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7 + 1 (Happy Birthday)

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It’s days like this where Seonghwa has to ask, “Why me?”

He tries to shift his position on the bed, but the twinge in his lower back has him sucking in a breath and lying back to his original facedown position. Seonghwa rests his head on the pillow and slides his eyes shut, a frown on his lips.

This isn’t the first time. Hell, this isn’t the second time, either. Seonghwa tries to remember how many times he’s been injured and caused a delay in the group’s plans. He can hear the pitter patter of everyone outside the bedroom; Mingi is rummaging through the fridge while Wooyoung is running for first dibs in the shower. Everyone is moving around him, but he feels alone.

The bed seems to be sucking him in, deeper and deeper into the mattress, the more he retreats into himself. If only he didn’t have two left feet, if only he was better at dancing, if only he was more careful, if only—

“Hyung?”

Seonghwa opens his eyes and lets out a shaky breath he didn’t know he was holding. He looks over and spies San kneeling in front of him, hands holding a hot water bag. San looks worried, if his furrowed brows and small frown are anything to go by.

“Hyung, are you okay?” he asks, scooting closer to the bed, and Seonghwa hums in reply. He bites his lower lip and hesitates for a second before reaching over to gently place the hot water bottle on the dip of Seonghwa’s lower back. Seonghwa hisses, the muscles groaning in pain before quieting into a mellow ache. He relaxes and offers a tired smile.

“Thank you, San-ah,” Seonghwa breathes out. He slides his eyes shut again, already willing his brain to quiet down, but feels fingers gently brushing hair away from his face. Slowly opening his eyes again, he spies San closer than he was seconds ago with a deeper frown and he continues to brush Seonghwa’s hair.

“Hyung, it’s not your fault. None of it. I wish...I wish I could help more. I wish I could take the pain away, I wish—” San chokes on a hiccup and hastily wipes at his eyes while Seonghwa blinks at him in surprise.

Ah, he must’ve been so scared.

Seonghwa offers San a smile and reaches out to cup his cheek. San leans into the warmth of Seonghwa’s hand and moves in to press their foreheads together.

“You’re already doing so much by staying with me. Will you please continue to keep me company?” Seonghwa asks. San gives another hiccup and nods before climbing onto the bed. It's a bit of a squeeze, but they both fit and that's what matters.

San is already curled up next to Seonghwa, asleep, when Seonghwa feels his eyelids grow heavy. He reaches out to gently laces their fingers together and gives the back of San’s hand a kiss before falling asleep to his gentle breathing.

 


 

The longer he stares at the screen, the blurrier everything gets. Hongjoong leans back in his chair and heaves a sigh, massaging the bridge of his nose.

How long has he been in the studio? He glances at the computer screen again and groans when it reads 10:37 PM. He’s been here since 10 AM, but it feels like he barely got anything done. There never seems to be enough hours in a day and Hongjoong knows he doesn’t need to complete the song right away, but the pressure is pressing a heavy weight on his shoulders.

If he doesn’t finish it now, then when? He’ll give himself until midnight to do as much as he can before heading out; he still needs to edit the melody and start on the chorus before he calls it a night.

Hongjoong reaches over for another sip of coffee, but finds the styrofoam cup completely empty. Frowning, he throws the cup away and wonders when the last time he ate or drank was just as his stomach grumbles right on cue. He really should eat, but he still has so much work to do and he’s sure Seonghwa would have something to say if he found out Hongjoong grabbed something from the convenience store again.

He’s contemplating ordering delivery when a gentle knock pulls him away from his thoughts. There’s still someone here at this hour? The door slowly opens and a familiar face pokes in through the door.

“San, what are you doing here?” Hongjoong asks. There wasn’t any dance practice scheduled for today, and it’s too late for anyone else to be here. San offers him a gentle smile before shuffling inside, letting the door close with a click.

“You missed dinner and we haven’t seen you all day. I figured you were holed up here. Again,” San replies. In his hand is a plastic bag, which he places on the low table between the couch and Hongjoong’s work space. He pulls out two tupperware containers and a set of utensils before taking a seat on the couch.

Hongjoong blinks in surprise and rolls his chair over to the table. He opens the containers, and the room is instantly filled with the aroma of cooked rice and spicy tofu stew. He swallows, remembering how hungry he is again, and gives thanks for the food. He quickly digs in, almost burning his tongue on the hot soup, but it doesn’t stop him from taking several large bites with a satisfied hum.

San continues to watch him with eyes full of affection and pulls out a bottle of water from the plastic bag, uncapping it, before handing it to Hongjoong.

“Hyung, you always work so hard,” he starts, voice small. Hongjoong continues to eat, but nods to San, silently urging him to continue.

“You always put others before you, you put your work before you, and sometimes you forget to take care of yourself. But, no matter how hard you’re working and no matter how many times you forget, we’re here for you. And we’ll always be there to remind you to eat and rest every step of the way,” he finishes, head bowed. San waits for a reply, a sound, anything, and when he doesn’t receive any, he carefully looks up, wondering if he crossed a line.

Hongjoong’s meal is forgotten as he leaves his chair and walks over to the sofa; he takes a seat next to San and quietly pulls him into a hug. Hongjoong breathes a sigh as he pats San’s back and nuzzles into the crown of his head.

“Thank you for reminding me, San,” he whispers. San doesn’t offer a reply, but his arms wrapping around Hongjoong’s waist is enough of an answer.

 


 

No matter how energetic and lively Yunho is, mornings are considered a struggle for him. Whether it's the shrill sound of his alarm, the unpleasant notion of getting up before the sun is high above the sky — rushing through his morning routine puts a damper in his mood.

Usually, it takes him a minute or two to let his body power up; like some sort of machine, Yunho begins his morning by sitting in bed to gather his thoughts before going about his day. But today is different.

Even after silencing his alarm, Yunho still feels the heavy pull of sleep tug at his consciousness. Five more minutes.

Five minutes turn to seven.

Seven minutes turn to ten.

Ten minutes turn to fifteen, but Yunho still can’t feel his body powering up. Everything feels muffled, as if someone stuffed him into a cotton ball, and he can’t bring himself out of it. He groans into his pillow and hides deeper into his bed. Maybe if he hid hard enough, no one would find him.

The dorm is already alive — Seonghwa is brewing his morning tea, while Jongho is singing in the shower — but Yunho still feels dead to the world.

But, he needs to get up, he needs to get ready, he needs to get dressed, he needs to—

He feels a hand gently nudge his shoulder and Yunho opens his eyes to see San smiling down at him, already dressed for the day.

“Hey, sleepyhead, aren’t you going to get ready?” he asks. Yunho groans again and burrows deeper into the covers.

“I’m so tired, San, I can’t bring myself to wake up,” he mutters. He doesn’t understand why he’s so out of it, it’s not usually this hard to get up. Above him, San hums, contemplating, before pulling away and slipping out of the shared bedroom without another word. Yunho squints at the door, wondering if he’s gone to snitch that Yunho has yet to wake up, and tries to pull himself together. He’ll have to get out of bed sometime.

He’s just pulled the blankets off when San slips back into the bedroom and walks over, taking a seat on the bed. The mattress dips with his weight and Yunho looks up, confused, as San pulls the blankets over him.

“I spoke to the managers and Hongjoong hyung. We don’t have to be in practice until a few more hours, so I got them to let you sleep in a bit,” San smiles as he reaches up to card his fingers through Yunho’s hair.

Yunho blinks up at San and the muffled stuffiness somehow begins to melt away as San continues to comb through Yunho’s hair.

“I...thank you, San,” he utters out. He feels his body melt into the bed again in relief.

“We all get tired; sometimes we just need a bit more to recharge,” San replies. Yunho sleepily chuckles in reply and lets his eyes shut again, San’s fingers lulling him back into a peaceful sleep.

 


 

He knows he should take a break. His muscles are screaming, the mirrored walls are practically fogged up, and it’s well into the night, but he can’t stop. He’s sure the other members have already headed back to the dorms, but not him. Every step has to be perfect.

Yeosang takes it from the top, every beat of the song ingrained into his brain at this point, and concentrates on his reflection as he goes over the steps again.

One, two...three and four.

Five, six...seven and—

The room spins for a split second and he almost loses his footing. Yeosang hisses as his right foot lands too hard and he slumps to the floor, chest heaving and lungs burning. He gingerly holds his ankle and prays it’s not sprained or twisted. He looks at his reflection again and grits his teeth in irritation before crawling over to rest back against one of the walls. He has to be perfect, dammit. Perfect .

The clock on the wall points to 12:43 AM and Yeosang would give anything to be home, to be back in bed, but he can’t .

“Yeosang?”

His head whips to the opened door and San is standing there in his basketball shorts and sleeping t-shirt. His eyes are trained at Yeosang’s cupped ankle. “Yeosang, why are you still here? It’s so late.”

Yeosang looks away, lower lip bitten and ashamed. He can hear footsteps echoing throughout the dance room, pattering here and there. The music gets turned off and San makes his way back to Yeosang, a few items in his hand. He sits cross legged and gently places Yeosang’s sore leg onto his lap.

“Overexerting yourself isn’t the right thing to do, y’know,” San mutters as he removes the sneaker and sock. The ankle is already red, most likely not sprained but definitely sore. San scoops up some tiger balm* with his fingers and gently massages it into the red skin. Yeosang hisses at the sharp sting, but doesn’t pull away. “I know you want to get it down, but you can’t injure yourself either.”

Yeosang rests his chin on his left knee as he watches San work.

“I know. It’s just...I’m the center of the choreography and I want it to be perfect. I need it to be perfect,” he breathes out. San looks up.

“There’s no such thing as perfect. We can only do the best we can. And you’re doing more than enough,” San replies. He grabs a salonpas** from a box and gently lays it over Yeosang’s ankle. He offers Yeosang a tired smile as he packs up the items and moves over to sit next to him.

“It’ll be okay, I know it will. You’ll be great,” San whispers as he rests his head on Yeosang’s left shoulder. He reaches out and laces their fingers together before pulling them to his lap. Yeosang looks down at their joined hands and lets his eyes slip shut.

A five minute break won’t hurt.

 


 

If there’s one person Mingi can always count on, it’s San. Whether it's roping each other into some sort of prank war, or needing a shoulder to rest on, San has always been there for him. Like right now.

Mingi is sitting on the living room couch, blanket around his shoulders. He can barely smell anything and his entire body aches, but he knows there’s nothing he can do but let the cold subside naturally.

Mingi would say he’s happy to stay home, but everyone is out for their schedules, and if there’s anything Mingi doesn’t want, it’s to be home, useless.

He checks his phone and frowns when the group chat is empty. He knows everyone is busy, but he also misses them. Placing the phone aside, he curls up on the couch and lets his eyes slip shut.

He doesn't know how long he’s been asleep, but the next time he wakes up, there’s a bowl of steaming juk in front of him with medicine on the side and someone is moving around in the kitchen.

Groaning, he gets up and makes his way over to the kitchen. San is at the sink, cleaning the dishes.

“When did you get back?” he croaks out, wincing at the sharp sting in his throat. San finishes cleaning and wipes his hands on the towel before turning to Mingi.

“Not too long ago; I let everyone know I was coming back to look after you, so they let me come back early,” San smiles. He gently tugs Mingi back to the living room and helps him sit back down in front of the food. He holds the medicine out for Mingi and nudges his shoulder to start eating.

“You didn’t have to,” Mingi mumbles, but starts slowly eating. He hums at the taste and takes the medicine San passes over.

“Of course I had to. Knowing you, you’d have a bowl of ramyun and call it a day,” he laughs, settling into the couch. 

That’s not particularly a lie…

“I’m sick, you don’t have to attack me like this,” Mingi scoffs, but doesn’t argue back. He quickly finishes his food before leaning over to rest his head on San’s shoulder.

“I appreciate it, though. Thank you. For coming home early and the juk, that is,” Mingi quietly starts. “I feel a lot better thanks to you.”

Chuckling, San reaches out to tuck Mingi’s blanket closer before lacing their fingers together.

“No need to thank me, I’m just looking out for you,” San whispers as he rests his cheek on Mingi’s head. “Besides, what would we do if our beloved rapper is out for the count? Who will woo everyone if you’re not there?”

Chuckling, Mingi gently nudges his friend, but doesn’t push him away. If anything, he pulls San closer.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say.”

 


 

It’s no secret that one of Wooyoung’s habits is to cook. From choosing a dish to learning how to prepare it, even to watching the taster’s reaction, cooking is a joy that Wooyoung holds dear to his heart.

However, just because Wooyoung loves cooking, doesn’t mean he’s always good at it. Some days are failures, some recipes don’t turn out how they’re supposed to, and that’s alright. Not everyone will get everything down perfect the first or second time they try anyway.

That doesn’t mean it’s not disheartening, though.

The ruined stir fried octopus stares up at Wooyoung. He frowns, wondering where he went wrong and tries to retrace his steps one by one.

Octopus, ginger, soy sauce, sugar…

His eyes widen and he hurries over to the container of what should be sugar. He grabs a pinch, taste, and immediately flinches. It’s salt.

No wonder his dish is ruined; he used salt in place of sugar, overcooked the octopus into a rubbery mess, and used too much pepper flakes. Dinner is definitely ruined. His shoulders drop in defeat and he slumps over the kitchen sink.

He proposed to make dinner tonight, boasted about his improving skills, and was excited for the other members to finally taste his cooking, but it seemed like an impossible dream now. He ruined everything.

“-young? Wooyoung? What are you doing on the floor?”

Wooyoung looks up and there San is, head tilted to the side in confusion. He sniffs and pulls himself off the floor, shaking his head.

“Nothing...looks like we’re ordering take out tonight. Stupid me messed everything up and now we can’t eat anything,” Wooyoung weakly laughs. “Gonna throw everything away and clean up.”

“Woah, why? What happened? Talk to me,” San cuts in as he walks over to place his hands on Wooyoung’s shoulders. 

Wooyoung frowns at the ruined dish still in the pan. “I messed up, San. I mixed the salt for the sugar. I overcooked the octopus, I ruined everything,” he sighs and shakes his head. “There’s no way I can save dinner tonight.”

San looks at Wooyoung then at the octopus, lower lip bitten in thought. He grabs a pair of chopsticks and picks a leg up before popping it into his mouth. Wooyoung catches the wince on San’s face and the jaw clench of him chewing on the tough meat, but he somehow swallows it.

“Okay, it’s...it’s bad, I won’t lie, but! That doesn’t mean dinner is ruined! So what if we order delivery for dinner? That doesn’t make you a failure! I’m sure everyone will understand,” San reassured. Wooyoung sighs and leans against San’s side.

“I know, I just...I hoped I could amaze everyone with my cooking. I’ve been trying so hard,” he confessed. San wraps his arm around Wooyoung in a half hug and nods in acknowledgement.

“Listen, I can’t help make this dish better, but what if we made something else? We still have a lot of time and you have another set of hands to help you. I’ll be your sous chef, what do you say? I’m not completely useless in the kitchen!” San exclaims with a punch in the air. That gets a weak chuckle out of Wooyoung and he looks over at his friend, a small smile on his lips.

“Knowing you, you’d burn the dorm down.”

“Hey!”

 


 

Being the youngest member in a group is something Jongho still struggles with every once in a while. As an older brother back home, he’s never had the chance to be taken care of when he’s usually the one taking care of those around him.

He isn’t known as someone who is comfortable being assigned the maknae role, and today seems to be tougher than normal.

It’s been a hard day, filled with tension between the members. On days like these, Jongho retreats deep into himself and fades into the background. He doesn’t want to cause a ruckus, doesn’t want to make things worse.

Dinner is a terse affair, the silence is deafening in more ways than one, and he does what he knows best. Jongho helps clear the table, washes the dishes and makes sure to properly put them away, before retreating back to his bedroom. The weight doesn’t lighten from his shoulders, but he tries to take up as little space as possible.

He busies himself with his phone, playing some mindless game in bed, when he hears a knock at the door. San is at the doorway, already dressed for bed, and offers a little wave.

“Can I come in?”

Jongho wordlessly nods and moves over in his bed. San makes his way over and slips under the covers. He tangles their legs together and lets Jongho rest his head on his shoulder.

“Today was tough, wasn’t it?” San asks as he wraps a loose arm around Jongho’s shoulder. He hums, hands still fiddling with his phone.

“I guess,” he mutters. San chuckles and pulls the blankets tighter around the both of them.

“Y’know,” he starts, voice quiet. Jongho tenses up, afraid of possibly being scolded, but the hand patting his head helps him breathe. “It’s okay to let us know when you’re upset, Jongho; you’re our maknae. I understand that you might not be the youngest back at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself. Don’t keep it in, Jongho. We’re all here for you, and if you need a reminder that it's okay to express yourself, then we’ll be here every step of the way.”

Jongho doesn’t reply right away. He lets what San said sink in, lets his brain process each and every word because it’s still jumbled. San doesn’t push him to reply either, giving him time.

He can’t find it in himself to verbally reply, the words dead in his throat, and he turns to look at San. The elder smiles down at him, eyes full of affection, and Jongho lets out a quiet whimper before burying his face into the crook of San’s neck.

San holds him, letting Jongho hiccup into his shirt, as he gently rocks the both of them side to side.

Neither of them know how long it’s been. Minutes? Hours? By the time Jongho’s hiccups quiet down, his eyes feel heavy and the weight on his shoulders begin to lighten.

“I...thank you, hyung,” Jongho sniffs as he wipes his tears away with his shirt. “I really needed that.”

San hums and pulls him into a hug full of warmth.

“We’re all here for you, no matter what.”

 


 

It’s been a busy day for San.

Since morning, he’s been whisked away from his warm bed and thrown into one thing after another. From visiting the salon, to getting fitted for clothes, learning choreography, and vocal practice, San is sure he can fall asleep while standing.

The manager accompanying him for the day offers San an encouraging smile as he helpfully leads him to the car.

“We’re done for the day, San-ah. Let’s head home, yeah?”

He gives a thankful nod and quickly hops into the car. As it pulls out and begins the journey home, San grabs his phone.

Fans have bombarded the group’s social media accounts with birthday wishes, while the other members have posted pictures and messages for him as well. Smiling down at his screen, he makes a mental note to post a thank you message on the platforms, before pocketing his phone and shutting his eyes.

The ride home seems too short; before he knows it, the car is pulling into the parking space. Stretching his arms over his head, San grabs his belongings and slides out of the car. He gently sways on his feet as he keys in the code to the dorm, and wonders if it would make sense to have a quick meal before heading to bed.

The dorm is dark and he wonders if everyone else is out. Maybe he should wait for everyone to come back before eating dinner together, but he’s already so ti—

The lights turn on and San flinches, surprised, as various shouts fill his ears. He blinks the light spots away and gasps when he spots everyone in front of him, party hats and a birthday cake in Yunho’s hands.

“Happy birthday, San!”

San is like a fish out of water as his jaw drops and he tries to focus on everything in front of him. There are balloons, streamers, and confetti thrown everywhere.

“What…” he starts, completely speechless.

“Did you think we wouldn’t celebrate your birthday with you?” Wooyoung asks, a wide grin on his lips.

“Hurry up and blow the candles before it all melts, hyung!” Jongho exclaims with a whoop. San regains himself and quickly walks over while the rest of the members sing ‘Happy Birthday’. He lets Seonghwa place a birthday hat atop his head and doesn’t even whine when Yeosang wraps him in a tight hug.

He blows the candles out to everyone’s cheers and his vision grows blurry as the cake is placed on the table.

“Are you crying? San, you’re crying!” Hongjoong calls out in surprise. San reaches up to touch his cheek, and it’s wet. Everyone shouts various words of encouragement and crowd around San to give him hugs.

“I didn’t think you’d throw me a birthday party. When did you guys even plan this?” he asks in between hiccups.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise party if you knew, would it?” Yunho cheekily laughs. San offers a wet laugh and rests his head on his shoulder.

“What would I do without you guys?” he asks, heart so incredibly full of warmth and affection.

“Well, it’s like our saying, right?” Hongjoong asks. They all share a look, smiles on their faces as they reply in unison.

“Eight makes one team!"