Pairing: Suho/Kai, Sehun/Kai
Length: 8300+ words
Summary: Rock band AU. Joonmyun is the reflection Jongin never sees, eyes still trained on the ghost of Sehun.
Joonmyun sighs and slowly rubs a hand up and down Jongin's back as he retches weakly. He's not sure exactly what he signed up for years ago when he agreed to be EXO's manager, but he's pretty sure it's not pulling Jongin's sweaty bangs out of his face while he pukes into his hotel bathroom toilet.
At least this time it's a nice hotel, Joonmyun thinks. Relatively speaking. The tile beneath them isn't cracked or broken and the toilet Jongin's head rests against looks clean. That's a blessing. Even if they're not on tour right now, a sick Jongin is even worse to deal with.
“I think I'm gonna die,” Jongin says hoarsely. He looks up at Joonmyun miserably. “I mean it this time. If I make it, I am never drinking again.”
Joonmyun laughs softly and wipes Jongin's mouth clean. Jongin grimaces, but he doesn't protest. It might be because he's too weak to, but Joonmyun will take it. “It'd take more than a little bit of drinking to kill Kim Jongin, I'm sure,” he assures Jongin.
The look that Jongin shoots him through half-lidded eyes is unconvinced, but Joonmyun just smiles at him, continuing to rub his back.
Jongin exhales after a second, pushing himself upright. He looks shaky, and Joonmyun automatically steadies him with a hand on the small of his back. He's a mess right now, sweaty and pale, his hair in his face. His tank top is grungy from the night's show and its aftermath, and his bare shoulders hunch forward like he's expecting a blow. Joonmyun holds out a glass of water. “Do you think you can manage getting into bed now?” he asks.
When he takes the glass, Jongin clutches it between both hands and carefully lifts it to his mouth. Under Joonmyun's watchful eye, he drains it, grimacing and shoving the glass back into Joonmyun's grip. They've been here a hundred times before, and they've finally reached the point where Jongin doesn't squabble with Joonmyun over his preemptive hangover cure. He's seen the effects enough times to know it's not worth it. “Maybe?” he says hesitantly.
Joonmyun has barely set down the glass again when Jongin twists to hang off him. Luckily, Joonmyun is ready for this, too. He hooks an arm around Jongin's waist and struggles to his feet. Jongin is mostly dead weight, but they manage to get up. Jongin's head knocks against Joonmyun's shoulder as they slowly shuffle back into the main room. It's not much of a trip, and Joonmyun lets Jongin down easily. Past experience dictates that it's either that or spend a night cleaning puke out of a hotel bed duvet.
As soon as he hits the bed, Jongin curls up into a ball, yawning. “Hold on,” Joonmyun tells him. “You can't sleep in your jeans.” Jongin cracks an eyelid and wrinkles his nose resentfully. “Jongin.”
“Later, hyung,” Jongin mumbles blearily. “Just gonna close my eyes for a sec.” Like this, half asleep and entirely a mess, Jongin looks so much softer than he does onstage. Sleep smooths away his spiky adolescent facade, his arrogance wanes to petulance. He's almost sweet.
Joonmyun brushes his bangs off his forehead. “Now, Jongin.” He's aiming for stern, but he misses and ends up somewhere around faintly displeased instead. Jongin just grunts and burrows his face into his pillow.
They have an event tomorrow, and Joonmyun knows that Jongin will be cranky and uncooperative if he doesn't sleep well tonight. Which is why he finds himself rolling Jongin onto his back and dragging off his skin-tight jeans. Jongin provides no resistance to this, just makes a face when Joonmyun tells him to lift his hips. Joonmyun never makes mention of how much he likes that Jongin trusts him like this.
When Joonmyun finally peels his pants off, Jongin is under the covers in a second, eyes squeezed shut. Jongin's always been quick to nod off, pushing himself until exhaustion is all he's got left and then passing out, dead to the world. Small miracles, Joonmyun thinks.
He takes a few more minutes to get ready for bed himself, filling up the glass of water again and leaving it on the table beside Jongin's head, along with a couple of aspirin. Once that's done, he cleans the bathroom and throws himself into the other bed.
Joonmyun is always the one who has to room with Jongin on the nights that he drinks. He's the only one still willing to babysit him, the only one who still sits through the hours of maudlin moaning about the 'one that got away'. Chanyeol always marvels at his superhuman levels of tolerance.
For a second, after he crawls under the covers and before he flicks off the light, Joonmyun watches the steady rise and fall of Jongin's chest and the the way his full lips part, so relaxed in sleep. His dark circles are getting worse, Joonmyun muses. He needs to make sure that Jongin uses some of their time off to actually sleep. He can't make a record if he's run off his feet.
Jongin shifts, turning over, and Joonmyun's heart clenches a little. Jongin is so alive onstage, all dynamic aggression, but Joonmyun likes this too. He's sweet, and kind of beautiful, and Joonmyun is so entirely and utterly sunk.
Their next show isn't until the next week, and they've all been looking forward to it. It's not every day that they get the chance to play at a club opening, and it's not every day that EXO gets to headline.
The problem is, of course, Jongin. When they're standing onstage, Yixing and Chanyeol tuning their guitars, Jongin paces instead. He tests the mic and snaps at the sound tech. Joonmyun helps Zitao set up his drums and watches as Jongin clenches his teeth and nervously pulls on his sparkly blue jacket. It makes Joonmyun feel so useless, and once Zitao's set, he weaves his way across the stage and lays a hand on Jongin's shoulder. “Is there anything –“
Jongin jerks away as though stung, irritation plain on his face. He only spares Joonmyun one quick, annoyed glance before he's turning back to the microphone, adjusting the stand.
Swallowing hard, Joonmyun lets his hand hang in the air for a second before he recovers, tucking it into his pocket and struggling to train his face into something approaching nonchalance. It's nothing personal, he knows. Jongin is always prickliest before a big show. He's young, but he has always taken performing seriously, and as their front-man, he feels the pressure most sharply.
It still stings though. It stings worse, too, when Joonmyun is standing side-stage and talking to the lighting guy and happens to look across the stage. Jongin is standing in front of Kyungsoo's keyboard, the two of them chatting quietly. Something gets stuck in Joonmyun's throat when Kyungsoo nudges Jongin with his knuckles. The gesture means nothing, Kyungsoo moved without thinking, but Joonmyun can't help but notice the way that Jongin doesn't flinch away.
Joonmyun stalls, eyes on the stage, something in his chest making it hard to breathe. “Hey,” the lighting tech grabs his arm. “Your boys ready?”
Startled, Joonmyun tears his gaze away. “Sorry,” he says, flashing the man a broad, sunny smile “Yeah, we're ready.”
As the man heads off, Joonmyun runs onstage. “Rehearsal's over, guys,” he says, and Chanyeol whoops. “Showtime.” He addresses this last part to Jongin, but all he gets in response is a flat nod before Jongin is rolling his neck, cracking his knuckles, and stepping up to the mic. Yixing glances at Joonmyun sympathetically and Joonmyun flushes. This is not the time.
He slips away, heading to the bar. Tonight seems to be one of those nights where he's going to need a drink. The band settles themselves behind their instruments, Jongin holds out a hand and the crowd quiets. “Hello, boys and girls,” Jongin says. There's a roar in response. “I think you know who we are.” There is a visible shift, almost, in Jongin's presence, from tense, uncomfortable Jongin, to confident, in control Kai. The smile that spreads across his lips is almost a smirk, and completely suggestive. “I'm Kai, and we are EXO.”
At once, Zitao launches into one of their older singles, power and grace in every line of his arms as he pounds against the drums. Chanyeol lets out a howl, eyes alarmingly wide and a grin stretching across his whole face, following with the bass line. Jongin's eyes are shut, his arms above his head now, swaying a little to the beat. He opens them again when Yixing steps up next to him, bent over his guitar, and the look he gives the crowd is a little bit obscene. This is his element. He is on fire.
Jongin only looks away from the crush of people in front of him long enough to glance at Kyungsoo, then he's belting out the first chorus, his voice raw and untrained and magnetic. Joonmyun regrets sitting at the bar, if only because his view is so good. He can't tear his eyes away from how Jongin prowls the stage, putting his years of dancing training to good use. He's already abandoned the mic stand, pirouetting towards Yixing, his every movement dynamic, smooth, precise. Sometimes, Joonmyun thinks that this job is worth it, if only for the chance to see Jongin dance every night.
Jongin always puts on a good show, but somewhere between the second and third song, it's like he cranks it up another notch. He's an animal, raw emotion pouring out of every syllable as he roams the stage. He hangs off Yixing's neck one minute, snaps his teeth in Chanyeol's face the next, and always keeps moving. He's magnetic, brilliant, and the crowd is entranced. Joonmyun is no exception.
It takes him a few minutes to realize that there's a reason for this change. Jongin is fixated on a point just past the end of the bar, his eyes always coming back to whatever he's staring at and his smile is so, so wide. Joonmyun loves seeing him so happy like that, and he turns to see what Jongin is so focused on.
Joonmyun's heart drops when he sees his thin frame and mess of light brown hair. Of course it's Sehun that makes Jongin light up like a firework. There's a faint smile playing on Sehun's lips and Joonmyun is struck by the horrible, prophetic knowledge that tonight is going to end badly. At least, he thinks, the performance will go well. There's been a company sniffing around EXO for a few months and he thinks that with Jongin so revved up, they might just cinch a contract this time.
The show goes off without a hitch, and by the end of the night, when the band is taking their bows, all of them sweaty, exhausted, and so entirely pleased. As soon as they're done, Jongin leaps off the stage, pushing through the crowd of fans until he makes it to where Sehun is standing. “Hi,” he says breathlessly. His dark hair is plastered to his head with sweat and his smile is like sunshine, dawning on his face, bright and sweet. “You came.”
Joonmyun watches them from his vantage point at the bar. “I did,” Sehun agrees, smiling back. He's more reserved, keeping his distance, and Joonmyun doesn't really blame him. He still wishes he'd never come, though. “You guys were amazing tonight, congrats.”
The praise makes Jongin stand taller. “Thanks,” he says earnestly. There's a small crowd of fans gathering, looking on nervously, waiting for their chance to grab Jongin's attention. He steps in close to Sehun, his hand landing on his elbow with familiarity, but Sehun gently pulls free. Instantly, Jongin's eyes cloud with disappointment, and Joonmyun winces. “So nothing's changed,” Jongin says bitterly. “Why did you even come?” His hands are clenched into fists at his side and his face is open, raw, and wounded. Right then, Joonmyun wants to step in, stop the inevitable from happening, but something stops him. As much as he doesn't want Jongin to be so hurt, he knows this is something he needs to hear. So he waits.
Sehun sighs, crosses his arms across his chest. “Because I'm your friend, Jongin,” he tells him. Chanyeol likes to tell Joonmyun that he's a saint to put up with Jongin, but Joonmyun is pretty sure that the real saint is Sehun. It's been well over a year since they'd dated, and Jongin is still hanging on to the handful of nights they'd spent together. “Remember that part?”
Jongin's jaw works. “I don't want to be friends,” he says after a second, his voice soft and plainative. Behind him, some of the fans exchange looks, whispering to each other. This isn't good for them.
To Joonmyun, Jongin's implication is clear – he wants more. As he always does. The problem is, he's ignoring what else his words imply. Sehun's face darkens. “Fine,” he says tightly. “You'll get just what you want.” He turns and Jongin's eyes widen. Desperately, he reaches out for Sehun, but he jerks out of Jongin's grasp and heads for the door. He doesn't spare a look back.
Jongin is left standing there, a bereft look on his face. There are people everywhere, and Joonmyun feels guilty for not interfering earlier. He slides away from the bar and hooks an arm around his waist from behind.
It's like Joonmyun's presence brings Jongin back down to earth. He turns, looking a little dazed, and pushes Joonmyun away. His face is hardening again, the Kai mask coming down again. “I'm fine,” he says, his voice rough, but when Joonmyun rests his hand against his back, this time he doesn't shrug it off. Joonmyun will take it.
Fans crowd them as they head back stage but Joonmyun waves them off. A couple of them get pushy, wrapping hands around Jongin's bicep and begging him to stay. Despite Jongin's best efforts, Joonmyun can feel the tension in his body, discomfort written in the way his full lips twist. “We don't have time,” Joonmyun tells the girls apologetically, and when that doesn't work, he physically pulls them off, putting himself between them and Jongin.
The rest of the night, Jongin is sharp, inconsolable. He bristles when anyone approaches, and it takes all of Joonmyun's self restraint to hold back from going to comfort him. It's all he wants to do, but Joonmyun knows that he's not who Jongin wants. Instead, he takes part of his cut for the night and talks the bartender into giving him a bottle of vodka and drop is into Jongin's lap. It's worth it for the miserable, grateful look Jongin gives him.
When he drops Jongin and Zitao off at their shared apartment, Jongin doesn't even say goodbye. Joonmyun waits until they're inside before he leaves, and he tries to ignore the pang in his chest when Zitao pauses at the door to wrap an arm around Jongin's shoulders and squeeze.
Not being on tour with EXO is always a weird adjustment for Joonmyun to make. He's spent the majority of the last three years herding them around, learning how to bargain with venue owners and make sure they're not getting ripped off, figuring out the good fans (the small guy with the beautiful hands who always brings Chanyeol beer) versus the kind of scary ones (the sobbing girl who scaled the fire escape to Jongin and Zitao's apartment and refused to leave until they signed her shirt).
When they have time off, the band disperses to do their own thing and celebrate not being crammed into a van together twenty-four seven, and Joonmyun has to once again figure out what to do with his spare time. It's weird, being able to sleep, not having to wake up and wrangle a half-conscious Jongin out of bed. He knows he should appreciate it, but mostly he feels a little bored.
He spends his time catching up with his friends, especially Luhan. Luhan's always grateful to have a captive audience to gossip to. “So,” Luhan says over coffee one day. Joonmyun has his usual, one milk, one sugar, and Luhan's is some overly sweet monstrosity, loaded with syrup and whipped cream. “Let me guess, you haven't made a move yet.” He takes a sip of his drink and carefully wipes his mouth clean.
Joonmyun opens his mouth to protest, but thinks better of it. “If I said it wasn't the right time, would you believe me?” He stares down at his coffee.
“No,” Luhan says blithely. He tips his head, looking at Joonmyun, delicate fingers wrapped around his coffee cup. “Let it go, Joonmyun.” His voice is gentle, but firm. “You can't keep hanging on to this. You look worse every time you guys come back. Yixing agrees.”
“You have a spy,” Joonmyun accuses. “I always knew I couldn't trust Yixing.” He smiles weakly before he even finishes speaking and Luhan laughs.
“He's just looking out for you. Like I am.” Joonmyun nods, but he's still avoiding Luhan's eyes. He has an unfortunate propensity for being right. “You're always looking after Jongin, but you have to look after yourself, too.”
Joonmyun's eyes flick up at that. “Can I do both?” he asks quietly.
Luhan shrugs a shoulder. “He's your best friend. You tell me.” No, you can't is written all over his face. Joonmyun raises his mug to his lips and wonders if the coffee was always this bitter.
The sharp trill of Joonmyun's phone wakes him out of a dead sleep and he jerks up, groaning. A quick glance at his alarm clock tells him that it's five am. He rubs fiercely at his eyes and then feels around for his phone, half-panicked. Who would be calling at this time of night?
“Hyung.” Jongin's voice is hoarse and slurred. He's drunk. Joonmyun sighs, dropping back against his pillow. “Hyung, I wrote a song.”
“That's nice,” Joonmyun mumbles. “It's five in the morning, Jongin, did you need to share this now?”
“Check your email, hyung. It's good, I promise.” There's a desperate, pleading edge to Jongin's voice, and Joonmyun has never been any good at telling him no. That must be why he finds himself rolling out of bed to grab his laptop.
The track Jongin has emailed him isn't bad. It's rough, obviously, a bit incoherent at times, but it shows promise. “It's good,” Joonmyun says dutifully. “Do you have lyrics?”
“Not yet,” Jongin replies after a second. The song is still playing softly in the background. “I was thinking, y'know, something about like, bad timing. Someone who can't see how a good thing is staring him in the face and how he should wake up.”
Joonmyun's voice catches in his throat. He wants so badly to believe that this is his moment, this is a sign, this is it, but he knows Jongin far too well. “Jongin,” he says quietly. He hates the parallel of their situations. “He's not going to wake up.” Jongin whines, low in his throat. “I think Sehun's made himself clear.”
“It hurts,” Jongin says pathetically, and Joonmyun is suddenly starkly aware of how young Jongin is. “It hurts so bad. He's the only one I want. Is that so wrong?”
“No.” Joonmyun's voice is barely a whisper. “No, it's not. But sometimes, these things just don't work out.” There's a part of him, bigger than he'd like, that is so glad that it's Joonmyun that Jongin had sought out when he needed someone to talk to. He likes that knowledge that he is someone that Jongin trusts like that.
“I just...” Jongin sounds so lost and small and Joonmyun wishes he were there to do something for him. “I just need to talk to him. I need to make him understand. This will work, we could work.” Joonmyun can hear him breathing, ragged and heavy. “I need him.”
Joonmyun knows better than to argue with Jongin at this point. They've been here a time or two before, just not in the middle of the night. “Do you need me to come over? Or wake up Zitao,” he adds on quickly.
“No, it's. Jesus, it's late. Sorry, hyung, didn't mean to ruin your sleep. You should go back to bed.” It sounds like a dismissal.
“It's fine,” Joonmyun tells him immediately. “Is there anything you need me to do?”
Jongin yawns. “No, no.”
Neither of them speak for a moment, and the silence stretches between them, punctuated by the crackle of static on the phone line. “Alright,” Joonmyun says finally, reluctantly. “Get some rest, Jongin. You could use it.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Joonmyun is pleased by the weak laugh it shakes out of Jongin. “And hyung? Thanks.” The line clicks off before Joonmyun can reply.
He's left holding his phone and staring into the dark, wondering if he'll get back to sleep tonight.
There's an invitation laying on the table when Joonmyun sets down the takeout. It's a thin slip of paper for a record release party and the instant Joonmyun sees it, he knows it's trouble. That thought is only confirmed when he wanders into Jongin's room and finds him hunched over a notebook, lips pressed together in a sullen line. Clearly, Jongin's read his mail. “So,” he says casually. Jongin doesn't look up. “L!ghtsaber are finally putting out that album, huh?”
“About time.” Jongin closes the notebook with a snap, stowing it away in a drawer in his bedside table, and gets up abruptly. “Kris has been talking big about it for months. Says they're gonna be as big as Daft Punk, or something.” He snorts and pushes past Joonmyun into the kitchen, immediately unpacking the takeout and digging in. “I'd like to see him prove it.”
At least Jongin was eating. Joonmyun pulls out the chair across from him and reaches for the nearest container. “So you're planning on going?” The question is mostly rhetorical.
Jongin's tongue darts out to catch sauce at the corner of his mouth. “Yep.”
“Because you know Sehun will probably be there.” This one is a statement, and it's the closest Joonmyun will come to addressing this head on.
Lifting his chin, Jongin looks at Joonmyun defiantly. “Yep,” he agrees, his tone deceptively casual. They hadn't discussed the phonecall from the other night; Joonmyun knows that Jongin is embarrassed by it.
“Jongin.” There's steel in Jongin's eyes, and Joonmyun braces himself. He has to try to head this off before it happens. “You have to know that he's not going to change his mind. There's nothing you can do about it.” Something sharp and hot flares in Jongin's eyes, and Joonmyun swallows. “This is a bad idea.” It's the first time he's actually come out and said it to Jongin, and he's got no idea how he'll react to it.
Jongin doesn't immediately respond. He just stares at Joonmyun and for one horrifying moment, Joonmyun's stomach drops and he's terrified that Jongin knows. “What do you know anyway?” Jongin asks, dismissive and contemptuous. Joonmyun can't help the way his mouth drops open a little, breath stopping in his throat. “Like you're some expert on relationships, hyung.”
Brow furrowed, Joonmyun struggles for words. This isn't what he'd wanted. “This isn't about me, Jongin, come on.” He leans forward in his chair, nervously rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, and takes a deep breath. He wishes this wasn't necessary. “Sehun, he'll. He will never be who you want. He will never need you the way you need him.” For a second, he thinks that maybe Jongin will understand. This time, he'll let it all go. “Don't go.”
Betrayal flashes in Jongin's eyes and Joonmyun's heart lurches. “Sometimes,” Jongin says tightly. “You forget that you don't really know everything.” He tosses his chopsticks down and stands. “You're not my father. I'm going. Don't get in my way.”
His bedroom door closes with a slam, and Joonmyun flinches. He rubs at his eyes and tries to swallow down the way his breath hitches. There's another bang as something collides with the door hard. It wouldn't be the first time Jongin threw things around when he was in a mood. Normally, Joonmyun would be the first to go calm him down, but today that's not an option.
Joonmyun is left sitting at the table, their takeout getting cold. His stomach twists. He can't even stand the smell of it anymore. This wasn't what he wanted, this was never what he wanted, and the echo of that betrayal in Jongin's gaze is giving Joonmyun a headache. Sighing, Joonmyun pushes himself to his feet and sets about putting the food carefully away. Jongin can't cook to save his life, and he'll be hungry later.
The invitation still lays on the table, and a part of Joonmyun almost wants to laugh. This weekend is inevitably going to be a mess. He knows that for certain. He also knows that he'd never forgive himself if he leaves Jongin on his own. Someone needs to pick up his pieces. He digs up a pen, quickly scribbles down a quick message. I'm sorry. I'll be there He slips out the door and tries not to let his eyes linger on Jongin's closed bedroom door.
For all of his pretentious posturing, Kris and Minseok do put on a great live show. The two of them make a funny pair behind the DJ booth, one tall and slim, the other small and solidly built, but they work together well.
On Kris' insistence, they wear matching dress jackets and sunglasses, even at night. Despite that, Joonmyun can still catch the way that Minseok ducks his head a little and smirks when Kris starts posturing. When Jongin and Joonmyun get close enough to make eye contact, Minseok slides his shades down his nose and raises his eyebrows, eyes flicking over to Kris for a second. Even Jongin laughs at that. Kris doesn't notice.
When Joonmyun had shown up at Jongin's door that evening, neither of them had said anything at first. Zitao had brushed past them to the car, talking excitedly about getting to see L!ghtsaber for the first time and Jongin had just ducked his head. When he followed Zitao out, he paused for a second to press his cheek to Joonmyun's shoulder and mutter a quiet 'thanks'. Joonmyun had known it was the best he'd get so he'd nodded and flashed Jongin one of his brightest smiles. They weren't mended, not quite, but it was something.
Now, here in the crowded club, with the throb of the bass line echoing in Joonmyun's ribcage, he trails Jongin like a shadow. He can tell how tense Jongin is by how he skirts the dancefloor, eyeing the dancers but never joining them. He's looking for those thin shoulders, those high cheekbones. Joonmyun can't tell if he hopes that Jongin finds him and gets it over with quickly, or doesn't see him at all.
When L!ghtsaber's set is over, Kris and Minseok leave the DJ booth, leaving someone else to take over while they take time to talk to some of their supporters. Minseok finds them first. “Your new material sounds great,” Joonmyun tells him, and they high five before Joonmyun pulls him into a quick hug. “For once, Kris wasn't just talking out of his ass.”
Minseok laughs and Jongin joins him. It's hard not to, Minseok has a charming, easy smile that's entirely infectious. “Yeah, we worked hard on this one. He really put a lot of effort into it.”
At this, they all turn to look at Kris, near the bar. Joonmyun's gut clenches as Jongin inhales sharply. Kris has one impossibly long arm thrown around Sehun's shoulders and the two of them are deep in conversation. It's noisy in the bar, but when Kris bends to speak into Sehun's ear, his mouth is far closer than it needs to be. The way that Sehun's eyes go half-lidded and his lips pull up in a flirtatious smile, it's not a good sign.
Jongin is already pushing across the room to them. “What –“ Minseok starts, but Joonmyun just shrugs and throws him an apologetic look before he's hot on Jongin's heels.
He catches up just in time to throw his shoulder in front of Jongin and prevent him from lunging at Kris. The look Kris throws at them is deeply disdainful, and he slides a hand possessively around the back of Sehun's neck. “Can I help you?” he asks. No matter how many times Jongin tries to shake him off, Joonmyun keeps a firm grip on Jongin's arm, body carefully positioned between the two of them. This is not going to escalate into physical violence, even if Kris isn't helping anything.
“What the hell,” Jongin says, and he sounds so broken.
Sehun crosses his arms and makes no attempt to shake Kris off. Instead, he steps closer to him and keeps his eyes on Jongin, unapologetic. “What do you mean, 'what the hell'?” he asks. “I'm hanging out with the man of the hour and having a good time. What's your problem?” His eyes are daring Jongin to say it out loud.
“Are you doing this on purpose?” Jongin asks. He stretches out an arm to grab Sehun but Sehun knocks his hand away, looking uncomfortable. “You don't have to make me jealous –“
“Jongin,” Sehun says seriously. “I'm not doing this because of you. I don't know if you've noticed, but you and I, we're not together. We haven't been for, oh, over a year. This -” He gestures at him and Kris and the corners of Kris' mouth turn up, his thumb stroking against the side of Sehun's neck. “This has nothing to do with you. I don't know how to get that into your head.”
Joonmyun can see the panic rising in Jongin's eyes. “But we – “
“No, Jongin.” Jongin flinches as though he's been hit and Sehun's eyes soften. “Jesus, Jongin, I'm sorry, but no. Do yourself a favour and let this go.” Jongin's frozen, unmoving, and Kris looks a little smug. Before he can open his mouth, Joonmyun glares at him and is gratified when for once it has an effect, Kris's eyes widening. He holds up a hand in surrender. “Listen,” Sehun says after a moment. “When you're ready, I wanna be friends again. I miss you.” When Jongin looks up, eyes guardedly hopeful, Sehun adds: “But not the way you miss me.”
Joonmyun's heart is breaking for Jongin. Sehun is younger, but it's Jongin who looks his age right now, shoulders slumped and pain written all across his face. He's still just a teenager, and he's so entirely crushed. Joonmyun carefully curls an arm around his waist and his chest aches even more when Jongin doesn't push him away, instead instinctively leaning into him. “I'm sorry,” Jongin says finally, haltingly, and he won't look up. “I didn't – I just – I don't know. Sorry.” It takes him a second, but he pushes Joonmyun away and stands up straighter. He's trying so hard. “I'll go.”
“About time,” Kris says, and Sehun punches him, shooting him a dirty look. It's not his fault, really, it's not like he knows all about their history, but he's certainly not making this messy situation any easier.
As he turns to go, Jongin's eyes dart over to meet Sehun's quickly. Jongin's never had any skill with words on a good day, but Sehun was always one of those people who understood him without talk. Jongin's I miss you too is plain on his face, and Sehun nods a little. Jongin's head drops. He blinks rapidly and then he's gone, pushing roughly through the crush of people to the other end of the bar.
“I'm sorry,” Joonmyun tells Sehun quickly. “I tried to tell him not to come.”
Sehun shrugs. “Maybe he gets it now,” he says hopefully. “I really do miss him.”
Kris looks at the two of them. “I'm missing something,” he says, and Sehun snorts, looking up at him fondly. “Is Kai gonna be okay?”
“I think so,” Joonmyun says, and Sehun gives him a small smile. Joonmyun twists, eyes searching for Jongin fruitlessly. “I'd better go. Someone needs to look after him.
“He'll be okay, right?” Sehun asks suddenly, fingers finding Joonmyun's wrist. “Like, he won't do anything stupid or anything. Right?”
Joonmyun laughs a little. “I'll look after him.” He nods a quick goodbye and then he's off to search for Jongin.
He finds him by the end of the bar, bound and determined to get drunk enough to forget his own name. Jongin doesn't look up as Joonmyun leans against the bar next to him, nor does he say anything. He throws back a shot and waves for another. The bartender glances at Joonmyun before he fills Jongin's shot glass again.
They spend most of the rest of the night there, Joonmyun only sidling close when Jongin starts to list sideways dangerously. It's not really a healthy coping mechanism, but Joonmyun knows better than to try to tell Jongin how to deal with his pain. Minseok floats by again, tries to talk to them, but Jongin has retreated into his glass, eyes broken and dark. “Sorry,” Joonmyun says. “Maybe we'll catch up later?”
Minseok's eyes travel between Joonmyun and Jongin, and then slide over to where Sehun is curled up against Kris and laughing into his chest. “Okay,” he says easily, smiling sympathetically at Jongin. “But you totally owe me a drink.”
“Deal,” Joonmyun agrees. Next to him, Jongin's head falls to rest against Joonmyun's shoulder, and Joonmyun knows he's pushed past angry drunk to falling down drunk. “But right now, I had better get alky here home before he makes a mess of your nice party. Congrats, man, you guys did great.”
Minseok waves them off and Joonmyun is yet again in the position of carrying a half-conscious Jongin back to his apartment. He takes a second to find Zitao before they leave, not wanting to leave him stranded. He's hovering near Kris and listening to him speak with wide eyes, more than amenable to finding his own way home.
When they get to the car, Jongin breaks, and he cries a little, hands pressed to his eyes. “It feels like my world is ending, hyung,” he says, and Joonmyun would laugh if Jongin didn't look so small and pathetic, legs folded up in Joonmyun's front seat.
Jongin clings to him as they make their way up to his front door, his eyes red and wet. “I'm so sorry,” Joonmyun says, because even if he knows it was inevitable, he is sorry, sorry that Jongin is suffering like this.
When he lets go of Jongin to help him take off his shoes, Jongin slides to the floor, his hair in disarray. He's as pliant as a rag doll, his gaze empty now. Joonmyun bites his lip. “Jongin,” he says softly, and is a little bit relieved when Jongin's head wobbles over to face him. “Stay with me, alright? Just a little bit more, then we'll get you into bed.”
Jongin lets Joonmyun hoist him up again and help him into his bedroom. Joonmyun has to clear the crap off of the bed. It's all giving him a wicked case of deja vu.
Only this time, when he tugs Jongin's shirt over his head, Jongin veers in close, pressing his forehead to his. Joonmyun immediately tenses, bringing his hands up to Jongin's chest. “Jongin, what –“
“I don't want to be alone right now, hyung, please,” Jongin whispers, and he sounds so lonely and desperate that for just a second, he relaxes into Jongin's touch. Jongin takes it as tacit permission and kisses Joonmyun.
It's nothing like Joonmyun has ever expected. It's sloppy, impersonal, all teeth, and all Joonmyun can taste is the harsh bite of alcohol. But it's Jongin and it's what he's wanted for so long that he finds himself kissing back, letting Jongin pull him down into the bed. Jongin is impatient and clumsy underneath him and Joonmyun knows there is so much wrong with this but that doesn't stop him from closing his eyes and giving in. He can regret it in the morning.
Joonmyun slips out of Jongin's apartment the next morning, past a curious Zitao, shame reddening his cheeks. He's certain he's never made a bigger mistake in his life. He can still feel Jongin's desperation under his skin, and he tries fiercely to forget the way that Jongin had turned away afterwards, burrowing his face into his pillow to cry.
This wasn't what Joonmyun wanted.
They still have another week until they gather again to start recording, and Joonmyun has never been more grateful. He avoids all of EXO, even Yixing, and dodges Luhan's increasingly pointed questions. There's a hollow ache that's set up shop in the place behind his ribs, and Joonmyun is trying so hard not to think about it.
Jongin doesn't call. He doesn't text, he doesn't email, Joonmyun hears nothing. Part of him is relieved, so in need of distance between the two of them, but he's still a little hurt. No matter how much he tries to squash it, there is still that little voice in the back of his head that wants so badly for Jongin just to open his eyes and turn that smile on Joonmyun.
The first day in the studio, Joonmyun shows up early, and Jongin arrives late. “His majesty arrives,” Chanyeol drawls, plainly irritated, but Jongin ignores all of them, instead focusing on the coffee that Joonmyun holds out to him. He offers Joonmyun the tinest of nods, a sliver of a smile, then he's gone, wiggling onto the couch between Yixing and Kyungsoo.
Joonmyun exhales shakily and then he's beaming at all of them, clapping his hands. “Let's blow this one out of the water,” he says, and the band raises their coffees in a toast, yelling out their agreement. Jongin looks everywhere but at him and Joonmyun's chest aches and aches.
As their usual songwriter, Jongin has a few songs already written, and he throws them out for the rest of them to listen to. Joonmyun fades into the background.
He's not really needed for this kind of thing, he knows, but he's always found that it's helpful to be around to smooth things over when Chanyeol and Jongin inevitably argue or to make sure that they manage to eat in between making music. This time, though, he's not sure he can do it. Jongin is bound and determined to pretend like Joonmyun doesn't exist, and even if Joonmyun knows that's just how Jongin deals with awkward situations, it still cuts deeper than he'd like.
Duty calls, though, so he quietly hangs around while EXO bangs out new songs, jams in the studio, and Yixing and Jongin squabble over what key to record in. It's all so familiar, he thinks, watching as Jongin flicks the intercom on. “Okay,” he says to Kyungsoo. “Now, this time, try to do it right.” Kyungsoo raises an eyebrow and flips him off from the booth and Jongin laughs. The pure, happy tone of it startles Joonmyun so much that he stops dead in his conversation with Yixing to stare at him.
“He's getting better,” Yixing says quietly. Joonmyun turns back to him, but Yixing's eyes are unreadable. “I think this time, he's finally got it.”
“Good,” Joonmyun says. “It'll be better for him this way.” Yixing tilts his head and raises his eyebrows pointedly, making Joonmyun flush. “Stop it.”
“I will when you start taking your own advice,” Yixing tells him.
From the corner of his eye, Joonmyun can see Jongin lean back in his chair, the smile on his face relaxed and genuine. “Yeah,” Joonmyun says, swallowing hard. “I know.”
They're two weeks into recording when Jongin brings in something he's been working on on his own time. He plays it for the band, and they sit in silence while it plays, the only movement in the room Zitao's hands drumming against the table. “Could it be?” Chanyeol asks, his jaw dropping in mock shock. “A love song? A love song that isn't about unrequited love?” Jongin scowls at him and Chanyeol catches him in a headlock. “Our little Jongin's growing up,” he crows.
“Shut up,” Jongin tells him, over the laughter in the room, shoving Chanyeol off of him. “I guess I just thought it was time to change things up.” He glances surreptitiously at Joonmyun and Joonmyun's stomach swoops. He stares down at his hands as he struggles to keep the sudden surge of hope from overwhelming him. He doesn't want to jump the gun, but he just can't help it.
When he looks up again, the butterflies in his stomach are quite firmly quashed. While Yixing and Chanyeol hash out a proper bass line for the song, Jongin and Kyungsoo exchange a look that's so loaded, so happy, that there is no way for Joonmyun to misread it. That's when he notices their hands laced together under the table.
Oh, he thinks. There's a distinct possibility that he might be sick. He excuses himself from the room, and he's not sure that anyone even notices. It really doesn't matter, though. He's just focused on getting away, on escaping the realization that he will never be the one who inspires Jongin's love songs, who makes him smile like sunshine dawning on his face. Even if part of him probably already knew it, that doesn't stop it from hitting him like a freight train.
He doesn't come back to the studio that day, or the next. He ignores texts, voicemails, deletes everything he gets. He tries to ignore the pang in his chest when he reads the one from Yixing. i'm sorry. i should've told you
Luhan will just tell him that he was right, so he avoids him too. Joonmyun spends the entirety of those two days curled up on his couch, staring at the TV and not processing anything he sees. At least, he thinks idly, at least now he knows how Jongin felt. It sucks. It's like the ache in his chest has caught fire and now everything burns, too hot and painful to ignore.
It's all he can think about, the way that Jongin looked at Kyungsoo and the way Kyungsoo looked back, an equation that clearly has no room for him. He feels entirely and utterly alone, and for the first time, being Jongin's friend is just not enough anymore.
On the third day, when he wakes up, he has three voicemails from Luhan, one from Yixing, a series of texts from Zitao that are just sad faces, and one from Jongin. where r u hyung???? im writing good shit yr missing it
Joonmyun stares down at his phone for a few seconds, a sudden clarity dawning over him. An idea hits him, one he's toyed with occasionally over the years, but one that is becoming more and more appealing by the minute. He knows what he's going to do.
He showers and tidies himself up, buys coffee for the band, and breakfast, like he always does, and then heads into the studio. He has to hand the coffee off to Yixing quickly because Zitao throws himself at Joonmyun in a fierce hug almost as soon as he comes through the door. Chanyeol flashes a blinding smile at him before digging into breakfast. “You're the best manager, hyung,” he says cheerfully through a mouthful of food. Jongin is on the couch, and he looks up as Joonmyun comes in, his hand firmly in Kyungsoo's grasp. He looks perfectly comfortable and Joonmyun knows that he's making the right decision.
“Actually,” Joonmyun says, untangling himself from Zitao. “I wanted to talk to you guys about that.”
“Do you want a raise?” Chanyeol asks. “You only get a raise if you start hand-making breakfast.” Yixing laughs and socks Chanyeol in the arm, shushing him.
Joonmyun licks his lips, takes a deep breath. “I'm quitting,” he says with finality, and he feels like a load has been lifted off his shoulders. He smiles at all of them, trying to ignore the way Jongin's expression drops. “It's not because of you guys, I just think that I need some time to do something new and kind of do a bit of thinking.”
A silence drops over the room. Yixing instantly reaches for Zitao, who's tearing up. “But, hyung,” Jongin says, crestfallen. “What will we do without you?” What will I do without you goes unspoken, but Joonmyun can read it in Jongin's expression.
“You'll be just fine,” Joonmyun says firmly. Zitao sniffs and Joonmyun squeezes him in a one-armed hug. “I have total faith in you all. You don't need someone to hold your hand anymore. You're all adults.”
Zitao wraps his arms around him again fiercely, laughing into Joonmyun's shoulder even as he cries. “Gonna miss you, ge,” he says. Yixing follows suit, curling around Joonmyun's other side.
“Group hug!” Chanyeol bellows, enveloping them all in his long arms, and then Kyungsoo is burrowing his way into the middle and Jongin's got his arms around Joonmyun's waist, face buried in Joonmyun's throat. They're all laughing, but Joonmyun is struggling not to follow Zitao's example and end up crying. These guys, they've been his family for years. Leaving them is a huge, scary step, but even as he feels the press of Jongin's chest against his back, he knows it's the right one.
When they finally break, Jongin is reluctant to let go. “I don't know what I'll do without you,” he says softly.
Joonmyun's eyes find Kyungsoo's, and he takes a deep breath. “You've got someone else to look after you now,” he says. There's a small smile on Kyungsoo's lips, and he nods. “You'll be fine. I promise.” Jongin looks unconvinced. “I'm not leaving the country, dummy, you can still call me. I'm just not going to roadie your stuff for free anymore.”
That's enough to bring a smile to Jongin's face again and he shoves Joonmyun's shoulder. “You totally got a cut,” he says accusingly, and when Kyungsoo comes up beside him, Jongin's arm falls naturally around his shoulders, like it belongs there. “Don't be greedy.”
“Make sure there's a shout out to me on this album,” he tells Jongin sternly, pointing a finger at him. “After all, if it weren't for me, you guys never would've gotten this far.”
“No,” Jongin agrees seriously. “We wouldn't have.” Kyungsoo squeezes his waist and echoes the sentiment. This time, when Jongin grins, it doesn't sting so badly.
They take their time with goodbyes, Yixing insisting on a weekly coffee date and Zitao hugging him every five minutes, but once Joonmyun leaves again, it hits him. This is the first time he's truly been jobless in years, this is the first time that he doesn't have to worry about five other people on a daily basis. He doesn't have to worry about Jongin. That aches, and he feels incredibly directionless.
He also feels entirely free. He heads to a diner that he knows nearby, something that serves cheap breakfast all day, looking forward to truly having a day off.
Jongin is still at the back of his head, of course. Joonmyun is pretty sure that Jongin and his huge, childish smile, his effortless dancing, the sweet way he looks when he sleeps, it'll all be at the back of his head for a long time. But for the first time in a long time, he thinks that maybe, that won't be forever. Maybe there's something out there for him after Jongin. That makes him smile to himself, broad and genuine.
“Holy crap,” someone says. Startled, Joonmyun turns to find a man looking at him, eyes wide. He's handsome, with dark hair and high cheekbones. “Wow, this is gonna sound weird, but you just have the greatest smile.”
Taken aback, Joonmyun blinks at him for a second, a flush colouring his cheeks. “Thanks,” he says quickly.
“Like, wow, you could light a city block with that smile.” This surprises a laugh out of Joonmyun, and he's delighted when the guy grins in return. “Hi,” he says. “I'm Jongdae.” He dips his head in a quick bow.
“Joonmyun,” he replies. Jongdae is a little bit magnetic, his smile stretching across his whole face, and Joonmyun can't help but be entranced by the way he looks at him.
“Hey,” Jongdae says. “I was just gonna grab some breakfast. Did you want some company?”
It only takes Joonmyun a second to decide. “Sure,” he agrees easily.
Jongdae beams. “Awesome,” he tells him.
As they slide into a booth, Joonmyun looks out at the day. It's going to be a beautiful one, clear skies all day. He decides to take that as a positive omen. Clear skies all day.