Seungcheol remembered the first time he met the boy who was much shorter than him with a somehow innocent look in his face, getting introduced to him and others as a potential addition to the group they were planning to debut in the near future.
But Seungcheol would never forget how those eyes sharply gazed at everyone in the room.
Seungcheol was intimidated at first, and Jihoon was so guarded too. But all his life he was always given so much love. His dad, mom, and big brother had always been supportive and loving, thus he believed to get closer to someone, all he needed to do was to show love and appreciation of them.
And he did that to Jihoon at first.
It didn’t work but he kept trying, carefully, drew himself off whenever he thought Jihoon would get annoyed or mad at him.
Then they became friends. They actually got along pretty well and Jihoon probably considered the fact that they were training to debut together in the same group, so there was no use of avoiding Seungcheol anymore.
It was something that made Seungcheol really happy. He finally had a younger brother to dote on.
He promised himself to treat Jihoon just like how his family always treated him.
Together they trained, trained, and trained.
The weekly evaluations were taxing, especially knowing the debut date of Pledis’s new boy group was nearing and the other boys have debuted to become NU’EST.
Then came the news that TEMPEST wasn’t going to debut after all and it crushed Seungcheol to no end, and seeing Jihoon upset holding back his emotions, hurt him as well.
After the two boys who were also going to debut in TEMPEST with him left, he was afraid that Jihoon would leave him too. It wasn’t easy to stay under all the pressure and uncertainty of them debuting. Even Doyoon had told him about how he was reconsidering the idea of training.
Jihoon was extremely talented musically, other companies would love to have him as a trainee. So one day he asked, “Are you going to seek a new company?”
Jihoon eyed him weirdly after that and didn’t answer for a while, leaving Seungcheol anxious.
“Are you going to, Hyung?” Jihoon asked him back.
Honestly, Seungcheol had no plan other than Pledis. He had been training here for a few years now and he wasn’t sure if moving and starting from the ground again in another company would be a good move. He doubted a bigger company would take him, and here, he had a great chance to debut in the next group since was drafted in the previous one.
Seungcheol shook his head, “No, I’ll stay and hopefully debut in the next group with you and Doyoon.”
Jihoon hummed and nodded.
“Then I’m not going to either.”
And Seungcheol promised himself to protect Jihoon the best he could.
Seungcheol was thrown back into training with other kids who got in after Jihoon. The kids were either handsome or talented. Seungcheol was sure he wouldn’t make it if these kids entered at the same time as him.
Being someone who had been training for longer, Seungcheol felt the need to be better than the rest of the boys who came in after him. He saw how good Soonyoung was with dancing, how handsome Mingyu and Wonwoo were.
He also watched how fast Jihoon improved in both dancing and singing.
Would he have any chance after this? He didn’t improve much, it was stagnant and he didn’t know whether he deserved to debut anymore.
So he ditched the training that day and went out without telling anyone. He tried to clear his mind but ended up thinking about it anyway. It was useless and definitely a mistake. Because the moment he got back to the dorm past midnight, the staff who was responsible for them had been waiting and immediately scolded him. His seriousness in debuting was being questioned, too.
“Seungcheol, you’re setting a bad example to the other kids. Don’t you think they had wanted to run away too before? You’re the oldest and have trained the longest here, you’re someone they look up to.”
Seungcheol couldn’t say anything. He knew he was selfish for doing that.
The staff sighed. “Go rest now. If you really need some time for yourself, please tell me or others before disappearing like today. They were really worried, you know? Especially Jihoon and Doyoon. You were never like this, I hope this doesn’t happen again.”
“I’m sorry. Thank you for giving me a chance.” Seungcheol bowed deeply, his eyes were teary but he held it back as much as he could. He did this to himself after all.
He went to bed after a hot shower. At least the cloud in his mind got a little bit clearer.
Waiting for sleep to come around, Seungcheol thought of what he would do tomorrow. Maybe he should apologize to the kids and treat them to the convenience store, or bring them to the sta—
His train of thoughts got interrupted by the sudden dip of the mattress, so he turned around to see who it was.
It was dark, all the lights in the room were turned off, but he could clearly see the distress in that face despite not having much difference with his usual facial expression. He already knew it all too well.
“Jihoon? Why aren’t you asleep yet?”
He waited for Jihoon to say something, but nothing came after. “Hoon?”
“Seungcheol hyung, are you going to leave now?”
Seungcheol immediately got up, reached for Jihoon’s clenched fist and held it in his hands. “Who said I am going to leave?” whispered Seungcheol, trying to not wake their roommates up. They needed to rest and being woken up would just ruin their sleep.
“Nobody,” Jihoon shook his head, eyes avoiding Seungcheol’s face. “But you have been acting differently for the past few days and today you went away without telling us. You’ve never done that before.”
A sigh escaped Jihoon’s lips before continuing, “So I thought… I thought you were going to leave too. Just like the rest when we didn’t end up debuting.”
Seungcheol didn’t miss the shakiness in Jihoon’s voice. It hurt knowing that he did this to Jihoon when he promised himself to protect the boy in front of him.
One of his hands let go of Jihoon’s clenched fist and reached around Jihoon’s shoulders to hug him. Jihoon was tiny, he fitted so well in his arms.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry and think like that. I just felt like I had no talent in dancing after watching all of you improve. I feel like I was just walking in place without much progress.”
He gave a gentle pat on Jihoon’s head. “Especially you, Jihoonie. You improved so much, now you dance better than me. You’re extremely gifted musically too. I was really scared you would leave some months ago, because who wouldn’t take such a talented person like you? Compared to me, you have a bigger chance in getting into those huge companies.”
“Nonsense. I’m ugly, they won’t take me.” mumbled Jihoon.
Seungcheol scoffed, “Hey, who says you’re ugly? No.” He pulled away to look Jihoon in the eye. “You’re handsome and cute.”
He ruffled Jihoon’s hair fondly and Jihoon didn’t say anything. The younger only huffed in annoyance, although at this point he was already used to Seungcheol’s endless skinship and affection.
Jihoon took Seungcheol’s hand off of his and interlaced their fingers together. Seungcheol was confused because Jihoon had almost never initiated skinship first.
“Let’s do it together. Let’s debut together.” said Jihoon. The determination in the younger’s eyes reminded Seungcheol of that day he first met Jihoon. “If you need any help, if you want to vent, if you need anything, and I mean anything, tell me. I will be there for you, I will help you with anything, I will dance and sing with you. We will improve together. Nobody is going to be left behind. We are going to debut together, you and me.”
All the doubt that nested in Seungcheol’s heart seemed to melt slowly, and the tears from earlier started to well up again in his eyes. He wasn’t going to cry in front of Jihoon, not now. The relief he felt when heard what Jihoon said was extraordinary. Why did he even think about Jihoon leaving him behind anyway? He was the one who told the younger about his hope to debut together when the worst happened. And now, he got reassured by Jihoon instead of the other way around.
Seungcheol dived in for another hug, so so so tight he hoped Jihoon knew how much his words gave Seungcheol the reassurance he needed.
“Thank you, Jihoonie. Thank you.” Seungcheol whispered to Jihoon’s ear, nose nuzzling to the side of Jihoon’s head.
A couple of light punches were left on his shoulder, along with Jihoon’s muffled voice that Seungcheol could hear clearly. “Too tight.”
One last squeeze and Seungcheol finally let go. He grinned like he didn’t do anything wrong, “Sorry.”
Jihoon just observed his face, like he was searching for something.
“Are you feeling better now, Hyung?”
“Yeah. Thank you, Jihoon.”
Jihoon lowered his gaze and slowly nodded, “No problem, Hyung. Just… don’t do that again, okay? I’m here, remember that.”
“Yes, boss. I’ll make sure to remember.” Seungcheol mock-saluted Jihoon and the younger just rolled his eyes, but the small smile Seungcheol could see made him feel even better.
“Okay, go to sleep. We will practice together in the morning. Don’t run away this time.”
Jihoon was about to get up but a hand held onto his wrist, so he looked at Seungcheol with questioning eyes.
“You said I can tell you if I need help with anything, right?”
“Yeah. Why? Do you need help with something, Hyung?” Jihoon was confused, what did Seungcheol want now?
“Anything?” He asked again, and he could see how Jihoon was now eyeing him suspiciously.
Jihoon knew something was coming. “Okay, what do you want? We need to sleep soon.”
“Exactly! That’s why, I need you to cuddle with me so I will sleep better.” Seungcheol excitedly whispered, he moved closer to the wall so there would be enough space for Jihoon to lay down next to him.
He could see Jihoon contemplating, so he patted the space next to him in hope Jihoon would let the older cuddle him to sleep.
“Fine, just for tonight. And don’t hug me too tight!” Jihoon laid down and immediately faced away from Seungcheol, who spooned him right after he got into the bed.
The presence of Jihoon made his heart feel warm, and maybe this was where Seungcheol had always wanted to be, next to Jihoon until God knows when.
“Goodnight Jihoonie. I love you.”
It wasn’t the first time Seungcheol said those words, but there was something different this time in the way he felt when he said it.
(And it made Jihoon’s heart beat uncontrollably like it was going to burst out of his chest, but Seungcheol didn’t need to know.)