Seungwoo is kind. Too kind, that Wooseok has come to detest such fact.
Seungwoo is a born leader; his arms a solace for weary bones, shoulders a hamlet for tears that could no longer be kept at bay, for words walls aren't allowed to intercept. He was never for himself. He was always for someone else, for everyone else. Everything he does is a testament to such fact and Wooseok has become an unwilling witness: from how his palms are always warm, capable of shedding away the day's exhaustion under his touch; to his way with words, uttering the right ones at the right moment, untangling cords of confusion in the minds of those who seek him for comfort.
Seungwoo is kind and Wooseok hates how it has become an inevitable excuse.
He watches silently as Seungwoo breaks in laughter across the room, head coming to nuzzle Dongpyo's chest and a hand planted on Yohan's thigh. Seungwoo is a walking skinship dispenser, with how he naturally curls against persons beside him despite his large built and how his hand always latches on anything—knees, nape, arms or legs.
Wooseok hates how his mind travels on its own back to the times he has found himself at the receiving end of Seungwoo's kindness. It's autopilot when his brain starts to compare: how he hugs Wooseok longer, tighter, compared to how he has Hyeongjun against his chest right now. How his eyes look softer when he's looking at Wooseok than how he's staring at Hyeongjun who has pushed himself off against the older's chest.
Maybe Wooseok should put down his rose-tinted glasses. His thought process has always been muddled when it comes to matters concerning Seungwoo. And so he slips back behind his facade, having long mastered the art of suspending questions and repressing all confusion to the farthest recesses of his mind. Putting on a mask of indifference has become second nature now.
But as Seungwoo's shirt rides to the side to reveal the tattoo curling on his chest when Eunsang almost topples him in another fit of laughter, the pads of Wooseok's fingers tingle at the memory of countless nights of hushed conversations and mindless drawings on bare skin.
He wonders if it's also Seungwoo's kindness which allowed him to feel his heartbeat under his palm on the many nights they've shared together.
The first time they've kissed, it's with Seungwoo pulling Wooseok as soon as the curtains fall down the stage, leading him across the darkness with a firm hold on his hand. It's with Wooseok stepping back until his back meets something—an equipment, his mind quips for a split second—before Seungwoo's hands cup his face and lips cover his gently, moving in a slow dance, a stark contrast from how their hearts are still thundering against their ribcages, thumping loudly against their ears.
Wooseok remembers the indistinct cheers of the fans, drowning each noise he makes against Seungwoo's lips before they even reach his ears. He remembers Seungwoo pulling him close, leaving not a breath of space between their bodies, and how Seungwoo felt so warm when Wooseok slides a palm against his cheek, pushing on his tippy toes to angle himself and kiss Seungwoo better, in the same force as the one threatening to explode inside his chest.
When they part, it's for Seungwoo to lean his head on Wooseok's shoulder, a shaky breath escaping his lips and trembling hands finding home in Wooseok's hold.
Wooseok's thoughts are a train wreck, the lone thing which survives the crash is how they should be back with the others now. They're supposed to celebrate their debut as a team, screaming at the top of their lungs to drain traces of adrenaline, but the lingering heat of the kiss overshadows Wooseok's concern. His mind blanks and his limbs move on their own accord, surrendering against the warmth that is Seungwoo in his arms.
"I'm glad I have you here with me." It's said barely above whisper, but Wooseok hears him clearly.
It's the first line they've crossed.
Wooseok wonders if it was a mistake.
"Why is it Eunsang? You like quiet ones, hyung?"
The car is bustling with everyone talking simultaneously or just plain screaming at each other. Wooseok feels a wave of an incoming headache, but it's quick to dissipate into bubbles against the shores of Wooseok's curiosity when he picks up Yohan's question among the chaos.
"But he chose Seungyoun hyung as well." Eunsang interjects lowly at the back.
Confusion laces Yohan's voice even more after Eunsang's news, "Why? They're like polar opposites, hyung."
Seungwoo's soft laughter is distinct amidst the commotion, drowning everything else in the sea of noise in Wooseok's ears.
"I like everyone."
There it is, the generic Seungwoo answer, dripping with kindness as always. Wooseok slumps against his seat, feeling the ripples of a headache coming back.
"You're no fun, hyung."
"Why? Did you want it to be you, Yohan? Come here, I'll give you a kiss."
Yohan squeaks defensively, crossing his arms against his chest. "That's not what I meant!"
Wooseok closes his eyes and tries to tune out the voices. He fails, but heaven showers him with little mercies as the car halts before their apartment building shortly.
He's the first one to step out, quick steps separating him from the rest.
( When their side of the world goes to sleep, it's Wooseok whom Seungwoo kisses, with the counter digging at his back and with Seungwoo's arms caging him by the sides. It's Wooseok's skin which Seungwoo maps with his hands, touch smoldering like firebrand. And when Seungwoo takes his hand and leads him to his bedroom, a request of spending the night together falling from soft lips, Wooseok chokes back the question that has been clawing in his throat for exit.
He wonders if Seungwoo always goes around kissing people he doesn't think of settling with. )
The thing is, they don't address it.
More kisses are shared, hugs lingering more than the last one, but the uncertainty which hangs between them squeezes at Wooseok's chest each time he has to let go of Seungwoo and pretend his heart doesn't ache while his mind screams at him to hold Seungwoo back, to ask him to stay a little while longer.
He hates it. How Seungwoo steals not only his breath with every kiss they share but slivers of what little peace of mind Wooseok has left, and ultimately, parts of himself, without any form of security. He hates how Seungwoo always takes, but hates even more the fact that he'll always be generous. He knows he'll give even without being asked.
It's Seungwoo, a little voice reasons, he can never deny him.
( The rational part of him whispers yes, you can, but Wooseok is notorious for never listening to reason when it comes to matters of the heart. He'll learn it the hard way. )
Slipping into each other's rooms at the dead of the night has become an arrangement. More lines are crossed with nights spent together in darkness with only the moonlight slithering through the blinds, hands snaking under cotton shirts, breathy sighs, marks littered on skin.
"You're my favorite." Seungwoo says one night.
They're three simple words which should be accorded simple interpretation, but Wooseok has never been simple. Not with Seungwoo. Not with whatever that is going on between them.
Wooseok stares at the ceiling which Seungwoo has decorated with glowing stickers, having whined about wanting his own skyful of stars. He chews on his lip, tries to match the rise and fall of the other's chest with his own while he stitches the words together inside his head.
"Favorite what?" He finally lets himself ask, feeling the air getting knocked off his lungs at the same time the words escape his mouth.
Wooseok suppresses a shaky breath as he waits for Seungwoo's answer. Although he has Seungwoo pressed beside him, whom he dubbed as his personal sun, cold still manages to creep into his skin, snaking up his legs, to his chest, curling around his neck. The silence is suffocating and Wooseok begins to wonder would have it been better had he not spoken.
"Just my favorite." Seungwoo finally answers with an air of non-chalance.
( Something breaks. Maybe it's the ice which has built over Wooseok over the wait. Maybe it's his own heart breaking, for he knows it's not the answer he was hoping to hear. )
Seungwoo faces him and brings him to his chest, but for the first time since he's ever been held by the man who puts his heart at ease and chaos at the same time, the embrace doesn't bring the familiar comfort it usually carries. Instead it's scalding. It paints red at the back of Wooseok's eyelids.
Wooseok ignores the flags and holds onto Seungwoo anyway.
When he wakes up alone in bed the morning after, Wooseok swallows the disappointment fast. Not like it's the first time he has woken up to cold sheets and memories of a man from the night before who feels more like a fever dream. He leaves the bed and the sun's rays greet him.
Even with his mind still clouded with sleep, a realization dawns upon him, settling in his gut like an anchor, weighing him down too early in the morning.
He can never have the sun in his arms else he burns himself. The sun is only meant to be appreciated from afar. It rises for everyone, never will it cast its rays for only one.
It's a task to carry on with the day with a dead weight lodged in his chest.
Choosing to neglect reason is one thing, being reckless is another. Adding notoriety to the mix produces disaster, and that's what Wooseok exactly is: a person who follows his heart more than his mind, ready to jump off a cliff whenever, even when what's at stake is his heart that's barely hanging by a thread.
It's foolish, he accedes. But the heart wants what it wants, in any form, so long as it gets a piece of heaven it's looking for.
And so when they finally happen, Wooseok holds onto Seungwoo like a lifeline, paints Seungwoo's back like a canvas with red from his nails, brings him closer until every inch of their bare skins touch, in an attempt to imprint himself on the other. The new warmth which Seungwoo engulfs him with almost tears the three words out of Wooseok's mouth. Words which he has been longing to say to the other, would have already said had circumstances been different: had Wooseok been a little braver and asked more questions, had Seungwoo given him more definite answers.
But Wooseok can only cling to him at the moment, cling to this ephemeral bliss before the sun rises and takes it away.
Seungwoo whispers into his ears, the words travelling through Wooseok's body like little bolts of lightning. He shivers.
Not a dream.
He cups Seungwoo's face and brings him down for a kiss, eyes burning treacherously with the rebellion that's amassing inside of him.
When he opens his eyes, it's to see Seungwoo looking down on him, eyes flickering a different kind of glow.
Wooseok allows himself to believe it's love; that he's not just another lips to kiss, another warm body for Seungwoo to take.
For tonight, Wooseok deludes himself into thinking Seungwoo feels the same way too.
The following morning, Wooseok examines himself before a mirror.
He wonders if it's still kindness that made the purple flowers bloom on his skin.
Seungyoun learns about the arrangement. Wooseok honestly expected him to, one way or another. Seungyoun has always been keen, mind always quick to process without the aid of words or explanation.
"You're in love with him."
Wooseok knows it himself, knows he has crossed far too many lines with Seungwoo since the first kiss they have shared, knows that he's at a point of no return and that he has set himself up for an inevitable heartbreak, or, if the heavens decide to be less cruel, for something that has any semblance of a relationship, stamped with an expiry date before it is even conceived.
Wooseok is in love with Seungwoo.
It's a fact he has long come into terms with himself. But having someone else lay it before him brings a new form of consciousness. It hits differently, as if his feelings have been carved on stone and Wooseok's bound to carry it around.
He couldn't speak, couldn't find the words to fill the silence that has stretched between him and Seungyoun. But the latter is thankfully patient and only smiles as he passes a bottle of beer to press against Wooseok's palm.
"You should tell him."
Wooseok looks up from where he has nailed his eyes on an inconspicious dirt on the table.
"Do you think it's a good idea?"
Seungyoun takes a swig of his beer, shrugging his shoulder as he places the bottle down.
"I don't know," He stares off at a distance, voice genuine as he speaks the following words, "I just think you deserve better than suffering by loving him silence."
In retrospect, maybe Wooseok should not have let Seungyoun's words linger in his head so much. Maybe he shouldn't have let himself be swayed at the prospect of a love being returned; should have reminded himself that this is Seungwoo, who never gives him answers he wants to hear, and that they're but objects in an industry where permanency is but a fallacy.
But it's too late, the words have already left Wooseok's lips.
"What are we?"
The gravity of the question only dawns upon him when the silence thickens in the room that he could almost feel it as second skin. Seungwoo is silent beside him and each second that passes with only the sound of their breaths resounding steals bits of what little sanity Wooseok is holding onto.
He wants to shake him by the shoulders, demand from him answers, but Wooseok is also painfully aware how he stands at no place in Seungwoo's life to make such demand. Knowing you have the right to feel hurt is one thing, hurting because you know you don't have such right is another. Wooseok knows he has always been bound for the latter.
So he lies there in wait, tries to keep his heart together as seconds turn into minutes.
"I don't know." Seungwoo finally answers, wavering. Wooseok hates how he can detect the hesitation in his voice. "Do we really need to know?"
The thread is cut and Wooseok's heart falls, shattering into pieces. They're only a few words, but they're enough to knock down whatever wall of hope Wooseok has built over the past few months.
He reminds himself to breathe, tries to console himself that he has set himself up for this ending, that it's no one's fault but his. It's not Seungwoo's fault he does not love him.
Slowly, he raises himself from the bed and reaches for his shirt on the floor. He dresses himself silently, a little slow with how his hands are still trembling. He hears the rustling of sheets when Seungwoo sits up.
"Where are you going?"
Wooseok stands, his knees a little wobbly. With a deep breath, he strides towards the door, stopping only when his hand is on the handle.
"A few steps back."
Wooseok does the most logical thing, he distances himself.
He knows avoiding Seungwoo altogether would be impossible, so he keeps the interactions at a minimum, enough not to gather concern from the others and careful not to graze on the still-fresh wounds in his heart.
He figures Seungyoun noticed, with the look he's giving Wooseok and how his eyes always flit between him and Seungwoo. But Seungyoun chooses to comfort him by giving him space to recover, never prodding at Wooseok to spill the story and how things got awry, and for that, Wooseok is grateful to him.
Everything stays relatively normal, except Wooseok feels eyes on him wherever he goes. He does not need to look back to confirm it's Seungwoo. He does not need to meet his eyes—does not have the strength to look at him—to see nothing but guilt painted across his face. He does not want Seungwoo to feel bad for him. He does not want to be pitied on.
He should probably tell that to the other man. Maybe not now, not soon, but definitely someday, on the day when Wooseok finally looks at the sun and sees it just as it is, reminding him of no particular person.
But as he sits down on the floor and raises his head to accidentally meet Seungwoo's eyes across the room, he wonders if such a day will really come when his heart will no longer leap to his throat at the mere sight of the other.
Seungwoo is inevitable. Wooseok only has enough places to run and hide, it was only a matter of time until Seungwoo has him cornered, familiar arms caging him. Only this time it's without lips pressing against his but panic crippling him against the other's hold.
"Wooseok, please," It's spoken with desperation, coupled with Seungwoo dropping his head on Wooseok's shoulder. Wooseok hates how easily it tugs on his heartstrings, "can we talk now?"
He fights the urge to just give in, to just wrap his arms around the latter and fall back into the same limbo of uncertainty which scathed his heart right open.
But for once, Wooseok allows reason to rule over him. Hands curling into fists, he pushes against Seungwoo's chest, weakly, but enough to make space between them for Wooseok to breathe.
"What's even there to talk about?"
Wooseok looks at Seungwoo for the first time and guilt instantly washes over him. Seungwoo looks distraught. Lost. Even with his bangs covering almost half of his face, the bags under his eyes are unmistakable.
Wooseok learns he's not the only one who has been losing sleep over the weeks.
"We already did." Wooseok answers quickly, dropping his eyes to the floor. He couldn't bear look at the sadness swirling in Seungwoo's eyes. "There's no us. You made that clear."
"I didn't say that—"
"Well, you weren't interested in settling things either."
Seungwoo falls silent, it's reminiscent of the last night they have shared together. The same deafening silence, the same coldness slithering up their bodies rendering them immobile on their spots.
"Wooseok, we're in a temporary group." Seungwoo starts shakily, every word he utters seems to paint more pain across his features, "I don't want to have you only to lose you when the time's up."
Wooseok processes Seungwoo's words slowly, the cogs in his brain turning excruciatingly slow. And when it finally hits him, it opens the floodgates to everything Wooseok has suppressed the past few months. The questions, the confusion, the reason why he never gets a proper answer.
Seungwoo is afraid.
It isn't only Wooseok putting his heart on the line for this. Seungwoo is, too. Only that Wooseok wears his heart on his sleeve and is always ready to dive and risk it all, whereas Seungwoo chooses to hide his behind well-constructed walls, behind masks of kindness and non-chalance.
Wooseok thinks—wants to believe—that maybe, maybe beyond all those, Seungwoo does feel the same way for him.
"Hyung," Wooseok finally allows himself to reach out, curling his fingers against the soft material of Seungwoo's shirt. "You won't lose me."
"How do you know that?" Seungwoo asks through still trembling lips. Wooseok has never seen Seungwoo vulnerable. It makes him painfully human, divergent from the perfect leader image he wears everyday.
"Because I know what I feel for you," Wooseok says with his whole chest, "and it's something more than just a date stamped on some paper."
"Hyung, I'm not asking you to jump right off with me. I just want you to be right there beside me, holding my hand."
Seungwoo lifts his head, panic crossing his face when he takes in Wooseok's glassy eyes.
"Wooseok, please, don't cry."
"I won't, hyung." Wooseok reassures him, lifting the corners of his lips a little. "I just want you to take a chance on us. When the time comes, we'll face it together. Just," Wooseok takes Seungwoo's hand, squeezing it tight in prayer for the unspoken words his heart has been singing all this time to reach him, "walk with me? Please?"
Wooseok is brought against a sturdy chest. Weeks-worth of anguish and frustration bleeding out of him as soon as Seungwoo runs a palm over his back.
No more words are spoken between them, the silence which settles over them now a comfortable one.
That night, Wooseok still doesn't get an answer. But he figures silence is sometimes better than having words that can cut for an answer.
Wooseok's heart is racing inside his chest. The sea of lights before them is dizzying, the cheer deafening, but Wooseok wants nothing more than to immortalize the moment in his mind.
He runs around the stage, making sure to wave to the fans, and wears his biggest smile throughout the night.
He walks back to the center stage where the rest of the members have already aligned for the final greeting. Wooseok's mind is still buzzing, taking no heed when his hand is brought to a hold. He folds into a bow, staying until the curtains are midway from meeting the floor.
He resurfaces when he feels his hand being squeezed. To his side is Seungwoo, looking at him with fond eyes. Wooseok becomes aware of their palms kissing in the hold, and he squeezes back, channeling the warmth that is blooming inside of him.
Then Seungwoo leans, his chest meeting Wooseok's back and his breath tickling the shell of Wooseok's ear as he whispers,
"I'll walk with you."
Wooseok forgets the world beyond Seungwoo's eyes as the words slowly settle over him like dusk. There's only the two of them and the barrage of butterflies rumbling inside of Wooseok. Everything is at a standstill, except for the curtain finally meeting the floor and Seungwoo pulling him in once darkness shelters them.
Their lips meet and the fireworks inside of Wooseok set off.
Finally, he tells himself, smiling against Seungwoo's lips.
Finally, he has the answer.