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.
Non-italicised parts are set in present time, and italicised parts are flashbacks; both flashbacks and real-time scenes move chronologically in parallel.
All events are based on canon events; any differences are intentional and changed to fit the story!
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.”
Not long after Jungwoo's confession, life throws him a curveball.
But instead of having to deal with it all alone, Jaehyun's got Jungwoo (and the others) right by his side.
No more flashbacks this chapter! Everything is set in present time :)
Again, all canon!
The thrill of Jungwoo’s (sort-of) confession doesn’t last. In fact, Jaehyun gets to enjoy it for a grand total of a day, maybe a day and a half, before things take a drastic turn for the worse.
Dispatch drops news that has a headache instantly surging up in his head, the pain settling behind his eyes and radiating out into his temples. Honestly, Jaehyun knows better. Going out at a time like this was a bad judgement call and he definitely deserves the blowback, but the group has a comeback right around the corner and he simply cannot stand the thought of his mistake spilling over onto the others.
On the night that the news hits headlines, Jaehyun finds himself in a room with management, staring at the table as discussions for damage control rise all around him. Before he left for the office, Jungwoo had pulled him aside and given him a hug that lasted long enough for Jaehyun to feel the telltale prickling of stressed tears in the corners of his eyes.
But he’d held it in, pulled off something that resembled a smile, and told Jungwoo not to worry. His mistake, his responsibility.
His phone has been buzzing incessantly for the past hour and Jaehyun guesses most of the messages are from the other three. He chooses to ignore the texts for now, telling himself that it’s a smart decision, especially when tensions are high and all four parties have their own battles to handle.
The meeting ends without any surprising conclusions – the company will release an official statement and Jaehyun is told to keep a low profile whenever possible for the time being. He’s already started planning his personal apology, so when his manager suggests doing so during the walk to the car, he simply nods and agrees.
When he gets home, he finds the others all packed into the apartment, although he can’t quite find where Jungwoo is in the crowd. Jaehyun pauses by the doorway and eyes them warily; he doesn’t know if he’s up for another lecture right now. But to his relief, no one actually addresses the situation. Instead, Donghyuck points at a box of pizza and says very casually, “I ate all the crusts. Hope you don’t mind. A lot of cheese and meat left, though.”
“Auntie made food too,” Johnny adds, “just in case you prefer that over pizza without crusts. It’s in the kitchen.”
Jaehyun feels the corner of his mouth quirk. Sometimes, he believes that he doesn’t deserve his members. “Yeah, maybe I’ll have her food instead.”
Donghyuck looks properly offended and Mark giggles at his expression, which of course leads to a tickle fight that gets too loud far too quickly. Past experiences dictate that the longer he stays in their vicinity, the higher the chance he gets pulled into the battle, so Jaehyun heads towards his bedroom for a brief moment of respite.
He can’t stay in his room forever, not when he knows someone will come to pull him back out after enough time has passed, but he needs to write out his apology now.
That’s where Jungwoo finds him ten minutes later, head bent over a notebook as he writes.
“Hey. Brought you some food; I heard from the kitchen you didn’t want the pizza. Don’t blame you, by the way, Hyuck really ate all the crusts.”
He looks up to see Jungwoo setting down a tray of food on the table. Everything’s still hot and it all smells wonderful, but the only thing that catches his attention is Jungwoo himself.
“Asked Auntie to make your favourites today,” Jungwoo’s saying, straightening out the chopsticks. “Try to eat some, okay? I’ll let the others know to leave you be for a bit.”
Jungwoo turns to leave, probably assuming that Jaehyun wants to be alone. While that would be the case in the past, all Jaehyun wants now is his company.
“Will you stay?”
“Your handwriting is really nice,” Jungwoo comments, chin propped up on one hand as he watches Jaehyun upload the photo onto his Instagram. “How do you write so straight?”
Jaehyun can’t help the chuckle that bubbles out of him. “The lined paper helps, Woo.”
With the apology done, Jaehyun folds the paper into quarters and slots it into the middle of a book. Throwing it away just doesn’t feel right. Next to him, Jungwoo picks up the notebook and pen Jaehyun had just used.
“Lined paper helps somewhat,” Jungwoo corrects. “Let me show you.”
Warmth blooms across Jaehyun’s cheeks as Jungwoo writes out I like the way you smile at me and the way you laugh, all bright, like a star. Maybe his heart even skips a beat or two, not that Jaehyun minds.
“See, my writing still floats even with the lines!”
“You did that on purpose,” Jaehyun laughs, accepting the sheet of paper Jungwoo rips out and hands over to him. He folds that one into quarters too, but instead of a book, he slots it into his wallet.
Under Jungwoo’s watchful eye, he finishes most of his dinner, surprised at the hunger that rears its head as soon as he swallows the first mouthful. They spend a bit more time in their room, Jungwoo occupying himself by scrolling through social media while Jaehyun lets his fingers run over the keyboard.
“Are you disappointed in me?”
From the corner of his eye, he sees Jungwoo’s thumb pause from where it hovers over the screen of his phone. He doesn’t turn his head, however, choosing to look down at the keyboard rather than at Jungwoo’s face.
There’s a heavy second of silence before Jungwoo speaks.
“Yes, I am. You endangered others and yourself by going out.”
Jaehyun forces himself to swallow past the lump in his throat, jaw working tight. He’d expected this answer, but hearing it still hurts.
“But I’m not angry, Jae. People make mistakes, it’s how they grow and learn. I don’t expect you to be perfect. God knows I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. You messed up and now you have to deal with the consequences, but it’ll pass with time and you will come out a better person. I’m gonna be with you every step of the way, okay? We all will.”
A warm hand finds its way around his own and Jungwoo threads their fingers together.
“You’re not running away from it. You owned up to it, apologised, and promised to do better. And that makes me proud.”
Jungwoo leans in and drops a gentle kiss on Jaehyun’s cheek.
“Keep your head high, okay?”
“Okay. I’m sorry, Jungwoo.”
He can’t really see it, but Jaehyun can feel Jungwoo’s smile. Kind and forgiving and beautiful and god, Jaehyun wants to keep it with him at all times.
“Wanna come out? I kinda want some ice cream.”
Might as well get it over with, Jaehyun thinks. He’s already apologised to his company and his fans; now it’s time to give his members one.
He follows Jungwoo out into the living room where Yuta, Taeyong, and Donghyuck are busy yelling at the television, game controllers in hand. Seven pairs of eyes flicker over to him when he appears and Yuta immediately pauses the game.
“I just,” Jaehyun begins, aware of Jungwoo’s presence to his left. It grounds him, comforts him. He takes a breath. “I just want to apologise for this situation. My mistake reflects poorly on the group, and as a result, reflects poorly on all of you individually. I promise I will do better in the future.”
Taeyong gets to his feet and walks over to pull Jaehyun into a hug. “We know. We’ll go through this together – we’re a family, right?”
Before Taeyong can pull away, Jungwoo wraps his arms around the pair and winks at Jaehyun over their leader’s shoulder. It quickly evolves into a haphazard group hug with Jaehyun in the middle, and when Mark accidentally causes Doyoung to lose his balance, it turns into a dogpile.
He’s squished under the weight of his shrieking members and his hipbones are digging into the floor, but Jaehyun finds that he doesn’t mind this at all.
Minutes before the cameras turn on and they go live, Jaehyun takes his seat and tries to clear his head. He’s supposed to be excited for today, for the release of their repackaged album, but all he feels is nerves. It’s been a while since he’s ever felt like this, all churning stomach and prickling skin, and the fact that he barely got a wink of sleep last night does not help matters whatsoever.
Facing disappointed fans is never an enjoyable experience – you’d be hard-pressed to find an idol who thinks otherwise.
“Don’t frown,” a familiar voice chides. Jungwoo pops into view, crouching down by Jaehyun’s knees and looking adorable in his cardigan and floppy hair. “You’ll get wrinkles.”
“Wouldn’t want that,” Jaehyun agrees, eyes fluttering shut when Jungwoo reaches up to smooth out the skin between his brows.
They have no privacy here whatsoever, not when half a dozen staff members are milling about behind the cameras, eyes sharp and tongues equally so. Yet, Jungwoo doesn’t seem fazed, judging by how he clasps Jaehyun’s hand between his own before brushing a quick kiss over the backs of his fingers.
No one seems to have noticed anything, everyone perhaps too used to Jungwoo’s tendency of sticking to people he favours. Or perhaps Jungwoo is just broad enough to block their hands from view. Either way, Jaehyun will take what he can get.
“I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about me, yeah?”
Jungwoo nods. “No promises, but I’ll do my best.”
Johnny and Mark come onto the set then, the latter cackling at something that Johnny has said. The dynamic duo settle into their seats and Jungwoo gently pulls away, giving Jaehyun’s knee one last squeeze before rising and slinging an arm around Doyoung’s shoulders.
A staff member calls out a one-minute warning and soon after, the rest of the group comes rushing out. Taeil gives Jaehyun a little pat on the head as he passes and Taeyong purposefully settles into the seat behind him for moral support, a strong leader and an even stronger friend.
This VLIVE will be a whole hour of simmering nerves, but he’ll power through it somehow. One skill he’d learned even before his debut is the art of smiling even when you don’t feel like it – he’s sure it’ll come in handy today.
All in all, the shoot progresses without any major issues, and the fact that he’s unable to track comments really helps tamp down on the anxiety. Although he stays quiet for most of it, only speaking when prompted or when he feels like he needs to, the members speak enough to cover for him and more. He can feel their gazes wash over him ever so often, a quick check to make sure he’s doing alright, and Jaehyun hopes they know just how much he appreciates them.
By the time the hour is up, it’s considerably easier to breathe.
They’re ushered out of the room once the cameras turn off, leaving the crew behind to pack up. Time to change, then it’s back to the practice rooms they go, intent on practising through the rest of the day in preparation for their comeback stage in a couple of days.
Up ahead, Jungwoo’s got Mark hanging off his back as they all make their way down a myriad of hallways, Yuta’s hand sneaking in to snatch the fake glasses out of Jungwoo’s shirt.
“Thief!” Jungwoo accuses, sadly unable to chase after Yuta thanks to Mark’s weight.
Yuta, now far enough from Jungwoo to be safe from any smacks, tosses him a mischievous grin over his shoulder and skips away with the glasses perched on his nose. Jaehyun watches it all unfold with a fondness spreading throughout his chest and out into his extremities – it’s already been months since Jungwoo’s return, but sometimes Jaehyun still can’t quite believe it.
“Heya,” Johnny says, stepping up to his side and elbowing him in the ribs. “What’s up? How’re you doing?”
“All things considered, I’m okay.”
They turn a corner and head into the dressing room – Donghyuck beelines for one of the changing cubicles and Doyoung follows suit, leaving the others to scramble for the last available one.
Willing to wait, Jaehyun takes a seat and Johnny joins him. Glancing up, he catches Jungwoo’s gaze from across the room and the younger beams at him, eyes crinkling into precious half-moons before his attention returns to Mark.
“So, you wanna tell me anything?”
Confused, Jaehyun turns to Johnny. “...Do I?”
“I saw, you know.”
“Oh my god, please stop talking in riddles.”
Johnny lets out a dramatic exhale and props his long legs up on the table, neatly avoiding knocking over hair products and bottles of water.
“Saw that little moment you two had before the VLIVE shoot started.”
“Um,” he begins, pulse picking up speed rapidly. “We just –” But the words stick in his throat and refuse to cooperate.
Johnny sets a calming hand down on his knee. “Whoa, don’t freak out on me. I just wanted to tell you that whatever you two have, I support it. It’s very obvious that you make him happy; we all have eyes, and it’s been that way since trainee days. And he makes you happy, too.”
The subject of their conversation has gone to change now, his seat taken up by Taeyong.
“He does,” Jaehyun manages, fiddling with the edge of his cardigan. “He, um, confessed? Sort of? Before our concert the other day. But we didn’t have a chance to really talk about it, because I fucked up and now there’s this whole thing that takes precedence.”
Johnny moves to speak, but is promptly cut off when their stylist calls for them to change; she wants the clothes back and they have to get back to practice.
“We’ll talk later,” he says, clapping Jaehyun on the shoulder. With a grand swing of his legs, he stands and turns towards the changing rooms. “In any case, I’m happy for you man. I think you’re good for each other.”
With everything he’s had to deal with in the past fifty hours or so, Jaehyun hasn’t given any thought to telling any of the members about this – not that he would before discussing it with Jungwoo, of course.
Johnny’s words have brought about such a huge wave of relief that he’s feeling just a little overwhelmed, and also a little apprehensive: if any of the others turn out to have an issue with their relationship, Jaehyun doesn’t know how he’d handle it.
But that’s a problem for another time. Now, he’s got hours and hours of dance to get to.
Over the next two to three weeks, things calm down significantly. The media and netizens find something else to fixate on, and along with their Punch promotions, they spend a lot of that time filming a couple of variety shows, interviews, and new content for their YouTube channel.
The biggest surprise? Their comeback turns out to be successful. The first win is a wonderful balm, helping soothe Jaehyun’s worries until he stops thinking what if I fuck everything up for us and starts thinking okay, maybe things really will be alright. Further buoyed by the floods of encouraging messages on both his Instagram (he checks it regularly, even if management has banned him from using it for now) and the group’s Twitter account, he gradually returns to his old self.
On the night of their fourth win, the nine of them gather in one of the dorms for samgyupsal. Because of the sheer number of people, carrying out these dinners is always a challenge – just making sure that there is enough food for everyone is tough enough.
Prep itself takes a long time, and when they’re finally able to sit down and get the three grills started, Jungwoo’s stomach lets out an audible growl.
“Oh, the puppy’s hungry,” Mark declares, brandishing a pair of tongs. “Gotta feed him.”
Jungwoo laughs, knee knocking against Jaehyun’s under the table. “Yes, feed me please. Wait, but my cooking is better than yours?”
And that’s how Jungwoo gets stuck with being in charge of one of the grills. He doesn’t seem to mind, humming as he drops a block of butter onto the pan, followed by some minced garlic. Before long, there’s a growing pile of meat on the sharing plate in the middle of the table, and Jungwoo’s dropping five pieces onto Jaehyun’s plate.
“Wrap?” He asks Jaehyun, reaching over to grab a leaf of lettuce. “No need to answer, I’m gonna make you one regardless.”
“No no, you eat.” Jaehyun tries to redirect the wrap back to Jungwoo, but all he manages to achieve is getting a piece of kimchi to fall out of it and onto the table. “Woo, you haven’t eaten a single bite since –”
“Eat the wrap he made for you, man,” Johnny interjects casually. He waggles a brow. “I wish someone made a wrap for me.”
Donghyuck lets out the most exaggerated sigh. “Oh alright, if you really want one,” and promptly proceeds to prepare a wrap with nothing but white rice. Johnny pinches his neck in revenge.
Ears aflame, Jaehyun gives in and lets Jungwoo feed him – the latter smiles, pleased, and Jaehyun squeezes his knee in thanks.
Dinner goes by in the typical 127 fashion, the dorm filled with conversation and laughter as food steadily disappears from their plates, only to wind up in their bellies. When all the food is gone, they migrate from the table to the couch for a movie, pillows spread out on the floor for those who were unable to snag a seat.
Instead of fighting for a spot on the couch, Jaehyun ambles into the kitchen and joins Jungwoo by the sink. The latter had offered to do the dishes, earning himself a kiss on the cheek from Donghyuck and several proclamations of love from the others.
“Hi,” Jungwoo says, looking up from the plate in his hands. “You don’t wanna go watch the movie?”
“They’re waiting for you to start,” Jaehyun says, fishing out another pair of gloves from under the sink. “Let me help?”
They scrub at the dishes in companionable silence, content with being in each other’s presence as they tackle this mundane chore. Halfway through, Jaehyun taps Jungwoo’s foot with his own and says, “Can I ask you something?”
“You…want to be with me, right?”
Jungwoo turns to face him, brows furrowed. “Have we been operating under different definitions of ‘I have feelings for you’ this whole time? Because if so, then what you said –”
Jaehyun flicks a few drops of soapy water at him. “I do have feelings for you, and no, we have not been operating under different definitions. I just want to make sure.”
“Yes, Jaehyun, I want to be with you, and I have since 2016 when I –”
“Oh my god, stop,” Jaehyun groans, a blush already threatening to float up to the apples of his cheeks.
A laugh, then Jungwoo rinses off a bunch of spoons and sticks them into the utensil rack to dry. “Why did you want to make sure, anyway? I thought it was the logical next step in an event where two people realise that they like each other.”
“Well, if we’re really gonna take the next step, then we have to think about how to go forward.” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “We should tell them, right?”
Jungwoo pauses, sponge hovering over a plate. “Oh. Yeah, you’re right, we should. Wow, thanks for making me nervous out of nowhere.”
“If it helps, Johnny already knows and he’s very supportive.”
The plate slips from Jungwoo’s grip and clatters loudly into the sink.
“Everything okay in there?” Taeyong calls, and Jaehyun hurries to shout out an affirmative before he can come into the kitchen and realise something’s up.
“Johnny knows? How? When?”
Jaehyun nudges Jungwoo aside and picks up the dropped plate, leaving Jungwoo standing there with soap dripping off his hands and onto the counter. “He saw us. That day during Punch countdown VLIVE.”
He reaches out and catches Jungwoo’s hand before it ends up spreading dish soap all over the latter’s face. Amused, Jaehyun turns the faucet on and rinses the soap off for him.
“Oh my god, I thought no one would see. I’m sorry, I didn’t –”
“Hey, it’s okay. It’s Johnny. Johnny’s good, he’s a safe place.” He finishes with the last plate and dries his hands on a dishtowel.
“What’d he say?”
“Oh, nothing much, just that it’s clear I make you happy. That it’s been so since we were trainees. That it’s clear you make me happy, too.”
A flustered Jungwoo is rare, but Jaehyun gets to see it now, and he absolutely loves it. Jungwoo refuses to meet his eyes, and with a loud clear of his throat, digs inside the fridge until he emerges with an apple.
“Eat some fruit,” he mumbles, dropping the apple into Jaehyun’s palm before escaping out into the living room. Jaehyun grins after his retreating back.
The five of them are getting ready to watch the last episode of Office Final Round, accompanied by a whole bunch of leftover Japanese snacks from Jaehyun and Yuta’s VLIVE. Now that promotional activities are over and they have a bit of downtime, they’ve taken to watching their YouTube content as a group.
Watching the final product of something they’ve personally filmed is sort of like reliving the past, but from a whole new perspective. It’s really quite interesting.
Squished against one end of the couch with Jungwoo leaning on his side, Jaehyun feels quite pleased with how the day has gone – Jungwoo’s overflowing praise for his (quite mediocre, if he’s being truthful) okonomiyaki is still ringing in his ears.
“Okay,” Mark says, remote in hand as he pulls up the video. “We’re ready to go.”
It’s thirteen minutes of laughter, both on-screen and off.
“Dude, Doyoung really…”
“Mark, you’re right, Woo is actually a golden retriever reincarnated, that’s why his hair is so bouncy.”
“When you stick two competitive people in the same team, you get success!”
“Jae, how’d you get so lucky at rock paper scissors that day?”
“I still don’t understand why you’d play rock,” Taeil snorts, toes prodding against Yuta’s back.
“A man keeps his word,” Yuta says primly. “I wasn’t about to lie in front of cameras. What would the fans think?”
Jungwoo tosses a pillow at Yuta’s head.
When the punishment starts, Mark breaks down laughing all over again, and it isn’t long before the rest of them join in. There’s just something about Jungwoo when he’s in that zone – the Variety Show King zone – that really gets a reaction out of people. Pitting him against Taeil is just the cherry atop a very big sundae.
“You haven’t laughed that hard in a while.” Jungwoo shifts closer to him, voice pitched low enough for the commotion on-screen to mask. “I like it.”
He’s pretty much sprawled across Jaehyun’s lap at this point, but it’s apparently nothing out of the ordinary for the others, who don’t bat a single eyelash at their closeness. Ever since he’d first accepted that what he felt for the younger is more than just platonic affection, Jaehyun has been noticing these little things, things that wouldn’t have left a tiny blip on his radar a couple of months ago.
The way they move around and interact with each other hasn’t changed much even after getting together – a fact that is rather telling, Jaehyun has to admit.
But better late than never, right? At least they have this now.
“Yeah, it’s all you.”
“You make me laugh.”
“I am quite hilarious,” Jungwoo agrees, eyes still fixed on the screen. “Ah, look at you. I remember hearing you laugh that time, but if I looked at you I would’ve messed up the scene. I really wanted to, though.”
He turns his head a few degrees and kisses Jungwoo’s temple. On the other end of the couch, Taeil laughs at himself eating his teeth for the nth time. “I’m sure I’ll be laughing a lot more in the future.”
It’s late and they should really sleep, but Jaehyun finds himself sitting in front of his keyboard, Jungwoo by his side. Their sleep schedules have been a little wonky lately, their tendencies to stay up late compounded by wanting to spend more time with each other in the privacy of their own room.
He’s playing his own arrangement of Jojo’s Gold, quietly singing as Jungwoo hums along.
The way that you love me, you love me, love me alone
You got that loving like your loving is gold
The way that you love me is lovely, love me alone
You got that loving, yeah, your loving is gold
It’s not the first time he’s played this song, but it is the first time Jungwoo asks: “What’s this song about?”
Jaehyun finishes the verse he’s on and stretches out his fingers. “Not too sure, but the lyrics remind me of you.” He smiles at the look on the other’s face – he can practically hear the gears turning in Jungwoo’s head.
“You’re not gonna tell me, are you?” He’s already pulling up Naver on his phone. “You suck.”
While Jungwoo does some quick research, Jaehyun continues playing, segueing into ToKiMONSTA’s I Wish I Could when the song ends. He doesn’t end up finishing that song, however, because Jungwoo finishes his search and seems to have gotten the answers he’d wanted.
The phone is set down on the table and Jungwoo physically lifts one of Jaehyun’s hands off the keyboard to drape across his own shoulders. Without a word, he scoots closer and envelops Jaehyun in a hug, face tucked into the crook of Jaehyun’s neck. The position is a little uncomfortable, what with two chairs in the way, and Jungwoo ends up having to twist around a fair amount.
“You know, the day after Beyond, I woke up and wondered if it was all a dream. You were still asleep, and I spent such a long time watching the rise and fall of your chest trying to figure out if I really did what I did.”
Jungwoo moves to disengage from the hug, but the heel of his hand stays pressed against Jaehyun’s pulse point. When they’re this close, it’s hard for Jaehyun to take his eyes off the elegant slope of Jungwoo’s nose and the brightness of his eyes, so he doesn’t.
“Then you woke up, and you smiled at me, and I knew that it wasn’t a dream.”
Time stops just a little while.
Then Jungwoo laughs softly and drops his hand. He moves like he’s about to stand and go somewhere, so Jaehyun reaches out and pulls him back, rising up to meet him halfway.
Their lips meet a touch forcefully, both propelled by momentum, but they recover fast enough to turn the kiss into something gentle and sweet. Jungwoo tastes faintly of the watermelon they had as a late-night snack, lips pillow-soft, and Jaehyun cannot help but step closer.
Cupping the curve of Jungwoo’s jaw with both hands, Jaehyun angles his head just right for a deeper kiss and relishes in the tiny sound he coaxes out of the younger.
They part after what feels like hours, lips cherry red, kiss-swollen.
“I’m sorry,” Jaehyun blurts, “I should’ve asked –”
Jungwoo yanks him into another kiss and Jaehyun makes the assumption that he’s forgiven.
At breakfast the next morning, Jaehyun nearly chokes on a mouthful of food when Jungwoo kicks his shin with a little too much force, glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose with the impact.
“What,” he wheezes, eyes watering. Okay, that’s definitely gonna bruise.
“I think we should tell them now.”
Jaehyun pauses. He takes a few seconds to study Jungwoo’s expression – he looks a little pale, likely due to nerves, but there’s a determined light in his eyes that has Jaehyun saying, “Yeah, sure. I’m okay with it if you are.”
In a rare move from Kim Jungwoo, he sets his half-finished meal aside and turns to face the other three. Yuta fixes both of them with a suspicious look. “What is this? You’re not taking another hiatus, are you?”
“Huh? No, of course not.” Jungwoo’s gaze flickers over to Jaehyun, in search of moral support, and Jaehyun decides to just…
Reaching out across the table, he grasps one of Jungwoo’s hands in his own. “We’re together.”
The minutes that follow are surreal. Taeil doesn’t react whatsoever; perhaps he’s still too sleepy to process his words? Yuta looks constipated, and Mark simply stares at them, wide-eyed, for far too long before he suddenly breaks out into gleeful laughter.
“Dude,” he gasps between giggles, landing a solid slap on Yuta’s chest. “What did I say?!”
Wincing at the hit, Yuta fends off another blow and groans, “Damnit, I shouldn’t have agreed to – ugh. How much do I owe you.”
Jungwoo’s eyebrows have practically disappeared into his hairline at this point, and truth be told, Jaehyun feels exactly the same way.
Taeil finally speaks, apparently lucid enough to have processed everything that has just happened. “What did I say?” He takes a gulp of his coffee. “Told you that you’d lose, didn’t I?”
“I’m sorry,” Jungwoo interrupts, confused as hell. “But what –?”
Mark, still giggling, wipes at his eyes. “Oh, man. I’m sorry guys, that was probably really rude of us and I know you want an explanation.” He drains his glass of water and gives himself a couple of smacks to the face for good measure. “So, a few days after Jungwoo came back last year, I made a bet with Yuta that this would happen within a year. And it did!!!”
“You two owe me dinner,” Yuta grumbles, pointing to the couple. “You made me lose money. God, you two couldn’t have taken just a little longer? I mean, you’ve been doing this dance for goodness knows how long –”
A door opens and shuts and everyone instantly schools their features into one of mild boredom mixed with residual sleepiness. It works, because when their manager walks in, he notices nothing suspicious.
Seconds later, Jaehyun’s phone buzzes and he sees a text from Mark on the screen, a mix of English and Korean that only he can pull off.
happy for u, bro!!
was a long time comin
be good to each other :)
Not wanting to talk about such a sensitive topic out in the living room, the nine of them pile into Johnny and Donghyuck’s bedroom.
Understandably, Taeyong looks worried. After all, having two of your members come knocking on your door and claiming that they have Important News to share is not something that happens every day.
“It’s nothing big,” Jungwoo says, only to be cut off when Yuta chucks one of Johnny's many plushies at him. “Okay, fine, it's sorta big.” He flaps a hand at where Jaehyun’s squished between Doyoung and Mark on one of the beds. “So, we're –”
“They're together!” Mark blurts, clapping like a seal.
“I can't believe you told them first,” Donghyuck complains, tossing another one of Johnny's plushies at Jungwoo. “I thought I was your favourite!”
“Mark's my favourite,” Jungwoo laughs, nearly toppling off the bed trying to dodge Donghyuck’s attacks.
The conversation quickly shifts to a rapid-fire Q&A, with Jungwoo and Jaehyun each dealing with an onslaught of questions from the members, ranging from “Who confessed first?” to “Jae, is this why you'd always have the weirdest look on your face whenever Jungwoo would do skinship with us?”
When the questions finally die down, Jaehyun clears his throat and says, “Are you guys really okay with this? If not, I feel like we should address it now instead of –”
“Nonsense, the two of you have our full support,” Taeyong interjects. “But this obviously changes a few things. It has to remain a secret for the foreseeable future, so there are precautions that we as a group have to take.”
While they've been keeping it a secret since the beginning, it's a little different now that the rest are all aware. It's easier to keep things quiet when you're the only one privy to the information, so with more people knowing, there's a higher chance of something going wrong.
But the mutual trust in this room is strong.
“You two have to act as normal as possible, virtually identical to how things were before you guys got together. That means you cannot always be side-by-side during VLIVEs or interviews, and you have to space out your interactions with other members. Don't be seen alone too often. And I'm sorry, Jae, but Jungwoo has to keep doing skinship with us. If he stops all of a sudden, fans are bound to notice.”
“Easy,” Jungwoo says, and tosses a grin over at Jaehyun.
Jaehyun laughs, fond. “Yeah, of course. I wasn't planning on asking him to stop or anything. He's an affectionate person, not gonna stop him from being himself.”
“I'd miss it if he stopped,” Mark admits, the sentiment promptly echoed by several others.
Jungwoo looks ridiculously pleased, reaching out to pull Donghyuck into a bone-crushing hug – Donghyuck lets out a thin squeak.
“The rest of us have to do our parts, yeah?”
“Yeah, if they get too obvious we have to intervene,” Johnny drawls, waggling his eyebrows when Jaehyun turns to look at him.
Jaehyun rolls his eyes, ears tipped red, and Doyoung tugs on them with a laugh.
Friday starts off quiet.
Unable to sleep in, Jaehyun wakes up at dawn and presses a kiss to Jungwoo's forehead as the latter slumbers on.
He spends a couple of hours at his desk with headphones plugged into his keyboard, simply playing whatever comes to mind until Jungwoo rises, at which point he switches to a few select songs from their own discography, Jungwoo contributing with his voice.
When they step out of their room for their one schedule of the day, they find Johnny already there, chatting with their dorm Auntie as she finishes preparing their food.
“Good morning, sunshines. Jae, you going for Yuta’s lion title or something?”
“Maybe,” Jaehyun replies, letting Jungwoo pet at the tufts of hair sticking out from his headband. “A challenger approaches.”
“Go for it,” Yuta calls from the table. “If you become the lion, that means Jungwoo won’t annoy me any– okay okay, I’m sorry, ow!”
From here on out, Friday stops being quiet. Not that Jaehyun minds, really.
They’re broadcasting another VLIVE, the grand finale to their ‘world tour’ series. Seated around the dining table with amazing food and company, brunch turns out to be a wonderful affair. If he ends up laughing a bit too much or letting his gaze linger on Jungwoo for a little too long, well, no one’s the wiser.
While Johnny talks, Jaehyun takes the opportunity to give Jungwoo’s thigh a squeeze, a little reminder that he’s thinking of him, always. His boyfriend – oh my god, his boyfriend – knocks their knees together and his laugh sounds just that much sweeter.
Jungwoo isn’t quite sure when it all started, but the fact that it did is indisputable.
Jungwoo's POV; chronological!
Warning: I talk about anxiety in this chapter – this is all fiction and I am not claiming that he had anxiety or went on hiatus for anxiety issues.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jungwoo isn’t quite sure when it all started, but the fact that it did is indisputable. There’s just something about him that makes Jungwoo’s gaze linger a little longer and makes his smile that much sweeter. It started off platonic, like a young boy delighted with the approval of his older brother, but somewhere along the way, it morphed into something much more.
The joy he’d felt when he found out that he had passed the audition and was formally accepted as a trainee quickly dissipates into thin air. It’s only been two weeks (!) and he’s already exhausted – with hours of training following a full day of school, he passes out as soon as he steps out of the shower and collapses onto his bed. His mother worries, but Jungwoo knows that he just needs to get used to this new routine.
Thrown headfirst into training and with most of the other trainees busy with SR14B projects, Jungwoo hasn’t had much time to really interact with them and it’s not until one fine Thursday that he does. With a certain someone, that is.
Having been held back for a short while in school, he practically sprints off the bus and towards the company, scared out of his wits that he’ll be scolded for being late. He bursts into the practice studio with an apology ready on his tongue only to find his fellow trainees lounging on the floor, some stretching and others simply chatting amongst themselves.
“Yo!” Johnny spots him and waves with both arms. “Instructors are late! We get to chill for a bit.”
Jungwoo blinks. Well, there are gods looking down upon him today, it seems.
He sets his bag down and finds a nice spot where he can hopefully alleviate some of the tightness in his hamstrings before practice starts. Jaemin and Jeno are to his right, heads bent over one of their phones, and he catches a glimpse of some animated series on the screen before he turns away. Legs stretched out in front of him, he looks up at the mirrors in front of him and locks eyes with Jaehyun, who happens to be sitting just a few feet away.
Then Jaehyun smiles and Jungwoo feels his face explode with heat.
They’ve met previously, of course, but all that their interactions have amounted to are greetings in the hallways and brief conversations during practice about eight-counts and dance formations. Jungwoo doesn’t know the other very well, but he’s heard many good things about him, and he’s witnessed enough to know Jaehyun deserves his spot in the first debut lineup.
“It’s impressive,” Jaehyun says in lieu of hello, “how you juggle school and training at the same time. You have to be tired, but you’re always here dancing your butt off.”
Jungwoo laughs awkwardly, having always been unsure of how to handle compliments. “I want to do both, so this is what I must go through until I graduate. You uh, you’re studying and training at the same time too.” Suddenly aware that he should be stretching, he grabs hold of one foot and flops down over his leg.
Meanwhile, Jaehyun flashes him another smile. “Yeah, but you’re in a tech school. Like I said, impressive. Anyway, I hope things here are going alright for you. If any of these boys –” he waves a hand around them, “– are mean to you, you let me know, okay?”
“Ah, no, they’re all very nice to me. I mean, I don’t know them well yet, but they’re all really nice.”
Jaehyun snorts, arms extended behind him and palms flat on the floor. “Wait until you get to know them, then. Some are pure evil, I tell you. Right, Donghyuck?”
“Huh?” Donghyuck looks up at the mention of his name and squints over at them. “What’d you say?”
“Nothing,” Jaehyun grins, all straight teeth and innocence. He turns back to Jungwoo. “We should grab food sometime. You like ramen?”
After that, the rest is history.
They become fast friends, and wherever one is, the other is sure to be as well. On the surface, it may seem like an unlikely match, but Jaehyun either rises to meet Jungwoo’s energy or manages to bring it down, and Jungwoo simply feels at ease in Jaehyun’s presence.
After practice, they always grab dinner before heading home, caps and masks on as they take the bus, seated shoulder to shoulder. Through Jaehyun, Jungwoo grows closer with the other trainees, and life settles into a comfortable (and enjoyable, if one doesn’t think about how demanding it all is) routine.
With Jaehyun already introduced as an SM Rookies member, their schedules don’t overlap as much as they would. As Jaehyun handles multiple projects at once – choreography videos, concert performances, even an upcoming gig as an emcee on Music Show – and Jungwoo focuses on school and improving as a trainee, they collect a large number of stories between the two of them that they share during their downtime.
Jaehyun shows him dance practice videos and sneaky shots of Johnny playing the piano as Taeil sings along and tells him about what it’s like to have an actual photoshoot. In return, over steaming bowls of jjajangmyeon or boxes of fragrant fried chicken, Jungwoo tells him about class, about the fun white lies he’s been spinning to keep his school friends from finding out where he’s going after school all this time. He tells Jaehyun of the absolute nonsense that Jaemin and Donghyuck come up with during practice and how Jisung has gotten so good at dodging the hugs that Jaemin insists on giving him on an hourly basis.
Days and weeks and months fly by like this, everyone too caught up in their responsibilities to really notice where the time has gone. Before Jungwoo knows it, he’s called in and informed that he’ll be taking part in the upcoming SM Rookies shows. Not as an official member, much less centre stage, but he’s more than happy with the opportunity. He barely has time to digest the information before his phone rings, Jaehyun’s name lighting up the screen.
“You’re joining us, right?”
“Um, yeah, I think so?”
“About time!” There’s a whole lot of noise on the other end and Jungwoo listens as Jaehyun pulls the phone away to yell something back. “I gotta go, but I’ll see you tomorrow at practice, okay? Bye, Woo!”
The call ends before Jungwoo can say goodbye, but he pockets his phone with a smile.
The first time Jungwoo feels an inkling of what he would deem affection, they’re backstage getting ready for their first Rookies show. Mark’s off in a corner, bent over his knees in an attempt to keep his iPod away from a laughing Johnny who’s attempting to nick it, and Doyoung’s chasing after Jaemin who apparently does not want to have his hair done.
To his surprise, he doesn’t feel too nervous. He wouldn’t be in the spotlight after all, so if he does happen to make a mistake or two, the fans watching probably wouldn’t notice, right? Besides, why would they choose to watch him when they could watch any of the others?
Once the final touch of make-up is brushed over the bridge of his nose, Jungwoo vacates his seat for the next person and settles down onto the lumpy couch shoved up against a wall. From his corner, Jungwoo watches as his friends run through some choreo, Jisung a tiny hurricane in the middle.
Then the couch dips with added weight and Jungwoo turns to see Jaehyun there, a light in his eyes that can only come from young dreamers ready to take on the world.
“You ready? Our own show! It’s not even our debut yet but it feels like everything we’ve done is already coming to fruition.” He slings an arm across Jungwoo’s shoulders. “Hope you’re not too nervous.”
“I’m feeling okay, actually. It’s you guys’ show, I’m just there for much-needed practice.” He speaks very matter-of-factly, but Jaehyun doesn’t seem to like it.
“What are you talking about? It’s your show just as much as it is ours. You’re one of us, okay, no matter what people say.” He gives Jungwoo’s shoulder a squeeze and when Jungwoo chances a glance at Jaehyun’s profile, his heart does a little funny skip.
Maybe it’s the certainty in his voice or the gentle sweep of his lashes when he blinks, but Jungwoo is 87% sure this thing he’s feeling in the depths of his chest cavity is new. Yeah, he’s had crushes before, if you count a fourteen-year-old thinking that his classmate is cute the same thing.
But this? This feels different. This comes with a weird ache – not a bad ache, Jungwoo reflects – lingering in the background and a warmth that reaches from the pit of his stomach all the way to the tips of his fingers.
“Okay,” he says, and presses a little closer.
Days before NCT U’s debut, Jungwoo receives a text from Jaehyun containing the raw audio files of both The 7th Sense and Without You. He’s supposed to be at vocal practice in…eight minutes, but he immediately detours off into an empty practice room and plugs his earphones in.
The 7th Sense makes a great debut single – the unusual musicality of the track helping it stand out from the slew of typical K-Pop songs out there. There’s a chance that people will not like it simply because of this difference, but that’s the price to pay if one prefers art over profit.
Jungwoo, however, prefers Without You, and the reason is simple: he gets to hear Jaehyun’s voice more. He sits there, back against the wall in a dark room, and keeps his eyes closed as he repeats the track twice more. He’ll be late to practice, and he’ll probably get reprimanded, but these are his best friend’s debut songs! It’s a good enough reason, he thinks.
They’re amazing, Jae. You all sound so good. Can’t wait for the MV!
He’s so proud of them – it’s hard not to be when he’s witnessed first-hand the amount of effort that they have put into preparing for their debut. Their stars will only shine brighter from now on.
There is one thing that he did not take into account, however, and that is just how busy the debuted members’ schedules become. With NCT U’s debut comes a flurry of new projects and suddenly, a whole bunch of people once cemented in Jungwoo’s life are ripped right out of it. For weeks, he receives barely a handful of sporadic texts from them, everyone busy with stage performances and filming for NCT Life.
For a while, he feels something akin to loss. It’s weird not being around some of the people that he’s seen daily for nearly two years, and there have been moments where he wants to call them just to hear them talk. He misses their presence tremendously (especially Jaehyun, but he’ll keep that tidbit to himself, thank you very much), but it helps that he still has the others. Instead of Jaehyun, he spends his free time with Lucas and Kun, gets snacks from the corner shop with Donghyuck, and steals hugs from a willing Jaemin and a squirmy Jisung.
It’s not the same, but he doesn’t expect it to be.
He’s old enough to know that it’s smarter to push their absences to the side and focus on training, so he does just that, although there are times late in the night where his thumb hovers over Jaehyun’s name on his messages list. It never taps against the screen, however, and the phone ends up set aside on his bedside table.
Then NCT 127 debuts, taking with it even more of his friends, followed soon by all the younger ones in NCT Dream. It turns out that the year 2016 has imparted more than just improved dance skills and vocal abilities on Jungwoo – it also gave him a plethora of life lessons to boot.
He barely has time to mentally wrap up the year before 2017 rises out of the shadows and throws him a curveball that he almost fails to catch. The company officially introduces him as a Rookie, he gets his first feature in a music video, and some photos of him at an SMTown concert goes around the internet. It’s weird, having people actually recognise him when he’s out on the streets, much less the fact that he has fans.
Promoting as a Rookie is…interesting. He doesn’t have the responsibilities of a debuted idol, but everything he does is still documented and closely watched. Spending time with Lucas and Kun has another purpose now, be it selfies or short videos that they upload onto social media platforms, and there’s a part of Jungwoo that isn’t quite ready for that yet.
It helps that he now has NCT’s Night Night to listen to whenever he feels too overwhelmed. He’s missed Jaehyun’s voice, and the banter between him and Johnny (and the weekly Doyoung) is always fun to listen to.
“You doing okay?”
Jungwoo startles, unaware that he’d let his thoughts drift until Jaemin’s voice cut through the fog. Ever since Jaemin had gone on his hiatus, Jungwoo has tried his best to visit him on a regular basis despite knowing that he is still very much in contact with the others in Dream. It’s just – he knows what it feels like, to watch your friends from afar.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, just zoned out for a little there.”
Jaemin raises an eyebrow. “You’re not the type to zone out.”
“Been a long couple of weeks,” Jungwoo says, standing to grab the cup of coffee that Jaemin was reaching for. “How many cups of coffee have you had today, by the way?”
A dismissive wave of a hand as Jaemin takes a large gulp, exhaling in contentment once the caffeine goes down his throat. “Not important! Hey, if you have anything on your mind, you know you can talk to any one of us.” He peers at Jungwoo over the rim of the cup. “Aren’t you really close to the other Jae? For the record, I’m the more interesting one.” He winks and Jungwoo laughs.
“Yeah, you’re definitely something else. And uh, yeah I guess? We haven’t spoken in a while though – he’s been way too busy recently.”
An unimpressed sound comes from Jaemin’s direction. “That’s no excuse. If you wanna keep a relationship going, you gotta work for it. How else would I know all of Jeno’s secrets?”
Jaemin pauses, cup once again halfway to his lips. “Eh, relationship, friendship, whatever. The difference doesn’t matter.”
The boy may be young and (extremely) eccentric, but he’s sharper and more mature than people give him credit for. He’s not wrong – Jungwoo sits back and stares out the window, letting Jaemin’s words take up free real estate in his brain.
It’s one disgustingly hot day at the start of July that he finds himself face-to-face with the one person he thinks of on a daily basis, the one person he hasn’t seen for the longest time apart from brief glances in the hallways. He looks good, Jungwoo thinks; but then again, when does Jaehyun ever look bad?
He’s not too keen on the camo print though, if he’s being honest.
It’s been just a few minutes since they’ve arrived on the set of Cherry Bomb, but Kun and Sicheng have already naturally gravitated to each other, easily slipping into their mother tongue as the latter drags Kun around. Meanwhile, Jungwoo attempts to walk in a straight line as Donghyuck hangs off his back and Mark chatters away by his side.
“Whoa, are those wires? Is someone gonna be in the air?”
“That would be our dear Taeil,” Donghyuck informs him, before blowing a stream of air right into his ear.
Jungwoo yelps, Donghyuck laughs, and a voice that sounds very much like Jaehyun’s goes, “Woo?”
The moment Jungwoo turns towards the voice and sees Jaehyun in all his camo’ed glory (?), his stomach does a stupidly embarrassing flop and his cheeks flush with heat.
Donghyuck finally relinquishes his grip on Jungwoo and Jaehyun steps in to fill that sudden void, an arm winding around his shoulders to pull him in for a hug. Through all the hairspray, Jungwoo manages to pick up on the subtle scent of sage and he takes a deep breath.
“Been a while, huh? You’ve grown like two inches or something, what the hell? Hope no one’s replaced me as your ramen buddy.” Jaehyun says it so casually, but the mere thought of it doesn’t sit well with Jungwoo. Donghyuck and Mark seem to have vanished into thin air.
“What? No one can replace you,” he says, frowning. He sees a flicker of surprise pass over Jaehyun’s face before it smooths out into its usual handsomeness. Then Jaehyun looks away, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
“Yeah, no one can replace you, either.” Gesturing to somewhere in the background, he says, “There’s a food truck around the corner, you hungry? Come on.”
For fifteen minutes, with Jaehyun’s knee against his own and a bowl of spicy chicken in front of him, everything seems right.
That night, Jungwoo scrolls through the selfies that Kun had snapped of them with the 127 members. If he lingers on the only one he’d taken with Jaehyun, mapping out the curve of his smile or the way his hair falls around his eyes…well, no one’s the wiser.
Lucas flops over his lap to chat to Ten, and while the guy’s heavier than he looks, Jungwoo doesn’t mind the weight, not when he’s thrumming with excitement at the fact that he’ll finally be able to perform with his friends on stage as a member of NCT. Along with company staff, there must be close to two dozen people stuffed into the practice studio – all here for a briefing on the NCT 2018 project, for which preparations are due to start in a week. As they wait for the last couple of people to trickle in, Jungwoo lets his gaze roam across the room.
Jaemin looks just as happy as he feels, all smiles as he watches Renjun and Donghyuck squabble. Jeno’s got a hand on his back, thumb pressing lightly into areas that Jungwoo suspects tend to give Jaemin trouble. It’s special, he thinks, the bond those two shares. He’s just about to look away when Jaemin catches his eye. The younger winks, waggles his eyebrows, and mouths hwaiting!
The door opens and the remaining few members enter. Yuta, followed by Sicheng, then Jaehyun bringing up the rear. Jaehyun looks warm, is Jungwoo’s immediate thought. He almost looks small in that hoodie, with the hood up around his ears and sleeves nearly past his hands.
He doesn’t get to think about it further, however, because Taeyong calls for everyone’s attention and the weight on his lap disappears.
There’s no easing into the album preparations; they’re thrown headfirst into it all, from filming the Yearbook videos to vocal recordings to choreography. Sleep becomes a luxury, because when you’re someone who expects 110% from yourself, you end up sacrificing sleep for practice. And that’s exactly what Jungwoo ends up doing.
He becomes so hyper-focused on perfecting everything that it takes Mark telling Johnny, then Johnny telling Jaehyun, then Jaehyun literally barging into one of his practice sessions for him to pause.
“Jungwoo, we finished learning the choreography to Boss three days ago and I don’t think you’ve left this room since.” Jaehyun strides over to the speaker system and switches it off, and Jungwoo is left wide-eyed, chest heaving, in the middle of the silent room. “I know it’s your debut, and I know you want to do well, but this is not the way to do it.”
His shirt is sticking to his back and the soles of his feet are aching something crazy, but he barely registers any of that. There are so many thoughts exploding inside his head (because what the fuck is happening?) but the one that escapes is: “I – you guys practice every day too.” The second the words leave his mouth, Jungwoo wants to wince.
Jaehyun stares at him for a second before he sighs. “We train every day, yeah, but we leave when it’s time to and we rest as much as we can. I asked around and apparently, you haven’t had a meal with any of the other members since Monday, the day I had to drag you out for dinner. Do you even know what time it is now, Woo? Without looking at the clock.”
Perhaps it’s due to the accumulated stress or the lack of sleep, but Jungwoo isn’t really in the mood to be lectured right now. He turns back to the mirrors; screw the music, he can do this without it. It’s not as if he hasn’t been listening to the track on repeat for hours, anyway.
“Just go home,” he mutters, attempting to roll out the stiffness in his shoulders. “I’m fine. I want to get a bit more practice in.”
“I’m not leaving unless you’re coming with me. You’re being ridiculous, how much sleep have you been getting?”
Jungwoo runs fingers through his sweaty hair and shuts his eyes. He can feel his nerves fraying – another minute of this and he’ll either cry or punch a mirror. “It doesn’t matter, I can always catch up on sleep. Give me fifteen minutes, okay? Fifteen minutes and I’ll go home.”
There’s a pause, then Jaehyun simply goes, “No.”
“Why the hell not?”
Okay, seems like the tears have won.
“Because you’re running yourself into the ground and I care about you, you idiot.”
Jungwoo’s not quite sure how, but Jaehyun somehow crosses half the width of the room in a split second. Then there are arms around him and a shoulder right there for him to cry on, so he does.
“It’s hard,” he hears himself say, the words muffled into the fabric of Jaehyun’s sweater. They’re a pile of tangled limbs on the floor now, probably a pathetic sight to see. “Everyone’s so good at everything. I don’t want to be the weakest link or the –”
“I’m going to stop you right there.” A hand moves up the expanse of his back and Jungwoo exhales in both pain and relief when Jaehyun presses down on the pressure point at the base of his skull. “Do you trust me?”
Stupid question. He voices just as much.
“Well, then trust me when I say you have nothing to prove to anyone. You’ll smash everyone’s expectations out of the water.”
Jungwoo doesn’t answer, but it seems as though Jaehyun doesn’t need one.
A couple of weeks later finds him and the others dressed top to toe in black. Split up into groups of three, they’re all waiting for their time to film. There are cameras everywhere, hoarding content for behind the scene videos to be released in the future. Conversation and laughter flow from every direction and Jungwoo has to admit that the buzz in the atmosphere is quite enjoyable.
He’s getting another blast of hairspray in his hair when Jaehyun appears in his line of sight.
“Doing okay?” They haven’t really addressed what went down in the practice room all those days ago, but Jaehyun has been checking up on him regularly since. Under his watchful eye, Jungwoo has been eating better, sleeping better, and practising smarter.
Jungwoo hums. “Yeah, I’m much better.” He waits until the hairstylist finds a new target and jogs off before continuing. “I’m uh, happy I’m doing this with you.” He waves a hand at their surroundings.
Jaehyun’s earring glints in the light when he tilts his head, an amused smile on his face. “Guess we got lucky, huh?”
“You sure about that?” Jungwoo nods in Lucas’ direction and Jaehyun laughs.
He files that laughter away for later, should he need it.
Fresh off the heels of their fourth win for Regular comes Halloween. The SM Annual Halloween Party is such a big event that they’ve decided on their costumes several weeks ago in order to give their staff enough time to obtain and/or create everything.
Seated in the make-up chair with the wig on and the fabric of his dress around his shins, Jungwoo still can’t quite believe that he had the guts to suggest going as Jaehyun’s counterpart. What’s even more surprising is Jaehyun agreeing to it.
They’d split up for the dressing up process, thanks to Jaehyun saying that he wants to be surprised with the final look, so he’s got Johnny and a filming Doyoung to keep him company instead. As Jungwoo blends into Rose and the look comes together, he has to admit that he’d made a damned good decision.
“You…really suit this,” Johnny says, sounding a little befuddled with whatever realisation has just dawned on him. “I don’t think anyone out there is ready for Jungrose. Hell, I’m watching your transformation and I’m not ready.”
Jungwoo wants to laugh, but there’s a lip liner hovering mere millimetres away from his lips and he’d rather not accidentally stab himself up the nose. “I better win something,” he quips. “It’s so hot underneath all this hair and fabric.”
“Hey, at least you’re not wearing fake boobs,” Johnny points out. “Good luck dancing to Regular in a wig, dress, and fake boobs. Oh man, imagine if –” His phone pings. “Ooh, Jae is already done. Not that his costume takes a lot of effort, I suppose.” Johnny turns the phone to face Jungwoo, and there on the screen is the Jack to his Rose. “Man’s lookin’ handsome, huh?”
“He always looks handsome,” Jungwoo says absently, too caught up in thinking about how the beret looks so darn cute perched on Jaehyun’s head.
“Jeez,” laughs Johnny, “you know that you guys are just dressing up as Jack and Rose, right? You don’t actually have to be in love with him.”
Jungwoo blinks at his own reflection, eyes wide and artificially blue. “I’m not,” he says, perhaps a second too late. Thankfully, Johnny is too busy with whatever he’s doing on his phone to process his response and Jungwoo swallows past the fluttering of his pulse in his throat.
He endures another twenty minutes of make-up and hair before his costume is deemed to be complete. Johnny had left just a few minutes before to wriggle into his Tony the Tiger suit, so when he turns the corner, the only person that the camera in Taeyong’s hand picks up is him.
“Whoa,” Ten says, gaze sweeping over him from head to toe. “Dude, you’re... pretty.”
“Thanks? You look good too, long hair suits you.”
Ten’s eyebrows shoot up to his (fake) hairline. “I’m a literal peasant compared to you. Have you seen yourself?”
“Daaaaaamn,” comes booming out real loud, the drawn-out syllable seeming to echo in the room. “Who’s this pretty lady!”
Jungwoo cringes. “‘Cas, that’s nasty, please never say that again.”
“Don’t let Jaehyun hear you hitting on him,” Taeyong laughs, reaching up to fix a wayward strand of hair.
Lucas shrugs, ever-present grin on his face as he plucks at Jungwoo’s sleeve. He gives Jungwoo a wink and Jungwoo rolls his eyes skyward with a laugh. Some things will never change. “Well, he’s not here, is he?”
“Ah, except I am.” Over the heads of the other members, Jungwoo sees that beret float closer, then Jaehyun appears between Kun and Jaemin. Jaehyun walks up to him and tucks him into his side. “Who was flirting with the person of my dreams?”
“That’d be Thor,” Jaemin says helpfully. He prods one of Lucas’ fake muscles. “You know, the big, buff, lightning-infused Norse god.”
Jaehyun purses his lips and Jungwoo can’t help but stare at the dimple that forms. “I don’t think I’ll win in a fight against Thor,” he sighs in mock disappointment, looking over at Jungwoo. “I am but a poor artist. Sorry, love.”
Donghyuck cackles. “Hope you guys know that I’ll be using this as blackmail material in the future.”
Right then, Chenle comes walking into the room with his balloon and his absolutely terrifying clown make-up, effectively commandeering everyone’s attention in an instant. The boys flock to his side, Jisung asking to hold the balloon and Donghyuck begging Chenle to do the jig.
Jungwoo and Jaehyun, however, remain right where they are.
“Johnny told me I’d be surprised, and he was right. Kate Winslet can’t compare to you,” Jaehyun says, and Jungwoo flushes to the tips of his ears.
Later, as they’re filming the costume party and My Heart Will Go On plays, Jaehyun walks out and Jungwoo finds himself thinking about Johnny’s words.
You don’t actually have to be in love with him.
He thanks the gods for his innate variety talents, because if it were really up to him, he would’ve completely messed up his introduction. But as it is, instincts carry him straight through with the dainty Jack, Jack! and the iconic couple pose.
What follows right after, however, cannot be attributed to his innate variety talents.
He turns his head just as Jaehyun turns his, and the first thing that pops into his mind when he looks at the gentle swell of Jaehyun’s bottom lip is: I want to kiss him. Then his brain short-circuits, because the grip on his hips tightens for the briefest of moments before it loosens and he finds himself steered back to the members.
Oh, he’s so screwed.
Sicheng’s temporary departure from the group leads to both expected and unexpected consequences. The fans are upset – expected – and the fans are upset at him – unexpected.
Jungwoo knows, from experience and from everyone else telling him so, that it’s always best not to search up your name on Naver or Twitter or any form of social media. Netizens can be vicious, the worst of them never willing to consider how others might feel before releasing a storm of unwarranted criticism. But which idol manages to stay away from searching up their own names without fail?
It’s human nature, he supposes, the need for praise and approval.
Not long after Neo City – The Origin was announced, he’d stumbled across comments questioning if he deserved to be part of 127’s tour so soon after his debut in the group and why Sicheng, an ‘original’ member, had to forgo being in the concert. He’s riding the coattails of his members’ hard work, they say, and he shouldn’t have taken Sicheng’s place nor opportunity.
Of course, there are positive and encouraging comments as well, but he’s always been the type to dwell on the negatives.
Doyoung finds him in the company gym one evening, feet pounding off the belt of the treadmill and all outside noises blocked out by headphones. Jungwoo sees him approaching through the reflection in the window panes, but he doesn’t acknowledge his friend’s presence until a hand appears out of the corner of his eye and jabs at the Lower Speed button.
Sighing inwardly, Jungwoo slips his headphones off.
“So you wanna tell me why you’re here running…” Doyoung peers at the treadmill, “ten kilometres when it’s nearly midnight?”
“People go on late night runs,” Jungwoo replies, slowing down to a walk. “It’s not unusual.”
“It’s unusual for you. You’d be foraging in the kitchen for snacks or watching anime with Yuta, but you’re here instead. Donghyuck sent me to find you because he says it feels weird playing Kart Rider without you around.”
Jungwoo’s tempted to just brush this off, like he always does with his issues, but when he looks at Doyoung and sees the evident concern on his friend’s face, he decides against it.
“Do you think I deserve being in the concert?”
It’s clear that this isn’t what Doyoung was expecting.
“What? Yeah, of course, why wouldn’t you deserve it?”
Jungwoo shrugs, focusing on placing one foot in front of the other. “People are saying that I don’t. Something about not being in 127 long enough, or taking Sicheng’s place, or –”
Doyoung slaps the emergency stop button and Jungwoo nearly trips over his own feet at the sudden halt. His hip collides with the machine and he frowns at Doyoung. “That’ll bruise, you know.”
“Rub at it,” Doyoung retorts. “Woo, no offence, but don’t be stupid. Why would you take those words to heart? We know how hard you’ve worked to be in 127 – hell, you know how hard you’ve worked to be in 127. You’re not Sicheng’s replacement because one, he cannot be replaced, and two, you are your own person. Your addition to 127 is separate from his departure.”
A bottle of water is thrust in front of him and Jungwoo takes it.
“You’ve been with us since the beginning. Just because some fans don’t know that doesn’t mean you get to forget it.” Doyoung pokes his cheek. “Now come on, let’s go home.”
Their schedules in the United States really help take his mind off things. It’s his first time in North America and everything just seems so shiny and new and exciting. The fact that he gets to spend time with some of his favourite people in the world is just the cherry on top.
He visits the aquarium with Doyoung, goes on a supper run with Mark, chases after Donghyuck at Miami Beach. Plays beer pong with the guys, takes photos with curious little girls, and lets Johnny buy him a pair of Ray-Bans. They film the music video for Highway to Heaven, and that is truly a memory to treasure. Being out in the desert, surrounded by a vast expanse of sky and land and accompanied by the faraway sounds of cars rushing by, it’s almost surreal.
Jungwoo’s outside enjoying the breeze, listening to the voices of Yuta and Mark as they chat just off to the side. There’s no end to the desert as far as his eyes can see; it’s a humbling thought, knowing that he is but one speck in an immeasurable world. The door to a trailer closes and Jungwoo turns around at the sound to see Jaehyun standing a few feet away from the trailer, head bent as he tucks his shirt into his pants.
The pastel blue of his hair matches beautifully with the sky, and when Jaehyun lifts his head, eyes squinting against the sunlight, Jungwoo is struck with the simple thought of how perfect he looks. The crisp whiteness of his shirt against the cream of his skin, the elegant line of his neck, the – oh god, he’s looking over here.
Jaehyun walks over, each step kicking up a small cloud of dust.
“Never thought we’d have the chance to film a music video in the Mojave Desert,” Jaehyun says as soon as he’s within earshot. “It’ll be hard to top this in the future.”
“The MV will turn out great,” Jungwoo agrees. “Everything and everyone looks good.”
Then there are fingers in his hair, gentle so as to not mess up the carefully styled strands. “Your hair looks like cotton candy.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“It’s a great thing. Suits you.”
They stand together in companionable silence for a while and Jungwoo counts the passing cars in an attempt to distract himself from the feeling of Jaehyun’s arm against his own. It’s small moments like these that further solidify the gnawing suspicion growing inside of him that he’s falling – or perhaps, already fallen – for his groupmate, his friend, his…dunno, everything?
The world just seems a little better with him around.
“A part of me doesn’t want to go back to Korea,” he admits. “I’m having such a good time here.”
“You look like you are,” Jaehyun agrees.
“Yeah, you’ve been laughing and smiling more. It’s infectious, you know. Everyone’s in a good mood lately. I like it when you’re actually happy and not pretending to be.” He tilts his head up towards the sun and Jungwoo tracks the dip of his Adam’s apple when he swallows and exhales. “Sometimes, when you’re not happy and you try your best to not let it show, I feel sorry that the rest of us can’t seem to help.”
Jungwoo feels his gut churn.
“You do,” he says, quiet. “You help. I wish you knew just how much.”
Right then, someone yells for all of them to gather and Jungwoo moves to hop off the pile of rocks they’re on. Before he can, however, Jaehyun stops him with a hand around the wrist and says, “I know you’ve got the others, you’ve got Mark, you’ve got Doyoung – but you’ve got me too, okay?”
Jungwoo swats him on the arm. “Don’t make me feel all sentimental; I’m gonna cry and my make-up is gonna get ruined and then you’re gonna get scolded for causing the delay in filming.”
But impulse takes over and he twists around to pull Jaehyun into a quick hug.
Hours later, he can still feel the soft pressure of hands on his back.
He tries his very best to steel both his mind and resolve, but ultimately, the fact remains that he’s just not strong enough. It’s the day after NCT 127’s three year anniversary that he makes his decision. On hindsight, he should probably reflect on why arriving at that decision took little to no thought whatsoever.
The only person he tells is their manager, and that’s only because he has to in order to figure out all the technicalities. Once it’s settled, he tells their manager that he wants to inform his members himself, and does just that on the last day of the SMTown concert in Tokyo.
With everyone riding the concert high, it takes a fair bit of effort for Jungwoo to gather the other eight and have them pay attention to what he’s about to say. There’s no privacy, not when they’re in a huge dressing room with half a dozen staff members within earshot, but Jungwoo knows he needs to tell them now.
When he does, no one says anything for the longest time.
Then Mark bursts out, “What?!”
That seems to set off an avalanche of questions, from Doyoung’s why didn’t you tell us to Taeyong’s can we change your mind, and Jungwoo doesn’t quite know where to start. In the back, Jaehyun stays silent.
“I’ll be back,” is what Jungwoo goes with. “It’s just for a little while. I need time to…work on myself, really. I’ll come back better and stronger, I promise.”
Donghyuck, seemingly very upset with the entire situation, is grumbling to himself under his breath. Johnny spares him a glance and sets a comforting hand on his back.
“When do you leave?”
When Jungwoo looks at him, he feels his heart squeeze. The man’s got his hands on his lap, fingers laced into a loose fist, and he seems to be staring very intently at his nails. Jungwoo waits for him to look up, but he doesn’t.
“I won’t be joining you guys for the Capitol Congress event.”
“That’s in three days.”
Still, he does not look up.
He’s jetlagged, starving, and in need of a long shower, but he also needs to finish packing up his stuff. The members had wanted to wait until he was ready to go, but he’d told them all to get some rest – they have to fly off again in less than twenty-four hours and they need their sleep. So after a flurry of hugs (each one bringing him closer to the brink of tears), he finds himself placing the rest of his clothes into a suitcase, watched over by Taeil who’s perched on the edge of his bed.
“You’ll message us regularly, right?”
“Of course, I’ll video call and everything.”
He zips up the suitcase, grabs his pillow, and looks around his dorm room one last time.
Taeil gets to his feet, presumably to walk Jungwoo out, but Jaehyun appears in the doorway and says, “I’ll take him.”
Jaehyun’s hair is wet and he smells like his shower gel, and without all the make-up and fancy clothes, Jungwoo thinks he looks younger than his age.
“How are you getting home?”
“My dad’s downstairs.”
Jaehyun hums, lips pressed together, and they walk to the front door in silence.
“I’m sorry. For leaving. It’s not –”
“You don’t have to apologise. None of us are upset at you; if this is what you need, then we support you all the way.”
“I know you were pretty sad when Sicheng left for WayV.” He stops to pull on his shoes. “I felt really bad having to do that to you again. I know having friends leave, temporary or otherwise, isn’t a very pleasant feeling.”
“That’s different,” Jaehyun says. “We always knew he would eventually debut in WayV and that WayV would be his priority.” He reaches past Jungwoo to unlock the door, then pauses with a hand on the handle. “And you’re not just –”
He exhales heavily, leaving Jungwoo with a whole bunch of unanswered questions. The door swings open. “Nevermind. Here, pass me that bag, I’ll head downstairs with you.”
“No, it’s okay. You’re in your pyjamas, it’s late, you guys have to be up early tomorrow.”
Their eyes meet and Jungwoo knows he’s going to miss the hell out of him.
“Okay. Don’t forget to call us.”
Jaehyun moves like he’s about to go in for a hug, but Jungwoo turns away and drags his stuff out into the hallway. If he hugs Jaehyun now, he’s gonna want to stay, and he cannot stay.
“I’ll miss you guys,” he says instead, throat working to keep his voice even. “See you soon.”
Blessedly, the hiatus does him well. He spends time with his family, meets up with a bunch of close friends, and goes to a few therapy sessions to work on his anxiety. As his mental health improves and strengthens, he finds himself really wanting to get back to work. He wants to be back on stage with the others, wants to be back in the recording booths and the dance studios.
He’s been following their schedules, cheering them on through texts and calls, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s not physically there with them, things would seem perfectly normal.
A few months go by and Jungwoo thinks it’s time.
He picks a day where he knows that none of the members will be in the company, bundles up in a coat and beanie, and makes his way back. He’d scheduled a meeting with their managers and other involved staff to discuss his return, and during his journey back, he feels not a single ounce of nerves.
It’s good. He feels good.
It’s evening by the time he gets out of the meeting, head swimming with all the information he’d been given. There’s a comeback on the horizon, they’d told him, and he’d picked the perfect time to return. So in just a few weeks’ time, he’ll be moving back in with the others – with Jaehyun as his roommate.
Jungwoo goes home and finds his mother in the kitchen.
“Mom,” he says, stepping closer and hugging her around the middle. “Thank you for taking care of me.”
She kisses him on the cheek. “A mother just wants her child to be happy.”
“I am.” And he means it.
Being able to wrap his arms around Jaehyun again has Jungwoo beaming into the other’s shoulder. It doesn’t make up for the hug that he’d denied himself all those months ago, but that’s all in the past and dwelling on it won’t do him any good.
During his break, he’d finally admitted to himself that his feelings for the person currently holding him close is very much real, and has been so for a long time. after all, who misses someone so much to the point of repeating I Like Me Better for a two whole nights nonstop? It was a whole amalgamation of thoughts (there’s no way he feels the same; I shouldn’t feel this way) and circumstances (they’re idols! and men!) that kept him in denial, but he’d learned since that it’s always best to acknowledge his own feelings.
“I’m happy you’re back,” he hears, and Jungwoo can’t help the happy sound that comes out.
“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 Jaehyun. “You’re my favourite, you know?”
The look of confusion that crosses Jaehyun’s face – that stupidly gorgeous face that he’s missed to hell and back – is adorable and Jungwoo grins.
“What does that mean?”
Before he can answer, however, Taeyong calls out their names. It’s dinnertime.
But that’s okay. If now isn’t the time, then there will be a better opportunity later down the road. Jungwoo walks towards the door and turns to smile at his roommate. “I’ll tell you one day.”
One day turns out to be the day of their Beyond Live concert.
He’s not quite sure what spurred him to do it, but it felt right. Jaehyun’s skin is warm against his, heart beating steadily from where his fingertips are placed over Jaehyun’s pulse point, and Jungwoo is so sure that he wants this for as long as he can possibly have it.
A voice in his ear reminds him of where they are, but some risks are meant to be taken. So he pulls back and presses a kiss to Jaehyun’s cheek, hand sliding around the back of his neck to settle along the line of his jaw. Before his guts leave him, Jungwoo kisses him once more on the corner of his mouth.
“You’re my favourite, you know?”
He laughs, happy because he has finally gotten this off his chest, and jogs off towards the stage. Seconds later, he hears familiar footsteps running after him, and his smile grows even wider.
Jaehyun catches up with him, eyes bright and colour riding high on his cheeks. He grabs ahold of Jungwoo’s hand.
Yuta comes whistling in their direction, perhaps a little too close for this conversation, but Jungwoo couldn’t care less.
Blood thunders through his ears, heart beating double-time as Jungwoo waits for Jaehyun to say something. He’s perfectly aware that there’s the possibility Jaehyun wants to remain friends and he’ll have to deal with heartbreak right before they’re due to go on stage, but…
Jaehyun gives his hand a squeeze. “Me too.”
Oh, Jungwoo could sing for hours.
The joy is shortlived.
Jaehyun is finally sound asleep, head pillowed on his lap, and Jungwoo spends several long moments thumbing gently at the shadows underneath Jaehyun’s eyes. It’s been 2 days since the news hit headlines and Jaehyun’s insomnia has flared up so badly that Jungwoo’s able to count the number of hours of sleep he’s gotten on one hand.
He himself is exhausted, having willingly stayed up to keep Jaehyun company despite the other’s protests. It’s a worthy sacrifice though – he knows just how easy it is to let bad (read: self-deprecating) thoughts run amok in the dead of the night when there’s nothing else to keep your mind occupied.
Back flat against the wall, Jungwoo sighs and brushes Jaehyun’s hair out of his face.
This isn’t exactly how he’d expected things to be after their sort-of mutual confession, but shit happens. Tough times will pass, he thinks, and closes his eyes. He’ll wake up with a sore back, but the discomfort is more than worth it if it means Jaehyun getting a decent night’s sleep.
He stays right by Jaehyun’s side all throughout Punch promotions and he’s delighted to see him slowly return to his usual self as time passes: charming on stage and the sweetest goofball off stage.
One night not long after their last stage, Jungwoo steps into their room after a shower and sees Jaehyun sitting on his bed.
“Oh hi. Thought you were downstairs?”
“I was, then I remembered I needed to do something, so I came back up.”
Jungwoo’s question dies on the tip of his tongue when Jaehyun closes the distance between them and walks him backwards until his back hits the closed door. There’s a hand cupping his jaw and another one against his ear and holy shit, he’s living out a K-drama.
“I needed to thank you. Over the last few weeks, you’ve done so much for me – you made sure I ate, you stayed up just to put me to sleep, and before every single performance you would say the loveliest things.” He inches closer and Jungwoo feels his heart leap into his throat.
Jaehyun leans in, so does he, and then – the door opens and the handle rams itself into the small of Jungwoo’s back.
“Motherfucker,” he groans, pain twinging up his back. Jaehyun pulls him out of the way of further damage and Mark’s head pokes through the opened door.
“Did I hit you? Shit, sorry, I didn’t think you’d be standing right there.”
“There’s something called knocking, Mark,” Jaehyun says mildly, stepping behind Jungwoo to knead at the rapidly blooming bruise. “Did you need something?”
“Sorry! It just slipped my mind. But yeah, Johnny wants you downstairs? Something about how it’s not gonna wait for you? No idea what he means, but I’m sure you do. And I’m here to get Woo, we’re about to make some ramyun.”
Still dazed from both the pain and the almost-kiss, Jungwoo has to take an extra few seconds to process Mark’s words. Wait, did he say ramyun? Huh, that’s a good consolation prize.
“Okay, be there in a second,” Jungwoo says, and Mark goes bouncing back towards the kitchen, but not without shutting the door behind him. He catches Jaehyun’s gaze and they can’t help but laugh.
Of course something like this would happen just as they’re about to have their first kiss.
Taeil gets up to turn off the camera, and the second they’re no longer live, Mark snatches up the rest of the watermelon and pulls his knees up to his chest.
“Horror movie tonight?” He asks through a mouthful of fruit, laughing when Jungwoo immediately vetoes his idea. “C’mon, why not? You can hide behind Jaehyun the whole time, I’m sure he won’t mind.” Ever since they'd told their members of their relationship, everyone has attempted to slip in a teasing remark or two. But instead of being shy or embarrassed, Jungwoo's been enjoying the teasing.
Next to him, Jaehyun shrugs and curls a warm hand around his thigh. “Yeah, I won’t mind.” It seems like Jaehyun isn't too bothered by it either.
They clean up together, putting things away and wiping down the table, and Yuta refuses to let their auntie help with the dishes when they bring the entire stack into the kitchen. Instead, he drags Jungwoo over and slaps a pair of rubber gloves into his hands.
“I scrub, you rinse.”
Jungwoo’s rinsing off the first plate when he asks, “You want to say something, don’t you?”
Not missing a beat, Yuta hands him a soapy bowl and grins. “Damn right I do. I have an observation that I wanted to report – not sure if you noticed, but Jaehyun was smiling and laughing throughout that entire VLIVE and it was really nice to see.” He pauses to scrub at a stubborn stain and Jungwoo holds out a hand for the dish. “So yeah, I wanted to tell you that I’m really happy for you both.”
Jungwoo knocks their shoulders together. “Thanks. I’m happy he’s happy.”
“Took you guys a while, but better late than never.”
They wash a few more dishes, then Jungwoo looks over at his friend. “So how much did you have to pay Mark?”
Yuta flicks a handful of soapy water at him.
Later, when chores are done and everyone is off doing their own thing, Jungwoo heads into his room and finds Jaehyun sprawled out on his bed.
“Hey, why’d you invade my bed?” He feels eyes on him as he walks over to the record player and selects a random record to set onto the platter. Soft music fills the room and he tugs the blinds shut, cutting off direct sunlight pouring into the room.
Today is turning out to be a lazy day, so why not spend it in a lazy atmosphere? They have nothing else scheduled for the day and Jungwoo plans to spend the time doing absolutely nothing productive.
Jaehyun scoots closer to the wall and pats the space next to him.
“Let’s watch something. There’s a whole bunch of new films on Netflix and some look promising.”
That’s when Jungwoo notices the projector set up on the shelf, ready to go. “No horror,” he warns, “I know Mark is gonna insist on horror tonight and one a day is more than enough.”
Jaehyun holds out his hand for a pinky promise and they shake on it.
He climbs into bed and accidentally kicks Jaehyun in the shin – the other doesn’t even bat an eye. Too busy fluffing up his pillows and getting comfy, Jungwoo doesn’t notice the look at Jaehyun is levelling on him until he feels a touch under his jaw.
Looking up at him like this, Jungwoo thinks he can count Jaehyun’s lashes.
Fingers skate up his cheek, over to his temple, then back down to the point of his chin. Jungwoo lies there and lets Jaehyun touch to his heart’s desire, eyes fixed on the man’s face. When a thumb settles on his bottom lip, he kisses the fingertip and smiles when Jaehyun flushes.
“Was that not what you wanted?”
“Well – I mean, yes, but –”
Jungwoo’s heart feels so full. He grabs a fistful of Jaehyun’s shirt and guides him down, the other hand burying itself in his hair, a little dry with all the bleach but thick and smooth all the same.
Their lips touch for the briefest of moments before Jungwoo tugs on Jaehyun’s shirt again, more insistent this time. Jaehyun loses his balance and they nearly end up with bloody noses, but he catches his weight just in time and Jungwoo laughs against his mouth.
“Ah, sorry, I think I bit your lip by accident? Here, let me kiss it better.”
And he does, inwardly marvelling at how easily their lips fit together, at how Jaehyun tastes faintly of watermelon, at Jaehyun’s natural scent currently flooding his senses. Time seems to stop and speed by all at once, and when they part for air, Jungwoo immediately leans up in search of that mouth.
“My arms are about to give out,” Jaehyun informs him apologetically, pupils blown and lips cherry red. He smiles at Jungwoo’s frown and leans down to give him one more kiss to the spot between his brows. Then he moves back, taking a few seconds to select a random movie and connecting his phone to the projector.
It’s not easy to cuddle when you’re both grown men and six feet tall. But they make do somehow, an arm around a lithe waist and legs all tangled up, and Jungwoo spends the introduction of the movie absently playing with Jaehyun’s fingers.
At some point, Jaehyun falls asleep, breaths even against the back of Jungwoo’s neck.
If Jungwoo focuses, he can hear the faint sounds of Mark shrieking and Yuta laughing outside, probably at something that Johnny’s said or done. The movie continues playing and Jungwoo lies there, warm and comfortable under the covers as he listens to the odd mix of noises, their joined hands resting over his navel.
This is contentment, he thinks, happiness at its finest, surrounded by the man he adores and friends he treasures. A part of him isn’t quite sure what he’s done to deserve it, but he’s learned to not question what life gives him. Jungwoo tunes back into the movie – he’s missed a whole lot of plot and there is a very strong possibility of him dozing off too, but while he’s awake, he might as well try to make some sense of what’s on the screen.
If he makes it through the movie without falling asleep, maybe he can tell Jaehyun all about it when he wakes up.
I imagine at some point before NCT 2020 occurred, Jungwoo and Jaemin sat down for a talk and Jaemin tells Jungwoo that he's proud of him. :)