Youngjae's eyelashes flutter just before he wakes up. Daehyun knows this because he's been watching Youngjae wake up for the last three years of his life. At first, it had been incidental--as soon as Daehyun moved into the dorms, he realized he was the only early riser in his entire band. Daehyun doesn't mind waking everyone up. It's just part of his job now.
Daehyun doesn't remember when he started waking Youngjae up first. He doesn't remember when he realized that if he was careful, he could watch Youngjae for a few minutes without anyone knowing.
Now it's the only time he can watch Youngjae without having to pretend that everything is fine between them.
It's been three months since the last time Youngjae fell asleep on Daehyun's shoulder. It's been almost a year since the last time Daehyun woke up to Youngjae curled around him for body heat, and Daehyun can count off each and every one of those days.
A year ago, Daehyun's heart raced as soon as he woke up enough to realize how close they were--Youngjae's chest to his back, his arm tight around Daehyun's waist, his cold nose pressed in between Daehyun's shoulders.
"Jae?" Daehyun had said quietly, not daring to move, barely even daring to breathe. What if? What if maybe Youngjae had finally realized...
"I'm fucking freezing," Youngjae muttered crankily. He shoved his feet onto the backs of Daehyun's calves, making him yelp in surprise. "You're warm. Deal with it."
"Um," Daehyun said. "Okay."
"I'm serious. Turn around and help me warm up."
"What?" Daehyun's eyes had gone wide, and he'd sat up and turned to face Youngjae with an incredulous expression.
"What do you mean, what?" Youngjae said. His sleepy face was scrunched up in annoyance. "What did you think I--Oh."
Daehyun stared at him.
Youngjae rolled his eyes. "You are such a weirdo," he said, rolling over. "I didn't mean it like that. But fine. I'll just freeze to death over here."
Daehyun swallowed, trying to smile through the sudden stabbing feeling in his chest. Of course Youngjae thought he was a weirdo for taking his comment that way.
Of course he did.
"It's fine," Daehyun had said quietly, tugging his pillow closer. He'd scooted himself close enough towards Youngjae to feel his body heat, but he hadn't touched him or put his arm around him. There was something inside of him that hurt, and even though Daehyun usually always wanted to touch Youngjae, he knew that right now, it would have just made him feel worse.
Now when Daehyun wakes up first, he just inches close enough to see Youngjae's face in the half-light. He lets himself stare as long as he wants. Youngjae never wakes up. Daehyun just watches the rise and fall of his chest and thinks about a world where maybe Youngjae might want to touch him back.
"This is sad," Youngjae laughed, holding up the empty bottle of soju. "I'm already drunk off of half of this. Isn't that sad?"
Yongguk and Himchan were downstairs in the bar with the rest of the crew, but the rest of them were confined upstairs. Daehyun had assumed they'd all be hanging out together, but Jongup and Junhong had whooped loudly the minute Kang hyung had handed them their illicit bottle, dashing down the hallway and into their room.
Kang hyung had turned to Daehyun and Youngjae. "When I'm really drunk later," he said seriously, "Remind me not to give those two any more alcohol."
Youngjae had laughed, taking the bottle and bowing. "We promise," he said. "Ahh, you got us a bigger one!"
"You're not 18," Kang had said, grinning. "And now, I am going back downstairs, with the rest of the adults. Please make sure the maknaes don't die."
So far, Daehyun had heard a variety of shouts and one very suspicious loud thump, but otherwise the room next door seemed reasonably calm. Which was good, because Daehyun had also passed tipsy a while ago and was well on his way to drunk. Youngjae's cheeks were flushed. When he laughed, the flush deepened, but Daehyun thought it looked good on him. It made the pretty color of his lips stand out more.
"It's because all we do is exercise," Daehyun said, taking the bottle away from Youngjae and setting it down on the floor. "We perform and we exercise and we don't eat enough. No wonder we don't have any...stamina?" Daehyun frowned. The word he wanted to say was escaping him. "Toler--tolerance?" he tried, but Youngjae was already giggling again.
"We all know you don't have any stamina," Youngjae said, slapping Daehyun lightly in the stomach.
"Come on, not with that telephone pole between your legs."
"Yah, I'll show you stamina," Daehyun said, grinning as he kicked at Youngjae's leg. He hadn't felt like this in a while. The alcohol had dampened all of his feelings down to a dull roar. He wasn't sad, or horny, or angry; he was just drunk, and Youngjae was making fun of his equipment, and Daehyun had a reputation to defend, thank you very much. Even if it was starting to seem likely that he'd never even get to use it. "What? You want to try it out?"
"You know what they say," Youngjae said, smirking. "When it's all big like that...it gets floppy." He waved his hand around, letting his wrist fall limp. "What if you can't even get it in...?"
"You are such an asshole," Daehyun said, cracking up even as he shoved a pillow into Youngjae's face. "Why do you care about my dick so much anyway, huh? It's not like you'll ever be the one riding it."
"You never know," Youngjae giggled, his voice still muffled by the pillow. Daehyun paused, rewinding that sentence in his head, and then lifted the pillow up to look down at Youngjae in confusion.
"...maybe I want a sex change," Youngjae continued, biting his lip to keep from smiling. "Maybe all I really want is to be one of those girls who sighs over dreamy Jung Daehyun and wants him to sweep me off my feet..."
"I am actually going to suffocate you," Daehyun said, snorting and pressing back down on the pillow. Youngjae flailed around, managing to push Daehyun off after a minute or two. Daehyun sat back on his heels, shaking his head. His stomach felt strange. He rubbed at it absentmindedly, trying to get the muscles to unclench.
"Have you ever..." Daehyun said, and then snapped his mouth shut as soon as he realized how he'd almost finished that sentence. Youngjae looked over at him, his mouth wet and pink, curved into a smile.
"What? Wanted to be a girl?" Youngjae rolled his eyes. "No. Why, have you?"
Sort of Daehyun thought hazily, unable to look away as Youngjae licked his lips. If it meant that you could fall in love with me.
"No," Daehyun said, a beat too late. Youngjae sat up, looking at him curiously.
"I'm just drunk," Daehyun said. He rubbed his stomach again. It felt worse now, like something was trying to crawl it's way out of his gut. "I zoned out and forgot what you asked me."
"No, you didn't," Youngjae said, sounding utterly certain. "Tell me why you hesitated. I want to know."
Daehyun shook his head. "I don't want to be a girl," he said, poking Youngjae in the cheek with one finger. "You're seriously imagining things."
"But you want to do things that girls do..." Youngjae tilted his head, blinking owlishly at him, and Daehyun felt a sudden panic seize up in his throat.
"No, why would you say that," he snapped, the words coming out thick and accented. "You know I'm not like that."
"Whatever." Youngjae flopped back down on the bed, like the effort of holding himself up to stare at Daehyun was overwhelming. He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "It's okay to be curious, you know."
Daehyun swallowed. His stomach hurt now, it actually hurt, and he felt like he couldn't get enough air. This--wasn't how this was supposed to go. Youngjae was never supposed to be an option, he didn't like guys, he wasn't like Daehyun, he just wasn't
"Why," Daehyun said haltingly, staring up at the ceiling. "Are...you curious?"
"Isn't everyone?" Youngjae said.
Daehyun turned his head slowly, only to see Youngjae looking back at him. His eyes were warm and slightly crinkled at the corners. He was smiling in the way he always did just before they pulled off a good prank.
It was a gold-painted fucking invitation.
Daehyun took a deep breath and leaned down slowly. Haltingly. Giving Youngjae every chance to back away. Youngjae stayed put, swallowing hard just before Dae kissed him, but otherwise not reacting at all.
Youngjae's mouth was rougher than Daehyun had always imagined it would be. His lips looked so soft, but when Daehyun actually ran the tip of his tongue over Youngjae's bottom lip, he could feel the ridges and bumps, the tiny creases in his skin. Daehyun prayed he wasn't fucking this up. He wanted to climb on top of Youngjae and just hold him down and kiss him until they were both breathless; he wanted to crawl under the covers and touch Youngjae and kiss him in all the places he'd ever imagined. He wanted it so badly that he could feel himself shaking when he pulled away. He watched as Youngjae licked his lips again, and then opened his eyes.
"Well," he said quietly, looking back up at Dae. He looked sad, sadder than Daehyun had ever seen him. "It was worth a shot."
There are days when Daehyun stares across the practice room and watches the way the light falls over the pillow creases on Youngjae's cheeks and wonders how much of something he'd have to take to overdose. He wonders where he could get it, and how he could make it less painful, and other stupid, irrational thoughts. They sink deep inside and settle in his stomach with a terrifying finality.
Across the practice room, Youngjae laughs tiredly, smiling at something Himchan is saying. Daehyun gives up and just lies on the practice room floor, pretending to catch his breath. The incandescent lights flicker in his vision and he closes his eyes and thinks about the lies he's already told and the lies he'll tell in the future and whether or not a person's soul can actually crush under the weight of so many failed expectations.
Daehyun had never planned to say anything. He'd planned on taking his secret to the grave, because no matter what he did--no matter how many adoring, desperate looks were captured on fansites and tv interviews--no one could prove a thing as long as Daehyun kept his mouth shut.
Daehyun had perfected his technique early in high school, when he'd finally known beyond any doubt that there was something wrong with him. His brothers had always instructed him on how to earn respect, and then left him to fight his own battles; and the more Daehyun acted out, the more respect he seemed to gain from his classmates. It didn't hurt that all the girls in his school considered him handsome, either. He was careful to treat them all very respectfully in private, and soon rumors were flying around the school about handsome and manly Jung Daehyun who was secretly so romantic and kind.
It was almost scary how easy it was.
In Seoul, with his tan skin and thick accent, it was even easier. Everyone accepted without question that he must be manly, despite his smaller frame. He ordered the maknaes around and always held doors and bowed low and offered to carry things for his Secret noonas. It was like slipping on a mask. An invisible disguise. He'd created a Jung Daehyun who had never really existed at all.
Daehyun had never planned to say anything and he hadn't.
That's the worst part, Daehyun thinks, staring out yet another plane window. The worst part is that he hadn't said a goddamn thing, and somehow Youngjae had figured it out anyway.
"Are we ever going to talk about it?" Youngjae asks.
Daehyun freezes in the act of automatically matching his dirty socks and stowing them away in his laundry bag. His back is to Youngjae and it feels like an attack, somehow. A cowardly hit from behind.
"What is there to talk about?" Daehyun says, smiling even though he doesn't want to smile. He knows Youngjae can see his face in the mirror. Daehyun isn't looking, but he knows Youngjae can see.
"Obviously there's something," Youngjae says, voice heavy with sarcasm. "Because you keep fucking waving your dick around on camera and you can't keep your mouth shut."
"Why do you care?" Daehyun says. He reaches for another dirty T-shirt, folds it up, and puts it in the bag. There is ice somewhere deep in his stomach. Daehyun wants to throw up.
"I care because you're being an asshole," Youngjae snaps. "Don't take this out on Himchan. On Junhong. If you need to take it out on someone, just take it out on me, okay?" He strides into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
Daehyun closes his eyes, breathing in and then out. In and out, like the waves, like the comforting sound of the sea. He's so, so far from home.
"Fine," Daehyun tells his laundry quietly. Youngjae can't hear him, and Daehyun doesn't care. Nothing will stop Youngjae's anger until it fizzles out of its own accord. "If that's what you want."
Youngjae starts spending as much time as possible with Junhong, hanging on him in a way that Daehyun knows is supposed to make him jealous. Daehyun clings to Jongup like a lifeline. Jongup is easy to be around. He doesn't ask questions about Daehyun's sudden interest, and he reacts to Daehyun's skinship as stoically and impassively as he does to Himchan's.
Vocal practices are long and painful and awful and Daehyun starts inviting Jongup to come to his private sessions, just for the breath of fresh air. Jongup is eager to learn and he surprises both of them with how quickly he picks things up. He's not Youngjae and he's not Daehyun but his voice has a sweet and subtle tone that fits perfectly with their new songs.
Daehyun starts pushing for Yongguk to give Jongup more vocal time. Equal vocal distribution is a priority on this album anyway, and under the combined weight of Daehyun, Jongup, their vocal coach, and Junhong, Yongguk crumbles and gives in.
Daehyun watches as Youngjae's expression grows darker and angrier with each passing session. He watches as Youngjae tries to laugh off how many lines have now been given to Jongup, but Daehyun knows that Youngjae can't. His frustration comes out as nitpicking and bossiness. Even Himchan, normally so easy-going, is taken aback.
Daehyun stares down at his own scribbled sheets of lyrics and wonders if victory will always taste this hollow.
One of the things that Daehyun has always admired about Yongguk is that he doesn't fuck around. He doesn't speak unless he means what he says, which is why when he pulls Daehyun aside the next week, Daehyun knows he's in for a verbal ass-kicking.
Yongguk doesn't really do disappointed, or angry, or any of the other tactics that Daehyun is used to from well-meaning teachers up through their bosses at TS. Yongguk just looks at Daehyun--really looks at him--and tells him that his actions are hurting the group.
"I don't care what the issue is," Yongguk tells him, when Daehyun sullenly tries to protest. "Fix it. If it's not more important than this group--and it better not be--then it's your responsibility to fix it."
"It's not my fault," Daehyun mumbles, pressing his lips together. Usually he just stares at his own feet when Yongguk rebukes him, but tonight there's something sharp and thick in his chest and he's not sure how much more of this he can take.
"I never said it was," Yongguk says. He places his hand on Daehyun's shoulder and squeezes. "I'm saying that whatever Youngjae did, or whatever you did to each other, it's your responsibility to fix it. Because Youngjae may be pissed, but he's not showing it where the fans can see."
Daehyun nods. Right. The fans.
"We're role models," Yongguk says quietly, and then walks off to go talk to one of their sound techs. He goes to check someone else off his to-do list and Daehyun thinks about how he's just a bullet point in Yongguk's world right now, just another problem to solve.
"Hey," Himchan says, wandering up to him. "You have to see this thing I found on Weibo, it's hilarious. Actually wait, don't move, one of your clips is falling out--" He reaches out to fix it, and Daehyun knocks his hand away, turning and stalking towards the exit. His breath is coming thick and fast in his chest and all he knows right now is that he needs air and someplace quiet to compose himself, or he's about to have the breakdown of the century right in the middle of shooting this MV.
"Whoa, whoa Daehyun, Dae, wait--" Himchan hurries after him, grabbing at his arm.
"I need air," Daehyun says. His fingers have closed themselves into fists of their own accord. "I don't feel well. I just need five minutes."
"Okay," Himchan says. "Okay, let me come with you--" Daehyun opens his mouth to tell Himchan off, but Himchan is already waving to get Kang's attention and mouthing outside, five minutes, we'll be in the back, don't worry. Kang gives them a thumbs-up, and goes back to sending emails on his phone.
Daehyun pushes through the crowded back hallways of the soundstage until he gets to the fire exit that they've propped open. Their trucks and cars and unused gear is all back here, in a tiny concrete lot that's ringed by the crush of other buildings surrounding it.
"Come on," Himchan says, after Daehyun gets outside the doorway and then just stops. He links their fingers, tugging until Dae is seated on a sturdy lighting case and Himchan is perched on top of an industrial-sized fan. His legs look impossibly long, and with his reddish stage makeup he vaguely resembles an oversized flamingo. They're partially hidden behind one of the vans, but not so far away from the outdoor lights that they can't see each other.
Daehyun sits down, and lets his head drop between his legs. He closes his eyes and breathes in and out, in and out, just like Soo Seongangnim, his first vocal teacher, had taught him all those years ago.
"Here," Himchan says, and taps something gently on the back of Daehyun's skull. Daehyun sits up, only to see a crumpled pack of cigarettes and a lighter in Himchan’s outstretched hand.
"You're not supposed to have those," Daehyun says.
"Neither is Kang hyung," Himchan says, shrugging. "Yah, do you want one, or not?"
Daehyun sighs, biting his lip and then pulling one from the pack. "We're splitting this," he tells Himchan firmly, as he flicks the lighter and inhales. It's a stupid idea and it's a stupid habit and Daehyun doesn't do this, except for those times when he feels like he's going to tear his own skin off unless something gives.
Himchan shrugs, unconcerned. He hides the pack in the inner pocket of his jacket again, and then reaches out for a drag. He's an elegant smoker, holding the cigarette with the tips of his fingers and then opening his mouth to let the smoke trail out like wisps of fog in the night.
"Why are you being nice to me?" Daehyun says, watching as Himchan takes another drag. Himchan hums, shrugging his broad shoulders.
"Why do mothers love their children?" He asks rhetorically, handing the cigarette back to Daehyun. "If I got angry every time one of you was a pain in my ass, I'd never stop being angry." He grins as he says it, nudging Daehyun with his knee.
Daehyun ducks his head, feeling ashamed. "I'm sorry I said you looked fat," he says, staring at the dirty asphalt. "You don't. You know you always look perfect."
Himchan raises an eyebrow. "Oh, that? You mean that TV thing? Don't apologize. I'd already forgotten it until you brought it up."
Daehyun knows that's a bald-faced lie, but he lets the matter drop. "I need to get over this stupid thing with Youngjae," he says instead. He pulls on the cherry, illuminating both of their faces with orange light for a brief, fragile moment.
"You guys are fighting?" Himchan says. His mouth curves as he takes the cigarette back. "Gee, I couldn't tell."
"It's less of a fight and more of a break-up," Daehyun says. He presses his fingers against his eye-sockets until he can see stars and trails and swirls behind his eyelids.
"What? No way," Himchan says. "Listen, whatever it is, we can fix this. Maybe you two are just spending too much time together."
"Hyung," Daehyun says quietly. "You can't fix this."
"Why not?" Himchan takes one last drag of the cigarette, and then drops it to the pavement, crushing it under his heel with a small shower of sparks.
"Because you can't fix me," Daehyun says. He stares back towards the open doorway. The fluorescent lights flicker in an uneven rhythm. The open doorway seems to glow in the darkness and Daehyun wonders if this is the moment when Himchan decides he's too much trouble and just leaves him be.
"Daehyun," Himchan murmurs, after a long moment of silence. "These things happen sometimes. You're young. You didn't get to date much before you were an idol. Maybe if--"
"Nothing is going to change this," Daehyun says. He smiles bitterly. "I've tried."
"Ah." Himchan is quiet for a long moment. Then he just shrugs, shaking his head. "So you said something...?"
"No," Daehyun says. "He figured it out. I just didn't deny it." He leaves out the part where Youngjae kissed him. Himchan doesn't need the messy details.
Himchan sucks air into his lungs, puffing his cheeks out like a balloon and then letting everything go with a wistful sigh. It's so unintentionally amusing that Daehyun almost laughs. Sometimes he wishes he could make their fans understand that Himchan isn't just Himchan for the cameras; he's like this all the time, whether there are cameras around or not.
"Well if he doesn't hate you, then you need to figure out a way to be friends," Himchan says. He stands up, holding out a hand. "It's in your own best interest, you know? You two can't stay like this forever. Now come on, we've more than used up our five minutes."
Daehyu stares at Himchan's outstretched hand. "You don't hate me?"
Himchan tilts his head. "It's really none of my business," he says. "And besides, it's not like I understand any of you kids on a good day. Guess this is just one more thing I don't understand."
Daehyun swallows against the lump in his throat. He thinks that might be the biggest lie Himchan's ever told, and he's heard Himchan spout some world-class bullshit before. Himchan knows all of them like clockwork. Daehyun might be dense, but he's not that dense. This is just Himchan's way of saying that Daehyun-his-dongsaeng is more important to him than Daehyun-who-likes-Youngjae, and it's honestly more than Daehyun ever expected from any of his bandmates.
"Guess so," Daehyun says, accepting Himchan's outstretched hand and letting himself be tugged back towards their waiting stage crew.
The lie feels slick and overly familiar on his tongue, but it's worth it just to see Youngjae's hardened expression melt away. "You what? I didn't quite catch that."
"I'm sorry," Daehyun says. He sits down on his bed, in their shared hotel room. "About everything. I'm sorry I was mean and I'm sorry you got mad and I'm sorry about Himchannie and Junhonggie and I'm sorry I'm like this and I'm just--sorry, okay? I'm really sorry." Daehyun looks down at his hands. He's never been one to pick and bite at his cuticles like Youngjae, but right now he thinks he can understand the impulse.
He feels the bed shift next to him. Youngjae sits down, a careful foot away.
"Okay," Youngjae says. "Apology accepted."
"Thanks," Daehyun says. The truth is, he doesn't know if he's sorry. He's not sorry he kissed Youngjae. He's not sorry for being angry. He's sorry for the way being angry at Youngjae makes him feel, like there are holes in his chest and Youngjae is the one with his finger on the trigger.
"Ummmm," Youngjae says. "I'm like. I'm sorry too."
"Because it would probably be easier," Youngjae says. "If. You know."
"But I'm not like--I just don't---"
"It's okay," Daehyun says, forcing the words through a smile. "I know. You don't have to apologize. We can just forget it."
"Right," Youngjae says. He's bouncing his leg and chewing on his lip at the same time. A year ago, Daehyun would have laughed and then reached over to hold Youngjae's leg down. They would have gotten into a fight that would have ended in the untimely demise of a lamp and one of them being tickled, curled up in a ball, and yelling for mercy.
"I hope you find someone," Youngjae says. The words are awkward and forced, but Daehyun knows that Youngjae means well. He's trying. He's doing his best.
"It's not like it really matters," Daehyun says. "We barely have enough time to sleep and eat. I'm not exactly boyfriend material."
"One million screaming fangirls beg to differ," Youngjae says lightly. It something they've teased each other about a million times, but there's an even more awkward silence after Youngjae suddenly realizes what he's said.
"Or...some...fanboys?" Youngjae tries, and Daehyun shakes his head. This is never going to work if Youngjae's usual 'subtle as a brick' mentality is going to kick in every time he tries to make fun of Daehyun.
"Let's stick with the fangirls," Daehyun says, standing up and wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. "It's easier that way. Just forgot about it, okay? Pretend everything is normal."
"Is that what you do?" Youngjae says, and for once, he's not teasing. He's looking at Daehyun with a strange mix of pity and fondness, and it hurts like the feeling of pressing on a fresh bruise. "You just pretend? Even to yourself?"
"Yeah," Daehyun says. "I do. Listen, I'm just going to take a shower okay? I'm really tired."
"Right," Youngjae says, nodding over-emphatically. "Right, right. Yeah. You...go do that. Feel free."
"Uh," Daehyun says, turning around in the doorway of their bathroom. "I do feel free. This is my hotel room. It's partially my shower."
Youngjae laughs. "Just save me some shampoo, okay? I forgot mine."
"You've never remembered to bring shampoo in your life," Daehyun says, rolling his eyes. "You need to quit with this whole, 'I forgot it' thing. Just admit you didn't bring any."
"Fine," Youngjae grins. "I didn't bring any. Save me some shampoo, okay?"
"Yeah," Daehyun says. "I will." He tries out a smile. It doesn't quite fit, but for now it's the best he can do.
"Thanks," Youngjae says. His answering smile is soft.
Daehyun nods, and closes the door.