum opened his eyes, a hurling wave of pain hit him and he winced in pain. He barely had the strength to even get up. His body was shaking as he moved, but he had to take his medication. He rummaged through his drawers to find the bottle and slowly walked to the kitchen.
Mark had also slept in, but woke up earlier than the other so he decided to walk the dog as Youngjae left early to hit up a PC room to play some online games. Possibly for the whole day, but whatever. His time and money.
As soon as him and Coco came back from their walk, the Taiwanese boy lightly dusted off the dogs paws before releasing him off the leash. The dog ran off into the kitchen and Mark suddenly heard glass breaking.
“Coco, no! I--”
Mark ran into the kitchen and saw Coco backing away from the mess. Jaebum was shaking as he leaned onto the kitchen counter. The glass cup was shattered on the floor, but luckily didn’t hurt anyone.
“What the hell happened?”
The eldest member looked at the counter and saw the pain medication right away. He grabbed it immediately before Jaebum was able to stop him.
“I’m fine!” Jaebum blurted.
Mark raised his eyebrow at the other as he looked at him and and down.
“Really? Then let go of the kitchen counter.”
Jaebum bit his lower lip as he could still feel his lower back burning up in pain. His hands were still shaking, but he managed to let go of the counter just fine.
“See? Look, I-”
Another wave of pain hit him and again he leaned against the counter. He turned away from the other as he didn’t want Mark to see his face in pain. It was embarrassing.
Mark immediately grabbed another glass and pouring Jaebum water, taking out two tablets soon after. He stepped around the broken glass and handed it to him.
“Here, take it.”
Jaebum pouted as his heart ached seeing Mark like this, but he quickly took the medication and sighed in relief, knowing the pain would go away soon.
“Why were you lying to me that everything was alright when I can see right through you?”
The leader put down the glass and looked at the eldest, unsure what to say. He knew he should have talked to the other about his pain. He knew he should have asked for some sort of help from him. He knew that. But at the end of the day, he couldn’t.
“I’m sorry, Mark.”
Mark looked into Jaebum’s eyes and softly shook his head.
“Don’t apologize. If you don’t rely on me or get yourself checked by a professional, I won’t accept those false words.”
The eldest member picked up Coco who was backed into a corner as she was still a bit shocked from the situation and walked away.
He didn’t even look back as he slammed the door.
For the next few days, Mark didn’t speak to Jaebum at all. He would instead go out with Youngjae and Coco or hole up inside of his room. Every time Jaebum tried to speak to him, Mark would give him one worded answers or simply ignore him. The members could tell something was up, but they weren’t sure what.
“Can we talk?”
Jaebum knocked on the door to Youngjae and Mark’s room, waiting for a response, but there was nothing.
“I’m going to come in, okay?”
He turned the doorknob and saw the member’s back facing the door. Mark was on his laptop, searching up something in English that the leader obviously couldn’t understand. Jaebum quietly closed the door and sat next to the other.
“I don’t want you here. Go away.”
Mark didn’t look up from his laptop and kept a straight face. Jaebum pouted and softly put his arm around the other, not wanting to leave without talking things out.
“Don’t touch me!”
Mark roughly pushed Jaebum away, causing the other to fall on his back. Once the other realized what he had done, his eyes widened as he looked at the leader who was holding onto his lower back, wincing in pain.
“Jaebum! I’m so sorry!”
Jaebum looked at the other, pursing his lips as he thought of what to say, thinking whether to ask for help or not just like the other wanted from him. He didn’t want to feel weak, but at the same time, he didn’t want to be in pain either.
“Help me,” he barely uttered.
The look in Mark’s eyes softened as he heard the words he was waiting to hear. He nodded with a small smile as he got up.
“My medication is in the thir--”
“I know, don’t worry. I’ll get it.”
Jaebum’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion as the other walked out to get his things. Soon, Mark came back with his pain medication and a glass of water. He simply handed them to the leader who helped sit up as he took the pills.
“Lie down, I’ll massage your back.”
Before Jaebum could even refuse, he was already being pushed to lie down. He felt as the other lifted his shirt up and softly pressed onto his back, temporarily alleviating the pain from that area. Jaebum couldn’t help but softly smile.
“How did you know where everything was?”
Mark stopped for a moment and Jaebum could hear him sigh before talking.
“I’ve known about your back problems for a while now. Before I even heard you scream in the practice room.”
The eldest was the quiet one in the group. Still a bit unconfident with his speaking skills, he spent most of the time observing everything and everyone. He noticed a lot of small things, a lot of the small habits the members had like Jackson running his hair through his hands every time he was frustrated, Jinyoung curling up his hands into small fists when he was upset, and so much more. Mark saw everything and took note of it, so when he saw Jaebum rubbing his back a little too often than necessary, he couldn’t help but be worried, especially because it was Jaebum.
Since the day he came to JYP, out of all the trainees, Mark found himself looking up to Jaebum, despite the other being younger. He always had a leader vibe to him and when he was announced to be Got7’s leader, Mark wasn’t surprised.
Jaebum always treated everyone with such care, but was strict when he had to be. He made sure everyone was getting along as he knew that any one of them could be in a group together. He was a responsible trainee, but he had a few times of sneaking out because, hell, this was his prime teen years.
Mark being a foreigner, it was a bit awkward around him and Jaebum because Jaebum hardly knew English and Mark just felt shy speaking in Korean, but especially to the respectable Jaebum as he didn’t want the other to think any less of him. Naturally, that allowed Mark to float around more to Jackson and the other foreign trainees and get comfortable around them.
As Got7 formed, Mark knew he should get comfortable around Jaebum at that point, but he just couldn’t. His heart would beat faster than usual, his hands would get clammy, and his brain would forget all the Korean words he wanted to say.
Later on, he could admit this was a crush.
Of course Mark was in denial and felt that he was only acting this way towards the leader because he respected him but as he got closer to the other Korean members, he realized that it was a lie.
Yes, he respected Jaebum, but the way Mark’s eyes would always be on the leader, no matter what was happening and that wasn’t normal. The way Mark fell in love with Jaebum’s voice every single time he sang wasn’t normal. The way his smile would make Mark’s heart sway wasn’t normal.
He also realized the reason why he was uncomfortable and awkward around Youngjae in the beginning of Got7 was not just because he was new, but because he got so much love and attention from Jaebum as soon as he was accepted into the group. And Mark wanted that to be him.
He wanted to be the one to be constantly playing and joking around with the leader.
But that just wasn’t how their relationship was. Sometimes Mark worried that there was an unspoken power struggle between him and Jaebum as, yes, Jaebum was the leader and had a lot of respect and authority, but due to typical Korean culture there was also some respect and authority that Mark had as the eldest member.
Mark worried about things like that a lot, but kept it to himself. His mouth didn’t speak much but his thoughts ran wild. When he noticed Jaebum rubbing his back more than usual, he worried. A lot.
“What if there’s something wrong with him? What if he’s going through a lot of pain? What do I do?” constantly rang in Mark’s head. He watched Jaebum practice and perform with that fake smile of his and it hurt him knowing that there may be more to it.
“Mark, it’s your turn to take out the trash!” yelled Jackson from across the dorm.
Getting out of the comfort of his bed, Mark groaned but did what he was told, grabbing the trash bins from each room and stuffing them into one huge bag and down to the collective garbage dumpster at the ground floor of their building.
“Fuck, today is just not my day.”
The garbage bag ripped just a few feet away from the dumpster and a few things were able to spill out, including heat pack wrappers. If it was any other member, they wouldn’t have thought much of it, but it being Mark, he already had suspicions of the leader which worried him even more as it wasn’t just one or two wrappers, but several.
“It couldn’t be… Jaebum?”
This led to Mark rummaging through the leader’s room when he wasn’t around. He admitted that this wasn’t the best way to handle things, but he needed to make sure his assumptions were right before accusing Jaebum.
Finding loads of heat packs and pain medication hidden in his clothes drawer, that was when Mark knew Jaebum was going through something that he was dealing with alone. He wasn’t telling any of the members, and obviously not even his own roommate as all the stuff was hidden.
“Why are you doing this? Why are you suffering by yourself when we’re all right by your side?” he whispered to himself as he left the room.
“If you knew about my problems for a while, why didn’t you say anything earlier?” Jaebum asked as Mark was still giving him a massage
“I thought you would eventually tell us, rely on us like you’re supposed to, but you didn’t. I know you’re supposed to be the strong and dependable leader, but Jaebum, you’re human as well. So when I realized you weren’t going to tell us, I took that heat pack from your bag and went from there.”
“Oh, well.. Thanks. It’s kind of nice knowing someone’s there looking out for me, but a little scary at the same time. I’m used to being independent.”
“I’ll make sure to relieve your worries as time progresses. I promise.”
Jaebum sunk into the floor and relaxed, allowing the other to massage him, soon falling asleep right there. Once Mark noticed the other fell asleep, he smiled as he put a blanket over the leader and closed his laptop screen that had instructions on how to properly massage someone with burning back pain.
“I’ll be there for you through thick and thin,” he whispered before turning on the lights and going to bed.
After that incident, Jaebum and Mark weren’t suddenly best friends who did a lot of skinship, but there was a lot more respect and trust for one another. When Jaebum would go through troubling times and stress, he started to talk more and more to Mark and the eldest was always there for him with open arms. It was comforting to both of them and they felt a lot closer.
“Why don’t you just accept me for who I am?!”
Jaebum opened the door to Mark’s room slightly only to hear the eldest yelling in frustration, something he hardly heard. Mark’s voice was usually loving and compassionate, so to hear him yell and be upset was shocking. He closed the door at first, but opened it anyway, at the thought that he should be there for Mark like how Mark has been there for him.
“That’s not… normal, son. You can’t be gay. No. I don’t believe this.”
“Well, that’s who I am, either you accept this or I’m not your son.”
Mark hung up the skype call, too enraged to notice the leader’s presence. The tears slowly started pouring down his face as he stared blankly at whatever was in front of him.
“Are… you okay?” Jaebum asked cautiously, sitting down next to Mark.
“I’m… I’m fine…” he’s barely able to utter, wiping his tears as he looks at the other, “I didn’t even notice you come in… What did you hear?”
“You sounded mad… it was all in English, so I couldn’t understand,” he wipes the tears from the other’s face, “You can tell me whatever is going on. I’m here for you, Mark.”
Mark looked down at the floor, refusing to make eye contact even when the leader touched his face. Yes, he was at the point where he realized that his admiration for the other was more than admiration, but a crush. It was confusing and he didn’t even know if Jaebum felt the same way, nonetheless if he was gay or not. Keeping it inside seemed like the better option than telling because if Jaebum didn’t feel the same way, things would get awkward and no longer would Mark be the person Jaebum relied on and showed his true self to.
But at the same time, if he kept it in, it would only kill him inside.
“I... I… don’t know. Everything is so confusing.”
Jaebum wrapped one of his arms around the other, holding him tight with the intention of trying to reassure him, make him feel like he was safe. It only confused Mark even more, so he pushed Jaebum’s arm away.
“What? Are you okay? Did I do something wrong?”
“Yes you did something wrong,” Mark thought to himself, “Coming into my life looking super hot and attractive, but being so loving and sensitive at the same time. Not to mention, perfect as well. Acting strong for the sake of the others so they have someone to rely on was admirable. Dumb, but admirable. You’re so fucking amazing and it confuses the hell out of me.”
But of course, Mark didn’t say that.
“I… I’m different. I think… I like guys. Not just in a friendly manner, but like like them.” He bit his lip, looking at the other hesitantly.
“Oh? You do? Well, that’s fine. I’m not homophobic or anything. I--”
“No, Jaebum. I think I like… I like you.”
Jaebum laughed at first, thinking it was a joke, but after taking a second glance at the other’s face, he realized that this was a real confession. Mark liked him, Im Jaebum.
“Oh? You’re serious? Me?”
“Yes, you, you dumbass. I don’t expect you to like me back, but please. Let’s keep things to how they’ve been. You said I could tell you anything, so don’t push me away like my family did. Please.”
But Jaebum did.
He didn’t mean to do it on purpose. It just kind of happened with comeback schedules, practicing for the concert, and all of his responsibilities. He tried to push away his own feelings and thoughts that he ended up pushing away Mark as well.
Mark didn’t fuss about it. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to push Jaebum and make the situation even more awkward. It tore him inside and he went to the other members to try to clear his mind of Jaebum, but it would never work because at the end of the day, his mind only went to the leader.
It was only until Jaebum was rushed to the hospital after collapsing during a concert rehearsal because of extreme pain that he was having time with Mark once again. The other members were shocked to see Jaebum collapsed, but Mark was the only one knew about Jaebum’s condition and so he was the only one with the leader in the ambulance car to the hospital.
“You’re a fucking idiot, you know that right.” Mark hissed as he held onto Jaebum’s hand, per Jaebum’s wish to keep him calm.
“I know. Of course I know.”
Jaebum spent a lot of time in the hospital doing medical examinations and getting rest. People came to visit and went. The GOT7 members specifically came in bawling their eyes, and Jaebum couldn’t help but feel horrible that he hid this from them. His parents were worried as well as the staff and throughout this, Mark tried his best not to leave Jaebum’s side. Sure, they still had schedules to do, but Mark was always the first one to come to the hospital after it was over.
“You don’t have to be here. I’m fine with being here alone.”
“Well, I’m not fine with it.”
The two were able to chat and talk normally just like they had before Mark’s sudden confession and despite his back injury, Jaebum felt at ease with the other around. Once Mark had to leave for schedules, Jaebum’s anxiety came and he felt like he was in shambles.
He felt like he was a horrible leader, a disappointment. He shouldn’t have let it get to this point. He shouldn’t have let his pride get this far where he collapsed in front of the members. Now, everyone was worried for him because of him messing up.
Of course, he told Mark about his anxiety once he would come back and time after time Mark would tell him that Jaebum was wrong and everything would be okay, but it still killed Jaebum inside, despite what Mark would say.
So hearing that he was no longer able to dance because of his back injury, it tore him inside even more and all he wished for at that moment in the doctor’s office, besides a healed back of course, was for Mark to be right by his side.
Jaebum got up off of the floor and sighed as he looked at the doctor. He shouldn’t take it out on the doctor. The doctor didn’t do anything wrong, only he did.
“Well, thank you for your time.”
“Feel better, Mister.”
Jaebum opened the door and walked out of the office, only to see Mark leaning against the wall, looking at his phone as he waited for the leader.
“Mark…” Jaebum softly uttered before wrapping his arms around the elder, crying into his shoulder.
“J-Jaebum? What did the doctor say? Are you okay?”
Mark wrapped his arms around the other back, rubbing the other’s back as he cried. It was at that moment that Jaebum realized he couldn’t live without Mark by his side. There was no one else that could be there for him like he was. Despite how Jaebum pushed him away, Mark never spoke out or got upset and allowed Jaebum to be a fool and come back into Mark’s life. He was filled with love and compassion and Jaebum needed that in his life. He needed him.
“I don’t know what to do, Mark. They said I can’t dance, but GOT7 is all about dancing. What am I gonna do? How can I be a leader that can’t dance? I don’t want to leave this team either.”
“You’re resilient. Nothing will tear you down, okay? We’ll figure out a way, Jaebum. Don’t worry.”
And they did.
Jaebum would focus more on composing their tracks when GOT7 had dance practice. When it came to live performance, Jaebum sat and yes, it did feel awkward, but as long as he was onstage with his members, he didn’t mind how awkward it was. He didn’t mind the netizens cursing at him to leave the group or his parents worrying even more for his help. He was happy to be with his team and that they were accepting him in his new state just fine, despite the fact that he fucked up.
“So, I kinda like you too?”
Jaebum and Mark were walking around the neighborhood after a successful world tour and Mark looked at the other and laughed.
“Too? Who said I liked you still? I could’ve easily moved on. You know, Peniel isn’t too bad looking or maybe even Jacks--”
“You spend 90% of your free time with me! Don’t act hard to get right now. I know your feelings and I know it took a while to reciprocate, but here you go. I like you, Mark Tuan. The guy who is there for me when no one else is. The one who figured me out before everyone else. The one who has more love in his heart than anyone else I know. It’s you who I like.”
“Okay, cool.” Mark nodded with a slight chuckle, upsetting Jaebum.
“Hey! You of all people know how hard it is for me to express my feelings and you’re being like this?! How mean! I should ju--”
Jaebum stopped his words with the sudden kiss coming from Mark, causing Mark to laugh brightly as the leader stood there, frozen.
“I like you too, Jaebum, despite how much you have a prideful personality. You have natural leader instincts and you’re just an amazing and cool person who handles so much. You care about others more than you care for yourself which is why you’re like this with your back, but it’s okay because if you’re not gonna care for yourself, then I will.”
Mark grabbed the other’s hand and intertwined their fingers, smiling wider and brighter than ever before that Jaebum’s heart couldn’t help but to flutter as he looked at the other.
“Thank you, my love.”