Competition shows were stressful, that much was a given. The fact that all of their hard work and training could end up being for nothing, all for the sake of ratings, was almost too much to bear. They had to, though, if they wanted to have their chance at debut at all. It would have been slightly less of a shock if the other team weren't friends of theirs. Hwan was closer to Dawon than anyone else on the band team, yet the two had to compete against one another. They had to make an effort in hopes that the other will fail. It was hard on all of them, and tensions were high because of it.
Although the dance team seemed to be doing well under the pressure, they had gotten more of an opportunity to showcase themselves before starting the show than the band team did. Dongsung’s wasn't bitter about it, but he'd be lying if he said they weren't all a little bit more on edge because of it. The team was starting to get snappy with one another when it came time to prepare for their challenges, and it wasn't long before their frustration appeared on camera.
After an argument broke out between the team’s leader and drummer, the two were told that they needed to make a better effort towards their teamwork, and to develop a closer relationship amongst themselves. Dongsung could only laugh uncomfortably to himself as Seungseok’s eyes met his from across the room. There wasn’t quite as much nervousness in his eyes as he was sure were in his own, but there were other signs of discomfort that he couldn't place. The older smiled towards him, if you could call it that, and he managed to spare a smile back, if only for the fact that the camera was still rolling.
“Cut.” The producer called as the scene came to a close, stepping into the filming area to rest his hand on Dongsung’s shoulder. “We're setting up a mission for the two of you to develop a closer bond. Even if you have to pretend to like each other you cannot keep fighting like this on camera. It'll work in our favor this early on, but I don't want to see any more information of it after this episode. The filmming will all be done tomorrow, but I expect you guys to have your issues worked out long before then. I know you need to practice, that's fine, but I hope you'll dedicate some of your time to this task. I'm not asking much. Fix this.” He threw the boys an exaggerated grin, squeezing Dongsung’s shoulder before he moved off to talk to the camera man.
He heard Seungseok let out a sigh when he was out of earshot, completely discouraged by the turn of events. There was some tension between the eldest and the leader, sure, but it was nothing that would affect the band. He didn't think that playing up their argument for dramatics was going to halt production. Seungseok turned to face Hwan and Chulmin, and it felt like he was purposely avoiding eye contact with Dongsung. He offered a tired smile to the other boys. “...Alright. Well. That was just the worst. Sorry, guys. Do you want to keep going?”
Their more gentle members glanced at each other, Chulmin shooting a look at Hwan, who only shrugged in response. It felt like they were having a conversation that they weren't letting the other boys in on. “Ah, that's okay, hyung.” Hwan smiled back after a moment, linking his arm with Chulmin’s and pulling him closer. Chulmin looked startled by the sudden contact but leaned into Hwan with ease after a moment, resting his head against him.
“There's not much more we can do today, we’ve practiced enough and we're tired. You have more important stuff to attend to now, so don't worry about us!” Chulmin nodded to Hwan’s words, laughing as he was tugged toward the door. “See you tonight! Be safe! No claws!” They teased before the door shut behind them. The show staff had already dipped out, and the two were alone in the sudden silence that followed their leave.
Seungseok was at a loss. “... Okay. Well then, I guess it's just us.” He glanced over at Dongsung who was picking at the lint on his sweater, trying to look distracted. He hummed in agreement.
“Yeah. Guess so.” He huffed, dropping his hands from his shirt to rub at his temples instead. “Should… we take a walk, or something?” Dongsung already had a quiet voice, but it was even more muted by the way his head was angled. Seungseok sighed from across the room, displeased by the evident disinterest that was being shown to him. Dongsung’s eyes trailed up to meet his very suddenly, and Seungseok looked uncomfortable under his gaze. “We should take a walk, hyung.”
It was cold. The pair were both bundled up in sweaters, but Dongsung could still feel the crisp air slip through the knitted material, causing him to shiver slightly. Swungseok was having the same problem, but he tried not to pay attention to it. The sun hadn't quite set yet, and an orange glow had fallen over the street the duo were walking down, the warmth of the light causing a jarring contrast to the cool temperature. He glanced at his friend’s trembling hands and felt a little bit sad that he couldn't do anything to help.
He didn't want to walk in silence, but he couldn't manage to find the proper way to start this conversation. He knew what needed to be said on his end, but the idea of disrupting the sound of their heavy mismatched breathing felt destructive. Instead, the two continued walking along in silence.
“Hey.” Seungseok eventually spoke, although it was uncharacteristically quietly, barely audible over the sound of the leaves rustling around them. “Let's stop here for a minute.”
Without waiting for agreement, the older trailed off of the sidewalk, hopping up onto a rock wall fencing a small lot of grass. It was empty of anything pretty, the foliage all overgrown and overpowered by weeds and years of neglect. It felt nostalgic. It made his heart hurt.
The silence carried on as the two sat face to face, both of them looking at the field next them, neither of them managing to say a word. It started to make Dongsung feel sick. He was desperate to say something, to break them out of this strange spell, but he couldn't dislodge the words from his throat. They were building the awkwardness up so much more than necessary, but it was hard not to when everyone around wouldn't stop pointing it out. The air felt dry, and he was having trouble keeping it in his lungs.
A hand fell on his own, stilling his breathing and slowing his pulse, just slightly. The immediate relief he felt was overwhelming, even if was only a little bit. “Calm down, Dongsung, please. I know you're overthinking.”
He finally looked up to meet Seungseok’s eyes, and if he hadn’t already been struggling to breathe, he would be now. Meeting his eyes was almost painful. For such a generally obnoxious guy, the amount of emotion his eyes could convey was astounding. “Please. Breathe for me, you need to stop thinking so much. It's okay.”
The hand atop his moved to slide underneath, weaving their fingers together, the position allowing a soft thumb to run over the back of his hands. The softness of the hand grasping his felt strange against his own calloused fingertips.
“Why is it so strange between us?” Seungseok mumbled, adding to his unusual quiet demeanor. He didn't do serious, the majority of his conversations consisted of stupid jokes and anecdotes, so the behavior left Dongsung with no idea how to respond. He wasn't sure if he was really overthinking, or if it was just the quiet that was so startling. He wished he could shake it.
“Nothing happened to us. Their expectations are too high.”
“That's not what it is. I mean, yeah, maybe a little bit. But something is different now and you know it.” Seungseok’s voice shook slightly. This whole thing was stupid, and Seungseok knew it was, but his emotions were always on the table, spread out for anyone who was near enough to have a look. Dongsung’s had always seen that as a good thing, but this felt like he was intruding on something private.
“Maybe it's different, sure. That's to be expected, isn't it? We've had to spend a lot more time together, and the majority of the time were stressed out. Of course there will be some tension.” Dongsung reasoned.
“Yeah, alright. That's why you’re all smiles for Hwan and Chulmin but can't even look at me most of the time.” Seungseok snapped, dropping the hand he had been holding. Dongsung could feel the hurt showing on his face, felt it in the way his shoulders sagged, but couldn't muster up the energy to deny it. He hadn't been wrong.
“I'm sorry, hyung, I don't know what to tell you. Yes, I'm uncomfortable around you? Yes, I treat you differently than the others? Is that what you want to hear? Is any of that going to make you feel better, because it isn't making me feel better to say.”
“If that's the truth, then yes, it'll make me feel better. At least I'll know what the hell you're really feeling, you've been walking on eggshells around me for months and I don't even know why!” Seungseok sounded desperate and Dongsung was beginning to feel guilty, but this conversation was spiraling in the exact direction he hadn't wanted it to go.
“You don't need to know why, honestly, just let it go… I'll try and stop being awkward with you if we can just. Forget this. This is just making it worse.” Dongsung felt his voice shake and cursed himself for being unable to mask his emotions when it was really necessary, ducking his head in case tears decided to fall. Something about the helplessness he was showing struck a chord in Seungseok, making his face fall softly.
“Dongsung, hey. Hey. Look at me.” He mumbled, scooting forward and resting his hand on the smaller boy’s knee. “Dongsung. Seriously. I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled, I'm just. It's hard not to get frustrated. I don't know how you feel about me anymore and it hurts, it hurts a lot, but I have no right to take out my frustrations on you and I'm sorry.” His voice was solemn in a way that made Dongsung’s heart ache. That seemed to be a reoccurring theme today.
“Don't be sorry… I'm the one making this into a problem. I should be able to get over this but I just can't. It's so much harder now that you're always around.”
“You don't want me around? Is that what it comes down to? If I annoy you, or make you angry or whatever, just tell me. If you actually just don't like me anymore I want to know. I'll work on it. I don't want… this. This sucks.” Seungseok’s frown was audible in his voice, and it took everything not to look into his soft brown eyes. It would only make things worse.
“That’s not it at all, don't think like that.”
Before Dongsung had the chance to say anything else, his face was being tilted up and his eyes were met with the very ones he was trying to avoid. The closeness left him a little breathless.
“It's hard not to think like that, you haven't given me a single reason to think otherwise.”
Dongsung couldn’t take those words, the poorly masked pain in his voice, the way he could barely feel Swungseok’s breath fanning over his face, and decided fuck it. If he wants to know so badly, he’ll let him.
When his lips settled against the drummer’s, everything around them was drowned out by the beating of his own heart. This wasn't something that he was going to get a second shot at, and he hoped with all his heart that it would offer enough of an explanation. There was no reciprocation in the kiss, but he couldn't find it in himself to be hurt, instead channeling all of the emotion into it that he could before the other pulled away.
When they parted, he didn't try to avoid eye contact for a change. He wished he had when he saw how disgusted his friend looked, and he felt his heart sink at the realization that he probably just fucked up a lot more than a friendship.
“Is that… that's the reason? You like me?” Seungseok didn't sound angry, only confused, and he tried to take a little relief in that but found it difficult when he felt like he was sinking.
“Um. Yeah. I just like you a little too much, and that's not fair to any of us, you don't need my stupid feelings and the boys don't need to be thrown in the middle of it either so ignoring… you… felt like the safest way out?” He tried to keep his rambling to a minimum, but his hands were shaking and his heart felt like it was trying to crawl away. Seungseok face hadn’t changed at all.
“You like me… too much.” He repeated, eyes not leaving Dongsung’s and frown only deepening. “You're just. You're so stupid. I want to be mad that you thought that was an okay reason to be a dick to me and make me feel like shit, but I’m just in awe that you're really that stupid.’
“Hey!” Dongsung pouted, not appreciating his feelings being called stupid, but he didn't have a chance to argue before Seungseok’s lips had caught his for the second time. He froze, brain not quite catching up to the situation at hand, but when the hand that wasn't at his knee settled on his waist he allowed himself to drown in it, not too concerned about what it meant. Not right now.
The two were still in public so the kiss had to be broken quickly, but the hand remained on his waist and their faces were still close enough to share the same breaths. He desperately wanted to wrap his arms around his neck and pull him back in, a little bit terrified that this was going to end up being a prank or a dream or something, but Seungseok pulled back before he got the chance.
“Come on, we should go back. We've got some things to discuss that we probably shouldn't discuss out here.” Seungseok grinned cheesily, holding out his hand to help Dongsung hop off the wall. He didn't let go once he was safely on the ground.
“So… you too?” Dongsung jeered, squeezing Seungseok’s hand tighter as they walked. Seungseok glared down at him without any malice.
“Yes, me too. I'm irritated that you hurt my feelings for this long when you could have just told me though, jerk.” He huffed, reverting to his childish behavior now that the tension had been eased. It made Dongsung feel warm enough that he no longer minded the cold.
“You could have told me, too!”
“I wasn't the one being mean! You were the one ignoring me!” Seungseok laughed. The two continued to bicker the entire walk home, hand in hand and feeling like the rest of the show was about to get a whole lot easier, no matter what the outcome was.