He didn't realize it at first. That he was in love.
Hyunjin had always been better friends with Changbin-- late night sleepovers with pizza and video games-- and Seungmin was closer with Jeongin, no matter how hard the maknae tried to deny it. And love was such a specific thing. Hyunjin didn't think that his instinct to seek out Seungmin when he was feeling dangerously close to crying could ever be something like love. He only knew that he felt incomplete, and sometimes Seungmin was the only one who could take the sting away.
When the fans heard about it-- that Seungmin had held Hyunjin for half an hour while he cried-- they were surprised. Seungmin didn't seem the type. Not on the surface.
But they didn't get to see the side of him that Hyunjin did. The side that accepted Hyunjin's seeking fingers silently and without question, no matter where they were. The side that waited until Hyunjin was completely done crying before offering advice, knowing it wasn't wanted when all Hyunjin wanted to do was let out his feelings. And the side that always saved Hyunjin the sweetest piece of the watermelon, just because it was his favorite fruit. The sweet, cool taste of watermelon on his tongue always reminded him of Seungmin now.
The whole year after debut, Hyunjin felt something growing in his chest. When he went to sleep on his own he was restless, and on days when he woke next to Seungmin he felt peaceful.
He really, really didn't think it was love.
Changbin touched Hyunjin's lips in the middle of the night. "Do you like me?" he asked.
"Of course I like you."
Changbin scowled. "No. You know what I mean."
"Oh. No, not like that."
Changbin just hummed. He didn't seem upset. "Do you like anyone?"
Hyunjin thought about it as he ran his hand lightly up and down Changbin's back. Changbin was warm and soft and small, and it made Hyunjin want to take care of him. Wrap him up with his arms and plant a big kiss on his forehead and tuck him into bed. That was a kind of love.
"I don't think so," Hyunjin replied. He really didn't think he did.
"Hm," was all Changbin said. "I like your lips."
They fell asleep tangled in one another's arms. Hyunjin liked it that way.
And then the thing they'd all been fearing happened. Seungmin got injured. Not so badly, but enough to scare everyone. Enough to scare Hyunjin.
When they went to Australia, Hyunjin was glued to his side. He couldn't explain why. But when he was apart from Seungmin-- when he saw his friend, his other half, sitting alone and immobile, it awakened something primal in him. Pack-like. As if Seungmin had no business being so far away from his pack, and Hyunjin couldn't rest until he was at Seungmin's side again.
"You can go with the others," Seungmin said.
"I don't want to."
If it had been Chan in Seungmin's place, Chan would have argued, being aggressively nice until Hyunjin agreed to go have fun. But Seungmin accepted it. Accepted Hyunjin's proffer of companionship.
Hyunjin crawled into Changbin's bed. He wrapped his limbs around the smaller boy, nuzzled his face in Changbin's back.
"I think I like Seungmin."
Changbin turned around, curled into Hyunjin's chest. "I know."
"I know. We all know." He yawned. "Even Seungmin knows."
Hyunjin felt something rise in his chest, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. "What do I do?"
Changbin's fingers emerged from the blankets. They traced Hyunjin's lips. "Go to sleep," he said.
And he did.
After he realized it was love, suddenly it stopped being easy. When Seungmin appeared at his side, he froze. Made excuses.
"I forgot about my laundry," he blurted out.
"Hyunjin, you don't do your own laundry," Seungmin said. His arms were crossed and his head was tilted. "You're avoiding me."
Hyunjin's body responded for him, instinctively wiggling his arms and hopping in place like he always did when he was embarrassed. "Yeah," he admitted. He didn't know why, but he could always tell the truth to Seungmin. Eventually.
"I wish you wouldn't." Seungmin's eyebrows were scrunched together and the corners of his mouth looked like they wanted to frown. "You've liked me for a long time. Why does it have to be different now?"
"I didn't know before." He thought of sharing watermelon with Seungmin. Thought of how his lips would taste after, cool and sticky sweet.
Seungmin stepped forward and Hyunjin wasn't used to how fast his heart raced in his chest. "Would it help if I said I like you too?"
Watermelon juice running down his chin, wiped away with the back of a hand. That's what the words felt like. His eyes crinkled.
"Yeah. It would."
Hyunjin didn't know that things could be the same and yet so different. He still went to Seungmin when he needed comfort. They still slept together some nights, their legs still all tangled together. Seungmin still got cross with Hyunjin for drooling on the pillow. But now there was something else there, too; some kind of seed of newness nestled in between the familiarity and routine.
Now when he dragged his leg against Seungmin's under the sheets, all of his own little hairs stood up. Responding to the same-but-different skin. Skin he knew, but suddenly not well enough.
Seungmin called him weird. "Why are you rubbing my shin?"
"Wanna feel you."
Hyunjin made a noise of frustration and pulled his hand out from under the covers, abandoning Seungmin's skin. "I just want to be closer. To you. All of you."
Others might not get it. He didn't use the right words, sometimes. But Seungmin wasn't other, and that was the whole thing it had taken Hyunjin so long to figure out. Seungmin understood.
"I'm not different," he said. "I'm the same me."
"Yeah, but I'm not."
Seungmin turned to face him. For a moment they stared at each other. Hyunjin liked when Seungmin's moles weren't covered with foundation, when he could see all the pores and soft downy hairs of natural skin. Seungmin had nice skin. Soft, and dewy, and--
He didn't realize Seungmin was kissing him until their lips were already pressed together.
"Tastes the same to me."
Despite himself, Hyunjin laughed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I kissed you once. While you were sleeping. You thought I was Changbin."
Changbin used to kiss him. Said he liked the way Hyunjin's lips felt on his. "Like tangerines." It wasn't really a kiss, even, more just Changbin rubbing the soft, giving skin of their lips together and giggling.
"Why?" Hyunjin couldn't remember it. He wanted to.
Seungmin shrugged. "Like you said. I just wanted to be closer to you." He licked his lips. "You taste the same as you did back then."
Hyunjin's skin prickled. "Maybe you should check again. Just to be safe."
Seungmin laughed through his nose, and then they both closed their eyes, finding each other in the darkness, not needing sight-- because you don't need to be able to see to find something that's part of yourself.