[千春] Chiharu (chiharu) wrote in runandgun,
[千春] Chiharu
chiharu
runandgun

Breathe Slow, for portaldice

Title: Breathe Slow
For: portaldice
Pairing: Suho/Kai/Kyungsoo, Kai/Kyungsoo
Rating: PG
Length: 5800~
Summary: Joonmyun is so busy looking after everyone else, but who looks after Joonmyun?




Kyungsoo starts noticing it some time in the middle of promotions. Joonmyun is all smiles in front of the cameras, always prepared with an answer for the unending barrage of questions, the perfect leader. It's in the moments away from the camera that he slips. When the rest of the group is talking excitedly about the performance, fidgeting and fixing hair, Joonmyun stands at the back of the elevator. His eyes are squeezed shut, his brow furrows. The instant the door opens, his eyes pop open and the smile is on.

Something about that breaks Kyungsoo's heart, just a little. He starts seeing it all the time. The way Joonmyun's shoulders slump when he takes a second to get a drink during a shoot, but bounce back up when he turns around again. His fingers, digging into his knees, white-knuckled, during an interview. The way Kyungsoo catches him in the kitchen late at night, after schedules, staring blankly into space. Always, the instant afterwards, that big smile, the one that never quite makes it to his eyes.

Kyungsoo tries the direct approach first. They're waiting to go onstage at Music Core, and Joonmyun's grin is wide, hard, and so obviously painted on. Kyungsoo tugs on his jacket, pulls him away from the others a little. “Are you okay?” he asks softly. He keeps his fingers hooked in the rolled up cuff of Joonmyun's jacket.

He can't help but be a little hurt when Joonmyun shrugs him off, pulling his arm out of Kyungsoo's grip. “I'm fine,” he lies. There's tension in every line of his body, in the way that he can't quite meet Kyungsoo's eyes. “Just tired, you know? I must not have slept well.” Kyungsoo's mouth twists, but he says nothing. “Guess I'll have to make sure to make up for it tonight.” The forced cheer is grating.

One of the staff waves a hand at them from her spot near the stage, tells them they're on in a few. “You know,” Kyungsoo says, even as Joonmyun is tugging at his lapels for him, carefully patting his hair into place. “If you ever need to talk, about anything - “

“I'm fine,” Joonmyun cuts him off, almost sharp and Kyungsoo raises his eyebrows. Since when has Joonmyun been so abrupt? “Don't worry about me, worry about hitting that note in the second verse!” His tone is artificially light and he squeezes Kyungsoo's elbow before slipping off to give a bit of last minute encouragement to the rest of the group. Kyungsoo watches him go, and he can't shake the feeling that something is entirely off.

Kyungsoo resolves to do something to help. Over the next week, he does his best to help Joonmyun. He's the first to try to help rein everyone in when they have to work, or hand a towel to Joonmyun. It earns him a quiet thanks and an odd, prolonged look from the corner of his eye that makes Kyungsoo's stomach clench.

There's a time, one night after all their schedules, when they all get back to the dorm and Sehun and Jongin are still buzzing with adrenaline from recording. They're loud and rowdy and Sehun throws Jongin into the couch. Jongin yelps and drags Sehun down with him, the two of them shouting with laughter as they wrestle. It's too much noise at the end of the night, and Kyungsoo doesn't like the way that Baekhyun slams his door just a little too hard. Joonmyun stands with his hands out uncertainly, like he's not sure where to start with the two of them, and Kyungsoo just has to help.

“Guys,” Kyungsoo says, and he's ignored. “Guys,” he repeats, and this time Jongin looks up from where he's trying to pin Sehun's shoulders. His grin fades a little and he straightens. “Come on, it's too late for this.”

Jongin climbs off Sehun and walks to press his fingertips to Kyungsoo's hip in a silent apology. Sehun is not nearly so easy, rolling his eyes and looking sullen. He grumbles until Jongin knocks his hat off his head, crinkling his nose up at him. They swipe at each other until Sehun escapes with a laugh, fleeing to the room he shares with Joonmyun.

Joonmyun watches as all of this unfolds, and when Kyungsoo turns to look at him, smiling, he only nods uncomfortably in thanks. Kyungsoo catches the flash of disappointment that crosses Joonmyun's face and his chest clenches, because he knows it's not directed at him or even the kids. Joonmyun is disappointed in himself, for not being able to handle things on his own. Kyungsoo's concern must show on his face, because Joonmyun just pastes on that smile of his and waves him off again.

Kyungsoo has never felt this helpless in his life.

-

When he's changing for bed that night, Kyungsoo can't stop thinking about how exhausted Joonmyun looks. He pauses with his shirt in his hands, frowning.

Jongin is already sitting in bed, yawning and blinking up at him. “You have thinking face on,” he says, and there's concern in his eyes. “What's up?” He holds out his hand. Kyungsoo shimmies out of his jeans and takes it, sitting down heavily next to him. He knows that Jongin is about ready to drop, but this has been eating at him for days and he doesn't know what to do.

“Have you noticed Joonmyun looking, I don't know, weird, lately?” Jongin curls his arm around Kyungsoo's waist and rests his chin on his shoulder. “Like, all run down? He won't talk to me.”

Jongin hums sleepily, idly tapping his fingertips against Kyungsoo's belly. “No,” he says honestly, which doesn't really surprise Kyungsoo. Jongin has never been terribly observant. “You worried about him? He's the leader. He's good at looking after things.”

“Yes,” Kyungsoo agrees. “But who looks after him?”

Jongin snorts. It was a bad idea to talk to him at this time of night, Jongin's a sleepy mess, only half-coherent and a little bit resentful of anything that ends with him staying awake longer. “He's Suho. The guardian. Doesn't need anyone to look after him.” He's doing that thing where he wriggles like a puppy, nosing into the curve of Kyungsoo's throat.

Pursing his lips, Kyungsoo sighs. He doesn't tip his head to rest against Jongin's like he usually does. “What if he does, though?” he asks after a few seconds. Maybe he should let it drop, maybe he should be like Jongin and just let it be, but he can't. There's just something so painful about that exhaustion in Joonmyun's eyes and he can't let it go.

There must be some edge to his voice, because Jongin shifts to look at him, hard, searching. “Okay,” he says after a bit. “Tomorrow, we see if leader's being all weird.” He sounds tired and a bit resigned, but he doesn't let Kyungsoo cut him off with thanks. “Bed now. No more thinking.”

Kyungsoo lets Jongin pull him down into bed, wrapping around him automatically as he tries to settle in to sleep. He's not relaxing, though, and he knows that Jongin can tell. “No more thinking,” he repeats insistently, his voice slurred with sleep, and he reaches back to pinch Kyungsoo in the side. “Gonna keep me awake.”

“Okay, okay,” Kyungsoo laughs quietly. He can't turn off the worrying, not entirely, but Jongin has a point. There's nothing to be done tonight. He might as well focus on trying to get some rest. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, they'd see about it.

-

Throughout the next day, Kyungsoo keeps an eye on Joonmyun, and he knows Jongin is watching too. He's the first to offer to grab Joonmyun a water, or to let him take the front seat, and each time Joonmyun smiles politely and refuses.

In their vocal training, Kyungsoo can hear the strain in Joonmyun's voice, the lack of sleep taking its toll. He's told to repeat his parts, again and again, until their vocal coach is frustrated and disappointed and Joonmyun is shrinking in on himself. When they're dismissed, Kyungsoo reaches out for him, but Joonmyun is already shying away, talking brightly about how glad he is that it's already time to eat.

They meet up again with the rest of the group to eat before dance practice and Jongin slides into the seat next to Kyungsoo. “I don't think you're imagining it,” he says, toying with his food. Across the table, Joonmyun laughs on cue when Sehun cracks a joke, but it never reaches his eyes. When Sehun looks away, the smile slides off Joonmyun's face, replaced by a kind of dire exhaustion. When Kyungsoo looks over at Jongin again, he's surprised by the bald-faced shock in his eyes. “Jesus,” he says under his breath.

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo says. Joonmyun catches sight of them, watching, and then there's that cheery grin again. He waves at them. Now he's on guard. He knows they're paying attention. It makes Kyungsoo a little sick.

Under the table, Jongin's hand finds his. “What are we gonna do?” he asks. Kyungsoo loves that about him, that Jongin sees Kyungsoo's worry and wants to fix it. He's so straightforward, so simple. He sees a problem, and immediately, he wants to solve it. “I'm gonna talk to him.”

Kyungsoo has to stop Jongin from getting to his feet with a firm grip on his wrist. “No, Jongin, not now.” Jongin sits down heavily and wrinkles his nose. He sees no reason to wait, clearly. “Vocal training...didn't go well.” Jongin digs his teeth into his lip, understanding dawning, and nods. “Tonight, at the dorms, maybe?”

Jongin pushes away the remnants of his lunch. “How long as this been going on?” he asks.

Kyungsoo glances at Joonmyun out of the corner of his eye, taking in the stiffness of his shoulders, his frozen expression, and his tight grip on the table's edge. “Too long,” he says softly.

“We'll help him.” Jongin squeezes his hand. “We'll fix it.” Jongin's always so confident.

Kyungsoo hopes he's right.

-

He's slipping, Joonmyun realizes. He'd thought he was being so good with hiding it, how everything is getting to him, but he's not. Jongin corners him after practice one day. “What's wrong?” he asks, right to the point. “You're all...” Jongin stretches his lips out in a gross parody of a smile. “It's weird.” The worry in his eyes is like a punch in the gut. For Jongin to catch on, to see what's going on, Joonmyun must not have been very good at this at all.

It takes Joonmyun a few seconds to gather himself, figure out what he's going to say. He knows it can't be the truth. “I think I'm coming down with a stomach bug?” he says hesitantly.

He doesn't like the way that Jongin's mouth twists, clearly not believing his words. Jongin doesn't argue with him though, and Joonmyun is so, so grateful. Instead, Jongin's eyes flick to the doorway and then back. “Get lots of sleep, hyung,” he says, pursing his lips. “And drink lots of fluids.” Joonmyun thanks him for being so thoughtful and then disappears into his room. As he closes the door, he sees Kyungsoo leaning against the doorway and Jongin joins him, the two of them watching him.

It's not a complete lie, not really. He is coming down with something, he can tell by the ache in his throat and his sinuses, but it's mostly a cover-up for everything else.

When they'd called him in to tell him that he'd made it into the new group, and he'd be the leader, no less, Joonmyun had been ecstatic. Finally, all of his work, his seven years of sweat and blood and no sleep and learning when to smile and nod, it was all paying off. They just didn't tell him how much more pressure it'd be.

He is responsible for all of them. He doesn't just work for himself, he works for them. If Jongin pushes himself too hard in dance practice and pulls something, Joonmyun is the one who must watch him, make sure that he walks that line between resting enough to heal and still training enough to satisfy the company. He is the one who has to gauge when Baekhyun is spending too long on vocal training, when the point is between singing himself hoarse or practicing to perfection. When one of them slips up, it's not just their mistake, it's his, too. He is not just one person anymore, he's six.

It's hard. He spends long nights, worrying about the other members. Their health, are they homesick? Do they spend too much time scrolling through comments, do they take all the negative ones to heart? Suho is a name he's been assigned, but he takes his role seriously. He has to. He's spent seven years training for this, and this is his last chance. They have to do it right.

He doesn't remember the last time he slept through the whole night, without laying awake for hours and turning things over in his head. He's so tired. And the thing is, he doesn't know how to quit, either. How could he quit? Just because he wants a break? He'd be letting so many people down. He'd be letting himself down.

So he keeps going. He barrels on and he plasters on that smile and pretends like he doesn't feel like he's going to drop. It's harder than anything he has ever done.

It only gets harder with Kyungsoo and Jongin watching him like hawks. That somehow feels like a kind of failure. He is the leader, he is supposed to be looking after them, and yet here Kyungsoo is, all concern in his big eyes, refusing to let Joonmyun give away the last water bottle, insisting he sits when he looks tired. He appreciates the thought, but he can't help but feeling terrible for making him look after him.

Joonmyun spends the next week ignoring the way the tickle in his throat turns to out and out pain, makes him hoarse enough that the vocal coach snaps at him and sends him out early, refusing to work with him while he sounds that bad. He starts coughing, a horrible, ragged chest cough that he can't shake. He does his best to hide it from the members, slipping out of the practice room when he can feel a coughing spell coming on, running to the bathroom to cough so hard he's doubled over, feeling like he's going to gag. It leaves him pale and shaking, one hand braced against the sink. He doesn't know how much longer he can do this.

He's being an idiot, he knows. If he doesn't look after this, he will never get better. The thing is, when can he rest? Their comeback is in full swing, they're playing four shows a week, sometimes five, and every moment of their day is crammed full of interviews, radio shows, and practice. If he stops, he's letting everyone down. He can't do that.

Two weeks after their comeback, they're filming for Inkigayo. Joonmyun feels worse than he ever has. In the chairs, Sehun looks at him sideways, mouth tight with concern. “Oh, Joonmyun-ssi, you're so pale,” one of the stylists chides, clicking her tongue as she pulls at his hair. “Look at you!”

Joonmyun laughs weakly. “You caught me,” he says. “I'm becoming a vampire.” The stylists favour him with a laugh even though they know the joke is dumb, and Sehun manages a smile, but he's still looking at him funny. The moment passes, though, and Joonmyun is glad. He's not certain he'll get through today's filming.

He has to hide the way he wavers when he stands by anchoring himself against the wall or Sehun's shoulder. His hands shake when they move to their beginning positions for the dress rehearsal. “Hyung?” Jongin asks quietly from his spot beside him.

Joonmyun shakes his head. “Didn't get enough sleep,” he insists. Jongin frowns. He's never liked being lied to.

It's pure luck that gets Joonmyun through that performance. He stumbles enough times that the PDs get exasperated, but he's too dizzy to focus properly. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” he says again and again, bowing deeply and trying not to wobble with the blood rush to his head.

Relief floods through his body when they call for a wrap and Joonmyun sighs. He follows Chanyeol and Baekhyun off the stage, smiling weakly as Baekhyun complains about how he thinks he won't get any camera time, and then suddenly everything tilts. He can't get his feet the right way under him and the floor rushes up to meet him. The last thing he hears before he slides into darkness is Kyungsoo and Jongin, shouting his name in near unison.

-

It's weird. It is so incredibly weird, to be sitting onstage, trying to listen to the stage banter of the hosts instead of noticing the gaping hole where Joonmyun should be. Jongin is restless, playing with his rings, biting his lip. He knows that he'll be scolded for his behavior later, but there is something so unnerving about being here while their leader isn't.

He's in the hospital, they've been told. He'll be fine, but he'd collapsed, the flu combined with exhaustion, and he needs some rest. At least, Jongin supposes, he'll be forced to get that rest. No more excuses. That was something, right?

His eyes wander back to the MC and he smiles vacantly. Chanyeol has stepped up to take Joonmyun's spot in the interview, and he does a surprisingly good job. He's fast with answers and oddly charming, even if he is a bit alarming.

There are still moments, though. Near the end of the interview, Jongin tucks his hands between his knees, trying to remind himself not to fidget. He looks up and smiles automatically when the MC speaks. “And you have a series of fanmeets coming up, right?”

There's a beat where all of them wait for someone who isn't there to answer. Jongin digs his teeth into his lip painfully. “Yes,” Chanyeol replies hesitantly after a second, saving the moment. The relief coming from the rest of them is almost palpable. “We have five fanmeets in the next five days - “

Jongin tunes him out, eyes falling to his hands, his chest aching. This isn't how it's supposed to be.

-

In theory, doing the choreography adjusted for five people should be easy. And physically, it is. Jongin has no trouble with it, with remembering he's supposed to go left instead of up, to make room for Baekhyun rather than Joonmyun. The problem lays in Kyungsoo and Baekhyun splitting up Joonmyun's part, in the way that Kyungsoo ducks his head and swallows, just for a second, before he sings out Joonmyun's lines in the bridge. It's like the whole tone of the song has changed. Sure, they can do it without Joonmyun there. That doesn't mean he likes it.

-

Jongin normally doesn't pay the fans a whole lot of attention. While he's appreciative of their love and support, he finds the screaming, the demands for his attention, it's all a bit much. When they're heading out from filming for Music Core one day, there's one insistent girl, waving desperately at him. “Kai oppa!” she calls. “Can you give this to Suho oppa? Tell him we want him to get well soon!” She waves a colourful bag at him.

Jongin hesitates, and Kyungsoo looks back at him, confused. It takes only a second for Jongin to decide to push past their security and staff and pull the bag out of her grip. He squeezes her hand in his briefly. “Thank you,” he says earnestly, and she claps a hand over her mouth and blushes hard.

Their manager drags him back to the group, an exasperated slant to his mouth, but he doesn't scold him. Jongin takes that as a win. Kyungsoo looks up as he climbs into the van and hands over the fan gift. “He'll appreciate this,” Kyungsoo tells him, and Jongin smiles at him. He hopes so.

-

Hospitals make Jongin so uncomfortable. Everyone says it's the smell, the antiseptics, but he thinks that it's everything. It's the smell, but it's also the sparse walls, the furniture in what he assumes is supposed to be soothing colours, the constant noise of machines. It all makes his skin crawl. If it weren't for Kyungsoo, anchoring him with a hand in his and his head on his shoulder, he might've escaped already.

It'd taken a bit of persuasion, but their managers had finally agreed to let them skip out on practice to go visit Joonmyun. It had surprised Jongin, a little, how hard Kyungsoo had pushed for it. His voice shook as he pleaded with them in the doorway of their practice room, saying he'd work doubly hard to make up for it, it would be like he'd never missed any time at all, saying Jongin could use the break to rest his injury. Jongin's head had snapped up at that, and he'd stared, saying nothing. It was true, probably, but he didn't like to think about needing concessions.

In the end, they'd agreed, and Jongin knew that they'd hold Kyungsoo to his promise. Their days would be even longer and harder than the ones before debut. Jongin didn't particularly like the thought of that, but he also didn't like the thought of Joonmyun, waking up alone in the hospital. He's always looked after them. He deserves better.

So here they are. Joonmyun sleeps in front of them, unmoving, brow tense even in sleep. It's a cliche, probably, to think that he looks small, but he does. The circles under his eyes are stark against his pale skin, and Jongin can't stand how weak and wan he looks.

The whole thing makes Jongin feel scared and angry. How could Joonmyun have let it come this far? Just because he's the leader doesn't mean he didn't have to look after himself, too. This should never have happened. It wasn't serious, according to their managers, but it'd been serious enough to require a stay at the hospital. And that was kind of terrifying. Joonmyun has always been there, even through all his trainee days. Even if they weren't close, he was a constant. The scare of his collapse threatened that, and Jongin doesn't like it. He can't shake the tightness in his shoulders and his throat.

Kyungsoo had drifted off after their first hour there, head settled comfortably on Jongin's shoulder and their fingers laced together. Jongin envies him. He could never sleep, not in a place like this, not with Joonmyun's exhausted face turned towards them in his sleep. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, doing his best not to wake Kyungsoo up, and wonders if this is even worth it. Joonmyun isn't even conscious. This is a waste of -

Joonmyun sighs as his eyes slide open. Instantly, Jongin tenses, staring at him. It takes Joonmyun a few seconds to orient himself, looking around, eyes wide with confusion. “Oh,” he says finally, his voice rough with sleep. His gaze falls on Jongin and Kyungsoo and something in his expression shifts, becomes guarded. “Right. Fainted.” He grimaces a little, embarrassed.

“Collapsed,” Jongin corrects hoarsely. Joonmyun avoids his eyes, and slowly, with great effort, pushes himself up into a half-sitting position.

“Sure.” The silence stretches between them, broken only by the soft noise of the machine by Joonmyun's bed, and Jongin swallows. He doesn't like how Joonmyun is staring at his hands or the tight line of his lips. He doesn't know what he'd expected when Joonmyun woke up, but it wasn't this uncomfortable lack of words, and it wasn't the self-loathing on Joonmyun's face.

It's impulse that pushes Jongin to his feet, nudging away Kyungsoo less gently than he should. Startled, Kyungsoo blinks awake, scrubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand as he yawns. Jongin takes a few hesitant steps towards Joonmyun on the bed, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. “Why didn't you say anything?” he asks plainitively.

Joonmyun still doesn't look up. “I didn't want to worry anyone,” he says, shrugging his shoulder like that's a legitimate reason.

Jongin frowns. “You're stupid,” he tells Joonmyun. A flash of irritation crosses Joonmyun's face as he looks, and Jongin's pleased. Better than letting him hate himself. He eyes Joonmyun's bed – it's not big, but it's no smaller than their beds in the dorm. “Shove over,” he says.

Behind him, Kyungsoo laughs quietly. Joonmyun stares at him, baffled, until Jongin toes off his shoes and clambers into the bed next to him. Letting out an undignified squawk, Joonmyun lets Jongin push him gently until there's room for the two of them to lay down. When a nurse comes next, Jongin knows he's likely to be scolded and told to move, but for now, he settles himself down next to Joonmyun on the thin mattress. He wiggles an arm underneath Joonmyun but doesn't pull him in, pretending not to notice the way Joonmyun's fingers curl into the front of his shirt as he twists to lay his head on Jongin's shoulder. “Stupid,” Jongin says again, his tone soft.

The quiet of the room is broken when Kyungsoo drags his chair right to the side of the bed. “Be nice,” he tells Jongin, but the amused twist to his mouth takes the edge out of his scolding. Kyungsoo reaches for Joonmyun's hand and holds it between both of his.

It's surprising, the way that Jongin can actually feel the way Joonmyun's shoulders relax as Kyungsoo rubs his thumb across the inside of Joonmyun's wrist. He still looks exhausted, but when he smiles, this time it's smaller and genuine, and Jongin thinks they can take that as a win.

Kyungsoo holds his hand tight while he talks, filling Joonmyun in on the things that have happened since he's left, the interview where Chanyeol took the lead, the gifts the fans have given them to pass on to him, how Baekhyun had messed up the adapted five-person choreography and nearly fallen, recovering with a smile.

Sometimes Jongin is really grateful for Kyungsoo and how he manages to make everything feel easier. He's not a particularly gifted speaker, but he's so earnest and bright it kind of fills in all the parts of a conversation that might otherwise be left hollow. Which is good, because Jongin has never been any good with words. He has to work with what he's got. Right now, that's just his knowledge of how Joonmyun thrives on contact and his own presence. He hopes it helps.

Like this, with Kyungsoo glancing at Jongin as squeezes Joonmyun's hand, Jongin thinks that maybe the hospital is tolerable. When Kyungsoo runs out of things to say, this time the quiet isn't so awful. After a few minutes, Jongin feels Joonmyun sigh against his chest. “Sometimes,” he says, and Jongin tips his head towards him, listening. Next to them, Kyungsoo stills, looking up at Joonmyun. Joonmyun's voice is faint and Jongin watches him swallow hard. It's like the words he's trying to say are fighting him every inch of the way “Sometimes, I just...get so tired. Being the leader, it's. There's so much work.”

There's more he's not saying, but Jongin knows that just this was a huge step for Joonmyun, so he doesn't push. A glance at Kyungsoo tells Jongin that they're both thinking the same thing. “It's a big job,” Kyungsoo agrees. Jongin is thankful for Kyungsoo's matter-of-fact tone. Pity is not what Joonmyun needs. “Of course it's going to be a lot of pressure.” Joonmyun shifts, his lips tightening and pulls his hand out of Kyungsoo's. Jongin just sidles closer, and Kyungsoo doesn't look away. “You've done so much on your own. You have a lot of strength.”

Jongin hums in agreement. Joonmyun opens his mouth to speak but Jongin frowns at him. “Don't argue,” he says, grumpy, digging his fingers into Joonmyun's side. “That wasn't a question.” Joonmyun narrows his eyes at Jongin as he looks up at him, and Jongin just beams smugly at the familiar sight of Joonmyun's annoyance. There's a softness to his eyes, though, and that's encouraging.

“I wasn't arguing,” Joonmyun protests, but Kyungsoo laughs. It's sweet and sincere and Joonmyun wrinkles his nose, but there's a smile playing at the corners of his lips.

“It's okay to ask for help,” Kyungsoo tells him. Jongin nods along with him, cheek brushing the top of Joonmyun's head. “It doesn't make you weak.”

Jongin cuts in. “And a leader is no good if he pretends everything is fine and then works himself to death.”

Exasperated, Kyungsoo raises his eyebrows and sighs. “You're so encouraging,” Joonmyun says dryly, thumping his hand against Jongin's chest. Unrepentant, Jongin shrugs a shoulder. Hey, he's just calling it like it is. Joonmyun hesitates. “I'm sorry,” he says again. “I shouldn't have – I'm sorry.”

“No,” Kyungsoo says firmly. “Enough apologies.” He hooks a hand around Joonmyun's knee and looks up at him, eyes wide and solemn. “You just worried us.”

“So don't do it again.” Joonmyun snorts at Jongin's words. “I'm serious! Pinky swear.” Jongin holds out his pinky and he knows that Joonmyun will take it. He doesn't let Jongin down. Joonmyun laughs when Kyungsoo immediately follows suit, offering his pinky as well.

“I promise,” Joonmyun says quietly, seriously. Jongin nods in approval. Looking between the two of them, Joonmyun looks thoughtful, but he doesn't speak.

They stay like that, the three of them, until a doctor comes in and shoos them away, wanting to check Joonmyun out and do some tests. It's almost time for them to return to the dorm anyway, their manager is waiting for them in the hall, but Jongin doesn't really want to go. He's not afraid of the late night of practice that awaits him, but he doesn't want to leave Joonmyun alone in this sterile place. Kyungsoo hugs Joonmyun tight and tells him to come home soon, and there's warmth in Jongin's chest when Joonmyun looks up at them sleepily and agrees.

When they leave, Jongin pauses in the doorway. “Goodnight, hyung,” he says.

The smile on Joonmyun's face is sweet and warm, and he doesn't look nearly as worn out as he had just a few hours ago. “Goodnight.” As they leave the hospital, Kyungsoo's fingers brush up against Jongin's and he looks down at him. For the first time in days, Kyungsoo looks hopeful.

-

Joonmyun hadn't really been expecting a long break or a vacation after his collapse, but he'd been hoping for more than a few days of light schedule before being thrown back into the thick of things. He shouldn't complain, though, he did get some time off, and now their manager watches him like a hawk to make sure he's eating properly.

It doesn't take long before that old weariness sets in again, though, and that's the worst part. Their schedules are relentless, practice, vocal training, interviews, plus the four stages a week, and now Joonmyun has to be doubly careful to hide things from everyone. He can feel their eyes on him, always, but especially Kyungsoo and Jongin. Jongin's gaze is thoughtful and Kyungsoo always smiles reassuringly, but somehow it all just seems like more pressure.

The only time he lets things slip is late at night, when he leans against the shower wall and does his best not to cry out of sheer exhaustion, or when he's curled up in bed, back to Sehun as he presses the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. He has to be strong. If he doesn't hold them together, who will?

He stumbles one day during dance practice, and grimaces when Kyungsoo, always alert, suggests they take a break. The rest of the group is more than willing, disappearing from the practice room to grab something to eat, but Jongin lingers at the door and Kyungsoo doesn't move. “It's okay to be tired,” Kyungsoo says gently. He holds out a water bottle for Joonmyun.

“You pinky swore,” Jongin points out. Joonmyun takes the water bottle from Kyungsoo's hand, avoiding their eyes. It doesn't help that they're surrounded by mirrors, though, and Jongin's reflection shows him the accusation in his gaze.

“I'm sorry,” Joonmyun says, yet again, and Kyungsoo puts a gentle hand on his elbow.

“Don't be sorry,” he tells Joonmyun. “Let us help.” The earnest, worried tone to Kyungsoo's voice makes Joonmyun look up, and he touches Kyungsoo's hand. His first impulse is to apologize again, but Jongin is watching him, eyebrows raised, so he swallows it, and instead tips his head to rest against Kyungsoo's shoulder.

“I'll go talk to manager hyung.” Jongin disappears from the doorway. Joonmyun doesn't have a lot of faith in Jongin's ability to sweet talk the managers, but the thought is nice. Kyungsoo rubs a steady hand against Joonmyun's back and Joonmyun leans into the touch.

Jongin returns a few minutes later, looking annoyed. He hasn't gotten them a break, but he has managed to get their practice cut short, which is at least a bit of a concession. When the rest of the group returns, Joonmyun feels relaxed enough that the smile he flashes at Sehun is real, not just pasted on.

Leaving for the dorm that night, Kyungsoo follows at Joonmyun's shoulder, as close as a shadow, his fingers pressed tight against Joonmyun's waist. Chanyeol and Baekhyun chatter away and Sehun is glued to his phone, texting Luhan, and Jongin trails behind, quiet. When Joonmyun catches his eye, they exchange brief smiles. Jongin knows pressure, Joonmyun remembers. He is the face of EXO, after all.

Chanyeol runs ahead to the van, still somehow full of energy despite the long practice, and Baekhyun tries to chase him down, hissing at him about being an embarrassment. Kyungsoo smiles indulgently and hooks an elbow around both Joonmyun and Jongin's arms. The pressure of his arm and the way Jongin ducks his head and the corners of his mouth turns up, it makes Joonmyun look forward to having an evening off.

Maybe, just maybe, he can do this after all. Kyungsoo squeezes their arms and drags them to the van and Jongin laughs and yeah, Joonmyun thinks. He can do this.
Tags: postings, summer 2012
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