writtendlessly (writtendlessly) wrote,

Soohyun/Hoon - A Step Behind

Title: A Step Behind
Pairing: Soohyun/Hoon, background Eli/Kevin
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Selfless to a fault, Soohyun has played the martyr since before he ever needed to. But every sacrifice comes at a cost, one too big to ever fully pay.
A/N: 8k+ words of Soohyun-focused fic. I wanted to have this done by his birthday last year, so I'm only a year late. Rating is for brief, vague references to sex and some cursing. Title comes from translated lyrics of the Soohyun/Hoon duet, which fits this pretty well at times. Enjoy!

Soohyun is eight years old and he is madly in like with Jihyun, the girl who sits two rows ahead of him. She wears her hair in pigtails and whenever she smiles, Soohyun feels like he's going to throw up. He asks his older sister if this is what love feels like and she just laughs at him—but she's dumb anyways and Soohyun is certain that he's right. They'll be married some day, he's sure of it.

One day at recess, Soohyun gathers the courage to go talk to Jihyun and give her the letter he wrote her the day before. She's surrounded by a bunch of girls, but Soohyun confidently walks up to her and says, "Hi, Jihyun. How are you?"

The girls giggle and Jihyun smiles. "I'm okay, Soohyun."

There's a pause and even more laughter. Soohyun wishes they would shut up and go away, but doesn't say anything.

"Our names are almost the same, you know?" Soohyun mutters shyly. "You're Jihyun and I'm Soohyun."

"You're right!" Jihyun exclaims, and giggles, herself. Soohyun smiles at that, the sound of her laughter like tinkling bells—unlike the cackling sound of the girls around her.

"I, um," Soohyun musters up all the courage he has and spits out, "Iwroteyoualetter."

He holds the letter out and waits for her to take it, carefully watching her face as she reads it. The other girls peek over her shoulder and whisper to each other before Jihyun folds it up and holds it out to Soohyun.

"I'm sorry, Soohyun," she says softly, and immediately Soohyun feels crushing disappointment. "I don't like you back."

Soohyun stares at her for a moment, then takes the note back and shoves it in his pocket. He mutters, "Bye," and quickly starts heading back inside the school. His stomach is twisted in knots and he's blinking back tears, but he can't help but take one last look back.

He sees Jihyun and the other girls tittering to each other as they stare at the good-looking boy from two grades up, Soohyun's confession already forgotten. He watches them call out, "Oppa, oppa!" and Soohyun has the thought that Jihyun's hair is really kind of stupid, especially when she puts it into pigtails. Soohyun tears his eyes away from the group when his friends call out to him and encourage him to come join their hacky sack game before recess is over. Soohyun runs over, a smile quickly spreading across his face and his previous embarrassment off his mind completely.

Whatever, he thinks. Girls are gross anyway.

Soohyun lets it go.

Ten years later and girls are the last thing on Soohyun’s mind. Training every day undeniably takes a lot out of Soohyun. He comes back to the dorm every night too tired to do anything, but still manages to take a shower and call his mother before collapsing into bed. He knows it will be worth it someday when he finally gets to stand on stage and live out his dream, so he puts up with all the stress and pain and focuses on the positive­—he's improving, he has amazing friends, he's learning a lot.

He learns to take short naps to combat the tiredness, he rests his voice to be the best singer he can be, he laughs with friends whenever possible. He makes the most of it, because what else can he do? The hard times will be over soon enough.

Soohyun lets it go.

All the hard work eventually does pay off, and Soohyun works happily with his fellow U-Kiss members, living out his dream like he always imagined. They're a perfect little family, the six of them, and he knows that one day they'll make it big—if only they keep working, if they work as a team. But his happy little family is shaken apart the day they company presents them with Kiseop.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Kiseop; he works hard, he doesn't talk much, he's good-looking. Yet his presence is this weight on all of their shoulders, causing endless doubts. Are they going to take a member out now, are they going to add more, are any of them safe? The family they had was fine before, Soohyun thinks, and he's scared they won't be the same after this.

The boy in question doesn't try to force himself into their group, and at times it feels like he's just a backup dancer rather than a member. Soohyun starts to feel bad for him not fitting in as they practice and record, but nothing could have prepared them for the fans’ reactions.

Some are supportive, or confused, but there are a lot of angry ones too. As the hate mail for Kiseop pours in, Soohyun loses any skepticism he had about the boy. He remains strong and composed despite the attacks and Soohyun grows to admire him more than anything. His family is still a little shaken, something pushed in where there wasn't enough room, but he knows they'll adjust soon.

Soohyun lets it go.

After the success of Man Man Ha Ni, Soohyun feels like he's on a constant adrenaline rush. Things are finally working out; they’re getting the recognition they deserve. Sure, they didn't win, but they built the momentum and that number one place is certain to be coming. But Bingeul Bingeul comes and goes and they aren’t any closer to a win. By the time they're promoting Shut Up it's like their surge of success never happened.

They all try to pretend it isn't getting to them, but there’s discourse amongst them, amongst the staff. By the time they’re informed of the member changes, no one is really even surprised.

The leader thing does come as a surprise though, and Soohyun is suddenly faced with all of these doubts. How can he lead when he isn't sure where they’re going—or if they’re even going at all? As the days go on, the stress piles up unendingly and he feels as if he is constantly on the edge of a breakdown.

Yet he can’t deny, the times when all the members are smiling and laughing together, the times when he can take away their stress even for just a moment—that makes it worth it. He’s wearing down every day, weakening from the inside and trying desperately to make sure no one notices; but the boys are happy and he’s happy because of it. He has to be; what else can he do besides be happy? The stress is always there, but if he ignores it long enough it’s almost like he’s strong enough to overcome it.


Soohyun lets it go.

They think he doesn't know, but he knows. He's the leader; it's his job to know everything, even what the members aren't saying. Plus it's hard to miss when he walks in on the two of them together in the room Eli shares with Soohyun and Dongho. Soohyun covers his eyes even though they are only sitting, clothed, on the edge of the bed, hands linked between them and mouths pressed together.

Soohyun gives them a moment to sort themselves out, and when the rustling stops he uncovers his eyes. Kevin is sitting as far away from Eli as possible, staring shyly at his lap. Eli is the opposite, glaring defiantly at Soohyun. Soohyun can see his hand twitching in his lap from his desire to take Kevin in his arms and comfort the obviously distressed boy.

Soohyun glances between the two for a moment, before sighing and sitting on the floor in front of them. As the two watch him confusedly, he says, "C'mon, tell me everything."

Eli's voice is tentative at first, awkwardly trying to explain their situation, despite not being a talker, because Kevin won't speak. He gradually gets more confident as he goes on, especially when Kevin starts adding details as well. Soohyun listens attentively, getting swept up in an almost clichéd story of forbidden love. How could he not have known this was all going on, especially when it was so close?

As the excitement of their story dwindles down, the timeline they're telling getting closer and closer to the present time, Soohyun can't help but notice the small things. Kevin moves closer to Eli as he keeps talking, and their hands are against each other's in the space between. When Eli talks, Kevin blushes and giggles, hits him when he says something silly. When Kevin talks, Eli goes silent and calm, simply watching him as if he's trying to memorize every aspect of the boy. They're so fine-tuned to each other that the story has no gaps, no disagreements. If one falters, the other picks up.

Suddenly, Soohyun thinks of himself when he was fourteen, still at home with his family with only dreams of being a famous singer and no plans to act. He remembers the time he had been snooping while his mother and sisters were out shopping, stumbling upon a small box in the bottom of his mother's dresser. When he opened the box, there were about twenty pictures inside, as well as small trinkets. He touched a flower pin, a movie ticket, a fifty won coin. When he finally glanced at the photos, his heart seemed to stop beating in his chest. There was his mother, looking much younger not only because of the date scribbled on the back of the photograph, but also because of the sheer joy across her face. There was a man next to her, one who looked startlingly like Soohyun himself.

Every picture was of the two of them, laughing and smiling at each other in various locations. He spent forever pouring over the old photographs, the old romantic in him being enamored with the scenes of romance and true love. It wasn’t until his mother came home, gasping as she finds him on the floor of her bedroom, that he realized he was crying.

Soohyun's heart clenches at the memory, and suddenly he's seeing the boys before him in snap shots. Eli spares a smile at Kevin when the other boy isn't looking. Click. Kevin giggles and hits Eli's thigh. Click. The two glance at him in confusion, wondering if he's even listening. Click.

Even their moments in the past are flashing by like photographs. Every time he has seen them together suddenly has a new and strange meaning. Realization hits him like a truck and he interrupts their questions to ask, "How long?"

Kevin looks at Eli, as if scared to say the answer, before tentatively muttering, "Almost two years."

Soohyun's already aching heart seems to stop beating at that, the air leaving him in a gasp. The pictures of his parents that he had committed to memory start to blend with the image he has in front of him at this moment, and his heart shatters when Eli says desperately, "Please don't tell us to stop."

Tears well up in Soohyun's eyes and he knows he can't, knows he wouldn't. He knows this could be bad for the group, that it could ruin all of them if it got out. He knows that if they break up, it would make things awkward. He especially knows that this secret will be just another pressure he feels as the leader.

But he's a sucker for true love, for roses and poetry and chocolates, for star-crossed lovers and the ending scene where the man gets the woman of his dreams.

Soohyun wants to tell them to stop. But more than anything, he wants to see them succeed against all odds. The stress is already eating away at him, knowing that protecting these two will be yet another burden for him, but a smile is spreading across his face, nonetheless.

Soohyun lets it go.

There isn’t a win with Neverland and there isn’t one with Dora Dora, Believe, or Stop Girl either, but they go back to Japan and things are finally looking up. They're gaining success, more than they ever did in their home country, and Tokyo Dome seems more and more like a possibility than just a dream. The success in Japan undoubtedly comes with added stress, and Soohyun’s family is already down another member again. He thinks he’s holding himself together pretty well, all things considered, but the other members are still sending him concerned glances when they think he’s not looking. They’re walking on egg shells around him, which stresses him out more, and he finds himself constantly on edge, lashing out at the others before realizing what he’s doing and drawing back into himself again.

It takes two weeks of them tip-toeing around the dorm and staying dead silent in the car just to avoid Soohyun before someone does something.

It’s eleven o’clock at night and everyone except Soohyun is gathered in the living room, watching the end of some movie Hoon isn’t paying attention to. Soohyun had blown up at them for the third time that week alone and he had gone directly to his room after. He hasn’t left in over two hours, not even to get food or go to the bathroom. Hoon is more than a little concerned for himunlike the other members who are just fed upand he has been entertaining an idea to help the leader out for a few days now, but he has never found the courage to act upon it. Yet tonight proves to him more than ever that someone needs to do something quick before their entire group fell apart, so Hoon found the courage to knock on Soohyun’s door and enter even when the man ignored him. He walks in to find Soohyun sitting on his bed, the bottom bunk underneath Eli’s bed, leaning against his pillows and playing on his phone. The man is dressed in just sweatpants and a tank top and he looks up with mild annoyance as Hoon enters.

“What is it, Hoonmin?” Hoon can tell he’s still angry, still on edge, because he only ever calls people by their real, full names when he’s mad.

“How are you feeling, hyung?” Hoon asks tentatively, staying a far enough distance away that he could quickly turn around and leave should Soohyun get hostile again.

“I’m fine,” he says, turning back to his phone and dismissing Hoon. “You should probably go to sleep soon.”

Hoon hesitates before moving closer, sitting at the foot of the bed, heart pounding and hands clasping nervously at the blanket under him.

Soohyun sighs, “What the fuck do you want? I said I’m fine.”

Hoon eyes him warily, still not saying anything.

“What is it?” Soohyun snaps, all but throwing his phone down on the bed next to him.

Hoon opens his mouth, reconsiders and closes it, then opens it again and says, “Can I… Can I try something?”

Before Soohyun can open his mouth, Hoon is already interrupting. “Just like… something to help you with your stress. I looked some things up and it should work.”

Soohyun frowns, noticing now just how nervous Hoon is. The boy used to always be comfortable around him, but his recent anger has ruined their relationship to the point where Hoon is now afraid to be near him. Soohyun feels a bit of guilt at the sight of the other boy, and so he acquiesces, nodding at Hoon and saying, “Yeah, you can try.”

Hoon sits still for a moment again before he moves, crawling across the bed to settle himself next to Soohyun, practically sitting in his lap. Soohyun tries to ask what he’s doing, but Hoon shushes him, reaching a cautious hand across the space between them to settle on Soohyun’s chest. They can both feel Soohyun’s heartbeat start to pick up, and Soohyun feels his heart is going to beat out of his chest by the time Hoon slides his hand down to the seam of his shirt, lifting it and sliding under.

The first touch of skin to skin is shocking for both of them; Hoon’s hands are cold and Soohyun’s stomach is burning hot, but Hoon is undeterred. There is a part of Soohyun that still tries to believe that Hoon is only going to give him a massage, but that belief goes out the window when Hoon’s hand slips lower, sliding under his sweatpants and boxers. Soohyun opens his mouth again to question him, but this time Hoon covers it with his own, his free hand coming up to grip Soohyun’s hair.

Their movements are shy and cautious until Soohyun moans, the first sound either of them makes since they started, and suddenly Hoon is more confident, stripping both of them and gripping on to Soohyun harder. Neither lasts long, not realizing how much they needed this until this moment, and when they finish Soohyun is the most relaxed he’s felt in months.

They continue this routine for weeks, sneaking around in their dorm or backstage, slowly progressing to more and more intimate acts as time goes on. Group morale is at an all-time high, with everyone in high spirits thanks to their now extremely docile and relaxed leader. No one really questions what Hoon did or what changed, Soohyun being endlessly thankful that he doesn’t have to try to explain the weird friends-with-benefits thing they have going.

However, when AJ gets back, things suddenly become more complicated. Soohyun swears that AJ can stare right through him into all of his deepest parts sometimes, and it takes one cursory glance from the boy during a break in rehearsal to know that he knows.

AJ never says anything; he doesn’t really have to, but Soohyun can feel his stare more often than not, often shooting between him and Hoon. The other boy isn’t certain on the details—how could he be?—but he’s the type of person who will find all the information he wants eventually. Soohyun starts meeting his gazes in a desperate attempt to convey his message, silently begging him not to say anything. AJ always averts his eyes, but to his credit, he never says a word. Soohyun is relieved, but the stress starts piling back up.

The stress only increases when AJ unsurprisingly gets bored with psychoanalyzing Soohyun, and goes back to his age-old hobby of annoying Kevin. But for some reason, it’s worse this time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, Soohyun thinks, but fond might not be the right word.  AJ starts worming his way back into Kevin’s life and, inevitably, into his relationship with Eli, and Kevin is nothing short of livid. The bickering starts up again, almost doubled in strength from the last time AJ was here, and it’s just another thing Soohyun has to worry about.

Hoon (lovely, sweet, too good for him Hoon) can see the breakdown coming before even Soohyun does and decides to initiate contact between them more often. Soohyun had been shying away as of late, there never being enough time or privacy for him to risk it, but he never says no if Hoon starts it.

They’re in a hotel in some Asian country Soohyun can’t remember when Hoon corners him, says, “We’re rooming together tonight,” and looks at him, his eyes determined and a little nervous. Soohyun nods and Hoon smiles, blindingly bright and beautiful. Soohyun is on edge for the rest of the day, the thought of Hoon’s endless expanse of muscled skin filling his thoughts.

By the time they make it back to their room for the night, Soohyun is practically begging for it. He clings to Hoon, holds him so tight Hoon can barely breath, and doesn’t even bother to turn off the lights before pulling Hoon down onto the bed with him. Their movements are frenzied and desperate, with lapses of slow, methodical exploration when they need to catch their breath. They have no concern for finesse, or silence, nor the bruises and bites left on each other’s skin. Soohyun screams when he finally shakes apart, immediately falling asleep as he curls up onto his side. Hoon watches him and runs his fingers through his hair, hoping that no one heard them and that Soohyun’s stress is at least a little bit diminished. Soohyun spends the night dreaming of a wedding and a dog and an adopted daughter and Hoon smiling at him all the while, glowing from head to toe.

The next morning Soohyun wakes up alone, but finds a note from Hoon about everyone getting breakfast, signed with “Hoony” and multiple hearts. Soohyun thinks of how sweet and unnecessary the gesture is, how perfect Hoon has been to him all the time, even when he was angry and unbearable. His heart swells in a way he hasn’t felt in years (not since his trainee days, when his whole world revolved around himself and a too thin boy with an amazing voice and infectious energy) and Soohyun realizes that he is completely screwed.

When he finally makes it downstairs to the others, the continental breakfast is already packed away but next to Hoon there’s a full plate of food. Soohyun approaches the table and Hoon smiles when he sees him, pushes the plate towards him and says, “It’s for you. Probably a bit cold by now, though, sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Soohyun says, voice a little hoarse. “Thank you, Hoonmin.”

Soohyun sits and eats quietly as the other members chitchat around him, until eventually Kevin turns to him and asks, “Did you sleep well?”

Everyone at the table suddenly looks at him, occasionally glancing back at Kevin as if they are shocked he asked that. There’s a familiar knowing glint in AJ’s eyes, but this time it’s reflected in the eyes of the other members, too. They know. They all know.

Soohyun mumbles, “Yeah, thanks,” suddenly all too aware of how last night’s activities affected his voice. The managers are going to be so mad, he thinks, trying desperately to ignore the knowing and judgmental stares from his fellow members.

Nobody but Hoon says a word to him for the rest of the day.

A week goes by and Soohyun is more stressed than he ever was before, but spends all his time trying to hide it from Hoon. The boy is the source of most of his problems right now and he doesn’t think he can spend another night with him without some overly romantic and much too soon confession bursting from him without his consent.

Soohyun doesn’t want to call it love, really, truly doesn’t, but it’s the closest he’s been to the feeling in a long time. He knew it would be bad starting this, but there has always been a part of him that thought Hoon would fall and it’d be Soohyun’s fault for not catching him. He was supposed to be the strong one, the one always looking out for what’s best for the group, and now his own mistake and foolish feelings could cost them everything if he isn’t careful. He knows this all too well, and can feel the other members thinking the same things every time Soohyun even stands near Hoon. It’s almost unbearable, this constant awareness of what he can and cannot do; knowing that if he looks too long, sits too close, sighs too loud, does anything other than the textbook leader role, it could spell the end of his entire career.

The others are aware, too, and each one of them has been treating Soohyun differently ever since that night. Most won’t even look him in the eye anymore, and the ones that do have a mix of concern and cold disapproval flickering across their faces when they aren’t quick enough to put on a mask of indifference. He feels like everyone is judging him, staring right through him and picking apart all the flawed parts of him held deep within. It’s unnerving, but more than that, it just hurts.

Despite the lack of communication within the group, or rather, between Soohyun and the others, they still manage to maintain an image of perfection. It seems all the time they spend not talking to Soohyun, they’re talking amongst themselves and it almost seems like they get along better without Soohyun leading them. Soohyun isn’t too surprised at it all, at the fact that as soon as he isn’t involved, everything seems better for them. He isn’t conceited enough to think his presence matters, that he’s anything important. He isn’t the keystone of the group; he’s not even sure he’s part of the arch at all.

But mostly, he wishes they’d stop looking at him. Looking at him like he’s ruined everything and there is no going back. This is not his fault. Hoon was involved too, and Soohyun angrily thinks that no one looks at Eli and Kevin like that, and everyone knows they’re in a relationship even if they haven’t said anything yet. But maybe that’s the thing; they have an actual relationship. They have years of attraction, courting, sneaking and hiding. They have history and, above all, reciprocated feelings.

All Soohyun has is the best five months of his life and a clichéd, unrequited love that sprung up against his will. It’s not the same; it’s never going to be the same. Soohyun knows that. Maybe they all know that. Maybe that’s why they are so mad, wondering why he’s willing to risk all of their careers for a pipe dream. Soohyun isn’t too sure, himself.

The only thing he’s sure of is that he can’t keep doing this. Something’s got to give, and with the other six members teamed up (Hoon seems unaware of the whole thing, his blissful ignorance both cute and frustrating, but Soohyun knows that what is good for the group comes first in Hoon’s eyes.) against him, it has to be him.

It’s the last thing he wants to do, but his feelings don’t matter anymore. They haven’t mattered since he turned eight years old and was suddenly the man of the house, a small boy filling too big shoes.

It’s the last thing he wants to do, but he knows he has to.

Soohyun lets it go.

Three years pass and Soohyun sticks to his word. He barely cracked the whole time, and he’d be proud of himself if he had any room left for a feeling other than responsibility. He stayed strong the whole way through. He had sat Hoon down, told him they had to stop this, whatever it was. Hoon was understanding and considerate and perfect, like always, and it took every bit of willpower Soohyun had to go through with what he planned.

It was for the good of the group, he kept telling himself, but he wasn’t sure if that’s what he wanted anymore.

He held his ground and even when he was at his weakest, he never went back to him. Even though he wanted to. Even though it tore him apart from the inside out to know that what he had before he could never have again. If he found himself straying back, lured in by round cheeks and bright eyes, he’d push him away and throw himself into working out and practicing.

He lived like this for three years, taking every part of himself that was weak and pathetic and yearning for Hoon and ripped it out, replacing all the flawed parts of himself with perfectly crafted smiles and rehearsed lines. He focused all his time on himself and the group, building a wall around him so high and thick that it would take nothing short of the apocalypse to break through.

He was poised, composed and untouchable. He was fine.

Yet sometimes, the quiet nights alone in his apartment were unbearable, the weight of the world settling back on his shoulders and the silence echoing around him would perfectly match the emptiness eating at him from the inside. It’s not that he missed him, of course not; he just missed everything else. He missed feeling love and sadness and anger, missed smiling for no reason and laughing without a care. But never, ever did he miss Hoon.

Eventually, he started bringing people back. Men and women alike, idols or staff, would go in and out of his apartment and life and he didn’t—couldn’t, wouldn’t—feel a thing. Sometimes he’d be marked or wearing someone else’s shirt and Eli would laugh and high five him but Hoon would be chatting with Kiseop or the manager and would never look, no matter how much Soohyun was screaming on the inside for just one sidelong glance. He wanted jealousy, wanted anger, wanted something other than “Wow, hyung, someone roughed you up,” and a gentle hand smoothing down his hair.

He wasn’t sure if he was necessarily happy, but he kept to his word and stayed strong, at least on the outside.

Even now, where he’s sitting down in the president’s stuffy office by himself, he’s the poster boy for perfect indifference. The man across from him is struggling  to get his point across, but Soohyun can tell without a doubt what is coming, even as the man attempts, and fails, to ease him into it. His mind is already elsewhere, as the president explains how Soohyun will have to tell the others, thinking of seeing his sisters and maybe unwinding, figuring out who he was again.

It’s not that he doesn’t care, but it was inevitably their time. The members have been slipping, fraying around the edges and gaining cracks in their smiles. Some were looking at school again, some just missed their families, even a few were looking at marriage and children. They had run their course, much longer than anyone thought they’d be doing this, and it’s time.

Soohyun goes back home after the meeting and calls the others, telling them to meet at his apartment the next day for an important announcement. He tells Kevin to call Hoon for him, a lie on his tongue that Kevin doesn’t even listen to before agreeing.

The next morning, AJ arrives first, bringing food and a bottle of soju. Soohyun raises an eyebrow and asks, “Drinking this early?”

But AJ just smiles sadly and mutters something about how they’ll be needing it. Soohyun agrees and doesn’t push the issue.

The other members slowly begin to trickle in about ten minutes later and eventually they’re all sitting around his living room. Kevin and Eli share an armchair, Dongho lays on the floor and the others are all squished together on his couch. Each member has their own nervous habit as they fidget and shift where they’re seated and as Soohyun watches them, he realizes they all already know, even if just subconsciously, and wonders why he’s bothering to do this at all.

His eyes move to Hoon, his hands rubbing across the fabric of his couch aimlessly, staring but not really looking. Soohyun realizes that today will be the first time in a week he’s talked to Hoon, and even then, it won’t be directly. Soohyun has taken care to make sure they were never alone together, ignoring the younger boy’s texts and phone calls and keeping him at a safe distance during the times that he can’t completely ignore him. Hoon seems incredibly unaffected and calm about it all, and even now, the boy sits calmly and quietly, looking indifferent and almost bored.

Soohyun wants to scream at him, force him to care. He wants to tell him about all the things that have happened on the same couch he’s sitting on, all the times he has fucked or been fucked in that exact spot. But he bites his tongue, as always, and instead lets out a rushed, “U-Kiss is over. Our final concert is in a month.”

The members share a split second of realization, a moment in which they all know their suspicions were not unfounded and there’s a quick flash to the future, a frantic thought of ‘What now?’ Then, the feeling sinks in and they react, almost one by one like dominoes. Kevin and Eli hold on to each other tighter, AJ sighs deeply and Kiseop looks like a deer in headlights. Dongho falls backwards on the floor from where he had been sitting up, blinking to fight back tears. Hoon looks concerned and upset and lost and Soohyun really thought that seeing emotion from him would feel better than it does. All he feels is bitter that he couldn’t invoke emotion in the man but the group, of course, could do it so easily. It was always the group over him—that’s the way he wanted it, right?

The boys linger around his apartment for an hour or so, trying to do everything but talk amongst themselves, no one wanting to be the first person to talk about life after the group. Soohyun does one shot of soju with AJ but can’t stomach any more, AJ leaving the bottle with him as he guides the other members out the door. There’s a lingering look from AJ before he closes the door, the sound echoing into all the corners of his now empty apartment.

It’s funny how after three years, and after countless highs and lows, Soohyun will never be able to get used to that sinking feeling.

The boys spend the next two weeks preparing diligently, working non-stop in the practice room and studio. Even members who would normally whine and complain at the long hours are uncharacteristically quiet, but Soohyun can’t tell if it’s because they’re sad or because their minds are elsewhere. They work throughout the day and their nights are solemn, all of them sticking together even though the tension is stifling when there’s nothing to distract them from their thoughts.

Soohyun’s mind bounces between the idea that everything he has ever known for years is falling apart around him and the fact that he’s seen every single one of them cry so far except for Hoon. Even Eli, who never wants to show an emotion other than masculine bravado and his typical foolishness, finds himself blinking back tears and holding onto Kevin’s hand a little too tight. But Hoon never shows a sign of weakness and Soohyun thinks to all the times he saw Hoon cry over a movie or a drama and wonders why, why doesn’t he care?

Maybe this never meant as much to him as it did to everyone else. Maybe it was just some fun, a stepping stone to something bigger and better. Maybe he’s the only mature one, and he knows when to let go and keep quiet. Maybe he’s a cold-hearted asshole who never cared for any of them, for Soohyun.

Soohyun easily finds himself angry and frustrated at his own thoughts and sometimes he isn’t sure if he’s thinking about Hoon’s relationship with U-Kiss anymore, but something and someone else entirely.

But if Soohyun slows himself down, lets a whispered message of, “Hyung, stop,” from Kiseop or a, “It’s not your fault, but it’s not his either,” from AJ break past his defenses, he realizes he’s being unfair. Hoon has feelings too, he is just as hurt by this as they all are. And if the way Kiseop has been looking at him is any indication, Hoon has been crying only in the presence of those he trusts the most. It should hurt, but Soohyun expects it. He asked for this. He deserves this.

It takes until two hours before the last time they’ll ever stand on stage together for Soohyun to realize that he’s running out of time. He’s kept it in this long, shoving it to the back of his mind and denying its existence. But in these final hours he decides to stop, to be honest with himself for once. The feelings he had years ago are still there and as strong as ever. He cares more about Hoon that he’d ever want to admit and there’s still a part of him wondering if they could have made it work, if there could’ve been two couples in U-Kiss, hiding from the public eye and sneaking kisses when the other members weren’t looking.

Yet there’s another, bigger, part of him that realizes one couple was plenty, and his responsibilities as leader would have had to come first eventually. With the group ending, however, all new possibilities are unfolding before Soohyun’s eyes, and he loses himself in the various paths his life could take. Realistically, he knows he’s far too late to change anything now, but dreaming is nice sometimes, too.

He spends a little too long lost in his thoughts, sitting on a couch backstage with his eyes closed. The others probably thought he was sleeping, the long hours spent practicing finally catching up to him, so they left him alone. It isn’t until an hour later when Soohyun feels the couch sink a little next to him, the weight and heat of another person settling beside him.

“Hey, hyung,” a voice says quietly, and the way Soohyun’s stomach flip-flops tells him that the person could be none other than Hoon. “It’s an hour before the show; are you feeling more rested?”

Soohyun finally opens his eyes and meets Hoon’s, something he sees there tells him that Hoon knows he wasn’t sleeping at all. Still, he says, “Yeah, I am.”

There’s a moment of silence before Hoon mutters, “It’s all over, huh?”

Soohyun can’t think of something to say to that. It’s true, no comforting words will change the fact that this is the last concert, the last performance as seven members. Soohyun settles for running a hand through Hoon’s hair, fingers sticking a bit due to the hairspray. This moment is more intimate than they’ve been in years, but Soohyun allows himself this moment of weakness. Hoon leans into his hand a little bit and Soohyun clenches his free hand into a fist from where it rests on his thigh.

“You’re amazing, you know that?” Soohyun says, instead of the million different things he wants to say. “You’re gonna go places, do great things. If anyone here is going to, it’ll be you.”

Hoon laughs and responds, “What are you talking about?”

Soohyun pauses. What is he talking about?

“I just… wanted you to know,” he explains. Hoon turns to look at him, Soohyun’s hand falling back to his lap from where it had been in Hoon’s hair.

“Is there anything else you want me to know?” Hoon says softly, and the look in his eyes is too serious to mean anything less than what Soohyun thinks he means. Maybe his years of pushing the boy away were useless; maybe he already knew everything Soohyun felt. Maybe he could take the risk, just this once, and tell Hoon what he’s asking to be told. There’s a chance Hoon feels it too—or at least, Soohyun feels like there could be a chance with the way Hoon’s eyes meet his and refuse to look away.

It would be simple, just a couple of words. No lengthy explanation needed, that could come later, just a sentence or two, and they could make this work. Three years too late, but all the wiser because of it, they could go out on stage hand in hand and find happiness in the aftermath of the destruction creeping up on them. It doesn’t have to be as hard as Soohyun has been making it; he could do something for himself for once and deal with the consequences later.

Just as Soohyun thinks he’s ready, ready to make either the worst or best mistake of his life, there’s a knock on the doorframe and Dongho is coming in. He says something like, “Come on, we’re all eating together,” but Soohyun isn’t sure, because all he can think is, When did my life become a drama?

The interruption came at the worst possible time but Soohyun should have saw it coming. He’s seen enough cheesy romance movies to know that sometimes the lead has to chase the love interest across the world, through a thousand missed connections, before they manage to meet in the middle. It wasn’t their time, he thinks, and gets up to follow Hoon.

Later, he’ll do it later. He’ll give it some time, maybe a year, and if he still feels the same then he’ll tell him. Certainly they’ll all keep in touch, and without the distraction of idol life Soohyun will be able to know for sure what he was feeling and who he wants to be. There’s a part of him that thinks he is just taking the easy way out, hiding behind his supposed responsibilities as leader again just to prevent himself from doing something hard.

But that part of him is stifled by the voice of reason in the back of his head telling him that there are bigger concerns than his feelings right now. Later will be better, he’s sure of it. If anyone knows what’s best for him, it’s himself.

Soohyun and Hoon join the others, who are forcing smiles to try and alleviate the grave  atmosphere. Soohyun sits down and tells a stupid joke, laughing loud and long, and the others eventually join in, too. The mood is brightened, even if just for a moment, and Soohyun is quickly distracted with cheering them up, doing what he considers his final job before he retires the title of “leader” indefinitely.

Later, he thinks.

Soohyun lets it go.

After U-Kiss finally split up, the members eventually lose contact and continue their lives. Soohyun wants to be surprised or upset, but mostly he’s kind of relieved. There’s too much going on in his own life to keep up with the lives of six others, and he doesn’t need the reminder of an easier time weighing heavily on his mind.

Due to his mother’s insistence, Soohyun had found a girlfriend pretty quickly after U-Kiss was over, settling into the life he would’ve had if he had never gone to Seoul to be an idol. He tries living in his small home town again, but the fresh air and silent nights are stifling and he ends up back near Seoul, somewhere outside the city hub. He spends his days teaching a musical theatre class at the local elementary school and his evenings with his girlfriend. She is a thin, small girl, with long black hair and big eyes, the picture perfect representation of the woman his mother always dreamed he’d end up with. He comes home from work every day excited and happy and his girlfriend can never understand how those kids can make him happier than even she can. But the bright, innocent eyes of the children he teaches every year are oftentimes the only things keeping him in this city, this country, this life.

After months of pressure from his parents and unsubtle hints from his girlfriend, he proposes, and they spend the next few weeks in a whirlwind of marriage preparations. Soohyun is thankful that his girlfriend is too distracted with dresses and cake to ask him why he doesn’t invite any of his old band members to the wedding.

Eventually she starts wanting his opinions on things, and the old familiar feeling of repressing his desires for the good of the team come to mind. This is what his mother wants, his sisters want, his fiancée wants. Settling down will be good for him. She’s a good girl; he could live the rest of his life with her.

Well, he hopes.

The doubts start trickling in when she starts insisting he get involved in planning because, “it’s our wedding, not just mine.” He tries to tell her that he’s happy with whatever she wants, but she won’t let it go. So now he’s attending tasting sessions and meeting florists and he’s almost disgusted with how sickeningly sweet and domestic his life has become.

This is all wrong, he thinks, but it’s too late now.

She insists on having a grand wedding in a large church. Soohyun wants a small, outdoor ceremony.

She loves tiger lilies. Soohyun prefers roses.

She wishes he cared more about “the beginning of the rest of their lives” and Soohyun just wishes there was a different way to live than this.

After a few too many debates, she starts listening to Soohyun more, telling him that he has really good taste and she’ll be sure to tell the wedding planner what he wants, seemingly excited at Soohyun finally showing some interest. Soohyun thinks it could be worse. At least he’ll be signing his life away in the black tuxedo that he wanted, surrounded by the classic red roses he likes.

Three months after Soohyun initially proposed, he is standing in a white tuxedo at the front of a church, in front of the biggest group of people he’s seen since the final concert two years ago. His future wife comes down the aisle, looking stunning if not for the bouquet of tiger lilies in her hands. Everything they agreed upon is different and Soohyun wants to be shocked that she did this, he really does.

He keeps his questions in until the reception, where the newly wedded couple sits at a large table with their parents and siblings. The first course is served and Soohyun turns to her, brushes her hair back to whisper in her ear, “What happened to the roses?”

The roses are the least of his concern, but it’s the first thing that comes out. She simply turns to him and smiles, giggles a bit and says, “Roses are too boring, even the planner thought so. I know we agreed on them, but some things had to be sacrificed for the good of the wedding.”

Yeah, Soohyun thinks, like my happiness. He simply says, “Oh,” instead.

Her mother, his new mother-in-law, turns to him and adds, “Men can’t always get what they want, right?”

The two women laugh, even Soohyun’s mother and sisters joining in.

Soohyun eats his food and stays quiet for the rest of the dinner.

It’s just some flowers and a venue; it’s no big deal. It’s just the rest of his life, that picture perfect future he never wanted. Maybe everyone truly gets what they deserve in the end.

Soohyun lets it go.

It isn't until five years after U-Kiss splits up—and three years after his wedding—that Soohyun meets Hoon again. Their meeting is all too clichéd, Soohyun bumping into a person rushing out of a coffee shop, successfully knocking the man's drink on to the ground. They both watch as the coffee spreads across the concrete before looking up, recognition shining in their eyes at the exact moment they meet. There's shocked exclamations of each other's names before Soohyun apologizes profusely, offering to buy another coffee.

As they wait in line together, the silence is stifling, the two finding that despite their excitement at seeing one another, they have little to say. Soohyun's mind runs frantically, searching for conversation topics, but nothing he thinks of to say sounds good enough. They exchange small talk for a while, choosing to sit at one of the tables for a bit to continue the waning conversation.

There's a lull in their conversation before Hoon asks hesitantly, "How are the others?"

Soohyun thinks for a moment, racking his brain for details before eventually replying, "I… I don't really know. I haven't talked to most of them in ages."

Hoon nods at that and Soohyun continues.  "Kevin calls regularly, though. He and Eli have a house back in America."

Details about Kevin and Eli's life are the only things Soohyun knows about the others, but as soon as he starts explaining he can see Hoon's interest fading. Hoon wasn't the boy he knew before, now a man, and he's looking at his watch and shifting almost nervously as Soohyun talks. Soohyun feels a sudden franticness, wanting to keep Hoon with him longer, but the other man has already opened his mouth and Soohyun knows what is coming.

"I'm sorry," Hoon starts, and Soohyun selfishly replies no you aren't in his head. "I have to go, I have plans. But we should hang out! Let's exchange numbers."

Hoon pulls out his phone and hands it to Soohyun and Soohyun can't think of a way to refuse him, so he does the same. He contemplates putting a fake number in, but knows he couldn't do that to the other boy. He never could lie to him.

They give each other their phones back and when Soohyun looks at the contact page that was newly created, he sees "Hoony" in the name box. All at once, Soohyun remembers everything from their years together. He sees them performing together, practicing together, feels the sweat from a tiresome TV show filming in the summer sun and the sweat from the movement of their bodies in the dark of the night. He remembers the nicknames, the pictures, every single feeling comes flooding back to him and Soohyun is left reeling from the force of it all.

Suddenly, the life he had struggled to build the last few years, the undeniable gold around Hoon's finger, none of it matters any more. He had denied himself for so long; he is allowed to be selfish just once. Even if nothing happens, he has to tell him. Hoon deserves to know the truth, deserves to know how much Soohyun had loved him, still loves him.

Soohyun looks up at Hoon, but the other boy is already at the door of the café, his back to him. There's a moment, a few seconds that felt like a lifetime, where everything freezes and Soohyun can see himself calling out, can see Hoon running back into his arms and everything making sense again.

But the moment passes and Hoon walks out the door, and takes with him all the composure and facades Soohyun had been building up for years.

He doesn't run after him, he doesn't call; he deletes the text messages without reading them. A year later, when he gets an invitation to a baby shower in the mail, he burns it before his wife can see.

Soohyun lets him go.
Tags: fandom: u-kiss, pairing: eli/kevin, pairing: soohyun/hoon
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