|Taemin blinks drearily out the car window.|
“I’m damn tired right now,” Key announces. Minho yawns as if in silent agreement, and Taemin sags quietly against his shoulder.
Jonghyun wiggles around in the front seat to turn and look at his fellow bandmates. “We’re going to Thailand,” he whispers excitedly, seemingly ignorant of everyone else’s state of being. “And it will be great and I will be awesome and guys, do you know how big this is?”
Everyone but Onew sighs in unison.
“I never thought I’d get to travel overseas,” Onew says, speaking up from his spot in the back. “I never thought I’d become a singer at all, either. So,” he smiles here, grinning brilliantly back at Jonghyun, “yes, we will be great and awesome and all that stuff.”
Jonghyun bounces happily and gives the other boy a thumbs-up along with a small laugh. Taemin shifts uncomfortably against Minho and watches from the backseat as Onew and Jonghyun lean closer together to whisper to each other about something or other. His mouth twitches down when Jonghyun shakes silently with unsuppressed giggles. Burying his face into Minho’s shoulder, he tries to fall asleep once more, but can’t seem to get a single breath in before Onew’s ecstatic (and not so quiet) whispers break the silence. It aggravates him greatly.
“Could you please be quiet?” he asks impatiently. Onew shuts his mouth in embarrassment as Jonghyun, too, fades off into silence and both Minho and Key ignore the situation completely in favor of getting some nice shut eye themselves. Onew licks his lips nervously and mouths ‘sorry’ back at Taemin before leaning closer to Jonghyun until their whispers aren’t even audible.
There, thinks Taemin with satisfaction. Except, oddly enough, he finds that the peace and quiet isn’t helping him in the least. If anything, he’s now edgier. Taemin watches Jonghyun and Onew converse underneath his lowered eyelashes for the rest of the ride and fights the clawing sensation creeping up in his stomach.
Not even two days into their trip, problems begin to surface. Taemin realizes that he forgot his journal on the plane, Key is coming down with some sort of cold, and Onew’s not been able to sleep for the past three nights.
Their manager coughs to get everyone’s attention and seats himself on the couch while four of the boys shift anxiously in front of him.
“We’ve been able to locate your, er, book,” the manager says to Taemin. “I’m having someone pick it up at the airport tomorrow. And as for Key’s throat problems, we were able to book him an appointment with a local doctor in about a half an hour, and he should be better in no time.” He folds his hands on his lap and stares pointedly at Onew. “As for the rest of you,” he says threateningly, “I expect you to be getting a full night’s rest. We’ve got a packed schedule ahead of us and the last thing we need now is another illness.”
Onew swallows loudly. Taemin watches with sympathetic eyes and gives him a small smile and a shrug when Onew looks over at him. The other boy tries to grin back but can’t seem to do so convincingly.
“Um, you’re dismissed.” Their manager stands, pats his jeans, and proceeds to walk stiffly into his room through the joining door in between.
Minho wanders around the room for a few seconds before slipping into the bathroom to change into his pajamas and wash up before bedtime. Taemin collapses onto his and Key’s shared bed, spread-eagled, and sighs in contentment.
“Maybe,” he says, “If I’m lucky, Key won’t come back until late and I’ll get the bed to myself.”
Jonghyun laughs and bounds over to the youngest’s side, leaning over the edge of the bed. “I won’t allow that. I’ll be kicking you out of this bed and taking your place.” Taemin scrunches his nose in blatant disapproval.
“But Key’s not your bed partner.”
“I don’t want to sleep with him,” Jonghyun accuses loudly, pointing at Onew – who is staring dazedly out the window. Onew snaps to attention when he figures out that Jonghyun is, in fact, talking about him.
“Hey,” he cries indignantly.
“He tosses and turns,” Jonghyun continues, waving his hands in the air for elaboration. “It drives me up the wall.”
Soon Jonghyun and Onew are joking around (more like Jonghyun is poking fun and Onew is choking back nonsensical rebuttals) and Taemin curls his fingers into the comforter, watching them carefully from his relaxed position. It’s strange, but Taemin almost wishes Jonghyun would follow through with his threat. But that is a really strange and unnecessary thought and he tears the words up in his head before they can even fully register, shreds them tediously and sticks the remains in the farthest corner of his mind.
“I’m taking a shower,” he announces abruptly and is ignored by the loud pair. He pushes past Minho into the bathroom. Minho rubs the shoulder that he'd slammed against the doorway and turns only to find a door shut in his face. Shrugging, he slips into Key and Taemin’s bed and falls asleep within seconds, even with the light on and the boisterous yelling surrounding him. In the background he can hear the soft hum of a shower, but it’s too quiet for him to really care, and he turns his cheek into the pillow with a sigh.
Key returns while Taemin is in the shower and takes up the remaining space beside Minho. Jonghyun and Onew retire soon after and, when Taemin emerges from the bathroom clad in warm, fluffy, wool pajamas and billows of steam, he finds that he has nowhere else to sleep but the couch.
When he wakes up, he finds both Jonghyun and Onew gone and the comforter from their shared bed thrown precariously over him. Curling silently back into the warmth of the blanket, Taemin tries to fall back into the waves of sleep once again, unconsciously breathing in the distinct smell of Onew’s shampoo.
It’s really lucky that it’s early, he thinks, or else he might have to stop himself from…whatever it is that’s been bothering his chest as of late. He falls back asleep to the soft smell of vanilla and kiwi, blanket held tight in his fists.
Onew is standing against in the doorway of the hotel meeting room, eyebrows shooting up toward his hairline.
“Wow,” he says. “I just. Wow, Jonghyun.”
Jonghyun flushes scarlet underneath the dim lighting. The sun is barely even up yet and fiery orange strips of sunlight creep through the slits of the blinds that are pulled shut, and the rest of the members are still fast asleep up in their shared room. Jonghyun is standing near the refreshment table with music clutched sheepishly in his hand. He flashes Onew a smile and urges the other on. “You just?”
“Do it again,” Onew begs and rubs his eyes in an attempt to wipe away the last dredges of weariness. He closes the door behind him, pulling up a chair while staring expectantly over at the other boy. Jonghyun, who’s never one to disappoint, clears his throat and starts up again, this time smoother and a bit more self-conscious. Onew thinks it makes the song even more heart wrenchingly beautiful, and by the end of the piece, he’s snoring on the table, head cradled in his arms, as Jonghyun chuckles softly and runs his fingers soothingly through Onew’s hair.
“You’re such an idiot,” he declares. Setting the music on the table adjacent to Onew’s elbow, he exits the room, closing the door as softly as he can behind him, and goes to warn the rest of the band away for as long as possible.
’You should get him,’ Jonghyun had said. ’He might forgive you for disturbing his sleep. I mean, you’re practically untouchable when it comes to getting away with shit.’
Taemin glares at anything and everything that moves as he makes his way down to the meeting room, passing a few maids and servicemen along the way, all of whom shrink back against the walls under his gaze. Once at the designated door, Taemin pauses hesitantly and wrings his hands together in sudden, unexpected nervousness. What the hell, he thinks. What. The. Hell.
After a few of the desk people start to whisper about ‘that peculiar boy stalking about the lobby,’ he violently pushes down the inexplicable shifting of nerves and throws the door open. He tromps over to Onew’s side with determination and opens his mouth to tell Onew what, exactly, he thinks of this inexcusable evasion of morning duties but stops short when Onew stutters drowsily, eyes blinking unevenly and heavily as he tilts his head to smile quietly up at Taemin.
“Hi,” he mumbles. His voice is low and husky and it rattles against the inside of Taemin’s chest, something he finds that’s been happening all too often lately. “What. What time is it?” he asks as he stretches, unfurling in his chair like a large kitten.
It takes Taemin a few delayed seconds to answer, but he catches himself when he notices Onew staring fondly up at him and announces the time in an overly loud and abrupt voice. His cheeks heat up with chagrin. “Um,” he tries again, “either way, our manager says that its, well, it’s time to, uh. Go. Time to go.” Taemin knows something is wrong when he acknowledges that he’s starting to talk like Onew. He shuffles back and forth on his feet before turning heel and attempting to make a beeline for the exit. He’s stopped by a strong, steady grip on the hem of his shirt.
“Hey,” says Onew, all gentle and mysterious.
Taemin frowns. “What?”
Onew stares silently up at the other boy, grin stretching slowly and softly over his face, as Taemin’s face darkens even further and his chest tightens uncomfortably. “Never mind,” he mumbles happily. “It’s nothing.”
He lets Taemin go and stands up with one final stretch, dragging the youngest with him back to the hotel room.
Taemin notices that Jonghyun and Onew have been getting a lot closer lately. And it bugs him.
He finds them grinning and jostling each other back and forth in a corner of the dressing room before the night’s performance. He wrings his hands together once again with a now familiar sense of anxiety before deciding to go interrupt them and ruin their fun.
Minho stops him halfway. They stare at each other for the space of a few breaths before Taemin wordlessly takes his arm back from Minho’s grip. “What-” he’s about to say when Minho breaks in politely.
“What are you doing?” he asks. Taemin shrugs and looks anywhere but directly into Minho’s accusing stare.
“Nothing,” he laughs uncomfortably. “What are you on about?”
Minho regards Taemin, looks him up and down skeptically. “Jonghyun’s not a threat,” he says enigmatically, “if that’s what you’ve been thinking.”
Taemin forces another bit of laughter out, but it sounds fake even to his own ears. “You’re crazy.”
“I know,” Key says, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, and loops an arm through Minho’s. “But that’s all right. Because crazy is better.” He smiles maniacally down at Taemin who edges away slowly.
“Okay,” he says. “Um. Okay.”
“Crazy people always know what they’re talking about,” Key says sagely even though it’s probably the most preposterous thing Taemin’s ever heard.
“Okay, sure. But uh,” he points somewhere over his shoulder, vaguely twisting away, “I’ve got to go get a drink before we go on. So.” He spins around and marches over to the stack of water bottles laid out for the performers while Key chuckles behind his back.
Minho sighs and rolls his eyes. “You’re crazy,” he states. Key simply twinkles happily and pulls him off toward the make-up noonas, announcing their presence to everyone they happen to pass by on the way.
The game – the one that Taemin hadn’t even known he’d been playing – ends when they’re heading off stage, weary bodies barely behind the curtains, and Onew gently laces his fingers through Jonghyun’s. Taemin’s heart gives a shudder and he finds that his feet refuse to follow them any longer.
He flees to the bathroom under the pretense of feeling slightly ill and locks himself in a stall, slick, sweaty shoulders pressed against the icy wall.
“What the hell,” he whispers into the harsh bathroom air. “What. The. Hell.” He fists his hands into his hair, pulling exasperatedly as he sinks onto the dirty, tiled floor. “What’s wrong with me, what’s fucking wrong with me,” he chants as he rocks back onto his tailbone and the bathroom is empty for a good five minutes before, inevitably, the door opens with a creak.
“Taemin?” Onew calls hesitantly. Taemin hears the door click closed a few bated breaths later. “Taemin, are you feeling alright?” He can hear the footsteps stumble outside his stall door (the only closed one, obviously) and waits for the other boy to give up and leave.
Except it doesn’t look like he’ll be leaving anytime soon, so Taemin grinds back, “What?”
Onew stutters quietly before going silent. Taemin furrows his eyebrows in slight confusion before he sees the top of Onew’s head slip under the stall door, followed immediately by the rest of him.
“That’s disgusting,” Taemin voices expressionlessly. Onew simply grins and wipes his sweaty palms against his thighs, then stands to his full height.
“So you’re not sick,” he beams. Taemin shakes his head reproachfully. “Well,” Onew claps his hands together, “then I guess Key was worried for nothing. That’s good. Hey, wanna go back and celebrate our first overseas performance? I think they’ve ordered drinks for everyone-”
“Not really,” Taemin breaks in. He keeps his eyes transfixed on the ground. “I’m kind of tired and-”
“Hey,” Onew stops him midsentence, shifting nervously in the aftershock of his interruption. “Um, actually, I’ve wanted to talk to you about something, but, well,” he laughs while rubbing a hand repeatedly over the back of his neck, “you haven’t been in the best of moods lately. So. I don’t know. Are you mad at me? Like, did I do anything wrong? Because I can…do that sometimes.”
Taemin shakes his head ‘no’ slowly.
“Oh. Okay. Well.”
And then Taemin is grabbing Onew’s shirt with one hand, the other pressed determinately against Onew’s cheek, and he stands on his toes to reach Onew’s lips with his own. They crash together and Onew stumbles awkwardly back into the opposite wall, hands flying to Taemin’s shoulders in an attempt to steady himself. And then he’s pushing away, putting space between them.
“Taemin,” he exhales, eyes wide with dilated pupils. “I-”
“Oh god,” Taemin groans breathlessly. He takes a shaky step back. “Shit, what-I’m sorry. Crap. I mean-”
But Onew shakes his head ferociously, hands slipping down Taemin’s shirt as his fingers curl into the other's sides. In a matter of seconds - or maybe it's minutes, milliseconds, years; god, Taemin can’t even tell anymore - Onew lowers his head to once again press their mouths together. It’s messy and doesn’t quite fit at first, but Taemin tilts his head a bit more to the right, leans back into the bathroom stall door as Onew pushes forward once more, and suddenly it’s a hundred degrees warmer in there. Onew pushes a knee in between Taemin’s legs and breathes feverishly into Taemin’s lips.
“I think I-I mean, I think-I might, um,” Onew heaves air in and out of his lungs, pausing as he attempts to speak. Taemin shakes his head impatiently.
“Yeah, I know,” he supplies, kissing Onew’s cheek in between words. “Me-me too.”
And if they were a trashy romance movie, they would stay there forever, just like that, only they’re not a trashy romance movie. They’re international pop stars and they have other things that they need to do, other, more pressing matters that force them to pull away before things get too hot and heavy. Besides, they’re in a dirty backstage bathroom, not exactly the most romantic place for such an occasion.
So they return to their bandmates and join silently into the drinking and shared laughter, flushed faces passed off as exertion from their hard work from the performance.
When the lights are off in the hotel room and Minho is asleep on the couch while Key and Jonghyun stretch out to take up over half of their own respective beds, Onew sneaks out from underneath the covers to pull softly at Taemin’s hand before they stumble out into the deserted hallway together. And when both Taemin and Onew show up at the customary morning meeting with dark circles under their eyes, yawns on both of their lips, no one says anything about it. They’ll be going home in a few days anyway, and the plane ride back will give them plenty of time to make up for the lost amount of sleep.