Hongjoong groaned loudly and the other boys knew why immediately. There was literally only one thing that would drag such a reaction out of him.
“What, Seonghwa’s here?” Mingi asked, the drumstick twirling between his fingers pausing momentarily. “I really don’t get why he bothers you so much.”
“You don’t need to know either,” Hongjoong scowled, pointedly turning his back on Seonghwa and his bandmates. Jongho rolled his eyes at the childishness and continued tuning his bass. “It’s just old wounds at this point.”
“So why do you keep reopening them?” Jongho looked over at Hongjoong who, instead of replying, lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Holy shit, wait, where’s my book?” Hongjoong began frantically searching through his backpack. “That’s a fucking good lyric idea!”
Every Thursday night at a small venue called KQ, just outside the centre of the city, an open mic night for local bands ran until 10pm. Usually it was the same bands that showed up; sometimes a band from the next city over would travel to join in, and sometimes a few solo singers or musicians performed. Really though, it was just an excuse for the local emo bands to gather and show off their new material.
Finding Utopia and Aurora were both regulars, the two bands playing nearly every Thursday without fail. It also made sure that everyone who ever attended knew about the tension between the two eldest members of the bands, though people had yet to figure out the origin of their spat.
Seonghwa’s band, Finding Utopia, was up third that night; they were the organiser’s favourite, solely for the energy they brought to the venue. Hongjoong’s band, Aurora, were performing seventh.
Across the hall from Aurora, San nudged Seonghwa and nodded towards Hongjoong. “Your arch-nemesis is here tonight.”
Seonghwa sighed. “Of course he is. When isn’t he?”
“I mean, there was that one week they weren’t playing last month,” San shrugged. “But I feel like you were more bothered about the fact he wasn’t here than you are when he actually is.”
Beside San, Yeosang rose to his feet.
“I’ll be back in a bit, hyung! Just going to tune my guitar,” Yeosang gave a toothy smile before he headed for the secluded back area of the venue. Seonghwa wasn’t concerned; Yeosang almost always went to the quietest area to tune his guitar before a show.
There was a free table near the left side of the stage and the boys slumped into the chairs around it. They were slightly late, the first band already playing. It was a group of younger boys who went by Tomorrow X Together; Wooyoung was quite close with the guitarist, Yeonjun.
“There are more people than usual tonight,” San observed, eyeing the crowd surrounding the stage.
He was right: there were maybe twenty or so more people than usual. It was quite a popular open mic night, usually bringing in around sixty people; mainly goth and emo kids from the nearby college that all the members of Finding Utopia attended.
“D’ya think it was our marketing campaign?” Wooyoung laughs, snatching a drumstick from San’s hand and engaging him in a makeshift sword fight.
“What, were you screaming in people’s faces on campus to come to a ‘sick gig’?” Seonghwa watched them fondly. “Nah, I think there’s a new post from KQ with actual events listed up on MySpace.”
A couple members from the other regular bands came up to say hi as they waited for their turn, the second band taking to the stage ten minutes later. There was always a small interval between each performance for the next band to set up and to allow the crowd to spend more money at the bar.
Yeosang didn’t appear again until the band finished playing their second song. He seemed a lot brighter, like he always did when he returned from his tuning. Seonghwa ruffled his dark hair affectionately before shepherding them towards the backstage area.
His good mood was spoiled quickly, Hongjoong nearly knocking Seonghwa over while trying to carry a huge keyboard backstage. He almost lost his balance, righting himself while Hongjoong began to apologise.
Or rather, he started apologising, until he realised who he was apologising too. He quickly cut himself off with, “actually, I hope that hurt.”
“Immature, as always,” Seonghwa just smiled politely. “Can I help you with that? I’m guessing it was still in the storage cupboard from last week.”
Hongjoong snapped angrily, “because you made sure it got put into the storage cupboard at the end of last week’s set! Who’s the fucking immature one, again?”
“I would never,” Seonghwa raised an eyebrow. “I was brought up better than that.”
“You’re a fucking asshole, Park Seonghwa,” Hongjoong spat, turning on his heel and storming away, keyboard in tow.
“We’re performing a new song tonight, Joongie!” Seonghwa called after him, cupping a hand beside his mouth. “Hope you enjoy it!”
“Hyung,” Wooyoung snickered, mischievous as ever. “I heard you telling the staff to put it away at the end of the show.”
Seonghwa tilted his head, the fake polite tone still falling from his lips. “Did I, now? Whoops.”
“I don’t get why you guys are so mean to each other,” Yeosang huffed, crossing his arms across his chest. “You’re not like this to anyone else.”
“He just brings out the worst in me,” Seonghwa said as he began rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Are you guys ready to go?”
They were on stage a few minutes later, the feedback from the mic screeching briefly before Seonghwa spoke to the crowd.
“Hey, we’re Finding Utopia. This is a new song, it’s called ‘Love Me Like You Used To’. Hope you like it.”
Seonghwa always sounded so mad when he sang. There was such a gorgeous grit to his voice that many of the singers here didn’t have. Paired with Wooyoung’s electrifying guitar, Yeosang’s deep resonating bass and San pounding away on the drums, Finding Utopia really knew how to get a crowd hyped.
There was a certain stage presence they held, something about them that made you think how they wanted you to. Hongjoong stood in the crowd, hating how Seonghwa made him feel when he belted out his lyrics of betrayal and anger.
Wooyoung’s shock of red hair danced across the stage, his hyperactive nature bringing a new life to the way he played guitar. He loved to get up in Yeosang’s space, pulling a little bit more personality from the bass player who tended to stay on just one side of the stage. It was an interesting dynamic the band held.
As Seonghwa cried out his last lyric - just love me - their eyes caught. Hongjoong looked away first. Hongjoong had always been the one who looked away first.
The first time Yeosang met Jongho, it was his first time playing at KQ.
When the four of them walked into the hall together, Yeosang was shaking with nerves. He felt a little like his knees were going to buckle and his bandmates knew it. San had linked their fingers together but didn’t call attention to Yeosang’s anxiety out loud. He appreciated that.
“Would it be okay if I went and sat down? Tune my guitar?” Yeosang asked quietly, staring at the quiet seating area at the back of the hall.
Seonghwa pet the top of his head lightly. “Sure, Sangie. We’ll go get our slot sorted and we’ll find you when we’re done, yeah?”
“Yeah, okay,” Yeosang squeezed San’s hand once before detangling himself. “Thank you.”
So, he sat and tuned his guitar alone, trying to focus on anything other than the fear coiling in his gut over being on stage in front of a crowd for the first time. He knew he would have to do it eventually, and he knew he’d be fine with his friends, but it didn’t make him any less scared.
Someone appeared in front of him, a shadow cast over the guitar’s body.
“You play bass?” the person asked, tilting his head towards the bass guitar laid across Yeosang’s lap. Yeosang nodded, wetting his lips nervously. The other boy just smiled widely. “Cool, me too!”
He took a seat next to Yeosang, sticking a hand towards him. “I’m Choi Jongho! I play in Aurora.”
“Kang Yeosang,” he replied as he gently shook Jongho’s hand. “Uhm. Bass player in Finding Utopia.”
“Oh, your voice is deep,” Jongho blinked. “It’s nice. Suits a bass player, I think.”
That made Yeosang smile, a tiny bit of the shyness shedding away. “People are always surprised by how deep my voice is.”
“Mmm, it’s definitely a little unexpected but it’s charming,” Jongho rested his chin on the palm of his hand. “Do you sing in your band too?”
Yeosang shook his head. “No, I don’t do any vocals. It’s... a lot to go on stage just playing an instrument, never mind singing.”
“Too bad. I bet you have a nice voice.” Jongho said. Yeosang blushed but smiled lightly.
“Do you? Sing, I mean.”
This time, Jongho shook his head. “Nah, not in the band. I actually only joined because they were a member down. My brother, Yunho, is the vocalist and guitarist. I didn’t even play the bass until like six months ago.”
“You learned bass in six months?” Yeosang cocked his head. “It took me years to be at playing-in-a-band level!”
“Oh, well, I play the guitar,” Jongho replied. “I’ve been playing that since I was young. Yunho already sings and plays guitar for Aurora, though, so I picked up the bass to fill the empty spot.”
“Woah,” Yeosang leaned forward, staring at Jongho in amazement. “So, wait, do you sing too?”
Jongho laughed, a tiny bit bashful. Yeosang couldn’t stop himself from watching the way his top lip would curve up and expose his gums. Jongho had a cute smile. “I sing, yeah, but it’s not really the kind of voice that fits in here, I guess. Maybe more suited for musicals or acoustic songs.”
“Acoustic songs?” Yeosang didn’t know where his surge of confidence was coming from. It just felt comfortable talking to Jongho. “You should go up with your guitar one night then. I’d like to hear you sing.”
Jongho seemed brighter than before. He winked at Yeosang. “I will, if you sing with me, sometime.”
“Where did Jongho run off to?” Hongjoong asked, looking over to where Mingi was playing on his PSP. They weren’t playing until the very end tonight and had perhaps a little too much time to kill.
It wasn’t that they didn’t like listening to the other bands; it’s just that it was the same bands every week. They were all mostly friends with the other residents and it was easier to just chill out on the sidelines each week rather than join the crowd.
Yunho shrugged, careful not to move his hand and disturb Hongjoong who was painting his fingernails for him. “I think he went to talk to Daehwi. He heard AB6IX were playing tonight so he’s probably off finding them.”
“Oh, I thought he went to find Seungmin?” Mingi paused for a moment, frowning.
“Huh,” Hongjoong blinked. It seemed no one really knew what their youngest was doing. “We’ll just ask him when he comes back, I guess.”
Yunho was admiring his freshly painted black nails when Jongho finally came bouncing up, his red and black hair catching the lights as he reached the table. He looked bright; Hongjoong felt like he didn’t see Jongho smile enough. It was nice when he did.
“Where’d you disappear to, Jjongie?” Yunho asked his brother, poking at his round cheek. None of them would say it aloud (because Jongho would get embarrassed and maybe a little violent) but they were all mildly protective over him.
“Oh, I made a new friend!” Jongho beamed, swatting at Yunho’s fingers.
“You’re always making new friends,” Mingi commented, still a little immersed in his game. That caught Jongho’s interest, and he moved around to see the little screen. Mingi tilted the console so that Jongho could see too.
“He’s new here, though,” Jongho explained, his eyes following whatever Mingi was doing on screen. “He’s in a band called Finding Utopia.”
“Oooh, fresh meat,” Yunho singsonged, taking the polish to start on Hongjoong’s nails. “We can go find them after they perform.”
Hongjoong really thought the world must be against him; if he hadn’t gotten caught up chatting with one of his friends from another band in the lobby, he would have recognised Seonghwa’s voice and he would have realised who Finding Utopia were.
By the time Jongho was dragging them to find the new band, it was too late. A boy with white blonde hair smiled softly at Jongho as they approached.
“See, you had no reason to be nervous!” Jongho grinned widely at the boy, who ducked his head shyly. “You were great up there.”
“Oh, Yeosang, is this your friend?” A sweet voice asked and Hongjoong felt his heart stop.
“Seonghwa?” Disbelief bled into his voice and he watched the colour drain from Seonghwa’s face.
“...Hongjoong,” Seonghwa looked shellshocked, standing in place like he didn’t know what to do with himself. Jongho and Yeosang shared a look of confusion.
“You guys know each other?” Mingi directed his question at Hongjoong, who still couldn’t take his eyes off the taller boy.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and perhaps lashing out wasn’t ideal. Yet Hongjoong was panicked and could only remember how unpleasant their last encounter was, and it was the first thing his brain thought to do.
“Yeah, he’s an asshole I used to know in school,” Hongjoong finally broke the eye contact, staring down the rest of Seonghwa’s band. There were four of them, all as pretty as Seonghwa. “Aiming for that boy band look, Seonghwa?”
Seonghwa’s gaze turned cold. He huffed out an amused laugh. “What’s it to you? Feeling threatened?”
“Threatened?” Hongjoong raised an eyebrow. “By what, exactly? If looks are all you have going for you, you’re not gonna get far.”
“Oh, don’t be jealous that we have talent and looks,” Seonghwa snipped back, baring his teeth.
“I kinda feel like we’re being insulted too,” Jongho laughed awkwardly, trying to back away. “Hongjoong hyung, can we just go?”
Hongjoong shot another deadly glare towards Seonghwa before nodding to Jongho. “Okay. I don’t wanna waste anymore time speaking to him, anyway.”
Jongho hissed at Hongjoong to be quiet before turning to Yeosang. “Sorry. I’ll see you around?”
“Don’t bother,” Hongjoong cast a glance towards the other group. “They’re probably not a crowd you’ll wanna hang with.”
“Not that I want your group anywhere near my friends, either,” Seonghwa spat, tangling his and Yeosang’s arms together. Hongjoong couldn’t stop his eyes from flickering down to watch the way their skin pressed together. “Piss off, Hongjoong.”
“Gladly,” Hongjoong snapped back and withdrew quickly, not even checking to make sure his friends were following.
They were, of course, hot on his heels as he stormed through the venue until he could breathe in the fresh air outside. He hadn’t felt such anger in his chest in a long time.
“Hyung, what the hell? Who was that?” Yunho grabbed Hongjoong’s arm, shaking him lightly. Hongjoong exhaled noisily, looking up at the sky. It was barely light outside now.
“Just a guy I knew from school, like I said,” Hongjoong scrubbed at his face with his hands. “Just ignore them all. They’re not worth it.”
Hongjoong didn’t see the way Jongho’s shoulders slumped slightly at his words. He was too caught up in his own feelings; he hadn’t seen Seonghwa in nearly a year and a half, and this meeting was equally as vexing as their last.
Hongjoong hated Seonghwa, he was sure of it.
Hongjoong knew the only way to have people care about his band is if he forced people to care. If that meant pasting flyers and posters all over campus to make sure people would remember their name, then so be it.
He had stacks of handmade posters that he had spent hours making the night before, painting and collaging until nearly three in the morning. He still felt the glue residue all over his hands and there were probably pieces of the magazines he had been cutting up stuck to his jeans.
Taping them to some surfaces was a bit of a challenge, though, especially when Hongjoong felt a little guilty covering up other people’s posters on lampposts and overly crowded bulletin boards. He could never choose which poster seemed the most irrelevant to justify covering up.
One decision was easy, at least. On a bulletin board near the life sciences building, Hongjoong spotted a shoddily made poster advertising Finding Utopia and their “gig” at KQ. Hongjoong snorted, pulling a poster from the pile in his bag and began taping over it.
Someone cleared their throat behind him and Hongjoong heaved out a sigh. Just his luck.
“Mind not covering that one up?” Seonghwa’s tone was sickly sweet. “It’s prettier than yours.”
“Oh, shut up, Seonghwa,” Hongjoong continued taping his poster up.
“Hey, San and Wooyoung worked hard on that,” Seonghwa strides up to him and peels the tape away. “Be considerate.”
“Considerate?” Hongjoong scoffed loudly. “You're not the one to talk about being ‘considerate’. Don’t you remember how you decided to busk directly across the street from us a few weeks ago? You’re so petty.”
Seonghwa smirked, clearly proud of the way he was getting under Hongjoong’s skin. “I saw the opportunity, I took it.”
“Hwa, we’re gonna be late,” Seonghwa’s friend warned, raising an eyebrow at the scene in front of them. Hongjoong felt his skin prickle at hearing the nickname coming from someone else.
“Two seconds, Geonhak!” Seonghwa called back cheerfully. He tore down Hongjoong’s poster in one swift movement, crushing it between his palms. “Please try to respect my friends' hard work, yeah?”
He threw the poster into the bin as he walked away, joining his friend and continuing on their way to class. The other man - Geonhak - looked to be questioning Seonghwa, who just shrugged nonchalantly, clearly brushing the encounter off.
Hongjoong felt rage bubble up inside his chest. How dare Seonghwa ask him to respect his friends’ work but throw Hongjoong’s hard work away so callously? He was a hypocrite and an asshole. Hongjoong clenched his shaking fists.
“Your friends’ poster is ugly, anyway!” He yelled after Seonghwa’s retreating figure, only to feel even worse seeing Seonghwa’s shoulders shake with laughter.
Fuck Park Seonghwa and his stupid poster. Hongjoong wasn’t covering it up; he was just going to take it down completely.
“Who was that?” Geonhak questioned the moment they were out of earshot.
“Just someone I don’t get along very well with,” Seonghwa said with a shrug. As much as he liked Geonhak, he didn’t feel like sharing the woes of his ridiculous rivalry with him. Especially not when he knew it would get him heated before his class.
He and Geonhak became friends in their first Early Childhood Development seminar, and had just stuck together ever since. Usually, Seonghwa met Geonhak outside the main building and they walked together to wherever their classes were being held. It was a nice arrangement. Sometimes Geonhak even brought him coffee. Seonghwa didn’t quite think they were on the level of friendship, though, for him to unload his conflicting thoughts about Hongjoong on the unsuspecting Geonhak.
Geonhak certainly looked concerned when Hongjoong screamed after them, insulting the poster. Seonghwa tried his best to laugh it off, to look unaffected, because he knew that would upset Hongjoong more.
“Seems like a pretty intense dislike,” Geonhak commented. Seonghwa just waved his hand as if it really were no big deal.
“It genuinely isn’t anything dramatic.” They were coming up for the building where their lecture theatre was, and Seonghwa took that as an opportunity to change the topic. “Anyway, have you finished the essay yet?”
“Of course not, it’s not due for a week. I’ll finish it the night before, probably.” Geonhak held the door open for Seonghwa as they entered. He was always so gentlemanly in the small details; Seonghwa sometimes thought he could fall in love with Geonhak if it weren’t for- well.
He definitely wasn’t over Hongjoong in any slight way, though that is something he’d never tell to anybody. He would keep his feelings to himself; it was easier to pretend to hate him than to act like he felt nothing at all.
Mingi and Yunho had discovered a new interest that now took up the majority of their free time outside of practice: Left 4 Dead.
Hongjoong, personally, wasn’t as into the game, but how could he deny his friends their fun? Plus, he was the only one with a 360 console, so he had no choice but to let them vegetate in his living room for hours on end to play through the game. Even Jongho joined in, though he complained he had schoolwork he should be doing.
Instead Hongjoong sat on the floor, trying to figure out what he didn’t like about the lyrics he had on the page. They felt a little too angsty in the way he didn’t like (they reminded him too much of Seonghwa), and he didn’t think he had put enough actual depth into them. He didn’t want to be a hypocrite who bashed Seonghwa’s lyrics endlessly but couldn’t live up to his own words.
“Hyung, can we steal your snacks?” Mingi gave Hongjoong his best puppy dog eyes, jutting his bottom lip.
Hongjoong just rolled his eyes. “You’ll take them no matter what I say.”
Grinning, Mingi leapt to his feet. “Thanks, hyung!”
Where Mingi went, Yunho followed, as always. The pair traipsed off to the kitchen in search of their snacks, the game resting on a Game Over screen. Jongho looked after them, almost like he was debating joining the snack hunt.
“Nuh uh,” Hongjoong scolded. “Finish your essay.”
“‘Kay, dad,” the younger grumbled, picking up his pen again. It was tough, the last few months of high school. Hongjoong felt for him, but he knew a little tough love would get Jongho through it.
He did grow mildly concerned when a few minutes had passed without much noise from Mingi or Yunho. When they were quiet, it usually meant trouble. So, Hongjoong heaved himself off the floor begrudgingly and made his way to the kitchen.
The duo were hunched over something at the counter, mumbling to each other. Hongjoong frowned and cleared his throat. He watched as both boys jumped, turning to look at him as if they had been caught red handed.
And Hongjoong supposed they had. In their hands were photographs that Hongjoong had shoved into one of his random clutter drawers when he had moved in. He felt his heart drop.
“Hyung!” Yunho laughed nervously. “We didn’t mean to snoop, but we were looking for the cutlery drawer and found these by accident.”
He held the photos out to Hongjoong as if they were a peace offering. Hongjoong was silent.
“Hyung, we’re sorry,” Mingi pleaded before pausing. “Hyung… so, you and Seonghwa were close?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Hongjoong finally spoke, snatching the photos from Yunho’s hands. He caught a glimpse of Seonghwa’s smile and tried to ignore the tightness in his chest. “I told you. We went to school together.”
“And kept photos of you both in your kitchen drawer?”
“I… never got around to throwing them out,” Hongjoong threw them face down onto the table. “They just stayed mixed up in all the other photos and paper in that drawer and I never sorted through them.”
Neither Yunho nor Mingi looked convinced.
“If you say so, hyung. Where is your cutlery so we don’t accidentally find anything else?”
Jongho was clearly confused by the awkward air that hung over the other three boys when they came back into the living room, cocking his head with a pout. “What happened?”
“Nothing, Jjongie,” Hongjoong’s smile was strained. “I brought you through some snacks.”
The atmosphere had been weird for a while before Yunho and Mingi got too into their game again, completely forgetting the photos for a while. They ended up staying on Hongjoong’s couch until well after 11pm (and with little remorse too).
They finally left with Hongjoong’s promise of letting them play again after their next practice, but now Hongjoong almost wanted them to come back. Without company, he was left with the photos lying face down in the kitchen that he knew he would need to face sometime soon.
He tidied the living room first, putting away the console controllers and tidying up the snack wrappers. He arranged the pillows on the sofa, closed the open window and turned off the TV. Slowly, he ran out of things to tidy; all that was left was the photos strewn on the kitchen counter.
Every step closer to the kitchen felt like a step closer to the edge of a cliff. He hadn’t looked at these pictures for well over a year and he wasn’t sure if he was ready for the emotions seeing them would bring back.
Carefully, he picked them up and flipped them over.
Seonghwa’s lovely smile beamed up at him, sitting next to photo-Hongjoong. They were in their friend’s garage, Hongjoong at his keyboard with Seonghwa holding sheets of paper with his lyrics scrawled out on them. Hongjoong remembered his friend pulling out his shitty disposable camera, demanding they document this for when they got famous.
The next photo had Seonghwa at the keyboard with Hongjoong holding his wrists, directing his hands. He had been trying to teach Seonghwa how to play. Seonghwa was a quick learner; or maybe it was just from how many times he’d watched Hongjoong’s hands dance across the keys.
Seonghwa was kissing his cheek in the third photo. There was a wide smile on Hongjoong’s face, his eyes shaped into crescent moons. He remembered how his friend had complained immediately after, crying out that they were gross. Hongjoong could feel his lips twitching up at the memory.
He didn’t look at the rest. Instead, he gently piled them together again and slipped them back into the clutter drawer. They were a memory for another day.
Of course, Jongho and Yeosang never got a chance to sing together like they promised, after it turned out their friends hated each other quite aggressively. Instead, they took to hanging out secretly before the performances, and sometimes after, hiding away in the secluded back area of the venue.
It looked like the area was originally a merch section before the venue fell out of use by any actual touring bands. Now, it was used by angsty teenagers and college students to hide away from the crowds whenever they needed to talk, argue, or make out. Most of the time, though, it was just Jongho and Yeosang since they met so early in the evening.
“You know, it’s been two and half months since we met,” Yeosang reminisced, his fingers idly plucking at the strings of his bass. He sat on the floor in front of Jongho who perched on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs that were against the wall. Jongho played with Yeosang’s hair absentmindedly, humming in affirmation.
“I…” Yeosang hesitated. Jongho’s hands stilled, waiting for Yeosang to find the words he wanted. “I think we need to do something about Hongjoong and Seonghwa hyung.”
“Yeah?” Jongho asked, his ministrations continuing. “Do you think we should force them to talk?”
Yeosang nodded. “We’ve only been able to meet up twice outside this place because we’re always with our bands, or you’re at school, or I’m in classes. I wanna be able to spend time with you properly, not just for fifteen minutes while I pretend I need to calm my performance anxiety. Which I don’t even feel anymore!”
“You’re right, hyung.” Jongho dropped a kiss onto the crown of Yeosang’s head. That had been a more decent development; small kisses that always left Yeosang a little red in the face but with a warm feeling in his chest. “We just need to figure out where this stupid rivalry came from.”
“I bet they just had some kind of falling out,” Yeosang huffed, leaning back to look up at Jongho’s face. “Promise me if we fall out we will not end up this overdramatic.”
“Bold of you to assume I would ever be able to argue with you,” Jongho replied, smiling at the cute way Yeosang scrunched up his nose. “Though, speaking of…”
He seemed nervous. Yeosang sat up a little straighter, turning to face him. “Yeah?”
“Uhm,” Jongho scratched at his ear. “Yunho hyung won’t be in the house next Saturday. He and Mingi are going on some class campout. I’ll be home alone.”
Yeosang’s brain needed a moment to catch up. He knew Jongho lived with his brother instead of his parents but it took him a second to catch what Jongho was insinuating. “You.. Are you inviting me over?”
“Only if you want to!” Jongho’s face was red, his eyes wide. Yeosang tried to stop the smile from breaking out. “I don’t want you to feel pressured. I just... thought we could maybe go on a date. Except I’ll just cook for you or something.”
Yeosang really had to work hard to contain an excited giggle. Just the prospect of a proper date, alone, with Jongho made him feel like a school girl with a crush. He wasn’t able to stop the beaming grin that settled across his cheeks this time.
“A proper date? Just us two?” Yeosang felt his heart flutter at the prospect. Jongho nodded. “Oh my God, yes. Please. I’d love that.”
Jongho exhaled in relief, a smile of his own on his face. “I’ll text you the address! I’ll make you something nice, I promise.”
A lovely laugh fell from Yeosang’s lips. Jongho was smitten. “I trust you. But Jongho, I think your band is playing next.”
“Shit!” Jongho leapt to his feet, suddenly very aware of the fact the music had died down, meaning the last band had finished playing. They’d be setting up for Aurora’s performance by now. “I’ll text you later?”
“Yeah,” Yeosang stood up too and pressed a shy kiss to Jongho’s cheek. It made Jongho pause, almost forgetting he was in a rush. It wasn’t often Yeosang was the one to initiate the affection. “Go get ‘em, rockstar.”
“I’ll think of you while I play!” Jongho called as he jogged away. He loved the way Yeosang ducked his head in embarrassment; he was too cute.
Hongjoong had to admit, their newest song was probably one of his favourites so far. He had slaved away at the lyrics for a ridiculous number of sleepless nights, until he wasn’t even sure if what he had written made any sense. He loved it though; he liked when the meaning of his words couldn’t be understood immediately.
“Where have you been?” he questioned as Jongho jogged up to them, a sheepish look on his face. “We’re on in like five minutes!”
“Sorry, hyung!” Jongho slung the strap of his bass over his shoulder, adjusting it until he was comfortable. “I got caught up talking to someone.”
Yunho snorted. “You need to stop being such a social butterfly before hyung has a heart attack.”
Before either of them could reply, the stage hand gave them the go ahead to take the stage. They were quick to comply, running up on the stage to the cheers of the crowd. Aurora were a fan favourite at KQ, and they knew it.
“Hi guys, we’re Aurora!” Yunho’s blinding smile on show as he looked over the audience, his charm as prevalent as ever. “This is a new song written by our own member, Hongjoong! It’s called ‘Time To Dance’. Let’s go!”
Mingi counted them in with his drumsticks smashing together, and they jumped right into the song. It was fast paced and energetic from the start, Yunho and Jongho bouncing as they played, Mingi going a little off the wall with how into his drumming he got. Hongjoong couldn’t help himself from getting immersed, too.
Yunho’s vocals were insane, his voice hitting notes perfectly even while playing the guitar, always bringing the emotion exactly as Hongjoong originally intended. He made it seem effortless.
The crowd were getting into it too, jumping along as if they already knew the song, singing along with the call and return Hongjoong implemented into the post-chorus. Hongjoong felt that surge of adrenaline performing to an active crowd always gave, his hands flying across the keyboard to keep up with the pace of the song.
It happened as usual: their eyes met, and Seonghwa stared until Hongjoong looked away first.
The main campus building was an absolute nightmare for bathrooms, Hongjoong lamented. All he needed was to wash his hands but when on the top floor, the only bathroom available was at the opposite end from his studio. There weren’t many people that used the top floor; mostly just the music comp students who rented studio space.
He knew the studio wasn’t meant to be used for clothes reforming but he didn’t have much space at his own flat. He was always careful not to get paint on the floor or equipment, of course, but that didn’t stop him from getting it all over his hands.
Washing his hands barely even removed most of the paint, tiny patches clinging around his nails and the heel of his palm. At least it gave him confidence that the fabric paint wouldn’t leave his jacket once he set it.
The door creaked open as Hongjoong wiped his hands dry, a dark haired figure slinking in. Hongjoong looked up briefly before double taking when he saw who it was.
Seonghwa had tear tracks on his face, his black eyeliner smudged down his cheeks. His eyes were red and his lips looked bitten raw. Hongjoong couldn’t help the way his heart lurched at the sight.
“Fuck,” Seonghwa choked out once their eyes met. “Fucking shit.”
He pushed past Hongjoong hurriedly, heading towards the tap at the end of the room. He flipped the lever up, shoved his hands under the running water and began scrubbing at his face. Hongjoong stood frozen near the door, unable to tear his eyes away.
He could hear little sniffles coming from Seonghwa. “Are you waiting there to make fun of me or something?”
“No, I-” Hongjoong took a step forward. “Are you okay?”
Hongjoong ignored the question. How could he reply to it? He himself didn’t know whether he cared or not. He didn’t want to care… and yet, he thought that he might.
Instead, he grabbed another couple paper towels and walked to stand in front of Seonghwa. Gently, he began wiping at his cheeks, removing what was left of the makeup and drying his skin. Seonghwa watched him cautiously, his dark eyes as seemingly bottomless as Hongjoong always remembered.
“You’ve ruined your makeup,” Hongjoong tutted, clicking his tongue softly. “What happened?”
Seonghwa’s teeth caught his lip again. “Was recording something. Can’t get it right.”
“Mmm, it happens,” Hongjoong murmured, pushing Seonghwa’s hair behind his ear to finish drying the side of his face. “You’ll manage to get it, eventually.”
“Easy for you to say,” Seonghwa smiled weakly. “You always did things perfectly the first time.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Hongjoong shook his head. He scrunched up the wet paper towels in his hand. “I have some eyeliner if you want it?”
“Are… are you sure?” Seonghwa still seemed skeptical. Hongjoong didn’t think he could blame him; this was probably the first time he’d ever been anything less than hostile towards Seonghwa in over a year. Hongjoong wasn’t even able to explain why he didn’t just leave the bathroom as soon as Seonghwa walked in. Perhaps it was because he still couldn’t bear to see Seonghwa cry.
“Yeah, ‘course,” Hongjoong assured him, digging his spare eyeliner pencil from one of the pockets of his cargo pants. He handed it to Seonghwa, who took it with a quiet thanks.
There was something about the way Seonghwa looked at him then. It was like he used to look at him, kindly and with that lovely warmth Seonghwa always had, and it made Hongjoong panic. He didn’t know how to react to such a civil (caring?) interaction when he had spent the past year convincing himself that he hated the boy in front of him.
So, he did what he did best. He ran away.
“You can keep it,” fell from his mouth as he turned on his heel and bolted out of the bathroom. He didn’t even catch a glimpse of Seonghwa’s face as he ran.
He speed walked the entire way until he was safely back in the studio, the automatic lock clicking behind him. He let out a shaky breath, staring at the idle lockscreen of the computer, following the waves on the screen to try keep himself calm.
He hated how much he liked just… speaking to Seonghwa. He hated how much he still wanted to take care of him, and be cared for in return. He hated it, so he would deny it.
He still hated Park Seonghwa. He did.
Yeosang sat in the living room, perched comfortably on the couch in his cute black sweater and minimal makeup, and Jongho felt like he was going to die. Yeosang looked over to him standing in the doorway with the food the delivery driver handed him and shot him the most devastatingly adorable smile that Jongho had ever seen.
Cooking for Yeosang had been a disaster. Jongho had forgotten that he barely knew how to cook when he offered to make food for Yeosang and had to suffer the humiliation of the smoke alarm being set off and the food burning while he panicked trying to turn it off. Yeosang had laughed a lot, though, and told Jongho how much he liked fried chicken from one specific chain; ordering in had ended up the only choice.
He couldn’t get over how sweet Yeosang was, how pretty he looked, how funny he could be. They had been together for the past two hours and, without any pressure of being caught or any time restraints, he realised how much he had been missing out on with Yeosang. Jongho felt like he could be falling a little in love.
“Bring me my chicken, please,” Yeosang teased, making grabby hands. Jongho laughed quietly, finally shaking himself from his momentary stupor.
“For you,” he said as he laid the food out on the coffee table. “Tell me what movie you want. Yunho has pretty much everything ever on DVD.”
Yeosang’s eyes twinkled. “A Tale of Two Sisters?”
“Of course you’re the type to watch horror while you eat,” Jongho snorted but began rooting through Yunho’s DVD collection beside the TV anyway.
“Are you telling me you aren’t?”
“I think I prefer a bloody thriller,” Jongho produced the DVD with a triumphant “ah-ha!” and moved to turn on the DVD player.
Yeosang had already started eating by the time Jongho settled next to him, chopsticks paused against his lips as he watched the opening sequence of the film. Jongho wanted to pay attention to the film too but, how could he? Yeosang kept stealing all of his attention.
It felt strangely domestic for what should have been a first proper date. Jongho felt comfortable in Yeosang’s presence, and he could tell Yeosang felt the same. They ate happily while Yeosang gave his commentary on the film (which, for the record, was pretty dark and Jongho thought it was cute how Yeosang seemed to enjoy it so much), the distance between them almost non-existent.
“So, wait, are you telling me you haven’t seen The Grudge?” Yeosang was horrified, staring at Jongho like he had committed a crime. The food had been finished and pushed aside, the conversation drifting towards away from the movie that was playing.
“It’s in Japanese!” Jongho tried to reason. “I just never got around to watching it because I’d need to, like… pay attention.”
“Well, duh, you should be paying attention anyway,” Yeosang let out a breathy laugh. He could be a bit of a chatterbox once you found the right conversation topics, Jongho had found. He knew everyone at KQ thought Yeosang was quiet, but he just thought they hadn’t tried to get Yeosang to open up. “We can watch it together next time! If Yunho doesn’t have it, I’ll bring it?”
“Assuming I can pay attention when I’m with you,” Jongho sometimes couldn’t help how flirty he got with Yeosang; he reacted so well.
A pretty blush spread across his cheeks, Yeosang beginning to stutter, “I- I’ll make you pay attention.”
“Yeah?” Jongho leaned into Yeosang’s personal space, tilting his head. “How will you do that?”
Yeosang was at a loss, fumbling for words. Jongho smirked cheekily but took pity on Yeosang. He carefully turned Yeosang towards him with a hand on his cheek and planted a kiss on his lips, hoping the pressure would convey the things he had been thinking about Yeosang.
It left Yeosang a little bit more speechless than before, the blush reaching his ears. Jongho forgot sometimes that Yeosang could be a little shy; he was always so easy to spend time with. It just made it cuter when he actually did get to see Yeosang so flustered.
So Jongho kissed him again, deeper this time. It took Yeosang a moment to register before he pressed against Jongho, kissing him back with a ferocity that Jongho didn’t expect.
It wasn’t their first kiss but it was their first kiss that was more than just a quick peck, their first kiss that they didn’t have to rush or worry about being seen. Perhaps that is where the intensity came from.
Yeosang suddenly rose, not breaking the seal of their lips as he slung his leg over Jongho, situating himself on his lap. Jongho groaned quietly, his hands moving to grip Yeosang’s waist and hold him in place.
The kiss grew more heated, Jongho licking into Yeosang’s mouth desperately, pulling his lithe body flush against his own. Yeosang was letting out tiny whines, almost going unheard, his own fingers tangled in Jongho’s hair. He couldn’t stop his hips from grinding down against Jongho’s, the heat making him restless.
Jongho’s hold on his waist tightened, his grip almost bruising as he urged Yeosang along. The sounds of the movie in the background had faded out, the rushing of blood in his ears and the way Yeosang breathed muting everything else around him. Yeosang smelled fresh (fabric softener?) and it overpowered his senses.
“You’re so,” Jongho started, cutting himself off to kiss Yeosang, “you’re gorgeous.”
“Mmm, speak for yourself,” Yeosang breathed out, his hands slipping down to pet the short hairs at the Jongho’s neck. “Kiss me again.”
Who was Jongho to deny Yeosang anything? He brought their lips back together, wanting to inhale everything Yeosang was.
The front door slammed open and Yeosang nearly toppled to the floor in fright. Jongho only just managed to catch him.
“Jongho, I’m back!” Yunho called, stumbling in with a large camping backpack before stopping short. “Oh.”
“Oh my God,” Jongho wheezed, feeling Yeosang panic and move to hide behind him. He could sense the anxiety rolling off the older boy in waves. “You weren’t meant to be back tonight.”
“N-no, but Mingi’s back was acting up,” Yunho stammered. “You… Is that Yeosang?”
Yeosang shrunk a little more. Jongho’s hand moved behind to find Yeosang’s own. “Hyung, please don’t tell.”
“Yeosang from Seonghwa’s band?” Yunho didn’t seem to be hearing Jongho. “And you’re making out with him on my couch?”
“Hyung!” Jongho exclaimed. “Yes, it’s Yeosang. Please let me explain.”
Yunho slowly closed the front door behind him, dropping his backpack to the floor. He eyed Yeosang as he made his way over to the couch, sitting carefully beside Jongho. His gaze flitted over the takeout tubs and chopsticks on the table, the movie credits rolling on the TV.
“How. How long have you two been together?” Yunho was trying to find the right questions to ask. He wasn’t angry at Jongho; just confused. How hadn’t he noticed his little brother was dating someone?
“Uhm, probably two months now? It just kind of..,” Jongho twisted himself a little to let Yeosang be seen. “We were hanging out each week at KQ and, I don’t know how it actually happened. We just ended up liking each other.”
“Yeosang?” Yunho had lowered his voice as if he were speaking to a skittish animal. “Do any of your friends know?”
Yeosang shook his head. Yunho watched the way his grip on Jongho’s hand tightened and felt his heart ache a little. It wasn’t fair that these two had needed to sneak around like this. He almost felt a little annoyed towards Hongjoong for it.
“Okay,” he exhaled. “I won’t tell Hongjoong hyung.”
Jongho perked up at this, while Yeosang’s eyes widened. Yunho was struck for a moment by how pretty and doll-like Yeosang really was; he hadn’t really ever seen the other boy up close. He was amazed his dorky brother had pulled someone like Yeosang.
“And you can hang out here, on the condition you do not ever make out on my couch again.” The embarrassed shriek Jongho let out was very much worth bringing up a mental image Yunho would love to forget.
“Thank you,” Yeosang’s lovely deep voice spoke, bowing to Yunho despite the embarrassment evident on his own face. Yunho felt his heart soften.
“Hey, don’t be all formal with me,” Yunho waved his hand. “We’re the same age, right? Just consider me a friend.”
The next encounter didn’t happen until a couple weeks later. The boys of Aurora stood off to the side of the stage, doing a quick rundown of their song to make sure the performance ran smoothly, but there was an annoyance stuck in Hongjoong’s mind. He couldn’t help himself from ranting instead of practicing.
“All they do is sing about shallow shit. Like, we get it, you broke someone’s heart. We get it, someone cheated on you,” Hongjoong rolled his eyes. “He doesn’t write lyrics that mean shit. It’s all about the universal experience. There’s nothing deeper than that.”
“Wanna say that to my face, Joongie?”
Hongjoong tensed. He hadn’t even noticed Seonghwa come up behind him. “Don’t call me that.”
“Don’t talk shit about me behind my back, then.” Seonghwa spat, striding past him. Another member of his band, Yeosang, followed him closely, nodding awkwardly at them all. Hongjoong missed the way Jongho’s eyes followed him, missed the way Yeosang’s gaze lingered a little too long. He was too caught up in his own anger.
“You know what?” He hissed. “I will say it to your face.”
Seonghwa paused in his step, Yeosang nearly bumping into his back. Slowly, he turned around, staring Hongjoong down coldly.
“Your music is shallow,” Hongjoong sneered. “You’ve never cared for anything deeper than what’s on the surface. Every time I wanted to sit down and finish a song, I could tell you were never that into it. You’re so lazy, you never want shit to be perfect.”
Even he couldn’t miss the hurt that flashed through Seonghwa’s eyes. “You seriously thought I was lazy?”
“What else could it have been?” Hongjoong demanded. “You never put in even half as much care or effort into our songs as I did! You would sit there, barely inputting anything!”
“Huh,” Seonghwa’s voice was impassive. Next to him, Yeosang had grabbed onto his sleeve, trying to tug Seonghwa away. “Okay, Hongjoong. If that’s how you want to see it. Okay.”
He gave into Yeosang’s tugging and walked away. He didn’t even give Hongjoong the satisfaction of getting under his skin - he didn’t storm away or show any kind of anger at all. Hongjoong was just left with a sour taste in his mouth.
“What the fuck, hyung?”
He turned at Yunho’s voice to see the concerned faces of his three friends. “Are you going to tell us what that was about?”
Hongjoong scrubbed at his face, hoping to wipe away the dark feeling looming over his heart. “I- No. I don’t wanna talk about it right now.”
Yeosang led Seonghwa to the seating area outside the venue where he knew San and Wooyoung were waiting for them. He sat them both on the bench, taking note of how down Seonghwa suddenly seemed.
San and Wooyoung were silent, letting Yeosang quickly explain to them what had occurred.
“Hyung?” Yeosang’s voice was quiet. “What happened to you and Hongjoong? Did you used to be in a band together or something?”
Seonghwa seemed to take a moment to collect his thoughts. “We did. In high school.”
“Did you fall out?” Yeosang asked. Seonghwa sometimes forgot how nice Yeosang’s presence was when you were upset - he was a kind boy and it was easy to tell him how you felt.
“Yeah.” Seonghwa knew there was no point hiding it from them anymore. The longer he kept it to himself, the angrier he would get. Maybe, eventually, he’d like to just let it go.
“We were in a band with two more of our classmates in our last year of school. Me and Joong had been friends for a year already but we got really close when we started making music together. I was kind of a beginner but he had been writing lyrics and playing piano for years. He taught me a lot.”
“Uhm. We weren’t dating but… we could have. We were close, and we both liked each other. I don’t really know why we never made it official. It was comfortable the way we were, I guess. There was never really a moment it felt right to ask.”
Seonghwa took a pause, looking at the floor. He heard San shift to sit next to him, taking his hand in his own. It was a nice comfort.
“Hongjoong took his music seriously. Like… it was his life. He focused on it 24/7, and he expected me to do the same. I love music but I wanted to just hang out with him sometimes, you know?”
“We reached a point where we had been working together on a song for nearly two days straight. Literally, the second school broke on the Friday afternoon, Joong wanted us to go to his house and work. By Sunday night, I had had enough and I kinda snapped at him.”
“We fought and I probably said shit that made it seem like I didn’t care about his music. He said some shit too and… It was one of those situations where we both complained to someone else, and people started picking sides. Next thing we know, the band was divided into ‘us and them’ and we split up.”
“I didn’t actually see Hongjoong again after we graduated school until we started playing here.” Seonghwa laughed bitterly. “We just never ever spoke again after that fight.”
Yeosang’s eyebrows knit together and Wooyoung finally moved to sit on the floor, his chin resting on Seonghwa’s knees. Seonghwa’s free hand started to pet Wooyoung’s hair automatically.
“That’s really sad, hyung. We didn’t realise you had been so close,” San pouted, leaning his head onto Seonghwa’s shoulder. Yeosang linked his arm around Seonghwa’s, nodding in agreement.
“Would you want to talk to him again?” Yeosang asked softly. Seonghwa looked towards him and gently bumped their heads together.
“I don’t think Hongjoong is open to it, whether I want to or not.” Seonghwa shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I have you guys, so why should I be bothered?”
Yeosang lay with his head in Jongho’s lap, the pair sitting on the grassy area of the church beside Jongho’s school. It was rare they found time to spend together. Yeosang usually had class while Jongho was on his lunch break, and their band practices made it hard to hang out in the evenings. At least now they could spend time at Jongho’s house; Yunho was very friendly, Yeosang had found.
Jongho was probably the only person Yeosang knew who could make a school uniform look cool. He had safety pins littered across his blazer and a razor blade necklace that Yeosang was sure he had seen on Yunho during past performances. His eyelids were stained red with makeup, and there was a pretty dark shadow of eyeliner smudged underneath.
He was in his last year of high school, only a year younger than Yeosang, but Yeosang still lamented the fact he had to adhere to high school timing just to see the boy he liked. He was, admittedly, a bit panicked when Jongho had told him he was still in school because Yeosang’s crush had well and truly set in by that point. Thankfully, he was nearing the end of his final year, and planning to go to the same college as Yeosang.
It was strange, though. Sometimes Yeosang felt like the younger of the two; Jongho took care of him well and found ways to make Yeosang feel comfortable enough to accept affection without much of his usual shyness. He didn’t think he’d have ever managed to lay in the lap of anyone else. Jongho brought out a confidence in him that he didn’t even realise he had.
“Hyung?” Jongho smiled down at him. Yeosang blinked, his eyes focusing on the beautiful boy above him. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Yeosang breathed. “Sorry, I think I spaced out.”
“It’s okay. You’re pretty. It’s nice to just look at you sometimes.”
Yeosang choked a little, his cheeks flushing red. “Stop that! It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s true, though,” Jongho leaned down to leave a kiss on Yeosang’s nose. Yeosang’s face scrunched up and Jongho cooed lightly at the cuteness.
They sat in a peaceful silence for a moment before Jongho looked to have remembered something. “Hyung! Didn’t you say on the phone that you found out what happened between Hongjoong hyung and Seonghwa?”
“Oh!” Yeosang scrambled to sit up, crossing his legs and facing Jongho properly. “It’s definitely miscommunication!”
He explained to Jongho everything Seonghwa had revealed, from how they were a maybe-couple, to their fight, and how their band split apart. Jongho frowned as he nodded along, a pensive look in his eyes.
“What I get from this,” Jongho began, “is that Seonghwa wasn’t as stupidly into music as Hongjoong hyung. Hyung misread this as Seonghwa not caring while Seonghwa felt neglected.”
“Yeah, that’s basically it,” Yeosang rested a hand on his cheek, his fingers drumming against his cheekbone. “Nothing that can’t be fixed by forcing them into a room together until they talk it out.”
“I think we might be geniuses,” Jongho’s gummy smile blinded Yeosang, making his heart stutter a little. Jongho was so cute. “We should be marriage counsellors or something.”
“Couple therapy,” Yeosang giggled.
“We’ll take over the world,” Jongho pushed back his hair, caught up in his dramatics. “Celebrity marriage counsellors by day, rock stars by night!”
“Loser,” Yeosang snorted, but leaned over to kiss Jongho anyway.
Seonghwa’s band were performing sixth that night. Aurora had opened for once, giving Hongjoong the chance to join in the crowds rather than spectating from the sidelines.
“We’re Finding Utopia. This is ‘When We Were Younger’.”
Hongjoong hated that he watched every performance from Seonghwa. He hated that he didn’t try to stop himself from being interested. Even when he knew it would do nothing but make him angry.
Except, for once, the song wasn’t high energy. The song was… darker? Yeosang’s bass and San’s drums kept a steady beat for Seonghwa’s vocals, melancholy and slow. Hongjoong couldn’t help but lean forward in his seat, ignoring the way Mingi eyed him.
And- oh. Hongjoong knew quickly what the song was about. He recognised the story, he knew who Seonghwa was singing about, and suddenly, every harsh word he’d thrown at Seonghwa about his lyrics felt too cruel.
There was genuine pain in Seonghwa’s voice as the song began to speed up, Wooyoung picking up the pace with the guitar. It built and built until Seonghwa was practically screaming into the microphone, tearing a hole in Hongjoong’s heart. Seonghwa was hurt; Seonghwa had probably never recovered.
Had anyone comforted Seonghwa? Whose bed did he crash in whenever it got too much? Where did he go when he wanted someone to just hold him?
Because Seonghwa’s home was a wreck. His father was an alcoholic, his brother was a bully, his mother did nothing about it. Hongjoong remembered taking Seonghwa in on the nights it got especially bad, Seonghwa curling into his side in the bed. Seonghwa had soaked so many of his shirts with tears, desperate for someone to pay him attention, to love him how he wanted.
How cruel Hongjoong had been to call him shallow. He knew how deeply Seonghwa felt things, knew this better than anyone else. It was intense and personal; how could he expect Seonghwa to bare his soul to the world like this every time he performed?
The song dropped. Seonghwa’s voice was soft as he finished the last verse and Hongjoong, for the first time in a year, accepted feelings other than anger towards the boy he once loved. He just hoped no one had noticed the tear that he didn’t catch in time.
Hongjoong was strangely shaken at the end of the night. The remaining crowds were beginning to file out, leaving just the members of each band to gather up their instruments and equipment to head home themselves. He felt a little like he was in a daze as he went about collecting his belongings.
He had seen Seonghwa’s band leaving about ten minutes earlier, waving goodbye to their other friends as they went. For once, there was no burning rage in Hongjoong’s chest as he watched Seonghwa go. Just a weird hollow feeling.
His other bandmates were saying their own goodbyes while Hongjoong was backstage, trying to find his backpack that he’d chucked down somewhere at the start of the night. Eventually he found it stashed beside an amp, clearly moved so that it wouldn’t trip anybody up.
Something small clattered to the floor when Hongjoong picked up his bag from the floor. He looked down, expecting to see a pen that had fallen from his pocket, but instead- oh.
It was a black eyeliner pencil; the one he had given Seonghwa.
Yeosang had box dye in his hands and Seonghwa felt like he was going to cry.
It was a Saturday afternoon and the four boys of Finding Utopia were lounging around in Seonghwa and Yeosang’s flat, bored of practicing. While messing around on his guitar, Wooyoung had casually commented that he wanted to dye his hair black.
Which, of course, led to San and Yeosang rushing out to the nearest shop that sold box dye, and now staring expectantly at Wooyoung.
“If you get any dye on my bathroom tiles, I will skin you alive,” Seonghwa warned, a dangerous glint in his eye. San shot him a nervous smile.
“We won’t, hyung,” Yeosang promised, pushing Wooyoung through to the bathroom.
“I’m serious, Kang Yeosang!” Seonghwa called after him. “I will kick you out onto the streets!”
He could hear Wooyoung giggling and Yeosang shushing him, and he sighed in exasperation. He knew they were going to get dye on the tiles and that he’d be spending at least thirty minutes trying to get it out.
San was still standing beside the couch, fidgeting with his hands. Seonghwa cocked his head. “You okay, Sannie?”
“Are you okay, hyung?” San bounced back, moving to sit next to Seonghwa. The older boy frowned.
“What do you mean?” He asked. San, the sweet boy he was, took Seonghwa’s hand in his own, pressing their arms together.
“You just look like you have a lot on your mind, lately,” San pouted, the concern on his face just making him look cuter than usual. He was barefaced today, none of his dark makeup to make him appear intimidating.
“Oh, do I?” Seonghwa breathed out, a pensive look on his face. “I didn’t realise. Sorry if I’m worrying you, Sannie.”
“Is it about Hongjoong?” San could feel the way Seonghwa tensed for a moment.
“Sometimes I don’t like how perceptive you are,” Seonghwa laughed softly, bumping himself against San. “I’ve just been thinking a lot, is all.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” There was a kind expression on San’s face; he was one of those people you couldn’t help but gravitate to, someone who made you feel reassured and appreciated no matter what.
Seonghwa shook his head. “I think talking about it would just make me feel worse.”
“Okay, hyung,” San smiled at him, giving his hand one last squeeze before letting go. “I’ll be here whenever you need me.”
With that, he made his way to the bathroom to join the pair who were probably already attacking Wooyoung’s red hair with black dye, and making a mess of Seonghwa’s clean floor.
Seonghwa supposed he did have a lot on his mind, and he supposed it was all Hongjoong-related. He couldn’t help but replay every interaction they’d had in the past few months, analysing them endlessly. They were mostly all arguments, but the few interactions where they hadn’t fought kept throwing him in a loop.
He thought that, maybe, he missed Hongjoong. Or, at least, he missed the Hongjoong he used to know. The time Hongjoong had comforted him when he couldn’t get his recording right made him feel like Hongjoong hadn’t really changed; his anger was just a defense mechanism.
He didn’t really know how long he sat there musing to himself before a sudden panicked thought raced through his mind. He stumbled to his feet, practically running towards the bathroom.
“Do NOT use those towels on his freshly dyed hair!” He exclaimed as he burst through the door, catching Yeosang about to dry off Wooyoung’s hair with his clean white towel. “Yeosang, I will have your belongings thrown out of the window.”
Yeosang grinned sheepishly and passed the towel off to San, who hung it back onto the towel rack as if nothing happened. “Sorry, hyung. I’ll get the black ones.”
“I can’t stand him!” Hongjoong burst out as he stuffed his sheet music back into his bag. He was, as usual, heated after Finding Utopia’s performance, the band this time playing another upbeat rock number about relationships. All of the understanding he had for Seonghwa the week before had been forgotten. “I swear, at this point, he might as well be singing the same song over and over.”
Jongho couldn’t stop his fists from clenching. Now that he knew the story he thought Hongjoong’s anger was immature and unjustified, but that could also be his bias towards Yeosang. If Yeosang likes Seonghwa, then hating Seonghwa doesn’t feel right in his mind.
“Hyung,” Jongho cut Hongjoong off curtly. Surprised coloured Hongjoong’s face at the younger’s tone.
“Yeah?” He asked in concern. “You okay?”
“Hyung, I like Yeosang.”
Hongjoong didn’t seem to register Jongho’s words immediately, staring at him blankly. Jongho stared back, unflinching.
“You like… Yeosang?” Hongjoong frowned. “As in… Seonghwa’s bandmate?”
“Yes,” Jongho didn’t break the eye contact when he spoke. He needed Hongjoong to know he was serious. “We’ve been talking for a while now. I spend time with him before every show.”
“That’s where you disappear to?” There was disbelief in Hongjoong’s voice, clearly confused as to the situation. “Jongho, I don’t understand.”
“What is there to not understand?!” Jongho was getting madder by the second. “You and Seonghwa have this stupid spat, which leaves me and Yeosang unable to even talk to each other near you both in case you guys freak out! I can’t go see Yeosang because he lives with Seonghwa! Our schedules barely align for us to see each other during the day!”
“I’m tired of not being able to hang out with him in the place we both love,” Jongho continued, crossing his arms across his chest. “I want to be able to actually spend time with him without worrying about you getting angry thinking I’m fraternizing with the enemy or something.”
Hongjoong was silent, guilt written all over his features.
“I…” he began, “I wouldn’t have gotten mad at you…”
“Yes, you would have,” Jongho said, deadpan.
“Okay, but I would have gotten over it!”
A pout rested on Hongjoong’s lips. He reached over and took a hold of Jongho’s biceps, putting a gentle pressure on them. “I’m sorry, Jjongie. I didn’t even realise how this would affect you.”
“It’s fine, hyung,” Jongho sighed, finally slackening his tense posture, sending Hongjoong a small smile. “Could you maybe talk to Yeosang with me? Just to reassure him it’ll be okay for us to hang out?”
“Of course, Jjongie,” Hongjoong patted his head before going back to packing his music away. “I’ll speak to him now, if you want?”
Jongho perked up at this. “I’ll text him!”
He pulled his phone from his bag, flipping it open and finding Yeosang’s contact. His fingers flew across the little keyboard, typing out a message at lightning speed.
bring seonghwa to the benches outside! i’m bringing hongjoong hyung!
He waited a moment before Yeosang sent back an excited confirmation and then threw his phone back into his bag. “He says he can meet us outside in five minutes!”
Hongjoong finished tidying up, slinging his messenger bag across his body and signalled to Jongho that he was ready. Slowly, they made their way towards the entrance, weaving their way through the small crowd that were still milling around, finishing their drinks from the bar.
Yeosang had made sure that they were outside first, so as Jongho and Hongjoong approached, Jongho saw the confusion start to bleed into Hongjoong’s eyes.
“Jongho?” Hongjoong questioned, the betrayal clear in his voice.
Jongho moved to stand beside Yeosang and at least had the decency to look a little guilty. “I’m sorry, hyung. We thought... we think you and Seonghwa have to talk.”
Seonghwa, too, looked mildly scandalised but more so at the lack of distance between the two younger boys. “Yeosang… you’re with Jongho?”
“Well, kinda,” a blush crept up Yeosang’s face. “But the thing between you and Hongjoong made things so hard! We didn’t want either of you to be mad.”
“Anyway, you both clearly have some things unresolved. Yeosang and I discussed it, and we think you’re both better off talking.” Jongho glared at them both. “There’s some serious misunderstandings going on.”
“What kind of misunderstandings?” Seonghwa scoffed. “He thinks I’m lazy and shallow.”
“He cried when you sang that song last week!”
“When We Were Younger,” Yeosang supplied.
That made Seonghwa stop. He looked at Hongjoong in confusion. “Why would you cry? Why would you care?”
Really, Hongjoong wasn’t sure he knew how to answer. There wasn’t a simple way to explain the way the song had resurfaced memories - and feelings - that he had buried under all his anger. Not without exposing how much he still cared for the other.
“I just didn’t think you had that kind of emotion in you,” Hongjoong shrugged. He knew reverting back to mean comments wouldn’t help, but he didn’t know any other way to approach the situation.
Seonghwa’s eyes hardened again. “Are you fucking serious, Hongjoong? You’re so fucking stupid.”
“I’m stupid?” Hongjoong laughed without mirth. “I’d rather be stupid than emotionless. Every time I asked for lyrics for a song, or for edits to my lyrics, you were so lazy about it!”
“Because that’s all you cared about!” Seonghwa’s voice was rising. Finally, Hongjoong thought; this would be the first time Seonghwa showed his own anger. Hongjoong hated feeling like he was the only one holding a grudge. “You only cared about making more songs, writing more lyrics, asking me to write more lyrics!”
“Of course I did?” Hongjoong tone rose disdainfully. “Why the hell wouldn’t I? I thought you were in this for the music too!”
“I was! But sometimes, I needed some room to breathe!” Seonghwa looked on the verge of tears and Hongjoong’s heart clenched painfully. “You were such a perfectionist! We’d spend days straight just working on music, we wouldn’t do anything else!”
Seonghwa exhaled noisily, lips trembling. “Hongjoong, sometimes I just wanted to spend time with you. Maybe I should have vocalised it better, but I didn’t want everything to be about the band! I just… wanted to be with you. I wanted to be with you without talking about lyrics or chords or arrangements. I loved you and, sometimes, I wanted us to just be together like normal kids.”
The pain in Hongjoong’s chest grew more with each word Seonghwa said until he felt like he was drowning in it. He now knew what Jongho meant: maybe they had been misunderstanding each other.
Jongho broke the thick silence that had settled over them. “You two... have stuff to speak about. We’ll go.”
Hongjoong noted their linked hands as the younger pair slipped away. That would be something to bring up later. First, though, he had to deal with… well, everything that came with Seonghwa.
“Was I really overwhelming you?” He croaked out, feeling like he’d lost the ability to speak properly. “Did you really feel like that?”
Seonghwa sniffled a little, turning his head away. “I didn’t want you to feel bad about it. I know how much you love music. I didn’t want you to feel like I was trying to take it away from you for my own selfish reasons.”
He couldn’t help himself. Hongjoong reached out for Seonghwa, placing a hand on his cheek and turning his gaze back. Tears brimmed in Seonghwa’s beautiful eyes and Hongjoong felt no resentment looking at him; just sadness, regret and the same love he realised had probably always been there.
“I’m sorry, Hwa. I should have realised,” Hongjoong whispered, his heart heavy. Seonghwa let out a watery laugh.
“Is that Kim Hongjoong apologising to me, right now?” He could see Seonghwa’s hand twitch. Hongjoong decided fuck it and took it in his own, linking their fingers together. He watched the shock cross Seonghwa’s expression, looking down at their joined hands then back to Hongjoong’s face.
Then - Seonghwa burst into tears.
“Oh, Seonghwa, don’t cry-” Hongjoong was cut off by Seonghwa crashing into him, hugging him like he might die if he didn’t hold on tight.
“I’m sorry if you thought I didn’t care,” Seonghwa sobbed, clutching the back of Hongjoong’s jacket like a lifeline. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you! I knew how important your music was to you and I should have just told you how I felt.”
“No, I’m sorry for not paying attention to how you felt,” Hongjoong felt tears welling up in his own eyes. He was glad they were alone and that no one else was hanging around outside. “I was selfish.”
Hongjoong took in a breath. “I cared - care - about you more than I cared about music, but I took you for granted. I should have shown you I cared instead of just assuming you’d know.”
Seonghwa nodded against his shoulder before falling silent. It took a moment of just holding each other until either of them were ready to speak again. Seonghwa’s fingers no longer held onto Hongjoong’s jacket so desperately and his sobs were now just hitched breathing.
“Do you want to come back to mine for a while?” Hongjoong whispered, trying to ignore the anxiety that sat in his stomach. “We can just sit and watch a movie or something. Or listen to some music? I have some CDs I bought recently that I think you’d like.”
Seonghwa slowly detached himself from Hongjoong, a wet smile on his face. His eyeliner was smudged to hell, dragged halfway across his face. Hongjoong breathed out; “oh, your makeup...” before wiping his thumb carefully under his eyes. The pad came away blackened but at least Seonghwa didn’t look as ruined anymore.
Seonghwa looked like he was going to cry again at that action alone. He stopped Hongjoong from pulling his hand away, pressing the palm against his cheek. “God, I’ve missed you. I’d love to go back to yours.”
It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Seonghwa was just as easy to hang out with now as he was two years ago. If anything, perhaps time had made it easier; they had nearly two years worth to catch up on.
Seonghwa told Hongjoong how he met his friends; Yeosang responded to his flyer searching for a flatmate and brought his bass guitar in with him. Yeosang played with his friends, San and Wooyoung, but they wanted a lead singer. Seonghwa loved the same rock bands as them, could sing and could write lyrics. It was a perfect match.
In turn, Hongjoong explained how he ended up meeting Mingi through his music composition class. When you were friends with Mingi, you ended up with Yunho by default - they were inseparable. Jongho, Yunho’s younger brother, joined them when they finally decided to form a band after playing together to record some songs for Mingi and Hongjoong’s class.
They had slipped into easy conversation by the time they reached Hongjoong’s flat, Hongjoong only pausing briefly to unlock the door. He held it open for Seonghwa, letting him step in first as he flipped the light switch.
“Welcome in, I guess,” Hongjoong scratched at his head. “Just make yourself comfortable.”
Seonghwa’s lips were pressed together to hold back a smile. “This looks exactly how I pictured you’d decorate your own place.”
Hongjoong snorted. He had put a lot of time into making sure his flat fit his tastes, even with it being so small. There were posters lining the walls of bands he looked up to, his workspace in the corner filled with little trinkets, and a ridiculous amount of CDs stacked up beside his bulky CD and record player. Though, Seonghwa was probably also referring to all the clutter lying around too.
Thirty minutes later they found themselves lying on the rug, listening to a Hawthorne Heights album and talking quietly. It was peaceful. Seonghwa made Hongjoong feel a little like he was seventeen again, with no responsibilities, just listening to emo bands with the boy he loved.
Seonghwa hadn’t changed much. He still loved kids, and planned to be a primary school teacher, and he still had the same dorky sense of humour. Hongjoong kept finding himself laughing, a little drunk off how it felt to have Seonghwa next to him again.
And perhaps it was nice to not feel any anger for the first time in forever. Hongjoong liked lying here with Seonghwa and not feeling like he needed to resort to mean comments, or to run away before he felt something that he didn’t want.
“What are you thinking about?” Seonghwa murmured. He didn’t know when they had resorted to whispering, but it felt like speaking any louder would break the gentle peacefulness hanging over them.
“You,” Hongjoong answered honestly. He heard Seonghwa shift to look at him. “Just that I kinda regret being so mad at you.”
Seonghwa was silent, as if waiting for Hongjoong to continue, and so he did. “I spent so long thinking that it was easier to just be angry at you because anything else meant thinking about how much you had meant to me. How much you probably still do mean to me.”
“I… I’m sorry for being such an asshole,” Hongjoong whispered, finally meeting Seonghwa’s eyes. Seonghwa’s gaze was soft, and the heat in Hongjoong’s chest no longer hurt. “I want us to be able to be together like we used to.”
The corners of Seonghwa’s lips lifted. “You know I’d love that. You know I missed you.”
“And…” Seonghwa exhaled. “I’m sorry too. I was stupid and petty back, and it probably just added fuel to the fire.”
Hongjoong reached out for Seonghwa’s hand, the warmth in his chest spreading through his whole body when Seonghwa allowed him to link their fingers together. He always felt, as cheesy as it sounded, like their hands were meant to fit together.
“And you know I forgive you, too.” Hongjoong said, squeezing Seonghwa’s hand lightly. “Will you stay over, tonight?”
“Yeah,” Seonghwa replied. “I will.”
“Okay, we get it, you guys are allowed to be gross around us now,” San whined. “But please don’t?!”
Jongho laughed as he pulled away from Yeosang, who was bright red at being called out. They might have been going three months strong, but it felt like they were in their honeymoon phase all over again solely because now they could be out as a couple.
Unfortunately, Jongho was near shameless, constantly planting kisses on Yeosang’s cheeks and lips. Jongho was a strange mix of not wanting skinship and, yet, never seeming to be able to get enough from Yeosang. He shrugged off anyone else but would seek out Yeosang’s hand to hold at any given opportunity.
“Still can’t believe you were dating someone and didn’t tell us,” Wooyoung huffed, a little sulky at the fact the boy he considered his best friend had kept such an important secret from him.
“Don’t be mad, Woo,” Yeosang pouted, reaching over and poking Wooyoung in the arm. Mingi and Yunho just snickered to themselves on the side.
Seonghwa almost felt a little like he was watching his kids bicker, trying not to let the fond smile tugging at his lips become too obvious. He knew Hongjoong noticed it, though.
He and Hongjoong were slowly working their way through their feelings. Of course, they couldn’t easily slip back into the relationship they had in high school; they had grown up, and had also spent the last few months hating each other. They still tiptoed around each other a little after the night they lay together and just talked.
Their friends seemed happy though, glad they didn’t have to deal with their endless fighting. Plus, it turned out they all got on super well, anyway.
AB6IX were finishing the last part of their performance, a new song called ‘The Answer’, and Aurora were next, the boys gathering their instruments and making their way to the backstage area.
“Have fun,” Yeosang said, letting Jongho give him one final kiss, a sweet smile on his face. Seonghwa saw San and Wooyoung fake gag behind them.
The two younger boys gave Seonghwa a little confidence, though. As Hongjoong moved away, he couldn’t stop himself from grabbing his wrist and holding him back. Hongjoong stared at him, confused.
Seonghwa ignored the nerves in his stomach and just went for it; he tipped forward and pressed a kiss to Hongjoong’s cheek, pulling away as quickly as he had leaned in. Hongjoong froze, his eyes wide as he gaped at Seonghwa.
They hadn’t really approached the topic of a relationship yet but Seonghwa knew he wanted it. He knew his feelings for Hongjoong had never actually changed.
And when Hongjoong broke free from his daze and gave Seonghwa a dazzling smile, he knew that Hongjoong felt the same.