A glance at the dimmed screen of his phone tells him that it’s almost two in the morning. They’re still twenty minutes from their dorm, and everyone else in the car has dozed off almost immediately as soon as the doors shut. Jaehyun leans back, earbuds snug in his ears, and watches through the gap between the seats as Jungwoo’s head of freshly dyed hair lolls over onto Doyoung’s shoulder. Doyoung doesn’t react to the sudden weight, and the pair slumbers on.
Jaehyun lets his gaze linger for an extra second or two before he looks away, out the window at streaks of orange bleeding from the passing streetlights. He’s exhausted, but he can’t seem to fall asleep, which means it’s about time for his mind to start drifting.
Sometimes, when it gets too quiet and restlessness starts creeping up on him, Jaehyun likes to reminisce. It serves as a good reminder of how far they’ve all come from where they started; the good, the bad, and everything in-between.
Outside, the sky is a wash of inky black. Jaehyun sighs, the sound painfully loud in the silence, and digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. Across the room, Donghyuck lets out a little snort and flips over onto his side, blissfully asleep.
Not wanting to lie in bed frustrated, he gets out of bed and navigates the space around him in the dark. His closet, down to the pile of hoodies, then a pair of sweats. If he can’t sleep, he might as well do something productive. Jaehyun leaves the room and tiptoes all the way to the front door, where he tugs on a pair of trainers over warm socks and swipes a random set of earphones off the counter.
A run to the company takes about half an hour if he heads straight there, but the weather seems nice for a long detour down by the Han River. He sets a good pace, running beneath the scant moonlight and orange glow of the streetlamps. The sidewalks are void of people, a fact that Jaehyun finds great relief in, because now he can kick his body into autopilot.
Music streams through his earphones and the river’s surface glitters with frost. It’s a calming combination, despite the physical exertion, and Jaehyun feels the stress and tension start to seep out from his muscles.
He arrives at the company’s doorstep a little after five, sweat already starting to cool in the winter air. The lights are on and Jaehyun briefly wonders how many trainees are still holed up in the practice rooms, running on no sleep and desperate to prove their worth.
The largest dance studio on the second floor has been reserved for them, room still dark when Jaehyun steps inside and switches on the lights. The hoodie comes off, tossed onto a corner of the bench, and he sprawls out in the middle of the floor where he stays for a few moments to catch his breath.
Their choreographers have provided them with a demo version of the choreography to Boss and Jaehyun pulls up the video on his phone as he stretches out the low burn in his muscles. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a foam roller, he thinks absently, his body is always in a constant state of soreness.
As he watches, his attention is drawn to two new names plastered over the chests of the dancers. Ah, that’s right, Lucas and Jungwoo are due to debut with the NCT 2018 project. Jaehyun hasn’t spent much time with either of them recently, not since NCT 127 started gaining traction, packing his schedule to the brim.
He picks out Jungwoo’s voice instantly in the track, a pleasant, gentle lilt that Jaehyun has liked since he first heard it. Just a couple of weeks ago, he’d tagged along with Doyoung to the studio out of curiosity, where they sat and listened as Jungwoo recorded his handful of lines. He’d gone with the excuse that he could record a few lines too, but he just really wanted to listen. The first few takes were shaky, entirely due to nerves, but Jaehyun believes that Jungwoo was grateful for their presence.
The song hasn’t been finalised yet, but the demo already sounds decent. It’ll be a good comeback, he can feel it.
When his muscles are as loose as they’re gonna get, Jaehyun gets down to business. If he focuses he might be able to learn the first thirty seconds of the choreography by the time the other members arrive.
It’s a quarter to seven when the door opens and Taeyong walks in.
“You’re here early. Couldn’t sleep again?”
Jaehyun grunts and wipes a bead of sweat off his temple. “Woke up, couldn’t go back to sleep.”
Their eyes meet through the mirrors and Jaehyun shrugs at the concern he picks up in his friend’s gaze. His insomnia isn’t a constant problem, but it is a bitch when it flares up. Melatonin pills and other remedies (short of seeing a specialist) don’t seem to work, so Jaehyun has come to accept it as yet another problem he just has to deal with.
“Got a bit done, at least.” He waves his phone.
“Yeah? Teach me.”
The room gradually fills up, a couple of staff members followed by Lucas and Sicheng, then Mark with a huge yawn. Jaehyun calls time on the practice – they’ve made it halfway through the chorus already – for a much-needed break before their choreographer arrives and the actual practice starts.
He’s draining a bottle of water when Doyoung enters, Jungwoo following close behind. Doyoung greets him with a quiet ‘good morning’, one that Jungwoo echoes.
Jaehyun can see how nervous the latter is, all wide eyes and working throat, and something about him has Jaehyun saying, “Morning. Been a while, huh? Don’t be nervous, just do your best.”
A beat, then Jungwoo’s lips curve into a small smile. “Yeah, thanks. Ramen again soon?”
The car slows to a stop and next to him, Taeil jerks awake.
“We’re back,” Jaehyun mumbles, lowering the volume of his music. Squished into the back, he has to wait for everyone else to get out before he can move. The members shuffle out, limbs heavy with lethargy, and Jaehyun brings up the rear.
A few feet in front, Jungwoo’s practically slung across Taeyong’s shoulders, the younger half-asleep on his feet as they move towards the elevators. Jaehyun spots a little cowlick off the side of Jungwoo’s head bobbing with every step he takes, and the sight easily brings a tiny smile to his face.
“Here,” he offers, catching up to Taeyong. “I’ll take him.”
They split up to go to their separate floors and Jaehyun steers Jungwoo into the elevator with a hand pressed against his lower back. The doors slide shut and Jungwoo sighs, cheek pressed against Jaehyun’s shoulder as he scrubs at his eyes. Jaehyun fights the urge to play with that cowlick, the lock of hair hovering tantalizingly in his field of vision.
“I want ramyun,” Jungwoo says, words punctuated with a yawn. “Then a shower.”
“It’s like, three A.M. You can still eat?”
“He can eat at any time,” Yuta snorts, “probably even in his sleep.”
At that, Jungwoo huffs out a laugh. “Of course, I live to eat.”
And he’s true to himself, because when Jaehyun steps out of the shower, he spots Jungwoo hunched over a pot of ramyun. The boy’s in sweats and there’s a hairband keeping his hair out of his face, and he looks so content that Jaehyun pauses in the doorway just to preserve that moment for a little longer.
“Hi,” Jungwoo chirps when he spots him, sounding much more awake than he was when Jaehyun left to shower twenty minutes ago. “Want some?”
“I’m good, but I’ll join you at the table.”
Towel around his neck, Jaehyun pours himself a glass of water and grabs a handful of cherry tomatoes from the open box on the counter. He has just brushed his teeth, but a few tomatoes wouldn’t hurt. They eat in companionable silence, settled into opposite seats and accompanied by the muted sounds of a video streaming from Jaehyun’s phone.
“You’re not tired?” Chopsticks clink against the rim of the pot, signalling a finished meal.
Jaehyun glances up at the question. “I am, but sleep is… evading me.”
“Wanna watch something later? I found this show online, seems pretty interesting.” His eyes are sparkling despite the shadows beneath them and Jaehyun finds himself agreeing without a second thought.
He waves Jungwoo towards the bathroom and handles the dishes, and that’s where Taeil finds him moments later when he comes in for water. “Aw, how thoughtful.”
“It’s just one pot,” Jaehyun says pointedly, rinsing it out. “But if there were two pots, I wouldn’t wash them for him.”
Taeil laughs, the rim of his mug resting against his lower lip. “Fair enough. Goodnight, Jae. Get some sleep, yeah?”
Setting the pot and utensils out onto the rack to dry, Jaehyun wipes down the table and checks to make sure all lights are switched off before heading into his room. He hears the shower running, but the sound is quickly masked by Apocalypse playing softly from his turntable.
As he waits for Jungwoo, he runs his fingertips over the keyboard on his desk, pressing out a few random notes and chords. With Jungwoo’s move into the room, they’ve had to reorganise the furniture to free up some space. He’d kept one of the keyboards and moved the other out into the living room for general use.
It’s a tight fit and there’s absolutely no privacy, but Jaehyun doesn’t mind. He has always enjoyed having his own personal space away from everyone else, but having Jungwoo as a roommate has been…nice. They’ve never once argued – Jungwoo sleeps through the music that Jaehyun sometimes plays into the wee hours of the night, and Jaehyun finds that Jungwoo’s faintly floral scent makes up for not being able to light candles as often as he used to.
He’s digging out the portable projector when the door opens and Jungwoo comes in, dragging a towel through his hair. The scent of peaches wafts in right after and Jaehyun thinks that this is what summers should smell like, fingers sticky with melted popsicles and flowers out in full bloom.
“You sure you’re not tired? We can always watch this another time.”
“I’ll let you know if I am,” Jaehyun promises, pausing his music. The projector points towards the stretch of bare wall next to his bed, and while it means he has to twist a little in order to see, it’s not too bad of a sacrifice. They’ve definitely gotten their money’s worth out of the gadget ever since they became roommates – Jaehyun’s on a secret mission to slowly cure Jungwoo’s fear of horror movies.
The lights go off and they make themselves comfortable in bed, Jungwoo leaning over to hit play on his phone.
It’s a serial show, a mix of comedy and action that seems right up Jungwoo’s alley.
Halfway through the episode, Jaehyun feels his eyelids start to droop, and within minutes, he’s falling asleep.
The last thing he registers is the sound of Jungwoo crossing the small space between their beds and the feeling of the covers being pulled up to his chin.
“Sweet dreams,” he hears, and then he’s out like a light.
He sleeps through the night.
“He seems quite attached to you,” Kun comments, sounding deceptively casual. Their V LIVE has just ended and Jungwoo has disappeared as soon as the camera switched off, probably on a mission to find some food before they have to depart for the airport.
Kun raises an eyebrow. “Jungwoo.”
Jaehyun blinks, not quite catching up. “He’s attached to everybody. I’m pretty sure he views us all as his best friends or something.”
“Sure,” Kun says, “but I can tell you with absolute certainty that he does not treat me like that.”
There’s a heavy pause in which Kun looks at him like he’s grown a second head. “Seriously? He looks at you like you hung the moon.”
“I – Okay, he’s just overly affectionate. But he’s like that with everyone in 127; we’re getting used to it.”
“Him being overly affectionate, I believe. This isn’t the first V LIVE we’ve done together, after all. You, on the other hand?”
“What’d I do?”
Kun looks like he’s about to slam his face into the wall. “Nevermind, forget I said anything. Just – it’s clear he has a soft spot for you, that’s all.”
“Well,” Jaehyun shrugs, “likewise. It’s hard not to, he’s like an excitable puppy.”
Jungwoo chooses that moment to reenter the room – sure enough, there’s a wrapped sandwich in his hands. There’s a smile on his face, as per usual, and he makes a beeline for Jaehyun’s side. Kun takes the opportunity to rise, leaving with a pointed look over his shoulder in Jaehyun’s direction.
“You didn’t have lunch right? You should go get something, there’s food out there.”
Jungwoo’s recently vacated seat is taken up once more, his side pressed against Jaehyun’s from hip to knee. There’s a whole bunch of space to his right, but Jungwoo doesn’t scoot over, nor does Jaehyun tell him to.
He’s warm, Jaehyun thinks.
“No, it’s okay.” He squeezes Jungwoo’s knee. “You eat, I’ll get something later.”
No one’s really paying attention to them, the staff members milling about as they pack up and get ready to leave. Jaehyun looks over to his right.
“So how nervous are you for Osaka, really?”
“A bit,” Jungwoo admits, cheeks filled with food. He chews methodically and swallows. “It’s stressful, having to juggle both a concert and all the prep for NCT 127. Not to mention I’ve never been part of such a huge production before. But I’ll be okay, I’ve got you and the others, right?”
Never in his life has Jaehyun felt this. Looking back, Kun was right – he has never been a particularly affectionate person, and while he’s generally alright with being on the receiving end, doling it out is not exactly his forte.
But with Jungwoo (and a few of the younger ones, to an extent), he just wants to make sure they’re cared for.
“Yeah,” he replies. “You have me.”
It’s been two hours since that pen touched his skin. There’s a muscle in the back of his neck starting to cramp up and Jaehyun desperately looks around the room for some form of distraction. He sees Donghyuck messing around with Mark in the corner, the latter struggling to squirm out from under Donghyuck’s weight, laugh-screaming as his efforts prove futile. A few feet away, Johnny’s seated in one of the chairs with his shirt off, looking terribly unbothered as designs bloom across his skin.
“Wow,” he hears. Yuta pops into view wearing...three belts? “Looks good, man.”
Jaehyun, not wanting to speak just in case it messes up the art, simply points at Yuta’s hips and signs ‘three’ with his fingers.
“Yeah, going for a piss would be kinda tough,” Yuta says, all poker-faced.
Jaehyun’s lips twitch and Yuta grins at him before springing away.
He’s only alone for a short while until someone else comes along. It’s Jungwoo, and one look at him has something in the depths of his chest cavity skipping a beat. The black hair really does something to sharpen up those soft features – Jaehyun quite likes it.
“That looks really cool,” Jungwoo’s saying, oblivious to Jaehyun’s thoughts. “Suits you, too. Look at mine –” he tilts his head and shows Jaehyun the butterfly on the side of his neck – “not as impressive as yours, huh?” He laughs, all sunny and pure.
“I like yours,” Jaehyun blurts, ears immediately flushing hot. Well, his plan of not speaking is ruined.
Jungwoo beams at him and takes a picture without any warning.
“Look.” He turns the phone around to show Jaehyun the photo. “I take good photos, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s nice. Send it to me, I’ll post it.”
They’re split into small groups, the concept reminiscent of their teasers for Black on Black. Jaehyun voices out the very thought to Mark who looks up at him with a puzzled frown, and he gets front row seats to the look of realization that dawns in the following moments.
“Oh right, I totally forgot we did that. Yeah, it’s pretty much the same, huh? We’re even in black and all.”
A make-up artist approaches them, brushes held out like weapons, and Jaehyun lets her dab and blend to her heart’s desire. Next to him, a blast of hairspray settles into Mark’s hair, the scent sharp and a little nauseating.
“Who were you grouped up with in your Black on Black teaser?”
Mark hums in thought, the sound punctuated with a sneeze from a nearby staff member. “Um, Hyuck and Renjun, I think. You?”
“Lucas and Jungwoo. They were very chatty.”
A laugh, then the make-up artist is off to find another target and Jaehyun can finally soothe that incessant itch right on the side of his nose. Johnny joins them, slinging an arm across Mark’s shoulders and playing with one of the many chains hanging off the younger’s neck.
Jaehyun watches from across the set as Jungwoo and Donghyuck get into position for their shot. Jungwoo says something and Donghyuck laughs, legs flailing, and nearly falls off the block he’s seated on. “Time’s passed, hasn’t it? We’ve grown.”
He feels two pairs of eyes on him, probably wondering what’s gotten him into this mood. They don’t ask, however, and Jaehyun is thankful. He’s not sure he would’ve been able to give them a good answer, anyway.
“We have,” Johnny agrees eventually.
Filming starts and Jaehyun hovers in the shadows to observe while Johnny and Mark go gallivanting off, thinking about how well Jungwoo’s blossomed since his debut. The boy is exuberant, happy to give their fans all the joy that he packs in that lithe frame. He no longer sheds nervous tears, comfortable enough in front of the cameras to be confident in showing off his skills.
Doyoung, back during Boss/Black on Black promos, accidentally let slip to a few of them that Jungwoo had been worried that the already debuted members would not react well to his addition. Something about how his personality might be too big for some, compounded with the fear that his abilities weren’t up to par… If he could, Jaehyun would travel back to the past just to call bullshit.
Look at him now, all easy charisma and a smile that could knock the strongest person to their knees. Jaehyun wishes he could say that he’s now immune to Jungwoo’s charms, but it’s been years since they first met during their trainee days and he’s still just as susceptible as the average person.
He doesn’t let it show often, but there are times where all that affection slips through the cracks and he ends up with a fond smile on his face that borders on lovesick. If anyone’s seen it, they don’t comment on it – probably because they’re all in essentially the same boat.
“How does it look?”
Jaehyun’s pulled out of his reverie when the very person he’s thinking about comes bounding over. Instinctively, Jaehyun lifts an arm and lets Jungwoo tuck himself into his side.
“From what I saw, pretty good. Dark hair suits you.” He drops a hand onto the crown of Jungwoo’s head, feeling the slight stiffness of hair product against his fingertips.
“Really? I think it makes me look too serious.”
“It’s a different vibe, sure, but still looks good.”
Jungwoo opens his mouth to say something, but he’s interrupted by the director’s assistant calling out Jaehyun’s name.
“See you later,” Jaehyun says, and Jungwoo simply smiles at him.
There’s a camera following them around, intent on catching backstage content that the fans would happily gobble up. Taeil and Donghyuck are busy doing their job, and Jaehyun spies Doyoung ambling up to the pair, clearly wanting to join in.
Everyone looks dapper in their velour suits, all made up and ready to tear up the stage. As it’s Jungwoo’s debut stage as a member of 127, the other nine have made an unspoken agreement to ensure that this stage will be an enjoyable and memorable one for him.
There’s a grunt to his side and Jaehyun turns to see Mark hanging off Jungwoo’s back, doing his best to banish any nerves.
Jungwoo pulls a face. “More like nervous.”
“Don’t be, man. I think you’ve practised more than half of us combined.”
As Mark speaks and Jungwoo listens, Jaehyun settles for observing.
Despite his words, Jungwoo doesn’t look too nervous – he’s laughing at something Mark is saying and his shoulders aren’t taut with tension like they were with his Boss debut stage. Good, Jaehyun thinks, his confidence is building. Growth at any speed is always good.
“We’ll win a whole bunch of trophies with you,” Mark continues, poking Jungwoo’s cheek. “Right, Jae?”
“Yes, of course.” Their eyes meet and Jaehyun can’t help but add, “And you’ll probably cry happy tears, won’t you?”
Jungwoo swats at him with a bashful laugh, but before he can insist otherwise, the camera swings towards their direction. Time to work.
Donghyuck falls into a heap on the floor and stays there, hair a mess and shirt rucked up his stomach. He doesn’t even flinch when Mark slaps his belly. “I’m exhausted,” he declares, staring up at the ceiling. “I don’t know what I want more, a two-hour-long massage, a nice soak in a hot tub, or to go to a buffet.”
They’ve been holed up in the studio for a good ten hours now, going over the choreography for Punch until they’re able to run through the steps in their sleep. Every little detail has to be perfected, every movement has to be synchronized and to the beat. They have to live up to expectations, to the title of being great performers.
Water’s being passed around, courtesy of Taeyong and Johnny, the latter somehow still chipper despite the long hours.
“Should we call it a day?” Doyoung’s hunched over his knees, weight held down by Jungwoo, who seems to be giving him a rather unique version of a shoulder massage. “Get some food, maybe?”
Jaehyun catches the way Jungwoo brightens at the mention of food and he can’t help but chuckle, although he ends up hiding it with a mouthful of water.
“Food,” Donghyuck echoes, now flipped over onto his front. “Yeah, you know what, let’s go with food. Mm, something spicy sounds good…ice cream after…?”
“One more run-through,” Taeyong says, ever the responsible leader. “Then we’ll go.”
Just one more? Everyone gets to their feet, willing to slog it out for another few minutes if it means freedom right after. Jaehyun takes a breath and settles into position, still going to give it his all even after a whole day of doing so, and he sees that the rest feel the same. It’s now an ingrained trait in all of them, Jaehyun supposes – work as hard as you can, plus a little more.
In front of the room, a phone stays propped on a tripod, ready to film the routine for later dissection. Taeyong walks over to it and hits Record.
The song starts and ends, as it always does, and the day is finally over.
They disperse to collect their things – except Jungwoo, who moves to a vacant corner of the room and goes through a particular set of eight counts that has been giving them grief. After finally locating his phone charger, Jaehyun spots him frowning at his reflection, usually fluffy hair plastered to his forehead.
He walks over, narrowly avoiding getting hit in the face by the swinging sleeve of Taeil’s hoodie.
“Hey, we’ve been practising for forever, you still want to keep going?” At Jaehyun’s words, Jungwoo exhales and lifts the hem of his shirt to his face, his groan muffled by the fabric. Jaehyun tries to avert his gaze from that tapered waist. “Come on, time for food, your favourite part of the day.”
“Something just looks wrong,” Jungwoo mutters, accepting the half-finished bottle of water that Jaehyun passes over. “I can’t figure out what it is and it’s driving me crazy.”
“We still have time, Woo. Rest now and look at it with renewed energy tomorrow.”
If left alone, Jungwoo would definitely return to practising, but under Jaehyun’s watchful eye, he obediently gathers his stuff and lets himself be steered out of the room. The lights are switched off and the door swings shut behind them.
They pile into the car, and as the last to board, they settle into the two seats left.
Jungwoo twists around as soon as the engine starts, craning his neck in search of someone. “Taeyong? Where’s Tae– ah, can I see the video?”
For nearly twenty minutes, all Jungwoo does is watch the video, pausing to rewind and replaying it over and over again. On the fifth – sixth? – rewind, Jaehyun reaches over to grab the phone.
“I’ve been watching the entire time,” he says, “and I haven’t seen you make a single mistake. You’re overthinking, Jungwoo.”
Jaehyun holds the phone up behind him and someone plucks it out of his hand.
“Look, you’re an amazing dancer. Better than me, honestly. It’s a pity you don’t think so, because I really do. I’m not saying this because we’re on the same team and I’m your friend; I’m saying this because I’ve witnessed your dancing for the past couple of years, up close and personal.” He chances a look over at Jungwoo and drinks in the stunned look on that innocent face. “You deserve many more opportunities than you’ve been given, but I hope you’ll look past that and realise your worth. That goes for your vocals too, by the way. The reception for Make Your Day has been so positive, and a lot of that is thanks to your singing.”
Impromptu speech done, Jaehyun swallows and stares resolutely out the window, painfully aware that his ears are lit up like a Christmas tree. It’s dark, thankfully, but he can feel the heat that they’re emanating.
The silence between them is defeaning despite the ruckus going on in the back seat thanks to Mark, Donghyuck, and Yuta. Seconds bleed into minutes and neither one of them says a word, and it isn’t until they’re moments away from the restaurant that Jungwoo speaks up.
“Thank you.” His voice sounds suspiciously watery. “I still think I have a lot to work on, but I’ll keep your words in mind, I promise.”
Jaehyun sees Jungwoo’s fingers flexing from where they’re resting on his knees, as if searching for something to hold, for something to anchor him down. He holds out his hand, palm up.
“If you need a reminder, just ask.”
Jungwoo slots their fingers together and holds on tight.
Taeyong’s hamming it up, complaining about how Johnny’s weight has messed up his back and he may no longer be able to dance. Ever the good friend, Johnny plays along, begging for forgiveness and offering to rub his back. Meanwhile, Yuta is off to the side, filming the whole thing.
“You don’t wanna come down?”
The weight on Jaehyun’s back wriggles. “Nah, I’m comfortable.”
Doyoung breezes by and smacks Jungwoo right on the butt. “He’s enjoying it so much,” he laughs, “look at him just hanging out up there.”
If he could, Jaehyun would look, except there’s no mirror within sight and he can’t even turn his head. Jungwoo’s been nuzzling his hair since the piggyback ride punishment started, and it was such a foreign sensation that it had a blush creeping right up Jaehyun’s neck – hidden by the turtleneck, thank goodness.
“...Are you sniffing me?”
“Hm?” Jungwoo switches cheeks. “Not exactly, but now that you mention it, your hair smells nice.”
Suddenly flustered, Jaehyun hoists Jungwoo further up just to avoid having to speak, grip tightening behind his knees.
Jungwoo clings onto him a little tighter and says, “You can put me down if you get tired, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m okay for now, though. Not many people can carry you like this, right? I’ll let you stay on for a bit longer.”
A laugh, Jungwoo’s iconic ‘ha ha ha’ filling Jaehyun’s ears. “Ah, always considerate,” Jungwoo says. “Always knowing just what to say to make others happy.”
There’s the slightest bit of pressure on the back of his head, and Jaehyun’s heart skips a beat, much like back during Halloween when he’d turned his head and nearly met those soft lips with his own. Nothing happened then, and he can’t help but wonder if this was the kiss they’d missed out on those few months ago.
With headphones clamped around his ears, Jaehyun only notices that someone has entered his room due to the draft that sweeps in when the door opens. A hand appears to his right and Jaehyun blinks at the apple that is placed on his desk, along with a steaming mug of tea.
“Noticed you didn’t eat much at dinner,” Jungwoo says when Jaehyun removes his headphones. “Shouldn’t go to bed hungry. This is chamomile, just in case your stomach is upset. Oh, helps with sleep, too.”
The apple looks sweet and crunchy, the skin still dusted with water droplets. He looks from the apple to Jungwoo’s face and back again; Jungwoo beams at his expression and turns to leave.
“Eat if you feel like it, okay? I’ll leave you alone now, Yuta’s been bugging me to watch this anime with him and I feel bad for always postponing it.” He pads over to the door and pauses with a hand on the handle. “Don’t know what you were playing, by the way, but it sounds good!”
Then he’s gone, door clicking shut behind him, and Jaehyun picks up the apple.
He’s still messing around on the keyboard when Jungwoo comes back a couple of hours later. Next to his empty mug of tea sits the apple core, and it’s unsurprisingly what Jungwoo notices first.
“Oh good! Was it enough? Do you want another one?”
“I’m okay, Woo, thanks.” He switches the keyboard off. “How was your anime date?”
Jungwoo flops onto his bed, flannel pants long enough to cover his toes. “It was…hectic.” He laughs, the sound echoing around the room. “I was confused half the time, but Yuta seemed to enjoy it, and that’s really all that matters.”
Several vertebrae pop in retaliation when Jaehyun stands and stretches, the tightness in his lower back a clear indication of just how long he’s spent at his desk. He can feel Jungwoo’s eyes on him as he crosses the room towards his bed, in search of his phone.
“I’m sure he appreciated you spending time with him.” It’s not under the pillows or the duvet… Ah, there it is, slotted between the mattress and the wall. If he leaves now, he can get a good run in and be back before one, but it’s still early enough that he might end up bumping into a few eagle-eyed fans.
He’s in the middle of an internal debate when Jungwoo says his name.
“Are you gonna go for a run?”
To say that he’s surprised would be an understatement. “How’d you know?”
Jungwoo lifts a shoulder. “I know you well enough. You haven’t been sleeping well.”
They look at each other for what feels like eons, one on the bed with a foot tucked underneath him and the other hovering by the door. Then Jungwoo wets his lips and says, “Wanna watch something with me instead? Last time, you fell asleep really quickly.”
Jungwoo nods, hair sweeping down across his eyes. The dark hair really suits him, Jaehyun thinks. “Like a baby, actually. So what do you say? I’ll even give you a back massage – might not be superb, but I’ll do my best.”
Well, Jaehyun has to admit all of that sounds pretty inviting.
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
Jungwoo pats the spot next to him on his bed. “Lie on your stomach. I’ll find a hammer or something to whack your back with.”
He says it so nonchalantly that Jaehyun can’t help but laugh.
This time, he doesn’t make it even ten minutes into the show before he’s asleep, Jungwoo’s hands working magic down his back. In the morning, Jaehyun wakes feeling wonderfully refreshed and sees Jungwoo curled up on his bed, looking awfully at home in his sheets that Jaehyun flushes to the tips of his ears.
It’s still early. Perhaps he’ll sleep for a while longer.
Jaehyun buries his nose into Jungwoo’s pillow and closes his eyes.
Autumn is creeping up on the country, crisp air usurping humidity to bring some relief to the masses. Jaehyun greatly prefers autumn, likes the colours and the fashion and the lack of oppressive heat.
They’ve got a bit of downtime after Superhuman promotions have wrapped up and in the days leading up to Chuseok, and he’s been spending a lot of that time either in the practice rooms, the gym, or the dorm. It’s still unknown if he’ll be able to physically see his family for Chuseok, but if he can, that means less time practising for their upcoming performances towards the end of the month.
So he hasn’t given himself much of a break, although a little voice in his head is telling him he needs one. It’s been a busy period after all, lots of time spent overseas in order to kickstart their western career. A valuable and precious experience, certainly, because it’s given them all many memories that they might never have had the chance to treasure otherwise. From beer pong to performing on a wide array of American stages, Jaehyun is glad that he’s had his members with him every step of the way.
A part of him wants to be back in the States. Constant adrenaline kept everything fresh and exciting, but the biggest difference of all is Jungwoo’s presence. It’s clear to them that Jungwoo had really enjoyed his time there, somehow even bubblier despite the language barrier, generating enough light to rival the sun.
But not long after the end of their American schedules, Jungwoo had gone on hiatus, and not having him around doesn’t sit well with Jaehyun.
His new room, while objectively not big enough for two, seems too empty. In an attempt to make it seem less so, Jaehyun had filled the space to the best of his ability, but he still wakes on most mornings to thoughts of how the other is doing.
Jungwoo has kept in contact with everyone, regularly assuring them that he’s doing okay and he’ll be back as soon as possible. They believe him, because not believing him would just make things harder.
Today, Jaehyun is holed up in his room for some vocal practice with nothing but his keyboard for company. Time slips by like honey, and before he knows it, it’s dinnertime. Taeil calls for him, voice powerful enough to seep through thick walls.
Jaehyun’s just about to head out when his phone vibrates with a text.
Hiiiiii, he reads. I just saw your Lauv cover!!! You sound really really nice :) I’ve been listening to it on repeat; my mum is starting to complain hahahah! Sorry it took me awhile, but better late than never right!!
The smile that threatens to break across Jaehyun’s face is a huge one.
Thank you, Jaehyun types. Happy you like it (: Was pretty nervous leading up to the release, but I’m glad I did it.
Jungwoo’s reply comes almost instantly.
You make Paris and London seem a whole lot nicer :’D Please do more covers~
“What are you smiling at?”
Doyoung’s staring at him with a whole bunch of chopsticks in his hand. Before Jaehyun can answer, the door opens and the other half of the group comes filing in, clearly happy at the sight of a full table of food. Doyoung repeats his question.
“Oh, Jungwoo messaged. He was just telling me he liked my cover.”
Everyone immediately reacts to Jungwoo’s name – Mark and Donghyuck ask how he’s doing, Johnny complains of not receiving texts, and Taeyong wonders if he’ll call.
“Should we call him instead?”
And that’s how they wind up eating dinner with Jungwoo, Taeyong’s phone making its way around the room from member to member. The meal turns into a loud affair, as it always does when Jungwoo is involved.
Johnny voices just as much. “It’s different without him, huh?”
“Yeah.” Jaehyun spoons some stew into his mouth, chews, then swallows. “It is.”
He’s halfway through his meal when the phone’s passed to him.
“Hi,” he says, surreptitiously studying Jungwoo through the video. He looks a little thinner than usual but seems just as cheerful, so Jaehyun convinces himself not to worry too much. “How’ve you been?”
“Roomie!” Jungwoo grins, leaning closer to the camera. “I know you must be bored all alone; I’ll come back soon to keep you company, okay?”
Jaehyun huffs out a laugh. “Mm, it’s real quiet in the room, gets kinda lonely.”
A momentary pause, in which they both eat a mouthful of food and Jaehyun tries not to stare at the screen.
“You’ve been eating well?”
Jungwoo hums. “Of course, I’m always eating well.”
“And how are you feeling?”
“Much better.” There must’ve been a skeptical look on Jaehyun’s face, because Jungwoo looks thoroughly amused when he adds, “I promise.”
Johnny’s knee knocks against his. “How come you never sound this concerned with me?”
“You’re not my roommate,” Jaehyun deadpans. The laugh that bursts forth from the phone is music to Jaehyun’s ears. Johnny pouts and makes a whole show of being upset, only to break character when Yuta throws a wadded up tissue at him from across the table.
“I should pass you on now.”
“Okay.” Jungwoo takes a drink of water. “Miss you, Jae.”
This smile is different – this smile is softer, more personal, like it’s reserved for him. Slightly pixelated, but still beautiful.
“I miss you too.”
They have thirty minutes before they’re due on stage.
Jaehyun has to admit – he never thought a virtual concert would be a part of their repertoire, but here they are, mic packs getting fixed in place and dressed in new outfits, about to perform to thousands of fans through screens.
They’re squished into the dressing room for last-minute touch-ups, hairspray, Q-tips, and make-up brushes the only thing they feel, see, and smell until they’re deemed ready. Taeyong accidentally steps on his toes and Yuta digs an elbow into the small of his back (how, Jaehyun doesn’t quite know), but he takes it all in stride.
After all, fitting nine grown men into a room is not an easy feat.
“This will be interesting,” Johnny’s saying. “There’s gonna be a special guest too, right? Wonder who it is.”
Mark replies, like he usually does, so Jaehyun switches his attention over to where Donghyuck, Doyoung, and Jungwoo are singing. He simply listens for a while, until the make-up artist steps away and he sees Jungwoo beckoning him over.
“Sing with us!”
Jungwoo has an innate talent for coaxing people to do things – maybe it’s the innocence or the way his eyes curve into precious half-moons when he laughs, but people rarely say no to him and mean it. Right now, Jaehyun can’t say no to him, either.
“Okay,” he says. And so he sings with them, resting his weight on the edge of a counter as they delve into an acapella version of Make Your Day. Taeil joins them as soon as he hears, and for those few minutes, the room is quiet apart from their singing.
When the song ends, Jungwoo lets out a pleased laugh and claps.
“Ah, we sound so good!”
“Cute,” Mark comments off to the side, and Jaehyun is inclined to agree.
Just then, a staff member sticks her head inside and calls for them to start heading backstage. They file out of the room like obedient ducklings, double-checking that their mic packs are secure and no wires are in the way. Behind them, their glam team wishes them best of luck.
“You should sing more,” Jaehyun comments, keeping his voice quiet.
Jungwoo glances at him, an eyebrow crooked. “Maybe tell that to management,” he jokes, but Jaehyun doesn’t laugh along.
“Yeah, maybe I will. You should sing more,” he repeats, more firmly this time. “Even if not in our songs, sing at home or during practice. Your voice deserves more attention.”
Jungwoo gives him an odd look and Jaehyun momentarily wonders if he’d crossed some sort of line, but before he can attempt to remedy the situation, Jungwoo yanks him into a hug.
There’s an arm around his neck and one curling up from underneath his armpit, and his vision is almost entirely obscured by Jungwoo’s hair. The younger smells of hairspray, enough of the product clinging to his hair that Jaehyun cannot pick out his natural scent. He wants to wash all the hairspray away.
Jungwoo doesn’t say anything, but Jaehyun doesn’t need words.
He holds him close, heedless of people squeezing past them in the cramped corridor and choosing to focus on the rise and fall of Jungwoo’s back instead. It’s only when a voice floats through their earpieces to test the mics – and thus reminding them that they have a concert to perform – do they break apart.
But not without a kiss pressed to Jaehyun’s cheek, hand warm against the curve of his jaw, followed by a second kiss to the corner of his mouth.
“You’re my favourite, you know?” Jungwoo says with a bright laugh. Then he’s off, jogging towards the stage and leaving behind Jaehyun in a blustering mess.
Floundering to gather his wits, Jaehyun whips around just in time to see Jungwoo’s back disappear around the corner. He can still feel the touch of Jungwoo’s lips against his skin.
You’re my favourite, you know? A delighted smile spreads across his face and Jaehyun turns heel to chase after the person who put it there.
There are only a few days left to Christmas when Jaehyun comes home from practice to find the front door wide open. The others have gone to get food, so he’s the only one here. Alarmed, he pauses his music and creeps inside. Nothing in the living room or kitchen seems to be damaged or broken, and Jaehyun carefully moves towards the bedrooms.
He bites down on a yell when someone pops out of his bedroom, and he’s just about to swing when – “Hi!”
“Oh my god – Jungwoo?! Fuck, you scared me. The front door’s left open, I thought someone broke in!”
“I left it open because I have to move things in,” Jungwoo explains. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. I sent a message to the group that I’m back today though?”
Jaehyun looks down at his phone. “Oh, I haven’t checked my messages.” When he looks back up, he sees Jungwoo smiling at him, looking like the sun personified. “Welcome back, roomie.”
He’s tugged into the room, where Jungwoo spends several minutes suggesting how things can be rearranged to fit a bed. Honestly, Jaehyun barely registers a single word, because he’s too caught up trying to subtly check Jungwoo over. He looks good, healthy, happy.
“You look good,” Jaehyun hears himself saying. “How are you feeling?”
“Great! ” Jungwoo replies, and Jaehyun believes him. “Should we move –”
“I’ll just get rid of the keyboard.”
Jungwoo stares at him.
“But you like that keyboard.”
Jaehyun gestures to the desk. “Don’t be silly, I have another one. I’m not gonna let a keyboard take up the space you need.” Before Jungwoo can argue, he strides over to the keyboard, unplugs it, and hoists it up. “I’ll move it out to the living room. Help me with the stand?”
Bit by bit, they reorganise the room, and it isn’t long before they’re able to ease in Jungwoo’s bed frame. They play some music, scrounge up some snacks from the kitchen, and get to work. Jaehyun helps him unpack the rest of the stuff he’d brought over – which isn’t much –, and by the time the other members return, they’re pretty much done.
While Jungwoo gets babied by the others, a welcome that he deserves, Jaehyun pops into the bathroom for a quick shower.
He finds Jungwoo sitting on his bed when he returns, fiddling with a pile of clothes.
“You’re not out there? I’m surprised they let you out of their sights, they’ve really missed you.”
“They’ve all gone to change and wash up for dinner,” Jungwoo says. He pauses, a shirt in hand. “Did you?”
“Hm? Did I what?”
Jaehyun blinks. “Of course. Very much so.”
“Then where was my hug?”
“Oh, I – I didn’t give you one?”
Jungwoo’s response is to launch himself into Jaehyun’s space, sending his towel tumbling to the floor. Having Jungwoo’s frame in his arms again is almost surreal – he fits just as perfectly into him as Jaehyun remembers.
“I’m happy you’re back.”
Jungwoo hums, sounding incredibly pleased with how things are going. “I’m happy I’m back. It’s weird not being around you guys every day, dancing and singing and performing.”
“Yeah, it’s been weird for us, too. Donghyuck’s had to work double-time to make up for your absence, but it’s not the same; his mood-making is different from yours.”
Jungwoo pulls his head back and squints at him. “You’re my favourite, you know?” A pause, wherein Jaehyun mulls over the meaning of those words, then Jungwoo’s grinning.
“What does that mean?”
The answer doesn’t come, however, because Taeyong’s calling for them. It’s dinnertime.
Jungwoo walks the few steps towards the door and tosses a smile over his shoulder.
“I’ll tell you one day.”