Blind by: Phoenix_Soar part 2

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Unspoken – Part 1

Aaaayyy guys. Thank you so much for the feedback on the first chapter! I was surprised I even got readers considering this is a WhiteKies fic ❤

I’ve been struggling with this second chapter for over a month, but this monster has totally spiraled out of control. Now I’m forced to split this chapter “Unspoken” into two parts -_- Hopefully the word-count makes up for the wait!

PLEASE NOTE: The segments of this fic still alternate between the present Sechskies and from before their disbandment. So the events mentioned are not chronological, where some segments may refer vaguely to things that will be explained at a later point in the fic.

There are times when Suwon thinks he is at fault.

What that fault is, he cannot define exactly. But there are times, increasingly frequent, when he sees the way Sunghoon looks at him, acts around him, and he feels inexplicably guilty about it.

As a boy just growing into manhood, that’s not something he feels well-equipped at dealing with.

It’s not that Sunghoon is downright explicit about it, either. Even as the weeks blur into months and Sechskies, miraculously, rise to dominate the music charts and make a niche for themselves in South Korea’s budding K-pop scene, Sunghoon never actually says anything about it to Suwon.

But it all comes down to the fact that Suwon comes to know, regardless, and that awareness leaves him with the bizarre feeling that he has to do something.

What that can possibly be, he doesn’t have any inkling.

Like all life crises, it starts out slow and subtle, like how waves recede from the shore before the towering wall of a tsunami emerges on the horizon. Suwon knew from the day they met that Sunghoon will not be another average person in his life; he just hadn’t been prepared for the sheer extent of that reality.

Sunghoon, in general, is a comfortable person to be with. That is something Suwon learns with relief during the earliest days of his training, when he is caught between Jiwon’s mercurial personality and Sunghoon’s consistent warmth.

Jiwon is a hot-and-cold force of nature; he takes his status as the eldest and leader seriously, but he is yet young himself and doesn’t exactly function on a long fuse. It takes time for him to learn to balance his fire, which toes that fine line between childlike and childish, with the deep affection he harbours for Sunghoon and comes to harbour for Suwon.

But until the day Jiwon reaches that point, Suwon is glad to have Sunghoon to turn to. Sunghoon, with his calm and sensibility, has enough patience to make up for Jiwon’s intensity. Suwon doesn’t exactly think of Jiwon as a devil but, in contrast, Sunghoon does feel like the angel that offsets their quicksilver leader.

He mentors Suwon through his vocal and breath-control lessons without complaint, pointing out every mistake the younger makes and teaching him how to improve. All of this he does with a gentle and welcoming nature that helps to solidify their working relationship into a real friendship. That is how those days of arduous training become the era when Suwon truly believes, if only temporarily, that all they really are to each other are good friends and compatible colleagues.

It’s also appreciated that Sunghoon makes a point of assuring Suwon that Jiwon actually does like him, contrary to how things may seem. Especially after Jiwon’s occasional outbursts when things go wrong during practice.

Suwon doesn’t really need Sunghoon to comfort him, though; he’s not the type to be easily fazed, especially since he’s figured out Jiwon enough to know that the leader is not truly angry with him, just stressed and frustrated. But still, it’s nice to have someone smile at him and tell him he’s not a complete tragedy.

‘You have a pleasant voice, you know,’ Sunghoon tells him at one point of their training.

The remark catches Suwon off guard. Praise for his voice is about the last thing he expected to hear.

‘It’s light and smooth. You just need more technique,’ Sunghoon continues when Suwon fails to reply. ‘We’ll get on that after we determine the range that works best for your singing.’

‘I … uh.’ Suwon stares at Sunghoon. For the first time since they became friends, the question he’s been avoiding is back, niggling at the back of his mind.

‘What?’ Sunghoon peers at him, his face open and earnest.

Suwon drops his gaze. ‘Nothing.’

He can’t say it; he can’t ask what it is that Sunghoon saw in him to choose him, to go through all this trouble of training him from square one. He is inadequate and he knows it, but he just can’t bring himself to ask.

What Suwon doesn’t realise at the time is that maybe, he is afraid of Sunghoon’s answer.

Instead, he steels himself to make good on his word to Jiwon and Sunghoon that he will do his best for the group. It’s the least he can do, to make himself worth Sunghoon’s efforts and Jiwon’s tolerance.

His resolve hardens even further when he sees for himself the limit of Sunghoon’s patience. It happens on the day they meet Kim Jaeduk in person. Suwon’s already been told that he is a dancer but, before he and Jiwon can verify it for themselves, Jaeduk introduces himself first and he does it in all of his loud, boisterous, Busan glory.

It’s shocking, honestly, that thinly veiled look of distaste on Sunghoon’s face when he hears Jaeduk’s rough dialect. Jiwon doesn’t voice any problems with it, instead running Jaeduk through his leader-to-minion drivel, but Suwon’s attention is diverted entirely to Sunghoon. His face is devoid of its usual warmth and he looks downright unhappy.

It is only out of Jaeduk’s earshot a little while later that Suwon hears Sunghoon groan to himself, ‘I don’t want to be in this group anymore.’

The words are tinged with bitterness and exasperation, and Suwon keeps his eyes averted from Sunghoon, pretending he didn’t hear anything. Kim Jaeduk is as friendly as they come and he is attractive in his own way; Suwon is certain that Sunghoon, as the secret in-charge of auditions, must have seen Jaeduk’s looks before he was picked – which means it’s not that Sunghoon finds Jaeduk too ugly for an idol group. He simply hates it that their new member speaks in a dialect.

Suwon doesn’t know how he feels about that. He’s never thought of Sunghoon as supercilious before, but now he suspects that he’s been painting his colleague as being made of purer stuff than he truly is.

The thought continues to bother him until the moment Sunghoon changes his mind about Jaeduk. The newcomer demonstrates his full prowess at dance, his body moving in ways that Suwon cannot ever picture himself mimicking. The movements are both razor sharp and as fluid as water, and when he finishes off with a flamboyant bow, Sunghoon looks genuinely impressed.

Suwon has a feeling that Sunghoon won’t let the dialect go – Jaeduk is very likely facing an immediate future of mastering the standard Seoul accent on top of vocal and dance training. Nonetheless, Suwon is immensely relieved to see that Sunghoon didn’t let something as trivial as a dialect drive him off.

Clearly Kang Sunghoon isn’t as perfect an angel as the first impression he makes – well, who is, really? – but he’s still fundamentally a warm person and Suwon cannot explain why he finds that so important.

It also makes him realise that he doesn’t ever want to see a day when Sunghoon would look at him and decide that Suwon is not worth it. Not worth the time and effort Sunghoon is investing in him; not worth their group.

So he takes it in stride when Sunghoon insists on extra vocal training and singing practice for Suwon. He doesn’t complain either when Jaeduk is assigned as his dance mentor, though after Lee Jaejin joins the team as a second main dancer, Suwon secretly wishes he could train under him instead. Jaejin, too, is a proud son of Busan and he is unapologetically blunt with his thoughts. But he has a strong grasp of the Seoul accent and a calm way of talking – unlike Jaeduk who doesn’t seem to realise that his fiery Busan-speak sounds more like he’s telling Suwon to go jump off a cliff than guiding him through tough dance moves.

But still, Suwon eventually gets used to the accent which, admittedly, is very interesting despite its coarseness. The dance lessons become fun after that, when Jaeduk’s amiable personality isn’t being wholly overshadowed by his dialect. Suwon is happier still when, every now and then, Sunghoon drops by and joins them, because his warm presence acts like a buffer to, well, everything.

As time goes by, everything else also falls into place. They all learn to get along, discovering each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, and coming to realise that they actually like them. With Ko Jiyong finally on board, tall and lanky and handsome, their group is finally complete and they are handled with their official name.

Sechskies. Six crystals. In freaking German.

Suwon never says it out loud, but it is simultaneously the coolest and lamest thing he’s heard. But hey, they are going up against the white fires of H.O.T which, as their agency never fails to remind them, are burning across every civilised corner of South Korea. They desperately need all the coolness they can flaunt.

That period of transition from training to debut is the stuff of nightmares. All of their energy is invested in practising the secretly despised lyrics of their debut song, mastering its strong choreography, and battling with nerves as they wonder whether people will accept them or not. Every moment of every day is so chaotic and turbulent that not even Suwon could have pinpointed anything unusual in the behaviour of any of the members.

Or just Sunghoon, rather.

It is only much later – after Sechskies make headlines as powerful rookies to rival H.O.T, and performances end for their debut song and first album – that Suwon notices that the metaphorical waves have long since receded from his shore and the tsunami he hadn’t paid attention to is right overhead.

As Sechskies make the leap to variety shows, the reality of Kang Sunghoon crashes down on Suwon with all the force of a seiche and he is as ill-prepared for it as a camel thrown into the middle of an ocean. It dawns on him that he has been receiving all the warning signs of this fate with Sunghoon since the very beginning – but he’d just had other more pressing things to care about, like launching a career.

But that particular evening, when Suwon finds himself trapped between the wall of an empty practice room and Kang Sunghoon, whose dark eyes are burning with a myriad of emotions that are anything but brotherly, Suwon belatedly thinks that he really, really should have paid more attention to the signs.

‘Sunghoon,’ he says, somehow able to project questioning naiveté into his unsteady voice. ‘Why – what’s going on?’

For all that Suwon is pretending not to pick up on the frankly predatory aura Sunghoon is giving off right now, it is still a sincere question. It is past eleven at night and Suwon had not been expecting to meet Sunghoon or any of the members at DSP headquarters. Sechskies had just ended filming a variety appearance over an hour ago; they have the day off tomorrow for the first time in months and the rest of the members couldn’t go home fast enough. Suwon, on the other hand, had come back to the agency, knowing that security would let him in and the practice rooms would be empty.

And they had been for a blessedly peaceful hour in which he’d practised Sechskies’ dance routines by himself – until Sunghoon appeared out of nowhere, materialising like a ghost over Suwon’s shoulder in the reflection of the huge mirrored wall. Suwon had nearly gone into cardiac arrest right then and there.

Sunghoon’s arrival is startling enough, but Suwon is even less prepared for the fervent look the older is giving him. He advances on Suwon until the younger is backed up right against the wall.

The unnerving position he is in sinks in only after his back hits the cool surface of the mirror; it occurs to Suwon then that he’s never, not once in his life, imagined being in this situation with another boy, let alone a boy who is his colleague, his friend … Sunghoon.

Suwon repeats his name when Sunghoon doesn’t answer immediately. He is in Suwon’s space, not quite touching him but close enough that Suwon can smell the faint musky smell of his cologne; can almost feel the heat of his body.

Or is that his own?

‘Hoonie,’ he tries again, slipping out the nickname without really thinking. The effect is immediate; Sunghoon’s eyes darken, his pupils dilating noticeably as he parts his lips, the tip of his tongue just visible as he drags it over his teeth.

His voice is low when he finally speaks, a quiet rumble that is unlike his usual tenor, ‘Why are you still practising at this time?’

He’s not only deflecting Suwon’s inquiry, but the nature of Sunghoon’s own question creates a jarring contrast with their not-very-innocent situation. It throws Suwon even more out of the loop and it takes him a moment to gather his thoughts.

‘It’s easier without people around,’ he mutters. ‘It helps me focus …’

He trails off, wondering how to explain that he can work better on improving his dancing without others around to judge him for his slip-ups. But then Sunghoon interrupts,

‘What I meant was, why are you still practising even though promotions ended? We’ve finished all the live performances.’

Suwon doesn’t understand why Sunghoon is asking this, but he answers truthfully, nevertheless, ‘Because I still need more practice than you or the hyungs. I actually made some mistakes in a few of the lives. They weren’t very noticeable, but I have to improve and so, well, yeah…’

Sunghoon doesn’t look surprised at his answer, like he’s already guessed it. ‘But why are you doing it alone? Why not ask Jaeduk hyung or Jaejin hyung for help?’

‘I can correct myself; I just need more practice. Besides, they must be tired. We’ve had activities nonstop for so long -‘

‘Aren’t you tired?’ Sunghoon asks quietly. ‘The lives are over and we’re doing variety now. You can afford to take a break before practising again, you know.’

‘I…’ Suwon swallows, staring at Sunghoon who is still too close, too intense. ‘I was afraid I might lose touch. I don’t want to forget the choreo…’

It had taken him a lot of practice to get down the moves of School Anthem and, especially, Pong Saeng Pom Sa. Suwon is afraid that if he goes even a few days without proper practice, his memory – both brain and muscle – may betray him.

‘You need rest, too,’ Sunghoon points out softly.

‘I will. I just thought I’d practise a bit tonight. Tomorrow’s off, so I can sleep in a bit. I’ll practise again in the evening.’ The words come out choppy and rambling, but Suwon can’t help it; not with the way Sunghoon is looking at him now.

‘Again? Suwon, you … you’re overdoing it. Why are you trying this hard?’

‘I promised, didn’t I? To you and Jiwon hyung. I promised I’d work hard not to let Sechskies down.’

For the first time that night, Sunghoon looks surprised. Jaw slackening, he stares at Suwon almost disbelievingly.

‘Jang Suwon,’ his voice is low, husky, ‘you’re really something else.’

Suwon doesn’t know how to reply to that and merely looks down, licking his lips. He is uncomfortably aware that he is still sweaty from dancing, his shirt sticking to his back where he is backed up against the mirrored wall.

The brush of fingers on his hips makes him jerk his head up, startled. He inhales sharply, eyes widening as he realises that Sunghoon is closer now, almost pressing against him.

Suwon opens his mouth and says Sunghoon’s name – or rather he means to but can’t. There is only silence as he freezes under Sunghoon’s eyes and touch, unable to look away from that dark gaze while his skin burns where Sunghoon is touching him over two layers of clothing.

They are almost the same height, Suwon realises, and the thought is abrupt and incongruous. If anything, Suwon is slightly taller and that surprises him; he feels like he’s been looking up to – and at – Sunghoon ever since they met.

The sharpening scent of Sunghoon’s cologne in his nostrils returns him to his senses, reminds him that he should be paying attention because – oh. Suwon can’t help his little gasp as he finds himself physically pushed up against the wall, Sunghoon’s hands heavy on his hips, his breath hot on his jaw and his heartbeat pounding against Suwon’s chest.

Or is that last one his own?

But that press of Sunghoon’s body flush against his is what finally snaps Suwon out of his daze. The entirety of his emotions in that instant – shock, disbelief and something else he’s never felt before – comes down on him like a suffocating wave and he scrambles simultaneously for escape and purchase.

His hands find Sunghoon’s shoulders, the only place he can grab at this proximity, and in his fluster, he half pushes and half pulls at them.

‘Su-Sunghoon-ah, wai -!’ The pressure is gone from his body before he can finish.

Suwon stares, breathing hard, at Sunghoon who is suddenly three feet away from him. Sunghoon’s eyes are wide, his pupils shaking, as are his hands now hanging limply by his sides. He balls his trembling fingers into fists.

‘I … I’m sorry, Suwon-ah,’ he breathes, looking down. His voice is layered with shock, like he cannot believe what he’s just done. ‘I … I never meant to – I shouldn’t have … I’m sorry.’

‘Sunghoon,’ Suwon begins cautiously, worry trickling into his bewilderment.

The look Sunghoon gives him, however, silences Suwon before he can ask.

Sunghoon sighs heavily, running a hand through his hair. Suwon thinks – or hopes? – that Sunghoon will say something along the lines of, ‘Forget it ever happened’, but he is surprised yet again when instead,

‘Please. Don’t push yourself too hard.’

Suwon gapes at him, at a loss for words.

‘You should rest,’ Sunghoon adds and then turns away with finality. He doesn’t look back as he stiffly walks out of the practice room.

A hollow, ringing silence falls in the room. Several seconds pass before the tension seeps out of Suwon and, with a sharp exhale, he sags against the wall. He stays like that for a long time.

When he finally gathers himself and prepares to leave – the thought of practising now a distant whisper in the back of his head – Suwon takes a moment to look at himself in the mirrored wall. A confused-looking teenager gazes back, his hair cut short and his jaw square and his face not plain per se but nothing special in Suwon’s opinion.

He looks at his reflection and thinks about the Sunghoon he has come to know over the months – Sunghoon who sings with a voice that befits the name of their group, Sunghoon whose soul is as warm and lovely as he looks, Sunghoon who revealed his brilliant smile the first time all six of them completed the routine for School Anthem without a single mistake.

And then he thinks about the Sunghoon he first saw – Sunghoon who looked at Suwon with cool eyes that left him feeling stripped and bare, Sunghoon who saw some mysterious quality in Suwon that no one else sees, Sunghoon who decided that Suwon is worth something and that he wanted him.

He thinks about all the different curves and edges of Kang Sunghoon he has seen and tries to put them together, seeking some explanation for the new Sunghoon he just witnessed only minutes ago. He recalls the way Sunghoon looked at him, touched him, and is wondering where that Sunghoon came from when, out of nowhere, it strikes him –

That Sunghoon has always been there, right under his nose.

Sunghoon, who gives more time to personally mentor Suwon’s singing than to any of the other members’ (without many agency-provided instructors on hand, Sunghoon is basically the trainer for everyone).

Sunghoon, who looks in on Jaeduk’s dance practices with Suwon and, more often than not, joins in (he doesn’t have to; he trains with Jaejin and is a better dancer than Suwon).

Sunghoon, who seeks Suwon out to comfort him after the younger receives a telling-off from their higher-ups or, in increasingly rare cases, Jiwon (the reassurances are unnecessary; he’s long since learnt that Suwon doesn’t take the harsh words to heart).

That Sunghoon – who speaks to Suwon with the intimacy of one who’s known him for years; who gives his undivided attention every time Suwon speaks; who smiles just a little brighter when he catches Suwon’s eye – has been there all along and Suwon has always, on some level, been aware.

But when the stress of training days took over, he’d carelessly brushed off Sunghoon’s attention as a natural coddling of the youngest who also happened to need the most help.

He’s been an idiot, basically.

And now Suwon is left with the disquieting reality that they are not just good friends and compatible colleagues like he’d assumed – not to Sunghoon, anyway. Nor can he attain that familiar if erroneous level of comfort with the other boy again.

As he leaves the room, Suwon can’t help but look back at the wall again. The memory of the look on Sunghoons’ face as he pushed Suwon up against it sends a small shiver down his spine. It hadn’t even occurred to him to ask why Sunghoon had come to the agency in the first place.

For a moment, he dares to wonder if Sunghoon would seek him out in a similar manner again. The very idea assaults him with feelings Suwon cannot get his head around and he quickly heads home, trying not to think about the future.

Later, he will find out that that particular worry is pointless. Sunghoon will not put him in any kind of physically compromising situation again anytime soon.

At least, not for the next three years.

~***~

Practising Jiyong’s lines for their comeback performances feels unsettling, Suwon finds. He wonders if that’s why Sunghoon refused to take on any himself, giving most of them to Suwon instead.

It’s an issue they’ve been skirting around for a long time. All five of them had nursed a tentative spark of hope that Jiyong would return to complete their group. That spark had ignited into a small flame when the production team of Infinity Challenge succeeded in tracking him down at last.

They started out together after all. They are a team of six. Sechskies. The thought of restarting differently doesn’t feel right.

However, deep down, Suwon – and, he suspects, the others too – has always known that that hope cannot be.

He understands, though. They all do. Jiyong has a family now, first and foremost, and a company he has worked hard for. He has spent sixteen years walking down a new path that he’s laid down painstakingly; it’s not something that can be given up to return to an old life.

Underneath it all is the unspoken fact that no one wants to go back to something they were desperate to leave. It is one topic they take care not to discuss in public, but it is the elephant in the room – Jiyong had wanted out from the industry.

They’d known about it even before their disbandment and respected it ever since. And so they quietly set about dividing Jiyong’s lines among themselves, at first for the convenience of holding smoother practice sessions, but then for real when Jiyong confirms with the Infinity Challenge team that he’s not returning to K-pop. They see it coming and they exchange bittersweet smiles among themselves when the cameras are off.

But Suwon is surprised and admittedly a bit pressured when Sunghoon, who’s taken charge of their singing parts, suggests that he fill in for nearly all of Jiyong’s lines.

‘Why’d you do that?’ he asks Sunghoon during a short break in their rehearsal. He keeps his voice low so that the other members won’t overhear him from where they’re discussing the set list for their comeback guerilla concert.

Sunghoon is resting on one of the folding chairs near the stereo system. He raises his eyebrows. ‘Why what?’

Sighing, Suwon settles down on the chair next to him. ‘Why are you giving most of Jiyong’s lines to me?’

His friend looks mildly surprised. ‘You don’t want more lines?’

‘That’s not what I’m saying…’ He frowns, trying to think of a diplomatic way to phrase his thoughts. He doesn’t want to sound like he’s complaining. ‘I think Jiwon hyung would do a good job; he has a really nice singing voice. Jaejin and Jaeduk hyung wouldn’t be bad, either.’

‘And you?’ Sunghoon asks, crocking an eyebrow. He leans back in the chair, crossing one leg over the other. ‘Are you saying you’d do a bad job? You’re a vocal.’

‘Sub vocal,’ he corrects automatically.

‘So?’

Suwon tries not to show frustration on his face. ‘So, why me? Why not the hyungs? Why not you? You’re the main.’

‘I didn’t think you’d complain about getting Jiyong’s lines,’ remarked Sunghoon, watching him with sharp eyes.

Suwon winces slightly. ‘I’m not … complaining.’

‘Then what? What’s the problem?’

Suwon leans back, spreading his legs out in front of him. Trying to convey his thoughts in a roundabout way is not really working out. Though, in truth, he’s never been that good at beating around the bush.

‘I’m not that great a singer, y’know,’ he says wryly.

A short moment of silence follows his frank declaration, punctuated only by the voices of the hyungs who, on the other side of the room, are arguing the pros and cons of adding Reckless Love to their Infinity Challenge comeback. Suwon watches them detachedly.

‘You’re an idiot if you think you’re that terrible at singing.’

The rejoinder is heated and sharp, uttered in that low voice Sunghoon uses when he’s vehement about something.

Before Suwon can reply or even turn back to him, Sunghoon continues, ‘You mightn’t have been all that good when we started out, but you can sing. You’ve a nice voice. Don’t tell me you don’t know for yourself how much you improved since our debut?’

Suwon frowns up at the ceiling. ‘I wasn’t under the impression that I got that good while we were together.’

‘I’m not talking only about before our disbandment.’ A distinct note of irritation creeps into Sunghoon’s voice. ‘I’m talking about J-Walk. You were damn good while you were collaborating with Jaeduk hyung, and you know that.’

Suwon stills at the expression on Sunghoon’s face. It’s not quite anger, but there is something bitter in the blazing look in his eyes.

In that moment, Suwon recalls the conversation he overheard between Sunghoon and Jiwon in the practice room days ago – the one he’d tried not to think about whenever he and Sunghoon are in the same room – and he flushes down to his neck.

The look Sunghoon is giving him also brings back a sudden memory of a night that came a few years after Sechskies disbanded. The night Suwon and Jaeduk had memorably stood on stage with Sunghoon again as they shared an award. They had been a duo and he a solo but fans had still been ecstatic at the sight of half of Sechskies together again, if only for a minute.

Above all that, it was the first time Suwon met Sunghoon in person ever since their group quit, and he still remembers how Sunghoon had looked at them that night. He’d smiled brilliantly for the audience as they accepted their awards and later embraced Jaeduk and Suwon backstage. However, once the cameras and staff were finally out of their faces and Jaeduk momentarily gone, Suwon had seen the sadness in him. Sunghoon hadn’t tried to hide it when their eyes met; he’s never bothered with subtlety around Suwon.

That sorrow had turned bitter when Jaeduk returned to Suwon’s side.

Some of that sadness that night might have been for the Sechskies they once were. But that bitterness was solely for Suwon and Sunghoon himself. Of that Suwon was absolutely certain, especially when he remembered what had happened the night they disbanded. The whole situation had made him feel so out of his depth that Suwon had thought, as happy as he was to meet Sunghoon once more despite everything, it might be for the better if they didn’t see each other again.

The look Sunghoon is giving him now is the same but fiercer and Suwon falters under its weight. He’s known since their reunion that Sunghoon still has those feelings, and the conversation he overheard between Sunghoon and Jiwon only cemented that knowledge.

And yet, just like before, they’re at an impasse. There are times when they can just be great friends and colleagues; but then there are the times when Sunghoon’s unsubtle inclinations overshadow their friendship – though he still hasn’t come right out and actually said anything – which leaves Suwon with two options.

Address the issue himself. Or leave the issue alone.

He’s been going, guiltily, with option number two for years.

Because going with the first option ultimately comes down to either telling Sunghoon to wrap up his feelings and just stop, or … or to kiss Sunghoon and – kiss Sunghoon. Kiss Sunghoon every day until they’re both old and grey, holding wrinkled hands together, and even after that.

His throat closes up and he has to look away from Sunghoon’s piercing gaze. Twenty years ago, the old Suwon, if ever he had decided to address the issue, might have told Sunghoon that there was no chance of them ever happening. But the Suwon from the night they disbanded – the Suwon he is now – knows intimately well that the decision is not that clear-cut.

He is very aware that the other choice is very valid, on the table and … possibly even welcome.

Sunghoon speaks his name then, his voice low and heavy, and Suwon tries not to think about rough fingers in his hair and warm lips against his own.

He knows how Sunghoon kisses.

‘What are you guys talking about?’

Suwon starts when Jiwon’s voice intrudes on his thoughts. The leader has wandered over and is standing over the two of them, wiping his face with a small towel. He appears cheerful but Suwon doesn’t think he is misreading the suspicion in the swift look Jiwon shoots between them.

‘Jiyong’s lines,’ Sunghoon answers smoothly. Suwon almost smiles at his familiar brazen way of breezing over Jiwon’s questions.

‘Ah yeah,’ Jiwon frowns slightly. ‘We suspected it’d turn out like this, but it’s still tough, huh.’ He turns expectantly to Suwon. ‘How’s it going with Jiyong’s parts?’

Suwon hesitates, now recalling the original topic of discussion that had brought him to Sunghoon (before his train of thought was utterly wrecked). Sunghoon looks expressionlessly at him.

‘… I’ll do it.’

‘Eh?’ Jiwon lowers the towel, confused.

Sunghoon, however, begins to smile.

‘I’ll fill in for Jiyong,’ Suwon says in a stronger voice, aware that he’s not really answering Jiwon’s question. He watches Sunghoon’s smile grow. ‘It’s not easy, but I’ll do my best.’

Jiwon lightly smacks him on the shoulder and mock-complains about his cryptic reply. Sunghoon just leans back in his seat again, looking pleased. Suwon just barely catches his softly spoken words,

‘You always do.’

They don’t speak much after that, lapsing into a silence that would be more comfortable if not for Jiwon choosing to sit down on the floor right between the two younger men. He casually waves away Sunghoon’s suggestion to bring another chair and Suwon’s offer of his own seat, but Suwon thinks he knows why Jiwon chose that particular spot.

It’s a relief when Jaejin and Jaeduk finally yell at them to get back to practice.

~***~

Jiyong is the first to notice the tension between Sunghoon and Suwon. It only takes him a few months after their debut.

To Suwon’s knowledge, he is also the only member who’s noticed it. It will take twenty years for Suwon to find out that Jiwon hyung also comes to know, but perhaps being ignorant of that for now is a blessing. Because dealing with Jiyong catching on to the truth is stressful enough.

In retrospect, it’s not all that surprising that Jiyong finds out. If Suwon really thinks about it, it’s actually more surprising that the rest of the members don’t – because the thing with Sunghoon is that, while he’s not verbally explicit about his inclinations towards Suwon, he’s not exactly subtle about the whole thing either.

After that first incident in the practice room, Sunghoon doesn’t touch him inappropriately again. They never talk about what happened that night and, in public and during shoots, Sunghoon maintains a certain amount of distance with Suwon; close enough that it’s not awkward, but far enough that attention is never drawn solely to the two of them.

In private, Sunghoon strikes up the old familiarity and closeness that developed between them during their training. He smiles, he talks, he laughs and, at the best of times, it feels normal and natural and good that Suwon doesn’t feel any unease around him. Sunghoon is warm and comfortable to be with and Suwon feels warm and comfortable being with him.

But in private, out of the limelight and away from the eyes of strangers, there also come the times when Sunghoon unveils that part of him he carefully conceals from the public. The part that jolts Suwon out of his cocoon of comfort and reminds him that things aren’t that simple.

It may happen during a conversation, in the middle of dance rehearsal, inside the recording studio, while they’re eating, in the van riding back home after schedules, or even if they’re doing nothing at all. Suwon can’t anticipate it and Sunghoon never seems overly concerned about when or how he betrays himself.

Such as during conversations, when Sunghoon would archly make a comment at Suwon, seemingly innocuous but with a clear undertone that makes Suwon’s breath hitch. Or in the middle of dance rehearsals, when Sunghoon would unnecessarily join Suwon for extra practice with Jaeduk, smiling with quiet pride as Suwon improves or corrects a mistake. Inside the recording studio, when Sunghoon would catch Suwon’s eye as he sings sweet love songs into the microphone and boldly holds his gaze even as they both blush. While they’re eating, when Sunghoon’s eyes would dip to Suwon’s mouth and linger there, momentarily forgetting his food even as his ramen becomes soggy. Or in the van to and from schedules, when Suwon would doze off and Sunghoon guides his head to lie on his shoulder until the younger wakes up.

And sometimes, even if they’re doing nothing at all, Suwon would catch Sunghoon watching him, a tender curve to his lips and his eyes soft and infinitely fond.

So no, Sunghoon is not verbally forthright about his feelings, but he makes little other effort to hide them.

Which is why it shouldn’t be all that shocking when Jiyong finally lets Suwon know that he’s on to them. But Suwon nearly suffers a silent meltdown anyway. One part of him breaks down in fear – what will happen to him now? To Sunghoon? – while the other heaves a large mental sigh of relief; he no longer has to keep up his endless pretence of being oblivious to Sunghoon all the freaking time.

Jiyong is diplomatic in his approach. He hangs back with Suwon after practising the songs for their next album one day, grabbing the opportunity to ask, ‘Are things OK between you and Sunghoon?’

Suwon blinks. ‘Yes?’

Jiyong furrows his brows, disbelieving. ‘Something is … off, isn’t it?’

‘Off?’ repeats Suwon cautiously. ‘Like what? We’re OK, really. We’re not fighting.’

‘I didn’t say you were fighting.’

‘Then what? We’re friends.’

Jiyong bites his lip. ‘Only just friends?’

Comprehension dawns on Suwon like a bucket of cold water doused on him. ‘I … I … you – what?’

Jiyong comes closer then, lowering his voice though it’s just the two of them in the vocal training room. ‘You’ve noticed it too, right?’ He pauses, looking uncomfortable. ‘Sunghoonie – he … he doesn’t … he doesn’t look at you how … a normal friend would.’

Silence follows his words for a long minute. Suwon can’t meet his eyes, his pulse racing.

‘Suwonnie?’ Jiyong shifts from one foot to the other. ‘Didn’t yo –’

‘Yes, I noticed,’ he breathes. ‘I know.’ He looks anxiously up at Jiyong. ‘Please don’t tell anyone else.’

‘Of course not.’

‘Did you … you didn’t ask Sunghoon about it, did you?’

‘I don’t have to.’ Jiyong heaves a sigh. ‘I know him well enough. Since we were –’

‘- in primary school together,’ Suwon finishes with a faint smile. ‘You’ve only mentioned it sixty two times.’

‘Sorry.’ The amusement is momentary and Jiyong looks concerned again. ‘I was going to leave it alone since it’s none of my business, but, um, I’m worried.’

‘About?’

‘You.’

‘Why me?’

‘Because …’ Jiyong frowns, crossing his arms. ‘When I realised that Sunghoon likes you’ – He doesn’t notice how Suwon stills at hearing those words properly spoken for the first time – ‘I couldn’t help paying more attention and … I noticed that Sunghoon makes you … anxious.’

Suwon feels like laughing and crying at the same time. ‘Am I?’ he half chuckles, massaging the back of his neck.

‘You can talk to me, Suwonnie. You know that.’

‘I don’t know if it makes me anxious,’ he says slowly, ‘but I can’t ignore it.’ He waves an arm limply in the air. ‘It’s like I’m always … aware of it. Sunghoon.’

‘… Are you uncomfortable around Sunghoon now?’

That is trickier to answer. Suwon ponders on it for a long moment.

‘Not always,’ he admits at last. ‘You know Sunghoon; he’s nicer than most people. I meant it when I said we’re friends. He’s great to hang out with and I like his company…’

‘But?’ prompts Jiyong, perceptively catching on to the words Suwon is holding back.

‘But … then he’d do some little thing and I just – I remember that I’m not,’ Suwon turns red, ‘… just a friend. Not to Sunghoon. And I pretend that I don’t notice but inside, I can’t ignore it. It’s always on my mind.’

‘Do you want to ignore Sunghoon?’ asks Jiyong, almost hushed.

Suwon doesn’t even have to think. ‘No!’ He blurts and he’s surprised to realise that he means it wholeheartedly. Despite the awkwardness that comes between them, Suwon doesn’t want to avoid Sunghoon.

Because Sunghoon is … There’s no real explanation. He’s a good person and a great friend and, when things are easy and simple, Suwon genuinely enjoys being with him.

He’s not someone Suwon wants to lose.

‘We’re friends,’ he repeats lamely.

‘So it’s not like you don’t like him or anything.’

‘I … think that’s a universal law that applies in friendships,’ Suwon says wryly, with a wan smile at his weak joke.

Jiyong doesn’t smile back. ‘If you’ve known about it all along,’ he says quietly, ‘why haven’t you said anything to him?’

Suwon goes very still, his thoughts jumping in a thousand different directions.

‘He’s never asked me…’ he says, almost in a whisper.

‘If he ever did, what would you say?’

Suwon swallows. ‘I … I don’t know, Jiyongie.’

‘You don’t know what you want?’ Jiyong says sharply. His expression softens immediately. ‘I … no. I’m sorry. It’s just I’m afraid you both might get hurt if this drags out. Sunghoon’s a very good friend of mine and now you’re too, and -‘

‘I know. It’s OK. But I’m being honest, Jiyong. I really don’t know.’

‘Hasn’t it ever crossed your mind, though?’ Jiyong murmurs. ‘What you’d do if Sunghoon did ask?’

It’s the question that haunts him, in his waking hours when he sees Sunghoon’s unspoken desires, and in his dreams when he remembers Sunghoon’s touch. And it’s the question he can’t answer because both choices lead down roads he can’t handle – losing Sunghoon as his friend if he says no, or … being with Sunghoon, being with Sunghoon, in a relationship he can’t wrap his mind around.

He looks away from Jiyong’s worried gaze.

‘What do you think?’ he asks instead. ‘About all this?’

‘Truthfully…’ Underlying the concern in Jiyong’s voice is sadness. ‘I think it’s unfortunate.’

Suwon raises his eyebrows, eyes widening.

‘Because nothing matches up right now,’ Jiyong explains. ‘Our situation, the timing – everything is wrong. We’ve debuted; we’re not private citizens anymore and we can’t damage our public image. And being Sechskies and with all the schedules we have, it’s all messed up. We don’t have time for ourselves anymore. I think that’s partly why Sunghoon doesn’t say anything. It’s not only him that’ll be affected if anything goes wrong…’

Huh. Suwon bites his lips, contemplating. He’s never thought of it that way. Caught up as he’s been with his awareness of Sunghoon, he hasn’t actually stopped to think about how outside factors may be what’s keeping Sunghoon silent.

He tries to imagine word getting out that two members of Sechskies are involved with each other; he tries to picture how the public would react. Goosebumps rise up his arms and he clenches his fists.

It would destroy them.

‘Also,’ Jiyong suddenly adds, his mouth turning down. ‘You’re both guys.’

Suwon looks up so fast he almost hurts his neck. ‘Uh…’

‘Obviously Sunghoon would hold back even more because of that. I mean, not only does he not know if you like him, he also doesn’t know if you could ever like him. You know?’

He hasn’t thought of that either. It’s never fully factored in that Kang Sunghoon, a guy, has feelings for him. For Suwon it’s always been just Sunghoon having feelings for him.

‘Yeah,’ he says at last, his voice low. ‘I get it.’

Jiyong hesitates, a visible struggle on his face. ‘Suwonnie …’ His tone is careful. ‘I know you’ve had a girlfriend before. But … you’re also saying you don’t know what you want with Sunghoon. Does that mean … you might like him? Possibly?’

In the cacophony of thoughts that go off in Suwon’s head, the answer to that question may have been there. But Suwon can’t grasp it and his voice shakes as he breathes, ‘I’ve no idea, Jiyongie. I like him as my friend. I just don’t know if …’

He can’t finish. He knows he’s not immune to the non-platonic part of Sunghoon; he’s aware that he grows nervous around him, that his heart quickens when Sunghoon gives him one of those loaded looks or that he blushes when Sunghoon makes nonchalant remarks that aren’t entirely innocent.

But that and an actual relationship are two very different things.

Above all that is the primary fact that Sunghoon has not confessed anything to Suwon.

‘OK. I won’t ask any more.’ Jiyong unfolds his arms to wipe a hand through his hair. ‘It’s up to you guys in the end, but …’ He exhales loudly. ‘Well, who knows what’ll happen in the future? I just don’t want you to end up hurt. Either of you.’

Suwon doesn’t reply. He wants the same, but he can’t get rid of the thought that there is no guarantee that either of them will escape unscathed.

A/N: A couple of reference points:

– Sechskies were first called Magma, before a producer saved them from that hell. But I didn’t bother adding that detail

– The award mentioned here, which Sunghoon won with J-Walk after Sechskies disbanded, was the 2002 SBS Gayo Daejeon Popularity Award

– I’m basing Jiyong’s personality on what little I’ve seen of him on Infinity Challenge and tumblr tidbits about his time in Sechskies. I don’t know much about him except that he was mature and a bit shy with a side of mischief in Sechskies ^_^ Also Suwon said in the old days that he’s closest to Sunghoon and Jiyong – much to Jiwon’s chagrin (“What, are you saying we’re not close then?!” XD). So that’s the basis I’m using to make up the rest XD.

Head on over to the trashier second part of this chapter 😀

Unspoken – Part 2

The last few days before filming their comeback on Infinity Challenge whirl by in a blur of endless singing, dancing and nerves that feel almost worse than their debut. Amidst the chaos, Suwon practises Jiyong’s parts day and night by himself, trying to belt them out with the same confidence he feels for his own lines. It’s difficult and stressful but, at last, he nails it.

The first time he gets through their set list without a single mistake or missed cue, Jaeduk praises him loudly, Jaejin gives him a quiet thumbs-up, Jiwon looks like the proud grandpa he’ll never admit he is, and Sunghoon looks so satisfied that Suwon can’t hide his embarrassment.

His reddening face makes Sunghoon laugh. ‘And you were worried about filling in for Jiyong,’ he says teasingly as he approaches the younger man while the rest of the members and their staff prepare to leave for the day.

Suwon runs a hand through his dishevelled hair. ‘I still am.’

‘You shouldn’t be,’ says Sunghoon with conviction. ‘You don’t give yourself enough credit.’ When Suwon doesn’t respond, he adds, ‘I wish you would. I knew from the start you’d be able to do it.’

‘I only got it right ’cause I tried too hard,’ Suwon murmurs for lack of anything else to say.

Sunghoon stares at him, inscrutable. The silence is a strange mix of familiarity and tension, and Suwon continues, just to break the quiet, ‘Sorry, did I sound like an audacious asshole just now?’

He expects Sunghoon to smile at the joke, but he doesn’t. A bit flustered, Suwon carries on, ‘I mean I get it. I’m not that competitive and Jiwon hyung’s never stopped nagging me about how I just can’t be bothered to care about things, especially when he drags me on variety shows with him, but I -‘

‘But you work hard for Sechskies.’

Suwon trails off, taken aback.

‘That’s how I knew you could take over Jiyong’s parts. You always try that hard.’

Sunghoon’s gaze is heavy and his voice soft and his last remark hits Suwon with the strangest feeling of déjà vu. It brings to mind images of harsh electric lights and mirrored walls, the distant blare of a stereo in an empty practice room, hot breath on his lips and a pounding heartbeat pressed against his own…

“Why are you trying this hard?”

Suwon exhales at the memory. He stares at Sunghoon, aware that his face is colouring again, but Sunghoon says nothing else on the topic. When they resume rehearsals again the next day, Suwon keeps on practising the songs. He doesn’t stop even long after he’s memorised Jiyong’s parts enough to not even need cues.

Because Suwon is determined that everything from his side, for the stage that they’ve been preparing for so long, must and will be perfect.

When that long anticipated and dreaded day finally arrives, their comeback truly is, all things considered, as close to perfection as it possibly can be. They’re standing on stage as Sechskies again – a dream that once felt as distant as the stars – and … they’re not alone, they haven’t been abandoned. The bright sea of yellow that welcomes them is stunning and they’re overwhelmed by the sight they’d once thought they wouldn’t see again. They sing, they dance, and they cry and their fans – fans that have grown up like them, fans that have been waiting years to don the old yellow raincoats and wave yellow balloons again – sing and chant and cry too.

And at the very end, when their weeping audience is shocked by a smiling Ko Jiyong who joins them onstage for the final two performances, everything is perfect. It’s not forever, but it’s perfect and it’s enough.

To have one last night together as all six, to see Jiyong introduce himself as Sechskies with them, to provide closure to their faithful fans who all know this moment won’t last … it’s enough.

Suwon had been stunned and a little choked up himself when Jiyong shyly entered the Infinity Challenge filming scene earlier, surprising the members and their hosts right before the concert. The members’ happiness and astonishment at Jiyong’s last-minute arrival are matched only by the emotional response of their fans, whose voices reach a deafening crescendo as the last notes of Couple fade away.

When they gather together for the final bow and Jiwon flings his arm around Jiyong’s shoulders, crushing their long lost member to his side, Suwon looks around and tries to commit every detail to memory.

Jiyong is here, their fans are here, they’re Sechskies again and Suwon belongs.

Which is why when it’s all over, the post-concert interview for Infinity Challenge done with and the cameras gone, Suwon has absolutely no room for shame when his tears finally fall in the privacy of their changing room.

He’s not the only one. Jaeduk drops into a chair and weeps into his hands while Jaejin strips out of his costume with his face hidden. Across from Suwon, Jiwon is brusquely wiping away every tear that dares to fall as he wrestles with his strange arm gauntlets. Sunghoon just braces his palms on a vanity table, staring at his reflection with red eyes.

It is a delicate moment, charged with overflowing emotion and yet soft around the edges with a warm tranquillity.

The moment ends when Jiyong, with a soft knock, opens the door. Quite a lot of the awkwardness between them has dissipated since the concert and interview, but now he hesitates on the threshold, his smile tentative.

Before Jiyong can even open his mouth, Jiwon says, ‘Just come in, you,’ and pulls him inside by the wrist. He does it so naturally, like there isn’t a void spanning sixteen years of no contact between them, that Suwon feels a little punch drunk at the sight of it.

Jiwon plonks Jiyong down on the chair next to Suwon. He gives him a long, appraising look.

‘How the hell do you still look so disgustingly good, huh?’

The icebreaker works, prompting laughter out of everyone while Jiyong grins, his cheeks flushing red.

‘It’s just his suit, hyung,’ Suwon quips, unable to resist the chance to tease his old friend. He blames Jiwon’s influence. ‘Put him in size-forty hip-hop pants and he’d look as horrible as us. Not even being the visual could’ve saved him from the horror of the nineties’.’

‘Thanks, Suwon-ah,’ Jiyong finally speaks, eyes crinkled in a smile. ‘I see you still haven’t lost that tongue of yours.’

‘He’s gotten worse over the years,’ says Jaeduk, who’s finally stopped crying altogether.

‘Well, what can you expect,’ adds Jiwon with a huff. ‘Speaking shit about everyone is his one God-given talent.’

‘So you can’t begrudge me for flaunting my one talent,’ Suwon chuckles. He quickly leans back in his chair when Jiwon pretends to smack him.

‘Oh, there’s more to Suwon than that,’ Sunghoon speaks up, ‘but Jaejin hyung’s been giving him a serious run for his money lately.’ Smiling, he nods his head towards Jaejin, who is wrestling to pull on a tee shirt.

At being addressed, Jaejin pauses and gives an awkward wave to Jiyong with one arm stuck halfway through a sleeve. ‘Hello, Jiyongie.’

‘Hello, Jaejin hyung,’ Jiyong returns with an amused smile, but his voice is drowned out by Jiwon yelling at Jaejin, ‘Man, what, you hadn’t greeted Jiyong still? Get with the times, idiot!’

‘I hugged him on stage. At the end.’ Jaejin says with a shrug, finally succeeding in pulling on the shirt.

‘That’s not a greeting,’ Jiwon retorts.

‘Hugs between men are considered a formal greeting in Saudi Arabia.’

‘Since when were you an expert on Saudi Arabian greetings?!’

‘I thought they just shook hands in Saudi Arabia,’ Jaeduk adds, looking puzzled.

Jiyong starts to laugh then, low but genuine. ‘Nothing’s really changed, has it,’ he comments, mostly to Suwon and Sunghoon since their hyungs are hurtling down their new spiral of what constitutes as a greeting in the Persian Gulf.

‘Nothing except gaining a few more wrinkles. And creaky bones,’ Suwon grins.

‘You haven’t changed much, either,’ says Sunghoon to Jiyong, approaching the two younger men to be heard over the squabble of the older members (‘Kissing is also considered a greeting in some countries, why don’t you go and smooch Jiyongie, huh?’)

Jiyong raises his eyebrows at the remark, lips twitching. ‘I think I should be saying that to you, Sunghoon-ah?’

Sunghoon laughs, throwing his head back. ‘Now where have I heard that before?’ he muses, throwing a fond smile at Suwon.

Suwon shrugs nonchalantly. ‘Well, it’s true. At least Jiyongie and I have the decency to look our age.’

‘You realise that’s not an insult to me at all?’

‘It wasn’t meant to be.’

‘Not true. He just called you indecent,’ Jiyong tells Sunghoon in a mock-serious voice, which takes Suwon by mild surprise. It reminds him, more strongly than ever, of times bygone when they’d all gather and have japing conversations like these.

Sunghoon gives a loud, dramatic sigh. ‘Yeah. Clearly I’m not an exception to Suwon’s shit-talking either. And here I thought I was special.’

‘I don’t play favourites,’ Suwon shoot backs, playing along.

‘Lies. You once said on a show that me and Jiyong are the members you’re close with,’ Sunghoon counters, grinning broadly. ‘So, according to you, I count as one of your favourites.’

‘Oh, I think I remember that,’ Jiyong chuckles. ‘Wasn’t Jiwon hyung sitting right next to Suwonnie when he said that? He started whining at Suwon right then and there.’

‘As if Jang Suwon would ever care if his leader threw a tantrum on camera.’ Sunghoon spares an amused glance at Jiwon who is still debating heatedly with Jaejin and Jaeduk.

‘You know me, I can’t be bothered,’ Suwon replies lazily, crossing his arms. ‘Not my fault if people can’t handle me speaking the truth.’

Sunghoon gives him a calculating look at that while Jiyong stifles what sounds like a snort. ‘You’re closer with Jiwon hyung than before though,’ the former points out.

‘We grew close over time.’

‘So your truth has changed over time,’ Sunghoon states, smirking in that oddly sweet way only he can pull off.

Suwon can practically feel Jiyong’s amusement wash over him at the sudden turn of tables. ‘I … yeah, I guess,’ Suwon ventures cautiously.

‘So what’s the truth now? Am I no longer a favourite?’ Sunghoon pulls on a pout, his eyes twinkling. ‘Is that why you talk shit about me now?’

It’s hard to keep a straight face but Suwon manages. ‘You really want to hear the truth?’

Sunghoon is also struggling to look serious as he nods, but he can’t hide the curl of his lips.

‘The horrible, ugly, naked truth is … I grew close with all the hyungs in time, and so both of you dear same-age once-special friends of mine became obsolete.’

Jiyong chortles while Sunghoon gives Suwon an exaggerated expression of crippling sorrow.

‘You and your poisonous tongue,’ Jiyong shakes his head. ‘Jaeduk hyung’s right, it’s gotten worse.’

‘He can instigate wars between countries by himself,’ Sunghoon agrees.

Suwon bursts out laughing. ‘I think that’s Jaejin hyung, though. Unlike him, I actually have a working filter.’

‘You just called us obsolete.’

‘Why should I filter that out?’ Suwon asks innocently while Jiyong laughs harder.

‘To not hurt others’ feelings? Like a decent human being?’ Sunghoon raises a sardonic eyebrow.

‘The way I see it, true indecency is leading people on by pretending to like them when you don’t.’

‘… Ah.’ There’s a pause. ‘So you don’t like me, huh.’

‘Not as much as you’d hope.’ Suwon grins playfully at Jiyong. His smile fades a bit when he sees that Jiyong suddenly looks uneasy, his eyebrows furrowed.

‘You break my heart, Suwonnie.’

‘Don’t I always -‘ Suwon stops talking, abruptly catching on to the situation. It dawns on him that he, in his enjoyment of their nostalgic snarking, has taken his comebacks at Sunghoon down the wrong road without giving a damn thought to what he’s actually saying.

Jiyong is gazing at Sunghoon, his expression uncomfortable but knowing. Suwon’s heart sinks.

He turns to Sunghoon and immediately wishes he could rewind their conversation. Sunghoon is still wearing a smile, but it is weary and strained around the edges; he meets Suwon’s eyes briefly before he straightens, looking nonchalantly round at their older members whose argument finally seems to be winding down.

Suwon sits rigidly, feeling guilt and reproach eating away at his insides. He’s hit below the belt, he knows. “True indecency is leading people on by pretending to like them when you don’t”? He wants to punch himself in the face.

He had said that – and the rest – in jest. Sunghoon must know that. Suwon is sure that Sunghoon knows that … but he also knows – should’ve known – that, whether a joke or not, a tactless comment like that from him would’ve cut Sunghoon deep.

He feels stupid and wretched, and he wishes … he wishes for quite a lot of things. He wishes he could take those words back. He wishes he knew what to say to make things right. He wishes they could return to being friends, true and proper.

A thought parallel to that also wishes that Sunghoon would lose that dullness in his eyes and look at Suwon again, smiling.

And somewhere deep inside, in a dark guilty part of him, there is a hushed whisper that wishes that he were blind … blind to Sunghoon and everything he wants from Suwon. Wants but never says.

‘So have you decided? About how they greet people in other countries?’ Sunghoon is saying suddenly and Suwon looks up to see that Jiwon, Jaejin and Jaeduk are finally gathered by the younger three.

‘The only conclusion is that Lee Jaejin is not from this world and it’s pointless to attempt to communicate with him,’ Jiwon grunts, coming round to perch on the arm of Suwon’s chair.

‘Hyung is just upset because I made him Google it and he found out I was right about -‘ Jaejin begins but is cut off by their leader.

‘Half-right! There was more to it on the website, but guess what, it doesn’t even matter because Lee Jaejin might be an alien but we’re Koreans here and we do Korean greetings -‘

‘Just ignore it,’ Jaeduk sighs. ‘I regret getting involved. Also, sorry about that, Jiyong-ah. We meant to properly catch up with you, but…’

‘It’s alright, hyung,’ Jiyong smiles. ‘Actually, seeing you hyungs like that was … nostalgic.’

‘I bet,’ Jiwon snorts. ‘You guys were having a ball, too. The three members of WhiteKies together at last, eh.’ He grins in turn at Sunghoon, Suwon and Jiyong.

‘Well, our ball wasn’t as, er, passionate as yours,’ Sunghoon says amusedly. ‘We just talked.’

‘So did we!’

‘If you call that talking, I never want to hear the BlackKies shout,’ Suwon says dryly.

Jiwon promptly smacks him on the head, growling ‘Punk’ under his breath. Amidst the round of laughter it elicits, Suwon can feel the atmosphere in the room returning to normal. Sunghoon is cheerful again and Jiyong looks at ease; for now, things are alright again. So Suwon smiles too, and settles into the easy banter and conversation that come as they enjoy, for that night at least, the joy and nostalgia of being six once more.

As time ticks away unbeknownst to them, they talk about their comeback guerrilla stage and the fans they’d been terrified to hope would actually show up, finally putting into words the emotions they couldn’t articulate on stage. They ask after Jiyong and where his new life has led him, giggling and exclaiming over pictures of his son and wife. And they speak of future plans and dream more dreams until a staff member finally shows up and tells them, almost pleading, that they really have to leave the changing room now.

As they exit the venue, five in casual clothes and one in a suit, Suwon doesn’t feel like they’re just Sechskies again, but the group of friends they used to be, years and years ago.

It’s a feeling he’s missed and doesn’t want to miss again.

It won’t be the same as before, Suwon knows, but it’s still good. Phone numbers are exchanged, and it’s a relief to see Jiyong’s name in the online chat group they create for the six of them. A group just for friends, not for work. It’s nice.

They start talking with Jiyong mostly in the group itself, keeping things impersonal by involving all the members. They’re all busy, the five of them with Sechskies’ activities and Jiyong with his own work. But they still find moments to have little conversations here and there, keeping each other posted on big things and little things, with the occasional cat video and pictures of food flooding the chat.

It’s not that long before it becomes comfortable to talk one-on-one with Jiyong again, outside of the group chat. For Suwon it’s only occasional, but he and Jiyong exchange light-hearted messages, getting back into the groove of their old friendship. It’s familiar and new at the same time.

Suwon doesn’t know what Jiyong talks about with other members privately – if any of them do talk to him outside of the group chat, that is – but now and then, he asks Suwon about the members. Curious and thoughtful questions about what they’re like now, the things that have changed, what hasn’t changed…

Suwon can understand the inquisitiveness. He also figures that Jiyong is comfortable asking him since they’re the closest in age, on top of their old closeness.

Their talks are surprisingly easy despite the long years of no contact. Jiyong’s questions and comments aren’t overly personal and Suwon enjoys their chats until, a few weeks after their Infinity Challenge comeback is broadcasted, Jiyong breaches a subject Suwon is not expecting.

Ko Jiyong | 23:29
Are you free right now? Or doing a late schedule?
Suwon sees the message when he checks his phone after getting into bed.
Jang Suwon | 23:37
Does your wife know you chat up other men while she’s sleeping?
Ko Jiyong | 23:39
What the … typical
I’m not even going to bother
I assume you’re free
Jang Suwon | 23:42
If you’re thinking of meeting up for drinks – NO
I have work tomorrow
And I’ve been dragged out at ungodly hours enough times by Jiwon hyung
Ko Jiyong | 23:44
Don’t worry, drinks another time hehe..
I just have something I’ve wanted to ask you for a while
Jang Suwon | 23:45
OK….
Ko Jiyong | 23:45
I wasn’t sure earlier
I mean I didn’t think it was my place
Jang Suwon | 23:46
If you’re taking that long to ask, I’m going to sleep
Ko Jiyong | 23:47
Did you speak to Sunghoon about that again? Afterwards I mean?

Suwon blinks at his phone screen, his drowsy mind suddenly alert. Before he can reply, Jiyong sends another message,

Ko Jiyong | 23:48
He seemed upset that day
So did you
I was concerned but it didn’t feel right to say anything then..
Jang Suwon | 23:49
What are you talking about?
Ko Jiyong | 23:51
You know what
That night when the three of us were talking…
Did you speak to Sunghoon about it again later?

Suwon doesn’t reply for a minute. He remembers, vividly, Sunghoon’s reaction when Suwon had unthinkingly taken his banter too far.

“So you don’t like me, huh.”

“Not as much as you’d hope.”

He sighs heavily, squeezing his eyes shut until his phone pings again.

Ko Jiyong | 23:53
Suwonnie? You there?
I’m sorry if I’m prying..
Jang Suwon | 23:53
No I haven’t spoken to him
About that
Ko Jiyong | 23:54
Ah..

Suwon hovers his thumbs over his phone’s touch screen. He’s torn and doesn’t know how to explain it to Jiyong; that he wants to apologise for hurting Sunghoon, but doing so would mean admitting that he’s aware of Sunghoon’s enduring feelings.

And that is a Pandora’s Box he’s not sure he should open.

Ko Jiyong | 23:56
I was really surprised
I didn’t think that would’ve been the same after all this time …. It’s been so long..
Jang Suwon | 23:57
That?

Suwon regrets his response the moment he presses send. He braces himself for Jiyong’s reply, but it still knocks the breath out of him, setting his pulse racing in the darkness of his room as he reads,

Ko Jiyong | 23:58
Sunghoon is still in love with you.. right?

~***~

Three years feel like half a lifetime.

When he will later think back on those days, Suwon won’t be able to comprehend how they were able to hold on for even that long. Even now at just twenty, he feels like he’s been living like a dead man walking and he doesn’t remember what being rested and healthy feel like anymore. Looking at the other members, he sees the same thing.

They’ve been wrung beyond what they can give, by people who don’t really care as long as cash keeps flowing in. It’s the breaking point now. It’s a terrible reality to face, but it’s unavoidable.

They can’t go on anymore.

Jiyong is the first to burn out. As the harsh reality of agency-powered idol life drowns them, he admits at last that it’s not an industry he wants to pursue. The other members fall too, one by one, but it’s different for each. Jiwon is a natural in entertainment, dance flows through the veins of Jaejin and Jaeduk, Sunghoon was born to sing, and as for Suwon, he’s grown attached to what he’s practised and trained himself over the past few years for. Their hearts still lean toward this field, but they cannot survive their suffocating contract anymore.

Sechskies are over.

Something irreplaceable shatters in the moment they reach that decision, the moment they make the official announcement, the moment the ending notes of “Remember Me” fade away, marking their very last performance together. The heartbreak is boundless and tears immeasurable and, as they take their final bow to their weeping fans after the farewells, it sinks in then that this is it. This is the end.

Three years in, at the prime of their youth, this is how they fade out. Suwon can’t believe it.

They are numb when they gather together to say goodbye after the Dream Concert, out of stage costumes and back in their own clothes which feel alien and foreign against their skin. The atmosphere is weighed down with things unsaid and feelings unexpressed, but words are insufficient now. In the long drawn-out silence, they simply embrace each other, mumbling half-coherent nothings into each other’s shoulders and hair.

There are no inhibitions in those moments. Jaejin is the first to grab Suwon in a crushing hug, his previous regard for personal space all but gone. Suwon clings back just as tightly and then goes to each and every one of the rest. He rubs Jaeduk’s back comfortingly as he cries into Suwon’s neck before turning to embrace Jiyong, promptly butting his forehead on the other’s nose because Jiyong is a freaking giraffe. They gasp out weak chuckles before letting go and then it’s Jiwon’s arms around him this time. The leader’s face is pressed against the side of his own, and Suwon fancies Jiwon brushes a kiss, and maybe a teardrop, somewhere around his jawline but he isn’t sure.

Sunghoon is the last to meet his eyes, mute in his sorrow. For once, there isn’t a single fibre in Suwon that hesitates; he steps easily into Sunghoon’s arms, firm yet somehow fragile as they wrap around him. He puts his own around Sunghoon’s shoulders and leans against him, breathing in that faint musky scent Sunghoon wears. They haven’t touched like this since … in a very long time. But it’s comforting and familiar in its intimacy, and Suwon doesn’t want to pull away right now.

Is this the last he sees of Sunghoon? All of them?

‘We shouldn’t go to our homes tonight,’ Jiwon’s voice drags him back. The leader is speaking quietly, one last piece of advice before they part ways. ‘It’ll be a mess. All the fans…’ He trails off but they know what he’s getting at.

‘Yeah.’

‘We know, hyung…’

An unspoken question hangs in the air whether they should go into hiding together for that night, at least until the chaos of their disbandment simmer down outside. No one voices it out loud, though. The temptation is great but Suwon holds himself in check.

It’s not just that they’d be in greater danger of being recognised if they’re together. It’s the fact that they’re over now; from the moment they took their last bow.

The idea of sticking together tonight hurts.

There is only one thing left. They disperse.

Hats pulled low over their eyes or coat lapels turned up around the lower halves of their faces, they set off on their solitary routes. Suwon doesn’t ask where the rest of the members are going; it’s past midnight and he doesn’t know where to go himself. The only sure thing is that they can’t go home tonight. Suwon can’t even imagine attempting to handle the throngs of hysterical fans that would be waiting in front of his apartment; he’d be alone and –

Right. He is alone.

He doesn’t have a manager anymore. He doesn’t have members anymore.

With every step he takes, the staggering truth sinks in even deeper until it is like a weight pressing down on his very soul. Every breath stings and his vision turns blurry with burning tears, but Suwon just picks up his pace, pulling his denim jacket closer around him.

Around him, the world is transitioning from Spring to Summer but he feels cold. He is alone and doesn’t know where he’s going and he doesn’t care.

It doesn’t matter.

‘Suwon-ah…!’

That voice is the last thing he expects to hear and Suwon pulls up short, his sneakers skidding on the pavement.

‘Suwon.’ In the seconds he remains frozen, the voice moves closer, now speaking directly from behind him. Suwon shivers when its source comes round to stand in front of him, his heart screaming with both gladness and distress.

He’d wanted to see him again but he doesn’t want to either. It’s too soon and the hurt is too raw.

Sunghoon’s voice is soft, ‘Where are you going?’

Suwon shrugs, looking down to hide his wet eyes. ‘Don’t know. Nowhere.’ Just like his life right now.

He wants to laugh at the thought. He’s twenty this year and already washed up.

‘I’ve nowhere to go too.’

Suwon says nothing, waiting for Sunghoon to explain why he chose to follow him then. He would think Sunghoon would’ve gone with Jiwon or Jiyong instead.

Sunghoon’s eyes are shadowed, his eyebrows lost under the beanie he’s wearing to hide his dyed hair. ‘I didn’t feel like being alone tonight.’

Suwon feels like it, though. But when Sunghoon says, almost in a whisper, ‘Can I come with you?’, he doesn’t have the heart to refuse him. He starts walking again and Sunghoon falls into step with him.

Not a word is exchanged as they traipse aimlessly along the emptier side lanes of Seoul, avoiding the main roads and any people that happen to come their way. There’s a soft wind blowing, cool but with the promise of oncoming summer heat, and the waning moon making its slow march across the sky is large but dull behind thin clouds.

The night feels as empty as Suwon does.

He suspects the situation is anything but in the populous areas of Seoul. Despite the hour, Suwon has a gut feeling that things must be going to hell in the city following their … disbandment. The word is still foreign and it makes him flinch. But right now, he’s away from all that and he wants to avoid the mess for as long as possible.

It’s quieter on the side streets; there’s hardly anyone else around now, but the silence is not easy either. The shared sadness between him and Sunghoon is nearly palpable in its abundance, but there are no words to alleviate it. So he keeps his mouth shut and they just walk, sticking close but with an invisible wall between them.

Sunghoon feels like he’s miles away.

Hours must pass as they trail through the lesser tracked roads of the suburbs, but Suwon doesn’t keep track of time and his feet don’t tire. He becomes aware only much later that, at some unknown point, Sunghoon has taken the lead in their wandering. He lets him, following half a step behind as they tread on for ages, finally emerging from the suburbs on to the Han River.

Suwon becomes aware of his surroundings several minutes after they’ve been walking along the riverfront. He blinks around in mild surprise, not prepared to face people yet, but he realises that Sunghoon is leading them along the more secluded areas of the river. There are more trees here and narrower cycling lanes. This early in the morning, there’s not a soul in sight here.

Sunghoon finally ends their meandering walk at an empty bench, half hidden between two trees. Without a second thought, Suwon joins him on it and they gaze, with distant eyes, at the black waters of Han River; it glimmers and shines under the lights of the Seoul skyline.

The wind is cooler here and the sky doesn’t seem so dark anymore. Suwon glances at his watch and is shocked to realise just how much time has passed.

‘It’ll be sunrise soon,’ he murmurs, and is startled himself at how loud his voice sounds after a night of silence. With the words also come awareness of the ache in his legs and just how exhausted he really is.

‘We should start heading back soon then,’ Sunghoon responds quietly, still looking afar.

‘Head back where?’ Suwon mumbles, not really expecting a reply.

Sunghoon shrugs a shoulder. ‘Somewhere. Home, maybe. We can hide for only so long…’

Home. Suwon picks at the hem of his denim jacket. He can’t place that word anymore. They’ve never lived together as Sechskies, but Suwon suddenly can’t call his little apartment home anymore. It’s waiting for him, but that place is empty and lonely; it doesn’t welcome him like his parents’ house does … or any room with Jiwon, Jaejin, Jaeduk, Sunghoon and Jiyong. He wonders if it has ever really been home.

They watch the sky lighten, shade by shade, until the first tinges of pink emerge in the east. The chirping of crickets fade away, almost unnoticeable, replaced by the songs of birds. The Han River doesn’t look black anymore.

Suwon gets to his feet at last, every muscle in his legs protesting. He exhales loudly, dropping his head back for one last glance up at the sky. This is it, then.

He turns to Sunghoon, not really knowing what to say. Sunghoon’s eyes gazing up at him are dull and unreadable. Suwon misses his smile.

Good bye? See you around? None of it feels right. He doesn’t even know if he will meet Sunghoon again and the thought feels like a gut punch.

‘Take care,’ he gives a strained smile. There is a flicker of something on Sunghoon’s face but Suwon can’t bear to hang around any longer, delaying the inevitable. He quickly heads back towards the narrow riverfront lane.

He is caught before he’s even left the cover of the trees. Strong fingers around his elbow whip him round, making him almost stumble, and Suwon gapes at Sunghoon who is stammering his name, his voice shaking.

And Suwon stills, speechless, as he realises he’s seeing Sunghoon as he has never shown himself before. Every little thing he’s ever felt for Suwon is now laid bare, exposed and vulnerable. Even during his most unsubtle episodes, Sunghoon has never looked at him with that much longing and desperation before. It takes the breath right out of Suwon and he feels light-headed, frozen under the intensity of Sunghoon’s gaze. He’s burning with every unspoken desire and feeling he’s harboured for Suwon since they met in that small audition room and Suwon can see them, feel them, as if they were his own.

Sunghoon parts his lips and steps forward, but for a split second – an eternity – he hesitates. And in that second, it strikes Suwon all over again how stunning Sunghoon is. He always has been, but years of seeing him daily has lessened the impact of it. But now, it’s all Suwon can focus on.

Even with tired eyebags and downturned mouth, his dark eyes hooded and his pale skin grey in the light of dawn, Kang Sunghoon is still the most alluring thing Suwon’s seen. His heart skips a beat.

And then the moment passes and Sunghoon is growling, ‘Fuck it.’

His hand is around the back of Suwon’s neck before the younger can blink, knocking over the baseball cap Suwon is wearing to hide his bleached hair. And then Sunghoon is pulling him forward, his lips parting to meet Suwon’s in a searing kiss.

Suwon gasps, his breath catching in his throat, but it’s all lost in Sunghoon’s mouth. His hand at Suwon’s elbow comes around his waist, crushing Suwon against Sunghoon, while his other hand winds up through Suwon’s hair. His fingers are rough, tugging at Suwon’s locks, but his lips are warm and soft as Sunghoon kisses him, hot and impassioned.

It is by no means Suwon’s first kiss, but he has never been kissed like this before. Sunghoon kisses him like a man starved, moving their mouths together with wanton need. He can’t seem to take his hands off Suwon, dragging them up and down his back, carressing over his neck and down his arms, but always keeping him within Sunghoon’s embrace. He cards his fingers through Suwon’s hair again, guiding his head back to mouth at his lower lip; he slows down for a moment, sucking and tugging with his teeth lightly before he suddenly bites down. Suwon gasps at the sensation, involuntarily parting his lips, and that’s all the invitation Sunghoon needs to immediately deepen the kiss.

Suwon falls apart after that.

He grasps Sunghoon’s shoulders to ground himself as Sunghoon licks into his mouth, kissing him even harder if that were possible. He barely realises it when he starts to kiss Sunghoon back, cupping his face with a hand before reaching up and pulling off his beanie to touch his hair. Sunghoon groans against his mouth, a sound that shoots a jolt of arousal through Suwon, and nips at his lips again. He presses Suwon even closer so that they’re flush against each other, their heartbeats wild and pounding.

It reminds Suwon of the first time Sunghoon touched him like this, of the emotions he’d seen in Sunghoon’s eyes then. But he now realises that that was a watered down version of what Sunghoon truly feels inside. Sunghoon is pouring out everything here now; years and years of repressed desires and longing that he’s putting into this kiss, and it’s unlike anything Suwon’s felt before that he can barely breathe.

Is this what Sunghoon had wanted to do in the practice room that night so long ago? Had his feelings been as fervent then as what he’s showing Suwon now?

And would Sunghoon have, Suwon can’t help but wonder, done this a long time ago already if only their situation had not held him back? If they hadn’t been celebrities, if they didn’t have to be careful about public images, if they didn’t have fame and consequences to worry about –

Suwon freezes, his mouth going slack, suddenly reminded of what they’re doing – what he’s doing – out here in public by the Han River.

They may not be idols anymore but they’re not inconsequential enough yet to have nothing to lose.

Sunghoon, in his fervour, takes several seconds to realise that Suwon is not returning his kiss anymore. When he does, he pulls away with a suddenness that leaves Suwon shaken and wanting. His eyes dip to Sunghoon’s lips, reddened and inviting, and he wishes that Sunghoon kisses him again.

The thought is sudden and candid, a wish that’s never crossed his mind before. Suwon looks up at Sunghoon’s wide eyes and that’s when he knows, without a doubt, that if Sunghoon were to finally ask him, here and now … he would say yes.

But that new thought has barely formed when Suwon notices that things aren’t coming around. Sunghoon is still staring at him, his dark eyes wide. Confusion is written all over his face, but as the silence drags on, his expression crumples. He drops his gaze, his cheeks flaming red, and he massages the back of his neck, avoiding looking at Suwon.

Humiliation, Suwon recognises belatedly. Sunghoon is humiliated, because –

Because … Suwon kissed him back and then he didn’t. He kissed him back – and then as good as rejected him without a word.

Suwon moves to step forward then, opening his mouth to explain, but Sunghoon speaks up, still looking at the ground.

‘I’m sorry. I … I probably shouldn’t have done that. It was a mistake.’

Suwon stills, hardly believing his ears. A mistake?

Sunghoon glances at him then, still brimming with mortification but Suwon recognises the familiar longing in his eyes. Sunghoon doesn’t give him the chance, though.

‘Take care of yourself, Suwon.’

Words unsaid follow that statement but then Sunghoon leaves, walking fast with his shoulders hunched and his head bowed. Suwon can only watch him go, dismayed. There’s a part of him urging him to go after Sunghoon, but the other part – his pride that is wounded – is listening to Sunghoon’s voice, echoing the word “mistake” over and over in his mind.

He watches Kang Sunghoon walk away and his heart wrenches as he thinks that this is how they end, before they even had a chance to truly begin.

A/N: Ho dang. This grew to be so long that I even put off another major scene I initially planned for this part to the next – and hopefully last – chapter.

I’m hoping it won’t turn out as monstrously long as this update XD And don’t worry, I’ll make these failures-at-communicating idjits get it together before the end ^_^;

*Special shout out to Helene for tolerating how much I whined at her on different social media platforms about My New Trash Fic, and was lovely and supportive and just generally too good too pure for this world. I hope you enjoyed these 14K words of bullshit I promised you, Hels XD*

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