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again (together)

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At first, Geonhak finds it difficult to pick up what he’s already given up. 

“Wouldn’t it be nice?” Youngjo says, over the phone. Gentle, thoughtful. He’d listened to Geonhak’s troubles with all the patience and understanding in the world, had pretended not to notice the tremble in Geonhak’s words amplified by the lowness of his voice. “To try again, together.”    

“Together?” Geonhak echoes. Words like that no longer mean anything to him, because he’s been burned too many times by people extending their hand just to pull him under. 

But Youngjo is simple, his motives transparent, his kindness coming at no cost beyond a little bit of Geonhak’s faith. He won’t burn Geonhak. He won’t let go of Geonhak’s hand unless Geonhak asks.  

“Okay,” Geonhak says. 

There’s no guarantee any of this will work out. The most Youngjo can do is put in a good word for him, use all of his good wishes up and pray Geonhak finds hope in following him and not failure. The chance remains they might have to give up a second time. 

Geonhak closes his eyes after he hangs up, letting his breaths even out. 

Youngjo had sounded brighter. Stronger than Geonhak remembered him ever sounding even across the scattered audio of the phone call. Maybe it’s because he’s doing better now. 

Maybe it’s because Geonhak is at one of the lowest points in his life, lost and undecided about how to go on. When he walks on busy streets, all the strangers passing by seem to be traveling on a designated path that’s working for them, and he’s still stuck in the same place. 

Geonhak clutches at his t-shirt, continues to sit in the dimness of his childhood bedroom. Hesitation seeps out from the corners of the four walls and crowds in on him before he wills the darkness of those feelings away. 

At the very least, he’d like to see Youngjo again. He holds onto that, for now, and doesn’t let go. 

 

 

It’s hard for Geonhak to tell what’s making him nearly lose the strength in his legs when happiness feels all too similar to the anxiety that’s been curling up in his stomach and chest and throat for weeks, months, maybe longer. 

Youngjo didn’t just put in a good word for him. 

Youngjo pestered everyone and anyone he knew in the company, to make sure they anticipated Geonhak. 

Geonhak’s embarrassed, and also nervous when he becomes aware just how far Youngjo had gone for him. Youngjo had wanted to encourage him, that was a given, but taking the time and effort to broadcast that Geonhak was truly someone special… 

Youngjo wants him here, more than anything, and the thought has Geonhak’s vision going blurry because he’s never met anyone like Youngjo, who didn’t have to work this hard to keep Geonhak but did so anyways. 

We’ve heard so much about you, the director had to tell Youngjo to stop with the persuasion,they tell him after he finishes the audition. They’re smiling, but he doesn’t always know what to make of those. 

Some of the worst things Geonhak has ever heard had been uttered behind wide, saccharine smiles. 

Did I live up to expectations? he wonders as he watches them with cautious, wide eyes. Trepidation sits at his sternum, reverberates in his fingertips before he clasps his hands together to calm himself. 

“You have a solid foundation,” they say. “Well rounded.” 

Geonhak waits for the but that’s sure to follow. It’s second nature to hold back a flinch. 

You lack the drive. 

You don’t have the right presence. 

You’re not what we were looking for, in the end. 

“Would you like to meet the other trainees?” is what Geonhak hears, instead. 

When the words catch up to him, finally process, he jerks his head up and looks up at faces that are soon going to become familiar, with eyes that are still wide but now a little hopeful, too. 

Geonhak dips his head in a half nod, half bow of agreement. He hopes it shows that he’s grateful. He’s not sure what they’re offering, but...

“We’d like to keep you,” they inform him. “What do you say?” 

Geonhak’s heart nearly leaps out of his chest. 

He says yes. 

 

 

“Youngjo hyung, thank you,” Geonhak says, almost tripping over his words. “Because of you, I—”

“It wasn’t because of me,” Youngjo insists. His grin is handsome as usual. Lazy, effortless. His eyes are bright, though, and he’s standing close enough that Geonhak could count his eyelashes. “I just wanted them to see you for who you are.” 

“Why would you do so much for me?” Geonhak asks. 

How many nights he’d spent staring up at the unremarkable, crumbling paint of textured walls. Curling into himself, wondering if he’d always feel dispensable to a society that vapidly promised results for hard work, whether it was worth chasing dreams like this when it often meant sacrificing so much and receiving nothing in return. 

Objectively, Geonhak isn’t special. There are so many before him who have given up, some far more talented, others far more persevering. 

Geonhak isn’t immune to breaking either. He’s barely keeping himself together at the seams even if he’s endured in silence all this time, hoping one day his pain would be rewarded with genuine acknowledgement. 

“Why not?” Youngjo replies, eventually. He seems to have other words, other thoughts, but he seems content with leaving them unspoken. “It’s not like I could ever forget about someone like you, Geonhakkie.”

And Geonhak thinks to himself, blinking back admiration and gratitude and a million other overwhelming feelings as Youngjo begins telling him about the other trainees, that maybe being special to one person is just enough.  

 

 

Initially boisterous, everyone becomes soft spoken when Geonhak is brought in on his first day and introduced as the newest addition to their team. 

Other than Youngjo, there are three: Hwanwoong, Keonhee, Seoho. 

None of them pounce on him or swallow him whole. As expected, but Geonhak still finds himself swallowing around a lump in his throat when the only greetings he receives are smiles. 

No whispers behind his back. Or in front of him, for that matter. Just uncertain, shy looks exchanged as if they’re deciding who’s to be the outgoing representative for the day. They all look equally unwilling, and it makes Geonhak want to burst out laughing. 

Relief like this is so unfamiliar it almost makes him uneasy. 

“You don’t have to sit like that,” Keonhee says, a few weeks later, and Geonhak forces his shoulders to relax, unclenches his teeth. “Are you still nervous?” 

Geonhak looks down at his hands, clasped together tightly. “Not really.”

Youngjo has been doing his best to make sure Geonhak feels welcome, but it goes without saying that the kind of bond they have can’t be transferred and forged so easily with the others, who don’t know Geonhak as anything but the boy from Youngjo’s before. 

Hwanwoong is sharp and focused. Whether it’s for a performance evaluation or a conversation outside of practice, he’s expressive, with a presence that commands attention. Geonhak finds him the most unnerving, until he discovers that Hwanwoong looks soft and huggable in his sleep, dozing off in all sorts of strange places because he’s exhausted and his under eyes are dark for a reason. 

Maybe being that electrifying requires significantly more energy. Geonhak makes sure to nudge Hwanwoong’s head in the other direction, if it looks like Hwanwoong’s going to wake up with a cramp in his neck.  

Keonhee wears his heart on his sleeve. Geonhak envies it, sometimes, seeing the way Keonhee expresses his joy and irritation and disappointment so vividly on his face, the way Keonhee flings himself at anyone close enough to lament his often comical woes, before Geonhak remembers it’s never who he’s going to be. 

Seoho is… polite. He’s lean but wiry, and a little wider than Geonhak. He seems to take everything in stride, and his soft, airy giggles are practically replacements for commas in his speech. His hair curls and puffs up when it rains, and Geonhak finds himself thinking about Seoho’s heart shaped smile more frequently than he should. 

You two are kind of similar, Youngjo mentions once, though Geonhak finds it hard to believe. All rounders, sporty, not so great at opening up. Guarded. 

Guarded? Geonhak sees lingering hints of it in the slope of Seoho’s shoulders, in the tense, protective way Seoho sometimes holds his posture when he doesn’t realize he’s being watched. Geonhak wonders if Youngjo sees the same thing in him. 

Most breaks Geonhak spends just listening attentively to everyone talk. Sometimes they ask how he feels about something, whether he found a training assignment impossibly difficult or a new song nice to listen to.

He keeps quiet, otherwise. He doesn’t usually have insightful things to say, and he worries about how his words will come out even when he does. 

“You’re definitely nervous,” Keonhee eventually decides with a laugh, as if he’s read Geonhak’s mind, all the things running through it. He pats Geonhak’s knee briefly, a shadow of the harder smacks he gives Seoho or Hwanwoong whenever his amusement can’t be contained. “You should come out with us for dinner!” 

 

 

Dongju arrives shortly after Geonhak. 

He’s withdrawn, carefully folded limbs, delicate. 

Looking out for Dongju becomes instinct, because his fearful apprehension is a mirror image to Geonhak’s own, and Geonhak doesn’t want Dongju to suffer even a fraction of what he’s gone through, even if they’re essentially the same levels of new to a team trying its best to embrace both of them. 

It can feel defeating, painful, to look around you and recognize just how much there is left to learn. How you’ve progressed doesn’t matter, because you’re desperately working to fill space you’ve been given, to grow into your potential and beyond it. 

Geonhak can’t wish away Dongju’s worries, so he buys Dongju snacks until he’s in danger of spoiling the youngest and offers Dongju what he can. A shoulder to rest on. A hand to squeeze. A listening ear on evenings Dongju finally gathers the courage to say out loud what he’s been meticulously turning over in his mind for days, maybe weeks.   

 

 

Slowly, Geonhak learns to stop curling in on himself. He lets go of the fear of taking up too much space somewhere he might not belong. 

Thankfully his environment makes it easy. 

He allows himself to reach out for Keonhee, to wrap an arm around Hwanwoong’s shoulder casually. Dongju starts biting, and Geonhak doesn’t bite back only because Dongju will retaliate with tenfold the ferocity. 

Seoho doesn’t mind being touched, but he rarely reciprocates. Mostly he just shimmies out of Geonhak’s reach, letting another member slide into Geonhak’s lap while he stands up to go drink water. 

Geonhak interprets it as Seoho not wanting him to get too close. 

Youngjo just tells him that’s how Seoho is, and that Seoho’s personal aversion to physical contact isn’t a measure of how far away he wants Geonhak to stay from him. 

Once he starts paying attention, Geonhak sees what Youngjo means. 

Seoho is a different kind of safe from Youngjo. He teases Geonhak about silly things that turn Geonhak’s ears red, and just laughs when Geonhak consequently shakes his shoulders, but he catches Geonhak’s moments of doubt and fills them in with encouragement and resolve until Geonhak is ready to try again. 

You sounded good to me, he’ll murmur quietly to Geonhak. You’ll be even better tomorrow! and Geonhak takes the leap of faith, and believes, because Seoho is careful and earnest with the compliments he gives even if he delivers them with a well practiced nonchalance. 

Seoho is more receptive of Geonhak’s hands on him when he doesn’t feel so trapped by skinship he has to accept. Geonhak takes note of Seoho leaning into him, ever so slightly, if Geonhak rests a hand on Seoho’s hip or squeezes briefly at Seoho’s shoulder. 

Geonhak doesn’t particularly bask in any of these things because he doesn’t have the luxury of reading too deeply into them. There’s no place for longing when he’s always short on time, always chasing a better version of himself, working towards one goal after the other. 

He’s comfortable, with Seoho, and that’s all he holds onto for the time being. 

To some extent Youngjo had been right about them being similar, because Geonhak intuitively understands how Seoho works, even if he doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on in Seoho’s head. 

It only occurs to him that something’s different when Seoho fixes Geonhak’s collar for him one night, instead of gesturing vaguely at Geonhak like he usually does until Geonhak gets the idea and fixes his outfit himself.  

They’ve just finished getting dinner with Youngjo at a family restaurant close to the agency. Seoho’s knuckles brush against Geonhak’s skin where the fade of Geonhak’s haircut tapers off at the nape of his neck, and Geonhak holds back an instinctive shiver in case it makes Seoho realize what he’s doing and he backs off.  

“Cute,” Youngjo says, like he’s noticed something they haven’t, and it makes both of them freeze.   

Seoho stops humming, hastily smooths out Geonhak’s collar and pulls his hand away. 

“I figured…” Seoho trails off, not finishing the rest of his excuse. 

Geonhak keeps thinking about it, even when he goes to sleep hours later. Feels ghost warmth where Seoho’s fingertips had lingered on him, his touch just as gentle as Youngjo’s but significantly more skittish.

Where Youngjo purposefully offers a sense of stability, acts as a lighthouse in an ocean of darkness, Seoho offers rippled waves of affection only if he’s distracted and forgets his own reservations. 

Both ground Geonhak in ways he doesn’t expect. 

Two kinds of special, he concludes, and falls asleep absentmindedly cradling the back of his head, committing Seoho’s brief touch to memory in case he wakes up tomorrow and forgets it. 

 

 

Youngjo is the one Seoho turns to, if he’s looking for someone to touch. 

Geonhak doesn’t know why it leaves his stomach all twisted and achy. 

It makes sense because that’s what everyone in the group does. Keonhee perches himself in Youngjo’s lap and forces all his taffy limbs to fit where they shouldn’t. Dongju and Hwanwoong get a little too close for comfort when Youngjo’s drawing, eager to watch his process and distract him, too. 

Youngjo never says no, not because he doesn't know how, but because his heart is always big enough to make more space for those who need it. Geonhak admires that about him, and so many other things. 

Even so, Geonhak watches Seoho crawl into Youngjo’s bed and mumble things Geonhak can’t hear, finds Seoho leaning into Youngjo’s space in the studio when they’re working on songs, with the sort of ease he never shows Geonhak, and he wonders…

What about me? 

Why not me? 

Too rough. Too hard, maybe. Geonhak is not delicate, not good at words, and he can only hover whenever he’s trying to express concern. There’s an endless list of everything he lacks, and it hurts to try and pick out which specific flaw might be the reason Seoho finds him undesirable. 

“If you want something from Seoho,” Youngjo says to Geonhak in the middle of a midnight run to the convenience store, in the snack aisle, “you’re going to have to paw at him for it.” 

Youngjo’s arms are folded across his chest when Geonhak turns to look at him. 

His words are pronounced carefully, deliberately, without any of his usual leisure, as if he’d wanted Geonhak to read between the lines. 

“Hyung.” Geonhak scrunches his nose. The snack that Seoho likes is out of stock, and he doesn’t know what a good alternative would be. He could text Seoho and ask, but Geonhak wants to make the right guess on his own, and then he feels silly for wanting that at all. “What are you talking about?” 

“I’m saying you don’t have to feel left out when Seoho comes to me,” Youngjo explains. “He wants you close even if he doesn’t always say it.” 

“Oh,” Geonhak says. 

“Oh~?” Youngjo says back, smiling, and he laughs sweetly when Geonhak hip checks him out of the way, annoyed.  

Ultimately Youngjo leaves the choice up to Geonhak, what replacement snack to get Seoho while Youngjo leaves himself in charge of everyone else’s items. His words stick, though, and Geonhak’s chest feels tight the whole way home. 

Youngjo understands, as always, and he’s showing Geonhak once again that he fits. That Geonhak doesn’t need to be afraid of taking up space somewhere he doesn’t belong, because this is where he’s meant to be.  

Geonhak is brave enough to be greedy. He no longer wants to be special to just one person. 

 

 

Geonhak is wider than Youngjo now, wider than Seoho. His watches wrap snugly around his wrist. They don’t slide around on his forearm the way they used to.   

He’d never really processed it, because Youngjo still feels safe in all the ways that matter. Geonhak still has an urge to hide behind Youngjo anytime he feels too overwhelmed by the cameras, and occasionally he gives in, burying his face in the junction of Youngjo’s shoulder and neck. 

Maybe Keonhee’s rubbing off on him with the whole ❀shoving himself in spaces too small for him thing❀ 

It would explain why Geonhak crawls into Seoho’s bed as often as he does these days, kissing away Seoho’s sleepy complaints about the bed being too narrow to fit two regular sized boys, let alone him and Geonhak. 

“You do the same thing to Youngjo hyung,” is usually enough to quiet Seoho’s protests if Geonhak says it with the right amount of petulance. So do you, Seoho tends to fire back, but by then the point of the argument is lost and Geonhak is free to nuzzle at Seoho’s jaw, breathing in the familiarity of their shared shampoo. 

If they play their cards right, Geonhak and Youngjo can wrestle Seoho into sitting in between them on the couch and unwinding by watching a film together. 

Seoho struggles just to make a show of it, but he usually ends up completely entangled in their collective grasp. Youngjo’s careful hands on top of his, index finger drawing floral patterns onto Seoho’s skin. Geonhak’s palms on Seoho’s thighs, squeezing at muscle every time Seoho tries to shift too much or move too far. 

The younger members occasionally find Geonhak snoring into Seoho’s neck. 

Every time it happens Geonhak tells them he was merely resting his eyes, and Youngjo is the only one nice enough to play along. 

 

 

I love you both, Geonhak thinks as he watches Youngjo make a face at Seoho in the middle of a radio schedule, and Seoho makes a confused, equally adorable face back because Youngjo isn’t very often mischievous with him. I’ll love you even more tomorrow. 

 

 

“I’m still cold,” Seoho announces, during the Tomoon anniversary vlive. All things considered, the weather means it’s unreasonable for him to be wearing short sleeves, even indoors. 

“Put on your coat,” Geonhak says, unphased, and Youngjo starts to laugh from where he’s sitting next to him. 

Seoho pouts, makes a hmph noise that’s definitely aimed at Geonhak. It’s cute, and out of the blue, but Geonhak can only gape at him because he has no clue why Seoho’s acting like this. 

“Well what do you want me to do about it?” Geonhak asks. 

(It’s not as if he can stand up and go smother Seoho in a hug while they’re still live. Seoho would probably just squirm out of Geonhak’s grasp like he always does when there are cameras on them.)

Seoho simply repeats the hmph with extra emphasis. Youngjo is laughing so hard he’s gone silent, covering his face to avoid any unflattering angles. 

“Try that question again later,” Youngjo whispers to Geonhak after he’s gotten his laughter under control, linking their fingers under the table. “We can ambush him. Together.” 

It’s a tempting idea. Seoho is the cutest when he’s caught off guard, especially if it’s while he’s underneath both Geonhak and Youngjo. 

“Okay,” Geonhak agrees, and he looks forward to it, because together means something to him again. 

 

 ✽