Hyukjae was dreaming after so long.
In his dream he was walking along the beach, bare footed, shoes in his hand. He sat down, looking out at the ocean, when he felt someone hug him from behind and kiss his cheek. But before he could turn to look at the person, he heard a sound similar to his ringtone. He tried to ignore it, but couldn’t, so instead he woke up, reaching over to the other side of his bed, picking up his buzzing phone.
The caller ID read ‘Aesongie’, meaning it was from Jongwoon-hyung. He smiled, picking up the phone and greeting him by heu~heuing like he always did, but soon stopped when he didn’t hear the usual response from the other end. Suddenly fully awake at the feeling that something was wrong, he waited for five minutes before asking Jongwoon.
“Hello? Hyung are you there?” he asked, but all he got in response was a feeble hum of his hyung’s voice.
“Are you ok?” This time his question didn’t get a reply, prompting him to check his phone which showed that the call was still connected. It was odd; in all his years of knowing him, he never had to experience something like this: a silent call from Jongwoon hyung, and that made him feel uneasy.
“Are you home?” he asked this time, but once again the reply was only a throaty hum. Searching for his Notebook, he continued to question Jongwoon, asking if he ate anything — but received no response. He tried to recall if he saw hyung eat anything in the morning when they saw each other, but he couldn’t remember. Lately, most of their friends and family had taken to keeping an eye on Jongwoon-hyung to make sure he’d been eating. He hated when hyung used to heavily diet, concerned more about his body then his own health, and Hyukjae tried to stop Jongwoon as much as he could.
“Do you have any schedule tomorrow?” He continued to question the older, hoping to get some response from him for the first time in the last five minutes they’d been talking.
“I don't,” Jongwoon said, in a low, rough voice.
“Are you okay?” Hyukjae asked again.
“Yes,” Jongwoon cleared his throat and sniffed before continuing, “Just a bad cold.”
From the roughness in voice and sniff from the other side, Hyukjae could tell that he had been crying. Clearly, his hyung was lying to him for some reason, but he didn’t call him out on it.
With only silence on both sides of the phone, Hyukjae looked back at his notebook and saw that he had finally gotten a reply from Sungmin Hyung, His Manager, and waited for another reply while getting himself a bottle of water from the fridge. Unable to stand the silence, Hyukjae tried to fill it, recounting dumb D&E stories, expecting laughter from Jongwoon-hyung. In a normal situation, his stories would be met with hyung's unique laughter but the lack of it only confirmed his suspicions that Jongwoon-hyung was not alright.
A sudden message from Sungmin-hyung alerted Hyukjae to him waiting in a car downstairs, so, continuing to talk on the phone with the silent listener, he rushed down, still in his nightwear. Sungmin-hyung didn’t ask him about the sudden trip when he finally entered the car, which was what he liked about the hyung, he wasn’t too curious or nosy and always gave him the space he needed. Sungmin then started driving the car towards their destination, towards Jongwoon-hyung’s house.
When he entered Jongwoon’s home — using the password that he got after pestering Wookie in the middle of the night (and got a lot of death threats in return) — Hyukjae switched on the light and disconnected the call. Upon walking in, he saw that the house was messy, like a storm had erupted inside. There were dirty dishes still in the sink and two empty soju bottles on the table.
He moved towards the bedroom and switched on the smaller lights so as to not wake up hyung. He spotted one soju bottle on the side table, and another one in bed lying on the other side of hyung. Jongwoon-hyung liked to drink sometimes, but he wasn’t a heavy drinker like Heechul hyung or Kyu.
He stood near Jongwoon hyung and observed his face. During their one-sided conversation, Jongwoon had fallen asleep with the phone clutched near his heart, tear tracks marring the pale skin. His lips were red too, as if he had been biting them for some reason, and he was still in his outdoor clothes, things he would never sleep in. Even in his sleep, Jongwoon didn’t look peaceful, as though he was having a bad dream, and broke Hyukjae’s heart. He wished he knew what to do to make things better and comfort his hyung, the situation causing an old memory to suddenly resurface, one from a long time ago.
It had been during his and Donghae's trainee days, when he had been having a hard time and was nearly about to give up. He remembered being tired, both mentally and physically, just crying his eyes out as silently as he could while biting his lips to silence the sound. He’d thought Hae was sleeping, as he was a deep sleeper and they’d had a busy day.
But then the door had suddenly opened, with Jongwoon-hyung’s face peeking out. Hyukjae had quickly hid his face and tried to wipe the evidence of his crying session, but hyung had approached him, stroked his hair comfortingly before telling him to come out to the living room, leaving first to give him some privacy. When he had left his room, Jongwoon was waiting for him, sitting on the sofa. Hyukjae couldn’t bear to look in his hyung’s direction.
“Hyukkie, sit here” Jongwoon hyung had said, patting the place beside him. Hands fidgeting nervously, he sat down, still unwilling to look at his hyung. So Jongwoon had held Hyukjae’s chin and lifted it a bit so that he could clearly see his face, asking him to look at him when Hyukjae’s eyes were still downcast. He stared into Hyukjae's red eyes, eyes that contained so many emotions that he was trying to bottle in, until a single tear escaped and suddenly Hyukjae started bawling his eyes out, Jongwoon hugging him tightly, without a care for his shirt that he’d worn to go out in. Hyukjae cried until his voice turned into a whimper, his head resting on Jongwoon’s shoulder, breathing heavily.
“So… what happened?” Jongwoon asked Hyukjae, who was sitting in front of him, a bit more relaxed than before. It had been a good thing that only he, Hyukjae and Donghae were home, so there was no unwanted attention to the situation they were in, knowing that Hyukjae wouldn’t want any others to know about it. Hyukie was nervously drawing doodles on his hand, so he held it in his own.
“Today... the trainer…” Hyukjae started, but faltered. Jongwoon knew who he might be talking about, understanding the reason behind Hyukjae’s bad mood. Said trainer had always been harsh with his criticism, and because of him most trainees lost their confidence. He liked it better when criticism was given about an individual without needing to break their morals.
“What did he do now?” Jongwoon prompted, urging Hyukjae to continue. The younger paused for a minute before answering.
“I missed a bit during dance practice. I mean, my body started to tire after the continuous practice and lack of sleep the last few days, and he started scolding me in front of everyone. And all of them looked at me with so much pity in their faces and I hated that more than anything. Like, I know I'm not a good dancer like Yunho-hyung or a rapper like that trainee kid that likes to brag about his connections in the industry or an amazing singer like you or Kyuhyun. I’m not even sure what I'm doing here. Maybe I'm just wasting my time and the company’s time...” Hyukjae trailed off, standing up to leave, but Jongwoon pulled him down again.
“You are not a bad dancer. And don’t ever say that you’re a bad rapper, I have heard you rap incredibly with such amazing speed, you can even freestyle rap on the spot! So I disagree on that too. And yeah, maybe you are not a good vocalist but you are not a bad one either, you just need to practice, and from now on I’m going to work on your vocals if that’ll make you happy okay?” Jongwoon said firmly, trying to console the depressed version of a hyperactive kid that he happens to adore.
He knew that in the state Hyukjae was in he wasn't going to listen, so he stood up, Hyukjae following him with his eyes as he stood in front of the room the younger shared with Donghae and tapped on the door.
“You can come out now,” Jongwoon said to the closed door before walking into the kitchen.
The bedroom door opened behind him, a sheepish looking Donghae coming out, taking a seat on the couch where Jongwoon had been sitting moments before.
“I’m sorry, I hated how the trainer was talking to you and how you were crying.” Donghae mumbled as soon as he sat down, looking guilty. “I didn’t know what to do so I messaged Jongwoon-hyung. I figured he might know how to handle this situation since he was once a trainee too, and also he has Jongjin to care for.”
Of course, it made sense how Jongwoon-hyung had suddenly appeared in his room. And Hyukjae also knew that Hae did it to make him feel better, so instead of getting angry, he hugged Donghae, thanking him.
Jongwoon soon came back from the kitchen with three mugs, and Hyukjae noticed that the mugs had hot chocolate in them. Donghae moved a bit so that Jongwoon hyung could sit between them, and he switched on TV, resting his legs on the table in front of them. Under normal circumstances this could’ve never happened as Hyukjae, Hae and Kyu always got scolded by Jongwoon-hyung and Ryeowook for putting their legs on the table, but this time the other two followed, lifting their feet off the ground while they finished their hot chocolate. Jongwoon switched to a channel playing a movie, all three cuddling up on the sofa as they watched. Halfway through the movie he noticed that arms were wrapped around him from two sides, both younger boys having fallen into a deep sleep, their arms around his waist. Not long after that, he dozed off as well, the still-playing movie forgotten in the background.
Donghae woke up first, and when he realised where he had fallen asleep, he slid his hands off very slowly so as to not wake the two sleeping boys, getting up to look at the sight in front of him: Hyukjae with his arms wrapped around Jongwoon hyung’s waist and Jongwoon with his hand slung over Hyukie’s shoulder, his head resting on Hyukjae’s shoulder while the younger’s head was buried in his hyung’s chest. He couldn’t help the smile on his face looking at the both of them like this, nor could he resist taking a picture of such a cute moment. When Hyukjae saw the picture later that day, he blushed, bright red spreading over his cheeks and down to his neck, and had to keep swatting a ‘very cruel’ Donghae who had taken to teasing him to no end the rest of the day.
Hyukjae was jerked back to reality when Jongwoon rolled in his sleep, the alcohol bottle that was on the bed lodging itself under his sleeping body. With a heavy sigh, Hyukjae removed the empty bottle from underneath him and placed it on the side table. He then removed Jongwoon’s shoes and socks and put them in the corner. Making sure not to wake him up, he gently lifted his passed out hyung and removed the loose white shirt that he was wearing, leaving the pants on.
Satisfied with his goal of making Jongwoon more comfortable, his eyes drifted to the photographs that Jongwoon-hyung kept in this room. He could see all the pictures clearly, despite the dim light, and smiled at the picture of him, Siwon and Donghae, where they were all making faces. There was one picture with Heechul-hyung where Jongwoon-hyung was kissing his cheek. In a different picture, Donghae had his head on hyung’s shoulder. Yet another picture had Hyung hugging their Manager, Teukie-hyung.
His eyes stopped at two pictures that were kept near each other, one with him and hyung, in which they were talking about something funny and both of their heads were close, smiles on their faces, and another with hyung and Siwon, in which their cheeks were touching and hyung had his arm around Siwon’s shoulder from behind, like Jongwoon was embracing him.
He still remembered the time when he had first met Siwon during their training. Siwon was the new, rich, good-looking guy that most boys were jealous of, even him. He had started to hate a guy he had just met, only because he was good-looking and rich, and just happened to be good friends with Heechul-Hyung and Jongwoon-Hyung, and even Donghae liked him.
Looking at the pictures brought back another old memory, of the time when an eighteen-year-old hyukjae used to hate Choi Siwon’s guts, and nearly everyone except for his dumb bff, hyungs, and his enemy knew of this fact. He still didn’t know what was so great about the guy who everyone seemed to like. At that particular point of time, he had been trying to find an escape as he saw Siwon walking towards him. Unfortunately luck hadn’t been on his side, as Siwon soon stood in front of him, with his trademark smile that Hyukjae used to find very annoying.
“Hyukjae-ssi, I wanted to talk to you about something.” Siwon had told him. “Jongwoon-hyung said you might be here.”
At that moment Hyukjae had really wanted to find Jongwoon-hyung and annoy the hell out of him for doing that, but first he had to endure the situation he seemed to be stuck in. But even when Hyukjae hadn’t replied, Siwon had continued anyway.
“It’s my sister’s birthday soon, and I wanted to call my friends, so I wanted to invite you as well. Heechul-hyung, Leeteuk-hyung, Jongwoon-hyung, Kangin-hyung,Yunho-hyung and Donghae will be there too. I hope you will come, here’s the address.” He handed him a paper with an address before leaving. Hyukjae was about to throw the paper away when a voice stopped him.
“Don’t act so childish Hyukkie, it’s starting to get annoying,” said his best friend from behind him. Donghae took paper from his hand and put it in the pocket of his jeans, dragging Hyukjae with him while talking.
“You should stop being jealous of Wonnie, he’s a pretty great guy.” Hyukjae hated the way Jongwoon and Donghae called Siwon "Wonnie" as if they’d known the guy all their lives. Teukie-hyung also treated him just like how he treated him and Hae. Even Heechul-hyung, the person who was even busier than Jongwoon-hyung, made him hang out with him. But at that point, he wasn’t sure what exactly about Siwon he hated the most.
“You are going to that party and you are going to enjoy it. Got it?” Donghae’s voice was threatening and accompanied by a pointed glare, which morphed into his signature sweet smile barely a few seconds later as he hooked his arms around Hyukjae’s elbow and dragged him to a party he wasn’t thrilled about attending.
When the memory lane finally led him back to this exact moment, where he stood in Jongwoon hyung’s room staring at the pictures, he could clearly see what made him hate Siwon so much. It took him years to come to terms with his own feelings. The guy rolling in his bed behind him, an unknown thing hurting him, the hurt that Hyukjae had no way of soothing this moment was the reason for all of it.
He couldn’t remember the exact moment when he fell in love with his hyung. A smile, a hug, the lazy good mornings, the way his eyes always found his hyung in the sea of heads, the tired nights huddled in the living room together, the pang of jealousy he felt when his hyung hugged someone else who wasn't him. Everyone noticed it, and everyone told him just how irrevocably he was in love with his hyung.
With the half smile that he always had whenever he looked at his hyung when he knew the older wasn’t looking, he moved closer to the bed and with as little movement as possible, lay down next to his hyung, facing him. By now Jongwoon looked at peace while he slept. Hyukjae wished he could keep his hyung like this, but he could only watch him from afar, as he still couldn’t work up the courage to confess to him. So, he craved these stolen moments where he could love his hyung the way he wanted, tracing the lines of his features with his fingers lingering inches from his face, so as not to wake his sleeping hyung.
“I’ll protect you from whatever is hurting you. I promise'' Hyukjae whispered, pressing his lips to his hyung’s forehead in a soft kiss, whispered a barely audible “I love you” as he rested his forehead against Jongwoon's. He didn’t know how long he lay there in silence, staring at his hyung’s face, wishing there would come a day where he would get to have all those moments he craved to have that very moment, eventually dozing off into a deep slumber beside his hyung.
Jongwoon pried open his eyes to see if Hyukjae was asleep or not. He had sensed Hyukjae entering the room, being a light sleeper, but he hadn’t wanted to open his eyes as he didn’t know how to face Hyukjae with a tear streaked face. So he’d decided to pretend to be asleep, for which he was highly grateful because, if he hadn’t, he would never have gotten the confession he had been dying to hear from Hyukjae for a very long time now.
At first, it had been to escape the pitying expression in Hyukjae’s eyes as he saw him hurting, but that quickly escalated to curiosity when Hyukie moved to look at the pictures. He laid very still, not to scare away Hyukie, but even with closed eyes, he could feel the younger’s eyes on him, just like how he had always felt his eyes in an arena full of people watching him. He didn’t know how he knew, but he could always tell when Hyukjae was watching from afar. Afterall, he was not one for subtlety. Jongwoon had known that Hyukjae felt about him the same way he felt about Hyukjae, but he didn’t want to confess first and ruin what they already had, just in case he had read the signs wrong.
It had taken every last drop of will power he possessed to stay still, keeping his eyes closed when the other side of the bed had dipped and he felt Hyukjae lie down beside him, moving in closer just a little bit. When Hyukie's fingers had traced the line of his face, he’d wanted to throw his arms around him and hug him tight, but he stayed still, curious to see where this would go. His breath hitched when a tender kiss landed on his forehead and his entire body had frozen when the whispered “I Love You” hit something deep inside him with a heavy blow. He knew he should have opened his eyes then, to tell Hyukjae that he loved him too, but by the time he recovered from the tsunami of feelings he felt inside, Hyukjae had already fallen fast asleep.
He stared at his Hyukjae for a while with the widest smile he ever had, forgot why he had been hurting or what had made him cry. All he knew at that moment was, if he would get to have this with Hyukjae, he would be able to face the world. There were so many things he wanted to tell Hyukjae, and he wanted to say it all starting with a kiss, but he would do all that tomorrow. For tonight, this was enough, Hyukjae lying huddled up to his side, after his sweet confession, and even sweeter kiss.
“Tomorrow,” he whispered to himself, pulling the younger closer into a cuddle.
“Starting tomorrow, I will give you the whole world, Lee Hyukjae.”