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Unnamed Feelings

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It began, like all things, with love.

Perhaps that was a bit too poetic- too old fashioned. But Seonghwa firmly believed all of this- every single part of it- began because he fell in love.

Love was a funny thing. People seemed to attribute everything to it.

It was the cause of wars, it was the end of wars; it created life, it ended life; Greek tragedies and countless plays all centering around that fluttering in your chest as your heart spun out of control. Death and wars and flowery prose of a love uncorrupted by time and evil, or a love torn apart by a destiny that had predetermined their suffering.

Seonghwa didn’t think love was like that at all. Granted, he was only twenty- what did he know about love, except what people who were already in love told him? But Seonghwa was very sure that all the epics and tragedies and tales of love were too overt- too boisterous and upfront. Love always smacked people across the face-

Their eyes met and they fell deeply in love-

Their souls were pre-intertwines, destined for each other-

They knew with all the certainty of their souls that they were meant for each other-

It wasn’t like that at all. No offense to Shakespeare, but Seonghwa wasn’t sure the man had ever really been in love before.

Because for him… he wasn’t even sure it was love. What did he know about love? Nothing. But Seonghwa considered himself a pretty intelligent person. He connected dots- places where one person sparked a reaction where others didn’t. One person’s touch felt like something special where others’ didn’t. He tried to run from it, to shake it off and stamp it into the dirt, but it clung tighter than a vice.

And soon, it was just too tiring- too much work- to attempt to hide any longer. And that was probably where things went completely downhill, dragging Seonghwa down even further and taking another with him.

 

~~~~~

 

Seonghwa liked being a hyung. It was his nature to look after people, and it made his chest alight with joy when someone came to him- whether it be for help on a project or just a hug when things got too hectic. He was the oldest, and he took that position very seriously, keeping a hawk’s eye on everyone, arms poised at the ready to embrace at the slightest hint of sadness or homesickness.

Everyone accepted that readily- happily- , and (especially before their debut) Seonghwa became accustomed to heads peeking into his room late in the evening. To bodies slipped in beside him in the bed, sometimes just laying there, and sometimes already in tears that soaked his sleeping shirt like spring rainfall on the ground.

And Seonghwa hated that he couldn’t do more. That the only thing he could offer them was a tight hug and whispered reassurances that it would be okay. What right did he have to tell them that? How dare he get their hopes up when any day they could be rejected and fail in this ever-present battle for stardom their entire country was fighting for a spot in? But he told them regardless because as happy as he was to help, Seonghwa was only a few months older than these people, and he was as scared and lost as them.

But, he was the oldest, regardless of the small gap, and he continued to blindly offer whatever comfort he could- both in nighttime sobs and daytime frustration. He wished he could do more.

“You do enough, hyung,” San assured him with a scratchy voice at midnight where he was on the verge of panicking over an evaluation the next morning. “You do more than enough for all of us.”

With each smile he managed to coax out through the tension of practicing, he believed it. With each day longer they went without having a mental breakdown, he believed that maybe it was enough. To them, it was enough, and that was Seonghwa’s only comfort through it all: it was enough for them.

Except one person.

Seonghwa was the oldest. But if the gap between him and the others was small, he thought the gap between him and Hongjoong was nonexistent.

“We can be comfortable together,” he tried to assure him, but Hongjoong treated speaking casually with him like the plague.

“No, you’re older than me,” Hongjoong insisted, and Seonghwa covered the slight pang of hurt with offended laughter and pointing out the small age gap.

He pressed everyday that they should be casual with each other, and everyday, Hongjoong shut him down with a swiftness that stung. Was it that horrendous to be comfortable with him? He wished Hongjoong could at least be a little softer with it.

It wasn’t that they weren’t friendly with each other. They joked and talked within their room, but every interaction seemed to be punctuated with a pointed ‘hyung.’ As if each utterance of the word was a brick laid to create a bigger and bigger wall between them.

Eventually, Seonghwa stopped pushing so often, accepting that Hongjoong wasn’t comfortable with him like that. So, he decided he should just attempt to become closer with him.

But damned if Hongjoong didn’t make it the most difficult thing in the world.

Any attempt at comfort was brushed off and when he brought food it was always refused, and every rejection was punctuation- emphasized- with the word “Hyung.” 

All of them were hardworking, but usually a soft prompting was all it took to tear them away from screens and scripts they had been staring at for too long. A quiet reminder to eat or a casual tap to their heads as he fussed over their sleeping patterns and demanded they go to bed.

Seonghwa had gotten use to Hongjoong hiding away in his studio until all hours of the morning. He was used to waking up to a soft light coming from the bottom bunk and the nearly-inaudible white noise leaking through his headphones as he continued to try to piece together beats. Hongjoong would bring snacks with him when he worked, but he never wound up eating them. Hell, he wouldn’t even touch the water bottles he would carry with him.

Seonghwa stepped up. In the beginning, Hongjoong’s rejection had turned him away. Seonghwa felt like there was a wall between them- one Hongjoong constantly reinforced. But Seonghwa wasn’t afraid anymore. He was tired of seeing dark circles and hearing his stomach rumble during practice.

Seonghwa knocked in the door of the studio, waiting for an answer. When none was given, he peered through the tiny window into the tinier room and saw Hongjoong with his headphones on and obvious to the world. He sighed, pushing the door open quietly and shifting the water bottle and snacks he had brought.

“Hongjoong,” he called from the door. He could hear the sound leaking from his headphones and knew he would never hear him. Sighing, he stepped inside, only having to take a single step before he was directly behind him.

He lifted a hand to tap his shoulder, but hesitated. Hongjoong was hunched over slightly, elbows resting on the desk as he moved his head slightly to be beat, small mutters falling over his lips as tossed out random sounds or words he felt would fit. Even from behind him, the glow of the computer created a little halo around him in the dim room. Seonghwa wondered if he had moved from this position since he got here… his shoulders were going to be sore from being hunched like that.

Maybe Seonghwa accidentally brushed his finger against him, maybe the music became quiet enough for him to sense some part of the outside world- but Hongjoong shifted, turning around with a frown on his face.

He caught sight of someone directly behind him and shouted in surprise, jerking backwards and nearly falling out of the chair as his headphones went flying. Seonghwa yelped, hands flying to grab his flailing leg and jerk the falling chair back upright. Hongjoong clutched his chest, breathing a little heavily, as he stared up at him, face slack.

“You scared the shit out of me,” he breathed, doubled over and protecting his rabbiting heart.

“Sorry, sorry,” Seonghwa rushed, his own heart a little weak. “I called you, but you had your headphones on.”

Hongjoong straightened, apparently no longer in danger of a heart attack and nodded. “Sorry, I’ve been trying to get this one part together.” He turned back to the screen, leaning and picking up his headphones. “What did you need, hyung?” he questioned, sitting them on the desk and putting his hand back on the mouse. (He shoved aside the little part of himself that focused too much on the honorific.)

Seonghwa felt a little out of his element- which was insane because making people eat was exactly his element- but he set the water bottle and a bag of chips on the desk. “Dinner,” he said plainly, trying to remember how he usually acted with the younger members when they weren’t eating.

“I was going to eat later,” Hongjoong said, glancing at the snacks. “Back at the dorm.”

“Hongjoong, it’s nearly midnight,” Seonghwa said sternly. “By the time you get back to the dorm, it’ll be four.” Seonghwa had considered trying to get him to go home early, but decided he could only fight one battle at a time- and this time, he chose food.

Hongjoong was still staring at the screen, frowning in concentration. “I’m not that hungry-”

Seonghwa sighed, reaching around Hongjoong and hitting the power button on the screen. “Seonghwa!” he snapped, whipping around, and for once he didn’t bother with a honorific.

“Relax, I just turned off the monitor,” Seonghwa sighed. “Hongjoong, you probably haven’t eaten since you got here. Just eat the food and drink something before you pass out at practice tomorrow.” 

Hongjoong looked ready to get mad, annoyance floating in the backs of his eyes, but then it faded the longer he stared at Seonghwa. He turned away, blowing out a fast breath and picking up the chips, shoving a few in his mouth. “Happy?” he said around them, chewing exaggeratedly.

“Yes, actually,” Seonghwa said. “Watching you guys eat always makes me happy.”

Hongjoong huffed a laugh, swallowing the obscene mouthful. “I’m not one of the kids, hyung,” he said under his breath, reaching for another chip. “You don’t have to try and take care of me like that.”

“So now you don’t want to be treated like you’re younger than me?” It slipped out before Seonghwa really thought through its consequences, and he wanted to take it back so badly, but Hongjoong looked up at him, clearly a little stunned by the sharp words.

“What does that mean?” he questioned defensively, confused but understanding there was an accusation there.

“It doesn’t matter,” Seonghwa said firmly, shaking his head. He wanted to run. “I should go-”

“No, what did you mean?” Hongjoong insisted, standing and setting the chips down, frowning. “What do you mean I suddenly don’t want to be younger than you?”

This was not what Seonghwa wanted. He had always thought about talking to Hongjoong and clearing the air as to why he so pointedly refused to be casual- But he never wanted a fight.

“That came out wrong,” Seonghwa said, crossing his arms. “I didn’t mean it like that-”

“Well, what did you mean, hyung ?” Hongjoong asked, and this time, he was using the honorific as if it were a weapon. He copied Seonghwa’s stance, arms coming across his chest tightly. And there something there- something a little hurt in his eyes, and Seonghwa wanted to shoot himself in the foor.

He sighed, not able to meet Hongjoong’s eyes. “I’m just saying,” he said, careful to keep his voice even, “that you always insist that you’re younger than I am, so we can’t speak comfortably. But then when I try and take care of you- which I didn’t do because I see you as one of the kids- you insist that you’re not a kid. So which is it?”

Seonghwa knew he was going about this the wrong way. He knew he should be softer, kinder, but he felt a prickle of hurt in his heart, and it made him want to make Hongjoong understand that his rejections hurt .

Hongjoong was staring at him, glassy eyes searching Seonghwa’s face, and he wasn’t sure what Hongjoong found, but his lips pressed together tightly. “What is your obsession with being casual with me?” It was quiet- not sharp and fiery, but soft-spoken and somehow ultimately more painful than any rejection so far.

Seonghwa stared at him, blinking hard. “It- It isn’t an obsession,” he said, swallowing thickly around the lump forming in his throat. “I- I wanted you to feel comfortable with me,” he stressed. He was sure he should be feeling some burn of anger in his chest, but all that came was a sharp sting in his heart. “You’re the leader- I wanted you to have someone you could rely on- someone you didn’t have to look after.”

Hongjoong blinked, expression tight. “Are you saying I can’t do that if I see you as a hyung?” His voice was croaky, twinged with confusion and maybe he was hurt too.

God, this was not how Seonghwa wanted this to go. “I’m not saying that,” he pressed. The room was feeling way too small for the two of them, standing only a foot apart. “But I thought- I thought you wanted a distance between us. That you didn’t want to be close.”

Hongjoong huffed a humorless laugh, expression an odd mixture of sad and soft. “Why would you think that? I thought we were pretty comfortable around each other…” He suddenly hesitated. “Weren’t we?” He asked, voice small.

And Seonghwa wasn’t entirely sure what was going through Hongjoong’s mind, but he rushed to try and comfort it. “We are,” Seonghwa pressed assuredly. “But you were always so against us being casual…. I thought you had something against it.”

Hongjoong shook his head slowly, frowning as if he trying to figure out how Seonghwa came to that conclusion. “I-” He broke off, looking down and kicking at the carpeted floor. “It isn’t that I would hate being casual with you… but I just-” He kicked again, and Seonghwa wished he could actually see his face around his hair that was hiding it. “I like having you as a hyung,” he muttered, so low Seonghwa wasn’t sure he heard properly. “I just- It’s easier this way,” he said, voice a little stronger. “I mean-” He sighed roughly as if his meaning wasn’t coming out how he wanted it to. “It’s selfish,” he admitted, cheeks tinged darker in shame. “But it’s easier for me… if I have you as a hyung…”

Seonghwa blinked. Liked having him… as a hyung? And somehow, in all the time he had spent being hurt by Hongjoong’s words, it had never occurred to him that perhaps… they weren’t meant to create a wall, but a different kind of bridge between them.

Hongjoong was the leader, he realized. Like Seonghwa, he was in charge of everyone in Ateez- they were his responsibility. And neither of them wanted to face it alone, but their ideas for companionship had completely missed each other.

Seonghwa had wanted a friend- and to give Hongjoong a friend as well- someone on equal ground, on equal footing, who didn’t need to be looked after. But someone close enough that they could be relied on.

Hongjoong, though… Seonghwa thought he wanted to go it alone. Foolishly, he had assumed Hongjoong drawing that line was him saying that he was the leader and wanted to become an isolated island of “this is my burden alone.” And it hit him like a fist to the chest as he realized Hongjoong wanted help- hell, he probably needed it more than Seonghwa- but he didn’t want an equal to rely on.

He wanted someone above him. Someone who didn’t need to see him as a leader at all. Someone he didn’t have to make decisions for, didn’t have to rule over, didn’t have to spare a thought for in the long list of worries he accumulated. He wanted just one person he didn’t have to lead- one moment of respite.

And Seonghwa had consistently tried to take that away from him. Granted, it was a lack of communication on both their parts, but perhaps, as the older, he should have taken that first step. And he felt a twinge of regret in his chest that he had spent so much time trying to force what he wanted that he had completely robbed Hongjoong of any sort of real companionship.

“I’m sorry.” It fell over his lips like someone stumbling down the stairs, and Hongjoong looked up sharply at it.

“Sorry for what?” he question, trying to force a laugh to lighten the air between them, but it fell flat.

“For not realizing… or even asking,” he confessed, voice a little thick. “I should have brought it up before…”

Hongjoong shook his head sharply, bangs flying and ending a mess when he looked back up. Seonghwa’s hand twitched to fix them. “You haven’t done anything wrong, hyung.” He ran a hand through his bangs, pulling them back into place and removing the urge. “I didn’t- I didn’t know that’s what you thought… I would have said something if I’d known.”

Sometimes, it did seem like Hongjoong and he operated on two different radio frequencies that were just missing each other. You could catch every other word, but you missed everything important. Seonghwa wanted to fix that- he was going to fix that. If Hongjoong wanted him to be a hyung, he would gladly supply.

“You should finish eating,” Seonghwa said suddenly, and he saw Hongjoong blink from the sudden change in topic. “I don’t want you to be here even later than you already will be.”

Hongjoong hesitated for a moment, looking like he had something more to say, but nothing came out until he stopped, sighing and glancing back to the computer. “You know what,” he muttered, “I wasn’t getting very far with this one.” He turned, switching the monitor back on, and went about saving his work.

“You don’t have to come home right now,” Seonghwa assured him, watching him over his shoulder. “I know you have to finish the sample tracks-”

“I’ll work at other ones at home,” Hongjoong excused, shutting the computer down and gathering up his stuff. “I have more on my laptop.” He straightened with his laptop, books, and snacks in  his arms. “I’ll just work on those. Ready to go?”

Seonghwa was silent for a moment before his lips twitched automatically. “Who says I’m going home right now?” he questioned. “Maybe I was here late and decided to pop in.”

“You don’t stay late,” Hongjoong snorted. “The moment more than three of the kids go home, you follow them like a nesting mother.”

Seonghwa chuckled as he stepped out, waiting for Hongjoong to lock the door. “That’s not out of fondness, it’s out of preservation of the dorm.”

They walked out of the building, saying goodnight to the security guard and stepping out into the cool night. Fall was coming, and soon they’d have to start bundling up. Seonghwa chuckled to himself.

“What’s so funny?” Hongjoong asked, glancing at him and smiling automatically. The tension of before seemed to have faded to nothing.

Seonghwa waved a dismissive hand, still snickering to himself. “Nothing, I was just picturing you in a giant fluffy coat.”

He snorted, looking at Seonghwa like he had lost his mind. “ Why were you thinking about that?”

Seonghwa shrugged. “You always wear them.”

“And?”

“And you’re tiny.” Hongjoong scoffed in disbelief, small fist coming and striking Seonghwa’s arm. “ Ow .”

He huffed, but his lips still curled in a grin. “All of you are in for it the day I hit a growth spurt.”

“At twenty-two?” Another punch to his arm, and Seonghwa decided to stop now to save himself the pain. “Alright, alright, I give!” he laughed as Hongjoong shifting his burden and walked faster.

“Come on,” he said in annoyance. “I want to get home.”

They walked the majority of the way there in silence, Seonghwa tilting his head back and staring at the moon that was hung high in the sky, curved into a beautiful crescent. “You’re going to walk into a pole if you keep staring up like that,” Hongjoong warned.

Seonghwa hummed, but didn’t lower his eyes. “Sometimes I wish I could write lyrics,” he murmured to himself wistfully.

The silence from Hongjoong was probably a show of surprise. “You probably could. You’d just have to make a sample and-”

“No, I mean…” He sighed, dropping his head to stare at his feet that kicked a rock out of the way. “I wish I could write lyrics well. It’s easy to find something to write about- something breathtaking and magical seeming… but the moment you try and put it into words, you’ve lost all the beauty it had.”

“.... Hyung, have you been drinking?” Seonghwa snapped over and glared at Hongjoong without any heat, and he chuckled, hold a hand up in surrender. “I get what you’re saying, though,” Hongjoong assured him. “It sucks when you can’t properly convey a feeling.” This time, it was Hongjoong to looked up at the moon. “I’ve stopped trying,” he admitted quietly, the words floating between the two of them like a leaf in the wind. “Feelings weren’t meant to be expressed with words. Feelings spark actions. It’s easier if you describe what the sight made you do, rather than what it made you feel.”

Seonghwa hummed, glancing over to ask for an example, but he felt the words get stuck in his throat.

He stared at the profile of Hongjoong’s face, illuminated in moonlight and backlit with the darkness around them. The moonlight made him seem paler, like those cheesy vampire movies, and the contrast of light and dark made his nose seem sharper. Moonlight reflecting in his eyes that were soft and bright, making it seem like there were stars in his irises that were bright with starlight and wonder as he stared up at a thousand stars. Seonghwa’s eyes trailed down his jaw and throat- stretched as he leaned back to look- and then back up to his lips that were upturned in a gentle smile.

And Seonghwa… he couldn’t begin to describe the smallest, barest sensation that suddenly tapped against his chest. He couldn’t find words for it. But he knew what it made him do: his lungs seemed to be trying to breathe through thick air.

“Don’t you think?” He saw Hongjoong’s lips move, and heard it, but for a moment, found no way to answer. Hongjoong dropped his head, turning to him, but pausing when he found Seonghwa staring at him. “What?” he questioned, glancing behind himself. He chuckled. “Did I sound more crazy than I thought?”

Seonghwa mentally slapped himself. “No,” he said quickly, blinking away the sensation in his chest and could breathe again. “No, it made a lot of sense.” He turned away quickly. “See, this is why you’re better than me. I would just come up with- I saw the moon. It was pretty. So are you .”

Hongjoong laughed gently. “Well, it’s a starting place,” he said, patting his arm comfortingly. “You’ll get better. And, hell, maybe there’s some producer out there who likes the simplicity of ‘I saw the moon. It was pretty. So are you.’” He grinned at Seonghwa. “Don’t give up hope, hyung.”

And Seonghwa was sure that there was no difference in the way he said the honorific now from how he said it before, but it seemed warmer. But that was just Seonghwa, probably. Now that he understood the meaning behind it all, it came across gently, instead of sharply. And perhaps their relationship had always been good. Seonghwa had just been looking at it wrong. Maybe now that he knew, he could properly be a hyung to Hongjoong.

“I won’t,” he promised, perhaps a little too serious for Hongjoong’s tone, but if he minded, he didn’t comment.

That was the first step Seonghwa and Hongjoong took towards each other.



~~~~~

 

Hongjoong had many sides, and Seonghwa, especially as his roommate, was privy to most all of them.

There were the sides that everyone saw: the dedicated producer, the strict instructor, the slightly-insane boy like the rest of them, the only-slightly-harsher of the two hyungs to most of them…. And though it was less common, they did see it occasionally: the stressed leader. The side that tended to snap when you interrupted him. The side that locked himself away for hours trying to get the best work done, the one that had him returning from meetings with headaches larger than he had any business having, the one that made him push them harder and harder during practice because this was their debut they were preparing for.

Hongjoong would not let them fail. It was a promise etched into his heart that he said aloud daily.

But Seonghwa saw all these sides… plus a little deeper. It wasn’t that Hongjoong trusted Seonghwa more to show him these things, or that he didn’t want the kids to know about them… But Hongjoong could only hold himself together for so long, and then he had to break.

And it was usually locked in their room, burying himself under every blanket he owned and shoving his laptop off the bed.

But it never started like that, of course. But Seonghwa, over time, learned the signs. The others did too, even if they never saw the end effects of them. It would start during practice, with one too many mistakes that had Hongjoong making them run again and again until Seonghwa had to step in and remind him they needed a break.

And then it would bleed into the studio where he tried to work, but ultimately failed. His brain got too loud, he confessed to Seonghwa one night within the pitch darkness of their room. And it made it impossible to work, which only made the roaring inside him grow.

He would leave the studio behind and work in their room, back against the wall with his laptop balanced on his legs as his headphones blasted music at a dangerous volume Seonghwa could hear from the top bunk. Seonghwa would lay there, playing on his phone or reading a book or just staring at the ceiling, and he would listen to Hongjoong blow out more and more frustrated breaths, clicking harder as if it would help, dragging his mouse roughly across his laptop as noises of anger and frustration would build.

Seonghwa had once tried to preemptive stop the inevitable, prompting Hongjoong to just take a break before it got to be too much, and had nearly lost a hand for it. So now, he let Hongjoong do what he needed to do: which was get frustrated, break, and then pull himself back together.

“No,” he heard Hongjoong hiss, slamming his finger down on the mouse. “No, back over there- Fuck!” he snapped, and Seonghwa heard the sound of headphones being thrown to the floor, his laptop hitting the ground as well (safely on the stacks of clothing around his bed), and then the dull thunk of Hongjoong hitting his head against the wall.

Seonghwa waited to hear the rustling of blankets as Hongjoong retreated to the safety of the darkness, but he didn’t hear them. Instead, it got eerily quiet and Seonghwa shifted, rolling to the edge of the bed. Usually, Hongjoong just needed to be left alone- to scream his frustrations into a pillow until he was okay. At least, that’s what Seonghwa did before. But everything between them had changed a little after their conversation at the studio.

Seonghwa wasn’t sure how to treat Hongjoong anymore- trying to find a common ground between a hyung, like he was to the kids, and the understanding that Hongjoong was not the kids. Hongjoong just needed to be left alone, but Seonghwa would never dream of just leaving the kids to deal with it themselves.

Today, though, Seonghwa just heard a shuddering breath followed by a weak, broken, “Shit,” and when he peered down into Hongjoong’s bunk, he saw him leaning his head back against the wall, hands pressed to his eyes that were slick with tears.

Seonghwa couldn’t put into words what the sight made him feel, in the core of his chest, but he knew that it made his heart clench and his own eyes sting. Hongjoong didn’t cry often, despite everything. And if he did, it was far away from anyone- even Seonghwa- quick and quiet, and then shoved away as he got back to work.

He sucked in a breath through his teeth and pressed against his eyes harder, as if trying to shove the tears back inside. Seonghwa shifted, sliding down to the ladder and hopping down. Hongjoong didn’t remove his hands, sniffling wetly as Seonghwa sat on the edge of the bed, having to duck a little to avoid hitting his head. “I’m fine,” he croaked, but it was ruined by his voice falling at the end, which only made him pressed harder.

Seonghwa reached forward, taking his wrists and pulling them away from his eyes. Hongjoong fought him for a moment. “You’re going to hurt yourself,” Seonghwa whispered gently, chest aching as Hongjoong finally allowed him to bring his hands down to his lap. He didn’t look up at Seonghwa, staring at his lap and squeezing his eyes shut to keep the tears inside, taking deep breaths that only shook with the sobs stuck in his chest.

Seonghwa was in uncharted territory with Hongjoong. But he had a lot of experience being a hyung with the kids, and how different could it be, really? So he reached out slowly, dragging his thumb under Hongjoong’s eyes to clear some of the tears clinging to his cheeks. This would be where he asks the kids what happened, what was wrong, but Seonghwa didn’t need to ask Hongjoong that- he knew exactly what was wrong, and the answer was: everything.

Hongjoong pushed his hand away, bringing his own back up to scrub at his cheeks that were wet with new tears, and Seonghwa let out a quiet, pitiful sigh as he scooted forward, grabbing Hongjoong’s shoulders and pulling him forward.

Seonghwa expected to need to coax him and convince him that he could cry, he could let it out (given how he had refused even getting food from Seonghwa before), but to Seongwha’s surprise he only fought once, not even hard enough to break Seonghwa’s gentle hold. Seonghwa kept guiding him him forward, and Hongjoong practically fell into him, shifting until his head hit Seonghwa’s shoulder and his body fell against his chest. Seonghwa was shocked by the sudden movement and shifting his hands until he was holding Hongjoong tightly to his chest.

Small, weak hands curled into the fabric of his sweat as tears wet his shoulder, but Seonghwa just continued to hold him. “It’s okay,” Seonghwa whispered into his ear as his body shook. “Just let it all go.”

A truly pitiful sound left Hongjoong’s throat, and Seonghwa felt his chest tighten painfully. Hongjoong pressed closer to him, his tears becoming more audible as they became too numerous to keep quiet. He breathed harshly against Seonghwa’s neck, breaths catching, and  he brought up hand up to brush through the back strands of Hongjoong’s hair.

It was getting longer with the stylist’s orders to grow it out, and Hongjoong complained about it being annoying, but Seonghwa always thought it suited him. He dragged his fingers through the long strands at the back of his neck and Hongjoong shuttered against him.

There was no breaking of dam where Hongjoong lost all ability for coherent thought as tears overtook him. But there was a constant flow, accented every few breaths with small cries and weak whimpers against Seonghwa’s neck. And once again, Seonghwa wished there was something more he could do, but there wasn’t, so he just held Hongjoong tighter and whispered quiet comforts into his ears that he maybe couldn’t hear over his own cries, but he said them anyway.

“I’ve got you,” he assured him under his breath. “I’ve got you, you can let go, I’ve got you.”

Hongjoong slowly lost the strength in his fingers clenching Seonghwa’s sweater, lost the strength to keep himself up, and Seonghwa felt him slowly sink further and further again him until Seonghwa was the only thing keeping him upright. He shifted Hongjoong until he was more sturdily rested against Seonghwa, but he kept threading his fingers through his hair, kept whispering, kept holding him. His tears kept falling, faster and harsher at times but slower and weaker at other, and it suddenly hit Seonghwa the piece he had been missing.

Words were not meant to describe feelings. Actions were. Seonghwa couldn’t wrap his head around what Hongjoong wanted from him- couldn’t differentiate between building the wall and wanting a bridge. Not with so many words as they had exchanged.

But actions… this, with Hongjoong having nothing left inside of himself and giving himself completely into Seonghwa’s care- Hongjoong finally giving in and resting against him, trusting Seonghwa to keep him up. Hongjoong falling into him and trusting Seonghwa with every part of himself…

This was different from the kids. This was different from everyone else, from what he and Hongjoong had before, from anything he expected from Hongjoong.

But Seonghwa would be damned if he let him down. So he clung to him tighter. “I’ve got you,” he reassured him in a whisper. “I won’t let you go.”

Hongjoong’s breath stuttered and he nodded against Seonghwa weakly. “ I know .” It was barely there, lost among the threads of his shirt and the thickness in Hongjoong’s throat, but Seonghwa heard it, and it was equal parts elating and heart breaking.

There was silence between them as the minutes ticked on, but Seonghwa didn’t count them. He counted Hongjoong’s breaths, echoing between them until it seemed like he had fallen asleep- or at least was close to it. “I’ve still got you,” he whispered. “I’m still here.”

Hongjoong didn’t respond, but Seonghwa didn’t need him to. It was better this way, with the silence between them. And long after it seemed like Hongjoong had fallen asleep, Seonghwa still held him with the knowledge that they had taken a step together that couldn’t be taken back.

 

They didn’t talk about That Night. But that knowledge was there, in the back of both of their minds, coloring each time their paths moved towards each other. Seonghwa found the memory surfacing at odd times- when Hongjoong was instructing them during practice, when he was eating the ramen they had for lunch, when he was laughing at something San had said-

Seonghwa would remember the man who had sobbed in his arms and trusted him. He didn’t bring it up, but he held the memory close, scared that maybe it would force them a few steps back in their relationship. He wanted something to hold onto- something that proved what they could be.

But Seonghwa wasn’t pushed away, and instead Hongjoong seemed more at ease to be in his orbit, swinging like a pendulum - towards and away and towards and away - but always coming back.

 


~~~~~

 

Seonghwa thought that the most important way to be there for someone was being someone they could come to with their problems.

It wasn’t that hard for the others to come to him (or the member of their choosing, depending on what was bothering them), and Seonghwa loved nothing more than being able to sit on the edge of someone’s bed and listen to them speak until their shoulders weren’t so burdened. And he had done it, at some point or another, for the others.

But never Hongjoong.

Seonghwa could sometimes weasel out a small complaint, or some sort of half-truth that was quickly covered with assurances that it wasn’t important. It drove Seonghwa up the wall because they were debuted idols now, and the stress had only gone up a hundred fold, and Hongjoong had a million things more he had to take care of, and Seonghwa just wanted to help. But he knew he couldn’t force Hongjoong to confide in him. So he bided his time, tried to show Hongjoong that he was there if he ever decided to trust him, and it didn’t pay off until one night when Seonghwa had stayed up until Hongjoong got home.

He had wanted to do it since forever, but now that they were debuted, it seemed more necessary as he came home late after extra self-inflicted practice or working in his studio to hopefully help with their next album.

His stress had only gone up, so Seonghwa just hoped that it helped to come home to something other than darkness and quiet.

He heard the door of the dorm open, and blinked tired away as he glanced up from his phone, hearing quiet footsteps tiptoe down the hall, and then the slight creak as the door was pushed open.

Hongjoong froze in the doorway when he saw Seonghwa sitting up. “Sorry,” he whispered, shutting the door behind him. “Did I wake you up?” He was tired, dropping his bag in a careless manner and running both hands through his hair to mess it up.

Seonghwa shook his head. “No, I was already awake.”

“Why were you still up?” Hongjoong questioned, stripping out of his shirt and grabbing another from his pile. It was entirely too large and was more than likely Mingi or Yunho’s but he wore it regardless. He pulled on a pair of sweatpants, too.

“I was waiting for you.”

Hongjoong paused where he was tying the strings of his pants, glancing up at Seonghwa with a slight frown. “Why?”

He shrugged, leaning on the edge of the bunk bed to stare down. “Just wanted to make sure you got home safe.”

“I always get home safe,” Hongjoong said firmly, like it was a challenge of some kind.

Seonghwa just hummed. “I know. Did you get a lot done?”

“Some,” Hongjoong said, heading to the light switch and turning it off. Seonghwa heard him trip over his bag, and then the bed beneath him creaked as Hongjoong laid down. “The same ones keep giving me trouble.”

There were three songs that Hongjoong insisted just would not flow correctly, and it was the source of most of his stress lately. “You’ll get it,” Seonghwa said automatically as he laid back down, staring up at the dark ceiling.

Hongjoong hummed tiredly. “I might just throw them out and start again.” He voice started quieting as he settled in for the night.

“You could recycle some of it, couldn’t you?” Seonghwa comforted. “Some of the beats were really good, you shouldn’t just throw out.”

There was silence that met his query, and he figured Hongjoong must have fallen asleep. He sighed, pulling the blankets up to his neck and closing his eyes.

“Will you answer me honestly, hyung?” came the quiet whisper beneath him, and Seonghwa opened his eyes quickly, realizing his roommate was not asleep. His voice was oddly serious, and Seonghwa braced himself.

“Sure,” he whispered back into the darkness. He was careful to keep his voice even and quiet.

Another long pause that made him wonder if Hongjoong hadn’t just fallen asleep, but then he heard a quiet breath. “Do you honestly think we’ll make it?” And Seonghwa’s chest tightened because the whisper was soft and scared , but trying so hard to hide it.

And he was faced with the same dilemma he faced with each of the kids: he didn’t have these answers. All he had were words of false comfort that only staved off the impending panic and fear of failure. But Hongjoong was too aware for that- saw too much behind the scenes- and nothing less than the truth would comfort him.

“I don’t know.” It was the first time Seonghwa allowed himself to say what he truly thought. “But I think we have just as much of a chance as anyone else. I think that even if we struggle, we can do it.”

“But what makes us different from the hundreds of other groups?” Hongjoong murmured, the bed creaking as he shifted. “What’s to stop us from putting out our first album and then just… failing?”

And Seonghwa gave the honest answer: “Well, nothing,” he admitted. “There’s nothing special about us compared to anyone else.” He pressed his lips together as he thought about all those hours they spent killing themselves to be perfect. “Hard work will only carry us so far,” he said. “That’s only half of success… the other half is pure luck.” It probably wasn’t what Hongjoong had wanted to hear, but it was the truth. “But we have half of it covered. And the other half is completely out of our control. So we shouldn’t worry about it, right?”

He hoped that it was the right thing to say, but with each moment of silence from Hongjoong, he wondered if perhaps just made his anxieties worse.

“I think it’s better this way,” Seonghwa said quickly, filling the silence. “I’d rather have something be completely out of my control. It’s more comforting to know you can’t influence it, isn’t it? It’s freeing to just be out of control like that.”

Seonghwa wondered if it was the thought process Hongjoong had with him…

There was a quiet hum from Hongjoong’s bunk. “Thanks, hyung,” he whispered gratefully, voice a little thick. “That actually makes me feel a little better…”

Seonghwa held back a sigh of relief, letting his eyes fall closed as he relaxed. “I’m glad,” he said, opening his eyes and staring at the cracks of the ceiling. “I’d like to be able to help you more,” he admitted quietly- so quiet he wasn’t sure Hongjoong even heard.

Once again, he was met with only the creaking of the dorm as an answer, and he prepared to go to sleep knowing he had crossed some sort of line, had made him uncomfortable-

“You do help me...”

Seonghwa would have choked if he had been drinking. Instead, he stiffened, fingers curling into the covers as he barely dared to breathe at the quiet confession. Somehow, it hit him in the chest harder than when the others expressed gratitude. It felt… different.

Everything with Hongjoong was different. Seonghwa didn’t know what it was- perhaps it was him being the leader, maybe it was the small gap between the two of them- but even the tiniest hint that he had been able to help the younger made his heart stall in his chest and his lungs to lock up.

“You’re there,” Hongjoong went on, barely audible even in the silence. His voice was hesitant, embarrassed, and Seonghwa thanked the darkness of the room for providing a sense of anonymity. “You’re always there,” he whispered. “And I realize now that… I might have been taking that for granted. I never thanked you for it. Not once.” Seonghwa wished he could see his face- to see if it was crestfallen, tight, hurt- but he could just lay there and try to imagine what Hongjoong was feeling.

“You don’t need to,” Seonghwa murmured when Hongjoong paused too long. “I don’t do it to get something back.”

“I know,” Hongjoong whispered, and his words were a little slurred from exhaustion the longer they talked. “And that makes me feel even worse.” He took in a sharp breath. “When you bring me food and when you drag my ass home when I don’t leave the studio…” He coughed. “You take care of the kids while I’m gone- you take such good care of everyone, and I never have to worry if someone is alright because I know you take care of it…” He exhaled, and it was a little shaky. Seonghwa begged that he wouldn’t cry, because with the weight on his chest that got heavier with every word from Hongjoong, he was sure he would cry too. “ I never voiced anything, I never asked if it was okay. I just always expected you to be there, doing these things.”

“I will always be there,” Seonghwa whispered, feeling his eyes sting. Because he never needed recognition; never even wanted it. He liked taking care of everyone- the kids and Hongjoong- it was just something he did. And he did it even when it got hard because he knew that there were other things Hongjoong needed to focus on. If he couldn’t find ways to help Hongjoong in the same ways he helped the kids, the least he could do was try and take the stress off of him. That was his biggest wish: for Hongjoong to understand that he didn’t have to operate alone.

“You don’t have to be,” Hongjoong tried to assure him.

“I want to be,” he returned quickly, and maybe his voice was a little thick because he just wanted Hongjoong to understand . “Hongjoong, I want to be there to help you. I want you to be able to rely on me.”

“I do rely on you.” He could hear Hongjoong swallow tightly. “Probably more than I should… I don’t know how I would have made it this far without you.”

And Seonghwa’s heart swelled in his chest, and he couldn’t think of a single word to describe what he was feeling, but it felt good. He felt proud of himself, to know he had succeeded in being there for Hongjoong.

“I’ll always be there,” Seonghwa promised. “We’re a team, aren’t we? We’ll make it together. And I hope… I hope we get to stay together for a long time.” He winced a little as the last bit slipped out, and wondered if that was too much, but God, was it the truth. Seonghwa stopped imagining his life without the seven others by his side. He had already shaped his own destiny around these other boys and there was no outcome where they weren’t together.

But Hongjoong laughed gently, and maybe it sounded a little wet, but Seonghwa didn’t comment on it. “I do, too,” he whispered thickly.

Nothing else was said, and Seonghwa waited to see if Hongjoong would break the silence again, but he didn’t. And Seonghwa didn’t either. After a time, he could hear Hongjoong breathing, and figured he had finally given in to exhaustion. But Seongwha found himself wide awake, even if he did close his eyes, his heart racing in his chest.

With every step he and Hongjoong took towards each other, it was exhilarating and terrifying. Seonghwa felt like he was slowly losing control over where this ride was going, but he found he didn’t care much, if it meant Hongjoong had someone he could rely on.

His heart did a happy dance in his chest at the thought. And Seonghwa couldn’t name the feeling, but it felt nice.

~~~~~



And that became a lot more common- those feelings that he didn’t have names for. They would creep up every now and then, and Seonghwa would frown and try and even place a general title on them, but none of them sat right in his chest.

They would crop up while they were practicing, and Seonghwa watched Hongjoong dance and sing, losing himself in the music and for once not a ball of stress over the choreo. He would smile without being able to stop it, while something light floated in his chest. This was what they loved to do, and he would give anything to let Hongjoong feel that all the time, rather than dancing becoming a panic-inducing chore.

Those feelings would peek out while they were preparing for interviews or stages, and Seonghwa would compliment Hongjoong’s makeup, and he would smile and swat at Seonghwa and tell him to save his compliments for the kids, but Seonghwa would insist because Hongjoong really was stunning with his smaller stature and delicate features. The makeup could make him look deadly with smoky eyes and eyeliner that could cut you, but Seonghwa could see behind that to the Hongjoong he knew. It made his chest tighten and loosen all at once.

And, again, while they were at the dorms, doing nothing, and Seonghwa was sitting on the floor folding his clothes that were freshly washed, and Hongjoong was sitting on his bed and staring at his laptop, brow furrowed in concentration, and he was so distracted that he didn’t even notice Seonghwa watching him. It reminded him a lot of that night when they walked back to the dorm with the moon as their backlight. The laptop casted Hongjoong’s face in shadows, making his jaw seem sharper, his nose slimmer- and it made the curve of his lips softer.  

God, he really was gorgeous, even now without even having taken a shower yet, and part of his makeup still on.

Hongjoong liked to insist that people like Yeosang and Wooyoung were the most attractive. He insisted he was too short to be considered attractive, even if he thought he looked alright, but Seonghwa thought he was perfect. And Seonghwa loved nothing more than teasing him about his height- hugging him and going on and on about how he could fit in his pocket. Hongjoong liked to act as if he were dying, but he never pulled away, only whining into Seonghwa’s chest about how mean they all were.

Only after long minutes did Hongjoong glance up and laugh, asking if he had something on his face. Seonghwa looked away, feeling like he had been caught, but there was nothing wrong with what he had been doing, right? But his heart was racing in his chest like he was a part of a high speed chase, and it took forever for it to calm.

The most terrifying moment, though, of these feelings that didn’t have names, was while they were taking a break in the practice room, and everyone was just messing around.

It was at this point, they reached a breaking point. Things changed quickly, drastically, and for good. 

Wooyoung was showing Yeosang something on his phone, Jongho was telling Mingi and Yunho some story about a woman he saw on the streets, and San was laying on his back with his eyes closed, taking a little nap.

A few feet away from him, Hongjoong was laying down as well, getting his breath back after another harsh round of choreo, but today had gone well and everyone was just in a good mood, Seonghwa included with all the smiles that had been thrown around. And when Hongjoong lifted a tired hand and gestured carelessly at the stack of water bottles by Seonghwa with a whined, “Hyuuung,” Seonghwa’s smile grew at that familiar tapdance in his chest picked up again as he chuckled something about babies and picked up a bottle, walking over on his knees to where Hongjoong was lying.

“Here,” he chuckled, pressing the cold bottle to Hongjoong neck and eliciting a very feminine screech. He laughed harder, leaning on one hand and peering down on the younger. “Cold?” he questioned.

Hongjoong scowled and swatted at him, but Seonghwa just laughed, dangling the water bottle that dripped condensation onto his face, and Hongjoong sighed harshly, reaching up and snatching it from Seonghwa. “You’re an ass,” he muttered, no heat behind it. He waited before cocking an eyebrow. “Are you going to let me sit up?”

He smirked. “No,” he said, leaning further over him. “You can suffer down there.”

Hongjoong rolled his eyes even as he fought a smile, hitting Seonghwa’s chest but his eyes stared at Seonghwa so brightly, alarmingly like one might look at a thousand stars. Then he frowned playfully, Hongjoong puffing his cheeks full of air, making his lips bunch into a pout, and Seonghwa resisted the urge to lean down and kiss them.

Seonghwa jerked back as if he had been burned and Hongjoong sat up quickly, eyes wide and panicked at the sudden movement. “What?” He asked, hands poised to move to help with whatever had caused the flinch.

But Seonghwa was already getting to his feet, turning his back and running towards the door. “Bathroom,” was all he tossed over his shoulder as he tore the door open and ran out, down the hall.

He locked himself in a stall and leaned against the door, trying to breathe over an impending panic growing in his chest. He pressed his hands to his eyes and tried to calm down enough to think, but the only thought he mind was capable of processing was What the hell was I thinking?

He had thought about kissing Hongjoong. The thought had floated into his head so naturally and casually that for a moment, Seonghwa couldn’t see something wrong with it for a moment.

Seonghwa couldn’t see what was wrong with the fact he thought about kissing one of his members-

He breathed out hard, steeling himself. This was fine. The members kissed all the time, albeit on the cheeks, not the lips-

He breathed out. He was fine.

They kissed all the time. And they were all teenage boys who only spent time around each other so it was normal and natural that at some point, they start having weird feelings.

Feelings that didn’t have names but that actions spoke loudly for- he wanted to kiss Hongjoong.

“Fuck,” he whispered into the palm of his hand. “Fuck, fuck-“ He sucked in a breath until no more air could fit. Then he held it until his lungs burned and then he blew it out until his chest was empty. He was not fine.

Where the hell had that even come from? Why Hongjoong? The two of them had  become so close, until Seonghwa had forgotten the pain he used to feel, but what was this?

It was a fleeting moment, Seonghwa decided (like a victim entering into denial to protect themselves). Just one of those passing thoughts that people had that made no sense, like wanting to jump off of high places for no reason or thinking about how easily you could stab someone when you held a knife. That’s all this was.

He didn’t actually want to kiss Hongjoong. That would be weird, right? It would feel weird if he actually did it.

He imagined if he did do it- leaning in and pressed his lips against Hongjoong’s gently, testing, and they would be warm and probably taste like some chapstick he was using, and Hongjoong might freeze for a moment before he reciprocated, and their lips would move-

In his head, it didn’t feel weird at all.

Seonghwa slapped his hands to his cheeks as he felt them burn and felt his heart drop to his stomach. “Stop it,” he hissed to himself, slapping his cheeks and hitting his forehead as if he could physically knock the thought loose from his mind. “Fuck,” he hissed, chest tightening. He pressed a hand to his heart as he stared in horror.

This didn’t seem like a passing thought.

What the fuck was he supposed to do? Ignore it? What if it happened again? What if it kept happening? Did he address it? Should he talk to someone about it? Who could he even-

The bathroom door creaked open. “Hyung?”

For a terrifying moment, Seonghwa thought it was Hongjoong but then he registered it as Yeosang’s voice and relaxed slightly. “Yeah?” He answered in a voice that didn’t squeak out the panic in his chest.

“We need to start back up soon,” the younger informed him. “Are you almost done?”

“Yeah,” he assured him, rubbing at his face harshly. “I’ll be there in just a second.”

“Okay. Hurry up, though, the choreographer is going to show up, too.”

“I will.”

The door swung closed, and Seonghwa counted to ten before letting out a hard sigh. What should he do?

Well, for now there we nothing else to do but return to practice. He couldn’t hide out in this bathroom forever (as tempting as it was sounding). So he slapped his cheeks a few times and decided he just wouldn’t think about it. And if he did, he wouldn’t panic because that would just cause more questions that he really  couldn’t deal with at the moment.

He exited, washed his hands and splashed his face a little, and then returned to the practice room where everyone was stretching again. He saw Hongjoong look up from the corner of his eye but he went and stood with Yeosang, beginning some talk about the drama episode they watched last night.

And Seonghwa was actually foolish enough to think his half-baked plan would work.

But as soon as stretching was over, and they were getting into position to practice again, Hongjoong passed by him, pausing and catching his arm as he whispered, just for their ears, “You alright?”

And Seonghwa made the horrendous mistake of looking at Hongjoong instead of just brushing it off. Hongjoong looked at him gently, concern in his eyes and a slight furrow to his brow, like Seonghwa was one of the kids who was getting too stressed again. And, God, it only made his chest tighten again, and his tongue turned to lead in his mouth.

He knew that Hongjoong worried for him, but seeing it so blatantly, outside of the little world that was their room… It made Seonghwa immobile because, God , Seonghwa cared for Hongjoong. As deeply and fully as anyone could because Hongjoong did so much, and he did it well, and he was amazing and kind and funny and gorgeous-

And Seonghwa abandoned his plan completely as he jerked away from Hongjoong a little too quickly, not meeting his eyes as he muttered out a quick, “I’m fine,” and he couldn’t bring himself to look back because he knew he was going to see hurt in his eyes and Seonghwa couldn’t deal with that-

Couldn’t bear to face that fact that he had been the thing that hurt Hongjoong.

Seonghwa didn’t look at Hongjoong the rest of practice. Which was hard because they all faced a mirror together and Hongjoong was looking at him and Seonghwa was used to trying to catch his eye and smile or make a stupid face back at him.

But he resolutely stared at anyone else, and it was hard. It was exhausting. And by the time practice ended and he teacher dismissed them, he felt tired and achy in a way he usually didn’t, his chest feeling full of rocks.

And then they were all piling into the van, and Seonghwa usually sat with Hongjoong at the front, squished against him with Yunho or one of the others on his other side, but this time he told Wooyoung he wanted to show him something on his phone and he sat in the back with the others.

(San, who had been displaced, told Hongjoong he hope he didn’t mind being a pillow and laid his head on his shoulder, passing out quickly.) Seonghwa could feel Hongjoong’s eyes burning into him, but he didn’t look up from the stupid video he found out of desperation for his excuse.

They got home, San and Yeosang claiming first shower, and Seonghwa froze in the kitchen as he was faced with the realization he hadn’t even thought about: he and Hongjoong were roommates. It didn’t matter what he did, they’d been stuck together at some point or another.

“Hyung, are you feeling sick?” Wooyoung asked as he entered the kitchen, frowning. “You’ve been acting sort of out of it all day…” He took a cup and started filling it with some water.

Seonghwa shook his head sharply. “Just tired.” God forbid any of the kids ever found out about any of this.

Wooyoung hummed around the cup. “You take the next shower. You look tired, you should get to bed early.”

Usually, Seonghwa took a shower last purely out of telling everyone else to go before him because he tended to take his time, but this time, he just smiled gratefully and nodded. “Thanks.”

San took quick showers, so one of the bathrooms was freed up, and Seonghwa took the fastest shower he could. (Which was still pretty long apparently because he heard Yeosang exit the other bathroom and Hongjoong claim next shower by the time he finished.) Usually, he liked to enjoy the spray and the warmth and the silence only broken by the water falling- but this time, he just washed, turned off the water, threw on his clothes, and exited with a towel scrubbing at his hair.

“Shower’s free!” he called, and there was an oddly Mingi colored blur that rushed passed him to get in before anyone else could claim it. Seonghwa chuckled, forgetting for a moment about everything, until he wandered towards his room, bidding Wooyoung and Jongho goodnight in the living room, and pushing the door open.

And apparently, Hongjoong was taking quick showers today as well because he was already in the room, a towel thrown over his hair, his shirt off and his skin still damp from the water as he rummaged around his clothes pile. “Oh, hyung,” he said, turning when Seonghwa entered. There was nothing to tell about the brush off Seonghwa had given him before as he smile. “Have you seen my purple sweater? It’s not in my pile.” He turned back, giving Seonghwa a very clear view of the curve of his spine under pale skin. Lithe muscle moved as a water droplet slid down his back, and Seonghwa’s mouth felt dry even as his heart tap danced in his chest.

What the hell was wrong with him, he wanted to scream. He had seen Hongjoong shirtless- hell, almost completely naked- and it had never been a issue. They would just laze around their room without shirts a lot of the time because it wasn’t weird, but Seonghwa was making it weird, stop thinking about it-  

Hongjoong glanced back, frowning. “Hyung? Have you seen it?”

Seonghwa mentally slapped himself and tore his eyes away, pulling his towel over his eyes. “Uh- San stole it, I think.”

Hongjoong sighed, standing and turning completely to Seonghwa. “I wanted to wear that,” he muttered, moving around the room. “I guess I’ll just wear my sweatshirt.” He heard Hongjoong moving around. “Are you just going to stand there with a towel on your head?” he snickered, voice light, perhaps a bit too forcefully light  

Seonghwa carefully lifted the towel, and was greeted with Hongjoong facing him, two sweatshirts in hand and a grin on his face, and he wanted to hide behind the towel again. But he didn’t because like he was said before, Hongjoong was gorgeous. And Seonghwa had never meant it in any way other than supportive, but it was true, and he was looking at Hongjoong’s bare skin, and all he could think was that he was gorgeous .

He wasn’t like the other members- like Mingi and Jongho- who worked out and had muscles and toned abs and flexing arms. Hongjoong was small. He was flat and smooth and Seonghwa used to poke his stomach when he passed by and told him to get some abs, until Hongjoong agreed that maybe he should, and Seonghwa almost killed him because don’t you dare, that stomach is precious-

“Should I wear this one to practice tomorrow?” Hongjoong wondered, holding up one. “No, it’s supposed to be colder tomorrow, so I’ll wear this one.”

Thank God , Seonghwa wanted to shout, just put a shirt on.

Hongjoong slipped his arms in, but didn’t pull it down, frowning. “We’re not going anywhere but practice tomorrow, right? Do you think we-”

“Are you ever going to put on a shirt?” And Seonghwa regretted the little snap as soon as it slipped out. It wasn’t violent or loud,but it was sharp, and he saw Hongjoong blink in surprise, and then his face fell, and it was the same reason he couldn’t look at him before because Seonghwa wasn’t supposed to hurt him, Seonghwa never wanted to hurt him-

“Sorry,” Hongjoong muttered, voice small as he quickly pulled the shirt on the rest of the way. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

You absolute ass, Park Seonghwa.

He sighed, pressing his hands to his eyes. “No,” he said quickly. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t know why I snapped, I shouldn’t have-” He sighed harder, feeling his eyes sting because he was doing this. Hongjoong was doing nothing. All these problems were of his own creation, but he was taking it out on Hongjoong as if he was to blame. “Earlier, too,” he murmured. “I’m sorry I pushed you away like that, you were- I’m sorry.”

Seonghwa stared at his bare feet and wondered if he should just try and sleep in Yeosang’s room, but he heard Hongjoong step forward slowly, hesitantly, and Seonghwa never wanted Hongjoong to have to hesitate with him,but he was tearing down everything they had built together.

“It’s okay to be upset, hyung,” Hongjoong said quietly, small, chilled fingers brushing Seonghwa’s arm gently before retreating. “You’re allowed to feel like this. You don’t always have to be the happy, supportive hyung.”

Seonghwa wanted to pull away, but even if he would allow himself to hurt Hongjoong again, the smaller suddenly took his hand firmly. “Hongjoong-”

“You’re always taking care of us,” Hongjoong went on quickly, as if it was something hard to say. “Taking care of me… and I never get to return the favor because you never need anything. I have nothing I can ever give you back, and I hate it… So, if you’re feeling upset… or tired… or angry… Let me do something for you.”

Seonghwa tried to swallow around the lump in his throat, but his eyes stung, and his heart was beating so loudly, he was sure Hongjoong could feel his pulse through his hand. It wasn’t like that, he wanted to assure him. He was upset with himself, not with the others, but he couldn’t tell him that because then he’d have to explain why.

“I just… want to sleep,” he said evenly, slowly pulling away from Hongjoong’s touch that was too soft and warm. “I’m tired.” He glanced up finally, and wished he hadn’t.

Hongjoong was looking at him, and his expression was so sad and desperate, begging Seonghwa the same way Seonghwa had begged him to rely on him. Seonghwa hated himself. But then it became a thousand times worse as he realized Hongjoong’s eyes were misty, and then Hongjoong blinked and a tear fell across the curve of his cheek.

Seonghwa had fucked up so bad.

“I’m sorry,” Hongjoong whispered, blinking hard and making more tears fall as he let go of Seonghwa’s hand, leaving him feeling empty. “ I’m sorry I made it weird, hyung,” he said in a rush. “I’m sorry- I tried to keep it to myself, and I thought- I thought I was , but then you- you noticed, and now I’ve ruined everything-

The sadness had twisting into anger as Hongjoong spoke to himself, and Seonghwa was standing there, wondering why Hongjoong was apologizing.

“Stop.”

Hongjoong cut himself off mid-word, and looked at Seonghwa like he was about to find the nearest roof to throw himself off of, and something was very wrong right now. “Why are you sorry?” he said, but it came out quieter, like a whisper.

And Hongjoong, whether to match his tone or just because he lacked the strength, whispered back. “I ruined everything,” he cried softly. “I thought- I thought I could hide it, but then today at practice, you suddenly pulled away, and then you started avoiding me, and I knew you must have noticed-”

“Noticed what?” Seonghwa broke in, frowning in confusion even as his heart was about to beat out of his chest. “I-I pulled away from you because of things I had done. Not you.”

Hongjoong opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. “But- The shirt… and you wouldn’t sit by me-”

“I-” Seonghwa still didn’t know what Hongjoong was talking about, but he was blaming himself for Seonghwa’s mistakes, and even if it meant Seonghwa destroyed everything, he couldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t hurt Hongjoong anymore- or let Hongjoong hurt himself- especially not for something he was involved in. “I don’t what you’re talking about,” He said slowly, choosing his words carefully. “But at practice… I thought about something. And I panicked over it. I was stupid over it, and you- you thought it was you, but it wasn’t. I was only upset at myself for everything.”

Hongjoong was confused, clearly, but he was no longer crying softly, just frowning at Seonghwa like he could make himself understand by pure will. “Then- What did you think about? Was it something I did? Why did you avoid me ?”

“It wasn’t anything-” But Seonghwa couldn’t finish because it was something Hongjoong did, but it wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his fault that apparently Seonghwa had long been falling down a hole.

Had long been…

This was a long time coming. Seonghwa never started their relationship wanting it to progress passed friends. But somehow… hurtful words had changed to playing, had changed to trusting, had changed to… whatever it was that Seonghwa’s heart kept doing every time he saw Hongjoong. But it wasn’t Hongjoong’s fault. Hongjoong just wanted a friend, and Seonghwa thought that’s what he was, but suddenly he was staring at Hongjoong’s lips and now he had made Hongjoong cry.

“So you… haven’t noticed?” Hongjoong murmured, watching Seonghwa through his bangs, and Seonghwa had never really seen Hongjoong shy, but that was what he thought was happening here.

“Noticed what?” That he was an idiot? That Hongjoong was ridiculously attractive and apparently Seonghwa just wanted to kiss his stupid face? Because he had notice both of those.

“You haven’t,” Hongjoong realized, eyes widening slightly. “Then why-” He hesitated. “Why did you look at me like that?” he voice was small, barely a whisper, dying in his throat before he even finished. But Seonghwa heard.

“Like what?” What had his face been doing? He had been so focused on not thinking, on not making his panic obvious, he hadn’t even paid attention to what expressions he must have had.

He hid his face further, covering his mouth with a hand. “Like… Like you didn’t want to be around me anymore?” Seonghwa’s stomach disappeared, but Hongjoong kept talking. “If you didn’t know… why did you look at me like that?”

“What didn’t I notice?” It tumbled out of his lips fast and desperate because Seonghwa felt like this was a missing piece he needed.

Hongjoong shook his head. “It’s not important. You didn’t notice, so you-”

“Hongjoong.”

The younger sighed, looking back at Seonghwa, begging him with his eyes not to push the issue.

“Only if you tell me why you were upset with yourself,” he conditioned seriously, and Seonghwa nodded without thinking.

“Tell me what I didn’t notice.”

His jaw flexed, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth and worrying it for so long, Seonghwa thought he would refuse to answer. “I thought you had noticed… how I looked at you.”

And pieces started falling into place in Seonghwa’s mind, but he almost wished he was wrong. “How did you look at me?”

(He remembered how Hongjoong stared at a thousand stars.)

Hongjoong wouldn’t meet his eyes, but Seonghwa reached forward, fingers brushing Hongjoong’s hand, but he jerked away, crossing his arms over his chest protectively. Seonghwa’s voice was gentle. “How did you look at me, Hongjoong?”

“Why were you upset at yourself?” Hongjoong pressed firmly, staring at his feet. “Why did you act like that?” He was scared… scared to find out what had been going through Seonghwa’s head.

And suddenly the leap he was taking didn’t seem quite so far away from Hongjoong’s cliff.

“I thought about kissing you.”

Hongjoong’s head jerked up so quickly, Seonghwa heard a crack, but his eyes were wide, a little terrified, and in disbelief. “You thought about-” His whisper choked off, and he suddenly dripped his eyes at the ground, bangs hiding his face as he brought his hands up to slap at his cheeks. He could hear Hongjoong cough gently, and when he looked up, he was unsure- like someone testing each step on thin ice before trusting it to hold their weight.

“Was it that repulsive to you?” he asked, voice small and scared in his chest. “The thought of kissing me?”

The piece seemed to click into place in Seonghwa’s mind, and his mouth felt dry. “It wasn’t,” he said quietly, which made Hongjoong swallow thickly. “I was upset-” He shook his head quickly. “No, I was scared . Because I thought I would like it.”

Hongjoong choked a little, but didn’t look away from Seonghwa as the older took a step closer to him, only a foot between them, making Hongjoong lift his head to keep watching him. “How did you look at me?” he whispered, afraid that anything louder would break whatever had delicately bridged the gap between them.

“How did you not notice?” Hongjoong whispered, a little accusing.

“Tell me now,” Seonghwa requested.

He scoffed, turning away, staring at the wall to their left. “I- I just… You’re- I just look at you. And-” He sighed in frustration. “I don’t know how to describe it with words, it doesn’t work-”

Seonghwa lifted a hand, cupping Hongjoong’s cheek and gently turning it back to face him, pressing a little closer. Hongjoong fell completely still, staring up at Seonghwa with wide eyes as Seonghwa swallowed. “I can’t find words either,” he admitted quietly, his words having to travel only inches before hitting Hongjoong’s lips. “I’m terrible at trying to describe things with words. They lose all their beauty.”

Hongjoong swallowed, tongue darting out to wet his lips. Seonghwa’s mouth was dry.

“Will you let me show you?” he requested quietly, thumb stroking gingerly over Hongjoong’s cheek. Feelings sparked action. Seonghwa couldn’t name the emotion stuck in his throat (it seemed wrong it call it infatuation, but he was scared to put a stronger label on it). But this... He was sure of what he wanted to do . Even if he was lost on what he felt.

Hongjoong nodded, cheek brushing against Seonghwa’s palm. “You can show me.”

Seonghwa hadn’t realized these feelings long enough to ever dream of getting to this point. He felt like he had blinked and suddenly he was here, and he almost hesitated, almost was afraid he was moving too quickly, that this may be a passing, fleeting whim-

But then he thought back to the months leading up to this. He had acknowledged that his relationship with Hongjoong was different. The way he wanted to help him, the way he tried to reach out to him, the way he responded to him- it was different. And maybe at the time it had been purely platonic, but it was enough that Seonghwa was certain: this moment was months in the making.

Seonghwa felt things for Hongjoong well before he thought of his lips.

So, now that he was here, staring down at him, hand braced against his cheek, and Hongjoong staring at him like he was a thousand stars-

At the very least, he had a good feeling the emotions- whatever they were- were reciprocated.

Seonghwa leaned forward, and Hongjoong pushed up, eyes falling closed as their lips connected.

Seonghwa didn’t know what he thought it would be like to kiss Hongjoong. He had barely allowed himself a moment to dwell on the fantasy,but he knew that nothing his mind could ever come up with would amount to anything close to the heat spreading from his chest out to his fingertips.

Hongjoong was warm and even thought Seonghwa only touched his face and his other hand settled against his hip, he felt like the other was so small- it made something both warm and protective swell in his chest, making it a little hard to breathe.

He felt Hongjoong sigh against his lips, his hands coming up to clutch at Seonghwa’s biceps tightly. It was hardly a kiss- just the two of them with their lips resting against each other, and then Hongjoong squeezed his bicep, pushing against Seonghwa more insistently, and Seonghwa let his hand drag from Hongjoong’s cheek to the back of his head, threading through the long hairs there, still damp from the shower,  and using the grip to tilt Hongjoong’s head- who followed like they had done this a thousand times- deepening the kiss with the new angle.

Hongjoong parted his lips slightly- an invitation, but not a demand- and Seonghwa accepted, licking at Hongjoong’s lips before moving to explore his mouth. He shivered in Seonghwa’s grip, melting into his chest a little, but Seonghwa tightened his grip, keeping him steady against him.

(It didn’t matter if it was in tears or here, Seonghwa wouldn’t let him fall.)

Hongjoong tilted his head, opening his mouth further and allowing Seonghwa freedom to do as he liked, fingers flexing against his arms as Seonghwa pushed him backwards carefully. Hongjoong allowed himself to be directed until his back hit the wall, and Seonghwa used the new support to press into Hongjoong harder, dragging his teeth over his bottom lip.

Hyung ,” Hongjoong gasped into the kiss before Seonghwa tilted his head for better access, returning and tasting him again.

Seonghwa had heard Hongjoong call him hyung angrily, happily, sarcastically- he had never heard himself called like this, and it only added more coals to the smouldering warm in his stomach.

The kiss became faster as Hongjoong took a less passive role, kissing and licking back at Seonghwa, and only when they had to pause for air, did Seonghwa find words being pushed onto his tongue.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Hongjoong whispered into the centimeters between them, a delicate hand dragging up Seonghwa’s chest, making him repress a shiver as Hongjoong’s eyes trailed from his eyes to his lips to his jaw. He leaned forward, cheek dragging against Seonghwa’s as his warm lips mouthed at the junction of his jaw.

He swallowed, and he felt Hongjoong smile against his skin (it was a little bit of an addicting feeling), kissing his Adam’s apple and sucking gently (not enough to leave marks). “Why?” he managed as Hongjoong began nosing at Seonghwa’s cheek.

Hongjoong chuckled, kissing his cheek gently. “You’re more than a little breathtaking, hyung,” he whispered.

Seonghwa leaned down, kissing him again, and Hongjoong made a noise in the back of his throat that made Seonghwa groan slightly against his lips. His mind was occupied with the fact that Hongjoong had been waiting for this. Had been going through what Seonghwa only experienced for a day for… perhaps weeks. Maybe even months.

His hands traveled from Hongjoong’s neck to his shoulders, dragging down his lithe frame and slim hips as they ended on the swell of his ass and squeezed lightly. Hongjoong gasped into the kiss, jerking forward, and Seonghwa couldn’t help but chuckle at the reaction, bending to kiss at Hongjoong’s neck.

The other tilted his head to give him better access, and Seonghwa wanted to experiment and experience so many things with him, but it was too soon. So he slid his hands back up to rest on his hips, pressing him further into the wall and kissing him again, tongue tangling as Hongjoong made more noises in the back of his throat that Seonghwa liked a little too much.

It wasn’t until Hongjoong rutted his hips forward with a broken “ hyung ”  that Seonghwa had the mind to pull away, grip tightening on Hongjoong’s hips to stop him from doing it again because if he let him, they were going to vault way over where Seonghwa was sure they should be.

Hongjoong whined lightly at the restriction, and Seonghwa pulled away enough to pant against his lips. “I think-” He swallowed, distracted for a moment as Hongjoong looked up at him with red, swollen lips and his half-dried hair messed and his cheeks pink, and his eyes dark and anticipating-

“I think we need to wait a minute,” Seonghwa managed, focusing only on Hongjoong’s eyes. “We- This isn’t something we can just… jump into.”

Hongjoong whined, letting his head drop onto Seonghwa’s shoulder. “I hate when you’re responsible,” he muttered against his neck.

“Me, too,” Seonghwa assured him.

Hongjoong sighed against his neck, which made him shiver, but then he straightened and licked at his lips. “Come here,” he requested quietly, hands gripping Seonghwa’s and leading him towards Hongjoong’s bottom bunk. For a moment, Seonghwa hesitated, but Hongjoong just chuckled. “We’re just sitting,” he assured him, and Seonghwa allowed himself to be lead until they were sitting on the edge of the bed. Seonghwa had to hunch to not hit his head, and Hongjoong laughed again, letting go and sliding into the bed, laying against the wall and patting the bed for Seonghwa to lay down.

Seonghwa knew that he wouldn’t let anything happen, so he obliged, laying down and facing Hongjoong. It felt vaguely like being at a sleep over, about to start sharing secrets underneath blankets. It felt a lot like nights Seonghwa was used to- where he would lay with Hongjoong and the two of them would fall asleep together because even the two feet that separated their beds made it too lonely.  

But then Hongjoong reached forward and threaded their fingers together, and that was not usual.

“It’s not just because you’re attractive,” he murmured quietly, staring at their intertwined hands.

Seonghwa frowned. “What?”

He glanced up from their hands, cheeks a little pink. “Why I started… liking you.” He choked a little, but got it out. “It’s not just because you’re stunning.”

And somehow, through everything they had just done, it was this that made Seonghwa duck his head as his cheeks heated.

Hongjoong went on. “I… maybe that’s why I started noticing things,” he admitted. “But… it only got easier and easier the closer we got. And then… I just started getting stupid happy around you, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept quiet.” He swallowed. “And then in the practice room, we were playing around, and you were smiling down at me, and Jesus Christ, Seonghwa, you’re so fucking attractive.” He pressed his lips together. “And I looked at you… and I thought you had figured out what I was feeling, so you ran.”

Seonghwa shook his head quickly, tightening his grip on Hongjoong’s smaller hand in his. “No, I didn’t, I-” He sighed. “It’s hard to explain. But I think I went about it the opposite of you. I think I felt things I thought were friendship, and then I started noticing things that… weren’t what friends would notice. And I was scared.”

“Of what?” Hongjoong whispered, staring at him curiously.

“Of being weird,” he admitted. “We’ve been friends for years. But suddenly I was thinking about kissing my best friend- I didn’t even consider that you might feel the same. But then again, I was panicking most of the time, so I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“I must be a better actor than I give myself credit for, then, if you never noticed,” Hongjoong chuckled. “I was sure you had noticed a few times, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

Seonghwa shook his head. “I never considered it. But maybe all  I have is my pretty face,” he sighed.

“I told you it’s not just your face,” Hongjoong said firmly, locking eyes with the older. “I could stand here for days and list all the amazing things about you, hyung. It’s literally everything about you. Everything from your stupid jokes, to watching you take care of the kids- the ways you take care of me-” Hongjoong shook his head. “I always noticed you were... good looking. And I always thought you noticed- even in the beginning when you would bring me snacks, I always gave in. I think I first time felt… something, though, was when I cried on you that first time. Do you remember? And you told me… you said, you were there, you were always going to be there…”

How could Seonghwa ever forget that night?

“I was serious when I told you, back then, that I wasn’t sure I would have made it without you,” Hongjoong murmured. “I started relying on you, and you always seemed to try and do more. But I didn’t need much physical support. I knew that I give you any task and you’d agree in a heartbeat. But what you were… you were always there. And that’s what I needed. Knowledge that no matter what happened, where we ended up, I had someone at my back.”

Seonghwa’s lips curled into a smile. “Every pirate king needs a first mate.”

Hongjoong snorted, hitting Seonghwa’s check with a weak fist. “You’re dumb,” he muttered, eyes falling to their hands again, and Hongjoong ran a soft finger across the back of Seonghwa’s hand, tickling his skin. “But it’s sort of the same, I guess…”

“Now, you’re being dumb,” Seonghwa chuckled, shifting forward and pressing a gentle kiss to Hongjoong’s forehead.

He squeaked angrily, hiding his face in Seonghwa’s neck. “That’s a reason too,” He muttered angrily. “You just ravaged me against a wall and now you’re giving forehead kisses.”

Seonghwa choked. “It wasn’t ravaging,” he said indignantly, face heating.

“It felt like it from where I was stand-”

Seonghwa kissed him firmly just to make him stop talking, and Hongjoong made a pleased sound in the back of his throat, like a cat being pet. He pulled away and rested their foreheads together. “Stop talking,” he requested.

Hongjoong grinned. “You could make me,” he said coyly, eyebrows lifting suggestively. “There’s lots of ways….”

Seonghwa smiled sarcastically, poking his nose. “ That is a decision that is going to take more than twenty four hours of acknowledgement and one intense make out session.”

Hongjoong puffed out his cheeks in the same face that started all this, and he had to kiss him once more. He sighed. “But someday, right?” Hongjoong asked quietly, unsure. “Later? When we’re… more secure?”

Seonghwa chuckled, leaning forward, brushing his lips over Hongjoong’s, but not fully kissing. “If we had an end-date, I would be counting the seconds. But there are a few conversations that need to happen first.”

“I thought you wanted me to stop talking,” he snickered, and Seonghwa resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

“I won’t make you stop talking wit’s any of your ideas,” Seonghwa assured him, slipping a hand through Hongjoong’s hair, making him preen. “But I’m very satisfied with  kissing you until you don’t have breath to speak anymore.”

Hongjoong smiled, leaning forward until their noses brushed. “I would quite frankly like nothing more,” he whispered against his lips.

Seonghwa kissed him briefly, pulling back before doing it again. “I feel like I have lost time I need to carch up on,” he said, feeling his chest seize delightfully when Hongjoong smiled warmly, eyes filled with stars.

“Feel free to follow that feeling,” Hongjoong assured him. “I’d hate for you to miss out on anything.”

Seonghwa kissed him deeper, the two of them shifting until his upper half hovered over Hongjoong, one hand holding him up by Hongjoong’s shoulder and the other caressing the back of his head. Hongjoong hummed happily against his lips, and Seonghwa didn’t think he would ever get tired of hearing that.

He was careful to pull back when they got too intense, too lost in each other, and Hongjoong whined about it every time, but simply allowed himself to wait until they had both calmed down a little. Seonghwa was quickly realizing that kissing Hongjoong may just become his favorite pastime. And he found it was easy to find a rhythm because it was no different than his life before: he wanted Hongjoong to feel nice, to feel like he could do whatever he wanted, he wanted to take care of him and make sure nothing hurt him-

It was similar here as Seonghwa listened to Hongjoong whine when he sucked gently beneath his ear. But he saved all this information for later- for when it come in handy and Seonghwa would tear Hongjoong down to nothing and then put him back together. But that was for later. Seonghwa wanted something like that to be something neither would regret.

Even though he highly doubted that was possible.

Eventually, the time got late, and Seonghwa whispered against his lips that it was time for bed. Hongnjoong complained, but complied, laying beside each other before he slid over, tucking himself beneath Seonghwa’s arm and resting his head on his chest comfortably. “I’ve been waiting for this, too,” he whispered into the darkness of the room.

Seonghwa wondered if he could feel his heart pounding, but didn’t dwell on it as he wrapped his arm around Hongjoong’s small frame. He felt like this was so fast but such a long time in the making.

“We can talk more in the morning,” Seonghwa promised. “And we’ll figure… everything out.”

Hongjoong hummed, already half asleep as the exhaustion of the day and the warmth of the bed started dragging him down. “You don’t… regret any of this, do you?”

“No,” Seonghwa answered without even thinking. “Even if I wasn’t sure before, I know…” He swallowed. “I said before, I don’t know how describe this feeling. I don’t know what to call it. But I know what it makes me do. What it makes me want to do.”

Seonghwa was awful at trying to put things into words. But he was glad he didn’t need them here. It didn’t matter what the thing between them was called . It mattered that it made Seonghwa so stupidly happy and excited and terrified that he never wanted to let go of the boy in his arms.

“Good,” Hongjoong murmured. “Then go to sleep, and we’ll figure anything else out in the morning.”

Seonghwa closed his eyes, but didn’t sleep. He stayed awake, listening to Hongjoong breathe, feeling how he shifted against him to get comfortable, thinking that this could be a regular thing now.

It didn’t matter what that ‘thing’ was.

Seonghwa was going to hold onto it as tight as he could.